I started thinking about this post when I was dangling from the bar in the playground. I wasn’t supposed to be dangling, I was supposed to be doing chin ups, but the up part… well… it was more complicated than I first expected. There were a couple of guys putting some new paint on the pool house trim at the local rec center where I am dangling, slightly defeated. I pretended I was stretching my arms, as if I intended to be hanging here unable to lift myself. I may be weak, but still proud. I’m no triathlete, but I pride myself in staying in shape. Hundreds of flights of stairs, yoga, push ups… I mean… I put effort into this. An inch shouldn’t be too much to ask. Seriously, an inch up. How hard can that be? Apparently, much harder than it looks.

I flip over and dangle by my knees off the bar, upside down. Though absolutely no health benefits in doing this, it still provided a brief acrobatic feeling that took away the shame of no chin up. I swung back and forth looking at the slides and jungle gym. Kids play here all day and they use these bars. When I was a kid I used these bars. I bend backward and grab my ankles. If I had a popsicle hanging out of my mouth the scene would be complete. I commit to returning here several times a week. One pull up. One chin up. Anything. That is my goal. My defiant Holy Grail.

I get back on my bike and head off down a trail that winds through neighborhoods and hugs a creek. I haven’t ridden in years, but like the chin ups, feels like the next phase somehow. Nothing makes you feel younger than riding a bike. In two seconds you are ten years old and it’s summer. It does not provide the steady attention to nature I enjoy while hiking, but the feel of the wind in my face, and the speed… oh that feeling of flying down a hill. The thrill is no less wonderful to me now at age 52 than it was at 10. I’m rusty, but I don’t care. It’ll come.

I try some of the dirt paths made by local children. Some are steep down hills, while others have little bumps for rocketing your bike over. I delight in being one of the neighbor boys dashing over a hillside for just a few moments. There is a curious fear at lifting off the ground on a bike that daunts me a little at my age. “Broken bones and hips”, my ego whispers. “You could fall or crash”, the small voice whines. So I do it again and again. Fear be damned.

As I ride along, I realize there must be a way to get through a neighbor’s yard to the field beyond. A child would’ve figured that out. So I begin to look and sure enough, a slip of a pathway passes between two houses covered in bike treads that leads to the larger field. A man is heading out with the trash from one house and I dash down the passage quick as lightning before I can be flagged off. I laugh out loud as I hit the field and race across it through tall grass and hard packed trails. I am the opportunistic thief Oliver Twist would’ve been proud of.

Here’s the thing about falling in love with yourself. You are constantly looking for ways to enjoy life. Ways to entertain yourself. Ways to make yourself laugh. I laugh mostly at what I’ve been told about aging. When I turned forty the women at my office gave me black balloons and my cake in a wheel chair. They meant it to be funny, of course, but we don’t realize how much we tell each other it’s over when really its just begun. How much we share the passed on story of decline and decay that was given to us by someone else. That life is like some creepy, slow crawl to the grave. I don’t want to give that to any of you. I want to give you vitality and joy. Laughter and hunger to learn new things. To be plotting your next re-invention, not your retirement.

I want to give you defiance of what everyone has ever told you about the laws of the body and death. Death is coming. It is as certain as the sun rising. So what? That isn’t even interesting. It’s predictable. What’s interesting is what we are doing with the time we’ve been given. That’s fire. Ask yourself, what do I value above all else? Then chase that with the power of a lion. Today, for me, it’s freedom. It’s remembering the promises I made to myself in my youth. It’s remembering to keep the fire burning in my belly for the life I’ve been given. It’s defying everything I’ve been told about how things should be.

Worth a glance, a short list of those who defied age.

Ode to the Magpie

Free Bing photos

Free Bing photos

Aerodynamically speaking, the magpie is about as mis-designed a bird as they come. A beautiful bird with a ridiculously long tail. Watching them fly can often feel like watching Irishmen stumbling out of a pub. They sing their strange song, a cross between a blue jay and a crow, as if they were mockingbirds. Curiously, they don’t seem bothered one wit about their odd characteristics, nor do they merely make do. They make a rich life along lakes and streams where they build the most spectacular nests. Almost fully woven hanging baskets.

Free Bing Photos

Free Bing Photos

As I hiked I watched a pair collecting sticks and chattering away with one another. They have such an unusual call it is a bit hard to tell if they are bickering or lovingly calling to one another. Same could be said for many couples I know. As I watch, the thicket flashes with their white and blue wing markings as they look for debris to build with. Often in the trees and shrub all you can see is this long black group of feathers bobbing up and down. They are a very curious bird, indeed.

I can’t completely explain it but whenever I watch them fly they give me hope. We can all do more than make do with what we were given. We can build nests of rich lives with what we already possess in this moment. Whatever perceived personal flaws we think we have, we likely don’t or it was even intended for our adventure. There really aren’t design flaws. Spiritually speaking, it’s impossible.

Sharon Tate was once quoted to say, “Everything that’s realistic has some sort of ugliness to it. Even a flower is ugly when it wilts, a bird when it seeks pray, and ocean when it becomes violent.” The trick is to penetrate deeply into what lies before you. To really look at a thing or a person or a situation with your inner vision, until the beauty of it becomes apparent. We aren’t changed or made better by witnessing beauty in these moments, but rather the effort causes us to see the beauty within ourselves reflected in what we see.

So here’s to the magpie. May they fly long and far.

Teaching Ducks English

Free Bing Photos.

Free Bing Photos.

I’m not sure how I got lost. The moon was out and I’d chosen a wooded trail, but with unseasonably warm weather the snow had all melted and it proved darker than I’d expected. I’d been following the creek which meandered off to my left. I’d hear it occasionally babbling away in the dark; happily, contentedly, peacefully. Such a lovely sound, but then at some point I realized I was running into more trees. As I looked back over my shoulder to see if I could discern the trail I stepped full on into the creek. A pair of mallards had been sleeping in the same spot and my sudden arrival sent them into the air dashing right by my head as they aimed for the creek. (Okay, maybe an exaggeration, but if FELT like they flew by my head) Such a ruckus they made, and now completely startled, I screamed stumbling backwards, slipping on some river stones and bum-planted into the muddy embankment. For a second, I was a bit stunned, until that comedian’s voice that lives in my head suddenly piped up, “It’s always a good time until someone ends up in the river”. If I hadn’t been so cold I might’ve laughed. The birds continued to squawk and quack announcing to the entire woodland that the sky was falling, as they splashed down into the creek maybe fifty yards out.

“What are you all quacking about?” I hollered at them, completely flummoxed, “I’m the one in this bloody snow melt with no duck fat!”

Ducks will gad on, long after they’ve headed downstream, as if they are endlessly calling back rude comments at you.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah…” I mutter as I pulled my now cold, wet and muddy arse out of the creek. “Everyone’s gotta an opinion. Move on,” I call out as strong as a Boston beat cop. “There’s nothing more to see here….” The birds ignore me, but their quacking is now idle bitching and I stumble back toward the trail.

Profanities are a greater gift than most people realize. In such moments they give real vigor to an otherwise completely impotent moment. The “F” word in particular is not only The Great Profanity, but one of my favorite words in the English language. No word holds its influence or power. We use it to express anger, fear, love, passion, confusion and brimming joy. It’s a noun, a verb, an adverb and an adjective depending on our predicament. On this occasion I used it liberally on the long and numbing walk home. I make no apologies. My feet were colder than Icelandic cod three days dead. If the ducks were offended I can hardly be held to blame. I certainly didn’t teach them English, but if I did, I would’ve definitely started with the “F” word.


No idea where these images are from. My Aunt Liz sent them in an email.

Ah Valentine’s Day… A chance to remember love, yes? If we let go of the chocolate, diamonds, and Hallmark cards what is left? What is love beyond this day of hearts and flowers?

It is your complete awareness of your beauty alone in the dark.
It is laughter at your own jokes.
It is a willingness to be yourself despite what anyone else thinks.
It is dancing badly and singing even worse.
It is having such faith in the sacredness of all life you leave all to be who they are.
It is remembering why you fell in love with a person, a place, a song.
It is risking your former self to discover who you haven’t met within you yet.
It is making sacrifices because your inner love can’t help but spill onto all whom you love.
It is an inner well of such goodness you withhold judgment and criticism
It is a generosity of spirit that sees and expresses divine beauty and grace to all whom you meet.
It is filling your heart with the smallest, most mundane moments of your ordinary life and feeling immense gratitude for them.
It is knowing that the Universe pours love on you as a great river without ending.

Nothing brings love through the front door. It grows out of you as the oak from the acorn. It rises up a great fountain and floods your Universe. You are not empty and given love. You are love and when you anchor your mind there the world explodes in more facets than any diamond you have ever seen.


Lakeside: Photo by Noelle

Lakeside: Photo by Noelle

The bench is on the west side of the lake. The trail on this side is little more than mud in January’s warm up. The Eastern side has some stone trails that are well cleared and thus, more trafficked. I am alone, for the moment, and commit to listening and little more.

The wind rubs the winter grass stalks at my feet against each other, dry even in the mud. A warm sun would turn them green, but in these short days their rattle is little more than a reminder of summer snakes long asleep in their holes. Prairie dogs bark incessantly at me, at first. My stillness conquers. Eventually, they chatter amongst themselves no more than old women over a mahjong board. Even in the animal kingdom, neighborhoods have their gossips. The jet passes to the north heading up the spine of the Rockies. I think of travel and vacations both taken and imagined, but the real fly boys bring me back, as the geese come trumpeting off the icy lake heading for fields to dine. I marvel at the pattern. Squawking and honking begins until some unknown pitch is hit and then part of the flock suddenly rises and flies off. The length of this flock must be more than a city block. The group that rises comes from one end of the lake to the other. Some of the groups head east, while others to the south, as if they are aware where the group before them headed and know to seek pastures elsewhere.

I can hear the jogger coming for some time as her running shoes slap the surface of the mud. She is breathing hard and there is the faint tinny sound of music coming through earbuds. Another flock takes off and the wind pushes back my hood. Two women cut through the grassy hillside to beat the muddy trail and talk about teenagers with piercings. The longer I sit the more I’m aware I seem to have left the machine. The swaying cattails are riveting compared to nose rings. I wonder, briefly, where this disengagement with the fast moving world will take me, but even that thought seems more intense then this winter sun will allow. I rest back against the bench and listen.


The lake: Photos by Noelle

Winter is richness, not death. Riveting blues, stark vistas, animal tracks seen in a brilliant sun. After her tail quickly vanished into the ravine only her tracks were left on the snow. Cheeky coyote.

Night Walk: Part V

Free Bing Photos

Free Bing Photos

A twenty minute walk would normally take you to the lake, but on this night it was closer to thirty five. The the road I cross from the marsh to lake is poorly cleared and there is a field of six to eight inches of snow to cross to reach the lake. I followed the cross country ski lines I saw so clearly in the light of the moon, from someone who had passed this way earlier in the day. I knew in all this crunch of snow and steaming breath no wildlife would be caught unaware. An owl can here a mouse crawling under snow a half mile off. To any Great Horned nearby I am sure I sounded a fire brigade to its ears. By the time I reached the lake I was sweating and hot and pealing off mittens, coat and hat as fast as I could. Temperatures enough to freeze the lake solid and I was as close to naked as I could stand amidst huge billows of steaming air.

As my breath slowed I became keenly aware of the sounds around me. Someone scraping a shovel on a sidewalk not quite a kilometer off. The highway to the west that runs below the hills that nestle the lake. A dog barking and someone calling out to a passerby. Sound carried across the snow as if we were all swimming in water. The ice on the lake cracked near where I was standing, but was muffled by all the snow. I was alone out here. With the light of the moon I could see for miles. Nothing along the lakeside moved. I stood very still and looked all around me. I am not even sure how to describe how the moon turned the lake into an iridescent opal of blues and purples. How tiny bits of light winked up off the snow in the moonlight, made all the clearer because of the darkness. How tree limb shadows snaked out across the snow in the deepest shades of purple and violet. The snow-capped hogbacks rose beyond the lake peppered in evergreen and patches of tall grasses positively glowing. The stars sat deep in their velvety darkness humbled by the moonlight and I too bowed to her power.

I redressed quickly as the sweat began to cool me off more than I wanted and picked the lower trail. I knew I needed to keep moving. I passed near a neighborhood that borders the lake. All the shades had been pulled that faced the mountains of these houses and I wondered at all they were missing. If I lived at the corner house I would never close my shades. On a night like this I would sit in my darkened home with the curtains wide, sipping hot cocoa enjoying an immense view.

On the far side, farthest from the neighborhoods and the roads and nearest the hogbacks, I stopped and listened for a long while. If you listen carefully you realize there is a deep silence even in the noise of neighboring life. It is steady and persistent. You may stand to listen for a moment, but it enchants you the longer you stand there. In all that silence, in all that open space covered in moonlit snow you forget yourself. You forget the cold and the distance for home. You forget you are a mere human in all this grandeur, and yet, that is when you realize you are the grandeur, too. The moment you stopped to appreciate all that beauty and silence you became a part of it. Instead of moving through, you moved in. In that moonlit field by the lake you have become, like the wild buckwheat and tall prairie grass, another motionless figure adding to the rich texture of a majestic landscape.