February 27, 2014
Spring is the first time in the year to check for swing – if you’re by the river, that is. A rise in the temperatures, a change on the calendar, a short walk to the water and the boats will be there: the Washington College Crew Team during the week, and the Chester River Rowing Club on the weekends. The early bird-ers can catch the view in the mornings but the afternoon strollers can watch the grace and beauty of the sport then:
There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can’t sustain it. It’s called ‘swing.’ It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others. It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at precisely the same instant. Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten all at once. Each minute action–each subtle turning of wrists–must be mirrored exactly by each oarsman, from one end of the boat to the other. Only then will the boat continue to run, unchecked, fluidly and gracefully between pulls of the oars. Only then will it feel as if the boat is a part of each of them, moving as if on its own. Only then does pain entirely give way to exultation. Rowing then becomes a kind of perfect language. Poetry, that’s what a good swing feels like. p 161, Boys in the BoatTweet
February 26, 2014
It’s been quite a winter, unusual for us here. We don’t usually experience such snow or so much bitter cold.
One morning, about a month ago, I was walking at Wilmer Park, next to the River, and I heard something. It wasn’t a big something at all, but a very small sound. I wasn’t sure what it was because all around me, it was so still. (My footprints were only the 3rd set seen in the snow). Then it dawned on me that I had heard the ice on top of the river cracking. In the frigid frost, that was the only sound there was. And I thought again, for the umpteenth time, “Wow. I love living in Chestertown where I can walk every day by the water.” It’s been a thought of mine, way more than just once, that living here is like being on vacation. At least, that’s how it seems to me. But guests tell me, too, that they feel the difference here. Chestertown doesn’t have a corner on the “quiet market,” but you just can’t beat the opportunities that quiet brings.
But thankfully, quiet does come in different places….
People call me the Freeway Gorilla. The Ape at Exit 8. The One and Only Ivan. Mighty Silverback.
The names are mine, but they’re not me. I am Ivan, just Ivan, only Ivan.
Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot.
Everyone knows the peels are the best part….
I’ve learned to understand human words over the years, but understanding human speech is not the same as understanding humans.
Humans speak too much. They chatter like chimps, crowding the world with their noise even when they have nothing to say.
It took me some time to recognize all those human sounds, to weave words into things. But I was patient.
Patient is a useful way to be when you’re an ape.
Gorillas are as patient as stones. Humans, not so much.
pp 2 – 3, The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate, 2012.
Ivan has more to say, even though he uses his words sparingly. And I think you’ll want to know what those words are. I recommend this lovely little book – not just for a snowy day, but for any day.
February 12, 2014
The Americans’ story, in The Boys in the Boat, of the 1936 Berlin Olympic 8-man rowing race for the gold was so riveting, frustrating and exciting that I could barely get through the race chapter (called “Touching the Divine.”) I don’t know that I would’ve been able to, except that I knew the outcome of the race before beginning the book.
The chances of the boys in the boat for the gold medal looked doomed. They had a drafty, cold place to sleep. The race was rigged, in that the best lane assignments were given to the host country (Germany - a few years before WWII) and to Hitler’s buddy-country, (Italy), rather than by qualifying times. Their own stroke man was so ill he was practically in a coma during the actual race. The starters were out of view from the coxswains, causing the race to begin before the boys knew it. It was a mess. They won anyway.
They found that Joe had been lying awake there all night. He had spent much of the night simply staring at his gold medal, contemplating it as it hung on the end of his bunk. As much as he had wanted it, and as much as he understood what it would mean to everyone back home and to the rest of the world, during the night he had come to realize that the medal wasn’t the most important thing he would take home from Germany.
Immediately after the race, even as he sat gasping for air in the Husky Clipper while it drifted down the Langer See beyond the finish line, an expansive sense of calm had enveloped him. In the last desperate few hundred meters of the race, in the searing pain and bewildering noise of that final furious sprint, there had come a singular moment when Joe realized with startling clarity that there was nothing more he could do to win the race, beyond what he was already doing. Except for one thing. He could finally abandon all doubt, trust absolutely without reservation that he and the boy in front of him and the boys behind him would all do precisely what they needed to do at precisely the instant they needed to do it. He had known in that instant that there could be no hesitation, ho shred of indecision. He had had no choice but to throw himself into each stroke as if he were throwing himself off of a cliff into a void, with unquestioned faith that the others would be there to save him from catching the whole weight of the shell on his blade. And he had done it. Over and over, forty-four times per minute, he had hurled himself blindly into his future, not just believing but knowing that the other boys would be there for him, all of them, moment by precious moment.
…Now he felt whole. He was ready to go home.
(p. 355, Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown).
February 6, 2014
…it wasn’t until he began to talk about his rowing career at the University of Washington that he started, from time to time, to cry….None of [his] recollections brought him to tears, though. It was when he tried to talk about ‘the boat’ that his words began to falter and tears welled up in his bright eyes.
At first I thought he meant the Husky Clipper, the racing shell in which he had rowed his way to glory. Or did he mean his teammates, the improbable assemblage of young men who had pulled off one of rowing’s greatest achievements? Finally,…I realized that ‘the boat’ was something more than just the shell or its crew. To Joe, it encompassed but transcended both–it was something mysterious and almost beyond definition. It was a shared experience–a singular thing that had unfolded in a golden sliver of time long gone, when nine good-hearted young men strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything they had for one another, bound together forever by pride and respect and love. Joe, was crying, at least in part, for the loss of that vanished moment but much more, I think, for the sheer beauty of it. (Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown, 2013, p. 2)Tweet
January 9, 2014
Since I’d just finished this book the day before, and since we were talking about something else that made me think of it, I told our 5 1/2 year old grandson a few things about it. “Yeah,” I said, “Benedict Arnold wasn’t a nice man; he was kind of mean, and he owed our country a lot of money*, then he had to figure out how to pay it.” (We were playing with some pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, so it just came up). “He made a lot of bad choices and decided the only way to pay was to ask the British commander, General Clinton, if he needed a spy. Adrian was all ears. He knew about the kids’ book, I Spy, and often uses that particular phrase in conversation, but this took “spy” to a whooole new level. During this telling, his mommy got home, but he barely heard her (and he loves it when she gets home), but he just hardly noticed, since we were at a good part: Benedict Arnold, in all of his badness, on the one side, was too much to pull away from. And on the other side, to tantalize further, were our spies, the true Patriots: our unsung, unnoticed, unknown American heroes, who had provided so much valuable information to George Washington, while living in constant danger. Since we’d been in the middle of playing store, I told him about Robert Townsend, the quiet storekeeper who learned lots of good stuff from the British officers who frequented his store. Gosh, we had really only begun to scrape the surface of the story when Emily returned home. But it was probably enough for one day. I recommend the book, a true story, since I could hardly put it down. Besides, you might have an interested little one in your family who’d be all ears, too.
* Arnold owed over 1,000 pounds to the Colonial government for undocumented expenses during the unsuccessful raid of Quebec in 1775.Tweet