February in these parts (Western Massachusetts) brings certain things both outdoors and indoors. Outdoors, as pictured here, buckets go up on maple trees to collect sap that will be boiled down to make maple syrup. Why February? Because that's when sap rises in the trees. An ideal cycle goes like this: Daytime temperatures in the thirties and forties draws the sap upward; nighttime temperatures below freezing forces the sap back down the tree. This process isn't completely regular. Some days aren't warm enough; some nights not cold enough, but you get the idea. This is one of the first signs of spring. What about indoors? Ladybugs show up inside the house, probably having spent the winter hiding in our many plants, but who knows for sure. Since they tend to cluster on windows, it's probably the stronger light of February days that draws them out. And what about the local human residents? Willie is making an excellent recovery from her cataract surgery; Dorothy, though still challenged by nerve damage to her left hip and leg, manages to walk without a cane or walker for upwards of eight hundred feet. Gerry? He's writing his first blog of 2024!
Okay. This title is perhaps too dramatic, almost embarrassingly so. But for almost a year--October 7, 2022 to September 25, 2023--I had to wear a catheter to deal with a prostate condition. An operation to correct the situation had to be delayed again and again. Believe me, having to wear catheters through that period was no fun. Then I finally had the operation. Catheter free at last! What a huge relief!
Now on to other news: Dorothy and I are both now in our mid-eighties. I had my eighty-fifth birthday last week. I'm still finding it hard to believe. Other than normal daily activities--house maintenance, yard work (raking up leaves is a big deal in November), shopping, and the rest--we've been trying to downsize. No, we're not planning to move out of our house, but stuff--loads and loads of stuff--has accumulated in closets and drawers during the fifty-eight years we've lived here. Sorting through all that stuff and figuring out what to do with it takes time. Expect more news (hopefully, it'll be progress reports) in future blogs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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 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.