Friday, December 19, 2014

Contentment & Debt

I stood in the toy and candy aisle of the "Five and Dime" with my aunt and younger cousins. Small change could buy several treasures to delight a child, when our currency was not yet utterly debauched.

We frequented Mom & Pop stores as community gathering places, variety shops with something of everything:

Needle and thread, liniment, soap, penny candy, a jack-in-the-box, a root beer float, local news, thumb tacks, notebooks, clothes line, socks.... And more, with a long-handled pincer tool to reach the tallest shelves.

A special day, my aunt handed a dollar bill into each cousin's grubby paw. We'd been playing in the dirt.

When I looked crestfallen, she rummaged in her pocketbook again and handed me a dollar. She's still a kind-heart.

That was our limit. Help each other do the math. It has to add up to a dollar or less. She beamed at our agony and ecstasy of decision-making and went off to do her own shopping.

We kids pounced on treats, yes/no/maybe, did our tallies and paid within budget, all but strutting our acumen!

Years later, I had a trust fund client who slouched in doing a model-impersonation on entry. Nice, but I sat pondering her eating disorder and various out-of-control behaviors.

With nutritional malabsorption, she never felt satisfied, in any way. That template had a shaky emotional foundation.

She absolutely refused to prepare food at home, out of fury at her parents who had handed her to servants and walked away.

She spent lavish money as an act of revenge; they owed it to her. (Latch-key kids can grow into some dismal swamp variation on that theme.)

Trust Fund-ette routinely maxed her enormous-balance credit card, and all but spat like a cornered feline. Yet neither spending nor the things money bought had ever filled her void.

Which brings me to Black Monday, and our debt-based societal dam-burst to lay schlock and electronics under the plastic Christmas trees.

Remember Kurt Vonnegut? He had this to say:

True story, Word of Honor: 

Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer now dead, and I were at a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island.

I said, "Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel 'Catch-22' has earned in its entire history?"

And Joe said, "I've got something he can never have." 

And I said, "What on earth could that be, Joe?"

And Joe said, "The knowledge that I've got enough." 

Journey for all seasons:
Whale Rider of the Tide
Call to Adventure

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Winter Dark & Light

Night falls; we turn on lights and electronics, extending day in the dark of the year. And what a boon, though an oddment in seasonal and circadian rhythms. Do we sleep as well as our ancestors did?  I wonder.

In light pollution cities especially, we haven't much awareness beyond the street corner. We miss stars wheeling and meteor showers, and the long contemplative nights of Northern Hemisphere winter.

Out walking on a recent chilly morning, snow lingering on north slopes and sides of conifers, I stopped to admire second year woody stalks of mullein (Verbascum thapsus) on a steep bank. And thought about light!

The flower stalks had elongated and bloomed bright yellow, a grandmother herb, the petals steeped in oil for earache.

Birds savor the autumnal seed, and the dried stalks were gathered for winter infrastructure before whale oil lamps and Thomas Edison. 

Dipped in fat, they were burned as torches in the long ago when wolves howled and things went bump in the winter's night.
winning photo 2012

Mullein's first-year rosette of gray-green velvety summer leaves were once collected and used for body warmth: shoe-insoles in medieval Europe!

Night falls, in this era of compact fluorescents and plasma screens, and we don't know it on a body level, nor the apparent miracle of light returning on the Winter Solstice.

The worldwide and ancient feasts of light, may seem a little fatuous in our facsimile world of 24 hour light. We dust off plastic garlands, wreaths and trees, with little sense of the night hours increasing.

On an obliquely related note, I've never cared for ornamental dogs with pea-brains. I value the intelligence of working dogs; a Norwegian elkhound guarded my organic farm, livestock, plantings and me.

My attitude toward yip-yips settled into bedrock early on when my dad and I went looking for a real Christmas tree in ticky-tacky California.

I had been fortunate as a child to roam forests in a simpler time, and on our Christmas tree search, Father and I could not find a plain green tree! Went to several lots before we did. 

Conifers were "flocked" that year: a faux-snow in cerise, chartreuse or purple! 

I was already in agony when a woman drove up in a Cadillac, a toy poodle on her arm, the creature's tufties festively red-ribboned. To complete the ensemble, it sported a rhinestone collar. (I think it was rhinestone, but in la la land, who knows?) 

She pushed to the front of the line and demanded a flocked tree, a special order: to be dyed charcoal-gray to match her poodle! 

Daddy and I blinked, bought a pitiful un-flocked pine and fled...

Down home in the here and now, how do we honor the light's return, the return of spring and blossom, when most of us in the West have no clue about the dark?

In my months of tenting and no electric light, the sun set, and unless a campfire had been built, night fell with a thud. Birdsong meant dawn was near.

I live now in a small mountain community close to the land and to seasons, and light is a big deal. Families still remember lamp light here.

I met friends in the Old Town last night for wintry festivities, a rich-mix of silliness, firelight and camaraderie. 

We watched a hoot of a magical outdoor fashion show: vintage and theater sort of gowns and one stunning ballerina who soared onto the models' runway doing Sugar Plum Fairy! 

We sat on a bench covered with a long sheepskin, a bonfire close by. 

An old meandering lane of adobe art galleries is lit in celebration each year with luminarias* along the walkways, inner courtyard gardens and rooftops. (Boy Scouts do the lighting at dusk.) Many stone-circle fires, caroling, cider and hot chocolate. 

On Christmas Eve, huge iconic bonfires will be lit at the adobe Pueblo, a community in continuous habitation for a thousand years. Firewood is gathered in the spring, weak trees culled and cut on their sacred mountain.

They do see the stars wheel and the moon wax and wane. 

Light and dark and the elders teach the young, those willing to learn, about land, honorable harvest to preserve bounty and their kiva-deep ancestral memory of earth cycles.

image: Jane Grover

For winter's reading,
for timeless stories:

* Luminarias, the candles set in sand in paper sacks lining pathways, are called "farolitos" in northern New Mexico.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Earth Treasures

"Will you promise?" he asked in twangy Swiss German.

He had my full attention: Beautiful and hidden?! I must promise never to lead anyone there, or the beauty would be destroyed forever.

Hand on heart, I gave him my word, good at sixteen and for as long as I live.

We had just climbed a peak in the Bernese Oberland roped with a few others. Tomorrow we'd traverse to another climb after over-nighting at the high Alpenhütte.

He was my friend, a Swiss Mountain Guide. The few Guides who make it, train long and arduously like Special Forces, though with milder vocation.

The other climbers had their sweaty wool-socked feet by the hut's little woodstove, sipping spicy mulled Glühwein. 

I'd slipped outside to watch deep blue shadows rise from the verdant-green valley floor and perhaps catch a glimpse of rosy alpen-glow on the glaciers.

"This is the perfect moment," my friend advised, "with the sun slanting." He slipped the coiled climbing rope over a shoulder, across his chest, and checked for pitons on his belt.

Ah, thought I, that sort of adventure. We quietly moved out of sight of the hut, across scree. I breathed in the wild fragrance of high elevation Daphne and felt all but air-borne with excitement.

We came to the foot of a cliff. My eyes widened.

"I found it on a practice climb... some tricky stretches."

We roped up. I pulled on leather gloves to let out the rope as he climbed, rope over one shoulder and around my back against the cliff, my feet braced. I heard him drive a piton above me and felt the thud through the rock.

" Come now."

I stuffed the gloves into my anorak pocket and felt with fingertips for the holds, the rope taut at my waist, till I stood by him on a barely perceptible ledge. He nodded and started up again.

Two or three pitons brought us to the secret. He would remove them on our way down and smooth away our tracks.

He looked me in the eye, the westering sun full in his face. "Ja?"

I nodded steady-gazed, that I would never reveal the route.

He stepped aside and pointed me to the other, either side of a cleft not visible from below. A small cavern!

What?!! Neolithic rock paintings?... A journey to the heart of the mountain? He gestured for me to let light enter as I leaned around to peer in.

Oh, and may I see it again when it comes my time to die.

I was all but blinded by light in the darkness. The cleft opened into a great sphere of crystals refracting the setting sun.

My friend is dead now, but my promise is not. He died on the North Wall of the Eiger, pulled away from his hold by an idiot climber who did not stand his ground, but climbed after, willy-nilly.

I heard about the fatal fall on my next visit to Grindelwald and sat sobbing on a high wildflower meadow.

Next day, I splashed through glacial melt and hiked along the foot of the Eiger to the sound of wind and rockfalls.

At the base of the ogre-mountain, I carried a bouquet of wild forget-me-nots, primula, and daisies. Left it in a wee cleft, in gratitude for my friend and his once-in-a-lifetime gift.

Note to readers:
Thank you,
All over the world.
Stories at
Firelight & quiet-time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Mighty & the Tiny

In the off-grid back of the beyond, my friend, who lives high at the foot of the mountain told me this autumn cautionary tale, after I mentioned... bear scat:

Her neighbors come jostling out of bed; they hear commotion on their deck. It's still dark out and chilly. A visitor at this hour? An intruder?!

They peek around the curtains and see a black bear knocking over flower pots and such.

Their son looks over his mother's shoulder. A huge bear of a man himself, before anyone can stop him, he creaks open the door and steps out on the porch. He and bear eye one another.

Son does the rise up on toes, raise arms and look bigger routine trying to scare it off. The bear rises up, too! 
At which point, the family dog, a tiny miniature dachshund, sees his boy in danger and rushes out the pet door.

The bear bends down for a closer look at the tiny yapping ferocity. Morsel-worthy? One sweep of a clawed paw?

The wee dachel, defender of hearth and home, leaps up and nips the bear on his big black shnoz!  Frenzied barking, an ursine bellow, and bear goes galumphing off into the sagebrush and pinon.

Well, I laughed till my sides hurt...

And then thought about Darth Vader hot stuff stomping around, and small doings, down home and gathering force.

Thought about kids' lemonade stands, and bake sales to pay down a friend's medical bills, and communities building homes for families, and food pantries feeding the hungry, and the girl who co-won the Nobel Peace Prize giving the $50k to rebuild the UN school destroyed in Gaza.

We've got big dark and ugly smashing flower pots, and then, we've got good hearts and miniature dachshunds!

Animal stories read aloud:

Friday, October 31, 2014

Bear Sign

Bears don't fear adipose tissue; liposuction is not a concern. I have a silly image tickling my fancy--a bear in bulging waistcoat turning to admire its reflection!

First Bollywood film I saw puzzled me. The male lead was not panther-lithe but chubby, verging on paunchy. I asked a Subcontinent friend about it. It seemed a strange aesthetic.

"No, not strange, not strange at all," bobbing his head side to side. "Consider beggars in the cities. Chubby is healthy; the star has had plenty to eat."

Plump then, as a prosperity aesthetic, which is troubling this day of harvest ending, the night of Samhain when the veil thins on All Hallows Eve.

Unprotected bee hives and bird feeders are a bear focus, for last blubber before hibernation. (While banksters eye savings and pension funds as last easy plunder.) Bear scat on the lane this morning is full of juniper seed.

Travelers into wilderness lands are warned not to leave food out, above all not to think bears "cute", and feed them. Bear claws can tear apart a bee hive enclosure or just as easily, a camping rig.

Governments have not prepared for winter, let alone hard times. Ones impersonating democracy have instead prepared with snoop-tech and crowd control weaponry.

There's a ghost and ghoulie feeling this Halloween, of jackboots rising from the grave. Note the guy in the gun turret, aiming at Boston citizens.

Boston, where 18th century outrage against British domination struck fire. Boston, where 21st century lock-down was launched--with a deft touch of irony and the macabre.

We have seen the enemy, Pogo, not in a cave in Afghanistan, but us. We're GMO-fat, dazed, and not ready for winter, with jackboots marching two by two.

I live out West now, where the Bundy Ranch Standoff was big startling news. Cowboys (it's a job description, not a fashion statement) ambled in with rifles on their saddles. Plenty of snakes in the desert, you know.

Lean and mean, they faced down a militarized federal agency, bent on confiscation and destruction:

There's a saying about rudeness and overreach: "Your getting too big for your britches."

Champagne for profiteers and cat food for the homeless...  Who are we at harvest moon?

Curl up with a good book: