Sand Castle Lands

Morning Call
by Rob White

Time was calling at my door -- telling me there's
less ahead than is behind. . .

It was time to be 10 again.
Not, that I've ever been far from that mark.

But 10 gives perspective on parts of  the world
and that's worth a million or so, maybe more.

I drove toward an early start
on the work of the world that I do everyday.

But instead of the gloom on my screen
was a poem in e-mail, a poem, with an author unknown.
Extolling the memories of worlds that I knew over half a century ago, or more.
That started me thinking of those yesterday days,
though I didn't realize the thought at that time.

With camera on ready, I walked out the gate,
ambled, yes, I ambled  the sidewalk on to Vine,
remembering what it was like to be kids,
when you knew every crack -- every tree on your block

You knew where the ants lived, and ladybugs flew,
where tar was soft for a chew on a hot summer day.
There were places where dogs lived, some friends, others foes.
There were ones to keep far, far away.

But you also knew of those secret old spots in
walls and those places where toadstool umbrellas
grew wild.

Where you could stop and shrink down
to walk twix the crickets and slugs and those
hairy fat-legged bugs that creep under logs.

With always one eye out for toads.

Empty lots, with weeds and trees growing up,
fallen over, rotting, dark places, mysterious
and dangerous stairs.
Old houses, their owners since
vanished in storms of dark nights.
There were windows to
creep up to and look into rooms where
crumpled tables, broken chairs and strewn
bottles told of fierce times indeed.

I found them again, those worlds left behind,
this morning, before time began.
The world had no pants on or even it's first
cup of jo as I did adventuring go

 Backyards! Could I cut through
other's holds? Yes! Why not? the pirate in me
groaned. While I strode boldly where grownups
fear to tread.

It felt grand, doing that which was wrong, which was "bad."
daring the world on
their private grounds.

So I had glimpses of
dead, broken swings, and boxes of rusty old toys. I poked through garages
of smelly old things and awnings, rotted from days in the sun. And there, high and dry
stood a ship from my childhood, paint cracked and peeling, seaworthy no more.

Beneath a tree by the edge of a hill I found
a village for wee folks of yore. Small --
I grew small as an ant and wandered within elven
gardens, damp and cool.

Ten: I was ten all over again when I stopped by each
flowering bush, savoring their perfume with
my worn out nose, battered by wear and by time.

Green moss on cement walls stretched out to my eyes --
like fields on far distant orbs. That is, if I turned my head sideway to look that way.
The sidewalk -- buckled, old, and grey stood
like mountains on distant Tibetan soil, as roots
jutted wildly from earth. Earth, dark and gnarly with tails of dragons hiding
deep down underground.

With a gulp, or was it a gasp I sucked in air and
the weight of the world slid on down.
Then one kick and a step and my skin
slid away as I changed from a troll to a kid.

But time was now used up, my film was all gone and
so it was back to the grind. Yet, as I walked on
 past houses ancient with charm I could see
with eyes that had changed with new views.

From one upper window a princess stood watching
locked in her tower with no knights in sight.
I waved and she waved back, a bright smile she gave
her spirit undaunted in spite of her plight.

I watching mommies, housecoated, curlers
in hair, herd children half sleeping, half dressed.

Stuffed into cars they
zoom off down streets, elusively chasing
some yellow old blur, that held all the great piper's kids.

I laughed then, for I was still only a kid: 10 -- Well, almost, I think.
 Anyway I was the high prince of gardens galore --
worlds without end, so it seemed.

til some slimy toad hopped in and stuck out his tongue. He
kicked me the hell out of there.

Supernova 1994D and the Unexpected Universe: Credit: High-Z Supernova Search Team, HST, NASA *1.


Memories or "Now is the time . . . "


 Cousin John in Rio de Janero, Brazil: 1911

 Our lives are filled with
dimly perceived images
 memories from attic trunks,
dark closets in abandoned houses,
 or hopes of a better tommorrow.

Yet, We have only this moment,
 the NOW of life.
Yesterday is gone,
 Tomorrow is just a plan.

This moment is tangible,
 can be touched, smelled, tasted,
 But then the moment is gone,
vanished to become the past and
 we have a new moment in which to live.

 So we travel from one moment
to the next, savoring, feeling joy
 and pain, happiness and sadness, but
only for the moment.

 Time is our greatest enemy
and our best friend.

 How do we be NOW?
Not tomorrow!
Not yesterday!
 but NOW!

How do we savor
 this very moment,
knowing well that it will be gone
 before we really know it?
How do we put off tomorrow's troubles
 until tomorrow?

How do we put aside yesterdays mistakes
 in favor of "this" moment
which is all we really have anyway?

The rosebud, blossoms, and withers,
 we wait for the bud,
watch the bloom,
 and worry about the wither.

Our nature perhaps, to be always
 where we're not,
instead of where we are.

I sip this glass of wine,
 savoring, but at the same time
contemplating the last sip,
 the end -- no more.

 I wrote these lines as I was
driving up to visit Michaeleen
 for the last time.
I was there for a while,
 at her home.
Now I am gone,
 and so is she.

I helped her pack
 for her move to Rome,
And we put away, or gave away,
 years of things,
memories really...

or was I really there?
 And was she there too?
That NOW is gone
 And in two days time
she will be vanished from this land,
 almost as if she never was.
Of course there are memories,
 and long-distance phone calls,
but, somehow, that's not quite the same.

It's hard to understand the Now of things,
 which becomes the THEN.
Reality is NOW,
 all else is imaginary.

Earlier in the day I talked with Nikki,
 from Georgia.
Do you remember when we last talked, she asked?
 Six months? I said.
Two years, she replied.
 Oh! I answered, I didn't know!

Watching Tony change from a
 vibrant guy to a scrawny old man
in two years of suffering,
 was watching Time-compressed.

Time-lapsed images seared
 forever into my brain, burning
away nerves, bone, flesh.

For a while after that, I knew time,
 understood it in the round.
But now that understanding is just a memory
 Of times gone by as Tony said:

"Let's hail a toast
to those times gone by  . . . "
To understand the moment,
 the NOW, it is necessary
to break out of the mind
 and come into "reality,"
to see with one's senses,
 eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin.

But "Being" is not easy;
 for the mind calls
one inward, constantly.
 Sometimes we flee inward
to escape from the external world.

 And then our own thoughts drag us
into the mind's cavern of shadows
 where "what could happen" lurks,
and our survival instinct
 tries to figure out
a plan of escape.

We are only vulnerable in the NOW,
 yesterday is safe, but tomorrow
is in jeopardy.

This thought which was done at NOW,
 has already become a part of
"THEN's" history. I remember it now,
 but it was written then . . .
Captain Jason Redbeard


The Waterfall in Middletown

by Rob White aka LeBlanc

"Constantly risking absurdity and death" . . . James heads down the stony pathway, in search of that "elusive waterfall."

He came to the rocky trail after an hour of walking through the suburbs of Middletown looking for interesting backyards to photograph. Earlier, among the houses he found an old factory, with the label "Alms House" over its doorway. The building was hidden behind other houses, out of the way, so to speak. Now it seemed to be offices or offices to be. He took some photos through the smudged windows of the place. For a few moments he contemplated the words, "Alms House." His mind visualized scenes from Charles Dickens and he knew that he'd have to investigate "the story" here at another time.

From the Alms House he could see a backyard that seemed promising. You couldn't see much of these backyards from the street, he thought.

But, once he'd travelled around the house, watching out for dogs of course, he found a veritable expanse of grape vineyards with lattice overhead trellices and the likes. It reminded him of the grape arbors of his youth, those in the backyard of his friend Pauli's German grandfather.

There were good pictures here in the backyards and he shot off several floppy disks worth. Mostly though he was intrigued by a growing philosophy that the front yard of houses in general seemed to be a facade, usually rather monotous. In contrast the backyard, sometimes presented the passions of the residents through their gardens, sculptures and these vineyards.

How like a human face backyards are, he thought. We try to control our emotions in life, to make our faces blank, so that others don't see our true emotions. We learn to do that at an early age, when others make fun of us, or use our sensitivities to hurt us. So we begin to wear a mask which hardens throughout life. The frontyard is the mask, hiding the real face of the backyard.

After "shooting" those backyards, he passed by a corner laundromat, considered taking pictures there but decided against it. He found himself on the main Route 17. Then, walking over a bridge which spanned a wooded ravine, he looked down at the wild landscape below which he thought intriquing. The land way down there had probably not been touched or walked upon by but scant few humans in recent years. So, how to get down? That was the problem.

Further back along the highway there was an old mill which had recently undergone conversion into condominiums. Perhaps there was some kind of entry from within the complex.

He entered the grounds. Good! There weren't any "No Trespassing" signs yet. Walking through a sparsly filled parking lot he found a series of steps leading onto a grassy area. Ah! More Good luck. The grassy way led to a picnic spot and beyond them there were rotted wooden steps leading down toward the ravine.

The trail headed downwards into the ravine from which the sound of running water was a magnet that drew him onward. On this overcast day, in July the scraggly woods was dark and ominous, but exciting. He pushed cobwebs away from his face until he was at the water's edge.

There he stopped to view a fine bubbly brook with miniature cascading falls. There were other views upstream, but he needed to climb down a slippery looking sand bank, among craggy rocks to get there. He clambered over the rocks, plunged through bushes, cobwebs, poison ivy, placing his feet in locations where an anxious snake might strike in defense of its young. His mind processed those thoughts as he slid down the sandy boulders. He slipped, let out a yelp and grabbed for something, anything, yet held his camera up with one hand, away from the rocks.

Ouch! he said after his sprawl down the rocks and while lying prone on a boulder, counting his blessings that he had only minor aches. Two weeks ago, while hiking down by the ocean, he fell while balancing on a boulder. Then he landed on his finger which was tender ever since. Now it remained bent at a slightly rakish angle. He hoped it would return to normal someday.

Now he lay there, feeling a little silly to be found hopping around at the edge of nowhere, at his age, taking pictures of nothing. If he got hurt real bad nobody would even know where to come looking for him.

James thinks of himself as a storyteller with camera, looking for that elusive image to fit into the fantasy story he is developing both in his mind and on computer for internet publication. Everything, everyday is a story to him, tragedy, and comedy are all parts of the plot. And, sometimes he is the hero of the tale, but at other times not. He looks at every event, whether it be a soccer game or a butterfly dancing across a field of flowers and tries to discover its tale.

Today the story is: "Backyards and other Dangerous Places." At six am he awoke, drank some water, slipped his camera over his shoulder, checked the battery and supply of computer disks. On a quiet street in Middletown, he began the search for moss and mushrooms or toadstools, not to eat but to photograph. On sidestreets, in front of old houses, in the shade, he discovered moss covered old stones. There were good textures and rocks that appeared as if they'd been there for half a decade or more. Each section of the wall looked like a miniature landscape waiting to be explored.

But now he was lying face up in the ravine, looking at the bridge and trees overhead while rubbing his shin and hopeing that he hadn't broken anything after his fall. "Lunacy! You stupid old man," he mumbled, "Your father is Don Quixote! Your mother is Joan D'Arc! So what does that make you?" But he had no answer to that. A quick check of major appendages seemed to indicate that he was okay. All right then on with the search. The stream flowed down from beneath the bridge, cascading over rocks, gurgling and singing as it churned along.
Further on there was a dull roar and he knew that particular sound as that of a waterfall somewhere downstream. He brought his concentration back to the river and tried to frame shots of miniature falls so as not to include a broken bicycle wheel, a discarded shopping cart and other bric a brac from the "civilized" world above. Then, after shooting those shots, he retook them again, this time including the bicycle wheel and other junk. One image bespoke of nature, the other image of man's invasion of the same.

As he hiked up the stairway that waterfall-sound was just too much for him and he turned along a worn place in the woods that "felt" like it might be the right way to the cascading water. Indeed within a few steps he could smell, then see the river and part of the falls. At that point the water dropped a good fifteen feet. It was not a spectacular sight but certainly worth the time invested in exploring it. And, the fact that it existed within the town itself was intriguing. He wondered why this whole area was not landscaped with trails for the citizens of the land to walk along and enjoy the beauties of this world.

James dared to step on a rotted wooden tress to get him closer to the edge. Somehow he trusted the wood and it held. Now he was above the falls where he could get a clean shot of the drop. Indeed, there was an abandoned millstone, two of them, and the remains of a deserted millwheel to one side of the river. Cemetary world, he thought, remains of another age. He tried to conjure up an image of the old factory during its heyday, but there were too many gaps in the landscape to even get an approximation. He changed angles, took more shots, and felt like the "shoot" was finished.

With hardly any disks left he decided that this part of the excursion was over. It was not necessary to explore the whole world of the ravine at once. Better to leave something for another day. It was time to climb out of the ravine and return to the land of the present. He returned though, for a moment, to the landscape below the bridge to photograph the mysterious Druid inscriptions on the base of the bridge abutment. There was something intriquing about these cryptic inscriptions which, perhaps, contained clues to the secrets of time and the universe. Could be, he thought, could be. That accomplished he felts as if he had accomplished a major mission.

Back up on the street again he went to the guardrail on the bridge. Looking down he could see where he'd been but now the landscape was familiar to him and he knew its secrets. Well, some of them anyways. It was looking backwards in time to a land, a place, long vanished. Something about that thought made him feel sad so he turned away from the rail.

Crossing the road to return to his starting point he passed by the laundromat and was inclined to stop in and take pictures of the machines. No, he thought, not today; that's another adventure for another time. And, in reality, he didn't know from what perspective he wanted to see the place. It reminded him of a midnight odyssey he'd taken many years ago to visit a laundromat at an airport near Voluntown. That was another story altogether . . .

He started to head back to his car, but an old clock, its hands stopped in time, hanging above the entrance to a borded up gas station nearby was too much of a temptation. He stopped to take several photographs of the rusting clock from various angles. This is a good place to end the trip he thought as he snapped off the last photo and headed out to reenter the atmosphere.

Clouds breaking over Middletown fields

The Textures of Middletown

As James rode out for his morning's explorations of the Middletown countryside he stopped across from the Longlane School and looked out at a clearning sky. Knowing that he might soon be leaving the area he became a bit nostalgic and reflected on this last part of his life, the years at Wesleyan which were now drawing to a close.

Before Wesleyan he had been working at Yale University's Gibbs Lab for the Molecular Beams Department when a new faculty member - having raced up the 3 flights of stairs - burst into the Physics Dept Office and gasped, "The President! The President's been shot!" A radio was quickly located and turned on and members of that department gathered around to listen to the reports on the President's condition. It was not good.

Later, James had wandered down the dark hallway of the Physics Department to stand before the Atomichron, the world's most accurate clock which was one of his equipment charges. By now the President's death had been reported and most of the faculty and staff of the department had drifted back to their offices and labs. I wonder, thought James looking at the Atomichron, how it can be that someone will be here one moment and a fraction of a second later cease to exist. At what point do they go from life to death? Is it measurable? And does any of it matter?

For much of his life, except for a four year enlistment in the Air Force in which he had been stationed at an Air Control and Warning site in Germany, James had lived in the vicinity of New Haven. His most fond childhood rememberances though were those of the beach world at City Point, a seascape of oyster boats and fishing schooners coming and going on their daily business.

When he was 10 the family moved to the suburbs at North Haven and New Haven became a place he took a bus to on Saturdays for his weekly rendezvous with the movies.

So James was quite content to live in New Haven and work at the University. But in time the University there changed as more money came for research. James was shifted from Molecular Beams to High Engergy Physics to work on a special project under Professor Horace Taft.

The PEPR (Pulse Encoding Pattern Recognition) computer was intended to  process bubble-chamber film automatically and eliminate the manual process of measuring particle tracks on film. He found the work rather routine and mostly mechanical. Then, when his Uncle Oliver brought him a newspaper ad which called for an electronics associate at Wesleyan University new possibilities opened up.

Middletown was at the center of the state and James knew it slightly since his cousins lived there in Higganum and Haddam. On weekends, when James was a kid, the family would often pile into the family car and make the journey out Route 80 to visit the relatives there.

Now he was part of that community, working with Professor James Faller on several interesting projects, among them a corner-cube reflector that was destined for the moon. Professor Henry Hill was part of the department too and he was gaining fame with his solar oblateness experiments. The physics department at the old Gibbs Lab was awake with activity almost round the clock.

James was thrilled one afternoon as he sat at the North Haven home of his mother, father, brothers and sisters in the family living room as all eyes watched intently while the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, climbed down the ladder of the Lunar Excursion Module to step onto the surface of the Moon.

Later in the mission the retroflector was deployed. Now Professor Faller and his students, operating a powerful Korad laser in California raced to become the first to bounce that beam off the reflector and measure to a new magnitude of accuracy the exact distance of the Earth to the Moon.

In time both Professors Hill and Faller had moved away from Wesleyan to Arizona and Colorado to explore new areas of physics. James watched them go, but then he became involved in video and moviemaking at the University and eventually taught several courses in moving-making techniques.

Now it was 35 years later and he was beginning to pack his bags in retirement. The world and Middletown too had certainly changed over the years. He thought back to that Atomichron at Yale and wondered just where his life fit into the pattern of cesium decay within that device. Did the machine remember him, those few years in which he had been its guardian?

So much had happened in that span of time. He'd seen Wesleyan grow from an all boy's school to co-ed and multi-ethnic. When he'd first arrived the University was more like a college and everybody knew everybody. It was not unusual to see the head of a department having lunch with one of the carpenters or painters.

In recent years that was a rare sight indeed. He thought back to that Greatful Dead concert on Andrus field and the mushroom smoke-cloud that enveloped the field as the band played. It was a different world, much more interested in individuality than it was today.

I've worked here in Middletown, he thought, lived here for part of that 35 years and watched the changes, but what do I really know of this town or the people in it for that matter? It's a private world, like most New England towns that I've known. True, I know most of the streets, stores and recreations here but what of the soul of this place. What might it be called, texture perhaps?

Is there any way past the barriers that people set up to protect themselves? True, I know some people here, have a few friends, and there are many whose faces and names I know but little else. I've coached a soccer team and met players and other coaches. We meet on the streets now and then and stop for a moment's reminiscences of those days, those games and times. But then we move on down streets filled with strangers.

I need to find a way to see this town, thought James, if only through the lens of a camera. I need to know what there is to see.

So James began his morning wanderings, on foot, or bike, and sometimes from his pickup. He'd get up early in the morning, before seven and wander the town with camera, trying to find new and different perspectives of the place. There was always a different angle to find and it was relatively safe as most people were still in bed at that hour.

Once he went looking for farms out toward the south end of town. He was not surprised that it was difficult to find one, other than the place out by Crystal Lake. Yet the Daniel's Farm had changed too, from an agricultural base to a caretaker business for people's animals and pets. Still it had the feel of a farm. Farmland itself, on the other hand was not so easy to find. There were a few fields of corn but that seemed to be all. Perhaps another direction would yield better results.

As James drove his pickup down what was once Little City Road he found the very nature of the landscape had changed. Mostly the fields had gone back to wilderness and simple farm houses were few or converted into newer dwellings. What had once been cornfields was now houses. The newer houses though were modern in appearance, town houses really, and their inhabitants were not farmers.

Yet, where the rivers wandered, it was still possible to find places of beauty, peace and solitude, at least at the present time.

One could still find artifacts of the agricultural community, but often those artifacts were rusting in back of a barn which had a slight lean to it, and without some help would certainly not make it through the century.

By chance, as he drove down the Old Saybrook road he discovered a crew of men loading hay which they'd just cut from fields by the side of the road. He stopped and asked if he could take a picture, "Not many farms left," he said to the men. "That's right," said one of the older men, "There aren't many left."

James nodded his head. Yes, it's the same everywhere, the world changes, the Atomichron "ticks on" and the past slides back into oblivion. Old folks get nostalgic about their times and complain about the present. Young folks want their needs filled as quickly as possible and so the future to them feels like it should be accelerated. The world doesn't change much, but yet, everything changes considerably all the time and Middletown is no exception.

The texture of Middletown, he thought, yes texture, an interesting word. Does it mean the texture of the land, or the people, the buildings, artifacts, or all of those things? Yes, he thought, It's hard to quantify a town and it's almost impossible to define anyplace without trying to put everything into little boxes or squares. So looking at the "texture" of things could be a way of studying without trying to put limits on the overview.

The days when slaver ships came up the river with their cargo of slaves is long gone. Now, the lone ship Amistad, recreated for the part, makes the voyage as an historical reminder of those days.

The city is always changing, but nothing ever changes. Today's youth have many of the same needs as other generations. The styles change, attitudes, hairstyles, but much remains as it was.

By the river is a statue of Christopher Columbus, a bit tarnished perhaps, by recent changes in the way history regards his achievements. He stands, looking out across the river, his eyes focused on the bridge upstream and beyond, as if wishing he could continue his voyage up that river to places he'd never see.

James walked through town and came to The Color Mart. He looked at the walls of the building.  I remember, he thought, when these paintings were made by the brushes of James White and some of his helpers. They're gone now, the pictures, to places where dead paintings go, wherever that is, a landscape somewhere in those fields beyond. He imagined hills and fields covered with paintings in soft pastels.

Yet, in place of the old paintings, only a few feet away from the works of James White are new images, products of another generation, new ideas, full of energy, life and the symbols of today's culture.

What I know, thought James, is that you can live in a town or city for your entire life and still not know it. Even if you explored a different part of that town each day still there would be places, worlds, people that you'd never meet or experience.

He thought back to the pictures he'd taken over the Summer of the kids during the Amistad visit and of the Oddfellows Playhouse production of "Circus of the 21st Century." He reflected upon the Buttonwood Tree's "Kid's Art 2000" program and of the writing program he'd taken part in with the kids at McDonough School. That's the heart of any town, the kids. When a community works and helps its children, and shows an interest in their development beyond basic needs, that's the mark of a good community.

 - to be continued . . . .



* Credits and Acknowledgements:

1. * Supernova 1994D and the Unexpected Universe
                           Credit: High-Z Supernova Search Team, HST, NASA

2. * Lord Dunsany "At the Edge of the World" short story, "A Shop in Go-by Street" Ballantine Books 1970, Edited by Lin Carter.

3.* quoted from Ferlinghetti's "A Coney Island of the Mind"

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