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January  2024 Issue

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Local Moms and Newborns Abandoned

By Bill Powers
On December 1, 2023, I received an email from the Connecticut State Office of Health Strategy (OHS) that was startling and shocking. It consisted of a December 1st Press Release titled “Office of Health Strategy and Windham Hospital Agree To Study Birthing Center/Enhance Women’s Healthcare As Part Of Agreed Settlement.” In addition to significant contradiction, it also contained important misinformation or possibly disinformation depending upon the intensions of OHS. At face value a birthing center sounds like something that is encouraging and constructive just as nationally and in Windham County there are real concerns about infant mortality rates. Infant mortality is the measure of how many babies die before they reach their first birthday. Nationally, the infant mortality rate rose by 3 % in 2022 based on data released in 2023. It was the largest increase in two decades according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infant health has been a staple of public health from the beginnings of modern medicine. Today infant mortality is a strategic priority of public health.
There continues to be an urgent need to support moms before, during and after birth and there is no question about that. Unfortunately, the OHS Press Release is troublesome in striking ways. It also provides a link to an eight page “Agreed Settlement” revealing that OHS is actually talking about the “Project Titled: Termination of Inpatient Obstetric Services”, which incredibly has nothing to do with birthing centers. Curiously, the Press Release informs that “The Office of Health Strategy has rendered a FINAL DECISION by way of an Agreed Settlement in Hartford Healthcare’s Windham Community Memorial Hospital Certificate of Need application. The settlement approves the request to terminate the hospital’s inpatient obstetric services if Windham studies the need for and feasibility of a birthing center and agrees to operate one if needed.” Those are two “if(s)” worthy of attention. That is because the discussion is for a “final decision” that has been negotiated on Windham Hospital’s application to end inpatient obstetric services. In actuality the services ended three-and-one half years ago, when Windham Hospital/Hartford Health Care (HHC) abandoned our local moms and newborns.
Clearly, the Press Release astonishingly proposes that a birthing center can somehow substitute for Windham Hospital’s inpatient maternity services. A birthing center can be a good idea for women with expected low-risk births. It is not a full-service institution for situations where moms and newborns are at risk, or when complications arise. It has been advised that a hospital inpatient obstetric service be located in its vicinity for required interventions for optimal outcomes for both mom and newborn. (“Healthy Moms. Strong Babies” – March of Dimes)
It is also astonishing that the Office of Health Strategy would allow Windham Hospital to plan a birthing center with no hospital inpatient maternity service in the vicinity of Windham/Willimantic or several other towns. Currently, the one nationally accredited birthing center in Connecticut is located in Danbury, Connecticut Childbirth and Women’s Center, and is located literally across the street from and therefore clearly in the vicinity of Danbury Hospital with inpatient maternity services. It seems the OHS somehow accepts the Windham Hospital/ Hartford Health Care definition of “vicinity” (whatever it is) for transporting maternity patients, not across the street or even across town, but all the way to Norwich. This creates a multiplicity of risks, problems, concerns and issues for women and their newborns, especially women in labor who may develop emergent complications.
What is probably the most astonishing and confusing thing presented in the December 1, 2023, OHS press release is it purported that “OHS has rendered a Final Decision by way of an Agreed Settlement in Hartford Health Care’s Windham Community Memorial Hospital, Inc. Certificate of Need (CON) application.” Recalling that the CON involves the “Termination of Inpatient Obstetric Services” at Windham Community Memorial Hospital”, how on Earth can the settlement “approve the request to terminate the hospital’s inpatient obstetric services if and when Windham studies the need for and feasibility of a birthing center and agrees to operate one if needed,” when in the meantime the Windham Hospital/HHC has already stopped its Labor and Delivery services and did so back in June of 2020? The ifs beg the question that a FINAL DECISION was reached. A final decision should not have been negotiated by OHS with those conditions.
How has Windham Hospital/HHC gotten away with abandoning our moms and their newborns for so long without first obtaining required approvals? Was there illegal or unethical collusion between OHS and Hartford Health Care by some at some level? How powerful have health care monopolies and the Connecticut Hospital Association become in the shortchanging of the heath care needs of certain groups of Connecticut residents? Why haven’t my state senator and the state representatives from our region assured that the diversity, equity, and inclusion of residents in our region are respected and why have they failed to check the health care monopolies who simply acquire more and more power? Is the abandonment of local moms and newborns by my elected officials and the Office of Health Strategy as well as HHC merely the latest example of closing down local health services? Perhaps it represents just the of the tip of the iceberg! I expect my state elected and appointed officials to be a voice for their constituents and those who are voiceless by circumstance. When I asked OHS about “who their negotiators were”- the OHS response was simply: “Various OHS Staff and attorneys were involved in the settlement negotiations.” Also, I asked, “Why work a deal with Hartford Health Care for a birthing center when the pre and postnatal services are already offered at Windham Hospital?” The OHS response was “Although OHS was confident in the PDF’s findings of fact and conclusions of law, Executive Director Deidre S. Gifford retained ultimate decision-making authority and was free to accept or reject the PDF based on her own review of the CON record.” Why weren’t the Commissioner of Public Health, the Commissioner of the Office For Early Childhood as well as the Office of the Child Advocate involved? Sounds to me like Gifford should be held accountable for a terrible decision favoring Hartford Health Care while abandoning our moms and their newborns.
Local moms and infants cannot be abandoned and should not continue to be bullied by Connecticut’s health care hypocrites and thugs.
note: bold and italicized words were mine for emphasis. – BP
a final note: To date trying to obtain answers to my questions for this story from OHS have been difficult and slow to obtain, and mostly incomplete. A freedom of information request has been filed. The spokesman for Windham hospital has not answered any of my questions simply referring me to the original OHS press release, which I already had. He stated, “At this time, all of the information I have is in the (press) release.” I immediately asked if could expect to have my questions answered and there has been no response. He was referred to me by the office of HHC’s Senior Vice President and East Region President, Donna Handley. There is much more to this story and I hope that by the March Issue of Neighbors there will be a second episode worthy of your time.
Bill Powers is a former teacher, counselor and health care administrator

Unsung Heroes of Soul: The Capitols and The Radiants

By Dean Farrell
As host of “The Soul Express,” I play the biggest names in 1960s and ‘70s-era soul music. I also mix in the many great soul artists who did not necessarily become household names but were no less talented. This month’s column features two vocal groups from the Upper Midwest.
They formed as the Three Caps in 1962. The line-up comprised Samuel George (lead vocals and drums), Don Storball (back-up vocals and guitar), and Richard McDougall (back-up vocals and keyboard). After they performed at a local dance with Barbara Lewis (“Hello Stranger”) headlining, the group (now renamed the Capitols) came to the attention of her manager, Ollie McLaughlin. He signed them to his Karen label and released the group’s debut single, “Dog and Cat,” in 1963. When it failed to sell, the Capitols broke up and went back to their day jobs.
Three years later, George, Storball and McDougall re-formed the Capitols and looked up Ollie McLaughlin. Inspired by a current dance craze called the Jerk, Storball had written a song about the “Pimp Jerk,” done by the neighborhood pimps who danced in the clubs but were too “cool” to do the Jerk. He renamed it “Cool Jerk” to avoid possible bans on the radio. McLaughlin liked the song and had the Capitols record it at Detroit’s Golden World Studios on March 14, 1966. Motown’s house band, the Funk Brothers, provided the instrumentation. The song was supposed to include a horn section, but the musicians never showed up.
“Cool Jerk” became a solid smash, hitting #2 on Billboard magazine’s Rhythm & Blues singles chart and #7 on its Hot 100 pop survey. It also hit #1 in both Detroit and Philadelphia To cash in on their newfound success, the Capitols released two albums in 1966: Dance the Cool Jerk and We Got a Thing. Both were top-heavy with Motown covers, and were not exactly not hot sellers.
The trio followed up “Cool Jerk” with eight additional singles, three of which made the Billboard charts. None, however, could duplicate the group’s initial success. The Capitols would forever be known as “one-hit wonders.” They broke up for good in 1969.
Unlike its creators, “Cool Jerk” has enjoyed a long shelf life. It was used in Cool Whip commercials (changing “Cool Jerk” to “Cool Whip”), and it appeared in the soundtracks of movies like More American Graffiti (1979), Night and the City (1992), Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), Calendar Girl (1993), and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012). The song was also ranked at #70 on Digital Dream Door’s list of “100 Greatest Rock Bass Performances,” and at #48 on “VH-1’s 100 Greatest Dance Songs.”
Of the group original members, Donald Storball became a Detroit police officer, Samuel George was killed in an altercation on March 17, 1982, and Richard McDougall’s whereabouts are unknown.
Charted singles:
“Cool Jerk” (1966) R&B #2, Pop #7
“I Got to Handle It” (1966) R&B #49, Pop #74

Dreaming of Snow: A Climate Change Dilemma

By Phoebe C. Godfrey

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know…
—Irving Berlin, 1942

It is the last day of December 2023 and I am in Vermont to ski, but instead of skiing I am writing this piece. This is not a testimony to my dedication to the Neighbors paper, as much as I support it not just as a writer and a reader but also as one firmly committed to all the different ways it helps to create community across and through multiple modalities. Rather, my writing of this piece instead of skiing speaks to the fact that in Vermont, and across New England (and, I have heard, in many other ski areas across the country, including in Connecticut), there is almost no snow, and the only available snow to ski on is artificial. Furthermore, even the artificial snow is limited, as for almost a week temperatures have not been below freezing and it has done nothing but rain.
The ski resort we have passes to, Mad River Glen (MRG), located just outside of Waitsfield, Vermont, and next door to Sugarbush, has in the past prided itself on not making snow on more than a few runs. Its slogan, “Ski It If You Can,” includes the understanding that what you ski on is what nature has provided, and therefore the conditions are both better when it does snow and much more unpredictable and varied when it does not, as opposed to other resorts. MRG is also a skiers-owned mountain, in that it is the only co-operative mountain in the country and the only one to have voted, years ago, to not allow snowboarders, as their style of riding changes the contours of the snow to the detriment of skiing. MRG’s other slogan, or mission, is for its members to act as “stewards of the mountain” rather than owners of a for-profit ski resort. This mission, along with its being member-owned, has kept MRG from allowing itself to be sold to Sugarbush, which itself—along with Stratton and many other ski resorts around the country—is now owned by Alterra Mountain Company, based in Denver, Colorado.
However, as much as I and the other members support this mission, it poses a problem for the future of MRG, in that the climate will continue to warm. In fact, one study suggests that “virtually all [U.S. ski] locations are projected to see reductions in winter recreation season lengths, exceeding 50% by 2050 and 80% in 2090” if nothing changes in global carbon emissions.1 Thus, this year when listening to “White Christmas” in the many shops in which I found myself, the line “Just like the ones I used to know” took on a whole new meaning, making it not only a Christmas song written by the famous Jewish songwriter Irving Berlin (born Israel Beilin in Russia, 1888), but also the first climate change Christmas song.
As avid supporters of co-operatives (such as the Willimantic Food Co-op and CLiCK, the nonprofit we co-founded that is based on co-operative values), my wife and I have become shareholders of MRG and have bought our season ski passes there, as opposed to somewhere else like Sugarbush. Upon our arrival on December 27 we were disappointed to find that MRG had only one short run open, and my first thought was that they should invest in more snowmaking “so we can ski,” “so we can get our money’s worth,” “so we don’t have to go ski elsewhere,” and, for the long term, “so they can financially survive.” However, in returning to MRG’s mission that we are “stewards of the mountain” rather than owners of a for-profit ski resort, a serious dilemma and contradiction arises, as how can one be a mountain steward and advocate for an increase in snowmaking?
It should be no surprise that snowmaking requires extensive energy inputs, as well as water, machinery, and labor. According to a new study from Canada, that nation’s current annual snowmaking demands the same energy required to power 17,000 homes,2 while other studies from Europe have recognized the impact that artificial snow, which is denser, can have on the flow of oxygen to the plant life below, therefore negatively affecting the ecology and biodiversity.3 Furthermore, artificial snow products such as Snomax contain “proteins from a bacteria” whose impact on environmental and human health “are not yet well understood.”4 On the other hand, one argument in favor of more artificial snowmaking is that it keeps skiers from getting on planes and looking for snow elsewhere, such as Northeast skiers flying to the higher altitudes of, say, Colorado or Utah. Still, given that hospitality companies are now offering passes that give skiers access to all their mountain resorts across the country (such as Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon pass), this kind of ski travel is ever more likely. And so, corporate monopolies, the search for snow, and the making of snow all combine into a vicious cycle to increase climate change and thus, tragically, the loss of snow. Of course, this is true of everything we do, including my using a computer to write this piece…
I am not writing this piece to offer any concrete answers, rather merely to muse on the ever increasing predicaments in which we are finding ourselves ensnared. These were illustrated in a cartoon I saw in a local Vermont paper which had a person looking through binoculars at a ship labeled “2023” and saying, “Goodbye to a year of fires, floods, terrorism, and wars.” The person next to them also had binoculars and was looking at the next ship coming into shore, labeled “2024,” and their remark was, “I’m not so sure…” I second that comment on this last day of 2023. In fact, I am sure that 2024 will not be better—not globally, not nationally, and certainly not in terms of climate change. As painful as it may be to our culture and as antithetical to our economic system, the fact remains that unlimited growth on a finite planet does not bode well for all life on Earth, let alone for skiing or the future of “white Christmases.” Thus, all the choices we make, the values we uphold, the truths we defend, the community and love we build matter more than ever.
So, on that note I am going to continue to dream, not just of the future return of more snow (probably not in my lifetime), but of the more equitable and ecologically and socially sustainable world we know is possible. And, more than this, I am not going to merely dream, I am going to find ways to collectively build, even if it means continuing to ski on just one short slope in support of the very values we need now more than ever.

1 Dave Zook, “Climate Study Suggests Grim Scenario for Ski Resorts,” Protect Our Winters, https://protectourwinters.org/climate-study-suggests-grim-scenario-for-ski-resorts/.
2 Tyler Hatch, “New Study Reveals Harmful Environmental Effects of Snowmaking,” Snow Brains, June 16, 2023, https://snowbrains.com/new-study-reveals-harmful-effects-of-snowmaking/.
3 Federico La Bruna, “Expensive Snow: The Environmental Cost of Fake Snow,” Ecobnb, Feb. 28, 2020, https://ecobnb.com/blog/2020/02/expensive-artificial-snow/.
4 Adrian Dingle, “Artificial Snow: A Slippery Slope,” ChemMatters, Dec. 2018/Jan. 2019, https://www.acs.org/education/resources/highschool/chemmatters/past-issues/2018-2019/december-2018/artificial-snow-a-slippery-slope.html/.

Our Relationship to the Land

By Loretta Wrobel

As we begin a new year, a question nags me. How many years can we continue to live in an unsustainable manner where we view land as property, land and the non-human beings that reside on it as commodities, and land as capital to be used up without regard? In 2024 I will welcome my 80th birthday. I tremble when I remember in 8 short decades how my world has transformed.

The looming presence of dramatic climate change, with the devastating results– flooding, incessant forest fires that pollute our precious air, and the drying up of important water sources that leave us questioning about our survival. I was listening to an old talk given by Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist, professor, author, and citizen of the Potawatomi nation, speaking of her mourning the extinction of the once prolific passenger pigeons on the occasion of the centennial anniversary of their disappearance. She offered during that speech that we were losing an average of 200 species every day due to climate change. Other sources indicate we are losing 150 species daily. I add to my long list that rapid acceleration of the loss of species is occurring due to the effects of climate chaos. And again I am concerned about the future of our world.

Robin Wall Kimmerer was talking nearly a decade ago at a Bioneers Conference in 2014, comparing the eradication of the passenger pigeons to the relocation of her ancestors from the forests of Michigan to Kansas during the Trail of Death. Both of these events happened because land was needed, and the original peoples, as well as the birds, were viewed as stopping progress.

Ms. Kimmerer goes on to present us a blueprint for sustainability that is as relevant today as it was 10 years ago, when she initially discussed the wisdom of the Honorable Harvest. The relevancy is not surprising, as she is sharing ancient wisdom passed down from generations of her tribal people. This clear elaboration of ancient ways that indigenous peoples refined and verbally passed on over many generations reflects a path of sustainability. This world view is simple yet complex. It is a model that indigenous peoples followed, since they viewed the land as sacred, home, sustainer, ancestral wisdom, source of knowledge, and the residence of nonhuman relatives.

For us in our highly advanced technological culture, these tenets may be viewed as foolish or primitive. I was impressed when I heard her list these core beliefs, and pray that our generation of young people will see the truth and begin to practice these life-sustaining and endurable practices.

She enumerates ten key principles that allow me to feel hopeful. Here is a method of shifting from our capitalist, unsustainable, disrespectful and destructive course to a sustainable, healthy, and respectful philosophy. Adopting these beliefs can stem the out-of-control flow down the presently well-worn road to extinction that so many now extinct creatures have traveled. We desperately must do this for all living species.

The teachings of the Honorable Harvest are grounded in the reality of our utter dependence on the lives of other beings. The understanding that knowing the ways of the ones who take care of you, such as the plants that surround you, can help you thrive. Our young children can identify over one hundred corporate logos and a much smaller number of plants, average around ten. What does this show us about what is paramount in our society?

As we attempt to embrace these principles, the manner in which we impact our environment will be transfigured. Here is a list of these rules of sensible and compassionate living that Robin Kimmerer sees as a methodology to stop the destruction of climate change: Never take the first one, ask permission, take only what you need, listen for the answer, minimize harm, use everything you take, be grateful, share with others, reciprocate the gift and take only that which is given.

A book can be written about each of these commandments that appear as straightforward and easy. However, for the average person living in America today, these ten principles represent an extremely monumental stretch of thinking, acting and being. For example, when we take only what we need, we stop producing mountains of waste and we keep our houses free from excessive clutter. Instead, we in our western culture accept the idea that more is best. The more we possess, the happier we will be. So goes the mistaken assumption. We all experience the folly of that myth and still buy into purchasing more and more.

One of my favorites is share with others. Pause and imagine living in a sharing culture. How could our daily life be different if we operated on sharing rather than collecting and hoarding our commodities? What kind of world would we create if the status of an individual was counted by the degree of sharing and not by how much money, houses, or cars they possess? It is refreshing to consider how a switch in beliefs and thinking could alter an entire culture.

If you are still in the dark about what is given, consider the sun, whose energy rises each day and is shared freely with everyone. We have the wind, the ocean waves, and the forests. There are abundances of elements and species that allow us to be alive and breathing. Do we remember to thank all of these beings that are always there for us? “Saying thank you” is just accepting our interdependence, and releasing the erroneous idea that we are totally independent and self-reliant.

When we acknowledge that what is broken in our world is our relationship to the land, we are moving on the healing pathway. The deeper we understand having a positive connection to our earth is essential for our wellbeing, the more our chances for survival increase dramatically. Also, the wellbeing of all species on this amazing and diverse planet is vital to our continued existence. All life is intertwined. By vowing to remain committed to the belief that the welfare of other species is necessary to our continued healthy existence, we can invest in the strenuous work of changing how we relate to plants, soil, air, water, and to each other. May we see the sageness before it is too late. We have many ancestors with the answers for us, if we make the intelligent choice to pay attention. First peoples learned by observing, giving thanks, and honoring the land and nonhuman species. Can we follow their lead to combat climate change? I pray we will.

Wonder and Purpose

By Delia Berlin

Every two weeks or so I drive to NYC to visit my daughter and her family. On those occasions, I usually listen to Connecticut Public Radio. If I find the programming interesting, I can get decent reception along most of the drive on three different stations. On my last trip, I caught a fascinating portion of “Where We Live,” centered around saving turtles.
I had a sweet pet turtle in my childhood. I have heard that I selected it from a large group of them at a pet store in Buenos Aires when I was two years old. Apparently that particular turtle was from a different species, belonged to the store owner and was not for sale. But a two-year-old knows how to tantrum, and it produced results. That turtle roamed our patio during the warm parts of the year and retired to hibernate under furniture in winter. When my family left Argentina, the turtle stayed with relatives who had an enclosed garden and after many years abroad I lost track of its situation.
At one point in my childhood, my family also had a water tank with a couple of red-eared sliders, but I do not recall the end of that story. And decades later, my husband participated as a citizen scientist in projects related to marine turtle conservation. So, turtles were not complete strangers to me. I thought I knew quite a few things about them, but this radio program opened my eyes to much more.
While the guests related several amazing facts about turtles, what captivated me was their passion as they talked about them. They almost sounded like me when I discuss parrots. My thoughts dwelled more on that passion than any actual turtle-related information. But some of the turtle factoids mentioned were so fantastic that I must share them.
The radio guests marveled at the incredible resilience of turtles. They cited many stories about turtles that survived devastating injuries and later regained full function, getting well enough to be reintroduced to the wild. Some of these cases required significant veterinary work and ingenuity. For example, one turtle with a fractured jaw that had been re-set kept dislocating it by wobbling (due to other injuries) and rolling over. To prevent this turtle from constantly rolling over, the vet stuck it snugly inside a plastic jug with a handle, head sticking out. By positioning the handle over the tallest point of the turtle, the jug acted as a stabilizer, bringing the turtle back on its feet each time it was about to roll over. The turtle “wore” the plastic jug until its jaw healed and recovered fully.
Another turtle, a baby near the size of a quarter, was found seemingly dead. But the passion of these turtle advocates goes well beyond talk. One of them actually performed CPR on this tiny tot for 35 minutes. And guess what? The turtle lived!
Now, if you are curious about turtle CPR, you will be interested to hear that it is not at all like human CPR. Fortunately, no chest compressions or mouth-to-mouth breathing are involved. If by chance you find a turtle in cardiac arrest, you should take hold of its legs and start crossing and uncrossing them rhythmically to pump oxygen into its lungs. The radio guests did not explain how to take a turtle’s pulse, but based on their described successes, I think one should immediately start the turtle CPR protocol on any turtle that looks dead, as long as it does not smell, and proceed until there are clear signs of life or exhaustion, whichever comes first.
The radio program covered turtles of all kinds, aquatic and terrestrial. One segment was about a very endangered migratory species of marine turtle. As we all well know, the oceans are warming. The Gulf of Maine, where these turtles find themselves at times, is warming much faster than any other part of the Atlantic Ocean. This is delaying the start of the migration of these turtles. When they finally leave for warmer waters they encounter, instead, colder waters. Being cold-blooded animals, they become hypothermic and drowsy, unable to swim or even to come up to the surface for air. Volunteers routinely patrol these Maine beaches after storms, rescuing any turtles that get washed ashore and taking them to warming facilities to be revived. Some of these turtles are then transported more than ten miles on sleds to be released safely.
Many more interesting facts were uncovered during this program, helping my ride to the city feel shorter than usual. By the time it ended, my mind drifted to the sense of commitment and joy that these passionate speakers had conveyed. In these apocalyptic times of cruel wars, cataclysms and extinctions, life manages to continue to offer seemingly endless opportunities to find wonder and purpose if we seek them.
As we start a new year, we can search within ourselves for hidden pockets of refuge from all the horrors around us. Hopefully, we will still find many. They may be parrots or turtles, plants, constellations, or books. We may encounter them walking outdoors, cooking dinner, or creating projects with others. And if we are fortunate enough to get inspired, feel wonder, and find purpose, let us recognize it, embrace it, and savor it with gratitude.

Sky-Dancing Clouds and Egyptian Cosmology

By Bob Grindle
The early Christmas Eve conversation with an old friend who happened to stop by the house reached escape velocity before either of us realized what was happening. It had started innocently enough with a bit of the reminiscing this season is so fabled for…the winter wonderland memories and fantasies that so many of our generation hightail it south to avoid but seem so abundantly to populate our recall of the good times…once upon a time! We hadn’t seen each other in several months and after a bit of catch-up, a sharp comment from this longtime friend about losing a son to right-wing conspiracy theories and what sort of world will our generation be leaving to our children and grandchildren spilled out onto the conversational floor as if a secret compartment of some sort had suddenly broken open. My own sense of optimism for the long-term survival of our species exists despite deep and troubling concerns about homo sapiens’ flaws, so after a couple of quick conversational k-turns we said our goodbyes and merry Christmases.

Our son, daughter-in-law and grandson recently set out to a nearby tree farm to cut their annual Christmas tree and the picture they took of that tiny, short-lived moment in time reminds me of why hope for the future is every bit as much alive as it has ever been…and why somewhere in even the smokiest, bluesiest, jazz corner of the saddest lament we might have ever imagined, there is a spark of human spirit that refuses to grow cold.

The mid-afternoon walk we set off on across this late December landscape feels almost derelict. How did things get to be such a mess? We have lived on this hillside long enough to have met the beast that breathes in nature’s dishevelment. The forces that haunt the lyrical distractions of wind and rain and atmospheric banshees wailing through the darkening, leafless and sodden forests of our scoured and moss-strewn bit of glacial retreat are as old as Earth, as fresh as dawn and as familiar as the sound of our own breathing. Does the swirling crowd of sky dancing clouds celebrate our success at surviving this tempest-tossed slip-slide called life or simply revel in their superior Cosmology—Egyptian-like, perhaps—understanding there is divinity in everything, from seasonally suspended milkweed para-seeds to rain fueled hillside trail washouts and mummified ash trees shedding their decay like woodland zombies?

Across the saturated wetland that just a few months ago we called a lawn, this afternoon’s walk leads us downhill toward the naturally occurring springs that have never failed to supply our water, sweet and pure, in more than a half century of tending to and mending the wounds and fractures of this soggy hillside. More pathways beckon but are littered with a feud of fallen trees and branches that the twilight casts in ghostly and ghastly shapes and shadows and caution calls a halt to our ramble. We head back toward the house as the distant drone of the generator chuckles at our pioneering fantasies. Fifty years ago, after the December 1973 ice storm—recently wed and having just moved into our first house—without a generator or a care in the world, we reveled in the quiet beauty of an eastern Connecticut hillside we had just met. As the sound of the generator grows nearer and the flickering lights of the house offer their welcoming glow, it occurs to me that the universe keeps offering our species the same lessons over, and over and over again…in different ways perhaps…I hope we master them soon. 

The wind is increasing a bit as dark settles in and these raw and bone rattling days when the rain seems almost eternal make our human nesting practices seem worth the effort. Something about the dark woods all around us make the thought of January’s full Wolf Moon seem even more chilling than normal and our pace toward the house quickens. I nod to Orion and Taurus as they begin to twinkle into view and smile to think that Jupiter will strut its stuff across the night sky as the Cosmos—in its cold, dark and implacable way—expands violently without a sound.

Back in the house the light of the Moon is enchanting and thoughts of sound and fury fade in the face of evening chores. Despite concerns about the future of our species, I feel encouraged that the hard work of fixing things is in our own hands and that is a good thought to wrap up a late afternoon walk as 2023 comes to an end. Enjoy the coming season when our New England landscape rests up for it Spring Fling. 

The Windham Free Library Procures Useful Grants

By Bill Powers
“Changing Children’s Lives one book at a time” is an expression sometimes used by advocates for the improvement of children’s literacy. It is the motto for the Pilcrow Foundation’s Children’s Book Project Grant based in Oregon. The Windham Free Library applied for and received three different grants last year. In December of 2023, several cartons of children’s books selected by the Windham Free Library arrived from the Pilcrow Foundation project. There were 111 high quality hardcover books previously selected by the library to be added to their collection. The books included award-winning and star-reviewed titles from educational and literary organizations. It was the first time the library has received this grant for which the library matched one third of the grant amount with funds they raised themselves. “The grant was an incredible opportunity for Windham’s children” said, Kathy Miller the Library ‘s board president.
In December the library received a grant that focuses on children’s books and next summer’s program for kids. The Leo J. & Rose Pageau Trust benefits local charities, religious, scientific, literary and educational groups or projects in the Windham, Connecticut Community.
Serving the needs of Windham Center’s children by the Windham Free Library is not new. The library had its beginnings in 1896 and it was “organized by a small number of citizens as a non-profit association library.” There are past accounts of elderly residents who recalled walking with their class from their neighborhood school to the library more than 100 years ago. That tradition is practiced on a regular basis today, when students walk with their teachers from the Windham Center School to the Library to check out and return books. While they are there, they assemble in the historic Dr. Chester Hunt Office to hear a grade appropriate story read to them by a library volunteer.
Janice Patry, the library director told me, “As the Windham Free Library is the smallest free standing public library in Connecticut, grants like those offered by The Pilcrow Foundation and The Leo J. and Rose Pageau Trust go a long way in stretching our book budget allowance. Having received these grants, we will be able to expand our offerings, as well as replace some of our well-loved books in need of repair. Our partnership with the Windham Center School provides the opportunity for students in their classrooms to visit the library multiple times throughout the year, and we are excited to be able to add new materials to the collection for them to choose from.”
A third matching grant and the largest obtained by the library last year demonstrates the library board’s responsible stewardship for the Dr. Chester Hunt Office, a true historical gem that stands on the library’s property and was built in 1790. The grant called for the exterior windows to be restored including glazing and painting. Exterior clapboards were repaired as needed and the exterior of the building painted. Preservation Connecticut provided the funding through one of its 1772 Foundation Grants. Preservation Connecticut works to “preserve, protect, and promote the buildings, sites, and landscapes that contribute to the heritage and vitality of Connecticut communities.” The services of Mr. Bill Bender from Windham were procured; he has completed other similar restoration projects in the past. A goal was to preserve as much of original wood as possible.
Many thanks to Ellen Lang who was involved with writing the grant applications for the library and who was helpful with providing much of the information for this story.

Bill Powers is a retired Hartford and Windham Public Schools teacher.

Year End Blues and Hopes

By Loretta Wrobel

As December rolls around, I am struck by the sadness I feel because the days end so quickly. I barely turn around and night has descended, the lights are on and there went another day. I am a creature of the light and when the light diminishes, I start to feel myself diminishing. I find myself holding my breath until Winter Solstice arrives with the promise of longer days. This gives me such joy that each year I can be seen jumping with pleasure on December 21, the first day of winter. Bliss, because I have survived another dark cycle. 

The other reality is that this time of year begs me to address how the past year has influenced me and what the new year holds for our human race. I know I have been dragging as the year progressed with ongoing reports of war and endless violence. The concept of peaceful resolution seems to be out of our reality in 2023. Will 2024 be different? The concept of peaceful dialogue has vanished as a strategy for resolving conflicts. 

I do not dwell and labor over the many bombings and incessant violence that appear to have overtaken our planet. Conflict spreads as rapidly as the COVID virus, and can be found everywhere. It is so easy to become numb and overwhelmed by the latest news from anywhere in the Middle East, Ukraine, or in any state in our Country.  It feels that conflict in all continents around the globe are constantly escalating. 

Imagine my surprise when I came upon pearls of wisdom right when I craved them.  I was reading the book, On Time and Water, by Andri Snaer Magnason, and read a chapter detailing his visit with the Dali Lama in 2010. A dear friend gave me the book to read, as it discusses climate change and the drastic changes happening in Iceland. The writer is Icelandic and the book has a variety of messages. He talks about his grandparents and their relationship to the then numerous glaciers in Iceland. He learns from their stories and he writes about all the high-speed changes that have occurred within the last half century.

He meets the Dalai Lama, is entranced, and secures an invitation to meet the Dalai Lama again at Dharamsala in India. The report of the Dali Lama’s message is so uplifting and hopeful, it flabbergasted me. It was the intensely profound message I was seeking. I was shocked and pleased to find this enthralling answer that led me to a greater understanding as to what was weighing me down in our present world.  

The Dali Lama spoke about the reality that without peaceful dialogue, no issues can be solved. When force is implemented, there is a winner and a loser. Under that scenario there can be no permanent or even longstanding solution to any conflict.  Can we as humans begin solving the ubiquitous conflicts not by escalation of force but by constructive dialogue? This wise, holy man shared that the twentieth century was characterized not by engaging in negotiations, but by using greater violence. He expressed his belief that this twenty-first century will focus more on emotions and teaching warm-heartedness.  

As we become aware and expand our compassion, we are better prepared to listen and work on/out mutual solutions. The Dala Lama explained, “Ethics and compassion must be taught on a secular basis, otherwise it will cause problems in multireligious, multicultural communities.” He adds, “Secular doesn’t mean disrespect for religion, but rather respect for all religions.”  

A simple truth and so very difficult to practice in our world of such diversity and disparity among the innumerable groups, countries, races, and religions on our planet today!

This wise soul went on to elucidate the critical fact that we need to build real trust that comes from an abundance of compassion and respect. Trust is not generated with economic power or weapons. It is based on openness, vulnerability, and honesty. All of these come from warmheartedness. We need to educate ourselves and each other to graduate from the old-fashioned method of solving issues with guns, bombs, and power over. With an abundance of love, forgiveness, and forbearance, we can collectively tackle our conflicts without destroying each other.

This approach is easy to talk about and so very complicated to achieve, since we are creatures of habits and patterns. The old ways are hard to let go of. When we view history, we totally understand that these ways are always a failure. In looking back at the two World Wars, 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, we acknowledge how tragic it was with lives lost and devastation in several countries.  Such catastrophic destruction in such a short period of time. We should have learned our lessons.

It is never too late to start a new path and a new approach to viewing the issues/conflicts confronting us today. Continuing to seek materiality is a fool’s journey; it is unquenchable. The more we acquire, the more we are driven to strive for more. The enlightened vision is to strive towards better mental health, meaningful connection and nurturing ourselves. This we can continue to develop without negative impacts. When the central point is to move on a roadway that we can control, we stand a reasonable chance of reaching the goal. All of us can commit to attaining the goal of enhancing our friendships, improving our health, and making sure not to shortchange ourselves. If we can make that commitment to ourselves, we improve dramatically. And it doesn’t stop there, because we will positively influence all of the people we encounter and lessen the huge amount of negatively and hostility in our world. 

I now have found a new year’s resolution for myself in our new year of 2024. What about you? Are you ready to take the plunge and let go of the unsuccessful and destructive ancient methods? You decide!

Fungal Fantasy

By Delia Berlin

Our health status does not change instantly when we turn 65. But for most Americans, their medical insurance does. This, in turn, triggers other changes. Neither patients nor their health care providers can escape the transformation that suddenly affects preventive exams and routines.

It could be said that as we hit Medicare age, we become metaphorical zombies. You may know that there is an entire genus of fungi that parasitizes insects and converts them into zombies, who live the rest of their existence exclusively satisfying their parasitic fungus’ needs. In this allegory, the corporate health care system is the fungus. Both patients and health care providers are zombies, forced to go through senseless motions to keep feeding the parasite. The following fictitious examples may illustrate some of the zombie motions that our parasite requires from us.

Situation 1:

You wait for 20 minutes in a doctor’s waiting room. Finally, someone appears at the other end of the room and calls your name. You get up from your chair and follow the person into an office, where you are offered another chair to wait some more. In a while, someone comes in and asks you to step on the scale. You get up from this second chair and comply. Then, the person proceeds to ask you the same questions that you already answered in questionnaires previously mailed to you and, for good measure, also online. One of the questions asks if you have trouble getting up from a chair. By now, you have been seen getting up from a chair more than once and without any trouble. But the question must be asked. And answered.

Situation 2:

You arrive at a health care specialist’s office and announce yourself. You are given forms to complete. One of the forms asks if you had a flu shot this season. According to the CDC, as of mid-November, there have been 330 flu deaths in the US this year, and just since September more than 1,000 covid deaths have occurred in the US each single week! Also according to the CDC website, only 17% of the total US population received a bivalent covid booster last year. While the CDC still shows no intake data for the newly updated covid vaccine, early indications indicate that it’s been dismal so far. Yet, nobody asks you if you have received an updated covid shot. But you are asked the question that must be asked, and you do answer it.

Situation 3:

You completed five lengthy questionnaires prior to a doctor’s appointment. Some of the questions clearly relate to your mental health and social support system. Several are quite intimate, such as frequency of church attendance or sexual activity. You may also share other related information, like family difficulties or losses, but during your actual appointment there is no acknowledgement or exploration of these subjects. You then hear that the office cannot locate your printed questionnaires. Now you wonder if your religious or sexual practices may have become public information. There was no benefit to the providers or you from asking or answering these questions. But both parties cooperated in their zombie dance.

I could list other examples of Medicare “wellness” practices that provide no benefit to patient or medical practitioner. They are as distracting and useless for one as they are for the other, but they must be followed because they are part of the established protocols. All the fields in the fungal databases must be checked off.

Some of these protocols may have started with good intentions. It would be fine to determine if patients are socially engaged, if something helpful could be done with that information. But in the absence of such interventions, those questions are at worst intrusive and at best a waste of time.

The times when one could walk into a doctor’s office and openly share concerns, while the practitioner listened and acted solely according to experience and knowledge, are over. Doctors, selected from the best and the brightest and put through years of grueling training, are now unable to freely use their own brains and instincts for many of the problems they encounter. Burdened by the protocols established by their employers, mainly to maximize profits and minimize liability, many doctors are experiencing burnout and 20% plan to leave their field within two years. 

The US spends more money per capita in health care than any other country in the world. Yet, our life expectancy is declining and is now five years lower than in the UK. I remember that my grandfather was reluctant to go to the doctor. In my youth, I saw his reticence as stubbornness, but recently a delayed sense of empathy woke up in me. Sorry Grandpa, I can hear you now.

Revisiting 1979 Music

By Tom Woron

More 1979.  Yes!  Only this time the focus is only on the music of that year.  After my writing of “1979” for the October issue of Neighbors, it was pointed out in the next issue that when I discussed the music of 1979 in my article, I neglected to mention any female and non-caucasian bands or singers that were popular that year.  I can assure that there was no deliberate intent to snub or disregard the musical contributions of female and non-caucasian musicians in the year 1979, rather it was more or less short sightedness that led me to only mention the bands and musicians that I did mention.  I knew that putting together a long article about a rather tumultuous year in the world would only allow me limited space to discuss the music of the year.  Facing the deadline for submission I chose to “wing it” by just going with the music that I remembered being exposed to on an almost daily basis in 1979.  I remember thinking that I could write a whole article on just the music of 1979 in which, of course, I would have thoroughly researched into the greater picture of the songs and all of the musicians that made the year a great one in music. 

In the summer of 1979 I started working my first job, as a dishwasher in a restaurant.  Just around the corner from where I did my work were the restaurant’s cooks.  They had a radio on at all times that I could hear clearly.  That radio, I believe, was always set on to just one rock station.  Prior to taking the job, my exposure to rock and pop music was somewhat limited.  I was familiar with a few bands and song artists such as Elton John, Steve Miller, Linda Ronstadt, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and a few more but I couldn’t always identify who sang most of the songs that I did hear.  Working a seven hour shift though, with a nearby radio set to one rock station that bombarded me with the same songs by the same bands and artists day in and day out burned those songs into my collective memory.  All day long when I worked I heard Supertramp, Kiss, The Knack’s “My Sharona,” (and also the Knack’s “Good Girls Don’t”), Rod Stewart, The Charlie Daniels Band, Electric Light Orchestra, Styx, Robert Palmer, The Eagles, Foreigner, Warren Zevon and some others.  I don’t really recall hearing any female singers on that particular radio station with the exception of Pat Benatar with her hit song “Heartbreaker” in late 1979.  I heard the Little River Band’s “Lady” often at home because in the morning my mother used to listen to radio personality Bob Steele who played the song frequently.   

It was actually in the early months of 1980 that I started to become aware of the music of Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Blondie, Kool and the Gang and many others that I could not identify with before.  Sure, I heard their songs at times but didn’t always catch what the title of the song was and who sang it.  That all changed in early 1980 due to the fact that it was only then that I started to tune into other radio stations rather than just be exposed to the one I heard at my job.  (I got a radio for Christmas 1979!)  So I have long incorrectly associated many songs that were hits in 1979, or even earlier, with the year 1980 as that was when I began to identify specific songs with who sang them.  Without a doubt many more bands and singers than just those that I mentioned previously in my October article deserve to be recognized for their contributions to popular music in the year 1979.   An analysis of some of them follows.  

First of all in the late 1970s America was in the peak of what is now known as the disco era.  Disco was basically dance floor music.  As a different musical culture it was usually characterized by repetitive lyrics, a sort of catchy, hypnotic rhythm, and sounds that were electronic in nature.  A disco was a nightclub specifically set up for dancing to such music.  

The biggest name in disco was undoubtedly American singer and songwriter Donna Summer from Boston, Massachusetts.  Now known as the “Queen of Disco” Ms. Summers was well established as a highly successful musician and she was internationally famous by the late 1970s.  Her highly successful album “Bad Girls” was released on April 25, 1979 and it didn’t take long for it to reach the top of the U.S. Billboard 200 albums chart.  The album contained several hit songs.  Among them was the album’s title song “Bad Girls.”  Also big hits from the album during the year were the songs “Dim All the Lights,” “Hot Stuff,” and “Heaven Knows.”  Ms. Summers won many award for her music and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame On April 18, 2013 eleven months after her death.  

Led by Robert Earl “Kool” Bell, the American Rhythm and Blues band Kool and the Gang had their beginnings as a band in New Jersey in 1964.  Their hit album “Ladies Night” was released on September 6, 1979.  The single title song of the same name became an instant hit and a regular on many radio stations.  Described as “funky motion music,” “Ladies Night” is considered by many to be one of the best songs of the disco era. 

In 1971 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania four sisters, Debbie, Joni, Kathy and Kim Sledge formed the musical group Sister Sledge.  The group rose to international notoriety during the peak of the disco era with the release of their breakthrough album “We Are Family” in early 1979.  The single “He’s the Greatest Dancer” from the album charted number one as a Rhythm and Blues hit.   As I did mention in my October article, the 1979 World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates adopted the Sister Sledge title song “We Are Family” from the album of the same name, as their team’s anthem.  

Another example of a song that I heard occasionally over the years and found very appealing but never really identified who sang it was “Reunited” by American duo Peaches and Herb.  The song came in number 5 on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1979. 

The song that came in number 6 right behind “Reunited” on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1979 was Gloria Gaynor’s hit “I Will Survive.”  Gloria Gaynor is an American singer from Newark, New Jersey that has been active as a singer since 1965.  Ms. Gaynor achieved fame during the disco era especially after the release of her album “Love Tracks.”  The album was released in November 1978 with the single “I Will Survive” having been released the month before.  “I Will Survive” was to become one of the most popular disco songs of the disco era.  Again, I found “I Will Survive” to be a very appealing song when I did hear it however I tended to associate it with a later time rather than the year it rose up the charts. 

Obviously with limited space to work with it is impossible to analyze and discuss all of the songs and musicians on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles chart for 1979.  However, one more certainly deserves special recognition and that is Michael Jackson, “the King of Pop.”

Michael Jackson, considered to be a major cultural icon of the 20th century, began his musical career as a child as a member of the Jackson 5 in 1964.  The Jackson 5 (later The Jacksons) were a pop music band consisting of Michael and four of his older brothers.   Michael was later to be catapulted to stardom as a solo artist with the release of his fifth solo album “Off The Wall.” in August 1979.  It was the first album to produce four hits that made the top 10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.  One of those hits was “Rock With You” which also charted as the third best number one hit of the whole decade of the 1980s.  Michael Jackson’s hits dominated the pop singles charts for many years and “Rock With You” is considered to be one of the last big disco hits of the disco era. 

It was in a bar in New York City in early 1980 that I first recall hearing “Rock With You.”  I was certainly glad to have the opportunity to catch the song there as no one questioned my age.  ($2.87 for a bottle of Heineken in a NYC bar!  Outrageous!)  

Michael Jackson outdid himself with the release of his 1982 album “Thriller.” The album has the distinction of being the best selling album of all time.  Seven songs from “Thriller” charted in the top ten which set a record for the most top ten hits from one album.  Two of those songs, “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” charted number one. 

In 1983 I was a fan of the band The Police and their hit album of that year “Synchronicity.”  I was quite pleased when I saw “Synchronicity” on top of the album charts for a little while.  It didn’t take long though for “Thriller” to take over the top spot and remain there for many weeks.  I preferred to see “Synchronicity on top but when I saw the MTV videos for “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” and the title song, I went out and bought the “Thriller” album.  At the record store I saw several people also buying “Thriller.”  I could see why the album was on top of the charts.  It just seemed at the time that when the “Thriller” album was taking over the top spot on the charts it was telling the “Synchronicity” album to “Beat It.”

Among them was Michael Jackson’s hit “Rock With You” from his 1979 hit album “Off the Wall.”