Archive for September, 2010

Lost and found

September 20, 2010

One of the afflictions of any age, but more as I get older, is the people one is forced to leave behind.  Of course, death is the final leave-taking; my brother and I washed my father’s body some hours after his death, and no moment – not his service, not walking away from the grave when his ashes were interred – was more definite than zipping up the bag over his already shrinking but still beloved face.  Each time I leave my mother on one of my world-girdling trips, I am aware of ‘This could be the last time’, even though she is as strong as Queen Anne’s Lace.  Of course it could be my plane that goes down first, and such leaving could happen anytime with anyone, but you feel this more with your mother than with anyone, do you not?

But I am talking something more prosaic here than those fateful footfalls or the moment you leave you parent’s house and start building a life of your own. This calls to mind Robert Frost’s definition of ‘home’: It is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in. As long as your parents’ house is still this place, you have not yet built a true home of spirit.  Though I left their home in my early 20’s and worked my way through several properties and marriages, it was my early 50’s before their house was not my ultimate place of refuge.  For some this never changes, and in truth, I am now back in that place in a way, but now I am the keeper of this ultimate place of refuge for myself and my daughter and perhaps my wife – I’ll have to ask her when next I am home.

But the complex braid of a life means that people wind in and out.  Last autumn, I had been playing music with a blind friend; music is a large part of his life, but once every couple of weeks was all I could manage.  Then I lost a key employee, and for the last nine months it has been business 24-7 as we interviewed, hired, trained, and retooled for new directions – and music went by the wayside.  His life is so different from mine – how do I call up now and say, ‘Sorry, had to discard you for a while, but now I can come back until the next crisis’?

Within the business, to narrow my range still further, there are ‘special needs’ students who arrive at our doorstep who, if they had showed up just a couple of years earlier and perhaps even a few years later, could have been accommodated within the school.  I hate to lose these people, but each phase of our development has its requirements, and they are not all of my choosing. This is most poignant when it involves a teacher – only a few of the students have the capabilities of being a teacher, and fewer still attempt it, and fewer still stick it through. When one of those flies the coop close to the finish line, it is a real emotional loss.

Many of these people, casting me in the role of parent, do not realize how much I am also invested in them, and have that innocent cruelty of newly adult children as they cast off in another direction (‘how sharper than a serpent’s tooth…’).  I feel these losses terribly, and sometimes say things I regret in the heat of departure, as fathers will.  I just remet one of these after a five-year hiatus in which she studiously avoided me.  It was an immediate reunion, as I hoped it might be – enough time had passed and our easy humor retooled itself immediately.  Another teacher, fallen from grace as her personal life unraveled, is now back in the fold and welcome.  I wish all those misfires could return at the right time for re-integration, but the moving finger braids and rebraids and life is a mass of dreads under a red, yellow and green knit cap.  You cannot put a brush through it to find them again, and some opportunities are simply and sadly lost forever.


Real work

September 20, 2010

Nothing wrong with my chosen trade – the portion of the UK training we just completed was very satisfying – but God, it’s good to do real work again, splitting the wood for a sauna, scything the grass around the paddock, schlepping some grain for galvanized barrels in the barn, bailing the rowboats.

A Nation in Mourning

September 20, 2010

I root for the Red Sox and the New England Patriots, and I love it when they make it to the World Series or the Super Bowl.  But if they lose, I can’t imagine giving it more than a minute or two’s rueful commentary with my viewmates, and then we get on with life.

Now for the players, whose salaries and status depend on such outcomes, and who put in such effort to get there, I can imagine a top-line defeat can be a bitter pill.  For the managers and owners and coaches, I have always subscribed to the idea that anyone hiring them would be looking for someone smart enough to play the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important.

At the end of my workshop yesterday (a confused but earnest attempt to set out my views on somatic perception to a mixed group of body-oriented psychotherapists organized by Misty’s mom, Giselle), she unwisely put the England – Germany score in the World Cup on the board: 4-1 in favor of Germany, a horrible score for those of you not conversant with the beautiful game.  Bad move: some of the students literally went into shock – bent over, having difficulty breathing, others collapsed into an exhaled depressive position; manifesting all those outward signs of trauma we had been examining during the workshop.

Paddington Station, always a bustling throng, was praeternaturally quiet; the train back to Oxford was best described as stunned into silence, with no one speaking to their seat mates.  When I got home, I looked at the highlights (endlessly playing on all four England’s channels), and, although England was robbed of a goal (why don’t they use video to decide these things?), they were simply outplayed start to finish, so let’s just get on with alleviating suffering, appreciating the beauty, loving our children, and cleaning up the planet.

I cannot for the life of me understand why a game – a game! – should take on such identity and importance for those not playing.  Let’s be stunned into silence by the oil spill or the war in Afghanistan or genocide or the use of rape as a weapon of war, or conversely by ‘La Boheme’ or a glorious sunset or the exquisite economy of fractal mathematics or something.

John Cleese has the silliness of American football down:


September 9, 2010

I wish I had a stronger sense of history, as those who will not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat its mistakes.  My brother is the family historian but I can muster little interest in my forebears.  I love the evolutionary time scale, but as an anti-traditionalist, I am so oriented to the present and future.  Yesterday, though, I was given an affectionate tour of a working present lovingly mired in a lot of storied past.

I had been invited by the sharp and dedicated Mike Reinold to give a short in-service to the athletic coaches / rehab guys for the Red Sox.  If I have a team, I suppose it’s the Sox (though I love my friend George’s reply to rabid fans – and they abound in New England – when they bring up the Sox: “I’m sorry, I don’t follow football” – that shuts ‘em up).  I had never been to the park for a game, have only occasionally watched them on TV for a few innings, listen to the odd game on the radio while driving or sailing, maintain a vague sense of when they are doing well or poorly, and come out of the woodwork to cheer and drink and swear only when they make the playoffs.

But you cannot live here for half a century without absorbing some of the Sox lore, from Babe Ruth on down.

As part of the ‘payment’, my daughter Misty and I got free passes to Tuesday’s game with the Tampa Bay Rays.  My plane was late getting in from London, so we weren’t there until the third inning, but there were still streams of people coming in with us, as we circled the arena completely searching for the office that held our tickets.  It’s all old drab green paint or brick, and so are the security men at each gate, and hangers-on are scattered about touting tickets with their strong South Boston accents.  Stands selling bad food or T-shirts were tucked into every corner of this ancient warren – 1912 it was built.

Our seats are right behind home plate, and there is a net between us and the action to catch foul balls.  The pretty girl sitting beside us shows us a photo on her camera of her purple eye when she was hit on the noggin by a ball.  Now her boyfriend can only get her to a game by buying these protected seats, and she still goes stiff beside me with every crack of the bat.

My ‘job’ in coming to the game is to watch the movement patterns of the players, but I shortly give up on trying to remember individual quirks – the players come and go so fast in the batter’s box, and the action on the field, when there is any, is far away and over quickly.  I content myself with noting the patterns of baseball in general – always running to the left, batters’ stances, and of course pitching and throwing styles, as these guys are the key players.  But honestly, Misty and I just abandon ourselves to the game and each others’ company, laughing like drains at our ignorance, at our inability to call strikes and balls accurately, and at the serious ‘conferences’ at the mound – as we wriggle around on our uncomfortable wrought iron seats.

Boston, plagued with injuries this year, never has a chance – after leading off with 2 runs in the first, the Rays pile up 8 runs in the next few innings.  There’s an enthusiastic Rays fan a couple of rows in front of us, and every time the Rays make a good move, he jumps and shouts in a way that would get him rumbled or seriously hurt in European football, where the competing fans are separated for good reason.  But baseball is more genteel, and nobody seems to mind. A few people try to get chants and cheers going, but many fans are already draining down the aisles toward the exits in the latter part of the game, and the final score, 14 – 5, accurately reflects a lackluster performance from the Sox. It must be hard to play those last innings to a sea of empty seats when it started out so full and expectant. This game is the nail in the coffin for their hopes this year – 8 games behind the hated rival Yankees in early September.

After a sweaty night on Misty’s soft new couch, I brave the T with her as everyone goes to work (“You do this every day” I mumble dubiously to the business-dressed Mist as we are jolted and swayed, sardined among the returning BU students and iPodded coffee drinkers).  I duly arrive at the training room to meet Mike and his staff.  I am amazed – there are only five guys to serve a team of 25 – 37.  With a couple of the trainers from the rival Rays in attendance, I give a little spiel on the role of fascia, and we launch into some shoulder techniques coupled with a discussion of the role body-wide patterns play in local injuries.

The Sox player payroll is about 160 million dollars, and I would have though they would invest more in keeping that investment healthy and playing, but Mike, as a PT, is the exception in the league, not the rule, and the training room, though not ill-equipped, is small and clearly not financed the way you would expect.  I enter through the clubhouse (which again is just a locker room with nice folding chairs, not the state-of-the-art green room one would expect).

We hurried through the morning as they would start being busy with the players shortly after noon.  No players were present, and for those waiting for gossip the closest I got to glory was to use the same urinal to drain my morning coffee and vitamins as Jason Varitek and David Ortiz.  They play 180 games a year, day after day, sometimes switching cities overnight to rise and shine and play again. Almost every one of the players is somewhat injured at any given time – but they must play on.  Dr Rest doesn’t live here.

The staff was sharp, open, knowledgable, a pleasure to work with – and clearly frustrated by having to convince the overpaid, strongly unionized players of the need for their work, as well as the pressure of an observant press and public who don’t hesitate to comment on the injury list, stuck behind a management that toughed it through in the 50’s and sees no need to pamper the players with too much massage or preventive training.  They are essentially on call 24-7, but mostly do their work in the afternoon before the game.  There’s an impression in the wall where a frustrated pitcher threw an adhesive tape cutter at 90 miles an hour.  Mike had him sign it.

Two of the staff are Japanese, as of course are some of the players.  I ask why Japan has taken so to baseball, and they answer immediately: ‘Lack of contact’ – the individual stance and gentlemanly distance fits with the Japanese character.  Although the Japanese team played with real heart in the soccer World Cup, they were out in the second round.

After we’re done, Mike takes me on a tour of Fenway, out of his office into the stands, onto the dirt track that leads us past the Pesky Pole that marks the foul line (and the shortest possible home run distance (302’) in major league baseball, though it’s so far over in right field it gets only rare employment). There’s the single red seat among the green where Ted Williams hit the longest home run in Sox history, the Triangle near the bullpen where a ricocheting ball can turn a double into a triple, and the famous Green Monster, the huge wall with military-looking viewing slits for the folks who run the old-style mechanical scoreboard, and dented with dimples from balls that don’t quite make home runs.  (Those that do run the risk of breaking a windshield on Landsdowne Street.)

It feels very far away from left field to the infield, but one thing that really surprised me was how close it felt from the pitcher’s mound to home plate.  On TV it looks longer, but up close it is no distance at all, giving the batter no time to react.  I am told that Ted Williams, when asked how he hit so well, said something like:  Study the pitcher, study him minutely, and then when he makes his pitch, take your best guess.

We pass by the suites for well-heeled fans, one of many attempts to ‘monetize’ this small old park with big outgoings.  We come back through the dugout and its long tunnel under the seats to the clubhouse.  In a small cement room on the way are the computers, analyzing every pitch, with very detailed stats on all the pitchers, and a video capability of finding out whether the umpire’s call was as bad as the struck-out batter inevitably says it was.  The players are starting to come in – I don’t know faces, so don’t ask me who – and Mike must get to work, so I am on my way.

In these days of huge, bowl-like sports arenae, Fenway is a wonderful quirky throwback to an earlier day, cramped between the Turnpike and Van Ness, unable as well as unwilling to expand into something other than what it is – an old-time ball park, where the action is up close, the fans personally involved, but now with a lot of money at stake. I wish the guys well in their uphill battle to keep the players playing – game after game, year after year. ‘As if it really mattered’ I mutter to myself as I hit Route 1 North toward Maine and home, but then what does any human endeavor really matter?  It’s skilled, entertaining, and inspiring to kids (is it still? I guess) – and if the fans are over-involved, so what?


September 2, 2010

I’ve already mentioned my scythe in these pages.  An impulse buy at our ‘Common Ground’ organic fair, it has not languished like so many of my ‘good ideas’.  A well-handled scythe is as deft as any weedwhacker, with the added advantage of waking no one up at six in the morning, when the grass is wet and so falls easily before the blade’s arcing sweeps.

Scything requires an unexpectedly lovely total rotary movement, Spiral and Functional Lines working around a stablised axis from feet to neck.  Like Tolstoy’s peasant workers, I march slowly forward with an easy swinging motion.  Unless I am working around a rock or tree, I watch out for using my arms, as this changes the movement from ‘being’ (axial) to ‘doing’ (appendicular) in an instant.  You can carry on with the core movement for a long time without fatigue.  And about the time you do feel a bit tired, you pause to hone the blade with a few singing sideswipes of the whetstone I carry on my hip.

This morning’s task is to clear out around ‘Lake Julia’, our small pond by the road.  With my larger blade, even the tough-stemmed ragweed and Queen Anne’s Lace (must be almost time for school) is cut off at the knee, releasing bursts of pollen to which I am happily immune.  An unfamiliar runner passes and asks, “Is this your farm?”  A bit aback, I look around – here I am with a scythe, across the country road from where Donna is turning out the horses and feeding the ducks – I do indeed live on a farm, though I have never aspired to the romance of farming, and don’t think of this my home – which has had three names in my lifetime: Saltwater Farm, Abandoned Farm, and Mudfog Farm – as a farm at all.

I turn back to my scything, where we can leave me working the next hundred feet or so of weeds along the shoreline with the ducks and geese eyeing me warily while we set up the next and more interesting encounter of this dawn’s light.

I believe I also mentioned in my autobiographical posts that I have been stuck between town and gown my whole life here.  As a boy, I was a Mainiac, born right here in Damariscotta and raised right here on this ‘farm’.  My parents, however, were ‘summer people’ who had graduated to ‘from away’ when they moved here in ‘49.  Long story short, I never felt at one with the native kids with whom I went to school in the winter, but nor did I feel much kinship (nor they with me) for the kids from Darien and Scarsdale and Wellesley who came in for the summer, with whom I did sailing lessons and scampered among the granite boulders while the adults with drawling  upper crust New England accents held evening shoreside boozy picnics.  I was a half-caste in both groups, and learned to enjoy my own company.

I have great sympathy with the locals – almost all of the shore property has been bought up by these out-of-staters, so that only 20 miles of the entire 2000 miles of Maine coast is accessible by commercial fishermen, and few locals can afford the kind of access that these Boston bankers can easily buy to occupy only one or two months a year.  In order to have a chance at buying this farm from my family, I have had to live away from here to make my fortune before returning, and still board planes regularly to keep me in funds.  So my cultural sensibilities are of the over-educated foreigner, but my political leanings are with the locals who wrest their living from the river – and thus our wharf is available to local lobstermen and aquaculturists as well as yachts.

The confusion extends to the locals themselves.  On the one hand, I am ‘little Tommy Myers’ whose crewcut, bottle glasses, knock knees and Keds used to climb the hill to the two-room schoolhouse; on the other hand, I don’t speak like a local, clearly have resources, and the whole bodywork thing is certainly a puzzlement.  Mervin Rice offered the opinion that I must be teaching these people to grow marijuana, because ‘no one would come way out heah to learn to rub bodies’.

And it is to Mervin’s son David that we now turn.  David and I grew up here together, under Mrs. Thompson’s watchful glare.  ‘Thompie’ once caught David ‘feeling up’ Cheryl in the back corridor, and furiously pelted him through the schoolroom, punctuating her words with blows: “David Rice, how dare you, you, you…” and forced to use a verb: “fighting with that girl for?”  We managed straight faces until they were through the far door, and then we burst into wild giggles – she was the last one to know what was going on in behind the wall, all of us having seen that ‘fighting’ was the last thing on precocious Cheryl’s mind.

Fast forward to a few years ago, when David ‘inherited’ the cottage in the corner of our field from Eleanor, Mervin’s patron and girlfriend (they were so cute – even at 90 they ‘didn’t want anyone to know’).  As Adam, David’s son, said, “He ain’t goin’ to hurt her none.”  The gift of her house was a surprise, as Eleanor – still very much alive, the feisty old curmudgeon – went around her only daughter to do so.  This raised some eyebrows around the neighborhood and there were murmurs of ‘undue influence’, but honestly, this was none of our business.  I mention it only to set the context for the larger issue – once ‘in’, David applied for permits to build a large pier out from the cottage into the cove.

Yesteryear, you could build what you wanted on your own property, but now laying a single plank over the water requires all manner of licenses and public notice, which brought the neighbors, a mix of locals and summer residents, out in true NIMBY fashion, me among them.  I sat uncomfortably in this group – we have a large pier, and the cove (and my neighbors’ view) is cluttered with lobster boats and aquaculture gear we have initiated and encouraged.  Who am I to deny a local fisherman access, no matter how dubious?

The neighbours were pursuing various means to stop David in terms of misrepresentations on his permitting application, but their ace in the hole was that the right-of-way to Eleanor’s cottage (and thus his projected pier) run over our land, so that we could conceivably stop any commercial operation David might want to commence.  I offered for David to have a mooring  and lobster from our pier, but that offer was declined with some salty language thrown in.

Last chance to talk was a highly emotional shouting match down on her property when the DEP had a meeting for airing the issues – and this was a couple of years ago.  The DEP was not impressed with our arguments, as they tend to side with the fisherfolk; and with the bitter words spoken (nay, shouted) at that meeting, the rift was complete, and none of us spoke to Eleanor or David any more, and a tense silence has reigned in the neighborhood. In due time, David (whose family is well-connected in town) got his permits and the pier went up, in spite of the efforts of the neighbours and their lawyers to delay or stop it.  It was indeed a large pier for a one-man show, but honestly the overall negative effect on the cove was underwhelming.

The neighbours, who include good and decent folks, as well as those summer visitors concerned only with their view, continued their legal efforts to get the pier restricted or even removed, but now that it was in, I could no longer find much adamance inside myself.  The pier wasn’t so bad, and he only seemed to be running a traditional single lobster boat operation off’n it, and I could hardly object to that in good conscience with three lobstermen doing the same off our pier.  And also (again, none of my business, but I couldn’t ignore it), they seemed to be taking good care of Eleanor, giving her 24-hour care and keeping up her home, where she had clearly voiced for years to all of us that she wanted to stay – so they certainly weren’t neglecting her.

So one day I called up David’s brother, de facto mayor of this tiny town, and confirmed with him that all David wanted to do was run his lobster boat, not anything bigger – no trucking operations or multiple fishermen the large pier would suggest.  “If that’s all it is,” I confirmed, “You’ll get no trouble from us.” A few weeks later, our family lawyer conveyed this sentiment in legal beagle language.  No good deed goes unpunished: I heard that David was crowing that the Myers’s had ‘backed down’, and the neighbours group was quietly furious at me for tossing away their ace in the hole – so I found myself again in the middle with no friends on either side, but my conscience was clear.

Since then, my feelings continued to be in sympathy with David, an unpleasing man who is just ‘not a people person’ according to the local philosopher, and I found myself increasingly frustrated with the neighbours’ huffy objections, which seemed petty, superior, and without much standing.  David and I hadn’t spoken, but he took to waving at Quan, and then to me when we passed on our little road.

One of the neighbour group opposed to the pier is wealthy enough to own a beautiful sailboat, but he isn’t much of a seaman and checks on it very seldom, and scarcely uses it all summer.  One day on a spring tide his boat lifted its inadequate mooring and floated off down the river on the ebb.  David, coming back from his day’s lobstering, noticed it.  I was on the phone at the end of my wharf, when he steamed up close and points to the boat as it was turning merrily out of sight, calling over his engine (the first words to pass between us since the shouting match), “Damned if I’m goin’ after it after what they done t’me, but you can if you want to”.

The law of the sea is clear: you don’t let a boat be destroyed if you can help, so I jumped aboard my sailboat and went and chugged off to rescue it off the ledges where it had lodged, calling the owner when I had it in, so he could come and reset it.  Scant thanks I got for my few hours work, but if you will allow it, I know the boat itself was grateful and bobbed its thanks to me, and that was enough – she’s a beauty.

Truth is, I have more respect for a man who can care for a boat, no matter who small or humble, whereas the one who just buys it for status is not as much of an ‘owner’ in my book.  Participation = ownership = democracy.  When he first wanted to access this boat off my pier, it was his idea that since he wasn’t using his boat for a commercial operation, he should pay less than the others, the fishermen.  Now that’s noblesse without the oblige,  My idea was that the fishermen had bait and fuel and traps and permits to pay for, and that he, a man of leisure, should pay more.  My respect for the neighbours’ position continued to deteriorate.

So back to scything along the farm pond, and by now I am down near the dirt road that forms the right of way down to Eleanor’s.  A new black pickup pulled to a halt at the head of Eleanor’s drive (actually ours), and out rolled David, and he came over to speak to me.  He’s my age, but he feels older and short of breath.

The details of the conversation aren’t important – he still feels persecuted, though he has largely gotten his way.  He wanted me to know the neighbours were speaking against me also – all that aquaculture gear out in the cove – but I don’t set much store by that either way.  We agreed the river is there to be fished as well as enjoyed.  I asked after Eleanor, and asked for permission to go see her, as I really enjoyed the old battleax before this neighbourhood falling out.

Up close, he was still unpleasant, but sad and just incompetent at communicating, not a villain.  As we finished, I stuck out my hand in a way he could not refuse, and in that handshake a wave of relief came over me.  I was not afraid of David, nor of the neighbours, and am accustomed to the cognitive dissonance of being at odds with either or both.  But how sweet to put this chapter behind me, to be at peace with the surroundings.  Neither David nor the errant sailor will probably ever be my close friends again, but I can handle them both.  It set my teeth a little on edge to have a two-year silence after a shouting match with the guy who (de facto until Eleanor goes, and de jure after) lives next door.

I heard his boat going out into the harbor a few minutes later as I finished edging the pond, and shouldering the scythe, I stepped off my country farm and back into the management of the worldwide Anatomy Trains ‘empire’.