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The Secret of Christmas Cove

An old woman walked down a dirt road to check her box at the local post office. She had a secret hobby, easy to keep hidden on this quiet country road. Wildflower seeds filled her pockets. Every few minutes she tossed a handful of seeds along the roadside. If you read my last post (you really should), you may have guessed the identity of these seeds. Yes, they were lupine seeds and yes, there really was a lupine lady that inspired Barbara Cooney to write her award-winning children's book, Miss Rumphius.

Her name was Hilda Edwards, an English immigrant who arrived in Maine at the age of fifteen. After settling in her adopted home, Hilda went on to graduate from Smith College in 1915 and married Talbot Faulkner Hamlin, a college professor and librarian. Like Miss Rumphius, Hilda traveled the world and lived in a house by the sea. Her uncle, a retired English professor, offered her family the chance to summer in a shingled cottage perched high above Christmas Cove on the coast of Maine. That is where lupine got their start in coastal Maine. Every August, Hilda cut stalks from fading lupine and shook seeds along roadside and fields. All this she did in secret, until one day a car pulled up next to her as she walked to the post office.

"Who planted these wildflowers?" the tourist asked.

Hamlin replied, "At the end of the road lives a queer old bird who has so many hundreds of lupine on her land that she has acquired the habit of cultivating the seeds when they open."

The tourist said, "I would like to shake her hand."

Hilda extended her hand, "I am Hilda Lupina."

Readers of Yankee magazine got a glimpse of Hilda. Back in 1971, W. Storrs Lee visited Hilda, and the interview was featured in the popular regional publication. Her story brought unwelcome fame to the quaint village. The little post office in Christmas Cove was inundated with letters from readers requesting seeds. In a later issue, editors reminded readers that Hilda was not in competition with Burpees seed catalog nor was she up to visitors suddenly appearing at her doorstep. Like Miss Rumphius, she enjoyed the solitude of her cottage by the sea.

Hilda Edwards Hamlin died before the publication of Miss Rumphius. Although I am sure she would have enjoyed this beautifully illustrated children's book, I feel certain that she would not have appreciated the fame it would have brought her. 

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Make the world more beautiful...whatever it may be.

Be ready! You will now hear from me of lupine-that flower of June seen in meadow and by roadsides, with purple, pink, and white spires-true heralds of summer in Maine. Why is it not our state flower? After all, it is tough, thrives in poor soil, and survives drought and insects. Maine towns even hold Lupine celebrations. Deer Isle holds a Lupine Festival complete with a pickleball tournament and a Lupine cake contest. Sorry to say no state flower here, though; lupine are not native to Maine.

Yet truly, lupine must be Maine's most celebrated flower thanks to the late author/ illustrator Barbara Cooney and her classic children's book Miss Rumphius-winner of the 1983 National Book Award for best children's picture book. In this beautifully illustrated book, Cooney weaves the magical tale of Alice Rumphius who makes a promise to travel the world, live in a house by the sea, and make the world more beautiful. For those who have not read the book (you really should), Alice wanders down paths and into fields spreading bushels of lupine seeds. Upon seeing bursts of lupine adorning hill and dale, Alice Rumphius has wise advice for us all -make the world more beautiful, whatever that might be.

Author of 100 books and two-time winner of the prestigious Caldecott Award, Cooney was a self-taught artist. She credited her mother with nurturing her talent. Much like the lupine that thrives without much fussing, Cooney's mother gave her materials and time to herself. Her mother only required that she clean the paint brushes. Barbara Cooney's life was dedicated to the pursuit of beauty, not only in her own illustrations, but in the lives of children. Upon acceptance of the Caldecott Award in 1959 she said, "I believe that children in this country need a more robust literary diet than they are getting…it does not hurt them to read about good and evil, love and hate, life and death. Nor do I think they should read only about things they understand…a man's reach should exceed his grasp. So should a child's. For myself, I will never talk down to –or draw down to- children."

A resident of Damariscotta, Maine, Barbara Cooney died in the year 2000 at the age of 82. The Bowdoin Art Museum in Brunswick, Maine holds a permanent collection of her paintings. 

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A Mother's Day Story

April 28, 1962-Monza, Italy- Pietro Molla watched the deathbed scene with a broken heart, for his worst fears had come true. His beloved wife Gianna was near death. Only days after the birth of their daughter, Gianna was dying from septic peritonitis.Two months into pregnancy with her fourth child, she had been diagnosed with a fibroma on her uterus. Doctors gave her three options-abortion, complete hysterectomy which would have killed the unborn child, or remove the tumor. She chose to have them remove the tumor, although it put her own life at risk. After the surgery, complications plagued her throughout the pregnancy. On April 21st-Good Friday-Gianna felt the first labor pain. Despite the pains of labor and infection, her mind was clear. Above all else, the baby must be given a chance at life. This fervent belief was made clear to the doctors. She said, "If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate - choose the child- I insist on it. Save the child." Gianna gave birth to a healthy daughter, an infant she was able to cradle in her arms for only fleeting moments. Gianna died with her husband at her side. Four little children slept peacefully in the next room.

Many years later, in an interview, Pietro spoke emotionally, his voice shaking with emotion. He recalled, "In the final moments, she was very reserved with me, as I found out later in comparison as to how she was with her sister, Virginia. She asked Virginia if she knew what it was like to die and to leave behind four children. The last gesture I saw Gianna make was when she was holding Gianna (their newborn) and Gianna looked at the baby with both eyes, I don't know how to tell you, I can't explain it. She was saying goodbye to the baby with her eyes. That expression really moved me…I don't know. On Thursday morning Virginia told me 'Pietro, I was afraid she was going to cross over to the next world, because of the pain, the pain that she was suffering…' Gianna said to me, very serenely as usual, Pietro I was already over there….do you know what I saw? No, no, I won't tell you now. She never told me. But you see," she continued. "Over there (in happier days) we were too content, too happy, too much in love and God sent me here to suffer a little bit because we cannot live without suffering."

Many home movies exist of these happy days. There is Gianna always smiling, children running into her arms, dancing with little ones, hugging them. She is also pictured wearing a white coat, for Gianna was also a pediatrician.

The child born on that day in 1962, Gianna Emanuela, went on to become a physician and was present at the canonization of her mother on May 16, 2004. Pietro and their other children were also there. It was the first time the husband of a saint was present for such an historic event. 

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Miracles at Your Doorstep

​      Miracles happen every day right under our noses, but we often take them for granted. I am guilty of being too busy, not noticing nature's wide array of beauty in my own back yard or in this case my own front porch. Every May we hang a hummingbird feeder from the rafters of our old farmer's porch and wait. Faithfully, this tiny winged spirit of the air –the ruby throated hummingbird-arrives to sip sugar water from our red-topped feeder. Recently, I learned that not everyone ignores this smallest of birds. Scientists have conducted extensive studies and come up with surprising results.

Soon we will witness the courtship dive that does stop me in my tracks. I look out the kitchen window and see this wild air show, as the male zeroes in on a willing female. He dives at 385 body lengths per second- the fastest known speed (relative to body length) of any vertebrate. That equates to 49 miles per hour, creating 10 g of gravitational force. Fighter pilots experiencing similar g-force nearly black out under similar pressure.

The rufous hummingbird-west coast cousin to the ruby throated- migrates 3900 miles from southern Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico-which makes the record books for longest migratory journey of any bird in the world. Our local species migrates to Mexico and has been monitored flying 500 miles non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico. This mystifies scientists who note that humming birds have high metabolism which requires frequent nutrition. Hummingbirds are vulnerable to starvation and thus are highly tuned to food sources, including neighborhood feeders. I have noticed how territorial they are, perching on our rhododendron and aggressively attacking other birds trying to take a sip. Even in rainstorms, they maintain their post, shaking water off their heads just like dogs.

These tiny jeweled sprites with shimmering feathers have been subjected to high-tech study. High speed photos reveal that they have micro-pumps in their tongues. These tubes open as they go in and close on the way out, trapping nectar in a pumping action. Electromyography captures hovering maneuvers. Flight studies using high speed cameras in wind tunnels record aerodynamics, perhaps in hopes of learning more about flight. The Wright brothers used wind tunnels and close observation of birds to created their famous Wright flyer, on display at The Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

Scientists are not the only ones to appreciate the beauty of humming birds. Poets are captivated, too. Emily Dickinson wrote of them as did Mary Howitt. She makes me want to see with a poet's eye. Here is a little gem.

The Humming-bird

By Mary Howitt

The humming-bird the humming-bird!

So fairy-like and bright; it lives among the sunny flowers,

A creature of delight!

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The Deadly Beauty of Mt. Everest

Mt. Everest, 1970- Japanese alpinist and skier Yuichiro Muichiro meditates in his tent as vicious winds howl around him. He is in the death zone of Mt. Everest where the air contains little oxygen; he is preparing to do something no man has ever attempted-ski down the south face of Everest. It looks like his extraordinary feat will have to wait for another day. Gusts of 100 miles per hour could blow him off the mountain. Suddenly, the wind ceases; Muichiro unzips the flap of his tent. As he gazes out from the rooftop of the world, he knows that he could be a doomed man. He pushes on, straps on skis, adjusts his fighter pilot helmet, and inhales deeply from an oxygen mask. With one push, he starts down the slope. A multi-colored drag parachute opens behind him. Within six seconds, he is traveling at 100 miles per hour.

Of course, Muichiro is not the only climber to risk death on the peaks of Mt. Everest-29,029 ft above sea level-the highest summit in the world. It is located in the Himalayas-the international border between China and Nepal. As of 2017, nearly 300 people have died on Everest; many of their bodies still remain on the mountain. That does not seem to stop alpine adventurers. Over the last few decades, extreme sports have become popular. Dare devils hang-glide, paraglide, flyover in hot-air balloons, fly up in helicopters, and snowboard off cliffs. In 2013, a man with no arms made it to the top. That same year Eli Reimer, a teen with Down syndrome climbed 17,600 feet to raise money for children with disabilities. In 2014, one of the worst disasters ever recorded on Everest occurred when 16 Sherpas were swept to their deaths by an avalanche.

Why do people risk their lives climbing Mt. Everest? Sir George Mallory, who died in his third attempt to climb the summit famously said, "because it was there." Much has been written on this topic. Documentaries, books, poems, and science articles speculate on what drives human beings up Everest. A lengthy article appeared in LiveReal: The LastGreat Frontier is Yourself, in which the author wrote about the transcendent nature of human beings, who function beyond animal instincts, beyond status-seeking, "there is more to us than that; there is something holy and transcendent beyond the power of words to describe". They are drawn by the terrible beauty of Mt. Everest. Peaks soar into the earth's upper atmosphere, covered by a world of pure whiteness, and dazzling ice sheets. Sherpas revere it as a holy place.

In 2008, Mt. Everest was officially named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Oh, and you wonder what happened to that daring Japanese skier? On that treacherous ski run, Muichiro descended 4,119 feet in 2 ½ minutes, hit a rock, flew 30 feet into the air and slid within 250 feet of a deep glacial fracture and certain death. Six Sherpas died on that Japanese expedition yet Muichiro continued his quests, climbing Everest at age 70 and 75. Despite three heart operations, extensive surgery on a shattered pelvis, and a struggle with diabetes, he climbed to the summit at age 80. Still active at 86, he hopes to climb Everest in his 90thyear. 

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The Most Humble Man on Earth

 Sofia, Bulgaria-Winter winds beat down on the old man. He pulled a threadbare coat tightly around his stooped body and shook snow out of peasant sandals. Despite fierce weather, he held out a tin cup to gratefully accept coins from pedestrians, never taking a penny for himself. Even at age 100, the beggar walked 12 miles to his post outside Sofia's churches. His name was Dobri Dobrev, called by some "the most humble man on earth". Others call "Grandpa" Dobri a living saint. With his long white beard and torn clothes, he did not look like a great philanthropist, but he was just that. In 2009 he donated $22,500 to the local cathedral-the largest single donation ever received by the church. Over decades, Dobri collected nearly $50,000 to restore churches in Sofia, keeping it in the bank account of a relative.

Born in 1914, Dobri was inspired by his parents' acts of kindness. His mother worked in an orphanage. If the orphanage ran short of money, Dobri's father paid the power bill to protect orphans from the cold. As a young man, Dobri served as a bodyguard to the king of Bulgaria. One day a miracle occurred that changed Dobri's life. Terrorists set off a bomb, attempting to kill the king. Inexplicably, Dobri survived and came to believe that God had a special mission for him. He devoted his life to God, eventually living in a cell attached to a monastery, giving gifts to the poor and homeless. During World War II, he helped shelter Jews from Nazi persecution. All of these works he tried to keep hidden, but the world discovered him.

Admirers established Facebook pages that garnered 300,000 followers. Documentary films were made depicting the life of a man who gave away all his possessions to rely on the mercy of God. Images of Dobri have appeared on Youtube videos and Twitter. Probably unknown to him, Grandpa's kind face has been tweeted and retweeted thousands of times. His message was always the same. He said, "The good will is just and true. Everything in it is good. We must love each other as God loves us."

Dobri Dobrev died on February 13, 2018 at the age of 103. His name comes from the Bulgarian word for good. 

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Sorry Red Sox Fans...a Tribute to Lou Gehrig

Baseball great Lou Gehrig had a secret carefully hidden from the world. Only one person knew this secret. That was his wife, Eleanor. By all appearances, Gehrig had the world by the tail. He was known as the Iron Horse, playing 2,130 consecutive ballgames for the New York Yankees. A power-hitting first baseman, he was a .300 hitter for twelve straight seasons, batted in 100 or more runs for thirteen consecutive seasons, and hit 493 career home runs. A quiet man by nature, Gehrig preferred living in the shadow of Babe Ruth. As the 1938 season came to a close, few fans recognized that something was seriously wrong with the Yankee all-star. He batted .295 for the season, but had only 4 singles in 14 at bats in the World Series. Most fans focused on another Yankee world championship-a four game sweep of the Chicago Cubs.

That was all to change during 1939 spring training. Gehrig was noticeably weaker. He hit no home runs that spring and even collapsed on the field. Sports writers noticed. New York Sun writer James Kahn suspected that it was more than a slump.  Something was "deeply wrong" with him. "I have watched him very closely and this is what I have seen: I have seen him hit a ball perfectly, swing on it as hard as he can, meet it squarely-and drive a soft looping fly over the infield. For some reason I don't know, his old power is not there."

Players noticed too. Washington pitcher Joe Krakauskas unleashed a fast ball, high and inside. Normally players step back. Gehrig moved closer. Miraculously, the pitch went between his wrists, missing serious injury by a whisker. Yankee relief pitcher Johnny Murphy fielded a routine ball and waited to toss the ball to Gehrig for the final out of the inning. Gehrig was slow getting to the bag, but made the play. As they trotted to the dugout, Murphy said, "nice play." At that moment, Lou knew it was time to quit, "The boys were beginning to feel sorry for me."

On May 2, 1939, Lou met with N.Y. manager Joe McCarthy. Gehrig said, "I am benching myself, Joe, for the good of the team. I can't tell you how grateful I am to you for your kindness and patience… I just can't seem to keep going. The time has come to quit." Gehrig's consecutive game streak came to an end. He never played another major league game. That June, Gehrig checked into Mayo Clinic and was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – an incurable form of infantile paralysis. At the age of 36, Gehrig retired from baseball. Mayor La Guardia offered him a position as New York City Parole Commissioner. Gehrig accepted, rejecting more lucrative speaking engagements. It was now his duty to perform public service. He requested that the media not cover his visits to prisons. Quietly and efficiently, he performed his duties. In May, 1941, the former baseball star resigned as parole commissioner. One month later Gehrig died peacefully at his home.

Later, his devoted wife Eleanor revealed "Lou was besieged with fears and doubts about his own life. He had the girl of his dreams and a life of his own. And he also had a premonition of his own-that it would not last, that it was a tantalizing trick of some kind, never really meant to be. When they gave him the news at Mayo, he must have thought, Christ here it comes."

On July 4, 1939, fans packed Yankee Stadium for Gehrig Appreciation Day. After an emotional speech by Manager Joe McCarthy, Gehrig moved to the microphone.

His tearful words rang out through the stadium. "Fans, for the past two weeks, you've been reading about a bad break. Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has come to be known as Lou Gehrig's disease- a tribute to his remarkable courage. 

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Robert Frost's Shocking Discovery

Derry, New Hampshire – One day in the early 1950's poet laureate Robert Frost decided to take a drive to the farm where he wrote some of his most famous poems. As he approached the homestead, Frost expected to see acres of apple orchards, peach, pear, and quince trees. He expected to see a long hayfield and a grove of maple, beech, and oak trees. Instead he saw a sign that read "Frost Acres". No longer was the Derry property a farm. It was an auto salvage yard bearing his name. One can only imagine the dismay that filled his poetic soul.

Robert Frost bought the homestead in October 1900, moving in with his young family and a flock of 300 chickens. The unknown poet lived quietly, cutting grass with a scythe, mending stone walls, and absorbing the beauty of nature. In his poem Tufts of Flowers, he lamented the loss of wildflowers to the scythe. He watched a Monarch pass over a mown field looking for lost flowers. It found a flower, left untouched by the blade. He watched the Monarch land and wrote:

Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the awakening birds around,

And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground.

Now Frost lamented the loss of his farm to hundreds of junk cars. He contacted a friend, John Pillsbury, about purchasing the property from the current owner Edwin F. Lee. For a decade, Frost attempted unsuccessfully to buy Frost Acres. America's great poet died in 1962 without seeing his dream fulfilled. Finally in 1965, the state of New Hampshire purchased the property with the stipulation that Lee remove all the junk and his garage. Restoration began in earnest in 1974. The state appropriated $30,000 to fund the project.

On March 26, Frost would have celebrated his 134th birthday. How pleased he would be to see the fully restored Robert Frost Farm. It is now a tourist attraction, complete with tours, displays, nature walks, and poetry readings. The property is a National Historic Landmark, supported by the Division of Parks and Recreation, the Robert Frost Board of Trustees and the Friends of the Robert Frost Farm. 

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Who is this man?

Turin , Italy – 1898. Excitement was in the air as Secondo Pia set up his photographic equipment to take what was to become one of the most famous photographs in history. Big preparations were underway for the 400th anniversary celebration of Turin Cathedral. Pia, an amateur photographer and lawyer, was given permission by King Umberto I to photograph the mysterious Shroud of Turin, believed by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.

On the evening of May 28th, Pia entered the darkened cathedral, accompanied by two friends. His first job was to set up two electric lamps, using a portable generator. In those days, few buildings had electricity and the cathedral was no exception.  All preparations were complete. It was time. Pia squinted into the viewfinder. All he could see was the faint image of a face, almost impossible to discern with the naked eye. After fussing with exposures, he aimed and shot. Eager to see his results, all three men rushed to the darkroom. Carefully, Pia prepared the photographic plates and immersed them in a chemical bath. A face appeared to them, clear as a bell. It was the face of a bearded man with long hair. It was the face of a tortured man who had been beaten and crowned with thorns.In this shocking moment, Pia nearly dropped the plate. Secondo had photographed a negative image, thus producing a positive image on his negative film. On June 2, 1898, the exhibition ended and the shroud was returned to a casket.

Over the next few years, his photograph became subject to much debate. Some thought Secondo Pia had tampered with the plates. Others believed the photograph to be of supernatural origins. For three decades, Secondo's photograph remained an enigma. In 1931, Giuseppe Enrie, photographed the shroud, producing the same results.

Scientific study of the shroud ramped up in 1978. In that year, the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) was granted permission to study the shroud. Thirty-three scientists from twenty major research institutions studied the shroud, round the clock, for five days. They brought 7 tons of equipment. Results were released in 1981. "The shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist.The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum. No physical, chemical, or medical circumstance could adequately account for the image." STURP scientists stated that the shroud "remains now, as it has in the past, a mystery."

Skeptics believe that the shroud is a painting rendered by an artists in the 15th century. That would take a leap in faith. After all, the shroud is a negative image. Photography was not invented until 1839. No paint or pigments have been found on the cloth. No brush strokes are visible. Modern science has not been able to duplicate the image, even with laser technology. In 1988, carbon 14 tests determined the cloth to be from medieval times. Since then, that view has been debunked.Three patches were used in that study, all taken from the same spot. That violated protocol. In 2005, a National Geographic article concluded, "New tests show that was tested of a different material from the rest of the shroud-it was a patch added in medieval times.The findings greatly increase the possibility that the shroud may be as old as Christianity itself."

Author Susan Tassone viewed the Shroud of Turin in a 1998 exposition. She wrote, "I was awestruck. I could not say a word. It was overwhelming to see it up front face-to-face. The shroud made me realize the brutal sufferings of Jesus-Jesus was beyond brutally beaten. It made me realized the suffering-beyond belief-that he went through for our sake. You felt it was just for you he did that." 

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Song of the Sea

 Looking for a St. Patrick's Day film to celebrate the big day? Two of my favorites are The Quiet Man and the hilarious Waking Ned Devine. Recently I discovered a new favorite, Song of the Sea (2014), an Irish fairy tale set in modern times. It is directed by Tomm Moore, co-founder of the Irish animation company Cartoon Saloon. I was captivated by its artistry, made possible by hand-drawn animation and original music.

In the plot, Conor,a lighthouse keeper who lives on an island with his ten year old son Ben, wife Bronagh, and sheepdog Cu. Bronagh dies after childbirth, leaving the gift of an infant daughter named Saoirse, who is mute. Later, it is discovered that Saoirse is a selkie, a seal who can shed its skin and become human. The children embark on an adventure through the Irish countryside, accompanied by their sheepdog Cu, who is reminiscent of the dog Nana in Peter Pan. They encounter Macha, an owl witch. Macha steals feelings and turns people into stone. Ultimately, Ben comes to the rescue, giving Macha back her feelings and allowing her to realize that feelings, even those that are painful, make us fully human.

Few animated films take on the delicate subject of grief, but Moore did a test-screening with his wife's primary school class. After watching the film, students wrote down their comments and turned them in to Moore.I loved the results. The children told Moore that he was too heavy-handed in his approach. Tone it down, be more subtle, the students wrote. Movie directors take heed! Kids don't like plots that are non-stop action. Kids don't need another movie showing Godzilla battling King Kong and destroying New York City in the process. Thankfully, Moore took their advice .

Steve D. Greydanos (Decent Films),my favorite film reviewer, wrote of the film, Tomm Moore isn't afraid to take the time to breathe deeply, savor moments of silence and beauty, and open the door to wonder and mystery.

Song of the Sea was greeted with overwhelmingly positive reviews and was nominated for best animated film in 2015.


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Star Wars or Monk Wars?

Skellig Michael, Ireland – Ever heard of it? Maybe not. Ever seen it? If you are a Star Wars fan, you definitely have seen stunning images of this steep, rocky uninhabited island 7.2 miles off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. Skellig Michael was the secluded home of Luke Skywalker in the movies, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. In the movie trailer, an aerial shot circles a 700 foot pyramid -shaped tower of rock, surely a fitting place for Luke to hide out from the bad guys. In fact, skellig is a Gaelic word that means rock in the sea. No one else could ever live there or so you think. Think again.

Over 1500 years ago, in the 450's, strange men with tonsured heads lived in beehive huts on these rocky cliffs. Irish monks they were, who listened to waves crash against rocks and tended small gardens, fertilizing with seaweed. Oh yes, I must tell you, these Celtic hermits had another occupation. They copied books, but not just any books. Irish monks copied the great works of western civilization, the writings of Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures. They copied every book they could lay their hands on, brought to them by traveling bishops who braved the Irish seas to trod the rubble of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Barbarians pillaged and burned, as vandals are wont to do. Books and artifacts were favorite targets. Over the centuries, historians virtually ignored the glorious role of these hermits. In 1969, British art historian Kenneth Clark gave a nod to the Irish in his book Civilization in which he wrote,western Christianity survived by clinging on to places like Skellig Michael. Finally in 1995, Thomas Cahill devoted an entire book to the subject. He made the bestseller charts with How the Irish Saved Civilization. He wrote compelling words on the subject. Without the Mission of the Irish Monks, who single-handedly re-founded European civilization throughout the continent in the bays and valleys of their exile, the world that came after them would have been an entirely different one-a world without books. And our world would never have come to be. 

A world without books! Can you imagine it? I can't. In 1996, Skellig Michael was declared a World Heritage Site based on its cultural significance. Tourists can visit this ancient site. Casey 'sTours, an Irish company,  books six hour trips around the island with inspiring views of historical sites and thriving seabird populations. I may never visit the old sod, land of my forebears, nor see Skellig Michael, but I will endeavor to express my gratitude to these Irish monks who saved western civilization. 

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Grandma's painting sells for $1.6 million!

Anna Mary Moses grasped the embroidery needle, but dropped it in pain. At age 76, it looked like her embroidery days were over. Arthritis was crippling her joints. Her sister, Celestia, made a suggestion. "Why don't you try painting?" It seemed like a reasonable idea, so Anna began painting images from her younger days. She had worked as a housekeeper and later married Thomas Moses. The couple had ten children, five of whom survived childhood. They worked on farms in Virginia and New York.Unaware that her subconscious was storing beautiful images, she kept working hard at daily chores like candlemaking, soapmaking, and dressmaking. Anna once said, "I like oldtimy things – something real pretty. Most of them are daydreams. I painted for pleasure, to keep busy, and to pass the time away, but I thought no more of it than of doing fancy work." Grandma Moses painted pictures of snowy fields, Thanksgiving preparations, and apple trees blossoming in the spring.

Celestia studied her paintings and thought they had potential. "Why not bring them to the country fair? You can sell them along with your fruit preserves." Anna sold more jams than pictures, but she kept on painting. A short time later, a drugstore owner in Hoosick Falls, New York offered space in his shop to display her primitive art. Louis Candor, an art collector from Manhattan, wandered into the store one day. Anna's painting caught his eye. Caldor bought all of them and made the rounds to New York art dealers. A Viennese art dealer, Otto Kallir, was captivated and set up her first show in 1940.Her work was an immediate hit with the public.

By 1950, her works sold for $3,000 and became popular with renowned dealers from around the world. Her quaint scenes of years gone by were printed on over 48 million Christmas cards. Her smiling face and twinkling eyes appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. In 2006 her painting, Sugaring Off, sold for $1.6 million dollars. Over the course of thirty years, Grandma Moses painted over 1500 canvases.

Grandma Moses died on December 13, 1961 at the age of 101. Her paintbrush kept moving to the very end. Anna's life is an inspiration to many late bloomers like me to try something new and never think of oneself as being over the hill. 

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Martyrs for Freedom

Munich, Germany 1943.  Time was running out for Hans and Sophie Scholl. As brother and sister and students at the University of Munich, they faced the brutal reality of Hitler's Germany. There was no time for righteous indignation or sentimental thoughts about justice. It was time for action against the regime. Hans began The White Rose resistance movement. He was inspired by the sermons of Bishop Graf von Galen of Muenster, one of the first to denounce the extermination of what the regime called "useless eaters"-the elderly and disabled.

Bishop von Galen wrote, This secret program to kill innocent citizens of the Reich is against God's commandments. It is against the law of nature and against the system of justice in Germany. These are our brothers and sisters! How can we be expected to live if the measure of our lifespan is economic productivity? We must not use force, but spiritual and moral opposition. Be strong. Be steadfast.

Hans bought a mimeograph machine and began distributing hundreds of leaflets under cover of night. The White Rose was the first voice in Germany to reveal Hitler's "final solution"-extermination of Jews.

On this fateful day, Hans and Sophie had a dangerous mission. Hans carried a suitcase full of leaflets that denounced Hitler and the Nazi government. In the Third Reich, even a whisper of dissent meant imprisonment or death. They were in an upper hallway above an atrium. Quickly, they placed piles of leaflets outside classroom doors. Only minutes remained before classes were dismissed. Soon students would flood the halls. Sophie opened the suitcase and dumped leaflets over the railing. Leaflets fluttered down to the floor below. This caught the eye of the school janitor. He looked up and saw the sweet, young face of Sophie Scholl.

Trials and executions moved swiftly in Nazi Germany. Sophie, Hans, and a friend, Christoph Probst were tried for high treason. In the trial, Sophie stated, "we simply expressed what many people are thinking. They just don't dare say it out loud!" Before their execution, Sophie's mother came to visit her 21 year old daughter. Mrs. Scholl brought a cake. Sophie smiled and said that she had not had lunch. Her mother said, "I'll never see you come through the door again."

All three members of the White Rose were beheaded on February 22, 1943.

Several months later, millions of White Rose leaflets were dropped over Germany by British bombers. Their legacy of courage in the face of tyranny lives on. Their story has been told in many books, movies, and plays. Monuments honoring these young people can be found throughout Germany.

Hans Scholl's words as he stood before the guillotine were prophetic, "Freedom lives!" 

Sophie, Hans, and Christoph died exactly 75 years ago this past Thursday. As a writer, I am grateful to have learned this fact so as to honor these brave young people.

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The Man who Saved Chartres Cathedral

Chartres, France - August 16, 1944. Colonel Welborn Griffith crept silently through the halls of Chartres Cathedral in search of German soldiers. Atop the roof was a bell tower-perfect lookout to spot American troops now bearing down on Paris to liberate the city from Nazi occupation. Allied bombers had blown a hole in the German front near Cherbourg, France. Under the command of General George Patton, the Third Army had German soldiers on the run. American pilots bombed the path of the Germans as they retreated. Now Chartres Cathedral was in the crosshairs. Allied command believed that German observation posts were established inside the church. They gave the order to destroy Chartres Cathedral.

One man challenged this order. Colonel Griffith must have known about the cathedral. He must have known it was a national treasure in France. Built in the middle ages, he must have known that Chartres was considered one of the most beautiful buildings ever constructed, an architectural miracle that used principles far ahead of its time. Griffith took action. He volunteered to go behind enemy lines to determine if German soldiers occupied the cathedral. Accompanied only by his driver, Griffith searched every closet, every pew for the enemy. Every step into a darkened room could have been his last. Cautiously, he climbed the stairs to the bell tower, awaiting a burst of machine gun fire. Silence. The bell tower was empty. Triumphant, he hurried back to the command post. The order to destroy Chartres Cathedral was canceled.

Later that day, Griffith spotted a machine gun nest in the nearby village of Leves. He turned back to the American front and climbed the turret of an army tank. He was too big to fit down the hatch and stayed on top of the tank. In the battle, the Germans were defeated, but Griffith lost his life.

Colonel Griffith was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Purple Heart and awards from the French government. A plaque is nailed to a wall in Leves near the site where Griffith died. He is buried  in the St. James World War II Cemetery in Brittany, France.To this day, he is remembered as the American soldier who saved Chartres Cathedral. 

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Opera for dummies...

...and I am the dummy, yes, until now. Last week at the Waterville Opera House, I woke up to the truth about opera. I attended Puccini's Tosca on the big screen, part of the Metropolitan Opera's HD Live program. Here's the story. Two weeks ago, I held the firm belief that opera was an incomprehensible soap opera on steroids, an opportunity for buxom sopranos to show off their vocal range. Wrong! How foolish of me to hold such a prejudice. After all, opera is considered to be the most complex of all art forms. It combines acting, singing, orchestral music, costumes, set design, and even dance. Opera uses the enormous power of music to express emotion. What was my problem? I listened to opera on the radio. Without seeing the facial expressions of performers, without seeing magnificent sets, without the libretto (plot), without subtitles, I was baffled and bewildered. Thus the Jimminy Cricket in my brain said I hate opera. I concluded that only Italians appreciate opera. Since I am of Irish/English heritage without a drop of Italian blood in me, I was exempt from liking opera.

I sat in my seat waiting to be bored. Never happened. I was swept away. I watched the human soul on parade. I witnessed love, hate, jealousy, lust, torture, betrayal, death, and suicide. Tosca was written over one hundred years ago, but it is still timeless. One major plot line was sexual harassment. Our villain was Baron Scarpia, a sadistic chief of police who was consumed with desire for the beautiful singer Floria Tosca. She handled his brutal advances without calling the police. She stabs him several times with a steak knife. He drops to the floor. Tosca mournfully places two lighted candles next to him and places a crucifix on his body. As an aside, the actor who played Scarpia bore a striking resemblance to Harvey Weinstein.

Thanks to Metropolitan Opera HD Live, I experienced world class performances, read subtitles and could easily follow the plot. A program was provided that contained a libretto. Each 15 minute intermission treated us to behind the scenes interviews with the stars and gave us a glimpse at set production. HD Live was launched in 2006 as an outreach to the general public.The goal was to make opera affordable and understandable to a wider audience. Met Opera HD Live has streamed to movie theaters and local opera houses around the country.

All this being said, I probably never will attend opening night at the opera with its glamour and sparkle. I probably never will listen to opera on the radio. I do know that I will be attending Puccini's La Boheme on February 25th. I do not have to take the train to New York. I simply drive to the Waterville Opera House located across from our local barber shop. Opera has come to the people, even dummies like me. 

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Beauty defeats evil.

Auschwitz 1943-1945. Dr. Victor Frankl sat on his luggage in a crowded cattle car . One thought occupied his mind. Prisoners were being taken to a munitions factory, forced to hard labor by the Nazi government. A mournful train whistle sounded like a human cry for help. As they came to a station, the train shuddered to a halt. He looked up at the station sign-Auschwitz .It stood for all that was horrible-watch towers, barbed wire fences, gallows, and gas chambers.

Frankl, a renowned psychiatrist, wrote about these years spent in concentration camps in his book Man's Search for Meaning, published in 1946. At the time, it was an international best seller and considered one of the ten most influential books in America. With a psychiatrist's eye, he studied how he and his fellow prisoners adjusted to living in conditions of immense horror.

After initial shock, Frankl sank into a protective shell of apathy. This lasted for many months. One day he was in a march to work, enduring icy winds, kicks, and blows from rifles. Another prisoner whispered to him, "if our wives could see us now." Suddenly, images of his wife filled Victor's mind. He looked up and saw fading stars and a pink sunrise. Thoughts of his wife transported him to another place, another time. Thunderstruck, truth revealed itself-the salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how man who has nothing left in this world can still know bliss…in the contemplation of his beloved.

From that day on, his inner life deepened. As prisoners were transported from Auschwitz to a Bavarian camp, the men saw mountain peaks, golden in a brilliant sunset. He wrote, we were carried along by nature's beauty, which we had missed for so long. After a dreary day chopping frozen ground with ice picks, the weary men sat down to eat their watery soup. One man burst through the door in breathless excitement. He called the men out to witness a blood red sunset.

Still he questioned the meaning of suffering. He was beset with gloom. Miraculously, his spirit broke through despair.I heard a victorious "Yes" in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. In this battle for their souls, these heroic prisoners quoted poetry, told jokes and even sang Italian arias.

Author of over 30 books, Frankl wrote that man had an inner yearning for love and beauty. Most difficult of all is the discovery of meaning in suffering. His work all began with thoughts of his beloved wife. Victor Frankl saw beauty in a sunset, even through the barbed wire of a concentration camp. 

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Beauty as a battlefield...

 For more than a year, I pondered the theme of this blog-the importance of beauty, not realizing that indeed beauty is powerful. The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, "Beauty is the battlefield where God and Satan contend for the hearts of men." In our fatigue or disillusionment with life, beauty captures our hearts, even for an instant. We can't resist the lure of a sunrise over Otter Point at Acadia National Park or Winslow Homer's seascapes or the New World Symphony by Dvorjak. Humans are hardwired to appreciate beauty, for it defines that spark of divinity within us in our search for a transcendent God.

If beauty is a battleground for the hearts of men, all the more should we nurture love of beauty in our children. How is this possible? Surround them with classic literature, play Beethoven while sweeping the floor, take them to art museums and science centers. Read aloud to them before bedtime. Beauty will sneak up on you. Suddenly you are a little less tired, a little more hopeful. It is important to read aloud to your children. This is a theme I will visit again.

One of my favorite children's books is Brave Irene, written and illustrated by William Steig. Irene Bobbin is a little girl, daughter of a seamstress. As a dangerous blizzard bears down on Irene and her mother, they are in a pickle and a serious one at that. Mrs. Bobbin must deliver a ballgown to the duchess that night, but she can't. Influenza plunks her back to bed. Irene tucks the dressmaker's box under her arm and wades out into deep snow. Menacing winds and blinding snow do not deter our heroine. She is powered by love for her mother.

Steig's watercolors stir the heart, fully matched by his artful storytelling. By the middle of the pasture, the flakes were falling thicker. Now the wind drove Irene along so rudely she had to hop, skip, and go helter-skelter over the knobby ground.

Covered in snow, chilled to the bone, Irene accomplishes her mission. Brave Irene is a 1986 New York Times Book Review - Best Illustrated Book of the Year. 

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Snowflake Bentley

 Look up at the top banner, the bible quote of Saint Paul. That is the theme of this blog. If we appreciate beauty, even for a fleeting moment, it lifts our hearts. Life has a transcendent quality, giving us a glimpse of heaven. Since I live on a small farm in Maine, surrounded by fields, woodland birds, and towering blue spruce trees, I see God's hand in nature.

Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles writes about the power of beauty in his own blog. He points to the poetry of T.S Eliot, the cathedral at Chartres, the Sistine chapel, and Bach's Passion of St. Matthew as sources of inspiration. This is all true, but these are faraway places. I look closer to home, to the commonplace for beauty.In my first blog, I found inspiration in a miniscule bird that survives Maine winters in ways even naturalists consider miraculous.

Now recovering from a classic Maine blizzard, the most common attribute of our landscape is snow.Have you ever really looked at a snowflake? A man named Wilson Alwyn Bentley did. Known as the "Snowflake Man", Bentley lived on a farm in Vermont . As he went about his mundane chores, Bentley stopped to look at snow and pondered their hidden secrets. On February 9, 1880, he received an old microscope for his birthday. After that, life never was the same. He said, "I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design, and no one design was ever repeated." Snowflakes were a "road to fairyland". Blizzards were a source of delight bringing "from the dark, surging ocean of clouds, forms that thrill my eager soul with pleasure."

For hundreds of years, scientists have studied snowflakes. Back in 1610, Johannes Kepler noted that when snow first begins to fall, it always appears in the shape of a six-cornered starlet. Now there is something to ponder. I shovel a path to the barn. I shovel not annoying white clumps of snow. No sir! I shovel dazzling starlets cascading down from the heavens! 

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Happy New Year!

Welcome to my new website. I write from our gentleman's farm in Maine, now buried in the deep freeze of an Arctic blast. In this blog I hope to lead you to an appreciation of beauty that leads to truth and to holiness. I will look at nature, books, movies , and other resources to help promote the culture of life. Miracles can be found in the most common places. Many Advent readings called us to wake up! Be alert to our surroundings. We can become aware of God's design even in deep winter snows. Let us begin this journey with a look at Maine in winter.

Maine naturalist and writer Bernd Heinrich opens his book Winter World with a look at the tiny Golden-crowned kinglet, a thumb-sized bird that endures the harsh winters of northern New England. Heinrich marvels at the ingenious strategies that enables the kinglet to survive, much like the more common chickadee. Have you ever seen a chickadee fluff out his feathers in cold weather? This creates an insulating layer that keeps moisture away from soft downy feathers buried below the outer layers. Wing feathers serve as a raincoat.

Next question-what do kinglets eat? If kinglets are without food for two hours, they starve. They don't eat grubs, seeds, or tree buds. Even researchers have been baffled by this question. They can only speculate. One day Heinrich took a winter walk to track the tiny bird. He observed them hopping in spruce thickets and onto branches. As he watch them hover over twig ends, he concluded that they eat microscopic mites, aphids, and aphid eggs. Despite his research, Heinrich still considers kinglet survival as an unsolved mystery. He writes, "the kinglet led me further and further into the winter world of north woods, and into this book, spurring me on to find the miraculous."

As I look at the complex coping strategies of the kinglet, it calls to mind God's promise to protect us as he does the smallest sparrow. 

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Stroke of Musical Genius-

This project has been delayed, but will happen this year. Well worth the wait!

Maine composer, musician Peter Swegart has created spine-tingling music for the audio version of The Wreck of the Essex. He totally nailed the surreal sound that accurately depicts the altered universe Thomas lived in after the attack.

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