Adventures In Busing.

Sky Lights.

I missed the recent auroras that lit up the sky even down here in Tennessee. My wife and I drove up to a hill where on a couple of occasions we’ve gone to watch the International Space Station zip across the sky at twenty-eight thousand kilometers an hour, just a tiny dot crossing from one horizon to the other, but the combination of light pollution and a high horizon and maybe even just bad timing meant we didn’t see the auroras. And it wasn’t until later that a friend had invited us to come see the auroras at her farm, well away from the city, with a very dark sky, though she’s also surrounded by trees so I don’t know if the visibility was any better there.

And maybe one of these days I’ll have another chance to see the auroras. Maybe I’ll get a chance to travel north—of course I’m happy to travel anywhere. One of the jokes my friends say about me is if someone offered me a chance to fly to Paramaribo right now the plane would be halfway over the Gulf Of Mexico before I’d think to ask, “So, wait, why is it we’re going? And did I pack my toothbrush?” Paramaribo gets picked because it seems like a random place—it could just as easily be Poughkeepsie—but also Suriname doesn’t seem to even make the top ten on most people’s desired travel destinations, even though it sounds like a really cool place with an amazing history, but that’s another story.

I missed the auroras this time but they will also come again. Even if I didn’t see them they reminded me that the Earth keeps spinning around the Sun, that our little planet isn’t a closed sphere but it’s part of, and affected by, the universe we occupy. We live small, brief lives on a world that’s constantly in motion, constantly changing. I couldn’t see the auroras but up in the sky there was a slender crescent moon, like a chalice without a handle cupping a few stars, and I was reminded of the beginning of the Wallace Stevens poem The Auroras Of Autumn:

This is where the serpent lives, the bodiless.
His head is air. Beneath his tip at night
Eyes open and fix on us in every sky.

Or is this another wriggling out of the egg,
Another image at the end of the cave,
Another bodiless for the body’s slough?

This is where the serpent lives. This is his nest,
These fields, these hills, these tinted distances,
And the pines above and along and beside the sea.

This is form gulping after formlessness,
Skin flashing to wished-for disappearances
And the serpent body flashing without the skin.

This is the height emerging and its base
These lights may finally attain a pole
In the midmost midnight and find the serpent there,

In another nest, the master of the maze
Of body and air and forms and images,
Relentlessly in possession of happiness.  

There Will Be Bugs.

Most mornings are quiet when I set out for work, especially this late in the year. The summer solstice is still six weeks away and the days getting longer means the sun is now well up when I leave. There might be a few lingering crickets, a katydid or two, maybe even a tree frog, though I mostly hear those at night when I take the dogs out for one last trip around the yard before bed.

This morning I was hoping for a sound I’ve been looking forward to for thirteen years.

Nashville isn’t one of the lucky areas that’ll get overlapping cicada broods, that miracle that only happens every two-hundred and twenty-one years, but already I can’t walk more than a few feet with finding shells or the little red-eyed beasts themselves. This morning the car’s tires were covered with shells. Tree trunks I understand–they climb up from the roots they’ve been feeding on so a tree seems like a logical place. Why crawl another twenty feet and up a car tire to finally molt? Unless they’ve got a fiendish plot, like something out of a bad ‘70’s horror film, only without any real threat, unless you’re afraid of the bugs even though they can’t bite or sting. Not that bad ’70’s horror films are a threat to anything but good taste. And speaking of taste they–the cicadas, not the films, are even fine to eat, except, possibly, for people with a shellfish allergy. During the last great invasion some of my coworkers blamed me every time they found a cicada in their cubicles. I’m not sure why they blamed me—aside from the fact that I was the one who kept bringing the little winged wonders in.

Mostly they just bumble around and I’ve already had a dozen or so land on me when I’ve been out walking. And I understand. If I’d been asleep for thirteen years I’d be a little groggy and probably bumping into people too.

It’s been a cool May so far, though, and there have been heavy rains, which seems to have muted them. For all the cicadas I’ve seen out and about it’s still eerily quiet. Or at least it was. Right now, in my seventh-floor office, through the window, I can hear them tuning up. I lean back, close my eyes, and say, Children of the noon, what music they make.

Now it’s time to go and bring some in.

The Only Constant Is Change.

Several years ago a friend of mine was visiting Nashville and, unable to find another place to park, we stopped next to a parking meter on a sidewalk. It wasn’t an ideal spot with cars zipping by, but my friend avoided the risk by slipping out the passenger side door and then we stood together and dug into our pockets for change. The parking meter was still the old style, with an oddly shaped head on a metal pole, but instead of the old pointer that showed how much time you had left it had a digital display that was blinking. We pondered how long we thought lunch might take, adding in the fact that where we were planning to go was about six blocks away, and then started shoving quarters into the slot.

We’d put in about thirty-seven quarters, including one I found on the ground, but hadn’t turned the handle yet so the display was still flashing. We were speculating about whether that was enough or if maybe we should also throw in some of the nickels and dimes we had when someone walked by and said, “Hey, don’t you know the parking here is free on Saturdays?”

In retrospect I could have been a smart-ass and said, “If we knew that do you think we’d be putting all this change in the meter?” Instead we both laughed at how ridiculous we looked.

And as I walked away I said I hoped the next person to use that meter appreciated the fact that we’d probably just paid for a day and a half of free parking.

The new parking meters seem much more advanced, as well as much more expensive, but I was surprised they still take change. So far I haven’t seen any cars parked at one of them but just in case I’m carrying around about thirty-seven quarters. I just really like helping out anyone who’s had so much trouble finding a place to park.

Not So Manic Monday.

It’s another Monday. For a moment it felt like my work weeks had become routine until I started thinking about what this time last week was like. It was cloudy with a threat of thunderstorms later in the day, and warm enough that it almost felt like summer. Because of the threat of rain I parked in a lower level of the parking garage and hoped I’d remember which one it was in the afternoon. This week the morning temperature was close to freezing, even as I seemed to be driving right into the sun. I parked on the roof of the parking garage and I hope I’ll remember that this afternoon.

Between last Monday and today I’ve gotten either allergies or a mild cold. I’m allergic to very few things that I know of, none of them plants, but our bodies change over time. Maybe there’s something in the air that’s got me sneezing and coughing. To be on the safe side I took both an allergy medication and a cold remedy and let them sort it out. That worked though I’m no closer to solving the mystery of what I have, and there’s enough overlap between the symptoms the two drugs treat that further testing hasn’t cleared things up even if it’s mostly cleared up my nasal congestion.

Last Monday I rode the elevator up to my office alone, which isn’t unusual. Most people who work here, I think, arrive later, when the building has automatically unlocked, so they don’t have to deal with the extra step of scanning their ID card to get in. This morning, though, when I got in there were five other people already in the elevator, and one of them motioned for me to come on in so I didn’t feel I could wait for the next one. I stepped in and hoped I wasn’t crowding the others with my backpack with my laptop, my folio bag, my lunch, and my ukulele. I said, “I know I’ve got a lot of baggage but I’m seeing a therapist.”

I thought this might at least get a chuckle instead of the uncomfortable shifting and one person murmuring affirmatively, but maybe next week I’ll have a chance to try it on a different group.

Back In Blue.

Only seven months after being rear-ended we finally have our own car back. I’ve been driving the rental car since December and, in a funny coincidence, got a notice that it needed to be returned because it was being recalled shortly before I was due to return it because the repairs on our CRV were finally done. And it was a relief because I was in a cold sweat every time I had to drive the rental car anywhere. I was afraid any scratch, dent, or major collision would mean starting the whole process of dealing with insurance companies all over again. The company that covered the person who hit me back in September made that experience so frustrating and difficult I didn’t want a repeat of it.

Dealing with the car rental place, on the other hand, couldn’t have been easier When I returned the Ford EcoSport there were three or four employees there at the time. The young woman who’d helped me back in December when I came to pick it up was still there and she asked me, “How did we do?” I said, “It’s been the nicest part of the whole experience.” And then I realized that might sound like damning with faint praise so I added that they’d been so nice and so helpful and I really appreciated how easy they’d made this one part of what was otherwise a terrible experience.

They all seemed surprised and really pleased by this feedback which surprised me. Of all the professions I’ve heard criticized throughout my entire life “car rental office employee” doesn’t even make the list. Aside from occasional inventory flubs—giving someone a compact when they’d asked for a pickup truck, maybe, or having to charge someone for returning a car with an almost empty gas tank—I’d guess most people find the car rental experience as enjoyable as I did. And in fact I had plenty of time to see that was the case. They told me Carl, their regular pickup-and-dropoff guy was out but that he’d be back soon to give me a ride to the car repair place. Then they asked me to take a seat in the waiting area and they went back to work.

Fifteen minutes went by. Half an hour. Forty-five minutes.

I started to feel taken for granted. Hadn’t I told them what a great job they’d done, just under an hour ago? But I wasn’t going to be the one to ruin their day and went to the desk and politely reminded them I was still there.

They all apologized and one of the guys said, “I’ll give you a ride.”

We climbed into a pickup truck and had a nice five minute conversation—honestly I could have walked to the car repair place in less time than I spent waiting. And we passed by Carl, headed back to the rental place.

Everything Under The Sun.

Everything under the sun is in tune but the sun is eclipsed by the Moon. And was in 2017.

The eclipse sweeping over North America today is being described as “rare”, mostly, I think, by people who’ve forgotten that there was one just seven years ago. And I can think of two others that happened where I lived, although they were pretty long ago. One was when I was in second grade, though Tennessee wasn’t in the path of totality, and it was cloudy that morning so those of us who brought our shoebox viewers didn’t get to use them. The other was late in the spring when I was in seventh grade, and late in the afternoon, too, on a very clear day. Again we weren’t in the path of totality but it was a partial eclipse. My friends and I walked home through backyards and vacant lots that had become so familiar to us but suddenly seemed strange in the bluish light of the eclipse. We gathered around a puddle and, in just the right position, could see the disk of the sun with a great round piece cut out of one side. And then it passed.

It really depends on how you define “rare”, of course. In just the next six years there will be fifteen more solar eclipses, and just as many lunar eclipses, although whether they’ll be visible all depends on where you are in the world.

I do think eclipses are amazing things even if, in astronomical terms, they’re not that unusual, at least for us on Earth, which is unusual in being the only rocky planet in the inner solar system to have a large moon. For the one in 2017 my wife and I drove about an hour east to get a few extra minutes of totality, and for this one we’ll be driving about an hour west, though not far enough for full totality, and it looks like it’ll be cloudy anyway.

The important thing for me about an eclipse is that it’s a reminder that we’re in a universe that’s constantly in motion: the planet we’re on spins, the moon orbits around it, it orbits the sun along with a cluster of other planets, and we’re on a merry-go-round ride in an outer arm of a galaxy that’s also moving through space. An eclipse is one of those events that causes me to stop and consider our place in the vast universe—something I only do rarely.

Spring Storms.

March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb but the one this year apparently didn’t get the memo and came in with summer temperatures and went out with ups and downs. Then the April showers started with a midday thunderstorm that was so bad I left work in the middle of the day. My office is safer than my house in a storm—it’s eleven stories of heavy concrete, not counting the basement that’s below street level, so while it would be a lousy place to be in a flood it’s pretty solid protection from tornadoes. Still if anything really bad happened I wanted to be at home to be able to deal with it. I walked from the office building in heavy rain—“downpour” really is the best word for it, and not just because a solid sheet of water was sliding off the awning over the door—to the parking garage where I’d been smart enough to park on one of the covered levels instead of the roof as I usually do. Then I drove home through rain that was so heavy at one point I had to pull over into a parking lot because the wiper blades just weren’t cutting it. When I got pulled into the driveway at home the rain had stopped and the sun had come out.

Spring storms are weird.

Of course it’s the kind of weirdness that, when you think about it, makes perfect sense. Winter’s cold slows everything down; it’s nature’s resting period. And then spring comes in, the temperatures go up, and it’s like the Earth stretches and, like a lot of us, struggles to get out of bed and needs a shower, a hot beverage, and a little time on the toilet to get going. It’s no wonder most thunderstorms hit in the spring, or at least it seems that way. I’ve never actually kept any kind of record but, again, it’s a kind of weirdness that makes sense. And after I’d gotten home, taken the dogs out, and had lunch the rain started again, followed by a rush of cold, because nature isn’t just waking up; it’s got a hangover.

The worst of it had passed by nightfall but I went out in the dark and looked up at the sky where dark pulpy clouds hung so low I thought I could reach up and touch them. A plane went over, lights turning the mist bright green and red and white, the people inside it cocooned from the dark, soggy ground below. Then I went in to get ready to bed, the spring wakeup having left me so tired.

Go Fly A Kite.

While I was walking through a local park I saw a couple of people trying to fly a kite. It was a pretty cool looking kite—octagonal, I think, and bright red. So basically a paper stop sign, but with long red streamers. I stopped for a couple of minutes to watch but they never could get it aloft, probably because there wasn’t enough room to run. The park’s walking trail goes around  a golf course and there’s only a narrow strip of open grass for non-golfers and that’s where the couple was trying to fly their kite. Maybe it’s just as well they didn’t get it up in the air. Chances are it would come down in the middle of the golf course, maybe on the head of some angry golfer.

When I was in fifth grade my class did a special project on kites in March. And by “special project” I mean if we brought kites to school we’d be given a special time to fly them on the playground. I’m not sure why this was different from any other year—March can always get pretty windy, but I think our teacher was very conscious of how much we’d been kept inside that winter and thought kites would be a good way to get us to go outside and really run around. That’s why any kid who didn’t have a kite was also allowed to go too and assist. My parents also thought it would be fun and took me out to buy a kite. Before we left I went through my saved allowance and found two dollars, which I figured would be enough for a kite, and I was right. My parents were looking at some elaborate and more expensive kites but I found one I liked that was just two dollars. My parents thought this was funny–they thought I was being cheap and were offering to buy one of the slightly more expensive kites, but it was a point of pride to me to buy my own kite. I also really liked the cheap one. It was black with red and yellow eyes—rather disturbing, really, but I’d just seen Godzilla vs. Hedorah and I liked that it looked a bit like the smog monster.

It also had fifty-foot long streamers which, at the time, seemed impossibly long, but on the playground with a friend helping me I got Hedorah high up into the air.

It was a lot of fun and has me thinking about how it would be fun to get a kite now. The hard part is finding a place to fly one where it won’t run the risk of descending on the head of an angry golfer, but on the bright side there are a lot of kites that aren’t much more expensive than they were when I was a kid, and anyway I have more than two dollars.