06 July 2005

Writing from home

The washing machine is nearing the end of its marathon. And, I'm finding it strange to be folding fleece and flannel, considering the outside humidity and temperature. We're reentering the routine, in some ways a sad thought. But, not in all ways. The routine has been given a tweeking, perhaps an overhaul might be a better term. Long uninterrupted conversations are an advantage of almost 4000 miles together in an automobile. Things are not the same here at 207 Country Club Road -- and that's a good thing.

Meaning? A little more play. An official end to the work day. The reclaiming of a hobby. More eating at home AND eating prepared-at-home food. That's a for example.

Aside from the "movement" essay written on Sunday afternoon, July 3rd, the last time I wrote Tal and I were in Sault Ste Marie, preparing to take in the Great Tugboat Race. Actually, Friday night was the tugboat parade, in anticipation of the race on Saturday, and it was wonderful. We found our way to the city marina, downward from the locks, among a congenial group of locals. The tugs, 34 in all, steamed along the Canadian side up to the locks, back down the middle, then up the American side on their way to the river on the upward side of the locks. There were tugs of every size -- very large to tiny, classic to unusual, lovely to ugly.

The hands-down ugliest was the one shown in two photos below, a very servicable-looking craft from the Michigan Army National Guard. The three sailors aboard, one women and two men, were having way much too much fun, we observers concluded, zipping from one place to another, where they handed out Guard souveniers. The third photo was taken from our hotel room after we left the parade -- a few of the tugs in the St Mary River above the locks. It was a golden evening after a cold and windy day. And, the ships continued to move up and down the river long after the light of the day faded.

National Guard tug

The National Guard tug plowing toward our position. Posted by Picasa

National Guard tug at the dock

Up the dock they bumped, handing our souvenirs. Posted by Picasa

Tugs above the locks

Back at the hotel we were able to catch glimpses of the parade as it made its way up the river above the locks. Posted by Picasa

05 July 2005

Steady movement

(This posting was written Sunday afternoon, July 3rd. The hotel where we are for Sunday and Monday nights does not offer internet access. It will be added to the web log when the opportunity presents itself.)

We’ve been traveling south for two days. As Tal says: no muss, no fuss, just aim. It has been steady. And, I would add, reflective. Nowhere has traffic been hectic, for us anyway. Yesterday morning (Saturday) we encountered a horrendous sight. No, not the tragic sight of a holiday travel accident, rather the ongoing sight over a 100 mile stretch of creeping northbound cars, pickup trucks, some of each pulling boats, RVs, tractor trailers, SUVs, motorcycles, you name it, on I-75 and US23 in Michigan. I cannot imagine that all of them are to their destinations yet. We were grateful – repeatedly – for our mostly wide-open southbound lanes.

We’ve drifted along, moving south. Leaving Sault Ste Marie yesterday early, our only stop (except for fuel and restroom breaks) was to take me on a slight detour into childhood and youthful memory. Our destination was Oak Grove Cemetery in Milford MI, the town where my mother grew up and the town to which my father took her (and us children) each summer. He once told me his yearly two week vacation was a gift to her, having moved her so far from her parents when they married. Speaking for all four of us, we children loved it. Milford was a place, now speaking for myself, I claimed as my own. I experienced a sense of home when we were there for visits I, to this day, have never known anywhere else.

Anyway, I’d not seen my grandparents’ grave marker since Grandpa’s funeral in 1991. And then, for his burial next to Grandma, it was covered. When Tal and I walked up yesterday, my first thought was that it looks finished, what with the “1991” carved in it. Now, my Uncle Ed and Aunt Esther’s marker looks the way Grandma and Grandpa’s did when I last saw it. Everything is there – the names and all the dates expect Uncle Ed’s second one.

It’s interesting that I walk through cemeteries all the time, by choice, and I never give that second date much of a thought, the year of the death. Yes, I note it, often calculating how long the person lived or mentally placing that person’s life in history. It wasn’t until yesterday that I grasped, concretely, a truth about the second date. For each four-digit combination displayed, someone (likely many someones) suffered dreadful sadness and emptying loss. I remember very clearly how I felt both times I stood as a family member at the grave Tal and I visited yesterday. Both times were hard; December 1991 was terrible. And, it’s not that I don’t believe the person I called Grandpa isn’t just fine. His presence in my childhood was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me. He connected with people in a way I’d never seen, once I began to notice, of course. I shall always miss him.

We left the cemetery on Mont Eagle, turned left on Huron, right on Houghton. And, there at the end of the block, on the corner of Houghton and Atlantic was their house. I’d not seen it since the funeral procession passed it that somber day in December 1991. It’s no longer white with green trim, but rather a sandy cream with some tan shingle siding for accent. There’s a wrought iron fence around the side yard, I suppose to keep children and dogs safe. Central air conditioning has been added (ahhhh!). It looked wonderful and I think Grandma and Grandpa would like it, appearing so lived in and vital to the life of a young family. The owners were trimming maple branches as we approached. I left the car briefly to say hello, to do what Grandpa would have done, though I suspect he would have said yes to a tour. I need that space to retain the smell, the feeling I have imbedded in my memory.

Last night we were in Findlay OH. It was a good place to stop, everything we needed (a meal and a night’s sleep) was there at that interchange. And now, we’re in Wytheville VA. What did I tell you about Tal’s being a driver?

Were I to have to pick a day for the most change we’ve seen in a single leg of our trip, I think today would have to be it. Findlay, south of Toledo, is in flat farmland. Corn, not quite as high as an elephants eye – yet; soybeans, still very low to the ground; tall grasses, lots of fields in the process of being cut. Traveling on US23, we began paralleling the Scioto River in a wide valley and the crops continued mile-after-mile. I-270 around Columbus looked boring to me, so I, ever the navigator, routed us straight through town! I’m not sure my driver has gotten over it yet! It was a Sunday morning. What can I say? Along the way, especially in Worthington, north of Columbus proper, people were coming and going from churches and many were sitting at charming sidewalk cafes, drinking coffee and reading newspapers. Part of me longed to be one of them. Another part of me reminded me of what winter is like. Yet another part remembered home. But, it was nice to see people in neighborhoods, regular life on the outskirts of a major city.

South of Columbus (Chillicothe to Jackson to Gallipolis to Charleston WV) the terrain was more rolling and once we crossed the Ohio River at Gallipolis we entered another river valley, the Kanawha, this one remarkably narrower than the Scioto. The mountains loomed ahead. Charleston south, through Beckley to Princeton, took us on the only toll road we’ve encountered, the West Virginia Turnpike, and it was worth the $3.75 it cost. The mountains on that stretch are for most part undeveloped, so are minus the views one expects in the Appalachians: the raggedness of timbering, high billboards, mowed-around broken-down cars, rusted household appliances pushed into ravines. (Oops, my prejudices are showing ….) But, in the mountains we are and Wytheville, sitting at the intersection of two interstates, is a pretty town once you leave the interchanges themselves. Tomorrow we’re going to do some hiking in the area of Big Walker (a mountain) and I, ever the navigator, remember?, have figured a way to go back through the Big Walker tunnel on I-77 as we return to the hotel.

We are within 4-5 hours of Edgefield; we are steadily moving toward home and, frankly, we’re ready to be there. Home has a nice sound to it. Grass cutting and clothes washing, grocery shopping and mail sorting – and collecting the dogs -- await us. Focused as I’ve been on our route for southerly travel, I am realizing only now that the movement, the real movement, I’m experiencing has little to do with vehicular travel, with the accumulation of miles on an odometer. Movement has been a key part of these weeks away from home and the routine of parish life no matter what our direction of travel. It’s a movement of the soul. It’s a movement surrounding decisions I didn’t even know I was on the verge of making. And, at the age of almost 53 and well past middle age, it’s a movement – steady movement – toward that second date which will finish what was started in 1953.

01 July 2005

Sault Ste Marie: soup & sweatshirt sales brisk

The first day of July. If that fact were not easily proven by a glance at a calendar, I'd wonder. We're in the north of Michigan for the 15oth celebration of the 1855 date when the locks at Saulte Ste Marie were turned over to the State of Michigan. The locals are apologetic but resigned. "After all, this is the UP" is a statement we've heard repeatedly since breakfast.

We did brave the elements and had a memorable, windblown experience at the locks. We watched two ships move through, one upbound and the other downbound. Technically, they were "locking through the system." The Sault Ste Marians don't even notice the ships. On the other hand, us tourists lean into the railings lining the lock, snapping pictures and calling out greetings to the crews rising or falling with their crafts.

Tonight's signature activity. The Great Tugboat Race. Can't miss it!