screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Category: Musings Page 1 of 10

A Dried Up Pond, and What Has Been Lost

Bellevue Pond in Middlesex Fells Reservation, in happier days - circa 1994.

Bellevue Pond in Middlesex Fells Reservation, in happier days – circa 1994.

On one of the last Saturdays of summer, I drove us to the pond at Middlesex Fells. It was something familiar, in a sea of uncertainty, where I thought we could reconnect with our essence and remember when we were happy and full of joy.

The small parking area was full, so we drove down the border road in search of another spot. I periodically pulled over to let angry vehicles storm past.

I grew disheartened, yet on the way back to the highway, figured I would try one more time. I pulled into the narrow drive and paused. Seeing no one behind me, I closed my eyes to summon the quietness and ask for the parking gods to assist me. The indigenous people of this land had their gods of the harvest—modern Bostonians have gods of parking. Miraculously, they answered my prayer with a car that suddenly pulled out, which we gratefully accepted.

As we approached by foot, I could see that the pond, once a glistening oasis teeming with life, had completely dried up. Tall weeds and grasses had taken over, but there was still a barrenness. No birds, no frogs, not a sound. I felt deeply saddened, but still we walked the perimeter, as we had done so many times before, when I lived in town and we were close neighbors and lovers.

“Do you remember?” I asked. You did not.

“Do you remember the concrete steps which led down in places to an inner trail and then the pond?” The steps were still there, but not the soothing, slightly rippling water which once beckoned.

We continued to walk, our steps uncertain, over uneven ground littered with rocks, the once idyllic and pristine trail now dotted with giant felled trees from recent storms, which have grown more violent over the years. They lay around like the fossils of proud dinosaurs, a sad reminder of what once had been.

“Do you remember the stone walls?” They were still there — brief segments of stones with pieces jutting up as if to say, “We will protect this place from the ravages of mankind.” But in the end, they could not.

“Do you remember the long wall at the end? And the island in the middle, where we once saw a very large, exotic bird?”

“Oh. King something…” You were starting to remember! I pondered this as we stood at the end wall looking out over the expanse, once filled with clear water. The lone picnic table was still there as well, bearing witness and awaiting my memory to return.

The beauty of the stone wall and pond, as it once was. - circa 1994.

The beauty of the stone wall and pond, as it once was. – circa 1994.

“King Fisher!” I proudly exclaimed. “Yeah, king fisher,” you agreed.

And we tried to transport ourselves back to that day, so long ago. He stood proud, on that little island, a beacon of serenity and purpose, and a conduit that seemed to join centuries together in a single moment.

That wall steadied my fearful heart, though I saw that there was now graffiti and some refuse thrown around, signaling a lack of respect.

From there, we walked around the other side, where more remembrances flooded in. There were the tiny frogs on the inner path that registered their surprise as we came upon them with a startled “eep!” which made us laugh. We would see red-winged blackbirds flying overhead, which you typically only saw in wooded areas. There were the bullfrogs that spoke to us with their characteristic “Boink!” from out in the pond. You came upon a snake one day, joyfully, on a circular stone structure that jutted out into the water.

You were remembering it all now, as was I, as we shared these stories with each other like lost treasures.

I recalled a trail that led up to an old tower. I was fairly certain of this memory, and we attempted to traverse a path that climbed up towards large boulders. I could hear the roar of the nearby highway. We were both a bit unsteady, navigating fallen trees and rocks in our sneakers. I went up ahead, and then recalled a different path, closer to the entrance – or perhaps just further than I recalled. That would have to wait for another day.

We then ventured, I with some trepidation, out into what had once been the pond. It was eerie, with a lingering smell of moisture and decay, though the ground was dry. You went further out, showing me a tiny residual of life in the mud under your feet.

“Eww,” you exclaimed at some low, broad leaves on the pond bed. I examined them. “I know what these are,” I said slowly, sadness engulfing me. “They’re dried up water lilies.” “You’re right,” you said. We remembered together the serene water lilies, bursting with life, lifting happily from their aqueous roots. This is where the frogs, which you adored, would be. I felt my eyes fill with tears and you embraced me.

“Where do they go?” you wondered. I did not know. “If the situation improves, do they just come back?” Bereft, I could not answer.

If we can bring back the sweet earth to its former glory, will everything return as it was, or are certain things lost forever?

The deep, uplifting blue autumn sky had made a welcome reappearance the previous day, after the smoke from the unprecedented West Coast wildfires had gone up into the atmosphere and drifted over the East Coast, turning the skies an ominous green-gray. In those days, the sun only appeared as a small, light yellow ball. But there were small patches of the deep, unfathomable blue skies that I longed for and rays of sunlight, for a brief window of time, as I picked the fruit off my two dwarf apple trees. And the birds had returned, pecking at the fruit and sharing in the bounty.

This heartened us and I felt my heavy spirit lift. Perhaps, if we act quickly, there is still time.

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Nurture

nourish

You nurtured us,
and now I nurture your memory.
In this memory I try to hold
you are young and full of vibrancy and hope
like in that photograph
I keep on my fireplace mantle.
You and dad on your wedding day,
cutting the cake that celebrates
your first day together.

The folded frame holds two photos.
In the other, you are together still,
so happy, so in love, yet older.
Bodies not as supple, bending over with the weight of the world
and from life’s difficult truths, discovered.
But your commitment so much stronger, and so sure.
Resilient against all odds.

On your wedding day in 1957
you didn’t know the darkness you would have to endure together,
as one struggled with depression
and both struggled with pain from the past.

But you faced it together.
And when I was born,
we faced it as a family
and we were stronger because of it.

We nurtured each other, through the years,
feeding each other with the emotional nourishment
we all needed to feel safe and satiated.

In the early days, you cooked for the three of us, and I helped.
We were well fed and taken care of.
But then, sometimes, it wasn’t just about preparing satisfying meals.
Proper nourishment became more complicated,
and we didn’t always know what the other needed —
And especially, what you needed, Mom.

You, the family caretaker, needed special care
that only your loving family could give.
Dad and I, in time, learned how to nurture.
After all, we learned from the best.

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Germination

Starting from a seed, carefully (obsessively) tended.
Can a new plant die from over care?

Suffocation; not allowed to grow by itself.

No trust in the natural order of things.

Fretting and worrying
stunts natural growth.

And yet, I am so halting —
and feel so very fragile.

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The Frustration of Groundhogs

As things become unsettled

As things become unsettled

Digging through from his underground lair early in the spring,
tired and hungry,
only to find a new structure in place,
and nothing as he remembers it.

Working hard, trying to dig through the clutter in her life
and the messy knots of dissatisfaction,
trying to find optimism, enthusiasm and light,
only to find herself at a dead end.

They must both go back underground and seek out a new direction.

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Who Was Kyle Yorlets? A Sad Tale from a Dysfunctional America

Kyle Yorlets

Kyle Yorlets

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed yesterday, when I came across this news headling — “Teens Charged in Shooting Death of Nashville Musician.” Sadly, people are murdered all the time in the U.S., and typically it doesn’t go beyond a local news story. This time, however, the story was so sad and so shocking that it was picked up by national news outlets.

The victim was 24-year-old Kyle Yorlets, lead singer of Nashville pop/rock band Carverton. The group first formed in the summer of 2014, when Yorlets and Michael Curry, both from Pennsylvania, moved to Nashville to pursue their musical dreams. They hooked up with Michael Wiebell and Christian Ferguson, and created a sound that blended rock, indie pop, pop punk and hip hop. Releasing their debut EP in 2017, they would go on to perform at the Firefly Festival, open for various bands, and were starting to make a name for themselves.

Tragically (as if the rest of this story isn’t tragic enough), they had just finished the debut full-length album, Chasing Sounds, which is set for release on March 29. The official video for the single, “Wildside,” was just released a month ago. Yorlets said about the album, “We hope our music can be both relatable and encouraging to those who need it. Life is crazy and unpredictable, and we want to portray that in our music.”

Life got especially crazy and unpredictable last Thursday, when five kids, aged 12-16, robbed and then fatally shot Yorlets outside his Nashville home. They had stolen his wallet, and when he refused to hand over the keys to his vehicle, they shot him. They were apprehended at a Walmart with stolen guns and a stolen pickup truck.

The mother of one of the young perpetrators blamed the shooting on “a failure of the system.” She claims that her family reached out for help with their troubled teen, but didn’t get any. That may well be true, but what exactly happens to kids that young to make them so angry and so full of hate that they no longer value human life?

Robbing someone is one thing, as is the ridiculously easy access to guns (how simple is it for children to steal guns in Tennessee, I wonder?), but to shoot someone at close range is quite another. Blind violence such as that doesn’t occur until a person is past all hope and beyond all reason. Mental illness may account for a single person committing a senseless crime, but five people, and young kids at that, committing murder together? That can no longer be blamed on mental illness, unless the entire world has gone mad.

The crimes of a child should be blamed, at least partially, on poor parenting. But it has to be thrown at the feet of American society, as well — not just the gun culture, but widening income inequality, rampant poverty in a land of plenty (for some) and a sense of hopelessness among the disadvantaged. Until all of these issues are seriously addressed, I can see no hope for improvement, and I feel just as badly for those confused, angry kids as I do for Kyle, his friends, bandmates, fans and family.

A GoFundMe campaign was launched for Kyle’s parents, Pennsylvania dairy farmers, to help them with funeral and travel expenses. The money will also help keep their business running while they deal with the unpleasant task of burying their son and settling his affairs in Nashville. They have stated that any leftover funds will “go towards scholarship opportunities arranged by the Yorlets family in Kyle’s honor.”

Kyle’s band released this statement:

On February 7, 2019 we lost our brother, best friend, and bandmate Kyle Yorlets. We are in a state of shock and are having to grasp the reality that is now in front of us. We are heartbroken. Our condolences for his family and loved ones and all the lives that he touched. We will never forget Kyle, and though he is gone too soon his legacy is here to stay. We thank you for your support and will talk to you soon.
Love,
Michael, Christian, and Wiebell

Because this is a music blog, at least part of the time, it seems fitting to end with some more of the band’s music. May we all find a way out of this darkness.

Carverton: web | facebook | twitter | instagram | bandcamp | soundcloud | spotify | youtube | Listen To / Purchase Their Latest Single

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The Furry Climate Change Denier

Jason Cohn/REUTERS

Jason Cohn/REUTERS

After the Arctic warmed,
after the polar vortex lost its way,
after -30 degree temperatures in Chicago,
after three feet of snow in one day in upstate New York,
after 121 degrees of heat and wildfires in Southern Australia,
after torrential rain in Queensland, the Alps and the Himalayas —

Punxsutawney Phil came out of his hole
and proudly proclaimed
that there is no such thing as climate change.

Punxsutawney Phil is wrong
61% of the time.

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The Art of Letting Go

TheArtOfLettingGo

Inspired by Victor Robert Venckus’s Expanding Awareness program with Yvonne Donovan about decluttering one’s personal space.

I have always been exceedingly sticky. Things stick to me. People stick to me, too.

Have you ever had a piece of cellophane refuse to let go as you attempt to shake it off into a trash bin? That happens to me all the time.

I listened to the woman speak, but she never scratched her way below the surface, as much as I tried to encourage her psychically from my couch as I sat staring at the radio. She preferred to focus on how marvelous it is to clear away all your clutter — how freeing it is to be unencumbered by all those belongings.

But sometimes those sad old objects are all you have left to remind you of who you once were, who you perhaps still are and who you once loved.

The direct memory fades with the dispassionate passage of time. The right song at the right moment, can, if you’re lucky, bring it all back. So too can a well-worn, familiar object, however seemingly junky and insignificant.

I realize it isn’t altogether healthy, to remain attached to the past by means of a physical possession. When Mom and Dad died, as I systematically went through the contents of a 7-room, 4-level, 50-year family home, I found myself sentimentally attached to the silliest of things. Not because of their value, but because of the personal meaning they held.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), my folks, despite having been children during The Great Depression, were devout gifters. A piano I never quite took to as a child taking lessons was given to, I think, a community center. A pool table, which we enjoyed when I was young, ended up going to an old folks’ home. The Jacuzzi, a treadmill, a hammock and garden furniture, all kinds of artwork and decorative items, vintage clothes, virtually all my old toys — somewhere.

And so, when I was faced with the task of moving special items from a spacious 7-room split level to my tiny 4-room ranch, it was easier than it might have been. I simply didn’t have the space. But still, even without the old furniture, I’m surrounded by boxes of photographs, slides, cards, letters, old films, books, records, CDs, documents, artwork and decorative pieces, household items and even electronic devices, all bursting with the essence of their former owners.

Or so it seems to my sticky mind.

As if I didn’t already know that one can be mentally and spiritually burdened by possessions, I periodically have my bag lady dreams. In them, I’m inevitably trying to leave a place, or catch a train, or make a flight, or follow someone out of a room, except that I must first decide what to do with all my baggage. And I mean that in a literal sense. I have bags, or boxes, or just stacks of things, all of it apparently mine, but quite often stuff I don’t even recognize. Regardless, I’m convinced that it must all be thoroughly gone through before I can proceed. I typically wake up feeling oppressed and frustrated.

I used to be a collector. I stopped actively collecting specific items like music memorabilia and films or TV shows of an actor I enjoyed. But I still collect objects from my past, and after the major sell-off of 2018, I suddenly don’t want to part with anything else. Ever. But I’ll probably feel differently about it in the light of a new day — or when I can no longer stand the claustrophobia of being surrounded by boxes.

There are far worse hoarders than me. Oddly, I think of Andy Warhol and his cookie jar collection. Maybe he just liked cookie jars. Or perhaps he experienced some sort of great loss in his life and collecting those cookie jars gave him a feeling of comfort and wholeness. Things are solid and tangible, unlike people, who can come in and out of your life on the wings of birds.

I met him once, Andy, at the B. Dalton’s on 8th Street in the Village. The year was 1985 and he was signing his latest book of photography, America. I had just purchased the Velvet Underground and Nico’s ‘peelable banana album’ at a record show in New Jersey, with the intention of sending it to a guy in the U.K. in return for Bowie memorabilia. And that night, as synchronicity would have it, I saw an ad in the Village Voice for the book signing the next day. So, there I was, standing in line with the city’s hipsters, waiting for Andy. He walked in with his painted black leather jacket, sunglasses and white hair. We were all transfixed.

When it came my turn, I handed him the requisite book to have signed, and then quietly said, “Hi Andy, I wonder if you would indulge me?” With that, I handed him the album. Andy, in an equally quiet voice, said “Sure.” I heard someone in line behind me say, “Oh man, I have that; I should have brought it!” Andy marveled at the legendary album of his own design and said, “Oh, I haven’t seen this for so long!” He loved it, and signed his name proudly, big and bold, across the entire length on one side, before handing it back to me. From one collector to another. Of course, that British guy never did get his album.

I remember when Andy died. I was loading tapes onto video machines at a public television station in Hartford, Connecticut. I must have seen it on a news feed and learned that he was gone. It felt like someone grabbed inside my body and removed my heart. I just felt this emptiness — an inexplicable sense of loss. I didn’t know him, had only met him briefly just that once, and yet his passing stayed with me. Sticky.

Such is the power of objects from the past. They can stir memories that you thought were long forgotten. Not all of this is bad, is it? I imagine it becomes a problem when you find yourself, in life or in dreams, paralyzed by your memories and your possessions, unable to move forward. And then, it’s time for a rigorous round of spring cleaning, to rid oneself of things that are old, sticky and full of cobwebs.

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Mom’s Cookbook

KitchenWallpaper

I knew why I hadn’t taken it. It was an old French-style Julia Child type of cookbook with a faded yellow cover, with loads of recipes for meat dishes and other things I don’t eat and haven’t eaten for years. It was highly unlikely that I would ever want to cook up beef bourguignon in this lifetime. Besides, French dishes, with their over-abundance of cream sauce, always wreak havoc on my digestive system.

And yet — it was Mom’s cookbook, and as I realize now, when it’s far too late to retrieve it, that she was a brand new homemaker when it was purchased, in the late 1950s when she married Dad. And I also realize, too late, that hidden in its pages were very likely family meals that she prepared throughout my childhood. For a strange reason, quite suddenly, my disregard for that tattered old book feels like a dreadful mistake and the thought of it gnaws at me, like some terrible loss.

Certain dishes I remember. There was salmon souffle, served in little Pyrex custard cups that I also parted with, as I was trying to be practical when I selected what would come back to Massachusetts with me and what would be left for the Connecticut estate sale. Chocolate pudding, which I remember helping her mix up and cook in a saucepan, for the privilege of getting to scoop out the delicious hot chocolate remains, straight from the pan, was also served in these custard cups.

Mom also made veal parmigiana, in single-serving ceramic cordon bleu au gratin baking dishes — thankfully, those I kept, though I have no idea why. There are three; one for each of us. She also made these pastry cheese puffs, which I loved. They featured Cheese Wiz and a single green olive pushed into the center of each one, which was my job to insert, when we worked together to create them. I was so young — how is it I remember this? As I recall, they were only made when we visited family or for the rare house party they once had for Dad’s coworkers. I also remember Mom making veal chops and asparagus, and there was a baked salmon dish that was made with a sweet sauce — I think it was something like orange juice and soy sauce?

Some of these things may have been in that cookbook; I’m not sure.

What’s more, the cookbook had a handmade book cover, to mask the old yellow board of the original. This was probably crafted by Mom, from leftover kitchen wallpaper — a bold, eye-popping mid-’70s burst of whimsical orange and yellow flowers. That seems like something a person who is hopelessly nostalgic would keep, doesn’t it? But it was in the hectic months after Dad died (Mom was already a year gone) and I had apparently put my sentimentality on a shelf so that I could carry on efficiently with the impossibly difficult and heart-rending task of going through nearly 50 years of family memories.

It all made sense at the time. It was in the middle of winter, and I was spending a small fortune on heating costs (to keep the old pipes from bursting), real estate taxes and the rest of it, traveling four hours back and forth every other week, and I didn’t want things to drag on and on. So, I journeyed between my place and theirs, bringing down junk I had no further need of, and bringing back mementos I wanted to keep. Mostly, I think, I made the right decisions. I took very little furniture — just their two favorite chairs and a few smaller plant tables. I brought back a beloved statue of a Native American family that Mom discovered in a department store display and spirited away, certain household items and supplies, various decorative items, some of their books and records and CDs, a lot of artwork and several cartons of photographs, slides, films, cards, letters and important documents. It was enough. It was already too much. But every so often, there was a little pang of regret — inexplicable sentimentality over something rather insignificant that I have no power to rectify and had no use for to begin with. Maybe it’s a strange form of self-protection, to avoid facing those really big regrets. Or perhaps it’s symbolic.

Who knows what became of this vinyl-wallpaper-covered old cookbook? I close my book of thoughts on this wistful subject with the hope that in some thrift shop in Connecticut, it fell quite unexpectedly into the hands of a new homemaker whose heart was warmed and curiosity piqued by this charming throwback from simpler, less nutritionally-aware times. And who knows? Maybe they’ll try out a few of the recipes. That’s more than I would have done.

Grief works in mysterious ways.

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Cold Toes for Secrets

Oh howling wind, can I know your secrets?
We are now lovers
I am no longer fearful of you.

Once I made the decision
to forego
a life in the sun
I committed myself to understand
your austere, mysterious ways
however long it took
and however many sleepless nights
and cold toes.

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The Year In Review: 6 Things I Learned About Myself

SelfPortrait_inMirror

1 – Surprisingly, I am capable of being a “morning person,” so long as I get to sleep before midnight. And in fact, I will frequently awaken with strange and wonderful delights in my head that I can put to paper.

2 – I can successfully and single-handedly navigate through probate, go through the contents of a 7-room, 50-year-old family home, prepare said home for sale and close on it, and coordinate eight different contractors and their crews to do various projects around my own hovel — and not lose my mind or get (too badly) ripped off.

3 – I actually don’t enjoy being at a venue I don’t like, seeing a band I don’t care for, late at night — and I shouldn’t feel like I “should” be there because it’s what other people do and seem to enjoy. Sometimes it’s OK to stay home and read a book (although this might just be a function of getting old).

4 – White is my least favorite color, and everything in my home, inside and out, is white. I literally just realized this fact this year. It’s thanks to the previous owners and their unfortunate design sense and peculiarities. Even white people annoy the hell out of me at times, which is odd, seeing as how I am one.

5 – It’s not always helpful to be cynical and sarcastic, even if it does get you more followers on Twitter. Sometimes it’s cool to find positive things in life that you can share and make other people feel good about. Or, as an astrologer friend of mine is fond of saying, “Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

6 – Feeling burdened by regrets and “I should have’s” is a sad and terrible way to mourn the loss of loved ones. A far more positive way, and one that pays dividends while easing the pain, is to channel all that love outward into a creative process, such as organizing photos, slides and films into an online memorial, or transcribing informal interviews into background material for a novel. I am doing both.

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