A Pilgrim’s Year, 2004:  Week 48


Woolly Home


Week 1, 2, 3,

Week 4, 5, 6

Week 7, 8, 9

Week 10, 11, 12

Week 13, 14, 15

Week 16, 17, 18

Week 19, 20, 21

Week 22, 23, 24

Week 25, 26, 27

Week 28, 29, 30

Week 31, 32, 33

Week 34, 35   Sermon

Week 36, 37,    Sermon

Week 38, 39




  Siem Reap

Week 44, 45, 46

Week 47, 48, 49


Week 50, 51, 52


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


It’s funny, the year marches on, every year, often without notice save for the turned calendar page, holidays, birthdays and the occasional “Can you believe it’s ......... already?”  This year, though, for me, it’s proceeded week by week, now for 48 weeks punctuated at least once a week with a notation.  It’s hard to imagine the accumulation of lived experiences each of us has had over these 48 weeks, even harder to imagine the multiple interactions we’ve had just with each other.

Imagine then the impossible mathematics of trying to follow eleven men throughout a year. Each stop at a store, caress, act of love, angry word, said good-bye.  Each time the foot went down on the accelerator or hit the break.  Each child consoled, parent loved, pet stroked.  Imagine the even more impossible mathematics, requiring at least imaginary numbers and the formula of ancient monks, if I were to follow the actual words and feelings and thoughts as they emerge and evaporate, all of them, within each of you, even for one day, one hour, let alone 48 weeks. 

Even my computers now absurdly large hard disk couldn’t hold a half-day’s record.  This is all to say just how long 48 weeks really is.  And I’m just talking here about the Woolly’s.  But imagine, again, the mathematics involved in tracking the Woolly families—no one else, just person related by blood or deep affection to each of us.

Notice this is God’s job, at least as we painted God in the Western way, and what a job, from a purely data generated perspective.  Geez.  You’d have to be, well, God, to handle it.

So, this pilgrimage is within five weeks of its destination, around January 20th or so, 2005.  It will, like all pilgrimages, have a return trip, though in this case the return will take place from the beginning, again, and work its way to the end.  It will be interesting, at least to me, to see what this pilgrim, changed by the journey, will find as the journey’s true lessons.

As all pilgrims must, I will interpret my trek from the view of one who has arrived at journey’s end, then, moved on to the next trail, reporting finally from around the bend somewhere far away.

I’m grateful I wasn’t responsible for the God job, following myself around and the occasional Woolly gathering has satisfied me plenty.


It’s also funny how, the longer I write, the more I see metaphor everywhere.  Today, for example, I got up and changed the flat tire on the Celica.  I discovered it yesterday when going for lunch with Paul.

Now, after a day at the shop, this tire will not deflate.  It does not bubble in the dunk tank.  It has no nail or obvious puncture. 

I asked Josh, “Well, what if we put it back on and it goes flat again?”

“Well,” Josh said, “I’ve seen tires that only flat under the weight of the vehicle.”

Hmmmm...  Like many folk, often around the holidays.  Going flat under the weight of the holidays.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


Couple of years ago I did a project where I took a polariod every day of the year...I’ve still not done anything with it, but they sit here, right next to me as I work.  Every once in a while I get the urge to take them out, but then I think, oh God, I’ll be stuck in that work for a long, long time, so I don’t  reach down there.  Maybe as I work on the pilgrimage edit I’ll get’em out, see if there’s any correlation at all.


By the way, got a nice card from Jimmie and a self-portrait—complete with feather headdress and corn spiral—and a small book.  Thanks, Jim. 


Just finished watching “A Quiet Day in Hollywood.”  An early Hilary Swank film with a montage approach, eight loosely connected character’s lives intersect.  A surprisingly moving film, at least for me. 

I’ve toyed off and on around the edges with learning more about film, but never quite got down to it, so I agreed to a movie and discussion for Groveland UU.  Now, I’m reading about film analysis and the grammar of film, the history of film.  At least I hope to learn—for the last time—what a gaffer and a best boy and a Foley Operator are.  I learn, then it disappears.  This time, I’ll get it.

I’ve already learned one interesting thing.  Martin Scorcese practices a style of film-editing pioneered by Eisenstein.  The belief is that an edit creates a third scene in the viewer’s mind as we fill in the gap between one scene and the next.  I’m not sure it makes sense to me, but that’s what the two of them think.  It’s a non-traditional editing practice—read, not Hollywood standard—which is to edit for continuity and seamlessness.

More later.  I decided since I’m such a film fan I really oughta know at least a little bit about it.


Bill’s piece from Time on the Nativity brings up an interesting part of my pilgrimage through the Land of Various Religions, in this case, educated Christian clergy and the no-less bright, but much less well-educated laity.

The education I’m talking about here is not of the general variety, but of a highly specialized, professional education in three different disciplines:  1.  Higher criticism of the bible and its attendant sub-disciplines; 2. Constructive theological (that is, how to build your own coherent belief system); and, 3. Church history.

Each of these areas of knowledge have their corrosive materials for most lay folk.  I could add the study of ethics (with its context specific orientation in the liberal Christian world), too, but then I’d have to also add epistemology and metaphysics and that would get too far afield.

I’ll not belabor these—unless somebody wants me too—in which case I’d be delighted, but let me give you a series of my favorite examples after a brief introduction to higher criticism.

Higher criticism of the bible began in the late 18th century in Germany.  It was an outgrowth of the Enlightenment emphasis on reason; the influence of the Enlightenment on Western thought, especially American political philosophy has fascinated me all my academic life, and, after my first exposure to higher criticism in seminary, my religious life, too.

Higher criticism involves two different moves:  exegesis and hermeneutics.  Exegesis involves examining the text with all the intellectual tools available.  It’s end is to understand what the text meant in its original context; its sitz im leben (situation in life).

Exegesis includes textual criticism, historical criticism, tradition criticism, redaction criticism, form criticism, linguistic and archaeological knowledge, knowledge of the history of the era in which a text was written (as well as determining when the text was most probably written.)

In theory the minister, before preaching, first, exegetes the text, then applies hermeutical principles to the exegetical material.  Hermeneutics, or interpretation, involves applying the text to a contemporary situation.  Most often the hermeneutical task comes to life as a sermon, though it might be a commentary, article, or used in private mediation/study.

I’ll illustrate in brief with a few of my favorite examples:  in the book of Genesis, chapter 1 & 2, there is not 1, but 2 creation stories.  You probably know this.  Below is an example of exegetical work (conclusions, mostly), then a bit of hermeneutics.  I will expand a bit. 

  “Genesis chapter one, from verse three, through chapter two, verse three, where the first chapter actually ends, is the work of the Priestly source or author. Genesis chapter two, from verse four, through chapter three, to verse twenty-four, is the work of the Yahwist source. Genesis 1:1-2 is the work of a recenionist scribe, i.e. it was added to the Priestly narrative of the Creation, which appropriately begins with the words: “And God (Elohim) said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’”

When the two Creation narratives are examined side-by-side the differences in the texts are obvious, namely the titles “Elohim” and “Yahweh” to designate the deity. In the first narrative the primeval earth is described as a sea, and in the second as a desert. In Genesis one God creates by verbal command, 1:3,6,9,11,14. In Genesis two, God creates by work, 2:7,8,9,19, and 22. The Creation order in Genesis one is: plants, beasts, man; in Genesis two: man, plants, beasts. Genesis one has a plural Creation of man, both male and female at the same time. Genesis two creates a single man and later a woman.

The literary style of the two Creation narratives attests to the fact of differing authors. The writer of Genesis one is more properly concerned with the Creation. His characters are less realistic, his style less vivid. Whereas the author of Genesis two only utilizes the Creation event to lead into the narrative of Adam and Eve, and the fall. His style is more creative and flowery; he utilizes myth and allegorical speech in his discourse. All writers have their own unique style, and modern identification of literary discourse indicates these two narratives as
originating from two different sources.

It should be noted here that though the Priestly Creation narrative comes first in order, the Yahwist narrative is the oldest. However, as previously stated the Yahwist narrative is not properly a Creation narrative, and there- fore not a doublet. Nor is it properly a historical narrative in the literal sense. Genesis chapters two and three are a historical myth turned philosophical myth. "Myth" being defined as: a traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon. " (Webster) The obviously figurative and allegorical speech contained in Genesis two and three dictate that it cannot be interpreted in a literal sense...”    http://www.stormfront.org/archive/t-155139The_Yahwist,_Elowist,_and_Priestly_Literary_Traditions_of_the_Pentateuch 


The documentary hypothesis lets us get at a truth hidden in plain sight in the first chapters of Genesis.  We in the West have our own creation mythology, as do Native Americans, Hindus, Taoists, and animists.  This creation myth comes to us first through the very early thinkers in what would become Judaism, though at the time of these authors many of them were polytheists—Yahweh is part of a divine council in Job and Psalms—and we can treat it as we do all mythology.

In other words, we don’t dismiss it because it’s “...not rational.”  Rather, we try to understand the worldview it represents and learn if there is any way that worldview can critique or add to our own.  This is hermeneutics.

I’m intrigued, for example, with the notions of chaos and order that play such a prominent role in the Priestly account.  And, perhaps, how entropy fits into the long term view.  

Or, take the word often criticized:  dominion.  The dominion in the text actually refers to animals and is the dominance of a shepherd over sheep.  Or, alternatively, it is the dominance of a shepherd king over his subjects, i.e. the responsibility in both cases is to wield power on behalf of the other, to provide for the welfare of sheep and subjects, to use power, not for oppression, but for liberation and fulfillment. 

One more example will suffice.  The Book of Revelation.  Where would horror movies be without it?  It also provides fuel for the incredibly successful (financially) “Left Behind” series.  It has proved far more lucrative to the entertainment industry than even the Exodus story, or the birth of Christ.

Only one problem.  There is ample evidence, not difficult to obtain, that Revelation is a non-violent resistance manual for Christians under siege in Rome.  Far from a literal template for bloody and violent days of the future, it described the context of the Christian who faced persecution under the anti-Christ emperors, and counsels how to handle it. 

Now, you may not agree with its advice, essentially put your faith in God and all will work out, either after your death or shortly before, but in its non-violent approach to the hand of evil, most of us could at least admire John of Patmos’ intent.

I could go on and on, with example after example.  The Christian tradition I know, and the Bible as I’ve been taught to interpret it, are very, very far from contemporary Christian thought and practice.  So far, in fact, that I could probably provide an existential Christian perspective that reflects what I believe (currently) and provides a useful corrective to the weirdness abroad in the land...a la, say, Bishop Spong, but there is no institutional stool on which to stand and do that—just ask Spong.


Went out this am to cut a yule log in our woods.  1 below here at 11AM though it was 9 below when I got up.  Dressed in layers, so no cold discomfort.

With Tor and Orion at my tail, Swede saw over my shoulder, I went south into the woods under the tall aspens.  Back there are a couple of blow-downs from the damaging August straight line winds of a few years ago.

The sun, bright in a motionless sky, shined through the leafless oak, ironwood, serviceberry, and buckthorn.  Under foot dried leaves crunched against the hard as concrete earth.  Growth from the past summer blocked the path, so I cut brush away to get to the oak, over 30 feet high when erect, now horizontal.  When it fell, I had to cut off several thick branches to keep the path open; the trunk dropped parallel to the path, but its leafy crown crashed across it.  That was long ago.

Yet, here it lays, on a cold winter day near the solstice, a memory in wood, a fallen testament to that dark wall cloud’s ferocity.  No yule log here though.  Cutting with the Swede saw requires some open space above and the combination of branches and thick trunk didn’t allow any, at least in a place I could cut through.

I went west, back to some older blow-downs, remnants of the storm that took out our front fence and almost released our dogs.  Joseph and I shored  that one up until the fence people could come and repair it.  Again, I’d already cut the portions easy enough for the Swede saw, which is quite effective, but becomes difficult to use as a trunk gets thicker, and, sometimes gets trapped, requiring emergency measures with sledge hammer and plastic splitting wedge.

On north, along the park path to the fallen poplar, maybe 50 feet tall.  It went down, I think, in the second storm that took our fence—again.   These blowdowns lie there, the wood’s own memories, stored for a time, so we don’t forget summer.  This tree, so big, and thick, fell and crossed the park path, blocking truck access to the back of the yard.  I had to get out the chain saw and cut it, too, to unblock the path. 

I like this kind of work.  Guy stuff.

Emma, our blue-gray whippet, the neurotic one who spends most of her time in her crate, took to walking up this downed tree, and standing at its cut end, about where branching began on the mature tree, and, because of the angle at which the fallen tree rests, about six feet off the ground.

She would stand up there, survey the yard, a lookout on high.  Her confidence level was obvious; her neuroticism vanishes as she moves into the woods with the pack. 

Three years ago I hung a bell on this tree; Kate brought it back from Arcosanti, the architecture to save humanity underway outside Phoenix.  We declared it our memory bell; each time it rings it reminds us of our dead dogs:  Celt, Sortia, Scot, Morgana, Tira, Tully, Buck, and Iris. 

This  year I moved the bell down into the perennial garden where it catches more wind.  When it rings, the weather changes, just as our lives changed with the death of each of these good friends.  I still miss each one of them.

This tree and the last available one, a poplar also downed during the same storm, were both too thick.  So, I did what I had avoided doing.  I went into the garden shed and got the chain saw, picked up a container of bar and chain oil, and, a bottle of the oil to add to the gas, brought all this inside and am now letting everything warm up.

On top of Emma’s look-out, about where she used to stand (she doesn’t go up there anymore.  I don’t know why.) there is a large bed of moss with long red tendrils rising up out of the green.  I’d not seen this before and don’t know what it is.  Which delights me.

This morning I used some Tibetan incense Gyatsho gave me and offered prayers to the four directions, each time invoking the spirit of our land.  I thank it now for all the gifts it gives us:  flowers, wood, space for our dogs to live their own lives, water, vegetables, a place for our shelter, vistas and horizons, a place we can call home.


Down to Santa’s workshop to check up on the warming of the chain-saw.  It’s better now.  Have to mix up the oil and gas, fill up the bar and chain oil chamber, then try to start the damn thing, which often proves difficult.  I don’t know how the friendly neighborhood wood-cutter ever gets his work done since mechanization.

Our minimalist decorations will expand Tuesday with the addition of the four year old Norfolk pine.  It will come into the living room from its usual perch in the solarium on top of the big dog crate.  Popcorn and cranberries, strung with needle and thread will go on it, presents will go underneath it. 

These add to the blooming azalea, two poinsettias, a cyclamen, a begonia, and a kangaroo paw (I never heard of it either), and four amaryllis undergoing shade exposure.  Next year I’ll have the pillar candles and ivy, mistletoe, and holly.  Simple, yet different enough to make the house feel festive.


OK, for  you math geeks out there, here’s a little amusement.  To mix oil and gas for the chain-saw you add 2.6 fl. oz. to one gallon.  I only had a small amount of gas, about 2 cups.  So, how much to add?

The algebra gears grind slowly for this guy whose last math class was high school analytical geometry.  I took symbolic logic in college and loved it; took statistics and hoped to escape, but that’s it since the geometry.  So, about, let’s see...hmmm,  39 years have passed since I was a top math student—and, I was, once. 

I know that part of my brain must still work, but it doesn’t get much exercise since part of the division of labor in our marriage depends on Kate’s math and arithmetic skills, honed daily calculating drug dosages for little people.

So, let’s see.  2.6 to what?  Look that up.  Ounces in a cup, 8.  Cups in a gallon.  Hmmm.  No, let’s see—2 cups in a pint, so that’s 16.  2 pints in a quart—32.  Now we’re getting somewhere.  4 quarts in a gallon, so, 128 cups in a gallon!  I feel like a Bangkok taxi-driver whose just figured the next to last turn to the destination. 

2.6 fl. oz. over 128 fl. oz. equals X over 8 fl. oz.  Right.  Solve for X.  I remember this.  No, wait.  Which one goes where?  Jesus, innumeracy begins at home.

Anyhow, I finally got it, though I couldn’t believe it.  X=.15 fl. oz.  Pretty miniscule and naturally I had no .15 fl oz measuring cups. (Though right now I wonder if I’d gone into teaspoons, I might have figured it out.)  So, I measured out 2 cups of gas.  Then guesstimated a third of a fl. oz.   Poured it in the gas.  Mix with screwdriver.  God, a real guy thing going on here.

It wouldn’t start.  The goddamn chain-saw won’t start.  It sticks, the chord hangs loose.  Damn.  Frustration with mechanical objects is also a guy thing, but one we don’t admit anywhere outside our own private thoughts.

What could it be?  I hadn’t used the chain saw in many months.

Let me see.  I grabbed the chain and pulled it around the bar.  It moved with fits and starts, then, as the bar-and-chain oil flowed, it began to loosen up.

Let’s try it. 


Chain saws have a very satisfying loud noise.

So, I went out, used the chain saw for approximately ten seconds, turned it off and considered the huge yule log I’d just cut. 

Yule logs have size as a requirement.  Like the Irish wolfhound, they must have a great and commanding presence. 

This one does.   Only problem?  Great and commanding, in wood as in dogs, means weight.  Way more than I could lift.  So, I used the old tip it up, let it fall, tip it up, let if fall approach. 

While doing that, I thought of those huge blocks of sandstone quarried in the hills 60 km from Angkor.  I thought of those Khmer men, probably even shorter back then, muscling those blocks of stone in a manner similar to the one I used to move the Yule log.  Ouch.

I made it to the deck, a long ways in tip it up and let it fall terms, and decided on Monday morning, Solstice eve, I’d move it down the last few yards, all down hill.  There, I still have to figure out how to get it up into the fire pit and positioned so a fire beneath it will eventually cause it to catch.

All of this seems appropriate, somehow, for the Yule log tradition, and I’m glad to engage it.  In fact, it only reinforces for me observance of the Great Wheel holidays. 

The whole process of planning to cut a Yule log, moving it, and, Tuesday, setting it aflame for the first night of Yule, the Winter Solstice, took me into the woods, the day cold around me. Muscles rather machines (except for the chain saw, but it was hard to get it to work...that counts, I think.).  Not to mention the connection with all those Teutons who cut their Yule logs in the Bavarian Woods, the Black Forest, the Schwarzwald. 

Its flame will satisfy something deep in me.  I look forward to it, and to the time at Tom’s tomorrow night.

Under the “There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of  in your philosophy, Horatio.”  category:  The Rapture Index.  Stay tuned.

The Purpose For This Index

The Rapture Index has two functions: one is to factor together a number of related end time components into a cohesive indicator, and the other is to standardize those components to eliminate the wide variance that currently exists with prophecy reporting.

The Rapture Index is by no means meant to predict the rapture, however, the index is designed to measure the type of activity that could act as a precursor to the rapture.

You could say the Rapture index is a Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity, but I think it would be better if you viewed it as prophetic speedometer. The higher the number, the faster we're moving towards the occurrence of pre-tribulation rapture.

Rapture Index of 85 and Below:  Slow prophetic activity
Rapture Index of 85 to 110:     Moderate prophetic activity 
Rapture Index of 110 to 145:    Heavy prophetic activity 
Rapture Index above 145:        Fasten your seat belts 

This last can’t be topped.  It stands alone as the weirdest thing I’ve encountered this year, in spite of my trip to the exotic far east where I witnessed fire-walking, sidewalk hookah-smoking on oriental rugs, the temples of Angkor, and the weekend streets of Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Are you ready for some Rapture?  John Madden and CBS Sports brings you, “Left Behind” the last reality show...ever.


Last night Roxann and Tom drew down the moon, a moon with a halo which predicted the snow last night.  We welcomed in the Solstice, celebrated in a time between the worlds while the sun hit its northernmost point and turned south, toward the celestial equator, and the spring equinox.

The goose, cooked; the ham, honeyed; Jimmie, missed; the company, vibrant.  We had a conversation about trust and the viability, or not, of unstructured time.  Stefan declared Yaheed on all of us, Frank and Scott percussed with skill. 

Attention.  We attended.  Will we have a beginning ritual?  A rotating ceremony based on earth, air, fire, and water?  Will we find ways to bring ourselves closer to the spirit of the land, the genius locii, the kami?

We cannot distance ourselves from the earth, but, we can isolate ourselves from the experience.  We can move amongst each other as if the world were made for humans, instead of humans made for the world.  Yet those motions do not change the truth, the one truth we midwesterners may know best of all Americans:  we belong to mother earth and will return to her after a brief time upon her broad back. 




Outside my writing room’s door the yule log blazes.  It is thick, say four feet around and three long. I wasn’t sure I could get it ignited with basic fire building, especially in the small space of our metal fire pit, but the basics worked.  Straw at the bottom, sticks, fat wood, thicker, bigger  yet, branch size, then one to hold the yule log up while the fire wood beneath reaches enough heat to set it afire.  It still looks the same, the shape it was when I put it in, but the hunger of fire, ravenous and complete, dances up skyward, licking it, warming it, heating it.

This is the year’s official long night, though the week or so from now has almost equal lengths of darkness.  Building a fire, with a huge log, is a profligate act, meant to show our confidence.  If we are confident and able to produce heat and light in the midst of the terrible darkness, then the sun might have pity on us, or fellow-feeling and agree to rise again tomorrow, and, too, to come and stay a bit longer, then a bit longer, until the days themselves grow hot, as the yule log does tonight.

Up, over seven oaks, in the southeastern sky hangs Orion.  The sky is clear, lit by the half-moon hung as a lantern over the southern horizon.  These are the nights when the suns far distant blaze.  It is another form of heat, so intense we could not stand it; we humans, made for mother earth and her more modest ranges.

In fact, you could compare the nuclear fission of a star to the experience of seeing God face-to-face.  Man (or, Woman) cannot look upon the face of God and live. 

Even so, the kind of self-perpetuating chain reaction, a fundamental process so powerful it feeds upon itself, has its human equivalent.  It is love. 

Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of the Cosmic Dance, whose dance of eternal destruction and creation occurs within the flaming wheel of the universe, dances in your heart.  In this sense you and I share a destiny with the fiery beings so far away, yet so beautiful in our darkness; it is this—within our common compass worlds come into being and pass away, from now, till then.

The yule log now gives off little light; its bulk has sunk down, not far enough to smother the fire below, but enough to create a bed of coals with only the occasional flame reaching out to caress the air.

After it burns out and cools off sometime tomorrow, I will remove it and stand it up at the end of the perennial bed, where it will rest until I cut next year’s yule log.  

The night stretches out yet more hours, and we all have miles to go before we sleep.



The morning after the solstice is bright and cold.  We had 5 below here in Andover with a stiff wind.  The dogs went out and came right back to the door, not going out, as they usually do, to check for rabbits living under the machine shed.

Downstairs, the yule log rests, no flame and no orange bed of coals, but, a small plume of smoke still rises from it.  Its side toward the house has blackened and the bottom of the same side has an alligatored look in gray, evidence of the heat beneath it all last night.  Even so, it still has the same shape, is, at least from the top, the same log we put on the fire last night. 

We’ve decided to light it again on Christmas Eve, then set it aside for next years solstice fire.  A yule log traditionally smolders for 12 days after the solstice, then is put out and the wood used to begin the yule log fire for the next solstice.  I doubt this one will smolder for 12 days, though you never know.  It might make it with our added tradition, new this year, of lighting the yule log afire on Christmas Eve, too.

Kate and I finished stringing cranberries and popcorn to put on the Norfolk pine.  Simple, but very nice.  Now the presents will go under the tree.  We’ll leave it decorated until the New Year’s, then take the popcorn and cranberries to the bird feeders and replace the Norfolk pine in its year long spot in our solarium (dog kennel).

Last night, after Kate went upstairs and the fire had begun to wane under the Yule log, I found this Wendell Berry poem and sent it out to the Great Wheel e-mail list.  I want to include it again here, because it fits so well into my thoughts about this particular solstice.


This season, this year, has been deep and rich for me.  What a privilege it is to live, and to live in these dark nights, cold and filled with snow.  Berry's poem, "The Peace of Wild Things", tells us where grace can be found, very near us.  What a gift.

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
                                                             (From Collected Poems, North Point Press, © 1985)http://www.mythinglinks.org/wintersolstice~2000.html


Back for a moment to the Woolly beginning ceremony and Mark’s suggestion that we try to connect with the earth.  The whole Great Wheel cycle grows, of course, straight from the earth and her movement through the heavens; as I reflected last night on Berry’s poem, it became clear to me that the Great Wheel is about just such grace, the grace of wild things.

And, as Jimmy’s Wildness Within theme reminds us, we, too, are wild things, with our own grace and peace, if we can go where the wild goose goes, down to the still waters.

My gift, to each of you this solstice season, is a blessing for the wildness within you.  Let it out.  Let it out...now.



The snow has come.  Sort of.  Better than none, and there’s bound to be more later, so, something to look forward to in the new year. 

Here in the north the climatic pilgrimage comes to you.  No travel necessary, other than the one way ticket around Sol, granted at birth and never revoked.

The urgent blinking of the Weatherbug on desktops throughout Minnesota signals an “Urgent Winter Weather Warning.”  The warning?  Baby, it’s gonna be cold outside.  9 below on the Andover thermometer at 7 AM. 

Dogs out and in.  Put on Madbomber to get the Star-Tribune.  Back inside to waffles and spicy V-8, Kona coffee.

This is no trivial journey.  We alternate, weather for abundant crops and t-shirt walks in the forest, then dead plants and layers for a walk to the mail box.  It has the markings of pilgrimage, festivals appropriate to the seasons, fellow travelers, chapels for sustenance (bars and restaurants), even souvenirs (Winter Carnival Buttons, State Fair bags).

Each season occasions different inner work: winter drives us deep into the interior, spring encourages new vitality in the soul, summer turns us into moderns focused on  the surface, and fall, meditations and intimations of mortality.  If you cannot see the pilgrimage here, compare us with the tropics, lands of endless summer.  There the heat, the wet air slow you down, force you inside during the midday.  All year.  Every year.  The same outer work.

Count yourself privileged if you live in a climate as harsh as Minnesota, one where pilgrimage comes, well, naturally.


There’s a lot of happy talk in the psychology world these days.  Authentic Happiness by Seligman identifies key strengths (5) and then suggests living so your life makes use of them as much as possible.  Many things don’t promote happiness:  money, prestige, fame, status, achieving long sought dreams; and what does, it seems, involves seemingly minor changes in attitudes.  I might add, Zoloft helps.  At least for me.

This whole enterprise, with which I have instinctive sympathy, but often find a bit dingy, is a current recycling (another stop on the spiral) of the human potential movement, the Maslovian / Gestaltian work of the late sixties and seventies.  It tries to take into account the intellectual critique of Alain de Botton (not him in particular, but the critique he represents) which suggests that waving human potential in front of folks is like waving a red flag in front of a bull, people start charging around, never quite getting to their target and end up feeling frustrated, not happy.  All that potential gone to waste.

Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I have not seen a rationale for why happiness is a good thing.  I know, you suspect me of being overly influenced by all the Norwegians and other Scandinavians here.  Maybe so.  But I think they have a point.  Happiness, I think, has a tautological significance that may not stand scrutiny.

Here’s what I mean.  Happiness is good because, well, when you have it, you’re happy.  OK.  So what...? 

No matter what mood we have at the moment, and I see no evidence happiness is more than a mood, we have to get up and go on with our lives.  Of course, depression and hyper anxiety are disruptions of mood and can throw us off for a long time, but even in those instances, life creeps on in “...its petty pace from day to day...”  When we are happy, it creeps on then, too.   

I’m not arguing against happiness, far from it; why not enjoy it when it comes?  As a goal, though, it lacks substance, heft.  Authenticity, integrity, honesty, individuation, integration—are all more important goals for us, no matter their impact on our happiness or lack thereof.  Why?  Because they are the bedrocks of a genuine Self in the world, and, as the Yiddish proverb I recently added as my signature line for e-mails says, “If I want to be like him, who will be like me?” 

Contributing the unique and sole expression of who you are is more important than how you feel at any one moment, and will be, in contradiction, at times, with good feeling.

This is not a late 60’s black and white film view of the world; this is a hard truth, one we ignore at the cost of our selves, and to the impoverishment of the world thereby.

Even so, my signature strengths will contribute to the authentic and honest expression of my Self, so I will work to move them even more toward the center of my life.  Happiness, when it passes through, will delight me. 

Joy and delight and flow are all states I relish; they are just not states I seek.  Maybe this seems gloomy or off-center to you, I don’t know, but it expresses how I feel, and I do not feel bah-humbug, but...yes, that’s clear enough.


This morning in an article about global warming the writer casually noted that we may be sufficiently distanced from the natural world not to notice the shifts in springtime and other effects of global warming.  She’s right; but, it’s not an oh-by-the-way; it is a sine qua non for environmental blindness, the curious disease in which we foul our own nest, then pretend nothing has changed.

If my life has no other meaning, I hope in it’s last quarter or so, I can help a few people see the need and the joy in reconnecting with the Great Wheel.  I hope folks can begin to see the labyrinth as a great spiral hanging in a world without time, a spiritual journey around which we move and in which we live and move and have our being, and that this spiral marks a spinning earth, its changes, its fruits, and its winters. 

The beginning of this labyrinth is birth, its exit gate, situated in the West, like Angkor Wat, opens the soul to a new labyrinth, also suspended in a world without time, and we walk the next one with knowledge and love gained here.

 Blessed Be.  And Merry Christmas.

              Charlie Buchman Ellis                Top                      < Previous        Next >