Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Health is Wealth

An interesting thing happened on my well-traveled road to maturity. My collateral, long assumed to be material things and assets, morphed into something far more valuable and priceless. Health became paramount and without it, everything else pales in comparison.

At my age, all the money in the world doesn’t mean a damn thing if you don’t have your health. As wealthy as some folks are, few of them if any, can buy their way back to health once it’s gone.

In retrospect, I’ve been very lucky. I think I’m in fairly good shape simply because I started running early on and never stopped until I was well past 70. After one memorable weekend in the service, I stopped drinking all hard liquor except for a light beer once in a while. I’ve never smoked (OK, weed doesn’t count during my wannabe hippie years), and I’ve maintained my weight pretty well. It wasn’t planned out that way. There were no goals and objectives for a lifetime of trying to stay fit. I just started working and moving about beginning in 7th grade and have kept at it all my life.

I thought about this phenomenon recently after attending yet another funeral. It seems more and more of my friends and acquaintances have experienced recent health issues at this stage in their lives. That and my own aches and pains crawling out of bed each morning brought that issue to mind.

‘Late in life’ issues often prompt a reflective glimpse back in time. The famous Irish poet Oscar Wilde once said, “The final mystery is oneself.” So how does one unravel the mystery of self? It probably can’t happen without self-awareness and self-awareness won’t happen without reflection.

I’m at that point in life where things are starting to happen beyond my control. This old body has been pumping and expanding for seventy-six years. Fortunately its wear and tear has been relatively minimum. For others an excess of ‘living the good life’ is finally starting to show its consequences. For others, it’s the luck of the draw or the flip side of that event. I mentioned that idea in another blog entitled ‘Our Final Tabulation.’

Reflecting back on circumstances or events in one’s life can bring about new insights into your present circumstances. I think reflection is looking inward so one can look back with a broader, more accurate perspective of your current situation in life. Health more than most other events can bring that to the forefront.

As the cliché goes, it’s never too late to begin again. When my Mother and stepfather couldn’t dance anymore at ages ninety and eight-two respectively, they took up cards to strengthen their minds. I didn’t recognize it back then but their actions were a powerful motivator for me to keep pressing on.

Hiking the Garstin Trail each Saturday morning has brought me renewed appreciation for the mountain goats that so often pass me on their trek to the summit. These are weathered old goats who have passed up their country club lifestyle for the more challenging heights of our surrounding mountains.

Assessing what is important at this stage of one’s life really comes down to the basics. Health, family, friendships and life experiences. All the rest is soon to be outdated, worn out, or soon to be replaced by this season’s new trend.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Back in the Wash

It’s quiet and serene and a great place to get lost inside your head. There’s usually a small muddy creek meandering by. The scrub brush is in full bloom now and nesting birds flitter about endlessly. The stillness there can be deafening with only a few fleeting sounds floating by. All is peaceful until once or twice a year when the rains come and wash that complacency away with astounding fury and force in just a matter of moments.

Then as the left over residue slowly settles into the newly formed crags and crevices, the wash goes back to its dormant life once again.

We experienced that here in the desert not too long ago. A record three and a half inches of rain fell in one day. Contrast that to an average rainfall of five inches for the entire year and one can understand the magnitude of the hard rain pounding on concrete soil.

Before the rains, the wash is alive with horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking.

Horse trails become mountain bike meccas. Hikers wander the wash, meandering back and forth as the rutted grounds give way to dry beds. Arroyos cut in the corners and debris lies crumpled up in distorted jumbled piles randomly deposited everywhere.

Then after the rains, new trails have to be forged on a totally altered landscape.

Fortunately for me, the wash isn’t the only place I’ve found for tranquility and peace in his part of my world. As a fellow hiker commented the other day. “It really is one of the best playground for adults in the world.” I’ve also found a host of other newly discovered venues to get lost in around the Coachella Valley.

My tabernacle on the Lykken Trail

My tabernacle on the Garstin Trail

Coachella Valley Preserve lagoon

Top of the Tram

Garstin Trail

Joshua Tree

Afternoon hike along the wash

They are all magnificent escapes just steps away from my home. Places to meet and greet and at the same time go solitary if I want to. Its heaven’s confessional where I reveal my earthly sins; the good ones, the bad ones and the fun times in-between.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Tides Like Titles Come and Go

Like the old watermen of Saint Mary’s Island, Davis’ pub remains stuck in the past. Its walls are adorned with fading photographs of tall ships, wooden boats, log canoes and skipjacks. Across the street the intoxicating smell of seaweed, salt air and brine mix with the fresh varnish on a yacht anchored nearby.

Davis’ pub in Eastport, Annapolis reminds me of what the Bohemian Flats must have been like on the West Bank of Minneapolis back in the 1940s.The pub has been around since the ‘40s and their clientele hasn’t changed much since then. There are the usual neighborhood relics, a few old watermen, the hangers-on, and now the ever-present tourists drawn by concierges and travel blogs.

As I sat safely ensconced in a corner booth, it was all coming back to me. The dark dank inner harbor of Baltimore before redevelopment brightened its shoreline. My job at the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting in Owings Mills, our first tiny house in Reisterstown and weekend jaunts to the Chesapeake Bay and around the state.

Many of my changes started there. From 1972 through 1977, I sold video programming during the day, wrote out my western adventures at night and toe-stepped the Chesapeake on weekends. Our family started there and real estate first began to pique my curiosity. It was a most audacious start to something great…the rest of my life.

MCPB is celebrating its fifty-year anniversary this summer. Dr. Breitenfeld, as well as so many of the founding fathers, are gone now. What remains is a small cast and crew from those Camelot years.

They’re scattered around the country now, each with their own satchel of memories of that time. Facebook is about the only link many of them have back to that period in the early to mid- 70s when everything was new and venturesome and sometimes scandalous.

Back then I had long harbored great fantasies of sailing the Chesapeake Bay. A boat ride on our friend’s runabout brought back a rush of old mental images. The air is clearer on the water and there is a nautical language reserved for the fleet of foot and strong of stomach. My friend spoke of new moons and dark skies. He waxed on philosophically about the Orionids, the Leonids, North Taurids, and Geminids; all meteor showers reserved for his patch of moonlit sky.

The houses seemed to have gotten bigger and the sea lanes more crowded since our last visit. But the inlets and bays were still nature’s nurseries. The Chesapeake Bay supports more than 2700 species of plants and animals, including 348 species of finfish and 173 species of shellfish. Approximately 284,000 acres of the Chesapeake Bay are tidal wetlands.

The Bay and its tidal tributaries have 11,684 miles of shoreline, more than the entire United States West Coast. Estuarine science and research is relatively young. Only in the last several decades has there been a good understanding of estuaries and fisheries.

Back in the seventies MCPB (Maryland Center for Public Broadcast) was one of the best public television stations in the country. It was my Camelot existence for almost five years.

My job distributing television programming was a precursor to my own business ventures born several years later. Our home was the first of a number of real estate investments. My first published article for The Library Journal kick-started a new focus on writing as a second career. Two western novels were written, edited and then shelved for almost forty years before my new career as a writer finally took off. It was in Maryland where I attempted the JFK Fifty Mile Race on the Appalachian Trail but only got twenty-four miles before hypothermia brought me to my knees. That failure propelled me to a lifetime of running.

At the Maryland Center, our General Manager, Dr. Frederick Breitenfeld was a brilliant yet incredibly personable leader. He had an enormous influence on my fantasies of becoming a writer. I’ve referenced one of his early research papers on educational television in my latest play ‘PTV.’

It’s come full circle now. Sailing the Chesapeake, revisiting old friends through the MCPB Facebook page and writing as my new water pail to carry. I’d like to believe it all began there when a young sprout came up from Tennessee to test the waters of fledging television, tiptoed the bays and inlets, and drew in the fresh ocean breezes.

It was nice to be home again…if only in my imagination.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Friendships Never Meant to Last

A movie title caught my attention a while back. At first I thought it was pretty dumb but upon further introspection I think they got it ‘spot on.’ The movie title was ‘She’s Just Not That into You.’ It was your classic New York romance about unrequited love, breakups and the eternal search for that ‘perfect’ someone…and in the end, one sided relationships. I thought it could easily fit another side of relationships - not the romantic kind, just plain simple friendships instead.

It sounds terribly harsh, haughty and perhaps even a bit cruel. I’m talking about people from your past who have since disappeared from your life. Friends and acquaintances who have faded away or didn’t live up to your expectations; real or otherwise. They may have been there for important milestones in your life but are no longer are even a smudge on the relationship radar. What happened to those folks? Perhaps they didn’t follow through or fell short of what you expected from them. Perhaps you failed them and the ending was mutual. As disappointing as their absence is, their memories can still bring a smile to my memory.

Of course, no one can make someone else their friend if they don’t want to be. It’s terribly subjective and handicapped by a less than thorough knowledge of their motives. Were there extraneous factors, whether recognized or not, that contributed to the demise of that friendship? Was it something you did or didn’t do? Was it something you said even in honesty that was taken the wrong way?

When I first came back from Europe, I lived on couches for a while. There was a guy from Tennessee who took me in. He was brilliant and funny and I thought we really hit it off. Then he suddenly announced one day that he was moving back home. He never wrote and that was that. The ancillary friends I met through him remained but he didn’t.

No matter what the contributing factors might have been, I came to the conclusion that whatever friendship I once had with that guy had now’ left the station.’ On one hand, it was sad. On the other, it was just life giving me a poke on the backside and reminding me that nothing and no one is perfect.

Some folks can be brutally honest in terms of their relationships. They separate family (with all those obligatory ties) from friends and acquaintances (where they get to decide whom they want to be associated with.) They pick and choose their friends based on connections, associations and tie-ins all for their own self-benefit and satisfaction. ‘It’s nothing personal,’ as my boss used to say, ‘it’s just business.’

Friendships and relationships can be by their very nature a very vapid and elusive bond to attain and hold on to. Fleeting friendships based on circumstance are easy to recognize. An MOS partnership in the Armed Forces evaporates as soon as discharge papers are served. That’s understood, accepted and welcomed for a return to civilian life. A close relationship in the classroom can wither away and die when outstate jobs or opportunities beckon. Neighbors and neighborhoods fade from memory after the moving van has arrived. It’s all part and parcel of the ebb and flow of normal life.

Photo Credit: Jerry Hoffman

But what about those friendships you thought were meant for greater things. Something special you wanted to hold on to but couldn’t…her fault or yours, it doesn’t matter anymore. The clichés are rampant when describing what happened or might have happened. ‘There were promises not met or kept.’ ‘We were moving along in life.’ ‘People change.’ ‘They/she just wasn’t that into you.’ And the one that best describes them all because it tells us nothing: ‘Things happen.’ Whatever once was had become vaporous and vague. Then like the morning mist wrapping itself around a tree trunk it slowly slipped away.

It seems to me that some folks go through life on autopilot. They never stop to question any-thing that life throws at them. Instead of designing their life as they would want it or like it or wish for it to be they simply accept what is lying there under the morning covers. I think that’s what happens to a lot of friendships. They’re taken for granted until those innocuous bonds that held it together have slowly unraveled and broken apart, leaving nothing but memories where a welcoming smile used to be.

A mental-meandering trip back in time usually reveals very little. So what happened to those folks? Did they change or did you? Whose expectations weren’t met? Was it your baggage or theirs? Did they move on or did you move on with your life and in the process leave behind what once was or might have been. Did they disappoint you or did you screw up and lose what might have been a wonderful friendship or relationship?

Two pals from grade school
The Barracks Boys

Marie, A wonderful confidant in that Danish laundry

My Roommate in Danmark who we all called ‘Animal.’
A Danish University student who wanted to get close
A potter from Amsterdam

A painter from Amsterdam

A pen pal from Lincolnshire, England

It’s been several lifetimes since I’ve seen any of these folks. I assume I never will again. So I wish for all of them health and happiness and good memories just as mine are. It’s the Great Go-Around and in this Circle of Life a few old friends will occasionally reappear after fifty years. I guess that’s why reconnecting with old friends is so special.

Like most mysteries of life, there are no easy answers…if any at all. What once was is no longer relevant and if that bothers you then the onus is on you to make it better the next time around.

As the saying goes: “To have a friend you must first be a friend.” They’re still out there…those wonderful folks who could be your friend. You just have to be generous in kindness and spirit.

I guess we (or perhaps just I) have to make the effort and accept the fact that we might be disappointed in the process.

Nevertheless, it’s still worth the effort.