68 Steps Along The Nave Of Wells Cathedral


Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, I was climbing the endless steps of Sacre Coeur in Paris.  My wife was at my side.  We paused on the 67th step, and, in the warm Parisian sun, we turned and looked back at the City of Lights.  We kissed on that 67th step.

It was my 67th birthday.

Today, I am 68 years old and we are sitting in a cafe in Wells, England.  This is in the county of Somerset.  I think that’s a beautiful name…Somerset.

A few minutes ago we walked down the middle aisle of the nave of the Cathedral.  We were approaching the great arches that somehow set this Cathedral apart from the other massive Gothic buildings we’ve seen.

I looked up at the simple vaulting on the ceiling.  At my feet were large slabs of marble that marked and described the dead who are buried beneath the church.  Organ music played quietly and with a simplicity that reflected the architecture.  This place totally lacked the high grandeur of a Westminster Abbey.

We paused—68 steps along the nave.  We happened to be standing on the grave of a married couple, dead now for centuries.  They would rest beneath the floor until the Cathedral walls crumbled to the ground.

I turned and kissed my wife.

We would be together until the stones of our lives crumble.

I wonder where we will kiss when I turn 69 years old in 2016.

The Haunted Well Of Avebury


I heard about the haunted pub and the cursed well of Avebury while touring a church in Gloucestershire.

I was purchasing a CD of Traditional Country Songs (sung by a small chorus) at the gift shop of St. John the Baptist in Cirencester.  I recognized many of the titles from my collection of Irish songs and I was curious as to how it would sound by a choral group.  I paid my £12.00.  I noticed from a lapel tag that the man behind the gift table was a chap named Jonathan.

“Don’t you think this is a beautiful space?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “its beautiful enough and large enough to be an Abbey.”

“Have you seen the Green Man?  We have a Green Man here…if you know where to look.”

Being a fan of Green Man legends and mythologies and I was surprised that I had missed the carving of a face with branches growing out of eye sockets, the nose and the eyes.  Unless this figure was quite hidden or very tiny, I had overlooked a most fascinating detail.

Jonathan locked his cash box and literally leapt from his chair.

“Follow me,” he said.  “I think you’ll find this interesting.  I worked here a year before anyone mentioned the Green Man and pointed him out to me.  Here.  Just stand here and look up…straight up.”

I leaned back and picked out the figure on the ceiling in less than a minute.  I told him that I found symbols of all kinds of great interest.  I look for them on tombstones, along the walls of old churches and in the amazing scenes depicted in stained glass windows.

“Thank you so much,” I said.  “I’d love to talk but my wife and I are one our way to visit the stone circles of Avebury so I’ll have to say thanks and good-bye to you, Jonathan.  I appreciate you’re taking a few minutes to point the Green Man out to a couple of Yanks.”

“Avebury?  You’re going to Avebury?  That’s one of my favorite places.  So much better than Stonehenge,” said Jonathan, “and you can walk among the stones.  Can’t do that at Stonehenge…unless, of course you’re a Druid.”

“Well, they probably would make it difficult to allow me, as a foreign person, to be a Druid,” I said.  “Again, I’d love to chat but we need to get on the road.  Thanks so much…again.”

I walked toward the large dark wood doors.  I was preparing to put on my sunglasses in the bright light when I heard Jonathan say something.

“There’s a haunted well in Avebury, did you know that?”

I stopped in mid step and spun around.

“A haunted well?” I said.

“Yes, and it’s inside a pub.  Want to hear the story?”

There is no way that I could say “no” to this fellow.  The promise of such a story had great potential.

“Yes, I would like to hear it, Jonathan.  I most certainly would like to hear it.”

“Well, it has nothing to do with the stones of the neolithic circles,” he said.  “this is how the story goes, at least as I’ve heard it.”

“During the Middle Ages, actually about the year 1500, the village of Avebury was ruled by a Lord of the Manor.  Typical in those days.  Apparently he had his rheumy old eyes on one of his prettiest milkmaids who worked at one of his farms.  She was barely out of puberty.  Some have written that she was about fourteen years old.  Well, you don’t need a vivid or particularly dirty imagination to figure out what this Manor Lord did with this poor girl.  She became pregnant.  In those days, women who found themselves in such a situation were almost always blamed for their condition, and her “behavior” was frowned upon by the townspeople.

“The Lord of the Manor?  He was untouchable, wasn’t he?  No court of law would rule against him…he likely was the law.  So, justice was carried out by the mob.  They came one night to the girl’s farm and dragged her to the market square.  In that square was a deep well.  Her fate was sealed.  They led her screaming to the edge of the hole and threw the poor soul in.  The well has been measured at 87 feet to the water.  Can you imagine the terror and the screams from the child as she fell those 87 feet, clutching vainly at the sharp rocks, trying to stop her fall with her bare feet and bleeding knees?  After she hit the water, a silence descended on the crowd.  The screams stopped.  The silence from the bottom of the well was absolute.  The torches couldn’t penetrate that deep so the men who looked down could only see inky blackness.  And hear the total quiet.  It chills my skin to tell you this.  But, the well is still there.  It’s now been covered by plastic and it is part of a table in the dining area of the pub…how’s that for a story?”

I was transfixed.

“Oh my God, how sad,” was all I could say.

Several hours later we were in the Car Park of Avebury.  We walked around the stones.  I watched a Druid-like ceremony at one of the standing stones.  I kept looking across the field at the pub.  It was white, and I think it had a thatched roof.

I simply had to look down the well.

“Let’s have a quick drink and a light sandwich here,” I said to Mariam.  She had heard the story as I did and she was as anxious to see the well as I was.

It was crowded with tourists.  I went from sitting room to dining room and looked for the well.  Finally, I found it in the third dining area I entered.  There was a woman sitting at the table sipping a white wine.  I apologized and asked if she’d mind if I took a few photos.  She said it was no problem.

I told her it was the price she paid to sit at a table built over a haunted well.

I approached the plexiglass cover.  I leaned over and looked down.  There were lights along the round wall that made small green-leaved and moss seemed to glow.  I looked deeper and say the surface of water, 87 feet down.  The light in the room lit the bottom of the well and I could see my own reflection in the still water.


I stared, waiting for a small pretty face to look up at me, but none appeared.  But, I must admit that I felt a particular unease as I looked down.  It was though I was expecting something or someone to speak to me.  I could almost hear the girl’s voice.  I could almost hear her screams.

But, what I seemed to sense, overwhelmingly, was sadness.  Someone was crying inside my head.  Someone, through no fault of her own, was violated and murdered.  I almost began to cry but my wife pulled me away.

I assume her spirit wanders the village square, the dining room or the stone circles…looking for someone to protect her.  I wondered.  If I stayed overnight at the pub or a nearby B & B, and I happened to come face to face with a girl dead over six hundred years…what would I say?  How could I find a way to break the chain that keeps her spirit linked to the well?

I know I couldn’t.  If there is a just God, than He or She must have pity on her lost soul.

I walked back to the car park with a leaden heart.

I also wondered which local churchyard held the grave of our Lord of the Manor who damaged this young girl’s soul for over half a millennia.  Is his soul resting in eternal peace?  Or does he too wander the lanes and fields trying to find forgiveness?

He does, if there is true justice.


[The haunted pub is the small white building in the right portion of the photo just above the largest upright stone on the right]




The Green Man: Watcher Of The Lychgate


I am a conflicting image.  Sometimes I appear in churches, carved into the bosses of an archway.  At other times, I am associated with pagan symbols of nature worship.  I am a man and I am a tree…one part of me morphs into another.  I am called The Green Man by those who study the esoteric arts and druidic symbolism.

In this story, I am part of the Yew tree.  But, I can be seen in any great mass of foliage.  You just have to know where to look for me.  And, you have to know how to look for me.  Just look deep into the forest or the hedges or the copses of trees…and you may be lucky enough to find me.  My history is older than the oldest oak.  My story begins at the time in history when stories themselves began.  To ward off the fear of the darkness, the common folk would gather around campfires or hearth fires and tell stories of ghosts, lost maidens, valiant knights, beautiful queens and dead kings.

They would tell tales of the Little Folk in Ireland or the fearsome monsters of mountain lakes like Grendel in Beowulf.  Uncountable witches, demons and heroes were the threads that held these narratives together.

I am just one of them.

I live in this deadly tree because nearly every part of it is toxic to humans, except the berry.  The beautiful bright red berry.


Why am I dwelling in this strange tree of uncountable cemeteries?


My job is to look down at the Lychgate at the entrance to the churchyard and keep account of the joys and sorrows that enter and leave the church.


The Lychgate is traditionally the place where the shrouded corpse is kept before the priest can emerge from the church and begin the service of burial.  In later years, I protected the pall-bearers from the elements.  It seems it always rains on the days of burial.

Maybe not.

The pall bearers would pull their scarves snug around their necks and glance down at the coffin of their friend, their parent, spouse, child or grandparent.  They would hold firm to the brass handles.

Inside, the priest secures his heavy cloak and takes a final nip from his flask to warm his tongue and throat.

They all would meet at the Lychgate to begin the prayers.  And, who doesn’t need the prayers?  After a few minutes, all would walk slowly to the newly dug grave, lower the corpse and say a final prayer.  The priest would go back inside to prepare his sermon for Sunday morning.  The pall bearers would head to the nearest pub and toast the departed.

The surviving families would go home to mourn and feel the deep emptiness that suddenly is a part of the house.

In time, they will begin to live full lives again–until their turn comes to pass through the Lychgate.

Sometimes, on a bright joyful day of a wedding, the new couple would leave the church door and reach the Lychgate.  There would be a rope tied across the opening.  The children standing and giggling nearby would have to be paid a few pence to have the rope untied.

I watch over these things.  You will never see me in the Yew tree, but I’m there.

Someday, I will find the living people who passed through my Lychgate.  I will come to them in their dreams and cause them to remember the day they spent near the gate.

Some will cry real tears of real sorrow.  Some will cry real tears of joy.

All these things happen at the Lychgate.  I know.  I’ve seen it all from my vantage point…hidden in the green foliage of the earth.

Take care what you say and do in the protection of the shady forest, for the trees have eyes and ears.


The Magic Sheep Of Gloucestershire

A Sheep Near Winchcombe

I was turned into a sheep on May 26th, but I got better and I’m a much better person because of the experience.

England, it’s been said, is a magical country and now I can attest to that being a reality.

It all started when my wife and I decided to challenge ourselves to taking a five-mile walk that was listed in the Cotswold Walk Book.  It’s #8 if you happen to have a copy.  I also had my OS (Ordinance Survey) map to back the guidebook.  (These books contain numerous errors but OS maps are sent from the map-god and are flawless.)

We started from the car-park, where most of the walks begin.  Immediately we began to make wrong turns because of the confusing directions.  But we kept on and finally found the start of the Gloucestershire Way, a main footpath used by many locals.  But, the steady uphill pace soon began to tire my legs and my lower back pain was making the walk less than pleasant.  I swallowed three Ibuprofen and pushed on.

The pain lessened a tiny bit but the mystical creature on the top of the hill, hidden by the trees, living in his crumbling castle, began to play his game of time on me.  He’s done this before so I wasn’t caught totally by surprise.

You see, it’s an ancient game and many have fallen victim to this cruel trickery.  The “thing” in the castle (Is it a demon? A man? A witch?) has been watching me struggle up the hill.  He (I’ll call it a he for no particular reason) begins to throw little darts, little darts that are seconds at first, then he changes to the minute darts.  Soon the darts are weeks…then months…then years. When I nearly reached the top of the hill, I felt (and probably looked) like an old man. I could barely walk.

What became of the energy I once had? I used to hike the hills of Dorset and I would accelerate my pace as I walked the rise.  Now, I sat down feeling dejected and lonely and defeated.

I sensed something breathing in the space just behind my left shoulder.  I looked and saw my wife strolling on ahead to find the next stile.

I turned and there was an old sheep not an arm’s length away.  We looked at each other, my small brown human eyes meeting her large wet ovine eyes.

“Hey,” I said, trying to be funny to no one but myself. “Come here often?”

“Actually, yes,” the animal replied, in a sheepish English accent.  “I graze here quite a bit of the time.”

“Well, good for you,” I said, with some bitterness.  “I hope you’re happy chewing on your grass and making poo-poo whenever and wherever you please.  I’m the one to has to watch my step, thank you.”

“You’re not in a good mood right now, are you,” she said, after making a loud Baaa to the rest of the herd.

“No, not really.  My back hurts, my legs hurts and I’m feeling my age.  I’ll be 68 years old in five days. And, I don’t think anyone will remember or care.”

“Hey, things are tough all over.  At least you have a fair number of years ahead of you.  The rumor from the next pasture is that there’s going to be a sale on lamp chops in about a month at the Waitrose in Bourton-on-the-Water.”

I felt pretty sad for her so I steered the subject back to me.

“You know, I write these blogs and I just don’t think too many people read them.  I don’t post pictures of cats or house plants, (people like those), I try to tell interesting stories.  I’ve even used pictures of a lamb.  I call her “Fluffy” and I use her insane cuteness to make shameful pleas for readers to follow my blogs.”

“I know, Fluffy is a distant cousin of mine.”

I began to feel even worse about my situation. I told the sheep that I had arthritis in my back, my legs, hips, and in my hands.  I told her that it hurt me to do almost anything that I used to do so easily.

Then I said something to her. Looking back on it all, it was certainly the worst thing I could have said.

“I wish I wasn’t even alive anymore.  Who’d miss me?  I wish I didn’t exist.”

“Oh, you shouldn’t say such things,” she said harshly.

“Easy for you so say,” My words must have hurt her because she looked at me with pity.

“Okay,” was all she said.

Many Sheep

She looked out over the herd and seemed to be thinking of something. She turned those big wet eyes to me and said:

“Go ahead, see what it’s like.”

A strange wind blew down from the hilltop.  It was cold but I didn’t feel it.  Strange.

I shrugged and began to get up so we could finish out walk.  Somehow we had taken a wrong turn and we were confused.

But, I couldn’t stand up on my two shaky legs.  I was on four legs.  I wasn’t chilly because I didn’t have my jacket on anymore.  I was covered in wool, slightly muddy, but it was wool.

She had turned me into a sheep.  I was confused for a minute and then I heard all the bleating, but they were words now, they were telling each other how much they loved one another.  The ewes were saying how much they loved their lambs.

“Hey, this is cool,” I thought. “I can experience life as a sheep would.”

Then I looked down the road and saw something that made my wool stand up on end.  It was a truck that had a sign on the side that read: MICHAEL’S MEATS—FRESH FROM THE FARM TO YOU.

Two men were walking up the hill toward the pasture.

I began to worry. I looked around for Mariam.  I saw her standing in the field looking terrified.

“Pat! Pat! She yelled. Where are you?  I’m lost.  I’m scared.  I’m very afraid.”

“I’m over here,” I yelled, but my words came out as a loud Baaaaa.

I started thinking quickly.  The men were getting close to the pasture fence.  I had a feeling they were looking at me. Thoughts came rushing into my mind.  I couldn’t stay as a sheep.  I would be in some tasty stew in a few weeks.  I couldn’t go to an art museum anymore.  I couldn’t play with my grandson. I would not be allowed to see the new “Star Wars” movie…in any decent theater.  I wouldn’t be able to watch “Dancing With The Stars” anymore.

I found the magic sheep and told her I was sorry. I took everything back.  I wasn’t meant to be a sheep. Besides, sheep have arthritis too.

She winked at me.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll be seeing you in your dreams…or rather when you are trying to fall asleep.”

I felt cold again.  Mariam saw me and ran over to me.

“I looked everywhere for you.  Where were you?”

“I’m not sure, but let’s give up on this walk and get back to our hotel.  I need to take a hot shower.”

We stepped to the road and caught a ride with a bearded man who said something we couldn’t hear because of the noise his jeep made.

Just as we rounded the corner,  I turned back to look again at the pasture.  I spotted the magic sheep and she seemed to be sending me some thoughts through the country air.

“Don’t worry about things,” she said to me somehow.  “We’ll meet again in another field…on another walk…on another day.”

“Yes,” I thought back to her. “We’ll meet again some sunny day.”


[Thanks to Lord Dunsany for an idea.]

Looking For A Silk Mill And Finding Barton Stacey

Barton Stacey Graveyard

It was clearly shown on the AA Road Atlas of Britain, right there on Map 19.  It was a stop I very much wanted to make.

We were motoring south on the A34 from Oxford to visit our friends in Romsey.

There at a small town of Tufton, was an attraction labelled SILK MILL.

Admittedly, when I think of the UK, I think of wool and room-temperature beer and the most baffling game on the planet, Cricket.

But, I never think of Silk Mills.  Here’s the sum of my knowledge of silk: It comes from a worm, Bombyx mori and it is native to China.  How it gets from the worm to my multi-colored neck-tie is one of those mysteries of life I never looked into, like computer chips, digital technology, why New Jersey is called “The Garden State”, the fact that Charlie Manson almost got married, and how gravel-filled barges stay afloat.

Back to the A34.

I knew we needed to go west first then east to get to Tufton.  Somewhere in a series of roundabouts, I ended up heading southwest.  The roads were narrow (no surprise here) and the hedges were close by the road’s edge (again, no big surprise).

We drove for a few miles.  I was still holding out for a sign to the Silk Mill.


Then, like a vision of Brigadoon, was a church steeple and the thatched roofs of a small village.

Where were we?

Before we had a chance to check the Atlas, a road sign appeared.  We were in Barton Stacey.  It was quite close to Newton Stacey and a few miles away from Sutton Stacey.

My diuretic was doing its duty so I found a place to pull over near the church.  There was no one about, so I went through the gate and found a totally obscure place among three huge trees and a garbage bin.

I took care of business.

I turned around and found myself looking over one of the most peaceful English churchyards I’ve yet to see in this country…and I’ve seen quite a few.  It was quiet as a, well, a churchyard.  The tombstones were unreadable because of the accumulation of moss and lichen.

I tried the church door and found it locked.  A sign said there was a key at the village market across the road.  I walked over and asked for the key after buying the latest Guardian.

We entered the church and signed the little guest book.  I read a small card that explained that the church was about 1,000 years old!  I put the card down and zipped my jacket.  I was chilled to the bone.  I hope for the sake of the faithful that the sermons were kept short.

Mariam, meanwhile was looking over a financial poster that detailed the church fund-raising efforts.  We were both amazed that they had managed to raise over £10,000!

I was reflecting on this amount when I walked back to the store to return the key.  How could such a tiny village raise that kind of money?

On the way back to the car I walked past an old British Telecom Phone Box.  You know, the red ones they show in all the old English movies?  But, I had to take a second look (a double-take as they say).  This was not a phone booth anymore.  It was a lending library!


I peeked inside and saw some titles I wouldn’t mind reading, but I already had about 358 titles stored in my iPad so I couldn’t justify borrowing a book.  Even if it was from a decommissioned phone booth.

We drove on to make our first stop in Winchester.

Later, at our friends’ home in Romsey, they said that the money most likely came from the wealthy residents of Barton Stacey.  This little rich village could afford to pay for the upkeep of the church…and to keep the town the way they wanted it, quaint and quiet.

My best guess is that if I return to Barton Stacey in twenty years, I’d find the same village but I wouldn’t be able to buy a MacDonald’s cheeseburger.

That thought was totally fine with me.

Oxford Of My Dreams


I was drifting off to sleep.  My dreams began.  I felt disoriented.  Where was I?

I was in Oxford, England to accept an award for “Best Blogger in the World.”

I was waiting in a room in one of the 38 colleges that make up the University.  I had walked here from the hotel, but all the buildings were made of the beautiful honey-colored limestone from the Cotswold hills.  This room is where the dons donned their academic robes. The place was heavy with the dust of history…literary history. Books dating back centuries lined the walls. I saw an early copy of “Alice in Wonderland” signed by Lewis Carroll, himself.  Was I in the college that gave the world Richard Burton, the actor? Or, Edmund Halley, who made his name on a comet?  Was this the room where J.R.R. Tolkien thought about the narrative of the Hobbit books?  Did T. S. Elliot walk the path I just walked?

Perhaps I was in a room off a small lecture hall in Bodleian Library, which claims to have over 100 miles of shelves (The Strand Bookstore in NYC says it has 8 miles of volumes.)

In the lecture hall next door I could hear the shuffling of feet and chairs as the runner-up and past winners were taking their seats.  I could hear Fineguy6076, who blogged out of Jersey City.  There was the instantly recognizable voice of martagoesyo, who wrote from a small town in Ohio.  Last years winner had just arrived to a smattering of applause.  He may have a large following and was quite an original blogger of 2014, but many readers, including this writer, were put off by his daily output of cats dressed as dogs and disguised as trivets or mid-southern house plants.

His wrote under the name of HeSheGuy.

You do the math.

The opening speeches droned on and on.  The room was warm and I began to grow sleepy.  I drifted into a peaceful land of Nod.  I began to feel I was near a great dining hall with floating candles and a really bad bully was picking on a guy named Harry.  Wait! That was the Great Hall of Christ Church College around the corner.  I continued into a light dream-like state.


My senses became fully awake.

“Order please!”  The words came from the lecture hall.

I knew then they were about to announce my name and I was to make my arrival through a massive oak door.

Applause and shouts of “Here! Here!” and “Hussa” and “About time old boy” would soon ring out.  Pretty ladies would stop fanning themselves and whisper, ever so discretely,  “ I want him to be the father of my children.”

But I was not out of my nap.  Another, less salutary voice spoke:

“Ladies and Gentleman” the calm business-like nature of a man’s tone had indeed broken my REM sleep.

I still felt it was my time.

I tried to rise but felt a restraint around my waist.  I opened my eyes and found myself staring at a small TV monitor mounted on the back of the seat in front of me.

On the blue screen was a small icon of an airplane. Behind it was a blue line that connected it to JFK. As the plane was set against a blue color, I surmised that we were over an ocean. The little icon seemed to be headed toward the letter LHR.

As I regained full awareness, it all came back to me. I wasn’t in Oxford, yet.

I was on American Flight #106.

Then more reality came flooding back to me.

We were caught in traffic somewhere near La Guardia Airport.  Despite being picked up three hours early by a car service from the Upper West Side, my wife was beyond frantic.  She was convinced we were going to miss the flight.

I said we wouldn’t, traffic was always like this out here in Queens.

She said we would miss the flight and that it would cost a small fortune to make new arrangements.

I suggested, calmly, like a man, that one screwed up ticket was only half as bad as two and I suggested she get on the flight without me.

[She was TSA approved and I wasn’t, so I would have to take off most of my clothes and pass through a scanner that would prevent me from having any more children in the future.]

She could breeze past all that and still make it to Gate 14.  I told her I would sleep in the airport or go to some cheap motel and find something to amuse me, like going bowling with a woman named Candy from Flushing, and I would catch up to her in London.

She flatly refused. [Sometimes, women just see the logic in some things.]

Without making this blog any longer, we actually made flight #106

So, now my watch reads 5:15 am.  We’re about 45 minutes away from landing.  Some kind of breakfast just got slapped down next to this computer.

My eyes turned red about two hours ago.

We’re going to pick up our rent car at Heathrow.

Our first night is already booked and it’s not that long a drive.

Where, you may very well ask, are we going first?

Oxford, of course.

My birthday is nine days away.  It’s not too early for a gift, is it?

Maybe an award for writing something like this?

Yes, But Why Can’t You Go Home Again?

It’s a cliché.  It’s a meme.  It’s been repeated a hundred billion times by three hundred billion people.

“You can’t go home again”

I’ve read Thomas Wolfe’s book by the same name.  It was a long time ago.  I may be wrong (correct me if I am), but I do not recall Wolfe ever saying exactly why that fact is true.  I’m sure it was part of the subtext, but it got by me when I was nineteen.

I’m writing a book (a short memoir) of my childhood memories of our family home in Owego, NY.  Perhaps that’s why this question is on my mind these days.  Or, maybe it’s because I’m looking hard into the eyes of my 68th birthday.

Nearly everyone I know has this same feeling.  There are a few people I know that continue to live in the house where they grew up.  For them, there may not be the sea-change like those that do leave.

They wait for a turn on the swing set.  They dress for a prom.  They turn around and they are telling their children where the peanut butter jar is located.  They go into the kitchen to get a cup of tea or a beer and they return to find six grandchildren.

And on it goes.

I’ve lived through my own “you can’t go home again” moment, but I’m at a loss to explain the small details.

Exactly when did that moment occur when I realized it was not my home anymore…just my parents house where I could spend the weekend?

When did that moment enter my mind?

How long do you have to be away before the comfort and magic of home become only a room to find a bed among storage boxes?

Is it a month?  Six months?  A tour of duty?  A year at college?  Getting married and buying a home of your own?

When did you cross that line?

I realize I’m speaking only to those who have (or had) a home in the first place.  I’ve never been homeless in America or lived in a shanty-town, like so many of people of the Third World.

I can’t speak to that.  I had loving parents and siblings.  I had a fireplace to warm myself in a drafty house.  I had stairs to climb, in tears when I knew I would not be able to fall asleep.  Those stairs were there when I was carried in the arms of my father when I fell asleep…exhausted from the heat of play in the heat of summer, or worn out by rolling a giant snowman in January.

Often I feel cursed by the fact that I live so deeply in the past.  Memories keep me awake at night.

I worry about whether someone I haven’t seen in fifty years, still thinks good thoughts about me.

In the end, I still don’t comprehend when the moment comes when the home fires go out, and the living room where I fell asleep on the floor (and my mother covers me with a blanket), is now empty.

The laughter has stopped, the crying had ended and the arguments are over.

The bedroom I slept in while I struggled through my teenage years is empty now and waiting for someone else.

If a child gets to use that room…someday in the distant future…they will move away and then come back to visit.

Then they too will know that you can’t come home again.


 [The bedroom where I studied and slept when I was a teenager]

Dance Like A Wave Of The Sea


I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree…

–W. B. Yeats

Three decades have passed since I last walked the streets of Dublin, Galway and Sligo.  A great many things have changed in those years.  And, a great many haven’t.  The smell of peat-fires in Dublin on a December night, the blasts of wind from the North Atlantic that sting your face when you look out to the west from Donegal and the foamy black pint of Guiness…these things never change.

I will be in good company.  My wife and my son will be on their first visit.  Where does one begin to plan such a trip?  What to see?  What to gaze upon?

We shall avoid the touristy places like Blarney Castle.  But, we will stand above the sea on the Cliffs of Mohair and look up at the keep that is the Egan ancestral castle..Castle Redwood.  It was once said to be haunted.  I, myself, heard Michael Egan (who restored the structure) tell of being awakened by something dark that was choking him.  He called in the local priest the next day.  He slept soundly ever since.


[Castle Redwood, Headquarters for the Egan Clan]

We will stand amid the ruins of Cashel and contemplate the glories of the past.  We will drink alongside unshaven farmers in pubs with names like Egan’s, O’Malley’s and Fitzgibbon’s.

Egan PUB

As I sit on the right in the driver’s seat and drive on the left, we’ll wait for the herd of sheep as they muddle pass us on a narrow lane.


[Near Cashel]

My wife and I will walk up Grafton Street (my son won’t join us until we reach Shannon Airport) and perhaps see a woman with black hair…and she will weave a snare…that someday, I might rue.

My wife and I may sit at the 19th hole and wait for my son to do 9 holes with an old duffer in tweeds.

All this, and more will happen.  And I will, yes I will, yes…sit them both on a stone wall under bare Ben Bulben’s Head, at the edge of the grave of the greatest of Irish poets, William B. Yeats, and read to them from the dark marble of his headstone:

Cast a cold eye

on life, on death.

Horseman, pass by!

dad ireland  copy

[To my knowledge, this was my father on his last visit to Ireland]

When we come at the end of time

To Peter sitting in state,

He will smile on the three old spirits, 

But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,

Save by an evil chance,

And the merry love the fiddle

And the merry love to dance:

And when the folk there spy me,

They will all come up to me,

With ‘Here is the fiddler of Dooney!’

And dance like a wave of the sea.


Watch for my blogs from across the sea.

Beaver Lodge Available: No Cable Necessary


[You have to look close for the small blue-gray dish. Trust me, it’s there.]

Beavers, as everyone who has studied their natural history can attest, are amazing in a variety of ways.  The first thing that comes to mind is that they are considered “Natures Engineers” because they have the instinct to secure a site, chew down dozens of trees and proceed to construct a clever and efficient dam.  But, it doesn’t stop with the dam.  The water that is impounded behind said dam makes a small pond or bog.

This is where things get interesting.

Somewhere near the middle of the pond, the beaver eagerly builds a “lodge” that is made of mud, twigs and assorted detritus from the surrounding area.  From a distance, this “lodge” appears to be a mound of…well, twigs, mud and assorted detritus.

Here’s yet another feat of engineering that the beaver adds to this already interesting complex of well-engineered structures: The entrance to the “lodge” is below water level but most of the interior is above water level.  I mean they aren’t fish.  They are mammals so they need to breathe air.

Every Natural History Museum in North America has a fake beaver “lodge” inside a giant plexiglass tank and is displayed in cross-section so that we can see the cozy little chambers and cute living areas.

How safe and warm and secure the little beaver family looks (at least the stuffed ones in the museums) as they live and play in their dry “lodge”.

Leave it to the beaver to have the genetic wiring to be able to build these units.  Believe me, I’ve seen plenty of these places in real life, and I can attest to the same style, generally speaking, of these beaver dwellings.

If you watch Animal Planet or any National Geographic special on “amazing animals”, you will also see footage of the beavers at play or just sleeping the cold days away in their middle-of-the-pond home.

So, as I was driving along a forested road north of Lyon Mountain, NY, I was not at all surprised to see a beaver “lodge” complete with a satellite dish mounted on the highest point.

Was I incredulous?  Not at all.  As I’ve said, beavers are something close to “genius” level…in their mammalian world.  Why not have a dish?

After all, what human is going to slog through neck-deep muck to place a dish where it allows them to watch 3,000 TV channels?  Does anyone in the northern Adirondacks really care about Rugby results from Paraguay?  Or, God forbid, Cricket results from Surrey, England?

Have you ever watched a four-day Cricket match from Sussex?  You could build three “lodges” before anyone scores a run.

Digging A Grave On A Beautiful Spring Afternoon

I stood in the soft loam, nine inches below ground level, leaned against my shovel, and thought about death and insects.  This is not a difficult thing to do when you’re helping to dig a grave on a day in May when the gnats and flies are biting ankles and arms.  After all, it is the Adirondacks.

Life is hard up here in the North Country.  The temperature can flirt with -40 F or the high for three days straight can be -9 F.  Yet, despite the cold that causes a finger to turn black and be amputated by a surgeon, the little annoying insects survive.  I get the science here.  They winterize themselves by simply not freezing, or if they do, some sort of chemical prevents lethal cell damage.  So, what seems to spend months in a state of near-death, merely needs a few days of warmth to emerge and find an unprotected patch of skin to bite and suck the blood (and they do).

Humans are different.  We don’t possess these uncanny abilities to stay alive when death is all around.  And, the tragic irony goes further.  Someone who was alive and breathing on a Friday afternoon, can be as dead as dead can be on Sunday morning.

Which brings us to cemeteries.  Many of my readers know that I am a volunteer photographer for an online group (something like Ancestry, but free).  I spend a fair amount of time roaming the forgotten, lonely country cemeteries in and around Franklin County.  I don’t find my fascination with cemeteries morbid in any way.  Indeed, I find them endlessly interesting.  I learn about local history, admire old headstone carvings, copy heartbreaking epitaphs and just sit and wonder about the lives that are behind the names on the stones.  I was roaming a large cemetery near Malone when a pickup truck stopped beside me.

“Genealogy stuff?” The driver asked.

“Kind of,” I replied.  These were two cemetery workers beginning on the spring burials.  I was thinking quickly.

“Do you dig all the graves with a backhoe?” I asked.

“Almost all,” the driver said.

“So you dig some by hand?”

“Well, this guy next to me is heading up to Brasher Falls.  He’s gonna dig one by hand.”

“Can I help him?” I asked.

“I’m sure he’d love an extra hand.”  He then gave me directions.

Half an hour later, I’m waiting at this particular cemetery when the young man pulls up in another truck.

“I’ll bet you never thought I show up,” I asked as I approached him.

“Oh, you.  I forgot.  Guess I didn’t think you were serious.”

He extended his hand. “Ray,” he said.


So, I watched as he measured.  I watched as he cut the sod into slabs.  I watched as he spread out a tarp to hold the sod pieces until after the burial the next day.

I stopped watching and I picked out a shovel from his truck and began to dig.

I thought of many things.  The vast majority of human burials for thousands of years, were hand-dug.  I don’t know when the backhoe came on the scene, but digging a grave by hand will soon become a forgotten act of loving labor.

That’s correct.  I think about my taking a small role in preparing a hole for another human to be laid to rest is an ennobling act of a high order.  A guy on a machine is very different from a simple soul with a shovel and a blister.  While I dug, I made some quick mental calculations.  The grave was 8′ x 4′ x 6′.  That amounts to 192 cubic feet of earth that has to be moved.

I glanced at the sun.  It was getting low in the west.  We were about 65 miles from home.

“I won’t be able to help much longer,” I said.  I also had just lifted a sod piece to the tarp.  It must have weighed 40 pounds.  My back surgeon would have slapped me until my ears bled.

After another thirty minutes, I had enough.  Enough of moving soil and scratching insect bites on my shins.  I put the shovel back into his truck, gave him a cold bottle of water I purchased on the way, and said thanks and good-bye.

I’m sorry I couldn’t have finished the job with him.  I wanted to shave the sides and make everything just right to receive the old woman whose funeral was the next day.  I wanted it to be right for her.  I had no idea who she was, but this was going to be her final home…it had to be right.  But, I left that to  Ray.

I have no illusions about how hard it can be for many people to think about graveyards.  I’ve watched most of my family buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Owego, NY.  I’ve stood in the chilly rain and watched a broken-hearted family inter their mother.  It went well beyond the definition of sad.

I recently visited the grave of a former student of mine who was murdered by her husband.  I stood and reflected on her sitting in my classroom thirty years ago and smiling at my goofy jokes.

In a few weeks, I shall stand over the graves of my Irish relatives in a sea-side graveyard in Inishcrone, County Sligo.

As we drove along the country roads, I thought about the irony of life.  The insects “die” a temporary death during the deep winter, only to reemerge as hungry and voracious as ever.   An old woman lives in a hospice, in her home, wherever, and dies when the warmth of spring arrives.

One departs while one arrives.

It’s one of life’s exchanges.  I suppose it’s fair.

It doesn’t really matter.  There’s nothing at all we can do about it.  We can curse and scratch at the newly reborn insects…and we can cry at the departure of person.

I can’t spot any glitches in this.  If you can, you’re a better, more perceptive person than I.  For even the insect who comes back after sub-zero temperatures, must die at the end of the summer anyway.

No matter how you look at it, it’s a one-way street for every living thing.