Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Leavings of the Year

Carolyn J. Rose

In November, when leaves drift from the trees, I imagine the year going to its rest beneath a quilt of red and gold, orange and brown, green and yellow.

Taking a poetic view can make the task of raking easier.

 For about the first seven minutes.
After that, the thrill fades.

The rate of fade depends on the weather. A sunny afternoon with a light breeze can reduce the rate. Rain and a chill wind can speed it up. Rain turns that colorful quilt into a soggy blanket that flattens grass and clogs storm drains. As I figuratively roll up that blanket with my rake, gusts tear off tatters and hurl them onto the street and into the twiggy grasp of azaleas and rhododendrons.

I toy with the idea of hiring a neighbor kid. Then I tell myself raking is good exercise. I toy with the idea of using a leaf blower. Then I remind myself I hate the noise of blowers powerful enough to dislodge and herd my collection.

So I rake.

Around the middle of the month, when my neighbor and I have filled the bed of his pickup for the third or fourth time, I abandon the quilt and blanket images entirely and focus on spring. These leaves will nurture new growth and those tiny green sprouts will help me forget the drudgery.

Growing up in the Catskills, I both welcomed and dreaded the autumn display. Stunning as it could be, it was over too quickly. Then winter closed its fist and tightened its grip, month by long month.

I didn’t rake leaves then—except to create a pile to jump in beneath a maple in my grandmother’s yard. My father would say the wind did the raking. He’d laugh as twists of air swirled leaves to the edge of the ridge on which his house sat and sent them spinning from sight. He’d say to ignore the drifts that lay against the house or in the flowerbeds. We’d rake them in the spring and haul them to a compost pile.

But I don’t have the luxury of many acres of field and woods where the wind can spread what falls. I have one city lot and eight sturdy trees. And I have neighbors who might not be as neighborly if I let the wind carry too many of “my” leaves into their yards.

So I rake the leavings of the year.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trounced by technology

Carolyn J. Rose    

Don’t get me wrong. I think technology is a good thing. I don’t miss rotary dial phones, cars without power-assist steering, manual typewriters, or black-and-white TV screens the size of cake pans that offered only fuzzy pictures.

But I worry that we’ve become too dependent on slick, fast, and easy. I worry when I come across kids who can’t tell time on a clock and have to check their phones for a digital readout. I worry these same kids aren’t developing skills that could come in handy during a power outage or in the wake of a fire or hurricane. And I worry that all of us are being put in a position where there are no back-up options, where we can be held hostage by technology that should work, but doesn’t.

To explain what I’m talking about, let’s visit a restroom in a modern movie theater or restaurant or airport, a restroom where technology has been harnessed in the interests of sanitation and public health.

We find toilets that sense when you’ve completed your mission and flush themselves automatically.

Except when they don’t.

Then you face the choice of scurrying away—in a nonchalant manner, of course—or hunting for that tiny button on the wall or somewhere at the rear of the toilet. Pushing that button defeats the purpose of the auto-flush feature by exposing you to germs the feature was designed to protect you from.

And then there’s the sink and all that goes with it—the soap, water, paper towels, or hot-air hand-drying apparatus.

Now, I don’t miss those continuous rolls of linen towel that always seemed to be at the end. I don’t miss struggling to pump soap from a nearly empty well, or grappling with a faucet someone put too much force into turning off. And I don’t miss using my fingernails to try to loosen a paper towel jam, or slamming a blower knob with my hand to get it to work.

But sometimes I wish I had those options.

Recently, in an attempt to wash up, I was trounced by technology. Lulled into a false sense of security by my ability to extract soap from a wall-mounted fixture, I attempted to bring water forth by tripping the beam at the base of the faucet. I had no luck. But in the process of moving my hands and arms about, I managed to trigger the paper towel machine on the left and was gifted with two inches of brown towel.

I moved to the second sink and tried again to coax out a stream of water. No luck. But I accidentally got an inch of paper towel from the machine on my right. Back at the left-hand sink, the faucet finally coughed out an anemic stream of water. But neither towel machine would deliver even half an inch more than I’d been presented with by accident.

In disgust, I dried my hands on my shirt. As the door closed behind me, I swear I heard the paper towel dispenser and faucet laughing. Not only that, they were taunting the soap for giving in to my demands so easily.

Monday, September 18, 2017

North to Alaska

Alaska is famous for gold nuggets, but we went seeking something else golden—silence. And, after a brisk walk around the harbor, we found plenty of among the totem poles in Sitka, Alaska.

Well, okay, there were some screaming gulls, a few leaping and splashing salmon, the lick and hiss of waves on rocks, and the sift of wind in the trees. But that’s silence of the natural variety. And we had a glorious hour of it before others from the ship caught up with us.

That’s the thing about cruising on a big ship, unless you’re in your stateroom or off the beaten track of the tourist and shopping area at a port, you’re not likely to be alone. And that’s okay. It’s usually interesting to talk with others on vacation—except when those other people veer from the “Where are you from?” phase of the conversation to accusing us of being part of a conspiracy to take away their guns. That’s when we remind ourselves we’re on a cruise to relax, announce that it’s nap time, and short circuit a lose-lose discussion.

But I digress. Alaska, even the little bit of it we were seeing for a second time, is stunning. Mountains. Fjords. Glaciers. Whales. Eagles. Oh, yeah.
Hubbard Glacier

 We cruised from Seattle up the Stephens Passage to Juneau and spent a few hours in the Alaska State Libraries Archives and Museum. Highly recommended. From there we hit the city library perched on top of a parking garage at the harbor, and then made it to Hangar on the Wharf for a drink with a friend and a close-up view of float planes coming and going. 


Then it was on to Sitka and a stroll through the totem poles in the forest followed by a visit to the thrift store and a stop for coffee at a place called A Little Something recommended by our bus driver. Yum. 

Ketchikan was next and it was fun to revisit Creek Street and other areas of town. 

Salmon were making their way upstream and the sound of rushing water filled the air. And the rain held off.

Out of Ketchikan, dozens of humpback whales swam to starboard and port, making their way to warmer waters, perhaps off Hawaii. We were fortunate to see them flip their tails and surface close enough for a good long look.

  We found some creatures in our cabin, as well. A seal, a squid, a monkey, and even a dinosaur, all crafted from towels by amazing stewards Made and Hendra. Every day they turned chaos and clutter into a clean cabin. And they delivered chocolates!
Made beside his towel art monkey

  And then, sadly, it was on to Victoria and after that back to Seattle and then home again. Home to reality and its many demands, to laundry and grocery shopping and paying bills and, of course, walking the dog.

Are you happy to see us Max, or just cadging a cookie?

We saw a lot of beautiful sights on our Alaska trip, caught up with some old friends, enjoyed some wonderful meals and listened to some good music. We hope you'll be able to jump aboard ship and see the splendor of Alaska for yourself. 


Monday, July 3, 2017

Overhead Overload

Carolyn J. Rose

Confession: I’m an anxious flier.

I tend to view planes—especially jumbo models—as chunks of metal that shouldn’t be able to get off the ground, let alone cross continents and oceans. I worry that the laws of lift might change in the middle of a flight.

I worry about the specific plane I’m on. How old is it? How well maintained?

I worry about the crew. How much training and experience? How much sleep did they get last night? What’s the state of their mental health? Are they easily distracted?

I worry about the airport screening process and what might have been missed. I worry about items that could be weapons—scarves and high heels and heavy objects.

I worry about my fellow passengers. Who is angry? Whose cough is spreading disease? Who will infringe on my personal space and privacy? Who will talk my ear off or try to convert me to their religion or sell me a time share in Duluth?

I worry about whether I’ll make my connection. And I worry about whether my luggage will follow me to my destination in a timely manner.

And that leads to worrying about the weight of the luggage on board. Not so much luggage stowed in the cargo area, but the bags, backpacks, briefcases, and bundles crammed into the overhead bins.

After watching passengers shift and shove and wedge what seems like massive amounts of gear, I worry that the plane will be top heavy and tilt to one side. I worry that stuff sliding in the bins will unbalance the plane during a critical move—like that turn that comes right after takeoff. You know, the maneuver where the plane seems to stand on one wing. The maneuver where the view from the window you’re seated beside is of the ground directly below.

I wonder what’s in those sacks and cases. I wonder what’s so important that passengers have to keep it close. And I worry about a society where the words “you can’t take it with you” don’t seem to mean what they did when I was young, where storage units seem to spring up like mushrooms, and where so many of us seem to travel heavy instead of traveling light.