Wednesday, July 24, 2013


i want to live so I can see you grow

see you learn
see you change into whoever
you will become

to do that I need a gift of time

I see more clearly now that
time is more than a trick
It is a daily portion of experience
served out breath by breath

how I breath
determines the duration and value
of time

the time I spend with you

my wife
my child
my grandchild
my friend

is what makes life sweet and worth pursuing

i want to live so I can see you grow

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Gary Snyder

I've been reading Snyder for years.  I had the memorable pleasure of hearing him read at Lake Tahoe back in the 90's.

For the past six months I've been reading everything he's written.  I started by re-reading all of the books I already had (including RipRap and the Cold Mountain poems). Then I went on amazon and started buying his books.  Axe Handles is magnificent. Turtle Island won the Pulitzer prize for poetry in 1975.

It all goes well when I start my morning mindfully reading Snyder. He takes me back up into the mountains where I lived for so long.

There's a documentary about him on Netflix that I'm going to track down too.
I love doing this.  Reading through the body of work of a great writer is time well spent.

This poem in particular has been a touchstone of my writing life:

Hay for the Horses

by Gary Snyder

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
        behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the 
        sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
---The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds---
"I'm sixty-eight" he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that's just what
I've gone and done."

From Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems by Gary Snyder, published by North Point Press. Copyright © 1958, 1959, 1965 Gary Snyder. Used with permission. - See more at:

Friday, April 05, 2013

Haiku in the morning

I dug a battered cardboard box out of the shed a few days ago. Written on the side was the word Poetry.

I'd been looking for this box and now I've found it.

I unpacked my old books and stood them on the shelves near my reading chair. Sort out the Gary Snyder in one section, William Carlos Williams in another.  Then the haiku.

I have the habit of starting the day with a mindful cup of coffee and some random reading.  I grab a book from my shelf and turn to any page. I try to read the poems with a mindful focus. I'd been reaching for books that weren't there.  Now they are.

Just this morning I was reading about the life and work of the great Japanese Haiku poet Issa.  I was introduced to this form, and Issa in particular by my high school English teacher Denis Huckaby. Now, fifty years later the echo of that first discovery is still faintly ringing my inner ear.

I do not memorize poetry.  I have no facility for remembering verse.  However I do have one Issa down pat:

Oh snail,
Climb Mt. Fuji
But Slowly, Slowly

That's my memory of it.  I was pleased to see this Haiku referenced in a Wikipedia article about Issa.

"One of Issa's haiku, as translated by R.H. Blyth, appears in J. D. Salinger's 1961 novel, Franny and Zooey:
O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!
The same poem, in Russian translation, served as an epigraph for Snail on the Slope (published 1966–68), by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, also providing the novel's title."
Give or take a little punctuation and I seem to have recalled it quite accurately.

The book I pulled from my shelf is an ancient college text called An Introduction To Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Basho to Shiki.  I was amused to see the book is still in print and available from Amazon with used copies from only 1 penny.

My edition, complete with scribbled notes from my days as an English major at Berkeley is worth far more than a penny  (to me).

Skimming the selection of translations I came across my one memorized poem, translated by Henderson:

Snail, my little man,
  slowly, oh, very slowly
    climb up Fujisan!

The literal translation is included:

Katatsuburi | soro | soro | nobore | Fuji-no-yama
     snail  | slowly  | slowly | climb-up | Fuji-mountain

50 years ago Mr. Huckaby gave me a haiku assignment.  I went to North Hollywood Park, across from the library and wrote a dozen haiku as I sat with my back against a very old eucalyptus tree.  I was hooked on catching 17 syllable moments.

Later at Berkeley I wrote another sequence (featuring Katatsuburi) that got me a conversation with the instructor. This long gone teacher, name forgotten, was larger than life to me. He was poet, a teacher and a former Montana smoke jumper ready to dive into forest fire hot-spots.  I wish he'd been Gary Snyder.

But he wasn't.

When I was solo climbing, I'd some time think of Issa's stead slow climbing snail.

On long up hill slogs with a full pack
I'd pace myself with a climber's rest step,
chant gaining Sierra elevation.

I learned from my resurrected Haiku text that Issa was also a trained artist who often signed his brush work '... and Issa too."

Henderson mentions an atypical Issa haiku "written in very pompous and old-fashioned 'epistolary " language (sorobum), which was then commonly only used in stage performances. "

He who appears
   before you now--is the Toad
       of this Thicket.

Henderson goes on to explain that the position of a sitting toad is like the one assumed by Japanese when they squat on the floor for a formal greeting. He concludes with a description of a painting of a famous frog like theater manager who was a contemporary of Issa, Miyako Dennai III.  (I know a killer keyword sequence when I see it.)

This is the picture:

I love how the Internet makes it possible to see the arcane and obscure.  All you need are the questions and the keywords.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sunday morning

my heart
in a still pool


old man

an old man
head in hands
squatting on

mind full
of dead beat
sierra poetry

bowels losing
the last day's work

knowing who he is

a man
a husband
a father
a teacher

still thinking
       pushing aside medical bills
about catching
in virtual nets

like mosquito
window glass
and screen

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Present Moment

My mind is
on Mars
at the
present moment

I'm listening to the morning sounds
coffee perking
paws on the floorboards

My feet stir
red dust
at the present moment
the turmoil of
just another day
stirs up the present


Breathe deep
listen to the dog snore
breath out - only moment
smell the dog musk and

feel the sun shine through the window

and down the corridor

where my loved ones stir

present moment
while my mind wanders
over the inner falls
of my out breath

and I witness my life
like a pebble dropped in still water

in the present moment.

Monday, March 11, 2013


Like placer gold
panned from the stream of experience
we have mined a life together

jewels discovered in the light

a young woman suns
on a delta deck
early days by the water

laughing I hold a
wiggling bass as you
scream in the shower

in a shepard's hut
on a mountainside in Crete
the wonder of our life

high pass in the alps
You stretched out on the mountain grass
NATO helicopters rumble by below

the faint smell of olive trees
blossoming Greek morning
I climb the Lion's Gate for you

in the beehive tombs of Agamemnon
the echos of our young voices
I love you

blocks of ancient limestone
eroded steps
exposed by time
a chalk marked path
top of the pyramid

Sahara, silent and eternal
The scared horse flesh carries us
where Caesar and Napoleon rode.

drag a finger in the Nile
risk the worm infection
to feel the flow
African water
becomes Mediterranean Sea.

the boy king's tomb
alone, alive, breathing the
captured air
a few moments together
last forever

worn smell of the old hotels
the Raj molders
in Darjeeling
breakfast tea and curry
Kanchenjunga is the sky
our knees touching
over continental breakfast

sitting in the old Sikh's parlor
Kalimpong motorcycle
a Royal Enfield
he once rode to Calcutta
shared with us
gleaming pride

leopard tracks the snow
on the trail to Annapurna
we share a lunch
with jungle monkeys
Dhaulagiri ridge to heaven
as the mists pull back
we are in the Himalaya

long climb
a high pass in Nepal
a boy stands by
a wash tub
of icy water
bobbing brown bottles
Star Beer
what time is now?
a porter's day wage
consumed in slow greedy gulps

spider veins
the Brahmaputra
in the dry season
land locked
Indian tarpon
thick sided
golden scaled
roll in the narrow creeks
swim to the sea

sliding like a slow snake
the Brahmaputra spills the Himalayan
snow melt, now muddy tea, into the
Bay of Bengal

the moment in the bazaar
too weak to push forward
I leaned on you
you helped me stand
I knew you were the

The English added gardens to the Taj Mahal
where we decided to have children
make 'our hearts hostage to fate'
be in this wheel of life every moment

and we feel the wonder of our days
living moments
recalled and treasured
hard won placer gold

Monday, March 04, 2013

cut banks of memory

forgotten spring

a forest pool

a huge trout

in the cut bank


balanced in the current

waiting for a meal

I belly crawl

earning a glimpse

huge humped green back

golden speckled sides

I've forgotten where the hidden pool is

and only find it

when minnow-flicker


swept down stream

briefly swim

then swallowed

by the beast

from under the ledge.

Take 2

time crushed granite

a golden pebble bed

current raked

the elbow of the stream.

cut bank

time and water carved

where the current pushes

against hidden stone

an old trout

ready for the wet mayfly

or fingerling trespasser

solo backpacking

I caught a glimpse of a mythic fish

each year I returned


to spy grandpa trout

a century later he lingers

in the cut banks of memory

I've forgotten the range

I've forgotten the trail

but I remember the cut bank trout


waiting for a meal

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


With practiced breath
and tuned ears
I went Inside the Taj Mahal
With Paul Horn

I slipped from the now
into memories
like gold in the crevices


Cross country skiing at Carson Pass
Up through the granite and pine
Glimpse Elephant Back
Then down the big bowl on skinny skis


The lot of us
will build each others houses
a self help group at Lake Tahoe
about to be home owners
we gather together to choose
our ground

12 people
12 different lots
We toured them all
and drew up
emotional lists
of places to live

There was only one lot for Jan and me,
we wanted North Upper Truckee

The time came to choose

12 slips of paper
numbered 1 - 12
placed in a hat
above eye-line
each couple drew

I took the last slip
It read 1
We'd drawn North Upper Truckee

As I kicked the spade into rocky soil
starting a foundation trench for our home
I thought how lucky we are
to have a place in the world

As we framed the walls
set the windows
shingled the roof
hammered home the siding
the reality
sunk in

That was our start.


The polished mahogany
and worn green velvet
on thickly padded seats
Taj Express
Delhli to Agra
Breathing the fumes of the Raj

Walking toward the Taj
The hot air thick with moisture
The crowds dressed up for a sacred place

Inside the warm marble
of the great dome
fingers laced
we found our future

If all the chosen people of India
have the courage to live their lives
why not us
who have so much

Let's have a baby


Fatepur Sikri
red stone fortress of the Shah
screaming parrots
thousands thick
jump up
and color the yellow green sky


My new daughter
in my cupped hands
blinks deep eyes
and smiles
first minutes of her life
teach me
to be


squares of light
numbered and named
dark for decades
slides before sunlit windows
peaks climbed
paths hiked
sunsets captured
with chilled hands
and my Rolei 35

work hard to find places
where you could not take
a bad photograph
captured squares of light
hidden in a closet
wait in a box


I'm an old man
Standing at the kitchen sink
preparing breakfast for my wife

the acres beyond my window
echo organic orange trees
stumped for lack of water
dry dead pegs mark the rows
where trees were
gone now or

I wouldn't be able to see down the valley

I wouldn't be able to see the blue arc of the ocean

when I stand at my kitchen sink

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lillian Hall - Silent film actress

I came across an old scrapbook compiled by the silent film actress Lillian Hall  The are many pictures to share.   Here is a link to her IMBD page:

As you will see there are no photos of the actress on the IMDB page.  I haven't found images of her online either. So, I've scanned some of the images I have of Lillian Hall and post them here as a first step to getting the information into the IMBD database.  Many of the photos are from the 1920 edition of the film Last of the Mohicans.

From what my wife Janice recalls,  the link is via Glenn Tryon, father of the actor Tom Tryon, who apparently was a cousin of my father-in-law Sherman Kunkel.  According to the IMDB Tryon was Lillian Hall's stepson.  Tangled history here!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Guide or Guided?

I breathe toward my still point

seeking the moment

distracted by memories that briefly flicker

Entering the water
at La Perouse Bay
the Maui warmth of the fish bowl
coats me with the present moment

Eastern sierra high meadow
fingerling golden trout
dart for cover

Central BC
old growth timber
tossed like
God's pick up sticks
before the peak

Forgotten fishing hole
I belly up
hoping for a glance
old trout in the cutbank shadows

laying on the surf line
up in the sand
where the last of the tide touches me
feeling the float of the moment

World of river worn rocks
small pebbles worked to sand
a universe caught in a river bend
miraculous salmon jumps

My stone bed
shelf of rock wide enough for
a young man in a sleeping bag
staring up
sleeping on the mountain

Red stone worked by artisans into
a chessboard for humans
Fatipur Sikri courtiers moved
feeling the Shah's
finger on their fate

Muddy creeks snake
the first Brahmaputra water
from the Himalaya
strained by the tea bag of Bhutan
to brown silty soup where
golden scaled Maheer roll
under the shadowed surface

A stark tree
branches weighed with leathery wings
satisfied vultures
settle over the shoulder of
the smiling police chief
serving tea.

Crowded Indian bus
air thick with dust
kids screeching
chickens squawk
beyond the dirty glass
other buses
at the bottom of the gorge
like dry overturned beetles
old tires rotting on bent wheels
bad road for buses
a hundred miles to Kazaranga

my life
like postage stamps
in a collection
rarely admired

Guide and guided

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Jack's mindful morning

cup of espresso

sip one
the foam stings
the tongue
sip two
the back of the throat
catches the soothe
sip three
the memories circulate
so strong I taste them.

What is it about mindfulness that fills me with sharp specific memories?

My thick handled coffee mug with the a blue script logo:

Since 1946
Bishop, California

The coffee shop hidden behind the Sierras on HWY 395 where

I'd come down from a self-imposed

epic sierra hike

to feast on a breakfast at


A week or two of crunchy granola,
brown rice and trout set me up for

a mound of hash browns
a 3 egg omelette stuffed with ham, peppers, cheddar cheese and onions
a side of bacon and a side of sausage

and keep the coffee cup full.

Bought this cup for my dad Jack (who started me in 1948).

It stayed with him until he was gone.

Now the cup,

and the mindful morning sips
of memories
are mine.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Where the values meet the tarmac

As a young teacher in my prime I was riding the wave of technology integration. I was passionate about thinking and writing with tech and lucky to be in a newly created position as Technology Coordinator in a small rural school district in Nevada.

Creating change was like swimming hard up fast river.  It was easy to give up and drown. Fresh from the classroom where I was passionate about my craft I had a lot of teaching spirit to keep me going. Doing professional development helped me live my values. However, as I learned the ins and outs of district politics I became disenchanted.  It seemed to me that my bosses did not hold students as their number one priority.  This stung and I was chewing on this values mis-match when I met a wise man with enormous institutional experience and a unique experiences in ultra real pursuits.  For a brief time he became my mentor. It's a an experience I've always treasured.

The man was Alan Bean. He was the fourth man to walk on the Moon.(Yes, I asked him about walking on the moon: "Like wading in thigh deep corn flakes".) As a graduate of the Top Gun fighter school and a carrier pilot Bean had been a remarkable aviator. His two months as Skylab Commander had given him a literal global perspective. (Myth debunked: You can't see the great wall of China from Earth Obit. The materials are too similar to the background colors of China and the wood smoke pollution ruins visibility from space.) As the director of operations and training during the Challenger Mission he'd seen his crew lost to disaster.  As a fine artist he still paints space exploration events he witnessed first hand.  In every way Alan Bean is a true explorer and a remarkable man.

I'd written a grant to bring Alan to my school district to give a series of lectures to our kids. My delightful job was to be his guide. I talked to him initially about his art. My father as well as my grandfather were artists.  I understood the process. I think my unorthodox approach (Bean's art first, his explorations second) help us connect.

At one point I opened up about my frustration with the school district.  I put kids first. I was very much a classroom teacher in a temporary administrative position.  I wanted my district to put kids first too.  Alan asked me where in the top ten list of priorities the school district placed students.   I answered about 6th on the list. (Values like personal power, prestige, appearences and money were well ahead of kids.)

Bean told me something that I took to heart: " If your top priority (value) is in the top 10 of the organization you are working in, stay with it. If not, time for a change."  

Sage advice from someone who rose in the Navy and NASA to the top of the pyramid (and literally all the way to the Moon).

So I ask you: how many of your top 10 values are shared by the system you work in? Listen to Alan Bean:  If you find values congruency, stay put. If not; change the culture of your workplace, or change your work place. This is just what I did more than a decade ago when student welfare slipped off the top ten in my district.

I did take a leap into private enterprise. I went corporate for a few years as a sales trainer and tech writer for a UNIX based networking company.  There I learned very hard lessons about what it was lto carry a shield for an organization where my values had no meaning. I'd traded a teaching career where I could follow my passions for double the salary, a sharp office, and a big title.  The value of these things came home to me as I was flying into Las Vegas in our corporate jet. I was on the way to Comdex with the company elite. There was typical small plane turbulence as we landed. I held my breath waiting for touchdown. Suddenly we slammed into the tarmac.  I remember thinking thank God we're on the ground. Next thing I know we're in the air sideways with the engines screaming and a Vegas hotel towering above us. I remember thinking "I'm going to die with people I don't respect."

Our pilot flew us out a it. I got off that plane very glad to be alive. I then spent the next 3 days of my life following the CEO of my company around as he paraded his ego up and down the vendor isles.

This experience helped me 'clarify my values'. Then the time came to make a choice;  follow a friend to a Silicon Valley start up, or take a pay cut or go back to the classroom.

I followed my heart. I was born to teach.  I returned to teaching and have never regretted the move.

As I think back over the last decade to the groups of educators I've worked and learned with with at the Milken Family Foundation, ISTE, the Illinois Science and Mathematics Academy, and the University of Wisconsin Stout I feel the strength of purpose and resonance that comes from spending my time with folks who hold common values.

I earned my 10,000 hours of expertise by passionately pursuing my dreams and living these values:
  • Put the student at the center
  • Learn and teach how to think
  • Empower students with technology
  • As a teacher, always be a student
  • Do good work
  • Be grateful for the chance to earn an living with your mind
  • Show up and give the best you've got each day
  • Be an optimist about the future
  • Help teachers become writing teachers
  • Help teachers become information fluent

If I'd stayed in the Silicon Valley game I doubt my list would look like this. I'm proud to be a veteran teacher and lifelong learner. I'm endlessly excited to be alive and thinking in these revolutionary times.

I've learned that to preserve my teaching spirit I need to live my values.

~ Dennis Thomas O'Connor
January 29, 2013

Peach in the mist

I've just mediated with the help of Karen Sother's touching guided imagery: Peace in the Midst, a brief guided meditation from her CD Sacred Pause.

I have this on my iPhone, but oh Apple, the iPhone calls this mediation Peach in the Mist...

I start by imagining myself to be Machupuchare, the great fish tail peak in the Annapurna range where my sweet young bride Janice and I spent part of our honeymoon.  I'll never forget that mountain and how the twin peaks scratched the jet stream and split racing clouds thousands of feet above us.

Now when I mediate my mountain self, I return to Machupuchare and just breathe.

Fine way to start the day... before the sun rises... meditating and breathing,
once again for the moment, young, hopeful, in love
and in the Himalayas.