Saturday, April 26, 2014

Last Days

     I received word of two deaths just a few days ago. Both passings were on Easter Day.

     I only met Bill Brown once. He was my very first visitor to Cloud, stopping by because our mutual friend Shadow, from whom we bought Cloud, had thought to connect us. He was pleasant and welcoming. He was a musician, and we'd hoped to play together sometime. For various reasons, Bill and I never managed to actually meet again. Shadow says that he went in peace.

     My friend Jacquie died on Sunday as well. I've used a superlative with Jacquie that I've never used for anyone else, often calling her my all-time favorite co-worker. She was that for at least three reasons. She was passionate about her work with our homeless and mentally ill clients when we worked together at Dixon Hall. But it was a very natural passion, not rooted in philosophy or professional posture, but in her simple, human appreciation and connection with people.

     The second reason she was my favorite is that she extended the same caring to me and to our other colleagues as she did to our clients. She mothered us. When I wore sandals to work, she used to declare her partnership with my wife in declaring war on my dry and rusty feet. And she egged me on about my writing, saying she wanted to see me on Oprah when my as yet unwritten novel was chosen for her bookclub.

     The third reason Jacquie was such a favorite is that she was completely irrepressible. If something was on her mind, if she felt something about a situation, it was going to get said, no matter the consequences. This didn't always lead to "polite" interactions, but it was powerful and effective. I admit that she won me over with this trait at our very first meeting, which was at my interview for a position at Dixon Hall. Jacquie would/could not repress her positive reaction to some of my responses, practically cheering me on, depite the efforts of the department manager to enforce an objective and impartial formality for the occassion. And Jacquie was equally ready to argue a point when she felt I'd made a wrong call.

     My heart and my condolesces go out to the families and friends of Bill and Jacquie. They will be missed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

First Days

      We're sitting in a coffee and drinks establishment on the ground floor of a small hotel in Guben, Germany, which is the border town adjoining the Polish town of Gubin. The two are divided by a few bridges that cross the Nysa River, Neisse in German. So many places have names in two or more languages, the borders in this part of Europe having shifted so often through the centuries, wars and regimes.

      It amazes me that crossing between the two countries involves nothing more than a stroll across a short bridge. No border guards, no identity checks, no guns. It's like crossing between Quebec and Ontario, except that the language shift is even more immediate and drastic. But to think of the bitter wars and political divisions that Europe has endured in the last century alone, it's incredible that such non-borders exist here at all. The US and Canada used to boast of having the "world's longest undefended border". It may still be one of the longest, but far from being "undefended" anymore.

      We spent Easter with Ponczka's Mom and brother and neice and others. It's been eating and drinking and sleeping ever since we arrived, and lots and lots of laughter. Great to see Ponczka with her family and to see where all that "happy baby" brilliance of hers comes from. Last night, something funny was said. Mom started laughing, then Ponczka got going, and the two of them were in hysterics for over five minutes. Beautiful!

      Vacationing with Ponczka is the best thing ever, and we'll be at it for a month. Next stop is Berlin, then Odense in Denmark, hopefully with a brief visit to Copenhagen. Then we go to Tiberius in Israel, for my Dad's 90th birthday! My brother will be there too, with his wife Debbie. Not so often that my brother, Dad and I get to be together. It's a blessing we're really looking forward to. My brother and I haven't been in Berlin together in FIFTY years. That will be something, too.

      It's going to be a great month!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Cloud Spring

Last time on Cloud, we could see and feel the handprint of Winter across the face of our land.
The ground had shifted. The waters had carved new channels in the earth, collecting on our back lawn this year, where they had water-logged the driveway the year before.

A gate was broken and fallen. The outhouse leaned where the ground underneath it had buckled. Limbs had fallen from old trees.

Some of the trees I transplanted last year were dead, but others held a deep color in them that somehow shone through, and sported tiny buds, seeming to promise rebirth. And paths that I cut with the mower in the fall revealed themselves with a faint shimmer of green.

It was humbling and reassuring at once, all this evidence of the force of the Winter that was endured, and of the Life that impossibly survives its harsh dominance. We spent a day slogging in mud, pulling dead growth from the garden and the planters, pressing sunflower seeds into the moist soil, hoping that when we return weeks later, they will have pushed their sprouts sunward.

We set up the rain barrels, hopeful there will be no more deep freezes to crack them. Already there is the high pitched croaking of the tiny frogs that will soon overrun the place. It is dirty, beautiful, beyond us, yet welcoming, in almost every way. A beautiful Spring day on Cloud.