Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection


SCN_0096This view of cruising Portsmouth Harbor always reminds me of several French Impressionist masterpieces. Maybe it has something to do with the flag in motion.


Have to admit to some envy for a young acquaintance who’s off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

It’s a strenuous trek, backpacking the 2,663 miles through Washington, Oregon, and California – the Western counterpart to the older, iconic Appalachian Trail.

And it’s bound to be a totally different experience than he had on the AT.

I became acquainted with Samson as one of our lifeguards at Dover’s indoor swimming pool. And now he’s away for the summer, starting just a few miles from the Canadian border and heading south.

He’s promised to update us on his blog, Samson PCT. (PCT is the in-name for the trail. FYI.)

Here’s an invitation for you to follow his progress, too.

Not bad for a kid from a little north of New York City. My, oh my!


A well-designed fireworks display can be a thing of beauty. No matter its scale – whether vast as Boston over both banks of the Charles River – or small-scale like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, around its old mill pond or Needham, Massachusetts, assembled on the long lawn of its high school, the intelligent use of an imaginative palette and the use of the sky as a canvas canopy reaching from the ground to its zenith can turn into a piece of breathtaking performance art, a combination of fleeting painting and wordless theater.

What too often turns up, unfortunately, is largely senseless bang-bang-bang without any subtlety of timing and proportion. Think of a standup comic who can’t tell a joke. No pauses, no phrasing.

In contrast, I think instead of the revelation of a single burst of color – perhaps a small tulip, in the terminology of pyrotechnics – followed in the same spot in the sky by another and then another. In the process, the shots run through the color wheel like slivers of rainbow. And then it’s repeated, with two identical bursts side by side – red turning to orange turning to yellow turning to green turning to blue turning to purple. Simple, elegant, commanding.

Do that right and you’ve announced that what follows will be amazing. You’ll lead the eyes all over the sky – up and up, out, back down, just over the crowd, and back up again. Small that expands beyond the ability to take it all in — or the opposite, leading your eyes to a vanishing point. You’ll create movements the way a symphony or sonata does – each one distinct yet playing off the one before. (Well, Boston’s was traditionally designed to fit music – each section, a song or overture or dance. Now that’s impressive! Oh, and we’d listen along with our radios — everywhere, tuned to the classical station.)

Think, too, that many of the traditional fireworks are named for flowers – blooms that open and then fade, often into another. Hyacinths to chrysanthemums to … well, to see how it works the other way, try this link to flowers arranged to look like fireworks by Sarah Illenburger. Pretty amazing. I appreciate her illustration of how fireworks don’t have to be gaudy greens, reds, and yellows. The more sophisticated designers blend colors into dark brooding as well as shimmering pastels. One memorable show consisted largely of silvers and golds. What was I saying about imaginative design?

A pyrotechnics show works in another dimension as well – it’s a time of public gathering and celebration. Apart from whatever’s happening on your blanket in the dark, there’s nothing private about it. (And we’ll assume you’re jammed in with others.) You can’t do it in your house, at least safely. So it’s a time of community spirit. Even pride. And in the United States, that means the Fourth of July. (The northern half of the country’s just too cold during much of the year to assemble outdoors at night, so this one comes at a perfect time of summer. Not that we don’t try.)

For Dover, where I live, though, the event points up one of the geographic shortcomings of my city. We just don’t have the right spot to mount the event, much less to design it to do much more than the old bang-bang-bang honky-tonk.

Some years, it’s launched from the top of Garrison Hill, where the shots can be seen from much of the city – if trees, houses, or other obstacles don’t block your view from below. Some years, it’s at the high school, but that’s not centrally located. Since few people can walk there, that creates a traffic problem and erodes much of a small-town feeling befitting its scale. Dover’s not an unfocused suburb the way this site suggests.

Downtown along the river would be ideal, if there were only a proper spot. The riverfront park is narrow, though, and too near the old mills, the nearest one once the scene of a disastrous fire. One possibility a little downstream is a gravel-strewn lot awaiting development, but it has little easy access. One elementary school that might do is in a residential area that would not welcome a crowd.

So here we are. If I watch the show, I’ll just get angry, knowing what could be done with the resources in the right setting. As I was saying about the single tulip? It needs the right setting to be appreciated.


The supermarket checkout express lane can trigger some hot buttons for me.

One, of course, is the customer who plops 15 or 20 items on the conveyor belt when there’s a state 12 Items max limit. The poor clerk’s not going to bounce them. It’s simply the rudeness to the rest of us that bugs me.

Another is the use of credit cards, when permitted. It slows everything down.

The other day, though, there was a geezer who cut in front of a girl with a shopping cart. She was, from appearances, a quiet teen.

“Excuse me,” I said, “There’s a girl in front of you.”

“I can’t hear you,” he replied.

So I repeated the situation.

“Mind your own business,” he retorted.

We were all shocked.

“You can go in front of me,” she finally said.

Any suggestions for how to handle this?

He’s an embarrassment to all geezers, am I not mistaken?

I’m still miffed. Whatever happened to manners?



Built for a railroad, this span's been refurbished for more pedestrian pleasures. It's a beauty, sometimes gentle, sometimes dramatic, always welcoming on a morning stroll.

Built for a railroad, this span’s been refurbished for more pedestrian pleasures. It’s a beauty, sometimes gentle, sometimes dramatic, always welcoming on a morning stroll.

I love the views from below, too.

I love the views from below, too.


Always, a central weathervane.

Always, a central weathervane.

The street winds through the old complex.

The street winds through the old complex.

While the Cocheco Millworks in downtown Dover anchor the center of the town, the Sawyers Mill complex is tucked away on the Bellamy River.

Both the Cocheco and Bellamy form the flanks of Dover Point as they flow toward the sea.

Worker housing.

Worker housing.


The conditions that created the desert where we lived created what was sometimes called a “rain shadow.” It was ironic, actually, considering that we got far more sunlight by living on that side of the Cascade Mountains than if we’d been in, what, the rain glow?

Sometimes, though, it seemed to dry up all of our emotions, too.

A journey into the murky places of endless fog, mist, and rain, in contrast, could do wonders in the soul.


Olympus 1For a free copy of the complete American Olympus, click here.


Fair warning, especially when there's no backup.

Fair warning, especially when there’s no backup.

Drivers from other parts of the world are often terrified by New England’s use of traffic circles at busy intersections. We’re not the only people to use them – Washington, D.C., has some of the worst – but they do become landmarks. In New Hampshire, for instance, a set of directions might mention the Portsmouth Traffic Circle, or the one at Epsom or Stratham or Alton or Lee, shown here.

It's when you add traffic that things get fun.

It’s when you add traffic that things get fun.

Other terms for the routing around a central island include “rotaries” and “roundabouts.” What Romans call theirs would be unprintable in a family-friendly blog like this.



The tradition of New England contradancing flourishes inside the Scout House in Concord, Massachusetts – a former barn now owned by the Girl Scouts and rented out by the folklore enthusiasts. Monday nights are legendary, and weekends are packed.

The tradition of New England contradancing flourishes inside the Scout House in Concord, Massachusetts – a former barn now owned by the Girl Scouts and rented out by the folklore enthusiasts. Monday nights are legendary, and weekends are packed.

Seen from the side.

Seen from the side.





The semi-divine mythic piper from the American Southwest takes a trip northward, to taste the Northwest’s orchards of apples, cherries, apricots, pears, and peaches. Along the way, he meets up with an Irish fiddler. This is what they discover together, earning their way playing dances, especially, all across the inland desert. Listen to their song, now.


The fiddler, after all, was a giant cricket with a horsehair wand and an imaginatively shaped thin wooden box. Not to be outdone, Kokopelli’s pipes were created from a variety of materials, depending. Some were glazed clay and others, carved wood, while newer ones came in PVC and shiny metals, but his favorites remained the ones fashioned from bone — large animals and even human. Still, these two said nothing of that or even the music and dance biz. Instead, these two musicians set about playing together.

And so it went, a Procession for the Wise Women and then a Reel. A Fertility Song and then a Jig. A Dance for Young Warriors and a Hornpipe. Hour after hour, they filled the clear air with their tunes. And when they finally looked up, they saw they had attracted an audience, and then the word spread. They were invited to play at weddings and funerals and dances and feasts. And so, for an all too brief time, they toured together before departing for their homes, each by his own door.

I was the fiddler.


A desert is an unrelenting experience.

Decades later, the encounter continues to haunt me.

Here are my field notes.

Notes, I also find, becoming music.


Kokopelli 1For a free copy of my newest novel, click here.


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