Liebster Award Nomination

Hmm…Poetry 365 nominated me for a Liebster Award. I’m stunned. Thank you, Nathan. Did I say I’m stunned? is a wonderful blog, full of thought, emotion, and humor (American spelling :-)), and yeah, poetry.

The Rules

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and add a link to their blog
  2. Answer the 11 questions given to you
  3. Nominate 11 bloggers that you think deserves the award
  4. Ask 11 innovative questions to the ones you have nominated
  5. Remember to notify your nominees once you have uploaded your acknowledgement post.

The Poet’s Questions (My Answers)

1. Are you a cat, dog, mouse, or fish person? (Explain why…)

I am a dog person. I enjoy cats, too, but I like the perpetual honesty of a dog. They can be goofy and are, for me, wonderful company.

2. What was your first music album / CD? (What was your last? Damn you, Spotify!!)

My first record was 16 Tons, by Tennessee Ernie Ford. The last album I got is Ghosts of West Virginia, by Steve Earle.

3. Which is your favourite Beatle and why?

Tough question. Initially, I loved all of them. As the years passed, I settled on George. He was always discovering himself as a musician and songwriter. I think he wrote the deepest material.

4. If you could be any character from fiction or movie, who and why?

I’d love to be Jasper Cronk, a character in my novel Ochoco Reach. He lives on a beach outside of San Blas, Mexico, surfs most every day, has a lovely daughter, and knows enough to keep smiling and being the best friend he can be to the people who love him. I aspire.

5. What was your most disastrous date night? Tell all the gory details!

Hmm. Never dated much. Probably when I took a girl to the drag races and discovered she didn’t like cars OR noise. It was a short evening. What really tore it was me offering the filters from my cigarettes as ear plugs.

6. No regrets. But, what is your biggest regret? (No politics)

I wish I’d been kinder when I was young. I was directly responsible for a couple broken hearts. I probably could have made it easier.

7. What was your scariest weather moment?

A sou’wester here on the north Oregon coast. It blew over 80 MPH for eight hours. I lay in bed and felt the old house twist like you’d wring out a wash cloth. There were two 40-foot ancient fruit trees in the front yard, a plum and an apple. Somehow, they survived it. So did we.

8. What is your favourite city? Explain why?

Trick question. I don’t really like cities. Not my comfort zone. But I’d say it’s a toss-up between Portland, Oregon and San Diego, California. Portland because of it’s quirky attitudes and scenic beauty. San Diego because it has the best weather on the planet. Also, the ocean frames it beautifully.

9. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A musician. A writer. Oddly enough, that’s who I turned out to be.

10. If you could make a mixtape (OK? or, a spotify playlist), which are the first 5 tracks?

John Prine: Blue Umbrella; Lyle Lovett: If I Had a Boat; Steve Earle: Copperhead Road; Little Feat: Dixie Chicken; Dire Straits: Calling Elvis. This list would be different tomorrow.

11. You have the luxury of writing your own epitaph. Please tell us all? (and make us cry…)

He was a lazy man who followed the flow of his life in his boat of music and literature. He never asked much of others, but he demanded much from himself. He was kind and loved with his entire being. His greatest assets were his family and friends.

My Nominations (Random Order):


My Questions for my nominees:

  1. If you could share a meal with anyone from history, who would it be? Why?
  2. Who is your favorite human being of all time. Why?
  3. Do you have a favorite animal?
  4. What was your most embarrassing experience ever? Does it still make you blush?
  5. Have you ever been afraid when flying?
  6. Would you rather sail a boat or drive a dogsled?
  7. If you had to lose one of your five senses, which would you choose?
  8. Are you a city person or a country person? Both? Why?
  9. Kayaking or mountain climbing?
  10. What was your most memorable meal? Why?
  11. For what would you like to be most remembered?

Have fun with this.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

get on the bus.

I think this is really important.

I didn't have my glasses on....

what an adventure it would be to travel on the ‘make america kind again’ bus

“human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the figure of a free people.

a nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”

-Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States

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Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Just Wear the Damn Mask

Don’t breathe on me! I am deeply flawed and your breath could carry me to a far shore where my friends won’t find me. Your cavalier ignorance defies kindness and care. Your harm is wanton. Do you miss home that badly? We are only visitors here. We are here to learn. You show me respect by wearing a mask. We will all go home soon enough.


Posted in communication, Covid-19, Humans, Masks, rite-of-passage, Time, Universe, Wisdom | Tagged | 4 Comments

Haiku: Ninety or Nothin’

(For my friend and compadre Bud Hedrick on his 90th birthday, May 22. ~JimS)

Birthdays and race days
can both have the same feeling:
ninety or nothin’

(Motorcycle:; Bud and Jim: Jim; and go visit

Posted in Aging, birthdays, Friendship, Haiku, memory, men, Motorcycles, Music, pals, Poem, Riding, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Birth Times: Two

(Another essay tired of languishing without a home. ~JimS)

As far as mysteries go, birth is the only event I can think of that rivals death in its head-scratching miraculous reality. Humans make a big deal of it. I don’t know what animals think about giving birth. They don’t tell us. Or if they do we have forgotten how to listen. Perhaps mammals are the most nurturing parents although birds are right up there with us in that regard. Family units are, mostly, tightly knit and ongoing. Mammalian and avian parents are deeply invested in making sure their offspring survive and flourish. There are exceptions, of course; there are always exceptions. Isn’t that right?

If this story were being written by a female of the species, it would be a whole different animal. Pardon the questionable idiom, but it’s true. I am a male of the species so my take on birth is from mind-blown incredulous awed observation, not direct participation. There are no words sufficient to explain the terrifying emotional bloody joyousness of it. All I can do is report on how it was in my relatively detached role as the only guy in those rooms who wasn’t a medical professional.

Our first-born decided to start knocking on the door while we were bowling in the Gearhart Sunday Night Mixed league. The first game passed without incident. My amazing lovely spousal unit was a joy to watch balancing the bowling ball in various juxtapositions with her very pregnant self. The second game, however, became more of a challenge when she came back from the restroom and told me quite matter-of-factly: “labor is upon us.”  After smoothing my eyebrows down out of my hair I asked her if we needed to get to the hospital. “No, let’s finish the game and see what happens.” She went on to roll a 206. Best game ever. Through some kind of mysterious human osmosis it wasn’t long before everyone in the bowling alley knew she was beginning the last stage of having a child. During her approaches near the end of the game, the whole place held its breath as she released the ball.

We did get to the hospital but were sent home after a quick examination. “Nope,” said the nurse. “Two-point-five centimeters is too early. Go home and rest.” So we did. I fell asleep as I was rubbing her back and counting the minutes between contractions. That’s how useful I was. She woke me later and just said “let’s go.” I needed no second urging.

One of the beauties of living in a small town is that we knew everybody in the delivery room. It was comfortable. For me anyway. There’s my male side of things showing. The rest of my recollection is fuzzy until our daughter showed up. She slid out of there in a bloody wad and scrunched up immediately from the dramatic temperature drop. Her faced clenched and a howl impossible from such a small creature filled the room. Deft hands wiped most of the goo from her, cut the umbilical, and gently put her into a handy tub of warm water. The howl ceased. Her face relaxed. Her eyes opened wide. They were deep blue and as dark as the morning outside. To say she was beautiful is like saying the universe is big. I was incapable of speech but heard an immense choir singing a chord in gazillion-part harmony.

My recollection here goes fuzzy again. I remember Doctor Larry sewing up what needed to be sewn. I took some photos. I held my wife’s hand as our daughter was lifted from the warm water, loosely swaddled and placed on her chest amid much tearful cooing. There was so much I wanted to say but there were no words. I was awash in a flood of joyful resolve and fear and uncertainty. Parenthood was upon us. I laid my trembling hands on our little miracle and felt her tiny trip-hammer heart marking its time. She smelled of ocean. I felt my mate’s heart, her kick drum in time with the small one’s high-hat cymbal, and understood our separate lives in our separate skins all bound together forever.

Fast-forward a few years; another baby on the way. A happily amorous and practical plan came together and fruition was apparent. My bride was resting in the bedroom and I decided I needed a walk. “Don’t go far,” she admonished. I only made it a few hundred yards when as sure as a light switch being thrown I knew it was time to go back. Yep. I got back to the house and it was time to go. We bundled young Jessica into the car, dropped her off with her aunt, and headed to Good Samaritan. Like our first child, we’d opted to leave this new one’s gender unknown until we all actually met. The mothering half of our union didn’t want to know. I was ambivalent about it but supported her wishes wholeheartedly. The delivery room in the big city was different than our rural sojourn six years prior. The only medical person I knew in the delivery room was the doctor who welcomed us with a broad smile. Even though his blue mask covered his nose and mouth his eyes lit up. How did I see his smile? Some kind of imagination that hits a limbic truth button? I guess it’s one of those things you just accept and move on.

The new baby wouldn’t turn properly and shoulders were an issue. My brave bride pushed and gasped and gritted but we approached an impasse. They were beating each other up. At one point the doc looked at me past the rim of his glasses above his blue unsmiling mask and said: “I think we’re about one push away from a C-section.”

At this point I did something I do all too often and said something completely inane: “Should I go out and get pizza?” Something between her displeasure at my unconscious flippancy and the doctor’s pronouncement struck my spouse and with a gut-wrenching cry she delivered that kid like a bloody bomb. A boy. We were all amazed. There was no tub of warm water this time. It was a soft heated pillow. As the nurse put him on the warm pillow and cleaned off his birth mess he fussed and kicked and waved his little arms. Somehow, he managed to grab my left pinky finger and hold on with surprising strength. A life grip. At the same time my wife called my name and my head swiveled. She had her right arm reached out to me. I stretched myself as taut as I could and offered my hand. She gripped my index finger with astonishing force. There I was, my left pinky held by our brand new son and my right index finger completely engulfed in my mate’s fist. I don’t have words for what passed through me from mother to son; the closest I can come is bioelectricity. I was but a wire, a synapse, a medium, a conduit, a fiber optic cable…run through by the holiest lightning ever. It was birth and death and prayer and life all charging across me in a crackling buzz. It was everything and probably lasted two seconds, but it changed my life in ways I’m still trying to identify these many years later.

Two births. Two life changing events in a getting-to-be-long blessed life that is learning to render accomplishment into humility, which turns out to be the only accomplishment worth mentioning, in pleasant company anyway. Isn’t that right?

Birth is an expellation, an arguably violent act. How, then, can it be filled with such profound grace? We are nurtured for months in the ocean of our mother, protected. Sure, there are storms like with any ocean, but we live with no less divinity than any sea creature. We grow whole and are then expelled into the bright cold world of air and light. If we are lucky we survive and thrive. Our first breath is searing. Grace happens as we suddenly acclimate to the new world in which we find ourselves. Somehow, we adhere to our mother and acknowledge our father and find a graceful peace. Miracles collect like rosary beads. We find our way. All I can do is stare at this spectacle and pretend I have words to describe it. But I really don’t. Such is life.

(Nebulae:; Sperm and egg:

Posted in Baby, birth, family, History, Humans, humor, Life, Marriage, memory, Oregon, rite-of-passage, Uncategorized, Universe | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

In Her Wings

(for John Prine)

The Universe held me
in her wings today;
I could feel her heart beat
right next to mine.
She gathered all my sadness
and tucked it away
somewhere out past Jupiter
I couldn’t find.

Sometimes you just have
to give it up,
accept the help you need,
lose your prideful bend,
and empty out your cup
into the river you rode in on
and will ride back out,
time and time again.

Oh, it’s mostly what you don’t see
that keeps you wound around your constancy–
Around your constancy.

The Universe held me
in her wings today.

(Wings:; universe:

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Haiku: Days of Sand

Sand under my wheels–
Ain’t no words for how it feels–
Just one of those deals.

(Photo: Narble Furt)

Posted in Beach, Consciousness, Gratitude, Haiku, Narble Furt, Ocean, Oregon, Poem | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Haiku: Each Breath

Gratitude for each
breath is a verse that goes on
until the song ends.

Be well; be safe; be kind.

(Photo: Narble Furt)

Posted in Birds, Gratitude, Haiku, Poem, Right now, Slice of Life, Song, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Quiet

Another essay I want to share. I’d rather have it sit here on than hide in my directory structure. ~JimS.

It’s late evening. I’m standing on a front porch in Gearhart, Oregon, on the dune I’ve come to call my own. I see Polaris gleaming above the Japanese Cedar in my front yard. I can make out other stars too, quite a lot of them wheeling around Polaris, but slowly enough that I don’t get dizzy. Here on the North Oregon Coast we are blessed with darkness. On this side of the house the ever-present rumble in my background is the ocean—Pacific here, but it could be Atlantic, Indian, Arctic, I don’t care. I’m partial to the Pacific, because it’s right there; it’s my ocean, and the most misnamed body of water on the planet—placid is a rare state in the Pacific’s thunderous liquid mass of awe-inspiring community. On the other side of the house is the rumble of the Pacific Coast Highway, incessant during the day and intermittent when it’s dark. I am grateful every day it isn’t a freeway.

As a former temporary urbanite, during my sojourn involving a career and the tag-team guiding of two humans from patty-cake to career-make, I have to admit—cities are loud. I don’t miss that at all. Estimates say that everyday city noise varies between seventy and ninety decibels, even louder when a violent event cranks it up a bit. This violence can happen when two or more cars try to occupy the same space or a ridiculous argument erupts in a quiet café or bar. Normal conversation is about sixty-five decibels, but that’s only if the people conversing don’t have to yell at each other because of the silly argument at the table next to them.

So, what is quiet? Does it start at zero decibels? Not really. The way the human ear works, sitting calmly in a recording booth with the door sealed and nothing going on still registers about fifteen decibels. Quiet is very relative, but over the course of our lives we have developed an interesting relationship with quiet.

The sounds we hear have everything to do with our perception of them. Do I sit in my comfortable living room chair and dream about the rush of downtown taxis? No, but I do fantasize about the sound of water moving around the hull of a boat, the rustle of breeze through a stand of aspen on Steens Mountain, the circular spin of the windblown bows of the giant noble fir in my front yard, the quiet sigh my lovely bride makes as she falls asleep, the snort of my grandpuppy when he wants out, the suff of cards being dealt, the holy thrum of guitar strings as they vibrate rosewood and spruce, the gurgle of a tiny human in the crook of my arm, the exasperated sighs of my children when I think I’m being funny, the little grunts of recognition when a poem pries the lid from my heart. These sights and sounds are part of what I call the Quiet.

Back before we invented monotheism, reverence and awe were everyday occurrences. When Western thought gave all of creation to an individual supreme being, we conveniently received dominion over the earth and its creatures. Our reverence went off-planet. We put ourselves in the middle, between Mr. Supreme (gender-specific) and the rest of the Universe. We built a model that still works for multitudes of believers today. It turns out, I think, that we had it almost right. Yes, we are of the One, but we are part of it as it is part of us. And because of the way imagination works, the Supreme is part of the whole deal too and, as it should, the gender-specific thing vanishes. What the Catholics got right was the Mother part when they deified Mary and allowed her to embrace their world as her own spiritual being. The ritual, the miracle of the Eucharist, the kindness, all that, works for those who love the faith of it. But the patriarchic side of it missed the boat on the sin (Original Sin blames the female), the fear, the intrinsic violence, the giving up of the miracles of this life for a golden pie in the sky. (We’ll come back to the mom part in a few minutes.)

When one of our ancestors wasn’t hunting or being hunted, he or she must have found the clear night sky stunning. We still feel the old reverence when we can escape light pollution and look up from, say, the top of Steens Mountain, or better yet, the deck of a sailboat silent running with the wind in a total absence of man-made light. But when we look up to see the galaxy arm we call the Milky Way and know we’re looking at stars, an incredible vastness shrinks us to subatomic particles. When our forebears looked up, they must have been utterly mystified, and the shivers going through them were eventually translated into myth and legend. I wonder what they thought they were looking at. They were pragmatic. They had to be. They were predators, but they were also prey. Deciding how to describe what the night sky or a hair-raising electrical storm made them feel probably contributed to the evolution of our brains. Stories, poetry, and song are as old as we are.

Living in a city removes us from that common, everyday reverence of wilderness. We’ve allowed this to happen. Because ambient light floods our optics, we can’t see what’s really there. We are blind to the wonder still experienced by people living in the relative dark. I’m sure you can step out onto the porch surrounding a Nebraska farmhouse and fall up into the wonder of the galaxy. I know you can do it in the Malheur country of Southeastern Oregon and the broad Mojave of Southern California. If you have the patience, you can also find it here on the Oregon coast. You can find it anyplace where light pollution is at a minimum.

This wildness moves us, but the very nature of wilderness is changing. True wilderness knows no master other than the earth herself. When most people think of wilderness, images come as mountain and forest, as vast plains and desert, as endless seascape. But all of what comes to mind has been, and is being, affected by human activity. Plastic nanoparticles are everywhere in the ocean and, likewise, in us. Climate change, probably a natural cycle but direly exacerbated by humans, is touching what we call wilderness every day. We are even replanting in wilderness areas so that it looks more like we think it should. How can we call that wilderness?

So, what’s different? From breeze on smooth water to the sternum-rattling thunder of a supercell, nature is being perceived as something apart from us. The galaxy for many young people is fast going small instead of vast, but who’s to say inner space is any less huge than outer space? When compared to the natural world, the difference is that this digital space so rapidly absconding with society’s established predilections is completely manufactured. Without humans present, you can’t find the digital world on the Upper Rogue River, or by a tarn reflecting the Eagle Cap in Oregon’s Wallowas. The digital world is brilliant, but we made it. It wasn’t already here for us to wonder about. There is no intrinsic humility. We are its creators, and we created it in our own image.

Instant gratification—constant stimulation—is addictive. Some people feel utterly lost if they’re not connected. “Connected to what” is a question still being answered. The web has become the new Milky Way, but without the reverence. There is no I-am-a-speck-of-dust in an awed moment of stunned self-realization. Maybe we invented religion to make a word for that pervasive awe, to make it accessible through ritual and repetitive reverence, to chant the word over and over to quantify and encapsulate an imperfect snapshot of that feeling there really is no word for, no sentence, no paragraph, no novel. We called it God, capital G.

The digital world probably weakens us in ways we don’t yet understand. How it may strengthen us is also unknown. The connections we forge in the natural world are deeply emotional and personal. We are completed in ways that defy description. We find that place for which there are no words to describe what we’re feeling and experiencing. The connections we make in the digital world, in social media, are all about words, labels, and definitions. They are invisible-person-to-invisible-person. Peaceful contentment and excitement can certainly be found there—community too—but how deep does it go? When we find online photographs of the natural world, we imagine the feel of it, the water, the sun, the rain, the wind, the air, but we are not there. We are seduced by it, perhaps, but what we experience is several times removed. Seduction, in all of its nuances, is what the digital world is about. We do, after all, call it virtual. There is no visceral understanding of the beauty, just as there is no visceral comprehension of the astonishing brutality that is also, undeniably, a part of the natural world. We edit our perception of what we see in a photograph or video, or painting.

Now, back to the mom part. Before we’re born, we spend an average of nine months inside our mother. During the first third of that, cells cluster and begin to pulse, forming our heart; synapses begin to develop; and the spine starts growing from the tailbone to the brainstem. We start stretching, curling, and wiggling digits. During the second trimester, we begin learning to work the mechanics of breathing. Are we aware? Maybe not until the cortex starts to form and grow. That happens throughout the last three months of our water-borne amphibious state. Again, are we aware? We can learn stuff while still in there, nudging the warm soft bulkhead of our amniotic home, so maybe we are in a rudimentary way. I’m guessing we can feel something, some hazy prenatal emotions. If those little emotions get associated with some sort of rudimentary thought, whatever that thought might be can become very powerful.

In a good situation, most of that amniotic ride is pretty peaceful, warm, safe, and we are one with our mother. Mother is the universe. We bob about in the dark. Life is good in the quiet.

Suddenly, our environment develops a catastrophic leak. We are forcibly squeezed through a portal smaller than our head and enter an unbelievably loud place. It is deathly cold and bright. Our skin shrieks. Our eyes explode with light. Our diaphragm pulls a searing volume of air into our wet lungs. Hello, pain.

Do we remember any of this miracle? Does any creature? I remember my daughter’s scrunched-up little face going completely calm when we put her bloody little self into a tub of warm water. Her eyes opened wide, and she relaxed. It’s hard not to put thoughts in that brand-new air-breathing human brain. I have no idea what she saw. But she seemed to say, “Oh, hello. Where the heck am I?”

The trauma of our beginnings must stay with us at some deep level. When we experience something that fills us with awe and reverence, like looking up at a night sky when it’s the brightest thing we see or hiding in the middle of a dozen heart-pausing thunderclaps, does it somehow relate to our memories of the quiet and the dichotomy of being born? Are we reunited with our mother in some way, somehow closing the loops of our memories? Our desire to reconnect with something profound, to find a place where we are one with everything, where we satisfy that longing to bob about in a warm peaceful place, where we are but a drop in a vast, powerful torrent—maybe that’s what reverence is all about.

The Quiet is where gratitude finds us. It’s all about recognizing our place in the world, admitting that our understanding of it will always be incomplete, and being at peace with who we are and who we might be.

Posted in Absolutes, Baby, birth, Consciousness, Evolution, Gratitude, Humans, Oregon, Pollution, religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The Ecology of Gratitude

I’m clearing the decks. Here’s another essay nobody will publish. JimS.

Ah, gratitude: a simple way to honor the place in which you find yourself, an emotion that encompasses the breadth of a life and lights the sometimes stony path ahead.

I am grateful for the friendships that grace my life, the most profound of which is my friendship with the amazing woman who decided to spend her life with me. I don’t think there’s a day that goes by without my contemplative boundless appreciation. My blushing bride probably hasn’t blushed in quite some time—after all, she has seen everything, pretty much, there is to see during the lifetime she’s chosen to put up with me. Maybe part of it is her pioneer stoicism, or maybe she’s just waiting for me to surprise her again, like the time we stayed up all night and wound up on the beach at sunrise digging clams with our hands.[1] Still, she embraces our union with steadfast humor and understanding, making me the luckiest man in the history of men.

I am grateful for the realization that we humans are not the crown of creation. We are but one jewel of many in that fancy headgear. Is our spatial recognition any better than a spider’s? Does our hearing translate at all to that of a bat? Or a dolphin? Even a dog? Our eyesight is hopelessly nearsighted compared to a sharp-shinned hawk. What we call stink is a rich encyclopedia for dogs. And animals feel much like we do. They know joy, grief, anger, and fear. We are just learning how to quantify this. Part of the reason understanding has taken so long is our arrogance and unwillingness to recognize that animals have a right equal to ours when it comes abiding on this shared waterlogged oblate spheroid. Yes, Nature is uncomprehendingly brutal, but are we the only creatures capable of kindness? What about killer whales gently leading small wayward boats to a safe shore in dense fog? This has been documented more than once. And when a dog tried to follow his person’s boat out into Puget Sound and exhausted himself, resident orcas nudged him several miles back to the beach, not letting him drown.[2] Kindness. What else could it be? What about a mother allowing a different species to suckle and survive? Happens on every continent in every age. There is immense power in the natural world. We would do well to recognize it, brutality and all. In the big picture, it will save us if we are to be saved. Do animals feel gratitude? I would not be the slightest bit surprised.

I am grateful for the gift of music. I’ve known I am a musician since the age of four when I would haul a kitchen chair to the living room, drag it between the big speakers my dad built, clamber up, and emotionally conduct the 1812 Overture; the recording with the cannons. Stereo was a new thing, and I instinctively became part of the music. It washed over me and through me and held me in its vast gnarled hand to give me my first inklings of grace. I knew every nuance and was endlessly fascinated by how all that sound could have come out of Tchaikovsky’s head and heart. I was deeply amazed. Still am. As I grew into my gift, I was captivated by the never-endingness of practice and performance, the cosmic bonding with other musicians and audiences of all kinds. I remember coming out of an extended guitar solo to discover the other people onstage and in the audience were all balls of light, glowing like stars, pulsing and thriving. Scared me briefly until I was infused with a warmth I can only explain as the breath of God. There are really no words for how it was and is. I tell this story and people smile knowingly and ask: “What were you on?” I just smile back and say, “Music.”

What kind of father would I be if I didn’t express gratitude for my children? Recalcitrant at best. Those independent caring funny blindingly smart offspring units are nearly the only people on this planet I’ve met in person who are biologically related to me.[3] That adds a powerful aspect to the gratitude I feel for the woman who mothered them and brought them forth into this crazy world. I’ve probably learned more from them than they have ever learned from me. My amazing daughter has taught me about honoring commitments and forthright attention to detail, among many other things. My amazing son has taught me much about staying calm when I want to fly off the handle and bludgeon stupidity in its many forms. We also share dialog about patience that makes the women in our lives roll their eyes. In addition to nurturing the family unit, we all have become fast friends with stories to tell and more stories to catch. I would be lost without them. My dad hat is proudly worn. A tad battered, perhaps, but I will have it at hand for as long as I am of corporeal form and maybe after. Who knows?

Of course I must express gratitude for my parents, the people who raised me from a skinny orphan baby to a robust headlong emotional human whose occasional brilliance is punctuated by dumber-than-a-rock moments, but who loves life with an all-consuming passion. I would not have arrived at such a special place without them. My father never really understood my compulsively expressive character. He just didn’t get it. I might as well have been from Mars as far as he was concerned. But he stuck with me and did his best not to judge who I was. It must have been extraordinarily difficult for him, sometimes, to tolerate my mere presence. My mother thought I was a genius and was not shy about telling people, much to my chagrin. But she did convince me there was absolutely nothing I could think of that I couldn’t accomplish if I set my mind to it. They were married for seventy-two years. They blessed me as parents for sixty-two years; fifty-eight years for my little sister. They are still together on a green hillside where the breeze blows across an ornamental pond and curls the leaves on the trees standing sentinel. Without them, there is no telling where I might be. I have no concept of anything big enough with which to compare my gratitude. Well, perhaps the Universe. And maybe that’s the point I’m trying to make. You know?

Back to friendships for a bit. I am blessed with a large extended family of choice. Some of this astonishing family are musical, some are companions who love the outdoors and revel in every opportunity to experience the broad natural panoply our Oregon home provides, some are writerly, some are laughing partners who enjoy an adult refreshment and make my life an intricate tapestry of shared stories, bringing an appreciation of time and place home to roost. A few are all of these things. They know who they are. The beauty is that I can tell stories that don’t always have me in them, other than as narrator. Like my children, I would be lost without them, both the people and the stories.

Finally (yes, I am winding down), there are the animals with whom I’ve had the extreme pleasure of codependence. When I was young and still living with my parents, our dog Snap forgave me for everything. She camped by my bed in the night, at least until I fell asleep. After that, who knows? But if she needed to go out in the middle of the night, she would always come wake me up, trusting my opposable thumbs to work the mystery of the door. Most times, she’d do her business and be right back. Sometimes, though, she would take her own ineffably sweet time, knowing I would not abandon her. In winter, she’d come back covered in snow and grin at me as I toweled her off at three in the morning. I gave her my whole heart. When she passed, it was my first lesson in dealing with inexhaustible grief. There were also two cats, Gracie and Rama, who came through my life after I was grown and on my own. They blessed my marriage, both for close to twenty years each. Being cats, they still visit from time to time, their spirits passing through to say hello. Every once in a while, Rama sits on my chest and licks my nose as he always did. This almost wakes me as I feel him walk the length of the bed next to my leg as he leaves. Gracie and Rama never met, but they share a holy place in my heart. And I cannot leave out Toulouse, a mottled Catahoula Leopard Dog who’s become the model for one of the heroes in the novels I write. He is my daughter’s boy but is staying with us while she lives on the east coast. He’s curled up in the hallway as I write this, making sure I’m doing my best. I’m convinced he’s the best dog in the history of dogs.

Gratitude is prayer. Without it, we are just going through the motions and missing the whole point of what it means to be here, living inside our skin and feeling the world flow around us—through us. It provides a cornerstone for humility and calls more of what we’re grateful for into our lives. It gives us a path to tread when we are lost in the wilderness of self-importance and doubt where words fail and thought becomes the Ouroboros, leaving us to choke on our scaly selves. Gratitude does not need words—it only needs depth of heart. We are not rational beings with emotions; we are emotional beings with a gift of reason.

In the doorway, Toulouse just yawned and stretched, hoping this is the last sentence. And so it is.

[1] Sane people use clam shovels or clam guns.

[2] Chronicled in Carl Safina’s marvelous book Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel; Henry Holt and Company  · ISBN: 978-0-8050-9888-4

[3] Recently, I’ve found brothers and a half-sister through DNA analysis.


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