A Brief Essay on Exercise





Each summer I return to the state where I was born and where I own a cottage. There is no substitute for sentiment which is the sister of nostalgia. The difference between them is in degree.


I’ll say it: the nostalgic person never goes home. The NP prefers poetry to the rising gnats and the clouds like mare’s tails. But enough. I go home. I go home because sentiment places a rough stone in the mind. And poetry can’t dissolve it.


The state is New Hampshire and god knows more than enough has been written about the granite state by now. I’ll say it: I do not prefer Robert Frost’s New Hampshire to the real one. I like the people too much. I like the men and women who work at Merrill Fay’s Boat Yard in Gilford. I like their work ethic and I enjoy their jokes. They are the people I grew up with. They bear no resemblance to Robert Frost’s New Hampshire.


I go to the island and smoke a cheap cigar and listen to wind and I give up on argument for awhile. I give up a long while. I am tired of talk and unlike Frost I have no need to invent some. My skeleton pertains to its own urgencies. I lie down in the moss among cinnamon ferns. I fall asleep that way. And I dream quite literally of my father who, like many Finns had his favorite tree. In the dream my father plays a grand piano before tall windows, the snow falling outside. I notice that his music sheet is a page from the family bible, a section from Mathew but in the way of dreams I can’t read it. My father is playing the gospel of Mathew. I am asleep in the ferns. When I wake up I understand this is not sentiment. I walk some more in the woods. There is a big wind in the tree tops, an effect you get on the island. The birds are silent.


When I was a boy our family divided time between New Hampshire and Finland. Both places are granitic, forested and cold. Both have a brief summer. Finland exports her granite. My New Hampshire grandmother is buried beneath a quarter ton of polished Finnish red granite—the export came as ballast in cargo ships, was sold to the cemeteries, was decorated with Yankee care. Granite: unknowable as the eyes of crows and as ubiquitous. I imagine Robert Frost is buried under Finnish granite. That stone of brief summer. Thoughts while walking alone on Rattlesnake Island far out on Lake Winnipesaukee, mid summer in my 54th year…


So although I am blind I take the old row boat at midnight and strike out for the center of the lake. Old story: navigating the dark in a boat that’s too small.

And my breathing is easy; shoulders and neck bent to the task…

And the creaking oarlocks; the slosh of old water around my feet…

Late night; the summer people asleep now; wave after wave and the darkness of my own flesh.

Wind and no far shore… just another of the world’s blind rowers.



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