Sunday, December 23, 2012

THE WRITER'S LIFE, CAT FISHING IN SCHENECTADY, (with apologies to Richard Brautigan) by John Angilletta


We extend many thanks to John Angilletta who furnished this heart-warming memoir just in time for Christmas. John lives in Scotia and served as editor and chief writer for both the CSEA Local 690 newspaper and CSEA Region 4 newspaper, The Communicator.

Those of us who love our cats and dogs will find a comrade in John who is often able to transform his love of people, animals, music and the outdoors into passionate memory stories. Happy holidays to all, hug the creatures tight, and dream of fishing season.  
                                         

     When I graduated from college in 1972, my future wife gave me a graduation gift of a small tiger cat that I named Ranger. Ranger became my constant companion and went everywhere with me. He was the smartest cat that I have ever owned but also loved a good fight and had a very impressive record of battles. As far as I know, he lost only twice, once to a raccoon and the other to a possum.
    Ranger moved to Syracuse with me after graduation and finally in 1974 we moved to Schenectady after my fiancĂ© landed a job with the phone company. I also was able to find work here and we rented a nice studio apartment in the Stockade area of Schenectady two doors up from the Van Dyke Restaurant.
     Since there were more than a few nasty-looking stray animals around the apartment, I was reluctant to let Ranger roam free as I had at school and in Syracuse since I knew that he couldn’t turn away from his natural urge to fight.  He had a tough time adjusting to the life of an indoor cat, and I began to take him out for short walks around the neighborhood on a leash which he thoroughly detested.
    We finally came to a compromise when I started tying a fishing line on his collar and allowing him to walk around by himself for awhile. If I felt that he was too far away, I would simply reel him in. He seemed to enjoy the freedom and I was pleased with my ingenuity.
     One beautiful summer evening I was sitting on the front steps of the apartment building with my fishing pole in hand and Ranger happily wandering up and down Union St.  My wife Debi was working a late shift and I heard the phone ring inside. I set the pole down and went inside to answer the call. The call happened to be from my friend Pete who was in the Army, stationed in Hawaii.  Since we hadn’t spoken in quite awhile and with Pete getting free long distance from the military, the conversation lasted for nearly an hour.
    After hanging up the phone, I put an album on the stereo and waited for Deb to get home so I could tell her about the call from Pete.  After a few moments I sensed that something was missing inside the apartment and then remembered that I had left Ranger outside on the fishing line!
            Rushing outside I was relieved to see the fishing pole where I had left it on the front steps. My relief was short lived, however, when I saw that all of the line was off the spool. This began a very unscheduled tour of the Stockade.
     As I began reeling in the line, I was taken down a narrow alley on the side of the apartment. Next I had to climb over a backyard fence and then through some of my neighbors’ back yards. All of this had to be done very carefully and slowly so as not to snap the fishing line which hopefully still connected me to my beloved cat. 
     After the tour of the neighbors’ yards, the line led me up a driveway and back to Union St. where I was led around a large maple tree twice and then back toward my apartment.  By this time I had also attracted a group of my neighbors who were following me and laughing hysterically at the “crazy guy with the cat on his fishing pole.”
     As the line once again led me past the front of the apartment, it now took me down an alley on the other side of the apartment and began to tighten. I knew that my “cat fish” couldn’t be far away now. As the line went around the back of the Van Dyke restaurant, I was finally reunited with Ranger as he sat happily finishing a plate of leftovers given to him from two cat-loving cooks from the Van Dyke who had been wondering about the visitor with the fishing line attached to his collar.
     After thanking the two laughing cooks, I gathered a purring Ranger in my arms and headed home with my fishing gear to a smattering of applause from my neighbors who had tagged along to see how my fishing trip concluded.
     Needless to say, this was Ranger’s last trip out on the fishing line; however, I did bring him to the kitchen door of the Van Dyke about once a week to get a free meal from his new “private” chefs. Ranger lived to be 20 years old and had so many adventures that I would love to write a book about him someday. I will always remember, though, the night of cat fishing in Schenectady.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

THE WRITER'S LIFE, Essay by Daniel T. Weaver




We now introduce Daniel T. Weaver, owner of The Book Hound, www.thebookhound.net, an antiquarian and used bookstore on Main Street in Amsterdam, NY. This store specializes in books on religion, New York State history, non-fiction and children’s books and also hosts a Friday evening (5:00-9:00 p.m.) open writing workshop when the store transforms into CafĂ© Edie. Weaver has had poems, articles and essays published in many periodicals. He is a regular contributor to the Sunday Gazette in Schenectady, NY.

This essay was previously published in the debut issue of Upstream, A Mohawk Valley Journal and is reprinted here with the permission of the author. We love the way in which this writer expresses compassionate, moral ideas in a lyrical way.

                        *                      *                      *                      *

It was the first snowfall of this winter, and my wife and daughter and I were walking to the car.

"Step in the footprints daddy made earlier so you don't get snow in your shoes," my wife said.

As I watched my daughter, in the twilight of her teen years, stretching her thin legs beyond their normal stride to walk in my footsteps, I felt the hammer under my third rib strike hotter and harder than usual. And I knew that whatever happens in life, I have to do the right thing--sometimes the hard thing--because eventually the sun will come out, and my footsteps will be lost to her forever.

And then a few days later, I was in our computer room and I saw a beautifully bound book with a sewn in bookmark on the cot. I picked it up to see what it was, opened it and found words in my daughter's handwriting which said I was the person she most respected in the world. I slammed the book shut, feeling bad that I had invaded someone's privacy but feeling good about what I had read.

And it happened again on Christmas Day. My wife gave me a letter, instead of a card, because she couldn't find a card that said what she wanted to say. And the letter said in part, "You are the yardstick I would like our children to measure what a man is by."

Who could ask for a nicer Christmas present than that?

The truth is that all three events were precious gifts to a fifty-three year old man. Middle age can be a scary time for both men and women. Nothing is what it used to be. In a single night, the temperature can drop and black ice glaze your dreams. Already your body and brain are beginning to fail you in subtle ways. Your children are leaving home. You become restless with your job or get laid off and no one wants to hire you. And if you have a job, you worry about how you will make it when you retire. Worst of all, many of the self doubts of adolescence erupt again like a bad case of acne.

Then a stranger enters your life and you look into her eyes and see the stark beauty of swamps and marshlands, the owl meditating in a dead tamarack, the water below unmoving, silent, seemingly empty of life to the careless passerby, but brimming to the more observant.

Maybe you’ve been married for twenty-five or thirty years. For all those long years you never climbed over fences or rock walls to trespass on your neighbor’s pastures or even neighed at your neighbor's wife. Sure, when you were younger, you often looked at the bodies of other women and felt strong longings. But they were no more than the springtime longings of a stallion--blind reflexes--the doctor hitting just below the kneecap with a rubber mallet and the leg springing forward with no will of its own.

So why not wade into the deep waters? Everyone else seems to be doing it. A governor from another state runs off to Argentina, not telling anyone where he is going, and makes an ass of himself. Your own governor and former governor have both turned the television set into a confessional booth.

But you know that kind of thing is not for you. You can’t slink around behind your spouse’s back, no longer able to look into her eyes. No sordid visit to a motel for you, followed by rumpled sheets in the morning and the weary feeling that what you got was not really what you were looking for.

Besides, the woman is not a tramp. She is a lady. And your wife is a lady. And you know full well you would be the worst kind of bastard if you betrayed either one of them.

So you pull back from the edge of those deep waters--thankful however for those sweet words that removed some of your self doubts--but knowing also that many men and women have drowned themselves in similar waters.

And you realize that what you first saw when you looked into the depths of those eyes--what you thought you fell in love with--was not someone else, but your own image reflected in them. And you realize also that you haven’t lost anything by not diving in. True love is still there, in that pure mountain stream that you drank from and swam in for decades, and that knocked you off your feet the first time you waded into it so many, many years ago.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

THE WRITER’S LIFE



This past October I had the good fortune to run a series of four workshops at the Middleburgh Library in Schoharie County as part of their Authors Among Us series, supported by NYSCA and the Mohawk Valley Library System. The Middleburgh Library is the phoenix that rose from destruction, except this time the ashes were the floodwaters of Hurricane Irene, now called “The 500-Year Flood”. With enormous community support, the library has been reborn with a fresh renovation and a gracious community room that became our home for two hours a week.

Arranged in our horseshoe design that let us get closer and closer to the past histories of people we had just recently met, we absorbed every word of the memories and reflections of an extremely talented group that ranged in age from thirteen years to senior citizens. Once we entered the room, our small universe became the only one that mattered each Saturday afternoon, as we grew into a word society, and wrote inspired by personal photographs, memories of color and place, and moments in time that were revelatory or profound to each of us. One of our writing prompts concerned the place where we write, and the following writer examined her moment of inspiration and her attempt to follow the whisper of a story.

We grew hushed as she read this dreamscape of her writing process which inaugurates our series, “The Writer’s Life,” examining all phases of the writer’s world.

Writing Sensation
                                                                        by Geri Manchester
      When writing I feel as though I am driving through a blinding snowstorm. There are tall wood poles marking the sides of the road, and I do my best to stay within these limitations. I cannot see where I am going. Oddly enough, I do not care; it is only important that I am moving forward, no matter how quickly or how slowly. It requires my complete attention, intense attention. Attention so intense that a quiet calm serenity spreads across my brain.
      My insides relax and I feel my mind and body become one. It is a moment of holiness that I want to last forever. All other information and sensation are blocked; I am one with myself. It is the most wholesome, happy, serene existence and when I am interrupted, when I am required to re-enter my ... ah... reality on earth again, I am annoyed, frustrated and angry. Then I struggle to contain these foreign emotions and I reluctantly, regretfully return to my everyday world. A fallen angel.
      I write to see what I'm thinking and I write novels and short stories to see what I am feeling. I have never seen a blank sheet of paper.  When I think about it I feel I am writing for a blind person. The person who reads my words is blind and it is up to me to put down the words that enable him/her to see. Something. A picture, an idea, a feeling of emotion. The only way out is through. Once I'm at the other end, I can look back and see the tracks of where I have been. For good or ill, this is my writing process.





Thursday, December 6, 2012

SPOTLIGHT ON ONE OF OUR ENVIRONMENTAL HEROES: AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST, Local Chapter: Saratoga Springs



American Farmland Trust is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to saving America’s farm and ranch land, promoting environmentally-sound farming practices, and keeping family farmers on their farms. American Farmland Trust was founded in 1980 by a group of farmers and citizens concerned about the rapid loss of farmland to sprawl development.  Since then, AFT has helped save millions of acres of farmland and created innovative programs to encourage the use of environmentally-sound farming practices, thereby conserving even more farmland.

In 2011 they hosted 2 forums entitled Transitioning Farms to a New Generation of Farmers in New York”. These forums engaged farmers, agricultural and food organizations, land trusts, government leaders and others in an active dialogue about the challenges and promising opportunities for helping a new generation of farmers to succeed in agriculture in New York.

In March, 2012 they held their third annual No Farms No Food Rally at the State Capitol to urge state leaders to strengthen the farm and food economy, protect farmland and the environment and increase access to nutritious food grown in New York. In November, 2012 they held a conference entitled “Harvesting Opportunities in New York” to inspire and educate New Yorkers to strengthen local food economies and save precious farmland. We salute them and are grateful for their work!

American Farmland Trust
112 Spring Street, Suite 207, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

Phone:             518-581-0078
Website:         www.farmland.org/newyork

Monday, December 3, 2012

Spotlight on one of our Business Heroes


GREEN CONSCIENCE HOME AND GARDEN

Green Conscience Home and Garden is a local business dedicated to providing inspiration and education to people who are interested in a sustainable lifestyle. Located in Saratoga Springs, they carry a variety of organic and eco-friendly lawn, garden and home improvement products for consumers throughout the Capital District region and North of the Adirondacks. They will even be able to help you create a completely "green" baby nursery.

Green Conscience strives to be the leading source of sustainable building materials, natural products and skilled craftspeople to help customers create healthy and beautiful spaces, using products from ecologically responsible sources. This is a fabulous place to shop. Check out their informative website.

www.green-conscience.com