In Memoriam: Steve Caldwell 1941-2009


click on picture for full-size image

more pictures from 2008 and 2000

quotes from a correspondance:

July 15 2002

I’m in the process of preparing to sell my rather nice
first-edition collection, regretfully but to the immense relief of my
heirs, I think.  It sits today in the dining room here, in 100 cardboard
boxes, each numbered, so I can’t even see the books, but it wouldn’t
surprise me if we’re in a bit of a bubble in firsts, which the popping
of the stock-market bubble could in turn pop.  I plan to sell to offset
my considerable marketing losses and hope it will assure I can stay on
here indefinitely without counting on an inheritance–a good idea, since
my mother may indeed be immortal, unlikely as that seems.  As may I.
But neither’s a very good bet.

December 24 2002

We’re a mess, but life is, and fortunately not just a mess.

March 8 2003

The war does seem all but inevitable.  Bush may have been right about its
necessity, but his lead-up has been a travesty.  It would arguably be
necessary (if you accept any rationale for war) if the war was to serve the
purposes of the U.N., which likely needs teeth to work well, but Bush from
the start has seemed to be intent on undermining the U.N., now seems likely
to go to war when the U.N. attempts to forbid him.  The NYT columnists have
been excellent from the start, Krugman best and Friedman, except that he
obviously would applaud an attempt at a just war to establish a moderate
Iraqi democracy (as though that was doable and as though a democracy has any
way of forcing its electorate to be moderate), very good.   But whether X
might wage a wise war, Bush seems very unlikely to, seems to be bent on
isolating the U.S. and assuring us a semi-permanent terroristic opposition.
He can win the war but the peace we’ve reason to think he’ll butcher.

…Mom uses my experience a lot, my early radical dependence on others in
effect pioneer work for her and you of my generation.  There are just more
and more things she can’t do, and she’s very good, or seems to be, at
focusing on what she can.  Also, at 91, she can’t help but wonder now and
then, as she did one day all day this week, whether a temporary aberration
won’t prove permanent, a wonder I’ve known myself now and again.

June 29 2003

Birding is what I do these days.  The lowest form of birder is a counter, which is what I am.  I love to accumulate day-, month-, and year-lists.  We are odd beasts.  This has been my best Northcountry bird year yet, my list having reached 128 as of today with the sighting of a common gallinule, aka common moorhen in a wetlands that stretches for a mile or so behind houses I pass on my way to my favorite swamp.  The past two years I’ve been listening for and not hearing rails and bitterns and not seeing marsh wrens, not to mention moorhens, which range maps show should breed here.  The end of May I found a cattail swamp 4 1/2 miles from here that the road bisects so I can position myself smack dab in its midst.  And in this swamp, I’ve heard American Bittern, Least Bittern (I think, once), Virginia Rail, and Sora, which is also a rail, and seen and heard a number of marsh wren.  Unfortuinately the bitterns and rails have already gone pretty much silent–singing an aspect of breeding, so when breeding is done, most singing stops.  Still, though today’s moorhen was in a different swamp, on the way to my favorite, my visits there continue rewarding.

July 5 2005

I donated more than half my land to a local conservancy last year, and the donated 86 acres include a large cat-tail swamp that extends to Butterfield and provides the Conservancy, which owns that shoreline, with the sort of buffer that ecologists consider ideal for lakefront.  I was accompanied by an expert birder on the lake and, as usual, learned a bunch, as well as seeing two species I’d not seen here before.  One was a young Peregrine Falcon which particularly excited him.  There are 50+ foot cliff along the shore that look like perfect Peregrine habitat but hasn’t been for many decades, and he had hopes for next year.

On that outing, the first, the birding drama was equaled, at least for the others, with some drama debarking.  As I backed off the boat to the dock, the boat, untied, drifted away from the dock, and there we were with the bar under by wheelchair handles on the dock, my legrests in the boat, and my wheels in the water.  My birder friend, a regionally famous clutz, stayed out of the way while the guy behind me on the dock and two guys in the boat tried unsuccessfully to wrestle the chair either backward or forward.  They were all 50ish and it was a miracle none had a coronary.  After ten minutes or so I said I thought someone would have to get in the lake, but the response to what I thought an eminently reasonable, even necessary, suggestion was that we didn’t know how deep it was.  Could any of them swim?  I don’t know.

I next had them wrestle me out of the chair and lay me on the dock, which they did, and ten minutes later I interrupted them again and had my wheelchair cushion slipped under my hips to preserve my delicate skin.  Finally, they heaved the chair to the dock and got me back in it, but when I tried to drive it, the right back wheel merely spun.  It was tilted, too.  Bad.

But the ending was happy.  I was driven home, eventually, unhurt, and,since it was Friday night before Memorial Day, I had no power in the chair till Tuesday, but in the meantime I was able to sit in the chair at a table, and the damage was fixable.  Had my chair handles not stayed on the dock I’d have been tipped out the back of the chair into the water and, especially given my companions, would have been at serious risk of–well, how deep was the water?  And would the chair have followed me to the bottom?  So cross off another of my 99 lives.  As the rescue was being attempted Gerry the birder stumbled and almost fell out of the boat but regained his balance, a regionally-recognized but not world-class clutz.  He wore a life vest for our second outing.

October 21 2005

My best two hours today were definitely the ones in which I was rewriting Chapters 9 and 10. My writing hasn’t changed many lives but it’s sure enhanced mine. There have been times that nothing else I can do offers me surcease of discontent. I’m lurking (not wallowing, just lurking) in those environs now, so it’s wonderful I have it to absorb me.

December 19 2005

The Ethicist is a weekly feature in the NYT Magazine.  Every week Randy Cohen (the ethicist) prints two letters describing ethical dilemmas with his answers to them and, often, an update, reporting what the letter writer eventually did and what happened. I wrote him December 8:

Dear New York Times Ethicist

I am a writer who has failed to find a publisher. I’ve finished two more or less non-fiction novels, each autobiographical, the earlier in the third person, the latter in the first. I’m also a quadriplegic. I’m now posting the earlier novel serially on a spinal-cord-injury (SCI) website message board and intend to follow up by posting the second. The central character and some others appear in both books.

My ethical dilemma is whether I should self-censor and not post the second book. Scar tissue in the spinal cord causes not only paralysis and incontinence but also ends normal sensation in those areas served by the part of the spinal cord that is below the break, including genital sensation. To understate, this has profound sexual implications. During my mis-spent youth (my forties) I discovered that when using cocaine and marijuana I had extraordinary genital sensation. Worse (“worse” because a “good reason” to do coke is dangerous), five years after the initial discovery, I discovered masturbation, masturbation not a common pastime, I think, for quads. I gleefully and exhaustively indulged, knowing the seriousness of my endeavor comical and my sense that I must write about it comical and fraught. But write about it I did, and now, some fifteen years after my romantic liaison with me ended, I find myself with a book I quite like, even admire, and want to have read. I do not, however, want to induce other quadriplegics and paraplegics blithely to do as I have done. Should I risk it?

He responded December 9:

Your obligation as a writer is to tell the truth as best you can not to reform the character of your readers.  As Oscar Wilde wrote. there are no moral and immoral books, only good and bad books.  And in any case, as most writers can tell you to their desapir, there is little chance that your book will change much of anything, even your bank account.

February 8 2006

How’s your cold coming? I’ve been blessedly spared again this winter, am on a long cold-free run. Which is good, since mine tend to morph into pneumonia. I’ll be watching out for Eastern Bluebird in a month though am likely to have to wait a week or more longer than that before actually seeing one. The first spring arrival, the one I consider definitive, is woodcock. It has a mating call it gives at dusk that sounds like a back-door buzzer, and hearing it I know it’s really about to be spring–just as its absence, beginning about June 1st, marks the beginning of the end of bird-call season. By August, the birds will be almost silent. But hey, right now the singing’s heading this way, and I’m ready for it.

May 13 2006

May and June the heaviest birding months so I’m on the road hours daily. I got new batteries last week and did 17 1/2 miles the next day, had been limited to ten to twelve on the old batteries. I had a blow-out .8 of a mile from home a few days ago but since I’d been dropped off 6 miles from home that was lucky. I was able to get within .3 of a mile on my own because the road was ascending or flat, but the chair was essentially unsteerable and unstoppable going down hill so I had to wait for assistance. The guy who gave it is almost a full generation older than us and has heart trouble. He survived, but I’m not sure his wife was amused.

December 30 2008

I’ve decided bothering old friends one at a time and waiting to be discovered by Knopf and Farrar, Straus, whoops, time goes by, Random House and Macmillan, may not be the best way to get read and have begun posting my finished work online at My intention is (probably very gradually) to add to the material on the website, which now comprises links to both my novels, which have already been online for a while at; one quite short short story (“Intimacy”) and six very short short stories, all seven written in the past year and a half; two small pictures of me, one from 1963 and one circa 2005; two short biographical notes; a few links; and a contact option that merely forwards email to the same address reached by hitting Reply to this note. Several of you have never before even received an email from me, but one way or another your address has found its way into my address book (I’ve probably thought of emailing you and then surrendered to what seemed at the time my better judgment; chickened out?)–but after spending the past hour figuring out how to send everyone in my address book the same email better judgment be damned, I’m not bothering to cull the list.

I hope you have a better 2009 than you had a 2008, even if you had a very good 2008.

Leave a Reply