City life, any year:“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, ….” ~ Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
Christmas, any year:“A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!” ~ Tiny Tim Cratchit from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843)
Christmas. A time for celebration, for joy, for giving and receiving. Yet for some, a time of special pain: memories recalled, sickness suffered, loved ones lost, physical, emotional, financial or spiritual pain.
Maybe part of it has to do with attitude? Preconceived notions? Stubbornness? But maybe not. Maybe it’s the circumstances that seem to control, whether outward or inward.
Regardless, I join Tiny Tim in praying that, for my friends and family who suffer pain of any sort, they shall experience jubilation at the Advent. For those who endure torturous physical pain or illness, I pray for your healing and comfort. For those who encounter the harsh memories of the past, of the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or financial difficulties, I pray for the security of faith, the gift of God, Who knows your need and supplies, even if “just in the nick of time.” And for those who struggle spiritually for any of many possible reasons, I pray for your self-forgiveness, even as God has forgiven you. May you breathe deeply and drink from the Water that quenches all thirst.
I saw a big man yesterday, standing in line in a sharp business suit perfectly tailored to his fit, lots of nice bling on his arm and hands. Yet he scowled at the inconvenience of waiting, the “lower people” who waited on him. Purchase complete, he walked to his Maserati and drove away with angry power.
On my morning walk today, I had to abandon the sidewalk momentarily for an immigrant worker who was trimming trees with a small chainsaw and loading the offal in his old pickup truck. He had a shirt wrapped around his head to catch the sweat and dirt.
Yet he paused as I approached so that I wouldn’t be inconvenienced by the noise and flying chips. As I came even with him, he politely said, “Good morning sir!” with a cheerful smile of uneven teeth.
Churchill and Trump, among a host of notables, are well-known for their ability to toss out insults about their political opponents at convenient — or inconvenient — moments. Just a few thoughts on that timeless topic here.
“He is a monkey just put into breeches.”
Trump tweets? Not at all! These are descriptions of, first, John Adams (then vice-president to George Washington), and, second, Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816, author of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution and called “Penman of the Constitution). The insults were written by Senator William Maclay of Pennsylvania (1737-1804).
Second U.S. President John Adams (a brilliant intellect, but said by some to have been a misanthrope) called Alexander Hamilton “a Creole bastard,” and said of Hamilton, “That bastard brat of a Scottish peddler! His ambition, his restlessness and all his grandiose schemes come, I’m convinced, from a superabundance of secretions, which he couldn’t find enough whores to absorb!” (Hamilton, a brilliant man himself, was one of several illegitimate children of his mother.)
In the presidential campaign of 1796, two of the four candidates, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, said of each other:
Jefferson’s campaign: Adams has a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
In return, Adams’ men called Vice President Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”
It appears that the Founding Fathers of our nation, great men though they were, were no more above berating others, when the tactic was deemed expedient, than any of the politicians of our lifetime who use such derogatory statements as “I like people who weren’t captured,” or the “basket of deplorables,” etc. Nastiness is not time-bound to any unique period.
Dedicate your sleep to gain knowledge. Dreams can reveal a great deal about what troubles you.
Close your eyes and you see better and hear better.
Ceremonies can remove obstructions. And ceremonies do not have to be elaborate, just something as simple as taking time each morning to feel the dawn.
Rise before sunrise and bathe in the coolness. It will help wash badness away, and you’ll be able to handle any situation.
Smile about the problems you receive; they build muscle. Serendipity is around every corner and life detour.
What’s important is not what happened, but to rebuild.
Life is great, life is good, especially when you share it with someone.
Teach all the time, and learn all the time.
The final technique to restore one to the Beauty Way is prayer. When you pray long enough, you will find shortcuts to the best path to take.
Photo of (1) Navajo boy, son of “Many Goats” (1904), and (2) Navajo Medicine Man Nesjaja Hatali, c. 1907 (1907) by Edward Sheriff Curtis, American photographer & ethnologist who documented the lives of the American Indian tribes in photos and recordings. He was known to the American Indians as “the Shadow Catcher.” Of him, friend and supporter Theodore Roosevelt wrote in the foreword to Volume I of The North American Indian:
“In Mr. Curtis we have both an artist and a trained observer, whose work has far more than mere accuracy, because it is truthful. …because of his extraordinary success in making and using his opportunities, has been able to do what no other man ever has done; what, as far as we can see, no other man could do. Mr. Curtis in publishing this book is rendering a real and great service; a service not only to our own people, but to the world of scholarship everywhere.”
For a fascinating probe into Curtis’ career, I heartily recommend “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher” by Timothy Egan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2011).
I love this poem by Adrian Plass — “Creed” — put to music in the wonderful “City of Gold” soundtrack. Enjoy!
I cannot say my creed in words. How should I spell despair, excitement, joy and grief? amazement, anger, certainty and unbelief?
What was the grammar of those sleepless nights? Who the subject? What the object? – of a friend who will not come, or does not come, and then creates his own eccentric special dawn: A blinding light that does not blind.
Why do I find you in the secret, wordless places where I hide from your eternal light? I hate you. I love you. I miss you. I wish that you would go and yet I know that long ago you made a fairy tale for me
About the day when you would take your sword and battle through the thicket of the things I have become.
Your kiss to life…my Sleeping Beauty waiting for her Prince to come.
Then I will wake and look into your eyes and understand. And for the first time I will not be dumb and I shall say my creed in words.
Dancing is an activity enjoyed around the world. And for the dances of the world, diversity is a descriptor that springs to mind. The word “diversity” is a noun that denotes or means “the state of being diverse; variety.” The connotation for that word these days, especially in the press, is narrowly limited to trigger points of ethnicity, gender, race, political and sexual preferences. But the broader connotation of “variety” is much more helpful.
When I think about diversity, friends and family come to mind. In my immediate family, there are physical characteristics that mark us as being kin, yet the talents, interests and outlooks represented are much broader. And although my extended family and friends include racial and ethnic diversity, the differences that bind us together go way beyond that.
Take a look at this photo of 1st graders at a Fall school festival and think of the amazing range of talents, sizes, skills, experiences and families represented in the group. The kids in the class were circled, singing and cheering in their face-paint and flower garlands. There were high voices and low voices, some with obvious musical talent and others who seemed to be tone-deaf or, at least, equipped with ears untrained to distinguish various pitches. Some exuberant, others shy and tentative. Some were clearly leaders who will likely mature into leadership positions in life. Others will become artists, mathematicians or scientists, business leaders, teachers, engineers, etc.
Narrow the group to two individuals with very different personalities who, nonetheless, are very close friends. Who knows what they may someday be and do? Both of equal human value, both with definite inclinations and abilities that already show, yet both accepting and ENJOYING each other. That’s how friendship works.
Break it down to an individual level, and one may begin to see the potentials represented in each small human. Or do we really only see the tip of an iceberg that gives small hints of reality yet to be? There’s much yet to be discovered about individual personalities, talents, interests and development.
Diversity is a wonderful — and wondrous — consideration that goes way beyond the dumbed-down concentration on the physical traits of gender and skin color. We cannot begin to fathom the range of differences that each child or person brings to the table until we get beyond the surface and spend lots of quality time in interaction with, and appreciation of, each person’s unique gifts, qualities, thought patterns, physical and mental skills, emotional makeup, and preferences in an infinite number of realms and qualities. How do they see their way to meaning in life? What do they like to do most? Least? What do they like? Aspirations? The list goes on and on.
I think about so many amazing people I’ve met in life — children, school friends, neighbors, colleagues at work, artists and musicians, politicians, clients, students, professors and teachers, and family members — with such a huge array of differences, yet all enjoying and, more importantly, CONTRIBUTING to make life and the world a better place to live.
Here’s to my friends and family who make my world a better place each day; who challenge me to change for the better, to be a better friend and family member, to offer what I can offer to the world without hesitation, knowing that I am enhanced by the sharpening effect of those around me. THANK YOU!
A cold, wet wind swooped in, so I took flight eastward on horseback through the valleys, up across hillsides thick with low forests broken by patches of native range grasses, down washes and draws and into country once “owned” by the Chiricahua Apache. No land deeds necessary, physical dominance sufficed then. Cochise, Geronimo and Mangas Coloradas — who gave mortal hell to the U.S. Army in over a decade of raids and warfare to defend their traditional lands – leaders in the Apache Wars of 1861-1872. Another angle of view of southeast Arizona.
The horseback was only in my mind. Mid-February had found me wanting a new view. My Lovely was away in Washington, the Phoenix metroplex was tiresome. Then two near-perfect days watching birds at Patagonia Lake ended abruptly with rain and high winds. But I had spotted and shot several firsts in my bird photo collection, including –
Red-naped Sapsucker (Yep! They really do “suck” sap. Look it up); Ladderback Woodpecker; Gilded Flicker; Vermilion Flycatcher (what a showy fellow!); White-throated Sparrow; Pyrrhuloxia; and White-winged Dove. And there was a huge plague (official label) of Great-tailed Grackles.
Birds may not like storms any more than humans do, but I reckon they don’t complain about it. (Due to the wind, these photos are a bit blurry.)
As said, I lit out for the remote Cochise County, Arizona’s extreme southeast corner. Stopped first, though, in the funky-but-literary town of Patagonia for coffee and a quick browse at their public library, which I’d visited before and found good local color – old-timers spinning out verbal yarns real-time. No disappointment this time, either. Walked away from listening to some fun conversations after a bit and passed a lot of western nostalgia along the road.
Detail of school belfry
Old Canelo community school
The 30-mile stretch of Highway 83 to Parker Canyon Lake from the wide-spot town of Sonoita doesn’t earn the “highway” designation. It’s a contorted, climbing, plunging and primitive route that cuts secretively into the rolling mountains as if trying to escape. Only a slight departure from that time in history when roads often snaked through ranchland and farmland in 90-degree turns made along owners’ boundaries to avoid bisecting a rancher’s or farmer’s grazing lands. “Hit weren’t allowed.”
Sliding through a funnel, narrower and still narrower, mile on mile, the pavement was mostly free of markings – just choppy, tooth-rattling surface through beautiful steep-rolling foothills, grasslands and forests of juniper, manzanita and scrub oak with a spreading habit like live oak. A refreshing departure from the desert terrain of most of Arizona. In winter months like February, the grass stands golden at about two feet high, thick and swaying with the winds … unless covered by snow.
Deer bolted across the road in front and then stopped to stare as I passed. Their coats had an almost sage green hue – either my imagination or their adaptation to local habitat with lots of rocks and lichens of similar hue and the Hairy-seed Bahia, Common Mullein and Desert Marigold plants that abound.
I got there about an hour before dusk. Parker Canyon Lake, Cochise County, about 10 miles north of the border with the State of Sonora, Mexico. Heavy clouds got there first and soaked the place, and rain was still pelting down with a vengeance. Finding the most remote site, I began dinner prep as thick, falling snowflakes caught my attention out the window. No worry. Forecast was for temps hovering at 42, even at this elevation of 5,375 feet, so I dug in to my meal like a ravenous wolf. Only, I had a glass of good red wine.
Inclement weather can cause one to default to a too-rare solitude. There’s a reprieve from “city campers” who in good weather shift their urban way of life to lakeside with electronic gadgets, dogs and noise that spoil the serenity of remoteness. As dark fell, I shortly fell soundly asleep in the Coronado National Forest south of the Dragoon Mountains (where Cochise hid with his warriors) and west of the Chiricahua Range that borders with New Mexico. The stormy night was so dark that I could scarcely see my hand in front of my face. No stars, no outdoor lighting. Perfect for camping.
* * * * *
On the way out next morning, I happened upon a Border Patrol officer sitting off to one side of a 90-degree turn. I remembered the highway signs I’d seen on the way in an afternoon earlier, about every three miles — “Caution: Rough road next 4 miles” — and just before I’d run out of rough road, another such forecast appeared. Exaggeration, but not by much. The rutted washboard macadam could beat a vehicle and its driver to premature death.
But since morning traffic was nil (same as afternoon), I stopped in the middle of the narrow road and opened my driver’s window. The officer took the cue and rolled down his.
“Hey,” I smiled, “you may want to tell the ADOT folks they’d save a lot of money on highway signs if they just put up signs that say, ‘Watch out, smooth road surface for two miles ahead.’ They’d have to make and maintain a lot FEWER signs!”
He gave an exuberant thumbs-up and “Great idea! Have a great day, sir!” Big smile back. Folks in the countryside are relaxed, independent attitude notwithstanding. Most of Arizona is welcoming. The first smile is easy to come by, and if you return it freely, you’re welcomed back.
Then, in another 90-degree turn, I dropped into another time warp. A roadside sandwich sign absent the day before told of a Sunday rodeo at the Canelo Cowboy Church.
Church sign in metal relief
Ride ’em, buster!
“If you’ll just ….”
“You kiddin’ me?”
A cold morning mist stung the face, bad enough weather to keep a lot of city churchgoers at home. But hardy ranch kids, girls and boys, were out with parents in well-worn western gear complete with spurs and chaps, riding steers and broncs out of the chute for time and competing in goat-tying contests. The simple, physically-challenging fun of rural life exceeds the wildest imagination of urban indoor electro-kids. I found a pullout, hiked back along the road and took some shots of the folks having Sunday fun being bucked off faunching animals poked with hotshots while clowns in ridiculous attire cavorted all round the enraged animals. Pretty easy to classify those folks within Will Rogers’ humorous depiction:
There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. ~ Will Rogers
Sometimes those forgotten, back-corner, out-of-the-way places of life deliver wonderful unexpected entertainment – the refreshment we need.
“His mind had no horizons. He was interested in everything.” ~ John Steinbeck, About Ed Ricketts
In response to my expressed hope of remaining healthy for years to come, a friend remarked, “And relevant!” He’s about my age, and we share both desires. Conversation followed among a group of longtime friends whose company we particularly enjoy, not only for the joie de vivre that accompanies, but also the far-ranging topics, by turns dead-serious and lighthearted, sometimes simultaneously and always at length.
I was immediately transported in mind to another of John Steinbeck’s eloquent descriptions of his good friend, Ed Ricketts, marine biologist. He put it like this:
“Although his creativeness lay in receiving, that does not mean that he kept things as property. When you had something from him, it was not something that was his that he tore away from himself. When you had a thought from him or a piece of music or twenty dollars or a steak dinner, it was not his – it was yours already, and his was only the head and hand that steadied it in position toward you. For this reason no one was ever cut off from him. Association with him was deep participation with him, never competition.
“I wish we could all be so. If we could learn even a little to like ourselves, maybe our cruelties and angers might melt away. Maybe we would not have to hurt one another just to keep our ego-chins above water.
“There it is. That’s all I can set down about Ed Ricketts. …”
Marine biologist Ed Flanders Robb Ricketts the man, as known by John Steinbeck. My sense is that “relevant” applied to Ricketts’ life.
From About Ed Ricketts by John Steinbeck, apparently published in the early 1950s as a bio-preface to The Log from the Sea of Cortez.
I am reflecting yet again on the kindness that all of you, my friends, show day to day in your comments on my Facebook posts. Your support, encouragement, your patience and even your challenges sharpen my thinking and attitudes. How could anyone ask more of friendship?
“Social media can be criticized …, but … it enhances freedom and democracy. It puts the 4th Estate* in the hands of the people.”
As I look back over the last year and forward into the full length of this new one, I am struck by what one of my friends, West Doss, articulated so well a few days back. He said, “Social media can be criticized in certain areas, but there is no doubt that it enhances freedom and democracy. It puts the 4th Estate* in the hands of the people.” Great point, as I will show in the next few, short paragraphs.
2016 was full of surprises and changes some of us could not have imagined before now. The mainstream press was outed as purveyors of “fake news,” half-baked truths and outright lies in their efforts to influence the 2016 election. Many things that should have been reported to the public were not, many things that were relatively un-newsworthy were reported and discussed ad nauseum. But I digress – back to the Internet.
The worldwide web, including social media, is an important channel for all sorts of stories to be ferreted out and reported informally. Even if they’re misreported or fabricated (both inevitable, given the wide range of freedom), the fact that tons of stories and commentary get out means that newsworthy stories will be researched by diligent folks, “commoners” if you will, who will ultimately suss out the truth. By this route, everyone is free to find out the truth without the spin, and without dependency upon a corrupted press. So as West said, we individually become owners of the Fourth Estate.
Now turn the corner with me. Today’s January 17, and three respected friends, all of whom I appreciate, have challenged me in one way or other to “move on” from presidential politics because the election is over. Meanwhile, last week I posted short snippets on the about-to-expire presidency of Obama, including concurrent comments on his Chicago farewell speech. One friend characterized my comments as “full of hate” because I took Obama’s remarks to task with facts. I am “hateful” because I question bald assertions made on national TV with facts?! Is there nothing — not anything — to be learned from a close-hand review of a presidency about to end?
Another friend said this in response to my post of the Harvard University chart-analysis of Barack Obama’s “economic recovery”: “It is time to stop looking through a pinhole. We need to swing the door wide open, look farther back and at the same time farther into the future.” Exactly what does that mean — “farther back and farther into the future” — that he’s frustrated because his candidate lost? Looking through a pinhole? Arguably, that’s all it would take to see the whole of Barack Obama’s positive achievements in the White House, but why should we stop talking about the lessons of his eight years?
We seem these days to have lost the ability, the clarity of mind, to argue politics outside of emotions — i.e., feelings are all that matter. But why are feelings so important, so relevant, when we ignore facts? How is it possible that how one feels becomes more important than actual facts? So one’s feelings about his political party of choice having lost a national election becomes a reason to shut down discussion of an outgoing president’s record in office.
Interestingly, historians and writers still study the working histories of the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman et al. Take the writings of Amity Shlaes, a Yale scholar and contemporary author of four non-fiction books, three of which have been New York Times Bestsellers. Of the three, one was about the Great Depression and the New Deal, one about the history of taxes in America, and the third (publ. 2013) was about President Calvin Coolidge.
Talk about “pinholes!” What could be more boring and out-of-date than looking anew at the presidency of Calvin Coolidge (August 2, 1923 – March 4, 1929)? Unless, of course, one wants actually to learn something about the man who, upon the death of Warren G. Harding, succeeded to the presidency and restored confidence to the office. Hmmm.
In summary, each of us has different gifts, talents, points of view, interests, political and social values – and even our own share of biases. Why do I personally write about politics? Why do I post opinions and information gleaned from a variety of sources? Why can’t I “just be a positive good ol’ boy” and stick to posting humor, photographs and what I’m eating tonight?
BECAUSE … I have a vital interest in our nation, our politics, our culture, our future. I like to share, to DISCUSS facts, to hear feedback from varying viewpoints. I love to consider the views of others, but I also appreciate and enjoy the right of all of us to see things differently, to approach matters from a different angle, to engage and chew on the stuff offered by others before reaching conclusions. I urge us as a nation to return toward that model.
That’s the way the cookie crumbles in a free land. Long live that freedom!