By Arthur H. Gunther III

Whether it be global warming, the Tea Party, the Democrats, cranky Mother Nature or nothing at all, fall color seems to be coming later every year. We were in old industrial-town North Adams, Mass., and Stockbridge, last home of Norman Rockwell, during what was supposed to be peak “peepers” season, but it wasn’t. Nippy mornings, yes, and the usual fog that comes in Berkshire land with its mountains and valleys, but most leaves were still on the trees. It was as if the Washington shutdown had furloughed the process, and time was suspended.
Actually, time has moved on in North Adams, once a very large industrial center where the fabric for Union Army clothing and then electronics for atom bombs and missiles were manufactured. More than 200 years were invested by workers and industry in this community, with 26 original buildings along the Hoosic River now part of MASS MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, The site includes courtyards, bridges, viaducts and Industrial Age architecture that are works of art in themselves. So, while we found so little autumn foliage to see, the visit was worth it for the richness of the art installations and the results of preserving and enhancing American history. In a nation that has always been on the march, building and building, it is reassuring that some record of the past is kept.
In Stockbridge where artist Rockwell had a home and studio, continuing his Saturday Evening Post covers and later a 10-year association with Look, there also was little fall color, though the artist’s museum offered enough of every hue from the palette of America’s chronicler of what makes us who we are. As Rockwell said, “Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.” And that includes Americans. His Look covers, coming as they did in the 1960s after the John F. Kennedy assassination, depict a nation in transformation, and the worry and uncertainty of that, including major work on civil rights and other social issues.
This trip brought light traffic, a rare delight, and while we did not fill up on the great reds and yellows of autumn foliage, there was fine color for the soul — the art work and historic preservation in  North Adams and the catalog of a national treasure in Stockbridge. It made us forget the drab grayness of a forlorn Washington, D.C.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at Any or all of this essay may be reproduced.


By Arthur H. Gunther III

Spring Valley, N.Y. —  The time: 2:55 a.m. Place: parking lot of the United Church. Reason: Tuesday start for the Rockland (County) Interfaith Breakfast Program. What’s unusual: a special whiff of fallen leaves returning to nature in early fall.
Deciduous leaves drop every autumn in so many parts of the United States and world, some in beautiful colors. And drying leaves, kicked about on sidewalks by youngsters and oldsters and those in between is common, too, as is the wind gathering a dozen or so and swirling them about as if in Dorothy’s cyclone. The  “taste” of all this is in the smell, even the fragrance of leaves losing their living liquid and drying to crispness, then morphing to mulch and renewal.
In Spring Valley, at 2:55 a.m. on a Tuesday that would soon be bustling at United Church as a cook and food preparers and servers volunteered in common effort, the leaves, some anyway, had fallen, and there was the expected whiff, so pristine though life of a sort was ending, as pristine as a spring and emerging flowers. With a slight chill in the air, you knew fall was coming, and wasn’t that just fine. For some of us, wonderful.
What made it unusual, this moment shared by so many thousands worldwide, was that I stepped out of the car at age 70 but in a millisecond I was again 12 and at this same church, then the Dutch Reformed. There for a Boy Scout meeting on a Friday night, I had walked from my home about two miles away and had rustled the leaves with my feet, taking in the smell of old oaks and maples.
Now I have done this, rustled leaves, hundreds of times since, and there is always the special fragrance. Yet, this time, at 2:55 a.m. in Spring Valley, in the parking lot of United Church, under an ancient oak that predates my grandfather’s time in the village, I instantly caught in my nostrils the very same smell I had in the very same place 60 years earlier. That fragrance has never been duplicated elsewhere.
Can one place, even in different times, give you the identical smell? Maybe. Maybe it’s in a community’s DNA.
A fine morning start that Tuesday was.

   The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at Any or all of this essay may be reproduced with credit given.


By Arthur H. Gunther III


Civility is what it is these days, which generally means watered-down manners, some to the point of not being recognizable social behavior. It’s as if no one taught some clowns how to act toward others.

In my parts, north of New York City in the burbs, some public meetings become shouting matches and physical altercations as if town hall were the place for a street rumble. And there is always the incivility of the street, with impatient drivers, including myself.

But the lack of manners most distressing is in communication, or the absence of it. Too many people, “important” ones, too, fail to answer letters and e-mails, even when they solicit same. I have written or emailed (on required forms) to the president, to Ford Motors headquarters, to Ford engineers, to Dunkin’ Donuts and to others. All these business and people pay big bucks to solicit your opinion and some have flashy websites announcing just how “valuable” your view is. Yet write a constructive, balanced criticism with helpful suggestions, and you not only do not get a form-letter reply when you should receive at least a considered individual response, but you don’t get a reply at all. None of my letters or emails in the past few years have been acknowledged. That is bad manners, and it is not civil.

If people do not listen to others, there is no communication, and that is sloppy for society. The individual writer may have a harebrained idea, but if he or she presents it in a non-shouting, well-considered, non-offensive way, it should get a reply.

Adding to this social incivility are some tradesmen. I recently considered installing a gas fireplace insert to my home and requested quotes from three businesses, all local. Two never replied, though they run ads shouting for business. One firm sent a fellow who never got back to me, despite several calls to his office.

The bottom line is that my project is probably too small for their effort — the companies could use their staff on bigger jobs, with more profit. Not civil behavior. Bad business, too, as I won’t speak well of these outfits.

When some of us went to school, we were taught how to write personal and business letters. We also penned replies. The point was not only to learn how to compose such missives but to reinforce the standard that in a civil society, communication — the back and forth of it —  is necessary and expected.

Not today, it would seem.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at Any or all of this essay may be reproduced at will if credit is given.



By Arthur H. Gunther III


Always in an age, a theme. In 2013 it is the words and non-words from Rome and Washington. What the new Pope Francis is saying is not being said in D.C. The theme is survival of the middle.

The pope is trying to regain the Roman Catholic middle, the core that is the engine for the church’s mission. In Washington, no one — the GOP, the Democrats and especially the Tea Party — is courting the middle, that class which rose largely post-war and which drives the American (and world) economy, which assures stability for achievement and human progress and which, most of all, protects democracy from the wackiness and jaw-boning of mostly non-accomplishing rightists and leftists. The middle class is the hope of the lower and the check for the upper.

Francis offers a message to the church: Lose the pomp and regalia, think forgiveness, empathy, giving, humility, simplicity, which is the message of Christ. It is also pragmatic since the wish is that the lapsed middle’s ears will hear and hopefully agree, and then act on such faith. And, if it does, the entire world, not just the Roman Catholic church, will benefit, leaving behind the decades of “me” and excess.

In our nation’s capital, no one is courting the middle class save the false voices from talking heads, largely propped by the puppeteers of special interest, who care not a whit for the workers, citizens and families that offer stability and who can carry the banner toward an ever-new American frontier. In a “governing” system that is so broken that it must be re-invented, a handful of strange politicoes has seized the great Congress, our Congress. And, we the people seem as impotent as were the good German citizenry following the burning of the Reichstag.

The crazies tell us Obamacare will bankrupt a nation already spending beyond its debt limit, rescued only by printing more money. They want large entitlement cuts; reversal of laws protecting gays, lesbians and women’s reproductive rights; abandonment of environmental protection to drill for oil (for China); and severe limits on federal budgeting, pushing a balanced spending plan but one that first grants banks and super corporations tax perks which no one in the middle class would ever see.

As with all messages that galvanize one section of the public or another, there is some truth in our overspending, in sometimes mismanaged entitlements, but in this time so long past the Founders’ declarations on the American mission, the social progress, the betterment that has been the American Dream must not be abandoned to let the odd ones win their hollow, selfish argument. We have to figure out ways to provide opportunity and show humanity, but without overcharge, special interest, mismanagement and personal irresponsibility. There are riches for all in such selfless pragmatism, financial and otherwise. But first, the middle must hear the call to action. And there is but a whimper in D.C.

Pope Francis may prove disarming. His humble message, so welcome in a world that seems off its nut, may in the end be rhetoric, however earnest the man. Still, his is the language of hope. In Washington, there is no such tongue.


The writer is a retired newspaperman. Reach him at Any part or all of this essay may be reproduced at will, with credit given.