Writing Out Loud

Leave a comment

Trees: A Conversation



A friend told me recently that the acronym “LOL” doesn’t carry the same meaning for her that it does for so many others. “For me,” she said, “it means ‘Labor of Love.'” She told me this not long after I’d given her a few dishcloths that I’d knitted as a birthday gift, and I realized that her interpretation fit that occasion as well.

I’ve written often about how much I love trees, a love that has, over time, grown to unreasonable proportions. I don’t know why I love them so much, and as much as I’ve thought about and tried to describe it, I cannot adequately sum up what it is about trees that can actually distract me from what’s going on around me. For me, it’s always been a question of not seeing “the forest for the trees.” Sure, a forest IS a lovely thing to behold, especially from a distance or a great height…all that lushness, that density that, depending upon the light, reflects every shade of green imaginable, is a formidable thing to see. But there is so much more to it than that, and it all has to do with what each and every single tree contributes to the bigger picture.

For, without trees, there’d be no forest. There’d be no great swatches of green across the landscape, no habitats for wildlife, no sanctuaries for the rest of us. And that cannot help but impart great value and importance to even the lowliest of seedlings that protrudes from a decaying acorn.

So yes, this book was indeed a “Labor of Love.” For I cannot stand beneath a single tree and not hear something it has to say, not feel the need to respond in the only way I can…through words…which are essentially the trees that, together, form the forest that is a piece of writing…


Leave a comment

What My Camera Sees



I love writing about nature, and I also love taking photos of all the beauty I see when I am out and about. Way back when I was still using a film camera, even that didn’t deter me. Almost every week, I was sending film out to some developing company and then waiting the few days for the fat envelope containing the prints to arrive. I was always breathless with excitement to see how my shots had turned out, which ones had, and which ones hadn’t. I was just starting out back then, and it would be some time before digital cameras came into vogue.

When they finally did and became affordable, I bought an inexpensive little instant-shot digital camera that opened the door to a whole new world to me. As I got better at composition, my photos improved. And to this day, I haven’t lost the thrill of uploading my photos onto my computer program and seeing what my camera saw. Sometimes I’m disappointed. But more often than not, I am pleasantly surprised and sit here going “Oh!” over and over again when particularly clear and breathtaking shots pop up before my very eyes.

Unlike with my old film camera where I was limited to how many photos I could take on one roll, digital camera cards are capable of storing hundreds of photos. So it’s possible to start shooting and never stop until I think I’ve got enough. I take several shots of the same subjects, and then spend time selecting the right ones. I’ve been doing this now for nearly a decade, and I never tire of it.

At some point along the way, I upgraded to a better camera equipped with a video function. Since then, I’ve shot dozen short videos of things I’ve seen in nature. Rather than just store them away in a file on my computer, I decided to open a YouTube account and display some there. Taking photos and now videos is like anything other hobby: it’s fun to share the results with others, which is what I hope to accomplish on my YT page and sometimes on my Facebook pages.

People thank me for doing it, and I can honestly say that it gives me great joy to put things out there for others to enjoy. I’ve heard from people who moved south and who appreciate seeing images of what they left behind in Maine and from others who have never been here and who enjoy seeing what, for me, is simply routine here.

From this, I’ve learned that there are more ways to get paid for what I do than merely with money. Through my photos and videos, I get paid in the joy of letting others see what I see, and it’s like they’re standing right here with me when I press the shutter button. And that is worth more than all the money in the world!

You can visit my YouTube page at this link:


Thanks for visiting! And please check back from time to time, as I try to add new material to the page as often as I can.





Even If the Light Should Fail

DSCF4689 (800x468)

While going through some storage tubs a few weeks ago, I once again came across the hard copies of all the newspaper articles I’d written during the last 10 years or so.  Each time one appeared in whatever newspaper I happened to be writing for, I removed the page it was on from the paper, folded it up, and added it to the pile. Over time, that resulted into quite a large stack that was not organized in any particular way. So I decided that it was time to do that.

The impetus for this grew when I acquired two new and unused scrapbook albums, which I realized would be perfect for this task, and so I started out. First, I spent several days going through each newspaper page and clipping each article out. In some instances, that was pretty easy, as the articles were all published in the same corner of a single page of the paper. It got a bit trickier with newspapers for which I wrote several articles some weeks, as many were divided among several pages, with some even appearing back-to-back! After organizing the clippings by year and date, I was ready to paste them into the albums. It didn’t take long before I realized that those two scrapbooks would not hold 10 years’ worth of work, so I commissioned a couple of spiral notebooks for the remainder of the task.

It took me nearly three weeks to complete this project, but I didn’t stop to consider its meaning until I was able to step away from it and consider it objectively. At no time during those 10 years did I ever appreciate the enormity of the body of work I’d created, both as a newspaper reporter and as a columnist. At no time did I ever notice how tall that stack of newspaper pages had grown; and not until I started clipping those articles out and pasting them into scrapbooks did it hit me how much of myself I’d invested in every single word I’d written.

Now that I am able to stand back and look at those albums, I can also appreciate what they represent: a chronicle of the time I spent doing all that writing, which, as any writer can attest to, involves so much more than simply putting words to paper or computer screen.

Before a single word ever begins its journey to wherever it will end up, it first does a little dance in the writer’s mind with a thought or an idea. Then sometimes, it takes a detour through the soul where it usually picks up small nuances of emotion before emerging as a heartfelt testimony. Even in the case of newswriting, where the author must remain objective, I have seen something of the writer if only in his or her style, how he or she strings the words together, or how he or she begins an account of whatever subject matter is at hand. No matter what type of writing it is, it bears the mark of the author, making each line produced unique in that no other writer would have handled the subject matter in exactly the same way.

Those four scrapbooks represent 10 years during which I spent a great deal of time living in the place where inspiration derives from. Yes, much of that work is also stored away somewhere on this computer or on a disk. But there is something so much more intimately meaningful in seeing it in tangible form, in allowing the newsprint to rub off onto my fingers, and announce its significance with a soft crackle as I open and close those albums.

For something of me is in them, between those pages, making its way even now along the narrow pathways that exist between each two lines or each two paragraphs. It touches each word gently as I go along, as though touching one of my children, saying to them “I thought you into being and dreamed you onto these pages, and so you shall live forever, even if the light should fail.”




Leave a comment

Fahrenheit 451: When Fiction Evolves Into Fact

IMG_3076 (640x596)

As has been the case with many books that weren’t required reading at the high school I went to during the 1960’s, I only recently familiarized myself with what is considered to be science fiction writer Ray Bradbury’s best all-time work: Fahrenheit 451. Considered a deeply disturbing book when it was first published in 1953, when I was just three years old, it is unarguably more so now for the simple fact that so much of what Bradbury only imagined then has come, or still is coming, to pass.

Set in a fictitious town that is not named in the book, the story centers around a man who works as a fire starter and whose job it is to burn any and all books he comes across. Categorized as science fiction, the short novel examines the possible outcomes for a society that considers books to be dangerous disseminators of knowledge. Early on, the man, called Guy Montag, gets the sense that there is something wrong with that picture, and his instincts are further confirmed when he meets a strange girl named Clarisse on his walk home from work one night. Unlike all the other people in his life, who are controlled by the government via wall-sized television sets and ear pods known as Seashells, the girl is in tune with nature and the world around her, and she inspires Montag to question his role as a burner of the very information that has set this girl apart from everyone else he knows.

Montag also connects at this point with another individual, an elderly man named Faber, who is still clandestinely managing to preserve knowledge through the use of electronic devices he works on in his secret lab. Together with Clarisse, Faber offers Montag hope that there is a way out of his dilemma, and he eventually enlists the old man’s help to plan how he is going to retaliate.

Mildred, Montag’s wife, on the other hand, is totally controlled by her hedonistic environment, as are all her friends and neighbors. More and more, Montag begins to feel like an outcast, and starts salvaging books from among those he is instructed to burn. He is further traumatized by helping to burn down a house whose owner, an elderly woman, chooses to die with her books; and he lives in fear of the eight-legged robotic dog, called the Mechanical Hound, that lives at the fire station and seeks out violators of the anti-book law. When the hound locates a law-breaker, it eliminates the person by injecting it with poison. And this is what Montag believes happened to Clarisse when he no longer comes across her on his nightly walks home.

After a day and night spent with Mildred feverishly reading some of the books he has hidden, Montag comes to the realization that it is the very knowledge in them that keeps people free. He tries to convince Mildred, but she is immovable and ends up turning him in to the authorities who are, in the book, represented by the fire chief and Montag’s boss, Captain Beatty. While Montag ponders his next move, he is commissioned to burn down his own house, and then turns on Beatty himself.

Now considered a criminal, Montag takes what few possessions he can carry and makes a run for it. His wanderings take him to a camp deep in the woods and miles away from his former home where he meets a group of like-minded exiles who have taken upon themselves the task of memorizing all of the world’s greatest literature before it is lost forever. Their mission is to hopefully influence succeeding generations of the value of preserved knowledge, and the book ends with the group walking away from the effects of a nuclear explosion that has wiped out another part of their former world.

That the book is prophetic is putting it mildly. Not long after its publication, Bradbury spoke of being out for a walk one night and being approached by a police officer and interrogated as to what he was doing out at that time. He also told the story of another time when he noticed a couple walk by him who were not talking to each other. The man was walking along lost in thought while the woman was listening to something through a set of ear pods. It was the first time Bradbury had ever seen them, and he was instantly taken aback by the fact that he had written about something he’d only imagined but that actually already existed.

In Montag’s world, the purpose of everyone’s existence was not to trouble themselves with matters best left to others to decide and to just have fun. Given the current world chaos of our time, one passage is disturbingly prophetic, and it is taken from a pronouncement made by Captain Beatty as he tried to explain to Montag why they had to burn all the books:

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none…Don’t give him any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

I wonder what Bradbury would be thinking right now as to society’s current way of “doing business.” News reports whose veracity is never certain and virtually no way to get at the truth, clouded as it is by rapid-fire updates, mired in pointless information, that come at us via all sorts of electronic devices that continue to widen the gap between us. Entire segments of the population who shoot from the hip politically speaking rather than take their time and weigh all the evidence, of which far too many who still believe that the important matters are best left to others to decide. If nothing else, this book should be required reading of all high school and college students, our “succeeding generations.”

If I am ever at a point where I feel the need to blame someone or something for the sad state of our world today, I will try to remember one of the most profound passages in the book, uttered by one of the book people Montag is moving on with:

“Come on now,” [he says], we’re going to go build a mirror factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look in them.”









Leave a comment

Nature’s Disarming Smile

For some reason, I never sleep well during a winter storm. That probably has its roots in the years I spent living alone in rural areas, where I had no choice but to deal with nature’s surprises all by myself. I toss and turn till it’s time to get up, and then I long for daylight so I can see what damage, if any, is out there. Even living here, where I shouldn’t have anything to worry about, I do. And I find myself still dealing, after all these years, with the same daunting tasks after a snowstorm as I did 10, 20, 30 years ago.
Thus this morning, I was up early to prepare myself for yet another stint of cleaning my car off for the purposes of moving it out of the way of the plows. Before I even tackled my own, however, a neighbor came over to inform me that the snowblower that keeps the walkways clear had once again buried her car under at least a foot of snow. I volunteered against her protests to help her out, and it didn’t take long for me to remove enough snow from behind her car to allow her to back it out and move it to clear area. After doing the same for my car, I came inside. But when I looked outside again, I noticed that another elderly neighbor was having all she could do to clear HER car off with a broom. So I headed over there to help her and ended up helping a few more neighbors in the process.
Needless to say, I was pretty stiff and sore after all that. I’m not young anymore myself, at least not according to my grandchildren, who think me ancient by their standards. I’ll be 67 in a few days and proud of the fact that I can still wield a snow shovel with the best of them. I’ve even joked that, in the time it takes the snow removal crew to talk about how to get the job done, I could have this whole place shoveled out. That might be a bit hyperbolic, but once I’m in the shovel-wielding mode, there is no stopping me.
After a cup of coffee and a hot shower, I sat in my room awhile looking outside. The sun was shining down on the trees out there, turning the snow on the ground between them and on their branches a pristine and blinding white. A squirrel ran across and up a tree, and crows cawed from the distance. Other birds, who’ve been singing their spring songs for some time now, were also hitting their best notes, and I even heard a raven’s deep throaty call from the distant woods.
There’s been a lot of moaning and groaning and gnashing of teeth lately where the weather is concerned. But for some reason, once my part in it is done and the world is once again accessible, I rest a lot easier and can even see the beauty in it. For which one of us by complaining can remove a single flake from the storm or alter the direction of a single wind gust? And if I’m not mistaken, spring has not let me down yet, arriving sometimes on cat’s feet and other time’s with a lion’s roar. Either way, it arrives, and will do so officially in just a few days now.
I will not be deterred. This, too, shall pass, and there WILL come a time when we’ll forget it ever happened, only to face another winter when it will, all over again and again and again…
Speaking purely personally, I don’t have a lifetime left to me to enjoy nature, her wiles and wickedness included. So I intend to continue to take  what some consider to be the bad with the good. Because in the end, no matter how naughty she’s been, nature is no more than a sweet child who has the ability to melt hearts with a single smile.

Leave a comment

Adopting Nature’s Pace


A friend of mine, Shawn Poland, who lives a couple of hours north of me in Maine’s western hills area, suggested I put together a video of my writing experiences, but I had no idea how to go about that. So when he offered to do the honors, I took him up on it, and below is the wonderful result of our remote collaboration.

While viewing the video is still difficult for me on some levels, I’m thrilled that, with Shawn’s talented technical help, I was able to commit to posterity a record of the years I spent living the woods, writing about nature, and taking those experiences with me to the present time. Viewing it takes me back to a happy time, and although I no longer live in either of those idyllic places, I can say that I’ve been there and done that. Now, I can revisit those experiences any time I want simply by clicking the Play arrow.

My hope is that others also take inspiration from those experiences, and, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose quote I rearranged for my own title, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”


My Kind of Protest



It didn’t take me long to realize that, if I tuned in to any of the major news networks yesterday, all I’d see was more footage of the Women’s March on Washington. Having grown up during the 1950’s and 1960’s, I saw coverage of similar events often on my parents’ little black-and-white TV set. Back then, people were protesting the Viet Nam war, segregation, or other issues that directly impacted their lives. But I was not able to put my finger on exactly why so many women thought they had to march on Washington and what they hoped to achieve. I still can’t.

Did they think that, if enough of them gathered together in various locales around the country, the new and much-hated president would be dethroned? His campaign rhetoric, shallow as it was at times, was touted as being one reason why women felt the need to protest. What were they hoping would change? And did it? Have the lives of all those women improved? Did they achieve what they set out to achieve in D.C., New York, Chicago, and Portland, Maine? And the question that is asked after all such events: what happens now?

During what little footage I watched, I saw lots of picketing signs being hoisted above the crowds, many of them bearing some pretty crude and mean-spirited slogans. The F-word and other expletives peppered many of them, and I had to truly wonder at the maturity of those who thought they were making a difference. If most of those protesters were there to rail against Donald Trump, then does it follow that their hatred also extends to all those who voted for him? That’s a scary thought, as it clearly indicates a country divided against itself, with half its population hating the other half for exercising what was clearly within their purview to do, which was to elect the candidate they deemed the most suitable. Thanks, but no thanks.

Even before this march, it was becoming less and less possible to have a decent civilized discourse with anyone and be able to walk away without having created an enmity or alienating someone. Less and less are Americans able to talk to each other without tempers flaring and walls being erected, and half the population places the blame for this solidly on one man who has no control over our individual actions whatsoever. If that’s not misguided and skewed logic, then I don’t know what is.

But aside from the current vitriol against that one individual, what were the other reasons for the march? I read somewhere weeks ago that it wasn’t an anti-Trump rally at all but built rather on many of the issues facing women and pretty much all of Americans today. I pondered this awhile and searched my soul to find a single motivating factor that might have compelled me to join that movement, and I came up empty-handed. And after running into another woman I know at the supermarket yesterday and hearing her take on it, I felt reassured that maybe I was on the right track in my own thinking.

“I don’t have any reason to march,” she said. “I have a comfortable life, and everything I need. And if I don’t, then it’s up to me to do something about it.” Now, this woman is not rich. Far from it. She is a neighbor of mine here at the senior community we both live in, and her situation is very similar to my own. So I was left to assess my life and see if there are any gaps that might have been filled by standing out in the cold and holding a sign decrying my current angst against whatever spectre might be overshadowing my life. And then it hit me: if something IS wrong in my life and I am at a loss as to who to blame, all I have to do is look in the mirror. And there staring back at me, replete with all its wrinkles, hanging flesh, and worry lines, will be the culprit’s face: mine. For I, like every other so-called rational adult in this country, am the sum and total of every decision I’ve made since I had the right to make them. The very idea of placing the onus of that truth on someone else’s shoulders is nothing short of ludicrous.

So please, someone, tell me what the point of all that was yesterday and what, if anything, was accomplished by it. The marches I remember from my youth all had specific goals in mind: stop a war or make sure that kids of all colors can go to the same schools. According to one co-founder of the recent march, its major goal was to bring to the forefront the ongoing struggle that is women’s lives. But what about life isn’t a struggle? And is that limited only to women? We struggle desperately to be born, we struggle as children when we first start school, we struggle to fit in, to find jobs, to make ends meet, to fill the oil barrel, to reach the finish line, to survive, and then in the end, we struggle against death. Struggle is endemic to the human experience, and not a single one of us, male or female, ever escapes it. Struggle is what shapes us, defines us, motivates us. Struggle is everything we must overcome each day to become better, stronger and wiser. For if we approach them maturely, it is overcoming those struggles that makes us stronger.

I struggle to get my taxes done on time, to open jars of pickles, to thread a needle, untangle Christmas lights, and to shovel the snow off my walk. I struggle emotionally when I’m waiting for the results of a medical test or when I think there is something wrong with my car that will cost me a small fortune to fix. Who should I blame for that, Trump? Congress? The Senate? The Pope? God? There IS no one to blame. It’s called life! And it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to get through it the best we can. Our Constitution assures us the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” Nowhere does it contain any wording to the effect that said happiness is guaranteed.

I happen to like the life I’ve created for myself. And I’d only be insulting my own intelligence were I to go out into the streets of any big city and rail against a force that it is entirely within my own power to control. I chose, rather, to stay home and to do those things that I hope will improve my life, make however many days I have left to me pleasant and productive.

I wonder what has changed…and was all that energy demonstrated yesterday sustainable? How might things have played out if all those hundreds of thousands of people who marched had turned instead away from that and, say, spent a couple of hours in a soup kitchen or a food pantry, visited some old lonely people in a nursing home who never get any company, volunteered at a shelter to spend time with abused and neglected animals, or read a story out loud to kids at the local library? Wouldn’t any of those also qualify as trying to ameliorate the struggle each and every one of us must deal with on a daily basis?

Imagine if all that people power had been redirected…and the innumerable acts of kindness that might have resulted from that. The only way to fight a perceived evil is by throwing lots and lots of love and compassion at it. And that is not what I got from what little I saw of that march. I saw, rather, lots of anger, rage, hatred, and ugliness, all antitheses to love. So I stayed home and wrote a small check to my local food pantry. It’s winter, and the struggle some people, many of them children, face to eat is real, as is the struggle to keep enough food on the shelves for them. There’s that word again: struggle.

I have no doubt whatsoever that my gesture, as small as it was, will indeed help reduce that struggle a little for at least one person. Now that’s the kind of protest I can relate to, the quiet unnoticed kind that produces results.