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.

Advertisements

LOCAL VIEW –Hurricane Heights Demonstrated–

Schooner 1 03_1

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.

Schooner 2 UN0217

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.

Sparkling Day FullSizeRender

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.

High clouds 1 IMG_7005

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.

High clouds 2 IMG_7003

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

High clouds 3 FullSizeRender

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”).

High clouds 4 FullSizeRender

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.

High clouds 5 FullSizeRender

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.

High clouds 6 Screen_Shot_2018_07_21_at_6_17_58_PM

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:

Hurricane Heat 1 IMG_6910

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).”

Hurricane Heat 3 IMG_6924

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.)

Hurrucane Heat 2 IMG_6915

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.

Hurricane Heat 4 IMG_6931

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.

Hurricane heat 6 FullSizeRender

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.

Hurricane Heat 5 IMG_6933

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.

20180709 satsfc

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.

LOCAL VIEW –Snarling Starling–

Starling 67454991-720px

A starling has nested in the outlet for the drier at our Childcare. It is able to do so because we only use the drier to dry snowsuits, and the snow is at long last gone. The children are fascinated by the process of building a nest, and now by the hoarse, creaky cries of the hidden chicks. I point out things the kids might miss, such as the fact the mother bird carries away a “dirty diaper” (fecal sack) to keep the nest clean, and also that starlings are related to myna birds, and part of their song includes noises they hear and copy. Few starlings live past age five, but a few can live over a decade, and the older they get the more elaborate their songs get, and the males with the most elaborate songs attract mates first, and have better success at breeding.

There may be a poem in that.

My mind can wander strange places, as I watch starlings, including landscapes I don’t tell the children about.

I have always had ambiguous feelings towards starlings. I blame my big sister, who had an uncanny ability to lay brutal guilt-trips, and my father, who could be brutal in his environmentalist zeal.

An example of my big sister’s power involved my butterfly collection. She did not approve of me killing beautiful bugs, but I persisted in collecting specimens, out of her view. However I could never catch a tiger swallowtail, despite hunting them with my net for several boyhood summers. (This is quite unlike my middle-son, who to my amazement would walk up to a tiger swallowtail on a flower, as a toddler, and gently cup it in his hands, and then open his hands to observe it briefly, before it winged away.) I had no such luck, as a boy. Perhaps the butterflies deduced my evil intent. I could spot a tiger swallowtail a hundred yards away, and then I’d creep up on the insect with agonizing slowness, raise my net, and it would always flit away. However, after countless failures, three summers later I at long last netted one, and walked into the house expecting some sort of ticker tape parade.  I proudly placed my catch on the kitchen table, in a jar that had holes in the lid. My sister arrived at an instantaneous decision. Without hesitating she took the jar to the front porch, removed the lid, and set my captive free. Then her blue eyes coldly  looked down her long nose at me, and she just dared me to object.

I confess I wanted to break her nose, but she was a foot taller and I knew that I’d likely lose any brawl I began.  Also she was much smarter, because she was four years older, so I knew I’d lose any argument. An example of this follows:

She liked cats, and had a tuxedo cat named James Bond, but I liked birds, and was attempting to raise a featherless chimney swift chick that had fallen out of its nest and wound up in our fireplace. Everyone told me it was doomed to die, but I was on vacation and had few chores and empty hours to fill, and decided to dedicated that part of my boyhood summer to feeding the chick every time it cried. I named it “Squawk”, and fed it tiny balls of rolled up bread mixed with the yoke of an egg. To everyone’s astonishment, the chick didn’t die, and began to grow pin feathers. But then my sister’s stupid cat decided to get into the act. When I had Squawk out for a feeding, and went into the kitchen for egg yoke and bread, James Bond leaped up on the table and began lashing at the defenseless baby bird with his wicked claws. With a scream I attacked the cat, which fled to my sister, who held it in her arms, and both regarded me smugly. My sister was very disapproving when I used the worst word I knew in 1964 on her cat. (In case you’re interested, the word was “finky”.) Her blue eyes then looked down her long nose and she devastated me with a massive guilt trip. She said, “Its all your fault. You should have never left your bird where a cat could get at it.”

I then desperately attempted to nurse Squawk back to health, but the chick had a bad gash on the back of its head. It died two days later, liberated from pain on Independence Day. I had even sacrificed going to see fireworks to tend to my chick, and that is darn hard for a boy to do. But I did leave the chick to climb up a hemlock in the back yard to see if I could glimpse the fireworks I could hear thudding in the distance, and when I climbed back down and returned to Squawk, I saw he had died. I felt horrible guilt, and have never cared all that much for fireworks ever since.

It did seem puzzling to me that my sister had no pity for Squawk, and cared so much for James Bond, as my grandmother and father both loved birds and hated cats. What was even odder was that earlier she scarred my boyhood with a spectacular scene she made in the defense of a baby bird.

This earlier event occurred because my father had a great love of bluebirds. We never saw any, because an ice-storm had reduced the population, though they had been common in New England during my Dad’s boyhood. Ordinarily their reduced population would have slowly recovered, however their nesting sites were taken over by “invasive species”, especially English sparrows and starlings. Therefore, to help bluebirds, my father devised bird houses with entrances too small for starlings to enter. English sparrows were smaller and could enter, but when my father became aware an “illegal alien” had moved in, he’d go to the bird house and, because he had added a hinged trapdoor to the bottom of the birdhouse, he could abort the nesting,  by removing the nesting materials, or the eggs, or, if he was late, the baby chicks.

It was an occasion when he was late that my sister threw her fit.  Dad worked too hard at the hospital, but finally had a May evening to potter about the yard, and my sister and I were delighted to see him and to have the chance to tag along. Or we were delighted until he removed the peeping English sparrow chicks from the birdhouse. Apparently my sister didn’t mind that bluebirds were homeless. All she could see was that my father was going to abort defenseless chicks, and she flung herself at my father with all the passion of Pocahontas defending John Smith. “Nooo! Nooooooo!” she screamed, but he went right ahead and crushed the English sparrow chicks, for the sake of bluebirds that we never saw.

At that point I found myself slowly backing away. My sister was too short to look down her nose at Dad, but her blue eyes were baleful, and his identical blue eyes looked down an identical nose, and I suppressed a scream. I think I was gifted with a sense of prophesy, and could see that someday psychologists would make a lot of money off those two.

Not that therapy did the slightest bit of good. My father went right on rubbing my sister’s fur the wrong way, and my sister  went right on rubbing my father’s fur the wrong way. I could give humorous examples that happened when he was over eighty, but this post is suppose to be about starlings.

What I deduced, as a boy, was that I had best figure out things for myself, because both my father and sister were too busy with their own politics to be kind to me. And what I deduced was that starlings might not be unmitigated evil.

I deduced this because another “invasive species” my father sought to eradicate was the Japanese beetle. Some brainless liberal introduced them to the USA because “they are pretty.” However my father loved flower gardens and lush lawns, but Japanese Beetle grubs destroyed lawns, and destroyed his flowers, and therefore part of my boyhood involved crushing beetles the same way he crushed English sparrow chicks. I kept score, and one summer I killed over a thousand beetles on flowers, but I couldn’t help but notice I didn’t kill a single grub in the lawn. What could kill such grubs? It was a “eureka” moment when I realized the chief predator was starlings.

Starlings could be “good guys”.

This was a relief to me, for, if you delete the sight chance I might be 1/16th Native American, then I too was, and am,  an “invasive species”. So what if my family tree shows four ancestors on the Mayflower? Those Pilgrims were an “invasive species”,  and even if they have lived here four hundred years, my sister felt we still should be ashamed and feel as guilty as all get out. I liked Indians a lot, and actually wanted to quit school and go into the woods and “be an Indian”. I also felt pretty bad about how they were treated, and my sister even tells a tale of stopping at the door to my room, and peeking in, and seeing me on my knees praying that Indians be treated better. But I also knew that for the first two hundred years my ancestors were in New England the Indians spent a great deal of time planning and plotting genocide, and wanted to crush my ancestors like Japanese beetles.

At age eleven I was given understanding that put me way ahead of the curve. And I think my father and sister were also ahead of the curve, for they were debating the idea of “illegal aliens” nearly a half century before it became a world-wide issue. Only now are some starting to say what my father suffered for saying. Only now are some starting to say what my sister suffered for saying. But nobody listens to me.

And what do I say? Starlings can be good guys. And your worth is not determined by what you look like or where you come from, but rather by what you do.

Some brainless liberal introduced starlings to the USA because they wanted birds that appear in Shakespeare’s writing out their American window. Those 40 birds now number in the millions. I think that, if they admired Shakespeare so much, they instead should have attempted a sonnet.

Back and forth; back and forth; mother starling
Never stops. Shrill, her fledglings’ crying maws
Gape for more and more. But you, my darling,
Are seldom so demanding, and do pause
To weigh the greenness of the lush, swift spring.
Back and forth; what quick industry bird brains
Display, without wages, without thinking
Of going on strike like a man complaining
He needs vacations. But you, now winking,
Say nothing. Back and forth; does that bird
Ever sulk, and gripe fledglings aren’t thankful?
No. Absurd’s her way to end the day. I’ve heard
Her singing! What gives? I want a tankful
Of whatever she’s drinking. You, darling?
You watch the spring and watch me watch the starling.

Not Local –Shipwrecked–

We never did find the chest of gold we were after, as we swooped like vultures to the storm-ravaged coast of Maine.

It is an old New England tradition to be a beachcomber, seeking through the flotsam and jetsam and lagan and derelict, and then running like heck when we find anything valuable, to avoid the maritime lawyers who know the definitions of flotsam and jetsam and lagan and derelict. All New Englanders, at least in spirit, once walked the shores after storms. Even when a person didn’t “go to sea”, the sea was part of a New Englander’s life.

The sea is in New Englander’s blood, though I’m not so sure about young whippersnappers, these days. They seem to prefer the virtual world of the web, but my grandchildren came along with me, as I hoped to give them a transfusion of Yankee blood by osmosis. Not that I belabored. I was in no mood to lecture them, and mostly was obeying a craving all my own.

I blame my craving on my doing my taxes. Doing taxes makes me slightly insane, and I find I crave the sea, because the sea does not obey bookkeepers or lawyers or governments. You can claim you own the sea but you can’t fence it. And from time to time the sea goes wild and smashes people who think they own parcels of property, when they are in fact stewards.

In any case, I wanted to see the ribs and keel of an old “pinky”. What is a pinky?  A pinky was a small, square-rigged ship that carried cargo along the coasts of New England two hundred years ago. The recent storms had exposed the skeleton of such a ship at Short Sands Beach in Wells, Maine.

Blocking 3 FullSizeRender

However we were too late.  We parked in a parking lot that was only usable after  a front-end-loader rumbled about scooping away all the sand and cobbles the gale deposited on the asphalt.  It still wasn’t up to tourist-season snuff, but we could park.

Wreaks 1 IMG_6515

But the problem was that the front-end-loader had to dump all the cobbles and sand somewhere, and the closest and most logical place was the beach, and then the second gale came along and spread the sand around and nearly buried all signs of the pinkie, except the bow.

Wreaks 2 IMG_6514

My grandchildren were not all that impressed by a few beams of the stern we could expose.

The pinkie had been earlier exposed by especially bad storms, and in the past samples of its wood have been taken. It is made of local trees, back when people knew how to cut trees and make a boat of them. But one odd thing is that this wreak has no name, and has no history. I gather no tree-ring studies have been made of its wood. It was a craft that was for the most part pegged together; if there was any metal in the wreak it was long ago salvaged. There is no local memory of who owned it, and no way to date the wreak without deeper studies. It could have beached as early as 1750, or as late as 1870.  It was a minor, undistinguished ship at a time when the waters were crowded with ships, even in the winter, for ships defined the word “shipping”. There were no tractor trailer trucks,  and no railway boxcars.  To get most any goods from here to there involved men going to sea.

“Going to sea”.  Oh, it sounds like heaven to me, as I face doing my taxes. I feel I live in a society of pencil-necked, needle-nosed geeks, who haven’t a clue of what the word “risk” means. I was born too late, and looking to sea I do not see a single sail.

The only people who sail nowadays are fat-cat millionaires, and sailing is their arrogant luxury. You will not see them out on the dangerous waters of the month of March. (I confess; I’m jealous. If I had a boat, I’d likely stay in my nice warm mansion in March as well.)

But once these waters were full of sails. Short Sands Beach is sheltered by Cape Neddick, which had a small island called “The Nubble” off its end. If a lighthouse had existed, perhaps the pinkie would have found its away around the cape, but no lighthouse existed until 1879. Then the Cape Neddick Light guided sailors with light and horn, in the gales and fogs of March.

Wreak 4 IMG_6518

On the other side of Cape Neddick lies Wells Harbor, where ships could hide from Nor’easters. But when the winds swung to the southeast they had to hug the northern side of the harbor to avoid the surf that came charging in, as it did last week when our first March gale exploded off our coast.

When these winds howl, something that has the nice name of “spillover” occurs. It means the waters spill over from the sea-side of coastal dunes to the marshes on the landward side of those dunes. But “spill” sounds like it only involves a coffee cup. In fact it involves a raging ocean that treats cobbles like grains of sand. It is no joke if you happen to live on a barrier island between sea and marsh. Your front lawn becomes a cobble beach.

The cobbles clatter and rattle as the waves roar by your house, down to the tidal river seen from your back door.

At this point, though you never meant to “go to sea”, you are at sea. You understand there is a power that could care less for the property values of your shore-front property, or the fact you put your business signs to the legally prescribed  depth in the shifting sands.

And it is at this point many think it is wiser to flee the sea. The sea is too uncivilized. It has no respect for the progressive aspect of government, which wants all safely clamped. Such houses should be abandoned.  Why, then, do I thirst to “go to sea”?

To the north the next danger thrusting out from the mainland is Portland Head.  We went up that way to search for treasure exposed by the storm. The coast was all rocks, so it seemed treasure would be less likely to be buried by sand.

Wreak 8IMG_6492

As we searched we of course could not help but notice the Portland Head Lighthouse, which now seems but an anachronism, as if it was built by Disney to increase the tourist trade. But the truth is that it dates from when sails could be seen in the winter months, back when, when you shipped something, it involved ships.

Wreak 9 IMG_6493

Eventually we grew discouraged about finding boxes of gold coins, and wandered up to the lighthouse, and saw the storms had  attempted to erase the message on the ledge next to the light.

The graffiti  hints life was different, back when men “went to sea”. There were no guarantees, even on Christmas Eve, that you would reach a safe harbor.  Not even a lighthouse’s light and horn could always save you from a wreak.

Wreak 9i anniecmaguire1

I’m not sure what the circumstances were. Did the wind die as the tidal current increased? Was it foggy and still, or abruptly crisp and clear with a sudden gale? Whatever happened, you can be sure the captain was embarrassed, especially as his wife was aboard. After all, it was Christmas Eve, and they were so very close to the safety of Portland Harbor! But I do notice that they left no sails up. They tidied up the ship, clambered onto the ledge, and then the lighthouse keeper dropped a long ladder to the ledge, and they all clambered to the safety of shore. Merry Christmas! What a miracle! (But then, of course, there were probably a lot of legal details, involving flotsam and jetsam and lagan and derelict, to deal with, but only after the holiday.)

Odd. Why should hearing of this calamity that occurred nearly 150 years ago make me want to “go to sea?” Shouldn’t  I strive to avoid the fickle winds, and the uncertainty of those days, when shipping involved ships?

I simply feel some treasure is involved. Perhaps it is not cold gold. Perhaps it is a sort of goodness. Is there anything like a lighthouse keeper in the modern world? If you crashed into a ledge on Christmas Eve, would anyone try to rescue you, these days?

Whatever the treasure was, I couldn’t quite grasp it. But I did find one final bit of treasure I couldn’t grasp, before we headed home. As I took a last walk on a sandy beach I noticed the sea had not only beaten back the dune grass that was attempting to encroach seawards to the beach, but it had chewed up huge amounts of kelp and seaweed that was attempting to encroach upon the beach from the seaward side. The surf built heaps of weed and kelp over three feet tall.

As I  looked at these heaps I couldn’t help but see it as a treasure. Not that I can lift such heavy gold, at my age, but I felt the vague memory of ambition.  If I was a younger man I’d hurry my pick-up truck to this beach, and, working fast, before any could call it environmentally unwise, I would load the truck to its springs with heaps of seaweed.

As a farmer, and landlubber, I see seaweed as superb fertilizer. I once knew a man who heaped seaweed on bare rock, planted seed potatoes in the weed, and when harvest time rolled around he didn’t have to dig. He just lifted the seaweed and there were dozens of potatoes to harvest.

As a farmer, and landlubber, I also know about “greensand”, which is created by nature when heaps of seaweed is buried with sand in an anoxic environment. I’d used greensand to make the heads of my cauliflower and broccoli absurdly large.

 Seaweed is indeed a treasure, if you are young and strong.  However I am not as ambitious as I used to be.  Nor are lobster-men, I surmised.  In the old days they’d bring their traps in before big storms, and even before winter began, but now the beach was strewn with foolish modern lobster-men’s storm-crumpled traps.

But then I wondered to myself. Perhaps modern lobster-men were not lazy, but more daring. And perhaps these bent and twisted lobster-traps on the shore were like the shipwrecked ships of those who dared “go to sea” long ago. Who was wiser? Modern lobster-men or their elders?

I could not decide. I could only stand and look out to sea, where sea gulls sat in the sun-brightened water. I closed my eyes and just listened, and felt a strange longing for a treasure I missed.

Wreaqk 13 FullSizeRender

There is something we’re missing in safety.
I stand by the sea, and I long.
The land has built dikes, and has braced me.
The land thinks it’s mighty and strong.
But something by land’s sure to crumble.
It can’t withstand gales from the east,
And now the land’s starting to grumble
And ban fish from our Friday’s feast.


I’m baffled, and slump by the storm-wracked beach
And close my eyes, and hear surf suck and thump
And hiss, as the crazy gulls wheel and screech.
I listen, and find my shoulders don’t slump.
I listen, and, feeling surf’s sun on my face,
I’m hearing a Truth that the land can’t erase.

LOCAL VIEW –The Rapids Freeze–

The way to defeat “cabin fever” and to avoid going “shack whacky” is to grit your teeth and go out into the cold, so I decided to practice what I preach and went out to take some pictures of the Souhegan River freezing up, (with the Patriot’s game on my car radio), yesterday. It was well worth the discomfort of getting out of the comfort of my car, from time to time, to take some pictures.

Brook 1 watershedmap

The Souhegan is basically a brook as it comes north from its headwaters down in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, but it quickly gathers other brooks, and back in the day (when water power was the only power) it fueled a number of small mills in my town.  It was enough, back then, to make my out-of-the-way backwater a center of industry, even though it was up in the hills, as people went where the power was. Later, when railways were invented, my town chose to prevent the railway from expanding because it was thought the railway would “attract the wrong people”, and that was the death knell to many of the local industries, and the town faded to its current backwater status. However one mill survives at “High Bridge”, having transitioned from an age when fabric was for clothing, to making fabric for body armor and dirigibles and even spacecraft landing on Mars.

Brook 20 Contact-Warwick-Mills

And just downstream is where I began freezing my fingers, taking pictures of the freezing stream.

Brook 3 IMG_6022Brook 4 FullSizeRender.jpgBrook 5 FullSizeRender

A few miles downstream lies Greenville, where the mills prospered more, for they did allow the railway in, (though it no longer goes that far.)

Brook 6 FullSizeRenderBrook 7 FullSizeRender

North of there the river is a favorite place for white water kayaking in the spring,

Brook 2 kayaks1

It was amazing how much of the water was iced over, but I couldn’t stop as the snowbanks and traffic made pulling over too dangerous. Further on, just past the Temple-Wilton line, the river passes beneath an abandoned bridge, (I think built by New Deal workers in the Great Depression).

Brook 8 FullSizeRender

On the west side of Wilton another stream tumbles down from Temple Mountain to join the flow.Brook 21 FullSizeRender

The water gurgles and mutters and gargles from holes in the fast-forming ice

Brook 11 FullSizeRender

And the old railway still reaches this far.

Brook 10 FullSizeRender

Driftwood is frozen in place where water tumbles over the first dam.

Brook 9 FullSizeRender

The second Wilton dam’s pond is solid ice

Brook 14 FullSizeRender

Brook 13 FullSizeRender

And I simply had to crunch along the road, despite biting winds and blaring traffic, to see beneath the dam.

Brook 15 FullSizeRender

Check out the outlet pipe. (And the graffiti beyond it).

Brook 16 FullSizeRender

I wonder what the old water mills did, when it got this cold? (And where do the teenagers now go?)

Then on to Milford, as the river turns east.

Brook 17 FullSizeRender

And more hidden artwork from warmer days.

Brook 18 FullSizeRender

And onward to the Merrimack River and then southwards to the sea.

Brook 19 FullSizeRender

The cold can not stop it. Ice cannot clamp
The water’s yearning for the distant sea
In its vice. Like a happy old tramp
Offered a steady job, it will flee
All restraint but that of its double banks
And the steady tugging of gravity.
So do not cold-shoulder with icy glance
The inevitable progress of the free.
Do not think you can keep children ever young
Or prevent the innocent from finding Truth,
For though arctic winters have come and stung,
Forever fluid is the river called “Youth”,
And though your white may clench from bank to bank
Underground gurgles will sing and will thank.

It pays to practice what you preach, and to walk the walk besides talking the talk. Although I may have appeared a foolish old man, out taking pictures with a cell-phone in a wind that could freeze the bleep off a bleep, heedless of the whizzing vehicles flying past with incredulous onlookers, (or sort of heedless), I had no symptoms of cabin fever as I headed home. In fact I noticed that, once you have spent time trying to find the perfect angle for a picture, and the right views to capture an idea, your eyes seem to become stuck in the habit, and even when you are not taking pictures any more the whole world looks strangely photogenic, and you see beauty you usually overlook.

Last but not least, you never know what you will find, if you just get out and look. I was seeking river ice. Who would dream I would find graffiti?

LOCAL VIEW –Thanksgiving For The Unrecognized–

Recently my wife and I took a weekend off, and basically turned off our cell phones so we would not need to face the people who demand our time, often without gratitude. Why are they not grateful? I suppose it is because people tend to be a bit egotistical, and feel we should feel privileged to even be dealing with them. For example, think of a little child agonizing about not making a grade school team. From their perspective making-the-team is important, and well worth our attention. If you are not careful, knowing about too many of these “important” issues, and arching your eyebrows in a sympathetic manner for each of them, can completely burn you out, so we took a break. Simply taking a weekend away was a sort of spiritual retreat, but there is a problem with such retreats: They must end. You must go back and face your worldly responsibilities.

I am always reluctant to return to humdrum reality, no matter how restful a spiritual retreat may have been. The simple fact of the matter is that a lot that is “worldly” is also petty. Pettiness is not merely in little children who agonize about things that will not matter, in the long run, but also pettiness is in supposedly adult people, like preachers and politicians, and in supposedly adult institutions, like churches and the U.S. government.

If I had my druthers, I druther would write poetry. When I look back to my school days, I see I was more interested in the clouds out the window than the chalk on the blackboard. The interests of schoolmarms were never as interesting to me as the interests of schoolboys.

Look at it this way:  If heaven is the goal of life, why should our focus be on the non-heavenly things called “the worldly”?

The people in the world who I am most thankful to meet are those who have a certain light in their expressions that suggests they are seeing something heavenly. True, in some cases the light is merely due to them thinking they are seeing an end to pain. For example, a poor person may buy a winning lottery ticket, and their face may then shine, because they think their problems are solved. But soon their eyes cease beaming, as they discover filthy lucre is not an end to problems, and often increases them.

The light I like more, in people’s faces, is more lasting, and is not associated so strongly with worldly desires for wealth, sex, power, popularity, and intellectual achievement. Instead it simply recognizes heaven as a reality that exists even if you are poor, sexually frustrated, powerless, ignoble, and suffering intellectual writer’s-block.

There are simply some people who see a higher Truth, and whose moods are not controlled by the worldly circumstances of their lives. Sometimes they are saints like Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta, but sometimes they are people who you might think are entrapped by material success, but can be famous and wealthy without seeming to deny heaven exists.

Back in the early and mid Twentieth Century some of these people made decent livings as commercial artists for magazines. They produced the covers. Although it is true that “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, the editors of books and magazines knew a good picture could interest the general public, and sought artists talented in that respect.

One of the greatest was Norman Rockwell. I’ve praised him often. But another great artist, when it comes to sketching heaven, was Maxfield Parish. Norman Rockwell actually idolized Maxfield Parrish, when young.

Maxfield Parish became rich, simply portraying mortal humans during the most heavenly moments of their lives. (From a box of chocolates:)

Maxfield Parish 1 ap25lgrubyrectfrd1

His pictures were so beautiful that, as a commercial artist, he was an incredible success. At a time when a new house cost $2000, he made $100,000 a year. However all the money the public paid him apparently didn’t make him fond of the public. How can I say such a thing? Because, while his earlier pictures show a fondness for humans and their human nature, about the time he reached my age he stopped painting humans, and focused entirely on the beauty of landscapes. After around 1935 he painted landscapes which, in my humble opinion, have an amazing beauty, (surreal without Dali’s distortion), and yet they portray a world devoid of humanity. He painted right up to his death in 1966 at age 95, but did not seem to think humans were beautiful and worthy of being subjects within heavenly landscapes. He seemed to forget the way he saw when he was fifty years younger, in 1906, and painted “The Lantern Bearers” for Collier’s Magazine.

Maxfield Parish 2 800px-Maxfield_Parrish_The_Lantern_Bearers_1908

It should be noted, as an alternative, that Norman Rockwell did not retire from humanity, even though he too was wealthy in his old age. He did seem to become less romantic, and more concerned with social issues of the time, such as school integration (retaining a hint of Romanticism).

Norman Rockwell Intergration The-problem-we-all-live-with-norman-rockwell

Which brings me around to the topic of myself. Which way will I go, as I approach retirement age?

When I was in my early twenties, and first noticed the difference between what Maxfield Parish and Norman Rockwell painted in their old age, I vowed I’d never become fed up with humanity. I would forever be optimistic, and never fail to see the beauty in my fellow man.

Well, I have failed. The first time I failed I was still in my early twenties, and I confess I have failed on multiple occasions since then. I have looked upon you, my fellow man, and seen nothing but rapscallions and self-serving mongrels posing as pure-blooded priests.  I mean, look hard at yourselves. Are you any reason I should feel especially hopeful about the future of humanity?

And do you know what saves you, more often than not? It is the fact I become aware I am looking in a mirror; I am projecting; the reason I am such an expert in bad behavior is because I practice it.

That isn’t any reason for hope. Rather it diminishes my faith in myself even as I lose faith in the world. What on earth is there left to have faith in? Am I not a complete pessimist? I, the very same man who once vowed to become an eternal optimist! Which brings me to the 1922 Maxfield Parrish cover for “Life” magazine:

Maxfield Parrish Rouge Indeed ori_268_2121346856_1137844_He_is_a_Rogue_Life_Cover

There was a contest to name the picture on the “Life” cover, and the winner was, “He is a rogue indeed who robs life of its ends, fostering doubt.” (Get it? “Life” becomes “If”.)

As a young man first learning this history I wondered if Maxfield Parish had such a trick in mind, as he painted the picture, or whether it was an accident, or perhaps subconscious. In any case, the winning title stuck with me, and any time I find myself becoming excessively pessimistic I think of the rogue in the picture above.

For the fact of the matter is that, even when we botch perfection, and all those we know botch perfection as well, there is a third Thing that you can have faith in, neither our self nor other humans.  Call “It” what you will, “It” saves us from plunging to complete ruin. Without “It” there would be no reason to call foul behavior “inhumane”, because in many cases foul behavior is very human. Whatever “It” is, “It” redeems us.

And how do we recognize “It”? We see “It” in what we call “heavenly”. “It” is in humor that allows us to laugh at our mistakes rather than curse. “It” is in the joy that lets us walk singing in the rain.

Gene Kelly, and Maxfield Parish, and Norman Rockwell, made very nice amounts of money simply hinting at the heavenly. However the people who have really been a great blessing in my life, and at times even have been life-savers, never charge the price of admission. They simply had, and have, joy in their hearts, and made me, and make me, smile on the gloomiest day.

More than money, more than sex, more than power, more than acclaim, more than inspiration, I value the smiles such people begrudge from my grouchy old face. For all the other things come and go, but remembered jests still make me smile even after fifty years. Those jesters, even if long lost,  are joys to remember, and be Thankful for, on Thanksgiving.

In the End of Ends a simple smile will crush the mighty, and defeat death itself.

Owen wrote, “I, too, have seen God in mud”
About the gruesome trenches, when men died
Like flies, (’cause two men, who shared royal blood,
King and Kaiser, saw war as sport, and tried
Out their new toys: Sputtering machine guns
And poison gasses).
                                         How could Wilford Owen
Write such guff? When Chlorine greened the sun’s
Rays and men writhed like sprayed wasps, men
He’d laughed with moments before, how could he
See God?
                    I suppose it was because God
Is everywhere. There is nowhere to flee
In life where Life isn’t. Beneath the sod
We do not know, until we go, but here
We delve no dark mines devoid of men’s cheer.