Saturday, March 21, 2015

Flying Horse Farms

What can I say about an organization that has become such a part of my family's life?  An organization born from a simple yet profound idea that the late actor and philanthropist Paul Newman brought to life.  A camp  for kids with serious medical illnesses.  An opportunity for children with cancer, HIV, heart disease, kidney disease and many other maladies to do something many healthy kids do each summer.  Paul saw that camp had the power to transform children's lives by bringing them to a place where they could shoot arrows, ride horses, get muddy, laugh, catch fish, sing songs around the campfire, realize they were not alone in the world with their disease and all the while having the medical resources available to take care of them through the week.  A place where kids could be kids, forget about treatments for a while and in Paul's words "raise a little hell".  

Camp gives these children and their families something beyond what modern medicine provides.  I have seen campers, parents and volunteers profoundly changed by their experiences at camp. We call it the magic of camp.  The magic started in Connecticut over 25 years ago and has spread around the world as the SeriousFun Children's Network of camps and programs.  Our family was blessed to have our camp family there when our daughter was battling cancer.  Her two trips to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp were with out question the highlight of her year.  Our family benefited so much from camp that we all became active in helping the founders of Flying Horse Farms turn a dream into reality with a SeriousFun camp here in Ohio.

My daughter and I were asked to speak at FHF's groundbreaking ceremony and share our experiences with camp.  Emily was in Cincinnati for treatment that week for what we  believed would be a short stay, but the night before groundbreaking it was pretty apparent she would not be able to make it to the event.  I told Emily that I didn't think I could leave her side and speak at camp the next day.  Her response speaks volumes about how important camp was to her.  "Dad" she said with fierce determination, "You have to go!  You have to open camp!"  I knew she would never let me stay.  So I went and am so glad she pushed me out the door to be part of such an important mission. 

Since the trip to Cincinnati was going on longer than we expected, after I finished speaking, I drove back to Cleveland to get some new clothes and things.  The next day when I arrived at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital we found out that Emily's cancer was growing out of control and there were no longer any viable medical options.  Emily was due to fly to CT in a week, but sadly because of her condition she did not get the chance to go a third time.

Our family became even more involved after Emily's death.  It was a way of honoring her, a way to give back to an organization that had done so much for us, a way to help others facing the same challenges as we had and for me at least it was a way of staying sane amidst my battle with the intense pain and immense blackness that accompanied losing my daughter at the age of 12. Camp has also given me more joy and deep friendships than I could have ever have imagined.  For this, I am eternally grateful for all of the amazing people who make up the camping community and most especially my Flying Horse Farms family.

Early on in the life cycle of building camp, I wrote the following poem to describe this remarkable project that I had become deeply committed to along with many other talented, compassionate and visionary people.   I am very proud to say that our combined efforts have been a rousing success and we now serve hundreds of campers each year and are still growing.

The Birth of Camp
By John Lewis 
(all rights reserved)
Challenged children play
Faces splashed with smiles
Laughter smudged on skin and hair
Sunlight, green grass, fresh air, fun
The warm glow of magic transforms their hearts

Wisps of feelings, experiences, ideas begin to coalesce
A nascent thought wafts upward into consciousness
Something more
Something to prolong the glow
Something like…
Yes, camp!
Of course, camp!
But how?

A living breathing organization begins to form
With vision
With land in hand
Venture into unmapped territory

Seeds are sown
Of awareness
Of mission
Of friendship
Of selfless need

Tilling the status quo
New contacts
Events planned
More meetings
Networks grow
Decisions made
Success, disappointment, frustration, doubts
Disagreements, coming together, compassion
Common goals, change, determination, struggle
The cacophony of trying

Cultivation, cultivation, cultivation
Progress sprouts
Imperceptible at first
But then
The campaign halfway home
Machines rend the ground
Paths, holes, trenches appear
A water tower rises, proclaiming us for who we are
A barn comes down
Cabins sprout from the frozen ground,
Crocuses of our collective will,
Reminders of the season to come,
Promising a full blossoming of camp
Buildings, campers, staff, animals, activities
Grown on the fertile ground of our dreams
So tenderly nurtured
So painstakingly prepared
By us
The believers
Of things like horses with wings
The farmers
Of a distant and daring dream
The builders
Of a place to sustain the magical glow
A place called camp
Our camp
Their camp
Flying Horse Farms

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Sestina. 

Wow, this one threw me for a loop at first.  I sat with my list of six words, the pattern and just stared at the screen.  The Tankas flowed so easily.  Now I felt stuck.  The ground seemed so hard; a place where nothing would grow.  I couldn't even seem to dig deeply enough to plant the half-dozen words that the form forces you to repeat, for even the first stanza.  I began to wonder if I was really capable of this.  I somehow managed to scrape together the first six lines out of the barrenness. It took me another couple days to complete the first third of the poem.  It was clunky and poorly formed.  I left it for a while as I do when a difficult crossword puzzle stumps me and staring at it further does no good, yet when I return, answer just materialize in my head.  I asked my wife to read what I had done.  Her reply?  "This is not my favorite form"  It was dropping down my list pretty fast as well.  And yet, while I was away from it, ideas, phrases, lines began drifting into my mind during the day, calling me to play with them.  Completing the draft happened quicker than the first part and I had become obsessed.  It was there on the page, but it didn't feel right.  I re-worked it, changed out words. polished it here and there.  It felt like an intricate weaving that when I tightened a string in one area, the poem unraveled in another.  Perhaps this is the heart of the Sestina, a form never quite complete...awkwardly beautiful...always wanting the poet's attention.


Wind and Wave
(By John Christian Lewis; all rights reserved)

Sweet summer days are here
So sings the salt-soaked wind
Dolphins dive to shallow depths avoiding crashing waves
From out the rustling dune grass rises, gracefully a tern
To dance along the ocean shore, above the sixgill rays
Hear, hear!  To wind and wave, on which the tern and ray are borne

The perky sun, horizon breaks, a morning thus is born
Though wind and sand will never hear
Sol’s voice of lucent rays
That shimmers off the sea below and stirs the sleepy wind
Upon which raucous gull-flocks swoop and glide, then turn
To dive amidst the oyster thief escaping on the waves

No broken shell or grain of sand would ever think to waive
It’s right to be the stuff of dreams, by hand and bucket borne
Each fleck of whelk, each shard of quartz, each mote transformed in turn
To shell-strewn castle walls or moats to hold back water here
Fancy, futile fortress, unfit to stem the pounding surf, to shame the bully wind
Which act to grind grand turrets down and gallant ramparts raze

“A rising tide will all boats raise”
Just ask a salt who loves the waves
Though even sea dogs can’t grasp the pith of ever-morphing winds
A gale?  A breeze? Typhoon, perhaps?  What from the Pauahtuns will be born?
To sculpt the beach and churn the sea and howl for all to hear
As zephyrs huff and trade winds blow the precious time away, a fresh day waits its turn

From summer flows fall, the seasons turn
The sun’s now muted rays
Slow down the living creatures here
But not the rolling waves
Upon their backs cruel winter’s borne
Flogged hard by vengeful, arctic winds

Ancient sea god Njord, spews out his sleet-filled wind
From Skadi’s mouth blast frigid gales, all warmth to overturn
But life lies low below the snow, ‘til breath of spring is born
And once again shall Nature stretch and to her bosom raise
Her terns and gulls amidst her grass, all creatures ‘neath her waves
Long winter resigns itself to death and departs for now from here

When next you feel a touch of wind warmed by the mid-June rays,
Recall the tern and foam-specked waves
Be to the beach re-born, sweet summer days are here 

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Tanka was the next form in line for my discovery.  After the much longer Villanelle, the Tanka was simple, beautiful and really fun to construct.  The 5 7 5 7 7 syllable rhythm pattern that holds the form together is subtle and perfectly balanced. Each one is small, unique and packed with a lot of flavor...I think of them as poetic jellybeans.  Can't write just one. 

I wrote three for March and will likely write more in the future since I enjoyed them so much.  However, the Poetry Seven decided they would take on the challenge of the Sestina for March instead.  No worries, I took on that as well and will post my submission tomorrow. 

Three Tankas for today.  (Do not make the mistake a dear friend of mine made and read all three in succession with the belief it was a three stanza form.  Enjoy each "jellybean" separately.)

Foggy tendrils cling
To posts and drains and hydrants
Misty gray wraps us
Muffling our home-bound footsteps
Shielding our presence from view

Slot barnacles play
In the smoky wee morn hour
I stagger to bed
What happens in Vegas stays
Cash, dreams and bits of my soul

Thunder booms on high
The torrent goes on and on
I rise to the source
Tears of God’s joy heal my soul
I am quenched, no longer scarred