Of Barred Owls, Peace and Gratitude: A Sense of Community Trumps a Sense of Despair

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Wayne King

The Owl

The View From Rattlesnake Ridge
By Wayne D. King

4am Wednesday September 20, 2017

. . . I am seated at my computer, my window opened wide despite the September chill in the air.

Wayne D. King of Rumney

I choose to do this for as long as I can into the fall because I love the cool air but above all because, almost without fail, I have the opportunity to commune with a pair of Barred Owls that inhabit the woods just outside of our home.

I love the haunting sound of their hoots, described as “Who cooks for you, Who cooks for you – all,” as they echo through the stillness of the chill night.

On early mornings like this, when they are quiet and Alice is away, I will turn my computer’s speakers up to their maximum level and play a recording of a hoot from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This will often spark their curiosity and set off a sometimes rousing response.

This morning it’s particularly important to me. . . the communing. Since Alice is still sound asleep and my usual strategy for getting the attention of the owls would awaken her, I step outside and do my best to make the call myself, hands cupped around my mouth to create a deeper sound.

Who who ho whooo, Who who ho who whoooooo, and the Barred Owls respond to my joy. I don’t know if they thought I was another owl or they just wanted to know who the gimmoke was trying to imitate them but either way, I’ll take it. Somehow these denizens of the deep woods restore a sense of calm and normalcy in me, even when I am troubled; and this morning the ills of the world combine with those of my own, more parochial, world to create a swirling miasma of sadness and foreboding.

Listening to the President address the United Nations I am struck by his claim that the United States is a peaceful nation followed immediately by his threat to commit the war crime of destroying the entire nation of North Korea. Surely North Korea will want to engage with the US in negotiations to denuclearize when President Trump moments later calls the Iran denuclearization agreement the worst we have ever entered into, threatening to decertify it despite the fact that his own people have said that Iran is abiding by its terms.

I’d lay 1000 to 1 odds that Trump has not turned more than two pages in the Iran agreement and could not tell a reporter what is actually in it. I am troubled by the fact that no one has asked him.

Ironically, while taking credit for the Obama economy (no economist in the world will tell you that an an economy’s strength can be attributed to the current resident of the White House only eight months into his occupancy) Trump then announces that he may just decertify an agreement causing Iran to simply shift its business opportunities to the other super powers of the world who also helped to negotiate the agreement and will continue to honor it, especially if it means coopting the job-rich opportunities of American corporations.

Well its all understandable right? We wouldn’t want someone who is an unstable narcissist with an arsenal of nuclear weapons at his disposal would we? . . . What’s that you say? . . . oh, right.

When you’ve gone through the looking glass, usually – at least – there is the peace of looking homeward. Right now though, the view from Rattlesnake Ridge is obscured by a hole in our hearts.

New Hampshire recently lost two giants: Mary Pillsbury Crowley and Mary Walton Mayshark. Don’t be surprised if you do not recognize their names. These were not people known far and wide throughout the state. That is not why they were giants. They were giants because in our own small world, here where the Pemigewasset and the Asquamchumaukee (aka the Baker) Rivers meet, they were the first names on the lips of people when something needed to be done and done right; when someone needed help; or, when we wanted to make our communities stronger, more resilient and more compassionate.

Mary Pillsbury Crowley was the other half of a team that included her late husband Robert J. “Bob” Crowley who passed away less than a year ago from Parkinson’s. We had just started getting use to going on without Bob having our backs when Mary was suddenly wrenched from us as well. Between the two of them they were the spark plugs who made the cylinders of community fire to give us a Senior Center, made from the dilapidated old railroad depot in Plymouth; The Whole Village Family Resource Center and Pemi-Bridge Homeless Shelter to name just a few things.

No they didn’t build them with their own hands and usually they tried to stay in the background when the accolades were being handed out. . . they were doers not talkers; but they were in the mix: poking, prodding, coaxing, making things happen. Bob was a proud Democrat at a time when most of the other Democrats in the area covered their mouths and whispered when asked their political affiliation.

But he was also the first guy to reach across the divide to try and find common ground with his neighbors. Mary came from deep-rooted Republican stock. The long list of NH Governors and other officials includes more than one Pillsbury, though she would tell you that was when being a Republican made you more like Teddy Roosevelt and less like David Duke.

The two had married on the hillside at their cabin in Sandwich Notch. I’ll never forget the happy bride emerging from the cabin to the strains of Willie Nelson singing “Blue Skies.” It was a September/November marriage that to their great joy, despite a twenty year age difference, produced daughter Lucy . . . to their last days “the best thing we ever did.” Despite all they did for the community, they always had their priorities straight and family came first. Luckily for us, they saw a lot of us as extended family.

Unless I miss my guess, Lucy will live her life much as her mother and father have. She has their heart. At only 18 years of age she finds herself without both parents. When Reverend Sid Lovett asked Lucy to come forward at the memorial service, he took her hand and said “who will volunteer to be stand-ins for Bob and Mary if Lucy needs a parent’s support,” nearly everyone in attendance raised their hands. That, my friends, is the definition of community.

“Walt” Mayshark, that’s what we all called Mary Walton Mayshark, was a force of nature. When I first met Walt, way back in the late 1970s she was already retired and had moved up to New Hampshire with her husband Jim. I expected a six foot plus man with broad shoulders so you can imagine my surprise when the guy named Walt turned out to be a little white-haired spitfire of a woman.

I don’t know if Walt was a Unitarian before she moved here but when she found that none of the churches in the area shared her deep passion for social justice, she joined together with a group of neighbors to form the Starr King Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. For quite a few years they met in the homes of other like-minded folks and then eventually they found a piece of land and built the Fellowship Hall on Fairgrounds Road in Plymouth.

During the eighties Walt was active with a social justice group working to help the struggling people of Nicaragua and she made quite a few trips down there with the local Peace Action Network to build homes, community centers and more. She was a citizen of the world and we loved her for it.

Back here she was involved in everything from library bake sales to political campaigns and I dare say that my own election to the NH Senate was in part because Walt never said no when a volunteer was needed, even after Jim became ill with Alzheimer’s.

I’ll never forget a private meeting at their home when Walt was weeding her way through voter lists trying to identify good voters for our get-out-the-vote efforts and taking care of Jim at the same time. Jim came into the kitchen hungry as a bear and let loose with a string of invectives that would make a trucker blush – I never knew one human being could string together so many curse words – but Walt took it all in stride and calmly made him a sandwich while she walked me through the process she was using to assure we got our voters to the polls.

Five years later, when I ran for Governor, Walt asked if she could drive me on a day of campaigning. Actually, as she put it, she wanted to “drive me for a day in the worst way” and that’s just what she did! I’ve never been so terrified riding shotgun in my life, with the possible exception of when Bob Crowley took his turn at the wheel.

There is an old Armenian saying: “Many a molehill thinks itself a mountain. But what of the mountain? Mountains are too busy being mountains, doing mountain type things and thinking mountain type thoughts to worry about what it means to be a mountain.” Mary and Bob and Walt never stopped long enough to think about being mountains, they just went about the everyday task of mountain building. That is what makes our communities strong, and why even the everyday folks who surround us can be giants.

As my owls hoot out their communiques, peace returns to my heart . . . peace and gratitude. Even Donald Trump cannot rain on the parade of happy memories and gratitude for the lives of extraordinary friends and neighbors.

About Wayne D. King: Wayne King is an author, artist, activist and recovering politician. A three term State Senator, he was the 1994 Democratic nominee for Governor and most recently the CEO of MOP Environmental Solutions Inc., a public company in the environmental cleanup space. His art is exhibited nationally in galleries and he has published three books of his images. His most recent novel “Sacred Trust” a vicarious, high voltage adventure to stop a private powerline has been published on Amazon.com as an ebook with the paper edition due soon. He lives in Rumney at the base of Rattlesnake Ridge. His website is: http://bit.ly/WayneDKing


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