Happy New Year

Today…this last day of the year…was as beautiful as they come here in the Carolinas. A cloudless blue sky…temperature in the low 70s. I woke up early and drove Tinker into town to see the vet for a nagging cough she’s been having. The doctor gave her some antibiotics and antihistamine pills for her congestion. Since he had a hard time getting her to open her mouth to take a look at her throat, he asked me if I was able to give her pills. I then told him about my fool-proof pill ‘delivery system’ that I use with the dogs, which consists of taking an olive (the green ones with pimentos inside), and sticking the pill inside with the pimento. He gave me a quizzical look, and asked, incredulously, “She’ll eat olives?” I think I saw a light bulb go on over his head. Tinker, as well as Belle, will eat practically anything you give them. Carrots…onions…garbanzo beans…even lettuce. I do watch what they eat (no people food usually)…although I need to put both of them on a diet.

It’s been a slow week, with lots of time for reflection on the past year, and on what the future may hold in the coming new year. Maggie Ross, in her blog Voice in the Wilderness, sums up this ‘In Between’ time of year very well when she recently wrote:

“Along with the earth’s solstice, we have the opportunity between Yule and the New Year to take a deep breath, not just to add up our taxes, acknowledge our sins and failings, rejoice in the goodness of life and love, and give thanks—in spite of the horrors of human culture disintegrating around us—but also to learn to wait without anticipation or projection.”

I’m taking a very deep breath after the events of this past year…and am trying to get better at waiting…simply living in the present moments that are freely given to each of us every day.

Belle and Tinker

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year!

There and back again

Oh yes…St. Augustine. My usual half-mile walks at lunchtime during the week thankfully prepared me for all of the walking I did during my two day stay in the old city. I stayed at the Historic Inn (built circa 1970) across the bridge on Anastasia Island. Once I parked the car, I was determined to do everything on foot. That involved walking about a half-mile into town, across the newly restored Bridge of Lions, which spans the Matanzas River. I think I made four round-trips during my stay, and my legs were feeling it towards the end of the second day.

Bridge of Lions

Guarding the bridge are an impressive  pair of marble lion sculptures, symbolizing, I think, the fact that St. Augustine was at one time a Spanish colony.


I did spend some time one afternoon walking along the ocean at nearby Anastasia Beach, a place I had last visited a long, long, long time ago when I was very, very, very young. Thinking about all that has transpired in between those visits started leading me down the proverbial melancholy lane, which, unfortunately, proceeded to color the rest of my stay in Florida.

Anastasia Beach

It was, however, a beautiful day…the surf rolling in…the wind blowing in off the ocean…the crunch of tiny shells beneath my feet. On the way back, I stopped to see the St. Augustine Light, although, I passed on making the over 200-step climb to the top. Maybe next time…

St. Augustine Lighthouse

Although St. Augustine is turning into a kind of adult theme park, with trolley tours running throughout the town, and shops along old Saint George Street (pedestrians only) hawking every kind of oddity that can be invented, there are still a lot of historical gems to be found, as well as some great architecture from the turn of the century (twentieth, that is), when the railroad barons were developing the area as a posh resort destination. Structures such as the former Alcazar Hotel (now City Hall and the Lightner Museum),

Alcazar Hotel

and the Ponce de Leon Hotel (now part of Flagler College), lend a dream-like atmosphere to the place.

Ponce De Leon Hotel gated entryway

And then there’s always the fabled Casa Monica Hotel (originally built in 1888, restored, and now owned by Marriott). Oh well…the Historic Inn was much cheaper. Maybe one day…

Casa Monica Hotel

One other very interesting place that I visited was the St. Photios Greek Orthodox shrine,  also on Saint George Street.

St. Photios

Inside, in addition to a very beautiful little chapel with its Byzantine style icon paintings, there was a very informative exhibit about the early settlement of this area by Greeks, who were first brought over in 1768 to settle the ill-fated New Smyrna colony to the south of St. Augustine. There’s a plaque further down the street, commemorating these settlers, mostly from the island of Minorca, off the coast of Spain. I like the quote from Stephen Vincent Benet (himself a Minorcan descendant)…

“They came here, they toiled here, they suffered many pains, they lived here, they died here, they left singing names.”

Minorcan Heritage

Lastly…the destination of my pilgrimage…the old Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine

On Christmas Eve, I made the journey across the Bridge of Lions and entered the Cathedral to attend the celebration of Mass. It was standing room only…the singing…the organ music… was beautiful. I remembered all the responses (even though it’s been a while).

Christmas Eve

I also did something I haven’t done in ages…lit a votive candle. One for Sharon…and one for the husband of a friend…and said a prayer for both.


This journey had its ups and downs…sometimes glorious epiphanies of hope…sometimes driving through dream-like landscapes filled with bittersweet memories…wishing at times…to simply wake up from the bad dream. Hopefully, these good and bad days even out over time. It’s been nearly a year…

When I got back home today, I sprung the girls from jail…they were ecstatic and glad to be home too. There were hundreds of Robins flying from tree to tree around the house…singing as if it was Spring.

My Christmas gift

I awoke from a very strange dream this Christmas morning in St. Augustine (worth noting…I think). In the dream…a figure of a man…as if suddenly finding himself suspended in mid-air…floating among the clouds…a look of sheer terror on his face. Just as suddenly…he began shyly smiling as he stretched out his arms…slowly realizing that he could fly. Finally…he turned towards me and waved goodbye…a bemused grin on his face…raised his arms over his head…and dove downward into the clouds…into the unexpected darkness of the unknown that was far below.

Sharon was my dream interpreter…but I think I got this one.

Later…driving alone (no other sane people driving in the middle of nowhere on this Christmas morning) through Ocala National Forest as the sun was rising through the primeval mist that floated among the tall, spindly pines…in a dreamlike reverie. A day filled with difficult thoughts…in familiar territory…but now feeling so empty. I’m hoping that one of these days I can work up the courage to again dive for dreams, as e.e. cummings wrote in his poem of the same name. I’m probably lingering much too long on the last lines of his poem…

-before leaving my room

i turn, and (stooping

through the morning) kiss

this pillow, dear

where our heads lived and were.

Full circle

This Christmas is going to be a bit different. Part pilgrimage…part family visit. Traveling familiar roads…seeing familiar places…but this time alone. My first destination will be the oldest city in the country…St. Augustine, Florida. It’s a favorite place of mine, having first made its acquaintance nearly forty years ago when I was in the Navy, stationed in Jacksonville. There are not many towns on this continent where you can stroll down narrow streets almost five hundred years old. Sharon and I spent a wonderful Christmas there several years ago…wandering the streets in the chilly darkness…and at one point popping into the old Cathedral Basilica where Mass was being celebrated…to warm up. I plan to spend this Saturday evening…Christmas Eve…in the Cathedral. Staying a little longer this time…and for different reasons. Then…Christmas morning…crossing the Florida peninsula to the Gulf Coast to visit Sharon’s mother, and our son Beau. This year has been hard on them too…I’m sure.

It’s going to feel different this time…I’m certain of that too. I think what I’ll miss the most is having someone to share the experience with. In a way…I’ll have come full circle back to the beginning…but surely with a lot of good memories of the journey…and of my traveling companion…whom I was graced to have accompany me for much too short a time.

Beginner’s mind

Not feeling very festive this year. At least, not in the worldly way. No tree…no lights…no ornaments. I did put up the holly wreath on the front door though…just to mark the season. I couldn’t…just yet…bring myself to sort through all the containers in the shed that hold all of our Christmas decorations. I opened one to get the wreath out, but that’s all I could manage before making a quick exit and locking the door. Maybe next year…when hopefully, I’ll be in a better, and more lucid,  frame of mind.

This year, I’m concentrating on the very first Christmas…starting at the beginning…trying to reorient myself into looking at things from the proper perspective. I’m starting by carefully rereading The Gospel of Luke, followed by the Acts of the Apostles, both having been written by Luke the physician, friend and traveling companion of Paul. My hope is to get a clear idea of what the church was actually like during that first century, when everything was still fresh in people’s minds…and try to determine just how far we might have strayed from those simple beginnings.

There’s a term in zen called beginner’s mind…trying to approach something without any preconceived notions on how we think something should be done. I think it might be the same thing that Jesus spoke of when He said that we must become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. We pick up so much baggage during the course of our lives…things…stuff…that I’m finding now is just meaningless in the long term.

So…this Christmas season…I’m not concentrating on stuff. Just trying to get back to simple beginnings…and hopefully find myself again along the way.

Lux aeterna

I awoke this morning to the sound of angels singing. It took a few minutes to realize that this heavenly music was emanating from the radio beside my bed, which is set to awaken me every morning at 4:30. I lay for awhile, spellbound, taking in the shifting, a Capella harmonies of an unearthly choir of voices. Somehow, I had never heard this music before. Later, with a little research, I discovered it was O Nata Lux, part of the Lux Aeterna, written by the American composer Morten Lauridsen, with the words taken from parts of the Requiem mass, speaking of God as the source of all light, the Light Eternal.

Lux aeterna luceat eis, domine
cum sanctis tuis in aeternum
quia pius es.

Light eternal shine upon them O Lord
in the company of thy Saints forever
for thou art merciful.

This is some of the most beautiful and moving music that I’ve ever heard. It speaks to the soul, and gives great comfort. O Lord…keep them safe.