CHILDHOOD SAHMADHI

As I go about the business of running my Childcare it is not at all uncommon to see a small child “zone out” and enter a sort of strange mental state which tends to be dismissed as abnormal, (if not actively discouraged).

In a sense any dismissal or discouragement of such child-like spaciness by an adult is humorous, for the very people discouraging the child’s odd behavior will, once they are “off work” and “free”, be seen attempting to resurrect similar odd behavior, midst the sterility of their own drab lives. If they don’t do yoga, or take drugs, or cut loose on a dance floor, they will secretly sob in the dark of a theater, (where sobbing is permissible). It seems a sly hypocrisy, or even schizophrenia, wherein one is Dr. Jekyll on the job, but becomes Mr. Hyde once one punches out.

While I recognize children do need guidelines, and that “a river without guiding banks is a swamp”, I try to be respectful of the fact children “zone out.” I try to avoid the attitude that sees children as “partially” developed, or “partially” anything. They are 100% human, and to treat them as anything less lessens them.

Anyway, as we grow, we mortals do a good enough job lessening ourselves without any help from “grown-ups”. It seems diminishing is necessary and a part of growing. This sad fact seems to have some basis in “brain science”, (which is still in its infancy and should be taken with a grain of salt).

“Brain science” suggests that at around age six the brain is overwhelmed by the sheer number of memories it has collected, and (like a person cleaning up a messy desk), the brain apparently throws a lot of stuff out. This can be seen by some sort of modern gadget that “sees” the synapses in a brain; there are more and more up to around age six, and then there is a sort of simplification, and there are fewer by age seven. Perhaps only the important synapses (whatever they are) are retained, but a side effect of throwing so many away is an amnesia often seen in the young, and often witnessed by “Childcare Providers”: A child can be your best buddy at age five, then leave for a couple years, and when you meet them again at age seven it is as if you are barely remembered; the child is seeing you from what seems like fifty years away.

However, for some reason this normal and natural amnesia failed to completely take place in my brain. My brain was defective. However, before you feel too sorry for me, understand that, as is the case with most handicaps, the defect was also a gift. I can remember stuff you are supposed to forget.

I think this defect is often seen in people who stray from developing ordinarily, becoming the somewhat impractical thing called “an artist”. The resultant quandary is wonderfully expressed in “The Logical Song” by the group “Supertramp”.

I don’t wish to now become entangled in the ordinary debate between the practical ants and the impractical grasshoppers, for I have been both in my time and know both are worthy of respect. There are two types of starvation, and the two sides supply two sorts of nourishment. Man cannot live on bread alone, but neither can man live on music alone. It’s best if the ants work in harmony with the grasshoppers, as I stated in a sonnet 43 years ago.

The poor ant works while the grasshoppers fiddle.
The ant looks up to the sky with trust.
The ant can't see God stands in the middle.
The ant is shocked by the first locust.
The locusts swarm and the fields are stripped.
The ant's outraged, and it seeks its peers.
Army ants march in tight ranks, grim lipped.
Soon the last locust disappears.
Thus there's no fiddling. Thus there's no grain.
Thus we have nothingness. Thus we're insane.
Thus all our efforts breed flourishing pain.
Thus does humanity go down the drain.
Pray for ecology; then there's a chance
That grasshoppers will get along with the ants.

As I attend to small children at my Childcare I of course refer back to things I remember from my own childhood, which I suppose I ought not remember, but do.

Much is made problematic by people who cannot remember, but who call themselves religious authorities. They who cannot remember say I cannot remember. Why? Because my memories involve the idea of Life before birth, which is in some cases is more hotly debated than the subject of Life after death.

The people who cannot remember seem to feel we came from a place called “Limbo”. I don’t care what you call it, it was not the blank sheet some want to see it as. Children are born far too complex. It is part of what makes them 100% human from conception. Having held newborn identical twin infants in my arms, I can tell you even they don’t start out the same. Just as their fingerprints vary, they possess identities as unique as, or perhaps more unique than, snowflakes.

I also have the strong sense that these souls are coming from a beautiful place which has cleansed them and sent them into life with a beautiful purpose. What is that purpose? To escape eternal death.

Now here is where I really get into trouble. What is eternal death? Eternal death is the concept of reincarnation, where you are born over and over only to die over and over.

I attempt to avoid the topic of reincarnation, for it doesn’t really matter if you only live a single lifetime, or whether your “life” involves as many as 800 million bodies and 800 million deaths, (in a sense outliving even planets) as some Eastern Religions suggest. In either case the issue boils down to the same thing: Death is something we want to avoid. And little children are filled with the hope they are going to avoid it.

This hope is an extraordinarily beautiful and also illogical thing, in a world where death casts its shadow over even our most glorious reasons for rejoicing. Even if we should become king or queen of the entire world, in the end we die. It’s the ultimate bummer. Yet children are born with the insane belief that Life can triumph.

Of course, such naive hope will crash headlong into the inanities our world deems important. For example, does it really matter all that much if your daughter makes the starting lineup of the girls’ basketball team? However, a local father recently threw such a tantrum, (for what he thought was love of his daughter), it embarrassed everyone involved, including his daughter. In like manner, we do not need to look far to see many other cases of worldly stuff becoming overly important in our own eyes. Later we wonder how we could have worshipped such false gods. For a classic example, sometimes there once was a person we felt we would die without, if we failed to win their attentions, and yet they spurned us, and twenty years later that same person was bloated, and nasty, and we found ourselves thanking God we got spurned.

In such a classic case we live long enough to be glad we didn’t get what we wanted, but in other cases we want other things right up to our dying day, and then? And then we perhaps get the wages we’ve earned for chasing stuff of this world, and those wages are death. After death. After death. 800 million times. (According to some, but I cannot count that high.)

That being said, there would also be 800 million births, and each and every birth would be brimming with the possibility that this time would see a result other than death. This time would be different. This time, rather than the result being death, the result would be Life.

How could such hope be resurrected after so much failure? I can’t say, because I can’t remember. But I do notice I go to bed every night weary and wake up refreshed. I don’t ask too many questions about how that happens. And, if that is possible, it seems also possible that a person could die disappointed that a lifetime’s struggle resulted in dreary death, and yet be reborn full of insane hope.

In any case. I think you can see why such free thinking would get me in trouble with orthodox Christians, whom I very much admire and respect. Therefore, I ordinarily button my lip. After all, it doesn’t matter if your past goes back to Limbo or back 800 million lifetimes. What matters is the NOW. (A bit too Zen for some Christians, but clearly stated in their scriptures.) If we want to escape death and flee to Life, we have to understand the past has no hold on us. We are separated as far as the East is from the West from all the bunkum that drags us to yet another death, by the mercy of a Good Shepherd who treats us as a lost lamb (even if we are a lone wolf or loan shark) and Who is the only route to Life.

Of course, I am careful to confess none of this to customers of my Childcare. (Even if I wanted to, my wife would likely veto my big mouth.) Instead, I talk about fresh air and sunshine, and about our Childcare not allowing video games, and so on and so forth. But, likely because I’m now retiring from the business, I will tell the Truth. And the truth is I treat small children as if they are 100% human, and even as if they might be my grandparents, or my friends who died in Vietnam, or who knows who. Not that I know, but I also know I don’t know.

Such theory tends to be a gray area, and I don’t like gray, and flee theory to what I actually experienced, which my defective memory failed to forget. One memory in particular has been returning so persistently I think I should share it.

Back in 1955 my family moved into a wonderful, three-story house, basically a small mansion, built on a hill at the edge of a farm. The farmer’s grandfather had sold the land at a good price, and likely made more money during the mansion’s construction, and perhaps even more money building the beautiful stone walls surrounding the property, but despite profits there was some neighborhood sense that the house’s new, wealthy inhabitants were aliens, and a sort of enemy of the farming community, and farming traditions, and farming beliefs. Considering the house was built around 1869, there had been plenty of time to resolve such differences, but the former inhabitants failed. Therefore, we moved into a preconceived role of being bigwig snobs in “the house on the hill”, though my Dad was definitely down-to-earth and even demanded his children never go to private schools. How did we become aware we were seen as the enemy? It was because the small children of the “indigenous” people did not welcome us with a welcome wagon.

Back in those times the mail was actually driven up your driveway to your house and put through a slot in your front door, but we received messages through the mail-slot without stamps, which were rude. They said things such as, “You guys are finks.” Not that I had a clue what a “fink” was, but I did know my elder brothers bristled, and promptly headed off to put replies in the other children’s mail slots.

I wasn’t yet three when we moved in, and what this feuding meant is that from the get-go I accepted, as part and parcel of my reality, the idea we were the good guys, and “they” (whoever “they” were) were the bad guys. I did not know them, hadn’t met them, but in my childish way I just accepted the world as it was presented to me.

Yet at the same time I wandered about in what I can only describe as a sort of bliss. It was much like the part of the Supertramp song where the singer sings of the birds “playfully watching me.” When I grew older and sought to get back to such bliss, I called it a “Samhadi”. But when small I did no Yoga to “get there.” I smoked no weed to “get high”. I just occasionally got clobbered.

The time I wish to share with you involves the fact I tended to wander as a child, causing much concern when it was discovered I was missing, (and causing no concern if I got back before anyone noticed I was gone). Part of the concern occurred because on warm summer days I would wander off without a stitch of clothing on. I was so young I had no idea what the fuss was about. I was just curious and wanted to see things.

A good day to wander off was a Sunday, for back then enough Puritan tradition remained to pretty much close everything down on “The Day Of Rest”. Not that people felt compelled to go to church anymore, but nearly every place of business was closed. I think the only person who worked was the man who delivered the enormous Sunday papers. (The store that sold them wasn’t open until noon, but a bundle of papers sat in its front doorway, and so trusting were those times that people who needed a paper just grabbed one and left the price, (two thin dimes of silver), sitting on the paper beneath. By the time the store opened quite a trove of dimes sat on the papers, but I never heard of anyone taking any, besides myself, and my parents made me put them back.) (Another story for another day.)

On this particular Sunday I left my family sprawled out lazily regarding various section of the paper, wandering out into late April’s glorious sunshine. It was that magical time in early spring when the trees are still leafless but all budding out, so the bare branches seem in a haze of soft hues of raspberry and gold and indeed every color but summer green. It creates a light-filled ceiling that makes no shade. I wandered in a sort of enchantment, and rather than turning towards the quiet town and trafficless streets, I headed the opposite way.

I passed through the yard of the carriage house that was built for the original owners of my home. It had two bedrooms and a bathroom for a groom and stable-hand, and several garages on two levels, with rickety old carriages in the lower level, and an empty hayloft and a mostly empty room for saddles and harnesses, and a phone line to the other house. My parents were considering buying it for $2000.00 but felt the price was too high.

Just beyond that was a sandy lane with houses along the far side. Better than tenements, the houses were a little crowded together for the country. Each had perhaps half an acre of land. They had been built by the original farmer, who rented them to relatives. As I looked down the lane it abruptly struck me that I had wandered into the territory of the enemy. I’m not sure what I expected; perhaps dark stone structures with windows blazing florid reds beneath grinning gargoyles. Instead, I saw a row of very nice houses basking in spring sunshine, daffodils bobbing in a pleasant breeze on their lawns. In the far distance first one, and then another church bell began ringing. And that was when the Samhadi struck.

It was simply a sense of overwhelming wellbeing. Within such a feeling-no-pain mood I could not see anyone as a foe. It was utterly impossible. As I looked down the lane I simply saw we were neighbors, of the same community, united by a brotherhood strangely stronger than steel. But the feeling wasn’t cold like steel; it was cozy and warm and fuzzy and yet not trivial. It was the awareness that at its core humanity is indivisible, and all divisiveness is created by silliness. Competitiveness is a game. People choose sides and hide their cards from each other, but if push comes to shove, they can put down their cards, quit the game, and work together in unity. To think otherwise is ignorance. This may not be seen by the ignorant, but that is because they are ignorant, and unenlightened by the enchanting clarity of Truth.

Such a concept may seem a bit heady for a child aged three, but that is because it did not occur in the wordy form the above paragraph took. In fact, it was wordless, as all vision tends to be. But what it meant was that I could not see the children down the lane as foes. Or, I could eventually do it to a certain degree when they taunted me, but my heart was not in it. That was the power the vision had on me; I was strangely detached, as a child.

Then my question is, why was I so blessed? And my guess is that everyone is so blessed, but most forget the blessing, because they become so engrossed in the work of life. Then, later in life, some event may trigger the memory. Perhaps they fall in love. But sadly, they then fall out of love, and earn what being out of love earns you, maybe 800 million times.

Yet, when I see the bright-faced dreaminess of a child, full of wonder, I think to myself this may be their 800 millionth life, and this time they may get it right.

I was walking down the road, and talking 
In my secret way to Almighty God,
Just grumping about banal things balking
My wishes, when it struck me that it's odd
I'm not turned to a cinder. Who am I
To act like I'm the Creator's sidekick?
Have I any idea, when I sigh,
Who I'm sighing to? I'm dust He could flick
Aside. Should I not be prostrate in awe
Like Daniel? It's amazing to me
The Shepherd knows each lone lamb, and foresaw
Every bleat. There's nothing He can't see,
Yet He has no desire to scare or bully us
But leads us to Love that is most fully us.

BRIEF OR BRUISING

What a difference a day makes. First, here is my woodpile before the snow.

And here is the same woodpile this morning:

This is the sort of heavy, wet snow that causes weathermen to have fits, because it’s flakes are right on the verge of melting into rain, and in fact, if they fall a couple hundred more feet through above freezing air, then they are rain. For example Wilton, roughly eleven miles to our north, only had a couple inches of snow mixed with rain, and they are only a couple hundred feet lower. Meanwhile due south eleven miles, down much lower (where the “Flatlanders” live) in Townsend, Massachusetts, they saw no snow at all until at the very end. But we got a foot and a half (46 cm).

The snow was so sticky it took down branches and even entire trees, and as I start this post we have no power and my laptop is down to 20% power. I have no connection to the web, though my phone can still deliver texts, albeit very, very slowly. My oldest son, who snowplows in the winter, said Peterborough is a shambles, and he was one of the last trucks to weave through the fallen limbs and arcing electrical lines before route 124 was shut down. He had to travel to Jaffrey, which wasn’t much better, to come home. In essence the communities on the shoulders of Mount Monadnock were just high enough to get snow rather than rain, and got clobbered.

It might not seem fair that we get clobbered while people ten miles away get off Scot free, but it goes with the territory. People who live here long enough adapt. For example, as I began this post I was warm by my man-cave wood-stove, with my coffee cup atop the stove (rather than in the microwave) to rewarm my brew. My wife had pots of snow melting on both wood-stoves to flush the toilet with, plus a pot melting beside the wood-stove to wash dishes with. She could cook because, even though the electric “sparker” doesn’t light the burners of our propane stove, we can use a match to light them. We have candles for light. So having no power doesn’t slow us down much.

What slows me down is the thought of shoveling the front walk. Such snow is like wet cement. I’m pushing seventy and smoked too much when younger, so my armchair has its charms.

I did eventually push myself to dodder outside and shovel a pathetic path down the very center of the steps, and then walk through the deep snow to my jeep. It’s embarrassing to admit, but even walking through deep snow gets me huffing and puffing. I shoveled the plow-created snowbanks in front of my Jeep a minimum amount, and then clambered in. A good thing about a Jeep is that you don’t have to shovel much; you just put the vehical in four-wheel-drive, and go!

I drove to the nearby town center to see if they had power, and if I could make my weekly deposit at the bank. It’s not much of a center. It doesn’t even have a traffic light. But it does have a blinking orange light, and it was dark. I knew that meant the power was off and the bank would be closed. Oddly, there was a line of cars going through its ATM machine; I suppose the automatic teller runs by a battery.

Both the local market and local gas stations knew better than to be closed at a time when business was bound to be especially good, (for no one wanted to drive far). Both had generators humming. The market was doing a brisk business in “breakfast sandwiches” for the people who couldn’t cook at home, and the gas station was doing a brisk business in gasoline for those who did have generators. There are plenty of people who are prepared for power outages, but even those who lack generators need gasoline for their snow blowers. Driving further I saw snow blowers in action, and have to admit they looked sad. Rather than shooting powdery snow thirty feet away they were barely able to curve a limp arc of white molasses five feet.

Plows weren’t doing much better. They would get halfway down a drive and the weight of the snow would be so great the truck couldn’t budge it. My son said the trick was to angle the plow and swerve to the side halfway down the drive, and then back up, and then proceed straight ahead until you needed to angle the plow again. Plowing took much longer.

As the snow came down heavily yesterday it became obvious the plow wasn’t going to make it to my Childcare in time to clear the entry and drive for the parents who would soon arrive to pick up their children. When younger I might have gone out and shoveled like a madman, but now I’m too old for such heroics. What I did instead was drive to and fro and back and forth and in and out until the tires of the Jeep had packed all the snow down. The lot was a bit slippery, but nobody got stuck.

I bring up all these anecdotes just to demonstrate how people can respond to calamity, especially if they have seen the calamities before. But as I brag a bit about how self-sufficient the local people are, I do notice when fossil fuel is involved. If the Green New Deal fanatics have their way, there will be no gas for the plows or for the generators, and the testing will become far more rigorous.

For this reason I was hoping for a mild winter. The milder the better. (If you don’t use much oil or propane or electricity, there is less of a chance you will run out.)

One of the mildest winters I personally recall was 1975-1976, when it seemed all the storms headed north to the west of New England and we were always in the warm sector, on the warm side of storms. I think there were records set for snowfall in Minnesota that year, for they were on the wrong side of all the storms, but that was their problem. Here, even up in Maine, where I lived back then, it was relatively snow free. Because, this year, all the storms were going up to our west at the start of this winter, I hoped we were in a pattern similar to what we saw back then.

This is mere memory on my part, and one problem with personal recall is that it tends to be a general impression, without much foundation on fact. When one recalls one must confess they neglected to save weather maps from the papers, or record temperatures day by day. And what I actually recall about 1975-1976 was how disappointed I was. I was young and wanted a wild and crazy winter, and thought such a winter would be more likely up north in Maine, but instead I labored through a winter which would have seemed mild even down in Massachusetts. So that is what I remember. However I do like those meteorologists who are far more specific, and have past maps on their fingertips.

One such weatherman is Joe Bastardi, who was forecasting a cold December, and, midst the slew of examples he gave, he happened to mention a cold December in 1975-1976.

Cold December? I prodded my memory, and realized there was evidence I wasn’t paying attention. Why? Likely I was writing the Great American Novel or some such thing. I was only jarred from my inward contemplation by the arrival of my nemesis for Christmas. (At that time my nemesis was a big brother.) As my brother and I practiced the high art of dysfunction I awoke to the fact early December had been so cold even the salt water had frozen. There was a big slab of sea-ice in the Harraseeket River in front of my parent’s abode.

The following will show you how different my memory is from that of a tried and true meteorologist:

I only recall that slab of sea-ice because my older brother was too lazy to row a rowboat around it. It was only fifty feet across but perhaps three football fields long. Therefore, after testing the ice with an oar, he got onto the ice, pulled the boat onto the ice, and then pushed the boat across. The ice was so thin, and so rotted by thaw, that it cracked under his feet, but he didn’t fall through because he supported his weight on the stern of the rowboat. As he reached the far side of the floe the ice completely disintegrated beneath his feet, and the boat wallowed down through the slushy ice, but he did a sort of push-up on the stern, with his feet above the water, and then swung his feet around and into the boat. A local lobster man, who had watched the spectacle, commented, “That fellow is off his f—– rocker,” likely because the lobster man knew the water was so cold it could all but paralyze a person plunging into it, and kill a man in five minutes.

I liked hearing my brother was “off his f—— rocker”, because we were intensely competitive at that point in our lives, and he often expressed the opinion that I was the one who was “off his f—— rocker.” I liked hearing the lobster man suggest it might not be me who was the nut. What does this have to do with meteorology? Absolutely nothing. But it does suggest December 1975 was cold.

Joe Bastardi had been going on about the cold December for a long time, literally since August, and I was amazed to see things develop in a way very much like what he had predicted. While the cold might be bad for the energy situation in the short term, I still had hopes it would give way to a warmer winter in the long run.

How can cold lead to warmth? Well, sometimes the stormy spell will climax with a gigantic outpouring of arctic air that leaves the arctic so depleted that no cold can follow, so what follows is a lovely winter thaw. But I was also aware there are different, particularly nasty patterns, which do manage to swiftly reload, and to hit southern lands with successive arctic blasts. I was aware of this because 1976-1977 was so unlike 1975-1976. What caused the difference?

Usually any southward movement of arctic air involves a dip in the jet-stream. (Back when I was young, meteorologists called this dip a “low pressure trof”. The fact meteorologists spelled “trough” incorrectly was proof they were practical Science majors, and not nit-wit English majors like myself. They would spell a word like it sounded, and dictionaries could be damned. Out of great respect for those vanished scientists I will spell trough, “trof”, for the rest of this post.)

Ordinarily low pressure is centered at at the Pole in the upper atmosphere, with higher pressures to the south. Winds swing around and around the Pole, west to east, and if those winds remain west to east the flow is called “zonal”. A zonal flow tends to trap the cold at high latitudes. However sometimes the west to east flow gets perturbed and wavy, and when a wave pokes north it is called a high pressure ridge and when it pokes south it called a low-pressure trof. But sometimes the trof gets so huge it actually moves the the center of the polar rotation south along with it. That is when newspapers scream about the “Polar Vortex” coming south, (without a clue what they are screaming about.)

These super-sized trofs involve storms and cold outbreaks which often are remembered in the record books, but involve such a derangement from the normal state of affairs that they are often followed by a period of dull weather. The polar vortex has to regrow back up where it belongs, and before it is regrown the jet stream circling the Pole lacks its ordinary vigor. The arctic has “shot its wad”, and has nothing left to send south. The south takes advantage, sending thaws north. Occasionally this can brew up a decent storm, when a vast area of snow-cover creates enough “home grown” cold, and that cold needs no reinforcements from the Pole, and is able to clash with the thaw in a wintry way. However such storms don’t tend to stress people as much; temperatures are just below freezing, and often they are bracketed by thaws. For the most part a mind numbing arctic outbreak involving the Polar Vortex is a reason to hope. One hopes that, if you just hang in there, you’ll see a prolonged thaw, and can eventually stand in the sun, and even stick your neck up from your scarf a little.

However the most severe winters don’t involve the Polar Vortex being uprooted and coming south. It may wobble, or drift to one side of the Pole, but it stays home. And from its home it directs successive pulses of arctic air down one channel, created by a trof which somehow gets locked in place, or else wobbles to and fro at roughly the same longitude. Down at the bottom of such trofs people at lower latitudes experience the worst winters of their lifetimes. The hoped-for thaw never comes. The cold never quits.

I found myself remembering such a winter when I chanced across a Seth Borenstein article titled, “December Serving Up Baked Alaska…”

I have been rolling my eyes over Seth’s Alarmist take on weather for over a decade. (Heck, it might even be two decades by now.) But, even though he tends to use information to leap to preposterous conclusions, he does tend to use actual facts as his springboard. In fact I tend to like his writing the way I once liked Robert Felix’s site Ice Age Now. At Robert’s site I could learn of cold waves and snowstorms no one else reported about, and in Seth’s articles I read about warm spells and thaws every Alarmist wants to report, but often Seth is the first.

However as he talked about warmth in Alaska it triggered my Way-back Machine.

The winter of 1976-77 was one of the coldest I can remember, on the east coast of the USA. That was back during the “Ice Age Scare”. And one thing I remember was that it was hot and very dry in California, and mild in western and central Alaska, because the jet stream looped far to the north, off the west coast. But then it turned sharply south, drawing a cross-polar-flow of bitter cold air from Siberia to Eastern Alaska and the Yukon, and then down the east side of the Canadians Rockies and southeast, spreading out across the USA clear down to Florida.

I remember Pacific storms would head north, missing drought-afflicted California, and then crash into the wall of arctic air, dwindling into a little ripple of low pressure that came down the boundary between Pacific and Arctic air formed by the Rockies. I’d watch these “Alberta Clippers” carefully, because usually they just delivered the next installment of arctic air, but some hooked north on the east coast of the USA and became gales and gave us snowstorms.

I was young and hot blooded and cold didn’t bother me, and the winter had all the misery I wanted (and had been so disappointed about not seeing the winter before). I had a wonderful time that winter because, despite twelve foot tides twice a day, Casco Bay froze so solidly that you could walk for miles and visit islands. I think the start of my interest in sea-ice was simply due to spending so much time upon it. Here is a picture of me upon the salt water in January 1977, writing on sea-ice (with my dog Zeus.) (Picture taken by my friend Joe Nichols.):

One lesson I learned from that winter was that warmth in western Alaska is by no means a sign of a warm winter overall. In fact it may be a sign that we in eastern USA need to be on guard. Hold onto your hats, and pile your firewood near the door. Have a back-up plan for when the power goes out, or the oil and/or propane isn’t delivered.

In actual fact our government’s hate of fossil fuels made me heap firewood even though I am reaching a point in my life when lugging firewood has lost its appeal. I’d much rather just sit back and turn up a thermostat. But without fossil fuels a thermostat will not work. And even during a mild winter, this far north, you either want the thermostat to work, or want to have a heap of firewood.

The question I have is whether this winter will be cold or not. I’d like a mild winter, for then I’d have firewood left over and wouldn’t have to buy as much next year. But a mild winter like 1975-1976 would put me on guard for a monster winter like 1976-1977.

But I just don’t see a sign the arctic will send the “Arctic Vortex” south and “shoot its wad.” Even the December chill seems very balanced with the Polar Vortex remaining at the Pole and having trofs rotate around it. Look at the map I’ve used in prior posts of what computer models see for the situation round Christmas.

Despite how deep the trofs are, the situation looks very balanced. If you include the cold in the mid Atlantic and mid Pacific, the trofs look like the five arms of a starfish. There is no sign (yet) that the Polar Vortex prefers one trof to another, and is going to surge down on one side of the Pole and “shoot its wad”. Rather the pattern looks sustainable. It looks able to reload and repeat. In which case the thaw I hope for would be less likely, and the worst-case-scenareo (for a world which foolishly has fossil fuels in short supply) seems more possible.

I confess my inability to state which option will come to pass. All I want to do is point out what we might look for. If the worst-case-scenario develops, knowing it is about to happen might be helpful and allow one to make preparations which seem appropriate, “in time” and not “too late”.

What I am going to be looking for is the “reload”, and a map that looks like the above map again in January, and again in February, and again in March, and even in April. That is a development I very much hope NOT to see.

Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

P.S. The power is back on and I again can link to the web. One of the first things I did was to peruse the long term forecasts, and immediately noticed the snow forecast for Christmas weekend has been changed to rain. The storm looks likely to go west of us, which gets me remembering 1975-1976 again. This is good news if you like low energy bills in New England. The news is not so good in Minnesota, or even down in Texas. I can see temperatures as much as twenty degrees below normal forecast for Christmas, to our west.

It doesn’t seem fair that we get off Scot free, but the weather plays by its own set of rules.

THE UNDER STORY

The news has been so generally depressing that I have felt a strong desire to escape it, especially when news broadcasts seem designed to be divisive rather than unifying, and to promote hate rather than love.

Such divisive hate seems especially true of communists, who seem to hate large sections of society, and to see millions (and sometimes billions) of people as being worthy of being “purged” as mere weeds, which must be eradicated to promote their supposed “Garden of Eden.”

However, this divisive hate is also seen, to a lesser extent, in other political parties, and even Christians are guilty at times of forgetting they are supposed to love their enemies, and, instead, of hoping that their foes rot in hell. I myself am guilty of being dragged down in this manner, which is precisely why I want to escape the news.

Recently I listened to a beautiful sermon spoken by an unlikely person. The speaker was a gruff young man covered with tattoos, who described what it was like to walk into a typical New England church, as a boozing, womanizing addict who had just been touched by Divine Love. Sadly, he was not welcomed with open arms. Fortunately, the young man was not entirely repelled by the experience, and found a better church, which saw the spark that Love had ignited in his heart, and fanned the flames to such a degree the formerly angry outlaw was uplifted. Ugly became beautiful, and the scary thug became a person who positively glowed with kindness. Therefore, he was just the person to preach about what Love feels like and can do. He gently scolded the prim and proper Christians (who prefer a church to be like an exclusive country club) who had once spurned him, and suggested what “loving your enemies” really looks like. But this presented me with a problem.

My problem is that I have been very “downwardly mobile” in my life. I began born with a silver spoon in my mouth, enjoying the benefits of so-called “white privilege”, but the country club experience left me cold. I then spurned advantages a wiser youth might have exploited, became a rebel, and wound up sleeping in my car. Therefore, although I still remember how to chit-chat with the country club set, I also have actual experience with the down-and-out. I am not horrified by young thugs covered with tattoos, for they were once the sort I worked and lived and drank and laughed with. When I listen to a sermon telling me to love my enemies, I do not immediately think of “enemies” as being the rough and tough youths who scare many church-goers. Rather I think of Nancy Pelosi.

Nancy Pelosi makes it hard for me to obey Jesus. When she tore up Trump’s State-Of-The-Union speech even as he spoke, my blood boiled. She was promising that all the good things he spoke of would be destroyed, and she has kept her promise. Now she is like Lady MacBeth after MacBeth murdered her houseguest, King Duncan. Blood is on her hands, and she wanders about saying, “Out! Out, damn spot!” She apparently wants to run away and retire to some place far from the scene of her crimes, a place which is far from the blue-state craziness she helped create, and instead is in about the most red-state place there could be, Jupiter, in Florida. She thinks she can escape consequences; escape Karma, and she may indeed briefly succeed, if she is able to retire to one of the few safe places left. Meanwhile the rest of us are left with the mess she made and left behind. And…. I am suppose to love this woman?

This is why I have to run away from the news. News makes my blood boil, and news makes it hard to be a Christian. But I cannot run away to a gated community like Nancy Pelosi can. Where then can I run?

Basically I flee the jurisdiction of the media, of the video, of the computer screen, and seek the jurisdiction of the sky, of the outdoors. In this manner I’m not that different from a schoolboy. When bored to near-insanity by the classroom’s blackboard, a boy’s eyes flee to the window, and out, and up to the birds and the cumulus in the beautiful sky.

Running-away is perhaps easier for me, for I live in the country. Also I run a Childcare whose sales-pitch is that video is banned. It is illegal, at my Childcare, to have a TV be a babysitter. Instead children, with non-video babysitters, run about outside, play with sticks, build forts, and seemingly benefit. In other words, my workday is an escape from the video-reality most are stuck within.

Also I run away because I tend to heat with wood, which draws you outdoors. Not that I don’t have propane heat and electric heat as a “Back-up”. I recognized the fact I’m getting old and can’t chop wood as well as I once did, and I figured it would be wise to have a way of keeping my house and business warm besides my own efforts. However Biden’s insane “Global Warming” policy could make propane and electric heat too expensive for elders to pay for, which makes me totter out and peck at big, fat logs with a nine-pound maul.

In greedy materialistic terms, it is worth it, for although I’m much slower, we have not had to use propane or electricity at all this autumn, at home.( It doesn’t matter if electricity or propane costs double, if you never use them.) But that is mere money. Running-away from the news also involves something more important.

Getting outside and splitting your own wood, grown on your own land, enters you into a jurisdiction the media is blind to, deaf to, and apparently utterly ignorant of. It is a landscape of stunning beauty, which they cannot see for they think heat is a matter of turning up a thermostat.

What is so beautiful? It is the fact you are in contact with the Power that keeps you warm.

It amazes me how ignorant some people are of what keeps them warm. They just tweak their thermostat, oblivious of the coal miner, the oil rigger, or the third-world laborers slaving to produce the metals necessary for solar panels and windmills. There is beauty among coal miners, oil riggers, and third world laborers, which is missed by the ignorant, but I think it is best to see beauty at its most simple and most obvious. And this is seen when you cut your own wood.

When you cut your own wood you are brought into a relationship with what keeps you warm which demands you understand trees. In a weird way it is like a marriage. You are forced to understand what you wish to exploit. You can’t just use your spouse; you must give understanding. And the same is true with trees. In a way (which I now will try to explain), you cannot just use trees. You are forced to attempt to understand them.

Swiftly you become aware there is a lot more to see than initially meets the eye. Right off the bat any know-it-all attitude you have is shamed, which makes some angry and bitter, but thrills others with wonder. Why wonder?

Well, let me just speak of a single tree, called the Sugar Maple, and hopefully you will be a bit amazed about the tree, and will not see it merely as a log you put in a fire.

The Sugar Maple is uniquely designed to fit a particular environment, and actually requires frost and snow to thrive. It cannot survive in the tropics, and mild winters can damage them and lead to early death. For this reason the southern edge of its range is at a higher and higher altitude as you progress further south, until it only grows on the highest mountains in Georgia. Also this means the southerly extent of Sugar Maples retreated north during the Medieval Warm Period, and then expanded south again during the Little Ice Age.

This resulted in a couple of fascinating situations in New England. One was that the Indians to the north, such as the Abenaki, were familiar with the maples and knew how to tap trees for the sugar, whereas the Indians further south had a scorn of sugar, and refused to trade for it when the English attempted to seduce them with cane sugar from the Caribbean. Tribes such as the Narragansett and Mohegan actually mocked the apparent addiction which the English had to sugar, (and consequently they had white teeth with little decay, as the English had rotten teeth.) In fact one Monhegan reportedly laughed when another tribe tortured him, saying they didn’t know how to torture and suggesting better ways, and during the course of this outlandish conversation he reportedly stated, “I lick up your torture like Englishmen lick up sugar.” The fact southern Indians had such a disdain towards sugar while Indians only sixty miles to the north made and traded cakes of maple sugar clearly shows where the range of the Sugar Maple ended in the early 1600’s. However, the English colonists, hard-pressed to show England a profit from anything other than codfish and pine trees in New England, hit upon the idea of growing Sugar Maples further south and harvesting the sugar. This idea succeeded, because the climate had grown so much colder due to the Little Ice Age the range was naturally expanding southward. The English were only speeding the process up. Where the whirling maple seeds might have moved trees south a mile or two a year, the English transplanted seedling clear down to Cape Cod.

In the early 1800’s, in one of his letters, Henry Thoreau mentions coming across a Sugar Maple to the south that wasn’t in a plantation, as he walked in the woods. The simple fact he paused in his walk and took note of the old tree shows how unusual it was. It likely was a survivor of the Dark Age’s cold-period, before the Medieval Warm Period drove the trees north, living on the north slope of a hill in the Weston Woods, where cold air tended to pool.

In any case, when the Little Ice Age faded and things began to warm up again, the plantation maples did not do so well, especially along the coast. If a January thaw was too warm the sap would begin to flow too early, and then when a cold wave hit in February the trees would make cracking noises, (at times nearly explosive and amazing to hear, first hand,) and fissures were opened in the maple’s bark. Not only did this cause trees to bleed, but it attracted all sorts of life which likes sugar, from fungi, to the wood-boring grubs of beetles, to fantastic wasps that somehow find and lay eggs in beetle grubs living down in the wood.

Also woodpeckers are attracted to buggy trees, including a kind of woodpecker that drills rows of holes to fill with sap and attract even more bugs (birds incorrectly called “sapsuckers”). So, a damaged maple has to fight for its life. Not that a healthy tree can’t heal over a wound, but if the damage occurs every winter the tree can’t heal faster than it is wounded, and dies. Often the death is a slow process, with the tree losing major limbs but hanging on with the limbs that survive. However the falling limbs take down wires and damage roofs and parked cars, so a sick maple by a street is often removed while still alive. Also, once road-salt began to be commonly used in New England, maples grew sicker than ever, so Sugar Maples are now far less common than they once were, along shady streets.

As the Sugar Maples began to die back it of course attracted the attention of the old Yankees. Yankees were notorious for pinching pennies and making use of every scrap of wood. Many heated with wood, and many were carpenters or worked in small mills that lathe-made wooden things such as spools, banisters, bats, ladder rungs, tool handles and clothespins of wood. Power tools were rare, and working with hand tools seemed to bring those old-timers into an intimate relationship with wood. So intimate was their relationship that it was safer to steer away from the subject of wood with such geezers, because once the topic was broached you might be stuck in a conversation about wood which would continue on and on and on until your eyes were crossed.

When young I seldom was a student, sitting at the feet of an old-timer as they talked about wood. They tended to see me as a useless, long-haired, pothead. I was judged (I think) as being not much good for anything but carrying stuff. Therefore I tended to be standing in the background, like a coolie burdened with toolboxes or bundles or pails or perhaps a ladder, as a couple of old-timers crossed paths, and their chit-chat digressed into wood lore. Mostly I disdained their wisdom as nothing but the garrulous yammering of tiresome old men, but at times I did accidentally listen and learn a thing or two.

One topic I heard discussed was furniture made of maple wood. I learned there were different types of wood, some beautiful and some disdained, sometimes from different limbs of the same tree. Wood from northern forests seemed to be preferred because the grain was tighter, while wood from the south might be used for counters or a table top, with its wide and straight grain. It was deemed too soft for floors, which puzzled me, for pine was “softer” but often used. I didn’t dare ask the obvious question, and instead wondered what they knew that I didn’t know.

The northern trees had interesting swirls, wiggles and even burls in the wood’s grain, which were deemed beautiful and valued, and sometimes preferred for things such as musical instruments, while the southern and coastal trees often were stained by a gray marbling caused by stress and sickness, and such wood was only valued because it was very cheap. (Now it is called “spalted maple” and can be very expensive, which (to me) shows how crafty those old Yankee could be, when it came to selling cheap wood for high prices.)

Often such maple wood was cut to boards by small sawmills which were portable. A man would arrive and set his saw up by a lumber pile a farmer had harvested from his land, and the lumber would be sliced into beams and boards. I tended to be the young brawn hired to carry the beams and boards away from the sawmill after they were sliced, but I always found it fascinating to watch what the slicing would reveal.

Sometimes a log that looked straight and healthy would have a rotton core infested by carpenter ants, while other times a crooked and gnarled and ugly-looking log would hold the most beautiful boards. I found that my skill at forecasting what a log would reveal was much like my skill forecasting the weather: Often I was wrong. But the old-timers were good at it, though even they were surprised at times by what a log revealed.

The old-timers were always on the look-out for the rare tree with an unusual grain, and had a jargon for special woods from the same species of tree. Besides “spalted maple” there was “checkered maple” and “birdseye maple” and “ambrosia maple” and “quilted maple”, where a botonist might only see a single species and call them all Sugar Maple. However, besides these good surprises (which were like finding a pot of gold), there were bad surprises that made the old-timers curse blue blazes. Sometimes, swallowed up by the growing wood, a log would hold a nail, or strand of barbed wire, or clothing-line-hook, or bullet, or electric fence insulator, or metal maple-sugar-tap, which destroyed the saw’s blade, halted work, and erased profits.

One thing I remember was that nothing was wasted. Boards which were of wood too punky to be lumber became firewood or kindling. Even the first slabs cut from a log, basically boards 50% made of bark, were coveted by various people for various purposes; I recall hauling slabs of bark into a swamp, where a man was turning a muddy path into a sort of corduroy-road paved with slabs of bark. I don’t suppose that path lasted all that long before it rotted, but for a year or two a person could cross that swamp and not get their feet muddy.

Lots of maple wound up as firewood. I remember the woods as being far cleaner back then, and if a tree fell in your woods and you didn’t bother to saw it up, there was such a thing as a “wood-poacher”, and while you were away at work that tree might vanish from your woods, leaving nothing but the chips from a lot of chainsawing behind. That doesn’t seem to happen any more, in this age of pellet stoves, and the woods seem far more cluttered by deadwood, (and I suppose the forest-fire danger has increased).

I never settled down until I was thirty-seven, and, though I wandered far from New England at times, I also spent many years as a “grunt” and “go-for” laborer in Massachusetts, Coastal Maine and southern New Hampshire. This meant I often crossed a sort of invisible boundary which marked the southern “natural” range of Sugar Maples, (which was likely advancing south in the 1970’s but retreating north after that). Even doing a somewhat brainless job, such as operate a wood-splitter turning round logs into split firewood, I had ample opportunities to compare sound maple wood with punky wood, and to note where trees were thriving and where they were not.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a die-back of roadside elms due to the Dutch Elm Disease. I was primarily aware of this because if you were not careful you might be sold a bunch of round elm logs, thinking you were getting firewood at a cheap price, but elm was nearly impossible to split by hand, and could even tax a mechanical wood-splitter. (Tough blocks of elm were once used for the hubs of old-fashioned wagon wheels, where all the spokes came together, and the stress was greatest.) But also I became aware towns were looking for a replacement for elms, along shady streets, and this involved Norway Maples, which handled road salt, air pollution and southern temperatures better than Sugar Maples did.

I knew more than you’d think a bum might know about non-native trees in New England, due to what makes a good aside within this talk about Sugar Maples, (and also demonstrates how I can make editors wild by failing to stick to the subject).

Shortly after we became free of England but before the Civil War, the people of New England sought to supplement the meager incomes they could make from our stony soil by going to sea and harvesting whales. This may now be used as proof of how barbaric we were, and it may well be true whales would have become extinct had not petroleum been discovered in the ground, but the simple fact of the matter was that for a time many made a good living hunting whales, many winter homes were brighter because of whale oil in lamps, and many men died at sea. But some became fabulously wealthy, and one was James Arnold. In his old age James had to decide who to will his fortune to, and he willed a chunk of it, bizarrely, to trees. (It is ironic yet typical of Yankees, who owe their life to the sea, to betray a fondness for land.) James willed that an arboretum be founded, in his name, “The Arnold Arboretum.”

James died in 1868, and if you skip ahead ninety years you come across me, as a little boy growing up in a yard full of exotic trees. In my entire 3 acre, shady yard there was only one cluster of enormous hemlocks, and a single Sugar Maple, which were native trees, and all the other trees were wonderful exotics from far away. They were a result of a friendship between the rich man who built my home in the 1860’s and a fellow who had to find a suburb where he could grow seedlings for the Arnold Arboretum, which was turning into a wonderful Olmsted extravaganza like Central Park, across the Charles River from Boston, and in the suburbs of Cambridge, (where botanists studied trees at Harvard). There wasn’t enough room for all the Harvard experiments in the Arnold Arboretum, and a satellite nursery was created in my town, and spare seedlings from that nursery were given to the man who built my house. The seedlings they put in my yard in the 1870’s were impressive trees by the 1950’s. But I need to pull on the reins here, before I wander off into the subject of exotic trees.

What matters at this point is the difference between Norway Maple and Sugar Maple, and the fact my dad, in his impulsive and often inadequately-researched manner, tapped both trees during one spring, and discovered Norway Maple produced very little sugar while Sugar Maple produced lots.

I noticed another difference, as an observant boy. The Sugar Maple on our property had gorgeous foliage in the fall, while the Norway Maple was at best a dull yellow, and at worst was like a lilac, and shed leaves that were still green. (We also had a Norway Maple with purple leaves, but never mind that.)

Now switch ahead forty years, when I find myself a father of four with a pregnant wife, and need to make money even though I in Truth am a useless hippy poet.

Desperation is the mother of ingenuity, and I found a way to make a small profit on being more backwards than most. When the leaves fell in the fall, and the professional landscapers had to spend two hundred or so on a screaming leaf-blower, I spent ten dollars on a rake. Where they had to spend hundreds on a howling vacuum that sucked leaves into the back of a pick-up truck with high, plywood sides, I bought a ten dollar tarp. And where they had to drive heaps of leaves away, I convinced landowners that a leaf-pile was good compost, and that the composted leaves fertilized the trees that made them. In the end the Truth was I took longer to rake their lawn, but I was cheaper, and was preferred, and I like to think one reason I was preferred was that I made less noise.

In the end, looking at the bottom dollar, the professional landscapers likely did ten lawns for every one I did, and suffered migraine headaches from all the noise they made and all the carbon monoxide they inhaled, and made less money than I did, once they subtracted the cost of all their equipment and all the expenses of fuel. I used no fuel. What fuel runs a rake? What fuel runs a tarp full of leaves, hauled over your shoulder to a compost pile fifty yards away? The fuel was my brawn, fueled by my wife’s cooking.

Raking leaves only amounted to between three and five weeks of a year, but I cannot tell you the vanity and egotistical joy I got from being preferred by some of the most frugal and penny-pinching, (and wealthy) landowners in town. I was cheaper than the professionals, yet I made more money on each job. Besides raking leaves, I was raking in profits that helped my family survive.

At this point I should be honest, and confess that the day I put my rake and tarp away I needed to go look for work in a factory. The landscaping season was over. What had seemed profitable was no longer worthwhile. But we are off topic. The topic, if you can remember, was the difference between the Norway Maple and the Sugar Maple.

As I spent the brief, glorious time in my year when I made more money than the professionals, I had plenty of time in the quiet of a scuffing rake, (so much more poetic than the howl of a leaf blower), to note the extravagant beauty of Sugar Maples, compared to the drabness of Norway Maples. And later on I discovered something odd. It was illegal, in New Hampshire, to sell a Norway Maple at a tree nursery.

New Hampshire taps roughly five million gallons of sap from maple trees each year, which boils down to roughly 125,000 gallons of maple syrup which sells for around $60.00 a gallon, for a gross income of $7,500,000. Net income is less due to the costs of bottles and all the boiling, but the old farmers fired their boilers with wood from their own land. Besides the syrup sales, a fair amount of tourists travel north to inhale the ambrosia of air by the sugar shacks, and to eat butter-and-syrup-drenched pancakes and waffles at small restaurants by the sugar shacks. Yet that springtime tourism is nothing compared to the traffic jams of leaf-peepers that come north to see the spectacular foliage in the fall. People come from all over the world, and one fond memory I have is of raking leaves far off the beaten path and seeing a bus full of Asians come lurching down the road with all the tourists pressed to one side of the bus, snapping pictures of the quaint Yankee with his rake, who was me. I did my best to look rustic, and like to think I was later in a photo which perhaps won a contest in Japan, but I also confess I am not so amused when caught behind a vehicle moving at a snail’s pace as tourists admire our foliage. The local folk breathe a collective sigh of relief when roads empty as the final leaves are shed, and they can sit back and count all the dollars the tourists have shed.

In any case, when you add up all the money Sugar Maples brings in, it can be seen why Norway Maple would be unwelcome. Norway Maples produce neither sugar nor spectacular foliage, and are deemed an “invasive species” all the way to Minnesota. It turned out Norway Maple even became unwelcome as a roadside tree in cities, as they have a shallow root system which has a bad habit of buckling pavements. Fortunately, it is an invasive species which is not all that good at invading. Unlike European Bittersweet, a lone seedling of Norway Maple sprouting miles away from its parent seldom survives. I have never seen a Norway Maple standing alone in our woods. I’m not sure, but I think the tree’s strategy of expansion involves a large gang of seedlings springing up all at once, and, with shade and a web of shallow roots, monopolizing that patch of earth as the seedlings become a cluster or small grove.

But here is where wonder begins. Once you speak of a tree’s “strategy”, you are giving a life-form with no apparent brain credit for some form of thought. It may not be thought as you and I experience thought, but as one deals with trees one is drawn to seek some sort of understanding. One is drawn towards appreciating another’s life. Yet one is slightly shocked by the concept. Understand a tree? Yes. While I’ll admit is does seem a bit absurd to have a relationship with a witless vegetable, how else is one to “commune with nature”?

Not that I think it is wise to wander around talking to trees. You can do it if you enjoy it, but perhaps it is unwise to do so with others watching (especially psychiatrists.)

Some like to point out a study that suggested houseplants grow better when the plant is talked-to by the person caring for it. However another study demonstrated that when you talk-to your plants you are exposing them to a draft of CO2 in your breath, and owners of greenhouses know increasing levels of CO2 increases growth. That is a bit of a letdown for people who felt the plant was responding to their heart. (However, plants do respond to care, as every gardener knows.)

One way to care for a plant is to understand what that plant likes. And a Norway Maple has different likes than a Sugar Maple has. As an invasive species, Norway Maple has a “natural” range in the United States just as Sugar Maple does. Like Sugar Maple, it does not do well in the south, though it does better further south than Sugar Maple does. But Norway Maples likes long summer days, and as you move south the summer days get shorter and shorter, and at some point you reach a point where the days are too short. The soil can be perfect, the watering can be perfect, even the temperature can be perfect, and the tree simple does not thrive. In like manner, to the north, beyond a certain latitude the Norway Maple does not thrive. Interestingly, it can thrive much farther north in Europe. What determines the northward extent of the tree’s range is apparently winter temperatures. Norway Maples are damaged by temperatures below minus twenty Fahrenheit. (-29 Celsius). Due to the Gulf Stream, even southern Sweden seldom sees the cold temperatures which southern New Hampshire sees.

Interestingly, this places where I live at a point which is at the northern “natural” extent of Norway Maples, and at the same time close to the southern “natural” extent of Sugar Maples. (Politicians can pass all the laws they want, but the trees have a say in where they will grow.) Sugar Maples simply will not thrive by the sea in southeast New Hampshire, which is one reason New Hampshire, the same size as Vermont, only produces a sixth as much maple syrup as Vermont does. And Canada? Canada produces so much maple syrup it makes the United States look like a dwarf (which is good for Canada’s ego.)

And Sweden? There are some hints that the Swedes once did boil down sap, in the old days, but it apparently was birch sap, for some sort of beer. The Finns? They were driven to eating conifer bark during a horrible famine that killed a quarter of their population, so they would surely know if a source of sugar was easily tapped from trees, but there is no evidence I can find Norway Maple was ever tapped. And Sweden even imports Canadian maple syrup, albeit in small amounts. Therefore, if politicians must write laws, they should write a law forbidding the export of Sugar Maples to Sweden, where it might become an invasive species producing gallons of sugar and an autumnal tourist trade of European leaf-peepers.

All of this points me to wondering about what it is about Sugar Maples that makes them like cold so much. How are they designed? I seek to understand them better, yet the more I learn the more complex they seem.

In my last post I dabbled a bit into the complexity surrounding the beauty of Sugar Maple’s (and also Swamp Maple’s) foliage in the fall. The leaves in fact are not dying, as the color’s change, and in fact are very much alive, enacting a Sugar Maple’s “strategy” which allows it to gain an advantage over other trees.

To grossly simplify, summer leaves are green due to a complex process where the tree creates various enzymes which allow reactions which create several stages of molecular combinations resulting in very complex and amazing molecules, the most obvious of which is green chlorophyll. Chlorophyll takes water, CO2 and sunlight and makes sugar and oxygen. Do not try that at home; you’ll fail, unless a plant is helping you. Perhaps some chemist has figured out how to combine water with CO2 and sunlight to make sugar and oxygen, but I doubt that process will be replacing plants any time soon; it likely is a costly process, while plants are dirt cheap.

Chlorophyll alone is worthy of further study. It turns out there are two types. Don’t ask me why. But its production is dependent on sunlight, and as the sun sinks lower in the fall the production lessens until it no longer is efficient for the plant to make it. Then the plant “thinks”. Some plants, such as the Lilac (and on some years the Norway Maple) “think” that it is time to get rid of chloropyll’s drain to the plant’s economy, and shed the leaf while it is still green. Other plants, such as the Sugar Maple, “think” that they should save the chlorophyll, or its components, for the next year. So they keep the leaf for as long as a month after the chlorophyll stops working, doing all sorts of amazing stuff.

As the chlorophyll, or its components, drain from the leaf, the green goes away, and we see other colors which represent other molecules likely as important as chlorophyll, but which I have no idea about. For example, xanthophyll. What the heck is that for? Don’t ask me. I have more learning to do. But it gives leaves their yellow color, and also is valued by maples, and to some degree is also broken down and sucked from the leaf.

Orange? Apparently that is due to carotene and lycopene. Don’t ask me what they do, for I have more learning to do, but these too are to some degree valued by the maple, and broken down for salvage.

Red? Well this did not exist in the summer leaf, and shows you how alive a so-called “dying” leaf is, for red is indicative of anthocyanin, created within the leaf in the fall. It is a preserver and protector.

I know a little about anthocyanine because it is a sure sign I have been stupid and transplanted my tomatoes into the garden too early, in the spring. Rather than my mistake killing my plants with cold, anthocyanin steps in and turns the green plants purple. The plants do survive, but grow little until they turn green again, at which point they are dwarfed by plants I transplanted later. Consequently, although I know little about what anthocyanin actually does, I know it has more to do with survival than with growth.

My conclusion? It is this: When a maple turns especially red, it is to keep the leaves alive longer.

All this molecular stuff is going on in a maple’s leaves, and is so important to maples that they refuse to shed bright red, orange and yellow leaves even in a howling gale, but once they have completed their task they devise a sort of tourniquet to stop the bleeding when they finally shed the leaf. All sorts of stuff has been going up and especially down the leaf’s stem as long as molecular stuff was occurring, but when that stuff is done, a sort of cork is created where the leaf joins the twig, and when that scab is complete it can be perfectly calm morning, and the leaves fall like rain. It is a beautiful wonder to behold, even if you don’t wonder like me. If you are like me you wonder why the heck the tree clung to its leaves in a gale, but now sheds them in a calm. What was the tree thinking?

And the answer is? Well, for some, the immediate answer is, “Trees don’t think”.

I’m not so sure. Maybe they don’t think, but maybe a Higher Power does their thinking for them, in some way I can no better understand than I understand what xanthophyll does. It just seems obvious that Sugar Maples do wondrous things I should wonder about, and seek to understand, if I truly care.

As I marveled at the “strategy” of Sugar Maples, it seemed to me that the reason they spent so much time breaking down stuff in their leaves into sugars (which Yankees exploit the next spring) is because having such sugar available gives them a head-start in the spring, and an advantage over other plants. And sure enough, maples leaf-out ahead of most other trees in the spring.

But this led my eyes to consider the young maples in the under-story of a forest, in the shade of their parents. They seem to barely survive in such shade, and to barely grow. However I have noticed they have an odd trait which may barely keep them alive. A: In the spring, they Ieaf out a week before their parents. B: in the fall, they stay green a week longer than their parents. This gives them two weeks of growth they would otherwise lack, and seemingly tips their balance towards survival.

Of course my brain must dream up reasons. I imagine they leaf out faster because they are shorter and closer to their roots. And they keep their leaves longer because their daylight becomes longer as their parents above them shed leaves. But I have noticed a detail which I can’t explain and which increases my wonder. It is this: Even as their parents turn the most beautiful shades of orange and crimson above them, the small maples in the under-story, when they get around to changing the color of their leaves, remain yellow.

How can the same species of tree, in the same location, behave so differently from its parent? I am trying to scientifically explain what trees have done since they were created. Who is smarter? Them or me?

I also recently learned another thing about such under-story trees. They barely survive when young, and consequently their growth rings are very close together, but when their parents finally die their growth rings expand, as they leap up towards the sunshine their parents used to own. What does this mean in terms of the worth of their wood?

Well, at age eighty they are the same size as a tree that was grown in a plantation is, at age thirty-five. So it seems obvious that it is wiser to grow maples in a plantation, until a thunderstorm downburst howls with winds of hurricane force. Then, what trees snap like matchsticks? What trees withstand the blast? Is it the trees that grew fast, with only thirty-five rings in their trunks? Or is it the trees with swift growth in the outer rings, and heartwood holding fifty or sixty rings?

Apparently the trees which grew in the understory stand, as the plantation trees snap. Slow is better than fast.

This made me stop and think. It occurred to me vegetables might sometimes be smarter than both communists and most capitalists. Communists and most capitalists are always in a hurry, and think faster is better. However some artisans are capitalists who know slower is better. For example, Antonio Stradivari made his violins from slow-growth, finely grained maple, and avoided the fast-growth, widely grained wood. (And also wine and whisky are not at their best when swiftly produced, and instead improve with age.)

I find this good to meditate upon, now that I am old and slow. It is nice to know that old and slow is not necessarily a reason to be benched, as younger players take the field. At times it means you are what people like Antonio Stradivari look for. You may have grown at a retarded rate for the first sixty years of your life, like a maple in the under-story, but that has made your heartwood superior.

Not that I wasn’t glad to see my sons come home for Thanksgiving. They can split more logs in ten minutes than I can in an entire morning. After about five swings of the eight-pound maul I have to stop and catch my breath. My sons can flail away and swing at a rate of a blow every five seconds, or twenty blows a minute, for five minutes, and only then do they stop to catch their breath. And they actually seem less out of breath than I get. And they break a sweat more easily, and they actually seem to enjoy the experience as a break from their jobs at computer screens. Of course, my blows are delivered more wisely. (I have to be economical with my energy and make every blows count.)

For example, certain logs are called “rock maple” because hidden in the log are twists and turns of the grain that make it resist splitting, so that when you bring the maul down on such a log with all your might and main the maul fails to even start to split the log, and instead bounces away like you hit a block of hard rubber. When I hit such a log I immediately quit, and carefully study the log to spot its weaknesses. But my sons? When my sons meet such a stubborn log they just hit it harder, over and over, until finally the log splits. I watch in awe, wistfully recalling the days when I too had such energy. However once in a while I can awe them back. When they have hit a log fifteen times, and had the maul bounce fifteen times, they sometimes pause to shake the sweaty hair from their eyes, which allows me time to say, “Hit the log right there”, and then, when they follow my advice, the log sometimes splits easily,(and they briefly look at me with the respect I feel I deserve far more of).

The Old-timers of my youth deserved the real respect, for they understood wood in ways we can’t even imagine. For example, when they built ships they sometimes would seek far and wide for trees with branches that naturally curved in a manner that would supply them with the curved ribs of a ship’s hull. They knew such wood possessed an inherent strength steam-bent ribs lacked. Furthermore, when it came to building the few American ships which sought to take on England’s massive navy, they sought the toughest wood, and basically denuded the landscape of New England of White Oak, which they knew might split when you attacked it with the grain, but barely even splintered when you attacked it across the grain. Sailors claimed they saw English cannonballs bouncing off the White Oak side of the American frigate “Constitution”, which earned it the nickname “Old Ironside”, but I only bring this up because it demonstrates how well those Old-timers knew their wood.

Now I am the Old-timer, and although not as smart as the Old-timers of my youth I do spend more time thinking about trees than many men my age think about football. And this was especially true because the Sugar Maple I have recently been splitting up for firewood was a very special tree. It was enormous, but a picture will save me words. Here is a picture of my granddaughter standing on the enormous stump, with my daughter-in-law.

You likely have every right to wonder why on earth I would cut down such a huge and beautiful tree. It was because the huge Sugar Maple was getting old and starting to drop branches. It had not yet dropped one of the five huge forks that split from the enormous trunk about ten feet up, with each fork the size of a mature tree. However it had shed big branches, (mere twigs compared to the enormity of the tree), and three times these falling branches had ripped the electrical wires from my neighbor’s house. The public utilities had been good about coming out to restore power, and never blaming me, but I wondered if people would be so patient if “my” tree, (as it was on my property), dropped one of it’s five major trunks, and it bisected my patient neighbor’s house.

For thirty years I had procrastinated. I figured that tree had outlived many former owners, and hoped it would outlive me. But finally I could wait no more, and was left with logs so big I wondered if my peavey could budge it. (A peavey is a sort of crowbar used by lumberjacks to move big logs.)

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/04/Peavey_2_(PSF).png/330px-Peavey_2_(PSF).png

Of course my whippersnapper son felt such old-fashioned tools were outdated, (and might roll his eyes if I argued hand tools allowed one to become more intimate with wood.) He came rattling up the old tannery road in a small excavator, and did a log-shifting job that might have taken me days in about fifteen minutes. (The picture below is also helpful for it shows how close the neighbor’s house is.)

In any case, after being humbled by the efficiency of modern equipment, I had time to just sit and “read the rings”, which is like reading the autobiography of a tree, in the tree-rings of a stump.

Apparently the maple barely survived in the shady under-story for forty years before the first settlers came to create a town, in 1749. Then it just happened to be perfectly placed to be a roadside tree, by a path to where colonists were creating a tannery by rolling huge stones to dam a brook and make a little millpond. The colonialists were good at rolling stones, and I think their young men got as much pleasure from rolling huge rocks (seen in the walls of the above pictures) as modern youth get from playing video games.

This was when the town still obeyed King George, and a sort of elitist, wealthy semi-royal squire semi-ruled the town, in a sort of uneasy truce with the local preacher. But the squire wisely switched loyalties (a story in itself). The tree then watched as the United States was born, and the town thrived, and then saw the town nearly become a ghost town as people abandoned stony soil and headed for deep, stone-less soils out west, and water wheels were no longer the best form of energy. It saw the tannery abandoned and the millpond’s rock dam collapse in a spring flood. Then it saw new people arrive, string electrical wires, as the town become a semi-suburb, with roughly half the people commuting to far-away jobs, and half the people serving the commuters. Then a punk like me arrived, and said, “Tree, you must go.”

The huge tree, roughly three hundred years old, was entering a period of decline. I have heard it called “ruinous old age.” Trees can take fifty or even a hundred years before they finally are dead, and the entire time they produce excessive amounts of seeds, far more than healthy trees do, to ensure their species is perpetuated. (At times, watching silly old men buy Viagra, I think humans are wired the same way.)

I wished this old maple could have enjoyed perhaps as many as a hundred more years of “decline”, of “ruinous old age”. I wished it stood far out in the woods, like the Sugar Maple Thoreau saw in the Weston Woods. But it stood right by my neighbor’s house. I had to step in and take drastic action. I had to kill a beautiful tree.

It cost me $1500.00 to have a crew come in and take the tree down in sections, with a gigantic cherry-picker that amounted to a small crane. I hoped to make some money back by burning the thicker limbs as firewood, and asked the crew to leave me the thicker limbs. Little did I know the crew made money on the side with the limbs of trees they cut down. They ran the wood through a wood-chipper and sold the chips to the local fellow who makes wood-pellets for pellet stoves. So much money is made in this manner that the wood-chipper they had recently purchased as an “update” was gargantuan. No longer did they merely chip twigs and small branches, but instead ground up limbs thick as a fat woman’s thigh. I was amazed by how little they left me to use as firewood. They left me nothing but enormous logs, impossible to move, and difficult to chainsaw into sections one can split with a maul.

Next time I will know better. When I ask a crew to leave me the “thicker limbs” for firewood, I will define what “thicker” means with more care. (Not that there is likely to be a “next time.”)

Oh well. You win some and you lose some, and what was left to me still represented a colossal amount of “free” heat. I may need to spend a lot of time, but it is time well spent. It is good fun to saw such huge trunks with a tiny chainsaw, making huge logs. And it is fun to split huge logs into firewood, when a single log can make 25 split pieces to put in your wood stove. And it is fun when the propane-delivery-man arrives in early December, expecting you have used propane for heat, and discovers you have only used it to cook with. It is fun because his face has such an odd look, as he hands you the minuscule bill.

Yet most fun of all is the way I am getting to know the life which, in fact, I have shortened. Each of the five forks of this giant maple are different. I am even toying with the idea of selling some section of the trunk to people who value maple wood, and who might saw them into boards, rather than heating my home with them.

And most fun of all is that I am in a jurisdiction far, far from the depressing news. I am off in the hinterland, in the eyes of some News-addicts. What me worry? I am absorbed in the wonder of the Creator’s creation, and of His amazing attention to detail. The more I learn the more I am amazed. Learning some scientific trivia, such as that xanthophyl makes leaves yellow, doesn’t make me feel I now can be a Know-It-All, but rather that there is so much more to learn that the wonder and mystery is fabulous and overwhelming.

Yet at some point running-away must stop. If you look back to the start of this post, you will see that the whole reason for running-away into this long epistle about the beauty of Sugar Maples was that running-way was better than foaming at the mouth, and perhaps strangling Nancy Pelosi (or some poor person who likes her). And so it is I have hopefully enchanted you too, taking you into an escape from politics. But escapism isn’t enough. At some point we need to stop escaping and instead to face other facts.

But here is the most fun thing of all: Some may fear that, when I say we must face things, I am saying we must go back and face Nancy Pelosi. Not at all. What we must face, when seeing trivia about Sugar Maples is fabulous and wonderful, is not merely that creation is amazing, but that the One who created it is amazing. It is high time we praise the Creator. Who praises artwork without praising the artist?

That seems a good point to end this post on, this being a Sunday. Picture me as an old man, huffing and puffing and leaning on his maul, because to me splitting wood on a Sunday seems better than watching football on a Sunday, and then I raise my eyes. The wonders of creation are amazing, (whether they be Sugar Maples or linebackers), but at some point, you should reflect on the Creator who made all.

This Creator not only attended to details such as xanthophyll, but also to the creation of every enzyme involved in the multi-step molecular creation of xanthophyll. And if the Creator attended to minuscule details such as that, why should the Creator not attend to minuscule details such as you and I?

Attend to the Truth, and you will see the Truth is already attending to you.

APOCOCLYPTIC WILDFIRES OF 1780

The current wildfires on the pacific coast are severe, but there seems to be differing ideas about the cause. Some say it is poor forest management, which allowed large amounts of dead wood to accumulate on the forest floor which made the normal fires of the ecosystem become larger. Some say this was helped along, especially in Oregon, by arsonists from Antifa, after one such moron (who had been arrested and released a few days earlier in Portland), was arrested by an interstate for starting a fire which swiftly became uncontrollable. And lastly, there is the old standby, “Global Warming.”

My usual response to the claims of Global Warming Alarmists is to look back through history for occasions where the same thing happened before. It is unlikely I can do so in this case, for it is unlikely small fires were put out before for a half century, allowing wood to accumulate to such a degree. Also it is unlikely fires were started to such a degree in the past by arsonists.

Usually such fires are started by thunderstorms with rain which evaporates before it hits the ground. The Navajo called such rain “lady rain”, and when I lived in Arizona I used to watch the lightning travel down the edge of such rain-stripes and then continue down to the ground which the rain never reached. Also I experienced that being directly under such a evaporating band of rain can create an impressive downburst of wind, and that you’d better have a heavy rock on the pages of the novel you are working on, if you type in a campground as morning clouds build.

The trees and plants of the west had evolved and adapted to such wildfires, and some pines require fires, to drop the seeds from their cones. Also Indians refused to settle in certain locations, well aware of the fire hazards during dry years.

In natural conditions the forest burned up the litter at low levels, and often the fires didn’t reach the tree tops. But then man created “Smokey The Bear” and put out the smaller fires. Men who cut down the forests had the presence of mind to burn up the slash, and to create fire-break roads to protect the young trees springing up in the clear-cut areas, but in areas where the woodlands were “protected” a dangerous situation developed, resulting in the tremendous fires in Yellowstone Park in 1988. I lived down in the Four Corners area back then, and even hundreds of miles away the sky grew brassy, you couldn’t see the mountains, and the air smelled of smoke.

The fires lasted for weeks, and blazes grew so hot that in places the soil was sterilized, making the natural recovery slower. The fires were largely “crown fires”, not remaining on the forest floor but burning trees right to their tops.

This resulted in greatly changed forest management at Yellowstone, but for some reason the left coast did not get the memo, and if anything has been even more stubborn about cleaning up dead wood, building fire-breaks and access roads, and allowing people to clear brush away from houses. Now perhaps they are learning, though the people most adamant about Global Warming seem to have a strange reaction to history, and to learning from history. In my experience they get mad at you, when you bring up the past.

Going further back history, to my puritan ancestors, and to times before anyone had migrated west of the Appalachian Mountains, there were so-called “dark days”. These are noted in the history of New England, especially as they tended to scare people, and people would all drop what they were doing and scurry to church, because the Bible states one sign of the apocalypse will be that the sun will refuse to shine. There are several historical occasions when the sun grew dim, or became blue in the sky, and all of these recorded events intrigue modern scientists, who seek the causes.

One of the darkest days occurred in 1780, which was a hard time in New England. Though the British had been kicked from the land, they ruled the seas, and their blockade was causing hardship. The war was not going well in the south, as Cornwallis was kicking butt, and also Puritan Christian consciences were troubled by the fact the revolution was in many ways a civil war, and brothers were fighting brothers and neighbor were not loving neighbors. The loyalists had their time in the sun, but after Washington drove the British from Boston they were treated abysmally, and many thousands trekked up to Canada stripped of all their wealth and status. Many good rebels helped them as they emigrated, but it did not sit well in the guts of many to exile people they had grown up with, and psychologists, (had they existed), might have noted guilt complexes. Then, in May, the bright spring sunshine grew duller and more brassy for several days, and then, on the morning of May 19, 1780, the dull dawn did not brighten at all, and in fact grew darker. People had relight candles at noon, and the spring peepers and owls began to sing and hoot as if were night, as the chickens went back to their roosts.

And did people turn to God? You can bet your sweet bippy they did. They say there are no Atheist’s in the foxholes, and apparently the same is true when it gets dark at noon.

The air grew musty, and was described by one person as “smelling like a coal bin”. To the north fine ash fell from the sky, and there was even a report from a wilderness area of New Hampshire that the ash accumulated six inches.

The fall of ash caused many later scientists to wonder if a volcano was involved, however geologists could find no source-volcano.

It was so dark business could not be conducted in the Connecticut legislature, and one member made a motion to adjourn. This resulted in this wonderful statement by Abraham Davenport:  

I am against an adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause of an adjournment: if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.

I think it was not until the 1970’s that scientists studying tree-rings in Ontario, Canada, noted that not only was 1780 a year of drought, but many trees showed fire scars that year. So it seems likely there was a colossal fire up in the unsettled taiga of Ontario.

All I can say is: Yowza! That fire must’ve been a humdinger! (Also that Alarmists will chose to turn a blind eye to such history, and Antifa will want to topple statues of Abraham Davenport.)

GOAD THE WOKE

I spent some spare time poking through my old writing, looking for things the so-called “Woke” might have conniptions about. Gosh! There was a lot! There is no way to expunge my record of politically incorrect wrongdoings, and, according to the “cancel culture”, my life’s work needs to be purged. I confess I am basically a weed in their garden.

For one thing, I have something like five ancestors that were aboard the Mayflower. We are coming up on 400 years since those hundred souls landed, in the fall of 1620. I thought the anniversary would be a time of remembrance and celebration. But the “Woke” want it to be a time of shame, it seems, irregardless of the Fifth Commandment.

I have a loyal streak, and am more inclined to honor ancestors than to topple them from pedestals. Not that many of mine rated statues, or even oil-paintings.This is also not to say I am blind to their shortcomings, but rather to say, “Who am I to judge?” When I look at my own life I am quick to find excuses (which I deem “extenuating circumstances”) to explain my face-plants. If I am so quick to excuse myself, shouldn’t I be quick to excuse others?

Also I’ve noticed a seeming hypocrisy among the “Woke”. Some of the “Woke” people who insist statues of great men be torn down for their failures, are the same “Woke” people who insist small statues called “participation trophies” be given to children for their failures.

Mull that over a bit. What is it that the “Woke” are insinuating? That greatness deserves degradation and failure deserves a trophy? If that is the case, then they shouldn’t be pointing out the failures of great men. Rather they should be pointing out their greatness. That is what the men in statues are guilty of: Greatness!

The simple fact is that we all have flaws, and confessing our failures is healthy, providing forgiveness is involved. God knows we screw up, but God doesn’t want us to remain in a morose funk about it; we need to dust ourselves off and get on with life. And that is what history describes us as doing.

When I look back at the history of my family over the past 400 years I see plenty of stumbling. But it doesn’t fill me with loathing and hatred. To be honest, I feel warmth approaching the pride of a father watching his child take his or her first steps. Maybe they aren’t the greatest steps, but, even if they aren’t worth a participation trophy, they earn an ear-to-ear smile.

When I look back, I think those Pilgrims did all right, especially when you consider that roughly half of them died the first winter. Around fifty made it to spring, and a lot of them were children, with one or both parents dead.

One of those survivors was Priscilla Mullins, roughly eighteen years old, who had seen her father, stepmother, and brother die during the winter. Likely she felt very alone. She still had a brother and sister alive back in England, and I imagine she wanted to sail back home, when the Mayflower headed back to England in April, 1621, but she stayed.

As she was my Great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, I think it was a good thing she stayed. The “Woke” likely differ. But President John Adams likely thought it was a good thing she stayed, as did his son President John Quincy Adams. For she begat, in a manner of speaking, both of them, just as she, in a manner of speaking, begat me. And, in the same manner of speaking, she begat the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I envy Longfellow, for he was a poet who made big bucks. I don’t. But one thing I do have in common with Longfellow, and that is an ear for ancestral lore. Such lore is basically stuff which drives by-the-book historians crazy, for it is stuff that you hear at your grandparent’s knee that no documents verify. (In my case, it also involves tales told in taverns, by sailors who flunked English classes but who are great, illiterate tale-tellers. Among their tales are tales of events which occurred 400 years ago.)

In any case, in the autumn of 1847 Longfellow recalled family lore about Priscilla Mullins, over 200 years after-the-fact. The lore involved the fact two men were after her hand, in those desperate days when only fifty survivors existed. This sort of situation (IE “juicy gossip”) almost never is written down in the “official documents”, but the triangle must have been noteworthy to have been remembered for 200 years. Longfellow stated it was “the truth”, and used it as the basis of an epic poem called “The Courtship Of Miles Standish”. As usual, (whereas my blog may be noticed by perhaps ninety people, on a good day), Longfellow’s writing “went viral” (for those days) and it is said ten thousand copies of this epic sold in England in a single day. The fellow was basically rolling in the cash he made with a work which has irritated the heck out of historians ever since, as he used a lot of “poetic license”: Men’s motives are embellished upon, or else sheer speculation; also a lot of events are misplaced, in terms of the chronological order of events quilled onto yellowing historical documents, which historians know about and prefer. Still, I think Longfellow captured an element of the Pilgrim’s “heart” which is utterly lost, when one honors the admittedly stifling discipline of factual history. However his work cannot be included in any sort of proper history. It lives in the landscape of “lore”, neither entirely fiction, nor established truth.

Considering nearly another 200 years have passed since Longfellow wrote that poem, you might think that the “lore” I know about would be even less likely to be valid history. But one neat aspect of the internet is that one does not have to trudge from library to library to see the yellowing documents; one can scan them with the click of a mouse. A lot was left to Longfellow’s imagination, whereas I have facts at my fingertips. And the facts actually make those times look more strange, not less.

Had the Pilgrims arrived five years earlier, they would not have been able to settle where they did, for it was a place called “Little Falls” in the Algonquin dialect, which was also the name for the roughly 2000 people who lived along the shore in that vicinity, the “Patuxet”. However between 1615 and 1619 a true pandemic, (far worse than the mere sniffles our politicians now weep and wail about), killed nearly everyone. I’ve heard numbers stating somewhere between 75% and 95% of the native population died. It hit some clans worse than others. We don’t even know what the disease was. The idea it was smallpox is refuted by the fact the local people had been exposed to European carriers for at least 100 years, and nothing like this pandemic had happened before. The theory I subscribe to is that it was some form of swine ‘flu, for the local people very much liked the flavor of pork. At first the pork was salted, but it was at this time the first living pigs appeared in New England. But we don’t know. However a horrible pandemic caused people to die swiftly, bleeding from the nose and mouth. Therefore the landscape Priscilla entered was not a pretty one. There had not been enough Patuxet left alive to bury their dead, and seagulls had stripped the corpse’s flesh away, and skeletons lay about. Abandoned dogs scattered the bones and grinning skulls, but when the pilgrims arrived there were still some sagging wigwams with skeletons inside. This was the world Priscilla Mullins stepped into. The Pilgrim were not rugged pioneers who had to chop down trees to clear fields; the fields were already cleared. But it was a creepy situation to walk into, with the occasional skull watching you.

Of course this is not the “Woke” version of history. The “Woke” version imagines a hale and healthy native population was set upon by murderous Europeans. To state this idea vastly overestimates the power of a ship full of inept religious nincompoops. However perhaps it underestimates the power of God.

Another historically documented reality is that the local population displayed bigotry towards the Pilgrims. The Native Americans assumed, because the Pilgrim’s skin was white, they were as bad as other white people, who had recently afflicted their coasts.

For a long time, (historically at least a century, but lore states longer), European fishermen had been very careful not to alienate the people who lived inland of the waters they fished. (Fishermen might need to land to get fresh water.) But recently a far less diplomatic sort had arrived, perhaps made cruel by the inhumanity associated with the Reformation, Counter-reformation, Inquisition, and the horrors of the Thirty Years War in Europe (which cost 20% of the population of Germany, and roughly 8 million lives.) These new people tended to seek profit first, and profit included tricking and capturing the helpless, the slow, and the naive in coastal communities in both Europe and the Americas, to replace crew who had died, and also to sell as slaves in Europe. The Indians along the coast of New England understandably objected to this behavior, and they reacted to Pilgrims, (who were about as prissy and well-meaning as religiously sincere people can get), as if they were slavers and pirates, out to steal. They weren’t, because their Ten Commandments forbid it, but how were the Native Americans to know these white-skinned people were not like the others?

The Pilgrims were actually not different from the suspicious local tribes and clans, when they looked out to sea. In order to understand Priscilla Mullins you need to understand that, as she watched the Mayflower sail away in April 1621, there was no guarantee that the next sail she saw would be the friendly “Fortune”, hoving into view in seven months. The sails might instead be Spanish, and, if the Spanish found fifty “antichrist Protestants” trespassing on land the Pope had deemed Spanish, they would think nothing of slaughtering all fifty. If the ship was French, they might take every penny you had, (and in fact French Pirates seized the profits of the Pilgrims first year’s labors, as it headed back to England aboard the “Fortune”,) (and those French pirates didn’t give the Pilgrims so much as a receipt, which Sir Francis Drake did give, when he plundered the Spanish). And even the English pirates, who were given the nice, politically-correct term, “privateers”, could also not be entirely trusted, for some of these were men who enslaved coastal Indians, and they saw Pilgrims as “not people like us” because they didn’t obey The Church of England, which might make Pilgrims be fair prey. (White slaves were just as salable in Mediterranean lands as other races, and even if you had no time to sell slaves, there was always a need to grab fresh sailors to replenish the crew, after losing lives to scurvy). And then there were the Dutch, the Swedes, and the Red Vikings.

The Red Vikings, or “Tarenteen”, are a delight to me as a poet, and defy the logic of historians, for there were no anthropologists available to go study them and document their existence. They were not welcoming, and the other tribes feared and loathed their coastal raids. Therefore on paper they barely exist. In history they are basically a mist.

The Tarenteen were apparently a coastal clan of the Micmac Tribe which, in the 1500’s, did not want the axes and copper pots the French offered in trade, but instead wanted a square-rigged sailing ship. The French very much did want furs, so they offered the Tarenteen a ship, and the deal went down. This much exists in paperwork extant to this day. But the mystery is: How the heck did a Native American people know how to sail such a ship? Historians cannot supply the answer. (Lore can.) In any case the Red Vikings raided coastal settlements of both Indians and Europeans in the 1500’s and 1600’s, and were another sail to watch for, on the horizon.

When Priscilla Mullins watched the sails of the Mayflower shrink on the horizon in April, with no guarantee the next sails she saw would be friendly, it was not merely Priscilla’s, but all other eyes, Pilgrim and non-Pilgrim alike, that scanned the horizon for sails, not merely in 1621, but long afterwards. It was part of colonial life. According to lore, certain New England seaports may have seen the arrival of pirates as notorious as Blackbeard, and never noted the event down in official records (nor payed the official taxes for imports and exports as trading occurred), but such co-existence could not have occurred if the seaports were weak. A pirate like Blackbeard was more likely to be a civil businessmen if ten loaded cannon were trained onto his ship as he arrived, than he might be if he sailed into an undefended seaport. I think this should explain why Priscilla Mullins saw the Pilgrim men spend time building a fort above town, rather than completing adequate shelter, gathering extra firewood, hunting meat, or figuring how to grow grain, .

Such fort-building priorities might seem wrong to the “Woke”. I have even read “Woke” essays which attempt to describe Pilgrims, including Priscilla, as “war mongers” for building the fort, and even for not being strident pacifists and indignantly verbally-objecting-to the subject of a fort even being considered. (Defense is often deemed offensive, by the “Woke”.)

But the Pilgrim’s were not war mongers, as is proven by a peace they made with Native Americans whom they had accidentally offended. This peace was a pivotal point in their history, and though it may seem like a minor event, without this gesture of peace they may well have all died of starvation, or packed up and headed home, or simply vanished, which was the fate of other colonies involving people far more capable than the basically inept Pilgrims.

The Pilgrim’s ineptitude is a legend in and of itself, as is the endurance of those like Priscilla, who survived the consequences of their ineptitude. The “Woke” would likely wince merely walking from their house to their car, in New England’s January blasts. It is hard for the “Woke” to imagine enduring a New England winter with inadequate food, and without either a warm car or a warm house to hurry between; the Pilgrims were constantly cold and constantly hungry, day after day and week after week.

They were woefully ill prepared: In waters teeming with fish they had neither fishhooks nor nets, and their sole meat was clams, which lack a vital protein other meats have, and can’t sustain a person. (I know about the effects of such a diet; one summer I tried, [in an attempt to avoid working a Real Job by “living off the land”], to subsist on clams.) The Pilgrim’s grain was corn they had stolen from an empty Indian village, which troubled them deeply as it broke the Eighth Commandment. They were rationing this corn, as they wanted to save some kernels to plant. (Although the Pilgrims did not know it yet, the abandoned fields of the Indians were basically infertile sand, and the seeds they had brought from Europe would not do well in such soil, in such a different climate.) Even if the Pilgrims survived the winter they likely would have starved in the summer; they were a doomed people, in need of a flabbergasting miracle.

What they needed was the advise of a local person who had grown up in Little Falls when it was a thriving town, and who knew how to exploit the abundant, local food sources . They also needed this miraculous individual to have lived in Europe for four years and to have learned English, so he would be able to communicate with them. Such an impossible person should come walking from the woods and, recognizing they needed meat, should take them to the wintry salt marshes to walk in the cold mud with bare feet, feeling for semi-dormant eels with their toes, so they could enjoy a meal of fresh fish. Then they needed this ridiculously unlikely, day-dreamed-delusion-of-grandeur to teach them how to catch herring from the brooks without nets, and how to plant corn with a herring in each sandy hill, to grow a bountiful crop, and to teach them a hundred other things while also serving as their translator while negotiating with other towns, for twenty months without pay. (I doubt anyone even seriously considered such a miraculous unlikelihood.)

Yet this impossibility is exactly what happened, when Tisquantum, who the Pilgrims called “Squanto”, came strolling through the trees. If the “Woke” thinks the Pilgrims weren’t grateful, and did not see Squanto as a miracle, an answered prayer, and a gift from God, they haven’t looked at the documents written at that time.

I think the “Woke” want to remain asleep, for they apparently desire to discredit the actual history of Squanto. During my childhood it was a foundational root of the history I was taught, but now it seems the “Woke” want the memory of any friendships between races denied. Either they dismiss Squanto as lore and legend, (when the great man was neither), or they scorn him as a traitor and an Uncle Tom. His very existence is a threat to the “Woke” narrative of the White Man being evil, which to me seems a narrative of racist hate, whereas Squanto’s relationship with Pilgrims symbolizes love.

This love between “Cowboys and Indians” is down deep in the American psyche, denied by those who focus on treaties broken, and who ignore promises kept. The appearance of Indians on American coins, (or on the silver screen as the “Lone Ranger’s” only trusted friend, “Tonto”), makes no sense whatsoever to the “Woke”. It is a statue they want toppled, ink they want expunged from the historical record.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/58/Massasoit%2C_KC_MO_-_detail.JPG

Squanto’s very existence involves so many unlikely twists and turns that it strains the credulity of dull people living dull lives.

First it involved an evil man named Tom Hunt ignoring orders to fish-for, and to salt, cod, and to recross the Atlantic and sell the salted cod to Spain. Instead the greedy man became a sort of wicked fisher-of-men by tricking 20 Patuxet and 7 Nauset aboard ship and setting sail for Spain to sell them as slaves, (which were a far more profitable cargo than salted codfish). Therefore Squanto immediately faced possible castration and a life of servitude among the millions of slaves (of all races) around the shores of the Mediterranean.

However Hunt then ran into trouble in Spain, not so much because slavery was illegal, as because slavery was the king’s monopoly. This made Hunt a smuggler and black-marketeer who lacked permits and hadn’t paid his taxes. His cargo was seized, but, rather than being put up for resale in a manner the Spanish King would deem legal, Squanto found himself in the custody of good Catholic friars who felt it was better to serve than enslave, and who set about teaching Squanto about Jesus and European Languages and perhaps other subjects. This is somewhat marvelous as it was during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, and non-Catholics were not always treated so kindly.

At this point there are various versions of of Squanto’s path, with some stating he spent years in Spain and others stating he spent years in England.

In England some believed in a bizarre policy regarding Indians, which largely backfired. It was felt Indians should be persuaded to come to England, learn English, and then be returned to America to serve as guides and translators. This plan backfired because the “persuasion” used was either trickery or brute force, which alienated the heck out of the Indians. (Some of the English had the arrogant belief that the Indians would be cowed by displays of superior force, and therefore would become compliant and subservient subjects of the king, like they themselves were. FAIL. The Indians learned to avoid English ships, and the “educated” Indians who were returned to serve as guides and translators warned the Indians they spoke with that the English were untrustworthy scoundrels, when they didn’t seize upon the opportunity of setting foot on their homeland to simply vanish into the trees.)

Squanto was not the first Native American to visit London. Lore speaks of much which cannot be verified, but even drab history tells us George Weymouth had kidnapped five on the coast of Maine in 1605, and Pocahontas arrived with her husband (under nicer circumstances) and an entourage of eleven Powhatan from Virginia in 1616, and there is even a statue of her the “Woke” will want to tear down, in England.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a1/Pocahontas_gravesend.jpg

Among Pocahontas’ entourage was a priest named Uttamatomakkin, and among his duties was the job of “counting the English.” In other words, he was gathering intelligence to bring back to North America, and he did return from this spying mission and speak of what he had seen. This causes me to wonder if the pre-pandemic Indians of North America knew more about London than London knew about them.

Sadly the pandemic wiped out much of the history of New England more effectively than the “Woke” can topple statues, and much that we know is derived from scraps of information written down by foreign onlookers. It is apparent that while the Native Americans were wary of Englishmen, they coveted metal objects such as copper pots and iron axes, and were in awe of cannons, recognizing Europeans had some powers they lacked. In fact one way George Weymouth was able to trick Indians aboard his ship was to awe them with the phenomenon of a magnetized sword:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/24/Captain_George_Weymouth_with_sword.jpg

An example of the power which could be gained from Europeans may be seen, (as recorded by European onlookers), in the demise of the “king” of the large tribe around what became Boston harbor, the “Massachusetts”.

It was the custom of the Massachusetts tribe to leave their cornfields in the hands of a few watchmen and watchdogs, and migrate to the cooler beaches for celebrations, sporting-events, dances and clambakes in the hotter months, but these parties had been interrupted by raiding parties of Tarenteen. The king arranged a negotiation between the Massachusetts and the Tarenteen, and went to the meeting with his biggest and strongest bodyguards at his side. At the meeting a spindly, little Tarenteen walked up and pointed a stick at him. As the king looked curiously at the stick, fire came out of the end of it, and the king dropped dead. Welcome to the wonderful world of firearms, or “fire sticks”. Every Indian immediately wanted one, but Europeans debated whether arming Indians was wise. Enter “gun-control”.

Each side was trying to figure out the politics of the other side. The Indians on the coast recognized the French didn’t want them trading with the English, and the English didn’t want them dealing with the French, and, while French trappers had learned to distinguish between tribes and even clans, in 1605 George Weymouth didn’t have a clue who he was dealing with, or know the Abenaki might be displeased if he dealt with the Tarenteen.

A colony was planned in the area Weymouth had explored and offended, and in 1606 a ship was sent back to start what would be the second English attempt to colonize New England (the first attempt, [in terms of history and not lore], being the short-lived sassafras-gathering outpost on Cuttyhunk in Buzzard’s Bay in the summer of 1602). However this ship was intercepted and captured by the Spanish, and therefore the Spanish King likely knew all about the antichrist Protestant’s plan to trespass on his northern lands. He also likely knew a Native American was (likely) aboard that that ship, to act as guide and translator.

At this point I need to digress and point out the Spanish were in some ways the “Woke” of that time, operating a “cancel culture” which sought to shame all who differed with their idea of order. Though they come across badly in histories written by Protestants, especially the Dutch and the English, in their own histories they look far better. Their histories state that God (via the Pope) had chosen Spain to bring sanity to all the earth and to make everyone become spiritual Catholics. They would build missions all over the planet to convert the heathen to their “Woke” idea of order. Building these missions would take a lot of taxes, but people should be willing to pay for such a noble endeavor. Anyone who pointed out that, while the Spanish nobility was living in the lap of luxury, the taxed were hurting, was seen as ungrateful, rebellious, and perhaps working for the anti-Christ, (much like Donald Trump is seen by the “Woke” today.)

The Spanish were able to gain their great power by, along with the Portuguese, building better ships and finding better trade routes, and gaining control of the money-making spice-trade between India and Europe, wresting the trade away from the Venetians and Ottomans. When the Pope pragmatically saw that the people who possessed the profits had changed, he divided the “unconverted” parts of the planet into two zones of Influence, one Portuguese and one Spanish, and then the Portuguese king died young, in battle, and (after a tussle) Spain claimed the Portuguese crown, which meant Spain officially was in charge of the entire “unconverted” part of the planet, and officially this meant they were in charge of all trade to all colonies, and all fees and permits and taxes gained through trade. The wealth and power involved was enormous, but spirituality often slips away when wealth and power become the focus. (“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”).

Wealth and power seems to be a byproduct of spirituality in the same manner manure is the byproduct of a dairy. Manure is inevitable, and useful for fertilizing the dairy’s fields, but it is not the purpose of a dairy. Once the mortal mind sees a mere byproduct as an end-all and be-all, the byproduct becomes a poison, or at least the author of its own demise. Just as the corrupted Ottomans and Venetians were astonished to see obscure kingdoms on the western edge of Europe abruptly gain wealth and power, the corrupted Spaniards were astonished to see two obscure northern provinces (for the Dutch and English were for a time part of Spain) abruptly gain wealth and power. However the most obscure of the obscure were the fifty Pilgrims, barely staying alive. There was no sign wealth and power would ever have anything to do with them.

The next English effort to Colonize the area of Penobscott Bay that Weymouth explored did manage to cross the Atlantic without being intercepted by the Spanish, the following year, in 1607. They immediately built a good fort. Somewhat incredibly, accurate plans for that fort were in the King of Spain’s hands by 1608. (These plans were found in Spanish archives in 1888, and in 1994 were used by archeologists to locate and excavate the site.)

The settlers at “Popham Colony” also built a good 30 ton ship, (First European ship built in New England), but no working relations could be established with local Indians, despite the fact one of the Indians Weymouth had kidnapped was brought back across the sea. This Indian’s name was spelled various ways, (for example “Skidwarres”; or “Sketwarroes”), but it is interesting to imagine what we might do if we were in that Indian’s shoes. What would you say to your own folk about the people who had captured you? Do you advise them to to trade, or to steer clear?

One interesting final development was that, after the English had decided to bail and avoid another ferocious Maine winter, relations with the locals abruptly improved, and trade occurred. My view is that the English were holding a sort of yard-sale, getting rid of iron axes and copper pots they did not want to lug back to England, but which the locals very much wanted. The locals payed at the yard-sale with stuff that wasn’t worth all that much to them, but brought a high price in England, wild sarsaparilla root and furs. This yard-sale was a happier ending than expected. Then the Popham colony was abandoned, when winter approached in 1608.

I bring this up to discredit the “Woke” concept that Native Americans were innocent and naive and like virgins taken advantage of by European rapists. Native Americans were never so dumb. They had decades (at least) of experience dealing with Europeans off their coasts, went to sea themselves in impressive dugouts made of the trunks of huge white pines, knew of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the many shades of gray, and who they were wheeling and dealing with. In terms of “The Art Of The Deal”, the Indians often came out ahead of the Europeans they dealt with. What defeated them, in the end, was a lousy virus, and a failure to unify.

Also it should be noted that the French explorer Champlain passed through the same waters Weymouth had cruised, only ten months later, and heard from an Indian that the five Indians kidnapped had not been captured, but “killed”. To some this only suggests how Weymouth ruined relations with the locals, but to me this suggests the Indians could in some way communicate in French as well as in English. In fact historical explorers often met natives who already spoke European tongues. Someone must have taught them, which gives credence to lore, though we have no historical evidence who the teachers were. But this also disproves the idea the Indians were not teachable. The Native Americans were not dummies, and lore suggests there was far more interaction between America and Europe than history records.

Before I leave the subject of George Weymouth I should mention the name of his patron Ferdinando Gorges, a member of the English elite with a drop or two of royal blood, because far back in his family tree a relative was a brother of a king. He’d fought for the Protestant, Huguenot side in France’s civil wars after the future French king Henry IV was nearly killed just after his wedding day, when hundreds of other Protestants who had come to his wedding were slaughtered, during the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1773. His bravery in the battles that followed was well known.

Ferdinando later became the commander of the fort in the harbor of the English port of Plymouth, where many ships heading for the Americas departed from. As the battles against the Catholics continued (even after Henry IV became Catholic,[“Paris is well worth a mass”.]), Ferdinando was involved in repulsing the Catholic Spanish armadas aimed at subjugating non-Catholic England. This deeply involved him in England’s growing navel might, and with characters such as Sir Francis Drake, and also with ideas involving wresting lands and trade routes across the Atlantic from Spain’s control. He seemingly dreamed he and his heirs might rule, in a feudal manner, a dukedom across the ocean, which he and those he was associated with dubbed “Maine”, and this made him very interested in the inhabitants of the far away lands. When Weymouth brought back five captives, three were presented to Ferdinando as a sort of offering, and he apparently was very interested in interviewing such Indians. Decades later, after his schemes of overseas empire had faded and his grandiose dreams had failed to come to pass, when he was looking back and writing his memoirs, he identified one of Weymouth’s captives as Squanto, though he called him, “Tasquantum“.

This is extremely irritating to historians, who place such emphasis on the written word, for there it is, written down on the yellowing pages.

It is highly unlikely that Squanto was first captured by the Tarenteen, traded to the English up in Maine, traveled to Ferdinando’s in England, made his way back to Cape Cod, only to again be captured and sold as a slave in Spain, only to again make his way back to Cape Cod. Not that it is impossible. The very existence of Squanto is impossible, to begin with, and past a certain point deciding what is possible exercises futility.

My own take is that Ferdinando Gorges was indulging in a bit of “poetic license” like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow did, as he wrote his memoirs. Chronological order didn’t matter: As he wrote before his death in 1647 it was a piffling detail whether Squanto passed through his household in 1608 or 1619; what mattered was that he recognized Squanto was a divine instrument, or, in his own words, “This accident must be acknowledged the meanes under God of putting on foote, and giving life to all our Plantations….”

Squanto himself likely did not feel like a divine instrument. He just wanted to go home, and then, when he finally got home in 1619, he discovered skulls and bones where his home had been. I cannot imagine that feels very nice. Where does one go from there? One goes looking for where the few survivors went, when just about everyone else died. Though Squanto is described as “the last of the Patuxet” he did apparently did find a few other Patuxet, adopted by neighboring villages. But, after comparing notes, what is the use of being such a survivor? One wants to feel valued, and there is little value in being a refugee. This may explain why Squanto gravitated to the Pilgrims. They valued him like a drowning man values a life raft.

Pause and consider the knowledge Squanto had about Catholics in Spain and the Church-Of-England-elite in England. It belittles him to call him “an aborigine”. In some ways he knew more about Europe than even the Pilgrims did. He certainly knew more about Spain. And the elders of the Pilgrim church seem to have recognized this greatness in a wayfarer, a greatness which is like gold in a junkyard, (which the “Woke” seem utterly blind to, in any of us).

One thing which apparently troubled these naive Pilgrims, even as hunger gnawed at them, was the fact they had stolen corn. It broke the eighth commandment. Squanto must have rolled his eyes, for he had experienced being a stolen person, and people matter more than kernels of corn. Yet he must have also been sort of impressed by the simple spirituality of the naive Pilgrims, for he was a part of the difficult diplomacy involved to make amends for the stolen corn, so the Pilgrims could sleep without tossing and turning in guilt. How it happened went something like this:

Long before the Mayflower anchored and the Pilgrims disembarked at Plymouth, they had attempted to head south for Virginia, but wind and tide and the wicked currents and combers at the elbow of Cape Cod changed world history, by battering them back north to the tip of Cape Cod. After arriving at that tip they coasted westward along the north coast of the Cape, attempting to contact the Indians, so they could trade for food, as they were on the verge of starvation. But the Indians ran away, as they assumed the Pilgrims were the white-skinned evil people who enslaved, especially as they came ashore armed with fire-sticks and led by a man wearing an armor breastplate. At some point, in a hastily abandoned village, the Pilgrims found a large amount of stored corn they could not pay for, for there was no one to pay. They took the corn, promising themselves they would pay the owners later, (which is a promise thieves often make but seldom keep). This corn not only fed them in the present tense, but proved to be the seed that fed them in the future, for the various seeds they had brought from Europe failed to thrive the following spring, but the stolen native Indian corn prospered. And this begs the question: Did they ever repay the Indians for their corn? Yes, and documents show the Pilgrims were proud they repaid, which seems proof that it deeply bothered them that they had been thieves.

Through Squanto they had let it be known to nearby peoples they wanted to pay for the stolen corn, but how they actually came to make the repayment is why this tale is wonderful.

A Pilgrim boy named John Billington got lost in the woods, and after long hours, perhaps days, popped out among the Manumett, who for some reason shipped him to the Naucet, which was very clan the Pilgrims had stolen corn from. The Naucet, though hard hit by the pandemic, were not as decimated as the Patuxet, and had a few villages left on Cape Cod’s north coast, east of where the Pilgrims had settled. While the Pilgrim boy was not described as a “hostage”, he did prove to be the basis for negotiations. Ten Pilgrim men, accompanied by Squanto and another Indian, set out by boat to retrieve John Billingham. This “army” of ten Pilgrims represents 20% of the entire colony, and left women and children behind dangerously unguarded.

One immediately wants more details. How did the Pilgrims come to know the lost boy was found? The answer is Squanto, who made inquiries. Who contacted who? Squanto was involved everywhere you look, nor were the negotiations as simple as they might seem. Why? Because, just as one couldn’t negotiate with the English without immediately stirring up the suspicions of the French, one couldn’t make overtures of peace with the Naucet without stirring the suspicions of the Narragansetts. There was all sorts of intrigue and politics involved in even simple transactions, with the local population divided into a bewildering array of tribes and clans, and with news passing from village to village via gossip, sometimes distorted but with surprising speed. Squanto had to deal with all of this stuff, but, to cut a long story short, the Pilgrims were able to pay for the corn they had stolen, and bought more corn as well.

It turned out the Naucet had ways to store corn for extended periods, and had more corn than they knew what to do with, because there were so few left to feed, after the pandemic. The Pilgrims had no corn, but did have “trade items”, iron axes and copper pots the Naucet desired.

In the process of these negotiations the Naucet recognized Pilgrims were not like the other Englishmen. The Pilgrims not only deemed retrieving a lost child worth considerable risk, (which demonstrated more caring than pirates are wont to display), but they paid for the corn they had taken months earlier, (which pirates almost never do). For future historians, this deal was carefully documented by the Pilgrims. I get the sense the Pilgrims were making sure people in the future would take note that they not only obeyed the Bible, but that obedience had positive benefits. Obedience worked, and was better than the behavior of pirates.

The “Woke” may not like such documentation, for it not only demonstrates white people can make peace (and perhaps be more loving than even the “Woke”), but also it is a hinge upon which the very existence of future Presidents and Poets swings upon, for without trade with the Naucet, Priscilla Mullins would likely have starved to death in the summer of 1621. In fact I wouldn’t even exist, if John Billington hadn’t gotten lost in the woods, 399 years ago.

This is history the way I learned it, and the way I like it: History with morality in it; history that is even a bit preachy. Of course some historians shudder at the thought of enlivening drab facts, and rein themselves with an objectivity so strict it denies their human heart. Not that I don’t appreciate their strict adherence to facts, but Truth must include the heart, for the heart is fundamental to both history and humanity.

What historians fear most is bias. In fact all scientists fear having their objectivity twisted by the bias of subjective desires. Meteorologists who dearly love snow, and who rapture like Japanese poets over snowflakes, bite their lips and get grim to avoid what they jokingly call “wish-casting,” which is to forecast snow which doesn’t happen. In like manner lawyers completely avoid taking on their own legal matters, obeying the old maxim which states, “Any lawyer who has himself as a lawyer has a fool for a lawyer.” In terms of history, historians are well aware that, if they are Danish, they will be prone to make Denmark the center of the Universe and the pinnacle of human evolution, while a historian from Poland will shake his head, for it seems utterly obvious to him this is not true, for Poland is the center and pinnacle.

As a poet, I take the view that we can’t beat this bias. It is part of being human. Therefore it is better to confess it. If you can’t beat it, join it.

At my Childcare I see bias all the time, as small boys bristle and square off to do battle, arguing some version of “My Dad’s better than your Dad.” I see such situations as wearing the label, “Handle With Care”, for, after all, the Fifth Commandment states “Honor thy father”, and in a way this makes both bristling boys be right.

Perhaps the most tragic example of such bias I’ve seen among small children involves little ones whose parents are at least temporarily worthless due to awful addictions. The child must be removed from the parents due to severe neglect, and often finds themselves in the care of most wonderful grandparents or foster parents. It seems obvious the helpless, little child should then prefer the wonderful to the awful, but the little one, study after study has shown, deeply craves reunion with their actual parents, even when the actual parents remain horrid. Apparently bias, and the Fifth Commandment, involves Deeps of the human spirit which our intellects can’t fathom.

The “Woke” seem oblivious that such Deeps even exist. They make even the most fearful historian look profound. Where a fearful historian at least looks at the past, (even if scared to venture an opinion), the “Woke” simply wish to obliterate the past, like a writer wrinkling up a failed draft and starting with a fresh sheet of clean paper. As a writer I have to inform the “Woke” that’s not the way correction actually works.

There’s a great story of the writer Robert Lewis Stevenson hurling a criticized rough draft into a fire. He was mentally stressed by a fever, and also by the medication he was taking for that fever, and he reacted badly to some comment his wife made. Then he sat down and rewrote, with astonishing speed, “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” in its entirety.

What the “Woke” need to understand is that burning the rough draft didn’t erase the story. The story existed in the Deeps of the artist’s mind. However it seems the “Woke” don’t care all that much for anything Deep.

I do. What is more, if you care for the Deep, the Deep cares for you.

To prove my point, let me return to the naive Pilgrims, and especially to Priscilla Mullins, watching the Mayflower sail away over the horizon. She was of a group of fifty which had a survival rate of 50%, among groups of Indians which had a worse survival rate due to the pandemic, but whom were larger groups. In fact there were nearly as many local clans as there were Pilgrims, and every clan was larger than the Pilgrim’s group.

In fact when chief met with chief they often brought along their strongest bodyguards and displayed how numerous they were. The Europeans added a tradition which must have seemed whimsical to the Native Americans: A V.I.P. made his entrance with fanfare, horns and the rattle of drums. Such hoopla seems absurd when you are leading an army of ten, but on some occasions the Pilgrims insisted upon such fuss and bother. The racket of fanfare seemed to bolster nerves, but apparently nerve failed when they went to meet the Naucet, and were an army of ten in a boat looking towards an army of a hundred gathered on the shore. They found excuses to send Squanto wading ahead to do the talking.

Any reasonable, rational person, looking at the facts and figures, understands the fifty Pilgrims had no chance of overcoming the odds, especially when their naivety is taken into account. (Their ignorance over and over astounds me. They had some vague idea that beaver pelts were valuable, but had no idea what a beaver looked like or where beaver’s lived; Squanto had to show them). Using intellect alone the Pilgrims seem hopelessly doomed, but intellect can’t measure a thing called “faith”. The Pilgrims didn’t have a prayer, but pray they did.

Now jump ahead 400 years, and attempt to trace how many modern Americans can trace their lineage back to those fifty faithful fools. It turns out having an ancestor upon the Mayflower is nothing to be haughty about. There are roughly 15 million of us, wandering all over the place with all sorts of skin-colors. Likely not one of these millions can be truly called “pure blooded Pilgrim” any more, but even if one looks back twelve generations and sees only a single Pilgrim, (which means one has 4095 great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents who were not Pilgrims), ones very existence balances on the point of a hair, as Priscilla Mullins stands watching the Mayflower sail away. Go back in a time machine and erase Priscilla, and there is no President Adams, no poetic Longfellow, and no me. Erase all fifty Pilgrims, and there’s no 15 million others.

One never knows. One may be an obscure person doing obscure things in an obscure corner of the earth, minding one’s own business and wanting nothing to do with big-wig V.I.P’s who think they have all the power, and in twelve generations your effect may be mighty, as the statues of the once mighty lie toppled, crumbled and forgotten.

The “Woke” like to believe they control power because they topple the statues and because they burn the books. They don’t. They cannot alter a dot of the past, nor shift a hair on Priscilla Mullin’s head, nor make past power do anything other than what it did. So then the “Woke” like to think they may not change the dead past, but that, by changing people’s perception of the past, they gain the power, but correction doesn’t work that way. If you ignore the Deeps, you are doomed to be superficial.

The “Woke” like to think they are revolutionary, but they are doing the same old thing. They are like the Venetians and Ottomans attempting hog power (and fight only each other) and ignore the Spanish and Portuguese, or like Spain trying to hog power ignoring the Dutch and English. They are attempting to legislate spirituality. It is an impossibility, like trying to fence freedom, yet fencing freedom has always been an impossibility which shallow thinkers find intensely attractive. Over and over they pursue a paradox, and over and over they arrive at a confusion.

Any sort of “cancel culture” begins with some vaguely virtuous value, and winds up with worse. It dislikes rules and regulations, and outlaws laws, yet winds up with more laws outlawing laws than there were laws to begin with. It dislikes oppressors but, in oppressing oppressors, it ends up being oppressive. It learns the hard way that if you attempt to enforce peace with a cudgel the best you can hope for is a truce before the next battle.

The Pilgrims were weary of conversions by cudgel, and wanted to escape a Church of England where you could be fined the equivalent of twenty dollars per family member if you skipped church to study the Bible at home with friends. (This gets expensive if you have many children.) The churches had reduced spirituality to politics; to the byproducts of wealth and power, and the battle between Catholics and Protestants had turned religion into a sort of Punch and Judy show, laughable, if so many millions hadn’t been hurt, and the Pilgrims wanted no part of it. They wanted to retreat to the ends of the earth, and simply to be left alone, with the liberty to seek the Deeps.

Liberty seems such a simple thing, and so harmless, yet over and over liberty shakes the fortresses of the mighty to their very foundations. Perhaps it merely reminds the “Woke” of what they have forgotten. For, as one increasingly forgets Liberty, allowing dependence on wealth and power to grow like an insidious addiction, one increasingly adopts the mentality of Marxists, to whom wealth and power are everything, and to whom Liberty is a threat, a church to be burned down. Why? Because liberty and freedom are spiritual things. Liberty and Freedom are not the “opiate of the masses” Marx disdained them as being, but are liberators breaking people free from the addictive chains Marx himself wore, even as he insisted others had “nothing to lose but their chains”. (The children of my Childcare would say Marx was “playing opposite-day;” the irony of his reversedness would be laughable, had it not cost so many millions their lives.)

In his insistence money and power mattered most, Marx had to deny spirit and embrace atheism, and in his atheism Marx became completely besotted by byproducts, in essence rolling in manure like a dog, calling power and money perfume even as it made him reek. Any suggestion he had it backwards hurt his precious feelings, pricked his aggravated ego, and frustrated his intellect into further attempts to prove money and power were the basis and purpose of all life. All contrary thought must be purged, all questioning reeducated, until opposition ceased and conformity was everywhere. But Alexander Hamilton put it best:

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I have to be very careful at this point, because I want to talk about the “Hand of Divinity”, yet I cannot claim to be any sort of spokesman for God. I am not a prophet who hears a booming voice from above highest sky; I’m just a poor poet who notices blue is a good color for sky to be.

In like manner, I notice history is a good book to read. I see Priscilla Mullins “should” have starved, and Squanto “should” have wound up a castrated slave in some Somali salt-mine in Northeast Africa, but “coincidences” intervened. These coincidences are not big things, and make the people involved poorer rather than richer, (which is suppose to be the price of charity,) yet these minor events are like small pebbles able to cause huge avalanches. Furthermore these little pebbles are usually random acts of kindness; kindness done without expectation of reward; even pebbles that fall without ever seeing the avalanche.

For example, think about the Spanish Friars who rescued Squanto from slavery. Did they state, “We are doing this to elect John Adams the second President of the United States, a century and three-quarters in the future?” Of course not. Theirs was a random act of kindness, and kindness, if it is true, expects no pay, for it is a reward in and of itself. It is not interested in byproducts such as wealth and power. This makes kindness a thing which is beyond the capacity of the “Woke” to fathom.

Think for a moment about what a sorry state that is: To be unable to see the sense in kindness, and to only see sense in wealth and power.

Of course, we all would like to see proof it is good to be good. That is likely why the Pilgrims took such pains to document their payment to the Naucet for the corn they “borrowed”. They wanted to accumulate evidence which proves that pleasing the Hand of Divinity caused that Hand to be kind. However the world can be unkind to the kind, and there is a reason people become cynical, and rather than stating, “No good deed goes unrewarded”, people say, “No good deed goes unpunished”. Faith can be tested to its limits.

The Pilgrims needed people to invest in their enterprise, but the investors were not as interested in “liberty” as as the Pilgrims were. The investors were interested in getting “a return on their investment”. As a poet I have been in the Pilgrim’s shoes: The landlord is not interested in my poems or my sob-story; he just want’s the bleeping rent.

The Pilgrim’s patrons come across as stupid, especially in the histories written by Pilgrim’s. Their patron’s demands sometimes seem carefully designed to destroy the Pilgrims, or at least to make it impossible for the Pilgrims to repay. In my mind’s eye I poetically imagine the investors were fat, and rich, and sitting about taverns in England, well fed, and warm, and coming up with ideas using the genius of gin.

One such genius apparently looked at maps and noticed the Pilgrims were at latitude 42 degrees, closer to Madrid’s latitude of 40.4 degrees than London’s 51.5 degrees. Therefore it must be hotter in New England than in London, and perhaps that heat could be used in a way that produced a profit. But how? After ordering another gin, a light-bulb went off in the investor’s head, even though light-bulbs hadn’t been invented yet. It occurred to him that Spain used its heat to evaporate salt from sea water, and sold the salt to fishermen who needed it, to salt cod with. Why not produce the salt where the fishermen fished? And cut Spain right out of the deal? Oh! What genius!

The Pilgrims then received notice that they should stop what they were doing and instead immediately begin turning nearby clam flats into evaporative salt pans. The Pilgrims had been hoping the investors might instead send food. They likely silently cursed, and then asked God for forgiveness for cursing, and politely wrote back they had no time for constructing salt pans because their women and children were hungry, and also the summer humidity of New England was often so high they couldn’t even dry their laundry, let alone thousands of gallons of sea water.

The subject of women and children seemed to annoy the investors. Besides demands for profits, the boats arriving from overseas had included a few more Pilgrim families who wanted to join the enterprise, which was basically sending more inept mouths to feed, rather than sending food. However the Pilgrims got busy teaching the newcomers what Squanto had taught them. At least the newcomers shared the same religious principles. But then investors drank more gin, and raised index fingers with the eureka of gin-genius. They wondered, why they were sending men overseas who had the burden of women and children to support? Why not send a hundred men with no woman and no children? What could possibly go wrong?

The Wessagusset Colony was established north of the Pilgrims, after negotiations with the local Indians, in May 1622, and was basically a complete disaster. By the following May it was abandoned ruins. In theory, it’s hundred men had arrived with enough food to survive a winter, but the amount needed was woefully underestimated. The hundred men proved equally inept as the Pilgrims, but less willing to learn and more willing to steal corn, both from local Indians and the Pilgrims. The Pilgrim’s had no authority over them, but did gently remind them about the Eighth Commandment. As hunger worsened in the winter the men grew desperate and relations with neighbors worsened and became ugly.

If you are “Woke” then the Wessagusett debacle is the event you want to seize upon, as proof white men are all evil. It holds one particularly ugly incident where Myles Standish broke the Sixth Commandment; he was drawn north to help negotiate with nearby Native Americans who were increasingly fed up with the starving Englishmen’s behavior. Myles was well aware the situation was explosive, for friendly Indians had warned the Pilgrims that other tribes and clans, including even the Naucet, were so fed up they were considering a swift genocide of all with white skins. During the tense negotiations that followed something snapped. Myles Standish murdered a chief, stabbing him in the chest with a knife, two other Indians were killed, and one escaped with wounds. “As many as five” settlers were also killed. Shortly after this brouhaha the settlers scattered, some back to England, some up to House Island in Casco Bay in Maine (another colony which failed) and some south to the Pilgrims.

Wessagusset was such a disaster it is difficult to see it did anything but ruin the good relations with neighbors the Pilgrims had worked so hard to cultivate. It certainly supports current “Woke” low and racist opinions about white men. However as a poet I always seek ways to polish a turd, and can see some redeeming gold in the junkyard.

For one thing, it seemed to suggest that, though women and children might not make sense on a banker’s sheet of profit and loss, they draw something from the Deeps of a man which leads to better behavior.

Second, in the midst of starvation some of the men at Wessagusset were forced to swallow their pride. The Pilgrims likely advised them that the Bible reports Paul commanded the Thessalonians, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat,” and advised the Ephesians, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” What this meant was that the men at Wessagusset had to give up their liberty and get a Real Job, with Indians as their employers. Even though this felt like becoming a slave for the lousy wages of a handful of corn, some men went to work for Indians and, as a consequence, learned how to do things such as make a birch bark canoe. When they later fled to the Pilgrims, this knowledge was added to the store received from Squanto, as the Pilgrims gradually became less inept, and even capable.

The Wessagusset fiasco demonstrates that the Hand of Divinity is not always kind in the manner we might suggest to It that It should be. The Pilgrims never received the sort of support from investors back in England that made much sense, in terms of helping them, yet it did help them, for they were forced to become resourceful and self-reliant. Often liberty comes through not getting what you want, which is something that makes no sense to the “Woke”.

Due to the ugliness of Wessagusset the survival of the Pilgrims again balanced on a hair, and it again seemed unlikely they could survive. What saved them was that, with the Wessagusset colony effectively wiped off the map, the reasons for genocide diminished, and the Indians who were more friendly tipped the political balance against those who favored extermination. But survival was never a certainty.

Such uncertainty seems a state too insecure to grasp, for those who are addicted to wealth and power. However uncertainty was everyday, for the Pilgrims, and seemingly led to a state of mind liberated from needing wealth, power, or even certainty. This difference needs to be highlighted, for it is the difference between one who stays safely ashore, and a person who braves the risks of the open sea.

I think most us can, to some degree, understand the addiction to wealth and power, for most of us appreciate comfort. Even those enlivened by challenges can find themselves in the middle of mayhem which makes them wish they were someplace more comfortable; the sailor midst a savage storm longs for the comforts of shore; the jogger fighting through cramps up a steep hill longs for the comfort of a “second wind”. However there are times in life we simply are faced with giving up a comfort we’d rather cling to.

I am not talking about situations where it is actually more comfortable to give up a comfort than to keep it. A bed may be comfortable, but past a certain point we get sick of laying about, and it is more comfortable to leave comfort than to remain.

Rather I am talking about true sacrifice, truly giving up on what you deeply desire for some good which you hope you might see on this earth, but might not see this side of heaven. For example, the soldier hopes he will live to see victory, but may sacrifice his life and never see what he died for. Such trials truly test the human spirit, and involve the faith which the “Woke” mock as delusional. You will seldom catch the “Woke” risking life and limb, though they may well urge others to die for a glorious cause. Careful analysis of their thought sees it too often boils down to, “look out for number one.”

I often find myself quietly asking God not to put me through certain trials, for I doubt my own ability to pass certain tests. In my time I have seen God fail to take my advise, and have been put to the test, and have seen myself fail, but also have seen myself do what I didn’t think was possible. All the same, I don’t go looking for trouble, and I suppose at times this means I am avoiding what should be faced.

Recently I heard of a young, black woman who walked out into the street to preach, which might not sound like a big deal, but she was preaching to two rival gangs that they should love each other, and gunfire was occurring. The gunfire did stop, as this woman appeared and screeched about love, which seems a miracle to me, but I also asked myself, “would I have the faith to do that?” I doubt it, and am glad God has never put me in those shoes. But I do appreciate that street-preacher’s courage, to a degree where my eyes smart with tears.

My own brand of courage is to write in a manner intended to provoke the “Woke”, and goad them into considering the thing called “faith.” After fifty years I see no sign my faith has borne any fruit. If anything the “Woke” are stupider. The more I speak of peace and understanding the more they seem determined to put a rock through my window if I don’t shut the fuck up. In a sense they seem determined to prove me wrong, and to provide evidence faith is a stupid thing to have.

This brings me to a final statement. Or perhaps a question. Does faith require proof?

Most believers tell me they have seen some sort of “sign” which convinced them the Hand of Divinity was concerned even with minor characters such as themselves. And perhaps such proof is necessary, but only one time. This is not to say some believers can’t have ongoing conversations with God, but, in terms of “miracles”, one miracle should be enough. Creation is enough a miracle, in and of itself, just the way it is; one shouldn’t need creation altered by uncanny occurrences on a daily basis, to keep their faith. One time, in an hour of great need, one should see a Squanto come walking from the woods. After that, one should be able to keep their faith no matter what.

Could I? Into my mind’s eye comes the fate of Priscilla Mullin’s father. As he died what evidence did he have that his faith wasn’t foolishness? He’d seen his wife die, his son die, and now he was dying; perhaps worst was the fact he’d dragged his daughter across the ocean and now he was leaving her orphaned in a hopeless situation far from help. Did he trust in God? Or did he feel like a perfect ass?

Descending into the landscape of lore, he likely knew Myles Standish had problems with anger-management, and may have seen Myles was making overtures towards his daughter, via the good ship Mayflower’s barrel-maker, John Alden. He likely writhed at the thought of his daughter wed to a man with such a poor understanding of Christian peace as Myles seemed to have. How could he rest in peace, leaving such a mess behind on earth?

What he likely couldn’t imagine was that the ship’s barrel-maker wouldn’t leave with the Mayflower, but would watch the sails shrink on the horizon with Priscilla. He would marry her, and become the forefather of Presidents and Poets.

I like to believe the dying father kept his faith, even as he lost everything else. For there is much we ourselves never know, but God is omniscient. God knows all, and is knowledge itself. There is nothing left for God to question. Furthermore, because God is the ocean of Love and eternally benevolent, his creation works towards a happy ending. Joy is a foregone conclusion.

The above faith bugs the heck out of the “Woke”, but they don’t know what they’re missing, and deserve a good goading.

Goad the “Woke”. Tell them you are better
Than anyone else. When you speak, swagger.
Though we all have flaws, don’t let them fetter
Your feet. It seems the “Woke” want to dagger
All difference, so dare be different.
Say your family is best. Make them mutter.
Claim your race has been clearly heaven-sent.
God didn’t make you with a cookie-cutter.
Your finger-print’s unique. God made no junk.
For, as you age, you look back over years,
Recall a fierce foe you once called a “punk”,
And lovingly laugh. It’s like the smoke clears
And you glimpse and love God in everyone.
The “Woke” have a problem with Love having fun.

THE UNWATCHED PARADE

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Black Civil War soldiers in Washington DC; (Not the 54th)
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The desecration of the statue honoring the 54th Regiment on the Boston Common by Antifa puppets is typical of a Globalist mindset which believes the way to resolve our differences is through destruction. Such resolve is as futile as attempting to turn humanity into identical clones with identical fingerprints; even if such a stark utopia was forced upon humanity, the clones could not all stand in the same place at the same time, and therefore their brains would not hold identical data, and no amount of dogma could prevent the spread of creeping individuality. Differences cannot be destroyed.

Actually such destruction is an affront to the Creator, for He is the one who made us so marvelously different. If you have a problem with the fact we are not all the same, take it up with Him. Not that you will stop talking long enough to listen. For thousands of years He has been telling us that the answer to the problems created by our differences is not destruction, but Love. Yet who has listened?

The chief problem is divisiveness, which draws a distinction between “them” and “us”. Weak minds cannot see beyond such distinctions, and fall prey to a mindset of murder; IE: The way to resolve a difference is to remove the person who differs. Such murder does not need to be physical; it may be as subtle as shunning. But it is not Love.

The problem is not discrimination. We all discriminate. How else are we to judge what is good from what is evil? Martin Luther King asked us to discriminate, but to base our discrimination upon the quality of character and not the color of skin.

This is easy to say but hard to do. It is not easy to understand why people behave the way they do, when we do not share the same background. If you grew up in a trailer full of empty beer-cans you might better understand the mindset of people called “white trash” by the unsympathetic people some call “the elite”. However you didn’t grow up that way. Even if you share the same skin color misunderstandings may arise.

The path past misunderstanding is through respect, rather than tearing others down. This is not to say you can’t fight in self-defense, but that you shouldn’t start a fight based merely on the fact others are not the same. At the start of the Civil War the so called “Abolitionists” didn’t want to abolish individuality, but rather slavery. They drew a distinction and employed discernment, which the mob desecrating the statue to the 54th seemed to fail to do.

If the mob thought at all, they likely disliked the fact the statue portrays a white man up on a horse as the black foot soldiers are on foot. However this is historically accurate. Robert Gould Shaw did ride a horse, and may well have died with his troops, shot from a horse. On the other hand he may have died after dismounting to fight by their side.

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But die he did.

Black Soldiers of the Union | National Review

At this point full disclosure demands I state my last name is Shaw. Robert Gould Shaw cannot be anyone’s ancestor because he died as a young man, without children. War is the opposite of Darwin’s Theory; those most fit to live are often the ones sacrificed. However I do count him among my ancestors.

I cannot be free of bias, because my own family is involved, but I can pass along some insights that have been passed down to me, that you will not find in Wikipedia.

The Civil War was far more complex than two groups of men dressing in blue and gray and squaring off, and the rivalry between Boston and New York predates baseball’s Red Sox and Yankees. Some of Boston’s elite and many of New York’s actually sided with the Confederacy, for reasons having to do with profit more than anything spiritual. For example, some did not desire to see the price of cotton go up.

For a young idealist like Robert Gould Shaw, who grew up benefiting from inherited wealth he didn’t have to get dirty fighting for, such grubby materialistic concerns were incomprehensible. Therefore his letters confess the “them” against “us” attitude of a young Abolitionist. He definitely was not perfect. If you want to find imperfections to excuse your desire to tear the Boston statue down, look to his letters.

If you want to find evidence of “racism”, look towards his inability to comprehend the Irish. Few could, for few had been through the hell the Irish had endured.

During the Great Famine of 1844-1849 the population of Ireland declined by roughly 20% through starvation, and around a million children died, as, rather than sending help, the English “elite” exported food from Ireland for profit. This heartlessness did not make the Irish expect much from the non-Irish. They expected little in the way of love from their fellow man. If they didn’t put themselves first, no one else would. They left Ireland in droves, penniless and with little but sweat to offer, and were not welcomed arrivals in many lands, unless you were a member of the “elite” and eager to exploit cheap labor.

In the American south the Irish were used for dangerous work that might kill a man. A slave cost the modern equivalent of several thousand dollars, and, if a slave died, it represented a sizable loss, whereas if an Irishman died it cost nothing.

In the north the Irish did receive pay, where southern slaves received none, but southern slaves had to be fed, clothed and sheltered, whereas the Irish had to fend for themselves, living in squalid tenements we can hardly imagine, yet calling themselves better off than in Ireland. They did not like the idea of slaves being freed, for they feared the slaves would come north and take their jobs.

All Robert Gould Shaw saw was the tip of the iceberg, and he had a hard time comprehending why the Irish behaved the way they did. In the privacy of his letters he expressed frustrations which he likely would not speak to an Irishman, face to face, (or would not speak without employing the care of a diplomat.)

In like manner, even as an Abolitionist, Robert’s letters express frustrations he felt about the African Americans who lived in the north as freed slaves, or in some cases as men who had been born free and were well educated, and were themselves exasperated by illiterate Irishmen.

(As an aside I should mention that when I was Robert Gould Shaw’s age, 110 years later, some “elite” quasi-genius (more dense than a half-wit) decided it was wrong for the Irish to have one neighborhood and the African-Americans to have another, in Boston, and the answer was “busing”, which in a sense was to forcibly rip children from safe environments and place them in unsafe areas. It went over like a lead balloon, and I recall experiencing great anguish as a witness, because I liked both neighborhoods and both peoples, yet saw the worst being fomented. I may have written some things at the time I would now rue having published, for frustration creates a fume that does not smell nice, and I basically became angry at three sides: African Americans, Irish, and also the leadership which was banging the two side’s skulls together.)

If you really feel it is a good thing to speak badly of the dead, and crave some evidence they were not perfect, look to old letters, or diaries they kept when they were young, or some traceable record of emails they wrote when drunk but deleted the next morning without ever sending. If you want to find some proof Rembrandt was not a good artist, find some work he did when he was five-years-old, and use that as an excuse to burn his masterpieces. All you are doing is proving you are an absolute snob, incapable of true understanding, true sympathy, and true Love.

The tale of Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment is told in the movie, “Glory”, and is well worth retelling, though perhaps not by me. To put things in context, the battle of Gettysburg was July 1-3, the New York City Draft Riots were July 13-16, the Battle of Grimball’s Landing occurred on July 18, and the ferocious Second Battle of Fort Wagner was fought later the same day. Even Wikipedia will fill in the details, if you desire a broader view.

I bring up the Draft Riots to accent the complexity, and also the irony, involved. The riots occurred because the Irish were told they would be drafted to go fight and die to free slaves who would then later take their jobs, and they didn’t like the prospects, especially as rich people could escape the draft (for roughly $6200 in current dollars) and black people were exempt. In the sweltering heat of pre-airconditioning New York City the “peaceful demonstration” turned ugly, (sound familiar?) and the Irish turned their wrath onto the African Americans of New York City, brutally killing over ten, as over a hundred Irish died when troops, that had to be diverted from pursuing the retreating Confederate Army, were used to”restore order”. The irony is that this riot helped the Confederate Army escape, and therefore prolonged the very draft that was being protested, and also, even as the Irish protested that blacks were not going to be drafted, the 54th was marching south, many to their deaths, led by a white man who was only 25 years old.

At this point I’ll just add some family lore.

First, Robert did not initially want the job. He’d been fighting since the start of the war, had seen the bloodiest battles and twice was wounded, and did not want to desert his comrades. There was some doubt about the ability of black soldiers to face withering gunfire, and he feared he and his troops would be relegated to some behind-the-lines duty. The fact he was chosen was not so much a case of him stepping forward as it was of others stepping back. (It should be added that once he took the job, whatever racist preconceptions he had he shed, doing things such as demanding equal pay for his troops.)

Second, it was not merely in the North that there was doubt that black soldiers could withstand military discipline. In the south it was felt that, at the first bang of a gun, former-slave’s eyes would get very big, round and white, and they’d bolt. The 54th disproved this belief. Even before the first battle they created a sensation marching through southern streets in close order, radiating discipline, their uniforms impeccable and their buttons gleaming. The African American onlookers were especially impressed, (which the southern aristocrats felt set a bad example). Then in battle they fought without fear, basically rescuing the 10th Connecticut from envelopment early in the day, and gaining the ramparts of Fort Wagner in the afternoon. Although the higher command chose not to send further troops in to exploit this gain, instead ordering a withdrawal, there could be no doubt as to the skill and bravery of the 54th. But the reaction of the rebel troops was not admiration, but rather hatred and loathing, especially towards the commander who led them. Where the body of every other Union officer was returned to the Union side after the battle, the body of Robert Gould Shaw was stripped naked and dumped unceremoniously into a mass grave with his troops.

After the war there was an idea floated that his body might be exhumed and buried in some cemetery with honor, but the Shaw family stated he was proud to have served with his men and would likely be equally proud to be buried with them.

No long afterwards the mass graves were exhumed and the all the decomposing bodies were lain in neat rows with gravestones reading “Unknown”, but the Shaw family only wanted his sword back. Somehow they got it, and it was hauled out to be sentimentally displayed on occasion, until the blade gradually was forgotten and gathered dust in some attic until it wound up in a museum. However the surviving black troops didn’t forget, and were behind the erection of the memorial to the 54th, which was took decades to see brought to fruition; the statue itself was begun in 1884 and unveiled in 1897, and in 2020 took mere moments to desecrate with graffiti.

I often have wondered about the complete contempt displayed by the rebels toward the 54th and Robert Gould Shaw, for there is a contrary logic seen among soldiers wherein they must hate their foe to fight them, yet also feel admiration for the courage they witness in the men they maim and kill. What happened to the admiration in this case? I imagine what happened was that, despite the fact the rebels had defended their fort and won the battle, the 54th whom they had fought was a living proof the South had lost the intellectual war. Why? Because hand in hand with the concept of slavery is a concept like a caste system, which clashes with the idea that all men are created equal. The 54th had proven they were equal.

This leads me to a final anecdote from family lore, involving a similar caste-hierarchy in Boston, and the 54th marching off to war and passing the front of a prestigious club on Becon Street where the Boston Brahman were wont to gather.

By the summer of 1863 it had sunk in that, through the troops sung, “When Johnie Comes Marching Home Again”, many would not be marching home. The death toll was well on its way up to 600,000, which is basically a number the same as how many Americans have died in all other wars added together. Every older graveyard in New England has a crumbling monument to men buried far away, standing as mute testimony to the carnage which a Civil War involves. Therefore a poignancy was involved in the cheering, as the 54th marched by, with people putting on a brave face, and some holding back tears, until the troops marched in front of the club full of Brahmans. Their response? They pulled down the shades in the windows of their prestigious club.

Even 157 years later their snooty, self-imposed blindness is, upon this page, angrily remembered. It demonstrates that even in my own family bitterness is difficult to drop.

Not all memorials are raised to people’s most noble side; bitterness is a stone statue in our hearts, making hearts heavy, burdened. God urges us to love and forgive, but we prefer a poison which we ingest thinking it will harm others, when it harms ourselves and our children, just as the feud between Montegues and Capulets in the end killed Romeo and Juliet.

“The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.”

My great-grandfather was born in 1850, and that makes me the “fourth generation” since the horrors of the Civil War. I like to think my children are freed from the bitterness, for they are the fifth generation. However to achieve such freedom we must pull down statues, but not those erected externally, but rather the inner ones in our stony hearts.

Pulling down external statues is like pulling down the shades. There is something we do not want to see. But if we do not look at history and learn from it we are doomed to repeat it, as are our children.

‘The fathers eat the sour grapes,
But the children’s teeth are set on edge’

If we only see the error of the past, we accent error and fail to see the glory which, if God is everywhere, is in every situation.

For, when you think of it, if your forefathers were completely bad, and all they did was bad, then you should start by pulling down yourself, for you are their creation. However, if you think your forefathers were good to create you, and it is only other forefathers who deserve destruction, then you are on the road to a Brahman racism all your own.

I actually have learned to like the image of the Boston Brahman pulling the blinds as the 54th marched by. It has great poetic value as a symbol. For the fact is this: A parade is marching in front of all of us, and we can either pull the blinds, or see the glory.

To those who can see no noble parade marching by, I say look beyond the blinds. Often what modern technology brings to the forefront is an ugliness in the way of beauty, but the beauty is still there, parading by behind it.

. UNWATCHED PARADE SONNET

I paused my weeding, ceased my looking down
And gazed across the pasture to the trees
That wavered green; looked up from dirt’s brown
Hearing and seeing an invisible breeze
Part summer’s locks with a sigh that’s unheard
With the radio on. Every green leaf stirred.
Every green branch swayed. Far too short a word
Is five-lettered “trees”, and it seems quite absurd
Such marvelous wind invisibly passes
Unseen and unheard, like an unwatched parade,
When I fret about news of rioting masses
And make myself deaf to music God’s made.
God knows how we ache and sends us His balm.
Turn off the radio. Heed, and be calm.

LOCAL VIEW –Coffee, Aspirin and Planting–

People who want to garden for pleasure should make certain to keep their gardens small. The smaller the better. I recommend a single planter. Otherwise gardening is more like jogging five miles in the morning: When you face the hill at Mile-Three you question your own sanity.

There will be, of course, the exultation. That is what runners call a “second wind”, but, before that “second wind” comes, one sees their mind fill up with quarreling, as if a buck private was screaming back at the screaming sergeant at boot camp, or even like a patient picking up a knife to defend himself from a surgeon approaching with a scalpel. It is such a mental ruckus that its occurrence mystifies all those who have idealized ideas about gardening.

In fact many who begin “gardening for pleasure” in April abandon the enterprise as a bad idea by June, and by July they are getting nagged by bureaucrats on the local zoning board for their patch of towering weeds. Be forewarned.

To me the actual pleasure of a big garden involves a more fundamental and ancient joy, called “avoiding starvation”. It has been 400 years since my first European ancestors stepped onto these shores, and the first 300 years saw most Americans rooted to the soil, living lives that made it very obvious that if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. There was no real escape; if you went broke you didn’t receive welfare; you went to the “poor farm” and went on working.

Currently our society is going through a period of confusion wherein many think they can, like ticks and leeches, suck off the lifeblood of others. Not merely the poor man on the dole; but the wealthy politician profiting from other’s taxes; the slippery investor on Wall Street; and even the retiree collecting an oversized pension, may be attempting to reap more than they sowed. This is bound to create resentment among those who reap less than they sow. The spectacle of a bloated Union Boss driving a fancy car and wearing pinkie rings, as the worker on the factory floor he represents pays dues and wears pants with frayed cuffs, does not inspire confidence, or even the desire to work harder. If anything it suggests laziness pays, and inspires sloth.

It is good to escape this confusion into the more real world of a vegetable garden. It is a reality which persists even when it is easier and cheaper to buy food at a market. And, if the societal breakdown ever collapses to a degree wherein the shelves are empty in the markets, perhaps the connection to the ancient joy of survival will be less of a mere concept, and more real. Money is worthless if the markets are empty, whereas dirt has value when it holds potatoes.

However, in the rush to finish spring planting in June, the “joy” is most definitely unapparent. It is then one is most like a jogger approaching a steep hill, muttering to himself, “Why do I do this? Jogging is STUPID!”

Perhaps the most difficult moment is arising from bed in the morning. The physical work involved in small-scale gardening made me achy even as a young man, and as I approach age seventy the pain seems more constant; I never seem able to “get in shape”. Also I seem to work in slow motion. I spend far more time leaning on my hoe than actually using it. Not that anyone is going to want to hear the violins of my self pity. They’ll just affirm the voice in my own head: “Why do you garden? Gardening is STUPID”.

Rather than whine to others, I turn to the blues, and try to make sonnets of my grouching:

. FIRST COFFEE SONNET

Who knows if songbirds are ambivalent
When they first awake? Who fathoms bird brains?
Perhaps they need some bird-equivalent
Of coffee, before cascading refrains
Of music fill our forests. Perhaps…perhaps…
I hate to think of birds as superior
To a poet, yet dawn’s a complete collapse
Of my morale, and I’m inferior
To birds, before my first cup of coffee.
I glower at pert birds; call each a twit;
Resent their singing. They seem to scoff me
As I drag to the pot with zero wit
And the only thing I’m able to praise
Is the coffee in
this cup I now raise.

. FIRST ASPIRIN SONNET

All I get from gardening is my lame grunts
As I rise in the morning. Pathetic!
I feel I won’t survive the few hot months
Before harvest. Reward? Others will get it.
My harvest’s to limp to, (before coffee),
My aspirin bottle…and guilt, as before
Coffee and pills God should look down and see
Me at prayer. I guess, with my limbs sore,
I could pray for a morning that’s pain-free;
For mercy, and miraculous healings,
And dirt with no big rocks as I spade it;
Yet I suppose that might hurt God’s feelings.
I should thank Him life’s just how He made it:
Old men plant saplings, although they won’t see
The apples that some day will hang from the tree.

This is not to say that, after aspirin and coffee, old gardeners can’t find joy in new gardens. There is the joy of old efforts from prior years; the rhubarb and asparagus that spring up without my raising a finger, from old roots. And there is the first handful of flat snow peas, small servings at dinner twice as delectable as any store’s, and all the more delectable because I beat other local gardeners by two weeks, and harvested first. And then there’s the faithful old standby, so good for children as it can be harvested in a mere twenty days, the radish.

What could be fresh and new about a radish? Glad you asked. I can recall growing radishes as a rugrat back in the 1950’s, yet in all these years I never knew you could eat the greens. Last night I had a mess of delicious radish greens fried up in olive oil with garlic, which goes to show you every spring hold’s something new, and also that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

For example, strips of black plastic make for less weeding between potatoes during July heatwaves. Black plastic may be ugly, newfangled stuff, and likely screws up the ecology of soil chemistry in some unforeseen way, but old men are allowed to resort to cheap tricks to avoid bending their creaky backs….I think…

MOAS ARE NOT EXTINCT!

The people of New Zealand will be surprised to learn of Moa in New Hampshire, and I can only explain my discovery by stating that the older captains of ships tend to be an eccentric lot, and, in order to prove that the tales they told of exotic creatures in foreign lands were not creations of their own fancy, they would bring specimens home with them.

Critics will say it was impossible for Moa to be brought to New Hampshire, as the Moa went extinct before the English arrived in either New Hampshire or New Zealand. To that I say, “Get off your high horse, Englishman.” (I am for the most part English, by the way.)

White, English men are hogging far too much of the blame these days, taking all the credit for all bad things that ever happened. It is unfair. Don’t other people ever get to feel guilty about anything?

The extinction of the Moa is one thing the English cannot take credit for (so far.) It apparently was entirely the result of the indigenous people, the Maori. They apparently arrived in New Zealand around 1280, and slaughtered all eleven species of New Zealand’s huge birds in as little as a hundred years. After all, when a man’s hungry, he’s hungry.File:Moa mock hunt.jpgThe next question is, how did the huge birds get to New Hampshire? The answer is obvious. Who transported huge animals in the 1300’s? It had to be the Chinese,  who built huge ships and may have transported enormous giraffe to China as early as the 1200’s, and certainly did so in the 1300’s.

 

The first settlers of Boston reported a huge rotted hulk of a ship across the Charles River from Boston Neck, “The Somerville Hulk”, which they supposed was Spanish because it was so much larger than any English or Dutch ship of that time. I assert it was a huge Chinese junk full of refugees that landed in the 1400’s, containing, among other oddities, some Moa. It is the Chinese influence that explains why the Massachusetts tribe was different from surrounding tribes, more prosperous and thickly settled, and also may genetically explain why they were so much more susceptible to the great pandemic of 1618.

When 20,000 Massachusetts died of the pandemic, and then 20,000 Puritans arrived to replace them in the next 20 years, the people in charge of the Moa fled to the hills of New Hampshire. Moa have been hiding in our hills ever since, the carefully guarded secret of locals who do not trust “flatlanders”, but the recent heavy rains of Hurricane Florence caused some Moa to be driven out of their normal habitat, and I found evidence of late season nesting at my Childcare.

 

These are nests of one of the smaller species, called the “Lawn Moa”.

Now I just need to convince my wife this grass is the protected habitat of an endangered species, and I should not cut it any more.

Wish me luck.

LOCAL VIEW –Hurricane Heights Demonstrated–

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Last week I talked about the old captains of coastal schooners, and the way they studied the sky for signs of “Hurricane Heights”.

Before railways were built in the mid 1800’s the main way to ship things was by boat, (which is why we speak of “shipping” things, even when we use trucks.) New York City was so big and growing so fast it had an insatiable appetite for lumber, and not all could be supplied by barging it down the Hudson River. Good money could be made “schooning” lumber down from Maine, but, before the Cape Cod Canal was built in 1914 (and widened to its current size 1935-1940)  the route south was nearly 150 miles longer, and involved going outside Cape Cod, which was that much closer to the hurricanes people on shore hardly noticed because they had “gone out to sea.” Even when the hurricanes’s winds were to the east huge waves traveled outwards, and when they reached the shoals off the elbow of Cape Cod they could turn waters a ship could ordinarily navigate over into a landscape of breaking waves, huge combers far from a beach,  with troughs so deep a keel could hit sand. Therefore a wise captain kept “an eye to the sky”.

This was done in a manner we can’t imagine. If we tried to force ourselves to study the sky we would soon start to fidget. Our minds would wander, and before long we’d get up and go to see what was happening elsewhere. However the old captains were stuck at the tiller or helm, and couldn’t go anywhere any faster than the boat was going. They studied the sky for hours upon hours.

One thing was very important to know, and that was whether the wind was going to back or veer. This was especially important when heading upwind. Without engines a ship had to tack to and fro, and (for example) a north-bound ship’s course could be made shorter if you knew beforehand whether the the headwind was going to shift to the northeast (veer) or to the northwest (back).

A rough idea where the nearest storm was located was to face the wind and stick out your right arm and point. You were pointing at the storm. But what direction was it moving? To guess at that you would look up at the high clouds, which moved with upper air winds that “steered” the storms. Then, by having a rough idea of whether the storm was approaching or departing or moving parallel to the ship, the captain would have a rough idea whether the winds would pick up or die down, and how they might back or veer.  On dull days this merely shortened the route and number of tacks necessary, and on more exciting voyages it might be the difference between successfully reaching safe haven, or shipwreck and death.

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Few would bother study the sky to this degree now. What would be the point? Now, if a captain wants to go upwind, he just takes down the sails and turns on the engine. There are a lot fewer shipwrecks now, but modern captains are dimwits compared to the captains of yore, when it comes to eyeing the sky with understanding. The need is no longer there to sharpen wits to that degree, and in fact if anyone now spent that much time studying the sky we might call them “obsessive”.

Personally I feel a certain amount of obsession is necessary, if you want to ever be really good at something. One person who seems really good, concerning the understanding and prediction of hurricanes, is Joe Bastardi, and he quite freely confesses he obsessed on weather maps so much when young that he was in some ways a nerd. But it paid off in terms of genius. Some years ago he looked at a tropical depression off the coast of Africa and said, “Houston, we have a problem”, which some say is one of the best long-range forecasts ever made.

Last Monday he said it looked like we could have frontal remnants becoming a storm like Brenda in 1960. I said, “La-la-la! I’m not listening”. Why? Because I want to pretend I’m an old schooner captain, and trying to see signs of storm only using my eyes and a barometer. (Of course I did hear Bastardi, but I can pretend I didn’t.)

Friday the skies were as blue as they get, and the air refreshing and cool, which is a reprieve but also a reason to be on guard.

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The passage of a Canadian high-pressure is often a prelude to trouble brewing to the south. (Bastardi calls high-pressure to the north “A ridge over troubled waters.”[Hat tip, Simon and Garfunkle.]) Not that you want to spoil your summer by worrying every time it’s sunny, but you watch for the return of clouds and the southerly flow behind the high pressure. And sure enough, when I awoke Saturday morning the newspaper had arrived, not on my doorstep, but in the sky straight overhead.

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What would such a newspaper tell an old schooner captain? I see two clues he’d see in the scene below, plus a clue he wouldn’t see.

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First, just over the pines to the lower left is a bit of low cumulus, so low you could almost call it scud.

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Right off the bat, his farsighted eyes squint to determine what direction those low clouds are moving. If they are moving to the right and approaching then the wind is southwest. That would be a benign wind, as the storm would be to the northwest, and likely a summertime Alberta Clipper. At worst, if it was hot and muggy, a Clipper might swing down a cold front and bring thunder,  but the air is still refreshing and the sky is still deep blue and Canadian, so thunder is unlikely. But, because the captain has time to watch the sky, he notes the low clouds are not approaching; they are moving to the right and retreating. The wind is not from the southwest, but from the southeast.

A southeast wind is a whole different kettle of fish. It means a storm is to the southwest. Something may be coming up the coast. A certain wariness awakes. (I should note more than eyes were used by schooner captains. Like a dog (whose morning newspaper may be a fire hydrant) he sniffs the air, as a southwest land breeze has a completely different smell from a southeast sea breeze. He also likely runs his fingers through his hair, for hair tells you a lot about humidity. All his senses are involved; the sea is a sensual experience.)

Lastly he is very aware if the wind is backing or veering, and this southeast wind has veered all the way from the northwest through the northeast . For reasons I don’t understand, this is different from a wind that backs 180 degrees the other way, although it winds up blowing from the same direction.

Then his eyes lift a bit higher to the left, over the cherry tree, to the cirrus (which he would call a “mare’s tail”).

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Cirrus is high clouds snowing into slower wind beneath. To the captain this is more reassuring than cirrocumulus, which is indicative of warmer air aloft and more inclined to be associated with hurricanes. Also the cirrus is still approaching from north of due west, which should “steer” a storm out to sea. However a rumple of concern appears on his brow, for he notices the high cloud’s movement is not as much from the north as it was. Indeed the high clouds are backing, even as the low clouds veer. Knowing nothing of upper air maps,  heedless of upper air ridges or trofs, the wheels in his head start whirring. If the high clouds back, and especially if they back with speed, look out.

However I have one clue he doesn’t.  There were no jets back then, and I can squint at contrails, and spot one over the trees in the center.

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When contrails quickly evaporate behind a jet, it is a sign of descending and drying air aloft, and a sign of fair weather. When, as is the case with the contrail above, the contrail expands into a cloud, as if part of a cloud-seeding experiment, it is a sign of moisture aloft and rising air, and a sign of increasing clouds and approaching storms. (It doesn’t say what kind of storm: Gentle rain or hurricane or the squalls of a thundering front.)

Even without contrails the old schooner captains were likely observing whether high clouds were growing or evaporating. Where modern yachtsmen can set a “self-sailor” and be buried in a book, the skippers of yore would only “lash the helm” when there was a lot of other work to do. They liked the feel of the helm, and likely, by making subtle responses to each passing swell, could shave an hour or two off the length of a cruise.

When I was young I attempted to have spiritual experiences by closing my eyes, sitting cross-legged, and gazing up at the inside of my forehead.  I never lasted very long. Rather than sacred subjects my my mind gravitated towards how divine pizza or a woman’s body was. But at the helm of a sailboat without a self-sailor I was forced to pay attention or the boat might luff or jibe, and paying-attention became a sort of yoga leading to an altered state of consciousness. This divine intoxication is the reason some people are fanatics about sailing, while those who haven’t imbibed the wine cannot see the good of it, or why anyone in their right mind would willingly suffer seasickness.

How many modern people, with their short attention spans and craving for constant stimulation, can sit and watch a cloud as it passes from one side of the sky to the other? The so-called boredom would drive many nuts, and perhaps there is an element of craziness in being at sea. However it has its own constant stimulation, in the rocking of the waves and passing of the swells, the ruffling of sails and the ringing of rigging, the hypnotic slosh and thud and gurgling of waters, and it all combines to enter one into a different dimension, a different relationship with reality, with sea and sky. Call it “obsessive” if you will, but it includes the wisdom of the weather-wise.

Just looking at the clouds I’ve pictured above, the old schooner captains would have known “something was brewing” to the south. Would they have set sail?  Well, that was up to them to decide, and they did know how to handle a moderate storm. All business involves an element called “risk”.

And how do they compare with modern computers? Well, the billion dollar GFS Model never caught onto the coastal development until Saturday morning, right about the time an old captain would have tasted the first hints of a wind-shift to the southeast.

Others models did better, but how is one to chose? Even a single model can have fifty “runs” that all differ. Which one is right?

The answer seems to be obsessive, like Joe Bastardi. In order to be good at anything you need to in some ways over-do it. But Mr. Bastardi does amaze me. Last Monday he said that by Saturday a storm “like Brenda in 1960” could appear on the coast.  He also forecast that the weather bureau likely wouldn’t call it a hurricane, despite tropical characteristics. Then, on Saturday , there it was, looking all the world like a dying hurricane, though it had never officially been a hurricane and therefore could not officially be a dying one.

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The weather bureau can bicker all it wants about whether things are “official”. I think they may be jealous if Joe’s ability, even to the mean level of not calling an event “tropical” because to do so might make Joe look better than they. But we are not suppose to become irrational, and envy is irrational. The simple fact of the matter is that Mr. Bastardi kicked their butts. And, when faced with superiority, the smart thing to do is sit at the feet of the master, and inquire, “How the heck did you do it?”

Let’s face it: If you had plans on the water off the coast of New Jersey or Long Island on Saturday, wouldn’t you like a heads-up that storm-force gusts like the feeder-bands of a hurricane could be coming north?

 

 

A final clue that this storm was “tropical” was shown by how quickly it is weakened once it cut inland.

What are we to conclude from all this? Perhaps we should conclude this: The next time we are called “obsessive”, we should respond, “Thank you very much.”

LOCAL VIEW –Hurricane Heights (and heat)–

I have seen summers in these hills when we never make it above 90°F: Gray, rainy summers where we were hard pressed to ever make it above 80°F,  when east winds off the cold Gulf of Maine could even keep temperatures below 60°F. Such summers always left me feeling cheated, for I grew up down on the flatland’s west of Boston where it was far warmer. A true heatwave of three days topping 90° is rare in these hills, and therefore I was pleasantly surprised to see this forecast for the start of July:

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I love hot weather, even though I don’t get to kick back and watch the corn grow as much as I’d like.  Perhaps it just reminds me of being young and spoiled. I can recall laying on my back on a hot day as a boy, holding a Popsicle up in the air and letting it melt drop by drop into my mouth,  and feeling perfectly content. Or, perhaps there was a sort of unrest, but it was the unrest of peace, of listening to a symphony.  There was no to-do list.

I’ve had some heart-to-heart talks with God recently about whether it might not be wise to spoil me in that manner again. How is it I am not worth spoiling, now? Certainly I am as perishable, if not more so.  Yet now, if I tried out laying on my back and letting a Popsicle drip into my mouth, I’d get “the look” from my wife. When I try to watch the corn grow, I see the weeds grow instead. Rather than relaxed, summer becomes hurry-hurry, worry-worry, scurry-scurry.

The ironic aspect to the frenetic pace of running a farm-childcare is that I, in some unspoken ways, seek to spoil the kids. I want them to catch what I caught from being spoiled by my own Depression-era parents, who experienced too much poverty and toil and war, and wanted a better life for me. Therefore I fight my losing battle with weeds so they might munch edible-podded peas at their leisure, and teach them the old maxim, “Plant peas on Patriot’s Day (April 19) and pick ’em on Independence Day (July 4).”

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And I struggle with cords and pumps and chemicals and filters, because there’s nothing like splashing in a pool to make a heat-wave bearable. (Our local ponds are OK, as long as you don’t mind leeches.)

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And then there’s the exasperation of fishing, of teaching how to put a worm on, and take a fish off, a hook; of tangle after tangle after tangle after tangle; of casting that is flailing and shoots hooks into shrubbery or another child’s hair or puts my life in danger, all for the dubious honor of seeing a child catch a first fish that isn’t virtual.

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And then there’s the modern, liberated, young suffragettes. Back in my day, girls didn’t even want to go fishing, and thought fish and worms were icky, and they certainly didn’t gross out their guide by kissing fish.

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Kiss frogs? Maybe, because a frog might turn into a prince. But I don’t want to see what sort of prince a fish turns into, and sure as heck don’t want him hanging around young girls at my Childcare.

But I digress. The point I was making was that all sorts of effort goes into making an idyll, all sorts of hurry-hurry, worry-worry, scurry-scurry, all sorts of exasperation and irritation….and then all is redeemed. A light descends and softens a child’s eyes, and just the way they look around at God’s green creation tells me that they “get it”, and that I have successfully passed the baton I received from Depression-era parents on to a new generation.

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The mistake people (including myself) seem to make is to visualize the descent of the Light as being conditional. After all, the Depression-era was a brutal time, yet people who went through it seemed to grasp that Light could be found in small things, even in simply sitting, whereas Baby-Boomers who were spared the brutality and were pampered strangely knew thirst and discontent. The attempt to exclude brutality at times led to exclusiveness, to a sort of gated-community of “the elite” which, rather than an ivory tower, became a vacuum, devoid of the very air that hearts need most.

To me the escape from this conditional exclusiveness seems to be to cultivate the attitude of a little child: Children accept the cards as dealt, while the grown-ups attempt to bully and bribe the dealer. It is the grown-ups who scramble to come up with four hundred dollars a month to pay for an air conditioner. For a child, when it’s hot, it’s hot, and when it’s not, it’s not.

I love the warm mornings, (all too few
This far north), when I can sit on the stoop
And watch the dawn grow last webbed drops of dew
Before the day bakes, and watch last bats loop
And dart, and hear first birds sing, and not put
On a shirt.
                       It’s like I’m a boy again,
Though I’ll confess I wince walking barefoot
Now.
                Once I lost shoes in June, and then, when
I looked again for those shoes, it was fall
And they didn’t fit. I could tread over
Sharp stones and barnacles, and I recall
Broken glass didn’t phase me.
                                                           Now clover
Is what my feet prefer to tread upon,
But still I love the feel of summer dawn. 

One reason I was able to be content as a child was the sense the Depression-era grown-ups were taking care of things. True, there would be occasional shadows, times I intuitively sensed all was not well,  but for the most part I was blissfully ignorant about things such as divorce, mother’s-little-helper pills, and the Vietcong. I was nearly eleven before the assassination of John Kennedy first deeply shook my faith. Before then I had a sort of heedless and thoughtless faith.

Now my faith is more thought-out. Now I am the Baby-Boom-era grown-up, taking care of things. It doesn’t matter how inadequate I feel; it is my turn to be the elder. My faith allows me to  sit back and enjoy warmth that is rare in northern lands, but my contentment is not complete, for I am always on the lookout for trouble. When it’s hot I keep peering west for the purple skies of thunderstorms, and to the high clouds, for hints of a hurricane.

Many of my ancestors were involved with trade and sailing ships, and were  forever scanning the skies. A hurricane could turn a fat profit into a total loss, and therefore they were always on the lookout for “hurricane heights.”

What were “hurricane heights”? I can’t say. A lot of that wisdom was lost with the last captain of the last coastal schooner. All I can say is that they studied the sky in a way we cannot imagine. I know nothing of the nuances they knew, but do know they noticed high clouds don’t move the same direction low clouds move.

Modern meteorologists know about such differences through studying surface maps, which show the direction low clouds move, and comparing them with upper-air maps, which show the direction high clouds move. They have a huge advantage over the captains of coastal schooners, because they not only know how the high clouds are moving far to the west, and far to the east, but at times, when the sky is completely overcast, they know what high clouds are doing directly overhead, which the captains of schooners might not know.

But the captains of schooners had an advantage over modern meteorologists. When modern meteorologists blow a forecast they suffer embarrassment, yet seldom lose their jobs, but when the captains of schooners blew a forecast they lost their lives, or, if they crawled ashore, they had lost their cargo and therefore their livelihood.  Therefore what those old timers knew about high clouds involved an immediacy, urgency, and focus which modern meteorologists can’t imagine.

Also the captains of coastal schooners were not reading tickertape from a distant buoy or squinting at a satellite’s picture; they were right on the interface between sea and sky. They were right there, and there’s no buoy or satellite than can substitute for a man’s skin and hair. I often wonder if the most amazing discoveries concerning insights gleaned from the movements of high clouds were made by captains who died ten minutes later. Those sailing ships were not designed to handle hundred knot winds. Yet amazingly some captains survived hurricanes, in ships completely demasted yet controlled by a storm jib on a bowsprit. And when these crippled ships limped back to port their captains brought weather-data you do not learn in colleges, but can hear echoes of to this day, in taverns by the sea.

Me? I’m in awe of both the bygone oldsters and the modern meteorologists. What I know about “hurricane heights” is but crumbs a mouse gathers from a banquet. And what I gather is this:

Hot spells in New England tend to end with thunder, and also with a change in the movement of high clouds. When it was hot high clouds came from the southwest, but after the thunder they come from the northwest. Then it is delightfully cooler, with northwest winds. And upper air maps shows a “trof” (meteorologist spelling) crossing  New England. It is like a the dent a schoolgirl makes in a jump-rope, when lifting it up and down, and will be followed by the bump in the jump-rope, called an upper air  “ridge” (ordinary spelling).

As this upper air ridge approaches the refreshing northwest breezes die, and winds shift to the southwest, and people await the next summer hot spell. However worry-warts like me me get anxious, and start scanning the sunrise sky for hurricane heights.

Joe Bastardi called such ridges, “a ridge over troubled waters,” (a pun on an old Simon and Garfunkle song). Old schooner captains also worried when summer ridges past. They searched south for hurricanes. And true to form, as a hot ridge recently passed over New England, tropical storm Chris formed just off the Carolina coast, to the south.

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Such a hurricane shouldn’t trouble me, for they nearly always are steered out to sea by the upper-air “trof” following the upper-air “ridge”. Maybe such storms only concerned the captains of coastal schooners, because they too went “out to sea”, right where the hurricanes went,  and then those captains confronted conditions lubbers can’t imagine. (There was no Cape Cod Canal, and in order for New York City to build its tenements Maine lumber had to be shipped far “out to sea” to get around Cape Cod.)

Even people who stay ashore on the coast face high surf and rip tides, as such hurricanes go “out to sea”. But my farm is inland, up in the hills. Barring an unimaginable earthquake, these hills aren’t going “out to sea” any time soon.  Why should I care?

It is because the upper atmosphere does not always behave like waves going up and down on a schoolgirl’s jump-rope. A school-girl’s jump-rope never breaks off a bump into a circle that gets bigger and bigger and becomes a hurricane, boring from the surface right up into the upper atmosphere.

Once such a circle appears on meteorological maps they become an entity that has a life of its own. Usually they are steered by the steering currents, but they are also an impediment to the flow, like a boulder in a river, and therefore they have an uncanny capacity to alter the steering current. They can even steer the steering current. They impede the steering current to such a degree that upper-air winds are deflected. With a hurricane in the way, rather than aiming northeast the steering currents may be deflected north, or even, on very rare occasions, northwest.

Meteorologists who are wiser than I describe this as a “positively-tilted trof” being replaced by a “negatively tilted trof”, with the result being that a hurricane that ordinarily would go out to sea curves north or, very rarely, northwest.

Even when the hurricanes come north they tend to weaken over the cold shelf waters, and to suck dry air in from land, and have the most intense winds by the “eye-wall” collapse. Also they tend to curve away northeast at the end, which keeps the strongest winds east of my hills. Thus all the storms of my lifetime have been breezy and warm summer rains,  with some branches and rotted trees falling (and perhaps knocking the power out for a few hours). The next day’s news has pictures of surf and banged-up boats down on Cape Cod and in Buzzard’s Bay, and there can be flooding due to torrential rains, but the news  is never as bad as I know it could have been. In a sense I’ve spent a lifetime scanning the skies for hurricane heights I’ve never seen.

And what is this worst case scenario I envision? It is a hurricane that doesn’t dawdle over a colder shelf waters, but rather accelerates up the coast, cutting northwest as it plows inland, putting my hills to the east of the eye-wall. The blow-down of trees would be unimaginable to people now alive.

Actually I can’t say such a storm has never occurred in my lifetime, for Hurricane Carol took that track when I was one year old. I don’t remember it, but do recall being shown the fallen trees in the woods as a boy. They were trunks all laying the same way, on scrubby hillsides, and as we hiked I heard my Dad talk with other grown-ups about the older, mossier trunks being from an earlier hurricane (1938), and my grandfather commenting one summer was wetter (I can’t recall which summer) and that meant one hurricane uprooted trees and the other hurricane snapped them off.

To my boyish mind  it seemed such hurricanes must happen fairly often, but here it is 64 years later and we haven’t seen anything like them since. The scrubby hillside is now reforested with 64-year-old trees, and the fallen trunks have been melted down by rot and are mere green stripes of moss on the forest floor, with peculiar piles of stones at the ends, showing where the ripped-up bottoms once thrust tangles of earth and stones and writhing roots, and my grandfather said I should look for exposed arrowheads. Where the Depression-era elders saw two such storms in sixteen years we have been spared, but perhaps, just as the tree trunks have faded, so has the public’s memory of what can happen.

The sensationalist media is so eager to hurry on to the next headline it seems to have amnesia, like a person with dementia, only a person with dementia at least has some long-term-recall, even when they can’t remember where they put their car keys. The media is worse, with a forgetfulness more like a person who has smoked way, way too much marijuana, who cannot even remeber what car keys are for.

The media doesn’t even seem to fact-check any more, crowing a single day of hundred degrees is a big deal the Great Plains, where it once was over 110°F, day after day after day after burning day, during the nigh-intolerable Dust Bowl summer of 1936. Then, on July 13, 1954, it touched 120°F in Kansas, there were 100 degree temperatures noted in places from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and when you took all the high temperatures from all the station across the USA, north and south and east and west, the average was 95°F. (See post at realclimatescience.com) .

When the media ignores this striking past to sensationalize the more modest present, they not only make people less respectful towards what our forebears endured, but also make people unaware of what might happen again, (because it happened before). I have concluded that, in a strange way, the media generates a discontent where people once knew contentment despite hard times, and fosters a foolishness where people once were wise.

I refuse to be that way, so I sit and scan the summer’s warm dawn skies for hurricane heights, seeking high scarlet feathers and dappled intricacies from the southeast, at peace, but ever watchful.

But still I love the feel of summer dawn
Though I know her ways. She can’t disguise her
Devilish tricks. Her smiling lips won’t stay upon
My smile. She’ll leave. I’m older, wiser,
But still her kisses are reminding me of
A place I hope to return, after death:
The land before birth; a landscape of Love;
A time without time that takes away your breath.
Most have amnesia, and forget the breast
That fed them, and the peace before that time.
The work-a-day world puts all to the test
Like hamsters in wheels, or lemmings that climb
In a terrible rush to get to the top,
When the way to be wise is to stop.