Monday, August 31, 2009

Is there a joke here?

I've been sorting through stuff as we unpack in this new house. I'm finding a lot of stuff I could put up in a garage sale, which we'll hold this Saturday, what with the long weekend and all.

As one might expect, there are a lot of mementos, intentional and otherwise. I've come across two articles that were more or less left to me by my wife's grandfather after he passed on. Actually, I don't know if he had a will, and if he did, I don't know if he went into so much detail about divvying up his estate, or at least his worldly goods.

I remember there was talk that maybe I might receive a very nice pair of binoculars he had, but that didn't pan out. For one, it was definitely an object of value, and two, I am neither a hunter nor an avid outdoorsman, while a number of Pam's cousins in Idaho are. I resented that, feeling I'd been promised something and... well, really, I am only a grandson-in-law with no particular claim to anything of his.

It seems though, that I did receive a consolation prize of sorts: a necktie he owned with a very cheery Christmas tree pattern, and an old book of photos of Sweden, entirely in Swedish.

In my mind, there are two ways of looking at this. The first is that these were items no one else wanted, so they unloaded it on perhaps the least of all members of the family. The other way of looking at it is that maybe they did see a sort of connection between me and him in this interest in Sweden, and a tie that... well, you probably won't see too many aspiring Bishops and First Presidents wearing it to sacrament meeting, that's pretty certain... but on the other hand...

Now, Merlin was very devout in his beliefs. Very faithful and trusting that the way of the Latter Day Saints is the way, even if he wasn't too religious, so to speak, in practicing it. He offered his Testimony, or the occasional fragment of it, from time to time. Part of it was his recollection of his own mission to Sweden so many years ago. He still uttered the odd phrase or two in Swedish even in his last years. It was clear to see he did love that experience so.

I have a similar love of the place myself, particularly after discovering this was where my family name started and I too set foot there and brought back soil from my own great-great-grandfather's homestead.

We both had a tie to Sweden, much more so than anyone else in the family, so perhaps it was very insightful on someone's part to pass that on to me.

Still, compared to some of the other material things he left that the rest of the clan claimed... well, really, I actually suppose the joke is on them, if their intent was to leave us not so geographically close to him with the crumbs of the feast.

How so? Well, looking through this book, and inspecting this tie, it occurs to me that he and I actually did have that Swedish connection in common. There were times when I actually felt a bit... maybe not "singled out," but I did sort of feel that maybe there was something between us that nobody else shared, not even his daughters.

I could see Merlin still has a certain spark in his eyes, an ambition. A dream. My father-in-law often spoke, often derisively, that apparently he and mum-in-law made a mistake in taking the Old Man to see Casey's Shadow, a movie about horse racing. This apparently inspired Merlin to persue the chance of one day running a horse in the "All American Futurity."

Brent just shakes his head at the thought, "We never should have taken him to see that movie..." and Carolyn (mum-in-law) was up in arms at the thought of him spending all that time and money on "those damned horses," while at the same time both admitted that, "it keeps him alive."

I wonder sometimes though... once in a while, I used to call to arrange to actually ride one of his horses. I even got a pair of boots so I could ride properly (and safely). Nothing much, just a couple of trots down from one end of the pasture to the other, one or two laps, as it were. I sort of wonder if that might have kind of cut me into a slightly closer circle than others? I mean, I don't know of anyone else, least of all the adults, who ever took an interest in this (rather expensive) dream of his. Perhaps he let me in on his dream. Just a bit of it.

That's one thing about people here, I've noticed. People don't dream. They don't have a lot of ambitions beyond getting that job, the house, the small Israelite tribe of one's own, then eventually retiring to a life of doing nothing at all. It's like in Utah parents rear their kids, fill their heads with "dreams," then tell them to put them away when they turn 18, and get serious about life.

Merlin, on the other hand, bucked the system, by holding on to a dream well past the time when the local culture expects him to focus on the afterlife. Maybe I read that in him, and maybe he in me, so we were kindred spirits of a sort.

I think I felt that connection, very faint, but there just the same one holiday at the in-laws' house, not too long before he finally died. He and I went for a walk around the block, it might have been Thanksgiving, and it was just nippy but not frigid, yet.

We walked in silence most of the way, and he finally spoke up to me, like he was confiding some awful truth he couldn't tell anyone else. "I hate getting old."

"I do, too," I agreed. Not that I was indeed getting old, but once I'd turned 30, there were the tell-tale signs of things to come, like the Type-II Diabetes. That was enough, I decided, I don't want to see more organ failures or physical deteriorations... and I certainly don't want to "grow up and get serious," if by that one means settling into a Lay-Z-Boy and waiting to die, never even trying to "punch the envelope," trying to see how close I can get to catching that star.

Like a distant star telling its life story in a single collective burst of energy from all the nuclear reactions in its core... Merlin told me his story, and that it was coming to an end.

His children didn't get it. How could they? Children don't know how to listen.

But I heard it, and I can't wait to ride again.

Update, 6 September: I've suddenly found myself in possession of a rather nice pair of binoculars, the pair Merlin owned. Strange timing that this should suddenly turn up, less than a week after this post originally went up.

I am grateful, just the same. Merlin's legacy goes on.

What am I going to do with it?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

More Backlogged Thoughts...

I've been more keenly aware of the passage of time, even since moving into the new house. We have a clearer view of the eastern horizon in the mornings when I have time to ponder while I feed the dogs.

Here in West Point, we're a bit further from the light pollution, so I can see so many more stars in the pre-dawn hours, and we're a bit further from the mountains, so the skyline is a little closer to the horizon. The net effect is that I can more accurately observe certain stars and constellations rising in the morning. For instance, shortly after we arrived, I could see the Pleiades just above the horizon, and Orion was just clearing it, looking more like a bow tie than a mighty hunter.

My stars are out now, the stars I kind of associate with my "home" season of the year... Rigel, Betelgeuse, Aldebaraan... the stars in and around the Orion constellation are usually pretty close to dead-overhead when I think to look at them and recognize them. Usually this is in the fall and early winter. Weeks ago, these stars, along with Canopus (the "Dog Star," which reputedly gives the "Dog Days" of August their name), debuted in the morning sky, which reminded me we were easing into Autumn again. A brief whiff of a chill in the air last Monday at around 5 p.m. confirmed it.

Funny thing I noted as I watched the stars, almost before my eyes, rise higher and higher each morning, was that centuries ago, there was a whole caste of people who's social responsibility was to watch the stars, watching for signs or omens of things to come. They came to be known as the "Magi," and were widely revered with certain degree of awe, as people looked on them and wondered, "How did they know that was going to happen?"

Cynically, it was merely a matter of recording close observations, recognizing patterns, and keeping such proprietary techniques under wraps.

Astronomy has always been closely associated with astrology. Indeed, even in the days of Johannes Kepler, the great astronomer who developed the basic Laws of Planetary Motion, the main reason a monarch even kept a stellar observer on staff was to draw up a regular Star Chart that might figure into official state policy.

Even when I was in college, I'd tell people I was studying astronomy, and they'd tell me they were a Pisces, or ask me if I really believed in fortune-telling.

But the ancient astronomers used their knowledge of the cycle of the constellations and the position of the sun in the sky to establish what time of the year it was, and predict or at least advise on matters of the season, like annual flooding and growing seasons. I think the Farmer's Almanac does something similar, these days.

How did it get so out of hand, though, that someone observing the stars came to be known as someone with mystic insights and connections with the gods themselves?

Not sure though, but I've also picked up on this tidbit: apparently, the way we've come to associate certain personality traits with being born on certain dates has much to do with this tradition of really knowing one's times of the year, but it also involves having insight into the environmental conditions a person is exposed to during their gestation.

In other words, one might have an idea of what a person's temprament might be like if they knew what their mother was going though during the pregnancy, and most of all, what their mother was likely to eat during the pregnancy that might affect the brain's development, and thus their personality.

An example of this might be that a person born in October was conceived in late December, early January. In some climes, that means the mother has access to very little fresh food during early pregnancy, mostly dried or pickled foods or else foods that store easily, like grains. The curing or preserving process of these foods might affect the brain chemistry at an early stage of pregnancy in a certain way that's different from someone conceived in June or July (more access to fresh foods and the like), and so their personality is distinctly different.

Nowadays, this effect is less pronounced because we simply have more access to foods of all kinds, so a "Libra" might not be as different from an "Aries" as one might have used to be 3 000 years ago, and now with so many people living on highly processed foods, who knows what effect that has on the modern personality...

Did I mention I really dig astronomy?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Week in Review

A few notes about the week.

First, in the W.O.S.S. (that's Wife's On Swing Shift, definitely not "WUSS") department: To entertain the boys I took them out to a few different parks after daycare, just to get a little nervous energy out, and to get to know the area a bit better.

We went to the nearest one, the name of which eludes me, but it's just down the road, turn, down the road, turn, and there it is. Otherwise, a trudge through one row of houses and a farmer's field, and we're there.

The kids seemed to enjoy themselves, as we took a quick lap around the path around the perimeter of the park. We hung around a bit, as I noticed a slight Autumnal chill in the air for an instant, and Elias played in the sandbox for a bit, before he told me his nose was bleeding. I pulled out a handkerchief and had him hold it to his nose for a while to get the bleeding to stop. He must not have understood me as, when I removed the handkerchief, it was getting rather drenched with blood. We quickly got back to the car, and got home, and he started worrying about the blood. I switched out the bandana (fortunately, I'd chosen the red one, which I think helped keep the panic to a minimum at the park), and got a washcloth soaked in cold water, and told him to hold it to his nose, but to plug his nose and breathe through his mouth.

He cried and fought it for a bit, trying to hang on to the washcloth, and it was turning red, as well. I observed it's very hard to get a person to keep calm in these situations, especially where blood is concerned, and, well, this was also very new to him, so, yeah, of course he panicked.

Eventually, I got him to just plug his nose, and I was able to take the washcloth away. He calmed some more, and before long, yes, the blood stopped, but if that wasn't a lesson in controlling panic...

I'm proud of him, just the same for getting a grip and following my directions. I got another lesson in rearing kids (and a bit of human nature, as well), and Elias got one of his first lessons in what the military used to call, "Self-aid and buddy care."