July 4, 2010

Ray Scanlon


I believe it is good manners and good karma to give thanks, explicitly and formally—your choice how and to whom—for the memories we cherish. Doing so is an entirely positive practice, unlike picking up the trash of ignorant buffoons who litter in public places, the karmic benefits of which are compromised by more temptation to smug self-righteousness than most mortals can withstand. I do both, so my reincarnation could be touch and go. I hope to return no worse than a sloth.

I cherish the day Cheryl and I walked to a neighborhood pond. Behind it were acres of cattails, red-winged blackbird nirvana. A sharp dry Canadian breeze billowed their seed-bearing fluff across the marsh on a vast scale I'd never seen before, backlit gold by the low autumn sun.

I cherish the September evening Jess demonstrates to my granddaughters why jewelweed is also called touch-me-not. Hunter and Ali crowd in warily, not too close, so they can see. Jess, laughing under the portable shade of her rakish white Nicaraguan trilby, triggers for them the spring-loaded seed pods.

I cherish the many evenings my granddaughters have taken my hand to guide me through the inky outdoors, solicitously aware that I might trip and smash my head on a rock, involuntarily reincarnating due to my imperfect night vision. And also the wintry afternoon that their grandmother, long before becoming Grammy, led me down a mountain by the hand, for the same reason, as darkness overtook us.

I cherish how my grandson, newly thirteen, takes a jump at anything over his head, fingertips upstretched, as if gravity counts for nothing, as if he might actually reach it. He got into the habit years ago, walking—running, usually—through the doorway between dining room and kitchen. With feet flat on the floor, he now doesn't even have to stretch to touch the lintel. I hope he continues to cultivate reaching beyond his grasp.

I cherish the time I've spent cliffside in the Catskills looking out at vultures, below me and above me, soaring in thermals or running before a storm wind. I cherish the hours watching Catskill sunsets until it's only blackness, Venus, and pinpoints of blue and orange light down in the valley villages. Neither do I have any regrets about the time I've wasted watching a Linotype machine cast slugs, waves roll in at Burke's Beach, or a river otter swim in his zoo cage.

For good measure I cherish things for which I've lost, or never formed, memories of the first time I did them. The first time I touch solder to a heating-up joint, it turns to slush, melts into a bright silver meniscus between the parts, and cools to gray. Snapping a photograph, setting toes in the Atlantic, smelling tarred fishing line, striking a kitchen match—all little milestones worth remembering, all gone. Assuming that I'm lucid, I'll have plenty to think about on my deathbed.


Ray Scanlon lives in Massachusetts, where he cranks out the occasional essay—crank being the key word. His web site is http://read.oldmanscanlon.com/.

No comments: