Flashlight

Wondering if I closed the gate earlier this evening
I make my way into the back yard
flashlight in hand, and find it open.

Closing it, reassured the fence will keep the dog in 
and the rest of the world out 
I slowly make my way back to the house.

On a whim, I play my beam along the fence line.  
Two rabbits freeze
unaware their eyes are glowing in the light.

Something else scurries through the chainlink 
just as the darkness of its space is broken
and I hear yet another as it moves through the garden.

Once indoors, assured the walls will keep me in 
and the rest of the world out
I close the door behind me.

Change is a Funny Thing

Change, in so many ways, is hard.  While I don’t usually go outside of my personal life for these narratives, the events of 2020 (actually, just five or six months of it) loom large over everything that happens nowadays.  

Six months ago I was in and out of classrooms all over my district, helping teachers and teaching students a variety of science topics, mostly computer programming.  Now I’m walking through those same schools, but the classrooms are empty of students and most doors are closed, with signs taped to them admonishing me, “Do not Disturb, Virtual Meeting in Progress,” or some variation on the theme.

Six months ago my family and I ate in restaurants without thinking about it, but now an outing along those lines is an exercise in logistics, largely passed over in favor of just eating at home.  Just stopping by a fast food joint for an ice cream cone was a normal event, and now it’s a calculated risk.

Back in the days before, we saw friends more often, we visited family without a thought, and we popped in and out of our local businesses with a degree of regularity.  Need something?  We’d just run out and get it, but not now.

Change, in so many ways, is hard, but sometimes it’s a little bit funny, too. 

First off, I have to admit I’m someone who doesn’t always do well with a break in my routine.  I’m someone who goes out of his way to avoid such things, when I can.  I might even be someone who stays in a harder situation when an easier one involves, gulp, doing something differently.  I am, to use the cliche, a creature of habit.

So, about that funny example of change I mentioned.

Way back in 1982, I graduated high school and a few months later I reported to basic training as a recruit of the United States Marine Corps.  It was 1982, so my hair was a little long, but I joined the Corps, and in the time it took for a pair of clippers to be dragged across my dome, it suddenly wasn’t.  My hair was short; it was really short. 

After basic training I was allowed to grow it out a bit, but until I retired from the military in 2004, my hair stayed “within regs.”  Nearly 22 years is enough time, research shows, to establish a habit, and that’s what I did.  My hair? Short.

Then came the pandemic, and suddenly the idea of going to a barber shop (sorry, stylist) lost its appeal.  Within a few weeks, my hair was tickling the tops of my ears, and a few weeks after that it was starting to lie over them.  Weeks turned into months, and my hair, alone with me in my house and unseen by others, continued to grow.  After three or four months, it was at a length unseen in some 35 years.  

And I liked it.  Dad joke: It grew on me.

More importantly, my wife liked it.

And so, after a backyard trim by a neighbor who’s a stylist, I was ready to reenter my academic world.  (True story: After several years as a hairstylist, my neighbor’s actually working as a dog groomer right now.  I had my hair cut by a dog groomer.  I love it.)

As it turns out, I’m not the only one for whom change comes hard.  Just ask some of my co-workers.  “Tim, is that you?”

Friendship

There is, amongst men today
a commonplace superficiality 
celebrated with getting together for a game
or enjoying a few cold ones before heading home.
And it is good, in a commonplace way.

But friendship, real friendship between men
is a rare occurrence.
A shared set of values
common ground deeper than a few inches of topsoil
and the recognition of a kindred spirit

Finding all of those at once is indeed a rarity
and is of lasting value.

Colors

In many ways, probably too many to count, I’m a conservative person.  Okay, given the times, I suppose I should clarify that I’m not politically conservative, at least not as much as I once was.  Depending on the day and the situation, I’m a right- or left-leaning moderate.  Mostly left, lately.  You know, this slice of life has absolutely nothing to do with politics, yet there it is: I felt the need to clarify my usage of a word.  These are strange days we’re living in, and I’m not sure I like all aspects of them.

So, back to me being a conservative person.  Let’s go with the “slow to change/cautious about change” meaning of the word.

Recently, I built some stairs coming off of our side porch leading down into the back yard.  There’s nothing particularly special about the stairs, other than the amount of planning time that went into them. By some estimates, some six or seven years went into the process.

Anyway, the steps are done.  It’s been a few weeks, so they’re almost ready to paint (pressure treated lumber needs time to thoroughly dry).  

Normally, I’d be looking at a white paint.  Not “white,” but one of the “off whites” that one typically sees on a set of steps.  In lieu of white, I might just leave them natural.  I like natural wood, and “natural” is what one goes with when what they really want is an “I didn’t have to paint” color.

Anyway, let’s back up a few weeks.  I’d just finished the steps, but knew I didn’t have to worry about painting them for a while.  The treatment in the  lumber wasn’t dry, and even if it was, I live in Alabama.  You don’t paint outside during an Alabama summer unless you want to wait until an Alabama fall for it to no longer be sticky.

I was out and about that day, and found myself walking into a local business that had a small picket fence around some mechanical thingy just outside the door. 

The fence was blue.

It wasn’t a dark blue, nor was it a robin’s egg or sky blue.  I don’t know what the painter called it, but it was a shade typically seen in a “beach” palette of colors. 

Not a coral, not a turquoise, and definitely–most definitely–not me. No, it wasn’t.

But that color stuck with me.  

And it stuck with me, over the weeks since I built those steps.

That color is not me, or is it?  The rest of the woodwork on my house: White.  Other projects I’ve built: Subdued Earth tones, including (of course) “natural.”

Yet, that color stuck with me.

At the local big box home center, it’s called “Cool Rain.”  I’m not sure I can believe it, but I’ve got a quart.  I’ll let you know how it comes out.

Feathers

A feather drops 
and the loss of lift and maneuverability is immediate
What was possible moments ago 
is no longer 

Coming in sheathed
new feathers are just extra weight until they’re ready 
and flight as it was 
is restored  

Sometimes change is sudden


New flight feathers coming in on a male American Kestrel, Falco sparverius.

When a bird grows new feathers, they have a protective sheath that stays in place until the feather is fully formed.

Yellow on Yellow

Sometimes, poetry happens right in front of us.  The challenge then is to figure out the words to put down on paper!

This past Saturday morning was one of those times that cause cliches to almost sprout from the ground around you.  The rising sun, its brilliance seemingly driving shadows away, was over my shoulder as I walked toward the back of my yard.  The blue sky above was cloudless, and a color that brought sapphires to mind.  The bright sun didn’t cause it to wash out as it sometimes does–it was simply gorgeous.  The temperature hadn’t started to climb on that August morning in north Alabama, and a breeze made the air feel even more delicious.  The day was beautiful in the truest sense of the word.

As I approached the garden planted and tended by my wife, the deep green of squash and cucumber leaves provided a backdrop to the stalks of the sunflowers that rose well above my head, nearly double my height.  I anticipated looking up at the blooms, knowing from the previous day that they were at the height of their visual appeal.

Bringing my gaze up, I was startled to see unexpected movement.  There was a goldfinch, clutching the face of one of the flowers.  The bird wasn’t simply standing there, rather, it was laboring to pry seeds from the head, oblivious to me in its efforts.  The yellow of the finch’s wings fluttered to aid with the effort, and that in turn seemed to animate the sunflower, the hues nearly matching.  The few seconds I was able to watch before being spotted seemed to last much longer than they really did, and eventually my presence was known and the bird disappeared in a streak of gold against the sky and then the leaves of the nearby tree line.

That was poetry.  My words simply try to keep up.

A solitary goldfinch
Some ten feet off the ground
Working hard on a sunflower head

Against the blue Alabama sky
Hue overload


In her writing this past Friday, Molly Hogan of Nix the comfort zone published a blog post (Gratitude and #poeticdiversion) in which she presented some poems she’d posted to Twitter with the hashtag #poeticdiversion. Following her lead, I also posted and tagged this poem. You should probably post one, too.

Complexity

I recently planted a swamp milkweed

There is a small garden 
In my front yard, out near the street, and 
That’s where I decided to put it

When I consider what has taken place 
And what is to come
Those biological processes
I find myself in water just a bit over my head

At one time there was a seed 
There was soil, moisture
Sunlight, the right temperature and a 
Miracle that brought the plant to me

Then I brought it to that place 
That small garden in my front yard 
Out near the street
Where I decided to put it

Days have passed and still the plant lives  
Myriad variables falling within a certain range
A range that allows and sustains life
The life of that plant 

That swamp milkweed that lives or dies
Regardless of my decisions
That plant in the small garden 
In my front yard, out near the street

New Tricks and Old Tricks

So, I think I’ve got to learn how to play Pokémon.  I’ve still got a few years, but eventually I’ll have to learn.

My granddaughter, who just turned seven a few months ago, was over yesterday for school.  For better or worse, her grandfather is an elementary grade teacher who really needs someone to teach, and she’s convenient. Well, and there’s the pandemic. I suppose that’s relevant.

Anyway, we sat down at the kitchen table like we always do, but today she puts a small box on the table and announces that we’re going to play a game of Pokémon.  

I looked over at the pile of stuff I had ready for reading, then looked at the  expectant face sitting across from me.  Time was tight, though, and there wasn’t enough of it for a game.  So, I said we’d play if that’s what she wanted to do.  I think I mentioned I’m a grandfather. 

Really, there was a little bit of time for a game, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over 15 years of teaching it’s that you’ve got to bend a little every once in a while.  Especially if, well, it’s your granddaughter.

Now, here’s the thing.  I’ve been around kids and Pokémon cards for a long time, and I’m not sure I’ve ever known one (a kid, not a card) who actually knows how to play the game.  Heck, I’m not even sure if it is a game–for all I know, it could just be an example of incredible marketing.  I’m sure that thousands of those cards have sat safely on my desk at school before being taken home at the end of the day, but I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen the game played.

It certainly wasn’t today, at least not the way the game designers intended.  My granddaughter told me we were going to play the way her dad taught her to play, but it turns out she couldn’t remember how that worked.  It was a tricky spot for me to be in: If we just called it off, I could go ahead and scrap my reading lesson as well because, to put it mildly, the mood would be broken.  If I let her decide, without any help, how the game was to be played, the reading lesson would have been called on account of darkness.

In keeping with the spirit of things, I played the “this is how the kids in my class play the game” trick, and it worked!  We basically played “War” using the point values on the card, and she couldn’t have been happier that I won.  Well, she actually won the Pokémon game, but I got to teach my lesson with a happy student.  I’ll put that win in my column any day of the week!