Sky Light



Noon Sun IRB JAL

Two recent stellar phenomena have enriched my sense of wonder. My vantage point for the Full Blood Moon eclipse was a patch of sand on a darkened beach. The pulse of the throbbing surf was behind, placid sand below. I was the only wallflower during the dance of shadows. The moon crept mutely above the narrow Intercostal Waterway casting long shadows over sleeping souls in concrete condos that dominate the westward horizon of this barrier island.

The moon was ice bright – it illuminated and hardened the boundaries between land, sea and sky. As the moon slipped behind the earth – it’s secrets were hidden in the murky umbra. For a brief time the sun, earth, and moon were in perfect celestial alignment. Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, shone brightly a hair’s breadth to the west of the moon. I remembered myths about Spica being the spring sentinel of virgins – promising new life as women learned lunar secrets. Earth’s shadow lost its grip leaving in its veil a muted orb the color of diluted wine held up in sunlight.  Spica’s twinkle remained free of the shadow – it has as much power as the sun and will not be dimmed by force.


Although to the naked eye the moon was nearly half eclipsed – the camera was not fooled by the shadow. JAL

Things don’t stay in perfect lines forever. Watching the moon slip away from the earth’s shadow reminded me of how the present slips to the past in order to allow space for the future ahead. Past, present, and future are never really in alignment – the subtle variances in time create change – predicted and unexpected events and feelings.

I was reading a book the next day sitting in the same spot – a bit tired from my late date with the cosmos. The light reflected off my Kindle seems to fuzz abit. The sky above just nine hours earlier had held the moon captive in darkness. Now the noon day sun was encircled with a shadow that was embraced by a rainbow. I slowly rose and wondered aloud – what is happening to the sun? What about our line up last night? Is this circle around the sun an omen? And if so, of what?

I saw tiny slivers of clouds high in the stratosphere that cast no shadows on the land. A cold front had come through hours earlier – strong winds chilled the sand and roused the surf. Global warming or sun cooling – either way – for as long as it took the earth to move out of the way for the sun to illuminate the moon – white light was broken into a spectrum of color. The circle held for minutes and then simply vanished as the sun began it’s daily descent.


Shhhhh – red skies at night @ IRB JAL

Spring is a time of warming to new life. Life and death dance with shadows – they are never quite in alignment or keep a clear and steady rhythm. The first full moon after our spring equinox was bloodied by earth’s shadow. Of course it didn’t die – but was it changed by it’s brief time in utter darkness? Did it feel for a moment that the sun had forsaken it or the earth had broken its covenant to keep it in a close and predictable orbit? Did the sun boast of its power by breaking light into colors? No. It did what it was created to do – blaze on. Just as the light of the moon is a reflection of the sun and could again be seen when it was freed by the shadow of a rock that was moved by eternal forces of nature  – the night died and the next day rose again.

The world we live in can’t be explained with just science because life itself is a mystery nobody has solved. Happy Easter.


Amberley & Nick Celebrate her 29th Circle ‘Round the Sun

Of Marshmallows and Whalers



Whalers @ Middlebridge, Narrow River Photo by JAL

Humans have an innate thinking strategy designed to deliver us from temptation. People are wired with that knowledge that, ‘You can’t always get what you want” – at least not right now. Discerning between wants and needs is tricky. Not getting something on demand is probably being erased from our neural circuits by repeated encounters with the TV remote and Siri.


Eggs (circa 1968) waiting to grow up to be Ghostbusters’ Stay Puff Marshmallows Man

During the turbulent Age of Aquarius, a Stanford researcher with the ethics of Willy Wonka lured unsuspecting but ever so bright preschoolers (kids of faculty and smart students) to his study. They were tempted not by a proverbial apple – but by puffy globs of corn syrup, sugar and gelatin, affectionately known as marshmallows. The experiment was a simple test of kids’ ability to accept a small reward now for a big payoff later. It played out as a game; present the kids with one marshmallow. Tell them they have two options; 1) ring a bell and the marshmallow is yours, free and clear, 2) chill, wait for the researcher to come back in about 15 minutes and get two marshmallows. Hardly the stuff of rocket science but it changed how we envision self control.



I learned about delayed gratification when growing up on Long Island Sound. First, kids had to earn Red Cross Beginners Certificates to be allowed to swim past the safety section roped off for free whizzing toddlers and leaky old ladies in baggy black swim suits. Second, swim lessons always begin the week of high tide and wrap up the second week during low tide. The difference between tides is that at first the swimmers practice blowing bubbles into frigid somewhat clean water and wind up sucking tepid mucky sulfuric smelling sludge into their mouths week two. Most kids endured paddling about in murky stench by focusing on the big kids jumping off the swim dock anchored out past the baby old lady cage. Nobody ever signed up for two sessions of swimming lessons. Freedom was already just another word for nothing left to lose. Hang in through the second week and the entire harbor is your playpen.

Third lesson of growing up in salt water – by their teenage years, everyone has a boat. Everyone that is, except my rag tag friends and me. Parents do not count in this scenario. My parents had a boat but I did not. More than anything in the world, I wanted my own 13’ Boston Whaler. These sturdy skiffs boast the ability to stay afloat even when cut in half. I pleaded my case, “Pop, all the kids have their own boats. All I want is a little Boston Whaler. I’ll even take you fishing sometimes if you buy the gas.”


Prop Walk in a Shallow Story

Pop was all for it – as soon as I got a job and paid for it. Pay for it? I babysat every weekend for a whopping 50¢ an hour. The usual gig was from six ‘til midnight on weekends. If I saved $3 a week ($156 a year) it would take a hundred years to pay for a boat! This was not a funny situation – relying on OPBs (Other People’s Boats) simply would not do.

I needed to be like the Stanford kids who patiently endured 15 minutes distracting their attention from the spongy confection by humming Mozart’s hits, rhythmically kicking their heels on the chair rungs as they visualized twinkling stars and the alphabet letters in sequential order (AB, CD, LMNOP). These were the kids who successfully delayed their gratification, earned two marshmallows, eventually earned top grades on the SAT, and adhered to Nancy Regan’s advice to just “Say No”. Not only did these kids grow up and snag the best jobs in Silicone Valley but for every minute they endured past the urge to snatch and scarf the first marshmallow, 30 years later they had a .2% reduction in body fat over the grab and go kids! Marshmallow therapy made them rich and skinny!

“Keep your eye on the prize, work hard, dream big and it’s yours” was my mantra. At 21 my first boat transaction went down. It was a used, aluminum 12’ Sears Roebuck fishing skiff, with two oars, purchased from my employer, Mrs. Main, who paid me $1.25 per hour for doing clerical work at a nonprofit. The boat ate my first paycheck.

Ten years later we bought our first powerboat, a solid old Mark Twain 20’ inboard outboard (IO) for playing on and in the Mississippi. It was not a Boston Whaler because there simply weren’t any to be found in middle-American boating venues. Unfortunately, we sunk it on a rock dike about two years later. You can’t really sink on a dike as rocks the size of beach balls are smashed more in than under the hull. When a sinking boat is towed to a harbor the river doesn’t bother asking permission to come aboard. It fills the craft up to it’s gunnels. George abandoned ship. Even then, it didn’t sink all the way to the bottom because evidently boat builders expect people to do stupid things with small craft and so they build them with stuff that floats even under extreme conditions such as the Mississippi current hissing, “Surrender the Booty.”

At 39, I owned my first sailboat, a 12’ slab of fiberglass that resembled a faded orange surfboard with a sail. It was sitting forlornly on the front yard with a cardboard, “For Sail, Cheap” sign. It would have cost an entire summer of Saturday night babysitting back in my high school days, but now I was a college professor and could afford to splurge fifty bucks. It was a cash on the spot deal.

Many boats transactions followed – some with sails, some with paddles but none with the seductive allure of the bright blue deck paint of Boston Whalers.

Fifteen years ago, I called home from a Rhode Island marina parking lot, my voice flooded with emotion, “Hey, Pop, I did it. I just bought that 1968 Boston Whaler – paid cash.” The hull cost the same as it did in ’68 and the engine was less than 10 years old. It was mint and mine.

I’m at an age where some pessimistic, “got to get it now people” are joking that they don’t buy green bananas. They are probably the same kids who were happy with just one marshmallow. I’m two feet and two Whalers past my first. When I look at it straight on – my grins are reciprocated as I hum, “If you try, you just might find, you get what you need.”


Seeing is Believing – You Just Might Try

Wise Up


A bubble of time with 2 generations. Singapore. 2012

Midway through a stack of vinyl is a vintage Byrds’ album with one of my favorite adolescent anthems, “I was so much older then, I’m younger then than now”.  I hummed the refrain a few times yesterday and couldn’t remember a single verse. Why in the heck had it been a favorite song beyond the catchy tune?  And what was Bob Dylan thinking when he wrote this refrain? Was I smart enough back then to get his message? And since I’m clearly confused by it today, am I getting dumber or losing my smarts as I gain wrinkles and stray grays?

Maybe. Like many teens, I was dumb enough  to believe that I was smarter than old people – that’s anyone over, say, 20. Take reading for example, let’s think of it as a capstone on the Smarts Scale. All I had to do to confirm my smarts was look at my immediate family’s reading habits. Pop did crossword puzzles. Grandma consumed mystery novels. Grandpa checked the racing forms. Mom got a daily humor fix by reading Erma Bombeck’s column. My younger brother didn’t even read the articles in Paul Frisco’s Dad’s stolen Playboy magazines hidden beneath the fake floor of their tree house so my BFF, Cecilia and I found them, read the articles, and subsequently burned them.


Covert Book Binders

I just knew I was so much smarter than everyone in the house. Yet here I was, my parent’s first born who got suspended in 8th grade for being caught in the school library reading a banned copy of Catcher in the Rye. It was hidden behind the tattered book cover of a copy of the Bridge Over the River Kwai – which for some weird reason was required reading. I was too dumb to realize that any librarian worth her sequined reading glasses could clearly see that a girl totally engrossed in a required book was hiding something. I’m pretty sure this is true because she ignored Pete Nickerson who was sitting right next to me with Ann Landers Talks to Teenagers About Sex carefully concealed behind a Bridge book cover with Muchilage glue dripping off the binding.


IRB & a Good Book Be.

The difference between being smart and being wise is pretty close to the difference between the planets Mercury and Jupiter. A lot of smart people simply don’t have a clue about the value of a vowel. They don’t see the difference between being human and acting humane. Researchers, most of them twelve year olds with a vast collection of white rats and lab coats, tell us that as we age we lose some smarts. They use fancy terms (to impress lab rats) such as diminished cognition, declining short-term memory loss, and weak cognitive flexibility to describe old brains. Other researchers soothe their anxious grandparents (who joke about walking into a room and being clueless as to why they are there) by using more gentle terms (Senior Moments) to dismiss anxiety that’s associated with losing one’s smarts.

Getting old ain’t for sissies. At a certain age people develop a higher degree of self-insight. They get a pretty accurate read of how others view them by gauging the quality of their relationships with others. They know good and bad are inside and outside of their minds and bodies. They connect with a period of time by embracing the quirks and nuances of their generation. I can see mental images of Woodstock (the vinyl album) when anybody greets me with “Peace Out”. Until a moment ago when I googled, I swore I remembered hearing the Byrds on that album, but now I know they thought it was just another ordinary gig and skipped the show.

Aging has some other challenges – like finally understanding that like it or not, our priorities and values are not absolute. We accept ambiguity as nature’s way. This understanding is known as wisdom. It doesn’t replace smarts – it’s a value added aspect of growing – older, and up.

It takes a great deal of quiet reflection to learn enough about life to accept that your feet don’t move faster but what you know seems to be getting vaster, and what you’ve forgotten doesn’t necessarily slow you down. Wisdom helps us to get a handle on our emotions in ways tune us into other people’s feelings. Wisdom enables us to give of ourselves and experience joy from simple acts of contributing to the whole.

I remember more positive things in my past, don’t think much about the bad times, and am very hopeful that the rest of my life is going to be mostly wonderful. I’m pretty sure if I work and play nice with others they’ll reciprocate. Besides, I’m younger then than now.


Wake Up, Maggie’s Got Something to Read to You Photo BGL