Posted in Culture/History, Environment/Deep Ecology/Climate Change, Naomi Baltuck, Nature, ocean bliss, Peace & Justice, Photo Story, Photography/Photographer, Spiritual Practice, story, Story Telling, Photo Story, Sustainability, Teachers, TheBeZine, trees, Writing

Hope Floats

 

On my last visit to Juneau, my Alaskan sister Constance, told me a story. It began over fifteen hundred years ago, when a small band of Pacific Islanders, plagued by overpopulation and the depletion of natural resources, set sail across the Pacific in outrigger canoes to seek new islands to call home.

 

They were the ancestors of the people of Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, and other Polynesian islands.  Their only guidance was gleaned from the stars, the wind, ocean currents, the swell of the waves, the birds and the fish, the movement of the clouds. This ancient system of navigation, known as ‘wayfinding,’ enabled them to travel thousands of miles across vast stretches of ocean to remote tiny islands.

My sister told me she had volunteered at an event in honor of native Hawai’ian, Nainoa Thompson, who had come to Juneau to tell his story, and to celebrate the strong bond between the First Peoples of Alaska and Hawai’i.  It began in 1976, when Nainoa wanted to follow in his ancestors’ wake by sailing from Hawai’i to Tahiti with only traditional navigation as guidance.  He had a double-hulled outrigger canoe named Hokule’a, ‘Our Star of Gladness’.  At that time, ‘wayfinding’ was in danger of being forever lost.  Hawaii’s wayfinders had all died, and only a few elderly wayfinders remained in Micronesia. One of them, Mau Piailug, barely spoke English, and the trip from Hawaii to Tahiti longer than any voyage Mau had ever made.  But Mau’s children, like the children of so many Native Americans, had been taken away to boarding schools, robbed of their culture, and any interest in learning the ancient art.  He agreed to mentor Nainoa.

Under Mau’s tutelage Nainoa completed the trip, and became a master wayfinder, helping to preserve Hawai’ian culture.  But the Hokule’a was built from modern materials, and Nainoa wanted to build a ship of traditional Hawai’ian materials.  For almost a year, Nainoa searched throughout the Hawai’ian Islands for two koa trees to use as hulls.

Between the devastation of ranching and logging, he couldn’t find a single koa tree tall or thick enough to serve.

It was noted in Captain George Vancouvers journals in 1793–that some Hawai’ian canoes had hulls of Sitka Spruce.  The logs had been carried three thousand miles from Alaska by ocean currents, tossed up on Hawaiian beaches, and were considered gifts from the gods.

Nainoa asked Alaskan tribal elders for two Sitka Spruce trees to build an outrigger canoe.  He was told that he could have the trees “so you can build the canoe to carry your culture.  But we won’t take their lives until you come see that they are what you need.”

The Sitka Spruce trees were beautiful; 200-feet tall, eight feet in diameter, over 400 years old.  But Nainoa realized that he couldn’t take the life of those trees before dealing with the destruction of his native Hawaiian forests.

Nainoa returned to Hawai’i to launch a restoration program. People worked together, old and young–some traveled from Alaska–to plant thousands of koa tree seedlings, creating forests that will one day have tree big enough to make canoes.

Only then did Nainoa feel he could return to Alaska to accept the gift of the Sitka Spruce trees.

Nainoa called the new canoe ‘Hawai’iloa’, after the ancient wayfinder who first discovered the Hawai’ian Islands.

Those first Polynesian voyagers coped with overpopulation and depletion of resources by migrating to other uninhabited islands, but that’s no longer an option on our crowded planet.  Nainoa’s expanded mission has become ‘Malama Honua’, which means ‘caring for the Earth.’  Last year the Hokule’a completed a three year tour that circled the planet, building global community, and promoting earth care and sustainability as well as Polynesian culture.

I believe we have strayed, and lost sight of the world we want and need to live in.  But, as Nainoa discovered, and now teaches, if one is willing to listen and learn, there are wayfinders who can show us the way home.

All images ©2019 Naomi Baltuck


NAOMI BALTUCK (Writing Between the Lines)~ is Resident Storyteller at The BeZine. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer. Her works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE.

Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV (her personal blog) as well as on The BeZine.

Naomi conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com.

Naomi says, “When not actually writing, I am researching the world with my long-suffering husband and our two kids, or outside editing my garden. My novel, The Keeper of the Crystal Spring (Viking Penguin), can be read in English, German, Spanish, and Italian. My storytelling anthology, Apples From Heaven, garnered four national awards, including the Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice. I am currently working on a contemporary women’s novel.”

Posted in Culture/History, General Interest, justice, Nature, Spiritual, Sustainability

Evolution and Capitalism: As Tarzan Said to Jane “It’s a Jungle Out There”

skepticBy this point in the 2016 presidential campaign, it has become something of a cliché to compare the candidacies of both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and all the turmoil, often violent, surrounding the former’s campaign rallies, to the spawning of the monster in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Progressives and people to the left side of the political spectrum sometimes joke that such comparisons actually insult Frankenstein’s monster. But by concentrating exclusively on Trump and Cruz and the perennial freak show of the lunatic right, the comparison misses the larger point that the real Frankenstein monster – the monster that ultimately gestated Trump, Cruz, the Great Recession, and their attendant pathologies– is contemporary capitalism itself. I emphasize contemporary capitalism deliberately, because the adjective “contemporary” is absolutely critical: the capitalism to which we have all-too-rapidly become accustomed is not capitalism as it existed in the few Administrations immediately following the Second World War. That capitalism – roughly speaking, the capitalism of the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson years – was, comparatively speaking, a “kinder, gentler capitalism” than the system fortuitously denoted by the “c-word” today. To paraphrase an advertising slogan: This is not your parents’ capitalism.

600px-Boris_Karloff_as_Frankenstein's_monster

Now, before we go any farther and commit the criminal offense of misdemeanor sociology by over-idealizing what those years were like, I should back up a step or two and acknowledge that, no, the largesse of those supposed halcyon days by no means included everyone. Yes, the middle class was growing … but mostly the white, male, heterosexual middle class. Yes, home ownership was burgeoning … but mostly only for white, heterosexual families (and also in large measure because of the GI Bill to assist veterans, a measure a hard-right GOP Congress might well refuse to fund today, for fear of nurturing a “culture of dependency”). (The term “homosexual family” would have been considered as oxymoronic as “two-sided triangle”.) Yes, Dinah Shore sang her theme song – which I am old enough to remember – “See … the … U … SA in your Chev … ro-let … “ But you had to be able to afford a Chevy, which many people in that ostensible golden age of the American economy could not. This was also the time of the germinating civil rights movement; the schoolchild “duck-and-cover” time when we believed that the Nation could be annihilated in a half-hour – and when, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it nearly was; when schools were segregated … as Gov. Orval Faubus vowed they always would be in Arkansas; when registering black people to vote could be, in some cases was, worth your life, etc., etc., etc. But, that said, the fact remains that for some Americans – by no means all, but for a number unprecedented in world history – the middle class was, not just growing, but thriving … so much so that, in our optimism, we even coined a phrase for the coming of Camelot and the Kennedy era: “the Soaring Sixties”. Remember that?

So what happened? I like to think of it in terms of an analogy with biological evolution. A Reader’s Digest-condensed version of biological evolution, basically the skeleton of Darwin’s original theory, the first edition of which was published in 1859, says that as changes occur in an organism’s phenotype via random mutations in its genotype, the environment acts on the resulting mutated organism to determine whether the organism lives or dies. (Darwin had only the crudest conception — something called “pangenesis,” long since discredited — of how mutations originate.) It’s like a vast, jaw-droppingly complex, planet-spanning figure-skating competition: organisms “skate” their “program”, mutations included, and the environment acts as the panel of judges, determining which organisms survive and which do not … survival being defined as the ability to survive long enough to reproduce and thus pass on the adaptation to their descendants. But as the environment changes over time, the “judging criteria” that determine the fate of each species likewise change: mutations that were once advantageous or neutral may become disadvantageous – the technical term is “maladaptive” – under the new environmental regime. Perhaps the classical example of this process is the meteor strike on the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago, that resulted in basically a “nuclear winter” due to the debris thrown up by the impact reflecting sunlight back into space and thus cooling the planet. Dinosaurs, being huge lizards which had no ability to regulate their body temperature, and which had been around for over 150 million years, suddenly found themselves in the midst of a catastrophe. Because the earth became colder – and there were other changes because of the meteor – the evolutionary niche once occupied by cold-blooded dinosaurs came to be occupied by mammals, which do have the ability to regulate their body temperature independently of the environment. Result: the dinosaurs died off; mammals – including humans about 64 million-plus years later – survived.

423px-Charles_Darwin_photograph_by_Herbert_Rose_Barraud,_1881_2
Charles Darwin

OK … now back to capitalism … Societies – in particular, societies’ economies and the underlying technological infrastructure – evolve, too. And the process is intriguingly similar to biological evolution in response to a changing environment. The “figure skating competition” here, however, is between forms of socio-economic organization – what Marx called “the mode of production” – and the overall technological environment in which production takes place – what Marx called “the means of production”, with the “mode” playing the part of the skater and the “means” playing the part of the judges. (Again, the same caution: this is a Reader’s Digest-condensed synopsis.) Conservatives spill ‘way, ‘way too much ink pooh-pooh-ing Marx’s theory of the materialist dialectic of history – by which, Marx says at one point, he “stood Hegel on his [Hegel’s] head” – and ‘way, ‘way too little ink acknowledging the keen insights that, despite the undisputed oversimplifications of Marxist theory, lie at the heart of Marx’s basic paradigm. An example might clarify matters. In the Middle Ages, the production of goods was carried on according to what we today would call a “cottage industry” paradigm. A wainwright – a carriage-maker – would typically start with raw materials, fabricate the various parts of the carriage, put those parts together into higher- and higher-level assemblies, and finally put those assemblies together into a finished carriage – and, in the process, maintain exclusive control over the entire manufacturing process from start to finish, “touching” the entire carriage at each stage as it was being built. Working with the wainwright would be some young men – always men – who would serve apprenticeships as “wainwrights-in-training”. Furthermore, a master craftsman usually developed a close personal relationship with his apprentices, journeymen, etc., and the group often even lived together. As the “junior wainwrights” were trained, the supervising craftsman and the local wainwright guild would observe their progress and together determine what stage each trainee / “intern” was at: apprentice, journeyman, etc., all the way up to master craftsman – at which point the once-apprentice could become an independent craftsman in his own right, authorized to hire his own apprentices and teach them, whereupon the cycle would repeat.

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Karl Marx

Then came the factory movement from the middle 1700s on, the reasons of which are too complex to even synopsize here. Suffice to say that the factory movement eventuated from advances in technology that enabled the manufacturing process to be broken down into rather naturally occurring, small, easily identifiable, discrete stages, each of which could be physically isolated from the other inside an immense building – called a “manufactory,” later abbreviated to just “factory” – where a given worker, or more likely a cadre of several dozen workers, performed the same discrete sub-task, and passed the results on to other cadres of workers who would perform subsequent sub-tasks. In Marxist language, the “means” of production underwent a tectonic change. Now, instead of working on an entire product, each worker in the factory dealt with only a small, discrete task, and often had no idea how that one discrete task fit into the manufacture of the end-product. Furthermore, the idea of craftsmanship became quaint … then ceased to have any meaning altogether: there is no sense of craftsmanship in the fabrication of a mere “sub-widget”. Over time, and a rather historically brief time, at that, workers became mere fungible ciphers: if worker A and worker B fabricate the same type of widget X, then they are interchangeable; and given the simplicity of the discrete tasks, either can be trained to fabricate widget Y. The workers became strangers to the end-product, and, unlike a century before, strangers to one another. In Marxist language, the “mode” of production underwent a tectonic change. Our hypothetical wainwright building a carriage from start to finish with the help of his apprentices and journeymen became as obsolete as the post-meteor dinosaurs – and for essentially the same reason: the craftsman, like the dinosaur, was adapted to an obsolete environment. In the brave new world of the factory environment, mere physical dexterity – the ability to rapidly build sub-widgets – will win out over craftsmanship every time.

But the crowning humiliation came when the factory movement, leveraging advancing technology, gradually substituted machines for human workers altogether. In some meaningful sense, human beings became quite literally worthless in many contexts. What supplanted the value of workers was the value of capital, i.e., the money necessary to buy land and equipment, build factories, buy raw materials, and in general “jump start” the entire manufacturing enterprise. The cost associated with the workers themselves was relatively minimal: defined as the minimum wage necessary to enable a worker to subsist and to reproduce, so as to engender other workers to feed into the system. (The factory movement routinely employed children whose age was expressed in single digits.) Because workers could not afford the costs of transportation to and from their jobs, this also meant that workers had to move from the countryside, where most of the “cottage industry” work had been done prior to the factory movement, into great cities where they could be close to their jobs, usually congregating into vast, vast slums whose appalling misery has been so well documented in the novels of Charles Dickens, giving rise to scenes of human degradation that bear comparison only to conurbations of nightmare like today’s Mogadishu. It is this “para-Hegelian” dialectic between “means” and “mode” that drove the evolution of history, argued Marx. No wonder Romantic poets of the late 1700s and early 1800s like William Blake wrote of “the dark, satanic mills of Wolverhampton” and of the hellish filth-scapes of Whitechapel and the East End. No wonder the Luddite sect, with its hostility to any and all forms of technology, became increasingly popular. No wonder French workers, for fear of being displaced by machines, threw their wooden shoes (sabot, in French) into the cogs and gears of the machines … thus coining the word “sabotage”. As it is in biology, so also it is in socio-economics: evolution does not forgive.

dark-satanic-mills

So in many ways, the London of Charles Dickens is the tangible embodiment and vindication of Karl Marx: the means of production – factories leveraging technology so as to use human workers, if at all, only as flesh-and-blood machines – and the mode of production – wage-slavery intensified to a lyrical pitch through the massive urbanization of labor. All in the service of Capital. Now multiply the single example of London by all the great cities of Europe – their name is “Legion,” for they are many – and the sense of moral crisis becomes almost tangible. Two questions end up being begged: (1) how the hell did matters come to such a pass back then? and (2) why is the present so much like the past to such an unsettling extent? I would suggest that at least the outlines of an answer begin to emerge if we consider two factors we usually do not associate with each other: biological evolution and the European Enlightenment.

It’s important to remember a critical fact about the evolution of our species:  it’s about survival. Or, to be strictly precise, evolution is about surviving long enough to reproduce. Furthermore, given the short life-spans (on geologically and cosmically significant time-scales) of our species, homo sapiens sapiens, the type of survival toward which evolution is biased is short-term survival. Evolution — evolution alone and unaided by human intentions — is “concerned” with the long-fanged beast hiding behind that rock over there, not the long-fanged beast hiding behind other rocks elsewhere farther away. Evolution certainly has long-term consequences, but these are worked out in billions upon billions of particular, discrete, short-term instances. In an odd kind of way, evolution is like that verse in II Corinthians 6:2:  “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation”.  For evolution, now — or perhaps 5 minutes or perhaps an hour from now — is all that counts.  An organism that dies right now never reproduces, and thus falls out of the evolutionary stream.

human-evolution

As paradoxical as it may sound, given the time-scales involved, evolution is actually the ultimate in short-term thinking.  So we should not be surprised that humans are biased, down to the deepest sub-basement of our neuroanatomy, toward similar short-term thinking. We are evolutionarily predisposed to think in terms of the next 5 minutes or 5 hours. That is the consequence of the way the human brain evolved. Evolution tends to be very parsimonious:  it throws almost nothing away. (Most of the DNA in the human genome is so-called “junk” DNA:  perhaps functional, even vital, at one time, it has since been superseded and no longer “does anything” — but was never discarded.) So as the brain evolved from reptiles to mammals to primates, the earlier parts of the brain were, not discarded, but built upon, rather like a medieval castle or manor house. “Evolution” and “efficiency” both start with the letter “e”, but the similarity ends there. (The conservative parsimony of biological evolution, by the way, poses a sticky problem for advocates of intelligent design:  whatever Designer exists must have a severe hoarding fetish if S/He preserves so much “junk”.) Those archaic parts of the brain — less accurately but more descriptively called the “reptile brain” — are collectively called the “limbic system”, and include structures like the amygdala that do primitive, “fight or flight” processing of the emotions that demand instantaneous, reflexive, very-short-term responses, i.e. responses, like dropping a match when it burns your finger-tips, that do not require conscious thinking. Comparatively primitive structures like the amygdala reflect evolution’s “assessment” that stopping to think can sometimes be fatal — and therefore maladaptive

What does all this have to do with capitalism, both old and new? Well, if you stop to reflect on the fact that, at least in capitalist economies, the economic system is an arrestingly faithful analog of a biosphere, complete with “nature red in tooth and claw” survival for competition, the answer should be obvious. Because of the emphasis on competition and survival in the marketplace, the evolution that occurs in capitalist economies is no more predisposed to long-term thinking than the evolution that occurs in biospheres. The natural and “naive” tendency of all capitalist economies is to concentrate on today’s profit and tomorrow’s or next quarter’s bottom line, and if that means the growth of slums, the pollution of the natural environment, and social pathologies that can only be restrained and contained by the application of brute force, then … well …the Devil take the hindmost.

capitalism_by_graffitiwatcher

But the limbic system was not the only part of the brain to evolve.  Human beings also developed a cerebral cortex — the part of the brain that, loosely and qualitatively speaking, deals with abstract thought and therefore, most importantly, with long-term planning. With only an amygdala and its associated structures, human beings would still be capable of pursuing their self-interest. But only with a cerebral cortex are we capable of pursuing our enlightened self-interest. But like any powerful instrument — a car, a computer, a nuclear reactor, etc. — there is the issue of learning how to use it.  Much of human history could be written in terms of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back process of humans learning how to use the cerebral cortex. And we are still very much in the process of learning how to use it. One of the most critical, make-or-break steps in Westerners’ learning how to use this awesomely powerful instrument was the European Enlightenment that began in the middle 1600s and that continues today. Much of human history between the fall of Rome and the end of the 30 Years War in 1648 consisted of religious zealotry placed at the service of the amygdala and the limbic system.  But because of the rediscovery of the classical world, the efflorescence of science, and in consequence a renewed confidence in the powers of the autonomous human intellect and rationality, Europeans gradually — it was a very near thing — discovered how to agree to disagree and live with their differences instead of slaughtering one another over them.

It would be literally impossible to overestimate the importance of this discovery. The fact that Europe, with all its faults, is not a late-Bronze-Age wasteland today is because, over time, the principles of the Enlightenment — tolerance of differences, the concept of inalienable human rights, the unique value of human beings, the idea that governments and economies should work for human beings instead of the other way around, that it is legitimate to circumscribe the behavior of the few for the good of the many, etc., etc., etc. — came to dominate the culture in terms of its rhetoric … and gradually in terms of its behavior.  Anyone who watches the news or even reads a newsmagazine occasionally or peeks at internet blogs now and again will be convinced that there is still an enormous amount of work to do to put these principles into practice.  But even a casual acquaintance with history will reveal that we have come a long way. As Dr. King once said, quoting an old slave hymn, “We ain’t what we ought to be, and we ain’t what we gonna be, but thank God we ain’t what was”.

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So what conservatives miss in their critique of government “meddling” in the economy, e.g., their oft-avowed (though never fulfilled) pledge to abolish the EPA and like agencies, etc., is that the whole sweep of human civilization since humans descended from the trees and emigrated from east-central Africa has been to escape from, to transcend, Nature, and to temper and moderate Nature’s brutality, not to slavishly replicate it in our social and economic relations. “Nature red in tooth and claw” is fine if you are the “apex predator” who benefits from such an arrangement, so it is no accident that the farther up the affluence scale you go, the more intense becomes the hostility to government regulation:  if the game is already rigged in your favor, you will naturally be reluctant to change the rules of the game. But one of the benefits of the Enlightenment was a renewed confidence in humans’ ability to critique such arrangements and to perform tasks of autonomous moral reasoning, and thus establish a rational basis for altruism, for care for the weak, for the support of the disadvantaged — and thus to hedge about the otherwise-unrestrained cut-throat competition in the capitalist jungle with limits that ensure human life, human survival, and human dignity — values of which pure and unadulterated Nature is ignorant. Hence the abolitionist movement in 1850s England. Hence efforts to alleviate the suffering of the workers in the slums of London.  Hence the abolition of poor houses and debtors’ prisons. All were examples of “big government meddling,” and yet all were rooted in the Enlightenment-backed consensus that, while human beings emerged and originated from Nature, we are not bound to take up permanent residence there.

Capitalism can be and has been — and very often still is — a good and healthy and liberating thing. But capitalism is morally defensible only as long as, and to the extent that, human beings are in charge of capital for the good of the entire human community … never vice versa.

– James R. Cowles

© 2016, All rights reserved

Image credits:

“Rationality”:  public domain
“Capitalism is crisis” graffito: Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0
“Frankenstein” head: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
“Evolution” image: public domain
Karl Marx: public domain
Darwin photo: public domain
“Industrial mill”: COPYRIGHT © OLGA HARMSEN
“The School of Athens”: public domain

 

Posted in Artists and Activists for Change, Culture/History, General Interest, Music, Peace & Justice

The Eve of Distruction

The facts are dated but the sentiment is true. Thanks to Charlie Martin for this.

This is an anti-war song written by P.F. Sloan in 1965.  Barry McGuire sings it here though for many years he had refused to sing it due to his religious convictions. While others recorded the song, Mc Guire’s seems to be the most popular version. In recent years, McGuire has updated it to match more current events when he sings it during live performances.

References might be obscure to some:

  • old enough to kill but not for voting ~ at the time in the United States men could be drafted at eighteen years but the legal voting age in most states was twenty-one

  • Jordan River has bodies floating ~ refers to Battle Over Waters between Israel and its Arab neighbors, 1964 – 1967

  • the reference to Selma ~ Bloody Sunday and the marches in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery, 1965; these marches were a part of the American Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968); they helped lead the United States to the Voting Rights Act, 1965

  • four days in space ~ the Gemini space flight took four days, 1965

  • pounding of drums, the pride and the disgrace ~ President John F. Kennedy (the pride) was assassinated (the disgrace) and there were drums gently beaten as his funeral cortége made its way to Arlington Cemetery, 1963

I did this from memory, which these days leaves something to be desired. If anyone has corrections or thoughts to add, feel free. Also feel free to link in your own art, music, videos, essays and poetry to this post, which is part of our seven day solidarity with 100,000 Poets for Change … You may use Mister Linky to link in or you may leave your link in the comments section. One of the members of the Core Team will visit and ultimately we’ll also collect all posts submitted into one commemorative Page. The theme of this effort is Peace and Justice.

Thank you for your participation.

– Jamie Dedes

Posted in Culture/History, Fiction, First Peoples, Joseph Hesch, story

Sweet Grass

Sweetgrass HillsSweetgrass Hills in Montana from Red Rock Coulee
Source: Wikipedia

“His father’s father was Métis, you know…rode with Riel in 1869 and his father fought with Dumont at Duck Lake and Batoche in ’85,” Sheriff Hank Reynolds said as he pulled the glasses off his nose after reading the arrest report on his desk.

“That may be so, Sheriff, but it doesn’t give Liberté Beaubois license to ride into Montana, hunt protected buffalo and take a couple of shots at my head, does it?” asked Reynolds’ new deputy, Linus Philkin.

Reynolds wiped a few drops of coffee off his graying mustache and walked back to the holding cell, where he stared at a buckskin-clad man sleeping on the floor, face to the wall, on a mattress he’d pulled off the cot.

The sheriff rubbed his hand across his bald spot and recalled wind blowing through his hair in the long-ago when he, Liberté and some Piegan boys from over Milk River way would ride hell-bent for election chasing buffalo that would wander onto his father’s place. It was in those days before the Somme, before Liberté came home with a Victoria Cross and Croix de guerre in exchange for his childhood, an eye and, some said, his mind.

“I’ll take care of this,” Reynolds said, and loaded Liberté into his Ford pickup truck and Liberté’s horse with his into the trailer behind it. They drove from Chester up to his old man’s place outside Whitlash, where they mounted and pointed their ponies north, all the while howling like twelve-year-olds, chasing memories through the Sweet Grass back into Alberta.

A true mash-up of prompts went into this little story. First was Lillie McFerrin’s word of the week, Freedom. Then I decided it worked with Canadian writer Sarah Salecky’s daily prompt, which was “His father’s father was Métis.” I can never let a chance to write a North American historical piece go by. Then, as luck would have it, the first Story-A-Day May prompt was Going Home. And there you have it.

– Joe Hesch 
© 2014, All rights reserved

Hesch Profileproduct_thumbnail-3.phpJOSEPH HESCH (A Thing for Words) is a writer and poet from Albany, New York , an old friend of Bardo and a new core team member. Joe’s work is published in journals and anthologies coast-to-coast and worldwide. He posts poems and stories-in-progress on his blog, A Thing for Words.  An original staff member at dVerse Poets Pub website, Joe was named one of Writers Digest Editor Robert Lee Brewer’s “2011 Best Tweeps for Writers to Follow.” He is also a member of the Grass Roots Poetry Group and featured in their 2013 poetry anthology Petrichor Rising.

Posted in Corina L. Ravenscraft, Culture/History, Essay, Film/Documentaries/Reviews, General Interest, Nature, trees, Video

The Man Who Planted Trees

If you haven’t read or heard the tale, “The Man Who Planted Trees” by French author Jean Giono, it is a wonderful story about how one person can have a tremendous impact on the world! It’s also a story of how everything in nature, including man, is connected.

"The Man Who Planted Trees" by Jean Giono.  Image borrowed from Wikipedia Commons, fair use agreement.
“The Man Who Planted Trees” by Jean Giono. Image borrowed from Wikipedia Commons, fair use agreement.

It tells about how a single, reclusive shepherd manages to successfully re-forest a barren and desolate area in the foothills of the Alps. Elzéard Bouffier, the shepherd, dedicates the latter half of his life to re-planting acorns, beech nuts and other tree seeds, one by one, patiently walking the land where nothing would grow and no water flowed, and the people who lived there were a hard, bitter folk.

When I first heard the tale, I thought that it was based on a true story. I later discovered that it is not. However, there have been real life counterparts! There is a man in Assam, India, named Jadav Payeng, who single-handedly managed to plant a forest covering 1,360 acres. Abdul Karim is yet another man in India who used the same method of planting trees as the shepherd in the story, and over a period of 19 years, created an entire forest from nothing. Another man, Ma Yongshun, was a forestry worker in China who planted more than 50,000 trees in his lifetime!

Tree gif from dragonkatet/photobucket.com
Tree gif from dragonkatet/photobucket.com

If you haven’t read or heard the story, may I suggest that you pick up a copy from your local library, or even better, watch the short, animated film below. It is an uplifting story full of hope and reassurance that no matter who or where you are, you CAN make a difference as only a single entity! Best of all, your actions may inspire others and create a ripple effect of good. 🙂

~ © Corina L. Ravenscraft 2014 ~

effecd1bf289d498b5944e37d8f4ee6fAbout dragonkatet Regarding the blog name, Dragon’s Dreams ~ The name comes from my love-affairs with both Dragons and Dreams (capital Ds). It’s another extension of who I am, a facet for expression; a place and way to reach other like-minded, creative individuals. I post a lot of poetry and images that fascinate or move me, because that’s my favorite way to view the world. I post about things important to me and the world in which we live, try to champion extra important political, societal and environmental issues, etc. Sometimes I wax philosophical, because it’s also a place where I always seem to learn about myself, too, by interacting with some of the brightest minds, souls and hearts out there. It’s all about ‘connection(s)’ and I don’t mean “net-working” with people for personal gain, but rather, the expansion of the 4 L’s: Light, Love, Laughter, Learning.

Posted in Culture/History, Essay, General Interest, Liz Rice-Sosne, poem, Writing

A Culture of Blame

Memorial Day in the USA has come and gone.  I have been thinking a great deal about veterans of war recently.  This is probably due to the really awful press about the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (Veterans’ Administration or VA)  and Ray Shinseki.  As many know he holds the the post that oversees the VA  The proverbial “they want his head on a platter” underscores the culture of blame in this country – and perhaps worldwide.   I know nothing about Mr. Shinseki, but I do know that there is enough blame to go around.  The change of one man at the top will not right wrongs.

man-pointing-silhouetteThinking about this tragic situation with the VA made me think about the fact that we live in a “culture of blame” in this country.  Watching the news makes it appear that it comes naturally to wish to affix blame immediately for any problem that is discovered among us.  I know it well not just because I have seen it over and over but because I have lived it.  I was raised in a culture of blame.  I know what it feels like to be blamed at a young age for mistakes or problems that may or may not have been caused by me.  I ask myself, why do we do that?  When a problem is discovered anywhere, that problem should be carefully reviewed.  Facts should be gathered.  Then they should be weighed to determine how and where the problem originates.  Pros and cons ought be carefully determined and then decisions made that fix the problem with a solution that makes the entire situation better.  Instead of affixing blame we should fix the problem sooner and faster.  We would then waste less time and make needed changes more quickly.

When I ask myself, “why do we live in a culture of blame?”  I do not have the answer.  Is it a result of the need to be the best and the brightest?  For surely we can be none of those things while we make mistakes.  Is that why we need to make those mistakes belong to another?  That question makes me think back to the time when both my mother and my father stated to me that there are two places in life: “first and last,” with nothing in between.  This was an especially difficult view as they entered their children into competitions during all months of the year.  It is of course a farcical view of life and one that is not true.  This view of life does not allow for mistakes to be made while one is growing up.  And what are the mistakes made along life’s pathway?  They are merely moments of growth.  Without the mistakes that we make, we would not grow, we would not mature and we would not be able to reach our dreams.  Personal mistakes when carefully reviewed and nurtured help us to develop empathy for others.  Empathy is one of the most important of emotions to develop for empathy is the place of caring (for others).

9780226094991I spent two to three years at the VA as a volunteer in 2007 and 8.  At that time I was developing my masters project while there.  I was creating a booklet on creative writing for veterans.  Oddly, due to the bad behavior of the one under whom I served (at the VA) this booklet did not come about.  Instead I was to be responsible for bringing in and overseeing an event.  Upon retrospect, this change was a very good thing.  This event brought to the VA an expert author on creative writing with veterans.  He had spent time in both Iraq and Afghanistan leading writing workshops for veterans  I learned a great deal from him.  My initial desire had been to work with young veterans returning from our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Andrew Carroll edited Operation Homecoming.  This book supported by the National Endowment for the Arts is a collection of writings by service men and women at war.  I recommend it to all.  In my opinion we live in these modern times too far removed from our wars.  And they are our wars.  Those who serve are doing so in the name of freedom whether or not we agree with the current war.  The old adage “war is hell” is very true.  If we (the citizens ) are far removed from war, we will confuse the war with the warrior.  We blame the warrior for the war, then we forget that warrior upon their return home.

While at the VA I worked primarily with those who had been to Vietnam or those who had served during that time.  Not all had seen combat.  As a result of war many were not able to engage life fully.  Writing gave them a way to do that.  Writing about your war experiences allows some of the pressure that you experience to dissipate. By sharing your feelings on paper and then sharing them with a class of like minded people,  some of the pressure is released.  That is a healing moment.  It is something that works for any situation, not just war.  I was able to see much of the good that the VA does.  And although my thesis was changed, I had the opportunity to work with someone who truly loved and cared for her patients.  While at the VA I wrote the following poem.

An Observation

at this table
this quiet place
where they write
this flat surface
where poetry
spills
for the hungry ones
those
who wish to leave
their wars
behind
where recidivism
is high
where
eyes are glazed
stares penetrating
where
nothing is
given away
not even longing
empty bodies
hollowed
angered 
in a
fog
they write

– Liz Rice-Sosne 

© 2014, essay, poem, and portrait below, Liz Rice-Sosne, All rights reserved; illustration “Man Pointing” courtesy of George Hodan, Public Domain Photographs.net; bookcover art, University of Chicago Press, All rights reserved

unnamed-2LIZ RICE-SOSNE a.k.a. Raven Spirit (noh where), perhaps the oldest friend to Bardo, is the newest member of The Bardo Group Core Team. She is also our new Voices for Peace project outreach coordinator and our go-to person for all things related to haiku.  She says she “writes for no reason at all. It is simply a pleasure.” Blogging, mostly poetry, has produced many friends for whom she has a great appreciation. Liz is an experienced blogger, photographer and a trained shaman. We think her middle name should be “adventure.”

Posted in Culture/History, General Interest, Victoria C Slotto

Cultural Connections–International Museum Day

“Museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples”. Internation Council of Museums 

Image: George Andrews
Image: George Andrews

Yesterday the world community celebrated International Museum Day. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) established this event to occur each year on or about May 18th. In 2013, 35,000 museums from 143 countries on five continents participated, welcoming guests to their venues, without charge.

The theme for this year’s celebration, as established by the ICOM is “Museum collections make connections.”

Until last year I had the great pleasure of serving as a docent at the Nevada Museum of Art (NMA), Nevada’s only accredited art museum. The role of the docent is, as the name implies, to lead the public in tours of the museum’s offerings, and to teach participants about various exhibits. This requires numerous hours of on-going training in the rotating exhibits and offers opportunities to meet (in the case of an art museum) artists, curators and collectors of art.

When I attended a National Docent Symposium a few years ago, I became more aware of how many types of museums were represented: those dealing with history, collections such as cars (the National Automobile Museum is here in Reno), zoos, botanical gardens, sports, entertainment, children discovery centers, occupations, science cultures…the list goes on and on.

Photo: Palm Springs Life
Photo: Palm Springs Life

I found the greatest joy in introducing children to the world of art—to watch them respond to the principles and elements of art such as color and texture, to learn to use art as a launching pad for story-telling and poetry, to learn to use their senses to jump into a painting and explore what it might taste like, smell like, feel like. I planned age-based activities and each tour was followed by an art experience.

In keeping with this year’s theme, museums offer a chance to experience other cultures and to understand the point of view of the forces behind the exhibits. They teach responsibility for the environment, diversity, and offer families the opportunity to share.

In honor of the spirit behind International Museum Day, please consider paying a visit to a museum of your choice. Perhaps the idea of becoming a docent will appeal to you if you are looking for a volunteer opportunity. Docents are educators, though it is not necessary to have a background in education, or even in your field of interest, thanks to the intense initial training program and on-going education.

It was hard for me to resign my position. It was a passion for me. But life circumstances change and sometimes the time commitment becomes unattainable. I find it dangerous to visit NMA now—I want to jump back into the role that is no longer realistic. But when I tour with friends or my husband, I find the docent in me taking over. I devise questions I would ask the school children, activities I would have them do.

To learn more about museums in your area just google “Museums (your town).” You will be surprised. And rewarded.

– Victoria Slotto

© 2014, essay, Victoria C. Slotto, All rights reserved; photo credits as indicated above

2940013445222_p0_v1_s260x42034ff816cd604d91d26b52d7daf7e8417VICTORIA C. SLOTTO (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts) ~ is an accomplished writer and poet. Winter is Past, published by Lucky Bat Books in 2012, is Victoria’s first novel. A second novel is in process. On Amazon and hot-off-the-press nonfiction is Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage Dementia. Victoria’s ebooks (poetry and nonfiction) are free to Amazon Prime Members. Link HERE for Victoria’s Amazon page.

Editorial note: Congratulations, Victoria, on that the long awaited publication of print copies of Jacaranda Rain, Collected Poems, 2012, Beautifully done.

Writers’ Fourth Wednesday is hosted by Victoria from January through October. Tomorrow Victoria’s Fourth Wednesday writers’ prompt will post at 12:01 a.m. PST. Please join us. Mister Linky will remain open for seventy-two hours so that you can link your response to this blog. Victoria and Jamie will read and comment and we hope you will read each other’s work as well, comment and encourage. 

Posted in Culture/History, General Interest, Guest Writer, Imen Benyoub, Music, Peace & Justice

Music, Language of the Soul

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“Music is…a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy”
Ludwig Van Beethoven.

Sarajevo under siege…a city in ruins that wakes up on the sound of shelling and bombing and sleeps on that of mourners. This beautiful city, so rich in history, architecture and art suffered the horrors of a four years siege considered the longest in modern history, and became Europe’s capital of hell since the war broke in 1992, to coincide with another atrocious civil war that broke in my own country and lasted almost ten years, what we Algerians know as “the dark decade”.

At 4 pm on May 27, people were queuing in front of a bakery in Sarajevo for bread; a mortar shell dropped in the middle and killed 22 people instantly. A man witnessed the massacre and was so appalled by the sight of blood and torn bodies so he decided to do something.

This man was Vedran Smailović, a widely recognized and talented cellist who went everyday for 22 days to the bombed site the exact time of the massacre and played cello, in honour of those who died in front of him and all of the victims, all those hiding from snipers’ bullets, the refugees, the hungry, the wounded, the destroyed homes and for his smouldering, exhausted city that struggled to survive.

This man sent a prayer of peace through his music, that the city of his heart might witness a brighter future, and he became the symbol of peace all over Bosnia, playing in graveyards and bombed sites, despite the shelling and fired bullets, Smailović was engulfed by light, the light of hope he was spreading all over the battered city. No crowd applauding to his performance, just Angels protecting him.

It’s been years since the dreadful siege and the civil war in my country ended, but did Sarajevo recover from its dark past? Did my people ever forget? the victims, the mass graves, and the fear they lived in all those years…

We are never entirely healed of our memory.

Al Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus Syria, another Sarajevo, another siege, people dying from a severe lack of food, water and medical supplies, massive destruction of homes and buildings, for weeks the Government forces besieged the camp and starved its people on purpose, the majority of them Palestinians who were exiled from their country in 1948, they found themselves caught against their will in a merciless war that made Damascus, a beautiful and rich city…Middle East’s capital of hell.

History repeats itself, it always strikes me how it does, and not always in the gentlest way, I believed it with all my being when I saw young men with a battered piano in the middle of rubble playing music and singing for peace and freedom, I said: if Vedran Smailović could see those proud and defiant guys whose souls are connected to his, one of them a pianist who started playing since he was six, he used to repair musical instruments with his father and studied music in the university of Homs*, the others, just ordinary people praying for the end of the war, and dreaming of a safe united country again in their own way.

They sang: “Oh displaced people, return; the journey has gone for too long. Yarmouk we are a part of you and that will never change.”

Smailović would have loved what those Palestinians did, because he, of all people will understand the meaning of creating beauty amid destruction, and defying death with the language of the soul…Music

(I would secretly thank that man who set up his piano in front of armed police, a day after protesters in Kiev brought down the statue of Lenin, and played Chopin…he inspired me to write this post)

*Homs: a Syrian city

Editorial note:  A partial translation of the song and apologies for any inaccuracy.
“from among the ruins and under the ashes, the [Palestinian] phoenix sings for life and will rise again for the cause of freedom …”

– Imen Benyoub

© 2014, essay, Imen Benyoub, All rights reserved; photo credit ~ Rashid Essa (Almadon News), youth in Al Yarmouk Refugee Camp, ” © electronic cities” under CC A-SA, no modification to photograph is allowed

.

pictureIMEN BENYOUB ~ is a multilingual, multi-talented writer, poet, and artist living in Guelma, Algeria. She is a regular contributor to Into the Bardo and to On the Plum Tree and Plum Tree Books Facebook page.

Posted in Culture/History, Disability, First Peoples, General Interest, Mental Health, Michael Watson, Shakti Ghosal

Trauma, Story, and Healing

Evening-Sky

He sat on the sofa, pulled deeply into himself, almost disappearing before my eyes, as he told me about his dad’s violence. I wondered whether he knew I was in the room with him. “I feel terribly fragmented; I don’t know who I am,” he explained. “I can’t remember ever being like everyone else; they seem so at home in themselves.”

One of my teachers, a Psychoanalytically oriented clinician, always said the real problem is the second trauma. Her view was the first trauma one encounters sets the stage for PTSD and related problems; the second trauma triggers the cascade. Repeated traumas in childhood physically alter the function of the developing brain, leaving one more vulnerable to new trauma. Even if only one trauma occurs in early childhood the person may remain susceptible to PTSD via a second trauma as an adult.

Continue reading “Trauma, Story, and Healing”

Posted in Culture/History, General Interest, grief, Liz Rice-Sosne, memoir, poem, Poems/Poetry, poetry, Poets/Writers

November 22, 1963, Lives in Memory

Haibun

I had been to lunch in Third House.  It was a warm spring day, just the sort of day to leave lunch early and walk in the sunshine.  I ambled over to Second House and plopped down in front of the TV.  I had spent my sophomore year here and I had always loved it – it felt like home more than any other dorm.  However, that day I was a senior, an upperclassman of 17 years of age.  While at Dobbs’ I had lived in each of these Queen Anne houses.  Today I lived in First House.  They were rickety and old, painted a dull boarding school gray.  None the less I was quite comfortable for they represented home for me for three of my four years at school.  I comfortably seated myself on a couch in front of the television.  It might no longer be my dorm, but it still felt cozy and I felt confident, that day so long ago.  That confidence must have come from some of that upperclassman swagger that one acquires as they move though their grades (although, to be honest, I didn’t have much swagger).  It felt strange as I did not have many confident days in my youth.

wild grey geese above

flew in perfect formation

chaos left behind

 

Haibun

I flipped on the black and white TV, there was no color in those days. “Oh My God. What was happening?” I was in an instant state of shock. President Kennedy had been shot right in from of my eyes – in his limo in Dallas, Texas. “Was this true?” There was growing chaos everywhere on the television, then this horrific  event seemed to ebb out of the television and blanket me. It was thick and dark. I knew that I must get away. I had to get up, go back to the lunchroom and tell of the shooting. I thought of our beautiful first lady and what her sadness must be like. It was so hard to move. I made myself leave.

woodpecker knocking

high above in the maple

a chick all grown up

 

Haibun

I ran back to the lunchroom and shouted out the news. I do not remember another thing that afternoon. I do remember crying myself to sleep that night filled with such emptiness, dread and a sense of loneliness. Of late, I have been reading a good deal about the Kennedys. I will never believe that this assassination evolved out of the crazy thoughts of one lone Soviet sympathizer. I also suspect that the full truth of those moments in Dallas that November 22nd of 1963 will not be known by the public within my lifetime.

shells upon a beach

dry cool windy autumn day

creation of sand

unnamed-2LIZ RICE-SOSNE a.k.a. Raven Spirit (noh where), perhaps the oldest friend to Bardo, is the newest member of The Bardo Group Core Team. She is also our new Voices for Peace project outreach coordinator and our go-to person for all things related to haiku.  She says she “writes for no reason at all. It is simply a pleasure.” Blogging, mostly poetry, has produced numerous friends for whom she has a great appreciation. Liz is an experienced blogger, photographer and a trained shaman. We think her middle name should be “adventure.”

Posted in Culture/History, Essay, General Interest, Priscilla Galasso

Good Gawd, Y’all!

Another school shooting hit the news yesterday. The impact seems dull. Repetition has begun to numb my response. The predictable media storm continues, but just as raindrops seem less penetrating after your clothes are soaked, I simply can’t absorb this horror. And that is rather shocking.

 I Googled “List of school shootings in the U.S.” The Wikipedia article’s chronology goes by decade, starting with the 1760s. There is one entry there. The next listing is 9 decades later. Two items there. The narration continues to list shootings for every decade. When we get to this millennium, the bullet points are replaced by a chart. From 2000 – 2010, there are 46 different shooting events chronicled. From 2010 – 2014 (n.b. Not even half a decade!) there are 65, including yesterday’s. And I may have lost count of one while scrolling down through the list.

Obviously, this storm is escalating. This is a flood. Our country is awash in violence being perpetrated against school children. School children! What can that be about? What madness has overtaken our culture that young people at their studies have become targets? I’m pretty sure it’s not so much about the targets as it is about target practice.

 Our culture has target practice deeply embedded in its psyche and readily available in its entertainment, military and politics. Angry? Take aim. Proud? Take aim. Patriotic? Take aim. Need security? Take aim. Impoverished? Needy? Insulted? Invisible? Defiant? Miffed? Whatever the uncomfortable feeling you have, you can get relief by pulling out a weapon and taking aim at some target. Children in school apparently make a pretty easy gallery.

 This approach is like using the same tool for every situation, no matter what it is. Would you use a hammer to wind your watch or play your piano or punch down your bread dough or crochet a sweater? No. And how did you learn to lay your hands on the appropriate tool for each of these situations? Most likely, at a very young age, you watched someone do it. A role model. Perhaps a parent or grandparent. Someone you trusted, who spent time with you, doing everyday kinds of things.

P1040287

 Let’s look around. Where are the role models that are pulling out weapons for every crisis? Where are the role models who are negotiating, discussing, creatively engaging, brainstorming and experimenting with different non-violent approaches? Who are the role models who have multiple tools in their belts and use the appropriate ones for the situation? And violence, what is it good for? Is it ever the best tool for the job?

 And, c’mon, let’s be creative. Why does our entertainment have to follow this unimaginative formula of violence? There are a million other options. There are a million other roles to play. Playing something different will make us smarter, wiser, more flexible, more open, more like children. School children….our vanishing resource.

© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Posted in Corina L. Ravenscraft, Culture/History, General Interest, poem, Poems/Poetry, poetry

~ Seek Out the Four Leaf Clovers ~

(( March comes along and we’re usually reminded of St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish. In keeping with that theme, here’s a poem that might make you think of four-leafed clovers a little differently the next time you see one. 😉 ))

Image borrowed from Wikimedia Commons
Image borrowed from Wikimedia Commons

I looked for luck today,
thinking I could use some.
My eyes, scanning, seeking,
green leaves of three.
Whole patches of clover,
beneath my soft shadow.
The masses huddled together,
covering, sheltering one another,
in a close-knit bunch.
Always only three leaves;
thousands of trinities, triads and trios.

Then I thought about you,
and there it was!
Magically appearing, as if summoned
by the image in my mind;
the perfect four-leaf clover!
It wasn’t obvious, like I expected.
Four, round, papery-thin leaves,
a dark Spring Green.
With creamy triangles
touching at the center.
All balanced on a slender, delicate stem.
Hidden in the midst of the ordinary.

And it reminded me of people:
Most are of the three-leaf variety,
but some,
some special ones,
grow differently,
with four leaves.
And sometimes, you have to search really hard to find them,
among the clusters of the mundane.

Like the symbols I compare them to,
they may bring you luck.
If you find them, cherish them;
press them in your memory book,
return to them when you need their magic.
Because sometimes, we all need a little luck.
~ © C.L.R. ~

© 2014, essay, Corina Ravenscraft, illustration, Ursula Vernon All rights reserved

effecd1bf289d498b5944e37d8f4ee6fAbout dragonkatet Regarding the blog name, Dragon’s Dreams ~ The name comes from my love-affairs with both Dragons and Dreams (capital Ds). It’s another extension of who I am, a facet for expression; a place and way to reach other like-minded, creative individuals. I post a lot of poetry and images that fascinate or move me, because that’s my favorite way to view the world. I post about things important to me and the world in which we live, try to champion extra important political, societal and environmental issues, etc. Sometimes I wax philosophical, because it’s also a place where I always seem to learn about myself, too, by interacting with some of the brightest minds, souls and hearts out there. It’s all about ‘connection(s)’ and I don’t mean “net-working” with people for personal gain, but rather, the expansion of the 4 L’s: Light, Love, Laughter, Learning.

Posted in Culture/History, Essay, General Interest, Priscilla Galasso

Model Behavior

I don’t have a television, so I don’t see a lot of commercials. Still, I find NBA games on the internet and catch a few ads in the process. There’s one for a fried chicken franchise that particularly bothers me. Here’s the set-up: two teenaged kids have made a rare venture out of their rooms to join their parents for dinner. They are still plugged into their media devices and never speak or make eye contact with the camera or their parents. The African-American family sits in the living room with a bucket of chicken on the coffee table. Mom & Dad tell the camera that the chicken is the occasion for them to have this special “family” experience. Dad jokes that if the batteries run down, they might actually have a conversation.

 Sigh. Is this an accurate snapshot of our current culture? Rewind about 100 years.

 I’m reading a book called Nothing To Do But Stay: My Pioneer Mother by Carrie Young. The author describes her life in North Dakota during the Great Depression. Her mother had acquired land as a homesteader, married and raised 6 kids on the farm. Her sisters struggled to become educated and get jobs as school teachers in local one-room schoolhouses. One particularly brutal winter, their parents found it more sensible to drop off the 18-year-old daughter, the teacher, with the two younger sisters at school and let them stay there during the week instead of transporting them back and forth through the snow drifts by horse-drawn wagon. The week turned into months. Fresh supplies were delivered every week, but these 3 young ladies spent that winter relying on their own resourcefulness for their daily life — with no electricity, simply a coal-burning furnace in the basement and a woodstove with one burner in the classroom. How is that possible? I’m sure that life was one that their parents had modeled for years.

 Compare these two snapshots and imagine the changes that have swept through our country. What has “adult living” become? What do we model for our children these days? What skills are being delegated to machines or service companies or ‘experts’ that used to be more universal and personal? Besides modeling tasking skills, how do we model social and moral skills in this decade?

 When more families were farming, children grew up alongside their parents and were incorporated into communal activities. They helped milk the cows, tend the garden, and make the food and clothing they all needed to live. In the 50s, when more families lived in cities and suburbs, Dad would drive off in the morning and work out of sight of his kids all day while Mom would turn on appliances to do the chores around home. The kids learned consumerism. Then the Moms left the house and went into the workforce leaving the kids in daycare. In 1992, someone came up with “Take Your Daughters To Work Day”. That was expanded to include boys a decade later. What was first perceived as a Feminist issue of role modeling was recognized as a parenting void: children had no clue how adults spent their work days.

Musing about these changes made me consider what my own children had learned from my husband and me. My daughter made a calligraphy sign when she was in High School: “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived and let me watch him do it.” (Clarence B. Kelland) She was 23 when her father died. What we intended to model and what she actually learned are most likely two different things. One thing I do know. She did learn to cook her own chicken.

joy 2

© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Posted in Culture/History, Poems/Poetry, poetry, Poets/Writers, Video

RAY BRADBURRY: Part I, At his charming best ~ “If Only We Had Been Taller” …

Video uploaded to YouTube by JPLnews.

41us4g0+esL._SL500_SY300_IF ONLY WE HAD BEEN TALLER

The fence we walked between the years
Did balance us serene;
It was a place half in the sky where
In the green of leaf and promising of peach
We’d reach our hands to touch and almost touch the sky,
If we could reach and touch, we said,
‘Twould teach us not to, never to, be dead.

We ached and almost touched that stuff;
Our reach was never quite enough.
If only we had taller been,
And touched God’s cuff, His hem,
We would not have to sleep away and go with them
Who’ve gone before,
Who, short as we, stood tall as they could stand
And hoped by stretching thus to keep their land,
Their home, their hearth, their flesh and soul.
But they, like us, were standing in a hole.

O, Thomas, will a Race one day stand really tall
Across the Void, across the Universe and all?
And measured out with rocket fire,
At last put Adam’s finger forth
As on the Sistine Ceiling,
And God’s hand come down the other way
To measure Man and find him Good,
And Gift him with Forever’s Day?
I work for that.

Short man. Large dream. I send my rockets forth between my ears,
Hoping an inch of Good is worth a pound of years.
Aching to hear a voice cry back along the universal Mall:
We’ve reached Alpha Centauri!
We’re tall, O God, we’re tall!

– Ray Bradbury

© Estate of Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury’s When Elephants Last in the Doorway Bloomed is a collection of poems in which he writes wistfully about childhood and about inventors, scientist, and explorers, often using religious imagery.

Posted in Culture/History, Essay, Mental Health, Michael Watson, Nature, Shamanism, Spiritual Practice

Working With the Spirits

Shrine, Chennai, India

Eight years ago we purchased a dilapidated cottage, took it down to studs, and with the aid of a brilliant contractor, built a wonderful home. Since then we have developed much-loved gardens on our small plot of urban land.

As the late effects of Polio have become more challenging for me to manage, Jennie has become the tender of those beds. We both care deeply about the garden’s well-being, but much of my limited energy is needed for our healing and teaching work. I am grateful to Jennie for reminding me that healing and teaching are also forms of gardening, other ways of working with spirit.

In the seven years we have lived in our home we’ve been quietly working with the spirits of the land. This is a tad challenging as we live in a residential neighborhood and all ceremony is public. My teachers always said one should be polite, humble, and do ceremony anyway. This simple advice turns out to be remarkably complex in practice.

The spirits of the land are often profoundly responsive to gratitude and ceremony. One evening during our most recent Asia trip we were asked to do a simple traditional shamanic ceremony for a group of college students. This was to be a simple show-and-tell, yet, as sometimes happens, the ceremony took on a momentum of its own, becoming profoundly moving and healing for all present.

When we returned home to Vermont we told our friend and colleague, Julie Soquet, about the experience. Julie listened to our story, considered it for a moment, then said, “The spirits of the land must be really alive and receptive there.”  I was stunned by her naming of the missed obvious. Local gods and spirits are routinely honored in both India and Hong Kong, and Jennie and I had spoken after the ceremony about how we felt the presence, support, and appreciation of the spirits. (There was an active shrine directly across the street from where we were conducting the ceremony.)

The other night, in dream, I was reminded we are loaned our bodies for our stay here on Pachamama. Our bodies are sacred; they are Medicine bundles. At the end of our lives we give our bodies back to the Earth. Pachamama asks that we grow the spirit and power of these bundles, so that when we return them they benefit Her and all beings. In the dream I was asked simply to keep this in mind as I made my way through what remains of my walk here. There were no other instructions, no “shoulds”, no “musts”. Expressing gratitude to the myriad beings who make our lives possible is part of that way of walking and gardening. I wonder how these simple, profound truths will enter into our work.

Michael Watson, Ph.D.

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes portrait below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

Posted in Culture/History, General Interest, Guest Writer, Karen Fayeth, memoir

For the Love of a Good Cuppa

A couple years ago, my husband and I had the chance to celebrate the Fourth of July with some good friends. There were six of us total (three couples), and we met at our friend’s house for a special treat.

One of our crew had just recently returned from a trip to Ethiopia. She and her husband are in process of adopting an adorable baby boy and she had to make a visit to work through the paperwork with the local courts.

While in country visiting her baby son and patiently working though the long process, she was treated on several occasions to the Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

On our Fourth of July holiday, she wanted to share this ceremony with us, her friends.

About the coffee ceremony, here’s a quote from Ethiopian ambassador Haile-Giros Gessesse:

“Coffee has social value in our society. It is deep rooted in our culture. The coffee ceremony in local areas is used mainly for social gatherings. In the mornings and evenings parents, especially mothers gather together for a coffee ceremony and also use it as a platform for exchanging information in their surroundings. It is a means of communication. When people sit down they usually spend three hours finalizing the ceremony, starting with the preparation, and then roasting to brewing it.”

Our friend had hauled home a big bag of green coffee beans, water hulled (the good stuff) not fire hulled, and we sat outside in the beautiful sun while she told us about the ceremony.

First, she roasted the beans on the grill. We watched as she shook and swirled the pan, much like a slow Jiffy pop motion.

When we all agreed that it looked like the beans were at a good medium roast each of us took in a whiff of the fantastic aroma from the pan.

Then we took turns using a mortar and pestle to smash the beans down to a nice grind. Every person took their turn and everyone contributed.

It was satisfying work to smash, smash, smash those crispy beans and release the beautiful scent and oils.

Once ready, the grinds were placed into a French press and once brewed, a round of coffee was poured into six cups.

This fresh roasted coffee was delicious! It had a floral aroma and tasted so light and mild. This coffee was perfect with just a touch of sugar and nothing else.

In keeping with tradition, we had three rounds of coffee while we discussed our lives, the news of the day, baseball, and got caught up with each other. This is an essential part of the ceremony, sharing community, support, and friendship.

Now, I love a great cup of coffee, but I rarely drink caffeinated coffee. After three cups I was ready to clean my house top to bottom, jog a thousand miles, and throw a 98mph fastball.

But it was a happy caffeinated high shared with dear friends.

I was honored to be a part of the ceremony and I can hardly wait until our friends bring home their baby boy. I hope to we can continue to give him a sense of community and family, maybe even over a cuppa or two…or three.

– Karen Fayeth

© 2013, essay, Karen Fayeth, All rights reserved
Photo and quote from a CRIEnglish.com article by Wei Tong.

webheadshotKAREN FAYETH ~ is one of our regular writers. She is our tech manager, site co-administrator along with Jamie and Terri, and fiction and creative nonfiction editor. She blogs at Oh Fair New Mexico. Born with the writer’s eye and the heart of a story-teller, Karen Fayeth’s work is colored by the Mexican, Native American, and Western influences of her roots in rural New Mexico complemented by a growing urban aesthetic. Karen now lives in the San Francisco Bay area. When she’s not spinning a tale, she works as a senior executive for science and technology research organization.

Karen has won awards for her writing, photography, and art. Recent publication credits include a series of three features in New Mexico magazine and an essay with the online magazine Wild Violet. Her latest short story “Quick, Quick Slow” was published in the May edition of Foliate Oak. Karen’s photography is garnering considerable attention, her photo titled “Bromance” (featuring Aubry Huff and Pat Burrell) was featured on MLB Network’s Intentional Talk hosted by Chris Rose and Kevin Millar.

Posted in Culture/History, Essay, Naomi Baltuck, Photography/Photographer

Remembering Uncle Lewis, A Memorial Day Story

One of my earliest memories is of dinner at Grandma Rose’s house.  Her towels, furniture, and closets smelled of mothballs; she even stored her silverware in mothballs.  Mostly, though, I recall standing on Grandma’s couch to study the framed collage of black and white photographs on her wall.  I recognized my father, but knew the other boy in the pictures only by name, and by heart.

Uncle Lewis was my father’s only sibling, younger than my dad by ten years.  We never met, and Daddy never spoke of him.  But they were best friends.  In one picture Lewis was laughing, having been surprised on the toilet by my father with his camera.  The brothers teased Grandma too.  Lewis would yell, “Harry, stop hitting me!”  Grandma would rush in, and scold my father for picking on his brother.  Undaunted, they’d laugh and repeat, until Grandma caught on.

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lewis was drafted into the infantry, a shy studious eighteen year old who had never kissed a girl.  My father joined up as an officer.  He pulled a few strings to get Lewis transferred into the 30th ‘Old Hickory’ Division, so the brothers could cross the Atlantic on the same ship.  Lewis wrote letters and post cards home, often addressed to their dog ‘Peanuts.’

“Hey, Peanuts, tell Pa to eat his spinach!”   From the ship he wrote, “Harry and his buddies sneaked me into their cabin.  They gave me chocolate and let me play with their puppy.  Don’t tell anyone, or we’ll all catch it.  They smuggled the pup on board, and officers shouldn’t fraternize with enlisted men…”

While serving in Africa, Italy, England, France, and Germany, Harry was safely behind the front lines.  But Lewis was sent to Normandy two days after the D-Day invasion.  He fought in the hedgerows of France, and in Holland.  “The Dutch ran into the streets and passed out everything from soup to nuts.  As we marched out of there in the middle of the night, you could hear the clink of cognac, whiskey, and wine bottles in the guys’ jackets, amidst all the cursing and the roar of the Jerrys’ planes overhead.”  

To his parents Lewis wrote, “Dear Ma and Pa, today I saw General Eisenhower drive by.”  Or, “Kronk said the war can’t last.  It just can’t.  And he said it with such an angelic look on his face, I believe him!”

But to my father he wrote, “You should see the bruise from where a bullet passed through my shirt, Brub.  It was a close call.”  Or, “They took Julian away.  It’s so lonely here, Brub.  He’s the reason I wouldn’t take that promotion to sergeant.  We dug in together, took care of each other when things got rough.  I don’t know how bad he’s hurt; I just hope he makes it, and escapes this Hell.  Pray for me, Brub. Pray for me.”

On September 20, 1944, the day before his company attacked the Siegfried Line, Staff Sergeant Lewis Baltuck was killed by the blast of a shell.  Twenty years old, he had hardly begun to live.  He was survived by his parents, his dog Peanuts, and his brother Harry.  He never had the time or the opportunity to fall in love and marry.  He left no children to mourn for him—only the Bronze Star and the bronzed baby booties Grandma kept on her bookshelf until the day she died, more than forty years after her son’s death.

Harry married, had seven children, and built his own little house in Detroit.  But for the rest of his life he suffered acutely from the unspeakable burden of depression and Survivor’s Guilt.  When Grandpa Max died, my father became the sole caretaker of his widowed mother.  There was no one to share that burden with, to joke with or jolly her along.  Worst of all, crazed with grief, Grandma Rose blamed Harry for Lewis’s death.

I envied those kids who grew up with cousins to play with, and uncles who cared about them.  Uncle Lewis would’ve been that kind of uncle, and my father would have been a different man, without that black cloud to live under.  When Daddy died in 1965, we lost our connection to my father’s extended family, and our ties to our paternal cultural heritage were nearly lost as well.  But it does no good to dwell on the past or to speculate on what might have been.

Uncle Lewis was right about one thing.  War is Hell.  The price it exacts is impossible to tally, and can never be repaid.  When a soldier is killed, one heart stops beating, but many more are broken.  The wounds inflicted upon whole families are so deep that the scars can still be felt after generations.

I swear my uncle’s little bronze baby booties will never end up on the bargain shelf at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, like so many others I have seen there.  How sad to think that such precious keepsakes might be tossed into the giveaway because no one remembers or cares about the one whose little feet filled them.

I attended the 60th reunion of the Old Hickory Division in Nashville in search of someone who knew my uncle.  I met only one man who remembered him…“a quiet man who didn’t say much, but when he did speak, he was always worth listening to.”

I tell my children that story, and many other stories about their Great Uncle Lewis.  I am confident he will be cherished and remembered, not just for his tragic death, but for his joyful life.

copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppiNAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com

Posted in Culture/History, mystic, Naomi Baltuck, Spiritual Practice

The Stairway (to Skellig Michael)

When we traveled to Ireland we visited Skellig Michael, a monastery founded by Christian monks in the 7th century.  Life there was remote and harsh, the weather often severe.   The monks collected rainwater to drink, raised a few animals and imported soil from the mainland nine miles away so they could grow vegetables on that barren little island.

If a monk made a rare crossing to the mainland for supplies, rough weather might strand him there for a week or a month.  To return to his spartan life in a cold stone beehive hut, he would have to climb 700 feet up these winding stairs, bearing whatever supplies he had fetched home.

On our life’s journey most of us earn our bread, raise our families, and pursue our passions.  Sometimes, like water flowing down a hillside, we take the path of least resistance.  What in your life do you care enough about to be willing to make this climb?

– Naomi Baltuck

All words and images (including the portrait below) copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck,All rights reserved

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppiNAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com