Sunday, July 31, 2011

There by the grace of God go I…

"I’m from Pittsburgh,” the man said, “and I’m celebrating my eightieth birthday.” He sat on the ground, in the shade under a big hemlock tree. I had placed him in his sixties when I first saw him paddling his canoe up to the carry, a younger woman in the stern. As I watched him exit the canoe and begin to walk his gear up the trail, I modified my estimate upward. He moved with the careful, deliberate gait of someone old enough to have the worry of falling as a constant companion. He wore the rumpled hat of an experienced woodsman, a heavy raincoat and rainpants that seemed too warm for the day, and a thick lifejacket that looked to be brand new. He was softspoken and friendly as we exchanged passing hellos, and my friends and I offered to take his canoe over the carry. Later, we all sat at the other end chatting with the couple. We were working up the energy to haul our last kayak to the final lake on our way out of the woods, and this man and woman - his daughter, we learned - were making ready to put in to the second lake of their trip. They were heading deeper in. He asked where we were from and we told him, going on to exchange the usual information exchanged by campers at canoe carries: the weather, wildlife sightings, the frequency of biting fish, and then he told us where he was from and how old he was. We congratulated him and talked for a few minutes more before wishing them luck. Then, we picked up our kayak and moved on, most likely never to see either of them again, but as we maneuvered our boat over the rocks, roots, and fallen logs, we were all thinking about him. I know this to be true because once out of earshot, all of us voiced our admiration for the man, along with the shared hopes that we would be lucky enough to reach a similar age, that we would be physically able to make such a trip, and that each of us would have a child willing to make the trip with us.

252 days old

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The worst thing she did was flirt with the people behind us…

How do you reward an eight month old who sits through a wedding ceremony for an hour and a half and barely makes a peep?

251 days old

Friday, July 29, 2011

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Violet and I went for a walk today. I showed her the packed clusters of fuzzy red berries on the sumac trees. Together, we examined the fruits of grape vines and baneberry, the former still hard and green but soon to be nearly black, soft and sweet, the latter white and poisonous, but only to us humans. Birds will consume most of the fruits we found, intent on fattening up for the hard months ahead. We passed by the pond, a company of water striders performing on its surface. Their movements caught Violet’s eye, and she stopped her soft speaking to watch, her unblinking blue eyes reflecting the erratic, constant motion at the other end of her gaze. As we walked the meadow path, she reached out and grabbed a handful of yellow flowers - the first goldenrod blooms, and the sight of them was a small sadness. Their appearance signals that the summer is terminal, closer now to its end than to its beginning, no matter what a calendar says. Over the coming weeks, goldenrod blooms will spread and be falsely accused of bringing on allergies (ragweed is the true culprit), and not soon after they will be joined by the purple hues of the field asters, the yellow of the goldenrods and the purple of the asters growing brighter as the grasses brown with age around them. This is what I pictured as I hiked up our hill, Violet on my chest, her first summer half over. Gone is the baby who stayed put, who couldn’t sit or crawl. She is turning into someone else, and there’s no way to know exactly what comes after.

250 days old

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Grover was horrified...

This morning, Violet let Linda and Grandma know that napping was unacceptable to her at that time. She knelt beside her crib bars, gripped one firmly in each hand, and proceeded to shake them back and forth, rattling the entire crib.

249 days old

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Call Me!

I texted Linda on the drive home today, letting her know that I would be getting in late. She texted me back, letting me know that I was grounded and that she missed me. A few minutes later, she sent another text, brief and cryptic: “Call me!” I didn’t notice the text right away, and by the time I called her, nearly a half hour had gone by. She was in the midst of taking apart the crib because she had to lower the mattress. She had put Violet to bed as usual, and Violet cried for a bit, as usual. But then she started to sound more upset than normal, and Linda went in to check on her. She found Violet standing up, hands on the top rail, looking ready to climb on out. I thought there would be more time between crawling and standing.

248 days old

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

From the Camp Journal - part 4

To Violet – Find a friend. A true friend that truly knows you. If you are lucky, you will find one. If you are lucky beyond reason, you will find more than one.

247 days old

Monday, July 25, 2011

From the Camp Journal - part 3

As this camping trip progresses, I imagine Violet here – sitting cross legged in the tent with her books or her toys, roasting a marshmallow on a stick that’s too long or too short (aren’t they always?), paddling her kayak and watching a nearby loon peer below the surface, deciding whatever it is loons decide when they do that.

But I can’t help imagining all the ways she could hurt herself out here. I shudder at some of the things that pop into my head.

And then I tell myself that there’s just as many dangers at home and in the civilized places around it. Stairs instead of rocks. Dogs instead of bears. Stoves and outlets instead of campfires. Sharp corners and hard surfaces are almost always lurking close by, no matter where we might be.

So, I suppose that my future camping trips with Violet will be better, as well as worse, than those without her; better because she’ll be there to take it all in while I get to watch, and worse because the entire time, I’ll hear that terrified voice, screeching silently in my mind every potential danger in our path. The trips won’t be as relaxing, but I’m betting they will be more memorable.

246 days old

Sunday, July 24, 2011

From the Camp Journal - part 2

On previous camping trips with friends, I was always the guy without children. I would listen to my companions tell their stories, the good and the bad, trying to imagine what it must be like and believing to my core that I was glad to be childless, that my time was more my own. But this morning, as we sat eating breakfast around the cold campfire, my friends started telling their kid stories, and I can’t deny feeling more a part of the group. I had been a step removed from them, for better or for worse, and never thought much about it until I had taken that step. I felt a sense of relief (not the right word, but close) upon realizing that I was no longer the childless one around the campfire.

245 days old

Saturday, July 23, 2011

From the Camp Journal - part 1

From July 23-26, I was on a camping trip with friends. I wrote this and the following posts in my journal, writing by headlamp light before turning in for the night or out on the water, trying to write without dropping my paddle or capsizing my kayak:

At tonight, the sun was low on the western horizon. A handful of clouds decorated the sky, arranged and colored artfully as if by some knowing hand. Loons wailed. An owl questioned. We may have even heard a wolf howling. My three friends nearby stood at the lake’s edge, sending out their fishing lines. It was a scene to commit to memory. But what do I recall most of all? Thinking that it was Violet’s bedtime, and it hurt not to be there to kiss her good night.

244 days old

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sad Songs

Violet’s breakfast consisted of peaches and oatmeal, and before I sat down to feed her, I put on the latest episode of my favorite weekly music podcast. Instead of the usual roundup of new music releases, this week’s show had a theme: songs that make you cry. The producers asked listeners to email and call in, telling their personal stories of songs that bring them to tears, and the first one they shared was about a Louis Armstrong tune, a song about New Orleans. The show’s host read an email from a listener who was going to college near New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, and he told of helping to care for the victims in the storm’s aftermath, of watching the city attempt to rebuild itself from the ruins, and how Armstrong’s song embodies the emotional ups and downs of his experience. A touching story, but it did not leave me crying.

The next song surprised me because the song is by a relatively unknown band that Linda and I have loved for the past few years, and the song happens to be one of Linda’s favorites. The host introduced the song by playing the phone message left by the woman who called in her story. I listened to her as I fed Violet. I listened to her sad story, to her voice cracking with emotion, and I started to get misty. Then, Violet started crying. Hard. I pulled her out of her highchair and carried her outside onto the patio where after a few moments, she settled down. I checked her over for injuries, for a too-tight or a dirty diaper, or any other possible reason for her outburst but saw nothing obvious. Was the voice coming through the speakers responsible? We went back inside, and the crying started again, even more intense than before. The woman was finishing up her story, and I carried Violet over to the stereo, switching off the power. Within a minute, she was her smiling self again.

I thought about starting the podcast over again or replaying the section that was on when she started crying, but I didn’t want to set her off again. So, I’m still left wondering about the cause. Did she pick up on the emotion in the girl’s voice? Did she pick up on my emotional response? Maybe it was something simpler – a stray gas bubble or a piece of plastic on the highchair was pinching her. I don’t know, but I’d like to think that it’s one of the former two; that this morning I witnessed a beautiful thing called empathy beginning to grow within my daughter.

243 days old

Hear the show for yourself at All Songs Considered

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Baby Steps / Eight Months Old

Tomorrow is Violet’s last swim class. Her four weeks are up. If you read this blog, then you know that her first class did not go so well. She voiced her displeasure through much of the class, and Linda and I worried that maybe she just wasn’t ready for it. With each class though she seemed to grow more comfortable in the water. Smiles started to appear now and then, but every class still started with her yelling for a few seconds on entering the water. Over the course of the past few weeks, we tried to acclimate her a bit more: I spent an afternoon with her in a friend’s pool and we’ve made frequent use of the little pool on our porch, a gift from her grandparents. At class yesterday, I stepped into the pool and braced for her to start yelling; the water was cold, but no yell came. She just started splashing. I can’t quite put into words how proud I am of her - how enjoyable it is to watch her grow and develop and become comfortable with something that she wasn’t too sure about. I know it’s something small, that it’s the first of many such hurdles that she’ll leap over, some successfully, some not, but watching her in the pool now, maniacally splashing, taking in water and not caring, I can’t wait to see what comes next.

241 days old

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Psst...Are You Sleeping?

Violet woke up at 5:00 AM, as usual. Linda brought her to bed so she could nurse and go back to sleep for at least two more hours, as usual. Only once Violet finished nursing, she didn't go back to sleep. She raised herself up on her hands and knees and started rocking back and forth, a big smile in the dim light. She pulled at my beard and patted Linda's face. How long before we stop finding this cute?

240 days old

Monday, July 18, 2011


Someone asked me recently if I was going to miss writing this blog when Violet’s first birthday arrives just over four months from today. When they asked the question, the first thought to spring forward was, “Hell, no! It’ll be nice not having to come up with something to write every single night.” But I didn’t say that because 1.) I’m shallow enough to want other people to think of me as some sort of writer (and what kind of writer would want to stop writing?), and 2.) I know that it’s just the lazy side of me thinking those words. I dread the “have to’s” in life, but through some quirk of personality or remnant of upbringing, I am constantly putting myself into situations where I “have to” do things. I’m not talking about the paying bills or going to work – those sort of “have to’s” - I’m talking about the extra things, the things I wouldn’t have to do if I didn’t volunteer for them or come up with them myself. I complain, usually only to Linda, which leads to her continually asking, “Why do you do this to yourself?”, and if I was completely honest, I would say that it’s because of the satisfaction I feel when something I “had to” do is done. At least that’s one reason. A writer once said that he hated writing, but he loved having written, and that’s a thought I can agree with wholeheartedly. I don’t like having to write a post every night, but I love clicking that “publish post” button. Most days, if I don’t have something in mind for the day’s post, and the hours go by and night falls, I grow more and more agitated, even though there have been dozens of nights when I’ve sat down with nothing to write - like tonight - and somehow, an idea forms itself from the frustrated fog of my mind. When the writing is done, I feel like a man reprieved - until the next day. So, in answering the question of whether or not I’d miss writing the blog, I didn’t answer with my first thought because I know my first thought wasn’t completely true. I mumbled something about looking forward to having time for other writing projects, but also knowing that in future years, I might regret not having Violet’s second or third year of life documented here. Both of those things are true, but if I had given myself some time to think, I might have said, “I won’t miss the nightly struggle, but I will miss the nightly satisfaction of knowing that what I just did will be there for Violet to look at whenever she wants, even long after I am gone.”

239 days old

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Nocturnal Observations

Most people with kids are - I'm sure - well aware of it, but I am still discovering the joy of watching my child sleep.

238 days old

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why cry?

Violet is unfazed when we leave her with Linda’s parents. Maybe it’s temporary, but for the time being, she takes no notice of our departure beyond a brief glance in our direction. It’s more as if she catches some movement out of the corner of her eye, and she just looks up to make sure it’s nothing worth staring at. So far, my in-laws are the only people who we’ve had baby-sit, and it’s reassuring to know that Violet’s so comfortable with them; I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t want Violet to pitch a fit when we leave. Linda and I purposely don’t make a big deal about it when we do walk out the door, but my question tonight is this: if she’s so composed when we leave, why does she burst into tears when we come back? She could be in the middle of a big smile, sitting on grandpa’s or grandma’s lap, and as soon as her eyes lock onto one of us, her face reddens, the corners of her mouth droop down, her bottom lip shoots out, and the tears tumble down. Linda thinks it is because Violet suddenly realizes that we were gone, but I don’t know. Maybe she’s saying we’ve returned too soon?

237 days old

Friday, July 15, 2011

The pursuit of meaningfulness

Some good advice I'll share with Violet someday, from Toni Morrison's recent commencment speech at Rutgers:
I have often wished that Jefferson had not used that phrase, “the pursuit of happiness,” as the third right—although I understand in the first draft it was “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.” Of course, I would have been one of those properties one had the right to pursue, so I suppose happiness is an ethical improvement over a life devoted to the acquisition of land, acquisition of resources, acquisition of slaves. Still, I would rather he had written life, liberty, and the pursuit of meaningfulness or integrity or truth.

I know that happiness has been the real, if covert, goal of your labors here. I know that it informs your choice of companions, the profession you will enter, but I urge you, please don’t settle for happiness. It’s not good enough. Of course, you deserve it. But if that is all you have in mind—happiness—I want to suggest to you that personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice, that’s more than a barren life, it is a trivial one. It’s looking good instead of doing good.
236 days old

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to make sure you don't get asked to do something again...

Violet's swimming lesson ended. It had been Linda's turn in the pool, so she went off to change and I was in charge of getting Violet out of her swimsuit, dried off, and into a dry outfit. Linda had picked out a sporty yellow dress with undershorts that cover the diaper, and I had an extremely hard time getting those shorts onto Violet. She was great about it, putting up with my struggling without too much fussing - just a few whines to let me know she wasn't enjoying the procedure. I wondered if the shorts were too small, but finally, I managed to get them on her. When Linda returned from the changing room, I mentioned my difficulties. She took one look and pointed out where I went wrong.

 235 days old

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Milestone - a really, really big milestone

Tonight, I took a big step forward in my fatherhood journey. I did something that, before Violet came along, I never thought I would do. Even after Violet arrived, it was something I didn't realize I would have to do until my recent trip to the Adirondacks. I sat in my tent, thinking about the future, and this thing occurred to me - this big step that I would have to take. So, I made a note of it in my journal to ensure that I wouldn't forget. Last night, I got around to looking over my entries from the trip, and that one sentence reminded of what I had to do. So, tonight, I did it. I started my search for a three person tent.

 234 days old

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Like the First Time, Only Better

We sat on the porch as the sun went down, Violet sitting in her high chair, up past her bedtime, and Linda said, "I used to think that a baby would limit what we could do, and now I look forward to doing everything we've ever done, but now we get do it all over with Violet."

233 days old

Monday, July 11, 2011

And Another Thing...

So, Violet’s doing this strange thing where she opens her eyes wide, pushes her arms down, bunches up her shoulders, and open-mouth grimaces as if she’s trying to break something with all her baby-sized might (see the pictures below). She’ll also do it when she’s holding something – a toy, a book – trying to squeeze it into oblivion. Often, there is grunting involved. She looks like she’s getting ready to transform into the Hulk. She started doing it over the past few days, and when I first noticed it, I immediately thought, “Oh my God, it’s a facial tic,” and mentally prepared myself to call the ER, but I’ve experienced enough students with tics to know that this behavior didn’t fit the description. So, I’m left to my imagination to label this thing -  anger issues? A desire to destroy everything in reach? Possession? Or maybe it’s just a baby being goofy.

232 days old

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Selective Listening

A few weeks ago, a fierce thunderstorm hit in the middle of the night. Lightning struck so close that it shook the house and woke me from a sound sleep. Violet didn't stir.

Linda runs the vacuum, our cats chase each other and knock things over, the TV blares, music plays, and Violet sleeps through them all.

So why then does she wake from a sound sleep at a mere whisper when Linda and I are trying to have some "alone" time?

231 days old

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Where I've Been and Why

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Forgive me for the delay in posting, but for the past several days I’ve been away. I was on a trip I take at the end of every school year, ever since Herb died in 2007. Herb Burgasser was, for an all-too brief time, my best friend and mentor, and if not for him, my life would be on a completely different path. Our first camping trip together was to the Bog River Flow in the Adirondacks, one of his favorite paddling spots in the park, and I return alone there every late June or early July to spend some time communing with him.

One thing I now regret about Herb’s too soon-passing is that Violet will never get to meet him, hear his stories, laugh at his antics (Linda often referred to him as “impish”, and I’ve never met anyone who better fit that word), or be influenced by him. So, it’s up to me to give her some picture of this man who had such an influence on her father. A good place to start is with a letter I wrote after Herb died. Gerry Rising, who writes the weekly nature column in the Buffalo News, contacted me and said he was writing a piece about Herb. He wondered if I could provide any background. After much mental hand-wringing and many stops and starts, this is what I came up with:

Since receiving your email, I’ve tried to formulate a list of “best Herb memories” in my head, but I’m afraid that they’ll either be too long or too difficult to relate to for your readers, especially for those who never had the pleasure of meeting Herb personally. So, after too much procrastinating, I’m sitting down to just type up what comes to mind and, I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’ll leave it to you to sort out what might be suitable for a newspaper article. Feel free to cut or throw out whatever you see fit.

To begin, imagine being led through a Florida swamp long after dusk. Herb is in the lead, guiding the group in a search for night sounds. Herb’s identifying noises, sharing stories of the wildlife and the ecology of the surrounding landscape, and suddenly he stops, pointing up ahead with quiet enthusiasm. He whispers to you, asking you to shine your light up ahead and there, poking out from behind a massive stump, is what looks to be the last few inches of an alligator’s tail. Not a large one, but a baby, no more than a few weeks old. He whispers again, pointing out how the yellow striping reveals its young age and he instructs the group to stay still; that he’s going to get closer. You can’t help but wonder if he’s lost his mind, but there’s no denying the intensity of the moment. Herb inches his way forward, and the group is so focused that no one makes a sound. Somehow, the baby gator doesn’t move and now Herb is right behind it. A few people in the group gasp as Herb reaches out for it. He’s going to pick it up! As his fingers close on the tail, his whole body gives a sudden jerk backwards and he lets out a scream. The group around you erupts into chaos, some shrieking, some stumbling back, some rushing forward to help Herb, who is now rolling in the shin-deep water, struggling with something unseen. When the first person reaches him, he promptly stands up, and with a wide grin, holds up the rubber alligator he had planted in this spot earlier in the day. Everyone is silent for a moment, staring, before Herb’s grin and the awareness of what just happened spreads from person to person, followed by much laughter.

In remembering that story, one thing strikes me. There are many people who, if they tried such a stunt, would end up upsetting the group. Herb, on the other hand, was one of those people that had the perfect mixture of mischief and charisma needed to pull it off and get exactly the kind of response he wanted. He wanted to give his students, whatever age and background, an experience they would not forget and one that was tied to the environment around them. He was not a naturalist who would drag a group through the woods, spouting facts (what some naturalists call a “drag and brag”). Herb instinctively understood, more than any teacher I’ve known, the power of a playful experience as a teaching tool, and his sense of humor made every walk an enjoyable, memorable experience. You can talk facts all day long, but most people won’t remember more than a few scraps. Herb believed that you needed to show them a good time while they learn, and then there’s a better chance they’ll be inspired to learn more on their own - to begin teaching themselves, and isn’t that the goal of any good teacher?

Herb was so lovable, knowledgeable, and funny that you couldn’t help but want to be like him – to know what he knew and to have a connection to the natural world like he did. At his memorial service back in July, one man put it well. He said, “I always knew there were men like Herb and Sandy (co-owner of Earth Spirit) out there – men who lived the way I knew I wanted to, but until I met them, I didn’t know how.” The same goes for me. I always knew I wanted to connect more deeply to nature, but I never thought I could be a teacher. Then, I met Herb and Sandy. Herb patiently, and with very little direct “instruction,” showed me how – by teaching myself and especially through teaching others. I still struggle with it, but I often ask myself, “What would Herb do in this situation? How would he handle this group of students?”

It’s difficult to know what else to include and what to leave out. It should be said that Herb was a storyteller of the first order. Whether it was for education or pure entertainment, Herb could charm any group into rapt attention with one of his stories, either personal, a folktale, or something made up on the spot.

He was original in how he approached problems. After buying land in the Adirondacks, hoping to turn it into an educational camp for Earth Spirit, he ran into legal obstacles with the state. The maze of contradictory restrictions and zoning laws prevented him from building anything usable “on the land.” So, what did Herb do? He designed and built a tree house, complete with a propane stove and refrigerator, as well as a clear, Plexiglas roof for star gazing!

Some other “career” accomplishments:

• Designed and implemented a program for Native American teens through Daemen College, working with the students throughout the year on ecological field research, community-based education on the Tuscarora Reservation, technology integration, and more.

• Almost single-handedly envisioned and designed the rebuilding of the old 4H Camp in Sardinia, turning it into Earth Spirit’s bustling environmental education camp “The Woodlands.”
• Inspired and co-designed the successful string of public “ecology expeditions” to the Florida Everglades and Algonquin Provincial Park.

If you’re going to write something about Herb, it is essential that you talk to Sandy Geffner, Herb’s friend and business partner of 30 years. Sandy would be able to shed so much more light on Herb’s accomplishments over the years (I've known Herb only since the mid 90s). The same should be said for Scott Lembitz, naturalist and the new co-director of Earth Spirit. Scott was Herb’s closest friend over the past few years and now lives in Herb’s house in the Boston Hills.

Even as I wrap this up, it seems that I’m leaving out so much. It seems impossible to me to encapsulate someone like Herb in words, but I’m sure a better writer such as yourself will do an admirable job.

Take care,
Bill Michalek
So, the letter is a start. I put it here with the hope that Violet will see it and read it. I hope she’ll read it many times, and combined with the other stories I tell her and the pictures I show her, and the stories she hears from our friends who knew Herb well, she’ll grow into an understanding of how unique this person was and the important part he played in my life. I hope she’ll ask me to tell her more about Herb and never grow tired of me asking her, “Did I ever tell you about the time Herb…?”

230 days old

Find out more about Earth Spirit

Friday, July 8, 2011

Pilgrimage - Part 4

Violet’s grandmother told me that when I returned from my trip, I’d be telling everyone how different Violet looked - how much she’d grown and how much I’d missed. I didn’t expect it to be true, but yesterday, when I topped the stairs and turned to look next to our kitchen table, there was Violet sitting in her high chair, waving her arms up and down, babbling, and assaulting her toy flamingo. She saw me and froze. A quizzical look passed over her face, and I stared back; a very surreal feeling came over me. Violet didn’t just look different, she looked like a different baby, a different person. For the briefest second, I wondered if I’d come into the wrong house. This was followed with the terrifying thought (which for some reason had not occurred to me while I was away) that Violet might have forgotten who I was. She let out a few, hesitant whines, and then, a wide smile blossomed in what I hope was recognition. I gave Linda a good kiss hello, and then picked up Violet. She kept looking to Linda for the next several minutes, as if for confirmation that this smelly, hairy person was who she thought I might be. I had to keep holding her out and taking in another view of her, as if my brain needed to confirm that this larger and more dexterous baby with the bigger personality was indeed my baby. I didn’t realize how much I missed her, or how much I missed, until I came back.

229 days old

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pilgrimage - Part 3

Up before dawn

Paddle through twilight and mist

Beach the boat

A Bald Eagle

Another early riser

Glides high over glass

I turn up the trail

Up the cliffs

Clearing the trees

Just as the sun does the same

on the eastern horizon

I read my letter

To my friend

Perform my small ritual

And lay back on the rock

To think and watch

The clouds below the clouds

Sliding through the valleys

And down our river

228 days old

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pilgrimage - Part 2

 “May there not come one glorious day in the weary year when we may cast aside every grief and desperate care and invite the soul to a day of rest?”
Those lines, written by Adirondack writer George Washington Sears (who gave himself the most awesome of pen names – Nessmuk), seemed written just for me as I read them today. I was in my tent, engaged in my own day of rest, looking out on woods, water, and mountains, and doing nothing but reading, writing, and thinking (and eating). I read those words, and it struck me that this simple notion is not something on which it’s easy to follow through. I know, for me, most vacations (supposedly times of “rest") descend into a checklist of all I need to see and do – enjoyable, but rarely restful in the true sense of the word. A day of rest at home is not really a day of rest, either, because of the million and one distractions - dishes that need to be done, a pile of mail to go through, yard work, phone calls. Removing oneself from daily haunts is an essential piece to achieving the peace that I’m aiming to find.

I take this trip each year not only to reconnect with an old friend, but to return to a certain state of mind; it is a resetting of myself. For me, and I think for most people, it’s something best done alone. Someone once said that time spent alone is time well spent, and I can vouch for that. I return from these trips a better friend, father, husband, and teacher.

The idea of an annual time of rest is something I will pass on to Violet because as Sears went on to say:
“And in the future, when the days of trouble come, as they will come, I shall remember that grand day of rest…wherewith I was comforted.”
227 days old

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pilgrimage - Part 1

It is different. Everything about this trip has a new layer to it. This is my fourth year doing this – making my pilgrimage to spend time with Herb – and once here, I fell into a familiar routine – stopping at certain points along the river to admire the view or to take in the silence, setting up camp, cutting wood, building a fire. All of it had a familiarity that was comforting. As in years past, each step led to a memory of Herb showing me how to do it, but this time, I can’t help thinking of camping trips with Violet. I picture myself showing her how to build a one-match fire, just as Herb showed me - to start with fine tinder - the tiny branchlets from the dead, lower limbs of evergreens. They make a certain sound when you snap them that tells you they’re dry enough. I’ll show her how to collect pencil-sized branches next, then some the size of your wrist, then others as big as your arm, how to arrange them – to know before you strike it where the match will be placed and to know how the fire will spread through the dwelling you’ve created for it.

But will I take Violet on this particular trip each year, or will I keep this one for Herb and me? Whatever I decide, as far as this year is going, she’s here as much as Herb is.

226 days old

I missed Violet's second swimming lesson today. Linda texted me and told me that Violet did much better!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Violet’s trip to the "Pignic" at Farm Sanctuary in Watkin’s Glen

Ready to go:

In the Sheep Barn:

Violet meets Chauncey:

In the Pig Barn:

In the Cow Pasture:

225 days old
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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Would prying them open be bad?

Some mornings upon waking, Violet starts to cry. It’s more yelling than crying – no tears – but it’s loud and she’s definitely upset. We talk to her - softly, loudly – it doesn’t matter, telling her that we’re right there, that she’s okay, but she goes right on yelling. The strange part is her eyes are closed. Shut up tight, and she usually keeps them closed for about 30 seconds, sometimes a minute, before opening them up. Once she does, she calms right down, and it’s all smiles. It’s not her diaper, because there are plenty of mornings when her diaper feels like an overripe peach, and she couldn’t care less. Is a bad dream behind it? If so, why won’t she open her eyes? Any theories?

224 days old

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Afternoon Aquatic

Violet did better today. In the pool, I mean. After an unhappy first-time-in-the-water at swimming lessons on Thursday, she had a chance for further emotional scarring today in a friend’s pool, but the water today was much warmer, warm enough that I almost didn’t feel it when I got in it. She whimpered as I submerged her feet, and yelled a bit when I lowered her in up to her waist, but after that, she went back and forth between a furrowed brow that seemed to say, “I’m concerned,” and a furrowed brow that seemed to say, “I’m curious,” interspersed with brief smiles and crinkly eyes. She explored the water, above and below, with her hands, and readily accepted the water toys handed her by the other adults and kids. She probably chewed on them more than she should have and ingested more pool water than is acceptable, but she was a baby having (mostly) a good time. I’m hoping that her next swimming lesson will go better because of it. We stayed in the pool for almost an hour, until her tiny fingertips were pruny, and then she was done – tired and ready to go home. Thanks to my friend Nate for inviting us and to his sister Noel and her family for being wonderful hosts.

223 days old

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Sight for Poor Eyes

If, like me, you’re cursed with severe nearsightedness, then you know that waking up in the morning can be a disconcerting event. If, like me, on most mornings you have to be out of bed and getting ready to go somewhere by a certain time, then you know that waking up and checking the time to see if more sleep can be had is not a simple matter of glancing at the clock. It involves fumbling for glasses on the nightstand, and they’re never in the spot where you put them the night before - never. Somehow, they’re on the floor, wedged deep between the bed and the nightstand, or they’re behind the lamp, only a few inches from where you thought, but for the nearsighted, they might as well be in another room. So, on many mornings, I lay in bed, my eyes not completely open and not completely closed, and I wonder what time it is, trying to gauge it by the blurry light seeping in around the blurry curtains, hoping I have more time to sleep, and putting off the fumbling for the glasses.

But this morning, I did not have anywhere to be by a certain time. I could sleep in. So I nestled in, waiting for sleep to return. I looked over to check on Violet, who we bring into our bed for her 5:30 feeding, and I saw she was awake, staring without expression up at the ceiling. She was holding her feet up, one hand on each foot. She turned and looked at me, only a few inches away – close enough for me to see, and a magnificent smile spread across her face. I’ll take that moment to my grave.

222 days old