July 29, 2014

Reaching Out

Reaching Out
By John R. Greenwood

stalled in time and riddled with pain
a man listens more carefully and quiet becomes his friend
age creeped up and stole his spirit 
for a moment at least
retreating back beneath the muddy river bank
resting in the darkness 
waiting for something to arrive
peering out through the shadowed ripples
a man spins his wheels 
fears the face in the mirror
he knows better
the prescription he’s handed others 
now unfamiliar and strange
as the second hand rotates into weeks
the aches grasping tight 
unrelenting and heartless
the man breathes in deep
pulls up his boot straps 
cinches his belt
tilts the chin a degree or two
off in the distance
a dog barks
a rooster crows

July 20, 2014


By John R. Greenwood

parched and thirsty the old guy rests his rusty wheels 
he had better days when the kids were small
and they filled the back and waved 
at grandma in the kitchen window 
The one with the yellow daisy curtains pulled back
those finer times when the soft earth soothed his dry tires 
and he had something to look forward to on Saturday mornings
when the grass was taller than his weathered racks and the 
baby calves rubbed their heads on him whenever he sat still too long
now bored and left wondering how long he’s got
retired to the shed 
to just sit 
and wait
maybe the kid’s kids will grow up and see him for what he’s worth
maybe they’ll replace the rubber tires with Goodyears 
from Free Wheelin’ Sam’s Tire Store downtown 
maybe they take him all the way to the county line 
where the transfer station replaced the old town dump 
the place where you now have to separate your plastics 
maybe just maybe this fall when the leaves are shin high
and the kids need money to go see Star Wars 2014
maybe then he’ll get his fill of oak and maple and pine needle
and then we’ll see how useful and happy he’ll be...  

July 18, 2014

Meeting Ellen Foster

Meeting Ellen Foster
By John R. Greenwood 

This is Ellen Foster's original Jack Lewis watercolor of the
Foster Family Farm that Jack painted in July 1961.
This is where my adventure in tracing
Jack's journey down the back roads and villages along the Hudson
really took root and began to take shape.
This story is just beginning thanks to the kindness
of a family named Foster. 
I met Ellen Foster at her wonderful home tucked away in the Rensselaer County town of Nassau N.Y. A steep gravel driveway wound up through the woods and deposited me in a place you could quite easily confuse with heaven. The home stood tall at the top of a ridge that overlooked a freshly mown meadow complete with an abundant garden full of flowers and happy vegetables. 

I was quite confident that this chapter of my “Jack Lewis” fueled journey was about to become very special. 

I was about thirty minutes early for our agreed 2:30pm meeting and Ellen wasn’t home yet. Because of the semi-remote location I did not want to risk being late or lost. Although I had my trusty friend Garmin with me, he has on occasion led me astray. I pulled my pickup into a pull-off spot several yards from the home, turned off the ke and rolled down my window. Seconds later I heard a security alarm echoing across the property. The alarm’s source was a hefty black lab perched strategically at the top of the porch steps. His deep chested warning-shot-barks made it perfectly clear I would need photo identification in hand before getting any closer to the house. I take direction from barking labs quite well. I may sometimes forget what my wife asked me to do five minutes ago but when big labs speak, Mr. Greenwood listens.

I was quite content waiting patiently in my truck for Ellen to arrive. I smiled as I imagined  her explaining to me just how friendly her security system really was. I’m also not much of a gambler. 

As my watch struck 2:30 Ellen rolled up the driveway, driver’s window down, and a friendly wave extended high in the air. 

With the security system now disarmed and wagging his tail I followed my hosts Ellen and her daughter Elizabeth inside.

The reason for todays visit was two-fold. The first was to see the original Jack Lewis watercolor of Ellen’s childhood home in Schuylerville. The painting that initiated this new found friendship. While tracing Jack Lewis’s journey to the Foster family farm in Schuylerville I’d been told Ellen possessed an original painting that Jack had done of the farm. Sight unseen Ellen graciously invited me to come and visit it at her home. She realized how excited I was to have located one of his paintings here in New York. The second reason for my visit was to share the documentary of Jack Lewis that I’d discovered existed through the help of the University of Delaware. Skidmore College provided access to it for me through their Interlibrary Lending Program. I knew Ellen would enjoy seeing the man she’d met in 1961 when she was a little one prepping for kindergarten. The bonus of the day was having Ellen’s daughter there to share the fun with her mother. The double bonus was seeing Ellen’s sister Betsy (Foster) Andersson walk in the door. Jack used one of the poems Betsy wrote as a young teenager in his book “The Hudson River.” I had not met her in person yet either. When I spoke to her on the phone a couple weeks ago I asked her if she still wrote poetry. She said sadly she did not. I asked her that day on the phone if she had any other poems that she may have written as a teenager. She said she thought she might have some tucked away somewhere. Imagine my surprise when she walked in with an old manilla folder stuffed full of papers. Not only did she have some poetry she’d written back in the early 60’s, she gave me permission to share it here on my blog. One piece in particular struck a chord with me. I think it envelopes the theme of my journey retracing Jack Lewis’s travels through the small towns and villages along the Hudson River perfectly. Here is a photo of Betsy’s original poem as she typed it back in the 60’s. 

By Betsy Foster

If I could be a river
And flow beneath the sky,
I’d watch the busy people
In the towns I’m passing by.

And all my joys at night time,
when the cities are aglow,
Would ripple in my happiness
When heaven’s lights are low.

The buzz of passing street cars
And the bus’s brilliant lights
Are better than a theater
On nice warm summer nights.

The day is even nicer
If the weather’s bright and clear.
I feel the touch of country life
That proves my home is here.

A city’s fun to visit
When the work has all been done,
But “home” is in the country 
From whence my trip’s begun. 

While we were all sitting there talking Betsy was sorting through her collection of papers. She looked up with a kind of wondering air and exclaimed, “I find it strange that I don’t recall Jack’s visit very well. I thought it would have made a bigger impression on me at the time.” I replied that maybe it was because she was a teenager busy with teenager things and that maybe she was preoccupied with what was going on in her life at the time. She looked at me with a soft gentle smile that slowly curled up. “No, I don’t think that was it. I didn’t have a life back then.”, she said. "We all had chores and work to do." She said she would mull over her poems while she was milking the cows and when she was done she would get out her mother’s typewriter and put them down on paper. I smiled back at her and said, “It’s not too late.” 

The four of us sat there watching the documentary on Jack Lewis and talking about writing, family, and life’s surprises. I told them how I’d stopped in the small river-side village of Castleton on my way to Ellen’s house. I was looking for a home on Main Street that Jack painted and wrote about in his book back in 1962. It was an orange house with a turquoise door. According to the book he never spoke with the owners back then but he surmised they might possess an artist’s heart by the colors of the home. My short stop in Castleton that day revealed another astonishing surprise I’d never expected. I think I’ll save that story for another post.

Ellen and Elizabeth Foster
Our visit came to an end when I realized if I didn’t get moving my wife, whom I’d dropped off at work, would be none too pleased if I was late picking her up on such a gorgeous summer day. I gathered up my books, papers, and laptop, said my good byes and headed to the door. 

Before I could leave, Ellen generously handed me a bag of her home grown vegetables and a pint of fresh blueberries. As I left I couldn’t help but think of what Jack Lewis would have thought if he’d known his time spent enjoying the plentiful generosity of the Foster family had come full circle and continued on my behalf some fifty plus years later. For a story that began in the 60’s I couldn't help but feel it was just getting started. 

July 16, 2014

Contrasting Viewpoints

Contrasting Viewpoints
By John R. Greenwood

I captured this photograph quite by accident. I was walking out into a farmers field to take a photograph of the hillside beyond this fence when I caught a glimpse of yellow in  the corner of my eye. I saw this chubby beauty land on the fence in front of me. I didn’t have time to play with the camera I just clicked away. I don’t fuss much with settings anyway. I am a lazy and impatient photographer. I am more of an old time newspaper reporter out to capture the story. Someday I will know my nose form my aperture but for now I simply absorb and enjoy. I was caught off guard after I downloaded this to my computer and opened it. The scene sang with beauty and texture. I was mesmerized by the contrast between the rusty barbed wire and the yellow fluff-ball perched on it. It was a poem in a picture. A sense of calm overtook me. I couldn’t wait to put words to the scene I’d captured on a memory card. This is what fuels me everyday. The search for something speaking to me. It comes when I least expect it so I must always be prepared. This small example is what life is all about to me. It’s about keeping your eyes and ears open wide enough so they don’t miss anything going by. Life doesn’t always announce itself, sometimes you have to pluck it from the air like fireflies in the warm July darkness. 

As I sank deeper into this piece something tapped me on the shoulder, hard like a bully poking you in the chest. I was suddenly reminded of one of the first pieces I ever wrote. It was back in 2008 and months before Raining Iguanas was born. I now knew what this photograph was trying to say to me. Below is the piece I wrote in 2008. It was done in a memoir writing workshop taught by Betty Cassidy, Professor Emeritus at SUNY Adirondack . I don’t recall the prompt but I’m sure it had to do with a vivid childhood memory. I left the font and content exactly as I wrote it at the time.  


We all have regrets in our lives; one sticks like a wasp sting. An eight-year old boy and a BB gun intertwined to create a best/worst memory. It is inevitable, the hunter-gatherer instinct. We have it early. Maybe it’s curiosity. 
Carefree boy with a gun. 
One minute can define a person. I knew it was wrong. Every boy does. Will it excite or will it numb? I think I cried. I did not mean it. I am so sorry! Why, why did I do that? I was taught to appreciate nature. Even though it is a childhood moment, it clarifies and defines. Eight years later, I would kill my first and last deer. Two simple events in my life remain vivid in my mind. Simple events shape our lives and our personalities. I am glad those two moments make my heart ache so. Bird-on-a-wire please forgive me. 

August 2008

As you can clearly see the scene would have been quite similar yet the contrasting viewpoints between an 8 year-old boy in 1963 and that same boy in 2014 had a significant impact on me. I knew back then what I did was a mistake I couldn't take back. Although I still can't change what I did I can use it as a catalyst to bring emotions to the surface and add it to my writing. This is what life experiences are supposed to do. 

Bird On A Wire 2014
By John R. Greenwood 

Sitting softly on the harshness of twisted wire my visitor speaks volumes to me. Her fear nonexistent even knowing of my past gun toting ways. Forgiveness becomes beautiful as it rests gently between locust posts splintered and rough. Contrasting textures sharing a fields edge define the moment that clings so tight to my mind. I repent and she accepts. My elder spirit renewed and free once again rejoices with the knowledge that nature understands better than we what lies ahead in the next field, on the the next fence...

July 12, 2014

Son-Father Talk

Son-Father Talk
By John R. Greenwood

My son and grandson 
Grassy conversation with dad is time well spent, fleeting time, time you pack away for decades then pull out to quench your thirst. Son and father discuss the proper way to peel the bark from a maple stick.These moments Hallmark in feel, heartfelt in sincerity define fatherhood and life itself. They calm and sooth the harshness of the world. Snippets of summer so brief you can’t divide between real and imagined. What ingrains a photograph so deeply it never leaves? How does the texture of a cool lawn surround us in a blanket of memory? Why is this scene so scarce today? Let’s adjust our priorities to days where simple pleasures smother sensationalism. Fathers and sons, cool grass and a loose-bark stick make for magical conversation and summers that last a lifetime. 

July 02, 2014

Did I Mention I Was Excited?

Did I Mention I Was Excited?
By John R. Greenwood

Watercolor Artist Jack Lewis
It’s amazing how life sends you on these little excursions in and out of happiness. Today I was handed happiness, excitement, and gratitude all in one fell swoop. It all started online with the University of Delaware a few weeks ago where I was looking for a twenty year old VHS documentary on watercolor artist Jack Lewis. Not only did I locate the tape, they assured me they would send it to Skidmore College so I could view it personally. This was like handing a nine year old boy a twenty dollar bill at the gate of the county fair and telling him to take off and have a good time. Let’s just say I was “excited”. 

Jack Lewis 
I must tell you that I have approximately three months of the community college experience under my belt. I just turned old enough where I call anyone under fifty, “Kid” and just two days ago I spoke to a lady on the phone who has an original painting of Jack’s and invited me to come and see it at her home. Every step of this Jack Lewis journey has provided some form of wonder and appreciation to someone or something. It is as though it is pulling me along for a ride of which I have no choice but to follow. Even as I type these words it is as though I am being guided by something larger than I can explain. Maybe it’s life’s clock, tick-tocking in my head telling me, “Don’t wait any longer. Get moving. Don’t hesitate for a minute.” All I know for sure is--the feeling this search for Jack Lewis and his story gives me is fulfilling and gives me a reason to keep learning. 

Back to Skidmore College.

I will skip some of the details, but in short the tape arrived at Skidmore’s, Lucy Scribner Library and I received an email letting me know it was there. Weekend timing, time, and my work schedule held me hostage for a few excruciating days but I would soon find it all well worth the wait when I finally sat down in a remote media room on the Skidmore Campus on a Tuesday evening with thunder rumbling in the distance and hit the PLAY button. 
I must explain that Skidmore’s hospitality and willingness to provide me with this access has been life changing. I am a man who not too many years ago was taking evening “Beginning Computer” classes at my local BOCES. I’ve since been writing this blog and have been pursuing some sort of writing experience. This latest chapter of learning how to research archived material and at the same time absorb the wonder of a new found discovery, has provided me more self confidence and encouragement to continue than I could have ever imagined or expected. If I ever assemble this experience into something more significant it will take me longer to write a thank you list than it will to write the book. 

Back to the PLAY button.

Young Jack Lewis the painter
The very instant the sound on the documentary began to fill the comfortable media room where I was nestled I knew I had found the Holy Grail of my search. The title of the documentary not only told Jack Lewis’s  story but it also told the story of his hometown Bridgeville. Most importantly it told my story. You see, I have lived within twenty miles of my birthplace, Saratoga Hospital for 59 years. I have never traveled more than one state away in any direction. I have never been on an airplane and except for 1974 when I lost a finger in a “stupid man” accident I have never been off from work for more than ten days in a row. The title of the documentary by David Petersen was, “If You Lived Here You Would Be Home Now”. I do live here. I am home now, and I have been. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to travel or that I’m afraid to fly in a plane, it’s that the choices I’ve made in my life handed me a different game plan. A need to work with my hands changed the course of my educational ship. Being fortunate enough to find the love of my life at the start of my life provided me a young family at a young age. It also taught me how to make a living in a way that makes you appreciate things more deeply. Whether it’s a new natural gas furnace at 55 or a VHS tape at 59, sometimes what we need to make us happy is right under our noses, we just need to breath in to smell them and breath out to enjoy them.

I will be sharing more about my friend Jack Lewis and the trail he’s laid at my feet. I will be writing more thank you’s and more stories about the chapters that seem about to unfold this summer. I want to thank the staff at both libraries for their assistance so far. As I check the clock in front of me I know I have to get ready for work but I also know the workday will end and my next adventure will begin.