Deck the halls with Bucky Balls

Last night, I tuned in here for the first time in months. It was so embarrassing that the last thing posted was a recipe for chili dogs that I couldn’t even bear to come and I was virtually certain the whole place would have been consumed with pornographic spam by now. But, no, here was a comment from Bonnie, rubbing in a Spartan victory, per usual and the only thing that has really changed is that I now, after some time living in agricultural heaven, have more respect for what us Wolverines refer to as “Cow Colleges”. In fact, one of my new favorite institutions of higher learning is Warren Wilson, where many a starter person is learning that a good place to start is in the dirt under our feet.

Once here, I went back aways reviewing older posts, mostly because I was looking for a couple I wrote around the time my mother died to share with a friend who has recently lost her remaining parent to the ravages of old age. Makes no difference your age, becoming an orphan makes you childlike in your heart. When I found those posts, I cried a little,remembering my mother, my childhood, Christmases past.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever return to writing routinely, keeping this site up as a sort of journal. It was good for me when I did and over time I matured from slapping up pure silliness to trying, at least part of time, to capture the feeling and color of my day to day life. But life is busy and now feltmaking has become the thing that always calls for my time and attention. I do know that I’m not ready to give it up altogether.

Here we are in Florida and even though our preparations are sort of slap dash since we only arrived from Asheville two days ago, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. As usual the best laid plans for homemade Christmas cards and many of the items I planned to craft have fallen by the wayside but enough has been done: everyone will get their scarf and the life-size animated light up moose is swaying his antlers in the front yard. The amaryllis, carefully transported in the car, are all abloom and the only Christmas cookies that really matter (chocolate cookie press cookies) are in tins on the counter. The Animals Christmas is playing in the background and I love when Art Garfunkel sings The Friendly Beasts. Once as a child, I got to be the donkey, all shaggy and brown, in the Sunday school Christmas pageant. As is our tradition the Swedish angel chimes go ding, ding, ding every night and leave melted wax on the mantel that needs to be scraped up each morning. The small wooden creche with the Matchbox John Deere tractor that 2 year old Daniel gave to baby Jesus is up on the sideboard as it has been every year for the past thirty. The little rituals of life continue to carry us from season to season and year to year. So, I guess you know what that means…

I posted this for the first time several years ago. There’s a lot of truth in it, despite the flights of fancy. Whatever else, it is a memory of my childhood: Christmas, my father, the Ford Rotunda and things that mattered and still do. I wish you a most wonderful holiday, filled with the magic and mystery of childhood. I wish for us all the quality of life that Buckminster Fuller envisioned.)

R. Buckminster Fuller was friends with Boston artist Pietro Pezzati, singer John Denver and also, my father. Even though my father was but half his age.
Bucky came into my life at Christmas time, in 1953. I was three years and three months old. Do I remember him? Yes, I do.

Although we lived in a Pete Seeger ticky-tacky post war house and not a Dymaxion House, he came to dinner one night in early December. And he pet our giant gray and white cat, Ike. As in, “I Like Ike.”

It was a Friday night and that was fortunate because on all the other nights of the week we ate tuna noodle casserole, spam with brown sugar and New England boiled dinner. On Fridays we dined on fish and chips from Suzie Q’s, located at the corner of Woodward and 8 Mile Rd. It came in yellow cardboard pie-plates stapled together to form a dome of sorts, although not geodesic. The fish was sole and there were crinkle cut french fries and a giant blueberry muffin. Food fit for a king and also Bucky.

My father and Buckminster had been working together on a project for Ford Motor Company for over a year and they were nearing the end of their joint effort, the Ford Rotunda. An architectural wonder originally built for the Century of Progress Exposition (aka, the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair), the building was moved to Dearborn, Michigan in 1936 and closed to the public during WWII. Described as “ultra-modern”, the Rotunda reopened as part of Ford’s 50th anniversary celebration on June 16, 1953. A radioactive wand (the tip contained a small amount of radium), said to be symbolic of the arrival of industry at the threshold of the atomic age, turned on golden floodlights and lighted 50 huge birthday candles around the rim of the Rotunda. The wand bombarded a Geiger tube with 44,890,832 gamma ray impulses in 15 seconds. The final impulse (the number signified the number of vehicles produced by Ford since 1903) was said to trigger the electrical system. But most people would come to associate the Rotunda with an annual Christmas display called the Christmas Fantasy, which first opened on Dec. 15, 1953. In the last two weeks of that December over 500,000 people would visit the Christmas Fantasy at the Rotunda.

Back at our ticky tacky little house my mother and father were in the kitchen unpacking Susie Q’s fish and chips. My brother was in the den, watching the 10 inch diameter black and white TV screen housed in the 38 inch console. It was Howdy Doody Time. Bucky sat on the sofa petting Ike and I sat on the floor staring up at him through 1/2 inch thick eyeglasses which didn’t really fit a 3 year old all that well. Blind in one eye, my world was blurry, to say the least. And then Bucky (Mr. Fuller, to me) said something quite odd.

“Listen, little billionaire, have you considered the benefits of polyphasic sleep? You may not remember when this was second nature to you, but you should practice this all throughout your life. You’ll get more done.” Then he said, “Excuse me momentarily” and he stretched out on the sofa, without removing his shoes, and instantly fell asleep. Ike and I watched him until my father came in about seven minutes later and announced that dinner was out of the bag. Bucky sat up, blinked and said, “Better now!” and we all went into the kitchen (for want of a dining room) and sat down to Susie Q’s.

I only saw R. Buckminster Fuller one more time and that was a few weeks later when we went to the opening of A Christmas Fantasy. I was dressed in my best dress and leggings, patent leather shoes, a wool coat, matching hat, a rabbit fur muff and those ridiculous glasses.

I should take a moment to note that my father was not a distinguished architect, a man of radical philosophical beliefs or a great visionary. He was an Ohio farm boy who grew up, went to war, married young and formulated plans to sell Ford tractors. It’s true that he was exceptionally good at coming up with ideas to sell tractors. My father and Buckminster Fuller were an unlikely pair and yet in some fashion, they became a pair around the building and promotion of the Ford Rotunda.

And so, we were among the first in line. We arrived in the late afternoon while it was graying but still light and stood in a cluster of VIPs and their children. A red and white bow, far larger than I, was tied across the winged entrance and someone, while my feet grew colder and colder in those patent leather shoes, said some things about the wonders we would see and cut the bow with a flourish and a giant pair of scissors. We filed in and the magic began. It was snowing inside! Inside the biggest igloo of a building you could ever imagine- it was snowing! In the center of the igloo stood a Christmas tree 4 stories high with thousands upon thousands of lights and shiny ornaments.

I slipped my mother’s grasp. You can see that her attention is elsewhere; that’s little me, the smallest child, in the dark coat and cap (too bad you can’t see the disproportionately large eyeglasses). And I ran to the tree: I needed to touch it and smell it, to feel the bright hot colored lights, to brush snow from the limbs. I stood transfixed and then, from inside the branches of the tree, I heard a familiar voice.“Ah, my little billionaire! What do you think of my tensegrity structure?”

“It’s very nice, Mr. Fuller.”

“Yes, in here, there is no sunsight or sunclipse, but only the endless recycling of sustainable snow. Oh, and be sure to stop by Santa’s workshop. The elves are building toy Ford tractors on the assembly line.”

My mother came then and reclaimed me. I’m certain she was unaware of Mr. Fuller sitting on a branch inside the tree. We moved on and saw all that there was to see.

There was ‘The Night Before Christmas’, an almost lifesize house with Rudolf snorting puffs of steam impatiently on the rooftop while Santa emptied his sack under the tree. Story Book Land came to life, with Hansel and Gretel, Little Boy Blue, Puss in Boots, Little Bo Peep and Humpty Dumpty animated by machines performing around a vast Santa Claus castle. The best was a 15,000-piece miniature circus with a parade, a 10-piece band on a wagon pulled by a 10-horse team, a steam calliope and 800 tiny animals, 30 tents, 435 performers and a full audience, all in a scale of 1/2 inch to the foot. In addition to the circus, we saw a rustic barn dance, a shopping center with a doll beauty shop, animated dolls representing children of all nations, and woodland creatures frolicking in the snow. The blur of partial blindness only enhanced the wondrous effect.

The Nativity included a life-size manger scene set in a lean-to built into the side of a hill, with a huge star glowing in the heavens. (In 1958 Ford would receive a commendation from the National Council of Churches for emphasizing the spirit of Christmas with what the Council determined was “the largest and finest Nativity scene in the United States.”)

In the end, all roads led to Santa, but I was tired and tiny and shy when it came time to sit on his lap. My father said, “Hop up, Tadpole” and so I did. And here is what Santa said to me, speaking ever so softly and near enough to my ear that his beard tickled:

“And what would you like for Christmas, my little billionaire?”

I thought ‘how strange’, at least in the sense that a three year old can think ‘how strange’ but I answered, “Santa, a bride doll, please.”

And Santa responded, “Well, little B, you would be wiser to want an Operating Manual for the Spaceship Earth. It will teach you that through ephemeralization and synergetics we can waste not and want not and the worldaround will be populated by 4 billion billionaires, each able to enjoy Susie Q’s fish and chips whenever they wish. You will come to understand that less is more and cooperation is the optimal survival strategy. This manual explains how selfishness is unnecessary and irrational, and war is obsolete. It explains how we can recycle both our knowledge and our materials to live ever more fulfilling lives. Wouldn’t you rather have that for Christmas instead?”

I considered a minute, as much as a three year old can consider, and said, “Ummm, no thank you, Santa. I think my brother wants a spaceship but I would like a bride doll.”

And then my father was there and said, “Hop down, Tadpole.” And I did and we held hands and walked out of that fantastical place with the never-ending warm snow and I fell asleep in the car on the way home.

That Christmas Santa brought me precisely the bride doll I wished for. She was as tall as I was and had eyes that opened and closed and the most beautiful of bride’s dresses. My brother Bruce got a model tractor rather than a spaceship.

I don’t recall what became of that bride doll after her hair tangled and I lost interest and now I often wish I had accepted the Operating Manual for the Spaceship Earth. But that is hindsight rather than foresight and hindsight is usually the path not taken, yes? (This is the end of my Christmas story)

____________________________________________________________

Buckminster Fuller died at the age of 88, a decade before my father did. He was a guru of design, architecture, and ‘alternative’ communities. He was (hopelessly) optimistic that if we carefully, conscientiously and thoughtfully managed our resources there could be high quality life for all the creatures of the earth.
When his wife was comatose and dying of cancer he visited her in the hospital. At some point he exclaimed: “She is squeezing my hand!”. When he stood up, he suffered a massive heart attack and died within the hour. His wife died 36 hours later. John Denver wrote the song “What One Man Can Do” for Fuller. A new allotrope of carbon (fullerene) and a particular molecule of that allotrope (buckminsterfullerene or buckyballs) have been named after him.

If you want to know more about Fuller, Buckminster Fuller’s Universe, His Life and Work by Lloyd Sieden (ISBN 0738203793), explores Fuller’s personal life, his beliefs and important contributions to society. Designed to be the showcase of the auto industry, the Ford Rotunda was opened to the public on May 14, 1936. The original steel framework was covered with Indiana limestone, forming a design representing a stack of gears, decreasing in size towards the top. Located on Schaefer Road, across from the Ford Administration building, the circular structure had an open courtyard 92 feet in diameter and a wing on either side.Huge murals on the walls depicted the manufacture of the Ford automobile. Exhibits were changed regularly, but Ford products always took center stage. 

The grounds contained reproductions of 19 historic Roads of the World: the Appian Way from Italy, the Tokaido Road in Japan, the Grand Trunk Road in India, a Mayan road from the Yucatan, the Oregon Trail and a wooden plank section of Woodward Avenue from the earliest days of that thoroughfare.

Besides its own attractions, the Rotunda served as the gateway for tours of the Rouge Plant. In 1960, the Rotunda ranked behind only Niagara Falls, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, The Smithsonian Institution and the Lincoln Memorial as a national tourist destination. It was more popular than Yellowstone National Park, Mount Vernon, the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty.

The building was closed to the public during World War II, and following the war underwent a massive remodeling in 1952, in which the courtyard was covered with an 18,000 pound dome. The weight of a conventional dome, 320,000 pounds, would have crushed the structure, so Ford turned to R. Buckminster Fuller, who came up with the design, the first commercial application of his experimental geodesic dome. Later, Buckminster Fuller would perfect his concept of tensegrity to the degree that he could cover the same 92 foot diameter area with a permanent, secure dome weighing less than 3,000 pounds.

The preparations for the 1962 Christmas display were well under way when disaster struck on Nov. 9. While workers applied tar to the dome as weatherproofing, they kept it warm with an infrared heater. The tar caught fire. Shortly after 1 p.m., an employee saw flames on the ceiling of the main floor, and gave the alarm as workmen raced down from the roof. Sheets of flames shot 50 feet high. The black smoke was visible for miles.In less than an hour the Rotunda lay in ruins. The Christmas Fantasy was completely lost to the flames. All that was saved were the Christmas tree, which had not been put in place, the 2,500 Goodfellow dolls shown yearly which had not been delivered, and the miniature circus, which had been packed into trunks and was ready to move in.

My father did, in fact, work with Buckminster Fuller on the geodesic dome aspect of the Rotunda and they became friends. A Christmas Fantasy was an integral part of the Christmases of my childhood.


Lost in a dream

Time passes slowly up here in the mountains
We sit beside bridges and walk beside fountains
Catch the wild fishes that float through the stream
Time passes slowly when you’re lost in a dream

I remember saying to someone a while back that I was considering getting tickets to a Bob Dylan concert and she commented, “Doesn’t that only encourage him to sing?” I woke up with this songworm today, for no apparent reason and considered pulling it out and putting it on the turntable.  But then, I think because of all the lovely condolences about McCloud left by friends on FB, I started mulling over how some of those friends go back such a long way  and we began here in the blogging neighborhood. Time for an update.

I remember when I published this photo of McCloud right after my mother died and it was in the context of his being such a comfort when I was grieving. Yesterday we said our goodbyes to McCloud, splendid cat that he was. He was Rich’s “big-boned” friend (not to be confused with obese, mind you) but in the past 18 months the big bones were becoming more and more apparent as he would ever more slowly lower himself down for a nap. Most recently, his life was one long nap under the deck punctuated with interludes of digestive distress and incontinence. His hearing and vision were seriously impaired. He had taken to coming up to us and tapping us on the leg and when we would look down and ask, “What do you want? You have food. Water. Pats. What? ” and he would give a silent meow. Even his voice had left him, all except the purr. We talked it over and felt that he was confused and uncomfortable enough that he wasn’t sure what he needed but he hoped we could help. In the end, after a feline lifetime of mutual love and affection, we’ve done the best that we could.

When I arrived here at my page after not even looking for a month I found this from Bonnie:

Humbly, Ms. Bennett, I must presently beseech thee:
Compose a new post before mold grows on my French brie.
For you to write something new, must I create a silly poem?
(You’ll drive me to drink wine by the jeraboam!)
Lastly, from me (I can be such a pistol):
For Heaven sakes, Vicki, update, Sistah!

How can I not post? Facebook is making bad bloggers out of a lot of us, as we take the cheap and easy way out with little snappy one liners, but I realized this week as I enjoyed following Mary getting her room together for her first graders that it’s really not fair to simply eavesdrop on your friendships. A big part of what I struggle with is taking the time to sit and communicate with people I can’t see and or hear as we share our stories, but it’s still true that in the debate over “real or virtual” friends, I have meaningful and strong friendships with people I can’t snuffle up live.

Ain’t no reason to go in a wagon to town
Ain’t no reason to go to the fair
Ain’t no reason to go up, ain’t no reason to go down
Ain’t no reason to go anywhere

Here on the mountain, we’ve made new good friends. A day doesn’t pass that we aren’t happily surprised all over again by the good news that we find ourselves in such a beautiful place among such a wonderful group of interesting people. It’s a true neighborhood here. Everyone knows and cares about everyone else but no one’s porch light is hindering your view. We have musicians and artists and woodworkers and authors in our small neighborhood. We have the best farmers in the world, educated and experienced and young and so full of hope they have many beautiful tow-headed babies and children. We have conservationists and environmentalists and educators. Most of all we have new and good friends. We really feel as though we’ve turned around and come down where we need to be.

One my friends, Sydney, works with Molly to raise and milk goats and then turn the milk into soap for Farmer Jane Soap. I work with them now, felting some of the soap for sale at two tailgate markets each week. (Felted soap is extra special, don’t you know, because it’s a loofah and soap all in one with no slime and no waste! When I felt bars of the “itch witch” goat’s milk soap with jewel weed extract it’s the perfect gardener’s soap, kind of like your own Felt Naptha. And so forth and so on, with you getting the idea that I am now thoroughly ensconced in the practical esthetics of life here on the mountain.) Sydney was recently linking to a short film about people choosing to become farmers here in Western North Carolina and she made a comment about why she chose to leave her previous lifestyle to come make goats milk soap. She wrote, “Over time the importance and the beauty of living close to the land and letting go of the things I could not change became my dream.” I can’t imagine a clearer or better articulated statement of how I had been feeling since ending my practice as a psychotherapist. During my professional life I worked with people to affect change but at some point the overwhelming parts of life that I can’t impact started to get to me in a serious way. Narrowing my focus has been a good change; now I’m happy just to be living locally, shrinking our footprints, enjoying the view, helping out in small ways where I can.

Here on the mountain in Sugar Hollow I stay inordinately busy. I grow a large garden. I teach felting. I work at my own feltmaking. I observe the snakes and bears and birds and coyote and insects. Last week I was flipping the lid on the grill and felt something under my finger that I knew in my heart I did not want to be touching. Even before I saw it, I shrieked and jumped back and then, there she was: a wolf spider with her entire brood on her back. To the degree I was working on my arachnophobia, this was a major setback.

We’ve had lots of our not-so-new good friends come to visit and we enjoy showing them around. This summer, in the course of exploring our area, we’ve discovered some great waterfalls and one of them has a jump off into an ice cold mountain stream. It’s pretty scary, to stand on top of that high shelf contemplating a leap- first and foremost the leap of faith that you won’t end up in a vegetative state by crashing onto the rocks below. I did it, finally, and since then have taken pleasure in goading others. Actually, it felt like quite an achievement; I try not to compare it to the times I kayaked the Inside Passage or scaled the Tetons or hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back. Things change.

Time passes slowly up here in the daylight
We stare straight ahead and try so hard to stay right
Like the red rose of summer that blooms in the day
Time passes slowly and fades away

Wordless Wednesday, cat’s-eye view

Trying to surface without getting the bends

How can I not update this blog when Bonnie writes me such poems (last comment, last post)? It’s true I’ve been laying low and had little or no inclination to write anything. As soon as I returned from the New River Birding Festival I fell into a place of feelings and observations and living in the moment that seems both too big and too small to articulate. The birding trip, incidentally, was GREAT; beautiful warblers, people, vistas. It was wonderful fun to actually meet the members of that wild and crazy Flock of bird bloggers along with Julie Zickafoose and the great Chet Baker and a host of incredible expert birders. All those people at the festival were like funky renaissance folk: totally experienced, world traveled, informed and educated, all dressed in damp flannel shirts and funny hats. We ate sausage gravy biscuits outside at 6 am in the freezing drizzle, marched around all day bird, butterfly, wild flower and bug watching. Then we ate a big dinner and had great speakers in the evenings. My favorite speaker was Connie Toops, a nature photographer, who was on Midway Island with all those albatross when the earthquake/tsunami struck Japan. Her slide show of the day before and the days after among the nesting albatross was, really, an amazing look at an incredible natural event.

Now, major life events and day-to-day inconsequential events in no particular order have held my attention, each one seeming equally worthy of note. It’s possible I’m just getting adulpated or regressing to the level of a two-year old where each new thing is absolutely riveting. And so many things are new.

Losing a very best friend is new. I knew going into the birding trip that a fellow member of BCMA (Book Club, My Ass) back in Ann Arbor was dying. Once the business of death was on her, she tucked in pretty quickly. I talked with her husband and decided to fly up immediately, even if it meant only a few minutes with her. As it happened, we spent several hours over two days and we cried and laughed and covered all possible subjects- past, present and future. I’ll say more about that later but this post from a while back gives you some idea of the ties that bind among this group. I’ll be back tomorrow with a blog update worthy of FC or Robin or any number of my friends who take such wonderful note of the little things we so rarely notice. Here on the mountain for our first full Spring into summer, we are discovering a mind-boggling array of living things and I have a photo or five worthy of your attention.

____________________________________________________

(This blog post was first published in August of 2007. )

WHEN WE MET AT THE DUNE

Women are in league with each other, a secret conspiracy of hearts and pheromones. ~Camille Paglia
____________________________________________________________

cotbert.jpeg

This past weekend the women of the club reconvened in a small cottage perched high on a dune on the shore of Lake Michigan.

cottagea.jpeg

While all hands were busy, secrets were laid bare. We had news to tell and stories to spill. Since we last met, one woman had lost her mother and a hundred pounds. Everyone else wishes they could lose ten but on a weekend such as this, with the kitchen full of the favorite foods of seven women, there wasn’t much willpower. And then there was the wine…

cotkris21.jpeg

Two are single and wish they weren’t. We can’t figure out why they are single: we would marry them. One has a daughter living too quickly. One is struggling in her marriage. One who has been married a very long time, well, her husband has serious surgery looming. One, who conquered the terror of breast cancer when our children were toddlers, now wishes she could stop smoking. Maybe. She goes outside to contemplate the beauty of Lake Michigan periodically.

cotaud.jpeg

And so we talk, about dieting and children. We fuss over health insurance. We consider the advantages and disadvantages of living here or there. We worry about the economy and pollution and energy. We marvel that we have survived illnesses and the deaths of loved ones and the demise of marriages and the foolishness of youth, and we wonder if our children will be able to do likewise.

cotpat.jpeg

Later we remember when we did drugs and laugh hard. We gossip about our sisters and mothers. We discuss how we pray, with doubt and conviction and humor.

cottagej1.jpeg

There was no phone reception and there were no computers. I wanted to capture every moment, free of distraction, with these women I love.