Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wanting To Wander

"Not all who wander are lost." - J.R.R. Tolkien

Why does it seem that the older we get, the less willing we are to wander?

I don't know if you've noticed it, but I've begun to see this in me lately and I don't like it.

What have I seen?  Or to be honest, it's actually more that I've FELT it.  And what I've felt has been two seemingly contradictory forces in me.

The first is a desire of a part of me to just stick to the familiar.  

When left to myself, Jon will pretty much do the same things he's always done, go to the same places, think the same thoughts, etc.  In the mornings I read the newspaper, sports section first (woe to the newsboy if he's 10 minutes late!).    In class on Wednesday and Friday nights, I tend to only raise my hand to speak when I'm sure ahead of time what I'm going to say.  After class, I go home and eat the same sandwich and watch the same TV shows ("Survivor" and "Gold Rush").  I take Izzy on the same walk around the block we've done 1000's of times.  I'm happiest when other people are happy (with me or just in general), and I get irritated or upset when I think someone's unhappy with me, or I think I've made a mistake.  It's as if Jon is the perfect expression of Newton's 1st Law of Motion:  a body at rest, wanting to remain at rest, thank you very much.

But at the same time I've also noticed just the opposite at times when Jon is in full "I'm putting down roots right here in Camp Stuck-a-Muck mode".

I feel a real reluctance to sit still - like right now - and just wait, staring at the blank page, for what may come.  Both physically and mentally a part of Jon is always on the move:  gotta check my Facebook page; gotta check my e-mail; gotta jump up and go do the dishes; gotta think about what to fix for lunch; gotta worry about what I should be doing other than sitting here trying to write; gotta have a plan, gotta know what's happening next; gotta go work out... gotta, gotta, gotta, go...go...go...  And there again, I'm the very embodiment of Newton's 1st Law, just reversed:  a body in motion, wanting to remain in motion.

But to go where?  To do what?  Is any of this motion new or fresh?  Or is it just being stuck in a familiar rut?  A return to Point A from Point B?  A loop of Self closed - comfortable once again in knowing itself as it always has known itself, just like Bilbo Baggins:

"Sorry!  I don't want any adventures, thank you.  Not today. Good morning!  But please come to tea - any time you like!  Why not tomorrow?  Good bye!" (Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit)

And there it was - a revelation.  Something I saw that I hadn't before.  The Scurrier and the Sloth were both the same nature.  Neither one of them were me, and that's why it was so valuable to just sit here until that came clearly to me.  It's only in being able to see both sides of this Nature that I have a chance to live a new life, a fresh life.

That's the journey I'm meant to be taking.  One whose wanderings will require me to sit still at times when a part of me just wants to go; and to get up and move myself when a part of me just wants to sit.

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." (Bilbo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring)

Ah, but that's where real life is.  I want to rekindle that little spark of "wanderlust" in me - the wish, and the challenge, to keep wanting to do, and think, and see something new.

Funny thing is...that's not the Pearl I expected to find when I first sat down to write today.

But that's the beauty of letting yourself wander.  You never know what treasures you'll find.

I look forward to doing a little more wandering again soon.

Friday, November 8, 2013

"Good Morning, I'm Mr. S."

"The object of teaching a child is to enable him to get along without a teacher." (Elbert Hubbard)

"Good morning, I'm Mr. Schnorenberg.  You can call me "Mr. S."

So begins each day of my new vocation - life as a substitute teacher, instead of working full-time in my own classroom.  Since I last wrote, I have been as busy as I want to be: working 2-3 days a week as a substitute in Medford schools, teaching all kinds of classes.  I've taught Science, Math, English, PE, Health, but ironically, not much of what I'm most experienced at:  Social Studies.  Nor have I worked a lot at my former school, South Medford High School.  I've worked more often at one of the local junior highs - a truly karmic coincedence.  Thirty years ago, I began my career by student teaching at a junior high, but then spent the rest of my life as a teacher in the "grown up" world of high school.  It seems I've come full circle, back around to the beginning.  The perfect balance of life positively proven.

It has been an interesting experience; one in which I've learned to appreciate some new things about this noble, yet challenging profession of being a teacher.  What's been most surprising is that I swore 30 years ago that "I would never be a substitute teacher!".  Didn't like the idea.  Didn't want to do it.  Never even considered it.  Case closed.  Door shut.  Big safe pushed in front of that door.  Elephant sitting on top of the safe.  No way, Jose.

And if that had remained the case, I never would've learned some valuable things.  So what have I learned?  I thought I'd call these the "Plums and Prunes" of substitute teaching (not sure why that popped into my head!).  The "Plums":  the sweet, unexpected things that make the job fun.  The "Prunes:  the tougher challenges that have proven good for me.

The "Prunes"

  • Walking into classes "cold":  The biggest challenge for me is not knowing what I'm doing that day for a teacher before walking into their classroom.  "Teacher Jon" worked hard to always be prepared, always organized, always "in control" - if not in fact, then at least in appearance! (Like the proverbial duck:  Calm on the surface, but paddling like crazy underneath!).  Last week I showed up at a school I'd never been to.  I had only 15 minutes to find 3 different classrooms I was in that day, and learn two different lesson plans for classes I'd never taught before.  Whew!  I've had to learn to to let go of the illusion that Jon must always be "in control.  Just do the best I can and leave it at that.

  • Being completely dependent on someone else:  Kind of related to the above.  For every job, I'm completely dependent on how good of a lesson plan the absent teacher left me:  How clear are they?  How well did they estimate the time it would take students to do what needs to be done?  How well have they taught their students to work independently?  You can learn a lot about how good a teacher is, even if you never meet them, from the lesson plans they write.  Most teachers do a good job - mostly because they have low expectations of what subs can do for them.  So most of my days have been easy.  But my biggest complaint?  Teachers not being clear about how to run the technology in their room.  I'm pretty knowledgeable and experienced, but every classroom is different.  And a lot of time can be wasted just trying to figure out where to plug in a DVD and how to turn up the volume, all while 35 teens wait impatiently!  So, I've had to learn humility and how to ask for help - two things I didn't always do when I was Mr. Teacher :-)
  • Getting to know the kids quickly:  So hard, yet so important to learn names quickly and to quickly assess who are the leaders in a class, who needs help, who is bringing positive or negative energy into the room, and how to channel all of that so that we all have a good day.  Patience and persistence is the key.  And ultimately the knowledge that almost all students appreciate a sense of order and calmness and want you to establish that.

"In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn." (Phil Collins)

The "Plums"
  • Don't have to do the "hard stuff":  No lesson to plan, no tests to grade, no staff, PLC, Core team meetings to anxiously sit through, no retakes to organize, no phone calls to return, no grades to update, etc., etc.  It's amazing to be able to step out of all of that and wonder:  How in the world did I do all of that?  For 30 years!  Wow!  
  • I work whenever I want:  2-3 days a week is perfect:  Just enough to earn extra money (Never had that experience in my working career!  EXTRA money! Cool!)  And best of all?  On the days I don't work, I don't have to get anything ready for anyone else to take my place :-)
  • I get to learn new stuff all the time:  I love this!  I've had so many opportunities to learn and relearn things as a substitute - it's like being a student every day.  Learned Chemistry; Algebra; Personal health; read novels I've never read; coached weight lifting; and even dabbled in Physics.  It's fun remembering how to be a student, and never feeling like I have to fill the role of "Expert" anymore.
  • You're Thanked:  I can't tell you how many times I've been thanked for what I do as a sub:  by teachers I help, by their colleagues, by the secretaries and principals I meet.  All appreciate subs who do a good job for them.  But sadly, I thought:  When I was a full time teacher, I could go an entire year and never once be thanked.  Too bad.
  • But the biggest "Plum" of all has been, surprisingly, the chance to simply relate to kids.  To smile as often as I can.  To encourage them.  To laugh with them.  You'd think it was full time teachers who would do this the most, and there's no doubt, they have many more chances to do so.  But it's so easy to get caught up in all of the "busy-ness" of teaching (like all the Proficiency Grading nonsense my ex colleagues at South are struggling with this year!), and forget the importance of just being Present with kids.  No matter the age, they are always sponges that absorb lessons from the adults around them.  I've appreciated the chance to remember that, and to try to practice that, every time I visit a new class.
"Kids don't remember what you try to teach them.  They remember what you are." (Jim Henson)

So, a toast to all the good substitute teachers I've known and who made my life a little easier each time I was gone the last 30 years... "Mr. S." is happy to join your ranks.

And to all of the good teachers I've worked with anywhere, a salute for all you do, in spite of any and all obstacles.  And two simple words that I know are true Pearls.

Thank you.

I pray you'll hear that again sometime very soon.  Hopefully today.

You deserve it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Lunch Date

"Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby." (Langston Hughes)

Rains splatters the street and rattles my roof this morning.  Ahhh...fall is finally here!  No more 95 degree days, thank you very much.  I'm ready for sweatshirts and jeans, breezy days and cool mornings, and yes, a little rain to wash the world clean and paint my window with silvery jewels.
I thought today would be a good day to invite you for a Lunch Date.  Haven't had one of those entries for quite awhile.  Nothing too serious in a Lunch Date entry - just chatting, musing, sharing a laugh hopefully - while I fix us lunch.  Today I'm fixing something warm and hearty - comfort food to celebrate the arrival of the rain.  Macaroni and cheese!  Who doesn't love homemade mac and cheese! Steamed fresh green beans on the crisp for dessert...sounds yummy!

So, while I'm cooking and bustling around, what would we talk about?

How's retired life?  Pretty darn good!  Schools have been in session now for 3 weeks, and I haven't missed being there at all.  I've especially enjoyed not feeling the tension in the middle of my back and in my forehead that seemed to start ratcheting up every day as I drove to work.  It rarely was a product of having or expecting "a bad day".  It was mostly produced I think by the fact that I was diving into a high energy environment each day - surrounded by 2,000 people, all scurrying through a fast paced, hectic day, trying to "get stuff done".  I love waking up when I want now and mostly letting the day unfold as it does.  And surprisingly, I've been just as busy - but not as stressed!  So what have I been up to?

Being Mr. Landscaper!:  Deborah and I spent a lot of time and effort into redoing our front lawn.  We took out 3 humongous Mugu pine bushes along the driveway; picked out a gazillion rocks and made them into a "river"; dumped some dirt, and planted a bunch of new flowers and plants..."English style".  Heather, verbena, lavender, pansies, pots of geraniums, and plopped a transplanted Crepe Myrtle tree in the middle of it.  Blanketed it all with barkdust and then put a brick border around it.  Very proud of it!  So proud, we put a new bright table out front so we can sit and enjoy it in the evening!

Volunteering more at the Foundation:  Deborah and I attend classes at the Life of Learning Foundation in Merlin, Oregon.  We are both grateful for all we continue to learn there about letting go of harmful negative states and living a kinder, compassionate life from our teacher, Guy Finley.  Since the Foundation is a non-profit organization, it depends on the efforts of volunteers, so I've been doing more.  I help administer its Facebook page, give talks once a month, facilitate online study group sessions, and even cook lunches on Saturday every now and then for the volunteers.  There's no doubt - Guy knows how to "find something for you to do" - and it's always rewarding to give back in appreciation.

What do we do for fun?  We love hanging out at Troon Vineyards, enjoying their wines and the great view out back. (Tiffany, the tasting room manager treats us like royalty!  "Hello, my lovelies!" She's sweet and generous!)  We also keep trying to work out more at the Club - no easy job "staying young"!  Haven't had any "big" adventures yet, but we have some planned in the next few weeks.  Going to Sunriver for our anniversary - Las Vegas next month to see Deborah's parents.   Our days are always filled - no wonder we're tired and in bed by 9:30 pm!

Oh, boy!  My first substitute job!  Got called yesterday for my first job as a substitute teacher - a new adventure coming!  Returning to South Medford to sub for one of the American Studies teachers for the day.  Good luck to me!  Hope I have an easy day of it!  Wonder what we'll be doing? 

Our 7th anniversary is next week.  We'll be celebrating at the Sunriver Resort in Bend.  Looking forward to riding our bikes, going on hikes, swimming at the water park (hope the weather is nice!), and just being together with my beautiful wife.   And what will I be giving Deborah?  7th anniversary gifts are traditionally copper or wool...hmmm.... how will I surprise her?  We shall see. Stay tuned!

Well, time to do the dishes.  Finish up our tea and dessert and say "Later, alligator!"  Rain's stopped - time to go find something else to do

"One never knows what each day is going to bring.  The important thing is to be open and ready for it." (Henry Moore)

So far, that's the gift that retired life has given me, and there's one thing I know for sure.

I'm a lucky guy.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Seven Years, Seven Threads, Seven Pearls Discovered

"Chains do not hold a marriage together.  It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years." (Simone Signoret)

Calliope has been whispering to me today.  Many days she seems to have little interest in inspiring me, but today is different.  The Grecian muse of writers has been gently prodding me today, softly saying, "You have something to share.  Share it."  So I will.

Calliope, Greek muse of writing
I saw on Facebook today that some friends of ours were celebrating their 37th wedding anniversary (Hooray Ed and Denise!), and I wished them both well.  "Wow!", I thought.  "Lucky them!"   Then later in the day, I serendipitously came across an article titled, "The Ten Things I've Learned After Ten Years of Marriage."  Click the link below if you'd like to read it.

The Ten Things I've Learned After Ten Years of Marriage

Our own anniversary is just two weeks away, so it seemed to me that this wasn't all just random sprinklings by the universe.  I was being asked to ponder something - something positive - something special.

What are the special things that I've learned after seven years of marriage?  What are the gifts of understanding that I've been given?  That I couldn't have received any other way than by agreeing to share my life with Deborah?

A Golden kiss - September 24, 2006: Along the Rogue River
So, in honor of Ed and Denise, Sasha Emmons and her husband, but most importantly, my partner, lover, and best friend, Deborah DeMattia - here, humbly submitted, are Seven Pearls I've Discovered after Seven Years of Marriage.  I celebrate learning these things, and want to remember their value whenever I act with them in mind.

1.   Be On Each Other's Side, No Matter What:  This was #1 on Ms. Emmons list, and I couldn't have said it better.   In a world that through events, its challenges, technology, the pressures of other people, etc. is always trying to pull you apart, always "looking for a crack", it's vital to know that you are each other's greatest ally, cheerleader, and protector.  To know that there is one person who, while you may not always agree with them or like them in a moment, you know that they always will support you and give you the benefit of kindness in that same moment, is a divine blessing.    Thank you Deborah for all the times you've done that for me.

2.  Be Honest with Each Other:   Trust is the most important thread in a successful relationship, and Honesty is the seamstress which weaves that thread into a tapestry.  Some of my most painful moments have been when I've seen that I hadn't been honest with Deborah, or myself, about how I was feeling, or what I wanted to do, or thought.  Thankfully, she has always insisted on the Truth - never let me "squirm out" of it.  Always told me exactly how she felt, even when it stung a little.  And because of this, we grew closer together - closer now than ever before.  Because we can see each other genuinely, and we genuinely love the one we see.

3.  Don't Be Afraid To Laugh at Yourself:  Ms. Emmons said in her article, "Being vulnerable enough to laugh at yourself leads to a special kind of intimacy."  Amen to that.  Deborah's spontaneity, her penchant for teasing with a loving twinkle in her eye, and for saying whatever the heck pops into her pretty Italian head, has helped crack open this stoic, "proper" German, and enriched my life.  Thank you Sweetie for all the unexpected belly laughs and snorts, as well as the sheepish smiles when you remind me to not take myself so seriously.  And most importantly, thank you for loving me even when I'm acting like the biggest dork in the world!

Me being G.I. Jonathan on the S.S. Lane Victory in Long Beach CA
4.  Remember The Little Things that Make Each Other Special:  I will always seek out your hand to hold.  I will always appreciate the look in your eyes that tells me "I'm proud of you.".  I will always, always believe (and tell you) "You're the prettiest girl in the room."  I will always appreciate that the things you love the most about me are the inner characteristics of patience, stablility, strength.  They may not sound "sexy", but they are timeless.  I will always nurture, and take joy, in you learning something new.  You are my best "student".  And I will always be grateful to you for introducing me to the Work that we share through the Foundation and teachings of Guy Finley. 

5.  Let Go of the Little Things that Try to Pull You Apart:  It's impossible to live together with someone day after day, year after year, and not get "a little irritated" at times (euphemism for thinking "You're an idiot!").  But we've both learned to forgive and let go.  So for all those times I've forgotten where the car is, slurped my soup, stared at you with a blank face because I had no clue what you were saying, bristled at the suggestion I do anything that was "work" after 6 pm, or slipped into a pouty, clingy state, thank you for letting it go and loving me still.  And for all those times you've lost your glasses or your phone and we've gone crazy looking for them only to find them in your purse, or gotten grumpy with a store clerk, or talked about ten more things you'd like to do around the house before I've finished one, or scolded me for "monkeying with the thermostat at night, I promise to always do the same:  let it go and love you still.  Perfect Love doesn't always feel perfect.  But that's when you know it's real.  When you realize nothing is more important than that love.

6.  You Can Never Say "Thank You" Too Much:  Because we both came to each other in the later years of our lives, I think we've always had a special sense of gratitude for each other.  We both lived previous lives that left us very unhappy at times, so we are grateful to be with each other now.  And through our actions and words, we show that.  When I bring you your cup of coffee in the morning or when you bring me my dinner, we still look each other in the eyes and say "Thank you".  These little courtesies are also fine threads that lovingly tie us together.  We recognize and appreciate each other - nothing is assumed.  I love that.

7.  Keep Seeking New Adventures to Share:  From our first (and only!) raft trip together down the Rogue River 8 years ago, to our hike up Lower Table Rock two weeks ago, our lives together have been filled with new adventures:  places gone and seen, things done and shared.  Some have been grand:  our trip to Italy.  Others have been quiet and small:  painting the backyard fence together.  Some have required us to have nerves of steel:  ziplining through the trees in Cave Junction.  Other times all we did was sit quietly in a dusty, ancient California mission and breathed history and reverence together.  The new experiences we've shared have also helped bond us and write virtual chapters in the story of our life and love together.  I look forward to many more.

Deborah zip-lining and screaming "Oh My God!"
So to my wife, my partner, my best friend, my lover, my companion, my confederate and confidant.

"Molte grazie!"

"There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching a door at the end of a day knowing  someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps" (Ronald Reagan) 

Us along the Oregon Coast - March 2013
I'm that happy man.  The best is yet to come.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Letting The Breeze Blow In

" But I will give you a breeze to help you on your way; it will never tire nor fail, but bear you easily over land and sea." (Louisa May Alcott)

"Life seems a breeze right now".  That thought has ambled softly around my brain the last few days.

I'm slowly learning to adjust to a whole new rhythm of life as the fact of my retirement sinks in.  Summer is over - its carefree idylls ended.  Yet, here I sit at home this morning, while all across the state 28,000 teachers are greeting 583,000 students for the first time and launching a new school year.  The winds of Life - breezes or storms - will take us both in new, unknown directions.  I wonder if they are all as eager and hopeful as I am.  I hope so.

For the first time in my entire life in September, I can choose whatever it is that I want to do.  No ABC schedules; no curriculum goals; no bells; no periods; no Learning Targets; no meetings.  No 50 minute lunches, filled with 35 minutes of helping kids.  No more PLCS, SLCS, LPAS, or POPS.  No more fire drills, earthquake drills, lockdowns, or Discipline Lessons.  I am free to define my day however I want to, and not have its meaning and tasks dictated by a calendar or agenda.  Today, after helping my wife head off to her job (brought her coffee, packed her lunch, kissed her and waved goodbye), I hopped on my bike and rode over to the club and worked out.  First thing in the morning.  Just because I felt like it. Just because I could.  Wow!  Hard to believe I could do that.

"Life is a breeze".  Perhaps that's why we all long for the breeze. It reminds us of what freedom feels like.  I bet if you closed your eyes and thought for a moment, you could probably remember distinctly a breeze that touched and tingled a part of you.  I know I can.

  • The summer breezes I felt sitting in my back yard.  Morning breeze - cool and fresh.  Afternoon breeze - its music gently rattling through the trees.  Evening breeze - soft and sweet, lulling me to sleep.
  • Walking along the beach with Deborah and feeling the ocean breeze whip past and around and through me, turning me teary-eyed in appreciation as it raced along the sands to destinations far away.
  • The welcome breezes that came last month and scoured our gray smoky skies clean and brought back the bright blues and greens of the Rogue Valley - and lifted our spirits.
We love the breeze and we long for its caress.  But why?  I think the answer is because it touches a part of ourselves - a longing inside us - a need that gets buried by everyday life and the schedules, plans, jobs, and tasks that fill our days.  The breeze, whenever I'm present to its presence, reminds me to reconnect to Life. That's the longing that busy-ness blankets and blurs.  

Life is meant to be like the breeze - moving, ever changing, fresh and new.  I know that over time it's easy to become habitual and mechanical - stuck in what I've always done.  I want to seek out Life's breezes.  

But contrary to our assumptions, all breezes are not easy and soothing.  Some disturb and lay bare that which has been dusty and dry.  Some breezes shake things up and make a mess.  Some breezes chill to the bone, and are precursors to a storm.  But that is what my Life is meant to be - ALIVE.  Filled with all of that.  That which soothes me, makes me happy - that which shakes me, but in doing so, reveals that which is unshakable within.

"The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.  Don't go back to sleep." (Rumi)

I'm grateful to feel Life's breezes stirring me today.  I'm happy to be able to set sail for some new experiences in my life:  being a substitute teacher for the first time, new travels with Deborah, meeting new people at the Club, learning new things, and all the other surprises that Life will present me with as long as I stay open as I wander this new path.

"Hark, now hear the sailors cry, Smell the sea and feel the sky,
Let your soul and spirit fly,  Into the mystic" (Van Morrison)

Me on top of Lower Table Rock last week
I know that's the Pearl that Life has offered me.  A chance to be alive, and to experience all that's fresh and new - and to grow.  Whether I'm scaling mountains, or just putting a flower behind my ear.  

Out to dinner at Taprock with my beautiful wife
I intend to be open to it all.  I'm a lucky man.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Moving Day

"The world is round and the place that may seem like the end may also be the beginning." (Ivy Baker Priest)

Today I wasn't there.  

I wasn't where I've always been the last 30 years at this time.  And to be honest, it feels a little weird.  

A part of me feels a little lost; a little wistful.  A little like a boy sitting in his bedroom, looking out the window watching his friends run and play, but sadly knowing he can't join them, because he's moving.  Moving to another place where he's going to have to make new friends, learn to do new things, and learn to once again leave the past behind and start all over.

That boy would tell you he's excited about moving somewhere new and that change is a good thing.  After all, he's done it many, many times before:  New Jersey, Texas, South Carolina, California, Roseburg (twice!), Beaverton (3 times!), Scholls, Corvallis, Portland, Medford, Grants Pass.  Each place he's been has left an imprint on him and made him who he is.  

But this move is a really big one.  And it's been awhile since he's moved.  Eight years?  Yeah - that was a pretty big move.  But more like 21 years since anything this big.  Two decades of dust disturbed and memories to pack away.  That's a lot.  In fact, none of what he had accumulated over all those years would be of any value where he was going.  He had to leave it all behind and start over.

He thought he was ready for the move.  That's what he'd been telling everyone for months.  He knew that every one of the reasons for the move were all good and sound.  There was nothing that he regretted.  Friends who saw him recently said, "I've never seen you so relaxed and happy!".  Still others were envious.  "I wish I could do what you're doing and go where you're going!", they'd whisper to him.  Almost everyone hugged him, or laughed and slapped him on the back, saying "Well done!  We'll miss you!"  Only one person said, "I think you're making a mistake.  You shouldn't leave." - and the boy didn't quite know what to make of that.

All seemed settled.  All seemed good.  All seemed normal.  Until today.  Today was Moving Day.

Today as the boy drove through town he saw places just like where he had always been these last 30 years.  The parking lots were full.  The people inside were all talking and busy as bees.  They had important stuff to do.  Even though he couldn't hear them, the boy could feel their excitement and the feeling of anticipation as they got ready to do what they did best.  They were teammates and they were glad to be working together, doing what they do.  Something the boy used to do too - for a long time.  He was once part of a team too - a great team.  But not today.  He had moved away.

"Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending." (Lazarus Long)

I am that boy today, as I watch teachers all around the valley return to their schools this week to get ready for Opening Day.  For 30 years, I did what they did, felt what they felt, and worked hard at doing the noble job they all do.  

It's been a couple of months since I walked away from South Medford for the last time.  I had a busy summer - filled with events happy and sad - filled with projects big and small - filled with all the usual stuff of summer.  So it's not a surprise that I hadn't yet really "felt" the reality of my retirement.  I suspected this was coming.  Just didn't really know what I would feel.  Nothing sad or bitter.  Nothing giddy or relieved.  Just a little empty.  A little wistful.  Thoughtful.  Reflective.  

I wish all of my hard working former colleagues at South all the best.  I know they will be working very, very hard this year.  It will be a difficult year for many of them - big changes are being required of them - which is one of the reasons why I didn't want to stay.  I knew it was time for me to say "Goodbye".  To move on to a different phase in my life and to explore new worlds.

Goodbyes - real goodbyes - not "See you laters" or "Catch you next times!" - aren't easy.  But it's good to remember that they always contain hope within them, along side the emptiness.  There can be no new beginning, no real growth, nothing fresh - without a real goodbye.

“I give you this to take with you:
Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can
begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.” (Judith Minty)

I'm glad that Moving Day has finally come.  I think I'm finally ready to go.  Goodbye, good luck Panthers!  Though I may see you again sometime this year, I know things will be different.  I will be just a visitor.  But a friendly one. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Walking In The Woods

"Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world." (John Muir)

Have you ever wanted to travel back in time?  To journey 100's, even 1000's of years into the past so that you could feel and smell history come alive all around you?  To meet great legends and visit the sites of epic adventures?

I have.  And I know a place to go where such a fantastic trip is possible.

Have you ever longed to sit in a sacred place?  Somewhere where you could feel the presence of God with every fiber of your mortal being?  A place where your spirit and soul naturally hushed and felt at peace?

I do.  And I know of such a place; a place so large that it could swallow up thousands of visitors in its embrace, yet all who came there would feel intimately welcomed.

Do you ever seek the company of those that are patient and strong?  Who persevere in spite of all challenges and obstacles?  Whose very success is born out of being one with their surroundings?  Who through their quiet presence inspire the same in all those who come in contact with them?

We can't help but be drawn to such companions.  And I know where you can unfailingly find them.

In the woods.

A picture I took in my family's woods long ago
I have felt this reverence for the trees within the forests of the Pacific Northwest all my life.  I was lucky to have grown up in the country where on our family's property we had an acre of forest to call our own; a magical place we Schnorenberg kids simply called "The Woods".  We built forts and "cathedrals" in the woods; played games; jumped over creeks; waged titanic "wars"; wrote poetry in and about them; picked and ate buckets of blackberries there; buried our beloved pets in its embrace; and returned, time and again, to simply stand quietly in the trees' company.

"If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees." (Hal Borland)

All of these thoughts were spurred by a "spur of the moment", Spring vacation adventure that Deborah and I had last weekend.  We decided to take a hike in the great redwoods of northern California, just a couple of hours away from home.  We drove to Jedediah Smith State Park, and then bumped along a dirt road/path for another 5 miles before finding the trailhead for "The Boy Scout Tree Trail":  a 6 mile hike (round trip) in the heart of the redwoods.

Deborah and Izzy on the trail
From the very first steps we three took (Deborah, me, and of course Izzy!), I knew we had entered a magical, wonderful new world.  Our hike became both an adventure in "time travel", as well as a pilgrimage to a place as sacred as any temple, and a walk in the company of true beauty and strength.

A simple narrative, recounting what we did, what we saw, wouldn't do justice to what I experienced there.  So much of what makes the forests so awe-inspiring - especially ones as majestic as the Redwoods - can't really be expressed by words from the mind.  Instead it's one's heart and soul that are touched.  But I can share some impressions that have stuck with me ever since.

  • The incredible silence that wrapped itself around us as we started our hike and that accompanied us the whole time.  I felt it immediately and it instantly hushed my mind and soul.  I knew I was in a different world, and that I was welcome there.
  • The humility I felt walking among these giant sentinels.  I have seen one, or two, or three trees of such size before, but never had I walked for hours among trees that were ALL so massive!  They stood along the trail, rugged and scarred.  Some stood alone and apart; others stood fused together with another of their kind.  Some were shells, burned and hollowed by lightning.  Others were graceful and straight, as clean as if they were museum pieces
Deborah among an Army of giants
  • There was so much beauty to see!  At times I simply couldn't take it all in.  I looked upwards, gawking at the towering trees; only to stumble over their roots.  As I'd catch my balance, I then would see tinier, but no less impressive, "citizens" of the redwoods welcoming me along:  trilliums, white and innocent; little mushrooms wearing their bright red and gold "party hats"; and shamrocks everywhere - a veritable leprechaun's lawn!
A trillium
"Let's party!" say the mushrooms

Shamrocks and a leprechaun stump?
Deborah, Izzy, and I tramped and walked for a couple of hours, soaking up all of the beauty and holiness of this wonderful place.  We tired before we got to the end of the trail, and reluctantly decided to head back.  But the redwoods had one final gift for us.  

The afternoon had been mostly gray and cloudy, a typical March day.  But as we rounded a bend on our way back to the trailhead, shafts of sunlight split the towering trees and warmed a solitary spot on the trail.  We stopped and stood in the heavenly light, warming our faces, bodies, and souls.  We stood their silently and gratefully for a couple of minutes, and then continued our journey back to the car.  We bumped and splashed our way along the dirt road again back to the highway, and then back home, happy and contented.

As an added treat, we stopped at the Bridgeview Winery in Cave Junction and celebrated our adventure with a sweet glass of their "Blue Moon Rising" riesling.

John Steinbeck wrote the following about these redwoods in his books "Travels With Charley".

"The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It's not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes.  No, they are not like any trees we know.  They are ambassadors from another time.”

So, a toast to these ambassadors from another time.  I am grateful for all that you shared and inspired within me.  What I'm most grateful for is the reminder that the reason I'm drawn to, and find so much that is good, within the company of trees:  strength, patience, beauty, peace, etc. - is because all of that also exists within me.

The trees are God's ambassadors.  And though they may stand for centuries in solitary silence, they bring a timeless and powerful message from God to anyone who is willing to stand in their presence and listen - with their hearts, not their minds.

I love you.  I am here.  You are always welcome.  Stay with me.

I know I will return again soon.

(And I'll bring both of my favorite hiking companions along too - wouldn't be as fun without them!)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Moments Captured, Part Two

"Sometimes I arrive just when God's ready to have someone click the shutter." (Ansel Adams)

Yesterday I shared some of my favorite photos that I had taken over the years of people.  I had such a good time rummaging through my files and selecting those 6 pics, that I decided to do the same again today.  This time I chose my 6 favorite pics of places or landscapes.  I have more of these kinds of photographs - probably because I lived alone for so along.  I traveled alone, and was usually shy about asking other people to even take pictures of me.  Glad that's not so much the case anymore!

So, here they are.  Six favorite photos; not only for the places, but also for what I captured in the photo.

My Six Favorite Photos - Places/Landscapes

Simpson Cove - February 2006
  • Simpson Cove at Shore Acres State Park on the Oregon coast is one of our favorite places to go.  I took this picture on a windy, gray weekend visit there with Deborah.  I love this picture for all the textures seen in it:  the rocks have all been exquisitely carved by the waves over the years.  And I love the power of the crashing waves.  You can practically hear the white waves sizzling as they rush around the rocks!
Shore Acres Gardens - April 2009

  • Keeping with the Oregon coast, Shore Acres theme (Can you tell I like going here?).  The gardens here are spectacular in the spring!  I especially love the rows and rows of tulips, and on this visit there for my birthday, I finally captured a shot I'd been trying to get for years!  An army of tulips trooping towards the caretaker's house - the whole scene framed in the bright greens of the fir trees and hedges.  Definitely another reason why I keep coming back to these gardens, hoping to catch another glimpse of heaven, like this.

  • A favorite photo from one of my overseas trips.  This is a picture of St. Etienne's cathedral in Bourges, France.  Took this in July 2004.  I was walking through the city and saw this magnificent building.  I was struck by the "flying buttresses" - the curved outer "wings" that give the building its unique look and structure.  It took over a century to build this (c. 1194-1324), and the cathedral was added to the UNESCO list of "World Heritage Sites" in 1992.  I was amazed that I was able to fit the whole thing into my tiny lens, and that the colors and lighting turned out so well.  Just minutes later, the clouds rolled in and it started to sprinkle!

  • Another photo from an adventure overseas.  This is a photo I took at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland on my 2nd trip there in 2000.  It's a perfect example of what you can discover if you just change your perspective.  Here's the picture that most people take when they come to the Cliffs (See below.  I didn't take this photo - the weather wasn't so good when I came to the Cliffs the first time)

  • The Cliffs are majestic - 700 feet high, stretching for 5 miles out into the Irish sea.  Over a million people visit them each year.  But the 2nd time I visited them I decided to walk around and look back at the reverse side of them.  And took the picture above this one.  I love it!  You can see the seldom photographed O'Brien's Tower in the distance and I'm always amazed to see the people!  Look at the 4 or 5 daredevils standing or sitting on the very edge of the cliff!  Crazy!

  • This is one of my all time favorite photographs (I've posted it a couple of times on my blog).  I took it in 2006 when on my 1st trip to Southern California to meet Deby's parents before we got married.  Deby and I loved stopping at the California missions to see and feel the history there.  We were at the San Buenaventura mission in Ventura, just north of her parents' home.  While waiting for Deby, I just stopped and looked up for some reason and snapped this picture.  It looks like something that Claude Monet painted! (In fact, I call it "Mission Monet")  The lacy pastel greens of the tree leaves and the bright red flowers in the middle make this a piece of Impressionistic art that rivals anything I've ever seen.  Don't know how I captured this - but it's always moved me.

  • This final picture is one I took outside our home in May 2007.  I just call it "Quiet Home".  I could just as easily simply call it "Love".  It's just a picture of a part of our front yard.  The white picket fence with the heart on it in the middle always first attract my eyes.  But then the pinks of the roses and the bright red of the plum tree frame the picture so beautifully.  The picture always speaks to me of the comfort and warmth of home, and most of all, of the love that is present there.  It always reminds me of the blessings I enjoy and the wonderful life I share with Deborah here.  The plum tree is now gone, but we always look forward to seeing (and smelling!) the little pink roses that are the first to pop out in May.
"Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still" (Dorothea Lange)

I've enjoyed looking back at all of these little slices of life, captured through the tiny lens of my simple camera.  I hope I'll continue to have an eye, and heart open, to the beauty all around me

I think I used to take pictures to try to "capture" a part of life.  But I've learned that beauty isn't here to be captured.  It's here to be shared.  To be touched, and to be touched by.

I'm looking forward to doing more of both!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Moments Captured, Part One

"A good snapshot stops a moment from running away." (Eudora Welty)

As you know, writing is a love of mine; a passion I look forward to pursuing more after I've retired.  But there's another artistic avenue that I've also had a love for - taking photographs.  All of my adult life I've enjoyed  snapping pictures while on my "adventures" (big or small) or when I was with family or friends.  Even though I never owned a really nice camera, I always managed to take some memorable pictures.  And when I was single, those pictures became my "companions".  I filled dozens of albums with them; my apartment walls were covered with them.  I think they helped me feel less lonely when I was alone.

Now I'm no longer alone.  I did buy a nicer camera a couple years ago.  And now I don't take photos as often!  Silly!  So today I thought I'd rekindle the photographer's passion in me by sharing some of my most favorite pictures.  These are all pictures I've taken which have a special appeal to me:  both for the subject, as well as the nature of the picture itself.  Today I'll share photos of people; tomorrow of places.

"My portraits are more about me than they are the people I photograph." (Richard Avedon)

I wonder what these pictures will reveal about me? I hope you enjoy!

My Six Favorite Photos - People

Doug P. fishing at Rock Creek (1999)
  • I took this photo while on a summer fishing trip with my friend Doug Potter.  Doug did his best to try to turn me into a fly fisherman (I mostly just hooked myself, or lost the fly).  But I did enjoy being the trip "photographer".  Doug took me to some beautiful places, like Rock Creek in western Montana.  I love this picture because I captured both the beauty of the place, and the graceful action in the movement of the line as Doug cast it.  I can hear the ripple of the water over the rocks
Izzy in the Springtime - April 2009

  • My favorite picture of our little chihuahua Izzy.  We were out working in the yard and she came out to "help".  She jumped into the middle of the ground cover, circled three times, and them plopped down like a princess in the middle of it all!  I love the colors in this photo, and it captures Izzy's personality perfectly.  She's always happiest when she's "included", and part of "the gang"

My playful wife - Thanksgiving 2010

  • This is one of my favorite pictures of my wife.  She'll ALWAYS be "the prettiest girl in the room" to me, and you can see why in this picture.  It was a sunny fall day and I just took her outside to take pictures of her.  She was my "model" that day, and I was the "paparazzi".  I love the colors and textures of the leaves in the background.  But most of all, I love the playful look in her beautiful eyes.  The picture captures her saucy, sexy personality vividly!  "A picture's worth a 1000 words"?  This one sums up in a nutshell why I fell head over heels in love with her!

"Fun in the Sun" - ZFL boys (1998)

  • This picture is proof positive that sometimes great photographs are just serendipitous ("happy accidents").  I took this at the Oregon coast when me and some long time friends were there for our fantasy football draft (I was the "Commissar" of the Zonker Football League for a long, long time.  Kept me "busy" in my bachelor days!).  After the draft, we all went down to the ocean to wade in the water, and I snapped this photo of my friends Larry, Doug, and Steve J. as they sunned and laughed.  The angle of the sun turned this into a striking silhoutte, and the gleam off the ocean waves is stunning!  Even though you can't see their faces, you can see details of each guy that remind me of their individual personalities!

My five sisters - Thanksgiving 1999
  • Of all the pictures I've taken at family gatherings, this is my favorite.  My family doesn't always get together on Thanksgiving, but we had in 1999.  My sister Mary (the one in the middle) had come back to Oregon for the holidays (they were living in Alice Springs, Australia at the time) and so we were all together:  cooking, eating, laughing loudly, and enjoying each other's company.  I love the picture because it captured all five sisters smiling happily - a nice sight!

My Valentine (2010)

  • A 2nd photo of my wife (I know she probably will shake her head and say "Why two pictures of me? You're crazy!"  And I'll say..."Yes, I am...about you!").  This photo is the one I've blown up and have in my bedroom and see most often.  I took it on Valentine's Day morning.  We were enjoying a getaway at the Weasku Inn along the Rogue River.  We had gotten up and gone for a walk along the river's bank and when we returned to our cabin, I turned and snapped this picture.  The look on her face has enchanted me ever since.  So much is expressed in it:  A tiny bit of exasperation?  Yet patience too.  Playfulness?  Yet also a calm grace and stillness.  Look at her eyes.  Am I "taking a picture" of her?  Or her of me?  And look at how the trees, and her head, both lean at the same natural the light glows around her head.  A perfect picture!
"There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs." (Ansel Adams)

So, as I look back at these photos, what have I learned?

I guess the simple lesson is that our eyes and our heart seek out what we love.  That in each of these pictures I don't remember "thinking" about how to "capture" that moment.  But somehow a part of me connected with what was beautiful there in it.  And in the willingness to be open to it, and guided by something other than me, was given a great gift.

It doesn't take a fancy camera to take a great picture.

All it takes is Love.

(And remembering to turn your camera on!)