Puerto Rican Memory: Old San Juan.Castillo San Cristóbal.
It was a day spent at the historic fort in Old San Juan. We were on a two-day delay for our return home after a two week vacation in Vieques and the JFK airport in NYC was socked in by a pounding snow storm. Our house rental on Vieques was over so we took the puddle jumper flight over to mainland Puerto Rico where we stayed at the outlying hotel we’d found on our first delay caused by another snowstorm on our way south. Now we needed to watch our pennies while taking advantage of the extra time. We took the bus into the city and found our way to the tourist area in Old Port.
I remember the expanse of lawn and the incredible age of the stone that made up the fort. I remember with edged sharpness what it felt like being between walls built so long ago. I remember Carolyn’s presence, her laughter, her buying her Senior National Park Pass at the entrance of the old fort, Castillo San Cristóbal. We walked the neighborhood, finding a place for lunch, seeing the vibrant colors of the houses, swimming through the sounds of Spanish in the streets, making lemonade out of the lemons of our delayed return home, unexpected sightseers happy with our successful expanded time in an unknown place.
Memory is tricky ground and always a bit more fluid than expected. As aging progresses memory becomes a measuring device, used by yourself and others. Here and now, on an early summer morning in Maine, this feel of that day in San Juan is powerful. It was the day before the last time I would ever see my friend, in a hurried parting at JFK as she rushed to make her connecting flight to Vermont and I, terrified as always by the teeming mass of NYC, needed to make my way to the train that could take me upstate. Days later I would become ill with an undiagnosed mysterious something that took me down for two and a half months. Months later came a card with a note from Carolyn. She had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She did not want contact: no visits, no phone calls, no questions. Years later, my life shifted and morphed into a very different life and Puerto Rico became a different place, altered forever by a vicious hurricane and ongoing political turmoil.
But now, in a very different geography, I am transported by memory to that sparking blue day walking in San Juan and the solidly real feel of it. The mysterious essence of life follows this memory, this aliveness in my brain or consciousness, almost shocking in its rich presence. What do we possibly know about our existence and does that (ever) matter?
The Gift of Whale.
Up before six this morning the sun, already above the horizon, was behind clouds so I saw it break through sending rays of light into the day’s beginning. Shortly after I looked out to see the whale fin glide gracefully above the water, the sleek dark gray back a moving arc in the water, so fluid and so fleeting.
Minke whale or whales have been feeding off this section of coast since late July. There is no predictability that I can pinpoint other that I’ve seen them at low tide and in mornings, afternoons, or even late evenings when there is fairly calm water. I only saw this morning’s whale once but I’m sure it was out there for a bit.
I’ve only seen the whale or whales when boats aren’t present. I wonder if they pick their times to come in close when they have the water to themselves.
Human reactions to whale sightings seem to have the same quality regardless of the age of the human: Enthrallment. Pure joy. Awe. I find I look at the stretch of water differently when I know they are out there. There is a sense of mystery and magnificence when whale is present. Being able to see them ethically from shore, not chasing after them with whale boats (which I did long ago), is a gift that catches one’s soul in each and every sighting.
*Note: No whale photo of course, as just catching a glimpse of them with the naked (bespectacled) eye is fleeting at best and sighting them with the camera nearly impossible, at least for me from this vantage point.
Have you ever noticed that the season of our birth seems to creates in us a preference for that season? I’ve held this idea for a long time. Being a child born in the height of summer I relish this time of the year. I love warm nights and soft breezes, the kind that don’t require sweaters.
I have lived in cold places and in each of these places I have craved the warmth of summer the entire year. This was strongest in the years spent in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and now here in Maine. High summer days astound me with their sparkle and feeling of abundance. The progression of fruits alone are enough to produce (pun intended) abundant indulgence; strawberries, cherries, raspberries, peaches and nectarines feel like health elixirs, the warmth of the sun still radiating from their juices. Nothing from a freezer’s depths can reproduce that fresh fruit joy.
Another particular joy includes summer storms, the boom and rumbling of thunder, the majesty of black clouds and flashes of light most often appearing on hot, muggy days. Such abrupt weather, sometimes violent, brings us an alive awareness with perhaps a touch of fear. And with luck there are rainbows.
“Swelter”, that overwhelming blanket of heat and humidity, is not as much a trait of summer in far northern climes but that duo arrives even here a few days each year. When the air is thick and the temperatures are hot it feels as if gravity has somehow increased. Summer feels less gentle in the more southern latitudes where’ve I’ve lived. The more southerly locations often had more frequent and more violent storms and oppressive stagnant air that preceeds them, but up north the windows are open to the sounds of birds and the breezes blowing through the house. Each day feels precious, like a lineup of jewels one after another. There are so very few days of warmth in a year’s progression this far north that even sharing it with the pesky bugs seems worth it.