Saturday, May 12, 2007

An Extraordinary Day in May

Please click on any image to see a bigger version.

This post is dedicated with deepest appreciation to Lynda Hermosa and Adam Harrington.

Douglas McMackin Harrington was born on October 1st, 1966, and died on November 14th, 2006. He left behind a brother, a sister, a wife, a daughter... and legions of others who were touched in some way by his force. His personality was bigger than most of the known planets.

He was:
a musician
a carpenter
a salesman
a father
a brother
a son
a husband
a scholar ( yes, he was, while he didn't view himself as such),
and a primal force.

He was one of my two sons, and his passing feels like it slices me by half. But a gathering of the extended tribe today in the hills above Oakland, California, made me feel somewhat less diminished.

More than a hundred of us who were touched by Doug gathered in Montclair Park, Oakland, California, on May 12th to celebrate his life and to dedicate a tiny spot of the Earth to his memory and to his enduring presence. In a comment to my previous blog entry, Ronnie (who has been down this road before) cautioned me against the word "closure." Gladly, that caution was (while heeded) not necessary. Without exception, everyone present wanted -- and thus guaranteed -- the opposite of any closing. We didn't want him to go in November, and we still don't in May. I heard the reminiscences, for the most part, in the present tense, not the past, and I never once even heard the word "closure."

The ceremony and the entire concept (placing a bench with Doug's name on it in Montclair Park) was the inspired idea of Doug's younger brother, my son, Adam. Adam and Doug were glued so close together that they might as well have been welded to one another. Their mother and I separated and divorced in 1972, when Doug was only 6 and Adam only two years old. After that, they lived with a sequence of family combinations -- all loving, but in-flux different -- which drove them to a more insular connection than might otherwise have been the case. However it was caused, Adam and Doug were a unit, one that the rest of us could appreciate but never truly understand.

Adam was, and is, devastated by Doug's loss. Today's ceremony is part of his coping, and how he went about it is a source of great pride to me, though I don't deserve any credit for it whatsoever.

We gathered at Montclair Park at a little before 2pm.

The only person present who did not know Doug before the ceremony was the bagpiper, Jeff Campbell. Here, he warms up to the amusement and puzzlement of random park clients.

The bench, shrouded before the ceremony. Its location was very carefully chosen: Montclair Park was where Doug's generation of "kids" (in their teens and even early 20's) went to hang out. The bench is positioned atop a knoll which views all parts of the park, including a wall by the basketball court where Doug, Adam, and their friends spent many hours of youthful exuberance. For many of those hours, they should have been in class, but the time for being concerned about that is long, long gone now. And now I'm not so sure about how concerned I should have been then, either.

The group marches from the assemby area to the bench for the ceremony. My wife, Diane, is carrying the video camera at left. In the center are Doug's daughter, Grace, and his widow, Adrianne.

Adam convenes the ceremony.

This is one of the strongest, most loving people I have ever encountered. She will need all of that, and more, to care for Grace. She also, clearly, has a multitude of people on whom she can call for help. A stereotypical thing to say here would be that "Doug chose well," but that might not be accurate. I don't really know if there was any "choosing" involved, or, if so, that Doug was the one who did it. What I do know is that if I had to choose a person to mother my granddaughter in my son's absence, I couldn't possibly choose anyone else. Adrianne is Adrianne, and nothing further need be said, and nothing better could be wished.

We love you, Adrianne.

Before the bench was officially unveiled, Adam (in charge of the whole operation) arranged immediate family on a short brick wall next to it. From left to right: me, David (Reva's SO and Kiana's father), Reva Kidd (Doug and Adam's half-sister), Kiana Kidd (one week old at this photo!), Adrianne Harrington, Grace L. Harrington, and Dr. Parris Kidd. (Parris is Reva's father; he married Doug and Adam's mom after we divorced and was very much a father to them -- in that sense, they were luckier than most: they had two fathers, not just one!) [Photo by Lucile Taber.]

The ceremonial first-sitting on Doug's bench -- Back: Adam Harrington and his SO Lynda Hermosa. Front: Parris Kidd, Adrianne and Grace Harrington, Reva and Kiana Kidd, me. [Photo by Lucile Taber.]

Mike Kaufmann, very close friend of Doug (and bass player for Defiance), expresses remembrances and emotions from the Doug Harrington bench. Adam solicited such testimonials, and many were freely given, and all were touching, happy, sad, funny, unexpected... and altogether surprising. Sort of like Doug himself. [Photo by Lucile Taber.]

Mike Chambers. "Big Mike" was Adam's closest friend since grade school, when Doug and Adam lived on Rosedale Ave. in Oakland (just a few blocks from the Hell's Angels international HQ!) Mike came from a very religious family, and Doug and Adam were an eye-opening experience for him. Mike was a constant, solid, grounding friend for Adam, and it was extra-special good to see him at this ceremony. [Photo by Lucile Taber.]

The two Mikes are pictured in this blog post to give a flavor of the moment, not an inventory. I very much hope that anyone not pictured here doesn't feel slighted, and everyone should be included when I update the memorial website later this month.

The recounting of tales about Doug from his bench were sometimes happy...

... sometimes riveting...

... and sometimes achingly sad. But they were always very real, and we all wanted them to continue, but, of course, they can't. (The women in the above picture are Mrs. Fort and Lucile.)

Dave White, Defiance and Heathen vocalist, played on the Neptune Society boat last December while Doug's ashes were being scattered. Today, he played and sang an achingly beautiful song at the end of the bench-dedicating ceremony. Diane captured it on video/audio, and eventually it will be on YouTube, but for now I'll just say... DAMN, Dave, we could have watered a castle's lawn with the tears you generated. Superb.

The official Doug Harrington Memorial Website will be updated to include things from this ceremony -- incuding YouTube video segments -- over the next month. We will attempt to notify everyone by e-mail if possible, but this blog will present notification, as well. And if you have any pics to contribute to the website, please send them to me: !

The bench after all the ruckus. It's there, people, a place for us to go to remember Doug.
And ourselves.

Montclair Park and Rec Center is just off California route 13 (The Warren Freeway) in the Oakland Hills. If you are ever in the neighborhood, please stop by. The bench is in deep right field of the softball diamond, and has a little plaque on it...

Friday, May 11, 2007

An Ordinary Day in May

Today, Friday, the 11th of May, was an unremarkable day, and that fact should be celebrated. Tomorrow promises to be a different matter, so today is a day for the wonderful norm that May in the San Lorenzo Valley affords.

It was a Friday, and one on which I had no classes or committee meetings, so I could spend the entire day catching up on mundane chores here at Ft. Harrington. Primary among those chores was finishing the washing of the deck in preparation for sealer treatment. The six feet of rain we get here per winter quickly coats exterior surfaces with what might charitably be called "crud" and requires power tools to blast off. This year I upgraded to a gasoline-powered pressure washer, which one of our brighter chickens, Lacy, is inspecting below:

Last weekend I had blasted off the larger portions of the deck, leaving only the narrow portion above to be washed. Both the degree of the annual crud buildup and the power of the pressure washer can be appreciated via the above picture (the deck is redwood, as is probably about 90% of the bio-mass in this valley.)
This narrow portion of Ft. Harrington's deck faces the creek ravine. Most of the year, it is a peacefully-gurgling haven for ducks and minnows. During the winter, though, it can turn into a frightening hydro-blaster.

The animals didn't like the noise of the power washer (nor did I), and were relieved when it was over. Above, Jax enjoys his reclaimed cushion on a deck chaise.

Barbeque time on the clean deck.

Hugging the deck are old plum trees; nestled in the plum trees are tiny decorations that Diane has hidden in them in sort of a perpetual Christmas-tree ornamentation. Above, a "birdhouse" the size of a quarter is surrounded by baby plums.

May is the time that our roses bust out in exuberance. This huge blossom (about half a foot across) was the first blast in our rose garden, the mauve platoon behind it came about a day later. Looking at this king-sized blossom from the other side shows...

... the Fort's main house kitchen window, so, you can see, our view of the roses accompanies our stirrings in the morning.

White roses cover not just Ft. Harrington, but all of the San Lorenzo Valley in May, in a floral echo of the Northeastern snow that many of its citizens grew up with and remember well -- including me and at least five of my nearest neighbors here in "Creepy Hollow".

Lacy (left, background), Pippin (right), and Goldie and Buffy (or vice versa) settle in for a peaceful night.

Glow from the living room's lights illuminates newly-clean deck railings and planter boxes. Glow from our neighbors' windows across the creek warms the evening. Tomorrow will be anything but mundane, but today was a respite from both the pressures of workaday (much as I love my job) and anxious anticipation of tomorrow's event: a huge celebration of my son, Doug's, life. More than a hundred people will descend on a park in Oakland, California, to witness the dedication of a memorial to him, and to party as he would have wanted them to.

Doug at Boulder Creek (the creek itself) a year before his death.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Empty Chairs

Above is a picture of Ft. Harrington's "potting shed" -- actually, in practice, a little storage house that's mostly used as an animal infirmary for those of our menagerie who require its benefits. It's a well-insulated, spacious (for a little quadruped or a bird), private place, just right for healing.

It is also the last place Max lived in on a regular basis, before he joined the many animal companions I've had who have pre-deceased me.

While wandering out there this evening to store some stuff, a couple of things occurred to me.

First: I haven't updated this blog in a while. That's because I'm working up a major (for me) piece on astronomical images... which actually, probably won't really be of interest to the four or five people who read this thing (:-)).

Second: Looking at that place where Max used to live reminded me, again, of how tenuous our connections are to others -- of whatever species -- because of our inevitable mortality.

My Dad had a large number of "chestnuts" that he would trot out whenever appropriate. This is one of them: "What really makes you feel old isn't gray hair or wrinkles or infirmities -- it's the empty chairs."

Here is a picture of full chairs:

It was taken by my Dad in the summer of 1968 and shows (from left to right) me, my then-wife Mary, my mother, my Dad's place, and my son, Doug, in his high chair. We are in a picnic area that my Dad constructed in a back lot behind the house I grew up in (visible in the background) in upstate New York.

Of the five people involved in this photo (including the guy behind the camera), I am the only one left alive. Mary died in 2004, Mom and Dad in 1999, and Doug in 2006. Their chairs are all empty now, and, man, does that make me feel old.

What makes me feel young once in a while is the realization that whatever I do for my students will be part of their memories years from now, after whatever grade they get in my course ceases to be of any importance, and it should be a warm part of their memories. Warmth and youth trump empty chairs.

So, ultimately, does the fact that our chairs used to be full. Below, my Dad is pitching to me in a baseball batting cage he built in our back lot. Good God, how full can a chair be, and lastingly so? Not much more, to be sure.