Thursday, April 14, 2016

On Memory and Childhood -- Recollections

            My earliest recollection of our family is watching my sister Peggy being hit by a car as she ran across the street during a church picnic.  They say that strong emotion reinforces memory and maybe that is why I remember this event so clearly, like a short clip of movie footage of a little girl in the street over hung by trees, running in her summer dress and a fender coming into view before me.  I can also recall sitting in the kitchen on another day while my mother put ice cubes on my bleeding head.  Peggy and I had been playing in an ash pile behind the shed and for some reason she was chopping the ashes with an old rusty axe.  She was swinging the axe when I bent over to mess about in the ashes, and I took a blow to the back of the head.  I remember screaming bloody murder as I ran to house, and my mother setting me down and  laying ice on the open wound. I remember the white kitchen and the blood running out over the white like I was some else watching.  And I don’t remember the pain.
          So much of what we seem to remember is images and smells, sounds, and I find that sometimes what I remember is not the same as my brothers and sisters remember, so I am left with a confusion of history.  I remember bits of our journey up the ALCAN in 1958, small bits like a collection of photos tucked in the drawer of an old desk.  When I reflect on those things that I do recall, like riding in back of the fifty-one Ford up a muddy hill on the day that my mom patched a leak in the gas tank with a wad of chewing gum from or collective mouths, a patch that lasted the life of the car. 

            Of course, when you are one of the young ones in a family, much of your memory is created for you by reliving events as they are told around the kitchen table.  But one pure, distinct and powerful image that I carry from than great journey north is the memory of one stormy night when the rain came down heavy and hard.  We made camp in a field where the skeleton of a barn stood gray and sinister in the night.  We lay down on boards laid across the floor beams – remember being wrapped in quilt and listening to rain hammering the roof and dripping steadily off the eaves.  There is no more warming feeling than being wrapped in warm blankets and listening to rain on the roof.  In the morning I remember sitting in the cold wrapped in my blankets watching my mother make oatmeal and coffee on the Coleman camp.  We ate our oatmeal on an that little island of boards lay on naked floor joist on that dark wet morning in Canada, when I first realized the great adventure that our family had undertaken that spring of 1958.

What are your earliest strong memories that your carry with you everyday?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How an Early Spring got me Running

Well, it happened.  I started running again.  It wasn’t something I wanted.  It wasn’t something I took on lightly but here I am running three miles several times a week.  .  It’s not exactly true when I say it’s not my fault.  I am the guy who avoids going to the gym.  I am the guy who eats too much.  I am the guy got out of shape, so in that way I am the one who should take better care of myself.  But I do! It’s not me that raised the winter temperatures for the last three years so that skiing is a novel charming activity rather than my routine winter exercise.  

I have lived in Seward for a long time and never have I gone through three such warm snowless winters as the last two.  As a result I am not skiing as much as I used to.  By not as much, I mean that this year I skied maybe a dozen times.  In the past I would ski five or six time a week.  Often right out the back door onto the lake and beyond.  Not this year.  Twice this winter I skied three days in a row, and I didn’t even get the waxing iron out at all.  

So climate change has me running again; the best option for a chunky old man trying to keep the grim reaper at bay.  Thanks to global warming, I’m running on regular basis for the first time in a long time.  In fact, I think the last time I was running like this we called it “jogging”, like a warm friendly name would make it less painful, boring and unpleasant.  I know, the experience is supposed to produce endorphins, so that I come back wanting more, but it ain’t happenin’ so far.  What is happening is than I am realizing how my conditioning backslid to near couch-potato level before I kicked this in gear. 

I’m a big guy and running is was never effortless for me the way it seems for other people.   Even when I was “jogging regularly” I was never that fellow trotting along the street chatting easily with another well-tuned athlete.  I have always been the guy lumbering along the highway straining desperately forward like I was chasing down the last bus out of purgatory.   I might as well be shoveling coal.  But it is April and April is full of hope, and April produces a those good feelings like endorphins and we just want more.

Normally in early April we would be thinking of spring, but still living in winter with snow drifts and cross country skiing.  This year there is no doubt of spring as I run I on muddy roads and down trails free of all but the a few dirty vestiges of winter’s snowfall.

The lake is still frozen but not around the edges where we are awash in April‘s energy as we open the curtains on winter’s darkness and in the bountiful light spring.  With the light snow year and mild winter the surge toward summer is especially strong.

The chickadees have mobbed the willows and alders along the lake and we’ve spotted downy woodpeckers feeding on the trunks of willows I cut last month.  We are pestered by the noisy clatter of magpies as they scour the yard like rag pickers and harass the Steller's jays.  The Magpies have returned to the nest they made last year- not much to look at, just a shovel full of sticks lodged near the top of a spruce sapling.   The eagle has returned to his perch above the magpie nest, causing even more local discord. 

A few ducks have been spotted scouting this end of the lake for open water and they have already settled into the cove a mile to the east where the creek kept the water unfrozen all winter.   Frost at night is rare now and hints of green are showing in the lawn and the weeds along the shore.    We are light well after dinner, and in a week I will put aside any thoughts of snowfalls and shoveling, putting my back to compost and raking. 

Saw whet owls and great horned owls are haunting the night forest along the shore, looking for mates. The great horned call is the common one we expect from owls, hoo-hoo-hoo while the saw whet sounds like some electronic alert has been activated. Beep- beep-beep. Beep- beep-beep.  They are so close that I startle them into silence with an opening of the back door. 

Tomorrow when I run, I will listen for the varied thrush to announce it’s arrival to the lake, a dependable vanguard for the migrating flocks heading our way.   I’ll watch for the robin and the hermit thrush who will come soon then the squadrons of swallows that swoop in after the earth tones of spring give way to the gluttony of green that will soon ring this lake and make us not mind so much that winter was weak and spring early. 
I run on, waiting hungrily for endorphins to make me want more.