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Dog Days of Summer, August 2010

Lee and I decided to duplicate our vacation from last year stay in the same cabin on Lake Otsego just outside of Cooperstown, NY. The cabin is rustic, built in the 1920's and nothing about it is up-to-date except the septic system! The cabin is comfortable with pictures of someone else's grandparents on the mantel, a rotary phone with a long yellow twisted cord (what fun to dial one again!), a thirty year old electric can opener, a collection of dull knives and mismatched glasses, and musty books from sixty years ago outlining card playing rules and Boy Scouting essentials. just right. One of the fields he's been trying to capture has been hayed since he started the canvas. What a reminder that the picture we have of life literally changes from day to day!

As I write this I'm bundled up in blankets, my feet propped up, while I sit on the screened-in porch overlooking Lake Otsego. Byrdie's head is on my lap.  It's a gray day, but the water is calmer than it's been for the last three days after torrential rains and gale force winds. The waves were really pounding the dock that is, at this point, submerged in at least six inches of water. We've been cabin bound for a few days, playing lots of rounds of Rummy 500 and sleeping with a wool blanket at night. Today, on the way into town, Lee and I spotted at least four trees that turned red overnight. They were fully green when we got here.

(Right now, I'm watching an adult woman dressed in long pants and an orange pancho and two little girls in bathing suits. The girls are brave and squealing as they wade into the water. But I can hear them shivering from here!)

Besides the unexpected cooler temps, this vacation has also surprised me with another sprained ankle. I have a matching set now. This time I stepped off the porch--that's all--and for whatever reason, my left ankle crumbled under me. That happened two days into a fourteen day vacation, so I've spend most of my time with my feet propped up. (I sprained my right ankle back in June and it has been slow to heal.)

That means Lee is on full-time dog-walking duty until further notice. Before I sprained my second ankle, we'd taken a lovely hike together with the dogs and discovered another great vacation surprise, a beautiful large field of goldenrod and purple thistle and other wild flowers. They glowed and swayed in the sun. Someone had mowed a path through the field so we followed it down to a stream. At one point I stopped to soak in the view and all around me was the steady hum of bees, hundreds of them busy at work pollinating the flowers.  Glad I got to see it.

Other than that, it has been a strange vacation of immobility for me. We're usually very active with running and swimming and exploring. This year I'm reading a lot, writing a lot, meditating a lot, eating a lot.  I like to travel because it takes me out of my normal rhythms and can give me perspective on my life. But I'm not sure what I've been learning this time, except that I can visit the same place twice and have two totally different experiences. The place doesn't make the experience good or bad, but my attitude sure does. That's not a new revelation. I guess I just need to learn it again.

Lee is currently reading a book a friend lent us, Travels, by Michael Crichton. It's a memoir of his life both in medical school (he wrote best selling novels while in Harvard Medical School) and his other travel adventures around the world.  He's an interesting man, though a little obsessive and neurotic. Like the rest of us. Near the end of the book he writes about the direct experience that travel provides, and how he sought it out to increase his self-awareness. He writes:

            "My own sense is that the acquisition of self-knowledge has been made more difficult by the modern world. More and more human beings live in vast urban environments, surrounded by other human beings and the creations of human beings. The natural world, the traditional source of self-awareness, is increasingly absent.

            "Furthermore, within the last century we have come to live increasingly in a compelling world defined by electronic media. These media have evolved a pace that is utterly alien to our true natures. It is bewildering to live in a world of ten-second spots, each one urging us to buy something, to do something, or to think something. Human beings in the past were not so assaulted.

            "And I think that this constant assault has made us pliable in a certain unhealthy way. Cut off from direct experience, cut off from our own feelings and sometimes our own sensations, we are only too ready to adopt a viewpoint or perspective that is handed to us, and is not our own."  

He wrote that in 1988 before the internet, cell phones, texting, Facebook or Twitter--before the world could know about a version of your life in seconds. I am amazed at the pace of life now and how I can barely keep up even when I can walk.

So maybe it's not so bad to have two sprained ankles and be cooped up in a cabin where there is no internet, the TV is kept off, and the lake is wide open and wild. We've been watching the storms blow across the water. I've been trying to listen to the weather, to the water, to the message of aching ankles and the discomfort of not having packed enough warm clothes. Max and Byrdie, of course, are undeterred. Byrdie is a dog of tireless joy who wags her tail often. She greets everything with the same presence and joy. I can learn a lot from her!

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