Theme for February: Resilience

Saturday, February 27, 2021

At the good age of 79, I am still working diligently to develop a sense of authority in myself. Here I’m not thinking of the most common definition of authority – the power to enforce laws, exact obedience, and pass judgment – but of a less familiar meaning – the power of simple and unconquerable confidence derived from experience and practice. This is authority that’s natural, not contrived – authority that’s established gradually from inside a person, not abruptly and artificially from outside. It’s the kind of unpretentious, authentic authority that arises unhurriedly with the passage of time, like a tree that slowly grows stronger from within. I have been hesitantly and clumsily growing as a person for 79 years, and I’m feeling more of this kind of honest authority each year. It doesn’t come from outside – from a successful task completed, or from a compliment from someone – but from inside, from a slowly blossoming sense of understanding and self-assurance. It’s the kind of authority a senior person sometimes acquires simply because they have survived, with audacity and dignity, many decades of study and testing in the school of life. It’s the kind of authority a person feels within themselves when they know, without a shred of doubt, that they will sail through both stormy and sunlit days with high-spirited success. Not always, but occasionally I do sense authority like that inside me, as if I’ve grown steadfast and persistent like a sturdy oak, as if there’s a sort of boundless strength inside me that simply can’t be contested. On those fortunate days, I stay trustworthy and unassuming and strong.

Once upon a time, a 79-year-old man
fell in love with plainness and simplicity.
He saw trees that seemed unsophisticated
in their loveliness, and the old lamps
in his house seemed lighthearted
in their straightforwardness,
and he said to himself that life at 79
should be like that, 
like a little cloud
lightly passing through an understanding sky
in an unfussy, no frills way. 
He realized
he had become too busy 
with the billion small things in life, 
and had lost sight of
how simple happiness could be. 
He decided to be always satisfied. 
Let what comes, come,
and he would care for it 
in a homespun, meat-and-potatoes way. 
He chose to live an undecorated life, 
like the stones that sit well-pleased in the park
while busy, anxious people pass speedily by,
or like a cloud that is just its basic, pleasant self
while wars and havoc hold sway
in the ambitious, worldly-wise world below.


Theme for February: Resilience

Friday, February 26, 2021

It often occurs to me that living a good life has much to do with ‘pondering’. The word derives from an old Latin word that meant ‘weighing’, and there’s no doubt that I should spend a good deal of time engaged in that activity. The fact is, I’m almost always thinking, and I should do this important activity as if I am carefully studying each thought in order to estimate how much it ‘weighs’. When I think of life this way, I sometimes picture a laboratory balance scale. If I’m truly a serious student of life, I should more often practice pondering – placing a thought in one of the pans of the scale, then placing another thought in the opposite pan, and then checking the relative heaviness. It’s a precise, exact business, this process called thinking, or pondering, and, like weighing things in a laboratory, it requires the utmost attentiveness. Careless thinking, like careless weighing, always leads to flawed results. One thought might be just a milligram heavier than another, but that could be the difference between a transformative idea and a dud. I guess my life should, in a sense, be run like a meticulous laboratory. If I’m going to be weighing thoughts each day, there needs to be an atmosphere of concentration and precision in my days. I need to keep in mind that I’m engaged in scientific work of a high order – considering and evaluating thoughts. Perhaps, when I enter a new day – a new laboratory – I should imagine myself putting on a lab coat and magnifying glasses, ready to begin another session of the meticulous pondering of thoughts.

I spent some time this morning pondering wonderful thoughts as I did an attentive and spirited 3-mile walk at Elm Grove Cemetery. Here’s the route I took among the stately gravestones and solemn trees …

While walking and pondering, I saw these impressive scenes …

And very early this morning, at 4:55 a.m., as we were sitting in the sunroom doing our silent morning meditations, we saw the large, silent moon just above the trees …

Naming Winds

Theme for February: Resilience

Thursday, February 25, 2021

            This thought came to me during this morning’s windy walk with Delycia: What if I decided to give names to separate winds? I imagined myself seeing wind pass through trees and saying, “Let’s see . . . I’ll name the wind in the upper part of the oak tree Jimmy, and I’ll name the wind in the lower part Joanne, and now the wind in the lower part has changed slightly, so I’ll have to rename it and ….” It would have obviously been an impossible task. The puffs of wind we felt on our walk this morning were not separate entities, but were part of something vast, part of the wide wind that was blowing through Mystic, which was part of the immeasurable flow of winds across the earth. No one would seriously think of isolating and naming single puffs of wind. I began to wonder, then, whether our habit of isolating and naming any so-called separate, individual parts of our cohesive and harmonious universe isn’t, in one sense, equally foolish. It’s strange, for instance, that the name ‘Hamilton Salsich’ is used to actually identify me, as though I am a distinct and separate ‘piece’ of the universe. In a way, that’s as silly as saying, “Oh, there goes Julia” as a current of wind passes across my jacket. The truth is that the person referred to as ‘Hamilton Salsich’ is not separate, not isolated, not solitary, but is always an inseparable part of the single, endless, ever-changing universe. What is called ‘I’ thinks and feels and does things because the universe thinks and feels and does things. The great system of winds blows across the earth, sending puffs of wind through the trees beside our house, and the vast assembly of miracles called the Universe (which is my name for ‘God’) dances in its smooth and ceaseless way, moving the life called ‘Hamilton Salsich’. Don’t get me wrong — I like my name, and we definitely need to name things to make daily life convenient for us, but I realize, all the while, that all names are just handy but basically meaningless labels for so-called ‘things’ that actually can never be separated from the endless dance of which they are a small but vital and utterly inseparable part.

(about Philip M., 89, Blessings, CT)
He received a new name today.
It says he is someone new,
someone with sunshine inside.
This new name never blames, only praises.
It wears its letters like a prince,
and lives inside him.
It’s a special name,
as special as the name of summer, or celebration.
Tomorrow he'll receive another new name,
and the next day, and the next.
This happens to you, too.

Taking Care of Minds

Theme for February: Resilience

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

        This morning, Delycia and I took a long walk along a trail in the Pequotsepos Preserve, and I couldn’t help but notice the wild tangle of trees, both standing and fallen, throughout the forest. For some reason, it flashed me back to my teaching days, and to the utterly tangled stories and poems I often pushed my students through, hoping they would be able to stick to the trail.  As their English teacher, I tried to encourage my students to take good care of their minds. I’m sure countless people advised them to take care of their bodies, but what about protection and provision for their minds? As I personally know quite well, a mind can fall into shabbiness and disorder as easily as a body, and a kind of cancer can grow among thoughts just as surely as among tissues and organs. My students, I felt, should be devoted to the health and wellbeing of their minds, and I tried to help them in that endeavor. I forced them to rigorously exercise their mind, just as their athletic coaches put them through their physical paces on the field and court.  I pushed them along the trails of seemingly inscrutable poems and mazelike stories, sometimes making them think themselves into exhaustion. I hoped they were gasping for their mental breath when a class period ended.  I also tried to feed their minds only the healthiest ‘foods’ during English class. We read the finest literature I could find – books that would bring stimulation and nourishment to their minds.  No fast-food poems, no take-out stories, no drive-through novels – only the kind of illuminated literature that would let a shaft of healthful light into their young minds. Of course, I also had to help them learn to bar their mental doors to thoughts that could be distracting during English class. Like all of us, stray ideas steadily passed through my students’ minds, and during an exhausting class inspection of a Faulkner short story, some of my students were surely tempted to welcome a roving daydream or two, whatever it might bring, as long as it’s something besides Faulkner. My job was to encourage them to be sentries at the doors of their minds, to stand guard at the entrances, permitting only thoughts fitting for the topic. I wanted them to be free thinkers but also stern coaches and trainers of their brains. I wanted them to leave each English class feeling like their minds were dog-tired, but more hale and hearty than ever. 

After our 3-mile walk through the inter-twisted forest this morning, wearing my heavy boots with micro-spikes attached (for the ice), I did feel more hale and hearty than ever — bone-weary, but glad I made the challenging journey, as I hoped my young students felt after a formidable march through some Shakespeare sonnets.

In Breaking, Alabama, USA
every year seems to shatter 
in its first few days, 
spewing out countless gifts for everyone, 
and each of its mornings splits apart 
so miracles can be made. 
Residents say they hear quiet cracks 
now and then
as life unfastens itself 
and offers them treasures. 
Sometimes love between friends 
splits apart so others can share it,
and bad news in Breaking 
usually, in due course, bursts 
into new and necessary wisdom. 
Surprisingly, success and awards 
in the town of Breaking
most often fracture 
and fall apart into 
simple, soft truth, 
which is too resilient to break. 

“Descanso Hedge Maze”, watercolor, by Belinda Del Pesco

In Homes

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Here’s a poem about one of the make-believe towns I’ve invented for my poetry:

(Homes, NH, USA)
In Homes, 
peace dwells in snowflakes that speak among the trees. 
Brother trees reside with sister winds. 
Wisdom lives in faces that shine. 
Strength lives in scenes of loveliness. 
The silence people need 
lives in this moment and that. 
Safety dwells in Homes 
where friendship walks.
You can live there 
in the wheatfields of kindness. 
You can live in the soft forest of generosity. 
You can live with all the doors open.

On Being Honored

Theme for February: Resilience

Sunday, February 21, 2021

When a celebrity recently gave thanks for the “large honor” she had received, I started saying silent thanks for all the large honors I’ve received, and am still receiving. For example, just the privilege of living on this astonishing planet in a cozy home with my devoted friend and wife, Delycia, who, lucky for me, loves me — what larger honors could I receive? Indeed, on some mornings, I wake up and think, in amazement: Can it be true? Do I really have the honor of being the husband of such a good woman, and the father of four marvelous children, and the grandfather of four equally marvelous grandchildren? That kind of good fortune seems almost unbelievable to me.  And each day I’m presented with an astounding world of skies and trees and streets and houses and people and parades of endlessly extraordinary (if not always happy) moments. Is this not a large daily honor for me? Plus, each day I have so many other privileges bestowed upon me – like being able to write a poem, and read some pages from a challenging book, and walk on a forest trail with Delycia, and sometimes ride our bikes together, and sometimes – my favorite these days – take a 5-mile walk at sunrise beside the Mystic River. Also, I spent 35 years teaching at Pine Point School in Stonington, CT, and I felt, right from the start, that it was a privilege for me – and an honor – to walk into my classroom at 89 Barnes Road each morning. Each day, I felt like someone had pinned a prestigious badge on me and said, “You have received the title of ‘Teacher of Young Adults at Pine Point’. Be grateful for this high honor.” And I was grateful, always, and still am – and grateful now, too, for the honor of being a very appreciative Pine Point School  retiree. And one more thing – I also feel quite privileged, now, to be 79-years-old. I feel like being elderly is truly an honor, and I send this message to my former students: Stay brave. One day you, too, might be honored with the ’79 Years of Lucky Living’ medal.              

Here is a photo of two very fortunate and grateful old-timers, taken on a recent 5-mile walk along the Mystic River.

Breaking Trails

Theme for February: Resilience

Saturday, February 20, 2021

On our one-hour sunrise walk today in the Denison Pequotsepos Peace Sanctuary, we often ‘broke trail’ over soft, newly-fallen snow, and, as we slowly stepped our way forward, I started thinking about other trails that are constantly being ‘broken’. Isn’t each new moment actually a brand new trail to take – a trail that literally never existed before? If I think untouched inches of new snow in a forest offers us a chance to start a fresh trail, what about present moments, each of which is like a pristine, unruffled layer of snow set down just for us? This morning, we stepped softly on the snow to start new trails, but we break new trails thousands of times each day as each unspoiled, flawless present moment spreads out before us .

Here are some scenes from this morning’s sunrise adventure …

And here's a poem from a few years ago 
about some other trails ... 

We climbed steep trails,
or maybe something
took us up the trails, 
something like our own lightheartedness,
or the fulsome light that seemed
to inspire the hills and the sea and ourselves,
or perhaps the universe itself took us up the trail,
because it's always spreading out and rising,
and because it's never finished,

and neither are we.
“Snowy Trail”, pastel, by Dave Kaphammer

Abbracadabra! Bouncing Back at 69

Theme for February: Resilience

Friday, February 19, 2021

After a difficult divorce in 1990, I struggled for awhile with serious gloom and grief, but as time passed, I slowly settled into a fairly pleasant life of not only singleness, but single-mindedness. My focus became strictly on me – on my career as a teacher, on my spiritual life, and on my grown children – and that firm focus unfolded into 20 very happy years for me. It was like life was a horseback ride, and I was riding the gentlest of all horses.  I often said to myself, “Hey, you couldn’t possibly be happier, Ham!”

Well … then … abracadabra! … one day, when I was 69-years-old, as I was sitting in my small and snug apartment, as happy as an easy-going rider, I heard a soft voice inside me say something like, “Try” “Who said that?” I wondered – and looked around, but I was the only one there. Then again the voice – or the thought – came again: “Try”. 

Well, I was sort of stunned – and transfixed – by that simple but bizarre thought. It was almost as though I was knocked off my peaceable horse – my easygoing, unattached life – and presto!, I was off, at almost 70, on a romp and caper. 

After signing up on the dating website, I received a reply the very next morning from a woman with the mysterious name of ‘Delycia’, asking if we might have what she called a ‘cuppa’ at the Natick Mall. Well, we had our ‘cuppa’, and it was as if I was – kablooey! – knocked off yet another horse, and when the fogginess from my fall cleared, there I was, sauntering along with this exquisite Delycia at the start of a celestial-style romance that has lasted, thus far, some ten fairy-tale years. Of course, there have been bounces and struggles, brays and whinnies, along the way, as in all good fairy tales, but even through the occasional disagreements and difficulties, a soft and steady light seems to always be shining, 

I’m glad I know what it’s like to be knocked – open sesame! – off a horse at the age of 69! 

(a poem about a make-believe town)
In Magic, Minnesota, USA, 
life makes a generous magic,
joining all the play therapies
this thoughtful world throws around
like it’s a manager of intelligent love,
like life is a gymnasium of advantageous magic,
of wizardry offered as prizes
for being a part of the easy, 
amusing games our universe provides for us,
including, for sure, 
in the bountiful town of Magic.

Some scenes from our 80-minute walk this morning on the snowy trails of the Denison Pequotsepos Preserve …

Wednesday, February 17, 2021


On our early morning walk today, we saw a most graceful sunrise, and so did the bald eagle in the photo below. Delycia and I walked a little over five miles at a lively pace, occasionally talking and sometimes glancing to the east to see the shades of color in the light slowly changing – but the bald eagle, whom we saw at about the two-mile mark, was just sitting on the very tip of a branch, sometimes turning its head, but always silently sitting, facing the rising sun. We stopped for a few minutes to watch the eagle and take some photos. Perhaps we were worshipping him while he was worshipping the sunrise.

(Sharon Z., 78, Blessings, CT)
She takes life by storm,
but it's a soft storm,
something like lightning,
but as cheerful and gentle as the joy
that usually shimmers inside her.
She throws herself at life,
but with love and lightness,
and life always lets its helpfulness
flow to her,
since they've settled
on being best of friends.
Sharon does her sweet-tempered storms
all day long,
storms of supportive words
that swirl softly inside people,
storms of smiles
as trustworthy as sunlight,
storms of understanding
that friends love loosening up in.
Her storms stir up
only peace and reassurance.
They damage only the dams
unkindness sets up.
Her house in Blessings
is a place of sympathetic storms.
You sense supple winds of helpfulness
in all the rooms.
“Bald Eagles”, watercolor, by James Lagasse