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Sunday, September 18, 2016


Some years ago, I examined three years that were historically important to me, 1510, 1892, and 1964. This being an election year, a time to reflect upon what democracy means to the future, and Sunday, I have selected the lattermost as my sermon.

In keeping with a somewhat irritating recent preoccupation with dates, I am going to examine 1964. Hadn't intended to, but I was in the pumphouse  and found an old uniform patch in a disused humidor --as one does. I picked it up, ran my thumb over its stiff threads and thought of old chums --Tom, Jack, the boys we used to be. The embroidered patch measures about one and a half inches by two and depicts our first president, Geo. Washington, on bended knee proposing to a lily.

The lily is a fleur-de-lis, a heraldic flower that does not occur in nature. It represents royalty, in which case it's unlikely Gen. Geo. was proposing marriage. It also represents north, which makes Washington's pose even more improbable. However, the patch was one I wore on my Boy Scout uniform that year and fleur-de-lis was on everything scouty. Also, north is a favorite direction of mine so I gave it benefit of the doubt.


I just made a long arm and fetched my Handbook For Boys --39th printing-- and found this: "You probably know there is a huge chunk of iron in the earth, up north, that attracts the magnetized needle of your compass -- that this iron deposit is known as the magnetic north pole." --page 162. I have never had reason to challenge this idea. Even now, the symbol attracts my memory like a big magnetic brain-chunk.

I am in my 60s now and highly suspicious of brain-chunks. I do not like to think my hairline is receding so much as my mind is expanding, but one cannot rule out brain-chunks. I was only 14 for most of that year and thought no more of them than I did of dingleberries on livestock.

In the summer of 1964, last half of July, I was one of 50,000 Boy Scouts camped in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. You probably know about Geo. Washington's awful winter there in 1777. It was all snow and blizzards and the Continental Army ruining in ice. If you were in a high school marching band in the 1960s, you probably know that's where your uniform got donated from. Here is a slight exaggeration of what Valley Forge looks like in summer:

It was hot. It was very hot and my chums, Tom and Jack, and I tried to do all the things Boy Scouts are supposed to do. We were, after all, young Americans with vigorous bodies, hearts of lions and the digestion of goats. We hiked and tied knots, worked on merit badges, cooked and puked. But usually we'd give in to the heat, find a little shade, share cigarettes and discuss the future. We liked discussing the future --there was so much of it back then-- and as our stay proceeded we got excited about it. President Johnson was going to visit the Jamboree on its final evening and give a lecture about the future.

That evening arrived, unfortunately not without incident. One scout, in a dash to catch up with his troop, was hit by a bus. Word spread and we all reflected negatively upon our illusion of immortality. Jack led Tom and me in a prayer over our little supper. Jack was very religious, even though he laughed when I once asked him why the Pope dressed like a hand-puppet. He responded by asking why we dressed in little shorts and tassles like circus chimps. There were no answers.


Doubts were forming even as we made our way to three hills that served as rough seating for 50,000 boys. Three slopes converged upon a dingle and we arranged ourselves like berries around it. There was a little stage and microphone down there. Lyndon Johnson arrived! We clapped and clapped.

The president began by assuring us we were "the hope of Amurricah", then outlined what we might expect of our country. He said: in the next 50 years tremendous progress would be made in medicine, the puzzling out of biological mysteries; space exploration would take us closer to the stars and advance earthly technology, especially in communication. From this remove of a half-century, I must admit he was correct. We clapped and clapped. But still, there was doubt. Jack and I looked over at Tom. He was not clapping.

"Come Tom," I said."Clap for Lyndon!"

He clenched his teeth and said, "Do you have any idea what that s.o.b. is going to demand we do in four years?"

Having learned sufficient wilderness survival skills to decide against a career in homelessness, I left the Boy Scouts shortly thereafter. Jack also quit to pursue an interest in sociology, then psychology and finally theology. Tom stayed in Scouts longest, well into high school and his teeth remained permanently clenched. Years later, I asked him why.

"Brown shirts," He said through teeth. "I like the brown shirtssss."

Tom became a neo-Nazi. Jack became a Catholic priest. As usual, I became a gardener.

We're all in this together.
Go in peace.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Hygieia's Legacy

The are vagaries of the spirit, unutterable and eidetic, invoked by meditative doodles in early autumn night:

They call me back through old Portuguese-Semitic-Roman-Greek genetic memories to times and places painfully hard to recall. I do my merely mortal best, and reach back along a line of increasingly ancient deities to Hygieia:

Hygieia, the beautiful Greek goddess of sanitation.  I should have known after my recent encounter with  a backporch snake ; I should have recognized the omen.  Yes, it got in under a door but the signs and portents were obvious. I should not have been surprised when the toilet started rocking and hissing --but I was.

Hygieia (also spelled Hygeia, Hygiea, Ὑγιεία but these things happen) is always depicted with her snake, Wisdom, and her bowl, which contains medicinal potions.  The snake, being wise --therefore knowing good from evil--  climbs up Hygieia and feeds from the bowl.  Yes, religions often get answers by peeking at the mythic structures of religions sitting in desks next to them. 

That being so, and with all the pressures of testing these days, it's not surprising Hygieia's Bowl has become the symbol of pharmacy worldwide. Snake has been run up around the  medical caduceus.  Hygieia herself has retired to sanitation, sending omens (snakes) to those of us whose sanitary bowls she worries about.

I'm a believer!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Rose Revisited and The Cisco Kid

It's been too many years since we looked in on Tex and Rosie  and high time we did so again. To those dear readers unfamiliar with this romantic Old-West couple, I recommend clicking on their blue names in the previous sentence before proceeding.
Two riders approach the one-room school house. We hear an a-c-g chord progression strummed from somewhere inside the dust cloud and Tex singing, "Oh mah sidekick died from a kick in the side!" over and over.

Francis: You will never be a good singing cowboy!

Tex: How would you know?

Francis: Because I am a psychic.

Tex: I know that. Well, we're here, and that's my darlin' Rosie steppin' outta the schoolhouse.

Rosie: Tex! You've been gone for years! Where have you been?

Tex: Still trackin' the Driscoll Gang. You wouldn't believe how many people are named Driscoll in this country.  

Rosie: And who's your friend?

Tex:  Danged if I know.  People call him Pancho; other people call him Cisco...

Francis: My name is Francis, senorita. 

Rosie: Tex, Pancho and Cisco are both nicknames for Francis.

Tex: Well, I just call him Sidekick. He was recommended by a barkeep in Abilene. I asked where I could find a good sidekick t'help me round up all the Driscolls and the barkeep sent me next door. There was a sign, said, "Gifted Francisco, Psychic", and I reckoned it close enough no matter how they spelled it.

Rosie: It can make a difference, Tex. What did your parents name you before you before you got stuck with "Tex"?

Tex (thinks hard for a while): Henry! I believe my name is Henry!

Rosie: Might there also be some confusion between "sidekick" and "psychic"?

Francis: Excuse him, Senorita Rosie. He needs me to foresee his future mistakes --of which there are many.

Rosie: Very well, but...but Tex, Henry, O Henry, couldn't you change your career to something safer? You've had so many adventures. Perhaps I could help you become a writer!

Francis: Yes, I see it growing more and more probable! The knight without armor, "The Caballero's Way"! Tell him!

Rosie: My poor Tex, O Henry, confused all this time by sidekick and Psychic.
Francis (riding off at a gallop down Main Street): ¡Ándale, Loco, let's went!

And in the distance the image divides into two riders who shout, "Oh Pancho!" and "Oh Cisco!" and, if your hearing is very good, "O. Henry!", followed by rapid hoof-beats and laughter.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Mind Power!

I keep power tools in the pumphouse. They are useful in emergencies. Every occasion that calls for power tools is an emergency. How do I know that?


This Normaphoto shows how serious and full of mindpower I am in an emergency. I have been inside the pumphouse assembling tools and fasteners toward rehanging our back door. 

A snake got in! 
Early in the morning I took coffee into the back porch and noticed something coiled on the concrete floor that did not belong there.  Without glasses, I couldn't distinguish its head shape or markings in dim light. 

"Are those dark spots only blotches or diamond-shaped?" I asked.

"I don't know," replied the snake. "I just came in through that gap in the door-sill corner and don't know what sort of thing I am."

"Well, you're only about 15 inches long and a little thicker than a crayon, but I can't see you well enough to tell if you're a gopher-snake or a young rattler. Do you rattle?"

"I don't think so, but I'm really new and rattles come later --best be careful!"

"Right, then here's the plan: I'm going to grab you very quickly and gently behind your head and lift you off the floor."

"What if I bite?"

"If I grab right you won't be able to, but you may wrap yourself around my forearm for security. I need to have one arm free to open doors and gates."

So I transported porch-snake back into the wild, directed him toward the creek and gave him a little toss.  I was determined not to look too closely at his markings because, well, I knew he wasn't a garter snake (insectivore) and didn't want to be too frightened. Still, the experience rattled me and I immediately repaired to the pumphouse to organize materials and tools for the job ahead.  Norma took a photo from the west pumphouse garden:

It furnishes photographic evidence indicating my morning meditations were not strictly nicotinic. I was planning methods of making the back porch door secure and snug in its frame, and projecting a lively psychic-improvement industry to attract all those who like that sort of thing. Here's a catchy ad-phrase: "Hey Kids! Get Mindpower! Give me all your money!" 

Do  they still print those in the backs of comic books? Maybe this new century has them in magazines about country life in crazy old farm houses like mine.  I believe using Mindpower to work things out with snakes and kids and each other is an important first step in evolution that could take us anywhere, and doubtless will.  To all, happy September!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Prose And Poultry

When I was little my world was full of walnuts and chickens. One of my jobs as a five-year-old was dragging a gunny sack under a tree to collect fallen walnuts. Once I got a couple dozen in the sack I'd swing it round in front of me and kick it with every step, which made a satisfying crunch that attracted chickens. Chickens would follow me around and say, "buck, buck, buck."

I was sure the chickens thought my name was Buck and were trying to get my attention. But, by and by,  because they seemed to call each other Buck and mutter "buck" about everything, I considered other possibilities. Years later I tried stiffening my lips in approximation of a beak and found it impossible to pronounce the letter F. Came out B. Mystery solved. I learned something of the general discontent of chickens.

But this is not intended to become an autobiography. Typical of boys my age I have an aversion to the finality of the form. After one experiences a few blows in life, one feels a bit  impermanent and shies away from writing it up. This is instead a personal essay which, although containing some historical exposition, is another sort of thing.  I  will restrict my comments to barnyard animals.

Childhood observation was recalled to me as I sat in the back porch with one of my grandsons. We heard roosters crowing to the west, to the south, then more distantly to the east. Once those in all directions knew of each other, they crowed back and forth incessantly.

Grandson asked what they were saying. I said, "Traditionally, 'cock-a-doodle-do.'"

He didn't think so. I listened. He was right, cock-a-doodle-do has five syllables and these roosters were crowing only four. The rise in pitch toward the end was right, but was revealed now as interrogative. A question.

"A riddle?" He asked .

A riddle with no answer, or an answer so obvious as to need no articulation besides silence, followed by repetition --an enigma! We listened carefully, trying to fit lyrics to their four notes. Finally we heard it together: Where's-the-bathRRROOOM? Where's the bathRRROOOM?

We got the answer simultaneously too: for a chicken, anywhere.

I post this scholarly personal essay in hopes that others will explore the language of chickens and contribute to a lexicon --an addition to the Rosetta Stone that includes poultry. Remember to consult children in this endeavor, especially if you aren't a child yourself.  Children remind us we are on this planet to learn, to imagine and to have a little fun every day.

Monday, August 15, 2016


She had taken a picture of the moon. I remained, admiring the night,  conducting a nicotinic meditation in the great outdoors, then stowed my pipe in the pumphouse and headed for the back porch door.
As I reached for the doorknob, I felt a familiar feathery touch on my shoulder. I stopped, turned toward the cool white light and remembered my manners.

"Boa noite Lua."

"Geo., you may address me in your current language." Then she appeared upon the planet that is also a portal to her world.
"Excuse me, Selene then?"

"Lovely, but dated. How can I feel anything but old when named by ancient Greeks?"

"Prosperina? Hecate? Diana? Juno?"

"No! I share no responsibilities with pseudonyms now more often used to name racehorses and  fishing boats!"

"Carmen Saeculare?"

"Do I look like I have horns?"

"No, you are as beautiful tonight as you were when you made your covenant  with Gaia to share an orbit around the sun a billion and a half years ago. What is upsetting you?"

"Well, it's just a few things. No one wants to live on moons because other planet-dwellers call them lunatics instead of Lunarians..."

"What about Selenites? That's a pretty name."

"A name your H. G. Wells imprinted upon literature as ill-mannered insectoids!" 

"What do you prefer?"

"I like Lycanthra. Lycanthropes in literature had bubbly personalities."

"Why would you think that?"

"I've monitored your werewolf movies and noticed, under my full moon, they all  froth at the mouth!"

"I shall not call you Lycanthra."

"But how do you account for all the unpleasant things Earth People insist upon  doing when there are so many pleasant things to do?"

I confess I can't, and hope you can help correct the problem...and wish you good night Lua. I love you."

"I love you too, Geo."

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Enigma of Creation

There are as many creation stories as there are indigenous cultures, and as many interpretations as there are --have been and will be-- minds to interpret them. They do, however, have certain points in common.
Creation myths begin with a creator, a being of pure potential, perfected in darkness, who decides to bring light --much like the figure in the geodoodle above. In the doodle, light is represented as stars spreading away from each other. A reference to the Doppler Effect tells us the red stars are moving away and the blue ones are coming toward us. I included yellow stars because I think they are pretty. We orbit a yellow star. All of them emit light.

Light is energy propagated at a visible wavelength.  Its definition is inseparable  from its velocity. That is, nothing can equal the speed of light without being light --so it also serves as a universal constant, particularly in this equation: E= mc2When we are young algebra students, it is almost irresistible, we divide both sides of the equation by c2 and discover ourselves to be E, kinetic energy, and m, relativistic mass. In short, we are the square root of light.

Creation myths generally describe building archetypal humans out of water and earth --after adjustments are made by the creator to the velocity of light resulting in seas and minerals. Scientific evidence suggests we crawled from the water in search of new evolutionary opportunities. Whether scientific, scriptural or metaphorical, creation stories abound. I rather like to include a bit of supernature, which is why this is my favorite creation myth: 

"Frosty the Snowman, was a jolly happy soul,
With a corn cob pipe and a button nose, and two eyes made of coal.

Frosty the Snowman, is a fairytale, they say.
He was made of snow, but the children know he came to life one day.

There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found,
For when they placed it on his head, he began to dance around!" 

My appreciation to Doppler, Einstein and the songwriting team of Nelson and Rollins. And to all from this hot California summer: Remember the winter sometimes and try to dance around a little. I do!