Post #73: KATASCOPOS

IMG_1238The dream, of course, was always in place.   A tiny wooden fortress, a look out, safely nestled in the branches.   A rope ladder to be shimmied and then quickly hoisted aloft. At last I’m here!  In my dreams my knees curl talon tight around a branch.  I am an owl, solid and solitary amidst my branches quiet, contemplative and ever so watchful. My eyes grow wide and my heart swells.  A sharp intake of breath.  The world is spread before me as a summer picnic, soft and ripe and full as a sun warmed peach. I feel I can reach out and touch it, yet the distance flattens and somehow makes the whole feel close. I am up and above and at one with the world.

So many years later but in a way,  I am finally here up high, enrobed clouds.  There is no rope ladder but still this little room is stilted upon a high perch, walls of windows welcoming the world outside, framing images that continuously dart and swirl  like a pinwheel.  I am level with the crowns of the surrounding trees but in their majesty there is no sense of kingly distain.  Their gnarled arms reach out, surround and embrace me. I am soaring, sweeping through the air! The wind ruffles the leaves like butterflies tethered to their perch.  I always crave that arboreal embrace.

If I stay very still I can feel the trembles from a susurus of sound,  layers of hum one on top the other, of birds, of insects, even the somehow comforting lull of distant traffic, rising up to my perch.

This is where I want to be.

In his lyrical introduction to the equally exquisite The Peregrine by J.A. Baker, naturalist and writer Robert Macfarlaine speaks of katascopos, a Greek word referring to the supremely lucky “looker downers” who possess the view reserved only for the gods—or the birds.  Or those who scramble up mountain peaks.  Or perhaps those who dream of  perching in tree houses.

I don’t think of this as an omnipotent god-like view at all. Rather it feels remarkably generous and expansive to see all spread before me, the view wide and  open and limitless.  This is not just what I want to see. It’s what I want to feel.

But soon enough I’ll descend once again from up high, gather up my papers and books and bags, to trudge through my day, jangled and jinked.

So to the question: how can one’s spirits soar while one’s feet remain rooted firmly to the ground?  The answer, like some of the most beautiful things, is both clear and simple.

Quietly look and see.   Quietly listen and hear.

Instead of seeing the leaves shiver and tremble in anticipation of a coming storm  I’ll try to catch the momentary blink of uncertainty that shades someone’s face before they speak.

Instead of struggling to discern the tweets and twitters of the early rising birds, I’ll try to truly focus on each word someone is saying instead of silently formulating my own wished for witty response.

What will I learn, what will I hear that I otherwise might miss?  If I try, can I then bring my marvelous treehouse down to earth, the most beautifully wondrous aspects of katascopos to the every day? 

Perhaps!

Post #72: More Than a Nibble

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THE FIRST FANCY PLACE

I am starched, white gloved and frilled.  Neatly tied into a dress with bows, anklet socks precisely  turned, Mary Jane’s patented and shining.  Lifted to my seat in the restaurant I  am perched on a pedestal of telephone books.  A tiny empress, surveying the gleaming forks and knives and spoons. What is the right thing to do?   I have no idea. Terrified, I sit so still. 

A single question, “Do I like tuna fish?”   I nod carefully. Is “yes” the right answer?  Lunch is ordered.   In a blur a black jacketed waiter flourishes a plate in front of me with the insouciant panache of a bullfighter flicking his red cape. Is this my lunch?  My sandwich is sliced into into beautiful little triangles and stacked three stories high on a mountain of potato chips.  Do I eat it or stare at it?  I don’t know.  Then I spot it at the edge of the plate.   A tiny paper cup filled with mashed potatoes.  At last, something I recognize!  In a rush all at once I squeeze the whole thing into my mouth.

And my eyes brim with tears.

Alas.  Horseradish!

***

MITCH’S

Growing up in the Motor City one’s life is simply guided by cars. We Motor City folk cruise Woodward, glide up and down the hills of Maple, bump over the potholes of Orchard Lake.   We don’t just drive to get places. We drive to drive. We drive the rippling  highways and byways of our state, The Big Mitten, but in truth we are always dreaming of skimming by the shore. It’s not hard to do. Wherever you are in Michigan you are no more than six miles from a lake and no more than 85 miles from one of the Great Ones.   We Michiganders are happily waterlogged.

If the salty Atlantic imparts a certain tang to Eastern Clam Chowder than I’ll argue that being squeezed between Lakes Michigan, Huron, Ontario, Erie and Superior impart a certain freshness to our foodstuffs.

So after lazy Sunday afternoon car rides we invariably would end at Mitch’s on the lake.  Which lake?  I never knew.  But my Dad would slide the gigantic Oldsmobile into parking lot, crank down the windows for those of us sweltering in the back seat, and then disappear into the vast and bustling restaurant.  After a few minutes he would emerge with a wonderfully greasy bag of Mitch’s special soft breadsticks, hot from the oven, dripping with butter,  sprinkled liberally with salt. They were gone by the time we reached our front door.   At the table we ate plate after plate of Mitch’s special salad.  The recipe for the dressing is still a mystery.  But no matter.

Seven o’clock and  time for The Wonderful World of Disney!

***

HOWARD JOHNSON’S

Skip breakfast.  Skip lunch.  Skip dinner. 

Crowd into the hand me down Pinto, the Gremlin, or the Opal Manta. Careen down Lone Pine on the way to the corner of Telegraph and Maple. Spot that gleaming orange roof from a mile away!

Scoot into a booth. Squeeze in tight.  The waitress taps her pencil on her pad. “What’ll it be?”

“FUDGE RIPPLE  with strawberry sauce, extra whipped cream!”

“BUTTERCRUNCH  with butterscotch topping, marshmallow, double cherries!”

PEPPERMINT with hot fudge, pistachios,  pineapple and sprinkles!”

Enormous goblets filled with ice cream and sauce overflowing are placed before each of us. A conspiratorial click of silver spoons and we begin!

Afterwards a plate (or two) of french fries, the perfect palate cleanser,  for all to share. 

***

STEVE’S LUNCH

Really it’s  little more than a slice of a place.  Just enough room to squeeze through the door and pull yourself up to a red counter stool.  Twirl meditatively while checking the menu but really for naught. The order is always going to be the same. 

“Cheese and bean sprout omelet, please.”

The order is taken with a swift nod. Then the counterman swirls the eggs in a bowl and gently spreads them on the grill.   A shovel of hash browns fills the whole of an oblong platter and with a few quick flicks of his wrist the omelet is filled then folded with an origami like precision and placed delicately on top.

Since nothing could possibly ever match this for perfection, no need to eat for a week.

***

CAMMERARI’S BAKERY

You could almost eat the smell. But that isn’t nearly enough.  Walking down the streets of Carroll Gardens, if you are lucky enough to catch the scent, your nose starts twitching like a pup who had caught the aroma of a grilled steak.  Breathe and breathe in deep.  It is invigorating, exhilarating, blissful.   I am swept along the streets of Brooklyn bleary and floating,  then joyously flying through  air like a girl in a Chagall.   And suddenly I am there. Right on Henry Street at the window of Cammerari’s Bakery. 

I press my nose to the glass.  Living paycheck to paycheck, I have only two dollars. But here at Cammerari’s  that’s more than enough. In a moment, crinkled bills are on the counter and soon a whole loaf of warm bread is cradled in my arms.

I sigh happily. Once again,  I will be full.

***

The memory of these—and so many other—wonderful places are still sweet and rich on my tongue.  I savor them. With love especially to all who’ve broken bread or shared a scoop with me.

photograph copyright Edible East Bay Magazine

Post #71: Shehechyanu Moments

FullSizeRenderAnxious and jittered I shudder through my days, fizzed and cocktail shakered from top to bottom. Splash me out into an iced goblet, gussy me up with a speared pimento’d olive, a square of sugar, a paper parasol. Ready to go.

Right the ship. Hold fast. Steady on.

I cling to my books like talismans and like life preservers. I carry them from room to room, sleep with them under my pillow, hide them in my purse. Richard Jefferies, Mary Webb, W.H. Hudson. Jean-Henri Fabre. Like a hummingbird dipping it’s beak full of floral nectar, a line or two gleaned as I wait for the morning announcements. a page absorbed while standing in line for a sandwich. A few more inhaled as I wait for a train.

Then too I peep through windows, hoping to catch a sparkling glimpse. Leaves shimmying on their branches undulating with the wind? An elegant caddis fly hovering just out of reach? The shiver of air left by a bird in flight?

A few moments. Just enough. But never enough.

In the classroom we talk about Marcus Aurelius, the man who so beautifully explains himself to himself in Meditations. The book that was never meant to be read has been read a million times over, over the centuries. Do your duty honestly and faithfully. Be virtuous. Aim for tranquilly. Live— and live for the moment.

To be aware and in the moment is essential, as we steer our course. But to remember? We have the right I think to choose our moments. To grab at the happy ones, allowing the others to recede and creep back to the shadows, leaping from peak to peak and from joy to joy.

Once upon a time I had a favorite prayer, one I only heard once a year. First night of Chanukah, the third prayer. The gorgeous chant for that prayer always made my heart soar and my spirit sing.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned that the Shehechyanu is not meant for just once a year.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam,
shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu laz’man hazeh.

Our praise to You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of all:
for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this season.*

This season, or this moment in time. Or in other words, one is blessed to recite the Shehechyanu at so many happy moments in life. At a holiday that comes around once again. When you see a friend that you haven’t seen in such a long time. When someone you love achieves something never achieved before.

Life is filled with Shehechyanu moments waiting to be experienced and savored again and again. Here’s wishing for many Shehechyanu moments for each of us.

*translation from http://www.reformjudaism.org

In honor of JRF

Post #69: In Love

IMG_0642IN LOVE

I don’t know the source.  I don’t know where it ends.  But it’s there, it’s always there,  wide and deep and churning.   Running as ever through the center of everything. Be brave, deep breath! I close my eyes and leap and all of a sudden the shock of wet cold presses tight against me, covering me, constricting me. I’m going down.  Once again in way way over my head.

But in another moment I am swept into the flow and somehow lifted aloft, onward and onward, flowing onward with the river itself.   The water prickles and plinks against my skin like the plucked double strings of a mandolin.   I am at the same moment woozy and deliciously alert, euphorically breathless yet breathing anew. In love.

***

The Love You Gratefully Accept

Windows cranked down, my Dad’s  arm is resting jauntily on the sill, the breeze rippling his shirtsleeves, skewing his tie. A lefty, he wears his watch on his right wrist, turned inward.  Me too.  With the casual cool of a suburban Marlboro Man, he gently pinches the steering wheel between his thumb and forefinger steering by degrees.  No matter the potholes, the road smoothly undulates before him. No one drives better.  I am where I always dream of being. Right in the front seat next to him.

The moment I’ve been waiting for. I have his complete attention.  I have absolutely no idea what to say.

The silence in the car is thickening.   Then very casually, he reaches over and taps my knee.  There’s a pause.  Then a grin.   “Did you know that I love you?” he asks.

I did.  And I do.

***

The Love That Chooses You

They say it all, all  the time!  “Love ya!” “Smootches!”  “Hugs and kisses!’  XOXOX!  “I do I do I do!”   You do?  The words tumbling and turning,  rolling and rumbling along, a casual cascade.   A flippant quip, we  toss the words around like popcorn, gobbling them up, never quite getting our fill.  It don’t mean a thing.  And then?  One casual hug  unexpectedly zings—and then suddenly it does.

***

The Love You Choose 

The lamplight glints off his horn-rimmed glasses, gleams from his cufflinks, glows from the shine of his shoes.

We had been to the theatre. The dinner was done.  Just us, a city street corner.  I was frightened.  He was—he is—so very tall. But even so,  I reached up just  at the same moment he reached down. That is all it took.  We met, just as we were meant to meet, right in the middle.  And as we stretched towards each other, the evening itself, sweet as salt water taffy, seemed to stretch forward as well.

The Love Beyond Words

We looked out the window into the darkening evening and there she was. Shivering, hungry, alone. The snow was deep and it was so very cold.   No one, no creature,  should have been outside like that   But she was.

But not for long. We scooped her and wrapped her, and cuddled and coddled her.  Elegant and etherial, our princess of a cat, our little Annie Rose.

*Found!  After searching for days when she crawled through the vent in the heating system.

*She stroked my face in the night, sometimes even retracting her claws.

*The tiniest cheerleader for our team of boys.

She is so delicate, so frail now.

As always, I try but I can’t say it.  There is always a catch in my throat.  Alone, I practice sometimes, saying the words over and over to myself, like a mantra, a dirge. “I love you, I love you, I love you.” 

Believe me, I do.  Even if I can’t say it properly,  I do.

I look into her eyes. Does she know?  She knows.

Post #68: “These Are Not Just Any Floors.”

IMG_0660Oh how typical of me!  I was besotted with this place, before I’d ever actually seen it, before I’d ever even been there.  I hungered for it and yearned for it.  As solid and sweet as a bar of chocolate, as warm and as inviting as hug from your beloved, an unending waterfall of information tumbling right into my arms.  I knew I’d be safe there. I loved it, loved it loved it from the start.  A helter-skelter sprawling tumble of a place.

The American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West, New York City. My heart’s home.

***

Greenhorn

I am a ravenous  bottom feeder, deep in the subterranean bowels of this marvelous place! Scurrying  past the gigantic slice of Sequoia though the Halls of New York Forests, twirling around  the massive mosquito, ogling the poor dead Dodo,  I am the Goddess of the Information Desk. Even though I am so new to New York that there is a foldable map permanently crushed into the bottom of my purse, I spray fans of guide books and point my fingers with impunity, as I now know the exact route to the Whale,  to the dinosaurs  to the canoe!

Every Saturday I spend hours traveling up to the museum by subway from Brooklyn. I could be anywhere but I am here, just to be here.  Where else?

***

The Spring  Thaw

“I buy chickens bigger than that.”  They were so tiny, the identically burbling, undersized indoor captives of the wildest white winter in memory.  At four months we could count on one hand how many times they had been outside.  But now it was March and the massive ice cliffs that reached the tops of the street signs on the corners were melting into rivers that ran down the avenues.  Stuffing them into their oversized snowsuits, side by side in their stroller, we defiantly pushed through the revolving doors and out to the street.  Two blocks over, seven blocks up. The Museum.

I had been waiting for this!

We rolled past the trumpeting elephants in the Akeley galleries, dragged through the Serengeti Plain, huddled with the Muskox.  And last and best of all to Hall of Ocean Life to stand under the belly of the whale!  I was agog. They were asleep.

Snug in their snowsuits, in the dim light of the museum they slept deeply and contentedly, on and on.   Could they absorb the aura of my best loved place with their every sleeping breath?  Just to be sure, I bought them their own tiny dinosaurs.  Ah. And Ah.

***

Herding

And now there are three.  Belted into the back,  the curly-haired one car seated in the middle, we are ready for adventure!  Charizard, Pikachu, and Blastois  clutched in their fists, DK Eyewitness Oceans on the folded down screen, dreams of Dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets tantalizing their tongues, we know where we want to go.

Once there we bounce from Birds of the World, to Primates, to the long awaited Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific People.  The Giant Turtle, the Corythesaurus, the Passenger Pigeons!

And always we end at Rocks and Minerals, rolling, rollicking and running  up and down the ramps our paths sparkling with rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and the Star of India itself.  All  glinting, and glowing, and glimmering.  For us.

Bang out a tight fisted drum roll of joy on the petrified wood!  This place belongs to all.

Go you Game Boys!

***

So Close to Travel So Far

To the loll on the beaches of the Bahamas?  Or ski the slopes of the Smug?  Perhaps for some but not for us.  Why fly?  Instead we travel the world simply by hugging the edge of Manhattan as we fling ourselves into the flow of the Westside Highway. You know our destination.   From the Hall of Planet Earth to The Hall of Biodiversity we are here and we are there.  Through this place, we are everywhere.

***

Science Rules

Heretofore off-limits, the gateways of science open to them with a warm welcome to the mysterious 5th floor and beyond.   Presentations and publications, research and REU.  Walk longest hallway in the world with no end in sight.  They are back again. And as with me, part of them will never leave.

Oh, I could make my way through this place blindfolded! But why on earth would I ever do that?  As Roy Chapman Andrews once said, “these are not just any floors.”

As always, thank you, for having me. Thank you for having all of us.  As ever and as always, I will be back.

Post #67: The Mandelbrot

FullSizeRenderWe hoarded them. We dreamed about them. We craved them.

All three of us were derumpled from our languorously dreamy Sunday afternoon. Candyland, Scrabble, and Monopoly mixed together and shoved  messily back into their boxes. Smudged faces hastily wiped clean with a wet washcloth.

Why do we have to get dressed up?  Because.

One of us has to be in the middle.  Through the car window we watch the linked telephone poles guiding us, rhythmically  moving us forward, further and further down the road.  Almost there!   On our knees we turn to look through the back window of the car. We’ve been waiting for it!  At last we look up.

A cathedral of elms links their arms together in verdant welcome,  arching over Lauder Avenue, the light tipping tenderly in and out of the shadows, Sainte-Chapelle itself on the streets of Detroit.

At last and then we were there.  Grandma and Papa’s house.

A run up the staircase—a Wide World of Sports slide down again on our stomachs, dipping sharp to our left just at the landing. Over and over. Like the rusty hinges on the vault of Croesus, the refrigerator door creaks open.  Bottle after bottle of pop emerges!  Pry off the caps and slurp straight from the bottle. 

A tableclothed and proudly arrayed dinner of roasts and fricassees and loaves holding their breath, awaiting the requisite slicing.   A tiny, solitary dish of Birds Eye mixed vegetables, isolated, untouched, alone.

Papa is there, enthroned in his armchair, munching the heart of the lettuce, saved specially for him.  Lawrence Welk  bubbles onto the screen in the living room, just behind the Geritol ad, delighted as always to introduce, “The lovely little Lennon girls.”

Too soon, time to go.   Anxiously, from the depths of the kitchen, my Grandma Anne emerges, clutching the chock full tins that she pushes into our hands.   The  Mandelbrot.  We’ve been waiting for it.

Pressed into the tins, studded with chocolate chips and arrayed as a glorious fan, they are in fact the most tenacious of cookies, tough and  twice baked.  My sisters and I stuff them in as fast as we can.  My Grandmother wonders, will we remember? We will and we do.   Twice baked, these cookies last.

***

Over the years my memory has become sharpened at points, softened at others, like the undulating yet jagged edges of a fractal.  A simple equation resulting in infinite complexity.

No matter.  And the recipe itself?  Precisely written in my Grandmother’s even hand my sisters and I possess several versions on just as many scraps of paper.  Half or three quarters of a cup of sugar?    Walnuts or almonds?  Butter or oil?  My continued  mismeasuring is a messy equation  in and of itself.

And yet, no matter how much or or how little of each written ingredient I put in, every time I bake my Grandmother’s mandelbrot they seem to come out perfectly, just as I remember.  How can that be? 

I only know that our Grandmother loved us. We could taste it. And that undefinable thing that is love is both transcendent and transformative and sometimes even magical, mixed into a million different batches in a million different ways.   

Post#66: Unfettered

IMG_2100Kresge Lunch Counter

There was nothing more yearned for. Nothing better.  Saturday mornings we would rattle around the backseat of the big squared off Oldsmobile, sliding off the vinyl seats onto the floorboards at every stop light, mashing our faces into the windows every time that behemoth gingerly creaked  around a corner.  When the car finally shuddered and sighed to a stop  that was our signal.  Shove the doors open!

Just us. We were free!

Two ten year olds, each one of us with three single dollar bills curled into our hands. A small fortune. We wandered from  Maple to Woodward and back around to the park.  Press through to the doors of the Continental Market, to scurry like rabbits through that warren of tiny shops.  Scented candles, ladies magazines and beaded blouses.  A whole store that only sold clogs.  A general store that sold everything else.

At the store she would always buy a tiny bag of salted peanuts.   I had to have jelly beans.

Then a swing around to the twirly seats at  the Kresge’s lunch counter.  The counterman wore a bow tie.  He wore a paper hat with the slight power tilt of a king’s crown.

Red Pop or Faygo Rock ’n Rye was squirted expertly into a paper cone that was tucked into a metal holder.  Double striped paper straws.

A serious study of the menu always yielded the same results. Grilled cheese for her. Tuna for me. Both were cut on same diagonal and placed on the plates  just so. Tiny paper cups of potato salad and coleslaw.

If we put our last quarters together we could afford a scoop of ice cream to share. Some weeks her favorite, chocolate.  Other weeks my favorite, vanilla.  Two spoons, two friends.  Unfettered and on on our own. The world was ours!

***

Somewhere Outside

I’m pretty sure no one ever actually knew where we were. The screen doors slammed and we were off. A few twists to the tetherball and we would start out.  Walking down the street  the group snowballed together, adding kid after kid, getting bigger and bigger.  We were all together.

Where would we go?

Sneak to the creek to catch tadpoles?

Jungle gym through the half built house down the block?

March to the drug store for Bazooka and Tootsie Rolls and Turkish Taffy?

The choice was ours.  The world was ours!

***

Ball Fields

It was evening and the setting sun made the spring sky soft and hazy and cotton candy sweet.

From our house we actually could  hear the cracks of the bats and the muffled shouts, and imagine that we were enrobed by the puffs  of dust kicked up from sneakered feet.  We could go over and watch, our faces pressed up against the fenced backstop our fingers curling over the edges.

There are three fields, three games on each.  We drift from game to game as if we’re changing channels. 

The players don’t preen. They play.  Their team t-shirts and hats worn with pride, the jeans are dirty and worn in the right places from sliding and climbing.. There are never any grown ups, save the coaches for each team. Why would there be? Little League, little kids.  Grown ups had other things to do with their time. And so did we.

At the end the wagon train of Chevys and Buicks and Fords circle up. They flip open their trunks to reveal true treasure:  can after can of ice cold pop!

The choice was ours.

***

Now

Keys and cash and clothes and cars.  Go here, do this, remember that.  Juggle the schedule, balance the checkbook, add the tip. We are individual tornados spiking into the ground, information peppering and pestering at us from every side.

Is the choice mine?

Some of it?  Most of it?  A little of it?  Does it matter?

No matter what, minutes and moments are always  there for the taking. I grab them, hoard them, treasure them.   Moments still to think and dream. To think and explore and to be free. The choice then is mine. the world then, is still truly mine. 

No matter what, still and always unfettered and free!