Saturday, May 28, 2016

Last of the Wine

On February 4 I went to The City (there is only one The City) for a dentist appointment.  On that wonderful Amtrak ride along the Hudson between here and New York I sometimes write on my IPhone Notes --- short poems, observations -- stuff that in the past I would have recorded in a journal.  That day, on the way home I described an incident on the subway:

"As the door closed. three guys came in with a lively edginess that could mean only one thing – they were going to sing. A skinny bronze man, about my age, called out. "It's quiet in here, but not for long!" His smiling gaze slid in sly confrontation from person to person down the car, as they ducked their heads in turn and peered deeply into their devices. With unselfconscious delight the trio nailed the first note, true and clear, and then followed their jaunty gospel harmony down the aisle, waving paper bags back and forth in front of their sullen audience.  I smiled and pulled out a dollar. The leader broke his song briefly but stayed in rhythm to shout, "We've got a live one!"  I laughed out loud, with none of the head bobbing and smarmy grinning that would have accompanied a fumbling tiny donation during the years of my daily commute.  Or worse, I would have given nothing, one more resentful rider stung into emotional withholding by the intrusion of song. But today I was the kid who first came to Manhattan out of the woods, delighted by the surprise of perfect and archaic harmonies rising in joy against a beaten audience. Something has happened to me since I've moved back upstate, something restorative. I'm a hick again."

Then, I got off the train in Hudson, and Michael told me that Daniel had died. It was a Thursday, and ordinarily I would have met Daniel that morning at DA|BA, his restaurant, to help him develop his pod cast, which turned out to be a couple of hours of conversation on food and life that he only occasionally recorded.  Michael and I had been regulars at the restaurant since its opening when we would land there at 9:30 at night after tunneling up the Taconic to spend the weekend in our rented barn apartment.  Daniel confessed during one of our conversations that he didn't like us in the beginning because our late arrival always meant he had to keep the restaurant open.  He referred to us as the "Jesus Couple" (referencing Michael's beard and long hair).  Over the years, however, we became, along with hundreds of others, his friends.  The weekly conversations, studded with his enthusiasm, intelligence, humor only strengthened my affection for him.

So I'm still sad, and Hudson's Greek Chorus is still lamenting this unspeakably sorrowful death. A former waitperson from DA|BA is finally going to see a grief counselor.  Relish has a scrambled egg burrito, "the DA|BA Dan", chalked up on its board. The co-owner of the Hudson River Tattoo and I got weepy a couple weeks ago, both of us still angry, still confused. "If he had talked to us," she said. "If he had just been able to talk to us." A guy at a recent political fundraiser who was one of Daniel's Cross Fit pals said. "I'm still devastated." 

After four months I haven't been able to write any entries for this blog.  I tried transcribing the only conversation I recorded between Daniel and me and made an attempt at a eulogistic blog entry, but everything I wrote seemed intrusive and narcissistic. I tried writing something on another local topic -- the continuing house saga, the local Democratic craziness, but nothing worked. Then, this morning,  I realized that this blog "Life After New York" is done.  Having spent my formative years an hour north of here, living in Hudport has never required a lot of adaptation.  Our elusive house is due for delivery in about three weeks.  The relationships established here – both the long and short term – and the work I do comprise the dynamic flow of my daily life.  And now, with Daniel's death, the transformation is complete. His sudden loss, like that of anyone meaningful, corrals memory going forward to a specific place and time. And grief plants it into the earth.  Daniel didn't just have a restaurant; he was iconic in Hudson.  And an iconic figure who dies young in a small city or town leaves an entrenched wound that becomes part of the communal heartbreak for years. And since his death I'm now not only part of the community; I’m part of its heart. 

So, I'll keep writing, probably another blog on something like wild flower meadows, local politics, something narcissistic.  But I have finally left New York. I'm a country hick till the end who shuns the noise of the city traffic but can once again be thrilled by its song. And I'm here for good.  

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Well, Well, Wells!

Where I grew up, nearly every summer our well ran dry. My father had an arrangement with our neighbor Charlie to lay a hose down through the woods from his spring to our back yard. My brother, sisters, and I would fill buckets of water from the hose and carry them into the house. On Saturday night, my older sister and I shared the tub, dribbling each other in about two-inches of this hard-won water.  It wasn't a traumatic childhood experience, but it was lousy.

Occasionally, my father, who was always reluctant to part with money when it wasn't a "pretty good deal", would consider digging a new well.  During one of these periods, my mother, who was known to have witchy qualities, decided to try her hand at dousing. She broke off a branch from one of our old fruit trees, and, fists face up, clenching each forked end and with the end of the branch extended straight out, she began pacing the property. We followed impressed and optimistic every time the point of the branch nose-dove into the earth.  A sign of water! (I tried dousing a few years later and experienced this same earthward movement against definite resistance.  I have no idea if the end of the branch was pointing toward water or not, but the magnetic pull was mysterious and unsettling.)  At the time my mother doused, however, in spite of her obvious (to us) gift, my Dad wouldn't risk what could have been a lot of money based on a magic stick and we never had a new well. After my parents sold our house and moved down to Westchester, the new owners hired a driller who went down 6 feet and punched into an aquifer that produced enough water to supply daily baths through all later drought-stricken summers. Ah well.

On my first day of college, I took eight baths, after which tub world became a necessity – a place of meditation, therapy, and warmth. Now, my bath life has come full circle. The bath that was a luxury when I was kid is a luxury once again. Our barn apartment has no tub, so since we moved upstate full time, my only water experience for the last two years comes from our half-assed shower, which spits out mineral-laden water that mysteriously and unadjustably swings sadistically between scalding and freezing.  Years ago on the Upper West Side, deep in pain from my brother's death and the end of my marriage, I sank within the hot healing water of our old cracked tub and experienced the bottom of grief. I miss my baths. I hate my shower.

In our future fantasy house on the site next door, we will have two tubs.  And, in anticipation, we now have a well on the site.  In fact, not just a well for water, but three more for the geothermal delivery of heat. To do this work, we hired Keyser Drilling Company, which, like many small businesses around here, is a multigenerational one. (Dan Keyser Junior, who dug our wells with one other young man, is the great grandson of the man who started the business in 1946.) This winter has been so mud-ridden that Dan and his colleague couldn't start working until mid January, when the ground surface finally froze.  On the day they were able to start, Michael and I walked down to watch. Two red trucks were lodged a few feet from our house site: one carried the casings -- long tubes stacked along the side like fittings for a pipe organ.  The other sported a shaft extending from the back of its bed about thirty feet into air like the main mast on the prow of a ship. Hydraulic tubes and fittings dangled from it, the riggings that would pound the drills and casings into the earth.

They dug the water well first, going down 360 feet and piercing an aquifer with an artesian spring that produced enough water to propel it up the shaft without a pump. Multi-bath time! Over the next three days they dug three geothermal wells, with one producing a gusher twenty feet into the air. Water is everywhere here (raising the specter of a floating basement!).  

Right now each of the geothermal wells, which go down about 300 feet each, has two ends of a tube sticking up like rabbit ears out of their bores.  Each pair of tubes is joined at the bottom of its well to form a loop.  In a week or so Dan Junior and his colleague will come back and push grout up from the bottom of the wells around the tubing to anchor them and seal off the water.

The ecological match-up between our solar trackers and a geothermal system is gratifying. The earth sources the heat for the system, and the sun feeds the solar panels to produce electricity required by the heat pump, the heart of this process.  But how does a geothermal system work, one might ask (although one rarely does).  And can one answer this question without the asker dying of boredom?  And since I am both the asker and, with this blog, the answerer, and since I took only one physics course, which was designed for poets, I risked boredom death to whack through the Google jungle of faux knowledge for geothermal clarification.  Here goes.

The primum mobile of the system is the heat pump.  On its behalf, an ordinary water pump sends a mix of water and glycol (basically anti-freeze) through the loops down into the wells and back to the heat pump.  After about 10 feet in depth, the earth in our region maintains a constant temperature of 47 degrees, so as this fluid mix passes through the tubes it absorbs heat.  Now, when I was idly wondering how this process could actually heat a house to 70 degrees in winter, I was a victim of a popular misconception: that the fluid was heated to the temperature of the earth as it voyaged through the loops and when it reached the house, the heat pump boosted that 47ish temperature up 23 degrees.  Wrong.  As Michael reminded me, "Temperature isn’t heat.  Heat is energy." 

The geothermal system, I discovered, is a slave to the second law of thermodynamics, which I had to look up.  It dictates that when hot and cold bodies meet up heat energy will flow from the warmer to the colder body until it reaches equilibrium. So, in winter when the cold fluid is passing through the warmer earth, an exchange of energy occurs and the fluid warms up. (Heat doesn't move backwards!) As the fluid moves up into the heat pump, the earth-warmed tube passes through another one that contains the refrigerant R-410a – a tube combo called a coaxial coil. Once more, the thermal law #2 police go into action. Liquid R-410a has a very low boiling point and vaporizes into a gas as it absorbs heat even at the tepid earth temperature during this legal exchange of warm to cold.  The gas then passes through a compressor, which squeezes the gas back to a liquid. Heat is released during this process and produces the hot water that will someday pass through coils under our floor, where TL#2 will keep my feet warm.  Ta Da!!! 

And, although still long months away, let us not forget the hot water in the soaking tub poised to enact the second law, exchanging grief and irritation for peace of mind.

(A note: Unlike the refrigerant Freon, R-410a does not deplete the ozone layer. It does, however, have 1725 times the effect on global warming than carbon dioxide.  One trusts that reducing dependence on polluting sources of energy offsets this impact) 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

One Perfect Day

7:00 AM –Michael has to go into the city for a meeting and we head to the train. There's some time so we stop at Relish, a small breakfast and lunch spot across from the station, where Dana, its excellent short-order chef owner, grills up an Amtrak – a fried egg sandwich on toasted wheat berry bread, gooey yellow with cheddar and yolk and anchored by
chewy sausage. I listen to Dana divide up the tasks with her assistant, Heather, an appealing young woman, cheerfully tatted, writing out ingredients on the cooler door. We finish. Michael walks across the street to catch the train, and I head for the Army.

7:30. I'm unaccustomedly early, Sue, the Salvation Army's cook, isn't in yet. Jill, the director, is in her office, and Ria, the Assistant Director, is right outside it sitting at one of the lunch tables. They are counting kettle money, the spoils from the Christmas volunteer bell ringers. Coins are strewn across the surface, so I sit down and start stuffing pennies into paper cylinders while they make fun of me after noticing I'm doing it upside down. Charlie is moving large boxes back and forth into the cooler and the pantry. He is 75 years old, about five-five, and comes in every morning between two and five to organize the storage areas and set things up for the day. After about 15 minutes, Sue arrives and Jill presents us with bags of our presents, pendants of silver chains hung with polished stones. Charlie appears from the kitchen with cards and small wrapped packages. I open mine to find commemorative Canadian coins from 1976, Queen Elizabeth's youthful profile gleaming on their surfaces. It is hard to describe how wonderful Charlie is without using saccharine words, like angelic, so I continue.

8:00 – 9:30, In the kitchen, before we start preparing lunch, Sue and I share guilt over the lazy inadequacy of our own gifts, which we'll be bringing in tomorrow --- wine for Ria and Jill and sugared treats for Charlie. A hodge podge of ribs have defrosted and are spread out on the counter. A bag of potatoes and carrots lean against it. The cooler and pantry are stuffed to the door with donations. We can't get in to see if there is anything more interesting to cook, so we'll make do with what's already out. Robin comes in and unwinds her scarf. She's a young charming Fulbright scholar, home for the holiday month from Syria, where's she working off a research grant on ways to develop educational approaches for improving human rights. She asks what she can do. I put her to work cutting up potatoes for future mashing, while I scrape and cut up carrots.

9:30 to 10:00. Doreen comes in, as she does every Tuesday, with a sack of dish towels and aprons that she launders and returns each week. Being 84 with a mild kyphosis also does not stop her from hauling empty cauldrons into the sink, scraping off caked lunch remnants, and scrubbing the pots back into purity. Doreen also brings gifts, bright wooly things made by local pals. I remove the wrapping from mine and discover a Christmas dish towel printed with holly and berries dangling through a buttoned up red crocheted band. It's actually something I need.

11:00 – 11:30. The carrots, swimming in butter and cider, are simmering. My plan is to reduce the liquid and finish them off with a wash of balsamic vinegar. The ribs are in the oven and the potatoes are cubed and starting to boil up. I check my phone and read an email sent by an editor from my former company. She wants to talk to me about some captions I've been writing as part of a big contract with them. "Shit," I announce to the kitchen, "I have to go home and check out something from work." I grumpily pull on my coat, wish everyone a merry Christmas, and head resentfully to my car. I open the door, shove my O. Henry gifts onto the passenger seat, then stop. "Fuck it." I close the door and go back into the kitchen. "It can wait," I tell Sue and Robin.

11:30 – 1:00. The lunch service starts. About 10 diners have already lined up outside the door, and more are ambling up toward the Center. In the kitchen, Sue, Robin, and I serve the ribs and potatoes onto stiff plastic plates, while singing and dancing to "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" crackling from a beat-up radio someone had donated. Toward the end of service, Janie, one of the regulars, leans through the door that leads from the lunch room into the kitchen. When she isn't high and mean on something cheap and synthetic, Janie is usually severely cranky about the food we cook. She growls at us: "Good carrots. Can I have seconds?" That's a good morning.

1:20 – 3.:00 I pick up Michael at the train station and we head home. It's raining, part of the freaky globally warmed up December. He says he wants to check out the solar trackers, which should be installed today on the house site. I return to the barn and work on my captions. After about an hour, I hear him calling me from the kitchen. "They're about to move!" I throw on my boots and we slop through mud down to the site, where two giant solar trackers now stand 17 feet tall and about 50 feet apart, each set of panels pitched table flat on a stolid leg. Two young men in yellow hoodies are making final adjustments to the wiring. One flicks a switch and moves a ladder away from the northern tracker. We stand in the drizzle waiting. Everyone is silent, and suddenly it produces a birthing squeak and slowly begins to swivel, a bird just out of the egg, checking its environment, straining for food. The sky is gray and whatever sun exists to feed those ebony wings is thin with winter and blocked by shades of cloud. Still, the giant baby finds it and tips down to greet whatever milky light can sustain it. Its southern partner is late. We wait nervously, fearful that we have a runt of the litter. Then, it too squawks into life, turns and tips, rain water sliding off its surface. Minus some adjustments, they are now both in place, our new twins, monstrous and weirdly fragile. I love them.

3:00-6:00. We drive back into town. Michael has to retrieve his credit card from Staples, where he left it yesterday copying off our house factory contract. After that we need to stop at Lotus Energy, the providers of our solar stalkers, to pay them for our new babies. We also stop off for wine and unworthy presents for Jill, Ria, and Sue. Once home, we get a message from Michael's daughter, who injured her middle finger and is just back from urgent care. She proudly texts us a picture of it, splinted up and bleeping the world.

6:00 -8:00. Dave, our landlord/neighbor/friend comes over for a glass of wine, talks about the computer he bought for his sister Sue, but has no interest in watching my three-minute video showing Michael, me, and the tracker workers stare up at the unmoving solar panels for two and half of those minutes.

8:00 -10:00. We have dinner at the bar at DABA, mine a juicy chicken breast resting on parsnip puree. Amy the bartender is four months pregnant and she and I trade food craving and repulsion stories. Daniel, the chef owner, is sitting across the bar with two of his cross-fit pals. I overhear him mention the weekly pod cast he is hoping to record some day, for which his modest goal is to influence a billion minds. We talk back and forth across the bar about his latest idea, to become a food super hero showing the world how to produce great healthy food for everyone. We finish eating, wish everyone at DABA a merry Christmas, and head home.

10:15. Michael wants to check out the trackers in the dark, so he slowly propels our car up the new driveway and we stare out in the darkness, where the twins are now profiled flat and asleep. As we drive back, I can see our barn apartment windows, amber lit and warm through the skeletal trees. "Next year, someone else will be living there." And after this best of all days, I am suddenly sad. We pull into the garage. "I get so attached to a place." Michael turns off the engine. "Me too."

Friday, January 8, 2016

We Got Out Just in Time

Shrouded, trapped by Local Law 11, patches forced upon its iron cheeks, pale crackling bricks, the tarry roof, our building mourns in black (for us?).
Armani strutted through the bottom floor, no cash cow anymore, now gone, a warm step for the ragged man, beer swollen, sleeping on a cardboard slab.
We got out nicking time, cash stuffed, still mewling, lumbering our stuff up north to trees, the din of birds. 

Outside the city racket, sadness rises like the fog.
Each soul in anti-alias, known to neighbors, carved in gossip,
claustrophobic with its ghosts.
Why I ran before panicked and enthralled,
Down and pocketed in New York City's wide and generous skirt
And lived a life.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Merry Solstice Poem

It was the day after solstice and down at the site
Were our two giant trackers just waiting for light.
The day had been rainy, which was sort of alarming,
Another clear message of bad global warming.
Although they were wired to look for the sun,
We were nervous that now, now that all work was done
That gloom would prevent any movement of solars.
And we would be stuck with two giant black molars.
Then right there in front of me what should appear
But the shimmering sight of  slow moving gear. 

The panel swung round and then tipped toward the ground,
Shedding all the day's rain with a watery sound.   
The ebony plates swiveled south in their space
Until breaks in the clouds had them anchored in place.
And we heard them exclaim as we walked out of sight.

"Happy solstice to all and hurray for the Light."