Tag Archives: Life in Progress

If You See A Robin In Your Yard Eating Cotton Candy – Don’t Shoot!

By Ray Lucas

“Robins are special birds,” my grandma took great care to tell me one spring day as I wielded my new BB gun around the yard as a boy. “I really don’t want you shooting anything in my yard, and especially not a robin.” I had received a BB gun for Christmas the winter before, and she was probably worried I would take aim at her beloved red-bellied birds in the yard.

Grandma understood the temptation for a boy to shoot cans, telephone poles and even birds. Like the fictional Atticus Finch, she seemed to be saying, “Shoot all of the other birds you like, if you can hit them, but not my robins.” I knew from that young age that robins were special.

Because of her love for them, I have always associated robins with her, even after her death. My mom was so like my grandma that I also came to associate robins with my mom after her passing when I was in college.

I now live in our 120-year-old family home place, where both my grandma and mom grew up. I am convinced that each spring the two return as robins to watch over me. I most often see them while cutting grass, hopping around the yard or singing from a tree limb. It’s like they have come home to check in on me and see how their family has grown as my children play about the yard. Robins make me smile in a way that no other animal can.

I am not really a superstitious person who believes in visits from the afterlife. I don’t normally go in for spirits and friendly ghosts, but in matters of robins I guess I feel differently. I have known others who associate past loved ones with something tangible and physical in their lives: a butterfly in the wind, a special rose bush, a hawk on a pole, a significant song, or a piece of jewelry. Maybe I’m superstitious after all.

I once read an article about how people die three separate deaths. One is our actual death that comes with obituaries, flowers and funerals where our loved ones gather to mourn our passing. The second death is when the last person who knew us personally while we were alive passes away. When they die, there is no remaining person on the planet that can say they knew us while we were alive.

The final death, is the moment in the vast future when the last records of our life disappear.  Our tombstone is reduced by the elements and any written record of our life – journals, birth records, newspapers – are lost.  Perhaps my stories in Extol will prolong my third death by several thousands of years, but one day even these digital fingerprints will fade.

I think this was an interesting way to look at death. I like how it acknowledges that my mother, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends, neighbors and mentors who have already passed are still very much alive as long as I am here and remember all they have passed along to make me who I am. As I tell readers and my children about their lives and how they touched mine, they will live on far into the future through these stories.

It also gives me some comfort that through my children and their future families, I might be alive for a very long time. Even after my love for fast food and sugary treats has taken its mortal toll (in my very old years, if I am fortunate), my children might see me in their yard as a red bellied robin while lying in a hammock and reading Extol under a shade tree.

And if they remember me through that spring robin in the yard, perhaps they might recall what the late poet Emily Dickinson, still very much alive through her words, once wrote:

If I shouldn’t be alive

When the Robins come,

Give the one in Red Cravat,

A Memorial crumb.

If a crumb isn’t handy, my children will knowingly recall my sweet tooth and know that a dab of cotton candy will suffice as I watch over them.

Living Dangerously in the Shadow of the Lewis and Clark Bridge

By Ray Lucas

LIKE MANY IN SOUTHERN INDIANA, I crossed the new Lewis and Clark Bridge shortly after it opened last month. I have always been a Lewis and Clark Expedition geek, and I think naming the bridge after these historic explorers was a fitting tribute to their connection with our area. Unlike the bridge travelers of today, they had no bridges to cross the rivers on their journey or even a map of the waters, lands and mountains between the mouth of Silver Creek in Clarksville where Lewis joined Clark to prepare for their journey to the Pacific Ocean.

After my brief journey across the bridge, I pulled out my worn copy of Undaunted Courage and began re-reading the extraordinary story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. To say the pair and their Corps of Discovery were the ultimate bad asses is an understatement. Two years in the elements exploring unmapped rivers and lands, making contact with unknown Indian tribes, crossing the Rocky Mountains, running from grizzly bears, nearing starvation on many occasions – this was a dangerous endeavor.

As I reflect on their everyday adventures and struggles during the years of 1804-1806, compared to my 30 second excursion across the Ohio River on the bridge that now bears their name, I can’t help but wonder about the impact that facing occasional danger might play in our lives. I think there must be something in facing a daring and dangerous task that is essential in building our character.

Thinking back over the past 12 months, the most dangerous feats I can claim are trying a brand-new ice cream flavor at Comfy Cow, walking into my fantasy football draft having done no online research to guide my picks and not taking the insurance plan on my new iPhone. The results have been mixed. The Bourbon Maple Walnut ice cream was delicious but I finished dead last in my football league. To date, I only have a small nick on the screen of my phone but in today’s world, a phone with no Otter Box is living dangerously.

Maybe living dangerously is a young person’s game. Most of the truly dangerous things I have lived through in my life happened in my youth. Walking across the K and I railroad bridge in the middle of the night from New Albany to Portland, bungee jumping in the parking lot of the long-closed All Stars bar, and jumping off 76 Falls into Lake Cumberland some 50 feet below. As I recall these young acts, stupidity comes to mind more than living dangerously and building character.

I had this conversation with a friend recently at lunch, and we were lamenting that while our youth may not have been as wild as that of our peers in 1804, at the very least we had a more “free range” experience than our kids have today.

I recalled my first job was on Melvin and Annie Klein’s farm where, as a seventh grader, the other pickers challenged me to climb with them up the water tower near the farm to “earn” my first paycheck. I was scared as the older boys and I started climbing the 120-foot tower but somehow found the courage to climb one rung after another until we reached the top. We sat on the catwalk with our legs dangling free and enjoyed the view of the edge of the knobs. A true experience of “undaunted courage” that I still draw on today.

My friend Marc agreed that times are different than the 1980s when we came of age. He remembered riding his bike with friends as a young teen from Sellersburg to Chi-Chi’s restaurant in Clarksville where they ordered a Coke to go with their free chips and salsa. From their Mexican pit stop, they proceeded across the Clark Memorial Bridge (now George Rogers Clark and his younger brother William Clark both have a local bridge) to the Louisville Galleria at the present day Fourth Street Live location.

We smiled at our experiences of daring over lunch and lamented that most kids today don’t have the same type of uncharted childhood that we experienced. Don’t get me wrong, I am the first to limit my children’s experiences of what could be life-threatening adventure and for good reasons. Allowing my children to climb water towers or bike dangerous roads to Louisville would not go over well with my wife or Child Protective Services. But in so sheltering them, am I depriving them of crucible moments that test them and give them the inner courage to persevere later in life? Tough questions for modern parents.

Regardless, I have decided that having the Lewis and Clark Bridge in my backyard can be a reminder to me each time I journey across its span to seek out more experiences that push me outside of my comfort zone. When crossing into the East End in search of new restaurants and retail experiences, I resolve to also look for opportunities to live more dangerously and when appropriate allow my children to join me.

Maybe I’ll write a short story about climbing water towers. Maybe I will take the kids on a night hike in Charlestown State Park in the moonlight shadow of the new bridge. Maybe our family will volunteer to help the homeless through Exit 0. Maybe I’ll go skydiving or on a hot air balloon ride.

Or maybe my kids and I will ride our bikes across the new bike lane of the Lewis & Clark Bridge and stop for cokes, chips and salsa at Los Aztecas in Prospect. And if we are living particular dangerously – we’ll also order queso.