LOCAL VIEW –Facing The Destroyer–

In humanity’s attempt to get it’s puny mind around the infinity of the Creator, humanity is forever subdividing the unity of God into various aspects. At its worst this fragments Oneness into a whole pantheon of lesser gods or saints, who tend to be at war with each other, but at its best it is like a lover listing the beautiful attributes of their Beloved.

One trinity, made out of the inseparable One, is the idea of God as Creator-Sustainer-Destroyer, (or Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, in Hindu thought).  People (myself included) seem to have trouble with the third part of this trinity, “God the Destroyer.”  Though we know all things in creation are fleeting, “dust-to-dust, ashes-to-ashes”, we object to death.  We want life to be “eternal life”.

Because people object to “God the Destroyer” there have been various attempts to soften this part of the trinity, such as “God the Dissolver,” (as if being dissolved is somehow more acceptable than being destroyed). Amidst the amazing variety of Hindu thought are several sects that redeem Shiva by giving him creative and sustaining attributes.

I suppose God smiles at our attempts to rehabilitate Him. He also likely appreciates our love of life, and our attempts to avoid death.  There is something in the human spirit that rebels at the idea of termination;  we have a hunger for tales to end, “they lived happily ever after”,  though we know the truth is, “until death do we part.”

Even though I am a “childcare professional” (IE: baby-sitter), and dealing with children tends to involve me with God-the-Creator and God-the-Sustainer, I have been dwelling on the morbid topic of God-the-Destroyer lately because it is not merely autumn, but a particularly wet and gloomy autumn. Brooks that usually barely trickle, (or even go dry, some years), have been rushing, and the mossy rocks have been lush.

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There have been small ponds where I’ve never seen them before in the drenched woods, to throw sticks into. This allows boys to practice vandalism, (and to be boy-the-Destroyer), without getting into trouble.

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It was so wet that some trees, especially sugar maples, did not achieve their full glory because leaves rotted even as they turned, and rather than leaves of pure crimson they were crimson blotched by brown and black spots. This dismal situation didn’t seem to diminish the jauntiness of children walking through golden glades of rain-drenched beeches.

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The sheer cheerfulness of children in rainy woods seems a defiance of gloom: A puddle in the path of life is a joy; jump in it!

Meanwhile I am not finding as easy to keep up with them as last year. I can feel the damage caused by all those hundreds of thousands of cigarettes I so foolishly smoked in my past, and I huff and puff walking up hills. The hand of mortality lays on my shoulder, and I see how “the wages of sin are death.”

But then I watch the glee of children, and the thought occurs to me that the wages of sin are children. Men strive to make sex something other than what it is, but it goes right on overpowering men’s will-powers and creating babies, which is the real reason for sex, (though violin-makers see sex as good excuse to sell violins to violinists). Some men then get all gloomy about the wages of sin being child-support, but that is usually because they do not spend enough time with their children, and miss the joy. Many hire an old geezer like me to experience the joy, and pay me for it.

One thing I’ve found remarkable over the years is the relationship children have with creation, as they rollick through the woods and fields. They are not at war with nature. Nature puts up no signs that say, “Fragile ecosystem. Stick to the path.” It is environmentalists who want to ban children from the outdoors, and to instead show children a lot of depressing videos about how man destroys all he touches. If children get the chance, many fall in love with the outdoors, (though some children are more inclined than others, and a few children, I’ll confess, seem born to be indoors.)

Children develop a respect for life out of love for it. In the woods I really don’t have to preach all that much about respecting livings things. Some small ones torture ants and frogs and scar a tree’s bark, but it is usually more out of curiosity and rambunctiousness than out of sadism, and the same children who were the worst offenders at age three tend to tattle on their peers at age five.  I can honestly say I do a minimum of preaching, and nature does the rest.

Not that nature coddles them. New Hampshire is no Polynesian Island, and there are mosquitoes and black flies and ticks, and the weather, especially this year, can cause people who move here to change their minds and move out. But, despite the fact children can become understandably wary of the woods after stepping on a hornet’s nest, few are anything close to becoming permanently scarred and neurotic. Instead they, even at age three, become this remarkable thing called “tough.”

As the autumn passed the lands to our north became snow-covered early, and, on the rare occasions when the rain stopped, we started getting bitter blasts on the back-side of storms, as they blew up into gales over the Maritime Provinces of Canada. One day the north winds howled so fiercely there was spin-drift and whitecaps even on the relatively small flood-control reservoir, as a bitter gale roared from the north.

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With wind-chills below zero Fahrenheit, I suspect most would have chosen to stay in, but I took a group of three boys and two girls out, all under five years old. It included a three-year-old inclined to red-faced tantrums. He was not at all pleased by the idea of a hike in the roaring wind, but he was not pleased with the idea of staying in, either. He thought the entire idea of child-care was a bad idea, wanted to go to work with his mother, and, among other things, I had to gently remind him that the word “fuck” is not a good word. Given the choice of staying indoors or being outside with the small hellion, I chose the environment where the wind could drown out some of his whining, though I had to carry him the first quarter mile because he was flopping to the ground and girning, and as I carried him his voice was particularly penetrating, an inch from my ear.

All five children were especially well dressed. I likely was the coldest person on the hike, due to the fires within me producing less hot blood than in my younger day. My mood was not particularly good, because my current staff is nearly as decrepit as I am, and two were unavailable due to work-related injuries, (a twisted knee, and a sprained wrist.) I had to fill-in, when I had planned to sit in my warm study by my cozy computer and write about Arctic Sea-ice. So I was in the same mood as the squalling three-year-old I carried. But I have been running this child-care enterprise a decade. (We will finish our tenth year this December.) Even when it seems God-the-Destroyer is manifesting, I know what to do.

The first trick I used is one I picked up from the children. It is to rejoice, when the weather is bad, over how very bad it is. The north wind’s gusts burned exposed faces and made us wince and flinch away, but we clambered up to the top of the flood-control dam, where it was worst, and four of the children laughed as the wind shoved them around and all but knocked them down. The fifth child, (who of course was the grumpy three-year-old), made it obvious that he deemed us utterly mad, and folded his arms, and refused to climb up to the top of the dam.

This brought about my second trick, which is to foster wonder. What do you do when the wind is cruel? What do animals do? Where do they go? I turned the wondering into a project: Find a place where the three-year-old would be comfortable. We walked around to a sunny hollow on the downwind side of the dam, and “had snack”. Though the wind still scoured down and moved the tops of the tall, dead weeds we crouched midst, at ground level it was quite tolerable. I explained this was the sort of place deer and my goats hunkered down during cold gales, taking advantage of the low sun as it shone for the first time in days. The children, even the three-year-old, chattered happily as we picnicked.

Actually this simple knowledge (stay in the sun and out of the wind) is knowledge some bank presidents lack. If their private jet ever crash-landed in a winter forest, they might needlessly freeze, while my little children would, in an almost instinctive manner, chose the warmer paths and survive. Even homeless bums know enough to cross to the sunny side of the street, as the supposedly-wiser bankers stoically stick to striding a straight line through the shade. (This may not seem to make much of a difference in a five-minute winter walk between sky-scrapers, but over the course of a day, after your jet crash-lands, all the chilling adds up).

We next sought out the deeper woods in small valleys where the wind won’t go, but the sun shines through the now-leafless trees, and there the kids had a great time, balancing while teetering along fallen logs; throwing sticks into a stream to watch them float with the current; and chatting and quarreling (which is officiously called “developing social skills”).  The three-year-old forgot I was never-to-be-forgiven, and joked with me. Despite the cold we were late heading back for lunch. An entire morning, which many would have called “too cold to go outdoors”, had been spent under the sunny sky, with the tree’s branches clacking in the wind overhead. The day was redeemed.

I often shake my head over how little I actually do, in this redemptive process. Perhaps I get some credit for directing traffic, but I don’t do the driving. Most of the joy radiates from the landscape, and from the children themselves. At times I see a relationship maturing between creation and the created which seems very natural and very beautiful, yet which some (of the environmentalist ilk) strangely mangle. Rather than a love affair between the walker and the woods, some promote a “protective” alienation.

One good thing about getting kids outdoors into the cold is that it burns off a lot of calories, which has positive effects: Children fuss little over their lunches, eating voraciously like small wolves, and then they conk out quickly into deep naps during “quiet time”.  This gives me sweet silence, and time to think more deeply about man’s alienation from creation.

When I was younger I think I was less interested in having a love affair with nature than in wrestling with it. It is interesting to watch my older son,  now entering middle age, as he tests himself against what New Hampshire weather can dish out.

As a landscaper and snow-plowman he spends a lot of time outside, but after growing up in my house, (which was built in the mid 1700’s and is like an icebox in the winter), made him a man who has nothing against the luxury of warmth indoors. He is building a new house behind my house, and I could not help but notice the care and attention he put into having heated concrete floors, (when I thought he should be in more of a hurry to just finish). Warm feet at home at winter is very important to him, and part of his battle with nature,

He thought the weather would remain fair, which of course it never does. Even before the concrete pad was poured a great deal of time was squandered (I felt) in laying an intricate, complicated network of heating, plumbing, sewerage and electric conduits, with various baffles of insulation. The floor is indeed an amazing floor, but when the walls finally started to go up the final fair weather was ending, and the bad weather beginning.

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Since then it has poured every weekend, which is when he finds time to work beyond his ordinary work. Downpours constantly fouled up his plans. Over the years he has helped many other local fellows build their houses, and the fellows want to return the favor, but it is not the easiest thing to assemble the crews needed, when they all have other jobs. After all the work of making the arrangements, it would again pour. He fell behind schedule, and then the onset of winter was particularly early, with eight inches of snow. Perhaps he was pushing his luck a bit, but one Saturday my breakfast was interrupted by a crash outside, and my daughter yelling that my oldest son had rolled his truck. We dashed out to see, fearing the worst.

The truck hadn’t actually rolled…

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….but things didn’t look good. As the truck skidded backwards down the slippery slope my son made the split-second decision to ram the stone wall rather than risk skidding across the street and plunging down into the neighbor’s house.

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At this point there was little talk about a love affair between man and nature, and the walker and the woods. God-the-Destroyer in the form of snow seems to be battling God-the-Creator, in the form of my son. However I silently philosophized that this conflict forms a necessary tension, a friction which creates traction in creation.

A preacher at a nearby church refers to the above as “a rich man’s problem”. People in Africa would love to have a truck, or even a bicycle, to have problems with.  We should be thankful to have such problems, but I didn’t mention this to my son. Instead I said I was thankful he was all right.

He seemed, if anything, invigorated by the challenge. Like a jaunty child walking with swinging arms in the rain, my son set about surmounting yet another difficulty. He brought a rented “lull”, (used to lift shingles up to the roof), down the hill, lifted the truck while pulling with a chain, and the truck came off the wall with a loud squawking noise as it settled back onto its frame.  Amazingly, very little was wrong with the truck.

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For the most part I watch the battle between man and nature, (or God-the-Creator and God-the-Destroyer), (or friction vs. the slippery slope), as an interested observer. There may have once been a day when I could out-hustle others on a construction site as the brawny “gopher”, (go-for), but those days are past. Back then I could make up in brawn for what I lacked in knowledge, but now I am largely in-the-way. The little knowledge I have is antiquated. For example, back in the day we lugged heavy bundles of shingles up ladders; I did not even know what a “lull” was. Secondly, I’ve slowed; if I did lug a bundle up a ladder, just to show I can still do it, I’d be in everyone’s way as I caught my breath at the top.

Compared to what I once was, I’m puny. I’m increasingly a weakling. God-the-destroyer is having His way with my physical frame. Though this is normal and natural and part of the so-called “circle of life” I don’t like it one bit. I grump it would have been easier if I was puny to begin with and had little to lose. It is a lot harder because I once was very strong. (I was also incredibly good-looking and amazingly smart, no matter what my siblings may tell you.) But I can give such things up, because I have watched amazing athletes be forced to retire at the young age of forty, and seen some of them move on to being brilliant coaches.

It is far harder to give up dreams. This was brought home to me as my favorite goat, “Muffie”, died unexpectedly.

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I doubt I can do justice to how deeply I was troubled by the death of what many may see as a mere dumb goat. However Muffie was a friend, and also the last of a blood-line. I once dreamed Muffie would be the first of a whole herd. Nine years ago, as Muffie was bottle-fed by children at my Childcare because her mother died while giving birth, I had ambitions. Now I am tired, and the dreams are dyeing.

The death of a dream is in some ways a ridiculous thing to be troubled by, for a dream is a dream. It may not ever have come true, and this means you are grieving something that never existed in reality, a bit like Lieutenant Kéje in Prokofiev’s suite.

However a dream has power. It is like the apple dangled in front of a reluctant mule, prompting it to plod on even when it wants to quit. Even though the apple is never reached, the mule may plod on and achieve other goals.

A dream is the conception of an idea. The time between conception and the fruition of the dream may be called a sort of pregnancy.  When the dream comes true it has many of the wonders of childbirth, but when a dream doesn’t come true it has much of the ugliness of stillbirth or abortion.

When you hit age sixty-five you are not like a baseball-player switching from the role of player to the role of manager or coach. Rather you are giving up the game itself.  It is a totally different sacrifice, and far harder to bear.

When I was young, it was far easier to sing that “for everything, there is a season”.

But now I have reached the age when it is the season to give up on dreams.  There is a part deep down in me that just can’t do it.  As death approaches I just can’t give up on life.

This brings me back to the start of this essay, where I spoke of how we dislike the idea of “God-the-Destroyer.” We disliked the idea from the start.  It was a seventeen-year-old girl, Laura Nyro, who in 1967 wrote, “And when I die, and when I’m gone, there’ll be one child born in this world to carry on; to carry on.” After a version was recorded by her, and then by  Peter, Paul and Mary, a bunch of young white hippies, attempting to sound black and gospel, had a smash hit  in 1969:

But it is all well and good to defy death when you are young and vigorous. It is not so easy when you are faced with the increasing feebleness of age, and are suppose to be “aging gracefully.” How can one be graceful when one sees no grace?

Anyone who has seen the beauty of God-the-Creator and God-the-Sustainer tends to fight death, and to, like Dylan Thomas, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

But, if you rage against what the Creator made a definite part of creation, namely death itself, are you not telling God he is wrong?

You’d be surprised at the dark storm-clouds which the death of Muffie sent my mind drifting up and into.

Fortunately my wife smacks me back down to earth, so I don’t forget my worldly responsibilities, but even as I shoveled the snow from the walkways of our Childcare my mind drifted elsewhere, miles and miles away.

I arrived at an odd conclusion, which may get me pitched head over heels out of many Christian churches. It was that the end of creation is death, and God-the-Destroyer.  Therefore creation itself is the “everlasting death” that Christianity warns against. And, in a strange manner, that makes Christians like Hindus.  Yikes!  How can I make such a claim?

It involves some convoluted thinking that I know will get me in trouble, but basically suggests creation is the process and not the Goal, the road and not the Destination, the creation and not the Creator.  If we have “life”, then life can be a thing we have in creation, and also be the Goal of creation. If we are tricked into identifying “life” too much with the material things and the dreams of creation, then we see life turn to death. But if we see life (and most especially love), as more important than creation, then we escape the death that always ends life in creation, and instead triumphantly arrive the goal, which is everlasting life beside the throne of the Creator.

Now supposing I, (as seems likely the case), am too concerned with the creation and neglect the One who made it. I am doomed to face God-the-Destroyer, rather than the embrace of God-who-is-love, at His throne. If my worldly tendencies make me too focused on creation it will not matter that I complain, “But I was loving my neighbor”, because it will be obvious that I cared more for the creation than the One who made it, Who is the Reason and the Goal. Big mistake. Rather than eternal life, I get everlasting death.

Then what?  This thought occurred to me even when I was a very small boy. I have no idea who told me about everlasting hell. I simply recall fleeing the grown-ups to an alcove in the attic, by a tiny window, and imagining myself punished in everlasting hell,  and pouting, and growling in a puppy-voice how I’d never, never surrender to such a mean bully.

Then what? What happens when you have failed to live up to the standards of the Christ, and have blown it big time?  Is it all over forever?

What happens when you laughed at Noah for building his ark , and sneered at him for believing in what made no pragmatic sense to you?  What happened when it then rained and rained and rained, and his absurd ark in a middle of a dry desert floated safely away, as you treaded water until you couldn’t tread, and drowned?  Did God have no mercy on you for being the sensible one, and caring for sensible things, and maybe even caring for family and neighbors as Noah ignored such things,  instead seemingly wasting scarce resources by building a gigantic, silly structure out in the middle of nowhere. Why the hell should you get hell, as the nincompoop Noah gets blessed?

The Bible actually states the sinners of Noah’s time were not forever cursed. According to Saint Peter, between the time Jesus was crucified and the time he rose from the dead, he went to hell to visit the sinners of Noah’s time. Why?  To preach.

This creates a big problem for Christians.  Why? Because if I was sitting in hell I would not call myself “forever cursed” if Jesus himself appeared and took the time to “preach” to me.

I assume that Jesus would not take the time to preach unless some hope, healing and good could come of it.  Why would he preach to the damned if damnation was forever? What purpose would it serve? To go, “Nyah, nyah, neener-neener-neener. You’re damned and I’m not”???  That doesn’t sound like the Lord of Love to me.

This incongruity in scripture may have resulted in the idea of “purgatory”, which many Christians call “Non-Scriptural.”  But me?  I simply think God’s love is more than I can fathom.

This leads me on to the completely Anti-Christian idea of reincarnation, which seems bound to hopelessly divide Christians from Hindus until the end of time.

According to the Hindu, when most die they do not escape creation, but remain trapped. They, after a time contemplating the mistakes and/or joys of their past life,  are born into a new body, with a new brain that cannot hold any memory of the past life.  They are born again, but usually it is only to die again. They die over and over and over, this time rich, this time poor, this time black, this time white, this time healthy, this time sickly, this time male, this time female.  But, whether king or peon, the result is always the same: death.

It occurred to me that reincarnation is the same thing as everlasting death.  There may not be the gulf between Hindus and Christians that they each believe. They both believe that, unless you escape time (to the eternal) you are trapped in time (the everlasting.)

After all, what is the use of being born again, if it is only to die again?  If it turns out the Hindu are correct, and I am born again in a physical body, it likely will mean I will have to take math classes again. Who in their right mind wants that?

Both Hindu and Christians speak of an escape from “everlasting death”, which is an escape from the very-real part of creation we call God-the-Destroyer.  Both state we must put the Creator ahead of creation.

Yes, they waste time quibbling about the details. Is the one life a single incarnation or many?  Did the Christ come once as Jesus or more than once as Vishnu, the Avatar?

To be honest, I lack the experience and wits to weigh in on such matters. I can wonder all I want, but it is only wonder. In the end I have to confess my incapacity. In doing so, I recognize I need the help of a Master.  There is no cotton-picking way I’m going to Seventh heaven without a Savior, and it matters not a hill of beans whether you call that Rescuer the Savior, Avatar, Messiah, Rasool, Vishnu, or Christ.  All that matters is that you recognize love has a Source, and the nature of the Source is Love, which Christians believe took on mortal flesh and walked (and walks) among us as Jesus.

As my life enters the phase where I deal more with God-the-Destroyer than with the Creator or Sustainer, it occurs to me I am blessed to be a mere baby-sitter, dealing with children just entering creation. Not that I always feel blessed. It is not seen as “manly” to be a baby-sitter. Among the politically correct, being a baby-sitter earns me few kudos. But I am blessed all the same, because simply dealing with the very-young exposes me to something utterly different from God-the-Destroyer.

For one thing, the very-young are more wise than they have any right to be. Even though they have brand-new brains, they are not un-programmed computers we are adding data to.  They already know stuff they have no business knowing. How can they know? The secular blame “genetics” and the Hindu blame “past lives” and the Christians blame “God’s gifts.”  Me?  I really don’t know, but can’t help but smile even when I’m gloomy. Why?

I suppose it is because the trust children enter life with (which is so sad to see harmed in any way) holds a joy which, in and of itself, seems to prove that the reason we are born is not to die.  After all, if they were only born to die, why would children laugh?

I may now be facing death, as we must all do when we can no longer call ourselves “middle aged”, but that does not mean death, or “God the Destroyer”,  is the net result of living.  There is another reason for life.

I can’t fully explain what I’m attempting to say, but I hear it in the cries of children.  At times it is hard to hear when they are in your face. I hear it best when they are far away, and sound like a glitter sledding down a distant hill.

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Like glitter on a distant winter hill
I hear the children sledding once again,
And once again I feel the ancient thrill
That drenches deja-vu on all that big men
Construct and think is mighty; all that kings
Claim they can control, and all that we mourn
And think that we are losing. Of all things
We want to grasp, the most fleeting, least lorn
Is the eternal song of children at play.
On the hill an ancient oak has hearkened
Since before the Pilgrim’s children had their day
When the children were Indian’s. No end
Is there to the Truth in the distant mirth,
And that is all ye need to know on earth.

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APPLE PICKING

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Oh beautiful! Oh Beautiful! God shed
His grace on me, though I was sulking
Mightily, and full of self-pity. Said
I to self, “Self, stop this milking
Pity from the stones. It’s such a crime
And waste of time to make such moans and groans.”

Oh beautiful! Oh Beautiful! The time
Was gray each day, but I knew in my bones,
Deep down, the sun would free its ray; and skies
Of blue and apples red would waken hope
In me, as on the upland slope there lies
A sung eternity. “Self, remove the rope
You make that binds creation’s song,
For nothing God’s made worldly’s really wrong.”

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(P.S:  In case you missed the rhythm of the sonnet, it is basically to the tune of “America, The Beautiful”, and outside of the sonnet-form could be written like this:

Oh beautiful! Oh Beautiful!
God shed His grace on me.
Though I was sulking mightily
And full of self-pity.
Said I to self, “Self stop this milking
Pity from the stones.
It’s such a crime and waste of time
To make such moans and groans.”

Oh beautiful! Oh Beautiful!
The time was gray each day,
But I knew in my bones, deep down,
The sun would free its ray,
And skies of blue and apples red
Would waken hope in me,
As on the upland slopes their lies
A sung eternity.

“Self, remove the rope you make
That binds creation’s song,
For nothing God’s made worldly’s
Ever really wrong.”

After a lot of agonizing I left the word “ever” out of the final line of the sonnet form, as a sonnet’s coda requires an abrupt punch. However the word “ever” does belong in the lyrical version.

Sometimes I have to twist people’s arms a bit, but, when I hide a poem in a sonnet in this manner, it is fun to get people to read it aloud. Some catch the rhythm right away,  while to others it is utterly invisible.

 

SILVER DAWN

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How like consolation is the hoarfrost
Cast like tiny white petals to amaze
The ruins of the autumn. All was lost
But now a silver lining starts my day’s
Trek across the wasteland. Let others see death
In the growing dark of shortened daylight.
I see silver shining; even my breath
Hangs silver in the silver dawn. No fright
Creeps behind the stonewalls this Halloween.
Shadows can’t stand up to light. Like a child
Gazing ahead into the dark Unseen
With their young, innocent heart running wild,
I feel a warm hand of silver, older
Than earth, kindly patting my shoulder.

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LOCAL VIEW –Fall Peepers–

There is always a danger of missing the beauty right before your nose, especially if you take it for granted. I’m sure people who live with spectacular views can get up in the morning and look out the window and say, “The Matterhorn…Ho hum.” In such cases it helps a little to have people come from all over the world to see what you take for granted.

But then there is a new danger of acting as a sort of prop to the scenery. Years ago I lived with a Navajo in Arizona, and I used to kid him about a stoic expression he always assumed when tourists snapped pictures, and with a bit of a smile he’d inform me, “That is how Indians are suppose to look. Check out Arizona Highways magazine.”

I remembered him years later when I was raking leaves off the beaten path for a rich lady, using an old fashioned rake rather than a leaf-blower, and much to my surprise saw a bus come swaying and lurching down the lane, barely squeezing between the old stone walls. The upper part of the bus was largely glass, and on the inside I could see all the tourists, who I assumed were from Japan, were all pressed up against the glass snapping pictures of me, the quaint Yankee raking leaves. As hard as I tried to be natural, I found myself assuming a pose, and felt like a picture in National Geographic.

A third way to miss the beauty is to rate it. No two autumns are the same, and some have briefer beauty, because a gale rips all the leaves off the trees, while others have a browner beauty, because of drought. Rather than appreciating the variety I sometimes look back to the year which was the most brilliant, and become comparative.

The second half of the summer was so wet that all were expecting an especially brilliant autumn. But brilliance is dependent on sunshine. As I took the kids from the Childcare out on a daily walk I’d look over across a pond to the swamp maples, which are the the first to change, and see the amazing growth of color in the sun.

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But then a passing cloud would drape a shadow

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I prefer the colors to stand out, and a part of me called the second view downright dingy. But this would make a liar out of the part of myself that states the beauty is there for eyes to see, so I strove to see it. But then I was put to the test, as we were hit by a long spell of various sorts of gloom, cloud, drizzle and dampness.  Even as the foliage grew more brilliant the weather grew more gloomy.

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I figured I’d likely miss the swamp maples at their most brilliant, and have to wait for the sugar maples, but then I noticed the weather was so wet the sugar maple leaves were rotting as much as they were changing color.

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Then I heard motorcycles roar past one gray morning, and knew for them to be out leaf-peeping it had to be dry, though very gray, and as I headed off to do chores in an adjoining town I made plans to sidetrack into some swamps. I had a sense it was “now or never”.

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All you need to do is pull over and slosh a little into the sedge to have the color engulf you.

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If you are not careful you may become enchanted, wander into hidden valleys, and go unseen for twenty years like Rip Van Winkle.

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Soon you forget CNN or Drudge. You are visiting a utterly different swamp.

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And once you have found beauty on a cloudy day, a clear day is sheer heaven.

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LOCAL VIEW –How humid was it? Sequel

I have to add a sequel to my humidity-grousing, for we had an event too good to avoid being grumpy about.

A  front was at long last pushing west to east, and there was high anxiety about whether it would push out to sea in time for a local church fair, and a very big local fireworks display.

I tried not to care about the church fair, for I left that church. But then it seemed wrong not to care, so I did pray and the sun did come out. But it only bloomed up big billows of cloud and the fair got poured on. I suppose I didn’t pray hard enough, or perhaps my grumpy side snuck into those prayers. In any case, as it poured I tried not to smile. But it’s an effort being spiritual, at times.

Then it cleared off at the end of the day and we headed off to the fireworks. I brought my raincoat. My wife shook her head at me and rolled her eyes.  There was not any sign of rain on the radar.

The fireworks are a big deal, set off by Atlas, the second biggest fireworks-maker in the world. (The biggest is in China, of course.) It is a demonstration of their latest creations for potential customers at the airstrip in Jaffrey, New Hampshire,  and over the years greater and greater crowds have come to watch, and they now make quite a bit of money charging people who want to park right on the runway to get a nearby view. Now around twenty-five thousand people show up, at $50.00/car. It was amazing how many were packing into a car, but they created a limit, which ended that part of the circus.

The circus, (and it is a bit of a circus), tends to be wonderful assortment of people who seldom rub elbows, ranging from Mennonites in gingham to Bikers in leather, all showing up starting at around 3:00 in the afternoon for fireworks that don’t start until 9:00.

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There are places selling hot-dogs and burgers and chicken and fry-bread, and some of the old-fashioned carnival attractions to prove your strength, which I tend to avoid, due to fear of wounding my ego.

(I got talked into trying one last year.  It was some sort of Army-recruitment gadget where you slug a cushion and it measures the power of your punch, using some scale of one to a hundred. The little kids were reaching five to ten, and the young fellows fifty to seventy, and their girlfriends forty to fifty. One grandson reached seventy, so my eldest son had to hit seventy-five and then other, smaller grandson popped the pad for thirty. Then I walked up, in a hurry to get the humiliation over with, and threw a quick cross-body punch you could never throw in real life, unless the fellow hung his jaw a foot off your right shoulder. I got my whole body into it and the dial shot right to a hundred. Everyone looked a bit startled, and I was utterly gratified, and decided then and there to retire undefeated.  And no, the Army didn’t ask me to enlist,)

Mostly I like to stroll back and forth with my wife, up and down the runway, people-watching. They have a very good system of speakers, and a couple of disc-jockeys who prattle and play four generation’s worth of music. The weather looked decent and my wife teased me about my raincoat. The disc-jockeys said we should look up at the sky-divers, and we looked up, and the second disc-jockey said, “You idiot; that’s a commercial airliner!” But then we heard a faint engine and saw the small plane high above, and tiny black dots spill from it, and come down to land precisely on their target (with a man dashing beneath them to keep the flag from touching the ground).

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The wait always seems like it will take forever, and I was a bit nervous about how the lower clouds still hit top of Mount Manadnock as they passed. As it grew dark it felt damper and damper. But at long last the display began. It is a solid half hour of non-stop fireworks choreographed to music, and there is a collective sigh from the crowd as the first flower bursts in the sky.

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However I immediately noticed each bright spark seemed to leave a tiny contrail. The air was so saturated we were doing a sort of cloud-seeding experiment.

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The growing fog bank was especially obvious near the ground.

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As the display increased in intensity, so did the fog bank, and by the time of the thunderous finalé you couldn’t see a cotton-picking thing. There was just a lit-up smudge of fog shifting from one dirty mix of messed-up colors to another, accompanied by thunderous noise that you could feel on your chest. Then it stopped. There was not the usual wild roar of appreciative applause. There was just a strange sound, not quite silence, that 20,000 people make when they have waited three to five hours for a smudge: The sound of mass dejection. To top it off a thick drizzle began to fall. I pulled up my hood with emphasis, when my wife looked my way.

People watching from a hill to the north saw all the fireworks emerging from the fog bank, and said it was spectacular, lighting clouds both above and below. But the wind was just perfect to shower us all with ashes and bits of the clay that they use as a packing material in the shells, (which is also apparently good nuclei for cloud droplets.)

The next morning dawned foggy, but the sun soon broke out.  I walked out and noticed my wife’s white car looked like a Dalmatian, and added “go to the carwash” to the day’s list.

Anyway, that is another answer to the question, “How humid was it?”

LOCAL VIEW –How Humid Was It?–

Certain comedians train their audiences  to respond to a statement such as, “Lord, was it ever hot!” with a chorus of voices that all chime in with, “How hot was it?” Then they say something very funny.

But this is serious, man, serious! I have never seen humidity like this, up here in New Hampshire. And, Oh yes, folk down south will call me a wimp. I did live in South Carolina for a summer. But up here we are not accustomed to dew points over 70°. We hardly bother with air conditioners. Usually a dew point of 70º at sunset results in a heavy fog or even drenching drizzle by dawn, as our nighttime temperatures attempt to sink past the dew point to our typical, comfortable 60º. But this year?

I never saw this coming, because the summer began bone dry. Every drop of rain was wrung from clouds by mountains to our west. I was a bit snidely pleased, for even though stuff in the garden was stunted, so were the weeds. (I have no time for weeding.)

But then the pattern shifted, and rather than moisture being wrung out by higher hills to our west, we ourselves are the higher hills, wringing moisture  from the flatlands to our south. The forecast would be for scattered clouds, but we’d see this:

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And then see this:

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The lightning flickering about in the clouds makes these raindrops rich in nitrogen, which is a royal pain. For every inch it makes my vegetables grow it makes the weeds grow a foot. And I have no time for weeding, for all the rain means I have to mow the grass. I also have to attend to the pool, which the nitrogen-rich rain turns a vivid green.

How humid is it? It’s so humid it’s stupid,  for it seems stupid to me that it is more important to add algeacide to a pool than to weed my own garden. But our Childcare needs the pool to cool the kids, in hot, muggy weather. And it is the Childcare, not the farm, that brings home the bacon.

The irony burns a bit. The USA was initially a nation of farmers, but now nobody can afford to farm. (Not that many want to.) Something other than the garden provides the food.

As a man who is basically a survivalist, and has very little confidence in the government’s ability to handle finances, who foresees a day when there will be no way for taxpayers to pay all the welfare dependents and pensioners the government has  promised to pay, (whereupon there will either be no checks issued or rampant inflation), I suspect a day will come when food might be in short supply.

My view of history suggests there tends to be a breakdown of the infrastructure that mass-produces food on mega-farms and delivers it to cities, when a crisis occurs. Even if bread is available no one can afford it when hyper inflation makes it cost $100,000,000.00 a loaf.  Then the government tends to step in, thinking it can organize, and history demonstrates what occurs is a loss of initiative: The Soviet Union’s “collective” farms saw potatoes rotting in piles as shortages existed in cities, but also saw a tiny segment of the population that was allowed to have small, “private” gardens produce a disproportionate amount of the food; as I recall the figures were something like 5% of the farmland, in small lots, was producing 25% of the food. I also heard an old Hungarian tell me that during the bad times of Hitler and Stalin “the cows wore golden chains”. Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of Africa until the government stepped in to make farms “fair”, whereupon there was famine.  Venezuela was well-fed before the government sought equity for all. And in these cases tiny farms step forward to do what the giants bungle.

Maybe I just have a puffed-up sense of my own importance, but I have decided I have to keep my tiny farm going even though I’m physically incapable of the labor.  My plan is to commercialize my writing so I can hire two hands next summer.  This year will be written off as “the year the weeds won.”

In any case, I’m trying to focus on writing more (and also a possible redesign of this website), and the last thing I want is rain making the grass grow fast, so I have to cut it more. Then I also faced quite a job trying to find bits of sunshine, so I could dry all the tarps and tents and canvas folding-chairs and sleeping bags from our deluge-camping. (I was paying for the vacation after it was over.)

All I really want is to sit back and nibble an eraser contemplatively,  but after camping my wife hits the ground running. She feels a vacation has involved far too much sitting-around, and has a whirlwind of social activity planned, and then I hear a shriek from the dining room. I stopped nibbling my eraser. Why?  Well, this you have just got to see:

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How humid is it? It’s so humid the chairs get moldy. And rather than writing a great article, I find myself wiping down all the wooden furniture with a cloth dampened with vinegar, before the company arrives. I tell you, it’s rough, being a writer.

How humid is it? Well, we typically get a thundering downpour or two in the summer, with perhaps an inch or two of rain falling in a hurry, and the gutters are all full for an hour or so afterwards.  But usually that is that. However downpour has followed downpour, and a few places in the hills are approaching 24 inches of rain in just a couple of weeks.

Of course, this gets certain cats yowling about Global Warming, because everything, no matter what, is caused by that, in their world view. California mudslides? Global Warming. California wildfires? Global warming.

What I do is just try to look at the maps and see what actually occurring, avoiding the bias you get sucked into taking if you take a “side”. There are always places warmer than normal, and places colder than normal, and if you “take a side” you’ll focus on one and not the other. But let’s try to avoid that, and look at both. As most of the planet’s heat is locked up in the oceans, let’s start with the SST (Sea Surface Temperatures), and see whether they are above, or below, normal.

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You may notice a red area off San Diego. The media has made a great deal about “record warm Pacific waters” there. But just south of it is a blue blob off Baja California. Any headlines about “record cold Pacific waters?” Or just crickets? Do you see how foolish this bias can appear?

Also notice the tropical Atlantic between Cuba and West Africa is all light yellow. Just a few weeks ago it was all light blue. Does this represent dramatic warming? No. In some cases it can represent a tiny change from .01 below normal to .01 above normal. But what caused the warming? Was it trace amounts of CO2? No, it was enormous amounts of Saharan dust, swept by the Azores High off Africa, and all the way to Texas, and even from there north and then east to Ohio and then to here in New Hampshire (in trace amounts.) This dust, combined with slightly cooler SST, suppressed the formation of hurricanes and tropical storms. And what does that mean? More sunshine, warming the water and raising the SST as little as .01 degree, and changing the map’s hue from chilly blue to warm yellow. (I can understand that, but don’t understand what engineered the cooling of those waters, earlier.)

What is most important to our humid summer is the warm water off Cape Cod and Nova Scotia. I’m surprised the media hasn’t gone nuts about it yet, but perhaps they are distracted by the fact mild waters (and tasty seals) have lured Great White Sharks north to Cape Cod Beaches. (The media lately has seemed easily distracted by anything involving the word “white”.) I doubt they will be focused enough to see warm water off New England is actually a sign of “cold”, when it is surrounded by a horseshoe of colder water, called the “cold AMO” (Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation.) The AMO cycle is not due to turn “cold” for another five years, but is hovering close to that change already.

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Though they didn’t have the word “AMO” (which appeared around 1990) New England fishermen have long known dramatic swings in Atlantic conditions could cause populations of fish (and gulls) to shift dramatically north or south, once or twice in an average lifetime.  In order to be aware of it you needed to respect and heed grandfathers who respected and heeded their grandfathers. The modern media, which has an attention span of around four minutes, is likely unaware of the AMO and will be taken totally by surprise by the switch, and will likely become apoplectic.

Not that we don’t all become careless, when things only happen every thirty years, or every sixty years.  Humans have the tendency to farm the rich soil on the side of a volcano, and then be astonished when they blow.

Here in New England the best route up a steep hill is the route taken by a little brook, which has an uncanny way of finding the shallowest incline.  Road-building is assisted by the fact these little brooks have far more cobblestones than they could possibly need. The brook is moved to the side, and the cobblestones are used as the foundation for the road up the hill. And for thirty years everything is fine. Perhaps even for sixty years everything is hunky-dory.  Even the torrential rains of a summer thunderstorm stay in the brook at the side. But then….(ominous drum-roll, please)….there comes the summer that is so humid. How humid is it?  Thunderstorm follows thunderstorm, and the road winds up looking like this:

You see, the little brook didn’t have far more cobblestones than it could possibly need. It needed those cobblestones, once every sixty years.

I’m telling you this because I have a suspicion young whippersnappers in the media will look at the above picture and blame Global Warming. They will subscribe to the idea the solution to the above problem is to ban things and raise taxes to fund other things that do everything you can imagine, except fix the road.

Around these parts old-timers puff out their cheeks and shake their heads, for they know their taxes will have to go up, but it’s to fix the road, for another sixty years.

NOT LOCAL —Deluge Camping—

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

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

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

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…and those who did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and here’s the main gathering area:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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