Lessons From A Rowing Mom

IMG_6707_2The people of Maine are different:  hardier, more outdoorsy, and seemingly closer to the land.  Kish has noticed that the women wear less make-up and tend toward a no-frills look, while the men have the kind of ruddy complexion that makes it look like they’ve just stepped off a sailboat.

There’s something about living in a rustic area, near water, that seems to encourage that laissez-faire personal attitude.  If you’ve got water and a boat nearby, there would be a lot of incentive to use it — and if make-up tended to run down your face when the fog rolled in, and fancy haircuts frizzed out and became unmanageable in the salt air, then make-up and the high-end ‘dos would likely hit the cutting room floor.

I thought about all of this on our recent mailboat run out to Isle au Haut.  At one of our stops we saw a mother rowing her very cute little girl across the harbor to a dock.  The Mom was an accomplished rower, and I’d be willing to bet that her daughter ends up as one, too.  That’s not a bad skill to pass down from generation to generation.

Home

At what point do you suppose that you first grasped the idea of “home”?  I imagine it was one of the first concepts I ever understood, and probably one of the first words, too.  It was a specific, physical place, to be sure, but it was a lot more than that.  It was where the most important people in your life lived, and you developed happy feelings that you associated with the special combination of that place and those people and your things — the sense of where your life was centered, and of being where you belonged.

And as you grew up, and your family moved from one house to another, and went on vacations together, the concept of “home” became even stronger, because you realized that your home was not just one place, but could change from one city to another even as you left your friends and favorite places behind, and was more than just the temporary location of your Mom and Dad and brother and sisters.  And after such a move to new place, when the settling-in process finally ended, at some point you thought to yourself that your new house had become less strange and “finally felt like home.”

IMG_6833The home-shifting process continues, for many of us, as our lives proceed and we move through college and venture out on our own.  At some distinct point the concept of “home” morphs from the place where your parents are to the place where you and your spouse and your family have established their own lives.  The legal concept is called domicile — the location where you have established a permanent residence to which you intend to return, whatever your temporary movements might be.  Courts trying to determine domicile evaluate evidence like where you are registered to vote, where you pay your taxes, and where your kids go to school, that seek to capture, to the maximum extent that bloodless legal “factors” can, the emotional element of having found a welcome place where you have sunk down roots.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have grown up with a solid sense of “home,” with the warm, deep feelings of belonging and physical security and personal value and countless other attributes that come with it, can’t fully appreciate how having a home has shaped our lives and personalities.  And we can’t really imagine what it must be like to grow up without that essential emotional and physical center, or to someday lose it entirely and become “homeless” — a powerful and terrible word, when you think about it.

Yesterday, as Kish and I drove back from a vacation on the coastline of Maine, the pull of “home” became irresistible, and what was supposed to be a two-day drive became by mutual agreement a 17-hour, roll-in-and-unload-after-midnight rush to get back to our little center of the world.  And when we finally made it, and were greeted by a small, happily barking dog whose tail was sweeping the floor like a metronome set at maximum speed, we once again were reminded of what “home” is really all about.

Office Dog

IMG_6533Today I did something I’ve never done before:  walk Kasey down to the office to keep me company while I got some work done.  I think she enjoyed herself, after first giving my office a thorough sniff test around the perimeter, and later finding just the right-sized patch of sunlight where she could stretch out and nap.  Her snores and snorts provided some funny background noise as I worked.

I think it’s also safe to say that Kasey thought the elevator was weird, magical, and a bit frightening.  She was glad when the doors slid open and she could get out.

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St. Mary’s Homecoming Festival

IMG_6517Last night and tonight our neighbor, St. Mary Catholic Church, is hosting its annual Homecoming Festival.  It’s got the vibe of county fair, community get-together, neighborhood talent show, and church potluck dinner, all rolled into one.  It’s got live music, small carnival rides, games of chance, and lots of food.  This year, the Festival is extra-special, because St. Mary is celebrating its 150th year, having been founded the same year that the Civil War ended.

Last night I was reading in our backyard as the sounds of the Festival announcements — some of them made by kids — drifted over the sultry air to reach me a half-block away.  It was a warm, friendly sound from a church that is a good neighbor.

EnviroFail

Kish and I try to be environmentally sensitive people.  We recycle religiously, we walk rather than drive if possible, and we generally try to do whatever we can to reduce our carbon footprint.  That includes buying products that purport to be protective of the environment.

Sometimes, though, the environmentally sensitive products have . . . issues.

IMG_6422Recently Kish picked up compressed hardwood firewood for our outdoor fire pit.  The product looks like a kind of blond, fibrous brick, so it’s not exactly as attractive as old-fashioned logs.  It’s considered “environmentally responsible” because it’s made from leftover wood, so it is a recycled product of a sort, there are no additives, and it purports to burn hotter and produce less smoke, ash, and creosote.   We’ve found that it’s perfectly serviceable in the burning department, although it lacks that natural wood snap and crackle.

So, what’s the problem?  The packaging for these wooden blocks says they should be stored in a dry place — which is perhaps the greatest commercial understatement since the Coca-Cola Company admitted that New Coke was off to a rocky start.  What the package should say, in huge letters, is:  UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU STORE THIS PRODUCT OUTSIDE OR EVER LET IT GET WET!!!  Because, as we discovered to our chagrin, if you do expose the product to moisture, the “compression” element of the product goes poof, and you end up with split shrink-wrap packages from which mounds of sawdust, wood chips, and tiny splinters have erupted and spilled everywhere.  And good luck cleaning up the dust and miniature toothpicks that somehow immediately find their way into every nook and cranny!

I guess it’s a small price to pay for less creosote.

The Door

IMG_6456Russell graciously gave Kish and me some of the artwork that he created this past year at Cranbrook, and I lucked out with this new piece for my office.  It fills a gap on my wall that appeared when one of my colleagues fell in love with some of Russell’s other work that had been hanging there and decided she just had to have it for her home.

I’m not sure how long this piece will last before someone else decides to make a bid for it, either, but I sure will enjoy it while it’s here.  I don’t know if Russell gave it a title, but I have mentally dubbed it The Door.  I just love the color, and composition, and ambiguity of it, with Russell’s riff on the Michelin Man standing in a way that suggests both uncertainty and fascination and peering out onto an open but unknown vista that could represent Opportunity, or Promise, or the Strange New World, or just about anything you want.

I’ve got this new piece on the wall right next to my computer monitor, and it makes me smile with pleasure every time I walk into my office.  That’s what art should do.

The Kasey Kough

Kasey likes her walks, but they come at a price.  Nine times out of ten, she ends up with what I call the Kasey Kough — a kind of weird, rasping, unnerving throat noise that makes everyone think that she’s got some kind of soon-to-be-fatal doggie disease.

IMG_6449The problem is this:  Kasey can’t wait to get outside for her walk, and she strains mightily against the leash to move ahead as quickly as possible.  Unless you sprint down the stairs and trot along as she moves from here to there, as unpredictably as the tail of a rattler, you’re going to apply some resistance to the leash . . . and therein lies the rub — literally.

Kasey apparently has the most delicate throat in the canine kingdom.  If you tug on the leash even slightly, it provokes an apparent throat muscle collapse that causes her to start making a kind of retching, throat-clearing sound, as if she’s trying to get rid of a hairball or is about to shoot a phlegm wad across the street.  It’s a disturbing noise that causes passersby to look at us with some suspicion, as if we’ve just come from the nightly dog-strangling session at our house.

When Kasey gives us the Kasey Kough, Kish will give her an on-street throat massage to try to restore whatever throat integrity Kasey once had.  Sometimes this technique works, but mostly it doesn’t, and Kasey keeps hacking away.  Often the wracking heaves don’t end until we’ve turned the last corner on the way home.

It’s always a relief to know that she’s survived another walk.