Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Santa institution

I don’t remember much about the person of Santa Claus when I was a little kid.  I’m sure I sat on the Big Man’s lap in downtown Rike’s department store toy department once or twice, but my aging brain can’t conjure up any real details.  
I seem to recall a slight feel of dread about the Old Boy, though.  I mean, the guy had the secret power to assess what kind of kid I was: good or bad.  That’s heavy, you know?  I was raised to be a good Catholic boy and trust me, I know all about guilt.  I thought I was doing okay, but what did I know?  What ended up under the Christmas tree with my name on it would be the true assessment of my kid behavior.  
One memory remains, I think, from my earliest of days.  I was in my crib looking out through the side rail slats through the darkened bedroom into the night-lit hallway.  It was the night before Christmas and could swear I heard real jingle bells out in the living room.  
Did I really?  I doubt it.  I have concluded since that many of my earliest memories are really combinations of things that might have happened and subsequent recurring dreams that have now melded together into a new kid reality.  
I write about this today because of grandson Noah’s loss of his belief in Santa Claus.  He’s ten years old, and reality and disbelief have caught up with him.  He asked us last year about Santa Claus being real, and in a flash of insecurity, I deferred the response to Grammy.   
‘Well,’ she said, ‘do you get presents from Santa Claus?’  
‘Yes,’ he responded.
‘Then there’s a Santa Claus.’  
I don’t think he was convinced, but he didn’t ask again.  This year his ten year-old brain made its own conclusion and he confirmed it with his mother just the other day.  For him, one more vestige of childhood has been lost.
Santa Claus always was a big deal at my house growing up.  Mom and Dad ended up having seven kids, for pete’s sake.  And then there was the dark December evening when I was six or seven or something when I distinctly remember seeing Santa looking in the corner of our front picture window checking on us.  We went nuts!  I mean, I really saw Santa!  I couldn’t wait to tell my dad about the excitement, but he had stepped out of the house briefly to run over to the local party supply for a six pack or something.  When he got back, he seemed pretty excited about the sighting too. 
It was years later that I learned that my very own father had a great red suit of his own and was, in fact, Santa Claus in the flesh.  When we buried him in 1999, Mom celebrated the fact that he had played Santa for lots of kids for over fifty years.  Fifty years!  I’ve always loved my dad, but knowing he personally spread the idea of Christmas giving to so many young people deepened my respect for the man.  Such a guy. 
As we kids got older, some of us were able to participate in Dad’s own personal Santa institution.  I remember one wet Christmas Eve driving him around in the rain, stopping by three or four homes where he made his grand front-door entrance and passed out gifts and toys to his friends, their kids, and their grandkids.  I waited patiently in the car while he worked his seasonal magic.  On other occasions, my youngest sister, Susie, accompanied him to parties in her cute little red Santa’s Helper outfit and assisted with excited kids while Santa did his thing. 
And then last night, one more Santa story that brings my dad’s Santa legacy full circle.  Cindy and I went to a local funeral home to visit a former colleague who has just lost his mother.  Steve was a good friend when we both began teaching in the early 70s.  We camped together a few times and drank a few late night beers playing cards on more than one occasion.  Cindy, in fact, dated Steve for a time back in the old days when we all were younger and some of us single.  Steve has since moved on to Oregon and made a family.  It was good to see him again. 
I recognized one of the women in his family group.  I knew she was a former student, but I couldn’t remember her name.  When Cindy and I didn’t recognize Steve in the viewing room, I went up to this girl and asked if Steve had made it in from Portland.  ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘let me show you.’  
I told her I was an old teacher friend and when I mentioned my name, her mouth fell open.  She put down what she was carrying and gave me the biggest hug.  She was, indeed, Denise, a former student who had ended up marrying Steve’s brother thirty years ago.  Before we left, we laughed at a few Mr. Schaefer stories she remembered from her junior high days when I was a rookie teacher and faculty advisor to drama club.  Trust me, I didn’t know much what I was doing way back then, but we all seemed to have a pretty good time and from the sound of things, at least one important lesson was learned.  
Denise finished with a Christmas story she remembered I told all those years ago.  Somewhere along the line, I was talking about Santa.  I know we did at least one Christmas play in drama club.  Maybe it was during a rehearsal for Dust of the Road.   In any case, I made a point to the group about the spirit of giving that is manifested in the institution of Santa Claus.  However I said it, Denise took it to heart.  She said she always remembered it and, in fact, made the same point to her own children.  My thoughts had become part of her own family’s tradition.
My simple remark born of my father’s work at being Santa Claus continues to ripple through at least one family touched by a young teacher a couple generations ago.  I can’t think a better testimony to the institution of Santa Claus than that.  
Her story is one beautiful Christmas gift I got early this year.  
Today’s elder idea:  I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six.  Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph. 
Shirley Temple Black
Child star of Miracle on 34th Street
Image:  We all bought Dad Santa statues back in the day to celebrate one of the real joys of his life.  Since Dad was a fisherman, too, this Santa was always special for me.  It’s now part of my collection. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Heavens but life’s been hard lately.  It seems every December turns out this way.
First, this is the most difficult change of seasons humanity in this part of the world has to deal with:  the transition from warm and colorful autumn into the gray, dark, and cold of winter.  Add to that the trauma to two huge national holidays, and you get more demand on a family than there ever should be.  
And that doesn’t even count any spiritual work a soul might want to undertake as the calendar cycles back to Advent and the beginning of the church year.  You know, a little meditation on the beauty of birth and the presence of evil in the world.  Some thoughts on sacrifice, giving, respect for all creatures on this planet.  Stuff like that.  Very little time for the spiritual when house decorations and gift buying dominate consideration.  With aging, it gets a little better, but not much.
December.  Two different great seasonal albums.  The first for me -- the one that got me into new age music over 30 years ago -- is George Winston’s December.  The warm, rich, grounded solo piano music written and performed for the holiday season lit me up when I first heard it years ago.  I loved it so much that since, I’ve bought lots more new age ambient music, including Windham Hill’s entire Winter Solstice collection.  Great new contemporary Christmas music.
And then their’s Kenny Loggins December, an album I bought digitally on the recommendation of a friend.  Good indeed.  I’ve always loved Loggin’s tenor voice.  Works beautifully on a Christmas album. 
December 10 was Emily Dickinson’s birthday -- her 180th.  A couple of buddies, also writing group compatriots serving in Emily’s Boys, had a lunch in her honor that day.  We talked a bit how we don’t really see her as our mother, though we make mom jokes now and then.  It’s more that we appreciate what she has written and how she delivers it.  She touches us.  We know something more about what it means to be human because of what we have read in her verses and letters.  
Garrison Keillor did an Emily Dickinson segment on the 11 December 2010 issue of Prairie Home Companion.  It is positively great.  To listen to the 20 minute segment, see:   Hit the Segment 2 link and you’ll be whisked back to that Saturday evening in the Bronx when Keillor is joined by Sue Scott and poet Billy Collins for some reverie and, of course, some humor.  You owe it to yourself to take the time even if you have only a smidgen of interest in Emily.  
Don’t you just want to hear a little bit more about the reclusive, passionate Belle of Amherst?  Good listen. 
I’m sure I’ve alluded to a book I’m trying to write on these pages more than once.  It’s one about Emily Dickinson’s first posthumous editor, Mabel Loomis Todd.  That Mrs. Todd ushered the first three editions of Emily’s poetry into the public forum is well known and well covered in literary history.  
What I hope to do in my writing is to focus on another aspect of her life that has been only alluded to in multiple biographical treatments since she died in 1932:  Her establishing, along with her husband David Peck Todd, of a rustic summer camp on the 300+ acre picturesque Hog Island in Muscongus Bay, Maine.  
Mabel and David found the island while sailing the Maine coast almost twenty years after first publication of Emily’s work and just over ten years after the death of Emily's brother Austin, with whom Mabel had a long-term affair.  The affair was, indeed, pretty scandalous for a small college town in central Massachusetts and the Todd and Dickinson families were both changed forever by it.  But that, as they say, is another story, one that has been well documented.  
Since I’ve had a hard time updating you on my book’s progress here in The Back Porch, I up and started another blog for the specific purpose of focusing on the Hog Island book.  Feel free to cruise over there for a look.  See:
Winter solstice this year marks Cindy and my 18th wedding anniversary.  We both feel amazingly blessed to be loved by the other.  I’m a lucky guy.  
This year to celebrate, Cindy has bought us tickets to hear Mannheim Steamroller at Dayton’s Schuster Center.  Very nice indeed.  I get to buy dinner.  
Thoughts, too, this time of year of the Paul Winter Consort annual Winter Solstice concert at St. John the Divine in New York City.  Some selections this time around, I’m sure, will be from their new Grammy nominated album, Miho:  Journey to the Mountain.  For more on the new album, see
I had thoughts of attending this year’s concert ourselves, which would have been a different winter solstice anniversary for us.  Back when we were first seeing each other -- must have been Christmas 1991 -- Cindy Lou and I trekked to the Big Apple for our first Winter Solstice experience.  Even though Cindy’s car was broken into on the Harlem sidestreet where we parked, the concert was amazing.  We look forward to getting back for an encore one of these years.  The show, by the way, is always aired on NPR.  Look for local or internet listings.    
It’s a hoot having winter solstice as a wedding anniversary.  I feel somehow more deeply aligned with the physical universe at this turning point in our planet’s orbit.  The darkest day of the year.  The day before the sun heads back our way.  Powerful stuff.  I like it.  
One final December thought:  A whole bunch of family saw The Nutcracker performed by the Cincinnati Ballet a couple night’s ago.  One of the toy soldiers was grandson Noah’s cousin, Maddy. 
Such a performance!  I’ve seen the ballet a few times before, but not like this.  The set must have cost tens of thousands of dollars.  So well done!  A real holiday treat.  Special thanks to Frisch’s restaurants, too, who has been the sole corporate sponsor since the Nutcracker run began in Cincinnati decades ago.  
Kind of makes me want to stop in for a Big Boy sandwich. 
Today’s elder idea: A solstice thought from a Paul Winter email re: tickets for this year’s program:
In remembering the solstice, we align with the rhythm of the year, and resonate with the optimism that the light will overcome the dark. 
Happy holidays, everybody. 

Monday, December 6, 2010


I was raised to care about people.  
First it was tending little sisters and brothers, but by the time I was in the 4th grade, I hung around my classroom after school to see if there was anything I could do.  That’s when I learned how to wash a blackboard such that no chalk residue was left on the slate.  Sometimes it took a couple of buckets of water, but it was a point of pride for me.  Clean boards = good boy. 
I suppose the warm & fuzzies a guy got from hanging around after school weren’t necessarily about caring for teachers.  Surely other needs were being met in those interactions.  Still, I’ve wanted to do my part to help folks for most of my life.
One of the high school clubs I helped run at Carroll High School was Backyard Peace Corps.  Named for the international service operation started by John F. Kennedy, Backyard Peace Corps was focused on local social justice issues and providing service around school.   For a time we were bussed to Ruskin Elementary one afternoon a week to tutor 6th graders.  Some of my group spent more than a few Saturday mornings at the Dakota Street Center hanging out with kids and doing small tasks.  I think we felt like we were making a difference.  It was the 60s, for pete’s sake.
I was mostly concerned with myself during college, but got back into service as an adult.  Served on various Audubon boards for over twenty years, done much at churches I’ve attended, coached a few teams my kids were on, and organized two rehab expeditions to post-Katrina New Orleans.  Walked door-to-door with election information a handful of times, too.
Which brings me to this duty idea.  I’m more comfortable calling it a commission, actually, and when it comes to my mind, it is almost always framed in Christian terms:  the Christian commission to help brothers and sisters, whether they are hungry, or sick, or naked, or homeless, or in prison, or just kids.  Whatever we do for them we do for God, we have been taught.  Works for me.  
Somewhere in that commission is where I find my interest in government, too, I think.  It’s always been my impression that folks who get into government do so to serve the people.  What is best for our fair city?  Our country?  The people who live here?  Isn’t that why people become public servants?  
I’ve been around long enough to have read about governments rife with corruption and witnessed politicians passing laws that benefit those very same few who contributed to their elections.  But in my heart of hearts, I want to feel that those who choose to serve the public in government are basically good people with the public’s good in mind.  
At age 60, I’m not so sure any more.  
In the 2010 election cycle, I heard responsible politicians say that folks like me -- folks who want to be sure all Americans have a shot at decent healthcare -- are communists, socialists, Nazis, unpatriotic, and/or not real Americans.  After the last two years of obstructionist tactics by the Republicans in Congress, I am embarrassed to call John Boehner a fellow southwestern Ohioan.  And now he’s Speaker of the House.  
I suppose I’m too thin-skinned about the name calling.  It’s just that I never put-up with it with my own daughters or in my own classroom.  Everybody was respected in my house and classroom everyday.  I thought that was the America/World we were all working for.  
So here’s the note to self I found myself filing mentally the other day:  
Politics is nasty.  Folks who hate government live in another world from mine.  There are Americans who would rather companies thrive while those neighbors with fewer resources struggle, some failing, to get by with just the basics of housing, education, and healthcare.  Such actions hurt me so much I don’t want to participate in that realm anymore. 
See your duty with the people.  Commit to serve in non-political settings.  Roll up your sleeves for community action outside of government.  
I’m currently making a list of stuff I want to start doing.  One is working on our church crew that feeds homeless families at the St. Vincent Hotel once a month.  
To heck with politics. I’m going to redouble efforts to find people in need.  In so doing, I will act out my own world commission for social justice.  I think I’ll like that better.  Screw elections.  
Today’s elder idea:  Every young American who participates in the Peace Corps will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace. 
John F. Kennedy 
image:  Snatched from the Church of St. Joseph in Greenwich Village & the Catholic Center at NYU website

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanks given

A quick read at Wikipedia this morning says that few countries on this planet have a holiday called Thanksgiving set aside in appreciation for life and gifts given.

Canada celebrates Thanksgiving, though our neighbors to the north pull up to the table on a different Thursday, theirs in October. Granada and Liberia have one, too, and even a town in the Netherlands celebrates Thanksgiving. That town, Leiden, just happens to be the place where Pilgrims lived before they set out for the New World back in the 17th century to found Plymouth Plantation and, after much hardship, to eventually celebrate that First Thanksgiving we commemorate this week.

Much about our ‘Puritan ethic’ lifestyle in the United States tends to keep us tightly focused on work and the acquisition of wealth and other stuff most of the time. It is good that Abraham Lincoln and his Union Congress institutionalized Thanksgiving as a national holiday back in the middle of the Civil War in 1863. Times had to have been terribly tough then, too, for many American families. Taking time to remember a good harvest and the gratitude of Pilgrims, even in the midst of war and other hardships, is a fine American tradition we can be proud of.

I surely hope your Thanksgiving was a good one. We had a delicious free range turkey raised locally and a tableful of other good food. And around our table sat my 89 year-old mother, Cindy & me, and a family of friends whose maternal head had to survive a war in Bosnia, pregnant with twins, before she could make her way across the Atlantic to her ‘New World’ experience.

Life is not great for all those who gathered around our table this Thanksgiving. My mother struggles with her balance, trying not to fall when she walks. She is very aware of her own mortality and realizes a broken hip is something to avoid at all cost. Her eyes have been doctored for years and still work well enough for her, but are always a concern. Her hearing is another ‘lost gift’ she contends with using hearing aids. Still, she was all smiles this Thanksgiving and even brought along a pecan pie baked at the retirement place where she lives. Cindy Lou thought it was one of the best pecan pies she’s ever tasted.

Our other guests, too, have many concerns. First, working one full-time job and a couple of part time jobs doesn’t bring home enough ‘bacon’ to keep a mom and three kids financially afloat. Child support from the ex-husband, necessary for the mortgage payment, has been irregular of late and the source of much concern. The twins are now in high school and have young-adult expenses that mom would like to provide, but just can’t. I’m afraid the kids’ cell phones will be a casualty come first of the year.

Still, there was laughter at our Thanksgiving feast, and much gratitude. One story was told of the 12 year-old at our table, who at the age of two, while on a family visit to Syria, was left in a coma after hitting his head hard after coming down a park slide. In that male-dominated Mideastern world, his visiting mother could hardly find a doctor who would accept her authority to treat the boy. Still, she did not relent until she found a doctor who performed brain-saving surgery and today, that beautiful young man does quite well in school. So do his lovely sisters.

Maybe we save the deepest thanks for those hardships and tragedies we somehow survive, whether by the grace of God, medical miracles, good fortune, or some metaphysical combination of energy.

In any case, I’m very grateful we in America have a Thanksgiving holiday. I am thankful for cultural ancestors who set aside a time after the annual harvest to give thanks for both tangible and intangible gifts given. I give thanks for the opportunity to pursue life, liberty, property, and happiness in this wonderful land we call The United States of America. We are a blessed people.

Today’s elder idea: The prayer offered at our Thanksgiving table this year:

Mother, Father, God, Universal Power:

Remind us daily of the sanctity of all life.

Touch our hearts with the glorious oneness of all creation,

As we strive to respect all the living beings on this planet.

Penetrate our souls with the beauty of this earth,

As we attune ourselves to the rhythm and flow of the seasons.

Awaken our minds with the knowledge to achieve a world in perfect harmony

And grant us the wisdom to realize that we can have heaven on earth.

Jo Poore

from Earth Prayers: From Around the World, 365 Prayers, Poems, and Invocations for Honoring the Earth.

Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon, ed. (Harper 1991)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Waffle Shop

Heavens, but it’s been busy. Sorry for not having posted sooner, but Waffle Shop has been the target of just about all of my energy these days. There’s no energy left for anything else.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I did set out our birdfeeders over the weekend and it was absolutely amazing how fast those little buggers discovered we had food out again. After months of no feeders during the summer, it couldn’t have been fifteen minutes and we had chickadee, titmouse, and white nuthatch working pretty hard. Having birds coming to feed just a foot away from a picture window is a beauty to behold. Those exquisite little bodies! Such a treat to just sit and watch.

But back to Waffle Shop: Last weekend I scratched out a half dozen pages of thoughts I wanted to share here about Waffle Shop. It has an amazing energy that has withstood the test of time and links us to so many Daytonians in the past. And we’re the current links in a very long, 81 year-old chain. Very cool.

But, alas, the powers of time and energy have defeated the hope of hitting deadlines and I have failed you. Sorry. I’ll get to it, but this week Waffle Shop herself -- that harsh mistress -- is demanding just about all the energy I have to seeing that she’s okay. And she is. And I’m whipped.

It would be great if you could come down and join us. All profits go to good causes. Shoot, just coming to listen to the live music is worth the trip.

But you have to hurry. Just two more days and we pack it all up again for next year. Come on down! ;-)

Serving lunch from 11 to 2

Tuesday - Friday, 16-19 November 2010

Christ Episcopal Church

20 W. First Street

Dayton / 937.223.2239

See for menu

You can even fax in your order: 937.223.2426.

Today’s elder idea: Waffle Shop is the oldest holiday tradition in downtown Dayton.

Dale Huffman

Dayton Daily News

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Quiet walks

As I still lick my election wounds and get ready for Waffle Shop, I was moved the other day by a poem from the new Mary Oliver collection just out. The collection is from Beacon Press entitled Swan: Poems and Prose Poems.

The poem, posted below, takes me back to my Colorado quiet retreat. Quiet is a good thing, you know? ;-)

How I Go to the Woods

Ordinarily I go to the woods alone, with not a single

friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore


I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds

or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of

praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit

on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,

until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost

unhearable sound of the roses singing.


If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love

you very much.

Mary Oliver

from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

Beacon Press 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The morning after

It is not quite 9 am in this part of the world on this day after the election. Part of me says to refrain from writing too much about yesterday’s outcome while it’s smarting so much, while another part says to get to it while the reality is fresh and just starting to sink in.

I suspect some regular readers of this blog are pleased with yesterday’s results. The Democrats are now punished for daring to pass health care reform and reestablishing limits on the financial markets. The economic problems local communities feel with lack of work and falling home values were officially pinned on the party of the president, and boy did they pay. Especially here in Ohio. Republicans tossed out the governor, kept the Senate seat, and retook the state House. (I must admit, I thought the GOP already controlled most of Ohio. They surely do now.)

Mid-term elections always favor the non-presidential party, it seems, so Democrats were fighting an up-hill battle from the get-go. I remember last winter when the health care bill came up for final vote there was talk that if the Dems were going to go down in the mid-term election, at least go down for a good cause. Pass the bill and let the cards fall where they may. I think it’s safe to assume this morning that the cards did, indeed, fall, and the GOP took the pot. Well, maybe not in California.

I just wonder how the Democrats would have done if they had conservative radio yakking their talking points all day, every day? The GOP has Limbaugh and Hannity and Beck spewing all afternoon on radio stations all across America. The Democrats have nobody. AirAmerica, as limited as their broadcasts were, went bust long ago. And every time I stop in the local McDonalds for a quick bite, there’s Fox News on their television. Last Saturday Fox’s Neil Cavuto’s top story was how Obama is torpedoing small business. I know Rush wanted to take credit for delivering the House to the GOP back in Clinton’s first mid-term election. My guess is he and the cadre of conservative commentators can take some credit for this election, too.

And, of course, with a Republican Supreme Court that awarded George W. Bush the presidency in ’02, we now have the Citizens United decision that allows corporations to spend as much money as they want to elect their own candidates. After all, according to the Roberts’ court, corporations are the same as individuals. They can take money made on products we buy to influence legislation that benefits them and their stockholders. Disclosure of donors? Not necessary. Fairness and justice aren’t for everyday Main Street Americans. Corporate and lobbying money talks. Why am I surprised?

I must admit, I was not an activist for this election. I wrote a couple of checks, but I refused to go door to door or make phone calls. I was pretty bruised and hurt before it all began. I was offended by Palin and the Tea Party set calling me unpatriotic. I was offended by references to my president as being a communist and a Nazi at the same time. I was repelled by the ugliness. Oh, and by the way, Obama isn’t really even an American. He is one of the evil Other we’re all so scared of.

I’m not much a fighter. I’d really rather get along. I assume people will do what’s best for each other, especially those in need. Here in Montgomery county, Ohio, a big social services levy passed yesterday with little trouble. That’s good. But I have little else to feel good about today.

I’ve heard a few folks say that this too, will pass. America is big enough to withstand political shifts. After all, we survived Reagan and Clinton and W. Still, it was Reagan’s penchant to deregulate that brought on the financial crisis and W’s war in Iraq that still cripple us financially. Were the Republicans held responsible for any of that? No. The Democrats were left holding the bag. I am really discouraged by Americans' short memories.

On bad days like this I just tell myself that America gets what it deserves. So I guess when John Boehner moves to repeal health care reform -- and if the Grand Old/Tea Bag Party succeeds -- that’s just what we deserve. After all, giant health care companies have our best interests in mind. Just ask the bankers who encouraged Reagan to push for deregulation.

Today’s elder idea: Some Americans want to criticize a dark-skinned man for offering too much help to the poor. They seem to have confused our president with Jesus.

Poor paraphrase of something I heard.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mountains sublime

I never was a mountain climber.

Kinda’ hoped I would be, I suppose.

Thought I was a mountain man, to be most accurate.

Bought real gear from EMS and REI.

First pair of boots were Vasques with Vibram lug soles.

Even sewed a couple Crestline kit down vests.

Grew out of both of ‘em long ago.

One was for my first wife.

But I am a mountain walker. I don’t expect to rappel

off any peaks in the years I have left, or dangle ice axes

off my day bag. Might need some crampons, though.

I expect I’ll take on a few more mountain trails in my

senior years, hopefully with a grandkid or two.

Not this time, though. Focus on writing this time around.

Just being here, down below, in the presence of such

geological greatness as Challenger, Kit Carson, and

Crestone peaks, feels like I am in the presence of power.

I am reminded of my Grand Canyon experience.

First time I came forward to the South Rim I stood,

as one of their teachers, with a vanful of high schoolers seeking science credit and maybe even a little adventure.

Whatever the distractions, I was duly impressed.

Too much haze between us and the North that day --

this is a national park, after all --

but overall a meaningful first experience with one of

the seven Great Natural Wonders of the World.

But that next visit, following a school year’s absence and an awaited reunion, the tears flowed within the first minute back on the South Rim at mid-day.

It’s a powerful and affective kind of thing.

One feels it. Size and scope take on an awesomeness that leaves one, literally, a little breathless. Yes, altitude, but more than that, it’s just grand.

Big. Stupendous. Gargantuan. Deep.

Like a whole mile deep. And about three miles across.

All done by wind and water and a little shifting and lifting of the plateau the Canyon still wants to sink back into. Then the wind in the pines while you stand on the rim. Hopefully you’ve found a quiet space. It’s not too hard to do, but if you stick with the main tourist stops, you’ll hear enough German and Japanese and Where’s the pop machine? to detract from the experience.

It’s much quieter here at the base of the Sangre de Cristos,

but the natural power and majesty are likewise tangible.

I read last week in the Crestone Eagle that an experienced hiker lost his life up on Kit Carson last month.

A guy in his 60s, not unlike me. He had climbed over

four dozen 14ers in his time and had just added Kit Carson to his list. Nobody really knows what happened, but he was supposed to retrace his ascent back over Challenger to get back down. His two hiking buddies did what they were supposed to. This guy got separated and apparently tried a shortcut that cost him his life. Made the local emergency squad risk theirs just to pull his body off the mountain. I heard a couple helicopters going into the mountain again last night after dark.

Maybe another rescue. Hope not.

This is my second visit to Crestone and Nada.

I have been stopped in my tracks, again, any number of times by an amazingly beautiful sunset or a picture of a mountain bluebird or mule deer or clouds over a mountain that just calls out to be taken.

This is big sky and big mountain and big, flat valley country.

It’s a desert with occasional snowmelt streams. One zen holy man has offered that Crestone is one of the two or three best places in the world for a spiritual retreat. I’ve not seen near enough of the world to make that conclusion, but living here, for a time, in a scrub desert landscape at the base of powerful 14,000+ feet peaks, is the stuff of inspiration and reassessment of humanity and our place in the Natural world.

Pretty good place to write, too.

Today’s elder idea: The 63 year-old male was an experienced hiker going for his 52nd Fourteener.... The victim’s wife, daughter, and niece drove down from their home in Parker, Colorado and were counseled by victim’s advocates from the Sheriff’s Department.

from The Crestone Eagle

October 2010

One can never be too sure of things.

Jack London

a thought by the man in ‘To Build a Fire’

image: Challenger Peak, a real 14er, whose trail starts just up the road from Nada.

You could come to Nada. See:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Crestone quiet

In a way, you’d have to say a person has to work pretty hard to get to Crestone, Colorado.

It’s one of only two towns I know that are actually at the end of the road. The other is Homer, Alaska. The only way out is to go back the way you came. The road you’re driving on will end pretty soon, either in a dead-end or will peter out into a forest trail. In either case, you and your car are not going over that mountain.

It’s not that things aren’t developed in Crestone, though things are pretty basic. I stopped by the post office the other day to buy some first class stamps. Seems the post office is really just a series of PO boxes with nobody home. Not even a stamp machine. I imagine it’s open some time to ship boxes or buy postage, but it wasn’t obvious by reading the postings on the door. If you need serious civilization/shopping, a body has to drive north to Salida or south to Alamosa, each about 45 minutes away. It’s a bit of an investment in time and energy.

Crestone has a couple jewelry shops, a used-stuff store, an organic food market, the aforementioned post office, a credit union, and not much more. I hear there’s a new mercantile store that hopes to sell some hardware items later this year. And except for occasional weekend complaints aimed at The Laughing Buddha bar and dance operation, Crestone is a pretty quiet place.


People talk about going to quiet places. Peace and solitude and all that. Well, such things are said about Crestone. Just how quiet is it?

Pretty often here, if you just stop and listen, you can hear wind singing through piñon pine needles. You can hear the occasional high altitude jetliner. Their silent flashing is fun to watch at night, too, in the crystal clear skies overhead. There is bird song here, of course. Mostly magpies and piñon jays.

But quiet. Well, here at the Nada Hermitage last Sunday afternoon I took my lawn chair out away from my private cabin just far enough so I could sit and study Challenger peak overhead to the east. And just to make it feel more like a picnic, I popped the top on a Modelo Especial and grabbed the box of Cheez-Its. So while I’m sitting out there in all this quiet -- doing my best to be mindful -- I picked up my beer and took a nice, long swallow.

Odd. An unusual sound. What was it? Neighbor’s dog? I took another swig. Same response. I listened to the opening after the next sip. Wasn’t effervescence in the bottle. That sound I recognized. But this new sound. Another sip. There it was again.

Heavens. The sound I heard and felt was the pop of effervescence inside my mouth. One more sip. Yup. That’s it.

All I can say is that if you go someplace where you can sip a nice cold beer and hear the bubbles pop inside your head before you swallow, that’s a quiet place.

And that’s the Nada Hermitage at Crestone.

You could come. See:

Today’s elder idea: My friends, perennial city dwellers from California, are impressed with the silence [of the Arizona desert.] The silence, like the visual setting, seems unreal. Overdramatic. Contrived. We talk about it, dispelling the silence in our immediate neighborhood, for a radius of a hundred feet or so. But when we pause in our conversation the silence is there again at once, complete, centered in our minds. An absurd stillness....

Ed Abbey

excerpt from ‘A Walk in the Desert Hills’

from Beyond the Wall (1984)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Walking arroyos

Oh, it’s been lovely in the mountains. You don’t want to know. Rest assured that I’ve been doing some work. Here’s a new poem.

Walking arroyos

Though gravel paths are published as preferred

route through sage and piñon pine, causing

least disturbance in this fragile desert community,

the Others who live here follow other ways,

learned and sensed, that lead them to food and

water and places where they feel safe.

I find in walking these alternate throughways -

these mountain arroyos - a language of the Mother

spoken through Earth and Water: the unconditional

embrace of a molten heart, cast up and seething,

with the cooling of air and the comfort of rain, loved

and worked by desert wind, into an exposed wholeness

of conglomerate self, knowing sand and rounded granite

as relatives, and a revealing of Truth in our time

assuring us that we are part of all this that comes and goes.

Today’s elder idea: The Day undressed - Herself - /

Her Garter - was of Gold - / Her Petticoat of Purple....

Emily Dickinson

excerpted from Franklin 495 c.1862

photo: ‘Walking arroyos‘ by Tom Schaefer. (2010)

Taken right outside my hermitage. I’m telling you, you could come.