Local View –Western Zephyrs–

Perhaps it is due to my recent bout with the ‘flu, but my recovery has involved being in touch with a mystical side of myself I’m not certain my Christian brethren would entirely approve of. I am “communing with nature” more, which suggests there is something I am communing with. This sounds dangerously close to worshiping a false god, when God is the only One worthy of worship. Christians are clear about that. However I think many Christians unknowingly worship money and fame, without being aware they are worshiping a false god, whereas “communing with nature” doesn’t necessarily involve worship. You are just having a chat with an invisible entity. Perhaps having a chat with the invisible is dangerous, if you believe the only invisible thing you should be involved with is God.  However fame is invisible, and money is merely paper, unless you value its invisible component. Unless and until a person completely renounces the value of money, they have no business scolding me for valuing the west wind.

I wasn’t even aware I was valuing the west wind until Joe Bastardi, making a trivial aside during one of his podcasts, mentioned there was something special about the west winds that deserved a name. He said the wind wasn’t a true Chinook, but like a colder Chinook. He called it a something-or-another Chinook, (likely he should have called it a “Chinook Modoki,” to be truly meteorological), but I was aware I was instantly dissatisfied. But why?

It deserved better. There is something amazingly kindly about west winds in January, especially after a period of bitter north winds. Even though west winds remain below freezing (this far north), it isn’t a cold that makes you wince and cringe, and life relaxes a bit. This in turn makes me want to sing some version of “Zippity do dah.” The poet in me just wants to praise the west wind. (Not worship the west wind. Just thank it, as one would thank a friend.)

However as soon as you call an inanimate thing such as the west wind a “friend”, you look a bit loopy. So be it. When no one is looking, I’ll smile and wave at a small dust-devil of leaves swirling across the pasture.

I suppose I have always secretly agreed with the ancient Greeks, who stated that these whirls are actually lesser angels, called “zephyrs”. The whirls have a mind of their own, and can be mischievous. I saw this first when only aged fifteen.

I was just finishing up a leaf-raking job for a rich man with a palatial house that had two wings extending to the northeast and northwest. His lawn stepped down through a series of terraces to a road, and across the road was a pasture, and at the far side of the pasture I saw a dust-devil of leaves start whirling. I immediately muttered, “Don’t you dare”, but the whirl of leaves came steadily across the pasture, growing larger and larger and containing more and more leaves. It crossed the road and came up between the two wings of the house, and then proceeded to promptly die, dumping a rain of around three inches of leaves over the area I had just finished raking. It looked worse than before I had begun. And wouldn’t you know it? My wealthy employer chose just then to come out to see how I was getting along with the job. He shot me the funniest expression.

These zephyrs are not always unhelpful. Fifty years later, just last week, I was struggling to get a twilight campfire going out in a pasture at my Childcare, but freezing rain had coated all my wood with ice and the fire was barely smoldering. I was huffing and puffing, being a human bellows in an attempt to get the fire hot enough to dry the wood in the deepening dusk. Just then a most inconsequential-seeming whirl of leaves came across the pasture. Perhaps because of the fire’s slight updraft, it swerved to the fire and just stopped there for around 45 seconds. It seemed to get bigger due to the fire’s heat, and all the coals glowed cherry red as it whirled its wind around the fire. By the time it moved off the fire was blazing. I tipped my hat and thanked that particular zephyr, as it wandered away into the darkening woods.

There. I have done it: Confessed I am a mad poet. But don’t worry. I keep it to myself, and know how to behave in public.

Nor do I pray to the west wind. I seriously believe there is only One God worthy of worship. However He does employ a lot of angels, which, although in some respects mere robotic automatons of God’s Will, are enchanting because God’s Will is enchanting, loving because God’s Will is loving, and are humorous and mischievous because such joy is not outside of God’s nature. Just because a poet is in some respects a friend of angels doesn’t mean he worships them.  Give me a break, you fellow Christians, who I have noticed praying to a few outside of the One God, (such as the Virgin Mary, and Saint Cuthbert).  Cannot I just rhapsodize a bit, without being accused of some foul heresy?

Anyway, in the end of all ends all the glory rolls back to the Creator. When I adore my wife I am not worshiping a false god, for I recognize Who made her. In like manner one can be in the world, but not of the world. Money is not evil, when used correctly, but love of money is.  When one has the joy of a good friend one should recognize a good friend is a manifestation of God’s glory.

This heavenly mood I’m in seems a typical response I go through, after feeling like hell with the ‘flu. However even when in such moods one should be in the heavens without being of the heavens, because even that enchantment is not the end of ends God has in store for us.

But I wrote this sonnet after standing in the west wind, in a Zippity-do-dah mood.

Wearing feathers plucked from a flaring sunset
God’s angels of the west wind balm the pines,
And though I don’t hope for spring, I have met
Lost memories in this cold’s kinder designs.

What is that music just beyond hearing?
What’s that scent mixed with the sweet balsam fir’s?
Who am I looking for, without fearing,
Who I haven’t yet met? The cruel winter’s
Bitterness knows a pause, and all awaits
Something announced by the golden kindness
Of the west wind. The harsh face of Fate’s
Softened by surprise. A world gone mindless
Is reminded. I see every man stunned
By the swinging doors of banks left abandoned.

In conclusion I should add that being in a heavenly mood does not mean I am allowed to neglect worldly details, and one detail of our long winters is that long thaws in January, with lovely west winds, are often followed by a ferocious February. Therefore my poetic streak has a pragmatic side. The next sonnet will likely involve woodpiles.

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LOCAL VIEW –Annual Frozen Pipes Post–

Even boxers get to sit down between rounds, and enjoy some rest, and also Sunday is the Day of Rest, and therefore my wife and I decided that after church we’d go out and have someone else cook, and have someone else serve, and have someone else do the dishes. We figured we deserved it, after coming through the grueling blizzard we’ve just been through. Monday might be just around the corner, but we’d pamper ourselves on Sunday afternoon.

Not that problems don’t intrude even on our Sundays. The latest attempt to repair our washing machine didn’t work, and we had a huge pile of laundry to do at a Laundromat before we went out to eat. However the machines did big loads in only 22 minutes, and, (because my wife decided we might as well wash all sorts of stuff I didn’t think needed washing, while we were at it,) we walked in with 12 loads, used four huge washers, inserted 76 quarters, soap, and then walked out to sit in the car for 22 minutes. The sun was settling down on a winter horizon and we had stuff to talk about. 22 minutes later we hustled hampers of wet laundry back to the car (because our drier still works at home, and our cellar can use the heat,) and headed off to the restaurant. The sunset was a beautiful gold, and I couldn’t help but notice that it was later; before Christmas it was dark at 4:30 but now it is golden and pink.

Among the many things we talked about in our usual, efficient, and scatter-brained way was this Sunday’s sermon at church, which was about “The Rapture”. Although the word “rapture” is not used in the Bible, there are numerous, somewhat-upsetting references to a time that could happen any day, when believers would be swept up to heaven and non-believers left behind to endure seven highly unattractive years on earth.  (This concept inspired the movie, “Left Behind”.)

Back when Jesus’s disciples were still alive the idea Jesus could return “any day” kept people on their toes, but after 2000 years people are perhaps jaded. If you tell them the Rapture might occur in five minutes, people tend to roll their eyes and say, “Right. I’ve heard that one before.” People are not as impressed by the prophesy as they once were. Today’s sermon simply asked, “But what if it happened? Where would you be? Swept up, or left behind?”

Even though I am a “believer”, and have faith in things people say I’m nuts to have faith in, I confess I’m often far from perfect. I do have a temper. I usually apologize afterwards, but not everyone forgives me. And this got me to thinking about the timing of the Rapture.

If the Rapture occurred when I was repenting, and apologetic, and asking for forgiveness, and accepting the abuse of those who are in no mood to forgive me, then I might pass for saintly, and be swept up. But what if the Rapture occurred right when I was at my worst? What if it occurred at the moment I was pounding my fist on a table and telling someone to stuff an unmentionable thing up an unmentionable orifice?  It seems highly unlikely such a person (me) would be permitted to be swept up, and far more likely that person (me) would be left behind.

I was bringing this up in a humorous way, and perhaps a bit too flippantly, for it stirred up my wife, and she waxed eloquent on how the foibles of those who are believers are different from the foibles of those who don’t believe. Her excellent points are too complicated to repeat at this time. I am just bringing this up because some think that people at laundromats are a bunch of low life retards.  We’re not. We are actually highly intellectual and altruistic thinkers. Perhaps it is those who do laundry at home who are the retards.

But this discussion, about who the retards are, is definitely getting too profound for my humble post. This is often the case when you broach spiritual mysteries. What I meant to say was a more simple thing, namely: I decided that maybe I would try harder than usual to keep my temper in check, just in case the Rapture was imminent.

Actually it was easy to keep my temper in check. Even though it still was very cold, you could feel the mercy of a thaw was in the wings. And even if you were not sensitive to the shift of the wind to the southwest, you could always check your cell phone, and find reasons to rejoice.

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Hallelujah! Cellphones are a wonderful invention. Even if long-term forecasts are a government trick to keep us from despairing during cold winters, it is a trick that works.

This morning it was -13°F (-25°) here, but Wednesday it might be +45°F (+7°C). It will feel like April, after what we’ve undergone. And it does tend to fill me with a benevolence when the outlook is so hopeful. It would be good if the Rapture occurred at such a moment, for I am beaming with generosity.

To further the beaming, I ordered a martini, and sat at the best seat in the restaurant, (because the dinner rush hadn’t started at 4:30), and gazed at the final beams of sunshine slipping from the topmost needles of the white pine across a frozen waterfall.

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There is nothing like looking at hardship through a rear view mirror.  A flat tire isn’t funny when you are jacking the car up in the cold, but when the tire is changed and you are on the road again, you can laugh, and get the joke. And seeing the frozen waterfall was like seeing evidence of the incredible cold we’d been through in the past tense, for the present tense was a warm restaurant, a charming waitress, and a steaming dish of delectable food placed before me. And just then a text came through on my cell phone.

Cell phones are a horrible invention.

To cut the texting short, the situation was this: My pregnant daughter is living briefly above my Childcare as her young husband makes the money for an apartment they have their eyes on in Boston. He’d made a big wad of dough as a Uber driver during blizzard condition in Boston, but only had snatched bits of sleep on a friend’s couch, and now had come home for a hot shower and a sleep in his wife’s arms….but the shower didn’t work. Cross examination discovered the sink and toilets didn’t work, neither upstairs nor downstairs at the the childcare. Pipes had frozen at the source, which was a different building, an old abandoned farm house across the driveway.

Blame the sermon in church, or blame the martini, but I had not the slightest urge to slam the table and rave, “Can’t I even have a single meal in peace?” Or…well…I’ll admit I did say to my wife something along the lines of, “I thought when she married her problems became his, and weren’t mine any more.” But that was more of a quip than a serious statement. There was no way an exhausted young man could figure out the irregularities of a a farm that slowly sprawled over a hundred years, with pipes and wires added in a unplanned manner. I was the only available expert.

I refused to hurry. I could have rushed to the farm in twenty minutes but instead texted, “Be there in an hour.” (Didn’t get a “happy face” reply.)  Then I enjoyed my meal, (though I did talk a little more about peculiar plumbing than I might have). I kept my sense of peace, because the Rapture might happen at any moment, and it it wouldn’t look good if I was cursing and gobbling food and gulping the final third of a martini and putting my jacket on upside down. Instead I was as smooth as silk.

Come to think of it, it was bizarre. I should have lost my temper, but didn’t. We drove home, unloaded laundry, and then I sauntered upstairs to change out of my Sunday outfit into work clothes. I came downstairs, gathered a few tools and some rags, and my wife handed me a big thermos of boiling water. I drove to the farm, located an extension cord and a heater with a blower, talked briefly with my daughter and her husband, and then waded through the drifts to the dark, old farmhouse, and decended into its creepy cellar.

What a switch in scenes! Fifty-five minutes earlier I’d been in the lap of luxury with a lovely wife looking out at a gorgeous view with scrumptious food before me, and now I was in a dingy cave festooned with spiderwebs. You would have thought the martini would have worn off, but, instead of cursing, I laughed. The irony of the scenery-switch would be too absurd for a novel, but life is better than a book.

I couldn’t locate the problem, but kept my good mood, humming hymns like an old man pottering in a sunny garden, as I brushed aside dirty spiderwebs and checked the usual suspects: The fuse box, the pressure tank, the pressure switch, and even a cellar faucet, which gushed water. Where could a pipe freeze? Couldn’t be the main line. I had a heat lamp baking where the pipes went into the field-stone wall to cross over to the childcare. It couldn’t be there. But then I noticed a loop of pipe sidetracking into a water softener system, just outside of the reach of the heat lamp. Could that be it? Probably not. Surely the heat would travel along that short length of pipe. But, just to cover all bases, I wrapped those pipes in rags and poured boiling-hot water from the thermos onto the rags. Then I looked around and began thinking of getting more chords and setting up more heat lamps and heaters, but just then my phone advised me of an incoming text.

Sometimes cellphones are wonderful things. The text was from my daughter, across the yard:

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Best was the simple fact no frozen pipe was broken.

Then I got the pleasure of sauntering over to my daughter and her husband and seeing their great delight over something we take for granted: Running water. And also there was the delight of a young man who has been craving a long, hot, relaxing shower, and now gets to take one.

But what about me? Wasn’t I craving a long, hot, relaxing meal? Why am I always the one being interrupted?

I didn’t actually think that. I just put it down because I thought of it now. At the time I was all smiles, and enjoying being a hero. I also was enjoying the strange sensation of having not lost my temper, even once. Too bad the Rapture didn’t happen while I was being so saintly, although I suppose, with my luck, if it was going to happen at any given time it would have happened just when I ordered the martini.

In any case we survived a cold wave, and the traditional episode of frozen pipes. Next comes the January thaw, for the map shows the arctic got too greedy and has overreached its limits. There is a bit of a front southwest of Jamaica, showing how far south the blast reached. Down there I suppose they may find the cool breeze delightful. What we will find delightful is the western side of the high, bringing north mildness we haven’t seen in weeks.

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LOCAL VIEW –Perfected Creation–

I thought I’d include this poem to demonstrate how my mind wanders.

1.) A sea-ice post led to a discussion of drifting continents.

2.) God moving continents about is like a husband moving about the furniture.

3.) We, as the “bridesmaids” God created, likely nagged Him into doing it.

4.) Time for a poem.

For just a moment, every spring,
I see how perfect Eden must have been.
For just a dawn, before bugs come out to sting,
I glimpse how life will be, when freed of sin.
Spring’s an echo of God saying, “It is good.”

We should have accepted the compliment.
Instead it seems we told God that He should
Move the furniture, shift each continent,
End drought but end rain.

                                        What had God created?
A nagging wife? Did our Maker then groan
“This isn’t good!” No, for He clearly stated
The not-good he’d made was, “To be alone.”

The opposite of “alone” is “in love”
And, because God is love, isolation
Is the enemy. Creation dreams of
A great family’s celebration
And, though family may bicker and fight
And be His headache, we’re still His delight.

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(Photo Credit:  Marlowe Gautreau)

LOCAL VIEW –Black Fly Blues–

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       BLACK FLY BLUES

Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous
But I’m not going out of doors today.
Outside the sun is golden
But inside is the place I’m going to stay.
I’ll be a couch potato
Until the biting black flies go away.

I’ve heard God’s love’s in everything,
Even in that pesky little fly.
I found the thought impossible,
So I grabbed one, and I looked him in the eye.
He whined, “Hey man! I love you!”
He’d made a point no woodsman can deny.

They love me head down to my toes;
They even love the inside of my nose.
They also love my armpits
(And not too many folk are fond of those.)
They’re part of Love’s creation
Sort of like the thorns upon a rose.

See that flycatcher winging?
He loves black fly. Black fly he’s glad to see.
Hear that songbird singing?
Black fly fuels his springtime rhapsody.
Feel that itch and stinging?
You are part of Love’s ecology.

Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous.
I can’t be cooped up inside any more.
Outside the sun is gorgeous.
I find I’m walking slowly to the door.
Spring is here and it is clear
Love’s inviting me to come explore.

I wrote that song back in May, 1990. It was one of the last songs I wrote as a bachelor, though I didn’t really have a clue what lay 45 days in my future. I had just chanced into a small town church choir, and found myself mingling with young married couples with small children, and they wanted me to sing at a church picnic in June. It was sort of a graduation party for the Sunday School. For me it was great fun, for I’d been through over a decade as a drifter and a loner, and now all of a sudden I had not only a guitarist and bass to back up my vocals, but the young housewives insisted on being accompanying dancers as I sang, and choreographed a thing where all held fly-swatters and waved them like batons as I sang. I doubt it would have been a hit on Broadway, but we weren’t aiming for that. We hit the bulls eye of what we aimed for, which was joy and a good laugh.

To make joy out of black flies is a major achievement. In fact it is something I think might be good to be remembered for. It would make an intriguing tombstone, “He made joy out of black flies.”

However here it is 27 years later, and I’m dealing with a whole new generation of children and black flies. One way I create a safe-house out of doors is to use the old-fashioned idea of a “smudge.” You basically build a hot fire, and then smother it with wet leaves and twigs.

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Black flies don’t like smoke. They don’t even like the exhaust of a lawn mower or leaf-blower, but back in the day I was prone to using un-powered hand tools, and therefore during the spring I was a chain-smoker. I’d say I only inhaled a puff or two of each cigarette, but they were much cheaper back then, and I’d go through 3 packs a day quite often.

Of course, the politics of smoke have gotten rougher. The EPA was doing its best to outlaw smoke altogether, (though they did get caught fudging some of their data, concerning the harm of “particulates.)”

When I was a small child I didn’t use the word “particulates”, but, believe it or not, one of the small girls at the Childcare furrowed her brow, as I built my smudge, and asked me if I was worried about the “particulates”.

What could I say? I just tugged my beard thoughtfully, and said man started using fire a long, long time ago. Neanderthals used fire. Even Homo Erectus used fire, perhaps as much as 1,500,000 years ago. If it was bad for us, it would have killed us by now. In fact, we probably evolved to handle smoke better than laboratory rats do.  So I told her she shouldn’t worry too much about “particulates.” There was probably more bad stuff in indoor air, than by a campfire.

The girl seemed immensely relieved, and ran off to happily play. But it did make me wonder what some environmentalists think they are teaching our children, when they cause the young such worry, and so many bad dreams. Actually the outside is a lovely place, even when the black flies are out.

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LOCAL VIEW —RED FLAG—

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(Note new, dry high pressure over New England, and potential Hurricane Ana off Florida)

It has been another breezy day of warm temperatures, brilliant sunshine, and humidity down around 20 %. Perfect conditions for having a brush fire explode, though perhaps nothing like the conditions they experience out west. Out west it can be dry from the lowest root to the tip top of tall pines, and once a fire gets going entire trees explode into flame. Our drought is only at the lowest level, and doesn’t reach far underground, however our woods are messier than I can ever remember, and there is enough dead wood laying about the average forest floor these days to make a fire more than just burning leaves. However there were no nearby fires today: Just a beautiful day with the trees rapidly greening, and rapidly screening the view through trees with a green mist.

Yesterday branches were silver and bare
And I could watch a flicker wing its way
Through the trees to a far maple, and there
Land and look back sharply, as if to say,
“Mind your own business, you nosy human.”

Today a green fog is growing from twigs.
Golden green mist is swirling, blooming
From branches, hiding the birds that do jigs
and can-can along limbs, happy to be hid.
I spy on their antics with my radar.

If they wished privacy, they’d put a lid
On their joy, but that isn’t how spring birds are.

Are we the same? And is it so wrong
That when no one’s watching we burst into song?

There is something intoxicating about the whole world going golden green under glorious sunshine. It gets under your eyelids and drives the winter darkness from your brain. The only thing that keeps the glory of this time of year from rivaling the glory of peak foliage in October is that the singing birds must be fed, and this involves swarms of biting black flies.

BLACK FLY BLUES

Outside the sun is golden
But I ain’t goin’ out of doors today.
Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous
But inside is the place I’m goin’ t’stay.
I’ll be a couch potato
Til those pesky black flies go away.

I’ve heard God’s love’s in everything
Even in that pesky little fly.
I found this thought impossible,
So I grabbed one, and looked him in the eye.
He said, “Hey man! I love you!”
He’d made a point no woodsman can deny.

They love you head down to your toes.
They also love the inside of your nose.
They even love your armpits
And not too many folk are fond of those.
They’re part of God’s creation
Sort of like the thorns upon a rose.

See that flycatcher winging?
He loves black fly. Black fly he’s glad to see.
Hear that tree swallow singing?
Black fly fuels his springtime rhapsody.
The bitter flies among the sweet.
You can’t have half and own ecology.

Outside the sun is golden.
I guess I’ll budge my butt and face the swarm.
Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous
But I know clouds of black flies make a storm.
If this world was too comfortable
The next world wouldn’t tempt us to reform.

I did get out midst the swarms, to face various messes made by my trying to avoid the bitter and enjoy the sweet. One mess I made involves burning last year’s weeds in the garden even though there was a red flag warning. (It’s no use trying to get a permit, for the idiot bureaucrats will tell you to wait for a rain, when rain makes weeds too wet to burn)

Farmers have burned weeds for at least 250 years around here, as it kills a lot of bugs and bacteria and viruses that can hide out in dead stalks and infect this year’s plants, and also because the ashes fertilize the soil, and lastly because burning is a lot faster and easier than laboriously removing all the old, dead stalks by hand. And I was smart enough to keep the fire from spreading. However it was amazing how swiftly it burned, how hot it burned, and how busy I was kept rushing about keeping things under control. I was so busy I failed to notice that hidden under the weeds were some important garden hoses, until several were melted just enough to be useless.

Oh well, they were very old hoses, and had sprung leaks anyway, so I went and got new hoses. But I also decided to splurge on a “soaker” hose, because that seemed smarter than standing out in a swarm of black flies, watering by hand. And indeed it was wiser, and freed me up for other tasks, and other swarms of black flies, which annoyed me so much I hurried home at the end of the day, glad to get indoors, and forgot to turn off the “soaker” hose. That in turn resulted in just enough of my parched, drought-dried garden being turned into a mud-bog that my rotor tiller got stuck in the mud today, which involved extra effort midst an especially hungry swarm of black flies.

And so it goes. I seek the sweet, but can’t avoid the bitter. I suppose it is “The Law of Unintended Consequences.”  It seems to permeate so much of life that at times progress seems impossible, and I wonder how it is mankind has progressed at all. One gets so discouraged that, at my age, one can become an old grouch and frown at any suggestion of change. Fortunately progress is possible, but only if you face the bitter.

Nothing tastes quite so bitter as confessing a mistake. Engineers know all about mistakes, which may be why they invented “Murphy’s Law.”  Even the most beautiful bridge may turn into a “Galloping Gertie”.

Rather than a red flag going up when we seek an improvement, (because we expect failure),  the red flag should go up when we fail to confess our mistakes. How are we to learn from our mistakes if we don’t dare confess they exist? Engineers actually go out of their way to have their mistakes pointed out, because they’d rather see a mistake before they build, than see the mistake after they build, in the form of a structural collapse. However in other areas of life people are not so wise.

When was the last time you heard a politician confess he made mistakes?  Likely never. Instead he will spend millions on smear advertisements sneering at an opponents mistakes, as if mistakes were degrading rather than human, and worth damnation rather than often being laughable and even lovable.

Today I got to avoid the black flies by being something that likely has made my mother sit up in her grave. I am now officially “Chairman of the Diaconate” of a church. It is a peculiar twist of fate I never expected, and which all who knew me as a young bohemian artist would have said was utterly impossible. It only happened because our church has crumbled from 200 members in 1999 to roughly 40 members today, and no one else wanted to touch the job with a ten foot pole.

In some ways our church has been a “Galloping Gertie,” but no one has wanted to be a true engineer and simply be honest about confessing. Way back when the red flags of the first schism first flew, I was a voice in the wilderness when I said we should have what I called a “forum”.  I was frustrated by a lot of arguments which stated it wasn’t “Christian” to be blunt, open and honest.

Partly it was because the pastor is expected to “honor confidentiality”, as if he followed the pseudoscience of psychiatry and social workers. Partly it was because Christians feel it is wrong to gossip, and when gossip occurs they “turn the other cheek”, and either refuse to listen or, if they listen, refuse to respond in any way other than a very cold shoulder.

None of this furthered communication, in my eyes, but heck, what do I know? I haven’t been to divinity school, and, even though I read the Bible with interest, I am lousy when it comes to memorizing in that way that lets you quote chapter and verse, and it is important to quote chapter and verse when dealing with many Christians. It is no good to say, “Someone said something somewhere, and the gist of it is…”

In any case, despite a lot of efforts to reform, involving various classes about “how to mend the broken” and “how to heal the hurting,” I watched my church continue to crumble like a Galloping Gertie. Our efforts at correction were about as successful as correctional institute’s efforts to reform hardened criminals. It was frustrating and also embarrassing, because Christians are suppose to be good at healing, and aren’t suppose to resemble hardened criminals.

It was especially frustrating to our pastors, who did all this by-the-book stuff that failed to work. Our final pastor, perhaps hurt and bitter, told me just before he resigned, “If I go you will find no other pastor willing to come to this church, because you have such a record of un-Christian quarreling and pastor-smearing, and, without me stopping all you quarreling, the few people still part of this church will be at each other’s throats, and the church will be dead within six months.”

Not the most auspicious benediction, you must admit. And I confess things looked very bleak, as we could no longer afford a pastor to lead us out of the hole we were in. We barely could even afford to heat the church, last winter. Furthermore, much of the deaconate resigned when the pastor did, which left me and another guy in charge of the “spiritual well-being” of the church. Neither of us really wanted to be the “chairman”, so we flipped a coin, and I lost, and became the chairman.

I had no desire to pretend I was a pastor, so I simply said we did have a pastor, and our pastor was the Lord. I figured that was the Truth, but I confess it also got me off the hook, in terms of being responsible.  Then I said what I had been saying all along, which was that we should have a “forum”.

If nothing else, this sparked a lot of discussion about whether forums were Christian, or some heathen Roman concept.   During these discussions I wasn’t able to quote anything chapter and verse, but fortunately my wife is good at that stuff, and could tug at my sleeve and supply me with chapters and verses, (which is sort of like ammunition.)  Also, when I asked her, “Where does someone say something like…” she was able to give me references, and sometimes multiple references.

One thing I remembered the church doing from long ago, which had sort of faded away over the years, was something called “The confession of sin and assurance of pardon.” It turned out this was from 1 John 8-9, and, very loosely translated, says that modern politicians have it totally backwards when they say they are without sin, and then smear their opponents. The actual quote goes, ” If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

I liked the part about being “purified from all unrighteousness”, even if it did seem highly unlikely a church as rowdy, disobedient and fallen as ours could be fixed. So I suggested we give the confession-business a try.

I have been flabbergasted by how things that never worked abruptly began working. Despite my hopes regarding a “forum”, I feared honesty might enflame people and make things worse, but rather than muddying the waters, a clarity descended. I can’t really explain it, but will, at the risk of sounding like a psychologist promoting pseudo-science, describe some stages I’ve seen things go through.

Stage one involves person A saying something to person B that makes B feel troubled. Honesty does little good at this point, because the red flag is only a “feeling”, and even if B is honest with A and says, “Something about what you say troubles me”, he cannot give any specifics.

Stage two involves person B going to what amounts to a support-group. He does not seek out people liable to disagree, finding that prospect disagreeable, but instead seeks people who tend to agree, finding that agreeable. This support-group allows B to explore the feeling and develop an idea, which is often unfavorable towards A.

Stage three-X involves B afraid to confess the idea to A, as it seems rude, and a smear. However A does learn of the idea because someone in the support-group talks to C who talks to D who talks to E who tells A. By then the idea has been embellished and twisted by the game of “telephone”, and A is hurt, and then resentful, and a schism develops.

Stage three-Y involves confession. B is not afraid to go to A and confess the idea, whereupon A may be taken aback, but at least has the chance to respond directly to the idea.

What I saw then happen (and hadn’t happened in years) was something I hoped for, but still it amazed me.

First, as B spoke the idea a sense of humbleness appeared, and to some degree the idea seemed a bit lame. Without the support of the support-group it became more frail and vulnerable to questioning, (like an engineer putting a plan out for peer-review).

Second, as A responded it quite often turned out some degree of misunderstanding was involved, and was cleared up. (This is like an engineer getting his plan corrected by peer review.)

Third, sometimes A experienced a revelation, as they saw something they would never have thought of on their own, and rather than resenting B they thanked B.

That is a very clumsy explanation of what I have seen starting to happen in my devastated and humbled church. I wouldn’t say we are “purified from all unrighteousness”,  but some sort of purity is definitely within the clarity that has mysteriously decended.

The thing that is clear to me is that the red flags our hearts feel are not repressed and ignored. The initial feeling is a red flag, the support-group clarifies the red flag, and then the courage B demonstrates when he goes back to A and confesses brings the red flag to A’s attention. In this manner the bitterness of mistakes are not buried, and instead mistakes are learned from.

For the benefit to manifest, you have to prefer the bitter to the sweet, for a support group is sweet, but having to leave the support group is not so sweet.

I suppose it only works when you bring the red flag in a spirit of confession, rather than a spirit of righteous indignation and accusation. There has to trust. If your red flag turns out to be a false alarm, you need to feel trust that you are not shamed for your honesty, but rather are better off for being honest. If your red flag turns out to be on the mark, the person receiving it must feel benefited, helped, cared for, loved.

In any case, I find it somewhat astonishing to see peace, clarity, trust and even laughter returning to a church that seemed so down and out. Even if we are still a dying church, it is at least a death with dignity.

So that is what I did for a while today.  I preferred the bitter to the sweet, but the result was a sweeter sweetness.  And talking with old friends was definitely sweeter than thinking about what wasn’t spoken, midst a swarm of black flies.

Lastly the above explains why, though I dug the trench for the potatoes today, I won’t get the potatoes actually planted until tomorrow.

LOCAL VIEW —Filthy—

My weekend was basically consumed by removing -bleep- from my system, and this morning no one could say I was “full of it.” I had an colonoscopy done, and the initial  news is good. The polyps are of the “low suspicion” sort, and unless the doctor is surprised by the biopsy results I won’t have to go through this experience again for five years.

Despite the fact I am working hard on becoming a cantankerous anachronism, I don’t want to be one of those old fossils who belabors listeners with details of their bodily decay. Aging may be a fairly interesting phenomenon to witness if it is happening to you, but it bores the daylights out of younger folk, who want to cruise about in their physical bodies without dwelling on the fact that even the finest car eventually needs to be traded in, and even a Lamborghini will someday be a rust bucket in a junk yard. Life is for living, and if you dwell too much on death you are in a sense dwelling on the physical.

One of the Christian saints wrote with a skull on his desk, to remind himself that physical things don’t last and spirit matters, but that is quite different from being morbid. People full of spirit are more alive, and have a real zest for life, and even when losing hair and teeth find things to talk about besides losing hair and teeth. (What animates saints most is the topic of “life eternal”.)

In any case, I found it a real drag to have my entire weekend dragged down to the level of poop. I really do not find my anus all that interesting, but they make you drink an entire gallon of stuff that flushes out your digestive tract, and in the process I had to contemplate my anus much more than I am used to. Being a poet, and prone to making a poem out of everything, I wrote a sonnet about my anus. Would you like to hear it?

I didn’t think so. Most of us don’t want to think about crud, which is why doctors get paid so much to deal with it for us. My Dad was a surgeon who used to say surgery was little more than plumbing, with some sewing thrown in, and he didn’t see why people didn’t save money and take out their own appendixes. He said men should be ashamed for being gutless, even to a degree where they would let their beloved sweetheart die, if there was no surgeon around to do the cesarean.

The fact of the matter is that guts are gross, and we are gutless because we want to be something other than gross. Sewers attract few of us, which may be why plumbers make as much as surgeons these days (once you subtract the huge malpractice insurance doctors pay). We, who want to fly up in the clouds where the birdies tweet, wind up paying a high price for our avoidance.

Therefore I figure I should be congratulated for not avoiding my colonoscopy.  I could have easily put it off for yet another year, but the experiences of a friend convinced me not to, and I lowered myself to sewer stuff.

That actually is a spiritual thing to do. Not that I did it for spiritual reasons. I did it to avoid colon cancer, and to pamper my totally selfish lust for living. However I accidentally did a spiritual thing, which is to stop preferring the worldly high to the worldly low. I went to a low state, and by sheer coincidence was like Mother Teresa going to the slums of Calcutta, or like Jesus washing the reeking feet of a stinking leper.

You can blame the drugs they gave me if you want, but I honestly felt a lot better afterwards. You can say it was only because in all probability I wont have to do it again for five years,  and I was merely heaving a big sigh of relief, but I honestly feel something else was involved. It was like I’d accidentally walked into a spiritual sunbeam.

We are all yearning for a truly spring-like sunbeam here in New Hampshire, as the weather continues to behave like it is March though the sun is as high as it is in August. Rather than lows moving away from Labrador to afflict England, England gets lovely sunshine as the Labrador lows back up to Nova Scotia.

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The above maps show that the true spring has been pushed all the way south to the cold front in Florida, and the only way we can get any semblance of spring is when cold north winds from the four-feet-deep snow-pack over Quebec is replaced by slightly less cold air from the cold Atlantic around Nova Scotia.

Not that spring can be denied. It is happening, in a painfully slow manner. We will have to mow our lawns soon, as damnable grass grows even when buds wont burst. And I did see a single, lonely forsythia flower was open today, and the wake-robin are pushing up through the leaves in the woods.

But it is far from what we want. We want blue birds and blue skies and bluebells,  not the blues. We want skip about tittering like elves, and not to face days like Mother Theresa facing Calcutta.

I’ve been thinking hard about what it is that old, wrinkled. prune-faced saint-lady could see that I can’t see. Mother Theresa was so full of life she could turn a slum into a church, while I’m having a hard time turning my church into a church. Where Mother Theresa saw Oneness, I have an amazing ability to create schisms.

I have trouble seeing Oneness, as the world is constantly confronting me with opposites. Some situations strike me as blue sky, and some situations strike me as pure poop. I am forever comparing. Communists vs Capitalists. Old vs Young. Rich vs Poor. Educated vs Uneducated. Men vs Woman. Spiritual vs Nonspiritual. Global Warming Alarmists vs Global Warming Skeptics. And on and on and on it goes. I am tired of it all. Where is the peace of oneness, when you always have to take a side?

I once might have renounced this world and retreated to the Himalayas and become a Buddhist,  but even the peaceful Buddhists get no peace these days. The world gives them no rest. In Afghanistan the Islamic militants blow up their huge, beautiful, ancient statues of Buddha, (which is a bit like someone blowing up our Statue of Liberty). When they fled to the high plateau of Tibet, the communists came marching in from China. And when they now flee from Tibet to Nepal, a force 7.9 earthquake flattens their villages. We live in an age when you cannot escape the world. It is after you, and somehow you need to fight back.

As soon as you fight, you are taking sides. It is the end of the peace of Oneness, and makes you hurt in your gut. It is like siding with your mother against your father, or siding with your father against your mother, in a divorce. No matter where you stand, you are failing to honor your parents, and something deep down inside knows what you do is wrong.

It is now nearly 50 years since the answer appeared from, all bizarre things, pop radio: All you need is Love.

However, after nearly 50 years of failure, watching efforts to improve society only plant and breed further and worse schisms, I’m resorting to the second best thing after Love, which is humor.

It does no good to tell others to love if you can’t do it yourself. It does no good to demand others practice Oneness if you yourself are divisive. It is better to be honest, and confess your complete and utter failure. Rather than the blue sky, you are filth. However this is a real drag, unless you reduce pretentiousness to absurdity, and knock St. Paul off his high horse with humor.

Because it was my turn to give a message at my dying church, I figured the best way to point out how absurd Christians are, when they make a schism, where Jesus required Oneness, was to point at myself, and make a joke of myself. However humor is a dangerous thing, and people sometimes don’t laugh. Even though the congregation is tiny, I was sweating a few bullets as I spoke something like this:

“When I think about it, it seems people more often use commandments to resist progress, than they use commandments to push themselves outside of their “comfort zones”. This has led me into an interesting series of sidetracks, as I prepared this message. I began to look around at various objects in my house, and to wonder when they were invented, and to wonder if the inventor got in trouble, and was scolded by people who resist progress.

One of the first things I looked at was soap, which led to some absurd thinking. This happened because, when I came trudging up the front steps after a hard day’s work, all I wanted was to sit down at my computer and zone out, but my wife did not thank me for my hard work and welcome me home. Instead she told me not to track manure all over her clean floors. That didn’t seem very welcoming to me

My wife then not only asked me to take my shoes off on the porch, but also asked me take my jacket off, because it was covered in soot and engine oil. Then I looked down at the knees of my jeans. I saw they were caked with about a quarter inch of dirt from the garden. It seemed I might even be asked to take my pants off, before entering the front door of my own house. This soured my mood, and I became petulant and muttered, “Whoever it was that invented clean floors should be tarred and feathered.”

Then, after a long, hot, and soapy shower, I sat down at my computer and researched the subject of soap. I discovered something very interesting: The ancient Israelites didn’t use soap. Soap… Is…Not…Biblical!

It seems the Israelite’s way of washing was to rinse themselves with water, anoint themselves with oil, and then use a sort of spatula thingy to scrape the oil off their skin. This was also done in ancient Greece and Rome, and the Romans looked down their noses at the barbarians to the north, who used soap. But who invented soap?

It turned out soap was actually a Babylonian invention. Even the saying, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, is not from the Bible, and actually is a Babylonian proverb. This gave me some good ammunition to use against my wife. The next time she asked me to wipe my feet, I could growl, “Oh don’t be such a Babylonian.” Yup, I could do that….if I dared.

I confess this absurdity to you to demonstrate how ridiculous I can be; when it comes to saying I am Biblical and other people are not. However I’m not the only one who behaves this way.”

I think that says a lot, concerning who is filthy. And to my great delight, my humor didn’t get me tarred and feathered. Everyone laughed at all the right places.

In some ways I wish I could have died right then and there. For one thing, it would have avoided the next step of preparing for my colonoscopy, which involved spending four hours on a toilet, contemplating my anus.   For another thing, it would have avoided having to have the pleasant drugs wear off after the procedure, and face a world that seems determined to have us all live life at its worst, rather than life at its best.

Is there a single type of government that is based on Oneness?  Even democracy, which is best and has God in its guts, has a majority ruling over a minority, which is a schism and creates problems.

Our situation is hopeless. What we need is Oneness Himself to come riding a white horse down like a thunderbolt from the blue sky, to show us how what is blatantly obvious is politically feasible.

People have been waiting and waiting, a long, long time. How long have Jews awaited their Messiah? How long have Christians awaited their Savior? How long has Islam awaited the Rasool?  How long have Hindus and Buddhists awaited the Avatar?

It is not enough to just sit like a bump on a log waiting. If schism, divorce, apartheid and alienation are so obviously negative, and so obviously a sewer of filth, it seems blatantly obvious that love and humor are better.  I don’t care if they are not what bankers approve of. They are worth a try.

LOCAL VIEW –For Missus and For Sythia–

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Photo Credit:  http://www.instesre.org/TemperateClimate/TemperateClimate.htm

This past week has seen a reversion to wintry weather, with frost on the windshields and ice in the puddles. The budding trees have hit the brakes, and the ponds have gone nearly silent.

Back when the weather was more kindly, on April 16, I heard the first frogs, which are not the spring peepers but another small frog I’ve heard called “banjo frogs” (perhaps because they make a “Twank” sound,  a bit like a breaking banjo string). (The Australian frog with the same name actually sounds more like a banjo.) I call them “spring quackers” because they also sound a bit like ducks. They are lower and quieter than peepers, and always seem to beat the peepers by a day or two, when it comes to announcing the ponds are coming back to life. They are far less obvious than the peepers are. Where the peepers peep is piercing and shrill, the quackers are more of a low muttering, almost subliminal.

At our childcare I asked a small girl, around age three, if she could hear them, and at first she shook her head. Then her eyes changed, and she tilted her head, and looked off curiously through the trees. I asked her if she’d like to sneak closer, and she nodded. (Most kids like to sneak.) Then we crept through the pines, and it was wonderful to watch the child’s face fill with wonder as we drew closer and the plaintive “twanking” became more obvious. However then my idiot dog came lunging through the underbrush, plunging along the side of the pond to see what we were up to, and the frogs immediately became silent and the water ahead was dimpled with rings of ripples. I told the girl my dog wasn’t very good at sneaking, and she nodded.

By the next day the peepers had started their shrieking, and all the subtlety was lost.  They demand attention, which doesn’t seem a very good survival strategy, until you sneak up on them and understand they confuse predators by being both numerous and deafening. It is hard to locate a single frog by its peep, with so many other peeps coming at you from all angles. And they also become immediately silent, if you move too fast. I find them amazingly difficult to locate. They are also amazingly loud, once you see how small they are.

Peeper_2

(Photo credit: Mike Marchand.)

They also can stand being frozen solid, due to some sort of antifreeze in their blood. This was a good thing, as the promise of spring seemingly became a lie.

Just as the first frogs are tiny, so are the first blooms on the swamp maples, which are the first tree to bud out. The lowlands go from being silvery thickets to being touched by a raspberry mist I have yet to see captured by a photograph, but you have to poke your nose close to see how lovely the individual flowers are.

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(Photo credit: https://piedmontgardener.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/maple-flowers-and-buds.jpg )

Ours are a bit more purple than the the flowers pictured above, and they look a lot worse after they’ve been blasted by frost. I’m going to watch, to see if they make many seeds this year.  We got into a northwest flow on Tuesday that wouldn’t quit, and were still in it on Friday.

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A few flakes were in the roaring wind on Wednesday, and Thursday’s purple clouds kept pelting us with white, Dr. Seuss pompoms of  fluffy hail called “graupel”, and Friday morning began with a whirling flurry that briefly made the view look like January, though it never stuck to the ground. It was not weather conducive to ambition, in the garden, which turned out to be a good thing, for my  wife had other ambitions.

I wound up repairing the fence in front of the house, as the winter’s plows trashed what little was left of the old one. I fear I spend so much time over at the farm that I neglect my home, and the lack of care shows, and annoys my wife. The Memorial Day parade comes down Main Street and passes right in front of our house, and my wife doesn’t believe me when I say all eyes are on the parade and not our house. Consequently I spend time every spring at home, sprucing the place up, right when I feel I should be gardening.

There actually was a parade this morning, but as usual I always forget it, and get a shock. At the start of the baseball season the children are marched from the fire station to the ball field with blaring fire engines and police cars, and every year I think it is a terrorist attack.

After watching my grandson in his first game my ambition was to nap, but my middle son has the ambition to grow pear trees and see if he can start a microbrewery making a sort of pear cider called “perry”.  This is a long-term project, but in the short term involves planting four trees at the childcare, and also involves controlling my goats, so they don’t eat his saplings. This in turn involved repairing the electric fence, so that is what I wound up doing rather than snoozing.  Rather than rested I wound up feeling as you’d expect, after fighting with cold wire in a cold wind.

My ambition is now to simply survive until noon Monday. Sunday will not be a day of rest for me, as I am giving the sermon at our church. We have dwindled to a size so small that, fort the first time in 265 years, we can’t afford a pastor or interim pastor, and instead have “guest speakers” which includes our selves, (as we are cheapest) (IE free). We don’t call our sermons sermons, but rather call them “messages”, but mine will be a sermon all right.

My “message” is liable to be grouchy, as I have to fast on clear fluids, and then later in the day flush out my system and spend a lot of my time on the toilet, as my doctor wants to have a look inside my colon first thing Monday morning. It is hard to be happy about this prospect. A man of my advanced years expects to be treated with more dignity than that, especially right after giving a sermon at church.

It is also hard to see much prospect of Spring busting out.  We need south winds, as we are surrounded by cold in other directions. The Great Lakes still have ice, and there is still an amazing four feet of snow not all that far to our north. (The purple areas in the Dr Ryan Maue map below, from Joseph D’Aleo’s site at Weatherbell.)

Snowdepth to north April 22 ecmwf_snowdepth_conus2_1(1)

It is hard to see much hope in the current map, with the warm rains suppressed so far to the south.

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 However with the sun as high as it is in mid-August, spring is only seemingly denied. This morning, even with a skim of ice on puddles, when a beam of sun pooled in the east-facing shallows of the pond, a single peeper let out a solitary yelp. And I remind myself the ice was still thick enough to walk upon, on April first. Things have melted; spring isn’t denied.

The buds only seem on hold. Trees are very smart, for a being without brains, and they know when to bust out all over. The forsythia is yellower every day, even without blooming, and, even as I stood sulking by my garden yesterday, a bluebird landed on a fence-post nearby. It’s hard to argue with that.

POSTSCRIPT

The “spring quackers” are officially called “wood frogs”, and sound like this: