How To Saunter

(For Owen)

Forget what you left behind if possible; think ‘wander’,

Look ahead, nonchalantly, toward the path,

Only as far as the flowers and

the birds that have nested near the climbing hydrangea.

While we’re on the subject of birds,

study them quietly — let them teach

you about what’s important; notice

their priorities (do they spend time worrying over small things?).

Sauntering requires that you dismiss

the minute, mundane worries of life

and remain free to inhabit

the joyful moments of life instead.

To enjoy life, even the slightest bit,

one must saunter.


Up From the River Smiling

A friend once told me she met

her future husband just after

a turbulent river tossed

her out of her small kayak.

My friend, being who she is, showed

up from beneath the icy water

laughing — her bright smile stretched

across her triumphant face.

The man, knowing his own need,

asked, “who is this woman

that came up from dangerous

water smiling?”

He asked to meet her on dry ground.

They loved well and married,

carried out to the sea of life

by that river-smiling moment.

I wonder how I, being who I am,

could meet another who is able

to come up from the river smiling.

I’m familiar with icy water, dangerous

and turbulent; I watch it carefully,

hopeful to someday see the one

who comes up from the river

with a smile on his face.


Tobogganing When I Was a Boy

East of Salem there is a small community called Pratum. This is where I grew up. About 1/2 mile East of Pratum there is a river called the Pudding River.

One Winter day it snowed a lot–12 inches–and it was cold, as the snow did not melt.

A group of boys, including my older brother (6 years older than I), had a toboggan which would hold about 5 fellows. We got it out and started going down a nice hill toward the Pudding River. There was an old rail fence made out of wood at the bottom of the hill, next to the river.

When we went down the hill we would stop approximately 100 or 150 feet short of the rail fence. “Oh, what fun!” We were having a great time when the older boys came and took the toboggan. When they got tired of it, we were back at it again.

That evening they got buckets of water and put it on the hill. The temperature was cold, so the water turned to ice.

Well, the next morning was Saturday, so no school. Us little guts got up early and beat the older boys to the toboggan. We were having lots of fun and would stop before the rail fence. The older boys came and took the toboggan away from us. We thought that was so mean. They got on the toboggan and went down the hill just zooming. When they got to the bottom of the hill, they couldn’t stop. They went right through the rail fence and onto the ice on the river. The ice was not thick enough to hold all the weight and they broke through the ice. All the boys went in the river. The water was only about three feet there, but they all got sopping wet.

Well, do you know what? Us little guys were able to toboggan the rest of the day. The older guys had had it. This happened about 1940. “Oh, what fun!”

–John Wenger


My First Year in School

“When I was six and in the first grade I went to Jefferson School. It was located where the elementary school is now. The first floor was elementary and the second floor was high school. In the basement were our rest rooms. One noon I was late to leave the rest room. The bell sounded and I couldn’t get the door open because it was stuck or locked. I could not get out. I never came to class so the teacher sent someone to look for me. They couldn’t get the door open either and I was so embarrassed. Two big boys from the upper class came down and took out the window. One jumped in and lifted me up to the other boy outside the window.

“My most embarrassing moment.”

–Louise Looney Cox


“This is a story Veron Goin told many times: Jesse Looney was the first to settle South of Salem in 1843. He had many kids and later each son had a farm on the old 99E Highway South of Salem and just North of Jefferson. The Goin Farm was on the same road. The mail boxes read–Looney Farm, Looney, Looney, Looney, Looney, Goin, Looney.”

–Smith Cox

Continuing The Walk, 3

The world continues to weigh heavily on me. AlthIMG_0260ough I don’t find it easy to do, my goal is to focus on those I meet face-to-face in my neighborhood more than I focus on our national political scene and what I can’t change. The thing is, since I’ve been locally focused, I have been impressed by the beauty around me; in the people I know (and those I don’t know) that pass through my days here in Corvallis, Oregon.

Last I wrote, Pearl and I had just passed Bob’s Mirror and Glass and Robnett’s Hardware. Now, she’s ready for the city dog park and it’s the perfect time of day–2:30 in the afternoon. There are fewer dogs at this time and most often a higher rate of low-to-the-ground dogs like Pearl. So that’s where we’re headed.

We pass the coffee shop on the right, then the last block of apartments and businesses and Pearl is at a restrained gallop. Lately, I’ve had to take her in through the small dog entrance because she gets anxious while I remove her harness and the bigger dogs crowd the gate, waiting for her to enter so they can sniff her. She puffs herself up and growls ferociously, making everyone think she’s awful and mean (which she’s not) and say, “Oh, she’s a terrier” (which she is) . She runs around wildly in the small area until she seems ready to run with the bigger dogs. Timber is here! A Husky that Pearl recently played with and now loves to follow around (mostly to see whether she can get him to chase her).

Pearl didn’t love Timber at first; she was scared. Timber didn’t act rattled by Pearl’s bark or bared teeth initially, which seems to be important to Pearl. Now they run off across the park to see who can make it around the big Fir tree first. It’s Pearl, after a speedy barrel roll through the wood chips. Timber’s human is a quiet woman who always chuckles at Pearl’s antics and who always tries to get Pearl to allow a quick scratch behind her ears. So far, no luck but Pearl is getting closer and closer to allowing it. Right now, as Timber takes a water bucket break, Pearl makes a quick drive-by sniff of her shoes, which makes us both chuckle.

Dog park behavior, both the dogs and the humans, always leaves me with a lot of thinking to do. I’m always relieved when people can see past Pearl’s scruffy feisty greetings because I want them to know how wonderful she is. She puts on a big show with people who seem threatening to her because she doesn’t want to get stepped on or called, “So cute” (so demeaning) one more time.

I can relate in some ways because I feel threatened by certain human behavior and am still learning how to stand my ground in order to avoid being stepped on. I’m not very good at it sometimes. I end up giving people the unintentional mixed message that I don’t care for them when really, I’m just scared of getting hurt. So I teach Pearl to be less grumbly when she meets new people and she teaches me to stand my ground when I have strong feelings about something.

The walk back up Second Street to our apartment is usually not a direct route. We stop back by River Jewelry so that Pearl can collect some more love from her good friends there. Once home again, Pearl  breathes a sigh of contentment and flops over for one of her many naps.

Circle of Light

My Language Classroom

My Language Classroom

“What does everyone want in life? To not be alone.” Stephen Colbert

In a recent collection of short videos about his Catholic Faith, Stephen Colbert made the observation at the beginning of this post, referring to his show, The Colbert Report. (“Stephen Colbert Opens Up About His Devout Christian Faith, Islam, Pope Francis, and More” by Barbie Latza Nadeau, 9-9-15, The Daily Beast). The entire collection of videos is worth watching because Colbert’s thinking and communication are both so clear, but this one line in particular stayed with me and I’m still processing days after watching it; the idea resonates with me because I’ve already been seeing this thread of a theme throughout my life as I reflect back and back, even to childhood.

One of my favorite ways to spend time is listening to or watching stand up comics and my favorite comedians are those who include everyone in the audience in their jokes: Ellen Degeneres, Mike Birbiglia, The Smothers Brothers, Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart, Victor Borge. After an informal analysis (i.e.: watching hours of Youtube sketches, to my delight), I’ve determined that these folks tend(ed) to draw the audience into their story, as if into their own family, so that the audience feels a solidarity with them by the end of the routine. We feel as if we have a new friend and if we met one of these comics on the street, we’d greet each other with a hug or a handshake. These comics don’t leave us alone, outside of their circle of light and humor which they’ve created, but draw us in with them. This is what makes a great comic, I think. I want to be part of their happiness.

On a larger scale, I agree with Colbert: what any of us want is a place to belong, a family, a village. It is in this circle that we feel secure in our own bodies and spirit, as if we can be ourselves without fear of persecution. The art is to create this “family” without causing others to feel persecuted or left out, which is an easy way to create a group–putting up a boundary or wall of some kind to demarcate the differences involved.

Growing up as the youngest of three sisters provided many opportunities for any one of us to have hurt feelings throughout our childhood years. One vivid and early memory I have related to this was on a summer day in my Grandma’s back yard, near the swing set (which had no swings–we had ingeniously converted it to a large tent by throwing table cloths and bed spreads over it). My memory, like a silent movie, includes my siblings and neighbor boys running off to the next adventure without me, and being left alone, I stand there wailing, immobilized by the feeling of being left out of the group. But then one of the boys returned to reassure me that I could join them, I just needed to hurry up and run with him. I might have been 6 or 7 at the time, I’m not really sure.

Maybe spending my life as a teacher has taught me more about this idea of the circle of light I’m thinking of because in my classrooms, the highest goal of all for me was to create a kind community; this was of utmost importance in order for learning to happen. I still know this to be true as I teach adults in a second language setting. I’ve learned to find what we have in common before teaching the hardest concepts.

I have read and re-read Sharon Salzberg’s book, The Force of Kindness, which I stumbled upon at the city library’s 50 cent book store. In Chapter Four, entitled “How We See the World”, she says:

If we are willing to take a risk anyway, and consciously practice kindness, we see that, unlike the world’s message, which is ‘buy more,’ ‘compete more strongly,’ ‘It’s a dog eat dog world,’ a much more refined happiness comes from feeling joined, from a sense of belonging–both to this life, and to one another. We need to hone our own sense of purpose. We need to understand what will actually allow happiness beyond acquisition, what will help us realize happiness more steadfast than any temporary pleasure of fleeting triumph.

Salzburg also tells a story in the same chapter about a woman she overheard on a New York Street saying, “I was sick all winter,” and when Salzburg turned around, she witnessed this woman handing a street person some money. The woman said, “I had pneumonia, and every time I started to get better I’d have a relapse. Now I am finally getting better, and I just wanted to share the joy.”

Sharing the joy is including others in a circle of light too, and it’s what I aspire to every day of my life. There are so many days that I know I have failed in this aspiration, but I want to keep trying. I hope to continue my study of comics in the hope that their wisdom infuses my life. I think Colbert has it nailed when he said: “What does everyone want in life? To not be alone.”