Monday, August 30, 2010

I've moved

Hey . . . If anybody is looking, I've moved to here.... http://jimwaltersblog.wordpress.com/ ....looking forward to seeing you there!:)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Follow Your Bliss

Joseph Campbell was being interviewed by Bill Moyers on the PBS “Power of Myth“ series when I first heard his phrase “follow your bliss”. In his viewpoint this undertaking must happen if a man were to experience fulfillment in his lifetime.

Joseph Campbell was a very wise man, but just what does it mean to follow one's bliss?

Well, in my opinion it means merely to be balanced enough to know your gift and be willing enough to work towards bringing it to fruition.

An artist creating a work.

A business man creating a new business.

A teacher creating wonder and hope in young minds.

A philanthropist in the creative stage of giving.

On an on it goes, different for each individual yet having the same affect on all of them by bringing purpose into their lives.

Did you catch the major theme through all this dream following?

Creativity. Being a creative human being is what it's all about. After all what are we if not creators?

Followers.

Now, following is not bad nor necessarily wrong. Without leadership we would be living extremely chaotic lives on this planet, and in all reality would probably have gone extinct some time ago.

But there is a balance that must be maintained while following or else you may just deny your gift and ultimately lose yourself in another's cause.

What's your dream? (it is normally tied into your gift) Everybody who has not been beaten down or brainwashed by the society he lives in has one.

What do you need to do in order to fulfill it?

I would say also that in order to follow your dream you must be realistic in your goals. Otherwise a man will spend his valuable youth chasing after someone else's dream, be he/she a scholar, a movie star, a musician or a magician, it doesn't matter.

He will merely be living as a copy cat who will never be as good as what he copies. Why? It's not his. He is just fantasizing it is.

Has anybody ever made Mozart's music as good as Mozart himself? No, of course not. He may be good enough to copy and be almost equal to Mozart, but never will he surpass him. It's impossible.

My gift is not in the music field and I know it, yet I still enjoy playing an instrument. Nor am I a painter, yet I enjoy painting a picture. We can do a lot of really cool stuff without activating our gift. Those who excel, the gifted ones who seemingly are heads above the rest of us, these guys are the ones I'm talking about.

I know my gift and when it's working I am in another place. A place where nothing can touch me, nor harm me, spiritually speaking anyways. When I am in my gift, I am at one with the earth. That's the best I can explain it. I'm sure Joseph could do better.

I fundamentally believe that each person born into this world has a gift of some sort programmed into his DNA and his goal, in order to be happy, is to find that gift and use it to the betterment of himself as well as his fellows.

The problem I see, at least in this country, is that in order to create anything of value you first must follow a learning curve of dedication, commitment, discipline and practice. All the things that seem to be out of vogue in this “hurry up I want it now!” society we live in.

As a practical matter we need to have a place of quiet solitude where we can meditate upon these questions and resolve them in our own minds before we even begin. Then we need to move forward to practice them.

Thich Nhat Hanh (a Vietnamese Buddhist monk) is a great example of a man following his bliss.

In the midst of the Vietnam War while the Americans were bombing the hell out of his country, he and his organization were busily rebuilding bombed villages, setting up schools and medical clinics, and helping through non violent means all he could to alleviate the plight of the citizens of his country.

For doing that he was ultimately forced out of his country and banned from ever returning. Nothing stopped him however and he remains practicing peace to this day in Plum Village somewhere in France.

Hopefully as/if things get worse for you in this country nothing will stop you either because what takes place on the outside is nothing to be compared to the power within once you find and follow your bliss. . . . Go for it! You'll be glad that you did.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Tribe

Eleven o’clock on a summer morning and the place was seemingly deserted, no dogs, nothing. Where’s everybody at? Where’s the kids I thought as I slowly drove past one house after another in the upscale housing development.

I gazed upon one perfectly manicured lawn after another, each bisected by ribbons of clean concrete drives and sidewalks. There probably wasn't a dandelion in the whole damn allotment.

The carefully designed scene, instead of evoking envy, made me feel a little sad, especially for the chubby kids huddled around their TV’s and computers breathing stale, conditioned air. Kids who’ve never heard of kick the can, or knew the pleasure of playing hide and seek outside after dark. Kids who’ve never danced in the warm summer rain or gotten into a good fist fight. To me, this atmosphere was cold, sterile, and alien.

Day after day, aside from the occasional guy who still mowed his own lawn, or his wife coming and going in her new S.U.V., I rarely saw anyone. The only noise in the neighborhood was the sound of construction around the new over-priced home we were building.

I thought about my own childhood days growing up in the housing project and realized how lucky I’d been. There, in the summer, small dandelion-cluttered yards would be full of bare foot kids playing games in the grass. On the blacktop sidewalks they’d be riding bikes, or skipping ropes while their mothers huddled together on the front porch stoops gabbing amongst themselves.

I remembered the laughter, crying, barking dogs, smells of food cooking, back yards full of clothes hanging on lines while drying in the hot sun. We were a tribe of poor, noisy, blue collar common folk, but we were alive, and we had fun.

No music blared from boom boxes, no guns, gangs, or drugs. That would all come later, after corporate greed, TV, and welfare had taken their toll on the working class and stripped us of our pride.

***

I’ve created a stereotype here to prove the point that as we’ve sought to better ourselves by improving our social position we have also lost the need for each other. We have perverted our natural herding instinct by choosing to live in close proximity to, yet totally separate from, our neighbors. We’ve broken away from the tribe and have decided to go it alone.

These modern developments are a shining example of our separation. We surround ourselves with every modern convenience we can afford, close the doors to our large, self contained homes and spend our days locked within our mini-castles.

Instead of a moat and drawbridge, we have a security system. Instead of Knights in shining armor to protect us, we have a uniformed police force waiting close by to apprehend any neighbor foolish enough to break the thin red line. Have we created a modern version of Camelot and are regressing back to the Middle Ages?

I don’t know, maybe I’m just getting old, but I sure do miss my friends and those lovely, sunny bright medicinal flowers that have become a curse, as have their neighbors, to so many.

My Place Tavern 1970

When I left Ohio I had my old army duffel bag full of clothes, a few bucks I had borrowed from my friends, and a beat up Ford convertible. Everything else I owned down to the small box of pictures, ribbons, medals, awards etc. I left with my ex-wife who promised to keep them in the attic for when I returned. (Ha! They probably hit the trash can the minute I left.)

A week or so later, with the eight cylinder auto sparking on only seven, I backfired my way across the high desert and into the city of Portland, Oregon. My old friend Tom Yoho who lived in Portland was going to meet me in a SW bar by the state college called My Place Tavern.

It was an easy drive across the river. Soon I found the tavern sandwiched between two larger buildings sitting under a derelict sign bearing it's name. I parked the banging beater (that I soon thereafter sold for $35.00) and entered through the heavy oak door into an environment much the same as every other neighborhood tavern I had been in.

The typical long bar with simple stools ran down the right side wall, booths ran down the left, a couple pool tables sat in the middle. The smell of smoke and beer permeated everything. The only difference I could recognize was that behind the bar a backdrop of hard liquor bottles was missing. They didn't serve whiskey in Portland bars at the time.

It was close to noon and the place was almost empty. I called Tom from the public phone in the corner, ordered one of those hot Stewart sandwiches from the friendly bar maid, sat in a booth, and waited for Tom to show up.

It had been a couple years since I'd last seen him, but when he showed up I was shocked. My old tough guy, hell raising buddy had gone Hippie. He burst into the bars quietness all gregarious and charismatic as ever. BUT . . . He's dressed like the damn Pied Piper. I thought.

“Sid! (everybody from the projects still called me Sid) Wow, man . . . FAR OUT! . . . Wow, Far OUT! . . . Wow . . . Cool . . . Man, this is so . . . Wow, Far out, Cool . . . “ He gave me a big hug (something you never do in the hood)

What the fuck happened to this guy? I thought.

His Midwestern no nonsense language had completely been replaced by this hippiesque sing song doper lingo that made absolutely no sense to me and he was dressed like a freakin freak. I was taken aback by old Tom for a while, but I soon learned to understand him and in time I even learned to speak and dress the part quite well myself.

We hung out in the tavern the rest of the day, drinking beers and playing pool, all on my dime of course. Some things never change, I thought, as I began to remember why he had left town in the first place. But he was still my all time best buddy. He was the good looking guy who always corralled the girls for the rest of us ugly dopes, so he got lots of slack.

Soon the place began to fill up. Everybody who came in the door knew Tom. He, of course, introduced them to me. We shot some pool, smoked a joint and thus began my two year love affair with My Place Tavern. I give her all the credit for not allowing me to blow my brains out in a particularly depressing time of my life.

I'd say there were at least forty gals and guys who formed the nucleus of this close nit community. We ate together and sometimes slept together. (remember SEX/DRUGS/ROCK and ROLL?) Mostly though, I knew I could walk in the place any time day or night, meet up with some friends and have a good bullshit session, cause there were plenty of things to talk about and plenty of trouble to go around in those days, even for the freedom conscience hippies.

I remember with much nostalgia the long philosophical conversations and arguments about Nixon and government, the war in Vietnam, religion, drugs, sex . . . every subject you can conceivably think of someone was able to talk about and give you their opinion on it.

We had fun also of course, sometimes loud and boisterous, sometimes stoned and subdued. Sometimes I would take the corner booth with a sweety I had just met for a little extra curricular lovey dovie.

We dropped acid and watched the walls breathe while warning about the dangers of shooting smack and crystal meth . . . Speed Kills! was never far from my lips. We nursed runaways and military deserters as well as sucker the guys with money and jobs out of their cash. We were a tribe.

There were people who came into My Place that I had never seen on the outside, didn't know much at all about them, but inside, while we partook of the magical atmosphere of the Tavern, we were friends.

One day the owners sold the place. The new owners were more interested in making money than having us weirdos hanging all day in their joint taking up space so they began to clean it up. No more dope, no more after hours parties, you wanna hang here you have to spend became the order of the day.

Little by little the old crowd disappeared till one day after I got busted and tired of hiding from my parole officer I decided to hang up my hippie clothes and go back to the doldrums and responsibility of my Ohio life.

The tavern may have remained, but because of the doofus who bought it, all the life and blood had been sucked out of it and it just wasn't any fun anymore. I really doubt it lasted long though cause you really can't make a silk purse out of a pigs ear . . . and well, the place was always just a dive to begin with.

A Bunch of Baboons

I remember watching an experiment involving a family of baboons once on television. The researchers observed and filmed the group of peaceful primates while they spent their days grooming one another and playing in their small clearing. The baboons had plenty of food growing around them and seemed quite content in their environment.

One morning the researchers put five oranges in a clearing within the baboon’s territory. They soon came out of hiding and began to sniff the strange round objects. One baboon began rolling and playing with them. It wasn't long until the entire family was squabbling and fighting each other over the oranges. A terrible battle ensued, until the researcher chased them away and took back the oranges.

Once the researcher and oranges were gone, the baboons returned to their peaceful ways. It even seemed like they were apologizing to one another for fighting over the fragrant round objects.

***

Men identify with, and judge themselves by three criteria: Power, Position, and Possession. As long as the oranges are fragrant and lovely to look upon, we will struggle amongst ourselves to possess them.

Hopefully, one day the brightness of the sun will turn the fruit to rot. Hopefully, one day we'll get a whiff of its true nature and realize, once and for all, that Greed is NOT good.

But not this day, so we fight, as we always have, for the right . . . to possess.

Music

I first fell in love with music back in 69 or so when I was living in Portland trying to be a hippie. The affair started one day while I was getting stoned in some girls pad ( the cool for apartment) and I heard an angels voice on the stereo. It was Joan Baez. At that moment I fell in love with her and as a result of her voice I fell in love with music also.

Up until then music was a good backdrop for whatever inanities I found myself doing, but I never really got into it much cause (maybe) in the 50's projects you got your ass kicked for even thinking of being a musician. Well, I'm much older now, it's winter and I'm starting to think about playing music again. This is something I've done off and on for the last forty years or so ever since I fell in love with Joan.

I have a music area in my library where the two (electric/acoustic) guitars live . . . and the cello . . . and the piano . . . alongside, let's see, my rebuilt mandolin, two hand made American Indian flutes, a hammered dulcimer, a regular dulcimer, two sets of African bongo drums, a (no shit) digereedoo, a tin whistle, various little things like a kazoo, a jaw harp (the real harp I made I gave away . . . as well as my old fiddle)

Anyways you get the picture, I have lots of instruments on which to play music plus piles of books, sheet music etc. to compliment them. If you were to walk into my library and look around you'd swear I was a damn virtuoso, or a one man band.

Well, I'm a one man band house building machine, but as a musician I suck. I have little natural talent, a voice like a fog horn and I hate to practice. “Forget about Mary Had a Little Lamb. I'll start out with the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled banner thank you.”

So, forty years later, I still grab and beat up my guitar the same old way running everybody out of the house with the same old worn out bad-to-begin-with melody following an equally bad out-of-sync base line. Then one day, not long ago . . . I fell in love once again.

It all started at the flea market where I used to peddle my access wood. I walked over to the table of a guy who was setting up late. He was not a regular, had just cleaned out his garage and was gonna sell the stuff he didn't want. Leaning up against his pickup was an old guitar case. Knowing by the looks of it that it wasn't one of those Chinese cheapies I asked, “Can I see the guitar”?

“Sure” said he.

He lay the case on the table and opened it up to reveal a lovely little folk guitar that had been made by Fender sometime in the early sixties. He was the original owner. After a bit of small talk I bargained him down to about 100.00 U.S. The remainder of the day I pedaled wood while anticipating the time I could take off to lick and tickle my new love in the privacy of our own home.

Last year I listened to a guy on Utube named Pierre Bensusan teaching and playing his guitar in an alternate tuning called DADGAD. Wow! I grabbed the old folk guitar messed around a bit trying to re tune it till I finally got out my tuner (cause I'm tone deaf) and did it right.

One brush over the strings and I was hooked. It was like playing a dulcimer, kinda mountainy and mysterious. The first (base string) played open can be a drone to a treble melody. . . and it's all easy as hell, an absolute necessity for me cause I get bored real quick. Later you can improvise to your hearts content using chords, melody lines etc. . . . anything you can do in EADGBE you can do in DADGAD if you play alone like I do.

If you have a guitar and your intercourse is getting boring, give her a different tone and she may just perk up and play you a lively Irish jig . . . or go all soft and mysterious like a deep forest rain. . . all dank, wet, and dripping.

If your heart is strong give DADGAD a try.

Acceptance

We were discussing the problems concerning gays and the marriage thing going on in California the other day on a web forum I hang out in. I noticed first off how everybody in the discussion seemed to be trying to prove their tolerance when it came to the issue, but I personally kinda feared the aftermath of watering down a fundamental institution like marriage by opening the doors to same sex marriage. Maybe cause I'm a builder, but messing with foundations, unless there is a need, bothers me.

Now this is not just me, nor just the religious right (of which I have no doings beings I'm a Zen Taoist) but it seems there are quite a few citizens in this country who, although they have no problem with the gay issue in general, bulk at the thought of opening the marriage gate to them. How come? Well, I can only say this ideal of the perfect marriage between a man and a women has been with us for a very long time and in general people just fear change.

Now, everybody who has been married for any length of time knows the reality of marriage is not so hot, but men keep their grip, and live their somewhat miserable lives on this planet, by holding onto ideals, hope, and faith. . . . not reality.

Living in reality causes too much psychic trauma. So we, in order to preserve our sanity, choose rather to cherish ideals and fantasies and hopes concerning our own peace and happiness as well as the worlds. We patiently, or not so patiently, await the election of the next presidential promise, or the return of Jesus, or perfection, or the rapture . . . whatever.

So changing the ideal of the perfect male/female marriage is a really big deal for a lot of people. For me, it's not quite such a big deal cause I'm a realist who spends more time creating reasons for not offing myself than worrying about gay people getting to join up in the same box the rest of us are in.

I just say to the gays, “Come on in! The waters fine . . . for a while.” You guys want to give up your freedom? You want to take on the burden of a wife/husband who although you may love dearly, also just about daily aggravates the hell out of you? Welcome to the straight world. You'll soon enough be kicking each other in your sorry asses for ever wanting to belong in this fantastic fantasytical institution.

If my wife and I lived together (now admittedly children are a deal breaker and IMO the only real reason for marriage in the first place) we would get along far better than we do now. An open relationship causes one not to feel so trapped and the other not so bored. Instinctively, without the lawful bonds, you realize you must treat your other in a proper manner cause as you don't own them, they might just up and leave after you've spent the day drinking beer on the front porch with your buddies. You may even be more inclined to take your love out once in a while for dinner and a movie instead of sitting at home every night snoring and farting in the Lazy Boy.

So, in essence, it seems 'ownership papers' disguised as lawful marriage papers are a huge damper on the free and wild relationship the two of you had when you were courting. Does it have to be this way? Of course not, but the divorce rate tells us it pretty much is.

Remember the sex? The long hours at the coffee shop enthralled with what the other was saying? How lovingly you looked into their eyes and considered yourself the luckiest person on the planet to have met such a wonderful mate?

Well, keep your memory and get ready cause once you guys get your marriage wish that's all going to change. Not over night of course, perhaps not for twenty years, but one day you will wake up and see the ideal of marriage had nothing to do with an institution to begin with. You were friends when you first met and if you are smart you will learn to be friends again after all the ideals have evaporated into a huge cloud of bullshit.

My wife is my best friend. The closest person to me on this planet. That's how I look at her. She's not mine. We are just two children of the earth who have decided to hangout together for this go around. She is precious to me beyond all doubt, but the marriage thing? I don't know man I really think it was a hindrance more than a help.

Sometimes all the complaints and demands make me crazy. I just wanna say, “AHHH! I'm going down to the VFW and play some pool,” and walk out the door. But I know in my heart this will create a huge stumbling block between me and the dinner table when I get back drunk and hungry.

The bottom line in all this is that in my opinion acceptance is a personal issue and the gays are looking for it in the wrong place. You must first accept yourself before you will ever truly accept or be accepted by anybody or society outside of yourself.

Paper work won't cause it to happen. “They” (society) won't do it for you. No one else will. You gotta do it yourself by searching within yourself and making the proper choices that will begin the creating processes towards your own freedom and acceptance. You gotta learn to love yourself. Then you won't feel the need to be accepted by a bigoted society such as this one is in the first place.

And I personally bottom line feel this is where a lot of this gay stuff is actually going . . . the desire to be integrated and accepted as a full fledged member . . . of what? I'm not sure.

Respect is the secret to solving practically every social fray in this country. And respect is seemingly the most difficult thing to get. To all my gay friends (yes I have a couple lesbian friends) I give a hearty welcome to the marriage game, but also a warning to not believe the advertisements cause in the world of reality it ain't the end to all your lonely problems, it may just be the beginning.

Racism

Since earlier I was talking about fear I was wondering why it is that people are racist to begin with? What are they afraid of?

Obama is black. That's enough right there to gender a negative emotion in a zillion people. The most of whom would deny having anything at all to do with being racist in the first place. As a matter of fact many of these same people are the politically correct ones who openly preach against racism.

Obama is black. Is he? Is anybody black? He has a white mother from America and a black father from Africa. That makes him a mixed breed African American.

In the real world we are all mixed breed by now anyways, even you pure, lilly white, blue blood Anglo's have some off-white blood in you. (maybe even Negro blood . . . YIKES!) We're all a bunch of mutts. Just like the three dogs in my outside pen.

I believe racism began in the caves when men found themselves on a wild, chaotic and violent planet somewhere near the bottom of the food chain and got scared. With nothing more than a large capacity brain and a half assed muscle system to keep them alive, men figured the best way to survive was by herding up much like the other herbivores did and to spend their lives in the caves hiding from the monsters lurking on the plain.

Perhaps as they multiplied and branched out into the vastness of the world they morphed a bit due to the climate differences they chose to live in and the food they chose to eat. Regardless, in time the features of men changed as they acclimatized to their new environment and the separate races were born.

Maybe this whole racist thing got started with religion. Perhaps one group created a mythology that placed them in the center of the earth at the right hand of God, or perhaps even became the Gods themselves. While another tribe did something different, yet having the same results.

Regardless it all started a shit storm of separation and dominion in massive proportions once the game began. This thinking would automatically place each individual tribe above their look alike, though considered savage, neighbors. Maybe it was just the inevitable yin to the herding instinct's yang . . . or a heavenly test. I don't know, but it truly sucks, regardless.

Eventually even tribes of the same race began bickering and warring with their neighbors as they tried to get each others stuff . . . and down it went through the eons of time.

Anyway, bringing it to today. It seems at first glance the white Anglo Saxon has pretty much won the race game cause we are, at the moment, the guys on top. Our psyche has been so ingrained with this “elitist” idea that most of us believe the world would be a far better place if we could just dominate humanity and bring all the other cultures into our homogenized form of Capitalistic/Democracy. The way that has served us so well should, in our opinion, spread across the Earth and deliver the less fortunate other races. The religion ideals that have made us Gods chosen must, of course, follow in order to completely deliver the heathen from his own barbaric customs. If only “they “ would follow us and quit resisting the tug of evolution.

We will tolerate them, we will even pretend to love them, but to listen to them and accept them into the club in which we belong? No way. We are their leaders and their teachers. We white Anglo's are ushering, through the use of science and technology, into the earth a perfect civilization of peace and prosperity. We would magnanimously like to bring them along that's all, cause well, someones got to make our shoes and stuff.

Obama's black. What the hell happened? A black president does not fit into the equation. Are we about to be over run by the very slaves who once drew our bath water for us? Holy shit! I'm afraid, are we about to boiled in a pot and eaten by these black savages?

I grew up in a white lower class neighborhood. Don't remember ever being around black kids until I started to play sports. Basically, us white kids didn't understand or like the blacks. They played sports too good and they fought too hard.

Then I went into a totally segregated military and had to sleep amongst these guys and train with them. Once overseas half my platoon seemed to be black. I found in spite of all my negative teaching and thought that these guys were a lot of fun to hang out and raise hell with.

I am not a racist any longer because of these experiences. And I have found I have far more in common with a lot of these “different” people than I have or will ever have with those of my own race. Whites are so uptight they make me nervous much of the time. Get together with white guys and all they talk about is inane shit I ain't in the least bit interested in.

Portfolios and bank accounts and posturing your fat ass around me just puts me to sleep. I want some good old time liquor drinking, jaw jacking and music playing that I used to get from the blacks.

I hope Obama brings a bit of soul to the White House. I even hope they even rename the place. This country needs to lose a whole lot of it's whiteness IMO. That's where the fear mongers like Rush Limbaugh come from to begin with.

Personally I would rather spend all my time amongst ALL the races, maybe have dinner one night with a black athlete . . . and a Vietnamese artist . . . and an Arab poet. (leave the religious shit out though cause I'm way sick of that stuff). Wouldn't that be a lively evening? Wouldn't that open a whole plethora of really interesting stuff to talk about?

I'm liking a black man in the White House . . . and I ain't even pretending to like a lot of my white brothers. Did you ever wonder why the whites stole the blacks and made slaves out of them in the first place if they were so damn shiftless and lazy? Hmmmmm. Maybe the industrialist has something to do with that after all.

Those white Wall Street/Politico war mongers, now there's a race of folks I truly DON'T trust.


Am I My Brothers Keeper?

The other day I heard that a 93 year old veteran froze to death in his house in Cleveland after his utilities were cut off.

WHAT?!

Then, after ringing their hands a bit, the majority of the guys I talked to about it exonerated the utility company for any problems they may have caused the old guy. I mean, after all they are running a business. They need to make a profit. Right? Why hold them responsible? The laws on their side you know.

I mean what the hell, we can't expect these companies to know all their clients can we? How did they know who lived there? It's simple, he got a warning and when he failed to comply he got shut down. That's just business. Good business by damn, by the way.

Well, I'm just dopey enough to ask a really stupid question.

Why couldn't a company who has this sort of power over you at least be thoughtful enough to come pay you a visit and make sure you are not sick, or old and suffering from dementia, before they arbitrarily shut you down and kill you?

Ok, maybe by law they are not responsible. How about the law of decency? And the law of morality? So what if it's not cost affective and they have to pay a costumer service guy to do the job?

This a perfect example why this country is broken and a perfect example as to why Obama is going to run dead on into a brick wall when it comes to fixing it. It is also a perfect example as to why you guys out there better quit with the arguing about politics and start thinking about and planning for your personal survival. You don't want to find yourselves in that old man's shoes do you?

The bottom line tells me there is no plan or thought in existence that will change this thing until the people and society themselves change by rethinking that old question plaguing humanity from the very beginning . . .

Am I my brothers keeper?

Now, don't get scared, I'm not going religious on you just cause this phrasing happens to be in the bible. I'm sure it's in all the others bibles also, perhaps in a different wording, but it's there. Because this is a basic elementary 101 religious thought. One, by the way, that has been shoved into a corner and covered with a thick coating of more important stuff like dogma and self righteousness.

Am I my brothers keeper?

Now the U.S. has always, at least since the industrial revolution, been business oriented. Profit has always meant more than anything to the stock market and big business. But at the same time I remember in my youth a kinder, gentler nation.

Example . . . I got a job in 70 or so with the East Ohio Gas Company as a meter reader. I walked door to door and read the gas meters of a couple hundred people every day. Many of the meters were in basements, so I either had a key on a large ring stuck to my waist or they left the door open.

I was to enter, read the meter, take a quick look-see in each house as to the smell of gas etc. If I smelled gas around the water heater say, I called service and within the hour a repair guy was on his way. If the owner thought he smelled gas in the middle of the night and called, the repair guy was on the way for a, get this . . . courtesy call (meaning no charge) and a complete gas line check.

If an old person was sick, or alone, or had dementia and he failed to pay his bill, I guarantee his gas would remain on till it got warm or until arrangements could be made for him or others to pay it. The situation concerning this guy would have been checked out by customer service before even thinking about shutting him down.

Now on the other hand, if there were no problems at the home and the guy was just shirking his responsibility to pay for his gas, he may get shut down after a couple warnings, but these episodes were few and far between.

The company may have lost a few bucks for the extra service, but in the long run it was probably good for them as they had a stellar reputation. Working for a utility company was considered a boss job, even if you were only a meter reader.

Course in those days the factories were still in town and jobs paying good wages were plentiful.
Ok, that was a different world and a different time, granted. . . . BUT. . . If this same mind set were in affect these days I wonder if we would be in the mess we are in.

Companies would have stayed in-country if they had given less consideration to profit and more thought to their work force. Mom and Pop would still be owning the local grocery. There would still be a bakery and a shoe repair shop and a local thriving economy like in the fifties.

Industry could have taken the middle class along with it instead of dumping the vast majority over a cliff while they partook in a feeding frenzy of greed, portfolios, and bank accounts.

These same knuckle draggers who have taken over Wall Street and big business have even conned us into glorifying their brand of Capitalism as free market initiative.

Now these same arrogant bastards run in circles shamelessly begging for bail outs because their greed has run this huge well oiled, business machine into the ground. No bail! Go directly to jail and I hope, into Bubba Love Butts loving arms.

Bernie Madoff gets to live in his pent house after he gets caught in a billion dollar Ponzi scheme when he should be water boarded just for fun and thrown into a bamboo cage with a cobra for a cell mate. Why is he not at least in prison?

The guys who are buying private jets? And the dope with the million dollar office remodel? . . .What's up with that? Even John Gotti had more class and was more honest than these bums.

Reality check: Nothing is going to change in this country regardless of how good the newest initiative package sounds and no matter which side of the isle is promoting it until both sides get real, sit down and think a bit about doing what's right for the people . . . period.

Bush had no clue as to what was needed . . . Obama does, but he is going to be proved incapable of changing things until at least a vast majority of the movers and shakers, and us, the citizens of this country, can answer in the positive the question that lays before us all . . .

Am I my brothers keeper?

The tao of Coffee

Two scholars spent the better part of an afternoon in a local Portland Starbucks arguing the theories of Evolution versus Creationism. Getting nowhere, they took the advice of the Chinese guy working there and decided to drive to the beach and visit a sage named Chung Lee who reputedly had the answers.

Upon arrival to his shack hidden amongst the coastal dunes not far from Astoria, they parked and started up a hill to where the old sage sat on a cliff facing the sea. After quietly approaching him the old man turned, directed his eyes upon them and asked, “Where's the coffee?”

The two became puzzled. “Sir, One said. We were told you could help us with the greatest philosophical dilemma of our age . . . perhaps even give us some insight into the theories of which we are about to speak.”

“Yes, of course.” Chung Lee answered. “But go now, next time you come, bring me a cup of Starbucks coffee, then we will speak of your theories.”

The following morning they checked out of their motel at the crack of dawn and returned to the hill. This time One carried a large cup of Starbucks coffee. After greetings, he handed the old sage the cardboard tray and they both opened their portfolios, each anticipating a quick and decisive victory.

Chung Lee, while sipping his coffee quickly went over each theory, handed the papers back, looked out to sea and finished the coffee before beginning to speak.

“The two theories are mere disciplines, and although seemingly opposing views, upon deeper reflection are one and the same. The difference lies in your interpretation and in your desire to understand the mystery. But alas, the mystery cannot be contained within a theory, so you are both beating your learned heads against a brick wall.”

Going on he said. “Each theory is merely a doorway, and being so can never explain the goings on within the room. You need theory to find the doorway, but once opened this very same discipline becomes your stumbling block. Theory will never reveal truth, only the pathway to it.

The two looked at each other, excused themselves and walked back to the car.

“This is a wise man?” One asked the other. “”He sends us for coffee, then he comes up with this gibberish?”

“Yes, it is strange,” answered Two. “Yet his reputation is such that there has to be something we are missing. Let's give him a chance to prove himself.”

The two went back to where the old man was sitting. “Sir, excuse us, but neither one of us understands. What are we missing?”

The old man held up the empty cup. “This cup will always contain a mystery, but as you smell of it, sip of it, and enjoy the taste of it, you one day realize you don't really care HOW Starbucks made such a good cup of coffee, you are just glad they did. And thanks be to the mystery, as long as there are people like you seeking to understand it, I will never have to worry about getting my morning cup of coffee.”

The old man dismissed them with a smile and returned his gaze to the sea.

Old Age and Choices

In his book, Lightening Bolt, Hyemeyohsts Storm wrote, "In our youth the river of life flows towards us; in our old age the river flows from us."

As I pondered upon this passage I began to understand the reason why so many of our elders have been pushed aside. Why, instead of given a place of honor in a family member’s home, they’re shipped off to a nursing facility where they spend their few remaining years in solitude and self-pity.

The river of life that flows from them is stagnant, polluted by many years of spiritual neglect and self-indulgence. Instead of being a vast storehouse of wisdom they have nothing to share except bitterness. No wonder the fear of old age is so prevalent in our society.

I then began to see in my mind’s eye two women. Both were old, wrinkled, and bent from their many years, yet very different.

***

Lillian was sitting in a chair with her head in her hands staring at the floor in despair. As I approached, she raised her eyes to meet mine. Her pupils were black as Pennsylvania coal, seemingly void of all life. Her toothless mouth opened . . . and closed again. Without saying a word it returned to a thin, crooked gash separating the point where her nose almost touched her chin. She slowly lowered her matted head to her hands and returned to her pre-occupation with the floor.

A shiver rushed through my body. I wondered what tragedy had entered her life to cause a woman who was once young, vibrant, and so beautiful her image had adorned the cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine, to turn this ugly. What had life done to Lillian? Or in another sense, what had Lillian done with her life?

***

I watched as the ninety-three year old women walked cautiously down the path towards the TV cameras. It seemed as if a bad hip or something caused her slow gait, but she was smiling as the camera zoomed in upon her leathery face.

The first thing I noticed were her eyes. They were deep and vibrant, within them I saw intelligence, and kindness. This woman, who probably had not been much to look at in her youth, radiated in her old age an inner beauty far beyond the physical. As I examined her wrinkled skin I noticed how all the lines seemed to turn up at their ends. When she smiled I understood why.

I immediately felt drawn to her. Here was a person I would truly enjoy spending time with, one from whom I could glean much wisdom, and plenty of good conversation.

Although I don’t remember her name I’ll call her Joyce, because that’s my wife’s name and I pray that when she gets older, my wife will resemble this woman.

Both women had been born into wealthy families. Each had received the best education and benefits their social position had to offer. Each had made choices throughout their lives . . . and each in their old age were composites of those choices.

As the carefully contrived fa├žade of youthful personality had slipped away, each women revealed to the world their true nature. The choices they had made were etched upon them, easier to read than a Dick and Jane primer for children.

* * *

Lillian had chosen a life of frivolous indulgence. As an only child her parents doted upon her every whim and she quickly became entrenched in the center of her own selfish universe.

While in college, men were awed by her physical beauty and stumbled over each other to get next to her. She was the life of every party. Attention, alcohol, and sex were her main sources of enjoyment. She lived to dance.

After college she married and had two children. Five years later she tired of marriage, divorced her husband, and deserted the kids.

Free once again to do her own thing, the lovely socialite slowly devolved through the years to giving quickies in the parking lot to anybody willing to pay the price of another drink.

Her mind, kidneys, and liver slowly burned out from fighting the ravages of alcohol. Now, her life nearly over, she sat in the nursing home waiting fearfully to take her last dance with the devil.

* * *

Joyce had chosen a life of service. As the cameras rolled, she explained that after graduating from college with a teaching degree, she sought a way to share her wealth and knowledge with underprivileged girls.

Because of her love for nature she purchased the summer camp sitting along a beautiful lake in coastal Maine where she now stood. Here, she took the girls in and taught them to walk a different path, a better one, void of the temptations of inner city life.

She taught them to be in control of their lives. That it didn’t matter where they were born or how much money they had, their lives were in their own hands and they had no one to blame if it went sour except themselves. They created their futures . . . by the individual choices they were making in the present.

She also lent money to any of the girls who wished to go to college. This she would require after graduation to be paid back in full so that it would be available for the next girl. She told the TV camera that in all the years she had been holding the camps and loaning money, only twice had the tuition not been paid back.

She was now retiring and passing the reigns of her camp to her daughter. She would remain in an advisory position, but she wanted to take some time to write a book. Even in her advanced age, she was looking forward to the future.

Here was a woman who, when the time came, would peacefully exit this world without fear or remorse. One who would leave behind nothing but the love and admiration of the grateful many she’d helped during the years she’d walked among them.

It’s all about choices, think of that next time you find yourself behind the eight ball. The next time you’re looking for someone to blame for your circumstances. If you are honest with yourself, you’ll be able to trace your way back to the foolish decision that put you there.





Chasing Rabbits

Bang, bang, you’re dead!” Tommy yells from the thick woods bordering our back yard. “Bang, bang, you’re dead! Ha! I got you right between the eyes! You’re dead!”

Tommy’s laughter recedes.

Bravo One, Bravo One, this is Delta, Over . . . Bravo One, this is Delta, over.” Again and again the same agitated voice. “Bravo one. Can you read me? Over.”

My pounding heartbeat all but silences the incessant static of the radio lying somewhere to my side. I’m trying to find the handset, trying to answer. My ears are ringing. My eyes struggle to focus . . .

‘Blood! Oh shit! What happened? Roll over. Crawl away. Move!’

Nothing works.

Blurred, ghost-like images moving swiftly past speak singsong Vietnamese.

I struggle against the panic seeking to engulf me, close my eyes, attempt to merge with the mud I am lying in.

Help me,” a voice moans to my left. I hear cursing to my front. The low cough of an AK47 shatters the stillness. Pleading screams followed by more shots, curses . . . more shots.

The shooting ends as quickly as it had started. A hushed silence falls over the scene as the men melt into the thick underbrush.

I try to roll over . . . to escape into the jungle before they return, but my legs have detached themselves from my brain. They are doing a strange mud dance of their own.

I think of my dad, years ago, laughing as Buster the old coon hound runs in his sleep by the fireplace, “He’s chasing rabbits,” dad says to me.

Tommy laughs at me lying beneath the old oak tree playing dead and pokes me with the butt of his BB gun. “Gotcha, Jimmy. Ha! You’re dead.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

Language


Hey! . . . Been gone awhile cause well, I just got tired of this blog. I had said all I wanted to about surviving the coming storm . . . and as to politics? There is enough political bullshit on the internet to sink an aircraft carrier already.

So . . . I finished building a guitar I started fifteen years ago and I absolutely love it!

It's so old it's already “almost vintage” (Picture coming) Thing is the instrument plays beautifully. Walnut back and sides with a cedar top. Mahogany neck set just right to accommodate the light strings in DADGAD tuning so I can learn some Celtic tunes.

I also cleaned out my tool shed, moved a bunch of the stuff to the basement and created me a really small 8x12 guitar building shop (this way I must keep it tidy unlike my previous cabinet shop) plus a larger outside area for the few noisy power tools I still possess.

I am going to build one at a time 'parlor style' finger picking guitars and, I don't know, I'm thinking of giving them away to some of the needy kids around here and maybe sell one once in a while after I get really good at it.

I Thought of having an internet write-in contest where a kid could send me a letter about his desires to play and lack of funds etc. then I would pick the one I thought was the best and send him/her a free, very playable guitar. We'll see. What do you think?

Anyhow I was thinking while I was working in my new building spot about the beauty of all this silence I find myself in. It is so quiet around here in the holler that I can hear the deer barking in the evening and turkeys gobbling on the hillsides early in the morning.

Christ, we live in a paradise . . . even if I did just the other day have to bury one of my dogs. Somehow it all fits, the yin and the yang of life.

The one thing I don't miss though is people and their constant chatter. Noise bothers me. And human beings are the nosiest animals on this planet bar none. Driving around in motorized monsters, running machinery, loud music, canned laughter, (that make believe stuff people do) talking just to hear themselves, (while having nothing much to say when they think they do) makes me crazy.

Sometimes I just sit and listen to them thinking, everybody, including myself, is so full of shit they ought to just shut up and listen to the birds singing. At least the birds have a sweet refrain.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but man, it sure feels good to run a sharp hand plane down a cedar top and hear the whoosh as it picks up a small amount of wood and curls it into a fragrant ball.

The one noise I do allow into my inner sanctum though is what I consider to be the perfect language . . . music. This language is far more easy for me to understand than the myriad shades of gray involved in that double speak and innuendo that we humans come up with.

I love a certain kind of music in my quiet time though, mostly instrumental, mostly finger picking guitar, some cello. I have an mp3 player full of the stuff. I go to sleep at night listening to good old Irish/Scottish music or some of that New Age stuff. Beautiful.

But as a product of the sixties I also have my Steppinwolf and Creedance Clearwater and (who can forget) Janis Joplin, but that's for when I feel the need to make some noise . . . cause well, sometimes all this quiet can get overpowering and a little bit of pot smoking and hell raising places a nice minor chord into the melody of this really peaceful existence my wife and I have created for ourselves.

The kids are trying hard to pervert and distort music these days with all the rap and badly played guitars accompanying screamers who should still be in practice mode, but if your quiet for a minute you can still hear Sinatra doing it My Way or Nat King Cole soothing through some Stardust.

The purity of this language may have been ghettoized, but it's still there in the Memories of our minds waiting . . . like the old cello in the closet for some nimble fingers to stroke it back to life.

It's nice to be old.

The Legend of the Ice Worm

Alaskan legend has it that once the Snowbird heads South the Ice Worm rouses from his summer sleep deep within the permafrost to begin his relentless attack upon the mortals left behind.

Jimmy the Indian liked to keep the Ice Worm legend alive, especially for us guys who’d just wandered into the North Country and hadn’t met up with him yet. Jimmy would explain how the worm crawled around till finding an open spot on a man’s flesh. Then he'd attach himself like a leech and suck the heat from it, leaving in his wake a trail of gray dead skin. To Jimmy the Ice Worm was an enemy demanding much respect.

But for the moment I wasn’t concerned with respecting legends. I just knew my feet were numb and my double gloved hands burned with pain after spending too many hours wrapped around the frozen, steel casing of a nail gun. I was damn cold as I waited impatiently for the foreman to give up trying to thaw the compressor and let us go home.

When he finally gave the word I quickly packed my tools and left the construction site. It was three o’clock in the afternoon and already I needed the trucks headlights to guide me as I pulled onto the snow covered, gravel road and headed south.

A couple miles away amidst scrubby pines and frozen tundra sat the log lodge I’d passed that morning on my way up from Anchorage. The long drive being too much for the old pickup I planned on rooming there for the couple of weeks it would take to frame the house we’d just started.

I approached the lodge and pulled into a small parking area. Light emanating from her windows cast a golden hue across the purple-blue snow, a welcome far more enticing than the half lit neon sign hanging by the road.

I parked beside a couple of pickups and plugged the trucks radiator heater into an electric outlet attached to a modern day hitching post lining the front of the wrap around porch. The thermometer hanging beside the steps read -8°.

Grabbing my duffel bag, I locked the trucks door, crunched up the frozen steps and pulled open the heavy log door. As I entered the cozy foyer a young girl behind the desk lifted her eyes from the book she was reading and gave me a large smile. “Hi.” She said. “Can I help you?”

Hi, yeah, I’d like to rent a room for a couple of weeks, please.”

Ok, got a real nice one just down the hall, first door to your left. 350.00 a week. Want it?”

I nodded my head and signed on the dotted line. She handed me the key, I bid her a good evening and walked the short distance to my room.

After checking it out I stashed my gear and found my way back through the foyer and entered the large, rustic lounge in hopes of getting something to eat. There was an old pool table in the center, a bunch of tables spread about and a long bar following the right wall constructed of log slabs. Except for the three guys sitting at the bar drinking beer the place was empty. I chose a small table close to the large, crackling fireplace, sat down facing the door and began to unwind.

Soon, a scruffy old man with a long white beard and a balding head shuffled over with a glass of water. His cheekbones bore a grayish-white cast to them, but it was the large, watery, dead spot covering his nose that attracted the most attention.

"What’ll you have, sonny?" the rugged-looking old timer asked.

"Give me a hamburger, French fries, and a cup of coffee, please. And put a double shot of Jack Daniels in the coffee if you would."

Sure nuff,” the old timer said and ambled off. He returned minutes later with the spiked coffee.

It was very good and it was hot. The alcohol spread through my belly immediately and by the time the food came I had taken on a lovely mellow feeling.

Here you go sonny.” The old guy sat the large plate before me. “Anything else?”

The burger looked good. The French fries were the largest I’d ever seen. Some of those babies were at least 8 inches long. I picked one up to study it.

"Grow em in the Matanuska Valley," he said, "Biggest potatoes in the world, or so they say. Some of em get big as a football, and I ain’t bullshittin either.”

That’s what I heard,” I said. “But, I’ve never seen one before.” I took a big bite out of the fry I was holding. “Mmmm, tasty.”

Where you headed?" he asked.

"I’ll be staying right here for a while. Maybe a couple weeks or so.”

The old timer pulled up a chair and sat down across the table from me. "Where you from?" he asked.

"Anchorage . . . Ohio originally."

"Ohio? Ain’t that where they grow all the corn?"

"We grow corn, but you’re probably thinking of Iowa."

"Iowa? Yep, suppose so. Been a long time since I’ve seen the lower forty-eight, and then only as far as Dakota . . . born there you know. Ran away from home as soon as I could reach the doorknob." The old guy laughed. "Hitched a ride up here and ain’t been back since."

"You own this place?"

"No . . . just helping out my buddy Tom. I live down the road apiece and help out once in a while when things get busy, or Tom wants to fly off to Anchorage for supplies." He held out his hand, "names Gus."

I took the gnarled hand and was a bit surprised by its strength. "Mike."

"So Mike, What brings you to Alaska?"

"Oh, I don’t know, just needed to get away for awhile and thought this would be as good a place as any. I drove up the highway in August."

"Been a resident for over fifty years now,” Gus said with pride in his voice. “Came up in thirty-four when Alaska was still a territory. You think that Al-Can's a mess now, you should’ a seen it then, took me three weeks just to get through the Yukon."

Gus took on a contemplative mood. "Statehood screwed everything up though in my way of thinking. And them damn . . . You got a trade? Not much work around here if you ain’t got a trade."

"I’m a carpenter. We’re building a house down the road a couple of miles."

"Oh . . . well hell, boy, you can get a job anywhere. They’re building houses all over the place for them damn Texans. Since they started the pipeline, them damn Texans are everywhere."

I soon realized that to Gus a "damn Texan" was anybody associated with the pipeline being built to transfer oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. And Gus made no bones about hating the pipeline.

I finished my meal and drank a few beers with him while he rambled on about the good old days. His open friendliness, a welcome contrast to conservative Ohio, pleased me. Gus was a real pleasure to be around. I listened to him well into the night, until my eyes would no longer stay open. The alcohol-heat mixture had really gotten to me. "I have to go to bed Gus, I’m beat," I finally said.

"You go right along sonny, I’ll have a hearty breakfast waiting for you in the morning".

"Sounds good," I said standing up. "Nite Gus. "

I returned to my room, unpacked my duffel bag and took a short, hot, shower. After drying I crawled naked between the clean smelling sheets of the double bed and pulled up the thick down comforter that lay neatly folded at its foot. As I settled in and waited for sleep I thought about old Gus and the story he’d shared earlier.


"What happened to your nose?" I blurted out when Gus alluded to the frozen spot while in the midst of the evening’s conversation.

"Well, sonny, it was like this . . . you want the whole story?" I nodded. "Wait till I get us another beer, cause this’ll take some tellin."

Gus went behind the bar of the empty lounge and returned with two Mooseheads, sitting one in front of me. After sitting down across the table and taking a pull from his bottle, he twirled the end of his bushy mustache while collecting his thoughts, and began.

"It was back in the old days, somewhere around 1940. I was a young buck about twenty-years old sitting in a Fairbanks bar one day when this old timer starts telling me about a claim he owned at the headwaters of a creek called the Wolverine, down towards Palmer.

He said he couldn’t make the trek anymore because of his age and he wanted to sell out. After assuring me there was still plenty of color left in her, because he was a lazy sort and only panned the creek, he asked if I was interested in buying him out. I said that I’d buy the claim from him and put his mind at ease, if he let me make payments on it. So, we finagled around a bit, and by the time we had two more beers, we’d struck an agreement.

I walked out of that bar with my head held a little higher that day, as I was now a man of substance, owning a gold claim and all. I had visions of grandeur in my brain as I went about thinking how I was going to spend the fortune waiting for me on the Wolverine.

After I scraped up a down payment, and everything became good and legal, I bought some gear and hitched a ride up the Lazy Mountain in my buddies old Model T Ford. I got out at the small bridge that crossed over the creek, packed up all the supplies I could carry, hid the rest, and started walking.

Following the Wolverine very far proved impossible because of the thick bush and narrow bottleneck formed by the two mountains as they bottomed out. So, instead of fighting it, I followed an old moose trail half-ways up the Red before it veered off and hugged the ridgeline.

After going around the bottleneck, the trail dropped onto the floor of the lushest valley I ever saw. The Valley of the Pine Trees, as I later called it. Blueberry bushes were everywhere, and the meadow flowers were blooming. Game trails were deeply carved into the soft muskeg and the large old pines were giving off a fragrance them Seattle ladies would love to own.

That valley was one lovely site, but it had its danger. As I hustled through the dark forest I could hear a bear lumbering ahead of me, grunting as he moved away from this stinky, two-legged. Later, I stumbled onto a large pile of crap still steaming in the coolness. I whistled and made plenty of noise after that, because I didn’t want a surprise meeting with the owner of that whopping big pile of shit anytime soon.

The claim sat at the far end of the valley, at the fork in the river, just like the old-timer had said. The creek itself was running off the glacier that covered the upper parts of the range. It was cold, and so full of silt you could hardly see the bottom in just a foot of water. That’s the way it is with glacier water, looks like watered down milk.

It took me a few days to fix up the old shack for living. It seemed a million shrews had turned her into their own private hotel and weren’t about to give it up without a fight. The little varmints would come out at night and run all over me while I was trying to sleep. Many times I’d open my eyes in the dim light to see a pair of beady little eyeballs staring back at me. Once I got the stove cleaned out and unplugged the flue so I could get a fire going, they must of figured they’d have to share their hotel with me because they started leaving me alone, sorta.

Then that old bear started hanging around the shack looking to steal my grub, so I had to hang it high in a tree before I got a proper cache built. One morning I woke and opened the door to go out, and there he sat. A grizzly as big as I’d ever seen, sitting on the ground under my stash trying to figure out how he could get to it.

It was a good thing I’d hung it high cause that old boy must have cleared thirteen feet when he stood on his hind legs. I quietly closed the door and waited till he left. He was too pretty to shoot, and I was too young to die.

I found a bag of rusty nails and a few tools in the cupboard and decided to fix up the broken down sluice-box behind the cabin. After I re-nailed her as best as I could, I set her up by the creek and the Wolverine Mining Company was officially in business.

I didn’t have any callers coming by to welcome me and lay their blessing on my new endeavor though, seeing as I was the only human in the whole valley. I was all alone, just me and the moose and the bears.

There was a small lake close by loaded with trout, and plenty of ptarmigan for food, even a fresh water spring. Everything a man needed to survive lay within reach. A pretty woman to keep me company and I’d of thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

That old miner, I soon found out, had stretched the truth a bit concerning the abundance of gold I’d find on his claim. It’d been worked over real good by the time I got to it and the nuggets were long gone. But if a guy was determined, he could still get himself enough dust to make the hard work worthwhile. There was gold in the Wolverine; it just took a lot of digging to get to it.

I worked that old sluice box all summer, turning up just enough color to keep me interested. I figured that when I had enough dust to get me through the winter, I’d pack it up and hike out till the next spring.

It was around about mid-October when I started hitting pay dirt and I didn’t want to leave until I cleaned out the gravel bank I was working on. Sixteen hours a day I shoveled into that contraption of a box, but I found a lot of dust, even some good sized nuggets were beginning to show up.

I had the fever. It just sneaked up on me one night and the next day I didn’t want to take the time to eat, sleep, or do anything else. The hell with the coming winter, I was driven to work that box, purely driven.

One night ice began forming over the lake, and a week later, I watched the snow as it dropped on the summit and slowly work its way into the valley. With one eye on the coming freeze, and the other on the gravel pile, I worked even harder, until the creek itself froze over and the snow got so deep I couldn’t work the box anymore.

One morning, I finally just gave in and decided to hightail it out of there. I cached everything I couldn’t carry, loaded my pack with the gold and enough grub to keep me till I got back to the road, and headed down the frozen creek.

I could tell by how fast my beard froze around my mouth and how loud the snow crunched as I walked that the temperature hung well below zero that morning. The snow was knee-deep in some areas, but if I didn’t break through the crust, I knew I could make fairly good time cause the going was level. The sun appeared for a while and there was no wind to speak of, but it weren’t much help against the bitter cold.

I snaked my way along that creek for the better part of two miles. Then, from under the snow, I heard a funny pinging sound. Before I could move another step, there was a loud crack and the ice gave way under me. I went through, up to my hips in the freezing water. I tried to jump out, but slipped on the rocks and fell back into the creek, this time over my head. The water was flowing real fast and I almost got drawn under the ice before I got back to my feet and made my way to shore. As it was, I lost my pack and everything in it, including the dust.

I was in dire straits. My dungarees were frozen and my feet were already losing contact with my brain. I figured I was going to freeze for sure, and for a moment decided to just give up and forget about living. Then I remembered the flint fire starter kit I kept sewn in my coat lining for emergencies, and this was surely one of those. I was moving pretty slow by then, but I tore the lining loose and found it. As the freezing was sneaking up on me, I managed to find a dead pine tree close by that was still standing, and got enough dry tinder to start a fire.

I packed the snow down as best I could with my frozen feet, and put all my energy and skills at fire making to good use. It took a while, but I got one started, or else I wouldn’t be telling the tale today. I just kept loading on the dead wood until I had a roaring bon-fire going. I got naked and completely dried my clothes before moving on.

I hustled myself out of there OK after that, but I knew I’d had a close call, as close as I was ever going to get. I was frozen some, and I’d lost my poke, but I lived to tell the tale.

After that experience, I put the claim up for sale and never went back cause my feet wouldn’t let me. I got around in town alright, but the bush was too much for the feet. I lost two toes on one, and one on the other. My nose and cheeks got froze, and my fingers still pain me in the slightest cold, but other than that I’m just fine."

Gus stopped talking for a minute, smiled at me and said, "Well, that’s the story of my frozen nose, sonny. If I hadn’t sewn some emergency stuff in my jacket I’d have gone stiff sitting alongside the Wolverine and been a good meal for the wolves."


As I neared the point of sliding away into dreamland, I remembered Jimmy the Indian from Anchorage and his story about the Ice Worm. I thought of old Gus who had the strength and smarts to beat the worm at his game and felt a rush of deep respect for the tough old guy. I also decided to buy a fire starter kit and sew it inside the lining of my parka. A guy couldn’t be too cautious in Ice Worm country.


End




Simplicity

I dream a lot. Often my dreams are filled with fighting and violence, but last night I had a series of very pleasant love dreams. I awoke with a deep thought (another thing I often do) and have learned to keep a journal by my sleeping place so I can write down the purity of it before it dissolves into the murky thought of the day and disappears.

My thought was a word . . . Simplicity . . . and how, like Lowell's Sir Launsal, who was caught up in a life time quest, we also have been caught up in a quest.

Ours being the search for fulfillment through the acquisition of “stuff” . . . as propagated by the Capitalist's continued advertisement of our needs.

Sir Launsal, the heroic young knight on a mission exited the confines of the kings castle atop his mighty steed and thundered over the drawbridge. Once across he encountered a beggar sitting by the way. Having no time for a mere beggar, the proud knight scornfully flipped a coin into the dust at the poor man's feet and continued his God ordained mission in pursuit of the Holy Grail.

Americans too, occasionally flip a coin in the bell ringers box as they enter a store, but they're minds, like Sir Launsal's, are far away anticipating a prize as they make a mad dash down the stacked isles of consumerism. They are well fed, at the top of their game, and have little time to put much thought into anyone or anything else save themselves and their search for the latest gimmick.

Sir Launsal thought finding the Holy Grail would fulfill him. American's feel that owning the latest “thing” will fulfill them. Both felt the poor and the beggarly should be able and willing to fend for themselves.

And that is the question I awoke with this morning, “What the hell are we looking for? Where in the hell are we going”? Compared to most of us Sir Launsal's quest even made more sense.

We have to work. We have to make. We have to buy. We have to be somebody. We have to build our portfolio. . . We have to . . . We have to . . . have a new flat screen TV so we can watch the constant stream of advertisements telling us what we “need” in order to be happy.

Do we need most of the shit we buy anyways? Really?

Aren't we are just doing what we have been trained to do? . . . Aren't we merely world class elite soldiers in the Capitalistic army corps?

Sir Launsal returned to the castle a broken down, disgruntled old man after many years of searching for the elusive holy grail. He never found it. His mighty steed being long dead, he now had nothing save a walking stick to help him on his way as he stumbled along the dusty trail towards the bridge leading across the moat and back to the castle door where he was sure to be welcomed as a failure.

Sitting by the wayside, in the very same place he'd been many years earlier was the beggar he encountered as he embarked upon his mission. The beggar had seemingly not aged.

Sir Launsal, being confused stopped and stared at the man. The beggar's eyes shown bright and clear from beneath the cowl covering his head. Emanating from their darkness was a power he found mesmerizing. This power drew him to to take a seat beside the beggar and listened to him as he spoke of the interconnectedness and simplicity of all things the knight had considered deep and mysterious.

It then became clear to Sir Launsal. He suddenly realized in the clarity of his awakening moment, the truth. He realized that for much of his life he had led himself on a wild goose chase in search of the Holy Grail. He realized the reality of his fulfillment was sitting along the way all the time in the guise of this beggar. This beggar contained the mystery. This beggar was the mysterious holy grail.

He also realized he had only to walk beyond the gates of his own home to have found his self fulfillment. That it took a return to his roots to find it.

His long search and hard travels had produced little more than further questions. The truth had been there alongside, and within him all along.

As the Buddha answered one day when asked, “What must I do to find fulfillment?” by a man who had suffered hardship by walking long and far to find him.

Feed the people.”

But” . . . .

Feed the people.”

That's to simple, anyone can do that! I need to DO something!”

Feed the people.”


Time and Again


The End

Alaska 1914


The blizzard hurtling down the pass caught me by surprise as I slowly made my way across the frozen tundra. My face, although sheltered by the parka’s fur-lined hood, stung from frostbite and my hips ached from the spread-legged gait required by the wide snowshoes. I was tiring quickly and desperately needed to find shelter. Knowing my only hope for survival lay within a thick pine forest barely visible across the open plain, I plowed in desperation towards it, lost, alone, and fearing for my life.

Finally, after an exhausting struggle I made the tree line and entered the dark interior of the forest. The wind beating angrily against its tightly packed foliage became but a whisper as I slipped between the pines and crawled beneath a snow covered bough. I released the snowshoes from the heavy clumps of frozen leather and flesh that had long since lost contact with my brain and slumped down against the massive tree trunk.

All I needed was a moment of rest to catch my breath, and then I would start a fire. I needed to thaw my freezing body . . . to regain my bearings . . . only a moment . . . then I would start the fire.

***

I must have fallen asleep and dreamed I was flying. I soared like an eagle across my dream scape free and unencumbered, but as I reached the upper limits of eagle-flight I found myself being drawn quickly beyond the earth’s atmosphere. I looked back and noticed the silver chord floating behind me that anchored my body to the bright blue ball of Earth. As the chord grew taut and broke I felt a strange tingling throughout my body and a rush of unspeakable joy. I was free! Shooting through a myriad of luminous colors surrounding the brightness of the sun, nearing the end of my destination . . . I awoke.

Crawling from under the protective boughs of the tree I noticed first off my feet were no longer frozen. I then also realized I'd been delivered from the pain that had racked my body. What a pleasant surprise it was. I wasn’t even cold anymore. Amazed by what a little rest would do, I took stock of my situation.

A few yards before me lay a trail of hard-packed snow. I hadn’t noticed it upon entering the forest, but knew if I followed it, sooner or later I’d find refuge and food. No longer needing the snow shoes, I packed them up with my other gear and prepared to move on.

Minutes later, as I lifted my vision from the trail in front of me, I found myself staring into the yellow eyes of the largest wolf I’d ever seen. Being not much different in color than the snow surrounding him, he was practically invisible as he stood silently behind the trunk of a tree, head lowered, observing me. No movement, nothing. Seconds passed before he raised his massive head, turned and bound effortlessly on snowshoe-sized paws up the trail. He stopped after going about thirty yards and looked back.

I felt he was leading me somewhere and had a strong compulsion to follow. I must have gone a mile or more before the trail emerged from the trees and led straight to the doorstep of a one-room log cabin sitting in the center of the small clearing. A small column of smoke rose into the still air, straight up, as if the wind had forgotten the clearing as it passed over on its mad dash to the sea.

On the front porch lay the white wolf, his head now rested on his forepaws as he watched me approach the cabin. Feeling no sense of danger I stepped onto the porch and knocked on the cabin door. "Hello!" I yelled into its quiet interior.

A chair slid, I heard footsteps as someone rose and walked towards the door. It slowly opened and I found myself staring into the riveting steel-blue eyes of a very old man with a bushy white beard. Long silver hair fell to his shoulders from beneath a woolen cap, the kind sailors wore when on watch in cold climates.

"Hello Jim, I’ve been expecting you," the old man said in a soothing voice that resonated throughout the interior of the small cabin.

"Expecting me?" I asked feeling a bit apprehensive.

"Yes my friend, my name is Jacob. I am your spirit guide, and a very old friend." He smiled warmly. "I’m here to help you during your transition."

"Transition? What transition?" I asked, suddenly beginning to realize why the pain had ceased. "Am I dead?"

"No, nothing dies in the Creators entire universe , Jim," Jacob said. "It's just recycled. Death only exists in the minds of those living the earth dream. Here, we refer to your death as an awakening. You have awakened and now it is time to analyze the life you’ve just lived. I am here to help you, if needed, to sort things out."

I stared hard into the old man's eyes trying to figure out which one of us was crazy, while at the same time knowing what he said was true. I’m dead! It was just so different than I had been led to believe. Where was the bright light? Or the dark tunnel? Was I in Heaven? Hell? Could it possibly be this simple? Is this what I've feared all my adult life? To fall asleep and awake in a land not much different than the one I'd left behind?

Things seemed a little different here. The serenity of this place was beyond description, but I was still me, I talked and felt and breathed. The greatest difference I noticed was that the pain in my body had been replaced by a strange euphoria. There was lightness about this place, the difference between a hot, humid jungle and a cool mountain meadow. I felt invigorated.

"No offense, Jacob, but you certainly don't look like an angel to me."

"I'm not an angel, I'm your guide. I’ve been with you since the very beginning of your life on the Earth. I chose to appear in this form to ease your transition, but I could have chosen another. As your memory awakens, you will remember. Come in", Jacob invited.

I walked into the interior of the dimly lit cabin as Jacob closed the door. The large room was hidden in shadow except for a small wooden table and two chairs sitting near the only window. These were bathed in opaque streaks of bright sunlight. Jacob led me to the table and slid a chair out from under it. "Have a seat," he said, while he took the one across from me.

"In the beginning, before you were born into the Earth, we discussed the goals and desires you wished to accomplish while on your journey. You had created for yourself a pathway of many obstacles, in hopes of obtaining a deeper understanding of the three principles taught upon the Earth: Love, Mercy, and Grace. Our job today, is to review your life and see how well you’ve learned your lessons. You and you alone are the judge. Our Creator has made it so; we judge ourselves and have no one to blame when we've taken the lower way, except ourselves. Do you remember any of this yet?"

I tried to understand what he was talking about, I thought of laughing at the silliness of it all, but I could not. "No."

"Don't worry, memory will soon restore itself and you will see, once again, the many lives you have lived and the many paths you have taken to bring you to this point. Think back to the beginning. What was your first emotion as you entered the body growing within your mother’s womb?"

I closed my eyes and concentrated. I began to remember. "I'm sad, I don't want to leave and I may change my mind."

"What do you feel as you exit the womb of your mother?"

"I am alone, cold, and angry, this is not what I wanted. I have been born into a family consumed in bitterness. I regret taking the negative path. I want to abort and come home. There is no love here."

"Exactly what you planned for," he said. "Your first lesson was to learn the necessity of love. You chose within the earth dream to experience a life without love. Do you remember yet?"

Strangely, the life I had left behind began unfolding as a vision within my mind and I began to understand how miserably I had failed the test. "Yes, I'm beginning to see my life, it's open before me."

"Good. I’ll return when you’ve finished." Jacob arose, donned his parka, and left the cabin. I watched him through the small window facing the table as he walked down the path. The white wolf pranced by his side.

Moments later, I returned to the mental image. As I observed scene after scene of failure and missed opportunities, I became depressed. During the first two years of life, I had absorbed the negative energy that surrounded me and lost my way. Instead of using the darkness as intended, to strengthen my spirit and brighten the way for others, I had succumbed to its influence and added yet another layer to its depths.

It was a strange experience as I sat at the small table viewing scenes that had taken place in my childhood. Little things, that at the time meant nothing at all, suddenly magnified before my mind’s eye and I saw how such a small seed, once planted, opened a pathway in opposition to my life’s goals.

One such scene showed me about six years into my childhood. I had crafted a slingshot out of the crotch of a tree limb and an old inner tube. I practiced hitting tin cans until I became very good at knocking them over. When I became bored with the cans, I began shooting at live targets. Now I visualized the day I hid in the weeds behind my house and stalked a bird. As I neared, I raised myself slowly from the earth, pulled back the heavy rubber band and let the stone fly. I hit the robin square in its red breast and killed it. I was elated as I stood over my prey.

As I now relived the scene, I felt deep anguish rise from within me. The robin was only the first, the slingshot, one day became a gun, and the joy of killing ran unabated throughout my life cycle. It was justified as war, or sport, or necessity, but always, regardless of the wording, a living creature died as the result of my pulling a trigger.

Now I heard the voice speak to me from the depths of my conscience asking why. I remembered how easy it became, once I had learned to silence the constant nagging. Now I felt deeply ashamed for all the creatures I had killed, but most of all for the robin, because that was where it started, where the seed had been planted.

I remembered how, before entering the earth, I desired to be a caretaker and friend of the lower life forms, to communicate and learn from them, to heal and feed them. And yet, my last day found me trapping and ripping the hides off these very animals I had sworn to befriend and protect.

The lofty goals of love had been perverted by self-serving lust as I quickly became the center of my private universe. Mercy and Grace were signs of weakness. I lived by the law in which I had been raised, and hid my fears behind a wall of callousness. Throughout my life cycle, I had justified my own actions while condemning others. I had no trouble striking out, but to ask forgiveness was a strange language, one that seldom found its way to my tongue.

As I finished, and sat quietly contemplating the deeds of my life, Jacob returned. He hung his parka on the hook beside the door, walked to the table and sat down. "Well, how did it go?" he asked.

"I think you know the answer to that," I said, feeling miserable.

"What do you plan on doing?"

"I must return and make amends."

"Perhaps, you should remain and rest for awhile."

I will Jacob; I need to rest before going back.”

***

The Beginning

United Ireland

Exert from the Memoirs of Sean Cahalane

President (retired)

Foundation for Peaceful Co-existence

In Northern Ireland


The war had ended, Ireland was busy rebuilding her economy after Hitler’s chaotic rumble through Europe when my father, John Cahalane, met and wed the former Mary O’Reilly in Belfast. Not wanting to raise children amongst the violence and religious intolerance that engulfed the city, he bought a secluded farm that sat above the misty, wind-swept cliffs along the northern coast of Colarine. I was born in a stone cottage that overlooked the sea in 1946.

Although my father possessed a temperament within his short, powerfully-built body, that matched the ruggedness of the rocky soil he sought to subdue, his presence perpetuated a relaxed peace within our house. Neighbors would often visit, to sit by the fire and listen as he shared wisdom that no book could teach. He spoke of deep things, making them simple to understand. He believed all men had access to the face of God and all those proclaiming to be His spokesmen were merely obstacles clouding the vision. To him it was simply a matter of listening and observing the natural world around him.

The earliest memory I have of him, was of awaking early one morning and watching as he sat atop the cliff staring out to sea. If I woke early enough, he’d always be there. I remember once asking when he came in for breakfast what he was looking at while he sat there. He said, "Everything, Sean my lad, everything." He then smiled, and said I would someday understand.

My mother later told me this was how he talked to God. His church had no doors or windows or priests, he just talked to the wind as it blew in from the ocean and took the sacraments upon the cliffs of Colarine. Sometimes when playing along the cliffs, I’d stop and try to talk to God like my father did, but He never answered. I figured He didn’t much care to talk to children.

My mother was a poet and a singer of songs. I still hear her sweet voice when she sat before my bed playing the guitar while singing to me in her soft, lilting, brogue. Ours was a loving, peaceful home, and much of what I've taught through the years, I learned by listening to, and observing my parents.

I lived a sheltered life during those early years. It wasn’t until public schooling that I began to hear stories and realize the extent of the hatred and violence encompassing our homeland. I remember one evening asking my father if we were Catholic or Protestant. I hoped we were Catholic, as most of my school friends were. He said, "We are on Gods side Sean, and He has nothing to do with either of these."

Had it not been for his watchful eye and the nurturing of my mother, I would not be writing my memoirs this day. I would have succumbed to the pressure of my peers and, by now, my body would have been placed alongside the many of my classmates who joined the IRA and were buried long before their time.

The discipline of those early years strengthened me, enabled me to help form the small movement that grew swiftly until its membership numbered in the thousands and spread throughout our homeland. That message of oneness overcame the ancient hatreds and formed the union of peace and mutual respect in which we now live.

The one great lesson my father taught me when I was a child, which is today the corner stone of the Foundation for Peaceful Coexistence, is this: The river of Life is available to all men, and all men have the power to choose, but only those willing to shed the garments of religious dogma and immerse themselves within her sweet waters will ever truly experience her fullness. Today, I can declare that Northern Ireland has done just that, and the river of Life flows strongly across our landscape. For this I am deeply grateful to our Creator, and to those who have chosen to stand and make a difference.

Although I am a father seven times over and the husband of a beautiful and gifted poet in her own right, my crowning achievement in this world, that which gave my life purpose, was the signing of the Declaration of Unity between the religious factions that were destroying our country.

I’ve lived a long, fulfilling life, and have but a short time remaining until I must depart. My only prayer is, as this old man goes to the grave, others will step in and fill the gap, that you will not forget.

By my hand,

Sean Cahalane -- July 2023


EPILOG

Jacob knew the time for Sean was close at hand, and waited patiently for the day when the friend he’d guided these many years, these many lives, would be amongst the family once more. He had finally grown beyond the necessity for, and would soon be freed from, the karmic law of cycles and return home.