Memorial Day

While Memorial Day serves to honor those who fell in battle, fighting for freedom and country, I chose to also share today remembrances of those family members who have passed from our lives but who did not necessarily die in battle. Other than my Great-Great-Grandfather, Irvin Boatwright, who died at age 22 serving in the Civil War, Illinois Regiment 111, Company I, my other relatives who served came home.

Had my father not returned, I wouldn’t be here. However, he was within a nano second, a mere fraction of an inch, from not coming home. A member of the 363rd Squadron, Pied Pipers, he was flying his P51 Mustang, Destiny’s Tot, on a bomber escort mission to Germany. A shell entered the cabin of the P51 on his left and exited on his right, ripping open the canopy and embedding shrapnel into his left eye and face. He flew back to England, landing exhausted and bloodied in the mangled plane. He permanently lost the sight in his left eye. Over the years, when asked how he managed that feat, his only reply was, consistently, “Well, I wasn’t going to land in Germany.

In my recollection of growing up and as an adult, Dad didn’t talk about the war, at least not with us; that was reserved for his fellow Army Air Force buddies during their reunions. What he did talk about was his memories of his friends, his leisure time during his training, and his love of England and her people, which by proxy, he instilled in me. He always wanted to go back to England to visit but never got the chance. What I do remember very clearly, other than some of his favorite anecdotes about eating Brussels sprouts in everything, traversing the streets of London with one eye bandaged, and his great affection for the people of the United Kingdom, was that he never held animosity toward the common people of Germany. I never heard him say a negative word about the everyday, ordinary people, who in many ways were just like us.

I think he would find it disturbing and sad that our country is now so divided, herding people together into this group and that bunch. Division is anathema to the United States, its people, our reason for being. United we stand, divided we fall. This idea isn’t just a quaint saying and it isn’t unique to some patriotic speech by a long ago American soldier or statesman. The dangers of failing to band together date all the way back to Aesop, who lived during the sixth century B.C. See his fable The Four Oxen and the Lion. The oxen were able to hold off the lion together, but when the squabbling began and the oxen separated…well, you can figure out what happened. Why can’t we learn from history?

I bow my head to all those who served and died in the wars of the past. In their honor, I wish we could stay together. Let’s work together, among other Americans and the people of our allied countries, to prevent the throngs of the dead being honored on Memorial Day from swelling by the thousands every year.

One last thing. If you know of a veteran who doesn’t have a memorial like the one pictured here, they are provided free by the U.S. Government. The family may choose from various types of headstones, markers, and medallions. A base must be provided, but the plaque, its delivery, and installation on the base are free. For more information, go to:




Snowflake. What is a snowflake? An astonishing, amazing formation of H2O in its solid form. Snowflakes are unique, each different from all others, with its own structure and appearance, yet made of the very same material. Some are very angular and sharp, some more softly rounded and pillow-like. Poetry often describes snowflakes and their accumulation as pure, holy, light incarnate. Snow is sometimes used as a metaphor for good, blessings. Driven snow is one of the most favored analogies for purity.

Snowflakes form when the temperature turns cold, frigid. What become adverse or inhospitable to humans creates snowflakes from the raw material out of thin air. Howling winds, tall buildings, even mountains do not prevent their formation, their ability to travel, or their effectiveness. When many snowflakes gather together they produce various results. They can create sparkling landscapes, gently blanketing the sleeping ground like a fluffy white comforter. Cushions of puffy snow adorn the branches of trees, glinting in the sunlight. Snowscapes are frequently the feature of calendars, paintings, and framed photographs because we humans find them beautiful whether they cover a meadow or a village in the deeps of winter. Accumulations of snowflakes have provided endless hours of fun for children: building snowmen, ramps, snow forts, making snow angels. Animals enjoy playing in the snow as well, romping and jumping into deep snow.

When large amounts of snowflakes gather together, they can also create hazards. Roads become slick, sidewalks slippery, and sometimes even structural failure occurs due to the weight of the snowflakes when a roof cannot take the pressure of several feet of snowfall.

When the winds of fate blow snowflakes together, drifts may form and cause difficulty with progress on roads or exiting a house if it gets too deep for the door to open. Sometimes thoroughfares are closed because of the aggregation of snowflakes. Snowflakes are fragile and delicate by themselves, but together they can perform amazing feats. In higher elevations, large groups of snowflakes, when poked, prodded, or otherwise disturbed by loud cries or noises, can suddenly become that dreaded natural disaster…an avalanche. An avalanche can devastate everything in its path.

A snowflake’s existence is fleeting though. They can be deconstructed by heat in mere moments, although it takes longer to melt large groups of them together. But they don’t disappear. No. Snowflakes are flexible, malleable, and like some miraculous chameleon, as they melt they do not vanish, destroyed. Rather, they shape-shift, they transform into something else, a different pattern, a new design. Water. Snowflakes can turn to water which also can be gorgeous, provide entertainment for humans, and serve as the habitat for some of earth’s most amazing creatures. More importantly, water is something we all absolutely require to survive in this world. But, while we depend on water for our survival, it can become dangerous if not treated with respect. Tides, undercurrents, tsunamis, flooding all can ravage our world at the behest of nature. Water is one of, if not the most, insidious substances on earth. Given time, it can and will pry its way into any house, smooth jagged rocks which fall into its realm, create meandering rivers, and carve gigantic caverns above and below the earth’s surface.

Eventually, when the water that used to be snowflakes is spent, it evaporates. But still it does not disappear. It once again performs its magic by shape-shifting into a gas. Moist air helps us when we have a stuffy nose and can also make us feel even warmer in the summer when the humidity is high. Some of it returns to its liquid form in the morning as the temperatures change and provides us with masterful views of dew-draped spider webs, droplets clinging to grain, or coating our lawns. Most of it rises from the ground, elevating through the atmosphere to be collected in the clouds and eventually return to earth in another of its trilogy of forms, as rain or more snowflakes, back for another day.

Snowflakes. Delicate. Fragile. But just like avalanches, they can change the landscape of our world. Do I want to be a snowflake? Absolutely.

Grocery Store Lurkers

It seems like you can’t get away from the person. Every aisle, every freezer case, every shelf of dog food…there’s that person again, and they need to stand precisely upon the square footage that you currently occupy. Well, until you move. You can’t shake them.

Has it happened to you? I thought it was just me. I figured I was overthinking coincidences, just being grumpy, or imagining it. But it isn’t just me. I’ve talked to other people who have also noticed a very unusual phenomenon. Shopping magnetism, or, something.

When I’m in the grocery store for my weekly shopping, almost every time, there is one person – and it can be male or female, but is usually female – who is like a shadow. A very close, lurking, stalking shadow. Looking at the same items I look at, picking up the same products. ‘Did I drop my grocery list and she picked it up thinking it is hers, and I have hers?’ I check. No.

Today, a gorgeous autumn day, I thought I’d buy some apples. I pushed my cart past the pumpkin pile to the end of the produce display where it was out of the way, unless someone wanted a gigantic bag of caramel apple sticks (but I didn’t need them, so no one did), got a bag, and returned to the beautiful apple display.There were at least seven types to choose from. I was selecting a few locally grown Jon-a-golds when my peripheral space-invader feelers alarmed: shopping cart within range! In my peripheral vision, I could see her. I nonchalantly turned a bit to glance at her. There she hovered. She didn’t meet my gaze, her face a bit drawn, hands white-knuckling her still-empty cart, lips beginning to purse, impatience setting in, cart edging forward, bit by bit, gaining in urgency. She needed locally grown Jon-a-gold apples and she needed them immediately!  The store surely is going to run out and there will be no more, ever. No! Cortland will not do. MacIntosh simply will not suffice.

Now, when you find yourself in this undesirable situation, it helps to strategize your path through the store in an opposing pattern to the Lurker. That is, as long as your Lurker isn’t adept in adapting to changing conditions. Mine was. While we passed each other from opposite directions down the first couple of aisles, she was deftly able to correct course and reappear in my wake by the time I hit the breakfast food aisle with only a fifteen inch margin of error. Well played.

I planned my next maneuver, that of skipping an aisle and doubling back. I’m an amateur compared to her. She outfoxed me and laid in wait until I retraced my steps and lo and behold, there she was, sidling up next to me, reaching across me at face level, nearly brushing my nose with her sleeve, her multiple bracelets jangling in front of my eyes, politely saying “Excuse me” in a desperate attempt to reach the only remaining bottle of Brooks ketchup after the one I had just chosen. I pulled my cart back and zoomed around her. Oh, it’s on now.

I’m glad that I have significant appendage dexterity, because I employed this to snatch items off the shelf without stopping my cart as often as possible. This necessitated an increase in speed for my Lurker as well. As I gained the advantage, she wasn’t able to long ponder the benefits of the various shapes of pasta secondary to my swiftness in plucking a box of rigatoni off the shelf without even slowing down, then frantically careening around the corner to the baking aisle.

This is where it got real. I needed several items: chocolate chips, oil, nonstick spray, AND five pounds of sugar. I was confident about the smaller items, but that bag of sugar was gonna drag my speed down. After checking for bystanders, I nimbly pushed the cart, allowing it to slowly roll unattended while I swooped down and successfully snagged not one, but two bags of sugar, having noted they were on sale, and well, the holidays are coming up.

By the time my grocery store excursion was about half over, I had honed my covert skill of not broadcasting my shopping intentions, although there are times when stopping is just unavoidable. I am marveling that this woman, my food and sundry-purchasing rival, also needs: exactly the same brand of cat food that I need, in the same flavors and the same size cans; to gravely peruse the 48 different types of BBQ sauce, especially those within three inches of my center of gravity; and greeting cards. I kid you not.

One starts to become unhinged from it after a while. Is this a Doppelgänger who doesn’t actually look anything like me but is living a parallel life? Is she incognito store security worried that I will shoplift ferret yum-yums? Do I look like someone who will break the paper seals on salad dressing bottles, crack the eggs, and squeeze the Charmin? Of course not. But, there is something to this strange occurrence. I hope someone, somewhere, someday does a study, for their Master’s or something, on the psychology of grocery store magnetism and how it draws people in and affects their purchases.

And folks, it isn’t confined to markets and groceries. I am now hearing reports of this experience in clothing stores. An item pulled from the rack and discarded or tried on and not chosen is often seized by a garment Lurker. These heretofore little known variants of the grocery Lurker will appear to browse but keep one eye on you, the innocent shopper, scrutinizing and evaluating your interests, biting their nails while craving that one-of-a-kind Thanksgiving sweatshirt you just picked up – not because you are interested in buying it, but to have a little snicker at how amazingly horrific it is. Disturbingly, I also have anecdotal evidence of this very thing happening as far back as forty-five years ago while shopping for school clothes.

Alright, I should calm down and logically assess the situation. Maybe these people are merely indecisive, uncertain about quality, or are just unable or unwilling to make a decision about which toilet paper brand/size to buy and figure it is more reliable to buy what someone else obviously has experience in using. Maybe they have no confidence in their judgement, so they glom on to someone who appears to be suitable. Or, perhaps they suspect there is some magical quality in certain items that they are unaware of and are bound and determined to discover those items by mimicking other shoppers. Whatever the cause, it it is out there, people. They are watching us, and they want us to make their shopping decisions for them. Beware.


My husband and I went to a small, rural cemetery last weekend. We volunteer to take photographs of headstones, for genealogy purposes, for those who are researching their family. For many who do so, a photograph of a burial marker can be an important factor for documenting relationships, birth dates, and death dates. For some people, it serves as a memento of a loved one, a distant relative, or a previously unknown ancestor.

No matter what type, grave markers are the last tangible evidence of a life lived, the last footprint, the dwindling end of the thread created by each of us.  Markers may be grand: marble obelisks, hulking granite monoliths, family groupings in an elite section of the cemetery, even modernistic machined aluminum with shining swirls and gleaming surfaces. They may be adorned with scrolls, flowers, poems, symbols of lifetime hobbies, or laser-etched portraits of the deceased. Conversely, I have come across stones that were obviously hand made, probably by family members who couldn’t afford anything else. Some of these were concrete, some aggregate with lots of little pebbles, shells, and what looked like clinkers (leftover bits of burned coal) in the mix, with the name and dates written into the wet media with a stick or some other object. I’ve seen memorials cobbled together from various pieces of metal; something to withstand the elements for as long as possible.

I usually take photos of these markers simply because I want to take the time to notice and acknowledge it. The families who made these poor grave stones have probably been gone for decades, if not more than a hundred years, and there may be no living relatives who remember their existence at all, but they did what they could to mark a grave. And that matters. Of these crude markers, many get right to the point, name and date, finished. There are others that betray heart-wrenching sadness so great one gets the feeling it was all they could do to write anything on it at all. I found a roughly-shaped, poured concrete stone that said merely,”Billy.” Wow. One word and I was more struck by this stone than the most impressive monument.

There are cemeteries, now forgotten, which have been absorbed into the forest, overtaken by weeds, nettles, and blackberry bushes, or are lying beneath a mountain of brambles in a farmer’s field, no longer visible and reduced by time to an area to be plowed around.

I guess I wish that Billy, and the others who lived, died, and were buried with homemade stones, would know they have been thought of, even by people with no idea who they are. And if they can, I wonder what those who were buried in the cemetery we saw last weekend would think. Lost Grove Cemetery was visited by a tornado on September 9, 2016. It’s an old cemetery, with headstones from at least the early 19th century up to the 1960’s when burials there ceased. The southern portion of the cemetery was hit hardest, with stones scattered about the grass, which was bright green from the recent rain, like wooden blocks left out by a child after playtime.

Huge stones had been lifted from their plinths and jammed into the earth at awkward angles. Graceful obelisks had toppled. Some were lying in the grass, neatly lined up like soldiers in a row. In some cases though, they collapsed onto their neighbors which damaged the obelisk and sometimes crushed the adjacent stone. All that remained of one small, very old stone was a pile of limestone dust with some chips around it, flung out as the great weight descended directly on top of it. On the street front, there is a mausoleum, Victorian design in brick and stone, as well as several evergreen trees. Four of the trees had been stripped of their bark, like bananas, then snapped off, bundled into a wild tangle, and deposited in a pile. The mausoleum lost its decorative corners and the carved stones that had been in place for at least 115 years.

We were there to search for two stones from one family. In the midst of all this destruction, what now? Now, we will help with the cleanup if volunteers are needed. And we hope that after the little cemetery is set back to rights, or as near as it can be, we will return and search for the two stones. I hope we find them for their family member, but if we can’t — if the markers were destroyed by the tornado or were already missing or unreadable to begin with — I hope they know that someone in their family is searching for them and values their last bit of thread in this world.

For the Love of Corvids

Corvid blog photo

The glossy crow with a few oddly sprouting feathers crouches a bit on the fence and tilts its head to get a better look at me. It rolls its eye up and down, assessing, judging. What are you thinking, I wonder? It eyes the slices of boiled egg I am doling out along the railing of the deck. It knows what it is. It comes every day, actually several times a day. If I haven’t served the egg ‘on time’ in the morning and evening, it complains bitterly until I provide; croaking and cawing and grumbling from various perches around the yard. It will also screech endlessly if the dog is still mincing about the back yard on her morning ramble. The crows have proven they aren’t afraid of her by stalking around her with ill humor to get their food, but they would much prefer she came inside, leaving them to their own devices without her nosy canine intrusiveness. Once I’m outside though, the crow straightens and clicks and garbles in response to my chatter. As I talk to it, it answers with amazing sounds I cannot begin to reproduce. A couple of times now it has thrown all caution to the wind and flown on to the deck within three feet of me, eager to get its breakfast. It restlessly eyeballs me as though to say, “Can I have it yet?”

Right now, the curmudgeonly crow sitting on my fence is one of this year’s juveniles. It has progressed from the clumsy, awkward tweenie I first met to a beautiful, robust, and proud adult. Ok, Twiggy is still a little gawky, but Grace no longer slips off the fence every few seconds. Its mother, whom I named Brownie McCrowford, began coming to my backyard every day last winter to get whatever was available. At the time, it was mainly birdseed in a feeder, but one day she purloined some discarded stale crackers from the objecting sparrows. I then noticed her often, so I read up a bit on what crows eat and put out a few items she might like. She coveted the suet cakes I made from suet from the grocery mixed with dried fruit, seeds, and some peanut butter. She also appeared to love the popcorn, which I have put out every day since because suet melts into a rancid mess in the summer, and popcorn is cheap, if you buy it loose in bulk, and easy to store in batches. In Spring, she would eat what she wanted and then comically cram as many pieces of popcorn in her beak as she could manage to take back to her nest. Sometimes the fluffy white blobs started falling out. She would put the remaining pieces down and systematically pick them all back up, one by one, lining them up in her beak like a row of pinballs waiting to be ejected.

Crows are corvids, the abbreviated version of Corvidae, which also includes ravens, rooks, bluejays, magpies, and jackdaws. Crows are confident, assertive, curious, playful, regal, and aloof, as well as structured and organized with complicated community systems for roosting, feeding, and warning each other of danger. For many birds, there are multiple names for groups of each type, but I have to admit that I love a Murder of Crows. Ravens may be called a Conspiracy or an Unkindness, and Rooks, a Parliament. I am utterly delighted with these names.

Crows are smart, not just survival smart, but figure-out-how-this-works smart. Occasionally, their gaze feels a shade condescending; I expect it to shake its head in sad disappointment at my failures. But crows are magnetically endearing. Human appreciation for the intelligence and amiable friendship of corvids is nothing new. Charles Dickens had a raven as a pet, a companion. Its name was Grip. Grip appears in Dickens’ novel Barnaby Rudge and inspired Edgar Allan Poe to write The Raven. Now that is a lasting influence. Grip, who died in 1841 from the admittedly not-so-smart act of eating lead paint chips, is forever immortalized in a state of taxidermy in the Philadelphia Free Library as part of the Gimbel Collection.

Crows are patiently observant and willing to spend impressive amounts of time to ascertain absolutely that a site for food or shelter is safe. Whereas other birds — cardinals, doves, red-winged blackbirds, sparrows — alight briefly and make their decision rapidly, a crow will sit on a fence post or tree branch, stoically and authoritatively analyzing its prospects, for such a lengthy time that it seems to have forgotten where it was going or what it was doing. While its posture may seem to betray a lax and inattentive bird, it’s a false image of what is really alert and wary awareness. It’s calm demeanor may lull me into thinking it is relaxed, but no, it did not lapse into careless vigilance. The smallest unusual or sudden sound will quickly reveal it ready for defense or flight, whatever is required.

While I understand the need of wildlife to continue to fend for itself and not become inured to humans, there is that part of me that still guiltily revels in the realization that these few crows, this family of corvids, recognize me (crows have been proven to recognize individual humans and react to them), and are conditionally convinced that I intend them no harm. Brownie doesn’t come as often now that her offspring are adult-sized and are feeding themselves, but some days she comes and eats, gets a drink of water. Some days she just sits on the fence and watches Twiggy and Grace, the two most identifiable juveniles, bluster at each other over the yolks of the eggs or struggle to consume a large piece of popcorn. Eventually they work things out and share the egg, and they learn how to hold the popcorn kernel with one claw and break pieces off with their beak. Sometimes they take it to the birdbath and dunk it in the water before gulping it down whole.

After their meal, they line up on the fence, sometimes just one but sometimes all five of them, cleaning their sensitive beaks on the boards, fluttering and resettling their feathers before heading out for their next adventure or to their roosting site for the night. Their launch seems almost too slow to allow successful flight, their large forms dip and then rise unhurriedly into the air, their wings beating a leisurely rhythmic pattern as they sail through the dusky sky like big dark galleons across the sea. As they cross the purplish backdrop of twilight, I can see their gnarled black claws curled beneath them, landing gear in flight position. I wish them a silent goodnight as they glide into their roosting trees across the field. I’ll see you in the morning.