Friday, February 12, 2016

On Place or "I Like Ethos"

It's always the damn place.  Nothing sets my mind back like remembering a place, imagining it at a certain time, seeing the details unnoticed until you take a longer, deeper look.  Or, you can actually return to a place, walk those same hills or streets or pastures, return to subway stations or barn lofts or basements.  I have done this many times (I wrote about one such journey here) in my life, I've been lucky that way, sometimes it all changes so much, going back only bewilders and disappoints.

Photos help, I think, they can frame a memory so well.  Again, the details are there, forgotten until you look into the background.  I've no pictures to show you of the woods and creeks and hollers and hills I grew up playing in and around.  I don't know if I am happy or sad for that.  I've walked through some of them, been unable to find a few, but mostly I remember those places sorta, well, sideways...

I took a walk today through the Two and a Half Acre Woods.  The woods Nick and Zack and Marci and Gramma and Nana and Papa and Kirby and the boys' friends and our rental dog, Snickers, and more I'm forgetting, have all walked through at some time with me or alone.  It is a familiar place for the boys - their woods, our woods, the woods.

Today, though, I went for a different reason.  I went because I wanted to see something pretty, something beautiful.  You see, the world's been seeming pretty ugly and I have following that ugly and, well, I don't have to.  There is beauty absolutely everywhere, I know that's trite, but I am not going to rewrite it.  We all know that, right?  We all know there is beauty in the sunsets and rainbows and baby's faces and toes and in the moment before a kiss or in the empty spot when a child leaves your lap.

Beauty is in the red shed - the only color against the blacks and whites of the branches and snow.  It is in the squirrels dance, the cat's purr, the heartbeat of a boy, the slam of the screen.  It's like the William Carlos Williams poem: "so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens."

That word "depends" never fails to give me the shivers.

But, ya gotta look up, and out, and in.  You have to turn your eyes and ears from the ugly and find the lovely...  I have to turn from it.  I have to look for it.  I have to remember the beauty.

The vast majority of the woods I grew up haunting are no longer around, gone to fields or housing tracks or steel warehouses and asphalt parking lots.  Progress, I guess you'd call it.  Some are a still back there, between the state routes and rural roads, waiting for their time to come, waiting for me to remember them.

So, I am in the Twenty Acre Woods looking for Beauty.  I find it, but, as I mentioned before that's pretty easy once you look up and out.  I find something else as well.

This is a picture of the woods just around the corner from the Meade Cabin to the east of the trail.  The snow is thick on the trees and, well, pretty.  Oddly, though, this is also an image of the woods off by the pond we used to fish in summer and slide on in winter as kids - we weren't supposed to.  Later, we would push that half-fallen tree out of the fork it's stuck in, just to hear it hit the forest floor, a quick crack muffled in the snow.  It is also the storm in the gray above, the creak of the trees rubbing and bending in the cold.

This is the trail where it reaches it highest, the trees bent over in a high wind some years back, the curves surprising among the sharp verticals.  Or is it the old cow path out behind Mr. Poff's, out beyond the pasture that runs through a wood on a high spot where the trees were all bent up by an old oak that lost its footing, trapping a few saplings that would always bow to the wind for as long as I can remember?

This is the creek we play in, JB and I.  The creek we dam in summer and poke the ice with sticks in winter.  It runs on down to the pond, looping almost into itself.  We dug channels between the little tributaries and...  No, wait, that's the corner of one of the bridges in The Two and a Half Acre Woods.  This is the sunken-tire creek, the shoe-sucking creek, the cinder-block creek.  Not my creek, theirs.

Lichens or some sort of wood climb the trunk of this tree like fairy steps to the treetops.  Each capped with snow, pretty, intriguing, wondrous.  They look like mussels and barnacles on the huge footing of a pier in California dotted with sea foam.  I am six or seven.

It is hard to be seven and twelve and twenty-five and nearly "double nickels" all in one thought, in one memory, in one breath.  It confuses and confounds, but, somehow, clarifies and distills all at once.  It seems every experience the boys have reminds me of mine and every memory of mine foreshadows theirs.

It's weird.

Their woods are mine, their ocean yours, their childhood... all of ours.

You see, this isn't a picture of Nick and Zack and a friend.

No it's a picture of me and JB and I think that's Earl Wayne in the middle - or is it Peanut?  No, perhaps it is an image from another childhood, that Russian boy I met in college perhaps?  Maybe it is from a tattered and water-stained photo album I once found in the basement of a house I lived at in Astoria in the eighties, photos of a family in the forties and fifties, long gone, the book musty and forlorn.

Maybe it is a picture from your childhood, maybe a corner of a memory you'd long forgotten.  Maybe that is you in the middle there, a brother to your right, a long gone friend to your left.  Is that the hill you remember?  Is that your toboggan or your Flexible Flyer, your "Rosebud," your crazy, uncontrollable saucer?

Is that sand?  Is that a surfboard?  Are you all on dirt-bikes or in sleeping bags waiting a storm out in a leaky tent?  Is it a tube behind a speed boat, a backyard picnic, a fire in the night?

It is all of those things.  It is memory.  It is the past.  It is the future.  It is now.

It is me and it is you and it is all of us.

It is hope and melancholy and dream, it is all that has been, all that will be.

Well, that's all I've got for today.  That's not true, it is never true.  There is more, there is always more.  Remember earlier I mentioned that I needed to look up and out for the beauty my soul is craving these days.  Well I did.

The snow was so perfect the other day, the day we went sledding - remember? you were there - so I took a few pictures of the snow in the trees.  I like the abstraction of the black and white and gray.

But, you know what?  I took another, this one:

Yes, with the red barn, and all that depends on it...  it gives a sense of place, don't'cha think?

From Marci's  "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"I like ethos."


You know what, buddy?  I do, too... now which one is ethos?

Peace, as always.


  1. Beautifully written as always, and yep the red barn totally adds to the sense of place...

  2. Well done and thought provoking. I know I can't spell it. Anyway I was reminded of a snowy day and picture with a Cardinal in it at the house where you grew up. Have a good rest of your day.