Tuesday, July 18, 2017


            I purchased my first very own musical recording at the age of ten or eleven, at a “ten cent” store in nearby Englewood, New Jersey on a Saturday family shopping trip. It was the beginning of an “indulgence” which has seen a revolution in recording science and which continues today. That early investment was a black 78 rpm wax disc with a red label featuring Bing Crosby and Kate Smith singing Don’t Fence Me In. “I can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences” the two proclaimed and my Dad had to explain “hobbles” to me. It was a humble beginning. The collection of easily broken and scratched black wax “singles” continued right up to Harry James, the Andrew Sisters and the “Fire House five Plus two” and a hundred others! They’re still in my cluttered basement today (weighing more than fifty pounds per boxful!)
            The age of vinyl and the coming of first binaural and then stereo sound saw me building my own room-filling sound system which is still with me today, and a record collection which grew exponentially; and that barely mentions my Tanberg and Sony tape decks and the collection they spawned after the “experts” of the day proclaimed that “tape” was the ultimate recording medium, after which there could be nothing better. Already my wife is urging me to build a cabinet designed to “hide” my stacks of CDs from the public, but I tell her to “hang on”, the coming world of “down-loading” will obviate the need if something even more dazzling doesn’t come first.
            And that leads me to the story I really want to tell. One of the last vinyl L.P.s I purchased was an album cut in 1968 featuring Petula Clark performing some of her most famous hits, including This is My Song, Don’t Sleep in the Subway and Groovin’. My record of activity on the back of the cover indicates my last play took place on March 16th, 1969, just prior to our family move from Vermont to Utah, and the apparent retirement of the sound system which did not get “plugged in” again.
            Shortly after moving to Rockville, I learned that the daughter of one of my radio fans was a personal friend of Petula Clark, and had been for much of her life. Shortly after that, I was introduced to Petula’s daughter, Bara De Cabrol on an occasion when she had stopped in southern Utah to pay a visit to that family. By coincidence, I was the speaker at the event being visited on that occasion which led to a brief exchange of correspondence with her and thereby a personal connection after she returned to her home in NYC, from which I have enjoyed a most pleasant memory.
            Not long ago I received an unexpected, but very much appreciated and timely gift from my Utah friend in the form of a brand new, 2016 CD recording of Petula Clark titled FROM NOW ON, just released from a recording studio in London. Petula, at age 84, and still singing her heart out. I listen to it with some regularity, but especially when I need to be reminded that like the English lady with a full head of curly blonde hair, I yet have places to go and worthwhile things to do.
            Alongside the well-known lyrics from out of a famous past such as these: Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life you were only waiting for this moment to arise is a new poetic challenge found in such as these my favorites:
             I don’t need to know what your life has been, I’ve been there too and I have seen. All that really matters is From Now On. . . those last three words the song’s title.  And perhaps the most personally meaningful of all :
            Wandering around the world I’ve seen, the good the bad the in-between, no one is perfect, this we all know but my heart and soul keep telling me Never let go. Keep doing what you’re doing, and giving it all you can. NEVER LET GO.
            Not only is her voice “youthful” and as lovely as ever, but she writes and sings her own music, and adds piano, harp and string accompaniments along the way. I for one hope the inimitable and unstoppable Petula Clark never let’s go.

Monday, July 17, 2017


                More than four decades ago I rendered a pen-and-ink sketch of a charming wild creature with which I enjoyed a near-magical encounter while living at 7,000 feet in the folds of a Wasatch Mountain pine forest. I later penned an essay titled The Ghost that Flies at Midnight telling the story. The secretive nocturnal “creature” happened to be the North American Flying Squirrel, and my connection with this tiny and mysterious wild animal was short-lived and singular; I have never met anyone else who has even seen one in the wild.
                Recently I have been considering the claim by a segment of environmental scientists that modern professionally-managed forests cannot replace what is lost with the removal and disappearance of natural, undisturbed old growth forests. Coincidentally, I have been reading a book about the world of American owls – including the environmental changes which have challenged – and even threatened the survival of – the “world” inhabited by these fascinating birds-of-the-night. The connective tissue between these two subjects lies in the realization that these same “cute” flying squirrels constitute the principal food source for the rapidly-disappearing North American Spotted Owl, both of which species live almost exclusively and entirely in old growth forests.
                The flying squirrels themselves depend for food upon the false truffle which they find attached to the roots of certain trees, which they in turn help to propagate as they scatter its spores in their own activities. The truffles benefit the trees by supplying specific nutrients not readily synthesized naturally. As a further step in this cycle of inter-dependency, the pellets excreted by the owls after consuming a squirrel further spread the truffle spores throughout the forest floor. This arboreal drama is but one example of the kind of symbiosis which is a hallmark of natural old growth forests – among a small remnant of which – I was apparently blessed to live for 40 years without realizing it.
                The argument between the timber industry and environmentalists just a few years ago made the spotted owl an iconic, half humorous (and ill-chosen) central figure. Those arguing for the preservation of old growth forest remnants were not merely concerned about one species of owl, nor were they trying to put an end to all timber cutting. The spotted owl became a symbol because it was discovered to be one obvious casualty of a thoughtless (but profit-driven) wholesale clear-cutting strategy. In the process of defending its case the giant timber companies put forward the argument that the “managed” forest – re- planted and cultivated forests such as those they proposed to fill the giant open spaces left behind after their mechanized harvests – would in the end be more productive and just as beautiful – as the primal forests, they would in time replace. And they point to living examples to prove it.
                The term old growth has a very specific and well-established definition. It refers to stands of ancient groves of mature, never-before disturbed integrated species of trees, together with the supporting communities of flora and fauna which have developed and matured with them over long periods of time; hundreds of years.
                What we know now but might not have fully understood just a few ago is that once “disturbed” or destroyed these priceless pieces of natural history cannot be renewed or “managed” back into existence. The complex combinations of inter-related life forms – from snails and salamanders to nesting birds, migrating animals and insects by the millions will not return. On my annual visits to the Pacific Northwest I am exposed to visual reminders of every side to this unfolding story: vast stretches of decades-old ugly scrub land left behind by mindless clear-cutting, new replacement forests of baby conifers of identical size and geometric spacing reflecting the sense of responsibility to the future on the part of the modern timber industry, and the soldier-like stands of middle-age trees in “managed” mountain-side “regiments” awaiting the chain saws of some carefully planned future harvest.

                And I continue to experience the heart-stopping thrill of walking beneath forest giants that are 300 and 400 years old, in the midst of the lushness of a green-and-growing biodiversity, the un-measurable dimensions of which boggle the mind of the thinking visitor. Here, even the dead standing, and supine and decaying trees are important citizens of the primal system, supporting the birthing of new growth, nesting sites for myriad forest creatures and thousands of kinds of fungi, lichen and molds – all contributors to the whole.       I can only hope that we will always have a sufficiency of thinking, caring people in our society to insure the survival of our disappearing old growth forests.

Friday, July 14, 2017


            Because I am a lover of books, I have my favorite “local” book stores wherever I end up at the end of a day’s travel. Between Cannon Beach on the coast of Oregon and Rockland on the coast of Maine, I have walked many miles without leaving their crowded aisles whose shelves are well-known to me, but also ever-changing. It’s not just books that fascinate me, but the people who like me gravitate to such places, and from whom I often learn as much as from the inviting pages through which I roam. I have especially come to appreciate the practice of my Oregon haunt to label books which have earned the personal recommendation of a store employee or two with a few words of commentary noted on a tag taped on the front of the shelf.
            On such a recent visit, I mentioned to a young store employee my interest in a particular subject. Within minutes I was confronted by a growing stack of volumes she had gathered for my appraisal, and  among which was a “gem” which answered all my questions, and which traveled home with me. (It is a book on TIDES exploring the Science and Spirit of oceans from which I will draw hours of pleasure and a wealth of seldom-visited knowledge; in short it has the promise of adding something to my everyday life.
            In the course of a one week visit, I may end up purchasing only two or three selected volumes, but chances are I will have pages of notes and observations; new ideas and a plethora of words and quotations, and often new story ideas which will find their way onto my desktop and onto future pages.
            With all of this I yet face a regular dilemma, wondering whether a particular idea deserves to become a story, and even more importantly whether the story should be shared with others or “treasured up” for self or sequestered fearing perhaps it will not seem relevant or worthwhile or interesting to others. Pondering this troublesome quandary, I ran into a reference to an ancient but still valid point of law known as theft by finding.
            In its earliest form in Medieval times it posited the idea that if one finds something of value the owner of which cannot be determined, it is alright to keep it as long as its value is shared with others in some way, and not hoarded by the finder alone. The idea really struck me: theft by finding! Is this a concept worth exploring? Might it not apply to a story-teller who develops or happens upon a story of value and then fails to share it with others by its very telling!
            Taped to the wall over the top of my keyboard where my eyes can’t miss them are the four Japanese symbols for the word ikigai, the meaning of which in English would read the reason for which I rise each day. For me personally it asks the question “with the skills, talents, devotions and passions which have been given to me as gifts, am I being faithful; am I rising each day determined to share with others something of value in what I do?” In a broader context, am I doing everything within my power to nurture those talents, and in finding new ways to put them to use in a world which continues to need every bit of person-to-person service within reach?
            Even on a personal level I find relevance in the law of theft by finding, and wonder whether I need to make room for one more sign on my wall!

Sunday, July 2, 2017


            Departing the barb-wire enshrouded and mostly-avoided strip of international boundary area known as the DMZ or “Demilitarized Zone” dividing the free Republic of Korea to the south, and the  Communist enslaved nation of North Korea on the north one day in 2009, I was stopped by a media person with a microphone. I had just moments before stood on one side of a thin glass window staring into the venomous eyes of a uniformed North Korean border guard inches away, remembering that just 58 years previously, I and my unit had been receiving incoming enemy fire at a spot just a few miles distant.
            The young South Korean news reporter asked me what my thoughts were as an American veteran returning all those years later. Disobeying the instructions we had been given to be careful of what we said, and even how we arranged our facial expressions that close to the green-uniformed North Korean soldiers, I launched into a passionate condemnation of the United Nations/U.S. policies which had denied us the opportunity to defeat the North entirely when I believed victory was possible back in 1953 when “our side” was “infected” with the “let’s go home fever” our politicians had fallen victims to.
            Concerned military monitors hurried me down the stairs while members of the press continued to hound me for more. Eventually I was hunted down, even back in Utah, where I endured several interviews which made me a minor “personality” on global South Korean television. It became apparent that very few American veterans were willing to express themselves as was I, on a war which their own country viewed with such indifference, and for which their efforts had won so little respect at home. All these years later, that is still as evident. And I still ask myself why? Why can’t I just look at my “Korean experience” as a closed chapter, and take more comfort in all the beautiful things life has given me? As a freelance writer with a following and an active interest in a host of subjects, it would seem I would be content to let others worry about the “unfinished business” still menacing us and others on the other side of the world.
            What still haunts me is the certainty that my country is not without culpability in helping – even though perhaps unwittingly -- to set the stage for the birth of the evil empire the world still faces and which we at one time had reduced to a virtual shadow on the map. (We actually occupied Pyongyang their capital city at one time while controlling the air space over the entire region.)
            Almost from the beginning of our war against Japan in the Pacific, President Roosevelt was of the mind that only with the help of Russia could we ever hope to win a surrender from the Empire of Japan at an acceptable cost in American lives. He still believed this when the Big Three met for the Yalta Conference in the Soviet Crimea in February, 1945. The critically-ill and foundering FDR (he would be dead in sixty days) met secretly with Joe Stalin with whom the American President believed he had developed the kind of private friendship and trust he could rely on. The deal which was hammered out would give Russia a free hand in Manchuria (always at the heart of the Soviets’ long-range planning) and – by the way – the occupation of the northern part of the Korean Peninsula and a similar portion of Indo China; Viet Nam!
            In return Russia did indeed declare war on Japan three days after the end of the war in Europe, as agreed. The only people at the Yalta Conference who held the secret knowledge of the Atomic Bomb were Roosevelt, and his closest advisor, Ambassador W. Averill Harriman; and possibly Joseph Stalin!
            It would be the devoted Averill Harriman who would make certain the otherwise “untutored” and unprepared Truman Administration honored the Yalta agreement, including the Communist takeover of North Korea.

·         As Vice President, Harry Truman had never had a single meeting with Franklin Delano Roosevelt.