About Tom Atkins

Part poet, part broadcast engineer, part marketing expert, part professional creative, photographer, mentor and entrepreneur - I've never been able to tell people what I do in 25 words or less. Raised in Virginia, I now live in Vermont where the New England countrysides and towns sing to me each day, while technology lets me work with clients anywhere and everywhere.

Thoughts: Coyotes in the Night

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I am sitting at my favorite diner, The Pawlet Station. Coming in and getting settled, they were playing John Lennon and INXS (Elegantly Wasted, one of my favorite songs of all time.)

Driving over from West Pawlet, geese were flying their way south.  I saw three flocks in their storybook perfect “V” formations. It’s an elegant thing, those “V”s. a reminder along with the cold mornings that Winter is coming.

At some point early in the morning, I woke to the sound of coyotes in a frenzy. They were not far, somewhere behind the house.  In the woods maybe, or perhaps in one of the neighbor’s chicken coops.

I worried briefly about the cat. She didn’t come in when we went to bed.

I don’t often worry about her, even in the cold. She’s spent a lot of winter nights out. A thick fur coat and a layer of fat (slender, she is not) protect her just fine. But coyotes? Anything is fair game. They aren’t too pickey.

I padded down while the yipping was going on, about 3 in the morning, and called her from the back door. The Coyotes went quiet, skulking into the night.

But no cat. I went to bed.

I don’t worry too much about things I can’t change – and that’s pretty much most things. One of my lessons in life is just how little I actually control. I just deal with what happens. That’s something I can do, deal.

One of the things that has come to amaze me in life is how everything can change in a moment. You hear the words – “I want a divorce.” “We have to let you go.”  “You have cancer.”  A car comes out of nowhere. Life is full of moments that change our paths completely.

Fortunately, there are as many, or perhaps more good moments that change everything too. The moment we met the person we love. The birth of a child. That “Ah-ha” moment when things come together for us. A windfall. A spiritual epiphany.

Moments.

Change.

Everything.

One of the words that has pervaded our society in recent years is mindfulness. Mindfulness changes everything, we are told, and while there is some truth to it, it is not the whole story.

Mindfulness changes nothing except our ability to appreciate more of those moments. It prevents us from missing them because of all the past recriminations and worries about the future. We get to deal with one moment at a time, not the flood of thoughts and emotions from either side of now.

I went back to sleep after I tried to get the cat in. I didn’t worry. All the same, I was glad when, before leaving for the diner, she met me at the door with a “What took you so long?” look and passed me by in a direct line to the food bowl.

Really, I just wanted to write about the coyotes this morning. I didn’t have coyotes in Virginia (I understand they have since moved in.), so the sound of them in the distance hills when I moved to Vermont was new to me. I have come to understand their cries. The yips of the young in the spring. The full-throated frenzy as they encircle and take their prey. The wails of pain when one of the pack is hurt or caught in a trap. There’s a whole language there. A whole world just out of sight.

Farmers hate them and they have a right to. Coyotes eat what they can catch, and a stray sheep or chicken, even a stray dog or cat in the night, is, for them, fair game. They are indiscriminate and can lay waste to an entire coop of chickens in a moment. It’s not about what is right or wrong. It is about what they can catch.

It’s the flip side of nature. The part that often doesn’t make the picture books or romantic vignettes of wildlife videos we look at longingly on YouTube. We live in two worlds, side by side, with entirely different rules and worldviews and at times at odds with each other.

Each has a beauty. And each has its own terribleness.

Cats, and some people, live on the cusp of both worlds. You can’t look at my cat, plump, shiny furred and prone to long naps in my lap while I read, and not think she lives in my world. But she is also a creature of nature. She kills all sorts of little beasts in the night. Hyper-alert, she defends her turf with a primal instinct. The other cats and dogs walk around our yard, mostly avoiding her. Some nights she curls up to the crook of my legs in the bed. Other nights, she is a creature of the dark, never coming in.

It is easier living in a place where everyone and everything is manicured and plays by the same rules. It is safer. More comfortable. I can understand the call for that, why many people are more comfortable in safe, same, neighborhoods where there are few wild animals (including the two-legged kind) who live with a completely different set of instincts and customs.

It’s safer.

It’s also less fascinating. The older I get, the more willing I am to live in less safe situations. To be less comfortable. To be in places where people and nature are not like me. It’s a little scary at times, like as I listened to coyotes last night, so close and so frenzied. But it’s also a chance to learn, to experience, to live in the moment, to grow, and to make what once felt unsafe feel safe. Eight years ago, the beserker yips of the wild animals nearby my house would have freaked me out.

Last night, I just went back to bed.

All the same, I was glad to see the cat in the morning, sass and all. It was a good start to the day. I had nothing to do with it. It was a gift.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Poem: Closed for Repairs

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Closed for Repairs

The church is closed for repairs,
broken in ways unseen from the street.

People walk by.
unnoticing. Too busy to be bothered

with distractions like souls and prayers,
cocooned in steel and glass, not exactly heaven,

But enough for the moment, like blinders on a horse
the canyon walls create a calmness borne of blindness,

For those of us who find God in soaring arches and light,
we are cut off, seekers again, wanderers in a desert

others call home.

About this poem

One of my great joys in New York City is visiting churches. Almost everywhere I go as I work, there are chapels and cathedrals nestled among the skyscrapers. I love to slip in and savor the beauty of another age. I will be the first to tell you that we can find God anywhere, but these holy spaces sing to me. I find peace in them like I do in few places.

Yesterday I passed the church in the picture. It was closed for repairs. “There’s a poem in that.” I thought. And so there was.

Tom

Poem: A Place Once Yours

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A Place Once Yours

This is no longer your native land
with its steel and glass and ever-present energy.

You function here as well as ever, but only for a time.
Showtime is designed after all, for an hour or few,

the intensity flowing out like spotlights, hot and bright,
and so easily burning out in the crowds.

So you will shine a while. A day. Maybe two.
Then it is back to your place of peace, to the quiet place

where everything is synthesized and everything worth having
is made, and saved, and created anew.

For this is how you have evolved. no longer needing to prove yourself,
content to be, a creature of energy, but not as a conduit always leading out,

but more a tide, content, no, determined to rise and fall, to give and take,
and no longer allow yourself to burn out like an ancient stage light.

So you will enjoy this journey to the land that is no longer yours.
You will dance to the fires, and play with the snakes that live here,

and leave for a truer place, where love means love, and hate means hate,
and no one debates the difference.

Poem: Perseverance

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Perseverance

It is a familiar sight.
You pass it every day in your walks and wanderings.

The paint is long worn away
and the windows are cracked.

And yet every day,  in this place,
work is done.

About this poem.

Never mistake worn or broken for useless.

Tom

PS: The picture was taken at a barn down the road.

 

Poem: The Ones that Survived

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The Ones that Survive

Flowers die in the first frost,
or perhaps the second.

But always there is one that somehow lives,
somehow retains its color despite the cold,

a rare treasure, deserving of the protection
it never had.

About this poem

I am thinking of the many women I know who have joined in the #MeToo campaign this day. I don’t know if I am more angry or sad.

Tom

Poem: Song of the Slug

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Song of the Slug

Slow.
Slow-brained.
Sluggish. Not quite right,

but not wrong enough to name the beast,
if beast it is.

Not pleasant,
for a man who likes to leap,
inspiration-driven into the abyss.

Driven. You like that. You like the energy of it.
The excitement,
the tightrope dance,
the lack of net as you leap
with the sureness of a child without wounds.

But not today.
Today you are heavy.
Today you will move slow,
older than your soul,
older even than your scars,

Utterly uninspired,
but able still.
Able enough
and no more.

Today,
you will make few mistakes.
Plodding has its advantages.
Work will get done.
It always does,
even in the place of the dead
that is your head this morning.

This you know:
death is never permanent.
This you have learned,
an article of faith well proven in a life of scars.

You know,
know,
this will pass.
You will dance again.
You will leap into the abyss singing Wagner and Bowie
mistakes flying like fireflies around you,
joyful again.

I know the drill.
Not to wait.
But to work in faith,
yeoman-like
sure of the return
of the muse.

About this poem

I am slow and sluggish this morning. I have no idea if I am coming down with something, if depression is sneaking in, or if I just didn’t get enough sleep.

But my work will get done. It always does.

The picture was taken in the quarry across from my house. I like it’s almost Monet like quality.

Bowie and JJ Cale are playing on the radio at my favorite diner. I have a weakness for Wagner Operas, even though I can’t understand a word.

This began as an essay, but on my third cup of coffee, it became a poem.

And there you go – path to a poem.

Tom

 

Poem: Attachments

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Attachments

Old and cracked,
the beauty remains,
for any who has eyes
attached to their heart.

About this poem

This was one of those long, long poems slowly whittled away. I probably could have reduced it to the first two lines and been done with it. But too much whittling and the poem would have disappeared altogether.

Tom

 

Seeing is about more than eyes.

Tom