January 26, 2014

The Talking Book

The Talking Book
By John R. Greenwood

It follows me around like a loyal mutt. It never turns its back on me or takes a day off. I try to pretend I’ve moved on to other things but I really haven’t. I can’t complete an entire day without that damn book pulling at me. Here it is again, stalking me in the quiet of our living room. It shows up wherever it wants, when it wants and I have no control over it. The book shouts at me to listen. I pick it up thumb through the pages and there I am, again imprisoned by it’s words. I cup my ear and listen as it speaks to me in mysterious ways. The photographs, the prose, the all encompassing aura that will not release it’s grip. My journey with this faded relic from the 1960’s is just beginning. I simply need to find the trailhead. I have a sense, a clue, a premonition, but it remains blurred and just out of reach. It is hard to understand and hard to explain. The only thing clear is how tangled I become trying to sort out what the future holds for me and a book called, “The Hudson River.” 

By Jack Lewis the author 

By Jack Lewis the painter 

January 21, 2014

Sister Owed

Sister Owed
By John R. Greenwood (Her Brother) 

"It's nice to have someone to look up to"
This post is dedicated my sister but if you owe a debt of gratitude to your sister you are welcome to jump aboard the thank you train and share this sentiment with her. 

Dear Joanne, 
I missed your birthday again. You seldom missed mine. Rarely was there a birthday card in your mailbox the first week of November. Mom would always cover my tail. She would push a card in front of me and say, "Sign this, its for your sister." or "Here, sign this it's for your father." My wife covered me for a few years but when you  creep into your thirties it's time to grow up and buy your own cards. I've gotten better over the years but this letter is long overdue. You were always my hero. There were a few years between us so once I showed up I was the baby, and because I was a boy, the tide immediately shifted in my favor. I played it too. By the time I hit my teens you'd worn mom and dad out. I could do no wrong because by then nobody cared. You were my infantry. You broke through the enemy lines and took all the gunfire. I walked through like it was a yellow brick road. I know the storm you weathered for me. I knew it then and remained silent. That's what spoiled little brothers do. It's time to come clean. I've told you before that the greatest gift you ever gave me was my love of music. You were the 60's girl singing into your hair brush. You blessed my soul with Motown and Downtown, The Beatles and Aretha. Your record collection nurtured us both. Every album and single you brought home opened my mind to another world. I am forever grateful to you for that gift. You gave me emotion. Our lives were full of it. Much of it painful, much of it lingered too long. You balanced the scale with a sense of humor that to this day brings with it laughter and a love of life that is capable of carrying us both through tough times. You always understand. You always smile and say, "It's okay." I love you for the things you never say. I love you for the things you do. I owe you for many things. I can only begin to repay you by saying how lucky I am to have you as my sister. You are my hero. 

Below is a poem my sister wrote and sent to me this year in a Christmas Card. I asked for her permission to post it. Of course she said,"It's Okay." 

“Push Through the Rabbit Hole” 

I hear the hollow echoes.
Vibrations travel
through the tunnel 
Easter 1957
My grandparent's farm in Greenfield Ctr. NY
My sister Joanne and I front and center.
My mother Helen is behind me.
Her mother Johanna behind her.
Her sister Ann by her side.
My cousin Debbie decorates the edge.

from my existence
painfully well remembered

Those echoes are not from 
one source only.
I feel pressure
as the passage 
seems to close me in.

Slowly forward
it draws me from my past
like “Alice through the Looking Glass”.
Glimmers of light
signal my 
apprehensive heart
telling it to boldly 
push forward.

I squeeze through
the “Rabbit Hole”
where tears meet peace
and suffering meets calm.

Weep no more gentle lady.
You have arrived at the shores
of the “River of Good Reflections”
where the bright and friendly sun
waits for you

Warm yourself now.
Don’t look back
but allow our gracious God
to hold and heal you.
Cling hard only to Him
on the way to your new resting place. 

By Joanne Byron

January 20, 2014

Off Into The Woods

Off Into The Woods
By John R. Greenwood

A Sunday walk in the neighborhood brought me to the top of Hilltop Drive. Hilltop Drive is a blacktop road to nowhere, or so I thought. It curves up toward the sky line where you find a turnaround surrounded by galvanized guardrails. In the far corner of the turnaround there is a path carved deep into the woods. It called me to come and visit. The snow was not deep but I also wasn’t prepared for a hike. I paused briefly-- seconds later Hilltop’s blacktop was nowhere to be seen. With each step the scenery changed. 

The variation kept pulling me to the next rise, the next outcropping of rocks. Water trickled from surface springs. Stonewalls lay smothered under a hundred years of maple shed. The volume of the singing birds kept increasing. Their excitement evident as they skirted from branch to branch, like happy tour guides anxious to show off their hometown highlights. I stopped from time to time, not for rest, but to absorb my surroundings. I was just beginning to worry about how far I had traveled when the trees separated and opened up onto a trail christened with two sets of fresh snowmobile tracks. The trail was wide and clear. It pointed up the mountain and pointed down the mountain. My wife would be starting to worry. Instead of heading back the way I came, I decided to follow the snowmobile tracks downhill toward the main road. The woods were welcoming and invigorating. I was glad I chose to leave the blacktop and venture into natures arms. Now as my spontaneous safari was coming to an end I began to hear the sound of cars again. The steep hillside was behind me now and I was sure I could see the dark shadows of a large building. I had an idea where I might exit the woods. I was curious to see how close my estimate was. I was not surprised to see the familiar sign of a garden center about one mile south of where I first entered the woods. 

I was about three quarters of a mile from my house, the entire walk probably consumed about three to four miles. It was much more satisfying than doing them on a treadmill. As I climbed the steps to my backdoor a sense of renewal warmed me. It wasn’t the accomplishment of a high peak but it did revitalize me for the day ahead. That’s the way it should be. I left the house searching for something and I found it. It was another circle that brought me back home better than when I left. Do I smell bacon? 

January 19, 2014


By John R. Greenwood

Life’s layers have become thick and they are having an affect on me. I have written before about feeling as though I have spent my life in search of that one creative destination that will explain what the last fifty-some years have been about. What am I looking for? Lately it consumes me. I feel like there is a treasure awaiting my arrival. I don’t know what the treasure is so I don’t know what I’m looking for, yet I wake every morning with the promise that todays the day and at any moment the answer will appear. As I write this I am watching Will Smith in the movie “The Pursuit Of Happyness." You’re confident, as you watch him traverse obstacle after obstacle, that in the end he will prevail. His resolve to provide for his son is what drives him. In the final minutes of the film he’s offered a job and told to plan on returning the next day. It’s at that moment you experience the pot of gold moment. His nightmare vanishes in an instant and is replaced by fist pumping relief. When I pull my life’s layers apart what I discover is that the joy is in the search. I have come to trust that at any moment fifty years of pursuit will reveal something identifiable. This piece may sound familiar and if it does you understand my gibberish perfectly. Even the fine artist who has defined his skill at a high level continues to experiment with new ideas and options. Maybe you are content sitting in a parked car. My guess is that anyone who finds themselves here at Raining Iguanas does not linger too long in any one place, any one thought. I am more inclined to think you too are looking for answers to cloudy questions. For now I will simmer in the aftermath of excellent movie based on the true story of a man who never stopped trusting in himself. He had no choice. His son’s survival depended on it. My sons are grown, its my survival that’s at stake here. 

January 17, 2014

Defining The Morning

Defining The Morning
By John R. Greenwood

A fellow blogger recently posed the question, "What is poetry?". As with most people this question surfaced while redirecting a "dusting" of white powder from the driveway. It was early and quiet, the garage lights illuminating the driveway like a ski area parking lot at night. My mind wandered off as it tends to do and any reflections containing anything within my sight line flooded over me in a gentle wash of calm. To me poetry is recognizing what the world is showing you. It's opening the aperture wide enough to see what's most important at that very moment. We miss these snippets of joy because there is always a distraction holding in the doorbell. We are constantly bombarded with what someone else considers pertinent to having a fulfilling life. 

To me poetry is that experience that tells you to ignore the crowd and listen to the voice coming from the snowblower, snow covered branch, or quiet that only you can hear. Poetry is taking those tiny fractions of time and compiling a list you can reference when the need arises. This morning as I "undusted" the "dusting" I found myself at peace with life in the present. The distractions and loose parts that come with life seemed insignificant. Stress was whispering off in the distance but I was able to turn my back and focus on the poetry of the snow coated branches above me. Poetry is just a word. 

Life is knowing what that word is trying to tell you at any given time, in any given place, under any random circumstance. For the moment I think I have it defined--that is, until the next storm arrives.

January 07, 2014

Winter's Grip

Winter's Grip
By John R. Greenwood

Winter has always been a nostalgic season for me. I guess with the tradition of families gathering for Christmas celebrations it probably is that way for many people. I tend to think it has more to do with how close to the surface our emotions are when temperatures drop. The 1960's created many memories that are deeply ingrained in my mind. Growing up in two homes where the bedroom's only heat came from a 16" square register in the floor will insure that the cold is a primary actor in those recollections. From ages one to nine our home was heated with a kerosene stove about the size of one of those large console tv's of the 70's and 80's. My father would have to get up once in the middle of the night to fill the round cylindrical tank that attached in the back. He would have to go out into the back shed where a larger tank was and with a few turns of the cold metal handle top off the portable one. My room was as far away from the heat source as you could get in that house. My bed was heaped with quilts of all designs and thicknesses. I can recall frozen linoleum floors and cotton slippers, ice caked windows and creaking walls, but I can not recall ever being cold. 

The next house we lived in consumed the years between ten and eighteen. My room was again upstairs but this one had an upgrade to the heating system. It was a real furnace that only broke down on occasion. The only heat in my room was provided by another register. Cold linoleum, uninsulated walls, and thin single pane windows were great emphasizers of frigid temperatures but this time I had modern technology on my team. Sunbeams greatest invention of all time the electric blanket was my new best friend in the winter. I would run up stairs during commercials and turn it on so that when my show was over and it was time for bed I could jump under the preheated covers. Mornings tested you. It was a challenge to get out of bed when it could be so cold your breath looked like a little chimney coming from a crack between the blanket and the pillow. One morning as I jumped into my slippers to make a dash for the stairs a mouse jumped out from one of them. He was doing the same as I was only I don't think he had to catch a bus. What strikes me as funny is, other than the normal childhood illnesses I very seldom missed any school. I don't remember having many colds or ear aches. I would not want to go back to those days but it is funny how we survived intact knowing the luxuries we enjoy today. There were many I'm sure that would have considered the conditions I grew up as luxurious. I loved the winter. I enjoyed skiing, sledding and major snow-fort building, so when the temperatures dip and the snow begins to pile up I don't long for the good old days too much but I am thankful for having experienced a wide range of what the winter has to offer. I have come to appreciate the warmth and efficiency of a natural gas furnace and a digital thermostat. This morning as I listen to the wind howling, knowing that the wind chills are lower than ugly, I long for the times when the mouse and I didn't know any better.  

January 04, 2014

Hang On

Hang On
By John R. Greenwood

When the world’s a mess and upside down 
Hang on
When the car won’t start and the tire’s flat 
Hang on
When the clothes don’t fit and and it’s cold outside
Hang on
When the kids are sick and your headache’s strong
Hang on
When she says, “Please Hold” and your patience wanes
                                                                           Hang on
When you’re out of stock or there’s none to spare
Hang on
When your smile is broke and the spirit’s low
Hang on
When you catch your breath and the feeling’s right 
Hit the throttle 
Hang on tight 

January 03, 2014

Clean Desk

Clean Desk
By John R. Greenwood

It’s not much. It’s one of those desks that comes in a box and requires a handful of swear words to put together. The best part is, it’s mine, and I just found it again. It took a week’s vacation to get to it. There were holiday work stoppages, snow storms, and other household commitments to contend with first. After the Christmas decorations were back in the attic and the pile of books and journals that seem to grow by the day were sorted and put away, I tackled the seemingly insurmountable goal of clearing my desk. It was time to grow up and write like a grownup at a desk and not like the undisciplined couch sloth I’d become. Sitting on the couch with my feet up on the coffee table and the laptop on my knees was amateurish and counterproductive. I promised myself that 2014 would find me writing more seriously. I also needed a kick in the pants if I wanted to accomplish something more this year. Organization is not my thing. Ideas and day dreaming are. Since I’ve been receiving AARP mailings for more than a decade, I felt growing up was long overdue. I will do my best to stay focused and productive this year. I can’t promise that I won’t be pulled off course by the occasional shiny object or colorful sunset but for at least the last three days of my vacation I will do my best. As I sit here typing and procrastinating the removal of the shin deep snow outside I can’t help but reflect on the past few years and what writing a blog has provided me. I have made friends throughout the world. I have been encouraged, inspired, and embraced by some of the most kind and giving people that world has to offer. One repetitive theme over the last few years is rebirth of the spirit. I have found confirmation that age is physical not mental. You can’t change the inevitable but you can change the view. If you don’t want to seize up like the Tin Man, don’t just stand in the rain and complain about it, grab an umbrella and do your best Gene Kelly imitation. It’s a lot easier to say than do and there will be days when just sitting on the back steps is a better choice, just don’t give up. Neutral is not as good as forward and high gear is better than low gear but reverse can be tough on the soul. If you find yourself there, start by cleaning the desk no matter how far beneath the pile it is. 

Happy New Year everyone! 

January 02, 2014

There Is No Jacob Here!

There Is No Jacob Here!
By John R. Greenwood

One of our many evening visits with Sallie  
It's 8:46pm and the phone is ringing again tonight. The caller ID voice barfs out some extraterrestrial noise that sounds like the words "Sallie Mae". With one eye already asleep and the other one at half mast (I'm an old milkman, I get up at 4am) I grab the phone by the throat and in my outside voice say, "WHAT?"

"Is there a Jacob Greenwood there?"


"Can I speak with him please?"

"Do you know what time it is?"

"I'm sorry sir, can I just speak with Jacob? It's about his student loan."

"There is no Jacob living here. Please don't call here again!"

"Is there a better time to reach him?"

"No!" --CLICK

This game continued for days. Each call was an adventure. I don't mean because it was exciting. It was an adventure because the calls were coming from all over the world. At least that's what it sounded like. With each call the accent thickened. I'm pretty sure I could hear an elephant trumpeting in the background during one call. One night when I picked up the phone it sounded like they were calling from the trading floor of the NYSE.

I was getting weary of this game and one night Sallie Mae left a number on the machine. I called it back with all the patience I could muster. I waded through the quicksand of prompts like Lewis and Clark. I was so deep into the system I expected to see lava flowing at any moment. Finally the electronic voice promised me I was next and that a customer service representative would be with me in approximately two minutes.
 The Jeopardy music oozed through the line, do do do do do do do, do do do do dute da dute da do da. 

"Hello, my name is Abby, can I have your account number?"

"I don't have an account number, I don't even have an account, that's why I'm calling."

"Can you give me your social security number? I'll see if I can find it that way."

"Arrrrggh!" --CLICK

After weeks of playing volleyball with Sallie Mae and her search for student loan deadbeat Jacob, I began to start twitching when the phone rang. I could see the obituary now-- He died of "unnecessary causes". You can send donations to Sallie Mae, a tax receipt will be provided upon request.

Finally one night after watching one half of Monday Night Football with the television on mute and me on hold I got through to a human with enough brain matter to understand my dilemma. I think she said her name was Angel. Angel not only promised she would take our number off the digital dialer, she also apologized for the inconvenience. I'm sure she was an animal lover too. She did whisper a fine print disclaimer just as I was hanging up the phone. She said there was an ever so slight chance that it might be a day or two before our number was deleted from the system completely.

I was so relieved that I instantly thought about popping the cork on a bottle of champagne- not the cheap stuff either.

The phone did seem to be happier for the next few days. Peace had returned to the valley.

Then it happened.

The phone rang one morning as we were leaving for work. I stopped in my tracks and waited for "The Voice."

Before the audio portion of the show could begin I peered over my wife's shoulder at the little ID screen on the phone. There in bright LED blue were the two words that all unemployed college graduates dread more than work itself, "Sallie Mae" 1-800-Soprano. This was not a good way to begin your work day. Someone could get fired over a women called Sallie Mae.

I swallowed hard and took a deep breath. I would make one more call after work and get this nightmare settled once and for all. When we got home I prepared for my journey to the abyss. I began dialing 1-800- Arg-gghh and for the umpteenth time I dug deeper and deeper into phone prompt hell until I reached Sallie Mae's Angel #2. In a voice as tranquil as the call of a distant song bird she assured me she would solve my problem- she just needed a little more information. My pills were kicking in. I was at peace. I responded, "Sure."

"Can you give us Jacob's new address?"


Somewhere in the world there is a Jacob Greenwood on the student loan lamb. He's running from Sallie Mae like Dr. Richard Kimble.

Sleep tight Jacob...

January 01, 2014

Horizon: 2014

Horizon: 2014
By John R. Greenwood

The new year begins cold and not all that inviting but I lay there anxious for the sun to rise and bring something exciting to the surface. As the years accumulate I begin to feel their weight. Shedding off some of the more difficult ones to make room for those with more discovery packed in. As I plunge into my 59th year, memories seem less important than my desire to create new ones. Reflection and regret are like filling a gas tank with water. You'll fill it up but the engine's not going to run. My mind races around grabbing anything that might hold a clue to what's next. I've been in this hunting-dog mode for over a decade. I enjoy spurts of fulfillment followed by days and days of mental starvation. Always inspired but easily distracted by the talent of a visual artist or a musician's song I ride the back roads of my fifties yearning for a sign leading me to something of my own. Maybe this year, maybe today, maybe it will come in the next email, or sunrise. Whenever it comes, or wherever it comes from, I plan to be ready for it, because I sure do like that new year smell.