Archive for ‘perspectives’

November 26, 2011

The Cliff-Hut

I would not have found the hut myself except that one of my sheep found it first. The hut was over a cliffside, on a slender outcropping about five meters below the edge. Otherwise, the cliff’s face dropped a sheer seventy meters to a rocky beach pummeled by massive breakers. I found the sheep on the outcropping after a stray rabid dog spooked her from my flock. Even against the harsh wind and waves below, I could hear the frightened animal bleating. So could my flock, and they ran ahead of me to the cliff.

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August 29, 2011

Aftermath

The hurricane left the usual damage—barren milk shelves, tree limbs ripped roughly from trunks, flooded basements. All this I had expected; I had been warned by radio and television to expect minor cataclysms. But this I had forgotten from the storms of my childhood:

The aftermath.

The sky is so tender. Alien oranges and yellows in the evening, innocent blue the next day. Strangers emerge from their homes to survey the damage together. Backyard borders disappear. Fences already bent by giant branches fall completely when we clear them in concert.

It is the hurricane that taught me my neighbors’ names.

November 26, 2010

Good Neighborhood

Photograph by David Villareal Fernandez

Now that I live on the Main Line, near the Old Money, I am often embarrassed by my car. It’s an old 90’s American four-door, built in the days when all American cars were embarrassments.

I cringe when smoke slips from under the hood after a long trip. I inevitably park next to a shiny German sedan, impeccably polished.

She hit me broadside, behind the rear door. I was only a minute or two from home. I spun out and went over the curb. The airbags blew when the front smashed into a lightpole. Glass shattered, the horn blared.   I bled from my hands, but not profusely. I could feel my legs; they weren’t pinned. The seatbelt released, the door creaked open, and I fell out. There was more smoke than usual. It smelled of oil and something sweet—antifreeze?

When I could stand, I made my way over to her car. Luxury Japanese model. Through the empty windshield frame I noticed leather seats. She was pounding both fists on the crumpled hood.

“Are you okay?” My voice was shaky with adrenaline.

She glared at me. “What’s wrong with you?”

“I…excuse me?”

“You hit me!”

“You ran into me.”

She snorted. “Right.” She went into her purse and retrieved her smartphone. She flipped the screen up to reveal a keyboard and asked me my name and phone number.

“I have my information in the car. The insurance stuff too.”

“I don’t want you giving me anything.”

“Why not?”

She pointed to my hands. They were still bleeding, pools of blood on the ground beneath them. She found a number on her phone, dialed it, and waited impatiently for the other party to answer. When they did, her voice became a machine gun.

“I was just hit by some guy. In my car. No, I didn’t call the police yet. Of course he hit me. Can I sue? Hold on.”

She turned to me. “What do you do for a living?”

Her voice sounded far away; as did mine when I answered that I was a teacher.

She returned to the phone. “He’s a teacher. He said teacher, not professor. Right. Right. Not worth it.”

After she put the phone back in her purse, she turned to me. “You are so lucky, pal.”

“Could you call an ambulance?”

“You don’t have a phone?”

I remember mumbling something about my hands.

I awoke on my way to the local hospital. The EMTs had gauzed my hands. They said I was going to the local hospital, but they could transfer me to someplace closer to home.

I told them, between winces, that this was my home.

Huh, they said. They didn’t think I was from around here, driving that kind of car.

 

 

 


October 4, 2010

The Ship, Part 2

Illustration by Tim Durning

Cynthia never wears shoes before the first frost.  On the walk from the cabin to the shore—surely one of the last barefoot this season—the dewed stones outside the door chill her awake. She gasps sharp air. Thick grass slides between her toes; the soil keeps its warmth better than the stones. She passes the first trees covering the cliff leading to the water, making sure to touch their trunks. The bark is smoother where her hands have often passed over it.

Moss lines the steep descent, coating Cynthia’s feet in slime. She holds on to chest-height limbs to keep her balance until the cliff eases to a gentle grade by the water. After she emerges from the trees, there is sand, stone, and sea—all gray beneath low morning clouds.

Stone to stone, Cynthia hops across the beach—no footprints—to the water, where the waves rush over her ankles. Her skirt clings to her shins. She focuses on the firmness pressing into her arches.

Where they go must have stone and trees, both old enough to be smooth.

With all the lumber he has accrued, and all the time he spends there, Harold has built a small shack by the jetty. November wind can be cruel, especially on the water. In the shed he keeps his tools, a small generator, a space heater, a chair, a blanket, and a map of the planet. The map is covered with pencil lines marking wishful destinations; the most exciting of them are circled again and again.

Harold’s hammer is nearly silent beside the din of crashing waves. The craft is nearly complete, but Cynthia has not seen it. Down the beach, when she wades into the water, she always looks away from the jetty. At first, Harold invited her every day, hoping she would join him at the gangplank. They could sit together in the shack and admire their vessel as it took shape.

I will see it when we sail, she said. Now he simply wakes before dawn and begins working; the sooner he finishes, the better—and winter’s on its way.

Only the final touches remain. He places another nail in the molding above the helm compass. A clip will go above the flat surface by the wheel to hold maps. Screws…he needs screws for the map clip. And the cleats for the lines. Wax—he needs wax for the lines.

Ten thousand little things, but still in all… He looks out over the twin hulls he has made by his hands alone. As the ship bobs up and down in the shallow sea, he feels trust in the deck. This can work; we can travel someplace fresh. Someplace brighter. Maybe someplace with fewer stones.

Harold looks up from the helm to see Cynthia turned toward him. His heart races, and he waves to her.

She does not wave back, only walks along the stones to the tree line. Harold shrugs, and turns to the shack to find some screws.

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August 13, 2010

The Case for Humanities: Pt. 2

Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, regards the imbalance of our society as a favoring of one brain hemisphere over another. The left, concerned with sequential reasoning, logical processing, and language syntax, has been the seat of economic prosperity for much of the last century. But in the new era, which Pink calls the Conceptual Age, technology and economics will largely render those abilities immaterial to personal success. If a computer can do your job more cheaply, or if your skills can be outsourced in any way, Pink argues that your left-brainedness could use an infusion of right-brain approaches. The right hemisphere concerns simultaneous, contextual, abstract mental processes. Humor, language interpretation, creativity—all these reside in the brain’s right hemisphere. Historically, creativity has not been valued monetarily—especially in American society. However, in the Conceptual Age, Pink believes jobs like designer, artist, teacher, and storyteller will be the ones concerned mothers subtly push their children toward. The great human skills of the next age include narrative, humor, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to find meaning. If this is so, then the humanities have as much value as the sciences in the coming era. Beyond the philosophical values, an education including the humanities will reap eminently measurable economic rewards. This is the future we face.

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