Wednesday, October 24, 2007

On Aging...

“It is to be assumed that if man were to live his life like a poem, he would be able to look upon the sunset of his life as his happiest period, and instead of trying to postpone the much feared old age, be able actually to look forward to it, and gradually build up to it as the best and happiest period of his existence. “
Lin Yutang: The Importance of Living , 1937

The Chinese of yore seemed to have mastered the art of aging and Lin Yutang’s quote seemed to distill that wisdom in just a few pithy sentences. It’s worth passing along.

In past time the problems associated with long life were minimized by the fact that few lived long enough to be problems. An agrarian family centered life style required all family members to be productive, and so those who were able bodied and aged could still contribute to the welfare of the family unit. Those who were seriously impaired were ministered to by the family and their church until their passing

In the present, there are significant numbers of people who have attained retirement age. Retirement is often a time of new beginnings and opportunities, when the system allows choice to be a significant option. “Aging” is now an appellation to be applied only to people who have begun to experience some physical limitations due to chronic conditions. When Lib and I began to be limited to how long we could stand, walk, or square dance due to spinal stenosis we began to understand what it meant to be “old”

Just as the first quarter of life implies birth, the last quarter implies death. One of the tasks of those who have begun to “age” is to make our peace with that event. Some desiring more control at their end have “living wills” that give clear instructions when that eventuality arrives. It is wise to plan for this future event. We plan down to the minutiae for less significant happenings, but put off this one maybe in the subconscious hope that somehow it will bypass us. Having said that let’s go on to more pleasant considerations.

The last thing any of us should want to do is to have nothing at all to do! To have nothing to do is to be irrelevant. The life experience stored in the head of each older person is often of great value, so one of the functions of age is to be in a consultative mode. Men and women who have been parents find themselves to be grand parents and this can be an enriching experience. If one has experience in the professions, this often may be parlayed into a part time job which again is a good thing for most. There is much to be thankful for even when some physical limitations close the door on some very pleasant activities. As one woman told me when discussing this topic “ can be thankful when one wakes up in the morning to know who you are!”

Because time is of the essence take the opportunity to do some new activities. Travel to new places. Try a new hobby. Look for opportunities to serve in the community. Volunteer. Be a docent. Do activities that bring you in close contact with people. Cultivate relationships with family and friends. Do it with vigor and purpose. This will make your last years much more enjoyable. Financial situations can limit some activities, but there are many things one can do that are free and only require time and mobility.

Often our aches and limitations become the main themes of our vocal utterances and this makes us boring. More than any other population segment we need to cultivate the attitude of gratitude for what we have left that does work. Looking back over the writings of our little group, I believe most of us are doing the positive things that gerontologists might recommend. We posed a little challenge to ourselves when we answered Verda’s invitation to join a “writer’s” club. I had already begun to write my memoirs, and it is still an unfinished work. Writing takes time and thought, and is an activity that is pleasant for me.

I admit to not being very enthusiastic about our move to Richmond. My blogs of that period show frustration and trepidation. There were friends and activities we were leaving behind. A whole new life would have to be constructed in a new and strange environment. It would be financially costly. And I feared that shortly after all the huge effort and cost one or the other of us would really become incapacitated and a whole new set of problems would have to be dealt with. Fortunately, none of that has happened yet, so I’m trying harder to put a positive spin on it all. Certainly, we have enjoyed the new home. Every day its airy spaciousness buoys the spirit. And it is wonderful to be nearly next door to Cathy’s family and see them almost every day!

We haven’t stopped seeing old friends. There are good reasons to return to Roanoke on some weekends. In two and half hours we’re there. Our church family provides places to stay and more opportunity to visit intensely. The Net provides another way to stay in touch with the lives of a wider circle of friends. Because it is so fast, emails now have replaced regular mail and is more frequent. Here I have joined a community symphony and it keeps me practicing and playing my instrument. We are looking around for another church fellowship ...there are many considerations and I’m sure that in the near future we’ll finally make the correct decision.

I’m thankful each day that I know who I am, that I can still be useful musically, and that there is so much life to savor each day. Fall is one of my most favorite seasons and I have been permitted to enjoy it once again this year in a new locale. Yes, there is some pain to deal with, but it’s manageable. Lib’s sense of humor and upbeat approach to living keeps me from dissolving into an old curmudgeon. Like Verda, I hope that my end comes swiftly. Cheers!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Looping Back

My life of many years is taking a most interesting turn. For whatever reason I’m being allowed to revisit tokens of my very young years. They return by way of activities, people, and circumstances. We have moved to Midlothian, Virginia to be near our daughter’s family and this has added to the “past” experiences.

Yesterday we attended church at West Richmond Church of the Brethren. We have been there several times and this time we also participated in the world wide Christian observation of communion with the “footwashing” and shared meal. Across from us at the meal table were our minister and a visitor from the Episcopal persuasion. Our minister is the son of a good friend of ours when my wife and I were married. The Episcopal visitor in conversation spoke about “Orkney Spring”. That brought back many memories of my orchestral experiences in the conductors’ orchestra taught by Dr. Richard Lert there in summers long ago. In the same church and at the communion service was an Indian friend whose father and my father were friends when I was a missionary’s son in India. Three doors to my varied past all in one place!

Here in Richmond I’ve joined the Richmond Philharmonic. The concertmeister is an Indian and when I mentioned the Bombay Symphony at my audition, think he said he had played in it. Also, he had performed in the Roanoke Symphony, but after the time when I was there. We’re going to perform Beethoven’s “Eroica” and Sibelius’ “Finlandia” both compositions I have played several times with other orchestras. So musically I’m also returning “home”.

Through the web and blogging I have been allowed to experience vicariously Woodstock school, Mussoorie, and the Himalayas. It’s been a hoot to read the experiences of young faculty and employees just being there for the first time! Now they can include pictures and short movies in their blogs which enhances their verbal descriptions. This past winter there was a wonderful and rare snow storm which generated some awesome photos.
Woodstock in Winter
Attending WOSA and class reunions has also contributed to revisiting this important past.

As I teach my young grandson how to “fiddle” I’m reminded of my own frustrations which my wise father guided me through. I’m not sure that my grandson will be a professional musician, but the road to musical usefulness goes through some narrow “eyes” . They have to be negotiated and the adult doing the teaching has to be patient and wise with his young charge. Pray that I have both! I would love to pass on this gift to him.

Before moving to Richmond, we had joined the Oak Grove CoB after two decades in Roanoke’s First Baptist church. That was a looping back to the denomination of both Lib and I. When we left First Baptist we visited several congregations. On our first visit to Oak Grove we were greeted by name by an old friend of my teen years! Several visits later we knew this was “home” and in some sense it will always be our "home" church.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Music World is Small

Was getting settled in for our second rehearsal when a young woman asked if she could share the stand with me. Since our positions have not been settled yet, I was happy to have someone on the stand with me. Shortly, in small chit-chat we discovered that she also was from the Roanoke area (Franklin county) and had played in the Roanoke Youth Symphony. She also had been a student of a stand partner of mine in the Roanoke Symphony. She is a very competent instrumentalist and we could make a good team. We both are competitive and she is willing to try my suggestions for smoother and more accurate ensemble playing. She is preparing on her CPA certification as she works for a local firm. Also, noticed the name of a cellist that played a few weddings for me before moving to Chester on the email roster. Not sure if she still plays with the orchestra, but it’s interesting that she is on the list. Will check it out.

Getting so I feel less and less isolated as I connect with people who do what I do and know friends that I know. Took a different road out of the parking lot when we were done at 9:20 pm. Both the GPS and I were momentarily lost....and then the GPS knew where it was and got us back on the way home. Thank goodness for GPS!!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Camping, Friendship, and Memories

Linda loves people and she enjoys showing them some of the great recreational areas surrounding her West Virginia home place. This past weekend Lib and I were privileged to be part of a group that visited these spots.

We left Oak Grove CoB around 1:15 pm. There were two vans in the convoy and six couples making the trip. We were retirement age or near, so we're people with long histories, just the recipe that make for interesting conversations. Linda also arranged for a scheme to mix us up so we weren’t with the same people all of the time. I greatly enjoyed exchanging views with Linda who was my first seat partner on the first leg of the trip.

We arrived at our motel in Beaver, WV several hours later, got settled in and then ate supper at a Bob Evans restaurant nearby. Our first place of interest was the Crab Tree Cob, the church that Linda attended as a child. She also showed us her home nearby and regaled us with stories about family and church life there. Her father was a coal miner and life was not easy for them. Looking back one can appreciate the long journey and the myriad experiences that make her the interesting caring woman she is today. It was obvious to all that she enjoyed sharing vignettes from her young life...a life that wasn’t always easy, but one in which the family loved its members and took care of each other. Perhaps it was the uncertain life of the miner who spent so much time in the dark bowels of the earth that made them relish the light and beauty above!

Next we went to nearby Grandview. There is a fantastic lookout point that surveys a great loop in the New River. We were there just before dusk. What a magnificent panorama of beautiful mountains, curving river, and off to the left, just a little town snuggled between hills and river. One could thank the Creator for making the scene, for West Virginia government that made access easy, and for the Creator giving us eyes and senses to enjoy the visual feast before us. Then we assembled at the open air theater for a presentation of "Honey in the Rock".
It is a finely crafted tale of the differences that caused the America’s Civil war and how it created the inevitable rift that resulted in the state of West Virginia. For discerning folk, it was also a strong statement about the futility of war as a means of settling differences. Much was made as to how war was glorified, divided families, and made those who lost sons, husbands, and brothers question if another way could not have been found. Lincoln’s "Gettysburg Address" was a focal point of the quest for unity in a new nation. It was a moving story.

The next day we visited Hawks Nest State Park. It is a smaller brother to Pipestem State Park We took the tram down to the river and enjoyed a boat excursion up to the famous arch bridge across. It is a beautiful structure that safely transports thousands of vehicles each day over the New River gorge.

We had tasty lunch in the park dining hall and then drove to Sandstone wayside. In the auditorium saw a brief presentation about the New River and its importance to the area. Next we drove to the Sandstone waterfalls. We travelled for forty some minutes, up a very narrow valley alongside the river. It was truly amazing to see how many folks are into the camping/fishing lifestyle. There were numerous places along the river where there were whole communities of trailer homes, motor homes, or just temporary camping tents. Some were amazingly extensive to be in such a remote place. Just as one is impressed with the large number of beach homes, so it seems the fishing/camping community has its aficionados. The New River attracts from all over.

Linda explained how her father would take the family down to the river for two weeks each summer to enjoy this life style. It helped me understand why so many Brethren support so strongly their church camps. It’s in the blood! They wish for their children the unique experience that comes from being "in the woods" or "close to Nature". As the camps become more commercial, with more of the amenities resembling home, the more difficult it will be to realize an authentic "camping" experience.

After our skilled drivers Buddy and Garland returned us safely to
Oak Grove, Lib and I who had recently moved to Richmond, spent the night at Buddy and Linda’s. It gave us time to visit further and learn more about each other and the place of the church in our lives. I have been allowed a long and interesting life lived in numerous places and varying circumstances. I'm so thankful and grateful that Lib and I are healthy enough and have the resources to still do these sorts of activities when invited. I really, really, REALLY am!!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Our New Life Begins...

We have been in our new home now for a week. Much of the unpacking has been accomplished thanks to the efforts of dear church family in Roanoke who shared a day of their lives to come here and help us. That’s a measure of true friends...those who will make such a significant effort to help you in your time of need. Karma demands that we reciprocate...for Jesus plainly said "you reap what you sow. "

This past Sunday we visited the West Richmond CoB and met a number of people who had like interests or who knew family or friends. That is the nature of the Church of the’s almost Jewish in that most of the American branch can trace lineage back to Berks County, PA.
Routine is setting in somewhat. We rise around 6:30 or 7:00, eat breakfast and do "cabin" clean up chores. I like the morning to do email and book keeping. We keep accounts so we know where we are financially...a prudent activity at any age, but especially when in retirement.
Until lunch there are boxes still to open and things to place.

After lunch there is often a siesta for 45 minutes or so. My back needs a little time to rejuvenate and the nap helps immensely. Then I may practice my violin ( helps just to play a little every day, then the instrument doesn’t feel "strange" in the hands!!). Afternoon is often the time we go out of the house for groceries or for other errands. We try to get them all under the same trip so we don’t waste gasoline.

There is the 4:00 trip to pick up Devin, our grandson, and take him home, which is seven minutes from our home. We stay with him there until his parents arrive around 6:00 and then we return home for dinner.

After supper, if we’re so inclined there will still be boxes to unpack. Books need to be shelved and pictures need an assigned space on the walls. In between times I will make several forays to the computer for news, entertainment or to read and answer emails.
Weekends are sometimes devoted to short trips out of the area or for business (gigs) that are still to do in the Roanoke area. Then we get to see "home folks".

I look forward to meeting fellow musicians in the Richmond area and watching our grandson grow. The house is a wonderful place to live. I thank God for his many blessings!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Night before: Cathy calls and tells us that they have some more houses to look at. Yippee.
We go for a last dinner at Figi..tell Charlie Wang that we’re leaving for Richmond.
Benny and Faye come by to visit us that evening. We were blessed to be able to visit with them one more time. What a gracious and wonderful couple they are...full of joy yet resilient in so many ways. Hope we can imitate them in our new digs.

Moving Day

We/re up before 6:00, ate a breakfast of french toast fixed in the oven, in pie pans. had coffee. Went online and answered a lovely email wishing us Godspeed from Alton and Mildred Hipps.
Beginning to gather small toilet articles and pills into carry on bag by 7:30. Also, read the paper.
In about half hour or less there will be folk in to help the final phase. At about 8:00 am Bill and Carolyn came over to help get us organized for the last push. I had a good visit with Bill while the wimmenfolk continued their efforts. A little later Bill and I started to tear down tables and bureaus. A little later we had Buddy arrive with and position the truck for maximum efficiency. Among the loaders were; Mike, Johnny, Garland, Richard , Fletcher, Benny, Bill, Floyd. Joyce brought drinks and snacks and Carolyn helped inside. Ed ,our pastor also came to be with us .. My profoundest apologies if I missed someone, especially if you're reading this blog. (Let me know and I'll re edit and include you !!)The truck was loaded and ready to go by 11:15 and in the meantime I had managed to find a pizza place that would bend the rules to get us 3 big pizzas by 11:15.

By 12:30. people were getting through eating and saying their goodbyes. Lib and finished loading the cars and getting squared away with Verizon. By 2:00 we were on the road to Richmond.

SATURDAY: Buddy and Richard drove the truck with all our worldly goods to the storage facility. They were there by 10:00. From the New Covenant CoB we had their pastor, Jim, also Ed, Hubert, and another Jim. Also, my nephew Brian. They completed the task by 11:30. We went to a nearby barbecue place and had lunch and fellowship. God is good!!

Saturday afternoon we looked at more houses and SUNDAY we went to Jeff and Cathys’ church for worship. We met our Realtor at 3:00 for more house hunting that afternoon. We finally were able to unanimously agree on a property in the Branderville subdivison. By Monday we had firmed up the offer and now it just remains for a few minor details for the move to be complete. IT IS LOOKING GOOD.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Blessings and Grace...

I am overwhelmed! The house is sold and for several weeks my wife and I have been packing for the move to Richmond. Those who know us well realized we would need help and have stepped up to the plate. Close church friends have teamed to help us and we will ever be in their debt. Several have helped organize the packing and another couple will be helping us with the actual trucking there. Dear square dance club members have also donated time to the endeavor. It would have been impossible for us to have made the move without them.

God’s love is made visible through the helping hands of his faithful children. One of the helpers was a woman who has just recently survived a rigorous set of chemotherapy treatments that left her drained for the better part of each week. And yet, here she was helping wrap and pack!! I am just amazed and so very, very grateful. These are real friends.

Suppose I should be feeling a sense of nostalgic loss as we move from this house which has been our home for twenty eight years. It hurt deeply to leave the little ranch on Red Fox. It was our first house and we bought it new. Our two children grew to nearly teen years there. Much that was sweet and memorable happened there. The house we live in now belonged to someone else so it wasn’t new. Think Lib enjoyed transforming it into a beautiful home...I was just busy trying to survive economically and professionally..the problem for many middle aged men. Soon the girls were out, gone to college then careers and families of their own. Lib and I lived parallel lives for a number of years, each doing their own thing but not sharing much except memories, just too busy. It wasn’t until I retired that we began the journey toward each other again. So, even though I leave our community with sadness, I have scant attachment for the house the way I had for our first.

I can’t get highly enthused about "new" as much as she. That is the wonderful thing about the female has the capacity to stay young, to be hopeful, to look with anticipation about yet another house that will be transformed into "home". There is a gleam in her eye, a vibrancy in her voice that betrays the belief that we are moving toward "greener" pastures...where one may reinvent one’s self. I will do my best to position my attitude to be helpful and encouraging, but if you’re a seventy year old male or older you will probably have some understanding of where I am. My apologies to any dear friends who read this, especially those of the female persuasion who may wonder what the heck is the matter with me.

"Comfort" is high on an old man’s priorities. There are aspects of the move that I find attractive and interesting. But, the initial change has the quality of a tooth being pulled. Think all the packing and shutting down activities has gotten to me. Looking forward to being in a more pleasant disposition later on when we finally get into our new Richmond abode and we’re not living like nomads. As I said comfort is high on the list and it ain’t comfortable rhaht now. Cheers!!

My heartfelt thanks to all who have graced our lives here with their thoughtfulness. I will miss your dear presence in our lives deeply. I comfort myself with the thought that Richmond isn't the other side of the world and that it will be possible for me to see and visit with you the same wonderful way I visit occasionally with my Woodstock School class mates. ( I thought I had lost them forever, too! Not!!!) So...let's not say good-byes, but rather we'll see you soon again!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Train trip to Landour Mussoorie

There are many in blogland who are aficionados of train trips...and there are plenty writers on the topic. I have had several encouraging reactions to this particular one so have flung it in webland for whoever to enjoy. If you have...I would love to hear about yours..or whatever.

The trip to Landour began from the porch of the mission house at the Bulsar (Valsad) Church of the Brethren hospital. It would be around 8:00 pm on an early March evening when the horse drawn "Victorias" came for the Woodstock party. By now it was dark enough for them to have their running lights fueled by kerosene and wicks lit. The front of the lamp on each side of the carriage was clear glass and the dim light was focused by a crude lens behind the wick. The backside usually had a small round red lens about the size of a quarter to indicate the rear. A procession of these at night could be quite an impressive sight. Soon we would arrive at the huge Bulsar train station. It would be around 8:30 pm. My stomach churned from excitement because I knew that a huge adventure lay ahead.

The train we would be boarding was the famous "Frontier Mail". It was the fabled express going from Bombay to Delhi and then to Amritsar on the frontier between India and Afghanistan. It was an apparition that swirled out of the mysterious Indian night and glided ever so majestically into the station. It glistened and glowed as it rumbled heavily into the station. Great swirls of steam and smoke writhed around this apparition. What fired my young boy’s imagination was that "frontier". I had been to Bombay and understood what a large city was. But I had never been to that "frontier" so it was always swathed in darkest melodrama, a place where steely eyed Pathans from Afghanistan mingled uneasily with the local tribesmen of the "north".

The porters soon had us in our compartment and after paying them we had time to orient ourselves to our surroundings. There were two or more benches that were padded with a dark green plastic like cushion. Overhead would be several electric lights as well as a fan or two. Over the benches was a berth that could be lowered to a horizontal position to make a bed. It was on these benches and berths that the bed rolls would later be deployed. In every available nook and cranny would be our trunks, bags, and thermoses. At one end of the compartment would be the latrine and sink.

After what seemed an interminable wait the whistle would blow. One would feel a very slight movement and slowly the station platform would slide past to the rhythmic staccato coming from the smokestack of the powerful black steam engine somewhere out in front. Soon the platform would drop away and shortly after the huge switching tower that controlled a vast complex of switch points and lights in the huge rail yard. The Bulsar rail yard was vast. We would roll past numerous freight trains in the making. Often there would be a hissing sound that crescendoed as our train passed another steam engine. Or the lights from the windows of a local train would stream by and for a split second one would see some human tableau frozen forever in memory One by one the rails of the huge yard merged as the Mail gathered momentum. The lights of the city would be less numerous and the last siding would merge into the two sets of tracks and the train would speed into the velvet night.

A trip on the "mail" was even more exciting than flying. For a boy it was the sensation of hurtling through space and time. Even though it was dark outside there were interesting events to savor. At the approach of some little wayside station, a siding or two would whip out, and then in a flash the station with its platform would pass like a bullet. Next might follow a crossing gate, where an oxcart or tonga might be waiting, and then would follow the sidings back into the main line and a semaphore. If there were a moon, one could see the silhouettes of palm trees and the shapes of the conical thatched huts of nearby villages. All night we would travel over the plains of western India. There would be brief stops at the largest cities: Surat, with its huge electric clocks on the station platform, Broach, after crossing on a long bridge over the wide Narabada river, and then the great city of Baroda around two or three in the morning. By that time the need for sleep would overcome the curiosity about the next sight and one would drift off lulled by the regular beat of the wheels as they measured off ten thousands of rails.

Sleep was fitful, often being interrupted by the irregular rhythm experienced when the wheels crossed over siding switches, or by the sudden, explosive sound as trains passed in the night. Sometimes one was wakened by the lack of motion and the distant sound of voices when the Mail stopped at some early predawn station. Someone would rise to go to the bathroom.

Dawn crept slowly over the world. It became apparent that we had lost the other pair of rails. The line now moved toward Delhi all alone. It was a different geography here, drier and somehow mysterious and remote. The land was stark. Gone were the friendly trees and the sight of agriculture as it existed on the plains. Breakfast arrived at Ratlam. While engines changed and the train was inspected for hot boxes, an army of porters from the dining service brought breakfast A breakfast on the "mail" was a unique experience. One ate from a tray on one’s knee. It consisted of scrambled eggs, toast, and marmalade, accompanied by hot tea. Each metal plate had its own covering. How all this was kept warm and carried down from the galley to individual passengers was a mystery. But it was accomplished with efficiency.

After a thirty minute wait the conductor would blow his whistle and the great machine at the head would begin to move the train imperceptively at first and then with staccato barks at the smokestack accelerate through the rail yards of Ratlam into the bright and already warm day. The scenery out the window had changed through the night from coastal plain agrarian to near desert. Gone were the palm trees that spoke of moisture and life. In their stead a bleak landcape of pink sand and flat baked rocks streamed by. Life beneath the pitiless sun would be difficult here for anything. Still, there would be instances of small towns, serviced by the local trains, but they were greater distances apart. As the Mail sped along one would be aware of a siding suddenly whipping out from the main tracks, a semaphore tower would flash by and then shortly a station and its platform would appear for an instant and be gone.

Near midday the train wound its way through some small mountains. The great engine struggled to pull the long train around curving cuts in the stone. We often stuck our heads out the window and could smell the acrid smoke and steam odors mixed with a unique smell that comes from stone being crushed. It was either that of sand being applied for traction or small granite gravels falling from the walls of the cut. Subsequent trips along this same route always produced the same odors at the same places.

There is a memory of getting off the train, perhaps at Kotah Junction, and walking to the dining car for lunch. Of being served hotly curried meals, by immaculately uniformed waiters as the train ran toward Delhi, of talking with the conductor about trains and the history of this one. watching other families and groups as they were served and trying to understand what they might be talking about. Then we would return to our coach and the afternoon would set in. Imperceptibly the scenery became more hospitable. Villages became more numerous. Several large rivers would be crossed. At one late afternoon stop, while tea was being enjoyed one could see peacocks showing off their plumage just beyond the station environs. A sort of weariness crept in among one’s bones.

Large cities don’t have sharp boundaries. They are a well defined nucleus with a vast circle of satellite towns and villages so one doesn’t arrive at Delhi suddenly. The stations the train whizzes by are more frequent. There is less open space. Gasoline propelled vehicles instead of ox carts are at the crossings. The number of wires on the railway telegraph posts now number 15-20 instead of 4-5. But Delhi is still an hour away. The afternoon sun drops slowly toward distant roof tops. The population is returning from out of the fields, from off the rivers, from their businesses to whatever passes for home. A woman and her daughters will be preparing the evening meal over a rough inside stove. The little kitchen will be filling with smoke which will cause the eyes to burn. It will be unbearably hot to Westerners, but the Indians will have stripped down to the barest essentials and so will have a supper of hot chapatis and rice and curry. Drinking hot tea will bring on a sweat which will help them cool down. The aroma in such a hovel is a rich blend of cow dung patty smoke, tobacco smoke, curried cooked food, human body odors, and the omnipresent incense. It is essential India.

The Mail slows down and stops at a block semaphore, there is a train ahead that needs to arrive at a siding. A short whistle sounds and we begin moving. A little further and the train is crossing over the Howrah river on a mammoth bridge. There is the whooom-whoom-whoom sound as giant steel girders reflect back the sound of the rolling bogeys. Then we are in the sprawling yards of the New Delhi complex. A few minutes later the Mail glides into the huge station and slowly comes to a halt. It is evening.

A vast throng of humanity is moving along the station platform: coolies waiting to carry trunks, bed rolls, and other luggage; passengers about to board the train, all sorts of station entrepreneurs pushing little carts of hot tea and pastries, toys, jewlery, cold drinks, newspapers, holy men (sadhus) in their saffron robes, beggars, and people who have come just to watch and observe. Thirty minutes pass and the activity slows down on the platform beside the train. More trains come in and leave on other platforms causing the same flurry of activity. Hanging from the ceilings the electric fans keep the hot air moving, affording all a brief respite from the stifling heat. The conductor blows his whistle, the engine answers with its own and the Mail moves out into the yards on the other end of the station. As the engine accelerates there is no feeling of urgency, just a leisurely canter so to speak. In ten minutes or less the Frontier Mail is pulling into Delhi proper. Here the Woodstock party will disembark. Our time on this train is over. Luggage is stacked on rolling wagons and transferred to another platform. We will eat supper upstairs in the dining room that overlooks the courtyard of a huge mosque. Then we will return to the platform and wait.

Sometime around 9:00 PM a train trimmed in green arrives. The locomotive is not the bullet nosed type pulling the express Mail but rather the common boxy stream engine pulling the slower trains. Luggage is loaded and stowed. One inhales the odors of the different space and tries to intuit the experiences that may have occurred in it. This night is blur of fitful sleep interrupted every ten or fifteen minutes as the train pulls into a local station. The click pattern from the rails has a different rhythm as the bogeys have one less pair of wheels at each end. It is more abrupt and slower than the smooth triplicate staccato of the Mail’s. The view into the night is one of dark mystery as the tracks pass through small hills and forested glens The aroma of a thousand wood fires hangs in the air which now begins to have a tinge of cool.

The train moves northward and gains slight altitude. The plains of north India are quite different from those of west coast Gujarat. West coast is open and decorated by tall palm trees. On a moonlight night one might be able to see several miles distant. North India is more forested and hilly and distant vistas are rare. So passes the night.

Dawn inches into the night sky. For miles the track has wound through small hills and has kept the Siwalik mountains at bay. Now they are clearly visible on the far horizon and the train is approaching their flanks. Soon we are coasting into the station at Haridwar. For Hindus this is a high holy city where the Ganges flows out of the Himalayas into the plains. Many great festivals are observed here. It is a great place to be born or to die. For those of us going to Woodstock it was the harbinger of things to come. Shortly after leaving the station the train tunnels into bowels of the Siwaliks and emerged into the broad valley between them and the Himalayas. The sun would be up and one could see the front ranges of the world’s greatest mountain chain. Here they would be six to eight thousand feet high, towering over the craggy Siwalik hills. At least once, especially in the waning winter months a very distant snow covered peak might appear in a flash as the view up a mountain pass allowed it. The air was fresher here and chillier.

Ahead was Dehra Dun. The green train would give up its struggle to conquer the grade. The engineer let up on the throttle and let gravity assist him in bringing his line of passenger cars into the tracks beside the platforms. A slight application of squeeking brakes and the train was still. Weary upper class passengers stumbled through the swinging doors of the station dining room. Here a breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and hot cups of Earl Grey tea were gratefully wolfed down. If one hadn’t prepared for north Indian brisk winter morning air it could be a miserable few hours.

After breakfast the party boarded buses for the drive up to Mussoorie. The road moved through the city itself and circled playfully about the savannah like vegetation of near tropics. And then the ascent shortly began in earnest. One heard it in the straining duet of the quavering transmission as old motor struggled to make rear wheels turn. One felt it in the cant of the vehicle as it wound around yet another hairpin curve. One was aware of it through the wall of granite on one side and the steep drop off on the other. A young child inhales all these through his senses and it remains with him forever.

Minute by minute the view became more alpine. Dehra Dun was dropping away. The first evergreens and deodars would begin to appear. The thick fetid air of the plains was slowly being replaced by light cold mountain air, so silvery and bright you hardly were aware of the respiration process at all. The engineering of such roads should always arouse curiosity and wonder in those who use them. Who designed the route? How long was there a human habitation at Mussoorie before Westerners discovered it? What machinery and human effort was required to build a macadamized road up seven thousand feet of solid rock before World War II. What structural sciences were required to resist the eroding effects of water and rock falls, especially after winter thaw and monsoon rains? Why was remote Mussoorie selected by the British military for such attention? The bus might round a sharp curve only to be confronted by an army of coolies repairing the road damaged by a landslide.

The terminus of the road was at Kin Craig. There we met the Himalayas face to face. Those who were physically able walked the remaining several miles to Woodstock school or to cottages and dwelling places in the environs. My first trip up was in a "dandi", a sling carried by four coolies. It was a raw cold day. The road wound up through the cosmopolitan town of Mussoorie. An interesting mix of movie theater, restaurants, hotels, shops and private dwellings. A hill town that had electricity and phones! It took several hours to reach Woodstock School and at least another hour to ascend to Sisters bazaar near the crest. From Sisters bazaar it was a half mile walk up several switchbacks past Prospect Lodge and finally to the top at Prospect Point. This dwelling owned by the Church of the Brethren would be our dwelling place each year for several months. We had arrived.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Life, Death, and the Meaning of it All

I’ve been having an instructive dialogue with "Sean" on the web. We both met on the blog of a young student/educator working in Mussoorie, India. Sean is earnest about keeping the food chain "clean" and I flippantly wrote all life (carbon systems) makes use of (ingests) other carbon entities. He was interested in preventing the death of millions of children from dysentery.Think he may be a young medic in the making. I was wondering whether uncontrolled population growth would overwhelm resources and that as an older person I wasn’t thrilled about how millions of older folks spent their last days because modern medicine could keep them alive. Believe that is the way it became posited.

So, rather than fill up another’s blog space with a theme that is uninteresting to most..let me continue here where it can be accessed if there is interest in the subject.

My general thesis was: Let all life processes proceed naturally and LIFE will succeed as it has since the beginning of creation. (There appears to be built in checks and balances..can’t prove it but sort of believe it). When humans start to improve the process what is gained at one end is lost at the other. Try as we may, there appears to be no net gain. That’s the way I understand it.

Now I’ll probably negate it all with the following narrative.

When I was about three years old, in India, I contracted a rare but usually fatal dysentery. By my logic I should have been allowed to perish and thereby eliminate another user of earth’s resources. A different physician changed the medication and here I am to tell about it. As a very young child I was exposed to the funeral processions of many who died of cholera and small pox epidemics. Inoculation helped me survive. Some of them survived because of their genetic inheritance. They were the ones who actually strengthened the gene pool.

On returning to India during my teens, I almost fell down the mountain because I made an unwise routing decision to take a short cut up a ravine. During the same term some coolies might have dropped me as we all transited across a Mussoorie landslide. Again, I remained in the realm of the living with my coolies. The Source seemed to have a use for me. During my time there, I wonder how many other potentials to exit life were in the shadows unbeknownst to me, from either people, disease or foolish accident.

Upon our return in America there was still polio that could either destroy or render life useless. That was soon remedied by a vaccine saving millions of lives. The automobile was pretty good at eliminating thousands and our abuse of the atmosphere in the name of progress removed people who were susceptible to smog and soot particulates. We have made enormous strides in this area.

My father died at 51 when I was 19. Perhaps that made me reflect more about where death belongs in the scheme of things. Even after his demise, into my late 40's, death was thought about seriously only when I purchased life insurance! It was way off in the future. My body worked fine even with the onset of slight blood pressure problems again ameliorated by medication. Death was way off in the future. At 50 I instinctively understood that my life was perhaps half or more over. At 60 I could walk a considerable distance and even jog some. Life was full though a career in music education was coming to an end.

And then like someone sticking your head down the commode just for meanness, my wife and I both began to hurt from the symptoms of spinal stenosis. Rather suddenly, we both were confronted with the debilitating effects of the aging process. One began to seriously contemplate trying to live in a wheel chair, maybe in a nursing home, with the slight wealth we had accumulated suddenly vanishing. What then? What then indeed?

Through operations, physical therapy and our faith in God, things have turned around a little for the better. But, will we be 60 again? No. Will it just get worse, or something else break down, of course.. though I don’t want to think about it. I’m more afraid of dying piecemeal than I am from a quick coronary. I hope for a good death. From my birth millions of my body cells have been dying to continue life for the me. Over a long period, time does its thing and the important cells are unable to regenerate or go whacky into cancer cells and fight the healthy ones. At some point the system is overwhelmed and I will be no more here. My carbon atoms may be reintegrated into another living system at some point, my thoughts that are written down will be passed on as long they are read, part of my DNA dances on in the bodies of my children and grand children, and that mystery of mysteries we call the soul will return to its Source.

So, my body is a parable and analogous to the living skin of the earth. It is all a vast system that was designed to work a certain way. Disease, wars, accidents, natural catastrophes all serve to keep the earth’s living layer properly pruned and vigorous just as similar events happen within my own body. Even though I’m not a Darwinist, there appears to be some principle at work of the survival of the fittest. Loren Eiseley argued quite convincingly that it was often the weak that made the next advance, contravening that argument. This is the powerful incentive for intervening on behalf of the under dog, the halt and the lame.

A young person believes passionately that LIFE can be improved and advances of certain sorts are made. After one has lived more than a half century certain truths come into focus, as it were, that aren’t apparent to the younger person because of their distance in time and experience. Human life is infinitely valuable and we try to sustain it the best we know. Is there something that we can learn from Mother nature that maybe instructs us not to be too intrusive? There is much to ponder. I won’t be here to hear "Sean" after he’s lived 70 years, begin to agree with me. But, part of the magic of thought is that it can project us into the future and we can vicariously experience another’s life without actually living it. The blogosphere is a new way for messages to surface from the interior. How very interesting! Cheers!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Prospect Point

About a year ago I discovered a picture of Prospect Point on the web. Guess that shows that anything that gets on the web’s machinery is retrievable. One just has to know how to search. I would certainly like to know more of its history...who built it, when, why that particular location, and how it got it’s name. Below it is a smaller twin, Prospect Lodge. Perhaps it was built by the same person. We lived here for several months of the school year from 1943-45 and again from 1949-1951 while attending Woodstock School.

Prospect Point was built near the summit of a small hill across from Sisters Bazaar near Landour/Mussoorie. Behind it and a little lower was the large British hospital where soldiers from Burma and other nearby countries from World War II were sent to convalesce. It’s just another tag with which to identify its general location. From the small front yard, looking over a two foot stone wall, one could see the roof tops of Ridgewood and Midlands, the Dune valley and parts of Mussoorie. The schools of St. George’s and Allen might also be identified if one knew where to look. About 150 degrees to the right was a magnificent view of Banderpanch and related mountains. If panoramas were important, this had to be one of the choice locations on the upper ridge as there was a clear view both front and back. Because it had no close neighbors there was a great sense of peaceful solitude surrounding it. A footpath behind the house led to a small knoll which was the summit. From there one could see even more.

From the porch of Parker Hall, at Woodstock School, you began the long climb to Prospect Point by going out and turning right up the long first zig-zag. On a summer afternoon it was a mile or so hike to the top. A long trudge led past at least five or six dwellings, one that was actually named "Zig-Zag". Several of the switch backs were quite steep and sometimes one had to stop briefly to rest. Going down in the morning was the opposite; neophytes soon learned not to run down steep mountain roads, for gravity inevitably won and there followed the tripping and the gravels were not kind to tender knees and palms. Eventually, we reached the steps that brought us to the road that went to Sisters bazaar to the left and the long loop to the right on which there were a multitude of dwellings, many with Irish names. There was also a community water spigot and watering spot. Turning right, there was a hundred yard respite and then began the last several short ramps up past Prospect Lodge and finally one entered the yard of our beloved Prospect Point. If you were lucky, you could stand at one of the two little walls and feel a cool breeze while surveying the immensities below.

Prospect Point was divided into three suites. For most of our times there we were assigned the "Sun" suite. It was on the right side of the building. At this end the living areas made an "L" shape and enclosed the right end of a large porch which had a concrete floor and two or three pillars supporting the overhanging roof. From the porch one entered directly into a small but inviting living room. The next room, straight back was the bedroom used by our parents. I somehow recall it being somewhat dark and subdued in mood even on very bright days. Next was the kitchen/dining area and this was a very light and bright room at all times. The walls were painted a light yellow as were the walls in the living room and it just felt friendly. Finally, there was the other quite small room at the back of the building where we boys slept in bunk beds. Prospect Point also had electricity but no phones when we lived there.

There was a small wood stove in the kitchen which provided warmth on early March days when a hint of winter would still chill the air. It was also used for cooking. There may also have been an electric hotplate. My father was the one who generally fixed breakfast while our mother prepared the other meals. He also met the milkmen at the kitchen door and tested the milk for water before buying. Breakfasts on the weekends were the best, because there was no rush to get out the door. The proposals for how the day might be spent were planned around the breakfast table.

The front porch was where a lot of activity happened. We learned to roller skate there and practiced turns and other moves around the pillars. Other toys, especially small wooden pull toys were played with there by the small children. On Saturdays the trunk wallahs would appear and spread their wares;small Persian or Tibetan wool rugs, wood carvings, silver and gold jewelry, kitchen utensils, anything that might catch the eye of a buyer. Sometimes the porch was a place of contemplative silence, or a brawl of kids getting into a fight before the adults could break it up. I remember hearing Margaret Brooks practicing Schubert’s "Serenade" on her violin from the porch. Because I, too, was learning the violin, the tune remained in my memory.

The small yard was one of my favorite spots. I could stand and look out over a vast scene of mountains, rivers, plains, cities, and hills. One could see small dots moving on Ridgewood’s play yard. With binoculars one could see that those dots were people. Crows and hawks circled below in lazy circles. There was a quail or some sort of bird that had a distinctive "kuwai, kuwai," call.
And then there was the fog. It rolled up from below and suddenly its wispy tendrils enveloped all in misty dampness and the sense of sight was denied to be replace by heightened touch and smell sensations.

One morning I was up and out before the others. Near the servants’ quarters. at the upper end of the yard. stood our venerable and short chowkidar facing out into the new day. He was chanting his prayers, as his ancestors before him, to his Creator. I was moved to see this old and wrinkled human so intently calling out and singing to his Maker. At night, not only were there stars in the heavens but also the myriad pinpoints of Dehradun city lights. Both universes twinkled for the same reason. The other side of the yard faced the high Himalayas. It was also the most fragrant side as there were many large deodars on the bank below.

When we returned to Woodstock in 1949 we were in the "North" suite. That was the year of the small snow storm. Having experienced snow in America we assumed there would be no school and so had the morning to make small snow balls. There wasn’t enough to make a respectable snowman (maybe an inch or so) and it was more of the soft snow pellets variety. I still have photos of that pleasant morning reprieve.

There was one disadvantage to living at Prospect Point, the monsoon thunderstorms! I have pretty much described them in my "Monsoon" article so I won’t reiterate.

Writing this has been a real pleasure. It has revived many memories of a beloved domicile.
If there are others who have stories about Prospect Point please feel free to share them.