Friday, February 28, 2020


…there is no singular, simple solution;  
but the solutions that exist involve all of us…

Forgetting, somehow, that the figure “5:30” could be followed by the letters “AM,” the Church of the Open Road participated this day – well, this dawn – in the Northern Sonoma County “Point in Time” count of unsheltered homeless folks.  This bi-annual census, mandated by HUD, gathers raw data that will be used when allocating funds to municipalities, counties and area non-profits.  Guided by Chuck, a homeless individual who lost his apartment when rent was ratcheted up after our local fires, we visited both camps (where folks are residing) and sites (where folks have been but are now vacated.) 

Four teams scoured our little town; each responsible for one of the town’s four voting precincts.  While, in our precinct, we were able to account for only four individuals, Chuck tells me that there are probably 40 to 50 living in our zip code.  That doesn’t include those couch surfing or staying in shelters.  Nor does it include minors living with non-parental relatives or family friends.

“Reach for Home,” an advocacy group out of Healdsburg facilitated today’s count matching volunteers, such as myself, with unhoused guides like Chuck.  The folks I met proved to be generous, funny, knowledgeable (Chuck identified both rock samples and plants as we hiked along the Russian River for a mile or so) resourceful and tough.  They share concern for one-another, and they embrace those new to being out of the fold.  They graciously accept the help offered from those of us who, many times, are not in their circumstance only by the so-called Grace of God.

The causes of homelessness are many and varied.  Folks on the street are not all on drugs, are not all criminal, are not all mentally challenged, and are not simply ne’er-do-wells.  Although the homeless population contains elements of each, mainly these are people who benefit from a hand up and are not asking for a handout.  There is no singular or simple solution; rather, the solution, the answer(s), the "fix," will involve all of us.

This side note:  A former mainstream Protestant minister coordinated our activities this day.  He left the ministry when he found it easy for his upscale Southern California church to raise funds for their building and congregation but balked at the prospect of needing to feed the 5000.  Since departing the ministry, he says, his work with the non-profit arena is much more fulfilling.

I would suggest that he still is in the ministry.

© 2020
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, February 26, 2020


…life in the wild kingdom…

It was a pleasant, early-spring afternoon and I’d decided to sit out on the back patio with a good book and a glass of what we’ll call lemonade.  Absorbed in whatever I was reading, my concentration was shattered by a pronounced thump over my shoulder followed by a furious whoosh of wing and feather swooping under and out of the patio’s overhang.  The thump, I recognized.  Another little gray bird had collided with our window, probably knocking himself silly.  Setting down the book, I set out to find his pulsating body somewhere figuring I’d end up unceremoniously depositing him in the compost bin.

Searching low and then high, in the branch of an overhanging black oak, I spotted a small raptor of some sort, head pivoting toward me, then toward something else: our shared quarry.  I moved behind the heavy stucco pillar.  The LGB wasn’t on the concrete or in the gardening shelves. He wasn’t in the planter, either.  Settling back into my chair, I could observe the rust-colored hawk shifting on the branch.  The LGB must still be near and the little hawk – with better eyes than mine – must know where.  After a time, I returned to my chair and picked up my book.  

Almost immediately, the raptor fluttered down from the oak and took up sentry on the edge of a raised bed planter.  The eyes on birds are located on the side of the skull rather than the front.  While this affords the predators a wider field of vision in order to spot a scurrying field mouse or errant sparrow, it means they must tip their heads one way, then the other, to see what’s directly in front.  Head tipping left, then right, the rusty hawk kept an eye on me, but also kept an eye on a bonsai hemlock hidden from my view by the pillar.  Investigating, I found the LGB had taken stock-still refuge in the dense foliage of the hemlock.

So, it was to be a waiting game.  The hawk – it turned out to be a Sharp-shinned, according to my Peterson guide – paced on the edge of the raised bed.  The little gray bird – birdbrain though he was – knew his best action would be no action.  Time ticked slowly by.  Patience… Life or death concentration…  More patience…

I don’t know what distracted the little hawk, but more focused than the hawk on the quarry was the quarry itself.  The exact moment was marked only by a rustling of the hemlock’s branches.  In a blink of an eye, the little bird was gone into the woods over the fence.  Confounded, the Sharp-shinned, flew up to his vantage point in the black oak.  And I’m sure I heard him mutter, “Next time.”

In the early 60s, Marlon Perkins, curator of the big zoo in St Louis, had cause one day to visit my next-door neighbor in Chico, California.  The neighbor had owned a small circus for a time and Perkins had stopped by for a chat about lions or tigers and to cool off with a mint julep or two.  Mr. Perkins grinned at me when I hopped over the fence.  He rubbed my red head and asked, “What part of the wild kingdom do you come from?”

I thought about this little exchange after the standoff in my back yard between the hawk and the LGB and realize that part of the Wild Kingdom exists right here in Clover Springs.

© 2020
Church of the Open Road Press