Music and Memories of Annabel Lee

By Bob Grindle

Ever so faintly in the background music is playing…a crazy tangle of flute and piano and harpsichord and guitar and voices. A patchy quilt of sounds. Not sure where it’s coming from…Herbie Mann, maybe Joni Mitchell, definitely some Leonard Cohen, Dylan and Ella Fitzgerald and not sure, Bach or Vivaldi. The music fades.

It is late in the day of September 13th, a grey and threatening day outside. Somewhere in Hartford Hospital I feel like every stored idea and memory I’d ever tucked away in long forgotten, poorly lit, cob-web covered and untidied corners of my mind has fallen off the brittle archival shelves in the prefrontal cortex and broken into a million pieces…more than seven decades of debris…shards of incomplete thoughts and random incoherent fragments of memories; plans wrapped in layers of hope and carefully shelved: “…sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground…” and even memories of fourth grade teachers reading Annabel Lee were clotted somewhere inside my brain as a slowly returning consciousness struggles to overcome the chaos of more than 6 hours of general anesthesia. Curtains of caution wafted uselessly as words bubbled up endlessly from this artesian fountain word-spill. My wife was amused for a while as I tried to make some sort of conversation during this cerebral power outage but, realizing the worst was over, she kissed me and headed home.

The spell was cast and with Lin’s kiss and departure my awareness curled back into its reverie and, gradually, tattered memories and visions of sunny hillsides or star filled night skies faded into the quiet empty canvas of sleep. After years of excellent health and good fortune in navigating life’s ever shifting currents, this recent diagnosis of esophagus cancer has become tonight’s rather heavy reality of a post-operative helplessness heralding the beginning of a long recovery. Waking the next morning to the sounds of monitors and life support ‘bots,’ I felt lucky to have an east-facing window and watched as Venus rose into the clearing dawn sky over Hartford. There are moments in all of our lives when our sense of well-being—that belief in oneself that you can cope with whatever comes along—when that confidence is put to the test. Sitting here, pretty much unable to move without help is one of those moments, but reflecting on the amazing skill, talent and dedication of the healthcare team that made this journey possible quiets my anxiety. If I ever doubted that living is not a solo undertaking, those doubts have taken wing and are long gone.  

It is midday October 22nd, some five weeks since the operation…a chill and blustery day here in the quiet corner, a day full of color and energy.  Living in eastern Connecticut it is easy to feel we are rocking in a cradle almost too gorgeous to be real…nestled between impressive urban centers of dynamism and opportunity, but hidden away under dark night skies and tucked in between forests, farms, waterways and vibrant small towns in a valley that is ancient beyond belief and lovely without taking your breath away, it is easy to pat ourselves on the back for choosing such a place to build a nest. Walking slowly uphill, past the chicken pen, over to the garden and then out to the fields, I notice that the younger sugar maples don’t seem to have lost their leaves to the anthracnose fungus in this exceedingly wet year, and the red maples along the west and north of our property are as beautiful as ever. The forests that surround us are some of the most diverse, and might I add, most beautiful mixed hardwood biomes to be found anywhere. The recently cut field invites a quick run and I smile to think…perhaps not just met. Healing is for the moment and we set off on a simple and immensely enjoyable walk as we talk about healing strategies and I recall reading that the older maples will rebound just fine next year.

By the time we finish our walk it is late afternoon and the waxing Moon is rising into a still day lit sky. The chill that has been with us all day is starting to settle in and remind us that the Sun’s heat is all about the angle of attack and tonight will be worthy of an extra blanket. Jupiter will be rising soon and by the time of the full Hunter’s Moon this weekend the planet and Moon will make for a delightful pairing. Bring on November, and with it a return to Standard Time. 

Without a doubt the loveliest display of the month will be in the pre-dawn sky of November 9th. After the clocks have been turned back and mornings start a bit earlier, the pre- dawn hours of Thursday morning’s east/southeastern sky will see a diamond-bright Venus nearly touching a shimmering sliver of the waning crescent Moon. A jewel of a way to start the day if ever there was one…let’s hope for clear skies. If you miss the 9th, Venus and the faint crescent Moon will be around for a couple more days. They just won’t be so closely paired. A couple of weeks later, in the eastern sky shortly after sunset on November 24th and 25th  the waxing Moon and Jupiter will repeat October’s close pairing as the Moon approaches its full Beaver phase, occasionally referred to as the Frost Moon. 

There are two, usually minor, meteor showers that extend most of the month of November, from the Taurids in early and mid-month to the Leonids that usually peak around the 18th. Due to some advantageous alignments and phases of the Moon this year, a little extra time spent looking up any time you’re out at night this November might be rewarded. The Leonids especially are known for some of the fastest shooting stars (meteors.) 

Stay well, be kind to those around you and enjoy what’s left of the colorful end of year celebration that our region treats us to every autumn. Oh yes, and be sure to enjoy the musical score that is always playing in the background of our lives.

We Are All Storytellers

By Bob Grindle

There were moments when, as a young grammar school student, my attention would drift far from the lesson being taught. It didn’t take much…a bird flying past a window, a cloud shapeshifting against a blue sky, the steady droning sound of the class’s 20 gallon aquarium or the rainy day smell of a class of nearly 40 kids all trying to shake or shiver or stamp themselves dry, and sometimes just thinking about running across a summer field and down the hill to the old gravel pit.  A fifth grade geography or history or English lesson didn’t stand a chance against the fresh, youthful pull of an imagination in full wild horses racing across the high plains state of mind. Despite the teacher’s concerns expressed to my parents that I was too easily distracted and not living up to some lofty, hoped for or imagined potential, thoughts about bicycle trips down to the river or an upcoming family vacation or some recent exploration of a nearby abandoned factory would still fill that enormous etch-a-sketch screen that lurks on stage in the theater of each of our minds.  Such thoughts gently nudged our teacher, Mrs. Krammer’s, curricular efforts off the stage…all but one effort, the class’s daily trip to the school library. 

The school library was a place where a young imagination could rope-swing out over the deep canyon of youthful optimism without hearing the gentle gasps of those who might prefer a bit less mystery in how their days, or lives unfold. I’d like to think that Mrs. Krammer grasped full well the pure magic of her sorcery as she led the class down hallway for a half hour of rather jittery library discovery time followed by another half hour of always rapt and quiet story time. As I sit here looking out through an open window into an early July rainfall that transforms every perception of the surrounding woodland…at least to human eyes…I am reflecting on the 50th anniversary trip my wife and I just completed. There is a small part of me that knows that a fifth grade teacher—by guiding her classes to understand that they can learn from the stories of others—owns a tiny piece of the success of our story. 

There is a relentless and inexorable edge and complexity to the passage of time. The voyage of life, as poets and writers and painters have described and depicted it, is far more beautiful and mysterious and frightening and filled with more wonders and danger than any charlatan’s promise or travel brochure could possibly embrace, and as my wife and I take stock of the vessel that has carried us down this river of life these many years, we chuckle to note that perhaps the boat is in better shape than the sailors. And so it is with humor and excitement that we both look forward to many more years of this journey, crossing summer fields and snowy roads, our minds always looking up while keeping our eyes focused on the path forward.

    Looking up into the early morning and after sunset skies has been a test of patience and persistence through much of these last couple of months. If the skies weren’t completely hazed by smoke blown in from forest fires to our north, they were usually cloudy and threatening rain. But perhaps July and August will bring better viewing, and the three full Moons that frame these two Summer months—that’s right, three full Moons in two months—will have a way of shining through whatever nature puts in their way. In fact, the full Sturgeon Moon of August 1st and the full Blue Moon of August 30th will both be Super Moons because the Moon will be at its nearest to the Earth of the entire year. As twilight fades  an hour after sunset on Wednesday, August 30, cast a look to the east-southeast and the full Super Moon, the second full Moon of August, will be rising with Saturn, slightly above and to the right. Of course, if you’re anything like me, all full Moons are super.

But, while full Moons get more than their share of attention and romantic poetry, they tend to overwhelm the smaller details of night time sky watching. The nights of July 18-20, half an hour after sunset, a little before 9 pm, will treat sky watchers to a jewler’s case of small details as the young and delicate waxing crescent Moon  passes by Mars, Regulus, Venus and Mercury as it sets into the western sky.

The rain has ended and the chorus of birds reminds me that our planet is full of communities, full of neighborhoods, full of promise and beauty and full of opportunity to help care for it. Be well, enjoy the next couple of summer months in our gem of a neighborhood…and maybe visit your local library. 

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