Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Year End Reflections

One of the problems with the end of the year is that it forms a natural inflection point. The problem is that once I start reflecting, I can get lost and start reflecting on unexpected things.

I don't so much think of whole situations. It's more like I flash on instants that carry a temporal echo. They're not necessarily in any chronological sequence, and even if I thought they were, my perceptions have to be suspect.

... sitting in the sand outside our first house on Little Sebago Lake in Windham, Maine. I couldn't have been more than four because we moved from that house when I was ready to start school. The sun was summer warm and I remember the smell of pine and stale tobacco. Dad had given up smoking his pipe by then and the pipe rack was a favored toy. I remember the chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee always having something to say ...

... riding my bicycle around and around the house on Dutton Hill. Flying with my sibs in a pack, racing on the wet grass. Heavy, old, clumsy, rattle-traps of bicycles ...

... crystal cold day. laying on my back on the frozen crust of snow at the top of the hill. eyes dazzled by the brilliant blue of the sun glinting off the ice crystals. letting gravity pull my body down the hill, sliding. whoosh of jacket against the crust, sky flashing over head...

... amazing hubbub from the family gathered in the house. "kids table" set in the next room because there just weren't enough chairs for us all to sit together. cousins and others mixing in uneasy, unfamiliarity at first ... slowly remembering that we really like each other...

... smell of the pine forest. babble of the brook. trout in the stream but I leave them ...

... working the winches aboard the Minkette out of Portland. Haul-back with half a bag of whiting that I know will take two hours to sort ... easing up on the power and guiding the cable onto the spool so it doesn't bind ... lifting the bag over the side and spilling an avalanche of silver across the deck ...

... warm day on the Hazel A, tuna fishing off Monhegan. Gaze across the water, the engines a distance rumble under my feet and the tower sways two meters left and right ... I've been here all day in the sun and my face is burned, my lips are tight but I spot the wake before the seasoned adults ... cousin Herbert up in the pulpit with his harpoon ready ... but the fish subside before we get close enough ...

... broiling in the sun, weeding carrots on a 100 foot row. 9 in the morning. soil already hot enough to burn my hands so I scuffle them along in the dirt to keep them off the surface. I'm not sure .. is this a carrot? is that a weed? twenty minutes for the first 10 feet...

... winter tobogganing down the Big Hill. Screaming down the soft snow only to crash into the stone wall just before the road. No wind. Can't breathe. Shock and snow and blood...

... horse dung and ammonia, mucking the stalls ... hating the job but loving the beasts ... hot summer stench and cold winter warmth ... molasses rich grain, sweet alfafa hay, arms breaking from the buckets of fresh, cold water ...

... night at sea watching the running lights of the factory ships around us ...

... night in New York City ... thinking of the millions of people around me, marveling that so many people live in such a small area after growing up where 100 people was a crowd ... all the lights like jewels ...

... frozen winter sky, telescope finding faint nebulae ... the sky suddenly awash from horizon to horizon in shimmering borealis ...

... leaving to go to boot camp

... leaving to go to Governor's Island

... leaving to go to Kodiak

... leaving to get married

... leaving to get divorced

... leaving to take my wife to the hospital because today's the day my second child will be born.

... standing on the deck of a ferry in Casco Bay listening to Schooner Faire playing on the speakers as we come around Portland Head and knowing that it's probably the last time I'll be "coming home" that way ... leaving for Buffalo in the morning.

... scraping the frost from the inside of my bedroom window so I can look up to see Orion's belt above the trees and wondering what I'll be when I grow up ...

... clam flats in summer.

... squeaky snow in winter.

... the icy run off down the dirt driveway in spring, puddles iced over in the morning from our dam building activity of the afternoon before.

... shockingly deep blue autumn skies alive with the colors of sumac, oak, and maple.

... the smell of wood smoke, perking coffee, and frying bacon on the woodstove. Electricity costs more than wood ... and wood warms twice ... once when you chop it and once when you burn it ...

This is will be my first New Year as an orphan.

Somehow, it's ok.

7 comments:

Nancy McKeand said...

It is so good to hear your voice here again! Your flashes caused me to remember some moments of my own. Thanks!

Lesley said...

I loved this post.

Sarah Mackenzie said...

Beautiful. So many of your own observations made me remember some of my own childhood. Clanky bikes. I'd forgotten how clanky they were. And lips burned and tight from the sun and salt and sea.

Sarolta said...

There's something good, familiar and comforting in your voice, Nate. Thanks!

Barbara said...

Hey Nate, A voice from the past in the present.

I was thinking the other day how we always sat alphabetically in school, those neat little rows. And the rows (or would they be columns?) were Kelley (me)-Lord (Nancy) and Lowell (you).

You know, Nate, we are fated to be "thinky-thinky" as one of my daughters says--she is also afflicted this way.

I appreciate your comment on being an orphan, having been one myself for four years now. It is important to allow all those memories and snapshots and especially the smells to weave in and out- so important.

You know what (as my 2 year old granddaughter says)? My mom was such a good cook, but every now and then she would buy plain old Nissen donuts. Right after she died (1994), one of my kids and I were in the grocery store, in the bread aisle, and we both saw these packs of donuts, turned and looked at each other as tears ran down our cheeks. Weird, huh?

One shared smell memory is of Schlotterbeck and Foss in Protland, Maine. Rememebr when we went in there (was ALice with us?)and you showed us around and the whole place smelled like a vanilla bean? That was so cool.

So, hello, old friend.

Barbara

Nathan Lowell said...

OMG!

For those who read my blog but have never actually met me, Barbara (commenting above) is one of the people I lost track of after high school -- 35 years smashing out of left field.

I'm breathless.

Barbara said...

blogging is an odd thing, but something that seems to suit the day at this moment.

35 years has passed quickly--eh? Do we choose the path or does it choose us, now there's a head spinner for you. I chose a path that should have been so straight, so even which turned into somewhat of a nightmare (truly) of epic proportions-- and, by epic, I do mean Homer-esque.
Someday I should send a bulletted list of my life so far.

At the moment, life has steadied somewhat.

35 years. Huh.

Barbara