Posted by: ktzefr | June 15, 2017

Cowboy Values from Dad

Checking out the catch, Ocean City, mid-70s.

I watched westerns with my dad.  He loved all those old cowboy movies and television shows in the 50s and 60s.  Each one climaxed with a shoot-em-up and the good guys always won.  The endings were immensely satisfying.

That’s what happens in life, he’d say.  You can’t do wrong and get by. 

A lot of moral lessons could be taught by the way things turned out on Gunsmoke or Rawhide or The Virginian, lessons that could make a difference over time.

When the men of the Ponderosa got into some kind of trouble and the life of one or the other was hanging by a thread, I would be anxious with worry.  “They’ll be ok,” Dad would say.  “Stars of the show never die.”

The good guys always win and the stars never die — in the world of make believe.

I wanted to be a cowboy.  My parents’ bedpost was my horse.  I would saddle up with a pillow, use a belt for the reins, and I was Annie Oakley.  I wore a leather holster that had been well-worn by my brother over the years with an old  silver six shooter that would still hit about every third time on a roll of caps.  I rode off into the sunset, that slant of light from the west that fell through my parents’ bedroom window spotlighting my mother’s shelf of ceramic what-nots.

I built make-believe campfires on the floor with Pick-up Sticks and curled up on the rug, pretending I was sleeping in the desert or somewhere in the vast reaches of the Sierra Madre Mountains.

When I was alone in the house I could talk to myself, pretend to be anyone, anywhere in the world.  I always had a horse — the bedposts, the mop with its flying dirty mane, even a change of my gait would do.  A skip or two around the yard was enough to carry me away — back into cowboy days or off into an unknown future.

It would be a long time before I discovered that in real life the good guys don’t always win and all stars eventually die. 

If I could give one piece of advice to new dads on Father’s Day it would be this:  Reality sets in soon enough.  Let your kids be kids.  Childhood should occupy an awesome place in time, a place you can still visit on occasion.



Posted by: ktzefr | May 29, 2017

Night Lights in the Wild Kingdom

Squirrel; Photo:KFawcett

When God said “Let there be light” the sun came on. No flip of the switch to soft incandescent or to clear, bright flourescent; no hot halogen or the sharp glare of a halide lamp.  No neon.  The sun was perfect.  Is perfect.  These man-made inventions that turn night into day at any hour?  Not so much.

Our neighbor’s motion-detector security lights come on and flood our yard several times a night.  The other night when the yard lit up I looked out the window in time to catch a glimpse of a fox slithering off into the bushes.  The night critters, used to the seasonal darkness of the forest for a predictable number of hours each day, have had to adapt to an unpredictable world.  On the flip side, perhaps the floodlight saved the life of a bunny or chipmunk or a neighborhood cat.

Bunny; Photo:KFawcett

Researchers have known for some time that light at night affects animal behavior.  Here are some of the more common problems with night lights in the wild kingdom:

1) It upsets the opossums and badgers and rodents that forage in the dark; insects that swarm streetlights become instant food for bats.  In some cases, small bats have been pushed out of their habitat because larger bats have been attracted to the mega food supply the insects provide. 

2) In the South Atlantic the glow from a single fishing fleet can be seen from space.  Squid fishermen lure their prey with metal halide lamps.  They burn a light that shines brighter than the cities of Buenos Aires or Rio! 

3) When there’s a lot of artificial light, birds sing at unnatural hours.  These long “artificial” days cause early breeding behavior in some and alter migration schedules.  Sometimes migrating early can be deadly.  If birds arrive too soon for nesting conditions to be right, the whole cycle is affected.

4) Sea turtles like dark beaches where the brightest light is the moon reflecting on the sea.  Hatchlings naturally gravitate toward the sea horizon.  But they get confused when the artificial light of resort areas or towns lure them the wrong way and thousands are lost every year.

5) Frogs and toads that live in city spaces or along brightly lit roadways suffer as well.  I was reading the other day that the light from these sources can be as much as a million times brighter than a frog’s normal habitat.  It can throw every aspect of their behavior out of rhythm, including their nighttime breeding choruses.

Tree frog; Photo:KFawcett

It has rained here off and on for several days.  I came out last night after the rain had stopped.  Night was falling naturally.  Rainwater still dripping from the trees.  Bushes and ivy, periwinkle and May apple, petunia blooms and marigold buds were all soaked.  And, in this wet world at the edge of dark, I was greeted by a full chorus of tree frogs from our yard and the neighbors’ yards and beyond.  I could close my eyes and slip away to the rain forest where the only light comes from the sun…

at least until some night critter decided to stroll beneath the neighbor’s motion detector.











Posted by: ktzefr | May 17, 2017

A Mob By Any Other Name…is still just birds

Bluejays, by Betty Bruner

I was sitting on the back deck enjoying a quiet afternoon when a bunch of bluejays started squawking overhead in the maple and beech and tulip poplar trees.  Did they want peanuts, again?  Mornings for years I’ve been giving whole peanut treats to an ever-expanding “family” of bluejays.  But they eat and leave and are rarely around in the afternoon.  Still, I tossed fresh peanuts into the yard. 

The birds didn’t budge.  And they didn’t shut up.  Bluejays like to “talk” but they also like to eat, and they were staying hidden in the treetops for some reason.  Not one bird flew down to get a peanut. 

I searched the yard from my perch on the deck and finally spotted him — a big hawk sitting atop the fence separating our yard from the neighbor’s.  I slipped inside and donned my black winter cape — it allowed me to “flap my own wings,” giving the impression of a giant bird.  (Yes, I’m rather silly in that way.)  It worked!  The hawk was gone.

But so were the bluejays.  They didn’t lag behind to eat the peanuts.  Instead they followed the hawk, squawking at the top of their bird lungs until they were out of earshot. 

Later, I learned that this is known as mob behavior in the bird world.

The word “mob” has always been associated with negative gatherings — THE Mob/Mafia, the mobs that turn protest into riot, mobs that trample their members during times of crises or rock concerts.  Mobs form in the bird world to get rid of predators that threaten birds and their nests and nestlings.  One bird sees a hawk or owl or snake and calls to others.  The warning gets repeated across yards, fields, forests.  The more dangerous the enemy, the more serious (loud, intense, long) the call.  Different species recognize their particular worst enemies and adjust their calls accordingly.  The alarm call tells other birds about the predator, where it is, and how big a threat it poses.

If the predator isn’t frightened away by the commotion of a few birds, the bird calls change.  They organize a mob.  Mob calls can become deafening.  The birds may even attack the predator en masse in fly-by nips with their beaks and feet.  When the predator finally leaves, the birds will often pursue it for blocks until they know it is a safe distance away.  So, in the bird world, a mob is not necessarily a bad thing, except for the hawks and owls and snakes.

Many different terms have been used in the past to describe groups of specific birds — a bevy of quail, a gaggle of geese, a murder of crows.  A congress of crows and a band of crows were also common terms.  Did you know that a “chain” referred to a bunch of bobolinks or that groups of partridges were called coveys or that kingfishers came in concentrations?  Owls form a parliament and vultures form a wake.  And “murmuration” doesn’t seem to fit starlings at all.  Murmur makes me think of whispers; starlings are noisy.  But murmuration is something else, indeed. 

A flock of starlings in murmuration is a beautiful sight.  On a sunny day last fall I had just arrived in Mexico’s central mountains, came out of the airport to get a taxi, and was greeted by a huge flock of starlings — “dancing” across the blue sky.  I didn’t get a video or picture of that scene, but this is what it looks like. 

(This amazing video was filmed by wild life cameraman and travel journalist Dylan Winter)


Today, the various terms for bunches of birds — a herd of curlews or a siege of bitterns, for example — are rarely used anymore.   One has to remember only two words to describe a group of birds — a “flock” or a “mob” — depending on what the birds are up to in the sky.

Posted by: ktzefr | May 14, 2017

My Mom: the Collector

My mom was a collector.  Her house was full of “things” on tables and shelves and the living room mantel.  By the time she’d reached her 80s she was asking us not to buy “anything else to set around” for birthdays and Christmas.  But she liked her “whatnots” and had a story for each one.

Every place she went she looked for a rock to bring home.  Sometimes she’d find a pretty stone or a pebble with unusual markings, but often she just picked up a rock — any rock — as a memento of the trip.  And, if she spotted a sprout she didn’t recognize, she’d pull it out of the ground, wrap it in a wet paper towel, and put it in the suitcase to take home and plant.  She could make anything grow.

When I was growing up I shopped at the local Ten Cents Store for gifts at Christmas and I almost always bought a “whatnot” for Mom’s collection.  After she died, I brought several of these home.  Here are some favorites:

I was excited when I saw the purple cow on the Ten Cents Store shelf.  It carries salt and pepper shakers and jugs of vinegar and oil.

The skunks are well into their 50s and still smiling after migrating north.

I bought this little copper church for my mom in the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  I had spotted it and rushed into the shop last minute and had to run to the plane.  It’s only about 3 inches tall, but the tiny bells tinkle.

Mom liked crosses as both jewelry and decoration.  My favorite is a wooden cross filled with silver milagros (miracles) that I bought in a shop in a small mountain town in central Mexico.  But I like this one, too.  Full of color and also from Latin America.

When my mom traveled she always bought a plate for her collection.  A shelf in the kitchen held plates from many different states and countries that she or a family member or friend had brought back home.  Some of the tiny plates in the photo below are ones I bought from street vendors in Rome and Paris, Copenhagen and Rothenberg, Germany.  She had decorative plates from Cumberland Falls and Niagara Falls, New York and DC, and many other states and places from Maine to Hawaii.

One of the prizes I discovered in her things was a plastic medicine bottle with a tiny something inside.  It looked like a seed; it felt like a pebble.  There was a note in the bottle in my mother’s handwriting. 

I don’t know if this is a pearl or a pebble or a seed.  My mom found it in an oyster shell that had washed up on the beach.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s a treasure.

I realized after adding this picture that my mom is holding something.  Probably a napkin.  She always took a napkin or paper towel or plastic bag along on our beach walks.  She would have been holding a hand full of seashells.

Collections are great.  I have a lot of “stuff” in my house, too.  But I’ve found over the years that the best things to collect are the ones you can’t buy.  They are not tangible.  Memories.  Those are the best.



Posted by: ktzefr | April 25, 2017

12 Poems from Around the World

Travel is a surefire way to dispel myths about others.  I’ve learned again and again that all people are more alike than different.  But the big similarities in people around the globe rarely make the news the way even our smallest differences can define us and tear us apart.  You don’t have to travel around the world, however, to understand others.  I’ve found that one of the best ways to get to know a people is to read the poets.  Poetry is powerful; it comes from the heart.  A single line can create connections across cultures.   We all dream and hope and do what we have to do. 


If a poem were a mirror, which one(s) of these dozen from a dozen different countries would reflect you?


“A balloon!  My Daddy brought for me…

     It goes up, I go up,

     I go down, it goes down.

I am the hummingbird awed

By that highest rosebud.

~ Blanca Rodriguez, MEXICO, from “Surprise”



“White shells,

I still can hear the ocean sounds

I used to hear when childhood

Was small and sweet

I still can hear, within the depths

Of every sleeping shell,

The vast sea-roar!”

~ Javier Heraud, PERU, from “Autumn and the Sea”



“I am like Jojon, the farmhand from Tegal

Who left his wife and children behind

To pedal a pedicab in Jakarta.

Like Salka, the fisherman in Cilincing

Separated from his family on Madura Island…


We are hundreds of thousands…

At the city’s construction sites

Who have left our families behind in the village…

When you see the mist descend from the sky,

Or when it rains for days before Christmas,

Relax, sleep in peace.

In your dreams I will send millions of stars,

As long as you, in your prayers, also mention my name.”

~ Eka Budianta, INDONESIA, from “Family Portrait”



“…I want every instant

To be lovely as crayons.

I’d like to draw – on chaste white paper –

A clumsy freedom, eyes that never wept,

A piece of sky, a feather, a leaf,

A pale green evening…


I want each breathless moment to beget a flower.

I want to draw a future I’ve never seen—

Nor ever can – though I’m sure she’ll be beautiful.”

~ Gu Cheng, CHINA, from “A Headstrong Boy”



“I tell you, even rocks crack,

And not because of age…

And so the moss flourishes, the seaweed

Whips around,

The sea pushes through and rolls back –

The rocks seem motionless.

Till a little seal comes to rub against them,

Comes and goes away.

And suddenly the rock has an open wound.

I told you, when rocks break, it happens by surprise.

And people, too.”

~ Dahlia Ravikovitch, ISRAEL, from “Pride”




In the tangled boughs

Of the jasmine tree

And sometimes

On the green emerald floor

A nightingale sings

The poignant melodies

Of love.”

~ Muneer Niazi, PAKISTAN, from “A Dream of Paradise in the Shadow of War”



“When the moon rises like a cradle in the sky,

The bird flies and sings and cries:

Sleepytimes, little sleepy heads

Of those who have no food.

I am the angel of your dreams.

I am the birdsong of your sighs.”

~ Ramon C. Sunico, PHILIPPINES, from “The Tin Bird”



“from here let’s dream of every distant thing

Here let’s gather low-tide shells,

From the sea or sky at dawn

Let’s bring back little starfish…

Here let’s sit together for awhile

Let’s be blown by the cooling breeze.”

~ Shuntaro Tanikawa, JAPAN, from “Picnic to the Earth”



“Oh, the dream!  The dream!

My strong, gilded wagon

Has collapsed,

Its wheels have scattered like gypsies…

From now on you will not find me

At ports or among trains

But in public libraries

Sleeping head down on the maps of the world

As the orphan sleeps on pavement

Where my lips will touch more than one river

And my tears stream from continent

To continent.”

~ Muhammad al-Maghut, SYRIA, from “The Orphan”



“Take a pen in your uncertain fingers.

Trust, and be assured

That the whole world is a sky-blue butterfly

And words are the nets to capture it.”

~ Muhammad al-Ghuzzi, TUNISIA, from “The Pen”



“…there are in my landscape

Errors of colors and scents

Yet always

Always I love

What incessantly


As a golden ball

She runs before me:

Approached again and again,

My beloved,


~ Tymoteusz Karpowicz, POLAND, from “Love”



“It hurts, the things of old,

Attachment to the things of old.

Let go of them,

Let them go as they are;

From afar comes the sound of

The scissors of the *rag-picker.”

~ Kim Chiha, SOUTH KOREA, from “Inside”


(*Rag collectors make noise with their scissors when they are walking around neighborhoods looking for rags to collect and salvage.)









Posted by: ktzefr | April 18, 2017

A Poem for Teachers on a Tuesday…

Purple Wave by Dylan Fawcett

A blank page is full of possibilities…

The three teachers I acknowledged in my book, To Come and Go Like Magic, were not alike, but each was important to me.  My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. McCormick, was strict and impatient at times, but she introduced us to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and Heidi, and she played Carnival of the Animals and Peter and the Wolf and other classics, expanding our world beyond the Appalachian hills.  Mrs. Evans, my sixth grade teacher, was kind and soft spoken.  She encouraged me to write, and I produced two short “plays” that year and a “gossip column” to read aloud at our Friday class meetings.  Miss Irene Hughes was a tiny woman who terrified those who landed in her high school English classes.  She was loved — and hated — by a generation of students who remember her as the most difficult teacher at the school.  She insisted on giving her best and expected the same from her class.  I have only good memories of the two years I spent in her classes — Shakespeare every semester, great poetry, interesting assignments. 

I discovered early on that the best teachers were not the easiest.  More often than not, their classes were the most challenging.  But the best teachers do have some things in common — they love teaching, encourage individual differences, and want their students to succeed.   

Like Mr. Barta in Alexis Rotella’s poem, “Purple.”


In first grade Mrs. Lohr

said my purple teepee

wasn’t realistic enough,

that purple was no color

for a tent,

that purple was a color

for people who died,

that my drawing wasn’t

good enough

to hang with the others.

I walked back to my seat

counting the swish swish swishes

of my baggy corduroy trousers.

With a black crayon

nightfall came

to my purple tent

in the middle

of an afternoon.


In second grade Mr. Barta

said draw anything;

he didn’t care what.

I left my paper blank

and when he came around

to my desk

my heart beat like a tom tom.

He touched my head

with his big hand

and in a soft voice said

the snowfall

how clean

and white

and beautiful.


Remember: Michelangelo saw the angel in the marble and carved until he set it free.

Posted by: ktzefr | April 12, 2017

The Migration of a Lilac

Lilacs; Photo:KFawcett


My grandparents raised five kids

in a wood frame house off a dirt road

up a hollow in Appalachia. 

They grew corn and potatoes,

tomatoes and beans, in a valley between

the hills where a wide meadow stretched

all the way to the river.


What did those kids do with their long

summer days?  What did they dream?

Did they ever wonder what life was like

on the other side of the mountain?


Some left, some stayed, some came back.

For a long time after the house fell,

the pear tree still stood in the back yard.

The poplar up on the mountain, the one with

my parents’ initials carved into its thick trunk,

still stands almost a century later.


Granny’s lilac bush lives five hundred miles away

from the place where it was planted. 

As a twig, it migrated to the city in my mother’s suitcase,

and blooms, again, in my front yard.


Posted by: ktzefr | April 10, 2017

Blowin’ the Bubble Gum Sun…

Locos parade, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett


Monday.  Back to work and school, to lessons and meetings, to the mundane and…maybe, the extraordinary.  Start the week with a poem or two or three — be serious, be silly — and see what happens.





“Jackrabbits, green onions and witches stew

3 dollars & upside down lemons & you

Dinky planet on a skateboard of dynamite

O, what to do, chile peppers, Mrs. Oops

Dr. What, Mr. Space Station unscrewed

The Redbook of Ants says you better run

No sireee, LOL, blowin’ my bubble gum sun”

~ Juan Felipe Herrera (US Poet Laureate), “Jackrabbits, Green Onions & Witches Stew”


Stop.  Let the rush go by.  Find your thread and hold on!  I love this poem by William Stafford.



“There’s a thread you follow.  It goes among

things that change.  But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.”

~ William Stafford, “The Way It Is”


Dead ends.  Unseen paths.  Baffled minds.  The struggles we overcome often provide us with a song — as in Wendell Berry’s lovely poem (below) about real work.

Nature, too, sometimes gives us something to sing about.  Today, the Kwanzan cherry trees are in bloom!


Kwanzan Cherry; Photo:KFawcett

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do

we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go

we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

~ Wendell Berry, “The Real Work”


Posted by: ktzefr | April 7, 2017

Freedom and the Sea…Friday’s poem

Neruda’s “The Poet’s Obligation” seemed to fit this Friday morning.  He is speaking to everyone who is not listening to the sea today.  Me?  I’m listening to a lawn mower at one of the houses on my block.  Before that someone’s car alarm went off twice.  But the birds have been singing in the snowball bush outside my window and inside — the beautiful Spanish Celtic music of Carlos Nuñez.


St. John USVI; Photo:KFawcett

The Poet’s Obligation

“To whoever is not listening to the sea

this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up

in house or office…

to him I come, and without speaking or looking

I arrive and open the door of his prison,

and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,

a long rumble of thunder adds itself

to the weight of the planet and the foam,

the groaning rivers of the ocean rise,

the star vibrates quickly in its corona

and the sea beats, dies, and goes on beating.

…So, through me, freedom and the sea

will call in answer to the shrouded heart.”


Note: These passages come from Neruda: On the Blue Shore of Silence/A La Orilla Azul del Silencio, which was published to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Pablo Neruda.  

Posted by: ktzefr | April 6, 2017

“Questions in My Eyelashes” — Thursday’s Poem

I love the eyelash image from Neruda’s “The First Sea” because it surprises; it’s not an image that pops readily into mind.  But, at the same time, the feeling is recognizable.  I recall my own childhood dreams and questions and urge to break free and expand my world. 

One of my favorite things to do is hike in the Virgin Islands and sometimes the forest can be so dense that you lose sight of the sea, and then you round a bend or a rock or a huge, old acacia tree and there it is!  Like a new discovery each time…

US Virgin Islands National Park; Photo:KFawcett

The First Sea

“I discovered the sea.  From Carahue

the river Cautin flowed to its estuary

and, in the paddleboats,

dreams and another life began to possess me,

leaving questions in my eyelashes.

…I broke free of my roots.

My country grew in size.

My world of wood split open.

The prison of the forests

opened a green door,

letting in the wave and all its thunder,

and, with the shock of the sea,

my life widened out into space.”


El Primer Mar

“Descubrí el mar.  Salia de Carahue

el Cautín a su desembocadura

y en los barcos de rueda comenzaron

los sueños y la vida a detenerme,

a dejar su pregunta en mis pestañas.

…salí de las raíces,

se me agrandó la patria,

es rompió de la unidad de la madera:

la cárcel de los bosques

abrió una puerta verde

por donde entró la ola con su trueno

y se extendió mi vida,

con un golpe de mar, en el espacio.”


Read the complete poem, “The First Sea.”

Note: These passages come from Neruda: On the Blue Shore of Silence/A La Orilla Azul del Silencio, which was published to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Pablo Neruda.  


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