Breached

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I’m at a café on the oceanfront this morning. It is in the teens outside with a wind chill of not yet in the teens. From this table with tea and hot scrambled eggs, I can see as far as one can see; the air is clear, and except for a few surface clouds on the horizon just before dawn, the sky is completely blue.

There’s a clear riptide, otherwise the water is relatively calm for such a blustery day with changing weather patterns. Gulls all gathered right along the break line, and I swear it looks like they’re daring each other to go in the water and get some breakfast. One osprey did dive, came up with a small fish in its claws and carried it to the rooftop above me.

The server brought more hot water and juice. How easy it is to enjoy this vista from inside a glass wall sitting above a heating vent drinking peppermint tea.

But earlier, I went out for a walk on the boardwalk. A few joggers—clearly members of one of the SEAL teams judging by their physique and t-shirts and indifference to the weather—passed with a kind “good morning sir.” I’m at the age everyone calls me “sir.” I walked about four miles and couldn’t keep my eyes off the deep blue Atlantic, inviting and powerful. It looks the same from in here as it does when it is hot outside, except for the foam gathering along the beach where sea-spray is freezing as fast as it forms.

On a January day not unlike this one, though probably a bit warmer, I was out on the water just off the north end of the beach between the Cape Henry and the Cape Charles lighthouses in the mouth of the Chesapeake with my Dad.

We went whale watching. Early one day decades ago Dad and I decided to get up early and drive to an inlet at the beach and board a boat with about twenty other freezing people. We stood on the bow for forty minutes without ever so much as seeing a single whale. We decided it was just a beautiful day to be out there, to see the coast from a distance and enjoy the ride. We even laughed about the time I was supposed to go whale watching but didn’t. I lived in Massachusetts, and the family threw Dad a surprise party for his sixtieth birthday in Virginia Beach.

On the phone one day I told him I was heading up to Maine to go whale watching that weekend, and he was so happy for me. “Oh boy, that should be something,” I can hear him saying with earnest excitement. The truth was I was flying south to surprise him along with my siblings and a plethora extended family and friends. When he walked in the door he was indeed surprised and touched and laughed in great joy with each person he saw. He said to me, “I thought you were whale watching!” and I swear he sounded a bit disappointed. When I assured him I would still be going when I got home, he seemed relieved. I didn’t understand this too much until I was a father, my own son telling me about things he planned to do.

When Dad and I went whale watching together here, my son had not yet been born, and we rode on the bow, holding the rail and watching gulls gather in the wake. We had this in common, the love of nature, the beauty of the world around us. It was something we talked about, whether it be bird-watching in his backyard or the looking at the ocean while sitting in a restaurant. Even when I lived in the west and again in New England, I’d call him and tell him of my desert hikes or mountain climbs and he loved hearing about them.

On the boat that day, a lady next to us saw it first; a young humpback whale breached the surface just off the starboard side. This majestic wonder didn’t completely come out of the water, but for five minutes surfaced enough to put on a performance I’ll never forget. I didn’t have to convince Dad how much I enjoyed this trip.

It’s quiet today; I’m the only customer right now. Out on the horizon a few container ships are heading to or from the port, and a few fishing vessels are heading back to the docks. The sun is ineffective this morning as it isn’t helping warm the air at all.

I wonder what whales are out there now, just below the surface, feeding in the mouth of the bay. Humpback whales live to be fifty or sixty years old. Is it possible the one Dad and I saw is still out there, entertaining another father and son trying to get closer to nature, closer to each other?

It is beautiful to think so.

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Disappearing Act

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For the last twenty years or so I’ve been fascinated by clouds; yes, both sides. Obviously there is the beauty, particularly on both edges of the day when the sun picks up the particles in the air adding color and depth to the sky. I’ve seen clouds seemingly on fire, cauldrons of atmosphere and angle. And the whiter-than-cotton billows of scattered clouds in a cobalt blue sky never fail to save me from whatever storms come along.

Since my son was a toddler we’d wander the docks along the Chesapeake Bay or the Rappahannock River finding just the right frame for whatever palette the sky prepared that day. After a while we learned to look out the window to the west or east just before dawn or dusk and know whether to bolt out the door for the water before whatever dance the clouds were doing lost the light. Sometimes we stand for a half an hour or more, just waiting for the moment when all aspects briefly gather for the right rendition of that day’s light. Over the years Michael turned his camera toward the water, zooming in on the colors and passing reflections there, developing his own unique style.

But I never left the sky.

Window seats on planes, walks on the beach, at stoplights, at night when a cloud moves across the moon, walking to my car from the store, across the local corn fields, really–all the time, I’m checking out the sky, mesmerized by the fleeting light. The finest of moments when the colors line up like professional models at a photo shoot seem to pass faster than they arrive. The moment is gone; that convergence of all things which made that moment right, pass all too fast; but I know that, so I like to be ready for it, and enjoy every single second. Sometimes I’ll take a ton of pictures trying to get just the right one, the one that expresses itself, pulls emotions out of whoever looks at it much like the late paintings of Van Gogh did. Sometimes I just take one or two and put the camera down and take in the sky, let it wash over me, the wave of atmosphere and twilight. “Blessed twilight” Dickens called it. Yes.

I don’t know why I do this. I really thought about it and the best I can come up with is it fills my soul with some sort of permanence which, ironically, has the finest disappearing act in nature. Also, perhaps, it is a daily reminder that we are surrounded by beauty if we take the time to step outside and look around—anywhere, the cities included. The sky over Brooklyn does not sacrifice the wonder.

Everything is fleeting, everything. The ones we’ve lost touch with, the ones we talk to daily, the ones we raised and the ones who raised us, gone as fast as it takes to look away and then back again. The beautiful lives who travel through this piece of sky with us, the horizon rising so fast before us.

And even during storms they retain their beauty, still whispering from the edges of our lives just waiting for us to show up. As soon as they’re gone, though, I’m sorry I didn’t spend more time with them, and I’m learning—a bit late perhaps—to linger just a little bit longer.

 

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Un Assuming

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Not everything is what it appears to be. In the absence of facts, the absence of conversation with someone, people tend to decide for themselves what “must have happened” instead of asking. It is frustrating and disappointing, particularly when you expected more from them than some silent judgement of any kind to begin with.

There are two ways to handle this: one is to confront them, to say to them, “Let’s talk; you seem to have a problem with how this has been handled.” In today’s political atmosphere where we are in no short supply of prejudice, amateur commentary, and where partial information dictates decisions and conclusions, it is no wonder we all are too familiar with this on some level in our lives. It happens very commonly to many people—homeless, unemployed, those on assistance, those addicted, those depressed, those who have one form or another of mental illness. Dare I say we are tragically used to people passing judgement on those souls? It happens, too, in the public domain—politics, religion, protests, marches, and other high-profile, media-doused situations. However, the saddest and most subtle form of judgement comes most often in personal and unassuming moments. Ironically, those opinions are rarely rendered verbally; unfortunately, silence can be akin to conviction, and confrontation seems inevitable to bring peace, or at the very least, some understanding.

I wonder if the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he exclaimed with such grace that he hoped his children would one day live in a nation where they would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” could have anticipated that most people wouldn’t take the time to even bother to learn a person’s character; or worse, make that judgment based upon a scattering of information determined from slices of rumors and off-hand guessing. It is tiring.

The second approach to such unstated reproach is harder: walk away. Just take a deep breath, accept the things you cannot change, and walk away. Like the song “From a Distance,” which exclaims the beauty of this planet when seen from afar, I’ve noticed that I care less about what people think but don’t say if the view is from this wilderness.

Ah, this wilderness.

Yesterday I noticed on the top bare branches of an old oak, small bunches of leaves caught like seaweed on a hook in the current, or like a pair of old sneakers tied together and tossed across a power line. Bunches of leaves that even this winter wind and rain and ice couldn’t cut loose. It was a moment of resistance and, yet, great peace. There’s a metaphor there waiting to happen.

It is cold, and tonight is the full moon, the super moon, an eclipsed moon, just before midnight or just after here on the East Coast. Right now out over the river it is bright, and the waves are crashing into each other and covering the turn-around at the end of the road near the water. There’s a negative wind chill, and the frozen pines are scrapping against each other testing their flexibility. Not all the trees are going to make it through this night.

I’m wondering where my friends are, and my family. Some are watching football, blood pressure rising with each bad call; some watching Outlander, blood pressure rising with each turn of phrase. I don’t know what some others are doing. I’ve not heard from them, or we’ve lost touch for some reason or another. 

I miss a quiet conversation about the journey, about the moon, about the beauty of a blue sky over an amber wheat field which no camera could hope to capture, and certainly not one in a cell phone. I miss pouring the next glass of wine, outside, laughing and then at some point making that turn toward serious conversation as we talk about those in our lives with so much less time left, and of those who need our care. I miss how tired we can get staying up so late to the point at which we want to turn in but don’t for the sheer peace found in the moment.

Bernard Malamud has a great line in his book, The Natural. He writes, “I believe we have two lives: the one we learn from, and the one we live after that.” It’s taken me much longer to reach Part Two than others I know, but that’s okay; I’m here, and I’ve done okay surrounding myself with beauty, whether it be here in nature and the sound of the wind on a cold night with a full moon, or in the souls of those who have allowed me in their lives, who stay up late and talk about the stars, or who rise too early for the sun and sit in silence watching the imperfect future come over the horizon. In this way I have learned to chase away depression which already spends too much time here, and recall, as often as I can, the first part of an e.e. cummings poem:

i shall imagine life
    is not worth dying, if
               (and when) roses complain
            their beauties are in vain

 

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Paraphrasing St. Bernard of Clairvaux

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My father enjoyed telling the story of how when I was young, despite having a number of different teachers who didn’t know each other in several different elementary schools, each teacher wrote the same thing on my report card: “Robert pays too much attention to the people around him in class.” I could say I was bored. I could make a case they all kept repeating themselves, or I could insist, “Honest to God I heard them the first time.” I could claim I was multitasking. But the truth is I am easily distracted. Several teachers said I needed everything repeated twice before I understood. It was Mr. Kingston, however, in fifth grade who took me aside and said, “You’re doing fine, Robert,” for the first time. I told him I make a lot of mistakes and he said, “Yes. Me too.”

Almost fifty years ago and I never forgot that, so at least I remembered something from Timber Point Elementary School. Still, I’ve packed on a plethora of mistakes since then.

A Russian nun once prayed for me for ten minutes at the Shrine of St Xenia. Then she gave me a piece of bread from the top of the sarcophagus and asked if I liked it. I wanted to say yes, I enjoyed her blessed bread, but my weak language skills kicked in and I told her, “I love you and lust for your black God.”

It is odd making other people laugh at what you say in a foreign language. Oh, there’s more:

I wanted to ask a cab driver where a bathroom was but ended up saying I like to drink dark beer from a toilet.

I told someone I thought was a waitress who turned out to be a prostitute what I thought was, “Yes I could use a few minutes to think,” which turned out to be, “Yes, I’d absolutely love oral sex.”

I pulled out a chair for a lady and told her to heel.

I asked for five sandwich rolls and walked out with fifteen. No fish.

A friend of mine wearing his priest’s collar wanted to tell the waitress he would like some mayonnaise and ended up saying, “I love to masturbate.”

Some friends went to buy coffee. The world in Russian for sugar is “Suga” but the word for bitch is “Suka.” They returned exclaiming, “Don’t ask for sugar in your coffee in Russia, Dude; they’re assholes about it.”

I could go on but more or less by screwing up I learned to fit in, pick up the nuances of accent and syllables, which brought down prices at the flea market, brought out their best Georgian wine, and opened gates to closed graveyards and monasteries. There are many more screw-ups but I’ve conveniently forgotten most of them.

This one stayed with me. At the back of one church, in the rubble of what was and would eventually again be St Catherine’s Catholic Church in the heart of St. Petersburg, a woman stood looking for a priest I knew. She seemed confused and we talked a bit—slowly of course, her in patient Russian and shattered English. Her grandmother had been the secretary of the church before the revolution seventy-five years earlier. In my weak Russian skills I determined the woman told me she had a huge cross to bear because of the horrors of communism and wanted the priest to take the sins away from her. But when Fr. Frank appeared, his translation was somewhat more significant. She had outside with her the original cross for the church dating back hundreds of years, which her grandmother had taken when the Bolsheviks took control after World War One, and which her family had wrapped in cloth and buried in the yard at their dacha where it remained for seventy-five years. She thought it was time to return it. It hangs again above the altar at St. Catherine’s.

Back at home and much more recently I showed my students how to present a paper using the guidelines from the Modern Language Association. I gave them copies, I presented another example on the outline, I asked them to open their books to the appropriate example in the text, and still forty percent of them did it completely wrong. Is that a mistake? Is that boredom? Distraction? Idiocy? I like to think they are overwhelmed and go home kicking themselves for doing something wrong that was so easy to get right, but I’m probably wrong. Not long ago I would have returned to a class like that and lectured them about how their priorities are screwed up; I would have told them that if they can’t get the easy stuff done they’ll never handle the challenges as they attempt to move up the collegiate ladder. I would have used the appropriate sarcasm with a touch  of attitude. But I recently altered my approach to, well, everything, and instead went back to class and said, “Simple mistakes, folks. Easily fixed. You’re doing fine. Let’s have another shot at it.”

Last year I was driving through the Pennsylvania countryside on my way to western New York on a Sunday morning when I heard a guest on a talk show quote St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who said we need to learn to make excuses for other people.

We need to learn to make excuses for other people. I turned off the radio and let that simmer inside for a while.

Sometimes if we see other people’s reasons for things, our world changes.

No professor likes students who come in late, or do a project completely wrong, or seem to be in their own little world. Still, I had one student who came in late because her husband is stationed in Iraq and she got to talk to him that afternoon. Another left early when she found out her father was dying. I remember clearly the one who couldn’t get the presentation correct no matter how hard he tried, but he has never been the same since returning from war. And the one that gives me pause still is the woman who stared at me the entire class without blinking an eye, then left, only to email me later an apology, that she wasn’t concentrating, that she had just learned her cousin was shown on television in Baghdad, dead and left swinging from a bridge.

I teach in a different environment here in the military rich resort of Virginia Beach. We learn to make excuses for other people because so many of these people don’t have excuses, they have interrupted lives. Their mistakes aren’t so much mistakes as they are simply, unfortunately, lessons set aside for later.

St. Francis de Sales said, “Never confuse your mistakes with your value.”

I am still learning to separate the two, mistakes and value. Maybe that’s why I spend so much time in nature—there are no mistakes there; value is an abstract concept. It’s the only place where it is necessary to just sit back and let it all be.

I hope others learn to make excuses for me. Every once in a while I whisper to myself “You’re doing fine, Robert,” like a fifth grade teacher might. But my language skills are not as sharp as they used to be, and I know I’m paying way too much attention to the people around me, but that’s okay. It helps me keep still, like a clear morning before sunrise when the water is calm and the promise of the day that I woke up to is still forgiving.

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Aerie

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The yard is filled with birds. When I raked yesterday I must have loosened the soil and provided more access to something edible. And today the front yard is covered in finches, titmice, cardinals, and others. Soon the flock of starlings should be here; it happens every January during their migration from wherever to who knows where. Thousands of starlings land on the bare branches of the tallest oaks and cover the ground and fill the birdbaths. They can be loud, but the real deafening beauty comes when they leave and thousands of wings together stir the atmosphere.

The osprey are gone for the winter, spending these months in South America somewhere, replaced by a handful of bald eagles. One eagle which used to perch on the peak of the house is no longer there, but several others do their fly-by every day or two.

And deer, too, are more abundant. One family lives on the west path, which is rarely traversed, and they bed down in a ticket of holly surrounded by protective woods. In the early morning they head to the front along the treeline and finish off whatever water is left in the birdbath. And in the acres of woods on the south lives a family of grey fox. Whenever we go out at night to use the telescope, he wanders to the backyard and walks around watching us, looking at his favorite tree where we often put some scraps for him to eat. It is especially touching when he picks up a large scrap and stares at us as if to say, “Wow, awesome, thanks!” and scurries through the brush to his den where I’m guessing some hungry cubs are waiting.

Then there is the river with an abundance of waterfowl from bufflehead ducks to gulls of every variety to the seasonal osprey and eagles. One great heron often stands unmistakably at the edge of the duck pond next to the river, and if I stand very still he won’t move, but more often than not he spots me long before I see or remember he is there and he takes off calling out with the distinctive sound like a wrench loosening a rusty bolt. He will land across the pond feeling safer in the sea grass, but in exchange he startles flocks of gulls who head my way.

At the water’s edge I look east where the Rappahannock meets the Chesapeake. It is roughly twenty-five miles across to the Eastern Shore of Virginia, so the view is not unlike looking out over the ocean. Sometimes, even, river dolphin migrate by. This is where we stand when Wallop’s Island across the bay has an evening lift-off of some payload heading toward the space station. The glow is powerful, followed by a long, vertical line of fire which seems to head to the southeast, and then after a few minutes simply goes dark. I am always amazed, even from this humble perspective seeing as how we aren’t that close. It seems to me to be some form of proof, though I’m not sure of what. Potential, perhaps, or maybe just that there is something “more.” I’m not smart enough to contemplate the science of it all, but lately I’m much more comfortable that way. I’m more drawn toward the philosophy of it all anyway.

More than twenty years ago I named the property “Aerie.” Aerie is a hawk’s or eagle’s nest, which seems quite appropriate since from the start both raptors made this place home. It isn’t unusual to see a hawk on a wire or the remnants of a dove on the lawn. But the name has another significance to me; it is the name of the first John Denver album I remember hearing. From those early moments of his music when I was barely a teen I was drawn toward the peacefulness and permanence that is the wild. Of course, back then I imagined I’d buy a house in the Rockies and spend the rest of my life playing guitar, maybe change my name to Bob Denver, but I realized the confusion with Gilligan would be a roadblock.

But that music then, “Poems, prayers, and promises” and “Rhymes and Reasons” and his cover of “Boy from the Country,” created an idealism and subtle hope I could not define but which somehow defined me. Combine that with shows like “Grizzly Adams” and movies like “Jeremiah Johnson” and I knew I was not going to take well to city life. I didn’t know it then but that music along with my walks through Heckscher State Park along the Great South Bay established a foundation of walks in nature which to this day somehow protect me from depressing and discouraging days. Through the failures and successes which followed, there was always something about a walk in nature—even if that wilderness was Central Park—which made me feel like the Boy from the Country that I can confidently claim I am here at Aerie. My taste in music has drastically expanded since those Long Island days, and my travel experiences have allowed me to find the largest cities in the world often as endearing as these paths at this nest I call home. But the former, to me, is a place to go, and the latter a place to stay.

Still, nature here can have some questionable moments to make me rethink the possibility of moving to a studio in Brooklyn and calling Ubereats. There was the time, for instance, a five-foot snake fell off a branch onto my neck, or the time a way-too-colorful snake from under the shed wrapped around my arm. And, of course, the storms can be debilitating. I stood on the porch in the middle of the night while Hurricane Isabel ripped thirty oak trees eighty feet high out of the ground and slammed them on the driveway, the lawn and throughout the woods. But like a decent lp with a couple of bad tracks, there aren’t enough of those moments to sacrifice what is essentially a form of blood pressure medicine and anti-anxiety pills.

Nature is not convenient; it is not as predictable as one might think. Nature does not accommodate humans, it does not care if you’re here or not; in fact, it would prefer to be left alone. I try and keep a low profile when I go for walks, try not to disturb the heron and sometimes I can even walk by the deer without them moving away. In the course of a week I spend the vast majority of my time outside where things make sense to me. There, I am not forced to figure out the answers or discover more efficient ways to advance. It lacks hypocrisy; it is absent of critique. It calls to mind the Whitman question, “The friendly and following savage: is he behind civilization or ahead of it and mastering it?”

I do love a stroll down Fifth Avenue, and some of my finest moments in life were spent in cafes in Prague and Amsterdam and New York. And one of the best summers of my life was spent almost entirely in a small cabin on a train. But I believe I better understood my role in those confined situations because of life in wide open spaces, this place I can retreat to when I get confused. I can clear my head here. There is music here.

It’s odd how a song can follow you, twisting its meaning as the decades pass. Often music transports us to some particular time or person or event, and hearing it again allows us to follow it back to then or to her or to those moments. But sometimes, not as often, a song follows us, grabs us by the soul and tags along so we don’t forget where we came from, what we’ve been through and, more to the point, what gets us through.  

Somewhere in the shade near the sound of a sweet singin’ river
Somewhere in the sun where the mountains make love to the sky
Somewhere to build me a faith, a farm and a family
Somewhere to grow older, and somewhere a reason to try

Somewhere to grow older, somewhere to lay down and die

                                                   –John Denver

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Please Stop Acting Like DJT

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Stop calling President Donald Trump a mofo.

And please stop posting memes exclaiming the same. Yes, he is one, yes, he deserves a good pummeling of negative rhetoric, and yes, we have moved well past the point of complacency and inaction with his misguided policies and inept tactics. But when I read about representatives on the floor of congress acting, well, very much like Donald Trump, it discourages me. The reality of a person “deserving” to be called names is quite different than the act of actually doing so. In fact, it is NOT doing so that makes a person better than the supposed mofo. When DJT acts, talks, and behaves like the punk he is, he deserves criticism, he deserves political repercussions, he deserves shunning by those who entered government to actually govern the UNITED States and not DIVIDE them for personal satisfaction. But we only succeed by acting better than that which we despise. The Democratic Party has long claimed education as its backbone—in fact, many Trump supporters ridicule the “Eastern Elite” attitude and “Liberal Collegiate” types. Yet to practice the name-calling, profanity-laden tirades so common in the Trump camp is to demonstrate that his methods are justified, and the Democrats have finally stooped to his level. If the primary thesis of Democrats when referencing President Donald Trump is that “We are better than this,” then they must actually act it. There are far too many options available to simply resort to the same disgusting cursing, name-calling, personal attacks so common in DJT’s world. Besides, his rhetoric is too simple-minded and lazy for a thinking person to replicate.

Several new members of congress and their supporters have pointed out what they rightly call the hypocrisy so rampant in the Republican Party, from the support of mistreating immigrants in quite un-Christian ways, to the balancing act of trying to publicly keep Trump supporters in their camp while privately admitting the un-American ways which have bled across this nation. Yet hypocrisy is exactly what these new members also practice when they lower themselves to gutter-language and ignorant attacks instead of maintaining a professional stance and keeping the focus on the facts; in essence, we constituents must insist all members of Congress, not just the ones we disagree with, act in a manner which is worthy of the Senate and the House of Representatives in a building once occupied by the greatest minds and leaders in this country’s history.

If they don’t support DJT, they need to stop talking like him, stop lashing out like he does, stop mouthing off like a bully as he does—even if they believe DJT and his cronies deserve it. In doing so, they violate so many basic argumentative fallacies and modes of civic behavior it’s going to be difficult to tell the difference between elected officials deserving of our support and the ignorant, self-serving narcissists who hijacked our nation.

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Now back to my regularly scheduled View from Nature. Thank you.

 

Blank Boxes

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It is damp out from two days of rain and on and off showers all morning. Cloudy, and while the weather channel seemed firm on their mid-sixties projection, it never really made it out of the mid-forties. Out over the bay the sky is grey right to the horizon toward the eastern shore so that it is difficult to immediately separate the sky from the sea. It’s choppy and the current is strong, moving south. A few Canada geese moved about near the riprap but then took off.

I’m not feeling so great today, a chest thing, so I stopped at the library because there’s something about damp winter days when you’re not feeling one hundred percent which seem to say to go to the library. I had brief ambitions to read the paper, maybe check out the new books or get online and play Tetris. My son is working there today, though, and when I went in he was busy and a few ladies were reading the paper and some guy who I think lives on his boat nearby was on the computer, so I drove home and made tea and some crab soup.

Then I read a post by a friend about her new date book for the year and how she loves starting the year with a new date book, and I thought, “yeah, me too.” There’s something so empowering—all those blank boxes just waiting to be filled in and that sense that you can fill it in however you damn well feel like. So, I got out my date book which I have yet to touch for the new year and sat at my desk, looked out at the damp, grey skies behind the barren trees to the south, and opened to the first page. I wrote my name and immediately realized something different about my 2019 date book than pretty much any I’ve started in decades: This will be my first full year not tethered to the trials and tribulations of the last several years. My health has drastically improved over the last three years, my obligations to anything other than my own schedule and whims have drastically decreased, and while I still have some commitments to a couple of colleges as well as some writing obligations, they are all by choice, with pleasure, so they remain commitments I welcome and look forward to. I blocked out what I know so far about writing deadlines, a few classes I’m teaching, and a few trips—Florida, Ireland, Maryland–and found some motivation.

I filled in what I could, which includes various other small known obligations to take me to the first week in June. After that, it is still completely blank. That’s never happened before. It feels good. A blank date book is not unlike a blank sheet of paper. Is there anything more promising and full of potential as a blank sheet of paper? Whitman, for instance, wrote Leaves of Grass. Good read, and everyone knows the work Whitman wrote and how it still grows in the literary field. But I have the uncritical blank sheet of paper, and with the right choice of words I may harvest my own grass.

So too the blank date book. Maybe I’ll sail around the Bay for the summer, or take pottery classes, filling in my Thursday nights with a little “Mathews Art League Pottery Workshop” through August. I love this so much more than resolutions to do things like read more books or exercise more. Those are lifestyle obligations which shouldn’t be anywhere near a resolution list—eating right and exercising and reading should be in the same category as breathing and urinating. They shouldn’t be something you need to commit to; rather, they are part of being alive.

But learning to harvest oysters—no one needs to do this, so filling in a box with “Deltaville Maritime Museum Oyster Growing Class” is exhilarating—it is a choice and something to look forward to.

Like…maybe…learning to play the flute or going to the zoo in DC or maybe taking a class in landscape painting, or maybe taking a poetry workshop. Maybe I’ll buy a goat. Perhaps I’ll leave the boxes blank, hang around home and garden, go for walks, simplify again, sit on the porch again and at night look at the stars. They’re my damn boxes, after all. 

Or maybe I’ll just go back to Spain.

See, here’s the thing. If I went to the store and bought date books, which right now are at fifty percent off, how many more would I need? Twenty more gets me to seventy-nine, and really at that point the blank boxes might be filled in with when to pick up my meds. So while I might—God willing—have plenty of date books after that point, the number of blank spaces for scheduling impulsive ideas is rapidly shrinking. That in itself doesn’t bother me—I’m a realist when it comes to the passing of time. But since I’ve recently turned a few corners and find myself now staring at more than a few possible paths, I want to fill in those boxes carefully and with passion.

I suppose if I had a Cavanaugh streak in me and kept all my old date books for some anal-retentive reason, I’m sure there’d be many boxes I wish I could erase or cross out or simply burn. I would have spent more time with my Dad and certainly would have visited my sister and my brother way more often. I would have filled in more than a few with flight departure times. I’m not regretful (well, a little), but looking back now at the pilgrimage so far makes me keenly aware of how to move forward.

Mostly, I want to fill in those boxes with the names of people I love, friends who are like family, family I don’t see enough, and leave a few boxes blank for those I’ve not yet met.

I haven’t started a year like this in thirty years, and except for the cough and the desire to finish my tea and crawl into bed, in some odd ways I feel like I’m in my twenties again.

Maybe a drive to see friends in New England. Maybe the Island where I haven’t been in way too many years. Maybe I’ll just stay in Ireland and herd sheep.

Maybe I’ll just go back to Spain.

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