Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Archive for the ‘Observations from the soft chair’ Category

Tracers 3

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Subterfuge. What a great word. I don’t know what it means and I’m too lazy to look it up but I think it means like undermining or disrupting or disturbing or undoing something but anyway I think that’s how I feel.
If it’s not a working description of an emotion it should be.

So the note from Old Me really left me kinda hanging. I’m not really sure if he meant our time had passed and I was to move on without him or he’ll be back tomorrow with the new opportunities for wonder and laughs and all that happy horse-hockey he’s hawking.
I guess it was sorta inconsiderate and selfish of New Me to just take off with all of Old Me’s digs and time and money and doing away with the dishwasher and the couch and all that.
But hey, I’m the New Me after all, and seem to have been born with a certain blind spot for some of those “lovely intangibles” he claimed to cherish so.
I mean, even when he was away there was still all his stuff here, so everywhere you looked you couldn’t help but be reminded of the Baron von Munchausen existence and desire to be one of everything and his endless and ever-growing list of “interests” or “hobbies” or “pursuits” or “callings” or whatever name you want to give to these evidentiary examples: bird books and binoculars, snowshoes and fishing gear, paintings and poetry, cameras and more cameras and guitars and more guitars and antique radios and more and more and more and more.

New Me tried. Made bold but brief attempts at replications of behaviors, going through motions, forced, acting, pretending- no, focused, driven, grounded- no, drifting, unmoored, grounded again but in a bad way.
It was only his ghost whispering in my ear that drove me to keep the plates spinning then-I know- let’s put cups and saucers on the plates!
The Tilt-A-Whirl again, only now made of china. Ceramic chaos.
And I roll with it and this suits the New Me now because I like cleaning a lot more than I like plate spinning.
In fact I never really liked plate spinning per se but, eh, it was a job, and with no formal education you take what you get, you know?
I liked being good at plate spinning. I like being good at a lot of things. Good things.
Like fatherhood and fishing and baking and chess and manners and kindness and charity and love.
And guitar. I’m a really great guitarist, or so I’ve been told many times by both the Old and the New Me, but I digress again and you know how that can be.

So, you know, being in a waking-, walking-, working coma for five months isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
You do a lot in a comatose state and when you come to it’s all done already and you’re a little startled but not displeased necessarily and you realize that Comatose Me was partly some kind of alter ego like comic book characters have like Bruce Wayne who is really Batman -ooh, hope I didn’t spoil anything for you there-and Comatose Me did a lot of things I wanted to do or intended to do or should have done or wished I had but just never did and right there is proof of the answer to the question why not?
Well, actually there are several good reasons—
Hold it! Let me cut you off right there Professor before we’re forced to listen to some crazy spiel- gosh that’s usually thought of as a Yiddish word I wonder if people know the word or I wonder if you can’t use Yiddish words in this weird world where people make a big deal out of the wrong things sometimes like- don’t get me started.

So I’m not sure how this is going to pan out between Old Me and New Me and the place Comatose Me has Shanghaied us all to.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad place.
It’s new and you know change is never easy for people they say though sometimes it is really, if you want it, like having a baby, say for instance, which is a BIG change but we want it so much we just make all the space and accommodations we need to in our lives and it seems like the best thing ever, but you know sometimes new things take a little getting used to and also too don’t forget these changes aren’t anything we planned for so that makes a difference too.
One thing that held on from Old Me was this compulsive drive to embrace the richness of life before me; these numbered and precious days in this world, my children, nature, wonder and art and discovery and growth and learning and love and laughter. Sunrises and comfy chairs and ethereal guests. Voices lifted in song. And good coffee.
I hear Van Gogh: “I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.”

I don’t know where it leads me some days and don’t care on others. There is a fading twilight shadow of a past behind me, and there is a glorious sunrise of a future before me.
A great wide world and a sense of unbounded time fill me with ambitions and motivations and dreams and desires while simultaneously I am awash in a patient and peaceful stillness, a calmness and oneness with my world.
It seems I feel for the first time in, well, perhaps the first time in my life as we know it that there is a sort of blank page, an unbroken trail, an empty stage. Space and time to contemplate and create, ponder and process, give and grow.

Old Me left behind a lot of little notepads. You know, those tiny spiral-bound memo pads that fit in a shirt pocket.
Flashes of ideas, spontaneous spillings-forth of the heartfelt and hope-filled, observations of the ordinary catapulted into the mind and heart of the poet.
Sentimental. Gibberish. Nonsense.
Then a few hastily scribbled lines-

So, there you have it.
There are no more “somedays” for us.
Mind this lesson.

And wise Old Me has humbled brash New Me into silence.


New Me
Mostly New Me.
Probably mostly New Me.

Tracers 2

———————–establishing connection————————–

I woke in the wee hours of the morning in the incredibly comfortable reading chair I have shared with four or five dogs over the past thirty-five years.
Old Me had left again.

We were having such a great time listening to the ancient cassette tapes he had amassed during his heyday and that of magnetic recording mediums. With each new song he’d say oh how this is a great one and then turn up the cobbled-together ’90’s gear until the bass shook the 115-year-old glass in the parlor-turned conservatory; a mesmerizing genuine vintage mix of true Victorian parlor with a Victrola and oak bannister and an oval portrait of great-great Aunt Edna (or is it Edith? I can never remember which sister it was) flocked wallpaper in gold tones, rich contrasting burgundies. Planted between the piano and the fireplace, a lacquered-wood and chrome menagerie of musical instruments from the diminutive ukulele to a full set of drums.

Under his spell he had walked me through the attic between the Christmas decorations and the stored coffee tables and bedframes, astonished at the changes made in his absence and riding the gravy train at this chance at resurrection from the place old selves go when they go. “There was a whole box of tapes… Here it is!”

I picked up the glasses and the ashtray and carried them to the kitchen and found he’d left a note.
A funny twinge struck me, as if I didn’t want to read the meager message jotted on less than a full page of my open journal.
What if it said he was going for good now?
That he could see I was done with all the things of the old skin, and the cassettes and coffee tables and carefully curated family heirlooms were merely clutter to me now, anchors, space-takers, white elephants, hangers-on, wood and plastic barnacles clinging to my bow, canting my course and slowing my speed.
That he guessed all the good that went along with the old skin is attached to old ways and old things as old skins often are, and you can’t teach an old skin new tricks.
Offloading furnishings and compulsively cleaning until all hours and filling every waking minute with more activity than the human body and mind should be able to withstand is the wave of the future and the way of this new skin.

Suddenly I feel a sense of loss.
The setting sun at the top of the cottonwoods and the poor Pewee the cat killed (talk about a zen epiphany) and smell of the wind and the internal knowledge that the last place I can view the sunset at this time of year is by the well cap which you know if you’ve watched the same sun set from the same well cap for going on thirty-six years now are all part of Old Me and I love him.
I didn’t mean to kick Old Me to the curb.

Kind of it was out of my hands in a cosmic existential sort of life thing and I didn’t have a lot of choice or control over the hurricane and could only warn the crew to don their lifejackets as the ship ran aground. I was unconscious for months afterwards, so it’s not like I planned it or anything, and when I came to there was my boat perfectly good but no crew. What else was I to do but hang around the galley and the officers’ lounge and my cabin?

But I digress which I do a lot more often lately. It’s like some magic recording engineer suddenly punches in a solo track in the midst of a peaceful passage of my life and we go with that for a while until it punches out.
And so back to the note Old Me left New Me, or New-er Me I guess I should say at this stage of the aging game, and I lost track of all the other diatribes and digressions that keep bouncing like ping pong balls all around in my head like when Mr. Moose dropped them on Captain Kangaroo.
(I won’t go into the names dissertation: Mr. Moose was a moose and Bunny Rabbit was a bunny rabbit but Captain Kangaroo was certainly not offspring of his namesake any more than Tarzan’s chimpanzee was a cheetah.)
Then after a few more circles like putting wet clothes in the dryer but not starting it or putting laundry and soap in the washer but not starting it or plugging in the vacuum cleaner but not starting it I finally returned my attention (or closer to the truth to say my meandering attention again inadvertently fell)(on/to) the note.

This time I willed myself to pick it up and read it without hesitation.
As soon as I’m done wiping down this kitchen counter and well there are only a few dishes in the sink so I may as well do them and oh would you look at this toilet then oh my goodness I didn’t realize it was two o’clock again and where is that note?

Now I miss his single-mindedness. His dogged and dutiful drag through the drudgery a la Walter Middy and all the while wishing for a New Me never realizing it would be his own death knell.

Where’s that note? It was on the table. Did I move it? Did I throw it away?
Did it ever actually exist in reality?
Oh! Duh! The note is written in this very journal.
I’ll flip back a few pages and be right back.

*************************************** three hours later*****************************************


Time is a ponderous dichotomy of simultaneous wins and losses.
Even as the winning ensues; the love and laughter, joy and wonder; the world turns ceaselessly.
And the potent potential of chance encounters and visitations of beauty and awe vanish like voices on the wind, as another day is lost forever.

So, yeah. I don’t quite know what to make of it. It’s a kinda pretty sort of poetic proverb-like thing I guess.
I think I was hoping for something more direct and personal, you know like “Hey, went for a walk, back in a bit.” or I was really expecting maybe a last goodbye, something like “Gosh we had some good times, eh? Between beers and tears, let’s choose beers next time.”
Or maybe even “Well I guess I know when I’m not wanted when you fall asleep right in front of me and right in the middle of that great song.” or even a simple “Vaya con Dios, mi amigo. Happy Trails.” or I dunno “Goodbye.” or “Drop dead.” even, something I could sink my teeth into or at least understand.
But no. He was always like that. Over-thinking under-educated brainiac maniac. (Is verbose right?)
I get some philosophical tripe about time. You know what?
I have the whole rest of my life so why would I concern myself with time?

What does all that mean anyway?
Just a minute, I need to go shut off the shower…

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Out of the corner of my eye I caught the reflection of my manic self, stretched and distorted by the curve of the glass in the china closet door like those mirrors in the Fun House at the carnival.
The repetitions made me notice. The rhythmic and repeated patterns of a bird flying in circles.
A mourning dove tracing the patterns of predecessors round and round the round silo top.

“It’s okay.” I told myself aloud. As if there were some calamity or crisis, some disruption or disturbance requiring response and reassessment.
The listing begins immediately of the ordinary, if sometimes overboard execution of the everyday.
Dishes, dusting, vacuum, break. Water plants, water dog, water man, break. Mow, trim, landscape, feed the cat, break.

Swiss cheese memory and post-traumatic stress and innocent instabilities conspire with an aging mind twenty-four hours high and most of them awake.
“What am I forgetting?”
The listing begins anew. Pay the insurance bill, pay the light bill, break.
Like Morse code the messages dot and dash faster and faster across my mind.
It won’t stop.
Flames a constant distraction I am compelled to stop and stare, pass my fingers through the ruby plumes, marvel at the vapors curling the air in once-in-a-lifetime moments, and other deep dives into the cosmos within my home and my head.

I am spinning but I am not dizzy.
Perhaps I’m riding the carousel, or maybe I am gracefully stepping through a Viennese waltz in three-four time. The signature doesn’t fit with the four-four pace at which I am moving. Perhaps the Tilt-A-Whirl would be a more apt description. Turning always, circles within circles, sometimes calm and slow and sometimes fast and impelled by inertia and centrifugally slammed against the wall, all the time grinning with glee and laughing out loud.

A grownup calls from the fairway with one of those typical grownup outlooks. Nagging negative things about needing to go and there are only so many tickets and where is your sister and the fair is closing soon. I must shut down the calliope and the search lights. It must be time for something. Time to go home. To go to supper. To go to bed. To go. To do. The fair is closing. There’s only so much time.
Sun has set and fog prevails and from within the mist I see myself up on the Ferris wheel and climbing down the structure like Spiderman. “To Go! To Do!”
I race myself to the gate as it is closing to see what’s the rush.
Go where?
Do what?
The crowd presses close and shoves its rude self against the spindly legs of clowns on stilts holding their curious tiny wives “Just tuhwenty-nine inches tall-uh. Step right up!” and the barker is just now pulling the shade at the ticket office.

I lost Me in the crowd, and now I am home and dry in the parlor of my own beloved and vast Victorian Ark, my footfalls leading me to the kitchen.
That is where I last saw Old Me.
I can’t fully remember him now, like a childhood friend or old Army buddy, I know there were things I liked about him but time has eroded my memories and I’m having some difficulty recalling just what those things were.
I gather up the essential elements that would inspire and infuse life into Old Me again, like Dr. Frankenstein only unto myself like some kind of antonym of suicide.
The paper. The pen. The coffee.
A chair to sit. A light to see. Glasses.
I hear him rustling the hostas outside the north window. I hear him stalking through the back room between the freezer and the recyclables and the thousand-year-old relics of former lifetimes.
I didn’t see him sneak in.
Without warning or will my pen is alive and drives itself across the blank page, rapidly replicating that which as thought races at the speed of neurons around the inside of my skull like a bullet tracing circles in a barrel.
There he is! I saw him!
Just for a momentary manifestation, a vaporous and veiled visitor vexes my vision.

The spell is broken by the dog and the cat and the cottonwoods and the wind and the unwanted and unwarranted waking from this suspended reality.
I return to the chair only to find him sitting in it! He has possessed me like a demon!
No. Wait. Seemingly, he has been right here all along.
Waiting for Me.
We had a good laugh at this for a few beautiful minutes out of this waning day. We wondered very briefly if we were schizophrenic, but quickly reasoned we wouldn’t know the difference so how could we tell?
Rendering the question moot, we poured more coffee. As sunset approached, we retired to the parlor, to sit still and admire the gleaming china closet.

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The Thaw

“Snow on the tulips.”

Like the Mighty Mohawk River just north of here, my life had been frozen since early winter. My wife’s passing in mid-December was preceded by a mind-numbing, spirit-draining six-week death bed vigil. Five months later, life is beginning to thaw.

“They say the first year is tough,” a colleague and friend imparted, “a year of firsts. First birthday, first anniversary, first Christmas.”
Here now I move through my first spring. The first of the tulips we planned and planted together. The first of the crocuses we would thrill to together each spring. First Easter dinner at daughter’s. First Valentine’s Day.

One could hardly choose a better time, were we able to choose such things, than early winter for one’s death. For me, winter is a time of silent beauty. Of harsh and austere yet uplifting and exhilarating landscapes. Not the toils of summer, but the tasks of winter, which seem more like little challenges to our will and stamina and Yankee stick-to-it spirit. The season also lends itself well to more temperate pastimes, like couch-sitting and window seat bird-watching and marathons of black and white theater serials. If one is a bit frozen oneself, with a need to lay low for a while, it is the perfect time to do so.

Writing- and journaling, have been a part of my life for decades, and during my low times I would occasionally yearn for a blank page and a few quiet moments, to literally compose my thoughts. My blogs are partly hobby-writing, partly diary and correspondence, partly artful expression, and I felt they were being neglected. For all my Armchair Zen and Chow Dog Zen I couldn’t reconcile the real world around me with the virtual world of the web and the fictional world of my dog’s imaginary doppelganger. Writing about personified dogs for my own amusement seemed pretty low on a list heavily influenced by duty and logic, perspective and priority, protocol and propriety. I couldn’t imagine how one could make good reading or Armchair Zen lessons out of the recounting of personal trials and tribulations.

Then it occurred to me that at some time in the past I started this blog as a way to share such experiences, show the trail markers and reference points, to share my learnings in the navigation of life. The shine of that high ideal, a product of those heady days a decade ago, has lost some presumptuous and arrogant luster over the passing years. Now ACZ often seems no more than the diary of some old hick that flattered himself into thinking this would be of interest to anyone whatsoever. A Geocentric Journal.

Then a new thought arrived at my doorstep. That the very real Here and Now are the very things I sought to address, ponder and share. These ordinary things of an ordinary life. During difficulties I plow ahead, shield raised, shoulders bent, the Celtic Warrior, blinders on, failing to follow the simplest tenets of my own patent-pending Armchair Zen philosophy. Failing to notice and actively support and participate in the world that continues spinning around me at an unaffected rate.

Finally, now, with the thaw, my mind ices-off gradually but steadily as Engleville Pond. We don’t will these events, nor can we ignore them. Earth tilts. Our centrifugal course around the gravity anchor decays at its infinitesimal rate, and the Equinox heralds the arrival of another spring for the northern hemisphere. The smells of warming soil, rain and mud are intoxicating, inebriating essences. The angle of the sun, the time of its setting, the putting away of snowshoes act as catalysts somehow, even for the oldest Armchair Zen philosopher, even for the weariest of souls. There is an undeniable instinct simply to breathe and stretch and strive, and it dwells always, even in the darkest cellars of a mind in the deep freeze of a northern winter, even in the winters of the heart.

And now these charts I share.
I am emerging from the thaw, the breakup of the ice pack, somewhat unsure just where I am. As if awakening amid the everyday things of the cargo hold. Have I fainted from the fever? Have I been Shanghaied?
On deck I hear the voices of familiar hands, their calls resonating and relayed from stem to stern;
She’s coming about!”
I’m in the dark belly of the ship. I hear the clatters of the rigging and I am unsure of the heading to which we bear. Indeed, as unsure as I am of the heading we bear from. As unsure as I am of who I am, yet somehow I feel safe and sure and strong and know without conscious reason that this is the who and where I am supposed to be.
She’s coming about!”
I remember a tempest. A trying and fearful time when all hands were flat out and all in.
As I climb the ladder, the morning light catches an epaulet on my shoulder.
I am the Captain, and the sun is rising.



The River Dark And Deep

Life flows, and carries us as a river does. We set sail as all those before us. Most days we see sun and smooth waters. We fill our canoes and we raft them together, hand in hand through our brightest stretches. There are embraces and laughter, merriment and fellowship, achievement and adventure. Love buoys us.

Our flotilla numbered seven until the tempest of 1999. The year we learned the power and unpredictable nature of the river. It is an ancient power that follows timeless and undeniable laws. It flows without conscious will or reason. Without conscience or mercy.

It cannot be stopped by one man or ten men. We float away from all our upriver days despite or against our strongest will. The faces recede, yet their voices continue to dance on the surface, to eddy and gather all around us as new vistas approach.

For a few million years, the great Niagara River was triple the size it was when first viewed by man. A great seismic rift broke the very river bed with one world-changing upheaval known as The Niagara Escarpment. It’s orphan has been our neighbor all of our lives; The Mighty Mohawk River. The Saint Lawrence Seaway now takes the rest and bears it to the fertile ocean to begin its circle of life anew.

She heard the effervescent whisper of the falls before I did. But it’s so far down river, can’t we enjoy the ride for now? In denial, I had to see the mist to believe it. The night fell, and the haunting roar could not be ignored. And so we tumbled blindly and helplessly over the edge of that escarpment, just six tiny souls and their hangers-on, wide-eyed and white-knuckled beneath a million gallons of water, into the abyss.

My wife, the mother of our five grown children, left us quietly on December 14th, 2020, at the age of 64. She fought a brave battle against more than one formidable foe, and has laid her burden down after this final fight with lung disease. We had celebrated our thirty-ninth anniversary on September 11th.

And now a month hence the river continues to carry me. We band together now those closest and dearest, we fellow survivors. We will support and cherish one another through this deep and dark stretch of our river. We will reassure one another that our courses will again be calm and clear one day. We’ll laugh again.

Take care my friends, and I’ll see you soon.



Us, Niagara Falls, 1990

One of my favorite photos of my wife. That’s the Niagara River.


My vessel slows to creep along this smooth
and littered stretch, amid the gathering
flotsam and jetsam.

Things here and now
are standing still.
Long undulations belie the
kinetic energy beneath.

Deep down in the channel
the river flows as ever.

A hushed babbling ahead,
a mist,
the approaching falls.

Circling, swirling,
we languish in
the slackwater.



Happy Halloween!

Bone White Moon

Little stir has the air,

Yet a great noise it makes

As it rattles – like ┬ábones –

The dry leaves on skeleton trees.

A veil of vapor rises

From a bog not far away,

Like a specter drifting skyward,

Aloft on nightly haunts.

Underfoot the leaves crunch,

Arid and bleached,

Like the dry, taut skin

Of rigor mortis.

Alone in the sky flies a

Bone White Moon,

Peering out from behind

Passing shrouds.

Silent, and steadfast,

As The Reaper.



Boo from Chuy, too!

Happy Halloween!

Seek peace,


October Piece 1

A little change from tradition, as normally I would post “October Piece”, which is actually “October Piece 2”. These come from a 1996 project wherein I would compose a poem about each month, written within that month to truly capture the mood. This one was first, apparently, and met with less favor, but it has some good qualities.

October Piece 1

Patchwork hills, foggy mornings.
First frosts invigorate, fetch your coats!
Geese on the wing, their song denotes
The campaigns of Winter forming.

The dry and crisp smell of the air,
The rustling leaves, their songs they play,
Arid cornstalks in rank and file arrayed,
A cacophony of the Autumn Senses Fair.

Big Enough

Squirrels hurry, preparing winter stores.
Deer on the move seek to fatten their flanks.
The creeks become less creek, more banks.
Ash and Hickory litter forest floor.

The Open Wonder Woods

October traditions, goblins and ghosts,
Scarecrows and gourds in earthtone hues,
Pumpkins and apples bring the news,
“Welcome winter at every porch post.”

Geese at Bowmaker’s

Happy Autumn!


July Winds

Summer morning


The winds of July will find me,
For we have places to be.
She rustles leaves outside my window
‘Til I wake to the morning glow.
She calls for me to follow,
For we have places to go.

She brings with her the smell of rain,
And flowers sweet, and breath of life.
She tags along with thunderstorms,
Rides along their anvil tops.
She wraps herself around me,
“Hurry!” she calls, “Before it stops!”

She sways the growing sunflower
And fans the cottonwoods, tall and green.
Puffs skyward the dandelion seed
And waves the blackberry, bended low.
Then snows a storm of cottonwood down
Tossed gaily to and fro.

Whilst bumblebee and butterfly
Do not prefer to share the sky
There’s little we can do or say
When the summer wind flies our way.
She beckons me to join them, too,
For we have so much to do.

There are windsocks and weathervanes,
Sails of ships that she must fill.
She casts about the smell of campfires,
The plaintive call of the Whip-poor-will.
There are kites at beaches to be held aloft,
Summer rain to usher in, gentle and soft.

Into the mild evening she accompanies me
For we have so much yet to hear and see.
Nighttime clouds that pass the moon.
At the lake she carries the sound of the loon.
Not far from home, a pungent smell
Of the skunk who loves the wind as well.

As quiet night sinks dark and deep
The rustling leaves call me to sleep.
On silent wings she carries the owl
And brings to me the coyote howl.
Outside my window she tells again,
Of all the places we have been.




On The Passing Of Charlie Daniels

Why Can’t People


Why can’t people just be people,
And leave each other alone?
Then every child would have a home
In the sunshine.

Why can’t all my brothers and sisters
Reach out a helping hand?
Why can’t they try to understand
‘Cause we’re running out of time.
(People, we are running out of time.)

Why can’t people just be good neighbors,
Learn how to get along?
We gotta teach a newborn bird to fly.
All by itself, we gotta teach it how to fly.

If we could only realize
We’re all just God’s children anyway,
Maybe he won’t seem so far away.


Rest in peace, Charles Edward Daniels, 1936-2020
He leaves wife Hazel, and son Charlie Daniels, Jr.

Heaven’s chorus now enjoys another voice.


Seek peace,

“‘Cause we are running out of time.”



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