Friday, December 21, 2012


On this cold and blustery winter solstice, the year’s darkest day, Cindy Lou and I celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary.  For this momentous occasion, a new poem:  


for Cindy Lou

Back in the summer of 1989 what I knew 
about you most was your unhappiness 
in a marriage you wish you hadn’t gotten into. 
It was that fall when you made your break.

We had talked often in my office in Storck Hall
after classrooms and hallways emptied of kids,
when all that was left was grading and planning.  
Still, we spent hours instead, talking, taking care, and listening. 

It was, of course, the S.E.T. for Life retreat that reset mine. 
We were assigned facilitating a MicroLab, hoping to give 
a handful of kids an insight into understanding
how life can be complicated, yet manageable. 

I can remember working with you in that meeting place
populated with young people, sensing for the first time 
how graceful it felt to move kids through a class activity
with a teaching partner that required everyone present to trust. 

Later, we sat up into the wee hours in that church camp lounge, 
alone, talking about my little girls, your changing life, 
my love of Hog Island and Emily, and sometime 
before 4 am, when we figured we had better get some sleep, 

I took the ultimate risk of telling you how beautiful you are.  

That was thenThis is now:
our having found our own way to manageably move 
through life’s complications in search of a home with  
a partner capable of love enough to overcome personal history.

It wasn’t always easy, but in the process of our
storming and norming over these last twenty-plus years, 
I have so wanted to provide the brother’s acceptance 
and the unconditional love you have hungered for.

For me, I am grateful to have been blessed by your 
beauty and grace and the care you exhibit to ensure 
I have the stuff I need and the time to pursue 
the birds and words and images that somehow complete me.

On this occasion of our being wed twenty years -- 
time that has eclipsed every couple relationship either 
of us has ever known -- I find myself humbled by
the healing power you bring to my mindful existence.

I wonder how many more years we have. 
I wonder how much more we will be allowed to be present 
to the kids we love so much and for a world playing out it’s time in history. 
But whatever time that is, know that I will be there with you, 

holding your diamond hand, your partner ‘til eternity. 

Today’s elder idea:   Anything worth thinking about is worth singing about. 
Bob Dylan
via Mary Oliver

I’ll assume that works for poetry, too. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Emily & me

It all began in a rather mystical way over thirty years ago.

I had been teaching junior high school English for the first third of my career and had finally gotten ready to start on a master’s degree.  I loved being in the classroom with kids and knew I didn’t want to spend time working on a principal’s certificate, though I think some folks thought I might make a good one.  

My assistant principal at the time, Darlene Duchene, called my attention to a survey she had recently received from the University of Dayton querying interest in a new graduate degree in the humanities they were considering.  She thought such an eclectic focus was tailor-made for me.  Oddly enough, as it turned out, equally local Wright State University rolled out their Master of Humanities degree that upcoming fall (1980) and I am proud to tell you I was accepted into that initial flight of scholars embarking on a new kind of liberal arts graduate degree that, at least in my case, changed the course of my life.   

Over the next two quarters I taught kids all day, read a brain-choking number of books designed to give me balanced background in the humanities evenings and weekends, attended a twice-weekly introduction course at night, and wrote two lengthy papers in the process, one on naturalist John Muir and the other on photographer Ansel Adams.  From that point on I was to design a collection of interdepartmental courses that would make me, well, a master of some aspect of humanities that motivated me.  Seemed to me I was heading in some environmental direction.  About that time I dubbed myself a liberal arts environmentalist.  

So it was a bit puzzling when my favorite English department professor suggested I take his upcoming workshop on Emily Dickinson.  I questioned what she had to do with environmental interests.  Mr. Hughes just shook his head, took on a wistful look, and said, ‘Oh, she’s connected to all kinds of things.‘  

And so it was.  

In that spring workshop we talked for hours about Emily’s mysterious life and her canon of work while reading Richard B. Sewall’s new-to-paperback, The Life of Emily Dickinson, while having the full Thomas H. Johnson 1960 collection at hand, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.  I don’t remember much about what I wrote in that course, but I recall a series of photographs I developed in my home darkroom of some Woodland Cemetery monuments, tying them to some dark, brooding verse of Emily’s. 

I’ve read about how living on an island, even for a time, can change the way a person perceives life.  I must say I feel the same way about having studied Emily Dickinson.  For me, knowing more about that elusive Belle of Amherst has colored how I look at family, friends, Nature, and the essence of the universe.    

Still, Emily remains a mystery to me, though I feel that I know her pretty well.  It feels something like having her as a girlfriend:  I’m pretty sure I know her, but every once in a while an unexpected behavior -- or poem, or letter -- shows up that kind of baffles me.  

Truly, no one knows all we’d like to know about Emily Dickinson.  She will forever remain an ethereal character in American literature.  And in that is a beauty worthy of remembering on this December 10, Emily Dickinson’s 182nd birthday.

Oh, and that analogy to living on an island changing your life a couple paragraphs above?  I could tell you stories....  

For more on Emily’s Boys collection of original poetry, see . 

Emily’s Boys are James M. Hughes, D. F. Dominic, A. Bergeron, and Tom Schaefer.

Today’s elder idea:   That Love is all there is / Is all we know of Love...
Emily Dickinson

Cindy Lou and I proudly bear ‘LOVE IS ALL’ etched into our wedding bands.  Next week marks our 20th wedding anniversary. 

top:  Emily Dickinson’s headstone, photographed by me October 2006.

below:  Letters to the World cover, featuring Emily’s headstone shot by me summer 1981.

Saturday, December 1, 2012



Heavens.  The Back Porch:  0 for November 2012.  I guess that says something about how November consumes us here at our house.  Here’s why:  

Waffle Shop
First off, thank you to so many Dayton friends who made it down to Waffle Shop the week before Thanksgiving.  When all the dust settled at Christ Episcopal Church, we had almost 1700 folks in the front door yet served almost 1800 lunches.  This time around carry-out worked over time by serving close to 500 lunches all by themselves.

Waffle Shop, for the uninitiated, is a long-standing Christmas downtown holiday tradition, held this year for the 83rd time.  Indeed, the first event was held in 1929, just a month or so after the stock market went bust.  

Since then the event has grown to include a bazaar of seasonal crafts and gifts, a ‘white elephant’ sale (used stuff with plenty of use left), a raffle (this year for a Kindle HD and a gift card for the Pine Club), a bake sale, and a liberal sprinkling of live holiday music.  

This year’s Celebrity Bakers were Christine & Ralph Dull (co-founders of the Dayton International Peace Museum), Jane Black (Associate Director of the Dayton Art Institute), and Judy Dodge (newly re-elected Montgomery County commissioner).  The CBs get to sit at waffle iron #1 (next to the lovely Cindy Lou at iron #2) and, while baking, chat with the lunch bunch queuing up with their trays. 

This year we also invited some folks who received Waffle Shop Outreach Grants to stop by to set-up a display and meet with our guests and tell them about the good work they do in Dayton.  Outreach Table guests this year were Daybreak (passing out pet treats baked at Lindy’s, Daybreak’s new business venture for their kids over at their old site on Wayne Avenue), FISH Fairborn, Family Services, and Homefull (formerly The Other Place).  By the way, Christ Church is proud to note that Homefull grew out of a community meeting held at our church twenty-five years ago.

It looks like we grossed over $18k this time around at Waffle Shop, most of which will be awarded as Outreach Grants following a round of applications and committee discussion early next year. 

This Waffle Shop marks eleven years that I have been involved in organizing it, and I must say, doing so has been a real joy in my life.  Lots of work, yes, but amazing perks -- like so many downtown neighbors stopping in -- based on Christian hospitality.  I am honored to be a part of it. 

One more Waffle Shop story:  Thursday turned out to be our busiest day, following a morning picture with caption in the Dayton Daily News and a blurb on local television the day prior.  It also marked the day our fabulous Hobart refrigerator decided life was over.  By the end of the day we discovered the necessary repair would cost nearly $1500.  Ouch.  Such cost puts a real crimp in the grant giving, you know?   

Then on Friday morning, the niece of long-time waffle baker Olga Veselenak, a nonagenarian who died not long ago, stopped by with a financial gift from Olga’s estate to celebrate Waffle Shop, the Christmas event she loved so much.  Amount of the gift?  $3000.  More than enough to replace our very necessary commercial refrigerator.  When we told Olga’ niece about our need, she wept when told it is our intent to put a memorial plaque on the new fridge honoring Olga’s memory.  As I said repeatedly the rest of the day, stick around long enough and a miracle will happen.  

So it was at Waffle Shop 2012. 

Thanksgiving at our place was lovely.  My mother joined us, as did most of the Issa family.  The free range bird from Bowman Landes Farm was/is delicious.  Yes, there is still a little left, though a whole load of leftovers went home with guests that day.  

I had a little computer trouble, too, that set The Back Porch off a bit.  As you might know, I replaced my iMac with a new MacBook Pro back in September.  Believe it or not, the hard drive on this brand new machine went south Thanksgiving week.  Thank goodness for Apple’s Time Machine back-up software.  After a quick replacement at the Apple Store, all has been reloaded and things appear to be in good shape.  Still, losing a hard drive scares the heck out of me.  Not too bad this time, though.

Remember JB, the cat?  She’s doing great, though under another alias these days.  Cindy always wants to call her Sweetie, but she does that for all cute little people, including the kids she babysits.  

We decided a better name for the kitty was Gracie.  So now most often she gets called Miss Gracie Kitty, or Sweetie, depending on the mood.  

Still cute, eh?  ;-)

I’ll try to be more regular with entries from here on.  In the meantime, you have a happy holiday season.  And thanks for reading.  

Today’s elder idea:  ‘We’re gonna’ to make waffles!’

Donkey (from Shrek)

image:  Noah’s mommy broke him out of school on Friday for a Waffle Shop lunch!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The election

I’ve seen more than a couple internet comments from folks who are tired of Facebook ‘status updates’ involving thoughts on the election.   One read ‘I live in Ohio and I’ve voted early.  Now leave me alone!‘   Another was a cartoon of a guy throwing his tv out the window with some comment about seeing enough political ads on the screen already.  

Me?  I’ve tried to be publicly subtle about who gets my vote, but if you know me at all, you know who I already cast my vote for.  (Yes, I live in Ohio and I’ve voted early.  Election day will be a drive day back from New Orleans for Cindy Lou and me.) 

But trust me, it doesn’t take much for me to dive into an energetic monologue with a liberal listener about how ridiculous the other side seems to have become.  It’s much easier to preach to fellow choir members that take on the opposition.  I figure Romney/Ryan supporters have already made their minds up and how can I change ‘em anyway at this point?  Blessings to Cindy Lou for taking on presidential election issues with a few conservative friends a few weeks ago in Toledo.  She’s a brave one, that Cindy Lou! 

Last Sunday, a grade school/high school PhD buddy of mine went public on FB about supporting Obama, citing an editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  So now I suppose it’s my turn here at The Back Porch to spell out the reasons I think Obama and Biden deserve another four years.  

First, I can’t help but think that if a Republican had inherited a failing economy the way Obama did, and America had improved as little or as much as it has to date, the GOP would be pounding the talk show circuit with stories of success and ‘stay the course.’  Look at the successes: 

•  The war is Iraq is over.  Troops have come home.  And, yes, some troops have been reassigned to Afghanistan, but that conflict is also scheduled for a USA pull-out within the next year or so.  Sounds like success to me -- except for neo-cons who think war is always the answer, but I can’t believe that’s what most conservatives think. 

•  Health care reform has been contentious in this country for the last fifty years.  Like school funding reform in Ohio, everybody knows something ought to be done, but nobody is/was willing to do much for fear of the political fallout with the electorate.  Well, Obama picked up on a health care reform package originally developed by the conservative Heritage Foundation -- one very similar to the one put in place by a certain one-term Republican governor of Massachusetts -- but now the GOP/Tea Party thinks such a change in health care is a communist/socialist plot that destroys American freedoms.  Perspective is everything, I guess.  

•  What about Osama BinLaden?  Wasn’t he the devil reincarnated under the Bush presidency?  They couldn’t get the guy, but Obama did.  And now they say Obama’s foreign policy indicates poor decision making?  If McCain/Palin were elected in ’08 and they had gotten BinLaden, I can only imagine how they would celebrate the success of a tough GOP foreign policy.  Again, I guess it’s all perspective.  

•  Maybe Mitt Romney’s idea for a struggling General Motors and Chrysler was to let them go bankrupt so some entity could re-emerge financially healthy.  Maybe.  Or maybe he figured if they couldn’t compete for international markets, they ought to be put out to pasture.  All I know is Obama supported auto workers and a whole lot of folks did not lose their jobs, and now that industry has rebounded into profitability.  Seems like a good use of governmental power to me.   

•  And what about women’s health issues?  I get the idea that all life is sacred and that unborn human beings need protection, but for many church going conservatives, this issue is the only viable issue to vote on.  Really ‘pro-life’?  I have my doubts.  I quote Thomas Friedman from the New York Times:  

You don’t get to call yourself ‘pro-life’ and be against common sense gun control.  You don’t get to call yourself ‘pro-life’ and want to shut down the EPA, which ensures clean air and water, prevents asthma, and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet.  You don’t get to call yourself ‘pro-life’ and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health, and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children.  You can call yourself a ‘pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative....’  I have no respect for someone who relies on voodoo science to declare that a woman’s body can distinguish a ‘legitimate’ rape, but then declares that global warming is just a hoax.
Well said, Mr. Friedman.  I could delve into my diatribe about how ‘pro-life’ is really pro-human life, but I’ll refrain for another time. 

I happen to think America is a better place today, respected by more people around the world, than we were four years ago.  

•  Under the Lilly Ledbetter act, women are guaranteed equal pay for equal work.  

•  Gay and lesbian Americans can serve in the military proudly to protect this great country of ours -- a country with a contingent who would rather see them bounced out unceremoniously.

•  The financial industry has been reigned in from the bad corporate behavior that caused the Great Recession meltdown that caused Cindy and me to lose over $40k in our home’s value. 

In fact, I wish Obama could have gotten more done.   But the GOP made it clear in 2009 when he took office that they would do whatever they could to make him a one-term president.  In some ways, it’s amazing he’s gotten done as much as he has with the opposition trying to stop him at every turn.  Even if those programs he proposed were once a part of the Republican platform.  Go figure.  

One more thought:  We are all Americans.  I was deeply offended in 2008 when Sarah Palin concluded that only real American supported her party’s candidates.  If you were a liberal, you were somehow a commie and unAmerican.  Wow.  That’s painful, you know?  

And now a full-circle comment from Cindy Lou:  ‘I’ll be glad when the election is over so I can like my Facebook friends again.’  

And so it is in America in October 2012. 

Today’s elder idea:  Homosexuals are not in a position to adequately protect themselves from the discriminatory wishes of the majoritarian public. 

Dennis Jacobs
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
October 2012
In the decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (1996)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The fall

I know in the cycle of things that seasons come and go, regardless of how much we pay attention.  For those who live in subtropical and warmer places in the world, I don’t think a change in season makes much difference to how life goes on.  

In more temperate places, like Ohio though, seasonal changes can be pretty dramatic.  There is a drastic difference between a hot August day topping out in the 90s and a January night when a Canadian low pressure system brings on a dump of six inches of snow.   

Still, in my view it’s the ‘shoulder’ seasons -- spring and fall -- ushering in those extremes that bring me the most satisfaction.  As a kid with a spring birthday, I always loved gentle rains, the coming north of the sun, the warming and re-blooming of Earth, and the return of baseball.  

Autumn, however, is one tough season to beat for sheer drama.  Even though I can still find a tomato to pick in late October, or pluck one last bell pepper in our little front yard garden, the main event is the color change of trees and the inevitable dropping and collecting of leaves.  Just yesterday I mentioned to Cindy Lou, while looking out our dining room window, that the yellow leaf canopy we’ve enjoyed for the last few weeks has pretty much dropped, leaving us a spider web of bare branches and a better look at the sky beyond.  Winter can’t be too far behind.  

As I write this, a collection of music called ‘midweek’ is playing on my Mac.  It is mostly instrumental, designed to give my brain a fertile place to find connections that make my writing practice workable.  In fact, I find it damned hard to write without music playing. 

Beyond the writing, though, I thoroughly love to create music collections for the sheer joy of it, something I’ve been doing since I bought my first reel-to-reel tape deck back in the day.  Music almost always accompanies me in my work space and in the car, so I’m perpetually ready to pick up on a musical idea that could become a new playlist.  

Today I’d like to give special attention to a new music collection I just completed entitled ‘The fall.’  Along with all the eclectic assemblages of tunes I make, this one fits into the ‘semi-annual’ category, a special ongoing collection I finish twice a year, first one around my birthday in March, with another following at the half-year point in September.  Music included is always both new and great old stuff.  These collections are numbered according to my birthday, so ‘The fall’ is subtitled 62.5.  

I distribute these collections to a few special friends, as illegal as that may be.  They all seem to enjoy ‘em and, after all, it’s only music.  I mean, how good is music if you can’t share it?  

Here’s a little ‘seasonal commentary’ on the new collection: 

62.5:  The fall  
run time: just under 60 minutes

  1. ‘Ain’t it the fall’ / Starland Vocal Band  (1976)
Love the vocals these four folks create.  Recorded on Windstar, a John Denver label, so you know I’m going to like it. 

2. ‘Autumn leaves’ / Nat ‘King’ Cole  (1956)
Back when I figured many songs on this collection would be about ‘fall,’ I knew Nat Cole’s classic would have to be part of it.  

3. ‘Summer’s almost over’ / Cheryl Wheeler  (2005)
My sister Martha turned me onto Cheryl Wheeler a few years back.  Great little narrative for us baby boomers. 

4. ‘We take care of our own’ / Bruce Springsteen  (2012)
Now the theme song for Barack Obama’s campaign.  Says something about the America I stand for. 

5. ‘Emmylou’ / First Aid Kit  (2011)
New song from a Swedish duo I know little about.  I’ve been an Emmylou Harris fan for a long time, though. 

6. ‘Cosmic love’ / Florence & The Machine  (2009)
The last song to make the collection.  Needed a newer song and don’t know much about Florence and figured she was worth the listen. 

7. ‘Bridge over troubled water’ / Simon & Garfunkel  (1970)
From the Central Park concert before anybody knew this song. 

8. ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ / Paul McCartney  (1971)
Back in our college days, good buddy John Lauer and I headed to Maine for my first road adventure.  On the way through the Berkshires, this song was on heavy radio rotation.  This summer when Noah and I were driving through that same area, wouldn’t you know Sirius/XM satellite radio played it, too -- right on time!  Good to remember John, too!

9. ‘Classical gas’ / Mason Williams  (1968)
Somewhere along the line I realized I liked instrumental stuff a lot.  Easier to work in my head that way.  Mason Williams was one of the first originals that took me places.

10. ‘Inside passage w. Eno’ / poetry by Tom Schaefer
An original poem by your truly, accompanied by perennial favorite ambient artist Brian Eno.  Music from the album ‘Music for Films.’

11. ‘Alaska and me’ / John Denver  (1990)
Another reason to love Alaska -- and JD. 

12. ‘When you wish upon a star’ / Rosemary Clooney 
We in southwestern Ohio hold Rosie as one of our own, who was from Cincinnati.  Had to include a Rosie piece following seeing ‘Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical’ here in town last year.

13. ‘Venus’ / Frankie Avalon  (1959)
I’ve always liked Frankie Avalon, but this mention of Venus is especially for David Peck Todd, a guy who is part of my book, who was the first to photograph the transit of Venus a century ago.  The transit happened again this past summer. 

14. ‘Because’ / Dave Clark Five  (1964)
It’s the British invasion, you know?  ;-) 

15. ‘Brand new key’ / Melanie  (1971)
Cindy Lou brought this one back to me.  She sings it to the little kids she babysits!

16. ‘Desiderata’ / Les Crane  (1971)
Contrary to common belief at the time of release, this is not an old classic text, but a poem from the 1920s by a lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, Max Ehrmann.  ‘You have a right to be here...’ 

17. ‘I can see clearly now’ / Johnny Nash (1972)
If only we could keep that clarity! 

Today’s elder idea:  ‘Who could help but welcome autumn and the promise of a early snow?’

Cheryl Wheeler

Thursday, October 4, 2012

JB, the cat

I’ve never really liked cats.   

I suppose the ill feelings began when I was a little kid.  The lady across the street from us on Fauver Avenue had a dozen of ‘em we used to say, most of whom spent multiple nights every week (or so it would seem) yowling in the bushes just outside our bedroom windows.  They were often spoken about in our home with disdain.  

When Cindy Lou and I found each other twenty-two years ago, however, she was caretaker of two cats:  Snowfire and Dorothy.  If I wanted to hang out with Cindy Lou, I would have to accept her kitties.  And to thicken the plot even a bit more, she adopted her cats from a rescue shelter while accompanied by my daughter, Kelly, a pre-teen at the time.  It was Kelly’s call, in fact, to call the really fuzzy one Snowfire.  Needless to say, I became a non-cat lover living with cats.  

I hate to speak poorly of the dead, but both of those little cat people were a bit psycho.  Snowy lived most of her life under our bed, and when we had company, she was known to hold her urine so long she developed bladder infections.  Dorothy?  More sociable, but the weakest stomach of any animal I’ve ever met.  Poor kid threw up all over the place.   And peeing on furniture?  Let’s just say Dorothy and Snowy did not enhance my affection for felines. 

Still, it was -- and undoubtedly is -- obvious to me that Cindy Lou loves cats.  She loves all little animals, in fact.  She’s said how it’s the vulnerability that attracts her.  Little creatures in need touch her heart.  Since Snowy and Dorothy have gone to that great scratching post in the sky, we’ve been known to rescue a stray and deliver him or her to a shelter for adoption.  We’ve even cat-sat little buddies of friends of ours when they were between places to live.  We had one kitty that way for almost a year.  

So it was when I headed out earlier this week for an all-too-short solo fall camping trip to one of my favorite places, John Bryan State Park in Yellow Springs.  JB is so great because on weekdays this time of year the campground is nearly deserted.  If a guy is looking for a solitary retreat in an Ohio state park, it doesn’t get much better than JB.  For a little YouTube video I made of another such fall camp trip there, see:  'Retreat'.

This time around, however, I was surprised to find a kitty at my feet within the hour of setting up the camper.  Cute little thing, as cats go, I had to tell myself.  Just the same, when she jumped up into my lawn chair, or into my lap, I let her know such behavior would not be tolerated while I was there.  Still, she kept hanging around, and, well, she was really pretty.  She seemed so calm, too, so unlike house cats that hunt around our neighborhood who high tail it whenever I come out the back door hissing.  

Odd thing was she had a flea collar on.  How did she get there?  She seemed wed to my campsite, and regardless of how long I’d be gone on a walk, she would be right there when I returned.  I sent Cindy Lou an iPhone pic soon thereafter and asked if she had ‘packed the damn cat’ with my gear.  

Later that afternoon, one of the few campers there ambled over to my site and offered that the cat seemed to appear the weekend prior when two young girls had inhabited my campsite.  He had the feeling that the girls left at least a couple cats there intentionally for pick-up by Good Samaritans.  We both lamented how poor that decision was, but at least I had a sense of where this little kitty had come from.  My neighbor advised that he had put a handful of dog food out under a tree -- that’s all he had -- for the little critters.  Sure enough, while I sat at the fire as evening came on, the cat approached the dry stuff and set to crunching.  Before too long I set out a little rug she could sit on, along with a bowl of water and a little tuna, saving the rest for another meal.  

Oh, did it rain that night!  When I got out in the morning, I looked around for the cat but couldn’t find her.  Her rug was now soaked and her food bowl scoured clean.  Then I saw her in one of the only dry places she could find.  I refer to the picture above.  

I i-messaged Cindy Lou soon thereafter and told her somebody better come over and pick up this cat.  First, she was way too cute.  Second, her good nature would never stand up against a feral cat, raccoon, or -- heaven forbid -- a coyote.  Cindy accused me of being smitten by the cat.  True, perhaps, but I really wanted her to see the kitty the way I had.  We set a date that she would come up for breakfast the next morning and then we would decide what to do.  

Later that day in an i-message Cindy asked if I had named it.  I said I had.  I figured JB would work since I found her at John Bryan.  Cindy had arrived at precisely the same name.  I didn’t know yet she was a she, but Cindy said even if she were, we could feminize the spelling to Jonnie or Johnnie or something. 

Next morning I was looking forward to Cindy Lou coming out to meet the kitty.  Problem was, Cindy had been out late the night before in Cincinnati for our niece’s first violin concert.  By morning Cindy was dragging and wondered if she could skip breakfast and just have me bring the kitty home with me.  

I wasn’t happy about her not coming and I growled as I put my wet camp away.  Cindy messaged that she would nonetheless have some cat food and litter at home when I got there.  

But then, just as I started up my SUV to hook up the trailer, the cat disappeared.  That was it.  Gone.  She had been there for three days non-stop, then gone.  I waited.  No cat.  I drove around the campground, circling back to see if she had come back out of the woods.  Still, no cat.  

By the time I got home I was pretty unhappy with both the cat and Cindy.  We talked civilly a bit, then I invited Cindy to go to lunch with me at Clifton Mill.  She had mentioned just prior to my going camping that we hadn’t been to Clifton, so I figured there was no time like the present.  Besides, then we could stop by the campground one more time to see if we could find the little bugger. 

Back at camp an hour later, there was no sign of the cat.  I told my story again as we looked into the thicket to see if we could pick up any motion.  

Then I looked up.  There she was sitting 15 feet overhead in a honeysuckle bush, stuck, unable to get down.  I climbed up on a dead limb and she eventually came to me.  Cindy got her first hold and it was love at first sight, like I figured. 

Still, we didn’t know what to do with the cat.  On the way home we called SISCA, Tenth Life, the humane society, and a place called Robin’s Nest.  Nobody had an opening.  We knew we could always pay a fee and take her to the county animal shelter on Webster Street.  Only problem was, that is a kill facility.  No adoption after a time and the animal is put down.  That was a last option we didn’t want to take just yet.  

Then Cindy suggested we could take her home for a time to figure out what we should do.  

And there you have it.  We have a new cat.  

She’s a cutie, too.  And a thought came back to me from a day prior when I wondered what teacher had I been sent so mysteriously.    

Who knew?  ;-) 

Today’s Elder Idea:  No matter how much cats fight, there always seems to be plenty of kittens. 

Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Called back

If you are a really good at literature or have a thing for Emily Dickinson like some of us do, you might recognize the title of this blog as the epitaph on Ms. Dickinson’s headstone in Amherst, Massachusetts.  Story has it the phrase ‘Called back’ was the content of the last note she wrote to her cousins just before her death in 1886.  Her brother and sister thought it an appropriate aphorism to set in stone by which the rest of us could remember their sometimes odd yet thoughtful sister.  

Quoting Emily’s last written thought seems appropriate today as I memorialize a couple of fine folks who have made a difference in the world and just recently have shuffled their way off this mortal coil. 

First, Dayton lost an adopted favorite son early Monday morning when Rev. Gordon S. Price, rector emeritus of downtown’s Christ Episcopal Church, took his final leave from this earth at Hospice of Dayton.  Gordon was 95 and in poor health recently, but that surely didn’t stop him from being involved in life.  

Rev. Price served the people of Christ Church and the downtown community from 1958 to 1982 as rector with perhaps his most lasting impact his spearheading the renovation of the 1870s-era church building, known affectionately as the Great Lady of First Street.  

Those who knew him well, however, would probably point not to the building, but to the impact he had on the community as his biggest contributions.  During his tenure, Gordon stood with Daytonians in the ‘60s as civil rights issues tore the town apart.  He was at the church helm when the Suicide Prevention Center formed there, as well as the Other Place, designed to help local homeless, still operating today as Homefull.  During his time, too, with the help of parishioner Doris Miller, American Sign Language began to be ‘spoken’ every Sunday at the 10:30 service with the ASL program coming soon thereafter to Sinclair Community College, under the guidance of Ms. Miller.

Aside from his church work, Gordon was one heck of a gardener.  Stopping by his and Ruth’s house any day from spring to fall, one could expect a little lecture tour on just what was happening in the side yard plots.  Unfortunately, it was that working in the dirt that impacted a knee with a nasty infection a few years ago that he never quite got over.  

Even though Gordon was no longer Christ Church’s rector, he was still very much engaged in parish matters.  I can’t tell you how many Waffle Shop meetings the guy attended.  Most recently he called and wanted to meet briefly to discuss what should happen to the Great Lady’s chapel space, recently determined to be so seriously undermined that taking it down brick by brick was one of the proposed solutions.  Gordon, of course, wanted to keep the room standing, and even had a list of ideas about ‘reconciliation’ that parishioners could discuss and thus renew enthusiasm for retaining the room.  

Rev. Price ran Christ Church during an era when downtown was the financial and commercial center of the Miami Valley.  He knew so many important people in his day, and even assisted in their pastoral care, regardless of their religious affiliation.  He liked to tell the story of being with David Rike during his final days.  

Needless to say, Gordon Price will be missed, though knowing how much he was involved in life over his long tenure on the planet somehow softens the blow.  Rest well, Gordon.  You deserve it.  You showed us all how to witness love for each other in our lives.  


On that July night in 1969 when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon, I was going to be nowhere near a television set.  

I was 19 that summer and was invited to attend an evening religious event in Cincinnati with a good adult friend and co-worker.  Even though I wanted to be anchored in front of the old black and white Westinghouse on Fauver Avenue, I didn’t know how to say no to my pal.  

Sometime during the evening, though, the topic of the moon walk came up, and I made it clear that I really hated to miss the event.  My buddy heard me, and on the drive home, he pulled off at some long-gone restaurant at the Paddock Road exit just north of Cincinnati where we found a booth and sat for an hour or so with Cokes and a roomful of proud strangers watching live images from the moon.   Oh, such pride Neil brought to all Earth-bound folk!  

It was a nice moment, too, when I was able to get grandkids and a son-in-law to Woodland Cemetery here in town this past June to see Neil Armstrong celebrate another great American hero, Wilbur Wright, upon the 100th anniversary of the first flier’s passing. 

And so it is with sadness that I offer this farewell to Neil Armstrong, a guy gone before his time.  (Eighty-two doesn’t sound near as old as it used to!)  

Such a humble guy who never wanted to take much credit for his first-in-civilization accomplishment.  Over the years in the few interviews he gave, he made it clear he was just part of a much bigger team working together to make moon flight possible.  I learned recently that the Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins names do not adorn the official Apollo 11 flight patch at the direction of Commander Armstrong.  He didn't want the men remembered.  He wanted the first moon landing notoriety shared by all Americans.  The patch features a bald eagle landing with olive branches, not arrows, in his talons.  Truly, Terrans left the safety of their own world in peace.  

True enough, I suppose, but Mr. Armstrong will live in my heart the rest of my days as a true American hero.  He's the man.  

Today’s Elder Idea:  It is the role of the church to give of itself for the world's reconciliation, not preparing man for heaven.

Rev. Gordon S. Price
quoted in The Magazine
Dayton Daily News (28 March 1982)

For an earlier Back Porch blog on Neil Armstrong’s visit to Dayton in June, see:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hog3: Expectations

When Cindy Lou and I decided last winter that one of us -- that would be me -- could take grandson Noah to Hog Island’s Family Camp this summer, the wheels started turning in my head. 

I don’t think any singular place on the planet has made a greater impact on my life than Hog Island.  Certainly my home places have formed who I have become, but finding myself on Hog in 1981, when I was 31, and finding it intertwined with Emily Dickinson’s story, changed my life.  Ever since I’ve been writing poetry myself and collecting whatever I could about Mabel Loomis Todd and her family of island benefactors.  And, of course, there is the book I am writing about the Todd Binghams, most particularly how Mrs. Todd was a Nature lover, not unlike her reclusive neighbor in Amherst, Emily Dickinson. 

So it won’t be any surprise for you to learn that following my first fortnight on Hog Island, I immediately wanted to share the place with those I love.  The year following my going to camp, my then-spouse, Chris took her two-week turn in the Audubon program there, thanks to the generosity of a Dayton Audubon Society scholarship, one like I had been awarded.  Things didn’t turn out for us like I had hoped, but upon marrying Cindy Lou ten years later, one of the first places I had to take her was Hog Island.  It didn’t take Ms. Cooke long to understand what the place has meant to me.  

So after we got permission from Noah’s mother for me to steal him away to Maine and points east for a summer adventure, I began one of my favorite winter practices:  planning upcoming summer travel.  And with Noah?  On Hog Island?  Heart be still!  

I think I have admitted here on The Back Porch somewhere how I have miscalculated plenty of times what Noah should be capable of doing at his age.  When he was 3, he took up shovel with me and dove right in to digging the hole for our little backyard pond.  Ever since, I suppose, I’ve figured him to be my junior partner

So on this trip to Maine -- to that place of magic I have known for half my life -- I figured he would be my front seat traveling buddy.  You know, scope out the maps and know exactly where we are; have change ready for tolls; enjoy the pastoral countryside of northern Pennsylvania passing just beyond our windshield.  Didn’t turn out quite that way.

Instead, Noah wanted nothing more than to lose himself in electronic gaming.  Let’s see:  He had his iPod, broken glass and all, but somehow still operational.  If the power went low on that one, he could always use my iPhone.  (‘No, we’re not going to buy another game for the phone’ x 25)  And, of course, next on the hit list was my music-filled iPod loaded with a few of his favorite games.  

By mid-day two of travel east it was obvious Noah wasn’t interested in scenery as he contorted all over the seat next to me, seat belted, trying to get a better view of his broken iPod screen.  When he eventually got upside down, I became a bit exasperated and told him to jump in the back seat and make a little ‘nest’ for himself.  Off he went and with the two pillows we brought, propped himself up in a corner.  As far as I can figure, travel for him was a whole lot better the rest of the way with the new arrangement.  

When we got to camp, as mentioned in my last blog, I figured Noah and I would be paired up doing lots of stuff over the week.  But on Sunday afternoon’s first activity, he had already broken from me and found a new buddy to play with.  I was taken aback, but immediately realized that with Noah acting out with another, I could have amazing photo ops all week.  Trust me, I got some good stuff!

I titled this entry ‘Expectations,’ because I had a few when the Hog Island adventure with Noah began exactly one month ago today.  Still, I was much aware that this island event was really about himWhat would Noah find?  What would really turn him on?  How would he do with other kids?  Would he end up loving Hog Island like me?

The very human grandfather in me so wanted to connect with the kid and have him see some things special in the spruce woods and upon the lovely lobster-floated Muscongus bay waters.  And yet I knew that my experience would be enhanced by just letting go -- of him and my expectations -- and just be present for the week.  There was a warm zen mindfulness to such an approach, and I have to say, I am glad I embraced it.  I got to feel that I was a kind of home base for him on island, and that he could range far and wee to discover what he could with friends and on his own.  And he did it well, too.

I don’t know what Family Camp will mean to Noah in the long run.  I do know that we had a damned fine time while we were gone.  Cindy Lou senses something deeper between us.  I do like the sparkle in the kid’s eye and the smile on his face.  

I know, too, that Noah has been an amazing source of surprise for Grandma and me over the years.  Just when you think you know the guy, he pops off with some little nugget of wisdom that makes the two of us look at each other and smile.  Sure, we expect Noah to be an upstanding human being, but beyond that, we’re open to where he will take us.  

Today’s Elder Idea:  This island is so beautiful it really makes my heart ache!  Why, it seems to me God's own heaven can hardly be more perfect. 

                        journal of Mabel Loomis Todd
                        August 9, 1924

images:  Thanks to Trudy Phillips!