The secret of the sea

My cousin Chris took this photo of his son Carlos with Bo, a female dolphin, at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi, August 2014.

My cousin Chris took this photo of his son Carlos with Bo, a female dolphin,
at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi, August 2014.

…my soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea,
and the heart of the great ocean
sends a thrilling pulse through me.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The ocean is alluring, but it also can be quite intimidating.  So much of it is unseen, its secrets literally and figuratively unfathomable.  A great many of the creatures who live there can be unappealing or frightening.  Not so with the dolphins and porpoises, who are like friendly ambassadors presenting what looks like a smiling face to take the edge off the mystery.

As mammals who share many of our own traits– playfulness, communication, and a level of intelligence not found in most other sea creatures– dolphins and porpoises are endearing to almost everyone.  I’ve never had the privilege of swimming with one of them, though I know that those who do apparently find the experience totally delightful. Carlos certainly seems to be among them!

Many parents of children with autism and other disabilities believe that dolphin therapy is beneficial for those whose communication with humans is impaired or severely limited.  I can see how it would be therapeutic for almost anyone, as contact with any friendly or playful animal can be.  Just looking at this photo was so therapeutic for me that I simply had to post it here.

Thanks, Carlos and Chris, for sharing your dolphin encounter with us!

One year ago today:

Stimulating loneliness

The past is beautiful

This day was more beautiful than I could have known at the time. Sunday dinner at home with our visiting PaPa and both Grannies, 1969.

This day was more beautiful than I could have known at the time.
Sunday dinner at home with our PaPa and Grannies on a rare visit from Alabama, 1969.

“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”Virginia Woolf

Reading this quote, I can only wish that Woolf had thought of these words before she took her own life; perhaps she might have given herself time to discover that all was not as bleak as it must have seemed at the time.  In any case, she has left behind a wealth of her written thoughts to ponder, and this one rings true for me.

The years do change our perceptions of the past; often it softens and enhances them, so that they grow more beautiful with time.  My memories of my grandparents were precious to me when I was in my twenties and thirties, but all the more so now that I am the same age they were during my earliest recollections of them.  Conjecture and imagination now add depth to a picture that I was too young to fully comprehend.

Do you have memories about which your emotions have expanded, as Woolf describes?  Which of your present emotions may seem incomplete to you later, seen with the benefit of hindsight through the lens of passing time?

One year ago today:

History that teaches

Wherever I went

The road is calling!  Get ready to give and receive.  Colonial Williamsburg, December 2004

The road is calling! Get ready to give and receive. Colonial Williamsburg, December 2004

“I had always believed that I left a bit of me wherever I went. I also believed that I took a bit of every place with me…And the only possible explanation I could find for that feeling was that a spirit existed in many of the places I visited, and a spirit existed in me and the two had somehow met in the course of my travels.”
Bruce Feiler

I don’t know anyone who enjoys staying home more than I do, and the older I get, the more I like it.  But I also was born to travel, to long for discovery of places and people I have never known.  While these two impulses might seem contradictory, they need not be.

I connect with what Feiler says in this quote, because I agree that we leave a bit of ourselves behind wherever we go.  The conversations we have with locals; the things we photograph, buy or contemplate; the very steps we take; all leave visible or invisible traces.  That’s why I try to be aware of my conduct in the cultures I visit, and careful to treat the land and its people with respect, whether it’s a country thousands of miles away or a town just down the road.

At the same time, each place we visit leaves us changed in some way, because our senses are taking in impressions every waking hour.  We may not consciously remember being affected by a place (though often we will), but our experiences make up a large part of who we are.  Again, it calls for awareness.  I try to avoid experiences that will feed my fears, prejudices and negativity.  It isn’t always possible, of course, but even when I find myself in less than ideal circumstances, there is almost always something to appreciate, if I look for it hard enough.

Perhaps it’s possible to love both home and travel because most of us long to feel at home wherever we go, and to see home with the fresh eyes of a traveler.  When we are on the road, let’s remember to take a bit of our best selves with us, to share freely in our travels.  When we do, we usually will discover generously offered gifts to bring home with us, bright gems of memory that will connect us to fellow humans through a spirit of shared understanding.

When you travel, what do you leave behind?  What do you bring back home with you?

One year ago today:

All gates

A lot of comfort

I photographed this antique postcard in September, 2013, at the Museum of the Albemarle, Elizabeth City, NC, The Museum's "Steeped in Time: Tea and Traditions" exhibit runs through August 2015.

I photographed this antique postcard in September, 2013,
at the Museum of the Albemarle, Elizabeth City, NC,
The Museum’s “Steeped in Time: Tea and Traditions” exhibit runs through August 2015.

“The most trying hours in life are between four o’clock and the evening meal. A cup of tea at this time adds a lot of comfort and happiness.”Royal S. Copeland

I don’t know about you, but I agree with Copeland that late afternoon is the most difficult time of the day.  By four p.m., I’ve usually dealt with at least one frustrating situation during the day, and maybe several more are still unresolved.  The dinner hour is creeping up and I may not be finished with everything else I hoped to accomplish before then.  As if to add insult to injury, the phone and/or doorbell starts to ring with junk calls and sales people who hope to catch us at home.  GET ME OUT OF HERE!  A cup of tea sounds like just the ticket.

For you, the most trying hours may be at a different time of day, and you may find more solace in coffee, a quick snack or a few minutes with the newspaper or favorite music.  Or perhaps stealing outdoors for some uninterrupted quiet would be a welcome relief.

I’ve read time management experts who suggest planning schedules with our daily low points in mind, avoiding those tasks that are likely to be difficult during the hours we aren’t at our best.  I’ll add, with Copeland, that we might want to put a short break on our to-do list for that time each day.  It might not always be possible to excuse ourselves from the stress when things are worst, but it’s a worthy goal.  I hereby grant you permission to schedule a 15 minute break for whatever time you can manage and most need it.

What simple but special treat can you give yourself to look forward to today?

One year ago today:

Any tea

The human story

Having once lived in Santa Barbara County, I can attest that it's not all like this. Photo by Mike Gogulski under the GNU Free Documentation License, via Wikimedia Commons

Having once lived in Santa Barbara County, I can attest that it’s not all like this.
Photo by Mike Gogulski, GNU Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons

“The human story does not always unfold like a mathematical calculation on the principle that two and two make four. Sometimes in life they make five or minus three; and sometimes the blackboard topples down in the middle of the sum and leaves the class in disorder and the pedagogue with a black eye.”Winston Churchill

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things just don’t add up and we get a different sum than we were expecting.  It’s helpful to remain flexible and keep a sense of humor  when confronted with illogical circumstances.  Or maybe we can get creative with the statistics as the folks at New Cuyama did, and put a different spin on the usual rules– as long as we realize it’s all in fun and doesn’t change reality.

How do you react when your story does not unfold according to plan?  Do you get angry, frustrated, and discouraged?  Or do you look for the good in the situation, even if the only good is the ability to laugh it off?  Life goes on, and if we’re fortunate, we go on with it, whether we choose to smile, sigh or smirk.  Today, however the day goes, let’s try to smile.

One year ago today:

The maxim of the British

Tough as nails

In words and deeds, Mama and Daddy taught us that love is tough as nails.  June 2007

In words and deeds, Mama and Daddy taught us that love is tough as nails. June 2007

“Love is not warm and fuzzy or sweet and sticky. Real love is tough as nails. It’s having your heart ripped out, putting it back together, and the next day, offering it back to the same world that just tore it up.”Glennon Doyle Melton

Very few writers are able to cut through the muck and tell it straight better than Glennon, and she is right on target here.  It’s one reason we all struggle so much.  We are sold an overly-sentimental hearts-and-flowers image of what love is supposed to be, and then we get disappointed or even devastated when reality turns out to be quite different.

Have you ever noticed that it’s the people we care about most who also are the source of our deepest sorrows?  We may have to watch them suffer from illness, or stay beside them through their struggles with anger, addiction, anxiety or depression.  We may find ourselves the unintentional object of their frustration and fear.  They may wound us, leave us or nag at us until life becomes miserable.  And we may burden them with the same sorts of sorrows.

I don’t believe there is wisdom in having a victim mentality, but I do believe that love often chooses to “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things” (as stated in I Corinthians 13, NKJV).  Those of us who have friends and family who go back for years and years with us can look back and see many times when we had to bear with them, or they with us.  In fact, those times aren’t exceptions; often they are every day.  They are what love looks like in real life.

It isn’t just the ones closest to us who hurt us, of course.  The world can be a cruel place, and it’s difficult to keep getting up every day and choosing to love no matter what.  But the alternative is ultimately more difficult, and ends in destruction.

There’s nothing wrong with sentiment.  It’s delightful, like whipped cream on top of hot chocolate.  But it’s an extra, not the substance.  I love romantic surprises and sweet cards and kind words and smiley faces (have you noticed that?) and I would never want to be without those charms that decorate our everyday world.  But I know I can’t expect a never-ending stream of them, from anyone, no more than I can manage to give others such happiness constantly.

We build our lives as if we are building lovely earthly homes, customized and adorned with all that we cherish.  But regardless of the superficial decor, we all know that the unseen foundation needs to be rock solid, tough as nails, able to weather storms and catastrophes.  I wish for you, and for all of us, the grace and faith to experience that sort of love every day, as both givers and receivers.

One year ago today:

Let us love

The right way

At the center of my picture stands Jeff, surrounded by  forces of nature beyond our control. But I must admit, even the kudzu is beautiful.  September 2014

At the center of my picture stands Jeff, surrounded by forces of nature beyond our control.
But I must admit, even the kudzu is beautiful. September 2014

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”
Frances Hodgson Burnett

Recently on an early evening walk, I was basking in the new cool of September, and as I approached our Alexandria townhome I looked over the expanse behind it and felt almost as if I was seeing it for the first time.  It’s a lovely view, and I’ve walked past it dozens (really maybe hundreds) of times, but something about the sublime weather combined with the verdant landscape to engage my full attention.

For perhaps the first time, I realized that I could barely see our own deck in the distance.  I ran home for my camera, and convinced Jeff to step outside on the deck for a photo while I ran back outside to take the shot, as the last of the daylight faded rapidly. Jeff humored me, even waving as I snapped away.  I wasn’t the only one enjoying the beautiful evening, because looking at the photos, I can see our neighbor on her deck, right behind Jeff.

Inexpensive cameras have great telephoto lenses nowadays!  This was taken from the same spot, a few seconds after I took the first one.

Inexpensive cameras have great telephoto lenses nowadays!
This was taken from the same spot, a few seconds after I took the first one.

Life really is a garden, isn’t it?  We all have to work the soil with no guarantees of what will spring up and thrive.  Sometimes we are deluged with weeds.  Sometimes the expensive perennial we bought gets choked out by the more invasive and less charming ground covers.  But I love digging in the garden, trying new things and always hoping for favorable rains and sunshine to produce dazzling colors.

The whole world is open to us, available for our admiration and enjoyment.  When things seem bleak, remember to look the right way and see the garden. It may not look like much right now, but just wait until the spring and summer are here!

One year ago today:

Drinking in the surroundings

How you are talking

photo by Roger Rössing, courtesy of Deutsche Fotothek via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Roger Rössing, courtesy of Deutsche Fotothek via Wikimedia Commons

“Be careful how you are talking to yourself, because you are listening.”
Lisa M. Hayes

One year ago, I wrote about hearing stupid remarks.  Today, I’m writing about saying them myself.  I have a double standard when it comes to what I say; I will talk to myself in ways I would never talk to another person.  I might chide myself for a careless error, or remark about how old I am getting, or how much weight I’ve gained, or what a dummy I was to forget something.

I don’t know why I think it’s okay to talk to myself that way, but I have seen many others do the same thing to themselves, so I know I’m not alone in this habit.  Perhaps it’s a way of trying to seem humble, though that would not explain why I mostly do it when nobody is around.  But I’m still hearing everything I say.  And we don’t need continual put-downs, even when they come from ourselves.

Another way I sometimes talk to myself is when I think something inside my head but don’t say it aloud.  Often, these are negative remarks about other people, or upsetting circumstances.  This can be just as damaging, maybe more.

If I send myself silent but critical remarks about other people, or gloomy prognostications about disasters that may be waiting in the wings, I’m ruining my own day.  It’s easy to be critical and reactive, but I’m never happy when I fill my head with such thoughts.  On the other hand, when I replace the fearful and cynical self-talk with affirmations of faith and hope, I feel pretty happy just to be alive.  When I decide that I like everybody until they give me a good reason not to like them, I’m find I’m surrounded by mostly nice people.

Today, I invite you to join me in paying close attention to how we talk to ourselves.  After all, we are listening — and we will respond accordingly.


One year ago today:

So many stupid remarks

Thoughtful minds

I was delighted by this colorful balcony in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, March 2004.

I was delighted by this colorful balcony in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, March 2004.

“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.”
John Ruskin

Well, thanks for the compliment, Mr. Ruskin! I don’t know how true it is, but I know without a doubt that I belong in the group you have described.  I am mad about color, lots of color in all shades, and I find that it can cheer me no matter how low I feel.  I tend to favor the jewel tones, but I enjoy the entire range, from pale pastels to rich browns and black.

Recently when Jeff and I were talking with a landscaper about what sorts of trees, shrubs and plants we wanted, I found myself wondering how long it would take him to catch onto the fact that I was looking only for plants with bright, vivid flowers or foliage.  After exclaiming over the rich pink hues of the flowering plum tree, the gorgeous foliage of the Japanese maple, and the camellias and azaleas with a variety of vibrant tones in leaves and flowers, I wanted to ask him, “Do you see a pattern here?” He must have, because he quit showing me the subtler shrubs that didn’t impress me as much.

I think I have lots of good company in the group of color-loving enthusiasts, so according to Ruskin, there must be quite a few “pure and thoughtful” minds out there.  Manufacturers have discovered how we go for colors, making their gadgets available in an array of lovely hues.  Cars, appliances, and office supplies feature increasingly brilliant tints.  In everything from dishes to dress, we have endless choices to bring mood-boosting beauty into our everyday life.

Fortunately, I don’t have to buy a thing to get my color fix.  I can hardly pass a paint chip display without stopping to admire the choices, even when I have no need to paint anything.  I love looking at eye shadow and nail polish for the same reason.  And I enjoy browsing the children’s picture books at public libraries and bookstores, sometimes feeling a bit of envy for today’s children who have such abundant full-color illustrations their books, which was rare when I was very young.

And when it comes to wonderful worlds of color, don’t get me started talking about Pinterest – surely one of the most addictive labyrinths of visual treats on the internet!

What colors do you love best?  Do you favor monochromatic tones, or do you tend to go for combinations, and sometimes a rainbow of shades, as I do, especially in the garden?

Whatever your favorites, I wish you a palate of perfection to brighten your life every day!

One year ago today:

Not just a noun

And yet be determined

D-Day troops suffered ten times more casualties than their enemies, but they managed to turn the tide of the war. National World War II Memorial, Washington, DC, March 2005.

D-Day troops suffered ten times more casualties than their enemies,
but nonetheless managed to turn the tide of the war.
National World War II Memorial, Washington, DC, March 2005.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”F. Scott Fitzgerald

For most of us, life is full of ethical conundrums; questions and dilemmas to which there are no easy answers.  Nowhere is this more evident than in warfare.  It seems counter-intuitive that war can bring about peace; that the taking of some human lives is necessary to prevent the deaths of many more. To the soldier, these questions become almost unbearably consequential.  How does one balance the duties to home, family and friends against the duty to serve one’s country even to the point of death?

Regardless of how any of us resolves such dilemmas for ourselves, I think Fitzgerald has a point when he says that we must retain the ability to function in the face of them.  Daily we are bombarded with dismal stories of tragedy and trouble all over the world, yet we are also surrounded with the lights of hope, faith and love that shine in countless people we know personally, or only learned about from other sources.

It’s easy, and almost inevitable, to feel hopeless at times.  But even in such situations, we still can refuse to give up.  People have been accomplishing seemingly impossible things for centuries by holding fast to courage and faith when logic defies the efficacy of either.

When two opposing ideas are battling it out in my mind, I often find that I do better to ignore the argument and go about taking whatever positive steps I can, doing what I know to be right without becoming distracted by useless agitation.  Difficult questions abound, but they need not obscure the more obvious daily decisions I am capable of making regardless of larger issues over which I have no control.

Today, whatever problems and difficulties may arise, I hope we will retain the ability to function despite the external circumstances.  We know we can do it, because we do it every day, despite the times when we feel that we cannot keep going.  Even when it appears hopeless, we can almost always find reason for hope.

One year ago today:

We must free ourselves

In a fast-moving world

I took the first photo at the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, August 2006. The second photo is a public domain image from NASA.

I took the first photo at the Wright Brothers Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, NC, August 2006.
The second photo is a public domain image from NASA.

“A friend of the first man to fly an airplane, Lindbergh lived long enough in a fast-moving world to befriend the first man to walk on the moon.”A. Scott Berg

Isn’t it astounding how rapidly the world is changing?  Maybe it’s my imagination, or my limited knowledge of history, but when I look back at past centuries I don’t see the seismic advances in technology that now seem to be happening faster than we can keep up with them. With the possible exception of the advent of movable type, which enabled widespread literacy and the flourishing of vernacular languages, I can’t see any period in history that has experienced the same acceleration of advancement in many areas as has occurred in our generation.

If we (and the earth, as we know it) survive long enough to be around in two decades or more, will we have early and late life experiences that, like Lindbergh’s, vividly demonstrate “one giant leap for mankind?” There are those among us who can remember life before penicillin and other life-saving antibiotics and vaccinations; before television of any kind; before most people in the US had automobiles; and before reliable and affordable corded telephone service to even relatively close areas, let alone wireless technologies that enable face-to-face conversations with a group of people all over the world, such as some of us have experienced via Skype.

Those are just a few of the areas we could name, but the list could go on and on.  I remember seeing UNIVAC at a regional fair; it was a room-sized computer that could do almost nothing compared to even the smallest handheld device we have today.  I remember black and white television with only three channels, large homes with only one tiny bathroom, and having no place in public that was suitable for changing my baby’s diaper.  But my parents remember radios, outhouses and cloth diapers with wringer washers to launder them.

What do you remember?  What “giant leaps” will you witness before the end of your life?  It’s fun to wonder and speculate about what lies ahead.  Perhaps one day we will be having this conversation in a 3D virtual environment, or even in person (“beam me up, Scotty”).  But we already have marvels enough to enjoy.  What is part of your everyday life now, that you could not have imagined in childhood?

One year ago today:

Eyes turned skyward

You learn to pay attention

American black bear at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, June 2011 Photo by Hans Stieglitz via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

American black bear at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, June 2011
Photo by Hans Stieglitz via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

“When you are where wild bears live, you learn to pay attention to the rhythm of the land and yourself. Bears not only make the habitat rich, they enrich us just by being.”Linda Jo Hunter

If I lived where my brother lives, I would certainly pay a lot of attention when I ventured out of the house.  I’d hate to surprise a bear, though I’d love to see one from a safe distance.

Watching the video embedded below, I realized why toy teddy bears became such a fixture of childhood.  The baby bear in the video is so playfully lovable that it would be hard not to want to get close…but with Mama Bear probably close by, that wouldn’t be a safe idea.

Our world is made rich by all sorts of animals, and paying attention to them can bring entertainment, joy and even wisdom.  What animals enrich your habitat?

One year ago today:

All the beasts

Know who you are

The Three Soldiers statue at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, DC,  April 2012

The Three Soldiers statue at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, DC, April 2012

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”Maya Angelou

Nobody likes to lose.  Loss hurts, sometimes irrevocably.  But there are lessons in defeat, if we are wise enough to learn them.

If you are experiencing defeat right now, take courage from Angelou’s words above, and in this video that features her incredibly incandescent hope, and know you can rise above your despair.  If you have painful memories of past defeats, I hope you are able to look back and find some good that came of it.

If you’ve never felt the sting of defeat, you’re a rare and blessed person, and have reason to be thankful.  But it’s almost certain that you know someone who isn’t so fortunate, who might need your compassion and help in facing their loss.

Defeat, as any other crisis, can be a catalyst for growth and change.  In fact, often defeat will give us no other choice but to grow, if we wish to survive.  Today let’s draw inspiration from the many people around us now, and in our collective history, who taught themselves (and us) how we can rise above setbacks and keep going.

One year ago today:

A daybreak that’s wondrously clear

A running flame

Eric sent me this photo taken near his home in the north Georgia mountains, October 2011.

Eric sent me this photo taken near his home in the north Georgia mountains, October 2011.

“Autumn burned brightly, a running flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees.”Faith Baldwin

If you live in the northern hemisphere, I hope you are close enough to visit some area where the torch of autumn is lighting up the forests.  Not all of us live near mountains, but anywhere there are deciduous trees, we may be able to see the spectacular colors that are only seen in nature.  Let’s rejoice at the beauty, as the crisp exhilaration of fall lights up the days and weeks to come.

One year ago today:

Bright and intense and beautiful


Courage, cheerfulness and…

The meals and methods have changed, but not our love of eating, or our need for it.  Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, November 2004

The meals and methods have changed, but not our love of eating, or our need for it.
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, November 2004

Courage, cheerfulness, and a desire to work depend mostly on good nutrition.”
Jacob Moleschott

The author of this quote lived more than 100 years ago, but he probably would get as much or more agreement with this statement today than he did when he first said it.  Though the average diet has undergone substantial and somewhat amazing changes during the past century, the human body’s basic nutritional needs have changed little, if at all.

The dietary changes of the past century are a mixture of good news and bad news.  On the plus side, we have a greater abundance of food available to more people than ever before.  The downside is that most of us expend fewer calories and therefore need that abundance less than our ancestors might have needed it.  And a great percentage of what is available is processed beyond the point of any nutritional value, or laden with chemical preservatives and other additives.

We’re fortunate to know more about our dietary needs than past generations knew.  Less fortunate, for us, is the fact that our decreased need for calories make it more important than ever to maximize the nutritional content of what we eat.  This translates to fewer (or no) rich pastries and fatty main courses, and more vegetables, many of which we learned to dislike from childhood on.

The good news is that we have an ever-increasing number of healthy options from which to plan our meals.  The bad news is that most of us don’t have enough discipline to limit our intake of the delicious, less healthy choices in favor of the ones we know are better for us.  We need not be gluttons to feel guilty about what we eat nowadays, with constant (and often confusing or conflicting) advice coming to us from almost every direction.

Despite the disadvantages of living in the twenty-first century, I would not want to go back to the centuries before childhood obesity and diabetes were among the major concerns.  Malnutrition, rampant infectious disease and increased rates of infant mortality would hardly be acceptable trade-offs.  Despite frequent hand-wringing and doom-and-gloom polemics to the contrary, we are lucky to be alive today.

I’d rather feel thankful for the blessings we enjoy, and renew my determination to use them wisely — which includes sharing them with others, as well as remaining interested (but not obsessed) with eating wisely and well.  I’m convinced part of the nourishment that comes with eating is emotional and social.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing, as long as we don’t go overboard with it.

So as the holiday season approaches, I encourage you to celebrate the blessing of good nutrition — the joys of having variety, satiety and sobriety as essential features of our dietary delights.  Santé!

One year ago today:

Thy medicine

And speaking of using our blessings wisely and generously, be sure to click on “Celebrate (again)” on the menu at the top of the page – we have a special day planned on November 10!

Courage undaunted

This monument marks the burial site of Meriwether Lewis. The ruins of the Grinder house are visible on the ground adjacent to the visitor's center, far right. Natchez Trace Parkway, Lewis County, Tennessee, September 18, 2014

This monument marks the burial site of Meriwether Lewis.
The ruins of the Grinder house are adjacent to the cabin-style visitor’s center, far right.
Natchez Trace Parkway, Lewis County, Tennessee, September 18, 2014

“Of courage undaunted, possessing a firmness and perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction, careful as a father of those committed to his charge, yet steady in the maintenance of order and discipline, intimate with the Indian character, customs, and principles; habituated to the hunting life, guarded by exact observation of the vegetables and animals of his own country against losing time in the description of objects already possessed; honest, disinterested, liberal, of sound understanding, and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves – with all these qualifications as if selected and implanted by nature in one body for this express purpose, I could have no hesitation in confiding the enterprise to him.”Thomas Jefferson, writing of Meriwether Lewis

Two hundred and five years ago, on the evening of this day, famed young explorer Meriwether Lewis was traveling to Washington DC via the notoriously dangerous Natchez Trace, and made the fateful decision to stop at an old inn called Grinder’s Stand in Tennessee.  His journey as well as his life ended there, in the early hours of the next morning.

The circumstances of his death are surrounded with mystery to this day, though most historians believe it was suicide.  If Lewis did take his own life, he made a tragic mess of it, shooting himself twice yet surviving, reportedly pleading for help, until the next morning.  That a renowned frontier marksman would err so egregiously with a gun at close range, twice in a row, was among many suspicious details that gave rise to the widespread, though generally less accepted, theory that he was murdered.

Despite the questions that persist about his untimely fate, however, there is no lack of consensus about the importance of his work.  Likewise, the details of his biography offer abundant documentation of his bold spirit amid the perils, difficulties and setbacks he encountered in his relatively short life.  His story is one of history’s endless stream of reminders that men and women of past generations accomplished astounding progress with very few of the comforts we consider necessary today.

Recently I re-visited the site where Lewis met his death. I was traveling alone down the beautiful Natchez Trace Parkway, which runs directly between Jeff’s home town and the north Alabama county where many of my relatives live.  It’s an enjoyable journey, one I have always loved and have driven alone many times.

But it was a bit eerie to be the only human at the melancholy site (the tiny visitor’s center is open only on weekends, and I was there on a Thursday).  Walking the grounds, it wasn’t hard to understand how the fanciful legends sprang up, hinting that the ghost of Lewis still haunts the area. As with many historic parks, especially the remote ones, the atmosphere is thick with unseen or imagined remnants of the past.  It was with some relief that I spotted a woman walking two large dogs; apparently she had pulled over from the parkway for quick break.

Perhaps I had heard it before and only noticed it because of my somber experience at the Lewis memorial, but on this recent trip, numerous relatives cautioned me not to drive the Trace after dark.  Apparently it’s still regarded as a dangerous place (at least for a woman traveling alone), if only because of the isolation that constitutes much of its allure.  I had noticed on the way down that my cell phone had no connection anywhere en route, and the 72 miles of the Trace I drove featured no populated rest stops or emergency services.  I moved my return trip to an earlier hour to get back to Jeff’s family before dark.

After hearing so many caveats, I felt bold and maybe a bit foolish for venturing down the Trace so many times by myself, with never a thought (until now) about how safe it might be.  I can’t claim undaunted courage; more like ignorant naïveté.   Still, it seemed appropriate to share some small portion of the trepidation that must have attended the travels of our country’s earliest inhabitants, whether indigenous or immigrant.  Their courage and perseverance are worth remembrance.

One year ago today:

The inspiring force

The soul is healed

Grady with "Uncle" Paul at Turner Field, Atlanta, August 16, 2014

Grady with “Uncle” Paul at Turner Field, Atlanta, August 16, 2014

“The soul is healed by being with children.”Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.”Carl Sandburg

What a difference one short year makes in the life of a baby!  When I compare the photo above to the one posted one year ago today, which was taken less than a year earlier than this one, it amazes me how much growth happens so quickly.

For more than a year now, Grady has been shining brightly among our reasons not to give up hope.  Whether he’s feeling pensive, happy, funny, grouchy or rowdy, he is always interesting to be with.  We are so thankful for his healing presence!

Who are your favorite children?  Whoever and wherever they are, I hope you are able to spend as much time as possible with them.  They heal the soul in unique ways, and remind us that no matter what happens, life does go on.

One year ago today:

The simplest toy

To look ahead

Drew ventures forth on the Yukon trail, if only in imagination. Skagway, Alaska, June 2000

Drew ventures forth on the Yukon trail, if only in his imagination.  Here’s to beginnings!
Skagway, Alaska, June 2000

“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”Graham Greene

“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.”Meister Eckhart

Today is my 700th daily post, and that number rather amazes me.  Nearly two years ago, I began this blog as a way of coping with wave after wave of devastating news.  I invited others to join me in refusing to succumb to despair when there are always so many reasons to rejoice.

Some of you have been with me from the very beginning, and others joined along the way; I have appreciated the encouragement of each and every one of you who has visited and left your comments and “likes” on my posts.  As we approach the two-year anniversary of this little outpost in cyberspace, I have some special things planned to celebrate; I hope to be posting more about that very soon.

Today I invite you to see each day as a beginning.  While we think of autumn as nearing the end of the year, it does mark a logical beginning point in a variety of ways.

Students and teachers return to a new school year in many parts of the world, and nature is shedding her fading flowers and foliage in preparation for a fresh spring that will be coming soon.  Landscapers tell us this is the best time to plant new shrubs at our home, since root growth happens most quickly now.

Some of us already are starting to prepare for the beginning of another holiday season and the calendar’s New Year, which will be here before we know it.

Since I started this blog, Jeff has come through numerous intense treatments for stage IV cancer, including two major surgeries, several minor ones, six weeks of daily radiation, and four different chemotherapy regimens.  He now stands at the threshold of exploring participation in promising treatments of a newer, more experimental but hopefully less traumatic nature. So he can rightly see this time as the beginning of a new phase of his life, as he continues his quest to be among the 5% with his diagnosis who reach the five-year survival mark.

He has reached an even more impressive two-year milestone than I have, because doctors told us “about two years” was the average survival time of patients with his diagnosis who took the original chemotherapy regimen he started in December 2012.  Not only is he still alive, but he is currently well enough to continue working full time, and to be considered for further treatment opportunities.  We praise God for abundant mercies, including the warm thoughts and prayers of so many in this online community and elsewhere.

How about you? What new beginnings might you be marking today?  Every time we awaken to a new day, it’s a gift– an opportunity to grow, give, receive, rejoice and press ahead.  Others have traveled this journey ahead of us, and we follow in their footsteps, determined to leave a slightly improved trail for those who follow.  In the spirit of T. H. White’s Arthurian epic The Once and Future King, which ends with the words “The Beginning,” I hope you will join us as we start each day in faith that all will someday be made new.

One year ago today:

Let us begin

Books break the shackles

We are surrounded by communications from the past! Tune into one today. Photo by William Hoiles, via Basking Ridge Historical Society, CCA 2.0

We are surrounded by communications from the past. Tune in to one today!
Photo by William Hoiles at Basking Ridge Historical Society, CCA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“One glance at [a book] and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time…”Carl Sagan

If you could host a dinner party and invite whomever you wanted, from any era, who are some of the people you’d invite?  Make your list, then head to the library, or check an online library or database.  Chances are you can hear from each person on that list, directly, via the wonders of written words.  And you won’t even have to promise them dinner to enjoy their company.

In fact, we’ve been hearing from all sorts of fascinating people via the quotes on this blog, and a great many of them are no longer living on this earth.  How fortunate we are, that so many wise and witty people took the time to introduce themselves and their ideas to us, by leaving behind books, manuscripts, letters and journals that are still being read today.

How about you?  Are you leaving messages for your grandchildren, great-nieces and nephews, or friends and neighbors who will not meet you for many years hence?  You can talk directly to them with very little effort or expense.  Pick up one of the lovely blank journals available everywhere (I find some beautiful ones for very little money at T. J. Maxx) or start a free blog online.  Or just record your thoughts in an online journal with a word processing program (be sure to save a backup copy to a jump drive or memory card).

And for those who really enjoy writing, self-publishing via print-on-demand or ebook has never been more affordable AND respectable than it is now.  Let’s break the shackles of time by reading and writing.  It is one of our greatest gifts, and it’s been defeating despair for hundreds — no, make that THOUSANDS — of years!

One year ago today:

If you look

Sit silently

Matt enjoys the silence at the conservatory in Golden Gate Park. San Francisco, October 2003

Matt enjoys the silence at the conservatory in Golden Gate Park.
San Francisco, October 2003

“We sit silently and watch the world around us. This has taken a lifetime to learn …silence is pure. Silence is holy. It draws people together because only those who are comfortable with each other can sit without speaking. This is the great paradox.”Nicholas Sparks

In keeping with the truth of this quote, I won’t add anything except to say thanks for being here, sharing what is said and, maybe even more importantly, what isn’t said.  Together we will watch the world around us today, mostly silently, drawn together by the shared experience.

One year ago today:

Your message


This is a favorite part of my walk all year round, but especially in fall.  Yorktown, November 2008

This is a favorite part of my walk anytime, but especially in fall. Yorktown, November 2008

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”George Eliot

The scene pictured above is one of my favorite places in our neighborhood.  There is a pond just to the left, where you can’t see it in the photo, but one hardly notices it for the trees that are beautiful all year round.  They look gorgeous in spring when they flower, and cool and shady with green in the summer, but I love them best in the fall.

Eliot wouldn’t have to be a bird to fly nowadays, but she probably couldn’t seek successive autumns even if she was still on earth today.  She’d likely be too busy with the responsibilities of day-to-day life to indulge her fall fantasies.  But she could fly about in cyberspace for a few minutes every day, and hear about the delights of the season all over the world.

It’s fun to reflect on her words and realize that the magic of autumn has captivated human hearts and minds for hundreds of years.  If you identify with Eliot’s love of this season, pull up an imaginary chair and have a chat with her about what she might see if she could visit your home during her favorite time of year.  She has left behind some vivid descriptions of fall for us to enjoy.  Your turn now!

One year ago today:

Wild with leaves

These four words

Grady and Matt are a mutual admiration society. Dam Neck,  Virginia, June 2014

Grady and Matt are a mutual admiration society. Dam Neck, Virginia, June 2014

“I bring you the gift of these four words: I believe in you.”Blaise Pascal

I might never have met you face to face.  In fact, I may not even know who you are, or that you are reading this blog at all.  But I still believe in you.

I believe in you because I believe each and every person is created in the image of God, and capable of beautiful deeds.  I believe that everybody can play an important role in this world, no matter what their past has been like.  I believe it is never too late to come back from defeat, discouragement or despair. I believe that there are others who believe in you too, people who are more immediately present in your life, though you may not recognize or know about them.

All of us need the comfort and encouragement that can only come from people who believe in us.  If you feel bereft of this important support, I urge you to seek, pray and be open to it.  It may not come from the sources where you wish to find it.  But if you seek with faith, you will discover it.  I really believe that.

One year ago today:

Do not wait

They have the best

A dog riding the bicycle by Takato Marui, Osaka, Japan. Via Wikimedia Commons, Licensed under CCA 2.0

“A dog riding the bicycle” by Takato Marui, Osaka, Japan.
Via Wikimedia Commons, Licensed under CCA 2.0

“Everyone thinks they have the best dog. And none of them are wrong.”
— W.R. Purche

Years ago I saw an adorable cartoon that showed a little puppy excitedly informing his friends, “Guess what everyone? I am the world’s best dog! My human just broke the news!”  The older dogs are looking at one another with awkward expressions and one says, “Who wants to tell him?” I searched the internet in vain for that cartoon. I really wanted to share a link to it here, because it went so perfectly with this quote.

I couldn’t find any information on W. R. Purche, either, except links to this quote.  It would appear that he or she is known mainly for having said or written that thought.  Aside from possibly substituting the word “pet” or “animal companion” for the world “dog,” I would have to say it’s definitely true.  I know we had the world’s best dog, and I bet you did too, if you were fortunate enough to have one.  If not, maybe you have the world’s best cat or bird or hamster or turtle.  Lucky us!

One year ago today:

Not a child

Be the navigator

From the family archives, a photo of Daddy in flight training sometime in the mid -1960s.

From the family archives, a photo of Daddy in flight training sometime in the mid -1960s.

“Time flies.  It’s up to you to be the navigator.”Robert Orben

Though our circumstances differ, and some of us have more opportunities than others, each of us has the power to determine how we will react to the externals we cannot control.  We plan our lives much as a navigator plots a course of travel by land or sky or sea, always knowing the path may be altered by unexpected events.

We’re lucky to have at hand a variety of resources to help us make sound decisions: documented absolutes and laws, instruments that give us a fairly reliable set of readings, and stories of those who have gone before us on the route we choose to take.  If we are wise, we will pay attention to the cumulative experiences of people who have tried and failed, as well as the ones who succeeded.  We will understand that preparation is a continual process.

Most of us are fortunate in having fellow crew members with us on the journey.  Our opinions about how to handle crisis may differ, but we are reassured to know that when troubles arise, we will not be alone.

Still, none of these assets can relieve us of the responsibility of making the best of our limited time on earth.  Difficulties will sometimes frustrate us into thinking that time is dragging, but in reality, it never is.  Time really does fly, whether we are having fun or not.  Let’s do another instrument check, and keep those maps at hand.  We’ll be there before we know it.

One year ago today:


A kind of introduction

Carla poses with soldiers from the War of 1812, Ft. McHenry, Baltimore MD, August 2010.

Carla poses with soldiers from the War of 1812, Ft. McHenry, Baltimore, August 2010.

History is a kind of introduction to more interesting people than we can possibly meet in our restricted lives; let us not neglect the opportunity.”Dexter Perkins

It’s not surprising that the people who tend to show up in history books are interesting types.  But as I’ve often said here, I think everybody is interesting, when you look closely enough.  Many everyday people who lived in generations past would be fascinating to talk with today.

I appreciate the way historical parks and museums have become so much more interactive.  Costumed docents and interpretive staff members lend a touch of drama and an air of authenticity that helps us feel we have stepped back in time.  Some of these people are amazing in their ability to stay in character for the time they represent.  I imagine that many of them have some degree of theatrical training in addition to their knowledge of the era.

Often there are look-alike actors playing famous individuals from history, but most of these costumed staff are playing the roles of ordinary people: shopkeepers, soldiers, farmers, school children.  It’s fun to talk with them and pose for (anachronistic) photos with them.  I’ve “met” Thomas Jefferson, Queen Elizabeth I, Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll, among many others, but some of the most engaging people I’ve met are typical citizens whose names are not often found in the history books.

We have so many opportunities, in reading books or visiting historical sites, to be introduced to unforgettable characters from other worlds.  I hope you will not pass up the chance to get acquainted with some of those who helped shape our past.

One year ago today:

Stories to tell


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