Monday, August 22, 2011

Scaffolding

This is a ripoff of a poem titled “IX”       

by Wendell Berry,
from Leavings. © Counterpoint Press, 2010.                              
(buy now)




From time to time I visit the house where once
I had surrounded it with scaffolding
and began to rebuild it piece by piece
To the casual observer it now looks about as it did before I began

For the house it is time to move on
and for that it must be ripped from my hands and set on another path

And I think of all the effort
I have wasted and all the time,
and of how much joy I took
in that work that is no longer mine
and how much it taught me.
For in the loss I learned something of my place,
something of myself, and now

the scaffolding is gone

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Dinner Party




Summer, 1961. San Diego, CA. (Pt. Loma actually.) I had been accepted to UC-Berkeley, as a candidate for a Ph.D. in Physics, and was spending my first summer making some money working with an electron linear accelerator group at General Atomic in La Jolla. We were making positrons which, as you know, are the holes left behind when you yank electrons out of empty space.

My wife stayed behind in Berkeley and I had been fortunate enough to find a place to stay with a friend in the guest house of a concrete block castle high on a cliff on the western slope of Pt. Loma overlooking the Pacific Ocean. (At no cost If I remember correctly.)

The castle was owned by an eccentric millionaire who had other homes in the area and was traveling most of the time. The castle was kind of a party place. It was a long low building parallel to the coast centered around a huge dining/living space. The highest level had a banquet table that could accommodate a couple dozen people and serving areas and lots of space to walk around. The rest of the room went downward toward the ocean in a series of steps. The next level was mostly open except for a thirty foot long couch built into the back wall so that it faced out toward the ocean view. The bottom step had a walk-in fireplace in the center of the wall and sliding window doors on each side opening out on to a large deck overlooking the ocean.

The furniture was an eclectic mix of Mexican pieces and dozens of faux medieval pieces picked up in and around the Paris flea markets. Pretty colorful. There were a couple little bedrooms and a bathroom on one end of the building and a tiny kitchen with a pantry on the other end.

The doors were always open and most of the time there were only a couple of us rattling around in this big empty place. One weekend afternoon when we were slowly working our way through a couple bottles of wine we were joined by Andre and his friend who you may have met in one of my previous stories “The Bench”.  Andre had fled the Russian revolution and was rumored to have strong connections in the semi-secret communities of such people that most of us are unaware of. He was marginally well to do and always bubbling over with creative energy looking for an outlet. After we had accumulated a couple more empty wine bottles the conversation drifted around to one of Andre’s favorite subjects. Apparently he had been conducting a “Gourmet Cooking School” in the area on a random schedule and it was about time to have another. There was general agreement that the castle would be an ideal location. The tiny kitchen was felt to be a drawback that could be overcome if all of us would agree to pitch in and help out.

So the news was leaked to responsible individuals in the surrounding affluent communities and planning got underway to hold the event in the castle in a month.

Here I should probably explain that the “Gourmet Cooking School” was actually a grand dinner party during which Andre would introduce each course with a few words on how it had been prepared and explain the motivation behind the choice of wine that was to accompany that course.

During the first week (while I was annihilating positrons and tuning gamma rays) Andre worked out the menu began to plan the kitchen choreography necessary to bring it off. It was agreed that the Planning Group would meet over the weekend and prepare a trial run version of the dinner just to see how things fit together and to be sure that the shopping list was complete. (In a castle in the forest there are no neighbors to go to if you run out of salt.)

The first time through it took us a couple hours to prepare the eight separate courses. There was a lot of getting in each others way in the cramped little kitchen. But finally we were on a roll and course after course flowed out onto the grand dinning table  for consumption. Of course, the fact that we were also eating the dinner slowed things down a little. The food was (mostly) great but suggestions were made (especially with regard to the wine list, which was found wanting) and somewhere around 2:00am the party finally wound down.

Before breaking up we agreed to meet the next weekend to repeat the process and tighten up the menu. Someone agreed to start thinking about the background music and someone else chose to look into an appropriate choice of linens, silver and china. Actually, there was a lot to do since we had found that the supply of pots and pans and serving dishes was inadequate. I remember one conversation where it was maintained that we could cut some corners if we kept the lighting low.

During the week I started working on a Bremsstrahlung target
for gamma ray production that involved multiple heats in a hydrogen atmosphere furnace. Beautiful work. During this same period Andre did some more shopping to prepare for the weekend.

When the weekend arrived we all got together and started right in without so much sitting around and discussing as before. People began to assign themselves to particular aspects of the process and to time their contributions into the intervals between the activities of the others so everything became smoother and more intense at the same time. As the food (and wine) flowed out onto the banquet table you could sense everyone's pride that it was starting to come together. So we all got to enjoy the evolving dinner menu for a second time and there was general agreement that it was improving. Some sauces could clearly benefit from a little attention and the wine list was still evolving. It was getting to be late in the game but the desert clearly was not working. I don’t remember what it was, but it was too elaborate to be sitting on top of the preceding seven courses. Andre wanted to skip it entirely and just go with a cheese course but saner heads prevailed.We decided to have a small sorbet (I knew a supplier who would make something special for us) embellished with two grapes and a grape sized honeydew melon ball in a couple spoonfuls of a champagne liqueur.

The next week at work was uneventful (except for a little Army project involving gamma ray food sterilization where some cans exploded) and I spent most of my time thinking about the coming weekend.

This was going to be our last practice (and associated meal) and there were still some loose ends. The menu was pretty well locked in and the kitchen coordination was awesome. (Better than some covert operations that I have subsequently participated in.) The table was set as it would be for the big event and the background music was playing (and we realized that we needed more candles). We even had a practice run through for the floral decorations. About half way through the meal we dimmed the lights and Andre switched to a white-tie tux to announce  the final course. It was enough to bring tears to your eyes. We were ready.

I had a tough time at work that week. I was almost holding my breath in anticipation of the weekend. But ,as usual, an interesting project came up where I had to design a rotating target exchange wheel that would rotate in sudden small increments. It turns out that something called a geneva mechanism (found in older movie projectors) is perfect for the job.

The big night went by in a blur. I remember sneaking a peek into the dunning room and seeing the happy crowd eating and drinking and chattering away and having a wonderful time. In the kitchen it was all serious business, with people checking their watches and tasting this and that to make last minute adjustments.

Then it was all over. The guests were gone in their limos and the support team turned on the lights, poured what was left of the wine and proceeded to debrief the evening’s events. Unknown to me there had been some (predictable) gaffs. A sauce that curdled. A dish that was not as warm as it should have been when served. Etc. In every case the team had covered beautifully and the guests never had a clue there was a problem. We just let it all sit and started the cleanup process the next day. By midweek there was almost no evidence that anything had happened (other than the fact that the place was unusually clean).

And I went back to the boring business of making positrons which, as you know, are the holes left behind when you yank electrons out of empty space.


The Power of ..............



We could stop the universe.

Or not.

Bring space-time to a shuddering halt.

Or not.

The Bench



His name was Andre.

At the time it seemed like the name of an artist. The image I have is something like a Rembrandt self portrait. A rumpled, stained smock and a big floppy (maybe velvet) hat. Not that Andre actually dressed like that, but his baggy old jacket and beret combined with his artistic attitude to suggest something more profound. I was told that he was “White Russian”, whatever that means. The implication was that he had come from a royal family of some sort, that had had the good sense to leave Russia during the revolution. He was in his 80’s when I knew him in 1960.

He had a male partner whose name I can not recall. He had been the lead architect for San Diego’s widely known Balboa Park and was a pleasant, quiet sort of guy compared to Andre’s broad overstatement and bluster.

They were friends of friends and we became acquainted during a party at an improvised castle perched on the cliffs of Pt Loma overlooking the Pacific Ocean. (Where I was living in a guest house.) In the course of the evening Andre reveled (to me and everyone else) that he had rented a half dozen garages some years ago to store the excess furniture that had resulted when he and his partner had moved into more modest accommodations. During the next few days they planned to sort through the stuff and try to trim it down to one or two fewer garages. He thought it would be delightful good fun to play “musical garages” and invited us all to join the enterprise. Since I had some time on my hands I decided to “give it a shot”.

We only had one old pickup truck so the process got kind of involved. And Andre hated to part with any of his treasures. Eventually we managed to eliminate one garage and I ended up with an old redwood bench.

It was beautiful. It clearly had spent it’s entire life outdoors in the sun and rain. It was about one and a half feet high, a foot or so wide and about three feet long. The color had weathered to a wonderful silver-gray and the softer part of the wood grain had shrunk leaving the harder part of the grain more exposed.

At the end of the summer when I returned to Berkeley to continue my graduate studies at the university I took the bench with me. When I think back on it now, it is sort of a shame, but I ended up sanding away the beautiful weathered grey surface and the raised grain. I then applied a couple of coats of furniture finishing oil and the bench glowed with rich redness that gives the wood it’s name.

The bench was about the only solid piece of furniture my wife Cecilia had during our time at the university. After I graduated we spent some time abroad and the bench had to fend for itself. We eventually returned to Berkeley and after a couple years we bought an old redwood shingled house (do you see a pattern here) near Live Oak Park in the north part of town. The bench was right at home there and it assumed the duties of “coffee table” in front of the small couch in the living room.

Life goes on, and after a few years we adopted three girls, a sibling group - two fraternal twins and a younger sister. After a couple more years I fled the strains of family life and then a few years later the children also decided to leave. Cecilia and I divorced and she inherited the house and the redwood bench.

Not much is known about how things were for the bench until more than thirty years later when,almost by accident, we learned that Cecilia had died and the house was sitting empty and the bench was alone again. My daughter Katie drove down from Portland OR to put things in order and took the bench back home with her. I doubt it suits her decor, but for now, it is home and it will have to do until the next adventure comes along.


Maybe Happiness Is ...........



Maybe happiness is this: not feeling like you should be elsewhere, doing something else, being someone else.

This is what sailing does for me.

I have ample evidence that this does not work for everyone.



Another thought that has been playing around in the back of my mind is the question of whether or not Love (note the capital letter) requires an object. I found myself falling in love the other day without an object to hang it on. I was reflecting on the fact that my recent attempts at “falling in love” had not accomplished much and, in fact, the idea of love “sans objet” seems to have a lot to recommend it.

Many of you were building counter arguments in your mind as you read the above. But let me be a little rough and point out that the images of the world that you carry around in your brain are not worth much. There is a lot of current scientific research (and informed philosophical musing) that supports the view that the brain simply makes up stuff to embellish the decisions that it has already made (often without a hint of causal connection). History, Poetry, Literature and Folklore abound with stories of love so one sided as to make the putative object irrelevant.


My contention is that this is not an occasional aberration, but rather the universal norm. And that love “avec un objet” is kind of a cover up that simply serves as a mnemonic to make communication on the subject more organized. I’d argue that that while there is no problem with espousing the conventional wisdom in this area, there is also no real point in it.

It does clear the air to put a lot of these archaic ideas behind us.

The Houseboat





During the epic process of rebuilding the ancient sailing vessel “Vixen” my mentor and friend Wladek had been living in a tiny waterfront shack on the Oakland estuary. The shack occupied the empty space that would have otherwise been wasted inside the legs of an old water tower that had seen better days. The tank itself was a huge big barrel made of vertical wooden staves held round with a couple steel bands. At that time it was probably no longer in use.

And now I wonder. There was a fancy restaurant built in Kensington at about that time called “Narsai’s”. The decor featured a redwood dining room “fashioned from a giant redwood tank”. Might have been the same one.

It was the summer of 1968 and I was just graduating from UC Berkeley with a PhD in Nuclear Physics and getting ready to go to the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen for a one year postdoctoral position. Wladek’s restoration work was coming to an end and the boat was back in the water. At about this time he learned that the small boat harbor just west of Jack London Square where he had lived and worked on the boat for the last 6-7 years was about to be razed for the construction of a major container ship unloading facility. He decided that it would be cool to first build a float of some sort and then second to hire a crane to hoist his home from under the water tank onto the float. Somehow I got enlisted into the float building project and the very next weekend we set out on our quest.

There was an old ramshackle, one story, factory building adjacent to the water tower, and I remember that there was a sort of “greasy spoon” cafe somewhere near there on the dock as well.  Inside the factory we cleared a space on the wooden floor and laid out a template for the individual stringers out of which the box was to be made. Something like this:

There was a beam at the top and another at the bottom, then 4-5 short vertical risers and a bunch of rectangular and triangular plywood gussets. Since 8-10 of these beams were required for the float a lot of individual pieces had to be cut and then assembled. I think that we did it in one day (probably a Saturday) and then spent the next day (Sunday, when even the Lord normally takes a break) we set up the framework of the box outside and then covered it with plywood. So, in a few short hours we had managed to build the box, but it still had some shortcomings: first it had a lot of cracks and seams that would leak and second it was big and heavy and upside down so getting it into the water was not going to be easy.

During the week Wladek covered the box with fiberglass mat and then saturated the mat with a two part liquid epoxy that then hardened into a thick permanently waterproof layer. To the best of my knowledge it never leaked. There were water intrusion issues from time to time but they usually had to do with rain water leaking in from above or waves from boats passing in the estuary. These waves would break against the houseboat and push their way in over the open top of the box. When the epoxy had hardened Wladek hired a crane to lift the box and turn it over and then set it into the water. Then he put plywood flooring on to seal up the top of the box and started building the frame of what was eventually to become the houseboat itself. (Somewhere along the way it had become clear that the shack from under the water tower was not really suitable.) So, the decision was made to start from scratch and build something new.

I don’t remember why I wasn’t involved in this part of the project, perhaps I had already left for Denmark.

The houseboat ended up on an end tie in the 5th Avenue Marina. It was a wonderful location on the Oakland side of the channel a little less than a mile east of Jack London Square and across from  the Oakland and Encinal Yacht Clubs on the Alameda side. The view down the estuary toward San Francisco and the setting sun was really special. Speaking of the view, this might be a good time to mention that the three main windows of the house were reused from the old abandoned factory where we had begun the project.

In the course of time something special happened with the houseboat. People who spent time there were affected somehow. Not suddenly and not everyone. The change is subtle at first then more noticeable with time.  It is as if the time spent there doesn’t count. If you spent days there it would still the same time when you left as the time when when you entered. Frequent visitors would notice (or not) that the world that they went back into when leaving was not exactly the world that they had left earlier. Often each instance went unnoticed but a sense of otherness would accumulate.

You know who you are.

I think of it as a “Portal”, an opening from one place in space and time to another place in space and time. Mind you, I’m not talking about the kind of Portal that you might find in a science fiction movie where a shimmering wall appears that looks like the surface of a small pool of water (but vertical) where one leaps through into another universe. No, what I am trying to describe is a lot more subtle. The effects were smaller and incremental.



In science these days there are people who take seriously the idea that the world of our senses moves forward in time by splitting smoothly into multiple universes that differ from each other by the tiniest amount at first but the differences grow with time as the process continuously repeats itself. Maybe Wladek found a way to move sideways in this continuum of universes and he somehow built it into the structure. Let’s say someone is upset with you and as time goes forward this is going to continue to be the case. On the time line where you are there might be parallel universes splitting off all the time where the person is even more angry or maybe less angry so that they forgive you. You have to believe that all of these things actually happen but you only experience the one that you are in.

What if the houseboat would let you slip sideways from one reality to another that is adjacent to it. Actually, I don’t expect that a word I’m saying is going to be understood, but the experience has left a mark on me that has not faded with time. On occasions when I was struggling to find direction in life I ended up living on the houseboat for weeks at a time. Each experience left me somewhat disoriented but more and more with a sense that I was not bound to the world line that otherwise might have seemed inevitable, but that I could “move sideways” and, in some sense, “choose the future”.

Think of it as surfing or hang gliding. Normally the universe unfolds in front you as if you were going straight down the wave and holding on for dear life. What if you slowly learned to stand and then to lean a little to one side or the other so that your trajectory differs infinitesimally at first but with time a gap begins to grow between what is, and what might have been. As a caveat, let me assure you that this has not helped me to avoid illness nor has it enabled me to choose a future where my investments are always growing. That’s not the way it works.

One of the very few regrets I have, and there are not many (Being able to choose your future means that you are responsible for it.) is that the experience I have been trying to describe here is so difficult to share. I have tried, and it is like standing at the north pole under a sky filled with an aurora and wanting to share it with a friend who does not believe in “lights in the sky” and refuses to look up. I have some ideas and I had thought that with time I might make some progress in this area. But it is not to be. The gateway is gone. It only remains for those of us who have been marked by its existence to form a circle, hold hands and murmur some sort of blessing.








Visit to Krakow



One evening during a visit to Krakow I was strolling with a friend in the old town square. In the north east corner of the square is the St. Mary's Basilica, a Brick Gothic church built in the early 13th century, famous for the hourly trumpet signal played from the top of the taller of the two towers. We entered just as the service was concluding and stood in the entryway as people began streaming out. (There weren’t that many.) I thought to turn and go but something held me there as the echoing sounds of the departing parishioners began to fade.

The central part of the cathedral was dimly lit by large candles and, as we stood there, I could see that they were being extinguished one by one. Slowly the distant darkness moved in our direction. I tried again, but just as I mustered my resolve to turn and leave the soaring soprano sounds of a woman’s voice singing “Ave Maria” fixed me to the spot. I couldn’t tell where the sound was from other than the vast empty space of the nave that was becoming progressively darker.

As the singing came to an end, the last few candles were extinguished by an old bent over figure dressed in hooded medieval attire and carrying a snuffer on a wrought iron staff. (Perhaps my mind later added these embellishments. But, I swear that this is as I remember it.) He had a cord around his waist from which there hung an iron ring with a dozen or so ancient looking keys.

Without speaking he began to herd us toward the door. One candle remained in the entryway, and there was still a faint glow high up inside the church itself. As we started to back toward the door the first few bars of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D” on the church organ echoed through the church and the low note at the end of the first passage shook the building and froze all three of us in our tracks. I’m not sure I was even breathing until after the music ended nine or ten minutes later and we were thrown back into the world of reality. We looked at each other. Had that really happened?

I don’t remember leaving the church or hearing the door close behind us or even if there were steps down to the street. All I can recall is that it was late, the square was empty and it was time to head back to the hotel.

Gone



It was as if a tiny bird had landed on my finger and proceeded to sing its heart out
Then, suddenly, in a blur of feathers and fluff it was gone

Memorial Day Sailing 2011



It was a quiet empty ocean without a single other sail to be seen. But not without adventure.

Since everyone I know was otherwise occupied I decided to go for a little singlehanded sail today, and by 9:00am I was already bumping my way across the sand bar in the Sampan channel. It was kind of rough out at R2 but manageable. We left the reef in after Saturday's sail, which was probably a good idea since the wind was around 20 knots most of the time and often gusted up over 25. I put the jib all the way out and went blasting out into the ocean. I had thought to go to Makapu'u Lighthouse but changed my mind because Cirrus was going so well to weather. We were doing more than 7 knots over the ground most of the time and I decided to see if I could get far enough out to loose sight of the island. I did a lot of tacking for the singlehanded practice and for the pure pleasure of using the beautifully smooth running winch that Rick cleaned up and lubricated yesterday. (A big job.)

It is interesting how asymmetric the boat seems to sail. She's a knot or more faster on starboard tack than on port. Some kind of bad habit she seems to have picked up from having done so many Pacific Cup races.

By noon I was 12 miles out and the island was lost in haze except for the silhouette of the Mokapu headland. Not bad for 2 1/2 hours hard to weather.  I was going to keep going for another hour but I got squalled on and the wind cooled and seemed to be coming up. (It was a false alarm and cleared up beautifully shortly after I turned around.)

The run back in was wonderful. A broad reach and surfing every single wave. Most of the day there was a big swell of 10-12 foot waves hiding inside wind waves of 4-6 feet. Ever half hour or so a set of really big waves would come through. Good fun. But you had to pay attention.

Back in the bay with time on my hands I decided to sail in to the KYC bulkhead to see if anyone was around. The wind died and went dead ahead just as I was committed to the channel between the docks but I had just enough momentum to spin the boat around and drift back out.

Back at the dock I noticed that a seal on the hydraulic backstay cylinder was broken, So I rigged the running backs (to support the mast) and removed the cylinder. I hope my hydraulic tech is still in business. That is one of tomorrow's errands.


The Channel Channel



The town of Juneau, Alaska is home to one of those accidentally wonderful pockets of perfection that sneak into existence in the world we live in at the intersection of nature and technology, it is called “The Channel Channel”. Even though Juneau is the capital of Alaska the tourist map shows a downtown that is only four blocks wide and eight blocks long.  It lies on the Gastineau Channel, which is dredged out south of town to accommodate monster cruse ships but dwindles to the north into a minor slough just adequate for small recreational boats. This part of the channel is quiet and picturesque. The (15-20 foot) tide slowly raises and lowers the water level and whatever breeze there is ruffles through the reeds and grasses along the banks. Occasional waterfowl drift up and down the channel hunting, foraging or just going somewhere.

The local television station has a permanent camera looking out of the studio window and down the channel. Hence, “The Channel Channel”. We once had a layover in Juneau and spent the night at a little hotel on the dock just north of town. We were delighted to discover  this resource and left it on most of the time.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gloomy Poem

Probably I already knew

When life's benchmarks began to slip by unacknowledged

When similar, less significant, events years earlier had been boldly celebrated

Looking in a mirror, I could see through myself to things that were behind me

Rooms that I entered began to feel empty

It feels like a window is closing in time and space

Will I monitor the progress of these changes

Not likely






March 2011 Tsunami

On the Waikiki - Honolulu side of the island a lot (maybe hundreds) of boats made the correct choice to go out into the open ocean to ride  out the  Tsunami even though it finally ended up not amounting to much.

Since the Tsunami waves are really long (like 20 miles) they go by in the open ocean without any effect. One just goes slowly up then slowly down.

On the Kaneohe side of the island it was as if no one got the word. Not a single boat responded (other than me). Since the Tsunami was supposed to arrive around 3:00am I went down to the boat around midnight and started to get underway. Since it was rainy and squally (and I was alone) and no one else seemed concerned I almost decided to give in and just hope for the best. Besides I'm getting old and creaky, so these adventures are getting harder to pull off.

You will not be surprised to learn that bravado prevailed and we (Cirrus and I) set out for Sampan Channel into the open ocean. Not so easy in the dark and in the rain. Most of the navigation marks are not lighted and it was a constant battle to stay oriented and avoid getting confused by lights off in the distance or on the land, (Traffic signals, for example,  are also green and red.) One marker in particular just didn't seem right and I almost ended up going on the wrong side of it. The range lights at Makani Kai and the Sampan Channel were absolutely essential. Don't know what I would have done without them. In between it was hard but manageable. The GPS was a big help also but I ended up as well picking out unlighted marks with a flashlight.

It took about an hour to get out the channel so I still had two hours to get as far offshore as possible before the predicted Tsunami arrival time of 3:00am. The SSB radio has one pre-programmed commercial channel that just happened to be the one that was doing continuous updates. Motor sailing to get as far offshore as possible was really hard. It was all straight into the wind and with the worst bumpy confused seas I have ever seen. The wind was about 15-20 knots and the waves were not much bigger than 6-7 feet but they were steep and coming from every different direction. I kept having the thought that it was really, really good that I seem to be impervious to motion sickness. (Even in space.) If you get sea sick you would not have wanted to be there. It's interesting that even though it didn’t seem so bad at the time, none-the less all my core muscles ache today from continuously fighting against the jerky motion of the boat while moving around doing things (and old age).

After an hour or so I was casting about for things to do. I thought of fishing but I wasn’t sure about doing it in the dark. Finally, I realized that even though I wasn’t that hungry it would be a challenge to boil some water and make a cup of noddles. That kept me busy for about 15 minutes and established that I probably wouldn’t starve even in the worst conditions.

At 4:00am (an hour after the predicted Tsunami arrival time) I gave up and headed back in. With the wind behind me and a little surfing I was back at the dock slightly before dawn at 6:00am. From the marina the ride home was a little unreal because the mountain was covered with people, parties, tents and cars parked every which way.

I was thinking how tough I was but then fell asleep while trying to have some breakfast at home.

The Eagle and the Kolea

It was sunny and warm and the old eagle had drifted off to sleep on a big branch high above the ground. He was big even for his species and a bit grey around the edges. He had had a long full life, he had done it all. There was no aspect of being an eagle that he had not accomplished with room to spare. Some of these accomplishments had accumulated over the years and some (acts of bravery, for example) were ancient history by now. So, a nap in the sun (while always nice) was feeling especially good on this particular day.

Startled awake by a chatter of chirps, he looked down on a cocky little kolea asserting her territorial prerogatives against a flock of little songbirds who, apparently, were unclear on the concept of territory. They would hop into the air at her headlong rush only to land again a few feet away. Finally, they wandered off seemingly at random.

In the eagle’s mind a thought was forming, “Strictly speaking, my little friend, this isn’t your territory either.” Without thinking he rose up to his full height and flapped his wings hard while continuing to hold to the branch. The kolea didn’t even look up. Up he rose again, and took two solid strokes with his wings while still holding on. Still no response. A little piqued, he pushed off from the branch without thinking whether he would have the kolea for dinner or just give it a good scare.

A fraction of a second from impact she turned, saw him coming, smiled and winked.
The eagle braked hard to a stop 6-8 feet away and hovered for one extra stroke of his wings before gliding off looking for a thermal to lift him back to his branch in the tree.

He had just had a serious shock. “What the hell is going on?” he demanded of himself. What indeed? The old eagle had just experienced a rush of emotions that he had not felt in years. (If ever.) He was IN LOVE. In a situation where such feelings could hardly be more inappropriate.

It might have been a heart attack. Some of his friends were already gone. True, there was some pain around the place where his heart was, and his pulse was was up, but everything was dominated by a spreading warmth and a feeling of elation. He shook his head hard, trying to clear the cobwebs. Then again, also to no effect. He glanced around to see if this aberration of his was being observed and then looked down at the kolea who was absent mindedly puttering about doing whatever koleas do. Without moving a feather he felt as if an updraft had lifted him from his perch and sent him hurtling into the sky. Finally, he pushed off and headed for a nearby stream and after that he settled for the night into a dark corner of a small grove.

The next day he was back on his perch filled once again with the feelings of  the previous day and in addition a growing frustration over the fact that it was not likely that there was going to be much communication between him and this new friend of his. He did a lot of shifting from foot to foot and fluffing his feathers and letting them settle back. It was going to be a long day.

Then in the early afternoon the sky darkened and the clouds began to rumble with the impending arrival of a serious looking thunderstorm. Little bursts of cold wind began to build in intensity providing a taste of what was to come. Then a few sprinkles began to fall and the flash of lightning and crack of thunder ushered in a serious downpour. The kolea ran this way and that but there really was no place to hide. In contrast the eagle just hunkered down and tightened his feathers around him. Of course, an isolated branch on the tallest tree at the edge of a meadow was not the safest place to be in a lightning storm, but the eagle hadn’t given much thought to such things in the past and it didn’t occur to him to be concerned. But his heart went out to the kolea. What to do?

With a major effort of will (eagles are really uncomfortable on the ground) he pushed off his perch and hovered down to the meadow not far from the kolea, who was by now looking pretty sad and bedraggled. He stood as tall as he could and spread his wings. It took a few moments for it to sink in on her that this was the only shelter in sight, and a place to get in out of the rain.
With some serious hesitation (two steps forward one step back) she made her way under one of his wings being careful not to touch him. She was going to pretend that she hadn’t noticed that it was an eagle and that she might have mistaken him for a bush or a big leaf.

By this time the eagle was getting tired of standing so tall and he settled down a bit, and the kolea settled down, and the eagle settled down, and then just before the kolea nodded off to sleep she snuggled up against him for warmth and he pulled his wing tight around her.

The rain stopped during the night and a bright sunny morning found our unlikely couple beginning to stir. The kolea had slept straight through. The eagle had resolved to remain alert, but as a matter of fact, he had drifted off at some point. The eagle was first awake and despite the cold and stiffness in his old bones he was reluctant to disturb the kolea. He probably realized that this was as good as it was ever going to get.

And that is just the way it was. When the kolea woke with a start she bounded from the eagle’s side, never looked back, and began bustling around the meadow, doing whatever kolea do in the morning after a heavy rain. It took the eagle some minutes and considerable stomping about and wing flapping to get himself warmed up enough to get off the ground. Once in the air he found some lift and was circling back toward his perch when a cold, hard shudder passed through his body and his vision began to blur. The eagle was crying. Another circle in the sky took him higher still and he began to get control of himself. This was a lot of new stuff for an old guy to handle.

The kolea had forgotten instantly. The eagle would never forget. Another circle in the sky took him higher still. Finally he was just a speck in the sky, and then gone. Some say that the eagle slipped over a mountain pass into the next valley where he met up with others of his own kind and settled into a comfortable old age. Others maintain that this kind of love sets aside the usual laws of nature that have to do with space and time and that he is still circling slowly upward. Even now.

Some say that when rain falls from a cloudless sky, “It is the eagle’s tears.”