The Trolls of My Adulthood

The trolls of my childhood

lurked under bridges 
waiting for the perfect goat

or sat deep in the mountains
feeling lucky about the errant dwarf

Today’s hide behind a screen name
waiting for the next tweet to pounce upon
just for the sad pleasure of doing so

Trolls never have had much of a life


This week’s Poetry Friday roundup can be found on Laura Shovan’s site here: Laura Shovan

Squirrels

Sometimes I think of the natural world–both flora and fauna, but mostly the fauna part of it–as a joyless place, a place of survival, red in tooth and claw and all that.  Joyless.  Survival.  It’s not a regular thought; it’s rare, actually, but sometimes it comes.  Death is real and ever-present, but so is life. Oh, so is life.

There are two squirrels in my back yard that are doing their best to help me focus on the life part of things.  Which is good, because that first paragraph got a lot darker than I intended.

Coffee, specifically morning coffee with my wife, is a highlight of my day.  I sometimes joke about the day going downhill starting around six o’clock when we get up from it–it’s just that good.  We sit, drink coffee, and talk almost every day.

Death – squirrels – coffee.  Are you following me here?  Good.  

Now, Lisa and I both have our chairs.  They’re not really “our” chairs, as in, “Tim’s chair,” or “Lisa’s chair,” but more often than not, they’re where we sit.  In our chairs…the ones that aren’t really ours.  (They’re clearly not, as my wife naps in mine on a regular basis when I’m not in it.)

Add chairs to the list, right after coffee.

So, it’s morning, the traditional time for morning coffee, and we’re in our chairs, settled into conversation.  The dawn is just breaking, the black becomes grey, and the view through the window just behind my wife’s shoulder is getting more and more interesting.  This happens on a regular basis, given our daily schedules and aforementioned love of coffee and conversation.

I have to say my wife also has a view out the window which happens to be over my shoulder, but I also have to say I don’t think it’s as interesting as mine.

My view has squirrels.

Squirrels that visit most days, probably because of the oak and pecan trees in our back yard.  With my peripheral vision I’m aware of them climbing around, traveling up and down the trunks, and moving horizontally from one tree to another.

I see them with my peripheral vision, because I’m actually looking at my wife, the person with whom I’m conversing.  With coffee.  That’s what we do.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, though, with squirrels being squirrels and all, that the activity causes me to be a bit impolite on occasion.  There are days when they play in the trees, and I have to just excuse myself and baldly look out the window.  The pair is absolutely flying through the canopy, leaping impossible leaps, ascending and descending with incredible speed, looking like nothing more than two grey streaks.  On the best days, there will even be time for me to suggest that Lisa look.  On those days, she gets to smile at them too.  

There is life in the world beyond our walls, and it is wonderful.  

Untouched

I stepped outside this morning and was overwhelmed 
by the beauty of the new day

Despite the turmoil of my human heart and mind
the world rolls on and on 

The sun is rising higher above the horizon 
and the shadows are growing shorter  

The trees are showing buds 
in anticipation of leafing in the next few months

The air is crisp and clear
absent the wind and clouds of yesterday

The birds go about their business of singing and surviving
their minds untouched

by those things I allow to touch mine 

My Team Lost

January 12, 2021

My team lost last night.

I wish they’d won, but they didn’t–the other team did.

For whatever reason (some call it fate, divine providence, chance: take your pick), I was born in Dayton, Ohio. As I understand it, I spent the first few years of my life living in an apartment within the city boundaries before spending the rest of my childhood in what I call, “a suburb of a suburb” some 25 minutes from the place of my birth.  

I don’t have much of a recollection regarding those “first few years” of my life, but I distinctly remember leaving the second house at the ripe old age of 17 to join the Marine Corps, so I’m pretty sure about those later years.

Ohio was a great place to grow up.  

“If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.”

Wilbur Wright, 1910

My memories involve snowy winters and hot clear summer days.  A few tornadoes, hiking through the woods in the southeast part of the state, and a relatively uneventful childhood.  It was Ohio, for goodness’ sake.

My team lost last night.

I grew up with one sport in my life: Baseball.  I wasn’t a particularly good player, but I could throw the ball to home plate from center field, so that was the position I remember playing.  (I do have one good baseball story that comes to mind every time I hear Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” but that’s about it.)  The Cincinnati Reds were usually competitive during my childhood years, and they were dominant for a few of them (see Big Red Machine). Baseball was and, to a degree, is still my sport.

Football, though, is pretty big around my home here in north Alabama.  It’s pretty big up in Ohio as well, despite my lack of awareness when I lived there.  (One quick anecdote about how clueless I used to be when it comes to football: When I moved to Alabama in 2000, I got my family members Alabama sweatshirts because I thought they referred to the state.  Um, no, Tim, they’re all about the football team.  Oddly enough, I’ve never seen a family member wear that shirt.)

My team lost last night.

Most of the folks I know here in the south are fans of the University of Alabama football team, but I decided years ago to root for the team of my birth state, The Ohio State University.  It just seemed right.  I was born there and raised there.  Most of my family still lives there, and I visit when I can.  

I have a lot of good reasons to support my team.  Despite their loss last night, the OSU football team is a darn good group of players.  They were good enough to score 24 points against the best team in the nation.  Unfortunately, the best team in the nation was good enough, last night, to score 52 points against them.

I’m not one to talk (too much) trash, but I can point out that last time the two teams met some six years ago, my team did win.  And, historically, they’re good enough that they could win the next time they meet in the future.  They’re a good team, a competitive team.  I believe in my team.  

My team lost last night.

We could talk about some possible reasons my team lost last night.  Our starting quarterback took a debilitating hit just 10 days or so ago.  Certainly that slowed him down–it had to.  The Buckeyes were down three starting players due to Covid-19, and they lost their starting running back to injury on his first possession of the game.   

We could also talk about the advantages the University of Alabama enjoyed last night.  Their coach’s name is at home amongst the greats of the game, and–as of last night–he’s won more national championships than any other head coach in the history of the game.  Their starting quarterback is nothing short of top-notch, and one of their receivers won the Heisman Trophy just a few days ago.

Two good teams, great teams, historied teams, and in their most recent matchup, my team lost.  At the end of the night, my team lost.  There will be a post-game analysis, some soul searching, and an effort to do better next time, but last night my team lost.

It’s not the fault of the referees, the field, or the weather.  They lost.  Next time they might win, but this time they lost.  The other team scored more points, and that’s what wins games.  I hope the best for them next time, but this time…well, my team lost.  When one’s team loses, they lost.

Honestly, this post isn’t about football at all, now is it?

Finding Peace


Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things” drifts in and out of my mind
As I walk the woods of north Alabama on a crisp Sunday afternoon

Like the poet, I, too, experience the grip of despair some days
Despair and fear

Unlike Berry, though, I do not lie by the water of the drake and the heron
Rather, I walk a path among the pines, the oaks, and the hickories

There is a stillness here, known by the face of the limestone above me
A face that has borne witness to millenia upon millenia in silence

In that place, I know peace as the cool wind moves around me
In that place, I know the Grace of Creation, and find my rest

Bot

So, I met my first bot the other day.  

Twitter bot, that is.  I suppose it’s safe to say I’ve seen their work (if that’s what it’s called) before, but never directed at me.  It wasn’t a bad experience as that sort of thing goes, and I’m happy to say it actually gave me food for thought.

This is not in any way, shape, or form a political post, but a bit of background is necessary for the bot to make sense.  I almost always shun away from using social media to air my feelings about politics or other topics of the day.  It’s not productive and the replies cause my blood pressure to go up–not a win for me in any fashion.  That said, I said “almost always” which implies there are rare exceptions.

I’m not particularly thrilled about some current national events, so I tweeted a thought that started with, “I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that …” (if you need to see it, I’m @timgels; again, this isn’t a political post).

Within just a few minutes, I had a reply that read, “I fixed your tweet for you: I’m not a lawyer.” 

Okay, that’s cute.

Believe it or not, though, I get it.  Mind you, I still blocked the bot, but I get it.  I’m not a lawyer, but I know they regularly have to put up with people who fly off the cuff and pontificate as if they, too, had passed the Bar exam.  That’s got to be frustrating, so I get it.

However, while I’m not a lawyer, I’m a fairly well read individual who does his best to practice critical thinking, and I don’t think my tweet was too far off the mark.  For what it’s worth, an actual lawyer replied to my tweet, saying, “I think you just passed the Bar.”  

Take that, you bot.

The food for thought I mentioned earlier?  If that bot was a person, I’d reply along the lines of, “Look, I’m a teacher.  Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you they know how to do my job!” And, as with the lawyer who has the technical chops to put together that bot, I sometimes get tired of hearing about it.  When I think about it, though, sometimes critics from outside the field have valid points.  I believe I did, and perhaps they do too.

I can respect the views of others, but now I’ve got a new interest I’m pursuing: I’ve gotta figure out how to make my own bot.

Bags, Bags, Bags

I’m a bag person.  

I love a good bag–any kind: Tote Bags, lunch bags, pencil bags, nice paper bags, and especially backpacks of all sorts.  I have a deep appreciation for daypacks, book bags, tear-drop bags, extended-day packs, even full blown hiking backpacks, though I don’t have a use for one of those anymore.  

Bags are a weakness.  I can’t be sure, but I think it’s because I’m also a guy who likes to take his stuff with him, and I have a lot of stuff.  Going to school, for example, involves at least three bags on any given day. Fortunately, I have a good selection of bags to choose from. 

I’ve got my book bag with my computers and associated paraphernalia, as I’m an itinerant elementary-grade science coach.  I’ve got my lunch bag that’s actually a large tote bag holding my smaller lunch box (soft-sided) and my beverage bag.  That last one holds my thermos and my water bottle.  Finally, I’ve got another bag or two carrying whatever I need for my current project.  That might include cameras, microphones, lab equipment, or supplies for activities and experiments.

Bags are a major part of my hiking trips as well.  I know people have to wonder why I’m normally wearing a daypack on a trail that most folks hike carrying only a water bottle, if that.

Well, if you need water, of course I’ve got a bottle.  Again, most folks do.  But, what about a snack?  I’ve probably got one of those in my pack.  Lost?  I’ve got a compass, just in case I need to know the general direction of the trailhead.  My phone does the heavy lifting with navigation, but it’s good to be prepared.  

Want to see something small?  I’ve got a magnifying glass or two. Want to take a picture with a size reference?  I’ve got a folding meter stick.  Flashlight?  Of course I’ve got one, although I didn’t that time I finished a hike by the glow of a flip phone (it’s been a while). Need to start a fire or make a sling in an emergency?  There’s a lighter and a small hank of rope in my pack.  Sam Gamgee knew the value of a bit of rope, and so do I. 

Seeing me with a largish daypack, you might ask, “Why not a smaller bag?”

That’s where I cross the line, arguably, from need to want.  Coffee, anyone?  I’ve got either a thermos that’s full, or–if it’s a long day out–a small stove and the pot to boil water.  Those longer days require a small coffee press, so that’s in there, too.  Of course I’ve got all the fixings, as well as a few plastic sheets for my wife and me to sit upon.

—–

—–

For better or worse, I think the bag thing might be genetic.  My wife and I gave our granddaughters daypacks for Christmas, and we’ve done our best to see that they have opportunities to use them. We gave them to the girls a few days early, and since then we’ve been on the trail twice.  

Yesterday we picked them up for a short excursion, and as we prepared, we gave them their snack bags (small drawstring bags containing a cup, a few pouches of hot chocolate, a spoon, a snack, and a napkin).  

The oldest said, “I’m not sure I’ve got room for that.”

With smiles on our faces, we opened her pack to find two stuffed animals and at least a dozen small plastic toys with their egg carton-like container.  This was all surrounded by a good amount of Christmas gift detritus.

“Are you sure you’re going to want to carry all of this?” It was a silly question, but it had to be asked.

“Yes.” Determination.

“Okay, but you have to carry your snack.”  As it turned out, there was room.  Not a lot–we had to strap her sweatshirt to the outside of the pack halfway up the trail–but there was room.

She was a trooper, and carried that pack on her seven-year-old back for more than three miles without a complaint.  I’m proud of her, though I’m sorry if I’m responsible for the bag thing.  

One of yesterday’s grins came as we were passing a family on the trail.  We were just getting started, and they were headed toward the parking lot.  A young girl, just about my granddaughter’s age, was leading the way, her arms swinging freely.  Her mother, though, was carrying a large stuffed animal that I suspect wasn’t actually hers.  My unspoken thought: “Shoulda given that kid a backpack, too!”

A Forever Gift

When I think about the things that have been given to me over the course of my life, I’m struck with the realization that I’ve forgotten the vast majority–I mean the vast majority–of those them.  

I don’t know what I got for my 11th birthday.  No clue.  Honestly, I’m not sure I remember everything I was given for my 56th birthday, and that was just last month.  

Christmas of 2006?  I’ll bite…what?

Graduation gifts?  It’s safe to say someone gave me money (well, for high school), but I don’t remember anything about it.  Wedding gifts? I remember a few.  Fathers Day? I’m sorry, but no.

I don’t think I’m alone here.  I mean, we’re given stuff all the time.  We receive it, we’re thankful for it, and then we let it go.  I don’t remember all that I’ve given, either.  We get, we give, and most of the time we forget.  For better or worse.

The other day, though, I was struck by the awesomeness of one of the things I’ve been given.  Truth be told, I don’t remember the circumstances of the giving, or even to whom I owe the earliest thanks.  I just remember the gift, and how appreciative I am for it.

It came to my mind while I was standing in a music store late last week.  I was shopping for a MIDI controller.  Why I was shopping for a MIDI controller is another story, but that’s what I was doing.  (For those who might not know, a MIDI controller is–in essence–a keyboard for a computer.  A keyboard that looks and functions like a piano keyboard, not a computer keyboard.  It’s used to input data such as notes and triggers for electronic music.)

Now, I’m not a piano player, and the only claim I have to being a keyboardist is the ability to type with all ten fingers, even though my left thumb is only used rarely.  That said, as I was testing the controller (a mere formality, since I’m only getting started with electronic music), I played a few chords in the key of C, specifically the C, F, and G chords.  

Why those chords?  Well, they don’t require me to use the black keys, and they’re usually some of the first chords a beginner learns on the piano.  Also, I knew that the “I, IV, and V” chords (Roman numerals) are the primary chords in any key, and I knew that those major chords are made of the up of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes in the major scale based on any given note.

Wow, even though that was basic stuff, it sounded complicated.  I know the theory, but it was still kind of tough to put into words. 

The thing is, though, that I can take that knowledge, and use it to pick up and play (though not necessarily well) any instrument in that music store. Guitars, bass guitars, ukuleles, mandolins, violins, and anything with a keyboard: I can play them, albeit with very limited proficiency. 

For those who know about such things, you of course noticed that I didn’t say anything about brass or woodwind instruments.  Those things are dark magic, and I’m clueless.

Why can I play all of those instruments?  Because I was given the gift of music, all those years ago.  The story is fuzzy, at best, but at some point I was given the knowledge of how music works and the opportunity to put what I learned into action.

And I am now, and always will be, grateful.

For me, the gift of music is up there with reading and the ability to perform basic mathematical operations (and woodworking–I’m thankful for that, too). I don’t use it every day, but it’s there when I want it or need it.

To my folks for the support, my teachers, and all of the authors who wrote the countless books and articles I’ve read: Thank you!

School. December 3, 2020

Today I was struck with a line  
Probably from 
a long-forgotten book or movie
I don’t remember the characters and
I don’t remember the setting

But I remember him or her saying
to him or her
“If you leave, I’m afraid you won’t come back
and if you do
I’m afraid I won’t know you as I once did”

That came to me as I was walking the empty halls at school 

No students
They are believed to be at home
Safe 
It is hoped

No teachers
They are known to be behind their classroom doors
Locked away from the intruder
This is no drill

I am afraid

I am afraid
What I knew won’t come back
and if it does
I won’t know it as I once did

Can One be “Out” of Nature?

Being “in nature.”

What does that even mean?  As is sometimes the case, I’ve recently had a few different versions of the “nature” question presented to me in a variety of formats, all within just a few days.  

Maybe that–being presented with different versions of an idea within a short amount of time–happens with a greater degree of frequency than I think it does and I just don’t notice it, but I don’t think so.  I mean, it’s common on social media, but that’s only after I do an internet search for something. 

Look!  A squirrel! 

Back to nature.  Being out in nature.  

Okay, one more aside: one of the bits of information that recently came my way concerned the flora and fauna of one’s indoor spaces.   As in, under one’s bed or in one’s bathroom.  In one’s kitchen or living room.  Indoors.  Kind of cool to think about, unless you’re trying to go to sleep.

That’s not what I’m writing about, though.  I’m writing about another idea, that of the natural succession of disturbed land.  

It’s early December, and the sun sets early enough that getting outside after school can be a challenge.  It was something I wanted to do on a recent afternoon, though, so I clocked out as soon as I could and came straight home.  After a quick change of clothing into something warmer, my wife and I were back out the door.  We wanted to walk on some trails at a local land preserve called Harvest Square.  It’s really close to the house–just a five-minute-or-so drive–and we love it for its convenient location.

It’s a small preserve with just about a mile of trail that winds through it.  The land, as I understand it, was donated by the developer who built a small shopping area (a grocery store and the usual assortment of small businesses that one finds nearby) adjacent to the preserve, and it includes two ponds that were formed when dirt was excavated to level the construction site.  

There is a significant amount of land undergoing natural succession, as well as a stand of woods that hasn’t seen cutting in at least a few decades.

Most of this preserve is what I understand to be disturbed land.  Land that’s not as natural processes made it.  Land that has recently seen bulldozers and other heavy equipment as well as chainsaws and piles of debris that smolder for days after the half-hearted attempt to burn them. 

Disturbed land.

As we walked that trail, though, I wondered if the birds flying through the trees and the occasional squirrel in the undergrowth got the memo, as they say.

In the area of north Alabama where I live, natural succession above the grasses and forbs often starts with one of the Callery pears, either the Bradford or Cleveland.  They’re invasive, and absolutely dominate until taller trees take over in a decade or so.

The birds, though, nest in their branches and find concealment in their leaves.

Loblolly pines are one of the few trees that can compete with the Callery pears, and their early growth is vigorous.  Loblolly pines are the type of tree that is often planted after a clear cut so lumber companies can say they replanted.  The loblolly is a wonderful tree in its own right, but it’s certainly not the oak or hickory it typically replaces.

The squirrels, though, find food by destroying the green cones in an effort to get to the developing seeds, and the birds are happy to eat what the squirrels do not, although not until the cone matures in a few more weeks.

The Callery pears and the loblolly pines are signs of disturbed land, yet they’re still nature.  Deer run through them, snakes and other reptiles live in the detritus and debris at their bases, and fish–brought in through the ephemeral creek that runs through the property–swim in their shadows.  

Nature.

I know that the big picture isn’t as many would want it, including myself.  Earth moving equipment (let that term sink in for a moment) wouldn’t have torn the original flora up by its roots or disturbed the native fauna.  Yet, it did, and nature is doing its thing and covering the scars.  Small picture stuff, but I’ll take it.