Is This Home?

On a recent blue-skied and windy day, I walked the Orange Avenue pier in Fairhope.

The sun was hanging low in the winter sky and a large pine tree shadowed me as I stepped on the boardwalk. Mobile Bay was choppy, frothy, and brown.

“This is not home,” I said to myself as I started walking down the pier toward the covered area. The place seemed unfamiliar, though I come here often.

Standing under the metal-roofed shelter, I looked down at the open deck below. Two boards had popped off their nails. The water had not risen high enough to float them away, but they rested perpendicular to the steadfast boards.

There was no one around so I sat on the railing above the built in seats and wrote down a few observations in my journal. It was a clear day, Mobile and Theodore were visible and in focus.

My eyes, sheltered by sunglasses, teared up as I stared into the west wind.

Not feeling inspired by anything in particular, I decided to leave.

The wind ceased about halfway up the pier. I felt the warmth of the sun on my face. Looking landward, I caught sight of a hawk-like bird just above the tree line. He dropped into the foliage of a live oak and I lost sight of it.

I kept looking. He landed in a pine, closer to the water. I watched him.

Osprey were plentiful around Waquoit Bay in East Falmouth, Massachusetts too. I find it fitting that I’ve lived close to two WBNERRs, the Waquoit Bay and Weeks Bay Natural Estuarine Research Reserves.  I have admired the osprey’s strength, beauty, and fierceness in a northeasterly wind in Waquoit Bay, from the beaches of Nantucket Sound, while in a raft in the Gulf of Mexico as an extra in a Nic Cage movie, and now on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay.

The osprey unfolded it’s wings and leapt into the wind.

It hung in the air to my right, searching the muddy brown bay for life. With a tip of his wing and a wave of his tail, he came closer and lower, flying 20 feet in front of me, my back to the bay. He hung there without effort, scanning the brackish bay for his late afternoon meal. He coasted above the shoreline in front of or just above the tree line of Magnolia Beach park.

As I watched him, he seemed still, motionless, only the unseen air moving around him. It was as if he were hanging from a fishing line, and not under any of the Earth’s gravitational, physical, or natural rules. Surreal.

I don’t know how long I had been watching when we sized each other up by making eye contact. I became lost in this experience, as if the only two things in the world were me and this osprey. A few seconds became suspended in the engagement of two living things.

Time does not stop for man or osprey, but the beats of my life rested in the mesmerizing feathers of that osprey.

FhopePostcard

 

2015 Recommendations

Books

Nonfiction

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, Neil White

Scorsese: A Retrospective, Tom Shone

Steal like an Artist, Austin Kleon

Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck

What we See When we Read, Peter Mendelsund

Picture Books

The Book with No Pictures, B. J. Novak

The Day the Crayons Came Back, Drew Daywalt

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, Lindsay Mattick, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

USS Alabama: Hoorah for the Mighty A! Karyn W. Tunks

Graphic Novel

Demise of the Spirit’s Guiding Lady, Megan Redlich

The Odyssey, Gareth Hinds

Fiction

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

Poetry

Next Door to the Dead, Kathleen Driskell

Movies

Big Eyes

Big Hero 6

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Boyhood

Cinderella

The Cobbler

Dolphin Tale 2

Gone Girl

The Help

Ida

The Imitation Game

Inherent Vice

Night Crawler

A Night to Remember

Noah

Pixels

Rushmore

St. Vincent

Selma

Star Wars *In Theaters

The Theory of Everything

Wild

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Documentaries/Nonfiction

Evel Knievel’s Spectacular Jumps

Fed Up

Ivory Towers

Open Sesame

Television/Streaming

American Crime   

Boardwalk Empire Season 5

House of Cards

Nashville

Red Oaks *Amazon Prime

Survivor : Cambodia-Second Chance

Happy New Year!

Next Door to the Dead

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Yesterday was Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos), a time, especially in Mexico, for people to gather at cemeteries and pray for their deceased loved ones. As the leaves drift off the trees and the acorns pop on rooftops, I often, for reflection and remembrance, read and write poetry this time of year. The day made me think about Next Door to the Dead, a book of poetry by Kathleen Driskell. A Poetry Foundation national bestseller, Driskell lives in a former country church with her family just outside Louisville, Kentucky. Next door is an old graveyard that she was told had ceased burials when she bought the historic church. In this keenly observed and contemplative new collection, this turns out not to be the case as Driskell’s fascination with the “neighbors” brings the burial ground back to life, both literally and figuratively.

Driskell is the associate program director and poetry faculty member of Spalding University’s writing program, and is where I received my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction. While a student, I was fortunate to hear many great authors and upcoming writers read their works. It seems to me that hearing the spoken words of the writer, just as you read them on the page, and I immediately had an appreciation for Driskell’s writing and voice.

While reading the poems in Next Door to the Dead, I heard Driskell’s voice, not her actual voice like an audio recording, but  rather, the memory of her voice from her readings.

Of course her poetry is much more than a remembered voice, it is personified, humorous, organic, and moody. Her poems articulate the cemetery much like creative nonfiction grounds you in place. The details taken from history, or from observations from a kitchen window, or during a walk, convey the author’s authenticity of her surroundings.

“Epitaph” the grave of Colonel Harlan Sanders is her only nod to celebrity.Now that Norm McDonald is satirizing Sanders, this poem seems more relevant as seems to both question and acknowledge Sanders as less than an original recipe of a man.

Her ability to be in nature and observe the organic role of death, is why “Crow” stands out to me, as it will to many readers. In “Tchaenhotep,” Driskell’s verse personifies an Egyptian mummy on display for decades at a local museum. “Epitaph, for the man with no last name” is the story of how man meets his grave, what relics rest with him, and why some things were left out. “Not Done Yet” is a story of a dog, a fly, a flea, and the “biting sorrow” that surrounds all three.

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Driskell’s poems are richly detailed, humorous, mournful, loving, and sometimes whimsical, all difficult feats given her subject. While most people avoid thinking about death, Driskell’s poems are thought-provoking. The book is not about loss, or mourning, it is about place, not just our physical place, but where our souls feel full. Her poems dance around our mortality but they never devolve into darkness. While many went to the cemetery to remember and honor the deceased on Dia de Muertos, Driskell, with a poet’s sensibility, “visits” the cemetery next door to celebrate the vivid human, animal, and botanical life that surrounds us.

Order your copy of Next Door to the Dead from your local bookstore or from the links below.

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

What’s your Halloween Costume?

Josh Sundquist is a cancer survivor, paralympic skier, motivational speaker and author. At Halloween, he’s always entertaining. This year he brings a classic amputee joke to life. Click on the photograph or the link at the bottom to watch “Making of IHOP,”  Josh’s short video about this year’s costume.

Josh Sundquist’s 2015 Halloween Costume

His Amputee Rap is great too!

Rhapsodizing Librarians

Shoalhaven Libraries

After such a serious post about osseointegration, I needed to lighten things up and find a way to thank my followers.  So get comfortable, click on the link below, and enjoy the YouTube music video from the Shoalhaven Library staff.

Librarian Rhapsody

Beaches, Bones, and Borgs

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Heading back from the beach last week after our Gulf Coast Bloggers meeting at Jenna’s, I went to the Orange Beach Public Library. I was on a mission to find  a print copy of a journal for library school homework. I thought, for some reason, if anyone had a copy it would be Louise, who graduated from Alabama three years ago. She’s a dedicated, energetic, and innovative librarian so I stopped in to say hello.

She was talking with a guy when I walked over to her desk.

After becoming reacquainted, I handed over a copy of my assignment and said, “I’m looking for a copy of this,” pointing to the title.

“Oh JASIST. I know exactly what journal you mean,” Louise said, the familiarity of the assignment now as fresh in her mind as it was five years ago.

I was in my shorts, having just come from a swim in the Gulf. The entire time Louise and I were talking the guy was staring at my prosthesis, a typical occurrence with children, but odd behavior for an adult.

Bones

“I’m Rick,” he interrupted us barely lifting his eyes up to meet mine.

“Alan,” I said, and we shook hands.

He wasn’t bashful, that’s for sure, as he blurted out a question about how my prosthesis is attached.

“Is your prosthesis connected to bone?”

“No,” I said, that’s someone who gone through osseointegration, a surgery that is still unapproved in the United States.”

Osseointegration is a surgery that leaves a metal rod sticking out of your stump where a prosthesis can be attached. (Residual limb is the politically correct term for stump, but Residual Limb the Librarian will never catch on so I’ll be sticking to what I know, hoping that the style does not offend.)

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Anyway, this guy Rick seemed a bit obsessed, so much so that he was distracting me from my conversation with Louise. I wondered how well Louise knew this patron. She probably wondered why he was so fixated on my prosthesis. I’m used to talking about my leg, but others amputees prefer not to discuss it. There are all kinds of odd behavior in the able-bodied and amputee world. Acrotomophilia is when an individual expresses strong sexual interest in amputees and are called amputee devotees. Other people suffer from apotemnophilia, a sexual desire to have a perfectly healthy limb amputated.

“I met a guy who had a prosthesis attached to his bone,” he said.

“Really,” I said, not sure if I should believe him.

“The guy was in the service,” Rick said.

“I just threw out a copy at home,” Louise said.

Then she went to the stacks behind her desk, “I weeded that one too.”

I suggested she check her boss’s office, not realizing he was not in today.

“He keeps it locked, and he wouldn’t have a copy anyway,” she said, and headed off to check somewhere else in the library.

Borgs

“Are you gonna have the surgery?”

“No, I think it’s for younger people.” I didn’t tell him I was a better candidate for osteoporosis than osseointegration.

“The veteran told me it gets infected a lot and he takes medications to control the infection. Hey, is that titanium?” Rick asked, pointing below the socket.

No, that’s an alloy, but my old leg has titanium hardware,” I explained.

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When I got home, I looked at the literature I had on file for osseointegration. Rick, it turns out was more credible than I gave him credit for. As I dug through my files I found the information for a clinical study (Rosenbaum-Chou,, 2013) and an article on Miranda Cashin, (Hochnadel, 2014) an Aussie who underwent the procedure and blogged about it from 2012 to 2014. Cashin initially thought of the procedure as “science fiction-I would essentially become a Cyborg.”

There were osseointegration clinical trials in 2013, according to an article in The Academy Today. Ten former US veterans and military personnel underwent the procedure. The clinical studies are supposed to last two years so the findings should be reported later this year.

Libraries have many odd and eccentric patrons, but Rick wasn’t one of them. Talking to Rick served as a catalyst for me to write about osseointegration, a subject I had wanted to write about but could never find an angle on how to approach it.

Louise was not able to help me on this visit, but as we parted ways we shook hands. and at the time I thought of us as superhero librarians with a lasting Super Friends connection. “Wonder Twin Powers Activate!”

As for Rick, well, who would have guessed two patrons in a public library could share such an obscure interest. It’s more than a coincidence, it’s serendipitous! You never know where the next story is going to come from or who you are going to meet in a public library.

References

Hochnadel, L. F. (2014, May). Miranda Cashin: Tall tales to sci-fi. The O & P Edge, pp.               70-71.

Rosenbaum-Chou, T. (2013, Spring) Update on osseointegration for prosthetic                               attachment. The Academy Today: A Supplement of The O and P Edge,                               pp. A9-A10.