In praise of a good walk

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Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Sure it was raining this morning. Not hard, though.

But I slipped on my Gore-Tex jacket over a sweatshirt and headed for Foster Park.

Yes, it’s spring – early April. Still, if the temperature dipped much lower, I might have found patches of ice on my way to the park. No problem with ice. I would have attached spikes to my running shoes.

In truth, I’m done with jogging. Not only the stress fracture on my left heel. Walking briskly doesn’t bother that. Besides, my balance isn’t so good that I can be sure that I won’t risk a fall. A broken whatever from a fall and I might just be done for.

So I walk. Safer. And I’m more apt to take note of how the woods that line the Maumee River have recently come to life. The trees are starting to bud out like an artist who has just started to sketch background to his canvas.

The sparrows and newly arrived robins greeted me as if they’d been waiting for hours to say “hello.”

Today I was early enough that I only met one other walker. From him, I got a gesture that I took for a greeting. Some people just don’t get fully awake until late morning, if then.

Of course, I’m never completely alone on my four-mile walks. In an earlier incarnation, I taught literature in high school and college. Through the works of the greats, I join other dedicated walkers such as William Wordsworth and Franz Kafka. Yes, I include Thoreau and Dickens, who thought it nothing to cover 30-miles a day. Virginia Woolf was another committed walker.

I guess the example of such luminaries sufficed for Apple’s creator Steve Jobs. He conducted staff meetings on long walks. Early in the day, I’m usually by myself, although my wife Toni sometimes joins me. Mid-morning I might be greeted by “the guys,” a group of black friends.

A good walk in the park is their ritual, too.

I’m sure my daily routine keeps me reasonably slim. But I’m careful about what I eat anyway: only fish, no pork or beef, lots of fruits and vegetables, rarely dessert.

I truly enjoy the daily walk. It’s as relaxing as any other hour and a half of the day. I’m sure the walk helps me sleep well, as well as a 77-year-old male is able.

Best of all, walking allows me leave any worries behind. I’m free to celebrate the wonder of the changing seasons. I’m free to be ever so thankful for my marvelous, caring and creative wife. I’m free to be thankful for our interesting, talented family – every member, including a five-year-old named Mayzi.

Snow or sun, rain or shine, it’s hard to beat a good, long walk.

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Ides of March

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Foster Park as it will appear in the Spring
Foster Park as it will appear in April 2016

As I recall, the line appears in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”

“Beware the ides of March.”

It’s actually about the end of March. But I get the “Beware” part.

Walking in Foster Park this morning reminded me of these lines from the Shakespeare play, one of several I taught to high school students some years ago.

At 8 a.m. or so the sky was overcast, so uniformly grey it looked as if it could commence to pour rain any time.

It wouldn’t have mattered. If it had started to rain before I left the house, I would have just put on my waterproof pants and jacket and headed for the park.

It’s not that I’m such a hardy soul. Walking my four miles-plus every day is my habit. If there’s snow or ice, I’ll strap my spikes on my running shoes.

Dreary is dreary, whether it’s raining to beat the band or just overcast and sprinkling a few drops. You remember then that April is almost upon us. And the May flowers.

The park’s road takes you around the golf course and the clubhouse on the east side. On the west side the road is lined with trees and bushes that lead down to the St. Mary’s River.

I admit the golf course was starting to perk up with mostly warm-weather green grass. So far today, no golfers had dared to start a round. Temperatures remained in the 40s.

The chill wouldn’t have stopped Dad. He had won a few golf tournaments. He scored a 72 on his last round of 18 holes before his cancer kept him house bound.

Somehow, today’s bleak weather had me thinking about him. I found myself glancing first at the still barren trees along my route and then looking at the empty putting greens, a lone flag at each one waving in the chilly breeze.

Yes, today Dad might well have been pulling into the parking lot and getting his golf clubs out of the trunk of his big blue Chevy. If he were with me on this walk, he would have named all the trees we passed.

This morning, I counted more than a dozen squirrels scampering around the trees. I assumed they had already dug up nuts they had buried before the snow fell in early winter.

Somehow, thinking about my golfer father and the bleakness of the still barren trees along my path didn’t make me sad. In fact, my daily hike never fails to perk me up. At the early hour I head for the park it’s a mostly quiet time in the city. I hear traffic pick up across the river but it’s just a friendly kind of hum.

I do confess I miss the daily jogging. It’s not only the stress fracture that developed on my heel a month ago. At 77, I know that I’m prone to trip and fall. Which would put me out of commission for some time. For long walks, not to mention jogging.

I don’t watch much TV, mostly the PBS Nightly News and Masterpiece Theater. I enjoy visiting with friends and family. Most of them live nearby. My wife and I are lucky to be connected to such nice people.

Beyond those relationships, and the true blessing they are to me, I celebrate my freedom to head out daily to the park for my walk. I did notice a cardinal this morning. One of my first this season. I bet he was enjoying the park as much as I did.

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Walk, don’t run

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Foster Park as it will appear in the Spring
Foster Park as it will appear in the Spring

I guess March 1 is as good a day as any to launch one’s new exercise regimen.

I find it hard to give up jogging. Even though my jog probably looks a lot like a faster walk. When it’s your exercise, you’re entitled to call it what you like.

Mine was a jog. I say it was and my word is final, especially at age 77 and grew up as an only child.

No I didn’t stumble and scrape my hands and bang my knee yesterday.

My balance has been in the toilet for years. So my risk of stumbling during a morning jog probably has been higher than other joggers in their seventies.

But I didn’t just switch from jogging one day and fast walking the next. I don’t rely on my hunches or feelings.

I don’t just consult our family doctor or my physical therapist.

I spent years writing editorials for the morning paper. I didn’t just check my personal beliefs or those of the editorial board to craft an opinion.

I researched the issue. It’s a habit I’ve carried into retirement. And what does the research say about jogging vs. fast walking for guys in their 70s?

In a nutshell, the experts I consulted said the walking has about the same health benefits as the jogging. Plus, walking is easier on the joints and you have less risk of a fall.

So today I walked. About four miles, my usual route through Foster Park. Yes, my old body felt the urge to pick up the pace and break into a run. I resisted. I resisted because I knew that the walk gave me as many health benefits as the jog. And it was safer.

Would the switch be as good for other joggers in their 70s? It might well be the case. But too many variables enter into any person’s exercise practice for me to advise my fellow oldsters.

A lot of joggers have made a practice of a daily run for all their adult lives. The exercise has become a part of their identity. For other joggers, the mental health benefits exceed the physical risks.

Finally, most long-term joggers have had their share of injuries. Yet those hurts haven’t prevented them for getting back on the road. (In my case, I even jogged when it was icy in the neighborhood and in the park. I just slipped spikes on my running shoes.)

In the final analysis, everybody needs to find his or her own way to stay physically fit. Every day in the park, I meet others who are walking. And I see a few runners, most much faster than I ever jogged.

Hey, it’s a big park. The trail around the golf course is wide enough to accommodate a lot more people jogging or walking. I believe the daily routine has done me a lot of good. I’m fairly trim and have no serious health problems.

I’m no role model. But I applaud anyone who’ll give a jog or long walk a shot.

For my part, I should see if a fast walk every day keeps me in as good shape as the jog. At 77, I’m not about to fear change.

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Winter be gone!

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Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Sure, traces of snow lined my path this morning. Winter is reluctant to leave.

But the paved trail through Foster Park was clear. Neighborhood streets were clear, as well.

So the morning jog was about as safe as it could be. Despite my balance problems at 77, I felt stable as a 20-year-old. I didn’t trip or stumble once. Now keep in mind that my trail is about four miles, counting the few blocks from my house to the park.

My daily outings must be as cost-effective as anything. No gym membership fee. No hundreds of dollars for a treadmill to place in my study. Then, after the jog through the park, I perform push-ups and sit-ups. No cost there, either.

Of course, I’ve got the expense of a pair of running shoes. A hundred or so bucks. But that’s only an outlay of dollars every few months. I don’t think I’ve spent a dollar on a jogging outfit in years.

In winter, I just put on sweatpants, a jacket and stocking cap. If everybody followed my exercise habits, it would put gyms and sporting
goods stores out of business.

I don’t know if my exercise regimen is keeping me healthy and alive. Dad was physically active throughout his life. He played golf every day in warmer weather after work, walking and not riding a cart.

In high school, he played sports year-round. But he died at age 60. I’ve always assumed that his many years smoking had something to do with his relatively early death.

Mom, meantime, got her exercise playing bridge and gardening. She was ranked a “Master” bridge player and I gather from that classification she was pretty good. Like Dad, she also was a life-long smoker. Unlike him, she lived a long life. She died at 91.

If I reflect on my own habits, I can’t say jog or do push-ups to live longer. Or that I decline red meat at dinner to avoid dying of colon cancer as Dad did.

My jogs and my eating habits just make sense. Most days I feel good. I rarely develop a cold or flu. I’m reasonably active. Besides, the jogging and push-ups, I do the family shopping every few days. And I read. A lot.

One of these days, I might even tackle writing another book. So far, I haven’t thought of a topic or theme that excites me. Lots of authors have written books at age 77 or even older.

I don’t have any advice for people in my age group. I’m lucky that it seems everybody on both sides of our family is doing well. So I don’t worry about them. (I can guarantee that jogging and other exercise takes the edge off worrying.)

I do wish people would do more research about candidates during this election year. Listen to both sides. And listen with an open mind. Electing a new president, Congress and state offices is too important to base a person’s vote on whim or prejudice.

I don’t think I’d like living in a part of the country that’s warm year-round. I’m addicted to the change in seasons. Especially now, as we’re about to mark the unofficial end of winter, I’m ready to celebrate. And get moving.

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Get moving!

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Heavy snowfall in Ft. Wayne (2014)
Heavy snowfall in Ft. Wayne (2014)

It’s gone.

By noon the snow on our yard was gone. Well, 99 percent gone.

I imagine the melting happened faster in our back yard, which is a huge hill. Not a trace of snow on the roof of the garden house at the top of the hill.

Unless it rains this evening and then scatters ice on the street to the park, I plan to be headed to the park early tomorrow morning.

I may even attempt jogging a block or so, just to see whether the stress fracture on my left foot has healed.

But I’m realistic. This still is January. It’s northern Indiana. There’s bound to be a return of snow. That means I’ll be forced to get my walking at Glenbrook mall, on the other side of the city.

I don’t mind driving a few miles to get exercise. For some reason, though, I do find walking through the mall in the early morning boring.
At least it’s boring until I’ve walked an hour and head for the bookstore.

On my way home, I stopped at Kroger’s to pick up a few items. And just as I’m was about to join the line at the checkout, I saw Tom, a former neighbor, retired as the head of the city’s Credit Counseling agency.

Tom and I have always been friends. Moreover, we share the same birthday year, 1938, and the same birthday month, August.

Somehow our visit turned to the topic of exercise. He confessed that he’s not as faithful at a good, brisk walk as he’d like to be. I supposed I encouraged him. But I didn’t scold or preach.

Every person, I’ve known for years, has to find his or her own reason to exercise. Every person has to find his or her own motivation to make it a daily habit.

Earlier at the bookstore, and later at Kroger’s, I thumbed through a couple of magazines that features articles on muscle building and exercise. I didn’t buy any magazines. I don’t need more advice.

In fact, I probably could write the articles myself. I suppose that’s true for a lot of people. It might well be the case for my friend and former neighbor Tom.

In the meantime, I am missing the daily jog in the park. I asked my physical therapist when I could try jogging again. He advised I give my foot a few more weeks to heal fully. I’ll definitely follow his advice. I’ve always had a healthy respect for experts.

I should consider myself lucky. In know that. In case it gets icy, I can get to the mall to walk. In Washington and New York these days I’d be stuck shoveling snow or pushing cars out of snowbanks. Photographs on the front pages and film on the TV newscasts tell the story.

To be sure, shoveling and pushing cars constitute exercise. But there’s a reason the health magazines don’t feature the benefits. Of course, even where I live, with only traces of snow on the ground, the winter of 2016 isn’t close to giving us the final chapter.

Who knows? Next week, we might have enough snow to tempt me to get out my cross-country skis.

Winter in my part of the world is just a barrel of surprises.

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It’s still exercise

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Glenbrook Square - courtyard
Glenbrook Square – courtyard

Look, I’m not an idiot.

I absolutely must walk a few miles every day.

But at age 77, I’m not taking any chances of slipping on the snow or ice.

I’ve had a broken elbow. I’m not interested in a reprise by hiking through the park when the pavement is partly covered with frozen stuff.

So, as I’ve done for years under such weather conditions, I headed for Glenbrook mall on the other side of the city.

Three things I’m sure of. First, no matter how early, it will be open, dry and safe for walkers. Second, I won’t be the only geezer walking briskly around this half-mile route.

Third, my mall walk will be the most boring thing I do all day.

For exercise, the mall just can’t compete with the park. Yes, even in the winter when the leaf-bare trees have taken on a ghostly aura. Yes, even when the temperature is near zero.

All I ask is dry pavement. Then I head out, dressed in multiple layers of pants, sweatshirts and scarves. Believe it or not, Foster Park is still alive as Julie Andrews might well sing with the sound of music.

Sparrows, squirrels and a few crows never fail to greet me.

After such an outing, I return back to our ranch house tired but exhilarated.

Now my physical therapist advises me that I can resume jogging in March. I can tell my stress fractured heel remains tender.

Yet despite my dislike of driving across town to walk at the mall, I’m still thankful I’ve got a place to walk. It’s safe. Like all shopping malls, our mall has a huge bookstore.

I got 30 percent off the new John Irving novel. So this otherwise unwelcome trek, had an nice bonus. I see it’s nearly time for the PBS New Hour.

All in all, despite the snow and ice, I’d have to say it’s been a good day.

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New Year’s reflections

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Foster Park in the winter
Foster Park in the winter

I didn’t think it was that cold this morning that most of the other walkers and joggers would stay in bed.

But Foster Park was virtually deserted. The “guys” weren’t out. That’s the group of black friends who walk together and visit every day. Maybe they’ll be out later.

I covered my usual four-plus miles. Dave, my physical therapist, told me I could return to jogging in March.

My wife Toni and I stayed home New Year’s day. Of course, I headed for the park and a vigorous walk first thing. We shared a light dinner in the evening, after the news. Then we watched a modern version of a Sherlock Holmes story on TV. Conan Doyle wouldn’t approve.

This winter, we’ve been lucky. No snow. I say lucky because I lost interest years ago in sledding and skiing. Snow can make my joggings treacherous even though I wear spikes on my running shoes.

The turn in the calendar to another year doesn’t have me trying to think of a couple of resolutions. I concluded some years ago that I probably am about as good as I’m going to get. Anyway, I know that once I return to jogging, my weight will inch back to where my old pants will fit again.

By now, at age 77, I’ve learned to take things one day at a time. Most of the time I’m pretty content. I might join Toni to go to the mall. But I can seldom think of something I need. I do the grocery shopping at Kroger’s every week because I enjoy getting out of the house.

I simply follow Toni’s list for purchases, deviating rarely for something I think she forgot or might like.

With the beginning of a new year, her life has taken on a new turn. Her term as congregational president of our Unitarian congregation has ended. She remains, though, on the church board. For her, I’m pretty sure the change means more time to quilt.

Friends invited us to join them New Year’s Eve. They’re both retired now, Jan from teaching and Steve as vice chancellor at the university. They’re moving to the New Jersey coast to be near one of their kid’s family.

We weren’t the only people who left the party before ringing in the new year. By 11 p.m. I realize I’m pretty much ready for bed and probably not making any sense in conversation with our hosts’ other guests.

Even lacking resolutions, I do look forward to this coming year. Son John is getting married to this really nice woman named Cynthia. (Aren’t we lucky to love in-laws?) Daughter Robyn recently started a new teaching job, Spanish as always. She says she loves her new students.

Within days or a few weeks, Toni and I will start planning our vacations and travel for the coming year. A week at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York? I’ve always said that planning vacation trips is more fun than the actual trip.

For my part, I’m thinking about writing a new book. I’ll try to get to it before the end of January. If not, I have the luxury of not having an editor bugging me to produce copy.

Meantime, I manage to not write about the news. I can’t say the violence appears any greater than when I was commenting every day on international and national events. Like everybody else who follows the news, I find it all distressing and pointless.

At my age, the challenge is to stay as healthy as I’m able. So in the morning I’ll be back in the park, taking note of how high the river has lately become and greeting any friends, regulars on the trail, with a hearty “Happy New Year.”

I promise to do my best to make it one.

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A walk in the woods

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redwoodpecker
I don’t recall ever seeing a red-bellied woodpecker on my daily four-mile hike through Foster Park. But there he was today, between my path and the woods along the river. Seeing that bird drew my attention to others along the way, not only sparrows but also quite a few robins.

I soon forgot about keeping up my usual pace and began wondering what the heck robins were doing this far north in Indiana. I don’t believe I ever noticed robins this late in the season.

If robins have been venturing this far north in the Midwest, this late in the year, what’s the meaning of the ancient expression from these parts in the spring – “first robin”?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t have that much interest to conduct a computer search on the subject. My guess is that robins hang around these days until the weather turns much colder.

Until yesterday, it had been unseasonably warm here. Now I don’t necessarily attribute that to global warming, although I’m sure the climate scientists haven’t made up this stuff.

(There’s lots more evidence of global warming than evidence for the existence of God. But that’s for another blog entry.)

But here we are, just days before Christmas, and we’ve yet to see the first snow. Maybe flakes fell during the night. Right now, it’s cloudy enough and cold enough to snow.

What I did notice on my walk through the park this morning – besides the woodpecker- was fewer walkers. Did I miss them because I headed out too early? Or did the cold snap scare them off?

I’m too addicted to this morning walking routine to let cold weather stop me. I’ll go out if it’s zero or even below. Of course, I have clothes for the cold. If there’s a bit of snow or ice on the pavement, I’ll strap my spikes on my shoes.

Now if the snow is five or six inches deep, I’ll shovel the driveway and head for a walk at the mall on the city’s north side. It’s a good thing I usually can walk in the park through the winter. I would really miss the outdoors.

Also, I find exercising at a gym to be too boring to tempt me to join that alternative. In any case, I believe my daily walk, push-ups and other exercises are keeping me fit and alive at age 77. Moreover, my routine does wonders for my mood.

Most of the time, if I’m not downright happy, I’m quite content. I suppose I’m as content as that woodpecker that greeted me in the park this morning.

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Editor rides into the sunset

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gold_pocket_watch__updated__for_xwidget_by_jimking-d5o6g4uCraig teared up when he started to thank everybody gathered for his retirement party in the newsroom.

I’m guessing that he had served as the Journal Gazette‘s editor in Ft. Wayne for 30 years, maybe more. During our tenure together, more than 20 years, he chaired the editorial board and pretty much had final say on the wording of the editorials that I and my two writers had composed.

Thursday afternoon reporters, editors and retirees such as myself stood around, greeting visitors and enjoying the punch, cookies and other snacks. I enjoyed seeing the old pros such as Dell who had written feature stories long before I joined the paper in 1982. I spoke briefly with Dean, a photographer and also a veteran.

I got a hug from Julie the publisher. Her dad was the publisher when I wrote editorials and personal columns. He passed away a year or so ago. But I knew before that Julie was being groomed to take over for the family business.

Mike, my copy editor, greeted me. I shook hands with a few writers I recognized from other departments. I was especially pleased to say hello to today’s editorial writers, Karen the page editor who joined the paper when I was still there and Tim, back from management jobs at other newspapers and an editorialist in my early days.

I retired in the year 2000. And I hadn’t stepped into the building since. I guess I didn’t want to invite an attack what-ifs nostalgia. But I as looked over the newsroom, the familiar copy desk in front, followed by rows of desks holding computers, I was reminded of this basic democratic feature of our country – freedom of the press.

I couldn’t miss a few changes in the newsroom. For example, the sports editor, whom I had never met, now occupies my old office.

Every day, these professionals I was honored to mingle among Thursday not only labor to produce one of the Midwest’s finest newspapers every day. They might not give this a second thought: They are doing their part to protect that freedom.

Now Craig, the retiring editor, leaves the newsroom on West Main knowing that Sherry, his successor, will lead the paper in the finest journalism tradition that my editor and friend so ably embodied for so many years.

As I wished him the best, I doubt that Craig was remembering the favors he’d done for me, the trips and tours he sent me and the kindness he showed me when my son was seriously ill in the hospital.

I was glad to see a few old colleagues. No, I didn’t drown in the nostalgia. Mostly, the reception gave me a chance to give this man a heartfelt thanks. I had a great job representing a great newspaper. And I got to work every day with one of the country’s finest editors. So enjoy your retirement, Craig. I’d say you’ve more than earned it.

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Climate change common sense

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I don’t suppose President Obama attended Bill McKibben’s lecture at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne last night. I didn’t spot any Secret Service detail.

But for me the president’s announcement that he was stopping the Alaskan pipeline came as a fitting climax to the environmental writer’s appearance the night before in Fort Wayne.

I found lots of things to like about McKibben’s talk. First, he seemed to speak without notes, fluently and in a friendly, non-doctrinnaire tone. He filled his lecture with lots of examples of the effects climate change worldwide.

He fleshed out what climate scientists have been tell us for years.

I hadn’t read that Pakistan has been suffering it worst drought in 50 years. I guess we had seen – and heard – the melting of ice caps when my wife Toni and I toured Alaska this summer.

I perked up when McKibben mentioned the dried river bank in Santa Fe which had been full of water when I jogged along a path lining the river early mornings during an editorial writers’ conference in that city.

From continent to continent, McKibben cited the evidence of man-made climate change. Afghanistan, Ethiopia, India, Siberia, the Marshall Islands, the Dead Sea – on and on his litany of evidence unfolded. No doubt about it, the world has been getting hotter.

No doubt, too, climate change has been inexorable. I don’t think McKibben said reversing the trend with solar power and conservation might not be sufficient to save the planet. That’s what I got from his lecture. It might just be too late.

I assumed a few of the 400 or so folk in the audience could be counted among the deniers of man-made climate change. But the strong applause at the end of his presentation suggested most people endorsed McKibben’s conclusions.

In color slides, he showed a dozen or so mass demonstrations in cities around the world. People everywhere, it seems, are calling for action.

Arrayed against change, of course, are the coal and oil industries whose products keep us warm in winter and cool in summer. On the opposition side, in particular, McKibben cited the superrich Koch brothers who’ve contributed $900 million to candidates who will block change.

At the end of his talk, he invited questions from the audience. Quickly, a dozen or so people lined up behind one of two microphones. I wasn’t quick enough to get in line so I waited and assumed somebody would ask McKibben what citizens should do to get action.

If he addressed that issue, I missed it. I’m sure he didn’t invited people to join the public forum. What I have in mind are the daily newspapers. I recall how strongly worded letters to the editor helped persuade our school district to desegregate its schools.

I also recall how my months-long editorial crusade persuaded the state to move a 14-year-old girl convicted of killing her mother and sister in a house fire from the adult women’s prison to a treatment center for kids.

But in the hallway after the meeting, I did see several friends and others from the community whose letters to the editor have been a regular feature on the editorial pages. I trust they’ll join this growing chorus for action by sending their letters to the paper.

Further, I won’t be surprised to learn that more people from my city have started giving to groups that are advocating for end of our dependence on fossil fuels and the beginning of a new era of clean energy.

Our planet depends on it.

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