Showing posts with label I95. Show all posts
Showing posts with label I95. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Time Out

Swept Away

I've stepped out of the blogging batter’s box for a while.  In fact, there will be more breaks over the next couple of months.  A few of my faithful readers have wondered where we are, why the silence, and although writing from our present location on a boat is complicated, this entry plus some photos addresses that question.  But it results in a Facebook-type entry, just personal minutiae best ignored by others.

It’s that time of the year again for us, driving up from Florida to move onto our boat in Connecticut. Our son Jonathan now maintains the boat so he’s entitled to use it as if it is his own; thus our time here has diminished over the years.  The “old girl,” ‘Swept Away’ stands tall. Optimistically speaking from a health viewpoint, next year we might just fly and rent a car while here.  This is the 17th time we’ve done this drive together, and this one was the worst.

Perhaps gas prices and a pent up urge to hit the American road, mostly I95 for this trip, has had their impact.  Hotels were sold out along the way, some sleeping in their cars at rest stops.  Luckily, we had reservations and the weather cooperated so we could keep to our schedule, first stopping in Savannah, having dinner with our friends Suzanne and George who we don’t often have an opportunity to see.

Then we drove the longer haul to Frederiksburg, VA on a Saturday so we were in a prime position to go through Washington early on Sunday morning.  In spite of having made the journey so many times, between today’s GPS “preferred route” and utterly bewildering signs, we now seem to miss the connection from I95 to I495 and this time had to correct that by going through Laurel MD, but early enough to make the detour just a minor inconvenience.  From the Jersey Turnpike to Norwalk though it was bumper to bumper with frustrated drivers 25 cars deep at gas stops on the Turnpike to take advantage of Jersey’s lower prices.  I topped off in Delaware, not that much price difference, and that was sufficient to get us here plus.  After the narrow Garden State Parkway, zany drivers zigzagging to get a few car lengths ahead, we crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge less than 48 hours before a construction crane collapsed across the roadway, creating a traffic nightmare but luckily no loss of life.

It’s a massive structure that is being built to replace the aging bridge.  When I was a kid my father had a 35’ Owens that he and I brought up the Hudson River to Poughkeepsie.  We stopped overnight at a marina that was at the base of the Tappan Zee then under construction.  So I’ve seen two bridges being built there and amazing I’ve seen the entire life span of one, its construction and before long its destruction.

Arriving in Norwalk felt like we achieved a military objective without casualties.  Thankfully, our son and girlfriend Tracie were here to meet us, help us unpack the car and even prepare dinner, sparing us yet another restaurant visit.

Low Tide Shorefront Park
The first order of business the next day was to get my sneakers on and resume my early morning walk routine, at home the golf course in North Palm Beach, and Shorefront Park here.  Amazing, years after Hurricane Sandy its impact is still being felt in this area, homes being torn down or raised (the flooding here ruined many houses).  So there are empty lots and the homes that are not simply being raised with the help of insurance companies are new “McMansions.”  The whole character of the neighborhood is changing from one that felt so familiar to me from my childhood in Richmond Hill, Queens to one of wealth, progress I guess, but a loss of a time when we mere mortals could enjoy New England waterfront.  Over to you hedge fund managers and real estate moguls!


It only took a few days before s**t happened, breaking a tooth on, of all things, cucumber salad (guess it was ready to go).  I knew a crown would be inevitable and my instinct was to fly home to my dentist, but that would have required multiple trips as he would put in a temp while the crown was being made.  Our friend Cathy here suggested her dentist who makes his own crowns while you wait using the Terec system which I can only liken  to a 3D printing system, the dentist shaping the remaining tooth into a post and using CAD technology to design a crown, a porcelain/ceramic substitute, it being manufactured while you wait.  Two plus hours later, voila, I walked out of the office with a new tooth!  Luckily for me he had a cancellation so within 24 hours what I thought would be a nightmare was immediately resolved.  Thanks, Cathy and Dr. Tamucci!

Copps, Crow, Chimons Islands
So, we begin our “vacation” with this past weekend being hotter here than in Florida.  Jon and Tracie came up from the City on Sunday and we all went out to our mooring set among the Norwalk Islands.  We and our friends used to be the head of the nautical “wagon train” out to the islands, our kids tagging along and now the reins have been turned over to them, we the passengers. Ironic to look around, seeing all the islands,  remembering  them from four decades ago, but watching our “kids” now in charge, we tying up our boat to one of theirs.

As I began this very personal entry with a baseball metaphor, I conclude with the realization that we’re no longer the generation on deck, but the one in the batter’s box facing a full count. If we cannot continue to get hits, hopefully we’ll foul some off.
Sunset at SNBC

Friday, July 17, 2015

Another Summer, Another Year

This is a continuation of the prior entry, written a couple of weeks and 1,250 miles ago, the flip side of the same old 33 we’ve played on the record player before.  But oh that drive up I95!  I figure that over the years I’ve driven that road some 35 times one way.  At one time we did it over one night, but as we’ve aged have chosen a more “leisurely” two night drive, although this means schlepping bags into a hotel, not once, but twice.  We try to time our drive so we’re passing by Washington at about 8.00 AM on Sunday morning, just about the most benign time to traverse that heavily travelled corridor.  In fact, this time we didn’t take the I495 bypass but went straight through Washington, to the Washington-Baltimore Parkway, and was able to enjoy the sights of Washington we don’t normally see from I495.

We listen to “books on tape” for most of the long, tedious drive and we were particularly pleased with our first choice, The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant.  Just about a perfect book to pass the time, 85 year old Addie Baum’s recollection of coming of age in early 20th century Boston, as told to her granddaughter.  This was very competently read by Linda Lavin who balanced an immigrant Jewish accent with that of a new Bostonian.  Highly recommended as something to listen to (not sure I would want to read it though).

First stop, as usual, was Savannah, an easy six hour drive from our house, where we meet up with our friends Suzanne and George, a tradition going back many years.  Remarkable, warm people – I had recently written about them in this entry.

After enjoying a leisurely dinner with them, catching up on recent events, particularly health issues, and an early to bed, we were up first thing in the morning to get the next leg out of the way, a 7 plus hour drive to Fredericksburg.  But that morning – in spite of having run the car six hours the day before -- we were greeted by the dreaded “click-click” of a dead battery, and this at 6 AM on July 4.  Obviously the battery was no longer accepting a charge from the alternator so we immediately called AAA, but they could only give us a charge, which would not solve the problem.  They could not replace the battery as the Mercedes ML 350’s is under the passenger’s seat!  Mercedes to the rescue, their customer service dispatched a very proficient young man from a nearby garage within 20 minutes, who had the correct battery and replaced it in another 30, and we were on our way, about an hour “behind schedule.” 

One never knows what to expect as one approaches the Fredericksburg area.  I’ve seen traffic there as horrendous as Washington’s.  Luckily, most people were probably already at their destination on the 4th so we arrived at our hotel with enough time to unwind and prepare for dinner. I revere the historical significance of the 4th but without the fireworks, one of the reasons we travel over the holiday.

We’ve stayed at many of the Hampton Inns up and down I95 including this one in South Fredericksburg and remembered there was only one restaurant within easy walking distance (hate getting back into the car after all those jaw clinching hours on the road).  That restaurant is “Hooters,” a most unlikely place to find a couple of septuagenarians.  Well, on the way walking there, this only two weeks after Ann had arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus on her left knee, she slipped on some wet grass, her left leg completely folding underneath her.  Nearby people saw her slip and a young Good Samaritan came running over to help me lift her up. We thought she compromised her operated knee, but, instead she pulled thigh muscles above and behind the knee, so not only did we old folks arrive at Hooters, but stumbled in, Ann asking for ice to put on her thigh.  Talk about attracting attention to yourself.

They were accommodating, bringing bags of ice for Ann to use, and one thing we’ll say about Hooters other than the obvious, they have some tasty grilled food if you’re into that kind of thing.  I had a burger and Ann a rack of ribs.  She ordered a glass of wine and they carded her; obviously their policy to card everyone and that way they stay out of trouble, period.  You must be kidding we thought, but probably a good policy so assuredly no one under age can “look” old enough to imbibe. However, Ann’s pocketbook was in the hotel and as I don’t drink, I ordered the wine for her, she ordered my Coke, so when they carded me, I gave the very attractive young waitress who was now sitting at our table in her official Hooters outfit, my laminated university student ID card which I carry around as a joke (still in pristine condition, better than me!).  She said, what’s this?  I said it’s my official picture ID.  She said who is this?  I asked how old she was.  She said 19 and I replied that was exactly my age in the picture.  Rather than drag her head about the philosophical implications, tempus fugit, etc., I unceremoniously pulled out my license.

We arrived at the boat on Sunday afternoon and after our son, Jonathan, and his girl friend, Anna, helped us unpack, they served US dinner (for a change).  Nice to see them, one of the reasons we still do this, and we went to bed exhausted and in some chaos.

Ann’s knee and thigh needed rest and ice the next day so I was off alone to Stew Leonard’s, my favorite supermarket of all time, ideal for shoppers such as myself as it is configured as an orderly maze so you have to pass by everything.  I loaded up with groceries to get us started and began to get back into the swing of things at our boat club, first having our traditional welcome back dinner with our friends, Ray and Sue.

Wednesday nights is a family barbeque night here but it rained and as Ann was still somewhat immobile, I ended up “getting volunteered” to be a “runner” for the event, now held indoors, having to take orders and fill them in the club kitchen where other volunteers were laboring away grilling and prepping side orders. This event is a continuing testimony to the man who organized it years ago, Frank, and although he has now been partially disabled by a stroke, still overseas it to this day, with the able assistance of his wife, Barbara, and his sons. That following weekend was an antique car show in the parking lot and Ann was finally up and about for this, so here she is with a 1915 Chrysler.  There were also cars of my teenage dream years, T-Birds and Corvettes. 

So, our summer has begun here.

For me, living on the boat is increasingly complicated as at home I have my computer on most of the time and can stroll over to it and do what I need to do, managing our finances and particularly writing when I want to.  Here on the boat, the Wi-Fi no longer is “reachable” from where we are docked, so I’m dependent mostly on my iPhone’s cell connection and when I want to write anything lengthy, such as this for my blog, I have to set up my laptop and I’m dependent on the cellular “personal hotspot” to get connected.  This makes transferring photos more data intensive, expensive, slow, what can I say?  So if I post less, and some photos are compromised, that’s the reason.

Nonetheless, this is offset by more time to work on the boat (finished getting a few coats of sealer on the teak cover boards earlier in the week – they can be seen in one of the photos towards the end of this entry) and to read.  I’ve been alternating between William Trevor’s latest collection of short stories (Selected Stories) and the late Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great; How Religion Poisons Everything. 

Putting aside the Hitchens’ work for the time being -- which I’ll write about probably in my next entry -- one William Trevor short story each night is enough for the time being to satisfy my literary thirst.  The man simply never ceases to amaze me with his stories, the reader frequently thinking he is going with one part of the story, only to find the real story is about something else.  He deals with subtle aspects of relationships and his character descriptions are like photographs.  I’ve never read anyone like him.  It’s hard to read more than one story at a time as there is so much to think about.

Part of my routine – one borrowed from home – is my early morning walk.  I’ve written before about the nearby Shorefront Park, my walking grounds here.  It is an old waterfront community in Norwalk, sleepily nestled on the west shore of the Norwalk River.  When I first started walking the area years ago, mostly older homes from the 40’s and 50’s were the norm.  Over the years some of those older homes, particularly right on the river were torn down with new, much more expensive ones being built.  One problem with the area which was exposed during hurricane Sandy is it is low lying.  Many of the homes were inundated by the storm, becoming uninhabitable.  Some were repaired and raised off their foundations, insurance companies bearing all or part of the expense, while others were torn down and more mansion type homes being erected but at higher elevations.  This process is still going on, years after the storm.  So it is a place of change and I get to see it kaleidoscopically.
One thing that hasn’t changed when I walk it early in the morning is the sights and sounds of nature, so different here than in Florida.  The evening crickets are still evident in the grass, their murmur quieting by the early morning.  The aroma of pines permeates the air and the mornings can be cool, even in the summer.  A walk here is refreshing and nostalgic for me, remembering our decades in the area.  It is imprinted in my DNA by now. Then there is the view of the Norwalk Harbor, at the “turn around” point of my walk, a place where I always stop and take in the beauty of the scene. 

Still another reason to return.

The question as we age though, is how much longer?  The drive itself takes its toll.  Maybe fly up for only a month, leaving more time on the boat for our son (who has already stepped in maintaining it beautifully)?  Perhaps that will be something to consider next year.  It’s hard, maybe impossible, to just walk away from this area and our past.  Alternatively, let life dictate the outcome?

An event a couple of days ago -- at about 11.00 PM – will illustrate why boating and aging do not exactly mix.  We were already in bed as a strong cold front moved through. The boat began to bang against the port piling in a gusty NE wind. Our bow line had obviously stretched in the wind.  What to do?  Reluctantly, I decided I’d have to get out there to set up another bow line to keep the boat off the piling, as well as going down to the bilge to access another fender and setting it up against the piling.  I also thought it would be prudent to set up a redundant spring line to keep the swim platform off the dock.

I donned my jeans over my pajamas and stuck a flashlight in my back pocket.  I don’t relish walking up the gunnels to the bow, even under the best conditions and thought I should alert Ann that I’d be off the boat doing this work in the dark and under those conditions.  She had just fallen into a deep sleep – amazing given all the banging, and I didn’t have the heart to wake her up at that point.  So I rehearsed every movement in my mind and where things could go wrong and then went about my business.  Hey, what was the worst that could happen – finding a floating body at the mouth of the river in the morning? (Shouldn’t joke like that as when we were at another marina someone on our dock arrived late at night, obviously slipped trying to get on his boat, and his body was found the next morning floating between the finger of the dock and his boat.)

As the morning-after-the-front-passage photographs attest, everything went fine, but for the balance of the night the wind was unrelenting and I felt as if we were underway, the water slapping against the hull and the rubbing of the fender against the piling (better than banging though).  Ann continued to sleep right through!   This used to be “fun” when we were younger, even at an anchorage where it is exponentially more dangerous than the same conditions at a dock. With the passage of time, though, it becomes more difficult to manage, to tolerate even— and it’s certainly no fun.  So, still another factor to consider for the future.


Monday, July 15, 2013

We Live Too Shallowly in Too Many Places

That is an indirect quote from Wallace Stegner’s masterpiece, Angle of Repose, but more on that later.

I thought of those few words as we headed north on I95 last week, fortified by yet another “book” – actually the 13 hour audio book version of Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, a novel that has some things in common with Stegner’s.  I had read Walter’s Financial Lives of the Poets on the maiden voyage of the cruise ship Marina, finding a copy in the ship’s pristine library.  It is a very funny but tragic story, reminding me a little of the writing of Joseph Heller and I made a note to read his next work.  Perhaps it was providential that Amazon had a sale on the audio book edition of his most recent novel, Beautiful Ruins, right before we departed Florida for Connecticut.  While it is very professionally narrated, somehow I think the book might be better read than listened to.  I can’t really explain why that might be; perhaps having it read to you makes you focus on plot rather than character, or the interruptions while being on the road forces one to stop listening when rest stops dictate.

The story begins with Pasquale Tursi, who, after his father dies in 1962, returns from his partially completed college education to run the family’s small hotel in the out of the way Italian coastal town of Porto Vergogna There he has a chance meeting with a minor American actress, Dee Moray (she is in Italy to film Cleopatra with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor). The story is a CD page turner (making the drive that much easier), moving back and forth from 1962 to the near present, with the introduction of a number of characters (including Richard Burton).  It is like so many good novels the tale of choices and consequences. Walter’s characters interact with one another over time, changing the outcome of each others’ lives, “beautiful ruins” as some of the Italian landscape.  Their stories devolve into their own “angles of repose.” Jess Walter continues his journey as a young ascending American novelist.

As the novel moved around, so did we, first visiting friends Suzanne and George in Savannah, sharing a July 4 dinner with them and then the following night we made a long overdue visit to the relatively new home of our friends Barbara and Ron (and their particularly smart Border Collie, Coco) in Apex, NC.  Ron was a colleague in my publishing days (and Barbara as well, but Ron and I worked at the same firm) and over the years we’ve become close friends in spite of our geographic estrangement.  It was wonderful seeing them after all these years.  Then, back on the road.
The drive up I95 is emblematic of living too shallowly in too many places.  As a nation we’ve become anchorless, a nomadic nation addicted to the so called “pleasures” of travel.  Even with gas at $4 plus a gallon the roads were packed, the “rest stops” jammed with those seeking burgers, fries, ice cream, pizza, and sodas. We’ve learned over the years to pack our own food, and to confine our rest room visits to visitors’ centers, usually the first rest stop as you enter the next state.   

With the NJ Turnpike, though, one has to do battle with the Burger King crowd and the downtrodden, overused bathrooms.  I have no business wondering the where’s or why’s of this moving mass of humanity, as I am one of the rootless, but, in our case, trying to “go home” again, to where we spent most of our lives in Connecticut.  However, with each passing year, the ties to the past unravel more, and we are more strangers than natives, in spite of our love of the area.  One does not put down roots in Florida to offset this loss it seems, as one’s neighbors are from someplace else, and they are wanderers as are you.  Indeed, we live too shallowly in too many places, bringing me to this great American novel, certainly one of the best of the 20th century, Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose.

The novel was published in 1972.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature that year.  That fact begs the question of where have I been during those many years since its publication, particularly as I consider myself fairly well read when it comes to contemporary American literature.  In my defense, and it’s a weak one, perhaps it was a form of cultural snobbism -- not unlike Susan Burling Ward’s, the main character in the novel -- that is more East coast focused. When Stegner was writing, I was reading Updike, Cheever, Yates and Roth.  Those who wrote about the West, the frontier, did not reach a deep chord in me.  But, now, my own sense of place has become diluted.  It took this blog to lead me to Stegner’s masterpiece.  A few months ago, via the email address listed in the profile, I received the following (this is the truncated version):

Something made me think of you today, so I Googled your name, and Google led me to your blog. I wonder if you'll even remember me. My memories of you are no doubt washed by the passage of time, but how nice that I get to share some of this with you.

In 1969, you hired me as your secretary at Johnson Reprint. I was 20 years old, my typing was pathetic, my shorthand practically non-existent, I had no real secretarial experience, and I had just moved to New York from Meadville, Pennsylvania. Yet for some reason I will never understand you saw potential and offered me the job. It wasn't long after that you left Johnson for greener pastures, and I cut my hair short in protest. Though of course, no one but me cared how long my hair was.

And now, 44 years later, I get to thank you. You were really my first mentor, and you encouraged me to think analytically and take my silly attempts at writing poems to a deeper level. You also taught me a great deal about being a professional--although there was certainly a lot more to learn, you got me over the threshold. And the position itself provided me with skills that served me well throughout my career. A position for which I was completely unqualified. I have always felt that you played a brief but seminal role in my life.

Have you read Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose? He talks about a Doppler effect (nothing to do with weather) that I couldn't possibly do justice to, so in brief, it is a sort of predestination view but not really. If you are curious and haven't read it, you will just have to do so! Anyhow, I mention it because it has become more and more of an intriguing concept for me over time. When I think back on 1969 as a fragment of my life, I marvel at where my path was to take me. And that at the time, of course, it was unwritten. …. This probably makes no sense whatsoever to you! But it does to me, and it's beginning to feel like I'm writing this more for myself than you. My apologies if it feels that way to you too!

Well, what I started out wanting to say is thank you. For being who you were at a juncture in my life and providing me with a chance, though you didn't know it any more than I did at the time, to build a springboard for myself to carry me into a fascinating and sweet journey. I am truly happy to know that your own life has been, and continues to be, so full of love and friends and success. You earned all that a long time ago just by being your intuitive and generous self.

Naturally, I was moved by this, responding, “As you didn't type well or take shorthand, I must have hired you for your intelligence which has obviously taken you to an education and a career of many accomplishments.”  I also said, “I haven't read Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose, but have ordered it from Amazon on your recommendation.  I get to read a lot during the summers when we live on our boat in Norwalk; sounds like an ideal summer read.”  Since then Mary and I have struck up an email relationship, two small characters on the world stage whose lives once intersected and, now, thanks to technology, intersect virtually.

But, there you have it, a bend in time, perhaps the Doppler Effect, leading me to one of the more significant literary works of our time. 

Stegner’s story is multigenerational; a tale told by Lyman Ward, a 58 year-old former history professor who is now confined to a wheelchair, taken care of by friend and neighbor Ada Hawkes and her daughter Shelly in the home of Ward’s grandparents, Susan and Oliver Ward.  It was in this California home his grandparents finally settled after living in a number of frontier outposts during the formative years of their marriage.  Lyman Ward’s father, Ollie, was the oldest of their three children. 

Part of Stegner’s novel is devoted to present-day Lyman, who is trying to stay independent in spite of his being wheelchair bound, while his only son, Rodman, is trying to place him in an assisted living home.  But Lyman is fiercely opposed to the idea.  He is now also divorced from his wife, Ellen.

But the majority of the story is the one that Lyman Ward is trying to write about his grandmother, an extraordinary women of letters and an artist as well, who marries a young engineer, reluctantly leaving her best friend Augusta, and the Northeast, to join Oliver (she thinks for only a few years before a planned return to the East) in his quest to pursue a career as a mining engineer in the West.

Actually, the character of Susan Burling Ward is based on the real life of Mary Hallock Foote, and Stegner makes liberal use of Foote’s writings in the novel, which led to some controversy although Stegner acknowledges that use saying that he did not hesitate “to warp personalities and events to fictional needs.”  At times it almost feels like an epistolary novel, although all letters are one sided, from Susan to Augusta.  Augusta’s life is firmly within the gravitational pull of the eastern intelligentsia, a life that Susan pines for, for herself and for her children. 

So, it is Lyman’s objective to write this history, to remain independent while doing so, living in the home he used to visit as a child.  He thinks of “Angle of Repose” as being an appropriate title, and considers the Doppler Effect as an alternative, “saying” to his grandmother:

If Henry Adams, whom you knew slightly, could make a theory of history by applying the second law of thermodynamics to human affairs, I ought to be entitled to base one on the angle of repose, and may yet. There is another physical law that teases me, too: the Doppler Effect. The sound of anything coming at you - a train, say, or the future - has a higher pitch than the sound of the same thing going away. If you have perfect pitch and a head for mathematics you can compute the speed of the object by the interval between its arriving and departing sounds. I have neither perfect pitch nor a head for mathematics, and anyway who wants to compute the speed of history? Like all falling bodies, it constantly accelerates. But I would like to hear your life as you heard it, coming at you, instead of hearing it as I do, a sober sound of expectations reduced, desires blunted, hopes deferred or abandoned, chances lost, defeats accepted, griefs borne…. You yearned backward a good part of your life, and that produced another sort of Doppler Effect. Even while you paid attention to what you must do today and tomorrow, you heard the receding sound of what you had relinquished.

In recounting the life of his grandparents, Lyman hopes to find something about his own “angle of repose:”
Yet do you remember the letters you used to get from isolated miners and geologists and surveyors who had come across a copy of Century or Atlantic and seen their lives there, and wrote to ask how a lady of obvious refinement knew so much about drifts, stopes, tipples, pumps, ores, assays, mining law, claim jumpers, underground surveying, and other matters? Remember the one who wanted to know where you learned to handle so casually a technical term like "angle of repose"? I suppose you replied, "By living with an engineer." But you were too alert to the figurative possibilities of words not see the phrase as descriptive of human as well as detrital rest….As you said, it was too good for mere dirt; you tried to apply it to your own wandering and uneasy life. It is the angle I am aiming for myself, and I don't mean the rigid angle which I rest in this chair. I wonder if you ever reached it….

Wheelchair bound, and distraught and cynical about the present (the 1970s), by exploring (and glorifying) her life, Lyman temporarily finds a way out of his: Fooling around in the papers my grandparents, especially my grandmother, left behind, I get glimpses of lives close to mine, related to mine in ways I recognize but don't completely comprehend. I'd like to live in their clothes a while, if only so I don't have to live in my own…. We have been cut off, the past has been ended and the family has broken up and the present is adrift in its wheelchair. I had a wife who after twenty-five years of marriage took on the coloration of the 1960s. I have a son who, though we are affectionate with each other, is no more my true son than if he breathed through gills. That is no 'gap between the generations, that is a gulf. The elements have changed, there are whole new orders of magnitude and kind. This present of 1970 is no more an extension of my grandparents' world, this West is no more a development of the West they helped build, than the sea over Santorin is an extension of that once-island of rock and olives. ….My grandparents had to live their way out of one world and into another, or into several others, making new out of old the way corals live their reef upward. I am on my grandparents' side. I believe in Time, as they did, and in the life chronological rather than in the life existential. We live in time and through it, we build our huts in its ruins, or used to, and we cannot afford all these abandonings.

While plot and character development are outstanding strengths of the novel, the sense of place (or displacement) permeates the entire work, the East vs. West, civilization vs. the frontier, and a miscarriage of the American Dream:

I wonder if ever again Americans can have that experience of returning to a home place so intimately known, profoundly felt, deeply loved, and absolutely submitted to? It is not quite true that you can't go home again. I have done it, coming back here. But it gets less likely. We have had too many divorces, we have consumed too much transportation, we have lived too shallowly in too many places. I doubt that anyone of Rodman's generation could comprehend the home feelings of someone like Susan Ward. Despite her unwillingness to live separately from her husband, she could probably have stayed on indefinitely in Milton, visited only occasionally by an asteroid husband. Or she could have picked up the old home and remade it in a new place. What she resisted was being the wife of a failure and a woman with no home.

When frontier historians theorize about the uprooted, the lawless, the purseless, and the socially cut-off who settled the West, they are not talking about people like my grandmother.  So much that was cherished and loved, women like her had to give up; and the more they gave it up, the more they carried it helplessly with them. It was a process like ionization what was subtracted from one pole was added to the other For that sort of pioneer, the West was not a new country being created, but an old one being reproduced; in that sense our pioneer women were always more realistic than our pioneer men. The moderns, carrying little baggage of the kind that Shelly called "merely cultural," not even living in traditional air, but breathing into their space helmets a scientific mixture of synthetic gases (and polluted at that) are the true pioneers.  Their circuitry seems to include no atavistic domestic sentiment, they have suffered empathectomy, their computers hum no ghostly feedback of Home, Sweet Home.  How marvelously free they are!  How unutterably deprived!

And, indeed, the “place” of frontier and its bearing on his Grandfather’s failings, hangs heavily in the novel.  Lyman feels empathy for this man who perhaps unwisely trusted others in his pursuit of colossal dreams:

As a practitioner of hindsight I know what Grandfather was trying to do, by personal initiative and with the financial resources of a small and struggling corporation, what only the immense power of the federal government ultimately proved able to do. That does not mean he was foolish or mistaken. He was premature. His clock was set on pioneer time. He met trains that had not yet arrived, he waited on platforms that hadn't yet been built, beside tracks that might never be laid. Like many another Western pioneer, he had heard the clock of history strike, and counted the strokes wrong. Hope was always out ahead of fact, possibility obscured the outlines of reality.

I’ve liberally quoted from Angle of Repose as the writing is extraordinary.  These passages are typical.  Susan’s letters to Augusta are equally remarkable.  There is not one page, not one word in this novel that is superfluous.  It’s 500 plus pages are filled with energy, beauty, and philosophical contemplation.  And I think it so ironic – or is it prophetic – that while this novel was in the process of being published I was hiring Mary who, 44 years later, finds me in the brave new virtual world, and asks me a simple question, “have you read Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose?”