Monday, May 22, 2023

Closing a circle

 Forty-some years ago I was lucky enough to stumble my way into a lifetime adventure born in a graduate studies literature workshop that has, not to overstate the case, taught me some important truths that, well, changed my life.

Truth is, I have a hard time imagining what my life would even be now without having made a couple risky decisions when I was pushing thirty.  By then I figured Life’s tail was there for the grabbing, and if I played it safe and didn’t, as usual for the seventh grade English teacher with a wife & two kids at home that I was, I would come to not like myself as much as the result.  

Saying yes to Life then put me on the first steps of a learning & writing journey that has Emily Dickinson’s beating heart at the center of it all. 

What started in a Dickinson graduate workshop at Wright State back then morphed into a full blown research project that continued innocently enough at the Audubon Ecology Workshop in Maine. Little did I know at the time how Ms. Dickinson and Hog Island would combine to set the stage for that life change.

So much of that story is told in the introduction to my book, Nature’s People: The Hog Island story from Mabel Loomis Todd to Audubon. I do hope you’ll take some time with that amazing story.  About $10 at Apple Books and Kindle, about $20 at Amazon, other on-line book sellers, and your local bookstore after ordering. 

Thinking back on the personal journey, I have to say the most prescient thing I learned is that “things take time.”  Sure, I’ve heard that expression lots and I assumed it true.  But in my case, getting things researched and organized in a pace all my own, there were many days I bitched at myself for not getting more done. Though one delay ran into another, through it all I never doubted the journey.

After starting this narrative blog a couple days ago, I came to think maybe it would be best to put how things feel right now into verse.  With book published, here you go:  

Nature’s People 


closes a circle

opened decades ago

in the time of pursuit

of the Belle of Amherst

where an island in Maine

confirmed occult connections

spanning generations

not yet understanding

the dynamic of self-imposed solitude

with heartfelt affiliation with flowers, 

Sunday morning choristers, 

little children below her window,

and snakes that scared her

to the bone as a little boy in verse, 

communicating the Truth

of the connection of Beings.

Tom Schaefer

on Hog Island

20 May 2023

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Writing therapy

 I suppose I should thank my mother for coming to love writing.  As little ones she read us Golden Books regularly and when we learned to ride bikes encouraged us to get library cards.  She prized her mornings with a cup of hot tea, a slice of Roman Meal cracked wheat, and the new copy of Reader’s Digest.  The woman loved language and her kids knew it.  Me?  Some, I guess, but I had more fun throwing baseballs.  

In high school when career consideration came into vogue, after I dismissed a call to the seminary, I figured becoming an engineer was my best option.  There were lots of GM plants in my home town and after all, wasn’t that what all the guys were going to do?  

But sometime senior year my head and heart turned.  As much as I hated to admit a lack of personal gifts, I was lousy at math.  Flat out.  Still am.  

In English class, however, I was gobsmacked by two short stories I have credited often for my getting into teaching:  Katherine Anne Porter’s “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” and Jack London’s “To Build a Fire.”  For the first time I thought I could actually feel what the characters were going through.  Maybe it was just compassion, but engaging deeply in those human stories left a mark on me.

And then, of course, was Mr. Hemmert, my English teacher both sophomore and senior years.  One of my first male teachers, too, having come from a Catholic elementary where most every person of authority wore a habit.  The man made an impression on me.  Plus, he was a poet and the baseball coach.  By graduation I was beginning to think teaching English might be a cool thing to do for a career. 

As that junior high English teacher that I morphed into, I ran my kids through the rigors of the Five Sentence Creative Outline like I had been.  Basic organization is so important for writers, and this one page exercise was just big enough for most students to grok from start to finish without a lot of writing angst.  By the time I taught high school, my young ‘uns were writing journal entries twice a week, even in my World History class.  

Somewhere amidst all that language immersion I realized I pretty much liked to write.  In fact, as I’ve heard the same from other writers of late, I can’t really stop.  Some think of writing as an affliction, and maybe it is.  

For me, though, it seems writing starts soon after some engaging concept dawns on me. Often these days writing takes form of an email, but I usually have a seasonal journal going where I ponder Life as a septuagenarian. And, of course, there’s the poetry.  The other day I tallied up my portfolio to find I had over 600 original pieces.  

Daughter Jennifer has confided that she wants my poetry when my time on this plane of existence is over.  I appreciate that.  She’ll get journals and travel diaries, too, the whole collection, the earliest in my handwritten scrawl.  

And as usual, I wonder what all of that language is worth. I will not be the one to judge.  I trust there’s a great grandchild to come one day who might want to know a bit more about that old guy she knew as a baby but now only sees in pictures.  

I trust in the process of digging through great grandpa’s canon of writing, she’ll get a taste of who the old man was and what he valued. I hope some of that will encourage her to tell her own story.  It’s good therapy.

Today’s elder idea:  From Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way

If you think of the universe as a vast electrical sea in which you are immersed and from which you are formed, opening to your creativity changes you from something bobbing in that sea to a more fully functioning, more conscious, more cooperative part of that ecosystem.

Friday, April 21, 2023

A new era

 I certainly don’t want to be too presumptuous about presenting readers with nuanced concepts of anything in particular in this new era of blog authorship. Still, to paraphrase the words of disembodied spirit Dave Bowman to HAL the computer in the movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact, “Something wonderful is going to happen.”

That wonderfulness is rooted in the fact that the era of writing my book Nature’s People: The Hog Island story from Mabel Loomis Todd to Audubon has come to a celebratory conclusion.  I am currently patiently waiting for a single print proof copy from Canoe Tree Press to check over with the finest tooth comb Cindy & I can conjure.  Then it’s final approval, and voila, Nature’s People will be available everywhere print books and e-books are sold.  

Trust me, when that finally happens within the next month, I’ll make as much noise as I can so you’ll know its time to secure your copy however you prefer.  I’ve always been a fan of local bookstores.  When the time comes, just have your favorite bookseller search for the title and you should be good.  

I feel a tribute to both earthspeaks and The back porch is in order.  The back porch blog began in 2009 about the time Cindy & I headed out to Colorado to stay at the Nada Carmelite Hermitage in Crestone. I was thinking it was time for the retired guy I am to pick up my writing pace.  I had been writing poetry and collecting whatever resources I could for my Hog Island history project, but a regular outlet to put thoughts & words together for an unseen and unknown audience seemed like decent therapy.  Nada was a great place to get in the blogging groove.  In the first five years, The back porch posted nearly 200 entries.

Entries really slowed down over the years following for a few reasons.  I like to say it was about the time my high school geometry teacher reached out in an email, wondering how I was and curious if I wanted to continue correspondence we had that lasted even after I graduated and she left for Chicago to work on a graduate degree.  

Well, I was ecstatic to reply, and before all was done, I had written tons of pages of biographical and philosophical stuff, finding the former Sister Mary Harold just as eager to respond with how her life and her thoughts about the Universe evolved. Our correspondence connected kindred spirits to my way of thinking.  

So I’ll blame Phyllis for my lack of blog production.  I trust she’s smiling in heaven at the thought.  But now, once again looking for an audience for my writing, I figure it’s time to point myself back to my blog.  Seems like a good time to assess process and determine if changes are in order. 

With the publication of Nature’s People imminent and the advent of as the website that will house book promotion and everything else me online, a few changes were in order. I still value back porch sitting at home, but with our snowbirding on Hilton Head Island these years, I wanted a blog name that represented important geographical changes for home in my life.  Best thing about Hilton Head for me, maybe even better than the beach, is the gift of sitting outside on our third floor deck all winter long where mindful reflection is delightfully in order.  

If you’ve ever visited, my twenty-plus year old project, you would find the most recent update over a decade old. Updating the site whenever for an audience I was not aware of dropped to the bottom of the writing ‘to-do’ list, too. I am good at this point to let go in order for to take its place as my address on the interwebs.  

I’ll still keep my email address, though, and, but that’s it.  No new email by way of the new website. 

And to save earthspeaks from the digital scrap heap, I figured renaming my blog in its honor the right thing to do.  Not sure how often I’ll post.  I’m sure that will depend on how distracted I get by Life, but I’ll aim for something a big more regular.  

If you found this entry via the Nature’s People website, welcome to earthspeaks blog.  Dive in.  There’s plenty here to chew on.  

I'll be back before too long.  Promise.