Believe it or not, there are bright spots in this unusually harsh and angry holiday season. Though I too am anxious and perturbed, I’ve learned the world also bequeaths us little gifts of tenderness.

Right before the recent midterm elections, I sat down at a restaurant with two people who had been sparring for years over politics. Though they are usually civil, one was talking about blocking the other on Facebook.

A couple of weeks ago I sat with a man as he drew his last breath. I didn’t notice it immediately; I was across the room and realized that I’d not heard him breathing in a while. He went quietly, with no struggle.

It’s often been said that the pun is the lowest form of humor, but that’s a judgment I have long rejected.

One of the most important things I’ve discovered, a bit of wisdom that never fails to delight, is the importance of gratitude, not just on holidays but in everyday life.

I’ve been thinking about ugly words recently. Why is it that some words look or sound ugly?

I have mentioned in several previous columns that I live in a house where the back yard opens onto a greenbelt. I can open the gate and go out to wander trails in what seems like a private park.

Earlier today, before sitting down to write this column, I spent a while on my ongoing project to redecorate my living room in midcentury modern fashion.

Just over a year ago I stumbled across something that has enriched my life and inoculated me, to some extent, from the slings and arrows, the froth and spittle, of our angry and polarized time.

Returning from my recent trip to Georgia, I turned off the highway between Vicksburg and Monroe to visit a site I had bypassed too many times.

PLAINS, GEORGIA — I drove through a lot of rain to Plains, Georgia, where I attended Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church.

Although I have retired, I continue to do substitute teaching, for love and money. I’ve promised a pregnant teacher that I’ll take over her classes in the spring and I need to do 10 days of substitute teaching per semester to maintain my teaching status.

I was going through some books from my late father-in-law’s library trying to decide what to keep. One that attracted my attention was “Word Watching: Field Notes of an Amateur Philologist,” by Julian Burnside.

My recent trip to Oregon made clear one of the social divides that’s afflicting America and Britain nowadays, a class-and-values difference between the mobile “Anywheres” and the more rooted “Somewheres.”

BEND, Ore. — I was standing in the last Blockbuster store in America, in Bend, Oregon. It was in the middle of a hot summer day, and I had come in out of curiosity.

Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” is a perennial favorite for high school and community theater groups. It dramatizes the lives and deaths of some average Americans in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, at the start of the 20th century.

Probably all of us have been at a family gathering and find ourselves startled to see the family resemblances in relatives we don’t even know very well.

About 10 percent of Americans read poetry, and the numbers, having fallen, are climbing again, especially among the young. But most of us still don’t read it.

C.J. Chivers is a former Marine Corps captain who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He gave fine-grain descriptions of captured enemy weapons caches to determine the origin and traffic of firearms.

The word “souvenir” has an interesting history. It was borrowed from French in the late 18th century, about the time this country was getting started.

‘Come on in,” said Dr. D. Clark Wernecke, executive director of the Gault School of Archaeological Research, inviting me into his office.

It was morning, and I found myself looking around at the grasses and oaks of the countryside near the small town of Florence. I was at the Gault archaeological site, standing on ground where people had camped for almost 20,000 years.

One day a very long time ago the first man and woman set foot in the Americas. The archaeological record does not show evidence of pre-human hominids or Neanderthal people. The first humans in the Western Hemisphere were anatomically modern.

In my long career in the classroom, I’ve encountered some great teachers, many good ones, and a few who can only be described as bad.

In a box of books from my late father-in-law’s library I found a copy of “Johnson’s Dictionary.” Later I saw the subtitle, “A Modern Selection.”

The experts say that my part of the state has moved from a mild drought to being “abnormally dry,” but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the vegetation. Recent rains turned my back yard into a blooming morning carpet of yellow dandelion flowers.

We had a bit of a brouhaha recently when the White House issued a statement with a typo saying Iran “has” a “robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program,” contradicting findings of international inspectors since 2015.

I remember how, when I was a young teacher, somebody would speak in an authoritative voice about what “Research shows.” I could hear the capitalization in their voice.

I’ve taken to pre-ordering new books that look interesting. So it was with “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think” by Hans Rosling.

This has been one of the cooler springs in recent memory. Two weeks ago I was walking in the snow in New York City. I came back to Texas, and bluebonnets.

‘I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.” I remember reading those words at 17, the first time I read “Hamlet.”

At Easter once again I found myself visiting my daughter, who found me a bargain on a great hotel a few blocks away from her midtown Manhattan apartment.

A few nights ago I stayed up until almost 3 a.m. just to finish a book. I haven’t done that in a long time, and any book that would deprive me the comforts of bed and sleep has to be a real page-turner.

Another birthday passes, finding me on the trails with my new binoculars. I decided to take up birding as the sort of healthy-but-not-dangerous hobby a recently retired guy might undertake.

I had the misfortune to grow up too early for Fred Rogers in his prime. In my childhood I watched Captain Kangaroo, such animated shows as “Mighty Mouse” and “Beany and Cecil.”


Sometimes I find myself reading very old books, but occasionally I buy them as soon as they are published. Thanks to the magic of electronic download, I've finished Stephen Pinker's new "Enlightenment Now" a week after it came out.


All human societies, as far as we can tell, have music. It varies greatly in form between societies, but are there any universal qualities that people from quite different cultures can recognize in exotic and unfamiliar music?


It's February already. How are those New Year's resolutions working out?

From time to time, a book comes out that makes you think differently about something. Its central idea puts together many observations and concepts that previously seemed vaguely connected, but that now had an explanation.