On the Wings of the Morning

If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. Psalm 139

brownpelican

The coming dawn chases the stars from the sky as the moon retreats to another hemisphere. The predawn light is soft. The line of the horizon, so sharp at mid-day is a blurred edge, the ocean bleeds into the sky. For a few moments before the sun takes dominance in the heavens, the world exists in cool pastel colors with softened outlines.


She has no name except in the mind of God.

Throughout the night she roosts in an Australian Pine, just a few hundred yards from where the gentle surf of the Gulf of Mexico meets the sand and the scattered shells of Sanibel Island. She stirs and pulls her long beak from beneath her left-wing. The rhythms of the tides, the moon, stars and sun are hard-wired into her DNA, she does not question them. She blinks once then twice. Flexing her strong wings she stretches the 7 foot wingspan  parallel to the shoreline before pushing her feet against the rough bark of the tree, launching into the air. Wings beating, beating, beating, powerful strokes against the invisible air, until she gains the needed altitude.

Then she soars. Soars on the wings of the morning.

She was born to this, she was created for this.

I stand with my feet planted firmly on the sand. Watching. Earthbound. Heavy. Logically I know I am a higher creature, but I cannot help but be envious.

In 1776, Carl Linnaeus gave the brown pelican her binomial name, Pelecanus occidentalis. By conventional standards she is not a thing of beauty. Until the brown pelican matures and its head feathers turn white, she clothed in a consistent dull brown hue. She is a comical looking bird, with an over-sized bill and stubby body. Her dive into  the water to catch fish has all the grace and finesse of a falling rock. She will never be described as elegant or graceful. But she does not compare herself to other birds. The Royal Tern, the Roseate Spoonbill, the Ibis, the Great White Heron, or the Snowy Egret, she does not measure her beauty against theirs. She is comfortable in the knowledge that she is a magnificent creature of divine engineering. Her fall from the sky that we find so comical is designed to impact the water with such force that it stuns the small fish that are her prey. As she plunges into the water, her throat pouch expands to trap the fish, filling with up to 2.6 gallons of water. And oh, can she soar!

I rarely soar, mostly I plod. Continue reading “On the Wings of the Morning”

Big Bucket of Fail!

bucket2

Even 10-year-old boys get tired of playing video games (not often, but it does happen). This past weekend, my grandson approached me carrying a box he had discovered while rummaging through our stash of board games.

“Do you want to put this together?” he asked.

The box contained a 1/200 scale model of a 19th century whaling ship. The pieces of the model were made from injection molded plastic, held together by a plastic web of connectors. We dutifully trimmed all the pieces from the web, sorting the components by color. The marketing copy on the front of the box, listed the attributes of the model in glowing terms. The first bullet point assured us that our purchase was, “Easy to assemble.” This should have been our first warning. The second red flag was the lack of any instructions, or at least any instructions in English.

Even without instructions the two halves of the hull and the large deck piece were an obvious place the start. Sad to say, even the largest and simplest components mocked us. We could get the two halves of the hull together, kind of, but when it came to connecting the deck to the hull we were stumped. With no diagrams or the ability to read Korean (the country of origin) we were at a loss with the deck unit. If we kept the hull pieces together, there was no way to attach the deck to the top of the assembled hull. When we tried to place the deck piece just under the top lip of the starboard hull half, the port section of hull no longer made connection with its mate. It didn’t take long for us to start laughing and getting silly with the whole project.

Still laughing my grandson announced, “This is going in the big bucket of fail!

When did 10-year-olds get so wise?

I almost titled this post, “The Lost Art of Failing.” In a culture where everyone gets a trophy, where “I’m a Winner!” stickers are applied indiscriminately, have we lost the ability to see the value of failing? Have we become so risk averse that we would rather attempt nothing than expose ourselves to possible ridicule for failing or God-forbid, being a loser?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

Not failing proves nothing. Failing is absolute proof that you tried.

The famous inventor, Thomas Edison, is often cited as an example of someone who persevered  through many failures. My brief research revealed that his number of failed experiments in the process of developing the incandescent bulb are often exaggerated. Numbers of 5,000 or even 10,000 are tossed about when the actual number is closer to 1,000. That many failed theories is an incredible amount to work through but pales in comparison to the number of his attempts to develop the storage battery.

The authorized biography by Frank Dyer and T. C. Martin, Edison: His Life and Inventions (the first edition of the book is 1910), quotes Edison’s friend and associate Walter S. Mallory about these experiments:

“This [the research] had been going on more than five months, seven days a week, when I was called down to the laboratory to see him [Edison].  I found him at a bench about three feet wide and twelve feet long, on which there were hundreds of little test cells that had been made up by his corps of chemists and experimenters.  I then learned that he had thus made over nine thousand experiments in trying to devise this new type of storage battery, but had not produced a single thing that promised to solve the question.  In view of this immense amount of thought and labor, my sympathy got the better of my judgment, and I said: ‘Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?’  Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: ‘Results!  Why, man, I have gotten lots of results!  I know several thousand things that won’t work!'”

I can’t help but wonder what Edison’s response would have been if someone had attempted to give him a trophy or a sticker before he actually succeeded? I can’t imagine that it would have been pretty.

Several years ago I taught my grandson to play chess. He has yet to best me in a match. One day he will beat me and on that day he will know that he has earned the victory. That triumph will be far sweeter than any hollow win where I did not play my best. I am not being mean. He is not being emotionally damaged by not winning at chess. Of course it does help that there are games he can whoop-up on me, such as the aforementioned video games.

chess

In some small way, I hope I’m preparing him for life as an adult, and who knows, maybe greatness. History is filled with many examples of famous men and women who fought through failure after failure to finally emerge victorious.

So grab yourself a big bucket and get out there and FAIL!

 

Embers

embers

Never in a million years did I think I would be quoting Bruce Lee on matters of love! Breaking kneecaps, of course, it’s an obvious fit, but love?. Once again, as if we didn’t know it … life is complex, always unexpected, and wisdom comes from the most unlikely of sources.

“Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.”  (Bruce Lee)

As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that there are probably at least two generations under me who don’t know who Bruce Lee is … Google it!

We live in an old house in Ferguson, Missouri. Built in 1890, by some standards very old, by European standards, pretty young. It’s an interesting relationship. Probably pretty much how Mrs. Poppy feels about me. It has it’s charm, but can also be infuriating. Certainly part of it’s charm are the three fireplaces on the first floor. One in the dining room, one in the living room, and one in what we call the family room, though back in 1890, it was probably referred to as the “drawing room.” Adjacent to the dining room, it’s where we spend most of our time. During the winter months, we have a fire in this room almost every night. Originally designed to burn coal, it makes for a very intimate and comforting fire.

I snapped this photo last night, Valentines Day Eve. I knew there was something there, but I wrestled with the idea that it might be misconstrued as a metaphor for a relationship where the fire has gone out. Then I stumbled on the quote by Bruce Lee.

By most standards, I’m a pretty boring guy. I have only one notch in my belt, only one conquest … marrying my high school sweetheart. Forty something years later, the embers are still hot. It may not be flashy, no dancing flames, but it’s deep-burning and unquenchable.

Happy Valentines Day, Mrs. Poppy, once again, I didn’t get flowers, but I’ll plant some in the spring, and they will live a long time.

Old Dogs: The Solution for World Peace?

oldpug

It is generally acknowledged that dogs are therapeutic.  Notice I didn’t say, owning a dog is therapeutic, because I’m not sure who owns whom. Dogs of any age are a blessing, long after your kids no longer get excited about you coming home, a dog will always view you as hot property.


A word about cats and dogs.

Poppy has been blessed to have been owned by both dogs and cats, and both are great. But cats and dogs are different (see how smart Poppy is)? Perhaps the best explanation between the two that I have read is this: Dogs think; they love me, they feed me, they take care of me … they must be Gods. Cats think; they love me, they feed me, they take care of me … I must be a God.


Puppies, as cute as they might be, are exhausting. Perhaps it’s because my muzzle is also grizzled, that I feel a connection with old dogs. Old dogs seem  at peace with themselves, a virtue that is often hard to attain as a human. Years spent with a dog creates a bond unlike anything else.

On November the 8th, 2016 we said goodbye to Zsa-Zsa, our beloved pug of thirteen plus years. Yes, November the 8th was also election day (I choose not to read anything into the coincidence). Like most pugs, Zsa-Zsa was blessed with an excess of personality. She was fiercely loyal to her family, her pack. We may have failed at her training because I’m pretty sure Zsa-Zsa thought she ran the family. She also assumed the role of family protector. The family was outside once when she spotted intruders encroaching upon our property. Before I could stop her she was off. The matched pair of Rottweilers looked up, alerted by her barking, to the fast closing 25 lbs. of pure pug fury bearing down on them. Fortunately the dog’s owners were friends of ours. Even more fortunate, the Rottweilers had more sense than, Zsa-Zsa, our intrepid pug. They looked down on her with mild amusement and didn’t even offer a replying bark.

For reasons I don’t understand, God has decreed that our dogs will age faster than us. Zsa-Zsa got to the point where she could no longer navigate stairs, let alone charge Rottweilers. But her faithfulness never faltered. Old dogs have a way of looking at you that communicates something entirely different from a puppy. A puppy will look at you with eager eyes that say, “I love you, let’s play.” An old dog will raise its head from the floor, look you in the eye with a depth of knowledge about you that conveys not only love but that says, “I understand.”

Dogs are capable of mischief, they can be sneaky, especially when it comes to stealing food from forbidden sources, but they are incapable of duplicity. Trust, unwavering loyalty, steadfastness, these are the structural traits of our canine companions.  Old dogs are calming. No matter what is going on in the world, no matter what kind of day you’ve had, they understand.

I’ve started to think, that to say, “I understand,” or “I know you,” is more intimate than saying, “I love you.” Evidently the Psalmist thought so too. David in Psalm 139 says, “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me,” and later in the Psalm, ” If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

I’ve watched Zsa-Zsa sleep the sound sleep of an old dog, her chest rising and falling with labored breathing, but still twitching as she chased rabbits and Rottweilers in her dreams. I’ve watched as she struggled to stand. I would scoop her into my arms then hold her fast in my right hand as I carried her down the stairs and to the yard outside. When I placed her down, she would often look up at me, and her eyes said, “I’m sorry its come to this.”

“I understand,” I replied.

The world is in need of a lot of understanding. The therapy of an old dog resting its head on our collective feet might be just what we need to put things into perspective. God created dogs with an honesty and empathy that often escapes us “higher” creatures.

We’re going to need a lot of old dogs!

…………………………….

In case you’re wondering, of course dogs go to heaven!

Divided We Stand!

dodoflag

Pro-life Democrats, Republicans who support gun control, and Dodo birds. At one time they all walked the planet on two feet. They are all now extinct.

Politics have become our religion and no one is allowed to stand in the middle. Once you don the cloak of political religiosity, every action and attitude, no matter how extreme, illogical or even cruel is justified because God is on your side. This includes bludgeoning flightless birds and moderate politicians. Those who do not accept their party’s platform in its entirety are no longer viewed as individuals with a different opinion, but as heretics. As with any religion, it is perfectly permissible to destroy heretics. In the post-modern world we burn them  at the stake of public opinion and shun them in the town square of social media. In the world of Dodo bird politics, civility and discourse are weaknesses to be eliminated, ridicule has replaced reason, and humility has lost its once held status as a virtue.

Our community is no longer defined by the houses, neighbors, shops, churches and schools within a certain geographical radius, but has become the news-feeds, sites, and sources that we can trust to support our world view and reflect back to us, in the warm glow of our computer screens, opinions that mirror our own. Critical thinking is viewed with suspicion and distrust, and let’s be honest, critical is such a negative word.

Blue-collar caucasian men, voting in the proper manner, are the backbone of our country. Strong of back and stern of jaw, they are the working class, the salt of the earth, honored and revered. Until they offer a differing opinion, then they instantly become just “uneducated white males”, the lowest of the low, suitable for sacrifice on the altar of disdain. There are so many of them, who would miss a few?

Our new prophets descend from Mount Hollywood and the white marble temples of D.C. to deliver their meme’s and wisdom a daily basis, engraved not on tablets of stone but on tablets and phones. Entire Gospels are delivered in 144 characters or less. Continue reading “Divided We Stand!”

At First Glance (a resolution)

SAMSUNG CSC

The flotsam and jetsam of 2016 are being dragged out to sea by the last ebb tide of the year. It is a strong night tide that has cleared the beach and leveled the sand, leaving it pristine, unmarred and untouched. It awaits the dawn of the next year and fresh footprints on a new stage. In the vast continuum of time, it is just another day. There are a trail of days, behind and before, that defy our reckoning. But we have drawn a line in the sand with our calendar and tomorrow we will mark the start of a new year. It is a time, real and imagined, of new hope and new beginnings. It is a time of resolutions.


I am what they refer to as, of a certain age. Though the definition is vague, it is generally accepted to mean, no longer young.

Guilty as charged.

Being of a certain age carries with it some disadvantages. For men, it means that their hair starts to disappear from locations that are desirable and relocates to regions that are less so. In my twenties I gave no thought to my eyebrows, now they require trimming, let’s not even mention the nose and ears. It also marks the onset of what my father called the furniture disease. This is when your chest starts to settle into your drawers. But being of a certain age also brings some benefits. Most of us are finally comfortable with ourselves. We have come to accept our weaknesses and our few strengths. We realize it’s unlikely to see big swings in our temperament, personality, knowledge or wealth. In the words of the great philosopher, Popeye the sailorman, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam.”

Being of a certain age, I  have to guard against turning into a curmudgeon. I’m starting to see hints of that sneaking into my vocabulary. I try to catch myself before I utter phrases like, “it wasn’t like that when I was (insert age),” or, “that’s not the way it should be done.” I have also become pretty good at sizing up people with just a glance and assigning them to categories of mine own making. Continue reading “At First Glance (a resolution)”

My Wealth!

"Constellation du Bouvier" (Bootes) © Philippe DURVILLE 2001

Braided in a no frills, no-nonsense fashion, her hair style complements her work ethic … no frills, no-nonsense.  The simple gold wire rimmed glasses which frame her eyes, shine brightly against her ebony skin. A force field of experience and knowledge swirls around her as she moves swiftly and efficiently behind the customer service counter of the Shop N’ Save. In her orbit are the girls working with her, decades her junior, looking to her for orders, direction and guidance. When I suggest that it is she, not the manager, who actually runs the store, the hidden source of power, she laughs and waves her hand at me as if it’s the silliest thing she’s ever heard of, yet she is a constant force in her realm and has outlasted several managers. Two or three times a week, for years, our paths have crossed. I call her by name, I have the advantage, it’s printed on the employee badge pinned to her chest. I’m not sure she knows mine.  Our conversations run no deeper than casual chit-chat about work schedules, the weather, or wishing me luck on my most minor of vices, the purchase of a weekly lottery ticket. I don’t know or care who she voted for in the last presidential election. We are not friends on Facebook. By any measure or standard, we are the most casual of friends. Ours is the most minor of relationships.


Like a well-mannered child, who gathers up their art supplies after they are finished coloring, the sun starts to gather up all the colors it has used during the day as it descends toward the horizon. In one last grand gesture before it disappears, the sun splashes those pigments across the clouds and spills its paint on the surface of the ocean. Armed with cameras and cell phones, we gather on the beach, ready to record the event. The display only lasts for a few minutes and the crowd of photographers and observers quickly disperse. Unwilling to leave its precious pigments behind, the sun gathers them up as it starts to brighten the other side of the world. We are left with the muted shades of dusk, the light becomes soft and the crisp edges of the landscape that were so sharp during the day start to lose focus.

As our hemisphere slides further and further away from the sun, the color palette on the island becomes more restrained until we are left only with hues of black, grey and deep satiny blues. The sun no longer has dominion over the sky and the stars and planets start to appear, Venus first, then Polaris the north star. They emerge almost timidly while the glow of the departing sun still lingers in the western sky. Gradually more and more stars make their entrance until the night sky becomes a dome filled with celestial celebrities, the constellations Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia, Draco, Orion and Pleiades the seven sisters.

Our family beach vacations are usually spent on Sanibel Island or St. George Island. These are barrier islands that sit off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. They have many things in common, both underdeveloped, no high-rise buildings, no tacky tourist attractions, no stop lights and both have ordinances requiring lights on the outside of buildings be turned off during the summer months, which for sea turtles is nesting season. Female loggerheads, leatherbacks, and green sea turtles return to these islands, the place of their birth, to lay their eggs. The turtle hatchlings when they are born need to head to the sea. If they emerge at nighttime, a bright bulb will appear to them as a shining moon, potentially causing them to head off in the wrong direction. The lack of outside lights is important for baby turtles and even better for star-gazing.

I don’t exactly sneak out at night. Sometimes it’s a thinly veiled excuse like taking the dog out one last time, sometimes it’s more direct. No one in my family shares my passion for walks on the beach after dark. I understand that to a certain extent. The beach is a totally different place after dark and the pitch darkness can be a little scary. For this city boy the main attraction is the night sky. The canopy of stars that stretches from horizon to horizon is nothing like my vista back home where the view is marred by buildings, trees and light pollution. When I tilt my head back to take in this spectacle, the effect is dizzying. My mind can’t grasp the scope, the time, the distance displayed before me. I start to understand my smallness, my insignificance. For the moment I understand that the world does not revolve around  me and I am content to be one little guy in God’s great big old creation.

As I gaze at the constellations above me, I realize they don’t exist as a singular unit, whole unto themselves. Only by one star establishing a relationship with an adjacent star, then another and another until the sum of their parts is greater than any individual star do they become the constellations we know. For all its brightness, Polaris is just another star until it connects with other stars to become part of the  little dipper or the larger constellation Ursa Minor, Little Bear (yes I’m a nerd). It is that relationship of position, brightness and arrangement that make up all the constellations that we know.

I think about the people in my life. I consider the relationships, the connections, the arrangements, the distance or the closeness.

I think about my family waiting for me back in the rented condo. I imagine each family member as a star. In my limited galaxy of constellations, my family shines the brightest. In the center of that star cluster is my best friend, my love, the mother of my children. Nearby are the stars of my daughters, my grandchildren, my brother, my in-laws. Beyond that are the constellations made of old friends, never wavering, always constant, shining brightly. Circling them is the nebula of co-workers, many of whom I spend more time with them than most family members.

I’ll admit I’m not always the quickest to get things. I’m the guy that chuckles at the punchline of a joke about 10 seconds after everyone else has quit laughing (if I get it at all). But I’ve collected enough years to understand some things, or at least some things about myself.  I’ve slowly learned that my true wealth is not determined by my bank account, the car I drive, or the paintings I own. The richness of my life is in those myriad of relationships, those people formed constellations, from the most intimate (my spouse) to the most casual (the customer service lady at Shop N’ Save). Some relationships can last for decades, others come and go as quickly as a meteor that flashes across the night sky for a few seconds, then is gone. Once I learned that there is value in all those affiliations, it changed the way I view them and to some degree, how I treat them. We treat things of value differently than items of trash. I might kick a tin can down the street, but would never treat a diamond ring that way.

I’m a little bemused by all the “unfriending” that has occurred during the last presidential election. Sadly it’s not all just “cyber-friends”, the friends made just by clicking on a hyperlink on a social media site, but relationships that  have had real meaning in the past. Mrs. Poppy has experienced this personally. A former supervisor, a friend, has shunned everyone whose political and social views don’t match up with hers. I want to, at least metaphorically, drag her down to the island at night and force her to look up at the night sky. I want her to understand the quality her life has not been improved by surrounding herself only with people who think exactly as she does, that she has become poorer by discarding those other relationships. The constellations she has enjoyed in the past, no longer exist because they are missing key elements.

“Variety is the spice of life”, may be a cliché, but it is also true. I can’t imagine eating only one type of food, listening to only one genre of music or associating only with people who look and think exactly as I do.

I am hardly perfect in this regard. I have my share of fading stars, friendships that I have neglected. Too busy, too lazy, too self-absorbed, too distant, the excuses and reasons are endless. My New Year’s resolutions may come early this season. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some emails to send, some phone calls to make.

Merry Christmas, Poppy

 

 

 

 


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