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Posts Tagged ‘Lord Stirling Park’

June 6, 2013

Maybe it was the salsa music I was listening to as I drove to pick up Dad……. it’s all about attitude…..

As I signed into Chelsea, Dan informed me that Dad was in the tea room.  It was 10:45 am. Unless there is a fire alarm, Dad hasn’t been getting out of bed before 11:30!

“What’s he doing in the tea room?”

“Well, I don’t know”

“How long has he been there?”  I was flustered and didn’t know what else to say.

“I’m not really sure,” Dan replied.

That was the beginning of our exceptional day together.

Dad and Chris, fragrance garden, Lord Stirling Park, NJ

Dad and Chris, fragrance garden, Lord Stirling Park, NJ

I walked around the corner to the tea room where Dad sat looking through a small photo album of a someone’s wedding.  The New York Times was on his lap and a cup of coffee by his side.  He looked content and unusually alert.  We stopped in at his room for final preparation before walking out the door into the gorgeous, sunny day tickled by breezes.

“Can you hear the cicadas, Dad?

In an unusually loud and forceful voice he replied “WHAT?” …. and then chuckled.

“I guess that means you can hear them just fine.”

“Yes, of course I can hear them.”

He was walking tall.  Lately, he has been stooped over and I’ve been concerned.  No need for worry today.

Salsa music drowned sound of the cicadas as we pulled out of the parking lot.  After a few minutes, the music stopped and the news came on.  Dad leaned closer to the radio.  I waited.  He squinted his face and cupped his ear.  I waited.

“You know, Chris, as hard as I try to listen to what they’re saying, I don’t seem to be able to understand a word of it.”

“I think I know why, Dad.”

“Why?”

“They’re speaking in Spanish.”

“Oh, well, that explains it.”

He never did ask why I was listening to a Spanish station.  His mind drifted to other things such as the blue, blue sky, the lines of cars and the beautiful day.  I drove in silence with a smile on my face and my heart bursting with delight.  Dad hadn’t turned his face to the sky in several weeks and hadn’t commented on anything as we drove along or walked through the woods.

The parking lot at Lord Stirling Park was filled except for one space… lucky us.  I’ve never seen more than a dozen cars in the lot.  There were at least forty.  I’m not sure where everyone was.  We only saw three people during our visit, and one of them, Jack Gray, was parked in the lot at the other side of the visitor center.

“That’s an awful lot of solar panels,” Dad remarked as we passed in front of the Visitor Center.  For more than a year he had mentioned solar panels every time we passed a roof or field where they were installed.  Remarks about the high cost of installation and the length of time it takes to get a return on your investment always followed.  About three months ago, Dad stopped noticing solar panels.

“We’re going to have a great day today, don’t you think, Dad?”

“You betcha, Chris!”

"You betcha!"

“You betcha!”

First stop… as always … the fragrance garden.

The herbs looked lush, healthier than I’ve ever seen them.  I rubbed a few leaves to test the strength of the fragrance.  Most of the herbs aren’t scented enough for Dad to smell anymore.

“Try this one.”

He rubbed …. and sniffed.

“Hmmmmm …… spearmint.”

I was flabbergasted.  Not only could he smell the fragrance, he could tell which of the mints he was sniffing.

“Wow, Dad….. you even know that it’s spearmint!”

He gave me an “I’m not stupid” glance.  “I can still read, you know.”  A marker labeled spearmint stuck out of the ground on the other side of the plant.

Ouch.

Real Whopper

Real Whopper

As we left the garden we passed a tall spiky flower (false indigo?).  Dad simply couldn’t keep comments from spilling out today.  He was excited about everything.

“Now that’s a real whopper!”

“You betcha, Dad!” ….. I couldn’t resist…..

In just a week’s time, a raised sitting area had been constructed.  Of course, Dad had to test one of the new benches.

Making the big step up

Making the big step up

Did he approve?

Testing the bench

Testing the bench

After serious consideration, Dad gave his nod of approval.  Onward bound ……only to be stopped by yellow tape.

Blocked for the yearly Snake Synopsis

Blocked for the yearly Snake Synopsis

“Why do you think it’s blocked off?”

“I don’t know, Dad.  Maybe there’s a gang of bears that have taken over this part of the swamp.  Or maybe there’s a huge pile of snakes in the middle of the trail.  They gather here once a year on this very day.  The park has agreed to close off the trail so they can come and go as they please and gather together freely one day a year as long as they stay off the trails the rest of the year.”

“You always did have a great imagination, Chris.”

“I think I got it from you, Dad.  You used to make up wonderful stories for me at bedtime when I was little.”

I could almost hear the pages turning inside Dad’s brain as he searched for another word that started with “s”.

“You think it might be a Snake Synopsis?” he asked.

“I think we can find a better word.”  We both struggled for a bit.  The best we could do was a Spring Snake Symposium.  Not very good.

Jack Gray, The Fern Man of Bunny Fern Farm

Jack Gray, The Fern Man of Bunny Fern Farm

At this point we came upon Jack Gray planting a small garden of ferns.  We asked him if he knew why the trail was closed.  It turns out that he doesn’t work for the park.  He is The Fern Man of Bunny Fern Farm and volunteered to create a small fern garden beside the fragrant herbs. 

We headed in the opposite direction from the closed trail and walked the loop behind the Visitor Center.  The bugs weren’t too annoying, thanks to the cool breeze that was leading the predicted storm our way.  When the trail opened into the meadow we were welcomed by the essence of wafting wildflower scent.

Multiflora Rose and Honeysuckle

Multiflora Rose and Honeysuckle

Though multiflora rose can be overbearing, the combination of the rose and honeysuckle was refreshing and pleasantly exotic.

Dad enjoying the beauty and fragrance

Dad enjoying the beauty and fragrance

When I stopped to snap a few photos, Dad walked ahead, but not too far.  He stopped to take in the beauty.  I wasn’t quick enough to catch him leaning back, gazing up at the blue, blue sky, smiling from ear to ear.
When I was closer he looked at me, took a deep breath and said, “What a beeeeauuutiful place to walk.  Wheeeeeeew!”

“We’ve had a great day today, haven’t we, Dad?”

“You betcha!”

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May 30, 2013

It’s difficult to predict how many more walks my father and I will take together.  It could be a hundred …. and it could be only one. Dementia of any kind is such a puzzle, and totally unpredictable.

Do I really need both?

Do I really need both?

Dad appeared to be in another world today, distant, unengaged.  Though he had a great deal of difficulty getting out of his chair.  Once he was on his feet, he moved slowly……. very s-l-o-w-ly, but well-balanced and cautious. His standard remarks were left unsaid.  He didn’t glance at the sky until I mentioned it to him.  He didn’t ask about my family, or how I’ve been, or where we were going. He voiced only one concern.

“I don’t need both of those, do I?”

The opportunity to ask that same question came up at least six times before we headed to the herb garden at Lord Stirling Park.  I continued to simplify my answer until I ended up with.

“Either both or a walker, Dad.”

He surprised me the last time by saying, “Oh, I pulled you down, didn’t I?”

Months ago I had stopped mentioning the episode of his falling and yanking me down beside him on the ground.  It had only distressed him to think that he might have hurt me.  Perhaps memories continue to be made, only to be called into action at random.

I handed Dad his green sketchbook and pencil as we sat side by side in the herb garden.  As usual, he began reading his previous poems.  I assumed that he was avoiding writing something new.  Because of his extreme silence and lack of response to anything we passed on the way to the park, I decided to see what would happen if I didn’t remind him to write a new poem.  I began to draw….

Birdhouse beside the pond, Lord Stirling Park, NJ

Birdhouse by the pond, Lord Stirling Park

No more than five minutes passed before Dad settled in and put pencil to paper!  He didn’t even glance around at his surroundings.  He bent his head and focused on the words that poured from his pencil.  I suppose he doesn’t need to look around anymore to know what he would see. He feels the air on his cheeks and he knows he is outdoors.

Dad writing a poem

Dad writing a poem

On a Bench in the Park, Chris and Dad

The solid blue sky

Hovers overhead

While one tiny bird

Chirps a nice tune

The song of the bird

Is the only sound.

The leaves wave

But no breeze is heard.

That’s about all

There is to be said.

Enjoy the quietness

There is to be had.

I checked for the date

But my computer is dead.

So we’ll enjoy the silence

That is to be had.

June 30, 2014

When Dad’s phone appeared to be dead, he asked me the date.  I told him it was June 30th (my mistake…. it was still May).  For more than a year now he has thought it is 2014.  I was puzzled by his phone being dead since he had unplugged it from the charger right before we left Chelsea.  His phone was charged.  He just forgot how to turn it on.

Fortunately the bugs are not out yet at Lord Stirling Park.  We had a lovely, silent, s-l-o-w walk along the somewhat soggy paths.  Dad watched his feet the whole time, never looking up to the sky or out into the marshes.  It appeared that moving one foot in front of the other demanded all of his attention.  I’m glad I captured him square dancing a couple of weeks ago.

We took a short path, but not the shortest.  I spotted a bench and asked if he wanted to rest.  He shook his head and kept walking.  The day had grown quite warm and I feared Dad might overheat.  He had refused to change into his shorts, insisting that he would be fine in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

“Big sips, Dad, not tiny mouth sips.”

Each time Dad handed the water bottle back to me the water level looked about the same.

The trail brought us back to the herb garden where I found a bench in the shade of a grove of trees.  Out came the green sketchbook and pencil.  Again Dad read a few of his previous poems, and then set his mind to writing …. without any coaxing or coercing from me!

At a Later Date, Another Stroll in the Park

It’s quite warm.

Sweat runs down my right cheek.

Tiny birds flitter by.

A spider crawls across the page.

Tree’s leaves

Block the rays

Making it cool

To sit on the park bench

Resting the legs, —

Soothing the soul.

Nibbled Leaf

Nibbled Leaf

On occasion I’m asked why I draw rusty pipes, run-down shacks, lopsided trees and eaten leaves.  Why not draw lovely, new houses and perfectly shaped trees and leaves?

“Because real life is never perfect, except in its imperfectness, in its struggle and celebration of survival.”

I remember my first job, picking strawberries at Johnson’s Farm when I was fourteen.  I ended up being hired to work at the fruit stand where I sold the berries picked fresh each morning.  Most people wanted the large, perfectly shaped strawberries.  I sold them the big, beautiful berries wearing a smile on my face. They were practically tasteless, beauty without flavor.  I knew that the most delicious berries, the odd-looking little runts called “Sparkles” were the sweetest, most delicious of all the varieties and they would be the ones that hadn’t sold at the end of the day.  The Johnsons and I would be feasting on Sparkles for dessert after supper.  Some of the best moments are disguised by imperfections.

In the end, my walks with Dad will be among the many highlights of my life.  Fast or s-l-o-w, we walk together, sometimes talking, sometimes not.  Each step is so precious.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dad and I both needed a good walk in the woods.  I hoped that at least one of the trails at Lord Stirling Park had been cleared of fallen trees.  Hurricane Sandy devastated the area, uprooting giant trees as if they were blades of grass.

Chatter of Children on Trail Lord Stirling Park

Preschoolers on a field trip

Dad wore a giant smile as we trailed along behind a group of chattering children.  He commented on the fun they were having, splashing in the puddles, finding seed pods and running to catch up with their guide.  Eventually, we passed the group when they stopped to learn about the habitat of the blue herons.

Waling alone in silence

Walking alone in silence

Dad’s smile left his face as the silence of the woods replaced the laughter and chatter of the children.  My thoughts raced back to my childhood. I remember Dad smiling at me while giving me rides in the wheelbarrow.  I remember the airplane rides in the living room as he lay on the floor and lifted me up with his feet on my tummy.  When he knew I was safely balanced, he let go of my hands and let me fly above him with arms spread out like the wings of a bird. I remember riding on his shoulders.  I also the remember the piggyback ride he gave my daughters, Nicole and Alexis (both at the same time), when we spent the day together on the beach at Wildwood.  Dad has always loved children and loved playing with children.

Toppled and tilted trees

Toppled and tilted trees

Nature also brings a smile to Dad’s face.  He usually makes comments about the trees, their height, their straightness, their condition.  Today, he seemed unaware that something dramatic had happened in the woods.

Uprooted by Hurricane Sandy

Uprooted by Hurricane Sandy

Not once did he remark about the uprooted trees.  When I pointed them out, his expression never changed.  I wondered if his thoughts still lingered with the children and his own memories of childhood, his own, his children’s, his grand children’s and his great-grand children’s.

Hazardous Conditions

Hazardous Conditions

I had intended on taking a short loop, but Dad’s stamina was great and he opted for the longer loop.  By the time we reached the caution tape blocking the trail, Dad was ready for a rest.  Naturally, when one needs a bench or a log to sit on, in spite of fallen trees everywhere else, there wasn’t one in site.

Finally ..... a resting spot

Finally ….. a resting spot

Dad began to shuffle his feet, sway a bit from side to side and reach out to grab me for extra support.  Still no bench or log…… he stopped to lean on a tree, looked surprised that he was leaning on a tree and promptly started shuffling along again on the trail.  At last, we made our way back to the aromatic herb garden and a multitude of benches to rest on.

I didn’t have the heart to force Dad to write a poem.  He was happy to sit and rest.  In the distance we could hear the sound of the children preparing to return to their school.  I saw a smile return to Dad’s face.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

When Dad opened his door I was glad I’d taken my vitamins.

Dad writing a poem in his big black chair

He seemed quite content to return to his big black chair.  I handed him his green sketchbook and mechanical pencil.

Nothing ……

We headed for Lord Stirling Park.

Pushing for Poems

Pushing for Poems, –

May not work well, –

Good poems flow, –

Without a push – or a pull

I could write more words

But these words about

Say it pretty well

Adding more, would be dull.

***

“Those words are OK,

But don’t you have more?”

I am sure that I do,

But, — where did they go?

Walking the Trail, Lord Stirling Park

Though not a great day for writing, it was a wonderful day to walk the trails.

An incredible sky

Dad concentrates on his footing, often forgetting to turn his head from side to side.  I remind him to look at the autumn colors and the beautiful sky.

Dad stopping to admire the sky

When reminded, he stops to soak up the beauty of the clouds, calculating the speed of them as they make their way across the sea of blue.

autumn begins in New Jersey

Each new moment is more beautiful than the last.  When I ask Dad if he knows what season it is… he doesn’t.  When I ask him what year it is he replies, “2014”.

Lost in a world of autumn grass

One foot in front of the other.  One foot in front of the other.  No stories, no questions.  One foot in front of the other.

A winding path

We weave our way through the fields of grass.  The insects, birds and frogs scream loudly but Dad hears only the roar of a distant plane.  That, too, becomes silent.

Retracing our steps

In spite of precautions, nature calls and Dad heads into the woods.  I call to him when he fails to return.  He is making his own way, deeper into the woods.  We call, back and forth, until he has returned to me.

Turning back

I decide to turn back, knowing that Dad needs a rest.  We return to the herb garden where our journey began.

Black-Eyed Susans, past their prime

We sit on the benches

Chris and I – Resting from our fresh

walk through the woods

Clouds drift by

While we both write.

The clouds seem the same

As they did years ago, –

When I, as a kid

Looked up at the sky

I could write more

But the words, above,

Seem to say all, —

That I have to say, today.

Sept 20, 2012

Birdhouse at the edge of the pond beside the fragrant herbs

The silence is awesome

The leaves are still

The clouds in the sky

Seem to be frozen pell mell.

No movement at all

Can be seen, even when

Clouds are lined up with branches

Hanging down, quietly and still.

Some days are better than others.  Today was beautiful.  I will remember the sounds, the light, the smells and walking beside my father as his memory slips away.  As long as he is able, we will walk, side by side, enjoying the feel of the ground beneath our feet, the wind caressing our cheeks and the blue, blue sky above.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

One of the best days Dad and I have had in a long while!  Dad’s energy was high and his writing poured out onto the pages. The weather was glorious and our spirits were high.

Carefully parked K-car

When I park the car I try to find a spot where Dad can throw the door open without hitting anything, such as another car.  I try to avoid problems whenever I can so that we have the best chance possible to have a wonderful day together.

Dad gently rubbing the fragrant herb leaves

I drove to Lord Stirling Park.  Dad surprised me when he remembered that before our picnic we rub the leaves of the herbs to see if his sniffer is still working.  It wasn’t.  The only scent he could detect at all was a subtle whiff of camphor.

Gramps writing first poem of the day

I waited until after our picnic lunch … then handed him his green sketchbook and pencil.

Dad reading his poem aloud

Poems emerge

From images within

Of times gone by.

It seems that just

As we try to grasp one

It slips through our brain waves, –

And splashes away.

That is sad, because, –

Times have been good

Very good, indeed.

Dad walking the trail

We headed into the swamp along dry, level trails.

A world of beauty and mystery

For the first time in a long while, the weight and worry of my father’s dementia lifted from my shoulders.  We walked together, bathed in the beauty of the moments.

Another bench …. another poem

We stopped at each bench along the way.  Dad wrote a lovely poem …. his muse was enjoying the beauty of the day, too.

One last bench, one last poem

The poems are meant to be shared at another time ……  you’ll just have to wait.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dad was in a deep sleep when I arrived.  He stumbled as he wandered over to his card table and began asking me what the different papers were on the table.  He opened his cell phone to check the date and time.  The cell phone was dead.  No wonder it transferred to the phone message when I called him to tell him I was on my way.  He looked to his calendar as if to locate himself.

“Ah…. it says it’s Grand Daddy’s Birthday!  He was born in 1898.  Is it June 7th today, Chris?”

We had a few minutes before we left to drive to Dr. Frisoli’s for Dad’s vitamin B12 shot. I handed Dad his green notebook and a mechanical pencil.

Extrusion

Words squeezed out

Of a sleepy brain

Trying to make sense

Seems in vain.

During the ten minute drive to the doctor’s we played the Dust Off the Cobweb Game again.  This time he remembered whom I was married to, how many children I have, as well as their sex and names!  When we arrived at the doctor’s, we had to wait again.  Out came the pencil and the book.

Illustrated Birthday Poem

Grand Daddy’s birthday

Is today

Born June 7th

1898

How LUCKY we are

To have been born

How great a world!

How great a day!

6/7/12

From Dr. Frisoli’s we went to Benny’s for an early lunch.  I wanted to let them know the house sold.  Again, we found ourselves seated and waiting.  This time we were waiting for our delicious lunch to arrive.  Dad asked his favorite question (for the fourth time already that morning).

“So how’s the family?”

I told him again that Alexis and Nicole would be coming to see him next week and I repeated what each of the kids are currently doing.  When I mentioned that Mike is paragliding, Dad smiled.

“I always had a love for flying….. I always loved flying!”

Out came the book and the pencil.

Trying to remember what he was going to write about.

Flying

Flying was a dream of mine

As I watched the birds in flight

that may be one reason why

I joined the Air Force, to fly on high

It was a good choice

It took me to Yale

I received gold bars

To The Pacific took sail.

He put down his pencil and stared intently at the glass display case.

Cookies for Sale

“Why, that’s pretty darn close to thirteen dollars if you ask me.”

Helen arrived, looking gorgeous in turquoise blue.  She and Benny already knew about the house.  They had seen Jane and Dad just a few days before.  Helen shared the good news of her daughter’s recent employment as a writer.

Helen and Dad

During lunch we played a new memory game, Name the Livestock.

BOVINES:

Guernsey – White faced, brown bodies

Jersey – Brown – almost solid brown, white nose, feet and tail

Angus – Black

Hereford – white face, brown (the description was later changed to “a young female cow of any kind.”

A pause …… “Are we talking about cows?”

“Yes, Dad, you are naming the different kinds of cows.  What about the black and white cows? Not the ones with the band around the middle, but the spotty ones.  Do you remember their name?”

“I can’t come up with it.  Pigs …. New Hampshire …. Black and White.”

Clue – “H”

Another clue – “HO….”

“Holstein”

“Are they black and white, Dad?”

“I’ll have to think about it.” ………….”What am I fishing for?”

We moved on to pigs.

PIGS:

Duroc – Red pigs

New Hampshire – Black with white band and tail

“That’s all I remember.”

“What are the white pigs called?”

“Maybe Berkshire.”

“What are the black and white spotted ones?”

“Poland China. I had a Poland China, a gilt (young female).”

“What kind of pig was the one that died because you forgot to water it?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Do pigs cross mate?”

“I don’t recall that they did.  The farmers probably made sure they didn’t.”

“I’d like to see a red one with a white band.”

“I don’t think the farmers would go for that.”

“Artists would.”

“Artists ….. and the pigs probably would.”  Dad smiled.

SHEEP:

“What about sheep?”

I don’t know if I can remember.  I don’t believe I can come up with that. Hmmmmm. Nope.  Don’t remember.”

We didn’t move on to POULTRY.  Instead, we drove to Lord Stirling Park.  We passed a gas station on the way up the hill. Dad chuckled again, seeing a sign for Premium gas at $3.99 per gallon.

“That’s pretty darn close to $4.00.”

I parked the car and we headed directly for Boondocks Boardwalk at the far end of the park.  Dad was feeling wide awake now and confident that he had the stamina for a long walk.

Honeysuckle was in full bloom along the path.

Dad picking the honeysuckle blossom

Extracting the nectar

Tasting the Honeysuckle

Dad had never tasted honeysuckle.  I taught him how to extract the nectar from the blossom.  Sadly, he couldn’t taste the sweetness.  Just as his sniffer isn’t working so well anymore, neither are his taste buds.

Further along, white wings filled the air, flitting from blossom to blossom.

Butterfly or Moth?

I still hadn’t taken the time to research whether this white-winged insect that we saw each week was a butterfly or a moth.  Dad insisted it was a moth because it didn’t have any colors.  Today, his opinion remained the same.

A diversion from journaling the day’s walk ……

During this past weekend’s Keyport Garden Walk Plein Air Event one of these winged creatures landed on a bush beside me.  I asked my friend if he thought it was a butterfly or a moth.  He, like my Dad, grew up on a farm.  “I’d call it a moth,” he said.  “Why?” I asked.  “It doesn’t have any color,” he answered.

I finally took the time to find a more definite answer.  Both butterflies and moths are classified in the order of Lepidoptera.  Butterflies and moths differ from one another in five basic ways:

1. Antenna – (Butterflies – rounded clubs on the end) (Moths – thin, often feathery)

2. Body – (B – thin and smooth) (M – thick and fuzzy)

3. Active – (B – usually during the day) (M – usually during the night)

4. Pupal Stage – (B- chrysalis) (M- cocoon)

5. Wings – (B – held vertically when resting) (M – flat against body when resting)

Only two of the above can be attributed, definitely, to the insect in question.  We definitely observe the activity during the day and the wings are definitely held vertically during the very brief moments of rest.  I believe the butterflies we see on our walks are in the family, Pieridae.  Pierids are rather conspicuous white, yellow, or orange butterflies, with around 1000 species worldwide.

I’ll never convince Dad that it is a butterfly.

Halfway to our destination I noticed an odd expression on his face.

“Are you doing okay, Dad?”

“I could use a rest stop.”

Bench

“Perfect timing, Dad.”  I pointed to the bench about four feet ahead of us.

“Not that kind of rest stop, Chris.”

We turned around and headed back toward the Visitor’s Headquarters, but we had walked too far.  Nature demanded immediate attention.  Dad tromped off into the woods.  He returned with a smile on his face.  He was determined to resume our hike to Boondocks Boardwalk.  We turned around again and headed, once more, for the far end of the park.

Picking up the pace

Dad was walking surprisingly well.  His balance was good, his gait strong and posture straight and tall.  As we walked, we shared with one another our first experiences with shitting in the woods.  I remember learning my own personal technique from my mother.  I passed the technique on to my campers when I found myself a camp counselor at Camp Speers / Eljabar, in charge of twelve girls rafting or canoeing down the Delaware River for five days straight.

Black Snake basking in the sun

We were not the only ones enjoying the heat of the day.

Left behind

It’s not unusual for us to discover abandoned equipment among the trees.

“Looks like it was used for hauling logs.  Looks like something heavy was on it.”

It seemed to me that a car would be just as heavy as logs on the frame.  I asked Dad why he thought it hauled logs instead of being the frame for a car.

“It has springs on it.”

Taking a break

A Walk In The Woods

With Chris and bugs

Sweat dripping down

Off of the chin

She’s taking pictures

And writing a bit

I’m writing too

While on a bench I sit

The day has no sound

It’s as quiet as can be

Blue sky and green leaves

Is all that I see

No it isn’t,

There’s nature all ’round

Including mosquitoes

Interrupting me now

.. Dad ..

Silence of the birds

“Don’t you hear the birds, Dad?”

“No, I don’t.  I have ringing in my ears.  Maybe it’s the same frequency and I can’t tell the difference.  No …. I don’t hear birds at all. Do you hear birds?”

“Yes, Dad, they are louder than that plane….. Do you hear the plane?”

“Yes, I do hear the plane.  But I don’t hear birds.”

Boardwalk to Nowhere

We reached the beginning of Boondocks Boardwalk!

A bloom between the boardwalk boards

The swamp plants are varied and spectacular.

Swamp Plants

I can’t resist snapping photos of the variety of shapes.

Dad’s shadow shape

“Don’t you want the shape of my shadow in your photo?”

“Sure, Dad.”

Around the next curve, the boardwalk was blocked by golf carts filled with tools.  Beyond the carts were several men rebuilding a section of the boardwalk.  Ever so carefully we navigated our way around the carts.

Boardwalk Repairs

The men were a bit startled by our arrival and our desire to continue our walk.

“Do you think we can make the step across?” I asked.

They looked even more startled.

“How about if we lay a plank across,” they offered as they warmed up to our adventure.

“Excellent!”

Laying the plank

“So …. you’re going to make your Dad walk the plank?  What kind of way is that for you to treat your Dad?”

Now everyone was totally into the adventure.

“How about two planks?”

“Sure, that’s even better.”

Laying the second plank

As they lay the second plank they warned me about the topsy-turvy nature of the boardwalk up ahead.

“Thanks.  We’ve walked it before.  I hold my Dad’s hand while we’re on the roller coaster section.”

“You wouldn’t mind then, sir, if we hold your hand while you walk the planks?”

“No….. not at all.”

Walking the Planks

A good time was had by all.  Dad and I continued along our way.

Tipped pilings

Gentle tips and turvies

Check the earlier Boondocks Boardwalk post to see photos of the extreme slants of the boardwalk as it winds its way through the far end of the swamp.

Dad’s energy level was starting to drop.  We stopped for another rest at what is called The Dance Floor.

Writing the last poem of the day

I see that I’ve written

about mosquitoes and sweat

well, both are still here

A’plenty, you bet!

We left the boardwalk behind and started back toward the car.  The path was level and without obstructions.  No need to hold Dad’s hand.  We paused every now and then to drink more water.  Dad’s fatigue was beginning to show by the shuffle of his feet.  His posture was a bit more stooped, but his balance was still quite good ….. or so I thought.

For no apparent reason Dad lost his balance.  In an effort to catch himself, he grabbed my arm with both of his hands and jerked me to the ground, much to the displeasure of my titanium hip.  We both lay still for a moment, neither one of us able to get up.  Slowly, I managed to stand.  My hip hurt, but I was pretty certain it was okay.  I think the muscles were wrenched in an unusual way and they were letting me know.  Dad still lay on the ground.

“What just happened?  Why did I fall?  Did I trip on something?  Why can’t I get up?”

“Relax, Dad.  Just give me a minute.”

I tried to help him up, but he wasn’t doing anything on his own.  He grabbed onto me and pulled.

“Dad, let go!  You’re going to pull me down again!”

He let go.

“Okay….. let’s do this carefully.  You’re going to have to stand up on your own, Dad.  I can help balance you, but I can’t hold all of your weight.”

It took at least five minutes for him to make the necessary maneuvers.

“Why can’t I do this?  I can’t believe that I fell.  I can’t believe it is so difficult for me to get up…………”

When he was finally standing.  We waited another few minutes before moving on.

“Dad, we are going to hold hands and we are going to walk very, very slowly.”

I didn’t dare let go of him even to get a walking stick for him to use.  Had I thought about it, I would have grabbed a stick before he stood up.

We made it to the parking lot and almost to the car.  He started to lose his balance again and grabbed my arm with his free hand.  Fortunately, there was a parked car in front of mine.  We fell against the parked car instead of landing on the sharp gravel.

Once again, I brought my Dad back to Chelsea covered in blood.  He had scraped his arm badly when he fell in the woods.  Vicki cleaned him up nicely and scheduled an evaluation for him.  Hopefully, he will begin to get physical therapy to maintain and build strength that he has lost by spending most of his time sleeping in his chair instead of taking his seven mile daily hikes and maintaining a one acre yard and a crumbling house.

Walking sticks will be our constant companions from now on!

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In spite of the recent rain I looked forward to tromping through the woods with Dad.  I hadn’t visited for three weeks due to a wall mural I’m working on.  When I arrived I found him wide awake and reading the newspaper.  Hooray!  I had expected to find him asleep in his chair as I usually do.  We began our day together with big hugs and smiles.

Our departure to the woods was delayed for about an hour and a half due to a plumbing issue.  While attempting to find solutions to the issue, I heard myself ask Dad a question I stopped asking many months ago, “What have you been up to lately?”  Without hesitation he answered …..

“Well, I’ve just been trying to keep track of who I am and where I am going.”

During our delay, I gave Dad a drawing lesson.

Dad’s drawings of his string ties

The concept of a contour drawing had been lost along with everything else he had learned about drawing what you see and not what you think you see.

Dad’s Landscape Jasper String Tie

I drew an example for him in green ink.  While Dad attempted a few more contour drawings, I filled my drawing in with markers to make it look more real for him.  The example hadn’t helped, so I drew him another one of a coiled string tie this time so he could clearly see that I was not simply drawing an outline.

Coiled String Tie

I realize that the concept of a contour drawing is not that easy.  However, Dad had done a few remarkable contour drawings about six months ago without a problem.  He asked why we were drawing.  I explained that in the past, drawing had made it easier for him to find words to write in his book and that it was great brain exercise.  To prove my point, I asked him to write something about string ties.

String ties

and square dancing

were common to the night

and swayed with the music.

String ties

first were worn

during square dancing.

All the men

wore string ties.

No two were alike.

Some had stones

Others were only metal

All were decorative.

Dad’s poem and drawing

At the bottom of the page Dad drew a great contour drawing of the metal tip at the end of his string tie.  Maybe writing helps his drawing just as drawing helps his writing.

With the plumbing issue resolved, we left for Lord Stirling Park.

Columbine in the herb garden

Dad tried to smell the aromatic herbs, but his sniffer wasn’t working, not even for the strongest of the herbs.  We sat in the gazebo, surrounded by gorgeous Columbine and Blue False Indigo eating our peanut butter and jam sandwiches.

Lost in the beauty of the flowers

Dad took a long time eating his lunch.  He stared out into the garden as if he had forgotten that he was eating and forgotten where he was.  While Dad stared and munched, I drew the Blue False Indigo.

Blue False Indigo with one pressed blossom

When he finished, I handed him paper and a pencil.  I’d left his green sketchbook in his room.

Dad writing after lunch

The walk of the day

Is the best part.

But to walk

I should first write.

Wright?

Right!

‘Tis a wonderful day in May

as anyone should be prone to say

(a walker, while roaming the woods,

Waved with a smile,

as she went strolling by)

The flowers and leaves in the trees

Wave in the gently blowing breeze

while Chris, with camera in hand

Snaps pictures of wonders she sees.

Dad’s hands

Words were written and it was time to walk.  As expected, the trails were wet, extremely wet.  In no time at all, our feet were soaked and our shoes coated with mud.  We decided to do only the short loop and head back to play cards.

It was Dad’s choice to play Crazy Eights instead of Rummy 500Rummy 500 would have been the better choice. The rules to the game had vanished along with the understanding of contour drawings.  When it was Dad’s turn, he often picked up the card I had just played instead of playing a card by following suit or number.

“Are there any wild cards in this game?”

“Eights, Dad….. that’s why they call it Crazy Eights.”

“Oh, well, that makes sense.”

When his turn came round again, which happens very quickly in the game of Crazy Eights, Dad asked, “Are there any wild cards in this game?  Are two’s wild?”

“No Dad, I think if they were, they would call the game Crazy Two’s.

“Oh, okay.”

With each play, I explained that only the eights were wild.  We played the best two out of three hands.  Naturally …. Dad won!

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Dad and I had a fabulous day!

Be forewarned ….. this is a long post.

I got out of bed at 3:30 am.  By 10:00 I’d already accomplished a great deal.  My sense of satisfaction gave me a totally optimistic attitude about the day.  I made two giant sandwiches, grabbed two bright yellow napkins, two water bottles and the blue suede sketchbook that I’d given Dad to use at Chelsea … but he never did. I had one page left in my black ‘Walks with Dad’ sketchbook and I had a feeling I would need to start Book II.

I called Dad to remind him to make his bed and to let him know I was on my way.  Today was the day for Dad and I to walk the complete trail at Lord Stirling Park.  For one reason or another, we never made it to Boondocks Boardwalk.  In another week we might be battling with thousands of inchworms hanging from the trees and mosquitoes eating us alive.

Dad hadn’t made his bed and he had shaved only half his face.  I was delighted to see him anyway.  We both were in excellent spirits.  Together we made the bed, Dad shaved the rest of his face, grabbed a sweater, checked his pocket for his key and his neck for his alarm.  I grabbed the week’s newspapers to recycle …. and we were off.

The fragrance garden at Lord Stirling Park

It was a bit early for lunch, but it made sense to visit the herb garden first, eat lunch, then set out for Boondocks Boardwalk.  I reminded Dad to rub the leaves gently, then smell the fragrance on his fingertips.  He proceeded to mutilate the plants without the reward of the pleasant fragrance.

“As my Dad used to say, I don’t smell so good anymore.”

I handed Dad his green sketchbook and asked him to write a few words before we ate lunch.  I’m such a dreadful taskmaster.  I’m surprised he puts up with me.

The columbine are just beginning to bloom.  It was just about this time last year when I began to chronicle our walks together.

Virginia Blue Bells, Lord Stirling Park, NJ

As Dad wrote, I made a quick sketch of a blooming Virginia Blue Bell.

Enjoying the Day 4/19/12

Sitting in the sun

In New Jersey

Enjoying the day

With Chris

Solid blue

is the sky

Comfortable temperature, —

If wearing a sweater.

Silent breeze

Moves the leaves

This is the moment

We can cease (seize).

A bird flies over

Emitting a raucous caw

Is he, or she, claiming territory

Or just enjoying the day

…. Dad with Chris …

The sketchbooks were traded for two giant sandwiches.

“I made us something much better than the open-faced banana sandwiches we had a couple of weeks ago.”

“Mmmmmmmmmmmm.”

“What kind of sandwich do you think it is, Dad?”

“Well, it’s not tuna fish ….. but it is some sort of fish.”

“No”

“Is it turkey?”

“No”

“Is it chicken””

“Yes.  It’s curried chicken salad with cucumber and baby arugula on incredibly delicious whole grain bread. I guess you could say you don’t taste so good either.”

“Why? Because I didn’t compliment you on your sandwich?”

“No, Dad …. because you thought it was fish!”

“When?”

I don’t know if I will ever really get used to Dad losing track of the conversation so quickly.

I was without mercy.  Before heading out on the trail I handed Dad his green sketchbook again and asked him to write a few words about lunch.

About my Lunch

One half of a sandwich

Was ample it seems

It is now time to consider

Walking the woods and streams

Some say rhyming doesn’t matter

“It’s really not that important”

In fact it can often be

Quite distracting

We headed to the far end of the swamp, Boondocks Boardwalk!

The trail to Boondocks Boardwalk

We entered another dimension, somewhere between a sci-fi movie and the land of faerie folk. A blanket of Spring Beauties covered the ground.

Spring Beauties

Occasionally there were flecks of purple from the wild violets.

Violets among the Spring Beauties

A shaggy barked tree loomed over us as if to warn us that we were not in Kansas anymore.

Shaggy Barked Tree

We then came upon a beech tree that one might see in a Faerie Tale, the home of little creatures.

Storybook Beech Tree

Dad followed me off the trail toward the peculiar beech tree.  He then continued on into the woods away from the trail.

“Dad, that’s not the path!”

“What is?”

“It’s over here.”

We continued on our way through a bizarre grove of mutated trees, mostly beech.  I really need to investigate how trees manage to mingle with one another and even growing back into themselves.  I noticed the first two trees because they looked as if they were waltzing together.  I didn’t realize how attached they had become.

Waltzing trees

Two trees grown together

Limb growing back into another branch of the same tree

Branch growing into trunk of another species

And there were more mutations in every direction.

Growing together

A fashionable flare

Dramatic angles

We left the odd trees behind and ventured deeper into the woods.  We found an old car that apparently veered off the trail many years ago.  Dad thought it might be an old Studebaker from the shape of it.

Car wreck... Did it hit a tree?

The woods changed, the blanket of wildflowers became denser and a sweet fragrance filled the air.

Faerieland

“This truly is like a faerieland, Dad.”

“Much of the world is like a faerieland” was his response.

At one point the trail left the woods and led us around a meadow.

Lenape Meadow

“The south-side is better.” Dad announced.  I hadn’t a clue as to what he was talking about.

“The brambles are all reaching south to the sun.  I’m having to dodge thorn bushes because I’m walking on the north-side of the the trail and you’re walking on the south-side of the trail.”

The blue, blue sky and a long, long trail.

As soon as the trail widened Dad stopped to admire the sky.  I told him that if I were ever to make a sculpture of him, I would carve him in the position he takes when admiring the sky.

“I wasn’t really thinking about the sky…. ”  He started singing a song:

There’s a long, long trail a winding

unto the land of my dreams,

Where the Nightingales are singing

And the moonlight gleams.

He went on to explain ….

” I was thinking what a long, long trail this is and the words to the song just followed that thought.”

“Are you tired, Dad?”

“I’m fine.”

I told him I hoped we would make it to the far side of the swamp.

“That’s pretty ambitious.  I hope you can carry me back.”

“If you can’t make it back, I think I’ll just leave you there.”

“It’s a good way to go.”

“There are certainly worse ways.”

A little further up the trail, the boardwalk began.

The boardwalk through the swamp

We walked ….

More boardwalk

And we walked ….

Quickening his pace

And we walked …..

Path to nowhere

“I guess we won’t go that way, Chris.” Dad pointed to the boards that led to nowhere.

And we walked some more ….

Approaching The Dance Floor

Until we came to The Dance Floor, an observation deck above the swamp.

Almost at our destination

We climbed the stairs to the observation deck and rested.  I sketched Dad as he wrote in his book.

Dad writing while resting on the observation deck

The Woods

With a stream running through

With the trees reaching

For the clear, clear blue sky

With their branches’ new sprouts

Announcing that summer is near

And that shade will soon appear.

The floating white clouds

Glide silently over our heads.

Their reflections gleam in the stream.

While Chris and I write

I hope our lines will reflect

some of the beauty here seen and felt.

Dad 4/19/12

We continued on, passing through a “Gateway to Somewhere.

The Gateway to Somewhere

And finally we arrived at our destination, the Boondocks Boardwalk, a roller coaster of a boardwalk.

Boondocks Boardwalk

The slant of the boards was so extreme at some points that I insisted on holding Dad’s hand.  It seems inevitable that I lead him into danger on our weekly walks.  When he moved too close to the edge I mentioned that he had stepped off the edge of the dam a couple of weeks ago and cracked his head on some rocks.

“I remember looking at the ground up close.”

Sometimes Dad’s memory works!

We reached the far end of the swamp and circled back.  Along the way we rested.

Bench Number One

Bench Number Two

Between Bench Number One and Bench Number Two I found a snake on the trail.

Snake

“I think you better move it off the path, Chris.  We wouldn’t want it to get stepped on.”

I carefully lifted the stiff, already dead snake, off the path.

Dad was weary and his feet shuffled a bit along the trail.  But his eyes were bright and he wore a smile.  He had done it.  He had walked to the far end of the swamp and back.  I was relieved.  I really didn’t want to leave him to sleep on the topsy-turvy planks of Boondocks Boardwalk.

We returned to Chelsea.  In the parking lot I handed Dad his green sketchbook one last time.

One last entry for the day.

April 19, 2012

What a great, sunshiny day with Chris!  Not a cloud in the deep, blue sky.  We enjoyed riding in the car, chatting about this and that.  My 88-year old joints ache a wee bit, but walking in the woods is what the joints and the mind need.  I ponder what Louise, Ann and David and families might be doing at his moment.  It’s been 89 great years, working on the 90th! Wow.

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Retracing my steps is something I rarely do.  As a result, I challenge Dad’s ability to handle uneven paths, muddy terrain and steep hills.  He’s a good sport and never complains.  Today I made the call to turn back and retrace our steps.

I was unable to reach Dad by phone prior to leaving my house.  I left messages on his cell phone and his land line phone, telling him I was on my way.  I wasn’t sure he would retrieve them.

An odd choice

The door was unlocked and his room was dark.  Dad lay asleep in his recliner, his body covered with sheets of newspaper.  When I woke him, he folded the papers and made a pile of them beside his chair.  I took another look for the Atlas of Aviation, a birthday gift from Louise and Dave that had vanished a couple of days after its arrival.  Though I didn’t find the atlas, I did find a copy of The Pregnant Virgin on the table beside his chair.  It seemed like an odd choice of reading material for Dad.  He had no idea where it came from and found it just as odd as I did.

“Why on earth would I read a book like that?”

His cell phone rang in his pocket.  Dad looked utterly baffled.

“Why would my phone be ringing?”

“Perhaps someone would like to talk to you.”

“But why would it be ringing?”

No wonder I didn’t get through to him when I called earlier in the morning.

We grabbed his coat, gloves and mud-walking shoes from the closet.  As we walked down the hallway I noticed that Dad was unsteady.  Usually, after about fifteen minutes of walking his balance kicks in and his pace picks up.  Our destination was Ehlens Brook, 46 acres of old hardwood forest containing five brooks, steep hillsides and two large detention basins. “Trail status in 2005 — existing streamside pathways, not planned, marked or cleared.  Surface is rocky, rooted, many stopovers.  Following streams is the easiest traverse.”  A perfect hike for an eighty-nine year old man with unsteady balance …. what was I thinking?  The address given for the start of the trail is 12 Timber Ridge.

Twelve Timber Ridge, Ehlens Brook Trail

The trail begins at the end of a cul-de-sac.  We changed into our shoes and stepped off the road into the woods.

A tree trying to keep up with the Joneses

There is no trail, but the underbrush is sparse, well-cleared by hungry deer. We moved slowly.  Dad’s balance continued to be shaky.  He found a good walking stick to help him cross the narrow brooks.  With the help of the stick and my hand, we crossed back and forth over small brooks five times.  Dad had difficulty choosing where to place his feet.

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk cabbage poked through the leaves like an infestation of alien creatures preparing to take over the earth.

Fallen Beech Trees

We came upon two fallen giants, beech trees that had grown up together like childhood sweethearts.  They lay, having fallen in opposite directions, casualties of the October snow storm that had taken down so many trees, the weight of wet snow upon branches still covered with leaves.  Link to short movie of the two fallen trees.

Fallen trees blocked our path whichever way we turned.  It was difficult for Dad to climb over the thick trunks.

Dad resting on a fallen tree

Dad kept looking up, perhaps searching for the blue, blue sky he loves so much and finding only a blanket of gray clouds. I decided to turn back.  He had no objection to my choice.  All the way back we spoke of the giant beech trees.  Upon reaching the car I handed Dad his sketchbook and asked him to write a few words about the beautiful giants now lying like fallen monuments upon the forest floor.

“What trees?”

We ate a banana and headed to Lord Stirling Park. I knew the trail there was flat. We had taken our first Thursday Walk together there almost a year ago.  Dad was quiet as I drove.  I asked him what it was he was thinking about.

“I saw that pickup truck and remembered when I wanted my father to buy one.”  He bought a hitch and trailer instead.

Back on the Farm

I wanted my dad to buy a pick-up truck.

Our neighbors had one.

“I can’t justify it”

Was the answer.

I later learned the term

“Return on Investment.”

He bought a trailer, –

Hitched it to the car’s bumper

The Herb Garden at Lord Stirling Park

The herb garden has not yet awakened from winter.  Only a few mint leaves dared to poke through the soil.  I showed Dad again how to gently rub the leaves and sniff the fragrance.

Dad carrying our picnic lunch

We enjoyed eating our sunflower butter and rhubarb jam sandwiches on the bench in the garden.

St. Patrick's Day cookies from Chelsea

A hedge of pussy willows separated us from the lake.

Willow Catkins

Grandmother Carter loved pussy willows.  They grew on the farm back by the swamp.  She would cut them and bring them back to the house.

“They were different, thought.  Ours had thicker stems and the buds didn’t stick out that way.  These have a little ball with a seed at the end of each whisker.”

View from the Observation Deck

The trail was groomed, fresh wood chips covered wet areas and new planking kept our feet dry.  Dad still had difficulty balancing, but the threat of falling was minimal.

Hammered or power-driven?

Before leaving the observation deck Dad pointed to the screws.

“Do you think those were driven in with a power drill or a hammer?” he asked.

“I’ve never heard of anyone hammering in screws, Dad, have you?”

“Some nails are threaded you know.”

“But they don’t have slots in the head.”

Hawthorn Tree

Along the trail we found a cluster of trees with extremely large thorns.  When we returned to the Educational Center I asked Doe, the woman at the desk, if she knew what kind of trees they are.  She was new to the job and didn’t have the answer, but was happy to ask Marvelous Monica in the back room who knows just about everything.  A few minutes later Doe returned, smiling.  She identified the trees as hawthorn trees.  The fact that they are clustered together indicates that the spot in the woods, at one time, was where a dwelling once stood.  The hawthorn trees were often planted for protection, a barbed fence of sorts.

Thorns of the Scary Hawthorn Tree

Doe went on to tell me of another use for the tree.  Apparently the Shrike, or ‘Butcher Bird’ impales its prey on the thorns for later consumption, using the hawthorn as a ‘larder’.

Roots, Rocks and Relics

On a lighter note ….. The current exhibit in the gallery hall is Roots, Rocks and Relics, artwork of the AP Grade 12 students fro Ridge High School.  The work is exceptional.

Art by Ricky Jara

Art by Grace Cheung

Art by Peter Woo

Lord Stirling Park

The Great Swamp, New Jersey

3/15/2012

Chris and I are resting in a gallery of art work done by H. S. Students.

Imaginations went wild: drawings on placards 3′ x 4′ to 6’x6′ to 2′ x 12′.

On the floor’s center are three platforms, 4′ x 8′, displaying sculpturings of Sea life,

8 to 18 plus in number per platform.

We thanked Doe for her help and returned to the car where we changed our shoes and stashed the muddy ones in plastic bags.  That system has worked well for us and saves me a great deal of scrubbing when we return to Chelsea.

Turning back had been a good choice.  There are enough trails that are without rocks, brambles and fallen limbs.  There are trails with benches to sit on and rest, write and draw. I don’t know how many more weeks of walks Dad and I will have together.  I am grateful for each one.

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In spite of the rain Dad and I headed to Lord Stirling Park to picnic among the aromatic mints and lavender.

View from the Scent Garden

The morning started with juggled rescheduling of plans.  I regret that we canceled meeting Corina and Chloe at Watchung Reservation.  I knew my tolerance level was diminished due to my lingering head cold.  I couldn’t count on myself to keep four soggy walkers in good spirits.  It turned out that the rain stopped when we arrived at Lord Stirling Park.

Before our excursion to the swamp, I cleaned Dad’s room a bit, sorting through piles of paper that accumulated on his floor and tables.  Along with the abundance of napkins and score sheets games Dad continues to win, I found several books that he had borrowed from the Chelsea library.  I found twenty-two books to be exact, each with a napkin marking his place, somewhere between page fifteen and page thirty of each book.

Dad was baffled by the pile of books, not knowing where they had come from.  He sorted through the pile eight times before we carried them upstairs to return them to the library where he sorted through them another three times.  The problem was that one of them had been inscribed “Happy Birthday, Dad.  Love, Mark, Joanne and Chris.”  He was sure the book was his because it said “Happy Birthday, Dad” and because one of the names was Chris.  It didn’t seem to matter that he doesn’t have any children or mates of children who are named Mark or Joanne.  The only names that mattered were Dad and Chris.  He kept asking me how the books got into his room if they weren’t his.  Eventually, we were able to leave the stack of books behind and left for Lord Stirling Park.

In spite of my impaired patience I felt optimistic about the day.  A birthday card from Jane and Dad had been placed on Dad’s table to welcome me.  I opened it to discover that Dad had written a wonderful birthday poem for me. There is even a bit of rhyming in it! (Thank you, Jane!)

It is a very special scene

The date of October nineteen,

For on that date some years ago

A brand new life was to be seen.

Candles were lit

On that day ever since

to celebrate

That very special birth.

And may it be

for many years more

A great life to celebrate

From shore to shore and shining shore.

Love, Dad

I am still smiling inside, treasuring such a special gift.  I have noticed that it is increasingly difficult for Dad to put words together on paper.  I knew that our opportunities today were limited due to the rain-soaked benches that we would ordinarily use for drawing and writing.  I did bring plastic garbage bags to sit on, but the mosquitoes were ravenous and disturbed our moments of creative solitude.

Dad gently rubbing the scented leaves

Though it has been about two months since we visited the Scent Garden, Dad immediately began rubbing the leaves and smelling them.

Yellow leaves

The yellow and red of the autumn leaves made up for the lost color of faded flowers.

Sh

Was it a creature

Dashing across the path?

Or was it just a leaf

Shoved by the breeze?

I caught only a glimpse of it

Whatever it was is gone

All is still

Silence reigns on.

The Track Garden

On our previous visits, we missed seeing the Track Garden.  Dad’s response to the round markers along the perimeter brought to mind the first trip to the Museum of Natural History with Alexis, Nicole and Michael.  Michael was probably 4 and the girls almost 6.  After initially being awestruck by the dioramas of the animals the children began to question how the animals had ended up in the museum, especially the mothers with their young, a difficult question to answer gently.  Though a bit dismayed, we continued through the dioramas, making our way downstairs to the aquatic scenes.  At the far end of the room, one of the windows displayed a sponge diver………

When Dad saw the circular markers around the edge of the garden I noticed the same expression that had appeared on the faces of the children when they saw the sponge diver behind the glass.

“Do you think they’re all buried in the garden beneath the plants?” Dad asked.  The question would not have been quite so unsettling if it hadn’t been for the marker directly in front of us.  A squirrel under the bush is one thing…. a human is quite another matter.

Another view of the Track Garden

We left the Track Garden behind and ventured into the swamp.

Off to Oz

The wet leaves upon the boardwalk caused slippery walking conditions.

The straight, tall trees

As we walked, Dad recalled walking along the wooded trails in Idaho with his friend Merle Bunker while fighting forest fires one summer during college.  Merle and Dad were lab partners.  Bunker was the last of the “B” names and Carter was the first of the “C” names.  They became lifelong friends.  Dad talked about the “windfall” logs being so abundant that they walked along them, not stepping on the ground for a good half mile.

Twisted Trunk Tree

The trees stood naked in the misty forest.  Without their frocks of leaves, the shapes of limbs, darkened by the recent rain, stood our starkly against the blanket of gold and brown.

Dad finding his stride

After oiling his joints, Dad rolled up his sleeves and picked up his pace.  We walked about three times the distance I had expected.  Not once did we sit and take a break.  “I need to do that more often.” he remarked as we got into the car to return to Chelsea.

Searching for words

Back in his room, there was one more poem to be written.  This time, the words did not come.

There is always next time…..

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