Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘zen’


Zen lesson while fishing with son Ryan.

Bass, Corporation Pond, and Ryan

Bass, Corporation Pond, Ryan on the Far Shore

My grandfather set a pretty high bar.

It’s been my driving force, my goal throughout my adult life, to reach that high.

Make no mistake, it’s not my grandfather’s bar for which I reach, and neither shall you.

That bar is a hard-earned badge of honor, a talisman that he will take with him into future lives.

Dominic Trimarco’s legacy was not to leave us an arbitrary list of criteria by which a man shall be judged.

His gift to us, across the generations, is much more enduring.

He taught us, by silent living example, that those altruists enlightened to these ideals will seize this opportunity.

That we have a right, a near-sacred duty, to determine,

each of us,

how high we shall set the bar for ourselves.


Seek peace,




Trip A

Winter Sun

Winter Sun


My car has an odometer you can reset. Actually it has two, Trip A and Trip B. How you can have two trips at the same time in the same car I’m not quite sure.

Trip A reminds me of my life. Not the past, but the whole span including the inevitable end. This is it.

There is no Trip B in life.

Whatever I’ve done is done, and can’t be changed, taken back or undone.

Whatever I am to do I have this one life, this one trip, my Trip A.

When I was young I thought it was important to be someone, be something. Make your mark.

Funny how many songs written by twenty-somethings address life-view topics, including aging.

“Will you still need me when I’m 64?” written by twenty-somethings McCartney & Lennon.

You won’t find lyrics or poetry written by mature and senior wordsmiths addressing the angst of “will you be mine forever” or “my heart is broken and will never heal”.

Old poets write of the long view. The view from near the finish line.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

As we grow nearer to that end gate, as we fulfill our promises made, we see our lives as a wondrous play that has had a record run. From our own silent mind, gazing out through eyes that have seen a fair share.
There is a certain comfort and confidence in our selfness.
I, alone in this island of body & mind, eternally isolated from all others, have a sense of being a part of something much larger.
There is no alone.
There are no guarantees that you will be mine forever or that I will be here for you when you are sixty-four.
In this we share. The rules are the same for you as they are for me.
My horse may think it queer to stop without a farmhouse near.
Between the woods and frozen lake.
The darkest evening of the year.
And Trip A just keeps moving forward. Mileage rising.
And I have miles to go…
Seek peace,


Happy 15th Birthday Chuy!

Happy 15th Birthday Chuy!

Getting a haircut at the Schuyler Barber Shop. Mia has been here the last couple of years, and we have that familiarity one develops with their barber.

“So, any New Year’s resolutions?” Mia asked. “Mine is losing weight. I packed on a few pounds this year.”

“Not really any New Year’s resolutions.” I replied. “I started a long time ago to just add one thing each year. Practice it and keep it. Things like shaking hands. Reaching out and shaking hands “hello”, “goodbye” or “thank you”. Like looking folks in the eye when we’re conversing. Deciding to be the person that always lets the other go ahead, in traffic, in the checkout line, at entrances and exits.”

“That’s a cool idea.” Mia commented. Then I stopped talking to listen to her. Another “resolution” of years past. She talked of her engagement, of her daughter’s absentee father, whatever else was current and interesting.

“You know how everyone says “Why can’t every day be like Christmas?”, and “Why can’t we be as thankful as we are on Thanksgiving, throughout the year?”, I asked, rhetorically.

Mia acknowledged.

“That’s me.” I stated. “I try to live every day like Thanksgiving and Christmas in one. To see beauty in the everyday world around us. To remember the only really important things in this life are the people we cherish. To give whenever possible and take as little as needed. To remember that each day is a gift with something wonderful in it, if you’ll just open your eyes to truly see.”

As it turns out, every day can be like Christmas, and for me it is.

I realized only recently that I have achieved a certain plateau. Perhaps I climbed right past the summit? (an old MST3K joke)

I found myself driving home in congested traffic after a long day at work, smiling like the proverbial village idiot, for no reason other than being happy to be here.

In each exchange of every day, I found my “me2” subconscious coaching me. What’s the best outcome for all parties? What is the honorable, noble, kind-hearted way to approach the situation? What’s the most caring toward the people involved? What would Buddha do? How would Jesus handle this? What would a cowboy do?

I am following all the “cowboy rules”: Cowboys don’t drink, smoke or swear (still need to be vigilant on the last one!).

Cowboys are kind to children, the aged, and animals.

Cowboys don’t shirk the hard stuff. “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” When you stand up, to speak for those that can’t speak for themselves, when you stand your ground on ethics, morals, forgiveness and loving-kindness, when you stand beside those who have fallen, you may find you stand alone.

With right mind, an inner peace, a sense of belonging in the cosmos, speaking truth, I will stand my watch until the time comes for me to return to the earth from which I was made.

In the meantime, it’s a beautiful ride through a wondrous world, and I am drinking in every moment.

May peace and good fortune follow you each day through this New Year, and each new year after.

An old Irish saying: May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live.


Seek peace,



Our Own Pot o' Gold

Our Own Pot o’ Gold



A Warm November

It was an uncharacteristically warm November this year, with just a single passing snow shower. The flora and foliage stretched the show out, held over for a couple of weeks.

Season's Colors

Season’s Colors

The trail has a warm autumn glow in golds and browns, tans and rust, splashes of crimson and the bright green die-hards.

The apple is nearly empty, sporting only the hangers-on. A crabapple feast awaits deer and rabbits on the ground.

The Crabapple

The Crabapple



A morning frost gives way to a foggy day. November always contains an element of gray, dappled with muted tones of summer past.

November Sky

November Sky




Morning Frost

Morning Frost

Ground Clouds

Ground Clouds

It’s an exciting season, as the world around us evolves daily. Now, without leaves, we can see Maggie’s pond from the top of the hill, through the trees. A change of scenery, like the biggest stage play ever. Swapping backdrops, changing out props, set decorating, as we prepare for the new opening: the glittering, frosty Winter Show.

Now the sun races from us. Walks after work are out of the question as darkness falls two hours before home time. Weekends are premiums, and we’ll ply the trails twice a day, morning and sunset.

The strawberry plants display bright red leaves against a background of deep, green lichen and mosses, looking like early holiday decorations.

Christmas Colors

Christmas Colors

My Throne

My Throne

The Passing Days

The Passing Days

Leaves are still piled high in places. We had a long fall period with no frost and little wind or rain, so the leaves held on and we have a bumper crop! It was, however, windy on the day of our Leaf Pile Party. So windy we couldn’t get the pile high enough to beat last year’s record of 56 1/2 inches. We’d barely make four feet and the brisk wind would take the top of the pile off.

Against The Wind

Against The Wind



Big Enough

Big Enough

Alas, November is behind us, in the books.

Now December  bears a resemblance to November. Grass still green, remnants of leaves and leaf piles continue to blow across the yards and trails. Bit by bit the underbrush loses a few more leaves, pales a bit more, leans towards lying down for a winter’s nap.

The smell of snow is in the air often these days. Christmas is just not the same without a good snow cover.

In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the unique opportunity to stretch out our fall, autumn, early-winter days. To observe all those colorful things on the ground that would typically be hidden about now. To wait another week before we dig out the snow boots, the big suit, the gloves & hats box.

For some of us, perhaps those who don’t read calendars, it makes no difference what day or month you call it. Sure the mild days are easier than the wet or windy or cold days.

But then, each one is a work of art. A thing of beauty. One of a kind. Another blank page in our Wonder Book.

For some, it’s just a good time for a nap.

One Tired Puppy

One Tired Puppy


Seek peace,



The Boy Within

Boy Me, ready for adventure

Boy Me, ready for adventure


You’ll never guess who I ran into this week. The boy within.

In Armchair Zen World, we follow a thought called Ring Theory. This says that as you grow, like a tree, your inner rings or younger years exist beneath the newer rings, the outer bark, your present age.

It’s sort of like that “inner child” thing that was popular philosophy in the 80’s and 90’s. I’m not sure what the pop philosophy was about, but I know I am the same person, within the same mind, as the me who was a boy long ago. I can still be as excited over a favorite toy or a rainbow or a shooting star or a fish on the line as I was then.

Boy Me suddenly popped into conscious reality one day recently. I suppose I may have conjured him up a bit as I posed the question “What would boy me think of now me?”.

Boy Me was very excited that we could drive a car, for instance. A dream of the future for a ten-year-old. Boy Me was astounded that we had so many wonderful grown-up toys we’d only imagined owning. A house, a car, a pickup truck, a fishing boat. More guitars than one person needs. And money! Money in my pocket, the freedom to spend it and the transportation to get to the store!

Grownup Me was a bit surprised. Grownup me had made the mistake of viewing his world from a rough patch of bark on the shadow side of the tree.

There are bills to pay. Work to be done, 60 hours a week dedicated to the prospect of bringing in enough money to pay the bills, hoping for no surprises. No end in sight to the treadmill, but a long upward climb to the end-phase, “retirement”. A future worry to worry about. Worry about how we’ll make money and spend money in a time that doesn’t even exist yet. A time whose conditions are entirely unknown, and could be better, worse, the same or non-existent by the time the human calendar and the endless clockworks arrive at that place.

There is rest to be had. Rest after work. Rest after dinner. Rest after resting. Rest up to go rest. There have been many years of working and mowing and painting and marrying-off children and burying friends and relatives. There have been decades of mortgage payments, nights in the emergency room, the decision to unplug life support. There have been cars stuck in the snow, stuck in the mud, stuck on the side of the road. There have been ruts in which I was stuck. Sometimes for years.

Boy Me was flabbergasted. Rest? Really? A house and land and money and a family and a car and a dog and so many wonderful things to be excited about, and all that can be imagined is rest? Are you kidding me?

Boy Me remembered being 10, 12, 15. Imagining someday. Someday had a house and land and a car and a family and a dog. Someday had money to spend, a fishing boat, a snowmobile, and time to enjoy them. Someday there would be grownup-ness, and I would be the decider. I would decide what time was bedtime, if there was to be any. I would decide what is good for me to eat or drink or how late I could have a snack or how many cookies were appropriate. I would decide if I would empty a candy dish in one sitting.

Imagined Someday would find me with the freedom to do as I please, within reason. To do as I see fit. To do, or not do if I so chose.

Grownup me was a little hesitant. A little grumpy. A little achy. A little tired. Worried about the weather for Sunday’s Leaf Pile Party. Worried about the approaching heating season. Buying gas, buying pellets. What if the combustion blower needs to be replaced this year?  There’s too much tired and worry and work and winter to be concerned with. Perhaps this is not a good time for childish thoughts.

Boy Me laughed. You grownups. You just don’t know when you’ve got it good, do you? From the perspective of the age of ten, I’d say you’ve achieved a place similar to a god, or perhaps a king. No one to tell you what to do but yourself. Thankfully, you still have all the functions you had as 10-year-old you. Arms and legs and eyes and lungs to go forth into the world, to read books, to select satellite channels, to buy gas for the mower, to haul in a smallmouth bass, to have lunch whenever and wherever you want.

Power tools and model airplanes and you don’t need anyone’s permission to use them!

It's good to be the king.

It’s good to be the king.

Sure, the whole having things and money and toys goes against the grain of eschewing wordly possessions, I suppose. Then again, this is Armchair Zen, not a temple.

Boy Me: What? You even have your own blog site and your own brand of philosophy?

Grownup Me: Well, yeah. It’s pretty easy when you’re a grownup.

Boy Me: But isn’t this exactly what we wished for as a child? To be able to have and do all these things? What are you waiting for? Let’s go play!!

Grownup Me: I, um. I thought there was something that prevented me from acting like a child…

Boy Me: Race you to the car!

Grownup Me: Bet I can be there first!


Be at peace,




Return to “Civilization”

Editor’s note: this is the third of a 3-part journal entry following “Sojourn” (ACZ Archive, August 2015), and “Shore Dinner DeLuxe” (ACZ Archive, September 2015). – Paz



Three days is not enough time to spend at our favorite north woods spot, Forked Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. After a camping trip of perfect weather, a Shore Dinner DeLuxe, and a great gathering of friends (and mosquitoes), Sunday morning arrived on schedule, and it was time to strike camp.

Leaving the lake for another year is a dreaded moment. I break down the tent and pack the stove, the cast iron, the lanterns. We ask each other if we’ll do any fishing before we leave, but our inner drives compel us to keep moving forward, back to the world of clocks and calendars and schedules and work. We pack the boats and head for the launch.

The boat launch at Forked lake is of the most basic type. There’s a circular gravel drive, a ten by ten foot dock, and a shallow sandy area to put in watercraft. Mostly these are canoes and kayaks. The camp site has a number of aluminum Grumman canoes you can sign out, and some folks bring small power boats like the AquaMarie. This launch is not one of those fancy ones with a paved drive, ridged concrete to help you get traction, a solid surface in the water for your trailer wheels. No, this is as basic as it gets. The drive leads to the water and the rest is up to you. It’s a bit shallow, and has a couple of boulders in inconvenient spots, but if you get right next to the dock you can back your trailer in far enough to launch or retrieve your vessel.

Fast forward past all the neat outdoorsy stuff like loading the boat with the camp gear, motoring through the marked channel to the launch area. Up to the parking lot. Fetch the Funbus, move over one lot and hook up the boat trailer. Here we drive down the gravel road to the small “traffic circle” adjacent to the launch. It’s a busy weekend in the middle of July, and Sunday at 11 am is checkout time for everyone. Not exactly mobbed, but busy.

If you’ve ever driven (or backed) a trailer hooked up to a motor vehicle, you know it takes a little room. Maybe this is obvious to people who have never pulled a trailer, or maybe they’re oblivious to the concept. A sign near the dock says “Please Do Not Block The Launch Area”. As I reach the edge of the circle, I note two cars more or less parked on the left. I’ll need to wait for them to move out of the way before I can swing the Funbus and trailer around to position for backing into the water. I wait, idling, looking. Several young folks are milling about the cars, apparently packing to leave. Guy starts sort of rearranging the trunk so things will fit in. Two cars are behind me. Gal with guy comes up, she must be driving the other car, and they begin to converse. Probably talking about where we’ll get gas or stop for lunch or who will stop at Grandma’s to pick up the cat.

Along the waterfront, the dock area is essentially full. A couple folks pick up their kayaks and load them onto roof racks. A few others pull their Grumman canoes, marked with the name of their campsite home Forked Lake, Lewey Lake, Indian Lake, out of the water and move them to the rack. Forked lake is part of what’s called a chain of lakes, the outlet of one leading to the inlet of the next. In some places you can canoe from one to the next, at others you’ll need to portage your boat and gear, usually a fairly short distance.

I’m all about being considerate of others, and following the rules of civility that allow us to get along as happy neighbors. I wait patiently for the young people to finish talking and pack their trunk. The packing is done now, and they’re still conversing. There are three cars behind me now. In the friendliest tone I can muster, I call out “Can you move those cars out of there?”. They acknowledge positively. Perhaps they didn’t realize they were clogging up traffic. A guy from a car behind me walks up to my window. Clearly another follower of the rules of civility he asks “Do you mind if I go around you? I just have to pick up my kayak over there.”, he gestures to the far left. “Oh, of course,” I reply, “Sorry to hold you up.”.

Folks are not in any hurry to clear out, but then again we’re all on vacation, so why should we rush? I continue to wait as the parked-pair youngsters are finally able to actually get in their cars and move them out of the launch driveway. Our space to the right of the dock opens as a kayaker pulls out. As I wait for the parked pair to move, one of the cars behind me pulls around and drives to the water’s edge, backing up next to the shallow spot beside the dock. Just about where I need to put the trailer.

Now I’ve been parked and waiting for what seems like about ten minutes, so I tell myself it’s probably five. I’m a bit annoyed at the person that drove around me, as if I was sitting still because I wanted to or something. Why else would I be waiting in the queue with an empty trailer, pointing at the dock? Seems obvious to me, but it doesn’t take too many letters to get from “obvious” to “oblivious”, which apparently these folks were.

Well, I can’t sit here all day, so as the parked-pair finally move out, I swing the Funbus around to position to back the trailer in. Another considerate person calls out “You need to get in here?”. Rhetorical, maybe, but considerate. He pulls his car away from the dock area, leaving just enough room to fit the trailer in the space. I begin to back the trailer delicately into the narrow opening between the dock and the inconsiderate driver and mate that end-ran me. It may crowd them a bit, but I can put this in there. Like threading a needle, I carefully inched back, considerate even of the inconsiderate, I certainly didn’t want to hit their car with the trailer!

Then, lady from inconsiderate land (the mate in the end-run car) gets out and calls to me in protest “We need to load out of here.”

Without thinking, my minor frustration boils up a bit and I ask her “Do you have a trailer?”, trying to overstate the obvious. Don’t you think I need to load out, too? Didn’t you notice the eighteen-foot long empty trailer behind me? Why do you think I was sitting there waiting for all these other cars? They’re driving a tiny car, so they could have only a canoe or kayak which they need to lift to the roof anyway. Couldn’t they carry it six more feet, and move over, and let me in? I was here first.

With that, lady end-run moves over and stands next to their car, behind my trailer, so I can’t continue to back in next to them.

Herein lies my Armchair Zen lesson for this trip. After all my study, after all my meditation and self-talk, after three peaceful days in one of the quietest places in the state, it took just one incident in the first half-hour of my return to civilization for me to feel frustration, aggravation.  For me to speak out in a somewhat inconsiderate tone.

So there I sit. Perhaps fumes could be seen coming from my ears. Perhaps my wrinkled old face bore a scornful look. I may even have been talking to myself.

Up to my driver’s window saunters Old Guy. I’m kinda old guy myself, of course, but this guy was a little older, and perhaps wiser. Perhaps further on the zen path than me.

“Please don’t block the launch area.” he says, in a sort of mild tone. I begin to respond with the tale of denied water access, and before I can get too worked up, I realize his statement was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I think he said it just loud enough and in the direction of the End-Run couple. Then he launched into a tale of how he’d been coming here for 30 years. Wasn’t this crowded when he started coming here. There were bear poles instead of bear safes (a 12-foot pole with a pulley, up which you would hoist your food at night to keep it from the bears). His friend would travel around the lake to the campsites with coolers of food, delivering to people who wanted to keep food (and bears) in the camp to a minimum. His voice was soft and smooth as he spoke. His reverence for the lake, the campsite, his joy at being here 30 years later, nearly beamed from his face. He kept me engaged and distracted as the End-Run gang ploddingly loaded their little car with belongings. I was waiting for him to reach out and place his hand on my forearm, as friends do, and was forced by circumstance and civility and a little awe-struck wonder to listen to the old man. To respond to his observations. “Really?” “Wow.” “No kiddin’?”

Just as Old Man is offering warm regards and taking his leave, the End-Run gang finishes their packing and adds the final insult. Leaving the car parked at the waterfront, they walk over and pick up a Forked Lake aluminum Grumman canoe, and carry it up to the rack. They didn’t even need to pick up a boat!

For hours afterward, the inconsiderate actions of the End-Run gang kept milling about in my head. Nearly ruined my ride home, one of my favorite parts of the trip. Driving through The Adirondack Park, hauling a boat, feeling and looking like the All-American sportsmen camper. I stopped at the Blue Mountain Lake Store to pick up a souvenir, a token gift for my wife, staying comfortably at home, and willing to tolerate my trips to childlike adventure with the boys in the woods.

The actions of the Old Man became clearer as I rode. He must have been an Armchair Zen master himself, no doubt. Clearly he could see I was frustrated or offended, he could see that animosity was brewing. He knew there was little point in addressing the End-Run gang. Maybe they’re not a lost cause, but certainly they would not accept commentary or criticism with a zen mind. More likely they might be confrontational, defensive. At any rate, they were not in a good place to learn a zen lesson, perhaps.

It’s my hope that Old Forked Lake Man could see. Perhaps he could see the light of my enlightenedness even when I was blind to it. Perhaps he could see that here is a person that may be able to benefit from a little redirection, and a moment to allow enlightened thought to re-enter my brain. Here is someone ready for a zen lesson.

He was right. I learned that I am but a child at the beginning of my zen walk. While I think of myself as far down the path of the way, I’m really still a construct of my life before the path. Before the age of 50 or so, before it occurred to me there was another way to view the cosmos and all that is in it. The lessons are obvious in hindsight.

Anger and judgment have no place on the path. So they were inconsiderate? Isn’t that judgement? So I was made to wait. Is anger the right response?

A place at peace

A place at peace

I will think of the End-Run Gang incident, and of the Old Man of Forked Lake often.

A peaceful place should be filled with peaceful people.

And don’t we ultimately want the whole world, the entire cosmos, to be a peaceful place?

Peace is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.

Thank you, Old Man.

I will study your lesson well, and hold it close to my heart.


Seek Peace,



Read yourself

Seeking my armchair zen, which has felt a bit elusive in recent days, I returned to some older posts for inspiration.

Re-reading myself, I communicated well with me, and I understood the points so clearly.  🙂

Look back a couple of years, or even a few months. See what you were thinking.

“Then” me forwarded a welcome word to “now” me. To wit:

From here my life seems big.
Before long, in a cosmic sense, it will be as the flash of the death of a star or birth of a galaxy. As unremarkable as the events of a billion years ago.
It brings me such peace to know that all my “worries”, all my errors and shortcomings, don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy cosmos.


Feeling better already.


Be at peace,



The Maple in the Grotto

Along the south end of our property, where the nature trail begins, there is a little respite I call The Grotto. It’s a little crook off the trail, beneath the shade of a forty-five foot sugar maple, surrounded by Concord grape vines, vetch, hops and bridal veil vines. To the south, the Grotto is open to the treeline between our house and the next.  A rivulet lazily drains the area, though it remains moist and swampy most of the year. In the summer, the evaporation of the rivulet cools the air, which settles and gathers in the Grotto, a natural air conditioner.

The Grotto

The Grotto

Within there is a little seat, a bench made of two lengths of chimney-liner. It is here that I’ll sit briefly and drink in the nature’s bounty all around, or in the winter, imagine the days of summer when the cool Grotto air will be a welcome relief at the end of a hot and humid day afield. The floor is presently covered with last year’s leaf-fall. Typically it would be mowed, once required by the growing season. This year, we’re watching to see how long this humus-enriching layer will take to decay. In the meantime, it makes a nifty carpet, with the crunchy sounds of fall.

The Leaf Carpet

The Leaf Carpet

When we bought the ranch 30 years ago, I remember looking at that little maple tree, located at the far edge of the property, an island in a field tilled for corn. It was probably not more than fifteen or twenty feet tall. Maybe aged as many years. “One day that will be a big majestic maple, like the aged ones along the road frontage.” I recall saying.

The Grotto Maple

The Grotto Maple

For the first ten or fifteen years I hardly noticed the growth. A long process that stretched out into my future, one of those “someday” things. From time to time, while mowing or walking the trail, I’d stop to admire the tree. Like the Johnny Goldsboro song, it was getting big.

Here it is, it’s “someday” now. The tree towers over the corner of the ranch, a spread of 30 or 40 feet, shading the cool Grotto and inundating it with autumn leaves in their many colors. With no less than five main trunks, it has grown into a beautiful and admirable specimen.

It’s fascinating and humbling to think of our maples. The ones along the road frontage are huge, 60-footers, with trunks so big it takes more than two people to stretch arms around them. One was brutally trimmed by the power company, but is otherwise healthy. Several more form the treeline, and I must imagine when Lowe’s were building this house, they selected a few saplings that were in the right place and said “These can stay.”.

I imagine the new home owners (in 1906), looking out those round-top windows and saying “That little maple sapling will be a fine specimen one day.”

The Lowe’s are long dead, and I now love and revere the trees they left for me. I look at the Grotto maple and realize that indeed today is my “someday”, and here this gorgeous tree stands just as I had imagined thirty years ago.

It’s a comforting thought, within the circle of life, that I may watch this tree grow and enjoy it, then leave it behind for others that follow.

Sort of a “hand across time” to the future, tied irrevocably to the past.

And those huge 125-year-olds out front?

I suspect they’ll be here long  after me as well, to look after the next family that moves in, to provide shade, maple sap, autumn leaf piles.

And they will spy a little sapling…

Ellie and the leaf pile

Ellie and the leaf pile


Seek peace,



Longing for sparrows





We had a facelift done to our building, and it looks real nice.

Unfortunately, it covered the 80 year old wood construction that previously existed.  Why unfortunate, you say?

The old work was the underside of a building overhang, a sort-of ceiling of a sort-of porch that serves as a loading dock. The faded plywood that made up the ceiling surface had long ago been punctured by those mysterious things that puncture holes in old wood. One of those mysterious things may have been a sparrow or a starling, digging for a hole in which to nest.

My company leased this building about six years ago, and each spring has been heralded with the arrival of the sparrows. Like the swallows of fame, it was an eagerly anticipated event. The sparrows (probably returning nesting pairs) would fly up into those holes with straw and sticks, industriously preparing for another brood. As all the signs of spring unfolded around us each day, we worked alongside (or more accurately: beneath) those little birds. We were industrious together, or at least in parallel.

Within just a few weeks of some messiness on the dock, some hay and bits of chipped wood and bird droppings, there would be a hatch. Babies could be heard to screech all day, fighting their siblings for the morsels delivered by mom & dad. The screeching and eating would go on for a couple weeks, then you’d start seeing little sparrow faces peeking out of the holes of our dock ceiling. The parent birds seemed to disregard our presence, coming and going as needed to raise their little families, sometimes perching on the ladder racks of our trucks, sometimes hopping about on the loading dock picking up bits of food or scraps for nest repair.

Then there were the bees. Carpenter bees. Curious little animals. They loved the wood fascia of the dock’s overhang. Old dried wood in which they would bore holes. They use sawdust to build walls between the chambers of their nests. They also show off their nests for potential mates. They’d fly facing the fascia, sort of hovering like a hummingbird. They seemed to be admiring their work and guarding their nests. Undesirables (probably other male bees) would be driven off post-haste. Some folks say you’d better be kind to them, because they’ll remember you. If you go after them with fly swatters and sprays, apparently you’ll be recognized as a threat and the bees will chase after you.

Our bees just hung out there. Being bees, many folks fear them, but they’re really quite gentle if you choose to get along with them. In years past there would be a dozen or more at all times, standing guard over (or would it be under?) our eaves.

Carpenter bee

Carpenter bee

This year, right this moment, in fact, some of the bees have returned to their former stomping grounds. They’re a little lost, confused, befuddled by the strange transformation, perhaps some form of petrification, that has happened to their favorite soffit. The wood has turned into aluminum. I can only hope they aren’t breaking off any tiny bee teeth trying to bore a hole to get to their old summer home. Most of them have moved on. Accepted the undeniable end to summers at the WOC building with Paz. These two out here now? I don’t know, but I hope they get the idea and move on before the season has passed them.

The sparrows, on the other hand, barely blinked an eye before moving on to the next opportunity.

Now it’s a bit quieter, admittedly a bit cleaner, than having those sparrows outside the door, screeching ’til June.

And the new vinyl siding on the underside of the soffit looks nice. Now there’s a neat industrial building in the semi-industrial park, and we can better hear the sounds of trucks and forklifts. Progress, I suppose. Most folks would be glad to be rid of the unsightly old wood. I kinda miss the sparrows.

I bear it, though, with the help of a fictional character and his son. The father played by Andy Griffith, the son, Ron Howard.

In an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, the son (Opie) raises a few orphaned birds in a cage until they’re of fledgling age. The father, Andy, gently chastises the child, telling him he should set the birds free, let them fly where they belong, but leaves the decision to the five-year-old boy.

Opie recognizes his father’s wisdom, and reluctantly releases the birds that have become pets. In the final scene, Opie looks at the cage with a pout on his face, and says to his father “Boy, this cage sure looks empty.”

In his inimitable way, Andy looks out the boy’s window through which the birds were released, and with a warm-hearted smile replies:

“But don’t the trees look nice and full.”


Seek peace,





A Wild Life



Seeking to master my Armchair Zen is a constant challenge, a complicated prospect. Studies are a staccato of moments plucked from days immersed and submerged in a modern techno-monetary society. Commutes with think-time to fill, accompanied by three-hundred sixty degrees of an ever-varying natural world. Brief grasps of insight when ACZ tenets are applied to the events of the workday, when opportunity and memory allow. Alas, sentenced to a life as a human following the generation before and living in the richest country on Earth, the ubiquitous full-time career is required.

The imagination can have a great run at envisioning a natural life, in the wild. Sleeping in a nest of grass and leaves, arising with the sun. Drinking from the stream and foraging for food without clocks or jobs, cars or homes. A Neolithic dream which can never be realized lends itself well to Hollywood-style fiction and fantasy. Days pass wandering gently through hills and glens, communing with nature and all the living and feeling and visceral experiences imaginable. We have become accustomed to our style of living, and can’t go back to life without shoes and refrigerators. Very few really want to. Those that pursue life away from society are viewed as recluses, loners, mountain men, or worse. The truth is, heat and a steady supply of food is impossible to forget, and you will soon miss them both.

Out in the real world, the natural world, things carry on, day in and day out, without machines and modern conveniences. What are crows doing while we check the clock to be on time for a meeting? What is the coyote’s “lunch time”? Where are the owls during the day?

Driving to work, there are the deer browsing the field of corn stubble. Finding treasures, missed by the harvester, dropped from the wagon, covered by snow and now finally revealed. Flocks of Canada geese pass overhead, circle the fields, descend for landings with wings flapping and horns honking. Others are ready for departure, as they take to the sky, thirty or forty at a time, raising the call to flight. Turkey vultures soar above, two or three or five, making fixed-wing circles, scanning the ground for the next meal.

In the midst of a modern day, it’s intriguing to think of the life going on in the wild world. From remote tracts far from power lines and the sounds of trucks rolling down the interstate, to the fascinating pockets interspersed and interjected into the most modern-human-industrialized places. In the woods and along the banks of streams in the wilderness, time is at a fixed and unmeasured pace. It is now, then now has passed and it is now again. Actions are carried out as they come to mind, from leaving the den to fording the creek, landing to check out carrion, or crouching low to spring an ambush attack. Some play if there are cubs or pups or kits or simply the mood. Some concerted effort to clean out the nest (or the kits or the pups), or to go forth with the pack on the hunting party for mutual benefit.

Jack London himself could not know what it is like to be a wild thing, a thing having never been aware of being or self. To follow instinct and impulse in every moment, every day, from birth to death. Our imaginings and fictional tales are Disney-esque dreams of a Bambi life. Tweeting birds floating around his head, flowers growing all around the looking-glass pond as he watches antlers grow in. As beautiful as the total freedom of life in the wild may seem in our mind’s eye, reality must be very different. Imagine a sparrow, spending the whole day finding food where it lays. Hopefully finding food. All the while looking down for threats from below; foxes, bobcats, fishers, northern pike. And all the while looking up for threats from above; hawks, eagles, harriers, rain and hail. The harrier and hawk looking out for the eagles while airborne,  minding the foxes and fishers when grounded.

On sunny spring days we hear birds singing with apparent glee, and we romanticize about the squirrel filling his stores with winter stock. We watch Canvasback ducks and admire their opportunities to see beautiful landscapes, to cross international borders without blinking an eye, to mate for life and raise fluffy yellow ducklings on the shores of Hudson Bay.

At this moment, the day’s rain has just ceased. It’s a mild spring day to us. Soon it will be dark. Wild things will bed down in damp and cold nests. The bare trees of April offer little camouflage from the silent night flyers for those on the ground. Temperatures will drop in the night, below freezing before dawn. The snow has receded, thankfully, and more forage is about than last month. Still, the long hard winter has left little by way of greens and berries, nuts and seed pods, for those that must collect them all day. It can only be the knowing of no other way that makes this all bearable. There is no other choice.

In human society, we may choose. We may choose to work and earn our livings or we may drop out and hitch-hike to California, live on the beach or under a bridge. We may choose to take from others, in the natural world a simple prospect. If you’re bigger and faster and meaner and deadlier and hungrier, you might take what you try to steal. If unsuccessful, you may run off with your tail between your legs. Or maybe you’ll be killed and eaten. Whatever.

In the human world you will be captured by other humans and spoken to then locked in a cage. Here you’ll be kept warm and fed and receive medical attention, cable TV, and free access to the library. We may choose to ignore the statutes of other humans in a wide variety of ways, most of which end the same way. Once in a great while (and it’s very rare indeed), you actually will be killed by others. Sometimes you’ll simply hand them paper earned by labor, and the score is settled.

As time marches on, it becomes more and more difficult to see, imagine or comprehend the true wild nature of wild things. The wild things themselves are increasingly being drawn into the anti-natural human world. Folks think they’re helping when they feed french fries to the seagulls outside the fast food restaurant. When they toss bleached white-flour bread to mergansers. When they feed their yummy table scraps to their own dogs. These things may be tasty, but how do we know how it will affect animals? Look what it’s done for humans, a frequently-overweight animal beleaguered by blood pressure, circulatory, cholesterol and other problems.

Too fast for you

Too fast for you

Treks into the wood with the faithful dog are but brief glimpses into the real, natural world. It is a beautiful, if sometimes harsh, place. There are no fakes in the natural world (though there may be camouflages and lures). No hawkers (hawks yes, hawkers no). No artificial conveyances or communications.

And it’s happening right now. Without fanfare or infomercials. Birds fly, eat, die. Gophers dig, eat, die. Insects crawl, eat and die. The sun rises & sets, winds blow and abate, tides ebb and flow. Grasses and trees and shrubs await their time, sprout buds & catkins, drop seeds to the ground or launch them airborne into the wind. Tiny spider hatchlings will float on teeny web-parachutes. Mature beavers will leave their families after a few years, to build their own ponds.

And along comes an odd animal. With four appendages, none of them wings, but walking only on two. It is covered with a most unusual coat. Not fur nor feather, but a colorful mix of woven fabrics. It’s feet are bound in coverings as well. It comes into the woods for short sojourns, then returns to the odd, square nest built from heavily-worked trees. It is a strange animal. Like all strange things in the natural world, it is eyed cautiously and given a wide berth. It is, nonetheless, accepted and respected as part of the world. A world we all must share.

Be kind to the upright animal, for its upbringing has left it short on natural skills and movement.

Give it some time.

Seek peace,


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