BEAR WITH ME

I’m not certain there is a more soothing scene than the one my eyes are locked onto

at the moment. How fortunate I am to see it frequently, but today nature paints it with a notable flair.

The vista is from the accustomed “Writer’s Perch”. Nothing unusual about that. My view is in the more westerly paddock where two horses placidly graze. Best guess? They are 400 feet from my chair. Seemingly their tails swish in unison, suggesting their complaisance with the surrounds. The grass is much too green for them to dislodge their noses from it. They are the picture of contentment.

I suppose I am, as well, but no, I’m not grazing! It’s just the scene that makes me content. I hope those horses are aware of their good fortune that prompts them to swish those tails. It is a scene in the countryside that never fails to disappoint.

It was but a few days ago that through this same line of sight a bear ambled by, probably on its way to a nearby stream. If one commodity is plentiful on the farm it is water. The bear was walking at a deliberate pace. He’d get there when he got there. He wasn’t twenty feet from the perch, so I bade him good morning, but he barely acknowledged my presence. He then continued his stroll toward the spring.

Well, it was just plausible for me to wonder how the horses perceived their circumstances here on the farm. Why not the bear? But, wait a minute. That’s an unfair comparison. Why? Because one is a domesticated animal, the other is wild.

I suppose a story could be hatched: Once upon a day at Tuckaway a bear wandered by the horse paddock fence. He was on his way to get a drink of water and knew that if he crawled under the fence boards and through the paddock, he’d get to the spring faster. The bear had done this before, but today was different. There were three horses peacefully grazing in the middle of the paddock.

There was another complication. The bear’s big body hardly fit under the fence….

Pardon me, dear reader. This is what happens to me when I sit at the writer’s perch. Lord knows what it will lead to ! I didn’t like where this was headed, anyway.

OR WAS IT THE MUDDY YAZOO?

Bobbie Gentry might have called this afternoon “another sleepy, dusty delta day”. But then I wonder how many folks out there still recognize the name Bobbie Gentry. The lyric might be more recognizable.

Around here we walk across the Delaware River, not the Tallahatchie, but the question is still out there. Just what was it that Bobbie and her boyfriend were throwing off that bridge, or will the question forever swirl in the vestiges of mystery?

If you will, pardon my rumination. It’s the heat, you know.

TOWING THE PARTY LINE

It may sound political, but it’s not. Far from it, in fact. Indulge me for a bit of Hunterdon County local color. Let’s say the year is 1960.

The subject is telephony. That’s right, the telephones that we all used 60 some years ago. That isn’t so many years, well within my own recollection, at least.

No, smart Alec. It wasn’t as though, when I was calling someone, I picked up the receiver and said, “Thelma, get me Harold.”

A few years had gone by since those days, but not really that many. Phones still had those circular dials . We were not yet a “push button society”. It was, in fact, still the era of the “party line”.

“What’s that?”, you younger ones might ask.

Well, a wire still made the singular connection between the phone that you were using in your house and the phones in 1,or 2, or 6 other nearby homes. All of the phones in those homes were on the same circuit. That made the set-up easier, the closer together the homes were, the better (for the phone company).

What did that mean? It was simple. If you and one other of the 6 happened to be using the phone simultaneously, you then heard their conversation as well.

Now, let’s attempt to fathom the unlikely incident when 6 Harolds were simultaneously attempting to call 6 different Thelmas . Remember, they were all on the same circuit. Can you begin to see the complications here ?

Another problem: Enter the love struck teenager. Vacuous lulls in their conversations were quizzical. Stone silence would persist on the line for untold lengths of time. They just couldn’t find the words or whatever the HELL they wanted to say. So they didn’t say anything. It was the proverbial game of chicken. All of this while a neighbor might well have been waiting to use the phone. Dad used to get pissed.

Lucky for us, over time phone service improved. Party lines faded to obscurity. Most of us are versed in the leaps and bounds of technology that have improved the way we communicate. Comparison to the old school is stark. Surely Thelma no longer has to get Harold !

O

Neighbor

Marty Baker is a few years younger than me. We’d pass each other in the halls now and then as students at Del-Val. Being in a different class creates at least a perceptible degree of separation. You know how that is when you’re in high school.

There was another degree of separation when we were growing up. It was a fence; a fence on the surveyor’s line that separated his Dad’s farm and my Dad’s farm. Beyond that we were both farm boys milking cows in the morning and milking again at night. Summers were wrought with the fevered pitch of stacking hay. All of that left no degree of separation. It was just gut-wrenching work, no matter which farm.

Time marched on. Marty’s Dad found a more conducive farm to do the dairying, way up in north-central Pennsylvania, Tioga County that is. The Bakers joined the legions of Hunterdon dairy farmers who left the county for “greener pastures”. We would no longer hear through the woods the sound of Bakers calling their cows in to the barn at milking time. We were doing the same. It was the end of a mini-era.

Draw any line you might, Marty’s departure was emblematic of the churning change unfolding in Hunterdon’s agricultural makeup. However, don’t assume that the boys on those farms don’t still sense the draw of farming that kept their feet planted to the ground, even when they were youngsters.

Witness that the phone rang today. It was Marty. He was looking to wish us well and just check in. We chatted, talked farming for a while. Marty’s had his share of maladies. So have we all.

But as we de-coupled from our conversation, I felt good. Our chat had been born of a bunch of good years, fertilized on our farms. Life is good. God is grand. Thanks for the call, neighbor.

THEN, IF EVER

June 16, 2022

Robert Frost would have run out of ink if writing about this June. One after the next of splendid days have been ours in which to luxuriate.

How well do I know? Take it from a Haymaker. No, that’s not the name of a constellation in the nighttime sky, or much as it may sound, the name of a drink at the bar down in Pittstown. No, it’s just as it sounds; one who makes hay.

Slinging bales in June has been my lot since the bales were bigger and heavier than I was. And why in June? Simply put, “then, if ever, come perfect days.” Thank you for that, Mr. Frost. Indeed, perfect sunny days are needed by the Haymaker to get his perfect bales.

Before I get bogged down, the Haymaker is, decidedly , a unisex deal. Nowhere is it written that all hay help need be boys. In fact, I recall those instances when, from my tractor seat, I’d peer across the field and see all feminine bale-slingers. Indeed, the work was getting done on that beautiful day, all by the ladies.

Back to this June, though. Spring is typically attended by very unsettled weather. Many Springs will drive the Haymaker nuts, timing the endeavor around the next raindrops. Would I jinx this heretofore perfect June by noting that it has been most cooperative?

Oh boy, now I’ve said it!

BALANCED

Dad was looking to buy a farm in Hunterdon County not long after I was born. By that time he must have been satisfied that there was sufficient critical mass of sons in his family (3) that would grow into the labor force necessary to keep a dairy herd.

Hell of a reason to have kids, wouldn’t you think? Call it Milk House Manifest Destiny ! It is unfair that I should even write this anyway. Dad’s no longer here to offer his side of the story. Sorry, Dad. I’ll find myself in the same predicament someday.

And how about that male chauvinist comment that I just wrote? Something about “critical mass of sons”. As though daughters can’t work the dairy ! Sorry ladies. Regarding that, I hold one truth to be self-evident. Generally speaking, boys are more brute-like than girls. Dairying is brute-like work. What’s good for the gander is not always good for the goose.

Notwithstanding such mundane details , Dad had certain qualifications in mind as he hunted for a farm. To this day, I remember him saying to me, “ I wasn’t going to buy junk.”

Turns out, he didn’t. In fact, the purchase he made augured to my favor many decades later when Judy and I purchased Dad’s purchase, minus the farm house, barns and 15 acres. When all was settled, we wound up with a farm that was nicely balanced, essentially half open, half wooded with all sorts of water flowing through it, a total of 62 acres and change.

Several springs, a few creeks merge to a single brisk flow as it exits at the farm’s western border and heads to the Delaware. The farm is a sweet balance of fields, paddocks, woods, a pond and comfy farm house.

Did I ever thank Mom and Dad enough for selecting this lovely patch of ground and enabling us to buy it? Quite probably not. Was it just a matter of being in the right place at the right time? I suppose. That and paying attention.

THE VERANDA REVEALED

Wonderfully populated with flowers, we have seemingly outdone ourselves this Spring with colorful collections in whatever direction you might look.

I say “we”, not to infer that I’ve been out there myself digging the garden, pulling the weeds. I am more the self-appointed flower enthusiast; shall we say the in-residence floral aficionado to the nth degree who just exults in this stuff.

We’ve just sort of “re-modeled” this whole garden, ripping out a tired boxwood border and replacing with far more visually pleasing flower plantings. A dirty Plum tree is replaced by a gorgeous Red Bud, complete with heart-shaped leaves; a subtle suggestion.

Yes, we’ve had professional help and, Yes, Judy gets a ton of credit for the new look. It’s just one huge improvement.

Just this morning while luxuriating in the surrounds, I was joined by a hummingbird. Most everyone has watched the dizzying pace with which this little guy flaps it’s wings; would you believe about 53 beats per second?

Not to be out done, a flying flower itself makes the scene. The Garden State’s official bird, the Goldfinch lingers not much longer than the Hummingbird. The Finch, however, seems to be up to a little unabashed mating, apparently having taken a cue from the Red Bud tree.

Ah, the subtitles of it all!

The Big Lie

I can hardly bring myself to do it. To tell the truth, that is. The question, however, is one that I am asked every day by well-meaning people.

“I’m doing OK, thanks. How about you?”

I then silently muse to myself over the truth of the matter. The truth is that I just told a big lie. The truth is that if the well-meaning questioner ever saw what I experience every day, the correct answer would be clear. I’m not “doing OK”.

My intent here is not a self-pity session. I can sit up and take nourishment with the best of them. I just need to take a little truth serum now and again. After all, I strain my guts out just to get dressed in the morning. My balance is so out of kilter that every day devolves into a contest not to fall down. Doing anything in public is a tribute to the efficacy of my wheelchair! MS is a deliberate, slow-moving insidious disease.

What’s next? I’m afraid to ask ! You’ve heard it said, “The damage is already done.” Is modern medicine about to quell, rather reverse the ravages of MS? I’m not holding my breath. Such a reversal would mean cleaning or eliminating the lesions that have accumulated on nerve endings in specific areas of my body. Those lesions define Multiple Sclerosis.

Is there a silver lining? Definitely!! Will an eventual vaccine serve to eliminate those lesions?

Hey, They’re working on it. One has to believe that this code will get cracked. I just wish that they’re getting close !

I’m tired of telling the big lie !

On Being a Mets Fan… Yo la Tengo.

It was 1962. At the tender age of 9, I loved baseball. I loved to play it, I loved to listen to pro games on the radio. Inside the family’s dairy barn wasn’t always the best venue for listening, but the drudge of barn work was much better wiled away by an entertaining game.

In fact, well before my day, baseball had been a steady diet of Yankees in post-season play. Later on, when whichever National League team won the pennant, who did they play in the World Series? Chances were, the NY Yankees. Much to their credit, it was a steady drumbeat… Yankees, Yankees, Yankees.

As a kid, I had no particular allegiance to any team. Often a youngster follows his Dad’s baseball preference, but my Dad was from Michigan. He could have cared less about the Detroit Tigers, much less the Yankees.

So when an expansion team was born to the National League, I was due to root for them. Not that they were close to home, but the New York Mets were close enough. It wasn’t as though I’d ever be going to a live game, anyway. Anyone who doesn’t understand that, never milked cows.

At least the Mets would be a needed diversion from the same old Yankee drumbeat. I was in. So was older brother, Dave. We’d root for the New York Mets.

It is here, I realize, that some readers may take leave of me. After all, the ‘62 Mets were one hapless baseball team. I invoke the words of their beleaguered Manager, Casey Stengel, “Can’t anyone here play baseball?”

Indeed, the Mets record for that year was 40 wins/120 losses. Nevertheless, fans loved them. The National League hadn’t had a New York team since 1957. Fans took a leap of faith that their Mets would improve.

They did. You may recall a pejorative reference to “the greatest miracle since the ‘69 Mets.” They did beat the Baltimore Orioles that year, 4 games to 1 in the World Series. That is still considered one of the greatest upsets in World Series history.

Nonetheless, I still harken back to those original Mets. Perhaps you were with me in those days. If so, you will recognize names like Marv Throneberry, Chris Cannizzaro, Elio Chacon or Frank Thomas. Oh, lest I forget, Choo Choo Coleman.

Frank Thomas hammered 34 home runs that year with 94 RBIs, a season otherwise obfuscated by the team’s dismal performance. Thomas and Chacon did display some colorful fielding antics born of their respective languages.

Thomas, in left field, would be focusing on a very short fly ball that he had to run like hell to catch, but he got there. He was calling the catch, “I got it. I got it.”

Chacon, the short stop, had hustled to catch the same fly ball. He, also, was calling the catch. “Yo la tengo. Yo la tengo.”

Thomas knew not a word of Spanish. Chacon knew not a word of English. The two of them collided in spectacular fashion, neither of them catching the ball.

That very scene magically encapsulated the first season of the Amazing Mets in 1962. Since then… well, it’s been a tough row to hoe. They won it all again in ‘86. They’ve won 5 National League pennants. 6 National League East Division titles.

And, yes, as I write it is early in the 2022 season. For now, the Mets command the best record in baseball. Would it be presumptuous to suggest that the Mets have come full circle?

JackPot

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda … played the lottery this morning .

I awoke and glanced at my digital clock. What did it read ? … 333 , as if to suggest that they should be the numbers to play, were that I a gambler.

I did briefly indulge the moment. What were the chances that I should arise at 333 ? Never mind, I dismissed the matter. There is a reason that long ago I opted out of that probabilities course.

A full moon glowed, illuminating the nighttime sky. I listened intently for a moment. Something was out there, so hopelessly distant as to evade recognition. But, yes, it was out there.

Many don’t realize this, but the nighttime woods are often a killing field. Oh, the battles one hears, not to suggest that many of the sounds are identifiable. Sometimes the noises yielded by an animal fighting for its dying breathes are, by their nature, not recognizable.

If there are any clueless tree huggers wigged out by reading this, do bear in mind, the phenom here discussed occurs quite naturally.

At at any rate, the wee hours ambled to dawn and I lay abstractedly ‘til daylight beckoned me to push the pen a bit. Thanks for your indulgence. You see, writing is my fixation.