Beside a Mountain Stream

I always seem to be more myself in the mountains. It doesn’t matter what the season might be. The deep snows of winter afford me my favorite pastime and I look for every chance I get to ski. Spring is a short time, as is Autumn. One is full of the most beautiful flowers (and mud). The other is a stunning palette of gold and green and red (and mud). Summer, short as it is, presents the Rockies in all of their purple majesty, and hiking through the valleys and up the steep slopes to dizzying vistas is always exhilarating.

Whatever the season may be, there is always something new to see—wildlife and wildflowers and trees and clouds and lakes and streams. I do love mountain streams. The Snake River runs nearby our second home here. We wander along its banks or sit beside it and listen to its conversation with the mountain.

A nice walking path follows the Snake for a few miles and we walk it quite often. We meet many fellow walkers, and joggers, and bicyclists and sometimes they stop to chat. Always part of the conversation is “Where is your home?” Hardly anyone is actually a native. We call ourselves “part-time locals.” Quite often we’re asked for directions or recommendations.

We find ourselves stopping all along the river just to sit and watch it move along its course. Some places have deep pools; a quick bend might create a shallow eddy; a tumble of boulders offers a noisy cascade. Now and then we will catch a glimpse of a quick brown flash or even get a few moments to watch a trout lazily sweep its tail in the current before darting away. Among the human footprints we might find the tracks of a fox or moose or even a bear.

The seasonal changes along the stream are like costumes at a masquerade. We have photographed and tried to identify hundreds of mountain flowers and watched them change from early spring to fall. The trees offer the same challenges although there aren’t nearly as many different types. The birds are always fun. Crows are ubiquitous. Mountain Jays offer a note more shrill to join the cawing. A real prize is sighting a mountain blue bird flitting among the aspen and firs. In the Midwest we laugh at the squirrels and their antics. Here the chickarees are as much fun.

I can sit for hours beside a mountain stream and listen to its music, watch it swirl and tumble over and around the rocks, enjoy the flowers and trees that grow along its banks, wonder in amazement at the animals that come to it. I think about the snowpack higher up the mountain that is the source of the waters and the centuries that have passed with its constant rushing to carve the path that carries it away. In the short time I have been here I have seen it change over and over with the seasons. It is a rushing torrent sweeping away everything in its way from early May to late June; a burbling freshet in August and September that I can walk across in most places; and in mid-winter it plays hide-and-seek under the ice and snow, peeking out in pools where the sunlight gives it an opening or slipping down growing icicles in the steep drops.

But always it is the river. Beside it, I am me.

At the mountaintop, even before the river begins, I stand and look out over the world and enjoy what I see no matter how it changes. It is a limited perspective, of course. I only see what I can see, but I also see what I choose to see, and I can come down from the mountaintop and see the river and the forests and the flowers and the animals much closer and more closely. I know the closer I get to the village the more likely it is that I will see the detritus of human existence.

I have waded in the waters, pushed against the current, and I have yelled with delight while crashing otter-like over a Class IV rapid. I have struggled through the chest-deep snows and swooped down the mountainside like a stooping eagle.

You figure out the metaphors. I do live in this world and I am conscious of the tragedies and the triumphs on all levels because I choose to be a thinking person. I choose to be myself.

One of my favorite descriptions comes from a woman who is one of this country’s great writers and least heard voices. When I first read these words, my breath caught. Here they are quite out of context, I suppose, except that I love the independence they express. Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “… I am a dark rock surged upon, and overswept, but through it all, I remain myself. When covered by the waters, I am; and the ebb but reveals me again.”

 

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“I Still Hear the Bells”

Sometimes when I wake up late at night, I can smell pine trees and fresh snowfall. I look out the window and the stars are like streetlights, lining the avenues of my imagination. In the chorus of the wind, I can hear the bells and the hoofbeats…and the “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

I believe.

I have to. In the consciousness of my reality, I waver, but when I let the silence in and listen to my heart, I hear the bells, and I know that I am Santa.

The peace in my world is believing in the innate goodness of all people. I don’t have to see to believe. I can feel it, but I do see it in the efforts of those who try so hard not only to better themselves but those around them—the people who ache for those who are struggling with their demons, with the vicissitudes of living, with their heartbreaking care for others. I want to embrace them, wreathe them in the warm glow of a Yule fire and a hot toddy and the companionship of loving friends…and a little elven magic….

I believe in presence as the best present. We must all be in each moment of our lives to live our lives to the fullest! If we can even come close to that, we will also be in the most precious moments for those we love as well as for those who need us the most. My best moments are those times when I come sliding down a chimney and find someone waiting in dreams for their greatest gift. Each time I am lucky to be there, I receive my best gift as I watch that recipient awaken to awareness, open to Self, and begin the most important journey to belief in him- or herself. They don’t even remember that I’ve been there, and that’s OK with me. I believe in me.

Of course, it’s easier with the little ones. They haven’t been taught to doubt yet…at least most of them. Unfortunately, today so many more seem to be learning about the empty bag, the missing tree, the reindeer in the zoo, the Mall Santa, instead of being allowed to know the magic. So…I see as many as I can and try to bring them back to belief. And I talk to their parents and teachers and hope to convince them that the best thing they can do is lead their little ones on to imagination and the sound of the bells.

It is depressing, I admit, to see and hear what is happening in the world today. Sometimes I can even feel myself fading away from the disbelief, the hatred, the misunderstanding. It seems as if the basic tenets of all the world’s great religions have been perverted to espouse and condone violence, hatred, bigotry, and intolerance. How my heart aches when I know that each of those disciplines advocates Santa—acceptance, tolerance, solicitude, love. I’d like to load the sleigh with bombs of compassion and drop them everywhere on Christmas Eve. Maybe I’d mix in some logic and common sense, too. Those definitely couldn’t hurt.

Do you hear the bells? Listen. How sweet the sound of the silver bells on the reindeer harness. See them prancing, eager to be aloft, bearing gifts and happiness and peace? They are the spirits of the world. I don’t need the whip, they are pulling so hard to be…Up, up, and away!

Happy Christmas to all. And to all a Good Night!

Daniel J. Cox
12-04-2017

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“Do It Now!”

The recent passing of my dear Aunt Louise Long prompted me to write about how much she meant to me. It also caused me to think more about something I’ve been mulling over for some time. Below is what developed tonight from those thoughts.

Life is a road of twists and turns, hills and valleys, ruts and pleasant by-ways. We live it fully if we can. The older we are privileged to be, the more we experience the highs and lows, but the more philosophical we may become. My world, so often eclipsed by tragedy and death, it seems, has also been illuminated by the brightest of lights. What is so hard to bear, at times, is that those great moments of illumination are also the cause of the greatest eclipses.

Many of those beacons in my life have gone out. Only those of you who have been privileged to know such warmth and love and compassion and meaning in your lives can also understand the devastation and grief and sorrow…and pure, unadulterated joy in the memories of such lives. I have been blessed beyond measure to have known so many who have given me these wonderful, wretched moments to relive the best of my life while suffering the anguish of knowing that these great hearts are stilled but for memory. I am a lucky, lucky man, yet I am heartsick each time.

These are the most telling instances. We are reminded that we must cherish each day, each moment, each one who means so very much to us, but these aren’t the only reasons to live to our fullest in this short life we are given. Look around, but most of all, look within. What is missing that shouldn’t be? What experiences are yet to be lived that we have the opportunities to know? Why aren’t we doing it?

Nike’s most famous motto is “Just Do It!” On a ski lift not long ago I was engaged in conversation with three young men about our ski lives. One asked me how long I’d been skiing. When they learned approximately how old I was (I’d been skiing off and on for some fifty years at the time), one of them asked me for some advice about life. I told him, “Don’t just do it; do it NOW!”

I don’t know what prompted me to that bit of wisdom, but I’ve thought about it often since then. Too many of those great lives I’ve known were taken from me unexpectedly—heart attack, stroke, crushing and immediate disease. Not long ago I was given a cancer diagnosis myself. Luckily it was caught soon enough that surgery “cured” me, and because of the miracle of modern medicine, I anticipate many years more of this adventure. But the “now” has become more important to me.

For some, the first inclination with this philosophy might be to give up everything and live a life of hedonistic pleasure or take off at twenty and backpack around the world, living off handouts and the kindness of strangers—or their parents’ incomes. That is not my meaning at all. Doing it “now” when you’re just starting out in life might mean determining just what life is supposed to be, how it’s to be lived and where, what occupation or career to pursue or what intrinsic meaning that life is supposed to have in the end, and then developing a plan to achieve those goals. Doing it now at that stage would be doing “now” what needs to be done to have the life intended or desired. For those with more of their lives already lived, some reflection is definitely in order when they’re unsatisfied with the current outcomes, but the process is still the same.

I wanted my life to serve others. I wanted to have a family and provide for them. I wanted to write. I wanted to ski and enjoy nature. So I went to school. I earned three degrees. I went to work. I fell in love. Married. Had children. Helped them to be successful themselves, and I keep reminding them that I am here to help them as I can. I had a good teaching career and still hear from countless former students who are themselves successfully pursuing various careers and life endeavors. I am outdoors almost daily in various environments and take the time to look around and “smell the roses.” And I write…and ski.

I read once something to the effect that we should live our lives so that we come to the end with no regrets and no wishes that we had done something we didn’t do. If I live a thousand years I’ll not achieve those goals, but I try not to miss any opportunities. I don’t pass up the chances to tell those I love that I do. I try to find something new in every day. However, I don’t write as much as I would like. I’m still trying to learn to play the guitar and to draw well enough to satisfy myself. I don’t ski as much as I’d like, but I’m getting there.

Whatever it is you want to do, do it now…or at least put the wheels in motion to get there, no matter how much water is already over the dam or how far “down hill” you’ve already come. When you’re just sitting and wishing that you were doing something else, get up and get started!

Now, excuse me. I need to finish that novel I started.

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Spill

I thought I’d posted this poem several days ago.  In order to get my words in the places, and lines in the spaces, I’d want them to be (I like to move them around for emphasis and meaning), I do a screen shot and then copy and paste into sites like FaceBook.  I have discovered, however, that this doesn’t work with this site.  So…I’ll see if I can make it work by simply writing the poem in the space below.  I still haven’t figured out the line spacing here, for instance….

Spill

Always

Love

Too much

Ache

For space

to

Overfill

Weep

To never

Love

Enough

Yet

Too much

Every

day

And

Never

enough

For you

Niagara

Of

Love

Overflowing

Heart

Full

To fill

Yours

Over

Flow

ing.

Daniel J. Cox

09-05-2017

 

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Fire Bird

Ashes

Blow away in

Clouds of bitterness

And flame

 

Bright wings

Soar in

Meteoric rise of

Promise

 

Rise

Higher in

Happiness and

Love

 

Sing

Joy and

Soar above

Past heartache

 

Daniel J. Cox

07-29-2017

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Inspiration

I have often told my students (in the past; retirement is fun!), that the best (and probably the only real cure for Writer’s Block) is just WRITE!  I think there’s more to it, however, when you aren’t really blocked, but you just don’t take the time to write or even feel the urge.  First, you still have to write.  That’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to get back to blogging here.  I want to write, I just have so much fun in my life these days that it’s lower on my list of priorities!  Second, it really does take some kind of inspiration to get any kind of artistic flow going no matter your medium as an artist.  So, what’s the answer?

For me–and I firmly believe that any artist has to find his/her own path–the Arts themselves are key.  When I’m listening to good music, attending a concert or other type of performance, going to a museum, or indulging in other artistic endeavors, I am more inspired to do my own creating.

My wife and I have discovered an on-line help.  If you aren’t familiar with The Great Courses, I highly recommend them.  They are college-level courses taught by excellent teachers, most of them college professors, as far as I can tell, in any number of areas of study.

I’ve always wanted to learn to draw or sketch.  I have no illusions of becoming a good, let alone great, visual artist.  I just want to be able to sketch some of the things I see and like…mountain flowers and trees, maybe some people, animals, or whatever strikes my fancy.  I was able to score a good Great Courses Beginning Drawing class for about $30!  It will be a good year of viewing the lectures, practicing the techniques, and just studying the art and making the attempt before I’ll really feel good about what I’m doing.  I don’t care.  It’s FUN, and I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do.

I played some guitar in high school.  When I retired, my younger son, a very talented musician and singer-songwriter, helped me pick out a good acoustic guitar.  I don’t read music.  I know some chords.  I’m learning more. My fingers hurt.  I’m having a ball!  But I don’t have a teacher.  Enter The Great Courses and another good course on Beginning Guitar, a series of video lessons taught by the Director of Music at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.  Again, this will take a while, but, hey, I’m retired!

My wife has a passion for neuroscience and how people learn.  We’re not only doing the drawing and guitar lessons together, but we’re viewing lectures on The Aging Brain and learning some really interesting things about ourselves as we get older.  In the meantime, we’re still doing all those “artsy” things, including cooking together and learning new dishes and just experimenting.  You now, being creative.

Oh, that other creativity thing, Inspiration? Guess when I decided I’d better get back to my novel?

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“It’s All Greek to Me”

[I wrote this a year or so ago and didn’t realize it hadn’t published.  Tarkio College is being reborn as I write this.  My brothers and I are still connected and some of us even closer than before.  The rest is not history, but the roots from which the future is growing.]

Forty-four years ago I surprised all sorts of people when I joined Tarkio College’s first national fraternal organization.  Yep.  I’m a “frat boy” (and I detest that term).  Everyone who knew me expected me to go through life proudly wearing the letters GDI instead of ASF.  What on Earth ever possessed me to “give up my independence” to become a clone?  I love Townes Van Zandt’s take on fraternity life in “Fraternity Blues,” but it’s simply one parody after another—funny, but not accurate (even though I did have to learn the Greek alphabet in both directions).  So, why did I do it?

 

My dear Alma Mater was (it closed in 1992, unfortunately) a small liberal arts college in a small town in northwest Missouri only eight miles from where I grew up.  I’m about as “white bread” as a person can get.  Diversity in my life in the late ’60s meant I had a few friends who were Catholic, and they had to go to another town to worship.  My family has always been thirsty for knowledge and our parents taught my brothers and me to be accepting of difference and eager to learn new things and meet new people.  Tarkio College may have been a small place, but it enrolled students from all over the world and all walks of life.  The very first pledge class of the Delta Gamma chapter of Alpha Sigma Phi reflected that variety.  My brothers were different, and we enjoyed the variety.

 

We learned a great deal from one another.  In the two years at TC I had left, I probably learned more from my brothers than I did in class studying sociology, anthropology, art, literature, and the rest of the curriculum.  Yes, we even studied.  I remember my two roommates and I doing that very thing.  One was a music major, the other studied drama, while I applied myself to literature and writing.  It was a terrific room, and students from all over campus visited (for a variety of reasons).  Not everything was in the books we read or the lessons to which we actually did apply ourselves.

 

Late nights included conversations about race relations.  It was the early ’70s, and things were tense around the country and, at times, in Tarkio.  My Black brothers (true, there weren’t many, but one was more than I had grown up with), helped us to understand the issues about which we otherwise could only read.  The Viet Nam War (OK, “Conflict”) was at its peak, and some of us were dreading the draft.  Political and religious discussions could be heated, but they were also among friends.  Since we represented a pretty good cross-section of the nation, we learned more about regional differences and similarities than any government class could afford us.  Boxes of “goodies” from home provided us with some tantalizing experiences with a variety of culinary and ethnic adventures.

 

Like all commencements, each of us began our new lives after graduation and went our separate ways without too much of a look back.  When the college closed, we really lost track.  Even our records went to another institution.  For too many years that part of our lives was lost in starting careers, families, and lives in different parts of the world. Then in 2006 the Internet helped us reconnect.  A few emails among some of us from that first pledge class resulted in a fraternity reunion at the annual Alumni Association gathering.  Although the campus was history in ruins, some of us gathered to reminisce and build on those long-ago relationships.  It was a beautiful thing.

Since then a few of us have maintained those bonds and gather annually on campus.  We are, I am proud to say, part of the nucleus that is rebuilding Tarkio College, as well.  Maybe the institution is not what it once was, but the brotherhood we Alpha Sigs established so many years ago is as strong as ever.

 

We have lost some in the ensuing years.  One of my roommates, Richard “Guppy” Pugh, a Broadway staple for decades, passed away just a month before our first reunion, but my brother Mike Perry (AKA “Snake”) and I have been canoeing, fly fishing, furniture moving, re-furbishing TC, and supporting one another on a regular basis.  As Facebook “friends,” many of us carry on our political and religious disagreements, inform one another about our regions of the country, share a recipe now and then, rejoice in our accomplishments and those of our children (and grandchildren), and sympathize with our misfortunes.  I have no better friends than those men with whom I shared what were definitely my “formative” years.

 

What holds us together?  We are brothers.  Yes, it’s corny.  Yes, it’s simply that we have that same badge of belonging among so many others.  But we know that no matter what disagreements or how many miles might separate us, any time we get together again, the years become just a matter of gray hair—if there is any, new wrinkles and aches and pains, and interesting new things to discover about one another.  I have an entire extended family upon whom I can call at any time, and I have done so.  We just pick up where we left off, although it might take a few reminders!

I may belong to several other groups of one kind or another, but only my blood relatives and a very few other friends are as close as that group of men who shared those years and memories with me.  They helped me through college, were part of my wedding entourage, celebrated with me the births of my sons and grandchildren, mourned with me the loss of my wife and parents, and will hobble along with me until the end, I know.  The cause is hidden, but the results well known.

Now I’m going to have dinner with one of my “brothers from another mother.”  I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

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