The Content of Their Character

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January 18, 2021-

In the decades recently passed, we have seen the most consistently proven of truths and facts dissected, disputed and set on equal footing with the most outlandish and refutable of falsehoods, all in the name of false equivalency and moral relativism. Very often, this is done in the name of preserving a social system which itself depends on hierarchy.

So it is, that the importance placed by Martin Luther King, Jr, in his 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, D.C., on “the content of their character”, with respect to the judgment people make of one another, has become the speech’s second centerpiece, after “I have a dream…” As important as character is, it is not grounds for ignoring all other aspects of a person’s being. Character, indeed, can change-and hopefully for the better, with edification and growing awareness.

Thomas Jefferson’s hidebound, fear-laden writings, which denied the ability of enslaved African-Americans to produce intellectual works, such as Phillis Wheatley’s volume of poetry, could be said to betray a lack of character on his part. The flaw, however, and other parts of his character, would later be balanced, however, by his producing the Declaration of Independence, and contributions towards the United States Constitution.

Abraham Lincoln’s anger towards Native Americans, a product of his coming of age, in a contested area of the Midwest and his assessment that enslaved people were 3/5 of a free citizen, would be challenged by Frederick Douglass, and others, leading to the Emancipation Proclamation, and a pardoning of Sioux warriors-the latter largely ignored by military officers on the ground, in the High Plains.

Character matters, yet it must be, as Lincoln also said, affected by “the better angels of our nature”. A rogue can be edified, tamed and redirected to be a person of willing service. A charlatan can be, albeit through consistent retribution for misdeeds, made to regard others in an honest and loving light. The great figures of the Twentieth Century-Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mandela, Churchill, and King himself, all had roguish tendencies, in their early years, negative qualities that were, to a greater or lesser extent, subsumed or overcome, by a draw towards advancing the common good.

So it is that, when individually assessing another person, in the age of instant judgement and cynicism, looking towards that person’s better angels becomes imperative, both for the mutual good of the judge and adjudicated and for the common weal.

Sacred/Profane

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January 13, 2021-

The scene at the United States Capitol building today was, in terms of non-legislative presence, the opposite of what it was a week ago. Law enforcement, backed by a formidable National Guard presence, ensured that no one would interfere with the proceedings in the House of Representatives chamber. Capitol Police officers who may have shown questionable loyalty, last week, were nowhere in sight; their more resolute comrades held the front line- against adversaries who simply did not return.

I have read, and heard, several references to the Capitol as a sacred place, and as a repository of democratic values and practices, in many ways it is that. It is also a place where the most profane of deals have been struck. It was those unseemly affairs, done mostly in secret, which sparked a few (though not many) of the violent acts committed in the Capitol’s halls and chambers, on January 6.

Two wrongs, or a thousand, do not make a right. I approach grand public buildings and monuments, however, with respect, with reverence-even if there have been occasions when those in the buildings have committed acts worthy of reproach. Indeed, even when the initial premise behind the building’s construction has been questionable, I honour the larger context of its relevance to humanity. I am thinking here of The Alamo, the Spanish Missions, Yuma Territorial Prison and Forts McHenry & Sumter. Our grand Federal buildings and monuments, in the nation’s capital, were built largely with the labour of the enslaved. All, however, have elements of the sacred, which energy has served as a protection in the worst of times.

There is no human institution, no human being, who can reasonably claim to have never committed a profane act. Thus, it falls to each of us to find, and encourage, the angels of each other’s better nature-while bearing in mind the fallability that has shown its face, every so often.

Insurrection Is Not The Way

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January 6, 2021- After getting a welcome adjustment from my chiropractor, this evening, I happened by downtown Prescott, where a small group of Trump supporters were standing on the northeast corner of Courthouse Square, as they have been doing, at least once a week, since 2015. Quite often, there will be a group of progressives standing either across the street or on the northwest corner, at the same time.

I have seen the two groups even mingle, at many public events on the Square, since I moved here, in 2011. The only times there has been tension have been when rumours, of mobs from out of town coming this way, have circulated. There are always a few disquiet individuals, usually driving by in their vehicles and shouting profanities at whoever is in view, or egging on those they sense might be easily drawn into a fight.

That is not the Prescott way. Many have growing up to do, with regard to getting along with people of colour or with those whose politics differ from their own. The larger community, though, has adopted a “Live and Let Live” ethic. That was how I was raised, in a hybrid Conservative/Liberal family, albeit in one of the most conservative communities in Massachusetts.

The main divide, as I see it, has two parts: 1. There is a sense, among those who get up early and turn in a full day’s work, rely on their own efforts and have a strong sense of tradition, that “Socialists” are aiming to take from them and give to others. In fairness, this comes from high rates of taxation and the extent to which the workings of government entail secrecy. If people don’t know the rhyme and reason of matters that affect them, it becomes easy for manipulators and grifters to move in and get them stirred into a frenzy.

On the other hand, are those whose forebears, or selves, have been shoved to the back of the line, repeatedly, by self-styled elites, in terms of full participation in civic and economic life. These elites have not been shy about simultaneously turning to the group that may be one rung higher than those on the lowest level, and cautioning that group against trusting those underneath. The argument has always been, “Look, those _______________ are coming for what’s rightfully yours”, whilst either the taxes go up or rights and privileges, for ALL those under the elite groups, are systematically snipped away.

It is human nature to let others handle certain aspects of life which are viewed as either boring or distasteful. When those chores have to do with rights and freedoms, such “delegation” can, and does, get rather dicey. It has, especially in modern times, become analogous to the shellfish in a pot of cold water, that is slowly heating up and which will turn the shellfish into a meal. There is always a quid pro quo, when someone comes to us and points out discrepancies, “which only they can fix.”

Those who are genuinely worried about losing rights and freedoms can’t afford to let clever or manipulative people of privilege, whether liberal or conservative, sweet-talk them into doing dirty work. This was done before, by the Planter Class of the antebellum South, who had little trouble recruiting lower-class white and First Nations people to do the dirty tasks associated with the system of enslavement and , later, to fight in the insurrection against a Federal government that was moving away from supporting that system. Conversely, a similarly cynical and rapacious Industrialist Class had little trouble engaging that same Federal government to recruit lower-class white and African-American people to try and subjugate First Nations people, both during and after the Civil War.

I saw today’s actions on Capitol Hill as reminiscent of the French Revolution, which, as we know, did not result in wholesale gains for the downtrodden masses. There are those who wanted only to take a deep dive into the electoral process of 2020. But for the lateness of the hour, and the fact that it has already been done, in several modes, that would have hurt nothing.

There were those who have long felt unheard and unloved by society, their only misfortune being that they have not been “in vogue” as a protected class. If each such group were to look carefully at history and look ahead to what is likely to transpire, long term, there would not be a rush to the feet of demogogues. There would be quite a bit of coalition-building, and it would very likely NOT involve the elites, at least for quite some time.

Insurrection, done in the heat of the moment, requires a different sort of power coalition. It involves making deals with those already holding certain levers of power. The original American Revolution succeeded partly because European enemies of Great Britain jumped into the fray. The aforementioned French Revolution is one example-it being whipsawed by the external enemies of the House of Bourbon. Sudan’s recent revolution was eased by manipulative elements in the country’s military, who now, wonder of wonders, are holding the balance of power. The same would happen here, and those fearful of socialism would find a different set of external totalitarians calling the shots, were today’s events escalate into full-blown rebellion.

There is always a quid pro quo, when one turns to power groups with their own agendas to do one’s baleful tasks. The only way forward is to adhere to the basics that were provided us, by the Framers, and later the Amenders, of the United States Constitution, a time-honoured, and much emulated, road map of governance. That, and the common people talking and listening to one another, across lines of ethnicity, class, religion and way of life.

Insurrection is not the way.

The Past Prologue and The Fulfillment Ahead

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January 1, 2021

The year just passed has given us a few gifts, as well as having taken some treasures from us. Chief among the gifts is the ability to conduct mass meetings online. This will ease active participation in Baha’i activities, regardless of where I happen to be.

It is a poorly-kept secret that, if it be the will of God (and the creek stays within its banks), I will be back on the road, and in the air, for a fair portion of the next four years. Prescott will remain Home Base, at least for this year. There is much for me to do here, and in the Southwest at large, between now and the middle of May. The stage was set, as it were, by callings I received and followed in the 2010s.

So 2021, any larger issues notwithstanding, is looking like this:

January– The agenda set by response to the pandemic will probably find me continuing to help out in the schools on a fair number of days. Involvement with a regional sustainability group will also be a priority. Then, there is a little group that meets each Wednesday at 1 p.m. (MST), and which has my heart’s attention. I will be on the trail, looking at a couple of extensions of Black Canyon Trail, northward from the original trailhead, outside Mayer; finishing Limekiln Trail, with the Sedona segments; and spending time in Scottsdale’s McDowell Mountain Desert Preserve. There is also the homefront downsizing: Paper-shredding and discarding of unnecessary belongings will begin this month and extend into next.

February- It’s likely that COVID-19 will factor into this month as well, in terms of being asked to help out in the schools. I already have agreed to a four-day stint, in mid-month. Hiking will take me to the Hualapai Mountains, of northwest Arizona and to Picketpost Mountain, outside Superior. Ayyam-i-Ha, the Baha’i Intercalary Days, will find me preparing hand-made gifts, for the first time since I made a bird house in Grade 8. These won’t be that elaborate, but will be done carefully, and from the heart.

March- It will have been ten years, since Penny passed on, March 5. I will invite other friends to join me at graveside, on that day. This is also the month of the Baha’i Nineteen Day Fast, and although I am no longer required ot abstain from food and drink during daylight hours, having reached the age of 70, my thoughts and actions will be in support of those who are abstaining. I will also make a road trip to Texas, in the middle of the month. Hiking will include a first visit to Phoenix’s South Mountain Park.

April- The Festival of Ridvan marks the twelve days of Baha’u’llah’s preparation for His second exile-from Baghdad to Istanbul (then called Constantinople) and His Declaration of Mission, during that twelve-day period. It also ends a Five-Year Plan we have been following, and begins a twelve-month celebration of the life of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, as November will mark the Centenary of His Ascension. Much of my activity, this month, will revolve around these events. Hiking will take in the Hermit’s Rest area of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim and parts of Sycamore Canyon, which runs south of Flagstaff and east of Sedona.

May- Preparations for the summer and autumn will occupy much of this month. Hopefully, New Mexico will re-open itself to us Arizonans, and I will spend a few days at Chaco Culture Historical Park. If California is open, and safe, by then, a visit to the coast will be in order,

June- If Bellemont Baha’i School is open for in-person groups, I will devote this month to that endeavour. If not, then I will make an early drive northwest-to my soul families in Nevada and Oregon, as well as to Vancouver Island, Haida Gwai’i (The one place Penny wanted to visit together, that has not happened yet) and British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast-north of the City of Vancouver.

July- The Plan B for June will fall into this month, if Bellemont is open. Otherwise, I will head east through Canada, and visit as many family members and friends, en route to and around Boston, as have time.

August– Atlantic Canada will take up part of this month, then it’s back southward and westward, again visiting family and friends along the way.

September and October– Take care of some necessary business in Arizona, spend quality time with Texas family and then off to Europe, with Iceland a first stop. This journey will also be oriented towards the ancestral home of my mother’s family, in what is now western Poland, with other stops in Germany, Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania, northern Italy and France. A few stops in the British Isles are also possible.

November- This month will be devoted to specific community and regional celebrations, in Arizona, of Abdu’l-Baha’s life.

December- This will be whatever my family wants it to be.

These plans are what my meditations have told me, as of today. Recalling that last January, I was fully intending to do a cross-Canada journey in the summer, I will simply accomplish as much as reality on the ground allows.

May all have a Happier 2021!

The Love of God

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December 25, 2020-

A small group of us gathered this afternoon and evening, sharing a light repast made with love by one of my best friends. The conversation afterward devolved, for a time, to the affairs of State. Once that was out of everyone’s system, there was a focus on the news of the terrible and confusing attack on downtown Nashville. It was then that the discussion turned to God’s love for mankind.

To my mind, and that of my dear friend, there is no daylight between His love and the challenges that are sent us, which are largely consequential of our own actions. Most misfortunes that I have experienced in this life have stemmed from either a bad choice that I have made, or from a weak area in my character that I have refused to acknowledge. There are also those times when I have happened along at a time when another person is struggling, and lashing out at all those who happen to be around.

There is the notion that we are all in this together, and indeed we are. I cannot be ignorant of my friends’ or family members’ struggles, nor do I wish to be. I will need to check on another friend, who has been incommunicado with members of our wider circle, for a day or so, and will need to answer a query from a needy person in another country, making both to be urgent business tomorrow.

Simply put, God’s love is not something we can either ignore without consequence, or put on a shelf to be dealt with at our convenience. There is, in truth, not much I can accomplish, without accepting His love, either as a direct flow of Grace or in the form of assistance from my Spirit Guides, first and foremost being my Guardian Angel-who has had my back, continuously, for seventy years. The payback for this love comes in the form of service to humanity, to our planetary home and to all its creatures.

It has been a fine Christmas Day, from the morning conversation with my mother, through other communications with each of my siblings and to the lovely time spent with the little group, near the foot of Thumb Butte. Let us each approach the last week of this unusual and challenging year, with a mindset aimed towards growth and equanimity.

Double, but No Trouble

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December 12, 2020-

I am always interested in days which match the numerical position of the month in which they occur. 1/1 is universally understood to be special, as it marks the new Gregorian year. 2/2 has the folksy attachment of Groundhog Day, important to those who are sick of winter. 5/5 also has a folksy theme, commemorating the Mexican people’s revolt against a French invader. 6/6 is the day Penny and I were married, in 1982. 7/7 was the day Aram was born. 10/10 is the National Day of Taiwan. 11//11 is both Armistice Day, which ended World War I and Veteran’s Day in the United States.

12/12 is the cusp of autumn and spring, taking on the attributes of the seasons which follow them, more than those which define them in the human mind. For me, the day gave me the energy and focus to make changes in some of my affairs, which needed to be simplified. It was also another day of remaining on the healthy side of things, which is never a small matter.

It is mildly cold here, and will likely remain so until mid-January, when the days gradually begin lengthening, a minute at a time. I’ve actually found December to offer the greatest chance of snow, here in Prescott, though it looks like that won’t happen this year. Someone recently made a remark- “We get the weather we deserve.” Well, if sunshine is what we have coming to us, that will be okay for a time, but there is the water question.

So far, though, 12/12 has not been a day of either significance or trouble-at least around here. May the Christmas season, even with physical distancing, remain a time for celebrating commonality.

I Beg to Differ

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December 11, 2020-

Simply put:

When someone tells me that no one died, six years ago next Monday, at Sandy Hook Elementary School and that all the kids are in Witness Protection somewhere,

I beg to differ.

When someone tells me to shut up about those trying to overturn a free and fair election,,

I beg to differ.

When someone says there is no reason to stop putting fetal humans to death, because they aren’t “real people”,

I beg to differ.

When someone says that advocating the increased participation of people of colour in the life of the nation is itself racist,

I beg to differ.

When someone insists that White people can only lose, if “those others” advance,

I beg to differ.

When someone sprinkles urine, and tells me it’s raining,

I beg to differ.

The days when we ought to accept being treated as if we were all born yesterday are long gone.

Take a hike, wirepullers.

Facing the Dark

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December 9, 2020-

A few days ago, I took breakfast at a cafe whose owners subscribe to a more dated world view, one more widely expressed in the American West, of the 19th and early 20th Century. There are many good things about the Old West- Respect for others, unbreakable honesty and “My word is my bond”, parents who stood tall for their children. The immediacy of frontier justice, however, may have worked then, but it is now a tool of dark forces.

I felt a bit sluggish, most of today, until my chiropractor adjusted me back into shape. It underscores just how much more I need to ramp up my stamina. While I continue to monitor my temperature and vital signs, as long as COVID-19 remains a nationwide threat, thus far I feel no symptoms. I practice CDC-recommended hygiene, prudently, and know that stressing wellness, and not panicking, are what will get us through in the long run. It has been hard to say farewell to thirty-one people this year, but others have had it far worse. In the end, the darkness of coronavirus will be sundered, by policies and practices of wellness and medical treatment.

Depending on one’s point of view, either the will of the people is being honoured or it is being flouted. I have been told, by fearful individuals, to keep my views on the state of this country to myself, as if silence will stop the worst of things from happening. Truth is, only vigilance will do that and vigilance requires following the laws of the land. The darkness of wishful thinking, combined with the darkness of censorship-both institutional and individual, will cause only continula heartbreak.

The darkness always prepares us for the light that will follow, if we pay attention. In twelve days’ time, the planets Jupiter and Saturn will appear as one, in the southern sky. They will remind us that darkness, though it occupies half of the twenty-four hour day, in time of winter, is no more than the absence of light.

The darkness of ignorance cries out for knowledge. The darkness of disease summons us to better slef-care and wellness. The darkness of fear and hate asks for understanding and a safe way forward.

We can, and will, move into the Light, but it will take a great deal of forebearance and caution, on all sides.

Limekiln Trail, Section 3

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December 8, 2020- At long last, I got myself on track and found the trailhead from which one may walk from the far western edge of Sedona to the northern edge of Cottonwood, a distance of five miles via Limekiln Trail. It was not a particularly chanllenging trail, though I felt the effects of being housebound and Zoom-bound, for much of the past eight months. A series of 30-minute workouts at Planet Fitness keep me in a modicum of shape, but it will take the rigours of the trail, even a fairly flat trail like the Deer Pass-Bill Grey segment, to get back into a semblance of “fighting trim”.

A rumour reached me that I was likely in the presence of a COVID-positive person, last week. It happens, though, that this individual was nowhere near the school, during the days I was working there, so once again, no worries. People are so worn down, so exaperated by the pandemic, that they will often take anything they hear, and run with it, whilst inwardly trembling. I ask one and all, to step back and breathe-We will beat this challenge, by adhering to common sense rules of hygiene, and ,more importantly, of wellness.

Now, back to the trail-

Here is the eastern end of the segment, at Deer Pass. A discerning eye might notice a human face or two, in the midst of the cairn .
In order to access the trail to the west, one must use this underpass, under Highway 89 A.

The handles to the gates, on this segment, are diagonal, and after wiggling the handle out, it is then necessary to either lift the gate up, or push it down, in order to secure it again.

Most of the trail is single track, like this, though some of the hike involved walking on US Forest Service roads.
One of the Forest Service roads that serve as connectors.
Igneous rock, deposited by volcanic eruptions, further afield, hundreds of thousands of years ago, make the long hike through the Sheepshead Mountain/Canyon sector, all the more fascinating.
This is the remnant of what was likely a miner’s camp, atop Sheepshead Mountain.
This is another marker of a miner’s camp, also long-abandoned.
Here is the top of Sheepshead Mountain’s west ridge. The summit, east of the trail, is fairly lush.
Sage brush has its own fall colours, which arrive on the scene when deciduous trees have long since turned a ghastly gray.
So, too, does Prickly Pear Cactus, especially at higher elevations, offer its fall colours.
Crossings of dry creekbeds and washes abound on this sector of the trail. There are Spring Creek, Sheepshead Creek-and Coffee Creek, which was also a favoured gathering place for miners, in the early Twentieth Century.

So, a long-standing itch in my saddle got scratched. I re-found the junction of Limekiln and Bill Grey Road, which had gotten lost in my mind, for several months.

Bill Grey Road, at its junction with Limekiln Trail.

The remaining sector of Limekiln runs from Deer Pass to Red Rock State Park, further in towards Sedona. It is a distance of seven miles, one way, so I would likely either start early in the morning or would camp overnight at Red Rock. Either way, it’s likely to wait for March or April, with a smidgen more daylight. There are a few other trails in our area that await, and which present shorter distances, out and back.

Pearl Harbor

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December 7, 2020-

Today was my first weekday without work, in quite a while. I toyed with taking a hike somewhere, but ended up focusing on getting my Christmas cards and message ready for mailing-actually getting a few of them sent out. I also organized the Beta version of my life story, with the draft now in the hands of its editor.

Otherwise, today was a day for taking stock of our debt of gratitude to a generation who, in a very real sense, saved the best of our way of life. The 79th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor once again put the spotlight on my parents’ generation. Two survivors of the attack on the USS Arizona are still alive. Several thousand veterans of World War II, as a whole, are still with us- including a dozen or so Code Talkers, from various First Nations and a small number of Tuskegee Airmen. All who served, regardless of their status in a then-segregated military, merit the appreciation of their countrymen.

Pearl Harbor, among all attacks on United States soil, remains perhaps the most infamous such event, if only because it came totally without warning-and at a time when good faith negotiations were underway between Imperial Japan and the United States. We saw, for the first time, a comprehensive plan for bringing a global conflict to North America. We saw the possibility of domination by forces whose philosophies of governance and economics were at variance with our own.

Because of the novelty of this attack, there were overreactions- Internment of Japanese-Americans being the worst of those. Mistakes get made, in dealing with situations with which we have no experience. Nonetheless, our country’s overall response to the attack on Pearl Harbor was rapid, intense and correct. Our continuing expressions of appreciation, for those who carried out that response, should never let up.