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October 1, 2012 – A day like no other

On this day in 1914 my grandfather James William King Jr. was born.

We did not meet until sometime in 1971. I can’t exactly remember, just being born and all, but I’m sure that my entry into this world was met with the same simple, joyful, matter of fact appreciation that I will always remember about him. From railroad worker to insurance salesman, neighborhood advocate to family patriarch, my grandfather’s natural charisma helped round off some of the rough edges of some of his harsh opinions and prejudices. I cannot fully excuse these short comings but I am sympathetic to the world he grew up in and the experiences he must of had to form these. His world was very different than mine, just as my world today will be very different from the world my boys write about in the future. We cannot judge history through the lens of today. However I do agree with the notion that those who do not pay attention to history are destined to repeat it.

I have always felt that my grandfather, and his (middle) son – my dad – were connected and cut from the same cloth. As I grew older, I seemed to intuitively understand what my grandfather was thinking. I understood what could make him laugh and make him mad. I could predict his reactions to events in the news and comments on television. Over the years, I’ve heard his voice in my head as a knee jerk reaction to something I’ve heard or seen. Sometimes I agree and sometimes, given my own lens of understanding and compassion, I’ll react in a much different way.

I guess the most important lesson I’ve taken from him over the years is the notion of self reliance, understanding and tendency to take action when and where it was needed. There is a time to let things roll “like water off a ducks back” because they are inevitable, but that does not mean you should be submissive and naively accept all that the world throws at you. While you can likely do very little to affect change in some far off place or person(s), there is something that you can and should do to affect change in your own situation.

When you take action, often by default, you also end up helping those around you too. For instance, when you see litter on the ground, pick it up. What happens? You feel good about picking up some trash and regaining some control over your environment. But look deeper. What else happens around you?

On the surface, you’ll realize that in all likelihood, picking up the trash will have little to no effect on the person that tossed it there in the first place. Likely they are long gone. But, by throwing away the trash, perhaps you’ve brought a twinge of smile to someone across the street or driving past you at that moment. Perhaps (unknowingly) someone will walk down the sidewalk and instead of feeling mad/sad about seeing a piece of trash on the ground, their attention is turned upward or outward to the blue sky, fresh air or laughter of their child. For sure, you did not cause any of these things to happen, and there is still a very good chance that the person may still not notice these things because of other thoughts or stresses in their lives. But what if it does change something in that person…whoever it is, no matter if you know them (or will ever know them) or not.

For me, what comes to mind when I think about this is a story I heard years ago about one of the legends of baseball (I can’t remember which one) who was asked how he can stay motivated to play at his highest level day after day during the long baseball season…year after year. His response was something like “I’ve run out of the dugout onto the field 1,000 times in my career. While it might not be as exciting for me each time, I know that there is some kid out there in the crowd who IS seeing it for the first time. This may be his first time to a ball game. It could be his last time too. It’s THAT kid I think about when I’m at the plate or out in the field. Do I want to let THAT kid down today? Hell no!”

While few of us will ever have the opportunity to inspire or transform the lives of thousands of adoring fans. We each have the ability to do what’s right, what needs to be done, and then simply do it. Not for ourselves, but for someone we love or even for someone we’ve never met or never will. That’s called living with purpose and that’s the way James William King Jr. lived his life for almost a century. That adds up to a lot of trash (and a lot of “nickel-cans”) picked up along the way…but there’s absolutely no way to measure the ripple effect these small actions have had on the world, at least the world my grandfather created for me and every person he came in contact with.

Today, “be not simply good. Be good for something.” (Thoreau) That’s what I’m going to do. That’s what Jim King would do. What are you going to do?


Marigolds – It’s what you leave behind the counts.

Autumn in New England is a golden time of year. In a few short weeks, the leaves will be ready to put on their grand finale of color and the air will soon be filled with the warm smell of apple cider, pumpkin pie and Octoberfest ales. The green grass we’ve enjoyed all summer has begun to turn a golden yellow and brown. And, to those of us who despise the cold, dreary days of winter, the last few days of summer-like warmth are treasured more than gold.

The one piece of fall that I enjoy the most is the bright blooms of the marigold. Described by Rand B. Lee, author of Pleasures of the Cottage Garden, as “desperately vulgar,” the marigold is a staple in many New England gardens.

By this time, almost everything in my garden has long since stopped trying to please me with flowers. The plants efforts are now focused mostly underground, where roots grow deep to stockpile energy. Deeper and deeper they dive in order to escape the hard freeze of a typical Maine winter.

Sure, most of the plants are still green, but I believe this in only to prevent us from thinking that they are dead and digging them up. The green of late fall is for self-preservation only. Just for keeping up appearances.

So why does the bold marigold seem to shine so bright while others are fading into hibernation? What gives marigolds the right to thumb their noses at cooler days and colder nights that make other plants run for cover? Marigolds have attitude. They are the bad-boy flower.

However, I don’t think they are reckless. They have a secret. They can live forever – and I have proof.

For as long as I can remember, my father loved marigolds. Every spring he would toss handfuls of seeds from an overflowing coffee can around the yard like it was grass seed. When summer finally arrived, every sunny spot in the yard was filled with bright yellow, red and orange blossoms.

I used to wonder how this happened. Was my father skimming seeds from a secret source? Did he have an ‘in’ with the folks at Burpee? Surely we could not afford to actually buy as many seeds as were thrown around each spring. So where did they all come from?

I can still remember my dad showing me where he got his seemingly endless supply of marigolds plants, without ever visiting a nursery.

After plucking a dried flower and cracking open its sheath, my dad revealed a tight cluster of 20-25 needle-like white and black seeds. I learned that each marigold blossom had the ability to reproduce itself several times over. A single plant, which could produce 20 flowers during a season, could likewise yield more than 500 seeds for next season! Talk about a lasting legacy.

Every fall, my dad would faithfully ‘harvest’ his golden crop of spent marigold blossoms into an empty shoebox, coffee can or whatever else he could find. Those seeds would spend the rest of the winter on a shelf in the shed waiting for the first warm, wet days of spring.

Apparently, seeds that were pampered by spending the cold winter months in the warmth of the basement did not come to life as vibrantly the following spring – their toughness evident even before birth.

Living in suburban Massachusetts, the size of our yard could never possibly support the amount of marigolds that were available to us each year. As a result, my father made it a point to share his annual harvest with neighbors, friends, relatives and perhaps even a few total strangers. I would always delight in seeing the faces of these recipients, who, expecting to get a paper-thin envelope, would receive a sandwich bag bursting at the seams with seeds.

I don’t know if my Dad ever shared the secret of where his endless supply came from with others, but I do know there are many people, including myself, who can’t pass a marigold now without thinking of him.

Marigolds are a plant that is hard to ignore and even harder to forget. Their strong fragrance, bright colors and longevity keep them going until the harshest of frosts hit.

Even when they are gone, like my father, they leave behind everything you need to keep them close by for many years to come. You just have to know where to look.

Sylvan Sauntering – Feet on the ground. Head in the trees…

This is the place where my thoughts, opinions and ideas will live now. The work that I do connects and moves people to better understand, question preconceived notions and hopefully inform and entertain as well. These ramblings will be of all types, lengths and subjects. I’ll do my best to categorize them in such a way that you can easily find or ignore topics of interest or otherwise. These thoughts are my own and they will be (mostly) unfiltered. Enjoy the ride. Tim

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