Practice

I almost put on my hakama* without putting on my obi. The arthritis is bad enough to force me to do standing kata, but after two months, it feels great to be practicing – remember the Katana is long, but the ceiling low. Sword cuts in the ceiling are not allowed. Must not upset she who is not to be trifled with.

Covid-19 knocked me out for only a week. I had a mild case. But the recovery has been long, very long – weeks of low energy levels and fatigue.

Today though, I cleared the living room and slowly moved through three sets of standing seitei Iaido. I was tired, but not entirely out of breath. Eventually, the dojo will reopen, and I don’t want to be the one in the corner panting because the long layoff from practice has sapped my strength, although it has. 

The problem with long periods of no practice is that you think you are doing great, but then realize that your technique has atrophied. Like other forms of art, there is a fugitive component that you struggle to keep at bay through regular practice. I’ve had similar issues when I’ve stopped carving for periods. “how the heck did I do that?” Because so much of both those arts are tied to muscle memory, you can lose it if you don’t use it. 

Sometimes it’s interesting as you work back into things. You get little bursts of “beginners mind,” and you can use those to restore freshness to your work. You have an opportunity to avoid old harmful patterns – if you are careful.

Notes for those who don’t do Iai:

The hakama is a sort of divided pantaloon that was a typical style of dress in feudal Japan- being that Iaido is Japanese swordsmanship we dress in that style.

An Obi is a broad, very long belt that we wrap around our waist beneath our hakama ( but over our short jacket called a Keikogi).

Kata is a pattern of practice. In the case of Iaido, a pattern of sword cuts and movements that mirror a combat situation. Iaido gets practiced solo.

The Katana is the long Japanese sword used by the Samurai. It takes years of dedicated practice to master its use.

Seitei Iaido is one form of Iaido. In my dojo, we also practice a type called Muso Jikiden Iaido – another school of training. 

dojo is a place where you learn and practice Japanese martial arts.

Contact me is you want to know more.

I Can’t Get Started

The Gershwin classic ” I can’t get started” was finishing as I was clearing my last table. The Poland Springs Hotel bandleader was a bit of a musical snob and preferred the classic 1936 take on it by Bunny Berigan. He had held off playing it for me until the end.
It was the closing number of the night and the close of the final season at Poland Springs Hotel. In the morning, the last guests would depart, and over the next couple of days, the staff would disperse. Many of my friends were heading to winter jobs in the Carolina’s, Florida, and the Caribbean. I was heading on one final frolicking detour before enlisting.
Beginnings sometimes feel like endings. I’d never see Doris with the gorgeous red hair, and her boyfriend, Tom. Never listen to their stories of life in the big bands, listen to Tom play the trumpet, or listen to Doris sing Cole Porter. I’d never see Gerry, the barber, talk about cutting F.D.R’s hair, and all the other famous people, and what they’d say sitting in the chair.
They half expected that I’d join them, rather than enlist as a self-punishment for losing Betty Ann. And I was tempted. They were an entry into a whole different world than the Folkie existence I had lived these last years.
But beginnings , like endings, have consequence

On The Road

What’s the old saying? If wishes were horses, beggars would ride? Well if you were hitching around in the 1960’s you wished a lot and sometimes rode. We know that magical thinking can be dangerous. But sometimes it’s irresistible; for example, when you are stuck on a rural road at midnight, the local cop has already given you the fish eye twice. Wish, wish, wish harder! The next ride arrives, and it’s a drunk who wants someone to keep him awake on his way home. Let’s talk loud, and watch for an all-night diner. Wish, wish, wish harder.
No sooner than you pull into the diner, the drunk falls asleep. It’s four in the morning, and I have just enough for coffee and pie. I’m tired of wishing and spend the two hours until dawn talking to a lonely cook who misses his days on the road. He tells me that it was lots different in his day. Truckers regularly picked you up for long haul rides, and there wasn’t a town on America where you couldn’t get two eggs, hash browns, toast, and bacon for ninety-nine cents!
As it lightens up, I get back on the road. Cookie hooks me up with a local heading towards the interstate and tells me that he wishes he was going with me. I smile. I’m eager to get off the road but wonder if I’ll be glorifying the old days in ten years too. Sleeping with ticks and skeeters, mud, and rain. But oh the songs about being on the road. Maybe I’ll write one someday.

Mothers Food For Thought

My mother was a good one for sayings and quotes. She probably managed to create many of her favorites. She also explored the creation of her own story. Light replaced shadow.

The truth was a challenge, and we now think that she preferred silence or a carefully edited dance around the shadow of what might have happened. She made smooth the rough, created a happy time, or luck, as if by chance.
Even a short passage of years early in your life, one downpour too many, affects how the flower grows; how you celebrate. She always felt that life was like a book we were writing in, letter by letter. “don’t be in such a hurry, be patient.” “don’t hold that frown, the line on your brow will become permanent.”
It was part of her way of providing support to her family, of transmitting wisdom by sign and saying.
But, “Always remember, Louis. Nothing is free.”

Carefully

Careful is not a word in the official governmental vocabulary. Procedural is. I worked as a Practicing Anthropologist for about twenty years. I worked for municipalities, semi-governmental organizations, federal and state governments, and contractual work. Doing something carefully and observing the correct procedure is tough. But, I am not among those who would suggest that the two could not possibly coexist.

The reason why I feel that coexistence is possible is because of a little phrase I learned from a senior bureaucrat early in my career. I know that you’ve heard it: “It’s better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.”

Tony Babcock, was a second-generation contracting officer. To walk into his office was to walk into a library of the Code of Federal Regulations ( CFR). Each book inscribed duly with his name. And an acknowledgment that he promised to enforce the code to the best of his abilities. I knew this because a small, very small shelf of similar volumes rested behind my desk. Like my office, his office featured a framed copy of the government code of ethics.

Our first meeting did not go well. I had failed to distinguish between the two words should and shall in a document. I received a lecture detailing the travails that could follow on such a mistake. It was not pleasant.

In subsequent meetings, I learned that no matter how carefully I prepared, if I did not have my procedural ducks in a row, I couldn’t spend a penny of the federal money in my budget. I also learned that Parental Legislation in a bureau, department, or agency was a guide to what could and could not get done legally. 

Eventually, I learned that the key to unlocking the nearly endless information available from Tony was to ask the correct question. He would sit behind his deck in a very non-issue rocking chair, smile, and tell me that I was not asking the right question. Not being too dumb, I did eventually master the art of asking good questions. It was a pleasure to see him smile and open the flood gates to two generations of knowledge.

Somewhere along the line, I learned that it was better to ask forgiveness than to seek permission. Of course, the key to successfully manipulating that process was to have prepared the groundwork with the proper shoulds and shall, references to CFR, and Parental Legislation. All this showed that your intent ( pay attention now!) had been correct.

In recent years all of us have had reason to fear the direction taken by our governments. I find myself a bit reassured, however, that in an office far away, some snotty Schedule C political appointee is discussing shoulds and shall, Parental Legislation and CFR.

Thank you! I salute all the Tony Babcocks of the world.

National Maritime Day – May 22, 2020

In honor of National Maritime Day, May 22, I suggest that you can honor the nautical types in a variety of ways:
• Thank a mariner – Naval or Merchant Marine for their service
• Remember that all those beautiful goodies you buy online are transported on ships crewed by merchant mariners.
• Remember that while the cruise industry is closed, thousands of crew are still stuck on board their vessels.
• If you enjoy seafood, remember it was caught by folks who daily participate in one of the most dangerous occupations.

May Flowers

Just a few weeks ago, I was talking about bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, and trout lily. Those early ephemeral spring flowers are gone as I write this in mid-May. They come and go as things warm up and as the days become longer.

As I walked through the woodland garden this morning, white doll’s eyes ( when the fruit ripens, that’s what they look like) cranesbill ( a native geranium), Solomon’s seal, and Jack in the pulpit, have all started to bloom. This progression of flowers continues from early April to late September when the little asters start blooming. Where I lived in Maine, a long time ago, some people used to call those late-season asters frost flowers because they turned a lavender color as the days of frost approached.
For now, I am on the upswing of the flowering curve. It peaks around the middle of July. Some of this is very showy. But, some like the Mayapple, require you to bend down and look for the flower below the leaf.


Some of these are only rarely seen, like the flower of the pitcher plant.


In an earlier post, I referred to the woodland garden as a wander, stoop, look, and mumble type of place. Its primary value is in offering up little insights on nature daily.

Succotosh

I can still see the light and fires on the water, even though I never actually saw them.


It was during the Second World War, and it was my father’s second time in the water following a torpedo attack. Just moments before the crewmen off watch were sitting down to their evening meal. The sound and force of the torpedo exploding sent everyone flying. My father had succotash all over the front of his shirt. Little things like that tend to stick with you.
In the following minutes, men attempted to rush to damage control stations and assume their parts in fighting for the ship’s life. Before most made it to their stations, the tanker was in flames, and the order was passed to abandon ship.
My father was not among the ones who made it to a lifeboat. His life now came to depend upon his abilities as a swimmer. Not having a life jacket proved to be a blessing as he swam beneath a burning oil slick; the life jacket would have been a liability. Eventually, he was picked up by other survivors in a lifeboat. But, it would be almost a week before they were rescued by a passing vessel.

The lights and fires were reflections over the harbor from the annual Fourth of July celebration in Winthrop, and I was not in a lifeboat. I shuddered at the recollection.
The memories were not mine. They were my father’s. For some reason one afternoon, he decided to tell his nine-year-old son about how to survive the sinking of a tanker. His descriptions were vivid, and I discovered that they abided with me throughout the years. That and an aversion to succotash.

Fast

There is only about a week between the little Dutchman’s Breeches and the Trout Lilly. Its Spring in New England and time gets compressed. One day the Maples are flowering and making me sneeze. Then the next, I see the tree is full of small leaves.

I walk around every morning. My Bloodroot blossoms are almost gone by, but my Goldenseal is beginning. New England spring is not extravagant. Miss something today, and it’ll be a year before you see it again. Don’t waste time; Spring is fast.

Peckish

During the summer, give me a lobster roll from any of the local places serving them up. There’s an incredible Haddock stew at Gilbert’s on Commercial Street in Portland. I’ve probably never met a finnan haddie I hadn’t liked, and the sweet Gulf of Maine shrimp are far better than the southern cousins. In short, despite a medically determined avoidance of bivalves, I am a big fan of coastal cuisine.

My in-laws were known for serving bland cuisine. Spicing something up meant adding salt and a small amount of pepper. I came from a home where Spanish, Hungarian and German foods were on the menu daily. Rice, a staple in my family, was a rare item in their home. When served, it was soggy and overcooked—being over-enthused once I tried to introduce them to Spanish rice only to have the entire family leave the table. I’m not that bad a cook.

 Despite blandness, Cora was a good cook. Her cod cakes, lobster stew, boiled lobster, lobster roll and chowder ranked among the best. But, there is one exception. There it is again that all-important word “but.”

The Cap’n loved nothing so much as a couple of lobsters for Sunday dinner. Tamale, rolls, salad, and choice of dressing ( thousand Islands or french). This menu was as unchangeable as the date of the fourth of July. With one exception. If the Cap’n was feeling “peckish.” If his digestion were off, he’d ask for boiled cod and potato. I guess it was comfort food from when he was a child. But even Cora and my wife had trouble smacking their lips together over boiled cod and potato. To make this, you boiled the fresh filet of cod with potatoes until it was hard to tell where the mush from the cod ended, and the overcooked potato began. The first time this was served to me, I asked what sort of seasoning was available. Leftover bacon fat from Sunday Breakfast got drizzled over the plate; if you felt it needed it. Ummm, Ummm! I salted and peppered heavily to get it down.

I learned that I could peddle my bicycle over to the Island Store with a little warning and get a good sub sandwich if I got there before eleven. Then I’d insist that I had vital work to do on Psyche – rain was coming, and I wanted to finish that varnishing. The Cap’n would never object to me working on his boat.

I miss many things about living in coastal Maine, but ( there it is again) not boiled cod and potato with bacon grease.

 Bon Apetit!

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