C.W. Gusewell

THE KANSAS CITY STAR

An urban forest erupts in splendor

Summer is not yet quite officially upon us, but already we are wrapped in greenery. I cannot imagine, whatever other amenities it offered, living in some place where nature had been utterly defeated.

Friends for ages are feeling their ages

Buddy, the rescued beagle, is 13 years old now and showing his age. One recent evening, I noticed him lying on the floor beside the bed, looking up with longing at the place that used to be his regular perch. I knew what he was thinking then. And I knew just what he was feeling.

Room for morels turns men into mush

Nature's gifts are not dependable. For whatever reason -- March snows, repeated morning frosts, bitter nights and rains that came too meager and too late -- the immense mushroom emergence did not occur this year.

In Russia, there is power beyond Putin

If the Kremlin's miscalculation of the West's seriousness in Ukraine leads to ever more stringent U.S. and European sanctions and worsening economic isolation, the impact could be felt by people who have suffered enough.

The hunt for amity has no limits

If food were the object, one could do much better at the supermarket. A good-size bird can be had for less than $30 -- a fraction of the cost of 10 days in a hunting camp. What really matters, however, is the fellowship -- on which it is impossible to put a price.

Blooms proclaim that we are blessed

I've been to some places in this world where people should not be obliged to live. To remember those grim scenes -- as in spite of myself I sometimes do -- is to be reminded that we're privileged to live in an urban forest in one of the planet's sainted zones.

The city that holds our hearts

I confess to being fiercely devoted to this community that 464,000 Kansas Citians call home. At risk of being accused of boosterism, I consider this place at the prairie's edge a collection of treasures.

My tummy refuses to go ape over ape

When traveling in some of the less touristic parts of the world, the issue of diet can sometimes test the imagination.

Heroic 'citizens' brought England salvation during the Blitz

As U.S. leaders denied reality, Americans abroad were part of a groundswell advising our government to do something to stop Adolf Hitler.

Birds of a feather banquet together

In a frantic multitude they began arriving at first light, swarming to the tubes of fine grain and Niger seed and cakes of suet that hang in the gnarled redbud tree just outside the breakfast room window.

Terror spreads inside Africa

Outrages are being committed by Muslim fanatics throughout much of Africa and the Middle East. This is in no way a broadside aimed at the followers of the prophet. I respect their devotion to their sacred text. What I cannot respect is the evil done in its name.

The calm before the next vortex

By midday in the Ozark hill country, the temperature registered in the 60s. We could not know how brief the reprieve would be.

There's no need to mend fences

Never mind what poet Robert Frost wrote. Observation is the most dependable teacher. And what I have learned during this recent spell of nasty weather is that, in fact, it's bad fences that make good neighbors.

Sochi is not your mother's Russia

The Olympic presentation, beginning with the breathtaking opening ceremony, has been not just a celebration of youth and sport but also an announcement of Russia's changing place on the world stage.

The nuts and bolts of a lapse of memory

For a journalist there's no worse handicap than the inability to remember names, and that's been a curse of mine since my days as a cub reporter. For the squirrel, however, forgetfulness could have fatal consequences.

Two indelible memories from Eastern Europe

The divide between Germany and Russia echoes in the words of a dancer and a writer.

A mind needs a sterling mentor

For every semester of the ensuing four years, his was the instruction I most valued. And his were the assignments on which I was determined to do my very best. By my last year, he was more than an instructor. He was a priceless friend.

Exposing lust is a labor of love

No subject on earth excites the reading public or engages the international press quite as avidly as the report of conjugal misbehavior on the part of some notable individual of high station -- the higher the better.

Winter is at once a wonder and a witch

It's one thing to have lived a cruel winter by choice. But what I cannot help thinking is how many others there must be for whom such a spell of brutal weather brings a kind of pain the more fortunate will never know.

Shining a light on South Africa

In 1964, Richard B. Fowler, The Star's president and publisher, dispatched me to Africa -- my first foreign assignment. I was proud then, and am proud still, of the stand The Star had taken against South Africa's apartheid racial policies, an issue of fundamental justice half a world away.

Separating the grief from the greatness

Fifty years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the telling and retelling of that day has been practically unending. Most of it I've neither listened to nor read. For, selfish as it might seem, I simply have not wanted to live that sadness again.

Turning a cold shoulder to winter

I'm not a winter-ready sort of fellow. I regret that we're in the dark of the year, with a stretch of bitter weather ahead.

Why can't only our snowman be frosty?

What chance might there be that the season's occasion of joy and giving will ease somewhat -- if only temporarily -- the climate of rancor and contention that has come to characterize the conduct of our public affairs?

The cost and the value of a diploma

Is a college education worth the time and the price? That question was posed by two polls whose results received prominent notice in the recent news.

Look up and ask: Who looks at Earth?

A report of possible Earth-like planets brought fresh to memory a conversation, on a day nearly 30 years ago, with a man who had devoted decades to considering and writing about the mysteries of the universe.

A feline friend finds new courage

The lack of contact and affection in early years can deform the nature of any sentient creature, human or otherwise. And now, at an age likely somewhere between 12 and 15, Tip, the Brooklyn tabby, faces a challenge of a different kind.

The seas swallow African dreams

An estimated 20,000 Africans in the last 20 years have lost their lives while attempting -- in unseaworthy boats or on primitive rafts -- to navigate Atlantic coastal waters or cross the Mediterranean in the quest for safer and more productive lives.

School violence tests our psyche

Young men and women who choose careers as teachers do so intending to serve. They are not volunteering for hazardous duty -- not knowingly, at any rate. So what in heaven's name is the matter? Are youngsters today that different?

Fleeting autumn renews the soul

Spring, I know, is considered by poets and gardeners to be the time of new beginnings. The greening of the land is a metaphor for rebirth, fresh starts. But for me, October has always been when everything is new. That has to do, I believe, with the cadences of boyhood and the remembered events that autumn once contained.

Going to bat for a distant relative

A little rush of breeze signaled a strange presence, because no windows were open. Then something seemed to be flying. A moment later the thing passed directly in front of the TV screen, and there was no mistaking the identity of the beast.

Nature and neglect overtake a refuge

Nature is powerful and it is patient. With enough determination and expense, its advances can be slowed, even temporarily halted. But look away for a moment -- or worse, for a season -- and it will reclaim what it had lost.

Pain of wartime atrocity remains

On a June afternoon in 1944, Adolf Hitler's troops swept into the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, assembled the population in the market square, confined the men and the women and children in separate groups, and murdered them all.

In Egypt, fervor can turn into fury

Cairo is no place to be when Egypt is in turmoil and passions are running high. I say that from the experience of having been in the city at just such a moment, on Sept. 28, 1970 -- the evening of the day that Gamal Abdel Nasser, the country's president, died of a heart attack while seeing his guests off at the airport after an Arab summit meeting.

A vote for libidos that enlarge brains

Are the dalliances of Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner, Newt Gingrich, John Edwards and their ilk doing worse than just causing humiliation and private pain -- worse even than fouling the political landscape? Could they be rolling back the evolutionary clock to a time when men wore animal skins for shirts and had brains no bigger than a possum's?

A writer's computer has no memories

I have experienced an epiphany, though not a revelation of the religious kind, that might very well prove to be my salvation as a writer. It is the understanding that there is nothing to prevent my declaring that this column may be one of the last I'll write on a computer before returning to my instrument of choice -- a typewriter.

Too good to be true is too good to ignore

"Congratulations!" said the faintly accented voice of a woman at the other end of the phone line. It's a pleasant enough way to begin a conversation. "For what?" I responded. The woman replied: "You've won a prize in the sweepstakes."

Is a name of fame a royal pain?

How do you suppose a British merchant would react today if an American lady on holiday in London were to try paying for her purchase with a check signed Kate Middleton? It could happen. The name's not that uncommon.

Kids had cicada skin in this game

The insects shed their outer skins and leave those abandoned exoskeletons clinging as crisp relics to the twigs and trunks of trees. It's the empty bug-shaped shells of the departed insects that children find fascinating.

Will his ornate fate be a tail of romance?

I am concerned about mating prospects for the rat-tailed squirrel that has begun showing up in recent days at our bird feeder. Will romance ever come his way?

A new chapter in a global friendship

When visiting a foreign country, to have supportive friends there is a gift and a comfort almost beyond price.

A land of promise succumbs to Africa's sad pattern

The east African nation of Tanzania, when I visited there during a long reporting trip in 1964, was not only one of the most beautiful of the continent's newly independent republics but also, arguably, the most decently and honorably ruled. Optimism burned hotly. There was the sense that a bright future was there to be grasped. Then painful reality set in.

A respite for human, dog and even duck

There's no telling whom you might meet in that lovely little city park. The joys it offers are of a warm and humble kind. It's a place where the rush and clamor of the world seem far away and where new and interesting acquaintances are easily made.

For once, let's cram it down the politicians' throats

St. Louis Children's Hospital no longer uses sedated cats in teaching how to insert breathing tubes into the throats of infants. Among the alternatives proposed was sophisticated mannequins. I am quite confessedly on the side of the cats. And if lifelike imitations won't serve to spare them the pain and indignity of tubes being stuck down their throats, I can suggest an alternative. Use politicians.

No mercy for butchers of soldier in London

The two knife-wielding beasts who recently beheaded a young British soldier on a public street in London were not the face of Africa, or the face of Islam. They were the face of an ancient barbarism loose in the world -- an evil that knows no nationality or creed, no race or place, but which must be defeated by whatever means of persuasion or degree of force is required if civil life is to remain a possibility anywhere on Earth.

Creatures comfort the mind and soul

Furred housemates may not be the stuff of prize-winning journalism, but it suits my column better than chronicling the triumphs and casual pairings of the entertainment elite, the hopeless ineptitude of Congress or the seamy offenses of two-bit hoodlums.

A world of tough luck needs plenty of tender hearts

In the face of calamity, one is almost embarrassed to have been spared. But there's a way to ease that feeling. The call is out for help.

Toss the tassel and let the sweet beginnings commence

Graduation is one term for it -- the ceremony of passage that marks the end of a specific period of learning. Commencement is to my mind the better word, alluding as it does not to a conclusion but rather to a beginning -- not what's behind, but what lies just ahead. Through the course of a life, the starts are what contain the excitement and promise.

Another plague besets Africa

A plant virus called cassava brown streak disease has spread across much of the African interior, reducing by as much as 50 million tons a year the harvest of a crop upon which some 500 million Africans rely for their staple food.

Hunting morels can get you ticked

Mushrooms are elusive in this year of late snows and cold temperatures, but there are pests aplenty.

Memories of a trusted friend

Cyrus, the last of my Brittany bird dog line -- grandson of Rufus and son of Holly's Bear -- has joined them in that place of memory, where the mornings are forever frosty and the meadows are rich with quail.

Morels reflect a hesitant spring

Spring has come haltingly and late this year to the Ozark forest. The fish and the turkeys are accounted for. The next issue is the mushrooms.

A glimmer of hope in a land of affliction

The diseases of sub-Saharan Africa cripple, disfigure and diminish productivity. A child born there today, if he or she manages to survive to age 5, has a shorter life expectancy than an infant born in any other region of the world -- just 54 years by the latest reckoning.

North Korea's dangerous war of words

One cannot help wondering how much of the nastiness in the world might be moderated, or even prevented altogether, by reminding the strutting miscreants in a timely way that the world is watching.

Athletes lose when led by bullies

Some big time college basketball coaches -- men receiving salaries in the millions of dollars -- have been investigated, censured and in some cases fired or forced to resign for verbally or even physically abusing their players.

Winging it with courtesy

Air travel need not be a cattle call. Even under trying circumstances an airline can make the journey bearable.

Captiva makes any day a holiday

Just off the west coast of Florida, reached by a causeway from Fort Myers, there's a small island to which, more times than I can readily count, we've fled to escape the end-of-winter nastiness.

Meteor mania rocks Siberia

Disintegrating with almost the force of a nuclear blast, the cosmic intruder had scattered pieces of itself across a wide reach of the snowy landscape. So the treasure hunt began.

Witness a winter wonder

The first temptation was to dismiss the great snowfall of this past week as a trial, a nuisance -- unwelcome and undeserved. But then, after the necessary complaining, one could not help noticing the almost magical beauty that came with the inconvenience.

Kin of a distant past? Rats!

Lucy I can handle. But if a savage little varmint really does have a place in my family tree, I may have to reconsider two folks in a lush garden with an apple tree and a conniving snake.

Nature's splendid surprise returns

The naked ladies have shown up again outside my window. But don't bother driving down my block on the chance of witnessing an X-rated spectacle.

Falling hard for spring and fall

Those are the times of year most freighted with rich memories: the excitement of heading away to school, my first weeks as a beginner in the craft at which I've spent all my working years, the ceremony in which a dear girl and I pledged to find our way together.

Hunger can't be sated by bluster

It is believed by some that Kim Jong Un is taking a militant stance to impress the populace and solidify his position as "supreme leader." But the many North Koreans who cling to life on the very brink of starvation would be more impressed if he could help them get something to eat.

Clay Chastain: a gadfly with feet of clay

Clay Chastain has had a two-decade-long career as a relentless public nuisance, determined to find a role in community affairs. What began as gratuitous meddling had become first annoying, then tiresomely repetitive and finally almost comical.

A riveting and sobering lesson on World War II

A magnificent History Channel documentary titled "World War II From Space" presented the unfolding story of the greatest, most costly, most significant conflict in my lifetime. In riveting detail, it presented the whole narrative of World War II.

Curiosity will kill the cats' reserve

Tip, the older, is a gray tabby, named for the white last inch of her tail. The other, called Laika after the Russian space dog, arrived four years later, hardly past kittenhood. Never, during their years in the same house, has either one of them seen the other. But that may change.

Rights can have strings attached

Freedom of speech does not permit false, malicious and damaging assertions by any person or institution against a blameless individual. And the right of gun ownership does not preclude the right of Congress to enact regulations deemed in the interest of the public's safety.

Foolish intruders hunt for trouble

I don't object to the sport of hunting, as long as it is pursued in a safe and principled way. But to intrude without permission on land with no knowledge of where others might be stationed is both illegal and extremely dangerous.

The murderous mouse with the roaring rocket

To describe Kim Jong Un, North Korea's pudgy boy dictator, as a buffoon isn't to say that he's not dangerous. But, as a practical matter, those at greatest peril are the luckless 24.5 million people whose misfortune it is to suffer and starve under his rule.

Unspeakable horror cries out for change

I have sometimes heard my column described by readers as "a vacation from the news." I've taken that as a compliment. But what happened in Connecticut two days ago is news from which no vacation is possible or permissible.

Few are on track to be heroes

In the aftermath of a New Yorker's fatal plunge onto subway tracks, people expressed wonderment and dismay that among the considerable crowd in the station, not one had attempted a rescue. But I have to say I understand perfectly. In desperate moments, the ability to act is both priceless and rare.

The joy of a simpler type of writing

I am writing this on a typewriter, one of the 23 archaic machines that clutter an upper-floor room in our house. I scarcely can express what pure joy it is to return -- if only temporarily -- to the instrument upon which I depended for the first 30 years of my working life.

Savoring the gifts autumn brings

Some people, I know, are untouched by the magic of November's chilly passage. They sense only the certainty of yet another year's decline. Looking out the window as I write this on a day that, though crisp, is wonderfully bright, I remember only the best, and expect more of the same.

Amid profound loss, how does hope survive?

I cannot help wondering how it is possible to recover from so shattering an event as Superstorm Sandy. Some do. Many do, in fact -- and will in spite of the present ruin. But where do they find the courage?

Violence mars rebirth of Beirut

The recent news that a car bomb had left a large area of Beirut in ruins and killed at least eight people seems almost to summarize the regrettable fate of the Lebanese -- a hospitable and non-militant folk, endlessly doomed to be collateral damage in other people's wars.

What is luck? Those who guide us on life's journey

Lives are shaped in great part by luck. More than anything, I believe, they are influenced by the people one encounters at critical points in the journey.

A room with a view of kindness

I'm troubled to read of the economic pain in Spain today and the distress afflicting a people I remember as proud, generous and deserving of so much better.

As dog days end, a dog has his day

Our world seems devoted, in this moment, to the task of healing. It's not the greater world I speak of. No, I mean only this small fraction of it that we occupy -- a region that endured what seemed an endless spell of rainless weeks and brutal heat. It's here that an impulse of recovery can be sensed. The evidence of it abounds, in small ways as well as large.

A fallen Assad couldn't mask fear

Hafez Assad, the previous president of Syria, was a tyrant. His son and successor, Bashar, is infinitely worse -- the author of crimes against humanity whose savagery and scale almost defy belief.

A brief tempest, a long goodbye

As darkness came on, the heavy bank of storm clouds lifted just enough that framed between their underside and the lake's forested far shore was the hot orange globe of the setting sun.

The North quenches a thirst for Eden

Always before we've come to the northern country purely for pleasure. But this time we came as refugees, fleeing the desiccated, dispirited region we call home.

A curmudgeon in the grip of gripes

It occurred to me recently that "curmudgeonship" -- if there is such a word -- may be a predictable affliction of aging journalists, for I find myself exhibiting some of the symptoms.

For a writer, shared words forge an intimate bond with readers

Actors and singers hear the applause of the audience. Athletes hear the roar from the stadium crowd. What the writer has for applause is only what the postman brings in his pouch. Answering those letters isn't a chore. It is the nearest thing imaginable to a conversation.

Inhuman acts in the name of God

Not every woeful collection of humanity calling itself a republic can provide any dependable protection for its citizens. And not all actions undertaken in the name of religion are acceptable by even the most minimal standards of human decency. Both of those conclusions are forcefully underscored by a recent execution in Mali.

Mona Lisa is forever ours

Lisa Gherardini has been gone 470 years. But if indeed she was Leonardo da Vinci's model, she will live forever, her beauty untouched by years, on the wall of the Louvre.

Celebrated journalist to speak Wednesday in KC

During my half-century association with The Star, this newspaper has produced a distinguished list of alumni. One of them, James B. Steele, will be at the Kansas City Public Library's Central Library on Wednesday night to speak about his latest book, "The Betrayal of the American Dream."

From beginning to end, a dignified friend

I have never considered even for a minute giving up the longtime habit of rhapsodizing, whenever possible, about my furred companions. And there have been a considerable number -- not only of animals but also of columns. This one is in memory of a wonderful black cat very recently deceased.

Mountain dreams recede amid a scorched reality

Had we acted on that old longing and actually relocated to Colorado, it's quite possible that our dream, like the properties of those unlucky victims, would have gone up in smoke.

Summer closes a sweaty fist around plants, planters

City folk are much disheartened by lawns burned brown, by withered flower beds, by the cost of watering and running air conditioners to make 100-plus-degree days bearable. But for rural folk, the issue isn't comfort or aesthetics. What's at stake are their livelihoods.

When she needed some Mojo, there he was

Sometimes, for a writer, the best plan is simply to step aside and let the story tell itself. That's what I'll try to do with this report of a magical little episode I can't begin to explain, but which was told as true by the people who witnessed it.

Geese are worth another gander

Our urban geese have flown north to Canada, and I miss them greatly.

Even in sunset, Cyrus is a warming presence

I can't know what regrets Cyrus, the Brittany, might have about the days afield he's missed. But when he sits beside me, leaning hard against my leg, my hand on his soft brown head, I'm sure that he knows he's valued and believes his life is full.

This fish story will truly reel you in

Two friends and I -- one of them accompanied by his young sons -- had gone for an overnight at my Ozark cabin. The plan was for some fishing in the farm lake. The boys were 7 and 13 years old. They'd fished a bit before, but never with any great success. This time, I promised, would be different.

A young aviator discovers gravity

A recent news account of a British stuntman who jumped from a helicopter at an altitude of 2,400 feet, clad in a wingsuit, brings to mind a long-ago experiment in flight in a wooden vegetable crate with wings and a tail fashioned out of cardboard.

Pakistan a friend? Try the word fiend

The better description of that chaotic and incompetently governed nation is as a haven for Islamist radicals and a deliberate obstructer of the attempt to establish a safe and civil society in neighboring Afghanistan.

An eight-legged wake-up call that must be heeded

We are without any mechanical means of waking. What we have, instead, are the dogs -- Cyrus, the Brittany, and Buddy, the beagle.

Stain of Wallace hasn't faded

The death this month of Nicholas Katzenbach, a key member of both the John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations during the 1960s, brought fresh to mind two moments in my early career as a young reporter covering the civil rights struggle in the South.

Jeans now tell us who wears the pants

The promotional material says the wearing of jeans projects authority, confidence and a willingness to live on the cutting edge. But when I read that, I do not find myself described.

Singing the praises of public television

One evening seven weeks ago, together in a distant city, my wife and I switched on the TV in our hotel room, thinking we might find a program to help pass the hours before sleep and our flight home the next morning. What we found wasn't just a time killer but an unexpected joy.

Silence is the hunter's enemy

My personal total of turkey contacts was one. But it wasn't a problem of technique that accounted for my failure. Some years the woods have been all but barren. But after an early and uncommonly warm spring, the riotous undergrowth reduced visibility in many places to 10 yards or less.

Aloft and alone in a cockpit? I'll take my chances

It is the furtive little fear that sometimes lurks, unspoken, deep in the psyche of a non-aviator who finds himself or herself riding in the passenger seat of a small plane: What in God's name would I do if the person beside me, the pilot, were somehow disabled?

Quite a tall order for humanity

He's out there. I don't know where, but he's out there somewhere, and some enterprising college recruiter will find him and persuade him to sign a letter of intent. He will show up for the first day of basketball practice wearing his size 45AAA sneakers. And the game will be forever changed.

A hunt makes so many other moments possible

This morning I awoke fully rested and refreshed. And I will do my best to remember that sensation. Because tomorrow, with the opening of the Missouri wild turkey season, there will commence an unbroken 10-day series of 4:30 a.m. risings.

Squirrel treat is too good to eat

Gray squirrels are abundant in our city neighborhood. In the woodland around our Ozark cabin, the red ones -- fox squirrels we call them -- are more numerous. At home we feed them. In the country, I eat them. But on a recent bright spring morning, a rare beast came visiting.

The catch of every day is good fortune

We'd booked only a two-hour charter. With so little action, the two hours were spent quicker than you could say "skunked." But truth is it's not the fishing that brings us to this magical stretch of Southern shore.

A family mosaic in the sand of Florida

The sharp smell of salt air, the shrill conversation of gulls, the rhythmic whisper of waves on a storm night ... these are the constants that bring us back, year after year, to this island shore. Some vacationers, I know, seek novelty. We prefer the familiar.

A crush can get a crawler crushed

After thirst and hunger, the urge to copulate must be the most powerful impulse of all. It's a desire so compelling that some human beings -- men in particular -- are willing to risk their careers, their reputations or financial ruin to satisfy it. In nature, the cost is even greater.

Like news, a newsroom constantly changes

Stopping in on a recent day to pick up my mail, I was surprised to find The Star's newsroom is once again a work in progress. I can't say what provoked this latest transfiguration, but it's encouraging to know the plan now is very much toward renewed openness.

Would the apple of our eye mind the apple of our purse?

I have lived with three beagles and only one woman. Let me hasten to say that does not in any way indicate my personal preference.

Care for veterans is truly a blessing

It wasn't the prospect of future benefits that prompted me to join the military. In that long-ago time, it was just what young men my age were obliged to do.

Naked ladies frolic in the snow

It certainly wasn't appropriate weather for such behavior, for there'd been a snow the day before. But when I glanced out the window beside my desk, I saw, to my considerable astonishment, a crowd of naked ladies -- resurrection lilies and surprise lilies -- displaying boldly in our yard.

In literary Paris, a light goes out

On the left bank of the Seine in Paris, just across the river from the Cathedral of Notre Dame, there's a unique little store that is as much a shrine as it is a place of commerce.

Predatory plants: Is that a reach?

My wife's flower room doubles as my home office, which is a bit like saying a bathroom might double as a kitchen. Some improvisations just don't quite work.

A homey lesson for all hooligans

The furred members of our household display commendable manners where issues of territory and nourishment are concerned. And some of the more disagreeable populations and regimes that occupy this planet could profit from their example.

We can't ignore the suffering in North Korea

In this time of economic distress at home, the idea of a humanitarian handout to so antagonistic a mendicant country will not be universally popular. But the obligation is clear. Millions of North Koreans cannot be allowed to suffer and perish as punishment for a crisis not of their own making -- the result of having been wickedly and incompetently ruled.

Heavenly particle has a high price

Science never was my strong suit. But I do have to confess some interest in the pursuit of what's popularly called the God particle, much to the dismay of particle physicists who prefer the term Higgs boson.

A crimson sky and thoughts of spring

I woke on that morning three weeks ago today, went downstairs to give the dogs their run, opened the south-facing door to the fenced back yard ... and was met by a sky on fire.

A beachcomber on the seashore of life

Our New York daughter was with us for a week, and a splendid week it was. Her sister, the daughter here, took time away from her demanding work schedule to share those too-few precious days. Again, for a short time, we were four at the meal table.

A season when no one should be alone

In a work of holiday fiction, Kansas City Star columnist C.W. Gusewelle writes of Arthur, a "throwaway kid" who, one Christmas Eve afternoon at a place curiously named Elysian Fields, how a collection of lonely souls can become a family.

Freedom finds a foothold in Russia

Russia is a significantly changed country. And though the degree of that change falls short of what many Russians would prefer, the fact of it is indisputable. There could be no clearer evidence than the recent demonstrations by citizens challenging the results of the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections.

Scammers get by with a little help from their 'friends'

The message was from a valued friend, and the news it brought was dire. He was on holiday with his family in London. And the previous evening, returning to their hotel, they'd been mugged.

Stalin's daughter should be remembered for her courage

Disordered as her life may have been, Lana Peters deserves to be remembered for her part in dispelling the fiction of the Soviet Union as a people's nation when in truth, under her father, Josef Stalin, the Kremlin was a death machine.

Tragedy incubated in general's arrogance

In 1964, Gen. William Westmoreland was given command of all U.S. forces in Vietnam, I was among a fair number of former soldiers who had cause to question his fitness for the job. Those doubts dated from a mid-April day six years earlier when he made an unforgivable decision that cost seven young men their lives.

Squirrel's feat of all you can eat is all in the feet

The squirrel I call Wallenda, after the famous family of German circus performers who performed risky high-wire stunts without a net -- likes to go where the table is generously set. He's read the signs of shorter days and chilly mornings. He knows there are harder times ahead. And he's not about to face the winter undernourished.

Oh, to be flushed with success

"The rich are different from you and me," F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, but the difference isn't just that they have more money. Their sanitary needs are a great deal more complicated.

In San Francisco, they left their pants ... at home

I have never been to the city where Mr. Tony Bennett left his heart. But I've heard from friends who have, and who insist that San Francisco is a lovely and lively place. So it's always seemed to me Frisco might be a real nice town to visit. Until recently, that is, when I read about the Nude-In.

How sweet are shared experiences

When reliving in memory so many years and such an abundance of shared experiences -- while understanding, not morosely but realistically, the preciousness of the moment -- time is of no consequence.

A digital disease can't be dodged

The kind of infections I keep getting, there seems to be no reasonable avoidance strategy. I speak here not of ailments of my corpus, or body, but infections in the instrument I'm obliged to use to earn a living.

Scarred by battle, Gary Holcombe heroically met demands of life on stage

Elsewhere in this newspaper, there has been critical celebration of all that Gary Holcombe brought to the richness of dramatic art in our town. Mine is only the comment of someone feeling much diminished by the loss this past week of an extraordinary and greatly valued friend.

Bocephus and Hot Pants are a couple of rowdy nitwits

In a time of pervasive anxiety, it helped lighten the mood a bit to find two celebrated buffoons in the news on the same day. Our thanks go out, therefore, to Hank Williams Jr., aka Bocephus, and to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aka the Underwear Bomber.

Winged wildlife wonderful or ... wasp!

On a slow news day, every columnist needs a fallback plan -- something timely but not too controversial. Today, then, my subjects will be birds, butterflies and bees.

Conditions are essential to peace in the Mideast

The concessions that will be required of both Israel and the Palestinians, if six decades of fury and intermittent bloodshed are ever to be ended, have long been well understood by anyone seriously concerned for the future of the region and its peoples.

Memories pervade the pre-dawn hours

The clock at the bedside said 10 minutes past 4 o'clock. That's a troubling hour to lie awake. There's too much time for uninterrupted reflection -- nothing to shield one from the memory of losses and old regrets.

A delightful hiatus from the march of life

One long day's drive and part of a second delivered us out of the Midwestern cooker into this more northern place -- a peninsula thrust like a slender blade into the restless, shining waters of Lake Michigan.

One voice on the phone parts a sea of indifference

What a difference one considerate and principled individual can do to bring fair resolution to a needlessly hurtful situation.

Do unto despots as they have done to their people

These have been heady but dangerous days and months for some of the world's captive peoples. But also -- and rightly so -- it is a time of mortal, perhaps terminal, peril for the tyrants who have abused, impoverished and in some cases murdered them.

Courage shows in small gestures

It is inspiring to see the way that, simply through innate decency, ordinary people can sometimes breach barriers that political leaders -- prisoners of history, dogmas and their own ambitions -- are incapable of crossing.

War has been declared on Mr. Beaver

Understand, I have nothing against beavers in the abstract. In fact, I was so charmed by seeing a pair of them constructing a dam of brush and mud on a nameless little creek on a part of the farm far from the lake that, when a neighbor asked if he might trap them for their pelts, I told him no. But that was before the bridge-wrecker did his mischief. Now it is war.

Heroic work under a hot sun

Toughness, courage, responsibility -- those are the virtues that set some people apart from the crowd. They're most often invoked when speaking of men and women who serve in the armed forces. But there are everyday heroes among us.

Young should savor joys of youth

I am not obsessively envious of the young. But I confess to being overtaken from time to time by a sudden powerful remembrance of how sweet youth used to be.

Picking the right day for picking blackberries

When the fire of a swollen sun scalds the land, the opportunity is brief to harvest blackberries, one of the important events by which we mark the season's advance. And this year we missed our chance again.

Stormy nights don't delight

I'm glad the episodes of earlier years when I relished the excitement of a good summer storm are well behind me. The only weather adventures I long for now are a few mornings in the 50s and a nighttime frost or two to start the leaves turning.

Medicare scammers don't care about you

If you get a phone call telling you the current Medicare cards are being phased out, don't bother trying to be polite. Just tell the caller he's on call forwarding to your local police. And put the receiver down with enough authority to make his ears ring.

Cats play musical chairs

Mickey, the orange tiger with only four teeth, and Scoop, the black panther with three white whiskers, are prized family members -- both large enough to be the alphas of the house. The only competition between them is for what they both consider the prime location on the bed.

In man vs. machine, 1920s playwright predicted the winner

In the play "R.U.R." by the Czech writer Karel Capek, which premiered in 1921 in Prague, robots have come to rule the world. Created from a chemical discovered by a man named Rossum, these synthetic "beings" have transformed the manufacturing process.

A fossil ponders the fall of the Neanderthal

Granted, I'm a creature of another time. What I am not is a Neanderthal. I know that from an article I came across last week while cooling down from a workout at my local YMCA.

Let's put celebrity disgrace in its place

Rather than inflating them into something passing for print and TV fare, it seems to me about time -- past time -- to put the lascivious misbehavior of the powerful and the famous into some kind of sensible perspective.

Survivors display uncompromising grit in tornado aftermath

What admiration one feels to hear tornado survivors follow their utterances of despair with courageous resolution. "We'll start over," they declare flatly. Such strength as that strikes me as almost unimaginable.

Who gets to decide between survivors and victims?

Floods are not man-made. They are the work of an indifferent nature. Which leads to the philosophical question: Doesn't it then make a certain sense to let nature decide who wins and who takes the losses?