Monday, August 30, 2010

The Anne Gazette

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," gumming up the Internet with meaningless drivel since 2005! Today's post is going to be lengthy. There's a lot of ground to cover. So take a look at the Table of Contents and see what matters most to you, then scroll to that headline. And hey, if you've got time to read a lot, go for the gold!

Today's sermons:

1. Margot Berwin
2. International Vulture Awareness Day
3. Adventure with Spare
4. Pilgrimages to Asbury Park

Off we go!

1. Margot Berwin
 Today was the day I was supposed to review Margot Berwin's novel Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire. Except I screwed up. If you're here to read about Margot, check out my August 23 post, in which she herself speaks as a guest blogger. This is your last chance to be in a drawing for my copy of the book! If you leave a comment on that post site, you could be a winner!

2. International Vulture Awareness Day
Yes, o ye who serve the Sacred Thunderbird! There is such a thing as International Vulture Awareness Day! And it's this Saturday, September 4, 2010! This nonprofit, and truly international, event highlights the catastrophic die-off of essential vultures in Africa and India, where they succumbed to poisoning from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs given to livestock.

This is a unique opportunity for my three readers.

I will be attending a sanctioned International Vulture Awareness Day event at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary outside Allentown, PA. It will be difficult to miss me, as I will be wearing a bright red t-shirt with a turkey vulture on it, and probably my Mountain Tribe hat as well. So if you would like to come and worship the Sacred Thunderbird with me, Mapquest that park, and I'll see you there!

If you can't make it to Hawk Mountain, in all seriousness please take some time on Saturday to raise a petition to the bored gods on behalf of all Old World vultures. Rituals for the recovery of their numbers will be a way of showing your dedication to the Great Balance that we humans heed when it suits us, and ignore when it doesn't.

3. Adventure with Spare
I'm sure you know how it is. You want to go home for a visit, but you don't want certain members of your family to know about it, for whatever reason. On August 10-12, my daughter The Spare and I went home to the family property in Appalachia to see the Perseids meteor shower. Spare is very interested in the universe, and I was keen to have her see it without any light pollution. We decided, without making a big fuss, to go watch the meteors with my uncle and cousin. (What would have made it a fuss would have been telling my sister, who would have wanted to join us with several of the seven pets she has adopted in the last calendar year.)

Spare and I set out from Snobville and drove west through the heat and humidity, all the way to beautiful Berkeley Springs, WV. There we put up at a swell Bed & Breakfast. By the time we got to Berkeley Springs, the temperature had settled from its daytime high to a measly 97 degrees. The sun was mostly hidden behind clouds that weren't big enough to bring rain but sure were thick enough to hide meteors.

At about 7:00, Spare and I set out for Polish Mountain. It's about 25 miles northwest of Berkeley Springs. At a fast clip on Interstate 68, you can be there in about 30 minutes. But anyone who drives at a fast clip at twilight in the mountains just deserves to tangle with Bambi Daddy. I took it easy, and we got to the family farm just at dark. The hills were still shrouded in clouds.

My uncle Foggy (that's his real name) is going to be 85 in October, and he's almost completely deaf. His hearing aids have broken, and he says he can't afford new ones. Sadly, a deaf Uncle Foggy is better than one that can hear, because now Foggy doesn't listen to Rush Limbaugh anymore. His one-sided conversation centered around the doings of my cousins that I never see who live in Cleveland, instead of the world from Rush's point of view. Since I take an interest in my cousins and their welfare, it was pleasant to get a lengthy oratory on that topic, rather than an earful of right-wing rhetoric that would have soured my stomach for the rest of the night.

While Foggy talked on one side of the room, Spare and my cousin chatted on the other. My cousin (Foggy's son, but without the homey name) has traveled all over the place, including a very long trek into the mountains of Nepal. Spare found that interesting. Then they moved from conversing about Buddhism to the pluses and minuses of Facebook. Two-way conversations will drift like that if you give them enough time.

The midnight hour approached, and Spare began to nod. She's not one of these all-nighter kind of teens. Her volunteer work starts at 9:00 a.m., so she doesn't loll in the sack like many of her peers. By midnight she may still be awake, but usually she's headed for the sack.

At about 11:45 I said to her, "Okay, Spare. I'm going out on the back porch. If those clouds are still hanging low, we'll leave and try again tomorrow. If they've lifted, we'll stay and take our luck with the Perseids."

The clouds had lifted.

On that mountainside, with no moonlight or electric glare, the sky shone with a trillion, billion, million stars -- some close, some far, some pulsars, some planets. The sky presented an unbroken, limitless miraculous hour of starshine.

Spare stepped gingerly into the darkness of the porch. (I neglected to mention that she's a city girl through and through who had voiced anxieties about everything from bears to no-see-ums, and all sizes in between.) After begging assurance that there were no snakes about, she looked at the sky and gasped. Did I mention she's a city girl? She had never truly seen the night sky.

"So," Spare said. "How long do you think it will be before we see a ........ WHOAAAA!"

That was her response to the first of about three dozen fireballs we saw over the next two-and-a-half hours.

If Spare had been sleepy, she forgot all about it. We got our eyeglasses from the car. Cousin spread a big bedspread out on the mountainside, and we all lay down to stare at the Milky Way. Since the Perseids radiate toward the north, and our farmhouse faces west, we stretched out with our legs higher up the mountain than our heads (this was tricky). But there's no level ground around the house. It's on a mountain. Mountains are hilly. Maybe you've never noticed that, but I'll bet you have.

It was absolutely sublime, lying there in the pitch darkness, staring up at our fabulous galaxy, and "whoa"-ing every time a meteor streaked across the sky -- which was frequently. In between meteors, the three of us talked about this and that. Mostly my cousin and I teased The Spare about all the critters that were just waiting to eat her, should she dare move off the bedspread. He discoursed on a strange pit viper he'd seen that didn't look like it belonged in these parts. I stuck strictly to the stories I'd gotten as a girl (The Black Dog, the Boogey Man), and added frightful tales of the flying electric armadillos. But all conversation ground to a halt when the Bored God Perseus treated us to a display of His majesty. Starry, starry night.

Finally at around 2:30 a.m. the crescent moon rose, and when it did it bleached away the Milky Way and many of the dimmer stars. That seemed like a hint that the celestial party was over, so Spare and I bid farewell to Polish Mountain and headed back toward Berkeley Springs. When I say I drove slowly, that's putting it mildly. I would hope you'd do the same if you could literally see dozens of deer on either side of the road.

I've led a rather quiet, sheltered life. I'm bookish. And what adventure I craved I mostly found at Polish Mountain, where you can still walk for ten hours and not see another person. In the basically uneventful life of Anne Johnson, that fabulous meteor shower is one keeper of an experience. I may never set foot in the Rocky Mountains, but I am the Appalachians. They complete me. And now my daughter knows why.

4. Pilgrimage to Asbury Park
"Well, Anne," you ask. "If you love the Appalachians so much, how come you don't live there?"

That's a question I often ask myself, and usually answer this way: "My life ain't over yet."

In the meantime, I live in New Jersey. Both of my daughters were born and raised in New Jersey. My older daughter, The Heir, adores this neon-and-asphalt swampland. Absolutely worships New Jersey. We do tend to feel that way about the place where we are raised, even if it's a scum sack.

The Heir had one singular ambition this summer. She wanted to go to Asbury Park.

Heir's not a big Bruce Springsteen fan. That's not why she wanted to go. She wanted to go because Asbury Park is a seaside resort that's down on its luck and therefore has crumbing architecture and strange abandoned buildings belonging to a bygone era.

I've always loved The Boss's music, but I'd heard that Asbury Park wasn't such a swell place to stroll. Thankfully, my Fairie Festival nemesis, Otter the River God, teaches school there. So I asked him about it, and he said yes, it is weird, and no, it's not dangerous.

Heir and I made two trips to Asbury Park this summer. Both were mother-daughter outings, but Heir is 21 now, so it almost seemed like girl time with a buddy. Our second excursion was last Wednesday. And on that day the cloudiness was absolutely dedicated. It looked like the sky was going to fall into the sea.

Never mind. The Stone Pony was gearing up for an evening outdoor concert, and the Boardwalk was full of young music fans. Heir and I sat on a bench and listened to a sound check. Then we played pin ball, then we strolled, and then we watched the surfers as the evening fell and one little speck of blue sky split the storm clouds.

I never owned many record albums, but I had copies of all of Bruce Springsteen's except "Greetings from Asbury Park." And I listened to The Boss more than any other rocker (except Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young). Last Wednesday, in Asbury Park, I finally figured out Bruce. And I understood why his message had never resonated with me before.

You see, we expatriate Appalachians are always singing about the beauties of home, and how we want to go there, and how (if in no other way) we want to be buried there. "When I die, won't you bury me on the mountain ... far away in my Blue Ridge Mountain Home."

Bruce is basically all about getting out and not looking back. "It's a town full of losers ... I'm pullin' out of here a winner." Gosh, I sure have absorbed enough of New Jersey to understand that! But seeing the Stone Pony all lit up for a concert, amidst the relict piers and abandoned rehab projects, I finally got The Boss. Now, instead of listening to "Thunder Road," I'm gonna be riding on it.

Thank you, Heir, for teaching a parent well. Finally, finally, I am down with New Jersey.

For any of you who have gotten this far, you might want to put Asbury Park on your radar. They actually have town-sanctioned bonfires on the beach in the wintertime! Yes, all you Pagans out there, you heard me right. I'm drooling too! A perfectly legal beach bonfire! Who's with me?

This extended navel gaze represents the end of summer for me. Not that it was much of a summer -- I spent most of it at teacher workshops, fighting the sinking feeling that the brass in my school district seem to think I'm not measuring up. So beginning tomorrow, I sally forth to try to measure up. I go back to school teaching. First, getting the room ready and putting together a Classroom Management Plan. Second, buying the supplies and books that the district can't give me (and if you want to help again, I sure would appreciate it). Third, planning lessons. And more lessons. Lessons according to what the district wants, and lessons according to what Anne thinks her students need to know to connect what they're learning to what their life will be about.

All this is my way of saying that, starting tomorrow or the next day, "The Gods Are Bored" will return to its regular length and subject matter. Believe me, friends, you will be hearing about International Vulture Awareness Day!


D.Suplicki said...

I just wanted to stop and let you know that this post made me incredibly homesick since the place I was raised in is the north western woods of New Jersey and one of my favorite places to be, aside from the mountains and forests of that area is Asbury Park. It's one of the only man made places that I've found to be truly magical in my measly 27 years of life.

Good luck with the school preparations and have a fantastic time raising awareness of those beautiful buzzards!

Intense Guy said...

Wooohooooooooooo! IVA day is coming soon!!!!!

:) Enjoy the bird/god watching from the peak of Hawk Mountain! (I love the view from up there - birds or distant farms)

Willow said...

If you ever get a chance to go to the bowling ally in Asbury Park, they have amazing tater tots by the bucket full. I'm also totally down for a bonfire on the beaches there. It takes me about 2 hours to get there from Long Island, but it would totally be worth it!

Hecate said...

I want the name of the B&B

Lavanah said...

It has been a mother-daughter summer here at the northern end of the state, too. But, we didn't get to see the Perseids, the sky never cleared here. I'm so glad that you got to go home with the Spare and saw them in all their wondrousness!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

You're absolutely right -- there is NOTHING like a starry night sky out in the country, far from urban lights. Any time I find myself driving across the prairies at night, I stop my car on the side of the highway and spend time just looking up, up, up until I get my fill. How I miss those starry night skies.

kimc said...

A few years ago we were in Baja California (San Filipe) and after dinner in a restaurant we stopped in the middle of the parking lot to look up at the stars. Our real estate agents found us there ten minutes later just looking up. He laughed and said that was why the community had voted not to put in street lights.

Gruvkitty said...

Thank you for this wonderful post.

The most amazing sky I've ever seen was in the Yucatan with my husband (fiance at the time) about 11 years ago. We stayed on the coast near Tulum at some small motel with hammocks for beds. It's was a spectacular night night - blew me away. I think it's tough for modern folks to understand our ancestors relation to these night skies when all we usually see is a few stars and/or planets in the sky. Seeing that sky on the beach near Tulum, I could finally understand why the Egyptians had arranged their pyramids to the stars, or Stonehenge, or the Mayans - it all makes sense.

Gruvkitty said...

Thank you for this wonderful post.

The most amazing sky I've ever seen was in the Yucatan with my husband (fiance at the time) about 11 years ago. We stayed on the coast near Tulum at some small motel with hammocks for beds. It's was a spectacular night night - blew me away. I think it's tough for modern folks to understand our ancestors relation to these night skies when all we usually see is a few stars and/or planets in the sky. Seeing that sky on the beach near Tulum, I could finally understand why the Egyptians had arranged their pyramids to the stars, or Stonehenge, or the Mayans - it all makes sense.