First Snow


Drawn out through the woods
to the meadow, the ridgeline,
to where the world simplifies to sepia,
by season’s first snow; a dog snow.

Dog bear bell tinkles; skis swish.
Gaze softens, cold air braces lungs.
A mundane moment, imprinted countless times,
Provokes bliss, gratitude; still sacred now.


FROM:   Karen Bernhardt Toolan  for the Clifford Township Historical Society

 image002 CLIFFORD TOWNSHIP PA — There is something extra-special about spending the Christmastide in the country, especially for those of us living in the North East. Here, winter’s snows generally brighten everything in sight, smiles seem a bit friendlier, hugs a bit warmer, and church bells seem to resonate just a bit more clearly as they lead followers to share the Christmas story.
At the nearly 200-year old Clifford Baptist Church, located on Church Street, this building is one of three local sites organized by the Clifford Township Historical Society (CTHS) that is open to the public to visit and enjoy and help folks learn about some of the township’s vast history. While open to monthly tours from Spring through Fall that are led by CTHS docent and congregant Barry Searle, the Clifford Baptist Church shares weekly Sunday worship services at 10:00am throughout the year. But Christmas is an especially joy-filled time to visit. The welcoming nave is brim-filled with bright and cheery poinsettias, scripture lessons regale followers with the long-ago tale upon which Christians continue to build their faith, and congregants’ lyrical voices fill the air with prayer and favorite seasonal hymns. And as one sits in an original hand-carved pew and gets wrapped up in the warmth and inviting presence of the church and its followers today, the many ancestors who originally built this lovely country church continue to silently share their history.

Founded by ancestors of the Adam Miller family who first settled Clifford in 1799, “the Clifford Baptist Church draws its lineage from the First Regular Baptist Church of Clifford,” Searle said. “Early Baptist meetings were initially held in the fall of 1802 in the cabin of Amos Harding, great-grandfather of our 29th President, Warren G. Harding. In 1826, with a mere pledge of $19 that was payable in cash, labor, and maple sugar, Adam Miller’s son, Charles, constructed a meeting house, which is the center of the current sanctuary. The final cost of this section was $1,200. But it was originally built without doors and windows, so it was used only during the summer months; winter meetings were held in Amos Harding’s barn.” It was not until 1835 that the pulpit and sanctuary were completed for year-round worship services. And in 1881, the spire and narthex were added to the front of the church, along with a bell tower to house the 500-lb. bronze bell that still calls its followers to worship. A lecture room was also added, which now serves as the Sunday School room.

Enhancing the early Romanesque style and reflecting the different styles of the next two centuries, natural additions and upgrades were made to the original meeting house, as symmetrical doors and windows and a rounded Roman arch were added to the front. It was not until the Christmas service of 1926 that the church and original gas chandelier were electrified. And despite the rock ledge upon which the church sits, the basement was dug by hand a year later. The stained glass windows were added in 1933, each of which features a centerpiece of particular significance: a ship’s anchor in the narthex to symbolize the church’s stability, the lamb that is most frequently used to represent Jesus, as well as the vine and grapes, the crossed keys that generally symbolize Peter to whom Jesus gave the keys to the kingdom, and the lamp that represents wisdom and enlightenment.
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“To the right of the pulpit is the ‘Amen Corner’ where the church elders sat,” noted Searle. “When the preacher made an important point, the elders would shout ‘Amen Brother!’” Close your eyes, and today you can almost hear them… Anywhere you look throughout this old church, the history of its predecessors can truly be felt.

Moving forward to the modern-day era, Clifford Baptist Church continues to be a Christ-centered Bible-based American Baptist Church. And since its constitution in 1817 as part of the Abington Association, it is the second oldest church in the association. A very community-minded congregation, Searle added that “As a body, we have taken to heart James 2:17 that ‘faith without works is dead.’” Today, the parish regularly supports the Susquehanna County food bank and Trehab and the Samaritan Purse programs, along with fundraisers for the Red Cross and American Baptist Missions worldwide. It also houses the Clifford Baptist Nursery School that is available for 3-4 year-olds (for school information, please call 570-222-9361).

“Throughout its long history, this church has been led by many notable individuals from throughout the area, and many of their ancestors continue to worship with us,” said Searle. “If you are looking for a place that will give you a friendly-family welcome, support your spiritual needs, and give you purpose in assisting others,” he invites you to come, listen, and follow the church bell as it chimes and welcomes you home for Christmas. Christmas Eve services will be held on December 24th at 7:00pm.

For additional information about the Clifford Baptist Church, please call Pastor Deborah Loessy at 570-848-2684, or contact For information about the Clifford Historical Society and its activities and events, please contact

Cold Snap


Last week, the backyard weather station reported 55.3 degrees. Yesterday, it showed a temperataure of 5.3 degrees; a 50 degree drop, a cold snap.

Given the recent temperatures, the crew at Elk just couldn’t keep themselves from making snow. The familiar glow of snow plumes over lit trails appeared on the horizon this week.

Awakening to the sound of a stiff wind, but seeing no branches moving, opening the back door revealed sharp, still, cold air – not even a breeze – confirming that the sound, indeed was not from wind, or a far-away jet plane, but from the battery of hardworking snow guns.

Everyone seems to be gearing up for the winter; cold and extra hungry meanwhile. A friend noticed and admired the extra big wool socks I was wearing, then showed his recent purchase of a new pair of muck boots, and big wool socks to go with them. Mostly everyone has abandoned baseball caps for stout, warm toques that cover their ears.

Though eating more than usual, the recent cold has melted a couple of pounds off of me. Given the fridgid temperatures, the long anticipated winter coat delivered yesterday just doesn’t look warm enough as it did in the photos. The dog doesn’t dawdle much when taking care of business in this cold, and runs quickly back to the warmth of the house.

Fairly thorough fall cleaning of the house before the cold snap revealed no evidence of mouse activity. Last week a visitor chirped “OH! You have a mouse!” noting the little fellow as he scurried across the floor; visual confirmation that my gap sealing and house cleaning had been ineffective.

Wishing that he would just stay out of my space, reluctantly, I baited a mouse trap with peanut butter to catch the perpetrator, set the trap out and waited. Checking the trap a few hours later, I found it unsprung, set just as I had left it, with no trace of peanut butter remaining.

Adding insult to poaching bait without springing the trap, I returned home that evening to find the mouse commiserating over the cold, snuggling for warmth with my faithful Labrador! Both of them assumed a somewhat sheepish demeanor as the mouse lapped my shoes a couple of times before disappearing into safety under the closet door.

Twice yesterday I had to re-pack the trash bags left outside for pickup. Mr. Crow pecked through the plastic, and decided to breakfast on whatever he could find. Later, I saw him flying proudly through the yard, a booty of uncooked bacon in his craw, off to gloat the prize to his murder.

It’s warmer today. Temps have moderated into the thirties. I’m going to buy some traps and peppermint oil to dissuade Mr. Mouse and his family from trespassing. I’ll leave the trash out a bit later in the day so Mr. Crow won’t be tempted to an easy meal. I’ll try on my new warm coat, and see if it needs a layer under it for very cold days.

Elk’s season will begin 10th December. Word around The Hill is that we might be skiing even sooner; after all, for our intents and purposes Autumn is over.

The calendar says that Winter won’t arrive for another four weeks; Christmas in five. The folks on The Hill, the weather station and the critters concur: the cold has snapped – Winter is here.

November Dawn


Awakening before some nights retire, it is difficult to percieve the source of the brightness of the yard; could be snow, could be moonlight.

This morning, as dawn pronounced her conspicuity, the soft, dull, white glow of the yard revealed a coating of snow. The weather station reported a low temperature of just less than 15 degrees.

Winter scene; winter weather with still five full weeks of Autumn.

The light is the same now as it will be in late January, though a November dawn just doesn’t seem nearly as cold or dark as a mid-winter day.

Because the sun has been full and bright for so long and it’s strength has been diminishing gradually, or maybe as we still carry Summer’s warmth and light within us, confidence is our partner as we continue toward the darkest part of the year.

November steels us for the impending Winter.

Gratitude for our Veterans this week reminds us of how much our lives, our lifestyles, are possible only because of the effort and sacrifice of others.

Thanksgiving preparations emphasize just how appropriate, how important, expression of gratitude is. We’ve made it through Summer toil, another harvest; time to enjoy bounty, family and friends.

The more gratitude for our present circumstances is kept in our minds, our hearts, the greater our ability to navigate whatever conditions, whatever challenges lie before us.

Leaves and Trees


Leaves, sprouted from the smallest parts of branches,
give the wind something to blow against.

Given this purchase, it moves the leaf, the twig;
when gusty enough, the branch, the trunk,
yield, move, dance, respond to this force unseen.

Rain washes leaves;
when it’s intent partners with stout wind,
rips them from their home, Spring, Summer, Autumn.

Early snow or ice rests on, coats, and clings to leaves;
burdens twigs, branches, sometimes trunks.

Wind, rain, snow and ice: any of these, when ferocious,
rends leaves, snaps twigs, cracks branches, compromises roots.

It is, however, the leaves
that let the tree feel the breeze,
enjoy a sky-sent shower,
feed itself with the light of the sun.

Why do trees ritually doff these agents of nourishment, perception,
keeping themselves from feeding themselves,
dulling their ability to sense the world around them?

Standing for months, cold and unadorned, seemingly lifeless,
are they more able to feel their roots entwine their neighbor’s?

Can they better plan, when they awake,
to which limbs they’ll send the glow of sun,
which limbs they’ll neglect, let wither, die,
and shed for the sake of their growth?

Regardless of what they feel, or what they decide,
as they stand resting, deep in their own, while ignoring this world,
trees eventually will submit, awaken,
growing one ring stronger, for having done so.




A few years ago, a friend of mine, 44 years old at the time, told me that he had just returned from a meeting with a team of medical specialists in Philadelphia, where he had received definitive diagnosis of his health condition that had eluded the regional medical community for many months.

His diagnosis was not good. Left untreated, the tumor in his chest would exact a fairly swift, painful death. Treat the growth with radiation only, and expect to die within the next 21 months. Have the lung upon which the cancer was feeding removed, and maybe live up to 150 months.

“The worst news of my life.” he told me.

He had two young sons that he adored. In 2 years, they would be barely in their teens. In 12 years they would just be of the age to marry, and begin a family of their own.

He recounted sitting quietly alone in his SUV in the cold, echoey, parking garage of the doctor’s office, ruminating over the news he had just received.

It was contrary to his nature to avoid a challenge. Before leaving the meeting, he had already decided to undergo the surgery, and subsequent radiation treatments if necessary.

Collecting himself, he figured the next right thing to do is to get home, make some phone calls, and schedule appointments and housing in Philly for his prescribed surgery and extended battery of treatments.

The decision made, and now anxious to execute his plan, he turned the key in the ignition, and rushed the big SUV toward the exit, squealing tires echoing against the cold, gray, concrete walls of the garage.

Just as he reached the exit, a sun-glass clad fellow in a business suit, walking on the sunny sidewalk outside of the garage exit, stepped into the path of the SUV so quickly that my friend almost hit him – stopping so close that only the chest and shoulders of the pedestrian remained visible above the black hood of the vehicle.

The fellow in the suit continued his leisurely amble in front of the car, refusing to acknowledge the near collision, or make eye contact with my friend.

Never known for his patience, my friend lowered the passenger side window so he could directly vent some well deserved rage at this apparent idiot who walked in front of his car, almost got hit, nearly adding injuring or killing a person to the day upon which he received “The worst news of my life.”

As the window lowered to it’s fullest extent, my friend could hear a gentle “click, click, click” from the sidewalk. He then noticed that the sounds corresponded to a subtle movement of the man’s shoulder. An instant later, the white red-tipped cane became visible as the man progressed past the SUV. My friend remained silent as he pressed the button to raise the window.

As my friend watched the man continue on his way down the sidewalk,  he thought to himself “I’m not having such a bad day after all”.

Kevin shared these thoughts with me years ago, and said “There, there is your next Wanderlist story”.

Optimistic about his situation, I thought that we would share at least a few more years of friendship. I’d flesh out the notes I took, and finish the story “someday”.  As is human nature, I never really knew when “someday” would be; apparently, “today” is “someday”.

I believe that Kevin’s story is an example of compassion. Every day, we are all challenged or suffering in one way or another. Sometimes our afflictions are obvious to ourselves and others, sometimes not.

Being occupied with one’s own difficulties, real or imagined, can callous us to the suffering of others, thus worsening our collective situation.

On the day he received “The worst news of my life”,  it would have been understandable, though no less tragic, had Kevin been so distracted with his own difficulties that he pressed the brake an instant later,  injuring or killing someone else.

Strength of character, grace, and mindfulness allowed Kevin to rise above his understandably negative emotions,  be present in the moment, and bring to mind compassion for others, thus not making worse an already difficult day.

Thank you, Kevin for sharing about the day you received “The worst news of my life”. I hope my words reflect your thoughts.

Rest well. Peace be the journey, my friend.