Danny Heitman’s “At Random” : Catching up on funny bird names

Nearly a decade ago, when our son was still too young to easily read for himself, he declared an early interest in mechanical science, leaving behind the shelves of “Curious George” and “Mother Goose” at the local library, and turning instead to books about electronics and engineering. On his nightstand, ready for each evening’s bedtime story, were … Continue reading →

At Random: Plant leads to thoughts of spring

Last month, as morning marched toward noon, I could feel the day simmering into a slow boil of hurry and worry. I had answered some early deadlines, and was heading to a lunchtime medical appointment, my son’s science fair, then a return trip to the office to finish my work. I quietly wondered how everything would get done. … Continue reading →

At Random: Oscar season helps fight winter gloom

In that gray time between Christmas and spring, Oscar season helps brighten the days. Busy with work and family, my wife and I rarely get to the local cineplex, but we try to see at least four movies a year at our neighborhood theater — enough to have a passing acquaintance with the Academy contenders. With the Oscars … Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Slip puts life in focus

For my birthday, along with shirts, ties and a cake glazed with almond frosting, I found several bags of birdseed on the dining room table. The birdseed, though not expensive, ranks as my favorite present of all. The sacks of safflower, sunflower and thistle seed are an invitation to fill my backyard feeders, then sit by the … Continue reading →

Danny Heitman, At Random: I’m still crazy for “Downton”

I come here today to praise “Downton Abbey,” not to bury it, though I’ll try not to praise the popular public TV drama too much. After all, there’s not any superlative I can offer that would be grander than the show’s placement on the PBS series “Masterpiece Classic.” Season 4 of “Downton Abbey” begins tonight and runs … Continue reading →

At Random: An old library closes its doors

On the day before it closed for good, my teenage son and I visited Baton Rouge’s old Main Library to tell it goodbye. The old library will be torn down, and a gorgeous new building will open soon a few yards away. We were surprised to feel so sentimental about the old Main’s demise. … Continue reading →

Danny Heitman, At Random: A pilgrim walks toward Bethlehem

Walking just before dawn in late December, I get to survey the neighborhood Christmas lights before they wink off for the day. All around me, households are slowly stirring to life as homeowners lurch toward their kitchens for the first coffee of the morning. Once awake, my neighbors unplug the strands of bulbs that line … Continue reading →

At Random: Tree lots have brave moonlighters

I’m sure that there are still shepherds tending their flocks in some parts of the world, but those of us who want to know what it’s like to work outdoors this holiday season might do better to visit the neighborhood Christmas tree lot. It’s seasonal work that, being temporary, usually means moonlighting from some steadier … Continue reading →

At Random: Winter leads to thoughts of trees

I’ve been trying to clear unfinished business from my desk as another year draws to a close, and among the mail awaiting a response is a form letter from the Arbor Day Foundation asking me what I think about trees. I’ve yet to answer the survey, already overdue by a couple of months, but it’s not because trees … Continue reading →

Danny Heitman: Book tips for your gift list

A good newspaper tries to surprise its readers at least once a day, and The New York Times helped advance that ideal in 1997, when its editorial page began publishing small columns on rural life by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Klinkenborg’s observations from his modest farm in upstate New York seemed an unlikely fit for a publication that is, … Continue reading →

At Random: A poet talks about gratitude

Danny Heitman

Among newspaper people, Walt Whitman stands out as a cautionary example of how not to pursue a journalism career. But Whitman had some wise things to say about the nature of gratitude, so I’ve been thinking about him as another Thanksgiving Day approaches. Whitman is known to the world as a great American poet, but to support … Continue reading →

Danny Heitman: TR knew the value of nature

Last month, when my 12-year-old son and I joined some other fathers and sons for a weekend of camping near Abbeville, I packed as I usually do, stashing binoculars and a bird guide in my overnight bag in case I wanted to scout the woods for wildlife. The birding gear remained untouched for the rest of the … Continue reading →

Danny Heitman: Aunt liked the joy of solitude

At my Aunt Eunice’s funeral last year, each mourner received a prayer card bearing Eunice’s picture, her birth and death dates, and a bit of Scripture honoring her long and fruitful life. The back side of the card featured a fall nature scene by Thomas Kinkade. I’m not sure what Aunt Eunice would have thought about … Continue reading →

At Random: Not ready to leave writer yet

With the passing of Halloween last week, our national season of fright has officially come to a close. But even though we’re supposed to be shifting our attention from things that go bump in the night, I’m not quite ready to put away horror writer Shirley Jackson, whose books have been on my nightstand since they … Continue reading →

At Random: Darkness hints at dying of the year

My friend Dianne, who helps keep our office running, surprises me each autumn when she reminds us that it’s time to order a new desk calendar for the coming year. I never cease to be amazed that yet another year is ebbing, and that a new one is on the horizon. The dying of the year shouldn’t … Continue reading →

Danny Heitman: At Random: Silent moment helps reset busy day

I was filling out some last-minute forms in the office of my son’s middle school last month — a hurried errand I’d assigned myself before rushing off to work — when the principal came on the intercom and asked everyone to observe a moment of silence. The hallway behind me, which only an instant before had vibrated … Continue reading →

Danny Heitman: At Random: Life as seen from an armchair

For my very sore leg, the orders from the doctor’s office seemed clear enough: Rest all weekend. Do as little as possible. That sounded like a dream prescription to me. But as I quickly discovered, being still is harder when you’re doing it because you have to, not because you want to. While recovering last … Continue reading →

Danny Heitman At Random: A.C. unit times out at kickoff

We’ve had four air conditioning breakdowns in our household over the years, and they’ve each happened at interesting times. More than a decade and a half ago, we suffered our first a.c. failure as our house filled with relatives one July Sunday to celebrate my infant daughter’s christening. Among our family pictures from that weekend is a … Continue reading →

AT RANDOM: Some thoughts on greatness in teachers

In the 1940s and 1950s, if you clicked on the radio, opened a book, magazine or newspaper — or, as the new medium of television emerged, looked at the small screen — you had a pretty good chance of bumping into Clifton Fadiman. Long before our current age of the multi-media star, Fadiman, who died in … Continue reading →

Danny Heitman: Keeping time by river a big joy

While shaving each morning, I now notice two wristwatches on the bathroom sink. One is mine, and the other belongs to my 12-year-old son, who got a new watch for Christmas last year. “I’m glad I got that watch,” he told me the other day. “I look at it all the time.” I have mixed feelings … Continue reading →

At Random: Repeating school seems like bad dream

About once a year, I’m visited by a dream in which I’m forced to repeat grade school. I find myself back in the principal’s office of my childhood, where I learn that all of my campus records have vanished, leaving no proof of my education. I’m forced to start from scratch the hard work of mastering multiplication … Continue reading →

At Random: Summer days pretty hard on brain

Foster, my old terrier, lives under the happy assumption that he’s the mayor of our neighborhood, and he loves to walk its sidewalks with me, canvassing with other dogs, inspecting local projects, basking in the admiration of loyal supporters he meets along the way. Like too many politicians, he’s also something of a lech, intent on ravishing … Continue reading →

At Random: Summer can give parents break, too

Danny Heitman

A few years ago, a national office supply chain got some chuckles with a back-to-school TV ad in which a father strolls through the school supply aisle singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year . . .” Maybe lots of parents feel liberated when their kids return to campus for the fall, as mine are … Continue reading →

At Random: Handwritten letters from camp fading out

The hotel where my wife and I stayed last weekend had the usual amenities of overnight lodging: miniature bottles of shampoo and conditioner, wafer-thin bars of soap, a complimentary notepad and ballpoint pen, a Gideon Bible in the bottom drawer. But I’m old enough to know that something was missing. There was no hotel stationery for the … Continue reading →

“At Random” column for July 28, 2013

My daughter’s high school, like many others, assigns a couple of books for students to read over the summer. The end of July is when she and many of her classmates realize that there’s little time left to finish summer reading. School begins soon. Although I no longer answer to the school bell, I’m reminded at the … Continue reading →

“At Random”: Using Ralph as guide to surgery

A dozen years ago, I asked a cardiac surgeon how he found the courage to crack open someone’s chest and work on a fragile heart. Very simple, as he explained it. Before each operation, he’d find a quiet corner of the hospital ­— maybe even a broom closet — and read a few pages of Ralph … Continue reading →

“At Random” column for July 14, 2013

After we recently collected our 12-year-old son from a summer boarding camp he’d attended for several weeks, he got to choose what to do when he returned home. What he decided to do, after dropping his dirty laundry near the front door and slipping off his shoes, was nothing. Nothing, in other words, that … Continue reading →

“At Random”: Savor each summer day and night

I look from the front porch at our sycamore on summer evenings and note with pleasure that it’s a curtain of green. From early autumn through late winter, the tree sheds hundreds of leaves, each the size of a dinner plate, and their bulk defeats the bravest rake or lawnmower. For much of the … Continue reading →

At Random: Summer offers neat peek at empty nest

As the parents of two children who aren’t quite grown, my wife and I sometimes wonder what it will be like to have an empty nest. This summer, we’re getting a brief preview. Our 12-year-old son is away at a boarding camp for several weeks, and our 17-year-old daughter spends much of her time working or visiting … Continue reading →

“At Random” column for June 23, 2013

Remember Marvin Berteau? I had written about Marvin last week, in a Father’s Day column about the power of parental support when times get tough. In 1967, as he was floundering in a youth baseball game, Marvin’s son Paul was sustained by hearing his father’s words of encouragement over the boos in the crowd. When … Continue reading →

“At Random” column for June 16, 2013

As another Father’s Day arrives, I’ve been thinking about my friend Marvin Berteau, of Ponchatoula, who died last month at age 87. Marvin, a retired office manager for an auto parts store, was a smart man who was curious about many things, including philosophy and law, literature and politics, history and baseball. “To a great extent, … Continue reading →