Welcome to The Front Porch

Okay, dinner's over. The little ones are already at play in the yard. Lizzy, the devoted 'tween, is engaged in a lively game of giggle tag with the two toddlers. Braydon, while re-fitting the muffler to his dirt bike over at the side yard, is also busy pretending not to care. Grandpa has settled into his favorite lounge chair and lit his pipe. The twins are still at the dishes, noisily whispering about the recently discovered lump on Aunt Mary's left shoulder. Cool air brushes in off the nearby lake and shooes away the heat as well as the mosquitoes. The sun is heading for bed, and the long day rounds the bend towards home. There's just enough time left for a little light conversation and some good old-fashioned fellowship. So grab a seat here on the steps, or there by the old oak, and join in the discussion. Say your piece, or just while away the time listening to the chirping of the creatures hidden all about. Either way, we're here to entertain, enlighten, and encourage each other. And by the way, thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Scarred Heart

The climax to the weekend's “Why We Write” seminar was the writer's book signing and reading here in the campus theater. As the orchestra lights were dimmed an intellectual murmur in the theater slowly settled with the dust. The stage drapes were drawn, and the writer sat easily in the lone desk chair at center stage. A small lamp table with a water glass, a pair of reading glasses, and a book, stood by his side. The spot light in the writer's eyes prevented any reciprocation with the audience, so he simply gave welcoming glances in the general direction of shuffling feet and fidgeting seats. Soon enough all background sounds faded into ambiance and the writer picked up his book and glasses. 

"Good evening, and thank you all for staying around for tonight's reading,” he started. “It's always a pleasure to share a few minutes with other wordsmiths. What I'd like to do is read a little from Ghosts in the Courthouse. There are a couple of selections here in the last chapter, without giving anything away, that I thought...." And then halting, he took a sip of water, caught his breath, and placed the book back on the table. “You know,” the speaker continued, “I write about ghosts in my novels, but what are ghosts really but scars on the heart that we project onto our mental landscapes?” The writer then rolled up the sleeve on his right arm and displayed a ghastly scar circling his lumberjack forearm. "Take this scar, for instance. Now, it's an actual scar, but the events behind it haunt me to this day.” Again pausing, as he rolled his sleeve back over the tortured flesh, the writer then pronounced: “With your indulgence, friends, I'd rather share a personal story with you tonight instead. I think it might just stimulate some fruitful discussions.”

Like bright-eyed grand kids seated at their Papi's feet for story time, the audience seemed in unison to lean slightly forward in their seats, indicating their collective approval. So the writer spoke.

"Many of you may not know this about me, but before taking up the pen I was an active outdoors man. I prized big game trophies and hunted great animals on three different continents. From bison to lion to salt-water crocs, I bagged dozens of beasts. Then one year I set my sights on the American Gray Wolf.

"In those days, ranchers actually invited trackers such as myself onto their lands to help thin out the predators. So I made my way to the forests of southern Idaho and set up my camp. I tracked a formidable pack for a few days and then, having divined their territory, decided to begin my hunt the next morning. Hiking deep into their hunting grounds I picked up their trail just before sunrise. I could hear their dawning howls and the adrenaline rush began its familiar thrill ride through my taut veins. And then I heard a cry. I followed the desperate yelp and soon discovered one of the pack snagged in an abandoned spring trap. My hunter's heart skipped a beat. Here was a trophy kill, mine for the taking. But an unexpected compassion suddenly erupted out of my gut. I, the predator's predator, could not bring myself to shoot the wretched creature.

"Now you should know, it's a very risky proposition to assist wild animals, especially when they are cornered. But having decided on this unfamiliar tactic, I propped my rifle up against a tree and grabbed a fallen, forked branch. Tentatively, I followed my own poorly reasoned lead toward the now defensive animal. Holding his violent snaps at bay with the forked shield, I tried to wrestle his hind leg free. In an instant, however, the tables turned. The wolf's leg was indeed freed, but my own heroic arm was now snared in the iron-toothed grip. I heard my own scream as my lungs released the very last of my warmed breath in a sudden, explosive outburst.

"Blood spilled, of course, and mixed with the animal's small pools still soaking into the forest floor. The wolf himself darted without hesitation, and I was left there slumped against a tree - the last living human on earth. How did I get here? I questioned. What karmic calculations had conspired to bring me to my end, here at the foot of this plain forest tree? My free arm was no match by itself to unhinge the powerful clamps. I was trapped."

This traumatizing memory caused the writer to pause for another sip of water. Though no furrows disrupted the smoothness of his skin, a pain nonetheless emanated from the writer's face. Someone toward the back of the room cleared her throat. The otherwise palpable silence in the room cried out for the speaker to continue. Staring vacuously into the dark hall, it was if his eyes had turned about face and he was now looking at his own soul rather than his audience. He ruminated for a long tense moment, and then his lips moved and his tinged voice returned.

“As it turned out, my rifle had fallen from its lean-to and now, ironically, aimed itself directly at me. The black hole at the barrel's end caught my attention with its cold and judgmental stare. The forked bough, so helpful just moments before had flipped carelessly away during the violent twist of fates that had rendered me so shockingly helpless. It lay two feet out of my reach, and obstinately abstained from further assistance. I felt betrayed by it. The absurdity of my unintended isolation mocked me as well.

“But I was not alone. The hunted dogs had returned with the rising sun, presumably to return the fatal favor I had promised them. Now it was eight or nine to one, though I could not be sure of the exact number as they were circling, moving in and out of sight, teasing and testing. Compounding throbs of pain in my arm overpowered the rising fear in my chest, and I watched my unfolding demise with the same dispassionate coolness I kept when the odds were reversed and I had my finger on the trigger, my eye in the scope. Then the bleeding one reappeared and stared at me as a growling rumor spread among the other pack members. Three gray shadows approached from the left rear, but slunk stealthily away when I threw out obscenities at them. Two others pounced at me from the front, bared their blistering canines, and threatened vigorously. But nothing came of it.

“In the meanwhile, the bleeding one had taken the forked branch and bull-dosed it with his nose toward me, through the snow. Was he trying to assist me? Was my prior target voluntarily coming to my rescue? Why? Had his primitive heart likewise skipped a beat for me now? When it came within reach I instinctively snatched the branch, unhinged the trap, and quickly got to my feet. Now the odds were improving, though the circumstances still called for a rare caution. The smell of blood had been unleashed into the forest and restraint is antithetical to a predator's nature. Caution be damned! was my own natural response to the unnatural events spiraling out of control around me. I barrel rolled to the abandoned rifle, shouldered it on my weak side, took up a position using the tree trunk as brace, aimed and fired. The bleeding one was down. The other pack members scattered at the booming retort. I had bagged my trophy! But elation eluded me. My shattered vision of myself had sheltered itself in shame: not the shame of killing, but the shame of killing too naturally. I had killed as a beast kills, and ghosts were set loose as a result.”

No one moved as the writer picked up his book and glasses and stood to exit the stage. No applause echoed through the chamber. When a cell phone began to vibrate in someone's pocket, all in attendance heard it, but none bothered to notice it. Then in parting, the writer said: “Always after such void shattering violence there is a spent serenity that fills the space. Connections between man and animal, predator and prey, life and death are seared into the bloody soil and souls of the actors. Hearts, as arms, are scarred. But stories are forged, my friends, and words, like eulogies, are placed where life once was. Eulogizing scars: That is why I write. The death of a wild stranger in the middle of nowhere brought forth out of a once vicious predator a humbled wordsmith. With one arm dangling dangerously limp, and a provocative urgency forcing my attention, I threw my fallen comrade over my shoulder and moved away from the savage scene toward civilization. When I arrived there, I laid down my weapons and took up my pen.”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Capturing her capturing her moment

Fall colors burst from the living leaves
And excite the light of the dying weaves
of twigs and grasses and weeping trees.

All around, the space she plays in dances.
With soft, deft grace she strums her lenses
and a visual song erupts and enhances.

Life reviews the subtle point of portent,
When a girl in nature snaps beauty and torment,
and captures her capturing her precious moment.


There is a magical space
between the womb and the tomb
where the harmonies of a life
stir wonder and sorrows into a tune -
a private song, sung and lost too soon.

In this place, an unknown Hand
reaches out to steady the fall
of these melodies birthed into dying
for all who move with courage and awe
through the noise, joys, and pains of it all.

And so you are free in the last accounting
to become who you are, and sing of your bounty,
of your treasures, of your loves and lies,
fully releasing the gift of you
into the world for others' eyes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Peter the Polar Bear - Chapter 2

Chapter 2 - The Floating Island
 An ice sheet as vast as this floats over the sea the way a glacier floats over the earth. Slowly, interminably, the ice moves ever away from its source, ever toward its destiny. Eventually it will melt into the greater ocean the way memories of long lost friends blend into new relationships. But here, under the North Star, Peter’s floating island is still a sprawling world unto its own. There’s room here to run and run and find exhaustion before finding the far edge. There are hills, canyons, and icescapes of every variety to explore, all of which Peter will enthusiastically pursue when the morning sun brings it all into glorious view. But for now the luminescent blue of midnight shimmers invites sleep. Peter huddles into a cozy hollow and drifts off into his private silence.

(to be continued....)

Peter the Polar Bear - Chapter 1

Chapter One - The Runaway
"PETERRRR" "peterrrr"; "PEEETERRR""peeeterrr". His name echoed across the ice throughout the morning as all the townsfolk showed up to assist with the search.

"That's three missing in the last month," said Miss Tyler to her twin sister, Miss Tia.

"You don't think it's like those poor little cubs whose ice broke away right out from under their momma's belly last week while they were sleeping, do you?" asked Miss Tia. "Only to find themselves half-drowned and washed up on a small sheet the next morning, nearly frozen and screaming for milk." Miss Tia was working herself up into another tizzy. She found herself worrying a lot lately. She wondered if she should start trying to eat more fish.

"No, dear. Peter is a big cub now," replied Miss Tyler. "You know how these boys are now days. I'm sure he's just run off on some adventure or other, and forgot to tell his momma."

"Yes. I'm sure you're quite right."

"Yes, that's it. Now, why don't we save our breath and let the others play his fool if they like. I'm all for a swim and a nap myself. Shall we?"

And off they went while the elders and Peter's school mates kept up the futile search. There would be no finding Peter this day. You see, the T-Twins, as they were called, had got it half right: Peter had begun an adventure; but they had missed on the scale of it...by a long shot. Peter himself had no idea what mind-blowing horizons lay ahead of him. This young runaway was about to learn the real meaning of his momma's mysterious words: "Dream big, Bear! but beware the hunger." "Hunger, Momma?" "Yes, dear. Dreams are hungry beasts; hungry like the great sperm whale. They feed on their dreamer’s gullible gusto, and grow ever insatiable to you, ever menacing to those you love." "But I don't want to menace anyone, Momma. I don't want my dreams." At this pitched and halting reaction, his momma continued: "It takes exceptional courage to chase a dream, Bear, and sacrifice. And greater courage still to stay on its trail. Everything in your everyday falls into shadow. All you love will drown under the rising tide of your dream. And so it must! little Bear. For that is the point. That is how we are led out of our false selves and into our true self."

And that is how his mother had left it. That is how Peter had managed to forestall the journey he knew he must take so effectively for so many months. But in the right soul, like seeds in the right soil, dreams will not be denied. In the end they burst forth naturally from your heart into your mind, and you carry them on your shoulders until they have your ear. And that is what happened to Peter last night after he watched the greatest ice sheet yet break away from its Arctic home and head south. Peter's dream of going south to find the legendary ice at the other end of the world to save his family and nation, at long last overcame his denials. His people were dying, his world was slowly removing from the face of the earth, and here was the solution drifting out to sea right in front of him. So he jumped. He simply lept into the lonely dark of the deep Arctic waters and swam after the large ice sheet. Peter the polar bear had decided the legend made sense. He had reasoned to himself: "Why wouldn't the world have icecaps at both ends? Why couldn't the ice there be unimaginably vaster than it is here? Why couldn't we bears migrate there like the great birds do? Why couldn't I, Peter, find the passage and lead the way?" And that ‘reasoned’ decision triggered the impulses that led to his ‘rash’ action. With the dream in his heart, and his reasons in his head, he lept, and swam, and catching up to the floating island, the reluctant run-away said a silent good-bye to his white wonderland.

Peter the Polar Bear - Prologue

(The following is a story beginning to unfold in my head.  You're welcome to preview and follow along as the chapters develop, just be aware this is a long term project.)

     The ice is melting. In every direction as far as the horizon there is ice. To the polar bear, this frozen emptiness is home. It is the only home Peter the Polar Bear knows. To Peter, melting ice means an end to his world. It is a fearful thought. Yet all his senses justify what he fears. He hears the cracking ice shelf under his feet. He smells unfamiliar scents as warmer salt waters encroach on his hunting grounds. He feels the sun's heat hanging in the air like it never did before. He tastes the coming calamity in the unforgiving southern winds. But mostly, he sees it.

     All around him, Peter's world is disappearing one treasured ice scape at a time. His family's territory, his whole living history gives way more and more each season to the rising ocean, as surely as the night gives way to the rising sun at dawn. Only there is nothing glorious about this disturbing dawning of a new age. If fact, with each passing day, each passing ice berg, despair grows deeper roots in his community, and fearful talk is on every one's tongue.

     But Peter has a plan. Or if not exactly a plan yet, he has a dream. Amidst all the turmoil and struggle, as the various groups in Polar Bear Nation realign their daily lives, a heroic vision settled in Peter's heart, relentlessly teasing at him for weeks. The notion tugged at his thinking, quieted his doubts, persistently persuaded his emotions, until just days ago now, Peter finally accepted the possibility of it. The short of it was this, Peter stopped asking why me? and started asking why not me? The dream was his, and now it was his calling to make it come true.

Monday, April 18, 2011

OTHERS: How they define us, and why we should allow it

It seems counter-intuitive, but other people's perceptions of who we are are absolutely essential to a complete and well-balanced sense of Self.  Naturally, we know ourselves as an expression of our place and our passions, but (believe it or not) we also come to know ourselves more fully through the mouths and eyes of others.

By place I mean we know ourselves as a product of our environment, our circumstances of birth, our day-to-day existence. We are what we do with the baggage of our lives.

By passions I mean we know ourselves as our dreams, our unfulfilled potential, our new and improved better versions of ourselves. We are what we aspire to become.

By perceptions in others I mean we also know ourselves as the labels others pin on us that we accept as true. A story may help clarify this point: I recently saw a web interview of Kelly Clarkson the American Idol singer. In answer to the question when did she become a singer she responded this way: (paraphasing from memory here, so bear with me) "I always sang around the house as a kid, but it was not until I was in a choir around 13 or so that I discovered that I was a singer. We would be doing scales and I would just keep going up or down the scale past the rest of the group hitting notes the others could not reach. At that point people started "telling me" I was a singer." There and then, when she accepted others' perception of her as a singer, that's when Kelly's self-identity changed from normal kid to kid singer. And so it is with us.  We are, in addition to our place and passions, the labels we allow ourselves to internalize. 

That is why it is so important to monitor carefully both the mud and the flowers flung our way. The labels we hear and heed; the identity we formulate in response to others' perceptions is surprisingly vital.