Please Don’t Leave

Interstate 65 in the southern half of Alabama is, for the most part, a beautiful slog.  Pine trees line the roadside for dozens of miles at a time, and you’d better not have less than half a tank of gas if there’s an accident ahead.  Monotony and the resultant distractions probably lead to most of those accidents, but that’s not what I’m writing about. 

As I said, southern Alabama (and northern Alabama, for that matter) is a beautiful place.  The gentle hills of the coastal plain are mostly covered in the pines I mentioned earlier, and the views that the tallest of those hills afford are stunning, in a relatively flat and green way.

Recently, coming home from a conference, I had the opportunity to drive I-65 northbound out of the Montgomery area.  The trip, I’m happy to say, was relatively uneventful as all of my distractions — as well as those of my fellow travelers — were within the limits of safety.  The drive, not complicated with heavy rain or traffic accidents, gave me some time to think, as well as plenty to think about.  

A number of miles north of Montgomery stands a billboard that is regular fodder for local conversation and commentary.  Given the inter-state nature of interstate travel, it’s also known throughout the region and even makes it into national human-interest pieces on occasion.  I am, of course, referring to the “GO TO CHURCH Or the Devil Will Get You!” (sic) sign.

I didn’t actually spend a lot of time thinking about that sign, and I’m not writing about it either. It’s just cool to tell people about it.

There is, however, a new sign sharing the same field, and I did spend some time thinking about it.  Much smaller, though still prominent, the sign states the cliché, “America love it or leave it.”  I’m pretty sure it’s in all caps, but I didn’t get a picture.  In my mind, though, it’s in all caps. 

That saying has been around longer than I can remember (which is back into the 70s), and there was a time when I gave it a positive nod, if not a hearty endorsement.  I used to think differently about a lot of things, to tell you the truth.  Now, though, I see a different America than I did back then, and I see that sign and its words differently as well.  

I used to see only my own little world.  My little town, my little circle of friends and family, and my little frame of reference.  My limited travel and only three channels (plus PBS on the UHF dial) were, I suppose, some of the reasons things used to be little.

Now, though, I see a bigger world and a bigger America.  My little town gave way to living on three different continents and enjoying a variety of experiences.  Traveling over the years (as well as the Internet) has given me a bigger circle of friends and family, and my frame of reference has grown as a result.  I’ve met and known people who are different from me: they look differently, they think differently, and they act differently. They — at least those who are stateside — are America.

America is a big place, literally and metaphorically.  It’s a place of wonder and simplicity; a place of unity and division; a place of celebration and protest.  It’s E pluribus unum: From many, one.  America is a country of diversity and the variety of opinions that come with that reality.  My America, whether one likes it or not, is a place of both differences and similarities.  

And you know what? America, as I see it, is big enough and strong enough to thrive with those realities; they’re an asset, not a liability.

That sign, I suspect, didn’t completely express its author’s full intention.  I could be wrong, but what I think it’s supposed to say is, “MY little vision of America: Love it or leave it.”

I don’t agree with your opinion, sir or ma’am, but I respect your right to have it, and I’m glad you have the opportunity to share it with the world.  

On Permanence

Concrete wall anchors.

All three of those words carry a sense of permanence that — I have to confess — I’m just not looking for right now.  That said, I need to mount something to a wall, and it has to be done today.  

Anchored, it will be.  To a concrete wall.

I’m moving into a new classroom, teaching a new grade level, and working with a new team.  That, for me, is a lot of new, and while I’m looking forward to everything about this school year, it’s still a bit much, given how the summer break has gone so far.  (I’ll start at the current time with that story: All is going well.  The previous five weeks were a bit touch-and-go, though.)

Ah, a new classroom!  So much potential, and so many decisions to be made.  Decisions that include where to mount an interactive panel that’s roughly the size of the barracks room in which I started my adult life.  

Thus the concrete wall anchors.  

Fortunately, I’ve got a putty knife and I’m not afraid to use it.  Maybe things aren’t so permanent after all!

Father’s Day 2021

Etiquette in enclosed spaces is still an iffy thing in the middle of 2021, and a hitch of hesitation showed in the movement of the young man who instinctively lurched toward the doors of my elevator as they started to close.  It was only a hitch, though, and the urgency in his eyes caused me to stick my hand between the moving stainless steel panels, sending them back open to allow him to step into the car with me.

In his early 20s with a ball cap covering his short curly hair, he carried an overfilled bag in his left hand and a phone in his right.  He had been walking hard, and a mixture of anxiety and exertion showed on his face.

I reached down and pushed the button beside the number six, then turned to face the new passenger.

“What floor are you headed to?”

“Fourth, please.”  His countenance darkened slightly as he spoke, although it’s possible it was just a figment of my imagination or a product of my own memory.  I pushed the appropriate metal button.

As the doors slid closed all the way this time, a brief moment of silence hung between us, and with the slightest of jolts, we began to move upward.

Save the hum of the ventilation fan, the ding of passing the second and then the third floor was the only sound in the car until I found the words to say. 

Our car slowed to a stop and the doors opened as I spoke. “My dad just left the fourth floor the other day. I hope y’all are out of there soon.”

Hope. I hope.

He turned his face toward me as he left the car. Inhaling deeply, he hesitated for the second time in the last 30 seconds before saying, simply, “Thanks, man.”

He turned and walked away as the doors slid shut.

Within a few seconds they opened again to let me leave the small compartment. As they had many times over the past three weeks, my eyes looked toward the brushed steel letters on the wall just ahead of me: Heart and Vascular Patient Care.

I whispered a short prayer as I dropped my eyes to the directory on the wall beside me.  As if I needed to be reminded, I read the label beside the number four.

Heart and Vascular Intensive Care

Hope.  I hope.

Turning away, I stepped in the direction of the patient I had come to see, happy to be able to make the trip.

Summer Weather

Predicting the weather, especially in the early days of summer in the south, is always the pursuit of a moving target.  Air pressure rises and falls, fronts move, winds shift, and water vapor collects in white masses that turn to gray then turn to black. Temperatures drop ten degrees in a matter of minutes and the trees wave back and forth, welcoming the lashing they are to take.  Nature holds on.

warm turns to cool
clouds roll in from the west
we brace for what’s next

The Cost of Labor

I’m a maker.  In addition to making narratives, poetry, and other forms of written work, I dabble in carpentry, cabinetry, pottery, gardening, stonework, painting, sewing, rope work, carving, weaving, and a few other activities that will come to me later.  I enjoy making, and I enjoy being around other folks who do so as well.  

There are two ideas floating around the maker world that I’ve seen expressed in different ways, and they always make me chuckle.  

The first is usually found at craft shows or fairs, and it’s a form of, “Sure, he can make it, but will he?” 

As a quick aside, I’m sure “she” could make it too, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that sign.

The second idea deals with the cost of a service or making of an item.  There’s the basic price, the price that is charged if you watch, and the price that is charged if you help.  Guess which is the cheapest?  Here’s a clue: It’s the one that doesn’t involve you being in the room as the work is being done.

Both of these ideas are floating through my mind this very day, and it’s been tough.

You see, until about two hours ago, the roof on my house leaked.

Before I continue, I’ve got to give a quick tip of the hat to Jerry Garcia and David Grisman for the lyrics to their version of “Arkansas Traveler.” 

Well, hello stranger
Can’t you see that your roof is leaking?
Why don’t you fix it?

Well, right now it’s rainin’ too hard
And when the suns a shinin’
Why, it don’t leak!

Anyway, like I was sayin’, my roof leaked.  In addition to that, I tend to pick up other folks’ speech habits, but that’s another story.

Thinking about how to address that leak, I had a conundrum.  That is, I can do the work, but I don’t have the time.  To be clear, I’ve laid a shingle or two in my day, but I have a flaw in my disposition that accounts for the two guys who are currently on top of my house: I’m a ponderer.  I think too much.  In a word, I’m slow.  I can probably do it, but it’s going to take a lot of time.

I’m fortunate right now to have the resources to have someone else do the work, but I’m absolutely itching to get out there and help.  With my speed, though, they’d charge me double.  

Rightly so, rightly so.

Dividing Fractions

I remember my muscles tensing and my body freezing, my eyes growing wider as my mind started to race and adrenaline started to pump.

“I don’t remember how I used to explain why dividing fractions oftentimes ends up with a quotient larger than either the dividend or divisor.”

A few panicky seconds passed.

“Oh my gosh — I can’t remember, I can’t remember,” I said to myself, over and over.

I searched for the answer in my mind.  I worked examples, looking for the pattern that was going to -click- make everything fall into place. I knew this, but I just couldn’t remember.

“I have got to know this.  I can’t just say ‘flip the second fraction and multiply,’ without being able to explain why.”

I looked at the clock, on the off chance that it might give me the answer.

2:40 A.M.

Knowing that I don’t start teaching fourth grade for another two and a half months, I did my best to let it go, telling myself I could look it up in the morning.  “Besides, that’s not even a fourth grade standard,” I added for good measure.

To my later-in-the-morning amazement, I actually went back to sleep.  

A new grade level is going to be fun!

You Can’t Sneak Up on an Owl

It’s almost impossible to sneak up on an owl.

No, really.  Their eyesight is near the top of the charts. Their vision is better than ours during the day, and there’s that whole night vision thing they’ve got going for them.  

Their hearing?  Well, their hearing is enough to make one wonder why we even have charts.  They don’t need to see their prey in order to capture it — the sound of a rustle in the grass or even the beating of an excited heart is more than enough for them to locate their next meal.  

Owls don’t typically have much of a sense of smell, so that works in the favor of any would-be sneaker, but that’s about it. 

All of that said, I recently found myself wishing I could sneak up on an owl.  

An owl who was awaiting my arrival.

A hungry owl — an apex predator — who was waiting for me.

—–

Okay, really, I just needed to feed Max.

I’ve written before about the volunteer work I do with the RISE Raptor Project here in north Alabama.  We’re a small stewardship and conservation education organization that works with birds of prey to communicate our message to the public.

Those birds have to eat, and it was my turn to feed them.  Max’s food, though, was still frozen, so my presence — which should have meant dinner was about to be served — didn’t really mean a meal was imminent.  That’s why I wished I could bring my car up a gravel driveway, turn off the engine, shut the door, unlock and open the building he stays in, thaw his food, and go into his enclosure, all without him knowing I was there.  As if. 

He knew I was there.

Did he let me know he knew?  Yes.  

Did I thaw his dinner as fast as I could?  Yes.  

He gave me grief in the form of an impatient squawk until I finally fed him some 20 minutes later, but he did eventually get his well-thawed meal.  

Did he shower me with thanks afterward?  

Well, no, not really. He was quieter, though. I guess that counts.

Maximus, a Eurasian Eagle Owl

The Tower

“Do you want to climb the tower?”

“Sure.  Do you want to climb the tower?”

“Sure.  Let’s go.”

Honestly, in a lot of ways, it was as if we were kids looking at a roller coaster, saying, “I’ll do it if you do it!”

Except it wasn’t a roller coaster, and my mother and I weren’t kids.

—–

Dayton, Ohio, is a city with a lot of history.  I know there are a lot of cities with history, but Dayton is mine, so I’m a bit partial.  Part of the city’s history — and there is a lot — is embodied in what is known as the Callahan Clock.  

Until the late 1970s, this clock stood atop Dayton’s first tall building, the Callahan building.  When that building was taken down, the clock was removed from its 14 story perch and moved to another building near Interstate-75, giving it even more visibility to those moving through the city. 

That location was eventually torn down as well, and until two years ago the clock sat on the ground in Dayton’s historical Carillon Park, home of the Wright Brothers museum and its airplane, the Wright Flyer III.  (I told you Dayton had a lot of history–oh, yeah, the whole “birthplace of flight” thing.)

In 2019, the clock was placed atop a tower built in Carillon park just to hold it, a structure known as the Brethen Tower.

“The tower” that started this narrative.

Now, the tower itself isn’t necessarily a thing of beauty.  The clock is, but the tower is a simple structure made of I-beams and steel grating.

Therein lies a problem.

It’s 120 steps to the top, and every one of those steps is made of a rock-solid-no-way-you-can-fall piece of steel grating firmly welded to the structure itself.

Just because you can’t fall, though, doesn’t mean you can’t see through it.  As you climb it, there’s never a time when you’re not aware that you’re getting farther and farther from the ground.  I climbed it, and I’ve got the pictures to prove it, but that doesn’t mean I was comfortable doing so.

Once we were there, however, we were rewarded with a view of the downtown area as well as a fantastic vantage point from which my mom and I could look at another attraction: a bald eagle nest.  Currently occupied by a pair of eagles with three maturing eaglets, it’s a sight to see, perched at the top of a large sycamore tree on the edge of the park.

We came, we climbed, and we saw.

“Okay, I’m ready to go down now.”

“Okay, me too.”


The Callahan Clock, Dayton, Ohio

Bald eagle nest, Carillon Park, Dayton, Ohio

2021 Progressive Poem is Finished!

A few days ago, I posted about providing a line to this year’s Kidlit Progressive Poem. Organized this year by Margaret Simon of Reflections on the Teche, there were 30 different poets who contributed to the project. They are all listed after the poem.

In addition to the final line of the poem itself, Michelle Kogan created a beautiful illustration for the work. I don’t have permission to share the illustration, but it can be found on the poems archive page here: 2021 Progressive Poem. It’s beautiful, and definitely worth checking out!

Progressive Poem, 2021

I’m a case of kindness – come and catch me if you can!
Easily contagious – sharing smiles is my plan.
I’ll spread my joy both far and wide
As a force of nature, I’ll be undenied.

Words like, “how can I help?” will bloom in the street.
A new girl alone on the playground – let’s meet, let’s meet!
We can jump-skip together in a double-dutch round.
Over, under, jump and wonder, touch the ground.

Friends can be found when you open a door.
Side by side, let’s walk through, there’s a world to explore.
We’ll hike through a forest of towering trees.
Find a stream we can follow while we bask in the breeze.

Pull off our shoes and socks, dip our toes in the icy spring water
When you’re with friends, there’s no have to or oughter.
What could we make with leaves and litter
Let’s find pine needles, turn into vine knitters.

We’ll lie on our backs and find shapes in the sky.
We giggle together: See the bird! Now we fly!
Inspired by nature, our imaginations soar.
Follow that humpback! Here, take an oar.

Ahh! Here comes a wave – let’s hold on tight,
splashing and laughing, let’s play until night!
When the Milky Way sparkles, and the moon’s overhead,
we make a pretend campfire and tell stories we’ve read.

Some stories are true and some myths of our time.
I love all of them, but my favorite ones rhyme!
With windows to see other lives, other places
We’ll find and treasure a rainbow of faces.

When you open your heart to a new friend
kindness for another kindles and ascends


Here’s a list of everyone who had a part of this year’s project:

April 1 Kat Apel at Kat Whiskers 
2 Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
3 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
4 Donna Smith at Mainly Write
5 Irene Latham at Live your Poem
6 Jan Godown Annino at BookseedStudio
7 Rose Cappelli at Imagine the Possibilities
8 Denise Krebs at Dare to Care
9 Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche
10 Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone
11 Buffy Silverman 
12 Janet Fagel at Reflections on the Teche
13 Jone Rush MacCulloch 
14 Susan Bruck at Soul Blossom Living
15 Wendy Taleo at Tales in eLearning
16 Heidi Mordhorst at my juicy little universe
17 Tricia Stohr Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect
18 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
19 Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link
20 Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge
21 Leigh Anne Eck at A Day in the Life
22 Ruth Hersey at There is No Such Thing as a God-forsaken Town
23 Janice Scully at Salt City Verse
24 Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference
25 Shari Daniels at Islands of my Soul
26 Tim Gels at Yet There is Method 
27 Rebecca Newman
28 Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
29 Christie Wyman at Wondering and Wondering
30 Michelle Kogan at More Art 4 All

Black Locust


“How do you know it’s a black locust?”

It was a sincere question
and
honestly
I had to think
for a few seconds 
before I answered.

The easy answer
the one I didn’t give
was it couldn’t be anything else.

With those compound leaves
it wasn’t any of the oaks
or maples
redbud was out of the question
as was beech
and tulip poplar.

With those leaflets
as small and numerous as they were
ash, hickory
box elder
buckeye and even pecan
were off the list.

But on that late April morning
it was more than just 
seeing what it wasn’t

It was seeing what it had to be.

With those dangling clusters 
of wondrous white flowers
laden with nectar, pollen,
and bumble bees

It had to be a black locust.
It couldn’t be anything else.

“It’s the flowers,”
I said with a smile.


Just a note:

I know and understand that most people don’t know how to identify the trees around them.  Or the flowers, shrubs, and grasses.  There are so many I don’t know . . . lots more than I do. 

In the early grades, we often use what’s known as “environmental print” to help students to read.  Environmental print is helpful because almost everyone, even children at a young age, can recognize it — it’s ubiquitous and you know it at a glance.  

When I learn with people — especially young people — outdoors, it’s my hope that they would develop a familiarity with the world around them.  Much like recognizing the M that is the golden arches, it would be great if, at a glance, we could recognize the plants and animals around us.  

To paraphrase Aldo Leopold, we can’t love what we don’t know.

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