Sunday, January 31, 2021

Really, Really Big Hug

Ominous day.  Everyone’s talking about snow.  Snow’s on the way.  Twelve to sixteen inches.  That sounds like a lot.  When’s it coming?  Not till late.  That’s good.  First thing in the morning I’m to once again drive my daughter off, this time down to JFK.  The furthest of three New York airports from where we live, it was the only one that had a direct flight.  There can’t be much traffic at the crack of dawn on a Sunday. 


The sliver of time I had between five and six when I was up, lying in the guest bed, reading the news evaporated swiftly and soon I was waking the girls up and making the coffee.  I turned the car on to heat it up and helped my daughter with her two bags, both of which they’ll no doubt charge her for. I sat down to have a bowl of Alpen with banana, Greek yoghurt and chia seeds, while they all puttered about getting ready. 


Was listening to Buddy Collette on the way down.  Remarkable bop flautist I’d never hoid of him, and there is a range of material to explore on Spotify.  “Quartet, Quintet Sessions 1956 – 1957" is sounding like perfect drive to NYC on a Sunday in the pandemic, music this morning.  We got one of those phone holders you put in a car for Christmas and the Mrs. agrees to try installing it after she finishes her coffee. The only place available seems to be the heating vent, but it’s better than staring down, away from traffic at the coffee holder near the stick shift.  

No traffic on the New York State Throughway, nor on the Palisades.  I tried to keep it under seventy-five and when I made that final turn there on to the G-W it still took my breath away, and riding over the bridge, looking down rive at Manhattan I still wanted, inexplicably to blow her a kiss and I did.  And then before you can think about it, you’re in the Bronx, considering all the apartments, wondering about all those lives, and then you're up an on to the Whitestone.  Waze tells me there are police reported ahead.  I bet.  You drive past Linden Blvd and I, at least think of Tribe Called Quest and this uninspired airport rail connector we're driving beneath.  All the places that are usually bumper-to-bumper are free of traffic and it isn’t long before I’m walking into the Jet Blue terminal with her, paying for these extra bags, dropping them off and giving her a really, really big hug, telling her to make me proud out there.  

I went to the mens room.  And I was so glad she hadn't yet made it through to security when I made my way back outside and I gave her another big wave the way I would when she'd walk off to middle school at Xing Ying Cai, in Beijing.  

Sunday, 01/31/21


The Paramount Navy Blues


My older one won’t be here for her birthday next week.  She’s flying back to school tomorrow, across the country to Portland, which seems far enough to be inaccessible but not so far compared to everyone in China. We’ll have her grandparents, her aunt, her cousin over today.  Lasagna?  Got the thumbs up, have the things I need.  I was out there from 8:30AM slinging sheets of lasag out of the boiling pot, on to a plate with olive oil applied liberally so they wouldn’t stick.  I have a calzone in mind.  Do something cheesy with this log of polenta. 

Ahh, she seemed like a young woman out there, talking to all the folks about her plans and what she intended to take this semester.  Turning twenty, she is.  That’s not a teen anymore.  My dad and stepmom needed to leave.  The specter of social distancing weighing on us all, at least I got them to take some of this food.  They missed a decidedly funky cake my mom had brought.  After helping to address the article I’d sent my nephew and his cousins which examined the phenomenon of square-shaped wombat feces, I managed to spirit my stepdad, the biologist, over into the study where I showed him pictures of his niece at the William Seward home in Auburn New York, and he got warm waxed effusive mentioning the speeches of Daniel Webster, Calhoun and Clay.  I got to show him all the China books I had lined up and he commiserated that what I really needed in here was more bookshelves.  


Later, all the guests had left, while the sun was still shining, and when it got dark, I took my older one out for one last trip to Walgreens before she departed.  She wanted hand sanitizer and Tylenol and things of that sort before he headed off.  She was worried about carrying too much and I noted that unlike departing for Nepal or Borneo she was likely to find a Walgreens out in Portland when she needed one there, as well.  The guy asked if I had a number associated with my Walgreens identity and I tried one and then another and then did what I should have done at the outset and just said, ”no thanks.”


Monopoly is a game where you can discern your likely fate, after the first eight to ten hops around the board.  The older one wanted to play.  Something for the family to sit down and do together on her last night.  My battleship wasn’t landing where it ought to have and though I managed to trade for a monopoly there on the orange of New York Avenue-fame, it wasn’t enough, and though it took another twenty spins round or so, the younger ladies had all the yellows and the greens and the paramount navy blues, and before long I was bled dry.  Ahh, but it was a fine way to lose a fortune. 

“We’re leaving at 6:30AM.  Get some rest."  I wished them all good night, after later losing a subseuent game of chess to the Mrs.  They’re up there moving the gecko from his old tank to the new, bigger abode. How strange that must be for his domesticated, reptilian brain.  

Saturday, 01/30/21

A Box With Pens

Up since one.  Three calls.  Each one about two hours apart.  I knew the last one was coming but I got lost in my reading of Sima Qian’s SiJi.  Some fiendish, inner palace treachery by Empress Lu and her Lu clan to the detriment of the late Gaozu's Liu squad, no doubt and one and then another we chat message jarred me, moments before revenge was to be struck.  Should I write people and tell them “1 sec” or just click the clicks and launch the bridge?  In a moment we were all discussing the client.


I made a pot of coffee and poured a cup for the ride up to the Mohonk.  My father and I were going to take a walk up past where we’d been before, and head right, not left.  Cold.  Keep your fingers moving and your wrists spinning.  And not for the first time, my dad tells me that the cold bites through harder now, as he’s gotten older.  The trail has snow but its passable and we head along what must have been a carriage road past some mighty old trees and up into a sweeping view that extends all the way over to Dutchess County. 

Walking back down I noticed that my little one had called. You always imagine the worst  “Don’t forget toilet paper.”  I can handle that.  On my way down the guy who manned the post station and whom I gave $15 to on the way in wanted to know if I wanted to get the annual pass and I did but his pen didn’t work and by the time he gave me the one that did and allowed me to fill in the details and swipe my card my digits were solid.  It wasn’t long after I was back in the car with the heater up full for a spell that the numbness receded. 


I had to pay my county and town taxes.  The town hall is not located where the town court is, I discovered when I searched online.  Out at 52 Clearwater Road, I would have thought you’re already in the next town over.  I am not going to hand my taxes to a person but rather drop this check and receipt in a drop box.  The invoice I have as well as the details online suggest you should make the check out to the “tax collector.”  But then it provides a name of the tax collector as part of the address.  So, do I make it out to her personally?  That can’t be. At the drop box there is a sign that instructs me be sure I have my phone number written on the envelope.  I haven’t done that.  But there is a box with pens.  I try to use one and then another pen, but the ink is all frozen just like when I was up in Mohonk earlier this morning.  Fishing in my pockets I confirm that I am not carrying a pen on this day unlike any for months, when that would obviously have been a good idea. 


Later that night after getting the lizard a new tank, bubble tea and a visit to the little Chinese goods store in La Grange, we drove down towards Academy Street in Poughkeepsie and picked ourselves up some of that Hudson and Packard Detroit-style pizza they have over there.  I had to smell that stuff for the next twenty-five minutes before we could finally lay it out on the table and dig in.  It’s really good. 




Friday, 01/29/21 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

No. It Was Gone


Caught the moon going down this morning.  The earth must have tilted just so.  It’s been falling off into the western dawn for a while now.  Behind me to the east where the sun rises, is blocked by a hill.  This morning the clouds parted just around dawn and the moon fell slowly, right behind the Trapps.  I had a clear view over and at some point, I stopped what I was doing and, in a way I don’t think I’ve done since me and the whole family climbed a wat in Bagan and stared out at a sunset.  Freezing we all watched a perfect sunrise atop Mount Tai, in Shandong.  These came to mind as I stopped whatever silly email it was which I was writing, and just gazed off as the big full moon, slowly dropped and vanished from sight. Instinctively I stood up to see if I could still see the glow with a few extra feet, but no.  It was gone. 

Talked to an old pal in Dubai.  It sounds warm.  He thought it was cold.  He sent a photo with people sitting around one of those outdoor heaters.  I haven’t been to Dubai in a while.  When I did, it was frightfully hot.  My friend talked about skiing there at the indoor ski mall, and of all the different ethnicities who’d formed distinct communities there.  And for a moment I missed being able to travel.  But it quickly passed. I don’t want to wander around the endless miles of the Dubai airport or stare down at the desert from the top of the Burj Al Khalifa.  I’m happy this morning with the view I’ve got. 


Read more of Sima Qian’s ShiJi last night, before drifting off, this morning, killing time between calls on the can.  So much treachery back then will all those concubine children.  One marquis had carnal relations with his sister.  They Confucian morality police, caught wind and shut that down.  The lad committed suicide before the palace guard arrived.  And I thought about Caligula who pursued the same objective, as I recall.  Confucian morality defined these actions as beyond the pale.  What about in Julian Rome?  Was it only after the arrival or Christianity or would the majority of prudish Romans have also worried that earthquakes and tidal waves were sure to follow, if the imperial family were behaving as such?


Its colder today than it was yesterday.  The snow is still covering the land as a result.  I suspect it will be hard packed, but I’ll head out in an hour or so and try to cross country ski again.  Cloudless sky, the sun, up high it should be nice.  Leroy Vinegar now, newly on the air.  “Walk On” recorded in LA back in 1957.  Carl Perkins with his angular arm pounding the keys, the only other name I recognize from the set.  I didn’t catch that year and I am unlikely to catch 2057 either.  I had a funny thought that if someone from the era concerned were to read the Shiji they could see the year they were born and died.  But rendered in the Gregorian Calendar of “BC” they could see precisely when they would die but would have to guess at just how that year translated to the particular year of an emperor.  If I had the chance, I wouldn’t want to know the date.  As Christopher Hitchens apparently said, staring down mortality: “I like surprises.”

Thursday, 01/29/21

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

North, Lugging Distinct Calve

Completely covered in snow this morning.  It looks wonderful.  The birds knew to look beneath my window even before I threw anything new out. So did the deer.  It’s cloudy, but the temperature has risen up above freezing and it has all started to disappear, slowly.  I was on calls all morning and by the time I went out at ten or so my wife had shoveled out the car and created a trapezoidal shape in the middle of where you’d turn around.  Too large for a snow man, I asked her what she was up to and she reckoned she’d put a planter on the top of it. 

Fresh snow and thirty-six degrees Fahrenheit means there is a fleeting chance to cross country ski down on the trail.  I trumped down through the backyard, out under the fallen tree and on to the trail to find it unmarked besides the fat tire of a bike trail and some deer tracks.  I have mastered the initially illusive art of getting the bindings to click in, thought back and confirmed that I had done some stretching this morning.  Up above the thick grey clouds were breaking blue.  I decided not to put on any music.


Setting off, I headed north, lugging distinct calve and thigh muscles that haven’t had any call to duty for a while.  There’s a well-earned ache pending.  At first, I measure motions in sets of ten kicks and then a slide.  Now I increase it to twenty and so on.  Not sure why but it takes time to get into the rhythm this strange motion. Eventually I crafted a meandering bass line in my mind that counted every fourth step with a planting of the pole and proceeded ahead with sets of one-hundred, which seemed to eat up the time nicely.  Returning I passed two young ladies to whom I said “hiya” and one answered “nice,” which I optimistically took to mean that I’d been awarded and ‘A-for-effort’ despite looking rather old and clumsy. 

Yesterday afternoon both the girls plopped down here in the study.  And they weren’t here for any reason.  They were just here to talk.  The little one had a tune she was singing with a trio of la’s, “la la la,” which couldn’t help but make me want to put the theme to the Banana Splits on.  An infectious tune unarguably, I noticed as I clicked on the link that it was from the “1968 series . . . “ I would have been two years old or not much older when this “making up a mess of fun” first entered my noggin.  I can’t remember any of the characters, any of the plots, much of the premise behind the the fact that men were dressed in teddy bear-like monkey suits, but that tune.  I have it tattooed in my cranium.  I air drummed, drew attention to the break and the hook.  Mentioned that a punk band had covered the tune (I had, at the time forgotten that it was the Dickies).  And with that turned it off and returned to our chat.   The tune I sang to myself while I wasn’t skiing wasn’t much like the Banana Splits song, mind you, but it reminded me of that chat yesterday, nonetheless. 




Wednesday, 01/27/21

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Of Dustings Had Started

It was foretold and now there is lots of snow on the ground.  About an hour ago, around noon, the first flakes started to fall.  The lightest of dustings had started to build on the pathway.  I stopped my bike and took a snap on the way out thinking I’d take another when I returned.  The Wallkill was all frozen over except for one channel which I assumed to be the main current.  All along the way there must have been two dozen people who, like me did not get, or chose to ignore, the memo that things would swiftly become inclement.  By the time I was heading back my tires were beginning to spin, so I stuck to the gravel in the middle of the lane.  A gentleman was walking a small dog who needed the assistance of a rolling dog walker.  I’ve seen the two of them before out here and I waved and rode on, sensing I’d passed the place where I had taken that photo on the way out.  Closer to home now, I turned and captured the path to show all of the fresh snow. 

Walking up the path to my yard I stopped and spied the feisty hemlock that is growing right up beside that big old oak.  The punk of evergreens, I thought I should check when I got home when it was hemlocks dropped their cones and and just now likely it would be for me to sprout one or two in a planter.  I think it’s a particularly fine shade of green the eastern hemlock breathes.  Looking up, the snow seemed suddenly to be falling faster.  Might it be warming and turning now to rain?  I’d been enjoying the odd, spacious sounds of Milton Babbitt “Soli E Duettini” for all of my ride but now I decided to turn it off and just listen to the snow fall. 


Back up in the warmth of my room, my pants are wet.  My hair is cold and wet.  All the snow on my eyebrows has melted and I’m listening to the tasteful lines of Mr. George Braith on his 1963 album “Soul Stream.”  I could hear that was Grant Green on guitar without looking though I wasn’t familiar with either Hugh Walker on drums, nor Billy Gardner on organ.  Mssr. Gardner is the credit on this charging number I’m listening to just now: “Boop Bop Bing Bash”, as they say.  Braith is known for playing multiple horns at the same time, in a manner not unlike Rosand Roland Kirk and it’s an immediately distinct harmonization.  Indeed he is also credited with having invented the Braithophone, which is the melding of the soprano and the alto saxophone with valves and connectors so they can be played as one.   This tune that’s on now “Jo Anne” must have some sort of Braithophone horn behind that warm, slightly dissonant sound in the head. And then it floats more like a straight soprano sax during the initial solo.    

The deer just came by.  They correctly surmised that I had thrown sunflower seeds out on the lawn today, as I’ve none for months now.  I cracked my window and most of them fled.  One young gent who was closest and probably still had the fine taste of sunflower activating his tongue looked up at me as the window rolled further and further open.  By the time I stuck my head out and made a clicking sound he was gone.  They’re all off in the wood stand that separates our place from the neighbors.  I shouldn’t care.  What difference does it make?  They’re hungry.  Snow’s tough on everybody.  If they return, I’ll try to let them be.  But it’s not easy.




Tuesday, 01/26/21 

Familiar Dusty Beijing Ochre

Do you know where Johnson City, New York is?  I didn’t either, till I got a speeding ticket there.  Cop pulled me and my daughter over on my way to Buffalo about three weeks back.  Very polite, very efficient.  They sent me a form asking me if I pleaded innocent or guilty, suggesting different next steps depending on how I might respond.  It sat on my desk for the last week or so and although I knew exactly what I was going to do, it was only today that I checked the not guilty box and drove down to the post office, bought one of those envelopes with the stamp already affixed and sent my reply off to the folks in Johnson City, which is right out of Binghamton, heading west. 

While I was out, I picked up some spinach and some nan at Tops.  I’d had it in my mind to make some Indian food tonight.  The young guy who rang me up at the check-out had another fellow there on bag-duty and they were chatting about football.  On the airwaves was Duran Duran’s “Her Name is Rio” and I was transported back to being fifteen years old or so and hating this song so intensely. But what was her name?  I thought about this idly for a while.  “Her name is Rita, no,  Minnie, . . . ?”  And then it hit me that Rio herself, is who is dancing in the Rio Grande.  Unsolicited, I mentioned something about horrible music from before they both were born that was playing on the airwaves to the two young gentlemen who were helping me with the checkout.  Presumptuous, certainly.  Perhaps they thought it was ‘vintage.’  They may bag away on the day-shift with the fervent hope that old Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls songs will hit the airwaves before their break.  I gazed at the one guy bagging.  He wasn’t that young, but he piped up quickly and clarified that yes, he was born in the 90’s.  The other lad scanned my Tops card and mentioned that his parents also hated Duran Duran.  Good.  A quality family, that.  


At the post office, when I bought my stamped envelope it was sixty-nine cents, all told.  I only had twenties in my wallet and I asked if he preferred a big bill or charge.  “Charge.”  Right.  Sure.  So, I did.  Unsolicited, I suggested that sometimes you wonder if a charge will go through, but not in this case.  Yeah.  Sixty-nine cents.   It fell flat.  I thanked him and went around the corner to pen in the address of the court, there in Johnson City. 

From Saturday morning I’d been working in earnest on a new puzzle: “Minister of The Qing Dynasty”, a one-thousand-piece puzzle, I’d bought on Amazon.  Alas, this is the second such puzzle I’ve gotten online, that are cut professionally enough but provide no information whatsoever about the print, inside.  On the back are letters which make assembly easy.  Too easy.  This one had sat around, simply framed and undone for a while.  I started in on it, in hopes one or the other daughter would eventually become interested.  And finally, just after noon I lured my older one into finishing it off with me.  I’m not sure we’ll ever run into this painting in the wild.  I’m not quite clear just how one might to track it down as it doesn't appear in searches under that title or obvious analogs.  Regardless, the scene is marvelous and the air is that familiar dusty Beijing ochre, reminding one that Beijing has always looked this way.  

Monday 01/25/21

Oxbow Is a Term

I’ve biked past the Nyquist-Harcourt Wildlife Sanctuary a few hundred times and leaned my bike up against a tree and walked in one hundred yard to the bridge and took a few pics.  I can see, further along during my ride there is a parking lot where you can enter on the other side of the estuary.  Just last Friday we were on the other side of the Wallkill at the River_To_Ridge parking lot and I could see that the river cut away leaving that spit of land surrounded by the river and the swamp.

Oxbow is a term that is easy enough to visualize. You think of some areal view of the Congo in National Geographic.  I'd knows as well that this is how they described this park it was only on this trip that I finally realized that this had been a steep bend in the course of the river, an oxbow, which the river cut its way through during some flood and it ended up running its course through straight thereafter leaving what has been river front property and rendering it the swamp-front property of today.  I was curious to see just when this course of the river shifted.  The Nyquist-Harcourt Wildlife Sanctuary website suggests that it happened “hundreds” of years ago.  If that were more than one but less four hundred years ago it might have been what drove the early town plan to have houses along this road.   But then why was there no extant architecture on the other side of what had been the river?  Was it all the land of one estate?  A map from 1875 has the river flowing as it does today.  

We parked and took a cold walk past what we presumed to be a waste treatment facility, given the big industrial looking containers, that started to smell pretty foul as we walked along at the outset.  Later we made our way on to a nest of well-fenced community gardens.  It looks like they are extremely popular.  I had to fudge my way along for a bit, it wasn’t exactly marked, but I knew the general direction I wanted to proceed.  At one point I clambered off from the main trail and came upon a huge field.  Sitting in the grass about thirty yards out was a young man who abruptly got up and walked off.  I too turned around and left him to the field. 


Up closer to the opposite shore of Huguenot St, I felt the sound that cuts in the back of your windpipe, the sharp scrape of skates on a frozen lake.  What appeared to be a father and a daughter were taking shots at a goal of two shoes.  Over by the bridge two people were figure skating and three young ladies were tightening their white skates, preparing to head out as well.  And for a moment New Paltz felt a Brueghel-like town in winter. Winter people had met to do something. 

Sunday, 01/24/21

Saturday, January 23, 2021

His Skin Feels Cold


Drove down to Newburgh today for a follow-up trip to the vet.  This is the second time in the last three weeks that we have had to bring the painted gecko to the vet.  To be fair this is more of a follow-up visit to make sure the medication we’ve been feeding him since the last visit is working.  He had a sores in his mouth, likely caused by a lack of humidity and we found out and it was interfering with his eating.  Three weeks of oral medicine and shots into his skin he seems to have resumed consumption of a worm or two but there is no sign of his feces.   I don't have reptile insurance.  I hope this is the last follow-up required. 


My older one wasn’t around for the initial visit.  She’s beside me now on the drive over with Barack, who is staring out confused, from an empty quart sized plastic bowl with a clear cover.  What, we wonder is he thinking?  Leaving his cage for the second time in his life must be rather confusing.  And he must be processing these new impulses rather slowly.  Or is he?  My daughter says his skin feels cold as she touches him.  We can do something about that and turn up the heat so it’s more like Arizona in here.  Ah, but is it sufficiently moist?


I have two volumes of the Sima Qian’s “Records of the Grand Historian.  Turns out this Burton Watson translation has only portions of the original work translated.  This starts right out, at the end of the Qin, where Gaozu is delayed by rain from arriving at his pressed-labor assignment on time.  The punishment is death.  Bound to die anyway, they decide to rebel.  I’ve known of this tale and now it is obvious what the source has always been.  The style of this history is one part fiction one part research Sima Qian did, visiting locations, asking people for verification of stories.  I’m ready to revisit the early Han in detail.  I’ve pulled the volume of the Cambridge History of China that covers the Han down off the shelf. But I must say I’m disappointed I am only able to consider this limited edition.  One suspects many of the anecdotes that come down to us about the Xia and Shang stem from Sima Qian as well.  "One-million" characters long they say.  I wonder how much I'm missing?

Got my bike ride in early.  Took Bridge Creek Road, down to Old Ford Road like I always used to, during the summer, when the bridge was being repaired.  It’s an exhilarating ride downhill and then there is a substantial but do-able uphill, after which you feel like you’ve earned everything to follow.  Coming back on the trail I noticed a number of pines which I believe might be pitch pines such as the ones that are all over on top of the Gunks.  I’d been reading about them and wondering if they could handle the competition attempting to grow down here.  Along this ridge they seem to be doing fine.

I made a veggie ‘chicken pot pie’ tonight that I managed to get the crust just right..  And everyone liked it but suddenly there was a lull and I noticed neither girl was eating as fast all of a sudden.  “What is that taste?’  “Is it a taste or a texture?” I asked, assuming it was the latter.  Eventually we discerned they didn’t like the finally chopped up brussels sprouts.  Right.  I get it.  I won't use brussles sprouts again next time.  The tomato soup still seemed to be working for people.  And in the end, there was only one slice of the pie left as well.  Three weeks in, it’s getting a little flat trying to whip up something original and veg every night.   




Saturday, 01/23/21

Friday, January 22, 2021

Knots of a Single


Friday morning ritual to meet up my dad up in the Gunks.  I’d ordered a used book on my dad’s recommendation which I decided to finish off this morning in anticipation of our walk up there: “The Northern Shawangunks, An Ecological Survey” by Erik Kiviat. It’s only a hundred pages long with a lot of pictures and tables.  Written in the eighties, it had a homemade quality that was at one and the same time cumbersome to read and endearingly personal to flip through.  Now I know that those strange looking pines on the tops of the gunks are rare pitch pine barons.  Now I understand there may be some small patches of old growth hemlock to consider by the cliff-sides.  There are other sky-lakes, I’ve never heard of.  And the wonderful naturalist my father introduced me to a few month’s back, Paul Huth, is quoted extensively in this book, on matters of local botany. 

I brought the book along and some plastic flowers my dad said he wanted, a book of Li Shangyin’s poetry that had just arrived and made myself ready around eight to head up to meet him at the Minnewaska upper parking lot.  In the other room I heard my wife, clearing her throat, a morning ritual.  She isn’t normally up this early and I brought her some coffee and invited her, as I had last night,  to join me this morning for a walk around lake Minnewaska.  And without too much fuss, she decided to come along. 

Uncharacteristically early this morning.  I’ve been late eight out of nine times we’ve rendezvoused.  But this time we were ahead of time and with no one save a park ranger in a pickup in the parking lot we sat back and admired the extraordinary view out to the Catskills off in the distance.  Many of the peaks were covered in snow and the sky was bright blue.  It all looked magnificent. 


Dad showed up and we snapped some photos and made our way to the carriage trailhead which was completely covered in ice and snow.  I don’t think it had occurred to any of us that the path would be iced over and impassable.  My father tested the road and wisely piped up that it didn’t seem safe.  My wife needed no further convincing and a quick chat with the ranger confirmed that all the trails were like that and that it would be slow going in any direction.  We enjoyed the guest house bathroom and the diorama of the park they have laid out, some of the stuffed animal representations, the fisher, the twin timber rattlers, the old photos of Wildamere.  But by now it was clear we’d need to  go somewhere else, somewhere down out of the Trapps, where the snow was already long gone. 


Later we parked in the head of the River to Ridge trail, just outside of New Paltz, there by the Wallkill River.  I’d always wanted to see what the river does on this western side, after it vanishes along old Huguenot Street on the eastern shore.  I guessed that all those mighty trees, growing out like knots of a single purpose were those riverside silver maples that you see further down on the trail by the bridge over the Wallkill.  We were three on a broad carriage road and I saw a lady approaching and I bid her good morning.  Her reply was “move over.”  It took me a pregnant pause to realize that she wanted us to give her space on the trail and that she hadn’t asked, she’d demanded.  My father and my wife were oblivious, but I let out an audible “Please!', and vexed about this slight needlessly for the remainder of the walk.

Friday, 01/22/21

Working Day For Him


Got a package the other day that was a well wrapped rectangle, too big, too heavy to be a book.  I could tell from the shipping address that it must have come from my godmother in Vermont.  I opened to find a lovely old Chinese print of two birds on a flowered stem.  My wife confirmed that the calligraphy had to do with birds on an almond tree. Remarkably, my wife regarded the print favorably.  She is often a harsh critic of stereotypical Chinese motifs. Inside though, there was no explanatory note so I resolved to ring her and learn more.


Left her a message and she called me back just as I was heading out to do my evening bike ride.  It was 3:50PM.  It was getting dark.  If I waited much beyond twenty minutes I’d likely have to shorten my ride as it would become too dark.  Still I took the call and relaxed into the warmth of her lovely familiar voice.  This, painting, which now hung there in our dining room, was from the estate of a wonderful priest named Father John, whom she had introduced to us when we lived in Hong Kong many years ago.  We went and visited him on Cheung Chao island where he lived and enjoyed the time chatting idly. 


We never properly discussed religion, as I recall.  I would have been willing, but I was likely obsequious as a curtesy.  I can remember him flashing angry once when he discussed the way Filipinas lived in many houses as maids, as a savagery.  He was right.  And I can recall my wife trying to be polite and suggesting that would love to welcome him to our place the next Sunday.  Um, that’s a working day for him, honey. 


I would have enjoyed learning more about his practice and what he saw and what he believed about his mission and the Chinese and the Filipinos he met and all the foreigners like me who’d passed through the Hong Kong on his watch and developed a rapport that let me ask him more about his faith of conversion and the mighty momentum of Chinese civilization, but we never stayed in touch and I never saw him again, after he returned to Vermont.  But now, a reminder of his work, echoed into my life and now my dining space, from something he found meaningful from China evoking a strange section of life when Hong Kong as my home.  

Thursday, 01/21/21

Your Vacuous, Non-Plan


Joe did well today.  I wish you well Joe.  A lot of people do.  Everyone I know is routing for you.  I liked your speech.  It felt like a tonic.  It seemed anchored.  We didn’t need soaring rhetoric.  We needed simple truths.  Just the facts.  Genuine, approachable delivery. I allowed myself to believe that others in the country were also connecting with him in the same way I was.  Seductive, considering our national message of renewal, restart, rebirth, redemption, reconciliation, repetition, manifest. New guy in town, from now on. 

Don?  Shameful, sulking undignified, half message to no one, before boarding his helicopter.  You wouldn’t even mention his successors name.  Be-best Melania.  Stay tan Don.  A fittingly shambolic end to the least impressive attempt at a presidency any living person can remember.  The five people who died at the Capitol that day are your authorship as are the four-hundred thousand lives who passed while you improvised your vacuous, non-plan, lurching from one gut-level impulse to another, ultimately, transparently only really concerned about yourself. 

Amanda Gorman, our national poet, thank you.  You were wonderful.  I don’t believe I watched anyone from that day a second time.  But you, I did.  I liked the way you used your hands and used space when speaking.  I like how you drew from a myriad traditions and made it your own.  I love that you were fiendishly crafting this poem of yours, when you had to adapt and integrate the insurrection-of-the-duped into what it was you had to say.  “The Hill We Climb”, active tense in progress, forever, leading as other’s have led “way up on a hill, let’s try it one-time y’all” as Sly told the crowd.  I’m glad we have poets like Ms. Gorman.  Poets that are just starting out.  Glad the seventy-seven-year-old had the courage to let her go ahead on.


Noble, to see the former presidents on the dais, with no power other than the dignity of their presence.  The man who was till only minutes ago the president, undignified, illegitimate in absence. A ceremony to transfer power that I still believe in.  I now magically agree with most of the nation that Biden is now in power.  Don didn't prove necessary to cast this spell.  He is now out of power and that spell is finally broken.  May Joe get a few base-hits in the coming weeks.  Good luck to you President Biden.  Good luck to you Vice President Harris.  May the wind blow long at your backs. 

Wednesday, 01/20/21

To the Crime Scene


Strange evening last night.  We returned home from an exhausting thirteen hour round trip drive to the border at Niagara Falls and my wife immediately received a distressed call from a friend of hers, in China.  Her daughter, was staying alone at her husbands house in Poughkeepsie and someone had tried to break in to the home.  We called the police as she asked.  They were already aware.  And soon we were suited back up for the outside and on our way to the crime scene across the river.  


We pulled up and there were two or three squad cars and some Vassar College campus security.  I talked to a security team member and he suggested we wait in the car.  Around that time a cop car pulled up behind us and we were effectively stuck there anyway.  Eventually a cop came to inquire and we explained that we were friends of the family.  They said they’d let us in in shortly.  We were worried because the poor girl was only just arrived in the U.S. and didn’t speak English comfortably. 

After watching the cops convene by flashlight and lead a dog around the area we were finally told we could go in and my wife and I introduced ourselves to this frightened young lady.  The kitchen door was smashed.  A large plant pot had been tossed through.  Someone entered and made off with a wallet.  Fortunately no one was hurt.  We’d offered to take the girl to our place so she’d feel safe, but hen her step dad arrived, and surveyed the scene it was clear he wanted privacy which we granted them. 

One more reason to feel shame about my homeland just now.  What a mess.  Someone feels brazen enough to smash a glass door open in a dense suburban, off-campus environment.  Someone watched and discerned that she was alone, and they could probably get away with whatever they wanted quickly.  Someone gone beyond the point of caring. Here’s a young person just a few weeks into America, into Poughkeepsie and they can only surmise that it is a Hobbesian nightmare.    




Tuesday, 01/19/21

The Foreseeable Be Monochrome


Third time now this way, through Liberty, over to Seventeen, up to Binghamton. Instead of staying west on 17, today we continued north to Corning and on to Auburn.  Auburn was not exactly on the way.  But it was the home of the New York Governor, New York Senator and Secretary of State, the man for whom we can thank for Alaska, Mr. William Seward.  My little one is doing a report for history class on the man and though the museum was closed for Covid, I thought we could swing by and take a quick look.  This is how Walter Starhr author of “Seward, Lincoln’s Indispensable Man”, describes Auburn New York, at the time Seward moved there in 1840:  “. . . the many small businesses in and about Auburn, including saw mills, carpenter shops, cabinet makers, flour mills and cloth factories.  Auburn was an eager, expanding entrepreneurial town, just the place for a young lawyer to start life.”


I had scheduled a call and it extended, of course, till the time we drove into Auburn.  About thirty-minutes earlier, I’d handed the driving responsibility over to the Mrs. We drove through some remarkable pine barrens completely covered in many feet of snow, testifying to the completely different climate they have here than we do down state.  As we hit the Auburn main street, heading into town I told the person I was speaking with that I’d need to call them back.  We drove right past the museum the first time and then turned and parked inside.  My little one was only now aware of why it is we’d stopped in this small town.  She exhaled, loudly and reluctantly agreed to walk around the building with me. There were cars but no signs of life inside and after a few pics we drove on.

Why does it always snow and rain and generally wax overcast when I travel up this way?  I have some vaguely sunny memories of our day driving about in Buffalo but all the time en route there and back seems to have been grey.  Today is grey. Any memory I have of Auburn will for the foreseeable be monochrome. 


By the time we reach the Niagara Falls border crossing, the older one informs us that she’ll be at least another thirty minutes.  We’d intended to go and get whatever Buffalo’s best pizza is and chow it on the ride home.  In an instant we decide to zip back into Buffalo and get it now.  Twenty-minutes in and we’re pulling up into Boccee Club Pizza which was well-reviewed.  We loaded up two pies and some mozzarella sticks into the trunk.  The lady at Starbucks next door spilled half my doppio on to the counter and smiled and apologized but didn’t think to refill it until I mentioned to her that this would be nice. 


Back at the boarder, my daughter is still progressing. “I’ll be there soon”, she texts.  Right.  “How soon?  When, exactly?” Wait.  “Twenty-minutes.”  She must be having a very long good bye with her boyfriend.  When she pops out the border I go out in the rain to meet her and help her with her luggage.  It’s wonderful to see her again.  She seems, an adult.  In the car we dive into the two pies.  One is better than the other.  I’d give Boccee and A-.  Still, I eat many slices happily filling myself.  Driving home along 90 it has started to snow, just like last time. 

Monday 01/18/21

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Consider It A Blessing


William Seward was born near what is today Woodburry Common and after some early days as student upstate and then a teacher down in Georgia, where he may have fathered a child, he made his life in state of New York, moving his family up to Auburn New York near Syracuse.  The little one is doing a paper on this member of Lincoln’s team of rivals, his secretary of state and the gent we have to thank for Alaska.  But back in 1855 when she was to write about him it was all about the Kansas and Nebraska Act and the violation of the Missouri Compromise and the repugnant Fugitive Slave Law.  Despite this being a time when Congress people beat one another to within an inch of their lives in the halls of Congress, it was interesting to note that Seward apparently threw Washington D.C. parties in those days that were well attended and enjoyed by the likes of Jefferson Davis. 

We need to drive up to Buffalo again.  Yes.  Buffalo, again.  Someday I’ll wish my older daughter would visit.  Tomorrow she’s asking me to pick her up.  Consider it a blessing.  On the way to Buffalo, you could pass through Auburn.  It isn’t open to the public but you could check it out.  If I ask the little one, she’ll say “not needed.”   But if just show up there, well, there you are.  You can take a photo.  We have also had a look and I think I have identified one of the landmark spots for Buffalo pizza.  It appears to be a thing.  We’ll pick up the older one, and dial in an order and in spite of my wife’s tidiness, we’ll have a feast on the drive back.


Yesterday down the trail towards Gardiner near the McMansion bluff one and then another owl took off above me and the soared around and around over the swamp. I suspect they were barred owls.  I kept hoping they might spy something worth diving down for.  At one point I imagined one of them was flying back, in hopes of returning to the same tree they set off from.  But then, in an instant I imagined she had spied me and this meant she banked another turn as I was still there contaminating things. 

Listening to Trouble’s “This Is the Modern World” show today.  Had it on while I wrote.  Took it out to the kitchen and listened to her spin some Ethiopian reggae and then some Angela Munoz that sounded for all the world like Amy Winehouse while I made everyone veggie tacos.  Today the trail was so crowded.  It’s overcast and cold but people need an egress.  Everyone seemed to want to be outside.  I guess its also a three-day weekend, come to think of it.  Martin Luther King Jnr., indeed.  MLK seems a proper meditation for this cacophonous turning point we're all staring down this week. 

Sunday, 01/17/21

Afterglow of Our Call


The cohesive dynastic narrative, tracing one large continuous period to another, Qin to Han, Tang to Song, leaves a yawning gap for the period between Han and Sui.  The Wei, The Six Dynasties, The Sixteen Kingdoms.  I’ve been interested in this “early medieval” period for while now.  Decentralized, but unlike the fall of Rome, the realm was still intellectually electric, this is when Buddhism for example, properly begins to metastasize throughout the civilization. The Cambridge History of China series, had never published the volume for this period until just recently.  It is during this period, in the Eastern Jin (the second of the Six Dynasties) that Tao Yuan Ming ‘returned home’ and cultivated the life of an aesthetic scholar recluse.

Thursday morning distracted, I read “In Reply to Aide P’ang”” and thought immediately of a friend with whom I’d spoke on the phone, not so long before. The client call faded in importance as my eyes read once and then again, this fearless attestation to friendship.  Transcribing it in full, I shot it off to my chum suggesting the afterglow of our call:


"I read the poem with which you presented me over and over and could not stop even if I had wished.  Since you became my neighbour, winter has a second time merged into spring.  Sincerely we have formed an excellent relationship, swiftly we have become old friends.   There is a common saying: 'Several meetings create friendship'.  How much our feeling surpasses this!   Yet human affairs are prone to go awry, and so we have to speak of parting.  Over what Master Yang sighed at, surely I have no ordinary grief.  I have been ill for many years and no longer write.  From the first I was not gifted and now I am old and sick as well.  Yet since I always follow the Chou rites' principle of reciprocation, I shall rely on my affection for you after our parting.  


Why should it need an old friend to appreciate one?

A 'lowered canopy' can do away with previous words.

There is a guest who approves my tastes;

Always he admires my woods and garden.

In our talk and accord there are no common modes;

What we discuss are the books of the sages.

Sometimes we have several gallons of wine

Which drinking at leisure, we enjoy ourselves.

Truly I am a scholar in retirement

And no longer involved with going to and fro

'In things the new, with men it is the old'

So with a feeble brush much may be conveyed.

Our feelings may reach beyond ten thousand li.

While our bodies are barred by rivers and hills.

May you be careful of yourself!

When will our next meeting be?


The spring of 423 AD


This morning, Saturday morning, I allowed myself the luxury of just reading.  I finished off the two volumes of Tao’s poetry.  Compiled by the late A. R. Davis, much of his commentary tends to be about dismissing arguments for one or another date for the particular poems. He must have been an angular professor. Though he does rise to wonder in his commentary on this particular piece, stating: “This poem may indeed rank as an outstanding poem of friendship in a literature which is very rich in examples of this categories.” My wife informs me that the very mention of the poet’s name invokes a feeling of withdrawal from the coils of public life to quiet resignation of a simple life in the country to any educated Chinese person.  And there are many wonderful invocations of this sentiment to consider and reflect upon personally.  Happily there is also a racy, erotically charged side of the recluse, also on display in “Quieting the Affections” that reads more like “Gypsy Woman” than the following of the Dao. 

"She lifts the red curtain and seats her self correctly;

Lightly touches the shirll cithern for her own pleasure. 

She releases the abundandt loveliness of her sldender fingers

And stirs the dancing of her wihite sleeves

She flashes her beautiful eyes in a circling glance

One acannot tell weather she is smiling or not

The tune is almost half over. 

Tha sun sinks by the wester room . . . "

A. R. Davis comments:  "The incongruity of the pice among T'ao's surviving work has been apparent not merely to modern Western readers.  It drew a mild reproach from T'al's early biographer and editor, Hsiao T'ung, who described it in his preface to the collected works as the only 'slight flaw in the white jade' . . . "

Looking over the stack on my desk.  I’ve lined up ten or so China titles I’ve gobbled up recently. To left are sixteen or so titles that await being read.  Chronologically?  Perhaps I should proceed that way.  In which case the earliest title I should move to is “The Four Books – The Great Learning, The Analects, Mencius and Maintaining Perfect Balance.”  Written nearly eight hundred years before Tao Yuan Ming, these fundamental classics are arranged in this volume to illustrate some of the great Song scholar Zhu Xi’s (1130 – 1200) study notes.  These became the must read, orthodox interpretation for all the subsequent exam students during the Ming and the Qing.  Holding this little volume, I’m reminded that scholars spent decades trying to memorize the contents, and later Zhu Xi’s critique.  To think of all the eyes that have gazed upon these words.

Saturday, 01/16/20