Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ash Wednesday? Spring Training!

The day started out like Ash Wednesday, gray and raw, but the sun came out later, the temp went up to 50 degrees, and I suddenly recalled that spring training had started. My thoughts, I'm afraid, turned quite abruptly from repentance. Grant me this slippage. The last few weeks have been hard, with L. in the flower shop all day and night, the cold, the taxes, and the soggy basement. Somewhere--it's warm, there's the "life of muscles, rocking soft" (Frost again), the smell of new leather, and hope.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Nearly killed a guy

Friday evening, along Route 1. I was on my way to the Y after work, heading straight into some awful sun glare. There is a marked right turn lane into the Y, really just the shoulder of the road, and I cut over just where the lane begins. I saw the guy, an 18 or 19-year-old, out of my right window as I passed by him. If I had cut over six feet earlier, I would have hit him at 35 mph without a touch on the brakes. Clearly my fault. If I had been driving a little faster and gotten there two seconds earlier, he would probably have still been walking up the turning lane. If I had killed him there--not so clearly my fault. Frail consolation, but not my fault. But he also might have edged along the roadside weeds, then stepped onto the shoulder past the marked lane, where he felt he was safe.

Painted lines. And the social agreement to follow them.

Every once in a while, the local police set up a roadblock at the main intersection in town and ticket people who get in the turning lane too early. Only when the township needs some quick cash, we say cynically. A couple of years ago I got caught. I was pretty steamed, but I paid my $92. But funny thing, ever since, in a low-level Pavlovian way, I am loath to cross any painted lines. In the light of Friday's experience, I consider it $92 well spent.

Never be too old to learn. Never be too proud to accept instruction. As my guru used to say, "Humbleness is the dwelling place of the forefathers." Zen mind is beginner's mind. The Psalmist too praises the old who are young. "If a good man reproves me, it is a kindness" (Ps. 141) and "Since my youth, o God, you have taught me" (Ps. 71).

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Literary hiking?

Roc here. Had a fine day yesterday. I called in sick because my stomach hurt and I hadn't gotten much sleep. But I felt better about ten, and went hiking instead of worrying about the 12,001 things that need to be done around the house. "When you feel like you can't get away, that's when you need to get away." One of my rules for living that I've not followed very well the last few years. And you all remember my essay in Galen Smith's Upsouth, the one that began, "For the office-bound I heartily recommend the mid-week hike." (I'll have to post some of that old stuff.) Anyway, the temp was 15-20 with a stiff wind, but I have some good gear and I was ready. I wasn't really hiking hiking, I just had in mind a two hours' walk up a trail in the local state park, a route that I call "The Active Senior" (an hour in and you pass right by the picnic area bathrooms). The Alberta Clipper had come through during the night, so a clear blue sky and a half-inch of powder provided a fine backdrop for the stately gray trees. It's a very nice trail, lots of up and down, crosses a number of small streams, and ends in a stand of tall firs. Good tall trees all the way, too, and--there's those bathrooms.

But what I was getting at: When I stopped and listened to the streams, I heard I'm going out to clean the pasture spring and Watch the water clear, I may. Whole, apropos phrases from the aforementioned essay sprang unbidden to mind. I recalled a poem I wrote thirteen years ago, when I was very unemployed, and writing and reading a whole lot. I've been very nostalgic the last few weeks and I'm sure that's part of it. But it made this old Buddhist realize--thoughts and associations don't necessarily "cover over" experience. Maybe they intensify it. At least literature does. Maybe that's why John Updike wrote, "Reading is the best part of life" (Bech: a Book).

Even better, when I got home I felt like reading poetry. And I discovered a poem that was new to me. The poem was Galway Kinnell's tribute to Robert Frost, which I had never read before, in a book I've had for twenty years. Kinnell gratuitously uses phrases by Frost throughout the poem to illustrate how deeply Frost has entered into and deepened our American consciousness. It was an eerily perfect ending to the day.