Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fire and Water

Once, there was a dark city. Three rivers ran through it, but long ago, misguided city fathers had covered them up, channeling them underground. When the city underwent a long-awaited renaissance, the rivers were uncovered. To celebrate the new life of the city and the liberation of its rivers from their concert shroud, braziers were erected in the river and filled with wood, to be set ablaze on summer nights while drums thunder and flutes play. Voices fill the night air with ancient sounding, harmonic chants that mingle with the trails of sparks that blow off the river. Gondolas ply the waters and people come from many miles around to join the residents of the city in the ritual that celebrates the rebirth of Providence, Rhode Island. The people call this beautiful primal rite “Waterfire”.

On Saturday evening, I was there at the water’s edge sitting on the cool granite walls of the canal with thousands of others waiting in anticipation of dusk. Then, at the exact moment of sunset, the sound of drums begins and rises above the water. A black skiff appears out of the shadows, carrying several black robed figures. With torch in hand, one of them sets the first brazier basket on fire and deep voices began a chant. They glide by, lighting each brazier as they go. As the river is lit up with the flames, the granite walls of the canal glow pink and the warmth suffuses us as we look on, sipping red wine and nibbling pastry. A gondola approaches, carrying a couple downriver. The gondolier wears a straw hat and a black and white striped jersey. He poles his craft slowly along aside the flaming baskets. Next comes a black skiff carrying a old man with long gray hair, and he is dressed all in white. He is handing out long-stemmed, red roses to random people who reach out over the water toward him as the deep, harmonic sounds of “Halleluyah”,by David Hykes boom out across the river.

The warm breeze sends a spangled ribbon of sparks cascading from each of the flaming braziers as my companions and I rise to walk along Canal Street, toward Memorial Park. There, at the dimly lit World War I monument is a group of statues that will come to life this night. We have to see for ourselves. Sure enough, there we find a gargoyle, a Viking and a few other marble statues. As we watch, they suddenly come to life and slowly begin to move, presenting onlookers with small scrolls containing oracles in exchange for dollar bills. The sound of “Nepalese Lullaby” by Neelam Shestha, floats on the night wind as we saunter down to Market Square and the Rhode Island School of Design. We are surrounded by a sea of humanity, all ages and races mingling on the granite waterfront. There are carts selling all kinds of food and drink along the way and the smells mingle with the aroma of the wood smoke from the river. Dance lessons, Jazz bands, origami artists and mimes are all part of the scene on various nights during the season. There is no admission charged; hundreds of volunteers and many more generous financial benefactors make it all possible.

Waterfire is the inspired, artistic concept designed by Barnaby Evans, to celebrate the rebirth of the city of Providence. It is an installation piece, and some refer to it as a sculpture. By bringing together the two opposing elements of fire and water, Mr. Evans found a way to draw the people back to the heart of their beautiful port city. The sublime and intricate architecture of the older buildings, and the glass, polished stone and steel of the city's skyscrapers are illuminated by one hundred bonfires and reflect back their light. An ethereal mood fills the city on the nights when Waterfire happens in Providence.

A Vivaldi piece ends and a traditional Navajo song begins as we stroll across the Washington Street bridge and move toward the car. The black robed figures in the dark boats will continue to feed the flames until midnight.

This was only the first of many magical Waterfire nights this year. My companions and I will be back many times to be a part of the ritual and behold the spectacle that is Waterfire, before it ends again in the fall.

What better way to welcome summer back to New England?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

EMFs...What the Heck?

I’ve been thinking a lot about EMFs- Electro-magnetic fields. It seems that a lot of the shows I’ve been watching on television, and many articles I’ve read lately refer to them. I’m not scientifically inclined and don’t pretend to know anything about this phenomenon, but it seems to play a part in every strange and unexplainable happening. Paranormal researchers use EMF detectors as they investigate hauntings, and UFO documentaries almost always mention them. Whatever else they do, they seem to precipitate weird events.

I became aware of the existence of EMFs some twenty odd years ago. Around that time, a friend of mine experienced a string of very strange incidents. The things that she told me may, or may not have had something to do with EMFs. I have no idea, but it’s an interesting story and something to ponder.

Lana was given a lot of land adjacent to the high tension electrical wires that run through a nearby town. She had a nice little home built there, on the edge of the woods. The house was a pleasing design, and the yard was nice and green. It was lovely, except for the presence of the steel towers and the constantly humming wires they supported looming nearby. She said she didn’t mind the high tension wires, but was a little concerned because she had heard about vague health threats associated with them. Lana had a small daughter, and hoped her child’s safety and well-being would not be jeopardized in anyway.

After they had lived in their new home for a few years, Lana confided that she could not seem to keep fish. She had a gorgeous aquarium in the living room, but the fish were constantly dying for no apparent reason. She had taken water samples for analysis and tried all sorts of remedies, to no avail. She eventually gave up and stopped buying new fish.

Around this time Lana noticed that there seemed to be a sort of vibration in the walls inside her house, and she assumed it was caused by an electro-magnetic field produced by the wires. She was concerned, but neither she, nor her child seemed to be suffering any ill effects. Then one evening she and her daughter were coming home, driving up the long driveway, when they noticed a strange, bluish glow in the front yard. As they got closer, they were surprised to see that the light seemed to be in the shape of a cube. She said that an opaque, glowing, blue cube was sitting in front of their house. How weird is that? Even weirder is the fact that they remarked about it to each other as they got out of the car , “Hey look at that blue cube… that’s really strange…”, before turning and walking calmly into the house and promptly forgetting about it until the next morning. Lana was shaken the following day, thinking about it and wondering what the heck she saw and why she didn’t examine it more closely. Her daughter also remembered seeing it, and described it exactly the same way.

Then there was the lost weekend. On a Friday afternoon, after her daughter left to spend time with her father, Lana laid down to rest. She was awakened suddenly by pounding on her back door. She was confused when she opened the door and saw her ex and her daughter standing there and asked why they had come back. It was Sunday evening, their weekend visit was over and Jim had brought the girl back home. Lana had apparently slept through the entire weekend.

Things got even stranger when her boyfriend Carl moved in. She related tales of her nightstand shaking violently in the middle of the night, the water sloshing out of a glass she had left on top of it. She told me of her abject terror when strange lights appeared outside her windows, and seemed to flow like liquid down under the window shades to pool on the floor beneath. During these incidents, Carl could not be woken up, no matter how hard she shook him.

She had no explanation for any of this, and I could sense her fear and reluctance to even talk about it. I believe she experienced something, but I have no clue what it was. The stories Lana related reminded me of things I have read concerning UFOs and paranormal phenomena. She felt it all was somehow connected to those high tension wires.

Lana sold her home and moved away when she remarried a few years ago. I often wonder if the new owners have experienced anything odd since moving in. I guess I will probably never know.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Bear Whisperer

For more than a decade, a California man spent much of his time living amongst the great bears of Southeast Alaska, in Katmai National Park. He became a celebrity of sorts, appearing on talk shows and as the subject of a Discovery Channel film. The book; Death in the Grizzly Maze, by Mike Lapinski, tells the story of this controversial man, and his untimely end.

Timothy Treadwell, dedicated his life to grizzly bears. Understanding and protecting them became his passion, and he spent twelve summers camped in the middle of their territory, tempting fate, and angering scientists and park rangers. He became a celebrity wildlife expert, despite the fact that he had no training as an outdoorsman, or education in biology. He wanted nothing else, but to be in the company of grizzlies, and he set out to become the “Bear Whisperer.”

Timothy was a blond, affable, surfer type. Hailing from Malibu, where he had worked as a bartender and a waiter, Tim was a self-described alcoholic and former drug abuser. He reportedly suffered from depression and possibly bi-polar disorder. He was also, by many accounts, a sweet, sensitive man, who experienced a life-changing turn-around, as a result of his time alone in the wilderness with the great bears of Alaska.

Each summer he set up camp in the heart of bear country, enduring the cold and the rain, living on sandwiches, while the mosquitoes feasted on him. He sat alone for hours, in the cold drizzle, surrounded by the enormous animals, making films that would both impress and enrage the wildlife community.

Early on in his ill-fated quest, Timothy developed a dangerously na├»ve attitude toward the bears, deciding that if humans radiated love to the bears, the bears would welcome our presence. He seemed determined to view the animals as friendly, anthropomorphic creatures, and he gave them names like “Mr. Chocolate”, “Downy” and “Cupcake”. Despite several close calls, he continued to push the envelope by regularly getting within arms’ reach of the powerful animals. He refused to carry bear spray, believing that it was an insult and a betrayal of trust to go among the bears armed in any way. Bear spray is an extra potent form of pepper spray, designed to discharge at high velocity and in a wide swath, capable of turning away a charging bear. Meeting with a faceful of this spray would also have the effect of discouraging the animal from approaching humans in the future, but Tim would have none of it. His belief and his message seemed to be that bears weren’t wild and potentially dangerous animals, but fun loving, friendly creatures. Timothy seemed unable to temper his love of bears with the healthy fear and respect required to remain safe in the wilderness.

Biologists and wilderness guides came to think of him as an eccentric, if not crazy, person and were outraged by his reckless behavior near the bears. Park officials repeatedly warned him not to get so close to the bears, and he promised to heed their warnings, but never did. What frustrates and confounds so many to this day, is why the Park rangers failed to take steps to ban Tim from the park, when it was obvious from his films that he was blatantly breaking all the rules set forth for behavior in bear territory. If they had, it may have saved his life.

On October 5th, 2003, Tim and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were attacked and killed by a pair of grizzly bears in Katmai National Park. The following day, park rangers who were investigating had to kill the animals. Ironically, the man who had dedicated his life to protecting grizzlies, was not only killed by them, but also caused the deaths of the bears that had attacked him...a tragedy all around and one that could have easily been prevented.

The debate continues. Tim obviously loved bears and had the best of intentions. His films and his public persona served to educate the public about these magnificent animals. But while his fans see him as a hero and a wildlife protector, whose presence in the Grizzly Maze prevented poaching, some experts believe that his presence in the bears’ midst was simple harassment and a source of stress to the animals.

Mike Lapinski’s book is an excellent and balanced accounting of the tragic story.

photo by Phil Scofield

Friday, May 8, 2009

Lovely Day

Today was a lovely day, and I thought I'd post a few photos of the yard and environs.

The barn.

The beautiful sky.

My favorite wildflowers, bluets.

My shady spot.

Long shadows in the afternoon.

Violets on the lawn.

Catboy watches it all from his window.

Have a great weekend, my friends!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Happy Birthday

This is my daughter when she was just two years old. She just celebrated her twenty third birthday... How time goes by! As you can plainly see, she was a star even at that tender age.

Last evening, we went to a nice restaurant a few towns over and met with Mac's little sister for a birthday dinner. The three of us all have birthdays that fall within 12 days of each other, so we celebrated together. The food was excellent, and we even split a decadent dessert (The diet starts tomorrow...honest).
Happy Birthday, bunny!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Remembering the Neighbors from Hell

I was musing the other day, about how lovely it is to be out in the backyard now. Things are quiet, except for the sweet twittering of birds, the rustle of the breeze and the occasional drone of lawnmowers. For many years, however, this was not the case.

Screams, cursing, incessant barking and bad, top forty music filled the air on our part of the street, every sunny day before the neighbors from hell finally moved away.

Things had started to go downhill when the girl who'd grown up next door found that she was expecting a child, and decided to move back in with her parents, who happened to be our neighbors. Along with her other baggage, she brought the father of her child with her and a backyard wedding soon took place. Within two years, they had two sons. Her parents had never bothered us in the least, but this couple and their sons were to become the bane of our existence.

Things weren't so bad at first. While the children were very young, the worst thing was that the couple screamed at each other frequently and for long periods of time. The sound of swearing and doors slamming was the norm during good weather. It almost made us appreciate winter when they stayed inside with the windows shut so we didn't have to listen to it.

They also had a love of placing a radio out on their patio in the summer, turning the volume up as high as it would go. The cacophony would continue all day and into the evening. They'd frequently go inside and forget about it, leaving it on, blaring away, to torture the entire neighborhood.

They also had a series of dogs during their nearly two decade occupation of that house. The poor animals spent most of their lives tied up next to the back door. The family would go out for the day or the evening and leave the dog tied outside all alone, to bark pitifully, for hours. The first one they had was given up for adoption after they found him too difficult to handle. The second met his fate in the form of a car on the busy street out in front of the house. The third simply disappeared one day, and was never seen or mentioned again. I've never understood why someone would bring a dog home in the first place, just to scream at it, kick it and ignore it the rest of the time. They never played with them or walked them. It was sad.

The real trouble began when the two boys reached school age. I remember an early incident when my daughter had just gotten her first "big-girl" bike. It was her birthday and she was outside, proudly showing off her new, pink and white two-wheeler with the flowered basket. Suddenly she ran into the house, crying. I got to the window in time to see the two boys heaping black mud onto the bicycle, which was on its side in the grass. From then on, it was an endless series of problems with those two boys. Neighborhood soccer games always ended in fights and tears, our house was egged, and the barn windows were broken too many times to count. My husband Mac started a golf ball collection with all the ones he found in the yard, or amid shards of glass on the barn floor.

We'd started out on friendly terms with them. We tried to be neighborly. I watched the boys before school and got them on the bus when the parents had to be to work early. When a big tree came down in their yard during a hurricane, Mac went over with his chainsaw and spent hours cutting it up for them. We did our best to be kind and cordial, but it became more difficult with each passing year.

A favorite game of the two boys was "army". It involved running and screaming through their yard and ours, with toy rifles and machine guns, pretending to kill one another. This happened almost daily and lasted well into their high school years. In junior high, they once again targeted my daughter, taunting her on the school bus, and yelling things at her whenever they saw her outside. When they were in high school, they started a campaign of cyber-harassment, sending her instant messages, pretending to be an anonymous girl who was supposedly dating my daughter's boyfriend. This continued until we got proof that it was them, and let them know about it.

Late one night, Mac was coming in from the barn and saw them with a few of their friends, and their father, huddled in the backyard, passing around a pipe. I'm guessing it wasn't a peace pipe ceremony. Another morning, just at dawn, Mac stepped outside and observed the father out in his yard, vomiting into the bushes. So this was the role-model these kids had grown up with. Meanwhile, the screaming and slamming of doors continued, only now the two sons joined in.

One fine summer day, I was sitting under a tree, reading in the yard. My neighbor was mowing his lawn, and he stopped to inspect some pine trees I had recently planted near the property line. He got down on one knee and was really studying them. He didn't notice me sitting in the relative darkness of the shade, a dozen yards away. He finally went back to his mowing, but the incident stayed with me. The more I thought about it, the more odd it seemed, and I finally went back there myself to look at the trees and see what was so interesting. When I did, I saw that the needles were turning brown and all the trees looked sick. There was a grayish-white powder packed around the base of each tree, and when I scooped up a handful, I was overcome with a strong, chemical smell. It was either a weedkiller or more likely, chlorine. Our neighbors had a swimming pool in their yard. As strange and unbelievable as it seemed, our neighbor had apparently poisoned our trees.

Then, I recalled how our rabbits had mysteriously died. We'd had three rabbits over the past few years, and Mac had built a beautiful wooden hutch for them, out behind the barn. All of them had died, one by one, for no apparent reason, although two of them had been relatively young. We just went out to feed them in the morning and found them cold and stiff. Now I had to wonder if my neighbor had poisoned our rabbits as well as our trees.

I called him on the telephone and casually told him that we'd inexplicably found chlorine in the soil around our trees, and I wanted to make him aware of it. I suggested that he make sure his pool shed and all his chemicals were safely locked up. I stopped short of accusing him. Wow! He had no idea how THAT had happened. He thanked me for alerting him.

It was about four years ago that the "For Sale" sign went up on the front lawn next door. The youngest son was graduating from high school, and having had enough, his mother had filed for divorce. His grandfather had recently passed away, and grandma put the house on the market. The neighborhood breathed a collective sigh of relief, as the moving van pulled away from the curb in front of their house that fall. A nice young couple moved in shortly thereafter, along with their little Shih Tzu. The neighborhood is peaceful again. It's a joy to be out in the yard now, enjoying the sounds of tree frogs and mockingbirds, just breathing in the calm. It feels like heaven once more.

It's a mystery to me, how people can live in such discord and misery of their own making, but obviously, some do.