Category Archives: Family

They Fell from the Sky

They Fell from the Sky

Hundreds of them.  Eared Grebes.  The birds precipitated from inside crystalline clouds where the sunlight flashed in an infinity of ice atoms swirling and refracting in a frozen explosion of brilliance, as if the sun raged coldly right there inside the clouds.  The birds became utterly hopelessly disoriented in the icy intensity, blind, not knowing up from down.  Hundreds of grebes dropped from the mists to bounce into buildings, cars, trees, yards, and parking lots.  And there she stood, unmoving, in my parking space, her olive-brown feet stuck frozen to the ice.  My office key made a crude chisel for chopping around her toes – they bled and flaked skin already.  I wrapped her in my coat and sat her in a box by my desk, with cracker crumbs and a bowl of water.

The children begged to open the box and see what was scratching inside, and exhaled exclamations of wonder when they saw.  What IS it?  She’s an Eared Grebe.  Look at her pointy black beak, her long flaring golden feathers that look like ears, and her crimson eyes.  Do you know what you call a group of grebes?  A Water Dance!  Can’t you just picture the family flapping and paddling and splashing their delighted dance on the lake?

What are we going to do with her?  Can we fill the bath tub?  Our grebe paddled around with obvious enthusiasm.  What are we going to feed her?  How about fish!  Tub-side with a bag of goldfish, the children clamored for the privilege of feeding their bird.  Our compromise: eight hands held the bloated bag and poured.  She darted after the fish in a flash of black and gold and red, a little paddling package of magnificence.  Look at her feet – no webbing.  Look at how her toes unhinge with little retractable paddles.  Wow! came in whispers.

That needling question of what to do with the bird in the bathtub?  We would try a nearby pond, and hope for the best.  The children watched her swim away and they looked sad and happy and I sensed how singular a blessing to have welcomed that bit of living feathered grace into our human home, to release her willfully, to be moved by her wildness and beauty.  And I hoped a small sliver of that exquisiteness would stay behind in memories of hinged toes and golden ears and red red eyes, and of creatures that dance on the water.

(Image by David Mark from Pixabay.) 

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.

 

 

Our, Angel Gabriel

Our, Angel Gabriel

It was an unseasonably warm winter afternoon when Angel Gabriel came to visit.  I was baking bread for his great-grandparents who sat thin-jacketed watching him lead my angel sister toward the enormous long-needled Austrian pine – she carried a five-gallon bucket that could have carried him – where he hunted his favorite treasure: Continue reading

Teasing Daddy’s Ear

Teasing Daddy’s Ear

I have been watching a man at church, sitting in his cushioned pew.  His child sits belted in a wheelchair because she cannot use her legs at all and would flop to the floor if unrestrained.  She is motion, her arms and hands fluttering around and her head wagging and her tight long ponytail swishing violently as if warding off some invisible and pestering thing. Continue reading

Life and Death (A Matter of)

Life and Death (A Matter of)

Life was about to begin for me when on a TWA jet I poked tentatively at the soft walls of the tight round room of my mother’s womb.  And after quick-passing days she deu à luz (gave the light) to me.  Fifty years later life ended.  Books describe divorce as a kind of death, for its permanence and its depth of loss and grief, and perhaps Continue reading

Whence Come These Lullabies

Whence Come these Lullabies

I once composed lullabies.

I suppose they began when my three-month-old baby, my first child, spiked a 103 fever, and I was frightened and he was sick and miserable and frightened.  And I cradled him and rocked him for hours in my aching arms gently and rhythmically as I breathed and whispered unconnected assuring words that began to connect and to coalesce with the rocking rhythm and began to hiss forth with sympathy and hope and desperation: Continue reading

Brothers

 

Brothers

Cries of “Marco” and “Polo” skip across the surface of the years and I am right back there in my neighbor’s pool swimming for my existence.  He didn’t mind being IT, squeezing his eyes and shouting “Marco” and charging at the splashing sounds of “Polo” we made.  The game was fun, somewhat, and frightening, somewhat, especially when he was IT and I knew I’d get caught and dunked if not drowned.  “Sharks and Minnows” is the same game but this title more truthfully connotes the terror of being a minnow when he was the shark.  Putting fun and anxiety on the scale, I’m afraid anxiety won most times, weighing more heavily on my mind, making the game one I avoided, and when avoidance was socially impossible, sometimes hiding in the corner and whispering polo.”  I liked being Marco not much better, fearing that the moment I closed my eyes the only thing I would catch was the concrete wall with my teeth, which happily never happened.  I do not play “Marco Polo” with my children.  I much prefer swimming with my eyes open and being neither a shark nor a minnow, but rather a friendly popular whale.  We play “Barnacle” where the little ones cling to my whaleness and I try to throw them off.  Or “Launch” where I throw the children high over my head (having studied our distance from the concrete wall).  When my children grew too old and heavy for me to throw, their younger cousins took their turn, clinging to their old bald waterlogged uncle with shouts and giggles that skip across the surface of the years, and my brother is two again, two to my eighteen, two to my leaving for a university two thousand miles away, before emails, before cell phones, before computers, and how is it even possible to know someone, a family member, your only brother, when he is only two when you’ve grown up and gone.

Now I am 56 and he is 40, my children are mostly grown and gone, and his are still young and joyfully exuberant, and one day he sends me an invitation to join Marco Polo, a video sharing app, and I do, and he starts sending me video messages and I start sending him video messages and soon we are “talking” every week, after a dearth of decades, giving updates about work and children and holidays and moves and home decor and books and thoughts about books and scripture and history and God—the conversation always comes back to God, who is there in our lives, from the beginning of our births to common parents, through our sponging-up childhood and our sluffing-off piecing-together adolescence and our first stumbling attempts at adulthood when stupidity counts but you can still course correct, to our first bumbling efforts at marriage when course correction is more important and more difficult and when the stakes are so dazzlingly high.  I ask him, how can this be that we are talking when I left when you were two and you are now forty and we are talking, we are expressing our hesitant thoughts that normally ramble around only in our own brains, hoping that we each understand the other and appreciate the other’s thoughts and respects the other even and is overjoyed to be an unexpected source of intellectual stimulation—that is what I ask him.  And he starts by pointing out, we never really know someone, we never really have access to them, really; we can live with someone for many years and they will say something that astonishes us or they will misunderstand us in a fundamental way; and while we may have access to the same sights and sounds we never really have access to their minds and thoughts; and how our most common and frequent correspondent is ourself, in our mind’s ruminations, and how these self-conversations often can merge for people of faith, can coalesce into prayer, where we have a new thought or we express gratitude or we ask “What’s that all about?”  And he says, it makes sense to me, for we were born and raised and spent years and decades in the same house with the same parents who struggled to work and provide and teach and mold and prepare us, and the same siblings we loved and lost and now love again, and we share the same DNA, literally the same double-helixed four-lettered molecules in our cells—the same history, the same biology, the same environment—we are brothers, built on a common foundation, and will share a common bond, forever.  I realize how smart and how wise and how right he is, and that thought begins to skip and run and somersault around and to make sense to me, not just the 1+1=2 kind of sense but the meaning of life kind of sense, the kind that seeks to know the human soul, the kind that labors to cultivate goodness and compassion within, the kind that distills into that quantum of existence called Truth.  And then we noticed that the thoughts we recorded and sent by Marco Polo are in common to the other’s thoughts, and these thoughts grow and dance and evanesce into shared minds, for an instant or two, now and then, even though we have never spoken about them to each other before.  And though we will never really know each other or understand each other, and perhaps not even ourselves, and though we will always be in our own worlds, yet we are brothers, and always will be, and share more than we know, more than we thought likely, or possible.

___________________

Roger is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist.  Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.  Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births.  The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

7

7

I have seven children: 7.  They are mine.  Or rather, they are my progeny.  I do not possess them or control them, and would not if I could.  I have 7 children, and they have me, for better or for worse, for they cannot ever claim another father or even another dad.  I am what they got and what they get.  And mostly they are okay with that.  My 7 children each possess a great soul.  They care about this world and its life and beauty and stories and its living creatures all.  They care about the human family and its poverty and illiteracy and violence and illness and squalor.  They study hard and they work hard.  They are kind and generous and patient, and long-suffering.  They are fun and funny and adventurous and smart.  They call me Pops and Papa and Pappy and Dadda and sometimes even Father. Continue reading

Cards of Leaves and Petals

Cards of Leaves and Petals

I buy birthday cards at the dollar store: 6 for a dollar.  If I’m lucky I find pack of 8 for one dollar.  And I buy about ten packs which will last maybe a year.  The cards don’t have HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! or anything else printed on them.  Which doesn’t bother me because I can write HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! just well, or even better because I am practicing my handwriting.  I have got the cursive G down and the S as well, but H has me harrumphing.  The fronts of the cards Continue reading

Merry Christmas, Sunshine!

Amy helped decorate the family Christmas tree: with lights, ornaments, and…a lizard. Sunshine’s pretty color fits right in. Sunshine is such a good friend to Amy, and Amy to sunshine. Everyone needs good, loyal, supportive friends. As 2020 winds down, we can find someone to be a friend to, someone who needs our friendship, our kindness, even our love. We can do it. We should do it. Try.

Consecration Cooking

Consecration Cooking

I cooked for hours.  Even though just yesterday I had roasted the annual turkey, yet today I had cooked for hours, for my children, who would arrive at 6 o’clock for dinner with dad.  Tó Brandileone crooned in the other room as I kneaded five parts butter to four parts flour, simmered sliced leeks in butter and their own juices for a long time until totally tender, whisked eggs and cream, rolled out the cold dough and baked the shells in 10-inch springform pans—they would be enormous quiches, Continue reading

Spa Time!

Even a lizard enjoys a little spa time, and Amy sees that Sunshine does not go without.  Being a creature of the Australian Outback desert, a warm bath is in order, followed by time lounging under the sun lamp.  Isn’t his color gorgeous?  All I can say is, if I were a bearded dragon, I would want Amy to be my human.

Silver Spoon Chimes

Forty years ago my parents loaded the station wagon and drove the family from our New Jersey home to the woods of Maine for a modest vacation.  We stayed at Gray’s Cabins, which had no central heat (but a fireplace) or running water, but an abundance of gorgeous views and rustic nostalgia.  At a small bait shop on a winding country road, while Dad bought lures and earthworms, I stood on the porch admiring a mobile of flattened silver spoons suspended from bent and curled fork tines.  The spoons met each other, as the breeze passed through, with surprisingly rich peals, as from a bell.  For two decades I haunted thrift stores for discarded silver-plate, and made dozens of chimes for family and friends.  I recently pulled out of a box the scattered spoons and fork of my last remaining set of chimes, polished the silver, restrung the spoons, and hung the chimes in my patio, where they tinkle and take me back to the green woods of Maine.

If plated silver is not available, you can make your own set with any inexpensive metal ware.  Tools you will need:

  • hammer
  • rag to buffer the spoons from the hammer and concrete surface as you carefully flatten them
  • power drill with very small drill bit
  • block of wood under the ware as you drill
  • needle-nose pliers
  • fishing line or stout threat (thick string will muffle the spoon vibrations and dampen their sound)
  • nail or hook to hang from

The colder your metal ware, the higher the likelihood the spoons will crack and the tines will break off.  Work with the spoons and fork after leaving them in the sun for a few minutes.

A Portrait of Sunshine as a Young Dragon

Sunshine began his life of friendship with Amy just seven months ago as a tiny young lizard.  Now he is in full adolescence, and still calm, patient, and pleasant.  Amy thought a portrait of her friend was in order.  Here is her first “peek-a-boo” angle.

And now, Sunshine’s full-color portrait, drawn expertly by Amy.  In Portuguese one would say, “Tal e qual,” meaning “Exactly so.”  Great work, Amy!

Your Package Has Arrived!

Amy and Sunshine decided to go into the delivery business, called “Delivery Squad.”  Watch out UPS!  Amy did all the initial heavy lifting by building the business headquarters.  And she designed and fabricated a specialty delivery van, backpack, and cap to fit her Bearded Lizard partner.  Perhaps unfortunately, Sunshine can deliver packages only from one side of the dining table to the other.  But the service is personal!

Ready for business!

 

Game Night!

Every Sunday night Amy’s family gathers for a nice family dinner, a spiritual or musical devotional, dessert, and games.  Even Sunshine joins in, munching his salad and playing along in a game of Sorry.  These special times have been important for Amy’s family bond and strengthen relationships, and could well be replicated in some form by other families.  Enjoy especially the desserts and games–only, Sunshine won’t be on your team!

Not the Zip Line!

Amy loves riding the zip line her dad built in the back yard.  What a thrill for to speed through the air.  But this is one activity where Sunshine says, Leave me out!  The whirring metallic sound of the pulley racing over the cable alarms the lizard, and is the only sound or event that has caused her to gape and frill.  And that’s okay.  Sunshine doesn’t have to like everything!

Sunshine’s Green Hammock

Amy loves swinging in her hammock under the big shade tree, or in the covered glider chair, with Sunshine in tow.  Thinking that Sunshine might like to have her own hammock, Amy sewed her a green cloth hammock.  Now they can enjoy hammocking together in the Arizona shade.

 

Sunshine Is Growing Up Beautifully!

In just six months, Sunshine has grown from a rather drab little pointy creature to a beautifully-hued growing pointy creature.  (Keep those crickets coming!)  Sunshine is as gentle as ever, and she and Amy remain the best of friends.

Baby Sunshine

Growing Sunshine, with Bracelet

Amy and Sunshine: “Buds and Pards Forever”

High School Graduation!

Thousands of high school graduations happened by pre-recorded broadcast with empty auditoriums.  Among the illustrious graduates were Amy’s sister, Afton, and cousin, Hyrum.  Unfazed, when Amy couldn’t go to Afton’s cap-and-gown, Amy brought the cap-and-gown to Afton, with a little help from Sunshine.  Congratulations graduates of the Class of 2020!

Intro to “Adventures with Sunshine”

Welcome to the new page “Adventures with Sunshine” on my Rabbit Lane blog.  This page chronicles the adventures of my niece Amy and Sunshine, her pet bearded dragon.

Amy discovered a You Tube channel called Snake Discovery.  She loved learning about reptiles.  Her good mama (my sister) started taking her on field trips to the Arizona Reptile Center to see many varieties of reptiles.   Amy’s interest deepened, and she began asking for a pet lizard.  In advance of her 8th birthday, Amy picked out a Bearded Dragon, and they purchased it and put it on hold for the day of the birthday celebration.  The week of her birthday, Amy became ill with the flu.  On her fourth day of fever, she looked up at her mama with sad eyes and asked if they could go get her dragon a little early.  Of course, my sister said, and brought home the 6-week-old lizard.  Amy named her Sunshine.  Sunshine is the perfect little friend and playmate for Amy.  They are inseparable.  Amy loves Sunshine, and Sunshine is gentle, patient, and even quietly affectionate with Amy.

Stay tuned for more Adventures with Sunshine!

She Gifted to Me a Treasure

In 2012 my daughter Laura and I joined a multi-week pottery class.  She turned and glazed many beautiful pieces (see photos below).  While the wheel tested our (my) patience, taking the class was a wonderful daddy-daughter experience.  As a younger child, Laura formed a clay blob of which she is not so proud.  But I love it because she made it, and it has become one of my treasures–which is why I wanted to write this poem.

She Gifted to Me a Treasure

It is
a blob of fired clay,

fist-size, resembling
a woven straw beehive

in shape—a slanting thumb hole
welcomes pencils and pens,
barred pheasant feathers.

I am so fond of this blob because her hands formed
this blob, the masterpiece of a child creating,

and she made a present of it to me
because she doubted

her creation’s merit
as a thing, a tapering firm-based thing
with a cream sky dangling turquoise clouds and royal-blue stars:

a treasure to me
as is she.

Laura at the pottery wheel.

With expert instructor Jon Wexels.

Laura’s little masterpieces.

 

Bid Them Come When I Am Quiet


(Mama and me in Rio, December 1964)

I seem to be always reading or writing or working–doing, doing, doing.  But sweetness of memory and poetry come in the non-doing, the quiet times, when we ponder and reflect.  I took a rare moment to reminisce, on this leap year day, and make this poetic offering.

Bid Them Come When I Am Quiet

shall I sit here on the grass
under this old apple bough
and conjure some old memory—

as when I reclined propped and
pillowed in a wicker picnic basket
on Copacabana’s broad sands:

but that scene belongs to my Mother
who recounted it to me
her eyes still reflecting the Brazilian sea—

or when my friend snagged
his lure in my neck
on the dock at Lake Seneca

and I hollered good and loud
for the sting of fear
and a ruined afternoon of bass fishing—

perhaps that blue-sky day we stopped the car
on the way through Paraná to cut wild lemon grass,
its perfume lingering sweetly these long years—

I finally netted the elusive Red-spotted Purple,
and pinned its beauty to a board
where it never lived brightly—

we wandered through the meadow
with Mom to pick asparagus, and at home
picked the ticks off of us—

I felt happy to carry
my sister, who grew tired
on the hike to Sunfish Pond—

 

Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Image by ASSY from Pixabay)

 

Roger Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Homemade Granola

Laura compiled a family recipe book for Christmas 2018: A Little Bit of Everything.  My favorite recipe so far, her own, is for yummy homemade granola, full of oats, coconut, almonds, and flavor.  I decided to put the process to poetry.  (The full recipe follows the poem.)

Homemade Granola

A gifted daughter gifted
to me her granola
recipe for Christmas
with smiles and promises
of customer satisfaction
and I have made it these twelve months
one gallon at a time: it is so
very tasty and crunchy
with flaked coconut and almonds,
slivered, and rolled oats, ground flax
sweet from honey and brown sugar,
and that flavor enhanced with happy splashes
of coconut, almond, and vanilla extracts
all mixed
with melted coconut oil and baked
for 13 minutes then turned
and baked for 13 more
at 325 until golden
brown and glistening from the egg whites, oh,
can you smell it! the confluence
of aromas, warm and delicious and balanced:
they linger for hours and I do not even
need to nibble
though I no doubt will eat some in the morning
from my favorite clay bowl
the bowl with the chip and the bright
colored rings, with icy whole milk.
I say thank you with a slurp
I do not intend despite its
inevitability. But
no matter: I have no audience
to impress, and, if I had,
she would surely
understand
if not
approve.

The Recipe

Beat well in large mixing bowl:
¼ cup coconut oil, melted but not hot
1 egg white
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
¼ tsp almond extract
½ tsp coconut extract
½ tsp vanilla extract

Mix well with wet ingredients:
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup ground flax seed

Bake:
Spread mixture evenly on large cookie sheet. Bake for 13 minutes at 325F. Remove from oven and turn mixture well, then spread again. Bake for another 13 minutes, still at 325F, until golden on top. Remove from oven and turn. Allow to cool. Eat it up!

 

Starting the Old Chain Saw

I built this old wood shed as a raccoon pen, but Harvey sent his raccoons to live somewhere else–a good thing, probably, as the raccoons will have fared better, I fared better for not having raccoons to care for, and I now had a covered place for my wood stove firewood supply, all cut with a Husqvarna chain saw Reza lent me before he died, and spit and stacked with my children (see the photos after the poem).  That chain saw was complicated to keep running well and sharp, but I managed, and even taught my sons to use it, until I had to leave home.  And now the youngest must learn on his own, over the phone, and with his own considerable smarts.  I wrote this poem after yesterday’s phone call from Hyrum.

Starting the Old Chain Saw

Well, first you move the blue
lever forward (that’s the choke) then push-
squeeze the clear bulb

five times or so (you’ll see it fill with fuel)
to prime the motor,
and now you’re ready to pull the chord, but,

of course, you need fresh fuel in the tank
(old gas has water in it, and the motor won’t run with water in the gas)
and don’t forget the bar chain oil to cool and grease the chain.

Is the chain loose? The chain can’t be so tight
it binds on the bar, nor falling off neither,
but just loose enough. Pull and pull that chord,

and when the motor starts to putter,
ease that choke back and let that motor purr.
Ease that blade into that old cottonwood,

rock your way right on through.
You’ll know the blade is sharp if the sawdust flies in flakes;
powder means it’s dull.

I’m sorry I can’t be there to help you, son,
but I know you will figure things out:
you will cut the wood of your life,

make beautiful things,
beautiful things:
I will watch, and see.

And here are my children, splitting all that wood we cut in September 2015 and filling the wood shed.

Roger Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Dad Leads Me on a Bullfrog Hunt at Dallenbachs

Dad and Me (ca 1969)

At dusk at the abandoned Dallenbachs quarry turned deep lake in East Brunswick, New Jersey, Dad and I turned our attention from the bluegills to the bullfrogs.  This was a new experience for me, and I was wide-eyed and expectant.  Enormous frogs croaked, a loud, deep, rumbling song.  Spying a bullfrog, Dad pounced just at the frog jumped under his shoe.  Dad felt so upset about hurting the frog.  I didn’t know what to do or feel.  I simply stood quietly, then followed, quietly, to the car.  Fifty years later, the memory has reappeared and found its way into this new poem.

Dad Leads Me on a Bullfrog Hunt at Dallenbachs

From reedy black bank-water emanated the rumbling
thrum that I knew, at four,
came from big bullfrogs. Even the bluegills

eluded our hooks, so we skulked the flank
because we could and because we were serious and excited
and on the hunt. I followed his point to two

gray spheres, an iceberg of frog flesh, its ears
metallic yellow discs just below. Two things
happened then, a concomitance in four

dimensions, the giant frog launching
a great leap, the big man’s
wet sneaker falling hard on the frog

sitting dazed, pink tongue bulging, while dad cussed
a grimace, I watched
and I listened and I knew both were

hurt, the soft body and the gentle mind,
and I did not move or speak
and I did not know what to feel

and I did not know how to help the bullfrog or
the father, hearing not a gravelly croak
on the long lake shore.

 

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

A Lamp for Aunt Cari

Hyrum has wanted to make a wood lamp for his Aunt Carolyn, who appreciates art and craft.  We began by spray painting the rough roots of an old stump.  But the wood was so cracked and rotten that we could not work with it without it crumbling into pieces.  We worried that no matter how nice the lamp looked, one fall would destroy it.

To strengthen the wood, we painted it with two coats of diluted wood glue, which sealed all the cracks and breaks and made the old root a solid piece of lamp wood.

We painted the wood again to cover the creamy film of the dried wood glue.  Most of our lamps are stained various shades of brown.  But this lamp we spray painted a glossy black, giving the rustic wood a sleek and exotic look.  “Exquisite” as my sister described it.  She was thrilled with her new lamp, and we were thrilled with her happiness.

Hyrum has become an accomplished lamp maker, with an eye for the right wood pieces.

Grandma’s Pressed-Leaf Greeting Cards

My grandmother Dorothy made thousands of homemade greeting cards from pressed leaves and flowers.  Encyclopedias stacked against the walls of her craft room were crammed full of drying leaves and petals.  Decades ago, she taught me.  And I have taught my children.  Hannah has just produced her first cards, inspired by her great-grandmother.

The process is simple: glue pressed leaves to wax paper, cover with tissue, apply more diluted white glue.  When dry, place the cards one at a time in a paper bag and iron to set the wax.  Then cut and send.  I provide more detailed instructions in the chapter Shirley and Lucille in my memoir Rabbit Lane.

Here are some photos of the process.  Give it a try yourself!

Arranging pressed leaves on wax paper.

Leaves and tissue glued on and drying.

Time to iron.

Match the card size and shape to your envelopes.

My sweet little Grandma with me (may she rest in peace), circa 1982 (when I had hair).

The finished product!

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

 

Pals

My son Hyrum and I recently visited with one of my life’s heroes, Harvey Russell.  Harvey has been a mink rancher, tanner, mountain man, handyman, and friend to American Indians.  He helped me build my chicken coop and brought me to a four-hour sweat ceremony led by Sun-Chiefs.  His Indian name is Many Feathers.  Arriving at Harvey’s place, Hyrum and set to work helping Harvey with his chores and projects, during which he told stories of the “old days” and we laughed and enjoyed just being together.  The happy juxtaposition of these two men, one 16 and the other 81, struck me.  They got along marvelously together, each respecting and enjoying the other.  Kindred spirits, perhaps.  Those ruminations led to this little poem.

PALS

Two men
work together
one 16
the other 81
one coming up
the other moving on
little alike, perhaps,
yet
both keen
to learn
to fashion with sinewy fingers
to be busy in doing
to stand back, dusty and bruised,
admiring their handiwork:
two men
sitting, grinning, laughing
together
each helping the other up and on

Here are more pictures of our visit.

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Living

My youngest children came to visit me tonight, to share a meal, to talk about the day, to learn and to play: to be a family.  As they left with a wave and a “Love you, Dad,” I pondered the nature of life and relationships, and wrote this poem.

LIVING

They wave
a backward glance
Love you, Dad
are gone down
the road under
occasional street lamps
a white glaring gibbous;
just yesterday:
dull, dark, red.
They have blessed me
for an evening, as children
are wont, with stories
of their adventures,
kisses on craggy cheeks,
back-patting hugs:
mere youthful presence.
Some distance down
the road their own children will come
on an evening,
find them glad, and lonely:
grateful. I travel now
and again to my parents,
to ponder the passing of time
and story, the transfer
of character and contribution,
on loss and life:
loneliness. I have built
my crooked, creaking house
on robust stones. Flowers
will bloom above
my grave.

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Sparrows

Hundreds of House Sparrows took up residence in Harvey’s chicken and pigeon coops, eating several pounds of expensive lay mash and pellets a day, squeezing easily through iconic hexagonal chicken wire.  Our project together on my recent visit to Enterprise was to sparrow-proof the coops.  We measured, cut, and stapled fine mesh screen to the coop’s frames, over the chicken wire.  “Poor spugs,” Harvey chuckled, feeling half sorry for the little birds, with Winter coming.  “Don’t worry,” I ribbed, “they’ll just get to know your neighbors better.”  And we laughed.  Stepping through a narrow coop door to tack up some screen, I felt a mystical change in the air, and knew instantly I had a poem.

SPARROWS

hexagonal holes
in the chicken wire fence
contain
the gentle hens
perhaps
the neighborhood’s shy red fox
an escaped white-pelted mink
but not the house sparrows
who land and poke through
with ease
to gorge on lay mash
yes:
chicken wire was made for sparrows

entering the coop
through the narrow coop door
taut spring twanging
I feel a change
in the air
though the air within
is the same
as the air without
passing sparrow-like through
hexagonal holes
but I sense
I have entered
that mystical zone
where tame hens lay perfect eggs
and chortle
and brood
where brown-eyed mice scurry for mash morsels
where startled sparrows swirl
in a tight and dusty vortex
darting out past the propped door
for the last time
before it closes
newly-clad
with tight-holed screen

Harvey with his wife Mary

Harvey and moi in front of the homing pigeon coop

Hexagonal chicken wire overlain with fine screen

Harvey, Mary, and me on our way to church

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Lavender

To my darling daughter and her lucky groom.  May life’s blossoms ever bloom.

LAVENDER

My lavender has gone to seed:
soft blue blossoms
to brown scratchy scales;
perfume to dust.

You wanted
branches of blue blossoms
for your bridal bouquet.
But they won’t do,
I am sorry to say:
they simply will not do!

Trim the branches back,
you said patiently,
and we will see.
We still have a month,
and they may bloom again,
yet, blue and fragrant.

I trimmed,
I hope,
enough.

 

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure and magical farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Coming Home (1940)

How often I have wondered about my grandfather, when he came home from work to find his family gone and his house empty.  Having recently experienced divorce myself, I could not help wondering about his grief as I wallowed in my own.  He died before I was born, so I know him only through stories.  I think I would have liked him.  I knew and loved my grandmother.  I do not judge or blame either one.  I am sure they each did their best.  Now it is up to me to do mine.

COMING HOME (1940)

The man came home
from his lab at Utah oil
to find
an empty house.
The rooms stared,
bare, open-mouthed.
She had left,
taken with her
his own little tribe:
Weezy—6
Sonny—5
Wiggy—3
Gone.
The man sat
against a wall—
it does not matter which wall—
he sat and
he cursed and
he roared and
he sobbed and
he rocked and rocked and rocked and rocked
as he sat
on the floor
against a wall,
looking at the white walls,
looking at rectangular patches
on the white walls
where portraits and landscapes and mirrors had hung,
looking at white textured cobwebbed ceilings,
looking at the fixture with the bulb burnt out,
looking at the worn tan shag,
worn except where the sofa had been,
where he sat,
against a wall,
wondering how, and where, and why
everything
had vanished.

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure and magical farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Wood Lamps

My children and I worked for months (and in the case of the featured lamps, years) to be ready for the Tooele Arts Festival, a gathering of more dozens of artists and crafters from around the American west, held June 14-16.  I purchased a booth space to sell the family wares.  This post highlights several wood lamps I made with my sons John, Caleb, and Hyrum.  Displaying our art for three days was an intense and rewarding social experience as we interacted with many hundreds of people, not pushing for sales, but just being personable.  We sold three lamps, five rag rugs crocheted by my mother, eight wood bird-beak back scratchers carved by Caleb, and two dozen papier mache floral jars made with my daughter Hannah and my sons, along with 40 copies of my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  Making these lamps with my sons has been a meaningful father-son experience for me, and hopefully gave them a sense of creativity, beauty, and business.  You can see our other lamps on the Woodcraft page of this blog.

Burl wood in Sedona red, by Caleb.

Burl wood in Provincial brown, by Caleb.  (Sold $49.)

Cottonwood with larval etchings, by Hyrum.

Root stump, by Hyrum.

Forked branch, by Hyrum.

Slender branch, by Hyrum.

“Anchor” by Hyrum.  (Sold $49.)

“Little Guy” by John.

Hyrum’s first lamp from 2014.

“Old Timer” by Dad (me).  This one is on my night stand.  (Made in 1993,)

“Stone” by Hyrum.

“Ripples” by Hyrum.  (Sold $29.)

On Hangars

Baker Boys

I have seven children.  Yes, seven.  Four boys and three girls.  I am proud of them and love them.  Sitting at my writing desk tonight, I remembered them when were younger, and chuckled at their antics, one of which was the boys shedding their Sunday go-to-meetin’ clothes after church for more comfortable clothing in which to play Legos and ping-pong and do their sword-fighting, “ching! ching!”.  After one such Sunday, I wrote this little poem.

ON HANGARS

Day’s end of a Sabbath,
and their clothes lie on my bed,
black slacks and black socks,
white shirts inside-out with the sleeves
still rolled and the ties
still under buttoned collar flaps,
left by young ones so eager to play,
while I right each shirt,
loose each button,
extract the slip-knot ties, and
drape three shirts and slacks
on hangars in the closet,
between the dresses and the suits,
where they wait
for the next Sabbath day.

The Worth of a Man

Harvey Russell

I closely watched Harvey and his family as they celebrated his 80th birthday.  They spoke warmly of memories and sang his praises.  How nice, I thought, that they, at least, recognize his worth.  Harvey, though elderly and arguably past his prime, embodies an enormous wealth of tradition, strength, virtue, memory, and love.  Though a quiet obscurity to many, he is a hero to me, as recounted in my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  So many in western culture write off and even ridicule the elderly, seeing only weakness and faded glory. This fact I sorely lament.  We would do well to remember their strength, their sacrifice, their accomplishments, their contributions, their legacy, and their love.  Rather than relegated to the “old” category, implying uselessness, they should be lifted up as timeless mentors to be followed, learned from, cared for, and revered.  As you read this poem, ponder for yourself, What is the worth of an aged man and woman?  I hope your answer is bounteous.  Consider sharing your thoughts in a comment.

THE WORTH OF A MAN

What is the worth of a man
when his ears refuse to hear
and shrouds eclipse his sight,
when his back bends low
and his hands quiver,
when he forgets things large and small
and the young lose their scant patience
with his remembrances and his gait?

He has made whatever difference, whatever contribution,
he is going make.
If he hasn’t said it by now, it won’t be said.

So much counsel.
So much love.
So much poetry.
Unspoken.

He is a mere memory,
and fading at that.

That is what you think.
That is what so many think.

Remember when
he taught you to tame a fox and skin a weasel and splint a songbird’s wing?
Remember when
he bought you a thrift store bike and taught you to fix a flat?
Remember when
he slogged in from the smelter each day after dark, slimed with sweat and soot?
Remember when
you took turns tossing the ball to the family mutt?
Remember when
he told you how to treat a woman, with fidelity, with respect, with tenderness?
Remember when
he called you a numbskull for smoking behind the barn, and stomped the butt out?
Remember when
he carried you, and even sang, and even cried, when your body burned from fever?

But you do not remember.
You spurn the soul what made you.
You rush break-neck from your cradle to your own aged obsolescence.
Tomorrow, as you shuffle and stoop,
they will glance at you and ask,
What is the worth of a man?

Wood Lamp: Hope

“Hope”

My friend and business associate Randy S. commissioned this lamp, affectionately named Hope, as a companion to our beautiful wood lamp Waves.  Randy selected the wood for Hope from several photographs I sent him in October 2015, seen here from three different views.

Hyrum (15) and I worked slowly over the next year and a half to transform this rough piece of wood into the beautiful lamp featured above.  The first step was, as always, to clean and smooth the wood.  Next we drilled the small surface that would support the bulb socket, stained the wood with several coats of dark Provincial stain, and inserted the nipple pipe and socket.

Preparing the table-top base came next.

We mounted the lamp wood onto the base with wood glue and several three-inch screws, wired the lamp, varnished the base and lamp with gloss polyurethane, and caulked around the lamp base.  We routed the base bottom to house the lamp chord.

The final step was to suspend the lamp upside down between two padded chairs and attach black felt to the bottom of the base.

Randy took the lamp to his home office to join Waves after nearly two years.  He said it was worth the wait.

(Purchase Price: $500.)

Baker Brothers Lamps was founded to help my sons earn money for the 2013 and 2017 National Boy Scout Jamborees and to pay for their high school athletic activities and university studies.  It has been so fun for me to work on this hobby with my sons, transforming rough wood into beautiful lamps.

Red Rock Trail

Living in Utah, I have come to love what we call “red rock country.”  Bizarre twisted shapes dominate canyon landscapes, in every hue of red and orange, remnants of ancient tectonic upheavals and eons of erosion.  On the trails winding through these hills I have found inspiration and wonderment, pondering the forces of creation and nature.  I have held my young children’s hands as we scrambled over boulders and up screes.  We have marveled at the prickly-pear’s crimson bloom and the aromatic sagebrush.  We have laughed at the lizards and cottontails scurrying for cover beneath black brush and Mormon tea.  All, the stuff of awe and sweet memory.  In this poem I look back at an early red-rock-country explorer on horseback.  Enjoy the trail.

RED ROCK TRAIL

shod hoofs
stumble on stones,
leave glintings
behind, sparks,
scramble to rise
to the high red butte;
desert varnish trickles
below, springs
sprout cottonwoods,
beaver chewed,
beaver felled,
feeding, damming
all but flashing
floods from distant rains
beyond, where
snows melt
under desert sun
on the high red butte

Snow Canyon, Utah

You Showed Me

My assistant city attorneys and I have prosecuted domestic violence perpetrators for 24 years.  I have come to loathe the mentality that allows a perpetrator to use violence to maintain power and control in an intimate relationship.  The very person the perpetrator should love with tenderness he beats into submission.  A cherished friend recently confided in me that her estranged husband had clobbered her in the face with a work boot he was holding, breaking her nose.  As painful as was the injury to her face, the deeper injury was to her spirit and her mind.  That strike caused her eyes to swell and blacken, but at the same time opened her eyes wide to who and what he was, and to what a future with him would bring.  I wrote this poem to honor my friend’s courage to see the truth and to seek a place of safety for herself and her children.  I dedicate this poem to all victims of domestic violence, those who survive and thrive, and those who have not yet broken free.  God bless.

YOU SHOWED ME

You bashed my face
with your boot,
steel-toed,
to show me
who you are:
tough, in control,
powerful.

You broke my nose
with your heel.

Our lambs watched, and
wept.

I am bleeding now,
swollen, my face
red and sore.

Yes, you showed me
the man you are.

But I say
to your face:
You missed!

Bereft I may be, but
I am not destroyed!
Because
you beat me,
you bruised me,
you cut me,
but you missed
my heart
my mind
my dreams
my soul
my will.

Yes,
you showed me.

Christmas Barn

 

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Amidst all the holiday gift-giving, certain gifts stand, gifts of more than things but also of the heart.  My son Hyrum’s gift to his sister Hannah was one such gift, a gift to always remember. Hyrum (14) conceived of the idea, drew the idea, and saved his money for the materials. Together we engineered the structure, bought the materials, and began construction.  His gift: a miniature barn with hinged roof.  This series of photographs shows each step of the construction process, culminating with Hannah (10) opening her gift on Christmas morning.  I think of Hyrum’s gift as a miracle gift, for he gave part of himself along with the present.

The base frame, 18″ x 18″, allowing for a two-story central main building with an attached lean-to on each side.

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Adding posts to support the main barn roof.

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Completing the barn and lean-to frames.

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The completed frame with the interior floor installed and the wall siding begun.

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Wall siding and lean-to roofing completed with lathe.  The roof frame sit, hinged, on the main barn structure.

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The completed hinged roof frame atop the barn.

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The completed barn, prior to painting.

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Hyrum painting the barn.

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And . . . the completed barn project.

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Most importantly, Hannah on Christmas morning opening her special gift, inside which Hyrum placed a wrapped bucket of perfectly-sized farm animals.

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Hannah’s Christmas barn became my favorite Christmas gift, too.  I enjoyed working with my son for weeks to engineer, construct, paint, and wrap the barn.  I witnessed the joy on my daughter’s face (and on Hyrum’s face) as Hannah opened her special gift.

Smashed

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I have lived alone for 1 year now: 52 weeks: 365 days.  The highlight of my life is to see my children.  They grew a gorgeous garden this year, and shared with me their harvest: sweet corn; swiss chard; cucumbers.  And a pumpkin.  Their front porch is adorned with two dozen perfect orange pumpkins.  Hyrum and Hannah offered me one, perfectly round, with a spiraling stem. The pumpkin reminded me of them each night when I came home from work.  It looked so cute sitting by the front door, until one evening I found it smashed on the rocks.

SMASHED

To Whoever
smashed my pumpkin:
I wondered
how long
my pumpkin would survive
you.

Not long.

My little daughter
raised this pumpkin
in her garden.

I love her.
I do not get to see her much.
I miss her.

So, I set by my door
her pumpkin, my pumpkin.
It reminded me of her.

I dared to hope
you would let it be.
But you smashed
my little girl’s
pumpkin.

(PS.  She gave me another yesterday.  One can hope.)

Wood Lamp: Joia

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Writing a letter to his Grandpa Baker (80) this morning for father’s day, Hyrum (14) turned to me and asked, “Grandpa has been finding some cool wood for me to make lamps out of.  Do you think he would like one of my lamps as a father’s day present?”  “I’m sure he would love it,” of course I replied.

Hyrum found the piece of wood for this little lamp when working for a friend to clear his yard and flower gardens of weeds.  Obscured by the weeks was the small stump of a dead evergreen.  Hyrum could see the potential in this dead stump.  He asked if he could make something out of it, brought it home, and began to give it new life as a lamp.

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We made bases for small lamps by cutting discs off the end of an old cedar fence post.  The wood was old and cracked, but we wood-glued the pieces together, allowed them to cure, then ran them through a neighbor’s planer.

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We named the little lamp Joia, a joyous Portuguese word meaning “gem.”  Hyrum gave Joia to his Grandpa today, the same Grandpa that inspired our lamp-making in the first place with his lamp Timponogos, about 55 years old.  Grandpa seemed as pleased to receive the lamp as Hyrum was to gift it.  This little gem of a lamp has connected the generations with memories and a common love of creation and beauty.

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