Tag: Nature

Thank You, Woodrow Wilson

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With a stroke of his pen one hundred years ago, president Woodrow Wilson preserved a natural wonder. He signed a bill on February 26, 1919, making the Grand Canyon the fourteenth member of the national park system.

Evidently, it was a quiet resolution. According to an article in last Sunday’s Arizona Republic, there was barely a mention in the press at the time.  But this week we celebrate the wisdom of Wilson’s act. He ensured that an unfettered geological phenomenon be kept as it should be … unfettered for the uninitiated and the unborn.

No matter how many technological advancements we may be grateful for today, few things can compare with the tear-inducing joy of approaching the rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time and marveling at its expansive beauty. It’s a moment I’ll always treasure.

Without question, we’d be lost without the unbridled, magnificent beauty of our national parks. Especially the Grand Canyon. It’s our vast wonder of wonders, protected for all the world to see. Let’s keep it that way for future generations to enjoy.

Thank you, Woodrow Wilson.

Tucson through the Looking Glass

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It was July 1989. I was a PR guy. Visiting Tucson, Arizona on business for a travel agency conference. Working long hours at the chic Westin LaPaloma Resort in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Finalizing speeches and media interviews on behalf of Covia, a United Airlines subsidiary that managed the Apollo computer reservation system.

I remember feeling trapped behind glass in the summer heat. Unresolved about my life and orientation. At that moment, I had little time to explore my personal landscape or the vast mountainous terrain outside the restaurant window. The only positive glimmer was the exuberance I felt seeing a road runner by the pool one afternoon during a pause in my busy schedule.

Over the weekend, I was back at the Westin LaPaloma Resort. This time the circumstances were different. It was winter. I was there for pleasure. Visiting the same terrain as an Arizona resident. With my husband and fifty or so new friends, my gay pals with the Phoenix Metropolitan Men’s Chorus. We performed at a GALA leadership symposium and received a standing ovation.

Before our performance, my husband and I took the opportunity to dine quietly at one of the resort restaurants. I peered through the glass at the gorgeous mountains.

Yes, thirty years have passed … and my how the terrain has changed.

I’ve Only Just Begun

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I realize the title of this post sounds a little hokey and an awful lot like a lyric from a 1970s Carpenters song. (Please tell me you remember who Karen Carpenter was!) But I prefer to imagine that I, a generally healthy sixty-one-year-old male who visits his cardiologist every six months, will channel my energies into creative writing projects that will stimulate my intellect rather than stewing over my advancing age. That is beyond my control.

I adopted this philosophy five years ago this week. That’s when I walked out the door of my Aon office in Chicago and began a new chapter. As background, up until that moment I really didn’t feel I was living the artistic life I was meant to live. If anything, in late January 2014, I was numb from my mother’s death a year before and the escalating demands of navigating thirty-four years in the communication consulting, PR and advertising worlds.

After months of soul-searching and years of smart saving, I left the familiar unfulfilling days behind. I needed time to heal. I needed time to explore life on my terms. At age fifty-six, I grabbed my digital camera and began to capture images of darting dragonflies and picturesque prairie landscapes. I recorded random inspirations in my journal as I rambled along. The fog began to lift and my energy returned. Gradually, I discovered my way out in Illinois. As I wrote about the grief of losing my mother and revisiting my southern roots in From Fertile Ground, it prompted new possibilities. It promised a more poetic life.

What else have I learned in the past five years? After surviving a mild heart attack in 2017, I know I am fortunate to be alive. My husband and I lead a creative, warm life. We have a quieter existence in Arizona far away from the hustle and brutal cold of Chicago’s late January days.

Even with the physical distance from my Chicago life, I’m thankful for friends there, who shared their gifts and inspired me along the way to be true to my creative self. Like my friend Dina. She and I were close colleagues at Aon. Five years ago, on my last day of corporate life, she gave me this artful-and-personal handmade gift: a mirrored collage for me to reflect on the fun-and-unforgettable aspects of my Chicago work life. I keep Dina’s gift on my desk in Arizona, because it captures where I’ve been and who I am: a big picture guy, who cares about his husband, good friends, art, music, theatre, the best books, and cuddly animals.

Yes, I lead a happier and more fulfilling life in the desert. Somehow I’ve written and published three books and survived a health scare. But it still feels like I’ve barely scratched the surface on the possibilities of this semi-retired, creative life.

When I look at Dina’s mirrored gift, it feels like I’ve only just begun.

 

 

 

Six Years Have Passed, but the Poppies Still Bloom

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In mid-January 2013, I was marking time. I had just returned to my consulting job in Chicago after a two-month leave of absence to spend time with Helen Johnson. She was my wise, but ailing, mother. Somehow Helen had dodged and surpassed the prognostications of her doctors. She was clinging to life in hospice, enduring frequent breathing treatments to relieve her congestive heart failure, channeling the will and resiliency that had sustained her for more than eighty-nine years.

A few weeks later, everything changed. I got the dreaded call. My mother’s life ended peacefully in the wee hours of January 26, 2013. Soon after, a grief-induced fog rolled in and consumed me. Fortunately, I found the strength to write about it. My new life as an author began to take root. I never imagined the vacuum left by my mother’s existence would become the catalyst and subject matter for my first book, From Fertile Ground.

Six years have passed. Today I’m thankful I can remember my mother freely without the specter of pain. Helen Johnson had a passion for nature and supporting aspiring artists. She also believed in second chances. In the 1970s, Mom insisted I come with her to annual art shows at Menard state prison in southern Illinois. That’s where some of the more talented inmates presented and sold their work. On one of those excursions, she bought this painting.

For nearly the next three decades, it hung in our living room in suburban St. Louis. Then it traveled with Mom to her new home in Chicago’s western suburbs, where she spent the last nine years of her life. After Mom died, I kept the painting. When my husband and I moved to Arizona in 2017, we brought it with us.

In a weak moment this week, as the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death drew closer, I considered giving it away because we have less space now. But then I had a change of heart. With my husband’s encouragement, I realized the painting will never mean as much to anyone else. We found the right spot to display it in our condo kitchen.

This vivid splash of blooming poppies on a hillside, painted by an artist named McCall in 1975, will always represent my mother’s best qualities. As long as I’m alive, I hope the memories of her goodness never fade.

 

A New Year, A New Day to Feed the Ducks

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My husband and I have a New Year’s Day tradition in Arizona. Every year on January 1 we hike to a nearby park to feed crusts of old year bread to new year birds. We began doing this four or five years ago when we were birds ourselves — snowbirds, that is — and found we had fallen in love with the darling ducks at a little oasis surrounded by buttes and palm trees.

Today, on a frosty Arizona morning, we renewed our ritual. We tossed tufts of multi-grain goodness into the water. The ducks dove in and paddled up to gobble up the bread. A family with two pre-teen children watched with delight from the edge of the water. Their expressions told me they were fascinated with our interaction with the ducks. I smiled and passed them two slices of bread so they could join in our moment with the ducks.

What better way to begin 2019. Reaching out to nature. Connecting with strangers. Celebrating the start of another year in a world of possibilities.