LOCAL VIEW –Shuddering–

And still the winds are roaring this black dawn
When stars stab cold knives and the sift of snow
Hisses by my door, and before the roar’s gone
The next blast rattles the sash. The window
Looks out darkly. I see I should have done
So many things back when weather was warm
But now it is too late. I can blame no one
And can do nothing but endure this storm
Shuddering. Hope is too far away to grasp
And the east dawns no sun, but a cold moon
Instead leers skullish on bent hills. I would clasp
Your warm love and warble the sweetest tune
If only Your smile hove into sight.
It’s in darkest dark I remember the Light.

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Iced dawn spills over the shuddering east
And reveals a white world that has drifted.
The pre-storm chores I shirked are now least
on my list. Priorities have shifted
In a world white as an unwritten page.

Who will write the first words with a trail
Of blue footprints? The house is like a cage.
I’ll bolt and walk a signature as winds wail.
I will pace a poem, although drifts erase
My tracks like shifting sand. My words are like
A small child’s sand castle by the stern face
Of unthinking surf, yet still I will hike
Across a hillside, and my tracks will spell
The magic only poetry can tell.

What a cruel day! Not a true sub-zero day like they have out in the plains, but close enough, with a high of 7°F and winds that wouldn’t have the decency to knock it off.

Added to my Saturday chores of taking the recyclables to the recyclable center (where none of the equipment worked in the cold) and going to the bank, (bad hair days), were added things to do outside in an unkind wind, such as rake the big drifts from a roof before the drifts gained weight with rain and collapsed structures. And get my bulky, broken snowblower up into the back of a pick-up truck to be taken off and repaired. Or face a path I’ve had to shovel three times by hand already, drifted in.

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But when I step back I see that same wind scoured the driveway free of snow.

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All things considered, my neighbor across the street likely had grounds for a lawsuit. Fourteen inches of snow buried my fences to the bottom rail, but the cruel gales stripped all that snow to the ground-level crust of a pre-Christmas snow,  and deposited it all in his drive.

Simply to be out of doors was an ordeal, and surreal. All the faces you met were pained and wincing, and I had the odd sense I was in the dog house, as everyone looked mad at me. Had I done something Friday night I couldn’t remember? No, because I’m not that young anymore. I had no hangover when I awoke, only when I stepped outside.

The buffeting was like the blows of a boxing match. A man who fought Mohammed Ali stated no jab hurt, but after a while you noticed his jabs made you feel a bit dizzy. And Mohammed Ali himself stated that the fifteenth round of a fight was like functioning in a dream and in a circus.  You’ve been knocked for a loop but refuse to go down for the count. Somehow you keep tottering about, still battling.

This probably explains why this post begins with two sonnets. The jabbing wind had punched me into a mental state which some get called “poets” for being in, while others wind up in institutions.

Even as I emphasis how bad it was, it wasn’t near the worst. New England has seen such blasts twenty degrees colder. So I have no real reason to complain, especially as the winds finally died down a bit in the afternoon. At long last the Blizzard was fading away towards Baffin Bay and Labrador.

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The map shows the massive arctic high bringing modified polar air all the way down to Jamaica and Costa Rica. But here it was not modified. Here we got the real deal.

After experiencing “the real deal”, few find New England as attractive as Norman Rockwell made it look.  There will be an upsurge in homes for sale in this area next spring. Quaint has its limits, and the pathways of art are not for all. Where Norman Rockwell produced paintings and I produce sonnets, many turn their backs and skedaddle. Can’t say I really blame them.

*******

SUNDAY MORNING 7:00 AM -12°F (-24 °C) 30.31 and at last the wind has ceased.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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

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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.)

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

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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).

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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

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And the old railway still reaches this far.

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

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The second Wilton dam’s pond is solid ice

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

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

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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.

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And more hidden artwork from warmer days.

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

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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 –Winter’s Wolves and a Slinking Mink–

How futile was my dreading. Winter comes
Like clockwork: Shorter days and longer nights,
Neatly ledgered by almanacs.
                                                                Volumes
Of prayers can’t prolong summer: Fall blights
And the north winds preaches, as it bites,
Of a snow-covered wolf pack slinking nearer
Until the bad manners burst. (Impolite’s
Uttering, with a mouth full of flakes.)
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Lakes of new ice are dusted white by gusts
Of arctic malice, as winter wolves howl,
But life goes on.
                                 I abstain from my lusts
For summer-breasted days like a spooked owl,
For, though driving in snow’s straight from hell’s pit,
The unlicensed children aren’t bothered a bit.

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We got four inches Saturday night and four more today (Tuesday). No big deal, except it made a lot of work for me. I like work, when it is writing, and all other forms of work…well…I try to keep them at a minimum.

Running a Childcare involves keeping a parking lot clear of snow, (and clearing the walls of snow the town plows heap into the lot’s entrance and exit). Four inches is usually no big deal, as I have a snow-blower with a thirty-inch mouth, and I bothered to make sure it was running well, before the first storm hit. Usually, especially when the snow is a fluff of powder like the first storm’s was, I can jog behind the contraption with it set in sixth gear. And that is how things started out. But then the contraption spoke a word slowly in a deepening voice, and word was “Below.” After that it refused to run, despite all my mechanical knowledge (which you could fit in a thimble.) I then made a phone call to a local small-engine-repair genius, only to discover he was out of business (thanks to a former president I will not glorify with a name.)

This meant I had to resort to a primitive implement called a “snow shovel.”  Don’t laugh. I know most modern and civilized citizens think such objects are merely a matter of lore, but in my youth I was highly skilled at using them. At age 64 I have discovered knowing is not the same as doing. I get on fairly well, performing the ancient art of shoveling, for a rather short period of time, before I discover shovels are downright comfortable things to lean against, and clouds and stars are well worth observing.

I’d likely have the job done by April, but fortunately a couple of young whippersnappers were around (my youngest son and my son-in-law) and they were in the mood to humiliate elders they ought to honor. For every square foot I cleared in my pottering manner they cleared ten, a bit like tornadoes. In any case, the job was done with surprising speed, and I likely deserve carbon-credits and praise from believers in Global Warming for not utilizing fossil fuel….but don’t hold your breath….because they say I count as a fossil.

And that is just the snow-created work involved in my Childcare’s  parking lot. At my Childcare itself there is also a major change in how you deal with the active minds of children, once snow falls. (Some call this “curriculum”, which seems a bit absurd, when you are talking about four-year-olds.) They had great fun raking leaves and jumping in leaf piles, but the first snow means you have to put away the rakes and take out the sleds. But this means I have to remember where the heck I stuffed the sleds, in the barn, last April.

Lastly there is something called “rescheduling” that snow causes. School gets cancelled, for piddling amounts of snow, but parents still have to work, especially during the “Christmas rush”. Therefore all the parents of school-aged children, who ordinarily are only at my Childcare until the school-bus comes in the morning, and after the bus drops them off in the afternoon, become parents who beg and plead that we allow them to work, by watching their school-aged children all day long. Fortunately, the people who govern the Childcare of New Hampshire allow you break the legal limit, in terms of how many children you are allowed to shelter, in the case of an “emergency”. However this does not make it easier for my staff, who ordinarily see the older children depart before the younger children arrive, and the younger children depart before the older children explode off the school-bus in the afternoon. To have all these children at the same place at the same time is like mixing oil with water and expecting salad dressing.

Over the past decade I, and especially my wife, have gotten good at handling the chaos caused by cancelled school. However it made (and makes) me think. Ordinarily, by law, we each are allowed to handle six children under six-years-old, and, if we are two handling twelve, we are also allowed to handle five more children over six-years-old, for a grand total of seventeen. When school was cancelled we’d handle more, perhaps as many as twenty-five. This makes me think, because in the public school it is quite normal for a lone teacher to be expected to walk into a classroom and handle twenty-six, (not just in an emergency, but on a daily basis).

Obviously a double-standard is involved. The politicians and “teacher’s union” have enacted laws to keep me from getting rich. If I was allowed to watch 26, and my wife was allowed to watch 26, do you have any idea of how much money my Childcare could make?

We’d also would be dead by now. I have no idea how public school teachers keep their sanity. Furthermore, ex-Public-School-teachers, who have worked at my Childcare, inform me my place is heaven, compared to Public Schools. It is a real joy for them to actually focus on individual children, because they only have six, rather than being asked to govern a stampeding herd of twenty-six.

Former teachers  demonstrate amazing abilities, developed during their time in  Public Schools. Ordinarily, when one child has a “crisis” that demands the attention of a member of my staff, that employee deals with that child, and I am left in charge of the remaining eleven. I am then challenged, and feel tested, keeping control only eleven. But what if a child was having a “melt-down” in a Public school, and I was all alone with twenty six? (I’d be fired the first day, for re-instituting corporeal punishment; that’s what.) When I watch former Public School teachers deal with a group’s escalating enthusiasm at my Childcare, I feel a sense of awe. They seem far less challenged than I am, as if they thought, “Only eleven children? Piece of Cake.”

Don’t take this wrongly. I am in awe of the Public School teachers, not the Public Schools. (And as far as the “teachers union” is concerned, I think they are out to kill teachers, for they have insisted upon the awful working conditions teachers endure.)

In conclusion, snow creates a chaos at my Childcare slightly like the everyday situation at a Public School: IE;  We have what seems like too many children, without a truly clear routine. Where a Public School may welcome the time-off of a snow-day’s cancellation of school, it doesn’t cancel anything for me; it doubles my trouble.

But isn’t that typical, for winter? Winter doubles your trouble. Snow is stuff that just means where you once could walk you now must wade. Snow only means more work…..or does it?

When I look at nature, I seem to see most animals dislike winter. Few animals don’t take steps to avoid the season altogether. Birds and butterflies migrate, or hibernate like bears and woodchucks. The landscape can seem lifeless. But I like to take the children out to look for life in winter.

These are images from the only open water remaining on the flood control reservoir abutting my Childcare. My youngest son, after helping me with shoveling, took these pictures of a mink, fishing by the outlet to that reservoir.  (To get the pictures he crept up and hid behind the concrete outlet, and then poked the camera around the corner without revealing more than his hand.) Mink are less adapted to water than otters, but my son said this mink was only under the ice ten seconds before popping up with the sunfish.

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Winter doesn’t stop life. Life goes on.

(Mink photo credits: Israel Shaw)

LOCAL VIEW –Old Man Winter–

Norman Rockwell 1937-christmas-gramps-in-snow

As I get older I seem to look forward to winter less. I’m not as hot-blooded, and where I once threw snowballs without gloves and saw my hands glow a ruddy red, my hands now turn blue at the slightest excuse. Not that I still don’t hope for a white Christmas; I just hope we get around an inch at daybreak, and it melts away by Christmas afternoon.

It was said, back when I was young, that the Indians called an old man “one who has seen many winters.” I’m not sure how true that statement is, in terms of history, but it says something about how winters tax a man.  Like the taxes of a greedy government, winters sap you, and take so much out of you that you get tired of paying. However, for the poor, there is no escape to Florida, and therefore the mind has to adopt some sort of strategy, in order to endure the coming insult to our physical forms. After all, if you believe in evolution, we are jungle monkeys, at home in a Garden of Eden, and not upon tundra.

Even if you don’t believe in evolution, it has been a long, long time since we dwelt in Eden. Even if you don’t believe in evolution, perhaps we have been bred like dogs into certain breeds. Even if you don’t believe in evolution, it seems obvious that people to the north have whiter skin than people to the south, as sunshine is necessary, to produce Vitamin D,  but you can get too much of a good thing, in which case sunshine causes skin cancer.  God does amazing things to protect His children, and white skin allows people to get enough vitamin D where sunshine is low and weak, while dark skin prevents skin cancer when the sun is high, hot, and burns.

I have started to wonder if there are some other traits which have been imparted to northern people, that help them deal with winter. Because I run a Childcare, it seemed a good place to study the way the young react to the change in seasons, to see if they have any behaviors that seem northern in nature.

My study seemed especially insightful because modern children live lives so insulated from the outdoors, as do their parents. Parents chose our Childcare because they believe the outdoors is good, in theory; in actual fact they work indoors and only a few get out for hikes on the weekends. Therefore the children, who unknowingly were about to become subjects of my highly scientific study, were pure, and not corrupted by earlier experience of the outdoors. I could see responses that were fresh, and showed primal instincts.

One thing that became clear was that “shelter” became abruptly more important, as days swiftly grew shorter.

Not that children don’t build structures in the summer, but these are largely “forts”, and are built for warfare. “Warfare?” you ask? Yes, sad to say, but children do have a less than harmonious side, and build all sorts of forts that display sexism (“girls only” and “boys only”) and ageism (“big-kids-only” and “little-kids-only”) and even status-ism (“cool-crowd-only” and “uncool-crowd-only”), and then they steal sticks from each others forts and then rage about the robberies. You’d be amazed by how much time I have to spend overseeing the ownership of sticks. We have no toy guns at our Childcare, but over and over I hear either, “He keeps aiming his stick at me!” or “He stole my stick!”  Sometimes I can muster the wisdom of Solomon, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do; I’ll break the stick in two and give you each half,” but other times the only escape is to get away from the forts altogether, by going on a hike.

It was on hikes I first noticed the sudden interest in shelter. During summer rains I have a hard time getting children to bother with raincoats, and often wind up carrying raincoats they shed, as they delight in becoming drenched. However, as the sun sank lower in the southern sky at noon, the rain-clouds darkened, and suddenly the children wanted not only raincoats, but umbrellas, though the wind was from the south and rain wasn’t all that colder. As I happened to have seven umbrellas, I handed them out to the children, taking notes, for my highly scientific study, of this sudden interest in shelter.

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The rain then stopped, and you might think I’d then wind up carrying seven umbrellas. In actual fact I only wound up carrying five, because some sort of greed kicked in, and two umbrellas became some sort of status symbol. I had to break up fights, and teach “sharing”, and have them “take turns”. However it was when we entered the forest and were beneath the shelter of trees that I got a surprise. They all demanded their umbrellas back. It wasn’t because the rain had started again. It was because they wanted to build a shelter. I took a picture, for my highly scientific study.

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When we returned from our hike and I collected the umbrellas, (slightly the worse for wear), I became aware of a second attribute seen in northern children, which seems unlikely and only was revealed due to a mistake I made when I first opened the Childcare ten years ago. Back then I thought kids might be interested in old fashioned stuff, which is basically Neanderthal by modern standards: I showed them how to split wood with an ax and lay a campfire.

Big mistake. There is nothing more exhausting than having to oversee children swinging axes, and children by a campfire is nearly as bad. However the activity was incredibly popular, and the older children infected the younger with the desire to wave axes and feed fires. Any hope the interest would die away as the older children moved on from Childcare to more formal schooling, and I ceased to actively promote the activity, was dashed by the children who remembered the year before, and pleaded, “Please, please, Puh-leese can we chop wood and have a fire?”

To some degree it is gratifying to watch a boy grow from barely being able to lift an ax to becoming proficient at reducing a fat log to kindling. At times I think the Neanderthal were on to something. Rather than Ritalin they gave boys axes, and rather than drugged faces they saw faces that shone with pride:

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But there is no getting around the fact I have to work pretty hard to teach a boy to split wood with a Neanderthal implement. Some might say it is easier to just send them off to fight Arabs, so we can be lazy and just spin the dial of a thermostat, heating our homes with Arab oil. Never mind that the back yards of some homes are forests full of dead trees and fallen wood, (which is great for the local populations of woodpeckers, but represents an increasing forest fire danger during droughts).

Never mind that. That is a loaded subject for some future post. Instead let us face the fire-danger wood-stoves present us with. The poorer people in this area are still Neanderthal, and still burn wood, and fires do escape stoves, and houses do burn down, which means the fire department needs to educate children about what to do in a fire.

One thing that upsets children is that a fully dressed fireman looks, and even sounds, like the evil Darth Vader of Star Wars movies. Firemen entering homes to save children have seen them take one look at their rescuer and run the other way. Therefore they come to my Childcare and show that they are smiling, nice people,  before they dress in scary-looking gear. Even though the children have seen the nice people put the gear on, they still tend to be scared once it is on.

Shelter 4 FullSizeRender To be accurate, as a reporter, I should add it is somewhat amazing I was even able to take the above picture, because the Darth Vader appearance of the firemen completely freaked-out a two-year-old, who was wailing in my arms. He wouldn’t let go, even when they took off the costumes and let the other children experience the sublime joy of sitting in a firetruck.

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Perhaps what the two-year-old was trying to tell me was that, no matter how amazingly nice firemen and fire-women may be, something scary is involved in the subject.

For that matter, something scary is involved in the subject of fire, and even in the subject of winter. Both freezing and burning are scary.

Children are not as stupid as some seem to believe. (For that matter, neither are adults.) It is futile to gloss over reality with an insipid belief we can be spared a very real thing: Old Man Winter is coming, and will turn turf into tundra, and unless you befriend the dangerous realities of fuel and fire, you will die.

Some seem to believe children should be buffered in over-heated classrooms, with nature only seen on video screens, and spared knowing of the bitter winds that bluster and buffet outside. It likely a heresy for me to say this, but I think such mollycoddling harms, for the results of my highly scientific study suggests children are happier, healthier, and smarter when allowed to learn what their northern, Neanderthal genes already yearn to learn about, which is not the subjects of grammar, “social studies”, and algebra, but rather the subjects of shelter, fuel, and fire.

The sun is low at noon, and by four o’clock
The west is aflame: the sun is a fire
In the boughs of pines that bitter winds rock,
And their trunks send long shadows across mire
Turned to stone tundra. It’s north we’re heading.
The farm pond skims with ice too thin to tread;
There is no skating, no snow for sledding;
But the west grows dark with approaching dread
And the children aren’t fools. They want a fire.
I have solar lights that cast blue firefly
Dimness, but they want orange to inspire
Dancing and warm mirth. Should I not try
To teach fire is something other than danger?
Winter’s too cold when fire’s a stranger.

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:)

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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.

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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).

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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.

LOCAL VIEW –Hollywood Goes Prudish–

One odd coincidence my wife and I share is that our best friends were both born on November 21. Her friend is still alive, but mine passed away a decade ago. I always pause to remember him on November 21.

The day I first noticed him I knew he was a force to be reckoned with. It was in fifth grade, and teachers had decided we should be trained at an earlier age to avoid the old-fashioned idea of a “home room”. I’m not sure what was wrong with having a home, but instead some advantage was to be gained from marching from room to room to study different subjects. Not that the teachers were all that more skilled at different subjects. But likely they enjoyed teaching certain subjects more than others, and they thought such joy might infect the students. Wrong.

The simple fact of the matter was that my homeroom teacher was a beautiful young woman who I think was deeply in love (the next year her last name was different, and by June she was very pregnant.) By her very attitude she made learning be a joy. She could have taught a subject she knew nothing about, perhaps automobile mechanics, from an antiquated Model-T textbook, and the students would have been so enchanted they would have learned more than they would have learned from the most skilled automobile mechanic. I had the feeling her classroom was a cloud of love, and don’t think a single student disliked her; most seemed enchanted.

No other teacher stood a chance, and to be ripped from the presence of this joyous young woman, and placed in a classroom taught by a somewhat embittered old lady, who deeply resented that her favorite subject “history” was to be called “social studies”, was a very uncomfortable experience for me, as was the fact I was among students who I didn’t know, but whom were supposedly “at my level.” The old lady did catch my attention when she backslid and taught “history”, but when she attempted “social studies” it was apparent the subject was Pig Latin to her, and the entire classroom was confused, and my attention wandered.

For some reason these radical changes were not enacted at the start of the school year, but in late March or early April, when students are first hit by spring fever. Traditionally school ended at around this time, for children were needed back at the farm for spring planting, and all the wild energy would be put to good use. Instead, at this time, there was an attempt to “channel” the vital energy of youth in some sort of theoretically “socially constructive” manner. Eventually, decades later, they gave up and decided it was better to drug the dickens out of wild children, somehow thinking that frying their brains was better than tanning their hides, but, back when I went to school, education created a time-warp between corporal punishment and drug’s mind-control, when permissiveness and freedom ruled.

At this time my parents were still married, and I was an “untroubled” child, fairly obedient in my way, and making good progress in school. I hadn’t become the outlaw I later became (though I was no saint). As a good boy, I did stay away from the banned part of the playground in early April, where the mud was deep. However, as my attention wandered during Social Studies class, I saw the shoes of a boy who had broken this rule.

The shoes were so muddy they appeared about twice as large as they actually were. It was a most amazing spectacle. The mud was drying in the overheated classroom, and clods and flakes were shedding from the shoes. There was already enough dirt to plant carrots around the feet, and the shoes had only started shedding.

At this point the feet started moving about, as feet do when they are stared at for an overly long period of time. Instinct told me to glance up at the face the feet were attached to, and I met the glaring, challenging eyes of a boy just daring me to call him a pig. I didn’t. The thought didn’t even cross my mind. Instead I thought the eyes were as interesting as the huge feet. And, as I thought this, the eyes changed. When, rather than judgmental, I looked curious, they shifted from anger to surprise.

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, though it was a stormy one. The fellow was never ordinary, but perhaps being born on the cusp of a water sign and a fire sign makes for billowing clouds of steam and thunderheads, and I’ve always thought thunderheads are beautiful.

He always tended to be more daring, while I was more prudish. At that time the “frontier” young men challenged involved the dangers of sex and drugs, and he paid a heavy price for being daring. I probably would have followed in his footsteps and paid the same price, had my stepfather not tricked me into attending a school about as far away from sex and drugs as it was then possible to find.  (Dunrobin, in northern Scotland.)

One thing we were always able to share was our minds. It is difficult to say exactly how we did this, other than to say our talks involved a lot of symbols, or images, or gestalts. At times a most rudimentary image would communicate more than you might think possible. We’d be talking about some esoteric topic and he’d say, “You mean, sort of like salsa?” and I’d reply, laughing, “Exactly!” An outsider would have no clue what we were talking about, yet we could talk for hours in a strange sort of complete understanding that also involved vehement disagreement.

Looking back, I think one thing he liked about me was that I could tell him what it was like to do what he had chosen not to do. I could tell him what it was like to be a virgin and still date the-girl-next-door. I could tell him what it was like to be off drugs for months in northern Scotland.

In terms of drugs, I was a prude compared to him. He had a zest for the entire world of hallucinations and unusual perceptions. I did too, but also had the sense we were on dangerously thin ice. But I will say this: If you are foolish enough to take such vile substances, don’t do it with small minds. Don’t do it with people who can say little more than, “Yowza. Am I ever wrecked.” Rather do it with a mind who can describe in great detail the various avenues it is going down. To “trip” with this individual was truly a journey so enjoyable that, were it not for the Grace of God, my brains would have become as fried as his became, because I enjoyed talking and laughing with him more than anything else.

When I went to school in Scotland he went to school in Boston, and, (in those primitive times before the internet), we exchanged two or three letters a week. Mine described a mind off drugs, plunged into the English literature necessary to pass “A” levels, and his blearily traced the wild scene in Boston, involving many women and parties and running a college newspaper even after he stopped attending classes. Then there was a horrible postal strike in England, and we couldn’t communicate.

When we reunited after a year we were able to compare our minds in a way, and on a level, that most people can’t. In a way most people can’t imagine I think he saw I had, by sheer luck, come out ahead.

It seemed unfair. He’d had more guts, was more daring, but wound up damaged, in some mental way difficult to describe. Call it frustration, for that describes it best. My mind was clear and produced answers, while his was muddy and produced frustration. However his honesty expressed where he was at. I liked his amazing poetry, though he produced less and less:

“When you’re in the mud
All you see is mud.”

I think one of the most awful tragedies of my generation was that the better minds were crippled. Hallucinogens were described by one Native American, (who left the Peyote Church), as “a trickster.”  They promise to expand consciousness, but retard it.

I can say this now, at retirement age, because I saw the danger and backed away from that frontier, like a person backing away from a volcano’s crater because he sees the expedition’s leader succumbing to poisonous gasses.  Not that I didn’t inhale and suffer some damage myself. But I survived.

People tell me, “I never quit and I can still do what I could do.” At age sixty-four that seems to me to be a terribly sad statement. It is like Beethoven at the end of his life stating, “I can still write the First Symphony.”  A mind is suppose to grow, and reach a Ninth Symphony.  To stay the same is to stay stuck, and involves a constant frustration, which eventually breeds a subtle antipathy.

I faced that antipathy in my childhood friend, especially when I renounced our adventure into the world of hallucination and turned to God. (And there can be no denying I was a naive pain, when I first sought a different “high”.) Yet we stayed in touch, despite the distance that had grown between us. I suppose, when minds have been as close as ours were, there is always a curiosity about what the other is seeing, and where it is going.

Eventually it became obvious to my friend that drugs indeed were a trickster, but his brains were by then only a shade of what they once were. He then accepted his predicament with class, and even dignity, though to think as a “straight” person was an exercise in frustrating futility. He actually sought to stop thinking, by doing a Yoga that made his mind blank, and it seemed to do him good. Nor did he ever stop believing in the “high” things he’d seen as a mere teenager blitzed on acid, even when he couldn’t see them any more.

He died of cancer of the esophagus, which cut him down in a matter of weeks. One thing I’ll always regret is that we never had a final talk. I hope he didn’t think I’d tell him, “I told you so”, or some such useless thing. Probably not. I think many who die without telling many friends just don’t want to cause others pain. I knew many artists who died of AIDS in the 1980’s who vanished without saying any good-byes.

What would I have liked to talk about, during a final talk with a dying friend? I think it would be the beauty we saw together, even in the process of making the wrong choices. If you focus too much on the wrong choices you only become bitter.

This brings me around to the peculiar agony currently afflicting the so-called “beautiful people” of Hollywood and Washington D.C.  Their raging seems downright demented to me, and a sort of spasm of guilt and a paroxysm of shame, manifesting as disgust and bitterness. Apparently being “beautiful” is not so beautiful, after all.

Harvey Weinstein was seemingly the pebble that started an avalanche.  Behavior which once was seen as “sophisticated” is now called what it always was, “sleazy”.

When I went drifting through California more than thirty years ago I found most people felt the ideas now manifesting were prudish. I know this for I expounded such ideas, and was told I was prudish, wasn’t a realist, wasn’t sophisticated, was naive, didn’t know how the world worked, would never get anywhere, was behind the times, wasn’t hip, and was in fact ugly. I wasn’t one of the “beautiful people.”

What changed things? I think the actual pebble that started the actual avalanche was the election of Donald Trump. Popularity means a lot, (and at times everything), to the Hollywood mindset, and such a mindset is horrified to see popularity shrink in any way, shape or form. To have Hillary Clinton lose,  (despite some glaring voter fraud assisting her), was a message no amount of explanation could deny. What was the message? “You are not popular. You are not seen as beautiful. You are not admired, envied, marketable.”

It is the strangest thing to see the facade crumbling. In some ways it looks like one of those “swings of a social pendulum” you read about, where people run like indecisive lemmings from one cliff to another, basically brainless and merely following the mob. However in other ways it seems like common sense rising up in “flyover country” to inform Hollywood and Washington nobody is really buying their bull.

I think our world has paid a terrible price due to the “trickster” of sex, drugs and greed. It is easy to become bitter, thinking of the pain and the people hurt, like my old best friend. However perhaps it is better to remember that, before the trickster tricked, people were speaking of “Love, Truth and Understanding”, and those things were and are and always will be beautiful things.

What will be interesting to watch is whether people behave like witless lemmings, running from extreme to extreme, or whether they have actually learned anything. For there is such a thing that people develop called “discernment”. I would like to believe that the 48 years since the “Summer Of Love” in 1969 has actually taught the USA a thing or two, and we are moving from producing a First Symphony to producing a Ninth.

In any case, Happy Birthday, to my old friend in heaven.

 

LOCAL VIEW –The Color Of Bleak–

There is something very beautiful about this time of year, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. All the gorgeous autumn leaves have been stripped from the trees, and the pristine beauty of a snow-covered landscape is still in the future. The world has gone gray.

The world has gone gray, and sunlight is dim
At noon, and songbirds have fled like traitors.
The ponds haven’t froze; chance-for-skating is slim;
And doubt smiles with teeth like alligator’s.
Now is the time it seems darkness has won.
Witch trials seem possible; madness is seen
In night’s leaping shadow; diminishing sun;
And the crazed holy day, Halloween.
It’s too far from Christmas to hope for light
Returning to redeem us from the dark.
Shadows grow longer and all that’s in sight
Is a cynical newscaster’s remark
Which offers no hope, and yet I see a spark
That can fuel a bright blaze in a landscape gone stark.

Stark FullSizeRender

What the children were looking at was a couple of belated Great Blue Heron’s, pausing on their way south. As we drew nearer they flew to the far side of the far side of the Flood Control Reservoir, and as they did the children exclaimed over the width of the big bird’s wings, at times over six feet.

Stark 2 majestic-great-blue-heron-in-flight

Now, at this point, you likely are thinking this is a typical post, with me bragging about how my Childcare is better than most and I am simply marvelous. In actual fact it is a confession which should convince some parents they ought raise their own children and never, never hire a stranger like me.

In the above picture of the children looking out over the water there are six children, (with one nearly hidden behind the child wearing red). This should be an easy number for a veteran Child Care Professional like myself to account for, but a half mile farther along on this hike I lost one, and didn’t even know it.

It happened like this:

Two of the boys involved were laggards, and made the others wait for them to catch up, over and over. Further along on this hike we were moving along an old stone wall in the woods, and I looked backwards and saw the two boys were again lagging, and told them to hurry up. Meanwhile, to keep the other four interested, I was pointing out the difference between the tiny footprints of deer mice and larger footprints of flying squirrels in a dust of slushy snow along the top of the stone wall. When one of the boys caught up I assumed the other was with him, as the two had been inseparable. We continued a bit further along the wall when I heard an adult voice calling from far away, shouting “I’ve got your kid!”

It turned out the second boy had decided to go back. He could care less about the footprints of deer mice. He was heading back to the farm for a snack. He reached the main trail (we were bush-whacking off the main trail) and came face to face with an adult he didn’t know.

I doubt many parents would approve of this situation.

Fortunately the adult was an old friend, who happened to be out hiking the starkness of November, and knew enough to bellow into the trees to find me. But I confess I was blushing when I retrieved the child I had misplaced.

In my ten years of watching other people’s children there have been many occasions when children have run off, but usually I locate them within thirty seconds. There was only one time when two small brothers decided to “go home” during the first few days they were enrolled.  I had stepped into the underbrush and behind a tree to relieve myself, and when I stepped back out they were gone. Bellowing proved futile.  I nearly had a coronary before my wife informed me she could see them  heading back to the farm. (A benefit of cell phones.)

This is no excuse. If I promise to watch children I should watch them. But I confess I am imperfect. It may not be a sin of commission, but it is a sin of omission. In this example, I neglected to be sure the laggard actually caught up with the rest of us, and instead assumed he had, when in fact he was headed the opposite way. A five-year-old met a total stranger. This is not a good situation.

Now, if I wanted to play the blame-game, I could turn the tables, and blame the parents for not caring for their own children, and instead handing them off to a neglectful old fool like myself.

I could blame colleges for burdening young parents with huge debts to pay off, so that they both must work fingers to the bone and have no time for their children.

I could blame the government for caring more for banks that collect interest on college loans, than for the poor, exploited students.

I could go on. In some ways the world we live in is as stark as November.

Instead I think I’ll skip the blame-game, and instead be thankful. I’m thankful the adult the wayward child met was an old friend of mine, who could just bellow, “I’ve got one of your kids,” and make everything right.

Perhaps that is what defines an “old friend.” They are not particularly interested in the blame-game, and are more interested in making things right.

This in turn suggests we should be more interested in making old friends, than in blaming (which is no way to make a friend.)

The truth of the matter is we are all imperfect. Only God Almighty is perfect. Therefore we will all, at some point, screw up. I confess I did screw up, concerning watching over one small boy’s safety.

As Thanksgiving approaches I have decided to make an effort to tell old friends how thankful I am they exist, and to make this old world be more a world of appreciation and thankfulness, than a world of the blame-game.