Monday, October 10, 2022


 On a short walk this morning through the neighborhood, I couldn’t help but notice a guy in a robe walking around his house after conferring with folks from a plumbing company truck parked in his driveway.  He stopped & called out to me, “If you’re a homeowner, it’s always something!”  I called back my agreement and we both had a little chuckle.  Not a bad way to start the day, even if you have a plumbing headache. 

Which, of course, Cindy & I do here at Wild Grace.  While on a two week summer break at our condo on Hilton Head Island, daughter Jennifer, the designated house checker in our absence, called in a panic demanding, “DAD! HOW DO YOU TURN THE WATER OFF AT YOUR HOUSE?!” 

Oh, my.  It was the cold water supply line in an upstairs bathroom that burst.  We figured at least thirty hours of water poured through the house, taking the basement bathroom ceiling with it.  As you can imagine, things were a mess.  Water dripped down through my office ceiling, too, causing all of it plus lots of wall board, to be deemed too wet to save.  Books made it okay, though everything felt damp.  Fans and dehumidifiers dried things out while a clean-up crew hauled away everything we couldn’t save.  

And that’s where we are right now: Dried out with junk hauled away but no rebuild started yet.  It’s been longer than we thought, having the toilet the only receptacle left in a bathroom void of all drywall.  Sitting there is a rather unique experience, I might add.

But truth is what the flood took away from the basement living spaces has in an odd way enhanced my living experience.  Water didn’t soak into my television watching area, so when I still sit there in my easy chair, the carpet that didn’t get wet looks just like it always did, as does the tv.  

When I get up for a potty break, however, I am reminded how things are still so different.  I walk on cold concrete floors with patterns of old tile long ago removed; wall board missing half-way up from the floor in a few places; shower stall gone along with wall and ceiling insulation; lighting fixtures hanging by electrical wires waiting for wall board to set them properly again.  Yes, it’s a mess, but

I have found that in my office stripped of all books with only my desk & computer re-set, I have space around me like I haven’t felt before.  It feels open and uncluttered, which is a good thing.  But most important, unquestionably, are the new windows.  

Long before this flood, Cindy & I replaced decades-old windows upstairs.  Pretty expensive, so we opted not to replace those on the lower.  Even though the basement casements were lovely wood in their day, over time they have either been painted or warped shut.  In the twenty-plus years I’ve worked in my office I’ve wrestled with them, never able to open them easily.  So we figured as a real treat to me, with my book finally ready for publication, it was time to replace those seven troublesome windows.  Ordered months before the flood, they were, in fact, scheduled to be installed the same week wet stuff was getting hauled out of the basement.  

So here I am this morning plugging away at my computer looking out a window space I’ve never spent all that much time looking out of.  The old windows had wood blinds that were pretty cumbersome, so they never got raised.  Now, however, no blinds.  No nothin’.  Just three amazing windows looking out into our backyard arboretum.  Yellow leaves dominate in the sunshine this season with the occasional bird flying by.

It is a window into a world I so love, that has been there for as long as I have been, that I somehow missed.  

Now the view beyond these computer words is filled with new and life-affirming light to complement the stuff I so want to ponder and write about.  It is good to be aware of change and seeking ways to find change meaningful.  

Today’s elder idea:   From Kentucky poet Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do

we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go

we have come to our real journey. 

The mind that is not baffled is not employed. 

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Monday, August 15, 2022

A village elder moment

 When I looked over what books & mags I thought I ought to take to Hilton Head for our summer beach vacation, among other stuff I picked up a collection of essays & poems from Orion solely about trees.  Everything had run in the magazine over its forty-year history, which made this an anniversary collection of a favorite topic. 

I was pleased to see an essay by one of my metaphysical heroes, Scott Russell Sanders, included.  I got into Sanders’ writing years ago before learning he has deep Ohio roots which, of course, sweetened the feel for me.  His essay “Buckeye” is primarily about his learning about trees from his father, a government worker at the Ravenna Arsenal in northeast Ohio.  The two took long walks in the woods down by the Mahoning River where Scott remembers learning about Nature’s shapes and textures and smells from his dad.  

The heart of the essay is more contemporary, following Scott walking the long-left family property doing his best to see anything of theirs he still might recognize.  He came upon a pair of weeping willows he and his dad planted as “slips” so many years ago that now were taller than the utility poles.  

When I touched them last, their trunks were smooth and supple, as thin as my wrist, and now they were furrowed and stout.  I took off my gloves and laid my hands against the rough bark.  Immediately I felt the wince of tears.  “Hello, father,” I said, quietly at first, then louder and louder, as if only shouts could reach him through the bark and miles and years.

No doubt it was a powerful emotional experience for a boy coming home.  I certainly can appreciate that when I drive down old Fauver Avenue.  I know we are all gone from 2019, but somehow we still remain.  So much of me was formed in that house on that little yard in Belmont.  It’s easy to feel heartstrings. 

The reason for this essay of mine today is to recount the next part of Sanders’ “Buckeye” story.  As he ambled along, making note of a dead and dying landscape that was product of an ill-advised dam project, a most extraordinary thing happened.  

Then a cry broke out overhead and I looked up to see a red-tailed hawk launching out from the top of an oak — a band of dark feathers across the creamy breast and the tail splayed like rosy fingers against the sun.  It was a red-tailed hawk for sure; and it was also my father.  Not a symbol of my father, not a reminder, not a ghost, but the man, himself, right there, circling above me.  I knew this as clearly as I knew the sun burning in the sky….

The voice of my education told me then and tells me now that I did not meet my father, that I merely projected my longing onto a bird.  My education may well be right; yet nothing I heard in school, nothing I ever read, no lesson reached by logic has ever convinced me utterly or stirred me as deeply as did that red-tailed hawk.  Nothing in my education prepared me to love a piece of the earth, least of all a humble, battered country like northeastern Ohio; 

I learned from the land itself.

And so, I am left to ponder Sanders’s revelation at this time in my life.  As a fellow Ohio kid, I want to do my best to understand and appreciate what our landscape has become and likewise love it best I can.  I so enjoy the stately maples and walnut at our home in Shiloh, along with the flower and veggie beds.  I’m rather fond of walks through the woods at Englewood Metropark and Aullwood. 

But I have this sense that it’s time for me to do more.  Not sure exactly what that is, but I feel like it means more time spent within a quiet stand of mature trees, or quietly walking the shore paying more attention to sand dollars, brown pelicans, and laughing gulls.  I have this sense there’s more for an old man to grok.  

Today’s elder idea:   From Wikipedia:  

Nature therapy, sometimes referred to as ecotherapy, forest therapy, forest bathing, grounding, earthing, Shinrin-Yoku or Sami Lok, is a practice that describes a broad group of techniques or treatments to use nature to improve mental or physical health.

“Spending time in nature has various physiological benefits such as relaxation and stress reduction.”

From me:  For my new adventures:  Healing Trees:  A Pocket Guide to Forest Bathing by Ben Page (Mandala Publishing, 2021).

Wednesday, March 23, 2022


 Looking back as a village elder, I can’t help but ponder on significant times that shaped the life I have come to know and understand.  

Today the fickle finger of fate has lead me to this place to deliberate on what islands have meant in my life.  This is an important topic, don’t you see, because at this mellow time in my life, turning 72 on Wednesday this week, I consider myself to be, in fact, an islander.  In my way of thinking, considering oneself an islander recognizes a very special relationship to place & spirit worthy of a closer look.

I can’t help but think the root of my thing for islands is their mythical quality steeped in the life of a Boomer kid from southwest Ohio.  Only island I really knew as a kid  was Island Park, a family picnic and summer Sunday concert destination nestled between the Great Miami River and the narrow lagoon that served as one of the few ice skating destinations in town come winter cold snaps.  

Coastal islands, so far from my landlocked home in the Midwest, were places only observed in the printed pages of National Geographic and Life magazines. 

At that time in my life when, in retrospect, I should have expected hitting my professional and personal stride — my early 30s — I was learning more about life and relationships as a junior high school teacher and thinking it was time to get working on the next pay raise by getting a graduate degree.  That’s when this islander thing got ahold of me.  

I am unsure how a master’s degree impacts the lives of most recipients, but I have to say, my Master of Humanities from good old Wright State University was a life changer for me.  Knew it early on, too, in that first year of grad study when I stumbled into an Emily Dickinson workshop recommended by my undergrad guru, Dr. Jim Hughes.  By the time that twice-a-week evening class concluded that spring, I was registered to attend the Audubon Ecology Camp in Maine that summer, and in a not so complicated process, fell in love with Ms. Emily.  

So much happened from that point on, a guy could write a book about all of it.  Just so happens, I did just that.  Should be out later this year: 

Nature’s People: The Hog Island story 

from Mabel Loomis Todd to Audubon

Not doubt it was Hog Island that got me hooked by whatever magic spell islands cast.  I mean, sitting on a rocky shore at dawn watching lobster buoys glisten in the morning sun was not something I was raised to appreciate back in the Birthplace of Aviation.  But in my early 30s I surely did.  

And then that seemingly flippant comment one of the instructors made that kept echoing in my head: something like, “Once you’ve slept on an island, you’ll never be the same.”  

Let me just say in no uncertain terms, by the time my two weeks were done on Hog Island forty years ago, my life would, in fact, never be the same.  By the time the academic dust settled, I had written a long paper on the founding of the Audubon Camp and when Friends of Hog Island organized some years later, I was a regular at their annual on-island summer meetings.  Ended up editing the organization’s newsletter for a few years.  No doubt, Hog Island inoculated me into an islander.  

And now there is Hilton Head Island front & center in my life.  Watching Cindy Lou blossom on the beach during spring breaks in Florida when we first got together got me to thinking I needed to get that girl to the beach way more often.  

Not many springs after, we found ourselves on Hilton Head the first time, and by the next vernal equinox, we had purchased timeshare points to guarantee us the perfect nest for a week on the beach. That was ten years ago this spring.  

We’ve never regretted our timeshare purchase since it brought us to another island of beauty and wonder.  Liked it so much, in fact, we bought a cozy two bedroom condo a year ago, just a short walk from the beach.  Spent the whole winter here, in fact.  

No doubt Hilton Head is very different from Hog Island.  Gotta’ take a boat to Hog, but my Outback makes it quite comfortably to HHI. Like comparing apples to oranges, really.  Both islands are very different, just considering the beaches, let alone the traffic & the Kroger superstore.

Still, these two coastal island destinations pull on things inside of me that make me want to sit, listen, be mindful, and try to tune in to whatever Natural message is present.  

Such is, after all, what village elders are supposed to do.  Being an islander just makes it a touch easier. 

Today’s elder idea:   

Exultation is the going

Of an inland soul to sea -

Past the Houses - 

Past the Headlands - 

Into deep Eternity - 

Bred as we, among the mountains, 

Can the sailor understand 

The divine intoxication

Of the first league out from land? 

Emily Dickinson