Why we’re staying

June 23, 2017

This has been a bittersweet time as my 28 years of teaching physics at Bartlesville High School has drawn to a close. In July I’ll being working at the district’s Education Service Center, overseeing its technology and communications efforts. Since I announced this change back in April 2016, various colleagues, alumni, and parents have repeatedly said it was a shame I was leaving the classroom. But they often throw in that they are glad I’ll be staying in the district.

Oklahoma teachers can earn far more in neighboring states

Frankly, it is quite tempting for all Oklahoma teachers to not only leave the classroom, but leave the state altogether. The Republican-controlled state government only found the political courage to raise enough fees and taxes to hold the state common education budget flat for 2017-2018, which means there will be nothing, absolutely nothing, to address our abysmal teacher salaries and record teacher shortage. A generation of Oklahoma schoolchildren are receiving an inadequate education:

  • The state teacher salary schedule has not been increased since 2008; Oklahoma teacher salaries are once again 49th in the nation. Even after adjusting for our state’s low cost of living, an Oklahoma teacher would still need a raise of over $6,000 to match the spending power of the typical U.S. teacher. That means we’re being paid about 88% of what the average teacher makes nationwide even after the cost of living is accounted for. The average teaching salary in Texas is over $6,000 higher than in Oklahoma, and the starting pay there is up to $20,000 higher.
  • Oklahoma has cut its state per pupil spending by 27% since 2008, far more than any other state in the nation and almost twice that of the next most reckless state, Alabama.
  • 1 in 5 Oklahoma school districts have gone to 4-day school weeks in a desperate effort to attract and retain teachers and cut costs; that could approach 1 in 4 in 2017-2018.
  • More than 7% of Oklahoma’s students are taught by emergency certified teachers, ones with little to no teaching experience or teacher training for their subject. We’d be sunk without these folks who are willing to try, but their lack of preparation for the demanding profession is often quite hard on them and their students. Their numbers have risen to over 30 times what it was five years ago:
    • 2011-2012: 32 emergency certifications
    • 2012-2013: 98 emergency certifications
    • 2013-2014: 189 emergency certifications
    • 2014-2015: 506 emergency certifications
    • 2015-2016: 1,063 emergency certifications; 1,530 teaching positions eliminated
    • 2016-2017: 1,160 emergency certifications; about 900 positions left unfilled

The local impact of the state government’s lack of support for schools has been dramatic. Last June we were forced to cut the district’s budget by $1.9 million, including $1.6 million in cuts by eliminating 39 positions, which included 21 teachers. Bartlesville Public Schools will suffer $900,000 in unplanned state funding cuts in 2017 due to repeated revenue failures. For two years the state has failed to provide the money it promised in its budget, so we have little faith that the supposedly flat budget for 2017-2018 won’t be a third fiasco.

Teachers are voting with their feet

These despairing statistics are translating into teachers voting with their feet by walking out of the profession or walking across state lines to teach where their efforts will be more adequately compensated. Recently it was announced that Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Shawn Sheehan, and his wife are leaving Oklahoma, joining an ever-growing exodus of teachers to Texas:

Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year

I represented our state at the highest level. I tried to help find funding sources via (State Question) 779. I ran for state Senate. I started a nonprofit focused on teacher recruitment and retention that has spread nationwide. I’ve done everything I know how to do to try and make things better.-Shawn Sheehan, 2016 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, who is leaving for Texas

Mr. Sheehan gave up on Oklahoma because of the government’s unwillingness to improve school funding and how he and his wife will each earn far more teaching in Texas than they do here. Who can blame him? Take a look at the difference in their salary schedules. He’ll make more in his first year there than he could ever make in Norman.

But when teachers cite the higher pay in every neighboring state, many folks caution, “But the cost of living is higher there too.” Well, let’s explore that. The map below shows that much of Oklahoma and Texas are comparable, but the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is noticeably higher. It is time for some calculations, something I presume math teacher Sheehan already did in making his decision.

Cost of living

The Tulsa World has created a nifty online database of Oklahoma teacher salaries, so we can try to analyze the Sheehans’ financial situation. From the published data, they would earn at least a 45% increase in pay for the two of them by moving to Lewisville. Their cost of living in the Dallas metro, where Lewisville is located, will be 18% higher than in Norman for families with children like the Sheehans. Housing is much more expensive there, for example. But they will still enjoy at least a 27% increase in spending power, which is over $20,000 per year for them. Plus he reported that his teaching load will be dramatically different, changing from 150 algebra students per day in Norman to only 69 students per day under Lewisville’s block schedule.

So I don’t blame the Sheehans for giving up on Oklahoma and moving to Texas. With six and four years experience, they are still in their early years of teaching and just had their first child. Mr. Sheehan has described himself as a military brat who was adopted from the Phillipines into an Irish-American family. So he did not grow up here. His wife is from Owasso, so her family there was a tie helping hold them in Oklahoma until now, but the siren song of Texas salaries is simply too loud for them to ignore any longer.

Should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go now? (Me entra frio por los ojos)
If I go there will be trouble (Si me voy va a haber peligro)
And if I stay it will be double (Si me quedo va a ser doble)
So you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go

-The Clash

That song by The Clash resounds in my head, just as it has for Shawn. This year has been very rough for Wendy and me. Teaching physics while handling STEM, district communications, and the student computing initiative meant I had 60-to-80-hour work weeks that left little time for hiking or blogging. Wendy stuck it out for one last year in Special Education, which also was quite rough for various reasons. So we’re exhausted.

No matter what, we’re both changing jobs this summer. If we stay in Bartlesville, I’ll become a district administrator, swapping the ridiculous extra work hours I’ve endured during the school year for year-round administrative work. If we stay, Wendy will be pioneering a new course where students repair Chromebooks and support the use of instructional technology. But she will lose the 5% salary increment she previously earned by teaching in Special Education. So with so much change coming anyway, why not just pack up and leave?

Wendy’s Viewpoint

Wendy’s viewpoint

My first year teaching was in 2001 in Houston, TX. I made as much money that first year as I did after many years of teaching in Oklahoma. I taught 4th grade in Texas, a grade when state testing was a big deal. After that first extremely difficult year in Houston, I fled back to Oklahoma. Everything was more laid back here.

Then the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) turned every state into a high-stakes testing hell. Elementary teaching opportunities dried up after my second successful year of teaching. I went through a reduction in force and, in order to have a teaching job, I tested to become a special education teacher. I continued taking more training and various certification exams so that I could be deemed “highly qualified” under NCLB. So I taught high school level special ed classes at Okmulgee High school for 4 years.

After I moved to Bartlesville, state testing for students evolved into a monster. I had many meetings related to special education students not being able to graduate because they didn’t pass the right exams, too often with limited accommodations on those exams for their disabilities. We had very long and quite specific meetings on remediation even as state resources dried up.

So over the years, I’ve become disgusted with the state of Oklahoma education, and at times I’ve thought, “This is getting to be as bad as Houston. Why am I still doing this for a living?”

I never expected teaching would make me rich. But I certainly never expected to be screwed over so badly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pondered taking an alternate career outside of education – maybe something related to computers since I’ve had a few years of experience working in that field.

But change is scary, and that is one reason some teachers have stayed in Oklahoma. Many have a set routine and don’t want to disrupt it by packing up everything and starting over in a new state. Many teachers are also very dedicated folks; it is hard for them to walk out. They care about the kids in their community. Too often, that dedication keeps teachers in a place that isn’t the best for themselves. Many teachers are also selfless. They put up with much more abuse than other professionals would.

So I’m thankful to have an opportunity to get back into the technology arena and help students acquire skills they can use in their future careers.

Granger’s reasons for staying

My scientific bent leads me to analyze the primary factors for us to keep working in our Oklahoma public school district. In increasing order of importance, they are money, service, and community.

Monetary impact

I analyzed the monetary impact on us if Wendy and I followed the Sheehans, and so many other Oklahoma teachers, to Texas. With 28 years of teaching experience, I would be near the top of our local salary schedule in 2017-2018. I also have been earning a career-high extra duty pay by working like the devil for chairing the STEM department, chairing the science department through December 2016, being district and site webmaster, being a site technology assistant, handling district communications, and heading up the student computing initiative.

By earning a 38% increase in pay through far too many extra duties, I am actually earning more in Bartlesville than I would in Lewisville, even before the cheaper cost-of-living here is accounted for. The extra duties are what make the difference. Without them, I’d earn 32% more in Lewisville than in Bartlesville, with a real increase in spending power of 15% after adjusting for the cost of living.

My administrative pay in 2017-2018 will make teaching in Texas unattractive

Recognizing that my enormous extra duty workload is lucrative but unsustainable, I’m actually shifting to a high-level administrative position in our district. I’ll have to work about 235 days vs. my current 181-day teaching contract, earning about 30% more than I did in 2016-2017 for a 30% increase in required work days. So I’d actually see my pay drop by 27% if I gave that up to go teach in Lewisville with no extra duties.

Wendy, however, will actually lose money by staying at Bartlesville High School next school year and leaving Special Education. She could earn a whopping 50% more teaching in Lewisville vs. what she will earn in Bartlesville. That would still be a huge increase in spending power after adjusting for the cost of living.

As a married couple, it makes financial sense for us to stay in Bartlesville because my administrative salary will make up for the teaching pay differential between here and Lewisville. However, there is another financial consideration. I’m eligible this summer for early retirement in Oklahoma’s teacher pension system, so I could take early retirement and draw that while teaching in Texas, and then “double-dip” with a second pension when I retired in Texas.

So I might still need another reason to stay…and I actually have two more which are more important to me than money.

Oklahoma needs our help

Senator David Boren in the mid-1980s

The next reason is epitomized by David Boren, a former Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator and now the long-term successful president of the University of Oklahoma. Thirty-three years ago my parents and I visited him in his U.S. Senate office in Washington, D.C. when I was named one of Oklahoma’s U.S. Presidential Scholars. We vividly recall how when we met him, he was so animated and interested in education.

No doubt Senator Boren was pleased to hear back in 1984 that I would be attending OU, and perhaps because of that connection David Boren looked me in the eye and said that I had a personal obligation, as a top student, to make the most of myself and my education, and serve my home state in some capacity after I graduated.

That personal appeal and his barely contained enthusiasm for education meant more to me than all the trite remarks I’d heard in speeches over the years, including President Reagan’s remarks to us in the Rose Garden earlier that week. Boren spoke to my Sooner soul, telling me that an education is a debt due from our state’s present to its future generations.

David Boren at an annual Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence Academic Awards Banquet

And what an example he has set. At our visit in 1984 he spoke at length about how important education was to building up Oklahoma, making this impoverished state a better place to live. Back then he was just developing what would become the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, which would go on to recognize and support thousands of our state’s best high school seniors and scores of its top teachers and administrators, including giving me a wonderful teaching award 20 years later. After his distinguished political career, he went to OU, and in his first ten years there helped raise over $10 billion in private gifts for the school. In 2016 he led the fight to try to raise the state sales tax by a penny to fund higher teacher salaries and other educational needs. He has always fought for our schools and worked hard to attract and retain academic talent in our state.

I believe in and share in this cause. I have had a direct and prolonged influence on thousands of students. The pay has been atrocious, but the personal rewards have been immense. And I’ve given my all to my district, working in many different capacities over the decades. I chaired the science department for 20 years, helped with win-win contract bargaining for 18 years, ran websites for over a dozen years, promoted many successful bond issues and worked to ensure the funds were well spent, helped secure a $1.7 million STEM grant from Phillips 66, and served on a bewildering array of committees large and small. Working in a school district means that every day I’m serving our students, our city, and our state.  I can always feel proud of what I do.

I still believe in Oklahoma and want to keep on fighting to help it build a better future. But its miserable politics and self-destructive voters make that quite difficult. So I need another reason to stay, and I have it…in spades.

Bartlesville is a great place to work and to live

Back in the summer of 1989 I was choosy about my job search. I did not even apply in the two largest districts of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, knowing those urban cores had challenges I did not care to tackle as a rookie. And I turned down job offers from Moore, Ponca City, and Sapulpa, holding out for my goal of a job teaching physics all day. Thankfully Bartlesville opened up, and I knew to not let the old and inadequate facilities at the high school at that time deter me. I’d worked in Scholars Programs at OU and knew Bartlesville was a powerhouse producer of National Merit Scholars.

Living in a town of only 35,000 people was quite an adjustment for me, having been raised in the Oklahoma City metro area with its population of about one million. I was no longer anonymous and quickly learned that if I wanted any privacy in my social life that required a 45-minute drive south to Tulsa. But I thrived in this small city, and what a unique place it was and is in Oklahoma.

No other small city in this state can boast the quality blend of attractions and the mix of scientific and artistic opportunities Bartlesville has to offer. This reflects its corporate history as the birthplace and longtime headquarters of Phillips Petroleum and other firms. Thanks to that history, we have Woolaroc along with the architectural wonders of the Price Tower and the Bartlesville Community Center. During my first weeks in town in 1989 I was surprised to find a local astronomy club offering a public telescope viewing of the heavens. The next summer I discovered the marvelous OK Mozart festival and its many showcase features outside of the concerts.

That Bartlesville blend of the scientific with the artistic has held true for decades. For years the research center on the west edge of the city hosted a wonderful science teachers conference for all of northeast Oklahoma, and it has sponsored the greatest district science fair in the state for decades. Our Community Center is home to events like OK Mozart, the local symphony, touring broadway shows, a series of community concerts, and more. So this little city is very special.

Our little city

Bartlesville’s size, it turned out, was just right for my career. The city and the district are large enough to offer comprehensive services, yet small enough that hard-working individuals can readily make quite evident contributions and be valued for their efforts. I have been blessed every year with classes of gifted students raised by wonderful parents. Sure, there are always a few challenging ones, just as there are always a few stinkers on any school faculty. But I have always been valued and appreciated by my students, their parents, and my colleagues. Our school district is a great place to work if you are willing to work hard and invest in it, as you will have the opportunity to make a difference and help shape its future.

Bartlesville’s funny water tanks on US 75

Sure, my liberal politics do not jive with most of the voters here or just about anywhere else in Oklahoma, but I’ve found that my fellow Bartians (yes, that is what we are called) are willing to raise their taxes and invest in their schools once we make a good case to them for why it is important and worthwhile. They have proven their resilience time and again through corporate moves, mergers, and downsizing. This is a little city that still believes in its future and is willing to invest in it. Its citizens will not let it dry up and blow away like too many other places in Oklahoma. It even has a sense of humor, despite taking itself rather seriously.

Sure, I wish we had a better selection of restaurants. And our shopping choices are not as diverse as in Owasso. But we can boast a thriving and historic downtown, not just strip malls and big box stores.

Bartlesville has a sense of history and of place

Bartlesville has a strong sense of its history, its character, and of place. It is not a bedroom community that could be swapped with any other; it is a unique and interesting place to live and work. I’ve built a life here, am a valued part of this community, and enjoy contributing to and benefiting from living here. I would never have that sense of making a difference, nor of being a meaningful part of the community dynamic, in a metropolis like Dallas. And the longest possible commute in our city is 20 minutes. Take that, metroplexes!

So Wendy and I are staying, we’re building our new shared life together here, and we’ll continue to invest in our schools and our community. I still believe in Bartlesville and, bless its heart, what I often tease as Joklahoma. Right now it feels like Broklahoma, but I’m ready and willing to stay and work on fixing it.

A final lesson

How about you? Are you willing to roll up your sleeves and work to change our miserable politics? On my last day in the classroom I shared something with my last batch of students; something I hoped they might take with them.

I shared with them a few stories from my life. I spoke of a few times that I was unhappy with my circumstances or my prospects, and how I dealt with them. This was to teach them a lesson life has taught me:

You seldom get what you want by complaining, by posting about things on Facebook or clicking a Like button, by giving up on the system, or by breaking the rules. Instead, you must become the change you want. You must invest yourself in the system and work from within to change it. Bring something to the table, be willing to listen, and be willing to work. Don’t give up on voting, but also don’t just vote; organize and campaign. Don’t disengage; entangle yourself. Don’t break things; build them better. You’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish if you are willing to work.

So how about you? Are you willing to join us and work for a better Oklahoma?

Posted in politics, random | 8 Comments

We live in a world with tears

I lost one of my mentors tonight. We had not spoken in years, yet he was and remains, as my wife put it, one of the pieces of the puzzle that is me.

I cried when I learned a few days ago that he was very ill and would soon be going home to die. I mailed a letter to his home, knowing he would likely never get to read it or hear it, but at least his wife and family might receive my acknowledgement of the gifts he shared with me. I wanted them to know his light is not extinguished, for it still shines in me and the many others he supported and tutored.

My letter will arrive there in a day or two. But two late is too late. I have been too preoccupied with my busy life to keep track of his. So now regret burns a hole in my heart even as fond memories flood down to fill it.

My wife can tell you I do not track all that well the lyrics in many songs. But for sad songs I often do, and tonight is a dark night for me. A night for a sad song from Lucinda Williams in which every word speaks to my tears, my skin, my bones.

We live in a world with tears, and I suppose that is for the best. Like time, they are a great teacher. Rest in peace, Stephen Merton Sutherland, and thank you for being a piece of this puzzle.

If we lived in a world without tears
How would bruises find
The face to lie upon
How would scars find skin
To etch themselves into
How would broken find the bones

If we lived in a world without tears
How would heartbeats
Know when to stop
How would blood know
Which body to flow outside of
How would bullets find the guns

If we lived in a world without tears
How would misery know
Which back door to walk through
How would trouble know
Which mind to live inside of
How would sorrow find a home

If we lived in a world without tears
How would bruises find
The face to lie upon
How would scars find skin
To etch themselves into
How would broken find the bones

If we lived in a world without tears
How would bruises find
The face to lie upon
How would scars find skin
To etch themselves into
How would broken find the bones

How would broken find the bones
How would broken find the bones

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Overlooking Lake Leatherwood

March 16, 2017 | PHOTO ALBUM | SLIDESHOW

A year ago, Wendy and I visited Lake Leatherwood for the first time, circumnavigating the lake on a four-mile hike on the Beacham Trail. Wendy had enjoyed searching for rocks with crystals along a creekbed at the northwest end of the lake. We made plans to return later for her to search the creekbed for more rocks while I hiked the nearby Overlook Trail. A year later, it was time to implement our plan.

Lake Leatherwood Trail Track

We drove over to the lake and walked up its western side on the Beacham Trail, diverting to the Fuller Trail to reach the creekbed. Wendy began searching for crystals while I returned south on the Point Trail to take the Beacham Trail over to the north end of the Overlook Trail.

The full trail is about two miles long, rising steeply at either end to run along a bench over 300 feet above the lake. The trail climbed steadily up the hillside, passing through a grassy area on its way through the woods. It climbed to about 30-50 feet from the top of the mountain.

The view of the lake from the overlook was obscured by trees and would be hopeless once they leafed out.

From the overlook

Mossy rocks along the bench trail

The bench trail running southwest from the overlook was quite nice. It featured exposed layers of rock, often smothered in green moss. The leaves covering the ground parted to expose the rocky trail and the large tables and benches of mossy rock.

I did not want to follow the Overlook Trail its full length, as that led over to Mulladay Hollow and would mean a long walk along the road back to the Beacham Trailhead. So I took a connector trail that led straight down the hillside from the Overlook Trail to the trailheads for the Beacham, Fuller, and lakeside trails.

There I opted to start my return north on the Fuller Trail, rather than the Beacham, but crossed over to the latter so that I would end up at the west end of the creekbed Wendy was exploring. Sure enough, I found her not too far from the end, eagerly hunting for crystals.

Crystal rocks collected at Lake Leatherwood

I joined in the hunt. Wendy found a number of rocks with embedded crystals, and I’m glad to say that I was able to contribute a find or two to her collection. The different colors of crystal and surrounding rocks made for a nice display back at home.

Some of the rocks Wendy collected

We began to carry our finds out on the Beacham Trail, but diverted halfway along to the lakeside trail. That way I could say that I’ve walked almost all of the trails on the west side of the lake, leaving many more trails to explore south of there.

Crystal rock from Ash Cave

Wendy is such a good rock hound that, a day later, she even found a rock with embedded crystals at Ash Cave, a party spot north of Cassville that has been scoured over for decades. Many flint chips and arrowheads were dug out of that cave decades ago, including an excavation by Dr. Charles Peabody of Phillips Academy at Andover in 1915 which found flint and stone implements, a few bits of crude pottery, and many animal bones, with all of the large ones cracked to get at the marrow, in the ash bank that once graced the front of the cave.

We look forward to return trips to stay at Sugar Ridge, including more hiking and rock hunting at Lake Leatherwood along with a park we’ve not yet visited, Black Bass Lake.


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Butler Hollow to Radium Hollow

March 15, 2017

For Spring Break 2017, Wendy and I returned to Sugar Ridge Resort on Arkansas’ Beaver Lake for a few days of relaxation. We first stayed there in June 2014, and it has been our Spring Break destination for each subsequent year. This time our usual cabin, #6, was booked, so we stayed at the almost identical cabin #2. Wendy had fun feeding the birds on the balcony, attracting a number of cardinals.

Back in April 2014 Wendy found a lovely small geode near Onyx Cave along the Sugar Camp Scenic Byway west of Eagle Rock, Missouri. (Not to be confused with the nearby commercial cave in Arkansas.) We decided to return there so she could scour the trail area for more pretty rocks.

Butler Hollow

In planning the outing, I mapped out a scenic drive from Sugar Ridge to Onyx Cave via Butler Hollow. For the uninitiated, “hollow” is a term used in New England, Appalachia, and the Ozarks for narrow valleys formed by streams running through mountainous regions, à la The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Ozark hillbillies call them hollers.

The old Missouri and North Arkansas railway once followed Butler Hollow from Seligman, Missouri to Beaver, Arkansas. My great-grandmother Caldona Tennessee Burnett, who was called Dona, surely traveled this route, albeit not by train, since she was born near Beaver and married James Washington Weston in Seligman. My grandmother Effie was born in a log house her father built on Dona’s father’s place near Seligman.

Our scenic drive to Onyx Cave

Wendy and I drove northeast on state highways from Sugar Ridge to Butler Hollow. But instead of turning right to follow Highway 187 southeast to Beaver, we turned northwest, taking the gravel Farm Road 2285 up the hollow into Missouri until we could turn back east on FR 2280 to reach FR 2270, which is the gravel section of the Sugar Camp Scenic Byway.

We noticed some signs as we drove along Butler Hollow about “saving” the hollow. A later web search revealed that some residents opposed a forest service plan to restore glades in the area via logging, cedar tree removal, and rotating controlled burns. The forest service eventually adopted a plan that scaled down the project from 18,000 to about 3,600 acres; it is Alternative 4 in their online plan. The plan will now address Chute Ridge directly east of Roaring River State Park over to Highway 86 along with Pine Hollow, which is just south of Roaring River State Park and north of the Sugar Camp Byway.

The adopted “Butler Hollow Plan” to thin and burn areas east and south of Roaring River State Park; Butler Hollow actually runs a few miles south of the bottom edge of this map

A few years back there was a controlled burn of Chute Ridge to remove the debris left behind by a cedar tree removal project. I strongly dislike the invasive cedars I see spreading across Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Fire suppression has allowed them to flourish. I’ve seen over the decades the results of a small glade restoration project in Roaring River State Park where the Firetower Trail intersects Highway F. That highlighted for me how the forest in southern Missouri is now quite different from what it was 150-200 years ago. Back then it had fewer but larger oak trees, a canopy that was fairly closed, and a much more open forest floor. Cedars were uncommon, and glades were larger and more frequent.

1937 logging in what would become Mark Twain National Forest

My great-great-grandfather Nathaniel Meador arrived in Barry County, Missouri in 1849. That very year a survey of Butler Hollow in the southern part of the county showed no cedar trees and a large distance of 64 feet between trees. Before European settlement, fire swept the area on average every three years. Most of the area was logged in the early 20th century, with much of the pine and white oak removed. Open-range grazing with frequent burning became the norm until the Forest Service acquired the lands in the 1930s and 1940s, ending most agriculture. The second-growth forest is now dominated by eastern redcedar, black oak, and red oak rather than white oak and post oak.

The Forest Service would like to restore a fraction of the land to pre-settlement conditions, noting that the second-growth forest trees have reached maturity and are now in decline. Red oaks mature at around 60 years and by age 90 nearly all of them will show signs of decline. About half of the tree stands in the forest are now over 90 years old, and the other half almost entirely 50-90 years old.

I understand residents’ worries about the glade restoration project, with its periodic controlled burns and the use of herbicides to prevent cut cedars from returning. The compromise of a smaller project adjacent to the state park seems reasonable. It will be interesting to observe its outcomes in the coming decades.

Radium Hollow

Wendy and I navigated the gravel roads along and up from Butler Hollow without incident, reaching the Onyx Cave picnic area in the late afternoon. It overlooks Radium Hollow, so named because its Radium Spring produces water with detectable radioactivity from particles it picks up in the Chattanooga Shale it flows over.

There is a very tall tale of the discovery of a radium cave in the area. Back in the 1920s Douglas Cloe is said to have bottled five-gallon jugs of the Radium Spring water for its supposed medicinal properties, and in 1950 a group reportedly surveyed the area with an eye toward uranium mining. None of that panned out, but below are photos I found online of the former radium mine and a concrete water tank nearby. Today the hollow to the east of the spring is the site of the Eagle Rock Retreat Christian camp.

Onyx Cave Trail Track

Onyx cave is sealed off

A trail leads down the west hillside from the Onyx picnic area on the Sugar Camp Byway to a blocked-off crawlway called Onyx Cave. It reportedly goes back into the hillside about 100 feet. Wendy and I hiked about half a mile at the site, searching the trail and surrounding hillside for pretty rocks. While she didn’t find any more geodes, Wendy the rockhound still had fun. I joined in the search but also slammed rocks together to break them open and observe their interiors, which were sometimes quite different in appearance from their exterior rind.

We didn’t find much; Wendy would acquire many more rocks with crystals the following day when we returned to Lake Leatherwood, with her hunting rocks in a creekbed while I hiked an overlook trail. That will be the subject of the next blog post.

Our scenic loop

Leaving Onyx Cave, we dropped north out of the forest via FR 2265 and 1162 to make our way across Roaring River and past Munsey Cemetery to reach Highway F. From there we made a dash through Roaring River State Park to Cassville for some supplies before returning to Sugar Ridge via state highways. The loop we ended up making vaguely resembled a north-pointing arrowhead.

It was a fun outing, and someday we might return and venture down the side road off the Sugar Camp Scenic Byway (visible in satellite imagery but not shown in road maps) to Radium Spring.

Posted in day hike, photos, travel | 2 Comments

Standing Bear: “I am a man”

In January 2017, Wendy and I traveled to Ponca City to enjoy the Mexican food at Enrique’s restaurant. As we drove through town, we spied a large statue of a Native American just north of the Phillips refinery. Intrigued, we drove into Standing Bear Park. We found an elaborate trail with large sigils of various tribes, leading us to the 22-foot bronze statue of Standing Bear, gazing out across the land.

You need to know the story of Standing Bear

So who was Standing Bear? He was a Ponca Indian, of course, and he was the first Indian to be recognized as a person under the law of the U.S. Constitution. His tale is worth your time.

Three Tragic Treks

The story of the Poncas is, like so many tales of Native Americans forced to relocate to Oklahoma, a tale of greed, arrogance, and destruction. The tribe once lived along the Atlantic coast, moving sometime before 1500 C.E. to what would someday become Minnesota. Attacks by the Sioux led them to resettle between the Missouri and Niobrara rivers in what is now northern Nebraska and South Dakota.

Standing Bear was born there around 1830. In 1858, the Ponca signed a treaty giving up most of their land but allowing them to keep a small part by the Niobrara River in exchange for schools, mills, and thirty years of annuities. In 1865 they relinquished more land to gain access to their old burial grounds. But in 1868 a treaty with the Lakota nation mistakenly included the Poncas’ land in the Great Sioux Reservation. Brutal attacks by the Sioux led the Ponca chiefs to sign a document in 1875 which they thought meant they would live among the Omaha, their allies, on a Nebraska reservation. But the government used it to force their relocation six hundred miles south to Indian Territory, which is now part of Oklahoma.

The Poncas’ own Trail of Tears

In February 1877, ten Ponca chiefs, including Standing Bear, were taken to Indian Territory to select land. Unhappy with the stony and malarial land, they refused to choose. The government agent angrily abandoned them, leaving them without an interpreter, food, money, or documentation. So Standing Bear and seven other chiefs walked the six hundred miles back home, arriving in northern Nebraska with bare and bloodied feet, their moccasins having worn out after the first ten days of their trek.

In May all of the Poncas were forcibly removed. At the point of a bayonet, 523 individuals, including Standing Bear, set out with whatever they could carry. By the time they arrived near Baxter Springs, Kansas, nine of them had died, including Standing Bear’s daughter Prairie Flower.

Bright Eyes

Arriving too late to plant crops, they were left in the new country for months without rations or promised farming equipment, and more than one third of them died of starvation and malaria. Among these was Standing Bear’s sixteen-year-old son, Bear Shield. The middle-aged chief had promised his son before he died that he would return his body to their home in Nebraska to be buried among his ancestors.

So on January 2, 1879, in the depths of a harsh winter, the aging chief and 26 other Poncas set out for Nebraska with the body of his son. Two months later, they arrived at the reservation of the Omahas, where Chief Iron Eye and his daughter Bright Eyes gave them food and shelter. She would prove instrumental in helping Standing Bear win back his freedom.

A Plan for Justice

General George Crook

Thomas Henry Tibbles in his old age; he was 39 at the time of the trial









Meanwhile, the Secretary of the Interior had telegraphed General George Crook of Omaha, ordering him to arrest the wayward Poncas and return them to Indian Territory. Crook, noted for his exceptional service in the Civil War and Indian Wars, privately disapproved of the government’s policies toward Indians and felt the Poncas had been treated unfairly. He secretly spoke with Chief Iron Eye and Bright Eyes and formulated a plan.

Crook met with former abolitionist and minister Thomas Henry Tibbles, an editor of the Omaha Herald newspaper. He asked for Tibbles to assist the Poncas:

If we can do something for which good men will remember us when we’re gone, that’s the best legacy we can leave.

-General George Crook

John Lee Webster & Andrew Jackson Poppleton argued the case for Standing Bear’s release

Tibbles publicized the situation, and attorney John Lee Webster offered his services pro bono, joined by Andrew Jackson Poppleton, the chief attorney of the Union Pacific Railroad. General Crook discreetly suggested they seek a writ of habeas corpus for Standing Bear’s right to be released and return to his land. The government was not pleased: Indian Affairs Commissioner Ezra Hayt declared, “No attorney has the right or can appear for an Indian, until authorized to do so by the Indian Department.” But the trial proceeded in May 1879 in the court of District Judge Elmer Scipio Dundy.

Standing Bear with his surviving family

When questioned, Bright Eyes translated for Chief Standing Bear:

I wanted to go on my own land, land that I had never sold. That’s where I wanted to go. My son asked me when he was dying to take him back and bury him there, and I have his bones in a box with me now. I want to live there the rest of my life and be buried there.

Who is a man? Who is a citizen?

Webster and Poppleton argued that the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which grants citizenship and equal protection and due process of the law to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, applied to all Indians. The government relied on the notorious case of Dred Scott v. Sandford to argue that an Indian was not a citizen and not entitled to sue in its courts.

Standing Bear

After the legal proceedings had ended, the judge broke from routine and allowed Standing Bear to stand up and address the court.

I see a great many of you here. I think a great many are my friends. You see me standing here. Where do you think I came from? From the water, the woods, or where? God made me and he put me on my land. But I was ordered to stand up and leave my land. Who the man was I don’t know. He told me to leave, and I had to go. It was hard for me to go. I objected to going. I looked around me for someone to help me, but I found none. Now I have found someone, and it makes me glad.

When I got down there it seemed as if I was in a big fire. One hundred and fifty-eight of my people were burned up; now I stand before you. I came away to save my wife and children and my friends. I never want to go there again. I want to go back to my old reservation to live there and be buried in the land of my fathers. If I can go there I may live some time longer.

He turned to Judge Dundy, and stretched out his right hand from beneath a red and blue blanket, saying:

That hand is not the color of yours, but if I prick it, the blood will flow, and I shall feel pain. The blood is of the same color as yours. God made me, and I am a man. I never committed any crime. If I had, I would not stand here to make a defense. I would suffer the punishment and make no complaint.

That hand is not the color of yours, but if I prick it, the blood will flow, and I shall feel pain. The blood is of the same color as yours.

Then he looked out of the courtroom window into the distance, and continued:

I seem to be standing on a high bank of a great river, with my wife and little girl at my side. I cannot cross the river, and impassable cliffs arise behind me. I hear the noise of great waters; I look and see a flood coming. The waters rise to our feet, and then to our knees. My little girl stretches her hands toward me and says, ‘Save me.’ I stand where no member of my race ever stood before. There is no tradition to guide me. The chiefs who preceded me knew nothing of the circumstances that surround me. I hear only my little girl say, ‘Save me.’ In despair I look toward the cliffs behind me, and I seem to see a dim trail that may lead to a way of life. But no Indian ever passed over that trail. It looks to be impassable. I make the attempt.

I take my child by the hand, and my wife follows after me. Our hands and our feet are torn by the sharp rocks, and our trail is marked by our blood. At last I see a rift in the rocks. A little way beyond there are green prairies. The swift-running water, the Niobrara, pours down between the green hills. There are the graves of my fathers. There again we will pitch our teepee and build our fires. I see the light of the world and of liberty just ahead.

I see the light of the world and of liberty just ahead.

Judge Elmer Scipio Dundy

The old chief became silent. After a long pause, he turned back toward Judge Dundy, saying:

But in the center of the path there stands a man. Behind him I see soldiers in number like the leaves of the trees. If that man gives me the permission, I may pass on to life and liberty. If he refuses, I must go back and sink beneath the flood.

You are that man.

There was silence in the court as the old chief sat down. Tears ran down over the judge’s face. General Crook leaned forward and covered his face with his hands. Some of the ladies in the audience sobbed.

A few days afterward, Judge Dundy handed down his decision:

  1. That an Indian is a ‘person’ within the meaning of the laws of the United States, and has, therefore, the right to sue out a writ of habeas corpus in a federal court, or before a federal judge, in all cases where he may be confined or in custody under color of authority of the United States, or where he is restrained of liberty in violation of the constitution or laws of the United States.
  2. That General George Crook, the respondent, being commander of the military department of the Platte, has the custody of the relators, under color of authority of the United States, and in violation of the laws thereof.
  3. That no rightful authority exists for removing by force any of the relators to the Indian Territory, as the respondent has been directed to do.
  4. That the Indians possess the inherent right of expatriation, as well as the more fortunate white race, and have the inalienable right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ so long as they obey the laws and do not trespass on forbidden ground.
  5. Being restrained of liberty under color of authority of the United States, and in violation of the laws thereof, the relators must be discharged from custody, and it is so ordered.

Years later, attorney Poppleton reflected on his final court plea for Standing Bear, “I cannot recall any two hours’ work of my life with which I feel better satisfied.”

The next year, Judge Dundy was part of a lower court panel which asserted that Indians who had left their tribes and submitted to U.S. jurisdiction were U.S. citizens, but this was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1884.

Free, but without a tribe

The Niobrara River

After the trial, Standing Bear was left in a legal limbo. The legal argument used to establish his right to freedom as a citizen had also severed his tribal alliance. He was no longer allowed to live on any reservation as a ward of the government. It took the service of Native Americans in World War I to finally shame the U.S. into accepting tribal members as citizens in 1924 and the country did not accept all native-born people as citizens until 1940.

So Standing Bear was effectively exiled to Niobrara River island, a small bump of land not claimed by the Sioux in their treaty with the U.S. Later that summer, he slipped back to the mainland with the bones of his son, burying him somewhere along the bluffs.

In the fall, Tibbles and Bright Eyes persuaded Standing Bear to join them on a speaking tour of the eastern U.S. to publicize the plight of the Poncas. Those two would go on to marry in 1881 and continued their struggle of defending Indian rights. After her death in 1903, Bright Eyes was the first woman eulogized in the U.S. Senate.

Standing Bear in 1906 outside his Nebraska home

The U.S. government finally recognized the Northern Ponca in 1881 and paid restitution, returning 26,000 acres of land, a small part of what had been stripped away. Many of the Poncas in Oklahoma choose to remain there by the Arkansas River.

Still unable to live on tribal lands, Standing Bear wandered for a decade until, in 1890, when he was in his 60s, he was granted 300 acres through the Dawes Act. He built a farmhouse by the Niobrara River and remained there until the end of his days, dying in obscurity in 1908. He was buried near the village of his ancestors.

Perhaps it would do us well to pause, as our nation debates the fate of illegal aliens and walls along its southern border, and contemplate where each of us would be today if the Native Americans had been able to keep out European settlers. Let us consider our nation’s long history of injustice towards Native Americans, women, people of color, homosexuals, and on down the long list of suffering, humiliation, and destruction. The American Experiment has been a long and troubled road to freedom, with far too many people lost on its trails of tears.

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Bluestem Lake & Bird Creek School

March 12, 2017 | PHOTO ALBUM | SLIDESHOW

The first Sunday of Spring Break 2017 found me tramping down the spillway of Bluestem Lake while, 25 miles to the east, Wendy was at home building a new rose bed.

I had never visited Bluestem Lake before but had been intrigued by online photos of waterfalls along its spillway. A cold and overcast day in mid-March, with little rain of late, was hardly the time for waterfall photography. Yet I was eager to get out and walk about an area I had not yet explored. So I drove westward from Bartlesville on US 60 through a sleepy morning in Pawhuska over to Bluestem Lake, taking county road 4275 north from US 60 to reach the dam.

Bluestem Lake (click map for slideshow)

The lake was built in 1958 on Middle Bird Creek just before it intersects Bird Creek. That’s the same Bird Creek that traverses south Pawhuska and later flows past the Mohawk Park and Redbud Valley hiking areas in north Tulsa, 45 miles southeast of the lake. Designed as a secondary water supply source for Pawhuska, the lake also provides flood control and recreation. That recreation regrettably includes graffiti and beer drinking, with its inevitable littering, in the spillway area.

The spillway leading eastward from the dam was quite dry, with only a trickle of water coming in from a small stream to the north rather than the lake. There was a deep hole gouged in the limestone before the spillway made a sharp turn southward. When the water is up, this could be a dangerous swimming hole.

Deep hole in the spillway

The different bedding planes of limestone and sandstone were interesting, and there was a social trail running along the western bank of the spillway’s southbound channel, leading past a series of pools. One notable separation was by a large tilted plane of stone jutting from the earth and eroded by the water.

Along the southbound spillway

After I tramped about in the cold for awhile, I decided to drive away via the old lake road, now designated as county road 4070. It leads east over to Bird Creek, where it diverts south to make a crossing on a very old one-lane concrete bridge before turning east again to run to old US 60, now called Lynn Road.

Bird Creek School

Where road 4070 encounters Bird Creek one will find the old two-room Bird Creek School, once in District 17. It is draped with ivy on its north and west faces, but the front east facade is still quite recognizable. Abandoned Oklahoma has some nice photos of the interior. The red brick building is 77 feet long and 25′ wide, with a stepped gable roof. It was built in the late 1930s by the Works Progress Administration.

Ivy on Bird Creek School

Silly tales that Bird Creek School is haunted claim that if you write your name on the chalkboard and later return to the school, you’ll find your name scratched off. A harsher reality is the continued deterioration of the little oil field boom towns of Osage County. The population of Pawhuska has fallen steadily since the oil boom a century ago, although the success of the Pioneer Woman Mercantile has brought an influx of visitors as of late. Barnsdall is still home to the Baker Petrolite plant, which was once the world’s largest manufacturer of microcrystalline waxes. But the town continues to decline, with a downtown of empty shells, an all too familiar sight to those who travel through rural Oklahoma.

My adopted home of Bartlesville, just across the eastern edge of Osage County, is another oil boom town, but it benefited for decades from being the corporate headquarters to Phillips Petroleum and, until the late 1960s, Cities Service. Bartlesville has managed to stabilize its population in the mid-30,000s for the past 35 years but has suffered a noticeable decline in its socioeconomics since the early 2000s when Phillips Petroleum merged with Conoco and relocated its headquarters from Bartlesville to Houston. The two companies later separated again, into downstream and upstream operations, and each retains a large corporate presence in Bartlesville, but the headquarters remain in Houston.

Change is hard, especially amidst decline. But Bartlesville is proof it can be navigated, something I’ll discuss in a later post. Meanwhile, Wendy and I are grateful that Spring Break has finally arrived. We are headed to Beaver Lake in Arkansas to relax for a few days, giving us time to pause and reflect about all of the changes underway in our lives.


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Revisiting my ABCs in my middle age


And mostly all I have to say about these songs is that I love them, and want to sing along to them, and force other people to listen to them, and get cross when these other people don’t like them as much as I do.

Nick Hornby

Most of these blog posts cover photographed travels and dayhikes t0 draw in a core group of armchair travellers. But there are also posts on technology, music, home repair, and various other interests. It is interesting to note that the relatively few home repair posts have the longest legs, reliably drawing in a trickle of daily readers searching for help with challenges such as a broken bathroom heater, a dishwasher installation, and upgrading an old car to connect to a modern device. The technology posts by their nature quickly become dated and have less broad appeal, but posts on music draw the least engagement. Yet here’s another one post on music, as it has always been an essential part of my life.

16 years old and ready to learn

16 years old and ready to learn

The relative lack of reader interest is understandable, as musical tastes vary so widely and musical styles fall out of fashion, often leaving their adherents stranded in nostalgia for the music of their youth. I enjoy a wide range of musical styles, only repelled by a few such as opera, rap/hip-hop, and metal. Yet I am certainly biased to prefer the pop music I enjoyed in my teenage and college years. My favorite album, by a long shot, arrived when I was 16 years old, primed to learn The Lexicon of Love.

abc lexicon of love

The theatrical video for Poison Arrow

The theatrical video for Poison Arrow

I was in my first romantic relationship when ABC released The Lexicon of Love in 1982. Those who lived in the 1980s won’t be surprised that I was introduced to the album through videos on MTV. The three hits featured on that cable channel drew me in with the theatricality of both the visuals and the music. Their blend of orchestral strings and dance music was certainly not the usual fare, and I decided to buy the album. On vinyl…I did not have a CD player yet.

The Lexicon of Love was a New Wave album unlike anything else I had heard…or seen, for that matter. The album cover was literally theatrical, with its Technicolor red stage curtain and mood lighting as Martin Fry points a gun at something unseen and holds up a fainting woman. The front also made a point of printing lyrical excerpts:

a-z affectionately, 1 to 10 alphabetically, from here to eternity without in betweens. still asking for a custom fit in an off the rack world? sales talk from sales assistants when all i want to do is lower your resistance. no rhythm in cymbals no tempo in drums. love’s on arrival, she comes when she comes. right on the target but wide of the…

This proclaimed itself to be literate dance music. Sure enough, the vocals were not drowned out in the mix. I don’t often pay particular attention to verses in pop music, focusing more on the music, rhythm, and chorus. But clearly this album wanted me to pay attention. It asked to be in that select group for which I would play a record in a dimmed room with a lamp illuminating the album insert, intensely reading and meditating on the lyrics as I listened.


Vice Versa: Martin Fry, Stephen Singleton, & Mark White

Vice Versa: Martin Fry, Stephen Singleton, and Mark White

A couple of years earlier, in the struggling industrial city of Sheffield, England, young music writer Martin Fry had been recruited by guitarist and keyboardist Mark White and saxophonist Stephen Singleton to join their little band Vice Versa, first as a keyboardist and then as a vocalist.

Their group evolved into ABC, and they recruited Trevor Horn of The Buggles to produce their debut album. Horn described ABC’s songs as, “like disco, but in a Bob Dylan way.”

Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley, J.J. Jeczalik, and Gary Langan

Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley, J.J. Jeczalik, and Gary Langan would go on to found The Art of Noise

Thankfully, for this literate dance music, Horn brought in Anne Dudley to play keyboards, and she would go on to provide lush string arrangements to envelop several of their songs of failed romance, which pulsed with elements of funk, punk, and disco. Gary Langan engineered the album, and J. J. Jeczalik programmed a Fairlight CMI synthesizer for it. A year later, Horn, Dudley, Jeczalik, and Langan would form the group The Art of Noise.

Throughout the album, singer Martin Fry wasn’t afraid to use falsetto to evoke the elation and despair of a man’s heartaches as he tried and failed to establish a meaningful relationship. This is a mighty album about love, but it is failed, rejected, and lost love.

Marcello Carlin has structured his blog Then Play Long, about every number one album in the United Kingdom, around this album. He remarks about Fry’s achievement:

He made a pop record which continues to tower over all other ones, and not just number one albums either, in terms of ambition, cheek, purpose (not the same thing as ambition) and adventure. It is as if the rest of this tale has been leading up to Lexicon; then again, that is how I structured it. The album seems so much more complete than other ones. The point of it all – in terms of the high point, the apex.

Listening to The Lexicon of Love

The album was released in an era when two-sided vinyl still held sway. The five songs on the first side build on each other, with superb transitions. Show Me starts things off with somber low-volume strings and brass, which slowly build until the band suddenly blasts in with a thudding bass line and piano chords. The first lines?

Once I needed your love
But that was just one thing left on my mind
Then I needed to feel you near me
You said, “Don’t have the time.”

This is not going to be a happy-go-lucky record. The next song was a hit. Poison Arrow portrayed Fry’s anger and despair:

poison-arrowWho broke my heart?
You did you did
Bow to the target
Blame cupid, cupid
You think you’re smart
Stupid, stupid
Right from the start
When you knew we would part
Shoot that poison arrow to my heart

In the song, “the music resonates and rages all around him like an irate cathedral” according to Marcello Carlin in an epic blog post. He points out the way Fry stops singing to say, “I thought you loved me, but it seems you don’t care” only to have the woman reply, “I care enough to know, I can never love you.” And then “drums explode downwards like Zeus kicking a fridge down the side of Mount Olympus.” Power pop, indeed.

Many Happy Returns starts out calm, but then revs things back up. Fry lets loose toward the end, his emotions veering him into punk, only to be followed by Dudley’s meandering electric piano to remind us that there are real musicians at work here.

Many Happy Returns ends on a sustained note and then jump cuts into the frenetic dance number Tears Are Not Enough. This was the group’s first single and is forceful and angry in a dance music way. The album version has a harpischord section courtesy of Trevor Horn.

The first side concludes with Valentine’s Day. Its initial lyrics are more interlude than lead, but it then builds up toward the end, concluding with a fun tirade:

When I’m shaking a hand, I’m clenching a fist
If you gave me a pound for the moments I missed
And I got dancing lessons for all the lips I shoulda kissed
I’d be a millionaire, I’d be a Fred Astaire

Side Two launches with another hit, The Look of Love, which is an extended wry admission of failure and want:

look-of-loveWhen your girl has left you out on the pavement (Goodbye)
Then your dreams fall apart at the seams
Your reason for living’s your reason for leaving
Don’t ask me what it means.
Who got the look? I don’t know the answer to that question
Where’s the look? If I knew I would tell you
What’s the look? Look for your information
Yes there’s one thing, the one thing, that still holds true
What’s that?
That’s the look, that’s the look, the look of love

That song features string arrangements over a heavy moog basslineAnne Dudley recalled, “I remember hearing the mix of The Look of Love and being amazed at how loud Trevor had made the strings. It was really nailing the ABC colours to the mast: this was to be an unapologetically lush and epic album.”

There are at least four variations on The Look of Love, which the group called “Parts”. Only Parts One and Four were on the initial album:

Plus, since this is dance music, there was a wonderfully weird 12″ single version. I am always amused by the part where the bassline from the moog synthesizer takes over completely. Disco made 12″ singles popular as they allowed more dynamic range than the typical 7″ vinyl singles with their wider groove spacing, while preserving the better sound quality 45 rpm provided over long-playing albums played at 33 1/3.

Date Stamp brings us love as commerce, with its jangling cash registers and lyrics like:

So redevelop product, redesign this package
Still refuse to reach in your pocket
Everything is temporary written on that sand
Looking for the girl that meets supply with demand

Love has no guarantee (Yes, I’m date stamped)
Promise me eternity (Guess I’ll fade away)
Even with a pedigree (Yes, I’m date stamped)
Love has no guarantee

I get sales talk from sales assistants
When all I want to do girl is lower your resistance
Everything is temporary, written on that sand
Looking for the girl that meets supply with demand

We need an antidote to that cynicism. And we get it in spades, with the heartbreaking ballad All of My Heart.

allofmyheartWhat’s it like to have loved and to lose her touch?
What’s it like to have loved and to lose that much?
Well, I hope and I pray that maybe someday
You’ll walk in the room with my heart.
Add and subtract but as a matter of fact
Now that you’re gone I still want you back.
Remembering, surrendering,
Remembering that part – all of my heart.

It is an orchestral pop masterpiece. The last two lines of the chorus change each time, but always have that dash, that pause when all of the music stops, and Fry sings all of my heart a cappella, followed first by a tympanic crash, later by a string and rhythm section, and finally by a tickling of an electric piano.

But that’s not all, far from it, although the idiotic Vevo video shown above cuts it off at that point. Here’s the wonderful denouement I want you to hear:

As Marcello Carlin describes it, after Fry sobs that final all of my heart, “in the most sublime passage in all of British pop music, Dudley’s string orchestra rises to embrace him, to accommodate the sobbing singer in its bosom.” Another writer commented, “As he turns to weep, to sob, to mourn for a lost reality, the orchestra cushions him, cradles him in its bosom in what is one of the most compassionate and breathtaking moments in all of pop.” (Who doesn’t like an orchestral bosom? Or bosoms in general, for that matter.)

And then the orchestra very slowly dies away, leaving only Stephen Singleton’s lonely saxophone to conclude one of the longest fade-outs in pop music.

The album could end there, but it has more to say with 4 ever 2 gether, a dark and brooding track. Horn often distorts evil in the “Speak…no…evil” vocals so much you can’t really make it out. And the lyrics can be just as turgid:

I stuck a marriage proposal
In the waste disposal
If that’s the trash aesthetic,
I`d suggest that we forget it
Your 12 disciples might kiss and tell, but
You can tell me much more than they can,
Right now

A mathematical equation
Won`t describe my liaison
The stars in the sky might try persuading
But you can tell me, I won`t hear you
You can`t tell me, I gave up the listening
Years ago

4 ever together, 4 years 2 come
4 love 2 strong, 4 us 2 part

Wisely they choose to close out the album with the orchestral reprise of The Look of Love, Part Four, with strings, brass, xylophones, and harp.

Back in the early 1980s it was the greatest album I’d ever heard…not a clinker in the bunch. In the years to come I’d eagerly await the next ABC album, hoping for more.

More to come?

The second album lived up to its name - they stabbed beauty to death

The second album lived up to its name – they stabbed beauty to death

The sophomore slump hit ABC particularly hard. They followed up the lush Lexicon with the aptly named Beauty Stab, in which the only strings were on the guitars. It was harsh and thin, with them clearly trying to avoid a repeat of Lexicon, which makes it a loss all around. Their third album, How to be a Zillionaire!, was a hard turn back to dance, but of a cartoonishly bizarre bubble gum kind, with a flavor that quickly faded. And they added two non-performing band members. Uh, what?

Thankfully the later albums were more even-keeled, with 1997’s Skyscraping and 2008’s Traffic my favorite of their post-Lexicon releases. Here is Martin Fry’s own synopsis of each album:

Lexicon of Love (1982, Mercury): An orchestrated, polished neurotic affair of hysteria behind a red curtain. It’s the Yin & Yang of ABC.

Beauty Stab (1983, Mercury): An abrasive protest wrapped in anger and shrilled emotions.

How to be a Zillionaire! (1985, Mercury): A highly entertaining, irreverent coaster ride into outer space controlled by surreal cartoon characters on a quest to make guerilla pop. We built a machine!

Alphabet City (1987, Mercury): It wears the cuff-lengths of our career. It’s quite suave, like a midnight, seductive beam of moonlight.

Up (1989, Mercury): A weekend party rave to close the ‘80s. This was our swan dance to end the great decade.

Abracadabra (1991, MCA): A hybrid of different genres, it’s idealistic really. You can hear the civil war internally as our lucrative opportunity to make the album of our career slithered through our hands. We perfected the music and atmosphere that became the record, yet the process was indirectly intense.

Skyscraping (1997, Blatant, import-only): The jigsaw puzzle that challenged me to re-enter the ring after a long period of absence.

Traffic (2008, Borough Music): The joints are lubed and the muscles are flexed. There are nostalgic elements of déjà vu all over it, similar to Forrest Gump’s stories from the park bench. It stands firm and proud, despite the odds.

Lexicon lives on

The Lexicon of Love was performed live at the Royal Albert Hall in 2009

The Lexicon of Love was performed live at the Royal Albert Hall in 2009

I was thrilled in 2009 when Martin Fry, drummer David Palmer, and Anne Dudley reunited to perform the entire The Lexicon of Love album live at the Royal Albert Hall with the BBC Concert Orchestra. I managed to capture the audio from the online show, and it was such a treat! But then I heard nothing more for years.

Until this month, when I happened across a mention of the album The Lexicon of Love II. What?!? How could I have missed that? But a search in my Amazon Music Unlimited service yielded nothing. Nothing for sale in the iTunes store. Time to go to the source: abcmartinfry.com showed that yes, lo and behold, there was such an album. Martin Fry was inspired by the 2009 concert to create a sequel album, but it was only released in Britain in May 2016, followed by a British tour. No U.S. release.

Well, that just would NOT do. So I went to smile.amazon.com (which contributes a small fraction of my purchase cost to a charity of my choice; in my case, the high school’s parent support group) and ordered an imported CDYes, a CD! First one in a long time…after all, I sold off my collection of over 360 compact discs back in 2010.


The CD arrived in the mail a couple of days later (thank you, Amazon Prime). I popped it into my system’s optical drive (yes, my heavily upgraded 2009-vintage desktop still has one) and iTunes took forever to slowly convert it into 256 kbps MP3s and upload them into iCloud. That would let me play it on my desktop computer, Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad. But I want my music available everywhere, so I then uploaded the files to my online Amazon music collection. That would let me play them on the Amazon Echos in the bedroom and the kitchen, on the television via its Amazon Fire Stick, as well on on my Chromebook. Plus I could then also play it on my desktop computer, iPhone, and iPad with Amazon Music apps.

Musical sequels

So…was the new album a worthy sequel to The Lexicon of Love? While successful musicians release multiple albums, few market later albums as full-fledged sequels. I do own a couple of album trilogies, with their entries spread out over decades. Meat Loaf released Bat Out of Hell in 1977, the superb Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell in 1993, and the far lesser Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose in 2006. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, joined by various country and bluegrass superstars, released Will the Circle Be Unbroken in 1972. Mother Maybelle Carter, a key part of making the original album work, had passed before they released Will the Circle Be Unbroken Volume Two in 1989, and Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume III in 2002 was a further diminishment.

The Lexicon of Love II is a fine album. But this sequel lacks the sweep and undiminished appeal, song after song, of the original. It also lacks a standout like All of My Heart. But, as Tim Sendra points out, it has “Dudley’s epic string arrangements embellished with grand pianos, some fluid fretless bass playing, impassioned backing vocals, and the occasional moment that, if you close your eyes, almost sounds like 1982 – not only because of the musical backing, but also because Fry’s voice is relatively untouched by age.”

The Flames of Desire is the closest to the spirit of the original album in its music and lyrics.

My favorite track musically is Kiss Me Goodbye, although it reminds me more of something from a later album than the group’s debut.

But my favorite lyrics are from the last vocal track, Brighter Than the Sun, which has a nice sentiment from a man who was looking in vain for love so long ago:

I am amazed and a little fazed
By what passes for wit these days
I’m not crazy about the trash they praise
Or the flags they wave these days

I’m amazed and a little fazed
By the drugs they crave these days
That’s just the way it plays
It’s a masquerade these days

I’m a man out of time
Until the stars realign
With taste so refined
I don’t know which way we’re heading

I’m a man out of time
With a mountain to climb
Just looking for a sign
Do you know which way we go?

I’ll ask the boy that I once was
About the man that I’ve become
About the days and days and days gone by
And the night still yet to come

That boy would turn to me and say
You’re not the only one
When all’s said and done
Our future’s looking brighter than the sun

I’m amazed and little fazed
By the way love stays today
By the facts that they portray
In a lover’s gaze today

I’m amazed and a little fazed
By the things you say to me
By the faith you place in me
And all that we can truly be

I’m a man out of time
Until the stars realign
With taste so refined
I don’t know which way we’re heading

I’m a man out of time
Trapped in rewind
Just looking for a sign
Do you know which way we go?

I’ll ask the boy that I once was
About the man that I’ve become
About the days and days and days gone by
And the night still yet to come

That boy would turn to me and say
You’re not the only one
When all’s said and done
Our future’s looking brighter than the sun

Martin Fry has been married for 30 years, survived Hodgkin’s Disease, and he and his wife have two grown children. He said, “When you’re with someone that length of time, they see the good, the bad and the ugly. Despite all the twists and turns and trials and tribulations, love can survive. That’s the most magical thing of all.”

I’m glad he found his love long ago. That’s the true sequel to his story. And like any good fairy tale, it has a happy ending.

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