Welcome to Balanced Rocks: Pictures and Stories

Beginning March 16,2010, I began a journey of balancing rocks. I hold to the practice of setting to balance at least five sculptures a day, sometimes, many more. Of these I take lots of pictures and videos. While conducting this adventure, I have been introduced to an incredible unfolding story. Additionally, I discovered this phenomenon is manifesting worldwide. As I post pictures and stories, I found many others similarly engaged and sharing their works. Additionally, as folks come upon me performing my work, many want to find out how this is done and try themselves. This blog shares this work in both pictures and stories. Enjoy


A seeming impossibility becomes possible

Rock Balancing: The Beginning

On a fine summer day, sometime in August, 2009, I was visiting family in Toronto. Like most folks spending summer in a large city, we used up as much time as we could finding outdoor events that would cool us. One afternoon, we headed to the Beaches section of East Toronto. After spending some time playing in a large sandbox in the shade with my grandkids and some of their newfound companions, we headed to the Boardwalk that extends from Balmy Beach to Kew Gardens. Ella accompanied me, Liam took off with his mom, Natalie. They ventured down the boardwalk, Ella and I headed onto the sand toward the water’s edge. Halfway there we encountered what looked like a small size Stonehenge.

About a dozen sculptures were gathered together in a rough circle. Each was a stack of two or three rocks balanced one on another. The tallest one was slightly taller than Ella, who was small average height for a five year older. All were in the neighborhood of three feet and four feet tall. What immediately jumped out was the precarious nature of the balancing. Most points of contact were miraculously slight. Most seemed to be standing on a point. Two more folks were witnessing this amazing display. We imagined that there must be small metal rods embedded at the point of contact, or else some kind of glue was used. Each of us peered from close low angles to detect what could account for this mystical display. Ella, not being so cautious, toppled one structure over. Luckily, it did not land on her.

I hurried over and picked up the fallen rock. I saw no evidence of a rod or glue. It indeed had been balanced on its pedestal. I lifted it up and tried to place it back where I reckoned it had been balanced. I cautioned Ella, to be careful and not upset any more sculptures and went about the task of finding balance. I was not successful and struggled immensely but did not find the magic spot where stability could be achieved. After a lengthy effort, an attractive Asian woman about my age approached and gently nudged me aside offering to demonstrate her work. She pointed to the spot she would set the stone upon. She called it by a foreign name. To me it looked like a slight dimple.

Placing the small end of the upper rock into that hollow, she deftly and quickly moved it around, slightly twisting and cajoling it into position. The sight of this slender woman with longish graying hair performing an intricate dance with a rock slightly larger than her head emanated calmness. It seemed only the ends of her fingers were used to achieve these small movements. Apparently, equilibrium was close. Shortly she was done and withdrew her palms which naturally assumed an open prayer posture. The rock I had grappled with was majestically resting in its previous stable state. She next went over and reset two other structures, I had not noticed were also amiss. I just took them to be part of the rubble strewn about the beach. Now all the display was standing and providing a small sense of order in our chaotic world.

I never got this woman’s name, but heard her story. She had set this display up for the purpose of taking pictures, one of which she hoped to use for a cover of a book she was publishing. Unfortunately not getting her name makes it difficult to find her book. But I carried away with me the sight of her presentation and the incredible feeling I had witnessed an amazing ethereal event. I also felt an urge to explore this practice.

Rock in the Snow

Rock in the Snow
January in Toronto

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Up to Joe's final day. January 5, 1991: Atlanta, GA

All during December, Joe was slowly going down hill. He felt so bad at Christmas, he did not even want his close friends to visit him. He confided to me that the most upsetting aspect was that he had no more control over anything. I can only imagine how upsetting this must be for someone who had spent a life time trying to have the most balls in the air. Managing like that takes maximum control and Joe did it well. Now he was faced with no balls in the air and little control over that.
Thursday, the third, Joe went for treatment that consisted of receiving blood. Due to a recent shortage of that precious fluid, he got none and was sent home with instructions to return on Monday. Friday he got to toss his final ball into the air. We went to a furniture rental store and Joe purchased three pieces of used furniture with an overdraft check. He was adept at juggling finances like this by arriving at the bank with funds to cover a check he previously wrote. I think Joe knew he was not going to catch this ball by covering that check. He did admit, he wanted good furniture in his house for guests who attended his memorial service. It would be just like him to feel he was getting something for nothing, or in this case something for a worthless check. Friday afternoon, we received a nice couch and two overstuffed chairs. Joe had fun directing me in their placement. He even got to enjoy a brief sit.
Next morning Joe awoke complaining of weakness and pain. This was the worst I had seen him. Never before was he unable to get out of bed. Our first duty that morning was get him to a hospital. That was also unlike Joe, He did not mind going to his clinic for treatment, but I believe he felt that hospital meant, the process was coming to an end. However, his condition was probably overwhelming his denial. We secured an ambulance ride to Georgia Baptist Hospital, the closest to his house. Mother and I followed and met him in the emergency room. By the time we got there Joe was already beginning toxic delirium. No doubt his system was closing down.
We spent most of that day in the emergency room. It felt like they were expecting him to pass soon and did not want to admit him to a room. Apparently, his clinic withheld that final transfusion because they did not expect him to last till Monday. Their reasoning may have been to not waste blood on someone who was expected to die soon. This notion may have only been conjecture of the emergency room physician, but it disturbed me non the less. I was upset his clinic staff did not inform us they were expecting his passing, but allowed us to be led into hope that he could come back Monday and receive needed blood.
Irregardless, Joe was slipping away. His only contacts regarded his need to urinate. He often asked have me hold hid penis into a bottle. After a bit, he claimed he was finished, but nothing ever evacuated. It came to me maybe he was only using this excuse so that he could be held. Whatever, it worked. He also mentioned a couple of times that he was on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. It still looked like the emergency room to me. Finally, the hospital relented and allowed Joe to be brought up to a room. It was decided that his comfort was paramount. He was shifted upstairs, mother accompanied him, I went home for some rest. Mother called later and informed me Joe had slipped away peacefully.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Staying till the end. Fall, 1991: Atlanta, GA

Staying till the end. Fall, 1991, Atlanta, GA
During the past year, since making a commitment to move to Atlanta and provide care for Joe, I managed to .gain respite by leaving briefly when Joe was having periods of feeling well. It seemed those periods were evaporating. His moments of well being hardly carried through the day. I accepted that I would now stay until the end. There was also very little other help available. Or whatever reason Joe was cutting himself off from friends and family alike. I could obtain very little insight into Joe’s mind, to garner why he wanted to cut people off. He formally had a network of friends who like himself were gay and infected with this dread disease.
Joe stated that he kept most of these folks away ,since he did not like their negative attitudes surrounding death. Perhaps these folks were working on becoming accepting of there demise, and Joe took that as an affront to his own denial concerning his own end. I am only surmising this, since Joe did not let on to his feelings concerning his end. He was able to joke about these being his final days. But he more adamantly professed the belief that a cure would be found for his illness. He would get most upset when after a visit to get medical care, he found a new treatment not working. I think that when Joe’s friends succumbed it further reminded him that a cure was not coming. He may have also wanted to block these friends from witnessing his own decline. I am only putting this tale together by extrapolating what I was able to witness. I had little else to go on since Joe would not confide with me his inner feelings. We kept our relationship at the surface and focused on day to day matters.
Joe not only isolated himself from friends but included family in the outer circle. He especially kept our mother at bay. She wanted to help attend to Joe but he would not permit it. I became obsessed in an effort to get them to reconcile whatever was keeping them separated. I was having no luck and only getting frustrated and exhausted by my efforts. Apparently Joe held his console with our sister, Karen. One evening just before retiring, Joe was engaged in his room with a lengthy phone conversation with her. I went to my room and prepared for bed. Before getting into bed, I dropped to my knees and acknowledged that I realized it was not my job to guide Joe’s reconciliation, gave it up, and surrendered that work to the Almighty. No sooner had I finished than I heard Joe dialing his rotary phone. He called our mother. The next morning she arrived in Atlanta and was soon joined by her sister, my Aunt Jeanne. It was the beginning of December and I was grateful to have extra help. We became focused on getting through the holidays.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Getting back to Joe. August 1990: Atlanta, GA

Joe had returned to Atlanta from his excursion to Denver while I was taking a break in the Northeast. He had a memorable time especially the long train trip. He enjoyed that kind of travel and had not been able until now to make a lengthy excursion in that mode. It seemed though he wore himself out. He looked pale and haggard and although full of fond memories and load of pamphlets and flyers, it seemed this trip took a lot from him. For sure, he had missed his regular appointments for medical checkups and treatment. It occurred to both of us he may be entering the last leg of his journey in his struggle against AIDS. His mood likewise suffered. His bad days overtook his good ones. Not only was it difficult for him but also for those nearby.
I was perhaps the closest by virtue of living with him. Joe had always been fiesty and combative. It seemed his nature. He learned early to lash out at anything he perceived as threatening. He balanced that with a soft and generous side. The scales seemed to be tipping toward the negative as his disease progressed. Another aspect that may have entered the equation was onset of dementia. This is a strange illness in that it shows up in off hand ways and is difficult to clearly diagnose absent any concrete measurable symptoms. But at times something would seem off kilter. I can only imagine what it may have been like in Joe’s shoes. After all, he was the one who was facing perhaps the end of his life while all the while experiencing a decline in quality of life. I was only the outside observer.
I do not know if it was dementia or something else but an example of how something small could become odd with no clear reason could provide an example of how things were being faced. Besides physically feeling ill, Joe was facing financial difficulties. In this area he had always been adept at juggling the most balls with out mishap. How that his income was nil and expenses the same he had trouble keeping the same balls aloft. His truck had a damaged tire that while still holding air was unsafe and would not pass a coming vehicle inspection. It took him most of the day to find a dealer who could sell him a new tire for just about the balance Joe had in his checking account. I followed him to the dealer and gave him a ride home. Later when we went to pick up his truck the tire had not been changed but the truck had received a shampoo. Now we had a truck that looked good but would not pass inspection. We went round and round over this trivial matter and I felt hard pressed to make peace with Joe’s decisions.
My task was to try and stay calm, clear and collected while providing care for someone I loved who appeared to be on a down ward slope with little chance of turning that around. Joe had very little energy left for even smallest household tasks and this may have bothered him a lot, since he had always been active at cleaning and tidying his surroundings. He took most pride in how well he maintained his yards. He loved planting and caring for his vegetation. In the fall he would plant profusely with pansies. In Atlanta they would bloom all winter providing color when most of the world was turning bleak. It was falling more upon me to care for the landscape. I found work with my hands in the garden provided a sense of grounding that helped me maintain a positive attitude in care giving. Perhaps part of his legacy was to instill in me a penchant for working outdoors on my hands and knees digging in the dirt when all else seems amiss. Since then I take my times landscaping and gardening, ,lawn mowing and raking, clearing and hauling in the yard in order to prepare myself to deal with any difficulties that may arise. Thank you, Joe; it works.


Monday, July 28, 2008

OK, I'll go. March 1976: Saint Petersburg, FL

In November, I was in Toronto, Ontario. A friend offered me a ticket to the Rolling Thunder Revue. Although, this concert featured many of my favorite artists and performers, I turned down the offer. I am not sure why, but perhaps, I planned to leave town before the performances. Christmas was spent on Martha’s Vineyard, hardly a venue for performances of this caliber. I reckoned I would just miss my opportunity to see my favorite poet, Bob Dylan. After Christmas, I left to visit a friend in Milford, Connecticut on my way to Florida. In the short time I was there another offer came my way.
Again, I was asked to attend Rolling Thunder Revue. Again I was looking toward my next location and did not want to hold back until this concert came to town. Shortly I left for Florida with mixed feelings. Part of me was in a hurry to get to Florida, another part was mourning the missed opportunity to enjoy my some of my favorite artists. It did not seem many more chances would come by again. After getting to Gainesville, my focus soon became joining with and engaging in the building of Free Spirit Farm, an alternative life style community. It took my mind of anything I may have missed. Now I was visiting with Stacy and Tallulah in Bradenton, Florida. The offer was repeated. These two wonderful women invited John and I to attend Rolling Thunder Revue in Saint Petersburg. I was not going to miss it again and decided to extend my visit until after the show left.
Since we had over a week to wait, it provided time to get acquainted with John. We had just met when he hooked up with Stacy. John was the first individual I knew who was tortured and suffered with alcohol abuse. There were certainly others I may have known but not intimately enough to observe the extent of suffering. John, although only currently using moderately had a history of treatments , hospitalizations and legal problems. He now seemed clear of all that. All of us went out occasionally to find music and dance. This often led us to bars. John would imbibe, but seemed able to hold it. Whatever demons had haunted him in the past seemed under control.
The night of the concert arrived and we were going to a big dance. We all sat together for the first half. I was finally getting to enjoy Rolling Thunder. At intermission, John left us to wander about. For the remainder of the concert he was absent. We were concerned, but figured he was a big boy and could take care of himself. After the concert let out, we still had no John. We returned to our car and waited his arrival. Shortly an plain clothes policeman approached and asked if John was with us. Apparently he had come out to the car during the concert, He raised suspicion of the security guards who checked him out. When it was found that he had outstanding warrants, he was taken to lockup.
We returned home perplexed and alarmed by this turn of events. Stacy posted bail and John returned to our fold. He seemed in good spirits and downplayed the significance of his legal problems. We were still basking in the high created by seeing Bob Dylan and company. What was not too obvious was John was beginning to slightly increase his alcohol consumption. We did not catch on that his attitude was ever so slightly eroding. It was a shock to us all that whatever was eating him up was hidden. On evening John swam out into the Gulf of Mexico and did not return . His body was recovered miles away a few days later. Not understand what had happened to him, Tallulah, Stacy and I swore off alcohol. We did not understand but felt it prudent to not chase the demons that were after John.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

A lean year for trees. 1991: Martha's Vineyard, MA

Besides the devastation wrought by the high winds of Hurricane Bob, trees suffered another kind of onslaught. In atypical fashion this storm carried very little rain. Instead high winds stirred up the seas and carried sea foam quite a ways inland. It seemed most of the island was covered with this sticky salty brine. As in the days of Carthage, vegetation did not fare well. By the end of August most leaves browned up and fell off trees. It appeared much like late fall, but in fact we still had three full weeks of summer. Deciduous trees were fooled and prepared to do what they do in summer, they budded again.
Of course the annual plants that suffered this fate could not revive and died off. The Cape and Islands sported an odd looking landscape. Trees and bushes appeared as they do in early spring; annual growth looked as it does just before winter. By November when fall was ushered in by another large storm, the short spring was ended and trees entered their winter mode. Leaves again turned to autumn colors and blew off the trees. This was not the end of their odd year.
There was an unusual mild spell in February. Deciduous trees and bushes were tricked again and began putting on buds. Just as the buds were formed and beginning to flower, winter returned. The colorful look of spring froze off and trees returned to their winter appearance. Spring returned late. It was middle May before vegetation began its flowery show, Flower bulbs were well into their presentation, but deciduous tress and bushes were holding back. They had already expended their flowering juices three times the past year. They probably had little left to do it again. When I walked among them in June, they looked like they were saying, “No we’re not getting fooled again. We may put on a bud or two but that’s it.” And that is just what they did; put on a bud or two and gave up. That summer looked pretty bleak for trees that had an incredibly tough year blow by.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

The storm is over. August, 1991: Martha's Vineyard, MA

In the light of day, the extent of tree damage wrought by Hurricane Bob became apparent. I drove around and witnessed stands of trees that were felled. In some spots there were patches of at least an acre where no tree was left unscathed. I felt a tinge of sadness that so many were damaged. At the same time I felt gratitude for the windfall. I heated with firewood and it seemed an abundance was available for the taking. Having a few days before I had to get back to Atlanta, I fetched my chainsaw hoping to get to work gathering. A snag developed when I realized my chainsaw needed tuning up. In a rush to get it running, I managed to destroy the carburetor. I threw the worthless piece of junk into the back of my pickup and angrily headed into Edgartown.
There, I ran into a group of folks and shared my predicament. I left the chainsaw in the back of my truck and expressed the hope someone would snatch it. The idea that a thief could steal my problem brought me some sense of light. Preston asked if I would like a job clearing fallen tress from his property. He stated that he went out that morning and bought a new chainsaw, but upon starting it realized he was in fear of using it. He offered to give me his new saw and pay an hourly wage if I would cut up and remove his debris . He then asked, “Do you have any one who can help you with the hauling.” Standing behind him, I noticed my friend Lenny.
Lenny sported the telltale handkerchief around his neck hiding the hole left from surgery to remove his larynx. Apparently while I was away he received treatment for his cancer. I asked, “Do you feel up to helping me load and haul branches.” He beamed and nodded in the affirmative. We had a deal. I got a new saw and we both could earn some cash. To top it off, I would now be able to gather loads of firewood. We got in my pickup and headed off to another adventure. For the time, we got used to Lenny using a device that supplied vibration to his voice box so he could speak. His messages got garbled. It seemed he was trying to annunciate whole sentences instead of single words at a time. At one point he kept reiterating a sentence that sounded like, “There are elephants in the subway.” I would look at him and repeat what I just thought I heard. Lenny would shake his head and say again the same phrase. I could not get him to slow down and give it to me a word at a time. It seemed we battled back and forth while we filled the pickup with our first load of branches.
With our truck full, we headed off to a field where there was a gathering of branches that would eventually be chipped. On the way we stopped for coffee. Lenny somehow imparted that was the phrase he was trying to get across to me. There were no elephants in the subway, he only wanted a break. It took us all day to clear out Preston’s fallen pines. We finished up thankful to have a new saw and some cash. Preston also offered us more work on another property he had. Lenny was exhausted and left me to work by myself. That was OK and I spent the next few days cutting and gathering wood. All told, by the time I headed back to Atlanta, I put up over eight cords of firewood and a shed full of exotic species to be milled later for woodworking. I left Lenny behind. He was scheduled to begin radiological treatment for his cancer. He seemed hopeful and positive his prognosis was good. In the meantime, I heard from Joe., He was not doing well. It seemed his trip to Denver exhausted him and took him away from his treatments that likely were necessary to keep him healthy. I wrapped up my wood gathering exploits and headed to Atlanta.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Lights out. August 19,1991: Martha's Vineyard, MA

We got Natalie safely to Montreal and set up in a new apartment. The night before we left, we went out to dinner at an Indian restaurant. It was partly in celebration of Amelia’s coming birthday. She hoped to be back home on Martha’s Vineyard to celebrate with her friends. So as a present we bought her ice cream with peas in it. Strange to say the least, she enjoyed it. We stayed up late fêting Amelia’s turning eight. Next morning we woke late, had breakfast and got on the road.
Our route took us over to Vermont and traversed that state from the northwest to southeast corners. The weather was clear, calm, and cool, enjoyable for a drive. Amelia was in charge of the music selection and kept us in tunes from my cassette collection. We breezed down the state listening to the likes of Bob Marley, Queen, Dire Straights and REM. There was no indication of what was twirling up the east coast headed for Nova Scotia. From all appearances we were headed toward a peaceful end of summer. It was dark by the time we reached Springfield, Massachusetts. It was really dark. There was not light to be seen. It had all the appearance of a blackout.
Trying to find out what happened, we switched from cassette tunes to radio and found a station broadcasting news. The hot topic concerned the surrounding of the Russian Parliament by crack paratroop forces of Soviet Army. Apparently Russia was in turmoil. News was sketchy but spoke that Russian hardliners, upset by President Gorbachev’s moderate policies were taking over. Indications were that days of openness were finished and now headed back toward confrontational politics. That news along with a blackout brought up memories of cold war policies along with visions of nuclear holocaust. It seemed like we fell through a hole and landed right back in the 1950’s. Of course Amelia was too young to have the same concerns as I. She kept a cool head while we pressed on toward home. I hoped to get to Martha’s Vineyard before the bombs started falling. We switched off the news and went back to Amelia’s music selection.
As we approached Cape Cod, it appeared we had already been devastated by an attack of sorts. Trees were down, buildings were blown apart, and power was still off. Stopping to find out what was responsible for all this carnage, we learned that the Cape and Islands had been visited by Hurricane Bob. It was a powerful fast moving storm that around the same time we left Montreal scooted over the Cape headed in a Northeast direction. Calm quickly returned but destruction wrought was extensive. Most mutilation occurred to trees. Even without power we were able to catch a ferry back to the island and spent a dark, quiet night in safety in our house which escaped any harm.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lost in the city. August 1991: Toronto, ON

For a break, Amelia and I traveled to Toronto to pick up Natalie who was just moving to Montreal. She was going to attend university there and needed help moving her belongings. My pickup would be useful and the trip a diversion. This was Amelia’s first trip out of the States and she was excited. Growing up on Martha’s Vineyard meant she was not used to many things common in big cities. She had taken trips to New York an Boston, but never overnight. We would be staying a few days in Toronto and Montreal as we helped Natalie move. Natalie also needed a new bed so we shopped for a futon. For moving convenience and economy we decided upon getting lumber for the frame and buying the mattress in Montreal.
After getting lumber, we needed some screws, sandpaper and wood finish. We stopped at a large hardware store adjacent to a mall that had just opened as we arrived. The items we needed were on the second floor. Amelia asked could she stay on the first floor in the toy section while Natalie and I browsed upstairs. Thinking we would be quick, I allowed her to stay downstairs provided she did not leave the store. She agreed. It did not take too long to make our purchases. But in that time Amelia disappeared. A quick look around the store brought no results .A clerk stated he thought he saw her leave through the door that led into the mall. We exited that way and began our search for a missing child.
Even though the mall had just opened and was fairly empty, did not help. Amelia was nowhere to be seen. We were joined n our search by two security guards. One escorted Natalie around the premises searching while I joined the other in a room full of television monitors that scanned the mall and its parking garages. I kept my eyes on the screens while the guard made announcements over the PA system asking Amelia to use one of the red security phones located throughout the mall to call her dad who was missing her. For what seemed too long a time, I stood watching Natalie accompanied by a guard searching fruitlessly for Amelia. It did not help that a recent newspaper story detailed the abduction of a young boy and subsequent finding of his body in Lake Ontario.
Finally, I asked the security guard who persisted making announcements, whether or not his announcements were broadcast into individual stores or just common mall space. He indicated he was only heard in the corridors. Having an idea I went in search of Amelia in the individual stores. At the far end of the mall was a large department store that was sure to have a large toy section. Entering , I found directions and made it to a large display of stuffed animals. There in front was Amelia with her head tilted back taking in the sight of a display that reached to the ceiling. I sidled up to her and asked in a low voice, “Little Girl, do you know that you are missing?” She did not know, but was found. Upon questioning, Amelia let on that she thought as long as she had not went outdoors she was staying in the store as she was instructed. Grateful to have her retrieved, I made a better effort to keep an eye on her while we were away. We still had to negotiate another large city, one where most folks did not use English.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Taking breaks. July 1991: Martha's Vineyard, MA

Through out the spring, whenever I needed respite from caretaking Joe, I would take short excursions. One time, I went to visit friends in Florida. Another time, I visited my sister in New Jersey. By summer Joe was feeling well enough to travel on his own. He arranged an extended trip to Denver. He was enthralled by trains but never took an opportunity to use them for extensive travel. Now he was going to have his chance. He booked round trip travel with as many stopovers as he desired. It seemed we would both get a lengthy summer vacation. While he was away, I planned an extensive visit home to Martha’s Vineyard.
Driving north, I decided to stop late at night in Atlantic City. I hoped to recapture the fortunes I found there on my last visit. Then, I was able to turn an on the house chip into a small pile of money. I was short on funds and could use a little bonus. This time it was different. Before long the casino had possesion of all my funds and I left Atlantic City broke. I was able to find a gas station that would accept a check, but would not provide cash. My next challenge was find a route to Martha’s Vineyard where I would not face tolls. I managed to creep across New Jersey, New York and Connecticut without using a toll road, bridge or tunnel. I had to skirt the well traveled routes and use many back roads. It was slow but enjoyable travel. When I got to Woods Hole, I was able to use another check to book travel to the Vineyard.
While home, I hoped to find a little work to finance my respite. No sooner had I gotten home than I ran into my old friend, Lenny. He looked gaunt, pale, and haggard. He confided that he had returned to the Vineyard to die. He had romantic notions of going off into the woods, staying by himself, and passing on naturally. He was not certain of the nature of his affliction, but was sure this would be his final visit. With the help of our mutual friend Leslie, we convinced Lenny to use his veteran benefits and find out what was ailing him. He succumbed to our intervention and went to VA hospital in Jamaica Plain. They found throat cancer and it was operable. Lenny agreed to have surgery and make a bid for recovery. I needed some time to digest the fact that two very near and dear people were experiencing major medical crises. I escaped with my daughter, Amelia. We planned a trip to Montreal to visit her sister and my other daughter Natalie. It felt like a good time to seek brief shelter from the storm.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Writing the stories. July 2008: Ithaca, NY

There is certain benefit to recording a story long after it unfolded. There is a distance from the emotional impact and advantage of long range perspective. Living in the moment with a story gives sometimes choppy feelings chance to buffet us, while trying to recite events. It seems difficult to transcribe emotions in the moment. According to science a separate part of the brain is used for writing than processing feelings. That gives rise to other art forms to express emotional impact--poetry, visual arts, dance and movement, and song. But once seperated from impact writing can be useful. In fact it can give different meaning to emotions by adding intellectual content.
Other times while transcribing, emotions get triggered. When this happens the writing process seems to get disabled in order to process the emotional entanglement left over. On these occasions, I use a couple techniques to go forward with my writing. Sometimes I go sideways and bring up other tales. This way I divorce myself from the emotional impact, but keep a story going. Often I find, where I leaped has a hidden connection to the part I was having difficulty transcribing. This aids both processing emotional content and weaving necessary components into the story. Another technique is to describe the process. This leads to a discussion of the writing process in the moment of its breakdown. Here a bridge is constructed from the part of the brain that conducts writing to the part that holds emotions. Making this connection seems to aid in dealing with disabling emotions and connecting them with the story.
An example of this process unfolded the last few days. I was writing about a time that was emotionally exhausting for me. As I wrote feelings from that period arose and making it difficult to deal with grammar and language. After a brief struggle, I moved sideways and related a tale from another place and time. After exposing that tale, I came back to the previous one with some new information. That brought another prospective and elements to bear. By using today’s writing to reflect upon this gives me insight into how to weave these other elements into the story. The moment seems to carry healing in that other ways of experiencing emotional impact spring forward. Tomorrow’s writing will likely bring yesterday’s story down a new path.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Election night. November, 1980: New Orleans, LA

We were living in Lafayette, Louisiana when Sara needed to return to New Jersey for a family wedding. The nearest airport was New Orleans. We decided to make a day of it and do some sightseeing. She had never been in the French Quarter. So we packed her luggage into our pickup and drove into town. Her flight was not until evening and we spent the day exploring the harbor front in old New Orleans. It was election day, but we were not attuned to news that Ronald Reagan was rolling toward an overwhelming victory. The focus was on the constant barrage of New Orleans style Blues.
We enjoyed a dinner in a Creole style restaurant. Afterward we went out for a stroll to help digest our wonderful meal. We were stopped by the sight of a huge mound of movie set lighting gear stacked on the street, sidewalk and curb. We had noticed signs of a shoot going on earlier. We stood around a bit to see if we could catch a glance of a celebrity and maybe find out what script was being shot. All we noticed was more gear being unloaded from moving vans and cluttering up the street. I glimpsed an elderly man proceeding towards us.
He was tapping his way forward with a white cane, the sign of a blind person. It appeared he was familiar with the neighborhood as his cane tapped right along the various obstructions he negotiated around. For instance he seemed to know where the garbage cans were as he approached them. His cane would strike one and he ambled round it much as a sighted person would. Then he got to something new. His can tapped into the leading edge of the pile we had been admiring.
He stopped proceeding forward but kept poking with his cane at this unfamiliar hindrance. His face bore a look of bewilderment as he kept using his white instrument to see what he was facing. He poked and prodded high and low and gently pried at times to figure out what he was facing. Finally, he crossed his arms muttered, “It’s fucking Republicans,” then whirled round and tapped his way back up the street. To this day, I am astounded that an elderly black man was able to garner the portend of our future on the night the Neo-Con agenda got rolling.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Living with AIDS. WInter, 1991: Atlanta, GA

I was not living with AIDS, but I was living with someone who was. The progression of the disease was not linear. At first glance when I saw Joe as we headed to Europe, I suspected his end was rapidly approaching. That was not the case. Aggressive medical treatments would snatch him back from brinks. Joe would waver between days of health and those of illness. His mood would swing according to his physical health. Sometimes the Joe I remembered would be present, other times someone else would show up.
Joe possessed an active persona. His lifestyle demanded that he juggle many balls. He seemed to thrive having as many things in the air as possible. Besides that, Joe showed signs of an anger edge. He was feisty and would fight for his way especially when he felt wronged. By education and training, Joe was an artist. He moved to Atlanta in the late 1970’s to pursue a career in graphic design. After setting in with a company he began working free lance. By the mid 1980’s he kept a finger in commercial art work along with buying and renovating distressed properties in neighborhoods that were revitalizing. Joe’s acquaintances came from the high powered professional commercial art world and the local community activist associations.
His most intimate connections also shared his disease. These connections were both a blessing and curse. Those facing sickness spent much effort trying to shore up each others spirits and maintain positive attitudes. In the meantime, reality would pervade whenever a member of the community succumbed. Death was an inescapable reality. When Joe was having good days he would joke and light heartedly refer to them as, “my final days.” But if he was not feeling well, he would slip into denial and talk about the possibility of a cure being found and somehow surviving. It seemed that positive thinking could not overcome bad feeling. It was only through medical interventions that Joe returned to upbeat feeling.
When he was feeling sunny, Joe could fully engage in doing the work necessary to maintain extensive rental properties. This included repair, renovation and remodeling of structures, dealing with city bureaucracies over matters of taxes, utilities, and licensing, and dealing with present or prospective tenants. But when Joe would slip down, he tended to stay in bed and spent most time on the phone. He used that tool both as an outlet and entertainment. For an outlet it served him as counselor and a place to expend bile that came from his inner rage. Woe to the clerk of an establishment that slighted him. Joe had an interest in railroads and spent hours calling railroad toll free lines and requesting information and schedules. He assembled quite a stash of railroad paraphernalia.
In the meantime, I had demons of my own to contend with. Living far away from a support system while being buffeted by all manner of negativity took it toll on my spirits. My mood could drift toward darkness that took on features of depression. I needed to figure out ways I could both offer support and find nurturance for myself. I found it difficult in this situation to build a local support community. I looked forward to being able to take a break and travel back home where I enjoyed many deep sustaining connections.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Death all around. January, 1991: Atlanta, GA

After a short visit in Washington, Sara and Amelia returned to Martha’s Vineyard, I to Atlanta. As soon as I arrived, I heard some disconcerting news. On Christmas Eve shortly after I left, a woman who lived next door was fatally shot at the gas station just up the street. The account was that a man after filling her car for her, shot her for refusing to provide him with a tip. This occurred shortly after I had left that station. A similar person had accosted me demanding to operate the gas pump. Afterward he demanded a tip, which I provided. That small gesture likely saved my life.
Violent stories seemed commonplace in Atlanta. Local folks appeared to just shrug them off and go about their business. It was not the same for me. Not only was there a threat to my safety, but I wondered about the state of mankind in a world spinning toward normalizing violence. Concurrent to these personal local affronts, the first Gulf War was launched and images broadcast twenty four hours a day worldwide. It became difficult for me to detect blessings. One day my wallet turned up missing. After a search, I began the procedure one takes after losing identification cards. After canceling my credit s cards, and beginning to make phone calls to obtain replacement ID’s, a call came from a nearby day work center. One of the folks looking for work turned in a stack of my ID cards.
I hurried over. My wallet and money were gone but a bundle of all my important papers was presented me. The credit card was still cancelled but all else was intact. The man who turned in my papers showed me where he found them in an alley way nearby. Apparently someone found my wallet, rifled through it, kept the money and tossed out my identification cards. In gratitude for reporting his findings, I offered the young man twenty dollars. Later that same day, someone followed me into a restroom at a fast food restaurant, locked the door and stood near me while I urinated. He did not accost me or talk, so I finished and left, but felt unease and vulnerable. It gave me small consolation that escape and survival seemed to top the gratitude list. All this was whirling about me, while I attended to a man who faced a bleak future battling an illness that seemed to take no prisoners.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Getting back to Atlanta. December, 1990; Atlanta, GA

After the weekend chess tournament in Philadelphia, I ventured over to Martha’s Vineyard to see about getting my pickup and hauling a few tools back to Atlanta. This led to another ominous flight. The small plane that was to take me from Newark to Martha’s Vineyard developed some kind of trouble taxiing out to the runway. We returned to the gate and repairs were attempted. After a couple of hours our flight was cancelled. Luckily all four passengers were provided accommodations. We stayed in a luxury hotel, given breakfast, and boarded a well working plane next morning. We got to Martha’s Vineyard without a hitch.
Arriving home, I found my pickup was not going to be available. Sara’s vehicle was beyond repair. While in Atlanta, I noticed quality used cars prices were substantially less than in New England. I figured on picking up another car for Sara there and switching vehicles sometime later. Now my dilemma was getting back to Atlanta on the cheap. I spent a while visiting friends and stocking up on good wishes and embraces. These would be needed to shore me up when I returned to the hard task of being a caregiver. I had yet to develop a support community in Atlanta, so I relied on friends from afar.
Lenny had left to fritter the winter on Saint John, a US Virgin Island. Another friend, Jocko, was planning on spending the winter in South America. He found that flights from Atlanta were considerably cheaper. So much so, it was worth it for him to depart from there. When I offered him a place to park his vehicle in Atlanta, he offered give me a lift. His jeep could also haul many of the tools needed to maintain Joe’s properties and provide me work.
We got to Atlanta shortly before Christmas. Jocko departed for South America and Joe turned over the deed to one of his properties to me. Merry Christmas. I now became a landlord, responsible for a mortgage, and inherited a mountain of maintenance tasks. I went shopping for a car. It took all of an hour to land a good used vehicle. Joe hosted a Christmas party and I departed just prior to midnight. Before hitting the road, I pulled into a gas station up the street from Joe’s house. A man offered to take care of filling up my tank while I went inside to pay and get coffee. On the way out he offered an outstretched palm, obviously looking for a tip. I handed him a five dollar bill and wished him, “Merry Christmas, Sir.” We shook hands and I left. The plan was to meet Sara and Amelia in Washington DC. We would switch vehicles and enjoy New Year celebrations in the capital city.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Taking a break. November, 1990: Lakewood, NJ

For the few weeks I had been in Atlanta, Joe’s medical condition seemed to have stabilized. I felt I needed a break and Joe said he could handle being alone. So I planned a small trip to visit my sister for Thanksgiving holiday. She lived in New Jersey. Getting there seemed to be the problem. After visiting New Jersey, I hoped to go retreive my pickup on Martha’s Vineyard. With that I could return to Atlanta with my tools. One way fares were often more expensive than round trip ones. I managed to find a cheap round trip excursion to Atlantic City. Included was roundtrip airfare, a meal and twenty dollar gambling voucher at the sponsoring casino. Karen could meet me there and I just would not use my return ticket. This was by far less than any commercial flight.
When Karen arrived at the casino.], I was engrossed at the craps table. An incredible string of good luck extended the gambling voucher into a sizeable pile of chips. My goal was to ride that streak until I suffered a first loss, then pick up my chips and cash out. Karen joined beside me, matching my bets. Soon I hit a loser and we cashed out. I made over four hundred and Karen netted about seventy. Next we left for Karen’s house to join in the holiday feast. There was one important element I forgot.
To begin the day, I had to catch an early flight. In hurry to get to the airport I did not begin my day with a bowel evacuation. I held it. Once getting to Philadelphia, I hurried to catch a shuttle to Atlantic City. Again I bypassed the necessary daily regimen. By the time I arrived at the casino little did I know but I was becoming impacted. Not feeling an urge helped me to forget what I was missing. After a huge thanksgiving meal, I began to experience headaches and slight fever. Taking ibuprofen did not seem to help. As the night wore on, my symptoms increased. Karen’s husband brought out a layperson’s handbook on medical symptoms. My symptoms indicated several severe terminal diagnoses.
A phone call to a physician, produced a recommendation to continue with ibuprofen and go to an emergency room should my symptoms get more severe. Just about when I was feeling, I was not going to make, something jogged my memory. I had forgotten my daily constitutional. A little laxative and enema shortly had me cleaned out and feeling better. My symptoms abated and I felt like I might survive. Recovery came just in time, for the next morning I was going to Philadelphia to engage in a four day chess tournament.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A fish out of water. November, 1990: Atlanta, GA

After several days gathering together, I left for Atlanta. I was flying, which I had not intended; I hoped to bring my truck and some tools, enabling me to look for work. That wasn’t going to happen yet. Our landing in Atlanta offered a portend of the journey ahead. After circling for a considerable time, our pilot announced we were cleared for landing and made our approach. The whole flight had been bumpy, but we were coming down. Just as we touched down heavily, the pilot gunned the engines and we were airborne again. He announced that another plane had ventured out onto our runway, making it necessary to climb back up to avoid collision. He assured us we had enough fuel to come back round. The cabin was hushed until we finally touched down and stayed there. A round of applause greeted our arrival.
Joe met me and carried me back to his house. He was glad to be home, driving his own vehicle and feeling much better. It was good to see him in such high spirits after witnessing his lengthy excruciating bout with pain during our adventure in Europe. He expressed gratitude, I came to help him and assured me he had plenty of work I could perform for him on his properties. Though there was plenty of work, getting an income was a different matter. I found it almost impossible to land outside jobs without benefit of local references. This forced me to use other sources to supplement my no income. It seemed I would be dipping into savings to finance the beginning of this adventure. Luckily, my expenses were minimal. I had no rent, Joe provided food and not having my vehicle meant I avoided those costs. Also I had no expenses to carry back at my home on Martha’s Vineyard. It seemed I would go forward on a much different scale than I expected.
The next eye opener was getting used to the tough neighborhood where I would be living. Joe explained he had ongoing difficulties keeping his streets clear of hookers and drug dealers. He was not adverse to calling police to run people off his streets. He assumed possesion of streets in his neighborhood and wanted them clean. One night we heard a ruckus outside. As it moved away, shots erupted. Soon sirens emerged and we discovered someone had fallen in a pit near one of Joe’s other properties. The victim was not fatally wounded but the side of Joe’s house was a bloody mess. The tenant living there joined in helping us clean up the disarray while police and EMS crew took care of the shooting victim. Apparently gunfire was commonplace in this neighborhood. A few days later, while mowing the grass in the space where we first heard the commotion, the mower struck something that gave a metallic sound as flung against the house. I went over and found it was a chromed pistol. Luckily it had not fired while hurling around.
To top it all off, Joe appeared to be getting better and not approaching his death
bed. He held to the notion that somehow a cure would be found for his aliment. There was plenty of evidence this would not be the case. Joe was surrounded by a sizeable community of AIDS victims and many had already succumbed. He was on the list of patients who received services. Two well prepared, nutritious, hot meals a day were delivered to him. Joe hardly ate any and offered them to me. When I asked him why he did not eat, his response was, “It is hard to have an appetite when you do not feel good.” Apparently his medications were masking much of his discomfort. As well as he seemed at the time, I reaffirmed my decision to stay with him to help with his incredible journey. It seemed I would simply have to adjust to this bumpy landing.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Reflections: Death and Dying, July 2008, Ithaca, NY

Spending time reflecting on death and dying does not start off in an uplifting vein. After missing posting a story on my blog, I felt a tinge of guilt. It was the first posting I missed and the slight offering I made did not feel adequate. Then to spend a morning reflecting on impending darkness did not contribute to brightening my spirits. There is so much of the unknown surrounding that final leave taking, fear is bound to creep in.
By noon, I got outside of my mind and engaged in my volunteering job at a meal providing spot. Spending time clearing dishes and preparing them for the dishwasher brightened my mood. Then a moment of enlightenment appeared, when I realized everything said, written, or discoursed concerning death has been presented by those who have not experienced their final leave taking. Consequently, attending those preparing to die is as close as we get to the other side. The final closing of the veil obscures seeing beyond this world.
My first experience with attending a passing came when I sat with my Dad on his final day. I sat on one side of the bed and my sister Karen on the other. We spent the day holding his hands and assuring him it was going to be alright. His state was quite toxic and he was not coherent. All day he kept mumbling a phrase that was unintelligible. I kept squeezing his hand. He could not let go of repeating that last phrase. It was after we left his presence did he finally decide to leave us.
Several months later, while visiting Karen, she dreamed that day occurring again. In the morning she disclosed that in her dream state his final words became intelligible. What he muttered was, “I’m afraid.” That was my first instance that something had come back from the beyond.
I took that experience with me as I began attending the passing of two people very close to me. Then and now I am ever grateful to be blessed and honored to be able to sit near the brink as folks are preparing to take their ultimate journey. I get the benefit of relating these stories from a distance when I have had the chance to breath in their meaning and significance beyond their initial emotional impact. The essence of that concluding embarkation is typified by a Buddhist nun who ends her dharma talk with the phrase, “One of us is next.”


Monday, July 14, 2008

Bookkeeping lessons? July 2008, Ithaca, NY

I began late and was preparing my daily blog. At the last sentence, I was informed that Microsoft Works encountered a problem and had to close. All my work was lost. I had not saved it . I am posting this notice so than any readers will know the occasion for a missing entry to my stories. Today is only a small process note.
I also decided that since the content of this current tale involves a weaving together of two significant tales of passing, I will spend a day in reflection. Tomorrow, I will expose those reflections and my thought s concerning death and passing. Please excuse today’s misadventure and lack of bookkeeping skills to save my work.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Getting ready to take another trip. October, 1990: Martha's Vineyard, MA

As soon as I got back from Europe, I began preparing for a move to Atlanta. Joe had preceded me to his home. A phone call confirmed that he had been picked up at the airport and was currently receiving medical treatment for his ailments. He sounded slightly better than when I left him on a plane finishing the final leg from our return from Europe. He expressed gratitude when I offered to come down and assist him. He owned several rental properties and maintenance and management of them was considerable. I figured his compromised health would make it difficult for him to keep up with all his duties as landlord. Remembering his recent weakened condition while we traveled in Europe made me feel it expeditious to get to Atlanta as soon as possible. He assured me that he was in a better state than when I saw last saw him and I could take my time getting there.
Apparently he was responding well to medications and I could use some time preparing to move temporally to Atlanta. I was not certain how long I would be away, but the preponderance of AIDS cases worldwide made the outlook gloomy. Furthermore, it seemed once opportunistic infections set in, the time line to the end was not long. But for now it seemed I could afford to gather myself together and not rush off unprepared. I had a wife, daughter and house that would be left behind and arrangements needed to be addressed how they would manage while I was away. Fortunately, our house had no mortgage and only expenses were food and utilities. Amelia had just turned seven and was in second grade. That left Sara enough time to work part-time to cover expenses. I had a little savings to support me while I moved to Atlanta. One snag occurred when Sara’s car “shit the bed.’ That was an expression used to describe a situation that was totally broken down.
Even though that phrase is plenty graphic, I never completely understood its significance until such event happened to me. Many years later after undergoing brain surgery, I was moved to a recovery room and instructed how to call for a nurse when I needed a bedpan. The first time that need arose, I was late ringing and the nurse was slow in responding. Consequently, I let loose a bed load of shit. As I lay there covered in it, I thought, “Hmm, covered in shit and a healing open wound on my head; this cannot be good.” No matter, a nurse showed up and quickly assured me this happens, was normal, cleaned me up, changed my linens, and tucked me back in. So even shitting the bed is not critical. I decided to leave my vehicle for Sara to use and make my first trip by plane. That cut down on the items I would be carrying.
Since it was not critical that I leave immediately, I could visit friends and stock up on spiritual sustenance to carry me through difficult, tedious, and sometimes seemingly unrewarding work. I found Lenny. He had finished carving his totem pole and was now painting a large mural on the side of a fish market. He offered me small work helping him and large encouragement to press ahead with my plan to assist my brother. Many of my friends, most of whom I joined in fellowship in AA, were likewise supporting of my mission. It felt that my financial and spiritual houses were in order so I could make this journey to fulfill a promise to myself.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Getting back home. October, 1990: Martha's Vineyard, MA

The last few days had been grueling for Joe. He seemed mostly in a lot of pain, that only analgesic pain killers would alleviate. He contacted his Medical Doctor, who would begin treatment regime once he returned home. Joe was hopeful the right medication would restore his vitality. Now all we had to do was get to Brussels, board a plane that flew directly to Atlanta after a stop in Boston. The drive from Paris to Brussels seemed to point out Joe’s condition. Three weeks of touring Europe by automobile was taking its toll. Being cramped in a small vehicle was not pleasant for Joe as relief looked as if he needed to lie down. Curled up in the back seat wasn’t sufficient. I began to worry about our being allowed to board a transatlantic flight. I doubted that an airline would want to be responsible for someone in his condition who may lapse into crisis halfway through the flight.
I was beginning to think of the commitment I made to myself to provide care and assistance for him as he faced onset of full blown AIDS. Our flight continued on to Atlanta after stopping over in Boston, where Karen and I deplaned. I inquired might it be possible to purchase the last leg of that trip so I could accompany Joe home. The only way the airlines would allow that was to forfeit my current ticket and purchase a new one. They were not willing to add onto my already booked itinerary. Since buying a ticket on the day of flight was expensively prohibitive, I decided not to accompany Joe home, but return to my home, gather my belongings and drive to Atlanta. After getting to Brussels we booked a hotel and prepared for our flight next morning. As was increasingly happening Joe, stayed in our rooms while Karen and I explored and enjoyed our last night of European adventure.
No amount of walking or sightseeing would alleviate my anxiety about the morning’s boarding procedure. I could not help but entertain the notions of what options we may face should the airlines refuse to board Joe. Karen helped with my concerns by becoming an active listener and assuring me that whatever we had to do she would take a working role and not just board the plane and return home. We managed to get a good nights rest. In the morning we prepared for our flight. Luckily, Joe had a good handle of how his medications worked. We wanted to get enough pain meds into him so that he would not appear in medical crises, but we also did not want to overdue it so that he appeared completely trashed. Joe knew exactly when to pop a pill so that while not in pain, he was also alert and could answer questions. We managed to board without difficulty.
Once aboard, fortune gave us a nod and a wink. Because our flight had contracted to carry a large load of parcels and mail, passenger space was limited. As a result the whole rear section was unoccupied. Once settled in our seats, we were allowed to move Joe to the back and use a row of five seats to create a makeshift bed. Joe looked like he enjoyed a restful flight back and slept most of the way. Joe even stayed in his bed when Karen and I disembarked. We hugged and wished him a good flight. I was impressed how much the scene had reversed from our entry onto a similar plane three weeks earlier when Joe greeted us exuberantly and welcomed us on our trip to Europe.


Friday, July 11, 2008

On the road to Paris, 1990: Fontainebleau, France

The ride from southern France proved grueling for Joe, His complaints of headache were becoming constant and little besides sleep was comforting for him. We pressed on making several stops so he could nap. It seemed motion from travel induced more discomfort. By late afternoon we made Lyon and decided to seek medical help. A kind Doctor at l'Hôtel-Dieu agreed to have a look. Since Joe was not his patient and all his medical records were in the States, he could offer no treatment. However, he kindly provided us with a quantity of analgesic pain medications to alleviate Joe’s discomfort. Once we got Joe at ease, we pressed on toward Paris, a city he particularly wanted to visit.
It was late when we got to Fontainebleau and found reasonably priced, clean and spacious accommodations, a one hour train ride from Paris. As soon as we got settled, Joe called his doctor back home in Atlanta. Apparently he had been tested the day before leaving on our adventure. The results of those tests confirmed his opportunistic infection was fungal meningitis. We instinctively knew that the source of pain in his head was likely due to swelling caused by this infection. We were now most concerned with getting Joe on our return flight back to the states. We still had a couple of days before we were scheduled to leave. Since the pain medication was working, we figured we could more leisurely approach the return leg of our journey. After a day of rest, Joe felt like he could handle a day trip into Paris. For the next two days, we commuted to Paris and Joe got to enjoy many sites he longed to see. We even enjoyed the view from atop the Eiffel Tower.
Even these no stress excursions proved to take a toll. A day in the city would exhaust us. In particular, Joe would need to get back to our hotel for rest. He seemed to be practicing the tightrope walk he would be on as his illness progressed. His time increasingly looked like a balance between intolerable pain and bearable rest. Karen and I were learning to nurse him along until we could get him back home where he could receive medical treatment. His pain was intense enough that he could not hide it. I believed anyone looking at him could tell he was suffering and was concerned that we may be barred from boarding a transatlantic flight. Joe’s condition was bleeding over into our minds, as our thoughts became centered on getting him on a plane back to Atlanta. We discussed how to handle the possibility that we may have to extend our vacation until Joe could get medial clearance to fly.
As best we could, in the evenings while Joe was resting, Karen and I enjoyed the remnants of our European tour in a small town that for eight centuries provided retreat for royalty. Karen purchased for me a haircut. She even came into the hairdresser's salon to take a picture. One of the mementos of our vacation is a photo of me being pampered like royalty by having a gorgeous French woman run her fingers through my hair.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

We're only looking for a place to park. October, 1990 Monaco

Joe was feeling like we should move on. He wanted to see Paris and we had less than a week left. Before leaving Monaco, I decided we should drive up and see the castle. Climbing the hill that went into the old part of town where the castle is located, I missed a sign announcing cars without permits were prohibited entry. We ambled on until we reached the plaza in front of the royal residence. It looked splendid bedecked in black flowers for the state funeral of Stefano Casiraghi, Princess Caroline’s husband. Karen wanted to get some pictures, so we let her out with instructions to stay within sight of this spot while we drove out, reentered, and picked her up on our way back through. She agreed, jumped out and we drove off.
We followed the one-way path back to the entrance. Before we got there we were pulled over by police. They politely informed us that we were not allowed to have our vehicle in this area. Since we were tourists they were forgiving and allowed us to drive out. We continued on to the spot where I saw the sign I missed upon entry. Since we still had to retreive Karen, I decided to reenter with our vehicle and drive back and get her. As we were making our way through the narrow streets, a police vehicle fell in line behind us. Before, we got to the plaza we were pulled over again. Luckily, it was different cops than last time. These ones weren’t so friendly and ordered us directly to leave. They warned us they could be arrest us, but would not provided we drove straight out. To ensure our compliance, they would follow us. I obeyed and crossed the plaza where Karen was waiting for us.
Noticeing us, Karen gave a big wave and set up to take our picture. The police behind us were not understanding about her need to record our adventure. They honked and motioned for us to move along. While Karen was still trying to line up a picture, we scooted away. Once outside the gate, I parked and walked back into Centre Ville to find my sister. No luck, I could not find her, so I returned to our vehicle. There I found Joe being held over the trunk while two officers searched our belongings. I protested that we were looking for our sister. The officers were only concerned about security and informed us that they had already escorted Karen off the hill. We were told we could pick her up on the street that leads down to the harbor. It was also suggested that once we found her we leave Monaco unless we wanted to spend a night in jail. I believed they were serious and after picking up Karen headed directly into France. Karen did get a nice shot of me leaning out the driver’s window with a frantic look about me. Behind me was a police car, with two officers looking impatient.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What a party. September, 1990: München, Germany

It was my turn at the wheel. Deferring to Joe’s request to not use back roads, we hurried down the autobahn from Nürnberg to München. There I decided to take a respite from the highway and explore in a city. We drove around appreciating the sites, when traffic became congested. It appeared some event must be occurring that would draw large crowds. Not only were the streets filled with cars, but sidewalks were teeming with pedestrians all seeming to head in the same direction. We were caught in the flow, until we came upon a large open area that was set up for Oktoberfest.
Instinctively, I made a turn and attempted to leave the area. I had given up drinking alcohol several years previous and did not feel comfortable attending a festival primarily devoted to imbibing beer. Joe had no such strictures and adamantly argued for me to stop the car so we could attend the merriment. I argued to not stop and kept driving . Karen remained neutral. Leaving the area was just as slow as arriving. Before traveling a few blocks, Joe reached from the back seat to the ignition switch, turned the car off, and removed the keys. The car quickly came to a halt with the steering wheel in a locked position. Joe refused me the keys and offered to find a parking place. That settled it; we were going to the party.
For the next couple of hours, we wandered around the grounds. It did not turn out as frightening as I imagined. Sure, beer seemed the focus. Several breweries set up large tent like structures as beer halls. Making their way down outside paths were colorful horse drawn wagons loaded with kegs. Each team of horses was also colorfully decorated, supposedly in theme of its brewery. Once they got to their respective tents, kegs would be rolled off, tapped, beer drawn and delivered to the throngs inside each tent. Not everyone was partaking in consumption of beer, there were many other events and foodstuffs to munch through. It was tiring to jostle with crowds and we wanted to get as far as Berchtesgaden. So ,having our fill of partying, we returned to our car and left town. As it turned out, I was grateful Joe forced us to stop and join in the festivities. It provided us with colorful sights and memories.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Gambling on the Continent. September/October 1990

At the beginning of our trip, Joe seemed well. We traveled to Amsterdam, Joe’s choice, and spent Saturday night taking in city life. The next day, Karen chose to drive us back toward Belgium. On the way we stopped at a small deli type store that sold many foodstuffs battered and deep fried. There were a couple of gambling machines against one wall. While Karen was placing our order, Joe and I tried our luck gambling guilders. The game we were playing resembled slot machines but with a different twist. There were permutations and combinations that paid off in ways in which we were not familiar It did not help that all the instructions were printed in Dutch. On our second roll, to the accompaniment of bells, we won a prize of thirty thousand guilders.
At the current exchange rate we had won the equivalent of eighteen thousand US dollars. We figured that sum would not come out of the machine, but there was some way to print a ticket that could be taken to lottery headquarters and redeemed. Trying to decipher the language that explained how to get this voucher was difficult. Karen bugged us to ask the girl behind the counter. Being American males, Joe and I could not stoop to asking for assistance. Besides we did not want to appear stupid and not hip. In our efforts to try and pry out the winning ticket one of us hit a button that started the wheels to spin again. What we did, was gamble away all our winnings on a double or nothing bet. We immediately confirmed our stubbornness and foolishness. Even this loss did not break Joe’s spirit and he appeared to feel well.
Our next adventure at gambling came in a casino in Lindau Germany on October 3. That day marked the official union of Germany after being seperated following WWII. We had to pay admssion to enter this casino. Obtaining dated passes establishing our presence in Germany during a day of huge celebration. Still smarting from our previous loss to a slot machine in Netherlands, we decided not to gamble on even games we recognized. Instead we spent the day toasting with schnapps that was being passed out everywhere. We figured that we got out as winners since except for he price of admission we came out even. This was a good day for Joe, but he had been having some rough ones characterized by immense headaches.
Our last adventure with games of chance came in Monaco. Joe was not feeling well so stayed in our car napping while Karen and I happened into one of their famous casinos. Karen strolled around playing slot machines. I had a hundred franc bet riding on number 9 at a Craps table. The shooter was rolling a string of passes keeping my bet good. A very smartly dressed man walked up and presented a five hundred thousand franc note encased in plastic. He received a sizeable pile of chips which he began placing on bets. Something about his bearing made me think him an Egyptian arms dealer. I was getting nervous with all that money on the table. I did not pick up my bet, but as soon as it came up a winner, picked up my chips, cashed in, found my sister and walked out. Retrieving Joe we sat at some concrete benches in a park. From slots between each bench we dug out change and bills. Our work as scavengers was more rewarding than gamblers. It helped Joe feel better that we dug up money rather than spin it away inadvertently. His time of not feeling well far surpassed any moments of well being. As his condition slowly slid downhill, I worried about how he would traverse the last week we had left in our European holiday.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Off to Europe. September, 1990: Brussels, BE

Joe embarked on a Sabena Airways jumbo jet in Atlanta. On its stopover in Boston, Karen and I would board. I met Karen at Logan Airport; she had flown from Newark; I had taken a boat/bus from Martha’s Vineyard. Joe had arranged this trip to begin on my birthday. It was an exciting present to be going to Europe for the first time. When the plane arrived, Joe did not have to disembark. Karen and I came aboard. There in the center section, Joe sat beaming and holding onto a helium balloon that announced, "Happy Birthday Rob.” He was sitting in the middle of three seats. His appearance jolted me like a slap. He had lost considerable weight and his facial features were gaunt. Karen and I plunked in the aisle seats.
The ramifications of Joe’s appearance settled in. He had disclosed to us several years previous that we was diagnosed HIV-Positive. Apparently, he was beginning to develop symptoms of AIDS. He was in high spirits and seemed fit to take this trip. Little did I realize this jaunt was a harbinger for the journey we would traverse during the next 15 months. I had not disclosed to anyone, but had promised myself that when Joe got ill, I would make myself available to go to his home and care for him. I was in a position to curtail my endeavors and attend to his, should he need it. Now, however, he seemed fine although he looked a bit haggard. Our focus was on the moment and discover how we would enjoy our time together exploring Europe.
Our only itinerary was to pick up a car in Brussels and use it to explore anywhere we liked. The three of us each had specific ideas for locations we wanted to visit. We had not yet made a detailed schedule for our adventure. During our flight, we arrived at a workable plan. We would alternate days of being driver. The driver was responsible for choosing that day’s destination and securing lodging for the evening. We agreed that one choice could be to stay put. If the driver liked our present location and accommodations, we would stay for another day. This travel style suited my senses in that we could adjust our journey as it unfolded. The others agreed. We arrived, got through customs, obtained our luggage and loaded it into our rental car. I somehow was chosen or coerced my way into becoming first driver. We headed to our first night’s stay in Bruges Belgium.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Hurry Home. August,1990: West Tisbury, MA

The last day of our journey was going to be much like the first. It begins with a ferry ride from an island. This time we are leaving from South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island to Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula. Using a ferry eliminates having to drive around Georgian Bay to get to Southern Ontario. Both Lenny and I agree we will drive straight thru until we get home. This means we will be driving much like our first day on the road-- straight through and a few brief naps. We didn’t reckon on much time or locations to camp seeing we would be using mostly turnpikes. Besides we were sated on our quest for waterfalls so would not feel a need to divert to sit under one. However, we did briefly enjoy seeing Niagara Falls from Rainbow Bridge where we joined throngs of tourists crossing into the States. Again in the crush we got right across without being asked to produce Lenny’s non existent ID.
By evening we made it to Schenectady where we pulled over for a rest. A meal, and AA meeting and hanging out for a bit prepped me to drive the rest of the way through the night. We arrived at Woods Hole ferry terminal around 2:00 AM. That gave us a few hours to nap before the first boat. I would make it home the day before my daughter’s birthday, and Lenny could get to work on the totem pole he promised to carve. The dog days of summer had broken and we would no longer feel an urge to run off seeking releif from heat by looking for a waterfall. I came home with two porcupine necklaces, a braid of sweet grass, and a parcel of memories. Lenny, likewise, brought his own bundle.
No sooner had I walked in the door to my home when the phone rang. I ran over and answered it, My brother Joe was on the line and ordered, “You’ve go to get a passport in a month.” “Yeah, what for,” I queried? “I’m taking you and Karen [our sister] to Europe for your birthday [exactly a month distant.] We’re going for three weeks so this should be enough time for you to get your shit together.” “OK, I can do that,” I agreed. Then I thought, “Well, we got our stuff together in two or three days for this last adventure. A month should be enough time to get what I need to spend three weeks in Europe.” It was good to be home for a bit.


Saturday, July 5, 2008

Completing the circle. August, 1990: Mindemoya, ON

We just spent a night enjoying our first real beds, warm showers, shelter from winds and rain on our trip. It was before light when we arose, got some coffee, and walked over to the western shore of Lake Superior to watch the sun rise from out of the waters. Now the lake was mimicking the Atlantic Ocean that springs the sun upon those living on the east coast of the United States. After reflecting upon our journey and goal to find a waterfall, we were satisfied that our objective was accomplished and grateful that we also got immersed in waters of the spirit. Given our time frame, it now it seemed the point to head back home. Attached to our motel was a restaurant, so before heading out, we enjoyed a prepared breakfast. Afterward, we loaded up our camping gear and resumed our sleeping outdoors adventure.
Having surrendered our original plan to travel to the Canadian Rockies, we now were intent upon encircling Lake Superior. We had begun at the southeastern corner near Sault Sainte Marie and were now about half way around just below the northwestern corner at Thunder Bay. The journey down the Minnesota coast was right along the shore. Like most of our trip we could keep Gitchee Gumee in view. Once we crossed from Duluth, Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin, we were no longer traveling along the shore line. Several peninsulas jut out toward the lake but no road seems to follow the shoreline. Our mission now was to follow the most suitable road heading east and meander over to the coast when it seemed right. Other than that we decided to check out any AA meetings on our route.
It took three days to complete our encirclement. By camping right on the shore we noticed that though it was August, a sharp coldness was in the air. The harbinger of fall was upon us. We could only imagine what it must look like facing north next to this largest body of fresh water in the world. We talked about plans to return in winter to briefly obtain that sight. This would be a dream that circumstances would never allow. A soon as we reached Sault Sainte Marie, we made an impetuous decision to return to Manitoulin Island for a final farewell to a dear place on our journey. We had not even considered that having crossed into Canada again, we faced getting back into the States with no ID for Lenny. We put that out of our minds as we spent another night on Manitoulin Island reflecting on our journey.

Friday, July 4, 2008

We just got back. August, 1990, Grand Marais, MN

By morning, the tranquil lake we set camp next to turned into a raging sea. The crashing of waves woke us in time to avoid getting out tent and gear soaked. A strong wind westerly wind pushed waves onto our eastern shore. We quickly saw an example of Gichigami’s reputation for downing seafarers. Anyone caught out in a small craft thinking they were headed for a peaceful fishing expedition would soon find themselves battling for survival. Even as recorded in Gordon Lightfoot’s song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” a large freighter can quickly be swallowed by these veracious waters. We broke camp and headed up the road with an intention to visit Agawa Rock. This we heard was the site of famous cliff paintings done by an Ojibwa shaman.
When we got there huge seas were still crashing into the base of Agawa Rock sending spray to the height of the cliffs. From our vantage point we could see that the only way to have painted these famous pictographs would be by being suspended from above. We could just imagine a priest dangling over the prepuce to render images of his spirituality that could only be viewed by those out to sea. Lore has it they were drawn executed so the Spirit residing on Lake Superior would bless those traveling upon its waters. Although we were not out upon the waters we felt fortunate that the seas woke with their crashing and thumping before setting upon us. We offered a prayer of gratitude to be observing its boiling waters from a safe and dry vantage. It was still early morning when we decided to press on still not certain if we were traveling all the way to the Rockies.
When we stopped at Terrace Bay for lunch we discovered an answer to our question of where we were headed. After eating, Lenny discovered that his wallet was missing. It contained no money, so that was not an issue. What he was missing was his driver’s license, his only means of identification should it be required to reenter the United States. We decided to renter soon. Our reasoning is that should we be held up, we would rather experience it when we were not pressed for time. I hope to get back to Martha’s Vineyard for my daughter’s birthday--August 21, less than ten days away. Lenny wanted to get back also so he could get to work on his carving project. We both envisioned be held up at a border crossing way out west. We figured if that was to be our fate, let’s get it over with. We decided to cross back into the United States along the boundary waters of Minnesota.
South of Thunder bay we approached the border on a highway that continued our encirclement of Lake Superior. The crossing checkpoint was small, evidently not having to handle lots of traffic. We pulled up expecting to be asked to produce evidence of citizenship and then having to be subjected to an investigation to prove Lenny was a native born Native. The guard asked us our nationality. We both quickly responded, “American.” After answering few questions about the length of our visit to Canada and our purchases while there, we were waved through. We pulled away breathing a sigh of relief that we got away with our criminal act of crossing without ID. To celebrate, we treated ourselves to a motel room with hot showers in Grand Marais, Minnesota. We also decided that our new travel plan was to completely circumnavigate Lake Superior till we got back to Sault Sainte Marie.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Huge gleaming waters. August 1990: Superior Provincial Park, ON

In Ojibwa language manitou means spirit. Manitoulin means spirit island. Our five day sojourn felt spirit led. It was only by chance we arrived and many of our encounters while there seemed to spring up in a most synchronistic fashion. That lead us to believe something unseen was guiding our journey. We set off sensing that the rest of our journey would be likewise directed. We hoped that by heading west the directions for the rest of our trip would become clear. By mid afternoon we were past Sault Sainte Marie and heading to Lake Superior. We stopped at an Indian trading post, so that Lenny could check out some life sized carved figures, some as big as bear or moose. I wandered inside and purchased a cassette tape of Native American drumming.
We were heading directly into late after noon sun listening to our new music tape and feeling very much the presence of the spirit that joined us for our journey. We acknowledged its being there and we felt small giddiness. Lenny was tapping on the dash board accompanying the music and we both broke into a chant. Suddenly as we crested a hill we were greeted by our first view of Lake Superior. Nothing but open water lie in front of us. This majestic scene could very easily been mistaken for the Pacific Ocean. Our music tape had run its course but we continued our chanting and drumming, making a sound track that would accompany such scenery in a larger-than-life movie. As we whizzed over a small bridge something to the right caught my eye.
Just past was a pull over and we parked there, got out and walked back to the edge of the chasm the bridge crossed. To our left we discovered our second waterfall. A narrow but steady stream of water poured from a cliff at least a hundred feet higher than where we stood. It cascaded down into a sizeable pool more than a hundred feet below us. At the edge was large steel cable to grab onto making it safe to peer over the brink. We could see a gorge running the few hundred feet to Lake Superior. After sitting there a while taking in the splendor, we decided to find a camp site along the shore. Several miles further on Lake Superior Provincial Park provided such a setting. We placed our tent a few yards from the shore on a sandy beach. Our spot rivaled any setting on an ocean but this one had the distinct smell of fresh water that the sun set into on a clear calm evening.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rubbing with the natives, August 1990: Manitoulin Island, ON

We had found our spot on Manitoulin for a while. Both Lenny and I wanted to steep in native culture that was widespread there. Unlike the United States, there is no reservation system in Canada. First Nation people are free to congregate in communities of their choosing. On Manitoulin, several different groups lived in separate communities. We visited them all but were especially attracted to one.
In M’ Chigeeng, Chief Raymond invited us to his home. His wife made wonderful fish stew and Raymond entertained with local lore. He was an engaging speaker and held our attention better than any media could have. He also used his speaking ability touring the United States and Canada lecturing youngsters about substance abuse and how it effected lives whether native or not. He held our rapt interest telling how alcohol and drugs had ravished his life and community.
At his home, we met Nancy, a white woman,who several years earlier had visited a far northern outpost-- Moose Factory. She was so taken by its pristine beauty and isolation, she quit her administrative job in the insurance industry and landed work as a cultural liaison with First Nation in Moose Factory. That was four years earlier. Nancy was taking a sabbatical from her work and vist her native culture now with a different prospective. She told me tales of her initiation into native ways and showed me tokens that symbolized her journey. I had long wanted to find sweet grass and gather it from the wild. Nancy told me it grew locally and was tall enough to be harvested. She next offered to take me out to gather some. She showed me the plant and how it must be addressed and asked to offer some of itself to be used by its human brothers. We next made a ritual offering of tobacco as a token to the spirit of the plant we were taking. Nancy then showed me the method of weaving our stalks into a braid. Before we parted, she gave me a necklace she fashioned with porcupine quills.
Lenny spent the day rubbing shoulders with local artists at a gallery that featured local and far flung prominent First Nation artists and their work.. Our trip began when Lenny took on a commission to produce a native sculpture. Here he got to meet and talk with prominent artists who portrayed native themes mostly with an animal subject. We ended up our day at a music and beefier concert at Little Current. Next to here is located the bridge from Manitoulin Island back to Turtle Island. We reminisced how only through chance, we had found our way here, suspended our goal of traveling to the Canadian Rockies, and found a waterfall. It seemed time to press on. We would head west and determine whether or not we would hold to our original goal or come up with a new one.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

We found a waterfall. August 1990, Manitoulin Island, ON

Manitoulin Island lies in Lake Huron, which in turn lies within Turtle Island, a Native name for North America. We camped on a small lake in the middle of Manitoulin. In the middle of that lake were a few smaller islands. Paddling out to one we found within it another small pond. Out in the middle stood a large boulder, yet another island. No doubt, would we venture out to it, another small puddle of water would hold perhaps a pebble. It felt like we were looking into a set of mirrors each providing a deeper reflection of where we stood. Lenny and I both sensed we were on a deep spiritual journey. Manitoulin hosted several First Nation communities. The people here are Ojibwa and we felt very welcomed. We decided to stay awhile and explore for a waterfall.
Our first outing was to drive to the most westerly port--Meldrum Bay. On the way we spotted a crude sign that read, “ Bridal Veil Falls,” and a arrow pointing down a path. There was no parking lot, so we pulled off the road and took a hike. Walking along a path that traversed a level field gave no indication of waterfalls. Out of nowhere appeared a small stream cascading gently over a circular rim to disappear into a gorge. The flow was light and appeared like a semi transparent bridal veil. We climbed down so we could sit in the cool lacey mist. It was only a couple of days ago we expressed our desire to be cooling under a waterfall. After a short grateful break we pressed on westward.
At land’s end we found a small harbor. On a dock was a shelter that offered respite to sailors. It was crowded with seafarers who were laying to before a gathering storm. The skies were blackening and a stiff breeze picking up. Even in the harbor ,boats were being tossed about. We enjoyed a dinner in an inn run by a Hungarian couple, who provided ethic dishes. We enjoyed a good meal in preparation for a sleepless night. Camping was out of the question and only boat owners could stay in the dock shelter. We huddled down in the cab of our pickup and sat under a waterfall of a different nature all night. We were pelted with torrents of water and hail falling down from the heavens. By dawn, the storm blew out. We went in search of a place to spread out our gear to dry and spread ourselves out for a rest.


Blog Archive

About Me, Part One

My photo
Rock Balancing: The Beginning. What began as a journal of my travels took a hiatus when I began to settle in Ithaca NY. In the meantime, I took up the practice of setting rocks to balance. I returned to my blog to begin recording this story

Part, The second

On Easter Sunday Morning, 2008, I made a decision to settle in the Ithaca New York area. At the same time, I decided to continue to post my blog, However, the stories now will come from the archive stored internally. These will be the stories I gathered while on previous journeys and never entrusted to paper. The date of each posting will not reflect the date of the story being related but will mark the date that narrative got inscribed.

Carry wood

Carry wood
33 years later

Part: The third

I took a brief hiatus from my daily blog writing. I did not know the direction it would take. part of me thought I would abandon it. It turns out I missed it. The old title "On the Road Again' is no longer apt. It appears I am settling. The travel stories will age to a point, when I will probably resusitiate them and do something with them. I dusted off some old stories and begin this new series.
Thr first is one was written two years ago. I edited it and begin again a series that is more apropos to someone settling in upper New York State. They are meant to warm, amuse, educate and sometimes inflame.