Friday, August 24, 2007


This is just great! Exactly what it needs to keep itself going. Another instance of the punitive use of classical music by the unappreciative on the unwilling.

This morning as Mars I were driving to the health club we were, as usual, listening to Beethoven Radio "Classical Music Without the Attitude". The on-air host, Nicole-Marie, was reading a news item about how in the country of Wales retail establishments are playing classical music to drive away the undesirable teenagers that are hanging around and intimidating and harassing customers. The volume of the music can be controlled by the clerks within the stores - apparently the louder the more successful it is.

And it works. That's not a surprise because the same gimmick has been used with a similar favorable outcome in various places in the United States: malls, public parks, town squares, etc..

Truth is it would have worked on me when I was the same age as these sound-sensitive troublesome teens. In fact it might have still been effective several years later when, now married and a father of my own teenager, I was probably one of those offended by the behavior of the same type of hangers-around at the shopping centers that Mars and I visited.

Now classical music is about all that we listen to. And we are volunteer members of the classical music staff at "WWUH 91.3 on the FM Dial and on the internet at - listener supported and volunteer staffed 'Public Alternative Radio' broadcasting from the campus of the University of Hartford". In spite of that brief lapse into station identification we are behind-the-scene workers rather than on-air hosts, having shown that we added more value to the back-office than the studio. But some day, who knows?

Still, when it comes to the classics we don't know Jack! - or perhaps it should be Johann. Our conversion to classic music lovers, albeit uneducated ones, began ironically with our homebound commutes from work and our discovery of the soothing effect on that drive home of "Evening Classics" on WWUH. It grew when we began providing background for our reading by listening to the same music on other stations, mostly National Public Radio - "our" station being way too eclectic in its programming to limit itself to any one kind of anything. In the last couple of years before we retired we pretty much converted to all classical commuting when started up in Hartford.

The morning-commute programming on WWUH is folk music, which was what drew us to that station in the first place and to which we had listened for years until (1) the majority of our drive-time coincided with the announcers reading and talking about the list of music they had just played and (2) had actual music playing at that time.

So now that my classical conversion is complete like all good "Born-Agains" I of course take umbrage at the continuing retributive use of my favorite music.

When people get married or get buried they love it - a little Pachelbel's Canon to walk down the aisle to, a few notes of Bach as background for their trip to eternity. The advertising world looks to Vivaldi to sell its diamonds and uses Aaron Copland to enhance the glamour of beef. And the movies steal snatches of just about anyone to add (dare I say it) a touch of class. But, as we have discovered, classical music can be something more than an accompaniment to "I doing" and "Good byeing".

As I am writing this I'm listening to streaming audio from WFCR, National Public Radio in Amherst Massachusetts. (Normally I would be tuned to, a 24 x 7 all-classical public radio station from Cincinnati, but today that connection is not working.) I have no idea what the piece is that I am listening to. It is mostly piano with an orchestra. I could look online at the playlist to find out its name if I really needed to know. Or not.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

As Good As It Gets

A few of them sprinted enthusiastically to the edge of the shore, slowed down, felt the first inklings of water tickle their paws and, without stopping, retreated backwards. They then quickly spun around and ran back up onto the sand. In general these "retreaters" were the smallest members of the group, (black and white terriers, shelties) - but not entirely. A gray scrubby-haired Irish Wolfhound - other than most of the people the largest one at the festivities - likewise deigned to dampen his ankles.

The remainder however got into the water at least minimally and the vast majority committed themselves totally to the pond. But barely-damp or totally-soaked all of the canine participants in "Dog Day at Mill Woods Pool" looked to be having as much fun as could be had by anyone, anywhere.

Mars and I had stopped by the local swimming hole to check out the goings-on. This small pond with a concrete bottom and sandy beach, is normally used for the recreation of the human residents in our town. But for the second consecutive year, after the swimming area was closed for the season, its doors were reopened specifically to allow the canine citizens of our town to partake in a day of running and splashing in the town waters. The folks who run Wethersfield Dog Park organized the event. Weather was sunny and the temperature in the high sixties at 11:30 a.m. when we were there - probably too cold to have attracted any human bathers but apparently just perfect for Canis familiaris. We do not presently have a dog but we certainly enjoy watching them, so we dropped by to do just that.

One step beyond the "retreaters" was the "waders". These dogs were willing to walk into the water until it touched the bottom of their chests - at which point they stopped and, like the non-swimming bathers frequently seen at people beaches, looked around and let the waves brush against their undercarriages.

Next came the "bounders" - canines clearly in love with the idea of wetness but only as long as one of their feet was touching bottom. Comprised mostly of various breeds of spaniels these dogs ran frantically across the pond, leaping upwards and forward and arching their backs like a fur covered slinky toy. They bounced along like this up to the point where their downward rushing paws did not feel earth until after their head and shoulders were below the surface. Then they immediately turned tail and bounded back to shallower waters.

The "swimmers" however, while indistinguishable from the "bounders" in the less-deep parts of the pond, instead of heading landward at the first loss of footing transitioned smoothly to a text-book dog paddle stroke and continued their trip out into the higher waters in search of the thrown ball, or Frisbee, or whatever. All of the swimmers that we saw were some form of Retriever.

Off at the far end of the pool however were the real daredevils - the "leapers". Performing from a narrow wooden dock these dogs would, without any apparent prompting, run along the dock and hurl themselves, paws, legs and tail akimbo, into the waters. Once there they rapidly devolved into a swimmer, then a bounder, and then a rapidly running rapscallion returning to the wharf for another encore.

Mars and I are partial to the leapers having once had one - Nicole Marie, a Lab Retriever/Irish Setter cross.

We do however realize that what appears to be timidity in regard to water - it seems wrong to call it hydrophobia when talking about dogs - is not necessarily a character defect but rather the humanly-designed evolutionary result of specific breeding and training. Each class of canine from the land-locked to the waterlogged was, within its own genetic milieu, pushing their own envelope and as a result feeling just about as good as it gets.

Joy doesn't only come from the breadth of your experience but even more from the depth of your commitment.

(Photos by Mars)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Chipmunk, Chipmunk Burning Bright

Recently I've been reading "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy and "Burning Bright" by Tracy Chevalier - and interacting with our local chipmunk. Since a good amount of the book-work takes places outdoors in our cool, elm-shaded, side-yard I am frequently able to do both activities if not simultaneously then at least alternately.

"The Road" is a novel about a father and son traveling alone in a post-apocalyptic and largely unpopulated world. There are times when The Road is practically too much to bear, with its demonic vistas and cities with "cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell." The combination of a hope-deprived world crumbling into nothingness and McCarthy's astringent, horrifying prose imagining all too believably the depths to which a shattered humanity can sink, makes for an emotionally devastating experience, and one not quickly shed. (

"Burning Bright" by contrast is historical fiction featuring the 18th & 19th century English poet and artist William Blake of whom I remember nothing from college other than:
TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Earlier this year I had read and enjoyed "The Girl With the Pearl Earring" by the same author. And I expect that this novel will follow the same formula about the interactions between everyday life and the artistic imagination - how the former directly influences the latter and how the last-mentioned reinterprets, abstracts and converts the first into art.

On the non-literary side is the chipmunk - the newest member of our yard-pet family and by far the most personable. We have had several others of this species in years past. This latest one however has made the biggest effort to make himself noticeable to us by continually appearing in places and situations that demand our attention - sitting on the ground next to the sunflower seed storage pail looking up at me as I fill the bird feeders; burrowing through the pachysandra while I work in that garden; scooting from plant to plant in the vegetable plot when I am picking tomatoes; or simply walking up in front of Mars and me as we are reading in our lawn chairs, sitting up, and staring at us. Although he keeps himself at a non-touching social distance he nonetheless seems to have made himself right at home.

The father and son in "The Road" on the other hand have no place to live and are continually working to get by in an utterly barren, totally nonproductive landscape. They sustain themselves by continually changing locations in search of more accommodating weather and an absence of other survivors, and by ferreting out leftover food and clothing that has not already been either destroyed, ruined, or picked-over by the "bad guys" - a few of whom appear briefly in the story.

"Burning Bright" is as different in mood from "The Road" as are the "c" sounds in the names of the respective authors. Most of the plot deals with the efforts of the Kellaway family, principally daughter Maisie and son Jem, to integrate into the life of big city London after their move from small country town of Dorsetshire. William Blake is their next-door neighbor.

When I read Blake's name in the jacket-cover plot-tease a picture that I now believe was actually associated with the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau flashed into my mind. It is probably the reason that I took the book out of the library. My apparently mistaken memory recalled Blake as being much more of an intellectual confrere of the Frenchman's State of Nature / Noble Savage view of mankind than my recent Googling research has revealed.

The primitively styled artwork that I am remembering does however have one Blakesian element. It shows an almost one-dimensional tiger with the same bemused facial expression as the one that the poet created to illustrate his "TIGER, tiger, burning bright" piece of writing.

In "my" painting the wild feline, presumably intended to be life-size, is surrounded and dwarfed by a number of grossly oversized flowers and other vegetation. I'm not certain that the picture as I am recalling it actually ever existed but for the moment that's my memory and I'm sticking to it.

Because it's the same image that, after finishing "The Road" and before coming upon the Tracy Chevalier book, popped into my mind when in the midst of our vegetable garden I looked down through the stalks of sunflowers and saw the tiny chipmunk looking up at me with what appeared to be a thoughtful furrow on his forehead.

He was probably pondering the security of his being in the suburban environment into which he had stumbled - something that I suspect such animals do on a daily, if not minute-by-minute, basis.

I tried my best to assure him that he was indeed safe from harm - at least from this source anyway. Good thing for him. My experience has shown that contrary to Rousseau's Noble Savage and more in line with Cormac McCarthy's road weary father and son, states of nature that lack a kindly caretaker are not fun places to be in at all.

So where you ask is an image of the chipmunk? I intended to take his photo after this essay was completed however I have not seen him for the past three days. That may not be a good thing.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Yoga in the Garden - Ready 1,2,3

I do some Yoga on my own at home and at our health club. I took a few classes many years ago but most of what I do I learned from a book. Mars however regularly attends workshops at a local studio and really enjoys it. So I was thinking that maybe I should get back into the yogatorium for some formal training. Then I took a look at what I regularly do in my gardens and decided that I didn't really need to.

From my experience I know that most yoga sessions consist of three basic segments: (1) the intention, (2) the poses and (3) Savasna.

In my own homegrown version, I always skip the first part. That's because in the classes that I've taken I have never been able to figure out what I'm supposed to think or say. I mean it sounds simple enough. All of the students are seated in a circle with our legs crossed in that incomprehensibly uncomfortable position that somehow is supposed to free your mind from your body if only you could stop thinking about the intense burning sensation that is emanating from the tenth vertebra and radiating through both hips, down the legs, and shooting out of the tops of your toenails.

The teacher, whose normal stance makes the most ramrod military academy cadet look like Quasimodo and who actually can, from a standing position, get into and out of this seated posture unassisted, says sweetly "And what would you like to get out of today's practice?" Followed by the dreaded phrase "I will share my intentions first."

Some of the students seize this moment like an eager Miss America contestant being asked which of the world's problems she is going to solve while wearing the crown - "I would like to eradicate poverty and hunger by being a role model of a well-paid and properly nourished attractive young women". And they make sincere eye contact with even those of us who are trying to crawl under our yoga mats in hopes of invisibility while we simultaneously try to force some thought into our heads other than "Uh, uh, Idaknow. Feel good maybe."

When I'm gardening however I have no problems at all with intentions. In fact I have hundreds of them - "remove all of the weeds, never have the bushes look like they need a trimming, give the plants just the right amount of water...". The path to my garden is paved with them. And the best part is the next day most of them are still around to use again.

Part (2) the postures.

This for me is the heart and soul of the yoga experience. Twisting and turning my body into impossible positions and holding these poses for infinitely long periods of time while attempting to control my breathing and pinpointing all of my attention on the task at hand is my kind of exercise. And I get it in my own gardens whenever I gyrate myself into the midst of the shrubbery so focused on the weeds and other overbearing plants that need removal I am unaware of the movements I have performed and muscles I have used until hours later when I emerge sweaty and muddy from my transcendental state unable to achieve anything other than the most rudimentary pre-bipedal stature.

Finally there is Savasna "an opportunity to rest and cool down after the practice and to allow the tension, tightness, and toxins dislodged by the practice to be carried be motionless and without thought." Savasna is normally "performed" in the dark on your back with soft music playing in something that is called the "corpse position." It is as you can imagine a highly desired state of "yo".

Well, after an afternoon of yard work, just give me a lawn chair, a shady spot and a cool breeze and I am there like white on rice. It is undoubtedly the gardening (and yoga) thing that I do best. And that zzz'ing sound you hear is just all of my charkas being realigned - which of course is what I intended to get out of this day's practice anyway. Along of course with an end to famine, pestilence and death.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007



Me as a poet.
(Rhymer, sonneteer,
lyricist, bard).
> Poetaster,
< Troubadour

64 years on earth
An age to know if not the truth,
At least most of the questions.

Fiscally quite fit.
(401K, Pension,
Equities, REITs)
Not a balladeer busker
Don't need dimes for rhymes.

6/10/07 Thoreau Farm Trust program
Cover photo Pinsky.
Lower last page = 17 syllables of fame.

Feeling quite bluish.
(Ballad? sonnet?,
Elegy? ode?)
Fearing my verse will be plain -
Plain Haikuish

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Two Good Walks - Unruined

Mars and I went on two different three miles hikes recently. Our son Bram, who was visiting from New Mexico, requested the first and accompanied us. The other was one that we, mostly tongue-in-cheek, suggested but he declined to partake in so we did it ourselves two days after he left.

The Sleeping Giant after whom the *mountain was named is either the spirit Hobbamock sleeping eternally after diverting the waters of the Connecticut River or an ancient chief who became overcome by drowsiness after consuming too many oysters.

(*I should point out that in Connecticut, probably because we are a relatively short state, we tend to call things mountains that other locations might label as foothills or even moguls. The tower at the peak of Sleeping Giant, to which we walked, is about seven hundred and thirty feet above sea level. You decide.)

Although we exercise daily and hike a lot (and a lot longer) when we are on vacations, especially in the desert southwest, Mars and I do not do much trekking around here. It is not because we think the trails are too easy or too difficult. It's probably just another one of those instances where local folks do not do local things unless they are entertaining non-locals.

The "Tower Trail" is considered a "gentle climb on wide clear path" according to their Trail System map, a mostly shaded (uphill)out-and-(downhill)back. We walked across the giant's torso somewhere between his head and chest and climbed to just barely past his left hip. The temperature that day was probably in the mid-eighties on the mostly shady trail but occasional microclimates (usually around larger rock formations) gave us a nice break from even those non-uncomfortable conditions.

We took about an hour and one half to ascend and fifty minutes to come back down. Several other walkers passed us on the trail. The first one wearing a blouse, skirt and running shoes and carrying a cell phone looked to be an office worker on break from Quinnipiac College which is located across the street from the park. At the other extreme was a huffing and puffing mid-forties guy with a water bottle belt at the base of his spine whom we saw four different times (twice going up and twice coming down). There also was a young man and his large dog and two young women one of whom carried a large cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee for hydration.

There not being much variation in the scenery along the route (tall native trees, ferns, rocks, and a few wildflowers) we chatted among ourselves mostly about non-hiking stuff, and moved along at our own steady pace. At the end of the up-route we walked to the top of a four story stone tower. On a clear day you can see Long island Sound and on a hazy one like we had the city of New Haven rising like Brigadoon just over the giant's right hip. We ate our snacks of almonds and dates, enjoyed the breeze and then headed back down where we consumed the sandwiches that we brought in the picnic area just south of his chin. On our drive home we stopped for some homemade ice cream at a local stand.

It was a nice leisurely trek that required enough attention to where and how we were going to keep us in the present and make us aware of where we were; adequate exercise to provide our fix for the day; some new things to see and some old things to see differently; and sufficient opportunities for quiet conversations or solitary thoughts. Good walks do that.

Our second three mile foot-journey occurred on a wide-open, relatively flat, sun drenched area where our son would have been embarrassed to be seen with us - the "Flat" Nine at Goodwin Park Golf Course about two miles from our house in the adjacent town of Hartford.

We tried to entice Bram to join us by explaining that while not a National or State Park it was a part of a municipal recreational area; that what counted on a walk was the duration and distance, not the speed; that he didn't have to wear garishly colored madras pants or even a collared shirt to take part; and most importantly that he need not swing a club or carry ours (we have push carts) - but he steadfastly declined our invitation, barely hiding his appall at the entire concept.

Mark Twain famously called golf "a good walk ruined". There have been instances when both Mars and I would have agreed with him - but not this time.

The day started off unpromisingly when Mars awakened with a "small" migraine headache. She took one of her magic pills and we waited. After a couple of hours she proclaimed herself good enough to give it a try - "We can always stop." - took a couple of Motrin (for some other pains) and we headed off to the course.

The weather was pretty much identical to that of our Sleeping Giant trek except this is a "links" course (minus the seaside attributes and the sand bunkers) and therefore ninety-eight percent bereft of shade. It is also a "public" course - i.e., everyone welcome, no dress code, no clubhouse, change shoes in the car, etc. The one amenity is the occasional water cart that patrols the grounds looking for dehydrated hackers to revive. It showed up twice during our first nine holes and then disappeared. But we carried our own which we refilled from the peripatetic public trough when it came our way.

We normally play nine holes, 2,544 yards if you hit the ball straight (like Mars) - up to a third longer if you play like me. There was a pair of women playing and three older gents toddling behind (all also walking). We only had to wait at two holes and never were pressured from the back. As we finished the ninth hole, realizing that if she were not feeling well we still wouldn’t be here and she definitely wouldn't be hitting the ball as well as she was, I asked Mars if she wanted to play a hole or two more. She was in fact feeling great and did.

We walked back to the first tee and waited in one of the very few shady spots for a mother and her young son to finish off that hole. Since the mom, a good golfer, was doing most of the playing they moved quickly. We started off intending to repeat the first three holes again and then head back. After the third, there being no one behind us or immediately ahead, we decided to do the fourth and fifth. And from there the next two. And then, since we had come this far, to finish off the remainder of the course. We rationed our water to leave us empty on the ninth green - walk, walk, walk swing, walk, walk, walk, swing, sip...- and maybe because of this circumstantially induced rhythm we both hit some of the very best shots of our relatively short careers.

After a lot of our hikes, particularly the southwestern ones that went off into unfamiliar territory with only each other and our snakebite kit, I have felt somewhat heroic - not a bigtime lionheart with a capital H but in the smaller sense of having accomplished something bolder and more unexpected than I thought I could - something that I probably wouldn't have tried without Mars. Right place, right time, right person.

A few years ago I would have felt that treading purposefully through eighteen holes of golf while scoring several pars and a birdie was in the "never gonna happen" category. Now it feels like another good walk - un-ruined.