Saturday, September 30, 2006


Friday, September 29, 2006

Small World Department

Lake Erie is the eleventh largest lake in the world (by surface area), and the fourth largest of the Great Lakes in surface area and the smallest by volume. This spot on the Lake is 2500 miles from San Diego and eight time zones from Lake Ladoga in Russia, the largest lake in Europe and the fifteenth largest in the world. On this next-to-last day of September I have an especially strong sense of the smallness of our planet. In this month I have flown from San Diego to St. Petersburg, sailed across Lake Ladoga and Lake Oniega and down the Volga River to Moscow, flown back to San Diego, and finally have driven from San Diego to Lake Erie near Cleveland. What a wonderful world!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Aunt Carolyn On My Mind

In April they sprout out of cold, dry branches
and flourish greenly for five months;
then it’s over, finished, end of the line, kaput.

Shy, fresh, verdant green of spring
assumes eternal, never-ending everything,
but of course it couldn’t, shouldn’t last.

Autumn is after all a very good time
for swan song, a final shout, outrageous
color flashed against cool blue sky.

A visit with Bob and Lee Ann Duver in Lawrence, Kansas, was the highlight of a long drive from Pratt, Kansas, to St. Louis, Missouri. Molly obviously agreed that the situation in Washington (and in Iraq) grows more appalling every day. The crisis of leadership becomes more acute with each press conference. What's to be done?

The sky here is outrageously oversized making everything seem smaller than it is. The house, the windmill, the animals...barely noticed, seem insignificant.

Monday, September 25, 2006

American Southwest

San Diego has its ocean and the great desert region spreading across Arizona and New Mexico has the sky. Clouds that would be ordinary anywhere else become dramatic in the great expanse of blue sky above a landscape of cacti and sagebrush and lunar rock formations. The late afternoon sun turns a special light on in the stone cliffs alongside Highway Forty.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”
Graham Greene in The Power and the Glory

I love doors; always have. I like plain doors as much as ornate ones. Every door that I have never been through is a mystery, like the red door on University Avenue in San Diego. It’s unlikely that I shall ever go through this door, but I will never pass it by without wondering what’s on the other side. I like windows, too, but they seem to me to be for looking out onto the world from inside. There is less mystery to windows. They don’t say, “People are coming and going here.” A door is a statement about possibilities.

Although his work is crafted masterfully, Graham Greene has not commanded my attention as much as some other writers have done; but few statements from world literature have stuck in my brain as tightly as this one from his best known novel. When I was working as head of school, I tried to persuade every person who worked in a school to believe what Greene was saying is true, and that we should never let down our guard because we never know on which day that decisive moment will come for a child in our care. People who care for children, and we all are responsible to some extent, should never go into a day thinking it will be ordinary and unimportant.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Meeting in Space

It happens not often,
and some people may never
in a lifetime of comings and goings
know the mystery and thrill of it,

a clear, simple, direct look
between two strangers,
a chance meeting in space,
nothing physical, no touching,

no residue or evidence,
no record of any kind.

From the window of a city bus
I glanced at the construction site
at the exact same instance
a man with a huge moustache

looked up from his work
and met my eyes.

Friday, September 22, 2006

On my early morning bicycle ride I found fresh graffiti on a bridge pylon under the freeway in Mission Valley. Is it possible that Hermann Rorschach is alive and well and is checking my personality characteristics and emotional functioning with his famous test? Or perhaps it’s just that today’s date is close enough to the first Tuesday in November for me to begin seeing confused elephants all over the place.

Television advertising by both major political parties has begun already with unprecedented ferocity. Republicans are spending millions of dollars to scare us to death, and Democrats are spending millions to tell us that Republicans are trying to scare us to death. Neither group seems to be seeking moral high ground, so we’ll probably see meaner and meaner misleading ads from both sides until the day of the election.

Will we ever see a day when good people, candidates of integrity, speak to us honestly about what should be done and what they will do if they are elected? For now, however, actors are hired to pretend in front of cameras to be experts who tell us exactly how we can get relief. Ads for hemorrhoid remedies are obviously held to a higher standard of verifiable truth than the law requires of paid promotions of political candidates. It's harder to get rid of a pain in the ass in high office than it is to get relief from a case of piles.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I am returning to my old routine of daily writing and posting on my BLOG after getting my breath back from a great trip to Russia. We were breathless not from all the traveling but from trying to take in all that is happening in the new Russia. At the beginning of our trip with friends Bill and Ruth DeRisi, Margaret and I spent five very busy days in St. Petersburg, a place which always reminds me that the human spirit, as Faulkner was fond of saying, is indomitable. I kept remembering his words from the Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

“I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things...”

The inexhaustible people of St. Petersburg and indeed of all of Russia have gone through hell and have come back again and again determined to prevail. I am in awe of them. The canon of Russian literature includes the work of writers who have confirmed for at least three centuries that Faulkner was right; and Russians, much more than Americans have done, have erected monuments to their poets and writers acknowledging that literature reveals and preserves the soul of a nation. Russian composers have written an extraordinary sound track for all that literature; artists and choreographers have provided the movements and backdrops; ordinary people have been the heroes. Many monuments to Soviet politicians have been removed, but not one statue of a Russian writer, composer, or artist has been removed since 1991. Gorky Street in Moscow has been changed back to its old name, Tverskaya Ulitsa; but Gorky Park remains.






After St. Petersburg we spent a week getting down to Moscow on a riverboat. While Russian landscapes are wonderful, the people are the most remarkable treasure of that country. I know only a little Russian so I can’t engage in philosophical discussions in that language, but I know enough to hear in Russian voices unmistakable dismay that our American democracy is being threatened by poor leadership. They know about poor leadership.


President Vladmir Putin owns a home at Mandrogi, a new village not far from St. Petersburg. This new village has been developed since 1996 and has become a favorite vacation spot for Russian families. Artists and craftspeople have come from all over Russia to live and work there.
Most Russians, including young people, love their country's traditional customs, arts and crafts, and costumes; but they are also drawn to high fashion and contemporary Western music and arts. Young people working on the ship may prefer Levis or stilleto heels when they're out on the town in Moscow or St. Petersburg, but they look terrific in traditional Russian dress. Unfortunately, many young men and women are smoking because they say it is fashionable to do so.

SIDEWALK DRAWING IN PETROZAVODSK: Click on this one to see it larger and you'll see what I imagine to be a little Russian girl's dreams. Of course, when she is grown up she will have red hair.


Tranfiguration Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built without the use of nails in 1714. People on the island say the church was built by one man using only an ax for a tool. Although it is almost certainly not true, the story has become a popular legend. Regardless of the number of original workmen, the buildings in the little cluster are beautifully exotic. The shingles, made of aspen wood, seem to change color as light changes throughout the day.

SIXTEENTH AND SEVENTEENTH CENTURY MONASTERIES AND CONVENTS have been returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. During the Soviet period most of those in the country were used as warehouses. In the cities most churches were either destroyed or used as warehouses. A few of the most beatiful were used as museums.


WE HAD THE GOOD FORTUNE on this trip to become acquainted with several wonderful fellow-travelers. Lee Ann and Bob Duver live in Lawrence, Kansas. Alex and Grace Dong live in Hillsboro, California.

The landmarks of Moscow are easily recognized all over the world. With Lenin's mausoleum and the Kremlin on one side and GUM department store (now a modern shopping mall) on the other, and with the State Historical Museum and St. Basil's Cathedral on opposite ends, Red Square is the famous center piece of the city.



TOWERS AND SPIRES surround Red Square and church steeples and domes cluster together in the Kremlin. Of course, the Red star still shines and the occasional hammer and sickle clings to a wall; but people are obviously glad to have the Orthodox cross back everywhere in Russia.

The church on the right is a new one in Red Square, an exact replica of the one blown up by the Soviets in 1932. The worst damage done to Russia during those bad times was done to people. In the unjust war my country is now waging in Iraq, the worst damage is not the destruction of places but the inexcusable deaths and scarring of many thousands of innocent people. As a citizen of the world, I am outraged. As an American, I am embarrassed and ashamed. It sometimes take awhile, but history eventually recognizes and acknowledges such crimes and the criminals who commit them.


Perhaps the highlight of the trip for me was reunion with friends from Smolensk. Anton and his friend Marina and Anton's Mother Yelena came on the midnight train from Smolensk to be with us in Moscow.

Monday, September 04, 2006


Oh, say can you see
the homeless mother and her twin daughters
by the dawn’s early light,
trudging through the park toward the rescue mission
what so proudly we hailed
to stand in line for a supper of soup and bread
at the twilight’s last gleaming?
or going back to park where they hid their bedrolls
whose broad stripes and bright stars,
to huddle together under the pepper tree
through the perilous fight.
and hope for safe keeping through the night
O’er the ramparts we watched,
to rise to a new day and old dreams
were so gallantly streaming?
and going to school where other children come from houses
And the rockets’ red glare,
the teacher not knowing what to make of them
the bombs bursting in air,
and there not being anywhere else to go
gave proof thro’ the night
or anything else to do
that our flag was still there.
but go again at the end of the day to a free food kitchen
Oh, say does that star spangled banner yet wave,
before going back to the park for another night
O’er the land of the free
to get up again in the morning to empty hope.
and the home of the brave.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


It’s easy to see why this amazing vine, in some places called maracuja, is know in the U.S. as “passion flower.” It is sometimes used as a sedative. In spite of its intricate design and suggestive name, the flower probably subdues passion rather than promotes it when it is dried and used to make tea. Health food stores sell passion fruit in 200 milligram tablets.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


E.E. Cummings dashed off a ridiculous little poem once which begins, “the way to hump a cow...” Because that subject has been covered sufficiently, I’ll move on to one that is, I trust, more common to the experience of all people who live long enough: retirement.


the way to retire from work is not
to get yourself a chair
but mark some distant spot
and say “that’s where

I want to go and do and think
about things I’ve never done...”
stop with a friend for a drink...
insist on being the one

who can do it
still in spite of pain
or cracks in the cockpit
that let in rain...

don’t be the co-pilot
if it's not what you want...
never mind you’re uncut
for some enterprise tricky

steer any ship you take
in stormy weather or calm...
and when you make a mistake
grin broadly and make up a psalm...

and pretend to forget
why you went that way...
then head for Tibet
or maybe Bombay

spend some time in the sack
don’t lose your desire
and never look back
is how to retire.

Friday, September 01, 2006


Today a mourning dove was waiting for me when I came outside. Like the hummingbird of a couple of weeks ago, he looked directly at me; but unlike the smaller bird, this one seemed to know he was on my territory. He waited while I went back inside to get my camera, and he tolerated my setting up to get the photograph. I got within four feet of him for the picture session. At first he faced me, and then as if on cue, he turned sideways as if to invite me to photograph his side and back feathers. I have often heard the low-toned, moaning “cooah, coo, coo, coo” of these birds, but I had never come close enough to get a good portrait. I didn't realize they had such big, wonderful eyes.

From several sources on the WEB I learned that mourning doves mate for life and have a very long nesting season each year, raising as many as six broods in a single season. Both parents secrete “pigeon milk” in the crop which they feed their chicks for three or four days after they hatch. After that both parents forage for seeds which they bring to the nest. They are said to travel as far as a thousand miles in their migration. My guess is the ones we have here stay in San Diego year-round. I’ll try to remember this year to listen for their call in January and February.

After a few minutes of staring at me, the dove flew up to a high limb of the eucalyptus tree behind the house. It was clear that he was still watching me from the tree. I think we made contact. Now we know each other.