November 17, 2013 · 12:12 am
Generally, as most of us get older, we have a very good idea of what our likes and dislikes are. Recently, though, I have been thinking about doing some things that I know I do not enjoy or usually want to do. It’s an odd feeling.
As I wrote before, I don’t like to be outdoors. Maybe I spent too much time outside when I was growing up, but the great outdoors has far too many hazards and discomforts for me to want to spend hours there. I know there are people who love the outdoors and spend a lot of time there, and that’s all right. They can have my share.
The odd thing is, I’ve been thinking about aboriginal Americans who lived very close to nature. Whether their shelter was a lodge or teepee or pueblo, they had to have been aware of the elements. With a fire for heating and breezes for cooling they were right in the midst of nature.
I have been camping exactly once in my life. I was ten years old, and I remember not sleeping much and just about starving since each of us was responsible for his own food. Lately, though, I been wondering what it would be like to stay outside in a tent. I could pitch one in my back yard and not be that far away from the comforts of the indoors. Of course, I’d have to buy almost everything I need, including a tent. I do have a sleeping bag from my daughters’ Girl Scout days. It’s a thought, but a strange one for me. Still, I find myself thinking that being outside with nothing but a thin nylon wall between me and the outdoors would be intriguing, although I’d probably wait until spring to try it.
Then there’s traveling. I’ve decided I don’t like to travel. Oh, I like to see different places, particularly places with history and good restaurants and good bookstores, but actually getting there is pain. I don’t care for driving, which is mostly monotonous and occasionally terrifying. My wife is a great driver (and a wizard parallel parker, even left-handed), so she does most of the driving when we go somewhere. I do the navigating, and I’m good at that, except when I’m not. That’s a subject for an entire column, but not just now. Anyhow, if there were a Star Trek-style transporter available, I’d use one, even at the risk of scrambling my molecules. To be able to be some place instantly has a huge appeal for me. And don’t even think about flying. That used to be fun and an adventure, but I don’t have to tell you what a pain it has become. No, I’m comfortable where I am, with everything I need right here. That’s why my travel impulse is a strange one. I’d like to fly around the world. I’m not talking about flying around the world non-stop on one tank of gas. What I’m thinking would be fun would be to fly around the world using scheduled flights. I’ve checked and it’s possible. It would take about three days. I think I would like to go business class since I would plan to be on an airplane most of the time. I wouldn’t even leave the airports or clear customs—I would just go right on to the next flight. This is even crazier when I consider that I am mildly claustrophobic. That’s why business class. I could leave on a Friday and be back Monday if my calculations are correct. It would be cool to say I had done it.
Then, I’ve been having an impulse lately to have another career. That’s not that unusual for an early retiree like me, but I’m talking about an entirely different career. When I was in my early teens I wanted to be a rocket scientist. (I was too tall to be an astronaut then.) What dissuaded me from this career path was the sad reality that I was not very good at math, and math is important to being rocket scientists. My impulse is to take science and math classes and earn a degree in astronautical engineering. I figure with the coursework I’ve done already I can skip the core classes and things like phys ed. and go right on to advanced science classes. It would be a whole lot easier for me to earn an M.F.A. in creative writing, but becoming a rocket scientist in my 60’s sounds much more appealing, even if I am probably worse at math than I was in high school. Grandma Moses started painting when she was in her 80’s, so maybe I do have a future with NASA.
So I have these random impulses, but I’ve found if I lie down for a while, they soon pass. Thank goodness for small favors.
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September 11, 2013 · 2:25 pm
It has been twelve years, but the memories of that day are still fresh in my mind. We had been in school for about week. Mid-way through the second period of the day, our principal Ann Monday came over the PA system to say that an airplane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. We had been atop one of the Towers just three weeks earlier, and I remember looking down and seeing a Cessna flying along the Hudson below us. I figured it was a light aircraft, and that couldn’t do much damage. My students were working on an assignment, and I looked quickly at my computer for a news feed. What I saw were the shocking images we are all too familiar with from that day.
The students finished their assignment, and were curious to see what was happening. We had a news feed on the classroom television, so I turned that on, telling them that they probably didn’t want to see it. They didn’t react much, but left in silence. Then, chaos ensued as students gathered, hugging and crying, especially as news leaked out of the attack on the Pentagon where some of their parents worked. I remember especially one of my students who had come from Afghanistan holding another student whose father worked at the Pentagon.
Parents began arriving in droves to pick up their students because the phone lines were tied up. Classes were clearly done for the day, so I helped parents find classrooms. The buses came early, and soon the school was deserted. The teachers went to their cars and left.
I drove home listening to the news on the radio, thinking that the brother of one of our daughter Amy’s college friends worked on the 101st floor of one of the towers. Matthew Horning did not survive. We remember him every year with a donation to Heifer, International, which provides families around the world with livestock to allow them to improve their lives.
Everything was canceled that dark day, and our daughters joined us for dinner. There was no school the next day, and with all flights cancelled, an odd silence in the skies as no giant airliners came above our house on their way to land at Dulles Airport.
And so we remember…sacrifice and courage, and the day that “the world stopped turning.” May we never forget.
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May 25, 2013 · 1:46 am
For All This
for the victims and survivors of the Oklahoma tornadoes, May 20 and 21, 2013
It’s a matter of degree and distance and accretion, after all—
The objects, possessions, acquisitions, events, memories and conversations gathering
Under a roof, adding on to themselves, second to second, year to year.
In the kitchen, pots and pans, glassware, silverware, plates, cups, appliances.
For the rest, furniture for the living room, dining room, family living area, bedroom:
Sofa, chair, desk, bed, table, bureau, chest,
The accumulations of a household, the toys, the clothes, the food, the tools
And the family itself, again a matter of degree and accretion
Two people—a start—then the little one added and another perhaps
They grow and go to school and they grow.
And there are breezes, a matter of degree and accretion again,
They become winds and air masses which collide
Warm and cold, and the winds start a slow rotation
They turn and turn and turn
And coil on themselves. Mere wind becomes
A miles wide obscene ram of air a coiling snake
Crushing exploding bursting apart
All these accretions
All these possessions
The children huddled in their school
A tattered unimaginable horrid landscape
Of grief and loss.
It’s a matter, after all, of degree and accretion
Of which we are suddenly
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May 3, 2013 · 2:10 pm
A Boy’s Wish
I want to live on a tidy sailing ship
Painted blue with sails of white
Not too big but just the right size
I’d call it the Mighty Mite.
I’d not go sailing on my boat
But live in it like a house
And I’d have some pets, maybe a cat
In case I had a mouse.
My boat would be so neat and trim
With everything in its place
A little kitchen and stove and all
Tucked in to save some space.
And in the night when it was dark
I’d read by lantern light
And go to sleep in my little boat’s bed
And snore all through the night.
I’d go to school like a regular kid
And they’d all envy me
And ask if they could visit
And I’d say, “Yes—just two or three.”
A sailor’s life is not for me
But I like to be afloat
With calm waters rocking gently
My pretty little boat.
So come on down and join me there
You can live on one as well!
There’ll be two of us then, you know,
And we’ll have lots to do and tell.
We’ll play pirates or pilots or adventurers
And pretend we’re not afloat
And then settle down and read some books
In my happy little boat.
–Dan Verner April 29, 2013
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