From where I sit, I can see a couch, wood stove, TV, book cases and various pieces of physical training machinery. (All of it needs dusting!) That’s about as far as I dare look into America the Beautiful today. I hope for hope. I need hope. I take it that this is better than no hope at all. Which is where I have been for a while.

People are saying scary and insane things today. “Stand for the flag and kneel for the Cross”. And this: “I am so happy to have a dignified First Lady for a change”. And this, ”Suck it up sore losers.“ Or, ”Stop your whining and support your president!" Oh yeah, just like you supported President Obama? Remember him? Remember how the Senate Majority leader promised to make it impossible for Obama to govern if he won his second term? Is that the kind of support you have in mind?

One thing we know: Nationalism – the current trend in the White House – which is the twin sister of Fascism, has been, throughout history draped in the flag while invoking the blessings of God. Religion and government are like oil and water. Both are ruined when mixed.

A religion that insists its principles be imposed on others is totalitarian and has no place in this country or any other for that matter. We must distrust those among us who can not practice their faith without seeking to impose it upon others.

Mr. Trump has awakened the alt.right – the Skinhead contingent. The sleeping thug has been aroused and given permission.

Human rights are now threatened as never before. Women have now become our canary in the cage. When their rights are abridged then the rights of all of us are in danger. On Saturday women all over the world led the way and took the fight to the doorstep of power. The debt this country owes to those patriots is huge.

The salivating jackals surrounding Mr. Trump are tearing at the flesh of the republic and ripping apart environmental protections, restraints on the financial industry and the ACA and ignoring the critical needs of millions of Americans while slapping each other on the back in joy and jubilation. Their replacement plan fort the ACA? Get real. It will be a windfall for he insurance cartel.

Don’t look now, but essential protections and pathways for redress are being pealed away one by one. The press is being systematically cut out of the loop and even threatened and maligned when questioning the actions of government. The corporate steam shovel is poised to dig up the Grand Canyon and ANWAR and every piece of protected land in this country.

Dissent at your peril. But dissent we must.

NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT TO US HUMAN BEINGS THAN LANGUAGE.

I am sure that most of you are as distressed as I am about the careless way language is abused these days. I’m not talking about vulgarity. That will always be with us and ironically the way the language of vulgarity is used is among the clearest examples of language usage.

I had a teacher once who used to say that a passage in some text we were reading didn’t mean what it said but it “means what it means”! So, I said, it could mean anything or nothing at all. He took offense. I probably would have as well, but I made my point – which was if words can mean anything then they are meaningless.

By virtue of this country’s twisted and broken election system we elected a minority president whose idea of language never got beyond the age of puberty. His comments about just about anything seem fit for little more than the bleachers at a hotly contested basketball game. Leader of the free world? The free world shudders at the prospect of dealing with his thin skin and proposed quick fixes.

Now comes Ms. Conway – a trusted insider – saying not to listen to his (Trump’s) words but listen to, or look into what’s in his heart. This woman is the world cup champion of Dodge Ball. When she speaks I always have to shake my head in wonder at the obfuscation and outright double-speak she uses to avoid answering the simplest of questions. Her job is to “explain” the president? To advise him? It’s a full blown Orwellian nightmare come true.

How long until we hear something like, “I know I said that but you shouldn’t believe everything I say”. Which, of course, means anything.

Stock up on batteries folks – it’s getting dark.

The other day I was deep in thought – a tricky and sometimes disturbing place to be – when I noticed that there was, what sounded to me like, some static in my cochlear implant sound processor. Something similar had happened before and I had to have the device exchanged. It was distressing to think that was happening again. I have two processors so I exchanged them but the noise continued.

I was in the midst of writing an email to my audiologist to see if she had any suggestions when I decided to go to the kitchen for a refill of darkroast. I was pouring a cup when I noticed that the static was gone. Ah ha! I said. A clue! I walked back to the chair where I was sitting with my laptop when the static started up again.

Thinking this was some kind of electrical interference I unplugged everything within reach to no avail. The noise continued. The box in which I keep the hearing aid that the cochlear implant replaced was on the side table as well. I picked it up and the sound that I was hearing increased. Ah ha, again! I opened the box and the little device was singing like a chickadee. It was turned on. When I turned it off the noise I was hearing stopped.

I had to admit that No. 1 – I am deaf. No. 2 – the sound I do hear is either “processed” by the sound processor of the cochlear implant or it’s the amplified frequencies I can hear, which, of course, leaves out the frequencies I can’t hear that are in the complete sound profile that surrounds me all the time. So, what I hear is incomplete at best.

A person with normal hearing would have zeroed in on the source of that spurious noise in an instant. I’ve walked away from running faucets, failed to respond to my name being called and simply missed aural information everyone else was taking for granted. Which is to say, I have a physical disability that is mostly invisible to others but which compels me to be constantly on the alert to clues other than aural clues so I can proceed safely throughout my day. I feel no pain. I appear normal enough that no one ever gives me a second look. But I work hard to be aware of my environment when out and about. It’s tiring.

I am very thankful for what ability I do have to hear. But I also understand that I can not trust my hearing to be true. If I can have a successful conversation with a friend it’s a good day. If I can understand a friendly voice on my phone, it’s an excellent day. I ask for assistance and clarification when out alone and specially traveling by bus or train to Boston to have my hearing hardware adjusted.

There was a time when I was a boy when someone with my degree of hearing loss would have been sidelined, much the way my grandfather was – who was deaf so that we had to shout “Supper is ready, Grandad!”, and we smiled when he said something not knowing there was an on-going conversation at the time.

AT THIS TIME OF YEAR, DARKNESS BECOMES A NORM – THERE NEVER SEEMS TO BE ENOUGH LIGHT.

The winter solstice is such a wonderful turning point in the geophysical calendar of events. From now on, light increases until there are only a few hours of real darkness left. This phenomenon along with the northern tides have been the most stimulating occurrences I have encountered living in Maine. Well, I suppose one could call sub zero blowing winds out of the Arctic stimulating. Maybe numbing is a better word.

These two events – the seasonal shift and the tidal flow, serve to keep us tuned into the actual working of our solar system – forces greater than our puny desires and fears. The moon’s gravitational pull on the ocean’s mass of water and the wobbling of the earth’s axis back and forth for it’s predictable 23.5˚. It’s almost like taking the vital signs of our world. It’s alive and well, or perhaps better – functioning according to specifications. I fear that in time, human ingenuity will find a way to mess it up.

There are other systems. The Gulf Stream for instance. An oceanic river flowing from the Gulf of Mexico up into the Northeast Atlantic then diving down to the depths to return to the Gulf to pick up a fresh charge of climate sustaining warmth. These are signs of a living planet. It’s exciting.

Speaking of human ingenuity, scientists – you know: that bunch of mythologizing naysayers – have already documented a shift in the ocean temperature that is melting arctic ice and threatening to cause a devastating climate changing temperature shift in the Gulf Stream.

But we can relax. It won’t happen next month and besides it’s only science. And besides #2, God told us to subdue the earth – pound the shit out of it – all to His glory. Isn’t that right? Even a casual observer can see evidence of this pounding without much effort.

And if that isn’t scary enough we now have a president elect who doesn’t read, and some evidence suggests that he doesn’t think – well, except about himself, and by his lights that seems to be enough.

Just now it’s dark. But light is coming. It will be interesting to find out what that light reveals.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

The following is a quote from a note from an old friend. It’s in response to a statement I made about how it seems that it gets harder and harder to keep up with the work of friendships the older you get.

"I … sometimes feel a gradual growing distance in friendships. My perception is that for 95% of my life this didn’t occur. However perceptions, mine and others, are unexplainable, more mysterious than women.” (I didn’t know anything could be more mysterious than women, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day)

I’ve thought about this a lot and have concluded that there are some real reasons for this “gradual growing distance” that seems to infect those of us who are more or less fortunate enough to live a long time.

To begin with, older people have more going on in their lives that they have to deal with every day.  The inventory of things you can no longer do or do well.  Failing eyesight, hearing, lung power and bowel action, balance, dwindling strength, diminished libido, the expanding list of actual diseases.  These things begin to occupy more and more of one’s thoughts.  At least that’s how it is here.

There is a more subtile element going on here as well.  We men often act as though we think we’re all alone in this struggle to survive in the aging process.  This is its own disease.  A couple of old guys can spend hours together every day and not know what’s going on with each other.  Women can’t do this.  They talk – share – confide – laugh and cry.  It’s personal.   Men have to have some un-personal activity or subject matter to talk about.  Poker, football, golf, fishing.  Nothing wrong with any of that but guys can hang out for days around one or more of these activities and never know one of them is sick or sad or afraid.  This would never happen with women.

I don’t know just where I’m going here except that it seems easier for men to adjust to isolation.  And that’s a self defeating talent.  A kind of default self-maintaining virus infected algorithm.

When I was growing up, there were many overseeing adults in my life. The entire neighborhood was my mother. In order to maintain my sanity – or more to the point, the sense of who I was – I found myself hiding out in my garage attic or my tree top lair or off somewhere on my bicycle. I was expert at escaping.

The outcome of this early “training” was the often repeated desire to become a hermit. To go off and live in a cabin in the woods. Beyond authority. And as I now know, beyond companionship, wi-fi, a good liquor store and probably beyond medical care. I suppose what it boils down to is – beyond reality.

Isolation from time to time is necessary to reset one’s clock to standard time. It increases the value of community and companionship.

So there are two old guys sitting on a bench. Sharing their fears, pains, hopes and even dreams. Laughing, crying and yelling at each other – from time to time reaching out and touching one another … to be reminded of their humanness… .

For the 35 years that I have lived in Maine it has been a kind of house axiom that by my birthday there would be a snowfall. Oddly, that seemed to prove itself more often than not, specially when I lived up in the central part of the state. Now that I live in the southern region of the state, this is not so common. I don’t even think about it. Until this morning.

It isn’t much. Only a dusting. The temperature is dead on 32˚. If the sun shines, and the rumor is that it will, it will be gone soon. But right now it’s there specially on elevated surfaces. What does it mean? Nothing much. A little precipitation is a good thing.

It’s more of an emotional ceremonial thing. It’s only late fall. Actual winter is a month away. But this is its harbinger. I have already moved the snow blower out of the cellar and into the spare garage for easy access to the work it will have to do. All I have to do is run the door up, crank the machine and head out into the white world of blowing snow. Whoa there Pard – Don’t get carried away in pre-season ecstasy. It’s highly likely that I’ll be cussing the stuff before the daffodils bloom. But for now, we have turned that proverbial corner. The holiday season begins now. Seek out the warmth of family and friends. Pay attention to the things that matter.

We’ll begin the season by climbing the local mountain later today. Then we’ll pick up a couple of live lobsters for our dinner by the fire. It’s entirely possible that there is a nice bottle of wine in the mix, all in celebration of 85 winters and that first dusting of the season.

This is a re-visitation of a post I wrote for my 79th birthday in 2010. It’s instructive for me to realize that for the most part, what I said then still holds some truth today.

Yet Another Birthday Rumination
21. November 2010 ·

I promised myself, a long time ago, that if I should become an old person, I would not ruminate about being old. The reason I made this promise was that all the old people I knew were always talking about being old and it was depressing and boring. Well, now that I am actually old, I find that the thing I know most about (and about which I have ample documentation) is the business of being old. Of course, I could just keep my mouth shut. Alas, though I have lived a long time, and though I have always dreamed of being one of those silent mysterious types, I have not learned the lesson of reticence, much to the regret of the few close friends I have left.

Hardly a birthday goes by that I do not mark the passing of another old friend. This is the hardest part. I have said before, that a high school buddy of mine puts u a web site and lists the passing of class members as that happens. I moved away from the old home town soon after high school and therefore do not have an on-going experience with these people who are hardly more than yearbook memories, but who were then friends and acquaintances – school mates. He posts pictures of their gatherings, which are more instructive than looking into a mirror. I want to say, “My god those people look old”!

The body is the world’s most eloquent professor of gerontology. You don’t even have to take notes: it’s a continually updating notepad. You just have to “read” it. I sometimes think I am being singled out as a kind of test bed for ailments. Then I walk through a modern drug store and see evidence that I am only one of millions who are falling apart. You can tell how things are going with your neighbors by looking at the size of the different displays. Pain relief is perhaps one of the biggest sections. Then comes the 3 C’s, coughs, colds and congestion. Close behind is irregularity. Although this doesn’t cover the entire spectrum of aging complaints, it’s instructive.

I’ve noticed that mature people don’t give a damn who sees them “shopping” for pain medicine, or a more effective laxative, or a cold medicine. It’s part of the life. By the way I never see mature people shopping the condom section. I’ve never seen anyone shopping the condom section. Remember when you could only get them by asking for them?

I met an old friend in the grocery store yesterday. As we talked, it became apparent that we both suffered from hearing loss. We compared hearing aids. I had just purchased a packet of batteries. Later in the evening one of my batteries died and I replaced it with a new battery and discovered that it was the wrong size. This morning the other one died. As I sit here I am stone deaf. I remember having hearing so acute that it kept me awake at night. I think that’s all I’m going to say about what I can remember doing, There’s no space for that.

I am a lucky men. I can walk without assistance, and eat most anything, still handle good liquor and, after several medical interventions, see quite well. I’ll get up in a moment and go downtown to exchange these batteries, and check, hopefully, for a possible breakthrough in the irregularity section.

Same time next year?

If you pressed me about what I considered to be the most valuable possession I have, I’d have to say it is friendship. I wouldn’t hesitate.

It isn’t money. I never had any and still don’t. It isn’t influence. I never had any and still don’t. It isn’t power – I don’t even know why that came up. Believe me – if I had power, I’d make a few changes. But, moving on, I can’t imagine life without friends.

That being said, over the past several years, I have experienced a quiet withdrawal from my “normal” active participation in a social life among friends and acquaintances. I can’t say it was unconscious, but it borders on that. I had become aware of how poorly we articulate our words and how seldom we focus on the process of communication – the art of being understood – not just understanding.

I found myself in the paradoxical position of being anxious around friends. It was tiring, frustrating and discouraging. This didn’t happen overnight. It took decades of slowly becoming aware of my disability and adjusting my life to compensate for that. Not altogether unlike a person bound to a wheel chair searching for access.

I have friends, of course, who “get” it and who understand what I need in order to participate in conversation. I also “get” it about others. You don’t change the way adults speak or behave as communicators. Most people do not see themselves as communicators. It is my opinion that most people think that being understood is somebody else’s responsibility. Of course, we know it’s a partnership – a two way street.

I’ve taken steps to treat my hearing loss. Over the years, I have had a half dozen sets of hearing aids, each a little more powerful than the last. In May of 2016 I received a cochlear implant on the left side. I now have frequencies I have not heard for many years. It is not perfect. It will never be perfect. It is better. I am still anxious around friends – wanting to understand and participate. I have a better chance at those goals now than ever.

Advanced Bionics, the maker of the device in my head, have a wonderful web presence. On that site there is a link to a forum called Hearing Journey, which you can find at: https://hearingjourney.com It is a journey. It’s different for everyone. No two stories are alike, but they all share one thing – the desire to understand. Check it out. You would be welcomed.

I’m not a dog type person. In my mind this is neither a good nor a bad thing.

I grew up in a dog free family. There were no dogs on either side. My mother had two siblings and my father had twelve. No dogs that I ever knew about. What would you expect?

I remember asking my parents about having a dog and without the slightest deliberation they said, “NO!” That was that. I also remember being quite afraid of dogs as a child. I think dogs knew that.

I actually had a dog back in the mid sixties. I knew this woman who had AKC miniature poodles. Out of a new litter there was one whose birth was not witnessed – apparently a big deal – so it could not be registered. She offered him to us. My kids were ecstatic!

I convened an executive session of all five family members and laid down the law about caring for the dog and received unanimous agreement that Sam – they named the poodle Sam – would be cared for by THEM! It should be said that I have laid down the law countless times in my life only to be disappointed an equal number of times. Nobody ever gave a rap about my law.

Sam was a short timer in our family for a variety of reasons, most of which clustered around the issue of taking care of a pet and an uncomnon level of ignorance about that. You can fill in all the blanks you care to.

I have long since concluded that my best experience with the canine crowd is when the dog of record belongs to someone else. In light of that principle, I can say that I have had excellent relationships – all tangental, of course – with a number of fine dogs over the years. Here are a few.

There was Daisy, a cocker spaniel, that barked ferociously upon my arrival and then settled down peacefully. As I recall, Daisy was a tad flatulent, and that made me feel right at home. Then there is Lilly, a standard poodle who takes me riding in her boat. She loves the boat. Also B, an Australian sheep dog who is in the throes of adolescence and may not survive that. What a beautiful face. She lives in Florida and may put me up when I am down there in the spring. Then there is Ellie over in Topsham. Lives in a new condo. Nice place! There are always good things to eat when I visit her.

My son, David and his wonderful wife Alice are dog people on steroids. It seems that over the years they have had dozens of “golden” type dogs whose life and escapades have been chronicled to me faithfully. They are my grand-puppies. Sometimes we do Face Time with them. Currently there is only Beauregard, but perhaps not for long as a companion is being aggressively sought as we speak.

There have been other dogs, but space, as well as your tolerance, is limited. Remember: Be kind – when out and about use a leash and pick up your poop.

YOU KNOW HOW IT IS – You go off to school or work sometime in your early life and discover opportunities where you never thought they were and as a result never go home again. Well, that describes my early life. I could cut to the chase and say here I am in a remote corner of America feeling as much at home as I ever did in the land of my birth.

It’s here that an interesting sidebar should be inserted. The pictures I have stored in my mind of my friends and my life in the land of my nativity are all dated and faded. Because I never see those people, I see them as they were not as they are.

For you who have lived your lives close to where you grew up it’s a different feeling and experience. You and your friends have grown up into maturity in a partnership of shared lives or at least a shared place. When you see each other the changes you see are gradual and you see yourself in the lives of others.

When my brother died photographs were posted of people I last saw many years ago. Suddenly, my own age was palpable. For a while there was a website dedicated to news and events of my high school class. They would have a monthly luncheon and I would look at those pictures in amazement. Hardly a one would be recognizable to me in a random encounter.

I have spoken to many natives who say they would love to have lived somewhere else. But the draw of the familiar, of home is powerful and usually overrides most other considerations.

I sometimes envy those of you who grow into old age among your people. I have friends for whom I am grateful beyond words, while my immediate family is gone and old friends are slipping away. But isn’t that the way it goes? Yet, there is an element of life that I missed and do miss. On the other hand, I feel sure I would not change a thing. Our histories are the culmination of countless choices which if only a few or even one were otherwise, none of this might be happening.

We take life as it is. Even if we want to change things – that change must begin where and as it is now. I like it the way it is.

I feel deeply indebted to and grateful for each of you who have a part to play in my life. Thank you.

Carry on.