Sunday, June 24, 2012

Knox Frank, 1978-2012

Knox Frank was a new counselor in 1997, my third summer at camp. Some favorite counselors of mine had not returned from the previous year, and I needed someone new to look up to as I made the eager, awkward transition to an older camper. Knox and his long hair, easy smile, and comfortable generosity made a big impression on me. He exuded Pasquanian ideals, but he also had his own confident style that distinguished him from the mainstream of camp.

Knox was the last word on cool as far as I was concerned. I turned up to camp in 1998 with shoulder-length hair of my own and, finding that we shared another interest – baseball – convinced him to be my battery mate on Riely’s Ruckus (a role he reprised the following summer for the Riled Wildmen). From this most faithful of positions, he guided me with gentle tact. During one crucial game, I remember flying off the handle at a camper who was dancing dangerously far off second base, but a well-timed, silent look from Knox impressed upon me the absurdity of losing my temper. One evening in Mem Hall, I bet that I could get ten strikes past him without giving up a home run. He gamely accepted the challenge, and when he missed a homer on the ninth strike by a foot, I thought I had him. With his powerful chop of a swing, he put the very next pitch into the trees by Court 3. It was around that time that he convinced Sam Madeira and me (Trey Winstead, the fourth in our cadre of longhairs, held out) to cut our locks before reveille on Trustees’ weekend, causing something of an uproar at Showers.

As I grew at camp and school, I began to develop the interest in the relationship between humans and the environment that continues to propel me in my job as a geography teacher. I spent more and more time up at the nature building, which was unusually bustling during those summers. Knox, a forestry major at Sewanee, joined me on several jaunts up the Lane, where we set up a dozen or so plots to compare and record the species composition in areas recently logged by camp with adjacent, still forested land. Undoubtedly there were other campers clamoring for his attention, but he took the time to teach me the rudiments of a systematic, scientific method for grappling with startling changes to the landscape. Now, when I send my seniors into DC to carry out their fieldwork, I am trying to accomplish the same thing.

I haven’t seen Knox since the summer of ’99. It is so easy to fall back into friendships with Pasquanians, and I had been looking forward to catching up with Knox. Another decade or two would have done little to dampen the warmth of the reunion. Now that he is gone I can make no sense of events except to be grateful for what he gave me during those three summers. 

I took these photographs on a First Walk hike up Liberty in 1999. I believe that the boys in the top photo are Phil Harris and Peter Havens, while Knox's companion in the shot below is Allen Potts.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Prospect and Refuge

Shortly after 6:10, I slink out of bed. In the wintertime, the frigid dark envelopes me. This used to be excruciating, but as I get older, I find that I love the quiet. Looking out my third-story window to the east, through the oak tree’s bare branches, a glow lights up the horizon. Sometimes its orange-red-purple spreads across the entire sky, spilling into my apartment and cascading across the white walls of my living room. Other mornings, when cloud cover is limited, the effect of sunrise is bright but local.

Cold subdues the neighborhood; barely a noise, save for an offending dump truck’s weekly excursion along the alley, disturbs the early morning silence. Later, I will hear the grumbles and curses of a couple of the old bums who used to occupy the park at the end of my alley. Lately, I haven’t noticed them – perhaps they’ve gone for good. Traffic rolls along on Park Street, mostly too quiet to catch my attention. Some nights, sirens pierce the air. Though Park only has two lanes, it is an important east-west thoroughfare for the fire trucks stationed a block to the east on Fourteenth Street. My large windows offer a wonderful prospect, but they expose me to the outside. Since few people think to look up, their impact is mostly auditory.

As the weather warms, the neighborhood comes alive. The park, so recently drab and deserted, occupied by gamblers and drunks, is now host to a clutch of children and their parents. It is one of the few spaces in the neighborhood where blacks, Latinos, and whites easily rub shoulders, perhaps because the demand for green space is so high in this neighborhood.

On weekend afternoons, the air pulses with salsa and merengue as the Salvadorans in the opposite apartment building prepare to grill on their balcony. By eleven AM on Saturday, I can smell the lighter fluid on charcoal, and grading is out of the question because the music is so loud.

Once I asked one of my neighbors, who was washing his car in the alley on a Saturday afternoon, to turn down his music. He was drunk and resented my admonishments, and he mistook me for one of the self-styled anarchists who live down the block, squatting in an abandoned carriage house. Their band practices fairly often, and sometimes they go so late that the neighbors call the police. Guests at their parties noisily gossip while they smoke cigarettes in the alley, just below my window, but their comings and goings keep the place safe.