Studying Gnosis

0

February 8, 2023- This week, my main thrust is aiding three groups of students in their study of the culture and legacy of ancient Greece. Gnosis is a generic Greek word, meaning “knowledge”, though it has come to connote knowledge of a spiritual nature. “Know thyself” is the first of three admonitions, inscribed at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. There is no time in life when self-awareness is more crucial than during the period of life known as early adolescence. So, study of the great figures of historical Greek culture-and reading some of the knowledge they imparted can provide a good measure of assurance to a struggling 11-or 12-year-old.

The teacher whose class I am covering is taking her students through several multimodal activities, in each of the cultures they are studying. Each student had to research a key figure in Classical Greek culture-from Draco to Sappho, and including Archimedes, Solon, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle and Euclid, among others. The material, of course, is age-appropriate, so there is no graphic detail provided about certain elements of that ancient realm.The lessons are of the enduring gifts sent us by the Classicists: Plane geometry, architecture, romantic poetry, the the of law, existential philosophy, dramatic plays, competitive sports, clinical medicine and basic democracy. The students also learned to write the ancient Greek alphabet, itself the precursor of both the Roman and Cyrillic scripts, and to fashion the design of the period.

Most essential, though, is that each person knows that what they carry within is a treasure to be nurtured and shared. He or she also will see that people persevered through some tough times, and that they, too, can devise creative ways to do so-with some of these perhaps becoming part of a future great legacy. If this lesson is enshrined in the child’s psyche, then this teacher, and I, will have performed a service.

Monstrous

4

January 27, 2023- Frankenstein has never been alone- at least in the minds of onlookers.

The characters in a recent historical fiction series about World War I traded the insult “Monster!”, with some regularity, as the decidedly monstrous acts, which some of them indeed committed, came to light. “Women at War” pulls few punches, in delineating both patriotic acts and inglorious schemes-among both French and German adversaries, in the early days of the “Great War”. Few of the principals are spared the consequences of their flaws, sometimes almost immediately following their acts of honour and heroism. Only two-a priest and a brothel owner, consistently behave in a truly wretched manner.

“Monster” is a seldom used word, these days, as we focus on origin stories whenever encountering despicable acts. In my life, I have encountered few hideous souls-and even they were made, not born, into monsters. I learned the details of the last one’s life, even as she was doing her utmost to freeze my soul.

I have only been so characterized once, by someone who had scant room to talk, though his life experience should never have happened, especially to one so young. When children seem monstrous, almost invariably, they have had diabolical role models, whose actions should not be witnessed by anyone. The only question is, “How far back does the monstrous lineage go?” Hitler, after all, was raised by a hideous father, whose own story foreshadows his child’s descent into demonism.

I ponder this tonight, in thinking about the most recent spates of massacre by firearm. I know many people who believe, honestly, that firearms are necessary for self-defense. None of them would think, for a moment, of using a gun on a child, or other innocent person. In each of the recent cases, someone who is either filled with self-loathing, or has been indoctrinated in the ideology of fear, has carried out an assault on innocents. Time, and juries of their peers, may well cast the perpetrators of these crimes as monsters.

For now, each of us has to weigh our own actions, daily, and rise above our own basest instincts. Let us defend innocents from those who would harm them for their own gain, and not harm anyone in our own right.

Breathing Room

4

January 17, 2023- Fifteen people graced the Founders Room, in Prescott Public Library’s main building, this evening, as Prescott Peace Builders presented a documentary on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The film reviewed what each of us present have lived, with regard to Civil Rights era and Dr. King’s role in the attainment of Civil Rights for African- Americans. What those rights boil down to is space for a physically, economically and politically hobbled people to breathe, to live full lives.

No one has said that anyone is entitled to a perfect life; no one IS. There is, though, plenty of space for freedom from being the target of assumptions from those in power and those who enforce that power. I was raised to not cross the street, when approached by a person of colour, or a person dressed in tattered clothing, or any given individual who was not acting in an obviously menacing manner. I was taught that when anyone asked for directions, they were to be given clear directions, in the most polite language possible. Essentially, every human being who crossed my path was to be treated fairly.

Those teachings became part of my being- and made getting over the subliminal messages, from the wider community, a whole lot easier. I have made my share of mistakes and have had to root out many microaggressions, but the foundation I got from my parents has eased the recognition of the Oneness of Mankind. It also made incorporating the admonition about never ASS-uming anything, about another person or group, a whole lot easier.

The day as a whole was marvelous: Safe drive to Phoenix and back; excellent dental check-up; three great meals-breakfast at Wildflower Bakery, lunch at Local Jonny’s and a bowl of soup for dinner, at Mob Burger-each served by a congenial soul. Then, there was the above-mentioned gathering, the second of three such meetings, honouring Dr. King and his legacy.

There is much breathing room, for yours truly, so far this winter.

Things I’ve Learned

2

December 31, 2022– As another Gregorian calendar year heads to the history books and memory n, what is most important, for an individual, are the lessons brought forward over the twelve months now past.

So, here are twelve things I’ve learned, some cogent, others banal-but all useful.

January- The border between the United States and Mexico is neither as chaotic as politicians away the border claim it is nor as smoothly functioning as it might be. I saw many content, focused people at the station in Douglas, AZ and no evidence of hordes of people sneaking through, at Coronado National Monument, a rural station, south of Sierra Vista.

February- Human beings, regardless of how they come to identify themselves, deserve the respect of those around them-and a keen listening ear. Losing someone who has not been completely understood by some of those around her was both unsettling and cautionary. Rest in Peace, Salem Hand.

March- Most of Man’s inhumanity to Man stems from insecurity. Andersonville showed the historical proof of that, both through its physical remnants and through the exhibits on Prisoners-of-War, both within this country and around the world. A more benign case occurred, in Miami Beach, stemming from a middle-aged man, having designs upon much younger women and threatening violence when I cautioned them about one aspect of his proposal.

April- There is no foolproof means of transport. Taking a train, when the route is secure, is a marvelous way to both see the countryside and to make good friends. The system is not without flaws, though, and a fire at a remote bridge resulted in my taking a Greyhound bus, between San Antonio and Tucson.

May- It is never too late in life for people to connect. An odd proposition was made to me, by someone much younger-and was quickly, if politely, deferred. On the other hand, two people who had been alone for several years, found each other and had a lovely garden wedding, making for several years of a solid bond.

June- There are still places where even brief inattention to surroundings can lead to discomfort, even momentarily. I found one briefly “wet” situation, checking out the depth of a bog. Fortunately, it was an “oops” moment, and caused no difficulty to me or anyone else.

July- You can go home again, but family is often going to be swamped with schedules, plans made at the last minute by spouses and friends, or just the crush of dealing with one of the greatest of American holidays.

August- No matter how well a car is maintained, the aftermath of a chain-reaction accident can lead to a total loss being declared, even 1.5 months after it occurs. So it was, for the vehicle that took me across seemingly ridiculous distances, with nary a squeak. Another person’s health issues led to Saturn Vue’s demise.

September- Not all Baha’i school events need include a heavy dose of scholarly presentations. Just being with children and youth, in crafting, dancing and fellowship, is as much a tonic for the soul as any engagement with intellectuals.

October- New friends, made in the wake of a bureaucratic flub, and clear across the continent, to boot, are as fine a result of a mistake as I can imagine. Three Bears Inn will be a place where I could definitely stay for several days, especially en route to the great mountain parks of the northern Rockies. It is all the sweeter when followed by a visit with dearly beloved friends, themselves so much like family.

November- Speaking of family, it is never necessary for my biological family to expend energy on my entertainment. They do so anyway, but just reveling in their presence and celebrating their achievements, is the finest way to spend any time-especially a holiday.

December- As an Old Guard increasingly passes from the scene, among my cohort of veterans, younger people are arising, in service to those who served our nation. I am also re-learning the rewards of patience, with those around me, as we all face increasing uncertainty. They need me, as much as I need them. I also need to be patient with myself.

A Pastel Day

2

December 14, 2022, San Clemente- I walked along Dana Point Harbor’s southern flank, whilst waiting for my friend, Janet, to arrive for our customary lunch, a signature part of any southern California visit, since 2011. Much was the same, along the boardwalk, with an addition that honours Dana Point’s recent history. Here is a tall ship that is moored among the charter boats and private yachts, at the southern edge of the harbour.

The Curlew, originally moored in Dana Point Harbor, in the 1920s.

Janet has been a corresponding friend, since my Xanga days (2008-11). Our lunches have been followed by short walks along one or another of Orange County’s beaches or botanical gardens. More recently, we have met for extended conversations at Harpoon Henry’s, with its west-facing view of the harbour. Dana Point Harbor will be undergoing a facelift, of sorts, over the next few years. Hopefully, Henry’s will be spared.

Today was a far quieter day, weather-wise, as an extended period of sunshine seems to be taking root, in the Southwest, which includes “SoCal”. It assumed a rather pastel hue, in the sky and along the beach front. After conversing with Janet for about an hour, I came back to House of Trestles, rested a bit, then visited Trestles Beach, a favourite of some surfers. I found the ocean rather calm, with a lone surfer having packed up and carrying his board and gear off the beach. Trestles is rather flat and somewhat removed from the cliffs, thus giving it a pastel feel, as well.

Trestles does share information about the sport, which I had not encountered on any other beach.
Trestles Beach, named for the adjacent railroad trestles that lie just to the east.

It was a fine, somewhat quieter day, following the roiling cloudy and stormy period earlier in the week. I found little to clean up, at Trestles Beach. It seems the surfers do a good job policing their own.

Celebrations and Stress Tests

4

December 7, 2022- The 13-year-old pulled the hood of his coat tightly over his head, keeping that head down, as much as possible, while making it clear that he was trying to follow instructions, as best he could. Such is the daily life of a recent refugee from a place where conflict rages. The reactions of people, especially young people, who are in an outwardly safe place while inwardly reeling from all they have seen and heard, smelled and felt, over the past months and years of their lives, run the gamut from manic energy to gross task avoidance to abject terror. The stress they must feel is extreme, palpable and is with them 24/7.

This is the rough part of December, for many: Pearl Harbor was attacked 71 years ago; the best friend of a good friend died two years ago; the finances of many are being hammered, as the December Doldrums, the worst time of year for investors, play out and the days inch shorter.

Of course, in short order, celebrations will pick up, as will the stock market- in mid-month. Solstice will come and the days will get imperceptibly longer. The victims of war, however, will need all manner of understanding and support. As conflicts rage, young people are living with grandparents, aunts and uncles-while their parents are back in the conflict zone-enduring God knows what. The children know, the children fear and the children tremble.

In another city, a 14-year-old stabbed herself, was rushed to hospital and thankfully was saved from physical death. Only unconditional love, which has poured out on social media and, hopefully, will pour out from her family, will restore her emotional and mental health. I saw that girl’s face in my mind, though I have never seen her image anywhere else. I heard her shaky voice, pleading to be loved.

As the First World’s and ten-percenters’ financial doldrums subside, and as the the celebrations of various holidays pick up, let us make a special effort to envelop those under stress with an uncommon love and unstoppable efforts at understanding. No child, indeed, no person, should be left behind.

Perhaps That’s Why….

6

November 12, 2022- “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate….”-Strother Martin, as Captain, in “Cool Hand Luke”.

I was raised to be clear in my communication with others, to not be ambiguous. As long as I have been faithful to that childhood teaching, things have gone quite well. I have, in all honesty, only been deeply, viscerally hated by someone, three times in my life. All three came from lapses of communication-either failure to listen, from stubbornness despite getting the message or from not being direct in my messaging.

I thought of this, while having lunch at a local diner, and hearing a familiar litany of complaints about our state’s leadership. It occurs to me that, while the goal of many is to increase inclusivity in the life of the community, the process is missing its target-either because the reformers are still playing the same zero sum game that got us into trouble in the first place or because they have something to hide. I am not much for conspiracy theories, so my money is on the former.

The zero sum gambit, in this case, is that conservatives have to give up something so that the historically marginalized, the cast-offs, can get what’s theirs. Zero sum games, whether played by the Right or by the Left, generate push back from those left out.

What if there is actually enough to go around? What if the problem is one of distribution, and not one of supply? The answers to these questions do not fall on the descendants of the enslaved, the small farmers, the overseers or the middle class townspeople. They do not fall to the First Nations people who were driven before the homesteaders, nor to the homesteaders themselves. They do not fall to the immigrants and their descendants. They fall instead to those who devised the system based on zero sum philosophy. Was their goal, is their goal still, to build a society that will primarily benefit the few? There are those who will freely admit that is the case, while chortling at how good their lot in life is, as a result. There are still others who nervously, even heatedly, deny any ill intent. Yet, those who are hearing them are not fooled. Some feel powerless; others feel a need to lash out and attack-even physically. Yet, there are those of us who see through all of it and know who the wire pullers are.

What we have here is failure to honestly communicate. The time when that tactic stops working is close at hand. People across the spectrum are learning to speak with one another, civilly and honestly. They are comparing notes and building plans that will benefit one and all, not just a few.

Perhaps that’s why we can trust in an optimistic view.

The Carson Loop, Day 3: Sea of Lava

2

October 17, 2022, St. Anthony, ID- The boys noted a white ball cap, at the bottom of the small crater. One of them asked if he might shimmy down and retrieve it-which of course brought his father’s gentle but firm negative response. The presence of the family of five was a delightful addition to one of the most impressive flows of lava rock in the continental United States: Craters of the Moon.

This was my main draw to eastern Idaho, with Three Bears Inn, a cozy family home here in St. Anthony, a very close second. Three Bears is a serendipitous find, coming about when someone at Hotels.com misinterpreted my request for a room in St. Anthony, Newfoundland, last June. I was offered a room here, as compensation, for the charge that was incurred then.

The day started, somewhat chilly, in Jordan Valley, with a convenience store breakfast sandwich the only morning meal option. After a fashion, I headed off towards Idaho’s Owyhee Region. The name is a corruption of “Hawai’i”, coming from fur trappers having brought a crew of Native Hawaiians to the area, in 1819. Three of the Hawaiians embarked on an exploration of the Owyhee River’s canyonlands, but never returned to the base camp. The name Owyhee has been bestowed on the area, spanning parts of Oregon, Idaho and Nevada, in their honour.

Owyhee Overlook, Idaho
Owyhee Overlook, Idaho
Owyhee Overlook, Idaho

I continued past Boise, which will be a stop on the way back to Carson City, and found Little Camas Valley, where some of Idaho’s fall foliage was on view.

Oaks of the Little Camas, south central Idaho
Basalt outcropping, Little Camas
Basalt promontory, Little Camas

The presence of so much basalt, all along Highway 20, interrupts the constant presence of sage brush, as does the large presence of agriculture-both corporate and small scale. The Snake River Plain, from Fairfield in the west to Ashton in the east, is a prime potato growing region. Just shy of Arco, however, Craters of the Moon’s lava fields interrupts the farmlands, as much as the soil itself was created and enriched by the flow. This is the bounty of the Great Idaho Rift.

Here are some scenes, north of the actual monument grounds, and along Idaho Route 20.

Lava beds, north and west of North Crater, which is the central point of the Monument.
Lava bed, along Rte. 20

Pioneer Mountains, above the lava beds

Entering the Monument, which focuses on North Crater and its nearby flows, I encountered a family of four, joyfully coming back from a short walk in the lava field across from the Visitor Center. Here is what they saw.

A determined and lonely pine rises above sage and stone.
Older lava flow, at base of North Crater
Dwarf buckwheat is one of the more prolific flowering plants that has adapted to the lava beds.
Inferno Peak, a hikeable cinder cone.

I made the hike to the top of Inferno Peak in ten minutes. There, to greet me, was the Leaning Juniper of the Craters.

Lone juniper, atop Inferno Peak
Resilient sage and mature buckwheat, Inferno Peak summit
Big Craters, from the summit of Inferno Peak

Red cinder, Inferno Peak summit

The last focus of this visit was on the Spatter Cones, small volcanoes-or as one of the little girls present called, “Baby Volcanoes”.

Here was the place where I encountered the family mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Lastly, I stopped at Devil’s Orchard, an otherworldly group of standing lava rock. The place was so named by a visiting Christian preacher, in the early twentieth century.

Basalt standing in Devil’s Orchard

The scope of Craters of the Moon surpasses Arizona’s Sunset Crater, and rivals Lassen. It will be a stop along the way to future visits to Yellowstone and Grand Teton. For now, I settle in for a day or so, with new friends at Three Bears Inn: A strong couple, three sons and a daughter, two cats and two ducklings. Everything is just right.

Confluence of Holidays

2

October 10, 2022- Canadian Thanksgiving and Indigenous People’s Day/Columbus Day (U.S.) have shared calendar space for many years now. Canadian Thanksgiving has been observed since 1879, and in a statutory manner since 1957. Columbus Day was first observed on the tricentenary of Christopher Columbus’s landing on San Salvador Island, Bahamas, in October, 1792, in New York. The fact that he never set foot in the mainland U.S. was seen as superfluous. It became a national holiday, for one year, after the lynching of eleven Italian immigrants in New Orleans, on the occasion of the 400th Anniversary of the landing, in 1892. A yearly proclamation, commemorating the landing started on October 12, 1934, and continued observance as a Federal holiday, from October, 1968, after lobbying by the Knights of Columbus and other Italian-American groups. In October, 2021, the holiday began to officially share Federal recognition with Indigenous People’s Day-a Presidential acknowledgement of both the contributions of Italian-Americans and First Nations peoples, as well as of the sufferings endured by the latter.

Each time these holidays occur on October 10, they share the date with the National Day of the Republic of China (Taiwan). This was the National Day on mainland China, under Kuomintang rule, from 1911-1945. The People’s Republic acknowledges the date as the anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution, which ended Qing rule, but not as a public holiday. I had the pleasure of being in Taiwan, on the occasion of Double Tenth, in 1988. It is as festive and patriotic an occasion as Independence Day, in the U.S.

All this makes October 10, also auspicious this year for occurring in a time of full moon, possessive of particularly vibrant human energy. I noted that, while helping serve a Columbus Day lasagna and salad dinner, under a tent canopy, to the homeless men and women who are regulars on Monday nights. People seemed a lot more relaxed and congenial than they sometimes are.

Regina

2

September 8, 2022- She passed, as she had lived-Stoically, without the pain that some blinkered souls had wished upon her and mindful of the overarching love that many, even in nations that are rivals to her own, felt towards her in life.

I was never much for the idea of colonialism-or paternalism, for that matter. That there are still countries which are “owned” by others, including the territories of the United States, seems quaint, in an insipid way. That there was ever a legal system that permitted one ethnicity to subject another to legal chattelhood, or to a second class status, seems sinister at the least, and pure evil at worst.

Some fuss has been raised at the fact that a 22-year-old Elizabeth Windsor visited Cape Town, at the inception of apartheid, and did not send thunderbolts down on its initiators. She was probably kept from the decision-making process, but no matter. A ceremonial royal can occasionally mount a bully pulpit, but not often. Her influence in most issues was far more sublime, delivered with a sly remark or a piercing look.

To most, Queen Elizabeth II’s life, and its end, have been occasions for catharsis-either love for how she conducted herself on the world stage, or vitriol for the way Britain treated some of its colonies, prior to the decolonization of the mid- Twentieth Century. She herself struck me as a benign presence, who nonetheless rose to greet her challengers and critics with the same stoic mien that she employed with well-wishers. She was also capable of listening to her Prime Ministers and Cabinet Secretaries, and of advancing with the times. How many nonagenarians keep a Twitter account or a YouTube channel?

When Donald Trump, on an official visit, walked ahead of her, the Queen just shook her head and kept walking at her own pace. She knew that certain people would just do as they’ve always done, and would have to reap the consequences of their actions, regardless of input from anyone else.

In seven decades, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, “Her Majesty” to most, and Elizabeth, to a select few, kept her nation’s image far more cogent and vital than a lesser personage might have. There may not be another like her, for a good many years.

Rest in Peace, Your Majesty.