Monday, January 30, 2012


Both my older sister and brother have ‘snow-birded’ their way to Florida again this January.  Mike is working pretty hard at the range trying to improve his driver and iron play.  Patty reported Saturday when I called that she was at a community ‘yard sale’ and that the sun was lovely, and, well, she was warm enough to take off her sweatshirt. 
Me?  I’m holed-up in Ohio wishing for some snow, which brings me to some thoughts about winter up here in moderately-cold country.
I must admit, I rather like winter.  Sure, I like to travel out of the cold into the sun when I can, but I really like just being home this time of year and leaning into the season.  
It used to be that I looked forward to snow so Huber Heights City Schools might cancel for the day and Cindy and I could have a bonus day off.  I still look forward to those cancellations, but now checking for Vandalia and Northmont, the districts where my grandkids attend.  Imagining them outside playing in snowfall when they could have been taking a social studies test warms my heart.  There will always be time for tests. 
I’ve noticed this year, too, that I’ve been feeling tired enough to hit the sack much earlier in the evening.  Last week I got to bed by 9:30 a couple of times.  Seems unusual for me, but with darkness settling in by 6 pm, my body must figure the three+ hours of no sun must mean it’s time to turn in.  Such must be the ‘long winter’s nap’ Clement Moore writes about in his popular Christmas poem.  
During this time of year, too, I can’t just head outside to start or continue a yard project.  Last week I tried to split a few logs left from the spruce cut-down last fall.  Yow.  Still pretty damned wet and hard to cut.  Yet, Noah took a small piece and with one swift swing of the ax, had his very first log split!  He was pumped!  The rest of those yard jobs can wait until April.
I’ve spent more time this year sitting at windows peering out into the winter.  I’ve read a bit, watched some video, and listened to plenty of music, but find the sitting and watching nicely meditational.   
A high school classmate, whose work schedule runs circles around mine, advises me she recently fell on Ohio ice and fractured a knee.  She now wonders what this event is supposed to teach her.  A week prior to the accident, she mentioned how she was more tired at the end of the day than she used to be.  She thought maybe she ought to slow down a bit.  Now with the knee break, she has to.  If I know her, she’ll try to find the message contained therein.  
Last Saturday we had an icy weather teaser around these parts:  cold rain turned into sleet.  It didn’t do much for sledding, but the roads sure were nasty.  It was better to set a fire in the stove and settle in for a day best spent inside.  Pretty good football last week, too. 
Overall this year, though, white precipitation has been a let down here.  We’ve gotten plenty of grey skies with lots of rain, but no snow to speak of.  There’s few neighborhood experiences better than taking a walk in a good snowfall.  The silence therein is remarkable.  
Perhaps that’s one of the best things about winter:  the quiet.  A quiet that encourages introspection and a good, long sit.  
Besides, a long, snowy season always makes springtime that much sweeter.  Spending winter where its warmer takes the purgatory out of the new growing season of color and birdsong.  I’d rather earn spring, you know?  
Today’s Elder Idea:  
Winter is the best time
to find out who you are.

Quiet, contemplation time,
away from the rushing world,

cold time, dark time, holed-up
pulled-in time and space

to see that inner landscape,
that place hidden and within.
‘Winter Is the Best Time’ by David Budbill, from While We've Still Got Feet. © Copper Canyon Press, 2005. Reprinted without permission.  
Borrowed from Garrison Keillor’s ‘The Writer’s Almanac’ from the Saturday, 28 January, podcast.  
image:  January 2009:  Brother Mike is preparing for his long-awaited journey south, delayed one day by stinky weather in SW Ohio.  Currently calling Detroit home, he knows now that winters are for golf clubs in Florida!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Norman Rockwell

If you live in the Dayton area and have not been down to the Art Institute to see American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, I encourage you to go before it’s gone in a couple weeks.  
It is a collection of America, and Americans, right before your very eyes. 
I mention this today because it is a worthwhile exposition, but also because last Thursday when the museum held a poetry night, it was mentioned in the poet bios that this website (The Back Porch blog) was the home of my work on my Mabel Loomis Todd book.  Not so.  
For information on the The Dressy Adventuress:  Mabel Loomis Todd’s Camp Mavooshen on Audubon’s Hog Island, see:
All the same, thanks for getting this far! 
I was invited to write an ekphrasic poem for the event -- an original piece based on a work of art.  I started by gathering ideas for a poem, or series of poems, but never quite got one finished enough for public consumption.  
Still, about a dozen poets read.  I participated with my writers’ group, Emily’s Boys, by opening the program with a spirited rendition of Walt Whitman’s ‘There was a child went forth.‘  A very nice evening, indeed. 
Any number of Rockwell images from the exhibit could accompany this entry today.  I picked ‘Girl at mirror’ just because she moves me so.  Maybe it’s because I have daughters of my own, or because I see an old girlfriend in the face of the young lady.  
I don’t know exactly.  What I do know, however, is that Norman Rockwell’s illustrations had me in tears most of the way through my two times through the exhibit.  
I kept thinking I was seeing my parents and my brothers and sisters in so many images.  I mean, we were everywhere.   I told my 90 year-old mother that she absolutely must let me take her to the exhibit.  I know she’ll be moved as well.  
When analyzing Rockwell’s importance in the canon of American art, one would have to say it is significant because it documents contemporary twentieth century life in America. 
That said, some complain that Rockwell’s work does not show the diversity of Americans -- that it misses so many of who we are.  I suppose that’s a fair criticism, but two of the most moving pieces in the exhibit were based on events from the Civil Rights era.  
Today I would like to celebrate what Rockwell did accomplish.  He succeeded in representing a wide variety of Americans in American pursuits, whether it was a young girl wondering about her blossoming womanhood, or a cop sitting on a bar stool talking to a young boy who thinks he knows enough to run away from home.  
When all is said and done, though, I must say I am drawn to Rockwell’s people:  their faces; their personalities exhibited through pose; the observation of private, personal moments at home; the perfect portraits of Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy.   
In the end, though, I have to say I am particularly drawn to Rockwell’s girls.  How can a guy look at that beautiful kid sitting in front of the mirror and not fall in love?  
Today’s Elder Idea:  I paint life as I like it to be.
Norman Rockwell

Sunday, January 8, 2012


I’ve never been good at new year’s resolutions, so I gave up even trying years ago.  I’m sure somewhere along the way I swore off desserts after 8 pm.  Didn’t work.  Just look at my waistline.  I really do love my ice cream. 
One thing I’ve tried to incorporate in my life over the last decade or so is a regimen of zen meditation.  I’ve gotten started a few times, but after a week or so, I remember, “Oh, yeah.  I was supposed to meditate this morning.  Hmmm.  So it goes, I guess....”  
Still, like coming back to the breath countless times with no fault, no guilt, here I find myself.  I am hoping a little time every morning -- at least every weekday morning -- might help me reconnect with some ground that can keep me focused on my book and, well, life in general.  
I always hope to be doing the right thing.  Last week a friend connected my spiritual style to that of a miner.  “I love how you keep digging and mining for sources of inspiration and support for your own soul/spirit/life.  You are a miner and therefore you will never be at rest,” she wrote.  She went on to say her own miner’s life directs her into “as close a way as I can figure to walking through it all with any kind of integrity.”  I know I’m in good company.
So last week, the first week of January, I began a new practice of morning meditation.  In the hope of getting me focused for the quiet, I adapted a prayer I recently found as my forward for the day.  The original prayer addresses God.  I would rather address the Spirit of the Universe.  
Spirit of the Universe, I have come into the quiet and stillness of your presence to begin this day, so that out of these meditative moments I may take with me a quiet serenity which will last me through the rough and the smooth of this day’s life. 
I have come to find wisdom; that I may know when to speak, and when to keep silent; when to act, and when to refrain from action. 
I have come to find peace, so that nothing may worry or upset me, all through today. 
I have come to find courage, to be patient not to give up hope, when hopes are long in coming true; to accept disappointment without bitterness and delay without complaint. 
I have come to find love, to listen to your love so that all through today I may love, without being attached, that nothing may make me bitter or unforgiving. 
I have come to begin the day with you, so that I may be able to continue it, and end it with awareness of you. 
And I have come this day, O Spirit, to be real, transparent as a mountain stream, with a heart open and spontaneous as a child. 
Hear this, my morning prayer, for the hope of social justice and for the sake of all in the world.   Amen.
Finding myself sitting in a straight chair at the sliding glass doors that face our back yard, I then reach over and start the timer on my iPod.  I try to find a focal point to get lost in, somewhere out back.  Birds distract me.  But I sit, chin up, listening to my breath, just trying to be present, hoping that if anybody has anything to say, I’ll be able to hear it.  I’ll see how it goes.  
 How does your spiritual life go?  Care to share?  ;-)
Today’s Elder Idea:  The challenge is not to mourn what is lost, or over; nor regret that a good experience has come to an end; but rather to gather up all the pieces and take them with me into the next phase of my praying.  
Suzette Cayless
Order of the Holy Cross Companion
‘Morning’ adapted by and then from Kent Ira Groff  (Associate of Holy Cross) from a prayer found in a Roman Catholic seminary in India.  
image:  I mean, morning, you know?  And busy already.  Photo by Tom Schaefer.  

Sorry, but I can't correct the line just above.  The thought is by Suzette Cayless.