LOONY VACATION

I’m home from a two-week vacation, and I must say I don’t see why people want vacations so much. Life can be rich and beautiful without them. Or maybe life itself can be made a vacation, to some degree, so we needn’t go on one.

My wife and I have basically gone most of our married lives working 52 weeks a year. Our vacations have largely been long-weekends of three or four days, and even they have been few and far between. Our jaunt to California for my youngest son’s wedding, described on this blog two years ago, was the first exception to the rule, and that week-long-outing was made interesting as it was during the coronavirus panic and we were not exactly relaxing, even as we did ordinary stuff like go to a wedding. We were radicals to be ordinary, breaking coronavirus laws.

The past two weeks were similar. As a family we have trouble being ordinary, because being ordinary is in some odd way against the flow of political correctness. To be ordinary is to be extraordinary.

I have mixed feelings about being extraordinary. I dislike it because it enflames the ego. Being puffed-up divides one from others, from the so-called “normal”. Rather than brotherhood and oneness one feels they are Brahmin, of a higher caste. Whether it is purple hair or piercings or the absurdly long fingernails of the elite gentlemen of long-ago China, people want to set themselves apart from their fellow man. They want to stand in some safe place, removed from all the danger of closeness. Then they slowly freeze in their icy heights as those (who will live to replace them) prosper in the warmth of the valleys.

In the valley there is less emphasis in setting yourself apart, because it gets in the way of getting things done. Anyway, we are all different whether we like it or not. We are different whether our hair is natural or purple. Just compare fingerprints. We’re different. If that is what thrills your ego, be thrilled, but meanwhile we have a job to do so get cracking.

The odd thing about the valley is that, in getting the job done, people have to put their egos aside, and in getting their selfish self out of the way they are doing, (without yoga and often with a haphazard disregard for spirituality), what spiritual Masters have urged humanity to do for thousands of years, and what humanity has mocked. However, because these salt-of-the-earth bumpkins are actually being selfless, they get the extraordinary rewards promised by the Masters.

I think this reality pisses off the elite. The elite have worked long and hard to set themselves apart, to climb above the riffraff, and they are irked to see the riffraff rewarded as the elite are penalized. For the snobs truly are penalized. They deserve it. And deep down they know it. All the same, it irks the hell out of the elite to see the writing on the wall, like King Belshazzar of Babylonia .

How does this apply to the two-week vacation planned by my wife and I? Well, to some degree we wanted a brief rest. After 32 years we figured we could use a rest. But as we planned a blank two weeks on our calendar, the blankness started to fill up with scribbled appointments. Though we wanted to set ourselves apart for two weeks, stuff happened.

In my case the stuff involved my garden. I can’t just neglect it for two weeks. But this is no bother, for part of my definition of “vacation” is to be free to potter in my garden, without interruption. And in like manner, one part of my wife’s definition of “vacation” is to dote on grandchildren, without interruption.

But when such stuff intrudes too much, it hardly seems you are on vacation at all. I found myself wondering what it would be like to have such a fine staff of gardeners that I could get a complete break, and in some way my wife also contemplated a break from doting on grandchildren. But I would never want an end to gardening, nor my wife want an end to doting. Just a retreat, a time of rest.

Oh well, we are still learning, because we are inexperienced when it comes to vacations. In some ways we failed this time, because our calendar failed to stay blank. Stuff happened.

There was a court date smack dab in the middle of the vacation, due to the foolishness which I described in my last post. Then there was a wedding at the start, which took up time and energy, and then there was a potential divorce among family members to walk-on-eggs about, as well. These are not things which are conducive to a serene mind being at peace, on vacation.

The wedding was, for me, one of the most beautiful events of my life. It seemed so unlikely: That a man who knew nothing but hardship should ever meet a woman who also knew nothing but hardship, and together find happiness. It was like when, in mathematics, a negative multiplied by a negative equals a positive. I was glad for him and glad for her, and glad for the two complicated families involved.

It also seems impossible to me that I, a selfish, lonely artist sleeping in his car, flat broke, 33 years ago, am now a grandfather with five children, ten grandchildren, and three daughters-in-law, and two sons-in-law. Add in my mother-in-law, and that makes 23 in the oneness of the bride’s side of the wedding photos. The husband’s side was equally complex, and added twenty more, so the wedding in a sense increased my family to 43 people. Yikes! I will need a chart simply to keep things straight!

But this just seem to verify what Jesus said would happen to bums like myself who were nice to fellow bums on the street. If I was faithful with the small things, I would be given greater things.

Hmm. Do I really want greater things? Do I really want 43 people to worry about? Or do I just want a vacation, where I don’t have a worry in the world?

The trick seems to be avoiding worry. For example, my daughter wanted her wedding’s “bride’s entrance” to involve all her nieces and nephews, including some as young as eleven months old, and I worried this was a bad idea. They would screech and wail and spoil the ceremony. And it seemed I was right, as we formed a sort of pre-parade in a corridor of a building next to the outdoors auditorium. Every child was complaining. I no longer worried. I was certain: The parade coming down the aisle to the alter would be a complete train wreck. And I would be the caboose, linked arm in arm with the bride. But my worry, and even my certainty, was utterly wrong. Why? Because exiting the low-ceilinged corridor seemed to uplift every little child with fresh air and sky, and they were in a state of wide-eyed, smiling wonder as they came down the aisle. What’s more, they were so awe-struck they behaved themselves through the entire ceremony.

Of course, because I was last in line, arm in arm with the bride in the din of crying children in a cramped corridor, I knew nothing about how the children behaved in the fresh air, and only experienced the pre-parade deafening of squalling toddlers and infants, even as the same toddlers and infants were amazing the wedding audience with their good behavior outside. So, I worried the worst, an even was certain of the worst. Therefore, the tearfully euphoric expressions on the audience’s faces made no sense to me, as I brought my daughter down the aisle.

It was only at the reception afterwards that I came to understand how stupid my worry was. Person after person told me how amazed and touched they were by all the awed little children preceding the bride, and how not one child misbehaved.

I bring this up to show how foolish worry is. Not that I am not guilty of worry, but I also often doubt its validity, even as I experience it.

The fact of the matter is that, in my life, I have seen my worst worries come true, and have always seen that, even in a worst-case scenario, reality is not as awful as worry suggested beforehand. For example, at age 21 the idea of being homeless and sleeping in my car was a fate to be dreaded, but when it actually happened to me at age 31, it wasn’t as dreadful as I imagined, and now, at age 69, I actually look back on my destitute period (between age 28 and age 36) with a peculiar fondness, (though I hope I don’t have to do it again.) Why fondness? Because at that time I saw that, even when your worries come true, you can still be good. Worry loses its power when you’re hit by its best uppercut, and you don’t fall down.

(This likely can be applied to the current political situation in the United States, where the elite are hitting the non-elite with their best uppercuts, but the non-elite are not falling down.)

But me? I’m just an old bumpkin who wants a vacation. And in a sense I got one, for a true wedding celebration is a vacation from the drag of ordinary, banal, humdrum reality. Rather than the testing of faith involved in ordinary life, it is an affirmation of faith. And is that ever a relief!

In ordinary life I am always wishing God would manifest, and in a wedding He does. Differences are overcome by understanding. The power of love is revealed, announced, and displayed.

Of course, as we look at the wedding photos in the future, we might see a particular married couple who are only faking their smiles, for they are secretly nursing the powers of divorce. But this tends to be part of what is called “family”, which is a soap opera I told my wife should be called, in our case, not “As the World Turns,” (an actual soap opera) but rather “As the Worm Churns.”

But such drama is just ordinary life, wherein we wish God would manifest but, though He is as ever-present as always, He seems to fail to manifest, so our faith gets tested. Yet even in this dreary and ungodly existence, the process of getting-by can involve “stuff” which, midst selfishness, is selfless, and releases the joy Masters promised us.

For example, when I went to court for my arraignment, I met with the prosecutor beforehand determined to prove my innocence, for I felt I had a “good case” and felt I likely would “win”. But it would take time and money. Hiring the attorney to plead my case would cost me roughly $2,000.00, to start. And it would likely involve three separate appearances in court, and who has time for that when their garden needs weeding? In the same manner, the prosecutor didn’t much want to spend a long time persecuting an innocent man. So, we sat around and did what I suppose is called “plea-bargained”. My charges were reduced from a “misdemeanor” to a “violation” (like a parking ticket) and by pleading “no contest” I didn’t even admit guilt. In the end the “plea bargaining” took roughly two hours of my vacation, plus a fine of $248.00, which was later reduced to $124.00. Furthermore, I found the prosecutor interesting, and he seemingly found me interesting as well.

A defendant is never supposed to be too open with a prosecutor, and vice versa, but we slipped up to some degree, in that respect. Rather than “plea-bargain” we did what locals call “chewed the fat”, which is to exchange information in a trusting and open manner, quite unlike the manner usually seen between a prosecutor and defendant. And why did this happen? Well, apparently, I made it happen. How so?

Well, it turned out the prosecutor had received a call from the arresting officer, who told him what an usually polite, honest and engaging criminal I was. This was no trouble for me. It is not every day you get handcuffed and brought to the police station for fingerprinting, and I found it fascinating, and was full of questions and interest. (See last post). I wasn’t behaving in that manner to gain some future advantage or benefit. It is just that, in a life with its fair share of hardship, I’ve learned it doesn’t do any good to make hardship harder by snarling and hissing like a collared cat, but that it makes hardship a lot less hard to bear if you treat it as an interesting experience. And apparently I made the experience interesting for the arresting officer as well. And one thing led to another, until it led to my experience in court being rather pleasant.

Perhaps this is what the Masters have been trying to tell us, millennium after millennium. If we have interest in others we forget about our selves, and things turn out better than they do when it is all about us. Of course, the non-elite are more likely to see this than the elite are, because the non-elite are facing hardships the elite adroitly avoid, and therefore the non-elite are better at facing hardships, and better at not being a sourpuss about troubles. Not that the non-elite are necessarily as cheerful as Snow White cleaning up after seven piggy dwarfs, singing “Whistle While You Work.” (My wife informs me I was not all rainbows and roses, the evening after my arrest.) However the non-elite do tend to work, and work hard, while the elite feel being “independently wealthy” frees them from odious toil, and they then sadly become in some ways allergic to work. They are deprived of experiencing what the Masters have been trying to tell us: It is better to give than to receive, and, blessed are the poor, for they are strangely more able to give than the rich.

This ties neatly into the difference between marriage and divorce, but I don’t want to delve much more into that topic. After all, this post is supposed to be about a vacation, and a vacation is supposed to be a break from hard work. And there is no getting around the fact marriage involves hard work.

At the start of marriage people notice they differ, but opposites attract, and “Viva la différence!” However, differing evolves into disagreeing, at which point things can become disagreeable. It is then marriage involves front lines between the powers of selfishness and the powers of selflessness. As I stated earlier, it doesn’t do any good to make hardship harder by snarling and hissing like a collared cat, but it makes hardship a lot less hard to bear if you treat it as an interesting experience. For there are some differences you will never agree upon. After 32 years my wife and I still can’t agree on how to make a bed; (she refuses to fold down the sheet up by the pillow). What one must decide is: Are such disagreements grounds for escalating nastiness and eventual divorce, or are they petty things which can be overlooked? Love is a great overlooker.

“Love bears all things” states the part of 1 Corinthians 13, which even non-churchgoing people like read out at their weddings, but it is easier said than done. Having done it, there is no way I want to revert to doing it. I want a vacation. When the young move in the direction of a quarrel, and I can escape the role of a councilor, I flee as fast as I can for the fish.

Or I watch the young fish, at the end of a day at the end of a life.

But eventually the long, summer days end. Even at the North Pole, where the summer sun never sets, summer ends, and darkness falls. Darkness is part of life, a time for rest. In Eden the night knew no fear, like sleep in a mother’s arms. But on earth fear creeps in. Worry arises.

I tend to side with light over darkness, reconciliation over divorce, but there are many examples of a pebble of badness starting an avalanche of evil. Evil escalates. A single bad apple can rot the entire barrel. Therefore, when the mind gets tired and needs rest, darkness can loom.

Light remains superior, for there is no darkness light cannot penetrate, whereas darkness can never penetrate light. However, this also means that when your own mind grows weary and dark it cannot penetrate to the very light it longs for. All crumbles. Rust never sleeps. Decay triumphs even over the pyramids.

It was at this point that King David, a mighty warrior, became weak and fragile. In his psalms he aptly describes how bad his bad moods were, and how stressful was his post-traumatic stress. And then, over and over, his psalms show him turning to God as the One who does not crumble, as the “rock” who is everlasting. Then the mighty warrior becomes like a toddler clinging to a father’s pantleg in a crowd. And then, every time, his tested faith is restored, not due to any deed on the part of David, but because it is in the nature of the Father to love, to preserve and protect. And this happens to all of us, when we sleep. What do we do when we sleep? What do we achieve when we do nothing? How is it rest rewards us?

I don’t know. I just know that, like it or not, I fall asleep, and then wake to find decay reversed, winter giving way to spring, darkness giving way to light, and wounds healed.

As the end of our vacation neared, we decided to do something loony, a bit like herding cats, and that was to get all six of the younger grandchildren in a single picture. In a way this was a divorce, a divorce from common sense, for getting even a single toddler into a picture is challenging, especially when they are seated on a couch and are determined to wobble off and land on their heads. The following picture is proof anything is possible.

In case you are wondering what so fascinates the children that they all sit still, it was the antics of their parents. I took a video where I pan back and forth as this picture was set up, and to me my grandkids are less interesting than my now-mature kids, all hopping about and singing songs. The cooperation was amazing, especially when you realize it includes two who are contemplating divorce and who ordinarily can’t agree about anything, yet whom I have proof of, on video, that that they can cooperate, when they forget themselves and are focused on something other than themselves, (in this case a good picture.)

And then everyone began leaving, and suddenly there was silence: Just my wife and I, all alone by a lake. I had no garden to weed, and she had no grandchildren to dote over. There was no loony behavior to deal with, but off in the distance the beautiful cry of a loon inspired us to contemplate if there was anything slightly loony which we old folk might do together, and we decided to kayak off to a distant island and explore it.

The island was barren of topsoil and blasted by winds that at times must scream down from the nearby mountain and across the flat waters to flatten the island’s weaker trees. Yet as we walked about, I was struck by how lush the island managed to be despite all it had going against it. The trees were pathetic compared to trees on the west coast but had a might all their own. Simply to survive hinted at heroism, and there were many hemlocks with bases eighteen inches across that were barely twelve feet tall. Counting the whorls of branches suggested they were like banzai trees, over a hundred years old but still small. Many trees were warped and twisted in a loony way. Many others, which had dared grow taller, had been blown down or snapped off. But the rotting stumps of the snapped-off fatalities didn’t stop life.

Nor was life defeated when the fatalities involved the shallow subsoil giving too little dirt to keep trees from being uprooted. Seedlings grew atop the uprooted roots, and even when the roots rotted and the dirt washed away, the loony seedlings didn’t quit.

And some of these trees that refused to quit grew to a decent size, (though not by west coast standards.)

But of all the loony trees perhaps the oddest was the lone white pine I saw on the entire island. It was loony not only because it was the lone white pine, but also because it dwarfed all the other trees. What a tale it must be able to tell, to grow so tall where no other trees can tower. I can’t tell the tale, but I greatly admired the tree.

Perhaps I liked the tree because it seems a sort of proof great things can spring from soils that seem sterile. That likely seems loony to the elite, despite proof all round us. They insist they must be independently wealthy first, and even then produce little.

In any case, our vacation was coming to a close. We had to head back to clean up the rented house (or lose our security deposit.) So, we somewhat reluctantly left the island and started back. But, as if to emphasize what is loony, two loons appeared in our path.

There is a law which states boaters aren’t supposed to approach closer than 200 feet to loons, and my wife was able to paddle around them. However, the birds seemed determined to increase my criminal record, and swam and dove directly towards me. Ordinarily shy, these loons seemed determined to get me in trouble, and even added a third to the mix, and soon I was studying loons more closely than I have ever done before, in my 69 years.

I was able to study them, but my phone went dead, and I had to stop taking pictures, and just enjoy the given gift. One thing I wish I could show you is how, when one loon dove, the other two looked down, burying their faces in the water, and how their heads slowly turned as they watched the third pass beneath. The one thing they didn’t do, that I wished for, was to sing their lonely luting, but perhaps such a song at such lose quarters would have capsized my kayak. In the end I decided I had learned two things.

1.) What the elite call loony behavior is actually quite natural.

2.) Loony behavior does not avoid the non-elite.

NOT LOCAL —Deluge Camping—

My life is so tragic that I used to schedule two hours first thing every morning to cry my eyes out, but that got old after a while, so I decided to stop hanging around with poets. It was more fun to look back and laugh. So I suppose that makes me a humorist.

One tragic thing about my youth was that my Mom didn’t like camping. My Dad did a foolish thing, which was to take her camping on their honeymoon. He thought he might open her eyes to the beauty of nature. It poured. Years later, when he was a little wiser, he took her to the Caribbean. She stepped on a poisonous sea-urchin. Come to think of it, maybe Nature didn’t like my mother. When my Dad took her out mackerel-jigging she caught a sea-gull. It squawked and flapped about her face at the end of a hand-line, and she indignantly concluded only fools found joy in mackerel fishing. Nor did she like anyone finding joy in her discomfiture, but Dad did a foolish thing, which was to laugh.

After the divorce I was very careful to avoid the topic of camping. I was a sort of barefoot, suburban Huckleberry Finn, illegally fishing and skinny-dipping in the water supply of Harvard professors, and was briefly arrested at age eleven, but the officer had compassion and didn’t tell Mom. I had many other wonderful adventure that I didn’t dare share with Mom (at least until a sort of statute of limitations had passed) for I had concluded there were two types of people in the world. There were those who didn’t like camping…

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…and those who did.

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Back in my days as a bachelor and bum I did a lot of camping, for a tent was cheaper than an apartment. In 1987 I camped from May 1 to October 23. This presented me with a bit of a dilemma, for if I didn’t write my Mom she’d worry, (and I usually couldn’t afford a phone call.) The letters I then produced were masterpieces in the fine art of censorship. Every day camping was a sunny day, and rain was never mentioned.

After I surprised everyone by marrying and settling down, I got a surprise of my own, for it turned out my wife’s mother did like camping. I didn’t know that was legal for Moms to do, but she’s gone right ahead and done it.

As a young mother of five with a hot home, too poor to afford a summer house, she had moved to a campground by a lake each summer, perhaps to escape the heat or perhaps to escape vacuuming the house. Her husband would commute to work from the campground, and the kids rode their bicycles about and fished and swam to their hearts content. They don’t seem to remember any rain. The mother didn’t know what she was starting. It became a yearly event.

This year the lady, in her eighties, sat back and happily regarded her daughter and three sons, their four spouses, ten grandchildren, four grandchildren-in-laws, two step-grandchildren, two step-grandchildren-in-laws, six great-grandchildren, and two step-great-grand children, and likely thought about the ones who couldn’t make it this year.

It rained, of course. It seems to rain every year, but we count on the rain, and one of the first things we do is stretch out tarps between trees. I am proud to state I was the one who started this great tradition in 1991, and as the years have passed it has become a sort of art, as we’ve learned by making all sorts of mistakes. A tarp can turn into a spinnaker in a strong wind, and snap ropes, and also a tarp also can turn into a massive udder if  it catches rain and sags. Now we have learned all sorts of remedies, one of the best of which is to get old, so you can sit back and watch others clamber about in trees.

Only once did I arise this year, as the wise old man,  to show them the trick of tying a rope to a hammer and tossing it up over a branch, so you can skip the climbing, (which I didn’t learn until I was pushing fifty and getting tired of bringing an aluminum extension ladder camping, and saw a friend who was lazy demonstrate the hammer trick).  This year no one had a hammer so they used a hatchet. It added risk to the enterprise.

In the end we were ready for the rain. Here’s my area:

and here’s the main gathering area:

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In the old days we only had tents, and looked down our noses at RV’s, but a son and brother-in-law have gotten soft, and I must admit I don’t mind a bit of softness myself, though I can’t afford a RV. We also only cooked over wood fires in the old days, and while we still do a bit of that (under the high part of the tarp), the younger folk haul in all sorts of smokers and newfangled propane gadgets. I don’t complain, when faced with a spread like this:

I’m not sure we could have done as well if the winds had been high. Around five years ago we gathered in the gusty deluge of a former tropical storm, and as I recall we put off the gorging until the next day, but this year the feast was prepared despite downpours. It was interesting to see the smaller girls incorporate the water coming off the tarp into their play.

My wife strongly believes that, to acclimatize grandchildren to camping, you need to break them in early.

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We’ve been camping in the rain so long, nearly thirty years now, that we’ve watched an entire generation go from being this small to being stronger and richer than we are. I like to just sit back and contemplate the passage of time, but did get up and take part in a game of whiffle-ball when the rain let up for a bit, and now rue my brief ambition.  Within hours I was walking funny. But the former boys are now strapping young men who don’t stiffen up so quickly, and who itch for challenges, such as jumping into rivers from high places and being carried downstream.

This river is the Ashoelot, a geologically interesting backwater that flows down a channel made by a glacial flood. Usually it is fairly shallow,  but all the rain had its waters rising.Camping 9 IMG_7106

 

When we first arrived my dog L.C. (short for “Lost Cause”), (Animal Rights Activists think I’m calling her “Elsie”), had a great time annoying herons and geese on the river, which was a little higher than usual.

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But the clear, tea-colored water had risen three feet and turned to coffee by the second day.

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By the third day it had risen three more feet and gone dark again, and had the spin-drift suds that sometimes indicate pollution, but can also be natural, in swampy rivers.  The campground owner said the water was as high as he’d ever seen it. Driftwood shifted, with its colonies of greenery and crimson blooms.

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The men were smart enough to know you can’t jump in at the usual place, if you are unsure if driftwood has moved in, so they sent my nine-year-old  grandson down to swim around and see if he could feel any branches with his toes. The cheerful, young, eager-to-please chump fellow checked out the entire area under the embankment, which usually is around twelve feet tall. He said it was all clear. Then they asked him if the water seemed colder, and he shrugged innocently and said, “Maybe a little.”

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I wish I could show you the video of whqat followed. You see six big brawny men dash to the edge of the bank and leap whooping out into the river, make a tremendous splash, and then their heads emerge and they all simultaneously register the fact the water is twenty degrees colder. Not so manly, all of a sudden. As they drifted downstream you could have heard the shrieking a mile away.  (I looked suspiciously at my grandson. He was smiling noncommittally.)

Despite the fact they had disgraced themselves, in terms of machismo, some of the women wanted pictures of the young men “for a calendar.”

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Himph! No one asked me if I’d pose for a calendar. And I tell you, I’ve taken on all four of those fellows and whupped them with one hand behind my back……twenty years ago.

As the evening came on I sat in the light of the campfire listening to the patter of the rain on the tarp overhead, and the deluge became a flood of memory. I listened to the murmurs of conversation, snatches of laughter, and strumming of a guitar and thought about what a fool I was thirty years ago, when I decided I had God’s plan for me all figured out. I was camping all alone in the New Mexico desert, and expected to be single all the days of my life.

In fact I managed to convince myself that being alone was likely for the best.  Spirituality is all about renouncing the things of the world, and it would be far easier to renounce everything if I didn’t have anything. Just as it is far easier to be a teetotaler if you have no booze, it would be easier to be celibate without a babe. My “bad karma” was actually “good karma”.

Not so fast. (Though it did happen with astonishing speed.) In fact, when I told a spiritual friend I had married a mother-of-three I didn’t try to explain it, beyond saying, “I don’t know what happened.” Karma is like that. Just when you think you have things figured out you learn you’re just a chip on a mighty river.

It is also a little amusing how “good karma” becomes “bad karma”. When my wife was clobbered by morning sickness and I had three kids to care for it occurred to me that “family values” might not be all that they were cut out to be. Not that I had any desire to camp alone again. But I understood the irony of the Springsteen “Hungry Heart” lyrics:

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back,

There are times when leaving all worldly possessions has a definite appeal.  The Australian poet Francis Brabazon  describes a man who came to Meher Baba and offered to lay all his worldly possessions at his feet, namely, a wife and six kids.

However when Jesus said, “Leave all and follow me”, he didn’t mean just your “bad karma”. All means all. To be true follower you have to give up your “good karma”. Yikes. That is not so easy, when the kids who seemed like “bad karma” grow up and delight you by being “good karma” in a campfire’s wavering glow.

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It is no easy thing to truly give all to God. We are all addicts. But it helps when you reflect on how bankrupt you are without the gifts you have received from God. (I’m not sure where atheists think their talents and “luck” comes from.) It helps even more to believe God is love, and even “bad karma” holds compassion, though it may be a blessing very deeply disguised.

As a cancer survivor I know even accursed cancer can be a blessing, for it makes every day a treasure. One lives praying the doctor doesn’t deliver the bad news, “it’s back”. It is as if you are looking  around for the last time. Habits people have, which once annoyed you, become strangely endearing.

It is oddly ambiguous that, when we think we have control of our lives, we are full of complaining, but when we lose control we experience an overwhelming gratitude. Perhaps that explains (to some) why “leave all and follow me” is not really loss, but gain.

NOT LOCAL –LOCUSTS–

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My wife and I felt we needed a break from our routine, and wound up at a beautiful farmhouse in a small town, inland and away from all the traffic and hubbub of the coast of Maine.  The house was surrounded by tall black locust trees at the height of their bloom, and the perfume in the air was enchanting.  I felt we had escaped pettiness.

In the evening twilight I did a bit of lazy research about black locusts, as it is one of the most valuable types of lumber, if only you can find wood that hasn’t been drilled into Swiss cheese by a annoying beetle.  Not only is the wood one of the hardest, it also burns hotter than all other firewoods, nearly matching the BTU power of coal.  Americans felt the tree was so valuable they transplanted it beyond its natural range, perhaps greedily gloating over the future supply of excellent lumber they’d harvest,  but then around the year 1900 the beetles spread like a plague, and rather than prime lumber people had wormy and worthless wood, and trees that tended to snap off in strong winds and then send up thorny shoots from roots and stumps.  The tree became more of a weed than anything else.

On the bright side, black locust does stabilize unstable hillsides prone to erosion, and does fertilize the soil with nitrogen, but….there is also a not-so-bright side: Black locust is invasive, in landscapes that are naturally prairies.

Black locust seems one of those “if only” plants, a tree with great expectations, but a disillusioning  reality.  The blooms are so profuse and sweet they are a bee-keeper’s delight, and result in a rare and delicious honey, but…..(and there is that word “but” again)…it only blooms for ten days.

If only. If only you could line up all the positives without all the negatives you could have tall trees producing honey in the spring and firewood in the fall, excellent lumber, and even the tree’s pods can produce food if the poison is removed…..but….the negative is part of life, on this sad planet, and you wind up with a thorny, runty invasive species with wormy wood. The only way to get any good involves lots of hard work….but….I’m on vacation.  Who needs hard work on a vacation?

It is very nice that I get to see black locust at their best, as tall trees untroubled by beetles, because the beetles don’t like the extreme cold of Maine’s winters (or the high mountains of Black Locust’s original range.)  I can breathe deeply of the perfume filling the twilight, because I lucked into the brief period when they are in full bloom. And lastly, I can just lazily browse my way through the internet, rambling without ever working (because research is not work, but rather is fun, for me).

Because this tall, beautiful tree can become a scrubby invasive species out on the prairie, it occurred to me that locusts can be like locusts of the grasshopper sort. If you want to raise wheat on the treeless prairie, you want neither sort of locust, and have to go through all the work of using insecticides or herbicides,  and facing all the environmental hazards of using chemicals,  and who wants to contemplate a problem as complicated as that, when goofing off on vacation?

Instead I decided to wander off into the topic of what sort of locust John the Baptist ate, when he was out in the wilderness, subsisting on “locusts and honey”.  Was he eating the pods of a locust tree? Or was he eating grasshoppers?  Surely, when you go back to the original Greek the two words are not the same.

Somewhat amazingly, it turns out the two words are similar even in the original Greek. The Greek word “akris” means “grasshopper” and the Greek word “enkris” means “honey cake”. And wouldn’t you just know it? This similarity got a fuss going between vegans and non-vegans, way back in the early days of Christianity.

Apparently Saint James was vegan, and at some point a certain sect insisted that all Christians had to be vegan, which created a hubbub, because other Christians stated Christians were freed from dietary restrictions and could even eat pork.

Well, well, well!  The more things change the more they stay the same.  But I will say this: One thing I am not about to do, when on vacation, is enter the squabble between vegans and non-vegans. That sounds too much like work, to me.

In running a Childcare I spend far too much time breaking up fights. Small children can rage and declare war over absurd things, such as the ownership of a certain stick, in a forest holding hundreds and hundreds of sticks.  And to be quite honest, adults aren’t all that  different, with their devious power-struggles involving elaborately crafted and silly schisms. (It is not merely in “Gulliver’s Travels” that people war over whether to open boiled eggs at the pointed side or the rounded side.)

Such nonsense is tiresome to the mortal soul.  Sometimes we need to take a break, to just walk away from all the silliness, and just fill our eyes with the vision of white blossoms billowing against a blue, blue sky, and fill our lungs with the ambrosia of black locust perfume.

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Like a soul walking up and out of hell
I once waltzed away, last day of school,
From ostracism, from a principle
Who was mindless, from teachers who were cruel,
From wicked classmates prone to snickering
At my tears, and entered into landscapes
That knew mercy, with night skies flickering
With God’s lightning, and sunrises all escapes
From bullying routine. My barefooted skin
Felt dew between toes rather than hot shoes,
And rather than a sergeant’s discipline
My orders were to rest. I’d paid my dues
And wandered through green landscapes of healing,
Astounded at what Kindness is revealing.