My Gratitudes

2

November 28, 2019-

A year ago, my shoulder was getting better and my left knee, injured by what seemed to be a psychic attack, as I walked down a short, routine set of stairs, was also well on the mend. The “woo-woo” aside, my health has been fabulous this year.  I am grateful to do Terra essential oils, hemp-based CBD cream, a team of physical therapists, my dental team in Phoenix, Planet Fitness and my chiropractor for helping me maintain that fabulous.

My family has been extraordinarily gracious and generous this year, as always.  Being with Aram, Yunhee and the Shin family, on the occasion of their Baha’i wedding, and the travels around southern South Korea that followed, remains the greatest of blessings.

My Baha’i community and other dear friends, around Prescott, continue to keep me grounded.  Those whose aim was to bring me down also had a role to play. Rearranging my priorities this year, has only made my life richer and more satisfying.

Prescott, and Arizona as a whole, continue to be inspiring, good hosts.  I never tire of the view of Thumb Butte, from my front window or of any of the exquisite scenes that unfold, no matter which direction I go.

My many friends and family, across the United States, and beyond, are ever present and encouraging, even if we rarely, or never, see one another in person.  I am grateful to have spent time with some, from California to Massachusetts and in-between, over the past twelve months.

Being ever expansive in my view of the world, visiting new places and making new friends is always a plus.  I found new perspectives on Albuquerque, Memphis, Charleston, Raleigh, the Eastern Shore and Delaware, West Point, Pittsburgh, Chicago/Wilmette, Kansas City and Los Angeles, over the past twelve months. Youth hostels, Airbnb and the comfort of friends’ and family homes made all the difference.

Time in nature is always huge, in my life.  The Centenary of Grand Canyon National Park saw me visit both North and South Rims.  The Navajo Nation’s Coal Mine Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Window Rock  and Monument Valley ever warm my heart.  Being in New Mexico’s El Malpais was a comfort, after a case of food poisoning upended my Father’s Day.  There were meanders along the banks of the Mississippi and above the Goosenecks of the San Juan River; focused exploration of  Utah’s Natural Bridges and Hovenweep National Monuments, Lake Powell’s Wahweap area and the urban solace of Los Angeles’ Venice Canals re-affirmed who I am,at my core.

The greatest gratitudes are reserved for what is ongoing:  My mother’s continued presence in our lives, my little family returning to the United States, having three of the finest people as my siblings, my Faith in God being reaffirmed, each day, and my physical, financial and mental health remaining optimal.

Thank you, 2019, for having been, and remaining, a space of strength and comfort.

This Close….

5

November 27, 2019-

My mother used to say, “You’re THIS CLOSE to…..” Sometimes, when one of us crossed the line, “close” became up  close.  It happened often enough to shape each of us into being responsible adults.

I learned, over the course of my educational career, that there was precious little daylight, in a good many cases, for muddled responses to people who acted out.  “This close” only worked with students who were genuinely respectful, but who were just testing the waters.

I am having to mean exactly what I say with more people on the periphery of my life, who can and do try to push the limits of what I will tolerate.  Obviously, taking an old-style parental disciplinary approach is going to be counteractive.  Like a good parent, however, I do need to stick to my boundaries.  I have told an online correspondent that I am limiting my time, responding to his long thread of sound bites, to no more than thirty minutes a day. His response, for now, is to send even more voice messages.  No problem; they will wait until the next day.  I know he is just pushing my boundaries and I don’t see any need to be yet another person to cut ties with him-unless the spam fest becomes  a series of threats.  Then, it’s game over.

I’ve only had to delete people twice, in twelve years, and one of them recently was let back in-as the problem was initially my fault.  I am a patient man; some say, too patient, but no matter.  My aim is to live my life as I see fit, within the bounds of my personal beliefs.  Those who are really close to me understand that.  The others, including the lonely soul, will just have to learn.

What, Exactly, Is Kindness?

6

November 26, 2019-

Many years ago, I was present in a colleague’s classroom, when a distraught boy kicked and slammed a chair.  This was in the days when corporal punishment was still the norm, so it happened that my co-worker grabbed the boy’s arm and shook him, very hard. She told those of us who witnessed this, that he would remember this moment and be unlikely to repeat such a destructive behaviour.

I had my doubts about that, then, and still am doubtful.  The teacher has since passed on and the boy is now a 50-year-old man.  I have not seen him since I left the community where this took place.  He’s still up there, in that rural community, and I wonder if he remembers that incident.  I wonder how it affected his world view, and more directly, how it affected his raising of his own children.

I chose to physically punish my own child, prior to his adolescence, on a relatively few occasions.  None of those occasions saw me lose my self-control, yet I have often thought since, that there had to be better ways to correct his behaviour, than presenting myself as somehow more powerful, more dominant.

There was a song, in the late 1970’s, entitled “Cruel to Be Kind”.  While the songwriter included the phrase, “in the right measure”, I found myself disagreeing with the sentiment.  Nonetheless, there are occasions when, in order to save one’s own sanity and overall usefulness as a human being, it’s necessary to deny another person’s request.  None of us are perfect, after all, and there are times when a soul is unreasonable, in her/his expectations of others.  I dealt with such a person, four years ago; with another, last year and with yet a third, over the past weekend.  In each case, I was taking on a situation which would have been best handled by a team of people.  In the first instance, I was able to assemble such a group and the man lived his last years among us, in a fairly comfortable environment.  The other two- I was, and am, unable to help very much, as an individual.  Sometime, the issues are just too complex.

That said, there was also a time, six years ago, when I was the problematic one.  The person on whom I was fixated, handled the whole thing masterfully.  We reached a very quiet understanding,  and I made a promise that I have kept and will uphold for all eternity.  That person’s kindness has been a model for me, ever since.

Kindness, then, can assume many forms, though I daresay cruelty, in its true state, is never one of those forms.

A Day of Small Parades

5

November 11, 2019, Santa Monica-

For the first time in several years, I was not in Prescott for Veteran’s Day.  The three-day weekend coincided with key events that I have already described and with a long-standing visit to Orange County and Los Angeles.  I honour my fellow veterans and my own service, almost on a daily basis, in thought, word and deed.  Coming by other communities’ parades, if it came to that, would not be such a bad thing.

As it happened, a few veterans were at Gramma’s Country Kitchen, when I took a seat at the counter.  We quietly enjoyed our breakfasts, the regulars gathered in their group and I headed off, towards Hemet, Menifee and Lake Elsinore.  Traffic in the Riverside County suburbs was rather light, for a day of considerable commercial activity.

I chose the winding Ortega Highway as my route to the coast.  There were clusters of commuters, for whom I pulled over, as my first order of business was checking the water level of the reservoir for which the city of Lake Elsinore is named.  It looked to me that the lake is hurting, a bit, which is surprising, given the high water levels of reservoirs north of Los Angeles.

The views from the bluffs east of town were nonetheless impressive, though.

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There is a face, of sorts, chiseled into the limestone bluff, in the middle.

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Winding along Highway 74, as the Ortega is otherwise known, I came upon El Cariso, a wide spot in the road, which hosts the California Wildland Firefighters’ Memorial. It was initiated to honour the six firefighters killed in the Decker Fire, in 1959.  There is a trail from the memorial plaque to the actual site where the men died.   As I was due to meet a friend at Crystal Cove State Park, the trail was put off for another time.

Here are some scenes from the Memorial site.

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These scenes show the general area where the tragedy took place.

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My next stop, a bit north of Laguna Beach, was Crystal Cove, a state park which features beach cabins, in various states of disrepair-especially on the north side of the park.  My friend, J, who lives about an hour away, has visited the site several times.  I’ve been with her on four such visits, and am always interested in the progress, or lack thereof, in the renovation.

It appears, this time, that the work is being done in earnest.

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There were scattered birds looking for their meals, as the tide was out.  This little one appears to be a kind of sandpiper.

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Some children had compiled a cross between a cairn and a rock castle.  The stone on the front left reminded me, a bit, of Spirit Tower, in northeast Wyoming.

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With that, our table ringer vibrated and we went to lunch at Beachcomber’s.  The problems of the world, or at least our individual corners of it, were resolved over a fresh repast. I even was given a second bowl of tomato soup, whether by mistake or because I was wearing an American Legion t-shirt, is open to interpretation.  The meals were great, in any case, and I made dinner out of what was left, this evening.

On the way north  along the coast, from Crystal Cove, I stopped in Lomita, where I had stayed at a reasonable motel in the past.  I found it had become a residential motel, whose owner would not accommodate anyone staying one night, and that  it was a cash only operation.

I continued on, past the South Bay beach towns and Long Beach, opting to stay in Santa Monica, at Rest Haven Motel, as Venice and Santa Monica are on my itinerary for tomorrow.  Rest Haven’s  staff are very kind and accommodating. This day has been a full one, but also very affirming.

NEXT:  Canalside Reflections

The Spiral

4

November 2, 2019-

The day wound around, on a gradual upswing.  There being no Farmers’ Market today, I found my way to a special event:  Highland Nature Center’s Holiday Bazaar.  There, I found a booth where two young boys were selling some interesting, and well-made craft items, whilst being cheerfully coached by their father.  I bought a lavender cold pack, which is good for 30-40 uses.  Another booth had knit caps, for women and girls, so I bought one for a friend’s 3-year -old daughter.  Finally, some graphic artists had a booth, where I found a lovely “Welcome to Our Home” placard, as an advance gift for a couple who’ll be married next weekend.

With that, it was off to the preparation for our public observance of al-Bab’s Bicentenary.  A goodly crew of us set up an exquisite setting, at Prescott’s Senior Center, and all told, we had 65 people who attended all, or part, of the festivities.  It was a quality program, and I was glad to help several people feel at home, from a skittish woman who could barely relax, to a visitor, who was a friend of the hymn singer, and was happy to visit with the singer and his wife, if only for a short time.  The spiral continued upward.

We were done with clean-up by 5 p.m., but where is my cell phone?  I retraced my steps, found no phone, let the janitor of the hall know to look out for it, and left to take care of a couple, more urgent errands.  The errands done, a friend tipped me off that the event hall was still open, for an evening event.  So, back to the Center I went, and with the night janitor leading the way, I went to the back stage area, where I’d eaten a snack, out of sight of my satiated friends, towards the end of the set-up.

It was the night janitor who spotted my phone, neatly camouflaged, as it was monochromatic with the stereo speaker on which I’d set it, during said snack.  The day thus ended with yet another upward spiral.

 

The Way of the Network

9

October 30, 2019-

A few days ago, I received a rather terse e-mail from a sometime mentor, to the effect that, if I was not going to support her business activities, then it was “Goodbye”. Throughout my life, I have rarely written anyone off, and even then, not permanently.  I don’t get the sense that this woman is permanently off my radar screen. That is simply not how business works.

Jordan Peterson’s third rule for living is “Surround yourself with people who have your best interests at heart.”   In childhood, and to some extent in adolescence, I had little choice but to learn to deal with both those who were well-wishers and those who I viewed as challengers, rather than as ill-wishers.  This stemmed from my conviction, even as a child, that we are all just feeling our way in life.  I observed how kids who came across as mean were treated by their own parents.  That made dealing with bullies a lot easier, and made reconciliation, later in life, a fait accompli.

Those whose view of me, and of themselves, is pointed upward are plentiful in number, at this stage of my life. Of course, we must hold each other accountable, as well as being one another’s advocates and cheering sections.  An enabler is not much more than a sugar-coated toxin.

Those whose view of life is pointed downward are, thankfully, rare in my life and it is indeed my job to keep it that way.  The most potentially  problematic, yet easiest to control, is the friendships on social media.  I am judicious about blocking and deleting anyone, with only those who have been hurtful in a big way, or over time, getting the boot.  Accepting online friendships is more of a judgment call, with any hint that a person is not being transparent about their identity, and/or reasons for being on my network, being a red flag.  Beggars, trolls and boastful people have generally not found welcome on these sites.

That said, those who genuinely need, and appreciate, help will always find a place here.  Peterson’s rule does not eschew kindliness and fellowship, nor does my code of living.

Twelve Cypresses

2

October 13, 2019, Arcosanti-

The account of last week’s travels has been pre-empted by revelations that came, duirng a meditation session, this afternoon.

Twelve cypress trees grace the outside of the Vaults.

As I lay in meditation,

gazing upward,

towards their midst,

the middle tree was swaying.

Responding to the breeze,

to the intonation

of a meditation master’s

spoken word,

to the positive thoughts

of those in the circle below.

Soon, the trees on either side

of the intrepid conifer

were swaying,

in unison with their peer.

Soon, I was chanting

in unison with the rest of the circle.

We brought the feeling,

the awareness,

to each of our body’s parts.

The trees brought the sense

that a change was taking place.

in the air,

in the sensitivity,

of those gathered

at their feet.

Those who were friendly

last year,

are somewhat less so.

Others have taken their places.

The twelve cypresses

tell those who are listening,

and watching,

that there is power

in proximity,

even while there is strength

in a short distance.

There is power in unified action,

but uniformity

of behaviour

can detract,

from community.

Those who led me to

a positive sense of self

are moving away.

Those  who are with me now,

are the beings

who will be at my side

for a  stage of growth

which I am only beginning

to understand.

The twelve cypresses

make clear,

that the flexible

yet firm

will endure.

 

 

 

 

Back to Harmony

6

September 8, 2019-

Yesterday, I let the sour mood pass through. I think it was a reaction to the falling barometer.  We got about 1.3 inches of rain, in this neighbourhood and in points east.  A trip to the laundromat, on the northwest side of town, revealed continued “dry as a bone” conditions. Whilst at Farmers’ Market, I learned, from a vendor, who is a mutual acquaintance, that an erstwhile tormentor had found some peace in her life.  That is comforting, as unhurt people are less likely to hurt people. As the day wore on, and the rain had passed, I felt more in tune.  Spiritual Feast, in the evening, was vibrant and well-attended, another uplift.

Today has seen a nice breakfast at Post 6 come and go.  Now the long and celebratory Farm-to-Table Dinner will occupy my afternoon and evening.  This is one of four large social events of the Autumn-three of them this month and the last, on November 2, which will keep me connected to the community and offer a form of activity, in addition to Planet Fitness and whatever hiking I do, here and elsewhere in the Southwest.  Service projects, other than the above, will also be performed, through the Red Cross.  Home safety, simply put, is our major focus, in areas at risk for wildfire.

The message comes to me that disharmony is, largely, actually a product of not being in sync with the community.  Letting other people’s pain affect my own self-concept is a disservice, to them and to myself.  So, back to a state of balance I go.

Today will make many people happy.

The Cleansing

0

August 31, 2019-

The day began with my usual Saturday ritual:  Get up, sans alarm, devotions, coffee& paper and a visit to Farmer’s Market.  What is different today was the call to clean up.  A local business owner found an abandoned homeless camp near and around his property, in a wooded area by Granite Creek, one of Prescott’s many streams.  The creek flows into Watson Lake, a reservoir that is also a prime boating and fishing venue.  Thus, it’s a good idea to keep the watershed clean of trash and debris, a notion that has not been front and center for those who regard themselves as desperate for a place to live, or for those who rousted the squatters out of their encampment, nearly a month ago.

One longtime friend of the owner has been steadfast in helping him clean the place, over the past three days.  I joined them today, and will do so again on Monday morning and any morning that I am not working, Wednesday-Friday of the coming week.  Much of the large items, like  tents, blankets, coats, and sleeping bags were bagged and set for disposal on Tuesday.  Disclosure:  NONE of the items are salvageable, as water and mud have rendered them useless.  This is the cost of “sweeps”, and of random, ungoverned squatter camps.

That brings up a broader issue:  The matter of personal responsibility for self and for community.  The lay minister who was my partner on this endeavour, this morning, raised a valid point as to the tendency of people to leave solutions to issues to government- or to some other group.  Many people in Prescott, and in other places across the globe, tell themselves that it’s the government’s job to tend to social issues.  This attitude can be shown either vocally(including online posts, telling the police, Parks & Recreation, etc. to “Do their job”) or by attrition (i.e. volunteering for an activity, then just not showing up).

I was, thankfully, raised to take responsibility for the neighbourhood and/or the community, and trust me, I was not always the kind of child who wanted to get out and volunteer for such projects.  My parents kept after us anyway, and instilled that sense of community involvement.

There are as many ways to “cleanse” a community and build its strength, as there are people.  The Red Cross effort to make sure smoke alarms are working, in modular homes and more conventional dwellings, is also an effort that is gaining steam here.

Lastly, the cultural strength of a community matters greatly, in building a civil society.  The Folk Sessions and Concerts at the the Court House are a major piece of this effort, as are the art fairs, soccer matches and the Farmer’s Market itself.  Last night, an intrepid young woman,who I am proud to regard as a friend, made Prescott a stop on her way from Portland to Boston, just for the sake of supporting the musical scene in a town that welcomed her, three years ago.

There are many ways to build a community-and I know of shut-ins who make quilts or stuff backpacks for needy kids, in the new school year, or the disabled man who fashioned an “adventure train” for stray dogs, whom he takes out of the shelter, two or three days a week. I am fortunate to still be able to be of more ambulatory service, and thank my spirit guides and the Creator for this.

Just, let’s not pass the buck back to the next one, or to the Government.

Better

2

August 24, 2019-

The father of one of the 19 Wildland Firefighters who died in the 2013 Yarnell Hill fire, gave me a wristband that his son had devised, shortly before his death, that said, simply, “Be Better”.  Andrew used this to remind himself, and his loved ones, to strive daily for self-improvement.  So, I am deeply honoured that I should have this wristband to wear.

I have also had this as my motivating force, climbing out of various ruts and working to treat those around me with ever more consideration and equanimity, especially over the past eight years.  Every so often, I slip.  We all do.  The wristband will help remind me to not let any provocation set me on a downward path.

This brings me to the natural inclination that we have, to attack what we don’t understand, perhaps thinking that, if there is enough vehemence in one’s voice, the “bad guy” will go away.  This is a much more tightly-connected world than in the days of White and Black Hats.  Those we fear and loathe tend to hang out on the fringes, rather than just disappearing.

So, improving oneself  not only takes on an increased urgency, it also serves as a beacon for even those who regard us with loathing.  “Be Better” does not draw a concrete trench  between us; it beckons us to resolve that which stands between us.

It is no secret that I have friends across the political spectrum, standing only against bullying and violent, excluding behaviour.  A person’s viewpoint is always subject to being challenged; but it is theirs to explain, and to hold, and hopefully to expose to new information.

I learned that one of my more politically conservative friends passed away, at a very young age, a few days ago.  I will miss our sharing of visits to Indiana Dunes and her accounts of the beauty of Brown County, in the south central part of Indiana,  and I will miss her keen mind, while remembering that my more moderate views on things Federal did not always sit well with her.  Being better, though, always resonated with A, even as it does with several of  her fellow conservatives and many of my more liberal and progressive friends.

One needs no one’s agreement, or permission, to work on oneself, after all.