Monday, April 25, 2011

On the Foxhunter's Dying

The great Foxhunter, at eighty-five, died the other day;
On a sullen afternoon, he was laid away.
His fox horn, moaning loudly, will call the hounds no more;
The hills are rather empty without his tune to score.

Come an autumn night on the top of Billy Goat Hill,
Men will gather to hear dogs run and close in for the kill.
But with horns raised to their lips, they'll know that he's not there.
For his sharp, clear saddening note will not pierce the cold night air.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Down on Third

“Down on Third,” they say;
not First, but Third,
not quite the burger, taco franchises,
fancy banks and strip malls
of First,
but Third, not quite in:

Antique shops grown dusty baubles
cluttering the shelves;
music shops with noiseless instruments
hanging from the walls, selling
guitar strings to acne-scarred, straggly-haired young men;
music lesson studios with tinny piano sounds,
off-key guitars and saxophones,
young voices, all muffled wafting into the street sounds;
trophy shops with dusty, six-foot high examples of the craft,
standing tower-like in the store windows;
bridal shops with white-turned-gray flowing dresses
hanging on the headless mannequins;
old small restaurants, family-owned and mostly empty;
doll collections without their former young girl owners;
bars advertising karaoke nights
with dingy smells emanating from the dark foreboding
behind open doors;
empty shops with papered windows
from owners long gone.

Down on the south end of Third
a garish sign suspends over the avenue
of dreams, only dreams
to make sure everyone knows
they are down on Third.

Wednesday summer nights down on Third:
parking stalls reserved for old cars refurbished;
old guys with old cars
fixed up like they were in
twenty-nine, thirty-eight, forty-seven, fifty-two,
especially fifty-seven Chevrolets,
mingling with
young Latinos with old cars
fixed up to be low-riders hopping on demand,
smoking, joking, looking under the hoods,
at suspensions
down on Third.

Thursday nights down on Third:
sidestreet farmers’ market tent stalls,
dirty white tent tops covering
fruits and vegetables in wooden and plastic bins,
tamales, gyros, kettle corn, brownies and candies,
flowers in plastic buckets,
assorted crafts with
folks roaming through the stalls
smelling, touching, picking,
handing over cash to hands
over worn wood tables
soon to be stuffed into the vans behind the tents
with the unsold goods and produce.

Folks down on Third:
not quite in and not quite out –
although a few down and out but
not quite mad, lolling on the street benches
smoking, drawing sips from paper-bagged bottles,
mostly cheap wine –
others just folks,
not good, not bad,
trying to make a living, a dollar or so,
just like most of us,
down on Third.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tsunami Brings Reality to the West Coast

SAN DIEGO – Friday, the tsunami generated by the Japanese earthquake smacked me and the Southwest corner with a dose of reality.

I had risen early to join my friends at the Sea ‘n Air Golf Course on the North Island Naval Air Station. Before leaving, I checked internet emails, news, and sports and learned of the 8.8 earthquake and the tsunami threat.

I could not fathom an earthquake of that size. I knew the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 1904 Northridge earthquake were 8.25 and 6.7 on the Richter scale, respectively. I also knew the Richter scale was a logarithmic measure of the shaking amplitude and increases were exponential.

Wikipedia states, “…a difference in magnitude of 1.0 is equivalent to a factor of 31.6, or (101.0)(3 / 2). But that is a number to which I cannot relate. I do know the Northridge earthquake gave a significant jolt to our home, which is approximately 130 miles from Northridge. My mind just could not get a grasp on an 8.8 earthquake.

Even though I knew an earthquake’s destructive potential, I dismissed the tsunami. Such a possibility seemed to be an over reaction. I proceeded to my golfing rendezvous.

En route, I listened to KNX, the Los Angeles all-news radio station. The CBS affiliate reported the aftermath in Japan and the impact on local residents, as well as tracking the tsunami.

One reporter was in LA’s “Little Tokyo,” the Japanese section of the city. The background noise was chaotic as local residents attempted to find out the extent of damage and telling the reporter how they could not contact their relatives.

In a sidebar to the news reports, a reporter stationed in Newport Beach, a high-end coastal community between Los Angeles and San Diego, was at that beach. He reported a crowd of people had gathered to observe the tsunami when it hit the west coast.

I considered them crazy and turned off the radio as I reached the base security gate. After all, if the tsunami did reach the coast with energy enough to be observed, the last place I would want to be would be on the beach. It then occurred to me the golf course I was playing runs, yep, along the beach.

Again, I dismissed the possibility of the tsunami generated in Japan reaching the West coast with any degree of energy remaining. The epicenter of the earthquake is almost 6,000 miles from San Diego.

A fellow golfer reported the tsunami had produced a two-foot surge in Guam, 1500 miles from the source. We discussed the possible effect on our coastline in the Southwest corner. San Diego has a shallow sea floor slope, and shallow gradients expend the energy of a tsunami. We once again assured ourselves there was no worry.

The speed of the tsunami swell is around 500 miles per hour. The course marshal joined us on the tenth tee with the news the tsunami had arrived about 15 minutes earlier with no visible impact.

The marshal’s news was flawed.

San Diego experienced an approximate one-foot surge. A number of vessels were damaged, one overturned by the strong current. A barge in a marina near Sea World broke loose damaging several boats and yachts. It was reported a lifeguard brought a woman and two children to safety after they were swept into the water while exploring tide pools.

The original damage along the West Coast was initially estimated to be around $50 Million.

KNSD, the San Diego NBC television affiliate reported, “Many people ignored local authority warnings and came to San Diego’s shoreline with their cameras or surfboards expecting a show. Despite water receding by as much as 3 feet in some areas, the majority walked away disappointed.” They were as crazy as those in Newport Beach.

Another report indicated the carrier U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, the destroyer Preble, and the cruiser Chancellorsville, all home ported in San Diego are off of Honshu, Japan, already providing disaster relief.

Although I should not have dismissed the warnings so blithely, I do have ample respect for tsunamis from my mariner knowledge. As it is with hurricanes, a ship is better off at sea.

But this is the first tsunami I’ve experienced first hand.

I hope it’s my last.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


the wings of the mallard beat furiously on takeoff;
shallow mud-gray lake water
rippled with the beat;
the hunter arose from his crouch in the blind
where he had scratched his genitals
waiting in his squatting position;
discharge of shot from the silver-gray barrel
smacked flatly against the cold, foggy morning silence;
the mallard escaped its awkward initial ascension,
veering unknowingly before the gun fired;
balls of shot dimpled the water, plip, plip;
the hunter spit in disgust;
the retriever, after tensing for the plunge,
settled back on his haunches,
resting his jowls on his front paws.
the mallard, out of range,
slowly glided up and into the low, dark clouds.
the hunter had expected the ducks from above;
the rise of the mallard
from its hiding place in the tall reeds
detracted from his normally sure aim;
still, as he watched the grace and freedom
of the mallard in flight,
he was relieved death had not succeeded
for a moment.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Harbingers of Spring and Memories

SAN DIEGO – Spring is weaving its fabric into the closing days of winter in the Southwest corner.

Monitoring Lebanon weather via the internet and phone calls, I surmise Lebanon too is experiencing spring’s emergence.

Although winter continues in the opposite corner of our country where my brother has returned, we are readying for one of the more glorious times of the year.

The harbingers of spring are subtle in San Diego not as glorious as back in Tennessee. Our weather warms to the mid 60s and low 70s, remaining there until real summer hits in July (we missed that last year with one of the coolest, dampest summer and autumn I can remember). The high and low temperatures vary only by ten to 15 degrees through the seasons.

Although I was in Riverside County about an hour northeast of my home, I played golf Saturday in shorts, an accurate prediction of impending Spring.

Earlier in the week while driving to an appointment, we passed a small home with a yard overflowing in irises. I reminded my wife the iris was the state flower of Tennessee. She thought our state flower was the “bluebell.” I mistakenly corrected her noting it was the Texas’ state flower.

In an ensuing phone conversation with my Austin daughter, I asked Blythe if the bluebells would be blooming in Texas when visited later this month. She laughed and corrected me, pointing out the Texas spring bloomers were bluebonnets, not bluebells. In Texas, “Blue Bell” is the famous ice cream.

Then when I commenced writing this column, I checked my reliable internet and discovered bluebells were indeed a similar flower and common in Western Europe. Internet gardening sites displayed horticulture rage and snobbism over people like me confusing the two.

The importance of these conversations is Maureen should get to see the glory of bluebonnets alongside the Texas roads while we are there.

But in my mind, spring in Texas and the Southwest corner does not match my memories of the glory of the season in Middle Tennessee.

I remember smelling the difference in Tennessee. Warmth had broken through the chill of winter, and suddenly, I could smell the blooms budding. The over-arching trees on the two lane (barely) drive from the concrete arch entrance to Castle Heights to Old Main (now the city offices) were turning green, shading the drive for the next six months.

We would not swim or water ski until May or as late as June, but Henry Harding and I would start wading Barton’s Creek where it crossed Franklin Road to fly fish for brim and sunfish.

All fisherman, including my father (I still have never caught enough fish to be called a fisherman), revved up for the bass and crappie fishing.

With the grass turning green, the brown dirt (or sand) green of Castle Heights’ nine-hole course became prominently visible in the campus southwest corner – now the site of Elmcroft and dental offices.

Down Hill Street, Frank North and Jimmy Allen would guide us through early baseball practice in anticipation of the season opener. Although in the initial practices, our hands would sting from the wood bats striking the ball, being outdoors felt good. Across town in Baird Park, the Blue Devils were likewise enjoying the spring rite of baseball. Members of both teams would meld together for the summer on the American Legion team.

From my recollection, it seems Lebanon simply threw off its winter overcoat and burst into spring. All senses told me everything was clearer, brighter, warmer.

Coming back from baseball practice, we could hear Jimmy Reed blaring over the speaker system for track team practice under the watch of Hugh Russell and Merlin Sanders. The field, now Stroud Gwynn Field in honor of Heights legendary football coach, was unnamed. The track was cinder.

Windows were opened. Screens were checked as they would become a requirement as spring raced toward summer.

Daytime was for being outdoors. That would remain so until the leaves begin to fall on the other side of summer.

Winter turning to Spring in Lebanon is more abrupt than here in the Southwest corner. After being here for almost 30 years, I can recognize the different seasons, but it is difficult for a visitor to do so.

Still, one thing I miss the most is four real seasons, like in Lebanon when Spring began to wake in March.