Wednesday, December 17, 2014


This formation on a rotting piece of beech tree reminded me of my little wildcat Pandora, who died in 2001. She ruled these woods.

She arrived as a kitten. The established cat, a one-eyed rescue named Moose, received her with good humor. She made it clear that our tiny house was too small to contain her energy. She got her kitten nickname, "the terrorist," because she would playfully but relentlessly attack the two dogs, the elder cat and us.

Her tutor in fierceness was a vagrant cat someone brought us whose coloring was eerily similar to Pandora's. We named this newcomer Scarlet, but soon changed it to Snarlet because she could not shed her feral ferocity. Somehow, Pandora managed to absorb Snarlet's combat and hunting skills while still maintaining a sweet nature.

When I found myself single again in my shack in the woods I had a lot more time to pay attention to the dog and the cat that had been left to me. Pandora spent most days and many nights outside. Even in the coldest weather she never used a litter box. She might spend the day indoors by the wood stove, but she'd be dancing by the door when I got home from work. She'd go outside no matter what the weather was doing, take care of business and come back in.

In milder weather she would spend the day outside. I would see no sign of a cat when I pulled in from work. Then she would appear. If I was in the car she would hop up on the hood before I could open the door. If I was on the bicycle she would materialize beside me. She would do the same thing whenever I took a walk in the woods. She wouldn't follow me if I went very far up the mountain, but she would go as far as our property extended. It probably just coincided with her attention span and the kind of terrain she felt like dealing with.

How much was luck and how much was skill? She never lost a fight,  except to her final illness. She spent days and nights in the forest with coyotes, foxes, fishers, bobcats, bears, owls, hawks and roving dogs. She seemed like a superhero. I heard some hair raising noises some nights, but there she'd be in the morning, paws folded contentedly under her, waiting for me to open the door.

It was about this time of year when she died. In dim light I still sometimes see a dark patch on the floor where I found her barely alive that evening. We rushed her to the vet to see if we could pull her back to us.

If you look at the tree formation from a different angle it doesn't look the least bit like a cat. It gives me a moment of remembrance and then breaks the illusion. The forest remembers and lets go. Even the wood itself will crumble before long.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Infamy seems to wear off over time

Maybe I didn't see much because I tend to avoid media most of the time, but Pearl Harbor Day seemed to come and go without more than a murmur.

I'm as bad as anyone. Caught up in the surprise attacks and extended campaigns of my own life I gave little thought to the Japanese attack more than 70 years ago that finally pushed the United States into World War II. As the Second World War appears to have solved fewer and fewer issues that plague us today, that great conflict between Good and Evil, as magnificent as it was, becomes a symbol of the frustrating endlessness and brutal human cost of that conflict.

We didn't even defeat the Fascists. They just rebranded, regrouped and took over the finance industry. They learned to be more subtle and play a longer game in their quest for world domination and discriminatory prosperity.

The dissipation of infamy happened suddenly in just a couple of years. The usual outlets that howl about exalting all things military shift their focus to the imaginary War on Christmas. The compression of the holiday season that follows a late Thanksgiving leaves little attention for remembrance of an inspiring defeat suffered before the midpoint of the previous century. Pearl Harbor Day suffers the fate of all children with birthdays in December. For years it was early enough to preserve its own little bubble of solemnity, but the accumulation of newer crises and the pressures of modern life have finally overtaken it.

We will never forget entirely. I'm not even saying that the degree to which we've forgotten already is entirely bad. Conflicts that occurred between people now mostly dead over political and economic issues that should never have led to war only deserve so much reverence before you have to shake your head and look at the whole shooting match as a waste of many things. It had to be done, but only because of events that precipitated it based on things that should never have been done.

Pull back far enough and Earth is a tiny dot in cosmic blackness, populated by microscopic beings who will destroy each other and the whole place, attempting to rule it. It looks large and invulnerable to us here in the roughness of its crust. We abuse each other mercilessly as we try to shape the illusion to please ourselves.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Another train blog

It's hard to write simple sentences in active voice when the concepts in your mind are not simple.

I could say bluntly that no one is harder to communicate with than someone who is a glass half empty person who thinks they're a glass half full type. But that's not true. What makes a person really hard to communicate with is ignorance and the lack of a sense of humor. Pessimists who think they're optimists present a significant challenge, but hardly the worst. So right away I get stuck with extra verbiage.

Give the pessoptimist credit for knowing that a positive attitude helps. But just knowing it doesn't mean you're doing it. If your talent and natural inclination tends otherwise, you have to practice like a 50-year-old beginning violin student.

Life experience makes it harder. As a realist, you have to acknowledge that setbacks and challenges complicate any action. The farther ahead you try to lay things out, the more stuff can fall on, grow over or wash out the path.

Some people are luckier than others. Your own luck may vary. Outlook once again affects one's perception of whether a particular break was good or bad. But some people do seem to go over smaller and less frequent bumps than others. Attentive work does not really manufacture luck, but it helps you prepare to take advantage when things shift in your favor. You can't spend too much time looking at someone else's life trying to find major chunks to incorporate. Not that I know anyone who does that, but it came up next in the train of thought. And I know I've been tempted to try it from time to time.

Sprawled across two seats, looking over at I-95, I'm glad I'm not driving. I'm also glad more people are driving, so I can sprawl across two seats. I keep tweaking different rail car designs to try to maintain capacity while eliminating unwanted seat mates. But then what do you do when you're traveling with someone and want to sit together? Here we are, back in the stupid best of all worlds.

I look down. I read, I write. I look up again and guess by the grunge that we must be near Bridgeport.

I left tonight's weather behind south of New Jersey. A snowstorm chased me out of New Hampshire and a snowstorm chases me home. We're outrunning it now, but I'm going to stop eventually. I'll go back into my life with a completely different sense of time than the people who stayed behind will have. I've been gone forever and no time.

6:58 p.m. -- Now on the Downeaster, rolling toward Dover. Soon I will know how badly my car is buried. I will find out whether I remembered to lock it as I hurried to the station a week ago to catch the southbound train.

Against my every expectation when I saw about a hundred school kids gather at North Station to catch this train, I enjoyed another private seat by a window. It's basically black out there..

So. Exhume the car and drive on. Home awaits.