Monthly Archives: June 2012

On The Road Again

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“How’s the packing coming?” My husband asks.

In a few days we will drive to the airport, board a plane and in due course arrive in Barcelona. Barcelona! The name itself is music. I can already hear the strum of guitars, see the flamenco dancers and the murmur of the sea…

“Have you packed your rain gear?” Continues the love of my life, eyeing his own orderly suitcase with what I consider overly smug satisfaction. No, not yet I haven’t, nor have I found the little folding umbrella which, I could swear, was right here in this closet the last time I checked. There are so many things to think about, and my suitcase already looks half full.

There are many travelers who calmly and methodically pack their bags and are ready to jump on a plane at an hour’s notice. I am not of this breed. For one thing, there are my medications. In the old days I traveled without this pharmacy which now follows me like the shackles around Marley’s ghost. There are at least twenty bottles filled with prescription and non prescription drugs. And I haven’t even begun to think about what I’m going to wear.

When I was younger, traveling was so easy.  All I needed was a change of clothes and a toothbrush—and if I forgot the toothbrush, who cared? I could easily pick one up wherever I landed. Those were the days, I think somewhat sourly. Youth anticipates pleasure while age seeks to ward off possible disaster. Youth steps forward brightly, full of optimism and the certainty that there are limitless pleasures in the world and an endless number of years in which to enjoy them.

Far away countries

I will visit you some time…

Maybe tomorrow!

These days I am much more aware of pitfalls and of the passing of years. Like a snail, I carry my travel experiences on my back and, yes, I remember the mishaps and pack accordingly. I was sick I was on travels some years back, so I must add antibiotics (and probiotics) to my personal pharmacy. There was also the time when my reading glasses broke just as we boarded the plane to Rome, and the mismatched pair of the only dress shoes I’d packed for a cruise, and the time when that bottle of perfume broke inside the suitcase…

But though my snail-shell is noisy with foreboding, it stores remembered delights too.  Through the years we have had so many wonderful adventures abroad. What will I learn this time in the world away from my home? What interesting people will we meet? Will there be that heart-stopping moment of pure joy when I see the sun rise over a new and fabled land? In the end, anticipation overrides everything.

What sights still unknown

Await us at journey’s end?

Hurry- time passes!

The body may be older, but the heart is still young and hopeful and ready for adventure. So we will take to the road again— aging gypsies, perhaps, but wayfarers just the same. And though conditioned by the passing years to be wary of the curveballs that life can throw, I still hope and believe that joy will meet us on our journey and greet us at journey’s end.

So, now… where did I put that umbrella?

“The Voyage”

Dad and Sydney Carton

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Last Sunday was Father’s Day, a busy day for the fortunate amongst us who still can hug their fathers, a day of recollection for the rest of us. For some the memories are recent and shadowed by loss while others treasure precious moments untarnished by time. And in this way I remember my father.

Lifted in your arms

            Watching the moon rise higher…

            Wrapped warm against cold.

It’s said that opposites attract. My mother was full of energy—Dad was laid back, easy going. My mother loved flowers and gardening—Dad would not have been able to tell a rose from a turnip. Both of them were courageous people, but while Mom would have faced an invading army without flinching, Dad would have made sure that there was a Plan B in the works.

As early as I can remember, Dad read to us in the evenings. His choice of books was not the literature to which Uncle Harry introduced me but ranged more to Peter Rabbit and Cinderella. Later, these morphed into adventure stories—the more imaginative the better. Soon, he, my mother and I were taking turns reading King Solomon’s Mines, The Three Musketeers and The Count Of Monte Christo. Dad would always get involved in what he was reading, and I loved the way he would chuckle during D’Artagnan’s exploits or get choked up over Tiny Tim’s death. On occasion he would become outraged over injustices and inaccuracies.

           Tale Of Two Cities was a pet peeve. “What nonsense,” he would snap when we got to Sydney Carton’s iconic last lines. “Why would anyone want to get himself killed to help his rival in love?”

“It’s a story,” Mom would point out, peaceably. “He hadn’t done much with his life, you see. It was a noble gesture for Sydney to sacrifice himself for his love.”

Dad would produce something that sounded like a snort. “Foolishness if you ask me. He could have changed his ways, couldn’t he? Made something of himself? Helped Lucy and her family in every possible way? But no, he had to take the easy way out.”

Mom invariably pointed out that it was hardly easy to go to the guillotine, but Dad did not retreat. “I might do the same thing for you, Jo, but I certainly wouldn’t put my head on the block for some chap who looked like me!”

Oddly enough, it was to my practical father that I would take my problems. Situations which I would not have discussed with anyone, not even my mother, were  often hashed out between us. He could keep a secret and knew when to listen without interrupting, and his advice, seldom given, always provoked thought. Once at a friend’s wedding, he shook his head over the somewhat pompous groom. “Always marry someone with whom you can talk about anything,” he advised me. “That’s most important. The rest—money, position—doesn’t wear as well.”

My father lived a long, happy life and died in his sleep at the age of eighty. I was a continent away when it happened, and I still remember being left with a sense of unreality. Dad, I remember thinking passionately, is still alive. Surely, he was.  He was reading his newspaper and shaking his head over the business column or re-reading A Tale Of Two Cities and waxing indignant over Sydney Carton’s idiocy. Any minute now, he’d look us, see me, and smile. He was alive.

And in all ways that matter, he still is.

When I think of him,

            There is that remembered smile…

            Never forgotten.

           

“Lily Fan” wallhanging

Traveller’s Baggage

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With the passing of Ray Bradbury, science fiction has lost one of its giants. I met him once when he came to Redlands University during Author’s Week. Unassuming, funny, down to earth, he inspired me to read everything that he had written—and when I came to The Martian Chronicles, I was enthralled with those golden-eyed people who had voices like music and with their crystal cities that soared to the sky!

I thought of Bradbury the other day when I heard about the plan to begin a settlement on Mars. A Dutch start-up company has announced Mars-1, a completely non-political project that hopes to send settlers to Mars. The ‘let’s send people to colonize Mars’ movement is hardly new, but Mars-1 is serious: it’s projected that in 2012 unmanned spacecrafts will be sent to the Red Planet so that robots can set up living quarters for four people. These space pioneers are slated to leave in Earth in September 2022 and after a 7-month long voyage, they will land on Mars.  Every two years, more space-pioneers will arrive on the Red Planet, but no one will ever return home to Earth. Their tickets are for one way only.

Incredible, I thought, Oh, brave! These people would be willing to leave the earth and everything they knew behind. Those that they knew and loved would never shake their hands or hug them again. Oceans would be replaced by red dust. Mountains, green in spring and golden in the fall would be replaced by the arid Martian hills. The warmth of the sun would turn cold and the air thin. Instead of our Moon, there would be two smaller satellites in the Martian sky. When they died, these Martian settlers, they would be buried far away from home.

In the cold night sky

            Would eyes seek distant light

            Of the home once loved?

Such sacrifice! And yet, there is precedent. The men and women (and children) who made that historic voyage on the Mayflower knew that they were leaving behind everything they knew. They knew even less about the strange land they hoped to reach than the space-travelers of our century. The early pioneers realized that they would never come home again, that their loved ones would never see—or, likely even hear—from them again.

To say last farewells

            To hold each other once more…

            But– the promised land.

As a species we are dreamers and adventurers who need to seek out what we cannot understand. That is why scientists experiment and theorize, why writers create people and worlds that become real to those who read their books, and why artists shape paint or copper or marble to share a part of their personal vision. Now, our vision is turning toward Mars, and someday it will extend beyond Mars to Jupiter’s moons, or to the end of our galaxy. Perhaps future generations will find the galaxy as small as  this electronic generation finds the earth today. Imagine skyping Europa, or sharing a great grand child of facebook with someone orbiting Neptune!

This is a good thing… isn’t it? Well, sure. But just as our curiosity and yearning for adventure has sent us into the unknown, there’s also that other and less pleasant motivation… greed.

Columbus couldn’t have ferried his ships across the unknown ocean were it not for Isabella’s desire for the riches of the East. Ponce de Leon and his ilk were not motivated by anything but a lust for wealth and conquest. So, have we changed in a few hundred years? When we reach for the stars, will the quest for knowledge and the hope for a new home be the sole inspirations for our space pioneers? Will there be other, less pleasant incentives?

Those who plan Mars-1 doubtless have the best of motives, but what of the future? Will there be conglomerates interested solely in mining precious ore from distant worlds? Wealthy businessmen who want to exploit the riches of another planet? A reprise of the gold-rush, this time to the stars?

So—perhaps  it’s not going to depend so much on what these first space pioneers are willing to leave behind but on what human beings are going to carry with them into those brave new worlds.

 

“Birth Of a Star”

Those Unsatisfactory Endings

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There is a grasshopper sitting on my dinner-plate dahlia. It seems quite content sitting on that expanse of pink petal, and as I watch it, Aesop’s fable about the Ant and the Grasshopper comes to mind.

You know the one I mean—the Ant toils all year long to fill his home with food while the feckless Grasshopper fritters away his day singing and dancing and making merry. All is well while the sun warms the earth, but then winter comes…

When I first heard the fable, I understood its lesson: work hard and be rewarded; be idle and suffer the consequences. Still, I felt sorry for the Grasshopper and thought that the Ant could have been a little more compassionate and considerably less self righteous.
In fact, I had issues with many things I read— including Hans Christian Andersen’s beautiful stories. The Little Mermaid, for instance, set my teeth on edge. Why, I would demand of my parents, my uncle, and anybody else who was around to listen, did the Prince have to be such an idiot? He should have realized that it was the Little Mermaid that he loved, the Mermaid who would rather die than hurt him. My mother agreed with me and said that life could be cruel, sometimes. My Uncle Harry suggested, “Rewrite the ending.”

I did. I also composed different endings for other stories. In my version, the wolf did NOT devour Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother but was cajoled into eating her good cooking and eventually became a household pet.  Rumplestilskin didn’t tear himself in two (an impossibility, I felt,) but went on a long journey to the moon where he had arguments with the Man In the Moon. The Little Match Girl did not freeze to death but was taken in by a kindly old woman who had no children of her own.

Fiction needs to mirror life, yes, and good fiction must be true and honest. The world can be brutal and evil, and terrible things need to be told and exposed. I know this and admire the writers who can portray such things. They are brave, their vision is keen and true.

But today when I look at this small dash of green against my dahlia, I can’t help rewriting the Aesop fable. In my version, the Ant warns his Grasshopper neighbor of dire and awful consequences if he doesn’t keep his nose to the grindstone. “Work or starve,” says the Ant, and the Grasshopper feels chastened. He has good intentions, and he does try… but he has a poetic soul and look, the world is beautiful! There is the music made by the trees and the song of the birds, and there is the intoxicating scent of spring flowers followed by the liquid gold of the summer sun.

How can anyone work continuously under such circumstances? So the Grasshopper dances with the fireflies at dusk and by day conducts the cicada orchestra. He rejoices in the rain and thrills to rainbows. At night, under a canopy of summer stars he dreams, and perhaps he writes a poem or two in a grasshopper-ish way:

Sun’s warm on my back

            The world is gold  with plenty…

            Joy! Joy! all is well!

Meanwhile, the Ant is toiling every minute of every day. He hasn’t seen the sun for weeks and doesn’t care to. The stars? He has no idea what they are. Songs? Pish! who has time for singing? His back hurts, and he suspects he has lumbago and sciatica, too, and his arches have fallen. Never mind… another grain of sugar, another leg of beetle, another bit of leaf needs to be added to his hoard.

Then comes Autumn, and the Grasshopper watches the leaves blaze and then fall to the ground and sings an ode he has written for the occasion. The world is so beautiful that it almost hurts him to see its loveliness, and he takes it all deep into his small green heart. But then, snow falls…

Now, this is my version, so purists are allowed to sneer. The Grasshopper, stricken with fear and cold, creeps to the Ant’s house and knocks. At first the Ant refuses to open, but then he relents and lets his pitiful neighbor in. And all through that long winter the Ant shares his food and the Grasshopper realizes that his friend does have a point: work is necessary in order to eat. In return for the Ant’s hospitality, the Grasshopper teaches songs and tells stories that enthrall his host. He even teaches the Ant to dance! Both learn to accept and appreciate each other’s different ways of looking at the world, and both learn the value of a real friendship.

Now, really, isn’t that a better ending—and a kinder lesson?

And so we clasp hands…

            Though we do not share each dream,

            We’re forever friends.

 

 

watercolor, “Spring Garden”