Sometimes, the bookshelf is stocked with wide-ranging topics. Other times the books seem to form clusters. Maybe it's just a question of what's interesting: a rash of murder-mysteries, a brace of biographies, a deep delve into orbital mechanics.
Or perhaps just luck of the draw.
For the past year or so, I have read many stories about the London Blitz and also about the female spies of World War II.
This historical moment –– the bombing of civilians and the endurance of those citizens –– is sadly not unique to the British. It's happening right now, of course. Terrible things happen again and again.
With the Blitz, I suppose part of the pleasure is knowing that it ended. And that the bad guys did not win. With this setting, I've been enjoying a whole host of novels and the odd non-fiction volume.
Here's a trio of recommendations:
I haven't yet had my fill of Blitz stories –– and espionage-by-women tales, the topic for another day –– if anyone has recommendations?
I recently re-discovered this tale I wrote in the early 2000's. This adventure pre-dates the Would-Be Farm (though I was dreaming about it back then!) and some of the principals are no longer with us, but here it is, a retread road-trip...
I'd been helping my sister Sarah fix up her first place up North –– after a long break away from the North Country –– when we decided to spend a day away from the project.
I was in the market for some land, imagining (perhaps foolishly) that I could purchase a chunk of attractive brush with some water feature that would keep Mr. Linton and me happily occupied for the next few decades of summertime vacation.
Turns out, of course, that there are many chunks of brush, some attractive, a few with water features, but almost none in my small price-range offered by anyone actually willing to close a deal.
Anyway, it gave me a nifty excuse for pottering around the back roads of rural Northern New York State.
A classmate from high school was a real-estate agent, and although she was out of town on vacation that week, she had provided me with a stack of property listings to look at. On our day off, my sister and I set a goal of checking out a couple of those places (disappointing: peaceful retreats are rarely located within ear-shot of Fort Drum’s gunnery range).
After the unproductive real estate perambulations, our thoughts turned to something more rewarding. For years, we had heard about the reputed natural bridge over Perch River outside of the village of Dexter.
I was driving down Middle Road. My sister was navigating and she said, "Hey, turn here."
A mailbox marked the turn, and I said, "Sis, come on, this is someone’s driveway."
Implacable, she repeated, "Turn in."
And we got out of the car with our water bottles and our hiking boots and all we heard was birdsong, wind in the treetops, and the whine of a distant chainsaw.
We consulted the map and oriented ourselves toward the river. We were preparing to trespass.
She’s like, "Okay, here’s our story: We are here looking for a friend from high school, and have gotten turned around somehow."
The sound of the chainsaw drew suddenly much closer. I though, gosh, maybe I should have availed myself of the facilities when we stopped at the library in Dexter.
Without even exchanging a look, my sister and I dropped the lie.
We explained that we grew up around here, and we heard that there is a natural bridge over the Perch River somewhere nearby, and we were really hoping to find it.
The woman said, "Why yes, there is. Do you have a half an hour or so?"
Next thing you know, the woman has collected her husband, who pilots a zippy ATV down the driveway to pick us up and they are taking us on a tour all over the 400 acres their son and his wife purchased a few years back.
There’s Perch river. There’s the bridge -- a smidge underwhelming, but aha! ––there’s the river emerging again from the other side of the natural bridge. There’s an old stone fence. Maybe the fence butts up to the Hall’s farm ––The Hall’s farm that was probably our Riggs family farm a hundred years ago. Maybe one of our great-great uncles stacked those very stones.
As it happens, the husband is connected to parents of classmates of ours.
And their daughter-in-law? Turns out she is my vacationing real-estate agent/high-school classmate. We trespassed on her land.
Hours later, our unexpected hosts raid my real-estate agent’s fridge for beer and my sister gets them to take pictures of the two of us in the ATV, playing with my real-estate agent's dog, and lounging on the porch with our purloined beers.
Those photos of us having our disreputable way with other people's porches, off-road recreational vehicle, and beer might possibly have been taken on an early cell phone that was unable to resist water when it went swimming.
But maybe one of those images will resurface, possibly on the tee-shirt of one of the great-grand nephews or nieces, who will point to it while trespassing and say, "Perhaps you know these two characters? Our aunts?"
And here's hoping it will parlay into a free pass, a tour, an anecdote.
The President's Fitness Test. An annual event of anxiety and entertainment that amped up the usual mood of gym-class through my youth.
The opportunities for hilarity –– always close to hand in a mixed-gender high-school class where the gym teacher had a tendency to turn nearly purple with emotion when anyone did anything vaguely teenager-esque –– were legion. I don't remember much pantsing going on, but there was definitely some flatulence (both inadvertent AND deliberate), and the odd fainting.
My buddy, Judy Hall –– she had green eyes and lived in the farmhouse that my great-great grandparents once owned –– was a wiry farm kid, astonishingly fast with the sit-ups, always in the top rank. My own best skill was hanging on. I could suspend myself overhand for what seemed like ages, thinking about something else.
Which brings us, by a wide-ranging path, to a writing warm-up.
*No surprise, since the country grows ever less fit, that the test was discontinued in 2012.
His husband said it over and over: Damont couldn't take a picture to save his life. And this one, the last image on his trusty GoPro, was no exception.
According to several witnesses, Damont was attempting a selfie, holding the camera at arm's length, squinting into the sun. Possibly hungover –– he was vacationing in the Keys with his family after all –– his hand wavered visibly, so his last expression is lost to us.
And then came the curious chain of events that led this tourist from Detroit to his unlikely demise at the fangs of a spray-painted king cobra on the beach in Key Largo early one Easter morning.
"Ain't that the truth," Theresa said as she snapped the picture.
Susan snorted dismissively, but Bobbi laughed with her usual abandon, one big hand on the straining knot of her sarong, the other inching down her sloping belly. Catching her breath after a long minute, Bobbi managed to wheeze out, "Falling! Coconuts!"
Theresa shrugged, but Susan could tell that she was inwardly pleased. Theresa played tough, but the woman loved an audience.
"Cuckoo for coconuts over here." Theresa made as if to order drinks from the non-existent pool-boy. Bobbi was inching the sarong back up her formidable front and didn't hear the quip. Susan pretended she wasn't listening. You couldn't just give her the laugh.
"Ooh, look!" Bobbi said, pointing with her free hand. "Freaky pool float!"
Later, Susan thought it might have been the funniest and most gruesome thing any of them ever said, but then Theresa was running into the water, yelling "Call 911! Call 911!" in her paramedic's voice, and Susan was pawing at and then upending her straw satchel, trying to find the goddamn phone.
Maybe that there's an indoor and an outdoor. In most places in the world, I guess, shelter means blocking precipitation. Once the rain can't get in, a spot can become home.
On a build, there's a precipitous teetering moment when the project is "dried in."
It's when the outside stays out and inside is more than a concept. Windows in, roof on, doors that close. It goes from being a build to being a building.
All this noodling as an excuse to post some more photos of the Woodbee.
Thanks for indulging me!
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