Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Wonders of April



     April is when spring really bursts forth. April presents itself as a riot of color, vibrant, and often with warm and sunny days. It brings people out into the world, to walk, run, fish,, garden, birdwatch, do home repairs, and much, much more. It is also a month with a ton of national observances, special days, and holidays. While there is no day in our 365 day calendar that is not a National Day of something, April has the second highest number of national days and observances of any month, trailing only October’s 219 such days. There are 167 special days in April, and they run the gamut of causes, observations, actions, and social issues. Some of them may seem a bit silly: April 14, for example, is International Moment of Laughter Day as well as National Ex-Spouse Day. April 17 is Wear Pajamas to Work Day, something that has probably already happened on a lot of other days in this COVID adjusted world of work. There are food days: National Peach Cobbler Day is April 13, Zucchini Bread Day is April 25, Deep Dish Pizza Day is April 5, and National Picnic Day is April 23.  There are animal days, including days to hug your dog (4/10) and honor your pet (4/11). There are days to take a chance, (4/23), kiss your mate (4/28), go skipping (4/24,) and even a day to be kind to lawyers (4/13). Clearly people love and need to celebrate, and in April we make plenty of ways to do that.

    Some of these April month-long celebrations and days are important to me. They serve to remind me of things that I consider important but may be taken for granted or overlooked either by me and/or by our larger national culture. National Library Workers Day and Library Week, as I wrote about in the last newsletter, are times for me to express my gratitude for the number of libraries, particularly public libraries, that we are privileged to have and the incredible things they make possible. When I became a teacher and had a number of students that I didn’t quite understand or “get,” school counselors taught me about the autism spectrum and how to be more effective with some of my students.  So I became appreciative that April is National Autism Awareness Month; my learning about that has helped me to be much more open-minded in looking at people in general. As a nation have recently become more willing to look at the role unintentional bias has in all aspects of our lives, and I appreciate that this is National Minority Health Month. This month features special programs and webinars that share important information about and increase awareness of issues related to that issue. Being a birdwatcher, Earth Day (4/22) matters a lot also. It reminds me to ask, “What am I doing to care for and nurture the earth?’ and “How are my actions reflecting what I say I like?”

   All of this makes me step back and realize is just how wonderful but complicated this business of living in a community and a civilization can be and is.  We are involved in a slew of activities, conversations, and interactions that connect us with other people, often without fully realizing the impact it has on us and that we can have on them. We can take a lot of things for granted and not pay attention or be aware of them, but just about all that each one of us does often connects to and affects people beyond our immediate circle. One of the benefits of all of these observances for me is that they can help us think beyond our circle and realize how much we are linked to others, how much often owe to others, and how much we can contribute to others. It makes me appreciate our inter-connectedness, although that is admittedly challenging at times.  Having these days can also remind of us of some small things that we need to pay attention to for our own personal good: the fun of a picnic (4/23), the importance taking time to laugh (4/17) and the pleasure and responsibility being appreciative of mates and pets (4/28 and 4/11, respectively.)

        Looking at a calendar, then, can be more than just a way to know what day it is. It can lead us to new awarenesses, discoveries, possibilities, and even fun. Happy Calendar Watching-take some time to see what the rest of this month and other months have in store

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Vote: Like You Live Here

   Voting has been in the news of late, and it is important to be aware of and to take part in the electoral process. Yes, the Presidential election is over, but most things that most directly affect most of us happen and/or get their start at the state and local level. So these “off year” elections matter a great deal. Most states have primary elections coming up soon. Here are some important dates for Pennsylvania. If you do not live in PA, please check out your state’s important dates. Voting is a way we say we are here.

May 3, 2021

Last day to REGISTER before the primary

May 11, 2021

Last day to apply for a mail-in or civilian absentee ballot

May 18, 2021

Last day for County Board of Elections to receive voted mail-in and civilian absentee ballots (must be received by 8:00 P.M.) 

Monday, March 22, 2021

A New Spring and A New Beginning



Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun,  and we shall soon see the results of their love! 

                                                      SITTING BULL

   This is a magic time for most of us; the time that winter has faded away and the world formally begins again. This is spring, the vernal equinox, and the time for new beginnings. We associate spring with new beginnings because we see this happening all around us. Snowdrops and crocuses are appearing on lawns. Trees and flowers are starting to bud. Animals are preparing for mating and giving birth. Gradually there are more and more hours of daylight. This is the time when we make icons and symbols of many things that harken to freshness and birth-baby chicks, lilies, eggs, rabbits, and lambs. It is a time of return, rebirth, and renewal. It is spring.


    For most of human history spring has been not only the start of the earth’s actual year; it has also the start of the human calendar year.  The idea of the year starting in January is a relatively recent idea, and it does not align with what nature shows.  For most of our existence we humans have had to figure out how to work with what nature gives us in order to survive. So human societies reflect the real world around us in our important activities, rituals, and symbolic practices, especially when the messages from that real world are so obvious and strong.  And for most of our history, what we call “spring” was what started the “New Year.” We do the important human things in conjunction with the natural cycles, for we are joined with the workings of the earth. Earth gives us the clues and we respond.  Spring is really the start.


    It is as if the earth is saying, “OK! Let’s go; let’s do this again.” And we humans do that in myriad ways, some big and some small, We literally “clean house,” as many of us are doing spring cleaning now, and literally sweeping out the old and letting in the new. We change our wardrobes, buying new clothes and wearing fabrics that have a brighter and lighter color scheme. We start gardens and plant seeds in the hopes of watching both new and returned growth in our surroundings.  We take the potted plants we brought into the house last fall back outside and into the sun.  And we participate in the myriad religious and mythic rituals that focus on stories of rebirth and renewal, be it Easter, Passover, the Persian house cleaning and fire-jumping ritual of Noruz, or the April Buddhist celebration of the New Year. The whole universe seems to be “starting over,” and offering renewed hope and promise and another chance to perhaps do things just a little better. Universally, we embrace being reborn, looking forward, and working toward the future.


 Spring does feel a little different this year. After a year-plus of pandemic fear, lockdown, closed or limited venues, new schedules, and new communication methods for everyone, this spring arrives with a special sense of hopefulness and possibility. It is fitting, perhaps, that the first day was a relatively warm and sunny one.  It felt especially hopeful and brighter, and there is a chance that things are changing in some pretty important ways. After numerous mix-ups and problems, it seems as if the vaccine rollout is working much more smoothly, and people are looking forward to a return to seeing each other; to hugging, dining together, and much more. We humans are social animals, and while we did make some wonderful adjustments to the COVID situation, most of us simply want to be able to see friends, family, and pals in the ways we used to see them before. We want a re-birth of our old human ways of being and doing, and this may well be the time for that to happen.  


    So here’s to Spring! Here’s to the universe providing us an opportunity to witness the quiet miracle of rebirth and a chance to make it a part of our beings. It is quiet and it is a regular occurrence. But it is in no way ordinary. It is a repeated miracle that we are fortunate enough to experience once more. Enjoy.

The Dukes on YouTube
Here are two videos of the Dukes at The Kennett Flash and World Café a few years ago;

Monday, March 8, 2021

The Maagic Of Lgiht


DUKES FANS:                     


  Puxatawney Phil, the famous western PA groundhog, came up over a month ago and let us know that winter would be hanging around for a bit. He saw his shadow, which according to the lore, means we in PA would have to wait at least more weeks before we can experience the warmth, growth and energy of another spring. Of course, Phil’s predictions are subject to question: Groundhog Day is February 2, and there are always at least 6 more weeks until the vernal equinox and the true beginning of the spring season. But I love the lore of Phil; I am a fan of many folkloric and cultural traditions, and Phil grew out of the German cultures that came to Pennsylvania in the 1700's. I love the ways different cultures around the world all experience and ritualize around the same universal human experiences, and I enjoy finding out about them. It reminds me of our humanness and how we are all the same beneath the surface. We have to face the same world with the same conditions in it, and we have to make some sort of sense of it all. Ritual, stories, customs and folklore are ways of doing that.  For me, though, Phil is in no way a real indication of spring.  Spring is too meaningful and wonderful to depend on a groundhog. For me there is no more reliable and powerful indicator of spring than the changes in the sky that take place at this time of the year. The changing presence of light tells me where we are in the wonderful everlasting cycle of seasons.

 I am an early riser; I am usually out walking around quarter to six in the morning. I am also a lover of night skies, and in winter the sky is so intense and so dramatic And it is still there when I walk in the morning. That combination of walking early and the intense presence of the winter night sky regularly bring me quiet joy and comfort. I love watching the slow change in the locations of the constellations over the course of a winter, and I love watching the moon cycle through its phases. Both of these celestial happenings seem so much starker and definite in winter. Watching them as I walk can both soothe and amaze me.

 I do start to get a little tired of winter by mid-February, though, and that is when something else wonderful happens. Watching the day come into being earlier and earlier as winter passes its halfway point is quietly fascinating. It is lighter when I start my walks now, and the sky at 6:00 is not quite as dark and dramatic as it was just a few weeks ago. The constellations are not as bright, and the light of the coming new day is visible earlier and earlier. It is a different sky now; we are relentlessly transitioning from one season to the next.  I notice the way shadows shift, the way light is reflected off rooftops and grass, and on some mornings I get to see this wonderful and eerie rolling fog moving over some of the larger expanses of grasses and streams. I like to walk either north up to Chestnut Hill, or west deeper into Mt Airy and there are beautiful gardens and large expanses of grass in either direction. I love the quiet of this time; the stillness and the grandeur. It is that evolving awakening of early morning light that announces the coming of spring to me, and it is much more powerful than Phil.

Part of me misses the old winter night sky; I almost go through a brief mourning period. Then I notice that at around 6:15, if I am looking southeast, I can see a bright reddish-orange flush or streak against the horizon. And above the housetops and trees, the coming day seems just roll out into being, And if I am out for a nice long walk like I was this morning, I can watch the sun gradually become more and more visible as the daylight surrounds us. Also at this time of the year I can look to the northwest sky and still see the moon. Both the sun and the moon: out together. That is a glorious way to start the day. 

 So while I like the story of Phil and know that its origins are with Candlemas Day and the hedgehogs in Germany during the Roman era, it is those changes in the light that most alert me that spring will be here soon. It lets me know where we are in the cycle, and it is undeniable. And while I am out and noticing that returning light, I also look at the lawns and notice the snowdrops and pansies making their first appearance of the year. I also gradually notice more and more bird activity as species that have been around all winter get more active, and other ones are coming back and again being heard.  Spring is slowly unfolding, and watching and hearing it come is an absolute joy.  Yes, I still miss the winter night sky, and I probably will for a while. But I can also welcome this new sky, the one that tells me this marvelous cycle is still in play and that it has different joys and wonders in store for all of us if we pay attention. And that is very good, indeed.

American Blues Scene interview:

American Blues Scene is an online publication that features reviews of music and concerts, reports on blues developments, and interviews with musicians. I was interviewed for the mid-January edition and here is the link:

 Please read it and let me know what you think.

The Dukes on YouTube
    We have posted 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:


Monday, February 8, 2021

Black History Month and the Ongoing March of History



        We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world, void of national bias, race, hate, and religious prejudice.

                                 Carter G. Woodson, founder of Black History Month


   When Carter Woodson helped found Negro History Week in 1926, he had already accomplished quite a lot. The son of former slaves, he had graduated from Berea College in KY in 1903, earned a Master’s Degree in History from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D in history from Harvard, becoming the second African-American to do so. W.E.B. DuBois was the first, but Woodson is the only offspring of former slaves to receive a PhD in history from an American institution. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 and their publication, The Journal of Negro History, to support and encourage research into the history, culture and accomplishments of Negroes, as we were then called. He was particularly interested in educating young Blacks about their history. "If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated," Woodson wrote in "The Mis-Education of the Negro." He sponsored research, worked with other historians, conducted interviews with hundreds of Black about their personal and family histories, and more.

     He was not the only one; the twentieth century ushered in intense interest in documenting Black life. The celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1915 brought thousands of people to the Chicago Coliseum to see exhibits and displays on Black life. Out of that Woodson got Black schools, churches, organizations, and newspapers to include ways of getting information about Black history to people. Negro History Week caught on, went across the country, and eventually moved into the regular school curriculum of more and more public elementary schools. When I was in elementary school in the 1950’s we had Negro History Week observances at Dunlap Elementary School. Of course, these observances had become mostly about famous Black people who had accomplished things, and not Woodson’s desired look at the Negro IN history. But while I overdosed on George Washington Carver and Phillis Wheatley in school, I had Ebony and Jet magazines and the Philadelphia Tribune newspaper  at home, Black owned and Black themed publications, that had listened to Woodson and provided that wider view.

   Things have changed over the decades, of course. The organization Woodson founded is now called The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), we are now not called, “Negroes,” and there is now a Federally recognized “Black History Month” instead of just a week. There have been much more scholastic and scientific published research, many more books and films, many more newspaper and magazine, articles and more. There are even numerous Black life centered museums and official Black Heritage sites across the country, including museums looking at Black WWII fighter pilots, Black firefighters, cowboy and pioneers, a Great Blacks in Wax museum, and much, much, more. There are also webpages turning up interesting and previously hidden or unknown aspects of how Blacks have been a part of this culture.

    This is particularly relevant now in the wake of all that happened in 2020. It became clear that there is a lot Americans do not know, see or recognize about Black life, and there is now a more conscious effort to change that. Over the past months web -searching and friends e-mailing me have brought to my attention some wonderful new information and insights my way, and it is wonderful as my understanding and knowledge continue to grow.  History is never stale and “finished.” It always fascinating, often changing. and evolving. I invite you to spend some time doing some investigation of places, web sites, museum sites, and more to see what you can find about aspects of Black life with which you are/were unfamiliar or unaware. I invite us all to go to make this a month more in line with Woodson’s goal of discovering, exploring, and looking at who we as Americans are in as broad a sense as possible-I also have a lot to continually learn. There are plenty of places to see, both within the Philadelphia region and nationwide. Surprises and new learnings await, sometimes painful, sometimes wonderful and amazing, and sometimes simply fun. Let’s make this Black History Month a month of wonder and discovery. Thanks.


The Philadelphia Tribune Newspaper:

Ebony Magazine

The Association for the Study of African American life and History:

The African-American Firefighter Museum

List of African-American Centered Museums Nationwide:

Black in Walden: Black Walden Came First. Thoreau, After.

Setauket 'counter-map': Preserving Black, Native American heritage

Black Seminoles made their mark on Texas history

Howard Johnson-Redux
   In my last newsletter I mentioned the recent death of one of my all time favorite musicians,, tuba and sax man Howard Johnson. Since then I have been listening to a bunch of his recording and remain impressed with his talent, soul and creativity. Here is a link to one of my favorite life recordings of all time, Taj Mahal’s The Real Ting with a band led by Howard. WOW! It starts with Taj acoustically, then the band comes in. I dare you to listen to this and not dance, shout and shake your head in wonder. Enjoy!

The Dukes on YouTube
    We have posted 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:

Just a Little Bit watch?v=d8iFNlDPM_c

Higher Ground v=baSmjnQFvXg