Saturday, February 25, 2012

Of laying rubber and cast iron bathubs

Laying rubber is a minor mystery. Why is it so very satisfying? It starts when we're on bicycles and moves up the vehicular and hormonal food chain. A bath tub actually got me thinking about it. Here's why:

A few days ago, my boss graciously loaned out his appliance dolley to a fellow who wanted to move a refrigerator. The following day, even though the dolley probably had not been out of its cocoon for years, it was suddenly indispensable to the second floor bathroom renovation we had underway. Unfortunately, the fridge moving guy had gone on an apparently spontaneous roadtrip to a museum of medical oddities in Philadelphia.

Not knowing this and looking for the guy at one possible work site, we got the van stuck for the first time in a seemingly perfectly level and firm area. We two shiftless plumber's helpers then set out up the Crabtree Point Road and eventually found Doug, who brought a stout John Deere tractor and made short work of yanking the van onto a more suitable passway.

The next morning, the three of us got started on moving an extremely obstinate and dense cast iron tub. The only notable difference between the new tub and the spotless, pristine cast iron clawfoot tub that came out of the house was that the new unit was as much heavier as it was unattractive. Being a Y chromosome bearer, I can definitely say the clawfoot had it all over the new model in terms of picturing the lines and curves of both bath and bather. Like trading a Mustang for one of those dismal boxy things that tries to be a utility vehicle and station wagon and sedan.

At any rate, the clawfoot had come down the stairs with as much relative elegance as one could expect from any large piece of cast iron, at least when compared to a much clunkier piece going up.

Now we had to get the new one in, and really needed the dolley. Being from Matinicus, I had the practical, but felonious suggestion that we go and see if the door was unlocked where the dolley was most likely to be found and then enter, take the item and exit.

The next morning, my boss realized that a come-along and a block of wood were necessary to ensure victory and tried to leave. The van was not so anxious for a productive morning and allowed as to how she'd stay right there, thank you very much. Rex had had enough of the delay, so after myself and the other helper pushed her to the roadway, Rex proceeded to lay a good hearty fifty or so foot patch of rich black rubber on the road in the otherwise tranquil Pulpit Harbor neighborhood.

I could feel his satisfaction. By 4 PM Friday, the tub was in place. It really did take 3 of us. And Dolley.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Far Greenland and Near Misses

Time makes you bolder and children get older. -Stevie

You can do everything right: vitamin C, exercise, spiritual health and meditation, handwashing, and still get the cold.

Lots of resources suggest we are somehow also master of our emotional state, and should manage strong internal tides that come over us. Refocus, meditate, breathe, take control. Sure. For me, I may as well try to will away this cold. I can keep fluidated, get plenty of rest and whole food and supplements, but the cold will move on more or less when it pleases. So it is with the emotional currents, I am thinking.

One remedy for such symptoms is to listen to folks like Captains Rick and Karen Miles of the Wanderbird, and drink in their couple hundred slides of ice, Inuits, polar bears, belugas, Greenland villages with vividly colorful houses, fish drying racks, more ice, broad daylight at 3 AM and other wonders. There were photos of Capt. Karen cutting fish, welding and having a very high lattitude dunk. I've done the New Years dip on Matinicus, (secret being run fast enough so you can't change your mind) and I'm betting it was warmer than high summer off the Greenland coast. There were pictures of Capt. Rick being joyfully piled on by kids and sled dogs. Both captains had an intimate familiarity with the nature and culture of that environment.

One thing that struck me about the villages was how the only other place I've ever seen houses and shops so organically placed around the shore, and having no lanes, roads, property boundaries or other structure, is of course, around Matinicus Harbor. I'm sure there are other places where ledge, tide and hungry people intersect, but the resemblance was striking in these shots.

The Miles also talked about how in high latitudes, they have hunter's markets as we have farmer's markets. The produce is fresh and utterly non industrial. There are still many in Greenland and Labrador who closely interact with their environment for sustenance.

Taking all this in was a nice break from my seemingly endless preoccupation with this winter of great excitement, a sweet new island community, and great challenges all mixed in. I don't remember any stretch of time where external circumstances and internal emotions were so intense for such a duration. If it ain't one thing, it's something else. The ride is wild and fast and full of turns that maybe were big mistakes, or maybe exactly what should have happened. Hard tellin'.

I've taken big swings, and taken a lot of big whiffahhs. Lots of big fun along the way as well. This winter, and gradually from earlier on, I've been feeling the piper breathing down my neck for his installment and have not got a lot to show for myself or give to my family. $23 royalty checks and some cool slideshows of my own don't quite cut it in Grownupwiththreekidsland.

Stevie's right, though. So for all those big things in life, love and work: Better the big swings and misses than the wussing way. 'Specially where life is finite. I keep swinging for the fence. Or maybe Greenland.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Hole in the Fence

Illegitimis non carborundum- "Don't let the bastards grind you down." This phrase is stuck in memory. At my older brother's high school graduation, future governor Angus King incorporated the saying. I don't remember the rest of the speech, but maybe this bit stuck with me because I was in such awe that a guy could say "bastards" at school and not only not get carted down the hall by the earlobe, but get applause! What an alchemy of profanity into wisdom.

February is a good time to get in touch with the forces that grind me down. I don't need to dial long distance for that. Because Feb and Mar bring things forward, this is an opportune time to talk shit back to the grindstone and go further than not just letting bastards run me down.

A skinny break-dancing sheep offers a great approach for breaking out of old grinding patterns.

These days, especially at this very instant, I am around young children with inexhaustible supplies of energy. I, on the other hand, am quite exhaustible. So sometimes we watch TV and I take the easy way out on my parental obligations. One very charming offering is Shaun the Sheep, created by Nick Park of Wallace and Gromit fame. Shaun does lots of cool things like dancing to James Brown tunes and designing catapults and such. Shaun outwits the supervising dog, and easily maneuvers around the coke bottle glassed farmer. Shaun figures the system out. The other sheep look on in amazement or dull confusion.

Shaun's great power is just this: he sees The Hole in the Fence.

My essential corollary would be this: If there's a hole in the fence, we're duty bound to step through it.

And from whence is the fence? Inside, of course. If some mischievous farm critter helps you find the hole in the fence, thank them. Then step on through. Don't let the bastards put you off.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cabin Fever

"Not much of a winter so far."
"Haven't even put the plow on yet."
"We'll probably pay for it later."

I know it has been mild this winter. Our puritan DNA tells us that we'll suffer for this relatively merciful climate. For me, though, it's still winter with all the cringing, arm-wrapping, stove-swearing-at rituals that go with it. One reason is that I can hear squirrels scratching their haunches through the walls of my rental home. I can hear squirrels' thoughts these walls are so thin. Wood and oil turn to heat that vanishes before doorknobs or room corners really get warm. I took it for granted all those years of living on Matinicus with its blasting cold winds, but having a snug house where, if it was warm in the middle of the room, it was also warm at the edges.

The cold wears me down, wears down my limited supply of cheery winter patience. Don't get me wrong. I love nothing better than heading outdoors for work or play on a sunny winter day. Even a cloudy winter day. The problem is that as much as I can work or play outside in winter just fine, I get fatigued when trying to stay warm indoors. I get frustrated with stoves that just barely melt an ice cube when going full out, or doors that need a big pillow flumped in front of their lower edges or vehicles that get tolerably warm about when I arrive wherever I was headed. It gets aggravating by repetition and tests my psychological endurance.

About the time February seems old though it's only into single digits on the calendar, I start having fuzzy dreams of the Caribbean, the Azores, Hawaii. Last year's jaunt to St. Croix notwithstanding, my travels are of the imaginary variety. Wikipedia, google earth, atlases, facebook friends' photo albums all open before me with green foliage, blue water and smiling faces.

Back home from the weekend afternoon travels by Sunday night, I pack the stove and let the kids sleep in the den instead of in their big bedroom; the one that probably seems fabulous when central heat is not needed.

Going to my happy place, simulating soft, tropical air by wearing a fleece hoody to bed. Toes in the sand are courtesy of boot socks.

Monday, February 6, 2012

First Monday in February

Week 5 in my new job is underway. The first morning that I walked onto a job site and smelled sheetrock and sawdust, it was a homecoming, 25 years on. Tools and materials have changed. I've changed. If anything, the extra score and a quarter years give me a much more immediate sense of play and accomplishment. I enjoy the physicality, in no way separated from spirit.

Month 2 in my new community of North Haven is on. It's the same and different from Matinicus. Mostly, it's just a new home base. The deception is that minute to minute, nothing seems like a big adjustment. In the back rooms of the mind, however, there is an awareness of how many radical bends and switchbacks have come our way since September.

Day 1 starts every morning. I sense more radical bends and steep adjustments coming soon. Fire and regrowth. Destruction and creation. The dry dusty wind whiffing of stale smoke gives way to humid green stillness.