The Past is a Melted Glacier

The section of the Susquehanna River that flows past Harrisburg has, by far, the most bridges in close proximity I’ve ever seen in my life. At one point the vehicle, train, and pedestrian bridges are so close to each other, you might be tempted to think immense, 300-foot-high mirrors have been slid behind some of them.  The reflection off the water only heightens the effect.  When one first encounters and really ponders them, many natural questions follow.  Why so many, so close?  How did this come to pass?  The city, the river, and the bridges have, I suspect, a long tale to tell.

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It is this time of year that I am most alive. I can feel the air buzzing around me, the close buzzing of air and oxygen and the thickness of invisible moisture. All-everywhere life is springing forth, preparing to display its full self.  Today I was simply unable to stay indoors, needing to feel the pavement under my bicycle wheels, exploring this city which I have always kind of known but never known, letting the sun warm up my skin, feel my pigment change shade. I was made for heat.

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Once every few years I become immersed for a few weeks in one of my minor tangential interests, early polar exploration. It’s not something I’m interested in enough to become an expert, or to have it be a true hobby, but it’s definitely something that intrigues me, for reasons I don’t quite understand. I have a special interest in Franklin’s lost expedition and the great adventure of Shackleton’s Endurance.  I just finished reading the definitive book on Shackleton’s journey, “Endurance” by Alfred Lansing. I finished the last two thirds of it in a breathless sprint today, in coffee shops and under the summer sky by the river. My brain is filled with polar agony, soaked horsehair sleeping bags, salt water-filled mouths, brittle frozen beards. The thing that I always find in these tales is that despite some of the hardest and most intense human suffering you can imagine, they are always filled with joy, hope, and celebration. And also mystery, and the idea of being somewhere nobody else has ever been, or probably will ever be again, and the vast majestic mystic magical landscape, in a world that doesn’t give a shit about you. So yeah, cherry stuff. Good summer reading.

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In the quiet moments that I have, I’ve always spent an inordinate amount of time contemplating the bigger issues of the universe. Time, past, memory, and the nature of oneself. Not to sound hoity-toity, that is just what I do. Lately I have found myself mesmerized by the change that has occurred in the recently, and suddenly. I spent most of my adult life espousing the fact that being alone was my best gateway into the secrets of the universe. And I’m not backtracking now, I’m not saying I was wrong. Just that maybe these long years alone were perfectly setting me up to best experience the other side of the coin. Now I can see that living with a partner, child, and, yes, a dog, are enlightening parts of myself I’ve never even seen or thought of before. In the best possible ways, I don’t even know who I am anymore.

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Karla and I were taking a walk through our new neighborhood the other day, when we walked past an ornately and oddly built and designed church, sporting in huge block letters across the front PLACE OF PRAYER FOR ALL PEOPLE. We stopped to look at it and talk about its unique brickwork and design, when we noticed the two large angel statues at the top of the building on either side of the minaret. They were odd-looking men (both were identical). Unlike most religious imagery on most ornate churches, the faces of these male angels looked…modern.  Like some dude you might see in the mall.  But there was something else strange about them that we couldn’t quite put our finger on. Then it dawned on me.  I turned to Karla and said,  It looks just like George Carlin. After a moment’s hesitation, Karla burst out laughing. It was undeniable.

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I’m actually dictating this blog entry into my cell phone, while sitting on a bench in the black of night overlooking the vast but comprehendible Susquehanna River. It’s a warm night, warm enough for the bugs to be nibbling at my legs, but the breeze off of the river is calming and cooling, drying my sweat off my skin enough to keep me temperate. It reminds me of summer days and evenings in Erie, a period of my life that is not that long ago, but is also quite different than recent.  The temperature and the breeze transport me right inside my 2008 Saturn Aura, with the windows down driving down Peninsula Drive, heading out onto Presque isle, the peninsula that juts out into Lake Erie, making it also the northernmost point in the state of Pennsylvania. On one side you have Presque Isle Bay, the safe harbor formed by the city of Erie and the peninsula, and as you drive your car around the tip of the peninsula, it opens up to the vast lake, a body of water that climbs to the horizon like a mountain, not unlike an Arctic ice floe. I remember the wind through my car, the heat and humidity, the breeze off the water, an enormous plastic cup of Dunkin’ Donuts caramel iced coffee, the sugar crunching at the bottom as my straw tapped it, The National’s  “Squalor Victoria” blasting out of my stereo. It was quite a day, and quite a period in my life. But that guy, he and I don’t stay in touch anymore. I don’t know him. There’s a new me here to discover. The past is a melted glacier.

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