January 28, 2010

The bright moon rested comfortably in the trees this night, looking down at six fools happily gathered around an immense fire and ignoring  the mercury which rested comfortably at zero degrees. And in two nights, this moon will be at its brightest all year. And thereby hangs a tale, as the melancholy Jaques expresses it in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The native Americans named the full moon of January “wolf moon” as it recalled to them the howling of wolves in the cold winter nights. This year, the full moon will coincide with its closest perigee—the nearest it gets to our planet during its orbit—during the early morning hours Saturday, January 30. This will make it appear 30 percent brighter and 14 percent larger than any other full moon this year. By another strange coincidence, Mars will reach its opposition-the nearest it gets to earth- at the same time. It will appear as a bright reddish-orange star swinging right next to the moon. Something to get out and see if the skies are clear Saturday night. Somehow, it reminds me of the meeting of the stars Tarva and Alambil in Prince Caspian. Doctor Cornelius said that they foretold some great good for the sad realm of Narnia. It makes one wish that such meetings could foretell good in the real world.

The cold nearly had us howling, and prompted Greg to remove his shoes, place them next to the fire for a while, then return them to his feet while muttering “That was one of the top five ideas I’ve had.”

I’m not going to lie, I believe I overdid it with the logs. As the flames roared heavenward, Ralph conversationally asked if any of us had ever seen a viking funeral. Said Greg, “Yeah, last week in New Orleans against the Saints.” I nearly roared with laughter.

As was fitting, our talk turned to things cold and northern. We talked about Libby Riddles, who, in 1985, was the first woman to win the Iditarod Race, a 1,049 mile dog sled race. In the lead when she arrived at Shaktoolik, Alaska, she moved ahead into a dangerous blizzard across the ice of Norton Sound while her competitors were forced by race officials to stop. This bold move helped her to win the race, more than three hours ahead of the second place finisher. It had taken her just over 18 days.

Because of the plummeting temperature, I had brought a volume of Robert Service’s poems, to do the annual reading of The Cremation of Sam McGee. This prompted Jerry to describe his trip to Alaska for his 35th wedding anniversary during which he spent a day in the Yukon. I discovered that the book I held in my hands, given to me by Jerry, was not only a first edition, but was purchased in the Yukon at a store on the Dawson Trail, the same trail mentioned in the poem I was about to read. Robert Service has always played a large part around this fire. After all, it is from “I Have Some Friends” that we quote each week as we raise our pipes:

I have some friends, some honest friends
and honest friends are few;
my pipe of briar, an open fire,
a book that’s not too new.

“I had to go to the Yukon, just to say I’d been,” said Jerry.

Jerry related a few stories about his brother Chester. A prolific book collector, he had amassed 50,000 books at his death. A signed first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird which he purchased for 50 cents at a thrift shop, was sold for $12, 000. Once, when Jerry was involved with doing missions to the British parliament, he asked Chester to come along, but told him he had to pay his own way. So Chester sold two plates he had purchased for $2 and $3, and pocketed $5,000. During a tour of Parliament given by a back bencher, the group saw Chester chatting with majority whip Tony Baker. He pointed to them and asked:

Back bencher: Who is that over there?
Jerry: That’s Tony Baker.
Back bencher: I  know who Tony Baker is, who’s the guy he’s so fascinated with?
Jerry: Well, that’s my brother.
Back bencher: Is he a member of Congress or something?  What does he do?
Jerry: Well, no, he’s an accountant at an auto parts store in northern Minnesota.

On another occasion, a doctoral student in Oxford doing work on Robert Wilberforce’s view of the sacraments, expressed frustration to Jerry that he couldn’t find books at the Bodleian Library on this guy and that no one at Oxford knew about him.

Jerry: You should talk to my brother.
Student: What university does he teach at?
Jerry: Well, he doesn’t. He’s an accountant at an auto parts store in northern Minnesota.

But the student did call Chester, and ended up staying with him for a week and afterwards told Jerry that not only did Chester know more than anyone at Oxford about this subject, but he lent him the books he couldn’t find in the Bodleian.

Jerry says of his brother: “Chester knew about everything, he was the smartest guy I ever met.”

Well, next week we taste the fabled Johnny Walker Blue scotch, which Jerry claims cost at least $600 and possibly up to $2,000. Mark described a time when the governor of Seoul, South Korea, who is friends with his father-in-law, took them to a restaurant where they committed the sacrilege of dropping shots of Johnny Walker Blue into glasses of cheap Korean beer. It has been ten years since that occasion, and next week he is looking forward to an unadulterated chance to savor Johnny Walker Blue.

Jerry said he balked at first when he was given the bottle as our group has never had blended scotch before and he didn’t know if we could handle it.  He ruefully admitted that we could sell it and take care of all the Haiti relief with that one bottle.

“Well, someone has to drink it,” said Paul.

With which I heartily concur.


~ by Mark Neal on January 30, 2010.

One Response to “January 28, 2010”

  1. Fantastic once again! A true fantastical banquet of words!!!

    Keep up the good work. We’re in need of good writing and good reading so don’t stop!

    Everyone should read this, even if they’ve never encountered a fiery night at Jerry’s!

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