Thursday, December 29, 2011

It is now the time to be thinking about making New Year’s resolutions. I don’t do that. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions any more. I used to. For many years I made a passel of them. But I never kept them for long. I think the record was a couple of months. In hopes of rectifying that situation, I quit making so many each year. I cut it down to one a year, thinking one would be easier to keep than many. That didn’t work. That one resolution lasted no longer.

Finally, I made a resolution that I kept. I vowed one year to never, ever make another New Year’s resolution and so far I have kept that promise to myself and I believe I am much happier because of it. Since that time, I’ve made many improvements in myself—I have given up smoking, lost weight, started and kept up with exercise programs. I even got rid of a pile of stuff and streamlined my life. And I began writing and am sticking to it. And I did all this not because of obligating myself to a program that I didn’t really want to follow. I made changes when I felt the need to and felt they were right for me. Perhaps I should have made a resolution to do that very thing years ago. But then, would I have been able to keep it? And if I hadn’t, could I have brought the change about any other way? Interesting. I think I’ll stop thinking about it and be satisfied things turned out the way they did.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I put my Christmas tree up the other day. It’s a small artificial tree a bit under four feet in height that I have sitting on a trunk in the living room. That, some electric candles in the windows and a wreath on the porch do me as decorations for the Holidays. One of my main concerns this year was what reaction Penny, my cat, would have to the tree. Would she leave the decorations and tinsel alone? Would she be overly interested in the lights? Would she try to climb the tree? I needn’t have worried. So far, she has ignored it and indications are that she will continue to do so for the duration of its existence in the living room.

I was not always so lucky. Years ago my wife and I had a black cat with a strong will and a mischievous disposition, whose name was Donnie. When Christmas came around, Donnie watched us put up the tree, a real tree about seven feet or so in height. He was very interested in the process. That should have given us a clue. All was well until half an hour or so after the tree decorating was complete. We cleaned up the boxes the ornaments had been stored in and retired to the kitchen to make dinner. Donnie was left alone in the living room with the Christmas tree.

The crash came about five minutes later. I ran to the living room and in the process was passed by a black cat heading in the opposite direction. You guessed it; Donnie had climbed the tree and tipped it over, sending it crashing down on the television set. The damage wasn’t bad, a few broken glass ornaments, a bent aerial on the TV (these were the days before the advent of cable), and a large share of tinsel spread over one corner of the living room. We considered ourselves lucky. Donnie was banished from the living room and the door closed firmly behind him, but his cunning and determined nature persisted and the tree was tipped over twice more during that holiday season, once during a small party we were having.

Donnie is long gone. No—we didn’t do him in that Christmas season. He survived and went on to involve himself in other escapades rivaling his episodes with that Christmas tree. He calmed down somewhat in his later years and finally passed away of natural causes. He was a memorable cat, but I much prefer Penny. She’s not as adventurous as Donnie was but neither am I and at this time in life I do not care to deal with tipped-over Christmas trees, even under-four-foot artificial ones decorated with supposedly unbreakable plastic ornaments.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Small game hunting season is over—I think. There may be a few more weeks in January for rabbit. I’m not sure. I don’t keep up with it any more. Quite a while ago, when I was young, I loved hunting and was well acquainted with the seasons allowed for different animals and birds. And back then, it was easy to hunt. All I had to do was go across the back yard and into the fields. I could be out all day and never see a house if I was careful to avoid the places where I knew houses existed. There was enough open country to be able to do that. There was a lot of game, too, and a variety of it—rabbit, pheasant, quail.

I concentrated on hunting rabbit and pheasant. I left quail alone. They were small birds and, besides, they gave me too much joy. In the evenings in the spring and summer I could watch one or two of them in the orchard on the branches of a brush pile giving out with their song—“bob-white, bob-bob-white.” If I were careful and clever enough I could whistle an answer and, little by little, get close to the singer. It became a game. Sometimes I didn’t know who was fooling whom.

There are few quail around anymore. I’m not sure what happened to them but I can speculate. I think it’s a combination of loss of habitat and the use of pesticides. Pheasants are scarce, too. They are raised in pens and stocked, but they are not “native” birds. I remember walking to the school bus stop on mornings when the snow on the ground was deep and the temperatures cold. I passed hemlocks under which pheasants had gathered to gain shelter and my passing caused them to fly. In succession they ran across the frozen snow and took off with a flutter of wings. I counted gatherings in the high teens, both male and female birds. That was in the 1940’s.

But neither scarcity of game nor lack of easily accessing large tracts of land nor my age is what keeps me from hunting. It is simply that I no longer see any redeeming quality in it. I don’t need food and to simply kill for the “fun” of it is something I no longer need to do. I’d rather see a living creature than meat on the table. Nor do I see them as a threat. As for the other reason, I do not see why the killing of anything should be called a “sport.”

Monday, December 5, 2011

It’s December 5th. Winter is well on the way. But it doesn’t seem like winter. It hasn’t snowed yet—an appreciable fall, I mean. The winters I remember from the times when I was a boy began earlier. This may sound like a standard tale older people tell children about how hard they had it when they were young—eight foot snow drifts and walking to school in the frost of morning and all that. But this isn’t a tale of hardship, simply of observation.

Many years ago when I was young, I loved hunting and in those days the small game season began on November 1st, no matter on what day of the week that fell. The season lasted until December 1st and before that season was half over, and certainly before Thanksgiving, there was snow on the ground. And I mean SNOW. Not just a dusting. Snow that piled an inch or two or three on the ground and clung to branches and covered roofs and had to be shoveled off drives and plowed from roads. There were times when I tracked rabbits or pheasants by the trails they left in the snow. That wasn’t a really productive way to hunt but it was fun.

It isn’t that way anymore. Over the years I’ve found that snows don’t come as early as they used to. There are years with exceptions, of course and there is an uncertainty inherent with memory, but I’m fairly certain that I am right. We do not generally have snows as we used to. I’m not sure I would wish such snows back. There is comfort in not having to deal with their negative qualities. I wouldn’t mind if warm weather continued right on through until spring when consistent warm weather returned with singing birds and blooming flowers.

But if that happened I would probably really miss the snows. Ah, well, are we—am I—ever totally satisfied?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I read a book recently—Off On Our Own by Ted Carns. Ted is a resident of the Ligonier area. He and his wife, Kathy, live on a five acre site on Laurel Mountain, east of the town of Ligonier. Ted and Kathy live off the grid—hence the title of the book. Ted has, in his years of residence on the mountain, built a sustainable life style with his own heating, refrigeration and waste systems and his own sources (plural) of electricity.

Ted demonstrates that it is possible to live a comfortable life without constantly taking from nature. He gives back as much, even more, than he takes. In doing this, Ted gives as one of his principles paying attention to necessity over desire. “Necessity” might sound rather harsh but to me it is simply recognizing whether you really need something or only want it. In this society we are taught to want much more than we really need. Then we waste what we no longer want. Through application of his philosophy and attention to recycling in both standard and unique ways, Ted has reached a point of Zero waste. He has done this without any huge outlay of money, by simply living as he feels he should.

A great part of Ted’s message is spirituality. He applies that to his endeavors and to his life.

It’s a good book. It’s well written. It’s informative. Get it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I have been thinking lately about our nation’s capacity for freedom. There is an Irish tune the words of which are, in part: “I’m black and I’m pagan, I’m gay and I’m left and I’m free. I’m a non-fundamentalist environmentalist—don’t bother me.”

Our nation is that. It is also white (and other colors), religious, straight, right, fundamentalist and non-environmentalist (whatever that might be called). We are all these things and a lot of others. But not all of us. No one person can be all of these things and no one can help but be some of them. Each of us is a collection of a number of opinions and beliefs and I don’t believe that anyone can be described as possessing all the qualities that are supposed to belong to a person of any one persuasion. We are, in short, a collection of unique individuals that live and work together.

It doesn’t seem that we’re satisfied to leave it that way. There are numerous groups that are trying to change other people in ways that exceed practical considerations of safety. Many of these efforts involve organized and expensive methods. The number of lobbyists in the halls of government, for instance, attests to this fact. We seem to be willing to live with this situation, especially if it seems to provide us with something we think we want.

This constant pressure is liable to provide us with two things we don’t want: more control over our personal lives and more division between people. Either of these can be disastrous for our society. And yet this is the type of society that we are attempting to hold up to the world as the ideal. This is the freedom that we are encouraging other countries to adopt. I don’t think we’re truly aware of what we’re doing. Before we can export freedom we must be willing to give it to ourselves.

Monday, November 21, 2011

It is standard practice these days for restaurants to serve straws with drinks. All drinks, it seems—iced tea, soft drinks, etc. It is standard practice even for water. I have not seen straws served with coffee, however. Or tea. Why not? Perhaps the straw custom applies only to drinks served in glasses rather than cups. But what about milk? That’s served in a glass yet I have never seen straws accompany it.

I suppose it’s a matter of hygiene. Hygiene seems to be very popular these days—at least in some respects, drinking through straws rather that from the glass being a significant representative of that. What one is drinking through that straw seems to be of less importance, health wise. I can’t quite get into the habit of drinking water through a straw, though. A glass is good enough.

But if straws should be used for all drinks served in a glass why not serve them for alcoholic beverages? I have a mental picture of men seated at a bar drinking beer with straws. Unlikely. But would that not be advisable in terms of hygienics? Perhaps that is not necessary because the alcohol in the beer kills the germs. But in that case, why don’t we drink more beer—or gin or whatever. It might be that we are more worried about the side effects connected with those substances. Then again, if we are concerned about side effects, what about side effects from drugs? More often than not we ignore those.

At any rate, we should probably hope that the custom of serving straws with drinks continues. Besides being hygienic, it’s good for straw manufacturers—another way to keep the economy healthy, a benefit that rivals, if not exceeds, that of hygiene.

I’m not even going to comment on the added plastic burden placed upon the landfills.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Last week we had a succession of days of great weather—balmy temperatures, sunshine, no rain. On Friday that ceased to be. I wore my heavy coat that day and was glad for it. There were even a few snow flakes in the morning. The way they were coming down when I first saw them, they looked rather threatening. I thought sure there would be a good covering of snow before the day was over.

The fact that that did not happen does not change a simple fact: overcoat weather is with us. It will not be constant, to be sure, but over the next four months or so we must be prepared for its occurrence. Overcoats and boots must be kept handy. For winter weather in this area, I prefer to wear layers of clothing. No matter what the morning temperatures, the weather will vary during the day. I can shed or add garments accordingly and, hopefully, stay reasonably comfortable.

The extra clothing that people wear in wintertime brings about a phenomenon I did not understand for a while. I used to commute by bus, first to school and then to work every day. The busses seemed to be more crowded in the winter. Colder weather might have brought on some increase in ridership but there was another, simpler reason for the crowded condition. It was explained to me that people are one or two inches wider in the winter because of overcoats and other warmer items of dress. Maybe they also put on weight in the winter to help insulate them from the cold. Why not? Bears do.

The subject of weight brings on another interesting question concerning being weighed in the doctor’s office. Are the scales in doctors’ offices calibrated to account for the weight of the clothing one is wearing? And in the winter, are they adjusted to allow for heavier and more articles of clothing? And what is the average increase in weight for the heavier clothing or, for that matter, what is the weight for summer clothing? And does that vary for men and women? For children? I really don’t know. I’m going to have to find out.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I have heard it said that writers create a world of their own invention when they write. I believe that’s true. Some writers have gone to the extent of drawing maps of the areas about which they are writing and I’ve found that’s a good idea. Every time I write about some place I’ve invented, I have a mental picture of it and I watch as the story’s characters move about its environs. It’s only one more step to put the map of the area in graphic form.

I did that to some extent for A Matter of Time, my first book published by Silverbear Graphics and for The Finding of the Blue Feather, to be published by Silverbear shortly. Now I’m doing it again. I’ve been working on a book with the working title Mountains. In it, a boy grows up in a small town of my invention in Appalachia called Ellan. As the boy in the story grew and became more involved with the population and events of his life, I found it increasingly difficult to make do with my imagination’s picture of the town. So, I drew a map of Ellan.

The map started as a simple drawing of a few streets and some isolated buildings that were pertinent to the story. That did OK for a while but I soon I found that to be not quite enough. I added more buildings and some topographical features. Now, I’ve got the fever. I want to make the town map more realistic—buildings and mountains that give the feeling of being there. I’m even thinking of finishing it so that it can be included in the book.

Is all this necessary? I’m not sure. Will it make the story better or more believable? I don’t know. For now, I’ll fool around with the map a little more. If it gives me a better feeling for the story and the characters, it’ll be worth it. I may even include it in the drafts of the book to get the reaction of readers. That will probably be the final test of whether Ellan does, in fact, settle into her place in the Mountains.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Subject: writing and writing about writing. I’ve written about writing quite a bit on this blog in the short time I’ve had it. It struck me that I might be giving the impression that I have been writing a long time and know quite a lot about writing. I hope that’s not the case. I write about writing simply because I love writing and what I have to say about it is based on my personal experience, such as it is. I have not been writing seriously for a long time—only since about the year 2000—and have never taken writing as a subject in any school of higher learning. But that, as far as I am concerned, is just the point.

One of my earliest ambitions was writing. I never followed through on that ambition because I was told that one could never make a living at it. I had, I was told, to find a business or profession with a more stable future. So I didn’t pursue writing as a career. I never ceased writing altogether and did succeed in having a few things published over the years but nothing of importance. In 2000, health problems forced me to find something else to occupy my time. I chose writing as that “something else” and found a brand new world opening up for me. Since then, I have found more and more reasons to thank the problems that led me to writing.

I have always been interested in finding the “meaning to life” (for lack of a better description) and in recent years have delved into that more deeply. I have come to believe that each individual has a unique purpose for existence and that purpose is tied directly to talents and abilities he or she possesses. To express those, I believe, is the main purpose of a person’s life. Unfortunately, the talents and abilities one possesses often do not coincide with what is valued by society. As a result, they are ignored by society and. most likely, by the individual. But they never disappear and are never really forgotten. Lying dormant, they can cause problems in the individual—frustration, regret, unfulfilled ambitions. Also, their being ignored can cause the loss of potential benefit to society.

I am all in favor of anybody, at any stage of his or her life, becoming aware of these hidden or suppressed talents, abilities and dreams and doing one’s very best to bring them to fruition, whatever that may be. So that’s what I am encouraging when I write about writing and the joy I find in it. I am not an expert; I am simply saying that if you have the feeling you want to write there is nothing to do but take a chance and try it. Those are simply my feelings. As the saying goes: “Take what you like and leave the rest.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

It’s time to take the window screens down. It’s past the time when they will be needed and I can’t leave them up all winter to deteriorate. There are other things I have to do before winter really sets in but I’m procrastinating on those. I’ve no good reason for that. I think a great deal of it is a reluctance to admit that balmy weather is really over and that I must prepare for less welcome temperatures.

I suppose I’m never really satisfied. I recall that last January I complained—along with many others—of snow that piled up and temperatures that dipped below freezing. I’m sure I will do the same this coming winter. Last summer I complained just as loudly because it was too hot. It would be different if there were a possibility of finding a solution to the problem. As it is, about all we can do is complain. But then would we be happy with nothing to complain about?

Perhaps having things to complain about is good. First of all, it keeps us occupied and second of all it keeps us busy—some of us, anyway—trying to come up with ways to eliminate or at least make more acceptable all the things we complain about. The results of those efforts, devices or schemes to protect, prevent, modify or otherwise spare us the discomfort caused by disagreeable weather or other imperfections of life, provide a means of livelihood for many. And the sale of devices resulting from such efforts brings monetary rewards to many others.

But I am not one of those who are involved in such businesses. So it would be best if I cease my complaining and go out and bring in the window screens. Winter’s not that bad. Neither are the other periods of distasteful weather. But we can’t discount the benefits to our society of the poorer conditions in changing seasons. And we can’t discount the value of complaining about them. After all, if everyone were completely satisfied with all types of weather it would surely be bad for our economy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I started writing a new book about a week and a half ago. I didn’t intend to. What I intended to do was finish “Mountains”, a book I started on the first of this year and which I have largely neglected since then. A week and a half ago, another idea started niggling at me in such a way that I had no choice but to begin work on it. The writing’s going pretty well—about three and a half chapters done, but I have no idea how long the book’s going to be or what its final form will be.

I told my publisher about it the other day and described it in a superficial way. “Is it a children’s book?” she asked. “No,” I told her but I couldn’t tell her any more. It’s an odd sort of piece, a type of work I have never before tried, and I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t even know in what category to put it. Of course, I don’t usually know in what category to put any of my writing. The pieces seem to flop out of any convenient space in which I try to place them and not fit properly into any other.

That makes everything difficult. It’s important to have your work fit in a category, genre, etc. That labels it clearly. People like labels—for everything. That makes everything easier to understand. If something doesn’t have a label it’s too easy for a person dealing with it to become confused. Unfortunately, labels make it much easier to misunderstand something, too. Being too quick to label things such as governments, political parties, social actions, religions and personalities (and I suppose books, too) causes no end of difficulties, not only for that which is erroneously labeled but for society as well. Some classic examples of labels that can be misused are: democratic, socialist, communist, heretic and cult. When one tries to put people into categories, the whole thing degenerates even further.

So I’m not even going to try to put my new book in a category. I’ll wait until it’s finished and then see what suits it, if anything. Until then, I’ll call it a fantasy-science fiction-juvenile-social commentary-spiritual-inspirational-fairy tale-educational-essay adventure fable and let it go at that. That’ll have to do.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Getting back to a subject I started a month ago—being happy. On September 6th I mentioned that I thought the chief purpose of life might be enjoying oneself. I also mentioned that statement required clarification. I’m going to try to do that here—for my own benefit. I’m just going to ramble for a bit and see what I come up with.

At first it may seem that by a purpose of enjoying oneself I’m advocating simply going out and having fun all the time—drinking beer, eating up a storm or whatever. Those things may be enjoyable, but that’s not what I consider to be bringing happiness to one’s life. A couple synonyms for the word “happy” are joyous and ecstatic. That sounds like somebody who is “high”, either due to a physical substance or some emotional zenith. Both are shallow and temporary states. What I’m talking about is something deeper and more lasting.

True happiness comes from the core of one’s being and I believe that at that core we are all basically the same. No matter what one exhibits as personality, there is a basic desire—a need—for certain things. Those things go beyond food, clothing and shelter. There is a need for what we might call “security of self.” That’s an over-simplification but it’s a handy term to use. Security of self—it might be called belonging—consists of a sense of being valuable and respected (both by others and by oneself). That, again, is an over-simplification, but without that how can one be happy?

It seems to me that a person’s sense of a lack in this “security of self” causes even more unhappiness. The individual attempts to compensate for that lack and usually he or she does it by making himself or herself feel more important than others. That is done by physical means, the only course obvious. It could be done by acquiring things—clothes, jewelry, cars, houses, money or by changing one’s appearance. It could be done by establishing dominance over others or one could try to avoid the problem entirely and escape through use of drugs or alcohol.

But do any of those methods ever bring true happiness? They are all temporary fixes. They do not really give one “security of self.” That elusive state is not achieved by physical means alone.

I have to think about this some more. Anyone out there have any ideas?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Subject for today—writing, and especially starting to write. I’ve met a lot of people who want to write. But, they claim, they don’t know how to start. They seem to be waiting for someone to tell them how this is done. I suppose there are as many ways to write as there are people. There’s no one way that is right and each person must find his own way. But if you feel you must write, then there is only one thing to do and that is to write. Write about what? Anything. If you can’t find anything to write about, then write about not being able to find anything to write about. After a while you will think of something and all the time you’ve spent writing about not being able to think of anything to write about will help you to put some words down on paper.

Many years ago I wanted to write. I was about fourteen when I had a chance to do that. I was told about a poetry contest for teenagers and I thought I would enter it. I made a number of starts at writing a poem. I wanted it to be a beautiful, profound piece of literature. None of the starts I made measured up to that in my estimation. And I feared what others might think of my poor efforts. I never did enter that contest. And I didn’t write again until many years later. As a result, I denied myself years of pleasure at an art that I have come to love.

In my life I have come in contact with many people who are very good at one thing or another but the people I have come to admire most are those that are willing to keep at something they really want to do. They don’t give up. Putting that in terms of writing, there is a quote by Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, that, in my estimation, says it beautifully: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

I believe that in every person there is a need to create. That need to create can take many forms: inventing; writing or one of the other arts; designing any number of things; cooking. To deny that need is denying a part of oneself. That is a very dangerous and unproductive thing to do. But if you do try to write, don’t make the mistakes I did. Don’t set standards for yourself that are too high, don’t worry overly much about what you fear others may think, and once you start, keep at it.

But over and above anything else, if you want to try writing, by all means try it. You may like it. It may like you.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Observation and subject for the day: Penny, my cat, sleeps a lot. I am told, and it has been my experience, that most cats sleep a lot. I suppose a cat that did not sleep a lot would be the exception. That is not to say that it would not be unheard of. I imagine that there are variations in the amount of sleep that a cat needs—or wants—as there are variations in humans. My doctor recently told me that I should get eight hours of sleep each night plus naps during the day. I took exception to that because I was never in my life happy with eight hours sleep at night. I felt logy all day after getting that much sleep. I did better with six or seven hours. Maybe one does need more sleep as one gets older. I always appreciated naps during the day but when I was younger they were twenty minutes in duration. Now they are about an hour long. So maybe my doctor is right and I do need more sleep.

Still, I don’t really agree with the standard of eight hours sleep being what everyone needs at night. That may be an average but who do you know who is entirely average? I venture to say that an entirely average person does not exist. I read once that Winston Churchill’s habit was to work four hours and then sleep two. In doing that, he did get eight hours sleep in a twenty-four hour period but in his own way.

Each of us is an individual and each of us has variations of likes and dislikes and of what works best. Some of us are “day” people and some “night” people, for instance. Variations of behavior exist in animals as well as people. I remember when I heard a member of the Pennsylvania Game Commission being interviewed on the radio. The subject of the springtime interview was how to prevent wild animals raiding gardens. The conversation turned to folk remedies for same—such as pepper, garlic, beer or other natural treatments. The Commission officer was asked if they worked. Some do, he answered, and if you try such a remedy and it works, then use it. But, he cautioned, one must remember that each wild animal is an individual. A remedy that works for one may not work for his brother, his sister or his cousin.

What goes for animals goes for humans. We humans don’t all like the same things or the same patterns of behavior. If each of us were free to work out a pattern of behavior that suited us and that did not harm others, we’d all probably be a good deal happier. The way the world works is not conducive to making that sort of thing possible. So, each of us has to make the best of being as average as possible. That way we “fit in.” Ironically, it’s often those people who manage to break that pattern of behavior and are untypical that succeed in contributing the most to the progress of society and the world. That’s something to think about, isn’t it?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The circumstances on 9/11—the 9/11 of 2011 and not the 9/11 0f 2001—have caused me to think. On 9/11 of this year, the tenth anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City, the TV was filled with nonstop images and rhetoric of destruction, death, anguish and vengeance. A recount of the occurrences of that day and the subsequent happenings that were spread out over years were recalled on radio and in newspapers as well. There were memorial services in countless locations throughout the country.

I well understand the need to honor those that died in the attacks that took place on that day and the desire to teach those who were not yet born at that time the immense horror of what took place. But is there not a better way to do that?

As a nation, we condemn the attacks, now as well as then, as being acts of terrorism, violence and destruction that were beyond understanding. We reject any thought that they were justified. We announced to the world that we were totally opposed to such acts and would not condone them. Yet in our remembrances of that day, we recreate them in detail. For what purpose?

We say we want to follow ways of peace, to extend justice, equality and democracy to all nations. Does our dwelling on the execution and effects of one of the most horrific acts of covert terrorism to ever happen aid us in those efforts? Do we spend our time, energy and money in this way simply to present an example of what not to do? Is that effective? Hardly. More than likely it simply causes a desire in the viewer and the listener for vengeance, retaliation in kind, a repetition of violence and destruction and, in these days of war by remote control and “improved” weaponry, a loss of other innocent lives. In other words, a continuation of the same.

If we truly want the opposite of death, destruction and sorrow, then why do we not observe the day by putting those opposites into effect? The opposite of destruction is construction, the opposite of sorrow, joy and of death—life. It isn’t difficult to think of many ways to demonstrate such things. In every neighborhood of our country there is a need for such things. Why not start this custom—tradition—right here in this neighborhood? It has to start somewhere. Why not here? If it is meant to, it will spread. If it does make it to other neighborhoods, other sections of the country, why let it stop there?

Dream a little. Think what this could mean. More than confining our efforts to our homeland why not carry them abroad—to other countries where they are needed? And let the recipients know where it comes from and why—that this act of good will and kindness is our answer to the terror that was brought to us. Out of our pain and sorrow we give to you this token of hope for the future of us all.

What if it were possible to do this? What could be the result? All over the world, in small ways, we could reverse the symbol that is 9/11. Out of sorrow could come joy; out of destruction could come construction; out of pain, healing; out of violence, kindness; out of despair, hope. Out of death could come life.

The principle is sound. Work for what we want and not against what we don’t want. Put our energy where it counts. The principle is worthwhile in any number of situations. What if something like this were tried and it didn’t work? We’d be no worse off than we are now. But if it did work? Then the act of terrorism would be marked and known worldwide in a positive way. That would truly be an effective way of countering and nullifying the act of terror itself. Let everyone know that terror gains nothing but that positive works can gain everything.

Sound impossible? Maybe it isn’t. The point is, is it worth a try? What have we to lose?

Let’s try a better way to remember 9/11.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I spent this past Sunday afternoon doing something I should have done a long time ago; I constructed a wood and wire enclosure for a small tree I have in my back yard. That project was very important to me and I felt I should have done it a long time ago.

In the spring of 2010 I planted a young Fuji apple tree. It did well during the summer and into the winter but at some point during the snowy months, some entity—probably a deer—decided to dine upon it. The trunk was damaged to the extent that I was fearful for its survival. This past spring I watched carefully for signs of life but saw none. Then at its base I saw new growth. New shoots were appearing around the still apparently lifeless trunk. I thought my Fuji apple tree had survived until I found out that was probably not so. Nurseries, I was told, graft cuttings of trees such as a Fuji onto root systems of hardier trees—crab apples, for instance. The tree that was growing from the roots was probably a crab apple.

I was disappointed but did nothing to the tree. I was curious to see it complete its recovery. At some point in the future, I thought, I might even try my hand at making crab apple jelly. Then: tragedy. The little tree was again dined upon. In the middle of summer, with all sorts of succulent growth around, its leaves were eaten and some of its branches bitten off. This, I assumed, was the end of the little tree. I was wrong. Within a day or two, new leaves appeared. The tree once again exhibited vibrant life. That’s when I made up my mind that I would help it in its pursuit of life. To protect it, I would build a deer-proof enclosure around it.

But I procrastinated. Once again a hungry marauder with a taste for small apple trees returned and once again ate of the tree. That, surely, was the end of the little tree. But no! As before, new leaves appeared. That was early last week. So this past Sunday I let plans that I had made go by the wayside, made a trip to the supply store, bought wood and wire and constructed a protective enclosure for the little tree. I hope I have done an adequate job and I hope that the tree has not suffered too much from its ordeal and will survive. Anyway, I’ve done what I could and what I had intended.

As I write this piece, I realize a significance I had not noted before. I accomplished the construction on the tenth anniversary of September 11—9/11—the day the TV is filled with non-stop emphasis on death, destruction, lamentation and vengeance. I think any time I or anyone else spent that day on a simple act of regard for and the protection of life, no matter how small or inconsequential, is a positive and welcome thing.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sept 6th. Day after Labor Day. The end of summer—or so we think of it. There was a time when I was under the impression that the end of summer came much earlier in the year. My mother, I recall from days when I was young, maintained that the sound of locusts was the signal for the end of summer. That distinctive whirring, pulsating sound, if I recollect correctly, came in early august. My mother’s pronouncements bothered me back then. As a boy I didn’t want summer to end. That brought the start of school—the end of freedom. More than that, close on the heels of summer’s decline came bad weather and snowy walks to the school bus stop on frosty mornings. The end of sunny days and balmy nights did not appeal to me.

These first emotional reactions to my mother’s bleak pronouncements gave way, as I grew older, to others based on a superior foundation—that of logic. Summer, I reasoned, officially ended on September 20th and not the middle of August. Moreover, warm weather, for that was what I associated with the summer season, could continue on well into October. Summer did not depend on the presence or absence of locusts.

Much later in my life, I came to be of the opinion that summer is more than a season. Summer is a state of mind. Weather is only one factor in the scheme of life. I found that it is possible to have the same positive enthusiasm I associated with the bright sun of summer at any time of the year. This became especially evident on a trip I took to the city of Johnstown, PA one weekend. This trip occurred before the establishment of the Penguins in Pittsburgh and, for my wife, Mariellen, and I, Johnstown of the 1960’s was notable for one reason: it was the nearest city with a professional hockey team. One weekend in January, the Johnstown Jets were to play home games on Friday and Saturday nights. I took a day’s vacation from my job and we left early Friday afternoon to spend a hockey weekend in Johnstown. We hadn’t bothered to read the weather reports and what we didn’t know was that Johnstown was expecting a major snowstorm.

We arrived in Johnstown just slightly before of the storm, unknowingly having driven just ahead of it all the way from our home just ewast of Pittsburgh. Our first clue that something unusual was occurring was the heavy traffic that greeted us, all headed in the opposite direction—out of town. The great amount of the working population of the city had been given the afternoon off in deference to the storm. It had begun snowing heavily by that time. We made it to the parking lot of our motel, which was, fortunately, in downtown Johnstown. It was the last we used the car until late Sunday. It was the last of our driving in the streets of Johnstown. Nobody was driving in the streets of Johnstown that weekend. The weather forecasters had been right. The worst snowstorm of some years had descended.

It was one of the best weekends I ever had. Mariellen and I were forced to walk everywhere. We were forced to take it easy, to slow down and not hurry. We were forced to be aware of and appreciate where we were, where we were going and how we were getting there. We spent little time running around and more time relaxing. We saw a hockey game on Friday night but the game for Saturday night was cancelled, the visiting team having been snowbound somewhere east of Bedford. We spent our time at leisurely meals, in meeting and getting to know other people in long conversations in the motel tap room and in being with each other.

That weekend was the start of my attitude of not much caring what the weather is going to be. I’ve developed the attitude that weather is only a minor part of life and that with a proper attitude I can enjoy myself anytime, anywhere. That has been, over the years, extended to a philosophy of believing that the true purpose of life is enjoying oneself. But that statement requires a bit of elaboration and explaining. Maybe I’ll do that next time.

Monday, August 29, 2011

One of my favorite authors has come to be Robert Fulghum (pronounced Full-jum). His first book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, was a best seller. He has written other best sellers since. His books are collections of short pieces, usually quite amusing but almost always containing a serious lesson on life. One of them, Maybe (Maybe Not), I am reading now. In it, there is a story that especially impressed me. I do not want to go into the details of the story. That’s not necessary, for the last two lines are what made the story stand out for me. Those lines are in the form of questions:

Is it always to be a winners-losers world, or can we keep everyone in the game?

Do we still have what it takes to find a better way?

Those words were especially meaningful to me because for a long period of time I have been asking myself that question “Can’t I find a better way?” My question to myself was not about any particular thing. In fact, I wasn’t sure exactly why I was asking it. It was more an expression of the frustration I feel at all the inequities I observe in life and the seeming inability of our nation (and humanity in general) to find a solution to our problems. Fulghum reminded me that throughout history, through all the dark times that have beset mankind, there have always been those who have persevered, have clung to ideals and visions and who have, somehow, brought an end to dark times and seen light brighten the world.

In his article Fulghum also brought out the fact that, in the final essence, it was humanity itself that brought the change about. It did not depend on new technologies, new techniques or new knowledge. It did not depend on a particular individual. It was an awareness—the awareness of simple, common people realizing that there was a “better way” and having the courage to embrace it. It was common people depending on the only thing they really had to work with, the only thing they could really depend on, and that was themselves.

Humanity has not changed. We still have difficulties; we still have problems. But our problems are no more insoluble than they ever were. And as an asset we have the one thing that is the most valuable of all—we have ourselves.

I believe all great changes are brought about in this way—by mankind simply deciding that it must be done.. And, as Fulghum points out, this is not new or unique. It has been done that way in the past by people no different than we are. And the answer to Fulghum’s question should be, and is “Yes, we still do have what it takes to find that better way.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The date on this post says August 23. Where did the summer go? It’s really strange. Up until the middle of June or so the year was going fairly slowly. Then, all of a sudden, it picked up speed and began whizzing along. Now I have a hard time keeping up with it. Does anybody else feel that way?

I had a group of writer friends in a few days ago just for a talk. Our conversation got around to the publishing of books, something that all unpublished writer’s dream of, and the difficulty of doing that these days. I have kiddingly said in the past (and I repeated it during the conversation) that established agents and publishers are interested only in sure-fire best sellers which would be epitomized by a book written by an ex-CIA agent with secrets to tell. Lo and behold, I saw on the internet that just that situation has happened. An ex-CIA agent has authored a book that is being published by a mainstream publishing house. And apparently he tells a number of secrets. I’m not going to say any more about it because I know nothing more about it. I’m going to have to read it, though. I’m very curious. If I like it I’ll have something to say about it in the future on this blog.

Otherwise, all is progressing satisfactorily. I have a few things to take care of and odds and ends to clear up—some small bits of writing and reading to do and then I want to get on with writing of a book I started earlier in the year. I have let that go because of publishing A Matter of Time. I think that now the way is clear to get back on the other book—working title, Mountain Man. I’m very anxious to do that. I want to find out how it turns out.

Monday, August 15, 2011

More changes. More firsts. Courtesy of Penny? Last night I had my first ever book signing. I really didn’t know what to expect. It could have gone many ways. As it turned out, it went very well—well attended and a lot of fun. Those facts were due to a number of people (besides Penny, that is). Maggie Robinson of Silverbear Graphics coordinated the entire event. It was held at the Historic Log Cabin Inn in Donegal, PA, a beautiful place, circa 1750, owned by Judy Trabbold. When it isn’t being used for book signings or other events, Judy rents it for overnight (or longer) stays. The book signing was catered by Chef Mark Henry of Latrobe—really good food. I appreciated the whole thing. I especially appreciated the many friends who came. They were the ones who made it successful for me.

What’s next? At the signing Maggie mentioned that we (Silverbear and I) plan on republishing The Finding of the Blue Feather, a book I wrote some time ago. I self published it a few years ago but have since revised it quite a bit. The book should come out in a few months and I’m looking forward to that, but even more I am looking forward to the new circumstances in which it is being published. The publishing business is changing. Electronic media have come upon the scene and altered the landscape. Traditional books are losing ground, publishing houses are struggling, many agents are refusing new clients. For writers it is a bleak time—few prospects, little hope.

A few writers here in Ligonier and elsewhere have been discussing a new approach with Maggie Robinson, a collaborative effort between author and publisher, a new way to publish, promote and market books. The idea is in the formative stage but it sounds interesting and promising. I am hopeful for it because I feel that it provides a way for authors to have more of a hand in the entire process, the entire future of their creations, rather than having their works in the hands of faceless entities in distant cities. I feel it is an innovative and creative idea.

What will become of it? How will it progress? We shall see. The future is uncertain—but exciting.

Again—stay tuned.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Where do I start? What is appropriate to write for the first piece on a new blog—something humorous, something profound? Perhaps something about me—where I come from, why I write? At my age I’ve become less and less conventional so I’m not going to bother too much with what I should do. I’m just going to write and assume that whatever comes out will be the right thing. Whatever it is, it won’t set any precedent or form a pattern for future entries on this blog. I don’t think I have a pattern. I write what comes to me and that turns out different every time. But usually all right.


This is not only the start of a new blog. It seems like the start of a brand new career. I have a new blog, new web site, a new book just published, new business cards, new bookmarks, new logos. New everything.

New cat, too. And, oddly enough, all this newness seems to revolve around that fact.

I have always been a dog person. I seem to resonate to dogs and seldom in my life have I been without at least one of them in my household. Cats that have been in my vicinity have come to be there more by accident than purpose. For some time now I have been living a life that did not allow for animals of any kind. About two years ago I began residency in a house. After the move-in process was complete I began idly thinking about getting a four-legged companion. I did not actively seek one, however. All my life animals have come to me. I never bought a dog. My dogs have always come to me second or third hand, either as strays or given to me by friends or acquaintances who could no longer keep them. So I waited for my new dog companion to appear but that did not happen.

Then a writer friend, Joanne, moved into a new house to find that the previous owner had left unexpected possessions behind—five cats. Joanne sought homes for them by asking friends if they wanted a cat. She asked me. I said no. Joanne fed the cats but they spent most of last winter outdoors. Then one afternoon last March another friend and I were at Joanne’s for a visit. As we were leaving, a pretty little long-haired gray cat ran across the patio and up to the porch for a late afternoon snack. “What a pretty cat!” I said. A week later I took that cat home. I named her Penelope—Penny for short.

The universe works in mysterious ways. I didn’t get the dog I was expecting. I got Penny. But I have always found that whatever the universe provides, it is always wise to make the best attempt possible to get along with that “whatever.” So I have done that with Penny. And I find my life has become very interesting and quite delightful. Penny seems to have brought along with her a lot of other changes for me. I am sure that these changes have not yet ended. What will come next? I have no idea. But I am also sure I will find out. Stay tuned. We’ll find out together.