At Last: A Dictionary Stand!

Dictionary stand

Last week, during a very pleasant day-long excursion with my friend Kris to assorted antique malls along Georgia Highway 78, I bought myself a dictionary stand.

I’ve been actively looking for one of these things for at least five years, so I was excited to finally locate one I could afford – and this one even has wheels on it!

As I unloaded from my trusty pickup truck this yet-another-object that I still haven’t found a permanent place for in my already crowded tiny house, I realized that my excitement about finally owning a dictionary stand was probably due to something other than merely having a place to store my ancient (i.e., long out-of-date) and hefty unabridged dictionary.

As so many of the things I own seem to be for me, this piece of furniture – or, more precisely, the dictionary now displayed upon it – is not so much a practical matter as it is a symbolic one.

For me, an unabridged dictionary is very likely a stand-in for my life-long awe for the centuries-old adventure of human scholarship. The dictionary is also emblematic of the miracle of human language – and in particular, the miracle of the written word. My respect and gratitude for the efforts of scholars like Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster is really respect and gratitude for the legions of researchers in every field of scholarly endeavor – especially for the wordsmiths (including biographers) who have publicized or otherwise kept alive the words of the poets, novelists, essayists, historians, philosophers, journalists and others whose word-bearing books have so indisputably and permanently enriched my life.

And underneath my admiration for the hosts of plodding seekers-after-knowledge throughout the centuries lies my veneration of the alphabet itself.

My fascination with the (English) alphabet became obvious fairly early, in my idle doodlings in the margins of my notebooks as an often-bored schoolboy. (Highly stylized medieval castles were about the only things besides obsessive strings of alphabets that I can remember scribbling in those notebooks.)

My reverence for alphabets – and, eventually, words  and the meanings and histories of words, and the spells they can weave – doubtless predisposed me what would become a voracious reading habit, but is also probably responsible for my enthusiastic appreciation of the art of calligraphy, something that floated into my awareness sometime during my high school years and eventually morphed into another lifetime hobby.

At any rate, an unabridged dictionary was something that even as a kid I knew I wanted to own when I grew up, and I didn’t wait long before buying one (second-hand, of course, as the price was right). I’ve lugged the tome I bought from house to house during many moves over the years.

A wise decision, too, as that dictionary has often come in handy during the hundreds of games of Scrabble I’ve always eagerly played over the years – not to mention the dictionary’s usefulness in solving some of the hundreds of crossword puzzles I’ve enjoyed working. (Incidentally, I can guarantee you that an unabridged dictionary is essential for anybody who decides to read the novels of Lawrence Durrell.)

In short, the dictionary has been – or represents, anyway – a vital center of many of my interests or preoccupations, leisure ones and otherwise. And now, at long last, I have a sort of altar for it.

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The Gospel of Cucumber Water

cuke-water

I don’t remember now who it was who first told me about cucumber water, or even when or where I first read something about it. I am grateful to whoever he/she/it was, as this summer I’ve been enjoying consecutive batches of this amazingly tasty and refreshing beverage.

How could something so refreshing, so tasty, so inexpensive, and – most importantly – so easy to make have escaped my notice for 67 years??? Up until recently, I relied almost exclusively on iced tea to get my often-thirsty self through Atlanta’s summers, with an occasional foray into homemade (or, more often, store-bought) lemonade or limeade.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing superior to a tall glass of perfectly made iced tea. (“Perfectly made” meaning, for me, chemically balanced: exactly the right amount of sugar combined with exactly the optimum number of lemon wedges. Woe be to the restaurant server who thinks I’m kidding when I order that absurdly overpriced $2.00 glass of sweet tea “with extra lemons, please,” or who later oblivously re-fills my glass without bringing me additional lemons.)

My life-long habit of drinking sweet iced tea virtually every day was further strengthened recently when I found out I could successfully replicate the iced tea recipes taught me by my sister Gayle (let the teabags steep in the boiled water for as long as you can – several hours instead of a few minutes) and by my friend Moondragon (who routinely brews his using half Lady Grey teabags, half regular).

Hence my chagrin at finding that, for the first summer ever, I’ve been alternating my habitual swilling of sweet iced tea with tumblers of chilled cucumber water.

The Internet abounds in variations of the basic cucumbers-submerged-in-water recipe. I’ve yet to try adding lemon slices and/or mint leaves, or mixing in some carbonated water along with the tap water. At some point I will probably experiment with each of those ideas.. Thus far, however, I’ve been extremely pleased with how wonderful the simplest ingredients – a third of a cucumber, sliced into a glass pitcher and covered with water, then refrigerated – has worked. And so cheap, too!

Incidentally, some of those numerous recipes on the Internet also trumpet the health benefits of cucumber water. (Example.) So that’s another piece of the Good News.

At any rate, for someone as maniacal about tea as I have always been (a daily early morning consumer, even in summer, of a favorite brand of hot tea as well as, at lunch or dinner, iced tea), this recent addition of chilled cucumber water to my daily beverage repertoire is nothing short of revolutionary. I’m especially glad that zero sugar is involved.

I think I’ve finally found a way to drink almost as much water as I’m always being warned I should consume every day. So, yay!

Kayaking on a Lake. At Night.

Priest_lake_stars_t1200

Last night was an unusual Saturday night for me.

My friend Charles, a fellow member of the Wilderness Network of Georgia, a hiking/camping group for gay men, alerted me yesterday afternoon to the fact that there was a last-minute open slot for a WNG kayaking trip to a not-too-distant state park, the point of the trip being to enjoy from a bunch of rented kayaks a few hours of the annual Perseid meteor shower.

Hard Labor Creek is one of Georgia’s largest reclaimed wilderness areas in the state, and its lake is perfectly suited for kayaks.

Because it had been many years since I’d bothered to stay up late enough to look for meteors, and because the park is located less than two hours from the city, I decided to join Charles and the others. I carpooled with several WNGers, and about two dozen of us rendezvoused for a pre-kayaking supper at a restaurant in the nearest town, Rutledge, Georgia.

Charles' photo of the WNG folks at the pre-meteor shower restaurant in Rutledge, Georgia

Charles’ photo of the WNG folks at the pre-meteor shower restaurant in Rutledge, Georgia

Ian's photo of some of us about to embark. Sandal-footed Cal and Charles are standing there in the middle of the others.

Ian’s photo of some of us about to embark. Sandal-footed Cal and Charles are standing there in the middle of the others.

The photo at the top of this post (grabbed from the Internet) shows the sort of panorama that, under ideal conditions, one might be expected to see. That is hardly the sight that we kayakers beheld last night, however.

In fact, we didn’t see any meteors last night, and though the park ranger guiding our little convoy of kayakers claimed we could faintly see the Milky Way, I think he was mistaking it for a mere passing cloud.

Still, the experience of being out in a boat on the water at night was worth the trouble and the disappointment of seeing zero meteors. The lake water was unexpectedly warm, there were no bugs to speak of (though one of my fellow kayakers reported later that he was briefly set upon at one point by a few bats); before the clouds rolled in after we’d been out on the lake for about a half-hour, we could see plenty of constellations and a planet or two.

One of the oddest parts of this already-unusual-for-me expedition was the fact that a group of horror movie groupies happened to choose last night to rent one of the park’s large campgrounds on the far side of the lake for some sort of Friday the 13th re-enactment. According to the park ranger’s explanation, one can apparently gather ones friends and relatives and, for $100 each, a company of actors and technicians will try to convince the assembled-around-a-campfire throng that they are being attacked by murderers wielding chain-saws. (One of the kayakers remarked that the amplified sounds of the alleged chain-saws sounded more to him like the sounds of a dozen weed-eaters: “The Georgia Weed-Eater Massacre!”)

The glare and the smoke pouring forth from the clearing of the rented campground, together with the electrically-amplified sound-effects and the frenzied screams of the assembled groupies didn’t make for a peaceful idyll out on the lake for us hapless kayakers. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to be out on a lake in the (almost) dark. The tiny glow-light bracelets on each paddler’s wrist and the tiny lights at the tips of all the kayaks was pretty magical, and compensated somewhat for the not-so-distant roar of what sounded like an orgy of human sacrifice or some hapless village being ruthlessly pillaged by marauding Orcs.

So, reader, I am glad I went kayaking last night. This was only the second time I had ever been in a kayak, and gliding along on the lake reminded me of the first time –  maybe eight years ago or so ago? – when my friend Terry and I did a road trip through much of Oregon. During the trip, we stopped near Sisters to visit my brother Mike and his wife Inice, and during the visit Mike took Terry and me out for an afternoon of kayaking on a nearby lake.

Kayaking in Oregon

Calvin kayaking in Oregon

This second outting with a kayak has decidedly convinced me that I really enjoy it, and I look forward to finding further opportunities to spend time in one.

Michigan Road Trip

Cal's sunset photo

I spent the last week of June 2015 with two friends, Kris Kane and Nancy Ward, on a road trip from Atlanta to Michigan. This was my second week-long road trip since I retired in March 2012; the first one, in the summer of 2012, was a trip down the California coast with my San Francisco-based friend Harvey. I’m hoping that my being retired will allow me to make numerous additional road trips in various parts of the United States – especially since it’s gotten so expensive to travel overseas.

The final destination for our Michigan adventure was the tiny town of Algonac, where Kris grew up. Kris’s long-time Atlanta friends had over the years heard many stories about Algonac, but we apparently had to wait until we retired from our full-time jobs to make the pilgrimage to Kris’s pre-Atlanta haunts.

Before this summer’s trip to Michigan, Nancy, Kris, and I had taken several vacations together (with assorted other friends), including a trip to France in October 2014, a May 2012 trip to Ireland, England, and Wales, a week-long villa rental in Italy a few years before that, and a trip to London a few years before that.

Our road trip to Michigan – a place I’d never seen except for a quick weekend trip to Ann Arbor back in 1970 –  included overnight stops in Kentucky on the way up and back. We spent the first segment of our stay in Michigan exploring the side of the state most distant from Algonac: the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. There we spent two nights in the resort town of Grand Haven, our base for day trips to the nearby tourist towns of Saugatuck and Holland. All three of these towns were full of charming shops and restaurants and the weather was great throughout our entire week of traveling. It was impossible (at least for Nancy and I, both southerners) to imagine how everything we were seeing is annually blanketed in snow and/or ice!

Before heading to Algonac for the final part of our trip, we spent a day in East Lansing, where Kris had attended Michigan State University, whose vast campus we explored through the windshield and windows of our car.

It was wonderful to spend an entire week within sight of various bodies of water – multiple rivers, lakes, and canals as well as our stay at Lake Michigan). And we spent one of our final afternoons crossing into Canada and driving alongside more water before taking a car ferry back over to the U.S.

Along the way, we met several sets of of Kris’s relatives and friends, all of them super-friendly. We stayed two nights in Algonac at the home of two of those friends, Angela and Louis.

Besides enjoying the unfamiliar scenery and the pleasant people, we stopped and shopped at several large flea markets, packing Kris’ already loaded-to-the-gills car with various bargain-priced finds.

I took the sunset photo at the top of this blogpost from the front of the motel where we stayed on Lake Michigan; Kris and Nancy took these others: 

Cal shopping at a handicraft center in Berea, Kentucky

Cal shopping at a handicraft center in Berea, Kentucky

Some of Kris's relatives and friends, who we met on our first day in Michigan

Some of Kris’s relatives and friends, who we met on our first day in Michigan

Lake Michigan beach scene

Lake Michigan beach scene

Nancy and Cal relaxing at our motel at Lake Michigan

Cal and Kris relaxing at our motel across the street from Lake Michigan

A garden in the middle of Saugatuck, where we spent a lovely afternoon shopping and eating

A garden in the middle of Saugatuck, where we spent a lovely afternoon shopping and eating

Our last breakfast in Grand Haven, before heading back east to Lansing

Our last breakfast in Grand Haven, before heading back east to Lansing

Lunching at a restaurant across the street from the campus of Michigan State University

Lunching at a restaurant across the street from the campus of Michigan State University

The art museum at MSU -  which turned out to be a lot more interesting from the outside than  inside

The art museum at MSU – which turned out to be a lot more interesting from the outside than inside

Another restaurant meal, this one near Algonac with another set of Kris's friends

Another restaurant meal, this one near Algonac with another set of Kris’s friends

Our gracious hosts in Algonac, Angela and Lou

Our gracious hosts in Algonac, Angela and Lou

View along the Canadian coast drive

View along the Canadian coast drive

The car ferry we used to get back to the USA from our brief foray into Canada

The car ferry we used to get back to the USA from our brief foray into Canada

One of Nancy's Lake Michigan photos

One of Nancy’s Lake Michigan photos