Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Canadians Are Coming!

The Canadians Are Coming!

Members of the two councils during a break in their meeting on April 29.
On July 1 the two Salesian provinces of the Eastern U.S. and Canada will merge into one. This has been in the planning for some time, and planning continues rather intensely.
As one part of that planning, yesterday (April 29) three members of the Canadian provincial council spent all day meeting with the U.S. East council in New Rochelle, discussing such matters as personnel, finances, variances in church policies, variances in secular law, variances in province policies. Of course there's a great deal in common: chiefly the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our Salesian charism.
Canada has been a separate Salesian jurisdiction only 21 years. Previously the eastern part of the country belonged to the New Rochelle Province, while the western part (Edmonton, Surrey) belonged to San Francisco. So all of the older Salesians in both countries know each other from long-ago years of study, retreats, etc. Many of them are looking forward to reacquaintance. The union will perhaps be a bit more challenging for the younger men on both sides of the border.

And we hope that the union will reinvigorate Salesians and Salesian ministry in both countries.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Scouting Out Rockefeller State Park

Scouting Out Rockefeller State Park

Scouts playing in field overlooking Hudson,
with the imposing palisades on opposite shore
Foundations of former Rockefeller home overlooking Hudson
This weekend the Four Rivers District held our annual camp-o-ree at Rockefeller State Park along the Hudson River in Mt. Pleasant, between Sleepy Hollow and Ossining.

The Four Rivers District includes Scout troops from Yonkers, Crestwood, Bronxville, Eastchester, and Mt. Vernon. A camp-o-ree is something like a jamboree but much smaller. The Scouts test some of their skills, play games, and share fellowship. Sunday worship is included at least for the Catholic boys when their chaplain is along (c'est moi).

In this instance, only 6 troops participated. Some troops in the district, including my own Mt. Vernon Troop 40, had other commitments. Those present were Bronxville 1, Bronxville 2, Crestwood 1, Yonkers 4, Yonkers 5, and Yonkers 47.

I didn't camp myself but arrived on site at 9 a.m. Saturday and left at 10:30 p.m. It was a long day, starting for me at 5:30 a.m. and getting to be at 11:45 p.m., filled with activity under a very unusual (for late April) blazing sun and temperatures in the mid-80s.

The 6 activity stations, manned by adult Scouters, included map reading and orienteering, sled making (lashing and teamwork skills--that's lashing as in tying poles together with rope, not whipping each other!), first aid, Kim's game (recognition and memory, and some teamwork), caber toss (get out your dictionary), and sling shot and catapult use (the catapult was very, very small). Permission from the Park to have archery came thru too late to be implemented.

Caber toss
First aid: splinting

Scouts pulling 3-pole "sled" they've just lashed together

Kim's game: quick view of objects on table, then
remembering them and listing them in as much detail as possible.
Scout aiming sling shot at target some 50 feet away.
Note tiny catapult at lower right.

There was plenty of regular use of the Park by joggers, dog walkers, horsemen, and picnickers. It was a perfect day for all that, provided one took precautions against the afternoon sun. I ought to have applied my sunscreen sooner than I did, and a broad-brimmed hat rather than a (Scouting) baseball cap would have been more useful. So my forearms and part of my neck today are lobsterish pink (but at least not painful).

We celebrated Mass at 4:30 in a reasonably shady spot out of the wind--which manages to come up strongly in the afternoons at this spot. There were about 40 Scouts and Scouters present--enuf that the Scouter charged with counting the number of would-be communicants miscounted, and I had to break hosts in half for the last 15 communions. We also had one Scout faint after the Our Father. Had it been a little earlier, perhaps we could have blamed the homily; instead, we blamed dehydration. He was fine by the time Mass was over and was running about playing again.

Of course the Scouts also got to use cooking skills for supper, if not also for lunch, depending on the arrangements of the individual troops.

Supper prep at Crestwood 1
Supper prep at Yonkers 47


Making a dessert was also a competition, with various pies and cobblers produced. Some of them were highly rated by the judges in the evening, and all disappeared quite quickly when the judges had finished their tasting. I was invited to be a judge but declined, leaving that to more skillful souls, and less sugar-conscious, than I.

Judge (John Hradsky) digging into dessert.

After dessert we waiting a short while for darkness to fall, and then came the campfire. Each troop presented one or two skits and one or two songs, and the results of the day's competitions (desserts and overall performance) were announced. Fortunately, the mosquitoes aren't out in force yet. The campfire concluded, as traditional, with Scout Vespers and Taps.

Then the scoutmasters and assistant scoutmasters assembled at one site for what's called a "cracker barrel," which includes snacks (cheese and crackers, tea, some leftovers from supper), and they critiqued the day and discussed some other Scout business, including in this case last fall's trek-o-ree and next fall's.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Day's Work

A Day's Work

A pretty quiet day in the province's communications office. This morning, the mail; a check of ANS, the Congregation's news site, to see whether there was anything of particular interest; a meeting with Fr. Tom about what I'm working on and about the upcoming issue of the Salesian Bulletin, followed by some e-mail on that last topic re: our proposed lead story.

I had a late morning Mass at the Christian Brothers' nursing home. After lunch, down to some serious editing-proofreading for a reprint of an excellent book on Don Bosco's method of education (see photo). This book originated in Australia in the early 1970s and was reprinted here (twice) without, apparently, much review. I'd never read it. So I started killing the proverbial 2 birds with 1 stone by reading it and proofing it at the same time. That turned out to be more than I'd bargained for: (1) the punctuation and capitalization is very idiosyncratic; (2) it has a few of Australianisms that most U.S. readers wouldn't understand; (3) there are a few errors of fact; (4) while I'm at it, I may as well Americanize the spelling--favour to favor and all that; (5) since it was published a good amount of the material cited has been translated into English, and thus the footnotes should be updated with the English references, and that in turn means updating the actual quotations.

Apart from all that work, the book itself is most satisfying--a very fine study of Don Bosco's method. So I do endorse it enthusiastically!

And I'd better finish the work pretty soon because we have only about 100 copies left in stock.

That work interrupted by 2 other little jobs--a nice break from the computer in mid-afternoon. The first was copyediting the community's calendar for May; the second, proofreading the province's e-newsletter.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Archbishop Dolan Comes to Town

Archbishop Dolan Comes to Town

This afternoon some 300 or 400 diocesan and religious priests gathered at St. Joseph's Seminary for an informal meeting with our new shepherd, Abp. Tim Dolan. It was a little hard for me to estimate how many came since I'd grabbed a seat in the front row (with my camera)--but many of those present remarked on the low attendance.

The archbishop is as friendly as we've been reading in the press, eager to get to know those he calls his "brother priests." And they're responding very positively to him.

He expressed his appreciation for the many people who've made him so very welcome in New York--and he listed a lot of them, some by categories, some by name (e.g., the auxiliary bishops, the chancellor, and others). This meeting was for the presbyterate to get to know him, and vice versa.

He told the priests in some detail what we can expect of him, he named very briefly a long list of challenges the Church faces, and reminded us of the importance of being grounded in Jesus Christ and preaching Jesus Christ.

During his initial remarks he quoted both Don Bosco and St. Francis de Sales: on priesthood and the centrality of Jesus, respectively.

Then he took questions and listened to comments. Those covered such matters as evangelization, planning, Catholic schools, CCD, priests' retreats, worthiness for receiving Holy C0mmunion, the archbishop's availability to his priests.

At the end Archbishop Tim had a private moment with Fr. Benedict Groeschel, with whom he evidently has a well established and respectful relationship.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

An Almost Excellent Hiking Adventure

An Almost Excellent Hiking Adventure
Fr. Jim Mulloy and I went hiking in Catskills Park on Monday-Tuesday, April 13-14. We had intended also to be out there on Wednesday. He'd been to Trout Pond before, so that was where we went on Monday, parking along Russell Brook Rd. (the only car around) and hiking about a mile up a fairly steady slope on a woods road, following a stream the whole way till we came to the pond. It took less than 45 minutes. No signs of spring at all; but otherwise the lake was pretty.

There was a beaver lodge alongside or atop the man-made dam at the south end of the lake and ample signs of beaver activity around the lake.

At the north end are two lean-tos, one maybe 30 yards from the lake and close by the stream that feeds into the lake (and officially 1.4 miles from the parking lot); the other on the northwest corner of the lake and well up the hill. There were even outhouses at the lean-tos. That's never the case in Harriman SP (but it is in the Adirondacks).

We didn't see any other hikers or signs of them; it looked like someone had used at least the first lean-to on the weekend. It was also a bit dirty, so we went to the one up the hill, taking some of the nicely cut firewood with us. Finding firewood certainly wasn't a problem at either lean-to. That's my chore when Fr. Jim and I go out; he fetches the water, which (for you novices out there) involves pumping it thru a filter to purify it so that we won't get all kinds of dire effects from drinking the water. Then I read from Mary Kate's book while he tried to catch some fish with his rod and reel.

He wasn't successful, but I found the book quite engrossing. It's Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. I'd never heard of him before, but I've found out since that quite a few people have, including even my Indian doctor. He writes a lot like Dave Barry, except that he's often serious. This book is about his hiking the Appalachian Trail, which of course is why Mary Kate thought I'd like it. (I've read about 2/3 of it by now.) Each of us also prayed Evening Prayer with my barebones, lightweight photocopy from the breviary.

Eventually as the sun got behind the mountain behind us and clouds moved in, it got a bit chilly. Unusual for him, Fr. Jim got real cold. So I started up the fire. Starting it wasn't hard at all--one match and no accelerant. But keeping it going was a challenge; we figured that was because the bed of ash under the fire was very wet--previous campers had done their job well of dousing their fire. But eventually, with a lot of fanning and one of Fr. Jim's firestarters, it caught well.

While we were struggling with our fire, a couple of guys came down the trail on the other side of the lake in ATVs. They weren't rangers but seemed to be guys maintaining the trail--maybe members of a trail club. They disappeared for 15 minutes or so, then came back up the trail, toting a sign, and went to work briefly taking down some yellow tape that had been across a side trail. And they left with hardly a glance in our direction. They were the only people we saw in 2 days of hiking.

By then, around 6 o'clock, we were getting hungry. I'd packed a little grill for the occasion, so Fr. Jim set that up and put on the sausages he'd brought for our supper. I also started up my Pocket Rocket backpacking stove to heat a little can of string beans (and later heat water for cleaning and tea for Fr. Jim). And we had ourselves a nice little supper washed down with Crystal Lite. Then we bear-bagged our remaining food, hanging it from a tree limb about 12 feet off the ground with the clothesline that I always pack.

Fr. Jim crawled into his sleeping bag to stay warm while I read for a while. When it got too dark, I changed clothes and got into my bag. That was around 8:30. And we settled down for a long nite--longer from me than for Fr. Jim, who slept very well. Anyone with ears could tell! He does snore. I didn't sleep well--not so much because of that racket as because the wood floor was so hard, even with 2 sleeping pads between it and me. So I slept in fits and starts.

We both got up as dawn was breaking over the eastern mountain about 6:30 to visit Mother Nature. I tried to take a photo of the pretty sky over the mountain, but it was so cold that the camera batteries weren't working. (It must have been in the low 30s.) I prayed the Office. And we returned to our snug sleeping bags till about 8:45. Such decadence!

We got up, packed up a little, celebrated Mass, ate breakfast. My experiment of packing 2 eggs that I could scramble with a little olive oil worked quite well. Of course I also had coffee. Fr. Jim eats just a few munchies with tea.

And we hit the outbound trail around 10 o'clock and got back to Russell Brook by 10:30. Downhill required less huffing and puffing from us, of course. On our way in we'd noticed a waterfall to the east of the trail, where a footbridge crossed the brook. We went to investigate and found the ruins of an old bridge (apparently intended for vehicles) and a very pretty fall and pool. Then we returned to our van.

We had several options for where to go next. Of course we could also just have hung out at Trout Pond all day too. We decided to try going to Seager and following a trail down to the Shandanken lean-to. It took us quite some time to drive over the local roads and get up to SRs 30 and 28, for much of that distance driving alongside a large reservoir. We stopped in Margaretville to eat our lunch in a little park (crackers, sardines, cheese, and such, plus water for me and Canada Dry for Fr. Jim). He'd spotted a 99-cent store, so we investigated it. I bought a box of band-aids, mostly because my supply at home was getting low, and he bought a couple of cigarette lighters, which he prefers in camp to my matches.

A short distance farther on 28 brought us to Arcville and then Dry Brook Rd. Dry Brook didn't live up to its name. It was roaring along quite nicely and picturesquely, and the road followed it southward into Ulster County, where it became CR49, with little farms and small homes all along the way and mountains straight in front of us (at least one still with snow on it--it was the north face; in various well shaded spots there was also ice). Several covered bridges crossed the brook, heading to short side roads and various homes and cabins.

Eventually the road became just a one-lane dirt road, and as indicated on the maps it dead-ended 8 or 10 miles south of 28 at the trailhead to the lean-to. (The trail continues up a mountain and connects with another trail along a long ridge that separates the Hudson River basin from the Delaware basin, according to Fr. Jim's map.) Again, no cars there. The register at the trailhead indicated that there were no other hikers out there.

We loaded up our backpacks--mine weighed about 30 pounds, Fr. Jim's somewhat less. The trail followed the brook, very gradually climbing. We crossed little tributaries here and there.

After about a mile we came to a pretty little waterfall with a large, deep-looking pool in front of it. I descended from the trail to the waterside to shoot a couple of photos.Fr. Jim stayed on the trail and crossed another tributary about 3-4 feet wide (coming in a bottom right of photo just above). I worked my way along the brookside to the tributary and then edged along that bank till I came to where a small fir tree blocked the way, maybe 5 feet down from where Fr. Jim had crossed and was waiting for me on the other side. I looked at some large rocks and figured I could cross on them. Fr. Jim advised me not too--they'd be slippery, he said. I sort of tested the first big one with my walking stick. Seemed OK. I stepped onto it with my left foot and (as John Madden would say) BOOM! Down I went in less time than it takes to think about it, slamming my right knee onto the rock and then my left temple. I guess it was fortunate that my eyeglasses were between me and the rock! They broke, one lens popped out, my hat fell off, and there was blood in the water. I grabbed hat, lens, frames, and temple, and struggled to my feet. Fr. Jim very graciously did not say, "I warned you!" Instead, he asked whether I was OK. I must have answered in the negative, as if all the blood didn't make that obvious. (Actually he was much more worried than I was--he could see all that blood without knowing that I seemed to be otherwise intact, and I know that head wounds bleed very scarily.) So I muddled my way to the proper crossing and ascended the bank, and Fr. Jim re-crossed behind me. It was 2:31 p.m. (according to the photos I'd just taken).

I noticed that my camera bag had gotten a little wet, so I took the camera (and cell phone) out of it. Fr. Jim exclaimed, "You're not going to take a picture, are you?" "No," I said, "I just want to keep the camera dry." Later the thought of having him take my picture with blood all over my face like Indian war paint did cross my mind. He kept assuring me of what a sight I was as first I and then he daubed at me with a damp handkerchief, and then he applied anti-bacterial stuff from my first aid kit and one of the band-aids I'd just bought.

Even before I was out of the water I knew we'd have to go right home. Not only were my glasses broken, but we weren't sure I was all right. (The remembrance of Natasha Richardson's recent death was in both our minds.) But with the bleeding mostly stopped and nothing apparently broken other than the glasses, we trudged back to the car. I changed into dry socks and my slippers, and Fr. Jim took the wheel while I chose the homeward route (SR 28 to the Thruway). We drove away at 3:30. En route Fr. Jim said I was still bleeding a little, so I applied more direct pressure with my soggy, bloody handkerchief, and that seemed to do the trick. Then he commented that my cheek was showing some discoloration. "Oh no!" I said (or something like that, maybe not printable in a family blog). "That means some internal damage."

We got home at 6:30 for a nice supper of leftovers after I'd fetched my old glasses from upstairs and told Fr. George that we were home, and why. While upstairs I looked in the mirror: no discoloration under my eye. Later it occurred to me that what Fr. Jim saw as discoloration was bloody residue from my handkerchief. And after supper I iced my right knee--while reading more of A Walk in the Woods!

Well, it was a bummer not to have reached that lean-to and stayed at it. It must be beautifully sited alongside the brook. On the other hand, it rained quite a bit Wednesday, and we'd have had to hike the 2 miles out in the rain, with possible complications crossing all those little tributaries, and drive home in the rain.

Wednesday: a trip to the optician as soon as they opened, and new frames ($40--not bad), same lenses. And a quasi-emergency appointment with my doctor to have him examine my head; as the joke goes, he didn't find anything. He cleaned up the wound--I'd left the original dressing on it lest I restart the bleeding--and glued it shut. Yes, literally glued it shut with what he called Krazy Glue, almost the same as what you buy in the store, except, he said, for the price. And that's still there on my left eyebrow. He also checked my knee, which is tender (still) where it hit the rock and, now, a bit discolored. And he told me about all the Bill Bryson books he's read.

So that was Fr. Jim and Fr. Mike's not-quite-excellent adventure in Catskills Park during Fr. Jim's Easter break!