Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I was walking the dog today, mostly going with the flow of ideas in my head. At one point, I thought of something that had turned out in a disappointing way. Brain scans show that the parts of our brains that light up when we experience something also light up when we recall it vividly.Whether the light show in the brain reflects the thoughts, the strong feeling of disappointment that I did indeed generate by that thought persisted as my mind wandered on. 

Once I realized that the disappointment still echoed in my brain though the sound that produced the echo was silent, I thought to go back and deal with the disappointment, assess its validity. However, I could not remember what it was that had sparked the emotion. I have always been capable of this kind of forgetting, though now that I am aging, I am better at it, especially when I am not paying attention to my thoughts.

I felt a twinge of horror: here I was stuck with a rogue effect that I could not analyze because it no longer had a cause. Thoughts leave their emotional echoes behind to mingle sometimes with other thoughts to which they bear no significant causal relationship. An associational link is possible but there is no guarantee that the point of linkage bears on the emotion that persists. This phenomenon suggest a landscape of memory littered with the emotional ruins of buildings that never actually existed, a confused geography that never did make any sense and for which no historical map exists. A wilderness.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Composting One's Self

This past week I made our first trip to the Amesbury City compost facility to dispose of the leaves and seeds and who knows what—all of which I had shoveled out of the gutter in front of our house. I also had some one-inch-thick magnolia branches I had taken off one tree in the front and some thorny wild rose clippings from the front yard and the edge of the pond. Some of the weeds I dug up from the lower terrace further down the hill—nasty, deep rooted burdocky looking things—I had just tossed in the garbage, and the more benign clippings and rotting leaves that had come from the yard itself, I just dumped down the hill since the erosion is so bad, anything that sticks either as humus or plants will be positive.

We had gotten our compost sticker the week before and scoped out where the place was. Even so, I lost my way trying to find it without our GPS. Ultimately, however, I had to cheat and use the GPS capacity of my iPhone to find it. It is a newly opened facility, out in the middle of nowhere near the newly relocated DPW facility. Tonight, walking home from my daughter Clare’s house, I was reminded of where the old facility was when I walked by it right next to Mt. Prospect Cemetery.

What a shame that they disconnected the rotting leaves and the rotting people. The cemetery and the old composting area shared an access road so that the reminder that we are also compost, that we are dust and will return to dust, or, more hopefully, to humus was an additional benefit to composting. As it is, when you go to the Amesbury, MA website, you will find a link explaining the procedure and cost for getting a permit to place compost at the city facility, and another link explaining the procedure and cost to put a body in the Mt. Prospect Cemetery. At least in the virtual world, the access points are still contiguous. I think it is a particularly nice touch that resident senior citizens can get one free compost permit.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ducks and What?

As Terra and I returned from a walk, I paused on the deck, and looking down at the edge of Clarks Pond, I saw a head moving through the water. We had just rediscovered an old pair of binoculars that were of dubious value, so I fetched them from the study to try them out. When I returned to the deck, the mammal was hunched over, standing on a submerged section of a fallen tree in the water, the one I had planned to remove. I had envisioned myself floating off shore, sawing sections off and dragging them to shore, so that when I was finished, the shore line would look neat and orderly; though I would have hoped that with all I know, I should have rejected that idea out of hand, but I did not. It took my watching fallen trees in the pond lure wildlife providing convenient places for turtles to sun and for beavers and muskrats to munch, to re-enlighten me. Now I plan for the log and branches to stay till they rot.

"Muskrat." Wikipedia
But as I looked through my binoculars at the surprisingly sharp image, the beaver vs. muskrat question was what occupied my mind. I could not tell whether a muskrat or beaver was hunched over its root gnawing for a bit then slipping back in the water for more. I watched carefully, but it returned to the water each time in a way that concealed its tail. It seemed much too big for a muskrat, which The Washington Post’s kids guide to beavers and muskrats, told me max out at about 4 pounds (while beavers run 35 to 60 pounds).  On the other hand, eventually I saw the whole body as the creature swam and a black tail flagellated as it swam. The Post claimed that if you see only the head (what I saw at first) it is a beaver; the whole body (what I saw later), it’s a muskrat. I don’t think I saw two different animals. I was convinced enough right after sighting it to tell a friend that I had seen a beaver.
"Male Wood Duck" Wikipedia

While I was scrutinizing the mammal, however, a male wood duck swam into the same section of the pond. This ID was positive, since the previous day Madalene had identified the small group of ducks on the pond as wood ducks. I had looked at them through another set of binoculars then, but had seen only a silhouette because of the light. The outline did, however, show the swooping helmet of feathers at the back of the male wood duck’s head. Madalene remarked on the beauty of the wood duck’s coloring, and when I actually saw the color this time, it was dazzling. Both the pattern and color were so extravagant; that natural selection selects for the beautiful suggests some element of mystery embedded in either the process or the substance being processed.

I walked into town to meet Madalene at Flatbread Pizza for supper after her Yoga class. Returning home, as we stepped back onto our deck, I saw the mammal on the log again; this time I looked at it without the binoculars. Much to my surprise, I realized it was tiny, easily no more than four pounds.  The binoculars excluded too much of the context so that my frame of reference slipped. Concentrating too much on too little can lead to errors that seem solid the more so because of the assiduousness with which the erroneous observation was performed. Muir’s comment about how everything is connected works all the way down.

Monday, June 2, 2014

This Old Man

I have come into possession of one of the souvenirs of aging: a seven chambered pill box, each chamber with its own lid marked with a letter for a day of the week. I appreciate that the makers of my pillbox acknowledge that the issue is memory not cognition because they do not hesitate to mark both Tuesday and Thursday each with just a “T.” 

On Sunday I put two pills in each chamber; that way during the week I will know whether I have taken my pills or not. This concise device engages at once my deteriorating health and memory. But it is also a calendar on which I mark off the days, like opening the doors of an advent calendar anticipating Christmas, only in this case I will open the last door and then I’ll die. In a sense it is like the first advent, waiting for the big event, but unsure of when it will happen. When I was young, the days would drag until Christmas, but as I open these doors the weeks go by quickly. The practice forces me to mark off the days and weeks, reminds me that time is passing.

As I refill the week’s supply, I think, “Didn’t I just do this?” Pill taking becomes déjà vu: as the act of taking pills everyday becomes more ingrained in my brain, it is easier for me to recall having taken the pill, whether or not I have. Each event seems like I might have done it before, but the doors tell me which I have already passed through and what has passed through me and what of me has passed.