Teaching and or 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu

Bird Droppings June 4, 2019
Teaching and or 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu

 

I just finished my first half year back in teaching after my first year of teaching retirement from high school. Thinking back my last day was rough but not quite as bad, tense and hectic as my first on September 11, 2001. I began my last day of my more recent teaching thinking back to a song one of my students chose to write about several years ago, “Live like you were dying” by Tim McGraw. My mother passed away a few weeks back and it is difficult to think in terms of not seeing her again. As I write today thinking more about how many friends and family are still around, do I want to see and talk to each, one more time.

 

I have been sorting through books and files and found a small inspirational book based on Tim McGraw’s song. The song came up when I had given a writing assignment to pick a favorite song, find the lyrics then explain the song. There is something about country music and lyrics and emotions that hit you.

 

As various music genre came forth that one song stood out among all the rest that day. Here we can argue genres and such although I did use Beyoncé and Bob Dylan in a sarcastic graphic mainly pointed at our system of measuring schools. Bob Dylan if anyone is not aware has been chosen as the greatest song writer of all time and now a Nobel Prize winner for literature. Some can argue and I got into this the other day with a fellow teacher and friend as I was picking on his heavy metal blaring after hours. I used the rock and roll hall of fame as an example and Dylan has songs covered by the greats, “Knockin on Heaven’s door” and “All along the watchtower” to name a few.

 

“You have to do what you love to do, not get stuck in that comfort zone of a regular job. Life is not a dress rehearsal. This is it.” Lucinda Basset

 

“Life is raw material. We are artisans. We can sculpt our existence into something beautiful or debase it into ugliness. It’s in our hands.” Cathy Better

 

Searching for words midst a deluge of thought I got caught up in Tim McGraw’s words from that assignment so many years back.

 

“I hope you get the chance, to live like you were dying. Like tomorrow was a gift and you got eternity to think about” Tim McGraw

 

We take life so often for granted, wasting precious moments, missing bits and pieces as we go hurriedly to the next event of the day. My dear friend I had not seen since 1994 or so but we communicated regularly on Facebook. Sharing all of those years in photos and one-line captions.

 

“Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well.” Josh Billings

 

“It is not how many years we live, but rather what we do with them.” Evangeline Cory Booth

 

“I went Rocky Mountain climbing I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu and then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter and I watched an eagle as it was flying and he said someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.” Tim McGraw

 

Yesterday morning I walked out as I do so many mornings early in the day, to my right clearing the pines a great smile of a moon almost half a full moon but still a smile. The stars and always present clouds added to the effect and surrounding me that great chorus of crickets and tree frogs, it was literally over whelming. I have yet to figure how crickets in our neighborhood can harmonize. Perhaps they were singing for my mother.

 

“The essential conditions of everything you do must be choice, love, and passion.” Nadia Boulanger

 

“On life’s journey faith is nourishment, virtuous deeds are a shelter, wisdom is the light by day and right mindfulness is the protection by night. If a man lives a pure life, nothing can destroy him.” Buddha

 

We each search and try to find the pathway that is best for us as we journey through life. How and why we go the direction we do is our choice and the attitude that we have again is our choice. As I am reading again the words from Tom McGraw’s song and listening to teenagers respond is interesting, living each day to the fullest is not just about riding a bull named Fu Manchu for 2.7 seconds or mountain climbing in the Rockies. It is more about loving deeper and speaking sweeter, it is the moments not the events, it is extracting as much as possible and giving as much as possible in each second of each day.

 

“I was finally the husband that most the time I wasn’t, and I became a friend a friend would like to have” Tim McGraw

 

Again, a flash back, to a phone call several years ago. It was again a few years back another incident struck me, my middle son called from college and sounded upset there was an un-easiness in his voice. A female student had killed herself in the dorm; several of his friends were peer leaders on that hall. In another situation I was informed two students I have been talking with for three years were both pregnant distant events each encompassing in its own, a life ended and lives starting. One of the girls sought me out by to tell me personally after I had heard rumors.

 

“The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss.” Thomas Carlyle

 

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot

 

It has been many years since I would walk out into the pastures at night and hear the snorting of our buffalo. It is so hard to explain seeing a bull buffalo’s breath blowing across the grass in the wee hours of the morning on a cool day, or watching fireflies skirt the kudzu and sumac of our back yard. A young lady takes her life, she had a plan with a stopping point I wonder if she lived as if she were dying or was she dying so she could live? What a paradox we set in motion as we journey each day.

 

“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are merely commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the planning, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chain of events, working through generations and leading to the most outer results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

“I asked him when it sank in that this might really be the real end how’s it hit you when you get that kinda newsman what’d you do……. live like you were dying. Like tomorrow was a gift and you got eternity to think about what’d you do with it what did you do with it” Tim McGraw

 

I won’t be riding bulls or skydiving, but I will be smiling, and I will love and I will be living each moment that I have got and hopefully set an example for the students I teach. I may make a few more day trips this summer to spend precious moments with friends. So my dear friends take a moment and truly think about it, live your moments to the fullest and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and please be sure to give thanks for the moments namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

Why should we do more?

Bird Droppings June 2, 2019
Why should we do more?

 

“Choices are sacred to life’s journey. They lie along the path that all of us must follow for ourselves. An important Cherokee lesson is that if you involve yourself in any decision, you also experience the consequences of that decision.” Dr. J.T. Garrett, Meditations with the Cherokee

 

It has been quite a while since I was unable to walk out first thing in the morning and experience the newness of the day. Granted being not in the structured routine of school I tend to get lazy from not having to get up, although during the week I still get up at 4:00AM. For some reason, I am up earlier than normal for a Monday. But as we head towards getting back in full swing I may get back in a routine. It has been a very strange and very wet summer in Georgia with rain and storms up until a few weeks ago and then the Georgia heat and dry hit. Hopefully this week we will have in the afternoons a chance of scattered thundershowers and mowing, or yard work gets curtailed while plants wait on rain. It has been nearly ten summers since I submitted a reflection of sorts for my doctorate work on a book based on viewing history in more than one color, more than one culture or societal norm. Rereading that reflection led me to a powerful thought.

 

“Do more than belong; participate. Do more than care; help. Do more than believe; practice. Do more than be fair; be kind. Do more than forgive; forget. Do more than dream; work.” William Arthur Ward

 

As I sit here this early morning responding to emails from previous days, I am slowly catching up. It is through our actions we are perceived. It was many nights back even several years ago at a basketball game several fans were asked nicely to leave by administration and eventually sheriffs intervened in the altercation. You could be upset with the situation but when you vocalize using words that in reality do not  make sense, as so often swearing does not (sit and write literal meanings to most swearing) and add hand gestures and increase volume, you are being perceived as out of control. When asked nicely to cease such distracting behavior, and you continue that too adds to the perception of perhaps out of control. In speaking to a sheriff in a derogatory manner, again fuels the flames of perception, being a person who has ceased to utilize their  self-control and the result, being asked quite nicely to not be in the gym in public view might seem a bit understated.

It could be behavior modification time and coincidentally having a background in BM that’s behavior modification by the way. Although today we use less harsh terms, Functional Behavior Analysis and Task Analyzes. BM is what it is about, and there are times now with two little ones in the house I see some behavior that BM could mean more along the lines of potty training. Back to my story for example, the first offense at a basketball game and thereafter you can come but must wear a dog training collar to reenter gym. In the control booth sits your modifier, preferably a spouse or child who probably will enjoy this, holding the button. If you get out of control, they get to press the button sending a mild shock to your neck. However, if you continue they also have on the side of the control box the increase switch, raising the voltage. I think there are some spouses that may automatically go to max even for first jolt.

There is a chance of course that the child or spouse in the control booth has read Skinner’s books and articles and knows intermittent, variable reinforcement works great too and shocks just to let their collared friend know who holds the button, and that might become the norm. Sporting events would never be the same. In the stands half, the people sitting and twitching from shocks and the other half is sitting quietly smiling pressing the buttons. Kids could play their games and cheerleaders could cheer and what all would have a wonderful time. However had everyone read the first line of the first quote today none of this would be necessary.

 

“When you see a new trail, or footprint you do not know, follow it to the point of knowing” Uncheedah, grandfather of Ohiyesa, Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman

 

Is that something we now teach? In teaching biology, I use the lesson and style of teaching that I had used myself in a previous graduate school class demonstration on existential teaching methods. I let the students find the answers and act only as a facilitator. In one plastic container is a tiger salamander (Elmo) and in the other a leopard gecko (Emily) one is an amphibian and the other a reptile. The lesson is based on taxonomy and differentiating between amphibians and reptiles. Having done this numerous times in summer school in Biology and in my  classes during the school year those that work through the lesson will remember which is which far better than having read a book or heard in a lecture, they  followed the trail. How often do we take away curiosity and how often do we brush the trail clean of tracks?

 

“The first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind is curiosity.” Edmund Burke

 

“It is a shameful thing to be weary of inquiry when what we search for is excellent.” Marcus T. Cicero

 

Far too often we do not have time for children’s questions; we do not want to follow a new trail as Uncheedah speaks about. We only want the status quo the peace and solitude of that lesson plan laid out months in advance and carefully formulated to cover each of the required curriculum needs of the subject in a given time span. Let us get from point A to point B and not venture off the track ever again.

 

“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.” Samuel Johnson

 

“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift that gift would be curiosity.” Eleanor Roosevelt

 

So often I talk with students who are not curious. They seldom ask why and only accept what is taught to them, and many do not even do that and simply shrug their shoulders and state they don’t care. So many people in our world today simply follow and media and the corporate advertising feed on this. When I read a statement from a person who says this is what I believe, and you cannot change that about any subject matter or idea I sort of wonder.

We should be teaching children to challenge, to question, never just accepting an answer. My middle son had the highest regard for a teacher and on occasion pointed out an error on a discussion transparency dealing with a specific type of animal. He pointed out that what was on the slide was in error and backed it up with the very biology book they were using, as well as other sources. A year later in he was in another Advanced Placement Biology class, and the same slide, same response. He again pointed out the error, and the teacher was still teaching exactly the same, still in error and had never changed that slide. By chance three years later, speaking to a class, that slide again appeared, this time his respect for that teacher was gone, while a good teacher, she was a poor learner. It was difficult for “teacher” to except a “students” understanding of a topic albeit that students brother had raised and bred that specific animal at home for many years so it was not simply a student spouting off, there was experiential contextual knowledge involved.

 

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Carl Edward Sagan

 

“Be curious always! For knowledge will not acquire you: you must acquire it.” Sadie Black

 

We got into a discussion of sorts yesterday about doing school work. So often teachers assign a certain number of problems in math regardless of whether the students know how to do that skill or not, homework for example, do these twenty problems. If the skill is known, why do the assignment, if not known, doing problems you do not know how to do, doesn’t help. This is not to pick on math teachers but so often this happens and students begin to look down on busy work. If that assignment had meaning, perhaps more care and effort would ensue. It is no wonder, so many students soon learn who is doing homework and copy that person’s work simply to get credit for homework.

 

“I think knowing what you cannot do is more important than knowing what you can.” Lucille Ball

 

“It is not good to know more unless we do more with what we already know.” R. K. Bergethon

 

When you can apply a piece of knowledge it lasts far more than when it is simply an idea, a passing, thought something to forget. In some subjects, it is difficult to make ideas applicable, at least this is what some teachers think and students soon grow weary, and curiosity is gone. Several times I have mentioned a friend who in teaching history would occasionally dress as a knight or king and or a lowly goat herder to make a point drawing the class into the lesson.

 

“The essence of knowledge is, having it, to apply it; not having it, to confess your ignorance.” Confucius

“I would have the studies elective. Scholarship is to be created not by compulsion, but by awakening a pure interest in knowledge. The wise instructor accomplishes this by opening to his pupils precisely the attractions the study has for himself. The marking is a system for schools, not for the college; for boys, not for men; and it is an ungracious work to put on a professor.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

To instill curiosity a teacher must also be curious; a teacher must also be a learner. Recently I read several articles about schools where students and teachers make choices and decisions on the operation of the school, a truly democratic school. The Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts is an example as I mentioned recently. Many years ago Socrates would simply ask a question and students would have to find the answers, not be told the answers and Socrates would assist through more questions. He must have upset his school board since he was required to drink poison.

 

“The trouble with the world is not that people know too little but that they know so many things that ain’t so.” Mark Twain

 

This is a good place to wind down today. I am sitting here, thinking, pondering and wondering about where the day may go and what will be said and who will listen. I find solace in that thought. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and to always give thanks for all namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Teachers thoughts along the banks of the Chattahoochee River?

Bird Droppings June 1- 2, 2019
Teachers thoughts along the banks of the Chattahoochee River?

I started writing yesterday and got sidetracked by a trip to the museum with my grandkids. About two years ago I was apprehensive as I got up on that morning taking much longer than normal to get my day started. A good friend had called me the past week and said that he would be in Phoenix City Alabama for an Indian Arts program. I had not seen my friend in over twenty years. We shared many memories from the 1970’s in Macon Georgia working in the same places and along the way and sharing an old house for a time in Macon. However it is the stories told to me by my friend of his grandfather who was medicine man to the Creek nation and listening to his mother when she visited from Oklahoma that are my deepest memories.

Macon invited the Creek back in 1973 or so to help at the Indian Mounds and even offered scholarships to Mercer University. I met Bill and his brother Gerald who by chance were both artists working in different mediums. Gerald was a sculptor and painter, Bill worked in more traditional arts focusing on feather work and bead work.

After I got motivated for the two and a half hour drive I headed out to see my friend. I had forgotten to take my medicine and returned to the house. As I drove back a red tailed hawk swooped alongside me for a hundred feet or so. I write often about synchronicity had I been a few minutes sooner or later no hawk. I did not follow my GPS and headed a slight different direction ultimately getting me to the right place. However I missed my exit and went an extra exit down and being on Eastern Time with a half hour till opening grabbed some lunch. The young lady who waited on me had some stars and a moon tattooed beside her eye. A 1970’s Cat Stevens song started running through my head and I paid my tab and got back a nickel. Granted a strange morning but I was handed a buffalo nickel for my change. I finally found the program along the river just below the falls. My friend and his friends from Oklahoma were set up at the spot just besides the falls. It was a quiet spot with plenty of shade. I noticed a sign one of those historical markers and read about the sacred spot here at the falls and the Tie snake a creature who would pull unwary people to their deaths in the river rapids.

Bill was making a necklace for a customer and I sat watching and taking a few pictures. As he worked we both asked questions back and forth. Eventually we discussed his grandfather and medicine. We talked about feathers and plants. Time was on a stand still as we caught up in minutes what had been years. I said my goodbyes and headed towards my car only to stop and talk again with some new friends from Florida who do demonstrations and educate groups on early native life. It was a good day and an integral part of my own journey.

This morning I was walking about the yard and along the side of our nearby dirt road taking pictures of wildflowers and grasshoppers among other things that I find as ponder. I spent several minutes trying to photograph a seed from a broom sage plant floating along in the early breeze. A bit of down just going where the breeze would take it. It is very hard to focus on a moving piece of down and as I pondered it is much like walking into a class room and trying to teach kids who really do not want to be there. Sadly their thoughts and ideas floating about wandering where ever the breeze of the day is blowing. I was listening as I drew near the back field and the sound of crickets and frogs was nearly deafening. An author I found in my later years Laurens Von der Post came to mind as I imagined the sounds and images before me. Most of Von der Post’s early learning years were spent on the edge of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa being raised by a Bushmen nanny.

“Not only the present, but the future depends on a constant reinterpretation of history and a re-examination of the state and nature of human consciousness. Both these processes are profoundly and mysteriously interdependent and doomed to failure without a continuous search after self-knowledge, since we and our awareness are inevitably the main instruments of the interpretation.” Laurens Van der Post,

It was in the remembering of a very poignant childhood event Laurens Von der Post was witness to as he recalls in the last days of man, at least the Bushmen or Sans. It has been several months maybe even a year since I last picked up a Von der post book. Somehow in an email last evening I went looking for this author and prolific writer was he. As I researched last night and went to Amazon.com 61 pages of his books and variations and edited versions and translations are available. He died in 1996 at the age of 90 and, he had been everywhere and done everything. He was Prince William of Great Britain’s God father, the only non-royal ever to be so honored. He had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth many years ago. His writings while covering his adventures and travels worldwide, he is best known for his stories of the African bush. A Far Away Place was made into a family movie of children and their trek in the African wilds. But as I read permeating all his writing is a fascination and deep understanding of a nearly lost people, the African Bushman, or Sans as they call themselves.

“The depth of darkness to which you can descend and still live is an exact measure of the height to which you can aspire to reach.” Laurens Von der Post

“Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us–and those around us — more effectively. Look for the learning.” Eric Allemburgh

Recently I was thinking in several directions, on one hand I was discussing education in the US with several friends and pros and cons of public education somehow came into that discussion. I interjected a comment about indigenous peoples of South America and how Amazonian Native peoples will often want to experience civilization. I mentioned a unique program in Brazil as well, of protecting indigenous peoples from civilization where land is kept intact and rain forest left alone when a new tribe is found, literally keeping civilization out. Often armed guards patrol to prevent missionaries and civilizers from coming in contact with these primitive peoples. I started thinking in terms of learning environment and for the indigenous peoples of the jungle it is the jungle where the optimal learning environment is for them to survive. Far too often we interject our modern societal values and say they should learn this or that. This led me to a statement by John Holt from the other day and one that has been in my pondering now several days.

“Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” John Holt
In that course of thought I went the direction of the Bushman and Von der Post. Last night I stood in the dark a bit longer than I usually do even with graduate studies and writing as well as my own college and high school lessons to prepare for when I took the dog out. The sky was streaked with clouds and a smiling moon was trying to peek through. I was standing on the porch listening to the night, almost silent. I went back out another time a bit later into the morning and by now all the clouds were nearly gone and stars permeating the entire sky. My shoulder has been bothering me and I laid back down putting my writing off till a bit later in the day. So often in my days a student who has an issue or a friend or teacher will find a Bird Dropping and then a series of events, I often use the term coincidence and it will have been just what they needed that day. For whatever reason I am compelled to build on a thought passing by as I am thinking never quite sure why.

“When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.” Mary Kay Ash

“It’s easier to go down a hill than up it but the view is much better at the top.” Arnold Bennet

Several days ago I received an email from a person to be added to my morning meanderings. I added this person to my list and yesterday received another email here in my rushing to get a Bird Droppings out I had written exactly what this person needed. When talking with my son yesterday he mentioned his former boss admitted she never read my meanderings and one day she had been searching and by chance opened my daily thought and again it was what she needed. I am wandering a bit from my learning idea but it is the contextual framework that we seem to build that provides us with those learning activities and experiences.

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” Taylor Benson

“Adversity draws men together and produces beauty and harmony in life’s relationships, just as the cold of winter produces ice-flowers on the window-panes, which vanish with the warmth.” Soren Kierkegaard

As I sit thinking about the drawing together of thoughts the past few days and ideas I come back to my involvement in Foxfire teaching techniques which is the basis for my one day to be finished dissertation. As I thought while reading several passages this morning, in a Von der Post’s book, The Lost world of the Kalahari. There is a comment about witnessing the last of the Bushmen painters. It seems there was a point in time when the Bushmen stopped their primitive art which was painted on the rocks in caves of the Kalahari. The last painter had been killed in an attack literally of genocide and no one knew how to take over the art. Laurens Von der Post writes how he heard those gunshots as a child.

As I looked at students walking the halls at my school and the discussions we have had over the past months on the internet it really dawned on me I was where I was to be, and doing what I was to do, offering at least a little piece of more than what is normally available. That could be hope, or it could be wisdom, It could be that talking about a bushmen ostrich egg with red neck kids in Georgia and interestingly enough preserving pieces of old Georgia in essays and photos and PowerPoint projects as we go. Von der Post in his book went in search of the last of the Bushman and found himself.

“Coincidences have never been idle for me, instinctively, but as meaningful as I was to find they were to Jung. I have always had a hunch that they are a manifestation of a law of life of which we are inadequately aware and which in terms of our short life are unfortunately incapable of total definition, and yet however partial the meaning we can extract from them, we ignore it, I believe, at our peril. For as well as promoting some cosmic law, coincidences, I suspect, are some sort of indication to what extent the evolution of our lives is obedient or not obedient to the symmetry of the universe.” Laurens van der Post reflecting on Carl Jung’s work

For many years now I have read and pondered Jung’s words and ideas. Back fourteen or so years ago an author James Redfield, wrote about coincidence in a fictional story of a lost manuscript The Celestine Prophecy. Redfield was trying to explain what he saw happening in his own life. Carl Jung in the early 1900’s coined the word synchronicity. I simplify and say I am at the right place at the right moment. What is amazing is when you look at life that way and you begin to see events unfold before you rather than just seeing through hindsight. I was reading a friends note earlier about how ever thing happens for a reason. I responded jokingly that it only gains reason if we learn from it. As I sit hear pondering this morning it is in looking that we truly see and in listening that we truly hear.

“A continuous search after self-knowledge, since we and our awareness are inevitably the main instruments of the interpretation” Laurens Von der Post

I went in the internet, to borrow from the Foxfire website the following:

“In the Foxfire Approach, learning environments are characterized by student involvement and action, by thoughtful reflection and rigorous assessment, by imagination and problem solving, by applications beyond the classroom for what is learned, and by meaningful connections to the community. In these classrooms, students build the ability to work collaboratively and assume responsibility for their own learning processes.” Foxfire Fund

Where and how does the Kalahari Desert, Bushmen and a river have to do with learning and coincidence, they all tie in. An easy explanation can be seen borrowing from a core practice in the Foxfire teaching process

“Reflection is an essential activity that takes place at key points throughout the work. Teachers and learners engage in conscious and thoughtful consideration of the work and the process. It is this reflective activity that evokes insight and gives rise to revisions and refinements.” Foxfire

We build through reflection and we grow through reflection.

“Not only the present but the future depends on a constant reinterpretation of history and a re-examination of the state and nature of human consciousness.” Laurens Von der Post

I think reflection could be inserted just as easy into Von der Posts quote; we all need to take time to see where we are and then participate actively as we go in life. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind in and in your heart and to always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

Always on my mind and in my heart

Bird Droppings May 28, 2019
Always on my mind and in my heart

I avoided writing yesterday as so many memories and thoughts consumed me. I have many friends who dies in wars recently and both my father and father in law fought in wars previously. I do not believe in war but I do honor those who have served. For me my father and father in law came to mind as I sent the day with my wife. I was standing outside on this moonlit night gazing at the stars and clouds sliding by quietly in the night. A chorus of tree frogs and crickets kept me company in the dark. It is coming on summer the ambient temperature is high enough for plenty of chirping this morning. I recall one day my mother mentioned seeing my father and she woke up during the night. She asked me about my father does he come to you. I calmly said yes.

Thinking back, the summer of 2007 holds many moments of sadness and still flitting around in the sadness many moments of joy. It was in May I received a call to the schools front office and was told to call my wife, I knew immediately something was wrong as she never calls the school for me other than emergency. My father in law had drowned while fishing at his favorite lake in middle Georgia. In June one evening I was driving down to hear my son present his rendition of “Knocking on Heavens door” at a talent show after spending a few moments with my mother and father. Early the next morning my mother called to tell me my father had passed in the night. Both of these fathers were veterans. My wife’s father served in the Air Force for twenty five years retired and went back into Civil Service it seems he was a pretty good mechanic on C-130’s. My father left college to enlist and served during World War II in the South Pacific in the Navy on an LSM delivering Marines and equipment to beach fronts throughout the area. I wrote on both days a dropping of sorts and would like to share them again today as a memorial to my two fathers.

May 3, 2007
I remember his hands

It has been nearly forty years since I first saw his hands. I recall the day as those ugly big hands reached for mine to shake my hand as his daughter introduced me to him. Those Big ugly hands were creviced and creased from nearly fifty years of working on C-130 airplanes. Nearly fifty years of work etched into those hands with the black of oil and grease clinging to his finger nails so hard to clean off after tearing down and over-hauling engines so pilots could fly safely. Big ugly hands that I remember so clearly became beautiful reaching to hold his first grand son nearly thirty eight years ago.

For nearly forty years I watched those hands fold in prayer at meals and in church services. I watched as he placed his big hand on his daughters shoulder as we were wed. I watched so many times as he would hold his big hands down for a grandchild to cling to steady them as they learned to walk. I remember his hands.

I remember hands that looked so clumsy from being so worn and frayed skillfully cut fine curves on jig saw as he made model cars and planes for his grandchildren. I remember wondering how could those big hands carve such a small propeller for such a tiny plane that would come to sit on my sons shelve now nearly thirty years. I would laugh as his hands cut out flowers and reindeers in mass for friends and family and as his big hands painted away in bright colors each one of those potential gifts. How I remember those hands.

I remember hands that could cook fish so good you had to eat a ton. I remember hands that could fix a car or repair a bike. I remember hands reaching for the food bowls at Thanksgiving dinner, filling his plate and then reaching for another roll. I remember those hands holding a bird house up as he nailed it to a post and filled his bird feeders in the back yard. I remember watching those big hands put another log on the fire and poke at the coals. I remember those hands.

I remember the day those hands last held a cigarette so many years ago. I remember those big hands putting up pictures of grandchildren in the living room. I remember those hands filling his thermos and getting an extra jacket to head for the races in Cordele Georgia and taking ear muffs for his grandson. I remember those hands holding an ear of corn as we listened to country music down at Mossy Creek so many times. I remember those hands.

I often joked of how funny it would seem as those big hands held such a small fishing pole and reel. I remember those hands and the passion for fishing and being on the lake. I remember my son catching his first fish and being hugged by those big hands. I remember those hands videotaping every single event in his grandkids lives. I remember watching as the boat was loaded and truck hooked up. I remember those hands.

As long as I have all of these memories he will be here or there and I can sit and tell my children about those big hands. I remember those hands. It is hard to ponder as I do that all I now have is those memories and will not see those big hands reaching, hugging, holding, fishing, praying and shaking my hand again. It was a long drive home as I thought about what to write and say as I remember this man. I do know I remember his hands. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

June 28, 2007
A new journey

I had dropped off some medicine yesterday afternoon at my parent’s home and spoke with my mother for a few minutes. Two of my nieces were there with my dad standing by his bed as I went in. He lay still not moving my mother said he has been like this now for some time. It was hard leaving and going to my next stop of the day. A feeling of apprehension seemed to carry with me. But there were other stops other pieces to that day’s journey.

I drove down to Oxford Georgia last evening to watch the talent show of my youngest son’s choir camp. My wife was tired from a hard day at work and she had to make several calls and wanted to watch a show she had missed previously. I stopped and picked up a water bottle for the journey, I only drink Evian. Fortunately that is about my only idiosyncrasy.

As I headed from the county just before dusk a tall dead tree was standing to my left as I drove by. Stark and free from bark nearly white in the waning hour. Atop the tree in the highest possible point sat two red tailed hawks. Watching me as I drove by, I thought having my camera what a picture, this could be one for National Geographic. But as instantly as the image presented itself it was gone in the speed of the car driving along and time I had to reach my destination.

I arrived just before they started and have always enjoyed the Emory at Oxford campus of Emory University. The grounds date back to early 1800’s and exotic trees and shrubs abound. I listened to a talented group of young people my son included as he did his rendition of Axel Rose and Bob Dylan singing a duet on the famous tune “Knocking on Heavens Door”. The song stuck with me as I drove away after the program. Bob Dylan wrote the song many years ago featured in the movie Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett in 1973.

Mama take this badge from me
I can’t use it anymore
It’s getting dark too dark to see
Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door

Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door

I came home and sat talking and watching TV with my oldest son. They tend to stay up longer than me most nights. I told him how his brother played his duet again. It is sort of hard to explain as he comes out as Axel Rose of Guns and Roses fame and Bob Dylan at the same time. But the words hung with me as I continued my journey in to night, falling asleep. Around two in the morning I had a one dog night and funny it was because he was hungry. There is nothing like a dog chewing dry dog food at two in the morning.

I got up with my wife fully intending to get started on graduate school work I needed to be working on and walked around turning out lights finding my chair in the dark I thought my oldest son has work this morning I will awake when he walks by. I had several vivid dreams over the next two hours waking up as my son came by. I emailed a friend that knew my sons and had been a member of the Choir Camp for many years till graduating from high school and heading to college. I for some reason went and picked up my phone all I heard was “he is gone”.

I thought I responded and talked a few minutes and called my oldest and wife to let them know my dad had passed away. I walked into my middle son’s room and told him. This was around eight o’clock. I walked out to my quiet spot among some young pecan trees and thought pondered for a few minutes. I enjoy the smell of sage and sweet grass as the wisps of smoke rise in a morning air. Life is a circle I thought looking at some stones I had previously placed on the ground.

I told my son I was heading to town to get mail and such and drove off. Around ten thirty my mother called and asked if I got the message she left. I said no I talked to you earlier you said dad had passed away. She informed me she did not talk to me. I told her I would be over shortly and was fine.

It is strange how we respond as we consider all events all happenings and see that truly life is a circle a simple circle. No beginning and no end as we journey. We get to participate along the way interconnect and meet people. We gain understanding and wisdom as we travel this circle and for some most I would say the transitional points are painful and yet for others wondrous moments and new journeys. My father had told me numerous times he had done what he needed to do here and was ready. He passed away in his sleep content that he had been a great father, grandfather and great grandfather. There are many who knew him over the years from Scouting, Church, Red Cross, Safety and Loss Control, and his dear friends. Each has stories to tell of pieces of my father’s puzzle.

“Knocking on heaven’s door” keeps coming back as I recall my sons singing last night and so many years ago as another son left me a note after sitting all night with a teenager who had been in a car wreck “Life is about the journey not the destination”, a line from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. I think to the past few weeks with my father in law passing and a student just last week and today my dad. I mentioned to my wife last evening that wisdom comes with experience and time. There is a new journey a new day I wish my father well on his journey. Peace my father and friend.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

Occasionally we need to learn again about the Rock and the Smoke

Bird Droppings May 26, 2019
Occasionally we need to learn again about the Rock and the Smoke

 

High school students always ask questions about religion. As we get into evolution especially in biology. Occasionally I get someone who wants to prove a point. A young lady brought in her father’s sermon on creation and how the earth was only about eight thousand years old. In detail or rough detail the sermon explained the striations of geology in the Grand Canyon. Millions of years quickly developed an eight thousand year life span. It was sedimentation from the great flood of Noah. I did not pull out the recent law suit of the Noah Ark’s exhibit against their insurance company about flood damage. I explain my religion or lack thereof more simply. It is about the rock and the smoke.

 

“If people find no room in their lives to pray or to meditate, to reflect deeply on why they have been created and what they must do with their lives, and to listen with all of their being to the guidance of the universe, then these people are like birds who have not yet learned to fly. All the parts of the bird are present, but something is still missing. To be a whole person is to be alive in a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual way.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984

 

I started reading this short book several years ago and recently picked up again, only absorbing a page or two a day not trying to force my read as I do so often and get through it in a matter of minutes. There is an under lying theme with the tree of life so often depicted in primitive traditions. In Native American thought the tree intertwines spiritually and physically with all. Many times in ceremonies a specific tree would be selected after much thought by a medicine man or woman for the occasion. It would be carefully taken down and then “replanted” at the site of the ritual. Sundance ceremonies always would center round a tree as the main focal point of the entire ceremony. I could not help but think of the latest James Cameron movie Avatar and the depiction of the tree that is connected to all on the planet. Even the Game of Thrones had sacred trees connecting everything.

 

In my own life my early mornings are to sit read and write for me a mediation of sorts. When I can if time allows although that does not sound good I will wander out into the darkness to think and reflect. Listening and watching as around me life unfolds. For many being alone in the dark is not a comfortable event but as I have now for some time embraced the solitude and quiet.

 

“A sign that much work is needed in the area of personal spiritual growth is when a person dislikes being alone, and especially dislikes being alone in silence. Many people use television and or recorded music to fill the silence so do not have to experience themselves as they are.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984

 

Years ago I would walk out into the early morning’s darkness all about me wandering a blanket wrapped about me, thinking and reflecting on things at hand. I found as I was searching I found peace in the solitude and quiet of the early hours. As we moved over the years and my ability to walk around became hindered I started to write and read and reflect as I would sit and ponder. I started writing down my ideas and thoughts and sharing with others. I found in each of my mornings notes; an idea was there for someone. Today as we near a full moon and the night is bright with the moons reflection of the sun perhaps speaking of darkness at night is a bit odd but always I have found within darkness there is light when we seek it. So in effect in my solitude I have found community. It has been a few years since a dear friend shared with me and helped me remember a poet and philosopher of life that I had forgotten so many years ago.

 

“Walk easy on the earth each life has its own fragile rhythm, to be aware of it is to understand, to ignore is to abandon oneself to sadness. It is to search vainly for the wholeness that only comes in surrender to what is.” James Kavanaugh, Quiet Water, 1991
James Kavanaugh passed away a few years back and his works will continue to inspire and awaken emotions in people for many years ahead. There is a spiritual aspect to his writing as he reflects on his own former priesthood in many of his writings. But he also separates from religion that spiritual context that is within each of us. It is that individuality and uniqueness that gives us the essence of who we are and provides us with a desire to continue existence.

 

“Existing is one thing, but making a purpose for your existence is another.” Kendall Gomez, neighbor, former LHS student, California University Student, friend, and often philosophy genius

 

Kendall is one of the few who is up when I get up each morning although she was a country away in California when she wrote this. Many the day Kendall would come by my room at school and talk and even visited a few times after she graduated. She moved into our neighborhood several years ago and it was interesting neither of us knew we were neighbors for nearly a year. Granted she is a half mile away from our house if that would still be a neighbor. As I read her post this morning and one of her responses, that her purpose was to come up with riddles for others to solve, it sort of hit me. Perhaps it is “more better” stated that we find our purpose through our existence and may even find ourselves in that effort.

 

“Another sign that warns the traveler that his heart is empty of the gifts of the west is when a person does not feel respect for the elders or for the spiritual activities and struggles of other people.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984

 

We live in a world so interconnected to each other and yet so disjunctive as well. So many of our interactions that fail and go by the wayside are due to inadvertent differences of opinions, distrust and differences of beliefs than to any other rationales. I recall sitting down so many years ago with a man who was very much a man of faith. He was devout in his beliefs and staunch in his moral codes and ethics. We sat down in a small restaurant in town to discuss a program I had envisioned working with indigent families and people. As a prop knowing this fellow I had brought a bible along. Several verses were marked dealing with helping others and providing for those in need. I did not indicate to this man another religious connection of any sort and almost immediately as we talked he mentioned that Catholics were not Christian. My hand rested atop a Catholic bible. I found it interesting that within his desire to do good and help people was still this animosity for another person he had no idea of any connection to any church or religious affiliation for me other than a Methodist Church I was previously involved with working with high school students. He knew I attended a Methodist Seminary along the way. So already we in some ways were opposed semantically because he found one denomination was wrong and one was right yet both evolved from the same traditions and history. We started a program Shepherd Staff Ministries and up until I left that program over seventeen years ago we never disagreed on anything and he is still involved on the board of directors. People were served in our community with food lodging and counseling.

 

“Poverty is not merely a matter of not having ‘things’. It is an attitude which leads us to renounce some of the advantages which come from the use of things. A man can possess nothing, but attach great importance to the personal satisfaction and enjoyment he wants to get out of things which are common to all.” Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 1956

 

As I was selecting passages today I was drawn to both Kavanaugh and Merton were Catholic clergy at one time or another in their lives. Kavanaugh had a falling out as he wrote about an outdated church and left the priesthood. Thomas Merton wrote out against war in a time when such things were not often politically correct and died suspiciously in Southeast Asia electrocuted in a bath tub protesting the War in Viet Nam. Merton was a Trappist monk till his death. When you read these two authors there ideas do flow and interconnect with those of the Native American concept of a world interconnected I started with. Merton often wrote about and was well versed in Eastern thought seeing a connection between all that was. Kavanaugh in his poetry wrote of the world almost as if he were a piece in a vast puzzle a part of the whole.

 

“Thus I am certain that somehow life will never end, because the assemblage of my friends and all the beauty of the world I have known, assures me that in some state, I must have a life of love to say what I feared to say on earth. To give what I tried to give and couldn’t and to thank you with all of me, when gratitude never seemed sufficient. I long to release all hurts and manipulations, any selfish expectation when pain and suffering got in the way of love and forgiveness, when age and self-pity interfered, or when my ignorance and arrogance prevented what I longed to reveal and share. When I realized I’d done the best I could with what I had from the past, when it was apparent that for one as good and fine and loving as you are: A lifetime isn’t long enough to love you.” James Kavanaugh, A lifetime isn’t long enough to love you, 1996

 

We of this modern era somehow get lost in all that is. We want to categorize and sanitize and package seemingly undefinable ideas and thoughts. We want to be able to research and develop vaccines to cure and control all that is around us. We lose our connections. I was talking with a fellow teacher yesterday a very good friend who has served for nearly twenty five years active and in the reserves with our military. He has been in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in most areas of conflict in the past twenty years. He has seen death and destruction at the hands and minds of men. We often talk about life in general and while he knows my own believes and perhaps his might differ we often find common ground. I bumped into him on my way to check on a student and we talked. I had an article I had been meaning to bring to him as he teachers history. It is a National Geographic article about a tribe in Africa that is one of the last known hunter gatherer societies left on the earth. What is amazing to anthropologists is that there is no strive, stress, animosity within these people. There are not items of desire or to covet. If you need a bow and arrows you make one. If you need meat you hunt and fruit you gather. As we talked I recalled another friend’s virtual game in history of having students develop society from nothing and how it is not until as humans we begin to own things that strive and turmoil appears.

 

“We live in a whirl of images and noises, sounds, lights, desires, frustrations, pleasures, sufferings. Our lives are a cacophony; insulated from wind and rain and sun, from heat and cold, we are ensphered in our own catacombs of concrete and plastic. Living in such a world is it any wonder we turn to drugs, to more sensational means of stimulation, to entertainment that renders us catatonic? Insulated from nature, ungrounded, why should we be surprised at our own brutality? Where in such a world is there room for gratitude and for what should we be grateful?” Arthur Versluis, Sacred Earth, the spiritual landscape of Native America

 

I am getting carried away this morning but so often an idea starts and perhaps today I need to draw to a close and continue another day. My dog is barking calling to go out and now back in the moon has set and gone behind the pines and only the stars remain to light the sky. To my right as I walked out our drive way and cars and to the left pines and darkness a seemingly distant world untouched and real. I will use another line from Versluis as he discusses primitive people’s ideas and views.

 

“There is, however a mysterious unity between people and their landscape, between people and the creatures around them. This unity is of a subtle kind not easily explained. But understanding it is essential if we are to enter into a different awareness of our world” Arthur Versluis, Sacred Earth, the spiritual landscape of Native America

 

Another day is near dawning and another day of rest. It was nearly eight Sundays since my mother passed away. I sat down at my computer much later today than normal. Today is yard work and grand babies then next week finish up the school year. For all of my students and teacher friends may peace be with you and yours and may we as a nation find some point of reference to draw us together. For twenty plus years now I have ended my morning sojourns with this line, please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

 

PS: While sitting in my quiet place among the trees in our backyard a wisp of smoke came from my bowl of white sage, cedar, red willow bark, ursa leaves, and sweet grass and I thought. There is a time for the Rock and a time for the Smoke. Both are essential to the balance of life. He rock holds steady and firm while the smoke ethereal and flowing lifts upward. We need both in our lives.

Being reborn is listening with the heart

Bird Droppings May 24, 2019
Being reborn is listening with the heart

 

So often in life we tend to hear words and then we rationalize those utterances, develop an opinion and then logically state a response. I got thinking back to a conversation sitting discussing existentialism with my granddaughter last night nearly eight years ago as she cooed and babbled trying her best to formulate words. Even as an infant her emotions however were clearly conveyed. As a tiny baby she would be upset, she would cry and you would know her diaper was wet or she was hungry. As she got a few months older she become more sophisticated and she would whimper her distaste at being held a certain way or that she wanted to go for a walk or for granddad to stop the infernal conversation on existentialism and let’s go read, The grumpy caterpillar again.

 

We hear with our heads it is those vibrations from another person’s vocal cords transmitted through the air that strike the inner workings of our ears and we in our thought processes put meaning to that sound. When I see or hear the word dog I immediately visualize a four legged, barking life form and it literally pops in my mind. Generally if only the random word dog, that visual in my head is one of my previous pets. Far too often we let the dictionary do our thinking we simply respond to the word contained on a page and how that definition has been explained to us or that has been taught to us. We do not hear with the heart. A grand baby teaches you quickly otherwise. Occasionally a tear or smile will give away from where words are coming and good listeners will understand and hear the inner workings of the words not just the definitions.

 

“Look at every path closely and deliberately, we should then ask ourselves this crucial question: Does this path have a heart? If it does, then the path is good. If it doesn’t, it is of no use.” Carlos Castaneda

 

It has been a number of years since I first read the meanderings of Carlos Castaneda and his journey as an apprentice medicine man in the mountains of Mexico. Many writers and scientists consider his books to simply be fiction. They are a very intricate fabrication as he developed his doctoral dissertation. I find myself however fascinated with his stories of a Yaqui holy man who took him in and taught this college educated man the old ways. While the possibility of fiction is there for me, it is the story line which is depicted, in the statement above. Far too often we modern day people choose a path of logic, one of definition, one of clear concise rational thought. We forget the aspect of heart. We hear words that are provided in Webster’s Dictionary, or even more sadly google, when looking up online. When reviewed and analyzed they have a specific meaning and soon we leave behind any emotion in what was being said. People speak not in clear and concise words but in emotions and feelings, we speak from the heart. We lose the emotion in our instantaneous, high speed, immediate, and tell me now society.
Many years ago a great story teller spoke of becoming like children and his follower’s immediate response was we cannot be reborn, physically. The author of this story was speaking of listening with the heart as do children. They haven’t learned all the words and still do not know the definitions so heart is all they have and you know what they generally get it right. As I watched my granddaughter last night grip her upper lip in her two new bottom teeth making faces at us while sitting in her grandmothers lap she knew the response she would get and a whimper her and there and people were jumping getting toys a clean diaper. There were no words spoken simply communication direct from the heart. Please keep all n harm’s way on your mind and most of all in your heart namaste.

 

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

 

 

 

We should many times question our questions?

Bird Droppings May 23, 2019
We should many times question our questions?

 

Yesterday I was sitting in my class room after a week or two of articles and innuendos about who and why Georgia students in high school and middle schools across the state do so poorly on certain mandatory tests which are Georgia’s version of grade or course end tests in subject matter. Sadly the state knew ahead failure rate would be high in certain areas and still administered the tests. I am always amazed by a state educational system and by individual teachers who teach to fail students. I just finished a discussion with a colleague about passing a fellow who had a 79 on his end of course test in Algebra and was failing the class due to homework not being turned in. When you look at his overall work he has an eighty six percent disregarding homework portion of grade based on his test scores and quizzes. For me that was a no brainer he mastered the material and do you cause trouble for next year’s teacher failing a kid who knows the material and also happens to be SEBD, severely emotionally and behaviorally disturbed and refuses to do homework and hates this particular teacher.

 

“To find the exact answer, one must first ask the exact question.” S. Tobin Webster

 

“Ask the large questions, but seek small answers, A flower, or the space between a branch and a rock these are enough” Kent Nerburn

 

I wrote an email to a friend only a few moments ago sitting here gloating at issues I should have and could have addressed before they were issues. Some days I am bad about letting the flow go and spill over as it may be. I read this line from a book I am reading and wonder now as to answers I was seeking, maybe too often we seek large answers from small questions or ask the wrong questions thinking we know the answer.

 

“Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” Anthony Robbins

 

Somewhere on my shelves in my room at school maybe in a drawer are a series of tapes from this guru of self-help, he occasionally has a good thought or two. Max Thompson of Learning Focus School fame uses the term an Essential Question. We need to ask an essential question and build from there as we develop our course or train of thought. Several weeks ago I used some thoughts from Zen teachings over a thousand years ago and from Socrates who also taught by asking questions.

 

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” Naguib Mahfouz

 

“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.” Anthony Jay

 

A wrong question, can that even be? Could a wrong question be asked?

“If you do not ask the right questions, you do not get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer. Asking questions is the A-B-C of diagnosis. Only the inquiring mind solves problems.” Edward Hodnett

 

Over the years I have acquired many books dealing with the care of animals and have even participated in publishing several in days gone by when I was in that line of work. Years back we found a book for diagnosis of fish disease and problems. It was questions with various answers, such as if answer A go to page 3, or if B go to page 6, then on page 3, if A go to page 34, and on 34 if C this is the disease. In looking at questions and answering you literally could follow your way to a diagnosis. Essentially it was dichotomous key of fish disease. A good friend in Virginia literally borrowed the idea and wrote a sheep manual in a similar fashion that has become the Ovine diagnosis book of choice across the country. Actually have my name in there somewhere as a resource and editor.

 

“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” Decouvertes

 

I had to think as I read this if you know the answer why question. Is the paper white? I know it is but I am questioning and in questioning will show it to be white so in effect proving its whiteness or not. I learned it was white even knowing it was.

 

“He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he is asked.” Voltaire

 

“To find the exact answer, one must first ask the exact question.” S. Tobin Webster

 

“For example, when you sail in a boat to the middle of an ocean where no land is in sight, and view four directions, the ocean looks circular, and does not look any other way. But the ocean is neither round nor square; its features are infinite in variety. It is like a palace. It is like a jewel. It only looks circular as you can see at that time. All things are like this.” Eihei Dogen, 1200-1253

 

Maybe we who ask the questions need to listen more carefully to the answers and in listening learn as well, a symbiosis of sorts. It is about another day beginning and another sunrise to see. In talking with a friend through messaging on the computer that is all she looks for and as she rises each morning and is thankful for another day. She is a survivor, having survived breast cancer and you know what, as simple as that sounds for some. For her in particular each moment is a miracle and after seeing her each morning smiling and thankful for another day my day goes so easy and I too am thankful. We are getting ready to share a Memorial Day weekend thinking of our fallen friends and family members. I ask with a sincere heart please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks namaste.

 

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird