Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Spring training and bird songs

We went to Ft. Myers to see the Twins in spring training.

This is the time of year when the winter homes of our various baseball teams stir with activity.

Spring practice fires us up as Hammond Stadium is doing now. Under the Florida sun the eternal hope of another Minnesota season comes to life.

The annual drill for the summer games is part practice, part picnic and part county fair. That's the feeling for me anyway as I watch the players walk onto the field for their daily workouts.

The coaches have an easy manner in the first sessions. There's an art to properly breaking in a new team. The best coaches know how to loosen up the players and get the most out of them and both at the same time.

Ron Gardenhire and Tom Kelly, who preceded Gardy as Minnesota Twins manager, and assists him at spring training, our baseball caps are off to you.

Getting to the practice field early we first find a place in the sun (because the mornings start cool) and then in the shade as it warms.

We study the player roster. Names and uniform numbers are printed on both sides of the sheet. We know some players by sight. For them no identification is needed.

There are new players, called up at the end of last season, and those who are introduced as invitees on the roster sheet. We follow the newbies with interest. We expect to see some standout actions that make one player suddenly the one on whom the buzz centers.

It's exciting to spot great form in a player pitching his stuff to make a case for himself. You see the precision turning, twisting, reaching and bending of the body. You see the effortless range of movement. You admire the strength and the discipline required of them, and demonstrated here under the Florida sun.

There no question. Sports on a professional level demand more than most of us can possibly dish up. We can, in turn, appreciate, support and be part of the team we choose as ours. And what makes it so sportsmanlike is that we can choose any team we want. Just choose a team and cheer as loudly as you can.

At spring training fans line up along the rail for autographs. You immediately recognize the players willing to please those who stand waiting for them to pass by.

The fans - often young but sometimes not - come with bats, baseballs, caps, jerseys and team books for the Twins organization in its entirety to sign.

Invitees get the same attention from those collecting autographs. Their names grow in value as they're picked by teams to play. It's never too soon to secure their name while they have the time to stop for you.

There will be players who jog along blind to the autograph queue. Their focused pace separates them from the avid quest for signatures.

I view this as somewhat a litmus test of personalities. It seems to me those who go right on by may miss something. They might, for instance miss the point that sports have the interaction between performers and their fan base as their underpinnings.

It takes patience, and real kindness I think, for a player to come sweating and spent out of the noonday sun, and honor the many requests for his signature. Each pause to sign his name delays his arrival at hot shower, cool drink or meal that's been the pictured end to his morning.

As much a highlight as seeing the Twins practice is catching sight of our local TV sports announcer on the field. He is taping a report to air for the five or six p.m news.

Mark Rosen - Rosie as he is called affectionately by WCCO colleagues - has covered spring training from Ft. Myers for as long as I recall.

I believe it's correct that he was covering the Twins when they won their first World Series in 1987. This series is the great divide by which many Twins fans count the eras of our team, now a half century old.

In this 25th year since the Twins took the trophy home to Minnesota Rosen's grin and genial TV manner is as engaging as ever. Every March he summarizes for us back home in the Twin Cities the great Florida weather, as well as the opening plays of the new season.

Rosen's reports make us envious of the Florida sunshine. Some years we're digging out of a late winter snowstorm while his tan, caught so excellently on TV, lets us know it's beach and outdoor pool and - oh yes - baseball weather down there in Ft. Myers.

His baseball interviews and on-site reports add to our sense that Ft. Myers is home away from home. Hammond Stadium declares itself Minnesota Twins Territory. Pennants wave. It's the place where North Star State lakes meet the palm trees.

For lots of Minnesotans attendance at spring training is one of the must-things to do. And we book our tickets and fly down or travel by car, gaining layers of spring with each hundred miles covered.

Our place while here for Twins training backed onto a quiet residential Southwest Florida street. Birds perched and sang on the overhead wires.

Their songs grew louder and more elaborate in the time we were here. It appears it might be getting to courting season for some of the species. The chirps, calls and melodies added their lovely sounds as we had the chance to be around.

Nearby, the bells of the Presbyterian church pealed the hour and half hour. We delighted in this sound too. The homely ringing of church bells has many familiar associations.

Being elsewhere invigorates with novelty and contrast. The common small things of the passing hours are in the end more apt to be cherished if not as readily talked about. They're almost private moments as we take them in.

Not commented about because they're ordinary, they are taken dearly and squarely into the heart. They're already a part of us, to be reclaimed once more.

Ro Giencke - February 28, 2012

Saturday, February 18, 2012

To Loren

He sat in his wheelchair facing the sun.

The wheelchair was parked, not in anyone's way, but off to the side where it could be in the sun and he could see the water and waves. I came up from the beach and there he was.

Noticed first was this bundled figure in the wheelchair. Then the big slippers, the kind associated with hospital stays or with those whose feet hurt or are inflamed and can't tolerate the whisper of touch upon them.

I looked into his face as I went by, greeting him and hoping he wouldn't see compassion in my look which must have been there. My trust was that he would only take in the friendly hello.

His face, turned to the late afternoon light, was brick-red. The unnatural flush to his roughened skin might have been the warmth of sun on him. As easily it could have been the outward aspect of the illness within. His features were puffy. His eyelids were swollen.

He was not a pretty sight. My heart went to him.
There was tenacity in his lines, however, as he gazed with a kind of hunger into the strength of the Florida sun.

Much later, the impression of the man returned to me. I wondered if he asked to be brought here.

Possibly he came wanting to view the water as much as to be in the sun, which you could tell he was drinking up with every fiber of his being. Perhaps the water, equally with the sun, drew him.

It came to me that the setting could be providing him an association with his career. It was keeping fresh his keen relationship with the sea. It held comfort for him.

He could have been a naval man or in some maritime position.
Perhaps he was a born fisherman. He was avid for the proximity of the waters that once gave him so much fulfillment or sense of worth or duty.

He was there as if all alone but it couldn't possibly be. Someone with kindness had brought him here, to this very place, to sit and be at peace.

His name was Loren. My husband, following after me, heard him addressed by this name. Someone was with him as his escort and help. Likely it was a family member or some friend. They were generously giving Loren this afternoon on the Gulf.

Beaches are full of life. Kids rule. They kick up sand as they race to the water's edge. They either yelp in trepidation or fling themselves with joy into the water.

They find shells which they trot over to their parents, dripping water and shaking off sand as they hand them over to bring back more.

They build sand castles and moats around which you must detour as you walk the beach, always careful not to break down a carefully fortified sand wall as you go by.

With their plastic shovels the small ones dig deep holes in the sand. They dig with enthusiasm and determination.

They dig as if intending to reach China on the other side, as we believed might after all be possible when we were at the beach at their age.

Loren was at the other end of the spectrum from the young life reveling in their day at the beach. His life had been lived. He had seen the fullness of life.

Wrapped up and puffed up, his presence at the beach told of life's fragility and brevity. It was in great contrast to the bustle on the beach.

His face square to the sun, he lifted a heavy hand to acknowledge my hello. He struck me as a fighter in that gesture. He was hanging on and he was going to enjoy the experience as he could.

Loren took the sun, the water and the waves for his own. There was a great sense of life in the stillness of him. He touched me deeply as he sat facing the sun.

Al and I began a little ritual after meeting Loren. It's a tribute to him. It's tacit understanding that one's good moments overlap the good moments of total strangers who can go on to shape you.

"To Loren," we say, clinking our wine glasses. May the good sun continue to shine warm on him.

Ro Giencke - February 18, 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

One Part Starbucks

Places I wanted to circle back to and visit later were spotted early as I wandered the wonderland of big name shops.

Spread out in front of me were the makings of a perfect afternoon.

I could peer into high end stores and look to my heart's content. I could consider what I might be missing by taking my credit card usually no farther than the neighborhood mall.

No serious shopper envy was likely to break out. But then you never know. When the whiff of luxe is in the air instinct takes over.

We were in Naples, Florida, which is a lovely place to be in the winter. The sky was blue. The splash and spurt of fountains were restful background against the bright light. The promenade of shops beckoned.

I fished into my handbag for sunglasses. The gesture felt full of glamor. All that was needed was a Hermes scarf and some gold flashing at the wrist. A few props, called accessories, and I could stalk seamlessly into the well dressed crowd. Be one of them.

But first Starbucks Coffee. I was in the area and wasn't going to hike back later. Better to stop while the coffee shop was in sight.

I checked the outdoor seating. Every table was in use. It's the way it so often is. Hardly anything beats being outside with your coffee and the sunshine, or the shade as you prefer, as you shift your chair into one or the other.

A table emptied as I stood at the door. With a bit of luck the table might be available when I came out. I sped in to place my order.

My face is very good at registering dismay. It doesn't have the look often. When it does it shows the world that here is the most disappointed person you'll likely ever meet.

That's the expression I suspect carried my face as I came out with my coffee. Someone with a laptop computer, and not necessarily with a Starbucks drink beside him, held the table.

A woman with a benign look (the look of someone who has snagged a table) sat nearby. The second chair pulled up to her table was empty. She sat alone. She had a look of repose.

"Would you mind if I join you?" I invited myself to the table. I waved towards the table which otherwise would have been mine.

She was a comfortable looking woman. She was some years older than me as I glanced at her across the table

There was a polite exchange."Oh please do," "Thanks, so nice to sit outside," "For sure, who wants to be in when you can be out." We sipped awhile in companionable silence.

The quiet didn't last long. Perhaps it was the beautiful weather that got mentioned. She was, she told me, nearing the end of a three week stay. She was sad at leaving the good Florida weather.

Her cat was at home in Cincinnati, checked on by a friend while she was away. Because of the cat she was anxious to get back.

"Cincinnati," I commented. "We've visited Cincinnati. We like your city," Thinking to reach her in her own territory I mentioned seeing a Skyline Chili in Naples. It brought a big grin.

"Yes, I think I've seen it too," she said. By this time we were fully introduced, first names exchanged. Skyline Chili is Cincinnati's signature dish. It's spaghetti and chili together. If you're from Cincinnati the restaurant is a cliche for home.

"Naples is getting Graeter's too," She referred to another Cincinnati institution. Graeter's ice cream, a premium brand made in Cincinnati, has been picked up by the Publix grocery chain in Florida.

I've heard about Graeter's, I was glad it was familiar to me. It strengthened our common ground. "It's been made for 142 years," the sixth-generation Cincinnatian informed me.

Cincinnati is gray in the winter she said. She doesn't like the winter gloom. Somehow the conversation had gone back to the weather. Naples does her so much good. She and her husband have been coming for eleven years. It's a couple-hour flight.

They stay at the same hotel every year The place is faultless she said. Same staff year after year.

This year, she was compelled to add, housecleaning wasn't up to its usual standard. Rooms were sometimes not made up by four in the afternoon. It can be hard if you're dressing for dinner or wanting to take a nap she explained.

She said she thought I might be an athlete. Our coffees were well below the midway point by this time We were chatting away like friends.

She was way off in regard to my being an athlete. "I walk," I said, which at least explained the tennis shoes. I was neither elegantly shod nor just off the beach in sandals.

"You look like you might be a gardener," I guessed in return. She had a nice tan, picked up in the Naples sun, and also the crinkles around the eye of someone who spends enjoyed hours outside.

She wore a pleased look. " I love to garden,"she affirmed. "But I don't garden much any more. I had polio when I was young. I got over it and did fine all these years. But I'm starting to have troubles. I lose my balance. I don't dare get down on my hands and knees. If I can't get down to pull weeds I don't call that gardening."

I said it appears to me when we lose something we have to add something to keep things even. If something is taken away then we need to put something new in its place.

She gave that some thought. "I like that," she nodded. "I'm going to tell that to my friend." She went on to tell of her friend. She had plans to visit this friend before going back to Cincinnati.

The friend sounded like someone met over the years of her winter residence in Naples. She didn't specify and I didn't ask. There's a lot we aren't required to know. Not knowing all doesn't hinder grasping the essential story.

"She's always been so cheerful. She's the one brightening everyone else up. She's had her share of problems but she keeps bouncing back. But I don't know now. She's awfully down."

Osteoporosis had so worsened her friend is confined to a wheelchair. She can't get out and she can't get around. It's taken away her fire.

"The last time we talked she told me she can't get her hope back this time. This is it. She doesn't feel she has anything more to live for. I'm shopping for a book for her. Something that might be uplifting. Not a book to read. I don't think she wants that. But something that might give her some hope."

"She used to love to shop," she mused. "She can't even do that. I don't even want to tell her I was here. It might make her miss things all the more."

"I think not," I said. "If shopping has been taken away then give her something else. Tell her what the new colors in the stores are, Tell her what you're seeing, what we're wearing and what we're doing as we come over here to shop."

"That's a good idea,," she said. "I'll have to go back to the stores and really look."She laughed. "That's just what she might like to hear about."

We got up to go off in opposite directions. I was headed for J. Crew. She went off on a search for a book, The hope she wanted to give her friend was in her voice as we said goodbye.

All told, our conversation was not especially long. It was a refreshing break. We came to shop but were fortunate to make time for more. Our visit helped each of us. Additionally, I believe, it went on to give some new assurance to her friend.

Our meeting was one part timing, one part opportunity, one part chosen fellowship. One part was Starbucks and that's a very big part. It's the part that let things begin.

Ro Giencke - February 10, 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sugar Crow

Wild birds can be aggressive warned the sign advising not to even think of feeding the birds that were thick around us.

We noted the sign as we took our hamburgers, ordered in the shops inside, to eat on the pier. Despite the wind off the bay tearing at us it was good to be in the fresh salt air.

Grackles and crows pressed in at the first appearance of food at our table. They didn't flinch when shooed away. They stood practically atop the paper wrappers cradling the meat on bun and toppings. They were without fear.

Our dismissal gestures served as a challenge. They came closer with each wave of the hand. Al stood up meaning business. This finally got their attention. Briefly. But they weren't going anywhere while something was to be had.

I could see where feeding the birds might count as an act of desperation. You hope to distract them with morsels thrown as far away as possible. You try to beat them at their own game. Your aim is to finish your meal before they come back for more.

You know, however, that doing so encourages the behavior. It isn't something you're going to do. We hunched over as if guarding treasure. We managed to protect our lunches from their encroachment.

We trusted heartburn wouldn't show up this particular day as we ate and retreated in record haste.

The pier we were visiting accommodates shops on the ground level. The topmost story has a restaurant and outdoor viewing platform. The restaurant has several tables with outdoor seating for those who prefer the open view.

Off to the side are the black plastic tubs for bussing the tables. Napkins and other supplies for this outdoor section of seating, such as the plastic containers holding salt and pepper packets, are kept there too.

As we stepped back from the viewing platform rail, having admired the city skyline from that landward side, a crow swooped past.

The dark shadow of its wings startled me. Cool as a jewelry thief it headed straight to the condiments container. The crow picked out a packet of sugar. It flew with it to land on the rail near the spot we had stood.

Expertly it poked open the sugar packet.. The beak made short work of the paper container. Only a peck or two was necessary to break through.

Sugar spilled from the packet. Granules of sugar blew in the wind. The crow got its share, enjoying the sweet treat.

The entire operation was so fast and slick we suspect it's been done before. The crow has become accustomed to a sugar high.

The crow seemed quite human caught in its sugar moment. We'll long remember the prowess, and liking for sugar, shown to us by the sugar crow.

Ro Giencke - February 4, 2012