November 25, 2017


By John R. Greenwood

I’ve come to embrace quiet.
Quiet unlike silence includes 
the steady hum of the clothes dryer 
in the other room. Pre-dawn, when 
the traffic is sparse the tic and tock
of a wall clock whispers a familiar rhythm. 
It’s November, the heat is on. 
The faint cracks and clicks of the 
warm flowing through the metal vents
remind me to be grateful 
for the roof above my head.
Quiet allows mindful thought, while the brain 
stretches and idles gently beside.
The best quiet is made of layer upon 
layer of distant sounds. Soft and soothing 
sounds that carry no threat nor angst.
Peace and quiet are rare, like the quiet knock 
of a childhood friend at the backdoor.
A friend you haven’t seen in years. 
A friend you dearly miss and weren't expecting. 

November 21, 2017

Turkey Hunting

Turkey Hunting
By John R. Greenwood

Heading out to go Turkey Hunting

Its turkey season and the adrenaline is pumping. You can feel the excitement in the air every November after the leaves have been raked and the frost-stricken mums are beginning to brown. There are signs of turkey season everywhere. Camo hats, mugs, boots, and jackets are visible around every corner. Whether you're in a Walmart parking lot or your doctor’s office waiting room, you will find a hint of camouflage. Turkey sounds, pictures, and banners infiltrate internet ads and the sales brochures overflowing our mailboxes. There is no escaping the fact that turkey season about to gobble us up. The surest sign turkey season is happening in our home is the twinkle in Mrs. G’s eyes. They begin to sparkle soon after the bottom of the Halloween candy dish peeks through. It's taken decades for me to prepare for what’s about to transpire in the coming days. I sense the transition when fleeces replace windbreakers and Harvest Blend K-cups replace Nantucket Blend.  

Heading into turkey backcountry at 7:00am

Its now time to cinch up my boot laces, grab the car keys and ready myself for the Turkey Hunt. No matter how hard I've tried to convince my turkey hunting half that I'd be perfectly happy carving a turkey breast instead of a Buick-sized Butterball she never flinches. Regardless of how many will be at our Thanksgiving Day table you can rest assured that in our home there will  be a beautiful turkey with all the trimmings. We will enjoy a traditional meal whether all the chairs or just two are filled. This is one holiday tradition that is nonnegotiable in my home. The more I try to steer the ship to a smaller less involved event my wife holds steadfast to preparing and providing us with the true Thanksgiving experience. Why I try to rock the boat and change its course, is a question a slow to learn husband will never come close to answering. 

That bird didn't have a prayer!

This year though I think I finally got it. 

I now realize that it’s not about the food or the preparation for my wife it’s about continuing a ritual she’s been following since our first Thanksgiving as husband and wife in 1974. Its about setting out a bowl of nuts and the nutcracker. Its about cream cheese filled celery and oven-brown dinner rolls. It’s about setting the table with a harvest of color and warmth. Its about family, whether they're there or not there. When I try to manipulate the turkey hunt and make it about dollars and cents or need versus necessity I tread on sacred ground. I should have learned by now to simply embrace and appreciate how fortunate I am and how thankful I should be to have married someone who still holds on to the traditions and rituals that we’ve been working on together for forty-three years. 

"Successful Hunt #43"

What else am I thankful for this year? 

My family of course. 

And successful turkey hunt #43. 

Hope you bagged a big one too. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sore Back Happy

Sore Back Happy
By John R. Greenwood

What makes you happy? 

I woke up during the night to write about what I’d been mulling over the last several days. I’d taken some vacation time off to get some projects done around the house before the cold weather hit. Normally we take several days around the Columbus Day weekend to go to Cape Cod. This year my wife and I decided to take that time and money, and replace and enlarge the concrete patio between our house and garage. We put the patio in ourselves when we moved in back in the early 80’s. It was beginning to show its age. The slab was cracked and deteriorating on top. I’d resurfaced it for years and was losing the battle. 

I hired a local mason to pour the new pad. To save on cost I was going to demo and remove the old one myself. He got the easy part. I broke up every inch of the old patio with a large crow bar and sledge hammer. I moved the broken slabs with a steel handcart and loaded them onto my pickup. I made several trips to a local construction refuse business and unloaded them—all by hand. 

This is where the “happy” part comes in. 

It’s now over a week later and the new pad has been poured. I took the last two loads of old concrete away today and although I can barely move, I’m happy as a Cape Cod clam. I woke up last night because I was content and “happy”. My sore back was a physical reminder of the American Dream. I’ve written about this sense of home-ownership before but this most recent project seemed to clarify the feeling. It was intensified when I drove up North Broadway in Saratoga the other day. I passed an endless convoy of landscape trucks and trailers. The lawns were filled with men in company logo’d shirts all doing the fall cleanup-dance of blowing, raking, and bagging leaves. I’ve never looked at having someone else maintaining my yard as being a sign of success. Having my own yard to massage with a lawnmower and rake is enough for me. I look at excess as being more of a burden than a sign of accomplishment. When I look at a sprawling estate in pristine condition I have admiration for the laborer whose blisters were responsible, not the person with the thick check book. Its possible that I’m a Powerball win away from changing my perspective but I hope not. I’ve spent a lifetime fine-tuning my DYI skills. I’m still a toddler on that scale but when it comes to appreciation for doing something with your own two hands I’m high on the list. 

After a couple weeks of working on the patio replacement and fall yard work my wife and I planned out a new raised flower bed for our new backyard retreat. We decided on a stone planter that would be easy to access and maintain. With some husband and wife ping-pong we came up with a design. Rather than wait until spring we took advantage of the nice weather that was hanging around and “dug” in. This was another back-intense build that came with a high degree of satisfaction. Having a full size pickup truck with a liner is a huge benefit when tackling this type of project. Having a truck that’s a  “worker” versus a “looker” makes loading it with cement, dirt, and stone more project friendly. In fact, as I write this I’m thinking I might start calling her “Dusty”. 

After a spring, summer, and fall filled with a bathroom remodel, patio remodel, and yard maintenance at every space in between, you’d think I’d be looking forward to kicking back and putting my feet up but I’m not. I will return to writing and walking which makes me whole, but true happiness for me comes with a sore back and calluses. 

Let me ask one more time.

What makes you happy? 

October 09, 2017

Forgotten Farms; A Film You Won't Forget

Forgotten Farms; A Film You Won’t Forget
By John R. Greenwood

I got lucky. 

A few weeks ago I was browsing the Skidmore Events Calendar looking for upcoming lectures or exhibitions. An upcoming screening of the documentary film “Forgotten Farms” at the Gannett Auditorium caught my attention. I’ve spent the last several years of my life paying close attention to those little taps on the shoulder. Stumbling upon this film is a perfect example of why I don’t ignore them. 

Being the spouse of a Skidmore College employee entitles me to a Skidmore ID along with an endless list of opportunities that I enjoy taking advantage of. I’m grateful to Skidmore for those opportunities. I’m also impressed by the fervor in which they encourage the general public to participate. Providing a venue for the screening of the film “Forgotten Farms” is but one small example. 

This is a multipurpose piece. First I would like to publicly thank all those responsible for making the screening possible. Skidmore provided the venue. The screening itself was sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension, Saratoga County and its membership. Secondly, I want to thank the film’s director Dave Simonds and producer Sarah Gardner for making such a beautiful and eye opening gem. Thirdly, I want to encourage others to seek out the next screening so that you might enjoy the film as much as I did. Bring an open mind—leave with a renewed view of your food, milk, and dairy farming neighbors. I’ve enjoyed food, chugged my share of milk, and admired dairy farmers all my life. This film didn’t change my opinion—it sure did reinforce it. 

Rather than focus on the struggles dairy farmers face, I want to emphasize the need for the general public to support and encourage their survival. I’ve lived my life on the fringes of dairy farms. I spent the very best years of my youth in the early 60’s making hay bale forts in the haymow of Brookside Dairy in Greenfield Center. As a child you only absorb the fun that exists on a working farm. You recall sitting in the shade of a large maple at the farms entrance sharing lunch with the men who’d already been up for hours milking. You got to ride through the fields on the hay wagon, oblivious to the work that went into getting the hay from seed to bale. You ran free like a farm dog from one adventure to another never understanding the complexity and sacrifice going on behind the scenes. Not until I’d logged ten or fifteen years working in a milk processing plant, peddling milk, and raising a family did I truly understand a 24/7/365 working lifestyle. You mature quickly when the fuel bill comes in your name and the winter temperatures freeze the half gallons of milk on your truck. When I look back at my work life it pales in comparison to that of a dairy farmer. Most of my work life I had health insurance and a retirement plan. Even during the ten years I owned my own business I always seemed to have enough money to do the things I did find time for. Being a dairy farmer is another story. Every acre comes with a sore back, little free time, and no instructions. The film “Forgotten Farms” spells out the challenges of today’s milk producers in a way that emphasizes their pride and love of doing something they can’t always explain. I see it as a ground level embrace of independence. The difficulty lies in their lack of control of the world outside the stone-walled boundaries of their farms. They are at the mercy of consumers and corporate America. Watching this film acknowledged and highlighted the lessons I’ve learned in the last several years in my job which falls dead square between the two. It is an interesting place to make a living between the farmer and the place that picks up their milk and puts it on the counter for the consumer. My chest carries the logo of my employer but my boots and responsibilities carry the soil of the farm as well. I’m fortunate to be able to enjoy the best of both worlds without carrying the burden that comes at the tips of either end. 

In a world where compromise is finding it a tough go, the dairy farmer has little choice but to bend until he breaks. They must continually reassess, readjust, and react to the problems everyone else has created. As I witnessed the integrity and resolve the farmers in the film displayed, my mind kept looping round and round in search of some light at the end of the tunnel. One thought kept flashing through my head. 

“We have to find a way to make a glass of cold milk cool again.” John Greenwood

Like vinyl records and Sinatra, some things simply can’t be replaced. 

As I watched this wonderful documentary I was saddened by the lighter than expected crowd. It’s not surprising that dairy farms are forgotten. Today’s fluid interests lie in microbrews and wineries. The internet is bloated with negative press about diary products yet our children are guzzling caffeine and sugar laced energy drinks at an alarming rate. This isn’t a nostalgic whine about trying to turn back the clock to the good old days, it’s about common sense, good health, and our future. 
We need to look out for our farming friends. We will someday realize that no theme park can replace the sights, sounds and smells of a working farm. Driving by a freshly mown hayfield in late June and I’m instantly transported back in time. Back to a time when wading in a cold farm creek soothed you like a mother wiping your brow with a cool washcloth. I’m certain the first view I have if I’m lucky enough to travel north when I leave this crazy planet will be a green pasture surrounded by a moss covered stonewall, blanketed with a blue sky, and brimming with a herd of Holsteins grazing in the shade of a giant maple. 

I always carry a notebook and pen when I attend a lecture or presentation. Many times I use the notes to write a piece like the one you're reading here. As this film unfolded my pen never stopped. I jotted everything that stood out or spoke to me. When I began to compile my thoughts I noticed a distinct pattern. 

Here are several of my notes just as I as wrote them down. 
  • First couple of cows at age nine
  • Choice
  • My father was my biggest role model
  • Perseverance 
  • Dedication
  • “Everyday” Got to be there
  • “I had 40 hours in by Tuesday noon”
  • Animals need you
  • So many things
  • Weatherman
  • Businessman
  • Doesn't miss a beat
  • Don’t show up to play around
  • You adjust
  • You never know how long you're going to last
  • Each cow generates $13,000-$14,000 per year in revenue to the local economy. 
  • “The only business that buys at retail, sells at wholesale, and pays shipping both ways”      —JFK
  • "Good years, last a year"
  • Break Even
  • Challenge
  • Fuel, seeds, veterinarian, Workmen’s Comp
  • “Years to build, in minutes it was gone” — a farmer describing a farm auction
  • 11 million dollars in lost economy when a dairy farm goes out of business
  • Nice to drive by a dairy farm
  • Lose history—How we got here
  • Deep roots
  • Great, Great Grandfather
  • 13 generations
  • 2% feed all the people
  • They’ve been here for centuries—What are they doing right?
  • Gets in your blood
  • Keep going
  • “Class Issues” —Milk not part of the food movement 
  • Education v/s Stinky kid on the bus
  • Isolated 
  • Criticized
  • Invisible
  • Disparaged
  • Don’t care
  • Hopeful

The pattern I gleaned from watching Forgotten Farms and reading my notes is this; dairy farmers are the most dedicated, committed, knowledgeable, and hard working people on the planet. I’ve always known this to be true, but after watching this film and adding it to my 60 plus years of quiet observation it became abundantly clear. As the film came to an end the crowd remained politely quiet. I however stood up and clapped as loudly as I could. It was my private standing ovation. Yes, it was for the beautifully crafted documentary but it was also for my personal admiration of the work ethic and pride that goes into every delicious cold glass of milk I drink. Since 1974 I’ve fed my family, and paid my mortgage and car payments by picking up, processing, and delivering milk. Add to that the fact that milk is my favorite farm product and you’ve got yourself a real live milkman and dairy farm advocate. 

I hope everyone who reads this gets an opportunity to watch this film. I provided links to the Forgotten Farms website. In searching their site I found they provided dozens of links to other dairy and farm related sites. 

Bravo, Dave Simonds and Sarah Gardner! You should be very proud of this film.

"All my friends say, You should retire and do something you enjoy. 
Well I guess I've been retired my whole life." - Dairy farmer 

                 “There are three people that know how the cost of milk is calculated. 
                                     Two are dead and one doesn’t remember.” 

Forgotten Farms Website:

Cornell Cooperative Extension, Saratoga County:

Skidmore College Events Calendar:

September 04, 2017

Door #88

When I first posted the simple poem below it was immediately mis-interpreted. Within minutes I began seeing congratulatory comments about retiring. I was quickly reminded of how careful we must be with our words. I am not retiring. I don't want to retire. I do not like the word retire. In fact my plan is to work myself into the ground at a ripe old age. This piece in fact, is about fighting back. It's about standing your ground and yelling at the top of your lungs when you feel someone pushing you from behind.

One of the centerpieces of my book shelf is, "Working," a book written by author Studs Terkel in 1974. "Working" is a collection of interviews with the working men and women of our country. Armed with a reel-to-reel tape recorder he would interview people from all walks of life trying to reveal how, "ordinary people" feel about their working lives. Since he's not here to interview me I guess I'll speak my piece on my own. 

Ironically 1974 is the year my wife and I were married and the year I began my "working career." The days of spending my summer job money on dirt bikes and Converse All-Stars was over. Raising a family with a high school education involves dedication and commitment. When you add in two sons it involves long hours and seven day work weeks; none of which I would trade for the world. 

Work to me is a privilege. There are millions of people in thousands of countries all over the world, including our own, who would give their right arm for a steady job. I've always had one or two. I see that as a gift, not something I want to toss to the curb. Retirement is not entitlement. To do something so hard for so long, so you don't have to do something, doesn’t work in my head. If you've spent a lifetime doing something you didn't enjoy I feel sorry for you. I have spent a lifetime collecting side splitting work anecdotes, all of which I cherish like a wad of $100 bills. The more I write this piece the more passionate I become about it. Hundreds and hundreds of unforgettable characters have crossed my path during my forty-three years of working. I can't express the joy I get out of knowing I carry a sliver of memory about all of them with me every day. 

Who built the seven towers of Thebes?
The books are filled with the names of kings.
Was it kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?…
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished 
Where did the masons go?… 
—Bertolt Brecht

I’ve always considered myself the most average man in America. Average height, average intelligence, average life. I see that as the greatest gift you could imagine. If I was above average I would have more to worry about losing. If I was below average I would always be searching for something greater. I feel like I enjoy the best of both worlds. I can strive for more but if I am happy living in the middle of the field why not enjoy the view in all four directions. Work keeps me honest. It helps me better appreciate what I have, while showing more compassion for those who are simply trying to poke their heads above water. Unless I’m broken I need a reason to set my alarm every night. I kid about being a shit-fixer at work. There is an army of us. If I didn’t have shit to fix I’d probably go stark raving mad. Yes, there’s plenty of shit fixing to do at home but the pay is much lower. And, sometimes at home I break more shit than I fix. 

I hope this short disclaimer helped to clear up any misunderstanding about me retiring. It’s not happening. When I’m ready I’ll be sure to let someone know.  


Not yet.

Right now, I just want to know what time to set my alarm for?  


Door #88

By John R. Greenwood

feeling out of place can happen to anyone
it creeps up on you without warning

a fiberglass cow loses its way
a barn, a pasture, a warehouse loading dock

take her to the fair and celebrity kicks in
I, on the other hand, lost at sea

retirement, a word I hate, stalks me
relevancy, a word I chase, eludes me

the next phase is a mine-field
avoidance prolongs the implosion

the scent of impending doom 
spreads a damp fog above

my scrappiness, like a Trump lie
doubles down, ready to start kicking and screaming 

August 17, 2017

Moving Adventure

Moving Adventure 
By John R. Greenwood

The Play Set's New Home! 
My cell phone buzzed Friday afternoon around three o'clock. It was my son Kevin. 



This is the way conversations between men begin these days. 

"Where are you?" 

When sons throw this one out at you right off the bat, listening to the tone of their voice is paramount. In this case it was more--I need an extra set of hands--versus I just ran off the road. Voice tone recognition is an acquired skill when you raise two sons. In this case I sensed a tone of immediacy and crossed fingers. 

"I'm sitting in the supermarket parking lot. Your mother just ran in to grab something. Why, what's up?" 

"I'm trying to get a crew together." 

Gulp, this sounds like more than, I need a hand moving the fridge.

"I bought a used swing set from a lady but I have to take it apart and move it" 

SuperFriend Jim and his life-saving equipment
Swing sets today aren't like the simple four-legged, two seater's I remember in other people's yards. Today's backyard play sets are more massive than the ones you used to find at the school playground. They come equipped with rock climbing walls and monkey bars, tree forts above and sandboxes below. Some cost more than my first car. For the son with three boys between the ages of four years and four months, a backyard play extravaganza could be considered a true necessity. Even though I had the day off and had planned to make some headway on my home repair list I knew this was one of those times when you respond with an immediate, "I'm in". Within the hour "The Crew" and their equipment were pulling up in front of the homeowners property like we were about to begin filming an episode of Extreme Makeover. Minutes later we had accessed the backyard by removing two sections of stockade fence. This allowed us to back right up to the play set. Then like a swat team we began unbolting and disassembling. Because the set was only two years old the hardware was in relatively good shape and everything came apart easily. Less than 45 minutes later three friends and one grandfather had everything apart and safely strapped to a trailer. Like a team of professional house movers we caravanned across and out of town on route to the swing set's new home. 

This text message from my wife sums up the Friday afternoon adventure perfectly:
"I was so lucky to be looking out the kitchen window to see the trucks go by the house with the play set. All of you men bringing a big surprise for 3 little boys. They will be so excited!! Love you guys!" 

Climbing Caleb
This was one of those events you dig out of your memory bank several times throughout your life. Whether you're the two or four year-old child or the thirty or sixty-something father or grandfather, projects that involve multiple friends and family like this one, you don't forget them. They stick to your brain like the taste of ice cream or the smell of a pine log campfire. I knew as I watched my grandsons absorbing the sight of this monstrosity rolling up in front of their house that someday after I was long gone, they would look back and smile on the memory. They will tell their sons and daughters how their father executed such a monstrous task just for them. While the world was going mad just outside this quiet little neighborhood, I was witnessing heaven and one of those small little priorities we all need to pay more attention to. The joy those little boys will have on that play set pale in comparison to the joy a father experiences watching them. My sons are good sons and better fathers. They teach their sons right from wrong and they make them laugh. They drive by the golf course to take their sons to the park or hockey practice. They wear worn out work boots so their sons can have fresh out-of-the-box sneakers. They make me proud. The friends they have accumulated make me proud too. 

Thank you Jim and Jeff for the friendship you've shown my son. Thank your wives and your own children too for sharing you on this Friday night after-work adventure. Thank you to both of my sons for putting your families first. Someday soon you too will be a grandfather looking back in admiration and joy on the life you've created. That's when the old work boot dividends begin to come in by the swing set full. 

Look out World!