Friday, April 24, 2020


Have you noticed how clean the air is these days? 
Can you see more stars in the sky at night?

With Earth Day this week, I am reminded of the time when rivers caught fire back East from the industrial effluent flowing into them, and smog blanketed the sky every day in the L.A. Basin so that the San Gabriel Mountains, no more than five miles from my home, disappeared from view. I remember the smell of rotten eggs as we drove near Fontana and the careless way people threw cigarettes out of car windows. I remember how people scoffed at environmentalists. (They still do.)

Earth Day commemorates the actions of such activists as Dennis Hayes, Congressman Pete McCloskey of California and Wisconsin's Senator Gaylord Nelson, who helped bring about the Clean Air Act of 1970 (signed by President Nixon) and the changes in our culture that gives us the right to clean air and water. We are in an era when those rights are being challenged once again.

In the last few months, our eyes have been opened to the possibilities of progress. We have seen photos of the clear skies in India allowing views of the Himalayas that have been shrouded by smog for the last 50 years. We've seen the satellite photos of the clear air above Wuhan, China, during their SIP, and the cleaner water in Venice, Italy.  Locally, the birds in our area fill the silence and sing louder than before, and animals are taking back areas of our national parks and other places usually crowded with humans.

For a brief moment, 
we have a clear vision of how our polluting ways could be changed
 to save our planet for our kids and grandkids.

Read more about Earth Day:

Friday, April 17, 2020


photo by Bill Slavin

Eerie, isn't it? To walk anywhere. 
The streets empty of people. 
As if we had disappeared.

While on a walk around the lake at a nearby business park, I looked at the empty passenger boat tied to a dock with no one waiting to board. Deserted restaurants lined the edge of the water and the quiet office buildings, bereft of workers, loomed over the lake. A mallard scooted itself away from me as I walked by and Canadian geese came in for a landing. They were the only living things moving around the lake except me.

Usually the property teams with people from the office buildings. Workers take breaks in the sunshine, sip coffee while engrossed in conversations, and check phones and laptops. Today, one person sat under the eaves next to the lake. Otherwise, the walking path and the buildings were empty.

What remained on the pathway around the center were shadows of trees. 
The buildings and the manicured wild area only hinted at our existence.

Today we are shadows.

Tomorrow, we will be back, our lives touched in a way 
few people have experienced. 
What will we be like then?

photo by Bill Slavin


In response to my word prompt from last Friday, two thoughtful writers:

Teresa Caldwell wrote:

Who knew empty streets,
faces cloaked with masks,
withdrawal from all but essential tasks,
fear of others,
pestilence or what may lie
within ourselves,
Could bring our world together;
All humanity on pause,
united, separated,
in a common cause.

Flo Rood, from GowitheFlo, wrote these words:

Together in companionable silence.
Together listening from afar,
Each in our own homes,
Nothing forced.
Nothing prescribed.
Just what emerges from our hearts.
Silence is how hearts speak
"We are together"
"We are merged but intact"
"We are safe"
"I hear you."

Friday, April 10, 2020


Postcards land in your mailbox. How do you respond? Right now, "Wish You Were Here" doesn't seem to be the right phrase. How about using a writing prompt instead?

What would be your response to these two prompts?

The prompts came from Jennifer Belthoff, creator of Love Notes, an online Facebook group of writers who send postcards to each other. Jennifer suggests prompts to the writers in the group and encourages us to think about what the prompts mean to us.

When I taught English to Middle School students, I often used Kenneth Koch's book, Wishes, Lies and Dreams, which provided me with a bundle of ideas to help kids learn to write poetry. As we all know, poetry writing can be difficult unless you can break the process down into one-word or one-sentence responses that combine to become poems.

Koch suggested these phrases as starting points:

I wish....

I used to be/now I am....

What would you say in response to these two prompts?

Here is my answer to the word Together:

Give the prompts a try. If you like your results, submit your postcard to Pacific Art League's upcoming postcard exhibit. Deadline is April 25. Here's a link for more information:

I've been practicing monoline lettering this week. I took a refresher course with Rick Paulus at Castle in the Air in Berkeley just before the Covid-19 hit California. I like the the use of a round-tip ink pen to make letters that are all the same width instead of the thick and thin lines of a pointed pen or square-tipped pen, the bane of a leftys' lettering progress.

Pointed pen, large square-tipped Parallel pen, & a round-tip pen

Check for classes:

Friday, April 3, 2020


by Bill Slavin

In reading op-ed pieces and messages from friends, I've noticed the tone of our sequestering has changed. Two themes stand out to me. First, besides the demands for needed medical supplies, for many people, this is a time to reassess our country's values; and secondly, this is a time on a more personal note, to either take advantage of the long, uninterrupted moments to do major projects or to let go of that desire to always be busy. Or maybe many realize that we can do both. 

Which of these appeals to you?

by Bill Slavin

I've been reading Robert MacFarlane's book, The Old Ways, part of a trilogy about his walks across Britain, across Spain while avoiding the Camino de Santiago, across parts of Tibet into China, and across parts of Palestine. He describes in detail his encounters with the natural world and with the other walkers he meets. He also investigates who the walkers were who led him to these trails. He describes footprints left thousands of years ago on a path near the sea. He is always looking for the wildest places left on Earth.

Mushrooms emerging

Bill and I create our own path on our daily walks on the same two-mile stretch of asphalt road that winds around and ends at a dirt path leading up to Mt. Diablo. The trail up to the mountain has been used by hikers for as long as we have lived here. In the last couple of years, mountain bikers discovered the trail. They whiz by our windows on their way home. As we walk, we don't make an impression on the asphalt that would let others know we had been there. We will be wisps without a trace, like the wind blowing leaves away.

A Spanish saying, "To walk is to gather treasure," reminds me of all that we have seen while walking. We have seen Spring unfurl each day as tender leaves sprout and grow.  We notice how the grass shoots up along the paths made by the deer that forage in our neighborhood. The deer trails disappear in the summer as the grass grows taller. The woodpeckers have rat-ta-tated holes like Morse code across the trims on several houses along the road.

Bill has been looking for faces in the bark of trees. He has found some to photograph.

by Bill Slavin

by Bill Slavin

We listen to the throngs of bees in our Japanese maples and count the ones feasting on the rosemary blooms down the street. We wonder where the beehives could be. As we walk home we hear a crescendo of buzzing. We look up a hill and a swarm of thousands of bees erupts from an oak and sails across the hillside. They vanish into the grass and all we hear is the buzz again.

A wild turkey calls out and spreads its tail feather at a female nearby. Two deer look across the road, hesitate as we advance, and then turn and duck under the scrub by the creek. We watch crows gathering twigs from the tallest branches of the sycamores out in front of our house.  Neither of us was quick enough to catch a photo of the grey fox that hopped into our yard and sent the squirrels chattering with warnings. We wave at neighbors as they take advantage of a warm sunny day to walk. We sigh. Our time outside gives us a touch of spring and a respite from the news that surrounds us every day.

by Bill Slavin

Stay safe and stay well.