WITH THE SUMMIT SOMEWHERE ABOVE

Let me confess to struggling with the preposition for the title of this collection.

The initial thought was of being atop a mountain, with its panoramic views. But that runs the danger of suggesting superiority, submission of nature to man’s will, or placing more value on a given result rather than the process of getting there (and back). The climb, I’ll contend, is purification for what lies ahead.

An alternative “on the mountain” allows for the sense of having one’s feet on a trail or even presenting a series somehow “about” the mountain as a set of explanations.

I settled on “under” for its sense of looking upward, in awe or even reverence, as well as the fact that even in mountainous terrain, we live in the valley, with some degree of protection from the elements. Where the streams come down and weave their threaded branches together. Where at times the clouds nestle in. Where the eyes wander from the summit.

Mountain 1~*~

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IF YOU MAKE THE EFFORT

Food, shelter, clothing, bedding, cooking gear, toiletries, maps and guidebooks – everything practical, collected, focused – fit on your back. You’re as free as can be, if you make the effort.

Each trek is a revelation you pack home.

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Back Pack 1

~*~

 

HERE COMES COMPANY

Chief Seattle, who appears in the Grilled Salmon section of this poetry collection, is an elusive figure in American history. Whether he pulled a fast one is another question, but he did get a major city named in his honor.

As for his role here?

I enjoy his company. I hope you do, too.

Olympus 1~*~

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HEEDING THE GHOSTS OF CLEVELAND

If anything erupts in Cleveland, we may see smoke harking back to the crowded hotel rooms of an earlier era. Or its blue-gray floating past us might be another specter altogether.

In selecting Quicken Loans Arena for what was supposed to be the coronation of Jeb Bush as its presidential nominee, the Republican Party had no doubt intended to do more than woo a crucial swing state in the November election. The spotlight would have been on the turnaround of a big city not long ago called “the mistake on the lake,” noting its 1969 fire on the polluted Cuyahoga River and the massive 1978 default on municipal loans as well as the struggles of its once-proud professional football and baseball teams. The mighty industrial hub had indeed fallen on hard times, especially as domestic steelmakers collapsed and turned much of the Midwest into a Rust Belt around the same time many whites fled the city for the suburbs, leaving a host of racial challenges in their wake.

Unlike Detroit, Cleveland can point to some progress, which will no doubt be touted. As for manufacturing, it’s bound to be another issue. The city’s once mighty corporations are largely gone. Ghosts of a sort.

There is an irony, though, when we look at the city’s history and the controversy surrounding the presumed nominee, Donald Trump. We’ve already heard rumblings about a brokered convention or of king-makers clustering over cigars in smoky hotel rooms to deal themselves out of a deadlock. Cleveland has a history there, with industrialist Mark Hanna recognized as a key Republican player. Will these ghosts raise their spooky heads?

In the years after the Civil War, Ohio produced seven American presidents. Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, William McKinley, and Warren G. Harding came from Cleveland’s half of the state, flowing into Lake Erie, while Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, and William Howard Taft came from the southern half, dominated by Cincinnati along the Ohio River. Two of those presidents were assassinated. Still, the Buckeye State was a beehive of invention and enterprise, positioned between the East Coast and booming centers like Chicago, Kansas City, and St. Louis to the west.

Hanna wasn’t the only big money player, either. Remember, John D. Rockefeller, co-founder of Standard Oil Co., grew up and lived here, too, and even after antitrust suits broke up his monopoly, the city was long the headquarters of petroleum giant Sohio (Standard Oil Co. of Ohio), before it got gobbled up by BP (British Petroleum).

Cleveland’s proximity to Pittsburgh meant the big players could indeed meet over expensive cigars. It was, after all, steel baron Henry Clay Frick, a Rockefeller aide, who said of Theodore Roosevelt after the 1904 election, “We bought the son of a bitch, but he wouldn’t stay bought.”

There may well be other ghosts. Robert Taft, the conservative standard-bearer from Cincinnati, for one, in his bitter loss to the more moderate Dwight D. Eisenhower – there’s always that question of ideological purity – or of Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare haunting the party and nation.

Of course, the very mention of loans in the convention site name itself will raise other suspicions. This thing keeps circling back to money, to say nothing of an inflated ego that brags of being loaded. Even Jeb and his record campaign treasure chest might be seen as ghosts running through this convention.

This is getting pretty ghastly, indeed. And we’re still a long way off from Halloween.

WHY I’M SKIPPING MY HIGH SCHOOL REUNION

With the 50th anniversary of my high school class graduation coming up next month, I’ve found myself debating whether to attend.

Some of the conflict is spurred by tight personal finances these days – the event’s 900 miles from where I now live, a 15-hour drive each way in an auto that already has 270,000 miles on its odometer. Flying and then renting a car would be more practical but also more expensive. And that’s before we get to the event admission and related costs. Frankly, I’d rather spend the money on a couple of weekend escapes with my wife.

Scheduling adds its own complication. The reunion’s set for shortly after the annual session of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, where I’ll spend an intense week in Vermont attending to Quaker business. Add to that that my local Friends Meeting is planning its own retreat right the same time as the reunion. That’s a lot of time away from home just about the time the ocean here is finally warm enough for some brisk swimming. Why would I want to be in hot, humid Ohio when I could be at a refreshing seaside in nearby Maine?

When I broached the subject with a fellow choir member, he turned the focus slightly by asking if there was anyone I particularly wanted to see and talk with and then told of his own experience at his 10th anniversary class reunion where he found himself brushed off by those he wanted to speak with and was then stuck amid those with whom he had nothing in common. This had me realizing I’ve been out of touch with everyone for decades now, and when I tried to reconnect via email a decade ago – after the 40th reunion – there was no acknowledgement. My curiosity about what’s happened to many of the members has found answers online. More than anything, I’m sensing, is that any inclination to attend is being compelled by a perceived duty – I did hold some leadership roles as editor-in-chief of the newspaper and in a handful of clubs.

As I ponder the event, I’m also realizing my high school years were not particularly happy or even intellectually stimulating, apart from a few special teachers. Do I want to open those emotions, then?

Or would I want to go simply to brag, “Look how far I’ve come since!” I’m not sure that would be particularly welcome or rewarding.

Any advice? Or similar insights to share? Is this even a necessary rite of passage? Do tell!

WITH GRATITUDE FOR THE INSPIRATION

You know the disclaimer, “Any resemblance of the characters to real people living or dead …” Something along the lines of purely unintentional.

But let’s be frank. The fiction is that you can create a character without having someone real in front of you, somewhere in your past or present. No, you need flesh and blood somewhere. Anything else would be a caricature.

It’s a special problem when you’re composing in a semi-autobiographical vein. You’re trying to be true to the dictum, Write about what you know. The details, especially.

(Oh? What, then, makes it fiction? Other than changing a few dates?)

Admittedly, the personalities work best when you take your inspiration and abstract it, so that a real individual would no longer recognize himself or herself – or those who were no way involved will imagine they, themselves, were.

And, by way of further confession, I’ll note that my most recent outings have led me to new characters lacking immediate introductions for me – but I’ll know them when I meet them if I haven’t already come across them here and there in pieces.

But back to the argument at hand.

I have one character, Nita, who runs through four of my five Hippie Trails novels and is a major character in the new one I’m writing, set years later. She was inspired by impressions I had of a friend’s girlfriend – or more accurately, mostly his impressions conveyed to me at the time – as I sat down to draft a half-dozen years or so later. She becomes a catalyst for much that happens around her.

In reality, we all drifted away.

And then, a few years ago, I met her again.

Nothing like I’d remembered. Or the idealized character in my fiction, now infused with another two or three people I’ve met. The lines blur.

I can say this person never did X, Y, or Z, unlike the character. Or that these two worked together on a controversial project or became known for certain accomplishments. In fact, she doesn’t resemble the other one at all, not anymore, if she ever did.

Still, it’s an eerie feeling. Something other than deja vu. Something still spurring gratitude for the inspiration.

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~*~