Thursday, February 21, 2019

Secret Places

            This is a poem that I apparently wrote several years ago. I had forgotten about it and did not save a copy. Kim found one and put it in the Valentine card she made for me. One of the advantages of getting old is the possibility of a surprise like this. “Secret Places” was, apparently, in some secret place.


Secret Places

Pockets.
The kitchen junk drawer
Glove compartment under the manual next to the tire gauge.
Bottom of your purse.
Briefcase compartment designed for calculator.
Crotch of backyard maple tree.
Under loose patio flagstone.
Tucked inside the old dictionary.
In a cigar box that once held cigars.
Trunk of the car.
Wherever we keep old extension cords.
Basket full of magazines we haven’t gotten around to.
Belly button.
“Miscellaneous” file.
“Etc.” file.
Top of bedroom door trim.
Journal stashed behind 1980 tax returns.
Letters.
Cuffs.
Next to reusable grocery bags.
In the old first aid kit.
Repainted Altoid tins.
Salvaged robin’s nest.
Behind the furnace.
Inside a shirt.


            This is an example of what I call a “list poem,” a genre I probably did not invent. I remember writing a list poem consisting of the titles of movies, all of which began with “The Big.” It was a long poem, very American, and fun to read aloud. I have since lost the poem.

            Do you have any secret places you would like to share?



Thursday, February 14, 2019

Five Senses


            Our friend Beth East, a high school Spanish teacher, describes an exercise she does with her students: Identify your favorite:

·     touch
·     taste
·     sound
·     smell
·     sight

This strikes me as a great exercise, even if you are not improving your responses by doing them in Spanish. The process will help us live in the present, something that many believe is good for our mental health, unless you are having a really shitty present. (Of course, all of these sense memories are from the past, but who cares? The Greek philosopher Epicurus taught that contemplation of pleasure is preferable to the experience of pleasure because you have more control over your mind than over externals. So contemplate away . . ..)

            Kim and I will get you started with our lists:

David
·     touch – Kim’s hair on my cheek
·     taste – chocolate mousse (a Valentine’s tradition)
·     sound – rain on the roof
·     smell – Kim’s perfume (but with my failing sense of smell, I have to get very close to smell it)
·     sight – Torch Lake, as seen from our dining room window. This is not just one “sight,” because what I love is the variety of sights, day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment.

Kim
·     touch – my favorite pajamas when I put them on at night (might be one of David’s favorites, too) (Kim tells me she didn’t really say this, that I made it up.)
·     taste – a cup of good coffee with toasted French bread from Bay Bread in Traverse City or Zingerman’s Rustic Italian from Ann Arbor, toasted dark and served with a generous swath of Irish butter and a good cup of coffee: today’s breakfast
·     sound -  my grandfather’s laugh and the song “Wind Beneath My Wings” played for me at my daughter’s wedding
·     smell – cedars when you rub the needles between your palms and then raise your hands to your nose
·     sight – the use of color in nature, or painting, or the walls of a home – especially earth colors. The color palette of my friend and fellow artist Laurie Hitzig’s is just about perfect.

NOTE: I’m supposed to be the writer, Kim the artist, but her list is better than mine!


            O.K., now it’s your turn. Let us know your choices, which may be published next week. If you want your name left off, can do.
          dstring@ix.netcom.com

-->

Thursday, February 7, 2019

To Book, or Not to Book


            Lately I’ve been pondering whether to turn these blog entries into a book. My friend Jeff, who I’ve known since high school but have not seen for 50+ years, has been encouraging me. He is a writer who is heavily involved in the publishing world, and he is convinced that together we can make a book that is of the highest quality, which pertains to the quality of paper, printing and binding, one that will be successful both artistically and commercially.

            The book Jeff has in mind will feature Kim’s photographs, especially the birds but also the parts of America where we have gone in pursuit of adventures that typically include birds. Her photos would be framed by our story: Kim’s cancer, her refusal to give in to it, and our teamwork, all leading to the construction of our Bark House – not the kind of project that folks in their mid-70s with stage 4 cancer typically undertake. Jeff suggested that I minimize the self-deprecating humor that characterizes many of the blog entries, as it takes away from the story.      

            I am, so far, reluctant:

Writing a book is a lot of work. I thoroughly enjoy writing my blog, whether I’m doing my own little spin or writing to frame Kim’s photos. Editing and rewriting are not as much fun as dashing off a short post. Think of the difference between going for an afternoon walk in the woods and hiking the Appalachian Trail. The latter is a greater achievement, to be sure, but it requires a certain level of commitment, of energy, that I’m not sure I can summon. If I do commit to the book project, what would I stop doing because of the time commitment?
·     going on photo-walks with Kim
·     doing my share of household chores, including yardwork and snow shoveling
·     reading
·     writing the blog
·     sleeping
·     feeding birds
·     enjoying second cup of coffee while watching birds from the porch
·     enjoying a touch more wine while watching birds and deer from the porch
·     running errands in Traverse City, including medical stuff
·     photographing wildlife for the local Land Conservancy
·     watching stupid television (e.g., sports, The Bachelor, political discussions)
·     watching quality television (national news, nature documentaries, sports)
·     streaming quality movies
·     streaming stupid movies that we thought would be quality ones
·     checking the weather
·     playing Words With Friends
·     cultivating new friendships
·     having old friends visit (yes, we mean you)
·     looking for two keys we lost during our moves
·     eating, including snacks
·     checking my email
·     driving to the post office to get my junk mail
·     sitting in front of my computer

            On the other hand, Jeff said he would do a lot of the editorial and publisher-related work. And while there would be a large (how large?) initial cost, Jeff assures me we would make it back, and more, once the book is out and selling. He suggests that once Kim and I are interviewed a few times on national television, sales will really take off. (Kim is very shy about public speaking, so we would have to work on this.) He says the book will leave Kim’s artistic and my literary mark on the world.

            Do I really care about leaving my mark? Once I am dead, I won’t be there to appreciate it. My small blog-mark seems sufficient, and maybe I will follow Emily Dickinson’s path to fame by having my work discovered long after I am gone.

            I can’t really speak for Kim, but I doubt that winning fame is one of her priorities. She is leaving her mark on the world through the cards she makes, the photos she shares through the blog, through the homes she has designed and built (3 plus a major remodel), and through her children, who have learned her values. She also does not think her photos are sharp enough to put into a book, partly because of inevitable problems with the printing process, and partly because she has very high standards of quality, and her own work, the feels, falls short. Jeff says he can talk her out of that.

            After speaking about the issue with Kim, we agreed that what it really comes down to is this: Do I want to spend my remaining time playing outside (hiking, gardening, shoveling snow, collecting Petoskey stones, kayaking, feeding birds) or sitting in front of my computer?

            What do you think? To book, or not to book?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Brown Creeper


            Before I get started, let me be clear about one thing: The title of this post does not refer to our president’s concerns about the southern border. The Brown Creeper is a bird.

            People who boast about the number of bird species they have seen reveal an annoying self-importance, probably related to an insecurity that goes back to their childhood. That being said, the Brown Creeper we have been seeing is the 36thdifferent bird species we’ve seen here at our Bark House. Pretty cool, right? (And by the way, we’ve seen 205 species in Michigan and 417 overall – and thanks for asking.)

            Kim and I have been pursuing the Brown Creeper for years. When we lived in Gainesville, our birding guru, Rex, would report sightings and we would eagerly go to where one was reported, but we never saw one. We may have been looking right at it while failing to see it – Kim can attest that I do this often. They are difficult to see. They hang out on tree trunks, searching for food, and their streaked brown coloration blends right in with the bark.

            “If you build it,” the famous line goes, “they will come.” We did not build a Field of Dreams, and we did not see Shoeless Joe. We built the Bark House, and the Brown Creeper came.

      








             Like many in our bird family, and a few squirrels, they have made themselves at home on our home. Because of our bark siding, they think we are a tree. Nuthatches take seeds from our feeder and store it in the bark on our porch, sometimes pecking at the wedged-in seeds to open them. We’ve seen our Brown Creeper stealing from helping themselves to the Nuthatch larder. Sometimes they pause here for a brief nap.


            Brown Creepers, by the way, are very difficult to photograph. Though they are called “creepers,” they don’t creep. Sloths creep. Lions stalking wildebeests creep. Brown Creepers move very quickly up the trees (Brown Scurriers?), and even if you target them well, you still need a very fast shutter speed to freeze their action. In Michigan’s generally dark and cloudy winters . . ..

            Four species of woodpeckers (Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, and very briefly, thankfully, Pileated) have checked our siding for insects, finding none. Squirrels, including the local Black Squirrels, frequently scamper along the bark, and they will sometimes stare at us through the windows, wondering how we got inside.

            We built it, and they came. We now have two of them, and we like to think it's a male and a female. We picture baby Creepers peeking out from a nest . . ..


Comment from Patty Hall:
Be happy that little birds are pecking on your house.  I have a married couple of cranes that have been violently attacking my windows which are just about the right height for them.  Surely they know that’s their own blood all over the windows and house.  Only one effort has been successful.  Cheap silver wreaths on windows and fishing line strung from poles surrounding house.  Somehow I don’t think that’s a selling point.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Ice Pix

          


          About 8 below zero early in the morning. This means it's time to go outside to photograph the sunrise.















          Later in the day, when the temperature climbed to zero, large areas of the lake froze.










          The next morning the wind rose, crushing the ice against the shore.









          It's true that you can't step in the same river twice. You also can't look at the same lake twice.



          It was tiring to be out in the cold, helping each other wrestle the camera gear up and down the stairs in the snow.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Other


            This week, while I was pulling up my pants, I saw a large eagle land in a tree just outside our bathroom window. It was grasping a large fish, gashed open on its flank. I ran to call for Kim to see it, effectively scaring it away.

            That evening we switched off the television to sit on our sun porch (heated) to enjoy some grapes and cheese. I saw a large deer approach the cracked corn and potato skins that we had set out for them. Kim told me she thought it was pregnant, and she advised me not to move at all. I didn’t, and a few minutes later, two more deer appeared – a small doe and a young buck sporting spikes. Kim had seen deer there before, but only when her sleeping problems had her up and looking at 5 a.m. Seeing them at 10 p.m. saved me from an early wake-up.

            Thrilling it is, but what’s the thrill?

            We have been watching birds at the feeders for months now, and we've been birders and bird photographers for several years, but this was somehow different. Birding puts us in touch with nature, and except for our shots at our feeders, it takes us out into nature. But the birds at our feeders – the chickadees, juncos, nuthatches, woodpeckers – have become members of our family. We take meals together, separated only by a bit of glass. Family.

            The eagle and the deer are different. They are part of The Other.

            (My thoughts here are under the influence of The Overstory by Richard Powers, a marvelous novel.)

            We live in an enclosed world – our houses, our cities, our friends and families, pets and livestock and gardens. Cars, smart phones and the Internet. It’s a human-centered world that we have dominated, tamed and domesticated. As Powers shows, we are in the process of making our whole planet subservient to what we see as our human “needs.” Every once in a while, however, we glimpse The Other – the larger, wilder, more mysterious and majestic world beyond our humanscape. For Powers, it’s the community of trees that comprise our disappearing forests. For us, we see an eagle with a fish. We see deer – though we may be domesticating them by feeding them. In whatever form it takes -- and there is a flash that makes us realize that there is indeed something larger than the web of civilization we have created. That’s the thrill. For some, it can be a religious thrill.

Sunset, St. George Island, Florida
Sunrise, Everglades
Sunset, from our back yard in Gainesville

Sometimes we see The Other in a beautiful detail going about life oblivious to us.

Coral Hairstreak on Butterfly Weed

Bee on Sunflower

Sandhill Cranes were doing their thing long before our self-important human drama.

Mating Dance

Grooming

Preparing to Migrate


Some we saw just dealing with the daily struggle of existence.

Red-shouldered Hawk and Friend

            At the same time, however, I realize that the Other is not really Other. We are part of that world, despite all of our artifice. It’s only a matter of looking, listening, appreciating. Photography is just one way to make that connection.

Sunset, Merritt Island, Florida
Not a Chickadee

Comment from Tom Jacobs:
Dave:  Janice and I live in suburban NJ, only 7 miles from the George Washington Bridge, but we too are awed by the frequent deer families which come through our yard, and especially of the reaction of our Golden Retrievers, who sit and stare at them without chasing or barking.   The dogs are a little harder on the bunnies during the warm weather.  In addition to all the little birds, we have wild turkeys and across the street, several huge turkey vultures who hang out near the top of the chimney of the church.  We only feed the small birds at our feeders, but the others seem to find enough to eat themselves.  There is something satisfying about the sense that all these creatures live here with us and don't seem too afraid.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Identity


            I wrote last week about sudden changes. Well, I had one.

            For the last two years I have defined my identity, in part, as Kim’s caretaker. This means I still probably do for her about half of what she does to take care of me, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of perceptions. I feellike a caretaker, largely because it’s a bit more than I was doing for the first 25 years of our marriage. To use the current language, I identify as a caretaker.

            This took a sudden, and I hope brief, change this week. I had what I thought was a pimple on my chest. It got a bit bigger and did not pop, so I thought it might be a spider or tick bite. When it continued to grow without popping, I decided (Actually, it was Kim who decided.) to have a doc have a look and remove the tick. Wisely, as it turned out, I had resisted the urge to hack off the top and drain it.

            A Saturday trip to a walk-in clinic was, to say the least, sobering. The doc took a quick look and said, “That’s not a tick. It’s cancer.” He suggested I contact my primary care doc, or my dermatologist who had examined me less than a month ago, for a biopsy.

            I am no stranger to skin cancer – melanoma on my cheek, three basal cell carcinomas treated with Moh’s Procedure, a few squamous cells and many “suspicious” growths zapped off with the ice gun. So part of me said, “O.K., let’s just deal with this so I can resume this great life I have with Kim in our bark house.” But another part of me remembered what a previous primary care doc had told me – the melanoma cells are circulating in me, waiting for an opportunity to cause trouble. I recall a brief celebration in a dermatologist’s office when I was told that I had a basal cell carcinoma on my face. Celebration? Yes, because I was worried that it was melanoma. The dermatologist said that mine was not the usual response to such news. The doc on Saturday said it’s “probably” not melanoma. How reassuring is that?

            My current anxiety is not centered on my mortality. I died once, when I was 17, and it was not a big deal. No, my anxiety has more to do with the shift in identity from giver to receiver of care. (Language note: a giverof care is called a caretaker.) If I am disabled, for whatever reason, who will dispatch my caretaker duties, primarily driving, unscrewing lids, reaching stuff on high shelves, carrying heavy boxes, and telling Kim to rest? Kim still does all the cooking, laundry, etc., so she is the real caretaker, but this thing on my chest, starting to resemble a third nipple, will change how I identify, a somewhat different issue. 

            But this is not about me. It’s about how we sustain and undergo changes in identity. Kim has invented her identity – an artist – even as she continues to identify as homemaker, mom, wife and grandma – a caretaker. As I write this she is creating a wall sculpture using twigs and insect-mounting pins. She refuses to identify as a cancer survivor. For years I identified as a teacher, then as a writer, then carrier of boxes, then caretaker of Kim and now as a partner with Kim in looking after our new home. I may, for a while, become a patient – an apt term for this identity, as it requires a lot of patience. A lot of you have probably been in the situation of waiting for biopsy results – show of hands, please? Thought so. Kim goes through this every few months – not biopsies, but various kinds of scans and blood tests – but she does not let her cancer define her.

            I realize, when I stop worrying, that identity is largely a matter of choice. I choose to identify myself as an unscrewer of lids and high-shelf-reacher – Kim’s partner.