Monday, December 14, 2015

Embracing 2015

When sitting quietly outside is a prayer I didn't realize I was praying. I took the photo above about almost exactly a year ago. On a feeling, I had come down to Oxford, rode my bike and walked around town on a cold day, feeling like a tourist in the town I grew up in. I was between jobs, separated, at peace, happy, hopeful. If you want the exact experience, you can reminisce here.

I was poised, ready, open, for something, but didn't know what. I fu**ing hate cliches, but in my mind this weekend, thinking about all this, "what a difference a year makes," is the phrase that kept dancing through my head.

Saturday morning, I went for a run around Oxford, covering much of the same ground I did on my bike-walk combo a year ago (it's a small town, there aren't that many places to go :) A bit later, I rode my bike back to the same stretch on the Strand to read, watch the water, and reflect. I stopped by work on my way home to help set up for a memorial service. I had quick greetings with four or five people by name in a town I again call home, the town where I also work.

2015 has been a year of living. Really living, in a way I lost touch with. It's been a year of re-connecting to a place and to a community. It's been a year of finding a job that resonates with my soul. It's been a year where a health scare for my 10-year-old daughter affirmed what is important in life. It's been a year of knowing, experiencing love in ways I didn't know existed. It's been a year of not only looking at life and the world more deeply, but of living it that way.

2015 is no Pollyanna year. Life hurts, knocks me down, asks more questions than it could possibly answer. I seem to know less as a parent each year (just ask the 13 year old). There are plenty of times I have no clue if I've gotten something right. But it's not for lack of living, or lack of trying, or lack of learning. It's been a year of feeling like I am where I am supposed to be. And paying attention.

Last year, I was making the move from residing to living. To embracing. That has happened. For this year's annual check-in, I want to throw out some words from Mary Oliver, a writer who seems to surface at interesting, if unexpected times:

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full or argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sunrise Theater

The sun hasn't made the horizon yet. Fog crawls along the ground, afraid of heights this morning. Geese call each other, or the sun, their conversation is unclear to me.

I got restless with the warmth and quiet inside on the couch this morning. As much as I dig the lights on the Christmas tree, and the sound of the ice skaters on the dining room table snow village pond, I needed to be outside. I pulled on boots, threw on a jacket, grabbed coffee, binoculars, Mary Oliver, and a notebook.

There is nothing out of the ordinary about it all. The fog is a novelty. The Mallards are drawn north, swimming in a manner of mass exodus. It's not a morning for revelation, except that this is every morning. It's routine Eastern Shore.

God is not in the details, God is the details. And maybe that's the revelation, if there is one. Each blade of grass; every feather on every duck and goose; every color on the pink-orange spectrum; the stillness of the water on the cove--it's all so much more than I can possibly take in. And yet, it's all here, every morning. Waiting for me, or anyone else, to notice. Or not. Maybe sunrise theater likes an audience. But it performs, regardless.

And with that, I put the cap on the pen and returned my notebook to the backpack. It was a good lesson or thought for the day. I picked up my coffee and watched as the sun rose above the trees. And then this happened...

Looking at the screen on my phone, trying to get a good sunrise picture, diagonal beams shot in both directions off the sun and were immediately mirrored off the cove. I literally laughed. It was like a conversation, a shared joke or laugh with Creation, "Oh, you think that's the message for this morning? You think you've got things figured out? Take a look at this. You're welcome. Now rethink things."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Step Away from the Fridge

I've never shot my refrigerator with a .357 magnum. Or any other caliber revolver for that matter. But I think we've all reached the level of frustration in life that Henry Lightcap/Edward Abbey outlines to begin "The Fool's Progress," (I love that the NY Times review is titled, "Beer, Guns, and Neitzsche") his autobiographical novel. The hope is that we don't get to the refrigerator-shooting point in our lives, or, that having been there, we know how to avoid finding ourselves there again.

We've got a habit we try to keep of around the dinner table, before we eat, saying some of the things we are thankful for in our lives. Not just at Thanksgiving, but any night we sit around the dining table (which isn't every night). For me it can be that I'm thankful for a great day; I'm thankful for a roof over my head and food on the table; I'm thankful for the girls' being healthy and making honor roll; I'm thankful to have a job where I look forward to going to work every day; I'm thankful to be outside in cool, fall weather that reminds me I am alive.

I'm thankful for books, movies, art, that transports my mind and opens my soul to the Universe. I'm thankful to be reading at present a couple heroes of mine in John Muir and Edward Abbey. Heroes not just in what they thought or wrote, but of living their lives outdoors, on their own terms, even if/when those terms weren't shared by others.

I recently watched "Into the Wild," the film version of the John Krakauer's telling of the life and story of Chris McCandless. It's freeing to see Alexander Supertramp slough off the conventions of modern life and live his life his way. But I got to the end and felt, no, where McCandless went wrong, someone like Muir had a handle on it. I'm an introvert, but not a hermit or a recluse. Life, love, adventures are meant to be shared. And Muir found something, being out in Nature, that he felt so passionate about that he had to communicate it to others. Muir wandered the country on his own terms more than McCandless, but still found ways to connect and make sense of it all without having to die alone in his 20s. This is not a knock on McCandless, per se, it's just seeing other paths to live life on my own terms, with deep meaning and connections to Nature, people, place, community.

"Into the Wild," sent me back to my bookshelves for Muir and Abbey; for Gary Snyder, and also for David Abram. And this is where the me that was going to be a philosophy professor loops back onto the scene. Abram's book, "The Spell of the Sensuous" has been calling me for a challenge for some time. Over the course of trail and ultra running, I came across Abram and the concept of ecophenomenology. Phenomenology (what I was going to get my PhD studying) sets itself the task of looking at how we find and make meaning in the world. If you add "eco" to that, you get the idea. It's a way of combining the natural world and our experience of it, and the value of being out in it, with philosophy. From Abram

As technological civilization diminishes the biotic diversity of the earth, language itself is diminished. As there are fewer songbirds in the air, due to the destruction of their forests and wetlands, human speech loses more and more of its evocative power. For when we no longer hear the voices of warbler and wren, our own speaking can no longer be nourished by their cadences. As the splashing of the rivers is silenced by more and more dams, as we drive more and more of the land's wild voices into the oblivion of extinction, our own languages become increasingly impoverished and weightless, progressively emptied of their earthly resonance.

There is a reason that Muir, Abbey, McCandless got the fu** out of Dodge and went their own way. Abram wrestles philosophically with that need and our need to be in contact with, connected to, the natural world around us.

Studying our surroundings. For me, that yokes together trail running, bird watching, paddleboarding, the various ways I dig exploring outside. It's a framework for examining life and the world around me.

It makes "outside" part of my reading list. It creates a space where reading sends me outside, and my experience outside informs my reading and writing. In the words of George Peppard's Hannibal on the A-Team, "I love it when a plan comes together." Creating existential reasons to avoid shooting the refrigerator.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bluebirds, Buntings & Paying Attention

2015 has been the year of the bluebird. It's been the year of paying attention. It's been a year of listening to life and of finding happiness in work, relationships, and home. That makes it a fairly banner year thus far.

Eastern Bluebirds have clearly been on Maryland's Eastern Shore for probably all of my 43 years. But I can't say I saw and noticed one prior to this year. And we've been over my thing for the color blue here before. Seeing bluebirds while on a run and coming home to look them up was my first "birding" experience (says the guy with the Great Blue Heron tattoo on his forearm).

Following that, I set up some feeders and sat and watched. I wasn't actively going out birding, just looking at what came around. It helped to be living at a veritable bird haven, but out my windows and while out running on Baileys Neck,  I saw the aforementioned Bluebirds, Cardinals, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, American Goldfinches, Cooper's Hawk, Red-Tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, Ospreys, Brown Thrashers, Blue Jays, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, and Pileated Woodpeckers. Enough to pull me in to wanting to see more.

But it's more than just seeing birds. Author Lynn Thompson, in her memoir, "Birding with Yeats," gets it:

Sometimes I think that the point of birdwatching is not the actual seeing of the birds, but the cultivation of patience. Of course, each time we set out, there's a certain amount of expectation we'll see something, maybe even a species we've never seen before, and that it will fill us with light. But even if we don't see anything remarkable--and sometimes that happens--we come home filled with light anyway.

I'm not that good at patience. But when it comes to finding reasons to be outside and look deeply at the beauty around you, that's a lesson I've taken to heart.

Walking and (nominally) looking for birds at Assateague Island and Pickering Creek over the last couple weeks, the subject of the Indigo Bunting came up. A bird more blue than a bluebird, but not seen as much. Tractor beam on. Pulling up pictures and reading about them, they are around in the spring and summer, and winter in Central America. Hhhmmm... maybe it's time to go visit a friend in Costa Rica :)

But I've got it in my mind, the first bird I want to go seek out and find is an Indigo Bunting. But now I have to wait until spring to do it? Do you have any other buntings? Why, yes. Yes, we do. How about a Snow Bunting?

Mission confirmed. Buntings it is. I don't have a life list of birds; I'm not interested in just going out and checking off one after another. Whether trail running, hiking, biking, longboarding, paddleboarding, or bird watching, I'm of the John Muir mindset:

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

Being outside, the looking goes both ways: outward and inward.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Finding Purple

Colors change me. Mentally, emotionally, maybe spiritually. Especially blues, purples, greens, but really any color found and experienced fully. It's hard to explain, but it's unmistakable when felt.

After running the Seaside 10-Miler in Ocean City, Halloween Saturday morning turned into walking trails, dunes, and beach on Assateague. I had Alice Walker's words in my head seeing flashes of purple like soul breadcrumbs:

I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.

It was everywhere, scattered like puzzle pieces, wanting to form one larger purple spectrum, like there was some larger purple shell that had been shattered and wanted to be put back together again.

So I gathered a few, to have some puzzle pieces to remember, study, ponder. And I left some for the next folks who come along to find.

What I kept (and keep) thinking about is the purple that connects them all, not the separate shells. And that got me mulling Oscar Wilde:

Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.

When I first read that thought from Wilde, my mind went to the sky or the sea, where there are expanses and variations of unspoiled color, without form. All-encompassing. But the shells were carrying it also--through broken, partial forms, it was something about the color itself, what connected them.

I'm going to make a little leap here, if you'll permit me. Let's secretly replace color with Love (capital L Love), and swap out the shells for people. There are times when maybe we all feel like we have some part of that purple within us. Whether for kids, parents, partners, pets, I hope there are moments when everyone has felt something like that. Our own part of the purple.

But what about the larger purple that runs through everyone. If we all have that purple within us, and from time to time, we recognize that purple, that love, the commonality, in someone else. Or in everyone else.

There are times when I have felt that purple in a gathered group, that I can't explain any other way. When Bobby Banks sang a hymn at my great uncle's funeral, I swear I felt connected to everyone else there around me. It was a profound, sublime, visceral experience. When I crossed the finish line of the JFK 50-Miler after 11-plus hours of forward motion, I was so overwhelmed and felt so humbly and greatly connected to everyone around me. And it can come in silly, unexpected ways, seeing a video of people doing something for others, an unexpected act of kindness; a glimmer in someone's eyes; a smile about to become a laugh.

I can't explain it, but it was there. I think in the best and deepest moments I've contemplated life, religion, the Universe, sometimes, when I'm lucky, a feeling that goes further than where my thoughts can reach is there. Transcendent and underlying.

I won't swear to it, but that connecting thread, that piece that ties us altogether, it's not impossible that it's Love. Or purple :)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Writing Oxford: Life in a Small Town

A pilot becomes a painter, documenting a half century of a small town and becomes a part of the story he is telling--community exhibits, his paintings hanging on residents' walls, the side of the market bearing a mural of his work.

A real estate agent, who sails, carves decoys and models, and writes books and poetry about his hometown, starts a tradition of decorating docks along the creek with Christmas trees, that are still lit every December. An award bearing his name is given out each year to the people who are doing the most to honor the town's past and move it forward.

A World War II photographer turns his lens to the small community he calls home and helps pen the definitive history book of the town's first three centuries. And along the way, he helps save the old school building, turning it into a community center.

Howard Lapp, Doug Hanks Jr., and Norman Harrington. Just three examples, but ones that float to the front of my mind, about how individuals can and do make a difference in Oxford, Md., and how Oxford's collective history is told through the stories of its people.

This is obviously the case with any small town or community, but Oxford is the one that I know and whose names and people I know and have seen in action. The chapters of the town's history are people and a person has the chance to be an integral part of the story.

I think I have felt that more in Oxford than anywhere else, which is maybe what keeps me close, or brings me back. Oxford's is a story that is unfolding, and anyone could play a big part in what that story is or what it becomes.

In 1704, Oxford was one of Maryland's most important cities. By 1800, it was desolate. In 1900, the town had ten general stores, five seafood packing houses, two restaurants, two physicians, two blacksmiths, two hotels, a flour mill, shipbuilder, cooper, dentist, brick manufacturer, undertaker, druggist, barber, shoemaker, sailmaker, newspaper, bank, and four churches (citing "From Pot Pie to Hell and Damnation: An Illustrated Gazetteer of Talbot County").

I'm not saying Oxford could return as a hub of commerce, nor that that would be a good thing. In my lifetime it's been a town known for boat yards, restaurants, brick sidewalks, boats, and water. A number of the people who live here found it by sailing and decided to call it home. That's pretty damn cool.

I don't claim any special knowledge or insight into Oxford's future. No predictions or prophesies here. What I like is seeing how people, individuals, have made a difference; have shaped the town and helped create what it has been and what it is. And knowing that for wherever the town goes, those people are here now, living and/or working and helping it get there. People whose vision, whose efforts, whose eccentricities, whose time, whose senses of humor, all make a difference and make up the town.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

In October Bloom

Tuesday morning bike to work. The trees haven't changed, but leaves are falling. The breeze ambles alongside, waking the skin on my face and forearms, shirt sleeves rolled up. It's a Phil Collins fall day, "no jacket required."

Fall is a return to school and to field hockey. I've been thinking a lot about what it means to raise girls, or kids in general, so that they grow up and become good people--caring, compassionate, connected; passionate, curious, critical thinkers. Individuals.

A friend shared this the other day, which seemed to me to put things into a solid perspective. Have them learn to care about something other than themselves, to find, for themselves, what is truly important in life.

I think about how much time kids will sit in front of a screen if you let them. That's not a statement about today's kids, we would have done the same thing, but Atari and Betamax can only hold your attention for so long. What makes me happy is how quickly they will leave screens in favor of something more fun, if they think about it, I want to make sure they think about it.

I'm a believer that kids being bored is a good thing, and that it is their job to combat their own boredom. That is where creativity comes from.

But kids model after the people around them, for better or worse, even (and especially) parents and grown ups, wrong as we frequently are. I dig that the girls see running, biking, skateboarding; I love that we play soccer, kickball, go paddleboarding, walk dogs, or that they can be surprised by dad's monkey bar skills :)

There is the active stuff. But there is also the aesthetic stuff that shapes their souls. Going to a concert to hear live music; watching a sunset from the shoreline; filling bird feeders and being able to name some of the birds that come; drinking hot tea; being able to sit still; knowing the names of flowers.

I love that they know what it is to be a part of a family and a community that knows each other, enjoys each other's company, and looks out for one another.

There are different barometers, small things, that overflow my heart. When the girls say thank you, unprovoked; when they turn cartwheels and play in the grass; when they laugh until they are out of breath; when I see them stop and notice something that someone else might walk by. Like a yellow rose in October bloom.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ring the Bells

I wanted to say something about light. Fractured light, noticeable for being splintered. That's often how my mind works, get an image, find something to say about it. I looked for cool quotes, and found Leonard Cohen saying, "There is a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in." End of search.

The next morning, I had a picture I took of church bells, one I took while running. I start combing through quotes about bells and find, "Ring the bells that still can ring. / Forget your perfect offering." Also Cohen. Wow, that's cool. Then I see the piece above, and they were backwards halves, the two quotes, of the same verse.

I searched for two thoughts, separate from each other, one about light, one about bells, not looking for them to be connected at all, one at night, and then the next morning, and I might as well be talking to Leonard Cohen.

And I like where Leonard is going. We're flawed. Everything is broken. And therein lies it's beauty. That's what lets us/life shine, our wonderful brokenness. And you know what? Fu** it, ring the bells that still can ring. Don't sit around pining over what used to seem perfect, or waiting for everything to be just right. Carpe the diem, not some unpromised diem down the road.

Leonard's words have been ringing in my head since. And if you don't know his voice, it's not easily duplicated or forgotten. It stays there for a while. But don't take my word for it.

Fractures and fragments send my mind to puzzle pieces. Glimpses, not the full view. If I stick with the night sky that has caught my eyes of late, something like the sky being cracked and letting the stars light through, but not all at once.

Something like vignettes. Last night, walking up Bonfield Avenue, a fox bolted by, sprinting under the street lights and turning down a side street. Last night and the night before, the low-lying yards along the road were under water.

There are singular moments, that feel like more. That feel connected, but I don't have the balcony seats that give me that overarching perspective. I can't tell, can't see that things are connected, but I can feel it.

What to do with a limited view or perspective? Listen to Leonard. Ring the bells.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Cruising Town and the Cosmos

Since moving to Oxford in July, the girls have newly found the bed of the pick-up truck I have had for 12 years. When the speed limit is 25 (and you have checked with local law enforcement to make sure they are permitted to travel in the back of the truck) and the sun is shining, the bed of a pick up can feel a lot like a horse-drawn carriage. Cruising to the beach at the Strand, or to the park, or for ice cream at the Scottish Highland Creamery warrants Will Smith's "Summertime" for a soundtrack.

We've taken to different means and times for cruising the town. Longboarding to and from work has put a perma-grin on my face. Thirty years ago I rode my first skateboard down these same streets as a vagrant youth, now I wave and talk to folks skating to work. The symmetry is not lost on me.

Another new habit, rekindling an old wonder, is night walks, fully staring at the star-filled sky.

Life over the past year-plus has taken some unexpected turns. New houses, new jobs, new life in so many ways, but still connected to all that has come before and all that is still to come. Ava's return home from a month in the hospital; her return to school and seeing friends and family; life getting into a familiar, but new fall rhythm. When I walk under the sky, pondering constellations and the cosmos, the vast scale of it all and wondering how all the dots connect--what, if anything, my walk to the market for lunch has to do with the broader order of the Universe--it makes my mind both spin and sit still. So I've called in the experts, picking up Carl Sagan's "Cosmos," of which Neil deGrasse Tyson has done a documentary reboot; cultivating gratitude while walking, running, skateboarding, sitting, or going to church.

It's all a cosmic puzzle I doubt I will ever be able to put together. And I'm okay with that. Here's why...

I got off work on Wednesday and went for a run. At different points along the way, I stopped and took in the sunset, both visually and breathing it in. Taking pictures to remember it. Each scene was stretches of river and horizon I have seen countless thousands of times. But not once did any of those previous times look exactly like it did that evening, on that run. Maybe that is because those exact colors, and those exact scenes had never been assembled quite like they were just then. I think that is true. But equally true is that my eyes see differently now than they ever have before.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Community and KRS-One

Sometimes it happens that your world gets upside-downed. On Aug. 6, at about 9pm, I got a call from Anna and Ava's mom as she was riding in an ambulance. She and the girls were visiting her family in Butler, Pa. As they arrived, Ava had a seizure. She has had small seizures, or something akin to them (syncope), but this was different. She wasn't coming around. They inserted a breathing tube and were going to helicopter her to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh. I threw clothes in a bag and started driving. That was two weeks ago tonight.

Since then Ava has seen her share of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, neurologists, infectious disease doctors, nurses, technicians, you name it. I didn't start writing this as a medical update, family and friends have been getting those on Facebook, but the Cliff's Notes version: Ava has Epstein-Barre Virus (EBV) encephalitis (swelling of the brain), which caused her seizure and subsequent seizures while in the hospital. It could be the effects of EBV alone, or it could be EBV on top of a chronic condition for seizures. After getting doses of Keppra and phenobarbital (anti-convulsive meds) dialed in, and allowing time for her body to deal with EBV and the brain swelling, Ava has been making solid progress and yesterday was moved to Children's Home, the rehab arm of Children's, to focus on physical therapy, occupational therapy, and rebuilding her speech and cognitive skills. It is sobering to see what a trip of the brain can cause, but incredibly encouraging to see Ava coming back into her own. It just takes time.

I am writing this morning for the things that have happened while we've been here. The things that make "community" even more of a favorite word for me than it has ever been. I made a couple phone calls and sent a few texts to family, work, close friends to let them know what happened and that I was going to Pittsburgh. The response from work, the Oxford Community Center (OCC), was go, be with Ava and my family, get her better, then worry about work. More on that in a minute.

As word of what happened started to spread, there were concerned calls, texts, e-mails, so I took to Facebook as a blanket means of keeping people updated. What I sometimes forget, and don't think I was really thinking about, is the real people behind the profile pics and status updates. And I wasn't prepared for, or expecting, the way people would respond, reach out, follow along, pray, and cheer for Ava. I have been emotionally overwhelmed and buoyed in amazing ways.

In July, the girls and I moved into a new house in my hometown of Oxford, Md. We've been busy and hadn't been able to finish moving furniture. While I've been in Pittsburgh, members of the Oxford Volunteer Fire Department helped my mom and cousin finish moving us in. Family, neighbors and the Oxford Police Department have been checking in on the house and making sure all is well.

Folks who follow along here know that in March I started work as Executive Director of OCC. I've never felt more at home, more supported, more inspired or motivated to work somewhere. It has felt like exactly where I am supposed to be, professionally and personally. Both Anna and Ava have quickly become a part of the place, and with living just down the street from OCC, they can ride their bikes there.

While I have been in Pittsburgh with Ava, OCC's Board of Trustees and volunteers have made sure I have peace of mind to be here, and to know that all is taken care of at work. This week, there are shifts of volunteers covering the public office hours. I can't even begin to express what all that means or how grateful I am.

For the previous five years, I worked in, and commuted to, Washington, D.C. I made more money, but had less of a life, and certainly not a life where work, family, and play were integrated in any real sense. During the past two weeks, I have had KRS-One's voice in my head (as one does):

It's not about a salary, it's all about reality...

For the past two weeks, my reality has been around Pittsburgh, Munhall, Children's Hospital. It's been being where I need to be, when I need to be there. It's been tears, trials, triumphs, and trying to piece a new reality together, to return to life on the Eastern Shore, knowing what we are coming out of, and being thankful for what we have.

The newest part of our community includes the amazing people at Children's Hospital. The nurses, technicians and doctors who both girls look for--who have taken to Ava, and check in on her; who call her "girlfriend," and high five her; who laugh with us and are helping bring her back around; medical professionals who treat Ava like an amazing person, not just a patient; who are working at every level to get her ready to go home.

It's funny to me, how connected the words/concepts "reality" and "community" can be. Through this whole process, I have yet to feel alone, and there are so many people to thank for that. My reality is informed by, shaped by, inspired by, the community (communities) I am a part of.

When I get home, I look forward to sitting on my front steps with a beer in the evening, laughing at the girls running around the yard. I look forward to runs and bike rides around Oxford and knowing the folks I see on the way. I look forward to getting back to work, and helping define, and inspire, what community means to others. I know what it means to me.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Alarm Clocks, Bob Marley, and Dandelion Wine

Alarm clocks have a pretty straightforward job: to wake us up. I'm not saying it is an easy job, just that it is well defined. The actual waking up part requires something from us.

For a stretch I was an always early morning runner. My record in idiocy was meeting a friend at 3:30am to go run 20 miles before work. I still run mostly mornings, and I am still a morning person, but when the alarm clock goes off that early, we look at each other, the clock and I, and nod, or chuckle, and go back to bed.

It's funny, people's alarm clocks can be very different. You might be tuned to the sunrise, it might be beans grinding in a coffee pot, it could be a wet dog nose and wagging tail in your face. We've all got different ways to wake up.

But the kind of alarm clock in my mind this morning is not the kind that wakes us up in the morning. It's the kind that wakes us up in life. Where we find ourselves looking around, rubbing the sleep out of our eyes (lives), and wondering, hey, how the fu** did I get here?

And those kind of alarm clocks, the life alarm clocks, they take a response on our part as well. Just because they go off, doesn't mean we wake up. Life alarm clocks. Could be a religious awakening. Could be a failed marriage or relationship. Could be the death of someone we love. Could be the loss of a job, or a move to somewhere new. The birth of a child. Life alarm clocks come in all shapes, sizes, and times.

Life alarm clocks, if we hear them, and we act, can remind us we are alive. And to live. If you need a way to remember it, I'd go with a Bob Marley mantra. Bob won't steer you wrong.

I'm in the middle of reading Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine," which was described to me by a well-read friend as the ultimate summer book. She is not wrong in her declaration. It's the most dense, beautiful, coming of age in a small town, learning to be alive book I've come across. I've been a Bradbury fan since "Fahrenheit 451," but haven't gone back and read more of him. And I own "Dandelion Wine." So I started following the life and times of Douglas Spaulding, who is a semi-veiled version of Bradbury. Very early on in the book he has an epiphany. Outside, picking grapes and wrestling with his brother, it hits him. He opens an eye:

And everything, absolutely everything was there.
The world, like a great iris of an even more gigantic eye, which has also just opened and stretched out to encompass everything, stared back at him.
And he knew what it was that had leaped upon him to stay and would not run away now.
I'm alive, he thought.

There are life alarm clocks going off everyday for us. If we listen. And we wake up. And live.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Vacation is a state of mind

There are cobwebs on my ceiling corners. Don't judge me; they were here when I got here, the result of a house sitting empty for a stretch. I'm getting to them as the girls and I are getting moved in, but I'm not saying you won't find some in six months.

I'm not a slob--I keep a house picked up, dishes washed, laundry put away, beds made, bathrooms clean, grass cut, bird feeders filled. But if I get a call from a friend I don't see often, who is in town and wants to go stand-up paddleboarding on a Saturday morning before I leave for vacation, those boxes can sit. I'll get to them. But that glassy paddle on Town Creek and the Tred Avon River, at that moment, with those peeps, wouldn't have happened again just that way.

Since I was little, my family has taken a summer trip to Ocean City, Md. My parents, my sister and I, my aunt, uncle and cousin. Over the years that trip has expanded, adding my girls, my sister's husband and their three kids. It's a trip that the kids look forward to like Christmas. The week is packed with more bodysurfing, sandcastle building, Ultimate Frisbee and wiffleball on the beach, miniature golf playing, amusement park riding, Candy Kitchen fudge eating, and happy hours on the back deck, than one could rightly hope to fit in. It's not exotic, not the islands, not even the Outer Banks. And Ocean City is loud, over-developed, and neon-signed, but I wouldn't trade that annual trip and that time with family.

Repetition and tradition are funny things. They invoke nostalgia and novelty at the same time. They create experiences you look forward to, recognize, but also have never been through before: a night-time walk on the beach with my daughters, who choreograph a television commercial amidst belly laughs; the girls digging up sand crabs for their cousin (my niece); seeing the difference in how they behave in the ocean as they get bigger, stronger, and more coordinated. Family traditions allow you to pay more attention to each other than to being in a new place.

Coming home yesterday, I started the beach sand removal process (laundry), and getting the girls unpacked from vacation. There were no groceries in the house, so Anna and I went up to the Oxford Market for sandwiches. Walking up the sidewalk, there was an extended family sitting on the porch and playing in the front yard, pretty much how we rolled at the beach. And that is the subtle reminder that, hey, the place I call home is a place where people go to vacation.

That is something I have never taken for granted. I am obtuse, stubborn, frequently wrong, you name it, but I have always felt blessed to grow up and live on the Eastern Shore. Last night I rode my bike around town and stopped at a dock bar for a beer and caught up with friends. This morning I went for a run around and through town. My head is on a swivel; no matter how many times I walk, run, or bike these streets, I am frequently struck by how cool some sight, some moment is. I guess vacation is a state of mind.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Returns and Beginnings

This may well be the summer of the bike. Tuesday night, the girls and I rode four miles around Oxford. They had no idea how far they'd been, just that they were exploring main roads and back alleys and learning the town. They've been to Oxford plenty, but they've just begun calling it home. It makes a difference when you get to know a place on foot and by bike and know your house is there.

[Note: I can only tell a story from my perspective; Easton is also the girls' half-the-time home, and they love it there, but I'll stick with new beginnings and such]

I love going down a side street, the girls following close, not knowing where they are going, only to watch recognition click in... "the church!!" and they have connected the grid. They ride by the field above and see grass and trees in front of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. When I ride by the same field, I see the church lot where we played football after school, where the trees were the sidelines and end zone and it wasn't unheard of to get tackled into one.

There are the parts of town that don't seem to change. And then there is the new. I spend most of my time in the new house in the sun room where those west-facing windows are. From there, or the balcony above, the sun sets over the boat yard next door. I'm getting my bearings with what birds frequent the yard (mostly Cardinals, Blue Jays, Grackles and Chickadees), mulching gardens, cutting grass, which is a welcome return.

Moving is barely ordered chaos. Once your stuff is put mostly where you want it and you are relocated, things still don't feel settled. It's establishing a rhythm. I've walked or ridden my bike to work everyday since living here. I smile the whole way there and back in the evening. I've run and paddled and biked as workouts on some mornings. I've taken an outing or bike ride each evening, to stretch my legs and mind. There has blissfully been no television hooked up yet, though I do miss having the Washington Nationals playing in the background.

Oxford and the new house are full of familiar things. Personal and family artifacts, artwork, books, furniture; aspects and trappings of home. The move has been a return and a new beginning. I walked around the block last week, telling stories and sharing memories of what things looked like growing up, and who lived where. I dig telling stories, But I like just as much making new stories, ones that the girls and I will tell for years to come.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Proper Summer

I spent my summers outside; in or on the water, on a bike or a skateboard, or blazing trails and building forts in a marsh. They were proper summers. They are still some of my favorite memories. My best summer days now closely resemble those days of being off from school and having the childhood ease of the season.

My soul frequently bottle rockets with happiness watching the girls spend similar summer days. They've got familiar settings: Oxford, the park, the beach at the Strand, the ferry dock, the yacht club, swimming in pools; Ocean City and Assateague, body surfing the waves, people watching on the boardwalk, the rides at Jolly Roger. They've got the open schedule and lack of alarm clocks, stretching their arms in the morning and contemplating what to do, or what not to do.

Summer is on its own timetable. It has its own agenda. We do well when we don't try to overschedule.

The light in summer is very young and wholly unsupervised.
No one has made it sit down to breakfast.
It's the first one up, the first one out.
- Robert Hass

Summer is a pause. For the girls, it's the end of a school year, but not the beginning of a new one. It's something in between. Eventually we lose that. A proper summer is as free from schedules and clocks as Jim Harrison strives for:

I hope to define my life, whatever is left, by migrations, south and north with the birds and far from the metallic fever of clocks, the self starting at the clock saying, "I must do this." I can't tell the time on the tongue of the river in the cool morning air, the smell of the ferment of greenery, the dust off the canyon's rock walls, the swallows swooping above the scent of raw water.

I like summer as a clean slate for the girls. The freedom of summer vanishes soon enough. Don't rush it. Breathe in the honeysuckle, the salt air, the Old Bay. Float, swim, paddle. Make your own way.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Memory Spirals and the Heart

Dr. Seuss's "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish," is on the wall of the doctor's office. Ava is 10. But my memory spirals back to when she was a baby. She might have had a heart murmur, but we needed more tests. We were sitting in a heart specialist's in Annapolis. I was reading to her, a book off the shelf in the waiting room. "One Fish, Two Fish." Ten years later, sitting in the doctor's office with Ava, I in both places. Wrapped in a memory spiral.

Over the past year, I have driven or run by this lane almost everyday. Didn't give it much thought. Until a few weeks ago, on a run, I remembered standing on the lane, outside a Ford Fiesta, listening to Led Zeppelin IV all the way through for the first time. I was 15. I came to Zeppelin via Black Sabbath, Ozzy, and Iron Maiden, leading to Bad Brains, the Clash and Metallica. Zeppelin wasn't heavy enough. Until I sat and listened to IV, "Black Dog," "When the Levee Breaks," "Misty Mountain Hop." Running past, my memory spiraled; I heard Zeppelin over the Damian Marley that was in my headphones.

Cormac McCarthy wrote that, "Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real." Brick columns and Dr. Seuss drawings can leave mental scars, that bring our personal past spiraling back.

The thing about memory though, is that it can fade or change over time. How much does it connect or correspond to our actual past?

"You know what I think?" she says. "That people's memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn't matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They're all just fuel. Advertising fillers in the newspaper, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of ten-thousand-yen-bills: when you feed 'em to the fire, they're all just paper... It's the exact same thing. Important memories, not-so-important memories, totally useless memories: there's no distinction--they're all just fuel." - Haruki Murakami

I have a hard time with that one. Not all memories are created equally. Some memories make us more who we are than others memories. Remembering the first time my 13-year-old daughter looked in the direction of my voice as a baby is more a part of me than where I first heard Zeppelin IV. I recall one far more than the other. These two memories reside in different parts of me: one stamped somewhere on the brain, the other imprinted deeply on my soul.

Memory distorts. The details we retain are ours and they are subjective, the parts that are important to us. Tennessee Williams knows why:

The scene is memory and is therefore nonrealistic. Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart.

Truth matters to me. I hang my hat on facts. The philosopher in me climbs toward objectivity. But at the end of the day, I don't mind the notion that memory lives closer to the heart. Cue the Rush song. A life lived closer to the heart is a life lived.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Observations After Storms and Fire

After the storm, a watercolor washed sky. The colors were created by the storm, they didn't exist beforehand. Back out on the deck, listening to Big Bill Broonzy, a Great Blue Heron flies overhead. Clouds have stretched out lazy. Three deer are fanned across the yard.

Broonzy is singing stories. The sun stalls from dropping with the moon overhead, both wanting to hear about Joe Turner. The setting sun, the overhead moon, Broonzy, and me; we each have a part in this jam session, even if mine is just to be here to document it in some way.

I don't think anyone misses being 13. I watch a daughter trying to figure out whether to stand out or blend in. At that age, no one wants to call attention to themselves. You work hard to have friends while earning widespread anonymity.

That's the age I found skateboarding and punk music. The individualism each espoused hammered a hardcore riff in my soul. Listening to lyrics, imbibing street art, and learning to navigate a streetscape and teach a growing body and 10x30 board on wheels to ollie, railslide, powerslide, gave me something else to focus on.

For all the attitude problems that came during that period, skateboarding and what it meant helped steer me to the person I am still becoming. I have found that anytime I let myself blend in, fall in step, life intervenes, kicks my a** a bit, knocks me down, and says, "nope, that's not you." This past year has proven that all the more.

Gary Snyder is a writer I would dig meeting. He is a poet of rocks, of birds, of myths, of people, of the Earth. He includes and integrates everything into his writing. He also gets the real and symbolic cycle of death and rebirth:

"Lodgepole Pine: the wonderful reproductive power of this species on areas over which its stand has been killed by fire is dependent upon the ability of the closed cones to endure a fire which kills the tree without injuring its seed. After fire, the cones open and shed their seeds on the bared ground and a new growth springs up."

Fire. And after fire, growth. I can find that cycle over and over again looking back at my life. For me, rebirth and growth has often come through running. I find something of myself and the world on the road and trails and I'll have opportunity on both training for the Patapsco Valley 50K in October.

Storms, standing out, individualism, fire, growth, growing up. I'm not sure I ever come up with answers so much as observations. Being a father brings all kinds of stop-me-in-my-tracks observations. Especially cool are the times when I look around and notice a daughter in her element, taking everything in, completely comfortable in her own skin. And I realize that's how they all add up, the storms, the fire cycles, rebirth, trying to figure it all out, being a father--it's those moments when we're learning who we are, and we have those moments of "yep, something like this."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Blue Shoes, Blue Scholars

Running shoe companies don't make much money on me these days. My road running shoes are Saucony Kinvaras that I bought as a birthday present for myself at the end of March 2014. They have not been lost in a closet; they have run.

They have run me back in to shape and out of 30 pounds. They have run me through a troubled soul and a restless body. They have run me through town and onto the back roads. They have run me back into a few races, from a November half-marathon, to my daughters' first 5K.

My running shoes have introduced me to Eastern Bluebirds; to roads I'd not traveled in decades; to a self I'd not known until I met myself on the road alone. I keep thinking it is time to upgrade, to replace them, but they still feel good. Plus I'm cheap :)

My Sauconys (granted that doesn't sound as cool as "My Adidas") also re-introduced me to the Blue Scholars, a Seattle-based hip hop duo that a west coast boat builder got me hip to. The Scholars are smooth, intellectual and deeply spiritual. This past Sunday, their song "Burnt Offering" came up on the shuffled playlist. The whole song listens like a sermon, an offering of hard-won wisdom. The hook goes like this:

So I give thanks to the most, the least that I can do
I wear this skin to find the me inside of you
When I dream that I'm dreaming I feel most alive
Sacrifice nights, write to survive,
Proper hand gestures, conjure ancestors,
Drinking from the bottle that was meant
For the message that was sent from the tired and the true,
I give thanks to the most, the least that I can do.

Tapping into something larger than yourself; giving thanks to the most; getting in touch with dreams; connecting to the past.

Blue has long been my color. This past year plus it has come to the forefront of my soul and my world. Blue shoes and Blue Scholars. "I give thanks to the most, the least that I can do."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

St. Mothers Day

My girls aren't growing up the way I did. Very few kids do these days. In our house, my dad worked (and still does), he was the provider; my mom stayed home and raised my sister and me. My girls know two working parents. And parents now generally play both provider and nurturer, the luxury of someone staying home to raise kids is largely gone.

I think my father might concede that he had the easier lot. He has always worked as hard as anyone I know, during tax season he was out of the house before we woke up and we were in bed before he got home. But he could generally see his troubles coming. I don't think my mom had a clue what she was in for.

Maybe sons try to emulate their fathers more. I struggle to fill his shoes and ultimately I never will, but I've realized I wear my own shoes--his docksiders are my Sanuks, his cross-trainers are my trail-running shoes. Mothers and sons are a different matter.

My mother saved me from drowning after I fell in the river before I could swim. I yelled at her for cheating me out of my chance to ride in the ambulance. At elementary school field days, she had a line backed up across the lawn for face painting (she is a Maryland Institute College of Art graduate). I never had a store-bought Halloween costume--from a Jawa, to a Sand Person, to Boba Fett, to Ace Frehley, my mom hand-made and assembled every costume and I won first prize in the costume contest every year (during this same stretch my sister exhausted the Strawberry Shortcake character catalog and cleaned up equally well).

When it came to youth soccer, Little League Baseball, and youth lacrosse, my mom drove teammates and I to every away game. When I got into skateboarding, she endured Powell Peralta and Zorlac stickers all over her car, and carted us from Atlantic Skates and the Ocean Bowl in Ocean City to Island Dreams Surf and Skate shop in Towson where my grandparents lived. Thanks and praise is not often forthcoming from kids, I have come to realize, and it wasn't for her then.

My mom was not a church-goer, but she and my dad decided that we should grow up going to church while we were young. So my mom took us and taught Sunday School. If there is a heaven, I feel reasonably certain my mom has a spot reserved for her there. And she owes that to me more than my sister. Some kids go through a rebellious phase. Some kids go through a complete-fu**ing-idiot-with-their-head-up-their-a** phase. I fell into the latter category. My oldest daughter is 13, which is roughly when that phase started for me. She seems to have a much better head on her shoulders, thankfully. But I already have no idea why my parents didn't leave me in a pit in the back yard for days or weeks at a time. My mom's battles with my sister were of a different nature, but they were equally emotional. There is just no easy way to parent through adolescence.

These are first world problems, and I get that. My mom didn't kill dinner and carry it miles on her back to feed us. Thanks to my parents, my sister and I had a childhood that kids around the world and in this country would kill for. I don't take that for granted. And I think that is part of what it is about, now as a parent myself.

My mom has had patience where most would falter. She made her kids' passions and hobbies her own for many years. Our successes were hers, and our failures stung her worse than us. Talking to her on numerous occasions, she told me that her hope was that my sister and I "grow up to be good people." To that point, I think she succeeded.

This year my mom turned 70. Some things never change. She is active now in my daughters' lives, known now as "Grammy." She takes them to school in a pinch, goes on field trips, attends awards assemblies, and on non-dog show weekends, can be found at field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, or baseball games for her grandchildren.

Trying to make a living, I think it has always been easier to appreciate what my father and grandfather did for their families, as providers. It's maybe wired in the guy gene. But once I became a parent, and as the girls have gotten older, it has become all the more clear what my mom gave us, as nurturer, cheerleader, nurse, chauffeur, homework helper, chef, household runner. You know, all the things that come into my mind when I say, "Mom."

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Spring Reigns

Every September/October, I declare fall my favorite season. Something about the temperatures cooling, the reds, oranges and yellows painting themselves onto trees. Playoff baseball and football season starting. And while I dig the changing of each season, I've held on to fall being the greatest. Until this year.

After a winter of self-imposed hermithood, of cold rain, of dismal lack of color; the rebirth of spring feels different this year. Walking the same roads of Baileys Neck and Jeffries Road, the world is different. You can look at the same tree (above) or down the same lane (below) and they are not the same as they were two months earlier.

Cracking a beer, with burgers on the grill, and walking up the yard, the sun and the dandelions smile in silent conversation with each other. The girls break out bare feet, lacrosse sticks, and a cheap bouncy ball and invent a sport somewhere between badminton and balloon tennis.

The spring has been full of Eastern Bluebirds, American Goldfinches, Northern Flickers, Blue Jays, and Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds at the feeders and along the road. And last spring, as I was descended upon by Cardinals when I ran, it was a phenomenon I noted but didn't understand. There was some Cardinal connection, but I couldn't place it. This spring, the Cardinals still divebomb, they still say hello every morning and evening. I see them when I walk, or when I run, or at the feeders. The difference is that this spring I know why. And knowing is half the battle. #YoJoe

Saturday, April 18, 2015


The sun is preceded by streaks, sharp smears of light across the sky. It likes to be announced before coming on the scene.

If you're quiet, frogs and birds are deafening in this last gasp of dark. It's like walking late into a cafeteria, impossible to follow any given conversation through the noise.

My new-found fascination with birds does not lend itself to fast running times. I stop to take a picture, or watch a red-tailed hawk in the tree, or see where a cardinal or eastern bluebird lands. It does lend itself to some unexpected interval training.

I'm more obsessed with warblers these days than personal running records. More taking in and being part of my surroundings than running through them. Which is not to say I don't feel transcendent when quick-stepping down winding singletrack trails, or dropping the throttle for the last mile or half-mile of a run.

There is something to walking out of breath through the back door, pouring a water, and grabbing Peterson's Field Guide to cool down on the back deck and try to figure out what bird I saw in the brush along the road; or trying over morning coffee to ID the yellow-headed newcomer to the feeder.

Forrest Gander's "Science and Steepleflower" has been on my bookshelf for a couple years. I've started and stopped in it a few times. Books open themselves at the right time. Gander goes vertical, deep into things. He knows the names of things, but doesn't lose their wonder for the science.

... Can you smell
where analyses end, the orchard
oriole begins? 

I dig the notion that getting at the thing itself, the sublime nature of something, comes on the other side of science.

I have no idea what it is about warblers or if I have ever seen one. Certainly not consciously and been able to name it. But that seems to be where I am with this whole bird thing--learning, fascinated, possessed by a beginner's mind, curiosity, and opportunity. And it doesn't hurt that I can walk the yard and the treeline with a Dale's, a notebook and pen, look and listen, and breathe in sun and sound.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

It's not that I am getting older

It's not that I'm getting older. Or slowing down. But I walk more. I still run, still push myself. Hey man, I'm still hardcore, haven't gained weight in the past year. I still know how to earn sweat. I walk to notice the things I only ran by. I walk to keep up with the girls.

You can't build forts if you're too busy running. You can't stare into nesting ospreys or cardinals playing hide and seek. Only lying on your back can you properly discuss cloud formations, what color blue the sky is, or imbibe the cosmos via stars in the night sky.

I heed the same elders:  Hass, Snyder, Merwin, Merton. I've maybe added a few to the list: bluebird, woodpecker, hawk, At this time last year, I wrote this on turning 42. The view has changed, but I try to live each of those things everyday, the best I can.

It's not that I'm getting older, but life feels deeper this year. Like I've had a year submerged and am getting back in touch with the air.

I have no new advice this year. I'm not generally one to give it, and not always to take it anyway. But I still think Gary Snyder got it right when he advised:

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

I don't dare to add to Gary's simple mantra. But if I were, I might say:

find your people
watch the birds
go for walks

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Life Isn't Shaped Like a Baseball Bat. I hope.

I hope life isn't shaped like a baseball bat. A bat has a "sweet spot," the part of the bat a batter wants to hit the ball with to send it on a ride. The sweet spot is a small part of the bat, and if you are standing in the batter's box, you are using all the rest of the bat to try to connect the sweet spot with the ball.

If life is like that, then a whole lot of your life is spent trying to get to the sweet spot; the best part. This came up at dinner with friends the other night; not the baseball bat analogy itself, but the sweet spot. And why, when you find something great, a period of time at work, or life, does the sweet spot have to be finite? Why can't it be extended? Why are the best of days numbered? Looking back at 20-ish years working at the same place, one friend could pick out the best five or six years, which were towards the end of his time there, but didn't last beyond that time frame. Things change.

Life is not all about a job, I think many people will tell you--those with a family, hobbies, passions, a relationship. So maybe it is that careers are shaped like baseball bats? I don't know, I think we can all look back on our lives and find different times when things were cranking along as you'd want them. But invariably, life's sweet spots get superseded, or end, or maybe just change when we weren't looking.

Einstein was a pretty smart cat. Let's invoke him here:

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.

Maybe that's the rub. That we expect things to stay the same. We expect to keep doing the same things, which seem to be working at the time, but that is only for a time, and we don't see the change coming. What was the sweet spot becomes a rut, a habit, when we aren't paying attention.

What's a good change metaphor? Let's go with water. Mankind dealing with change is like being in water. If you want to get beneath the surface, you can emulate the diver. Per Pablo Neruda:

Time after time
he takes hold of the water, the sand,
and is
born again.
each day
to the hold
of the pitiless
Pacific and
the diver
must practice
birth again,
make  himself
and tentative,
displace himself
grow wise
in his slothful
mobility, like
an underseas
his thinking
must merge
with the water

Neruda was not kind to paper. But he was frequently on to things. His odes, love poems, and epic "Residence on Earth" are a man reckoning with life, existence, the Universe.

"Even his thinking must merge with water."  When the physicist and the poet say the same thing, it might be time to pay attention. Embrace change. Don't hold onto things for too long expecting them to stay the same. Merge our thinking with water.

Life doesn't have to be shaped like a baseball bat. If life is change, like water, maybe we can be the diver.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Interstellar Cosmic Universal Randomness

As random as Bruce Willis in a pink Easter Bunny suit. That's pretty random. Where random is the root word in the phrase, "interstellar, cosmic, universal randomness." And when you frame it that way, it got me to wondering, how random is anything once you go cosmic?

Years ago I walked into the Newscenter in Easton, a book store not known for its poetry selection or for books beyond bestsellers and classics. And on the end cap was a book called "The Shadow of Sirius" by W.S. Merwin. I had heard of Merwin before, but never read him, and had no inclination to pick that book up--it was thin with a pale gray cover, no reason to notice it. But I picked it up, bought it, read it cover to cover. Merwin became a heavy for me. A short stretch later, a former boss/mentor and I went to see Merwin speak/read at the Folger Theater in D.C. In the audience was my former adviser from Washington College, who waited in line with me to go meet Merwin and get books signed. I have not met most of the writers I most look up to. Merwin is one of the few. Looking back, I don't think picking that book up was random.

Both of us understood
what a privilege it was
to be out for a walk
with each other.

I turned in Merwin's thin, gray book to those words yesterday. They wouldn't have meant anything different to me until recently, but they landed right where they were supposed to, cosmically speaking.

Sirius, the Dog Star, is the brightest star visible from any part of the Earth. An interstellar all star. It's easy to spot on winter and spring evenings. And I dig that it is described as "white to blue" in color.

Stars and birds have grabbed my attention a lot lately. Those sky dwellers that leave us at once feeling grounded, but knowing ours is not the only lot, and that we are somehow connected. A view from the back deck, accompanied by books, accompanied by pilsner, conversation, love, watching the birds move about above, or intuiting us moving about beneath the stars. Victor Hugo feels the intermingling of the soul and the stars:

He was there alone with himself, collected, tranquil, adoring, comparing the serenity of his heart with the serenity of the skies, moved in the darkness by the visible splendors of the constellations, and the invisible splendor of God, opening his soul to the thoughts which fall from the Unknown. In such moments, offering up his heart at the hour when the flowers of night inhale their perfume, lighted like a lamp in the center of the starry night, expanding his soul in ecstasy in the midst of the universal radiance of creation, he could not himself perhaps have told what was passing in his own mind; he felt something depart from him, and something descend upon him, mysterious interchanges of the depths of his soul with the depths of the universe.

The intermingling of the soul and the stars. The terrestrial and the heavenly. This universal scale, the cosmic perspective; it is from that balcony that random dissipates, gives way to the underlying pattern.

Merwin's big book of selected poems is titled, "Migration." He is a poet of the birds and the stars. And late in his Sirius book, he turns to the thrush,

O nameless joy of the morning

tumbling upward note by note out of the night
and the hush of the dark valley
and out of whatever has not been there

song unquestioning and unbounded
yes this is the place and the one time
in the whole of before and after
with all memory waking into it

The song of the thrush brings the cosmos from the sky, from the night, into the now, waking with all memory. Timeless to temporal.

Random. Like Bruce Willis in a pink Easter Bunny suit. Chuck Palahniuk says of the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, that they, "seem like greater steps toward faith and imagination. Like cognitive training exercises."

Maybe that's how it goes. The Willis Bunny is a step toward faith and imagination. Or maybe, a dude in an Easter Bunny suit isn't random in the connected minds of those who conjured it.