A Pilgrimís Year, 2004:  Week 51


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


Area 51

OK, Roswell fans.  Here we go into the penultimate week of our Woolly pilgrimage year.  Who knows what weíll find as we near home, a yearís journey behind us.

Will there be aliens living in our homes?  People we thought we once knew, but whose countenance has changed over the course of our journey.  Or, will we be the aliens, changed not a little, and forever?  I donít know about you, but Iím a different guy than the pilgrim who set out from the Dwelling in the Woods hounded by heavy snow, yet exhilarated about the journey begun.

How changed?  Well, let me count the ways: 

  1. I have a daughter-in-law. 

  2. I have a sixty-year old wife. 

  3. I have slipped well past the double my age and I could still be alive mark, so my life is more than half finished. 

  4. The purple garden is in its second winter and will have its second growing season this year. 

  5. I have a clarity about my work in these next few years Iíve not had for a long time. 

  6. Joseph has grown from older boy to young man through heartbreak, Fourier Transformations, Quantum Mechanics, budget difficulties, and Air Force space dreams. 

  7. Tor and Orion, our Wolfhounds, have outlived all of our previous Wolfhounds, so weíre in new territory in relationship with them. 

  8. Kate and I have passed year 14 and close to year 15.  If anything, the relationship has become more profound and precious. 

  9. Between Zoloft and analysis Iíve become a more mellow guy, able to weather lifeís emotional storms with greater equanimity.  A blessing. 

  10. Iíve traveled, largely on my own, through South East Asia, an experience Iím still assimilating, but one that changed me, as it has changed my siblings before me. 

  11. My work with Groveland UU has had many gratifying moments, more than I remember in all my years of ministry, save those on the West Bank. 

  12. The depth of my aesthetic journey has increased, and, I hope, will broaden, too, if Iím selected for the Docent program.  

So, primary relationships have grown deeper and more extensive; my inner life is richer; and, my work life more productive and satisfying.  All in all, not bad for one pilgrimage.


Iíve begun today to sort out additional resources I want to investigate while revising & editing A Pilgrimís Diary (working title).  This AM Iíve hit on the idea of dividing the work into six-week segments separated by my Great Wheel e-mails from the same period.  This will make the work less daunting to work with and provide an interesting (and congruent) perspective to it.

Omar Khayyam came up as I began to dig through things Iíve collected over the last year.  Remember our guides?  I still Omar and I want to find a way to include him, too.

Also, I would like to interview each of you for an hour or so on your experience of pilgrimage, as theme for the year and as realized or not in your life this year.  Stay tuned.  I want to get all these interviews done in February and March.

Finally, and Iím sending out an e-mail today about this; I would appreciate any title or author youíve found useful over the year on pilgrimage.  Donít worry about repeating anything you think I have, be as comprehensive as possible.  I want to add an annotated bibliography.

Included in this request are images and articles/essays that youíve come across or saved over the course of the year.  Iím interested in all of it.

Hope you can find time for this request.  It will make the final result much richer and more diverse.  Thanks.


Letís return, for a moment, to snow.  Iím still waiting.  Each flurry starts a romantic vision of reading lights, a comfortable chair, a book, and a cup of ginger tea.  At least, up here in the metro areaís northern pole, we have a covering of snow, meager though it is.  It does allow for fantasy.

Tomorrow my Vantagepro2  comes in the mail. (I love tracking packages on the web; itís like having radar trained on Santaís sled.)  I look forward to beginning a meteorological career focused on the weather and its changes right here in Seven Oaks.  I hope the new equipment will sharpen up my commentary about the Great Wheel and provide information for the garden season while still being fun to play with.

In turns Iíve had a focused and unfocused attention to phenology.  I hope this equipment and the discipline it will allow me to develop will encourage a much more regular recording of meteorological and phenological data. 

Weíll see.


I know Iíll find a thread or two, perhaps a rope as Bill suggested, running through these diary entries.  But now, before Iíve re-read them and begun to work with them in their Great Wheel seasons, I thought Iíd take a moment and see if I can predict what Iíll find in going back through these 52 weeks plus the oddments of the SE Asia trip.

First, and most obvious, is the winding trail of pilgrimage, as Woolly theme, as manifest in the Woolly common life over the year, as manifest in the lives of individual Woollyís, and, certainly, in my own.

Second, there will be, I imagine, a Great Wheel/pagan themeócomments on the seasons, the garden, the sensibility of a pagan/earth focused life.

There were the run-ups to the planned events of the year:  Jon and Jenís wedding in July, Kateís birthday party in August, the Woolly trip to South Dakota, and the SE Asia trip in November. 

There was the purple garden and the joyful work entailed in its realization and nurture.

The saga of my brother, Mark, and our continuing estrangement.

There is a Jungian thread, Iím sure, from last spring.  A learning to draw theme will surface, Iím confident; as well as a liberal theology/ministry thread focused on my work at Groveland UU, but also reflected in my musing on spirituality.

There is, too, Iím sure, an aesthetic path, a trail of commentary and enjoyment, tours and learning.

Joseph, Mary, Kateóall have their distinct and powerful moments over the course of this year, as fellow travelers, as fellow burden bearers, as family members.

There is, in addition to SE Asia, a more general road & travel emphasis, notes from faraway places like Denver, Colorado;  Ft. Laramie, the Black Hills and Wind Cave, Independence, Missouri. 

These all, Iím sure, are there.  How, or if, they relate to  the notion of pilgrimage, or A Pilgrimís Diary, remains yet to be uncovered.

You and I have been on this trail together, sometimes traveling shoulder to shoulder, other times voices at the end of the long cyber tunnel; but always together, never alienated or forgotten.  I look forward to finding you here, too, my Chaucerian friends.


Finished Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.  My sense is that the Woollyís are not big fiction readers, so it might not appeal.  Gibson wrote NeuroMancer, and single-handed created a sub-genre, cyberpunk.  It is the first of the Matrix type fantasy pieces.

Pattern Recognition is a different sort of book.  It plays with the capacity of the internet and global advertising to create compelling, and sometimes dangerous, alternative communities.  I liked it a lot; a pretty quick read.  Jon sends me these guysóGibson, Bove, Bearósci fi or edgy fantasy. 

Put it down and picked up Johathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.  Kate got me this and it is a perfect book for me.  It follows the lives of two English magicians who work to restore practical magic to England at the beginning of the 19th century.  In some senses it mirrors what I want to do for magic in America, but England is such fertile soilócastles, old tomes and ancient libraries, dons with flowing black robes, murky skies, and a penchant for eccentricity.

These are leisure reading.  Iím also reading John Grayís fine essay, Liberalism, a short book length intellectual  history of the idea. I referred to some of the things Iíve learned in here already.

CSJR Thompson  book on magic is not the quality of any of these, but finding decent books on the history of ceremonial magic, serious magic is not easy.  At least it hasnít been easy for me. I imagine somewhere along the line my usual read one, follow the authorís influences will turn up a higher quality sort of read.  Thompson, for now, gives me the general idea of the field; however, he is a non-believer.

In fact, he represents a curious phenomena Iíve come across in this research:  the number of writers who tackle the subject holding their nose and loudly proclaiming their Christian faith all the while.  Itís a strange mix, not a lot different, it just occurred to me than the monks who wrote down the stories and legends of the Celts.  It  takes a subtle reader to get some decent data.  Iím not always up to the task.

As I said earlier, Iím already starting to read my stack of books on Pilgrimage and Iíve chosen to start with medieval Persian poetsóbecause of my buddy Omar.  Last night, before I went to sleep, I tried to recall the pilgrim stories I had already stored.  Abraham, leaving the land of Ur.  Adam and Eve.  Noah.  Joseph.  Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.  Jesus into the desert.  Alexanderís conquests.  Brennan the Navigator.  Magellan.  The inchworm pilgrims of Gyatsho.  Santiago de Compostela.  Chaucer.  Pilgrimís Progress.  The Pilgrims.  de Vaca. 


As I think about the cold on its way here, the Siberian air moving across the Bering Strait like some late Mammoth Hunter who follows his prey across the salty, frozen waters and brings, in his wake, a gathered pool of frigid atmosphere, I am happy.  It is these moments, when the weather turns drastic, severe that keep me here in Minnesota.  It is these moments, times when the skills we know as if part of our DNA become relevant:  layers, eyes out for black ice, keeping the gas tank full, limited exposure, that make Minnesota a unique geography.

It is the place of three biomes:  oak savannah, an extension of the Big Woods from the east, prairie shared with our friends out into Middle Border country, and, the North Woods.  At various seasons our biomes take precedence, wield their particularity as a wand across our landscape:  spring is the season of the Big Woods when trees leaf out, ephemerals race to beat the leaves, and plants grow young and burst green from the earth.  Summer is prairie time, waving fields of wheat, corn, rye, oats.  Thunderstorms race across our land; skies grow dark and lightning lances, sparks brilliance.  In fall the early season belongs to the Big Woods again as the deciduous trees change their colors, drop their leaves.  Perennials pack up their colorful prairie season finery and exchange them for fat roots, seed pods, and a chance for cool sleep.

In the last half of fall, as the trees become skeletal, the palette changes to browns and grays, the trees of the North Woods pop out of the forest, still green, ready to receive winter snows and bitter winds, hide sparrows and squirrels.

In the season of the winter solstice, the snowshoe hare brings the lynx into the state, the great gray owl this year came here following its food, the northern waters grow cold, then freeze so waterfalls hang like solid, translucent rainbows.  The animals brave the hardest time, when food is scarce and the energy penalty for scavening is high.  These North Woods creatures, though, like their plant counterparts have, through long millennia, adapted to this severe season, cache their food, preen their water repelling furs, and, like the plants, hope for spring.

I am, even with my cracked head, proud to be Minnesotan.


It snowed today.  Not a lot, not as much as promised, even by the Winter Storm Alert and my blinking Weatherbug, but it did snow.  As it came down, I realized again how much I missed the romance of the snow, its soft white touch.  The certainty that a new landscape lay only hours away, a landscape transformed as I watched, if I cared to devote the time.

The white.  The silence.  The winter light, bounced back, albedo high, yet with little effect on the chill, a cold brightness.

I watched, wanted more, yearned for it; as if an old friend had come for a too brief visit, a friend whose very presence changed the mood, altered the atmosphere of my life.

Thunderstorms effect me the same way.  When I watch a summer anvil cloud move from dull white to black, lightning arc between and among the clouds and the earth, the wind begin to whip and tear, a part of me sighs with relief, ďAh, yes.  This is home.Ē

Tornadoes.  Those blue chill days of October when the trees have turned, most of them anyway, and the world feels fresh, yet sad.  And the promise of snow is not so far off, nor so far off are the holidays,

The early spring when the plants begin to push their way up, up through the soil; their hope and promise so evident in the green the display.

Late spring when the flowers hit their stride and yet the mosquitoes have not come; the garden is a pleasant place to be.

And one or two of those ridiculously hot July days, when the temperature and the humidity climb together, a movement of Cambodia and Thailand and Singapore across expanses of ocean, all the way to Seven Oaks in Andover.

Iíve spent as much as three weeks on Hawaiíi at a time, a place I love and which I would agree is paradisical.  But.  I miss the soft touch of the snow, the violent hand of the thunderstorm, the threat of the tornado, spring in all its life-affirming contrast to winter, winter itself and its season of inner journey.


Got my weather station set up just in time for this barrage of bitter cold.  It rests, for now, on our patio table, the anemometer up another four feet or so.  I know, our patio is not a great place of the anemometer, but the notion of driving poles in frozen earth makes me willing to settle for windspeed in the protected area outside my door.  At least for winter.

In the spring Iím going to relocate the anemometer, either to the garage roof or to its own pole out on Seven Oaks Hill.  The garage roof will require running a good bit of cable, but the advantage is an unobstructed and unassailable location.  Seven Oaks Hill is also unobstructed, but it is kid friendlyóin this case not a good thingóyet, it would require less cable and no running cable along the house.  Well, I have four months or so to noodle it out.

For now, the weather station itself is busy.  It collects, measures, and transmits precipitation.  I also have temp outside and in, humidity both, wind chill, barometer, wind direction and speed, sunrise, sunset, moon phase, and a current weather icon.  At the literal press of a button I can get a forecast, graph everything on one of way too many graphs, precipitation rate, highs/lows, dewpoint and heat index (not a crucial reading right now.).  Time and date, too.

There are other things it will do, too, but I havenít finished reading the manual.

I also have a link to put all this data onto my computer so I can generate reports, analysis, and general fun stuff.  As I said earlier, I hope this weather station, like gardening and drawing will increase my attention to mother earth, and to the spirit of this land.  Maybe Iíll put an anemometer and a temperature sensor on the Spirit House when it gets built.

My next presentation for Groveland focuses on the disciplines of drawing and gardening; I think Iíll add amateur science to that, too: astronomy, meteorology, phenology. (my interests)  These disciplines can focus our attention on the natural world and provide an opportunity to create a link between ourselves and the changeable, frangible world around us. 


January 13th, 2005  3:33 PM

-3, humidity 51%, barometer still rising at 30.28, dew point -16  The weather station is not subtle enough to pick up the building cold air mass.  It predicts clear with little temperature change.  Unless the big guys are wrong, this is way off.  Still, we private meteorologists have to predict on the basis of our own data.  Also, the snow that has fallen remains in the rain collector; itís way too cold for it too melt, so as far as this station knows so far, weíve  had no precipitation at all.  Still, it will catch up.

Workout, watch the weather data, write, read, feed the dogs.  Not a bad way to run a life.  Still, too much of this would get boringóat least I think it would, no evidence of it so far, though.

 Another way to look at this weather data is as indirect evidence of our sail through the solar sphere of influence.  We tilt toward the sun; we tilt away.  We fly in our ellipse, passing through the mythic sky, filled with raging bulls, slain demi-gods, giant bears, and powerful hunters.  And as we do, the solar energy available to power our small location diminishes, then increases, then diminishes again, only, later, to increase still again, in this, perhaps only one of many verses to the epic poem of reality.

That same sun shines, right now, through the sliding doors; it powers up the solar connector which in its turn feeds energy to the lithium ion battery.  This battery, a cold stored memory of the sunís daily pass, will run the data transmitter through the dark night while it passes onto earthís summer; exotic women line the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Capetown, and yes, the Maldives, Thailandís Phuket, too; children run, pails in hand along the gentle surf, now a tame aid to relaxation, no longer a wild force filled with blank fury.

As they play and feel our starís warm hand, we await the evidence that cold air, heavier and denser than light air, slouches toward us, driving out what heat we had, like some rough beast, cold and bitter.


Signing off now for the next to last time.  The temperature has plummeted to 13 below and will, according to NOAA, go further still.  Iím warm.  Amazing.  The weather here, every once in a while, will kill you if you let it. 

Back in the mid-1970ís I used to venture every week-end up to the Peaceable Kingdom, my farm just outside Nevis, Minnesota, near Park Rapids.  The stretch from Motley to Akeley, up Hiway 64, traveled for many miles over two-lane highway with little traffic and fewer buildings, marsh and scrub pine forests for the most part.

I owned a Rambler back then, a three-speed on the column with an indifferent heater, but, good for those Arab Oil Crisis times, a miser with gas.  It ran fine, a little in-line six, but it didnít generate enough heat for those really cold nights.

Every once in a while, midway up Highway 64 on the way to Akeley, in the winter months, Iíd thinkóif this car breaks down, Iím dead.  Now I had cold weather gear with me, but the likelihood of anyone finding me before I froze would be slim. 

So, I did the logical thing:  In Motley Iíd buy a six-pack of beer, a pound of smoked salmon, and a bag of cheese curds.  By the time I hit Akeley they were all gone. 

Those trips to the Peaceable Kingdom were pilgrimages, but, really, perversions of pilgrimage, as I suspect many pilgrimages are.  That is, I went with a purpose I sold to myself as nobleóbuilding a home for non-violent resistance training, but, in fact, I drank too much and got along with Judy too little to ever mount a successful training effort.  So, the putative reasonómy own line to myself and others, differed from the lived experience.

This is not say that this pilgrimage to the northern lakes and marshlands of central Minnesota didnít change me forever; they did.  And I suppose some of the change had to be for the better, perhaps in the story I can tell about it.  A sort of cautionary tale of the back-to-the-land movement, complete with a treacherous wife, an unscrupulous hired-hand, and a drunken husband.  Later, it even involved a dark-bearded mechanic and his tiny, raven-haired wife, whom he beat.

Those days.  The days of aurora borealis and Budweiser and the bible.  Quite a while ago.


Here at the Seven Oaks weather station the temperature has eased down another 6 degrees to 19 below.  The barometer rises, though not as fast as yesterday. 

I have some sadness as I send this and prepare to write the last entry in this year long journey.  Still, it seems a good time to end, a year away from our Dwelling in the Woods retreat. 

So, Iíll wrap this up, get it off to Bill. 

Then, Iíll punch up the white screen and get ready to finish this rough draft, and get started on editing and revising. 

              Charlie Buchman Ellis                Top                      < Previous     Next >