Friday, July 31, 2009

Ladies Day Out

Where are my binoculars? Across the river a healthy doe feeds along the bank. She is in the illuminating brightness of the sun as it makes its daily journey toward the western horizon. Her coat is the color of honey, and she pokes her nose into the lush green vegetation to get a bite to eat. Then it's "up periscope," craning her neck, she maintains a constant vigilance that raises her odds against becoming the victim of carnivorous predators on the prowl.

I am using the scope on the semi-automatic 22 caliber, Marlin rifle in place of binoculars. Memory reminds me that I bought it for Josh in May of 1988--he was five. At the same time, I bought Justin a single shot, 410 shotgun. Of course I did not let them use the weapons unsupervised, but we have had some good times leaving a trail of spent rounds through the years. Josh continues to shoot. He is a marksman. At 100 yards, he can plink the end of a soda can.

Looking pure white in the glare of daylight, her tail flickers and twitches randomly. That would all change if her finely tuned survival instincts sensed impending danger. Her tail would raise like a white flag--not of surrender--but retreat, and she would put space between herself, and a perceived threat. A couple of powerful leaps, and in seconds, the once peaceful doe would deftly thread through dense undergrowth, over dead falls, and around countless natural obstacles--a sight to behold.

Now there are 4 deer feeding on the ledges. Another single doe, and a doe and her spotted lamb just arrived. The little one hasn't a care in the world, because of the good care of momma. Why, all of a sudden is there so much activity? Starting Thursday night the weather deteriorated quickly, and a windy, cold, driving, drenching, apocalyptic worthy rain assailed the area. Friday was also miserable--the temperatures were in the low 40's (I had to fire up the Jotul (wood stove) to dry things out inside the cabin) and this spate of miserable weather probably explains why the deer are so active. They have been hunkered down--waiting out the storm--and now it's time to eat!

Bellies are full now, and as if a voice--heard only by them--beckons. The two eligible does go off in opposite directions. Mom and her little one also respond, and lazily move toward the cover of the woods. One by one, like wraiths, the quartet disappear into the deep shadows of their forest home.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Appearance Versus Reality

All that is gold does not glitter--Not all those who wander are lost.
~ J.R.R Tolkien

In a poem, Bilbo Baggins authored the above quote. A rugged man named Strider is on his mind. The elderly Hobbit, saw something in the rough-edged Ranger from the North that no one else could see. Gifted with uncommon insight, a gift that few have, the elderly Hobbit captured the essence, the intrinsic quality, in the one also known as the Ranger from the North. The diminutive Baggins could separate appearance from reality.

So could Gandalf . . .

The quote doesn't show up in The Lord of the Rings, until spoken by Gandalf the Gray. The ageless Wizard used Baggins' words in a note he left at the Prancing Pony for the beleaguered Frodo. Gandalf was referring to Strider, and if you have seen the movie version of Tolkien's life work, you would understand why Frodo would need his uncle's intuition, and Gandalf's assurances. When Strider shows up, you are not sure if he is good or evil. He is shrouded in brooding mystery. Stubble face. Sunken, shadowy eyes. Long, black, oily hair gives the beholder the sense that they are looking at a fierce and dangerous man. A troubling presence. But the Ranger from the North is good. First impressions would say otherwise, but he would prove to be Frodo's, Sam's', Merry's, and Pippin's unalterable protector--appearance versus reality.

Strider didn't glitter, but he was pure gold. He may have appeared to be a maverick. A shiftless wanderer. But he is not lost. No, he is on a mission. He is also a man struggling to discover his grand destiny. Seeking. Striving. Pressing. Reality veiled by appearance. Who would have guessed that blue blood ran through his veins. The personal journey of transformation from Strider to Aragorn, the King, is rarely glamorous, and few stay in it.

Inside every man is a Strider. He is pure gold. A striving man. A struggling man. A battling man. A valiant protector. Often, his glitter is covered with the dross of a thousand attempts and failures. His steps may leave staggering imprints as he trudges through the sands of time. This man needs another man--a man gifted with uncommon insight. A man who can scrape away the patina and help him see his truest essence--his intrinsic qualities bestowed upon him by his Maker. One person who can stay with a rough edged Ranger convincing him that he is a king in the making--his present appearance is not yet his future reality.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Defiance

Caught up with some friends at our church cookout. It's been awhile since I have talked to anyone except Sandy and myself. Dreary morning clouds gave way to patches of blue and then acres of soft, sunny skies. Kids were running around every which way, and there was plenty of hot dogs, hamburgers, and all kinds of other stuff that is rich in everything that will lead to poor health!

Tomorrow, I will drive to the office for a few hours and see if I can get some work done. I am looking forward to getting back into the stream of life that has been mine for the last 30 years.

BTW--I watched the movie "Defiance." It is based on a true story of a group of WWII Jews who took flight and banded together in an epic adventure of survival and determined resistance against the Nazi extermination. It is worth the investment of a couple of hours to watch.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Where Do the Wests Really Rest?

Between the headstones marked McKechie and Miller is a headstone that bears the family name of West. The name is written in letters about five inches tall and embedded in the smooth polished surface of a large piece of granite. That piece sits on a squat base of granite that acts as its pedestal. Although the stone is not extravagant, neither is it simple. It is distinct enough to suggest those buried beneath it were people of means.

Smaller letters are also chiseled into the headstone's shiny face. They read, George R. West and his wife Lelia Cottam. George was born November 3, 1866. Lelia was born May 10, 1875. Were they alive today, the Misses would be 134 and her husband would be 143. I do not think I would be presumptive to conclude they are long deceased.

But that is where the mystery comes in . . .

Neither of their birth dates are followed by the dash and then the date of death. Why? I saw that peculiar marker this morning when I took a walk through the cemetery. It piqued my interest, and I decided I would return with notebook and mechanical pencil in hand, sit in the shade of a giant oak, and write out questions about where the Wests really rest (I know this is unusual. Perhaps it is a result of the accident). My questions . . .

Are they actually buried there?

Did they divorce, and the courts are still deciding who gets the grave plots?

Did they decide if they couldn't sleep together in life--the prospects of sleeping side-by-side forever seemed unappealing?

Do the remains of one lay beneath the sod, and the remains of the other somewhere else?

Did they grow old, senile, and forgotten--so that no one knew of their prearranged resting place?

Were they unable to bear children, or did they outlive their children, or were they estranged from their children, and had no immediate kin to see to their final arrangements?

Were they friendless or outlive all their friends?

Did they hold peculiar religious beliefs that recognized their day of birth, but did not recognize their day of death, because they believed their soul would reincarnate forever?

Did the headstone chiseler chisel them out of a few bucks?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sheepskin

At 53 years of age I finally earned a Masters degree. This milestone may mean more to me than many of the millions before me who made the grade and received their sheepskin in higher education.

As an aside . . . In the backdrop is a story I want to write about. Enjoying the Adventure is a journal primarily for my family (at the present, it's possible others find it more interesting than they do). Sometimes it is deeply spiritual. Sometimes it is painfully candid. Sometimes it is hard to follow. Sometimes it connects with a reader. Sometimes it sounds angry. Sometimes it is just the unimpressive musings of a sojourner. But every life is worth writing about . . . so I record my Adventure. . . warts and all!

During the month of May and the first few days of June, Sandy and I had the privilege of lecturing at two different universities in China. Our impetus for traveling halfway around the world is to continue building a network of relationships with Chinese business leaders and educators. If our dreams come true, a joint venture between East and West is in the offing. I am hopeful that my last rodeo will be in the Big Country. Also, my work in China was part of a 250 hour practicum required to finish my degree. We arrived back in the United States on June 3, and my class graduated on June 5. I was unable to walk with them. Darn!

Thankfully, the registrar went above and beyond her call of duty. Posthaste, she got my diploma to us before we left for Maine to celebrate Independence Day as a family. Unknown to me, Sandy and the kids had a celebration in mind--a graduation party! The following is what I will put in writing . . . !

Sandy rushed around before leaving Massachusetts and got my diploma framed for a grand display--come party time. That alone would have been great, but my family conspired to go over the top . . . just a little! Picture, if you can, six adults, in good spirits, with cans of silly string, and no inhibitions. Sandy was the quick draw gunslinger, and in seconds, my white hair became twisted strands of bright pink. Meagan and Justin and Erika and Josh shot me up the nose. Though outnumbered, and like a desperate man fighting blood thirsty savages, I turned the attack against Sandy and Justin and Erika and Josh and Meagan. I fought bravely and died quickly! However, just before I was blinded by a thick cobweb of rainbow colors, I succeeded in turning Sandy's raven hair into multicolored braids (she looked quite exotic). As all our low-browed predecessors have learned the hard way--women stick together. Meagan wheeled, and with both cans firing, gave me a mouthful of silly string spaghetti! In less time than it would take Jack Bauer to disarm a bad guy, the interior of the cabin was striped and draped in thin, curling neon threads! Guns were empty, the air was filled with laughter!

Time for cake!

Here comes the part of the story that may sound a little corny to you, but means everything to me. After we picked lines of silly string off the cake, Meg began to serve it to everyone. Standing behind me, Sandy touched me on the shoulder. When I turned, she was holding my mortar board cap, black robe, and Masters hood. I would march after all. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry or shout!

From Columbus, GA to Taunton, MA, literally through wind, rain, and more than 1,400 miles of hard riding, Josh stopped at our home in Massachusetts, picked up a special package, strapped it to the back of his bike, and set out on the final leg of his cross-country trek to Greenbush, Maine. Like the true Jedi he is, he secretly got the package to his co-conspirator--his mother. Safe and sound and dry.

Yes, over my hiking boots, jeans, and denim shirt, I donned the complete regalia --mortar board cap and tassel, black robe, and Masters hood. For that moment in time, I captured a glimpse of myself as a much younger man. With my family surrounding me, the Penobscot River behind me--my favorite spot on earth--my thin place--the late bloomer graduate proudly, and a little awkwardly, held a framed sheepskin--a Masters degree.












A Surreal Moment

The Middle River road runs north and south; I entered it from the north. It is seldom used, but it's a pleasant and peaceful drive. Along it, a small family farm has been raising impish miniature goats for years. Their milk is used to concoct a specialized soap. Ducks, going no place in particular, happily scoot and paddle around an algae-skimmed pond. Chickens are always pecking and scratching at the dirt searching for a bug or two for a snack. The road itself is a patchwork of potholes filled again and again with asphalt. Serpentine veins of jet black tar seals cracks caused by decades of expansion and contraction brought on as winter blends into spring. Trees keep squeezing closer and closer toward its middle leaving it with frail, skinny shoulders. Age-old oaks and maples stretch from side-to-side, forming a lush, shadowy canopy. Under low, dreary, rain-laden clouds, I journeyed through twilight at four in the afternoon. Windows rolled down, I could hear the puddles splash and the lilting voice of my favorite songbird -- the Wood Thrush.

Our rustic getaway is on a gravel trail intersects with the Middle River Road. As I passed the home of the curious little goats, I could see a dim glow emerging from the entrance of the drive. Gently, and in slow motion, a swath of light eased its way across the dark, wet pavement. Then, in an instant, the remaining veneer of translucent skies above vanished, and a clean-edged, laser-like beam flashed across the Middle River Road. I pulled over, shut down my vehicle, and quietly -- almost reverently -- sat marveling at the scene before me.

Were that the only natural, spiritual, and spectacular phenomenon - it would have been enough. When I got underway again and made my final turn toward the cabin - what I had just seen was merely the opening act. I was still in the thin tunnel of brilliant light, but over the river, not more than 50 yards away, the muted, moody skies released illuminated, shimmering, syncopated raindrops, and amid them was an iridescent arc of red, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

It was surreal.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Beat Up -- but Up Beat






























At approximately 7:45 yesterday morning I was on my motorcycle traveling north on Rt. 140 from Taunton to Norton, Massachusetts. My speed was 40 -- 45 miles per hour. I saw the blue Hyundai to my right, stopped at the red octagon sign at the end of Old Taunton Avenue, with its nose pointing south. Suddenly the car lurched out in front of me -- I had nowhere to go. I hit my break, but I knew I wouldn't get stopped in the few feet that separated my front wheel from the driver's side corner of the car directly in front of me.

If you are a bike rider, you, too, have probably thought about what you would do if you were unfortunate enough to be in that kind of situation. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to do just that. I was traveling too fast to lay the bike down, so at the last second I raised up on the pegs -- my only chance was to get my body over the top of the vehicle, rather than slam into the side of it.

According to the police and the newspaper article, I was launched over 20 feet beyond the impact point. I never lost consciousness -- even when I hit the ground. I don't know what height I fell from, but I do know that I landed squarely on my back. I was wearing a Joe Rocket riding jacket. It is made of woven kevlar (the stuff they make bullet proof vests with), and has kevlar plates designed to protect the back, kidneys, chest, and elbows in a collision. I didn't skid -- there were no raspberries on any part of my body -- I just splatted on the highway. Apart from God's miraculous protection, the kevlar and helmet most likely saved my life.

Just above my tailbone the jacket ends. That is why my L4 was fractured. Also, there is immense swelling in my lumbar area, a good gash on my left leg, and one-thousand aches and pains. Significantly more so today than yesterday. Vicodin every 4-6 hours helps, but I can't imagine how I would feel without it.

PICTURES:

My knees crushed the gas tank

The front wheel and forks are pushed under the bottom of the frame

How the windshield survived is a mystery

The blue Hyundi is curled up at the impact point -- the airbags deployed

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Back Soon!

Got lots to write about, but I am temporarily on too much Vicadin (pain killers) to post. Talk to everyone later.