Thursday, August 3, 2017

Pairing a photo I took in Montana with a Gary Snyder poem

For All
Ah to be alive
on a mid-September morn
fording a stream
barefoot, pants rolled up,
holding boots, pack on,
sunshine, ice in the shallows,
northern rockies.

Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters
stones turn underfoot, small and hard as toes
cold nose dripping
singing inside
creek music, heart music,
smell of sun on gravel.

I pledge allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the soil
of Turtle Island,
and to the beings who thereon dwell
one ecosystem
in diversity
under the sun
With joyful interpenetration for all.

                                    --Gary Snyder


[What an extraordinary poem--by one of America's greatest living poets! Gary Snyder captures it exactly right. This poem passes the envy test where you say, "I wish I had written that one!" The photo was taken by me on July 14th, 2017, and shows Carolan and Linda crossing the cold, cold Morrison Creek in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana. We were on our 14-mile trek from the Morrison Creek Trailhead to the Schafer Meadows Forest Service Station--a very difficult hike for Linda and me (and maybe a routine one for Carolan, who is in superb shape). The water of Morrison Creek is fast-flowing and perfectly clear. It contains meltwater from snowpacks melting atop the high mountains in the Great Bear Wilderness section of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. I'm guessing the water temperature was in the low 40s. It was painful (my feet and legs ached from the cold), exhilarating, and unforgettable.

Gary Snyder reminds me why I still try to write poetry. Once in a while, you get it perfectly right, as he did here.]

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Fr. Paul Desch, OFM. A Great Blessing for the World. 1929-2017.

Fr. Paul Desch, OFM

This past Tuesday, July 25, 2017, we attended the wake and funeral for Fr. Paul Desch, a Franciscan friar, the great uncle of my son-in-law Brian Homan, and the priest who presided at my daughter Emily's wedding to Brian. The funeral and wake were held at beautiful St. Clement's Church, in the Cincinnati inner-ring suburb of St. Bernard. This is the town where my father-in-law Art Sanders grew up. I think he attended both St. Clement's School for grade school and nearby Roger Bacon High School.
St. Clement, as seen from Vine Street

At Fr. Paul's funeral, St. Clement Church

The wake lasted but an hour and was held in the gathering space of the Church. The place was packed with friars, relatives, and friends, and many people spoke of how Fr. Paul affected their lives. Three special people there were his sister Mary Desch Sowar, and his two brothers. I thought how much they would miss their brother, whom they had known for over 80 years, through umpteen family baptisms, weddings, and funerals where he presided. Not to mention the letters, phone calls, and face-to-face conversations they had with him over 8 decades. The same would be true for his beloved Franciscan brothers, his second family. He had been a Franciscan since 1947, 70 years. The homily at the funeral was given by his dear friend, Fr. Paul Walsman, OFM, who first met Paul as a Freshman in the seminary (when Paul was a Junior). The homily was beautiful. Not exactly eloquent, but human, fun, and deeply touching. Father even sang--something Fr. Paul Desch often did, at mass and during homilies. I imagined how pleased Francis of Assisi would have been with these two priests.

Fr. Paul was actually named Thomas at birth (born in Fresno, California) and didn't receive his religious name, Paul, until he joined the Franciscans. His family had moved from Coldwater, Ohio, a heavily German-Catholic area of west-central Ohio, with the goal of curing his father's tuberculosis. After a few years, they moved back to the Coldwater area.

Thomas/Paul was an outstanding athlete and student in high school at St. Francis Seminary. After this high school seminary (a practice that I don't think is done anymore--high school seminary), Paul attended Duns Scotus College in Southfield, Michigan, where he made his solemn vows in 1951. After college Paul studied at Holy Family Theologate and was ordained a priest on June 8, 1956. So he was a priest for 60+ years.

Paul had many different jobs in his career, from college professor, to campus minister, to parish priest and pastor. I just missed meeting him many times--at St. Francis Church in Over-the Rhine (Cincinnati), and at the St. George Newman Center, adjacent to the University of Cincinnati. I attended St. George and knew two of the priests there, Fr. Joe Rigali, OFM, and Fr. Harry Meyer, a priest of the Diocese of Cincinnati. Fr. Harry presided at Linda and my wedding on May 5, 1978. Little did I know that Fr. Paul Desch was a campus minister there right at that time.

My daughter Emily met Fr. Paul before I did at functions involving the Desch, Sowar, and Homan families. I met him for the first time at Emily and Brian's wedding rehearsal. And then the next day at the wedding and reception. Fr. Paul's homily at their wedding was unforgettable. His sermon was sweet, and personal, and filled with song. He sang, from the pulpit, the German folksong "Du, du, liegst mir im Herzen." This was so appropriate because Em and Brian met in Salzburg, Austria in a German-language study abroad semester. The words of the song say something like, "you, you, lie in my heart; you, you, stay in my mind . . .you don't know how good I am to/for you." Brian and Emily were, and are, good for each other. Fr. Paul captured it. No one will ever forget that homily.
Emily, Fr. Paul, Brian Homan

The funeral mass was full of song ("Amazing Grace," "Sing a New Song," "How Can I Keep from Singing," "I Am the Bread of Life"). Everyone in church sang (and the church was full!). The songs were beautiful and helped send Fr. Paul on his way toward union with God and union with those whose lives he touched. Two were in Latin, and I especially loved them. One was "Ultima," a traditional Franciscan hymn--about the day our lives end and the day we are led into heaven. The other was "Salve Regina," a prayer I said every day of my growing up years as the "Hail Holy Queen." I felt deeply the beauty of the Church and its rituals and traditions.

Fr. Paul is gone. We are both deeply sad--and deeply grateful for his life. What do we do now? Somehow, we have to take on aspects of his life and spirit . . . and sing them out in our own lives.

Eternal rest grant unto Paul, O Lord.

And perpetual light shine upon him!

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Great Blueberry Harvest of 2017--a Poem

Blueberry Harvest

Spectacular this year
Every bush heavy laden with blueberries
Every hue of blue, light blue, sky blue, navy,
Blue-black, midnight blue,

If you’re blue, try eating these berries,

Luscious, puffed-up by early summer rains,
Sweet (and tart!) and so delicious that I salivate
At the very sight!

I pick them—or rather, they practically fall off the bush, unbidden,
Into my jar. The big ones don’t make it, though—
I pop them into my mouth as quick as a blue heron
Spears a blue gill.

These berries are going to marry my breakfast cereal,
Drop into pancake batter,
Mix with yogurt,
Avalanche over shortcake,

And stain my blue blue tongue!

Bob Coughlin / July 10, 2017

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Birthday Poem

Birthday Poem for Linda Rose

Can you imagine this?

We get to celebrate you and your birthday
In High Summer
When the day lilies line the lanes of Geauga County,
And the blue chicory sing out the joy of being alive,
Daisies and black-eyed Susans add their pop to the landscape,
Peace Rose rises,
And Lake Erie sparkles and glows in July sun . . .

And we sing thanks for your sweet life
And constant gifts of kindness and goodness

To your children,
Your grandchildren (who love you to the moon and back),
Your friends and family,
To the hungry, homeless, and lonely,

And to me, lucky dog, so amazed by your constant love and care . . . 

O Linda,
We celebrate your birthday 

and your blessèd life!

                                                Bob Coughlin / July 7, 2017

To see the poems I read at the July 8, 2017 Poetry in the Park program,
click here.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Chapin Forest and the Beautiful Metro Parks of Northeast Ohio

I've been "training" for a 14-mile (28 miles round trip) hike into Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness. Since I am 69 years old, such a long trip into the Wilderness is a serious matter. I have to be physically and mentally prepared for the challenge. To get ready I've been doing long hikes in Metroparks all around the East Side of Cleveland--the Cleveland Metroparks, the Lake County Metroparks, and the Geauga County Metroparks. I love all these park systems. The Cleveland system is the biggest and oldest, and it is magnificent. I've been hiking the North Chagrin Reservation, an awesome assemblage of forests, meadows, streams, ponds, and picnic areas. And I've been going into this huge park since I was a little kid growing up in Euclid. I love Squire's Castle, Strawberry Lane, Forest Lane, Sunset Pond, and all the trails and the wonderful diverse woods and ravines in North Chagrin. I hiked seven miles there yesterday, a great day.

Earlier this week I hiked the length of Chapin Forest in Kirtland, Ohio.

Besides a rich woods of sugar maple, beech, black cherry, red oak, and myriad other trees and shrubs, Chapin has some unusual geological features. It has caves and ledges, and a lot of rock called Sharon Conglomerate, a sandstone filled with luckystones (rounded milky quartz stones). The luckystones are one of the characteristic features of our Lake Erie beaches--they are found in Cuyahoga, Lake, and Ashtabula Counties (and probably on beaches in Pennsylvania and New York)--and nowhere else that I know of. As a toddler in Willoughby, Ohio, we would collect luckystones, put them under our pillows at night, and trick the tooth fairy. This always worked--as long as we told my Grampa about the plan.

Here is a photo I took of Sharon Conglomerate:

Another wonderful feature of Chapin Forest is Gildersleve Mountain, a high hill in the Forest that looks north to Lake Erie, rising 593 feet above the Big Lake, 6.7 miles to the north. Part of the hill has been quarried, so there is a precipitous drop-off at the top. By the way, very few people know the name "Gildersleve Mountain." It is part of local lore and it needs to be preserved. Here is a view of the lake from Gildersleve. My cell phone camera cannot do it justice. On a clear day you can see 18 miles to the skyscrapers in downtown Cleveland. An odd thing is that it looks like the entire area is a forest, when it is really a large, densely populated city. It brings to mind the old nickname of Cleveland: the "Forest City."

About 1.5 miles from Gildersleve is another historic quarry, where the stone for the Kirtland Mormon Temple was quarried in the early 1830s. Part of that is now a pond. And just north of the pond you can see an area where huge blocks of stone were quarried.:

The forest in this park is full of huge trees and I ran across a stump about 4-feet in diameter, the remains of an old red oak:

There are many huge trees in this forest, but some of them are dying, especially the white ash; they are being annihilated by the emerald ash borer. The ash trees are facing the same devastation that has met the American Chestnut and the American Elm. I have seen some small chestnut trees and many elm trees in local woods. Some elm trees have survived, but there has been a huge die off since my childhood. Will any ash trees somehow demonstrate immunity to the emerald ash borer? Time will tell.

Almost every day I walk in a different park. I love them all, but Chapin is near the top of the list.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

New Poem--about My Hawthorn Trees


There must be a hundred thousand blossoms
Festooning my Washington Hawthorne trees,

And ten thousand bees buzzing around the blossoms,
A low rumbling buzz you can hear 50 feet away.

I planted these trees for the birds, food for the winter,
The red berries, beautiful to my eye—

And nutritious for the hungry birds of winter,
The sparrows, finches, chickadees, cardinals.

The birds will have their turn, but first the bees!
Pollinating, stirring the powder of life, fertilizing,

Co-creating with the sun, the rain, the tree,
And the Hand of God.

These trees please my eye, but not the nose,
The scent which seduces bees, repels me,


To the human eye or nose,
Creation is not always pretty!

Bob Coughlin / June 13, 2017