A Brief Look Backward

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December 31, 2021- Betty White chose an awkward time to leave, but it was her time. It was almost a fitting end to a year that took us up, down and sideways-and turned us every which way but loose. I don’t want to say that last one too loudly. We could use a few more years of Clint Eastwood being among us.

As it was, there were a number of people dear to my heart, some of renown and some not, who left this earthly plane in this year now itself winding down. My extended family whittled down, just a tad: My aunts-by-marriage-Sabina Kusch and Dorothy Madigan; Aunt Dorothy’s stepson, John-one of the cousins closest to me, over the years; Charlie Kusch, Jr., another cousin who made his friends and family laugh, much as his father did before him. Diane “Dee Dee” Bean- was the first girl I ever dated-not that it ever worked out. Richard “Dick” Dow, was a next door neighbour, from childhood, who kept his family home and his father’s business running, until he could scarcely move, himself. Two educators from my scholastic past, Anthony Struzziero and Eugene Hughes, both of whom I knew as fair-minded administrators. The bulk of the losses were fellows in Faith, Baha’i teachers, one and all: Val Latham, Jr., Gisela McCormick, John Eichenauer III, John Kolstoe, Joel Oron’a, Ethelene Crawford, Wilfred Smallwood, Donald Streets and Dwight Allen. I lost a car, and gained an SUV.

It was not a year defined by loss alone. A grand nephew, named Liam, came into our lives, early on. Strong new friendships emerged. I was able to return to California and Nevada, after a year’s hiatus. I made two long trips across country, both largely around the sale of our family home, and mother’s voluntary relocation. A week spent in Texas was a perfect springboard for my seventy-second year. I was able to pay respects to those fallen in the name of freedom, though not to the extent I might have. Still, time spent in north Tulsa and in Minneapolis was a step forward, for this one who preferred solitude, for so many years.

Our community has held its own against one or another viruses. As if to seem a strange return of normalcy-the flu is back. The nation resisted the temptation to default on democracy. Both major parties are learning that complacency is dying out among the masses-and a moribund attitude will not fly. We Baha’is paid homage to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, marking one hundred years since His passing-and renewing our commitments to live as He did. That renewed spark of Faith is finding its way to friends of other religious traditions as well-as witness the Baptism, on Christmas Eve, of a man who had found his fortunes sinking.

We did not master disaster, and there were far too many lives lost-in California, the Pacific Northwest, western Canada, Montana, Louisiana, Kentucky and Illinois. The latest conflagration, in Colorado, took no lives, but left another pair of communities with scenes out of a war movie. Two dozen other countries, from Mexico and Peru to Kenya and Indonesia, saw tragic losses in both infrastructure collapse and from the forces of nature. Then, there was/is Ethiopia, a country I only recently was hoping to visit in a year or two. Now, it is riven in pain, and we can only pray for sane attitudes to rise to the fore.

2021 will be history, in short order. How different the year that is thirteen minutes away will be, depends largely on how many of us have absorbed this year’s lessons-and to what degree.

Strength Shines Brightly

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December 30, 2021- The server/manager was sitting quietly with her toddler daughter, as I entered the otherwise empty room. There is that ting, ting ,ting that goes off, when the door opens, so she quietly arose and, with her regal bearing, greeted me with a slight smile and took my order. Shortly afterward, a local couple entered, followed by two other parties, and the restaurant’s owner, there only to give her hard-working friend a gift bag. Such is the way, at Double C Diner, in Moriarty, New Mexico.

I first happened by this spot, two years ago, whilst staying at the nearby Lariat Motel, on the first day of a cross-country drive. Back then, the little girl was just learning to get around on her own and was into everything. Moriarty is a town of close-knit families, so the mother was able to focus on her serving duties, while a fair number of aunts, uncles and cousins tended to the child, until her father showed up and took over.

When I choose places to patronize, the quality of the product does matter. Equally important, however, is the character of those who work there, their inner strength, work ethic, demeanour and the resulting radiance. That has made me go back to places like Zeke’s, The County Seat and Raven Cafe, here in Prescott; Macy’s, in Flagstaff; Harbor Breakfast, in San Diego; Henry and The Fish, and The Pantry, in Santa Fe; D’s Diner, in Wilkes-Barre-and Double C. The energy of the young staff helps, but it is the ambiance of joy and warmth that makes all the difference.

J had almost a sixth sense, quietly and seamlessly moving between her motherly duties and running the restaurant that was getting busier-while the cook and the dishwasher were going about their tasks. Everything happened in an atmosphere of calm strength. (Eventually, from watching another patron, it dawned on me that J was not going to run my bill back and forth to her register, so I got up and paid. Her twinkling eyes said it all- “You’re okay”.) That, too, characterizes every one of the places I mentioned above-and many others. Jess, (not her real name), is symbolic of what has kept, and will continue to maintain, our world in good form. It is focused energy, mindfulness of surroundings and recognition that all that is successful in life happens in its due time which will keep our Race on track.

As I drove back to Prescott this evening, that awareness, and the sense that all is going to be alright in our world-regardless of setbacks, or temporary misunderstandings, kept my thoughts in perspective.

‘Notice All, Whether Large or Small’

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December 29, 2021, Santa Fe- In many rancheria homes, of Spanish Land Grant-era New Mexico, a rattlesnake skeleton is embedded in the middle of a bench (banca), that extends out from the wall of the central living room. It is not certain, as to the origin of this practice, but Georgia O’Keeffe observed it, in her “town home” at Abiquiu, Mew Mexico.

I had the pleasure of visiting the O’Keeffe Museum, in central Santa Fe, this morning. After being awakened by a voice that was neither male nor female, I noticed that it was 7 a.m. and that a light snow had fallen overnight. Cleaning off the car with what was little more than a feather duster, left by the previous owner, I found the streets bare and traffic rather light. A fine breakfast at French Pastry Shop and short walk around the lobby of La Fonda Hotel began the morning in earnest.

There was a fair crowd at the O’Keeffe Museum, as the doors opened at 10 a.m. In keeping with Georgia’s advice to her students to pay as much attention to the small and subtle, as to the large and boisterous, each of us took turns in looking at the paintings, sketches and ceramics, in each of nine galleries. Most of the offerings were the work of Georgia O’Keeffe herself. There were a few photographs of the artist, by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, who also provided scenes of New York City, as did their mutual friend, Ansel Adams, who, like Georgia, is more associated with depictions of nature. A more contemporary student of Georgia’s work, Josephine Halvorson, is the first artist-in-residence at Ghost Ranch, where Georgia spent most of her time, after the death of her husband. Josephine has a gallery of her work in this museum, being the only artist other than Georgia O’Keeffe herself to be thus honoured. Josephine painstakingly studied Georgia’s life and work at Ghost Ranch and provides scenes such as the one below.

Of all of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work, her Blue Paintings appeal to me the most. Many of them were marked “Do Not Photograph”. There were at least a couple which were recordable, though. Here is one such.


Not all of her work was earthbound, however. On a plane, between New York and Albuquerque, this scene was captured in her mind and made it to canvas.

In contemplating this scene, I recalled my own first airplane flight, from Newark to Atlanta, in 1969, and a similar feeling of being in a very different realm.

Once finishing a satisfying visit to the O’Keeffe, I paid a quick visit to my friends at the coffee house, Henry and The Fish, bought a birthday present for a friend in Prescott at the Palace of the Governors and stocked up on ballpoint pens, before strolling down Burro Alley- a perfect representation of the type of small neighbourhood that Georgia liked to frequent.

Thus did an overcast morning become blessed.

The Fruits of Glasgow’s Flowering

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December 28, 2021, Santa Fe- In any meanderings, one never can be quite sure as to what will be encountered-especially in a quality museum. The greater part of this morning brought a new appreciation for the creativity of the Scottish Lowlands, a place I’ve yet to see.

After sleeping as if on a cloud, at Albuquerque’s Monterey Inn, I headed back to Old Town, and Blackbird Coffee House. Breakfast was put off a bit, as I grappled, along with a nice family from Texas, with the parking registration machine-which was out of paper. Fortunately, neither of us were visited by a parking warden, in the time spent enjoying a meal. Blackbird delivered nicely, as it always has.

Following quiche and coffee, I headed over to the Albuquerque Museum. As it happens, the headlining exhibit is showcasing The Four, a pair of related married couples whose heyday was Glasgow’s fin-de-siecle, when the great British port and industrial giant was in full ferment-followed by full flowering, from the 1890s until World War I. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, his wife, Margaret Macdonald, her sister, Frances Macdonald and brother-in-law, James Herbert McNair were the prime movers behind the neo-Renaissance of the Scottish Lowlands at the turn of the Twentieth Century, thus becoming known as The Four. They drew their influences from previous groups of Glasgow artists, notably the “Glasgow Boys” of the mid-Nineteenth Century, but also the Celtic Revival and Japonisme artistic movements, which emerged in Gilded Age Britain. The Four were also called Spook School, by more conventional art critics, due to their distortions of the human form. As an architectural designer, however, Charles Mackintosh relied largely on rectangular sketches. His great buildings, including Hill House and the Willow Tearooms, of late Victorian Glasgow, chartered by the entrepreneur Catherine Cranston, as well as The Lighthouse, now the site of Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture.

The Four were completely-rounded artists, producing not only buildings, but ornate and solidly-constructed furniture, a variety of paintings, fabric art and metallurgy. One of their prime acolytes, Anne Macbeth, was largely responsible for bringing embroidery into its own, as an art form that became a staple in secondary school arts curricula.

The Mackintoshes eventually relocated to London, while the McNairs, remaining in Glasgow, found their fortunes fading. Frances died in 1921, after which her disconsolate husband destroyed nearly all of her work. Charles and Margaret kept their body of work in trust, and it remains curated by various art galleries in Glasgow and in London.

Those of us who have the fortune to visit the Albuquerque Museum, until January 22, are thus treated to an appreciation of Glasgow’s fin-de-siecle flowering.

There is furniture:

Gesso (pronounced JE-so) is a hard plaster of Paris compound, usually applicable to sculpture or painted wood.

Repousse’ is the process of hammering a metal piece into relief, from the back side.

While the Glasgow Style itself faded, after World War I, the influence of The Four was long felt, as far afield as Vienna and Dresden, as well as here in the United States. Art Nouveau developed alongside Glasgow Style, and was profoundly influenced by the work of The Four, and any of the more than 70 other adherents of the Style.

After ninety minutes of immersion in the work of the Mackintoshes, McNairs and their colleagues, I spent an hour or so with New Mexico’s own avant garde. There are provocative depictions of religious themes and modernistic expressions of Native American spirituality. Young Indigenous people love science fiction as much as any of their contemporaries. I leave you with a depiction, by Tony Price-not a Native himself, but one inspired by Indigenous lore.

The Colours of Winter

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December 27, 2021, Albuquerque- There was plenty of mud in the foreground, which did not stop some of the younger members of the crowd from finding their way down a short trail, to the first overlook, in the northern, Painted Desert section of Petrified Forest National Park.

I left 66 Motel, to the cheerful strains of “Come back again”, around 9 a.m. It is always good to have doors remain open and bridges intact. Twenty minutes later, I got a similarly cheerful greeting from the gate guard at Petrified Forest’s north entrance. Whether it is because they are just cheerful, positive-thinking young women, or because of something in my own aura, these types of exchanges are what help brighten even the dreariest of skies.

Nature also provides relief from the grayness that precedes a winter storm. Here are scenes from each of the Painted Desert’s viewpoints.

These scenes are composed of Chinle Sandstone layers, first formed 227 million years ago and making up the bottom layers of the formations, with Bidahochi Sandstone, formed as recently as 4 million years ago, comprising the top layers-including Pilot Rock and Blue Mesa (in the southern area of the park). I have seen other colour blends, at the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, the Paint Pots of Yellowstone and Bumpas Hell, in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Like each of those, Painted Desert is unique.

Some vocabulary: Tiponi is a Hopi word, signifying a badge of authority-usually a sacred ear of corn, given to a priest or matriarch;

Tawa is the Hopi word for Sun Creator.

Chinde is the Dineh word for ghost or remnant spirit.

Pintado is Spanish for “painted”.

Nizhoni is the Dineh word for “beauty”, especially that found in nature.

Whipple Point is named for Lt. Amiel Whipple, a military surveyor who passed through this area. Fort Whipple, in Prescott, now a Veterans Administration Hospital, is also named for him.

Lacey Point is named for Congressman John Fletcher Lacey, of Iowa, who successfully worked to protect the Petrified Forest, which he termed “Petrified Forest of the World”.

The Painted Desert section of the park could easily take up a whole day, in periods of mild weather. I was there for a bit more than two hours. After a quick lunch at the Visitor Center Cafe, the drive across New Mexico was broken only by gassing up at a Flying J, in the small settlement of Jamestown. I was berated by a homeless man who wanted me to take him and his cart to God knows where. There probably wasn’t enough room in the Vue for that cart, so not being a saint, I kept on going.

Once here , in Duke City, a welcome nap evened my keel and a short walk around Old Town brought a soothing smooth jazz performance by a lone saxophonist and a lovely dinner at Little Anita’s, on the north edge of OT. As my mother told me yesterday, life is good.

Fragile Trust

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December 26, 2021, Holbrook- The words came, swiftly, and with the harshness of those who have seemingly felt misunderstood and unappreciated, for a good many years. In each case, they were heard by people of good heart, and we at least know how to respond in a fairly positive manner.

The days after Christmas are frequently a time for harshness between intimates, or even between long-time friends. It is best to not put too much stock in them, if it is just a natural reaction to having felt forced to be on one’s best behaviour for the previous few days. Such lashing out is also a result of having been under the stress of staging holiday gatherings, trying to please everyone and perhaps not getting enough rest. Then, there is the Omicron factor and all the back and forth between those who favour public restrictions and those who want to tough it out on their own-or for it just to go away (which will happen, but in Mother Nature’s time.)

It’s generally been a good day, though, with another well-prepared and well-attended breakfast at the Prescott American Legion Post, a pleasant and re-assuring phone chat with Mom and my brother, Dave, seeing pictures of the remodeled house of my youth and enjoying a smooth drive from Prescott to this high desert town, in northeastern Arizona. 66 Motel is a clean and comfortable place for the night and Mesa Italian Restaurant compares well with ristorantes in Phoenix and Prescott.

Tomorrow, I will make a brief visit to Petrified Forest National Park, then head east to Albuquerque-and Old Town, before spending a couple of days in Santa Fe and vicinity. A ticket to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is the impetus for this trip. There are, of course, other places that will emerge on the itinerary- weather-permitting.

To those who are keeping track, today is the first day of Kwanzaa, and celebrates umoja, or unity. It is also Boxing Day, a British holiday that traditionally entailed giving Christmas boxes to servants, postmen and errand runners.

His Fierce Love

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December 25, 2021-

The Carpenter did not skimp, on building His House of Love. Only the finest of materials, albeit obtained in an economical and judicious manner, were used in this endeavour. Those who demeaned His efforts were still welcome to enter, but they first had to wash themselves of the stains of doubtfulness and error.

The Fisherman did not refuse anyone who was hungry, offering His catch to all who showed up at His weir. Those who turned their noses up at His offering were free to change their minds and hearts, so long as they abluted their hands before partaking.

The Worshipper did not suffer those who turned the House of the Lord into a bazaar. He cast them out of the Temple, with the message that true Love is like a sword. It cleaves away the darkness of those sins which impair the soul and divide the people.

The Cross Bearer did not take umbrage at those who had been duped into believing He was a menace to the established order. He asked forgiveness for them, not out of weakness, but out of the strength that only comes with knowing of the true nature of Eternity.

The Messenger knew only compassion for the sick, the homeless, the destitute and the wayward. He cried for the errors of His followers, who conflated Faith in God with loyalty to the earthly powers. He appreciated the grand cathedrals, the sincere efforts to grow His flock and the devotion of even the most grievously ill among adherents to His Message. He also reminded one and all, that they must take stock of their thoughts and actions, day to day.

Such was the fierce love of the Son of the Creator.

The Cave and The Silo

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December 24, 2021-

In the season of accountability, circa 4 B.C., a Child infused with extraordinary spiritual power began moving down His mother’s birth canal, whilst His parents were seeking lodging, in a town where all comfortable rooms were long claimed by more well-healed travelers, most of whom were in town on taxpayer business.

By dint of necessity, the Child’s father secured a spot in a manger, with the land owner’s livestock as the family’s companions for the evening. The Child was born in the early morning hours, with the family huddled among the animals for warmth, the landowner having also given them a few hide blankets out of concern for mother and baby.

The veritable cave where Jesus, son of Joseph, was born has a superstructure built over it: The Church of the Nativity. Within that house of worship are three distinct chapels: One, Roman Catholic; one, Greek Orthodox and one, Armenian Apostolic. The territory of each is clearly demarked, and very closely guarded by the adherents of each denomination. It is now, however, a UNESCO World Heritage Site , requiring co-operation between the three, as well as between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Prior to this status being conferred, in 2012, the three shrines were like silos, unto themselves, despite a 250-year-old agreement between three denominations’ leaders, for the preservation of the edifice. The point of agreement that made any co-operation possible was the recognition that the grotto, over which the church was built, was the site of the birthplace of Jesus the Christ. Like any agreement made in perpetuity between leaders of a given time, its meaning’s understanding has ebbed and flowed, fluctuating with successive generations, and newcomers to the area, adding their own interpretations.

Thus, the silos rise and contain the adherents to these philosophies, who eschew any fellowship with those of different viewpoints. Thus has even the most sacred of places become a focal point of human narcissism, whether individual or collective.

May the 2021st Celebration of Christ’s Birth be a day when such fellowship be given honour. We have seen the futility of its opposite number.

20/20 Hindsight

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December 23, 2021- There is much hand-waving and fake cringing going on tonight, about the remarks being made about COVID home tests and the sudden emergence of Omicron. The comments coming out of the White House are, truth be known, no different from any number of hindsight-based remarks that any one of us have made, at various points in our lives.

Not every awkward remark, made in response to an unforeseen event, is evidence of dementia, or even of fatigue. We all wish things had happened differently, at various times in our lives, and say so after the fact. I can look back on whole chapters of my life and see how I might have made different choices, and experienced different outcomes, than what I actually did.

What I do know, as well, is that it is far better and more reassuring over time, for a person to be upfront about their thinking and their concerns, especially about public health, than to pretend there is no issue or that the concerns raised by others are much ado about nothing.

We will always have one public challenge or another. How we deal with them as a society, and as a species, will have lots to do with our trust of one another-or even of ourselves. Feigning shock, or pretending to be unnerved, by another person’s forthrightness, does no public good.

Beatitude-Inspired

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December 22, 2021-

Blessed is the father who willingly changes diapers, uncomplainingly paints his daughter’s nails and enjoys her “tea party”.

Blessed is the mother who takes a few minutes and tosses baseballs into her son’s waiting glove, teaches him to wash his own clothes and make his own lunch.

Blessed is the son who practices humility, learns to sew on buttons, willingly washes the dishes and his own clothes and keeps an orderly room.

Blessed is the daughter who stands up for herself, never regarding her position in the family as subservient, who pursues her own dreams and who can maintain her own vehicle.

Blessed is the neighbour who looks out for others in his apartment block, on her street, in their village.

Blessed is the citizen who considers all points of view, who is not tied to only the immediate needs of own community, own nation or own generation, but who has the well-being of the planet in mind as well.

Blessed is the generation which loves those who came before and those who come after, as well as its own members.

Blessed are the people who look out for all sentient beings and who are open to communicating with those heretofore not known to them.