Trying to Socialize (don’t worry Red State friends; it’s not that kind of socialize)

This evening I went to the wedding of one of my young co-workers.  The church that Derek and his bride were married in was small and few people were invited to the ceremony, as I was not. The hall they rented for the reception is in the area we call “Downriver,” the area along the Detroit River as it flows toward Lake Erie. Of course we’re talking only about the US side of the river; I don’t know what Canadians call their Downriver.  But then this place was at least 5 or 6 miles from the river, in Brownstown Township, where 30 years ago I drove by prosperous sod farms and nurseries taking advantage of the black, alluvial soil, the sediment from the bottom of Lake Maumee, Lake Erie’s pre-Ice Age grandma.   Now the agricultural vestiges are scattered among the beige subdivisions populated by blue-collar refugees from the deteriorating inner suburbs. I’m making it sound  soulless, but I’m sure it’s a good life for lots of families.  You can see in this photo from outside the wedding, how flat this country is. IMG_0539What else do you notice that you might not see in other parts of the country?  See any foreign vehicles?  (Don’t tell anybody my VW is stashed in the back somewhere. At least it’s union made)

I went back inside. I knew no one but my four male inspector colleagues, only one of whom had managed to persuade his wife to attend. She was pretty good humored, normally surrounded by males anyway, the hubby and 2 teenage sons.IMG_0545It was pretty much a blue collar event.  But fun. I danced the shuffle once with a bunch of much younger people.
I felt old when I learned that the groom’s mother, the best dancer at this shindig, is about 15 years younger than I am.

Then, what a weekend!  I got a minimal amount of gardening done, then instead of trying to buyIMG_2094 my neighbor’s lawnmower, so that my grass wouldn’t continue growing until it reaches the point, in not many hours from now, when it needs a scythe rather than a mower; instead of that I dug out my most presentable (almost) sun hat, bIMG_2113ecause I was determined to finally spend an hour or so at the famous Water Hill Music Festival.

There’s a neighborhood within walking distance (uphill) from downtown Ann Arbor, where ta lot of musicians happened to live, and somehow a few years back they developed a tradition of front porch performances on the first Sunday in May.  Word got around, and people from outside the neighborhood started coming to listen and perform.  An informal organization formed and the cops decided they would not get too bothered about the streets being blocked by the crowds, as long as the “organizers” agreed to keep the whole thing quite brief, noon to 6 PM on one day a year. I’ve heard for several years that the event was worth hearing and seeing, but this time I decided to get there.IMG_0549Having been warned not to try to park anywhere near, I left the car near the train station and walked up the hill, around 4:45 as many people were coming down. I just followed the sounds and the crowds.  The first gathering was in front of a house with some guys playing bluegrass on a lawn.

I listened for a couple songs, spoke briefly to someone I knew and moseyed along up Spring Street, where “In the Jungle the Mighty Jungle the Lion Sleeps Tonight” reached my ears, sung by a chorus. As I approached the front lawn I beheld- a ukulele band!  ‘Nuf said.IMG_0552

It was fun but not inspiring. I left after the next song: If you like a ukulele lady, Ukulele Lady like a you.

As I rounded the corner and headed back down Miner Street I heard some funky electric beats and found a band fronted by a young female singer, playing under a carport. Neighbors were traipsing down the steps with beer and wine, the first alcohol I had seen.

IMG_0555I had heard that not drinking in the streets has been one of the conditions of the thing continuing. This band was pretty good, but did not look like they played together much before this.
As I continued my stroll I saw scores of little lawn signs announcing gigs that had already taken place, like this one:IMG_0553 smaller

And stared briefly at a large crowd having a great time dancing to Tango music without dancing the Tango:


Heading on down the hill, I stopped for a bit to listen to a pretty good band doing “Don’t..Stop..Thinkin’ about Tomorrow”  while families with kids relaxed on the lawn.  IMG_0566

I finally got back to the edge of downtown, drawing closer to a complex cascade of rhythms that I discovered was coming from several drummers set up in front of a building that was still a few steps away from being remodeled. ( I vaguely recall it having once been an auto service garage. It’s soon to be a medical marijuana dispensary, I was told.)IMG_0574

Fortunately, there is no video of me dancing.

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Busking the High Line

I needed some adventure after staring for 8 weeks at the stair in Philly.  stair in sunMy long-time friend in New Jersey had offered to show me New York City if I managed to get up that way.  It turned out that it was only a few weeks after super-storm Sandy had hit, so we did do  some disaster cruising, for which I have no pictures, because at the time, though we were driving past dramatically uprooted 200-year-old Oaks, I thought no one would be interested in seeing more 8 foot tall tree roots and ripped up sidewalks after seeing similar shots for the past few weeks on TV.  I just today recalled that when this friend visited Detroit in 1967 with her parents and sibs it was shortly after another disaster, the summer riots/rebellion, and back then I drove us kids through the city gawking at blocks and blocks of burnt houses and trashed stores.  I think I had been driving for only a few months at that time. I imagine if I had told the parents what trip I had in mind, my mother would have questioned my wisdom.  What if I’d had a digital camera on that ride?
At any rate the storms were gone on the Sunday when we drove across the George Washington bridge. Manhattan was enjoying November sunshine. A fair slew of New Yorkers and visitors had the same idea we had, taking a walk on the industrial-artifact-turned-park called The High Line.


I guess I was expecting something grittier, but loving care and careful design have turned the old elevated railway structure into a mile-long gallery of plants, architecture, views of the city and, of course, people-watching.IMG_0124

The volunteer organization responsible for  this transformation selected interesting small trees, shrubs and ground covers, that had us wishing for a smartphone between us so that we could look them up. IMG_0112The clever paving allows water to reach the soil below and opens up slots for foliage to poke up.  New York’s artists, always eager for exposure, have found sanctioned face on builidng

or unsanctionedsailor kisses nurse

ways to display their work:

It was a bit surprising how few street musicians we saw, but one fellow was producing sweet, winey sounds from his tiqin.  We approached to listen, and he asked if I would like to try it

I hesitated, but he encouraged me strongly, so I said, “Well, all right,”  and sat down. He showed me how to hold the little thing.  It didn’t feel strange; vague memories of my half-year playing the string bass in junior high must have helped, but it sure sounded strange and screechy when I pulled the bow across the two strings.  The musician repositioned my arms, directed me to use a different pressure and the screech turned less abrasive, 120 grit maybe instead of 36 grit.  “How long have you been playing?” I asked.
“Two years.” he said, and I was starting to tell him it would take me longer than that to be able to stand my own sounds, when he interrupted: “I have to find bathroom.  Stay here.  I be back.” and disappeared, leaving me on display with his case open before me for tips.  Leslie andJosh with tiqin I cracked up for several minutes in hilarious disbelief.  Tourists and natives stared, but what they found strange was probably not a Caucasian with an Asian instrument (it was New York right?); rather they couldn’t believe anyone could have the gall to ask for their money while abusing their ears so violently.  Time dragged on as I practiced my bowing technique.  The racket I was making embarrassed me, but for some reason it seemed important to not waste my one chance to play an instrument with such a sensuously spooky tone.  Needless to say, not one nickel was thrown my way.  Eventually the owner returned, smiling.  He handed back the bills I was putting in his case and told me I should keep learning.  Then we continued to the south end of the line with its framed view of the Statue of Liberty.Liberty in harbor

Then to lunch.

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Murky Meeting

For Doug Patterson
I don’t exactly believe in totems, but I can identify with the Native Americans who feel that a person has a kinship with a certain type of animal.  Bears have always intrigued me. Though I am not a large person, I think I know what a bear’s body feels like to a bear.

maybe a bear

I don’t hang out with bears here in Ann Arbor, and, really, I’ve only seen bears from a distance, but there was one time…

I got off the Canadian National train about 10:30 at night in the rain.  The hotel shuttle bus was waiting.  I was not going to the hotel, The Lodge, at Jasper National Park. I had a little money left from my summer job as a camp counselor, but I’d splurged enough  on the train ride from Winnipeg, and had to make the remaining dollars last.

It was fall 1971. I was college age but not in college.  It wasn’t called “gap year” back then, but I seemed to be taking a gap year-or-two every year or so.  There was also the draft board and the war in Viet Nam looming over everything.  I was already considered “delinquent,” because I had refused to get into a certain line at the army’s pre-induction physical.  I wasn’t sure what came next.  The trip to Western Canada was to explore the possibility of emigrating.

Hitchhiking from Detroit to Winnipeg had been the first of several trips that  have me convinced that fall is the ideal time for a road trip.  Rolling on uncrowded 2 lane highways across the Upper Penninsula and into Wisconsin and Minnesota in the September light, we passed cardboard signs advertising wild rice.  My luck with rides tapered off when I reached the north-south highway at the Minnesota-North Dakota border.  Waiting in the dark, while caravans of grain trucks whooshed by, I almost gave up, but got one last ride from a State Trooper with alcohol on his breath.  He spoke about how wealthy the farmers in that valley were and ,without words, about how bored he was, but by the time he dropped me off, 30 miles up the road, the traffic had disappeared, so I got a few hours of sleep under a bridge.

The next afternoon I found myself in Winnipeg’s industrial area and managed to hop on a bus to downtown.  As I look back  I’m amazed at the hospitality shown me by the people I phoned up out of the blue.  They were college friends of my mother, Beth and Ruben, of whom I’d heard her speak, but had never met.                                                                          Winnipeg with Assiniboine

I got their number out of the phone book, and they  came to pick me up.  They were invited to a holiday dinner, the first night of Sukkot, at  Beth’s sister’s house, and took me along.  I don’t remember anybody remarking on my body odor. I have a vague memory of taking off my shirt and scrubbing my upper body in the washroom at the bus station.  At the time I took it all for granted, but there was a warmth in their welcome that I still feel 42 years later, a warmth that had nothing to do with the scruffy kid I was.

So, it may have been because of their respect for me that I asked them to drop me off a day or so later at the train station rather than at some good hitching spot on the Trans-Canada Highway. Possibly I wanted to appear more  prosperous than I was, or maybe I didn’t want to subject them to the guilty feeling they might have after abandoning their friend’s kid by the side of the road.  All these explanations and analyses are a ripple on the surface of a wave in the tide of existence/providence that deposited me late at night outside a closed train station in the Canadian Rockies.

I climbed on the shuttle bus just to get out of the rain, but the driver told me there was a public campground he could drop me off at on his way back to the lodge.  It must have been 10:30 or 11:00 when I stumbled off the road and down an embankment.  Trying to find my way through rocks and trees by the light of the occasional passing headlights and lantern light glowing through the sides of tents, I found a flat spot in the gravel.   There I set up my little plastic tent, pulled my stuff inside and quickly fell asleep.Athabasca Screen shot

I opened my eyes again on an orange day which turned bright gray as I slid out of my sleeping bag and the orange tent to see the rain had stopped.  I was about 30 yards from the gray-blue Athabasca river and its gray gravel banks.  Apparently I had set up camp on a path between campsites in a very informal campground.  The ground was well drained but still damp on the surface.  I was disappointed to discover that the cheap tent, which had performed well enough in the summer, was showing its limitations in the cool mountain autumn; condensation from my breath and body heat, with no permeable surface closer than the tent’s one open end, had coated the ceiling, the sleeping bag and everything inside, but I was not too bothered, I could dry things out.  I also noticed a curious set of 5 small holes in the plastic above where my feet had been.  They were laid out in an arc at about the same distance apart as a man’s outspread fingertips.  I was a bit puzzled as I walked over to a wood fire where four or five people were warming themselves.

There was a young American couple talking to a Canadian guy about their season following the apple harvest up through Washington State and into British Columbia.  It sounded like they were enjoying their trip and making a little cash.  I liked the names of the places they’d been or were going; Walla Walla, Kamloops, Kelowna.  A couple more people walked up, Canadians who’d bicycled from Toronto or Montreal.  I was just getting the feel of the place when the woman asked, “Say,  did you hear her last night?”
“Oh, yeah!” said one of the cyclists.  “Sounded like she tripped over something out there.  I’m glad we had all our food locked up in your car.”
” A bear?” I asked.
“Yeah, she’s been coming around here, getting up to some mischief.  Did you see her?”

It was then that I remembered my dream.  There had been no imagery, but I sensed that a large being was approaching.  I felt it appropriate to address this being with a sort of honorific, so I said, in the dream, something like, “Welcome, O Mother.”  Then I felt the bump in the night but didn’t wake up and didn’t think about it until the conversation with the other campers reminded me, and the meaning of the five holes became clear.

5 holes

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Great Valley and Corporate Glitz

Back in September we spent about  three days with a crane unloading and setting in place the pieces of this stair, some of which weighed more than a ton.  Here is Ryan waiting to guide a tread to its place if his partner wakes up  and cranks it down with the Roustabout portable hoist. The weird green stuff covering the sides of the stringers is styrofoam, protecting the stainless steel cladding during shipping and erection.

Now it’s well past summer, but the trees , even after Hurricane Sandy dumped days of rain on Great Valley, have more leaves than those in Michigan. I expected the little stream called Valley Creek to be much fuller just a few days after the storm than it was. Apparently the rocky earth around here doesn’t retain groundwater the way Michigan terrain would, so most of the moisture  had already coursed through this creek at the bottom of Great Valley by the time of these shots.  As I followed the path along the banks I saw everywhere clumps and tangles of sticks and leaves thrown up and left three or four feet above the day’s water level. 
If my bicycle brakes hadn’t squeaked I might have got closer to the deer before they bolted up the hill, or; who knows? they might have trampled me.  The path was not designed for bikes, nor am I daring enough to ride on the edge of a cliff, even if the fall is only 5 or 6 feet into the water.  Plus, many tree trunks  had fallen across the path, so I walked or carried the bike a good ways before the trail widened and turned into a gravel road.

But back at the job site here’s what the stair looked like on November 5.  We still had one last piece of stainless cladding to glue onto the upper landing where the black area is showing.  A couple days earlier we had torn off two sheets at that location, because they had defective finish that didn’t show up until we removed the plastic coating. The five vertical wooden pieces are the clamping system we devised to hold the piece we had installed  Saturday morning.  The last few days have been grinding, sanding, polishing, caulking and cleanup.  The General Contractor is rushing us to get done so that the tile man can finish, but the GC’s schedule makes sense only to the GC’s people, and not even to all of them.  Because the light on the two replacement panels is so strong and highlights any irregularity, we had to be careful with our clamping, so after the glue had set for a few hours I had loosened or removed the wedges and replaced them with the black “Gorilla Tape” that’s visible on the last panel we put up.  The office workers who’ll be using this stair will have no idea what a pain in the butt it has been.

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Ongoing July

Some people really know how to get the most out of Summer.  I can’t say I milk it quite as assiduously as Gracie, stretched out on the patio here, but I am enjoying it.  Seems like I have to have a “productive” bit of work going on in order to allow myself breaks in which to soak up the colors and fragrances of the season.  Not very mathematical these breaks:  Is there some statute that says a break can’t occupy more hours than the work, especially when the work involves going to the paint store, which happens to be not real far from The Pastry Peddler, home of the best croissants in the Midwest?  I’d like to say that because of my years as an hourly worker and manager of hourly workers the little clock ticking away at the back of my brain calls me to savor each moment of my break times, to appreciate the pinkness of pink, the balminess of Bee Balm, but I’m probably nowhere near the Zen master that Gracie is, even though she’s color-blind.  Speaking of bells, though, when I wrote this months ago I must have wanted to announce the arrival at our Basswood tree of Tess’s birthday present, the industrial strength wind chimes.  HUH!?  This sat here in blog limbo for like 10 months.  I’m publishing it as is, cuz I don’t remember where I was going with it and I have another post to start, and maybe even finish.

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Left to a Garden

Lawnmower on Break viewed through Tetrahedral chain by (who else) Tess

monster rhubarb

The previous owners established and maintained nice plantings.  In front near the street the perennial bed has had something blooming every week since late April’s Hyacinths and Croci.  Now the Lilies are getting ready to pop, the Bee Balm is out strong.  The grass is brown, of course, after a dry week when we were gone.  Most of these pics are from the last couple days of June.  After the heavy clay at the old house it’s quite a change to have this soil.  The Hydrangeas seem to be thriving in spite of our neglect.  The raised beds in the little fenced-off area are not well built, but that soil, which a neighbor told me contained the old owner’s compost, (Ooops, I mean compost kept and maintained by the old owner, not her actual remains) is light and supports many left over plants, including the monster Rhubarb in one of these photos (who put the ‘h’ in “Rhubarb” anyway?)
These are the hydrangeas in back, under the Crabapple which needs some serious pruning.  There are way fewer Hydrangea in front, but now that they have bloomed we see that they’re pink.  maybe that’s good.  This rhubarb anyway grew so quickly in our very damp spring that the stalks were all 2 feet long before we even thought about cutting some.  We cut a few one evening talking to our Trinidadian neighbor over the fence.  He had never heard of the stuff, but said he’d try it.  Tess cautioned that it probably wouldn’t be very good, because of how quickly the plant had grown.  We cut a few more stalks.  They were very wide.  I put them in the fridge thinking of making rhubarb pie.  If they’re still in there now, I’d better hunt for them and toss’em.

Then the raspberries we thought a nuisance started producing.  There’s a thicket of red ones that go nicely with cereal and yogurt.  Early in the season a bunch of black raspberries fell victim to our gardening  objectives.  They were growing along the fence next to the bed we wanted for chard and tomatoes, and there were little vines of poison ivy in amongst their canes.  Now that I see the pretty berries of the few surviving plants, I’m feeling, not guilty, but a bit regretful it had to be this way.

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