Entry Date On-Line Journal - November - December 2001
November 5th    November 12th    November 19th    November 23rd    December 7th    December 15th    December 20th    December 21st   

Journal Archives

12/21/01 Friday First Snow
Lunch again at Kingston Cooks, but today it was very quiet. Everything - there at least - is winding down for the Christmas holiday.

After eating, I went by the drugstore to pick up my latest photographs, including pictures of the first snow, which fell the night of December 8th. Here's what it looked like that Sunday morning. The weather folks continue to predict rain and snow for Christmas Eve.
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12/20/01 Thursday
Saw "Lord of the Rings" tonight with Marlene. It was stupendous. I read "The Fellowship of the Ring" during my first year out of college and loved it so much that when I read the last page, I felt that I would never open another book, because nothing could ever equal that experience. Of course I did read other books - but nothing ever did equal the raw magic of Tolkien's work, for me. I have read better-written books, and more profound ones. But that experience was unique - it was my first encounter with another's active belief in a world beyond the mundane.

As a youngster, I had read the Bible, attended Sunday School, and Church, but they presented such a washed out vision of divinity and holiness, so removed from my reality that it was meaningless to me. People then were quite fond of remarking that the age of miracles was over - as though that were an accomplishment. But in this book I found, if not miracles, then at least magic and heroism, described in vivid and exalted language that radiated the author's own conviction. Not that the good Catholic Tolkien believed in the world he created in his fiction, and yet he spent his entire life constructing it; on his and his wife's tomb, he names himself Beren, and her, Luthien.

Well - movies being the poor things they seem to be these days, I had no large expectations for this film. But it overwhelmed me. In many ways it is very close to Tolkien's books, and even in its departures it seems to give the story more rather than less impact. I had thought of Hobbits as rather cute little folks, plucky and endearing. Never would I have envisioned Frodo with Elijah Woods's beauty - yet that is what gives substance and stature to Frodo's heroism, and makes it believable. And the elves - someone paid a lot of attention to defining their look, and filling every elvish scene with actors who embodied it. I haven't seen so many wonderful faces on one screen at one time since the first part of Eisenstein's "Ivan the Terrible."

The battle scenes were intensely exciting - last night, I found myself holding my breath, not moving, even thought I knew the exact outcome of each conflict (after all, I had read the trilogy more than five times!)

The movie is not perfect - there are interpretations that I didn't like, some scenes that I think were badly done, and some bad statuary. But overall, the good parts so outweigh these that I just didn't care. I left the theater wanting to return as soon as I could.
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12/15/01 Saturday
Sitting quietly this evening I hear the train whistle in the distance as the train passes through town. It brings back many memories. There were always trains when we stayed at the shore in my childhood. The main line between New York and Boston runs right along the coast, slightly inland from where the summer cottages are, and at night, in my slightly sandy bed, scented by the lotion Grandma used to cool our sunburns, I listened to the passing trains blowing their whistles at every crossing - a lonely sound. We could tell the weather too, by how loud the whistle was because it changed with the wind-direction. In the same way, at home, we could tell the weather by the sound of plane engines being tested at night at the air-craft plant about five miles to the east - if we could hear the engines clearly, it meant an east wind was blowing, bringing rain and storms.

The train here passes almost through the center of Kingston, but the town is made up of two earlier settlements connected only by a thin built up strip - so the tracks run mostly through wooded areas. This town is very like the ones where I grew up in Connecticut. In the center of West Hartford, just three houses down from my mother's parents, there was an old farm. They only kept a few animals - goats I think, but still, quite rustic for what is now an urban center. The block we lived on was at least a quarter-mile on each side; there were cultivated fields in the center and two brooks running through it. I remember going out one sunny summer morning when I was about four with Mrs. Haywood, who lived next door. We went through the forsythia hedge at the back of our yard, past the old willows, and across a small, nearly dry brook, to fields of corn and peas and beans. The peas were ripe and I was allowed to eat some as I picked them, sweet and cool. This was during World War II - and with rationing and all, I think this food that we and our neighbors grew was important to us.

But West Hartford was a growing community, and such open spaces were steadily being reduced by roads and small neat houses, until by the time I left home there were very few such places left. Connecticut is so developed and well tamed - sometimes it makes me sad when I remember what it used to be like. Then in moving here, it was almost like going back in time. New York is definitely not tame, and it gets wilder the farther north you go. There is something comforting in finding a place that has not yet been completely shaped to human requirements.
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12/07/01 Friday - the 60th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor
Someone around here carves bears. Or someone once did. I see them around town, on lawns and standing guard by front doors; earnest bears, carved roughly but well, three or four feet tall, standing on their hind legs. Kingston is full of such small pleasures.

The weather is still warm - I went out today with my jacket open, no gloves, no hat. The entire week has been like this. And last week had only one cold day when I had to zip the lining into my jacket. It doesn't seem appropriate to send out Christmas cards when it feels like early October. The only clue to the real season is that the trees are now all bare. But I also just received an email warning of a winter storm watch issued for tomorrow night. Here's what they say: "Snow will begin late Saturday afternoon in the mid Hudson valley and northwest Connecticut. Snow should continue into Sunday morning...with possible accumulations of 7 inches or greater." Yikes.

This morning on the news there were stories of many commemorations of Pearl Harbor. It happened so long ago - most of the people alive now had not even been born then. But the events of September 11th have made the attack on Pearl Harbor seem fresh and contemporary. Today the smoke from the great ships burning in that tropical harbor and from the twin towers burning on another treacherous sunny morning mingled on the TV screen.
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11/23/01 Friday
Today is a low day - heaven knows why. Nothing has happened especially to make it so. A number of years ago I noticed that my moods seem to vary independently of anything in my conscious mind, and in fact, independently of anything that I ever find out about. So today is just another example. As a day it is just fine - unusually warm and sunny out - so warm that the heat is off again, which probably makes my landlady happy. Much of November has been very warm, and I hope that is an sign of an easy winter to come.

Two evenings ago, Marlene and I went to see "Harry Potter." It was quite enjoyable and also inoffensive. The outstanding moments, for my money, belong to Zoe Wanamaker as Madam Hooch, the (broom) riding instructor - her fierce gold eyes and crackling energy were fun.

There's been quite a fuss about the book, and much of it seems to center on the idea that the book makes witchcraft appear acceptable and harmless. If that is the issue, then the movie is even more offensive than the book. In the book, witchcraft is evidently presented with some flavor and vividness (so I hear, I have not read it.) But in the movie, witchcraft becomes just another technology, just another way to interact with the world. It has no specific meaning or value in itself, and so, for these critics, the movie must be much more insidious than the book. Seems a bit of a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation to me.

We went to an early evening show and the theater was full of kids, who were pretty well behaved. There was one little girl a few rows behind us who had evidently memorized the book, and she kept up a running commentary through several scenes. Her high clear voice blended in and provided a rather sweet narration for those of us nearby. In any case, we enjoyed it very much and ate large amounts of popcorn.
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11/19/01 Monday.
Waiting for the bus early this afternoon on the way uptown for lunch, I spotted a crow in a tree across the street in Forsythe Park. I watched it for awhile, feeling certain that crows were smaller when I was a child. Then my mind wandered briefly (perhaps just thinking about smaller crows,) and when I looked back the crow was gone. I didn't see it fly away - it was there, then it was gone. It left me with a sense of discontinuity - as though reality were a film projected so slowly that it had become a series of still shots, jumping from one to the next.

I keep noticing this. I am alone walking along an empty sidewalk. Then I look up again and there is someone approaching. Where did this person come from? Of course I know he came out of one of the houses, or from across the street, but I had not noticed. Something tells me that this is what reality is always like (and more so,) only I used to be more adept at constructing a sense of continuity, or at least at not noticing the gaps.

This also engenders in me a sense that I must watch everything more closely - not lose any of these (precious) connections. Impossible and wrong-headed. The alternative is to let it go, let things go as in fact they are already going, give up my control over the world around me and drift farther from the river's edge. (I fear drowning.)

Continuing to enjoy Norris' "Dakota". She is very interested in what people are up to, how they are thinking, and what is meaningful to them. But she looks within as much as without - and each view illuminates the other.

Her reflections on her own religion are wonderful and surprising. Her experiences were mostly different from mine, but I laughed when I read of her desire for a rosary when she was seven. It reminded me of the distress I caused my grandparents by actually buying one when I was perhaps ten (I wanted only the little figure of Jesus at the end of it; I had no idea what a rosary actually was.) But nothing disturbs people of puritan blood more than the accoutrements of faiths more ornate than their own. Perhaps it is unkind of me to note that, but by the time I came along, very few members of my family had any active form of faith, only the negative debris. By then, their faiths had all died - of what causes I am not sure, but now I do wonder. At least in terms of my maternal grandparents the final blow was the sudden discovery that their minister of many years was a bigamist with two complete families, one in our town and another somewhere in the south. A terrible discovery, of course, but how weak is a faith that is destroyed by the faithlessness of one man?

What happened to faith in my family? It seems to have died a strangely secret death, definite, but unremarked. In my childhood no one (except my aunt Ruth) attended church that I can remember. Everyone considered themselves to be Christian, but did nothing that would mark them as such; I remember no prayers, no reading of scriptures under any circumstances, no talk of God or Christ except in answer to my questions (and minimal answers those were!) My early curiosity about things divine was as embarrassing to them, evidently, as my atheism later when I was in my 'teens. But whatever one's family does is a given in the universe of childhood, and it never occurred to me until now to question or wonder about any of this - and now who is there left that I can ask?
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Additional Resources

Kathleen Norris:
Brief Biography
On 'The Farmer's Wife'
I wonder what this journal is? It certainly is not like my pen and paper journal - there I put down a lot more details about events, the weather, people, and really personal matters. I put whatever I want there. But that is for me. Here something different and unexpected governs what I write. Whatever it is forms a shadow presence, its nature outlined, perhaps, by what it allows me to write.

A friend gave me Kathleen Norris' "Dakota" and I began reading it last night. Norris is writing about how it was to move to North Dakota from NYC and to live there. Her prose is like the land she describes - reflective and slow and beautiful. It shows me a world that I have not really encountered before. When I was nine I traveled by train across the plains when we went out to California on our way to Hawaii; the spaciousness held me glued to the train window for miles and hours. In high school, I read Rolvaag's "Giants in the Earth," but completely without understanding. In the past I've had glimpses of the people that Norris describes and their lives - I've heard rumors. But here it all is, clear, life-sized, detailed before me. And everything she describes is part of a world so different from mine that I read in amazement. Farley Mowat's childhood memoir,"Born Naked," has much the same qualities of difference and individuality but they are muted by the distance of time. To discover the same qualities in the present is startling.
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11/05/01 Monday.
I'm finding it harder and harder to write. The world I live in has been transformed in a few short weeks. Before September 11th, this country was recovering in so many different ways: from the long years of cold war that comprised most of my adult life and spent this country's resources on weapons and armies; from pollution that obscured the stars at night, and poisoned our rivers and even the oceans. We were growing past narrow and restricted views of how people must live, and think, and worship. But now we have been precipitated into a conflict that may have ended this growth. In contrast to all the wars and police actions of the past century, we had no warning this time - no weeks or months of watching another nation build up its strength and begin its slow march into full-scale war. This time, from one day to the next, a war was begun, and we seem to have been thrown back a quarter-century, perhaps more. I say "seem to" because it feels as though we are on the brink, not quite over the edge yet.

But perhaps it is only my own understanding that is unclear; the full nature of today's reality is not measurable yet, though it is set. Does it matter that tomorrow's reality is not? History turns on such apparently small things - the character of one person, if a Hitler, or a Gandhi; a shift in weather on the day a battle is set to begin; the courage or cowardice of ordinary people. Now another phase is about to work itself out, and all the factors are unknowns. I hardly know what to say about this except that I thought I would not be in this place again in my lifetime.
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