There is no question about it: the snow and ice hanging on every branch, twig and other appendage is winter wonderland gorgeous! And that would be perfect if we had nothing else to do but play dominoes, eat leftovers and make coffee on the wood stove.

But then all of you, who share with us this lovely New England weather, know these things. I am going down and hook up our 5KW generator and pretend life is normal for a while. Power has been off and on all night and promises to keep that up today. I’ll gas up, hook up the cable, throw the proper switches and crank it up. I love electricity, even if I have to make it myself.

There are other things to do: snow/ice to remove and just for good measure, wood to bring in from the shed. All the while, the temperature is rising slowly. I hope, I hope, I hope.

These are unimaginable times. Yet, unfortunately, the unimaginable is our reality. The thought sends the mind into a paroxysm of despair.

We have a president who has no experience in government, yet who thinks he knows it all. He demonstrates his ignorance several times a day and blames others for his problems. The courts are incompetent or have the wrong ethnic heritage when they do not rule in his favor. He’ll take the courts to court. The press is the opposition because they report what’s going on. His ersatz press secretary tells the press to shut up. Another of his spokespersons admonishes us to look into his heart for the real truth and stop paying so much attention to what he actually says. That’s got to be a prize winner. He is nominating cabinet level people who are on record opposing the very function of the agencies they are to manage. These are the very people these agencies were created to protect us from. Am I missing something?

And he lies. He seems to think that if you say something that is obviously a lie often enough the people will begin to believe it to be the truth. If you say all politicians lie you miss the point. His performance is at the unimaginable level. Dare I suggest pathological?

His pouty mouth scowl, I imagine, is designed to give the impression of power and authority when in fact it more resembles a child whose favorite toy has been confiscated until he eats his greens.

It’s hard to keep up with his antics. He uses social media like a barely post pubescent adolescent starving for attention. Is this a management style?

At least he has learned one cardinal rule of power: if you want some hair brained idea to float high on the political tide, just say it’s a matter of national security. Keep out the Mexican rapists and dope dealers. It’s a matter of national security – build a wall. Need oil for national security? Build a pipeline to carry the dirtiest most corrosive crude on the planet across the entire country, threatening the environment and delivering another slap to the already decimated face of Native America. Beef up the National Security Council? Absolutely! Get rid of the Joint Chiefs – I mean, what do those guys know? Then install a known racist, anti-Semite, white supremacist whose stated purpose is to destroy every American institution. This is supposed to make us feel more secure as a nation?

Then, let’s ban Muslims until we can regain our grip on things? It’s hard to put a tag on this one. If you have a working TV set, you know the chaos this caused. One has to wonder what he is doing off camera while all eyes are focused on the thousands of lives so callously disrupted. You don’t think he could be that devious, do you?

I wonder – has anyone thought of the benefits of banning radical Christians? You know the ones – they want to become the national religion of America. The American Taliban. In God We Trust! What a joke. Talk about a threat to national security.

I told you – these are unimaginable times.

An old friend sent me a link to a Roger Angell piece about growing old (he’s 93) from the New Yorker. I read it slowly and with a Kleenex box at the ready. In a moment of grandiosity my friend suggested that I might have written that, or something like it. There’s no way I could have done that, even though I could say “Amen!” after every line.

The most stabbing part of the essay was when he spoke of outliving so many people. This is a condition that sort of creeps up on you. You discover it when in some midnight hour you decide to find “old Joe” with whom you palled around with in high school and find that he died in Korea or succumbed to the big “C” a few years ago. If only you had known …

Angell lives in an apartment in Manhattan and talks of a large support community leaving cooked chickens at his door and here I am living in the lap of paradise – knowing dozens of people while hardly ever seeing anyone. I cook my own chickens, thank you very much!

It’s mostly my fault – not seeing people as much as I think I should be seeing people. I am not the conversational dynamo I once was. Being essentially deaf sort of puts a damper on conversation and rips the heart out of the desire to be around people in the first place.

I always wonder if anything I say is relevant to the on-going conversation. There have been times when I enter into a conversation only to be greeted by a stunned silence. Not because I have uttered some profound titbit of eternal wisdom but rather the unspoken response is more like, “What the fuck are you talking about!”?

I have a new bionic ear now that promises to deal with this condition and in fact it is working quite well. I feel very fortunate to have this technology available to me. I am more likely now to be able to keep up with conversations. It’s a work in progress – a process with which I am quite familiar.

One of my fantasies is being a part of a group of older guys who have breakfast somewhere every month or so to just be there and talk about stuff we all remember. I have an old friend out west who meets six or seven retired army and air force guys at McDonalds for 50¢ senior coffee. I’d pay more for better coffee, myself. I’d pay a lot more for better ambience. There was a time 50 years ago when I was in the clutches of purpose and calling that there was a small group of ministers who managed to have warm and supportive relationships with each other. We golfed, lunched and hung out. Of course, when I bailed out of the crusade, that was that.

There is today in Baton Rouge a group of my old high school buddies – all retired engineers – who meet monthly. I am in touch with one of the group who tells me that now and then I am mentioned. It’s a strange feeling, but I like it.

I’ve stopped trying to find old friends from long ago. It’s a dead issue – no pun intended. I have lots of live friends, albeit mostly the age of my children. Even so, we don’t see each other enough. What’s enough? It’s what it is.

The take-a-way from all this is this: Be in your life. Don’t think about it – live it.

Now if I can just remember to do that.

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?