Saturday, December 15, 2007

Our Nirvanas


Home in Candler Park

Mid-December, and I am sitting in my loft office, looking out at the bare wysteria vines draping the scavenged bamboo "beams" over our back deck. (That's it in spring bloom up there.)

Miracle of miracles, it's raining! Hallelujah! Our state is in a terrible drought, and rain is pure pleasure to see. Even moreso is looking out at a pair of thrashers (the state bird), flashing vivid black and white wings as they fluff and bathe in this unaccustomed shower. A cardinal hen preceded them, possibly the one who's been fighting with herself in the old cracked mirror, painted "Welcome" by the girls, hanging on the back fence. And what a holiday tableau, two vividly crimson males, similarly washing against the green backdrop of the 15' tall anise bush in the side yard! Smart birds they are, joined by the thrashers, rustling the leaves to get yet more water on their feathers.

I recall my parents' delight in birds as they aged, particularly one's little call that sounded like someone's shy whistle: tweeeet, tweet-tweet-tweet, tweet-tweet-tweet. I don't know what bird it is, but I hear it also now, and am similarly charmed by its small, sweet refrain. I've come to appreciate the rough cawing of crows, since learning that they were the first brought low by the avian virus in the U.S. I missed hearing them, and welcome it now. The evening chirp of the robin, the strident call of the bluejay, the sunset flight of flocks of birds, the aerial acrobatics of chimney swifts and those lovely bats eating those mosquitoes -- all these link my present life to my past. I like it. I wish we as a species were more tied into the natural cycle of life and less into our own navel-gazing. Just seems like that would greatly clarify what is real, important, in life.

I also recall my mother growing ever more quiet with age, and notice the same happening with me. The restless young love action and noise; the elders, peace. Good God, I'm an elder now.

I remember particularly wishing to know, as Mom was dieing, what was going through her mind. I never asked, a missed opportunity; but I guess we all find that out eventually for ourselves.

In a way, I can't wait to see what's beyond. I imagine it will be a merging of me, one little radio wave, into an incomprehensible stream of energy, which is reflected in microcosm on this earth and this life. Wow! On the other hand, I recall visiting a dying friend who was on a ventilator, and being shocked at my first consciousness of breath. Of course we breathe, the heart beats, the whole autonomic system does its thing with us totally unaware. I can also imagine that feeling this slow down to stopping will make me feel pretty panicky. It's hard to let go of the only thing you know, even if you're pretty sure there's something better beyond.

Rumination. Maybe all of this comes with age. Knew there had to be something good about it, to balance the aches and pains!

And --- uh, would this ramble qualify as navel-gazing?? ;<)

Home at the Lake

Yep, that's the view from the dock above. Definition of our nirvanas is incomplete without mentioning our teeny-tiny 700 S.F. cabin on Lake Burton. It sits on a steep, largely unusable lot bordered by a (small, TG) power line, but it has a big mama deck, vaulted ceilings and a ceiling-to-floor stone fireplace you could roast a pig in. And most important, it as ~21' of waterfront and a swim dock, more valuable by far than the cabin and its lot.

It's got a great story, too. We bought the cabin from a widow, Mrs. T, whose husband was friends with a neighbor with a considerable lake frontage. One day, Mr. H declared to Mr. T, "I sure do wish I had a swing down by the water there," upon which Mr. T offered not only to build it, but to maintain it and care for the waterfront area in perpetuity ... in exchange for a small piece for a dock. The deal was struck and the land conveyed in fee-simple ownership, for $1, and he did keep it up until he died. You wouldn't believe what that ~20' rectangle is worth today.

But turns out, that wasn't the end of it; that deal led to the Hex.

Mr. W, Mr. T's neighbor, had proposed jointly building a boat house at the end of the cove on what was (at the time) common waterfront access for the planned but never-built subdivision. "Next thing I know," he said to me in fresh outrage a couple of years before his own death, "W's building a dock on his own that he got from H!" Mr. W never gave up hope for access, without which his cabin was worth far less... and he had an ace in the hole. T's driveway was on W's lot, but the cabin occupants were always allowed to use it. When we bought it from Mrs. T, Mr. W offered to sell the driveway to us ... but when his (wicked) children heard about it, they prevailed on him to hold out for a trade of partial dock title for the drive. We wouldn't budge; neither did he. Someone else bought his old place ... someone I had told the story to, blabbermouth that I am, bewailing that I could no longer find Mr. W to re-negotiate a sale. Hence, the Hex. Guess who's holding out for a dock share now?

Ah, live and learn. We're just not meant to have perfection in this life!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11 Remembrance - for us all and one in particular

Today, a national day of remembrance, is also of particular meaning to me. Today I also mourn the death of a significant friend, Joan Morrissey, last night to inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). I feel the same physical sensation of numbing sadness as I did after the attacks of 9/11, even without the shock. Knowing someone I care about is going to pass on, transition to whatever the next stage is, does not seem to lessen the impact of that loss for me. But I have felt it to this depth only a few times in my life, and knowing that I will feel it more frequently as I look ahead is not comforting.

Being a person disbelieving in coincidence and often vaguely aware of the web of life in which I am, I find myself pondering the juxtaposition of our national tragedy and this small, personal tragedy to one family in Amherst, NY. The loss of thousands of lives on a glorious early fall morning; the loss of a nation's complacent innocence. The terrible loss to a husband of his life companion; that to two small girls, of a mother; and to an astonishly many others, the loss of a friend. Ineffable sadness, in all cases.

I didn't know Joan as well as some others. We worked briefly together, but in that short time we shared an amazing car ride through a driving rainstorm from Savannah to Atlanta. As she drove, white-knuckled on the steering wheel, Joan and I were suspended in time and place, sharing our experiences and ourselves. It was the kind of intense attention and communication that seems to happen so rarely in a life, and I never forgot it -- or her. So, when the notice came from that Joan had a blog, I followed up on every announcement that she had posted, and posted back. Caringbridge is a website on which ill patients, their families and friends can post to allow 24/7 communication back and forth. It's a great organization.

It was typical of Joan, amazing woman that she was, that she posted it all, including pictures. I've had friends who died in hospital who stopped receiving visitors because they no longer looked healthy. Not Joan! She not only allowed her army of friends to learn about the realities of IBC and cancer on a very individual level, she posted it on the Web!, no matter how unflatteringly it was reflected on her self. She let us support her, even from a distance. The lessons we all learned from her about courage against all odds, and her persistence in staying for her family until they told her she could go, are indelible. From my mother's death, the first to sucker-punch me with grief, I learned how to die with sheer dignity. From Joan, I learned how to fight it both voraciously and with humor.

In the web of life, Joan made an indelible impression. She was a woman of power, actually, cloaked in a quiet intelligence, passion, and wonderful wit. I hope I am remembered and mourned by even a fraction of those now mourning Joan's passage. She was one of a kind.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Hello, y'all and greetings from Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

This is the site of the Maries, AKA Marie Josette and Marie Anne, more commonly known as the Maries.

In fact, this is the site of a minor miracle, the initiation of a mid-20th-century babe-uh to 21st century speed. I think I have whiplash already.

This is also the product of Josette's nephew's inspiration, that child of the Microsoft age, that person for whom, if she only knew him better, our daughter Remy would leave immediately to set up camp in Seattle with her 'way cooler kin.

I.e., Mike, and his similarly 'way cool spouse, Susan. And, I have little doubt, son Malcolm as well, whose 'pute skill are probably superior to mine.

Nonetheless! We soldier onward.

May I introduce our two girls?

This is Remy, age 12 on 6/4/07.

Oops, sorry, no -- that's more like her avatar ... and her main passion these days (drawing manga characters), a hobby only recently superceded by creating music videos on our computer. I'm sure there's a proper term for that, but.... I don't remember. Not my thing!

Here's the real girl. And yes, those are blood red streaks in her hair and yes, she's learning the electric guitar, and oh yes, she's really into tween vampire novels these days.

She's a passionate (even beyond being a tween), bright, funny, gal, entranced with all things anime and virtual world, a rapid and absorbed reader and a fearsome soccer player. Whatever she becomes in future, she'll be a force to be reckoned with.

And here's her sister Martika, AKA Tika, who was 10 on 4/15/07, with her friend Sarah. I'll post a clearer pic soon (pity the better one is of her back!). What's neat about these pix is when they were taken -- at summer's onset, just before Tika had about a foot of her looooooonnnng hair cut for the Locks of Love program, which makes wigs for kids with cancer.

Tika is an artist, already maker of many bead and crystal earrings and necklaces, and an animal lover. We used to call her our future GA Tech kid (she's always been able to figure out anything mechanical), but we also could see her as a terrific vet in future.

And of course, I must add our quadraped children, all "Society" dogs (as in, Humane):

First there came Jack, a flat-haired retriever/cocker All-American, weighing in at about 42 pounds. He's a big, thumping heart on four paws.

And in this corner!

Darla, our all-terrier-plus All American, weighing in at about 38 pounds of sheer bossiness.

And finally, our newest, Tika's own personal dog, Twinkie: Jack Russell/Chihuahua (JackChi, in the current abbreviatory parlance). Ten pounds soaking wet and well on his way after just 3 weeks here to being the world's most spoiled dog.

After a lifetime of trying to be a lap dog, one paw up at a time, poor Jack just cannot understand why this new little pipsqueak's paws barely ever touch the floor.

Please don't ask me about the fish, indoor and out-. But when I post again, I surely must add a photo of Siyhra, Remy's beloved (and surely the world's oldest) Chinese dwarf hamster.

"Home" is a vintage-1917 Craftsman with great character, but nary a right angle or level floor. However, it does have big windows and 10' ceilings, hardwood floors, two working fireplaces and two >100-year old white oaks shading the front door. It's sited in Candler Park, in intown Atlanta. For the uninitiated, I must explain: in Atlanta, the land of have-a-car or die (run over by one or from isolation and boredom), our 'hood is in walking distance of just about all you'd desire: post office, restaurants, theater, funky shops, park, tennis, public pool, and bike trails. And lately, even a shopping center with big box stores to complement the quirky little shops in our Little Five Points commercial district. This is the home of fluorescently dyed hair, piercing parlors, the Junkman's Daughter (a General Store that would surely make the Victorians blush -- and surreptitiously buy), a dozen small eateries of all kinds, several bars ... and destination of suburban kids to be cool for a day.

Perhaps best of all, Candler Park still has few McMansions. It still graced with old, well-kept or remodeled homes resting close by the street, most with porches or at least stoops to allow hospitable greetings from house to sidewalk. Behind the houses across the street from us, there's a field in the center of that block, still mowed by kind neighbors even though their kids have grown and moved on. (We really have to do something about changing the guard.) Surrounded by neighbors, it's a grassy expanse welcoming to dogs and kids, even to the rope swing hanging from a high branch. And, amazing to me in such an metropolitan setting, it meets a dirt road, which borders still a few more houses surrounding a sizable hand-dug pond. Originally built for food fish by the thrifty neighbors, it now hosts water plants, a few goldfish and gazillions of tadpoles. The latter are regularly carted off by kids to their undoubtedly appreciative parents, to be living science lessons as they shed their tails and sprout legs. The bullfrogs left behind bellow their presence on warm nights until they burrow in the mud for the winter... and their diaspora'd kin bellow singly or in pairs elsewhere in the area.

Our trees are our greatest treasure, aged, seemingly skyscraper tall, graceful... and an absolute blessing in the summer heat. Atlanta is a heat island, sadly, due to all the clearing done for construction as the city sprawled outward (and now, due to traffic, moves back inward). But it's on the hot summer days that the trees' value beyond beauty is crystal clear -- by several very perceptible degrees from sun to shade. The merest sighing of the leaves lifts heads for the expected breeze, with gratitude even for the slightest zephyr. It's hard to imagine living here in the days of long gowns and tight cravats.

Finally, there's the Freedom Park Path bike and walk trail, which in this immediate area proceeds from the Carter Center (home office of our homegrown national treasure, Jimmy Carter) to Ponce de Leon Avenue. It is several hundred acres (I'd guess) of a beautiful swath of grass with a central path meandering through. The path is far enough from traffic for dogs to run free (absent animal control), open enough to allow for kite flying (a bonus in this cityin the trees), and obvious enough to be a marker for jets coming in to the airport. Its origin also is a classic Candler Park neighborhood story.

In the 1980s, the path acreage was a kudzu-covered wasteland, after the homes thereon were demolished to make way for an east-west expressway. The state DOT planners saw the writing on the wall as the population pushed outward from the city center. Traffic on the east-west Interstate 20 was multiplying, as was that on Ponce de Leon Avenue, a thoroughfare that headed northeast in the general direction of Stone Mountain. The DOT concluded that another highway was needed to relieve the impending traffic, and proceeded with the inexorable bureaucratic process to make that happen.

(Well, they were right in one regard. Ponce is a parking lot between red lights at some points of the rush hours, but still manages to pour vehicles and people into and out of the city without too much anguish..

But what DOT had not counted on was the ex-hippy (or not ex-) population of Candler Park, who strongly objected to having their neighborhood sliced in two, stranding them between two expressways. These renegades banded together in an ad-hoc group called Roadbusters, and set out to do battle with a well-funded and politically connected DOT unused to any opposition from any quarter.

The battle in the 1980s is the stuff of legends. People driving into town saw the Roadbusters demonstrators walking in the beautiful parkland parallel to the Ponce corridor, designed by Olmstead and flanked by old mansions. Even in pouring rain, there they were, carrying signs inviting supporters to honk. So successful were they, in fact, that even supportive neighbors begged them for another sign of support, after which the signs asked for waves. They got waves aplenty.

Undeterred by this motley brigade, DOT proceeded. They plowed up the kudzu and cleared the strip of land, leaving their tractors behind at night. Similarly undeterred, the Roadbusters went out at night with shovels and wheelbarrows and moved as much of the dirt back into the roadway as they could overnight, to the dismay of supervisors and workers arriving the next morning.

The DOT poured the concrete footings and began building an overpass above the park next to the neighborhood tennis courts. By this time, Roadbusters had assembled a pro bono legal team under the name of Citizens Against Unwanted Thoroughfares in Old Neighborhoods (CAUTION), to help them press their cause in the courts. As the story goes, the legal eagles uncovered an old city ordinance making it illegal to cut down or remove a dogwood tree. Overnight, the footings were surrounded by hundreds of dogwood seedlings, which could not be legally removed without official relief. That held up construction some more.

The guerilla war continued thusly for quite some time (as I recall, a few years). Every time it seemed that the 'hood would be defeated and paradise would be paved over, something fortuitous would happen to save the day. Ultimately, perhaps exhausted by the bad publicity, ruined schedules and likely, cost overruns, the DOT gave up. Along came a white knight, the nonprofit Path Foundation, which pledged to landscape and maintain the acreage ... and has to this day.

So, this is home. It's has been gentrified, to the dismay of some despite soaring property values (even in the current buyers market), but it's still a singular, quirky, hospitable-to-the-eccentric part of Atlanta -- our own little Berkeley or Soho, perhaps.

It's home. Ain't it grand!