December 30, 2012

Preserve resumed

I returned to the preserve yesterday, for another go of hiking, and like many a reprise it was touched 
with an air of wistful remains, familiar, intact, accepting, yet infused of something departed.
Heading toward the trail, I crossed a grassy hill at the edge of the preserve, where a family stood 
looking down at the gleaming wetland. “Mother, can you please get out of the frame? I’m trying to take 
a picture.” 
“Ok...”  said the mother, who stood where she was. She pointed to the east. “What’s that?”
“The observation tower.”
“Then let’s go there!”
A stylish elderly woman, perhaps an aunt or grandmother standing apart from the rest, smiled as I 
crossed behind the others. “I don’t want to get in the picture!” I quipped. “Heavens no,” she returned 
with a naughty smile. The large dad, imperious and silent, gave me a baleful look.
On the trail, the sky was more overcast than before, heavy with stifled rain. The rich green foliage 
flickered over starless shadows. A cool breeze stirred the water; it looked mercury-heavy and quick, 
shimmering silver over inky black. A dense flock of egrets had gathered on a mossy island in the 
stream. I was thinking about the day I’d stopped by Palisaides Park, in New Jersey, on my drive down 
to Florida almost twenty years ago. A bunch of us had spent the day at the amusement park in some 
summer past; I’d remembered it fondly, the rides, the hot dogs, the laughter, the excited screams. I may 
still have the marks in my forearm, the one that Barbara had clutched on the roller coaster. But the 
reprise was not what I had expected. The lights, the music, the smells, the rumble and clatter, were all 
there. But I felt sadly out of place. On the roller coaster, an adolescent odd-girl-out, who certainly 
would have preferred riding with her friends, was put in the empty seat next to mine. When the ride 
was over she scampered quickly away. I left after twenty minutes, crushed by loneliness among the 
rides, the hot dogs, the laughter...
Someone on the trail behind me loudly cleared his throat. Then he did it twice more. I looked around 
and it was the baleful dad, still some ways off, having scouted ahead of the clan. I didn’t know how to 
interpret the warning, but I found a side path that I recognized and took it. It led to a picnic table 
overlooking the stream, a favorite nook as it turned out, where I settled in for coffee and some 
Brideshead Revisited. 

Before long the rest of the family had caught up - glimpses of parkas and faces flickered by through the 
scrub. And there was the old lady, lagging behind the others, taking her time. She ducked down a side 
path. “Helen...” the dad called, having apparently lost her. “Helen...” and then more sharply “Helen!” 
She eventually emerged, calmly self-possessed. “Lovely ducks,” she said. “I wonder if they mate for life...” 

I read a chapter of my book, sipped coffee, watched the egrets, and eventually emerged, and headed for 
the pond. I appeared to be alone once more. I passed the ravaged tree. The leaves scattered at its feet 
were already turning brown. At the pond I found the remains of one of the blue crabs I’d seen and 
photographed a few days ago. They were scattered about - a claw here, a piece of shell there. It looked 
like a recent kill. Minnows had swarmed in to feast.

I wondered what got it. An osprey? A rival? A boy with a stick? There was nothing left of the old guy, 
who had seemed rather friendly, but a few shards of his former self. When life leaves, where does it go?

December 27, 2012


On an overcast day in the suspension after Christmas, I went for a hike at a nearby preserve. The trail has a good deal of uneven ground, rocky hills and steep gullies that challenge the body in useful ways. The only encounter along the way was with a couple of young Indian fellows who called me “sir” and deferred the path to me. There was a young family somewhere that I could hear but not see.
I stopped at the bench on a dock overlooking a pond that I like. I often go there to watch wildlife or to read. 

Music: "Habitual Ritual" by Revolution Void

On a path nearby the young family, whom I could still hear but not see, drifted by. A loud boy among them loudly thwaked, with a stick that he must have been carrying, random things that drew his aimless wrath, a tree, a rock, a shrub. The ducks I was watching were startled, momentarily alert, then returned to their patrolling and feeding.

On the hike back I saw what appeared to be the evidence of the boy’s handiwork - among them a sapling mindlessly stripped of its young shoots. I attribute this to juvenile affectlessness. That his parents didn’t rein him in is a bit harder to fathom. But is the boy unlike any other randomly destructive force of nature? An agent of natural selection. But I was glad that he, like any other such force, had moved on.

Last night, in the synchronicity that sometimes occurs to me, I read in Brideshead Revisited: "He was cruel, too, in the wanton, insect-maiming manner of the very young and fearless..."

As for the tree, unsentimental nature throws her weight behind species, favoring kinds, not individuals. It’s for us to notice instances. Make out narratives. Pass them along.

December 22, 2012

Correspondence / 10

I’m following your posts from the trenches. I read somewhere just recently that deciduous trees shed 
their leaves in winter precisely to avoid bearing a burden of limb-fracturing snow. Oh dear. I share your 
grief. I remember when a tropical windstorm broke and toppled the massive old cycad outside my 
bedroom. Other green things, big and small, over time, filled the void, but I miss that grand old lady. 
I’m told Staten Island really got pasted in the hurricane. I lived there for ten years after fleeing 
Manhattan in the late eighties.

Leave it to your youngsters to turn things around. They still have the instinct to find an opportunity, in 
everything, for play. Isn’t that why we’re here? When did we lose that? 

I never understood daylight savings time. I always thought they got it backwards. Who needs daylight 
at 9 pm or nightfall at 4 ? 

Have you seen Mamet’s (screenplay) “The Edge”? He has a knack for dealing with primal stuff, 
especially among/between men, in a fresh way but with big classical themes and gestures. 

Your blog makes me miss New York. Your take on it seems so much like mine. Central Park has a 
story-book quality at times, in places. Your shots of it abandoned to snowy serenity brings that out. 

I remember when I stood before a Warhol for the first time at MOMA, the gold Marilyn and the big 

Elvis, and being shocked by their physical beauty. I’d already “got” the pop aesthetic, having pored 
over reproductions in high school. But the canvases themselves were a revelation. The Metropolitan has 
one of my all-time favorite big Monets.

It’s cultural resources like that, and so much more, for which my soul sometimes aches. But the 
creaturely appeal of a life in t-shirt and shorts (plus a couple of critical entrenchments) have trumped the 
well-known drawbacks of life in Florida. Or better said life not in New York. Though I sometimes 
think of Florida (the east coast, anyway, and the Keys) as Gotham’s tropical outpost. Parts of the gulf 
coast still have an otherworldly, end-of-the-line, film noirish character that I love, but only in small 
pockets anymore.

Be strong. Stay warm.

December 21, 2012

December 18, 2012

December 15, 2012

December 12, 2012

December 8, 2012

The audio portion

When I opened the door, there stood Edna, my nearly deaf elderly neighbor 
who lives alone on the ground floor. "I think my smoke alarm is going off," she 
said. My own hearing isn't what it used to be. But even with the hearing in my 
left ear half gone, I could hear the hypersonic squeal, a distant mosquito, from 
the second floor. It followed us to the elevator. Still audible as we approached 
her condo it didn't, oddly enough, seem to be growing louder.

Once inside I could still hear it... but still faintly. It was not the smoke detector. 

So where was it coming from? Some other condo? Somewhere in the 
neighborhood? A feebly dying appliance? I turned to Edna so that she could 
read my lips. There it was. The squeal. I moved in closer. It was coming from 
her hearing aid.

"It's coming from your hearing aid," I shouted. 


"I said it's coming from your hearing aid!" 

She dug it out of her ear, and the feedback bloomed like a sound check at a 

Grateful Dead concert.

She got it fixed... I'm not sure why. I suppose it's doing her some good. A few 

days later I was in the lobby talking to a neighbor when Edna came by to get 
her mail. I was telling Pete that I was going to Target to get a Christmas 
wreath. It was one of those uncanny breakthroughs that the hard-of-hearing 
have when you're talking low, to somebody else, about something of interest. 

"Would you mind if I come along?" Edna said. "I'll get my purse."

December 5, 2012

December 2, 2012