There's a cactus at the apex of the small triangular garden on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, where the bike and pedestrian paths converge. I must have walked past it a hundred times before a friend, who has a degree in botany, pointed it out to me a couple of years ago. Whenever I walk past it I steeple my palms, bow my head slightly, and say "Namaste". The photo above shows the cactus on August 24, 2010.
Here it is last December 17, after some freezing weather.
On New Year's Day it was buried in snow.
On January 29, the snow was even deeper.
By March 19, the snow had melted, but the cactus showed little life.
By April 25, the cactus was showing signs of recovery.
I narrowly missed being that rara avis for my generation, a native Floridian, when the U.S. Army closed its hospital in Tallahassee, shortly before my mother’s due date. She went home, and I was born in a city renowned in Vaudeville humor: Altoona, Pennsylvania. In that chilly March of 1946, the first sound to reach my infant ears from outside the hospital walls was likely the shriek of a steam locomotive’s whistle. This could explain my lifelong love of trains. Four surface crossings of the Atlantic in childhood also led to fascination with ships and the sea.
My father was in the military, so our family (I was an only child) went from place to place often in my early years. I was in England from the ages of five to eight (the first newspaper headline I recall reading is “KING DIES”; the King in question being George VI, father of Elizabeth II) and began my formal education in a rural county council (what we call “public”) school, where I probably escaped having my bottom caned only because the headmistress feared creating an international incident. Other places where I lived while growing up were Miami, San Antonio, Cheyenne, the Florida panhandle and Tampa.
I graduated from the University of South Florida (B.A., 1967) and Harvard Law School (J.D., 1970). After that, apart from two years' duty in the U.S. Army, I practiced law in New York City. I worked in law firms and as in-house counsel, and served on the boards of directors of an insurer and a reinsurer. On a volunteer basis I now write for Brooklyn Heights Blog and the Brooklyn Bugle, and also publish my own blog, Self-Absorbed Boomer, which has been described as "relentlessly eclectic." In 1991, I married Martha Foley, an historian and archivist. We live in Brooklyn Heights. Our daughter, Elizabeth Cordelia Scales, also lives in Brooklyn.