My column in the Aiken Standard today.



I saw  him again this evening in the back, probably the third or fourth time, always in the very early morning or just as dusk is coming.

I have floaters, so sometimes I see little black flits and flicks out of the corner of my eye, very annoying, very ubiquitous and persistent, but no, this was really him.

He darted down at a forty five degree angle from my right, then did a figure eight turn of sorts and went back from whence he came,  coming to rest on a branch blocked by another branch. I knew he was there. I couldn’t see him yet, but I knew he was there. It’s always amazing that the little guys rest at all, but rest they do. I waited.

Not a minute later he did another diagonal dive bombing run towards the single feeder to the left of the patio, which appears to be his favorite. There’s another one, fancier, with more flowery enticements all around, but no, the single one by the fence is just fine, thank you very much. He hovered, darted, hovered, darted, then landed on the red plastic lip of the feeder, looking left, then right, then left, then right, then quickly diving into the receptacle looking for the sweet, clear nectar there. In, out, in, in, in, and out again.

Satisfied, he lifted off seconds later, ruby throat and iridescent green body a magnificent tiny work of art. “God’s palette”, as one of my old high school friends would probably call the colors there. So tiny. So beautiful. Such a wondrous flying miracle of life.

He darted back to his previous perch to the right, behind the shelter of the covering branch, sat, waited, waited, then launched again. This time, he flew in a straight line across my field of vision, then seemingly stopped, a dead stop, in mid air. Not hovering, wings beating, looking from side to side, but stopped cold.

He had landed on the tiniest branch with the tiniest bare tip I have ever seen. I don’t know how he saw it or knew it was there, much less how he decided that he could go from sixty to zero, grab this tiny piece of dry, bare wood, and land on it. He did this once, twice, three times in between drinks from the nectar well.

I’m not sure why this affected me so profoundly today, but it did.

Seeing this tiny, colorful creature, in all his efficiency and speed and beauty, was profoundly moving in and of itself. To see one of these miniature birds in the wild, happily going about their business of flying and drinking and exploring and resting is something that makes you just stop and watch. It makes you happy.

Seeing him stop, on a dime, on a tiny branch that appeared to not be substantial enough to hold even his minuscule weight, and trust that he would not fall, that he could land there, made me pause. How did he know? How could he trust? What made him so sure that he would be safe there?

We go through our lives making plans, putting up fences and doors and locking things up and insuring things against loss and questioning everything and everybody. We are skeptical. We are cautious. We are…afraid.

Do you have something, someone, some belief in your life that is the tiny branch that you know without a shadow of a doubt will always hold you up? One that will always be there, that will never give way.? Do you trust that branch to be there for you, suspended in the middle of space, almost invisible to everyone else, but rock solid for you?

Nature teaches us so much, if we will only stop, look, listen, and learn. Some things are very, very difficult to understand, but not at all hard to do.

Who will you trust tomorrow?

Who will be there without fail when you find yourself suspended in midair and desperately needing a place to land?

Where will you alight?

Past and Future Tense

The Aiken county, South Carolina, motto is “Remembering the Past, Preparing for the Future.”

If you’ve read my blog very long at all, you know how much I love history. Through various stages and at various ages I have immersed myself (like a lot of American youngsters, I suppose) in reading everything I could get my hands on about the Vietnam War, the Second World War, and the Civil War, as well as the founding of the country another historical subjects. Oh, to be sure, I also was infatuated with dinosaurs, cars and electricity for a while, but I always did (and do) come back to history when I want to read about something that really interests me.

What is the allure of the past for us?

Is it thinking about the good old days, held forever in our minds like old sepia photographs of unsmiling relatives standing in front of wooden shacks, hats on their heads and straw between their teeth? Is it putting those relatives on pedestals, reveling in the stories of their five mile treks to school in the driven snow, barefoot, uphill? Is it idealization of times that we somehow think were simpler, more fun, happier?

Do we, maybe, worry that things will never be that good again, never could be that good again?

You know, thinking about the past is not all a bed of roses. It involves reliving losses, sometimes very painful early, traumatic, untimely, horrific, sad losses. We have all lost people, places and things that we have loved with unbridled passion. We have vivid memories of those people, places and things. These memories, especially as involves their loss, may be at once bright and happy and dismal and depressing.

We think fondly about the past, even long for it, pine for it. Some of us even go looking for it, really looking, trying to resurrect it. That is usually no more successful than resurrecting the body of a loved one long gone and buried in the churchyard of our youth. They live on in our minds, but they will never live on earth again.

We can learn from the past, surely we hope we can, but we cannot and should not obsess over it, replay it, rethink it, reengineer it. We cannot change it. We cannot and we should not. Like the Stephen King novel 11/22/63, if we decide to go back in time to change things, we may bite off more than we can chew and bring on consequences that are not foreseen. The past does not like to be changed and will sometimes fight actively against those who try to do so.

We cannot of course, completely see or predict the future either.

Both sides of this coin feel just as slippery to me as I finger it in my pocket, turning it over and over in my hand, between my thumb and fingers, trying to decide which side I’m actually feeling at any one time.

I’m thinking about all this more right now, of course because of several things.

I will have my sixtieth birthday in October. That doesn’t bother me at all, but it is a milestone and it does give one pause to reflect on six decades on the planet and what that means.

My fifth grandchild, a little girl, will be born in December of this year. She will be the first native born Coloradan in our family.

We have an administration running our country who seem to be obsessed with throwbacks, with going back to a largely manufacturing economy, resurrecting the coal industry, isolating us from the rest of the world, and launching big ships and subs, really big ones.

The facts?

I will have no more birthdays that begin with a three, four, or five. I can only go forward, God willing, to those that begin with six, seven, eight, and if I’m lucky, nine.

My granddaughter will come into a world that is once again struggling to define itself and its relationships. Will she be isolated in the American west against the majesty of the Rockies, or will she be hyperconnected with friends and work associates around the globe?

America cannot go backwards. We cannot provide enough jobs reviving archaic technologies and fuels. We cannot ignore science, technology that can be used to hurt us, or the friends who want to stand with us, not be rebuffed by us.

One of the most technically advanced, forward thinking cybersecurity facilities in the country is being built right now just a few miles down the hill from my home, on the Savannah River. My town remembers the past and all that it can teach us, but it is also moving forward to meet the challenges, threats and opportunities of the fast approaching future.

For the sake of my grandchildren, and all others, we must logically and reasonably anticipate the future, shape it, plan for it, structure it based on hard facts, and create a bright outcome for all of us.

The past calls for remembrance, but the future calls for action.



Precious Tableau

Four elderly women sit stiffly around a makeshift card table. An automatic battery operated card shuffler hums as it sorts multiple decks. The latest hand is completed and it’s time for a break. 

Bruce Springsteen sings overhead. 

One octogenarian, kyphotic, wearing glasses tethered by a gold chain, gold hoop earrings dangling, shuffles slowly toward the coffee bar. She comes back with an iced coffee and a cookie as big as her hand. 

One is checking her messages on her iPhone. The dings and dongs and pings are familiar to any pre-teen. 

One is “rushing” to a bathroom break behind a festooned aluminum walker, multi-flowered purse dangling. I think she’ll make it. She does. 

The fourth, the youngest of the group, stays behind just long enough to deal the next hand, update the scoring notebook, and organize the drawing and discard piles in their clear plastic holder at the center of the table. 

They chatter about grandchildren, the latest meal out at the restaurant down the sidewalk. The eat, they drink. They talk. They cough and hack. They sit silently, obviously enjoying each other’s company. 

They’ll return to the card table shortly to play the next hand. 

Gary Wright sings “My Love is Alive”. 

The world spins on, just as it should.