Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Embassies, dreams & living twice

A few blogs to the right and straight on till morning, in the world of Kaya, who originated in Vilnius in Lithuania, there has been an ongoing story about her journey from there to here -- here being America. Part of this adventure was going to the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, to obtain a visa for entry into the U.S. So, for the fun of it and by request, here is a photograph of the American legation building in Warsaw for Kaya, taken last March or April (I am too lazy to check the precise date) by your friendly, neighborhood misanthrope (meaning me). The fence surrounding the building had a sign which forbid photographs, but, as any American citizen knows, public streets are public streets, even in Poland, and until fascism has replaced the republic, cameras are permitted in public places.

You only live .... how many times ??

Anyone who occasionally stops by here (and actually takes the time to read what has been written here) probably knows that I keep one or two televisions on by my computers from sunrise (more-or-less) until sunset (give-or-take eight or nine hours).

A few days ago, a series of James Bond films was being shown on the Science Fiction channel around here. (Do not ask me why the Science Fiction channel chose to do this; the early Bond movies were completely within the realm of plausibility and bore absolutely no resemblance to the genre.) Anyway, one motion picture in the series was, "You Only Live Twice."

The music captured me. The melody is nice, but it was the words which really caught my attention. Here are some of them:

You only live twice or so it seems
One life for yourself and one for your dreams

You drift through the years and life seems tame
Till one dream appears and love is its name

And love is a stranger who'll beckon you on
Don't think of the danger or the stranger is gone

This dream is for you, so pay the price
Make one dream come true, you only live twice

John Barry and Leslie Bricusse, two well-known songwriters in the world of motion pictures, wrote the piece. The film-version singer was Nancy Sinatra. She is the daughter of Frank. Her career was not as long or so great as was his, but, I think I like the words of this song better than those of any Frank ever sang.

And, for your edification (if you even care), here is an attempt at composing a haiku by "James Bond" (meaning, of course, by Ian Fleming, the novelist who wrote the Bond books). It is entitled, "You Only Live Twice," and it is from this poem which the title of the book, the subsequent film and the movie's theme song all originate. In an epigraph to the novel, Fleming wrote that Bond's haiku was done in the style of Seventeenth Century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho.

"You Only Live Twice"
by James Bond

You only live twice:
Once when you're born
And once when you look death in the face.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The year of many choices & residences

Summer leaves on a sheltered, wooden deck.
Nothing else need be said.
Winter rules.

Nature is not so cruel as mankind

"As You Like It"
Act II, Scene 7
by William Shakespeare

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remember'd not.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.

A year to be remembered

There seems to be little doubt that 2010 will be remembered by me as one of the more unusual and, perhaps, more unique years of my life.

For nearly four months, I lived in another country as a civilian, rather than as a tourist simply passing through for a few days or as a man wearing a military uniform. I have lived in seven locations altogether. I have been in love. I sold a house. I bought a Chevrolet Suburban, sold an Audi A4 and, earlier this week re-bought the Ford Mustang that I sold last year. I might add that I bought and sold a few firearms, but that actually is pretty typical every year for me.

The year began hopeful and as one I was looking forward to experiencing. It is ending with more questions than answers, and with my road forward being one murky, muddy and a bit of a mystery. As I noted a few days ago, a situation has arisen which will require my time and attention at least well into January and, possibly, longer.

My point is that it seems I am in the midst of one of the periodic life changes we all go through from time to time -- all of us, that is, except those who spend forty or fifty years living in the same house and going to the same job day in and day out and never questioning their role or purpose in life.

The ideas I am considering pursuing when this obligation of a few months has been completed are all over the map, both figuratively and literally. I am thinking about looking for a newspaper job again; I am thinking about living in Minneapolis/St. Paul again (can you believe that, after my woodland and water diatribe?); I am thinking about returning to Warsaw or heading out to live for a time in some other European capital city; I am thinking about building a house again, on land I have in South Dakota or, maybe, somewhere along the North Shore of Lake Superior; I am thinking about moving to Florida, at least for a while. This is but a sampling of the thoughts that have been going through my mind the past five or six days.

I also am considering leasing a house or a townhouse right here, where I am, for five or six months, and writing, writing, writing without distraction.

So often, people feel trapped by the lives they are living -- jobs they do not like or marriages that are unhappy probably are the primary causes of these situations. I have no such problems. My dilemma is just the opposite. I have too much freedom and too many choices, and my nickname at this point in time might well be "Mr. Indecisive."

I do have a tendency to procrastinate, but, somewhere along the line, lightning will strike and a course will be set and all that will be visible is a cloud of dust in the direction I have gone.

I wonder if I would do better -- if any of us would do better -- if we could live our lives, say, three consecutive times with full knowledge of the first two when we arrived at the third.

Yes, I wonder .... do you?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

All right, enough of my idle chatter

A few days ago, I wrote that almost without exception, my experience regarding living within the confines of a major, metropolitan city has been to set up residence as much toward the outer limits of it as possible. This is an example of why. My neighbors right now include this pair of deer. A third was just off camera view to one side. We have here either a mother with last Spring's fawns or, possibly, a yearling taking care of a younger brother and/or sister. No matter which, I have come to the point where I no longer can understand why anyone hunts deer. These photographs were taken through the glass of my window, across gray skies and a light snow/freezing rain mix at different speeds and aperture settings, in case you did not figure that out by looking at them. Just teasing with that last sentence.

Home is far from the huddled masses
Part 3 of 3

The entire sequence of these posts began with and ends with this thought: Where, if you think at all in terms of comfort, security and freedom, do you most feel this way?

For me, it is no contest: In a home beneath the trees and near the water -- far away from the "huddling masses" of Ellis Island or the southwestern American "war zone" borders; far away from the inner city Black or Italian or Mexican or Vietnamese or Hmong or Colombian gangs; far away from the Twin Towers or the Texas Tower or the Ivory Towers; far away from the Street With No Name or Wall Street or a ghetto street.

Some of these thoughts originate because in the woodlands, to reiterate, because of some innate sense, I am a predator. On the streets in a city, I feel like I am the prey. Silly? I do not know, but the look of prey often is reflected in the eyes of city dwellers. Have you not seen this yourself?

People go to the city primarily for work, because they usually can make more money in such a setting. Secondly, they go, I think, to keep themselves readily entertained. But, once there, because they quickly lose their identity due to having become a tiny speck in the midst of a sandstorm of humanity, they search for all manner of devices to maintain their sanity, their hold on reality, their sense of purpose, their role in life. They struggle with any number of unanswered questions about life and living -- questions whose answers are readily found simply though a walk on a frozen lake or through a sunny meadow or under the canopy of a dense forest.

For me, there is more beauty in a running deer than in a speeding car, more art in the shape of a snowflake than in any painting made by man, more spirituality to be found in a forest glade than in the most magnificent cathedral. If you disagree with me, all right; if you do not, why then, would anyone choose city life over country life? I do not understand, and I am curious. Please, explain this to me, if you can.

This piece began simply as a few random comments to accompany the photograph of the apartment building where I lived last Winter in Warsaw. Somewhere along the way, it became a search for an answer to a question I frequently ask: Why would anyone choose to live in a crowded city?

To draw this to a conclusion, I wish to live for the length of a season in a few more major, metropolitan areas simply for the experience, for learning, for finding out first-hand whether my thoughts and beliefs change in regard to city life and city dwellers. But, as I wrote when I closed Part 1, I do not think I ever will take up permanent residence in one -- at least until I am too old to run in the woodlands and to swim across the rivers.

Crime + book + movie = money

Movie music by Jerry Goldsmith -- for a final time -- with this selection among his seventeen compositions nominated for an Academy Award.

This musical score is from the motion picture, "Papillon," which is not a film about either butterflies or dogs. Sorry, if that disappoints you. Rather, it is a motion picture based on a book written by Henri Charriere, a Frenchman and a petty thief who managed to get himself convicted for the murder of a pimp.

Charriere's story and the subsequent movie describe his years of confinement in prisons in French Guiana, including a few years in the penitentiary on the infamous Devil's Island. He made several attempts to escape before finally succeeding. In all, he spent about twelve years in prison.

As has been the pattern of this series, a clip from the film itself is included to offer a taste of the performance.

Perhaps the moral of Charriere's life is that crime does pay -- if you write a book about it and if someone in Hollywood reads it and likes it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wind, water, rocks, sun & trees

To provide a sharply defined contrast to the photograph of the apartment building in Old Town at Warsaw, Poland, which I used for an illustration to Part 1 of this piece, I decided to post a photo from the North Shore of Lake Superior taken during the summer of 2009 when I made a brief jaunt there to "get away from it all." Although the North Shore is a popular tourist destination, it requires little effort to find privacy, solitude and picturesque settings to enjoy.

Were we born for where we live?
Part 2 of 2 .... whoops ....
Changed my mind; now Part 2 of 3

In the past, I have been quoted as saying that you could drop me off in the middle of any wilderness area -- woodland, desert, arctic -- and I would walk out a few days later with a smile and probably healthier and happier than I had been when the trek began. I also have been quoted as saying that put me in a town that is larger than two blocks long north and south bisecting another two blocks east and west, and I probably would be lost within ten minutes.

Believe me, I have witnesses who can verify both these statements as factual.

I also have been quoted as saying that I feel more safe and secure in a wilderness area than I do in any city. This, undoubtedly, has evolved from partially learned skills. But, I firmly believe, this mainly is the result of innate instincts and talents that cannot be learned by just anyone or taught to just anyone. It is either there, inside, or not.

This coincides with my comment in Part 1 to the effect that looking out of the windows of The Apartment overlooking Castle Square in Warsaw made me "comfortable and uncomfortable in the same breath."

This (or that) is me. My assumption is there are people who "are born" for the city, just as I was born for the woodlands, although it is difficult for me to understand how anyone could be that way inherently. I would greatly appreciate having a city-lover explain that side of the coin to me in some way other than saying there always is something happening in the city, always something to do in a city (i.e., the "entertain me" factor).

Museums, galleries, stage plays, libraries, concerts can be (and should be, I think) the nourishment of city dwellers. Despite my woodland leanings, do I enjoy these things any less than the typical resident of Warsaw or Minneapolis or Los Angeles? No. Unequivocally no. As a matter of fact, I probably enjoy them and appreciate many of these places and activities more than the average metropolitan inhabitant. And, I am not without knowledge of music and art, particularly in a historical context.

In a more important sense to the masses, the city is the epicenter of more base entertainment and rather mindless activities. To verge on being rude, it seems to me it is the place where the person who is most incapable of entertaining himself or keeping himself occupied with beneficial activities would be the happiest.

Now, then, from my point of view the best part about living in the center of a major, metropolitan city is the people. And, the worst part -- yes, you guessed it -- is the people. I am no less fascinated by people on the street than I am by objects in a museum or paintings in a gallery. Perhaps, the difference to me is that a painting in a gallery, for example, represents the inner being of the artist, while the person walking down the street, more than likely, is someone whose inner being I will never know.

(To be continued)

More music from the movies

Since Part 1 of this piece included the musical score written by Jerry Goldsmith for the film, "The Wind and the Lion," it seems natural to include his work for another movie here along with Part 2. So, I selected the score from the "The 13th Warrior." Goldsmith was an Academy Award-winning composer and conductor who died in 2004.

This movie, "The 13th Warrior," is based on a novel, "Eaters of the Dead," by Michael Crichton, who stole the story (literally, in my opinion) from an old manuscript written by one Ahmad Ibn Fadian, a 10th Century Muslim who traveled with Vikings up the Volga River into the land of the Norse.

The fact that Ibn Fadian made this journey is historically established. His account of the battles at the end of his trek, however, are generally accepted as being his own recounting of the "Beowulf" legend rather than a report on his actual experience. Somewhere amongst my papers in a storage unit here in Minnesota are copies of Ibn Fadian's escapade in the original Arabic, as well as in English translation.

In addition to the music, I cannot resist from including a brief clip from the end of the film.

This motion picture is good, if not great, especially for its utilization of actual Viking customs and beliefs and habits -- and, for a glimpse of the story of Beowulf, if you are not acquainted with him, and his destruction of the man-beast Grendel, who slays and eats men, and of Grendel's demon mother. I would recommend it.

For this segment of my post, I will sign off as Abu Ian rather than as Fram.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sort of the same old song

This is the building in which I lived last Winter in the Old Town of Warsaw, Poland. Kaya requested a better look at it after she posted a pair of photographs on her own blog showing the square in which my apartment is located. She once spent a week in Warsaw herself. It is the sort of tan building with the figurines on the facade more-or-less in the center of the photo. It is the two windows on the third floor on the right, front corner of the building, and the adjacent three windows on the third floor of the right side of the building. I hope that descriptions makes clear the location of "The Apartment." This building was totally destroyed during World War II, and rebuilt from the rubble after the war using photos to duplicate it in precise and exact detail. I miss Warsaw -- very much -- and will return to this city for a while before too long. Maybe, in March or April next year, to resume the calendar at the point where I returned to America this year.

A season in the city
Part 1 of 2

Looking through some photographs taken last winter in Warsaw very naturally brought back a few memories. Among my favorite activities was "people-watching" from the third-floor windows of The Apartment overlooking Castle Square to the front and the narrow, alley-like Piwna Street to the side. It made me comfortable and uncomfortable in the same breath.

I have experienced very brief stays in the center of major, metropolitan areas in the past -- a few days here and there -- but never actually lived in one before. I came close some time ago, almost moving to downtown Minneapolis simply for the experience of doing what I did in Warsaw: to live in the midst of crowded civilization.

I always have needed and usually have lived with trees and water, or, sometimes farm fields, in sight from my windows. Even when living in metropolitan regions, this has been the case. I once lived in Burnsville, a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul. From the yard, I could look one direction and see the skyscrapers of downtown Minneapolis about twenty miles distant. I could turn and see nothing but cornfields and groves of trees in the other direction.

When I moved to Montana, I lived in a town. It was the eastern side of the state, semi-arid, with miles and miles of flatlands. I quickly grew lonesome for the presence of trees and water in my life. Once or twice a week, I drove out to a place along the Missouri River where I could sit beneath a tree and watch the river on its journey toward the next river and on to the sea.

When I built my Sanctuary/Refuge, it was on a hilltop, in the midst of thousands of trees going on for miles, with the Missouri River in sight.

The Apartment in Warsaw also was my only civilian experience of ever being without an automobile or a truck for more than a day or two. I did not like it, living this way, but not because I felt compelled to drive somewhere else. I actually do not like to drive, and much prefer to be a passenger. But, and many people cannot understand this, having a vehicle in a garage is much like having a pistol in a desk drawer: It is symbolic and emblematic of security, a measure and an expression of freedom, of mobility and of the ability to go where I want when I want and to live as a free man.

Yes, of course, it is possible to live that way in a city -- I mean to own a vehicle and a pistol there -- but psychologically it is not the same. Sometime, if you do not understand that, I might try to explain it, but not now.

So, I still hope to spend a Winter or a Summer or some period of time actually living at the center -- within the core -- of a few more major, metropolitan cities rather than merely visiting them. But, I do not think I ever will take up permanent residence in one -- at least until I am too old to run in the woodlands and to swim across the rivers.

(To be continued)

The music becomes the film

The word "nomad" recently entered into the discussion of life as I experience it. The word, which I sometimes use as a password on the Internet, incidentally, brought to mind deserts and, from there, my thoughts leapt to the musical score from "The Wind and the Lion." So, what else could I do other than include that music as part of this post?

Once the music was in, I turned to the movie itself, which easily falls into my list of all-time favorites -- probably into the top dozen or so. For anyone who has never seen this motion picture, I would suggest buying it, renting it or even stealing it. Experiencing this film is worth the risk.

The movie is loosely based on actual events that occurred in 1904, and while the story line is stretched to fictional ends, primarily to create a romance element, many historical facts are woven into the tale.

For the sake of "Semper Fidelis," I included with this post the scene showing U.S. Marines storming the palace of the Pasha of Tangier. Those of you who would prefer to see Sean Connery and Candice Bergen playing chess will have to secure the film for yourselves.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Bug on a Cup" -- a self-portrait

This photograph might be entitled "The Self-Portrait." Why do I say this? Note the little fellow on the rim of the cup. His motion is not visible on a still photo but, believe me, he was absolutely intent on marching to a new and unknown destination.

When is enough enough?
I will let you know ....

Not being an entomologist -- or any sort of "ist" at the moment -- I am not certain of the proper identification of the "bug" in the photograph. If you did not notice him, he is to the lower left on the rim of the "soup bowl cup." Around here, proper name unknown, this little critter is called an Asian beetle or a "ladybug."

Four of them came to visit me a few days ago (actually, many more, but only four made it into the kitchen area). This particular guy (or gal) spent several hours walking round and round on the rim of a soup bowl cup. It seemed he never stopped. Just round and round. A few feet away, another ladybug was doing the same thing on the rim of a small plate. Round and round, where it stops, nobody knows, to borrow a phrase from roulette players.

This image could have been a self-portrait of my life, I thought as I watched him move and move, walk and walk, round and round. Then, I wondered if this is a habit or a trait of all living creatures. Is everyone and everything which is moving through life traveling only in a circle?

I am not thinking in a philosophical or religious context of traveling the cycle of life from birth to death but, rather, a literal sense of repeating the same steps over and over again throughout our lives: Enjoying the same victories, experiencing the same mistakes and defeats, being attracted to a single type of personality -- in which, the relationship is doomed to failure even as it begins. Well, you name it.

So, the exercise then becomes, how does one break free of this circular path? When is enough enough? How does one quit his endless march around the rim of his own personal soup bowl cup?

If I figure it out, I will let you know ....

Plans sometimes fall apart

Anyone who comes here (and actually reads here) knows one of my often-expressed desires is to spend no more winters alone. This aphorism was born during a particularly harsh winter while I was snowbound a few times for days at a time. Unfortunately, despite my more-or-less best efforts, I have found myself spending more winters alone than I have with a companion.

Plans for (most of) this winter with a companion have fallen apart due to a situation with requires my full time presence and attention for two months (?), hopefully, no more than three. But, my prospective companion has decided this is much too long to wait, and said, goodbye. Such is life.

So, now the question arises, what should become of me come the end of January, or February (god, I hope no longer), as the case might be? The world awaits but, you know, these days the world seems to be a lot like the rim of a "soup bowl cup" for me.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday morning in Minnesota

This was the view which greeted many Minnesotans this (Saturday) morning. About a foot of wet, heavy snow fell in the southern regions, with more to the north. In this manner, winter arrived. The photography could have been better, I suppose, but I was content to see the snow from my window (top photo) and doorway (bottom photo) rather than up close and personal.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Dust of Snow
by Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 10, 1775 -- 2010

The United States Marine Corps is 235 years old today. This is an U.S. Navy photograph taken during birthday ceremonies at the Marine Corps Monument in Washington, D.C., on November 10, 2008. Semper Fidelis .... to those who began it, to those who have done it, to those who do it today .... now and forever ....

The birth of the Marine Corps
from "Warrior Culture of the U.S. Marines"
by Marion F. Sturkey

Ask any Marine. Just ask. He will tell you that the Marine Corps was born in Tun Tavern on 10 November 1775. But, beyond that the Marine's recollection for detail will probably get fuzzy. So, here is the straight scoop:

In the year 1685, Samuel Carpenter built a huge "brew house" in Philadelphia. He located this tavern on the waterfront at the corner of Water Street and Tun Alley. The old English word tun means a cask, barrel, or keg of beer. So, with his new beer tavern on Tun Alley, Carpenter elected to christen the new waterfront brewery with a logical name, Tun Tavern.

Tun Tavern quickly gained a reputation for serving fine beer. Beginning 47 years later in 1732, the first meetings of the St. John's No. 1 Lodge of the Grand Lodge of the Masonic Temple were held in the tavern. An American of note, Benjamin Franklin, was its third Grand Master. Even today the Masonic Temple of Philadelphia recognizes Tun Tavern as the birthplace of Masonic teachings in America.

Roughly ten years later in the early 1740s, the new proprietor expanded Tun Tavern and gave the addition a new name, "Peggy Mullan's Red Hot Beef Steak Club at Tun Tavern." The new restaurant became a smashing commercial success and was patronized by notable Americans. In 1747 the St. Andrews Society, a charitable group dedicated to assisting poor immigrants from Scotland, was founded in the tavern.

Nine years later, then Col. Benjamin Franklin organized the Pennsylvania Militia. He used Tun Tavern as a gathering place to recruit a regiment of soldiers to go into battle against the Indian uprisings that were plaguing the American colonies. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Continental Congress later met in Tun Tavern as the American colonies prepared for independence from the English Crown.

On November 10, 1775, the Continental Congress commissioned Samuel Nicholas to raise two Battalions of Marines. That very day, Nicholas set up shop in Tun Tavern. He appointed Robert Mullan, then the proprietor of the tavern, to the job of chief Marine Recruiter -- serving, of course, from his place of business at Tun Tavern.

Prospective recruits flocked to the tavern, lured by (1) cold beer and (2) the opportunity to serve in the new Corps of Marines. So, yes, the U.S. Marine Corps was indeed born in Tun Tavern. Needless to say, both the Marine Corps and the tavern thrived during this new relationship.

Tun Tavern still lives today. And, Tun Tavern beer is still readily available throughout the Philadelphia area.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The mystery of life is wondering "what if"

About fifty-five miles off the coast of California in the deep, cold, blue water of the Pacific Ocean lies San Clemente Island. Once upon a time, while in the Marine Corps, I walked the twenty-one mile length of that island and swam both above and beneath the waves in the waters off shore. This is a U.S. Navy photograph of the southern tip of the island. Incidentally, despite the considerable distance from the mainland, archaeologists have found evidence of human occupation at least ten thousand years ago. To explore the unknown is human nature, would you not agree?

To dive and to dive and to dive

A few years ago (actually, more than a few, but, please, do not tell anyone) I was on a submarine (yes, I am serious) just off an island called San Clemente in the Pacific Ocean sort of between San Diego and Los Angeles, California.

Yes, again. This was while I was in the Marine Corps. I just had completed a three-week scuba/dive school, compliments of the U.S. Navy, and we now were being taught how to exit a submarine about fifty feet below the surface in order to swim ashore and do some damage and destruction. (If you do not like this story, go back and read the one about the bar in La Jolla, California, or the one about the bar in Tijuana, Mexico -- whoops, I guess I never have written about the one in TJ; maybe sometime.)

Well, I was a pretty good swimmer back in those days. (Only a year or two ago, mind you). I had swum as far as twelve miles and been down to a depth of about one-hundred-twenty feet as a high school boy in Lake Superior.

Anyway, when we exited the submarine, two at a time, on a buddy system, I waved my mate goodbye and, for a reason I did not know then and still do not know today, I swam downward instead of upward. I mean intentionally. Did I mention this was at night, in total, complete darkness, which complicated the task of knowing which way to swim toward the surface? (Try it, if you doubt me. This makes for a good excuse, if one is needed.)

To make the proverbial long story short, I did not reach the bottom before I turned and began to swim to the surface. I later learned the depth was about three hundred feet in that particular area, so I did not feel badly about not making it. (Yes, I am trying to be funny.) No one could have made it without air tanks and decompression stops on the way back up. (We wore only wet suit, mask, fins and snorkel.)

At the surface, I found my buddy more-or-less drifting along, waiting for me, smoking a cigarette. (Yes, I almost always am serious; he was nearly as bad as I was, and has been dead for a while, so certainly he cannot mind me saying that about him.)

After enjoying a few drags from his cigarette (yes, lung cancer caught up with him), we made our way ashore and, upon establishing contact with the others in our group, proceeded to scold them for being late and making us wait. (Sometimes it is absolutely amazing how gullible some people can be.)

Three points: Me, and he, too, but to a bit lesser extent than me, broke a dozen rules which meant we were complete idiots and endangered ourselves and others. But, we were young and we were Marines. That combination is lethal in many ways, often to ourselves as well as to others.

Next, I frequently joke these days that if there had been as many programs on television about sharks in those times as there are now, especially Great White Sharks, I do not think I would have been so carefree and nonchalant about swimming in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. (I joke, but, still again, I really am serious when I say it; maybe the Air Force in the next life -- somewhere with no sharks around, in any case.)

Finally, I sometimes wonder if I could have reached the bottom that night and, if so, what I would have found there, off shore from San Clemente Island in the Pacific Ocean. My logical mind tells me that I could not have and, as if offering proof positive, informs me that even if I had, there is no way I possibly could have returned to the surface alive. This is true. But, this does not stop me from wondering and from remembering each and every second of those moments, and the exhilaration during them.

The mystery of life, it seems to me, lies in wondering "what if," even when it defies human logic and common sense ....

by Herman Melville

We drop our dead in the sea,
The bottomless, bottomless sea;
Each bubble a hollow sigh,
As it sinks forever and aye.

We drop our dead in the sea,—
The dead reek not of aught;
We drop our dead in the sea,—
The sea ne'er gives it a thought.

Sink, sink, oh corpse, still sink,
Far down in the bottomless sea,
Where the unknown forms do prowl,
Down, down in the bottomless sea.

'Tis night above, and night all round,
And night will it be with thee;
As thou sinkest, and sinkest for aye,
Deeper down in the bottomless sea.

Something special ....