A Potential Forward To Jack’s Book

Actually, this will undoubtedly change, inasmuch as I have experienced my own series of “medical events”. I sort of wrote it under the watchful eye of two critics/editors/great friends and it rolled out in a day as nicely as I could want.

Writing about Jack Hicks is an emotional experience for me, beyond a doubt. Our talks were full of laughs and life, with unruly interruptions from dogs and people which anarchy simply made it all more memorable.

All I really lack in finishing the book are facts……….a lot of them. Jack dearly wanted to “name names” of his ballplayers and to try and make sure everyone felt a part of his life – because they were. Once my medical issues are finally overcome, I will be spending oodles of time in Owensboro in an effort to clean up the loose ends. With that in mind, I wrote the following:

“The miles burn by through a lush and gorgeous maze of green forests, untended fields and manicured farms as I drive the 118 miles to Jack Hicks’ home in Owensboro. I reflect on the beauty of Southern Indiana countryside along Highway 65, then South on Hwy 231, a gorgeous pastiche of nature and agriculture. It is shamelessly intoxicating, riveting entertainment in all months of the year except for the Winter months. I often attach earphones as I drive and listen to the interview tapes Coach Hicks and I created together. I digest the “fresh” news; I have 40 hours of recordings, and I almost always dig up nuggets previously missed on the colorful history of this man and his times. On the seat beside me, I keep both a notebook and a recorder handy to note my thoughts and reflections. Altogether, the drive has become a deeply personal, heart-full experience, the biographical work, even including the physical act of the travel to the source. The work he and I have done has caused me to reflect on my own life in the silence of this unfolding amid this deeply evocative movement of the land around me. I often think of my travel as a testament to the America of roads, automobile power and my own well-chronicled personal and powerful wanderlust.

It becomes an accounting.

The irony of my current situation strikes me with the brutal realization that there seems to be so much mortality around me these days. My mother, who is 95, is someone I help and care for back home in Louisville, where I relocated to help her and my brother Tom. Her medical struggles are similar to Jack’s. Each are failing and a little frightened. Each has become in need of caregiving, even as Jack still hosts loving friends and family. Each might have jetted off this mortal coil and well could have years ago, yet both hang on in ways which are unselfish and rather refreshing for that. Each of them exist because the fire of their curiosity is still alive. Each are “waiting to see how things come out.” Each is also surrounded by an absurdly caring tribe who relish their remaining moments on Earth and who ask nothing more than that they stay mentally active. One cannot miss the impression that each still very much enjoy living. Both now feel well beyond desperate, and far more grateful than resentful. Their proud exhaustion fuels my sadness.What they have grown to understand is beyond me..

When I took on the project of writing Jack’s life story, I had no idea my own mother’s medical fate would parallel his. The days spent in Owensboro interviewing Jack, recording his words and recollections, kept us both fresh with newly-recorded reminiscences. Each meeting became richer than the last until all this momentum “stopped on a dime”.

Last September, while going to her weekly lunch with ladies who had shared the tradition together for long years, Mother broke her hip in a terrible fall. She shattered her hip. Her situation quickly deteriorated in the hospital hastened further by kidney troubles. She was on heavy pain-killing medication and she suffered from hallucinations. Her helplessness was something new to my brother Tom and me. We each struggled with our emotions and we felt the grimness of the absolute finality we faced. Mortality haunted us for a while, an uncomfortable revelation of Nature’s power.

I cut off my Owensboro visits with Jack to attend to Mother at home in Louisville. She eventually found herself in a rehab facility where she slowly but effectively returned to some seriously robust health. We each visited her two times a day to keep her spirits up and to encourage her improvement. Caring for Mom became our job.

Mother became one of the exemplary rehabilitations of her rehab facility at the young age of 94, full of spit and vinegar She improved by leaps and bounds every day. She got to where she read the most of a book a day, and she was insanely and absolutely delighted to finally get her release and return to her own bed. Honestly, it was very cool.

However, Mom’s broken hip set my work with Coach Hicks back five months, which would stretch to longer as Winter descended and made traveling perilous. I lost momentum and barely communicated with Jack, who knew and had taught with Mom at Owensboro High School. Jack asked about her often and fondly..

At the same time, Jack’s health began to decline. He had landed at an age and condition where the only question is “when?” not “how?”. The question was most certainly not “Why?” Few others could have made it so long and far as he had.

On my next visit to Owensboro, I am left to digest the bittersweet and dueling sensation of loss and accomplishment. I entered Jack’s house without knocking and yelled out my presence: “Anybody home??”

I hear the familiar as I walk back through the hall to Jack’s bedroom.

“Come on in!!”

It is baseball season and Jack scrolls through his beloved Christmas present of 3 year’s ago: The Major League Baseball Channel’. Jack now has access to every single game of the day and he is already smiling.

The vibrant, huge sporting giant who loomed over my youth smiles at me through his never-ending bodily pain from his bed and extends his hand. Jack’s hands themselves are personally legendary and worthy of a story themselves some day. Spare, smooth and bony, large and amazingly strong even still, his hand engulfs mine with sincere pressure. Those hands lifted his polio-ravaged lower body into a society which allowed him to excel. They have worked as hard as any hands in Western Civilization.

His Beagle attacks me with licks, rotating upside down on my lap, schmoozing in even closer, recalling the serious petting I was responsible for for quite some extended time now. The dog never fails to evince a smile out of Jack who will comment about its recent behavior. Our ritual is established and wholesome, our smiles intact as Jack once again wonders why anyone figures he is interesting enough to actually write a book about.

Occasionally we get visited during our meetings by various and sundry folks. Jack maintains a social life in his bed-ridden days which he still relishes. On the days when Randy Embry visits, he has an especially large smile. Randy’s obvious love for Jack is reciprocated, all of which revolves around the nexus of Owensboro sports. In Randy’s case, I am somewhat positive Jack’s admiration is more for his athletic gifts, inasmuch as few people in the world had talent remotely close to his. But Randy was also among the coaching fraternity, fully furthered in his progress and career by Jack. They “go back”, in short. We sit and cut up, swapping stories about our teams, asking questions we may always have wondered about to these days. The time passes effortlessly and fluidly and I suddenly realize Jack’s eyes are drooping.

A couple of “attention rallies” later, coupled with another long story or two, I bid them both a fond good bye, already missing this priceless ambiance.

I stop by Starbucks to sum up what just happened on an informational basis and drop notes on my laptop. A good large espresso primes me for a visit to the Messenger & Inquirer archives on micro-film at the public library where I spend the next 4 hours studying events of decades ago. At times the work seems insurmountable. There is just so much. Jack won 11 American Legion State Championships. He won 4 High School State Championships. His high school record was basically 700-200. This guy won games at an 80% clip. He scheduled everyone from everywhere. So many stories…………..so many athletes……….so many bizarre and impossible situations………..and so much respect this man earned from those who played for him.

Both he and Mom have limited time left. I have long since decided to enjoy what time they give me. That seems a near-perfect solution.



Blooming Trees – Some Notes on Where and Why To Plant Them

I have added much to the original post. These forward paragraphs are a part. I’m afraid I have created a sort of monster – another long involved post which may require two visits to finish. When I do that, I always hope I can entertain a reader enough with pictures and concrete examples of the topic to at least have them enjoy the journey.

So, with Winter having a really hard time leaving and giving up some playing time to a sunny and warmer Spring in Kentucky, I find myself pining – I mean really desiring – some serious Springtime. Well, few things announce the season changes more radically than the well-placed and efficiently-designed trees in our neighborhoods and parks. So this, then, is simply one person’s more obvious and desirable appreciation of the changing seasons………as in “Get here, dammit!” ;-)

We plant trees for as many reasons as there are – well – trees. Some of them we plant to provide shade and to change the weather around our homes – which they do like few other things. We will often consider their foliage at the time of selection, looking for something especially appealing perhaps, say with Fall Color.

(left click any picture to enlarge)

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These proud eventual behemoths dominate and define our gardens and lawns, adding a sense of permanence, shade and beauty. Their shapes tend to offer a completely wide range of opportunities, from climbing them for kids – always a never-ending source of pleasure as I recall – to the entire “shade” provision – often including such things as fruits, pretty and interesting bark textures and smells.

Blooming trees tend to occupy a mid range of heights. It’s rare to find trees which put out seriously gorgeous blooms getting over 30 feet high. Some Tulipfera’s can get up there. Out West, some Locusts dangle fabulous clumps of Wysteria-like blossoms for a couple of weeks and they can get very high.  Their one weakness, in my history of dealing with them is that they are a very soft wood. Wind just decimates them, in the end, or huge snowfalls. Having said that, some have survived well indeed and they produce these gorgeous blooms every Spring. This is the Purple Robe variety.


The Deeper South and California can grow some huge blooming trees, such as Jacaranda and Crepe Myrtles. I have not been fortunate enough to play with these species personally, so my opinion of them remains that of the kid with his nose foggily pressed against the window at the Toy Display at Christmas. ;-)

Generally, if I am looking for something to provide blooms, I tend towards those trees which produce impressively. Now, of all these mid-height specimens, there is another range of considerations dealing with timing. The Laburnum (Golden Chain) bloomer in the picture below tend to show up in late Spring. This gives a chance for the earlier blooming Cherries, Plums, Crabapples and the likes to do their thing either before or concurrently with these guys. You’ll even notice a rare Rhodendron sighting in this picture, tucked in close to the house on a “North” side – the only possible positioning for Rhodies in Reno, Nevada.

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Below is a picture of the Lunatic Fringe of Golden Chain design – an arrangement which is entirely possible to install in climates in which they accommodate well. Good well-draining soil and a plenitude of rainfall or excellent irrigation are an absolute requirement for this softwood specimen. But you have to admit – the Lunatic Fringe is pretty cool! (Nor is this a picture of one of my projects, unlike most of the others. I just found it hard not to celebrate.)  Luscious examples of the best of the best are the inspiration and idea-producers where designers go to constant school. This is not even complicated, ironically.


We place them in locations where they can dominate during their heyday, while waiting for the more Summer loving perennials and grasses develop. Prominently-displayed, blooming trees make quite a statement. Nor do they have to be huge to be quietly effective.

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Later, when developed more fully is when we see the pure splendor of the best blooming trees. They can literally take your breath away standing near one or walking by. The simple profuseness of some of the Cherry Trees and Crabs is simply mind-boggling.

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We watch the stages as the blooms form, then burst out. It is some great Natural Theatre.

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Th real winners are those with some age to them. I love what so many City and Private Parks display on a routine basis. How on Earth can one improve on settings such as these?:

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From the Portland, Oregon Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden:

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I suspect that railing will never be the same “after Paul”, lol.  Pretty nice, though, you have to admit. The designers of Parks have all those great aspects such as time and maintenance to make their stuff work.

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But how pretty the blooms are from even the most average of Blooming Cherries?

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The Kentucky State Tree – Liriodendron Tulipfera


Honestly, a tree I have fallen head-over-heels in love with in Louisville turns out to be the “State Tree” – the Liriodendron or “Tulip Tree”. It turns out there are many Magnolias termed “Tulip Trees” as well as the Liriodendron, but none grow as large, stately and lush-leaved as this. Then of course, there is the bloom. Subtle, amazingly clean, absolutely gorgeous these blooms actually feature the rarest color in “Bloomdom” – Green. When I first ran into the blooms, I had a crazy epiphany – nothing overwhelming at all, these gorgeous little blooms simply require an up close look to be fully appreciated.00000

The above is a fresh, spic and span new bloom which will evolve into something less camouflaged and more bee-ready, but the striking orange under that leaf-colored green seems like some tastefully understated fluff – a trick of the Creator. Later, the bloom achieves substantially more color as the sun and rough natural traffic of age, wind and insects change things as they always do.



There can be a lot of them, too.  ;-) This is truly one amazingly healthy specimen here…..


Shapely, even stately when allowed to thrive without conflicting tall trees, this softwood Poplar variation is as charming and – ironically, owing to its subtle colors – as demurely elegant as it gets.


Tree placement is the general province of landscapers and designers who worry all over the placement and eventual size of trees. Any more, all the new building notwithstanding, we still face mortality in all trees – they have an expected life span. There are 200 year old Elms and Oaks in Louisville who have a nasty propensity to age and have their branches finally break and fall in incredibly dangerous and heavy manner onto sidewalks and parking spaces. They need replacing, to say the least, as stately and magnificent as they may even still be. They certainly require serious pruning, often taking entire branches, clearing areas which can change the entire character of a tree.

It is also the same with Ornamentals. While it is not unusual to see 100 year old cherry trees, it is the exception rather than the norm. Here is a fascinating bit of history:

Since the start of the Heian period (794-1185), the most-anticipated spring event in Japan has been cherry blossom viewing or hanami. Kyoto is home to many famous cherry blossom viewing locations. The city also has its share of especially well-known individual trees. The most celebrated of them all is the magnificent weeping cherry tree or shidare sakura in Maruyama Park which has long enchanted visitors. The care of this immense tree, which is slowly shrinking, is the responsibility of Toemon Sano who is known as the Sakuramori or ”Cherry-Tree Doctor”. If you are in Kyoto this month be sure to make a special visit to see this remarkable tree in its full glory.



That’s a “Quality Life” for a tree!!


Purgatory Ain’t That Bad

My time in Purgatory has much mystery and probably some distance to it, but I am striving to make the best out of the situation. It’s actually working, to a degree. First is the notion of avoiding excessive self-pity. Shit happens, lol, and here I am. Secondly, what limits does my situation pose, physically and spiritually? While I find myself slow in the recovery process – especially inasmuch as I am getting myself in shape to endure another surgery – my nurses have been heroes in forcing me to work. I asked for them again for just this reason since I had the option of doing so. Smartest thing I have done recently. Needless to say they also give me some society when the rest of the world is at work and all 3 are interesting and personally devoted to excellent care-giving. Yeah, lol – that “nurse thing” – heroines once again.


Secondly, there is the dawning of health for a second time following the drills and exercise, especially good when I begin simply enjoying my body working again. It was so easy to slip into “fa-gettinboudit – why bother?” Which is strange because no matter how I abused my bod in the past with smoking or partying, I had always enjoyed being myself as a strong and active person. This entire process has really rocked my world, I know that. It gives me some unusual takes regarding my future which, Lord knows, I would never have encountered without all this hassle. At 66, it is hardly worth the crazed hopes that I will be reborn into the distant future, because the future might only last another couple decades. This is just reality. So where does that leave me?

It has saddled me with a strange redeeming optimism about others, for one thing – how nice it will be to socialize full-bore again. Inasmuch as I appear to have all these great friends, the best part of that is, is that it is true. And the beauty part of that is that I regard them all with the same lens – they may mean more to me than vice versa. I am such a people slut, lol – but I am and it’s been a great way to live a life. Belly laughs, sharing Nature, ball games, museums, music, their families – these remain my most heartfelt values and I earned a real big swimming pool to play with them all in. And now even new people, from Facebook, medicine and the always-intriguing relationships with artists. I study all this and it brings me right back up – inevitably and assuredly.


So I have learned more about being the “people person” I have always taken so for granted. It’s like this low-hanging superfood fruit – or manna – I do know where it is and I will walk there, given a few breaks. Or maybe run, lol. This is sort of huge, really. It’s the sort of thing we read about from wise people – it reminds me that Love is the driving principle of the best in human life. “Love conquers all.”


I am also about to break out into work again. The Jack Hicks book needs attention so bad I can taste it. I feel like I have been his roomie now for 3 years, ha ha. Longer than either of us planned. I just bet his dog still worships me. ;-) I am always thinking about it – 24/7 – and, for a while, I was so mentally goofy, I did not trust myself to deal with the subtle aspects of editing and gaining more data. The treasure is out there – the data in the Owensboro Library – and, once I am reasonably healthy, I can make those trips again and close things out.


I began sorting through pictures and framing an outline of another book on Landscaping – this one doing what I do best – recounting the processes of the work itself…..detailed landscaping with much DIY information for the bold. People always enjoyed my detailed descriptions of our work, with many finding huge surprise over its actual complexity – differentiating the amateurs from the pro’s.


These projects motivate me hugely, but, frankly, so does cleaning my room. Things slid into a sort of messy disrepair since October 9 and it is wholly cleansing being able to take care of myself and even improving things.

I feel like a combination of new and injured. Dealing with these complex interactions over the next 6 months will tell us all about how much quality I can squeeze out of the time I have left. It’ scary and inspiring, all at the same time.


Thank you all for everything – just hugely!!

The New Dreary

This will seem almost recycled from an earlier time when I was rescued by action and food and optimistic about life in general again. Some of my current condition is extremely temporary and some not so much. I am pretty sure I could have lived in the same valued sense of hope without knowing that the purpose of getting stronger is to be fit enough to endure another major surgery.

My original doctor messed up. He begged some forgiveness and reminded me why he traversed so far and wide in my innards – the answer to which is he searched for hiding places for cancer cells. These were all the likely repositories, the 22 removed lymph nodes. It is also why I still wear a drain sank deep into my right hip which remains indescribably a pain in the ass, if I may. This drain, in fact, was the ostensible reason for the recent stay in the hospital. It was mega-infected. They wanted me on a treatment series of anti-biotics. At the same time that was when the current tribe of urology experts hopped in the picture, invited by my doctor to try and locate the source of all the drainage coming from my wound.

Well, after numerous CT Scans they found the culprit. The mucking around inside – or else the wholesale removal of so many lymph nodes, had produced a separated ureter – a tiny tube connecting a couple of organs (I’m not sure which) – which became unfixable even after trying to access it through my kidney in a memorably dreadful procedure.

My last days in the hospital saw a few rounds of visiting urologists, all of whom were straightforward and even a little brutal. The kidney drain they had put in cured the wound drainage which was a massive relief. Now instead of the ritual of multi-changes per day of the dressings for the wound, my wound is completely healed and does not require anything further.

But the parting words were related to the “next thing” – a major surgery aimed at putting it all back together. I liked that they reassured me that they’d “fix everything and then you’ll get your life back.” But I didn’t like that it very well might require a catheter for a couple weeks following the surgery. The datelines stretch into the future like things I cannot have.

Currently, all this has caused extremes of moodiness. Inasmuch as I also brought home a bedsore, my misery has picked up steam until I am in a similar space that I was over the last Christmas when I sat here at 143 pounds and losing, contemplating extremes of illness and death. It’s as if we have traveled back in time to my very least favorite period of my life.

I didn’t lose so much muscle tone as to be a disaster. I can get around the house OK, although I was pretty wobbly my first 2 days back. So I can walk. I look forward to my physical therapy nurses coming around again – so much. An active Steve is a far happier Steve. I am doing a few exercises on my own but my moods overwhelm my desire to get better. I believe I am reeling, trying to find that balance which can accommodate to this new temporary situation while still dealing with such a future.

I hope the girls can bring me back again,  yet another time because I’m just not sure I am up to it.