A Pilgrim’s Year, 2004:  Week 49


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


As I think I said somewhere a ways back, I celebrate four new years:  Rosh Hashanah (the least), Samain (equal to January 1st), the Western (with years of acculturation and expectation, enhanced by living up north), and the Chinese, now usually with a crowd from the MIA at a Chinese restaurant.

When I say celebrate, I mean honor with attention and care, and some break in the usual routine.  

Sortia, our Russian witch Irish Wolfhound, was a predator.  She took down a deer on her own, many squirrels, raccoons, ground hogs, rabbits, and even one opossum.  A favorite memory of her—on a cold New Year’s day, bitter cold, I took her up to Lake George regional park and we went for a walk on the lake.  There were many fish houses out that year, it had been cold a long time; but, no fishermen.  I guess the night before had weeded them out.

Sortia and I wandered around out on the lake, meandering in this small, temporary community.  Nothing special happened that day; I just remember the dignity of her bearing, her quickness and her strength, her  alertness.  She was a joy; I loved her.

Kate and I stay home on New Year’s Eve, not liking either the lateness nor the drunkenness of after midnight partying.  We fix a special meal, Thai this year, watch movies, sometimes play board games, talk. 

I always find time sometime on New Year’s eve or more often on New Year’s day to go over last year, see how it went, make notes, decide about the upcoming year.

The Romans instituted January 1st as New Year, frustrated by the difficulties of making their old  calendar, and their old, spring related new  year, fit with the months. 

The January 1st date has seemed arbitrary to me, lacking cultural or meteorological or phenological rationale, yet I find as I grow older it makes more and more sense to me.  We begin the New Year deep in winter’s grip, with the outside quiet and cold and often deep with snow.  It is a time when it is easy to imagine a fresh start; the major holiday season has ended, the weather presses you inside, inside your house and inside your person.  Outside the landscape looks new, very different from the fall just past, and very different from the spring yet to come, it is a time between times, a special time of its own.

There is the ball at Times Square; the staying up till midnight, and, now with Kate 15 nights of time together, sharing food and companionship, love.  Those silly hats and noise makers, Auld Lang Syne, a day after with little demand.  And that whole, fresh year ahead. 


It’s Christmas Eve at Seven Oaks.  The Yule log has fresh kindling underneath it and we’ll light it again tonight, this time in honor of the incarnation and its constant birth of wonder.  No guests have come  yet, the evening to begin late this year.  The new method of celebration, more earth-centered:  Yule Log, living Norfolk pine tree, crystal around with candles and flowers, living flowers, and with music of Jewish, Celtic, pagan, and Christian holiday themes, feels so much better, less harried, less entwined with the mall and merchandise accents that can become so  heavy now.

These pages have given me an opportunity to root myself even more firmly in the world I want to inhabit, to write about it, and then, to live into the words and to live out the words and to report back on how it went.  A good thing for me.  Helpful.

A deepened sense of the Solstice has begun to insinuate itself into these days, the cold dark ones.  It has let me find a way down, a new way, one that involves the exterior as well as the interior, a match I used to have with Christmas and the culture, but which, over years of discomfort and excess, I shaved away until, only the small, bright flame of divinity remains, and I now see it burn within myself and within each of you. 

Now, that refined sense of divinity has become one with the interior journey of the long nights, light and dark, inside and outside, divine and profane.  And, it is good.


The Yule log blazes again.  Fire is elemental, ferocious and without morality; it is a strong arm of mother nature, able to fell forests, clear grasslands, and force even rock to melt.  I can see it burn as I write this; the metal firepit sits on the brick of our patio. 

The elementals may not be elemental in the way medieval thinkers believed, but they are essential and powerful.  Water, earth, fire, and air.  Without them...no life on this planet. 

As the Thai spirit house suggests, there are ways to honor the land and the spirit of the land, or, the spirit that is the land.  I want to honor the spirit of Seven Oaks, the genius locii of this oak savannah, a sand bar near the edge of the proto-Mississippi, a portion of the Great Anoka Sand plain with sweet water 180 feet below which gives us what we need.  This land also gives me firewood, wood for the Yule log and for taking off the chill on autumn evenings, and wood for building raised beds, wood to create paths among the trees. 

The woods tell me of the wind as the trees sway, and a whistle comes through the grove; the land itself, with small hills and valleys, channels the wind and pushes across the bell from Arcosanti.  The land and the air help us remember our dead.

Seven Oaks has, integral to its being, the four elements:  soil formed by oak savannah vegetation over hundreds of years and before that by deposits laid down by the great gusher of water coming out of glacial Lake Agassiz, the one whose flood tore out a channel for the Mississippi.

At an aquifer almost 200 feet below the surface remains of that water and the results of filtrated water from rain and runoff combine to form a pool.  Our well drains the pool and gives us tap water, shower water, water to wash our clothes and hands, water to irrigate our lawn, flowers, and vegetables.

The land produces oak, ironwood, poplar, and cedar; all in abundance and, thanks to the occasional storm, more than enough blown down to satisfy our firewood needs.  So, the land gives us fire and a place to burn.

Straight winds of over 90 mph change the configuration of our forest; trees blow down and, blown down, destroy other shrubs and plants.  The wind brings us rain and evaporates the moisture from our soil.  In the winter the wind drives snow across our driveway, drifts the snow in sculpted windrows.  In all seasons it whips the bells we have and makes them sing. 

The four elements make Seven Oaks what it is.


Christmas Morning.  The Yule log rests, reduced by fire to about ½ its original bulk, giving up its dark matter for Christmas eve and Winter Solstice light.  It has a covering of fluffy snow. 

The snow comes down in snow globe pace.  It drifts in front of my east facing window, falling, falling, gently, gently to the earth.  Over the Yule log the microstructure of our perennial bed and the southern wall of our house create a cyclonic wind, so the snow spirals around before touching down, covering the Yule logs unburned back with a white coat; it also sticks to the gargoyle who sits in place of the clement season’s umbrella on our patio table

Seven oaks, the seven red and bur oaks on the hill in front of me as I work, stand, their woody solidity a contrast to the tiny airborne crystals of cold water.  The unseen air reveals itself in the movement of the snow and in the resistance it makes as individual snowflakes seek the earth, and in the spiral dance over the patio, once, twice round the Yule log, then down.

The dogwood, as the perennial bed becomes whiter, stand out, their red branches a soft accent.  The dogwood’s long fingers poke straight up, but their neighbors, the more  dour Amur maples, brown to the dogwood’s red, twist and bend, true skeletons of the summer tree, sculptural, elegant in a gothic manner. 



 Thought you’d like to see my pic on the cover of the New Yorker.  Finally, a winter sport for the rest of us. 


Just finished a fine and unexpected Christmas treat.  Joseph and I worked out together here.  He’s student manager of the recreational gym on the St. Paul campus and works out regularly there with a buddy, Drew, who is a kinesiology major.  Good deal for Joe.

I know physical culture probably seems like a stretch for me, but I’ve done aerobic work for over 15 years and resistance work off and on for ten.  So, it’s fun to share the moment with Joseph.

Here’s another surprise:  Joseph may join the Air Force.  He’s discovered an aerospace physiologist career path that combines his astrophysics and astrobiology with actual work in the field, with humans, which also hits his interest in medicine.  He’s also got the opportunity there to pursue a Ph.D. and an M.D.

The military is not my first choice, but Joseph’s his own person.  He sees the military as a defensive organization, and he wants to give back something to his country, too. 

He seems like a person who could do well, even thrive, in that milieu, so I’m neutral to positive about it.  Like all parents, I want for him a life that will allow him room for personal expression and satisfaction, and the first way to encourage that is to allow him personal expression in his choices.  Besides, he’s 23 now.


Forgot to mention a funny part of the new decorating scheme for the holidays.  I bought this Norfolk pine; it grew up over the past few years, and, this year we decided to decorate it with popcorn and cranberries, a few older glass bulbs for memories of Christmas past, and be done.

So, Tuesday morning Kate and I strung cranberries and popcorn; Kate did the more delicate and fragile popcorn, while I pierced the cranberries.  We worked the whole morning, together, and got several strands of popcorn and cranberries finished and placed them on the tree.

Ate lunch, and, as is our practice, took a nap.

Got up a bit later to find—no strands of popcorn or cranberries, save for those above the height of a snacking Wolfhound.  My dog ate my Christmas decorations!


Ate them.

Popcorn, yes, you say, but cranberries?  What kind of dog eats cranberries?  Orion, the 200 pound Irish Wolfhound, that’s what kind.  He loves fruit.  Vegetables.  Meat.  Dogfood.  He does not like, as far as I know, two things:  onion and fresh ginger.

He’s the only dog I’ve ever seen salivate over a plate of grapes or a bunch of bananas.  He has by the far the broadest palate of any dog we’ve ever had.

So, no cranberries. 

What was left, the miserable remnants, we curled around the top of the tree, just to prove we’d tried.  Then, we got into the beauty of the tree itself. 


Like good Jews Kate and I went to the movies on Christmas day—at home.  I checked out two movies with indifferent reviews:  Beyond Borders and the Manchurian Candidate.  The Manchurian Candidate, a chopped and diced version of the original, much better movie, deserved its 2 stars.

Beyond Borders, on the other hand, may have changed our lives.  Kate sat through it, tears streaming down her stoic Norwegian face.

“I hate suffering in children.  Anywhere.” she said, “Let’s sell the house and I’ll do relief work.  It’s where my heart is.”

This feeling strikes a resonate chord in me, though with a slightly different, and often discordant, vibration.  I hate injustice, unfairness—even as much today as I did in the days I learned it was inevitable, as human as figgy pudding and breathing.

Liberals were then, as now in my more sober moments, as much the enemy as the oligarchs.  Why?  Because their insistence on temporary relief—food pantries, homeless shelters, and hot meal programs only put, as the crude language of the sixties had it, “bandaids on cancer.”

Beyond Borders is a movie about temporary relief made into a movement, a vast and shifting amalgam of Oxfam, UN High Commissioner for Refuges, CARE, wealthy individuals, small NGO’s, and the occasional government shifting attention and focus to the tragedy most prominent or most pressing at the moment:  Ethiopia, Cambodia, Chechnya, Rwanda.  

This kind of relief also serves to divert attention from the poverty in Minneapolis, or Andover or Edina or rural Minnesota, poverty for which we have direct responsibility and in which we are often directly implicated.

So.  I spent 25 years working on structural change, challenging systemic injustice, working for economic and political liberation.  I believed then, as I believe now, that altering the organization of culture and governance and economic infrastructure is the long-term solution, for both local and global need.

Yet.  As I grew older, got defeated often, saw the inevitable compromises and fragility of structural solutions (they could be wiped out by an election or a change in the board of directors.), came to understand with more personal  honesty the crushing weight of mass indifference and the ultimate evil, self-interested dealing (yes, I know.  It makes the world go round and fuels our economic engine.  Exactly.), my views on relief work began to soften.

Here is the Kate I love, a dear sweet person, holding a Guatemalan baby with such tenderness.  Fixing this baby’s cleft palate or a hernia repair or a mutilated ear will not provide a livable wage for her father and mother—so they could afford decent care (if it were available at all.) for her on their own.  It will not sweep out of office the corrupt, CIA bought and sold remnants of the time of Guatemala’s horrors under Rios Monte.  It will not distribute Mayan land back to the descendants of its former stewards.

Still.  There is a smile.  On Kate’s face.  On the baby’s.  On her relieved parents.  Who among this group has the time, or the skills, or the resources to press for the long-term change, even in country as relatively small and weak as Guatemala? 

What kind of hard-hearted, real-world bastard says this is trivial work, work that diverts energy and talent from la lucha?  No, the true answer, as is so often the case in this dialectical world lies in holding both truths, with love, and with infinite care.  Hold the baby in one hand, and a plan for organizing an economic development corporation in the other. 

Remedies for human suffering lie not in only temporary relief or only in the episodic victories of organizing and struggle politics, but in both, honored and embraced with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.  These last four words, by the way, come from the ordination vow in the Presbyterian ordination ceremony.

So, I will support Kate in her work, though I will not engage in it myself, because it is not my tao.  My own tao, right now, involves writing about politics and struggle,  jihad.  Between us though we can ride into the sunset of our lives mounted on sturdy steeds, ones bred from our experience and our knowledge, used in the places and in the ways most suited to our temperaments.

Could we do more than spend our lives this way?


And, then, finally, it is enough.


----- Original Message -----

From: William Schmidt

To: Woolly members

Sent: Sunday, December 26, 2004 9:13 PM

Subject: Tsunami, earth quake


We are happy that you are here with us and not caught in the terrible devastation that has taken place in Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, etc.  I am sure that you can especially feel for what has happened there, since you were there just recently.  Were any of the areas you visited affected by the tidal wave or earth quake?  How are your brother and sister?

Love and blessings,



William Schmidt


When individuals join in a cooperative venture, the power generated far exceeds

what they could have accomplished acting individually. 

 --R. Buckminster Fuller


  Just got an e-mail from Mary, she's fine.  Mark, whom she tried to contact today, is traveling--we don't know where.  He tends to go to inland Cambodia, although he had mentioned Burma as a possibility.  Neither place, as far I know, would find him in a coastal area.  Still...

  My travel mate, Kwo, planned to go to Phuket, but decided against it in favor of Ching Mai and Sukkothai.  Phuket is a fancy resort island in southern Thailand...it got hit pretty bad, though not nearly as hard as Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia.

  Mary said there were a few minor temblors in Singapore, but I've not seen anything about Bangkok.  I checked the Bangkok Post and it had news only about Phuket and other islands.  Siem Reap is well inland, so nowhere I went has had much direct effect.

  I've had an interest in tsunami ever since my first visit to Hilo on the Big Island.  It was hit in 1946 by a big tsunami; they have a tsunami museum that gives a clear picture of how they're formed, why they're so deadly and why they're so damned difficult to detect. 

  Did you know they can travel at 500-600 mph?  And cause very little disturbance in the ocean; one could pass under you while shipboard and it might create a gentle roll.  Also, the first sign one's coming, from land, is the sea pulling out and ocean bottom becoming visible.  By then, it's too late.

This whole thing speaks so clearly to globalization...I know how far away Singapore seemed to me all these years, how exotic Bangkok, how mysterious Angkor.  Now, I/we, have been there and it is no longer a foreign place, but a place of pilgrimage, a path on the journey, so this does not happen far away, rather it happens to us...now.  Strange.  At least to me.

  Thanks for asking.  I'm going to cut and paste this into week 49.



Hard to not see the connection between this last piece and the piece about relief.  Perhaps when the pilgrim is ready, a journey appears.

Bill Schmidt found a graphic showing how tsunami’s come to be.

After that graphic, I’ll post an e-mail from my sister.  Again, the nature of globalization, the speed of cyber communication, the sense of immediacy and connection...astound me.

The last big tsunami to hit Southeast Asia was Krakatoa in the late 19th century.  Tsunami have at least three mechanisms of generation: 

1.  undersea earthquakes,

2. volcanic explosion, and,

3.  sudden landslides/ice calvings. 

All of them occur with little specific warning and the speed of tsunami are so great that even in areas with the buoy based warning systems that the USGS and Japanese ocean scientists have placed throughout the Pacific if the precipitating event occurs close to you, no warning system will be fast enough.

Here’s another graphic, this one from the BBC.


Hi - it is all pretty gruesome- as a lot of poor areas of India and Indonesia were hit - with little infrastructure to handle communications, etc. - Big worry now is contaminated water. Incredible footage taken at Phuket of the wave hitting the shore- might be on BBC's site. Heard from Mark- he's in Vietnam enroute to Laos-  so ok. Yes- casualty toll keeps rising- but apparently the big one in SE Asia was
Krakatoa in Indonesia- 1883- 36,000 killed , mostly by tidal waves. My friend who worked in Japan said they would have tsunami (harbour wave) warnings - sort of like Indiana tornado warnings.

Love- me-

-----Original Message-----
From: Charles Ellis
Sent: Monday, December 27, 2004 9:22 PM
To: ELLIS Mary (ELL)
Subject: Re: Merry Christmas -

Oddly, I had to find out about this on the internet.  It must have just missed the Sunday morning newspaper deadlines. I assume it will be in this morning's paper (Monday, the 27)

I've learned about tsunami as a result of time spent on the Big Island in Hawai'i.  A big tsunami hit there in the late 1960's.  They have an interpretive museum that explains the phenomenon really well.  It is a sneaky, devastating event, very very hard to predict because they move so fast...sometimes up to 600 mph...and occur as a result, usually, of earthquakes deep in the ocean that may not be detected right away.

Kwo had originally intended to go to Phuket, but decided against it because of heavy bookings there. A lot of folks may be gone and never found.

Glad you're ok.  Let me know if you locate Mark.  He doesn't go to beaches, if I understand his travel preferences, but you never know.

Love, charlie

----- Original Message -----
From: "ELLIS Mary (ELL)"
To: "Charles Ellis"
Sent: Sunday, December 26, 2004 6:39 PM
Subject: Merry Christmas -

HI Charlie- fell asleep before I could call you at a reasonable hour on Christmas - you have no doubt seen the devastation from the tsunami- the # killed in Indonesia alone would've wiped out Alex- A few tremors here - on Beach road ( road Raffles hotel is on) - but nothing more . Pictures in the paper are horrific- they remind me of tornado devastation. Death toll is still rising & many of the areas are remote & difficult to access. Have contacted Mark to see if he is ok- but nothing yet- I think
he was traveling over the holiday. Let me know when you get my package-
more later- love- me

It may be we have less than six degrees of separation from any particular locale on earth.  We may, in another way of thinking about it, have less personal latitude than we imagine.  Or, yet another implication—how can the needs of these folks be different from those of the flood victims in Minnesota a few years ago? 

They may all be across the international dateline, but they are not behind the range of our common humanity.


In case we needed reminding that mother earth is a wild woman, capable of shrugging her shoulders and effecting millions—here it is.  Again.  In coastal regions the ocean brings food and death; here in the North American heartland we have tornadoes, straight line winds, and way below zero weather. 

When these natural disasters occur—of course they are, really, natural occurrences until humans die in large numbers, then they become natural disasters—we become no different from the animals we always are.  Small creatures, alive at the whim of a more powerful, more ruthless, always hungry predator—our own home. 

This is where anthropomorphism breaks down.  In fact mother earth, or mother nature or just the natural world doesn’t care about us.  There is no malice in the slippage between the Burma plate and the Indian plate; there is no criminal intent in the immensely powerful tsunami radiating out from the epicenter; no logic other than the laws of physics about where they strike; no personal vendetta against even one of the 22,300 known dead or the millions now homeless.

If any one will race to the aid of the homeless, the grief-stricken, it will be other members of our species, those of us in solidarity with our own kind. 

It is common to stop and reflect on humanity’s relationship with nature after dramatic loss of life due to natural occurrences.  The great Lisbon earthquake and tsunami of 1755 (see below) became a central issue for theologians and poets.  It somehow had to be understood.

On November 1, 1755, Lisbon, Portugal was shaken by a large earthquake just offshore. Lisbon was not only a city of 250,000 people but the capital of the Portuguese empire, which spread around the world. It was one of the most important cities in Europe. Although Portugal had been hit by quakes in the past it had been 200 years since the last major earthquake. The quake hit at 9:40 AM on All Souls Day. Many buildings collapsed, burying those inside and on the street outside.

The quake triggered a tsunami, which arrived soon afterwards. As usual the first indication was that the water drew back from the land. Soon, however, the water came back with a wave estimated at 50 feet high crashing through the city. Ships, docks and buildings in the city were battered by the high seas. Thousands were swept away. http://www.olympus.net/personal/gofamily/quake/famous/lisbon.html

Of a population of 275,000, about 90,000 were killed. Another 10,000 were killed across the Mediterranean in Morocco. Eighty-five percent of Lisbon's buildings were destroyed, including its famous palaces and libraries. Several buildings which had suffered little damage due to the earthquake were destroyed by the fire. The brand new Opera House, opened only six months before, was burned to the ground. The Royal Palace stood just beside the Tagus river in the modern square of Terreiro do Paço, and was destroyed by the earthquake and the tsunami. Inside, the 70,000-volume library and hundreds of works of art, including paintings by Titian, Rubens, and Correggio, were lost...

The earthquake shook a lot more than a city and its buildings. Lisbon was the capital of a devout Catholic country, with a history of investments in the church and evangelization of the colonies. Moreover, the catastrophe struck on a Catholic holiday and destroyed every important church. For the religious minds of the 18th century, this manifestation of the anger of God was difficult to explain. In the following days, priests roamed the city hanging people suspected of heresy on sight, blaming them for the disaster. Many contemporary writers, such as Voltaire, mentioned the earthquake on their writings. The Lisbon earthquake made many people wonder about the existence of a God who permitted these events to happen.  

Similar speculation has already begun, I’m sure.  Perhaps you’ve wondered.  How could this happen?  How could God allow it to happen?  How could mother earth allow it?  This is the question of theodicy, whether applied to Yahweh or Gaia.  How can a God/ess allow such a thing?

Allow is an interesting word.  It doesn’t, in the first instance, assume direct causal links between divine power and the event, but it does tacitly assume some foreknowledge, and more important, the capacity to prevent. 

Even more problematic, it assumes the possibility of prevention and the deliberate refusal to act.  This makes the divinity not only responsible, but actively negligent.  This goes immediately to the issue of trust, or faith.

What could worship mean for a divinity who can allow this kind of thing to happen?  Faith has died over far less.

In this case I think divinity gets a bum rap.  Either that or you have to carry the argument to its logical conclusion.  Disease.  War.  Famine. Even, death.

Either divinities set the parameters within which we exercise our human judgement and make our decisions about the conduct of our lives, or they control every step we take, every move we make.  Fate. 

I have always been convinced of the first alternative, and broke with Christianity when I realized certain exclusivist doctrines implied the latter.


At this link is an excellent graphic about the spread of the tsunami  from Washington Post.

Just to complete the circle on the e-mail, Mark, small earth theme, here is an e-mail and response between me and my cousin Diane who lives in San Francisco. (And, speaking of disasters, was in San Francisco during the 1989 quake. She was the one who told me that all the car alarms went off during the quake.):


In the backwards chronology of e-mail:


Thanks.  Mark, continuing a long pattern of stubborn Ellis males (me included) has stopped communicating with me altogether.
Good to  hear he's in contact with someone in the family.  I want to retain a connection, even if its tenuous, in case he should need help at some point.
I'm going to write him again--I've written him twice since my communication that pissed him off.  One an apology, another trying to restart communication...but nothing.
This winter, as in more than one recent winter, Indiana has more snow than we do, way more.  Weird.
----- Original Message -----
From: "diane keaton"
Sent: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 9:45 AM
Subject: Mark is okay
Hi Charlie,
Just to let you know that Mark is traveling in Vietnam, so he was out of the area where the tsunami hit.
He has been sending me dispatches in recent weeks, and I have been responding, with my latest asking to make sure he was okay. I just got word today.


Disaster reveals fissures, not only in the earth, but within families.    The Wildness Within is not always gentle, nor harmless. 

After working on the attached sermon, In Praise of Slowness, I developed the list of references that are included at the end of the sermon.  The whole simple living project rings many chimes from my college and seminary days.  Kate and I plan to start reading material from the simple living website with an eye toward implementing those ideas that seem to fit for us.

I’ll keep you abreast of what we do and how the learning goes.  Simple living could be an interesting topic for next year.  It could be a destination point for at least some of our pilgrim energy.

Many folks want an opportunity to  make a contribution to the tsunami relief effort.  I’m beginning to get some inquiries that seem interesting to me.  I’ll keep you abreast of those, too.

As this effort begins to wind down, I plan to create a blog in which I will continue much of what I’ve done here—except not with so much emphasis on pilgrimage and probably less emphasis on the Woollys.  I’ll keep folks up to date on my books in progress, continue to write about faith journey topics—my Great Wheel work will emigrate to the blog, and provide regular updates on gardening, the Northern trail, and, if I’m selected, my learnings in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts docent program.

There may be, from time to time, pilgrimage reports along the lines of the ones from Southeast Asia, that is if I get a large travel thing going again, though I’m planning to use most of my travel money and energy to support Kate’s interest in relief work.  Her relief work and our mutual effort on the simple living path will also get featured.

Hmmm.  Guess I’d better learn how to blog.  And soon.  There will, of course, be a mutual link between my blog and the Woolly website.  I also have another possible project, Bill’s suggestion, that may spread out over another year.  Pictures and not words for the most part.


The pilgrimage most on my mind this afternoon lies not in art nor in faraway places but in the frailty and eventual collapse of the body, mine in particular.  In the course of my 57 years until this year I had broken no bone; in the course of my 57 years to this year I had only had a bad sprain once, and that was in 1965, my freshman year of college; in the course of my 57 years until this year, I had never slipped on the ice and fallen over backwards, ala Laurel and Hardy, yet this year, 2004 I have, in turn, broken my right hand, ruptured an achilles tendon and torn my calf muscle, and, today, I slipped on the ice and fell over backwards cracking my head on the driveway and the ice which led to my fall.  I got up with blood covering my right hand.

I got the newspaper—my first thought, since that was the task at hand—wandered back inside (on the yard, not our sloped driveway), found Kate and said, “I need some help.”

“Headcuts bleed like stink,” she said as she got up and took care of me.  And mine did.  A towel, a t-shirt, my face, the floor...


With each of these insults, self-inflicted, once the pain subsided, my first thoughts were, “What am I doing to myself?”

The easiest, and I think probably the truest answer, aging.  My balance is not quite what it once was.  I’m not tippy, though with my still recovering ankle and knee, I am more so now than usual.  But, I’m not quite as quick to right myself, to readjust to slips and slides.

So, what to do?  I refuse to live my life in fear of what will happen next.  I won’t do that.  Over the last decade or so I have tried to anticipate this time with aerobic exercise and resistance training.  Wonder what I’d be like today without it.  Still...three injuries in a year makes me stop and think.

The first person, and the last, responsible for my physical well-being is me.  I  have doctors, trainers, and Kate—thank god, or I would have been off to the emergency room today.  Still, the best any of them can do is provide secondary support, even at the end.

We have a choice, most of the time, about how we live our lives, choices most of the world don’t have.  Random luck put us in the most powerful country ever; good choices will keep us in it as long as possible.

How to choose wisely?  How can we take this random good luck, fate in another millenia’s language, and make of it something valuable to others, and to ourselves? 

Part of the answer lies in good self-care.   Good self-care reduces our reliance on secondary support, extends our lives, and gives us a chance to realize the hope our Self brings to the world. 

Aging, though, brings us new definitions of self-care.  Our body changes—no matter what.  Yes, you can apparently slow it down if you eat a very low calorie diet, cancel those free-radicals, balance your liver and your spleen energies, but you can only slow it down. (My apologies to any of the Taoist immortals I have not met.  I don’t mean you.)  Still, in the end, entropy wins.

Like others before me I am faced with how to adapt a 20 year old self-image into a 57 year old body.  I run outside in my slippers on sheet ice and, surprise, I fall down and hurt myself.  Well...

Without paying attention I run across the street in downtown Bangkok.  Ouch.

Hurrying just a bit, I miss the last step on the stairs into the basement and break my right hand.

What is the common denominator here?  Attention?  To some extent.  Be here now would help.

Another common denominator, more to the point, I think, is lack of care in situations where my balance may be challenged.  The guy in my head, the one who bounds up the stairs with the book bag thrown over his shoulder, has not shifted his understanding of his body’s capacities. 

The dilemma, for me, and I imagine for many, is how to adjust his sensibilities without losing his spirit, his sense of adventure, his willingness to take risks?  I love this guy and will hold onto him with my last breath... and I mean that literally.  But he’s hurting me right now.

Perhaps a walking stick is not such a bad idea.  Makes me feel old, but, I suppose it could make me feel debonair, or dangerous to others.  Both of those work for me at 57.

Using it would help with the attention and it might remind that vigorous little guy still in charge of my life that the vehicle’s tires have lost some tread.  I don’t know... This is a continuing journey.  Any ideas are welcome.


Walked outside this afternoon about 4:30 PM.  A mist hung over the bare ground; the smell of soil permeated the air, the trees, though bare, suddenly had the promise of leaves, and, for a moment, I imagined myself at work in the garden soon.  But...wait, it’s December 30th

Oh.  Yeah.

I’m still waiting on snow.  I still want to lean back in my recliner, pick up a book of political philosophy and lose myself while the wind howls and the drifts pile up over the windows, the gas stove crackling. 

But, then, I’m a little cracked.  Just ask my doctor. 

The Maya believe the last five days of the year have bad luck, no stopping it.  Six and I would have been a believer this  year.  It’s been a long, strange year, a pilgrimage so varied and so fraught with emotion.  It deserves a second look.  Next time. 


Errands again, but one’s related to pilgrimage.  Went to Suang Hur Supermarket on University Avenue.  No ginger tea—which I learned to like in Singapore—but plenty of star anise, long beans, banana leaf, coriander, coconut cream, rice noodles, tamarind, and even a three-tiered steamer made in Thailand.  I now know that the supermarket is not a concept of Southeast Asian origins, and it tells in the organization in Suang Hur.  It is less standardized, less obvious than Festival or Rainbow.  Looks a little slapdash, yet, compared to Bangkok street markets where different items might be on different streets and would be sold by different vendors, this is a model of efficiency and proximity.

Also, the pilgrimage of parenting, a true and odd journey, with an inversion at the end where the trail leads back to the beginning and the children take care of the parent.  Not yet, though.  Joseph came up, I took him out Famous Dave’s while he showed me his car. 

Unfortunately, it developed a sound while we drove, a chatter I’ve learned to think of as expensive.  He seemed downhearted about it, but I suggested it was adult life.  Either learn from it or be pissed, and learning makes life simpler right now and in the end.  In Praise of Slowness

              Charlie Buchman Ellis               Top                       < Previous       Next >