Saturday, September 22, 2018

It's Rainin' Here; Stornin' on the Deep Blue Sea


DUKES FANS:
“Wasn’t That A Mighty Storm…Blew All the People Away”….

   The above line is from Tom Rush’s version of Galveston, one of the first songs I ever heard about a flood outside of the church songs about Noah. I was very moved by this song when I first heard it in the mid -60’s, and it stirred my interest in songs about storms and floods. There have, of course, always been floods, so there have always been songs about the pain, grief, fear, and destruction that accompany these events. Along with Galveston, a great number of them refer to famous storms and floods from the 20th century. John Lee Hooker’s Storming on the Deep Blue Sea, Stevie Ray Vaughn’s, Flooding Down in Texas, Randy Newman’s, Louisiana, and Memphis Minnie’s, When the Levee Breaks are just a few that speak to some of the legendary floods that hit the Gulf areas and the Mississippi River in the last century. It does seem, though, as if we have had a steady number of such epic storms in the 21st century already, and it seems as if they are getting larger, more destructive and more frequent. In the first quarter of this century we have already had several storms whose one-word names bring up images from television and the web of people on rooftops, destroyed buildings and vehicles, people trapped and floating in cars, children being carried into and out of rowboats, and people of all ages and colors fleeing relentless and madly rushing waters. Charley, Harvey, Superstorm Sandy, Katrina, Maria and now Florence: These names conjure images and memories of people, maybe some of our own relatives and acquaintances, being faced with the unbelievable force of nature fully unfurled. (Maria and Katrina, for example, have the third and 6th highest death totals of all storms in US history). More and even larger storms are expected to come in the next few years. And we seem far from ready.

   It seems as if these storms are unleashing more and more of their destructive forces on those least able to endure and survive them. Poor folk and people of color have been especially hard hit, and the neighborhoods where these people live are often the last to get outside help and money. A full year after the devastation Maria wrought on Puerto Rico, for example, a quarter of a million people on the island are still without power, thousands are still living in “temporary’ shelters, and thousands of folks go hungry every day. Much of downtown New Orleans has been restored or rebuilt in the wake of 2005’s Katrina, but the predominantly poor and African-American Lower Ninth Ward of the city has, by comparison, seen little of the money from government agencies and private investors to help it rebuild. FEMA, the national Federal Emergency Management Agency, received a lot of criticism for its role in New Orleans, but it still had a smaller budget and work force devoted to relief in Puerto Rico than in either Florida or Texas hit by Harvey. Maria was much stronger than Harvey, and Puerto Rico sustained more severe damage than either state. Still it got the short end of the Federal stick. And there has been little change in that.

 Local groups and food banks have done the lion’s share of the recovery, relief, medical and rebuilding work in many of the area’s hit by these storms, and they need help. These are the people that are on the ground delivering emergency health care, food, and shelter. The AARP foundation is one reputable charity that directs money to some of these groups, and 100% of the money donated gets matched and goes to the groups doing this work on the ground. To donate, one can go here:

 The people of Puerto Rico can use help as well, and Americares is still involved in helping establishing health services there:

And if you want to support the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans?



I thank you in advance for being willing to support and give money to these trustworthy and reliable groups who have been in involved in disaster relief and disaster aid for years. I believe that ordinary citizens like us have to step up and help wherever and whenever disaster strikes; it is our responsibility as citizens of both this country and of the world. If not us, then who? If we do not do this, then who will?  We cannot leave it to government agencies; it is too vital a need. Others need us. Thank you!

REGISTER AND VOTE
 Speaking of citizenship, there are mid-term elections nationwide this November, and if you are not registered to vote in either PA, NJ, or DE registration deadlines are fast approaching. October 9 is the last day one can register to vote in PA, October 13 is the deadline for DE, and October 16 is the deadline for New Jersey. Mid-term elections generally do not have a large turnout, but hopefully it will be very different this November. Many people are concerned about actions and inaction by both our national and state governments, and participating in elections is one way to effect change. Many members of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate are up for re-election, and it is your chance to have a real say on the national stage. Important state government offices are also on the ballot this November, including governors, state legislators, attorneys general, treasurers, and other important offices. Your vote can go a long way in determining what happens in the nation and the states in the next few years. So please register and show up in November to vote. It is the very least one can do as a citizen. And if you have any questions about voting and/or the election in your state, go to the website of the League of Women Voters for your state. Thanks.
        
                                                          
The Dukes on YouTube
    We have posted a few videos on YouTube. Please log in, view our videos, and leave a comment or two. Tell your friends to view us and post comments as well. Thanks:

                         Dukes Live Playlist:
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RI54KvkZqzE&list=PLo-hWFEcnLljRskT6uHR-eOL09HEdQsRP

Sunday, September 16, 2018

LIVES THAT INSPIRE

HISTORY AND LIVES THAT INSPIRE AND CHALLENGE
I love reading and I love history. That combination of things brings me regularly in contact with some very fascinating and moving biographies about some complex and extraordinary people. I love looking deeper into the lives of people who affected big changes in the world; that just fascinates and intrigues me. Some of them may be well known figures-political leaders, artists, writers, musicians and more. Some of them are people I just stumble across whiles searching something else (in looking up some things about WWII a few years ago, for example, I stumbled across the story of magician Jasper Maskelyne, who used his powers of deception and illusion to help Britain counter Nazi air power in the latter three years of the war.) People and their stories are of great interest to me, and I am glad there are so many excellent and compelling biographies to read. It is one of my favorite genres of writing.
We are often given brief snapshots of famous people in their political and social lives, but we rarely get beyond a few well-known events. I like to get beyond the known events and get more into the stories behind them. These can be things in a given person’s life that led to some of those known achievements and explain the motivations behind the actions they took. Or they can be things that raise more questions than they answer-contradictions that can give us a more nuanced look at somethings we thought we understood. I loved Robert Caro’s multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson precisely for those reasons. Johnson was one of the most complicated men ever to be President, and he was full of contradictions that Caro fully explored. Caro looked at the impact Johnson’s poor white upbringing in rural Texas during the Great Depression had on him with its contradictory ideas about wealth, race, color and what “success” meant. Caro also looked at how Johnson both resented and built a powerful political machine in the state that catapulted him to power and the US Senate. And he looked at how the architect of the “Great Society” and signer of the Voting Rights Act only won Senate election in the 1940’s because he campaigned in a more overtly racist manner than his opponent.
Likewise, Taylor Branch’s volumes on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King got into much more than the “I Have A Dream Speech” and his role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It looked not only into his school and college experiences, but also at family dynamics, class and color prejudice and struggles within the Black community, and the role relatively unknown people such as E.D. Nixon and Jo Ann Robinson played in getting the boycott started and then fooling King into getting involved and ultimately leading it. It is an absolutely wonderful 3 volume biography that illuminates the man and the times in a real and through way.
I am mentioning those books because I am currently reading a biography about a person I knew a little bit about, and I recently read an excerpt from a new biography I plan on reading about someone else I knew a little about. Dr. Benjamin Rush is the subject of the new biography I will read. I knew Rush first as the doctor who gave some medical advice and training to Lewis and Clark before their epic trek exploring the Louisiana Purchase territory, as one of the early staff at Pennsylvania Hospital, as an abolitionist, and as one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. What the excerpt also revealed was that Rush, often called “America’s Hippocrates,” was one of the first medical people in the country to recognize alcoholism as a contributor to many physical and mental illnesses and diseases he was seeing in many of his patients. He spent time analyzing the condition and trying come up with ways to teat it. He was also the first to try what we now call “talk and listening therapy” in dealing with people who had severe mental problems, as opposed to locking them up and charging people money to watch the “lunatics” in cages. Clearly, he was ahead of his time in some very important ways, and I look forward to reading the book and learning even more about him.
LIThe book I am reading now is The Road to Dawn a thoroughly researched and well-written look at Josiah Henson, the man who I knew as the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and a runaway slave who made it to Canada. I had read some excerpts from his published autobiography years ago, which was one of the many slave narratives published in the mid 1800’s as the battle to end slavery raged across the country. This book goes into much more detail about his life both during and after slavery, including his complicated and contradictory relationships with two of his owners, the surprisingly intense and nasty conflicts between Methodists and Baptists over which group should play the leading role in the abolitionist movement in general and in Josiah’s 500 person settlement in Ontario for runaway slaves very specifically, questions about how involved should white people be in a movement to help Black people build active lives for themselves, and much, much more.
I am in awe at how Josiah, who spent 40 years in slavery, spent just as much time establishing a town, teaching runaways the basics of finance and building a business, traveling the world to get help for his town and business, and attempting to start an industrial arts school for blacks years before Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. It is almost too amazing to be true, and I cannot put the book down. It already has me making a list of things, people, events and issues I want to look at in greater detail. There is also a documentary about Josiah, and I will look at that once I finish the book. What a great find for me! I am excited and moved and amazed-all the things a great book can do for a person-yet again.
So I will continue to explore the lives of people, some famous and some not and gain insight into them and into the world at the time in which these folks lived. New learnings, new insights, new discoveries; they keep coming, and I love it.
WEBSITES YOU MAY WANT TO VISIT:
Taylor Branch: http://taylorbranch.com/
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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Friendship

On Friendship, Peace, and More

Monday, July 30, was the United Nations' International Day of Friendship. When I first saw a notice about that in an e-mail I got from a friend, I was taken aback-there is an effort not only nationally but internationally to promote and celebrate friendship. That seemed to be weird to me. Do we really need a “Day for Friendship?” Is friendship in trouble or something?

    Doing some research about this I found out that the day grew out of a 1998 UN project dedicated to promoting a “Decade for the Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World.” Wow-a decade dedicated to peace and non-violence for children! That is a bold idea. And out of that effort the UN proclaimed its first International Day of Friendship in 2011, with the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities.”  Again, wow! Those are giant, noble ideas, and it is interesting that the UN thought that these ideas could be served, in part, by recognizing, celebrating, and promoting something as direct and seemingly simple as “friendship.”  I was intrigued.
 
    Then I got an e-mail from NPR celebrating the International Day of Friendship that featured several stories of unusual friendships that in this time of such fear, suspicion and partisan strife resonated deeply with me. They were unusual stories about unusual friendships, and they set me to thinking about the whole idea of friendship- what it is,  ways it has been an important part of my life, and some of the powerful things it can mean and lead to. Can it be possible that something as large and as daunting as a “Decade for the Culture of Peace and Non-violence” can somehow be connected to this seemingly simple thing we call having and being a “friend?” Can they be connected?
  
  When I initially think about friendship I am taken back to my growing up in West Philly and to my early school days of the 1950’s. For me, like I think it was for most of us when we were children, friendship was a question of, “How can I fit in?  and, “How can I be a part of the group and accepted?” My most regular question from that time was, “Do I fit in yet?” The answers involved things such as what clothes I wore, what my haircuts were like, could I play sports, what music did I listen to, and the like. I wanted to connect with other kids, and being like the other kids in the neighborhood seemed to offer the best chance of doing that. Standing out, unless it was in one of the socially acceptable ways such as being a great athlete or the toughest kid, was a risk As I grew up I became aware that there were some “weird” things about me; I walked down the street reading books, for example. But I was a good enough athlete and was tall enough, so I tended to fit in rather well. I had some good friends and generally had what I would describe as a “good childhood.”

   “Sameness” played a big role in all of this. Being like other kids was important to having friends, so I tried to be somewhat the same as my friends. But sameness also played a role in ways I did not understand as a young kid. Philly really was a “city of neighborhoods” then, and that generally meant a lot of socio-economic “sameness.” The city was largely separated into areas by color, ethnicity and class; there were very few neighborhoods where people of different colors, classes, religion and/or nationalities lived together. There were a couple of spots like, but I definitely did not live in one. However, for junior high and high school I went to schools that drew from neighborhoods across the entire city. Suddenly I was spending my days with people from a number of different ethnic groups, of different colors, from different social classes, and who practiced different religions. Or none. It was quietly mind-blowing for all of us. Junior high and high school friends spend time in each other’s houses, for example so I was exposed to new foods, new ways of doing, thinking, and learning. And many of my new friends were having the same experience. Barriers we did not know were there got lowered and erased somewhat. Stereotypes got looked at and a lot got discarded. All of us received new eyes though which we could look at larger things and view the world in new ways. It was the time of the Civil Rights Movement and the Viet Nam War, and these new experiences wee not just about being friends in new ways-they connected us to these larger issues as well. No, it was not an idyllic, perfect time-there were rough patches, misunderstandings, and there were some things that some of us could not fully accept or see. But by and large the friendships in junior high and highs school changed and affected us all in profound ways. It expanded our sense of the world and who we could be. And that is something you want something as important as a friendship to do.

 I thought about all of that because the NPR e-mail looked at friendships in a way that really raised the possibility of friendship being a way of getting beyond superficial differences and challenging us to be different and possibly better. That, ultimately, I think is what the UN Day of Friendship is really about-friendship can be a way of taking us into new territory and ways of being that can safely alter some small parts of the world in lasting and profound ways.

 Below are links to some of the stories from the NPR e-mail. I would be interested in hearing your responses to any of them and to hearing your thoughts on what means and/or allows. Friendship. Please write back about your reactions to the stories; I’d love to come back to this topic in a future newsletter and share some of your responses. Happy Belated International Friends Day. And I hope you get to spend some good time with good friends.



https://www.npr.org/2018/03/18/594671317/reconnecting-with-childhood-friends?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20180730&utm_campaign=best-of-npr&utm_term=friendship

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Penny Colgan-Davis 1945-2018

DUKES FANS:
 
Memorial Service for Penny:
    I want to take this opportunity to thank those of you who were able to make Penny’s memorial service last Saturday at Germantown Monthly Meeting. It was truly a joyous celebration of the life and lasting accomplishments of a very special educator, spirit, leader, community builder, friend, and inspirational presence, who was also a hell of a lot of fun. It was an exhilarating overview of her entire life and career-there were people there who knew her from before I met her in 1979 as well as people who had only met her recently. It was a true love fest. The stories about lives she touched and how she touched them from friends, colleagues, students, parents and more were heartwarming, amazing, and inspirational. She made profound differences in so many ways in so many lives. And many of the stories people told were totally unknown to me, soI was able to get an even deeper knowledge of the friend, partner and traveling companion I was fortunate to know and love for nearly 40 years. Yes, there is a lot of pain, grief and sorrow connected with Penny’s death. And my son and I will know that for a while. But there is also great joy and exhilaration and tons of smiles as I am even more fully aware of the wondrous person she was and the full and rich life she led. Thank you for that and for helping pay tribute to one of the very special people anyone could ever hope to know. I know that it made her eyes twinkle even more and brought another smile to her face. Thank you.
 


 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

My Favorite Traveling Companion...


DUKES FANS:
My Favorite Traveling Companion……

  I don’t know exactly how long I have been writing and sending out these Dukes newsletters/blogs- I think I started in 2008 or 2007. It is something that I enjoy doing, and I am glad that so many of you enjoy my musings and experiences. It is something that is important to who I am. The performer in me likes having an audience and putting out good energy, and the educator in me loves sharing ideas, experiences and more with people. It is just who I am, and I am grateful that so many of you let me into your inbox on a regular basis. I sincerely thank you for that.

  If you have been reading these missives for a while you know that one thing John Colgan-Davis loves is traveling and seeing new things. You have read, for example, about birding trips to Magee Marsh in Ohio, Cape May, NJ, Heinz Wildlife Refuge in Philly and more. You have followed along on many of the camping trips to Wellsley Island, the Finger Lakes, Golden Hill State Park, and Lake George all in NY. I told you about finding wonderful wildlife refuges in Maryland, museums and gardens in Orlando and Key West; night skies, elk and seeing the Perseid Meteor Shower on a deck next to a mountain in New Mexico. Lotus blossoms, monuments, and museums in Washington, DC. Times spent at Ivylea Provincial Park, the Grand Canyon, and in the wonderful cities of Kingston in Ontario and Chestertown in Maryland. I have brought you with me to small towns, hills, music festivals, campsites, lakes, and more.

   Through all of these travels I have been with my favorite travel buddy and friend, my wife, Penny Colgan-Davis. Some of you have met her at gigs and some of you knew her from some of her many other activities and involvements; she was a very busy woman and involved in many things. But most of you do not know her except through these missives and my telling of our travels. I am sad to say that I have lost my partner, my best friend and the greatest travel buddy ever. Penny passed away Tuesday morning at about 5:30 AM at our home in Mt. Airy. She had been ill for a while, battling melanoma since November of last year. She died peacefully and lovingly with my son and myself there with her. It was a sad but lovely passing. We were fortunate to be with her though the whole illness, and it was a fitting end.

  Penny and I were married for nearly 38 years, and we traveled together and birded together almost from the beginning. We would go to Tinicum (now called Heinz Refuge), down to Brigantine Wildlife Center, (now called Forsythe), Cape May, NJ, and places in Delaware. We had a camping honeymoon through upstate NY, Maine, and Canada. And as a young family we camped in the Poconos and spent several years at Lost River State park, a lovely spot in West Virginia. Penny herself was a great traveler long before she met me. She and her sisters had been to Ireland, the Netherlands, and England, so she was ready to go places. And like me, she loved to not just go to a place but to explore in and around it. We would camp in a spot and bird and hike the trails there. But we would also spend times in nearby towns and cities, eat at diners where the locals ate, visit cemeteries, gardens and historical sites and visit the libraries. She got me into gardening and trees and plants, and we could spend hours at an arboretum, nursery or public garden. I still remember going to the National Botanical Gardens, Kenilworth Park, and the National Arboretum in DC. several times with her. I will miss traveling and exploring and having funny and sometimes scary adventures with her. And I am so grateful for all of the things we saw that took our breath away and will stay with me forever. Seeing thousands of monarch butterflies and hundreds of sunflowers on Amherst Island in Ontario; looking down from above the clouds and seeing circling vultures after hiking up Craney Crow in West Virginia; watching the sun play off a waterfall with circling cedar waxwings on Cape Breton in Canada; standing on a bluff in the Grand Canyon and looking around at so many different shades of brown and red, unreal clear blue skies, and so many differently shaped rocks. And much, much, much more.

  So there is a hell of a lot of pain, a lot of loss and some big hurt going on right now. I do not know when and how the tears are going to come; they just do. And I do not know how long they will last each time they come. My breath gets short, some anger comes out, and I lose it for a while. And all of our family and good friends are also feeling that pain, going through this along with my son and myself. This grief thing is so much more than just a solo enterprise, and I am so glad for that. And at the same time, there are the memories, the images, and the smiles brought about by looking at pictures and maps and brochures and remembering and talking with people about our many wonderful travels. They are just as important as the pain, and just as real. And they are treasures. My mom used to say that when people felt and expressed great pain and hurt and cried their eyes out, there was also joy hidden in there. For to be felt that deeply, the love and loss had to be real and truly, deeply felt. To have known and experienced a love that deep and real was truly a great blessing in my life. Thank you, Penny. Thanks so much. And today, it feels like camping weather.  

It's The Small Things...


It’s the small things….

  We live in a complex world these days, one that is moving at a rapid pace and seemingly headed in every direction at once. We have a lot of new technology and objects in our lives today that simultaneously make things more complicated and help us try to manage this world we have just made more complicated. We have computers, digital connections, the cloud, smart phones, apps, Bluetoooth, drones, Skype, and so much more. Yes, many of these technologies and objects are enabling us to do so much more than could have been imagined a few decades ago. And they are filling our lives with more and more objects. We are a profoundly material rich culture, and sometimes that seems to be to our benefit and sometimes to our detriment. We are interacting with so much “new” technology and “new and improved” objects that we can easily overlook and get away from appreciating the more “mundane” and “ordinary’ things-the “basic” or “simple” things that have been around for years. And when we do think about them, we often think they are beneath us and/or not “important.” But as a curious person and an ex-Ancient Civilizations teacher, I love examining the ordinary. Most important developments in a civilization are building on something basic and ordinary, and these ordinary things have affected us and unconsciously influenced us in many ways.. Finding the stories behind these ordinary objects and processes is one of the things I love about history. It is often fascinating, curious and surprising to trace the “how” and the “why’ behind something simple. II always told my students that, “Nothing comes from Nowhere: there is a story behind everything.”  Exploring that story and where it goes almost always leads in surprising directions and to wondrous conclusions.

   What brought this on was another encounter with author, designer, civil engineer and professor Mr. Henty Petroski. I first encountered Mr. Petroski some 19 or 20 years ago when I came across his book, The Pencil. I was fascinated, not only because someone wrote a book about the lowly pencil, but because someone wrote a 400+ page book about the pencil. I just had to read it, and I am so glad it did. Among other things, I learned that what we call the “pencil” can be traced back to ancient Rome; that there were at least two wars in Europe fought over access to stores of “leaded ore” that makes up the writing substance of pencils, and that writing with pencils was a key part of Napoleon’s military success. Napoleon wrote his battle plans on horseback in pencil as the battle progressed: he did not have to dismount and get a table and ink to use a quill pen as did other generals. Therefore, he could change his battle plans quickly as he witnessed from horseback what was actually happening on the battlefield. It was a huge advantage.

     I also learned the some 60% of the members of the American Society of Civil Engineers thinks the #2 pencil with an attached eraser is the best designed product of the last 200 years. I was hooked by all of this, and I quickly read two other books by Petroski. The Evolution of Useful Things looked at certain design features of common objects and how they developed over time and also noted links between culture and design. He traced, for example, how and why forks got their tines and how paper clips and post-its came to be. To Engineer Is Human looked at design and engineering as part and parcel of what it means to be human and how failure and unhappiness, and not necessity, are more often the mothers of design. We as a species seem to need to tinker, explore and re-invent. Both books opened my eyes to new ways of looking at the world around me.

   Recently I picked up his The Toothpick and started another voyage into discovering the extraordinary the lies at the heart of the ordinary. I have just started the book, but I have already learned that the toothpick, be it made of grass, wood, gold, or quill, is one of humanity’s most universal and oldest tools. And that toothpicks became common in American dining establishments because Charles Forester, the father of the US toothpick industry, hired students from Harvard to go into Boston restaurants and relentlessly demand them, thus manufacturing a demand for his product. When we think of the Renaissance we think of art and literature, but it was also a special time for toothpicks as well. Owning a variety of the tool and cleaning one’s teeth with them after a big meal were seen as indications of one’s wealth, class and sophistication. Even European monarchs had toothpicks made from precious materials and displayed them on their clothing. This is just want I have gleaned from reading the prologue and the opening chapters of the book. I can’t wait to find out more.

  So I am happy: I am on the way to new discoveries and new realizations. I never tire of finding out new things, and I especially love the plain and direct way Petroski writes and organizes his books. To me, he is a poet in the sense meant by the anonymous poet who said, “The purpose of poetry is to make the extraordinary ordinary and the ordinary extraordinary’.  That is what he does, and In that there is great joy and great fun.

PHILABUNDANCE FOOD DRIVE IN CHESTNUT HILL AND OLD CITY
   Dukes fan Ruth Brown is doing a food drive in conjunction with Philabundance. The donation boxes are in place and the drive will go until June 30th. Locations:

·         South Kensington Community Partners (1301 N 2nd)
·         PlayArts (1241 N Front)
·         Spot's Spot Pet Grooming (123 W Girard)
·         Chestnut Hill Library (8711 Germantown Ave)
Among Philabundance's most-needed items are canned fruits & veggies, canned tuna, meat & soup; cereal; PB & J; rice; cooking oil, non-perishable milk, and whole grain pasta. Please donate

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Joys of A Greene Countrie Towne

DUKES FANS:
When I stand on a corner in my neighborhood and look in any direction down almost any street I am met with the most wonderful explosions of color and shapes. It is almost May now, and Germantown, Chestnut Hill, and Mt Airy are bursting with trees, bushes and gardens showing off all their shades and shapes to the passers-by. I am in no way an arborist; I do not know the names of that many trees. But I am familiar with the ones that have taken root in the northwest section of the city and bring so much delight and joy to me each spring. Pink magnolias, white magnolias, dogwoods, ornamental cherries, Japanese and lacy leaf maples, weeping cherries, redbuds-the northwest is awash in these trees, and I love them. They are the final, visual proof that spring has really arrived and that our days will be long and pleasant ones. And as I move through these areas on my daily jaunts, I also see tons of people outside on hands and knees digging in the dirt-gardening. Planting pansies, daffodils, tulips and more, they help the lawns and streets come alive with more color and scents. Especially on sunny days these trees and gardens bring a smile to my soul, enliven my walking, and put me in a totally different place. It is spring in Philadelphia, and that is always a wonderful thing.
One of the many things I love about living in the city of Philadelphia is that many neighborhoods still hold to founder William Penn’s idea of a “greene countrie towne.” There are trees, gardens and green spaces in just about every neighborhood. Even the downtown still holds to Penn’s idea with four of his five original plazas. Rittenhouse, Franklin, Washington and Logan Squares still exist as green spaces. As the city expanded in all direction from between the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, it has, for the most part, kept to Penn’s idea. We have an extraordinary amount of green space and trees even in some densely populated areas. Spring and fall really bring those things to the fore, and there is a profusion of shapes, smells and bright colors to be seen and experienced. Philly is a wonderfully walkable city, and just about anywhere one walks in the city one can easily see all the different trees, plants, and gardens. This makes the city attractive and manageable; it seems “human.” And if I am open and aware of these things, they can rescue me from getting too caught up in “life” and missing the quiet power of a tree lined street or a park or a garden. They can get me out of myself and connect me to larger, important things.
Philadelphians have always loved gardens and there are tons of lovely gardens all over the city. Many of them are public gardens; the Philly area, in fact, has the highest concentration of public gardens in the United States. Some of them were private spaces that were open to the paying public for festive occasions and entertainment. In fact the idea of “outdoor concerts” in Philadelphia seems to go back to colonial times with the “Cherry Garden” and “Spring Garden” sites in what is now Center City. As the years have gone by many wealthy garden owners have also opened their private estate gardens to the public and/or donated them to the city. Philadelphians seem to have always associated gardens with fun and good times, and we have many public gardens for people to enjoy.
Philadelphia is also widely known as a city of neighborhood gardens, and weather such as we have had recently has been getting entire communities out and into the dirt. This brings neighborhoods together, and it also beautifies them. These gardens also do an important job in providing fresh and nutritious food in urban food deserts. Community gardens in sections of North Philly and Southwest Philly have been doing that for years, but there is some concern about the future of these gardens. The rapid growth of the city and the press for development seems to be threatening the existence of some of them. Fortunately, there are some forces working on behalf of the gardeners and the gardens. I am hopeful that they can be maintained and continue to play the important roles they are playing in their communities. They are an important part of the “Philadelphia story” and we need them. (http://planphilly.com/articles/2016/10/13/neighborhood-gardens-trust-targets-preservation-for-28-more-gardens)
This week will bring more great May weather, and I hope you can all make some time to get out to walk, stroll, plant, or just look and admire. We are very fortunate to be in or around this greene countrie towne” and I hope you can take advantage of it. It is one of the quiet joys of being a resident of this city.
(If you are interested in Philadelphia gardens, the role of gardens in communities, or anything else about the social history of Philadelphia I recommend the website, The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. It is a wonderful site about all the things that make Philadelphia Philadelphia, written by folks who know about and care about the city: http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/?s=gardens )
Some Special Gigs featuring John
Friday, June 1 Johnny Never & John Colgan-Davis at Jamey’s House of Music, 32 S. Landsdowne Ave; Landsdowne, PA; 8-10:30PM $15 advance; $18 door; www.jameyshouseofmusic.com
I started playing harp in coffee houses with folk musicians back in the 1960s, and while I normally play in band settings now, I still love playing good old country blues with a great guitarist. Johnny Never is such a guitarist, a master of Delta and other early blues styles. Great slide and finger picking work, a wonderful voice and a great repertoire make playing with Johnny fun and exciting for me. Jamey’s is a wonderfully intimate club which seats 60, has a great sound system and is the perfect place for this gig. Come out and hear some Son House, Robert Johnson and more as done by Johnny Never and John Colgan-Davis http://jameyshouseofmusic.com/
Saturday, June 16; The Blues Social Club at Jocelyn’s for the Media Blues Stroll;109 W. State Street; Media, PA.
Bert Harris, bass player with Philly Gumbo and one of the best bassists in the area, put together a group last year with the great Delaware guitarist Roger Girke, myself, and a couple of other folks to play a concert for the Rose Tree Park Summer Concert Series. It was so much fun we decided to do it again as part of the Media Blues Stroll. The Blues Social Club is the band and we do a variety of genres from Chicago Blues to New Orleans to soul to rockabilly. We have a great and fun time and you can too. Come catch us that Saturday evening at Joclyn’s