Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Early Signs of Spring

Our winter here by the North Coast of the United States, near the shores of Lake Erie, has been long and hard. Lots of snow, and at times very cold. And mostly long, cloudy, long, and dark. It's amazing how deprived we are of sunshine. There must be an incredible deficiency of vitamin D among Northeastern Ohioans. Not that I'm complaining!

But there are some signs out there of the earliest spring. We are now getting some days where the high temperature goes above freezing, the signal for the maple syrup season to begin. Any day now, the sugar maples in Geauga County will be tapped. Another wonderful sign is the tremendous increase in bird song and bird activity. The early morning birdsong makes my own heart sing! And finally, the days are getting longer. And when we go to Daylight Savings Time in about a week, sunset won't happen until 7:30 PM. We are ready for that, ready for spring, and ready for warmth and flowers and green grass!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Poems for Ash Wednesday

Many years ago I wrote this poem after watching my children and their classmates play at St. William's School in Euclid on an Ash Wednesday:

Ash Wednesday at St. William’s School

The immaculate
groomed children
play joyfully on the playground--

but odd

ashes of death
in the sign
of the cross

on innocent

our mortality
the amazing sacrifice.

The marked innocents
forget the strange rite

with wondrous enthusiasm and energy
play like it’s any other day.#

Another poem, written last year for my mother:

The Last Ash Wednesday (February 2003)

After teaching my classes,
I drive over to Kevin’s house
Where Mom now lives after moving from Euclid
Our family home for fifty-one years.

It’s getting harder for her to go out,
So I come to her house,
Burn last year’s palm fronds in the ash tray

And anoint her forehead with the Sign of the Cross.

I find myself unable to utter the ancient words,
“Remember, Woman, from dust thou art,
And unto dust thou shallt return.”

The words are too painful, too real,
The abiding dust
too close.

Then Mom anoints my own forehead,
Again leaving the words unspoken:

No one can ever know . . . .

After the little ceremony,
We both laugh, and Mom says,
“Let’s drink a beer!”

“Not on Ash Wednesday,” I tease.

“The hell with that!” she retorts.
“I’m old enough now to be above the rules!”

We both laugh, and I pop open two beers.
We drink to Mardi Gras and to Lent,
And to the ashes on our foreheads.

(Bob Coughlin
February 21, 2007
Ash Wednesday)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Pre Vatican II Lent--Some Memories

I have had the good fortune to bridge the old Catholic Church, pre Vatican II, and the new Church. The old church, the institution of my childhood, was still medieval in many ways, with an emphasis on authority and top-down discipline. The threat of eternal damnation was palpably felt by me and many other Catholics (if you want to get a feel for that era, read James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Of course there were many wonderful things about that era, and I still wax nostalgic about the Latin mass and the beautiful hymns, the mystery and majesty of the rites. My wife still thinks it odd that my favorite songs are "Tantum Ergo" and "Pange Lingua." I can still hear in memory Monsignor John Flemming's beautiful Irish tenor intoning these songs. He'd sing a capella, "Pange lingua, gloriosi," filling St. William's with the ancient words. And then the choir and congregation would join in. I was one of the few that seemed to understand much of the Latin spoken or sung at our masses before around 1962 or so.

Lent was serious business back then. It involved serious fast and abstinence, at least at our house. The abstinence was abstinence from meat (beef, pork, chicken, and the like) and anything made from meat--on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays (all Fridays of the year, not just in Lent). The fast involved eating one meal per day with 2 smaller meals, and absolutely no eating between meals (this fast was mainly for adults, but not for small children or the elderly). In addition, everyone gave up something during Lent. It was usually something small, but this was taken seriously. Typical for a kid was to give up candy or chocolate.

When I was in 6th grade, I decided not to just give up something, but to do something. I promised the Lord that I would say the Stations of the Cross every day during Lent. That went pretty well for the first two weeks of Lent. And then I missed a day. I then promised the Lord to do 10 Stations of the Cross for a missed day. Then I missed another day, and promised to do 10 times 10 for any days missed thereafter. The missed days and the promises went on ond on until I was in the deep hole of a geometric progression! I needed not only a government bailout, but divine intervention itself to get me out of this Depression. Needless to say, I didn't ever make up my gigantic deficit and to this day I owe the Good Lord a bezillion Stations of the Cross! So much for my good intentions!

I found the lyrics to "Pange Lingua," written by Thomas Aquinas, on Wikipedia. Here they are with an English translation:

Latin text:

1. Pange, lingua, gloriosi
Corporis mysterium,
Sanguinisque pretiosi,
quem in mundi pretium
fructus ventris generosi
Rex effudit Gentium.

2. Nobis datus, nobis natus
ex intacta Virgine,
et in mundo conversatus,
sparso verbi semine,
sui moras incolatus
miro clausit ordine.

3. In supremae nocte coenae
recumbens cum fratribus
observata lege plene
cibis in legalibus,
cibum turbae duodenae
se dat suis manibus.

4. Verbum caro, panem verum
verbo carnem efficit:
fitque sanguis Christi merum,
et si sensus deficit,
ad firmandum cor sincerum
sola fides sufficit.

5. Tantum ergo Sacramentum
veneremur cernui:
et antiquum documentum
novo cedat ritui:
praestet fides supplementum
sensuum defectui.

6. Genitori, Genitoque
laus et jubilatio,
salus, honor, virtus quoque
sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
compar sit laudatio.
Amen. Alleluja.

Englis translation:

Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory,
of His flesh the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our immortal King,
destined, for the world's redemption,
from a noble womb to spring.

Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wondrously His life of woe.

On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He the Pascal victim eating,
first fulfills the Law's command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own hand.

Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His word to Flesh He turns;
wine into His Blood He changes;
what though sense no change discerns?
Only be the heart in earnest,
faith her lesson quickly learns.

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
Lo! o'er ancient forms departing,
newer rites of grace prevail;
faith for all defects supplying,
where the feeble senses fail.

To the everlasting Father,
and the Son who reigns on high,
with the Holy Ghost proceeding
forth from Each eternally,
be salvation, honor, blessing,
might and endless majesty.
Amen. Alleluia.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mardi Gras and Carneval: Our "Lagniappe"

“Laissez les bons temps rouler"--"Let the good times roll!" And I bet the good times are rolling in New Orleans, where my old friend Terri Antholzner lives and sells flowers on Jackson Square by St. Louis Cathedral and the Cafe du Monde. I bet the good times are rolling in Rio de Janeiro's Carneval, in Munich's Fasching, and in the pre-lenten celebrations in Venice. We Catholics can be pagan indeed in the face of Lent's deprivations, fasts, and abstinences! Carpe Diem, Let the Good Times Roll, Laissez Les Bons Temps Roulez!

These celebrations are the lagniappe of our lives!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Baptism and "The Communion of Sinners"

There was a beautiful Baptism in our church this past Sunday. A wonderful visiting priest from Borromeo Seminary said the mass and presided at the Baptism. In the initial blessing of the baby before mass, the priest, Fr. Bob McCreary, a Capuchin Franciscan, anointed the baby and said a prayer welcoming the infant into "The Communion of Sinners." It was a Freudian slip, and Father quickly fixed his error by saying "The Communion of Saints." But he might have had it more correct the first time! Later, Father said that he was anointing the baby girl as a priest and as a prophet. I thought the message was so fantastic and I'm glad the church acknowledges the priesthood of the people. It's not just a church for men or for priests or for bishops.

At the end of the mass, for the closing blessing, Fr. Bob lifted up the child, and made the sign of the cross with the baby. We felt incredibly blessed by this sacred gesture!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Final Valentine's Day Love Poem

Let It Go On and On and On

(for Linda Rose)

The busy weekend winds down,
And we sit near each other, watching television,
Saying nothing, my hand on your thigh.

All of a sudden, I realize how much I like
Being near you, being around you,
Even in sleepy silence, the workweek spent.

A terrible thought streaks across my mind like a shooting star:
How much more time do we have together?
What if you died? I see the stories so often,

Freak accidents, sudden illnesses, heart attacks, strokes,
As mysterious as the miracle of our births, so many years ago.

We are the results of one miracle after another.
And I treasure this miracle of being here, right now, with you.
Lord let it go on and on and on.

(Bob Coughlin
February 15, 2009)

[I hope the above poem doesn't strike one as too strange or too morbid. It's just a reflection on the shortness and fragility of life--and of our 31-year life together. The second stanza might seem strange. But the thought, "I realize how much I like / Being near you, being around you" struck me as suddenly and as stunningly as the fearful thought later in the poem, "How much more time do we have together?"]

Friday, February 13, 2009

Love Poems for Valentine's Day

Probably we should ban the word love for the next little while and proceed like the biblical Jews, who would not write or utter the sacred name of the Lord. Love is too mysterious, too profaned, too important almost for speech. But then what else do we human beings have? So in our imperfect way, we talk about God and we talk about love.

Here is one of the greatest love poems, written by the Irish poet and patriot, William Butler Yeats:


WHEN you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

["When You Are Old" is reprinted from The Rose. W.B. Yeats. 1893.]

Here is a poem I wrote some years back about family love and family happiness:

Lucky Seven (Lucky Five)
(Euclid and Wickliffe, Ohio, circa 1992)

When the snow finally melted
We pulled the four old bikes
Out of our Beech Drive garage
To head out for our adventure.

Emily was strapped in the baby seat,
Carolan wobbled a bit on her two-wheeler,
Now without training wheels,
While Julia was already a master of hers.

I would lead the way, followed by the girls,
And Linda would guard the back,
Watching over all, urging me to slow down,
Walk the bikes across Lloyd,
Watch the uneven sidewalk,
Shouldn’t the girls be wearing helmets?
Forever the mother.

Across Lloyd Road we entered exotic Wickliffe!
Down the street named “Grand Boulevard,”
A nice street indeed, but not the Champs Elysees!

The first stop was Wickliffe’s Intihar Park,
The swings, the monkey bars, the slide,
Then back on the bikes, through the park to Worden Road.

A couple blocks down Worden, et voila!
The Promised Land—or at least the promised store, “Lucky Seven”!

Lucky Seven was lucky mostly in my children’s minds.
This old relic of the 1930’s was a mecca for those needing pop,
Beer, cigarettes, and lottery tickets.

My girls—they wanted Popsicles or Eskimo Pies.
And Linda and I needed a coke.

We’d lean against our bikes outside the store,
Or at times sit at the picnic table behind that ramshackle place,
And in the early spring chill, enjoy our little treats
And catch our breath from the long bike hike.

The ride home was more direct, straight down Grand,
Then left onto Walnut to Beech.

* * *

In memory, this is the happiest time—
We are the “Lucky Five”—
Linda, me, and the kids, Julia, Carolan, and Emily.

There are no photos, no movies of this,
The most precious moments are unrecorded,
Only indelible memory and deepest gratitude

For this gift of family life.

April 9, 2005

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Abraham Lincoln!

Today is the 2ooth anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln--born in a log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky (now LaRue County), near the town of Hodgenville. The Kentucky frontier can be pretty wild even today (certainly it was in 1972 when Linda lived in Magoffin County and in 1978-79 when we lived in Knott County). But in 1809 it must have been something. The woods and openings were alive with panthers, black bears, possibly buffalo, copperheads, timber rattlers, every manner of wild creature. American Indians would have been around in certain places. The woods would be nearly trackless, the forest full of gigantic virgin timber, oaks, hickory, maple, chestnut, elm, pine, walnut--the richest, most diverse forest of its kind in the world (a forest type known as "mixed mesophytic"). And in this context, the greatest man in American history was born. Such an unlikely miracle.

There have been something like 14,000 books written about Lincoln, and I certainly am no expert. Out of everything you can say about him, I want to mention three things that especially strike me:

1. Lincoln overcame many periods of deep depression--in an era when treatment for severe melancholy was primitive and the sufferer was blamed for his or her pain. This is good to know, especially for any of us who've ever suffered psychic pain. You can recover to the point that you can make great contributions to the world.

2. Lincoln probably failed more than he succeeded. Lincoln stumbled often, but he didn't stay down. He dusted himself off and got back to work. This is the story for so many people we regard as successes. You fall down; you get back up.

3. Lincoln was our greatest speechwriter. How could we not call him, with Walt Whitman, among our greatest poets. This is important to me especially--because words count. They can change the world!

Happy Birthday, Abraham Lincoln!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My Great New Car: Saturn Aura

I have purchased a brand-new Saturn Aura, a General Motors, American-made auto that competes with the likes of Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. My trade-in was a Toyota Scion Xb, a decent but ugly vehicle. My Aura is a beauty, inside and out, and gets great gas mileage (33 highway), has a fantastic powertrain, and all the gadgets a man could want. I particularly love the heated seats, perfect for a Cleveland winter, and the remote engine starting. The OnStar system is terrific--a great safety and convenience feature. It can open the car doors if you accidentally lock your keys in your car, make hands-free phone calls, and alert the police in an emergency situation. For the first month I can even download turn-by-turn directions for free. I also love the auto-dimming mirrors, the heated side-mirrors (important in Cleveland in the winter!), the compass, temperature gauge, one-touch up and down for the driver's side window, etc. Most of these features come standard with the Aura (a close cousin to the Chevy Malibu). All this and the price was excellent. This is an American car that can compete with any Japanese, German, or Korean model, for price and quality. I love my Saturn Aura and I hope quality products like this turn our domestic auto and steel industries around!

Started a New Blog on Learning Irish-Gaelic

I have decided to create a new blog, this one focused on learning to speak, read, and write Irish-Gaelic. The focus will be on the needs and interests of beginner or intermediate Irish students. I'll probably copy some of my current blog entries into this new blog ( instead of reinventing the wheel. From time to time I will ask my teachers and classmates at the Irish study group (Wednesday nights, 7 PM, in the basement of the Irish-American Club, East Side, in Euclid, Ohio) to make some contributions to the blog.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Postscript to the Blog Entry on the Name "Coughlin"

**See also my February 4th blog entry on the name "Coughlin"**

You might have thought that I had outdone myself and said all that could possibly be said about the name "Coughlin" in one of last week's blog entries. Wrong-o!

What I neglected to mention were the many different ways our name "Coughlin" has been recorded in official documents. The very first mention that I know of can be found in United States naturalization documents, long ago sent to me by my cousin Jack Pendergast. In these documents Daniel and Mary, my great great grandparents, born in County Cork, Ireland, are recorded with the last name spelled "Coghlin." They make an x-mark, and their son (Jeremiah, I believe) writes out their names. This same spelling is seen on Mary's tombstone in the old St. Bernard's Cemetery in Scipio, Cayuga County, New York (we assume Daniel is also buried there, but I couldn't find his name on that stone).

I have found census records that record the spellings "Coglin" and even, astonishingly, "Couthlin" for our family members. I can see how this could happen. If these Irish immigrants pronounced their name in the traditional manner you wouldn't know how to spell it! I have even seen the name spelled "Conkling"! Knowing how Munster Gaelic is spoken, this confusion does not surprise me. It's possible we could have ended up using any of the various spellings. But fairly early on, we start to see the spelling "Coughlin," which is what we use today.

House Explodes in Eastlake. We Feel the Explosion 15 Miles Away!

A home on the Eastlake-Willoughby border, right on Lake Shore Boulevard with the backyard extending down to Lake Erie, exploded about 2 weeks ago and we felt the explosion at our Chardon home some 15 or more miles away. We were watching television when we heard our windows shake and a dull thud of a noise. I looked at Linda and wondered out loud if we had had an earthquake. Then I thought maybe it was snow and ice sliding off our roof; or perhaps the wood in our house contracting from the bitter winter cold. Later that night and the next day, we found out that a house on the Eastlake-Willoughby border exploded into smithereens, most likely from natural gas. The man of the house was found outside sitting on a rocking chair. His 86-year-old wife was found under the rubble, alive but severely injured. She died about a day later but her husband has survived. I'm sure he is still pretty hurt, with bruises and burns.

Our home is about 15 miles southeast of this explosion site, and about 700 feet higher in elevation. To think that the percussive force could have traveled that far is amazing. I heard rumors that people as far away as Hiram, Ohio, also felt the explosion. If that is true, the blast wave traveled 40 miles or so! I think the weather conditions had something to do with the distance the blast wave traveled.

I have heard that the 1812 Battle of Lake Erie, just north and west of the Lake Erie Islands and the city of Sandusky, was heard as far away as Hambden Township--maybe 80 miles away. So this happens from time to time.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cold and Snowy Winter in Greater Cleveland!

What a winter this has been in Hambden Township, Chardon, and Greater Cleveland! For a while Lake Erie froze over, and we have been dumped on by about 100 inches of snow in total. Temperatures have hit -13 in Cleveland and -17 in Hambden Township (at Guy Wilson's Weather Underground weather station on Chardon-Windsor Road). Tomorrow we will hit the 40's so snow will begin to melt. Still, I bet almost 2 feet of snow will remain after tomorrow's snow melt.
The people around here are tough! And the weather is one of the reasons.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How do you pronounce the name "Coughlin"?

Why did you ask me that? That's a tough one!

First of all, people who don't know any Coughlin's and telemarketers almost always pronounce this name incorrectly--and it drives me crazy! But I guess I should cut them some slack because it's just plain complicated and problematic--the pronunciation of the name Coughlin. Even in my own family I hear three different pronunciations: /COCK-lin; COG-lin; and CAWG-lin/. I think in my own lifetime I myself have pronounced this name in these three different ways!

My grandfather, Cornelius F. Coughlin (known as "Connie"), 1889-1960, was unambiguous about the pronunciation of his name. It was /COCK-lin/ period! That's how his father and grandfather, both born in West County Cork, Ireland pronounced it. The West-Cork angle is important and I hope to discuss it later.

In the summer of 1978, Linda and I traveled to Ireland for the first time. In Cork City, capital of what some call "The People's Republic of Cork," we found accommodations at a Bed & Breakfast and my first order of business was to ask the lady of the house how my name is pronounced. She immediately became flustered, hemmed and hawed, and finally said something like /CAWL-lin/. I couldn't believe it and thought she must have misunderstood me. I was later to discover that in Ireland itself there are probably 3 or 4 different (and I'd guess you'd say correct) ways of pronouncing my name. Indeed, in Cork City /CAWL-lin/ is a common pronunciation. You can also hear things like /COG-lin/, /CA-huh-lin/, and /COCK-lin/. The spelling of the name varies greatly too. In Irish-Gaelic, the name is spelled Cochláin. In English, the spelling can be Coghlin, Coghlan, Coughlin, Coughlan, Coholan, and probably a half dozen other ways. We must remember that names began in an oral culture, and these names in an oral Irish-Gaelic culture. Translating Irish sounds to English spellings is not all that easy; there are Irish sounds that don't exist in the English language. There are some fairly consistent transliterations (the Gaelic "ch" usually becomes the English "gh" spelling, for example), but there are inconsistencies galore. One complicating factor is the nature of Irish-Gaelic itself. There is no one homogenized standard; rather, Irish is an assembly of related dialects, and pronunciations can vary significantly from one region to the next. So an Irish "ch" spelling (which often becomes "gh" in English), can vary in pronunciation from a /k/ sound, to a sound like the "ch" in the German word Nacht, to an /h/ sound. And it can almost disappear as a sound. If you know someone with the last name spelled "Dougherty," you might pronounce it in many different ways, and the same holds true in Ireland.

One important thing to remember is that often in Ireland you can tell where someone comes from by the way they pronounce their last name. And the pronunciation /COCK-lin/ is a West Cork pronunciation--an important clue in our genealogical research.

When people with my last name came to America, things changed again (this is not true just for Coughlin's! Think about what happened to the Przybylski's! Some of these Polish immigrants had their name changed to something like "Shibilski," almost totally losing the Polish root and spelling!). These spelling changes can seem like losses, but you could also look at them as simple markers, trail clues--almost like the minute changes in DNA that track evolution.

In America, some people see the name Coughlin and try to pronounce it with our American-English phonics rules. They see the word cough in the name and pronounce the "gh" digraph with an /f/ sound. This drives me crazy, but ironically many American Coughlin's pronounce their name in that manner, including the famous football coach for the New York Giants, Tom Coughlin. This pronunciation puts priority of spelling and current American phonics rules over the longer oral tradition for the pronunciation of the name. Ironically, when I listen to sports announcers say the name of Tom Coughlin, it actually sounds pretty close to the Irish pronunciation, especially when they don't overemphasize the /f/ phoneme. Still, I must admit, I do not like this pronunciation of my name. It feels like a betrayal.

Many other Coughlin's in America pronounce their name /COG-lin/ or /CAWG-lin/. This probably is a compromise pronunciation (or maybe the only pronunciation many people have ever known). It takes some dogged determination to constantly correct people to keep away from the /KAUF-lin/ pronunciation. In America I've never heard the /CAWL-in/ pronunciation, but I occasionally hear the West-Cork /COCK-lin/ pronunciation. I have a feeling that it is hard to persevere in this pronunciation because people simply can't make the connection between a /k/ sound and the "gh" digraph in America. And secondly, I wonder if people worry about using a syllable that sounds like an American curse word. My grandfather and my Dad and my Uncle Bill didn't seem to worry about that--they said /COCK-lin/, and Uncle Bill, at age 85, still does say that. Most cousins seem to say /COG-lin/ or /CAWG-lin/. And that is the pronunciation I have heard when referring to the great American Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin. That's also how I've heard sports announcers refer to the great Irish distance runner, Eamonn Coghlan--/COG-lin/. I don't know if Mr. Coghlan pronounces his name that way himself.

One final note. The name Coughlin, which in Irish Gaelic is written Cochláin, apparently comes from the Irish word cochal, which means "hood, sheath, or cowl." I like to think we are descendants from monks, who, for a while at least, abandoned celibacy. One odd thing is that a Cork City pronunciation of Coughlin is /cowl-in/ and the name itself comes from a word meaning "cowl."

So that's more than you wanted to know about the name Coughlin!

"We're Gonna Knock Those Teeth Down Your Throat!"

In the summer of 1960, I was chosen for the Euclid Midget League All Star Baseball Team as a second baseman. We were going to play the champion Euclid Boys' League team in what they called "The Little World Series." The Euclid baseball officials made a big deal out of this and they arranged for considerable practice, and even instruction, for the members of the Midget League All Stars. Our coach/instructors included Bill Lewin, who played minor league baseball, and possibly Paul Serra, who also had played minor league baseball and for years coached the Euclid High School baseball team. One thing they taught and drilled into us was how to slide into a base, a "figure-four" slide, with the spikes held high. If you had to, you were to kick the ball out of a baseball mitt. And we were to go into the base hard. We were not told to hurt anybody, but to slide hard and to jar the ball lose if it came to that. Well it came to that. I believe the Little World Series involved several ball games, and we, the vastly underdog Midget Leaguers, beat the celebrated Boys' League champs because I slid into second base and kicked the ball out of Brad Sikora's mitt.

After that game, a coach from the other team approached me. He was a tall, imposing figure, about 40 years old, and I was about 4 feet tall and 12 years old. He lifted up my upper lip and said, "Next year when you're in Pony League my boys are going to kick those pretty teeth down your throat." At least that's how I remember it.

Well, that never happened. No one ever tried to kick my teeth down my throat. I noticed this week that the man who said those words to me died. There was a fairly large obituary in the Plain Dealer, and this man was a much honored and praised person. He is in 3 sports halls of fame (Willoughby South High School; Euclid Shore; and Heidelberg College). He was a very successful baseball and football coach around town (quoted as being a "smash-mouth" kind of football coach).

I wonder if I got the story wrong. Did he really intimidate me like this? It's so easy for a kid to misunderstand things. Maybe he did it or maybe I remember it wrong. If it were to happen today, he would be in huge legal trouble. Back then we shrugged off things like that. Whatever the situation, if he needs forgiveness, I forgive him. It had no lasting effect on me--except that I remember being frightened for a while.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Green Flash at Sunset

Most people have never seen the Green Flash at sunset, but Linda and I have seen it once--a couple years ago on a late summer or early fall day. We had eaten supper at the Firehouse Winery right at lakeside in the town of Geneva-on-the-Lake in Ashtabula County, Ohio. After dinner we climbed down the rickety cast-iron steps to watch the sunset on the small pier jutting out into Lake Erie. The day was cloudless with very low humidity and the sun began setting over the lake in the west. As a joke, we always looked for the "Green Flash" in such situations. I had read about it in one of Chet Raymo's books ("Honey from Stone," I believe). But we had begun to think that this green flash was a myth, and that it was not ever to be seen. And then, for a second or so, we saw it, clear as could be. We felt incredibly lucky, incredibly blessed. It was like the Rainbow Sign in the Old Testament, a sign of hope.

I thought of this because of a little article in yesterday's Plain Dealer (February 2, 2009) in the column by Bill Sones and Rich Sones called "Strange but True." The article quoted lines by Jules Verne regarding the green flash: 'If there is a green in Paradise, it cannot be but of this shade, which most surely is the true green of Hope." The article also mentions web pages of San Diego State University astronomer Andrew T. Young called "An Introduction to Green Flashes" where the physics of this phenomenon is explained (

The Green Flash is a phenomenon that delights both astrophysicists and poets. It's a sign of Hope.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Febrtuary 2nd, Christian and Pagan Feast

Television loves Groundhog Day, with the opportunities to put Punxsutawney Phil or Buckeye Chuck on the news, but did you know that February 2nd is a Christian/Catholic feast as well as an important pagan feast--especially for the Celts? February 2nd is a "cross-quarter day," the midpoint of winter, halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox. These cross-quarter days were important for some pagans, who celebrated the feast of Imbolc on this day. Christians, after fixing the Nativity of Jesus at December 25th, right near winter solstice, appropriated the cross-quarter day as their own, celebrating the Purification of the Virgin Mary and the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple. This feast was sometimes known as "Candlemas," because on this day the year's candles were blessed and distributed. On February 3rd, these candles were held in a v-shape over the throat of the faithful as the blessing of St. Blaise was uttered--a blessing against diseases of the throat. That blessing is still done to this very day in many churches.

Happy Groundhog Day, Imbolc, Purification of the Virgin, Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple, Candlemas Day, and Feast of St. Blaise!

For some information on this day, click on or copy this link into your browser, and read about Imbolc:

Groundhog's Day

The word is that the groundhog saw his shadow, which means 6 more weeks of winter. If only! Whether or not the groundhog sees his (or her?) shadow, we will still have 8 more weeks of winter--and probably 12 more! The hell with that groundhog. And, by the way, I prefer calling him (or her) a woodchuck, a word thought to have American-Indian roots. Or maybe whistle pig.

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Hunh?