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You gotta find your passion. Or at least have a hobby. I love writing; well…at least when I’m not juggling two jobs. I often find I’m struggling to get a blog written, usually well past bedtime or while I’m eating a harried lunch, the phone in one hand, catching up on all the work that piles up in the morning. Who has time for passion..yeesh..

Under Danni's Window

Under Danni’s Window

Well I at least managed to get my first book finished. “Under Danni’s Window” is a dark tale about a teen who struggles to define himself, tired of being a bullied outcast. Peter and his friends found themselves on the wrong end of the scale of popularity for most of their lives. Who gets to decide where others, or even ourselves, fall along the sliding scale that separates young teens into the “popular” crowd, the “jock” crowd, or even the bully or nerd segments? How different are they, really, from one another? We are all guilty of defining and pigeon-holing others along this sliding scale of distinction, with our own biases and preconceptions, explicitly or tacitly assigning others into roles we believe accurately define who they are, even if we know nothing about them as individuals. Those we wish to emulate or be near, those who frighten us, those who look different than we, all subject to a collective mind set that dictates their value and how we should treat them. Often, we struggle to change our position on the sliding scale even as we seek to keep others mired in their assigned roles; either because we wish to fit in somewhere and hope that we can deflect from our own shortcomings by labeling those we perceive to be “not like me at all”, or we struggle with our own identities, seeing superficially those traits in others who may or may not even remotely possess those very traits we hold in esteem or disdain. Such is the life of a young teen; it is as it’s always been, and probably always will be. As with most teens, Peter doesn’t consider these deeper meanings and questions in his struggle; nor does he recognize that the lines which define these segments can be vague and begin to blur once you struggle for your own identity.

I truly hope you find this an enjoyable read. And with favorable winds and if time is on my side, I look to have my second published by the end of fall. I have found my passion; I share it with you all.

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The stuff of dreams and lazy fall afternoons...

If you grew up in rural America, chances are you spent some of your late summer or early fall at the local fair.  Fair season is here in New England and closing quickly.  The last few years I’ve been bringing my kids to the local and regional fairs and this year was no exception.  However, this was the year for me to finally let go of the hand of my eldest while she and her “BFF” shrieked away, partially due to the excitement and probably in some part due to the freedom from Dad, although I stealthily kept her in sight as dads are want to do.

Since I was going to be wandering the fair alone this year, I brought my black and white camera to see if there was a new perspective to be gained through the lens.  What is the charm of the rural fair? I wondered if the things I remembered growing up and the things I noticed as I grew older met anywhere in a middle of some sorts.  The starkness of the black and white was revealing.  Here are just a few of the over 200 pictures I took that one visit.  Click on any one to enlarge.  I hope you enjoy the images and can fill in your own memories from them.

Oh, and my apologies to Cary Grant for the lousy pun.

The midway is always a mix of people, sights sounds and smells.  For me, some experiences you don’t process until you’ve walked past them.

The Candy man....I walked quickly by....

I always find the people fascinating, and I do love greasy fair food.  I Can’t imagine missing a year without having at least one fried dough.  I was a little amused to see the  fried Oreos, fried Twinkies and even fried candy bars.

smell the heartburn...

Standing to the side, watching the traffic stroll by.

This one seemed a little empty all day long....

But our local fair seems to be old and tired and I think that they may have always seemed that way though I never noticed when I was younger.

that this attraction wasn't condemned is what's frightening.

I could see the excitement and joy on my daughters face as she and her friend chattered while queued for the various rides.  It was interesting that some of these rides were probably futuristic looking at one time, not so much now.  Did I notice if they were futuristic when I was 13?  Would she notice they were dated?

leaning out a little too far....

One bump too many?

What we imagined our future to look like?

Needless to say, I couldn't get the right shot from there...

As I looked closer, the wear and tear was everywhere, not even subtle, but masked nonetheless by the buzz of the experience.  How else could you overlook things that were so obvious, to the point where I started wondering if I should allow her to go on any of them?

No sparkle during the day, a slight gap in the blink at night...

Sun set over the midway. The lights not on yet....

Many seemed to pre-date me. From the carousel to the flying bobs, nothing seemed to escape the ravages of time, the dings and dents of a transient usage and levels of neglect.

Not to paint too bleak a picture, I wondered to myself if it was just this one fair, but I’m sure I had some of the same thoughts at other traveling midways.

Yet, not one of the rides failed while we were there, dutifully whirring and spinning as designed, even if not as sparkling and pretty as they once may have been.  I rode them all when I was younger, the Zipper my biggest nemesis.

Usually, the Ferris wheel is where I gravitate to, just to get out of the crowds and sit down for a while.

The animals held little appeal for me when I was younger, though friends I grew up with who were 4Her’s lived all year for this.  Now I find it rewarding to wind through the various barns to see who was breeding what.  Not having grown up on a farm, I actually find it fascinating.  Although, I wonder when the Alpacas and Llamas first made their appearances next to the pigs and goats.  I’m quite sure I never saw any in our small Maine town.

He was not amused....

yes, that's his bottom tooth..

I happened to see an Ox the size of a small pick up truck, his thunderous stamping causing the ground to shudder underneath the pen.  I came upon the draft horses during the pulling contest and again was amazed at the size of some of these animals.  One horse appeared to be the lead of his team and stood motionless with his head held high over the fence, oblivious to his team mates who were chewing furiously on the rail in front of them.  He wore the same expression of pride as his mud-covered handler.

he was very proud indeed...

A snack between events...

Just how does rural America live? I may not have grown up in an urban setting, but I wasn’t anywhere close to living on a functional farm.  The nearest I ever came were the part-time summer jobs baling hay and cleaning chicken barns (a job that would bleach my work clothes totally white in a week, boots included) that helped me pay for my summer activities.

Walking through the exhibit halls, one sees things that seem curious, but only to those outsiders.  A collection of over 100 different milk bottles.

What does one do, pray tell, with a 500 pound pumpkin, aside from winning the ribbon? Amusingly, I watched a 16-year-old girl kick the pants off a bunch of men trying to oust her from her log-rolling perch.  Is this a skill in demand? Or a pastime I am not privy to?  No judgment, just asking.  Of course, my favorite exhibit was the local woman selling her award-winning fudge…Well, second to the old tractors.

Big friggin' punkin....

Made by Aunt Bee.....

I want one....I don't know why.

Not too many brave souls wanted to be embarrassed...

I tried to analyze just who was playing those midway games of chance.

Some seemed to attract the very young families, the squirting water type games or ball toss.  Others seemed to be more obvious to betting, laying down a quarter on a color or a number while a ball rolled around the table, almost dropping into the depression that would make the bettor his money back.

I even chanced to see that 14-year-old boy, trying to win a prize for his crush, he all red-faced and embarrassed, she all proud and cheering him on while giggling to her friends.

It would seem that this is the only explanation for the appeal, the lure of these games.

Where else would you spend 5 or 6 dollars for a toy so cheap and gaudy that you wouldn’t give a quarter for it at a local yard sale?

Obvious: The cost of the prize is far outweighed by the value of the memory involved in attaining it.  And if my daughter had asked, I would have exhausted a pocket full of quarters to win the reggae banana, although no one could tell me what a reggae banana has to do with a fair in the middle of rural New Hampshire.

probably one of the cheapest games to run....

All this for a quarter!

Okay, now you're just being silly....

Reggae Banana? Why?

How does this look under the lights to a 3-year-old?

I asked several carnies if I could take their pictures and got indignant no’s from every one of them.  Some didn’t even bother to wait for the question, they either waved me off or turned quickly and walked away at the site of my camera, making sure their back was the only view I had.  A fertile imagination paints them as wanted by authorities, living on the lam, if you could only imagine someone so desperate.  There were some who were obviously local teens, working part-time yapping with friends, letting them cut line.  Still others seemed morose and distant, some old and grizzled, some lacking teeth, a few lacking in some faculties, most lacking in hygiene.  Not all though.  Several were bright and talkative, doing what they could to engage you as you walked by their game, imploring you to try a chance at the elusive reggae banana.  Where do these people come from, where do they go each night? Who do they go home to? What and where is home?

The daily grind....

Sometimes, even carnies get to ride....

He turned his back quickly, then walked away. I ruined his break.

Where does he go at the end of the day?

Boredom...

The grandstand was  close to full, folks watching the demolition derby.  As the sun started to throw long shadows from the exhibition buildings across the midway, every attraction  started to glow and twinkle to it’s own rhythm.  There seemed to be an endless stream of people still making their way from the dirt field parking lot into the midway.  The fair seemed to take on a whole different life at night, less like working, more like play.  As loud as the Midway was earlier, it seemed to increase in volume as the sun dropped away.  The black and white stills taken at night had their own charm, their own way of hiding the flaws and blemishes only visible if you sat long enough to watch the flickering pattern to discern where the gaps of missing lamps occurred.  And even though those flaws were still there, they didn’t seem to matter to anyone else, colored light or not, night-time or not, as people continued to wait in line for their fried dough’s, creaky rides or reggae bananas.  In all, I’d say worth the $10 admission for the whole day.  I’ll be back again next year.

The longest lines all day.....

My old favorite.....seems so small these days...

Still going at 11:00.....


The fountain of youth has only two wheels....

 

The midnight road plays hide and seek through the late-night ground fog. My thoughts are drowned out by the sound of the wind singing through my helmet as insects tap a morse code on my face shield. I ease into another gear as I hug the black ribbon of country back-road with the stars as the only other lights for miles and just for a moment, i’m eighteen again….


breaking a trail, then coming back to check on me..

 

I am learning to be still.  Maybe it’s no coincidence that it happens mostly when I’m with Cody.  I’m obviously not talking about physical still either.  That would be little hard to do with flat-coated retriever, border colie mix, 70-pound puppy.  (He has the joy of an innocent creature and the strength of a bull.)

I first noticed the stillness when we would go for our late night walks, at speed.  I walk fast which is okay for him as his natural gate is “I want to run like heck.  Did you say squirrel?”

I can get so wrapped up in training him that everything else just goes away.  He takes a lot of attention to control off leash as his mind wanders and you have to keep him focused and commanded, meaning you have to try to see what’s in his line of sight and sometimes try to out-think him.  Most of the time he’ll look over his shoulder at you and you can see he’s waiting for the next command.  We communicate very well, but we communicate very often and intensely.  Our walks are usually a series of commands, reactions and response, with each of us concentrating on our roles and expectations.  And not thinking about much else.

Several weeks ago I took him onto the conservation land that surrounds our neighborhood to explore the large beaver pond we normally use for skating and kayaking.  As soon as I stepped off the pavement and onto the unmarked trails, I knew it would be challenging.  We just had some fresh snowfall, maybe 18 inches or so the previous night and no one had broken trail so far this year.  Odd, the kids will usually trek down to the pond to scrape out a nice hockey rink.  Not so today.  Five feet into the woods and I was already up to my back pockets in deep powder.  Cody was gone, already breaking trail about 50 yards ahead of me.  Three whistles and two hand commands to get him back to the pavement so we could return home for the snowshoes.

Second try, I have a thermos of hot tea, Cody’s water bottle, a bag of dog biscuits and my camera.  I step into the trail again and off he goes.  It took me 20 minutes to get about 50 yards in the woods, the snow was that deep.  I was bringing snow up from the tail of my snowshoes under the back of my jacket.  Who cares, this is a blast.

About 30 minutes into the woods, I sat down on an old dead fall to catch my breath.  Cody was still surfing the snow, his every step was jump up, sink down.  I was giving him direction and he broke most of the trail for me, every once in a while heading off to explore on his own.  I noticed the small tracks that had gotten his attention and he had found a few deer beds too.  I let him explore as I caught my breath and watched him play and learn.  I couldn’t hear another sound. The snow was very deep, very soft and made no noise at all as I sunk into it with each step.  It was the same with Cody.  He must have been 10-15 yards away from me and I could hear his breathing, nothing else.  I could tell he was working hard to swim through the powder, a small furry dolphin breaking the surface, his panting the only sound in the forest.

It must have taken at least 45 minutes to get to the pond.  The edge of the pond is littered with very old trees and up-roots that were knocked down by a micro burst a few years ago.  The shoreline looks devastated in the summer.  It’ll be years before nature takes these trees back into the pond and creates a new shoreline.  Unless the beavers get to it, but they already have a dam now about 7 feet high and at least three large lodges, each probably twenty feet around.

As we trudged across the frozen pond, it started to drizzle.  The snow was only slightly less of a challenge on the pond but we made good time anyway.  Again, there was no sound at all, barely a crunch from the snow in the middle of the pond that had obviously taken a melt during the daylight hours and had developed a crust sometime during the week.  The drizzle was just making it heavier to pull my feet up through.

By the time we got to the end of the pond near the beaver dam, we were a little tired and wet.  I found the old bench we had carried down last year when we cleared the area for skating.  It was buried quite a bit, somewhat broken, but it came in pretty darned handy given its condition.  I treated myself to some Oolong and watched Cody track whatever he imagined he was tracking.  Tail up, nose always down, never in a straight line, I watched him for 15 minutes.  He’d occasionally peek up at me to see if he was in trouble and I’d point him in a direction to keep him thinking.  I said nothing to him.  I heard nothing.  Just the sound of the size of the drizzle getting bigger and dropping onto the crust of the snow.  With the new snow insulating the trees, the low clouds and drizzle covering us like a blanket, we were separate from everything else in the world.  It was then that I realized that I hadn’t a single thought in my head at all.  Nothing.  For me, that’s a change.

I took him to the beach yesterday.  Again, it’s tail up, nose to the ground and a couple hours of zigzag.  The beach is a little different for him though, dogs are allowed off leash and it’s a haven for owners to come and socialize their dogs.  I like to let him run ahead, but he’ll usually realize I’m out of voice range and he’ll turn around.  Today however, winter was struggling to fight off spring.  The mist that was hanging over us made it hard to see either end of the beach.  I looked out over the water and the waves appeared to be rolling out from under a slate grey backdrop where I couldn’t distinguish the ocean from the cloudy sky above it.  I hear the gallop of paws as he trots by me towards some unseen goal and he’s off another 50 yards.

I walked to the end of the beach and towards the path of the point that separates the town’s two beaches.  No one was on the south beach.  The tide was only a half hour above high, so there wasn’t really much beach; hence there weren’t any beach goers.  Just the two of us.

I climbed the rocks out to the point with Cody right behind.  Well, ahead.  Wait, now behind, but slightly off to the side.  Ah, the attention span of a puppy.  I sat down on the boulders just to admire the view, but there wasn’t much.  The mist was boiling in the slight breeze and the farthest end of the north beach was already hiding in it.  I could see only a couple hundred yards out to sea.  And again, the sound of the waves was the only thing I could hear.  Or so I thought.

I heard his paws on the stones and shells that make up the beach.  Coming from somewhere in a direction that I couldn’t pinpoint, I heard the disagreement of two gulls.  There was a subtle background symphony of pops, snaps and squeaks as the water receded from the seaweed and kelp the tide had stranded on the rocks.  I could hear the small rivulets, sprung from the melting snow of the beach path, splashing onto the boulders just above the beach on their way back to the ocean.

Other than that, nothing. There was absolutely nothing.  My mind was busy taking input; I was thinking of absolutely nothing.

I have spent most of my life multi-tasking, always thinking of things at the speed of light, as many things as I could, all day every day until I closed my eyes at night where I let them invade my sleep in order to dwell on them further.  I am the master at hearing two conversations at once, a cell phone in one ear, the speaker phone in the other while reading a text from some client in another part of the world.  No, I am not proud of this.  I am not bragging.  I am a little embarrassed about the fact that I can’t hear over the cacophony of my own thoughts on a regular basis and it’s basically because I am trying too hard to focus on work.  The last time I remember the ability to turn off my own thoughts was when I first got my piano and spent hours late at night with my eyes, ears, fingers and mind all focused on the little black and white doohickeys in front of me, desperately trying to figure out the secret pattern and their relationships to each other.  I know I’ve had this ability before.

I don’t think I’m alone in this.  I believe we all have too much to ponder now days, too much on our plates, worried about our jobs, about our kids, trying to focus on work, yaddi-yaddi-yadda. This is what kills us, what makes us age, what robs us of the awareness of the beauty around us.  Stop and smell the roses.  What a quaint thought.  I too can stop and smell the roses, think about next month’s budget reconciliation, the 5 year strategy due next week, the deadline for the next campaign and five minutes later I have to ask someone “where the heck are those petunias I stopped to water?”

With so many things coming at us, all seemingly at the same time with the same level of import, it’s hard to be able to take the luxury of emptying one’s head, learning to be still.  The clarity one achieves with it is amazing; maybe it’s a matter of focus.  When you get the luxury to focus on just one thing, it all appears that much simpler, that much more interesting.  If we had the time to give that much focus to each task we had to execute on, how much better would we perform, how much more effective and accurate?  This is my new goal, to learn to be still.  To regain my ability to focus, to lose the clutter.

And chances are, a puppy will train me.

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