A Flowering Trees Story

Nobody is ever going to mistake me for a botanist, that’s for damn sure. By which I mean that I don’t know shit, basically, when it comes to plants. Yeah, I can identify a few trees and flowers. And I might exclaim “hey, there’s a fern!” when I see one. Beyond that, however, please don’t press me.

Nonetheless, I enjoy spending time outdoors among flora. Who doesn’t? We all want our minds to be expanded, if not blown, you see, even if we know it only subconsciously. And what better way to allow this to happen than to initiate close contact with Nature’s fibrous wonders, absorbing their good vibes?

With that in mind, on the morning of April 27th I eased my aged ass from the living room sofa, hopped, more or less, into my car, and drove to a pretty neighborhood in a nearby town. Specific sorts of flora — flowering trees — not only were on my mind, they were the reason for my mini-expedition.

I’m not sure why, but I didn’t pay much attention to flowering trees until fairly recent years. A big oversight on my part. Since then, though, I’ve made it a point to check them out in April and May, which is when they do their unfurling thing in my part of the globe (I live in Pennsylvania, USA). Their blossomy performance is, of course, a winner. What’s not to like about shades of, primarily, pink, purple and white? Those hues sure liven up the green-dominated landscape around here this time of year.

What’s more, knowing that the performance doesn’t last forever imbues it with poignancy. Poof! — before you know it the petals are gone. Until a new production is staged the following year.

Well, I wandered through the neighborhood for an hour, gazing at the flowers on magnolia, cherry, dogwood and other trees. They looked good. After 30 minutes, though, I found myself disappointed by the relatively modest numbers of those trees. At least half of the properties I passed that day contained none at all, in fact. Man, how cool would it have been if I’d seen 10 or 20 times as many? Very. The blossom experience then would have overwhelmed and enveloped, like an ecstatic fireworks display.

And so, with intensification as my goal, over the next half hour I got much nearer to the flowers than I had previously during the walk, within inches in most instances and nose-to-nose twice. The strategy worked. From those vantages the blossoms made a hell of an impression, intricately designed and decidedly gorgeous as they were. And they instantly became my friends, wanting only to please. “Hello, Neil,” they whispered, “thanks for visiting. We’re at your service.”

“You’re the best,” I whispered back.

“But don’t linger, old timer,” they added. “You won’t be a happy sightseer if someone storms out of their house, yelling at you to get the f*ck off their property.”

True! Thus, I kept my up-close-and-personal sessions short. Thank you, blossoms, for having my back.

Sitting at my computer keyboard now, a number of days after the events described above, I’m wondering what came over me halfway through the stroll, as I’d never felt let down before by any aspect of springtime. Maybe the rotten state of affairs in the world — Russia rearing its ugly head; the growth of fascism in many nations, including my own — was wearing on me, putting me in need of big jolts of beauty. In any event, I’m back to my normal self. Grumpy, as usual, but appreciative too.

Let’s close the proceedings with a tune that, title-wise, is a perfect match for this essay. I discovered it a couple of days after my close encounters with flowering trees. Ordinarily I’m not a big fan of bouncy songs. But the more I listen to Cherry Blossom, by pop and country star Kacey Musgraves, the more I like it. Beneath the sugar and gloss it has a strong layer of soul. Likening herself to a cherry blossom, Kacey hopes and prays that her relationship with her new boyfriend, whom she’s mad about, will hold, that the wind won’t blow her away. I’m pulling for her.

To The River!

If, like me, you’re an oldster fortunate enough to be in halfway decent shape, it behooves you to indulge your interests pretty damn frequently. That’s because time sure as shit ain’t on your side. I mean, I envision myself doing my thing for plenty more years to come. But who the hell knows?

Anyway, doing my thing partly involves taking a healthy number of walks, an activity I’ve enjoyed for decades. Villages, forests, beachy coastlines and cities are among my favorite locales to poke around in. When it comes to the latter, I’ve racked up far more miles within Philadelphia than any other. It’s the city I know best, having lived in or near it for most of my adult life.

My latest Philly trek began on the Ides of March an hour after I boarded a train that transported me from my little town, Willow Grove, to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. From there it was a short walk to my destination, the Schuylkill River, a lovely, narrow waterway that has its origins in Pennsylvania coal territory and flows southeastward for about 100 miles before reaching and, eventually, partially transecting Philadelphia. At the bottom of Philadelphia, the Schuylkill (both SKOOL-kil and SKOO-kil are accepted pronunciations) says goodbye by emptying into the mighty Delaware River.

With the construction in recent years of walking/biking pathways and parklands that border the river in central and southerly Philadelphia sections, most of the Schuylkill’s east bank in the city now is accessible and available for recreational use. Yet I hadn’t walked alongside the Schuylkill in a long while, a big oversight on my part.

The Philadelphia Museum Of Art is near here.
The Schuylkill Expressway can be seen in this photo.
The power plant is on the left.

And so, taking advantage of the Ides’ mild temperatures and blue skies streaked with happy clouds, I stretched my legs nicely while looking here, there and almost everywhere. The views were quiet and charming in some areas, such as those near the Philadelphia Museum Of Art. But most of the time I was very aware of the busy, often gritty city surrounding the river. On one long stretch across the river from where I walked, for instance, cars and trucks whizzed by non-stop on the Schuylkill Expressway. And an imposing power plant a block or two from the river wowed me as I neared the pathway’s current southern terminus (funding hasn’t been arranged yet to create pathways and parklands from the current southern terminus to the bottom of the city).

All in all, I walked about three miles, which is one-quarter or so of the total length of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill riverwalk. And I trod a short distance above the river too, having climbed the stairs that lead to the South Street Bridge’s walkway. (The South Street Bridge is one of many bridges in Philadelphia that span the river.)

Downtown Philadelphia as seen from the South Street Bridge.

Man, the sights were impressive from the bridge, because, duh, it’s way up there. As always, I was amazed by the undeniable fact that downtown Philadelphia is a place where towering modern structures and old buildings imbued with character get along absolutely just fine. And the heavy volume of those skyscrapers caught my attention more than it usually does. There weren’t all that many of them until the 1980s, you know. Since then they’ve sprouted vigorously.

What really made my day, though, was the human component. The pathways and lawn areas were by no means overrun, but substantial numbers of people, all of them on their best behavior, were around. I saw walkers, some of them with dogs, some of them pushing baby carriages, some unencumbered. Plenty of bicyclists too, and two guys fishing. And at least 30 joggers, a majority of whom were cute twenty-something ladies. Did I mention they were cute? Girls, wait for me! I know you’ve been praying for a wrinkled, balding geezer to join you.

After giving the matter a little thought, however, I think I’ll skip jogging. For one thing, I don’t enjoy getting sweaty. Plus, jogging might be dangerous to my health, precipitating a meeting between me and my maker, whoever or whatever it might be. Such an occurrence, needless to say, would suck, suck, suck.

I’m going to stick with walking.

(A note: Riverwalks have been constructed along much of the Schuylkill River, not just in the river’s Philadelphia leg. If you’re interested in learning more, click here.)

A Doors-Filled Story (Fourth Edition)

A lovely day it was indeed. The Sun beamed and gleamed. The skies, nary a cloud within them, were an expanse of blue at its finest. Unexpectedly mild for winter (51°F/11°C), a steady breeze on hand to keep me refreshed, the afternoon of February the ninth presented to me a perfect opportunity to go out and peruse doors in Hatboro, a town in the Philadelphia burbs that’s a couple of miles from the one I call home. I grabbed the opportunity.

Doors? Yes, doors are a favored subject for a fair number of WordPress scribes, including, occasionally, yours truly. I’ve written about them three times before. And, it should be noted, the hub on WordPress for all things doors is the Thursday Doors project run by Dan Antion on his No Facilities blog. So, if you click here you will be directed to Dan’s handsome site, where links to the writings of and photographs by doors enthusiasts may be found.

As I drove to Hatboro I was confident about what I’d find, because I’ve been there a multitude of times over the years — to shop, to dine, to stretch my legs on its sidewalks. It’s a down-to-earth community with pleasant residential blocks and a commercial area that, though hanging in there, has seen better days. Sure, maybe a unique or snazzy door or two awaited me. But no more than that, I figured.

And you know what? I was right. Of the hundreds of doors that passed before my eyes that afternoon as I wandered around many of Hatboro’s streets, alleys and parking areas, nearly all were of one standard style or another and also plain as can be in the color department.

And you know what else? I was absolutely fine with that, as I’ve long believed there is value and beauty in just about everything if I look hard enough and, when needed, adjust my way of thinking. After all, who am I not to admire the seemingly ordinary? I mean, I understand what it’s like to be ignored. I ain’t exactly Bradley Cooper when it comes to looks, you dig, proof of which is the fact that I can count on two hands, probably one, the number of times in my life that a girl has given me the eye. And those occurrences were decades ago. Shit, now that I’m pretty damn deep into my senior citizen era, there ain’t a chance in the world that I’ll ever again be gazed upon with interest, unless it’s by somebody working on a doctoral thesis about old farts. Boo hoo, man! Boo f*cking hoo!

Ordinary and admirable
Ordinary and very admirable

Among the “ordinary” portals that made a real impression on me in Hatboro, two of whose portraits I’ve included above, my top pick is the one identified by a nice big 3A. It more or less stopped me in my tracks because, I now realize in hindsight, its grey-green coloration struck an oceanic chord within me. I’m an ocean lover, and over the years I’ve seen the Atlantic’s waters take on a hue similar to 3A’s. Plus, how could I not fall for a door with a newspaper sticking out of its mail slot, like a tongue looking for attention?

Still, there were two doors that I preferred to 3A, both of which struck me as being a step or two above “ordinary”: a swinging door made of wood planks and metal, and the front door to a house. The latter, alive in orangey-red and decorated with a display of shadows that dazzled, easily garnered the gold medal in the doors competition that day.

In honor of Hatboro’s très cool red door, I’m going to end these proceedings by presenting an equally cool song titled — what else? — The Red Door. It was recorded in 1952 by a group led by tenor saxophonist John “Zoot” Sims and was released the next year. Zoot, who co-wrote the tune with Gerry Mulligan, takes the first sax solo. Mulligan, by the way, doesn’t appear on the recording.

Sims, a hell of a musician, was a presence in the jazz world for about 35 years (he died in 1985, having made it to only age 59). I had chance after chance to see him perform in New York City clubs during the 1970s and 80s, but, stupidly, let them pass me by. I’ve regretted those decisions ever since.

Here then is Zoot and his compadres on the lovely, swinging tune that The Red Door is. Enjoy.

A Gloomy And Colorful Story

Oh, to be back in the hippie era, that golden time when I was young and when open minds and open arms were, for many, the order of the day. Alas, it is long gone. Now, here in the USA, there is an abundance of folks who are anything but welcoming. In fact, one of their primary missions is to deprive others of basic rights required for democracy to survive, let alone prosper. I find that truth hard to believe and even harder to understand. A sad example occurred in January: the banding together of every Republican Party member of the United States Senate to doom the passage of a bill that would have helped protect voting rights. Would any reasonably moral and honorable person vote against such legislation? They wouldn’t. Those senators, troublingly, are nowhere near moral and honorable.

The gloomy morning in question.

Yup, gloomy describes the state of affairs in my country. And that word also describes the recent morning (a few days before the voting rights bill met its demise) that sparked the writing of this story. Grey as hell, not to mention damp and chilly, it was bringing me down. So, I hopped into my car and drove to Willow Grove Park, a three-story indoor shopping mall near my home in the Philadelphia burbs. I was in need of a barrage of color jolts not obtainable, for the most part, within my house, where earth tones and soft blues predominate.  Not that I have anything against those hues. Au contraire. An overly tense f*cker, I’d be even more on edge without their calming influence.

I made the right decision, as the mall turned out to be precisely what the doctor ordered. I walked around for 45 minutes, happily permitting window and merchandise displays and an arcade popping with multi-hued energy to brighten my mood.

Bold yellows, reds and oranges, exploding at elite levels as only they can, were all over the place. At one store’s windows, pink and lavender, working together in sweet harmony, seriously caught my eye. And I was captivated by the inner and outer glow of handbags that, two minutes into my trek, I spotted on a table in Bloomingdale’s department store. Three in cherry and two in green, the accessories projected a self-confidence that I was in awe of. Shit, I’d be delighted to be half as cool and enticing as they are.

Colors are powerful, for sure. They influence our thoughts and emotions, our very states of being. And sometimes they inspire the creation of excellent music. The world would be a lesser place, for instance, if Little Green, a song by Joni Mitchell, were not in it. The same holds true for Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Those tunes reside on the melancholy side of the spectrum. What I’m in the mood for right now, however, just as I was when I headed to the mall, are some strong jolts. What’s more, I want the jolts to emit lots of steam. Overly tense f*ckers need stimuli of that nature now and then, don’t they? Damn straight they do.

Well, there is no shortage of recordings that deliver the goods. One of the best is Little Red Corvette, by the late, great Prince. Released in 1983, it recounts an encounter with a lady who loves to give and to receive.

And then there’s Devil With A Blue Dress On, written by Shorty Long and Willam Stevenson. Most folks, including me, are unfamiliar with those composers, but nearly everyone has heard the recording of their song, from 1966, by Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels. It gets my juices flowing every time I hear it. By the way, Mitch and the boys mixed Devil With A Blue Dress On with Good Golly, Miss Molly, two songs seamlessly becoming one.

The party’s starting! Here are the tunes. Feel free to comment on them, politics, democracy, colors, or anything you like. Till next time!

Cold Fingers, Cold Beer

Holy shit, being a writer can be numbing! That’s what I discovered a week and a half ago when I strolled around my neighborhood as darkness was settling in. Earlier that day my region had received its first snowfall of the winter (I live in a town near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Dedicated journalist that I occasionally am, I decided to see how the powdery white stuff looked in moonlight, and to document my walk in words and with photos.

Well, it took me only a minute to realize that I wasn’t in a winter wonderland. Yeah, there were several inches of snow on the ground, but the effect was much less charming than I’d thought it would be. And what I’d been hoping especially to see — softly glowing snow clinging to tree branches — was virtually nowhere to be found. The day’s steady breezes had emptied the trees.

There were some worthy scenes, however. For instance, a number of households had not yet taken down their Christmas lights, so I stopped to admire those displays. And, 20 minutes into my walk, I watched a few kids sledding down the hilly front lawn of an apartment building. They were having fun. But you know what? I wasn’t! And that’s because my f*cking fingers were freezing!

Sure, I wore gloves during most of the walk. But I had to take them off every time I decided to snap a photo. Otherwise, there was no way I could have aimed my phone’s camera properly and pressed its button. Thus, my hands were exposed intermittently to 25°F (-4°C) air.

That shouldn’t have been enough to cause my fingers to become comatose. But somehow it damn well was. So, after being on the streets for almost half an hour, I knew I needed to get inside. Picking up my pace, I strode to my block. In front of my next-door neighbor’s home though, I chose, like a fool, to torture myself a little more by photographing the Moon, which was peeking through a tangle of tree branches. Then I walked the remaining 50 feet to my house, where I struggled to muster enough finger coordination to insert the front door key into its designated opening. Ten seconds later, finally, success! In I went.

Yup, having cold fingers sucks. Big time. On the other hand, having cold beers is a pleasure. In fact, it’s one of my greatest pleasures. I’d be in mourning if beer disappeared from the face of the Earth.

Though I’d enjoyed beer for many years (mainly mainstream lagers, such as Budweiser), my appreciation of the beverage rose to a higher level when, in my late 40s, I discovered that there were far more styles of beer on the market than I’d realized, and that the quality of many of them was steps above what I’d been used to. I have the craft beer revolution to thank for all of that. It began in the 1980s and really took off during the following decade, which is when I fell under its spell. Today, the revolution is at a high point. I mean, so many breweries worldwide produce primo beers.

Some of my pals.

Stouts, porters, pilsners, India pale ales (IPAs), and on and on . . . I pretty much like ’em all. And I look forward to downing one of them with dinner most evenings. I’m salivating right now, thinking about which brew I’ll have tonight. A quick look into the frig tells me my choice likely will be the Dogfish Head brewery’s 60 Minute IPA, an aromatic and seriously bitter quaff that’s refreshing as hell. I tell you, in these times of climate change, COVID, authoritarianism and racism, to name but a few problems bedeviling humankind, it’s wonderful to have something to look forward to.

The time has come to wrap things up. I’ll do so with songs that mesh, title-wise anyway, with this narrative. First up is Cold Fingers, by the late great Tony Joe White. Much of his music, Cold Fingers included, sounds primordial, as though it was born in our planet’s bowels. Tony Joe was something else. And then there’s Blake Shelton, a country music star and a pretty talented cat. Generally I’m not a big fan of today’s country music, overblown as much of it is. Though Blake’s Straight Outta Cold Beer leans in that direction, it tells a realistic story and packs a wallop. I like it.

Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Feel free to comment. Here are the songs:

Scenes That Caught My Eye, Tunes That Caught My Ear

Two years ago, due to a health issue that required attention, I upped the number of walks that I take. I did so because, as everybody knows, the medical experts among us are convinced that regular exercise can improve the functioning of our internal machinery, thus extending our lives. Well, since then I’ve gone a-walkin’ hundreds of times, as I’m not in any rush to bid adieu to the polluted planet that we call home.

A lot of the walks, for convenience’s sake, have taken place in my neighborhood, which is in a town a few miles from Philadelphia. Though I like my house, which is as cuddly as a toddler, I’m totally aware that my hood ain’t exactly the most exciting locale in the world. And that’s putting it mildly. Let’s face it, when you’ve seen one suburban block you’ve pretty much seen them all.

So, to break up the monotony I sometimes head to one or another nearby village when a pounding-the-pavement session is in order. Yeah, they’ve got more than their share of typical residential blocks too. But, unlike my town, they also contain old-timey business sections, always of interest, not to mention the real possibility of unexpected sights. The other day, with all that in mind, I hopped in my car and drove three miles to Hatboro. I was psyched to stretch my legs there and to see what I would see.

I spent an hour scouring a good bit of Hatboro, exercising ye olde legs more than I had expected to. I was into it, my eyes looking up, down and all around, in search of this, that or the other thing as I strode along. Man, I felt good, breathing freely and fully, and admiring the nip in the air in addition to the sights. Importantly, I also made sure that my phone’s camera was ready for action.

In the end, I pressed the camera button about 20 times, documenting some of the types of scenes that I’m prone to immortalizing. Those with strong contrasts of colors, for instance, or with lines and planes that intersect wildly. As I’m also drawn to well-proportioned minimalistic configurations, I was brought up short by the section of a parking lot whose three yellow metal posts peacefully guard a small building. It’s plain, but I like it.

What’s more, when I’m in the right mood, as I apparently was in Hatboro, I get a kick from the absurd. On the grounds of a funeral home, of all places, a dog statue rocking its woolen scarf like a fashion model fit into that category just fine.

The walk in Hatboro was pretty swell, but a few days later I heard two songs that pleased me far more. That’s not surprising, considering that music has the potential to awe and transport like nothing else. Sure, literature might blow you away, as might art, as might sex, as might nature’s splendors. For me, though, music trumps them all. Not every piece of music, of course. Hardly. But when a musical composition gels with me just so, off I go into the stratosphere, riding gently on the wings of a most mysterious power.

That’s what happened when B-Side, by Leon Bridges and Khruangbin, visited my eardrums. Whoosh! In no time I was airborne. Later that day, Cautionary Tale, by singer-songwriter Dylan LeBlanc, caused the same to occur.

Lyrically, B-Side is a love song and Cautionary Tale is the musings of a guy who has lost his way in the world. But the words of both numbers, which could use some tidying-up anyway, hardly matter to me. What does matter are the steady grooves that embrace and won’t let go, the dancing interplay between the instruments, and the fact that Bridges’ and LeBlanc’s voices are at ease in the ethers. In other words, each of these tunes has a feel that I can’t ignore.

B-Side came out this month and is part of a continuing collaboration between Bridges, who has immersed himself in soul and other musical genres since breaking onto the scene in 2015, and the trance-rock trio with the unpronounceable name. Cautionary Tale reached the marketplace in 2016. It gets played now and then on radio stations that I listen to, proving that I’m not the only one who finds it worthy. I’d be happy to hear what you think about these recordings. Or about exercising, photography or any damn thing at all. Shit, I’m not particular!

 

Provincetown, Sands And Seas

Well, as my previous opus points out, my wife Sandy’s and my vacation on Cape Cod last month was sweet. Real sweet. I’m back home now in the suburbs of Philadelphia, trying to become acclimated to the fact that the equivalents of quite a few of the Cape’s top features ain’t to be found anywhere in my region. For example, on the Cape there’s Provincetown, where bohemianism is alive and well. And beaches on which an individual easily can escape into higher dimensions by gazing upon waters that go on forever.

There’s a lot to be said for being home. But man, I miss Cape Cod!

Provincetown, located beside Cape Cod Bay at the tippy tip of Massachusetts, is a sizeable village, roughly two miles long and half a mile wide. Still, it comprises but a smallish percentage of greater Provincetown’s overall space. Waters, sands, woods and wetlands account for the rest.

Provincetown, Cape Cod

Since my first visit circa 2000, I’ve been in the village around 35 times I suppose. Old and bleached by the Sun, it looks countrified in parts, seaside-y in others, and is artsy and free-spirited throughout. A longtime commercial fishing center (it remains active as such), and once a whaling port, P-Town began to change its colors when The Cape Cod School Of Art, which is still in existence, set up shop in 1899. Before long, the village morphed into a mecca for creative types, tourists following in their wake. And in the second half of the 20th century, gays and lesbians in significant numbers began making the town their home. These days, about 3,600 individuals live there year-round. During summer, the height of the tourist season, many tens of thousands of additional humans appear.

Provincetown, Cape Cod
Provincetown,  Cape Cod

I love to meander through P-Town’s streets. Somehow they both relax and energize me. More important, they please my eyes. The homes, stores and restaurants are, comfortingly, of compatible size, usually one to two-and-a-half stories tall. Yet nearly every one carries a distinct personality. Not only that, many are tucked away in nooks and crannies and at odd angles to their neighbors. That’s why, whenever I’m in Provincetown, I notice buildings that I hadn’t before.

Pilgrim Monument (Provincetown, Cape Cod)

If I had to pick one sight over any other in the village, it would be the Pilgrim Monument. Not in daylight but when, illuminated at night, its gentle glow casts a spell. P-Town’s most uncharacteristic structure by far, it commemorates, if that’s the correct word, the landing in 1620 of English colonists on the shores of what later was dubbed Provincetown. Native Americans, not surprisingly, already occupied the land. I have no doubt that the indigenous folks were less than pleased by the strangers’ arrival. In any case, the Monument, at 252 feet in height, is an imposing creation, visible fully or in part from much of the village and its surroundings. And at night? Ooh la la! For the umpteenth time it captivated me one evening a few weeks ago.

How is it that I rarely exchanged meaningful hellos with sands and open waters until Sandy and I discovered Cape Cod in 1998? I mean, I wasn’t a stranger to them, having spent numerous days of my youth at one beach or another on Long Island. (I grew up on Long Island in a town that’s about 20 miles from Manhattan.) Whatever the reasons, I’m truly glad that the relationship developed. Hell, I’m nothing but putty in the hands of the Cape’s sandy coastlines and the liquid bodies (Atlantic Ocean, Cape Cod Bay, Nantucket Sound) that embrace them.

We always visit Cape Cod in the off-season, which is when there’s no problem finding long stretches of beach that are empty, or almost empty, of other individuals. Yeah, that’s the way we like it. With distractions at a minimum, we’re able to admire meaningfully the perfect elemental combination that is sand, water and sky.

Atlantic Ocean and Nauset Light Beach (Eastham, Cape Cod)
Cape Cod Bay and Corn Hill Beach (Truro, Cape Cod)

I took two solo beach walks last month and more than several in partnership with my better half. The latter strolls seemed more complete than the former. I mean, when the two of us stopped to stare at the endless waters every five or ten minutes, we kind of Zenned out together, no matter if the waters were roiling or calm. There is no doubt that going eyeball to eyeball with infinity, at the side of someone doing precisely the same, is a good way, a very good way, to spend some time. You can’t beat joint bliss!

(Please don’t be shy about entering your comments. I thank you. All of the photos, by the way, are from October 2021.)

Cape Cod 2021 Turned Out Just Fine

I’ve mentioned before on these pages that Cape Cod, a 65-mile-long chunk of sandy land bordered on three sides by magnificent open waters, is a locale in which I truly love to place my aged, scrawny ass. My wife Sandy and I fell for the Cape, which is in the southeastern part of Massachusetts, USA, during our first vacation there. That was in 1998. Since then, to both of our amazements, we’ve returned nearly every year, usually in autumn. Who’d have thought that there would be a somewhere we’d want to visit again and again? Not us!

Cape Cod satisfies us in many ways. For example, we spend plenty of time outdoors, walking on sands, in forests and beside marshes, and gazing at the endless seas. We go to museums, art galleries, movie theaters and restaurants. We play mini golf, fly our roughed-up but seemingly indestructible kite at one beach or another, and wander around villages that range from stately to countrified to funky. Yeah, Cape Cod is cool, a combination of ingredients and opportunities that both soothes and invigorates.

Atlantic Ocean and Coast Guard Beach. (Eastham, Cape Cod)
Marshes at an ocean inlet. (Orleans, Cape Cod)

Last year was one of the two or three, since 1998, in which Sandy and I didn’t meet up with Cape Cod. There was little point in going there during a time when our artsy and gastronomic options would have been severely limited by coronavirus.

Autumn 2021 seemed worth taking a chance on, though. For one thing, and it’s an important thing, we’re vaccinated against COVID. Also, life in general is far less restricted than it was 12 months ago. Thus, in early October we crammed a shitload of clothes and other stuff into our car, and drove from our home in Philadelphia’s suburbs to Cape Cod. We unloaded the shitload in the house we’ve rented many times before, in the town of Orleans.

Provincetown dunes. (Provincetown, Cape Cod)
Provincetown village. (Provincetown, Cape Cod)

Thankfully, the vacation, two and a half weeks in length, turned out A-OK. Sure, due to staff shortages and other virus-related reasons, a good number of art galleries, cinemas, restaurants, you name it, had reduced their hours and days of operation. But we worked around all of that as best we could, planning our activities with care. We didn’t have to worry about the sands, forests, marshes and waters, of course, because they hadn’t altered their ways of doing business. I’d have sued the f*ckers if they had!

Little Cifff Pond, nestled in a forest. (Brewster, Cape Cod)

So, in the end we were almost as busy as we were in past years. We didn’t feel shortchanged at all.

Now, I could go on and on about where we went, what we did. But I’m going to leave most of that for another day. I do, however, want to write about an activity that I didn’t mention above, one that as far as I can remember wasn’t in my repertoire prior to Cape Cod entering my life. I’m referring to sunset-viewing. Man, I suppose that Sandy and I have watched our pal the Sun drop below the horizon something like 40 times during our Cape sojourns. We’re fans.

Sunset at Cape Cod Bay. Many of the sunset-viewers are elsewhere on the sands. (Skaket Beach, Orleans, Cape Cod)

Our fondness for sunsets led us one evening this month to Skaket Beach, a smallish stretch of sand on Cape Cod Bay. Although it’s in Orleans, our home base, we hadn’t been to Skaket in years. Pulling into the parking lot, I  couldn’t believe my eyes. There were a lot of cars there. Several dozen. And strung along the beach were 75, maybe 100 individuals, more by far than I’d ever seen gathered to witness a sunset. Most of the attendees were seated on the sands upon folding chairs that they’d brought with them. Folding-chairless, Sandy and I grabbed seats on a bench a few feet behind the beach and admired the lovely skies. It was almost 6 PM, and the Sun was only minutes away from saying bye bye.

Well, as soon as the sun disappeared a good round of applause filled the air. Not only that, quite a few folks immediately left the premises. Huh? What the hell was their rush? The curtain hadn’t fallen. I mean, sunsets are generous. They linger and linger, gradually changing their patterns and color intensities. Sandy and I stuck around for another 20 minutes, oohing and ahhing and shooting the breeze. Maybe we should have stayed even longer, but darkness was descending and dinner beckoned. Back to the emptying parking lot we went, soon making our way to a nearby restaurant. We’d just seen the best show in town.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Mucho gracias. All of the photos are from October 2021)

A Movie, Dinner, And A Walk On Darkened Streets

There we were last month (we being my wife Sandy and myself) in Ambler, Pennsylvania for a late-afternoon movie followed by an early-evening dinner. Ambler, a cute town in the Philadelphia burbs, suits us just fine. We’ve dropped in dozens and dozens of times over the years because its Ambler Theater, an art house cinema, books plenty of films that we want to see, and eateries galore are strung along its blocks. Yeah, Ambler is right up our artsy and gastronomical alleys.

A scene from The Alpinist

Well, the movie, a documentary about Marc-André LeClerc, a publicity-shy mountaineer, is damn good. It’s called The Alpinist (alpinists attack mountains with gusto, rather than using the more traditional methodical approach). Dinner, indoors at Gypsy Blu, a venue with enough variety on its menu to please the curmudgeons among us, hit the spot too. I had a beer and an eggplant parm sandwich, Sandy a glass of wine and a turkey burger. I bow down to the junk-food gods for the addictive house-made chips that came with each plate.

Butler Avenue, which is Ambler’s main drag

What awaited us after dinner was a walk around town in the dark, something I’d suggested doing before we’d departed for Ambler. When we exited Gypsy Blu, though, Sandy almost at once recognized that she wasn’t dressed warmly enough for the evening’s chilly, and falling, temperatures. So, she headed back to our car and waited there. I wasn’t exactly bundled up either. However, being a man’s man, in my dreams if nowhere else, I forged ahead.

Butler Avenue
A view from a side street

Now, it’s not as though I never go for walks at night. I ring up 20 or thereabouts nocturnal strolls each year, I suppose. That Friday night in Ambler, however, seemed on the special side to me. The town’s main drag, Butler Avenue, on which most of the restaurants and bistros are found, took on the aura of a movie set, the darkness atmospherically softened here and there by restaurant and store lighting, street lamps and headlights. The movie set extended into the couple of side streets that I visited, where the wattage was even lower than on Butler. Gliding upon Ambler’s sidewalks, I felt as if I were the star of the scenes, an unobtrusive observer of the evening’s goings-on.

Butler Avenue
Butler Avenue

Unlike the side streets, Butler Ave. was buzzing. A whole lot of people were seated at the tables that, as a result of the pandemic, the town’s authorities had allowed restaurants to set up on sidewalks and in alleys. And most of the establishments were doing good business at their indoor tables too. The outdoor-diners’ energy was palpable, impossible not to absorb. My strides increased as I drank it in. Man, after a while I almost was floating. For sure, starring in a movie agreed with me. Watch out Hollywood! This wrinkled, age-spotted f*cker has his mind set on conquering you.

Getting back to a movie that actually is in distribution, I’ll say a bit more about The Alpinist, but only a bit, as having too much advance information about this flick isn’t a good idea, in my opinion, for anyone thinking of watching it. Here’s my main thought about The Alpinist: successfully scaling the unimaginably daunting structures that Leclerc is photographed tackling, especially the snow-and-ice-wrapped bad boys, is completely beyond belief!

Yet, of course, Leclerc was born to pull off one superhuman feat after another. Is there anything to be learned from his exploits? One truth, I think, is that, throughout history, nerves that are stronger than steel, and focus and talents that are totally off the charts, have been distributed to only a relative few.

The Alpinist possibly is in a theater near you. And, undoubtedly, it will make its way to a TV network or streaming service one day fairly soon. This movie blew my mind. It likely would blow yours too.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. I thank you.)

A Pretty Scene, A Pawpaw, A Song

Man, for a number of days the thoughts and themes that I’d been considering for this essay were as uncongealed as undercooked oatmeal. Eventually and fortunately, though, things began to come together when the word comforting eased its way into my mind. This occurred while I was looking over the photos that I’d taken while exploring Glenside, a town in the Philadelphia suburbs, a couple of weeks ago. To my great surprise, one of them reached out to me far more than any of the others did. It made me say aah. It made whatever stress I was feeling at that moment go bye-bye. The bottom line is that I found the scene in the photo to be very comforting.

What is it about the image that pleases me so? For one thing its colors are happy to be with one another. They get along splendidly. And the quiet reflection from across the street, in the door glass, adds to the sense of comraderie. I hadn’t even noticed the reflection when I walked up to the door to snap a picture of the Est. 2003 sign inches above it, for it was signs of one sort or another that I was seeking out and photographing that day in Glenside.

All in all, the photo strikes me as a representation of peace, warmth and tolerance. And if there’s anything in our little ol’ world that I’m totally down with, it’s those three commodities. I suppose that I’m reading a whole lot more into this picture than I might, but so be it. I’ll take my comforting moments when and where I can.

Moving right along: three years ago I wrote about my fruitless search for a pawpaw (click here if you’d like to read it). Thrice in that article I posed a question that maybe is on the tip of your tongue right now. Namely, “so, what the f*ck is a pawpaw?”

Well, it’s the fruit of pawpaw trees, which grow in various parts of the USA. There was a time when pawpaws were eaten fairly commonly. But those days are in the distant past. Though the pawpaw does retain pockets of popularity, there ain’t exactly shitloads of trees producing them in the States.

One thing about the pawpaw is that it is tropical in appearance, papaya-ish, not at all what you’d expect from an indigenous North American tree. I can confirm this because, astonishingly, my long, long search for a pawpaw ended successfully earlier this month. I have my friend Dave to thank for that, as he clued me in to the fact that a food co-op in my area had pawpaws in stock.

To the co-op I soon made my way, arriving back home an hour later with a large pawpaw so soft that a moderate squeeze would have punctured it. I purchased this specimen when a produce department worker at the co-op assured me that it was at the peak of ripeness, rather than overripe.

Photo by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin

I damn well wasn’t disappointed when, shortly thereafter, the pawpaw’s innards entered my mouth. The fruit possessed a variety of flavors, all subtle in intensity, reminding me of banana, honeydew and cantaloupe. But what I was taken with more than anything was its texture. The pawpaw’s flesh was firm yet creamy, pretty close in consistency, and in appearance for that matter, to the vanilla pudding that my mother made for my family frequently when I was growing up. I always loved her vanilla pudding. Because of that connection, the pawpaw worked its way into my heart. Eating the pawpaw was a comforting experience for me. Very comforting.

Moving right along again: I heard a wonderful song by The Wallflowers recently. The tune, Maybe Your Heart’s Not In It No More, comes from their album Exit Wounds, which was released a few months ago. Jakob Dylan (Bob’s son), is The Wallflowers’ lead singer and leader, and composed every song on the album.

The lyrics of Maybe Your Heart’s Not In It No More ruminate about the loss of mojo and direction, a circumstance that many people grapple with at one time or another. But it’s not so much the words that get to me. Rather, it’s the recording’s feel. I mean, this song hit my sweetest of spots the moment I heard it. I fell for the guitar lines intermingling like the best of friends; the steady, strong drumming; the hypnotic melody; Jakob’s straightforward vocals that mean what they say.

Maybe Your Heart’s Not In It No More comforts me, takes me in its arms and sweeps me away. What more could I ask for?