Thursday, August 21, 2014

A few photos...

It's going to be a hot one today, but in an hour I'm meeting folks for a paddle to Wassaw Island.  Here are a few photos from my new home.  Interestingly, with the moving van, the two pair of skis I kept came off first (I did get rid of two pair, but figure I will be make a sojourn back to snow country during the winter...
Moving van arrives in Savannah
The sailing is on the Wilmington River.  Unfortunately, we were third in this race.  The boat was a Rhodes 19.
 I don't think one could make up a better name for a street.

 Evening at Delegal Creek with the tide running out...

Friday, August 15, 2014

Goodbye Hastings...

Early this month, after a nearly 3 decade exile, I moved back South.  More about my new home later.  This is my reflection of my last walk through Hastings, taken on August 4, 2014.  I had lived in Hastings for a little over ten years 

The Old Presbyterian Church, now a community center.
This photo was taken in late April.
The air is notably cooler following the earlier thunderstorm.  There is no wind and the humidity is high and the air heavy.  I walk down Green Street toward town.  In the past decade, I've walked down this street a thousand times.  I've covered this mile in the snow, in the fog, at night, in the sun and occasionally (by accident or lack of foresight) in the rain.  This will be my last walk, least as a resident of this town. Next time, I'll be a visitor.  Wednesday morning, I'll be on the road with my dog, heading south. 

 Tomorrow is the primary election in Michigan and signs clutter many yards.  Most are for Hoot or Jerry, who are squaring off for a slot as a county commissioner.  On a personal level, I like them both.  A few people weigh in for Justin Amash, our current congressman who has managed to piss-off everyone in politics, especially his fellow Republicans.  Brian Ellis is running against him and is being supported by the establishment that once seated Gerald Ford in the House of Representatives.  As I won't be a resident in November, I've decided to sit out the primary election.  I'd feel bad voting for someone right before driving out-to-town for the final time.  Mixed in with the campaign signs are a few "no fracking" and a handful of real estate signs.  There are fewer of the latter than they were four or five years ago when the economy was really bad.  Fracking, a method of harvesting natural gas, is still a hot topic.

I've crossed Cass, Benton, and Young Streets, which I've been told were named for our town fathers.  I know many of the people on this street.  I pass Don's house.  He's a hard worker, often holding down a couple of part-time jobs in addition to his primary work at Flexfab.  Currently, he is preparing for another sale of collected antiques.  At Market, where Steve, a retired dentist lives, Green Street turns almost 35 degrees to the right and heads into town due east.  The homes here are older; some sport a detached garage with a hayloft above that remains as a reminder of a by-gone era.  In one older home, made into apartments, Sue lives with her daughter.  She'd escaped an abusive relationship in Tennessee and moved back to her home in Hastings and is now in college.  The other apartment is empty, but the woman who used to live here had a boxer that always barked when I walked by with my dog. 

Catty-cornered across the intersection with Washington is the Goodyear house, named from an early merchant family in town.  Most all houses in Hastings are known by their former tenants!  This home has a large porch with a flat roof.  When my daughter was young and they still had teenagers at home, they were a special stop on Halloween.  These kids (and a few adults) would set up as a rock band on the roof of the porch and pantomime to music blasting out of speakers, acting as if they were KISS or Motley Crew.   Halloween was always a big night on Green Street as hundreds of kids roamed around and everyone decorating their yards and handing out tons of candy.  One Halloween, a kid ahead of me darted across the street in front of a car.  Luckily, the driver was going slow and watching carefully and screeched to a stop as did my heart.  In the last few years, the police closed off the street, creating a safer environment for kids wandering around in the dark extorting candy.

A ways down on the north side of the street is Amy and Brian's.  She's a judge and he retired early and now runs a window cleaning business.  Then there's Lori's home with her Nantucket sign on a front porch, perhaps as a reminder of her hopes and dreams of where she'd like to be.  Back on the south side of the street in one of the many beautifully restored homes resides Dave, my pharmacist.  When I walk downtown early in the morning, I often see him walking into town to Bosley's Pharmacy.  As I approach the light at Broadway, I see that the huge house on the rise to the south has a new labyrinth, laid out in stone in the yard beside the project house in which the owners have been working on for the past ten years.  When I moved to town, the place was falling down and looked haunted or at least like a movie set for an episode of the Adam's Family.  Although it still isn't fully restored, they've done a remarkable amount of work on it.

As I wait for the light to change, before crossing Green Street and heading north on Broadway, I scope out the landscape on last time.  The next block to the south is Central School.  My daughter started attending there at the middle of her kindergarten year.  We could have sent her to the newer school, as many parents did, but were charmed with the old school (the main building was built in the 1930s).  Her kindergarten class had a fireplace and an in-floor goldfish pond.  That was pretty neat and overall the school was a good experience for her. She had wonderful teachers and a very caring principal.  Although John has retired as principal, hes still a good friend, and I will be ever in debt to Jean, her first grade teacher.   I'm going to miss those class field trips!   When I worked in town, I would walk up Broadway to school and my daughter would come running out into my arms to be picked up and swung around.  We'd walk back to my office, often hand-in-hand, where she'd hang around until it was time to head home. 

 I turn south on Broadway, walking in front of Girrbach's, one of two funeral homes in the town.  I'd been there many times to say goodbye to those no longer with us and to comfort friends.   At the next corner is Emmanuel Episcopal Church, a lovely brick chapel-looking church.  Across the street is the old Presbyterian Church with its slightly tipped steeple and huge white columns.  The old church building is looking nice as it is now the home of the Barry Community Resource Center, which is a wonderful use of the building that dates to the 1850s.  It houses a number of non-profit organizations and the sanctuary has been refurbished to a performing arts center.  The Presbyterians, of which I was a part, moved outside of town in 2010, onto a 34 acre tract of land next to the main highway heading toward Grand Rapids.  As a community center, the building continues to serve the town well and the new site has allowed the congregation to spread their wings. 

 In the next block, on the left side is the Adrounie House, a wonderful Bed and Breakfast run by Don and April.  I stayed there my first visit to this town, back in 2003.   Next to the Adrounie House is a parking lot.  Once Dr. Upjohns house sat there, but the home is now preserved at Charlton Park.  Upjohn started his drug business in Hastings.  Local legend has it that his machine to make capsules was so loud he was ordered to remove it out of town.  He did, to Kalamazoo and they enjoyed the success of his company (now a part of Pfizer).  Across the street from the Adrounie House is the stately courthouse, built in the 1890s.  I head over at Court Street and cross the front yard of the courthouse to State Street (not to be confused with State Road which is on the other side of the river).  I walk down State Street (which most people call Main Street as it is the business district), passing the movie theater and a host of other businesses and restaurants. On the east end, there is the town hall and the library.  They were raising money to build the latter when I arrived and it opened a few years later.  To the community's credit, all the money for the construction of the library came from the community.  Somewhere in there is a brick we purchased that has my daughter's name engraved on it.

I walk behind the library and across the footbridge over the Thornapple River, where I pause and look around and to listen to the water.  This bridge is one of the few remaining structures of the old CK&S (Chicago, Kalamazoo and Saginaw) Railroad which never made it to Chicago or Saginaw (it ran between Kalamazoo and Woodlawn), and went defunct in 1938.  At the time, the Michigan Central railroad, whose tracks paralleled the river as it ran from Jackson to Grand Rapids, acquired the trestle and used it to access the factories on the other side of the river.  The Michigan Central pulled up tracks in the early 1980s, at which time the trestle was made into a walking bridge. 
Old CK&S trestle.  This photo was taken by Vickie, a friend who paddled
the river yesterday, August 14, 2014

Darkness is descending and bats dart around scooping up mosquitoes and other insects.   Yesterday, I paddled under this bridge for the last time.  At the time, the airspace above the river seemed to be dominated by Cedar Waxwings, darting around doing their part at harvesting the insects that like to feast on human blood.   The trip was bittersweet as I haven't done much paddling of this section in the summer in recent years (I have tended to sail instead of paddle during the warmer months).  The local canoe livery has now started renting rubber tubes and the section closest to town was filled with tubers with their coolers and ubiquitous beer cans.  Cigarette smoke fouled the air and boom boxes drowned the sounds of the river and the birds.  Now it is quiet, except for the low roar where Fall Creek enters the river.  The last couple hundred yards of the creek has long been underground, as parking lots and buildings sit above it.  The huge culvert in which the creek flows into the river emits the roar as air blows through it.

 Leaving the trestle on the north side of town, I walk between buildings owned by Hastings Manufacturing, the maker of Hastings Piston Rings.   At one time they employed thousands, but today only a little over a hundred.  Many of the buildings are empty, as the company which had been locally owned for three generations went bankrupt a year or so after my arrival.  There was fear the company would cease operations, but a group of investors purchased it and it continues to chug along making high quality rings (they are an inclusive supplier to Harley Davidson).  Others of the buildings were the former home of Viking, a manufacturer of fire suppression sprinklers.  Long before I moved here, Viking moved across the river and on the west side of town.  I walk east on Mill Street, back into a residential community with houses built on a steep bank above the river, and turn left at Michigan Street, crossing the Thornapple again on the new bridge.  Below me in the water, a family of mallards preen themselves in preparation for the night.

A block ahead, behind City Hall, I stop to admire the bronze sculpture of a young girl exploring a garden.  Flowers are all around her now.  She was created by Ruth, a local artist who has lately taken hundreds of photos of me in order to paint my portrait.  Although I may leave this town, a part of me will remain.  But before she can work on the portrait, she has a couple of other statues to finish, so it won't be ready until sometime next year.  The original will hang in the Presbyterian Church and I will receive a copy.  This will do nothing to ease my struggle with vainglory.  

I stop for a beer at Vinnies Woodfired Saloon, a new restaurant and bar in town, and watch the Tigers lose to the Yankees as I admire the craftsmanship of the establishment.  The owner, a carpenter, used lots of wood and the establishment has a warm feeling about it.  Finishing my beer, I head home, taking Jefferson Street, passing the Olde Towne Tavern (known for good burgers) and the boarded up Fall Creek Restaurant. This was a favorite restaurant, but the owner, Jeff, got cancer and it closed last summer, just weeks before his death.  I miss him and his subtle humor, and his love for Santana.  His funeral ended with some musically talented friends playing Europa.  The song has a subtitle, “Earth Cries, Heaven Smiles,” which seemed to be appropriate as there were lots of tears on earth that day.  At the other end of the block is Brian's Tire, ran by Jeff's brother.  They have serviced my vehicles since I arrived in town and I have always felt that they were honest and fair and will miss doing business with them.  At Green Street, there is the Thomas Jefferson Hall, which used to be the Methodist Church.  The building is now owned by the County Democratic Party, which rents it out for auctions and antique sales as well as occasionally holding a meeting there.  On the next block stands the new Methodist Church, with its huge dome.  Last year they celebrated their 100th anniversary.  When I re-cross Broadway, I retrace my steps toward the house that will be my home for one more night.  The movers will finish up in the morning… 

For those interested, Amash and Hoot won the primary elections.  Soon, I'll have to do a post on my new home and the salt marsh that surrounds it...

Saturday, July 05, 2014

A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East (and a catch-up note)

June started out so promising: four blog post in the first two weeks!  But then life got busy.  I am now down near Savannah searching for a place to live as I am moving back (after nearly 3 decades) to the land of heat and humid and sand gnats, but also some of the most beautiful low country marsh you can imagine!  And I'm excited about the new opportunity.

Tiziano Terzari, A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East  (Nook Edition, English translation 1997)

     In 1976, a year after the fall of Saigon, Terzari, the late an Italian journalist who lived much of his adult life in Asia, was told by a fortune-teller that he should not fly during the year 1993.  Although he didn't believe in fortune-telling, the specific warning stayed with him and as 1993 began to draw near, he decided to spend the year traveling on the ground.  This book tells of his journeys that year as well as bringing to life the richness and the challenges of Asia as the 20th century drew to a close.  Having travelled along many of the same paths two decades later, I was fascinated with Terzaris insight, saddened by some of his findings, and amused by his humor.  
     Terzari experience in Asia as a journalist included being one of the few Westerners to have experienced both the fall of Cambodia and South Vietnam.  His life almost ended at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.  He was being set against a wall in Poipet to be shoot and it was only at the last minute, through his basic knowledge of Chinese, that his life was spared.  In 1993, at the time of elections in Cambodia, he once again visited that wall. (275)  Terzari began his year on the ground in Cambodia reporting on the United Nation's investigation of Khmer war crimes.  Having stopped flying, he was replaced with another correspondent who was in a helicopter crash.  Luckily, no one was killed, but the news of the crash gave Terzari a moment to reflect on the possibility.
     I was drawn to Terzaris idea of traveling on the ground for so long, especially after having travelled overland in Southeast Asia in 2011.  However, at first, I was taken back when Terzari seemed to build his trip around visits to fortune-tellers in Asia.  Every place he visited, he sought out a fortune-teller and began to compare notes and fortunes.  Unlike the West, Terzari says, Asia remained superstitious long after the West.  Communistic governments often tried to stamp out foretelling, even though as Terzari notes, many top officials even consulted foretellers before making major decisions.(85)  He even suggested one of the West's failure in its counter-espionage efforts in Southeastern Asia came from its lack of understanding the role astrology plays in Asian decision-making.(87)  From my own experience, I remember being shocked of Korean Christians consulting shamans for the best date to get married (although such a practice may not be any worse than picking your date based on the availability of the best banquet hall). 
     Terzari, I should note, outside of not flying in 1993, doesn't put much stock in the advice he receives. "One shouldn't put too much faith in fortune-tellers, at least not where details are concerned," he writes. (331)  He is interested in the different ways the art is practiced which makes his travels informative.
     Terzari spent most of 1993 traveling from his home in Bangkok.  He headed down the Malay Peninsula to Singapore, wandered his way around in Miramar/Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, China.  He then took a train from Asia to Europe to visit his home in Italy and took a freighter back to Asia.  Along the way he gains a renewed appreciation for travel:

Insights into travel; Travel is an art; and one must practice it in a relaxed way, with passion, with love.  I realized that after years of going about in airplanes I had unlearned the art-the only one I care about. (123).

Ironically I read the above quote while on an airplane!  Along the way, he often laments the changes going on in this part of the world.

Tibet, to protect its spirituality, for centuries forbade anyone to cross its borders; that is how it preserved its very special aura.  There it was the Chinese invasion that broke the spell; in the name of moderation, of course.  One of the most disturbing bits of news I have read in recent years is that he Chinese, to facilitate (what else?) tourist access, have decided to "modernize" the lighting of the Potala, the Dalai Lama's palace-temple, and have installed neon lights.  This is no accident: neon kills everything, even the gods.  And as they die, the Tibetan identity gradually dies with them.  (31)

While traveling on a container ship, he laments the lost of ships shapely elegance, and how technology has stolen poetry from a life at sea. (366, 368)
     He often employs a dry sarcastic humor.  Reporting on the work of the United Nations in Cambodia, he speaks of the various nations with troops there and their own baggage: "Indonesians responsible for massacres in Timor, Thais who have murdered unarmed protesters in Bangkok, and the police from various African dictators. (262)
     Terzani appears concern that the Chinese are dominating much of Asia (it's an age old battle as Chinese have outposts all over the region).  When visiting a Malay fortune-teller, the man told of his past life.  When asking for details, the man said:
That I do not see...  The great majority of my clients are Chinese, and if I started talking about their previous lives I would go bankrupt.  The Chinese do not care about past lives, only this life; they are interested in making money, and what they want to know is how far they can go in cheating their customers and deceiving their friends." (347)

Terzani suggested his fortune-teller friend was "another victim of the prosaic character of the times, and of the diaspora Chinese!" (347) I wondered if Terzani bias had something to do with having once been expelled from China.  Yet, in Malaysia I did see how the local Malay people were fearful of the Chinese as they tended to be the minority with the money and influence.
     Another change he finds troubling is how Western Capitalism is changing the culture.

Projecting itself as the only true model of human progress, the West has managed to give a massive inferiority complex to those who are not 'modern' in its imagenot even Christianity accomplished this, and now dumping all that is unknown in order to adopt all that is Western...  (64-65)

At another place, he laments finding karaoke (Japanese capitalism is essentially western capitalism) in the middle of a Burmese jungle and I was reminded of my own experiences in a karaoke bar in Mongolia. (366)  Terzani also calls Singapore the "Bethlehem of the great new religion of consumerism." (171)          Although Terzani explores religious beliefs along the way and compares them to the faith of his childhood, he never seems interested in religion even though he does end his question with a boot-camp on mediation that was taught by an ex-CIA American Buddhist. (376)  He seems to have a great appreciation for Buddhism and likes how the faith tradition prohibits bragging about one's progress in mediation. (384) 
     I enjoyed this book and (although a bit dated and at times Terzani can be a little condescending) recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about Southeast Asia and the role various forms of fortune-telling plays within society there.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Rolling a kayak

Where's Sage?  He's underwater!  What's he doing there?
Sage rolling a kayak near a boat launch (the boat behind me was waiting to take out)
 A few weeks ago, when I paddled the stretch of the Thornapple that ends at Thornapple Lake, I decided the water had warmed enough for me to attempt to roll my kayak.  I took my shirt off and handed my camera to my friend, Jerry, and found a place where there were no weeds and over I went.  I was like riding a bike as my paddle moved into position (an upside down high brace) as I pushed my knees into the deck of the boat and swung my hips and the boat popped back up.  Just to make sure it wasn't a fluke, I did it another few times.  It was just like riding a bike!

Coming back up
When I was in college, I used to paddle a lot of white water in kayaks and rolling was a necessity.  Glad I can still do it as it is also a good way too cool off on a hot day.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Tribute (or memories of an Ex)

Debbie 1987
A few weeks ago, I learned through Facebook that Debbie lost her battle with cancer.  I started to collect some memories of my time with her and finally got around to finishing them… Hey, this month isn't half over and I've already published more than any other month this year!

Debbie was beautiful.  She turned heads with her broad smile, big eyes and hardy laugh. She wore flowing dresses with heels that clicked and gave shape to her calves.  And she was the Deans secretary.  I was in my first year of graduate school and I never thought she would have been interested in me, but a month before school ended for the summer, she invited me to Sunday evenings dinner.  Wanting to make a good impression, I brought along a bottle of Pouilly-Fuisse.   I learned she seldom drank, but she did seem impressed and suggested we open the bottle and celebrate. Then there was the problem of a corkscrew.  She didn't have one in her apartment and suggested she might borrow one for a neighbor but I told her I thought I had a solution and ran out to my car.  Ever the Boy Scout, I had a Swiss-army knife that had a corkscrew attachment in my glove compartment.   

On Easter Sunday, I was invited to dinner with her family on Pittsburgh's Southside.  When we arrived into her parents home, her brothers were watching a documentary on a race car driver. Elliott Forbes-Robinson.  Although I had never been a big fan of racing, I actually knew him.  When I was working for the Boy Scouts, he was an assistant Scoutmaster on a troop on Lake Norman.  I recalled the story of meeting him, at a scout camp.  When he told me he was a race car driver, I asked if he raced at Hickory speedway.  Hickory was a step up from the dirt tracks of the South, but most of the drivers were still amateurs.  No, he said, I have not raced there.  Where do you race? I asked.  He started listing off an impressive list of cities with Cam-Am and such races and I stood there thinking, "Yeah, right, and I'm Daniel Boone."  I later learned that he really was a race car driver, although at the time he didn't drive NASCAR, he did drive those fancy cars and was one of the top drivers in the world.  He had a boy in scouts and as he wasn't racing at that week, had camped out with the troop.  Telling the story, Debbie's brothers learned that I really wasn't a racing fan, but they were impressed that I had personally met one of the greats.

Over the next few weeks, we began having lunch together in the dining hall and went out every weekend.  I suggested a Saturday afternoon baseball game and she was up for it.  When I arrived to pick her up, she handed me two tickets!  I didn't know what to say, but as a poor student was thankful.  Then I looked at the seats and was humbled.  Her brother worked for one of the high-end hotels in Pittsburgh and they had tickets that no one had claimed so he gave them to Debbie for us to enjoy.  We sat directly behind home plate, five rows up.  It'd never had such good seats for a major league game, nor have I had such good seats since.  You have to love a girl whose brother arranges to cover the expenses of the date. 

Later that evening, Debbie and I walked up a hill and held hands as we watched the sun set.  I felt as if I was the luckiest man in the world.

Debbie was close to her family and on another weekend, she and her brothers had given their mother a evening ride in a balloon across Southwestern Pennsylvania.  When the mother got in the basket with a few other sightseers and a pilot, we raced along the countryside following the balloon until they finally set down in a cow pasture and we retrieved her mother.  This would be a lot easier today, with cell phones, but this was 1987.

The day I left school at the end of the semester, we had breakfast together at a local King's Restaurant.  I wanted to do something special and had purchased some of her favorite perfume, hoping that as she used it she would remember me during the summer.  She seemed pleased and we even talked about her meeting up with me in Delaware Water Gap as I hiked the Appalachian Trail.  Although we were not in a committed relationship, we talked about picking up where we were at in September.  After breakfast, I drove to my parents in North Carolina and a week later, I started my summer hike from Virginia to Maine.  At first, she wrote and seemed excited when I called, but as I continued to hike, I heard less and less from her.  I knew something was up.  Even though I had started hiking with the thoughts of coming back to her arms, I realized this was not going to be the case.  When I arrived back at school, I was on cloud nine, having just finished my summer hike, essentially completing the Appalachian Trail completed (I still had a 25 mile section to do).  That first day everyone seemed concerned about how I was going to take being dropped, but I had given up on her mid-way through the summer.  I learned she had connected with someone at a summer wedding (they may had known each other before) and was engaged.  One of the kindness things that happened was the Dean inviting me out to lunch.  He, too, was concerned with how I was handling things, but we mostly talked about my hike as my head was still in the mountains. After a summer of hiking, our short romance seemed light-years away.

A few years ago, Debbie sent me a message and a friendship request via Facebook.   A quarter century had passed as she left her position as the Deans secretary shortly after I'd returned from hiking the trail.  We chatted a few times and I learned her marriage had been horrible and she had spent most of her life on her own, but that she was blessed with a couple of boys who are now adults.  She apologized for having treated me horribly.  I thanked her for the apology, but told her my life had continued on and was going well.  Then she told me about the breast cancer.  Over the years since that chat, I would occasionally learn through Facebook about how each new treatment was less effective.  But she was strong in her faith and always maintained a positive outlook, but at times she'd ask for prayers and I would pray.  In early May, the disease finally took her and I found myself shedding tears.  She was a beautiful woman who was so proud of her boys (her sons and her brothers).  I felt a small piece of their pain.