“I think sometimes when you move away from your hometown, you kind of begin to romanticize it.” This status update from a cross-generational Facebook friend got me thinking (Uh-Oh). What is it that draws us back?

Hometown: the city or town where one grew up, or the place of one’s principal residence. It is not to be confused with birthplace, although the two can be the same place. (Wikipedia)

I was born in Westfield, but moved to Southwick with my family when I was 4 years old.

Southwick is where I grew up. Southwick is my hometown. Granville road . . . fifth house on the left. I walked to Consolidated School. I could also walk to the library, Balch’s and Jones’ grocery stores . . . and Joe’s.

Joe Eisenstein was the pharmacist who owned Southwick Pharmacy. We only knew it as Joe’s. The old building had a soda fountain and booths in the back where we would read comic books. Joe was always behind the pharmacy counter, and Ethel Stanton would make us cherry cokes at the fountain. Holcomb’s Florist was next door. We would buy the occasional carnation for Mom and, later on, corsages for semi-formals and proms. Pearl Holcomb was also the babysitter who taught us how to play cards.

The schoolyard at Consolidated was where we hung out . . . the slide, the monkey bars, the baseball field and basketball court, and that long hitching post from Southwick Fair days. There were no organized youth sports in those days (1950’s). We chose teams, settled disputes, and developed a system of fairness all without adult intervention. Sometimes on Saturdays Bill Lent, the custodian at Consolidated, would let us use the indoor bandbox basketball court if we helped pick up after CCD classes.

In the winter time we would ice skate on the little pond behind the library. We just called it Mr. King’s pond. If it snowed, kids would bring shovels to keep it clear. There was a little garden shed where we could leave our shoes after putting on our skates. Griffin’s hill was across the street for sledding. One day, after a storm, school was cancelled. Johnny Deveno and his Mom showed up in a two horse sleigh. We rode all over  the streets of Southwick, our hometown.

The old Joe’s Drug Store was torn down to build a more “modern” pharmacy. It is now a liquor store. Holcomb’s Florist is a bank today. Balch’s and Jones’ are gone. Consolidated School is the town hall. The basketball court is still there, but the baseball diamond, the slide and monkey bars are all parking lots.  The old hitching rail, like the Southwick Fair, is long gone. The old library stands vacant, and Mr. King’s pond is an overgrown trickle of a brook. There’s a house on Griffin’s hill, and sleigh rides on the snow covered streets now exist only in my mind’s eye.

Those places really existed . . . those things really happened. Is it my hometown that I romanticize . . . or is it the innocence and magic of childhood? I think time and place are inextricably intertwined. We can’t think of our hometown without thinking of the time we lived there. I still live in my hometown . . . but it’s not the same place where I grew up.

That place still exists . . . but I have to close my eyes to visit.

I’m Back . . .

Wow!!! I haven’t updated this blog since February 23rd.

I must admit that I’ve been totally consumed by my photo blog over at 365.mrcowles.com. Time to try and restore some balance.

I just finished posting final grades for the spring semester. I have no assigned courses for the summer and should, therefore, have more time to dedicate to my blogging. While I’m still having a blast with my Project 365, there’s no shortage of mental minutiae going on here.

I’m approaching the first anniversary of my retirement. It’s been an interesting year. I taught five days a week for the fall semester. Granted, the days were much shorter (11:30 to 2:20 was my long day), but I was working five days, nonetheless. It was good having someplace to go everyday. I needed the structure. Then, when course assignments came out for spring, I still had three courses but all were MWF. . . What to do with Tuesdays and Thursdays?

There’s a nagging sense of guilt that arises when a day goes by and I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing. For some reason reading, taking and processing pictures, going out to lunch, walking in the woods, listening to music, practicing dance, visiting friends and relatives and playing with the dogs don’t seem to assuage it. It’s as though those are not worthwhile endeavors. Where does that come from? Have I been so conditioned to devalue things I love to do and to view activities as worthy only if there’s suffering involved? Yikes!!! I’m gonna have to work on this.

Keeping up with this blog just might be a good way to begin.

Project 365 Update

This week I’ll be marking the first month of my Project 365. So far it’s going better than I expected. In addition to getting out with my camera I find myself following several other photographers online. It’s inspiring and educational.

The images that have really grabbed my attention are those using HDR (HighDynamicRange) photography. HDR involves the fusion of multiple exposures of the same shot using different apertures. This produces an image with a range of tones that more closely approximates the human eye. There is much less loss of detail in the shadow and highlight areas of the photo. I picked up an HDR program called Photomatix and have been playing around with it this week. I find it to be quite user friendly allowing for a tremendous range of creativity.

You can view my Project 365 at http://365.mrcowles.com/. There’s a place at the bottom where you can subscribe by email if you’d like . . . it’s only 1 post per day. Check it out.

Snow Day

This gallery contains 12 photos.

Classes were cancelled today as the Great Blizzard of 2013 bore down on New England. I decided to check in on Facebook and noticed a post from Red Riding Hood’s Basket, a delightful café right here in town. They were open this morning! The snow was just beginning to fall, and I reasoned I could […]

New Year’s Resolution 2013

I’ve been reading a lot lately . . . too much I think.

Much of it is reaction to the Newtown tragedy. The proposed solutions range from strict gun control to arming everyone. As long as we keep the focus on guns we’re missing the root of the problem.

True . . . guns don’t kill . . . our distorted cultural view of masculinity does. We teach our boys that being a “man” means having control at any cost . . . including violence.

 Arming more people is not the answer. Redefining masculinity and raising sensitive boys who understand that it’s okay to have and express all their emotions instead of denying and stuffing them so as not to appear “unmanly” would be a better course. Let’s face it our media and most world governments are controlled by large corporations that are making billions of dollars off our culture of violence . . . and spending billions to perpetuate it. It will take all of our cultural institutions, including churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, schools, colleges, and especially families working together. It begins with awareness. We have to pay attention to the “little things” we do every day that support a culture of violence. . . the thoughts we have . . . the words we speak . . . the shows we watch . . . the games we play . . . the products we buy . . . the examples we set. We need to shift our focus from changing everyone else to changing ourselves.

I hereby resolve to pay attention and catch myself doing the “little things” I do every day that support and perpetuate a culture of violence. With self-awareness I can change it.

Happy New Year, Everybody!


Ad from Maxim magazine.

I didn’t know my man card had been revoked.

Gotta head to Walmart and pick up a Bushmaster so I can get it back.

Winter Solstice

6:12 am December 21, 2012, marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day in the northern hemisphere. Hours of daylight increase following the solstice as the sun begins its return journey toward summer. To celebrate, many ancient cultures engaged in rituals and festivals of light. In the northern hemisphere, the December solstice occurs during the coldest season of the year. Although winter was regarded as the season of darkness and cold, the coming of lighter days after the winter solstice brought on a more festive mood. To many people, this return of the light was a reason to celebrate. Nature’s cycle was continuing. There are more ceremonies and rituals associated with the winter solstice than any other time of year.

Thousands of years ago, the Roman culture celebrated Saturnalia, its major festival, on the Winter Solstice. When Julius Caesar instituted a new calendar in 46BC, the festival fell on December 25th. The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336AD during the Roman Emperor Constantine’s reign. Shortly afterwards Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on December 25th ,seeking to replace pagan traditions with Christian ones. In fact, many Christmas traditions, including  yule logs ,decorating with candles and lights, evergreen trees, and mistletoe predate Christianity by thousands of years.

In addition to the solstice and Christmas, other festivals and celebrations are held in December. The Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah. Some African and African Americans celebrate the festival of Kwanzaa. Many Native Americans observe winter solstice rites to honor their ancestors and offer prayers of gratitude. The Chinese celebrate Dongzhi and Buddhists have Bodhi Day. The Celts have Boxing Day and Mummers’ Day, and there’s the Slavic festival of Koleda. No matter what our spiritual beliefs, or what part of the world we live in, we all share the turning of the sun on the solstices.

The winter holidays are for everyone. “Keep Christ in Christmas” and ”Jesus is the reason for the season” are the familiar refrains of many Christians. But throughout the world, non-Christians often celebrate Christmas as well. I don’t say this to diminish Christianity, but only to point out that these Winter celebrations are a deep part of us all. Whether we identify as Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Pagan, agnostic, or atheist, we are drawn towards the light and fellowship that has become an integral part of this season. So all those non-Christians celebrating “Christmas” are simply doing what comes naturally. The insistence by some Christians that December and its celebrations somehow belongs only to Christians misses the point of why we go to such great efforts to gather together. We aren’t waging a “war on Christmas”, or disrespecting Christian tradition. We are honoring deeper, older, instincts.

I hope we can all come to understand that the winter holiday season is bigger than any one faith’s traditions. Much of Humanity is celebrating right now for a variety of reasons. So let me wish all of you a Happy Holiday Season, be it Winter Solstice, Yule, Saturnalia, Hanukkah, or Christmas. Tomorrow brings the gift of more light as Grandfather Sun begins his return journey toward summer. No matter how we celebrate it, we can all delight in this season as a time to gather together, renew, take joy in our natural environment, reflect on the events of the old year, and look forward in anticipation to the new. More than anything we can take this time to offer gifts of gratitude from our hearts. These offerings can spark the gift of Peace throughout the world. What better way to honor ALL the Festivals of Light.

Nindiniwemaganidok: We Are All Related.

The Thanksgiving Myth

Let me begin by stating that thousands of years before the ‘official’  Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed by Governor Winthrop of the Massachussetts Bay Colony in 1637, North American Indigenous people across the continent had celebrated seasons of Thanksgiving. ‘Thanksgiving’ is a very ancient concept to American Indian nations. The big problem with the American Thanksgiving holiday is its false association with American Indian people. . .The infamous ‘Indians and pilgrims’ myth.  It is good to celebrate Thanksgiving, to be thankful for your blessings.  It is not good to distort history, to falsely portray the origin of this holiday and lie about the truth of its actual inception. Here are some accurate historical facts about the true origin of this American holiday that may interest you . . .

Thanksgiving’ did not begin as a great loving relationship between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag, Pequot and Narragansett people.  In fact, in October of 1621 when the ‘pilgrim’ survivors of their first winter in Turtle Island sat down to share the first unofficial Thanksgiving’ meal, the Indians who were there were not even invited!  There was no turkey, squash, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie.  A few days before this alleged feast took place, a company of ‘pilgrims’ led by Miles Standish actively sought the head of a local Indian leader, and an 11 foot high wall was erected around the entire Plymouth settlement for the very purpose of keeping Indians out!

Officially, the holiday we know as ‘Thanksgiving’ actually came into existence in the year 1637. Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed this first official day of Thanksgiving and feasting to celebrate the return of the colony’s men who had arrived safely from what is now Mystic, Connecticut.  They had gone there to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children, and Gov. Winthrop decided to dedicate an official day of thanksgiving complete with a feast to ‘give thanks’ for their great ‘victory’….

As hard as it may be to conceive, this is the actual origin of our current Thanksgiving Day holiday.  Many American Indian people these days do not observe this holiday, for obvious reasons.  I see nothing wrong with gathering with family to give thanks to our Creator for our blessings and sharing a meal.  I do, however, hope that Americans as a whole will one day acknowledge the true origin of this holiday, and remember the pain, loss, and agony of the Indigenous people who suffered at the hands of the so-called ‘pilgrims’.  It is my hope that children’s plays about ‘the first Thanksgiving’, complete with Indians and pilgrims chumming at the dinner table, will someday be a thing of the past.  Why perpetuate a lie?  Let us face the truths of the past, and give thanks that we are learning to love one another for the rich human diversity we share.

(Written by John Two-Hawks)


Columbus Day 2012

This gallery contains 8 photos.

Woke up early this morning and decided to take my camera for a drive around town. I was hoping for dramatic lighting to capture the beautiful October foliage. What I got was fog . . . followed by a brief window of sun before Grandfather climbed into the low hanging clouds. Although it wasn’t the […]

So Far . . . So Good . . .

We’re a month into the academic year . . . my first real month of retirement. So how’s it going?

The end of August was the most difficult time so far. I felt apprehensive and disconnected. Facing the unknown can be very unsettling. In August I met some former colleagues for lunch before they were consumed by the new school year. It was reassuring to know that friendships would continue even though we no longer work together. After the vague vanilla “let’s stay in touch” exchanges of June it was wonderful to actually sit down and enjoy spending time together. I really can keep these people, for whom I have so much respect and admiration, in my Life.

Next, I went to the college where I would be teaching part-time. I needed to recharge my sense of purpose by reconnoitering the classrooms I’d been assigned to. I decided to “test drive” the technology I would be using and found a couple of problems. I headed off to the AV dept with my sense of purpose feeling pretty good. Better to straighten this out now than in front of a roomful of students forming their first impressions of their new professor. Feelings of disconnection also began to diminish. I still had someplace to go to . . . somewhere I belonged. My years of experience still hold value that can be handed on to future generations.

I have to admit that for the first month I’ve thrown myself into my retirement career. I spend way more time on campus and in preparation than I really need to. This works for me. I need structure in my Life as I learn how to transition from an all-consuming career to retirement. As time goes by I’ll move toward more leisure activities. I can’t do that all at once. So far . . . so good. I feel like I’m where I need to be. It’s October in New England, and I get to spend a couple hours a day on a college campus. . . Sweet!