Thursday, December 31, 2015


Back on 17 December last, I was taken aback to hear that from the time the Wright brothers first flew at Kittyhawk, North Carolina — 17 December 1903 — until Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made it to the surface of the moon for humanity’s first walk on extraterrestrial ‘soil’ — 20 July 1969 — only 66 years had elapsed.  

In other words, from the time Orville & Wilbur puzzled out how to get an internal combustion engine plus human being off the ground into free flight using only rudimentary wood and canvas for flight surfaces ’til the Apollo 11 boys broke Earth orbit for a gambit to the collection of space rocks we call our moon, only one moderate human lifetime had passed.  If you were a 17 December baby in 1903 and were still around summer 1969, you would have been 66, or darned near.  

Well, March 2016 will bring my 66th birthday, and thus, I am particularly intrigued by that number this New Year’s Eve. Thinking about 66 seems to be a thing at this point in my life.  

In a way, a 66th birthday is of little consequence.  The Medicare birthday that comes just prior was probably the big deal.  Had a party, didn’t you?  Yes, I did, too.  It was lovely, by the way, with my good buddy and birthday mate, Dick Wendeln, there and a handful of classmates.  But if you’re like me, you welcome upcoming birthdays instead with a toast at a nice restaurant with just your family.  No presents, only presence of loved ones required.  Can’t get much better than that for a 66th.  

So during a span of only 66 years, engineers and prototype builders improved the flying experience by moving from canvas to composites and developing portable power plants that would not only break the speed of sound, but would provide enough thrust take travelers into Earth orbit and beyond.  Amazing.  

And recently, of course, if you’ve been paying attention, Space X and Blue Origin, new civilian space delivery companies, have even succeeded in landing first stages of rockets to be reused.  No longer will complex and expensive first stage electronics, fuel tanks, and rocket engines be relegated to Davey Jones’ Locker upon ignition of the second stage.  Bring ‘em back, refurbish ‘em, get ‘em back in the air.  And while you’re at it, figure out a way to use the second stage over again, too.  

Makes me think of the Wrights, here, as well.  When they had trouble controlling even the gliders in the autumns preceding 1903, Wilbur concluded flight might not be, in fact, possible.  But he and his brother stuck with it, refigured their tables, and with the help Charlie Taylor, the engine builder, defied the odds and built a machine that actually flew.  

Same with landing a rocket’s first stage.  Not too many years ago, even engineers thought it impossible.  The Elon Musk (Space X) and Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin) companies, however, were able to puzzle that riddle, as well.  What new developments are upcoming?  I’ll say again, my favorite channel on cable is NASA TV.  I truly love to hear about what wonders are being worked on peacefully by the world’s best and brightest:  NASA.  European Space Agency.  Russia’s Roscomos.  Japan’s JAXA.  Now even China is in the space engineering mix.  

Oh, what the next 66 years will bring in space travel!  I wonder if one of our grandkids will walk on Mars?  I would like to hang around long enough for that accomplishment, that’s for sure.  

I head off Sunday for Lake Cumberland to get back to work on my book, Nature’s People: The Hog Island story from Mabel Loomis Todd to Audubon.  One chapter and revision to go.  Thanks to Shannon Wood, again, for letting me use her lovely lake house to hole up in and concentrate on one thing at a time.  Much appreciated.  

Also, be advised that I am talking about my Hog Island project for Aullwood’s Winter Speaker Series this round.  Mark your calendars for Sunday, 31 January 2016, @ 2:30, for my talk, Nature’s People.  Lots of cool historical images of Hog Island from the Yale University archive.  It would be good to see you there. 

As exciting as talking space and my book might be, another truth of the time is that some good friends are fighting some mighty nasty illnesses right now.  None of us are getting any younger and bodies do break down.  

It doesn’t take a very long personal journey to find mortality staring you back in the face.  

All the best to everybody in 2016, and let’s stay healthy. What do you say?   :-)

Today’s elder idea:   In honor of my buddy Phyllis Kittel, who loves her volunteer work at the Ark-Valley Humane Society shelter in Buena Vista CO, a poem by Mary Oliver:

A puppy is a puppy is a puppy.
He’s probably in a basket with a bunch
of other puppies.
Then he’s a little older and he’s nothing
but a bundle of longing.
He doesn’t even understand it. 

Then someone picks him up and says, 
“I want this one.”

‘How it begins’ from Dog Songs by Mary Oliver.  Penguin Random House.  2013.  Used without permission.  I hope Mary wouldn’t mind.  

images:  top:  Wright brothers at Kittyhawk on 17 December 1903.  
mid:  from the Space X website.  

Neither of these used with permission either.  Hmmm. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Summer's escape

It has been a busy summer, for sure, but I don’t think any degree of engagement allows a blog writer to take the whole summer off.  I surely didn’t expect things to be that way, but so it has been.  In any case, I hope you missed me!  :-) 

A few thoughts about a summer that has, indeed, escaped: 

Back in June, I spent a week on Hog Island, one of my favorite places in the world, with jazz/new age/Grammy winning composer/sax player Paul Winter.  I’ve been a fan of the Paul Winter Consort for a long time and when I heard he was coming to the Audubon Camp, I volunteered in a hurry to guarantee a chance to get to spend some time with him.  

For the uninitiated, Paul Winter started as a jazz saxophonist in Chicago back in the ‘60s.  Somewhere along the line he came to understand the beauty of Nature’s own music and he made a genre out of adding recorded sounds of whales, geese, buffalo, river rapids, thunder, and the like into Consort compositions.  I have many favorite songs of his, but the one that comes to mind first is ‘River run,’ a lovely piece recorded acoustically in the Grand Canyon that begins with the trill of the canyon wren and uses the pulse of the Canyon as its heartbeat.  Great stuff.

At Camp, Winter facilitated a couple evening programs where participants brought various musical instruments, or at least something that could make a sound.  After talking about novel ways of hearing Nature, he invited four folks at a time to come to the center and play for and listen to each other in the dark, creating melody and harmony in a kind of call & response improvisation.  

Paul also shared stories of his various music projects, including his present multi-year, multi-national flyways endeavor that includes bird song with native- and Consort players-created music while contemplating bird migration from central Africa all the way into Europe and western Asia.  

I did get a couple chances to talk with Paul, but my favorite moment was when I was in the kitchen scrubbing  breakfast pots when I heard his familiar soprano sax playing out in the morning sunlight.  It had been cloudy most of the week, but finally on this morning the sun was warm and encouraging.  It gave me goose bumps to hear his ‘Sunsinger’ anthem played live that morning for the whole camp by the songwriter/soloist himself.  I feel pretty lucky to have had such a wonderful exposure to Paul and his music.

In early September, just about the time summer was making its official calendar exit for 2015, I received an email that would radically reset the course of the seasons for me.  

As with most of us, I expect, I had just received a slough of emails, mostly junk, and was scanning ‘froms’ to see if I needed to pay special attention to anything, or if I could just send all right to the trash.  One email looked ‘first class’ — a personal one intended for me — but the name was one I had not heard for a long time.  

Pretty interested, I opened it and was rewarded with a request to pick up a friendship that had lain dormant for fifty years.  You read that correctly:  50 years.  And yes, young readers, that was way before anyone invented email.  The correspondence the sender and I had had in the past was all in letter format, and if memory serves, much of it handwritten.   

The sender was Phyllis Kittel, known to me in my high school days as geometry teacher, Sr. Mary Harold.  During sophomore year, I worked with Sister in Backyard Peace Corps, a social action group she advised and I was involved in.  I don’t remember specific details much, but I had a good feeling about Sr. Mary Harold and by the next year when her community sent her to Chicago to work on a doctorate in mathematics, we exchanged letters for a time.  But before too long, contact was lost.  And so it had been until she sent me that email back in early September.

Turns out Phyllis had gotten in touch with another teacher of mine, who was also once a nun who had left the same order, who had returned to Detroit and continued her career teaching math, I’m pretty sure in public school.  Believe it or not, that former teacher, Kathy Schrader Downs, and I, had not lost contact over the fifty years since Carroll High School.  Phyllis asked Kathy if she still heard from anybody from Carroll, and my email address was passed along.  

I am frankly amazed at how lit up the e-conversation from Phyllis left me.  I still anxiously await a new message daily, and have had a great time listening to her life stories and going into more detail than necessary telling her about mine.  After all, I do want her to know I turned out okay and she had something to do with it.  In any case, it’s been fun.  

Based on this ‘find,’ I ended up writing an essay for an Advent publication that speaks of the grateful heart that comes with reconnecting with old acquaintances.  

Phyllis & I continue our communication while Cindy & I are planning a trip to Colorado for a visit next fall to Phyllis and husband, John.  Re-finding Phyllis after all these years has been, to revisit a literary theme learned from John Steinbeck back in high school, a pearl beyond price.

The last observation I leave you with today is about this amazing season we in the north experience known as autumn.  We recognize summer, then days get noticeably shorter and nights cooler.  Then we have frost, then a freeze, and in the process our yards are covered in leaves if you’re lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with trees.  We do and such a time is magical.  Today we brought in three young friends to jump in the huge leaf pile I had raked up just for that purpose in the front yard.  A good time was had by all, including the raker!  :-) 

Today’s elder idea:   For today’s final word on fall, I offer a verse from Emily Dickinson.   Thanks to Garrison Keillor’s ‘Writer’s Almanac’ for the idea.   [Franklin #935, 1865]

As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away—
Too imperceptible at last,
To seem like Perfidy—
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon—
The Dusk drew earlier in—
The Morning foreign shone—
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone—
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.

imagestop:  Paul Winter playing ‘Sunsinger’ outside the Fish House on Hog Island.   mid:  Sr. Mary Harold (1965), the once and present Phyllis Kittel.  below:  Three kids in a leaf pile.  :-)

Friday, June 26, 2015


Such a day already.  The grandson is over for a few days and we had planned to go riding bikes out of Yellow Springs this morning with a Young’s Dairy ice cream ‘chaser’ to finish.  Alas, a very steady rain all over the area makes riding a very wet choice.  Instead, Grandpa Tom has determined it will be the 2 pm showing of ‘Journey into Space’ in 3D at the Museum of the United States Air Force this afternoon, rain or shine.  Grammy and Noah are in favor.   

In the interim I am sitting solo under the back porch canopy while a gentle but steady rain visits Wild Grace, the little domain Cindy Lou & I call home.  

There are other things I could/should be doing, like working on the book or getting a few overdue things ready for mailing, but I am having a hard time getting out of this chair to do anything else but sit, listen, and be present with the amazing abundance of this late June all-morning rain in southwest Ohio.  

Of course, there is the subliminal jousting going on in my brain’s decision-making center.  Work good.  Progress good.  Resolution of work begun some time ago good. 

Yet in the sense of mindfulness, I am aware of the uncommon gift of being able to sit for an extended time under a canvas drum listening to the essential cycle of life on this planet making its own unique style of music.  It is a calming and beautiful thing just being present with Nature as it unfolds.  Sunny days are great, but rainy days with personal quiet time achieved is something to savor.  

It is, nonetheless, difficult to get the idea out of my head that I really should get something accomplished this morning.  I can think of two women I care for deeply who are working a full day today, giving of their time to make the world a better place.  Their time is not their own.  Me?  I’m sitting at home listen to it rain.    

I was hoping to write a blog about my experience with Paul Winter on Hog Island a couple weeks ago, but I figured such will take at least two hours if not more and I couldn’t find the motivation to remove myself from my rain meditation to focus energies somewhere other than this.  

Then thoughts drifted more deeply out into Wild Grace as I began to consider how important this natural watering is for all things green and for all those depending on those things green for sustenance and livelihood.  A hummingbird or two have braved falling rain to visit the sweetwater feeder hanging just above me.  A chipmunk just happened up onto the patio, took one look at me and froze, then tore off like his life was in danger after I said good morning.  Life is going on all around me.  It is palpable and fragrant and significant and as Real as it gets.  

Which made me think what a great blog topic that would be.  How important is sitting and listening to Nature go about her business on a rainy day?  Shoot, such could be an icebreaker for writing in general.  If I could get this one out plus the one on Paul Winter, maybe I could parlay that into an extended weeks-long writing period.  Maybe.  I’m still not quite sure how this writing thing is supposed to work for me. 

But right now I remain under canopy on the back porch, listening to rain patter and a few wet bird songs emanating from under a wetter, greener canopy encompassing the universe beyond. 

Yes, I could get busy doing other more practical stuff, but right now I’m just going to sit, sip a little water of my own, and listen.  

Today’s elder idea:   Humankind, despite its artistic abilities, sophistication, and accomplishments, owes its existence to a six-inch layer of farmable soil and the fact that it rains.

images:  originals off the back porch on a rainy morning

Friday, May 22, 2015

Last week today

With homage to John Oliver’s HBO show, I titled this entry as one that somehow defines what is important in my life these days, so much happening in a short but fulfilling seven day cycle that completed itself late last week.

First off you must know that the book I am trying to write, Nature’s People: The Hog Island story from Mabel Loomis Todd to Audubon, is foremost in my life these days.  I only seem to produce text while in sequester at Lake Cumberland, but much more for the book happens all the time.  That said, be advised that the significant goodness of last week unfolded in the name of Nature’s People.  

The trip to enhance the scope of Nature’s People began with a short drive to Cleveland where we had dinner and a good visit with a couple of Cindy’s cousins and their mother, Aunt Alice.  The next day was punctuated at mid-point with a stop in Olean, New York where we had a short visit over pizza with old friends Jean Fran├žois and Athena.  That night it was Ithaca where we had dinner with another branch of Cindy Lou’s family, Elisa & Leon & their delightful daughters, Louisa & Chiara.  Two lovely dinners over two afternoons amid the energy of a couple of youthful live wires.  Enchanting. 

Ithaca was first book stop on the trip for an interview with Steve Kress in his native habitat at Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology.  Steve’s input is invaluable for the upcoming chapter, ‘The advent of Audubon.’  

Next stop was in Kingston, New York, upstate on the Hudson.  Purpose there was to visit a couple of college students near and dear to us.  Bard College is currently home to niece, Ayla, from New Orleans, while Skidmore College, a bit more than hour away north in Saratoga Springs, serves as education quarters for good buddy, Rula.  Good conversations were had with both girls over meals.  

The apogee of our trip, New Haven, Connecticut, was up next:  Yale University’s Sterling Library which houses the archived papers, photography, and other memorabilia of the family my book is all about.  Target for this visit was to investigate a few hundred envelopes of family photographs in search of images of Hog Island.  We arrived New Haven on Sunday, midday.  

Before we could get to the manuscript library on Monday morning, we had a delightful few hours Sunday afternoon at a cafe in Milford, Connecticut, home to Friend of Hog Island comrade in arms, Colleen.  She and her lovely daughters introduced us to Bananagrams, a game I promptly ordered Sunday evening online at Amazon.  Excited comments about Broadway musicals predominated discussion.   

But Monday and Tuesday at the Sterling were the heart and soul of the trip.  I have so enjoyed putting the Todd family story on Hog Island together.  Being able to look at photos of the island now I might even recognize some characters I wouldn’t have recognized prior.  My hope was to uncover a trove of great old Hog Island photography that nobody on Hog Island these days, as far as I know, was aware of.  

Oh, and two fine days it was.  Lighting in the library sucked pretty badly for photographing photographs.  For some it was the glare I couldn’t avoid from high intensity lighting on old warped photographs.  Others images were too dark or too generic.  

And I have to tell you, I am amazed at the quality of the copy images made by my iPhone 6 under existing lighting (no flash).  Flat out amazing.  A few included here.  

I was pleased with what Cindy Lou and I had found.  Much, I think, is usable for Nature’s People, though copyright issues have not been approached yet.  I was advised to contact a special office at the library when I was ready to get serious about clearing copyright hurdles.  

And then it was a long but nice one-day drive back home from Connecticut with a variety of Sirius/XM stations to entertain us.  When I was driving, it was mostly 60s.  Oh, my.  Such a time.  

I should mention, too, that the morning we set out for Cleveland and the very next morning following our return, I visited a student at Stivers High School whom I mentor.  Christopher is finishing his second year there and is looking forward to some exciting and challenging experiences this summer from a camp at Wright State to working a part-time job someplace.  Oh, and he’s borrowing Cindy’s banjo for the summer, too.  He wants to work on transposing some of his guitar playing skills to banjo.  

Finally, the week rounded out nicely with oldest grandson Alex’s senior recognition ceremony from the Career Technology Center.  He officially graduates from Northmont High School in a week.  Great kid.  Honors.  Black belt.  Wants to work on airplanes.  Sounds like a budding career to me.  

And through all of this, Cindy Lou and I watched the Natural world of May push out leaves and blossoms before our very eyes everywhere we were from Ohio to New York to Connecticut to Pennsylvania.  New York hillsides were stunning with black walnut and redbud still flowering.  Weather was warm, and I had the sense Nature was pushing harder because the conditions were so damned good.  I truly love the spring.  Last week was an amazing one to witness.  

So what ties all of last week together?  Love, I think.  Love for family and love for work.  Love of Nature.  An appreciation of the details that might get overlooked.  

Like the use of the word ‘savory’ by 8 year-old Chiara as she very astutely described how she successfully assembles her bakery creations.  Mom & Dad confirmed they were, indeed, mighty tasty. 

Our seeing so many people that mean much to us.  An aunt in her 90s.  A couple we met at a bed & breakfast at Put-in-Bay twenty years ago that work to make the world a better place every single day.  They are inspiring. 

And then the book.  Love there?  You bet.  At this point I feel like I know Mabel Loomis Todd as an old friend.  I used to think her daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, was always chiseled and stoic.  Yet in the pictures at Yale I saw her features soften in views I had not seen before.  

Love.  Everywhere.  And all of this with Cindy Lou right beside me, proud of me and the work I am doing.  

Can a week get a whole lot better than that?  

Today’s elder idea:   To me, the thing that has been the most inspiring in all the years that I was trying to save [Hog] island, was, when I had been turned down innumerable times, and I saw no way, at all, out, I went out into the forest and I heard a great horned owl -- it was a marvelous midsummer night with a full moon and no mosquitoes at all -- I suddenly said to myself, “Why am I trying to save this island?  The island can do far more for us than we could ever think of doing for it.”’

Millicent Todd Bingham
In an address to Hog Island campers
summer 1950

imagestop:  Cindy Lou and Rula at Skidmore.
next:  Yours truly and Cindy Lou at Yale just to prove we were really there. 
next:  Millicent Todd Bingham in the ‘sweet fern’ on Hog Island c. 1920  (age 40) 

bottom:  best find of the trip:  Mabel Loomis Todd in the ‘big house’ on Hog Island.  c. 1925

Monday, May 18, 2015


I just read a story online emanating from Huffington Post regarding television star Leah Remini and her pain involved with leaving the church she had been part of since her time in the cradle, in her case the Church of Scientology.  She relayed that her mother was a follower and advocate of Scientology and her children were raised in the community of those beliefs.  Over time Remini has come to doubt what that church stands for.  Surely an energized debate can be raised over Scientology, but let’s save that one for another day. 

The power of the truth that Remini’s consciousness was honed in so may ways under the influence of a church her parents followed, takes me back to my own roots in Roman Catholicism.  My folks were ardent church goers and participants in all things Immaculate Conception parish for all the years of my youth.  My older yet still-teenage-then sister made parish history by chairing a booth at the summer festival staffed by youth.  Her stuffed animal venue had candy canes made out of carpet tubes fixed to the corners with an amazingly huge stuffed animal raffle instituted to raise even more money.  The kids had something to prove, and did very nicely, I don’t mind saying. 

I used to hang around the school building after hours, sometimes even before and after the year to see if I could help any of the teachers, mostly nuns, with chores.  I washed many a backboard and clapped dozens of erasers chalk free.  Shoot, I even walked some of my teachers ‘home’ across the play ground to the convent where they lived.  And in my own teen years, chaired along with a buddy an upstart Teen Club committee that matched young workers to parishioners needing various tasks completed.  I helped out in the CCD office for a few summers, too, along with another buddy I still call a good friend.  

Back in the day of the Latin mass, I studied prayers well enough to be put on the schedule as an acolyte.  I can’t do the ‘Orate Fratres’ from memory anymore, but I can still sing an Easter response refrain in English I learned in church choir sometime around freshman year.  ‘And very early in the morning, after the Sabbath /  They came to the sepulcher at sunrise / Alleluia.’  Very melodic.  And very grounded to what was learned as essential in life.  

As kids, we knew a handful of pets, lots of sibling rivalry, too many of Mrs. Wise’s cats howling in our bushes at night, seining for soft craws with Dad in the Stillwater river, and then fishing for hours at Englewood lake.  I thought my bicycle was my airborne vehicle to freedom on summer evenings.  I loved baseball but was pathetic at fielding.  Couldn’t hit, either.  I played some CYO football, according to my older brother, just to impress Dad.  I’ve thought about that for years.  Could be.  

But over and above anything we knew about life as kids, first and foremost — even considered before our parents — was Church.  Jesus.  His Father.  The Holy Spirit.  Truly, the three men I admired most.  Everything in life was considered in the aura of the Trinity.  God may have been Love, but she/he demanded accountability for all actions, whether spur-of-the-moment or contemplated.  Jesus may have been my brother, but he surely wasn’t going to put up with any of my shenanigans.  

And, I guess I’d have to say, such an upbringing and subsequent living a life has brought me to a place in consciousness that I am happy to occupy.  But in finding this place in the Universe that I comfortably inhabit, there are things I do and thoughts I accept that wouldn’t have been kosher back in the day.  I could tell you about the darkest, but it still makes me uncomfortable enough that I can only write about it in my journal, surely not a document that the whole world might get a look at.  Some of that stuff gets hidden in my poetry, as well. 

I would have to say I am an eclectic assemblage as various spiritual concepts learned over the course of my sixty-five years.  I think I prize hours sitting on my back porch either in meditation or idea-writing just about the most.  It’s birdsong and a chorus of suburban ambient sounds as my mind roams — or not — in that space.  Sometimes I push thoughts away in mindful meditation.  Other times I bolt for my poetry notebook and let the words form themselves for me and everybody else on the page.  

There are many days I feel I could depart from all churches and become one of the growing number of Americans who don’t consider themselves part of any organized religious organization.  I’ve heard of many others who feel as I do:  One main reason to attend is to be in the regular presence of other people who mean to do well in the world.  I’ve thought about this plenty and conclude that if I didn’t attend church, where would I find those people?  Yes, other organizations do good work as well, but they don’t have that same deeply rooted Home of the Truth sense learned as kids intuiting the search for safety and security.

Last night Cindy Lou and I talked about a member of our church who isn’t around anymore because she perceives our congregation too liberal.  Heaven only knows there are plenty of more conservative groups all over the congregational map.  All I know is, if my downtown church ever goes more conservative, I’m out of there for the opposite reason.  Then maybe Audubon will have to be enough.  

And maybe that’s the point of this writing:  Truth is, I am not settled in my Faith, whatever that is supposed to be.  I always liked the poster down at church that had an image of Jesus saying, ‘I never asked you to leave your brain at the door.’  And because of that, I realize my work trying to figure out the major Truths of living in our Universe is not going to come from one place.  

I am still seining, though now in other waters trying to find the nuggets of importance in whatever time I have left to search.  

Today’s elder idea:   The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. 
John Muir 

image:  I figure 1955 from our mother’s photo collection.  That’s Patty Jo in the Immaculate Conception uniform on the left with grade mate Michael John in the middle.  That’s trouble ready to happen on the right:  Tommy.   :-)

Monday, February 9, 2015

A forest of ferns

It has been a fertile time at my Lake Cumberland winter retreat working on my book Nature’s People: The Hog Island story from Mabel Loomis Todd to Audubon.  The all-important chapter, ‘Of astronomy & Dickinsons’ was wrapped up in a first draft late last week.  Phew.  Surely the juiciest of the collection of chapters!  

Two chapters to go.  Next one up is telling the story of ‘Mavooshen’s men,’ the fellows who, along with Mabel Todd and her daughter, Millicent Bingham, hewed a summer camp out of a section of a wilderness island and created a Maine respite for a family who loved Nature.  Writing seems to be on some semblance of a schedule.  

Last summer, as you know if you’ve been staying recent with this blog, I was blessed to be able to spend a month at Mrs. Todd’s Camp Mavooshen on Hog Island to work on a couple chapters of my book.  As product of that month, I wrote a number of new poems and combined them with new photography and created a little self-published book, A forest of ferns:  Reflections on Hog Island.  A special thanks to graphic designer Kelly Vogelsong of Dayton for making the lovely little thing happen. 

The goal was to print up a couple dozen copies for sale on Hog Island at the Puffin Burrow gift shop.  Those copies have been shipped to Maine, with a few other copies available.  I plan to send out a few to some folks with deep Hog Island roots, but there might be a few left when all is said and done.  If you would like a copy, let me know.  Cost would be $13, which would include shipping.  

In the meantime, let me share one of the new poems.  Enjoy. 


Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.
Henry David Thoreau

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.
Mabel Loomis Todd 
Rain on the cottage roof, 
mid-evening, gray sunset waning, 
like thousands of pairs of Natural hands
applauding the return of moisture 
given up to a demanding sun,
having ascended into ether 
until accumulated weight requires
reunion with a world 
where spruce and fern reach into soils 
cradled in granite doing all they can 
to be all that they are. 

‘Heaven,’ thought Thoreau. 

Mrs. Todd, too. 
Tom Schaefer
Camp Mavooshen
23 July 2014

Today’s elder idea:   In honor of Valentine’s Day, I offer a line from Paul Laurence Dunbar addressed to his beloved, Alice, before they were married.  This one sure works for my Cindy Lou, too.  

‘You were the sudden realization of an ideal.’  

images: top:  Cover shot of A forest of ferns.  below:  One of the pics from the book.  

Monday, February 2, 2015


One of my weaknesses as a writer and person, I think, is my poor ability to discipline myself to do what I have determined needs to be done.  Surely one could make an argument against shoulding on yourself.  I got that.

But there is something to be said about sticking with a regime imagined on some cold winter night while watching a hockey game on television, wishing it were spring and promising to walk more regularly and improve upper body strength.  Good ideas, to be sure.  

But like so many folks I hear about, that personal work peters out after just a handful of attempts.  In our case we pay monthly for a family pass to the Vandalia Rec Center — and never go.  But we talk about it a lot.  

What I do instead is just fall into my day where I hope to be as present as I can in whatever I do.  In the midst of my life as a retired guy, I do what I can to fully experience this wonderful planet I am blessed to live upon and within.  Schedules don’t quite mean what they used to.  

This winter I find myself blessed to be at Lake Cumberland, as last year, to work on my book, Nature’s People: The Hog Island story from Mabel Loomis Todd to Audubon.  As mostly a summer destination, Cumberland in January and February is perfect for me, an introverted poet seeking a quiet place to wrangle with thoughts while getting a mainline shot of Nature’s beauty.  

And, boy, do I get an eyeful of Nature’s beauty every time I look out the window, whether it is the view of the lake or from the other side of the house, up the hollow road. 

When I find myself on one of my writing sequester ‘holidays,’ lots of creative energy flows.  And the phone doesn’t ring, nobody comes to the door, and the television is silent.  Music is usually providing ambience, but other than that, it’s just me in a warm, well-lighted place free to follow the Spirit as it moves.  

Today I should be returning to chapter 4 of Nature’s People, the chapter about the Todds and Dickinsons: ‘Of astronomy & Dickinsons.’  I got a good start on it a couple weeks ago, just before I headed back to Dayton for a week to celebrate birthdays and get a few necessary things done, like sign up for Medicare.  (Yes, indeed:  Schaef goes 65 in March.  Heavens, such a ride!) 

I think chapter 4 has scared me more than most because it is the Dickinson story, a narrative created from various perspectives over a century that has created as much myth as non-fiction about Emily Dickinson.  My goal is to tell the truth as I have learned it, hopefully not writing too slant, as Emily might say.  I am counting on the Richard B. Sewall and Polly Longsworth side of the Dickinson narrative to tell my version of Mabel Todd’s legacy.  

I find getting into book writing pretty hard most often.  In part, that’s why the sequester works better for me:  I can’t escape to various other tasks like I do at home.  Here and now I am most often facing my computer screen, and since that’s where the text is written, the possibility of engaging Mrs. Todd and family is always just behind this document screen. 

When I got here at the beginning January, as last year, it took about a full week for me to find ‘island time’ and get working on the book.  It seems I need to let my brain run a little wild for a time, wandering wherever it cares to, before reigning it in and bringing the book more carefully into focus.  

This time focus seemed to begin to coalesce when I took the time to just breathe.  Sit.  Be still.  Clear your mind.  Breathe.  Breathe again.  Follow a thought, if you must, but come back.  Come back to the breathBe mindful of the breath.

And somewhere in that process I found myself sitting at my Mac opening up the Nature’s People file, finding the preface as written on Hog Island last summer, bringing it up for a refresher read and clean-up.  Within a few days I had re-encountered ‘Introducing Mrs. Todd’ (chapter 1) and ‘Transcendental activist’ (chapter 2).  All was good.  

That’s when I started seriously sorting through various outline pages and the tons of details that would have to be part of the Dickinson chapter.  I got through David Peck Todd’s astronomy part in good shape, I think.  I am now ready to add on the Mabel-Todd-in-Amherst part of this narrative.  Wish me luck.  

But first a writing exercise:  this new blog entry, my first of 2015.  Gotta’ get the creative juices flowing.  

By the way, next up I’ll tell you about my new little book of images & poetry from Hog Island last summer, A forest of ferns.   

Today’s elder idea:   I offer a line from one of my favorite musical pieces from the 1970s (or poem from the 1920s), ‘Desiderata’:  

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

I hope you are.  I surely try.    :-)  

images3.:  Lake Cumberland, winter 2015.