Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Week 16 Journal

Journal entries Sounds

Friday: I love the sound of an old wooden lake-house screen door slam echoing across lazy hot air. Even in the dark cold of December in Maine the thought of it warms and brightens me. I think I’ll record it next year along with some sounds of kids splashing around and a distant motor boat and a fishing reel unwinding and the little waves lapping on the shore. Then come next December I’ll put it on the MP3 player and listen to it every morning and smile.

Saturday: The sound of the day was splashing water. Our son swam today in a meet with about 100 other kids and the parents’ all in an indoor pool. These pools are designed by architects to keep rodents out of the building with chaotic sounds bouncing off every tinny surface. Add to the splashing and cheering voices 80 degree heat and 95% humidity to make the contrast to the snow quietly falling outside in the gray cold. When the uproar inside seemed overwhelming I looked out the wall of sliding glass doors, shivered, and appreciated the warmth.

Sunday: Today brought more sounds of people sharing the same space. The sermon was about Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book which starts with a story about a Pennsylvania town where researchers concluded the lack of heart disese was attributable to their practice of community. After the usual singing together we stayed for a couple hours to make wreaths and cards and the like in the basement; another warm room buzzing contently. Later the echoing bounce-bounce and yelling across the courts at the rec center made accompianied another nice memory of playing ping-pong which has its own gentle rhythm section.

Monday: Today’s sounds start with muted footsteps on carpet outside my office and the hushed whoosh of air through duct ways above. Just above I can here collegues’ discussions. Forgotten are the blah-blah-blahs from the hour and a half of Monday staff meetings. Remaining are a few good ideas for action and so the keyboard tapping noises commence for the rest of the day.

Tuesday: Today found us back at the pool for practice. The pool and kid sounds are low enough to get lost in conversations between the attending parents. Most of the dads are separate watching the kids swim up and down the lanes or at least their eyes are on the pool maybe their thoughts are miles away. The women sit in little clusters, some knitting and gabbing away. Where I noticed a gender listening difference was after practice we all waited outside the open locker room doors. We were all talking about American cars and government bailouts when the women suddenly laughed all together about something. The dads looked at each other with raised eyebrows wondering what the funny was. Turns out only the women overheard something hilarious from the girls locker room, the men were oblivious. I would not have noticed this if not for journaling sounds this week.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Theme Week 14 Part 2

these companies profit every time someone tosses an old bottle

The list of companies that have shed sales staff this year reads like a Who's Who of Pharma, including Novartis, Merck, Wyeth, GSK, Schering-Plough, and Boehringer Ingelheim.

The judge opened the hearing by quoting the highly respected American Law Institute’s statement that the fundamental purpose of a corporation is to maximize profits and return those profits to its shareholders.

It's October, so I'm reminded of what my pod mate said about our CEO: "For Halloween he should come dressed as a leader---that way nobody will recognize him."

finding that 90% of these medications were safe and effective far past their original expiration date.

Two reps at a POA where they speaker was talking about the new bonus plan.
Rep: They are just confusing me with these numbers. Just tell me how much fucking money I'm going to make.
I guess he wanted to see pictures of piles of money.

Providing gifts to physicians and financial support to hospitals for continuing medical education are an integral part of the drug industry’s strategy

I heard a rep talking to another about a counter part at a recent POA.
Rep: She doesn't like to bore the Drs with actual facts about the drug. She prefers to ask them how their weekend was then ask them if they could write some for her.

And yet, the AMA endorses these dates so what is a consumer to do?

Rep in front of me in line for "cattle call" at largest office in territory:Rep to doctor: "If you're not going to write my product don't use my samples.Doctor: "Next."

More than two-thirds of the clinical trials that are published in our most trusted medical journals are commercially sponsored.

In a psych office a patient who had been waiting a long time was talking with the receptionist.
Patient: Ask the Dr if I am going to have to kick the door in to get back there.
Receptionist: You may have to.
Patient: I'll do it. I'm a crazy fucker. I've done my time in the psych ward to prove it.


Theme Week 15 Part 1

The decision to discontinue UFO investigations was based on an evaluation of a report prepared by the University of Colorado entitled, "Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects;" a review of the University of Colorado's report by the National Academy of Sciences; previous UFO studies and Air Force experience investigating UFO reports during 1940 to 1969.

One of the best documented cases of UFOs at a military installation is the Loring Air Force Base UFO sightings in 1975

No UFO reported, investigated and evaluated by the Air Force was ever an indication of threat to our national security;

Air Force Base was put on a Security 3 alert status. The UFO was now only 150 feet above the base grounds

There was no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as "unidentified" were extraterrestrial vehicles.

So intent was Loring's command on identifying the object that they summoned Maine State Police

Persons wishing to report UFO sightings should be advised to contact local law enforcement agencies.

it moved to within 300 yards of the nuclear storage area

There was no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Air Force that sightings categorized as "unidentified" represented technological developments or principles beyond the range of modern scientific knowledge

The Wing Commander of the base ordered the grounds searched for any intruders, just in case someone had been deposited from the UFO.

was getting dinner started and discovered this ET potato. Maybe it's a sign from the ETs that they are coming soon? --Xander (To see the photo go to:


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Week 14 Theme

Sailing with the Commodore can be a harrowing experience for both captain and crew especially on an empty stomach. One summer I agreed to be the sole crew on a twelve-foot sailboat with my future father-in-law, Ed, racing around the buoys between Somes Sound and Southwest Harbor. Ed had agreed to be the Commodore of the little sailing fleet that season, a post of much work and little thanks. Weather on those Friday afternoons was mostly sunny and the air refreshing and brisk compared to the muggy heat up in Bangor where I worked the rest of the week. I would finish my work early and zoom down to the coast picking up a late lunch on the way. I was already well known in my fiancĂ©e’s family for not missing a meal, or a snack, or even teatime.

One breezy Friday afternoon I stopped in Somesville at the old A.V. Higgins store for his famous rotisserie chicken. This was before the day every supermarket deli provided the same mass-produced pullet. A.V.’s chickens were raised out back of the store and flavored from an old family recipe. Matched with some homemade potato salad they had no rival in fast food. I arrived lunch in pack at Ed’s house a few minutes before we were scheduled to leave and could not find him. I saw a puff of blue smoke and recognized the engine noise of Ed’s tender. Walking next door to the dock I saw Commodore Ed intently revving the little dinghy motor checking the gas tank and looking over the engine.

He looked up as I approached and said smiling, “Don’t just stand there, cast us off. Time’s a wasting.” I did not dare mention anything about lunch even though my stomach growled almost as loud as the motor. “Make sure the spinnaker is loaded as soon as we get aboard. The race will be won or lost on the downwind run today.”

We motored out to the mooring and I jumped aboard unbuttoning the covers and unfurling the mainsail from the boom. Ed is single-minded especially when sailing and I am known to be somewhat stubborn at any time. Ed’s sole goal was to get to the starting mark in plenty of time and make a respectable finish while my rumbling tummy jabbed at me to open the pack and have a picnic.

As Ed expertly maneuvered us out of the harbor under sail I sat on the bench opposite for a moment’s rest. That gave Ed the opportunity to remind me to check and re-check that the spinnaker was ready for the first mark. Our spinnaker was a bright blue and red chevron pattern as high as the mast and three times as wide as the boat at the bottom of the sail. We kept it in a plastic, rectangular tall kitchen trash can all stuffed down in there but in a precise way. When stowed properly the two attachments for the sheets or ropes that controlled the bottom of the billowing sail and the one that hooked to the top allowing it to be hoisted aloft would stick up out of the can’s top amongst the blue and red nylon. I pulled the sail out of the can and carefully stuffed it back in perfect order for the hoist which would come at the time of maximum stress in the race just after we turned around the first mark in the race and headed downwind.

I stowed the stuffed can just below and noticed my pack and my mouth began to water. We were approaching the starting boat in the distance where several boats were already milling about. It seemed the only chance for me to gain nourishment before the race stared so I politely placed the warm chicken in my lap and opened the potato salad placing it on the bench beside me with a smile. “Would you like some?” I asked cheerfully. He stared in disbelief as I pulled out a bottle of soda and a large bag of chips.

“Oh God, how come I didn’t see that coming?” Ed said reflecting my smile. “Five minutes to the start and you have to tear into a greasy chicken. If you got that at Higgins’s make sure it’s not two weeks old.”

“Don’t worry I have napkins, and this is the best chicken money can buy.” I believed it biting into a drumstick. I followed the chicken stuffing a handful of chips into my mouth and washing it down with Orange Crush.

“Now put that away, we have work to do,” he said seriously. When I say Ed was serious about racing that’s like saying the chicken was serious about getting away from Higgins on chopping day, he was dead serious. It was more than a race; it was to prove that he was a skillful sailor.

We reached the start but I was still famished. So while Ed was darting around the start hailing others I stashed the chicken below on the shelf beside the spinnaker can figuring to make like I was fixing fast when I was really munching down.

So as we line up for the start Ed starts with barking the orders and I really do need to be told what to do because of inexperience. The orders subside and Ed is intensely monitoring the feel of the rudder, the direction of the wind we are in and look of the water ahead. He is tacking toward the first mark, going against the wind and it looks like it will take a while. So I duck under the front deck to “Look over the spinnaker” and dig into the dark meat under the wings feeling around for the little round pieces set into that bone socket under there that are so good. I grabbed a handful of chips a crunched them without fear of Ed hearing them over the wind.

“How are we doing under there?” Ed said.

Swallow, pause, “OK,” I said.

“Good, are you made fast with the spinnaker because the mark is coming up?”

“What?” I bumped my head on the under deck looking up to see the mark right there. “No I’m not”

“Well what the hell are you doing under there, get with it.” He shouted and I looked back to see fury in his eyes, the dangerous moment in this most critical enterprise.

I grabbed the sheet attached to the pulley at the top of the mast and quickly attached it to the clip and did the same for the two sheets for the bottom of the enormous sail noticing all the grease staining the rope and sailcloth but it was too late.

The mark was right there and Ed was shouting, “Jibe. Watch your head.” The boom came zooming just over my head. If my heart was not racing up to that point I noticed it then all crouched down under the swing toppling over to the opposite bench while Ed turned the boat 180 degrees. The mail sail filled and I scrambled up to see the boats in front unfurl their spinnakers. Ignoring Ed’s shouts I grabbed the pulling end of the top sheet and quickly, arm over arm hoisted up the spinnaker. The chicken flew as it never had in life and right into Ed’s lap. Potato salad dumped under foot and chips scattered over the deck. Shouts became louder in my ears but made no sense as I made fast the top sheet and grabbed the two lower sheets to trim in the spinnaker. I gave every bit of concentration to flying that sail and keeping us from falling behind. I looked up and seeing one billowing shape without twists I tuned the shape a bit with the sheets and calmed to a point where I understood that Ed was still yelling.

But whatever he said now I knew I did my most important job well. But I would have one extra job back at the mooring, scrubbing the grease off the sail, ropes and deck. I still had hopes to find a few morsels under there because I was hungrier than ever.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Week 13 Theme

All I wanted were some new shingles on the roof when I approached my neighbor Randy the seat-of-the-pants contractor one cold autumn Sunday morning. He was outside his house fixing his old pick up truck with his friend and part time employee Ken. After asking about his schedule for roofing I got more than I anticipated.

“We went to that mexican resturant on Main Street in Rockland last night. I had a few good drinks there but it still didn’t straighten me out after what I done yesterday. I had to put down my dog myself,” Randy said. “She was howling somethin’ awful all last Thursday night.” He pointed to the porch of his rented house. “The way she was moaning I couldn’t sleep so I went out for a walk and saw the cop parked up at the pizza place. I asked if he would shoot the dog for me but he said it was against policy but they shoot deer if they’re thrashing around after getting hit by a car.”

“I’ve seen them shoot dogs that weren’t dead yet after an accident. I don’t know why he didn’t help you out.” I offered.

“Probably wasn’t sure if maybe I wanted to get back at the wife by shooting her dog or something.” He went on. “The cancer was all through her neck and stomach and the vet told us to put her down last June. But she could still hobble out the door to do her business so we figured why do it. We thought she would just go in her sleep, and we’d had her for 16 years. She was like part of the family. Besides, would you believe the vet wants $310 to put her down, and then another $110 to destroy the animal after that?”

His friend Ken took a drag off his cigarette and said, “Yup, it’s getting like a racket now.”
“And the vet put her on the scale and weighed her to give us the price for doing it. So much per pound.”

“They must have to put so much killing drug in to her for each pound” said Ken.
They were both a half-foot taller than me so I kept looking up and back and forth as they spoke.
“So I had to do it myself, 50 cents instead of 400 bucks,” Said Randy. He lit a cigarette and ran his palm over his 2-day stubble. “We dug a hole up at my brother’s house and laid her down in it on her quilt and gave her favorite little chew doll. She looked up at me with my rifle in my hands and then just looked away and I shot her. She didn’t suffer at all.”

Randy worked for about $15 an hour underthe table. It would have taken him the better part of the week to earn enough for the vet to do what he did for 50 cents. It cost him a bit more though, in the memory of shooting his family companion of 16 years and covering her with dirt. A night out and a few drinks can quiet the pain for a while but in the daylight it’s hard to escape feeling down and lonely.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Week 12 Part 2

It was going to be the job of his dreams. After finding his own name on the termination list he executed himself at his last employment as corporate hatchet-man. In short time he landed as Chief Planner in Charge of Marketing at Mauer Associates, the sole owner of rights to the Three Stooges legacy.

In fifth grade he ran home every day through suburb streets nearby Lansing, Michigan to see the boys bonking, hammering, and poking each other. Later in life he was frustrated every time the rumors of a feature length film or a television series proved wrong. Sure, he could always find a tee shirt, a bottle opener that made Curly noises, or DVD of the old shorts at Blockbuster. But what he wanted was an hour and a half of full color mayhem in full feature presentation.

He had an epiphany on the way home after terminating himself. Stopping for a paper he saw in the bargain bin next to the magazines there was a DVD of the entire Three Stooges cartoon series for $7.99. He thumbed it back and forth in the bin lamenting the trash that emerged from the Stooges camp since he saw Larry as an old man on afternoon television talk in the seventies.

He could be the one to come up with a decent concept to revive the boys and bring the new Stooges in living color to the forefront of American pop culture. He took out his Blackberry and found the Stooges production company and made his flight reservations for Los Angeles the following day. On the flight he researched the devolution of Stooges marketing over his lifetime. He found a Los Angeles Times Sunday feature from the late eighties that fingered Moe’s son as the controlling heir who could not bring himself to sully the image of his Dad by allowing copy-cat images on the screen.

So he hatched his plan, to pitch himself truthfully as a forever fan spawned during the re-runs of the shorts every afternoon during the sixties and seventies. He would hide his ambition to see a new incarnation of the boys up on the screen but would pull every trick known once inside the organization.

It took a week for Moe’s son to spot him as a chiseler. The hand motioning up and down in his face should have warned him of the two-to-the eyes that was coming but he was blinded. Next thing he felt a boot to the pant seat and he was out the back door onto a sunny California street rubbing his eyes and wondering how it all went so wrong.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Week 12 Part One

This was not the kind of day he envisioned when he agreed to take on the position of Vice-President in charge of Planning and Executive Development. The title sounded innocuous, even friendly in a corporate world peppered with personal attacks from ever-grasping underlings. Quickly came the sandbag slung directly to the head and neck at his first board meeting. He walked from that meeting dizzy, staring at shoes, somehow arriving at his office. Sitting carefully into his chair sweaty shirt coolly clinging to the leather back he let the weight settle. He fingered the sheaf topmost titled “Systematic Executive Dismissal Planning & Execution”. Even the acronym repeated in the meeting sounded friendly, SEDPE, they pronounced it like “Said Pea”.

Then they made it into a verb saying “Jones will have to be Said Pea-ed”. Then they laughed and morphed it into “Reverez will have to Centipeded”. Then they dubbed him the “Centipede”. A harmless arthropod not, but a crawling, living under-rock, devoid of humanity, grasping-pulling-down-under creepy thing. Was it a siren from the street way below through the glass office wall? No it was the phone, three rings, and four.

He mechanically brought the receiver to his ear hearing his wife, “Can you pick up Jonny after soccer at the Y and bring him to band practice at the gym?” Tiny bits of sweat emerged across his lip as the mouthpiece brushed his cheek. His silence prompted another noise from the phone as he flipped to the first page of SEDPE.

“Honey, are you there?”

He read the names, Jones, Reverez, Hunsell, and on down the page each one with a day and time to be ushered into his office for the termination talk.

“Honey, are you listening?”

“Yes, what time. What time at the Y?”

“Four, look I got to go Sally’s waiting. We’re all meeting for coffee. See you, love you bye.”

“Bye,” he repeated and cradled the receiver in one hand held off the table by his elbow letting his forehead rest one the other palm pushing that elbow into the desk blotter. The names and dates blurred as he closed his eyes and sighed. Eyes still closed he let the receiver set into its cradle and opened his eyes to see a red-eyed housefly walking across the names on the page.

“Hail fellow arthropod.” He raised the phone hand high and in a ceremonious swing he smashed fly guts and blood into the paper. He turned over his hand to see the remains on his skin and the smeared over a few names. “Relative or not you’re dead”.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Theme Week 11

Beginning to breathe Ray took in moisture steaming off blueberry bushes carpeting the ground from his shoes to the highway. The sun rising over hills opposite lit glistening water on a million leaves. It is steamy today. It will be better to get the bees moved before the sun gets too high. The move is only a mile, and better done at night, but it was early enough so the foragers were still in the hives.

Seven-year-old Dawson came running far down the barren toward his father, thick blond hair glinting.

Ray yelled, “Megan, I’m moving the bees. Can you kindly get our son back in the house?”

Dawson ran closer, his sandals spraying dew with every stride until his foot found a pothole, he fell, and his head planted firmly into the next hummock.

“Megan,” Ray urgently repeated.

The first rays of sun lit Megan’s blond curls as she looked out the window to where Dawson lay. Fear gripped her throat, breath halted. Hadn’t she thrown the deadbolt on the back door knowing Ray was disturbing bees? Instantly she grabbed the Epi-pen in the fanny pack by the front door, kicked onto the front porch, and pumped her long limbs. As she ran toward Dawson fear tightened, moving across her chest and into her stomach. She ran with abandon suddenly at her boy’s side pulling the Epi-pen out of its tube, the needle end unsheathed. She rolled him over.

Now remembering the first time he was stung, only two-years-old, when Ray was moving a hive up to the neighbor’s field. Dawson was playing in the sandbox; she could watch through the kitchen window while doing chores. Scraping baked-on eggs from the quiche pan she looked out, noticed Dawson swatting all around his head, then down his body, furiously sweeping with the back of his hands.

Now tears welled up in her eyes as she held the adrenaline bearing tube above her seven-year old son’s leg. All she could see in her mind’s eye was his puffy body lying still in the sand when she stared unbelieving, panting over the sand box. Now kneeling in the cool green leaves looking at his bear leg, was it all puffed up like in the sandbox or was it normal? The words of Dr. Miller echoed in her head. “It can’t hurt him to get a shot of adrenaline, but waiting too long to administer can be fatal”

She plunged the tube at his right thigh sinking the needle a quarter inch into his flesh. He bolted upright, wide-eyed yelling, “Bad Mom! You said I get jabbed when I had the hives all over me. Where are the hives, I don’t see any hives, I don’t have itchies,” Dawson screamed, tears now pouring down his face. She went to hug him but he pushed her away. She noticed that his face was normal now. Had the shot worked that fast?

In the sandbox, it was nearly ten minutes before the ambulance arrived and the EMT gave the shot. She noticed, swaying along in the ambulance, that she couldn’t see any of his freckles. The paternal, balding EMT kept asking “How long ago did he get bit? How long has he been unconscious? Is he allergic to any medications?” While the younger, intense black-haired EMT bent down over Dawson sticking an IV needle in his arm, talking over a headset to the emergency room.

She had not noticed any relief in the swelling until in the emergency room. There his color got better. She remembered when Ray finally came and he said that the boy looked blue; within a few minutes Ray said the boy’s color got better.

Dawson’s cries and blows brought her back into the present moment as she tried to hug him. Her boy never left the now. She gazed again across her boy’s face, down his arms, and over his bear legs. Every freckle was visible, skin pale except for the red puffy spot where the needle pricked his thigh. He was rubbing it now. Megan got her arms around him. She realized with a rush of relief that she had imagined the swelling, panic had raced her heart into that past place, sure her baby was suffocating. Tears streamed down her cheeks, she felt her face light up and flush with relief and joy.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Theme Week 10

I always wanted to be the leader of the pack, leather jacket, wind in my slicked back hair, Camel in the corner of my mouth, loud pipes announcing to the world, “Here comes Trouble.” Well not all always. That phase hit in the early teens but before that the pack I was in was a Cub Scout pack. Imagine the scouts selling at a roadside lemonade stand, the sign reading “Profits To Benefit Widows and Orphans”. Pipes roar to a halt at the stand bringing the alert den mother to the fore.

“Peroni’s Bar and Grill is another mile that way,” she says pointing.

Behind her a half dozen scouts stand wide eyed while one scout on the end sneaks forward for a closer look at a lagging gang member just stopping. Dust settles on his greasy hair as he notices the kid’s curiosity.

“What’s your name kid?”

I look back at the den mother who is engaged in animated discussions with the gang leader. “Stevens,” I say and venture a question, “How fast can you go?”.

“That all depends on who’s chasing me Mr. Stevens.” He said shaking an unfiltered cigarette from a pack inside his leather jacket and lighting it with a shiny sliver Zippo. “They call me Snake.” My eyes gave away my fascination with the lighter and he held it out to me. “Betcha you could light some campfires with this baby, no more rubbing sticks together.”

I took it in hand and felt its warmth and weight. I tried to spin the coarse wheel and hold it with one hand. When that did not work I tried with two hands but still found it unwieldy.
I felt Snake’s calloused hand like the wheel on the lighter as he grabbed it back saying, “Like this kid, watch”. He quickly held it in one hand and clanged the top open with the heel of the other and in the same motion sparks flew as he wheeled the flint along the thigh of his denim pants. He held the lit wick up to his wide smile showing a gold front tooth. I stood staring at the flame half fascinated, half terrified. Snakes display began to attract attention from a couple of his compatriots.

“Stevens get back from those hooligans right now,” shouted the den mother.

I awoke from my trance but the spell was cast. I guess that spell was not as strong as the ones put upon me by the scouts. Today I am preparing for my son’s Cub Scout meeting in our garage and there is plenty of room in there since there is no motorcycle to get in the way.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Theme Week 9

When I climb a mountain, even a small one with thoughtfully marked trails, I prefer to climb in the light of day with clear skies. Not every day of mountain climbing is like that and today is a perfect example. I feel the slope in front of me because the soles of my boots are inclined up towards my toes but at 5:15 A.M. the air is dark. I have to use the feeling in my feet to tell me that it’s alright to place weight there on the ground. I have to use my sense of balance to tell me I am still going upward. As I rise in elevation the air is damp with fog and my clothing gets damp from perspiration within and fog without. I stop on a ledge to rest and fall into a nap wakening with a shiver. I cannot remember which way is up. I should not have stopped to rest. I cup my hands together and breathe foggy breaths into the hollow and shiver again. I have to stop and dance one foot around to tell which way is up. I start upward again and am lucky to find that I am walking along on a ledge bound on my left by a rock face. I pause for a moment and reach a hand as high as I can and still feel lichens clinging to the cliff’s side. To my right outstretched fingers feel air. At least here I can brush along with my left shoulder with a connection to the earth to orient me. Soon the ledge opens and the cliff on my left disappears. Remembering I have a flashlight I take it from one pocket and a map from the other. I study the map for a long time and best I can figure I’m on the right trail and approaching the open, broad accent to the summit. I shut off the light and wait for my eyes to adjust but realize that dawn is coming. I can actually see the trail opening ahead. It’s there just ahead; the pile of rocks marking the summit. What exhilaration finishing just as the fog thins and an orange glow fills the eastern horizon.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Theme Week 8

Many years ago copper was mined commercially on the Blue Hill Peninsula; an area known today for its parklike setting and wild coastal beauty. In the 1960’s and 70’s large copper deposits were mined by multi-national concerns that left piles of spent ore, from which leftover metals continue to leach into coastal streams. The environmental effects may be limited in the local scope to wild plants and animals. But if there are fewer clams in Blue Hill Bay that does diminish people who live there, or over on the other side of Penobscot Bay, or other people in Maine, our country, and the entire world. These little critters are worth the EPA’s recent listing of the former Kerramerican Copper Mine site in Brooksville, Maine to their Superfund Priority List. You or I should care that a few bugs or bunnies die, get sick, or can not reproduce, even though we would not be aware of their existence if not for the environmentalists’ fuss. The Blue Hill Bay ecosystem mixes with the Gulf of Maine then to the open Atlantic where currents play under the waves mixing its bounty around the globe. Add all similar industrial insults from other waste streams from all the coastal towns and cities on every inhabited shore. As difficult as that may be to take in, try to imagine the economic cost if natural systems failed to absorb and recycle our waste. A 1997 study estimated the value of the earth’s disposal service to us at 33 trillion dollars, twice the total of every country’s gross national products.

You may believe the earth is a female deity, lovingly cleaning up after her progeny, or a creative gift from God for us to use as directed by scripture, or a spaceship of happenstance. No matter, you must realize that there is a limit to nature’s ability to put up with our waste, and all those little bits of waste can only flow down to the ocean. The sea is the ultimate destination for water and any natural or manmade compounds that it can carry. Without care we will end swimming in a sea of our own making with only the wits that got us there to aid our rescue, and one other thing; the realization that we must change to survive.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Theme Week 7

Even among the group of construction workers Scotty stood out. Not by height or weight, both average but his teeth, crooked and yellow stood out past his lower lip. Scotty remained taking long puffs on his smoke as the rest of group of super-safety-certified workers made their way to the safety zone they stamped out their cigarettes and reached into their pockets for their smokeless tobacco. Scotty grinned and said to me, “Them guys are getting double cancer. At least I’m only getting the lung cancer.” He took one last drag, hot end pointing toward the sky, flicked the butt down and flattened it on his first step toward his buddies.

We will have to work on that “a scout is obedient” stuff with the new scout Bobby. His mom brought him to our meeting without registration or warning. She said something about a child in a nearby troop harassing Bobby so the district council recommended our troop and here she was with Bobby. He looked like a typical 11-year-old except with small but protruding ears that seemed too high on his head. At the first drop-off meeting various chaperones peppered him with chides, directions, and warnings he finally fell off a rock and made a 6 inch long gash in his arm. Luckily the camp nurse was attending so she swabbed and bandaged him up while the scout master called his mom. He put Bobby on the phone and his first question was “Mom, what is my name?” an odd question from an odd kid.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Theme Week 6

Sunday morning dawned muggy, a light fog clinging to the ground. Dawson was up and out of the house before they woke. He put a sandal cautiously onto the wet grass and looking up the hill settling his gaze on the blackberry patch as he licked his lips stemming saliva.

The way to get there is by the stone wall under the trees. She won’t see me getting in and then I’ll crawl into the patch on my belly. Then I’ll roll over and see all the berries the grown-ups missed and get back here before breakfast. Perfect.

Dawson’s trek took him around his dad’s barn out to the land forested by mature maple and fir with dense underbrush and ferns. He quickly found the stone wall and walked along it, the land rising towards the Waters’ property. He came upon the surveyor’s stake with bright orange ribbon motionless in the morning air and stopped to examine the territory ahead. Peering into the field he saw the dirt road leading from the Waters’ house, past his house, and down to the highway. Other side of it was open field, halfway across a path led to light from the big glasshouse. Looking up to the left Dawson figured that the garage between the Waters’ house and the greenhouse blocked their view of anyone running through that field. An awesome place to explore. They might see me getting there, but it’s dark enough and misty so no one will see, even if they are out of bed. Mom told me not to come up here, but I played here last summer when they built the place. Dawson made the construction site his playground, especially after working hours. He pretended to drive the bulldozer, dug into the piles of dirt, he and his friends played spies in the unfinished house, and he climbed around on the greenhouse frame before the glass came. He looked again at the lit-up greenhouse seeing whirling fans, masses of green leaves and bright flowers. He watched for a long time and saw no person moving. Deciding no one was inside he sprinted from cover, crossed the road, then slowed slipping into the field. He turned right to see his dark house and left sensing stillness at the Waters’ house. So far so good, he thought approaching the full glass entry door he reached out and turned the knob.

Even in the half-light before dawn he beheld a beautiful spectrum of flowers and greenery. The colors drew him in. Up close, one flower looked like all the colors in a sunrise. This was so cool he had to remember what to tell his friend Devin. No he had to get Devin to come in here with him. Playing spies while they built the house was Devin’s idea and now that the greenhouse was full it was perfect for spies. It was like the jungle in Jumanji. He felt there could be lions and monkeys right around the corner. He took a few cautious steps into the tangle of vines and leaves hanging from benches and baskets. Turning from the entryway to a large, high-ceilinged glass room his jaw went slack, eyes wide, peering into hundreds of light blue and purple colored stringy flowers. Some were wide open and others in varying phases of closing. He could make out the shapes like the sea anemones on the Discovery Channel, only still. He stood, taking in the immense room and host of flowers. The stringy flowers were not moving like the sea creatures on TV but something was moving out there in the room. Dawson stayed glued to the spot and now he heard, almost felt vibrations. As his senses adjusted to the room he realized the vibration and movement were coordinated. Darting among the stringy flowers were dozens of hummingbirds like the ones that visited the lilacs, only here were so many. Devin had to see this. Dawson filled with excitement anticipating the storytelling.

Theme Week 5

Floyd Albertsen daydreamed. He dreamed of fishing in his stream and he dreamed of the far away hunt. All this while he gently bounced his giant yellow Caterpillar loader straight down the broad main artery of his City of Junk. Plumes of dust billowed from the tires settling on every chrome and colorful painted part of the host of cars he presided over. The Albertsen parcel sat between two streams that each followed their own paths to the sea. On that part of the Washington County coast there exist many short streams that never organized into deep systems of tributaries, instead having short runs from low inland hillocks directly flowing to the bay. Beady Stream bordered one side below a sandy ridge that followed the stream for three miles. Between the ridge and the stream was low bog and on the other side other side of the ridge was broad, undulating ground covered with forest and the City of Junk. Creaky Stream flowed down past the junkyard, then through the collection of houses and trailers known to the sheriff’s department as Albertsenville, then into the bay. Floyd Albertsen always let his buddies and family fish the Beady Stream but not the Creaky Stream. No fish ran back up Creaky Stream and no clamming was allowed near the mouth of the stream. Floyd generally let it be known that the lack of wildlife there was due to all those relatives piping their poop down the brook, ignoring the putrid contribution from his junk collection further upstream.

Floyd was a pack rat but an organized one. The sandy roads drained well and he dutifully filled the potholes so he could scream around the yard on his articulated loader with the two long pipes sticking out the front like two lances carried by twin knights into battle. Right now he swung the loader around, put the twin lances trough the open windows of a 1994 Riviera and lifted it up on the top of Five-car-high pile of Buicks. Cars were piled by make and sometimes by model. The straight roads were laid out on a nearly perfect grid and in between the roads were nearly square plots dedicated to a given make and the case of really popular cars, whole blocks of one model. The squares were as long as three station wagons or four compact foreign cars lined up end to end. He usually had cars piled up four, five, even six high and stacked in rows of seven or eight across. Sometimes there was room on a block to make an end cap of cars on one or both ends. He liked to use real old cars for end caps so he could admire them as he whizzed around the streets of the City of Junk. . There were a couple of extended blocks of metal where he had been lucky enough to get a hulk of a 1962 Douglas Stratoliner, wings and all. That took up two city-of-junk blocks.

He figured he had enough 1980’s vintage Chevrolet station wagons alone to afford three years worth of chartered fishing trips and big-game hunting expeditions. As he whizzed past the Cavaliers and he thought of running over the savanna in a guided Landrover, head out the sunroof 30-oo-6 loaded in hand scanning the horizon for lions. Or maybe this year it would be helicopter ride into the high Canadian Rockies for mountain goat. He would just have to get the crushing company in here for one last big push. There was just the small matter in his mind of the town ordinance enforcement officer. But what could she really do? Only make him fix his fence or make the piles of cars a little lower so the neighbor Chester Howard could not see the cars in the winter after the leaves turned red and fell from the swamp maples. Six years ago when Floyd last crunched a lot of cars his neighbor had complained of noise and dust and finally got him to stop when he claimed to smell oil running down the ditch from the city down onto the Howard estate. Trouble was he got the state environmental cops down here with the sheriff’s department and they scared away the crushing company. None had dared to come back, until now.

Floyd heard through the recycled auto parts grapevine that there was a rough and tumble crushing outfit just this side of outlaw. They did not care one bit for the environmental enforcement, the cops or the district attorneys. Word was they had their own pack of politically connected lawyers and used them to hold environmental authorities at bay while they plundered the treasure trove of vintage cars accumulating for nearly a decade of strict supervision of car crushing operations. He knew the rebel crushers would not be around forever. They would run out of overstuffed yards and the profits would eventually be too small to justify the legal smokescreen so they would disappear into the warm and sunny places of the world with their loot. Floyd imagined all the happy and rich recycled auto parts dealer they would leave behind, the ones who were quick enough to recognize the opportunity and pounce. He stopped the loader and decided to make his daydreams into realities. His big thumb on the tiny cell phone keys dialed the crusher’s number as smiled his big silver-toothed grin.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Theme Week 4

My child thinks he is average and does not like the idea while I do not think he is average at all. He came in the other day to complain that he was "just average". I suspect that he heard from the doctor at his recent annual physical was how he was right in the middle of the range for weight and height. Then standardized test scores came home from school that set off this lamentation. I pointed out that he was right in the middle of scores in reading but was in the 80th percentile of math scores. He did not really comprehend what that meant and told me he was going out to ride his skateboard.

My child thinks he is average and does not like that idea while I see him as above the norm. He came in the other day to complain that he was "just average". He overheard the doctor tell me that he was in the average range for weight and height. I noticed at the time that the chart that only the doctor and I could see actually showed that his measures were within the norm but decidedly pushing the top of the envelope. When I told him about my observation he shrugged it off like it did not matter and went outside for some fresh air.

My child is a genius just like his dad. He knows it, I know and his doctor knows it. His doctor recently gave him an IQ test and when she sat us down in her office last week she was flabbergasted by just how high his scores were. My son overheard her gushings over his prowess and how her own child scored lower than mine several key tests. He asked "How did this happen?" Since both our children enjoy the same public school her only conclusion was that his great intelligence was inherited.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Theme Week3

I drove the 45 minutes north and into town for the twentieth time in as many months. A summer shower just ended leaving dry spots under trees and steam rising from sunny puddles. Most times I came bearing sample bottles so I could get the clean water tests back from the lab and use them to assuage the neighbors to the big oil spill. After several months of petroleum-free water samples it was time to cut people off from sampling. One particular neighbor was adamant that he was going to be contaminated at any time. I pulled into his driveway wishing I had brought a witness along.

He promptly answers the knock on the door saying, "Good morning can I get a cup a coffee. I just made it with the last of the water I hauled up here from the spring on the Mudgett Road. I’ll tell you what, that is getting old. I want to know when you fellas are gonna drill me a new well."
"No thanks, but I’ll have a glass of water" I said with a serious face.
"No you don’t want to drink that water" he says pointing to the kitchen sink.
We sit down at the kitchen table as he clears several inches of old newspapers, phone bills, unopened credit card pitches, and dirty dinnerware. "How about a can of V-8"
I detest vegetable juice but don’t say so. "Did you get the letter from the Department?"
"I got that report form the water lab that looks to me like there’s still chemicals in it even though they say it’s OK."

I did not bring much patience along that day and broke in while his mouth was open taking in breath for the next sentence. "Mr. Maynard that chemical is reported on every sample the lab analyzes, it is labeled as a surrogate right on the.."
"I don’t care what you call it it’s a chemical I don’t want in the water and it comes from right over there." He points out the window to the next-door garage and lot filled with logging trucks.
"They put that chemical in each sample at the lab to make sure the equipment is working right."
"That oil is coming straight at my well. I watched them drill that well over there 10 years ago and they hit the same vein as me. They have the oil in the well and if it’s not in mine yet it will be any day. You said so yourself when I met you"
"That was almost two years ago when I thought you might be at risk."
"I’m more at risk now. That oil’s seeping over towards me all that time."
"Well, like I said in the letter the standard time for sampling a neighbor after a spill is one year, four seasons. We’ve sampled you well for almost two years and found no oil."
"You still haven’t told me when you’re gonna drill me a new well."

The conversation went on fruitlessly for nearly an hour before I ended by saying, "Here is my supervisor’s phone number. If you have any further questions call her but you will get the same answers."

Driving back to the office over the mostly dry road I called the boss but got a busy signal. Great I thought, now two people to call me and complain.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Writer's Autobiography in Three Persons

In the last few years I took up fiction writing in a group down in the Belfast area where we used to live. I figured that after writing technical stuff for a couple decades I could take on fiction too. I spend a lot of time driving, a little less now that I cut my commute from 50 to 10 minutes, and I listen to books on tape. Mostly adventure, mystery, or crime fiction. I am on a Dick Francis kick right now. He has a nice simple formula that entertains. I also carry a voice recorder so I can keep all those ideas I get while driving and listening. Periodically I download and type in those little insights for future use.

One writing goal is to create entertaining fiction in the first person. Another is to explore voices for entertaining, persuasive, and informative non-fiction that I can use at the DEP. We publish a weekly article called “In your Backyard” that often aims at changing behavior around an environmental issue. This week it talks about the Pacific plastic garbage gyre, a slowly moving whirlpool twice the size of Texas and 30 feet thick of plastic stuff. The piece goes on to encourage the Maine citizen to recycle plastic.

I would like to learn and refine skill in this creative non-fiction class to meet both these goals.

You have a problem. You want to write fiction but you have little time to devote outside of work and family. You write lots of technical stuff at work. You write a piece for the weekly column at work but it comes out really dry and technical, not the way you wanted at all. You have the time to make creative non-fiction at work but you need some new voices, different approaches to grab attention. So you join up John Goldfine's class and you're off and writing.

He's one of those would-be writers with a few chapters of a novel in the current equivalent of the bottom desk drawer, the thumb drive. The words can be easily cut here and pasted there into some other work so he saves them. He heard that a writer should start the morning with 1000 words, then move on to the rest of the day. When he hits that goal he'll probably be 65 year old. At that age it will be a great hobby but he hopes to be surfing a little when the writing is done.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Theme Week 2

In those pre-Watergate days of innocence I first remember writing in second grade when the teacher showed us how to make a little book out of manila paper stapled together. She gave us crayons to illustrate and I remember the coat had a plaid pattern of fall leaf colors which I drew on the book’s cover. It was the "Mystery of the Missing Coat" inspired by the lady who thought our coatroom was part of the thrift store across the hall and filled her bag full for a dollar. When she brought her bag to the register it included my coat. Shoot, now you know the ending. In fourth grade I remember Mrs. Wadsworth sent home a note about my language in an essay. I thought that the word friggin' was an acceptable substitute for another f-word. Not so for a fourth grader in 1970. That summer the town recreation program took a bus of us kids the 50 miles along the Mass. Pike to Boston for the day. From that day I carry two vibrant memories, smushing my banana on the seal engraved into the floor of the state house rotunda and being offered some cool-aid from a group of disreputable looking revelers on the sun-baked common. I left the banana behind to be trampled until a kindly janitor mopped it up and we refused the kind invitation to imbibe.
A few years and several school compositions later the Watergate story broke and coincidentally my life was never the same. Our father died at the age of 40 leaving my mother and three siblings to mourn. I grieved far too long ignoring consoling voices. I took time off from grieving to write a few essays and speeches about the natural world for agriculture classes and graduated from high school. Jump ahead to State College freshman composition where the professor said to me after reading my first composition "You're not such a clown after all.” I was positively inspired.
Regan got elected for the first time that year as I transferred to the small liberal arts Marietta College on the banks of the Ohio River across from West Virginia to study geology. I remember the story of Regan campaigning at the campus with snipers manning the rooftop of the field house where he spoke. American Literature professor Ms. Steinhagen encouraged me to pursue myself into that dark wilderness place I wrote about in a Hemingway essay. I do not believe I really have reached those wilds on paper. What I really began writing there were scientific papers. My senior project took 40 or so pages to report findings, measurements of footprints in lithic sand, and compilations of past scientific literature on a 300 million-year-old lizard named Dromopus. After graduation I wound up in Orono as a graduate assistant in geology where I earned a master’s degree with a thesis all about dirt bands on an Antarctic ice shelf. That thesis process gave me enormous confidence in writing and presenting technical and scientific work. That year of 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and many died in Tiananmen Square. The geology field camp I worked at that summer had a few extra openings as Chinese scientists were barred from travel. After graduate school I landed at the state Department of Environmental Protection where I wrote countless reports, presentations, letters, emails, standard operating procedures, and memos for the next decade right through 9-11 and to this day.
On 9-10-01 I was interviewed by the Bangor Daily at the site of a gasoline spill along the banks of the Penobscot River just north of Indian Island. The electronic media visited to interview us; it was big news that day. After the next day they never modulated another wave or a spilled a drop of ink about our project, which was just as well. My post 9-11 writing life took an imaginative turn when I enrolled in a creative writing class at Searsport adult education with Steve Allen, enjoyed that and took Steve’s advanced creative writing. That continued as a writing group meeting at members’ homes. The group gave me confidence in writing then reading the work for others and accepting criticism. Two years ago we moved house to Orono and I lost touch with that writing group and my creative writing. Fall 2008 started a new chapter with a web course in creative non-fiction writing with Professor Goldfine.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Journal Friday

I am happy that today is the last day of the work week, Labor Day weekend too. I just got done listening to the Red Sox win another late season game they needed to keep in the running for a playoff spot. I liked baseball alright as a kid, had no use for it for a long time and now my interest is renewed by sharing it with the boy. Our Dad took us to Fenway when we were in elementary school and I remember sitting in the grandstand. A boisterous older guy bought me and my brother popcorn in cardboard bullhorn. When we finished the popcorn we poked the disk out of the small end and put it to our mouths to cheer.

This summer I took the boy and his two grandfathers to a game and sat in the grandstand again. The park seemed much more spacious than I remembered it, maybe because when you are short you feel surrounded and closed in. I feared that worlds would collide but the Grandpas got along well. The boy got board around the seventh inning as it looked like Boston might be no-hitted. Luckily in the ninth Youk hit a two-run homer and broke the no-hitter. They still lost but we got to cheer. Now I am looking forward to camping for the weekend and listening to the games on the AM radio.

Journal Thursday

I awoke to the drone of the tanker jet practicing at 04:30 hours and couldn't go back to sleep even though I needed to. So I spent the morning dazed drinking coffee until reaching a semblance of coherence. Good thing since the day's plans called for team operation of heavy equipment in a high traffic area. We planned to bring the drilling machine out to an old gas station to take soil borings down ten feet or so looking for contaminated soil. The word of the day flashed up in an email "chthonic". What a perfect word for the day, Greek word meaning dwelling underground or of the underworld. After lunch I felt better, like I just woke up but skipping those couple of hours of sleep was like losing the whole morning.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Journal Wednesday

First Day of fourth grade for the boy. I think we are more nervous about it than him. We got the letter from the principal saying that "your child in a classroom with a child that has severe allergies to nuts" so please don't pack nuts into your kid's snack. That makes us feel better but we usually have a meeting before the first day with the nurse and the teacher to work out who will stick him with the epi-pen if some protein sets his immune system into hyperdrive and his face and air swell up. The meeting is not until Friday and we find the new homeroom teacher has no idea yet of our kid's needs. We are helicopter parents but we have to be. I look forward to the day I can feel like the boy takes responsibility for his own allergy patrol. I guess we have to get through the teen years first where some allergy kids rebel and decide to eat that thing the've been denied and thinking themselves indestructable leave the epi-pen at home.

Journal Tuesday

Up and out early today and in the office to check in with folks. There is another case of a plumber replacing an ancient pump from a deep well and wanting to know if it was made with PCB's in the cooling oil. They date from the 1950's and into the 1970's and lucky for the well owner this one did not spin and labor until its outer casing failed puking the cooling oil into the well and giving the tap water a funny smell. So I dig out the paper copy of a 1992 the Wisconsin environmental department report listing the serial numbers of offending pumps. It took a while to find it so I scanned it in to email to the folks in the office. I got to the last page to find the business card of the author at the State of Wisconsin and decided not to bother scanning that since the guy is probably long retired, phone number given to some newly minted college graduate in charge of the department's blog or something.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Journal Monday

Up before anyone, out the door, at work by 7:00. Staff meeting, return phone calls, jump in the car and drive north. Today's not far only up to Howland where I get out and walk in past a locked gate to a site ready for inspection. I walk to the land of a contractor hired to treat some soil hauled away from around an old gasoline station's tanks. The site is idle as evidenced by the locked gate. Enough progress is made to satisfy and I make a note to test the treated soil in the next week or so. Walking back under the sun I feel my too-big lunch bloating my stomach and wish I could wear shorts to work. After a couple more stops I am done for the day and go home to pick up my son for a visit to the allergist.

There are a lot of things to do to get a kid ready for the first day of fourth grade. At least that's the way it is with our kid. Food allergies and asthma keep us worried that he'll accidently eat a walnut and plunge into anaphylactic shock or come up short on breath after rounding third at the recess kickball game. The real worry is we won't be there if it happens. We train those who watch over him while we are at work but who can really look out for your kid better than you.

The allergist reads the test results from the summer's blood testing. Still highly allergic to walnuts, almonds, cow's milk is still high, seseme seeds and wheat moderate. What about the Goat's Milk I ask, he's moderately allergic to that. Damn I was hoping to be able to feed him that. I guess we will stick to soymilk. They work wonders with soymilk anymore. Chocolate covered frozen soymilk on a stick, soycheese that really melts on the grill, Soy ice cream with wheat-free cookie dough, all rather amazing. Compare that to the story a friend at work told me. When she was a kid 30 some odd years ago in Caribou she and her brother were both highly allergic to milk. But Dad would sneek them over to the dairy bar, buy them an ice cream cone, and they'd have to right away throw it up before going home and not say a word about it to Mom. I guess eating the soy ice cream is better than that.

Journal Sunday

Opening the front door, hands full of backpacks and sleeping bags, I walk into the house for the first time in eight days. Following me with her overnight bag slung over shoulder is Jo-Jo as she's known to us so-named by our son, her grandson, several years ago. Jo-Jo will stay for a couple nights and watch grandson Ben while her daughter and I are away at work and before school starts later in the week. I hear some bad mother-in-law stories but Jo-Jo must be an exception.

After we are tucked in I scoot downstairs for a final drink of water and find Jo-Jo eating potato chips, reading the paper and sipping her one beer of the night. I say goodnight going up the stairs exhausted, thinking back many years when I had the energy and inclination to join her for a couple beers. Why is life so busy now?