Saturday, January 05, 2008

Ice is Nice

When I awoke this morning, I was mildly surprised to see a skim of ice had formed on the lake. It IS that time of year, I suppose, but the ice usually forms at the lake's extremities first, giving ample warning. This morning's ice seemed to cover most of the lake. Why "warning," you might well ask. For those not familiar with lakeside living, ice can ruin a dock. It tends to move, especially as it thaws in the spring. What you want to avoid at all costs is having the ice form firmly around the pilings that hold up your dock, for when it begins to move, it will take the pilings with it, and in the extreme case, the dock in question will lose its support and end up in the water, which would put a crimp in next summer's festivities.

To prevent this, dock owners install an "ice-away." In the old days, a channel perhaps three feet wide was cut in the ice by hand with large saws around the perimeter of the dock to give the ice somewhere to move without causing damage. In a very cold winter, this had to be done every few weeks. I have fond memories of blocks of ice several inches thick arranged like a crystal Stonehenge around the old dock. It is much easier to simply push the cut blocks out of the way under the surrounding ice, but the old fellow who cut ours knew we liked to ice skate, and he pulled some of the blocks up and set them upright to make an obstacle course of sorts. His motive, as I think of it, was probably to create a sort of fence so that we would not to come too close to the channel, but we skated around them nonetheless.

Manual cutting was replaced with power cutting, and our old gentleman created a thing that looked for all the world like a plow, but it had a gas engine and a huge circular blade. Even so, it was tough and frigid work. The next evolution was the "bubbler." It seemed that someone had discovered that if you could create a disturbance in the water and brings some of the deeper, "warmer" water to the surface, the combination of the turbulence and the warmer water would keep the ice from forming. So the bubble consisted of a length of hose sufficient to surround the dock with little pin holes in it. the hose was weighted to make it sink to the bottom. The end of the hose was attached to an air compressor which forced a stream of tiny bubbles through the pin holes and created the turbulence from the bottom up. It was a quantum leap beyond sawing, but it still had its problems. Sometimes the holes would clog or the compressor would give out.

The bubbler was replaced maybe 30 years ago by the current state of the art - the Ice-Away. It's a classic example of a simple solution to a vexing problem. The same effect - bringing the warmer bottom water to the surface with some turbulence - was found to be easily accomplished by a submersible propeller facing upward. Sometimes the propeller, or fan, is on the end of a long pole, sometimes suspended by a pair of lines attached to cleats on either side of a boat slip. Unless your dock is quite large, one of these babies will keep you ice free.

But you have to remember to put it in about this time of year, and I had not. So I called up good neighbor Joe and we got it done in about ten minutes. It's a two man job, not because there's any exertion involved, but because you have to have someone on each end of the ropes. Plug it in - voila!

That's probably more than you wanted to know about the annual Ice-Away rite, but it leads neatly into today's photo offering. After Joe retreated to resume his holiday festivities, I took a wistful walk around the shoreline and I noticed an odd sound - creaking, a bit of crackling, and even bit of scraping. The ice was moving! There was a slight breeze out of the northeast, and as the very thin ice had begun to break up as the day warmed a bit, it broke apart and was carried by the breeze.

Taking a closer look, I discovered something worth preserving, and I hope you will agree!

More Ice

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Psalm of Nature

Monday night after a hectic work-related weekend and post-mortem with the boss. Need to decompress. It’s the 8th of October and still pushing 80 degrees as the sun sets over the far hill. Good time for a kayak ride. Work the stress out. I crank it up away from the dock and around the near shore for about a mile. That’s my routine – work hard going out and up wind, coast home. There’s merely a breath of wind tonight and all the motor boats are gone. Imagine that! Hot night, calm waters, no motor boats – perfect.

By the time I get back in front of my dock I am illegal. It is dusk and I have no lights. But there are no boats, so I don’t care. I turn to the west and drift, pull out a pre-filled pipe and light up. A flight of geese goes over, squawking in confusion over the summer night in October. Joni Mitchell comes into my head – “See the geese in chevron flight, flappin’ and a-racin’ on before the snow…”

Ahead of me is a canvas of color. The sun is gone, but her memory is in the smudgy orange around the low-lying charcoal clouds and in the few that still hint of white higher in the sky. The modernist brush strokes of nature in my own gallery. There is Jupiter, and another point of light to my right. I resolve to stay out until there are too many stars to count. Two.

The canvas is repeated in the water below, but it is kinetic. The occasional breath of air is too weak to unflatten the water, but it creates a dappled rippling effect – the brush strokes of the pointillist – a contradiction of stillness and motion. And the cross-genre painting is framed, not with the conventional frame that surrounds the work, but cuts it in two precisely at the middle – the hills that are now black, punctuated by the occasional sparkle of a house or street light in subtly varying colors – blue, orange, yellow dots where the water meets the land, reflecting like candles.

Look up again – five stars. Is there any more exquisite hedonism than resting on a still body of water, smoking a pipe and counting stars, surrounded by a painting of nature? The charcoal clouds are nearly black now, the ones overhead have disappeared. An occasional bat flutters by. Here and there a fish surfaces briefly with a plunk – one less fly for the bats.

Seven now – no, eight. I wouldn’t have seen the last one except that it is nearby to a brighter one, and that off-the-center of the eye thing brought it to me. Up on my porch where the light is on, I can see my cat Scarface observing me from the window sill – still and eternal as the sphinx.

I think of parallel universes. The one above me and the one reflected below me – everything in mirror image, but through an imperfect mirror – similar, but different. I cannot see myself in the parallel universe and I wonder if I’m there. Or Scarface.

Twelve. They are coming faster now. There is no sunlight left, the clouds have blended into what remains of the navy blue to the west. I feather lightly with the paddle and rotate slowly in a circle – my gallery is 360 degrees. I see many more stars, but I return to face west and restrict my counting to that hemisphere. Eighteen – no, that’s an airplane – seventeen.

A shooting star! Doesn’t count, but it doesn’t hurt the painting at all. Gone in a moment, but leaving a memory. Just like the stress – only a memory. All is serenity, peace, quiet. I look toward the dock; I have not left a light on. Scarface stares back at me from up on the porch. It is time. I look up again. I have missed the moment – there are thousands. This is the Psalm of Nature.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Punting on the Thames

Well, almost.

More like paddling on the Susquehanna. But with a little imagination...

Wait! Why don't you just come along for the ride?

By the way, if you can't see the slide show, PLEASE let me know. We're on the edge of technology here. I rather LIKE using the edge of technology to bring you little getaways from our immersion in bits, bites, blogs and blather, and if it doesn't work, well that sort of defeats the whole idea.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Four Bohemians and a Lonely Throwback

It was a bitter cold day, but the cabin fever was at a peak. Sitting on the porch warmed by the fire, the view outside was deceptive - a bright clear day, begging to be photographed - but the frost on the door told the true story.

Nonetheless, remembering that La Boheme, Live from the Met, was due to begin at 1:30, I fugured you could have worse days than motoring around in the company of the four friends and their ladies looking for pictures.

And so I set out, soon encountering a hockey game the way hockey games SHOULD be played - out in the open air, under a bright blue sky... and in a brisk wind!

As Act II was winding down, I came upon a bench waiting for someone - Godot, perhaps, but it reminded me of the bench in Act III, where Mimi & Rudolfo decide to wait until Spring to separate - a Spring which Mimi hopes will never come. For her it does not, but for Rudolfo, well, it's another story.

Not too far from the bench and the frozen pond was a little stream which, with a little imagination, became magic.

Rickett's Glen was deserted - just the way I like it.

There's a funny thing about favorite operas and lonely, frigid days. In the opera, you can always bring Mimi back to party again with the old gang. And with wintry days, you can always find beauty and serenity in the hills. And with a little help from a friend, you can find the warmth you thought was missing.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Mission Aborted - USMC Preempts Troop Strength for Family Values

As some of my blog readers may know, son Michael was to be Commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps today at 10am in Pittsburgh, having completed his BA on a slightly extended schedule (continuing an honorable tradition begun by his father) at Carnegie Mellon.

Not wanting to spend the night in the 'Burgh, this took some pre-planning on my part. I managed to avoid a nap all day Saturday, avoiding ennui and boredom with a mediocre movie, a brisk walk and a visit with good friend Angie & her gorgeous collie, Roxy. I was asleep shortly after 11pm(!) and woke up with the alarm in time to get on the road at 3:56am, about the time I'd usually be retiring on a Saturday night. The plan was to drive to PB, rendezvous with Michael, the mom and the ex-in-laws (down from NE Pa the day before) & daughter Holly (who had flown out from Philly), do the ceremony thing, have lunch, drive Holly back to Philly, and then drive home.

It's five hours to PB, barring a blizzard (which I know from experience), so I had an hour's pad built in. It was a pleasant drive, and I saw no other living thing except two deer (at a safe distance) from Harveys Lake to the end of 118, and very little for some time after that. Cruising west on I-80 on a Sunday morning with some nice music is conducive to a sort of mobile meditation, and before I knew it, I was in the long climb through the Laurel Highlands as the sun rose. I must admit that I did not realize that the sun doesn't rise until about 7 this time of year, which says something about my sleeping habits, I realize. It (the sunrise) was mostly at my back (as you might expect), but on the curves I glimpsed some scenes that would have sent my new artist friend from Cape Cod into paroxysms of ecstasy, particularly with the Wagnerian accompaniment.

Gliding gently into downtown Pittsburgh, my spare hour unneeded, I was pleased to find the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial without difficulty. I pulled into a parking place (It's NICE to arrive in Pittsburgh on a Sunday morning!), wondering where to find (yet another) cup of coffee for the spare hour, and wishing I had the Sunday Times Crossword, when my cell phone rang. It was Michael. "Hey! Where are you?" "Just pulled into Soldiers & Sailors." "Wow! Good timing! But I have some bad news. The Captain's wife went into labor last night and the ceremony's postponed."

Well, what can you do but laugh?

"Is there no other officer authorized to Commission new recruits?"

"Apparently he's the only one in Western PA."

I was tempted to comment on the United States Marine Corps troop strength in Pennsylvania, but decided against it, realizing where most of them are.

The next obvious question then was, "For when will it be rescheduled?" This is as yet unknown, but it is a concern, as I have a photography exhibit opening next Saturday evening and Michael & paramour Melanie are seeing La Boheme at the Met (I am SO proud of that boy!) I made this observation to M, and he said, "Yeah, I know, but I figure after today I have a bargaining chip with the Captain." I suggested to him that it might not be a wise first step in his military career to be bargaining with a senior officer, and he admitted he saw my point.

So I asked him the last obvious question, "Did you tell the rest of the family?"

"Not yet. I figured I'd practice on you."

Oddly enough, this gave me a rather warm feeling, and we agreed to rendezvous for that cup of coffee. He rattled (that's what his Jeep does when it is moving) up along side me within five minutes and off we went. We found a parking lot off Forbes Avenue, and were off to the coffee when he told me that he had called the rest of the folks, who were staying in a Holiday Inn on the edge of town. I suggested we just go out there and have our coffee, so back in the cars we get and caravan out I-376 to Monroeville, whereupon we find the mom, her parents & Holly loading up the car for the return trip to NE PA. Friendly handshakes and hugs all around, which was nice, but as they had just finished breakfast and were worried about the weather warnings (which they tend to do), they set sail for home, leaving Holly, Michael & I to carry out the remainder of the mission, which was to get Holly back to Philly and me back to HL.

So, without the expected break afforded from the ceremony and a leisurely lunch, I set off back east with Holly, and Michael returned to his digs at CMU, where he imagined Melanie was still sleeping. (Well, it's only 10am and it IS Sunday. I would be, under normal circumstances.)

For some reason which I have yet to figure out, Philadelphia is slightly farther from Pittsburgh than Harveys Lake is from Pittsburgh, but the trip was pleasant enough with a replay of the music and chatter with Holly. Along the way, I realized that my current traveling opera mix is accidentally represented by no less than four languages - Carmen (French), B. Godunov (Russian), Otello & Boheme (Italian) and Die Walkure (German). How odd! I did not mention this to Holly.

We squeezed into a parking place on South Juniper Street about 3, and by this time the combination of the caffeine and driving has me thoroughly zombified, and after greeting Sloan and his brother who were retiling the kitchen floor, I elected to take a nap on a cozy little love seat overlooking the street. Holly graciously provided a blanket and one of their two kittens decided that looked pretty inviting so she went under the blanket head first, did an about face and plopped herself down next to me, purring mechanism going full blast. It was marvelous and I fell asleep instantly. Scarface would be jealous if he knew, but I won't tell him.

I awoke refreshed an hour later and declined the offer of a bite to eat in order to make the last leg of the journey which, compared to the first two, was like going out for pizza. This stretch was filled with reflections on the joys of being a 21st century parent, aborted missions and all. As I pulled into the driveway, I noted that I had logged just under 700 miles in about 14 and a half hours, and it occurred to me that if I write this up and send it in to a magazine (I'm thinking "Stars & Stripes" or "Armed Forces") maybe I can write off the trip against my sure-to-be substantial income from freelance writing for 2007. At $.485/mile it comes to about $335, which will probably wipe out my wildest expectations of income from writing.

Which I do not do for pay, but because I must. There is no finer way to celebrate an aborted mission than to write about it in the company of a loyal feline - with a good pipe, some fine music, a glowing fire and a tumbler of crushed ice from my nearly new fridge, courtesy of a dear friend, barely covered with Speyburn's finest 10-year old single malt Scoch whiskey, courtesy of yet another fine friend, James Warner, poet laureate to the world and Patron Saint of Aborted Missions.

Life is full of blessings.

If I get a report on the Captain's wife & baby, I'll file it as an addendum.

End of mission report.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Cape Light

"Cape Light" is the title of a beautiful book of photographs of Cape Cod by Joel Meyerowitz, but I am confident that the term has been in existence for longer than the book, and the concept for longer than the term. And there is no better title for this blog entry. Its origins lie in the general acknowledgement that Cape Cod has about it an unusual light, at once more intense and more subtle that that usually found in most areas of the earth. Various explanations are put forth - the unique geographic location and topography are usually mentioned. But it is not necessary to understand it to feel it.

I had the great good fortune to spend three days in Provincetown for the annual meeting of the Norman Mailer Society. You will see a bit of that here, but mostly you will see the results of a good deal of free time with camera in hand. Yes, there will be geocaches.

It was dark when Ifinally arrived in my room in the Provincetown Inn and stepped out onto the balcony. I was dead tired. The scene that greeted me - the Pilgrim Monument, artificially lit as it is, had all the appearance of being lit by the moon. It was a good start to the weekend.

Those who know me know I'm not a morning person - just look at the name of the blog! But for some reason, I awoke before dawn. Glad I did. Went for a walk.

Dawn as only dawn can be on Cape Cod.

This causeway is about a half mile long and connects the little spit of land that is at the very tip of the Cape to the mainland. There are two lighthouses out there, but no roads. I would have gone all the way across, but I knew I'd freeze before I got back.

Cape Light - pink.

Cape Light - blue.

A rock washed by the sea and Cape Light.

Here is the obligatory seagull picture.

And so into town for a good cuppa coffee at the Wired Puppy and some early morning pictures.

Cape Light - white.

Maggie, I think, presiding over The Commons B&B.

That paper says that the books are free to a good home. How wonderful is that!?!

I'll bet this lady wishes she were back at the prow of her ship.

An unexpected joy. Cape Light - yellow.

Bonnie Culver, director of the Wilkes Gradutate Creative Writing Program, had a pretty good view. She got to spend a whole WEEK!

Chris Busa, publisher of Provincetown Arts and a lifelong resident, led us on a walking tour. He knows the REAL history of Provincetown! If you can see that little square window in the back, that's where Noman Malier wrote three of his books.

Norman did pretty well after a while, and now lives with his wife Norris in the only brick house on Commercial Street.

Cape Light - silver.

Cape Light - golden.

A geocache, of course! The first of three. Park on route six and walk through the woods.

As the woods open, you have to go up this sandy hill. The information I had gave the cache elevation at 85 feet. Great! I thought - no tough hills to climb. WRONG! Climbing hills of sand is tough work!

But well worth it.

Success - a find!

And a little further on, the real reward.

On the way back by a different route, I came upon this lady sitting by a pile of belongings looling like she was waiting for a bus. My guess is that she had spent a week or a month in that shack, and was, in fact, waiting for one of the dune taxis to take her back to the real world.

Dune grass - the stuff which holds it all together.

The Pilgrim Monument.

Mom & kid playing soccer on the beach - gotta love 'em!

Norman's knees are shot, but oh, my, his mind and his wit are sharper than ever. He gave a reading from his yet-to-be-published latest novel - his umpteenth, at last count.

Back at Norman's for a little get-togeher.

Looking in from his deck.

Site of another geocache find - down around Wellfleet

Remember to look down. Cape Light - mushroom.

A woodpecker guards the cache.

There is supposed to be a cache in that odd thing, but I'm pretty sure it's not there any more. Still, it was a nice walk!

Uncle Tim's Bridge in Welfleet.

One last look at a north Cape beach.

A stop in Chatham - an old haunt - on the way out. It's too built up now, and even the air is almost too expensive to breathe, but oh, my - Cape Light!

Chatham Light.

I hope you enjoyed the tour. As for me, well, I can't wait until next year!