Saturday, February 28, 2009

Polar Bear, Expressed

I am a great one for cooking up theories, which tend to sit, untested, in my mind. Sit, however, isn’t exactly the right verb. An idea that doesn’t come out bounces from wall to wall in my brain. It ricochets from point to point to conclusion again and again. If you imagine a theory thrashing around like this for a long time, the verb you get might be closer to fester.

Remember the polar bear who used to swim compulsively back and forth in his pool? Something like that.

This blog is in part an experiment in letting these theories out. Perhaps this will open some space for more new ideas to come in.


(©AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Prayer for a Blog (Among Other Things)

On this path effort never goes to waste,
and there is no failure.

—Bhagavad Gita, 2:4

Friday, February 27, 2009

Written on the Body

Today, C., the yoga instructor, informed us that she was teaching us to understand the grammar of our bodies. Finally, a grammar I could actually like!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Much Ado (About Noting)

As they say on Facebook, what are you doing right now?

Cookslogblog is waiting to go eat lobsters and watch the Oscars.

Cookslogblog is trying desperately to fulfill a vow to treat this blog as a practice and to file three times a week, empty thoughts and self-consciousness be damned.

Cookslogblog is pondering the nature of Internet narratives.

I know we’d all rather read about lobster, but how am I going to handle ideas?

I have trouble with this blog structure. I find I’m constantly thinking (at least hypothetically) about narrative, about one piece flowing out of another, but when I look at the finished pages the overall arc of my saga is running backward.

The top of my blog has no visible history.

People who read the blog day by day may have a sense of its (my) unfolding, but anyone else who wanted to discover the genesis of an idea or follow the stages of my political-ethical development (me, me, me) would have to read backward.

Reading backwards is scrolling down. Scrolling down does seem like a natural activity. Reading a story chronologically backwards does not.

The alternative would be to go all the way down to the bottom of the blog and read up. Within each entry you’d read down, but then you’d have to scroll back up to some new beginning and do it all over again. The thought of this offends something in my brain.

On Facebook, everything is in the present, it’s right now. It’s a virtual right now. It’s right now whenever you get to it. This is genius.

My friend quoted someone who said Facebook was like a newspaper, except all the news was about your friends.

I think it’s like hanging out. People come and go, there’s no schedule, conversations start and get abandoned, there are sudden bursts of laughter. And there’s that undeniable camaraderie.

But what do I know about hanging out? I was used to structure.

The blog format reminds me vaguely of a newspaper—everything important is on top. In a tabloid news article, the facts are arranged in descending order of importance. If space runs out, you simply chop off the bottom!

(That is so true here. Remember entry number one? That explains everything!)

In my blog, the most important thing is always what’s new. The past rolls inexorably toward the bottom of the screen, and then drifts away. In that sense, it’s inescapably like life. And didn’t literature once give you the sense of preserving life in a jar?

(Go ahead! Chop that off!)

Slumdog Millionaire, everyone.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Filing Cabinet: Netherland: The Political-Ethical Idiot


From Netherland, a novel by Joseph O’Neill:

In this ever-shifting, all-enveloping discussion, my orientation was poor. I could not tell where I stood. If pressed to state my position, I would confess the truth: that I had not succeeded in arriving at a position. I lacked necessary powers of perception and certainty and, above all, foresight. The future retained the impenetrable character I had always attributed to it. Would American security be improved or worsened by taking over Iraq? I did not know, because I had no information about the future purposes and capacities of terrorists or, for that matter, American administrations; and even if I were to have such information, I still could not hope to know how things would turn out. Did I know if the death and pain caused by a war in Iraq would or would not exceed the miseries that might likely flow from leaving Saddam Hussein in power? No. Could I say whether the right to autonomy of the Iraqi people—a problematic national entity, by all accounts—would be enhanced or diminished by an American regime change? I could not. Did Iraq have weapons of mass destruction that posed a real threat? I had no idea; and to be truthful, and to touch on my real difficulty, I had little interest. I didn’t really care.

In short, I was a political ethical-idiot. Normally, this deficiency might have been inconsequential, but these were abnormal times. (p. 100)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Windy Sunset




Unguided Om

The other morning, there were three meditators and no one officially to guide us. I put the clock on the floor. When we were done, S. asked, “Shall we end with an om?” And the three of us
ahhooOOOOOOommmed.

It was the first time I’d ever sounded an om without an instructor. That felt pretty good—wild, and exciting.


(16th Street sweater tree)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Joy of…Shoveling


Hey, maybe I won’t have to shovel again this year.

Once upon a time, I wondered why people were so preoccupied with snow removal. Now I can get obsessive about clearing a path for the old people and the mail cart and the strollers.

More than once, it’s been nice to come home to a project. I enjoy getting hot, even breaking a sweat, as I rattle my shovel along the sidewalk. That can feel good in winter, opening up the jacket and pulling off your hat, your breath coming out in white clouds.

I learned that in certain conditions, and for example on the steps, a broom is more effective than a shovel. One day I swept away an inch or two of powder, and what remained on the dark pavement was a distinct trail of white footprints in the form of compacted snow. It made me think about fossils.

Late into the season, it occurred to me that I could thank my neighbor for her help with the dog by shoveling her walk. I came to this conclusion while I was walking home. When I arrived, I found my neighbor and her boyfriend companionably shoveling my walk.

Yes, it made me feel good.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy ♥ Day!



It’s still VALENTINE'S DAY. Maybe because we’re all so grateful for what we’ve still got, the occasion seems unusually festive this year. I’ve seen men clutching paper cones of flowers, children holding giant red helium balloons, and neon hearts in windows all over the neighborhood. I’ve seen such an unusual number of couples I’m tempted to find them an ark.

I actually like Valentine’s Day, and I’m quite fond of the
symbol. Recently, however, it occurred to me that it doesn’t look a whole lot like a human heart. So where does it come from?

The answer is that nobody knows. There’s some speculation that it’s supposed to look like a woman’s vulva or a cow’s heart, and a more compelling theory that it looks just like the seed of the silphium, a now extinct fennel (related to Queen Anne’s lace) that had a heyday as a Greco-Roman contraceptive.


Ancient silver coin from Cyrene depicting a silphium seed or fruit .




Heart-symbol-vulva-shape hypothesis illustration.



This question actually came up for me while I was sitting in a brief meditation session at the local yoga center, something I try to do two times a week. I used to sit with a man named T., who’s recovering from heart surgery. We rarely talked, but I miss him.

Lately, I sit with whichever of the yoga instructors is teaching the next class. Often this is J. Normally I set my blankets up at a slight angle to hers, which means that I can face her, politely, but also avoid staring at her directly. Ideally, I’ll train my fuzzy gaze on some knot in the floorboard.

The first time I went last week, I unexpectedly wound up sitting with R. I had already settled on my bolsters when she came in. She chose a spot only about eight feet away and faced me head-on! I took a fragmentary look, observed her relaxed and upright posture, noted that she looked both beautiful and blissful, and became completely unnerved.

I decided that this might be the day to meditate with my eyes closed.

It was a lovely morning, a harbinger of spring. Periodically I felt the brightening of the sun through my eyelids. The birds had resumed their chatter in the trees outside. The truck traffic seemed uncommonly low.

I’m usually quite aware of sounds when I sit. For much of the winter, the hissing of the radiators had reminded me of the swelling sounds of danger on a movie soundtrack.

I once heard a meditation instructor explain that you had to give the monkeys in your mind something to do—something other thinking out loud inside your head, that is. Ever since, I’d been stationing them at the sides of my skull, just inside my eardrums. Their job was to listen.

As the house sparrows chirped to the monkey in my right ear, it suddenly dawned on me that all my attention was going to my right or my left. Maybe some days it wandered to the source of a pain, which was likely to be in my back or my shoulders or my legs. It was anywhere but out front.

And that was more or less deliberate, I realized. Lately I’ve been thinking I have no idea what people mean when they talk about the energy among people, and maybe this is an example of why. I might as well have erected a big glass pane between me and my opposite number.

And so entered the heart. Eyes closed, I decided I might as well try to acknowledge that R. was there. I could relax my chest muscles and try to imagine that if there were to be a sense of awareness between us, I wouldn’t block it out. I might even send her a good thought.

Which I did, from the shelter of my closed eyes. My chest began to feel warm and somehow unsettled, as if my flesh were a pot that was being gently stirred. I experienced a rising, swelling sensation: something fierce and vulnerable, pushing outward.

So that was it. When I visualized that feeling that was pushing from somewhere behind my sternum, behind my breasts, and tapering down to my belly, it seemed to be shaped like a big heart—“a Valentine’s heart,” one of the monkeys observed. “Yeah, but that doesn’t look like heart at all,” said the other.

“Thinking,” my meditating self chimed in. “Thinking about hearts.”

Soon enough, the session ended. R. unfolded herself and stretched. “That was really pleasant,” she said. “It barely felt like 45 minutes at all.”

It hadn't hurt me, either.

Intrigued, I tried my opening-the-chest experiment again the next morning, this time with J. It was another pretty day. We often exchange thanks as we finish, but this time she added, “That was nice.”

“I thought so, too,” I said.

“I don’t know why--maybe because there weren’t any jackhammers outside,” J. said.

Who knows?

Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Snow Storms

“I was, it will be understood, afflicted by the solitary’s vulnerability to insights, so that when I peered out into the flurry and saw no sign of the Empire State building, I was assaulted by the notion, arriving in the form of a terrifying stroke of consciousness, that substance—everything of so-called concreteness—was indistinct from its unnamable opposite.”

---from Netherland, a novel by Joseph O’Neill

A few weeks ago, I pull in behind the little Festiva and park. I don’t think to back in. This means the wheels that actually move the car, the ones in the front, are farthest from the road. The next day, when I try to go out for coffee, I find I am stuck.

I back up to the lip of the paved, plowed road, but then my wheels spin. And spin. The ice is under an inch thick. It looks like nothing, but it’s enough. I don’t have sand. I strain and push and manage to make the car rock a little in its tracks, but that’s of no use.

I hate asking for help, so I make a bold decision to drive off into the lawn and try to loop around till I'm back on the driveway and heading out. The ice is thin and crunchy over the grass, and the ground should be frozen, so perhaps this will be a brilliant move.

It is not.

I am stuck. I shovel, break down cardboard boxes, back up onto slats of wood. The car moves maybe two feet.

I head for the phone. First, triple A, which won’t come if the driveway’s not plowed. Next I call my sister, who tells me to call the caretaker. Car rescue is not in his job description, but he comes right over. He’s an older man who’s had cancer. He rocks the car back and forth in the mud, but it goes nowhere. He drives off, saying he’ll try to find someone with a winch.

I’m left standing in the middle of the lawn, contemplating this debacle. How fragile everything is! How much can go wrong in an impulsive instant!

I look up at the graying sky. A foot of snow is predicted to begin falling within the half hour. I imagine my car stuck for the season, a white lump waiting for spring, a permanent badge of incompetence.

A man comes up the road walking an overweight hound. He’s very kind, telling me that he himself has managed to get stuck in a snow bank when there was no other snow around. He tells me if my car has a manual transmission we can gun it out.

I do have a manual transmission, and I also think to myself that I have tried this gunning technique, but I defer to his undoubted expertise. He says we need to clear all the stray bits of cardboard and shovels first, and we do. Then I try to hand him the keys.

“Oh, I can’t drive a stick,” he says.

The car sprays mud and goes nowhere while the man's hound, now tied to a tree, barks. Why don’t I trust myself? What gives other people the happy confidence to offer advice, with no caveats, about things they know little about?

Blessedly, B. drives up again, this time with his son and grandson, both also named B. All three are cheerful and obliging. The elder B. takes the wheel, and the rest of the family and I line up at the rear bumper. We push the car out.

B. reparks the car in the driveway, facing toward the road. “Shouldn’t be a problem now,” he says.

I thank them profusely. “He’s a nice guy,” the son says of the father, as the father beams and the grandson looks on. I realize that in some families helping is one of the values that actually gets taught. I think I am watching it pass down the line.

This idea feels new to me. In November, my dog had a terrible seizure, and at 10 in the evening, I made a desperate call to my neighbor for help. She offered to drive us to the vet—as long as she could take her daughter, who was already in her pajamas and heading for bed.

Later, I thanked her, especially because her child had to witness such a difficult thing. “No, I think it was good,” K. said. “It was a good lesson, that you help your neighbor.”

In recent years, I have been forced to ask for help again and again, for big things and small. It remains a battle to ask, and I struggle to receive this help with more grace. Having been humbled so often, owing debts of gratitude larger than I can ever repay, I am now trying to learn how to be more thoughtful and proactive in offering assistance as well.

Better late than never, as they say.

Half an hour later after the car is restored to the driveway, I get back in the driver's seat and try to leave for good. All goes smoothly until I am once again just inches from the road. And then my wheels spin! I try it again. And again. Slowly, faster, slow again. B. could do it, why can’t I? Here’s another project: trying not waste my energy on feeling ashamed.

The first flakes are falling. Resigned to my fate, I walk over to the neighbor’s house and explain my latest predicament. He drives right over with a big Toyota pickup. We lash a rope from one vehicle to another. He inches the truck forward till the line goes taut, and my car slides right out. Thirty seconds.

“That was way too easy,” he says.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Pumpkin's Progress





I.

"My whole life had been spent waiting for an epiphany, a
manifestation of God's presence, the kind of transcendent,
magical experience that lets you see your place in the big
picture. And that is what I had with my first compost heap.
I love compost and believe in it with every fiber (so to
speak) of my being. I believe that composting can save,
not the entire world, but a good portion of it."

--Bette Midler, reportedly in the Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1996

II.

Once upon a time, I thought of plants as living discrete lives. A seed was planted, somewhere; a plant arrived at a garden center; I bought it, watered it; it lived (one straggly plant, now hanging off the shower rod, has remained green and valiant through three apartments!) or died. I never thought about its progenitors or its offspring.

That was before the pumpkin.
In November 2005, in the course of a visit to G. at her country house, I was seized with a desperate, nostalgic urge to carve a pumpkin and light it up.

Halloween had already passed, but I dragged G. to a farm stand in hopes that it was not too late. The owner kindly allowed me to cull through a pile of leftover pumpkins discarded under a tarp—and to take one, for free.

I carved it, lit it, and carried it to G.’s deck, where I photographed it against an evening sky. (I put some of these photos up on citynoise, a site G. had encouraged me to explore---and, lo and behold, they now become the occasion for my first blogger’s link.)

G. was just beginning to blossom as a gardener. The following autumn, she presented me with a surprise: spawn of pumpkin! She’d tossed my pumpkin in her compost, and wonder of wonders, a new generation of pumpkins had arisen, unbidden, in her vegetable patch. She explained to me that such unexpected arrivals were called “volunteers.” This is an idea I have come to love: volunteering for life.

I was both moved and thrilled by this pumpkin. I kept it in my apartment for months, unable to cut it up. In November 2006, I amended my initial citynoise post, noting that I expected soon to move into a house with a little garden, so that perhaps in future years I would be able to introduce spawn of spawn!

And indeed, that is what I am about to do. I believe in my heart that the story I am about to tell is about the offspring of the first pumpkin. Of course, I know nothing of that first pumpkin—how it got to that farm stand, in which patch it grew. And the truth is, I don’t know exactly how its descendants arrived in my garden, either. Did I carry the pumpkin from the old house to the new? Did I cull the seeds? Did G. bring me a second-generation pumpkin whose history I’m eliding?

Honesty compels me to say that I don’t really know. When I abandoned perfection at the start of this blog, I abandoned fact-checking, too.

But I do know what story I want to tell.

And I do know that wherever it came from, the story of this pumpkin is its own.


III.

Late last May, I planted an azalea in the front yard. As I dug the pit and churned the soil, I threw in a couple of handfuls of the rich compost produced by my earthworms. (They live in large plastic bins that come with a special sticker that says: “Worm Condo: NYC worms have five hearts.”)

Some weeks later, I noticed that something green had emerged from the ground near that azalea. As the large green leaves took shape, I began to suspect it was a pumpkin.

I was curious to see what would happen. As the summer came, the vine marched steadily across the flower bed, making a steady progress toward the street. It created one lovely orange flower after another, but it never produced a fruit.

Eventually I picked one of the blossoms, filled it with cheese, and sautéed it. It didn’t really matter how it tasted. I was developing a whole new sense of what the world had to offer.

After several months the vine had traveled about 15 feet, arriving at the base of the chain-link fence separating the garden from the sidewalk. One day in late summer, I went out and lifted a leaf—there, at the base of fence, resting on a rock, was a softball-sized orb. A baby pumpkin!


And not long after, there was a second. The vine had jumped the fence. The sibling pumpkin was out in the public space with the passersby, a couple of feet off the ground, held close to its metal trellis by the surprisingly mighty tendrils of the parent vine.

Developments like these were exciting to a lot of the passersby, especially the toddlers. I loved to sit by my open window and listen for snippets of conversation. As the stroller moved up the street toward the pumpkin: “Soon, soon, we’re almost there!” Or, on the subject of the profusion of cherry tomatoes that were also volunteers: “No, that’s not a grape.”

One afternoon an Asian woman making the rounds for recyclables attempted to give me some advice my about plants—an effort that failed because of a language barrier, but which cheered me.

At night I peered out from behind my shutters. A stocky woman stood in the glow of the streetlight, brazenly popping one tomato into her mouth after another. A slender woman plucked furtively and dropped her harvest into a paper bag.

One morning I met a neighbor wandering up and down my sidewalk like a beachcomber. He was holding a empty cardboard condom box that he’d reclaimed from the pavement and stuffed nearly full. “Collecting snails,” he said. “Eat the plants.”

Late in the summer, a dog-walking neighbor asked me if I’d hand pollinated the pumpkins. There was a shortage of bees, she said, and nobody else had any pumpkins.

“I didn’t pollinate them!” I said. “I didn’t even plant them!”

She laughed. “Next year, you should plant a money tree.”


As a first-time gardener, I was already anxious about my crop. Remarks like these made me even more protective. It got to the point that before I left for vacation in September, I fished the black mesh grocery net out of my car and left it for my sister.

“If you think that pumpkin on the fence is going to fall,” I told her, “free free to tie it up!”

When I came home, the pumpkin was indeed trussed up, and beautifully. But when I thanked my sister, she said she wasn’t responsible. When I looked more closely, I saw that the pumpkin was cradled in a small blue net that fit it perfectly.


A mystery!

On the third day of my inquiries, the dog-walking neighbor once again strolled by.

“It was me!” she declared, before I even asked. “I put the hat on the pumpkin!”

It turned out she’d walked by with a six-year-old who was as worried as I was that the pumpkin might crash.

“I work at a hospital,” the neighbor said. “Next day, I go to work, and I see the hair nets the orthodox women have to wear. And I think, ‘That’s perfect for the pumpkin!’”

By now, I’d come to think of the pumpkins as a collective enterprise. I began to imagine that I would pick my pumpkins, put one each on the pillars at the base of my steps, and attach a sign thanking all of my pumpkin-loving neighbors for their encouragement and support.

But of course, this was not to happen.

One afternoon I returned home to find that the mesh bag was empty. My pumpkin on the fence had been stolen.

I was crushed. I tried to console myself by hoping that the person who took it had really wanted it and needed it and couldn’t afford it at retail.



The vine withered. In late October, I picked the first pumpkin. I hadn’t paid it much attention. It was small, but still bright and well shaped. I put it out on the pillar, unaccompanied by any sign. I tried, but I just couldn’t figure out what to say. A few days later, a squirrel clambered up and took a bite out of it.

“I like gardening,” B. had once said to me. “You get to see the whole life cycle.” An innocuous comment, but I was shocked at its implicit appreciation of death.





T
hanks to the squirrel, I no longer had any option but to acknowledge the end. So I took the pumpkin inside, hacked it apart, and grated its flesh to make my first-ever muffins. I handed them out to a few brave friends and neighbors. They didn’t taste much like pumpkin, but they did taste good.




And of course, I saved the seeds. I plan to put them in the compost. Soon, I hope, it will all begin again.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

They Came, They Conquered! (A Bird Feeder's Story)



This story begins with a sweet little bird feeder that came with a house.

The birds scattered seed, and often they ate it on the ground.










Then came a cat.










The cat killed a cardinal.



All the other birds watched from the trees. The blue jays screamed.





Stricken, I decided I better get a new feeder. One that was high up, and had a platform to catch the seeds.


When I found the rusty metal stand for a dismantled payphone, I dragged it home and used it to concoct something new.




.

















I was delighted. It reminded me of a Japanese temple.

The first visitor? A squirrel.

And then two, and sometimes three.






True, there were also doves and house sparrows and a whole flock of grackles and even a red-winged blackbird.

But the squirrels seemed to eat everything. They were shimmying up the post. Or running along the fence, and then leaping from a tree.











Ah, a challenge! In the basement I found Stryrofoam tubes used to insulate pipes. I ran string through one of them and tied the ends to the platform--voila, a wobbly gray replica of the St. Louis Arch!

I added a second arch and draped the pair with a sheet of clear plastic. I decorated the cover with bits of red duct tape to keep the birds from mistaking it for air. I sliced holes in the plastic to let the wind through.










Finally, I covered the payphone post with two of those plastic Elizabethan dog collars.










I was thrilled with myself.

Needless to say, the birds wouldn't go near this contraption.
Days went by.

The only visitor? A squirrel.

It was shimmying up the post and wriggling through the collars.












At first I was upset. But then I realized something important: This was a battle I would never win! Therefore, I would have to consider it a comedy.

I ripped off the covering I'd been so proud of.

The squirrels continued to advance. Their flying leaps destabilized the platform, which began to list to one side. Once that was accomplished, they could easily tilt the feeder and push it to the ground. Having enjoyed the crash, they could also chew the wood.

Undaunted, I collected the feeder, each time a little more battered, and restored it to the platform. Three times.

Finally, I decided to try something new. Something simple. I gave up on the wooden feeder. I took a shallow foil tray, staple-gunned it to the platform, and filled it with seed.

A great idea, at first. The seed was barely visible, and for a while it seemed that the squirrels could no longer detect the presence of the food. There were some lazy, gluttonous moments for the doves and the sparrows and the juncos. But then something happened.

Pigeons.

They came in twos and threes, and fours and fives, and then by the dozens. They watched my every move.

And when the fresh food came out....


They mobbed it.

I timed it.

In under five minutes, every bit of seed was gone.

The squirrels had met their match.


Okay. I once again fixed the feeder, nailing in its plastic windows with tiny nails. I stabilized the platform with bungee cords. And finally I lashed the patched-up feeder to the platform with thick rubber straps left over from moving day.

And then, at long last.....



NIRVANA!

Until the next day.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Happy Groundhog Day!


Let me say it again: Happy Groundhog Day!

I can't remember which came first, my love of Groundhog Day or the movie. Groundhog Day is one of my personal holidays. I liked it because it involved an animal and being outside and considering the weather. I liked it because it came after the official holidays, namely the behemoths known as Christmas and New Year's. Those holidays for me have traditionally involved a storm of unhappiness. Finally it was over! In the wave of relief, I'd feel a tiny urge to celebrate....

I woke up this morning to the radio telling me that the groundhogs had delivered their reports. Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow and says there will be six more weeks of winter. Staten Island Chuck did not see his shadow, so apparently the metropolitan area can look forward to a rapid spring.

Like everything else, Groundhog Day has been complicated for me over the years! Do I hope for a shadow or not? Is winter really so bad? Don't we want things to function on some old natural schedule? I fear the crazy days of global warming, when the thermometer might rise to 90 degrees in March, and then there may be a frost, and all the premature flowers will droop, and the insects will be out of sync...And spring itself: the sooner it starts, the sooner it will have passed. I love spring, the changing light, the rising noise of the birds, the green shoots. In the last years of her life, my mother used to remark: "Ah, Spring. It never disappoints...."

When I was a kid, holidays seemed something fixed and permanent. There seemed no way to escape Christmas, even if we didn't believe in it. Groundhog Day offered the whiff of another possibility! You could create your own festivity--even if you sometimes felt lonely and out of step, even if defying the established routines was what it was all about. Over time, I've come to realize that all holidays are created ones. I like equinoxes because they have some actually link to a natural phenomenon. I kind of like the Super Bowl because we've all just kind of taken to it, adopted it as a time to come together as friends and family, even if we hate football, even if we have come to loathe most of what it stands for.

Almost any time that people show any spontaneous interest in something, there is a giant commerce machine that steps in to urge them on. We're probably all missing the commerce machine about now, but really, was Halloween always like that? Phil--or generations of creatures labeled Phil--keeps Punxatawney on the map. If not for Chuck, how often would you think of the Staten Island Zoo? But on the whole, and for the moment, the marketing potential of this wonderful, rodent-centered occasion remains untapped.

Years ago, when I went to witness groundhog festivities at a zoo, I was shocked to realize--even though I should have known better--that the groundhog came out in a cage and was released for a photo op. He looked confused; I don't think he saw much besides cameras. It seemed quite clear to me that the matter of whether he saw his shadow or not had been determined in advance. I felt sad. This didn't seem like nature at all. What had I been thinking, that we'd all stand around on some grassy knoll and simply hope that the groundhog came out?

Later, I got talking to one of the keepers. If I remember correctly, and maybe I don't, he said that sometimes he took it home and it padded around and slept on the couch. That wasn't anything you were supposed to be doing with animals in a zoo. But at least he loved the groundhog, and that made me feel better.

There are some things in life that come again and again, and the joy lies in that. If I remember Groundhog Day the movie correctly, Bill Murray does the same over and over until he gets it right. Life repeats until he just surrenders to it, something like that. If you Google "Groundhog Day movie Buddhism," you get something like 61,000 hits. So if I say Happy Groundhog Day, you know there's a very good chance I'll say it again.

Happy Groundhog Day!




Groundhogs (with Meryl Streep!)