Disclaimer: This unedited, rough draft material is a year-long project in response to our 2004 theme: pilgrimage. It is meant to be a dialogue between myself and my fellow Mammoths and any of you who happen along. It is intentionally not polished, nor is it finished. Charlie Buchman Ellis
The journey has begun to move a little faster. Slogging through the slough of despond took time, left the heart heavy. Now, the ancient trail has cleared the quaking bogs on the edge of the slough and heads up the shore toward open meadow.
As the folks who lived in Innisdale and worshipped at the United Pentecostal church would say, “Hallelujah!”
I have a stack of books on pilgrimage and they sit right next to the stack I have on South East Asia. After Labor Day I’m going to work my way through them and I will report to you any discoveries along the way. As I’ve said before, I’d like to have an annotated bibliography on pilgrimage to add to this work when it’s finished. So, I’ll invite you again to keep me apprised of books you feel should appear in it.
Saw a piece on Chaco Canyon National Historical Park produced by a group called the Solstice Project. www.solsticeproject.org My interest in it here is the Project’s claim that Chaco Canyon was a pilgrimage site for Anasazi before 1200 AD.
The project asserts that the Anasazi built this mammoth ceremonial site (buildings in alignment have separations as far as 15 miles) on sight lines established by the Sun’s solstice paths and the moons 18 year journey between its minimum and maximum extremes. Having studied archaeology myself, I find their claims in danger of exceeding the evidence, an easy thing to do in archaeology where, by definition, there is no written record and only sparse clues.
Still, it does seem these things are true: several kivas in Chaco Canyon were big enough to hold as many as 400 people and many more would hold 50-100 people. It is also true that the sun and the moon do provide design rationale (like Chichen Itza, Teotihuacán, the tombs at LaGrange, Stonehenge, Avebury) and evidence a culture very much in touch with natural cycles.
An interesting turn in the TV presentation came when two of the native commentators, Acoma and Zuni, who claim descendance from the Anasazi, began making dark comments.
“The people who lived here (Chaco Canyon) were people of strong magic. Very in touch with natural forces. Maybe they were too strong.”
And, “These people may have made things happen. Things that were not supposed to happen, so they turned away from that knowledge and that’s why the emigration took place.” The evidence is clear that the emigration from Chaco Canyon was deliberate and spaced over a number of years: rocked up doorways, intentionally burnt out kivas, for example.
Who knows? But, it did bring to mind other New Mexico intellectuals, like those at Los Alamos now, and those at Alamagordo, Trinity, and White Sands during World War II. Is there some dark power at work in the Southwest, a power that collects great minds, clarifies and emboldens them, then, finally, humiliates them? Or, perhaps that doesn’t define a dark power, but an enlightened one.
New Mexico is a fascinating place. I’ve only been there once, and then only briefly, stopping at Carlsbad Caverns on the way to Kate’s parents 50th wedding anniversary. Still. The intersection of native peoples, the Spanish nobility, American expansion, the Mexican War, the Indian Wars, Taos and Santa Fe, all the strange, long roads leading far back into the desert and crossed by tall chain-linked fence and cryptic signs: Department of Energy—Stay Out, the desert and the mountains and the Four Corners area. Chaco Canyon. Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. I want to spend some more time there. Maybe a lot more time.
The Solstice Project says native people came from as far as 200 miles away to Chaco Canyon, over empty land, barren and forbidding. I could imagine them pulled there by a holy place where all was in alignment with the sacred movements in the heavens, a place where earth and sky became one, and where you, as a people, could celebrated this union and derive power and energy from it.
This reminded me of the Hajj or the annual trek into Jerusalem where the Temple was the only place sacrifice could be offered to Yahweh.
Pilgrimage is a strong motive force. Before the Chaco Canyon buildings and their life as a sacred destination came the conception of them, and before their conception came the careful observations of the sky and the related theological thinking; thinking that discovered the sun and the moon as essential to the ordering of human life.
Then, the years of labor. The willing sacrifice of time, of wealth, of personal ambition to organize raw materials, design structures, find wells. Moving the stone and clay, cutting down the trees and transporting them over bare rock, the skills of architect and dry stone masonry, thatching, carpentry, not to mention the artists: potters, painters, costume makers, body painters. And all this over distances still long by today's standards.
All this before pilgrims could come to the site, a temple, if you will, to celestial mechanics.
Do any of us have a temple builder within? Is there is anything so sacred, so compelling that we would give up the remainder of our useful lives to make it come to pass? Not for ourselves, either, but for the generations who would come after? Pilgrims.
Frances has had my attention this week. I’ve watched radar, projected paths, read about hurricanes. The radar image of Frances, a huge circulating center of energy, struck me as might a photograph of a menacing alien craft descending through the skies.
Like the changing of the seasons here in the temperate latitudes the coming of hurricane season gives us an in your face, can’t ignore it lesson in the world we live in—by Her sufferance. Like the holidays of the Great Wheel, I also find these great forces of nature compelling. Hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, straight-line winds, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, the monsoons, tides, and even the trade winds are, as our ancestors have always believed, communication from Mother Earth. They remind us, in case we forget, of both nature’s orderliness and her chaotic dynamism.
The flapping of the butterfly's wing in northern Mexico may be too subtle for us to grasp, but the thunderstorm over Indonesia it breeds will not go unnoticed.
Every time I travel the chernozem belt, say along Highway 70 in Indiana or Illinois or Missouri I love to watch the build up of thunderheads in the northwest, towering over the flat fields and the corn growing in them. Those thunderheads bring rain and cooling weather. The flat fields and the corn plants within them are a wonderful organic system, designed to take the raging winds and rain of a summer thunderstorm and convert it into food for people and animals.
This is not a disconnected thought because these vast weather systems in the Atlantic, these hurricanes, pump water into the cloud forming layers of the atmosphere and create the conditions desirable for rain. In fact, Frances will carry wind and 39 mph winds deep into the continent, veering, according to the latest projected path, up through Tennessee and even into Pennsylvania.
If you click on the NOAA website: www.nws.noaa.gov you can find a lot information.
You can find, for example, a list of the most expensive hurricanes ever. This is interesting. So is the pull out of, was it All State, from the property liability business in Florida. Match information in this month’s National Geographic which says 100 million people live within 3 feet of mean sea level to the historic routes of hurricanes over the last 100 years. (You can do this on a nifty website... www.sun-sentinel.com/news/custom/sfl-inttrackmap.htmlstory)
I don’t know, but do you keep building large cities in these well-defined paths? Do you build huge cities over earthquake faults or at the feet of active volcanoes? Maybe it’s my heart of the North American continent smugness, but Geez...
By this time Frances has become a tropical storm, or downgraded to tropical storm status, as the meteorologists say. Does this mean that hurricanes are better than tropical storms? In my world an upgrade means getting something newer, shinier, more effective.
Downgraded means you got cut from the team, your illness got worse, or your moral reputation took a hit (see Enron for example).
Or, to end this, Bush is a downgrade from Clinton. This is the perfect example because, in my mind, Bush is an upgrade to hurricane status in terms of catastrophic impact.
Here’s another thought. Perhaps this is payback for those hanging chads? Thank you, Jesus.
Kate and I have begun pilgrimage planning. In this case, for the journey into what Ruth Hayden, our financial counselor, calls the third phase of life—60’s to 90’s and beyond. This is one journey with a definite destination, the grave, but also, and in part because of this, a time most rich and full of possibility.
We bought Ruth’s book, Start Where You Are, and I would recommend it as a good place to start for anyone contemplating this journey.
I’ve done many things I wish I hadn’t had to do: two divorces, alcohol treatment, passed on graduate school, and filed bankruptcy. An independent observer might look at this list and conclude, ah, too bad, a failed life.
Here some things I see on a daily basis that an independent observer might not. I still get up every morning glad to see the day, and enjoy a sense of wonder. I see the world with the eyes and heart of sobriety, a small thing if you don’t need it, a huge thing if you do. At breakfast I sit across the table from Kate, a love and a joy I would not have me without those two divorces.
My library reveals a wide reading habit, an interest in many movie genres and my files are full of novels, short stories, and sermons I’ve written, not to mention a bit of poetry scattered here and there. By not going to graduate school I have enjoyed great latitude in the areas I’ve studied and the kind of writing I’ve pursued, a latitude especially useful to me now that Kate and I approach the third phase of life.
In that third phase a significant calming comes from an awareness of sufficient financial resources. Without Ruth Hayden’s recommendation of bankruptcy we would face now an anxiety filled uphill battle against debt. As it is, we will be debt free with the exception of our mortgage and an auto loan in two years, and our reserves appear adequate for a full and rich third phase together.
The garden blooms outside my writing room window and I have grown able to care for it with some skill and knowledge. My two sons have pursued studies and futures that reflect, for them, their deepest passions: art and science. I believe they will produce grandchildren in this decade.
The dogs who live here are constant and daily joys, connections to a more primal world which we, as a species, left not all that long ago, and not all that well.
These are things I see. It helps me to recount them because it is often easy to judge others by the difficult patches in their lives and we all have them. No one escapes mistake free or poorly chosen direction free. No one.
It may not seem to be so, but the most important person to embrace, in spite of those times when they missed the mark, is yourself. If you can’t forgive and accept your self, how can you do it for another with a whole heart, without holding back a bit of reserve, a thought like, “Well...after all, they...?”
This is not simplistic, nor is it easy. The unforgivable sin in the New Testament is to not ask for forgiveness and that, my friends, remains true no matter what metaphysic you bring to it.
I love you. I’m proud to have you as my friend. And, as Frank often says, I like you.
Have you ever had a song keep coming back, over and over, though you can’t say why? “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” has echoed in my head for weeks now. Another one, from years ago, was “Bobby McGee.” Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. And the Grateful Dead standard, “Sugaree.” Just one thing I ask of you, just one thing for me, please forget you knew my name, my darling, Sugaree.
All of these are plaintive, echo a longing for a state past, perhaps long past, a time when things were better. I don’t know if these have meaning for me or not, though I suspect they do. Still, I’m not sure if it’s the lyrics or the music that draws me in, makes want to hear this song, again and again. In any case it is the emotion evoked, I’m sure. Still, this emotion or emotions—what are they?
I kept my promise. Don’t keep your distance.
These are songs about people left in existential anguish because of things they’ve done and people they know, yet, they seem also to disclose a person of strength, who stands alone, in spite of or because of the angst, and says, Don’t cry for me. I’ve got nothing left to lose, so I’m free. I knew you then, but, please, forget me now. Our time is done.
Now these aren’t happy thoughts, no Pleasant Valley here, these are thoughts of a person well acquainted with grief. Yet. They are also a cri d’couer; underneath they say, “No, I will not stay in the dark valley. No matter what, I’m going on. My pilgrimage is not done.”
A brief flash here: 2 year old me, paralyzed by polio. “No. I will not stay crippled.”
Maybe, in the end, it is the existential moment we all come to, the one where we know the road, our road, goes on alone, no matter with whom we have traveled. Where the road forks after the Styx, none of us know. Many say the darkness of the river is the end. A part of me says, yes. Obviously. Another part says, Obviously not. The Karl Popper side says, “Well, this can be known. But not now.”
And now Ivan is on the way to Florida, looks like about the place Charley hit. Ivan right now is 140 mph sustained winds. Even if this is payback, I’d say, “Well, I agree Bush has caused a lot of havoc in the world and Florida is directly responsible, but enough is enough.” Can you imagine these poor folks having to sustain yet another heavy storm?
Yes, I know what I said above about building your house on shifting sand, but, hell, we all build somewhere.
And what about Cuba? It got hit by Charley and Frances, too. But since we embargo it (again, thanks to a lot of Cubano floridians and our weird anti-commie phobia) it doesn’t matter. No commerce. No disaster aid. This makes sense? Right? If they’re not consumers or producers of cheap goods—what the hell are they? Comminists, as they used to say in Indiana.
Hell, I take it back. Maybe they do deserve it. The florida folks I mean.
Here you go: A tropical cyclone is the generic term for a non-frontal synoptic scale low-pressure system over tropical or sub-tropical waters with organized convection (i.e. thunderstorm activity) and definite cyclonic surface wind circulation (Holland 1993). (AKA: hurricane, typhoon, cyclone)
Now you know. Interesting FAQ on the NOAA website.
A hurricane is a lot like us. It comes out of a warm, wet environment; it takes in energy and grows and develops; then, moves out into the world, takes action, makes itself felt, then declines and finally dribbles away in squalls and showers, weak and forgotten.
In fact, as I think about it, why can’t hurricanes be considered an ephemeral life form, the offspring of the ocean, the Hyde manifestation of gentle ocean waters?
Hmmm. I can remember my first cruise. We got on the Noordam in Ft. Lauderdale and set sail (ran the diesel engines) for LA by way of the Panama Canal and other places. I went up to the route map placed outside the Crow’s Nest, a bar on the prow of the ship, and found when we would pass Cuba, so I could see it, and, at 11:00 PM we began to sail past Cuba..
I stood outside on the top deck. I saw lights on the shore, “So that’s Cuba. Amazing. Right there.”
Soon, the water’s got rough and this passenger was not thanking Providence he was on the water rather than on land. After considering that it would never end, the morning came; the waters were calm, and so was I. Later in the day, we pulled into Montego Bay and I saw Jamaica.
But that’s another tale.
The morning has come with a chill and low humidity. I see Ivan now has winds in the 160 mph range and is a class 5. The new route takes him through Florida beginning at the Keys and heading north right up the peninsula.
He killed 12 in Grenada and freed all the prisoners there, including thirteen sentenced to life after the Marxist coup which led to the US invasion. From the shores of Grenada to the sands of Baghdad...
I love this time of year in Minnesota, in fact, I love it so much I delayed my trip to SE Asia until November, so I could have the fall here and put our garden to bed.
Even so, I’m putting in hours at a stretch now reading about Thailand, Cambodia, and SE Asia in general.
My head fills up, as I read, with stupas and mountains, hilltribes like the Karen and the Shan, the best way to travel between Bangkok and Phnom Penh, conversion rates and sleeping accommodations with and without AC.
People ask me if I’m going to be safe.
Who knows? The books say Southeast Asia is one of the safest places in the world, though I’ve always operated on the assumption you can get hurt anywhere if you try hard enough. The trick is not to try. Besides, safety is not the virtue of virtues. I don’t ever want it to be number one for me. To ignore personal safety (violence, health risks, foolish transportation) is absurd, to worry about it, crippling.
Ordered a few books and videos from Amazon. I like Amazon better and better. Borders, in its drive to sell something to everybody: DVD’s, CD’s, coffee shop in addition to books and magazines, has made the bookstore experience so retail oriented it has managed to sour me on going to the bookstore. A really, really hard thing to do.
Amazon, on the other hand, the more I use it, the more I find the wait for the books part of the fun. I get presents from myself delivered by UPS and they’re always just what I want. What a great deal! Also, the selection is comprehensive, which is one of the picks I have with Borders. In becoming a multi-media merchandiser they have squeezed the space for books so much that the depth of their selections is abysmal.
Today I got The Medieval Pilgrimage: Journeys to God, A Pilgrimage in Iran, The Lonely Planet Budget Guide to Southeast Asia, and, “Touching the Void.” The lonely planet guide sent me straight to the chair where I flipped from country to country checking and rechecking visa requirements, currency conversions, how to get in and out, and, a helpful section in all Lonely Planet Guides, Dangers and Annoyances.
I bought “Touching the Void” because I figured if I ever felt life had me on a bad roll, I could pick it up, watch it, and know instantly that things could get so much worse. Also, it’s a testament to human ingenuity and will, told by people with flaws just like you and me.
The draining period from the party is over and I’m able to look at the garden again with some energy. The irises Kate and I transplanted into the raised bed before the party, some of you saw them, have taken off, rooting themselves well for the upcoming winter. Iris, I learned just this year, only send up one flower per rhizome; then, the rhizome creates small rhizomes. These rhizomes, connected to the one which flowered, grow from it and produce one flower. These then produce small rhizomes...well, you get it. This results in more Iris rhizomes than a garden can hold.
I harvested bulbils and scales from lilies as I transplanted some and cut down the brown stems of others. Bulbils are small bulblettes that form at the junction between stem and leaf. Not all lilies form them routinely, but if harvested, these bulbils provide a good way to increase the number of plants in your lily bed. Scales come from two sources: 1. Some form just below the soil line on the stem, white and tiny. Once collected these, too, will reproduce the plant. 2. The lily bulb itself is a collection of scales, sort of like an artichoke. Disaggregation of the scales also produces a source of new plants.
Hemerocallis, or the daylily, spread in clumps, tuberous roots dangling and intertwined. A couple of spading forks put together in the clump, then pulled apart separate the roots and allow for replanting.
With these three plants alone a gardener careful in his stewardship could fill an entire garden over a period of several years with only a few initial plants.
This multiplication effect is one of the miracles of gardening and is, of course, the foundation of horticulture as a business and agriculture, too, for that matter. In the garden it creates great satisfaction as your labors get rewarded, not only in flowers and foliage, but also in whole new plants. It also allows for significant rearranging of the garden as I did this last fall.
It also creates, in both fall and spring, a joyful opportunity to divide your plants (which keeps them vigorous) and to share the plants with neighbors and other gardeners.
Night brings a time of rest for plants, the busy day of gathering light ends, and other processes slow down, much like me at this moment. See you tomorrow.
This is the 33rd weekly entry in this year long project, only 19 more to go. There has come a point, in the writing of each novel, where the end appears close and the writing heats up, like a marathoner nearing the finish line. Then, I may write for more hours in the day; my mind becomes overshadowed by the plot and the need to find a dramatic, yet satisfying way to end it all.
I’m not there with this diary, though I sense I may arrive at that point. It didn’t occur to me I would, this is so different from a novel.
Yet...it’s really not so different. The story of men and a man and a woman on pilgrimage through the fifth year of a new millennium. Events come and go. The weather changes, moods shift, conflicts arise, then recede into the past.
This is a new thing, novel; it has not existed before and would not exist at all were it not for each of you who read this.