A Tribute to a Teacher

Yesterday, my wife and I attended a memorial service for a friend – a teacher. Our kids (my step-kids) and their partners traveled from Boston to speak. After all, 20 years ago, Patsy was their elementary school teacher. She was also our neighbor, where she lived with her partner Mary just a few steps away. At the service, our kids spoke of the impact Patsy had on their lives, how she was always there for them, teaching them to live positively and in joy, and how she always seemed to see the best in them – as if she could see the wonderful people they would one day be. Mary’s words were spoken as if she was just reading the words Patsy would have said if she was there herself at her own memorial service. She used words of gratitude, love, and light.

As I stood there, looking out over the fields of green where our kids once played, where we shared many days in the Deerfield Valley of Wilmington, Vermont, as a family, I looked up at the small rainbow in the clouds as a ukulele-player sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I remembered the words Patsy said to me years ago, and how she was always there for me then, seeing my perspective as a step-parent-in-training during those difficult family times… and how she also seemed to understand my future long before I could.

I imagined the words she would have spoke to me yesterday as I stood there. Many of the words she had spoken to me before.

“You have been a teacher, a mentor, a father, and a loyal husband. You have chosen to maintain your character and integrity during difficult and challenging circumstances. Indeed, you have continued to seek the essence of what is really meaningful and purposeful in life – expressing selfless and unconditional love. You maintained a sense of quiet humbleness in a situation when the kids’ natural father received the sympathy of a community and while their mom struggled to find her way after tragic times. You maintained a sense of strength when you alone were the one who had to make the difficult family decisions and just be there constantly with no fanfare, taking the heat when things went badly. And you did the best you could even when just being there would be taken for granted. You learned to be open to what comes – and in doing so, you found the gift of who you really are. And, isn’t it so nice now to look out over these fields, to see your kids shine, and to quietly feel the impact of the nurturing home space we all created for them here in Wilmington? Please know that your gift, too, is to be a teacher – to help nurture young seeds of life as they grow, and to see in them their natural gifts – their sacred souls – that they too will one day share with the world. We haven’t spoke recently, but I still walk with you. Now, more closely than ever. Share your love. Keep teaching cooperation and the value of team-spirited togetherness. Always see kids through my eyes.”

I smiled quietly as the music stopped while the next generation of kids still played. I watched as the breeze took bubbles and balloons up into the sky.

I stood proudly as community members offered complimentary words of gratitude to my kids. I saw in them what I had dreamed for them 20 years ago, as if my eyes were Patsy’s.

I stood honorably as person after person went up to my wife and congratulated her on raising such wonderful kids.

I stood happily, looking out at smiles and hugs, as I remembered the importance of community and mutually-supportive relationships.

I stood with humility, attempting to let go of the weight of the perceived mistakes I still carry, and trying to understand the underlying perceived need to be recognized for what I might have done right.

I stood emotionally, with feelings of deep love towards my family… and towards Patsy.

I stood in forgiveness.

I stood with compassion.

I felt love and a sense of unity with the world… and with a teacher.

After all, I know now… Patsy was, and still is, my teacher too.

Role Reflections

Today, would have been my father’s 91st birthday. This blog is a tribute to him and my other mentors.

Last week, I celebrated my half-birthday in my 60th year and my 20th wedding anniversary.

I thought I’d reflect back on my many roles in my first 59-1/2 years, and write the first thought that comes to mind about what I’ve learned from each role:

SON: Integrity, Kindness and Unconditional Love;

HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Independence; Being Different is Okay;

COLLEGE STUDENT: Perseverance; Have Faith in the Future;

RESEARCH ASSISTANT: Scientific Analysis and Technical Writing;

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Understanding Forces;

HOME DESIGNER: Creativity; Seeing Synergistic Solutions; Understanding Relationships;


SKI and SNOWBOARD INSTRUCTOR: Understanding Movement; Understanding Different Ways to Learn;

BUSINESS MANAGER: Leadership, Vision and Teamwork;

OUTDOOR EDUCATOR: Facilitating Groups;

SCHOOL TEACHER: Communication, Empathy, and Being Open to Learning in Each Experience;

TRAINER: Dedication – You Become What You Practice;

ENDURANCE CYCLING: Strong-Heartedness; Mind and Body Work Together as One; You Can Get to Where You Want to Go – There’ll always be Hills and Valleys;

COACH: See the Gift in Each Individual; Motivation

MOUNTAIN BIKE GUIDE: Understand Risk vs Reward, Holding On vs Letting Go;


ADVENTURER: Adventure Learning is Life-Learning;

WRITER: Clarity and Truth; Clear-Heartedness;

SKIER and SNOWBOARDER: Freedom; Bliss; Being at One with Nature in the Moment;

ADAPTIVE SPORTS VOLUNTEER: Acceptance; Empowerment; Selfless Service;

ATHLETE and BODY BUILDER: Power Comes from the Inside, Expressing Yourself Authentically and Fully; Maintaining Long-Term Perspective;

YOGA PRACTITIONER: Embody Your Life’s Higher Purpose; Everything is Connected and Interdependent; Love is The Way;

MUSIC-LOVER and ASPIRING MUSICIAN: Humility; Respect; The Flow of Life;

HEALER: Intuition, Loving-Kindness, and Open-Heartedness;

HUSBAND: Devotion, Full-Heartedness, and Partnership;

STEP-FATHER: Be There for Others at All Times;

MENTOR: Be There for Others at All Times;

FRIEND: Be There for Others at All Times;



Hmmm… That’s It For Now! Stay Tuned…

(Photo by Ali Kaukas)

Call me Babaman?

Sometimes, you have life-changing experiences. Sometimes, you don’t recognize the impact of those experiences until years later. Sometimes, you are immediately conscious of the magnitude of the experience as it happens.

Long ago, I didn’t realize the gift of going through personal traumatic experiences until years later. The experiences of head injuries, post-traumatic stress, and navigating family health-related setbacks opened pathways that at the time seemed so distant and unthinkable. I also didn’t also realize the long-term gift of training myself to endure hardship through long-distance bike rides and endurance races.

Whereas, I realized immediately that the heartfelt connection I felt with nature when I spent a month in the backcountry with a dozen other adventurers during a National Outdoor Leadership School expedition in the Washington Cascades in 1996 would be life-changing.

And last week, I also immediately realized that the heartfelt, joyful community experience of last week’s Bhakti Immersion in New Orleans with Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band would be life-changing.

Immediately, I felt my heart open. Was it the music? Was it the group of like-minded, open-hearted, non-judgmental people who had gathered? Was it New Orleans? Was it Sean’s warm-hearted demeanor or his joyful spirit or maybe his storytelling? Was it the opportunity to use my voice and sing again?

Immediately, I felt connected. The lines of separation between people, things, experiences – past and present, seemed to vanish. I went to my nature-place, my place where I feel a natural oneness. Within a couple of days, I wrote this:

The whisper of the winds calls my name;

The arms of the trees embrace my soul;

The heart of the earth calls me home;

The light of the sky guides my way.

Who am I to question my path?

Who are they that guide my way?

I am always here.

My home is the wind, the tree, the earth, the sky.

I am the wind, the tree, the earth, the sky;

I am the breath, the body, the heart, the light.

You don’t have to look to find me!

I am here. I am here.

I am home. I am Om.

Sean asked me to include my name in the poem. I couldn’t! How could I separate myself from nature with a simple name? I am who I am because of everyone in my life, past and present. My name (Bob) is my father’s name (Bob) and my uncle’s name (Bob) and my father-in-law’s name (Bob). Or, near Boston my name is Baaab. My name is often said as one name with my wife’s name (BobN’Jo). I thought of all of the people who put their hand on my back and let me know that they had my back. And, all of the people who rested their hand on my shoulder and let me know that everything would be okay – it was okay to just be me! I am who I am because of all of these people.

I thought of Hanuman, who I’ve written about before. According to myth (as I understand it), when asked by Ram who he was, he said (deha bhavena dasosmi) that when he takes on the identity of his body (as an individual separate from God), he is devoted to God (or a higher power, if you will) with a full and open heart. This is the Bhakti yoga path. When he takes on the identity of a wanderer or a seeker (jiva bhavena twadamshakaha), he’s part of God. When he identifies with oneness or pure consciousness (atma bhavena twamevaham), he is God, the universe, infinity – when the interdependence of all things is realized. Was I identifying this quickly at this Immersion in New Orleans with this sense of the oneness and interdependence? I was feeling totally connected by love with everyone around me, silently but openly. In a palpable way, these moments where life-changing for me.

So, knowing that memories of the mind fade and that the mind usually creates new stories to explain reality as it happens in real time, I thought I’d get a tattoo to remind me of the feelings that I was feeling.

This shoulder tattoo will remind me daily of those who have supported me in my life on Earth by putting a hand on my shoulder and letting me know it was okay to be me. And to remind me that:

Our super-human powers come from our heartfelt devotion to a higher power and a sacred purpose;

Through our natural and holistic expressions of both our male and female aspects, we learn to evolve, transform and blossom through the light and the dark periods of our lives;

We honor our teachers, gurus, mentors, elders, spirit guides and ancestors;

We remain grounded to the earth while ready to serve humbly and selflessly, moving mountains for the benefit of our family, friends, community, Earth and all of life;

With our open hearts, and with compassion and kindness, we have power over our monkey-brains – we expose our true nature to be playful, joyful and loving!

Maybe now, I’ll call myself Babaman! What do you think?

Happy 88th Birthday, Mom!

Yesterday, I had lunch with my mother, celebrating her 88th birthday two days early. Our conversation ranged back to her birthday memories of 75 years ago, December 7, 1941. Of course, that day, two days before her 13th birthday, the world changed. She spoke about how her family all gathered around the the radio and listened to President Roosevelt. That day would set a pathway for their lives as part of the greatest generation.

She spoke about how her future husband, my father, had delivered milk to her family that morning. I asked, “On a Sunday?” Yes, the Speck boys were up seven mornings a week, milking cows and delivering raw milk to homes in Rockport and Gloucester, MA. My dad often spoke about how he saw mom’s birthday gift – a bicycle – on the porch as he delivered the milk that morning before my mom received it from her dad

Back at the Speck farm, the family gathered around the radio also. In attendance was Chief Harold Tantaquidgeon, great-great-great grandson of Uncas, and a family friend. He was also working on the farm. Tantaquidgeon and the Speck boys would soon enlist. It would lead my father eventually on a path that included military service, college education in physics and nuclear engineering, and almost four decades of work for General Electric as a contractor for the US Navy building reactors for ships and submarines.

My mom also spoke of my grandmother, my dad’s mother, a proponent of natural foods and nutrition, who would travel to Boston on the train to learn from Gayelord Hauser. I hadn’t heard of him, but I soon found out why I saw my grandmother as years ahead of her time, and how I was influenced at a young age to eat well.

As we spoke of these years, and how the Speck farm eventually stopped functioning with the young men off to war and with the advent of pasteurization (Nana Speck would have nothing to do with taking the goodness out of the milk!), I soon realized that this all had only happened about 16 years before I was born. World War II had always seemed so long ago… but it was only a matter of decades before that these folks had lived through a depression and a world war.

And it was only a decade or so before that that my mom’s parents immigrated via ship from Scotland. My mom’s father and uncles had fought in World War I as part of the British Army and Black Watch.

Mom and Dad would settle in Saratoga County, NY, where I was raised, where Uncas had befriended early English settlers, where Tantaquidgeon had attended the premier of the original film Last of the Mohecans in 1935, where my dad would volunteer as a school board member for almost four decades, and where we had lunch yesterday.

At 88, my mother still lives by herself in our family home, feeling at home in this place with such a rich history and with so many wonderful memories… all from not-so-long ago.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

One Perspective. One Poem. 2014-10-18

I wrote this while spending a week of Yin Yoga, poetry, and music with Biff Mithoefer and Prema Mayi. It comes from a place of personal vision that, with mindful perspective and feelings of loving-kindness and connectedness, I am my natural me. It also comes from a place of tribute to my father, and all of the spirit-guides that help me find my way.

Soaring up high, I see my way;

Caring for others, living each day;

Walking my path with all things as One:

I share my heart freely, for I am your son.


65 Years Ago

65 years ago today my parents were married in Rockport, Massachusetts.

51 weeks ago today my father passed away near is home in Burnt Hills, NY.

They had beautiful times together. I am blessed to be their child.

Memories help form the foundation of my identity and remind me who I am. Who I am is what I do for others today. They both taught me that this is my way… not by their words… but by the example of their way.

A community member wrote this about my dad after his passing:

“History is the story of ordinary people who did extraordinary things.” My dad was “the best extraordinary example” he knew. “His passion, energy, and willingness to do what was good for children created a leadership style that was positive and infectious, causing people to be willing to follow his lead.”

As my father’s son, I am reminded of what I said at his service:

“I am Bob Speck Jr, son of Bob Speck Sr. I come from the green hills of New England, the blue shores of the Atlantic, the golden fields of New York, and have found my spirit in the white peaks of the Wasatch. I serve my villages, and plant seeds of learning and joy, with wisdom and integrity, with humility and humor. I spend my days in this world of dreams; my father walks in the land of strawberries. And it is all SO BEAUTIFUL.”

I spent the day yesterday with my mom. It was beautiful. We had strawberries for lunch.

Today, I spend my day with both of my parents. And it is beautiful.

Tetons- Maggie's Pictures 143


Reflections on Leadership and Success

Recently, a history teacher in the school district where my dad lived for 55 years recently wrote a note to my nephews (my dad’s grandkids): “History is the story of ordinary people who did extraordinary things.” My dad was “the best extraordinary example” he knew. “His passion, energy, and willingness to do what was good for children created a leadership style that was positive and infectious, causing people to be willing to follow his lead.”

Tetons- Bob Meditating

Passion. Positive. Goodness. Today is my day to do something extraordinary. Maybe it will start with just doing something good to make another ordinary person feel extraordinary. If I can do this positively and with passion as a daily practice, maybe I too will have succeeded as a leader?


Success? I like what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;

To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

My dad passed away 3 months ago. He was a mentor for many. He still is for me.


Words of Advice. Setting Intention, Again.

A number of weeks ago, when my father was still able to share words of wisdom, he looked at me and saw that my smile was not natural. He said to me, “Don’t let your job get the best of you.” I understood what he meant immediately.

What I immediately understood was, when your work is a natural way for you to express who you naturally are, your work will naturally be a way for you to give your best; when your work forces you to act in a manner that is in conflict with who you naturally are, your work will not get the best you.

During my dad’s eulogy yesterday, I spoke about who I am and how much I was my father’s son. I ended my talk with the following:

“I am Bob Speck Jr, son of Bob Speck Sr. I come from the green hills of New England, the blue shores of the Atlantic, the golden fields of New York, and have found my spirit in the white peaks of the Wasatch. I serve my villages, and plant seeds of learning and joy, with wisdom and integrity, with humility and humor. I spend my days in this world of dreams; my father walks in the land of strawberries. And it is all SO BEAUTIFUL.”

I had referenced the Divine in my talk, God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Universe, Mother Earth, the Great Spirit. In my mind, I was also thinking, “I am Kokopelli. I am Hanuman. I am Bhudda.”

I believe in the Oneness of all. Everything is connected. We spend too much time living under a guise of separation and division, competition and comparison, self-promotion. I believe we are our best selves when we act for the betterment of all things.


In my future actions, I will set my intention to be who I naturally am. I will tune into the energy and memories of the mentors who have guided me (my father, my uncle, my wounded warrior friends, my yoga teachers, my coaches and teachers, my mother) and connect with them through daily rituals and practices.

I will set my daily intentions to be who I naturally am, in order that I am able to give my best to the work of my life. And I will take full responsibility for who I am.

I will live by my father’s example to be me (as best I can), to accept others for who they are, to do good work on the behalf of others, and to do it with a sense of humility, togetherness, dignity, and joy.


My Dad’s Obituary. This Mentor Will Always Walk With Me.

Dateline: Burnt Hills, NY

Robert S. “Bob” Speck, 87, of Wendy Lane, died on Tuesday, August 6, 2013 at the Maplewood Manor Nursing Home in Ballston Spa.  He was born on July 7, 1926 in Gloucester, MA and was the son of the late Reinhard and Gertrude (Marshall) Speck.

Bob Speck will be remembered locally for his four decades of dedicated community service and public education leadership in the Burnt Hills – Ballston Lake School District. He served 36 years as member of the Board of Education, often serving as Board President. He also served terms on the board of directors for Capital District B.O.C.E.S. and the New York State School Board Association. Prior to these school board roles, he also served in volunteer leadership roles at the Charvale Pool Association, Burnt Hills Junior Baseball Commission, Hickory Hill Ski Center, and the PTA at Stevens Elementary School. He was recognized for his service and program support with many awards, including the BH-BL Founder’s Award, the BH-BL Rotary Citizen of the Year, induction in the BH-BL Sports Hall of Fame, and the naming of the middle school Media Center in his honor. He also served as the school district historian and worked with the District to publish a book in 2005 on the 200-year school district history.

Robert S. Speck-2-1

Bob Speck grew up on a two-acre dairy farm in Rockport, MA. As a boy, he helped his family run a dairy farm, milking cows and delivering raw milk before school. A nephew of Native American anthropologist Dr. Frank G. Speck, he spent summers learning about indigenous ways of life from Mohegan Chief Harold Tantaquidgeon and later became an Eagle Scout. After graduating from Rockport High School in 1944, Speck enlisted in the US Army Air Forces during World War II and was in training to be an aviator cadet when the war ended. He enrolled in Tufts University and graduated with a Bachelors of Science degree in Engineering Physics in 1949.

Robert S. Speck

Speck married his high school sweetheart, Elizabeth “Betty” Speck in 1949, and soon joined the General Electric Company. After assignments in Lynn, MA, and San Jose’, CA, Bob and Betty settled in Burnt Hills in 1958, and Speck began a 36-year career for GE working at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna, NY, and the Kesslering Site, in West Milton, NY. His work was largely involved in the design and construction of nuclear power plants for US Navy ships and submarines, many of those years doing ground-breaking work under the direct supervision of Admiral Hyman Rickover. Speck received his Masters of Science degree in Nuclear Engineering from Union College in 1963, and later authored a nuclear power training manual for GE which was used for many years by the US Navy.

Speck was always focused on getting things done, whether at work, in his community service, or in his yard. But, he was focused most on his family. Bob, also known as “Pete” to neighborhood and hometown friends, was always together with Betty at family academic and sporting events where they have been enthusiastic boosters. He and Betty have been fixtures at BH-BL and Union College soccer and ice hockey games. Each summer, the two of them gathered kids and grand-kids together for vacation stays in their hometown of Rockport, MA, spending time together with relatives on Long Beach and cheering for their beloved Red Sox. Bob was so proud of his children and his grand-children, their lives, their achievements, their togetherness. He lifted up others with his energy and his wit. He will always be remembered for his dedicated work, his sense of integrity, his intelligence, and his light-hearted nature.

He was the beloved husband of Elizabeth (Marr) Speck, his wife of 64 years, his friend and partner for almost 70 years;

Caring father of Laurie Speck-Mach of Broadalbin, NY; Robert Speck, Jr of Manchester Center, VT, Dr. Douglas Speck of West Newbury, VT, and Brian Speck of Burnt Hills; and father-in-law of Jo Kirsch, Dr. Claire Bolon-Speck, and Kim Speck;

Devoted grandfather of Heather and Brandon Mach of Broadalbin, NY; Alex Boyle of Los Angeles, CA and Natalie Boyle of Boston, MA; Emily, Megan, and Abby Speck of West Newbury, VT; and Ian, Cameron, and Sean Speck of Burnt Hills;

Brother of the late Dr. Staniford “Sonny” Speck of San Francisco, CA; Ralph “Bud” Speck and Francis “Lad” Speck of Sioux City, IA, and Gertrude “Peggy” (Speck) Shea of Rockport, MA;

And “Uncle Pete” to many nieces and nephews.

2013-03-20 Dad

A celebration of life memorial service will be held on Saturday at 10:30 AM at the Burnt Hills United Methodist Church, 816 Route 50 in Burnt Hills, NY. Following the service will be a reception at the Robert S Speck Media Library at the BH-BL Middle School.

Interment of Bob’s cremated remains will be in the family plot in Beach Grove Cemetery in Rockport, MA on Saturday, September 7, 2013.

Those who wish are encouraged to make memorial donations to the Burnt Hills United Methodist Church or the BH-BL Robert S Speck Scholarship Fund c/o Townley & Wheeler Funeral Home.

Many thanks are extended by Bob’s family and friends and to the staff at Maplewood Manor, Saratoga County VNA, and Saratoga County Hospice for their loving care. Special thanks to Karen Murdick and Fred Hess.

To view Mr. Speck’s Book of Memories please visit www.TownleyWheelerFH.com

Life Transitions and My Dad

It seems like life is about going through one transition to another. After all, we all are going through one big individual and interconnected cycle as we transition from the energy of the Universe through life as we know it here on Earth and back to the Universe. But each day brings change, new opportunities, new challenges, new transitions. We apply what we learn today as we improve our life (and the lives of others) for tomorrow.

Recently, I returned from a celebration of life through yoga and music on the island of Oahu. The power and beauty of nature coupled with the love and compassion of hundreds of like-minded souls was inspiring and fulfilling. As I returned home, I realized that my father’s life was going through some rather dramatic transitions. The wonderful power of the interconnectness of family and of loving friends has become so evident to me. Life is delicate. Life is beautiful. Life is a miracle. The life we share with others is indeed a gift to be cherished each and every day. Life is about sharing love.

My parents filled my life with love. I am so thankful to be full of the feeling of unconditional love that my parents gave me. I honor that love with a couple quotes sent to me today from others:

8889_528435250541552_1385488192_n157073_460910943981187_819361164_nMy father has taught me many things… honor, integrity, hard work, loyalty and dedication. He gave me a poster once that said, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.” That’s basically the model by which he lived his life. Through his life as a small-town dairy farmer in his youth, as a WWII veteran of the US Army Air Corps, as a nuclear engineer working for GE (for 36 years) as a contractor to the US Navy, as a 36-year volunteer of a local school board, as a husband of 63 years (and counting), he was of a generation that was dedicated to make life better for his family and his community and his country. He focused his life on building the new.

2013-03-20 DadI honor my dad with this post. I honor everything he taught me. I honor everything he gave me. I am who I am because of him. He is my mentor. He will always walk with me. I will always walk with him… with a life full of love… with my feet firmly planted on this beautiful Earth, and my hands reaching for a vision of life that is full of light, full of love, full of the Universe… and always together with him.

577990_10201069946617800_852437192_nFrom Oahu to Vermont, from Rockport to Burnt Hills, we walk together with love.