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Posts Tagged ‘Northern Exposure’

TV JohnI was taking a shower yesterday when a scent filled my nose.  It was an odd yet familiar smell, a bit like gunpowder wafting from the barrel of a gun.  It wasn’t something that I had anticipated and I don’t know where it came from but I was suddenly reminded of TV John McKeever, a character from the BBC series Hamish MacBeth that ran several years back.  That’s him in the photo.  The show was the story of a quirky,small Scottish village and its constable, Hamish MacBeth (played by Robert Carlyle.)  It reminded me of a Highland version of Northern Exposure except that it had more drama and mystery, a whodunit with a bit of humor.

One of the main characters was TV John McKeever,  so named for having been the first in town with a TV, who was more or less MacBeth’s deputy.  He was a tall, mysterious character with a bit of clairvoyance.  He had experienced a premonition of his own death and knew that his death would be imminent when he would smell  a particular scent of pomade, which is a hair gel of sorts.  Think of the Dapper Dan cans in O Brother Where Art Thou? This was a recurring plot point in the series.

So there I was in the shower, thinking of TV John and the smell of pomade that would be to him the smell of death, and I began to wonder, “What if this scent I now smelled was my smell of pomade?”

What if today were to be my last day on this earth?  How would I live it?  If I were able to scan back through this last day, as though the day were a movie viewed through my eyes, what would I see?  Would today be a good day to carry with me as my last day, filled with images that meant something to me?

All this was within a flash of seconds and I found myself realizing that I was taking so much for granted around me.  I was not stopping, if only for a moment, to take in the way things really appear around me.  To take in the grandeur of the trees of the forest that I walked through every day.  To look up at the stars on a cold autumn night and see the way the stars and planets change position in the sky.  To see how a squirrel races through the limbs of the hickories around my house.

Simple things.  Things that I simply forget to take notice of on a regular basis.  But things that give texture and depth to my life, things of which I would want to take notice on that day when the smell of pomade wafted into my nostrils…


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trebuchet2A number of years back, there was an episode of the quirky television show Northern Exposure, which was set in a small Alaskan town, that involved the town’s philosopher-artist-DJ, Chris, building a trebuchet, shown here on the left.  A trebuchet is  a medieval war machine, a type of advanced catapult that flings objects great distances.  In the show Chris used it to fling an old piano, the old upright flying in a perfect  slow-motion arc through a blue sky and crashing to the earth in a pile.

Every time I see this episode I am moved by an odd, primal thrill in seeing the arc of the piano’s flight and am reminded  of how this has always excited something I can’t explain in myself.

As a kid watching Fran Tarkenton and Joe Namath (New York teams on our local channels) throwing long bombs brought the same pleasure as the spirals seemed to defy time and space as they hurtled through the cold, autumn skies.  

In baseball, there is nothing more exciting to me than the right-fielder throwing out a runner at the plate or third base.  I still am thrilled by memories of throws from Dwight Evans of the Red Sox and Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners that are delivered with arcs of such power and sheer grace.

Then there is the beauty of the towering arc of a home run.  I recently saw a replay of Josh Hamilton’s amazing performance at last year’s All-Star game.  One after another, huge shots rained out of Yankee Stadium.  Majestic is the only word that comes to mind.

Personally, I remember being at a friend’s house in high school with a group of buddies,  having blown off classes, drinking beers and just being delinquents.  We were in the back yard of this house which was in a small development.  One kid picked up a large stone and heaved it sky-ward.  It left his hand as we watched and went into the sky in a perfect arc, tumbling in a beautiful, smooth rotation.  It seemed to slow time itself and finally began to descend to earth, crashing finally through the window of the neighbor’s garden shed.

I did say we were delinquents, didn’t I?

But that moment is etched in my mind.  I have friend who was there that I occasionally see whose eyes become wide when I mention the arc of that rock.  He remembers it as one of the amazing things he’s ever experienced, a transcendent event.

Maybe there’s something sad in that but to me it attests to our reaction to the arc.  I wish I could scientifically explain how our brain recognizes and processes the beauty of the arc but I can’t.  I only know that when I see its natural curvature that I am seeing a type of rightness, that quality I often struggle to describe for the lines and curves in my work.  

If I can capture that natural grace, I will be a happy man…

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