“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” William Jennings Bryan

Saturday, October 3, 2015

October 3, 2015

A few weeks ago I released my first book, The Sky, the Stable, and Spaces in Between. It is a collection of poetry and haiku that I had written over the years and was just collecting static on my computer, combined with samplings of my photography to provide a visual background to some of the pieces.

I had been told more than a few times that at I should put together a book – either from my blog and /or from other writings, or to put together a book of my photography. I pretty much shrugged these suggestions off. A few pieces that I had written over the years had been published, and a photo had won a contest, but I really didn’t feel that my talent was worth a book.

I was proud that my poem “No More Trenches” had been published in the Quaker monthly, “Friends Journal”, and then included in the book Answering Terror – Responses to War and Peace after 9/11/01. I can still remember where I was when the lines of that poem came to me – while passing rows of corn growing in a field outside State College, along a dirt road where I used to run, and in meeting.

I was happy that the photo of my horse Louie had won first place in the local hospital’s photo contest for the animal category and will forever be displayed there on a wall. I took that pic thinking nothing of it with my simple point and shoot. Last I knew the photo was up on the third floor along a seldom used corridor.

And my blog; well that was and still is an outlet where I can throw my thoughts out there to whomever wants to take the time to read them – with the blog I can let out whatever is scratching at my door.

But two years ago, on a cold January afternoon while I was in the stable cleaning stalls, I asked myself, “why not put together a book of things I have created?” And that’s when I began putting it together; pieces I had written and photos I had taken through the years. Sinking deeper into a creative mood, I gathered up spilled words and envisioned new scenes to join together, and created new material to include.

The book took me over one year to compile- adding and deleting, choosing and writing, and at times, setting it aside for a time and then beginning it all over again. The best part during this time was that it was never finished- it was always a blank page away from being finished- an idea that hadn’t lost its wings. The “idea” challenged whatever was inside of me to come out.  It allowed me to let go, and in some cases, let go of times that weighed on me, such as “When Elvis Died”, which is a story/poem of discrimination that was an experience that had always bothered me. Whether the poem was structurally correct really didn’t matter to me. What mattered to me was that it needed to exist outside of myself. And that is also the case for most of what else I wrote. Moments I needed to give up through sharing. I didn’t want to try to show off vocabulary or technique or an intimidating style – I just wanted to let go.

And that is what I did – I let go of a lot that I had been hiding, a lot that “wasn’t good enough”, a lot that was too much for me to carry, and a lot that I had hoped would stir a up a new image and/or cause an emotion in someone.

The book can be purchased either on Create Space or Amazon.com, or from me. No matter how it is purchased, one can leave a review on Amazon.

I hope you will like it!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

August 30, 2015

DSLD (degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis) is a terrible disease- genetic, still not understood, and incurable. Research is limited to a few universities, and a few dedicated veterinarians who are trying and experimenting with mostly natural methods, as the usual medications simply hide the symptoms for the short term and are of no long term help. Some researchers and veterinarians believe medications add stress to other organs as they are metabolized, and hurry the disease along.

There is not a lot that we can do but to keep trying. Pat is fed a highly nutritional, mineral and vitamin rich diet, supplemented with a natural anti inflammatory, iodized salt to support his thyroid function, and a stomach buffer to keep his gut and digestion in check. On the outside we treat his dropping fetlocks with ice packs, herbal rubs, and cold hosing. The farrier trims his hooves every three weeks in a fashion to reduce the stress on his ligaments, and the vet comes every few weeks to give him chiropractic sessions to keep his skeletal system aligned and his nervous system healthy. We cannot ride him, so he gets free turnout for exercise – the last thing we want to do is to stall him, which would put more pressure on his ligaments, let alone cause depression (yes, horses get depressed).

We could have just “put him down” and moved on, but its not who we are. We committed to battle this until Pat no longer can “be a horse”, and / or becomes too uncomfortable to be happy. So far, it’s been mostly good news, yet lately, our concerns have increased.

After the diagnosis and the experimental treatments began, Pat showed resilience and improvement – galloping and trotting and playing - although it wasn’t every day, but often enough to think he was making a comeback. But throughout the summer, that has diminished and stopped. We think that maybe the act of stomping flies, the hot weather, and less exercise due to both these conditions has aggravated the inflammation, but no one knows for sure. Although he wanders out to the pasture easily, he has stopped playing, and he seems to be giving up his authority over Zip and Lou. He no longer nips Zips in the flank to show who’s boss, or bothers much with beta Lou, whom he tormented with just a stare and taking a few steps towards him. Pat is still very much a horse, but he has definitely slowed down. We are hoping that when the milder weather returns, he will become more active. We don’t know – no one knows – that is the crux of this disease. It may not be the weather at all. He may have reached his plateau and this may be a sign that the day we never want to face is coming nearer. Time will tell. We’ll know better when the weather changes.

It is hard. Besides him being part of our family, Kath and I spent years training and de-spooking him under saddle to be a confident trail horse, and our love, bond, and mutual trust became strong and unbreakable. We continue to hope and keep trying, and so does Pat. We are all doing the best that we can.  He’s a fighter. No one is giving up.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Saturday, May 30, 2015

May 30, 2014

I am not sure what a good memory is supposed to be.

My father passed away recently and friends have said to me that though he’s gone now, I will always have good memories.

I remember a lot of things about my dad. He wasn’t the dad like the ones I saw on tv that always had advice and nice clothes and a big car with tail fins who, in any situation, seemed to always end up on the right side of things, carrying everyone along with him. No, my dad had his faults. Sometimes those faults were the best part of him. Struggling at times just like everyone else, he was human. I think that, although maybe not a memory per se, it describes how I remember him.

He was like a cup- he never leaked, but he could be spilled…

He was human.

He did a lot of things most dads do with his kids…he went to work early and came home late from a job he sometimes didn’t like, put up a basketball hoop for us, gave us chores, yelled at us, took us to see the Pirates every summer, saved enough money to take us to Virginia Beach for a string of summers, made us mow the lawn, had us get jobs as teenagers, taught us to drive a car with a clutch, bought each of us a bicycle or two, chipped in to pay for some of our college, never told anyone of us that he wished we’d  become dentist’s or doctors or rocket scientists but let us mostly  figure out what we’d become by ourselves even if he wasn’t too sure of the path we chose, threw a baseball to us, and was strict with some things while giving in to other things. In general, he was just another dad blended in with all the other dads of the world doing the best he could with who he was and who we were.

Oh, he had a few sayings we’d always remember…”What are you, stupid?” sure we were, what kid isn’t at times. “Get your butts down here”, meaning come out of your rooms and down the stairs where he was waiting to either lecture us or give us good news – we could never tell until he began to speak. “Christ on a crutch”, whatever that meant I never quite figured out (ok, he wasn’t a church goer). And the ultimate ultimatum,” Go out side and play”, which in other words, was a way to say “get out of my hair”, I need a break.

And we always had enough freedom, but there were limits too. We could always use the car but it had better be in the driveway at 11:00 pm, filled with gas, and not smell like beer (although it sometimes did and he let it go)… "Sure, go out with your friends and have fun, as long as the lawn is mowed, front and back"…"you can play baseball in the front yard and tear it up as much as you want, but you better not hit the house with the ball or I’ll…."

My dad was a regular dad.

In three weeks I can’t think of every thing that we shared, good and/or bad, over the last 57 years. It’s going to take some time, and some things will stay forgotten I am sure. A lot happens in 57 years. And some things that I have forgotten, my mom or one of my brothers or my sister will remember, so collectively, most memories can be joined together for a more complete story. Those memories may not all be in one place, but they are all there.

Last night I was thinking about my dad…I was at a small concert featuring an oldie but goodie – Leon Russell. Not anyone I had paid attention to back in the day, nor do I now, but it was a night out and so my wife and I and two friends went to the theater and saw his show. He’s 74 now, and hobbled out with help of his cane from stage right and sat at his piano where he suddenly became a twenty-something again. Maybe it was the memories of the songs from my growing up years that he played, or maybe it was just because this was the first few hours I had to myself since that last hospice day in Dubois, and under the cover of rock and roll piano, I was able to be alone enough to wander aimlessly in my head. Through every song, I thought of my dad.

What I kept thinking about was one thing –Saturday and Sunday mornings as a young kid. Every Saturday morning he would pile us boys in the station wagon and haul us down “the pike” either to the YMCA or to Kennedy’s barbershop. One week it was the “Y”, and the next week it was Kennedy’s. Medicine ball one week and a hair cut the next – the “Princeton” style. At Kennedy’s someone would go next door to the Villa restaurant and get us Shirley Temples for a reason that I don’t know, but it was a tradition nonetheless. Then every Sunday morning, he would make us kids pancakes while mom slept in. He’d make them from scratch and if he was in the mood, he’d make animal pancakes. He’d ask what animal we wanted and he’d pour the mix here and there for a body, a leg, a tail, and a head. Between his imagination and ours, the pancake would come out to be the animal of our choice. Over time, animal pancakes became his trademark - to us, our cousins, his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren.

But it really isn’t the medicine ball, haircuts, or pancakes that I was focusing on last night. It was the fact that these were the times that he saved each week to spend time with us kids. He gave us time. He gave us his time. Time that he will never be able to give to us again. And time I will never be able to give back.

What is that good memory I keep asking myself…what is that defining, cover every base memory that I am supposed to have? When we talked about my dad’s passing the other day, my doctor said I don’t have to have one. I quit trying for that special one. It’s better this way, because one thing can never define my dad. There are too many things.

As time goes on, I am sure I will remember many, many more of these things.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

March 14, 2015

(Began to write this on March 8, then continued through the week, mostly unedited)

Today marks daylight savings time and it is barely two weeks until the first day of spring – the spring equinox, when the earth is basically straight towards the sun and the time of day and night are approximately the same. From then on the days will grow longer until the “first day of summer” or the summer solstice, when the earth is tilted as far forward as it will, and then the days begin to shorten as it leans back away from the sun. We are told hat daylight savings time gives us an extra hour of daylight. Daylight savings time has nothing to do with the length of the day, although it might seem that way due to the shift in hours. DST only gives us a sense of control. All for nothing.

With the coming of spring come a lot of thoughts.

This has been a tough winter season with record cold temperatures and the continuance of higher that average precipitation. The ground began to get saturated back in November and is still waterlogged. With the coming of spring and warmer temperatures, the trees and grasses and other plants will begin taking up this extra moisture, and along with evaporation, the soils will become workable again. For that we still need to endure what is historically a rainy March.

The cold wasn’t a big deal, at least for me. It does make taking care of the animals and  doing other outside responsibilities more challenging at times, but it doesn’t really change much. Banging ice out of buckets is the biggest challenge, and the animals do require more feed and hay to keep warm. Its just more trips to the pens and barns, but it’s also an excuse to spend more time with the animals!

The worst that happened this winter was Pat’s diagnosis of DSLD – degenerative suspensory ligament disease. I described it in the last post so I don’t need to go into details again, except to say that so far all the  treatments, hoof trimming, and extra care has proven successful. Pat is moving considerably well and he doesn’t seem in pain. He spends most of the day on his feet, rather than laying down. Through January, he had to lie down for an hour for each hour he was up, but now he only lies down occasionally which is more  normal. Some days are not as good as others, but these “off” days are not as often. With growing improvement and stability, our hopes are growing that he will be pasture sound and enjoy quality of life for a long time to come.

For a time, I thought my three hives would survive the winter, yet it didn’t quite work out that way. One hive died off early in January before things got harsh – I think the bees just left at the last minute. The hive was full of bees and honey stores in late December. When I took apart the dead hive, the honey was all there but there were only a few hundred dead bees. I have no clue what happened to the thousands that were there weeks before it collapsed. Something made them leave.

The other hive I lost was very recently. It was a weaker hive and I didn’t think it had a chance to get through the winter in the first place, but since it was still going in mid February, my hopes were high that it could. A week after checking on it and feeling pretty confident, I found it dead. I think when we had a warm day that week, the ball disbanded and the bees spread through the hive. We then got an arctic blast and the bees, separated, didn’t get back into a cluster in time to keep themselves warm, so froze. I think this because of the weather, and when I cleaned out the dead hive, dead bees were on every frame, scattered randomly, rather than in a cluster.

I have one hive left…and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will get through the next few weeks. I checked it today and it looked ok, but I have learned that appearances don’t always translate well, especially with honey bees.

Lately I have been seeing bald eagles over the farm and gliding to the north over the Tuckahoe River. They have been too far away or circling too high for my lens to get a good shot, but there is no mistaking the wing silhouette and the flash of white head and tail. Last year the state confirmed a nesting site a mile from here and maybe the two great birds that I am seeing almost daily is that breeding pair.

There has also been a Coopers Hawk hunting along the wood lines along the farm borders for the past few months. The other day I was lucky enough to see the hawk waiting on a low branch for a mouse to pass underneath, and then rocket downward, talons stretched, to take it. The hawk took a few seconds to clutch it tightly and then took off to a tall red pine further back in the wood lot to eat. There have also been red tails and sharp shinned hawks around, but as of yet I have only seen them passing over, but not stopping by to hunt here.

I think that this coming weekend I will begin planting cool weather crops in the hoop house – arugula, radishes, lettuces, and maybe some early kale. For me, putting my hands in the soil for the first time in the new year is the first sign of the coming spring and the solstice...dst really means nothing to me.