Monday, February 9, 2015

A forest of ferns

It has been a fertile time at my Lake Cumberland winter retreat working on my book Nature’s People: The Hog Island story from Mabel Loomis Todd to Audubon.  The all-important chapter, ‘Of astronomy & Dickinsons’ was wrapped up in a first draft late last week.  Phew.  Surely the juiciest of the collection of chapters!  

Two chapters to go.  Next one up is telling the story of ‘Mavooshen’s men,’ the fellows who, along with Mabel Todd and her daughter, Millicent Bingham, hewed a summer camp out of a section of a wilderness island and created a Maine respite for a family who loved Nature.  Writing seems to be on some semblance of a schedule.  

Last summer, as you know if you’ve been staying recent with this blog, I was blessed to be able to spend a month at Mrs. Todd’s Camp Mavooshen on Hog Island to work on a couple chapters of my book.  As product of that month, I wrote a number of new poems and combined them with new photography and created a little self-published book, A forest of ferns:  Reflections on Hog Island.  A special thanks to graphic designer Kelly Vogelsong of Dayton for making the lovely little thing happen. 

The goal was to print up a couple dozen copies for sale on Hog Island at the Puffin Burrow gift shop.  Those copies have been shipped to Maine, with a few other copies available.  I plan to send out a few to some folks with deep Hog Island roots, but there might be a few left when all is said and done.  If you would like a copy, let me know.  Cost would be $13, which would include shipping.  

In the meantime, let me share one of the new poems.  Enjoy. 


Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.
Henry David Thoreau

This island is so beautiful it really makes my heart ache!  
Why, it seems to me God's own heaven 
can hardly be more perfect.
Mabel Loomis Todd 
Rain on the cottage roof, 
mid-evening, gray sunset waning, 
like thousands of pairs of Natural hands
applauding the return of moisture 
given up to a demanding sun,
having ascended into ether 
until accumulated weight requires
reunion with a world 
where spruce and fern reach into soils 
cradled in granite doing all they can 
to be all that they are. 

‘Heaven,’ thought Thoreau. 

Mrs. Todd, too. 
Tom Schaefer
Camp Mavooshen
23 July 2014

Today’s elder idea:   In honor of Valentine’s Day, I offer a line from Paul Laurence Dunbar addressed to his beloved, Alice, before they were married.  This one sure works for my Cindy Lou, too.  

‘You were the sudden realization of an ideal.’  

images: top:  Cover shot of A forest of ferns.  below:  One of the pics from the book.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hog Island report #2

I had hoped to report to you from Hog Island a couple times, but work on the book was so engaging that I let the flow take me over and, well, I figured the blog entries could wait.  But I’m home now and figured an update was in order. 

I have to admit, I’ve never had four weeks quite like this last month.  When I’m just going about the business of living my life, all kinds of stuff pops up in the course of a day.  Grass cutting.  Junk email that looks kind of intriguing.  Grocery shopping.  Riding bikes with the grandson. 

But on Hog Island, all of that melted away and the book was before me all the time.  I guess I wasn’t sure just how that would work, but I have been in the process of working on the darned thing for so long, given the chance to focus on just Nature’s people worked for me.  When I was in Cumberland over the winter, I didn’t know if the book would come to me or not.  Over the first couple of days there, I just felt stressed about it.  Not so on Hog Island this time around.  

One thing I have learned about my book writing process, as I’m sure I already mentioned in the last blog, is that my ADD brain truly benefits by shutting out the outside world while I’m trying to assemble the book ‘puzzle.’  Full sequester kept me calm and after my library and notes were set up, I just ‘dropped in’ and progress happened any number of ways.  And for that I am very grateful.  Next sequester is the month of October back at Cumberland where I hope to do some damage to two more chapters.  Next January/February is currently lined up for the fourth sequester, which I hope gets the book into good final draft format.  

Aside from writing success, though, I wanted to write today about working in the very place that Mabel Loomis Todd built.  It was not intimidating, and no, I never felt the presence of ghosts, though Mrs. Todd had to have died in the very room where I worked.  Story is she collapses on the porch and died a couple hours later.  Surely Frank Lailer and Howard Hilder, her caregivers who were on the island at the time, brought her into her loved ‘living room’ where she was made as comfortable as possible over her last hours.  I find it touching, too, that Hilder inscribed her last diary entry as a way for closure in that precious daily document.

Though I didn’t feel her presence particularly, I did speak to her often.  I thanked her and the building she built for my ability to be present to do the work I was doing there.  I refrained from playing music to ‘fill the house’ until late in the day both for my own concentration and entertainment factors.  And when I did play some music, it was ‘New World Symphony’ and some Mozart.  And, yes, I did play a bunch of my patented annual collections.  I remember once explaining to her who Roy Orbison was.  I hope she would have enjoyed that music, as well.  I visualized her dancing to some of the livelier pieces.  

But I’m home now and hope to get some work done on the book before October.  Still, it’s hard to tell.  I must admit I am not quite overwhelmed with life since my return, but yesterday was pretty full catching up with stuff in front of a wifi-powered computer, putting stuff away, sorting out dirty clothes, and cutting grass in a big yard that was weeks overdue.  Life at home jumped right back into full impact.  In a way, such disappoints me, but on the other hand, it is what my life is:  house, family, gardens, etc.  It’s tough to dismiss life if that’s the way you live it, you know? 

Such an amazing month on Hog Island, that much I can tell you.  I mentioned somewhere that it felt like walking into a time machine every morning going to work in Mrs. Todd’s summer space.  Air flowed, birds called, red squirrels rattled, rain fell.  And I worked through it all, doing my best to put myself in that place when she would have been present.  I told her I hoped my story telling would do honor to the work she did in her life.  Such is my goal.  I hope she agrees when all is said and done. 

Today’s elder idea:   
We always knew that the island is like Paradise in many of its delightful characteristics, but this morning when I came to the little lobster house, I found the beach literally paved with shining crystal.  It was like a pavement of cobble stones, only instead of the unknowing stone “whose coat of elemental brown, A passing universe put on,” the individual stones were of the purest, most transparent clear glass.  As the rising sun shown more and more clearly on this fairy floor, iridescent colours shot here and there making the whole beautiful substance more exquisite than imagination could have pictured.

Mabel Loomis Todd
on jellyfish from her unpublished Epic of Hog

image:  Mavooshen’s front porch at sunny sunset. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hog Island report #1

Well, for starters, let me say progress on the book has been good over the last couple of weeks here on Hog Island.  I hoped to get two chapters and the preface in better shape, and have had good success.  The chapter on Maine as ‘vacationland,’ placing Hog Island therein, reached a conclusion two days ago.  That one will need more work, of course, but at least it’s in good draft format.  The other chapter about life in this historic family camp is budding with rereading old published and unpublished documents from the archive at Yale. Today I’ll be looking at the master outline and rejiggering how all the puzzle pieces might fit together for chapter 5.  So all is good with the book.  

Before I got here, I had asked Camp management to be sure I would have recharge capability at this remote, primitive camp.  Sounds like an impossibility, but Audubon’s Puffin Project, who runs programming on this island, has used solar power for years on the bird islands in the Gulf of Maine to repower computers for record keeping.

Two days ago was nicely rainy up this way with some fog early and late.  I worked right through the day on my Mac with its lousy internal battery life.   Whenever I get low, I hook it up to the solar cell newly installed on the building and the magic just keeps on coming. 

I was a bit concerned yesterday because under full sun, it would appear the cell was not recharging the marine battery that holds the magic.  Hmmm.  Usually when I leave the cottage at night to ascend to my sleeping quarters, the red light on the device blinks a couple of times telling me stored power is down, as expected.  By the time I get back to my work in the morning, the light has turned green and all is well.  Yesterday morning, not so.  By today, though, all appears to be well.  Looks like the solar array needed a whole day to restore juice to the marine battery.  I do like crafting my poetry by hand, but putting the next chapter on paper (instead of my Mac if the power never came back) was a disturbing alternative.  

I sit here this morning at a large open window, looking west into spruce and balsam fir with the water and mainland beyond, writing at the very desk attributed to Millicent Todd Bingham.  I don’t know if her mother, Mabel Todd used it.  There is one picture of Mrs. Todd working out the porch, though I can’t tell what the typewriter is sitting on.  But Mrs. Bingham used this desk, so says a very weathered note tacked to its right front corner.  Writing my book about Mabel Todd and Millicent Bingham at the same desk Millicent used to, perhaps, work on her Emily Dickinson publications is something to appreciate.  

I learned so many things recently, rereading stuff I’ve collected over thirty years.  Yes, I’ve read much of this before, but now with what I know I am more aware.  Pieces are fitting together in ways they did not before.  Feels good to see the narrative unfold right in front of me.  

The writing process is working well for me here in this beautiful and historical place.  I am grateful and sense the grace around me.  As the power on my Mac fades, I will sign off for now and post this later at the Audubon Camp where I can plug in and get a wi-fi connection.  

Good work continues.  Thanks for stopping by to catch up.  

Today’s elder idea:   Millicent Bingham published four books on Emily Dickinson and other texts related to her PhD in geography.  But she had this to say about Audubon’s program on Hog Island:  

‘The work of this camp gives me more satisfaction 
than anything that has ever happened to me before.’ 

Millicent Todd Bingham / 1938 

images: top: Camp Mavooshen’s main building this summer.

later:  Restored and refurnished interior.  Darned comfortable, if I don’t say so myself.  [pics by yours truly]

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Back to Hog Island

Summer and grandparenting have kept me from writing much here of late, let alone making much progress on my book.  I recognize all of these as important parts of life to pay attention to, however.  Still, I surely thought I could find a better balance, but such has not been the case. 

I have concluded that one of the most important lessons I’ve learned this year about working on a project as big as Nature’s people, is that my brain does better when my body is sequestered.  I hate to admit it, but little (if any) text has been put on paper since my return home from Lake Cumberland at the end of February.  Trust me, I’m thinking about Mrs. Todd and her island crew every day, but putting my butt and brain in a seat in front of the laptop to put 500 words a day together just doesn’t happen. 

From a more positive perspective, though, I recognize that over the last few years I have understood something about ‘getting away’ to push daily business aside for the practice of gathering thoughts and writing.  I’ve done a handful of short get-aways in my little Coleman trailer to John Bryan or Old Man’s Cave State Parks, and written few things in the process.  A couple winters ago, if you recall, I put in a week at a cabin at Lake Hope.  All of that seems to have lead me to recognizing that if I can get away, some writing might happen.  Don’t get me wrong:  Thinking and writing still happens at my house, but it feels a bit different of late.  The book has ascended to the top priority, so when nothing on the book is getting done, not much else seems to get written either. 

All of this navel gazing here today is meant as an attempt at personal catharsis.  Fact is, I write this entry on the road from home back to the place where it all began.  It was many moons ago in 1981when I first set foot on Hog Island in Muscongus Bay, Maine after a short first visit to Emily Dickinson’s hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts. It was after only a couple hours on the island that I realized both places were tangentially connected — and my life was changed.  Indeed, such is the origins of the book I now am trying to write.  

So with that in mind, it’s back to Hog Island in just a couple days.  I’ve been back plenty of time since, but this return is extra special.  Seabird expert and Hog Island Audubon Camp director Steve Kress has agreed to let me serve as writer-in-residence for the next month, and what makes it extra special this visit is that I will be able to reside at the very place where Mabel Loomis Todd made her summer retreat/family camp.  Nobody has summered there for decades.  But now I get the chance to be there and work on a book about that very place.  Yow.  

My term as WiRes will last from 18 July through 19 August.  During that time I imagine I’ll chat with Audubon campers about Mrs. Todd, her camp, and her connections to Emily Dickinson, but my primary focus is drafting a couple chapters of Nature’s people.  

Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.  

But today I have ‘miles to go before I sleep’ as I traverse New England on my way back to Hog Island.  I’ll be making some blog entries over the next month to keep you posted on book and life progress.  Feel free to pass along any messages as I do.  []

Wish me luck.  

Today’s elder idea:   This island is so beautiful it really makes my heart ache!  Why, it seems to me God's own heaven can hardly be more perfect. 

                        journal of Mabel Loomis Todd
                        August 9, 1924

image:  The ‘writer’s cottage’ at Mrs. Todd’s Camp Mavooshen was built as residence for her daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham.  Such will be my ‘digs’ over the next month.  How cool is that?  ;-)

Sunday, February 23, 2014


As my lovely winter sabbatical at Lake Cumberland wraps up, I found myself this morning boiling down some basics about Mabel Loomis Todd for a friend of mine who thought I might have been talking about President Lincoln’s spouse.  

My retired high school English teacher wife reminds me that I have created an abstract.  It felt like a word game, crafting only the basics of Mrs. Todd’s story into an engaging synopsis.  

I assume a lot of people who pick up my book will know of Emily Dickinson, but little more.  Surely most will know nothing of Mabel Loomis Todd.  

So I figure my job is to certify the magnitude of Emily’s poetry while connecting it’s editing and publication to Mrs. Todd’s efforts. Since that work has borne important fruit in the humanities, I want to bring the reader into a further awareness of her committed interest in the Natural world.  In short, because she bought a mostly wilderness island in 1908, the field of environmental education has been impacted worldwide.  You could look it up.     ;-)


A quick take on Nature’s people

Mabel Loomis Todd entered into the Emily Dickinson legend through a friendship with her brother’s family.  As a new faculty wife, Mabel was welcomed into the Amherst College community through soirees held at the home of the college treasurer and important-man-on-campus, William Austin Dickinson.  His wife Susan’s hospitality offered young Mrs. Todd a venue for companionship, engagement in the arts, and extended after-dinner conversation.  Austin Dickinson’s participation in family activities was limited, but over time his friendship with Mabel grew.  

Mrs. Todd was quite taken, and taken in, by the Dickinsons.  But all was not right at the Evergreens, Austin & Susan’s home located just through the hedge from his parents’ homestead, then the residence of Emily and their sister Lavinia.  Story in town was that Susan’s friendships burned hot and bright for a time but then cooled.  The same could be said about her marriage to Austin, who subsequently spent many hours talking with his sisters in their kitchen about life and his unhappiness.  

About a year after Mabel’s arrival in Amherst, her friendship with Austin crossed what they lovingly referred to as their ‘Rubicon.’  Their affair, an open secret in town, would end only with Austin’s death thirteen years later.  David Todd, the new college astronomer and husband, tacitly approved of the pair’s intimacy because he was sincerely fond of them both and had a bit of a reputation himself.  Their only child, Millicent, grew up in that environment.  Susan Dickinson was aware as well, and as story has it, did not make her husband’s time at home all that comfortable. 

Austin and Mabel celebrated their love as ‘of the ages.’  Surely sister Emily knew about them, though she never wrote about it, unless metaphorically in her poems and letters.  Emily’s own legend, in fact, has her in love with a married man herself, so perhaps she knew something about loving a man she could not have.  Mrs. Todd, by the way, did write about it.  A lot.  (See Polly Longsworth’s Austin and Mabel:  The Amherst Affair & Love Letters of Austin Dickinson and Mabel Loomis Todd.) 

Following Emily Dickinson’s death and discovery of an unknown wealth of poetry, Lavinia ultimately turned to Mabel Todd to make sense out of the cache of paper scraps, written-on envelopes, and sewn-together, recopied poems.  It was tedious work at a time of high family tension.  Within a decade, Mabel Todd had three editions of Emily’s poetry published along with a volume of collected letters.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Besides their entanglements with the Dickinsons, Mabel and David Todd enjoyed full and engaging lives together.  Both were popular lecturers who often spoke of their travels on astronomical expeditions to far corners of an Earth linked, at the time, only by extended ocean voyages.  Besides Emily, the Myth & her poetry, Mrs. Todd spoke and wrote about mysterious destinations traveled that most of her audiences could only dream about:  Japan, northern Africa, high in the Andes, Indonesia, Russia just as The Great War broke out.  It should be noted too, that her voluminous personal written record of journals and diaries provides such in-depth personal insight into a woman of her era that it has been used in period case studies.  (See Peter Gay’s Education of the Senses: The Bourgeois Experience Victoria to Freud.) 

By midlife Mabel Todd made one more move that would broaden her personal legacy beyond the humanities.  Big into trees, she bought half of a mostly wilderness island in Maine.  She bought a second forest about that time, too, that one on a knob near Amherst, just to preserve the dignity of the stand.  Besides saving the trees on Hog Island, the Todds would make a summer camp there that the family enjoyed for over fifty years.  Upon the death of Mrs. Todd and the advent of Millicent Todd Bingham as island owner, the National Audubon Society entered the picture with a residential summer camp for adult leaders that has for decades impacted global environmental education while engaging the bodies, minds, and hearts of myriad campers, Nature’s people all.

I am one.  

Tom Schaefer
Lake Cumberland 
23 February 2014

I realize folks don’t like to comment much on this blog.  If you have any thoughts about what I’m doing here, I’d really appreciate your saying something.  I want to be sure I tell this narrative True.  I’m acting like that’s possible.  

image:  ‘Lobster House, c. 1905’   From Yale University archive, used without permission.  I’ll get all the details straight by the time the book comes out.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


The other day as I was jotting down writing progress notes, I found myself using the expression movements for the essays that make up the preface and chapters of Nature’s people: The Hog Island story from Mabel Loomis Todd to Audubon.

I surely like the rhythm and musical action such an expression implies.  I don’t know that I can reach those melodic heights, but the flow-through of musical and project energy permeates my writing process.  

So thinking in those terms today, I can report that I have three movements in decent early draft shape with another about to begin.  

The preface has been written at least once before. This newest version came late in week one down here as a writing rant to just get me started.  I just rambled on for a few pages about my Hog Island story, and before too long I felt ready to jump to chapter 1.  So the preface is pretty rough, but before I head back to Dayton I’ll be refining it, maybe even combining some ideas from the first one.  

Chapter 1:   Introducing Mrs. Todd  

Early draft put to bed a couple weeks ago.  Again, maybe things to add, things to consider, things to talk about with mentors, maybe some things to delete and/or reassign, but overall, an early draft I can be proud of.  I was thinking of telling folks during talks I’ll make, if you don’t read any more of the book, read chapter 1.  Overall synopsis of the whole story. 

Chapter 2:  Transcendental activist

Rebuilt and augmented this week; D1 completed yesterday.  Phew.

Argument made that Mabel Loomis Todd’s legacy deserves to include her belief and action taken for the preservation and appreciation Nature as well as the energy spent in bringing Emily Dickinson’s writings forward.  

Thanks to Julie Dobrow from Tufts for both her essay ‘Saving the land’ and her tip on reserving Mrs. Todd’s journals and diaries on microfilm from Yale’s Sterling Library.  

Now it’s on the movement 4:  Of astronomy & Dickinsons

Major interest in Mabel Loomis Todd is due her impact on the Dickinson family.  This chapter endeavors to describe the major players and the Emily Dickinson narrative as objectively as possible.  Dickinson publication issues will be covered, through the trial, into the 30 year hiatus.

Subsections:  Mabel Loomis Todd early bio to 1881/Amherst; David Peck Todd early bio to 1881; Susan and William Austin Dickinson in earliest Todd Amherst years; Emily Dickinson, publication drama, affair, subsequent court, case and the Emily sequester years; Millicent Todd Bingham as family rear guard and Emily Dickinson contributor in her own right.

Movement 5 (this spring):  Vacationland

Discussion of Maine’s development into vacationland:  boarders, summer villagers, then cottage builders progression.  Focus on 1908:  what was America like when Mrs. Todd signed the papers in Wiscassett?  Retelling the story of Hog Is origins and summers at the Point Breeze.  This section will follow the Todds through summer 1913 when Mabel has a debilitating stroke as she prepares to travel to Maine.  

Movement 6 (summer 2014):  ‘God’s own heaven’

The story of summers at Camp Mavooshen beginning in 1915.  David soon leaves the summer picture when he is hospitalized for a progressing brain disease brought about by syphilis.  But summers go on.  Lots of stories from Mrs. Todd’s daily diaries and a half dozen or more essays from her unpublished Epic of Hog collection.  

The Plan calls for working on this movement on Hog Island this summer while I serve as writer-in-residence and actually live — I kid you not — in Mrs. Bingham’s former cottage that hasn’t been occupied for decades.  Goodness.   

Movement 7 (fall  2014):  Mavooshen’s men

At a time when women were beginning to feel their political and social clout, the guys deserve mention for services contributed to the camp’s successful operation.  To include:  

David Todd:  his father wrote books about efficient home building.  David was significant in construction of camp buildings and maintaining water transportation.  Further/final description of his profession accomplishments & his giving Mabel great topics to write and lecture about through family travel around the world.  

Frank Lailer:  the local retired smack captain who became the handyman who kept the camp running.  Ran Romany Girl in assistance to Todds in many ways.  Family came to dinner now and then.  Not much on Frank, but he was key.  

Howard Hilder:  The camp artist who both created a studio in a summer dwelling he build just down the shore from the family camp (known as the Osprey cabin) and also painted the osprey and great blue heron murals in Mavooshen’s ‘living room.’  Great family friend and help to Mrs. Todd at camp. 

Walter vanDyke Bingham:  Millicent’s psychologist husband who made medical history by helping write the first aptitude tests for the US Army c. World War I.  Famous on island for his humous essay Homo sapiens auduboniesis which seeks to describe the peculiar island visitor, the Audubon birder.  

Then on to movement 8 (fall 2014):  The advent of Audubon

Pretty much the story of Audubon’s presence on the island from 1936 to Project Puffin today.  More later.  

At this point on the calendar I have 2.5 weeks left at this amazing winter writing sabbatical.  It’s been a cloudy, grey Kentucky winter week prior to now.  The sun is out, the day is warming a bit, and the birds are working very hard at finishing the sunflower seeds left in the feeder, while I talk to you all before plotting out how this next movement comes together and what sources I need to tell the narrative True.  

It’s a good job if you can get it.  

image:  The author’s photograph of the camp ‘living room’ as it stood in 1981, having been unoccupied for about twenty years.  Recent restoration efforts have improved the structure. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Writing process

Well, the book is coming along, but as I just posted on Facebook, even here in writing sequester at lovely, solitary Lake Cumberland, one can be distracted by squirrels in the sunflower feeder and bald eagles flying by the window.  Let alone sitting for some zen time contemplating the extensive rock face just across the water from my perch in the Kentucky hills.  

The first week here I couldn’t get the television to work like at all.  I listened to music instead, and had a little more quiet couch time, I think.  After Shannon came by and showed me the right buttons to push it’s been NASA TV at lunchtime and Rachel at 9 with the occasional search for something good to watch.  Last night I turned it off and went back to music.  

I was going to make this pretty quick today, but let me address the issue of writing a book as I know it.  I think about this stuff a lot, but don’t write about it much.  Bear with me.  

Writing a book is hard on many levels IMHO:  

1.  One must be sure to have enough of the right material to tell an historical ballad true.  My protagonist was a prolific writer, accomplished artist, and popular lecturer, besides having a very interesting love life.  First, it’s tough to get one’s head around the whole story all at once, and second, there’s so much stuff to read — most of it unpublished and archived in an ivy league university library far away — you hope you got all the good stuff.  One can have doubts about these things, but I think I’m okay.  Still lots to read, anyway you cut it.  

2.  Sitting for hours concentrating on plan/outline, specific subject matter, word choice & sentence construction, noting sources, revising as you go, and hoping like heck you haven’t left anything out takes a toll on one’s brain.  This, I think, is what most folks think about when they say writing is hard.  

3.  And then there’s the issue of life’s free-will choices.  I believe I could have done work other than teaching junior high and high school kids for thirty years and feel more beat up than I do.  Shoot, I got to teach thirty years and walk.  Thirty years.  Retired at 52.  When I have friends all around who say they’ll never be able to retire due to their job and personal savings limitations, it’s hard not to feel guilty.  Humbled, for sure.  

So I rather enjoy doing lots of stuff in my life.  I find cutting out most of the fun stuff to write a book that is really hard to do, presents a book production problem.  You might be able to guess such is the reason I’ve been at this project for over ten years.  

4.  Still, when I get going with the words on paper part of the writing process — aiming for 500 words/day minimum [per the advice of a wise university friend] — the ease of syntax feels pretty good.  I most often fear the muse will leave me at any time, though.  So a couple weeks ago when I got started late morning and didn’t quit until failing light after 5 for two days in a row, I felt a warm satisfaction.  

I now doubt what I wrote then is really so good.  Taking chapter two apart and rebuilding it is next on my docket and I’d rather not go there, for some reason.  It just feels like hard work.  I understand, indeed, the necessity of revising and editing.  See #6 below.  

5.  Work on The Dressy Adventuress project continues in one way or another, however.  Besides re-crafting the ‘Transcendental activist’ chapter, I have begun detailed planning for the next ‘movement’ which brings in the Emily Dickinson connection.  I am eager to get there, where I feel much love and energy.  I hope to be there by Monday, but don’t hold me to it.  I also have the need to cull out specific details of summer life on Hog Island from the already collected diaries of Mabel Loomis Todd.  This newer generation synopsis will be on my desk as I construct paragraphs.  And then there is the composite list of all of David Todd’s global solar expeditions.  I should have this stuff at my fingertips when I write content.  

6.  The sage university professor told me, too, to expect ten rewrites of my book.  I don’t doubt that’s true, and that feels okay.  But rewrites can only follow ‘writes’ — or drafts.  

Having lots of time all by myself to find a way into that writing is a real blessing that I thought might help production.  It is working, but at a weathervane pace that points and takes me to places I don’t always know are connected.  

Have I ever told you how lousy my self discipline is?  I’ll save you the details…  

Today’s elder idea:  

for Bruce 

Yesterday on the phone
when you told the story of helping 
your unknowing mother 
relearn how to wipe herself

the feeling in my heart was warmth
for you and her sharing such a personal 
moment that breeched the parent / 
child continuum.  You came of age. 

In the coming to that place you 
did not welcome — where stature and 
family position reversed from caregiver 
to tended — I felt for you

a welcoming hand into the realm of the elder
where I, too, see a diminished mother
fighting tooth and nail the coming darkness —
one who will not go gently into that good night.  

I watch her struggle.  You watched your mother do the same.
Neither woman selected this path. 
Both would rather be baking on a hot summer day or
sorting laundry, wondering how one family could create so many dirty clothes. 

Maybe they might even rather re-experience 
the discomfort of the eighth and ninth months
of carrying us, struggling with weight gain 
and wanting, then, the ordeal to be over. 

Maybe not so much now.  
Both Nancy and Gertrude have become passengers swept
onto a nonreturnable journey that has served them well —
that has gifted them with time on this Earth 

in the presence of parents and friends and family
and the kids, like you and me, who now live into
our years as elders, singing & telling stories of what 
they taught us and what we now know as true.  

Tom Schaefer
Lake Cumberland 
4 February 2014

image:  In Mrs. Todd’s front yard on Hog Island.  (summer 2013)

Note:  This blog entry was also posted @ 'The Back Porch'  /