Monday, September 28, 2009

tears of the giraffe

in botswana children learn the lesson of the tears of the giraffe. the story goes that there are women who sit, weaving their baskets, and the giraffe wants to give them something to help, but has nothing to give, and so she gives her tears for them to daub on their baskets. the lesson is that everyone has something to give, even if it is only their tears, their compassion.

alexander mccall smith taught me this story in his series on botswana's finest lady detective. this month has been full of grief for so many people--the loss of friends, family, beloved pets, and some long and tiring days. i wonder that we can bear it all. but i see now that the heart has room to take all of the grief in the world and give it back into something good: an embrace, a listening ear, tears to daub on baskets.

"i suppose that it means that we can all give something," she said. "a giraffe has nothing else to give–only tears." did it mean that? she wondered. and for a moment she imagined that she saw a giraffe peering down through the trees, its strange, stilt-borne body camouflaged among the leaves; and its moist velvet cheeks and liquid eyes; and she thought of all the beauty that there was in africa, and of the laughter, and the love.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

bollywood and star wars

oh my goodness, what am i doing? these past two weeks have achieved new levels of stress, on top of which i have two videos to edit, graduate school applications which i haven't even contemplated beginning, a gre subject test to study for, fifteen more high schools to visit this week, and, let's look at the calendar for a moment...ok yup in 24 days i will be a bridesmaid in monica's wedding, and i have no idea how to be a bridesmaid, and i'm going to blush horribly like i do when anyone even mentions blushing, and i have these amazing shoes that i might die in because they're really smooth and the heel is about on par with the eiffel tower, and i just have to make it down the aisle without blushing and falling on my butt, and then i will just have whatever groomsman i cling to on the way back drag me out of the church. oh, god. i feel unready for life.

you know what's a great cure for when you feel like you need a boost of confidence? star wars. also, bollywood dancing. actually, alternating the monsoon wedding soundtrack with the throne room theme from ANH would just about do it. if only i had brought my ipod to ohio.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

much better now

a day in the cleveland botanical gardens has renewed my faith in life. it's a lovely little center, with winding paths that slip between and beneath heavy branches, and rough hewn stone seats tucked into corners so you can sit in solitary quiet and listen to small things, even with many people there.

for we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end... for now we see dimly as in a mirror, but then face to face; now i know in part, but then i will know fully just as i have been fully known.


oh! i am a bit lonely today. loneliness in cleveland is a sad thing. leaving pittsburgh, after having hilary around to make me cheerful, means that i have to come up with my own means for procuring happiness.

but despite everything, despite the tragedy in my family, i plan to have a productive sunday. whatever that means.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

mt. riga: and this should be about it

so monday came and i rose at a leisurely pace in the storey camp, shivered extensively until i made up the fire, ate some breakfast, showered, and wandered down to the lake to sit on the dock and watch the current of the water twist back and forth with the breeze.

aunt olivia and uncle dick had left early on monday morning to pick up uncle dick's sister and her husband from the hartford airport, where apparently they had caught a redeye flight from oregon, and were tired and famished. we had a nice lunch, and then took a walk together down to virginia and ken's again to sit and talk with them and with chuck and elizabeth, who were planning on heading down off the mountain later that day, to return to their home in vermont.

great-uncle ken had some interesting stories about world war ii which i had never heard, namely involving the fact that he worked on the coast guard out on a sailboat to monitor invading german u-boats. did you know that there were u-boats off the east coast? i had no idea, but apparently that is the intelligence he had to relate several times back to the mainland, except they never attacked harbors because new york harbor is so shallow, that the damage would have been a wasted effort.

he also once owned a sailboat that had been jfk's. talking to him made me miss my grandpa, my mother's father, who was also in the coast guard during world war ii, and who loved sailing. it also made me wish i'd known my other grandpa, virginia's brother. great-aunt virginia kindly told me some things about my grandpa, that he was also something of an engineer, that he built real mini motor cars for my dad and for my cousin will when they were little. that he drank too much, but he loved children, and was so, so kind. i almost wish, sometimes, that i would see his ghost on the mountain, to know that he's still around.

then aunt olivia took us on a tour of the other camps nextdoor. there's the wells camp, which belongs to my grandfather's brother frank's children, and their children. and next to that, my aunt dinnie and uncle rick have the blaker camp, and next to them are great-uncle crosby wells's camp and outbuildings, and next to him is cousin conrad, who raised a big camp against some protest by my aunt dinnie, who said it was too close to the other camps (there are rules on the mountain of how closely you can build), but there it is. he also has a self-rigged 'hot tub' which is basically a water tank that he lights a fire under. and next to conrad is great-uncle tom's camp, what we call "the treehouse" because it's built so high up into the trees, but he doesn't come up much anymore because it's too strenuous for him. and then way down from him is cousin alice's camp, but we didn't walk that far.

so you see, despite the fact that we only spend roughly a month at best on the mountain, we still manage to be a family of inbred mountain people.

the next day, tuesday, was the day i was leaving. aunt olivia and i decided to take a walk, stopping in first to see viriginia and ken, who invited me to have lunch with them, and then we continued down the road toward the dam to see fran and pete miller (the same fran who jumped off the dam house at 70 years). only pete was there, but we chatted with him for awhile, walking down with him to the lake so he could show us the contraption he'd built to pull his dock up out of the water for the winter. he built it using lawn mower tires he'd had in his workshop for a good fifteen or twenty years and had never found a use for. we have some clever, creative engineer-like minds up on the mountain. i am not one of them.

other than the brief drama of me stepping on a green garter snake, and subsequently screaming and making an impressive leap of several feet across the grass, aunt olivia and i continued our walk unscathed, strolling down to sit on the platform of the dam house to watch the water, and then walking down the mountain road to look at the waterfall. i like those meandering, easy-paced walks. my aunt says that when she and uncle dick were first married, they had "nothing to do but take long walks" :). but really, there is a very tranquil pleasure in taking a walk, whether you have an envigorating conversation constantly, or whether you walk in easy silence.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

mt. riga: i'm still talking about it

the long and short of it is that fran jumped all right, and in fact her son rob gave me his flip camera to capture the moment. the best part was when she finally climbed through the skylight in the roof and was sitting up there ready to jump, but found she couldn't find the strength in her legs to push herself up. so rob climbed up there and gave her a helping hand...right under her butt. it's all on film, and i desperately hope it will be up on youtube soon, spreading joy to the masses.

after the party, i walked back towards the storey camp with chuck and elizabeth, and as they dropped me off at the foot of the trail leading up to the cabin, they invited me to dinner with virginia and ken. which of course i said yes. because otherwise i would be eating alone, not sure when aunt olivia and uncle dick were to be back from their day trip, and who wants to do that on the mountain? so it worked out perfectly.

the only thing is, when we finally all got in the car to head down the mountain for dinner, we passed aunt olivia and uncle dick coming up the mountain road, but they said it was fine, so i had dinner at the woodland, some little restaurant in lakeville that had yummy food, but weird service. great-uncle ken asked if he could have corn in addition to his meal, and the waitress said that corn counted as a starch, so if he ordered it, they'd have to substitute out his pasta from the chicken parmesan. what is she, his nutritionist? since when do restaurants forbid you to have two starches? i would have thought they'd be happy making any money they could on charging it as a side, but whatever. it was a nice evening, and then i came back and went to bed.

mt. riga: being the second chronicle

my dad, who is paranoid, began to worry that i, at twenty-four years in age and having traveled all over the country singly, could not be left alone for so long a period as six hours. actually, i do not count the time when i was asleep, nor the time after i showered and walked down to the schwartz camp to hang out with virginia and ken, so we're looking more at two hours of total "alone" time. my baby cousins could be left alone for two hours and would probably be fine.

so at any rate, i got up that morning, ate cookie crisp and took my stuff over to aunt olivia's, showered, puttered some more, and then went down to have a chat with everyone at the schwartz camp. they gave me a tour of their cabin, which i'd never really seen in detail as a child, which was pretty cool, because my great-uncle and his other son, phil, are both engineers, and so there are all kinds of contraptions in the camp. they have a solar panel that charges the batteries that run the water pump on-demand (other camps usually get gas-run motors), counterweight-balanced gas lamps rigged up to the ceiling in the main living area, and my uncle's very interesting little creation hanging on the mantle, a hand-made 'betty lamp' as was used up through the 18th and possibly 19th centuries, to burn any sort of fat or grease in a small dish, the precursor to oil lamps. his burns bacon fat with a wick made from shoe laces twisted together into a short pipe.

so after this little rendezvous, i was just leaving their camp when i saw a silver toyota carolla drive past and park at my aunt dinnie's camp, just down the road. i wondered who else on the mountain had a car like that, when the driver door opened and my dad jumped out, looking dishevelled and breathless. with a sense of forboding, i turned my steps towards him and called out "dad, what are you doing here?"

here is the crucial part. dad had driven down only several hours earlier. rather than say something like "i know you weren't expecting me" or something along the lines to justify reappearing so suddenly, he cried "well there you are!"

"where should i be?" i replied in confusion, and repeated my initial inquiry. at this point we were quite close to aunt dinnie's cabin, and i could see my uncle rick on the deck so i thought it better to not stand awkwardly by without greeting them, and began to walk down to the cabin.

"i worried about you being alone," he said anxiously, following me. sigh. i don't remember how i responded, but at any rate we went and chatted for a bit with aunt dinnie and uncle rick, after which i made my escape and headed back up to aunt olivia's camp to get ready for a surprise birthday party for fran miller, whose camp is just down by the dam, and who had turned 70 in march. they were going to try to get her to jump off the dam house in honor of the occasion, because that's what people on the mountain do to the elderly.

mt. riga: the first chronicle

and so the summer draws to a close. i think i spent the near-end of it well last week, taking one last trip for the year up to mt. riga to be with my family.

i feel that i can't get enough of this mountain. the drive up through connecticut, the views, the sounds and smells of the earth and the air, the wind on the night, looking up between the leafy covering of trees to make out pieces of casseopeia, orion, the big and little dippers...and lying curled up in my sleeping bag up in the loft, listening to the sounds of the fire crackling below, and the breeze rustling the branches outside, above me. i used to be afraid at night, because it was so dark, but now i can listen as i didn't before.

on saturday afternoon of last week, i drove up to conn. and arrived at my aunt's cabin at about 8:00pm, just as everyone was finishing dinner. inside, the flood of hellos and questions began and did not cease for the next twenty minutes. i was greeted by my stepsister, who unaccountably had grown another six inches in height, and in gorgeous dark, ringlets that trail down to her waist. i can't beleive she wants to be a blond.

then my dad, and stepmother, and aunt and uncle all were greeted and hugged in turn, and then i was reintroduced to several familiar faces at the dinner table who i could a little more than vaguely recollect: my great-aunt virginia, my great-uncle ken schwartz, and their son and his wife, chuck and elizabeth, my first cousins once removed. as you may imagine, everyone was still talking at once and so i was sat down at the table to take part in a very agreeable conversation about how i was doing, how they were doing, news relating to other relatives and to the mountain, and a general discussion on the virtues of the dessert: two pies from the local market.

i do not think i'd ever seen my cousin and his wife before that evening--or rather, if i had, i do not remember it. i could remember great-aunt virginia and -uncle ken pretty well enough, but it was possibly the second time we had ever had a chance to sit and talk together for an extended time, and it was gratifying to get to know them in a way i hadn't as a little girl. they are very active, considering their age, and my great-uncle has a very dry sense of humor, which he employs frequently. great-aunt virginia is very sweet and good-natured.

i'd arrived late in the evening, for mt. riga time, so the rest of that evening was quiet, and shortly after dinner, i went back to our cabin with dad, kornelya and jalom. they were going to bed early, as they would be getting up the next morning very early in order to go back to brewster for a craft fair in which kornelya would be selling indonesian jewelry (which is very cool). they planned on staying in brewster sunday night, so that the agreement was that i would spend sunday night back in my aunt's cabin, and they would return on monday to the mountain (brewster is only about an hour away).

my aunt and uncle, however, were also going to brewster on sunday, but planned on returning in the evening, so i was free to please myself as i wished, puttering about and amusing myself until they returned. essentially, there would a window of several hours in which i would be sleeping on my own in my cabin, and then waking up and heading over to hang out in my aunt's cabin. why am i giving you these inconsequential details? well, the backstory is necessary becuase of what followed.

it's not just for the classroom!