Barriers Are In the Mind

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February 17, 2020, Yuma-

A commenter on one of my recent posts, on another social media site, took issue with the notion that freedom has a price.  Once, an explanation of that statement was offered, he had a better appreciation o fits meaning.    He did, for his part, also make a valid point:  We can choose not to surrender our freedom to those who would take us down and use us for their own designs. Indeed, I have made several choices, even so far this year, that have not set well with some others.  In the end, though, they can also choose for themselves, as to a best course of action.  The sun should not rise and set, with any other person, when it comes to making choices of one’s own.

After a three-hour visit with some long-time friends, in this bustling border city, I took in two sites that focus on the consequences of discordance and social unrest:  Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park and the border wall at San Luis.

The Prison is, of course,defunct as a place of incarceration.  It long ago  gave  way to a more “up-to-date” facility, in Florence, itself now slated for closure, after over 100 years of use.  Yuma Territorial Prison was established in 1875, at the behest of the area’s representative in the Arizona Territorial Legislature:  Jose Maria Redondo.  It served as the Arizona Territory’s place of incarceration, from 1876-1909.

Since that time, Yuma has alternately used the facility as a temporary high school (1910-1914), a homeless shelter (1930-39) and, most recently, as the centerpiece of the city’s historical heritage preservation.

Here are a few scenes of the present State Historical Park. Below, is a view of the Colorado River’s wetlands, below the Park grounds.

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Here is the railroad bridge, opposite the Park.  It is still in use.

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This was the Parade Ground.

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This was the Guard Tower.

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These are two views of the Sally Port  (Puerto de Salir), or main entrance to the enclosed prison.

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The present-day Museum is in the site of the Prison Mess Hall.

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Men and women, Mormon polygamists and Mexican revolutionaries, white collar thieves and cutthroats-all shared this facility, at one time or another. The most famous of its  prison breaks, the Gates Riot  (October, 1877), saw Superintendent Thomas Gates taken hostage, one of his trusted inmates, Barney Riggs, come to his rescue and killed Gates’ attacker.  The would-be escapees went to the Dark Cell, Gates suffered the ill-effects of the attack for the remaining twenty years of his life and Riggs was eventually set free.

Here is a view of the main cell block.

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Next, a couple of views of the typical cell.

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These were the first bunk beds.

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Finally, this is a view of the Dark Cell, the holding place of the most incorrigible prisoners.

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In spite of appearances, the Yuma facility was progressive for its time. It had electricity, running water and was mostly operated with a rehabilitative, rather than a punitive, mindset.

I left this city, for a forty-minute ride to San Luis, to take a brief look at the border crossing leading to the large Sonoran community of San Luis Rio Colorado. It was peak crossing time for day labourers, who were returning home.  In fairness, the barrier here looks nothing like the much-photographed Bollock sections, in other areas along the frontier.  I don’t much care for the fortress-like images being promoted as “necessary”, but the real barriers to human progress are in the mind.  This puts the onus for social change and justice squarely on those creating the barriers-both the antisocial elements whose actions generate fear and the reactionaries who fancy that building such structures will obviate any further efforts at rectifying the imbalances present in society.

Most of us, whether “liberal” or “conservative”, actually fall somewhere in the middle on this one.  I wonder how Thomas Gates, the reformer penologist, would have dealt with undocumented immigrants.

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When Relics Crumble

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February 16, 2020, Yuma-

Driving down AZ 95, towards this vibrant border city, I passed the remnants-the shell- of a western Arizona mainstay:  Stone Cabin.  It was, I’m told, a favourite stopping place for people traveling between Las Vegas and  Mexico, during the 1950’s, ’60’s and ’70’s.  There was a large gas station and a bustling snack bar, with space for families to get out and stretch their legs, in an area which otherwise had no amenities for travelers.

Today, as I drove past, there was only the shell of the building, with no signage indicating what once was.  I knew what it was, only because of an earlier road mileage sign, on which Stone Cabin was listed.  I could sense happy ghosts, of those who had found respite there, at least during the eight months a year that Stone Cabin’s proprietors kept it open. (There was not as much traffic through the area, during the hottest months of the year:  May-August.)

Many things fall apart, in anyone’s life and in the life of a community, during the course of years, decades and, with respect to the larger social entity-centuries.  I have a certain amount of time left and, while not knowing-or needing to know, how much that is, I will carry on with what I sense is given me to do.

Society does much the same.  Some feel it is a necessary social project, to build barriers:  Walls and fences, which they hope will keep  unsavory intruders from entering the American nation.  I have my doubts, as no wall has thus far accomplished its stated purpose, in perpetuity.  We’ll see.  The project has accomplished a division of people, but across ideological lines.  It won’t physically crumble until long after the generations which have reached adulthood, as of the present day, are gone.  My own hope is that it will generate a meaningful and earnest conversation, between the physically-divided peoples, albeit from a spot where the most fearful people are experiencing a sense of relief.  When unity is realized, the wall’s builders will have unwittingly obviated its purpose.

Relics crumble, even after they have offered a fair number of people a sense of well-being.

 

Treasures

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February 15, 2020, Sedona-

I treasure you, the professional singer,

not for your sensuality or for your ferocity,

though both are formidable.

They do not define you.

It is that voice, which can transcend genres,

making bee-bop sound lilting and melodic,

bringing folk into the realm of whimsy,

making anyone’s standard your own.

I treasure you, the gracious host,

yourself bursting into glorious song,

whilst preparing a latte,

or a complex healthy beverage,

with ten ingredients.

It is your heart, though,

that makes the newest,

most casual visitor,

as important as

the regulars in the back room.

I treasure you,

the multi-genre guitarist

and songwriter,

welcoming all

to one of the finest jam sessions,

I’ve had the pleasure to join,

in quite a few months.

I treasure you,

the musical video-making

wanderer,

who, like me,

finds as much beauty

on the plains of Kansas,

as in the canyons of the Southwest,

the seacoasts of our nation’s periphery,

or the exquisite high mountain ranges.

This spirit brings your voice into focus,

and that lilting voice,

such a sublime counterpart

to the raw vocal power around you.

I treasure the place,

called Synergy,

where the little impromptu family,

has deigned not to build a wall around itself.

Self Care and the Angels In Our Midst

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February 13, 2020-

I  had what we knew, back in Saugus, as the gryppe, for five days.  The muscle aches that are the last thing to go, are being actively treated with essential oils, CBD cream and, just for an extra measure, Triflora.

I haven’t been ill in quite some time, before this episode.  As it wasn’t Coronavirus, or the flu, I count myself lucky.  Still, it’s an annoyance to have sore muscles.   We go on, though, and with the angels-both human and ethereal, who surround me, there is a likelihood of being back in full form, very shortly.

Yet, even human angels can fall victim to such illnesses.  I speak, in this case, of a dedicated community servant here, who came down with the flu- a day before being one of the leads at a Valentine’s Day event, for hospitalized veterans.  This person will recover, and there will be other events at which she will preside.  It may be the ignominy of “failing” the vets, but being a veteran myself, I can say that no one will attach any shame to her focusing on self-recovery.

A person, whom I regard as my best friend, has been there for me constantly, over the past six years.  I have reciprocated, several times, but neither of us are keeping score.  Others here have been similarly solicitous and helpful-and again, I am careful to pay it back-or forward.

It’s just what happens, with the angels in each other’s midst.

Safeguarding One Another

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February 9, 2020-

An older actor, Orson Bean, was struck by two cars, two days ago, as he walked to a community theater, near his home in Venice, CA.  I’ve been to Venice, a couple of times, most recently last November.  There are a number of homeless people living along Venice Boulevard, both north and south, and in a few pockets close to the beach.

Mr. Bean was not homeless, nor did he appear to suffer from dementia.  He was consciously walking to meet his wife, at the theater.  He was also looking forward to the showing of a play, in which he was involved, at the same theater.  He was following a Venice practice, of crossing the road at its most convenient spot-away from the crosswalk.  I daresay that is a rather widespread phenomenon, worldwide. It can work, on occasion, if drivers notice the pedestrian in time, but it is never inherently safe.

The larger issue here is, to what extent are we each other’s keepers?  I have stated, and maintain, that one cannot regard others as mere extensions of self.  The world is full of homeless people, dysfunctional families, troubled schools, fractured environment.  No one can resolve even one of these, in and of him/herself, but try we do, and must.

There are, as the death of Orson Bean underscores, more common occurrences, to which we can contribute mightily.  Los Angeles, of which Venice is a part, has an initiative to curb traffic-related deaths.  Phoenix, which is not all that far from here, has many of the same issues, relative to motor vehicle-pedestrian collisions.  Other cities are certainly in the same situation.  For any initiative to work, behavioural change has to be enacted-and before that, must come an attitudinal adjustment.

It would seem, then, that the mindset of consciously looking out for our fellows, continuously, daily, until it becomes second nature, will drastically curb much of the mayhem that brings grief to so many-unnecessarily.  It can’t just be of the New Year’s resolution variety.  It must become ingrained.

 

 

 

The Life We’ve Planned

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February 8, 2020-

“We must let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”-Joseph Campbell

Over the years, I’ve learned that planning, while it offers the benefit of a loose framework, is both preferable to chaos and inferior to serendipity.  In 2014, I overplanned my European journey, day by day.  When the opportunity of joining an American troupe at Omaha Beach, in Normandy, presented itself-I found myself turning it down-as I had a hotel reservation in Rouen, and didn’t want to sacrifice the night’s lodging.  It’s academic, as to whether this would have been a worthwhile sacrifice, as the night in Rouen was uneventful.

Of late, I’ve been going more with my deeper feelings-turning down jobs, when I sense that taking them on would not do the students any good, and accepting them, when I feel that I have something definite to offer.  The same remains true of leisure pursuits.  I generally roll with my gut, or with my heart, when deciding which path to follow, of a weekend or day off.  There was a time, a few years back, when I was looking towards a three-year Trifecta of through-hikes:  Arizona Trail, Appalachian/East Coast Recreation Trail and Pacific Crest Trail.  A strong sense that I needed to stay put, during much of the year, has borne fruit, during this period-2017-19.  As we’ve seen, I was on the road, anyway-just on a route that proved more beneficial to self and others-and let me serve this community, for 8-10 months.

The life that’s waiting for me, after December, is a cipher.  In the meantime, there are several paths on which I may find myself-with the anchor of this Home Base, a small group of reliable friends, and  several more, who are a bit more mercurial.  I have confidence that Dr. Joe was right, and that accepting the life that is waiting will be just as rewarding, if not more so, than what I had planned.

Labour of Love

10

February 7, 2020- 

With a sneer, the self-styled “chief paraprofessional” took issue with my enunciating the first ‘r’ in “February”.  “It’s Feb-YOO-ery.  Learn to speak AMERICAN English”.  With that, all pretense, that the particular school was operating about the welfare of children, went out the window. I left not long afterward.

Many work environments, throughout the world, have taken to minimizing their stated mission, in favour of preserving some sort of falsehood-based alternate agenda, centered on the ego gratification of a certain few.  Ignorance is, then,  more than bliss.  It becomes the soft ground, on which pseudo-institutions are built, and on which they thrive.

There is a strong team of professionals, struggling to save, and rebuild, a school in which I was honoured to have spent time, not too long ago.  What they face is a three-generational climate of self-loathing and learned helplessness.  That some of these professionals have been there for nearly five years, speaks to the strength of the human heart; to the indomitable essence of the human spirit.

I have been an educator for 44 years.  While there are people whom I will admit to having failed, the vast majority have been helped, by the teams of which I was an active part.  The key has always been to love the child, to not give up-ever, to build the patience needed to counter the worst of defeatism.  As I go about northern Arizona, in this, my last calendar year of being a full-time educator, that mindset has not diminished.

Even after retiring, my battle, with ignorance and antipathy towards children and youth, will remain my cornerstone.

Is It Slumber?

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February 6, 2020-

What is it, when we watch and listen,

seeing and hearing only what confirms

the sights and sounds of our own private silo?

What is it, when a child cries out for help,

and those around just say,

“That’s the way it’s always been, here”.

What is it, when one follows the path of least resistance,

with a self-directed message,

that comfort has been earned.

Is it living to fight another day?

Is it being prudent?

Is it emotional triage?

Or, is it slumber?

Star Struck

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February 5, 2020-

In engaging with a group of First Graders, this morning and afternoon, I was pleased to see that their awareness of the sky, our solar system, and constellations equals, if not surpasses, that of many in much older generations.  There was even a mini-debate about whether Pluto should be still regarded as a planet. (My take is that it should be so regarded, given that it orbits the Sun and it has at least one moon.)

The kids have been taught well, as to how to recognize the various constellations.  I was probably in fifth grade, before knowing of much more than the Big and Little Dippers, and Polaris.  The ability to spot Antares, Betelgeuse and Sirius, among others, has already entered these children’s intellectual exchequers.

This exchange underscored the presence, at last night’s State of the Union, of an eleven-year-old boy, who has dreams of one day exploring our planet’s Moon, and Mars.  The generation some call The Alphas will definitely have a shot at the beginning stages of  human interplanetary travel, so this early awareness of the Heavens is well-placed.

I will spend another day with the group, tomorrow, and hope to engage them further, in the notion that humanity may both explore the near solar system and find ways to learn much about the systems orbiting the intriguing bodies of the Milky Way and beyond.

Two Grapes

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February 3, 2020-

The young girl had less willpower than she had thought.  Faced with a sumptuous, fully-laden buffet, she took two grapes for herself.  This awakened the buffet’s master, who killed two of the young girl’s faerie guides and nearly captured her.  In turn, the faeries’ master, a faun, angrily banished the young girl from his enchanted cave.  I got the initial impression, whilst watching Pan’s Labyrinth, last night, that the faun was no more enamoured of the child-or of children in general, than was the girl’s step father, a severe and arrogant captain in Francisco Franco’s Army.

It was 1944, and while the Fascists had largely brought Spain under their control, there were pockets of active partisan resistance.   There was little tolerance for romantic notions or for childhood fancies.  The girl was tolerated by both of the principal male figures, as mentioned above, and her mother, the captain’s new wife, was merely a means to an end for her husband, who wanted a male heir above all else.

I thought of just how much progress has been made, with regard to gender relations, since that time.  Like any other area of life, the most progress towards equanimity has been made since the mid-1970’s, when women stopped gratuitously accepting acts of chivalry.  The truer, deeper courtesy that came out of the Women’s Rights movement of 1970-76 has only served to help men become more authentic gentlemen, rather than simply aping the courtesies of the past.  Honouring a woman’s dignity meant that she could open her own doors-and even open a door for a man.

The little girl, Ofelia, was as skillful as she was willful, managing to fool a monstrous frog, who had stolen a key belonging to the faun.  She also got a dagger from a cabinet in the buffet master’s chamber, and procured mandrake root, which she nourished in order for her pregnant, ailing mother to recover.  She never appeared to wallow in self-pity.

The captain and his men made a mess of things, leading to his wife’s death and, eventually, to their own slaughter.  This, by dint of their stubborn adherence to Franco’s doctrine of “cleansing Spain”.  The faun, also doctrinaire, inadvertently caused Ofelia to be caught by the captain, through his insistence that she let her infant brother be bled.

Everyone serves the Creator, directly or indirectly.  As it happened, Ofelia’s refusal to shed her innocent brother’s blood, preferring to sacrifice herself instead, met with approval from her Eternal Father, who welcomed her into Paradise, with a throne of her own, to his left.  The chastened faun recognized her goodness in the end, and bowed in service.

The calamities set in motion by the pure child, eating two grapes, leave lots of room for thought:  Who is more at fault, a child taking a small bit of food from another being, or the chastiser, full of his own importance?