Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection


today I don’t want to do anything
very wet forecast 4½ inches of rain
a wild week with some gorgeous days
much color coming on

the early touches of swamp maples or blueberry foliage
now blown into prime color

apple-picking afternoon
cold nights
the prolonged skunk smell

new style orchard, pruned for center growth
and a twelve-foot pipe support

weather swings

the tapestry, Belknap Mill


such incredible foliage at the barn window
over the smoking garden, two yellows
one pale, the other golden
with intense blue sky and slate branches
a palette of four colors

the remaining foliage now pale yellow or dull tan
a brooding sense of November

a blue cloudless sky against mostly yellow foliage
of what remains

how quickly the foliage moves to November bronze
the remnant on the branches

the window / the field dull, tawny or shadowy
with a spray of bronze (leaves

the distance reasserting itself as the dominant range
in the field of vision

November windy, shifting from west to east
(the smoke indication) seen from abed

whirlwind of leaves

late fall, we still have some flowers in bloom
I picked a pink rosebud . green parsley, too
plus clover and dandelion for the rabbit

an old oak at the meetinghouse crashed in a storm
so large, you anticipate a lot of boardfeet, sectioned
except so much of the trunk is hollow
a whole set of other value
animal holes, homes, insects
the foliage and limbs, all the same . in God’s eyes?

or my soul, it’s not yet winter
or even Christmas
too warm, mostly, and no wood fire
yes, that’s it

the sunsets begin coming later by mid-December
before the solstice

first day of winter, I walk in the snow
another storm, a blizzard, moving up the coast
only a few inches here, yet we’ve had snow cover
most of the month

Christmas Eve freezing rain
the icicles reach down to the first-floor windows
upstairs, they largely block any view

we’ve come through the deep freeze intact
without frozen pipes
although the hot water faucet in the bedroom vanity
no longer shuts completely

great to have the dishwasher back, too

awaken to fresh snow piled high on the branches
even the bird feeder perches

trim the hedges in the snow

in a breeze a single bronze leaf flickers
a flame over snow

(late spring) the ground clears
and during the dance
snow returns
another twelve inches by noon (April 5)

To continue, click here.
Copyright 2015


Let’s be honest. We have days like this. Ones where we wish we didn’t have to deal with these a#!/?\*s. You know the ones I mean, even if you live halfway around the globe. They’re one and the same.

But we’re all in this together. No matter what they think.

Now, what can we do together … to solve the real problems we’re all facing?

Well, that’s how it too often feels. But could another take give us a healthier way of dealing?

Suupose, for example, what if we’re all nuts?

Not just the others, the ones all around us who leave us pondering the rampant lunacy. (Not just in politics or the workplace, either. The highways are full of them. As for the checkout line at the store?)

No, what if we who’ve thought ourselves responsible and sane, are really the looniest of all?

Might we enjoy life more if we joined the out-to-lunch club?


Close to home, I’m seeing how trying to cope with an elderly family member afflicted with advancing dementia can put the caregiver in a tailspin. Somehow there must be a better way to span their alternative outlook and our reality without losing our own balance or course of action. Is it possible to enter their world and still stay grounded?

Just why am I here, anyway? What am I supposed to be doing? Or, as my dad used to ask when looking at his nursing home, “Who’s paying for this hotel? Who’s paying for this dinner?”

From my perspective, he seemed to be trapped in a dream that would rarely allow him to waken. As much as I love good dreams, I anticipate and appreciate the clarity of a wakeful state.

But then I write and read fiction and poetry, and maybe they bridge these awarenesses in alternate worlds. And I meditate, which enters other realms as well, at least as far as most people are concerned.


So here I am, still trying to make sense of it all. Maybe it’s time to reread some of those old stories about celebrated lunatic Zen monks. Think we’d find a clue there? Loud laughter, after all! Unexpected twists in everyday perception!

Stuck with a similar diagnosis, I’d want to be the one filled with childish delight in the trip. Maybe the one lost in a world of prayer for the world and all within it. Maybe I shouldn’t even wait – start now to look at all my surroundings with such wonder.

I’m open to other perspectives and suggestions. Anyone else on board here?


We’ve not yet rented one of those green dumpsters that so often accompany a renovation project. To date, at least, that’s been one expense we’ve skipped. Yes, I’ve learned about the recycling center, as it’s called – in the old days, town dump was the term – except that now these things are hauled off somewhere else.

What it does mean is that we have temporary mounds of debris until I can borrow a pickup truck or find some new use for the waste.

With the bathroom and utility room projects, I kept pondering secondary uses for all the tile we ripped from the walls and floors. Any ideas? Can’t see using it as fill if there’s any possibility someone might want to dig there in the future. And yet?

As for the wood, I’d love to just have a big bonfire but know I’d never get a permit from the fire marshal. Alas.

Old piping, wiring, vents, fans, other mechanical parts, insulation, lathe … it all adds up.

The old drywall, at least, will disintegrate in the garden, and it’s a good source of lime to loosen up our clay soil. I’ll be using that stack on the new raised beds we’re planning for flowers.

As I blog about this, please remember I have no intention of speaking as an expert or saying this is how it is done, step by step. Far from it! Instead, these are simply the confessions of someone who’s fallen into the situation of being the owner of an old house – and whose abilities and interests fall far more into literary or theological realms than those of more pressing domestic matters. So much, it turns out, is a matter of muddling through. Or as one expert replied when asked where we were going with one problem: “We’ll know when we get there.”

OK, we did get that overbuilt monolith out from the doorsill we needed to repair and left it on the other side of the driveway. Six months later, I finally buried it – all 500 pounds – in a hole. We’re still thinking of building a gazebo above it. Now there’s one project I think I can handle!


My poems on the challenges of renovations, repairs, and relating as a husband are collected as Home Maintenance, a free ebook at Thistle/Flinch editions.


Newburyport, Massachusetts

Newburyport, Massachusetts


We wanted to change the world, but it nearly cost us our soul.

Once vaunted powers, the nation’s metropolitan dailies shaped public opinion and daily conversation everywhere. You had to read at least one. Maybe two.

We could accept the low pay, long hours, evenings, weekends, and holidays. Even the career steps through Podunk outposts on the way up.

But then the whole field started crumbling. The corporate chains bought out the family owners. The bean counters kept cutting to the bone. And then further.

None of them wanted to rock the boat, much less run against the tide or easy pickings. Change the world? Not with the fat profit margins they were making.

With few exceptions, the press today is a shadow of what it once was.

So who’s holding watch? We can worry. For all the reasons I detail in my novel, however surreal in the telling.


For my novel, click here.


As I said at the time …

What? I wasn’t your first experience with overwhelming romance? Now I’m offended! And I didn’t propose? Believe me, I would have, if I’d thought there was any possibility you would have said yes. Well, in retrospect, maybe after all of those mushy Europeans, I had good reason to be a bit cautious. I was cautious, wasn’t I? (Well, according to my notes, not as cautious as I would have thought on our first meeting.) At least I didn’t SING! Or play violin. (OK, I’m trying to be funny. Or lighthearted – and I’m not even making a viola joke. Although I am a bit envious of anyone who’s played in an orchestra.) But you were definitely the most together woman I’d been with up to then, and many times later. Which is, as my wife would say, damning by faint praise – as I look back, I realize “sad” was often a synonym for “feminine.” Or the underlying current of my mother and the suppression of my emotional side. The next closest in the most-together department up to you was someone who’d just turned 17, and that was a whirlwind earlier that summer before I met you. (As I said, some of the events of this period are eye-opening.)

Blue_Rock ~*~

For the poems, click here.


When I see this …

Brunswick, Maine

Brunswick, Maine

… I think of this.

Inca 1For the free ebook novel and more, click here.


Eyes narrow
in the dusk. Freckles vanish, her skin
grows milky, and her eyes turn bizarrely somber.
Parading your tally of curlicue sugarbush
was a transgression.
This clutter of crockery on a statuary hillside
is no tabernacle. Who shall abide legislation
flitting across crumbled accordions
yawning in taut failure?
Large flakes blur addresses and phone numbers.
It’s difficult to leave
“the centre of an extensive business in piracy,
privateering, smuggling, and legitimate trade.”
Once I had my license, such a red mane and freckles
almost surpassed the supple flag-waving
cheerleader I barely dated.

The Victorian Christmas overrides
Puritan objections.
At last, a man becomes weepy.

I’ve fancied a dance partner for life.
Draw me closer.

To continue, click here.
Copyright 2015
Poem originally appeared in Wings


Among the historic divisions among Friends, none were more traumatic than the Hicksite-Orthodox separations, 1826-27. While New England and North Carolina were spared, most other American yearly meetings were torn in two. The reasons were deep and complicated – often along socio-economic and geographic lines. Subsistence versus commercial farming, artistan-craftsmen versus industrialists, rural versus urban, traditional versus forward-looking, tensions between having the polity of Friends lodged within the monthly meeting or at the yearly meeting level, even language itself, one holding to old expressions versus those wanting to embrace a new evangelical ecumenism.

We were not alone. The Puritan legacy, for instance, splintered into Congregationalists and Unitarians about the same time we Quakers split, theirs ostensibly over naming the president to head, first, Dartmouth College and then Harvard. The Dunkers (or German Baptist Brethren), meanwhile, managed to hold together, although their tensions would finally reappear in the 1880s, leading to a five-way split, producing the Church of the Brethren – about the same time many Friends began turning to pastor-led programmed worship. Curiously, the Brethren, laboring under a single yearly meeting, faced major tensions between the Eastern, old-fashioned members and the “Western” (west of the Appalachian Mountains) progressives – the same lineup that Friends would see in the quietist versus pastoral worship styles, with our Western Yearly Meetings going programmed and the Eastern ones largely holding to tradition.

These tensions were fueled by and reflected in many larger societal issues. In politics, the Jacksonians reflected the emergence of westward expansion. In religion, the Great Awakening first blazed through New England (sometimes as the New Lights movement) before igniting in Kentucky and the newly settled regions. In the economy, the industrial revolution was well under way.

For Quakers, the divisions essentially shut down the itinerant ministry from traveling Friends, which had kept the central messages of the faith and practice intact. That loss no doubt played into the emergence of the pastoral system in places where Friends were settling, rather than long settled. Another loss was a breakdown in the sharing of epistles and other written material. We no longer had a common vision to express or unite behind.

I reflect on these not so much as history but as a recognition that our larger society is in one of those watershed transitions – as our presentations and discussions on envisioning the future have suggested. How do we parlay what’s been entrusted to us into the future? Will Friends, as a whole, respond with radically new worship, organization, expression? Will we be sufficiently open to be led where we are needed? Of course, Israel under Roman occupation turned out to be another of those watershed moments, spreading both Judaism and the newly emerging Christianity across the empire. But that’s a much larger and more complicated story, except for the fact that we’re Friends as a consequence.

Or, as old Quakers would say, “Christ is come and coming.” It’s more than “Season’s Greetings,” after all.


It’s supposed to be a guy thing, I know. At least in the widespread expectations. This matter of home repair – carpentry, electrical, plumbing, roofing, and the like. Any of us can do it – or so we think.

It also explains a lot of what we’ve uncovered whenever we engage a new project in this house. And the common response, from anyone on the job now: What were they thinking?

Even I can see a lot of shoddy workmanship. As one example, let me mention the wildly askew joists, previously hidden by ceiling, that had never been attached to the wall. Why hadn’t they blown away years ago? We’d been lucky.

Don’t tell me about the “good old days,” either, or how much better things were done back then. There are solid reasons we’ve enacted building codes and now license electricians and plumbers, among others. As for apprenticeships?

What I do admire in our home upgrade undertakings is the skills many of these individuals bring to the task. As one Friend once articulated during worship, as a carpenter he’s come to recognize that each project is different and requires original problem-solving – it’s what he enjoys. What he didn’t add was the range of skills he also brings to the matter at hand, the recognition that you can tackle it this way or that way, certain tools are better suited at this point, or even the accumulated experience that immediately notices something the rest of us overlook entirely.


By the way, we’re still wondering about that paper plate we found, face up, in the gap as we ripped up the bathroom flooring. It was pretty much under the sink, or where the sink  had been.

Who’d left it there and how long ago? Back in the ’80s or ’90s? Or was it in the ’60s, when so much of the house was redone?

I’m tempted to blame a squirrel or one of the kids growing up here. Or just a careless worker.

Oh, the mysteries we uncover in a project like this!


My poems on the challenges of renovations, repairs, and relating as a husband are collected as Home Maintenance, a free ebook at Thistle/Flinch editions.