Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Yurt atop Morrell Mountain in Montana

My daughter was able to use a yurt near the top of Morrell Mountain in Montana during her recent training in avalanche rescue work with the Aerie Backcountry Medicine group. She was not able to sleep in the yurt, but could use it to warm up and store and dry out equipment.

Morrell Mountain is maybe 15 miles or so west of Seeley Lake, the home base for the winter training Carolan is taking. They walked on snow shoes over 2 days up Morrell Mountain (which is about an 8000 foot mountain) and camped in 8-10 feet of snow for 2 or 3 days. The yurt (see offered some warmth and comfort--but not too much to spoil the Aerie trainees! They couldn't sleep in the yurt, after all--they were in tents outside. It's amazing to me that this yurt can still be standing with the heavy snowpack on Morrell Mountain!

When I think of yurts, I think of the nomads living on the steppes of Central Asia; I think of the Mongolian "ger" homes--not of a mountain shelter in Montana. But there you have it!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Virgin White Pines in North Chagrin--A Treasure for Northeast Ohio

The North Chagrin Reservation, part of the Cleveland MetroPark system, is one of the treasures of Northeast Ohio. The reservation lies along the border of Willoughby Hills, in Lake County, and Gates Mills, in Cuyahoga County. This is the most densely populated area of Ohio. And yet, there are beautiful remnants here of our forested past.

If one were to park at the Strawberry Lane area, it's but a short hike through the magnificent old growth forest to an astonishing small grove of ancient white pine trees. These trees stand on the edge of a deep ravine, carved by feeder creeks of the Chagrin River, and are about 150 feet tall. These trees are around 300 years old. They have stood here when this was Indian territory, before the land was claimed by the United States of America. It's possible that no white man had trod this land when the trees were seedlings. And if any did, they were probably French-Canadian explorers and trappers.

When these trees were sprouts, and along into their maturity, panthers, grey wolves, and black bear walked among their roots. The woods were full of giants: red oak, tulip tree, sugar maple, American beech, and American chestnut (the chestnut did not succumb to blight until these white pine were about 200 years old or so). So many other trees, shrubs, wildflowers, fungi, and ferns shared this diverse northern version of a mixed mesophytic forest. Great Canadian hemlock on the edges and slopes of the cool ravines. All sorts of wildflowers: blood root, trillium, trout lilly. Flowering trees like dogwood, spice bush, tulip tree, magnolia. Amazingly, most of these trees, flowers, and shrubs are still here. The panther is gone, as is the grey wolf. But bear have wandered into this park in recent years, making their way from Pennsylvania. Deer are more abundant than ever, and coyotes have taken over the ecological niche abandoned by the grey wolf.

This is a wondrous place, and I am grateful to our ancestors who had the foresight to establish this park system. And grateful for the ancient, tall, beautiful white pines of North Chagrin.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Images of Carolan and Friends Climbing Mt. Morrell

I borrowed the following 3 images from the Aerie Blog (hope they don't mind!). Here is the link to the blog: The entry was posted March 22 or 23, 2012. The Aerie Backcountry Medicine group was hiking from The Rich Ranch, near Seeley Lake, Montana, to Morell Mountain, on the southwest edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The climb was demanding and, as you can see, very steep in places. The Aerie students, including my daughter Carolan, were practicing avalanche rescue.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Incredible Photos of the Aerie Avalanche Rescue Course in Montana

The March 22 blog entry for the Avalanche rescue course that my daughter Carolan is taking in Montana features some extraordinary photos. To see them use this link:

I will borrow one or two of their photos (right from their blog).

Carolan is wearing a greenish jacket in both photos.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

St. Patrick's Day 2012 in Cleveland

St. Patrick's Day 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio, was the greatest day ever. The parade, which lasted 2 and a half hours, featured 16,000 marchers and was viewed by 500,000 people lining Superior Avenue from East 18th Street to Public Square. Usually we are are watching the parade in snow or sleet, under gray skies, a half mile inland from the frozen lake. This year the skies were blue and the temperature hit a record 77 degrees. And the parade was on  a Saturday, which allowed more families to attend. The presence of so many families had the side effect of reducing drunkenness and fights. People were very happy, very peaceful all afternoon.

Photos: top shows Bob, Brian, Emily, Linda, Julia, Colin; second shows Brian and Emily; third shows Girl Scouts dressed up as cookie boxes; bottom shows Colleen Fitzpatrick, with other family members in the background, including Mike and Karen Fitzpatrick, Peter Fitzpatrick, and Linda.

Friday, March 16, 2012

What Does it Mean to Be Irish? Irish-American?

We call ourselves "Irish"--what we mean is "Irish-American." We should probably leave the term "Irish" for the citizens of that land. So what does it mean to be "Irish-American" then?

It doesn't mean that you drink green beer tomorrow, St. Patrick's Day. That is for amateurs! OK, if you must . . . .

It doesn't mean you celebrate the culture of drinking and drunkenness. Sure, there is enough of that among Irish-Americans. But when it occurs it is often destructive and doesn't honor or celebrate anything.

It does mean that we have roots in a culture rich in storytelling, poetry, drama. We are connected to a culture rich in music.

We have a culture that celebrates friends and family life. In fact, in many Irish and Irish-American families, family is the highest priority--higher than career, money, fame, success. Good family life is success and wealth!

Many Irish and Irish-Americans have a religious tradition. For most it's Catholicism. But there are Jewish, Church of Ireland, Protestant, Quaker, and other varieties of Irish. To me this tradition is precious, despite my disagreements with the official (or officious) Church. It clearly stems from the era of St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Brendan. Ireland was indeed "the land of saints and scholars." Irish Catholicism, in earlier days, borrowed a lot from pagan Celtic spirituality. This made the Irish variety of Catholicism more humane and decentralized than the Church of Rome. Of course there have also been strains of super "orthodox" Catholicism--religion in a straightjacket, religion that hated the body, sexuality, and the like. I saw plenty of this growing up, especially in the religious instruction of the Catholic schools of the 1950s.

I see the spirit of Irish-Americans in my extended family.  They love each other, honor family above all, are funny and fun, great storytellers. We have kept our religious faith. And yes we celebrate and tip a few on March 17, St. Patrick's Day.

I'm proud to be an Irish-American and gladly share St. Patrick's Day with all the Germans, Italians, Slovenians, Polish, Slovaks, Bohemians, African-Americans, Latinos--all the wonderful nationalities that interact in Northeast Ohio, our home.

p.s. My grandson, the love of my life, has many of the nationalities mentioned above: He is Irish-German-French-Italian-Czech, and maybe a bit Polish, with a small dash, possibly, of American Indian. I bet there are other nationalities in his genetic mix, too!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Capistrano Has the Swallows; We Have the Buzzards!

On March 19th of every year, the Feast of St. Joseph, the swallows return from their winter roosting grounds in Argentina to the mission of San Juan Capistrano.

In Northeast Ohio, on the Feast of the Buzzard, March 15th, the buzzards return to Hinckley, Ohio. San Juan Capistrano has the swallows; we have the buzzards or turkey vultures--and we celebrate them!

You can have your stinkin' swallows, California. Give me cathartes aura, the turkey vulture--our local buzzard.

p.s. I remembered a poem published in the Plain Dealer a long time ago--possibly in the 1960s--on the return of the buzzards. I think it's the same poem just published in a blog called Here's a portion of their March 15, 2012 posting:

"The buzzards of Hinckley
Are back on their ledges
All ugly and wrinkly,
Their eyes glowing pinkly,
They perch on the hedges,
Their feathers unruly,
Their beaks dripping cruelly,
Repulsive and drooly,
Their claws bloody wedges
With flesh on the edges . . .

Those are the words of Joe Newman, as he tells the tale of the annual return of these birds of prey to Hinckley, OH. "

The image below is from this we3bsite:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Colin Jude's First Soccer Practice

Looks like Colin is involved in his first soccer practice--at 18 months! One of his first words is "kick," which to him means "kick or throw or hit." I bet he was saying it a lot yesterday!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Vatican Overrules Bishop Lennon on the Closing of 13 Churches in Cleveland

We got preliminary word last night that the Vatican has overruled Bishop Lennon on the closing of 13 churches in the Diocese of Cleveland. The first churches I heard about are the historic and beautiful St. Patrick's, in the West Park neighborhood of Cleveland, and St. James, in the suburb of Lakewood.

This is astonishing good news! We'll see what other churches are involved and how this plays out. Will the bishop appeal this decision or reopen the churches? We shall see.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Video of St. Luke's Church in Salyerville, Kentucky

Small Town Devastation - West Virginia's Eyewitness News

Click on the above link to see a news report and video on the March 2, 2012 tornado that destroyed St. Luke's Catholic Church in Salyersville, Kentucky. The interview features Helen Pennington, a St. Luke's parishioner who survived the tornado in the church basement.

St. Luke's Church in Magoffin County, Kentucky Destroyed by Tornado

Ever since my daughters were little girls we visited the Sanders family in Blue River, Kentucky, for Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. For years we would stay at the Dwelling Place Monastery in Floyd County, atop a mountain about ten miles from Prestonsburg. On Easter Sunday morning we would usually go to mass (followed by an Easter egg hunt and potluck brunch) at St. Luke's Catholic Church in Salyersville, Kentucky.

I got word today that this beautiful simple church was destroyed in an instant by a tornado that whipped though the Mountain Parkway area of Magoffin County this past Friday, March 2nd, destroying or seriously damaging almost every structure in its path.

Here is a photo of the church (from a blog by Adam Z. Winer:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Coach Frank Hall's Speech (Video from ABC News)

Chardon High Students Return to School, Coach Frank Hall Hailed as a Hero | Video - ABC News

Two of the Chardon High School Heroes: Coach Frank Hall and Mr. Joseph Ricci

The stories about this terrible past Monday, February 27, 2012, at Chardon High School are becoming somewhat clearer. The final toll seems to be three dead (Danny Parmertor, Russell King, and Demetrius Hewlin); one released from the hospital (Joy Rickers); one still hospitalized with severe spinal cord trauma (Nick Walczak). And that is not to mentioned Nate Mueller, grazed by a bullet on his right ear, and the hundreds of students, teachers, school workers, firefighters, police, ambulance personnel, helicopter personnel, and hospital workers involved. The ripples go further: the families, friends, Chardon alumni--even reaching to the Governor of Ohio, John Kasich, who attended the Wednesday evening prayer vigil at St. Mary's, and President Obama, who phoned the Chardon High School principal. All deeds, good and evil, have these ripple effects.

Coach Frank Hall, one of the heroes of this tragedy, spoke yesterday at a press conference held in front of the high school. Coach Hall is fairly young, a big man, not a polished public speaker. But his short speech yesterday was one of the most beautiful and eloquent I have ever heard. One of his remarks was so poignant: "To the families of Danny, Demetrius, and Russell, I want you to know that I was with them. I prayed with them. I wiped their tears. And I want you to know God was with them."

Coach Hall accompanied these boys in their final terrifying journey. It's often the hardest and best thing a human being can do.

Of course coach Hall didn't even mention the other astonishing thing he did: he chased the gunman, who was shooting at him, out of the building. Astonishing, almost reckless courage!

I also heard that Mr. Joseph Ricci, a math teacher at the high school that two of my daughters had had, was also a hero. Apparently the gunman, T.J. Lane, chased Nick Walczak down a hallway, shooting him three times, in the back, the neck, and the head. Mr. Ricci went out of the classroom where he and his students were barricaded, pulled Nick into the safety of the room, and offered what first aid he could as they awaited ambulances.

So many stories are circulating; some will prove true and some will prove false. It does seem that T.J. Lane might have been traumatized and abused as a young boy. And there is a story out there about a triggering event, where T.J was rightly told that he was no longer to see a girl younger than himself. Still, the mysteries may never unravel--neither the mystery of such a crime, nor the mystery of such heroism.

One final thought: beginning tomorrow, the funerals for the three boys will take place at my church, St. Mary's Chardon. The mother of the second boy to die, Phyllis Ferguson, found out about the shooting as she attended morning mass at St. Mary's. This past Wednesday, a vigil service was held at St. Mary's; thousands of people came and even the governor spoke. St. Mary's is playing a key role in the healing of our town.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Passing of Sally Kearns

Sarah S. Kearns, who we knew as Sally, passed away on February 26, 2012. Sally was the daughter of Florence Sullivan (my great aunt) and John Kearns. She and her sisters Pat and Marge were great friends (and first cousins) of my Mom, Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Coughlin.

Sally's funeral will be this Saturday, 11 a.m., at Our Lady of the Lake (formerly known as Holy Cross), at E. 200th Street and Lake Shore Boulevard in Euclid.

Sally's passing seems like the end of an era. Not many of my Mom's cousins are still around. The Sullivan's and Fitzpatrick's were full of fun and kind people, with that beautiful Irish-American spirit (and, yes, some of the Irish-American flaws).

May the Good Lord hold her in the palm of his hand.