The Flatness of the Prairie: Summer Sunset Monday, Jun 29 2015 

Over the years in this blog space, a topic I revisit from time to time is the allure of the flat topography that characterizes the coastal and inland prairies of South Louisiana.  This photo I borrowed from a friend’s Facebook post re-inspired my captivation with the romantic flatness of the prairie where flatness has nothing to do with featureless.

Prairie sunset

In other prairie views I’ve commented on over the years, the land features spreading away to the horizon provide the visual interest.  But our regional Gulf Coast summer sunset, offering stunning and contrasting hues of pink and yellow and orange, adds a vertical aspect to the prairie’s flatness.   Because the descending dusk reduces the land features  to unappealing silhouettes, the real interest rises upward from the horizon where the colorful evening shades bid the Cajun prairie earth bonsoir to another summer day.

A Summer Song: New Zion Saturday, Jun 27 2015 

I composed this piece from ideas drawn from a poetry workshop exercise that former Louisiana Poet Laureate Daryl Bourque gave at his Marais Bouleur family place near Church Point, La., in 2009. I visited Dr. Bourque’s place for an Acadiana Writing Project summer institute field trip. This turned out to be one of the favorite pieces in my portfolio. I read it at my Dad’s funeral on the hallowed grounds of that same church. I know I posted it before, but good stuff merits a re-post. .

If I am anyone owes much to where I’ve been

If I am anyone
Owes much to where I’ve been.
So be still a while.
Listen.
“Every head bowed, every eye closed.”
And hear the summer song 50 years ago,
After cow milkin’s done.

Sense the fragrance of sturdy folk–
Scrubbed with well water,
Groomed with Wild Root and talcum powder,
As they head over to the church house,
A neat frame building dressed in white asbestos slate.

The summer song from sturdy voices
Drifts across the pasture
From windows flung open wide
To hot July:
“Jesus saves, Jesus saves!”

If I am anyone
Owes much to where I’ve been.

At the corner of happy and holy: Genesis 2 and Walgreens Monday, Jun 22 2015 

At the corner of happy and holy.

At the corner of happy and holy.

I took the pastor’s sermon on marriage to heart Sunday afternoon. Preaching a sermon on Genesis 2 and the purpose men and women were created for one another in the idyllic beginning, he advanced a compelling assertion of the side-by-side equality of man and woman in matrimony, the notion that each owes to act selflessly in the regard for and consideration of the other. The point was well-made, and a charge ensued as an admonition: Within the next 72 hours, each married partner in the congregation should offer some truly sacrificial act of giving to the other as a living and personal illustration of the message.

Mission accomplished! On the way home from Laffy that afternoon I asked Sarah if she’d Iike to stop at Walgreens. She knows I loathe stopping at Walgreens on the way home, because like most men, once I set the course for home, I’m headed for the house. The destination becomes a matter of mission and determination. But she, like most women, usually wants to stop and smell  roses along the way . . . well, not so much roses as cosmetics and beauty aids and all the other frilly stuff at Walgreens.

So in my mind, by offering to stop without her asking, I’m off the hook for upholding my end of the sermonic obligation. And I even refrained from rolling my eyes or moaning when she accepted the offer to stop. And I never fidgeted or paced or acted impatiently the whole time we were in the store. Someone try to tell me that’s not agape love!

OK, Sarah, for my obligation, CHECK. The ball’s in your court for your selfless act toward me—-48 or so hours left and the clock is ticking.

The Deep Dark Shade of Summer Wednesday, Jun 17 2015 

My creative impulse was nagged the last few weeks by a deep shady spot that I pass regularly on campus—-one of those cool, inviting spots where someone can escape the brutal heat and humidity. I gave in to that creative impulse the last couple of days. So far, this is what I came up with.

The “place” of the poem.

The Deep Dark Shade of Summer
Composed June 2015 on the campus of LSUE

The deep dark shade of summer
broods in shadows
cast by sprawling boughs,
a shady rest and retreat
where leafy branches
arrest the summer sun,
the rude summer sun
whose tropical glare
strains in vain
to invade the sanctum
of shade’s cooling space.

When long June days swelter and pant,
we flee to such shade.
Deep shade,
dark shade,
the deep dark shade of summer
where dark-cooled, dappled earth
mocks mid-morning sun
and all its sultry ways.
Cool beneath an Oaken canopy,
the deep dark shade of summer
outshines the sun.

Pressing on to higher ground Thursday, Jun 11 2015 

Churches and university campuses almost universally feature iconic steeples, obelisks, and/or bell towers. Since both institutions’ professed aim is the pursuit of truth, the symbolism of the pointed objects obviously points above, a response to what I believe is man’s instinctive response to the search for a higher power (i.e., obviously, God).

The secular university, of course, in its humanism, cowers from that assertion; the church, however, embraces it. How attractive, then, the concept of the Christian institution wherein the pursuit of truth proceeds from the interaction of faith and reason?

That concept is expressed in the mission statement of St. Edmund Catholic School where I’ll be working this coming academic year as a high school teacher of rhetoric and poetics. From college to high  school? Is that a professional demotion? No, for in the pursuit for truth allied with faith and reason resides the highest order of

Symbols of truth points upward!

Symbols of truth point to the heavens!

academic freedom.  To borrow the words of a hymn writer,  I’m promoted to a “higher plane than I have found; Lord, lead me on to higher ground!”

Humble Rewards of Teaching: The “F” Word Friday, Jun 5 2015 

Yes, the “F” word for teaching: FUN! A couple of days ago I signed a contract to teach high school English at St. Edmund Catholic School this fall. That will be my post-retirement fling. And yes, I do mean fling.

As this retirement plan has been unfolding, I have known for months that I would not stop working. I wanted to find another job, a next-phase for my career. My criteria for a new position were three-fold: Less stress, fewer work hours, and equal to/greater than income. The opportunity that materialized meets and exceeds all three criteria—-It’s PERFECT.

The euphoria and excitement that settled over me for the next couple of days after signing the contract produced an epiphany. I remarked to Sarah yesterday that I had just realized that I haven’t had happy thoughts about going to work for more than ten years. Week after week, month after month, year after year for all that time—-a grind, tedium, obligation, years endured but not enjoyed.

The

The “F” word for teaching is “f-u-n.”

What does that sad obervation tell me about my work these past years in higher education administration? It tells me that it’s time to retire! The joy in my present work died several budget-cuts and GRAD Act failures ago. Of course, I never stopped doing the work all these years, but I can’t recall a day in the past ten years when I woke up excited about going to the office. In fact, my waking on many of those days was met with gut-souring dread.

So teaching, just plain old teaching, seems to be the God-given answer. After meeting with the principal and some co-workers, and receiving the most warm and enthusiastic welcome and reception from the St. Edmund community these past few days, I’m elated at this return to the purity and simplicity of my vocational calling—-to teach, simply teach, and have fun doing it.

I should have known: The past five or six years that I’ve taught a MWF 11:00-11:50 composition class across the hall from my office has born witness. Even though I was teaching as an added duty with no extra compensation, the only three hours of the work week that I could count on being fun, rewarding, or otherwise happy, were those 3 hours of escape from the office, spent before an audience of students. The rest of the work week in and around the office was work—-something I did because it was my job, what I had to do to make a living.

So now with the end of my present job in sight 7 weeks from now, followed shortly thereafter by the happy beginning of the next phase, I echo the words of the Negro spiritual that Dr. King quoted in his famous speech: “Free at last, free at last! Praise God Almighty, I’m free at last!”

The Queen of Rocky Mountain “Daze” Monday, Jun 1 2015 

When we left the sultry Gulf Coast, late-May climate for Colorado last week, I wasn’t thinking about spring. We were way past spring down south; in my mind, we were on to summer.

But when we got to the Rockies, especially in the lower elevations of the front range for our hiking trip along Devil’s Backbone, spring had a thing going on.

The verdant, grassy meadows below the jagged crests of the heights spread away across rolling valleys below. The fragrance of thousands of blooming plants—-from prickly-pear cacti to sage brush—-drifted delicately in sunny breeze all along the twisting, winding trail. The sensory sensations were subtle, never overpowering; but the airy fragrance was pervasive, fascinating, as the tone and tenor of varied aromas and combinations of aromas waxed and waned along the trail, depending on the species of flora and fauna nearest by.

Devil's Backbone's jagged spines stand as craggy sentinels watching over the valleys of the front range.

Devil’s Backbone’s jagged spines stand as craggy sentinels watching over the valleys of the front range.

The weather was perfect, too. Morning low 48/afternoon high 72, sunny, just breezy enough to dry the sweat brought on by the hike’s exertion.

Of all the spring days I’ve known, I believe this one was the queen of them all. The “r-o-c-k” in “Rocky Mountains” surely applies to the season.

A Black Camry, and Papa’s Little Girl, Growing and Going Thursday, May 28 2015 

How many times did she leave from our driveway in that black Camry?  Today at the Denver airport, so far away!

How many times did she leave from our driveway in that black Camry? Today, so far away!

The black Camry bought for Mom in 2005 became Ann’s in 2007.

In the early years, we’d watch Ann drive away, southbound on Hill Street, to LSUE campus, where she was a student and trainer for the baseball team. She came back every day around the end of baseball practice.

She earned the associate degree in 2009 and went on to LSU for her next two degrees. She returned mostly for holidays–that’s about all–but she came home at least 3 or 4 times a semester. We’d watch that black Camry drive away, northbound on Hill Street to US190 East, leading to the LSU campus in Baton Rouge.

Then she grew up and got married. About 11 months ago, she drove that Camry off to Greeley, Colorado, to begin a career as a graduate assistant at University of Northern Colorado. That black Camry has never parked in our driveway since.

So watching that car drive away today from the airport in Denver, after she dropped us off to catch our flight back to Louisiana, was a little emotional. Our little girl is all grown up. She drives off to a home of her own, far away from ours, as we fly off to what used to be her home.

And thus we grow and go, kids and parents alike, navigating the cyclical courses of our lives. Nothing remains ever the same.

Humble rewards of the profession: A teacher never knows where his influence stops…or begins Friday, May 22 2015 

Let me see if I can sort out the substance of today’s experience. Let me start with the beginning of this excerpt-from-my-life narrative.

My former student who taught my former student.

My former student who taught my former student.

I’ll start with Patton. I taught Patton for English 1002 in the early 2000’s. He was a traditional-aged student from the area. I don’t recall the particulars of his performance, but I recall he was sharp student with a super-engaging personal style. He returned to LSUE as a teacher a couple of years ago and joined my office this past year as a full-time assistant administrator. He’s picked up a couple of masters degrees since leaving LSUE and has become a really fine teacher, both for online courses and face-to-face courses.

Next comes Candi. Candi was my student in 2008 in English 1002 online. She is a memorable student first of all for the quality of her writing and her overall effort. She really excelled at critical reading/researching/writing and earned one of the highest averages a student’s ever earned in my class. But English 1002 was not all that was going on in Candi’s life that semester. Her husband was terminally ill. She completed many of her assignments at his bedside at the M. D. Anderson Hospital in Houston through an unimaginably difficult and stressful (understatement?) life-crisis. Ever since, I’ve had little respect for students who come to me with lame excuses about why they couldn’t complete their assignments. Her work in that semester goes down in my 28 years of teaching as the most heroic student performance I’ve ever observed.

Next comes Candi and Patton. One of Candi’s last courses in completing her degree was Political Science 2051, American Government. She took it this past semester, she excelled and earned an A, and her teacher was Patton.

My former student teaching my former student. But that’s not all–Patton shared with me an email she sent to him at the end of this semester thanking him for being a good teacher and citing him and one other faculty member at LSUE as the best of the best teachers: The other faculty member she cited was me.

A teacher never knows where his influence ends . . . or begins.

A teacher never knows where his influence ends . . . or begins.

Candi earned a certificate of distinction for her work in Patton’s class, so she came to campus today to receive her certificate and to take pictures. I was particularly pleased and proud that my supervisor and two of the academic Division Heads were present for the informal presentation, so Patton and I both got to brag and show off a little in front of our boss and our colleagues.

I can’t spend the pride that I felt this morning at the grocery store, but like so many other rewards of teaching-as-a-life’s-calling, I’ll cherish the sentiment as long as my mind works. And of course, I memorialize it with this post.

And to my friends who teach, we remember: This is sacred work!

Hinds CC Baseball: Hubris and the Agony of Defeat Wednesday, May 20 2015 

An empty, broken-down bus was the emblem of defeat.

An empty, broken-down bus was the emblem of defeat.

This post is pretty much a one-pic photo essay. If you ask a Hinds baseball fan, the broken down Hinds Community College bus loaded on the dolly this morning on our campus was supposed to have been driven home to Mississippi last weekend hauling a triumphant, nationally ranked first place Eagles baseball team back to Mississippi to the accolades of adoring fans prepared to root their boys on to the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series the following week in Oklahoma.

But three unanticipated events spoiled their glee . . . and their ride home.

1. The number 1 ranked Eagles lost their first-round game in the Regional tournament to our then-second-ranked Bengals Friday night, 10-6.
2. The Eagles lost their double-elimination game the following night to those same Bengals, who white-washed the Mississippi boys 6-0.
3. The bus that would have hauled the triumphant Eagles back to Mississippi broke down and had to sit on the LSUE campus for a couple of days waiting for the king-sized tow truck that came today.

As I watched the wrecker-driver securing the bus on the trailer, I thought, “What an emblem! What hubris!” The Eagles came to Eunice so confident; many of their fans were brash and outspoken, even after losing the opening round. Yep, we observed an example of pride that goes before destruction. This morning, the disabled bus’s emptiness at the beginning of its long ride home was emblematic of the team’s and its fans’ bitterness.

As there was no joy in Casey’s Mudville, so there was no joy in the Eagles’ Raymond (Mississippi).

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