Top of Piedmont: To Watch, Listen and Ponder — Then Write!

August 2012Monthly Archives


The light in the late August sky has a different caste.  The temperatures while warm during the day, cool at night and humidity is brushed away with sweeping winds from the northwest.  Trees laboring all summer to provide a soothing green canopy decide to bid farewell with a last hurrah of color. Field plants and designated noxious weeds drop their allergy making gifts.  It is a time of transition.  There is a mood shift; things have run their cycle and there is anticipation of change.

 Kids are getting a little bored and restless.  Summer soccer and baseball have been fun, but it is over now and what is there to fill the days?  How many afternoons of “Reality” shows can be absorbed before it numbs everything?  There are still dishes to do, lawns to cut and part time jobs, but the effort to get the cash in hand becomes tedious also.  The preschool shopping trips out of town are really an attempt to ease some of the malaise by buying in Fargo, Grand Forks, Duluth or the Mega Mall what is readily available after a ten minute drive to town.

Developmental psychologists talk about times of transition in a person’s life.  Transitions happen rapidly in a young person’s life, while they stretch out over a period of years for the older person.  Each of these adjustments is inevitable.  Life is never the same.

The kindergarten parent watches little Susie or Johnny get on the bus in the morning.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell who  feels the worst.  The kids are most often excited.  Parents wave as the bus heads down a dusty road, turn their backs and choke back tears as they walk back to the house.  This child is no longer theirs.

For high schoolers it is time for the big leagues.  The time of movement from the lower grades to high school is a welcomed one.  Most kids are ready to try something different.  Frequently it is a move to a more permanent relationship with the rest of their life.  What they do or fail to do has consequences far into the future.  That grade generated in freshman Algebra is still there twenty-five years later on the high school transcript.  If they had a hard time making it to every class every day, that record is there also.

Those launching their son or daughter toward college experience a whole different thing. The process of transition is more continuous.  While getting used to the halls and lockers and finding classrooms was an issue for the high school freshman, now it is independent life decisions with the attendant consequences, both rewarding and scary, that face the fresh high school grad.  There is a sense of not belonging anywhere.  While you can go home, you can’t go home.

For parents, preparing kids for the transitions in their lives is pretty straightforward.  Most developmental life changes can be managed by a little planning and preparation.  Talking about the   changes in their lives diffuses a lot of anxiety right up front.  Touring the new environment and talking with the people they will be dealing with every day as they start a new stage of life also takes some of the fear out of the change.

And empty nesters:  as the last one is launched, don’t get caught without a “Plan B.”  There will be a vacuum at times, but again, anticipating the change, planning trips, seeing old friends, becoming involved in community or personal projects you have always wanted to do, fills gaps and makes for self-renewal.

You can’t really go back in life. It’s never the same.  But the richness and opportunities available at any stage of life are there and ready to be tapped.

Slate Gray

The slate gray morning sky welcomes

      The breeze rippling across the water

               dapples with a breezy touch.

 Sunrise below the muting clouds

       breaks trail to the green horizon across the lake.

 My waking foot

       hits the floor.

You are gone.

A Secure World

Recrimination waits outside the door, sitting on the top step, ready to trip anyone who dares walk by. This is the summer of drought, pestilence, and politics.  Soon, one of the presidential candidates or one of his proxies will start blaming (if they haven’t already) the other for all catastrophes man-made or congenital. We may even reach back to the past to blame George W. Bush (rightly or wrongly) for our present predicament.

Life is not even-handed. It’s random. Our unspoken anxiety is sublimated to a demand for certainty in our political, social, and moral lives. Why should we expect it there when it’s not present any place else?

Remember that little sperm making its way to the egg in those junior high sex education films? Only one wins. How come this one wins and all the other dudes lose? Not fair.

A chance meeting for good or ill can shape the context of our lives.  An encounter with an old high school classmate at a reunion leads to a new career opportunity or a rekindled romance, there changing the trajectory of a life with multiple commitments; marriage, family and life pursuits. A car returning from a Christmas vacation spins out on a slippery interstate. All family members save one are killed in a collision with a truck, or a decision to go see a movie in Aurora, Colorado on July 20th this year goes very bad. We can all name countless examples like this, and yet we persist in our belief that there must be a definitive answer to why things happen.

The sperm, the chance encounter, the accident, the trip to a Batman movie, all share one thing in common, they are random. What if that truck driver had stopped for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie? He decides he’s had too much time sitting at truck stops and instead by-passes the pie a-la-mode and heads out the door and the Christmas doesn’t end in tragedy.  The class reunion is skipped, and the fabric of a family’s life remains intact.

We don’t get to pick our relatives, or when in historical time we show up. The circumstances of birth are handed us with no discussion. But they do have an impact on the kind of life we live. The child born in a stick hut in the Sudan will have a very different birth and life from the one born in Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Hollywood.  Likewise, the person with stents that keeps blood moving through the marvelous muscle of the heart would be dead or unable to walk across a room without pain if born seventy-five years ago. Being given something, whatever it is, doesn’t mean you deserve it.

When a person is “owed” something, then it must be someone’s fault when it doesn’t appear; the blame game starts. An airplane falls from the sky; a rock rolls down a hill and crushes a house; a baby dies from SIDS. In the case of the airplane there may be culpability, the rock and the baby dying; really no one to blame. We are lucky things work as well as they do.

If God sat on some cloud in the sky, I am sure he or she would be shaking their head at our pretentiousness, our delusionary thinking that leads us to the conclusion that we can understand the mystery surrounding us. Our attempts at tamping down uncertainty and anxiety leads for many instead to an act of faith; the Judaeo-Christian perspective, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither your ways my ways.”

So for the politicians and others who want “accountability”, the answer is simple as is most questions of this kind. Who is to blame, who is “responsible” is ultimately an unanswerable question. Money, fame and success don’t really matter. We don’t deserve anything. We are lucky to get what we get.

Prince – 1991

 Every summer my wife’s family has a big reunion.  It usually happens around the fourth of July.  I think it has a lot to do with usually perfect conditions for sunbathing, swimming, water skiing, sailing, wind surfing, volleyball, badminton, fishing, running, fireworks watching, trips up the Mississippi to the sand banks and an influx of old friends.

This summer was particularly busy.  We had two ski boats going and someone figured we went through 125 gallons of gas. The grandkids are getting bigger now and it’s not just the adults who slalom behind the big boats.

The reunion is a time of recreation, relaxation, and in many ways nurturance, both emotionally and certainly there is no lack of food.  This year however, the care took a different turn.

Dad has a big Martin house on a pole 20 feet in the air.  Each summer as we sit down by the lake, these chattering acrobats, swoop and screech above us, consuming vast quantities of dragon and fish flies.   Always it seems one or two fledglings stray out onto the balconies of the lofty chalet and tumble to the ground.  Usually they die, but this year members of the family took on the challenge of caring for one little naked nestling.

Of course the little fella had to have a name – somehow purple got mentioned – someone free-associated purple with the movie “Purple Rain”, and all of a sudden “Prince” had a handle

Feeding prince became a family project.  The kids went and found grasshoppers and other bugs.  Someone went to a local bait store and bought some worms and since dad became a Spam fan in Italy during the Second World War, “Prince” even dined on that! The bird had a robust appetite and sometimes his eyes were bigger than his stomach.  Reluctant grasshoppers backed out of his mouth, as well as the nightcrawlers.  A syringe full of water shot into his mouth made things slide down easier.  The Spam – can you blame him – gave way to tiny pieces of hamburger.

People left and the care of the flightless orphan fell to mom and dad.  In the morning as dad came to the kitchen and started making coffee, the sound of his voice elicited plaintive chirps from the cardboard box on the counter.

Prince grew feathers and dad tried to introduce him to his previous bunkmates.  The other birds weren’t too sure about him and ignored him.

Flight training began in earnest as August and a planned trip out of town approached.  Sometimes Prince looked like his namesake – “cool moves” and glitz.  Other times his landings were a mess; feathers, leaves and grass clippings everywhere. 

One day Prince was ready, left and landed in a nearby tree.  Both mom and dad called to him and he’d twitter back.  At lunch dad was sitting on the deck and Prince dropped by for a visit.  Landing on dad’s shoe, he hopped to his outstretched hand and promptly fell asleep in the noonday sun. 

Mid-August came and the Purple Martins were leaving.  Prince left too.  One day he returned for a visit, sitting on the deck railing chirping away before joining his buddies.

The fall migration is a powerful pull and I’m sure Prince is miles south of here. Mom calls to him even now, in the hope he may still be hanging around.  He’ll return – getting what he needs – next summer – just like the rest of us.

Scroll Up