The days have been sunny and bright or cloudy and breezy. Autumn progresses. There is still much color, but it is located among bare branches and in dry yards. Two smells take me back to earlier times: the odor of burning leaves (yes, they burn leaves in the country around the town) and the smell of dry leaves on damp grass. The former takes me to late afternoons in Four Oaks; the latter to days during elementary school of playing touch football in the neighbor’s backyard in Smithfield. There’s nothing more beautiful than the lingering and waning light around sunset this time of year. Can’t we have more of these days of desolation and quiet light before blazing the place with Christmas lights? (No.)
A Nantucket Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Weekend, 2002.
Wednesday: At the invitation of a former student from Iredell County, I took flights from Greensboro to Charlotte to Boston to Nantucket to visit. There was light snow in Boston; the plane arrived late. I took a ten-minute walk through the terminal to Cape Air, where a small aircraft, which had just been de-iced, took eight of us to Nantucket Island. Patty met me, looking as she had promised me, just as she did in high school. On the way home, we stopped to get ingredients so that I could make a drink, Nantucket Sleigh Ride, the recipe of which I had culled from a cookbook by a woman who lives on Nantucket. At home, I met Michael, Patty’s husband; Tim, Patty’s brother; and Bob, Tim’s friend. I met animals, the cats Z and RuFang and the large and friendly dog Jackson. We went to dinner downtown at Brotherhood of Thieves. There I enjoyed a cup of clam chowder and a hamburger cooked medium rare and excellent curly and meaty French fries. At home I made Nantucket Sleigh Rides, Michael built a fire in the fireplace, and we talked and sipped drinks until we became sleepy.
Thanksgiving Day. I awoke to a luminous clear blue sky. It was cold and windy; Patty said that it is always windy on Nantucket. We left for a drive. The streets of the town, as I had noticed the night before, are made of cobble stones. There are small houses and shops, with gray shingles. We went to Tim’s apartment so that I could borrow a cap, gloves, and a scarf. We stopped to see part of the Cold Turkey Plunge, an annual event where the brave run quickly into and out of the ocean to raise money for the local library. A fast turkey trot, yes. We drove around the island. There are shrubs, small trees, and cranberry bogs. We stopped and took a long walk on the moors. They are low hills with low lying vegetation, wind-swept. In places there were good views of the sea. Around noon I noticed a light in the sky I had never seen. It was a purple cast. I remembered “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by William Butler Yeats; there’s an image “…and noon a purple glow.” That’s it! I had thought the image had some symbolic reference of “purple,” but then I realized on islands there may be a glow of purple around noon. At home, Kim and Paul arrived to help start the feast. I chopped peppers, mushrooms, and onions to be mixed with scallops for the turkey dressing. I helped pan fry the rabbit before stewing it. Kim and Paul decorated the table and room. Kim looked perplexed at an arrangement of lighting on the tree, and called to Paul, “Paul, I need to you come over here. . . and. . . Do whatever it is I tell you to do.” I laughed and she smiled and winked at me. Guests arrived in the late afternoon, bringing dishes and wines. Tim and Bob brought a beautifully roasted turkey. The feast: shrimp with butter and garlic; walnuts roasted with olive oil and rosemary; pistachios roasted with cinnamon and mace; creamed squash soup with tarragon; turkey with scallop dressing; rabbit with prunes; mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, cranberries, carrots, peas, angel biscuits, chocolate cake, and pecan tarts, several types of wine. There were ten of us, Patty and Michael, Tim and Bob, and guests Kim and Paul, Karen and Doug, Jillian, and I. The company and conversations were excellent. Between courses, Kim, who was suffering from late stage cancer, excused herself by saying, “Im going out to smoke a joint.” When she returned, I asked her how was the night. She said, “Magnificent.” I didn’t know whether I detected irony or jadedness or whether she were aware that this was most likely her last Thanksgiving feast. I went out without wraps and was amazed by the stunningly bright star-lit night. I didn’t stay because it was bitter cold and windy. I was glad to return inside to a warm room, a blazing fire in the fireplace, and bounty.
Friday: I awoke to an overcast, gray day. Patty had gone out to tend the horses. I had coffee and talked with Michael about his work there. Patty came home and made rashers of bacon and more angel biscuits for breakfast. We decided to go downtown to walk around in the blustery cold day. We stopped to meet Bob; Tim had to work. We were planning to go to the whaling museum, but it was closed. We looked into shops, and Bob and I split a beer at a bar, where we stopped to warm up. We had lunch at home: turkey and rabbit half sandwiches. I took a nap. That night we returned to downtown. Each shop had an outside Christmas tree, and all the trees were lit for the season that night. There was Christmas caroling, groups led by the local high school chorus. We went to the beautiful and historic Atheneum to a staged reading of A Child’s Christmas in Wales. The five of us enjoyed dinner downtown and then went home and sipped Nantucket Sleigh Rides by the fireplace to warm up.
Saturday: We went to the whaling museum. We had a forty-minute tour led by a knowledgeable young docent. Since I had recently re-read Moby-Dick, all of the information was review, and it was grand to see the actual gear described in the book as well as maps and models of ships. The five of us went with Patty to see her horses and then to Kim’s and had leftover turkey sandwiches. Before lunch, Kim turned to me and said, “All right, Oliver, with me, now. Up to the bedroom.” I was not particularly disappointed when all that happened was that she showed me a small art collection. The flight back to Boston was late that afternoon. I flew both to and from the island on a small plane with propellers, and we were assigned seats by height and weight. On the trip back to Boston, I was able to sit next to the pilot and have a cock-pit view of a sunset that was light orange, almost salmon, surrounded by amber light. The sea below was a dark blue-gray, as desolate as anything described by Melville.
We know from the Joan Baez song “. . .what memories can bring, they bring diamonds and rust.” This memory will remain a diamond, a bright and shining one.
Of Time and the River. Yes, this was the week I finished. The ending is as brillliant as the beginning. The latter half of the book narrates the protagonist’s ambling through England and France alone or with his old friend Starwick and two women in his entourage. The life is one of dissipation and prodigality. Noteworthy are the first trip to Paris, written as journal entries, and a celebration of the French language in contrast with English, especially in the meanings and sounds of place names. I was astounded that Wolfe ends this 892-page novel with the protagonist’s falling in love on the last three pages of the book , a setup for a sequel. Will I read the next book in the series? I’d like to read all of Wolfe, but I’m going to take a long break before I continue. I don’t know if Wolfe will be considered a great writer, but I know no writer who does such magnificent things with the England language.
Eban Alexander’s Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, provided me no new insights or revelations. The narrative of both his near-death experience and the family’s concerns as he lay seven days in a coma are well-written and convincing. His spiritual insights, revelations, were three: (1) “You are loved and cherished.” (2) “You have nothing to fear.” (3) “There is nothing you can do wrong.” I don’t know why he wasn’t aware of the first two of these concepts from his Judeo-Christian heritage. He is an active member of an Episcopal Church. I did have to think through again the concept of evil. He mentions that in other universes evil is present, but not so much as here: “Evil was necessary because without it free will was impossible, and without free will there could be no growth–no forward movement, no chance of us to become what God longed for us to be.” I don’t know how he justifies this comment with Item #3 quoted above (perhaps it is meant only during his journey there.) I’m not sure that we have free will. There are psychologists, geneticists, neuroscientists who have written convincingly that we we do not have free will. I believe that, as was revealed to Alexander, evil is in all creation. I don’t know why, and I don’t know what it is. It’s just there. And it’s powerful. We pray, “. . . deliver us from evil….” And it’s not limited to repercusssions of bad choices. I grew impatient as he was describing and narrating his journey into afterlife and discussing its implications because he was not dealing with the scientific side of what might have caused the visions and feelings. He eventually discusses how he rules out possible physical causes of his visions, and he provides an index in which he eliminates possible reactions while in the coma. I don’t know if they are convincing or not. There is a major contradiction: .”. . . while I was in coma my brain hadn’t been working improperly. It hadn’t been working at all.” Several pages later: “The more primitive parts of my brain–the housekeeping parts-functioned for all or most of my time in coma.” I think his most important epiphany as a scientist skeptical to spiritual matters is this: “. . .extended consiousness, phenomena such as remote viewing, extrasensory perception, psychokinesis, clairvoyance, telepathy, and precognition, have seemed stubbornly resistant to comprehend through ‘standard’ scientific investigations. . . . Those who assert that there is no evidence of phenomena indicative of extended consciousness, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, are willfully ignorant.” Once again, this is a revelation for him, not for me. I’m glad he had his experiences and shares it. But I learned nothing. I do not recommend the book.
I hope your celebration of Thanksgiving will be good. Be in touch. Leave a comment here, or write me at my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org Put “blog” in subject line if I don’t know you.