Guest Post – The First-Ever In This Blog

I’ve never given up this space for guests, being as selfish and eccentric as I suppose I am, although I have been asked to do so by some interesting people. Well, I’m changing that today and I may do so in the near future owing to the simple delight of sharing.

This post is written by my best friend, Steve Bare, whose children are who I managed to celebrate at their marriages in California 3 times, whose daughter my own daughter was named for, and about whom I have written before. Jody, Steve’s wife, is featured twice in this blog, for her breathtaking fabric art work. You can see her work here: Jody Bare’s Wearable Artwork This is an uber-talented family I feel wonderfully attached to, as does the rest of my own family. From the day we met – which Steve describes in massive detail – through everything – our days playing junior high and high school sports, Steve’s impressive football playing at Western Kentucky University, his time spent in Viet Nam, through his children’s upbringing and his 20 year English/Journalism teaching career at Aptos High School in Santa Cruz, to his work with Veteran’s issues – Steve and I have communicated and shared our innermost feelings and thoughts. I feel lucky to have a friend who is tolerant and compassionate towards the seeming multitudinous mistakes of my life, who has always “been there” for me, amid all the bubbling confusions which constitute life for us all.

In this guest post, Steve describes his family’s first days in Owensboro, Kentucky. If he – as I hope – develops Part 2, we will see this grand meeting of two hilarious minds, busting with curiosity, mirth and an anarchistic urge which all-too-often got expressed. If he doesn’t, please enjoy a fun tale of adolescence and the small cruelties which can form it – along with the occasional surprise when you discover some strange and effective things can arrive in small packages. Oh, the Humanity!!

My buddy Steve:

It was a few days later when I first met Steve Snedeker, a short time after I’d had my first run in with Eddie, George, and Frank, the toughest kids at Longfellow Elementary School.

It was August of 1960, and my family of five, myself included, had just moved to town a few weeks earlier. The town was a major city by western Kentucky standards, but a 12-year-old on a bike could pretty much explore most of it in a day. I was one of the new kids at the middle class white kid’s junior high school, Southern Junior High, home to the Rebels. There was also Eastern Junior High, where the working class went, sons and daughters of city workers, working parents, mill workers, and a few displaced hillbillies. Western Junior High was home to the black kids an attribute of history; the polite referred to them as Negros, and the Catholic kids went to the all-Catholic Catholic Junior High, the only junior high not named for a relative geographic location, and the only junior high in town that came by its name honestly. Otherwise, had the other schools been named a la Catholic Junior High, my school would have been called Protestant Middle and Ruling Class Junior High.

Our new home was a nice two story bungalow with a big front porch and a broad front yard. It wasn’t the least impressive home on McCrary Street, but close to it. Most of the homes were spacious Southern homes, tastefully designed and located on large, landscaped, unfenced, grassy plots long ago graced with flowering redbud, lush and stately magnolia, willow, and maple. It was one of a number of streets in the same neighborhood that were home to the fairly well-to-do and the country club class whose homes were upstaged only by the mansions on Griffith Avenue, where the landed rich dwelled in lavish brick homes with tall windows, columns, sweeping verandas and servant’s quarters. Folks in these homes were mostly old money who had made it big in tobacco, horse trading, mining, distilling, livestock, and later banking, industrial farming, electricity, oil, and natural gas. Surgeons, lawyers, and rich carpetbaggers would later move in. At least one Jewish family, the Levy’s, lived there too, on the edge of the Promised Land.

The only reason my family lived in the better part of town was because we got to live in a parsonage owned by the First Christian Church, one of the oldest and more wealthy religious institutions from which one hundred members, on the one hundredth anniversary of the church, moved to start a new church dubbed Century Christian Church. My father was hired to be the first minister; it was a good gig in the ministry game. (Two years later we bought our first home a few blocks away in the “wanna be” neighborhood, but I thought it was pretty cool even if Catholics lived there. I liked Catholics.)

The homes across the street from our McCreary Street parsonage were bordered on their back yards by a ten foot wall behind which stretched the Longfellow Elementary School, where my younger brother would later begin fourth grade, and stomping grounds of the aforementioned Eddie, George, and Frank, who I will tell you about later. Further down the street behind the imposing wall stretched the practice fields, the ROTC building, and the venerable old football stadium, Rash Stadium, which would glow and glimmer in the dark of a fall Friday evening when the Owensboro Senior High Red Devils would play under the lights, and a big part of the community would crowd peacefully into the neighborhood for the game. In front of the stadium sat the pride of the town, Owensboro High School, where three years later, after Western High School would be closed, every rich kid, poor kid, white kid and black kid would wind up. (The Catholic kids went on to Catholic High, and such was the order of things.)

The wall was intimidating, but not to a 12–year-old, and the neighbors were ok with kids who lived on the street cutting through their back yards and clamoring over the wall and into the unsupervised, lawless adventure of vast play grounds and an empty stadium that was a piece of cake to get into. (A place where Steve and I would later have some fine, if not very weird, adventures.) It was few days before seventh grade started in the late summer of 1960 that I first scaled that wall, my heart pounding, and I was giddy with the sense of great adventure. The sky was high, and the wind coaxed the first few red and orange leaves from the turning maples, and as they fluttered in the breeze I straddled the wall as if on a giant horse. The adventure couldn’t have gotten any better, but it did. Six kids, more or less my size and age, were playing football on the thick grass of the Longfellow Elementary School playground. I sat there perched on the wall for the longest time, shy, scared, and little, but I could play football, and I was tired of playing with my little brother, and my older brother, six years older than me, was a jerk.

Remember, I had only been in town a few weeks, and the only kids I had met were the church kids, who like me, got into their family cars after the service and headed home or out to eat. The other two were Rick and Cindy Standish, who lived next door, Rick, a nice enough, somewhat nurdy rich kid a year younger than me, and his sister Cindy, smart, beautiful, well developed and the source of many an adolescent wet dream. (Years later, I would smack Rick in the back of the head for forcing his clumsy affections on the younger sister of one of my best buddies during a party in the Lavin’s basement. He really was way out of line, but I regretted hitting him hard enough that he reeled, stumbled and eventually sprawled awkwardly into a chair. I was a tough kid in high school, but not prone to hitting people as benign as Jack. I now wonder if my playing tough guy had anything to do with the night of my first sock hop dance at the junior high?

I had walked the mile or more alone in the dark to the junior high school; I had yet to dance with a girl much less kissed one, but I was ready to try both if the opportunity arose, and I thought I had died and gone to puberty heaven when Cindy, Rick’s incredible older sister, and a covey of the hottest eighth grade girls invited me over to sit down with them on the bleachers. I was giddy with infatuation and about to wet my pants with elation after Cindy bought a Coke for me and offered some Chicklets Gum, a very cool brand to chew. I had popped the third Chicklet in my mouth and was about ready to ask Cindy for a dance. The song, ironically, was “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?” (No lie.) At any rate, about the time my courage was waxing, my stomach began gurgling, and the strange, uncomfortable sensation began to work its way into the small intestine and down into the sixteen feet of large intestine I had only a few days earlier learned about in Mr. Thompson’s science class. My beautiful, but evidently malevolent next door neighbor had slipped me Exlax, the popular laxative of the day sold as tasty chocolate bits or zesty gum tablets, not Chicklets, and the only way to avoid total humiliation of super-soiling myself in front of my classmates was to quickly leave the dance and waddle into the dark evening for the long, often interrupted walk home. So, I guess my fist on the back of Rick’s head was his big sister’s karma come round to haunt him. Later, Steve, who I’m about to introduce you to, and I would camp out on my garage roof on many a warm summer evening and watch Cindy as she preened and prepared in her bathroom, but, as they say, that’s another story, but it is a good one.)

I jumped down from the wall a second or two before my courage waned, got up, brushed myself off, and stood like a stone watching the boys play ball. It was easy to see that there was a big team of three and a little team of three (I knew a great deal more about pickup football games than I did about girls.), and while I had yet to meet any of the kids, it would not be long before I would know well the names of the kids on the “big” team. They were, of course, Eddie, George, and Frank. Eddie was the best athlete and one of the biggest kids in the sixth grade, and he had passed every grade. We would play high school ball together, and I dated his older sister who was the deemed most beautiful girl in school. I even kissed her. George was also big and athletic, but unlike Eddie, he had failed the third grade, would soon be shaving daily, and would quickly lose track were he compelled to count the individuals on his flourishing crop of chest hairs. He would later prove to be a good guy and a good friend, but at the time he could and would beat up almost any kid his age and often wore the sadistic smile of the badass. And finally, Frank. Frank had attended at least two extra grades of elementary school, a big pasty faced kid who smoked cigarettes, knew everything about our deformed versions of sex, and would eventually graduate from Eastern Junior High, matriculate on to Daviess County Juvenile Hall, and later continue his higher education at Eddyville State Prison. I had been watching for a good while when Eddie hollered at me to come play for the “little” team so the game would be more fair, and so they wouldn’t quit playing because of the ass kicking they were getting. I said “Ok.” I was little and the same age as Eddie because my mom had sent me off to school a year earlier than my classmates, but I was a good football player, and if nothing else, my jerk stick older brother had made me tough. I joined the “little” team, none of whom I remembered even though I probably got to know them well later.

George flashed his sadistic, badass grin and flipped the ball at my feet. I let it lay there and I huddled up with the “little” team. This, judging from Frank’s dumb, vacant, yet clearly incredulous look, was my first mistake. It was soon clear in the huddle that my teammates had each had about enough pounding, were close to claiming they had to be home early, and they were more than willing, enthusiastic even, to be blockers or pass catchers, who would suffer enough by getting pummeled by either Eddie, George, or Frank individually but could avoid getting sack piled by all three of them at the same time, the ritual sacrifice of a “little” team ball carrier. I agreed to run the ball, another mistake, but far from my most serious one. I leaned into the huddle and whispered my first play. “Hike the ball on ‘hut three’ and block down to the right. I’ll fake right and go left,” and I’ll try not to get hospitalized, I thought to myself. I barked out the cadence, caught the long hike, faked right and cut back to the left. Two of my tiny teammates, perhaps marginally buoyed by my apparent willingness to die for my new team, actually got in Eddie’s way, and Frank, who wasn’t built for speed, was satisfied with pounding my third teammate into the grass, content, I suppose, to count on George to smash me by himself. It was just George and me one-on-one, and it was then I made my next big mistake. I planted my left foot, switched the ball to my right arm, cut back to the middle of the field, and planted the flattened palm end of a stiff arm on George’s cheek. George went down face first with his arms full of air, and I sprinted untouched to the bicycles that marked the end zone. George bounced up and was about to beat the hell out of me right there. Not only was scoring against Eddie, George, and Frank unheard of, but I used a stiff arm. George was on his way toward me, but fortunately for me, Eddie called him back, evidently impatient to get the ball on offense. I had gotten a reprieve, a stay of execution; I was a dead man, or kid, but it was worth it to watch them take the “sucker’s walk.”

It was their ball now. Frank would hike and block, George would block, and Eddie would run the ball. There was nothing elaborate or tricky about their strategy as the “little” team had never stopped them from scoring the entire afternoon, had never actually tackled one of them, and their only stops occurred when they forced Eddie out of bounds once or when they were beneficiaries of an incomplete pass, three times. On some weird signal (I think it was “corn hole”) Frank snapped the ball back to Eddie and flattened the kid nearest him as George knocked the other two down like bowling pins. Eddie ran straight up the middle, and without a hint of deception proceeded to blow right over me. Then came my final mistake of the afternoon, but it was so good. I lowered my shoulders and shot for his ankles taking his legs out from under him and sending him face first into the grass. Eddie was scary angry, somewhere between crying and homicidally out of control. I prepared for my beating when he stepped back and shouted at me. “Your ass is grass, and I’m a lawnmower,” he screamed, but I didn’t know whether to be scared or start laughing. It was the strangest, and one of the least frightening colloquialisms I had heard up to that point in my young life, but I prepared myself, nonetheless, for the brutal mowing and bagging I was about to receive. My teammates had begun walking cautiously to their bikes now that all the attention was on me, and the “big” team huddled up for the last time that game. I had considered running when Eddie caught me by surprise. Instead of a throw down that afternoon, he challenged me to meet him at this same time and place in three days, the day before school started, and he would, I could only assume, give me my mowing then. That day would be the same day I would meet Steve.



Passages – A Marriage I Was Actually Involved In

Make no mistake, this post – more than perhaps any I have ever posted in this blog – is strictly personal. But it is also highly celebratory – another avenue to express my hopes and deepest love for a newly-embarked mission of Love into their very own and undoubtedly unique family and on into Infinity as a new constellation made up of so-willing participants……..Hey – my family expanded last weekend.

The metaphor of Mark Twain’s where he mentioned “I spent the coldest Winter of my life one summer in San Francisco” has always seemed the best-abbreviated single statement about a complex situation in my personal reading history. Well, I think I might have my own answer to that, after this last week:

“I had the most meaningful experience of my life celebrating someone else’s marriage last weekend”. 😉

In this case, of course, I am referring to giving away my very own daughter, Alena, to her very agreeable choice of a man who I actually both like and admire. I spent an entire visit to San Diego in an emotional oven which I would not have traded for anything in this entire known world.

This picture pretty much says it all……………


After 19 full months of my life’s very first medical challenges including literally learning to walk – twice! – the timing of the wedding of Alena and Greg fit so perfectly into the “What I most need now” category, it had to be designed by a physical and spiritual therapist.

My most recent road to here has been winding and full of stops and starts, punctuated unfortunately mostly by “stops”. To say ‘I had a bad experience’ is an understatement of rare dimension. As I mentioned in my Father of the Bride Speech at the reception, I first met my daughter’s husband over Skype on my computer at home. Stuck as they are all the way out in San Diego, 2,500 miles from Dad, it was the only method of actually seeing people while completely unable to walk 100 feet without a cane. Make that 10 feet, actually. That’s how bad it was.

I remember that call as if it were yesterday……. Alena and I had planned it and it finally unfolded as I sat here in my social media cockpit, completely reluctant and nervous about putting my face on the screen. I weighted about 130 pounds at the time (“Like I had taken a taxi straight from Auschwitz”, is how I framed in in my speech, lol)  but what we were celebrating at my end was the relative fixing which had finally occurred following a mistake in a surgical procedure for me. It had cost me – plenty.

(I may as well confess also that it was the lowest ebb of my entire life…………bar none)

So I answer her call and I see them and I punch up the camera on my computer linking us and I get this monster smile out of them both as my mug appeared to them. It was the first time I had met Greg, although I had had conversations about him with Alena. She was pretty in love, lol. Hey – works for me!! 😉

The long and short is how impressed I was with Greg. We dominated the conversation as Alena could tell I was pushing and prodding, lol, in my predictable protective fashion. We were able to laugh as a crowd and I couldn’t help but notice his jokes were completely as lame and dreadful as my own. We have a winner!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh Lord, still my thrice-beating heart!!

“Dayem, Cletus, I dunno but something in me says I shore hope she keeps this feller!!” 😉

We laughed and cajoled our way through this initial conversation – and later ones as well, but hardly as refreshing or as noteworthy as my first meeting with Greg – which went for at least an hour of leisurely pace and relaxed exchanges. Note too, this was long before he popped the Big Question. (And which question, it very much bears noting, he called me privately later to seek my approval…………a moment I will treasure forever and ever……….(LOL, as I also said in my little speech – “The truth is, you had me at the ringtone!”, lol)

At the time, I was just enjoying my daughter’s boyfriend and delighted to see he embodied many of the values I also admire, such as hard work, a tendency to sacrifice and a way human urge to help others as a fireman, EMT and now Safety Supervisor for the largest electrical contractor in America, Par Electric. That he was a nut very much like me was just a bonus and probably predictable, for all you deep personality scientists out there. 😉

Here is Greg now, sporting his marrying socks and a pose for the Ages:


And this is what he thinks of my daughter:

(That would be me fiddling with my cam on the right and hooting a little with the rest of us, lol.)
13061921_10208069113378312_960597819837344805_nThe bottom line in all this is the remarkable restorative power of Alena and Greg’s so obvious love for one another and its effects on me and my strictly personal health. It was a shot in the arm like a tsunami of enforced Loving. I have been suffused with love – just drunk as hell on it – and I don’t plan on forgetting it in all of the time remaining in my days of abusing the Earth.

The social ritual of marriage is such a cleansing, hopeful and refreshing moment. We welcome each into the wider world as they form a small nucleus of their own bright new planet. Our hopes cling to them now going forward as they inhale all of our best angels on a daily basis. We have, as a group who are so willing to love them until the end of time, ushered them most supportively into their next phase as adults – the phase of forming their own family as free adults. As a rite of passage, marriage is easily the very most hopeful. The delicacy of life and love could not have a more splendid send-off than what occurred on that magical weekend in San Diego. It was muscular.


There are moments in life which build a prior momentum of their own and which we recognize only when they unfold before our doubting eyes. These moments are the Treasury of our existences. Their preciousness has no competition – they are galaxies which extend our souls into those of others – in delirious Joy! – as we experience the common human mutuality of all of our collective emotions, hopes and fears – in this case, invested in the fallible and starkly hopeful persons who we try to influence in the very best of ways. This precious couple embody everything that matters in this world of ours. Our Idealism is never more clear than when we participate in the rite of marriage. This was never made more clear than 6 days ago. I was stunned by its impact and I still am.

Back to the theme of selfish entertainment……… 😉  Did it make me healthier?

Ha ha, that one is easy. How about this?:  “I never felt better in my life!!” 😉


(You can tell, lol) 😉

So it has gone from this…………….


To this:


And now this old fart is crying again, lol. 😉

Y’all know I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world. Absolutely nothing. It may well have been the very best day of my entire life. Already and gratefully rich in friends, I am now richer in family. How does it get better?

Musings Among The Fading Blooms

While waiting for Summer, remarkable things happened. Spring sprang, then sort of faded like some sort of temporary enthusiasm of Mother Nature’s. Her blooms were absurdly rich this year, all struggling to get there at the same time, much like the huge and , clamorous 20 horse Kentucky Derby field – an event which always signifies real Spring to Kentuckians.

It lent this amazing philosophical sense to my morning walk around the hood where I found myself concerned about the nature of permanent things – which led to musings about more temporary things….things such as me, for example. Which led to musings about aging. Yes, this is going to be a completely depressing subject today because you just know aging is always such a draggy thing to speak of. After all, there are supposedly no merits to the process and, in the end, you accomplish a few steps closer to Death and not much more, according to Conventional Wisdom we are all so terribly well aware of. I mean, we read, don’t we?

I turn 65 this July 6th. I can’t even believe it. Thus, all this leads to pondering what gifts and what grotesqueness are in store those who are aging and crossing barriers of retirement and Social Security eligibility. We all understand the great sustenance a family provides. Not that I have any personal experience with this (ahem, daughter) but Grandparents experience some pretty cool emotions in welcoming tiny little people into the world who are direct descendants  There is also some righteous pleasure in watching our children run to repeat the foolishness we also experienced in child-raising. How divine to watch the advent of unconditional love – it’s really quite the event.

But what else is there? Honestly, is aging merely a bitterness, the Cosmic Joke played on the Eternally Young where rude Nature intrudes with palsies, weaknesses, poorer skin tone and occasional forgetfulness? Is God or Nature so cruel? Or is our culture so obsessed with Youth and the marketing of us all that we devalue that which doesn’t sell? Are we used up after work is over? How angry should we be as our faculties begin failing and we become more susceptible to pain and, often, illness? I’m not saying for a moment I am there whatsoever, but I certainly know those who are.

Eric Hoffer:  “The misery of a child is interesting to a mother, the misery of a young man is interesting to a young woman, the misery of an old man is interesting to nobody.”

Now how true is that? We expect misery and it offers us the theory that allows us to ignore their semi-chronic complaints. I think that leads to Hoffer’s next quote:

“The best part of the art of living is to know how to grow old gracefully.”

So here we land. Back to where we started.

Social Reality

Naturally, I have another take on what we who are aging – gracefully or not – can offer. In fact, I have quite a lot to say on the matter. Primarily – first and foremost – I have to believe it would be a shame for the accumulated wisdom inherent in this crowd of amazing people to go un-addressed and unstated. In fact, I have a hard time imagining a bigger scale of robbery to those who need it most – those younger than ourselves. The scale of achievements accomplished by my friends dwarfs me at my least humble moments.

What many of us have endured and overcome is yet another entire realm of courage and fortitude. Sure many of us have lived reasonably predictable lives – we followed the conventions and rituals of career and family unquestioningly. For those of us to whom this applies, it could very well be that you took your time growing up, yet here you are, standing with giants. Will you enjoy this moment or, once again, take the easy way?

I grow tired, personally, of our quiet. I feel obligated to at least make an effort to take part in complicated and contentious elements of life. When I watch the political processes of this truly blighted Century act out, I cringe at the amazing level of not only a self-destructive compliance but in the ignorance passing as some sort of wisdom.

I lament the loss and subsequent escape of common sense. Common Sense should be a Player, for Pete Sakes. I yearn for the day when Twain’s quote about “Truth” once again means something:

“A lie travels halfway around the world by the time the Truth puts its shoes on.”

It is my conviction that we are abdicating our responsibility in maintaining an intellectual balance in the affairs of our critical thinking as a country and society. Since it sort of “got away from us” during all the recent bizarre cultural wars inspired by nothing more than politics, I believe we should act to “get it back”. I am hoping our restlessness as older folks who actually experienced the history so often being misinterpreted by agenda-driven politicians will inspire us to at least laugh!

I feel some responsibility for what comes next. This is not about voting or parties – it’s about experience, common sense and hopefully the return of some compassion as a weapon most effective of all in the maturation of an entire people.

Because what older folks learn in the end is that humility and compassion complete the journey and make it all mean something.  Many of us are learning this. It leads to yet another relevant Hoffer quote:

“Compassion is the antitoxin of the soul: where there is compassion even the most poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless.”

I could – and will – go on. Let’s say our piece, is what I’m saying. To those around us and on social media. It is “growing old gracefully” to express yourself.

Ruminations On Work

This post was made a while back. For those who wonder, it shocks me to think I began my book project that long ago. It has become something more than I thought it would, for the record – and it makes my original expectations about the difficulty of getting it right pale in comparison to what my more developed expectations are now. Much of the free time I envisioned did not completely pan out, either, as the need to make a living has often intruded into periods of intense and productive writing. At any rate, this post was written to honor work itself – it’s own sets of trials and successes. I still honor work and I shall always hope hard work is rewarded in kind.

There are also lessons in here for those who feel confused about career advancement in an era requiring so much more sheer adaptability. It’s astounding how few of us will end up in the direction we began. It once was that a farmer knew where he was going. For a few generations, factory personnel in company towns well knew what was in store in their golden years. They could accumulate toys and friends pointing to all that, should they survive their work. This no longer applies. That fact speaks loudly to our present modern circumstances. We will all become more creative and far, far less certain of our individual and collective futures. The world went and changed.

I’m making a prolonged stab at writing a book. I was approached to put something together for my old high school coach, Jack Hicks (who I featured right here in this Blog, click here for the link to it) and I may very well proceed with that, even congruently with the current project. I have a respect for Jack and for sports in general – and even for my sports-mad former hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky – which are somewhere outside the average envelope.

I have recently felt a bit of a ‘higher calling’ in a sense, in choosing to write on another subject – landscaping – about which I am so familiar. I will write to explain its ups and downs, ins and outs and to present the trade itself in as honest a picture as I can draw. I do it for a variety of reasons, among which are to present this interesting trade to young people who might consider it as a trade and career option. I hope it gets some attention because I do believe what I can offer is a sort of blueprint of expectations in as many ways as I am allowed to present.

Like anything, we gain most from the people we associate with. I believe it was Will Rogers who said “the best way to become smart is to hang out with smarter people.” This has been my way and I have to suspect it will never change. The one way in which I do feel quite intelligent is in dealing with the entire concept of “work”. In the end, development in any trade requires the application of energy and the absorption of the lessons from our everyday experiences. The slow curing of a landscaper encompasses so many various trades and weirdly-connected abilities, it’s nearly mind-boggling in its entirety. But, above all, hard work is what one takes from this field, no matter what level one eventually reaches.

So, in this particular edition of philosophizing, there’s really nothing fancy here. This is about work. It’s about our perceptions of work and how we value it. If I never contributed anything else in this life, my body of work and my relationship to it would stand as my most forceful feelings on our mutual human existence I could ever imagine. I feel that work is such an integral part of our existence that it becomes literally heroic and worthy of all the praise we can find to lavish upon it.

No one has ever asked me more than I have asked myself why I stuck with a trade which consists – even at the top – of such enormous quantities of hard physical labor. I have felt a failure so many times, at every turn in this working history of mine. Yet, when I look back at this life and times, I find moments of such exalted clarity of purpose and literal accomplishment, it humbles me.

Here then is a passage recently worked on towards that end:

The arrogance of writing…………presumes one has something to say which will be of interest or have meaning to others. Let’s face it, it’s either that or else it is pure speculation based on a egotistic, self-congratulatory technique of little originality and even less profundity. Vanity is a highly dangerous solipsism and it somehow seems an unfortunately perfect analogy in that case. It requires a strict judgement to discern the difference.A perspective which can make the mundane seem thrilling is the alchemy most writers seek. One accomplishes this by ingratiating oneself into the passions of others, then extrapolating a known reward for a perceived mutually-rewarding projection. Facts, in non fictional writing, become a currency of highest merit, made alive by good writing.
Actual history then follows as a means of illustrating a felt picture of events and premises which refer to the theme at hand.Presenting a life in a trade which is probably beset with a ratio of 70% hard labor to an audience wherein labor itself has become not just undervalued but literally pilloried as an unintelligent career option just seems wantonly self-destructive. Americans have a love/hate relationship with work at this sort of level. It is often humiliating owing to the values we have somehow become most familiar with. The constant refrain demeaning “ditch diggers” being somehow “less than” educated office personnel is a meme of decades-old consistency. It’s as if the truth of hard-working Americans being the the backbone of the world’s most productive economic engine is some form of myth. One has to wonder if this attitude indeed has led to our own self-destruction, implicitly disregarding hard work as somehow useless and defective, simply because of the effort required.We attend self-help seminars by the hundreds, where we are told of “attitudes” and perspectives which will make us more successful, as if some magical mental elixer allows us to bypass what has worked so well in he past. Suddenly, beset with Mental Coaches and Spiritual Advisors, we find ourselves “pumped up” with quasi-mystical solutions to what are actually the simplest problems we could possibly face.

A trade such as Landscaping can be an unappealing trade when one considers the sheer level of labor involved. And, make no mistake, there are days and even weeks in landscaping where it seems truly endless – the constancy of wheelbarrowing materials into back yards with tiny gates, really bad weather from too hot to too cold, rain, snow, wind. Any assessment of landscaping as a career option should include all this. There are minor and, unfortunately, sometimes major injuries. Backs need attention almost daily, simply as cautionary provisions regarding survival and long term health. We stretch, those of us who know, so that the effort required and our often-straining output keeps us strong and healthy.

Make no mistake: those who landscape can be the strongest and healthiest. Working outdoors, far from being a severe sentence for the mentally-deficient, offers a level of oxygen, ozone and pure heart-pounding pleasure that even those who relish so little of it in their explanations of the trade, continue to show up for work, to entertain one another and regale their peers and captains with the standard humors and bad witticisms which are the province of the completely wry. There is a quiet acceptance of an endorphin high one reaches 2-3 times a day which makes for a ‘drug experience’ of ineffable self-production. The same high runners experience – and athletes of all kinds – perform a like process in landscaping, offering surprising mutual experiences which are nearly embarrassing in their felt effects. It makes for a muted, odd and rewarding sensation not experienced by everyone and is humbling in gratitude. I have often thought Walt Whitman’s great and memorable poem –“I Sing The Body Electric” was written for us guys in “the trade”…..

I know a man, a common farmer—the father of five sons;  
And in them were the fathers of sons—and in them were the fathers of sons.  
This man was of wonderful vigor, calmness, beauty of person;   35
The shape of his head, the pale yellow and white of his hair and beard, and the immeasurable meaning of his black eyes—the richness and breadth of his manners,  
These I used to go and visit him to see—he was wise also;  
He was six feet tall, he was over eighty years old—his sons were massive, clean, bearded, tan-faced, handsome;  
They and his daughters loved him—all who saw him loved him;  
They did not love him by allowance—they loved him with personal love;   40
He drank water only—the blood show’d like scarlet through the clear-brown skin of his face;  
He was a frequent gunner and fisher—he sail’d his boat himself—he had a fine one presented to him by a ship-joiner—he had fowling-pieces, presented to him by men that loved him;  
When he went with his five sons and many grand-sons to hunt or fish, you would pick him out as the most beautiful and vigorous of the gang.  
You would wish long and long to be with him—you would wish to sit by him in the boat, that you and he might touch each other.


I really adore that passage of that brilliant celebration of Man and Woman Kind.  Whitman humbles us all in his frank appraisal that work is noble and healthy.The respect from earned accomplishment has no peer in my lexicon of achievements. I believe it can be the hallmark of character as well. The efforts and accomplishments form our legacies and they outlive us. The beauty of soil and its amazing and totally predictable products – of the art of design itself – and the work of amusement and labor are the game we play. It is as if being human sometimes seems unfair to our original assumptions, at times. Like a cosmic joke, our sufferings become something more, ennobled by caution and the conservatism of the March of Time and of Education.