APRIL 13, 2013

Yeah, I know -- it's been nearly a year since my last entry.  Karen loves the laundry room.
  My workshop is remodeled, though I've never finished sorting out the junk.  After my operation, I felt great.  Karen and I visited a few more parks.  Then nearly a year to the day after my original accident, I was working at our church, putting up decorations for the Christmas season.  I tried to stop a 20-foot ladder from falling, grabbed it and twisted my back.  Then a few weeks later, we got wholloped with 30 inches of heavy snow.  I used our snowblower to clear our driveway.  The next morning I couldn't get out of bed.

So it was back to my chiropractor, who swore I wouldn't need to go back into the hospital.  And he was right.  I still have light pain from time to time, but after a few months of his repeated adjustments I'm generally functioning fine.  One odd remnant is numbness in my left foot that seems to be permanent.  And I'm no longer allowed to lift or move anything heavy.  So I'm finding ways around that dilemma.

For example, over the summer a swarm of yellow jackets build a nest under our back door sill.  I finally got rid of them with Sevin dust.  But our sill was eaten away.  Since we had to repair it and the back door was rotting out anyway, we decided to take out that wall and have a slider door installed out onto a deck.  The work was completed just after the New Year.  It brightened up the kitchen, but also has necessitated a redesign of that space.  I'm going to install new cabinets and counters.  Since I can't lift those cabinets, I'm going to build them piece by piece in place.  We're also getting rid of the giant electric range that came with the house and are getting a smaller one.  The remodel will create more storage, more counter space and better flow out onto the deck.  That'll be my big summer project -- and I won't have to lift anything heavy.

Over the past two years, I've been managing another big project.  Our church was gifted money specifically to install an upstairs restroom.  As the new head of the Property Committee, I wanted to tie that in with accessibility improvements all around the church.  It was a long process, but now we not only have a new upstairs bathroom and janitor's closet, we also have a remodeled handicap bathroom downstairs and new ramps at the church entrances.  We'll be getting new electronic doors as well; those will hopefully be installed in a month or so.  Then I won't have to play General Contractor anymore.

Another big project for the summer: the long-delayed book about the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round.  The Merry-Go-Round's Board of Directors have talked for years about a follow-up to the successful book I wrote about Mountain Park.  I wanted to write about the campaign to save the merry-go-round after the park closed.  It was a successful effort against incredible odds that no other community has been able to replicate. This year marks the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round's 20th anniversary of being downtown, so this seems like the right time to come out with the book.

Also this summer, Karen's daughter in Ohio is having her first baby.  Karen will be driving out early for that, and I'll be following along by train later.  I'm sure we'll stop by Cedar Point while we're there.  We'll see....  Anyone want to bet on when I'll next update this page?

MAY 19, 2013

People are in peril.  There have been years of bondage, and the poor and downtrodden are desperate for a savior, someone to give them new hope.  They find a savior, but from the unlikeliest of places:  not from some mythical land far away or from the skies, but from among themselves.  The savior comes from humble beginnings and grows to defy the authorities.  But the powers of the ruling government are strong.  The government doesn't like the way this savior has captured the public's fascination and so decides that this savior must die.

This story is all too familiar to us.  In fact, it's been turned into a major motion picture.  "Catching Fire" is about a young girl named Katniss Everdeen and how she becomes the hope of a people who have been brutally repressed.  It's the second book in the popular Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.  But it could easily be confused with the story of another savior, from another book.  And today, on Pentecost, "catching fire" is a very apt metaphor in the story of Christian life.

The famous scripture passage from Acts speaks of the Holy Spirit appearing upon the apostles in the form of fire.  Actually, one translation reads, "tongues spreading out like a fire."  Even though we now associate Pentecost with fire, it originally had little to do with flames.  The holiday was a Jewish pilgrimage to the Holy City that took place fifty days after Passover.  In the Old Testament, it was called the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of the Harvest.  Combine those two ideas, of pilgrimage and harvest, and you can see what this new Pentecost of the apostles begins to represent: a harvesting of pilgrims, a gathering of the faithful.  But gathering where?

We don't know where the apostles were when the Holy Spirit came.  The scripture passage is frustratingly vague: "they were all together in one place."  Would it have been  more meaningful if they had they been together at the room where the last supper occurred?  (By some accounts, they actually may have been in that same room.)  Or if they had been on the Mount of Olives?  Or in the garden of Gethsemane?  But no, they were just in a generic one place, not even in the place.

Perhaps there's a reason for the vagueness.  Can you imagine a scenario where the Holy Spirit descended upon them at an inn?  The innkeeper would have become the curator of a tourist trap, with tens of thousands of pilgrims flocking there hoping for a recreation of the flaming tongues.  The Holy Spirit would have been reduced to little more than a curiosity, like Punxsutawney Phil.  People would buy their flaming tongue souvenir pin and leave disappointed that they didn't actually feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The innkeeper would reassuringly tell them to come back and visit again soon as if repeated visits would increase their odds of becoming inspired, like some sort of divine lottery.

No, perhaps there's a reason that the scripture is vague.  Perhaps what it's saying is that the Holy Spirit needs no special place.  God can touch your life anywhere you happen to be, if you're willing to allow the spirit in.

Notice what the apostles experienced:  "Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house."  In the Bible, God always seems to arrive clothed in some altered form of nature, whether it's as a burning bush or a dove or, in this case, a gust of wind.  And He always seems to come "suddenly" at the most unexpected of times.  The apostles recognized this as a sign of God's presence.  And a crowd noticed something was strange as well and began to gather near them.

Next, those infamous tongues spread out like fire.  In the King James version, the passage is translated as cloven (or forked) tongues.  Were the apostles turning into snakes?   The word "tongue" actually derives from the Greek word for language.  Knowing that, it all begins to make sense: each apostle was acting differently and they found that they each could communicate in different languages.  At that moment, they were no longer the lowly uneducated fishermen that had followed Jesus.  They now were baptized as messengers of the new church to spread the Gospel to every tribe and every land.   John the Baptist foretold this event, saying, "I baptize you with water, but He (meaning Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."  

Remember that after the crucifixion, the apostles were on the run, hiding in fear for their lives.  Perhaps the "fire" the Holy Spirit brought was their new-found courage and willingness to admit they were followers of Christ.  That courage would become crucial as each apostle faced a hostile backlash by the ruling powers.  The apostles found the strength to confront seemingly impossible odds, strength to continue their struggle even as each of them saw their closest friends murdered by the authorities.  Perhaps not so coincidentally, Katniss follows a similar path in the Hunger Games.  She is both hunter and hunted, struggling to come to grips with what she represents to the public and the government, learning to stand up for what is right and just.

Notice the response of some people who saw the apostles:  "They're drunk."  Even though the crowd witnessed the miracle for themselves, even though they heard the various apostles addressing each of them in their own native language, was that the only conclusion those skeptics could come to:  that the apostles had too much to drink?  If they truly thought the apostles were drunk, how could they also think the apostles could speak so clearly to them in their native tongues?  If I were drunk, I wouldn't even be able to speak words in my own language!

Just as there were many who mocked Christ in His lifetime, there continued to be those who mocked the apostles.  And there are still those who mock the church today.  I could imagine that the apostles would have gotten used to it by that point.  And indeed, Peter seems to understand their skepticism and addresses the crowd strongly with the first courageous public proclamation that any of the apostles makes, courageous because Peter isn't preaching to the choir; he's speaking to people who are derisive and possibly even hostile.  Peter, the one who famously denied Christ three times, is ironically the first to stand up for Christ after His death:  "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."  With those words, Peter creates the new church and begins the unending quest to gather together the followers of God.

Maybe Katniss was channeling Peter when, in Catching Fire, she says, "At some point, you have to stop running and turn around and face whoever wants you dead.  The hard thing is finding the courage to do it."  And that's where the Holy Spirit comes in.

Notice that in Paul's letter to the Romans, he says, "You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption."  What a fascinating way to describe being touched by the Holy Spirit!  It's as if we're being brought into the safe harbor of a new family, one that cares for us and treats us as equals.

So on this day when we wear red to symbolize the fire of new life, born into an awareness of God through Christ and the Holy Spirit, remember that the fire doesn't die out when Pentecost is over and you dress in a different color.  The fire of Pentecost begins on the inside, spreads outward and continues burning.  It is a spirit that we as Christians embody: a spirit of openness, of caring, of understanding, of doing God's bidding in a world that often seems contrary to our beliefs.

Pentecost reminds us that we all have the ability to "catch fire," to challenge the complacent order of things and be like Christ.  The place is not important, nor is the time.  All it requires is a longing for the Holy Spirit, and a willingness to hear God's call.  Amen.

AUGUST 18, 2013

When we purchased our current home, we were faced with an enormous clean-up task. The woman who had lived there all her married life had also passed away there, leaving behind a long-neglected yard. Hostas that probably were once charming ornamentation had grown so large that they hid the foundation. A tangle of wistaria had climbed over a sturdy pergola and was making its way into the attic. Trumpet vines had blossomed unchecked and had begun burrowing inside the ancient cedar siding. The small backyard seemed even smaller because of huge drooping hemlock trees. A young wild cherry tree was struggling to find sun under their branches. A recently planted maple tree was left to fend for itself a mere twenty feet from the back door. Boxwoods, lilacs, holly bushes, wild roses, pine shrubs -- it was as if all of God's flora had been gathered in one place. There didn't seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to it; the plantings looked almost accidental.  And although the dense foliage gave the house a certain sort of charm, it was clear that their proximity meant that serious damage was being done. Sections of the house had begun to rot from water damage. Termites and carpenter ants had traveled along the wistaria and trumpet vine superhighways and had eaten away nearly one entire wall. While I realized that plant life had long pre-dated human life, I was not going to allow seniority to triumph in this case.

So we began the backbreaking, sweaty task of clearing out all of the most offending growth -- especially the wistaria and trumpet vine. The hostas were pulled up and unceremoniously tossed into the backyard. A friend took our boxwoods and holly bushes. There was a particularly gnarly tree growing against the back of the house. It had steely tough bark. So I attached a chain between it and my truck, and tried to pull it out. The chain snapped. I never realized that plants could put up a fight.

But after all, they’re living things, just as we are. They don't want to be cut down, and will show remarkable resilience. For example, within a few days after being removed, the trumpet vine were back. No matter how many I pulled up, they constantly regenerated. Weed killer did nothing. They were happy in droughts as well as in floods. Perhaps they were getting encouragement from the termites and ants who no longer had access to our tasty walls.

The hostas had taken root wherever we had thrown them. (As our neighbor wryly observed, “You can’t insult them.”) And it was then that I began to think a bit differently. Instead of banishing the flora altogether, why not let them flourish in a more benign spot? So we arranged the hostas around our shed as a border. We trimmed up the hemlock trees and Karen planted small gardens under their shade. The cherry tree then had more sun and began to shoot upward, bearing fruit that brought songbirds. Our home was safe from nature’s invasion, and yet we had given nature a place to flourish. It was a win-win situation.

Our attention then turned to the front yard, a vast expanse of dried up crabgrass and runaway violets. There was a ragged dogwood tree near our porch, but other than that the front yard was empty. It was the antithesis of the back. Ironically, after all my work tearing up plants, I decided to add more fauna. I ordered ten small ornamental trees from the Arbor Day Foundation. Out of the ten, there really were only two that I wanted: a pair of golden raintrees, an oriental species that sported long drooping leaves and, when in bloom, cascades of bright yellow flowers. I had only seen them in pictures, but I knew I wanted one. I assumed that out of a pair, at least one should grow.

After a few weeks, the soggy packet came in the mail -- a bundle of cuttings that had splashes of paint on them, paint that had mostly rubbed off. The golden raintrees were painted yellow, so I set them aside first. I could also identify the Washington hawthorn trees, and set those aside. The rest were really a crapshoot. I assumed I found a white dogwood, magnolia and an American redbud, but I wasn’t sure. And the last I assumed to be a Japanese red maple.

The instructions said to place the cuttings either in pots or in a temporary growing spot, and then transplant them when they were a year old. So I dutifully dug small holes at a sunny unused spot in our side yard, planted the cuttings and watered them. And I waited.

In my mind, I had images from Psalm 80: “You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountainsides were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches.” Well, I didn’t have any cedar trees planted (that I knew of). But I could picture the lush shade of the golden raintrees.

The year passed, and by the next spring three of the clippings had shriveled and died, including one of the golden raintrees. But the others had apparently taken a liking to our home and looked fresh and sturdy. So I transplanted them. The two that I thought were the hawthorns I placed on either side of our shed in the backyard. The new dogwood I placed a little ways from the big dogwood; the red maple, to its left. The magnolia was placed at the east edge of our yard. I planted the redbud near the east side of our house. And for that precious golden raintree, I reserved a spot directly in line with our bedroom window, so that each morning I could awaken and see its splendor.

“O God of hosts,” echoed the psalmist, “look down from heaven, and see, and have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand has planted...”

Three years passed. The hawthorns were higher than the shed, providing additional perches for the songbirds. The magnolia turned out to be two trees wrapped in one and was thick and already blossoming. The redbud was spindlybut growing tall. And that little golden raintree had reached four feet in height. Its trunk was remarkably thick and smooth. Japanese beetles had taken a liking to its leaves, but I fended off their attacks in various ways, from setting traps to spraying the leaves with dish soap.

It was as if I were fighting a scenario from the psalm: “The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.”

But the raintree wasn’t that easily defeated. Its leaves were a deep green ... and I noticed they were shaped very much like a maple leaf. That’s when I became puzzled. Raintree leaves were thin, more like a dogwood’s. I went online and looked up photos of raintrees in different stages of development. It turned out that the hearty tree that I had nursed to health and saved from beetles was an imposter. After more research, I discovered to my shock that I had planted a sycamore (which wasn’t even one of the choices from the Arbor Day Foundation!). Sycamores grow to 150 feet in height and are prized for their nearly indestructible wood. Unfortunately, our house wasn’t nearly indestructible. The sycamore was much too close for comfort. That was not the tree I wanted to have a mere thirty feet from our bedroom. Even though it looked really healthy, I couldn’t let it remain there. I asked around to see if anyone wanted a free sycamore tree. I waited for a few weeks, but there weren’t any takers.

So I brought out a saw and proceeded to cut it down -- and I discovered how indestructible that wood is -- I burned out a saw blade, and finally had to use an axe. And even that took the better part of an afternoon. I took care to dig down below the soil so that no stump would remain. I could imagine the tree crying out the words of the psalmist: “They have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.”

I felt like a murderer, hacking away at it. And I felt remorse when it was gone. It was my fault that it was planted in that spot. In spite of its earlier adversity, the tree had clung to the rocky soil tenaciously. So to make up for my ruthless act, I once again placed an order with the Arbor Day Foundation for my two golden raintrees. Within a few weeks, the bag arrived. This time the paint was easily identifiable. I wasted no time: I dug a hole near the eradicated sycamore and fertilized it. The little sprig of the raintree looked so fragile planted there. I placed the other raintree in our side yard. By the end of the following summer, both had little branches with leaves shooting out.

But something curious happened: the sycamore was also shooting up branches with leaves. So I ran over it with my lawnmower, cutting it back to ground level. But the more I did that, the thicker the tree got, turning itself into a sycamore bush. It had done so well up till then, it was as if the tree was refusing to give up that easily, as if it was calling out: “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!”

As I stared at the clump of leaves and branches, as I pondered the futility of my destructiveness, I remembered the lesson I had learned with the hostas. There was nothing to fear about the sycamore. It could co-exist with the raintree. I could shape the tree into a manageable form, and allow it to flourish as an attractive bush. There was no need to remove all of God’s creations, especially those which God didn’t seem to want removed. I could listen to God and to nature.

I could hear the sycamore sigh with relief: “We will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call your name.”

After all that floral purging, I discovered that the solution was not to slash and burn, to chop and saw, but to work with nature, judiciously trimming and shaping as God does with us, to make us stronger and more beautiful in His world. In my narrow quest to grow a golden raintree, I overlooked the beauty that was already in our yard. I obsessed over the raintree, trying to make certain it was everything I wanted it to be. I was one of the hypocrites that Jesus spoke of,
knowing how to interpret the earth and sky, but not the present time, not seeing the forest for the trees.

It was then that I stepped back and looked at our yard anew. In my haste attempting to make a park-like setting in our expansive yard, the new trees appeared to be scattered about, seemingly without rhyme or reason. Wasn’t that how I viewed the plantings of the original owners when we moved in? True, I had saved the house itself from structural ruin -- structure that had been made by man, not God. But our front yard would remain a reminder that, in the end, God is in charge of nature, not man.

The hawthorns now tower over the landscape, producing beautiful white flowers in the spring and berries in the fall. The redbud is taller than our house. The golden raintrees (not sycamores this time) are rapidly climbing upward and looking quite proud. Our unique sycamore bush is full and thriving, no longer a threat but a sign of the miracle of God’s creation and persistence.

May God, the master gardener, continue to till the soil within us and without us, reminding us of his presence. And with His grace, as the psalmist writes, may our branches extend to the sea and our shoots to the river. Amen.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2013

For the past few years, I've been contemplating getting a new vehicle.  My faithful Ford Ranger that I've owned since 2007 was a great little truck, and was very handy when I was making lots of home renovations and hauling stuff to the dump.  But with my delicate back, those chores were a thing of the past.  Although it had one of the highest fuel efficiencies of any truck on the market (about 27 mpg), it seemed like a needless waste of fuel for simply going back and forth to work.  There were many more fuel efficient vehicles on the market (though few like my much-missed VW Golf TDI, which gave me a solid 52 mpg).

I had been closely watching the progress of electric vehicles.  My vehicle of choice would have been the Tesla.  The deterrent was the cost.  There was no way I could afford that beautifully engineered vehicle with my salary.  So I cast about for other options.  There were really only two in my limited price range: the Chevy Spark and the Smart EV.  I happened to get a day off from work (a student left a threatening note, an occurrence becoming as commonplace as when kids used to pull fire alarms in grammar school), so I used that free time to go car hunting.

My first stop was the nearest Chevy dealer.  I walked into the nearly empty showroom.  Two men were standing there idly, one leaning against a counter with his chin in his hand.  They didn't seem particularly thrilled to see me.

"Can I help you?" the leaning gent asked.

I said, "Yes.  I'm interested in the Spark EV."

They looked at me as if I had three heads.  "Huh?" he responded.

"The Spark EV," I repeated.

"What are you talking about?" he asked, as if I were crazed.

"It's the electric version of the Spark.  It's supposedly for sale in California and Oregon."

Another man appeared from around a cubicle.  "We don't get those till 2015," he said with finality.

The leaning man chimed in, "We've got the Volt."

"That's out of my price range," I replied.

"Mine too," he conceded.

"Okay.  Well, thanks anyway."  I turned on my heels and left.  I guess business must have been really good there, since they seemingly had no interest in helping me any further.

I went back to my truck and headed for the only dealer in the area that sold the Smart EV: New Country Motor Cars, a Mercedes-Benz dealer in Hartford, CT.  The Smart had been something of a joke in the U.S., a country famous for its 12 mpg S.U.V. behemoths that dominated the highways.   The Smart was about half the length of most other cars on the market.  The gas version had been really popular in Europe where, ironically, it had a higher fuel efficiency than in the U.S.  To me, the trade-off of the Smart's diminutive size wasn't made up for by its paltry 38 mpg rating.  However, the electric version intrigued me.

I had done my research over the preceding months.  Both the Spark and the Smart EVs were rated at 82 miles per charge.  Because of that, they were strictly around-town cars.  The Spark was a full-sized hatchback.  It also had an Apple-approved stereo interface for my iPhone.  That was a big attraction for me.  The Smart wasn't advertised with those amenities, but at least it was in stock.

I arrived at New Country and walked into the spacious showroom that seemed to be busy with activity.  A gentleman greeted me and asked how he could help.  I told him I was interested in the Smart EV.  He immediately escorted me over to a saleswoman.  We chatted briefly about what I was looking for, and she said she'd be right back with a model for me to test drive.  She was efficient without being pushy.

A few minutes later, I was seated in the bright red car.  It was much roomier than I had expected.  It was basically a full size car without a back.  She had me start it up, an initially perplexing action since the car made no sound when it was on.  A little image of the Smart car on the dash was the only indication we were ready to roll.  Oddly, the back windshield wiper kept going intermittently and she couldn't figure out how to shut it off.  I finally pushed the spray button for the back window and the wiper quieted down.

She had me pull out of the driveway and head down the street.  The car was much more responsive than I expected.  The ride was a bit stiff, but not uncomfortable.  She had the air conditioning on, which felt good on the warm day.  Much of the cabin was a large glass bubble, including a roof that essentially was a skylight.  I asked her how much the A/C cut into the battery capacity.  She said it was negligible.  There was a touch-screen entertainment system on the dash, a distracting amenity that seemed to be increasingly commonplace in all cars.

She had me take the car onto the highway.  It easily accelerated up to 65 mph.  And I was surprised to find that I didn't feel in danger.  The ride wasn't skittish at all and I easily kept up with the traffic.  She had me take the next exit and head back to the dealership.

I was impressed.  She showed me the different models on the lot.  None of them had a Bluetooth radio, though -- something I wanted that would be close enough to the Spark's interface.  She took me back into the showroom.  There was a Smart EV there, with an unusual matte grey finish, and it had the Bluetooth system.  So I decided right there to get it.  We sat down at her cubicle and filled out all the pertinent paperwork.  I decided to lease it.  Consumer Reports had said that electric vehicles were so new -- and the battery so expensive to replace -- that leasing made more sense than buying.  The Bluetooth accessory added a whopping $30 a month additional to the lease.  But even so, the total cost was less than what I had paid for my Ranger (which I traded in).

She told me she'd take care of the plates and insurance work and deliver the car to my house in two days, at which time she'd take the Ranger back to CT.  I left the dealership exhilarated, but also somewhat bewildered.  I was concerned about the vehicle's range.  But I also wanted to make a statement through my purchase that electric vehicles were a good thing for the automobile market.  I was worried that I would end up regretting my choice.

Two days seemed like a long time.  But I had a lot to get done.  Before the car was to arrive, I had to clean out the garage, a space we had used for nothing but storage ever since we bought the house.  Much of the clutter was wood for our stove, so I moved it to the basement to be chopped up later.  After a few hours, I had cleared a space big enough for the Smart.

A "runner" arrived from New Country with a thick stack of paperwork for me to sign.  Then he left for my insurance company.   I had panicked because I couldn't find my title for the Ranger.  That title was needed before I could sign it over to the dealer.  I hunted through all my pertinent documents, which I had kept neatly organized in a file cabinet.  Karen was the one who eventually suggested that I never received it.  I had bought the Ranger through my credit union at work.  That credit union was absorbed by another -- at about the same time I paid off the loan.  I called the new credit union and they had no record of the loan.  So I went online to the Massachusetts RMV and purchased a duplicate title.  Fortunately, the RMV had a record of my purchase.

At 4:30 in the afternoon, the saleswoman arrived with my Smart car.  Karen thought it was really cute and laughed quite a bit.  I also purchased a bit of extra insurance: for the tires, since our city roads were always such a mess; and body damage insurance for dings and nicks that will probably happen while I'm parked at work.  Then she drove off with my old Ranger and I began my journey into the world of electric transportation.  I took Karen out for a spin around town.  The battery level read 40%.  It would take a few days to get used to the instrument clusters and entertainment system.  We arrived back at the house.  I opened the garage door and backed in slowly.  The car just fit.  I took the charger out from the trunk, plugged it into the outlet in the garage and connected it to the port on the car.

The next morning I went out to the car and packed up the charger into its little compartment in the trunk.  I got in the car and turned the key.  It would be my first full day with the Smart.  I looked at the instrument cluster.  The car still had a 40% charge.  I felt a cold sweat.  It hadn't charged a bit.  Still, I thought, with an 82 mile range, I should have plenty of battery left to get to work in back.  It was only about 20 miles round-trip.  So off I went.  It was strange to glide down the driveway in near-silence.  (The saleswoman said that Mercedes had to build a noisemaker into the car as a warning to bicyclists and pedestrians.)

The ride to work was interesting.  There were two circular gauges atop the dash.  One showed the energy being expended.  If the gauge went backwards, energy was being replenished by the regenerative braking system.  To its left was another gauge showing the battery level.  On the instrument cluster was a readout of my driving efficiency.  Flooring the accelerator would lower the efficiency.  Keeping the energy expenditure as near to zero as possible would bring me up to 100% efficiency.

The biggest challenge proved to be East Mountain, which I had to traverse every day.  The car had plenty of torque to get up the steep slope -- but at a cost of quite a bit of energy.  By the time I arrived at work, there was just 20% left in the battery.  That meant a trip to and from work every day would use 40% of the battery.  There was no way I would get 82 miles on a charge.

I drove over to the maintenance garage at work.  They had a small golf-cart-style electric car that they used for grounds work, and they plugged it in outside.  So I knew they had an outlet.  I pulled up and two of the groundskeepers came out to greet me.  They had a good laugh over my predicament and offered to put the Smart car into the back of their pickup and bring it home for me.  They let me charge the car there for the day.  Fortunately, this time it worked.

So I drove home feeling a bit more secure and arrived at home with about 20% capacity left.   I discovered the problem with my circuit: the breaker in the garage was only 15 amps; the car needed at least 20 amps to charge.  So I ran another outlet into the garage and created a new 20 amp circuit for it in our electrical panel.  I finished the job about 9 pm and went to bed exhausted.

The next day I found that the car had charged up to 80%, which would be plenty to get me back and forth to work.  The charger had a "fast charge" setting in case I was in dire straights.  But that supposedly wasn't as good for the battery and I wanted to err on the side of caution.   The Smart performed fine.  I discovered a slide-out visor for the sun roof.  I also adjusted the settings on the stereo system and the dash.  The stereo sounded great and it worked reasonably well with my iPhone.  There was a USB charging port (strangely hidden inside the glove box).  Plus, there was also built-in GPS if I ever needed it.  It certainly was a step up from my Ranger.

I was able to get the car charged up to 100% a few times over the first week.  At that capacity, I could easily make it back and forth to work for two days without re-charging.  But that's a slight disappointment; I originally envisioned charging up about once a week.  I have noticed that the drain has gotten slightly less on progressive trips.  Today's trip, for instance, appeared to use just 15% each way.  So perhaps the more the battery is used, the more efficient it becomes (though that's highly unlikely).

But however it turns out, this is the car I will live with for at least the next three years.  I won't have to stop at a gas station any more, which will save a little bit of money.  However, I won't be going very far either.  And I'll have the peace of mind knowing that I'm endorsing an alternative to rampant fuel consumption and absurdly large vehicles. 

NOVEMBER 4, 2013

Two months have passed, two long months since I received a call from Ria Haworth asking if I had any information about her son Scott.  She had received a call from the Chicopee post office branch where Scott had worked for decades.  He didn't show up for work, and the manager wanted to know if everything was all right.  Scott normally would dine with his parents once a week, and he didn't show up for that either.  Ria assumed he was busy.  He was often in demand, one of the most talented and dedicated drummers in the Pioneer Valley.

I first met Scott in 1991.  He was with the amusingly-named band Hair Volume, along with Dave Hobbs and Joel Paxton.  Their music was technically astounding, with rapid bursts of sound driven by a constantly changing beat.  It was Frank Zappa mashed together with speed metal.  Dave let loose with pyrotechnic guitar work.  Joel's stream-of-consciousness vocals were often hilarious and sometimes disturbing.  And Scott was their anchor.

Scott was recruited into The Dots, with Craig Kurtz, David Gowler and myself.   We rehearsed several times a week for months on end.  And I grew to have great respect for Scott's talents, how he so easily could shift from one style to another and do it exceptionally well.  He had a great ear for and an encyclopedic knowledge of music.  He also recorded every one of our practice sessions.  He catalogued everything: every set list, the times they were performed, even who played what.  He also had a terrific sense of humor.  Most of our rehearsals were more like stand-up comedy routines.

When I was preparing my final solo album, Waves, I wanted real drums.  So I turned to Scott.  He didn't want any money; he said he loved my music and wanted to be a part of it.  As a recording test, I re-made my first album, Eye of the Storm, and set up his drums in the empty carousel building at Mountain Park.  He nailed almost every song on the first take.  All he had to work with was a click track and a temp track of me singing with my guitar.  But he completely understood the feel of each song and almost instinctively knew where they were going.  His work on that album's title track still makes my jaw drop.  His contributions on Waves were even more impressive.  For one song, he re-tuned his toms to imitate the sound of kettle drums and improvised the introduction.

When Tom Neilson asked me to record his Dancin' Shoes album, I asked Scott if he wanted to be a part of that and he jumped at the chance.  We set up his kit in the small apartment Karen and I were renting at the time.  He listened to Tom's guitar and vocal track and once again nailed most every track on the first take.

Scott also shared my love of amusement parks.  We went together to The Great Escape in New York a few times, when it was still a charming property under the ownership of the great Charlie Wood.  I still remember his uncontrollable laughter as we entered Jungle Land and heard the absurdly fake African native voice calling out, "You like my jungle?" It became one of Scott's favorite catch phrases, a sort of all-purpose conversation piece.  He also loved that park's classice Comet roller coaster.

But probably more than anything, Scott loved The Great Escape because of its location at the foothills of the Adirondack mountains.  He was an avid hiker and had walked all around the Adirondacks.  He loved climbing Mount Monadnock, Mount Washington, the Appalachian Trail.  He would camp out on the trails.  He would help maintain them.  It was almost the antithesis of the life he led with rock bands.  He could escape into the mountains and find peace and clear his mind.

So when Ria called me, I couldn't quite comprehend what she was saying.  Scott wouldn't disappear.  That wasn't the Scott I knew.  We had gotten together only a few months before, and had corresponded by e-mail.  WGBY-TV was contemplating making a documentary about the Pioneer Valley music scene.  If there was one person they had to talk with, it was Scott.  So I had sent them his contact information.  But there was no response.

I called Steve Koziol, a bandmate with whom Scott stayed in touch, thinking he might have spoken with Scott recently and might have a clue.  My only thought was that Scott had gone off on a hike and his car had broken down, or he had gotten injured on a trail.  Steve was surprised to learn of Scott's disappearance and put out an APB among the area band members who Scott knew.  Steve's wife began searching area databases trying to find missing person information.  Scott's parents notified local and state police.  Steve said Scott would often take short hikes on Monument Mountain in the Berkshires.  The area was searched, but there were no leads.  Scott's parents went to his apartment.  His car was gone but all of his hiking supplies were still there.

A few weeks later, Scott was located.  He was in the Adirondacks and had cashed a check at a small convenience store.  When the check was processed, the New York police were alerted.  Scott returned to the convenience store a few days later but was told by the clerk that the store wasn't supposed to accept out-of-state checks.  Scott disappeared again.

I spoke with Warren, his father, in a brief conversation.  Warren was heading out for the Adirondacks.  He didn't care how much of his life savings he had to spend.  He was going to get his son back.  The New York police found Scott's car not far from one of the hiking trails that he would frequent.  Search parties scoured the area with no luck.  A helicopter with infrared sensors found no traces.

It wasn't until mid-October that some more news came. 
Steve called me while I was at work and left a cryptic message.  I feared the worst and called him back.  He told me that he saw a report about Scott on a New York newspaper's website.  Some wandering hunters found his lifeless body in the woods about a quarter mile from his car.  He had committed suicide.

I felt paralyzed.  My breath came in gasps.  I couldn't let myself believe it.  That just wasn't the Scott I knew.  He wouldn't do that.  He was boundlessly optimistic.  There had to be a reason.  Something must have happened to him.

I waited to hear something definitive from Warren or Ria.  But nothing came.  On October 22, an obituary appeared in the Springfield paper.  A door closed.  It was true.  Scott was gone.

I wanted closure, but a different kind.  I wanted to find Scott and tell him it was going to be all right.  I wanted to hear his laugh again.  I wanted to take him back to Great Escape to see the changes.  I wanted everything to be just the way it was.  But life doesn't always move that way.

Ria called me to thank me for being Scott's friend and wanted me to know how highly he thought of me.  She said that Scott was cremated and that they planned to scatter his ashes along the various hiking trails that he loved so much, where he could be at peace for eternity.

How can I ever know the demons someone carries inside?  How can I see the hidden hurt and find a way to bring healing?  Scott left us much too soon.   I wish I could have known what he was going through and somehow have turned his desperation into hope.

The cold of a New England November is settling in.  And as surely as the snow will come, so too will the spring.  These past two months will gradually turn into years, and then decades.  But the sound of Scott's energy and exhuberance will echo through this Valley for all time.