Monday, December 25, 2006

Hope is Born Again



I wasn’t going to make a Christmas entry this year.  I’ve been remiss in my Journal entries as it is and in many ways its been tough to capture the holiday spirit, so I’d decided to let things go and try to start fresh again in January.


This past year has been difficult on many levels, and while I enjoyed shopping for special ones in my life, most other aspects of holiday planning were much more chore than delight for the first time in almost as long as I can remember.  So I went to dad’s tonight with more a sense of obligation than anticipation.  The early part of the evening did nothing to dispel my mood – he was difficult and frustrating and I was reminded once again that my role is now so much more that of parent to him than child.  And when we arrived at church for the candlelight service, it seemed the remainder of the evening would only hold more of the same.


But then the carols started and I found my voice, joining in the celebration of the season and allowing myself to be reminded once more of what Christmas is truly about.  And a sense of hope – one missing for too long now – began to creep back in, a warm feeling that was instantly familiar and welcome once more.


Now please do not think that I do not know that my life is blessed – more than many if not most, and far more than I deserve.  There are people in my life who love me, and without whose strength and support I would find it close to impossible to face some days – and for that I am and will be eternally grateful.  Yet there have still been days of self-doubt and darkness, of questioning and of concern for what the future may hold that also take their toll sometimes.


Christmas is always a difficult time of year for me anyway – because it was my mother’s favorite holiday and because therefore most memories have a bittersweet tinge to them.  But tonight the opposite was true.  As the lights dimmed and the candles were lit in the quiet sanctuary, as Silent Night began softly and wafted through the congregation as if borne on the tip of each flickering light, gaining strength from each new flame, the darkness began to slip away.  My voice wavered and the tears began to flow - and hope grew anew.


Late tonight, I walked in the quiet of the moonlight – and my heart was very full.  There was a spring to my step and light in my soul – gifts beyond measure that helped me once again to savor each word shared with those important in my life, to treasure each small gift of kindness and to cherish each star in the sky.


I know that there will be more dark days – they are an inevitable part of life.  But for tonight, hope is born again – as far away as in a distant manger, but also as close as the beating of my heart. And what better way to start another Christmas day?




To those in my life who give reason and purpose to my days – thank you.  To friends and acquaintances – thank you.  To anyone who may happen upon these words – thank you.  No matter how you celebrate, may your holiday season bring hope to your own lives – and may each new candle lit bring fresh light to your soul.  Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Simple Thanks


Its been almost two months since I’ve written here – and I have no idea whether anyone will read these words.  But I have always written in this Journal what my heart directs me to say.  Whether it is read or not is secondary, but I do hope that at least a few will see.


When I began this Journal, I had no expectations or plans for it.  It was a way to record events in my life that I wished to remember – special places, people and events that touched my life and that I wanted to retain.  But in ways that still amaze and impress me, others found me and read my words – some anonymously but, to my amazement and gratitude, several who took the time to leave a kind word or a note of encouragement.


And that’s the subject of this entry – in keeping with the day and in prelude to my favorite time of the year:  Simple Thanks.


There are those who have read and commented here who live in places where today is but another Thursday in a long line of Thursdays, but it matters not whether you celebrate Thanksgiving today or not.  Because Thanksgiving, like most holidays, is really just a codified time to allow us to stop and reflect, to remember the things and the blessings and the people in our lives who have touched us in a positive way – regardless of whether it was within the hour or decades ago.


Soto those of you I truly know – thank you.  For those of you who have shared a thought or expressed a kindness – thank you.  For those who may read but leave no footprints behind – thank you.  You have all made this experience far richer for me than I could have dreamed, and for each and every one of you I am grateful.


And whether this is a holiday of note or just another Thursday to you, my wish is the same:  may you share and appreciate time with those you hold dear, may you remember those who have gone before, may your smiles be many and may happiness fill your heart.  Thank you.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Keeping the Glow Alive - Part 2




(The picture above is not meant to impress.  In fact, it’s a retread from a journal entry I made in early January.  Its meant to invoke a feeling that I referenced in that entry – a feeling I experienced today.)




I had a particularly vexing day today.  A home project I have been working on all week – one that I thought was finally complete when I went to bed last night – managed to find a way to take up my entire day today as well.  Gone were the plans I had carefully laid, cast unceremoniously aside by the whims of the project that would not die.


As each additional step in the laborious process consumed twice and three times the amount of time I thought it should and the sun literally set on the rest of my plans, I finally reached the absolute final step.


There’s something about vacuuming that I loathe. Cleaning bathrooms, laundry, dusting - even windows – I don’t mind as much as dragging the old Kirby around the floors.  Its not particularly difficult or time-consuming, but its my least favorite of household chores – and somehow it seemed fitting that the final step happened to be the thorough vacuuming of the Great Room carpet.


My mood was foul and each pass of the sweeper seemed a mockery of my skills and planning abilities.  And then, as I stooped to lift the ember-resistant rug before the hearth, I saw it.  It was peeking out from the corner of the bottom of the fireplace screen – a place I’ve seen dozens of times in the last months.  But today was the day it chose to make its appearance – and I had to shut off the vacuum and simply smile.


Last January, as I waxed wistfully in this journal over the end of the Christmas season, I pondered whether we pack the spirit of that season away with the decorations – only bringing it back out for a limited time each year. I hoped that we would find ways in our hearts, once the normal rhythms of everyday life had returned, to keep the peace and the love of the season alive.   I closed the entry by noting that pine needles have a way of turning up at unexpected times no matter how thorough our efforts to remove every one of them – and hoped that at unexpected times during the year we would find a pine needle, and let it take us back to the special peace of the season.


And that’s what I found today.  At a time when I was feeling charitable toward few and anger at unspecified gremlins for wasting my day, a tiny, light green and brittle pine needle took me back to the tree and the light and the magic – and my day improved dramatically from there. 


When YOU need it most – I wish you a pine needle of your own.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Dance of the squirrels




I was running late this morning, trying to get out the door to dive into the day’s requirements.  I walked into the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee to go, popped it into the microwave to get it good and piping hot and then turned around – and instantly smiled widely.


The deck wraps around the corner of the kitchen and a flurry of activity caught my eye through the sliding glass doors.  Four young squirrels, filled with the carefree exuberance of youth, were scurrying madly up and down the White Oak that sits inches from the deck rail – and using it as a launching pad to hop to the deck and then back again.  They chased each other up and down and around the tree, sometimes moving so fast that they literally ran over the top of each other in their eagerness to reach some imaginary and endlessly changing goal.


At about this time, the microwave sounded the end of its cycle – and I was faced with a decision:  grab the coffee and run to the car to stay on schedule or let the pace of life wait a bit while I retrieved the camera and tried to record the frenetic activity of those new to this life and eager to explore all it has to offer.  In a heartbeat, I set the coffee down and ran for the camera.


For the next 15 or so minutes, I sat on the deck and quietly enjoyed the tireless play of these athletic creatures - capturing what images I could in the split seconds that they were anything less than a light brown blur.  Of hundreds of missed shots, a few – amazingly – caught a moment in time to illustrate the glorious spectacle they played out for me, and two of those images are shared with you here.


When they finally scampered up the tree for good, I set the camera aside, grabbed the coffee cup and hurried out the door.  Would I encounter a more harried pace and additional traffic for my dalliance with nature?  Yes.  If I had the choice to make again, would I do anything differently?  Not on your life.


Life constantly presents us with choices – some large, but most small and seemingly insignificant.  And at the end of the day, the choices we make in each of these instances makes the difference between living our lives and having a life.  Sometimes we simply must budget our time according to the schedules of others and the rhythms of the day, but oftentimes we are not really quite as busy as we tell ourselves we are.  In those moments, when you are faced with a choice to adhere to the timetable or to stop and watch the squirrels I hope that you stop and let some carefree joy delight your eye and fill your soul – for your day and your life will be just a little bit brighter if you do.





On an unrelated, but very pleasant note: Greg Kiser, a professional photographer in North Carolina has chosen to do a spotlight article on your humble correspondent in his Journal Photo Trek  Take a few moments to visit if you can – and check out the truly wonderful photographs that Greg posts there and on his web site.  Sincere thanks to Greg for his encouraging words and his generosity of spirit – THANK YOU!






Thursday, August 31, 2006

Nature's Circus Comes to Town




(The image above is but one small aspect of the story to follow, but try if you will to let your mind fill the rest of the picture.  And if it does, I dare you not to smile!)



As I lay in half slumber this morning, not yet fully awake yet no longer asleep, I became aware of an angry droning sound originating just outside the bedroom window.  As my mind slowly focused, it appeared that a swarm of hornets had somehow settled upon the front porch – and my curiosity was such that it was enough to draw me from the warm bed toward the cool air of early morning flowing through the window.


I slowly crept forward and crouched low before the bow window so as not to disturb whatever was making such a racket.  Upon first glance, there was nothing particularly out of the ordinary.  There were three tiny, immature brown birds with the general shape and beak configuration of nuthatches sitting in the burning bush just outside the window and a pair of titmice nearby – yet the noise continued unabated.


But as I watched, those three tiny birds began to busily hop from branch to ground to porch to brick arch and back again – mouths wide open as they moved in rapid and apparently random fashion.  And from this trio of less-than-fist-sized wonders  all of that noise was originating.


I watched in fascination as they fluttered and bounced from perch to perch, uttering their most unpleasant cries continually.  What their mission was I can only imagine, but it seemed that their cacophonous ruckus had woken more than just me. For as I looked, it appeared that all of nature had suddenly descended upon my vista:


A chipmunk jumped upon the woodpile and began loudly proclaiming himself its king as he perched upon hind legs and began the continuous clucking sound that requires such force that it shakes his entire small frame with each outburst.  In the woods to the right, I could see two squirrels chasing each other noisily and effortlessly as they zipped from branch to branch and tree to tree.  Further in the distance, the red-tailed hawk’s piercing cry echoed over the treetops.


There were silent visitors as well.  As the eye became more keen and the clutter of life dropped away and allowed the eye to truly see,  the lazy path of the bumblebee came into sharp focus.  To its left, a butterfly gracefully fluttered from marigold to marigold – resting and preening for a moment and gathering the morning sun upon her wide-spread wings before moving further into the yard.  A flash of bright green zipped by and then materialized as a hummingbird, hovering as if frozen in time by the feeder – and then gone again in an instant.  And below the feeder, the tiny toad who lives in the impatiens bed crept back to the safety of his home.


And then, in what seemed the blink of an eye, there was silence - and all the activity, all the commotion, all the glorious clatter was gone.  There was no movement save for the lazy dance of the leaves in a gentle breeze, no sound but the low rumble of cars from the road behind the house, and an occasional solitary cry from a distant chickadee. 


The show had packed its tent and moved on – but it would be back, in endlessly changing configurations.  And what a show it had been.


Friday, August 11, 2006





(The photo above is from a recent Tall Ships festival.  There are more images from that event and some other miscellaneous sailing images in the album in the right column).




For someone who doesn’t swim well and who has never owned a boat or known someone well who has, its interesting that - as I look back on life -  some of the memories that stand out the strongest are all linked to being out on the water. 


Moonlight shimmering in a silver path over gentle seas to the exact spot on the ship’s rail where I stand.  Awakening in my blanket on a cool teak deck to see a billowing white sail catching the breeze directly above my head – the ship’s cat nestled snugly at my feet.  Quiet moments in contemplation as pungent salt air fills my lungs and cleanses my soul.  Watching from the balcony as green forest along the banks slowly transforms into the breathtaking dunes of the high desert.  Hoisting the sails at sunset as the ethereal sound of bagpipes signal both departure and hope for the new dawn. 


Each memory – some now more than 20 years past – deeply engrained to the point where I can taste the remnants of a tang upon my lips if I close my eyes long and tight enough.


Sometimes when life seeks to overwhelm, those are my favorite memories to evoke – for rarely have I felt as free and easy as when the sea breeze is in my face.   As I write this, I am there once again, hoping for that same healing strength to descend once more.


We all need that special place to which to escape now and then.  I sincerely hope that yours is as pleasant as mine.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Words to live by




The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives. - Albert Einstein, physicist, Nobel laureate (1879-1955)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Personal Fireworks


As any of you who have stopped here before are aware, I usually try to build my entries around one of my photos or to take one to match the topic. In this particular instance, however,  I was unable to capture the image.  No combination of shutter speed, aperture and sensor sensitivity could duplicate what the eye so readily sees, so I will simply try to paint the picture in words – in hopes that your mind’s eye will see the beauty and feel the awe, as imagination creates what the camera cannot.



My last entry touched on the topic of celebrations and included pictures of fireworks from the Fourth.  Those photos were actually taken during a local community celebration the weekend before, so that on the night of the Holiday I was home.  As the sky darkened at the end of the day, the air became alive with the sound of celebratory explosions from surrounding towns and I wandered onto the deck to absorb the joyous cacophony.


At first, my attention was drawn above the treeline, as the sky lit randomly from the distant explosions – much as lightning will illuminate the clouds from great distance.  But as my eyes adjusted, my vision shifted to the valley below – and a sight that is my recurring favorite memory of summer since moving here, and which will always conjure awe and joy in my soul no matter how many times I am blessed to witness it.


The air was still and warm as the night became alive before me.  For in the trees and all around me – some near enough to touch, some far away – glowed hundreds, seemingly thousands, of fireflies.  Their tiny lanterns beamed for an instant, always replaced by the glow of another in a new location – and my mind linked the tiny lights before me with the explosions reporting in the air to create a July Fourth spectacle for my eyes and ears alone. 


Minutes passed and the thunderous echoes slowed and died as grand finales faded, yet the light show before and around me continued in mute silence – to my mind becoming all the more beautiful and poignant.  Sometimes the sheer spectacle of an event is so overwhelming that the combination of sight and sound and feel crowds out the ability to think – and when the sounds slowly dissolved into the silence of a summer night, the light itself and the quiet wonder of nature it represented was permitted its opportunity to permeate and become fixed to the soul.  Mesmerized, I not only saw, but felt each pulse of light – and the celebration moved from the external to deep within.


I neither know nor care the duration of my experience, but I know that my heart was at peace when I returned inside – a personal gift beyond price.  Whether it originates in a smile from a stranger, the laughter of a child,  the comforting hand of a friend – or the simple glow of a firefly – I hope that same peace fills your heart, soon and often.

Saturday, July 1, 2006




(More fireworks pics in the album in the right column)

It seems the Spring and early Summer carry the majority of the year’s celebrations.   Beginning with Easter and following almost every two weeks like clockwork, there seems always a reason to celebrate:  Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day and now Independence Day – with Flag Day thrown in for good measure.  While some of the dates are fixed in history, perhaps it’s the changing of the seasons and the return to ‘outdoor times’ for much of the nation that provides the timing of some of the major ‘non-official’ holidays.  But regardless of the reason, an opportunity to gather with friends and those we love is still a gift to be cherished and enjoyed to the fullest.


But between these scheduled occasions, we should always be on the lookout for smaller, more personal reasons to celebrate – and to take the time to give them the recognition they deserve as well.  A new job, a passed exam, good news from the doctor all deserve to be recognized – if not perhaps with a gathering and a feast, then at least with a toast and a smile or a moment taken to write or call.


And then there are the celebrations of a more personal nature – the kind that can pass us by completely if we do not take the time to see and feel and appreciate.  The laughter of children in the park, an unexpected call from an old friend, a beautiful blue sky, a glimpse of a newborn fawn taking its first tentative steps, a remembered moment that touches the heart.  When we are busy, these moments can pass us by in an instant – and we, caught up in the latest crisis or drama or scheduled activity, can continue blissfully and hurriedly on our way, none the wiser.


But life is made up of countless such moments – so many more than those celebrations rigidly fixed on the calendar.  And the more of them we allow to pass us by, the poorer our lives become – small bit by small bit.


So gather together in these coming days.  Have picnics and share fireworks and squeeze your loved ones tightly to you.  But before - and after – take a moment to slow down every once in awhile.  Don’t just run from the house to the car to the store and back, but smell the freshly mown grass,  hear the individual sounds of chirping birds, delight in the exuberance of youth where you encounter it, look up at the sky.  These are celebrations we all can find – no matter location or circumstance – and each small celebration will ultimately shape who we are and the face we present to the world.  How many times will you celebrate today?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Lessons and Blessings



In my very first entry in this Journal I wrote something to the effect that I have been blessed in many ways – including some that many might not consider blessings.  At the time, I left it at that and alluded to a possible future entry to explain.  Perhaps Father’s Day lends itself to such an occasion.


The gentleman appearing at the top of this entry is my dad.  He will be 85 this year and I think you can see the life and light in his eyes from this photo taken on his birthday last year.


What isn’t evident from the picture or his demeanor was that the picture was taken at a nursing home and it was his first full day there, following hospital rehab for injuries from a fall at his home.  It was his third time in the nursing facility for rehab since his stroke almost three years ago.


Dad was always an impatient man.  He moved quickly and expected everyone else to keep up with him.  He had the energy of 6 younger men it seemed – mowing his own lawn or shoveling his own snow – and that of two or three neighbors for good measure – golfing at least twice a week and driving anywhere and everywhere.  And then his stroke took away the use of most of his left leg and hand, slurred his speech and affected his ability to swallow – and now all of the things that came so easily and quickly take painfully long periods of time to accomplish,  and then imperfectly.


To watch this proud man become dependent on others for the basics in life has been painful, and to watch him grow weaker over time yet still fight to live in his own home (with assistance) has torn at my heart on so many levels and in a thousand different ways.  I watch him grow weary of life, and - sometimes - I grow weary for him and with him.


But this message is about blessings – and that is what I consider my dad and every moment we have left to share.  Each day, this strong, quiet man teaches me lessons about life and patience.  He fights not to give in to his limitations, yet demonstrates a sense of grace in handling them.  The frustration shows sometimes, but he rarely complains – and each night he says his prayers and asks more for help to others in need than anything for himself.  I know there are quiet times when he wishes this burden will be taken from him, but his grip is still strong and purposeful, there is still a look of steel on his face when he needs to dig deep to do something most of us would take for granted – and there is still that light in his eyes.



Our parents continue to teach us long after we’ve grown.  The lessons themselves and the method of instruction may change, but we should always be wise enough to stop and listen – for we still and will always have much to learn, and the teachers, and the blessings of what they teach, will not always be physically with us.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Life from life



Last fall I wrote here of the loss of a different kind of friend – the tree outside my bedroom window that always helped me greet each new day.  She is now split and stacked and protected from the elements under the deck, seasoning so that she can warm me one final time this coming season.


In her place last fall, I planted a new tree – small and spindly by comparison to be sure, but a reminder of she who once stood so proudly and a reminder that life goes on despite loss.  I rushed against the changing seasons to prepare the site, chose her carefully and planted her straight and tall in the sloping ground.  I fed her roots to help them unfurl and grasp her new home firmly, provided a stake to which she was lovingly secured to fortify her against the January winds and driving snow – and then watched anxiously during days of bitter cold and howling wind in hopes I’d done enough to help her start her new life safely.


As the days grew longer and the temperatures more mild, I checked every day for signs of life – gauging what I’d been told of her growth patterns against those of other trees in the yard.  And then one day, in the soft glimmer of a cool morning sun, I saw an unmistakable bud and – the closer I looked – more and more of them.  In the unseasonably warm Spring, the buds grew quickly – filling every branch with burgeoning life that grew larger and stronger with each day.





One morning, the air was filled with a rich, sweet fragrance.  Fuchsia blossoms that had delicately sprung forth overnight quivered in the breeze - and a bumble bee already busied himself, drawing sweet nectar from the tiny trumpets even as they began to open.  Birds chirped in approval nearby – perhaps planning a few years down the road when these same branches would be strong and sheltering enough to protect the births and first tentative flights of their great-grandchildren.




Now the blossoms are gone – replaced by shining, healthy leaves that reach eagerly toward the sky, seeking the nourishment of the sun and capturing the gentle rain for her roots to drink.  I visit her almost daily, both to ensure that she is appropriately nourished and to proudly watch her grow.


On the roadway behind the house and down the hill, the hustle and bustle of life and commerce continues - unabated and uninterested by this quiet microcosm of all that is good and right and full of light and new life – and all too soon it comes time to go back inside and deal with the issues of the day.  But each morning from now on, the space once occupied by my beloved friend will not seem quite so empty anymore, for she who now stands in her place will draw strength from the same soil and carry on her legacy - and the world will seem a little brighter place as a result.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Lighter than air




My last few entries have been a bit on the heavy side (some might say ‘preachy’, although you’re all too kind to say so), so I thought I’d lighten things up a bit with this entry and simply share a few photos from a hot air balloon festival I attended the weekend before last.  Some additional pics from the event are located in the album posted in the right column.


As your week begins, I hope your spirits soar in gentle breezes, that clouds are few and that sunshine brightens your days……





Friday, May 26, 2006

A time to reflect




Memorial Day approaches – a holiday left relatively unsullied by commercialism and which still holds much of its original intent.  And amidst the picnics and family gatherings and working in the garden I hope you’ll take a moment to remember those who have served and who still serve this great country – and no matter your politics, offer your thanks in your own way for the freedoms they secured and help to preserve for us all.





But also at this time of reflection, I like to take the time to look at life and upon the journey so far.


I love the picture above.  Its far from one of my best and I hope one day to capture that image the way I see it in my mind’s eye, but it speaks to me in many ways and – if you’ll permit – I’ll share a few of those with you.


The view is at the entrance to a National Park, less than 10 minutes from home.  It doesn’t take one’s breath away or make one feel infinitesimally small in the scheme of the universe like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, but it is filled with nature and life and small pleasures at every turn and I love to visit and walk and learn and ponder.  And my favorite time of day to visit is when the light is right to cast this reflection.


To me, reflections are a metaphor for life – a yin and a yang, what is and what might be, the real and the imagined.  Sometimes the reflection is almost an exact mirror image of the reality, and virtually indistinguishable from it – re-affirming where we are and where we want to be.  Other times the reflection is slightly off-focus – a hazy dream that helps us to see and feel and imagine in a new and different way.  Sometimes the reflection is blurred almost to the point of being unrecognizable, perhaps reminding us of where we’ve lost our way and when a course correction may be in order.  And most disconcerting is when we confuse the reflection for the reality – and find that we are traveling a path that is upside down and backwards from what we intended.


None of the above viewpoints is really better or worse than the others.  Some make us feel good while others make us question – but all can make us think.  And when we think, we learn – and when we learn, we grow.


The next time you see a reflection – be it a graceful arch duplicated in shimmering water or a mirror’s honest view of the face you present to the world – take a look at what that reflection tells you about yourself and your life, where you are and where you wish to be – and then, perhaps, dare to plan the course ahead.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A different sort of Mother's Day



I realize that this entry is less then timely, but I had not intended to write about a day where I felt no right to intrude.  Instead, I offered silent thoughts and prayers and thanks to the spirits of my mother and grandmother and sent private wishes to friends.


But this past week, my path has been crossed by the celebration of new life too many times to ignore - and there must have been a reason that my camera was nearby in each instance.


It began early in the week.  It had been raining for what seemed an eternity and my mood and my outlook matched the cool and unrelenting grey of the sky.  Everything I touched seemed to crumble in my hands and I was feeling incapable of accomplishing anything positive.  And then I looked up and glanced out the window.  Not ten feet away – on the fringe of the treeline that separates my small slice of heaven from civilization -was a new mother deer, resting upon the cool grass and watching over her two baby fawns.  They could not have been two days old – perhaps born on Mother’s Day itself - tiny and wobbly on the spindliest of legs, portions of their fur a bit matted, perhaps still from birth. 


In quiet awe, I watched from the window as she tended to them endlessly, fretting over tiny details and always casting a watchful eye when one tried to stumble about, tentatively exploring this strange and wonderful new world.  Be it love or instinct or a combination of the two, she was as doting a young mother as any being released from the hospital that day with her own bundle of new life cradled safely in her arms.






Next came the opportunity to watch the preparation for life, as a quiet and patient – but ever watchful – mother robin sat proudly upon her nest, awaiting the new adventure soon to begin.  I sat quietly, carefully observing as she positioned and repositioned herself just so in order to warm and protect what will soon be her young.  Each quick movement or unusual sound caught her attention, and it was evident that she wished to fly from her perch to safety in the nearby woods on many occasions.  But the instinct was strong and she stayed her ground in each case, knowing that young lives depended upon her warmth in order for them to enter this world.






Finally, as the week drew near its close came the final indelible image – and the decision to add this entry.  I was near the mouth of a major river channel, where powerful pleasure craft jockeyed for position with 1000 foot long ore carriers to be the first to reach open water - tall buildings and massive lift bridges framing the scene.  Yet over the drone of the massive ship’s engines and even over the soul-rattling sound of the ship’s air horn and the bridge’s warning bells could be heard a much smaller but insistent sound that forced one to turn and observe.  Over the crest and then down a small grassy hill near the edge of the water came a no-nonsense Canada Goose, herding three small goslings.  Noisily, she called and scolded and prodded her seemingly reluctant offspring to stay together and continue moving in the direction she had set – and obediently and a bit dazedly they complied.  Along the narrow walkway they proceeded – and all the people in her path wordlessly parted and cleared the way.  As the sidewalk faded to gravel and then to rocks leading down to the water, she led her babies in – and a small crowd gathered silently to watch this tiny family make its way to its next destination, mom leading fearlessly - her head held high.






In all the world,there is no love quite so pure as a mother’s love.  Albeit belatedly:  to all who have blessed this world with children - tended them, taught them, nurtured them and loved them, thank you - and God bless you.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Something Strange (and Wonderful)


(This concludes a series of entries described in ‘Something I’ve Made’, which appears below.  For those who have slogged through this overload of verbiage over these past several days, thank you for your endurance and your patience). 



If you’ve read previous entries in this series, you will know that I’ve played fast and loose with the ‘rules’ of this particular assignment – and today I’ll break perhaps the most fundamental of those rules, for the ‘picture’ to illustrate this final tale will solely be a recollection of my own mind’s eye – and an attempt to re-create those images for you using only words.


Some of you who have known me for awhile may remember the story I am about to relate.  Some of the words may even be familiar, for I freely admit to plagiarizing my own old outgoing correspondence to craft this entry, but rather than post a humorous image of something odd found around the house, I’m choosing to tell you about a night when nature and imagination and the occasional gift to see things beyond the mundane came together to create a set of experiences which will remain with me for the rest of my days.  So then – the tale of the winter fireflies:



In January of 2005, I celebrated a ‘significant’ birthday.  Rather than have an ordinary party, I decided that the best way to celebrate life to date and to contemplate life yet to come was to rent a cabin at a nearby State Park for a weekend and then invite my closest friends to share the weekend with me.  To my surprise and delight, each found a way around his busy schedule and life’s demands to join me.  It was not the first time many of us had shared a weekend adventure, but I will always be grateful to them for taking that time to celebrate with me.


One of the traditions when my friends and I get together for a weekend away has always been a midnight walk.  These take place regardless of time of year or weather - and experiences shared and discussions held during these times have cemented some of my deepest friendships.   There's something about being alone in nature, usually far away from everything and very late at night, which helps one focus, cast the worries of the world aside, drop pretenses and egos and simply speak the words of the heart.

That Saturday night was very crisp and cold.  The moon was only a day or two past full and cast paths of silver light throughout the barren trees and across the virgin snow.  Three of us set out and walked for about a half hour, talking about how lives have changed in the years we have known each other but that friendships - real friendships - endure.

After a time, the others grew tired and cold and returned to the cabin, but there was something calling me to linger awhile in the pristine beauty of the moment.  I took a different trail and emerged back on the main road, feeling exhilarated but still seeing and hearing nothing out of the ordinary.  Then I turned a corner - and suddenly knew what I was there to see.

Now I am blessed to live on a property that brings nature literally to my doorstep.  In the warm nights of summertime, I love to turn off all the interior and exterior lights and sit on the deck, peering down into the valley below.  As my eyes adjust to the darkness, the night becomes alive with the glow of fireflies - thousands of brilliant, momentary flashes of light in a silent natural fireworks show.

But this night, I was stunned to have that same experience in the cold and dead of frigid winter!  As I walked along that road, the woods became alive with tiny winking lights wherever I looked.  My jaw dropped as I tried to comprehend what I was seeing - and in awe of the stunning beauty of the scene.  

Slowly came the realization that moisture on the limbs of the trees and bushes had turned to intricate crystals of ice and, as I walked, the moon's reflection off each caused the eye to see only flashes of light.  I stopped - and half the 'fireflies' froze in place.   It was as if the world had stopped, that time stood still and that I alone had witnessed this cosmic event, there in the silence of the forest.  I took a step or two and the fireflies winked on and off again.  Stopped - and again felt suspended in time and space.   For at least half an hour, I continued in this wonderland of light and magic until finally the lights of the cabins ahead dimmed the glow of this gift of nature.

By the time I returned to the cabin, the others had retired for the evening.  I sat by the small gas fireplace for an hour, lost in thought and replaying the scene in my head – absorbing again and again the lesson that there is beauty all around us in this world, if only we take the time to let it find us.

Monday, May 8, 2006

Something received as a gift



(This continues a series of entries explained below in ‘Something I’ve Made’.  Please bear with me – its almost over!)



****  Suicidal robin update:  fingers, toes and eyes crossed as I write this, but the covering has been off the windows for a week now and our feathered friend has not returned to rejoin the battle.  Let’s all hope he’s found a less-injurious pastime – and thank you for your best wishes on his behalf!  ****




Selecting the subject of this entry was a difficult choice to make.  Over the years – and also very recently – I’ve received gifts that have touched me and will always be remembered.  All had something in common – there was thought put into the gift, it was unique and tailored to something important to me – and it was obvious that it came from the heart and found a way to capture friendship or affection in a very special way.  Its also funny in that none of the gifts that sprung to mind for inclusion here were particularly expensive – but their value to me will always be priceless.




Several years ago, I underwent a career crisis of sorts.  I was the facility manager of a large research center for a major company – a highly visible location along an interstate highway that we had always taken pride in maintaining to peak degree.  Despite inevitable annual budget cuts, I always asked my staff for ways to remove the hidden costs and not just to take the easy way out.  They knew that I would always start from the standpoint that people were our best and brightest resource and that jobs would always be protected to the greatest extent possible – and perhaps as a result they always forwarded ideas that were cutting edge, creative and effective.  


Then one day, my boss retired – and was replaced by a man from another part of the world who had built his reputation as a ruthless cost cutter.  My fears were confirmed in one of our first meetings, when I was told my operating budget – already pared by almost 33% over the previous few years – would be cut by another arbitrary 25%, simply as a ‘statement’.  When I protested, I was immediately offered solutions that would decimate my staff and almost immediately place the building in a steady state of decline.


Several weeks before this, I had received a call from someone within the company I’d known for many years – offering me an opportunity to join his staff and build an entirely new department.  At the time I was happy in my role and turned him down, but after that meeting and a night to think it over I called him back and asked if the offer still stood.  When it did, I swallowed hard and accepted, then informed my new boss that I had saved him the amount of my salary and benefits by accepting another position at the headquarters facility.  He barely looked up – and I knew that I’d made the right decision.


Some might say that I bailed out on those who counted on me, but the reality was that the person in my job was about to begin overseeing a dismantling of everything I’d worked to build and I simply didn’t have the heart to do that – and my departure and the resulting savings ultimately saved a few of their jobs.



I had hosted a small get-together at the house for my direct staff and had held a farewell breakfast for the entire department in order to express my thanks to each and all who had made things such a pleasure for me over so many years - and thought that would be the extent of my goodbyes.  But on my final day, one of my supervisors came in and told me that there was a problem in the cafeteria and that I was needed immediately.  When I arrived upstairs, the room was filled with balloons and virtually everyone in the facility – and I’ll freely admit to a lump in my throat and a tear in the corner of my eye.


As part of the festivities, I was presented with the gift depicted above.  If you have read my entries here, you know that I am a fan of baseball.  But I also have made a hobby of collecting autographs of players – always on an official Major League ball.  So instead of a simple card, I was presented with this wonderful memento – one which still graces a place of honor on my shelf today.  The center ball is signed by my staff.  The other two contain signatures of people I knew and liked, worked with or even feuded with over the years – but all of which took the time to place their signature in blue ink on something they knew would touch me, then and now.


So many times – especially in the cold world of corporate life – people come and go from our lives with hardly a note of passing.  I always tried to treat each person with respect as an individual even when there were business differences between us – and many times felt that those efforts were either unnoticed or unappreciated as everyone scurried to the next meeting or assignment.   But when it came time to say goodbye, the defensive shields lowered and the light inside emerged – and all the work and all the effort seemed all the more worthwhile.


Sometimes we have the chance to say goodbye, and to use that occasion to reveal to someone what we feel for them in our hearts.  But many times, that occasion never arrives - and a chapter closes with all the words unsaid.  That day reinforced for me the need to take the time to let those we like – and those we love – know how we feel, for we never know when that opportunity will be gone.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Something with a pig on it (!)



(This continues a series of entries explained below in ‘Something I’ve Made’)



I never thought it would come to this in a public forum, but I will simply state for any eyes which care to read that I am not a pig person.  I don’t dislike them, but I’ve never had an affinity for them either - so put me solidly in the category of pig-neutral or pig-ambivalent, whichever you prefer.


For this reason, my searches for something on-topic proved fruitless and I was moments away from running to the local grocery and buying a pound of bacon to photograph when something clicked in my head and I remembered a t-shirt stored well in the back of the closet.  As you can see from the date, its been there for awhile and, as you can also see, its been worn very infrequently, if ever.


I was invited to this party by a friend who was an acquaintance of the founders.  Legend has it that this event was founded in the late 70s by a group of students at I believe the University of Pittsburgh.  They made it an annual event and continued the tradition well past graduation and through marriages and families.  By the time I was invited, it was a three day festival, held at one of the organizer’s family cabins along the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania.  And for those who wonder, ICAC stands for ‘Iron City Athletic Club’, Iron City being the (cheap) beer of choice of the founders while still on a student’s income and Athletic Club having no discernable relevance whatsoever, from anything I saw.



But this entry – like most things in life - isn’t about the resolution of the quest, its about the journey itself.  As I combed my memory banks for anything that might be in my possession that contained an image of a pig, my thoughts took me back to my youth – and then to my father’s attic to explore the artifacts from that era which might still exist.


There I found old story books, instantly familiar for their well-worn pages – and the remembered feelings and sights and smells of my mother and grandmother as they read to me.  There were no images of pigs, but I no longer cared as I allowed the simple comforts of youth to descend upon me for a few precious moments on the cool attic floor.


Next I found some of my mother’s own childhood books – two ‘Big Little’ books to be accurate.  One was a Li’l Abner tale, the other Little Miss Muffet – still no pigs, but wonderful, warm images of my mother as a carefree and happy little girl to fill my senses for a time.


Finally, I found the box of ‘Disneykins’ from my youth.  These were small plastic figures, usually sold in sets of cartoon characters and children’s stories.  Although jumbled together, each piece – despite the fragility of its construction – was intact, cared-for and appreciated even when my hands were considerably smaller and perhaps less cautious than today.  There was the Yogi Bear series, the Flintstones, Captain Hook and Peter Pan, Mickey and Daffy and Donald – but no Porky to be found.  But by then – eyes closed now -  I was again seated at my grandmother’s kitchen table, carefully grouping and displaying my little plastic treasures and crafting adventures for them – and the lack of a pig was the furthest thing from my mind.


I came back down from the attic empty handed – but with a head spinning in sweet memories and warm remembrances, and a heart full of people I can no longer touch but who will always be with me.  Pig or no pig, it was a wonderful day.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Something Unique



(This continues a series of entries explained below in ‘Something I’ve Made’.  If you read that first installment, you’ll know I’m jumping around a bit in the order of the assignment - but rules are made to be broken after all….)




I would have liked this entry to be about a pair of cast metal ewers that sit proudly by the fireplace in my Great Room.  They are heavy and solid yet delicate in their fine detail, and they have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember – first gracing my parent’s home and now my own.  But unfortunately, I know so little about them that their story cannot be told – and all those who could tell it took it with them when they departed this earth.  I know that they were hand-crafted by a relative - a great or perhaps even great-great Grandfather if I recall correctly - but the circumstances of their creation are now lost to the ages and there is no proud family history of great forgers or decorative iron-workers upon which to fall back, so they will need to remain ‘only’ a delight to the eye and a physical link to a relative who shall remain forever faceless and nameless despite the beauty of this physical reminder of his existence.




But instead my subject will be a relic of an industrial past that was at least partially intertwined with my own life and working career for many years.  I’ll tell you a little more about my working life in the entry revolving around a ‘gift received’ in a day or two, but suffice to say that the very effective doorstop pictured above is a link to a simpler time when ingenuity solved many challenges at low cost, and time was not so much of the essence as it always seems today.


This is a miniature version of a ‘ball mill’ - used to grind paint pigment to a uniform size.  Coarse granules of colored pigments were placed in this vessel, along with a number of the ceramic balls and other shaped objects pictured here.  The lid was clamped down tightly and the mill was placed on a set of mechanically-driven rollers that spun for hours and hours – slowly letting the ceramics grind the pigment to a size acceptable for use in making quality paints and other coatings for any variety of industrial and consumer uses.


This was a research-sized mill – the baby brother of massive tanks that were used in actual production for many years in the first half of the last century.  I found it one day in a heaping pile of trash stacked outside an old storage room at work.  While it obviously no longer served a useful purpose, it was a part of the history of the industry and I couldn’t see simply relegating it to a landfill. 


I consulted with some of the ‘old-timers’ and listened to their stories of howthese were used and – even better – what work life and life in general were like in those times, and then cleaned my new-found treasure up and put it to alternative but still productive use as a combination doorstop / conversation starter in my office.  For as long as it resided there, it always seemed to bring a small sense of peace and a reminder of simpler times – and that gift alone made its rescue and salvage well worth the effort.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Something I've Made


The next few entries in this Journal will be a bit different from most you’ve seen before.  As always, they will be my words and photos, but the idea for the entries has originated from an outside source.  My friend Nikki - Bedazzled - has ‘tagged’ me and several others to play a game that combines photos with the stories behind them – all of which are to be posted in that person’s Journal for all to see, ridicule and comment upon (okay, part of that was editorializing on my part to prepare you for what you will ultimately see and read here).


The assignment appeared simple at the outset – until it came time to select the actual subjects, of course.  Here are the photos / stories I’ve been asked to provide:


Something I’ve made

Something I’ve received as a gift

Something strange

Something with a pig on/in it (of all things)

Something unique


Now there’s a reason why the word ‘Rambling’ appears in the title of this Journal – because I am a man of many words (although master of few).  And in order for me to tell the stories behind these pictures, it will take more space than a single entry – or the patience of any reader – would safely permit.  So I will begin this quest with ‘Something I’ve Made’ and attempt to follow with additional postings each day or so until the job is complete -  or until too many of you cry ‘uncle’……





When gifts and talents were handed out on the day I was born, I was fortunate enough to be blessed with a few. What I was not blessed with, however, was the ability to draw or craft or otherwise use my hands to create things of beauty or meaning.   When I ‘make’ something, it is for a purpose – something to complete a utilitarian task and usually something specialized (or crazy) enough that it couldn’t be purchased outright.  Many of my ‘creations’, therefore, are Goldbergian in nature, not meant to impress but simply to meet a real or perceived need.


I freely admit that the above does not look like much – and indeed it was one of my less-fanciful projects - but its purpose was rather unique and offers a bit of insight into what makes me tick, so I have chosen it to fulfill this portion of the ‘assignment’.


My home is ranch style, with a full basement that is unfinished.  Upon move-in, when it came time to settle on a location for the all-important cat box, the most logical location appeared to be under the stairs – a small, enclosed space that was both accessible and out-of-the way at the same time.  Pippin – thankfully - appeared to approve and the location became his.


Now I know that the quality of cats’ eyesight, especially in low light, is legendary - but I still felt bad that the poor little guy would have to make his way down the stairs and use the box in near total darkness after sundown and I just felt he deserved better than that.  So off to the home improvement store I went, with a vague idea of what I wanted but no plan further than that.


I came home with the contraption you see pictured here – designed to illuminate driveways or backyards whenever a car drove in or someone walked through, by sensing motion and turning on the light for a prescribed time period before re-setting.  I found a nearby electrical line and tapped-in, mounting the unit such that anyone passing nearby would activate the sensor and provide about five minutes of light to this small area.  I programmed the sensitivity at its lowest setting in hopes that even a stealthy grey feline would activate it and then waited to see if this crazy idea would work.  Soon thereafter, Pippin appeared, entered the enclosed space and viola! the light came on.   In typical feline indifference, he never displayed any reaction to this small addition – and in my heart I know it was probably never necessary at all - but he was a special part of my life and I hope that somehow he knew that itmeant I cared.


If you’ve read elsewhere in this Journal, you know that Pippin passed away of natural causes last summer – and that hardly a day goes by when there isn’t something that reminds me of him and brings a smile.  This past January, the light bulb in this fixture finally burnt-out.  Even though it serves no purpose now (if it ever did), I replaced it – in simple reminder of a friend no longer physically present, but always alive in my heart.