Sunday, November 25, 2012

When Winter Comes

In winter the sun can be so pale, so weak, that it almost seems cold. If there is a good wind with it, the chill goes even deeper. There are bright sunny days – brassy, even – when the sky is clear and blue, the sun is full of that rewarding heat if you can be behind a glass wall or large window. The room where I write today is much warmer now than it was an hour ago; sunnier but still not that hot-house warm the body craves in winter.

Was there ever a time (save a July or August day in the city, or any day in the tropics) when I wished for winter? Hard to recall, but I’m sure there were such days. Of course, then I was in the Spring or Summer of my own days. Now, when Winter and I are synchronized, I begin to understand those whom we here in the Appalachians call "snowbirds." Those are our friends and neighbors who pack-up and head South to more moderate environments than our mountains offer as we approach the winter solstice once again.

We talk about a place that is warm in winter, a place where there isn’t a need to cut wood, split wood, stack wood nearly daily for half the year or more, a place where we won’t need a truck with a snowplow attached, or snow shovels and tire chains and all of that. Then we have one of those weeks like the one just past: sunny days, warm days, and we put aside those thoughts.

We are happy where we are, we like our familiar things around us, our family nearby, our friends just over the mountain. We even like getting the winter coats out, the feel of wool and down and fur-lined gloves. Far more than that, we treasure the serenity, the quiet and the distance between neighbors (a mile in any direction). It’s not so bad, this time of cold and maybe snow and a fire in the fireplace, of thick soups and hearty stews, of the scent of leaves and wood smoke, and we decide that we won’t make that move. Not yet, anyway.

Right now it’s time to put another log on the fire.

Monday, November 19, 2012


My initial response to solving most problems has long been to let intuition provide the answer.

I remember as far back as high school geometry providing intuitive answers, and often being right . . . but not often enough to satisfy the teacher. I also remember asking "why?" Why does "pi" make the theorem work? And why is pi the number that it is? I was usually told (this was junior high) not to ask, but just apply whatever formula was given and do it "right."

Today I still rely on intuition as a first cut at solving a problem. Often it has to do with computers which, though "logical," often seem to use a logic that my intuition fails to  . . . uh . . . intuit, as it were. Then of course, I must fall back on the instructions or the text book. It is hard to do (for me). I think it is probably a matter of laziness.

It is so much easier to disregard the instruction manual or the textbook. It’s sort of putting part A with part B without checking to see which part is really B and not C or maybe just a piece of the packaging. Logic, when applied to physical things, is a combination of experience, sight, perhaps sound, and even touch. I’m essentially a visual person: I see images instead of concepts. That usually works.

I depend on a visual dictionary. In my mind, words have shape, dimension, and sometimes even color. As far back as I can recall, even if I didn’t know what a word meant, hearing it would generate an image. Even now, I "see" words as I use them, especially when I am writing. Now, of course, the words are informed by knowledge, but there isn’t always agreement between the image and the act. There is often disappointment when the real meaning becomes clear.

Take for example, the word "politician."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Two-For-One Day

You are homeless, have only the clothes you are wearing, are hungry and emotionally drained. What do you do? You find a place where you can cast your vote, and you continue the American Dream.

Who can doubt the strength and greatness of America after this week’s election? It isn’t who you voted for, so much as who voted. When I look at the pictures of destruction here in the East, when I think about the people even in our own neighborhood who were without power for days, I realize that Americans, despite the difficulties the big storm brought, are not without power. And we know how to exercise it.

Yes, there were lines in some places, but that only meant people were willing to put up with the roadblocks, both natural and man-made; were happy to be alive to contribute to our democracy.

We don’t need a disaster to prove our fierce love of country and way of life. That only reaffirms how we feel about our nation and our form of government. We do need to demonstrate it by casting our votes in every election, be it for town council or state representative, for governor or president. This is America, and it will always be the last best hope of mankind.

No, we don’t need a disaster, but it doesn’t hurt as much as we think it will, because we know we can count on ourselves to keep America running.


Today is Veterans Day, once known as Armistice Day, that has been set aside as a day to remember and honor those who have served our nation soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Not all of us have worn a uniform, but many of us have. Not all in uniform have seen combat, but many of us have. We cannot salute our flag without also saluting the men and women of every generation who have helped preserve that symbol and what it stands for.

Salute a Veteran today, and to those who have been away, offer a genuine "Welcome Home!"

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Poll Axed

Have you ever had your right to vote denied? I mean put in a position where your legal right to choose a president, a congressman, a senator was taken away from you? How would you feel if that happened, and just as important, how would you respond when that right was restored?

The year was 1964. Somewhere in the archives of the Washington Post is a picture of my wife, our daughter, and me, as we exited the polling place where we had just voted in the presidential election. (The advantage of having a beautiful wife and fetching daughter: photographers take your picture.) The reason the Post photographer was there was because this was the first election in which citizens of Washington, DC were able to vote for the president.

I had moved to Washington as a student a decade earlier, and until I became a full-time resident, I could cast absentee ballots in my home state. Once I was a full-time legal resident, however, I gave up that right, as did my wife when she moved to the city and we married. On election day in 1964 we went to the polling place for our precinct, stood in line, had our registration verified, and proudly cast our votes as full citizens. Well, not quite. The District of Columbia still didn’t have a voting representative or senator, but at least we could express our choices for the town’s highest authority. It was a day we have never forgotten.

There is something very special about being a citizen, with all the rights and privileges thereof. Even though you may not be a supporter of the eventual winner, you at least have had a say. (Unless your vote ends up in the hands of nine justices, of course.) Still, you know that regardless of the outcome, in four years you will have the opportunity again. It is precious, it is an unbelievable gift that not everyone has, not everyone can attain, but everyone should be willing to put themselves on the line for. It isn’t just your right, it is your duty. If you don’t exercise it, if you fail to carry out your responsibility as a citizen, then when any political discussion starts, you need to excuse yourself, go sit in the corner, and be ashamed.

This week I will report to the firehouse at 5 AM, take my place along with several other neighbors, and spend a long, often boring but never irrelevant day talking to as many of the 70 or so voters registered in our precinct who show up, help make sure their right to vote is not abridged, help count the votes, certify the results and go home sometime after we close the doors at 7 PM. It will be a long day, but you know what? I don’t mind at all. It’s not just a right. It’s a privilege.

Voting in 1964 was like having my citizenship restored.