Yes, it's spring here. The magnolia tree has been magnificent. The daffodils have come and mostly gone. The lilacs are about to burst into full bloom, and the lawn is greening up. Swamp marigolds are brilliant yellow. The temperatures are cool--in the fifties--but the advantage of that is that it stretches out the time when these early flowers are full blown. Meanwhile, I've been wrking on a project in Leverett town history. This month the library will celebrate its twentieth anniversary in its modern building. I've tracked the locations of previous branch libraries which were mostly in the homes of local residents. That might sound simple, but it isn't so easy to pin down precisely which place housed the library, say, in 1902. Yes, one brnch was in the "Bourn place" in the Moore's Corner district. But what house was that? No house numbers in those days! Also, some of the people who live in those houses today had no idea that residents a hundred years or more ago had opened their doors to book borrowers. My health, which was a focus of a January blog, is pretty much the same. The good news is that I'm able to do nearly everything I normally would do. A medication that might resolve the situation doesn't kick in fully until August. Wish me luck.
Spring in New England
Better Late Than Never
Yes, it's been a while since I posted to this blog. What happened was that I spent a lot of time on the way to the hospital by ambulance (four times, all for different causes), in the hospital, and in recovery from health problems. Out of the four causes, three are pretty much resolved. The remaining one will probably require surgery. Stay tuned. But at least today I finally felt up to doing some posting. A picture and more information will follow, God willing, in due time.
Remembering Les Patlove (1943-2022)
My friend Les Patlove died in August. He was the sort of man to whom the saying "salt of the earth" applies. Les and I met nearly thirty years ago as members of a small rural Buddhist outpost, Valley Zendo, in Charlemont, Massachusetts. We bonded through our shared experience of doing long meditation retreats (sesshins) at the Zendo. Starring at a wall for fourteen hours a day was not the easiest way to get to know someone, but through the steadiness and determination that Les displayed I became certain that he would be a good friend, and he was. Les brought many special qualities to our sangha (Zendo community): His strong commitment to the practice was an example that inspired all of us. His knowledge of carpentry and construction helped keep the Zendo property in good shape. And whenever, as is inevitable in community life, challenges arose, he always had well-considered, wise advice to share. In addition to all that, he was a talented musician and a loving husband. He will be sorely missed.
The Septic System Saga
In Nov. 2021, just as winter was about to set in, we learned that our old (1962) septic tank was failing. We rushed to replace it, starting the process with a "perc" test of the soil that had to be done before the ground froze and hiring an engineer to design a new system that would meet the exacting standards required today. For those of you whose houses are hooked up to a town or city sewer line, the urgent need we had to replace our own disposal system for sewage and waste water may not be immediately obvious. But a total failure of our private system would mean that sewage would back up into the house. Ugh! So early this year we went through the fairly complicated process of getting the town Board of Health to okay our plans. Then we were fortunate to find a local (Leverett, MA) company to do the installation: L&F Construction. In July they showed up with a huge backhoe, lots of pipe for the leach field, and many truckloads of sand, gravel, and topsoil. A separate company delivered a 2000-gallon concrete septic tank. Lots of truck and excavator noise for five days! But the end result, a level grass surface 60 by 60 feet square, looks great.
Remembering Milton Cantor
My dear friend Milton Cantor died in March, a little more than a month from his ninety-seventh birthday. Milton was one of his generation's finest historians of American legal issues, the author of three major books and the editor of seven more. His most important books were The Divided Left: American Radicalism, 1900-1975 (1978) and The First Amendment Under Fire: American Radicals, Congress and the Courts (2017). He taught at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for forty years (1963-2002).
Beyond these and many other stellar professional accomplishments, Milton is best remembered for his exceptional capacity for friendship. For more than two decades, he drew together a group of six friends for luncheon conversations every four to six weeks at a local restaurant in Amherst. As someone fortunate enough to participate in those gatherings, I treasure the memory of the wide-ranging discussions we had of history, politics, and literature and, above all, the laughs that accompanied this good fellowship. Milton was a rare spirit who will be much missed.
February: Hopes for 2022
The year is still young. Time to list some hopes for 2022.
1. Health: No more visits to Cooley Dickinson's ER. None of us will trip and fall (as all three of us did in 2021). Dorothy's walk will continue to improve. Willie will find plenty of time to work on the murals in her Joan of Arc series. (See example pictured above.) Gerry will pass all his medical tests this month and lose some pandemic pounds.
2. Home: The new septic system will be successfully built.
3. Our old car (2008) and truck (2007) will continue to run well.
4. World: The Covid pandemic threat will diminish. The midterm elections won't be too messy, and please, no more wars!
Sound like tall tales? Maybe, but hope springs eternal.
2021: Downs and Ups
2021 was a year of ups and downs, sometimes downers and uppers happening all at once. In the large picture, the Covid pandemic and political turmoil were definitely major downers.
Even at the local level, there were many tough moments. Our beloved feral adoptee cat, Fizzy/ Fuzzy/ Princess (she adopted us more than ten years ago) died, the last of a long line of nineteen cats that shared our house with us over the past fifty-five years. Dorothy took a couple of bad falls in August that left her depending, until recently, on a cane or walker to remain upright. Gerry also had two falls face down in grass that left him stunned and headed for the ER, where he was tested for a possible cardiac event: EKG, CT scan, x-rays, and blood tests came out okay, so what started as a downer, ended on a positive note. Then, early in December, we learned that our septic tank is failing.
With all that, 2021 wasn't a bad year in our little three-person Triastery, as we call it. Willie tripped and broke her right wrist, but all the x-rays showed that she has strong bones, and her recovery was amazingly fast and successful for an eighty-eight-year-old. Dorothy's recovery is progressing well, especially in recent weeks. Gerry's effort to downsize his possessions progressed: a huge stamp collection gone, some vintage photos of Arizona in the 1890s have found a home, and he's located neighbors who want to give their grandkids a dozen or so each of Gerry's gems and minerals. The kids seem to be about the age Gerry was when he started his collection in the late 1940s, which produces a warm feeling.
More positives could be mentioned, but let's end on a humorous point. One morning (3 AM!) Willie was awakened by the sound of the garage door that's below her apartment going up and down. She called me to check it out. Sure enough, the automatic door motor had gone bezerk. Gerry unplugged the system, noting that the plug was a bit loose in the socket. The next day, he plugged it in firmly, and it seemed to work fine. But the next morning (4 AM this time!) the door was off and running again. Threats: "You can be replaced!" didn't work, so now we've had a new system installed. Another happy ending!
November: Gerry's Birthday Month Reflections
I've always been impressed by what a happy fellow I am in this picture. My mother, who may be exused for a measure of maternal exaggeration, always maintained that I was a cheerful baby who laughed a lot. The explanation may lie in the fact that I was fortunate to have loving parents, a loyal and accepting older brother, and wider relationships, particularly with a grandmother and several sisters of hers, who supported my interests in stamp collecting, rockhounding, and travel. Admittedly, some of the stress and strain that's come into my life in the eighty-two years since this picture was taken has dented my ebullience somewhat. Nevertheless, I believe that my youthful happiness remains at the foundation of my adult outlook: a tendency to be optimistic, content, and full of wonder with the natural world that surrounds me. And I remain fortunate in many ways: blessed in having a loving wife, a beautiful house on a wooded rural lot, good health, and good friends.
October: Month of Golden Wind
October is the time in our part of western Massachusetts that trees turn from green to yellow, orange, and red. When a strong wind blows, the leaves fly off in a Golden Wind. By November, the tree limbs are bare. Looking out the window into our back yard during meditation this morning, I could see the first signs of this change. In the next ten to fifteen days the leaves will reach their peak of color. This spectacular transition from summer to winter happens every year. Yes, it's beautiful, but it's also a reminder of the impermanence of all things, a truth that has a solemn element to it. If I were able to live entirely in the now of the splendid colors, I might enjoy this transition more, but I'm always aware--looking ahead--that there are going to be many leaves to rake and then, quite soon, snow to shovel. It is a long and sometimes dark period of waiting from now until green leaves reemerge in May.
Hard to Believe: Married for 57 years!
On this date, August 15, 1964, Dorothy and I married in a small ceremony at my mother's house in San Leandro, CA. Fifty-seven years later we're still together and still in love. When I stopped by a florist's this morning to buy a red rose for Dorothy, I told the clerk about the longevity of our marriage, and she asked, "What's your secret?" It took me a moment to gather my wits, and the first thing I said was that early in our marriage we had pledged ourselves to stay together even through rough spots. Only later did I realize that the secret to doing that is practicing forgiveness, something that doesn't always come easily or immediately.