Top of Piedmont: To Watch, Listen and Ponder — Then Write!

February 2012Monthly Archives


I finally caved in. I knew it was inevitable. I wanted to continue living in denial, hoping that keeping things at a distance, holding things up to the light would make all the difference. Life was becoming unfocused. Seeing distant horizons a problem. It just didn’t work. I have bifocals.

Having glasses is not a new thing. I’ve had them since sixth grade. Back then they were encased in heavy black plastic frames like Buddy Holly. I had the doo to match.

The first pair was great. Being able to see things more clearly improved my day to day functioning. I didn’t have to squint at the blackboard as Sister Mary Thomas explained some of the complexities of inverted fractions. Additional side benefits came in the ability to cast sidelong glances at Corrine O’Neil two rows over without being obvious.

Of course being twelve years-old also yielded repeated breakages from pick-up games and “touch” football in front of Wilson High School. Despite repeated admonitions from mom and dad, the black frames needed replacement on a regular basis. I finally got one of those nerdy black elastic straps to hold the glasses on my head. This was after they threatened to use a stapler to attach them permanently.

In the late 60’s of course I got wire rims. Everyone had them. I took on the John Lennon look and started listening to Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. They’re gone, but I still have the glasses.

Glasses are a hassle at times. Occasionally in the morning in a distracted rush, I put them down and can’t find them. Surprise – surprise – I can’t see them. Other times it’s being awakened in the middle the night to some strange noise, convinced in my somnolent state that an armed band of thugs is taking my boat. Stumbling around in the dark – trying to find my glasses, I finally put them on haphazardly so I can see out the window, only to figure out it’s just the cats scrapping with each other.

I knew when I made my appointment with Doc Thompson that I was going to hear the word. He did his usual thing with my eyes including the drops we’ve all grown to hate, and then shook his head up and down and said, “It’s time.”

Both he and the lady at the optical shop were very helpful explaining what I could expect. I remembered one thing especially. Just point your nose at what you want to see and it will come into focus. Since my nose is a rather large I had no problem with that. The hard part was moving my head up and down trying to get the proper focus. The first few days I was a bobble-head.

It’s been three weeks now since I got the glasses and it is getting easier – like they said it would. The first few days I would’ve just as soon staggered around blind as wear the things.

My level of denial has decreased. I’m living with the inevitable, but I did make one concession to diminished perception. Thanks to modern technology the lenses I’m wearing don’t have lines. A little bit of self-delusion never hurt anyone, right?


Star conduit,
the message exhaled here.

Astral winds echo songs of untitled multitudes,
dispossession given voice.

Attend these words spoken
in midnight’s convulsed inspiration.

This ambassador heard once, over and over
slips into paradoxes stream.

Dancing with light’s breath,
I am light, but not.

Wood Burning

Evolution is pretty much a foregone scientific conclusion except for our brethren on the right. That we have moved from monkey to man is well established in most quarters. Like any scientific theory – it also has application in other aspects of life. Tracing the development of wood burning to a high efficiency gas furnace parallels evolutionary theory.

There were cool wet winters in northern Iowa. A brisk walk from work was rewarded by the smells and warmth of the cozy kitchen fired by the wall furnaces that heated our old farm house. Then came Bemidji.

They say the cold isn’t so bad here – it’s dry cold – not wet and penetrating – bottom-line, it’s still cold. A house needs to be heated.

My first summer I ordered eight cords – mixed hardwoods, thirty three bucks a cord – eight foot lengths. My father-in-law said, “Cut it and its money in the bank come winter.” With an inherited Poulan chainsaw, I tore into the pile that was stacked the height and length of my garage. On my days off I’d wrap an old diaper from my youngest around my head – safety pin it in place and get to work. The cool temperatures of June turned to sultry days of July and August. Some people perspire – I sweat – a lot!

The chainsaw worked well – but it took three months of work, interspersed with my other job – to get it done. I eventually had to invest in gun muffs when after sawing
for a couple hours my head felt like it’d been run through a heavy metal rock group. By September I was done – cut, split, stacked – ready for winter.

The second year I had some wood leftover so I ordered six cords, but I remembered the heat, and partial deafness. When a young logger stopped by during spring break-up and saw my pile standing there, “Thirty-five bucks to cut.” I said, “You’re on.” I’d split and stack.

Well, June came along – it was hot – we couldn’t park a car in the driveway – I looked at my wife one day as I dropped the monster mall on the head of a large birch log, “Life’s too short for this (expletive deleted).” From now on I’d turn up the thermostat on the oil burning “Iron Fireman” and pay the price.

Another war in the Middle East came along, my wife went off to work full time and our kid’s activities made it impossible to keep a wood stove stoked, so I caved in and bought a high tech natural gas furnace. You can’t tell it’s even working, it’s so quiet.

I still miss the wood heat. Its aesthetics and warmth can’t be replaced by a quick turn of the wrist on the thermostat. Evolution I suspect is neither good nor bad – it is. What we pay for in modern convenience we lose in giving up the rhythms of the seasons; the rip of the chainsaw, the cracking split of a frozen birch log, and the neat rows of stacked wood in the backyard.


Several days ago I caught MPR during a particularly cold day. It doesn’t take much listening to hear of numerous examples of power and its application. These uses are obvious on a national and international basis. What I was struck with during this particular exposition was the apparent disregard of established rules and the abuse of power.

The abuse of power in Washington is nothing new, cover-ups and misrepresentations (lying) are ubiquitous. Power as demonstrated by national leaders is most often seen in its abused form, not as a force for good.

Our first experiences of power most frequently comes in the form of discipline. Discipline is either punishment or a force to teach us something. If I’m bigger than you I can very easily let you know that I’m in charge by the whack of an open palm on a backside. Another lesson is also taught here. Might is right. Additionally, the one being punished tends to avoid the punisher. This puts a damper on developing a relationship. Making your little brother clean the cat box when he was eight years old even though it was your job may have been a statement about how powerful you were, but it also did little to enhance a common bond.

If discipline is to teach, then the importance and value of relationship comes before whose “top dog”. Negotiation, compromise and respecting the rights of others become the might of this right.

People who tend use physical force to settle conflict usually forget one very important piece of information, that is, there is always someone or something that is bigger than them. The goal or objective of controlling a situation by compelling another works for a while, but ultimately fails when the power shifts. We have very clear demonstrations of this in the old Soviet Union when it tanked. Power and it’s use must be something else than mere application of physical force.

We celebrated Martin Luther King Day within the last month. Dr. King was one of the strongest advocates of personal power that views moral over physical strength as superior. In this view right wins out over the idea of brute force. The results of this approach, i.e. respect, cooperation and negotiation lead to changing the structures that keep people enslaved. A cycle of I’ll bash you, you bash me, with its attendant escalations from fists, to knives to hand-guns to MAC-10s becomes unnecessary.

To understand power at its source, we have to look toward the individual. Power flows from the person. This is especially apparent in a democracy where the power of the ballot box is in evidence. Totalitarian or despotic institutions, whether they are governments, churches, schools or authoritarian corporations are afraid of the individual voice. One voice, speaking with moral authority, tends to unsettle ideas, procedures, and heaven forbid, salary structures. One person, rising in a meeting asking, “Why?” can alter the future.

Having power means also paradoxically the willingness to give it away. Ultimately this means giving one’s life. There are innumerable examples of this historically. Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. understood all too well that if they were to accomplish anything, to demonstrate real power, they had to put their butts on the line.

Abusing power by the use of external force, manipulation, or deceit is very easy to do. Power as a benign force focusing the energies of the individual in a way that draws from inner resources, goes to the core of the individual. Sometimes that inner journey is frightening. You have to look at yourself.


A chilled sentinel guards
the swelling earth’s outcrop
as the tumbling star inscribes
light spilled from the galaxy.
The silent forest cloisters the icy inlet
at day’s end giving refuge.
Under the aurora
the mare’s tails suspended aloft illuminate.
Ribbons of light skipping on the frozen waste
catch the fleeting day.
Dancing day and night continue the pas de deux,
watching at dusk’s portal.

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