Monday, June 23, 2008

Georgia Books and Water

I think I found a kindrid spirit, or at least an ideal reader. We have a few things in common: he also raises two kids, likes to fish, has a disdain for weed eaters, and has spent time in Slovenia.

"Finally, I also liked the fact that, though the author explores the more complex issues of kids in nature, his essays are all firmly grounded in the reality of actually having and raising kids." Amen Eddie Suttles.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Big Picture Window

Rachel Carson saw the big picture, saw that if you killed all the bugs, there wouldn’t be any birds, nor any other forms of life. We’ve just spent a week in Maine, at her summer cottage on rural Southport Island, looking out the very big window she often sat near. We have views of a few pines directly outside and then the Sheepscot River beyond and the forested island on the other side.

This morning it is calm, smooth surface, but last night the wind swept through and we watched silvery waves reflect the sun going down over the island. It would be beautiful here even were it not Rachel’s cottage: we’ve seen lady’s slippers and bunchberry, osprey and eider ducks, and the kids have spent most of their time in the surrounding woods or down on the rocky beach, especially in the tide pools. That it is Rachel’s cottage adds something more, a particular a reverence, a gratitude maybe for what is here. Her presence surrounds us, not only in the handwriting we saw on the door, the growth chart, but in every walk through the woods and along the “edge of the sea.” So we speak in hushed tones.

The cottage is rustic, exactly as it should be. The place could probably be a national heritage site, but its quiet charm would be ruined. And it is quiet--except for the wind and the gentle sweep of the tides, this place is absolutely quiet and serene. Besides, no tourist busses would fit on these narrow streets. It’s cool too. I now know what so many made the trip to Maine in summer. Before air conditioning, this was where you could sleep at night. It was here that Carson went after Silent Spring came out and she wanted a respite from the media coverage and attacks by chemical companies (“What does she know about future generations? She’s a spinster.”) A perfect place to rest. Simple, without distraction, with a big picture window looking out onto what matters.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Get Out and Play

Here's an article from The Princeton Packet on the book and an upcoming reading at Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed, Thursday June 26, 7:30.

One thing about the article: I don't know for sure if fewer kids are swimming in the river as I don't live there anymore. I was mainly commenting to the reporter (and in the essay "Swimming Holes") about the differences between that Delaware culture and the one I experience at home on the New, but perhaps both have changed some. Fewer swimmers in both places.

Since this came out near my hometown, I heard from an old teacher: "It's always fun for me to answer the retired educator question, 'What ever happen to ...?' Another mystery solved!"

Father's Day -- The Right Tools

WVTF, local NPR station, featured this essay for Father's Day. Listen.

My father was a busy person during the week, busy at some office he commuted to before I woke up. On the weekends, he was also busy, still up before dawn but working at home. If you wanted to be around him, you joined him outside, working on projects, doing chores. If we had to mow, I clipped around the light pole and mailbox. If we to had to plant a tree or shrub, I scraped out the rocks between shovels full of dirt. The weekend often held at least one big job: the shed a new roof, the dock a new paintjob, the riverbank a new wall.

We lived on the Delaware, and to keep the bank from washing away, one summer my dad decided to build a retaining wall. We would use discarded railroad ties, washed up on shore. In a little boat with an outboard engine, I scouted nearby islands for square, black logs. If they weren’t too drenched or decayed, we towed our catch home. Trip after trip, we found so many ties we had enough for our bank and those of a few friends.

We often had help from the neighbors, from the Millers or his friend Bill, or any passersby. We pounded in metal posts to keep the ties back, then spiked them together and put in the perpendiculars, the deadmen, to hold in the earth. There was much talk during the process, much discussion of strategy and design (or lack thereof), and much ribbing and needling, “here, hold this while I whack it with the sledge.”

Sometimes I was allowed a thump on the nail head, though it didn’t disappear into the wood much, nor go in very straight. I performed other valuable tasks like remove debris or run errands. These led to me staring at the pegboard behind the workbench in confusion and comments like this back at the site: “Those are vise grips. I said channel locks.”

We’re known as a nation of do-it-yourselfers, but we were do-it-togetherers. Of course, the job of the right-hand-man is never glamorous: holding things in position, handing over (the wrong) tools, answering “yes” to the eternal question: “does this look straight?” He did the fun stuff, boring holes with the drill, hacking limbs with the chain saw. I once vowed to let my son have full artistic expression with my power tools, but he’s not allowed to have any fun either.

But I learned much on those projects, learned how things fit together and how to work as one, built relationships with people rather than with the screen. There were physical benefits too, always moving and carrying things, running for tools and then back again for the right ones. And sometimes I simply lost interest in the project and wandered along river’s edge, found treasures in the drift pile, or built my own walls out of stones. I caught minnows or crayfish to be contained in my rock pier and discovered the joy found in the natural world.

These days, with my wife at work full-time, I’m often more valuable inside, more cook and cleaner than handyman. But if I gained any flare at fixin’ things, at building walls or even catching crayfish, I owe it to those weekends following around dad.

Which is where I’ll be this father’s day. Outside. On that river. And I hope my kids will be there with me, getting me something I (and they) really need. Getting out. Building something together and with the right tools.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Pink Slippers, Black Racers, and Red-eyed Singers

Saw one of these exquisite beauties on the trail up to Dragon's Tooth the other day. Also saw a black racer. When I moved it with my hiking stick, it coiled and rattled a little, mimicking something more harmful (who knew?). We only made it to the spur where the Forest Service meets the AT, but we marked this one for another day. Would be a good hike to do in spring--good for wildflowers. Loved the sound of wind through the trees and the red-eyed vireo: "here I am, where are you."