Floyd Skloot’s Approaching Winter

I recently started reading Life Purpose Boot Camp a book that describes a process for creating a meaningful life, which, I’ll admit, seems a little foolish at this stage of life, but, anyhow, it begins by having you list “meaning opportunities.”  One of mine was reading poetry and responding to it, although it’s clear from recent blog entries that I have not been doing much of that. Coincidently, Leslie and I are spending some time at her daughter’s house and it is raining, so I have some extra time to read and reflect.

Despite the lack of blog entries, I have been reading poetry steadily throughout the years; I just haven’t been motivated enough or have been too busy to respond to what I’ve read. Of course,I also have several books that I started reading and haven’t finished for different reasons, and I’m not going to discuss  a book I haven’t finished.  That would be hypocritical since in the past I would penalize students heavily for taking credit for a book they hadn’t finished. I’ve resolved to finish up books I’ve started — at least those that seem worth finishing — and write something about them.

A book that I finished awhile ago was Floyd Skloot’s Approaching Winter. I doubt I would have appreciated this book when I was a college undergrad, but I can certainly relate to many of the poems now that I am well into my own Winter. The older  I get the more I feel compelled to work out, even though I seldom worked out in the past beyond playing basketball two or three times a week and hiking whenever I got a chance.  Since we moved to Tacoma some fifteen years ago, I have been a member of the local YMCA (at least until the Covid 19 epidemic, and have faithfully used a rowing machine for most of that time. Few things will make you a better observer than repeating the same stroke for fifteen minutes, unless, of course, it’s going nowhere on a treadmill, which I steadily refuse to do.

At the Fitness Center 

 Framed by a picture window,
 two old men climbing stairs to nowhere
 watch the river flow.
       As though gliding on air
 them, a woman with violet hair,
            wires dangling from her ears,
                      keeps her eyes shut tight
 and sings out of tune while she strides
            on the elliptical machine
                                 next to mine.
 A husband and wife jog in place
            on treadmills side-by-side,
                                 keeping pace
 with each other and trying to plan
 the next two
            nights’ dinners though they can
                      barely speak. A teen
 with his cap on backwards cycles through
                      a mountain pass
            as his girlfriend screams
 and kickboxes behind shaded glass.

One of the ways I used to get ready to hike in the mountains during the summer was using the stair-stepper referred to in the opening lines. It’s hard work, much harder than climbing in the mountains, precisely because you aren’t going anywhere. If you’re an old man, and I am, it’s hard not be distracted by younger people working out; it’s impossible not to notice violet hair or strange tattoos in odd places.  

I, like most people, used to think gyms were full of jocks or fitness fanatics, not your average citizen. That view has definitely changed over the last fifteen years.  When I go to the weight room, which is, admittedly, in the middle of the work-day, there are lots of women, and lots of older people simply trying to retain some of the strength that aging robs them of.  There’s even husbands and wives, though more often than not it’s actually just Leslie and I.  Of course, there is always the young hotshot who shows up in the middle of the day to to reveal just how out of shape you really are, and, less occasionally, he’ll show up with his hot girlfriend to show you something else you have lost through old age.  

Many of the poems in this collection are early memories, but, in retrospect, the author realizes that the world he saw as a child wasn’t the “real” world.  Despite the fact that my daughter accuses me of being “the least nostalgic person in the universe,” I’ve been going over old photos and old records trying to get rid of everything that no one else could possibly want. In doing so, I have discovered, like Skloot does, that what I thought was the truth for most of my life has actually been mis-remembered.

Near the end of the collection, he turns to even more unpleasant realities, like those in “Today.”


 Johnny is John now, and Billy is Bill.
 Though I haven’t seen them in fifty years
 it feels like we’re boys together still.
 When his voice breaks, John’s boyhood face appears
 across the miles, and when Bill speaks of storms
 we survived on our barrier island home
 I forget and call him Billy, which makes
 John gasp because it hurts so much to laugh.
 The cancer has come back. He says it takes
 all his strength some mornings just to take half
 a breath, but then there might be a whole day
 when he can almost forget, like today.

Because my father’s job required us to move regularly, I really don’t have any childhood friends. Jim Wiese, who now lives in Vermont, is my longest friend; I don’t think he would’ve become a life-long friend if I had called him “Jimmy” in Junior High where I first met him. Still, the poem rings true even for me.  Jim and I can almost pick up a conversation we’ve had a year ago and go from there.  We may not be boys, but we’re still kids not seniors.  Thankfully, Jim and I haven’t had to talk about cancer lately, but that’s not true when I meet with a group of teachers that I started teaching with.  When I get together with that group, all too often someone brings a newspaper clipping with the funeral notice of a friend.  You don’t reach 79 without becoming aware of death as a constant possibility unless you have Alzheimer’s, a fate worse than death from my perspective.  Still, any day when you can still laugh is a good day.

Though I wouldn’t suggest this book to a high school student, I suspect that most of my regular readers are a little older than that and might find Skloot’s work as interesting as I did.

Horned Grebes

Lots of birds, like the Dunlin’s I posted on the previous entry, change plumage dramatically from Winter to Spring, but, perhaps because I see the changes appear up-close-and-personal, none intrigue me more than those of the Horned Grebe.  Here’s a shot of Horned Grebe in winter plumage and another Horned Grebe that has nearly completed the change to its bright Spring garb.

Although the change takes place in a relatively short time,  it’s slow enough that you can photograph its evolution.  When I first saw this grebe in the Port Orchard Marina I actually thought it was in breeding colors.

Back at Port Orchard nearly a week later, this bird looked like it was in full breeding plumage 

until I was greeted by this one just as I was leaving the marina.

I knew that this must truly what Horned Grebes look like in full breeding colors because when I returned the next week there wasn’t a Horned Grebe in sight, and, traditionally, they all leave when they all have breeding plumage.  


Spring Migration is the best time to observe many shorebirds like the Dunlin.  In large flocks  some are still in their winter plumage which seems to blend well with their habitat

while others are wearing flashier breeding plumage — which seems worth the risk when you’re trying to attract a mate.

Since they are in desperate need of food to fuel their migration, it’s easy to observe how they forage, and, occasionally, as in this shot, see the worms they are finding in the beach.

Most of all, though, it’s the best time to see just how colorful, how beautiful their breeding plumage really is.

If you can’t find happiness in the midst of such beauty, you’re probably not going to find it anywhere. 

Another Red-Breasted Merganser

I think I’ve tried harder this year to capture shots of the  Red-Breasted Merganser, particularly the male, than any other seabird.  And it’s not that I haven’t seen a lot of them at Titlow and Owens Beach, but they are always so far away that I can’t get a decent shot of them even when it’s heavily cropped.  

I have seen them near Fort Flagler nearly every time I’ve been this year, but they are always a long ways offshore.  So, I guess I’m going to have to settle for these two shots because I’m sure they are about to head off to their nesting areas in the Arctic. 

There’s something about that Mohawk Hair-do that just fascinates me.

They are a colorful bird in flight and I keep hoping to top this shot I took at Port Orchard a few years ago, but patience — and eternal optimism — are a photographer’s greatest assets.