Monday, June 29, 2009

Crestone #1

If you are reading this, you more than likely came through the website to get here. And if you’re here, you’ve probably heard me say something somewhere about Crestone, Colorado sometime since last winter solstice. If you haven’t yet, I would suggest you read the Crestone essay at earthspeaks. It sets this trip in important context.

First off, let me say that I have a thing for Colorado. Like John Denver, I felt like I was born in the summer of my twenty-seventh year when I first traveled cross-country to Colorado with my four year-old daughter and wife in tow. I had been teaching junior high English for five years and found some truth in the old saw that the three best reasons to teach were June, July, and August. A bit cynical perhaps, but such did allow me to indulge in a growing love for travel that my year-round working buddies could only dream of. To this day I am grateful.

Lots of lovely memories from that first trip remain fresh in my mind, like when daughter Jennifer, on our first backpack trip up the Roaring River trail at Rocky Mountain National Park, made her favorite new toy a found detergent bottle. She was glad she had Raggedy Ann when it was time to crawl into her sleeping bag, but she really had fun with the bottle, squirting everything in camp, including mom and dad.

The drive across Kansas was pretty hard. It was a nasty hot day and I kept getting a temperature light on the dash -- unless I kept the speed under 50. Right about that time I was painfully aware that I had a four year-old on board, and thought how horrible the day would be if we broke down. We did have some trouble with the carburetor, as mentioned, but other than that, we made it into the high plains of eastern Colorado with dad having the worst part of the day worrying.

And tomorrow, Cindy Lou and I set out on the next pilgrimage to the Centennial State. Destination: Crestone, a little town with only a few hundred residents year round, tucked on the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the arid San Luis valley, just a bit north of Great Sand Dunes National Park. Again, if you haven’t read the Crestone piece at earthspeaks, I’d recommend it. It will set up what’s about to happen nicely.

And just what that is, I’m not sure. All I know is we’re heading out tomorrow in a quest for a quiet two weeks during which the folks at the Nada Hermitage, our hosts, aspire to create a vital environment characterized by solitude, simplicity and beauty, where community thrives, love is nurtured, prayer flourishes, and the whole person can be transformed.

Oh, boy. Does that sound good to us. We are ready. I hope you’ll stick with me as I blog through this trip, trying to explain what it is about mountains, Mother Nature, and solitude that moves me. More later.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Back porch hummers

When I first decided to try blogging a month or so ago, I thought my first entry would be about birds. They certainly are my most constant companions on the back porch when I sit. But other stuff came up and here I am writing about birds, finally, five entries in.

So much can be said about birds. They have been characterized as the ‘canaries in the coal mine’ regarding habitat health. When populations drop, you can bet there’s a problem with the environment. Audubon, Bird Watcher’s Digest, and other publications have cited plenty of those examples. Most neo-tropical bird populations are dropping, while some others, like year-round Canada geese, are doing better. That’s some good news, I suppose.

I find bird behavior downright intriguing. Years ago I was out birding with Aullwood’s Tom Hissong at Tar Hollow State Park in southern Ohio. In that pre-iPod era, Tom played the song of the summer tanager on his cassette tape recorder -- and lo, and behold, my first summer tanager -- all decked out in deep scarlet with those formal black wings -- lighted in a tree just in front of our group of Wayne High School biology students. We were amazed. And very impressed.

But back yard birds are my best avian buddies. I hear barred owls now and then and just last week a Cooper’s hawk snagged a chipmunk one door away on our cul-de-sac right in front of grandson Noah and me. Talk about cool!

But it’s the guys and gals who come by the bird bath and feeders in the back yard that I see most. Tufted titmouse. Northern cardinal. Carolina chickadee. Red bellied woodpecker. White breasted nuthatch. Beautiful little bodies that swim through the air and navigate minute branches in my porch-bordering hedge that amaze day after day.

It was in Lake City, Colorado a few years back where I witnessed the greatest concentration of hummingbirds I had ever seen. I was amazed at how aggressively they protected their sweet water source. I had been feeding ruby throateds here at home for a few summers, but never saw that behavior. When I got home, I paid better attention.

Sure enough, lots of fire in the belly here, too. I have witnessed one little creature sitting sentry in the hedge, just waiting for another little guy to fly in. Off she’d go, hustling the interloper off her food source. I was most amazed at the sound of their wings touching: kind of a quick buzzing sound. Youch! That has to cause damage to those miniature little bodies!

Here’s a back porch poem from last summer:

Hummer 1

The challenger approaches from

below and east -- the dark side of evening

sweetwater -- moving up,



jerking incrementally,


acquisition of target

while stalking avoidance of the

current dominant female

posting sentry somewhere


Then a slaking deeply in shadow,

ingesting as quickly as systems


one --

two --

three --

drafts of surrogate flower

before the proprietor chatters in,

reestablishing the current order

of things.

4 July 2008

rainy, under canopy

Today’s elder idea: A paraphrase from American hero John Glenn, speaking in Dayton during the centennial celebration of first flight in 2003:

We have much to learn yet about flight by studying hummingbirds. We know how they do it, but their durability and agility still hold secrets that human flight can’t duplicate.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Gaylord golf

I’m no athlete.  My favorite activity is walking, though I haven’t made a habit of it lately.  I should, I know.  When I golf, I prefer to play 9 holes and pull my clubs in a cart.  Course time, and therefore the walk, is usually a couple of hours.  I get to use a variety of clubs in a variety of situations.  Now and then I drop a long putt.  I find that pretty satisfying.  I don’t mind playing 18 holes -- from a cart -- but I have to admit that by the back 9, I can’t remember much about what was played where.  I have a heck of time remembering how many strokes I’ve taken.  Count on it being at least a bogey, often a double or a triple.  One par per round if I’m lucky.

This past weekend I was part of a group of seven golfers, all the rest from the Detroit metro area, who headed up to Gaylord, Michigan, heralded as “America’s summer golf mecca.”  Northern Michigan courses are famous for their beauty, but that beauty comes at the cost of hills and dales with fairways lined with trees.  Beautiful, indeed, but chock full of places to lose a golf ball.   

So here’s the thing today:  I didn’t play very well.  (Technically I was hitting about 5 strokes over my 9-hole average.  Considering course difficulty, that wasn’t so bad.)  But after you play a game for a few years, like golf, you just expect you can do it better.  Much of my game has improved since I picked up clubs over ten years ago, but there are many days I still can’t hit two drives in a row straight down the fairway.  

Sure, I could take some lessons.  I have opted, instead, to subscribe to Golf Digest, watch Gary McCord’s Golf for Dummies, and listen to other golfers who have suggestions to make.  And at age 59, I’m not sure just how much better I’ll ever get anyway.

I watch the best of the best on the Golf Channel and on CBS on weekend afternoons.  In the process, I see how well the game can be played.  Then I think about stance and swing, and give it a try.   And after years of trying, I’m still not very darned good.  Frustrating, you know? 

I suspect I should be more zen about golf and just be present.  Focus on one hit at a time.  Enjoy the scenery.  Look for birds.  And the truth is when you ask a golfer what he likes best about the game, more often than not you’ll hear it’s the company kept on the course.  You actually get to spend time with friends.  Not bad.  

I feel that way, too.  But finding the balance between success and being present is tough for this hombre to find.  

Today’s elder idea:  Golf can best be defined as an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle, followed by a bottle of beer.    not an original thought

For more on Gaylord golf, see

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Working with wood

Something good there is about working with wood.  My dad built wooden toys in his retirement, another guy I knew built custom furniture, and a neighbor moved to a bigger place just so he’d have a shop to work his wood in.  My Virginia brother has a workshop, too, and relishes refinishes when time permits.  A high school classmate of mine has his very own planer in his basement.  They all seem to get something special back from the element -- wood in this case -- in the process.

The last couple of days was one of those rare times when I took the opportunity to work with wood.  For me, creativity usually is connected with my Mac.  This time, though, wood made the act of creation, or re-creation, much more physical.  In the real world.  First it was sanding down a forty year-old pocket door, ridding it of finish and some pet scratches left by some long-gone house critter.  The six-panel pocket was then anointed with a new coat of stain, deepening prominent red while highlighting some dark tones, and finished off with a new coat of polyurethane.  

Working with the old door put me in touch with the tactile acts of caressing and tending, sanding and rubbing, brushing and smoothing, along with studying and assessing the condition of a crafted relic from a tree that once stood and knew nourishment from the earth.  The job seemed particularly real compared to how I usually entertain myself.

And maybe that’s at the heart of having a tactile hobby, like wood working.  Unlike computer stuff, you really get your hands on it.  Computer stuff is all pretty mental.  Not so with wood.  Or the earth.  Another friend, a studied organic gardener, tells me that when her hands touch soil, something clicks on inside her.  Manipulating dirt is just what she needs to stay in touch with things true, good, and beautiful. 

The point of this entry is to appreciate the value of elemental therapy.  In our busy world where almost everything is bottom line connected to pixels and fast downloads, working with wood and soil grounds us to the physical world.  Slowing down to appreciate elements that visit our personal space, zen-like, if you will, is a practice worthy of effort.  I recommend it. 

Today’s elder idea:  Work with the earth.  Know her.  It’s natural.