Monday, August 30, 2021

Taken by Surprise

I wasn’t sure I’d like Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough's Pioneers when I first began reading it. I'd expected a historical novel and this was a nonfiction historical work. I knew nothing about the work of the courageous and broad-minded people who were instrumental in opening the vast Northwest Territory, ceded to the US by Britain, 
to veterans of the Revolutionary War and their families for settlement. 

I waded through the opening chapters that dealt with the remarkably talented New England minister Manasseh Cutler's travels throughout the east without realizing why he was meeting with the great men of the era and struggling to convince them of this effort.  

As I read on, I became entranced by the descriptions of the courageous men and open-minded men who must have given up sleeping to accomplish all they did. Creating charter for government known as the Northwest Ordinance which included three remarkable conditions: freedom of religion, free universal education, and most importantly, the prohibition of slavery. 

The stories of the early migration made for some harrowing experiences. They "crossed raging rivers, chopped

down forests, plowed miles of land, suffered incalculable hardships, and braved a lonely frontier to forge a new American ideal” (
The Providence Journal). As I read their stories, I felt a surge of joy and inspiration despite the darkness of the times in which we now live.

This is a book for now. One that I think should be in the hands of and on the bookshelves of every politician and citizen of the nation. This is the power of history, well researched and told. what happened then can, and will, happen again. The good and the bad. History is a great wheel that rolls over the same ground of human experience. It can be guided one way or another provided we look to the past even as we hope toward the future.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The cry for water

 Dear Reader,

During the late nineties, I was a member of a small but intense writing group with author Ranae Hanson. Her work while there thrilled me. Her essays were lyric, powerful, personal, and revolved around her experience of growing up in a remote and beautiful area nourished by lakes and rivers. She showed no interest, however, in getting them published.

When I asked why, I recall she said that the places she wrote about were too sacred to share. They needed to be protected. They were vulnerable to man’s predation. Her response puzzled me. Shouldn’t we celebrate the beauties of this world? Share our love of this world with others? Reveal our perceptions?

At the time, I didn’t know how deeply she cared about the earth and the environmental crises it faced. I accepted that it was enough that she share her gifts by teaching immigrants and the underprivileged to write.

When she suddenly became deathly ill with severe Type I diabetes, she began to recognize how closely the planet’s struggle with climate change mirrored her struggle with diabetes. First symptoms: drought, and thirst. The melting of the glaciers and permafrost, her bodily cells malfunctioning. The rising sea and scarcity of potable water, her body overwhelmed by need and so on.

The book's jacket can perhaps best explain how Hanson structured her memoir. Rich shades of green, black, and gold, capture a meandering river that weaves in a southerly direction through a densely wooded landscape.

The contents wander in much the same way. From childhood memories to climate refugees’ experiences. From the violent intersection of devastating personal illness with the trauma nature suffers from mankind’s ignorance and greed. The search to understand what’s happening and taking steps to undo or mitigate the damage. And peppered throughout Hanson meditative reflections and guides to ponder and use in our own journey through the watershed of our lives.

reminds me of the way sunlight can pierce the evening’s approaching darkness, shimmering through leaves and across pastures and farmland, lighting the joy in a child’s eyes, sharpening shadows, and softening night’s approach.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

A Lake Superior Morning

in Roseville


There was a time when inspiration leaped at me. Surrounded me, surprised and awed me. Those were Lake Superior Days. I wrote columns about them. I wrote a book about them. Then we moved.

Recently, I woke to find Lake Superior beckoning from our bedroom window in Roseville, where we now live. A band of heavy blue, spanning the horizon to the southwest with no end in sight as it had in Schroeder. The thrill was momentary of course, my rational brain denied the Lake’s presence in south central Minnesota. It was a day of miracles, nonetheless.

A walk in Central Park that afternoon, revealed tiny blue violets carpeting the ground, reminding me of my daily walks on the Superior Hiking Trail, as I followed the birth of a spring landscape from flower to flower: Bloodroot, Dutchman’s britches and marsh marigolds as they pushed their way toward the sun. In Roseville where we now live, spring perennials do not appear in such abundance, but the violets adorn the trails. Miracles too.

During that same walk, I also witnessed what I had never seen on Lake Superior, the touchdown of seven magnificent Trumpeter Swans. With a raucous babble of loud bugles and horns, their arrival shattered the silence. Eight-foot wingspans battled for space, so heavy that they scooped rather than touched the lake as they landed. The first to find balance rocketed after others, necks stretched low and long like glorious white shafts of light.

I imagine that you, like I, have experienced a sense of lightening with the gradual lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. Leaving the apartment without donning my mask feels strange. A feeling of being exposed, the air fresh around my face, my expressions no longer limited to crinkled eyes – Covid’s simulated smiles of greeting and pleasure. While others enjoy a greater sense of freedom, Bill and I find our lives more confined as his increased need for oxygen demands we limit our departures from the residence to less than two hours. Because his health is so at risk, we wear or carry masks wherever we go.

When I returned from my walk in Central Park, I came across these lovely words from Mary Oliver.

But I also say this: that light/ is an invitation to happiness/ and that happiness/ when it’s done right/ is a kind of holiness/ palpable and redemptive.

May your lives be filled with light and happiness. May holiness become a daily experience.





Thursday, March 25, 2021

Missing Gather

In an era when the internet spawned networking communities like geysers in a desert, was one of the first to appear. When it was launched on the web in 2005, was touted as a Myspace of Friendster for a literate audience, with the emphasis on content.  

I first learned about Gather, when Minnesota Public Radio announced it was helping launch an online community focused on the older demographic (users over thirty). I had just signed a contract with Counterpoint NY for my first book, The Scent of God: A Memoir. The publisher suggested I join an online community to help build a platform. I knew nothing about social networking save that it was geared toward younger people. Learning that Gather’s emphasis was on the “older generation” with a focus on content of substance, I viewed it as a Godsend.

The first step to joining was coining a username. But what was a username? I muddled around a bit before hitting the “Contact Gather” link. I heard back that same day from David Cooperstein, Gather’s VP, Editor-in-Chief who gently suggested “Beryl” as my username. And voila! I entered a newly burgeoning network of users, my first “Friend” being David himself.

As my contacts multiplied, I spent an inordinate amount of time linking with Gather. We had no satellite or high-speed cable where we lived and connecting by phone was desperately slow. But I loved Gather from the start. Connecting with thoughtful, creative, and generous “friends” was like finding a family and mentor at the same time. I often worked into the wee hours of the morning, loving every minute spent with Gather members though frustrated with the time it took to load photos.

Beryl at Harvard Bookstore
By the time my book came out in April 2006, I had developed a wonderful community of Gather friends. My very first reading/signing event took place at the Harvard Bookstore in Boston. It seemed such an intellectual place to do a reading and I couldn’t imagine how I would draw an audience for my memoir. Gather, whose headquarters were in Boston invited me to visit and introduced me to staff. That evening Gather staff joined Gather friends who lived in an around Boston and filled the space. Seeing them there, was such a relief I was no longer nervous. We celebrated afterwards with beer and fries at a local Pub.

Later that summer, Cooperstein left a message on my phone, inviting me to Gather’s first anniversary bash: a "Book It To Bermuda Cruise,” as one of their featured speakers. My husband Bill and I spent five days eating in luxury, attending shows, lounging in deck chairs with fancy drinks, and meeting people. 

beryl speaking on cruise

The return leg of the trip featured the author readings. That day, the ship was tossed likea cork on an angry sea, water sloshing from the pools, walkers clinging to the banisters along the halls. As the first speaker, I began to speak behind a podium that rolled from one side of the room to the other until a staff member led me to a comfortable stable chair. Despite the rough seas, no one evacuated their seats during my talk, hands clapped over mouths as I expected. They even waited in line to buy books until there were no more to sell or sign.

As Gather’s membership swelled, we never dreamed that Gather would not be our forever community. In 2014 Kitara Media bought it and though it intended to keep the structure alive, it soon fell apart and took most of our work with it. While some were able to rescue their work before it disappeared into the stratosphere, most of us lost our postings, comments, and lists of our friends.

Facebook offered a possible alternative, but I didn't care for its structure and kept my distance until recently, when I noticed Thomas Spainhour working to link Gatherers with their Facebook identity if they had one.  The sole purpose of this group, Refugees from Gather, is to be a “resource for Facebook users who are former members of Gather to reconnect with others from those years BF (Before Facebook).” This group is growing rapidly as he tracks down and matches possible links.

Inspired by his efforts and warmed to see names appearing that I once knew so well, I needed to refresh those early Gather memories. What were your first experiences in online networking? I imagine you have stories you want share as well. I hope you will. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

Waiting for Snow in Havana


While put off at first by the violent dangerous games this boy and his friends indulged in, I became quite fond of him. He had sparkling humor that lightened the dark theme of Fidel Castro's takeover from dictator Baptista and the exodus of thousands of children who were sent from Cuba to Miami in the early 1960s, as part of a U.S. government program called Operation Pedro Pan. I was captured by the brilliant meanderings of his mind as the book progressed, taking him from the insecurity of transition to adulthood and was fascinated with his preoccupation with religion and search for a God he could believe in.

Monday, December 28, 2020


The Walls of Lucca by Steve Physioc

This is a beautifully told story of love, war, political upheaval that takes shape in the trenches of world war one, expands into the idyllic Tuscan landscape of vineyards and olive orchards. The lives of loves of three families dominate the story as they wrestle to better their lives and improve their fortunes against the forces of fascism and domination that take root in their midst.

I was drawn into this story by the power of joy and love manifested by Isabella, an orphan raised in a convent who gives herself without limit to healing those around her. At times, I wondered if I was reading about a medieval saint rather than the feisty and frank your woman she was. As I read, I realized that this story must have a sequel to resolve all the questions it raises and situations that the reader knows lie ahead.

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Shortest Day by Colm Toibin

 Too soon, and too intriguing to stop.

Little did I realize when I began reading this book, that it would be so short. No, I groaned. I want to know how and why Professor O’Kelly’s life would change after witnessing the elusive but certain shaft of sunlight that pierces the ancient tomb during the winter solstice. How it might or might not affect the lives of the dead entombed there. Who were not afraid of the unknown but honored and lived with uncertainty? Who were these dead who whispered through the long dark of each year? A tomb older than Stonehenge and the pyramids yet built with exquisite designs, spirals, and other geometric shapes.

Taken by Surprise

I wasn’t sure I’d like Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough's Pioneers when I first began reading it. I'd expected a hist...