Archive for August, 2010

31
Aug
10

vigil

Last evening we had a tremendous storm while Dave and I were driving to visit a friend. I didn’t enjoy the visit, though, because I was preoccupied the whole time by the thought that I had left my windows open before leaving home in the late afternoon. I was disappointed to cut the visit short because we were visiting someone I’d really like to get to know. I was honored to have been invited into his home.

Yet I only had myself to blame. Even though the sun was shining and the day was hot, I had not been observant and seen the great banks of clouds building on the horizon; otherwise I might have thought “just in case” and closed those damned windows. I should have remembered that the flies were biting.

The storm intensified as we returned closer to home. Our headlights barely pierced the dark and downpour. Water was sheeting across the road and broad ribbons of lightning briefly illuminated the mountains. As we began climbing the rocky road that approaches our house, I was thankful that so much of our road traverses bare rock. There was no chance of becoming stuck in one of the mud patches which suddenly appear in so many roads in weather like this.

But I couldn’t get my mind off of those damned open windows. I imagined blowing rain drenching my papers and computer and causing untold other damage. When we pulled into the driveway I could see the wind had blown open our front door. This didn’t look good.

I walked in the door and switched on the light expecting to see everything drenched in water, but the room was exactly as I’d left it. I walked over to one of the open windows, brushed my hand across the window sill, and it was dry!

“Dave, it’s a miracle,” I shouted. The wind had come from the west. It had blown through the open door and out the windows which face the east. The open door had been protected by roof expanse all around. Not a drop of water had gotten in.

It was a happy night as Dave and I made pork sandwiches and made a deal about a small propane oven and cooktop I’m going to install as part of a galley kitchenette for the existing house. Otto crunched contentedly all night on a shoulder bone that had come out of the pork roast. Sadie was probably comfortably ensconced in one of Alana’s easy chairs.

But as I discovered this morning, not everybody at Estrella Vista was happy. When I entered the end of the chicken coop that houses our chicks, I could see two of the smaller ones cowering in the corner while the others were gathering around the food. When I approached them to investigate, I could see that they were standing on a third chick that had literally been trampled into the ground.

There must have been a great panic here at the height of the storm, and this poor chick had the misfortune to be at the bottom of the pile. I lifted her pathetic body out of the corner and was surprised to feel her quaver in my hands. She was still alive!

Even though she was covered with mud and droppings, I could see this was one of the three white chicks in our flock of browns. After spotting the other two whites, I deduced that this is the one I have taken to calling “Blago” on account of a puffy tuft of feathers on her head that made her look just like (I swear to god) Rod Blagojevich.

So here was poor trampled Blago, all covered in shit and stinking and shaking in my hand. I held her close to my body hoping to transfer some warmth. Warmth. Yes, that is what she needed.

I brought Blago into the house, put her in a soft nest made from a t-shirt, and placed her in the sun. The pecking order of the coop was cruel to her last night and she was now nearly dead. I am curious whether human benevolence might bring her back.

As the sunlight moves across the floor, I keep repositioning the chair on which her nest is perched. Once she complained, which I took as a sign of fighting spirit. A fly landed on her tattered wing and she flinched it off. Alert and still fighting. This is good.

So today I am keeping a vigil for poor Blago. I’m beginning to think that just maybe she will not die. She has just raised her head and opened her eyes. There is a slim chance. Only time and the day will tell.

30
Aug
10

ticking clock

A couple days ago my friend Dusty sent me a link to a calculator which, based on health, lifestyle, family history, and other factors, provides an estimate of how long one can expect to live. The answer in my case is “not long enough.”

Before you accuse me of falling for some Internet flim-flam (after all, we’ve all learned time and again that you can’t trust everything you read, especially on the Internet), the result I got from this site almost exactly matched a number I calculated a few years back by analyzing the life-spans of my parents and grandparents and averaging their weighted values all together.

I must hasten to tell you that I’m not afraid of death. I’m at a stage of life when things long taken for granted—like teeth and eyesight and hearing—are beginning to disappear bit by bit. I believe that when I do die, I will return in a fresh new vessel, an infant with the potentialities squandered in this lifetime and more, all losses restored. This is something to look forward to. The most influential mentor in my life called death “graduation.”

Yet I have plans and hopes which require more time than I’ve probably been allotted to see them through to fruition. So what is a mere mortal to do? One must be realistic.

The first thing is to be thankful. Five years ago a doctor told me I probably had just months to live unless I followed his advice and went under the knife. I did not let them cut me and ever since have been experiencing what I call “bonus time.” My health has improved and I’ve had the good fortune to have experienced rich and meaningful years which have been the happiest in my life.

The second thing is to remember that only so much can be well-done each day. I can only do today what I can. Life’s not a race for the most prizes. There can be no winners anyway, because winning is a fleeting thing and we all die in the end. The only “winners” are those who follow us. Life’s essence is about continuity—a chain of life that can perpetuate values and characteristics through the generations which hopefully are well conceived and wisely chosen. Creating love through a coherent vision is therefore the only thing worth my remaining time because it is the only thing which will survive me.

The third thing is to make my plans explicit enough so that others can carry them through with or without me. I’ve devoted my whole working career to working on the front end of projects—to being a pioneer and not a settler—and I visualize what I do as positioning a log at the top of a hill and letting gravity do the rest. Taking good aim is the critical thing.

Last night was movie night again, and Val and I watched the 2009 film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Road (2006), which I read last year.

The Road follows an unnamed father and son journeying together across a desolate and gray landscape. It is a decade or more after an unexplained cataclysm has destroyed civilization and almost all life on Earth. Crops, livestock, even the crows are all dead.

Realizing that they will not survive another winter in their home country, the father leads the boy south along a vacant highway towards the sea, sustained by the vague hope of finding sunshine and warmth and more “good guys” like them.

The “bad guys” are marauders and cannibals and their greatest fear. They’re what drove the man’s wife, the boy’s mother, to commit suicide sometime before the story begins. “Sooner or later they will catch us and they will kill us,” she had said. “They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you won’t face it,” she accused. The calmness and rationality of her last act was her final gift to the man and the boy.

Now on the road, and carrying with them only what is on their backs and what will fit into a damaged shopping cart, the father coughs blood every morning and knows he is dying. Yet he struggles to protect his son from the constant threats of attack, exposure, and starvation, as well as from what he sees as the boy’s well-meaning but dangerous desire to help other people they meet.

They are the “good guys.” They would never eat other people. They are “carrying the fire” inside them and the boy keeps believing that nothing bad will happen to them as long as this is so. Yet despite having succeeded in defending the boy through extreme hardship, the man succumbs to his illness and dies, leaving the boy alone. The boy grieves over his father’s corpse with no idea of what he is to do next.

His dilemma is resolved when the boy encounters a man who has been tracking the father and son. This man has a wife and two children of his own, and invites the boy to join his family after convincing him that he is indeed one of the “good guys.” He too carries the fire, and the boy survives. Through the boy’s survival, the father lives on too.

The movie probably had a lot to do with my mood when I awoke this morning. It is a sobering thought to be reminded of one’s mortality, whether by a doctor, a web-based calculator, or a harrowing film. Yet the fable in the book and film also reminds me that everything I value depends on love.

It is the thread upon which hangs through time any immortality we might have.

29
Aug
10

visitor

Yesterday David Sutherland, the Diary reader who greeted me the other day at the Grub Shack, came up for a visit. He had decided to cut short his Big Bend visit and return home to Florida, but wanted to stop by to see Estrella Vista and me before he headed out in the evening. He told me that his wife Susan, who is also a Diary reader, had insisted that he do so. (She is still in Florida and David had made this trip solo; I’d guess she wants a first-hand report when David returns.)

Thanks, Susan. It would have been a shame if David had headed back without stopping here, because yesterday’s visit is definitely the beginning of a close friendship which I know will include you!

Here is the thing which most impressed me about the visit: it was not a meeting of strangers with all the guarded, halting conversation that one might have expected, but a reunion of old friends. This of course is because of the Diary.

David already knew all about me and the people who fill my life—and it seemed so strange to me that I could speak of Henry, Paul and Sarah, Val, Paco and Derek (none of whom David has ever actually met), and it was as if he already knew them.

But the most remarkable thing is that David, who is normally a very reserved person, was so comfortable and open in telling me about himself and some of the deep things which are important to him.

This was an “ah-ha” experience for me because it confirmed for the first time that the Diary is doing what I had hoped it would, which is to help create the conditions for providing spiritual hospitality at Estrella Vista.

People come to the Big Bend for renewal in their lives. They find it not only because they can find beauty and solitude here, but because this land exudes a numinous energy that has a healing and restorative effect on so many people in so many ways. The biggest impediment to people benefiting from this place is that it takes time for them to shift from the tempo and mindset of the outer world and harmonize with the time and mind we experience here.

Most people’s visits here are limited by the number of vacation days their employers allow them, the amount of time, distance, and money it takes them to travel here and back, and the remaining mental space their outer-world responsibilities, commitments and worries do not crowd out. Whatever we can do to prepare and free people to make the most of their limited time here will help them experience the spiritual renewal they seek.

As we begin receiving more visitors who will stay here with us at Estrella Vista, I am imagining that the Diary will play a greater role in drawing them—and maybe you—here.

Oh, I did promise you that I would ask David if the place is anything like what he’d expected.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he answered. “The one thing I can say is that I’m worried about bringing Susan here. She will like it too much and ask me to build something like it on our land.”

28
Aug
10

old fashioned love songs

My postings this week have all been so serious; since it’s the weekend and we’re all presumably kicking back, I thought you might enjoy hearing some old fashioned love songs by someone other than Three Dog Night.

I’ve been having quite a lot of fun lately collecting classical vocal music over the Internet. For a while I focused on choral music which ran the gamut from boys’ school choirs to the Red Army Chorus, and then became intrigued with particular songs and how they are treated differently by various ensembles and soloists.

My latest discovery is that you can enter an MP3 download search into Amazon’s system and automatically sample a playlist of the same selection by different artists and performers. It’s a fantastic music self-education tool. It is amazing all of the new things you can learn by looking at the same thing in different ways.

This last week I learned through my research the stories of two wedding feasts where guests other than the bridegroom fall madly in love with the bride; one is a story of unrequited love, and the other is a story of scandalous passion. Both weddings resulted in love songs which are among the most beautiful written, and sung by two of the greatest tenors in the history of the musical world.

The first story begins in 1636 in Prussia at the wedding of a 17-year-old girl named Anna Neander. She was married there to a minister named Johannes Partatius (who really doesn’t figure into this story except to explain the “unrequited love” bit). You see, one of the wedding guests was a 31-year-old poet from Memel named Simon Dach, and he fell head over heels in love with the bride. He was so taken by her that it is said he wrote a seventeen-stanza love poem about her when he returned to his lodgings that night. (The long-lived Anna took two other husbands after that, but sadly the lovelorn Simon Dach never had a chance.)

Dach’s poem declaring his love for Anna later became a much loved and performed German folk song titled “Ännchen von Tharau.” (The words to the song in German and English appear as a comment to this post.)

I found many performances of the song, but my favorite is a 1960s recording by the lyric tenor Fritz Wunderlich, who died of an accidental fall when he was only in his 30s and who, according to one respected music magazine, is the fourth-greatest tenor of all time:

Listen to “Ännchen von Tharau” performed by Fritz Wunderlich

The second wedding story begins 108 years later at the Theatre Royale in  Covent Garden in London, with the first performance of George Friderick Handel’s oratorio Semele. It was a wedding staged in mythic Roman times in the city of Thebes. The bride was Semele and the groom was to have been Athamas.

However, one of the wedding guests was the god Jupiter and, like poor Simon Dach, he fell madly in love with the bride. Yet unlike Dach—and as only pagan gods and Dustin Hoffmann are wont to do—Jupiter abducted Semele from the wedding ceremony and took her off to a palace at Cithaeron where they indulged in wild erotic exploits that enraged Jupiter’s wife Juno and drove the story to a dramatic conclusion resulting in the birth of the god Bacchus (whose name is rightly associated with the concept of debauchery).

Because Handel had scheduled his premiere during Lent and the audience had been expecting something of a more Biblical and uplifting nature, the performance caused a scandal and the show was shut down after only four performances. Yet this love song, sung by a smitten Jupiter to Semele, became one of the most beloved English-language love arias of all time.

Listen to John McCormack performing “Where’ere You Walk”

As an old guy who regularly falls in love with young girls from afar, I can personally attest to the danger of attending weddings. Even the homeliest girl can appear radiant on her wedding day and reduce poor fools like me to jelly.

27
Aug
10

cindy

I slept in this morning and didn’t awaken until nine. The first thing I did after descending from my sleeping loft was to call my friend Cindy, who is undergoing radiation treatments in Minneapolis for breast cancer.

Cindy had called me two days ago, returning a call I’d placed a day or two before. I could tell she was tired and not really in the mood to talk. Just after she’s called, her daughters had begun quarrelling and provided an excuse to cut the call short.

One of her first questions had been, “Have you been reading my journal at Caring Bridge?” and I had to admit that I’d forgotten all about it—it was outside the established pattern of how we’d stayed in touch and I am normally so slow to change old habits. Cindy had established an account at this web-based service to spare herself the burden of fielding numerous calls such as mine, as well-intentioned as they might be.

I was so ashamed to have neglected reading her journal, I immediately went to Caring Bridge, downloaded her journal, and read the whole thing. I’m glad I did. It was reassuring and inspiring to read how Cindy is facing her ordeal. She is making the most of it, and continuing to grow through it all.

“I read your entire journal and just want you to know how much I admire you. You are so brave and philosophical about everything you’re going through,” I told her this morning. I could hear her voice brighten as she responded.

“And all those people who are saying your last few entries sounded gloomy—just tell them to go to hell,” I continued. “They’re the ones who have never been through anything like this. They’re clueless. It’s perfectly normal, healthy even, to have some downs as well as the ups.”

I knew these people wouldn’t understand what I said next, but Cindy did: “This may sound strange to say, but the hard times are to be cherished as much as the good.”

Cindy knew exactly what I meant because, as proved time and again in her journal, she is spinning straw into gold. She told me that writing the journal has been an important and positive outlet for her.

If you have the time and inclination, you can read Cindy’s journal at www.caringbridge.org by typing in cynthiarogers in the “Visit a Website” box.

26
Aug
10

alarming possibility

A couple days ago my research uncovered a story I had not heard about before which has implanted a troubling doubt in my mind about the system of “child protection” which has evolved in our country.

On March 26th the bodies of Bruce and Nancy Schaefer were found in the bedroom of their Georgia home by their daughter. Both had been shot. Nancy Schaefer was a former Georgia state senator who had been spearheading a movement calling for the audit and reform of the Georgia Department of Child Protective Services. She was about to release a documentary film about Child Protective Services and take her campaign national.

The authorities in Georgia were quick to label the deaths a murder-suicide, but many people close to the couple believe it was a professional hit staged to look like a murder-suicide.

Senator Schaefer gained respect from both conservative and liberal family rights advocates for her work exposing the corruption in Child Protective Services (CPS) and the US family courts. In 2009 she gave speeches in the Netherlands and Sweden where she accused the US government of being involved in human trafficking through an all-powerful CPS system which rewards states with federal dollars for abducting children from their families and keeping family members separated. She said that our national child protection system has become a huge industry that’s “all about the money.”

She accused the CPS “industry” of other gross malfeasance including complicity in the sexual abuse of children. Her messages were obviously embarrassing and discomfiting to politicians, bureaucrats, social workers, lawyers, judges and others whose livelihoods and power depend on continuation of the status quo.

You can view Senator Schaefer’s August 11, 2009 speech in the Netherlands at the World Congress on Families by clicking these links:

“The Unlimited Power of Child Protective Services” Part 1 (6:32)

“The Unlimited Power of Child Protective Services” Part 2 (6:26)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y73nFp0Y19c&feature=related

 

The speech is worth the small amount of time it will take you to view it to get an idea of the significant direction Senator Schaefer’s life and work had taken in the years before her murder.

Yet here is the curious thing that makes me so suspicious of the official version of the circumstances surrounding her death: there was a complete news blackout in the mainstream media about her campaign to reform the CPS system  in America. Don’t believe me?

Watch this local news report about Senator Schaefer’s murder:

How can anyone explain such a glaring omission—one which has been perpetuated so very effectively since then—except to question whether the powers-that-be have suppressed the real story behind her death? Think about it.

I certainly am, especially now that my work is putting me in contact with the child protection system here and elsewhere in the country. From now on I’ll be paying attention with eyes and mind opened to the alarming possibility that CPS may not be what it purports to be.

25
Aug
10

almost famous

Yesterday I was at the Grub Shack quietly enjoying a cup of Eva’s homemade chocolate ice cream when a stranger with a Jamaican accent arrived.

“I saw the Ford Explorer parked here. And you’re eating ice cream,” he declared. “Dan Dailey, right? And that’s Otto in the car?”

Oh my god, I thought. This guy knows more about me than my mother would if she were still alive.

(She never could figure out what I did for a living. Her last advice to me before she died was. “Why don’t you just get a job?”)

“I’m David Sutherland from Florida,” he explained. “I read your blog.”

“David!” I exclaimed as I jumped up and pumped his hand. “It’s so good to meet you!” I said with all sincerity. This was the first time one of my Diary visitors had come looking for me. A milestone, so to speak.

We spoke for a few minutes and promised to visit another time. He didn’t ask for my autograph, but his recognition did make me feel a little like a celebrity for a just a moment.

After David comes up to Estrella Vista for a visit, I’ll let you know if the place is anything like he imagined.

۞

Today at 10:00 am is David Champ’s formal arraignment in juvenile court. I’m on pins and needles right now awaiting word of what will transpire behind the court’s closed doors.

Last night young David’s grandfather called to tell me that David believes he will be returning home after today’s hearing. “Do you think there’s any chance of that happening?” he asked hopefully.

“No way,” I told him.

The boy doesn’t understand the magnitude of what’s happening to him. I just hope poor David will not be too distressed when he learns he will be returning to the detention center this afternoon.

He will have to begin growing up very fast right about now.

(postscript)

According to a news report by one of the local TV stations, 11-year-old David was brought to the Family Court in sweats and shackles, surrounded by his family, mother, and lawyers. The hearing was postponed to September 15th and the court was petitioned to order a “screening for residential placement,” which was granted. This is all the public was told.

Let me translate.

The arraignment hearing was postponed so the prosecutor can delay a decision on what formal charge, if any, will be filed. The prosecutor wants to know the child’s state of mind and development before making a decision about an appropriate formal charge. Hence the “screening” which is really a psychological evaluation.

This is all good. The Missouri prosecutor is taking a good look before taking the leap. Everyone appears to be sincerely concerned about the boy’s welfare. They seem to be getting it right.

If only such a responsible approach had been taken in Pennsylvania!