Monday, May 28, 2007

small slice

i know it's been a long time since the last time i wrote. an awful lot of stuff was going on over here and a lot of it cut too close to center, if you can imagine that. i didn't want to talk about the depression, which was bad. i didn't want to talk about the very bad thing that happened, nor the prophetic dream, nor the worse thing that happened, nor the couple of weeks in the hospital.

i don't think i'll ever talk about the very, very bad thing. i'm still having a hard time getting over it.

but with all this stuff i didn't want to talk about, you can perhaps imagine how it was that i had a hard time getting started writing about the things i was willing to talk about.

so i think i just want to tell you about a small sliver, about an hour and a half from this afternoon.

i don't know what the weather was like today at your house, but here the sky was clear and bright blue and it was chilly out until the sun warmed up the places where the sun was shining. so a walk down the road was warm and cool and warm and cool and so on.

i have gone on at length elsewhere in this blog about the fact that i live in west bolton, a place i have loved with all my heart ever since i was sixteen. downtown west bolton isn't much more than a four-way stop. nashville road (halfway down the road are four houses and an intersection with a dead end. this is nashville. it says so on the map.) anyway, nashville road is the main approach from more populated areas. it's mostly straight and mostly flat and it approaches our downtown from the west. to the south (i'm heading counter-clockwise, or widdershins if you prefer) - to the south is stage road, the only alternative that isn't a dead end.

i live up stage road.

the eastern arm of the intersection is short and steep and it would go right up the mountain, but it stops pretty early on, but there used to be mills up there. to the north is cemetery road, which used to go all the way through to underhill (although they have a different name for it on their side) only now its cut off just past the cemetery by the giant NO TRESPASSING signs. actually, it's kind of weird coming up cemetery road because for most of the way there are tall fences and barbed wire and no trespassing signs on both sides, all the way up to the cemetery.

i set out from my house in the early afternoon, tossing not-my-cat (more about her some other day) out onto the porch. while i was in the hospital i developed the habit of going for walks as often as i could. my shoulder hurts a lot and i don't want to ride. but it was very pleasant, all the way to what we call downtown.

we're not being funny, calling that one intersection downtown; in the last years of the nineteenth century it was a boom town. there were mills and stores and smithies and farms and granaries and houses. lots of them. but in the early years of the twentieth century the government bought some of the land west of cemetery road and north of nashville road. at the beginning of world war I the army bought more of the land and used it for a training encampment.

then it kind of waned for a while, but eventually the government decided to make it more of a permanent training facility. they use it for a firing range for both small arms and large artillery. it has world-class nordic skiing trails. it is one of the nation's foremost training grounds for cold weather rescue and law-enforcement officers from all over the US come in winter.

all through the twenties and thirties the government acquired most of the farms and buildings. there was much talk later on that the government had forced out the residents, but the truth is that it was all hardscrabble farming and it was the depression and the government was paying a little more than market value.

the buildings were bulldozed and the debris cleared. everything along one side of the road was now firing range. except for this one long corridor up to the cemetery, which is still active.

when you get to downtown, the millbrook (once again, not just a fancy name. if you walk along it, you will see the ruins of some of the mills.) anyway, the millbrook is just a little bit down cemetery road. a narrow bridge goes over it. i went down the little path to the water, and i thought i'd look for a holed stone to give to Barbara. it's supposed to be lucky to find a holed stone, and lucky to receive one as a gift.

i found four.

and there's this collection of big rocks under the bridge. well, not really huge, but big enough to sit or lie down on, and i like these rocks very much on their own merit, but i also like them because they remind me of a day when i came here with Flyingfisher and Tharagleb. my favorite picture of Flyingfisher is one in which she's standing in the sunlight against the bridge abutment.

i want to get over to those rocks, but i have to go up and over the road. there's a little red eft sitting very still on the top of one of the rocks, but he has this bug on him and i think it will do him a favor to take it off.

but the eft falls into the water, in a place that has to be the rough equivalent of me falling off of niagara falls. he's teeny, and in comparison this little part of the rapids looks HUGE. i'm so saddened, but there's nothing i can do, i think, having considered plunging into the water to try to save him. and i'm just sitting on the rock when the miracle happens: i see him swim up to a crack in the rock and once he surfaces it takes him a while to climb out and he doesn't seem worse for wear.

the miracle, of course, is not that he swims to safety; that's what they do. they swim. the miracle is that i was there to see it.

i lie back on the rock for a while, staring up. my favorite color is that particular green of leaves against a blue sky. then i sit up for a while, looking upstream at the swimming hole and the falls above it. i listen, maybe for God's voice, maybe for something else. i've been struggling with bitterness in my soul and the chatter of it is overwhelming a lot of days.

quietly, i come up from the streambed and keep walking up the road. in a few minutes i am at the ruins of the baptist church. i stay there for a few moments, facing the center of the church, where some of the larger trees are larger around than i could reach.

i get up to the cemetery. there's a blue car parked up there, but i don't see anybody. i open the gate and go in. it's an active cemetery, although there are many graves from the early nineteenth century. the veterans all have fresh flags on their graves, except for richard bacon. usually he gets a fresh flag, but for some reason not this year. maybe someone forgot? he is unusual for a vermont hill cemetery because although he was a civil war veteran, he served with the confederate army. they give him a confederate flag.

i walk around and pay my respects and i notice with some alarm that they seem to be running out of space there at the back of the cemetery. i want to be buried here, i think. i'd better get jumping.

but then i go an lie down in the shade of a tree, near some of the union veterans and i hear gunshot, whic would not be unusual, since this is a firing range, except i thing this is illegal firing -probably just target shooting- because it's coming from the wrong direction.

huh, i think. good thing i'm on the ground.

so i keep my head down and i'm enjoying the relative peace and i hear the boys come out of the woods and they're talking about stuff, getting ready to go and i know they can't see me and they don't know i'm there, which scares me a little when they squeeze off a couple more shots and then the really startling thing happens: from the OPPOSITE side someone shouts "HALT AND CEASE FIRE!"

and the boys peel out down the road and i'm standing there wondering what will happen if the guard comes my way.

they don't. i assume that they hear the departure of the car and turn back.

i figure it's as good a time as any to brush the moss off of me and head for home.

Friday, February 23, 2007


my neighborhood kids have all gone to ground. in the wake of the valentine's day blizzard they've dug holes in all the snowbanks and when you drive by, heads pop up out of the holes, kind of like prairie dogs. so far the children have stayed clear of my snow fort. one day last week a kid started to cross over in front of my house and i had the urge to go out and tell him to get out of my snowbank.

terrific. i'm forty-two years old and i'm ready to become that cliché old guy, shaking a fist.

i have a valentine on the wall over my desk. a handmade valentine on pink paper, and covered with glitter. all the writing is in the scrawl of a young child. the artist has her locker near my classroom this year, on the senior hallway. the valentine is from very long ago.

when the kids give me artwork, i save it in a file and when they graduate i give it back. sometimes in the intervening years i take it out and look at it.

dave melted down today. the work he was looking at seemed unmanageable to him and he couldn't cope. "you're important to me", i told him. "i want you to trust that i'll help you break it down into pieces you can handle." we moved on. i checked his work. we went to lunch.

"you hate me", he said.
"i think only one of us gets to decide that."

i have learned that "you hate me" is what he says just before he's ready to let it go. hey, whatever helps.

there's this other kid. "when it's time for you to ask for recommendations for your college applications, please remember me", i told him. i'm pretty good with a recommendation letter, and sometimes my letter tips the balance. mostly i think it's because the letters i write are usually for kids for whom i volunteered to write.

i kind of had to explain to this kid what goes into a college application, but he looked up at me and said "wow. that means a lot to me."

you kind of have to know this kid to understand, but he is smart and funny and thoughtful. he cares about the way people behave. he is resilient. people have told him he'd make a good priest, a good teacher, a good businessman. the truth is that he will be good at whatever he sets his hand to. he knows what it's like to have life knock you around a bit, and someday i think he'll come out on the top of the pile.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

glad you didn't

i laugh a lot at work. middle school kids are riotously funny, and not in the unintentional way that little kids are. they're at an age where they're beginning to develop adult personalities. they're starting to really get irony. they have a terrific sense of the absurd, of the weird.

of course they're also testing boundaries. it's their job to push limits. it's our job to keep them safe. i have to step in frequently and quash inappropriate language and sometimes subject. i'm pretty inflexible on that point. the kids are always shocked to learn that i have music on my ipod that would not be suitable for class. the classroom, i keep telling them, is a polite environment.

one day a long time ago a bunch of eight grade boys were talking in a corner and i heard one say "well, that's a lot of titties first thing in the morning." and i was about to step in when i saw another boy lean in. "yeah," he said, "but how many of them are milkin' head?"

welcome to dairy country.

about the same time we had this one eighth grade kid who was having trouble with the standard middle school discipline. he got up in the mornings and did a man's work, went to school and then in the afternoons he went home and did a man's work at a man's wages. he was having some trouble with being treated during the day like a boy.

and because he was making a man's wages but had no housing costs, he was making buckets of money. i asked him what he planned to do with it all. "i'm going to put it away and buy myself a house and a car", he said. i said i thought it was admirable. "a lot of young guys can't see past beer and pizza", i said.

"oh, don't make fun of them things", he said. "us men, we like beer and pizza."

sweet kid. i wonder where he is now; i hope he's well. i hope he has that house and that car. i hope he's happy.

Monday, January 22, 2007


i loved fred rogers. when i was a kid i used to rush home after school to watch him and if i hurried and got the timing just right i could catch he light at the corner and beat the schoolbusses onto the street. if it sounds to you like i was driving, that's because i was. i was never interested in mr. rogers when i belonged to the target audience, but i loved him at seventeen.

why? because everything else on television in the afternoons was at the very least fun at somone else's expense, and there was fred, promoting kindness and decency.

i'll tell you something: i was at home sick the day anwar sadat was assassinated. they got the footage of the assassination in and put it right on the air, without editing it. there was blood spurting from arteries, body parts strewn about. the carnage was filmed up close. in all the subsequent airings, the worst of it was cut out, but it was still pretty horrific.

because i was sick, i felt too bad to change the channel. i was already dizzy and nauseated. and when the wave passed and i could get up, channel after channel (pre-remote) featured violence of some kind.

except for fred.

i was so happy to see him that i cried.

and a long time ago i was at a high school soccer game and a young woman on my team scored an own goal. a thing like that would have killed me, but she kept her head and kept going, scoring two goals to answer, thereby becoming the MVP for both sides. i think of her sometimes, when i've made a mistake and i have to make it better and continue on. she was to me the very picture of composure under such a situation.

and there's this kid i know who is aggressive and loud in his response to stupid stinking racism wherever he finds it. i think he actually goes out of his way to find it sometimes. he is a young man of courage and determination. i hope to be like him in that regard. he is going to stand tall and cast a long shadow.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

hotel new hampshire

well, i'm over here in durham. i came for a school visit at oyster river middle school. i'm unaccustomed to travel for work; usually the farthest i travel is the cafeteria. it's a pretty long drive from home and farther from work, so i'm staying. i might could go that far tonight, but it's safer for me to stay over and rest.

maybe this is all kind of gee-whiz-look-at-that, but breakfast is pretty good and they drop a newspaper at your door in the morning. makes me feel almost like a grownup.

this aftenoon after school there was still some good light, so i went for a little light geocaching. you ust KNEW geocaching would turn up somewhere, didn't you? the snow and rain earlier this week coated durham pretty bulletproof. it was impossible most places to kick in, even with tough boots. at one place i had to buttslide down a little hill and it was a scary, bumpy ride.

at the bottom i found a recently dead squirrel. i know it was fresh because it wasn't frozen solid yet. no apparent wounds; it looked sleek and healthy, except for the part about being dead.

last night i had dinner with the Flyingfishers. she made a really good stew with chicken and sweet potato. some kind of mexican dish, i think. and monty was pretty cranky. i'd be cranky too, if i had to wear a cone on my head. he had a mystery wound. pretty nasty looking. and he looks so sad about the cone. i felt tlike i wanted my head scratched, just looking at it.

and me, i'm having a rough week. i have no idea what happened, but monday after lunch i started to feel kinda bad. i didn't know what was going to happen, but i called rumblestrip to tell her i didn't feel good. then i went to the gym and worked out like usual. all through my workout it was all i could do to keep from crying. by the time i got home, i'd had it. i was done and i didn't care. i cried for a while, but then i got my stuff together and i was heading out the door when the phone rang.

rumblestrip, of course.

"i'm coming over", she said.

and i let her do it. i'm not sure why. but she sat with me until it was time for bed. in the morning i got up and went to work. it was a hard day; it's no small thing to work a full day after a thing like that.

and darn. sitting here right now, i just felt my heart rate race. it's a problem i've been having a lot. last couple of sets of bloodwork i've had, i came back with elevated thyroid function, which is kind of surprising because i'm taking lithium, which will depress thyroid function.

come to think of it, a thing like monday could have been partly caused by thyroid problems. maybe it's worth considering.

i'll let you know how it goes. i've got to go find some dinner.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

trick question

so today this kid comes into my classroom and pursuant to another conversation, he says "i have a sister in 6th grade", and he names the feminine equivalent of his brother's name.

"so", i said, putting down my book and taking my feet off of my desk, "think carefully. this is a trick question: is that meant to insult your brother, or women in general?"

"my brother", he says.

"think again. use your logic. if calling him a girl is meant to be an insult, the implication is that girls are inherently inferior, which is kind of an insult to every woman on the planet, and we don't like it."

he listens, but does not give any indication if he hears or not. at any rate, it is the kind of thing i can say to him, because i've known him a long time and i have much respect and affection for him, which i think is mutual.

the conversation moves on to basketball, which is what he'd rather talk about, anyway.

and i stepped back and had a good look at him. i remember when he was a teeny little boy, but today he is tall and handsome. he looks for a moment like a real man, which he'll be soon enough.

i fell in love once in the produce aisle of the supermarket, over the tomatoes. the man had blue eyes and hands that were lithe and graceful. he smiled at me and we exchanged a few words and in those few seconds in my head i had already married him and borne him children.

yes, it was a surprise.

i don't know why i did not offer him my number. i kept going back all summer to see if he would return. i spent a lot of time in the produce aisle, different days, different hours. an eggplant groupie.

and then last week i was in traffic and the guy in the car behind me caught my eye. he had red hair, a red beard, red moustache. i'm partial to redheads. i was originally a redhead myself.

well, truthfully, i was bald until i was almost three, but eventually i became a redhead.

but he was kind of fretting in traffic; maybe tired, maybe late.

i love you, i thought. and it was true. i don't know where he went; i lost track of him after he got on 289. but i loved him. hoped for the best for him, sent my heart out to him.

i don't know why.

but the light turned green. i lost him. wherever he is tonight, i hope he's well.


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