Honoring our past, fueling our future

I can remember those days as a kid when I’d get to light a candle in church. The small white votives flickering through red and blue glass. The wooden sticks we’d light from one burning candle and then eagerly decide which new candle we’d bring to life. I’m not sure we always had the proper reverence for lighting a candle in memory of someone no longer with us, but it’s one of my most vivid childhood memories. I can still smell the blend of wax and wick like it was yesterday.

I still love to light candles, still feel a bit of awe as the match comes in contact with the wick and instantly starts to glisten the wax. The flame flickers and then stands tall. Warmth. Light. Two necessities of life. It’s no wonder we burn candles in memory of life lived … and lost. They bring us back, reignite our memory for a few moments, and honor our past. It’s those people and experiences that become the wisdom and fuel for our future.

Good things come to those who wait

Patience isn’t high on my list of character strengths. Ask my family, friends, and colleagues. They’ll tell you when I get an idea in my head or a goal in my sights, my next question is often why isn’t it done yet? I often see patience as procrastination. I have little tolerance for the latter — in others or in myself.

Patience is a virtue.

All good things come to those who wait. 

It will come, in due time. 

All phrases I was convinced were contrived by someone trying to get a head start in the race.

I find this impatience lurking even in my greatest joys. When I see potential in something or someone, I want that potential to be realized now, sometimes even yesterday.

K will look at me when I’m focused on the end of some timeline and ask why are you trying to rush it? She’s right. Nearly all of life is evolution, not revolution. Most things in life don’t need to be — or refuse to be — rushed. I’m learning to embrace this new approach, sometimes reluctantly, to allow things to unfold organically and without meticulous intent.


Last summer while hiking in New Mexico, I captured this photo at the top of a ridge adjacent to our campsite. We’d just finished a strenuous ascent up a rocky path. Over the last mile, the wind strengthened and the sky threatened to open.

The trees on the ridge fell victim to wildfire years ago, now just lifeless scars. The scene felt heavy, and my Catholic heritage evoked an almost Gol’gothic visual in my mind. It was beautiful in its somber tones, but I was impatient for more. I knew the sun was setting behind the ominous clouds. I paced the ridge hoping they would part to reveal its glory.

They never did. The grey pall dissolved into night.


The next morning I crawled out of my tent. The rising sun cracked over the ridge, bringing new life to the charred trunks, a vibrant green to the reborn understory. The clouds gave a hint of the blue sky above.

It wasn’t the beauty my impatience craved the night before.

It was more. It was greater than.

It was the good thing that comes to those who wait.

The juxtaposition of these two photos has resonated in me since I took them. My heart kept telling me there was meaning in the imagery, but my mind struggled to find the words to describe it. Every time I saw them in my collection, I knew I had to write about them — that they had potential. It frustrated me that their story would not spring forth, no matter how hard I squeezed.

I had to wait for the meaning. It had to come in due time.

As it struck me that these images were my lesson in patience, The Doors’ Waiting for the Sun crossed my consciousness. Morrison’s drawn out vocals, dripping with potential, demanding patience from his listener. Twenty seconds for just three lines. Masterpiece worth the wait.

Can you feel it
Now that Spring has come
That it’s time to live in the scattered sun

Patience will never be one of my greatest virtues, but I’ve learned to welcome its long-neglected place in my life — with the universe, those who intersect and inhabit my life, and myself.



From July 16-27, 2017, my son and I, along with three other boy scouts and two other dads in Crew 716-J-02, backpacked 84 miles through Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmarron, New Mexico. These photos were taken at Elkhorn trail camp on Saturday-Sunday, July 22-23, trail days 7-8.

The wisdom of a driver named Minnie

I heard her pleasant good evening, how are you all tonight? as I ducked my head into her Chevy Cruze, barely making out her profile in the driver’s seat, that five o’clock view you get of most Uber drivers’ faces. Minnie was our ride from the hotel to a Latin restaurant a few miles away, our short connection a happenstance of supply and demand at the right time, right place. Her voice was as pleasant as the smile that graced the corner of her mouth and her personality filled the car with joy.

Our trip didn’t last more than a few minutes, but we learned that Minnie was born in rural Northern Arkansas, not far from Memphis. She’d spent years in Detroit but moved to Louisville for a new start away from a once vibrant Motor City.

I was there when our mayor smoked crack, she noted.

Ah, good old Marion Barry, I chuckled.

She was quick to defend her former home and her family members that still live there. They’re doing a lot better now. 

She told us about her mother who’d recently passed — the glue of their family, the reason for all coming together on a regular basis. Her family was a United NationsWe had blacks, and Asians, and Caucasians, and Puerto Ricans. And we all came together. She worried that they’d drift apart now that their matriarch was gone.

As we approached our destination one of us commented how upside-down the world seems right now. Minnie paused, and said matter-of-factly, We just need a little more love. Love is easy. It takes effort to hate. 

Her words bounced around in my mind and heart as we stepped out of the car and wished her a wonderful evening.

Love is easy. It takes effort to hate. 

Reporting from the front

“This was life then. The thing you had seen that set you apart. When I bring a new book, story, essay into the world, when I give a speech or lead a retreat, I am reporting from the front of the thing I have seen. The thing that sets me apart. Each of us is as individual as a snowflake. Each of us is set apart. It is in all of our individuality, in the sum total of our life experiences, the specificity of our paths, that we have most to offer one another.” – Dani Shapiro, On Being Singular

Yes. This is why I share. This is why I want each one of you to share as well.

The voice of the woods

Botanicals 2013-11-29 Lake Sara

Except for the snow-covered dead of winter, the woods are rarely silent. Leaves crunch under each step. A woodpecker knocks in search of a morning meal. Chipmunks scratch across moss-covered logs. Acorns cascade down from the canopy, pinging off branches before landing softly on the forest floor. If they’re lucky, they’ll be found by an industrious squirrel, buried beneath the ever-changing layer of life that underlies the woods, and then forgotten to someday become one of the forest elders. Read More

Individual results will vary

Toad lilies. Astilbe. Switchgrass. All plants that I should be able to grow well here in Central Illinois (Zone 5b). All plants that have never survived more than a season in my garden, no matter how many times I’ve planted them. Yet, still, I somehow can’t resist these plants as I sail my shopping cart through the aisles of our local garden center. Perhaps I need someone to tie me to the mast so that I can resist their siren song.

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Embrace the Offering of the Present

A couple of weeks ago, my friend and fellow garden writer Kylee Baumle recommended a book — The Backyard Parables by Margaret Roach — to me. When it comes to garden books, particularly those that are more memoir than reference, Kylee and I are cut of similar cloth; her recommendation carries a lot of weight.

A few hours after I ordered my copy from Amazon, Kylee posted a full review and giveaway on her blog, Our Little Acre. Her hearty recommendation to me was multiplied as she places The Backyard Parables at the top of her all-time favorite gardening books list. Coming from Kylee, an avid reader and book review editor for Horticulture magazine, this revelation only whet my appetite for a masterpiece found within the book.

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What will happen, will happen

I have a confession to make. I worry. I worry a lot. I worry that I worry too much.

This past weekend, as the temperature broke 50 degrees, I worried that the plants would be fooled by a false spring and my garden be wiped out by the true winter that was sure to come.

Then, on Wednesday morning, I read this edict on Facebook, by way of Steve Bender (aka Southern Living’s Grumpy Gardener).

“How can you stop this mild winter weather from causing shrubs, trees, and bulbs to bloom too early? Answer: You can’t. So stop worrying about it. Que sera sera.

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The simple intricacy

Over the last few years, I’ve been watching this tree die. It’s a Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris), I believe. I’ve never gone through the trouble to get a positive identification, in spite of my fascination. It may seem morbid that I’ve taken such an interest in its demise, but this tree has been more than a plant to me. It’s a symbol that even in death, there is a beauty.

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