Disclaimer: This unedited, rough draft material is a year-long project in response to our 2004 theme: pilgrimage. It is meant to be a dialogue between myself and my fellow Mammoths and any of you who happen along. It is intentionally not polished, nor is it finished. Charlie Buchman Ellis
The sun shines bright on my old Minnesota home, but...to little effect. The temperature, even at 11:00 AM is 7 below. Begun in winter and heavy snow, this pilgrimage ends in a time of slowness, the molecules and free radicals outside moving less and less and less.
The free radical inside moves about the same, though less and less hobbled by his Bangkok souvenir ankle.
We have snow up here, and it gives the sun a great palette for its elongated shadow-drawings of trees, shrubs, and anemometers. The solar array of my weather station must strain itself to get energy from the weak light, it is like watered broth, the color a bit peaked and nourishment diluted.
You, too, have traveled a long journey—365 days, one solar year. Put another way, since this diary began we have traveled 585 million miles around the sun, an astonishing 1,600,000 miles per day! Figured in miles per hour this computes to about 67,000 miles each and every hour.
We’ve hardly stood still, have we? Let me say that again—one million, six-hundred thousand miles per day. Did you notice? We’d all have to say no, save for the seasonal changes which remind us...of something. Change, at least.
All of us are solar pilgrim’s, traveling not to San Juan de Compostela, but through the vastness of our solar system at unimaginable speeds, covering unfathomable distances. We travel fast, and far, yet end up at the same place from which we started; we travel in apparent time, yet proceed through the same changes. Our pilgrimage is more one of the soul than of the body, though the opposite may seem more accurate.
Some appropriate end notes here. Right across from my computer, behind my CRT, sits a wooden replica of the second story tiled roof verandas common to the older streets of Bogota. I use it, as Colombiano’s use theirs, to house photos, memorabilia, matters relating to my ancestors and my immediate family. In it is a favorite picture of my grandfather, Charlie Keaton, hatless and bald, his arms crossed over the rail at Churchill Downs. Granddaddy was a rail bird.
Also, a photo of my father in a shearling flight jacket, his hand resting on the wing of the Liasion plane he flew all during the war. Dad was a pilot. There’s also a picture of my mother, one of those brownie box camera shots with wavy edges. She’s dressed in a green dress and looks like a 1950’s movie star. Mom was, well, a Mom.
Above them on the wall is a sepia toned photograph with my great-grandfather, Jonas Spitler and his wife, my grandmother, Jennie Spitler Ellis, and her four brothers, my great uncles. This is the family with which my father was raised after Elmo lit out for the territories sometime during WWI—and never returned. There’s also a picture of Dad in a groundhog hat, and the groundhog hat itself sits on a lamp right by the house of the dead. Dad was a groundhog.
Gotta admit, this last is one of my favorite learnings about Dad since his death and it has given me an all new appreciation of him.
Above all these I have a Jim Brandenburg photograph, three ravens, feathers ruffed out, standing on the snow, deep in consultation. These ancestors and their raven totem watch me as I work; they remind me of my family, the fact that my DNA reaches back through time, and not just any time, but through specific history, real people: railbirds, Mom’s pilots, doctors, schoolteachers, postal inspectors, and many, many farmers. I do not work alone, none of us do, no matter how reclusive a life we seek, we always carry our own crowd right along with us.
I used to fight that, try to separate myself from them, put distance between us, but now, as I know the impossibility of that venture, its futility; I have decided, a while back, to embrace them, to let them in, let them have their say.
And you know what? I suspect they were talking all along. The difference now? I’m listening.
I recall reading somewhere, a ways back, that severe cold had an initial stimulating effect, and I can survive this feeling. Then, after a long spell, it can become a stressor and lead to melancholy. So far I’ve found this winter cold snap stimulating, but then I have viewed it through the double and triple paned window glass of my study, for the most part.
Can you imagine facing this kind of cold in a tipi, or an earthen home on the prairie, or, even a log cabin with grass and clay to stop up holes between the logs? I can, and it’s not a happy thought. I always think of Per in Giants in the Earth. He followed the rope out to the barn, but got lost during a storm and died within 20 feet of home. At least that’s how I remember it.
This morning the sun has a brownish tint as it comes, weak and thin, through the bare oaks, ironwood, and ash. These are the days of a sun who struggles, who many mornings, even most, hasn’t got the energy for the work. It’s easy to see how this pale light might concern a family huddled around a fire, hut filled with smoke after the dark prelude to Midwinter.
A situation in which story becomes critical, even urgent, no longer entertainment, but revelation...and hope. Listen, my children, to the Imbolc story, how in just a few short weeks we celebrate the lambs in the bellies of our ewes, the coming of milk to their teats, and the promise in them of plants, green and piercing the earth, not long after.
It has been this way for your father’s memory, and your grandfather’s and his father’s, too. Your mother knows this, and her mother, and her mother’s mother. This is the story of the death of the Hawthorne Giant; the triumph of the Greenman and the Sun.
This is the great, good news we get from the turning of the Great Wheel, as winter comes again, so does spring, then summer, then the harvest.
Come, help me make the tallow candles we will burn in celebration of the triple-goddess Bridgit, goddess of hearth, smithy, and poem...Our Lady who grants us the power to create and whose powers of creation we see in our homes and in our barns and in our gardens.
A quick note: just as sleep left me this morning I had this notion—the nature of the universe is broadly conservative: Siva and Kali—like. Nothing is wasted, only transformed. String theory suggests multiverses, membranes between universes and different laws of physics as well as different dimensions in each universe. If gravity, say, can cross the multiverses (as string theory does suggest) and appear as one thing here and another over there, why not the distinctive electrical storm that is my consciousness? And could we not call that soul?
Or, another angle on the same thing. Quantum entanglement. If my consciousness exists at a level too small (or too complex), for current instrumentation to observe, one reasonable conjecture is that consciousness is a result of quanta level interactions. If so, and this makes sense to me—whether it can withstand the actual laws of quantum mechanics I don’t know—then, it seems that, through quantum entanglement, it is at least possible that my consciousness—my self—has a doppleganger in another multiverse. It’s history and my own, though entwined, would be different—different physical realities and experiences, yet participating in each other. Thus could arise the intuitive sense of the other world we humans have, and of our sense that we survive after death, in fact, that this Self-shaped consciousness/psyche/soul could transfer to another dimension/multiverse on the death of this body.
Whether we could call this heaven, who knows? Or, it might explain the transmigration of souls, since consciousness could transfer across the multiverse membrane, link up with the emerging consciousness of a newly awakening life (a fetus)—and its entangled twin, then come back through the membrane [losing memories as it does so, as in the Platonic passage through the river Lethe at birth, the river of forgetfulness?) to inhabit another body.
This could also help us with the collective unconscious.
I know, this all seems weird and probably violates principles of quantum mechanics, but...
It might be a result of all this atmospheric pressure. My barometer reads 30.98, 31 being the common maximum. Plus, of course, it’s really really cold. My thermometer recorded a low of -21 at 7:47 AM today, the coldest moment of the recent high pressure.
It doesn’t seem I’m going to get my blog up and running quite as fast as I’d hoped.
I’ll keep on writing, but much of it will get posted at a point to be named in the future.
The sticking point right now is software. I’m running Windows 98SE which is like a 1930’s Hupmobile operating system and the latest and greatest web-publishing stuff just doesn’t work on it—which means I need to buy outdated software...like finding my entangled twin.
Arlene is dead. Stefan is in Costa Rica as I write this, being with his Dad and helping with preparations for bringing her body back home for burial. As the years pass and our bodies age, death comes, but it never, or almost never, comes as an expected visitor. The shock hits hard, sudden, a breath pushed out by surprise, astonishment that this so common moment can happen to someone we know...and know well. Someone important in our lives, someone so important that they created us as life.
Death doesn’t go with snorkeling; floating suspended above a coral reef, watching some of nature’s brightest creations swim in and out of the stony ocean bottom. Death doesn’t go with vacations or birthday celebrations. Yet, it did.
This, too, is part of the journey, and not a part on which we can pass, no matter how much we might want it. I remember when Stefan cared for his friend Robert, his devotion to him, his presence when he died.
Mark has pneumonia in both lungs. Frank has to go in for an echocardiogram and perhaps an angiogram in March. We are frail vessels; we float on the ocean of consciousness, susceptible to passing storms of emotions, bacterium, blood vessel ruptures, heart break downs, angst over our achievements or lack of them, the sudden end.
Yet, too, we are hardy. Our roots go deep into the soil of Self, family, friends; our resilience in the face of avalanche and stroke and heart attack, as in Arlene’s case, proves the toughness. Life has a stubbornness, a giveness, a hardiness; it is, in fact, this very resilience which makes death so difficult.
We expect to get back up one more time, to have another chance. Yet, to know someday we will not get back up, and still live as if only today matters; to, say, go snorkeling in Costa Rica on your 75th birthday, captures the sweetness, the poignancy of each moment we have.
So, tonight, in this 52nd week of the Woolly year of pilgrimage I say pay attention to the time and manner of Arlene’s death—may it be so for each of us.
Went in this morning for an information session about the Docent program at the MIA. I consider my application for this program a definite pilgrimage decision. It means two years plus of study, then a 3 year commitment of 40 tours a year. This is a journey pressed upon me by my reaction, over time, to art and the arts, not a journey, in other words, I chose, but one that chose me. Seems the big decisions for me always come this way: scholarship, ministry, politics, writing, even Kate.
Perhaps we could call it my inner pilgrim, a homunculus with knapsack and staff, always on the lookout for new trails; trails, if I follow his decision making, that lead both out into the world and down into my soul.
Whatever it is, this path has carried me already down countless marble corridors, into temples and cathedrals, up and down stone buildings set in jungles and on ocean coasts. Into such thinkers as John Ruskin, Tolstoy, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Coleridge and out into the lives of various persons who visit the Art Institute.
Even so, the path has wound its way often without direction or guidance, now, perhaps, I will receive instruction and my journey will deepen, go down a few more levels into the interior of our global artistic heritage and toward the wholeness of my Self.
Just came back from my first night of Yoga. I liked it. The stretching, the emphasis on breath, its connection to Hindu practice—seems like the right combination at the right time. I’m glad I was there tonight.
As sometimes happen, often when I least expect it, the universe affords me a metaphor, one better than I could concoct myself. In this class there were four of us: an aging male, a nurse who runs the hospice programs at Mercy and Unity hospitals, and two young women, both very pregnant. Life and death, right there, learning how to breathe, salute the sun, and honor an ancient religious tradition from a land faraway.
Here’s a thought on theodicy, the question of evil in a world with a true God. After the tsunami, as I predicted (without any need for prescience) the articles about how bad things can happen to innocent people in a world ruled by a sovereign God who claims to be good proliferated. I read them on both sides of the argument: the gloating humanist who sees this as the final stake in the heart of blood-sucking religiosity, and the anguished clergy, rabbi, or layperson trying to fit the terror and the horror into their view of faith.
It occurs to me we may ask the wrong question. The question of an omnipotent deity faced with saving multiple thousands of lives in a natural disaster, and, who doesn’t act, is a monster in the literal sense of the term. Right? Maybe not. Maybe the right question is this: given the untold disasters always underway in the world, from AIDS to the holocausts, tsunamis to tornadoes, earthquakes and drought, wars and famine isn’t the resilience of faith amazing? Doesn’t this human need to breach the gap between reality as we can perceive it and the transcendent reality beyond actually tell us more? That is, we humans can hope and love and intuit a force beyond our own comprehension, even in situations too awful to imagine. That we don’t understand the mind (if It has a mind as we know it) or the compassion (if It has compassion as we know it) or the powers (if It has powers as we know them) of such a force is no mystery. It lies in a place and in a qualitative dimension as different from ours as the dragonfly is to the larva in the pupae.
What I am suggesting is this: we project how we would act in the face of an obvious tragedy, then imagine that a being as powerful as all of us put together and then some would act as we would and in the same way. This makes no sense prima facie.
No, for my self, a person of faith, yet of faith in the God to whom the Greeks poured their libation as the unknown one, I say let’s stop projecting our own limited vision on this unknown God and get our awareness squared around to this reality: God will be god. Or, the Gods will be the gods. No matter what we do, no matter how or when we do it.
That we cannot, do not understand the sacred should be clear to us now, after all these millennia. This does not, in any way, detract from the value of my faith; far from it, it heightens it and allows me to honor the divine as It is, not as I would have it be. This may be what the Muslims mean when they say Allah wills it. I respect their sensibility about that aspect of divinity.
I—we—live in the space between the divine realm and the material realm, participating in both, constructed of matter, yet gifted with a Self linked to the whole in consciousness (as, indeed, all of our matter is also, yet not with consciousness). This is not an easy place; it is fraught with confusion, mixed messages, limited knowledge passed off as certainty, and a yearning to push away all this and see, as Paul suggested, “...face to face.”
In a small way I have faith in our ability to see “...face to face” in this body. This happens in two ways I can identify:
In the end, this: if we approach the sacred with humility, greet the God(s) whom we question with namaste, then we will know their true implication in this world...though it will not likely not be as we, puffed up and powerful, would be.
The journey comes to an end. The return home we make in sadness in part because Stefan has lost his mother, and, in her death we each lose our mother, too, either for the first time, or again.
The journey comes to an end. In snow. As it began. Last year we left Dwelling in the Woods with snow and pilgrimage, the entrance way left behind and our next year only then the future. Now it is past.
Or, it has come again. The snow, the late January cold, the end of the holidays. We have had death this year; yet, we have each known new life.
The journey comes to an end. The pilgrims are a bit grayer, a new wrinkle here or there, some wisdom gained from the ancient trail, a touch of foolishness now and then, too.
The journey comes to an end and, as the Great Wheel turns once more, begins again, the ancient trail opening out before us, wide and filled with promise, waiting for us, the men with knapsack and staff, pilgrims yet again.
It's a wrap.