August 2, 2013

July 31, 2013

shard / 21


Anyway, thanks.



July 25, 2013

July 22, 2013

July 19, 2013

July 13, 2013

July 10, 2013

July 5, 2013

Koreshan, the Pirahã, and me

The notion, in the age of grace, that one place is holier than another is suspect. My friend Kay, a fellow iconoclastic Catholic with whom I hung out, along with several renegade nuns and radical Jesuits on Staten Island, illuminated this with a certain tang when a friend told her, on the eve of her pilgrimage to the Holy Land, “I’ll pray for you in Jerusalem.” “Thank you," said Kay, “I’ll pray for you in my garage.”

That some places seem holier, though, is understandable, some because their otherness makes plain the otherness of the world in which we actually live. They feel, in their very remove, like home, or a sacrament of it, for which “we poor exiled children of Eve” yearn. Others, a familiar and beloved picnic table in the park, a favorite café, or Kay’s garage, are sanctuaries despite, or even because of, their sheltering mundanity.

For me, a touch of the godforsaken, with its undercurrent of the divine, will always invoke a powerful magic in my soul. This is a treasure deeply buried from early childhood, when I was free to roam field and stream and woodland path, any and all of the seventy acres I dared confront or befriend at our summer cabin in Michigan. This was the other, Waldenesque, side of the young impresario who by fifth grade was organizing entertainments, producing plays, impersonating Elvis at parties, and who adored roller-coasters. Yet, the sight of a milkweed seed floating on a breeze would seize my heart with a longing for the cabin, for its solitude and mysterious sufficiency, that could bring tears to my eyes.

And now, fifty years later, my leisurely tour, mostly by kayak, of my personal monasteries (expanded now to include barrier islands and tropical sunsets), and my quest for those as yet undiscovered, continued last week at Koreshan State Park.

Only fifteen miles from Chez Jeaux, Koreshan State Historical Site is a 300 acre tract on the banks of the Estero River. It was founded as a utopian community in 1894 that was ceded, once the dream had collapsed, as most do, to the state of Florida in 1961 by the four last members. The Koreshans had a loopy cosmology. An impractical social order. But they left the State of Florida an enchanting piece of real estate, a legacy more constructive than many.

A popular winter destination, it is all but deserted in the summer, as many Florida parks and beaches are. I booked a couple of nights there last month, my chief aim to kayak the river, and try for Estero Bay.

I checked in at the ranger station, where I was loaded with maps, guides, and literature by a delightful, bosomy, senior ranger who reminded me of my high school typing teacher, a salty take-charge Jewish lady with a golden heart, who knew what it was worth, and indomitable good will.


Base camp Thursday afternoon. It's hot in Florida in June, as expected, but by morning I would climb into my sleeping bag. After getting comfortably ensconced among the sabal palms and long-needle pines typical of the area, I broke out my ancient little Sterno folding camp stove and cooked Spam (for the nitrite) fried rice that I'd prepared at home, and kept in the cooler, along with a stash of cherries and grapes. Protein and fruit is my mainstay on these outings. Rabbits, furtive but not unduly alarmed, are a frequent sight on the trails and around the campsite. I assume they are not an approved menu item in the park, even for hungry campers. I chastised myself, in a passive sort of way, for not taking a photo of one. A stubborn antipathy toward such responsibilities sets in fairly soon in a setting like this. That and a different mind set: it simply doesn't occur to me. Looking at things is enough.



The Koreshans planted a lot of bamboo. You can hear them bending and creaking in the breeze. There's an easy and meditation-inducing trail that leads from the campsites to the historical village.


Only a handful of the original buildings remain. This cottage seems to be self-camouflaging, almost absorbed into the colors of its surroundings. The Koreshans had good taste in bridges, and built a couple of charming ones, turn of the century style. Is there a simpler motif than the cross, reverberating through history in spite of itself, showing up everywhere, from the foundation of the world...



By dusk I had explored the rest of the park, and checked out the kayak launch. Back at camp, I cooked a light supper and packed it in for the night, reading by lantern an article in The New Yorker about the Pirahã, a tribe in the Amazon whose language has stumped researchers for decades. It has no evidence of recursion.*  They live and perceive, it seems, in an eternal now.

"We were still unpacking," John Colapinto writes, "when a Pirahã boy, who appeared to be about eleven years old, ran out from the trees beside the river. Grinning, he showed off a surprisingly accurate replica of the floatplane we had just landed in. Carved from balsa wood, the model was four feet long and had a tapering fuselage, wings, and pontoons, as well as propellers, which were affixed with small pieces of wire so that the boy could spin the blades with his finger. I asked Everett whether the model contradicted his claim that the Pirahã do not make art. Everett barely glanced up. 'They make them every time a plane arrives,' he said. 'They don't keep them around when there aren't any planes.' Sure enough, I later saw the model lying broken and dirty in the weeds beside the river. No one made another one during the six days I spent in the village."

I turn out the lantern and ponder the Pirahã in the dark. "Sufficient for the day," I think, "is the trouble, and artifact, thereof." A passing shower drifts by, just enough to drum me lightly to sleep. 





Morning brought a day that seemed near-perfect for an excursion. Winds on the Estero are attenuated and mild. I ate a light breakfast, packed a thermos of coffee, a jug of water, a flip-top can of tuna, and a bag of grapes, and drove down to the launch...




Video clips are best viewed in HD if you have high-speed. Set playback to 720 (HD) in the control bar (gear icon).

The delicious sensation of "nudging yourself off dry land into the buoyant glide of the world’s largest domain" never gets old. Once past the marinas and Cracker towns and assorted other settlements on the north bank, the river was bliss. An occasional house appeared on the shore and drifted by...


This one had a fieldstone seawall that you rarely see anymore. It was guarded by a fearsome serpent. It's the colorful ones you have to watch out for, though some are impostors that mimic their lethal cousins, benefitting from their badass reputation...





I found a riverside clearing, about an hour into the trek, and about two-thirds along the way to Estero Bay as it turned out (see map above) that looked promising. I paddled in for a rest and a bite to eat...



 

There was a view of the river to the west. A couple of hammock trees near the water. It was just what I was looking for. I named it The Koreshan Anchorage and entered it into the monastic network. I strung up my hammock and made a little camp.




There’s something about a hammock. Once in one, floating in space, I unwind so fast it’s a struggle to stay awake. The one I carry is a 13-ounce ultralight that can hold 250 lbs. With a little mosquito netting and a light rain fly, you don’t even need a tent. Of course the beauty of traveling by kayak is that you can carry all the camp with you that you need. The Koreshan Anchorage was now on my radar for an overnighter on a future outing. I poured a cup of coffee and read about the Pirahã... 

"Gonçalves, who spoke limited Pirahã, agrees that the tribe has no creation myths... When pressed about what existed before the Pirahã and the forest, Everett says, the tribespeople invariably answer, 'It has always been this way.' Everett also learned that the Pirahã have no fixed words for colors, and instead use descriptive phrases that change from one moment to the next. ‘So if you show them a red cup, they’re likely to say “This looks like blood.”

I put the magazine down and look up to watch the river. It looks like the river. I zone out, mind like water, suspended body both tugged by, and withheld from, the earth below, a delicious standoff. After a while, a kayaker floats by. "That's the life!" she calls out to me. So that's what I look like. I wave. "I'm learning..." I call back.


After about an hour, it seemed past time to shove off. Soon after taking to the water again, the river opened up and acquired an oblique solar sparkle. Lovely. “There’s a boat,” I thought. “Up ahead. Veering north. Fishermen? Out of the bay?” Was non-recursive thought natural to human beings after all? They slowly passed, too preoccupied with the trolling at hand to notice me.




I pushed on for another quarter hour, at most, and found myself in the river’s twist to the northeast that I recalled from the map, but much closer to the bay than I realized. I thought I was only halfway there. By this time huge white cumulous clouds were building in the sky, and having misjudged my location, thought it wise to turn back lest I be caught on open water in a storm. Daily showers are the norm this time of the year, and so far I’d been lucky. But it was a luck I thought unwise to push. My romp on Mound Key would be for another day. Another day soon...

Barring a mishap or unfavorable weather, the trip home always seems shorter than the journey out: familiarity compresses time, for once, instead of expanding it. The sense of civilization once again drawing near intensified my desire to linger. A little beach on the side of the river appeared, at the edge of a promontory, a flagpole high, unusual for this part of the world, and with a hint of angles, like those seen on Mars suggesting human interference.


I found the location on Google Maps, and inserted the kayak to show the scale.

I dragged onto the beach and set off to climb what appeared to be a kind of path, whether natural or already traveled was not clear, up the steep slope.

A survey from the top revealed a strange landscape. The topography below had the mien, somehow, of an abandoned construction site, a small clearing overtaken by weeds, and odd little buttes and sandy knolls and young scrub, surrounded by mangrove.

I went down to have a look, descending into a hot silence. That’s when it hit. A deerfly dove straight for my neck and scored. Then another. Then a squadron, maddened by opportunity and rage, swarmed around me, making their crazy zig-zag deerfly sorties at my face.

I ran for the boat, swatting the swarm with my hat as best I could, but with marginal deterrence. I reached the water and suddenly, just as abruptly as they had attacked, the little demons retreated and were gone.

What fresh hell was that? I checked the sky for vultures, thinking a recent kill may have drawn the beasties to such an odious place, but there were none. Well, anyway. Some neighborhoods are friendlier than others, and not so far apart. I shook my wet sneaker, as a testament against it, and climbed into the boat.

Back on the water, a sense of serenity returned. I passed a house flying rainbow flags...


Well fuck me! Someone I know? Someone I should know, if I don't. I'd half a notion to pull up and shout a greeting. "That's the life!" Not that I would. But it did cross my mind. But I didn't.

As clouds piled up in the sky, which turned out to be decorative only, an ache, the good kind, the souvenir of a day amiably challenged, was gathering in my body. The boat ramp was a welcome sight.






Back at camp, I sit down at the picnic table and boil water for tea. While it steeps, I listen. The electronic buzz of an insect, a cicada perhaps, its love song, swells and shrinks, in the woods nearby. Distant loony calls and sudden urgent chitters greet a deepening sky. A scouting raccoon, or a darting rabbit, unseen, crunches a leaf. And the wind, like surf on the shore, rises and falls in great rushes and retreats in the long-neddle pines.

“Committed to an existence in which only observable experience is real," I read, "the Pirahã do not think, or speak, in abstractions - and thus do not use color terms, quantifiers, numbers, or myths. Everett pointed to the word xibipio as a clue to how the Pirahã perceive reality solely according to what exists within the boundaries of their direct experience - which Everett defined as anything that they can see and hear, or that someone living has seen and heard. ‘When someone walks around a bend in the river, the Pirahã say that the person has not simply gone away but xibipio - “gone out of experience..."


Absentis tamen non oblitus. Amen.

The drive home always seems a little surreal after just a couple of days off-grid. “Peripheral but amiable... civilization as novelty.” Back at Chez Jeaux I left everything in the truck except the cooler and what remained of the groceries in my “kitchen bag”. I stopped to pick up my mail. I opened a letter from a law firm that seemed to suggest that as a business owner I may be eligible for a settlement from BP because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. So that’s where the vultures were. The novelty of civilization restored was wearing off fast. I threw it away, going xibipio on its ass, and climbed the stairs. Chez Jeaux looked like home.


*Recursion is the ability, unique to human language, and thought by some to be hard-wired in the human brain, to assemble sentences with one thought inside another, a hallmark of abstraction. It allows people to create sentences of never-ending variety, what linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt called "the infinite use of finite means."



July 4, 2013

June 29, 2013

Famous

When I was a child, the adult women in our extended family were all “famous for” some dish they
were each adept at making. My mother was “famous for her spaghetti sauce”. My aunt Helen her baked
goods. Another aunt for her chicken noodle soup. Of course this fame didn’t extend beyond the
immediate family. And maybe to a couple of neighbors. It wasn’t as if, when my mother made spaghetti
sauce, someone said “Joe, call the television station. Your mother is making spaghetti sauce today.”
But I can imagine that phone call.

Joe: Is this the evening news?

News desk: Yes, may I help you?

Joe: My mom is making spaghetti sauce today!

News desk: The spaghetti sauce she’s famous for?

Joe: Yes. She’s making it today!

News desk: Holy tomato! I’ll rush this right over to Dan Rather. (Hand covering the phone): Joe’s
mother is making her spaghetti sauce. Yep, the one she’s famous for. We’ll have to dump the story
about the satellite launch. (Back to me): Thanks for letting us know, kid! 

Joe: You’re welcome. (Hangs up.) Dad, I called the TV.

Dad: Good work, son. Your brother is on his way to the newspaper on his bike. I’ll run over to the
Hendersons and let them know. You’d better tell the McAfees.

Joe: I’m on it dad...

Dad: (hugging mom as he passes through the kitchen) You’re famous for your spaghetti sauce, honey!

Mom beams as she stirs the sauce.



June 26, 2013

June 24, 2013

Uncle Alfred




Big Hickory Island, south of Lovers Key, available by boat. A lovely, rather forsaken spot, which we nicknamed Uncle Alfred, We were talking about somebody in the news who was under the weather, and I started quoting Ruth Draper… 

“I’m so worried about Alfred. Have you seen Alfred? Poor old Alfred. I don’t think Alfred is with us for long. (Sigh) I’m gonna miss Alfred terribly, you know I was very fond of… Oh I know he’s not dead yet, but you wait, my dear, you wait and see if I’m not right. And I know that my doctor could cure him. And I told Lola I knew my doctor could cure him. And she’s not. even. interested. Well, she likes her doctor. People are so queer.” 

Then Will misquoted, singing, “We’re so sorry… Uncle Alfred…”  Then we decided to bury Uncle Alfred on the island. Where he was always so happy. Now our visits there are cloaked in argot. Let’s go see Uncle Alfred…









June 23, 2013

June 20, 2013

June 17, 2013

Axiomoron

The human mind’s capacity for accommodating nonsense, quite comfortably, and complete with supporting moonshine, is an awesome thing. Take the adage “The exception that proves the rule.” What? How can an exception to a rule prove it? Ask your average friend or relative that question and the response you’re likely to get is a bemused look. “Well, because the exception would, you know... prove the rule. Don’t you see? It's the exception that proves the rule.” Or the equally lame "Every rule has an exception" as if that proves something, were it true, which it isn't.

If an axiom as plainly suspect as this gets a pass, is it any wonder that more complex cognitive muddles and scams stalk the land?

I mentioned this to my friend Bob Bush once, many years ago. (Bob was chairman of the psychology department at Columbia.) He told me that the phrase had always bothered him too. So much so that he'd looked into it. Turns out “proves” in the saying is an old English usage that meant “tests.” So, in its original form and intent, the exception, instead of validating the rule, calls it into question. That’s better.

Now I’m careful to say “It’s the exception that tests the rule.”

“...that proves the rule,” the person correcting me invariably retorts.

Yeah, that too.



June 14, 2013

June 10, 2013

June 7, 2013

June 3, 2013

Correspondence / 13

Thanks, I think. Do my other photographs look like cell phone shots?

Just raggin' on ya, homey. I have nine cameras, so, yeah. Some of those that I thought at the time I Had To Have, I didn't, even for commercial hires. My regular companion is a point-and-shoot super zoom. Ever wish you could have back, just once, all the money you've wasted? Though what, existentially speaking, is wasted, really? An old sage and Sinophile I once knew said that Chinese men believe that each of us have a fixed number of orgasms in life, so it's best to save a few. Wait... what? A Zen moment.

No, peace in the Middle East doesn't look likely in the foreseeable future. A fellow passenger on a freighter that I took to Europe years ago remarked that the one thing he regretted was the discovery of oil on the Arabian peninsula. I didn't know what he was talking about then, this was decades ago, but it was a prescient observation. The sooner the West can develop alternative energy, and pull its money and presence out of there, the better, though I probably won't see it in my lifetime. I read somewhere that when you calculate such things as the military resources needed to secure and protect Middle East oil, the true cost of gasoline at the pump is close to $45 dollars a gallon. Addictions are costly on so many levels. The London slaying was shocking. Prime minister David Cameron said that the attackers had “betrayed Islam.” George Bush said the same thing. “This is not Islam.”  I do wish that western non-Muslim leaders would stop pandering and trying to pre-empt the Muslim world by presuming to define Islam for everyone. If terrorists acts like these are a departure from Islam, shut up and let Muslims leaders tell us that.

You know what's even more perplexing than envy? People's dedication to inspiring it in others. What is that about?

Funny Agatha Christie trivia, that. I had a first edition of Nabokov’s “King, Queen, Knave,” but it fell off the cart somewhere in my disorganized youth.



I’d never read Raymond Chandler. After reading a musing on detective fiction in the New Yorker that rhapsodized about him, I picked up an Everyman’s Library edition with three of his classics in one volume. I read the first few pages of The Big Sleep last night and I’m already immersed in the atmosphere and attitude and cadence that he made famous. I once wrote of Debussy that it doesn’t matter how much an original voice has been hacked, spun off, or sent up. There’s always a freshness, an indelible stamp. The original “anticipates its exploitation and rises above it.”

My laelia, fifty six flowers this year, started blooming yesterday. I awoke to a rain-cooled morning, everything washed, bright, and fragrant.






May 31, 2013

My scallops


I have my father to thank for my appreciation of good food. We had similar taste, and with the exception of my mother’s spaghetti sauce (for which she was “famous” - more on that soon), dad, of the parental units, was the better cook. This was a quiet understanding between us, not openly flaunted at home in the suburbs, where my mother's nutritious but unremarkable nurse's food was the norm, but relished on our weekend “bachelor” get-aways at the cabin, where spit-roasted rabbit, grilled lake perch, and quail with wild mushrooms were not unknown, along with open hickory flames, deeply inhaled anticipation, and the occasional spark-stung eyelid.

My local supermarket stocks 24 oz packages of frozen wild-caught Patagonian bay scallops. I keep them on hand for a quick meal, sautéed in a cream sauce over rice:

Sauté about three dozen bay scallops in olive oil with a teaspoon of chopped shallots. When lightly browned, remove scallops from sauté pan and set aside. Deglaze the pan with about 1/3 cup of white wine. Add a generous pinch or two of tarragon, a hint of thyme, a dash of salt, and a drop of mustard. When wine is reduced to a scant teaspoon, add a cup of half and half and a few baby green peas. Simmer quietly, (it may foam) stirring often, (I also use a spatula to fold the yummy side scum back into the sauce) about ten minutes, until it is reduced to a nice medium-thick sauce. Turn off heat. Whisk in a couple tablespoons of butter. Add scallops to heat them through. Pour over warm cooked rice, but don’t drown the rice in sauce. Serves two.

This can be made with sliced potatoes instead of rice. Slice cold boiled red potatoes into medium slices. Drizzle with olive oil. Microwave for two minutes. Let stand, covered, while the cream sauce thickens on the stove. Spoon scallops and sauce onto the plated potatoes.

Serve with white wine, salad, and crusty bread.



May 28, 2013

May 26, 2013

May 23, 2013

May 20, 2013

May 17, 2013

shard / 19


Coming home from my ride today, I pulled up to an intersection where I saw pickup truck stopped at the red light advertising a business:

 Wasted Seamen 
Fishing Company
 Charters 
 Apparel 
 Fishing Cruises 


Pretty funny. But I was left to wonder whether it was a nod to Onan or Rimbaud. I pedaled up a bit closer to have a look at the guys inside. I deeply suspect it was not Rimbaud.


May 13, 2013

Reel brief / Secret Window



Familiar Stephen King stuff, a troubled writer, marriage on the rocks, in an isolated country house. His evil alter ego (John Turturro) is a discrete external character, or so it seems, menacing the protagonist and those close to him. The theme has an interesting literary twist, but I could see the denouement, which I watched without an ounce of suspense, coming from acres away. Yet it’s one of those movies, its setting, its characters, intimacy and pacing, its formulaic conflict, that is oddly agreeable, like a comfortable old porch. Johnny Depp’s campy, appealingly cranky performance is very entertaining. (2004)



May 10, 2013

May 6, 2013

May 2, 2013

April 30, 2013

April 27, 2013

Correspondence / 12


"...she held up the bottle 3/4 gone and exclaimed, "We drank all this?!!"

"No, sweetie, we used it on the fish!"

Heh, guess she's more on the ball than expected. I do admire your honoring her sensibilities.
Sometimes subterfuge is the better part of valor.

I had a fondness, as a boy, for all things cursive. Pens, paper, inks. But mostly pens, which I think I
intuited was a sacrament of the power of expression, probably with some phallic undercurrents.

I haven't broached the subject with Evan. He rarely answer my emails. I should just dive in and
broach it. Maybe if I suggest, say, a week this summer. I'd love to hang out at the old place for a bit.

The seeds of Evan’s unraveling may always have been there. It started to spin out of control, from
what I've been able to gather, when his depression went clinical and he took a buy out at the
university, where he told me he was harassed. I remember him being exceptionally bright and
perceptive. We had many long conversations. He always listened with deep attention - and
reflectively - a great compliment. He had a knack for intuiting the content of the gaps, filling them in,
taking the conversation deeper. He was light-hearted. I don't know how he lost it, or when, exactly.
He's in survival mode now, which has no doubt disastrously condensed his perception of things, and
response to them.

The planet appears to be heating up in a lot of ways that go beyond climate change. Fever and
acceleration.

Seems Dzhokhar fell into the gravitational pull of the black hole that was his brother’s ruined soul.
That does not excuse his moral cowardice nor the choice he made about to whom his loyalty
ultimately belonged. As for Tamerlan, that an urge to mayhem finds an imprimatur in religion is
nothing new. I was reading, this afternoon, in another synchronicity that haunts my reading, the Talk
Of The Town section of an old New Yorker (August 28, 2006) about the president’s summer reading
list. It apparently included Albert Camus’ novel “The Stranger.” The columnist, Adam Gopnik,
observed about the novel:

“Camus’ purpose is to dramatize the psychology of pathological violence as a self- defining act... To 
look too narrowly for rational purpose in it is to mistake its very nature. The freedom to act includes 
the freedom to do evil, and the murderer within us is no further away than a walk on the beach in a 
bad mood. People kill because they vaguely imagine, in a moral haze like the one overhanging the 
sun-scorched sand, that on the other side of murder lies some kind of expiation, or the thrill of rising 
above the mundane, or a way of pushing past alienation, or a shortcut to significance. People kill 
because they can.

“How closely this truth touches the heart of this summer’s various horrors... The bright young British 
Muslims, with their innocent-looking sports drinks, seem to have decided on mass murder not 
because they had exhausted all other possibilities but because, Meursault-like, in the madness of 
young men, it seemed thrilling and self-defining and glorifying - just as the zeal of the neocon 
pamphleteers of summers past seems now to have come less from any strategic certainties than from 
the urge to some kind of muscular self-assertion, as wishfully defined as it was impossible to 
achieve.”

The same can, of course, be said of Adam Lanza, James Holmes, and Ted Kaczynski. Everything old
is new again, including the “perpetual human temptations” that Gopnik identifies in Meursault’s
crime.

I haven’t seen Zero Dark Thirty but If it’s ambiguous enough (call it scrupulously neutral) to leave
the impression with “unsophisticated” viewers, which Michael Moore implies, however regretfully,
are most people, that the outrages depicted are justified, then I for one must conclude that the net
effect is not helpful. I was talking to a right-wing neighbor a couple of weeks ago who had seen it.
His take away: “Hey, if children get in the way and have to be killed to get the bad guy, so be it.” He
thought it was a great movie.

It’s midnight and raining. The neighborhood dogs have gone inside, or withdrawn to what shelter
they could find, chastened and silent. The rain rules this blessed night.



April 23, 2013

April 20, 2013

April 14, 2013

Where was I ?


Too long at the fair? No, just asymmetrically supine in my hammock at fair River Park (not the lakeside
beach this time), between a pair of sprawling sea grape trees. When at rest, my body instinctively seeks
the tensioned serenity of the number four position, one leg bent, sole against knee, or tucked behind
it, the "Hanged Man" in Tarot. I was thinking, having set aside the magazine I was reading, of the pair
of eggs over easy I’d made for breakfast. What’s nicer than this? I’d wondered as fresh ground pepper
drifted down and speckled both eggs and the yolk-yellow plate. Isn’t it the little things in life that make
us happy, and stake claims in our memories? Some obscure and tender detail, too personal and
idiosyncratic to convey, or a quirky moment of lame humor that only the two of you could appreciate,
and that you always recall with a surging smile...

A peripheral disturbance caught my attention. A pair of young families, a busty lass and her poetic
friend or sister, a Don-Draper-in-weekend-togs and his jocky brother or in-law, plus a smattering of
mixed-race kids, had occupied the two abutted picnic tables next to my hammock while I was drifting
and dreaming. A grandfather or old uncle had set up, without my having noticed, a pair of folding
chairs by the river not five feet away and was presently speculating, in a deferentially hushed voice to
two boys, about something one of them had found, and held up for inspection in cupped hands, among
the mossy rocks.

It would have been easy to see this as an intrusion. I was practically surrounded, and the normal
boundaries of territorial propriety were crossed and occupied. But I took it instead as an act, if not of
hospitality exactly, of having been comfortably absorbed, totemically decorative hammock and what
my friend Mary once called my “aura of peace”, into their midst.

And there I remained, benevolently neglected, like a pennant at a picnic, a patron saint, or a pet. The
extended family was a tranquil bunch, imbued with the quiet civility of nice people. I went back to my
magazine. Sporadic laughter or some random picnic sound rose above the absorbent pastoral air that
readily muffled everything else. Laughter of assent. A laughter-broken phrase. The rise and fall of
anonymous burble, barely heard despite its proximity, and a pleasant assortment of gestures and
tableaux. Don Draper’s double stood shaking charcoal briquettes into the grill. Busty mom, in teal
green shorts, a black tank, and yellow hat, lotioned a patient but wincing girl. Children were allowed to
wander over, within a sensitive parental orbit, to test my interest (often given), but never my tolerance. 
At one point a little boy with curly chestnut hair and a cherubic face came over with a grilled and
deliciously glopped-up hot dog in a bun on a paper plate. I thanked him, and rummaged in my
backpack for one of the seashells I keep there for luck, or for just such an occasion, while he looked on,
holding the edge of the hammock, looking like he wanted very much to climb in. I handed him the shell
which he ran back, held out like a prize, to his mother, the one who looked like Joyce Carol Oates. She
smiled back. Uncle twinkled. They were now gathered at, and around, the tables strewn with food and
their mostly disposable accessories. After eating the frank, I drifted off. When I awoke, just shy of an
hour later according to my cell phone, the clan had decamped. A chill had crept off the river, from
which I was now sheltered by a blanket I had never seen before. I packed it away with my hammock,
its partner for the foreseeable future. As I backed the truck away from the clearing a pair of egrets
fluttered in for a late afternoon prance and peck along the river’s edge.

A blanket is a primary object. As is a sauté pan, a bicycle, a leather bag, a musical instrument if you
play one, a souvenir. We each have our set. The best of them enter our lives without effort, and never
leave our side until death, or some other loss, do us part. I had a beloved comforter once, decorated
with fancifully imagined galaxies, whizzing planets, stars, and stately enigmatic moons, in a royal blue
empyrean, that covered my bed on Staten Island. How delicious it was to snuggle in, under that night
sky, a universe tamed, on a cold night in New York. It was stolen at a public laundromat, while still
tumbling no doubt, in the dryer’s hot dark firmament: I had timed my return from the café with time to
spare, or so I'd thought. Discovering it gone evoked, first, disbelief. Then outrage. And finally a
grudging appreciation: I’d have been tempted to steal it too. It was too enchanting to be safe. I had
planned on taking it with me on the train the following week, a comfort on the long, recliner-bound
coach class passage to Ann Arbor. A few days later I was walking up Broadway in the financial
district, from the ferry terminal, at rush hour. The streets were jammed. I looked down and there on the
sidewalk, apparently invisible to the madding crowd, was a one hundred-dollar bill. I picked it up,
shrouded in my invisibility cloak. Only one bland old man, who gave me a wry smile as he passed,
seemed to have noticed. I used the money to book a roomette on the train, and to order a sumptuous
breakfast in the diner car the next morning, eggs over easy, ham, home fries, buttered rye toast, and
coffee, as the train unhurriedly scanned Lake Erie, somewhere in Pennsylvania.




March 31, 2013

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