Archive for April, 2012
Archetypal View from Kayak on D&R Canal, by Tasha O’Neill
Picture a perfect day. It’s April. The sun is out, yet kind. There isn’t a hint of wind.
Someone very kind, generous and vigilant arrives at my house with two kayaks, –one red, one green.
He is determined that I not kayak alone for the first time since ‘total hip replacement’ (November 9).
I am determined to be out on the water again. ‘Scroll backwards’ to my first meeting with my surgeon. Dr. Thomas Gutowski, who is asking, “What is your surgical goal?”
As though everybody had one. As though everyone knew she would be asked such a question. As though a doctor cared.
Without a hesitation, I answered him, “To get back in the kayak.”
“Carolyn in Kayak” (pre-op) by Tasha O’Neill
“Of course!,” he responded, as though everyone gives him this answer.
Later, I would learn that this man is training for Everest, has been to Base Camp II. That explains his understanding about a passion. But I didn’t talk to Dr. G. re mountains.
Upon his immediate post-op visit, in hospital, I observed, “Of course, you were kidding when you told my friends you had given me a kayaker’s hip.”
Of course, this consummate professional was NOT kidding. He had three ’species’ of kayaker’s hips at his disposal, and I have one of them. I forget which. “You’ll find it works better than the original,” he drily observed. (No, this remarkable encounter is not the fruit of the morphine pump.)
Anyway, back to the perfect day.
View North from Mapleton Footbridge at Aqueduct, by Brenda Jones
I had expected to ‘put in’ at Mapleton Aqueduct. But, I had not kayaked last year, because this inexplicable ‘total loss of cartilage’ meant I couldn’t get myself OUT of a kayak. So I didn’t know what Irene had done to the ‘put in’ at Mapleton. Which is CHEWED the bank and evidently digested the dock I remembered to have been there for kayakers and canoeists.
I, however, am a renting kayaker. No WAY could I lift one onto or off of a car, let alone carry it anywhere, even before cartilage deprivation.
But this knight without armor could indeed lift kayaks onto and off of his vehicle.
Not only that, he could carry, on his head, the red, then the green kayak over the burgundy bridge to a sandy place at Lake Carnegie. [Neither of us had experienced that lake in a kayak.]
Since everything had ‘gone swimmingly’ re surgery and now P.T., I could even carry the ‘personal flotation devices’ and paddles, triping lightly (not literally) over the burgundy footbridge.
Footbridge at Mapleton Aqueduct — cfe
The Vigilant One settled me into his red craft, making sure my lifejacket (as they used to be called) was securely fastened. He handed me a bottle of water, then the paddle. He took out his i-phone, grinning mischievously, nudging me gently out onto the lake.
A great number of images later (”for Dr. Gutowski,” he announced, beyond my wildest imaginings), he was beside me in his own craft.
There was not a soul on that lake.
Five Canada geese rose like a Balanchine ensemble, as I floated for the first time in well over a year. Forgive the mixed metaphor, but their sounds were a Hallelujah Chorus.
Picture 5 Canada Geese, Rising Right Over Me, on Lake Carnegie — Brenda Jones Photo
A single cormorant glided, then vanished, to our left.
We headed north.
All we could see were trees down to the water, and yes, distant mountains. I’m pretty sure they were the Watchungs, and I knew Dr. Gutowski wouldn’t consider them mountains.
The stillness of the lake, and the beauty of that rising land was such that we could have been in Maine or New Hampshire.
To our right, a single great blue heron minced along, severe in his fishing. And successful. We watched it eat two whatevers in quick succession. It maintained its determined procession. We kayaked with heads turned ’round like owls. It never lifted off.
Great Blue Heron Sentinel by Brenda Jones
My kayaking companion had a deadline, and probably considered I did, as well. His was chronological. Mine was probably physical. All too soon, we both knew, it was time to turn around.
Still, there was not another human on that water.
Only the heron, still madly fishing. Completely invisible to, indifferent to, all the walkers on the Towpath. Usually, just the vibration of footfalls causes these herons to squawk and lift. No.
He felt like the monarch of the glen, the king of the waters. Everything was sparkling, almost rainbowed — even the drops from that stately bird’s nearby beak.
The magic didn’t end with that float. A young father, with two boys about three and five, was there as my ‘knight’ helped me out, Lady-of-the-Lake-time being over.
“Could I carry the other kayak for you?” asked the father.
“That would be grand,” answered the Vigilant One.
And off we trekked over the burgundy footbridge - two men carrying kayaks, the two little boys and their mother.
At a certain point, I turned around to see the father had set the red craft down, so that the lads, who’d insisted, could help their daddy carry. What an endearing scene.
It’s over now, yet will never be over. That luminosity, that stillness, even the tough paddling back against wind and over waves, and especially my own easy rising from the kayak. I needed hands to steady me, but my legs worked. All of this is in me forever.
And, so far as I know, those printed pictures are on Dr. Gutowski’s desk at Princeton Orthopaedic Associates right now.
What ‘Our’ Great Blue Heron Never Did - Flying Off With Fish — Brenda Jones
Brenda Jones’ Immature Princeton Eagles, 2011, on Unlikely Nest
One of the miracles of living New Jersey in general, and near Princeton’s D&R Canal and Towpath, in particular. is that adventure is always at hand. After a dizzying work day, Thursday, and probably too close to sundown, I took myself to the Towpath at Mapleton, I cannot even count all the wonders that were mine, as a result.
En route, I stopped at ‘our eagle nest, glad to see ‘Mama’ perky on the rim of her most uncharacteristic, but very successful cone-shaped nest. Can’t tell if she has young, but her vertical posture suggests same.
Five minutes after I set foot(e) on the Towpath, a fisherman asked, “Do you want to see a fish?”
“Of course!,” I responded.
With that, he tugged on a line in canal water at the aqueduct. Something large and luminous waited in a golden net. The man was from another land, so at first I could not understand the species. Then, the word penetrated, “Carp,” he kindly repeated. “I take them out of here fifteen pounds sometimes. This one’s about ten.”
Speechless at the size of his catch, I asked, “How will you cook it?”
“Paprika,” he immediately answered. “Onions.” Then his brow furrowed. He may not know the English words he needed, so continued, “and all the others.” He smiled eagerly, adding, “and a lot of hot fat.”
“That sounds great!,” I replied, thanking him, walking on.
Another fisherman was literally taking time to smell the flowers.
“A different kind of honeysuckle,” he observed. I bent, inhaled, agreed. I rubbed a flower between my fingers, and it turned to dust. “Dry,” I said sadly.
The fisherman nodded. “March, too,” he observed. “We are ruining the weather.”
I thanked him for wisdom not shared by the Weather Channel, licking its chops over disaster, as usual.
I walked north from the aqueduct, as crew upon crew glided north on Lake Carnegie, gilded by late light.
On my left were cascades of white dogwood bloom, each larger than my hand.
On my right, in the canal, a nose was swimming. Sure enough, it was a slim gold snake. I’ve been writing poems anew, since my November hip replacement. Several of them include snakes. It felt a wonderful omen, not only to ‘meet’ one, but to see it swimming so healthily.
I became aware of a welcome fragrance, far beyond blossoms in rarity this year. It had rained a bit, the night before, though you’d never know it on that dry path. The lake had been renewed by fresh rainfall. The air smelled ‘like clean clothes dried on lines.’ At shore houses and in childhood, one of the rewards of tugging sheets from clotheslines had been that superoxygenated scent, like no other on earth. Until I moved to Princeton, and walked the towpath, that is. I wanted to inhale only, keep it all.
Red-Winged Blackbird, Brenda Jones
Sounds were important on the towpath that evening — red-winged blackbirds’ ‘okaleeeeee’; the uh-oh of fish crows; the imperious command to drink-your-tea!, drink-your-tea! of the white-throated sparrow. An unpleasant leitmotif was also involved commands — from coxswains ordering their rowing students to tighten their thighs.
All the while, both lake and canal shimmered. Leaves trembled, dappling the path and this contented restored walker.
I felt as though I could trek on forever. But, ever mindful of this new hip, decided to pause at the turtles, try to count them. resting on the only logs Irene seems to have left. These were the largest turtles I’ve ever seen resting in serried rows — some like platters!. There must have been at least twenty four. The dark shapes gleamed, and some were accented by coral striations along the relaxed legs.
Turtle Pecking Order Alongside D&R Canal and Towpath, Brenda Jones
Turning at Turtle Central, I made my way back to the footbridge. As I’d promised various health professionals, I took advantage of every bench, only for moments. At my feet in the lake, water lily leaves had opened and pickerel weed arrows had begun to emerge.
I thought of the Lenni Lenapes, who recognized pickerel weed emergence as the signal the tribal reunions from throughout the Delaware Valley and beyond, in the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh. This shiny pointed plant alerted them to end hunter-live for the time being. After exchanging critical news and performing rituals in the Marsh, our first residents took trails that we have now numbered, 195 being one of them, in order to reach the sea and their gathering season.
I realized, as the sun slipped below western trees, gathering is what I had been doing. From carp through dogwood, snake to turtles. Gathering beauty and memory.
That exists because wise people knew to preserve the D&R Canal and Towpath, among the wise ones having been D&R Greenway Land Trust, where I work. Support your local land trust. Preserve natural New Jersey.
D&R Canal Footbridge at Mapleton cfe
Finest Sailing Ship and Restaurant — the S. S. France
The first time I sailed to France was on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Neither in planning, nor in departure, did this dire date cross our minds. However, high school friends, –as I passed through Michigan en route to my East Coast life–, were convinced that the S.S. France would crash into an iceberg, plunging my husband and me to the bottom of the gelid Atlantic.
In recent years, I’ve read ‘most everything about the sinking of the Titanic, literally with a sinking heart. Always, I grieved over the many losses, at every level, within that majestic ship, and of the ship itself. Often, it was the fate of colliers and those in steerage who riveted me. To say nothing of the mourning houses in in and near Southampton, where we were headed. From whence we would ultimately sail home on the Mary.
There was about certain high school friends the air that Werner and I might well deserve some sort of catastrophe for undertaking this frivolous journey. Hedonism was highly suspect in those towns, churches and schools. I couldn’t explain that the two of us, with those science degrees, were setting out to resolve egregious lacunae in our educations, –particularly in art and literature. The S.S. France would become our first teacher.
Embarking upon the S.S. France brought no frissons of alarm. Our stateroom was, indeed, awash in flowers, fruit baskets and handsome bottles of champagne — truly carrying coals to Newcastle. Food was the chef d’oeuvre of this ship. Getting there was secondary.
A tiny sign at the dressing table assured Madame that “The lights around this mirror are of a roseate hue, which has been maintained throughout the ship. You may be assured,” some eloquent and flattering French person had inscribed, “that wherever you go upon the S.S. France, you will look as lovely as you do here.” Minnesota was never like this.
In our stateroom, at embarkation, bon voyage friends were suddenly interrupted by the announcement, “Tous les visiteurs a terre, s’il vous plait. Tous les visiteurs a terre.” I abruptly realized that Werner and I were actually sailing, — I to Europe for the first time, he for the seventh, within this sleek and gleaming new palace of the seas. Our visitors hastily crossed the gangplank back to earth.
After the ritual tossings of serpentine and confetti, Werner took me to a sheltered place on the top deck, to observe rituals of embarkation. He ordered (of course French) champagne. At a certain point, the Statue of Liberty floated past our ‘coupes’, [not flutes in those days]. We were underway.
Even that first night, our superlative waiters made clear, we could order ANYthing. It wouldn’t be an insult to the chefs — it would honor their creativity! In Minnesota, once, we couldn’t have crepes suzette in the best restaurant in town because the crepes chef was parking cars…
We had on board leather-bound volumes of Gourmet’s Bouquet de France, Italian Bouquet and Bouquet of Britain, bibles of both food and sights for the three months. We put them to use immediately. We were not to be limited to whatever their legendary chefs had promised in those towering, opulent menus, — separate ones for breakfast, then lunch, then dinner. One could start each meal with generous scoops of the greyest, freshest, slight-salt-tang-retaining caviar, served from a silver bowl large enough to bathe a newborn. I refrained at breakfast.
By the third night out, –sipping champagne between limitless waltzes and exuberant Charlestons, I decided “What a way to go!” We could dance until the ballroom emptied, then follow the (smaller) orchestra up to L’Atlantique, a “boite de nuit” on an upper deck. Our cabin steward had alerted us to this privilege, alarmed when we’d returned to our cabin that first midnight. “O, la, la!,” he had cried in dismay, encountering us in the passageway to our stateroom. “You are not having a good time!”
Our assurances meant nothing. “Promise me. Tomorrow, do what you must, Take naps. Anything. Dance till the band stops, then follow the musicians to L’Atlantique. Whatever you do, stay until the onion soup arrives.”
In both settings, the Grand Ballroom and L’Atlantique, musicians would play anything we would request. After four starved years in Minnesota, my Swiss husband kept them busy with favorites, especially the waltzes of Strauss and his other specialty ‘the Lindy.’ In the Midwest, we’d called it ‘the jitterbug.’
In L’Atlantique, indeed, at 4:30 a.m., the “authentic onion soup of Les Halles” arrived. I never had eaten soup sitting at a bar It remains the best I’ve ever found, including that for which we would make pilgrimage to Les Halles (”the belly of Paris”) in the middle of the dark, a few days later. It was imperative to savor the food of the workers in that earthy neighborhood. I have since returned many times to Au Pied du Cochon , and this seems hearteningly the same. [Even though politicians have erased the grace and electricity of this major food market of Paris. Power and greed have literally melted the 10 graceful and alluring Baltard pavilions into scrap.] The last time I saw Paris, however, onion soup still reigned near lovely Ste. Eustache.
The France was legendary not only for her food (Craig Claiborne, food critic of the New York Times, sailed both ways without disembarking, just to relish its cuisine.) The ship was also known for her stabilizers, which purportedly assured smooth sailing. Even so, there were meals with ropes stretched both ways across our table, nights when our dancing was interrupted by sudden unexpected sea-caused glissades to one wall or another. Even now, as we near the 100th anniversary of the tragic loss of the Titanic, I admit that we found these lurches amusing, challenges to Werner’s dancing skill. The only ice we encountered was in our glasses.
Legendary people sailed with us, announced on special ‘newspapers’ delivered in our stateroom each morning, by our faithful steward. He, who’d introduced us to L’Atlantique dancing and soup. He, who’d consoled us that first night with what he called ‘a little tea.’ In no time, he was back before us with the largest silver tray I’d ever encountered. It contained not only all the British accoutrements of tea, but also exquisite pastries which practically floated off the tiny plates onto our burnished forks. I had thought it silly, at St.-Mary-of-the-Woods, to be taught to pour tea and especially how to walk down a marble staircase without looking at one’s feet, let alone holding on. I used both these arcane accomplishments on the S.S. France.
Hitchcock was at the table next to ours, alone, “toujours toute seul,” as the French pronounce with concern. The Director’s expression was exactly that of his cartoon image on television, –dour and unchanging. At every meal, on this floating pinnacle of cuisine, he would order a yellow box of the kind of mustard that Michigan parents used to mix and rub into bronchial chests. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, Alfred Hitchcock altered the creations of the chefs of the S. S. France. At no time, did those splendid waiters raise so much as an eyebrow at this eccentricity.
Will and Ariel Durant were aboard, remote as pharaohs. An entire team of professors of music from Columbia were sailing ultimately to the South of France to study ancient music.
In that restaurant, the first formal night out, I committed a major faux pas, ordering Boeuf Wellington. Our waiter took this inadvertent reminder of French defeat with grace. The Wellington was magnifique, bien sur! Whether because of the excellence of the duxelles (mushroom essence); the quintessentially tender but full of flavor boeuf of Charolais; or that ethereal pastry, I have never been able to decide.
Our waiters forgave us anything, for our enthusiasm for anything French. At the final breakfast, they presented me with all the breakfast menus, “to take back to Doctor Edelmann, who did not have the opportunity to sample any of these specialites.” (After 4 years at the Mayo Clinic, 40 hours on, 8 hours off, alternate weekends, that man was not getting getting up for breakfast.)
We had asked our cabin steward to bear with our French, to speak to us and give us instruction materials only in that language. The second day out, our steward asked if there had been anything we hadn’t understood in that first batch. (I know, it probably told us what to do if we hit an iceberg. But we weren’t interested in speed reading — only in absorbing French.) “There was one word,” my husband admitted. “Neither of us knows what it is.” The word was “le cendrier”. How surprised our steward was, as he translated: ‘Ashtray.’ With my virtual convent upbringing and his virtual monastery (Fordham Prep and Fordham College), nuns and priests hadn’t thought to convey this word into our vocabularies. There would be others…
My favorite time of each day, –well, except for the dancing–, was mornings after breakfast. When you sail, you can take all the books you like. Each day, I’d choose one to read with breakfast, then carry it out to our deck chairs, so carefully chosen on embarkation day. Although Werner never encountered his, come to think of it. Immediately upon my arrival, a deck steward would arrive with a lush plaid wool blanket, tucking me in for the duration, hoping I was enjoying my book, –which I always was. The April sea breeze was electrifying, sun warming but not dangerous in those days.
Around 10:30, the deck steward would return to my side. He would kneel, bearing a tiny tray with a dainty cup and saucer and a lidded pouring pan. He would excuse himself for bothering Madame, then pour the most divine bouillon, steaming, into that special cup. In the days of regular sailings, even the china of the S.S. France was renowned — as I recall, Haviland. It was not designed for coffee nor tea let alone espresso — simply for bouillon on a morning deck.
Our last day out, those who sailed all the time proved to be studiously blase. This ardent tourist took herself to someone else’s deck chair, above the elegant glossy prow of the S.S. France. I stared and stared toward a coastline that should soon appear out of the half mist. Suddenly, I realized, birds were about. Ah, this is what it must’ve been like for Columbus, first land birds announcing…
No one else was up there. A castle ‘hove into view’. My first castle. It was a faux pas, later, to exult over this, waiting to disembark among our fellow passengers.
But that which resonated most, in those private moments, as England moved toward us, was that this is the homeland of the Foote family, — my middle name. All Footes are related to Nathaniel-Foote-the-Settler who came from Colchester, England in the 1600s to found Colchester and Wethersfield, Connecticut. And I was the first of my branch of the family to set Foote upon that soil. I felt I was seeing it for all of them.
But this wouldn’t have happened, without the splendor of the France.
We sailed her in other years, always joyously. The Mary was no comparison, and the QEII a brash imposter.
Our bags were packed and our stateroom tags affixed for the S.S. France’s final voyage from Manhattan to Southampton and LeHavre. The crew struck, and she never sailed again.
Later, she was ‘rechristened!’ “The Norway.” I have no words for this travesty. It is as though the France had, indeed, struck an iceberg and plunged to the bottom, for all time.
And the country, France, allowed this to happen, as they allowed the Nazi takeover in 1940.
While we waited for our luggage and our car, I thought back to high school friends and their Titanic surety. Of course, Werner and I had practiced with life jackets and met the boats and all that. On this and other voyages, lifeboat drill was a necessary intrusion, mostly funny, especially when our girls couldn’t get out the stateroom door, later, on the QEII, fattened by their ‘personal flotation devices.’
Nobody ever really expects to be plunged into the sea.
To us, the sea existed to bear us to new lands and new knowledge, to enrich our lives forever.