Certain that I was going to face far worse at home when I showed my tattered shirt, ripped pocket and newly holed jeans, I doggedly persisted. It was a gentleman’s disagreement in which I found myself embroiled. I was around eight years old and in East Baton Rouge Parish in 1965, scholarly debates were conducted on the sun-baked clay of the playground ringed by thirty or so cheering onlookers and several scouts to warn us of monitors. Over the fence a field of sugarcane rustled its dry leaves to the accompaniment of droning cicadas. The vestiges of pistols at dawn under the Evangeline Oak echoed yet when honor was at stake.
The issue at hand was in essence, biological. I maintained that cats sweat. Copiously through their feet. My adversary howled his denial of this contention as if in intense psychological pain. It started as a mere casual remark by the monkey bars and soon escalated into Missouri style wrestling. I knew I was right and had lost a strip off my new shirt (the one with all the buttons) in defense of my claim. I had read about it just days before in a wonderful book of sea stories taken off my father’s big shelf on our living room wall.
After several bouts of grappling in the dust, we broke our sweaty holds inside the ring of children and slowly circled each other like knife fighters in a Bronx alleyway. Right about then a scout saw a monitor beginning to take notice and contemplate the long hot walk across the ground to break things up. This sentry strode briskly over and when the spectators parted to let him inside the circle, he demanded to know what the altercation was about.
His age and height trumped our combined adrenaline and my opponent, who had initiated the contest by taking issue with my simple statement of fact, spoke with pained exasperation, “This fool says that cats sweat – through their feet. Now if that ain’t some pure D bullshit, I don’t what is.”
“Copiously, through their feet,” I added.
The older boy looked at me like a prosecuting attorney.
I told him that I had read it and I cited the title and author of the book. The book was The Glencannon Omnibus and its author was Guy Gilpatric. The human arena went quiet while the twelve year old referee deliberated.
After a pregnant moment he looked hard at the other fellow and said, “They do. They do sweat. It’s in a book, dumb-ass.”
That broke the spell and the kids dispersed. I gathered up the pieces of my shirt, dusted myself off and began formulating a good story to tell my mother about the state of my garments. My combatant headed off alone in the direction of our school’s library, sensing that a source of great power must reside there.
“Yeah, dumb-ass. Copiously, through their feet,” taunted a dozen voices at his back.
For the next several weeks a new phenomenon began to materialize on that playground. Contrary to what it would have looked like to an observer, the children of my school proved that they would really rather not carry their teeth home in a rolled up Kleenex. At least a half dozen times I personally witnessed bloodshed avoided in the heat of an argument by the declaration, “It’s in a book, dumb-ass!”
All sorts of issues were dealt with while the magic lasted. Were whales really mammals? Can anacondas really reach over thirty feet in length and swallow a man? Does your hair continue to grow after you’re dead? Do fish ever sleep? If Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten the apple and not been kicked out of The Garden, would their two sons have had to marry their future sisters or would God have rustled them up some new gals? How would they all fit in the space after thousands of years of breeding? What would God have done if Eve had screamed when she saw the snake and Adam had killed it with a stick? These debates all ended peaceably when truncated by the invocation of author and title. Well, excepting the last three. Indeed, the ring of battle crows usually chimed in whether or not they knew the alleged citation to be legitimate or not. These lessons in human nature stayed long with me although not in a conscious way.
As time went on, I continued eating books like an armadillo eats ants. I was well into my thirties when a colleague pointed out to me that the number of books one reads is less important than what one derives from any one of them. He wasn’t an avid reader, so I took his advice with a grain of salt and continued devouring the printed word. By my forties, I began researching the authors of books I read in order to get a better perspective on their biases and to learn where they were educated and by whom.
Several authors were so instructive to me that reading the entire body of their works was similar to chugging glass after glass of sweet lemony iced tea on a hot humid day. Effortless and blissful. Aldous Huxley and Friedrich Nietzsche were two examples of this in the non-fiction realm. By my fifties I had learned to digest what I read and to patiently wait for my own conjectures and conclusions after letting my mind run all the arguments for me while I attended to my physical needs and obligations.
I remember it was also down in Louisiana the first time I was a participant in the board game Monopoly. On that occasion my whole family took part. I had been exposed to Chess prior to that time and I knew immediately that I preferred Chess by a great margin. The first thing that stood out was the importance of money and luck to the outcome which itself was only differentiated by larger or smaller piles of paper. I did, however, like the seeming randomness of the playing pieces, especially the old boot. The second thing I disliked was that if one was content with a very modest portfolio of properties, one was sure to fall behind due to unforeseen bad luck in the cards drawn.
Chess, by comparison, had elements of a much wider scope and of a higher degree of subtlety. The type of landscape wherein a boy might dare to dream. After all, both opponents were unencumbered with obtaining their Kingdoms, rather they were tasked with retaining Kingdoms already in their posession while under relentless and certain attack. In the end there could only be one King and in this respect I preferred the honesty and finality of Chess over the vague end game of Monopoly where the opponents are not vanquished in combat but merely forced into bankruptcy or into living paycheck to paycheck and hoping for a lucky card. My young mind began to perceive the very real difference between a loser and a conquered person.
I discovered similarities to Chess in the story of the Texas Band of Cherokees when researching my own family history. Rather than making a deal with a stronger contender to remain in the United States on subsistence rations, the Texas Cherokees chose to obtain lands from a different Sovereign State, Mexico. Their request was happily granted due to the geographically strategic placement of the lands in question as a natural buffer between some of the nicest farming land in Old Mexico, further US incursions and two nomadic tribes to the North and West, namely the Comanche and the Apache.
By contrast, the Eastern Band of Cherokees that accepted Removal to Oklahoma Territory at a later date can be likened to Monopoly players. A decision made by a few of their men sealed the fate of all. Thus, the Texas Cherokees received a Chessboard from Spanish authority and when they palyed the founding fathers of the Republic of Texas, they lost their lands. While they lived, they lived as free men and in defeat they were routed from the country and driven beyond the new borders of Mexico. The six individuals on record who trickled back across the Rio Grande simply signed a document of surrender at Bird Fort, Texas to became subjects of a new sovereign power and carried on their lives within the new system together with those few who had remained undetected due to mixed blood and white complexions.
Far from a tragedy, the story of the Battle of The Neches is to me a clear example of a contest entered into with both eyes open, while the Removal is an attempt by the few with the best of intentions on behalf of the many to play Monopoly with a little man in a top hat who happens to be the Banker, the Rule Maker and the author of the cards one draws during the game.
As I can personally attest, Chess is very easy to learn yet cannot be mastered in the average span of a man’s life. It is much the same with Go, a Japanese game of great antiquity. Any child can easily sense the truth inherent in Chess and the artificiality of Monopoly.
Here in Lillooet I have a little table on my back porch with four chairs. Generally, it is only myself in the flesh present at that table but I often let myself imagine that the other three chairs are occupied and that there are four mugs of coffee. The other people are friends, family, authors, musicians, historical figures, thinkers or characters from literature, stage and film; many of whom I honestly consider to be friends of the closest kind. After all, they have shared with me the contents of their hearts, their souls and their minds.
I once wrote to an acquaintance after viewing a short film he had made wherein he juxtaposed many images and musical sounds,”When the dragon of present time is slain by incongruity, magical things emerge and miracles occur.”
Upon reflection, that statement seems to serve as a perfect description of the benefits of my game of imaginary coffee mates. I am free to ask those assembled their individual opinions of any of my own theories and also to listen to them debate among themselves about their own. Furthermore, to our mutual benefit, time is no longer the master of ceremonies and Plato can engage Mark Twain while Lao Tzu patiently hears out Nietzsche.
Lately, there has been a new comer to the table. The new guy is an Englishman named Thomas Hobbes from Malmesbury in Wiltshire. I heard about him from a retired New York school teacher named John Gatto who recommended Hobbes’ book Leviathan during a broadcast of Brain Food For A Wednesday Eve on Radio Lillooet. I was intrigued and obtained a copy. It took me all Spring and part of the Summer to read the tome which was written in old English.
I decided to give those gathered at my table the Google on Thomas. He was born prematurely in April of 1588 when his mother heard of the coming invasion of the Spanish Armada. He once said that his mother gave birth to twins: Himself and Fear.
Hobbes was educated at the Westport Church from age four then at Malmesbury school and then at a private school kept by a young graduate of Oxford. Hobbes was a good pupil and around 1603 he went up to Magdalen Hall, the predecessor college to Hertford College at Oxford. His principal, John Wilkinson was a Puritan concerned with purifying the Anglican Church of all traces of Catholicism. While at university, Hobbes followed his own curriculum and was not too attracted by the scholastic learning. Mark Twain raised his cup and eyebrows at that information.
Ayn Rand seemed to be in awe of Hobbes and annoyed by him. She seemed to strongly agree with much he said about his foundational axioms yet vehemently disagreed with some of the conclusions he drew from those same planks of thought. She became visibly agitated.
Zorba managed to get her a wee bit tipsy on Irish whiskey and she giggled, “Who is John Gatto?”
Hobbes completed his B.A. degree in 1608 and was recommended by his master at Magdalen to be a tutor for William the son of William Cavendish, Baron of Hardwick and later Earl of Devonshire. Hobbes and William went on a tour of Europe in 1610. Hobbes was exposed to European scientific and critical methods that were in contrast to the scholastic philosophy he had learned in Oxford. He associated with the likes of Ben Jonson and briefly worked as Francis Bacon's amanuensis.
An amanuensis is a person employed to write or type what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another and also refers to a person who signs a document on behalf of another under the latter's authority. The word originated in ancient Rome, for a slave at his master's personal service "within hand reach", performing any command. Later it was specifically applied to an intimately trusted servant acting as a personal secretary. Amanuensis is what he does, not what he is.
His employer Cavendish, the Earl of Devonshire died of the plague in June 1628. The widow Cavendish dismissed Hobbes but he found work as a tutor again. That job was in Paris and it ended in 1631. Once more he worked for the Cavendish family as a tutor to another William, this one the eldest son of the previous Cavendish. For the next seven years of tutoring he cogitated on philosophy and wondered why rich people used the same names over and over again throughout generations. He was a regular debater in philosophic groups in Paris.
Nietzsche said through his prodigious mustache that although he and Hobbes shared a dislike for many aspects of Greek thought, he could still trounce Thomas in a debate if his verdammt headaches would just go away and he could find a decent Italian restaurant..
Hobbes's first area of study was the physical doctrine of motion and momentum. He went on to conceive a system of thought to which he would devote his life. His first objective was to show that physical phenomena were universally explicable in terms of motion. Next and mistakenly, in my own opinion, he singled out Man from the realm of Nature and Plants. Then he showed what bodily motions were involved in producing the sensations, knowledge, affections and passions by which people relate to each other. Finally he considered how humans were moved to enter into Society and he argued that this Society must be regulated to avoid falling back into brutishness and misery. Evidently, he never considered how women felt about any of it and this again, in my own opinion based upon three marriages, was another big miscalculation. When I pointed this out as politely as I could, I received high fives from Friedrich, Twain, Zorba and Ms. Rand.
All this work was wrapped up in a magnum opus entitled Leviathan which was published in 1651.
It was dedicated to Francis Godolphin who was the brother of Sidney Godolphin, an English poet, courtier and politician who sat in the House of Commons between 1628 and 1643. Sidney died of wounds received while fighting for the Royalist Army in the English Civil War. His will contained a bequest of £200 to Thomas Hobbes. It is alleged that Sidney Godolphin's ghost yet haunts The Three Crowns Hotel in Chagford. Striding the corridors in full uniform in spite of Hobbes’ disbelief of ghosts. Sidney died on February 9, 1643. He was survived by a brother named Francis to whom Hobbes dedicated Leviathan.
Soon Hobbes was more praised and cussed than any other thinker of his time. His book pissed off Anglicans, exiled Royalists and French Catholics alike. Hobbes appealed to the Revolutionary English Government for protection and fled back to London in the Winter of 1651. He had to submit to the authority of the Anglican Church via the Council of State and was allowed afterwards to live in Fetter Lane in the City of London.
In Leviathan Hobbes set out his doctrine of the Foundation of States, Legitimate Governments and an Objective Science of Morality. Leviathan was written during the English Civil War, thus much of the book is occupied with demonstrating the necessity of a strong central authority to avoid civil war.
Walter Ralegh piped up, “Sirrah, I warned young Henry, Prince of Wales against civil war in 1618 and they cut me bloody head off.”
The outburst naturally concluded my Google briefing and Hobbes took the floor on my porch and began to explain his ideas while waving his book in his hand. This greatly animated both Nietzsche and Rand. Especially his Social Contract Theory.
Beginning from a mechanistic understanding of human beings and their passions, Hobbes postulated what life would be like without government, a condition which he called the State of Nature. In that state each person would have a right or license to everything in the world.
Mark Twain said, “That might be the case if each person grew up in Paris or was raised by wolves or was related to any of the various Royal Families of the world but if they were raised in a family by parents with siblings and a cat, I hold it very unlikely that the aforementioned Rights of a State of Nature would pan out.”
I saluted Mark.
Hobbes said, “A State of Nature would lead to a war of all against all or a bellum omnium contra omnes.” He put it in Latin to make it sound epic.
Twain said, “That Sir, is a vas autem bovis stercore or a crock of bull-shit.” He put it in Plain English to make it clear.
Hobbes’ description of the Natural State without a Political Community was this, "In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. In such a state, people fear death, and lack both the things necessary to commodious living, and the hope of being able to toil to obtain them.”
In order to avoid this demise, he explained, people accede to a Social Contract and establish a Civil Society. According to Hobbes, Society is a Population and a Sovereign Authority, to whom all individuals in that Society cede some rights for the sake of protection. Any power exercised by this authority cannot be resisted, because the protector's sovereign power derives from individuals' surrendering their own sovereign power for protection. The individuals are thereby the authors of all decisions made by the Sovereign.
I wondered aloud about infants born into such schemes and unable to give or revoke their consent to participating in this contract. Hobbes just said that parents can justly make those decisions for them. A passing Swiss Anabaptist, Conrad Grebel took issue with that and Paul Morphy had to distract them both by playing simultaneous blindfold Chess.
Quoting from his book again, Hobbes said, "He that complaineth of injury from his Sovereign complaineth that whereof he himself is the author, and therefore ought not to accuse any man but himself, no nor himself of injury because to do injury to one's self is impossible".
“I humbly beg to differ,” said Siddhartha who had joined the standing room only crowd on my porch.
“So do I, my petal,” said Kamala in a sultry voice with a twinkle in her mischievous eye.
I also voiced my disagreement saying,” Given adequate access to food, water and shelter, men and women will behave quite rationally and peaceably, in my opinion and observation. In fact, after the exertion of providing for their brood, Mom and Dad just want to watch their stories and cuddle on the couch. Bees, ants and wasps however, will not function properly without a Queen, an Army and other dedicated drones. Nor will a ship reach its destination and return to port without a Captain who possesses almighty power and authority.”
“But those individuals who by accident of birth cannot process guilt, remorse or empathy are the perpetual fly in the ointment as they invariably rise to form the elite part of the artificial hives of Man’s devising. Perhaps the lack of humanity’s will in dealing with such individuals and their minions, as they are revealed is the key to our species history and an explanation of why some like you Hobbes feel the need to buy protection with their Personal Sovereignty.”
By way of avoiding a debate, Thomas explained to us that there is no doctrine of Separation of Powers in Hobbes' world. According to him the Sovereign must control civil, military, judicial and ecclesiastical powers.
Sir Francis Bacon, one of Hobbes ex-employers took issue with Hobbes’ lack of Separation of Powers and began to speak of his unfinished 1627 Utopian novel New Atlantis, directing his voice to Thomas as if reminding him of previous conversations.
Bacon explained his vision of the future of human discovery and knowledge and his aspirations for humankind. He dreamed of a land where generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendor, piety and public spirit are the commonly held qualities of the inhabitants of the mythical Bensalem. The plan and organization of his ideal college, Salomon's House, envisioned our modern research universities in both applied and pure sciences.
Bacon quoted the Father of Salomon's House which revealed by dialogue that members of that institution decide on their own which of their discoveries to keep secret, even from the State: "And this we do also: we have consultations, which of the inventions and experiences which we have discovered shall be published, and which not; and take all an oath of secrecy for the concealing of those which we think fit to keep secret; though some of those we do reveal sometime to the State, and some not."
Hobbes bristled at this and narrowed his eyes.
“It’s in a book, dumb-ass,” said Ayn in a laughing fit.
“That would seem to imply that the State does not hold the monopoly on authority and that Salomon's House must in some sense be superior to the State”, said Robert Service while rolling a smoke from my own poke.
“Exactly the problem I have mentioned and dealt with conclusively in my book if you were paying attention,” retorted Hobbes.
Catherine The Great, who had joined our company when Bacon first appeared and was busy munching on fresh apricots clapped her bejeweled hands together.
I spoke again to the group as a whole,”His logic is sound and if he were employed by Hasbro to design a board game, I would commend him greatly. But – and it’s a BIG BUTT, in a world mostly scared of dealing with evil, great harm is caused by ignorance attempting to do good and I humbly suggest that everyone subject to a Commonwealth system read Hobbes’ Leviathan in order to finally understand that your tax return determines which National Football Team you can play for, not the color of your skin.”
Old Hobbes didn't trust the Pope as far as he could throw him and so he threw him at least that far via a meticulous mining of Scripture and a thorough review of religious and political history as if he were engaged in preparing for a prodigious legal battle. Indeed, the last portion of his great book is dedicated to this purpose and he gave a very good reading of it to all assembled.
“Vaffanculo! You think you had a problem with the Pope?” asked Giordano Bruno who had been burned alive for pointing out obvious planetary motions when Thomas was only a twelve year old boy.
“Who is John Gauden?” giggled Ayn Rand who was sitting in Zorba’s lap and had kicked off her clogs.
I went for more coffee and googled the name up. Before reporting to those assembled that he was the Englishman, who at the Restoration was made Bishop of Exeter, I realized that Ayn wasn’t as drunk as she wanted us to think nor was she naive. As soon as Gauden was installed at Exeter he began to complain to Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon of the poverty of that particular Holy See. In January of 1661 he based his demand for a better posting on a Secret Service Mission he had undertaken.
The mission alluded to was nothing short of claiming to be the author and publisher of The Eikon Basilike, The Portraiture of His Sacred Majestie in His Solitudes and Sufferings. This highly influential book was and is an important plank in all subsequent and present theories of the Divine Right of Kings. Not unlike the terrorists’ passports found intact in the rubble of the Twin Towers on 9/11, the document was conveniently “discovered” within a few hours of the execution of Charles I.
It was published on February 9, 1649, ten days after King Charles I was beheaded by Parliament in the aftermath of the English Civil War and six years to the day after the death of Sidney Godolphin, the Ghost of the Three Crowns Hotel. The Eikon Basilike was promoted as the spiritual autobiography of King Charles I of England and was said to have been written by the King’s own hand.
Clarendon’s reply to Gauden’s demands was that he was already well acquainted with that secret and had often wished that he was ignorant of it. Gauden was subsequently posted to Worcester in 1662 and died there before the year was out.
"Now I get it," said Floki the Viking boat builder who had listened to the entire discussion without interrupting once. “But I don't entirely agree with the wisdom of an inflexible logic built upon a platform made out of a combination of the physical laws of motion and any one individual human creation myth chosen at random from among the dazzling variety available to our species, regardless of which one is chosen. Particularly when its stated goal is to encompass the globe with good intentions. I think I’m going to be sick.”
Ragnar Lothbrok laughed a hearty laugh while the King of Mercia, Wessex and Northumbria bit his lip and curled his fist into a little white ball of self hate.
Which reminded me of the last words that were said to have been uttered by Thomas Hobbes in his final conscious moments, "A great leap in the dark." I spoke them aloud and old Tom vanished from the scene.
Mean Mary James who was strumming her guitar on the back steps sang, “I was tired of clocks and taking hard knocks and locking my dreams in a drawer.”
“Boys and girls,” said Huey P. Long chugging on a root beer, “Let me tell ya’ll how to set this turtle back on its feet once and for all. We have to limit the wealth of any one individual and realize that every man is a King. Hell, its all in my book.”
“Yay Kingfish!” yelled Gatemouth Brown who was jamming with Mary.
In our ongoing spiritual infancy it seems to me that we have developed three distinct tools for coping with the certainty of death and the uncertainty at what proceeds afterward. Thus, we could construct a design that would depict this trinity of adaptations. In its most earthy form, we could imagine a human seated on a rock near a fire holding a long spear. A wolf is curled up on the other side of the fire. Surrounded on all sides by thick forest, the repose of which is punctuated only by the croaking of ravens and trills of thrush. Taken independently, we could allot certain virtues to these various implements of humanity.
Proposed: That the long spear serves to repel and subdue predators of far superior size and strength.
Proposed: That the utility of this weapon is well represented in the beneficent effect of Religion upon our Societies when living in high concentration.
Proposed: That the fire serves to illuminate the forest around us, deter attackers and keep us warm.
Proposed: That the utility of this weapon is well represented in the beneficent effect of Music upon our Societies when living in high concentration.
Proposed: That fact that the recumbent wolf has chosen to share our fire serves to benefit both parties on an equal level.
Proposed: That the utility of this relationship is well represented by Literature since the ancient art of story-telling married and inspired our ability to communicate via text.
Concluded: That this state of affairs well represents our abilities and limitations as we make our way, regardless of our technological advances.
In my own view this depiction of is highly reminiscent of extant illustrations of Óðinn seated with his wolves and ravens. The birds, we are told represent Thought and Memory and a moments reflection will make clear to anyone their importance in the overall scheme of things human. Everything works together and independently. When combined like three strands of a strong rope, this technology can be used to create many useful things by the human wielding it.
As mankind’s primary tools, these three are particularly prone to exciting a desire in a certain portion of the population at any given time to monopolize and control them, such is their power. It is important symbolically to note that Óðinn is wearing a patch over one eye and that this physical impairment was a necessary sacrifice in order to gain knowledge beyond what can be seen in the mundane world.
I am personally reminded of another elder Father of our species, one much closer in time to us than Óðinn and that man is Ludwig van Beethoven. In spite of and perhaps in some measure because of his deteriorating sense of hearing, he left us in much better shape than he found us in. To back up my statement, I would like to quote from two sources.
The first is from a letter written by Beethoven himself to Bettina Brentano and subsequently quoted by her in a letter she wrote to Goethe.
"When I open my eyes, I must sigh because what I see is contrary to my religion, and I must despise the world which never understands that music is a greater revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the wine that incites us to new creation, and I am the Bacchus who makes this glorious wine for mankind, and grants them drunkenness of spirit. When they are sober again, they will have fished up much which they may take with them on to dry land. I am not anxious about the fate of my music. Its fate cannot be other than happy. Whoever succeeds in grasping it, shall be absolved from all the misery that bows down other men."
The second quote is an excerpt from Beethoven’s funeral oration and was written by his friend Franz Grillparzer.
"He was an artist, but he was a man as well. A man in every sense, in the highest sense. Because he withdrew from the world, people called him a misanthrope, and because he was aloof from sentimentality, people called him unfeeling. Ah, one who knows himself to be hard of heart, does not shrink! The finest points are the most easily blunted, or broken. An excess of sensitivity avoids a show of feeling! He fled from the world because in his loving nature, he found no weapon with which to oppose the world. He withdrew from mankind after he had given them everything and had received nothing in return. Thus he was, thus he died, thus he will live, until the end of time. "
To Ludwig, Óðinn and myriad other spiritual scouts we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude. Their paths could not have been altered whether we recognized and appreciated them or not. Fortunately we have methods for storing and retrieving literature, music and religion. In my opinion the least we can do is to see to it that these methods receive continuous use, refinement and that our fellows and our children are taught their worth, utility and the importance of keeping these things free of any constraints.
As the scene by the fireside painted above serves as a memory aid to the words that accompany it, here is another such illustration that I think well depicts the reality of our species current state on the road to becoming worthy of our potential in the universe. I see a young person, perhaps a boy with uncut hair ascending a steep rocky path to an unknowable summit. He has a strap over his shoulder that is cinched around three books with no names. He is smiling over his shoulder at the observer and one can discern that there is a sling-shot protruding from his hip pocket.
To flesh out the symbology inherent in this illustration, let me say that the boy is mankind and his way is necessarily uphill. Indeed, it is this sense of struggling up against gravity and avoiding the easy way of things that is our surest guide when our sight is robbed by the dark of night or the dark night of the soul.
The three books with no titles represents our species records, not only of facts scientific but also of our thoughts, observations, lessons, ideas, disappointments, aspirations and most importantly, our growing body of questions of increasing caliber.
That the boy is hauling them up the mountain shows that we have made our choice to pursue being a sapient species and that education is a personal responsibility ultimately, notwithstanding that from time to time in our designed societies it may be provided by our rulers for purposes of control rather than for our liberation. Since many a good woman and man has taken the trouble to write down everything from philosophy, to mathematics to music to holy scripture; there stands no excuse for not arming oneself with the best of what went before we arrived. The deciphering of the symbols can be learned at any time by those who don’t posses that ability and modern technology has helped to convert entire libraries of knowledge into audio files that may be played while one drives, walks, works or sits on a beach.
Finally, the sling-shot has to do with the underlying reality of nature that quite simply, it is incumbent upon each of us to defend ourselves rather than give up our liberties in return for such protection. Of course, in the modern lifestyle and also by the arrangement of villages in non-urban areas, we have long ago decided to give up some liberty in order to enjoy security provided by the leaders of the groups we belong to. Rather than call for a going backwards to a more primitive arrangement, I am merely highlighting the fact that to nature and the universe itself there is no allowance made in the balance of things by the arrangements of man. That is to say, there are many pitfalls that a man or woman can encounter at precisely those moments when the police are not around, the priest is unavailable and something wants to eat you. It is best not to forget that.
I will talk of the long spear of religion for a moment. Clearly, the various codes of conduct and the values underlying them have made the concentration of people possible to a larger extent than any other single reason in my opinion. At the same time, the conundrum of paying protection, be it physical or spiritual and the attendant loss of sovereignty and liberty still remains. Therefore, I would deem it wise to study at least the spiritual instruction which came to you from your parents and those other systems with which you must abide by as neighbors. From this process, each person should be able to forge a code by which they can personally live that is not dependent upon man-made infrastructure.
A few wise men and women have gone into the dark closets and under the beds only to find out that the perceived monsters lurking there were extensions of themselves. These demons were slain in due course by the personal long spears of those hardy individuals. The lesson here is that the spear is a necessity and you may make your own or take up one of the many provided for you but without this weapon your chance of arriving to your death bed with a clear conscience grows exceedingly slim. It is all part of being human and not to be feared or avoided, it is plain common sense to just be cognizant of the fact.
I have been learning about music recently as pertains to the history of modern music in the Western world. One of the first things that resonated with me was a chapter explaining the early connection of the Christian Church and how music is written and performed. It appears that first there was the words of the text that were to be transmitted to the congregation. What we call notes were these words turned into sounds or sounds to accompany these words when chanted.
From this base of practice and usage, there emerged different formats that all reflected the type of service and the language used, such as Latin, Italian and eventually German and English. It was noted long ago by brain doctors that a person can remember a musical jingle for a lifetime with no effort and the same person faces dire challenges when asked to memorize a set of numbers or pictures or words. It stands to reason that combining the brains preference for remembering musical notes serves as a handy aid to memorizing the words that those notes stand for. Anyone may employ this technique and I am sure many of do so without even realizing it.
In history there have been people who studied deeply into the mechanics of memory or mnemonics, if you will. One such person was Giordano Bruno, an Italian man of the sixteenth century. I came across his writings many years ago and after taking nearly a year to read them all I was delighted and surprised to find out that a colleague of mine at Canada Post was a direct descendant of this extraordinary man. By the time I found out about the connection, Giordano had become a hero of sorts to me. My reasons were not limited to his incredible intellect and unique abilities but also his bravery and integrity.
As a very young man, seventeen years old, if I recall correctly, Mr. Bruno became a Dominican monk. By age 24 he was ordained a priest. The young man was an avid reader and aimed to hone his intellect by absorbing all the cutting-edge philosophical literature of his era and come up with his own synthesis, which vehicle he could take farther, perhaps than had been the case up to his own birth.
Due to the stringent rules at the monastery, Bruno had to keep certain books hidden in the out-house rather than his cell. This he did and he read them while engaged in the most mundane of all possible human activities. I do not know if another monk turned him in or if a particular book by Erasmus of Rotterdam was discovered in the loo by accident but the upshot was that Bruno left in haste to escape the wrath of his superiors. This began his traveling life.
I will leave it for the interested party to read upon these travels and make no pretense to have memorized them in exact detail. Let it suffice to say that Bruno went to Switzerland, France, England, Czechoslovakia and Germany. He amazed people everywhere he went particularly for his unmatched memorization skills which he had honed via his own discovered methods. These methods he wrote into books and he also committed his philosophical, theosophical and scientific explorations to the printed page.
He studied theology in Toulouse and later taught philosophy there. He also lectured and taught at several universities including Oxford, Wittenberg, Helmstedt and eventually in Padua. He applied for a chair in mathematics at Padua while teaching there and was unsuccessful in this bid. The job went a year later to a Mr. Galileo Galilei.
He attempted to rejoin the Catholic fold but was denied absolution by the Jesuit priest he had approached in France. His talents attracted the benevolent attention of the king Henry III. The king summoned him to the court.
Bruno subsequently reported that, "I got me such a name that King Henry III summoned me one day to discover from me if the memory which I possessed was natural or acquired by magic art. I satisfied him that it did not come from sorcery but from organized knowledge; and, following this, I got a book on memory printed, entitled The Shadows of Ideas, which I dedicated to His Majesty. Forthwith he gave me an Extraordinary Lectureship with a salary."
His views were controversial in England, notably with John Underhill, Rector of Lincoln College and subsequently bishop of Oxford, and George Abbot, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury.
Abbot mocked Bruno for supporting "the opinion of Copernicus that the earth did go round, and the heavens did stand still; whereas in truth it was his own head which rather did run round, and his brains did not stand still."
Excommunication by the Lutherans of Wittenberg sent Bruno to Frankfurt. There at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1591, a rich Venetian gentleman invited Bruno to come and teach him memory techniques. Giordano went there in 1592 and after two months of instructing the man, Bruno decided to leave Venice. When he told his benefactor of his plans to travel, he was denounced by his employer to the Venetian Inquisition and arrested on the 22nd of May, 1592. He was held in prison pending the recantation of his published beliefs and observations, for eight years. He defended himself and refused to recant.
According to the correspondence of Gaspar Schopp of Breslau, he is said to have made a threatening gesture towards his judges and to have replied: Maiori forsan cum timore sententiam in me fertis quam ego accipiam. ("Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it").
He was turned over to the secular authorities. On Ash Wednesday, 17 February 1600, in the Campo de' Fiori (a central Roman market square), he was hung upside down naked and burned at the stake. His ashes were thrown into the Tiber river. All of Bruno's works were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1603.
The Vatican has published few official statements about Bruno's trial and execution. In 1942, Cardinal Giovanni Mercati, who discovered a number of lost documents relating to Bruno's trial, stated that the Church was perfectly justified in condemning him. On the 400th anniversary of Bruno's death, in 2000, Cardinal Angelo Sodano declared Bruno's death to be a "sad episode" but, despite his regret, he defended Bruno's prosecutors, maintaining that the Inquisitors "had the desire to serve freedom and promote the common good and did everything possible to save his life." In the same year, Pope John Paul II made a general apology for "the use of violence that some have committed in the service of truth."
One of the main things that infuriated people about Bruno was his habit of publishing his thoughts which sometimes disagreed with previously published and accepted works. An example was when after reading a treatise by Fabrizio Mordente, a mathematician who invented a type of compass/calculator, Bruno used the compass to base 120 theses against Aristotelian natural science and also published a pamphlet praising Mordente’s work and leveled criticisms where he felt they were due. Mordente was angry at this and replied, whereupon Bruno published a satire entitled The Triumphant Idiot. Mordente took employ with the powerful Duke of Guise whereupon Bruno left for Germany.
It is instructive to look at the fresco by Raphael, The School of Athens. We see a depiction of Aristotle gesturing to the earth, representing his belief in knowledge through empirical observation and experience, while holding a copy of his Nicomachean Ethics in his hand, whilst Plato his teacher, gestures to the heavens, representing his belief in The Forms, while holding a copy of Timaeus. These men disagree but remain friends and allow each other latitude to expand their minds. Plato’s teacher Socrates had to drink hemlock and his pupil Aristotle went on to teach Alexander of Macedon.
My friend at the Post office who is a descendant of Bruno is a musician and an artist. Over the years we have had lengthy discussions on a variety of topics and don’t always agree. Once in the early days, he gave me a book that in his words illustrated his current spiritual beliefs. I took it home and read it straightaway. No sooner had I finished it that I began to write a refutation of the entire document with great zeal, anger and conviction. By the time I was done, my text was twice that of the original and I had taken no prisoners nor used moderation in expressing my arguments.
This reaction surprised me somewhat but nevertheless I put my response in a manila envelope and left it on my friend’s desk at work the next morning with the full understanding that either he would see things my way or come to consider me a spiritual enemy of the first magnitude. I really didn't care which, such was my conviction that the book in question was unmitigated poison.
I happened to mention this to another postal friend. He listened to my tale and then tore a strip off me a mile wide. He admonished me for having the poor taste to denigrate what someone had willingly shared with me as a representation of their own personal religion, for lack of a better word. So strong was his lecture that I passed by my other friend’s desk and removed the document I had written before he opened it and left only the original text with a wee note that said, “It’s not my cup of tea.”
Ironically, when I look back on this now, I think I know possibly how Giordano felt at times when he was driven to respond to things that appeared in print in his day even when doing so caused much trouble for himself. Deep inside I also know that Giordano would not have removed the manuscript as I did and it is his courage and integrity wedded to a strong intellect that inspires me about that man.
A month or so ago, I stumbled upon an on-line company that made Giordano Bruno tee-shirts while searching for graphics for an article I was writing. I smiled and contrary to my usual practices, I immediately ordered one. Within a week or so, I received my awaited package. I was very happy to know that there was still a fan club for the man from Nola.
A few days after receiving my shirt, I was invited to a house warming. It was to be a very small affair with my wife, my self, the hosts and only one other family. I wore my Giordano tee-shirt with pride. When I got there I went into the back yard where the barbecue was being cooked until summoned into the house by my wife.
When I got inside, there was a man, a priest, splashing liberal amounts of Holy Water in all the rooms of the house and praying for blessings and protection. He seemed a friendly guy and when the blessing was done we two wound up sitting on two sides of a coffee table and eating together. He told me a bit about his own background and I did the same.
At some point, when the talk turned religious, I became hyper aware of my tee-shirt and wondered if the man in front of me knew Bruno’s story. If he did he didn’t let on. After an hour or so, his talk cut to the chase. With a practiced flair, I was treated to an accepted explanation of the Trinity, a main point of bitter divergence and bloody dispute in the history of Christianity. Ironically, an issue of not much concern for the day to day life and ethics of the practicing Christian. One of the handful of accusations laid against Mr. Bruno in the Inquisition had to do with this very point of theology.
As I watched, the priest fortified his wonderfully simple rendering of this complex topic with what I will have to label neuro-linguistic programming. That is, for those unfamiliar with the term, hand gestures, mudras or actions. It appears that first there was the thought, the Idea, in God’s mind. This was illustrated by a hand gesture akin to a light-bulb being lit over the head. Next came the Word. This was illustrated with an incredible gesture. I can best describe it as someone miming the pulling of a peeled banana through a mail-slot wherein the mail-slot is a human mouth. Careful not to break the moist excrescence, a downward curve is maintained throughout the operation. Lastly, the Word becomes Flesh. This was illustrated by a sudden clapping of the hands in front of the observer’s face. I was treated to three repetitions of this.
Shortly after that I spoke for a time, using my hands extensively as I did so. I said that we could go on like that or just enjoy our food and the hospitality provided by the family whose house it was. I had a feeling that I had held my own but just so. I also felt a chilly breeze from four hundred years prior blow through the room, redolent with the dogma hammered out at councils long past by powerful men whose offspring have a lot of gained ground to hold and protect.
I walked into the lunch room at the Post Office one afternoon and saw the Australian born child of one of my work-mates sitting at a table watching TV. As I heated up my lunch in the microwave, we began to chat. When I had sat down to eat, he sheepishly asked me if I might happen to have enough change in my pocket to buy him a soda from the pop machine. I thought very highly of this boy’s father and really wanted to treat the young lad.
I dug into my pockets and alas, couldn’t make up the price of a drink for him. I did happen to have some very special acorns taken from a tree in Queen Elizabeth Park. It was a variety called a Cork Oak and true to its name, the bark was exactly the consistency of fine Portuguese cork. Many years ago, I had visited the Theater of Epidaurus in Greece. Up near the top seats grew a stand of ancient oaks. I gathered a few acorns with the intent to bonsai them in Vancouver. They were confiscated and destroyed at the airport security check and I was very sad but understanding of the reasons for this.
As this memory flashed across my mind, I told the young fellow that although I didn’t have enough money for his soda pop, I had something much more valuable that I would give him. I placed three acorns in his little hand and told him that if he were able to get them through the Aussie customs, he would be able to plant some trees that would make a connection to Canada, where his father toiled for his welfare. Over time they would grow, as he himself would and that they would likely be standing when he was older than myself. On top of all that, I said that they would provide a home for birds, squirrels, a tree house and maybe even a koala.
The little man took the three acorns and gripped them tightly as I spoke. He opened his hand afterward and gazed at them with what I thought to be an imagination pregnant with all possibilities. I took my seat and began to finish my adobo. After a pause of some three minutes, still standing where he had received my gift, the boy walked over to the trash bin and eyed me like a cat does just before disappearing around an obstacle.
“I think,” he said in a dulcet tone, “I’ll plant them here.” He then let them drop one at a time for full acoustic effect all the wile holding me in a steady gaze.
In our ongoing spiritual infancy it seems to me that we have developed three distinct tools for coping with the certainty of death and the uncertainty at what proceeds afterward. Thus, we could construct a design that would depict this trinity of adaptations. In its most earthy form, we could imagine a human seated on a rock near a fire holding a long spear. A wolf is curled up on the other side of the fire. Surrounded on all sides by thick forest, the repose of which is punctuated only by the croaking of ravens and trills of thrush.
If you are listening to or reading this, you are welcome to share my fire. Bring your own spear and just let the wolf be at peace. He doesn’t generally bite.
I remember going to my first garage sale down in Houston, Texas at the beginning of the decade of the Seventies. A sign had been posted on a telephone pole and it happened to be in walking distance of my house. The house was a rental that happened to be directly across the street from the house I had been born into some fifteen years earlier.
It was a modest middle-class street in North-west Houston in a neighborhood called Oak Forest. Nearby were some railroad tracks I liked to spend time walking up and down due to the slow freights and the abundance of bush alongside the right-of-way. There was also a nearby trestle where a young man could practice his balance and develop his nerve.
The neighbors along the street were all the same ones that had been there when I was in diapers. I had my own room in that birth house and it was facing the street. I remember watching slats of light crawl the darkened walls at night in predictable permutations every time a car turned onto Nina Lee Lane. There was a problem with this house however and it became evident shortly after I was born.
Most nights, as soon as I had drifted off the sleep, tired from batting the stuffed plastic birds that hung over my crib or pulling tufts of kapok out of my little pillow, I was treated to a horrific dream. The scene was always the same. I was out in the street in front of the house but in this dream I was older and dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt rather than the breech-clout of infancy.
It was always early evening and the waning light of the hot sun was quite adequate to illuminate the surroundings, which were perfect in every detail as to being accurate depictions of the real houses and trees on that street. Presently, a white sedan would turn left onto our street. It proceeded slowly and as soon as my eyes sought to see through the glare of the windshield, it began to accelerate steadily.
For an eternally recurring split-second I would wonder why and I would strive in vain to see who. This questioning collapsed under the weight of imminent physical danger as the automobile bore down on my running figure, attempting to get out of its path. The curbs were low and tapered, the lawns flat and empty and the only thing that offered any real protection were the few larger sized trees growing on some of the properties.
I was pursued onto the sidewalk and dodged back in a reverse diagonal. Looking over my shoulder in disbelief, I saw the car was now speeding from the opposite direction and gaining. This repeated until I invariably woke up screaming at the top of my lungs. This brought my mother and a few moments respite. As I lay in the darkness awake, I again watched the lights made by cars turning onto the street streaming through the Venetian blinds.
Always the same scenario played out, if I slept. My dream self was never hit by the dream vehicle but it was always there behind me and gaining on me. Over time, I tried thousands of maneuvers to dodge it. As I got older, I had the feeling that perhaps it was someone else that had once slept in that room, who's terror I was experiencing. We moved to the country when I reached three years old and I never had the dream again.
Looking across the street to that first house as a fifteen year old made me wonder if the dream scene belonged to that house and not to me. There were no other guys my age on that street and over the next two or three years these older boys were all drafted and sent to Vietnam. My dad was mostly out of town in those days with one of his associates and he used to phone at weird hours from strange places with instructions for my mother to bury his hashish paraphernalia in the back yard as a visit by the police might be imminent.
The associate was a cheerful man about my father’s age and I had met him on several occasions. I used to watch them playing cribbage and making some kind of project with sheaves of different paper, bottles of different inks and a variety of typewriters. I’ll call him Sparky, for such was his nature. I found him to be possessed of interesting stories and a variety of knowledge in matters such as gemstones, counterfeit oil paintings, locks, safes, papers, inks, night fishing, firearms and explosives of various kinds.
He liked my company but my father seemed annoyed and I had the distinct feeling that I was only tolerated around the late night kitchen table sessions because Sparky enjoyed showing off his expertise and my father needed Sparky’s help. I heard he had a daughter and wife but I never met them. Perhaps he desired a son and I was a good stand-in while he and my father worked on their project. It was understood not to ask about what he was doing but Sparky couldn’t help himself in speaking openly of how he was doing it.
I was saving my money from my work at Mexican restaurant to buy a 90cc Yamaha motorcycle. My best friend had one and had taught me to ride. My father and mother had forbidden me to see this friend, stating that he was a bad influence. He lived alone with his dad, had a girlfriend, self esteem and constantly encouraged me to break free from the prison of my circumstances. I told my parents that I would see my friend away from home, if he was not welcome in ours. I had another friend, a Chicano who was Catholic and his name was trotted out as a nice boy for me to have over.
One day as I returned home from school, I saw a truck and trailer in the driveway. There stood Sparky grinning from ear to ear while my dad was undoing some straps on a brand new lime green Kawasaki street legal dirt bike. It was a 250cc and tricked out with everything essential to make a Comanche warrior proud.
They wheeled the machine onto the driveway and Sparky clapped me on the shoulder heartily and said, “How do you like this, Mikey? Ain’t she sweet? It’s yours, man.”
He handed me the keys and told me to go for a spin. My dad stood alongside and said nothing. I asked Sparky where it had come from as I knew that it was an expensive item and I doubted that either of those two gentlemen would have sprung for it from their own pockets.
“I boosted it for you last week, Mikey. From way across town. I tried her out and she tears ass in a boogie-woogie manner.”
My heart sank into a rising wave of long suppressed anger and came to rest on a reef of disappointment. Disbelief and a desire to hop the next freight out of Houston animated my response.
“What about the serial number?” I asked him hoping to show my grasp of the finer details of larceny.
I was already seeing movies in my head of some poor angry bastard who like myself in the same situation would have gone hunting for some Cherokee retribution.
“Shit, Mikey I already ground it off and I can stamp you a brand new one on the frame if it would make you feel better.”
“What about the poor dude who owned the bike?” I asked picturing myself in his sad, angry boots.
Sparky looked at me like I was a three-legged dog, snorted and said, “Mikey, fuck the poor dude who owned the bike. OK? What about you?”
Sparky looked at my dad, who rolled his eyes in an “I told you so” manner.
“Well, kid. What’s it gonna be?” Sparky asked in a tone that carried less varnish than usual.
“Thank you for thinking of me Sparky but I ain’t taking it. I’m planning to buy my own.”
“Son-of-a-bitch! Well, I for one will ride the daylights out of this baby so she won’t go to waste. I’m sorry you feel like you do,” he said as they began loading it back up under the watchful gaze of nosy neighbors.
A few weeks later, I came home to find a nice Raleigh ten-speed bike in the garage. My dad said that it was a gift from Sparky and that he had bought it at a garage sale. He swore it was legit and therefore I was to keep it so as not to offend my father’s partner. I had my doubts but I only saw Sparky once more before he went to jail. I remember him showing me a clump of different gemstones that he carried individually wrapped in toilet paper. He laid them bare in my hand and told me their names and explained the differences in color, quality and cut. He said that everyone should carry some sewn into their clothes, just in case.
On one of his visits home, my father recounted the arrest and subsequent incarceration of his partner into Leavenworth Kansas’ Maximum Security Federal Penitentiary. Evidently, it wasn’t his first time in the joint. My father had been held for seventy-two hours and released without being charged from a location several states away. He shipped home a new expensive malamute puppy and when he returned, he had the wife and daughter of his unlucky compadre in tow.
I was ordered to vacate my bedroom and was moved to a borrowed army cot in the living room. The fat middle-aged woman and her daughter of about a dozen years whom I had never seen before unpacked their battered suitcases and settled in that afternoon. Their accents were strange and I guessed them to be from the Mid-west. My dad told me he had made a reciprocal oath with Sparky to look after each others families, if one of them got burned.
I was given Sparky’s mailing address at the prison and we corresponded. He taught me via correspondence how to draw up Astrological Birth Charts and to use an ephemeris. Skills he had learned from a cell mate. I accidentally learned from his daughter that Sparky and his wife were more than thieves of physical objects such as gems, cash or vehicles.
One night, after the lights were out and I had finally managed to get to sleep, I was awakened by the girl when she crawled into my bed. She was maybe two years older than my baby sister. I scolded her in hushed tones for waking me up on a school night. She looked genuinely saddened and hurt by this reaction and I softened my tone. I thought maybe she was scared or missing her dad and I asked her about that. She said she just wanted to sleep with me. This annoyed me after having given up my bedroom in the first place, to now have my army cot invaded. I sent her away to her room.
For several nights after that I was awakened repeatedly in the dead of night by this poor thing kissing my sleeping form. It started to give me the creeps. I told her for the sake of my own peace that she could sleep beside me for awhile, thinking that it was justifiable insecurity at work and being no stranger to that, I was empathetic. It didn’t have the desired effect.
She told me that she wanted to have sex with me and for us to be lovers. Her words were well beyond the normal vocabulary of her years. Astonished, but not admitting that I myself was yet a virgin, I questioned her in such a way as to ascertain if she actually knew what she was talking about from experience or from books and hearsay.
She proceeded to describe a world that wouldn’t have been much far-fetched say, in decadent Ancient Rome, Greece or Persia but was sub-human in my personal view. As she spoke, it was crystal clear from her demeanor that she had been groomed to her life from very early childhood onward and had, as yet, no inkling that there was anything even remotely wrong with it.
I quickly adopted her nonchalance to hide my own shock, anger, sorrow and disgust. I reckoned that she would be in for some very hard times in her future when the pendulum’s swing brought the balance of the Law into the chaos of her family’s life. Though her innocence had been robbed by her own parents, she remained as yet absolutely innocent of that fact. I did not deem it appropriate at that time to be the bringer of light and subsequently cause the emotional fires that were sure to erupt afterwards. I used my own version of Boy Scout diplomacy to send her back to her bed without trampling her feelings.
She told my dad and her mother of my ultimate rejection of her favors and I was laughed at by him, considered mean by the little gal and considered retarded by her vampiric mother. Thereafter I was treated by my dad as a side show freak. The girl told one of the neighborhood children that we were lovers and that gal never did look at me the same way after that. I ceased corresponding with the man in prison and eventually the twin tornadoes moved away into the melting pot that is America. Five years later, I was confronted by the fact that my own father was a secret member of the same tribe as that girl’s parents.
It was during that chaotic time back on my home street that I went to my first garage sale, mentioned above. I only bought two items. One was a worn blue cloth bound Dr. Seuss book entitled Thidwick The Big Hearted Moose and the other was an eight pound hickory-handled sledge hammer. I think the whole shebang cost me two dollars. I read the book over many times and still have it today.
It tells the tale of a kindhearted moose that allows a bingle-bug to hitch-hike on his antlers as the herd migrated to their feeding grounds. This act of kindness was followed by several others and over time the guests begin to invite every creature they encountered to join their party on the moose’s head. Things reached a critical mass when the herd began to swim across a lake.
The guests protested that they did not swim and therefore it wasn’t right for Thidwick to carry them into harms way, after all, he was their host. Thidwick obeyed their protestations and sadly watched his herd stroke for the distant shore where the grass was fat. At this juncture, a hunting party began firing at Thidwick who discovered he was too burdened to make an escape. His passengers began to curse him.
Just when it looked like curtains, something quite natural and thus seemingly magical happened. Thidwick instinctively tossed his head back and forth vigorously and shed both antlers along with the freeloaders. That enabled him to quickly swim the lake and join his fellows. The squatters on his horns were shown in the last picture panel of the book adorning the wall of a Harvard man’s trophy room, above the fireplace, all stuffed, right down to the bingle-bug.
It is much more than a children’s story and I still take tutelage from that book down till today. In fact, every time I doubt the veracity of its truths, I am repeatedly shown that it is indeed an accurate depiction of immutable facts. Many readers enjoyed The Tao of Poo but I believe I was the first to see and realize The Kybalion of Seuss.
That Texas garage sale afternoon, I hauled a railroad tie from the tracks nearby and collected a bucket of rusty spikes. I installed the tie in my back yard by scratching out a little trench to keep it from jumping. There, in the spiritual company of the men like my Swedish grandfather who shoveled coal on ships, laid tracks across prairies and plowed fields; I hammered spikes and sang up the old songs. There was no one around to roll their eyes or laugh at me. I watched the boys coming home crippled and addicted, hammered a little harder and took to smoking Bull Durham. The endorphins released by the exercise were a balm. I wasn’t conscious just then of what I was building. I just knew I had to get it done.
Recently, I engaged in about ten weeks of farm labor. I saved all the loot up and decided to get a wood stove with those proceeds. After settling on a certain stove, I set about to educate myself on the different kinds of wood. This soon proved to elicit the same types of input one receives from people at large when undertaking anything new to oneself. All manner of advice rains down be it sought or be it inflicted.
In these circumstances it is well to make note of all advice and then step back and see which bits are the same for each giver. Set those aside and then examine those that differ. That shortens the field of research that must be done in order to identify facts from personal preferences and biases. In fairly short order I came to the conclusion that although there were other fine woods available to me, I would prefer to start my wood stove life as a burner of fir.
This process was repeated again with the manner of obtaining the wood. I could invest in a trailer and a chainsaw, learn how to use the chainsaw and learn where and when it was legal to harvest firewood or I could purchase it from a woodman. I collected names of the latter from many people and made notes of all the different pricing schemes and delivery styles. I talked with a German friend who educated me on the traditional dimensions and pricing of loads of firewood. I soon learned that the stacked wood rarely measured up to these dimensions and thus it was important to be able to estimate right from the time the truck pulled up to deliver your load.
I made my decision and phoned my chosen man. He arrived at my place two days later with an alleged two cords worth of dry half-round fir blocks all cut to my specified length. Prior to coming over, he had phoned to ask if I would prefer the blocks be quartered as his men were having trouble lifting them. Sensing an increase of price in return for this luxury, I declined his offer and said I wanted the practice of splitting them myself.
I went to the hardware store with a friend and purchased a nice Mexican made eight and a half pound maul. I set up the chopping block I had requested of the woodman. It was a good sized bottom portion of the single dead standing fir he had harvested from Fountain Ridge. I counted the rings and came up with a tally in excess of 120. As I counted them in the July sun, I noticed that there were some exceptionally dry years and some that were exceedingly wet. I doubted if human activities had anything to do with these grand cycles so eloquently recorded in the wood.
As I began the big chore of chopping, people passed by to look and offer advice. Again I took it all in and set aside those tips that were common to all. I learned that the knots should be placed on the underside and that the first strokes should be aimed just on either side of these particularly tough portions that ran across the grain of the desired split. I was taught by my own body that the steel head did all the work required and that the handle was merely a means to direct its kinetic force with accuracy.
Now, some few weeks after the seven long days of daily toil that saw the job completed, my sore lower back has taught me that the blocks were too big for me to safely lift onto the chopping block without damage to my vertebrae and connective tissues. In future I shall have the blocks quartered if they are of a similar circumference to this first batch.
I was telling this to a man I know who is in his ninth decade and he told me about splitting an average of twenty cords per winter on the Saskatchewan prairies. My own back pain faded away in his smile and I realized that added to the other variables by which we perceive that which is immutable; the degree and polarity of anything can make us feel better or worse but cannot change what underlies.
I recalled those hot afternoons forty-five years ago down in Texas hammering spikes into a creosoted cross-tie. I find the same peace through exhaustion now as I did then. There is a lot wrong with the world and it seems to be caught in an eddy of drug-induced indifference like trash swirling around a bridge piling.
Some of the uppermost sections of this venerable fir tree had a deep widdershins twist, I discovered. They were a special challenge to anyone wishing to split them into usable chunks for the fire grate. They whispered to me of windy evenings that wound up the tenderest part of the tall trunk by pushing on the lateral branches with a persistence found only in nature. Each required at least three accurate heavy blows to accomplish an unwinding of the springy twisted fibers. Their strength and tenacity was markedly superior to the straight pieces from the bottom.
I gazed up at a tall live spruce in view of my work space and noticed that there were several branches near the flexible top that rather than drooping like their lower fellows, actually sprang upward against gravity by virtue of the twist inculcated into them by the punishing winds and snow. Some formed semi-circles against the cobalt sky and once in a while a bird would perch in this frame as if to offer a well set up photograph as a reward to anyone with eyes to see the lesson.
I chopped and stacked for a week, sweating buckets of salt water. Part of me realized I was fueling up an invisible engine that would run on a spirit track I had built as a boy. Childhoods are not meant to be perpetual as popular media cunningly portrays in order to sell more cheap toys and sidetrack yet another generation. However, the fact is that far too many of them, childhoods that is, all over this world and in all periods of history are amputated with less regard than one has for swatting a horsefly.
They don’t cease to be, for wisdom teaches us that you cannot take away from or add to what already is. All there is, is all there is, was or will be. So, somewhere out there, perhaps in the space that used to be occupied by my big fir tree, runs a slow moving freight. The boxcars are clean and the doors are open. The ladders are made of polished hickory and are easily scaled. Like a recurring dream, the train is always moving away from harm regardless of where one boards it.
It is full of childhoods of every description and as they naturally ripen, they each arrive at exactly the place where they precociously jumped on board. There, while their friends watch from the slow rolling platform, they surrender their cocoons within the dignity of a voluntary ceremony. You know, the way primitive people used to do. On that ground, they cast off their antlers and disperse their parasites. And then, to paraphrase T. E. Lawrence:
“And then the little things creep out
to patch themselves hovels
in the marred shadow of those gifts.”
I have always thought it a shame that we humans will contort ourselves to fit into prefabricated forms. It occurred to me long ago, that I prefer to draft forms that fit individuals. We have all heard that we should "think outside the box," ad nausea. Subtly, this only serves to reinforce the false notion that there is in fact a box. If one must have a box, build it yourself the way you want and then go into it when you feel like thinking. Then come out and share your thoughts. That is when things get interesting. Just ask Giordano Bruno.
It must be born in mind when reaching an audience that there are so many demographics that a balance must be struck between universal language and targeted language. It is helpful to think of a grandparent, a colleague and a child all sitting at a table with you. Can you speak truth in such a way that they all can comprehend accurately what you mean to convey? If you can do this for the particular information to be imparted, it is a wonderfully wrought speech. In certain situations, it would be more expedient to speak to each of these three separately, conveying the same truth in three different vernaculars, intelligible to each.
The child's version would be easily understood by the other two, as would the grandparent version because it speaks to common sense. The colleagues' version would likely be understood only by the colleagues due only to the words chosen, not from the concepts being too difficult. Children (of any age) have to be simply shown what to do to keep safe and they will adopt the practice. This area amounts to a mission of the highest caliber, as we are supposed to be looking after the little ones not throwing potential dangers into their hands and wishing them good luck.
A picture can truly be worth a thousand words as it is not bound by language or vernacular. For concepts that are to reach across wide swathes of the possible demographics, graphics is, in my opinion, the way to go.
Men and women, old and young along with specialized groups of professionals make for very many permutations of potential audiences and this is further complicated by cultural and religious differences. To make the task of communicating important messages such as warnings of danger somewhat simpler in the face of such multiplicity, it is well to remember that all women are smart enough by their natures to adopt things that keep them and their loved ones safe, once shown that such aids exist. Men are better suited to denying that problems exist for as long as possible and finally they must be gently led into thinking that they thought of the solution themselves to assuage their pride. Telemarketers and politicians learn this truth while still in the crib.
Communication must be differentiated into various forms of auditory grooming. Thus, there is a difference (on the animal level) between the metered caws of a crow and the lowing of cattle. On the human level, there is a difference between the sharing of individual mind (oration) and the repetition of undigested data that has come from any source other than the first hand experience of the speaker. All forms of human communication have their places and purposes. All forms of human communication have been kept in their places for sometimes less than noble purposes.
Much time and effort has been put into making communication unintelligible for all but a chosen group. This is the realm of cryptology. The impetus can be noble, such as coded messaging in times of war but can also be nefarious in the way that cant, slang, jargon, gang-speak and many specialized professional vocabularies purposely exclude the public at large from understanding in order to either make them dependent or to victimize them.
New ways of speech continually creep into our vocabularies via popular media and are propagated throughout the world. This can be amusing or it can be annoying. A case in point is Starbuckian. In most cities of any size with any Italian population there have always been espresso shops and their simple menus long ago introduced any customers who weren't Italian to a few words in that language. Then the boys from Washington state went a step further. They introduced new terms for the sizes as well as their individual concoctions that still prove confusing for many people after all these years. Somehow ordering a "tall" to designate a small and a "vente" to designate a large will likely prove to be counter-intuitive for many people for many years to come. There are many ordinary folk who would prefer to order a small plain black coffee instead of a tall americano.
This created a new class of "coffee snobs" among the denizens of these shops. It also created a new class of low-paid, self-righteous servers under the new moniker of "barista." The snobbery cuts both ways and many is the ordinary young man or woman who is racked over the coals for not understanding the caffeinois used by the discerning customer. Conversely, there is the soggy feigned pitying glance of the seasoned barista cast upon the poor construction worker trying desperately to find the words "large coffee to go" on the cryptic menu.
I was in my local coffee bar the other day after a long hot day of farm labor. My clothes were dust-covered, sweat soaked and the straw of my battered cowboy hat was roasted brown in my own grease. I was greeted by a lady I know after ordering an iced americano from a tall tattooed young man who worked the cash register. She was part of a three woman team who together prepared the drink in carefully coordinated stages.
This lady, a Filipina, asked me how things were going that day and by way of reply I answered in Spanish, “Mucho calor!” and waved my hand like a fan for dramatic effect.
“Oh yes, mainit!” She replied using the Tagalog word for hot and fanned her own face.
At this point, the young man who was not a party to this exchange asked me as I turned to him for my change due, “Did you use the Spanish word because you speak Spanish?”
I am fairly certain that the combination of my white beard, farmer’s tan and dirty Western clothes had triggered a Pavlovian response in the young fellow that he probably picked up in college somewhere. He didn’t continue his inquiry to ask, “or did you use the Spanish word because the barista was a woman of color?
He didn’t have to. I have two sons who did stints in college and picked up all manner of new things to worry about, be on guard for and to hate. Luckily, they managed to find their way back to reality once out of the indoctrination center and pub masquerading as a place of learning.
I didn’t treat him to the first two replies that flashed into my mind, partly from fatigue and partly from recognizing a chance to wipe a little of the grime off the window of his young mind. The first reply not given was, “Is your coffee menu in Italian to justify your high prices or because your Asian employer thinks everyone in the Fraser Canyon speaks it along with the Aussie tourists?”
Instead, I gave him the third reply, “I used the Spanish word because to say the words ‘it sure is hot’ does not even approach painting a picture of what I am trying to express.”
“Oh, I guess when you think of it, there are some words in other languages that are much better than English to convey a particular meaning,” he said in a tone of voice that would have not been out of place underneath a plane tree on the island of Crete three thousand years ago. One tabula rasa at a time.
Archaic words sometimes get recycled into modern speech and propagate widely as populations migrate across new ground. A wonderful example of this came to my notice recently while working as a farm hand. It was a three acre hops operation carved out of the pine covered bench land near my home. In front ran a mighty river and behind was a wall of multicolored rock about six thousand feet in elevation.
Some of the equipment we used had generic names and some was specialized for this type of cultivation and bore a variety of brand names or names coined by workers in this particular endeavor. At a certain stage in the Spring the young and vigorous shoots of the hops plants must be trained by hand onto ropes that are anchored into the soil at the base of the plant clusters. These ropes rise up eighteen to twenty feet and are attached to overhead wires.
An experienced grower came and held a little session for the purpose of educating us workers as to the proper and accepted way of accomplishing this task. During the informative and educational practical demonstration we were taught and cautioned to always spiral the shoots in a “sunwise” manner. This was explained as being a clockwise direction as viewed from above.
Immediately, I felt the antiquity of this term, although I had never heard it before that morning. I also detected the salt of an Atlantic crossing still clinging to the term. Everyone took to using it almost exclusively. Saying the word made one feel part of something old and time honored for some reason and besides it rolled off the tongue in a very pleasant way.
I looked up the term sunwise and found it to be attributed to Scottish folklore and Druid in origin. The meaning is simply given as designating a clockwise direction around an object. A counterclockwise direction is termed widdershins. In Scottish folklore, sunwise, sunward or clockwise was considered the prosperous course, turning from East to West in the direction of the sun. The opposite course, counterclockwise, was known as widdershins or tuathal. In the Northern Hemisphere, sunwise and clockwise run in the same direction because sundials were used to tell time and their features were transferred to clock faces. Another influence may have been the right-handed bias in many cultures.
This is descriptive of the ceremony observed by the Druids, of walking round their temples by the South, in the course of their directions, always keeping their temples on their right. This course or deiseal was deemed propitious, while the contrary course is perceived as fatal or at least unpropitious. From this ancient superstition are derived several Gaelic customs which were still observed around the turn of the twentieth century, such as drinking over the left thumb or according to the course of the sun. This distinction exists in traditional Tibetan religion. Tibetan Buddhists go round their shrines sunwise, but followers of the Bonpo religion go widdershins. The former consider Bonpo to be merely a perversion of their practice but Bonpo adherents claim that their religion was indigenous to Tibet prior to the arrival of Buddhism in that country.
The Hindu pradakshina, the auspicious circumambulation of a temple, is also made clockwise. A similar preference may inform the left-hand drive found in England, India and Japan. Any temple or shrine in the middle of a road must be passed to its left.
Martin Martin who died on the 9th of October 1718 was a Scottish writer best known for his work, A Description Of The Western Islands Of Scotland (1703; second edition 1716). This book is particularly noted for its information on the St. Kilda archipelago. Martin's description of St. Kilda, which he visited in 1697, had also been published some years earlier as A Late Voyage To St. Kilda in 1698. Martin graduated with an MA from the University of Edinburgh in 1681. Nothing seems to be known of him in his later years, except that he entered Leiden University in 1710 and there graduated with an MD, afterwards residing in London until his death. He was unmarried and died of asthma in Knightsbridge. Both Johnson and Boswell read his book and took a copy of it along with them on their famous tour in 1773. Johnson felt Martin had failed to record the more interesting aspects of life at the time and suggested that this was because Martin was unaware of just how different the social structure of the Western Isles was in comparison to life elsewhere.
Martin Martin says,
“Some of the poorer sort of people in the Western Isles retain the custom of performing these circles sunwise about the persons of their benefactors three times, when they bless them and wish good success to all their enterprises. Some are very careful when they set out to sea, that the boat be first rowed sunwise and if this be neglected, they are afraid their voyage may prove unfortunate. When a Gael goes to drink out of a consecrated fountain, he approaches it by going round the place from East to West and at funerals, the procession observes the same direction in drawing near the grave. Hence also is derived the old custom of describing sunwise a circle, with a burning brand, about houses, cattle, corn and corn-fields, to prevent their being burnt or in any way injured by evil spirits or by witchcraft. The fiery circle was also made around women as soon as possible after parturition and also around newly-born babes. These circles were in later times described by midwives and were described effectual against the intrusion of daoine-sìth or sìthichean, who were particularly on the alert in times of childhood and not infrequently carried infants away, according to vulgar legends and restored them afterwards but sadly altered in features and personal appearance. Infants stolen by fairies are said to have voracious appetites, constantly craving for food.”
Martin is also known for his early descriptions of Scotch whiskey.
“Their plenty of Corn was such, as dispos'd the Natives to brew several sorts of Liquors, such as common Usquebaugh. Another call'd Trestarig which is Aquavitae three times distill'd which is strong and hot. A third sort is four times distill'd and this by the Natives is call'd Usquebaugh-baul which is Usquebaugh which at first taste affects all the Members of the Body. Two spoonfuls of this last Liquor is a sufficient Dose and if any Man exceed this it would presently stop his Breath and endanger his Life. The Trestarig and Usquebaugh-baul are both made of Oats.”
The origins of the word widdershins dates from the early 16th century from Middle Low German weddersins and from Middle High German widersinnes, from wider ‘against’ + sin ‘direction’; the second element was associated with Scots sin ‘sun.’ Use of the word has been on a steady rise since the first decade of the nineteenth century up to the first decade of this century where it has leveled off with widespread use. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the earliest use of the word widdershins from 1513, where it was found in the phrase “widdersyns start my hair”, i.e. my hair stood on end. Because the sun played a highly important role in older religions, to go against it was considered bad luck for sun-worshiping traditions. It was considered unlucky in Britain to travel in an anticlockwise direction around a church and a number of folk myths make reference to this superstition, e.g. Childe Rowland, where the protagonist and his sister are transported to Elfland after his sister runs widdershins round a church. There is also a reference to this in Dorothy Sayers's novels The Nine Tailors ("He turned to his right, knowing that it is unlucky to walk about a church widdershins.") and Clouds Of Witness ("True, O King, and as this isn't a church, there's no harm in going round it widdershins"). In Robert Louis Stevenson's tale, The Song of the Morrow an old crone on the beach dances widdershins.
In the mythology of the 21st century North Yorkshire Moors it is believed that if you dance nine times widdershins around a fairy ring of toadstools you will come under the power of the fairy people. The story of Fairy Cross Plain or Fryup Dale chronicles the fate of a young boy, Thomas Skelderskew, who did just that.
In Judaism, circles are sometimes walked anticlockwise. For example, when a bride circles her groom seven times before marriage, when dancing around the bimah during Simchat Torah, when dancing in a circle or when the Sefer Torah is brought out of the ark. This has its origins in the Beis Hamikdash, where in order not to get in each others way, the priests would walk around the altar anticlockwise while performing their duties. When entering the Beis Hamikdash the people would enter by one gate, and leave by another. The resulting direction of motion was widdershins. In Judaism, starting things from the right side is considered to be important, since the right side is the side of Chessed or kindness while the left side is the side of Gevurah or judgment. For example, it is a law to put on the right shoe first and take off the left shoe first unless one is left-handed.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, however, it is normal for processions around a church to go widdershins.
The Bonpo in the Northern Hemisphere traditionally circumambulate widdershins. This runs counter to Buddhism and orthodox Hinduism. This is in keeping with the aspect of the Sauvastika or as the Tibetans call it, yung-drung, sacred to the Bonpo. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Bonpo practitioner is required to elect whether the directionality of 'counter-clockwise' (deosil in the Southern Hemisphere) or running-counter to the direction of the Sun (widdershins in the Southern Hemisphere) is the key intention of the tradition. The resolution to this conundrum is left open to the practitioner’s intuitive insight.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, one aspect of the actual practice of sunwise twirling caused me some speculation. The reaction of one worker who had already known and used the term prior to our lesson that I shared these inquiries with was freighted with a strength of conviction and depth of faith that also smacked of a distant time and place.
Not fond of the word “training”, I called the procedure “twirling” and this caught on to a degree but fell out of use after a few days under the gravity of the more ancient term. My speculations had to do with questioning the warning we had received regarding the importance of twirling the shoots sunwise. My first reasoning was that when a vertical heliotrope shoot makes contact with a vertical rope regardless of its starting position on an imaginary compass drawn around the rope, the apparent motion of the sun is a constant cycle of East to West. The tiny hooks that attach to the anchor rope must send signals to the opposite side of the tendril to grow slightly faster in order for a spiral shape to occur. In this manner, it follows that whether the vine is spiraling clockwise or counter-clockwise, it will cross the rope once per cycle and thus both will attain the goal of height.
I was firmly told that the only way was sunwise and to do otherwise was to invite disaster. Apparently the plants would unwind and spend themselves in the weeds below. I practiced sunwise twirling exclusively from that moment on. At home in the sunny evenings, I wandered in my wife’s garden where three of the varieties of plants growing there were climbers. One type was honeysuckle, one was columbine and the third was green beans.
With great interest I inspected each one as to its orientation in relation to the pole it was climbing. I asked my wife if she had twirled them by hand to start them out. She replied in the negative and assured me that they were planted as seeds and left to their own devices after that. A tremor rippled through my Welsh and Irish telomeres and I ran back to look again. Widdershins all!
It seems that the fears that were long ago instilled by sun-worshiping Druid priests into priest-worshiping Gaelic distillers of alcohol and sowers of oats are yet sitting on our chests like atrophied incubi and succubi waiting to draw new life from our obeisance.
One morning at the field before work, while I sat on a trailer sipping coffee, a bear bolted out of the North and then ran widdershins through the hops and into the pines. It reminded me of a recent dream and then an old Nepalese folk tale I know came to mind. I will tell you that story now.
A long time back, in the foothills of the Himalayas, a merchant from the South was wending his way North in search of new opportunities and enterprises. He was carefully observed by a Nepalese gentleman long before reaching the top of a steep pitch of a grassy boulder field which led to the next pass to be crossed. As he neared, it became apparent that the lone figure in his path was the proud owner of a small bear. Fatigue and fascination combined with the grandeur of the heights made him decide to make night camp there at that auspicious place.
Not that the merchant was proficient in the tongue of the Nepalese but he at once tried to establish some communications, learn of the way ahead and eventually inquire as to the uncommon choice of a pet that the mountain man had made. The Nepali raised a wind-browned hand and wiped his brow with a heavy sigh. He patted the bear several times, twisted his fist around the thick rope leash and intimated that as much as he loved the bruin, it was a heavy burden for him.
He said that he had actually been on his way South in order to find a suitable new owner for his beloved animal. The merchant allowed that it probably was hard to sell such an impractical commodity, all things being equal. The Nepali allowed that this was true but added that his bear was a very special creature and much more than a simple pet. He intimated that the bear had come to him after many days of Shamanic ritual fasting. On top of this, the bear was fully tamed already and thus clearly a gift of the local mountain deities or demons, as it proved later to have extraordinary powers.
Having seen a dancing bear in a village in India as a youth, the merchant clucked inwardly at the superstitious beliefs of the highland yokels such as his host. The superstitious beliefs of his own lowland ancestors lay dormant like sated cobras somnolent round a bowl of sour milk in a cool stone temple. They would have their slumber interrupted soon enough.
The travelers prepared their beds and food and the Northerner settled his bear, pounded a strong stake fitted with a swivel to attach its leash to and applied a soft rope hobble to its legs. He smoked and sipped tea while the new-comer had his meal. The Nepali made a small fire while the Southerner prepared himself for sleep. The tired man was soon snoring and dreaming of the next day.
While that man dozed, in the firelight twenty yards away, the Nepali produced an instrument of bamboo not unlike a long syringe. He loaded it with a charge of copper rupee coins from a goatskin pouch and next coated it with grease which he kept in a small carved box. This done, he squatted near the bear’s backside, raised its stubby tail and slowly inserted the syringe. The bear lifted its head a few inches and looked unconcernedly at his master, huffed and closed its eyes dreamily.
This process was repeated again with a much shorter syringe loaded half with silver coins and half with gold coins. The bear sniffed and scratched its belly as the man put away his implements and composed himself on his bedroll. The night passed peacefully.
At sunrise, the Nepali was up first to bring a dish of water for his bear. The Southerner watched as the mountain man untied the bear’s feet and urged it upright. The beast slurped some water and licked its lips. Next it was coaxed into walking counter-clockwise around the swivel stake. The owner used a small stout highly polished stick. He tapped first behind the bear’s shoulder and gradually worked his way down to the base of its tail.
Presently, as the Lowland traveler watched in disbelief, the bear stopped, grunted and began to defecate rupees. He blinked his eyes and there on the dew-laden long grass lay a small clutch of gold coins. The bear began to circumambulate once again as silver and finally copper coins marked its passage. The handler tapped it back to a sitting position and gave it some hearty pats and spoke to it in loving tones before gathering the ejected numismatic material, which he placed in a goatskin pouch.
In the adrenaline filled line of questioning that ensued for the balance of that morning, the Nepali described how he had only accidentally discovered this most wonderful ability of his spirit bear. Over the years since, he explained, it had been both a curse and a blessing. The blessing was obvious but the question was that after a man has all the money he could possibly need for several lifetimes over, what was the joy in having more? It was a secret to be closely guarded in order to avoid all kinds of calamity at the hands of thieves and even jealous relatives. He was a slave to the bear and charged with keeping it comfortable and well nourished on mountain grasses, fish, frogs, fruits and pure water.
He produced the goatskin and took out three coins. He handed a gold, a silver and a copper to the other man and told him that the coins produced varied by location, diet and the humor of the bear. The circle must be always walked counter-clockwise and the bear does the rest. The Nepali said that he had noticed in general that the higher the elevation the fewer were the coins produced. A richer diet gave rise to more gold and silver. It was for that reason he was this very day heading down to the lowlands sell the bear.
A deal was quickly and excitedly struck between these two. Each the answer to the dreams and aspirations of the other. The merchant happily exchanged his entire venture capitol for the bear, the stick, the leash, the swivel-post and a solemn pledge to always be kind to the bear. He watched the Nepali scaling the heights above and smiled when on his first attempt at walking the circle the bear laid a ninety degree arc of hot coppers.
My father went to sea in 1942 at the age of around fifteen. He was running from something extremely unpleasant at home in suburban Toronto. Within months his ship was torpedoed in the North Atlantic by the German Navy. He survived and sailed for another five years. I know some of the pressure to leave emanated from his extremely stern German Catholic Canadian father, a yardmaster at CPR. I suspect that there were other contributing factors. One was the extremely abusive Catholic Church and School System. Others were the war in Europe, the King in England, human nature and the Canadian Dream.
I have precious few photos of him and his sisters as children but one of them shows an eight year old in an alter boy’s get-up with the ghostly face of a thirty year old staring back at you. The other few pictures prior to that one show a normal healthy lad playing with his dog in the front yard on Vaughn Road in the good Borough of York.
My father’s father was born in Ariss, Ontario about 20 km away from Kitchener. His name was Alvon Heinrich Haus. He Anglicized his name to Alvin Henry Howes. There was a reason for that. His father, according to a yellowed baby book given to me by my mother, was a Joseph Haus/House/Howes. The wife of this man, my paternal great-great grandmother is listed as a Helen Zimmerman and her birthplace is listed as Alsace-Lorraine.
In what was to later to become Ariss, “by 1900, a hotel, blacksmith shop and a few houses were located at the settlement. In 1903, Joseph and Ellen House opened a store there in a small room of their house.”  “Joseph House built this frame building as a home in 1902 with a general store in one room. In 1908 the Post Office was established there with the arrival of the CPR railway, Mrs. Ellen House acting as Post Mistress. Rural Route #1, Ariss, established in 1911, was the first rural line to operate in Guelph Township. Gas pumps were added in 1918. In 1960 the building expanded to its present size to accommodate the Lucky Dollar grocery chain. In 2008, Ariss Post Office was honoured for 100 years of service.”  Given the small population at the time and the pressure to Anglicize Teutonic sounding surnames, it is very possible that this couple are the people listed in my baby book as my great grandparents.
From the HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF ST BONIFACE & MARYHILL COMMUNITY Summer Newsletter of 2016 we learn that “Many of the earliest settlers of Maryhill came from Soufflenheim and nearby villages in Northeastern France along the Rhine River – just North of Strasbourg in present day Alsace.”  Maryhill is about five kilometers from Ariss.
Some people may not know that nearby Kitchener, Ontario, for example was originally named Berlin by the German immigrants who came to farm Ontario’s rich soil, escape persecution and practice their own way of life. These Germans were a combination of Mennonites from Pennsylvania, Swiss Anabaptist, Lutherans from Germany and Catholics from Alsace-Lorraine. The founding townsfolk even had a statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I placed in Victoria Lake Park. From 1854 until 1912 it was the Town of Berlin and the City of Berlin from 1912 until 1916.
“In 1784, the land that Kitchener was built upon was an area given to the Six Nations by the British as a gift for their allegiance during the American Revolution; 240,000 hectares of land to be exact. From 1796 and 1798, the Six Nations sold 38,000 hectares of this land to a Loyalist by the name of Colonel Richard Beasley. The portion of land that Beasley had purchased was remote but it was of great interest to German Mennonite farming families from Pennsylvania. They wanted to live in an area that would allow them to practice their beliefs without persecution. Eventually, the
Mennonites purchased all of Beasley's unsold land creating 160 farm tracts.” 
As was the case in many other times and locations and still is today, during war and conflict, many people of a given heritage are targeted for persecution by other citizens of different heritages or religious practices. For the war, you know. Patriotism must be proven over and over and usually unsuccessfully so. Also, we see often in history where names and origins are changed for less noble purposes.
Here is a good example of that from the Library and Archives Canada: “The imperialism that was at the core of the campaign to change the name of Berlin, Ontario was not unique to Canada. Depicted in this two-cent stamp, found in the philatelic holdings of Library and Archives Canada, is King George V. The Royal Household, itself German in origin, changed its name from Saxe-Coburg & Gotha to Windsor during the First World War.” 
Here is another article from the Library and Archives Canada:
* What's In a Name? Berlin to Kitchener *
“Those who live in, or have the chance to visit, Kitchener, Ontario will be very familiar with the area's rich German culture and heritage. The original settlers of the region were of an agrarian, pacifist Mennonite background. By the eve of the First World War, Berlin, Ontario dubbed "the German Capital of Canada" boasted myriad German-language societies, German language instruction in schools and a German-language newspaper. As the Great War continued, the loyalty of German-Canadians became more and more suspect. In August 1914, the bronze bust of Kaiser Wilhelm, proudly displayed in Victoria Park, was removed and thrown into the lake. Open mistrust of enemy aliens in the city led to the suspension of German-language instruction in schools.
In 1916, the Berlin Board of Trade made a suggestion that polarized the citizens of the city. The Board of Trade argued that the name Berlin hurt business and gave the impression that its citizens were sympathizers of the enemy cause in Europe. It was suggested that the act of changing the name of the city would be a tangible symbol of its citizens' patriotism and would boost the city's profile across the Dominion.
Many Berliners supported maintaining the name of the city, as it reflected a proud tradition of growth and prosperity for German, and non-German, Canadians alike. Those citizens who supported the status quo were immediately perceived, by those who wanted change, as being unpatriotic and sympathizers with the enemy. Violence, riots and intimidation, often instigated by imperialistic members of the 118th Battalion, were not uncommon in the months leading up to the May 1916 referendum on the issue.
A majority of Berliners did chose to opt for a new name and by early summer the search for a new city moniker was on. A special committee was set-up by the city council with the express purpose to suggest possible names. On September 1, 1916, the name of Kitchener was officially adopted after the late Lord Kitchener.
Horatio Kitchener was appointed Secretary for War by the British Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, at the beginning of the Great War. His image, beckoning recruits with an outward stare and finger pointed, was immortalized on Alfred Leete's dramatic poster "Britons Want You!" Kitchener had drowned earlier in 1916, when the ship he was traveling on hit a mine near the Orkney Islands. It would be next to impossible for citizens of the new Kitchener to be considered unpatriotic.
Nonetheless, some Canadians did not readily adopt the new name for Berlin. The Post Office had to issue memorandum, reminding correspondents that there was no city in Ontario named Berlin. The issue was so contentious that several Canadian municipalities petitioned the Dominion Government to force those who did not comply to use the name Kitchener. Although ludicrous to modern eyes, the whole issue of a name for Berlin highlights the effects that fear, hatred and nationalism can have upon a society in the face of war.” 
Here is an article by Luisa D’Amato from the KitchenerPost dated June 28,2014:
* First World War Ripped Away Canada’s “Age Of Innocence ” *
“After just four days of fighting in Ypres, there were 6,000 Canadian casualties — more than 10 times the number who perished during the entire three years of the war in South Africa. This was a new kind of conflict. Canada paid a terrible price. By war's end, 630,000 had served, out of a population of eight million. About 60,600 died. By contrast, says University of Waterloo historian Geoffrey Hayes, the United States lost 59,000 soldiers during the Vietnam War, and its total population was 250 million.
Once the Great War was over, it left profound social change in its wake. Instead of the peace and relative harmony that society had enjoyed before the war, there was turbulent change.
In Canada, unemployment grew and wages fell. The Canadian economy slumped after the frantic activity of wartime. People flocked to the cities, looking for work.
Abroad, the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917, and at home the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919 called for collective bargaining and labour rights. In the Canadian Prairies, the beginning of socialist politics would pave the way for the creation of the New Democratic Party. Women got the right to vote.
Before the Great War, Canadian society was "remarkably peaceful, naïve with old Victorian values," said Waterloo-based historian and author Ken McLaughlin.
"What the war does is, it ends the age of innocence in a dramatic way.
In Waterloo County, as Waterloo Region was then known, there were particular consequences. So strong was anti-German sentiment that the city of Berlin had reluctantly renamed itself Kitchener, in hopes of retaining its commerce relationships.
All this was set into motion by the actions of one individual. On June 28, 1914, Princip shot and killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie. Princip was among a group of activists who wanted Bosnia and Serbia united, and wanted Bosnia to be taken away from Austro-Hungarian rule.
Princip's action became known as "the shot heard 'round the world," for its far-reaching consequences. Europe had enjoyed mostly peace for nearly 100 years. But in an atmosphere of increasing nationalism, there was a bubbling up of ambition and old resentments; a relentless jockeying for power. Austria-Hungary had annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina six years earlier, which did not sit well with Serbian nationalists.
Austria-Hungary sent Serbia an ultimatum with a list of demands, including a requirement that Serbia ensure the perpetrators of the assassination be arrested, and that propaganda advocating the destruction of Austria-Hungary be banned. Serbia did not agree to all the demands, and asked for an independent arbitrator. It began to mobilize its army.
On July 28, one month after the assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. After that, the complex web of national alliances caused a domino effect of aggression. Germany, the ally of Austria-Hungary, declared war on Russia and France, and invaded Belgium on August 3. The next day, Britain declared war on Germany.
"War to the Death Has Come to Europe," shouted the front-page headlines of the Berlin Daily Record on August 3, 1914. "Nation Has Drawn Sword Against Nation." For the industrious, German speaking city that was affectionately known as "Busy Berlin," this was a catastrophic development. Until this war, Berlin and Waterloo County had been comfortable with its German heritage, and saw no conflict between it and the Canadian identity. The statue of Queen Victoria and the bust of Kaiser Wilhelm I regarded one another peacefully in Victoria Park, in the heart of Berlin. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the community reveled in its German heritage. It hosted huge German singing festivals with thousands of visitors and covered the local buildings in greenery to celebrate the occasion. In 1911, more than 80 per cent of the children in Berlin's schools were learning German.
These local German residents were peace-loving. Many had originated from the Alsace-Lorraine area between France and Germany, McLaughlin said. Their families had suffered through their share of conflict, as that territory passed back and forth between these two countries.
When the Great War broke out, most new recruits to the army — here and across Canada — were young men born in Britain. But as the war ground on, systematically devouring the young men who signed up, pressure built for more volunteers.
Pacifist Mennonites could not fight, and immigrant Germans hesitated to take up arms against a country they still loved. As anti-German sentiment grew in Canada, Waterloo County suffered. There were printed threats that people of German or Austro-Hungarian background would be detained if they were spying or otherwise helping the enemy. The Berlin School Board put an end to German-language instruction in the schools.
Just days after the war broke out in Europe, someone removed the bust of the Kaiser and threw it in Victoria Park Lake. It was later retrieved and removed to a German club for safekeeping. Then it was stolen a second time and never found again.
In February 1916, soldiers of the local 118th Battalion broke into the Concordia Club, looking for the bust. They did not find it, but they destroyed the inside of the club and burned its contents.
It got worse. An unwelcome spotlight began to focus on a minister, Rev. Reinhold Tappert of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church. Lutheran churches, with their German-language services, were popular targets in the anti-German activity. Tappert, an American, was said to have ordered his children not to sing God Save the King or to salute the Union Jack. He wrote to the News-Record newspaper: "I still love the land of my fathers — Germany."
On March 4, 60 soldiers from the 118th Battalion broke into Tappert's home. He was dragged through the streets behind horses, "his face bloodied, his body twisting as he fell into unconsciousness while the pavement scraped off his flesh," recounted McLaughlin and fellow historian John English in their book, Kitchener: An Illustrated History. A few days later, Tappert left Berlin for the safety of his brother's home in New York City. His attackers received only suspended sentences.
By now, there was a strong movement to change the name of Berlin. Manufactured goods marked "Made in Berlin" were not popular, even boycotted. Many people loved the Berlin name. But pressure continued. William Henry Breithaupt, a local industrialist and historian defended the name Berlin and protested that this German community was patriotic, but he received threatening letters and had his phone lines cut.
A referendum on a new name for the city was organized just as news came that Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, Britain's Secretary of State for War, was drowned when the ship he was traveling in, off the Orkney Islands, had hit a German mine. His name was added to the choices on the referendum and as a clear symbol of loyalty to the British cause it won. But it was a sad victory. Only 892 people voted, said Hayes, the University of Waterloo historian. Just 346 voted for Kitchener, and there were just 11 votes between it and the next most popular name, Brock.
Commenting on the dismal voter turnout, the News Record noted: "The outstanding feature was the absolute indifference displayed by the ratepayers."
The new name, Kitchener, did not stop the turbulence that the community was feeling. During municipal elections, the offices of the News Record newspaper were wrecked and the mayor-elect, David Gross, was afraid to go to his own home because it had been visited by soldiers. A large crowd, including soldiers from the 118th Battalion, had gathered on King Street — shouting, jeering and hissing — and the military had to be called in from Galt to protect the people. Later, Gross promised that the name Kitchener would remain.
Across Canada, the pain of the war was deepening. In the spring of 1917, Canadian soldiers took Vimy Ridge in France, suffering more than 20,000 casualties. In that same year, just 3,000 new recruits across Canada volunteered for infantry service. Voluntary recruitment was all but dead across the land.
Now the government had to play hardball. Prime Minister Robert Borden announced his controversial plan for conscription for overseas service. In addition, the Wartime Elections Act, passed in September 1917, gave the vote to wives, mothers and sisters of serving soldiers — it was expected that they would support conscription, since their men were already overseas. When Borden came to Kitchener on Nov. 24 as part of his election campaign, the hecklers booed, whistled and hooted so loudly that he was unable to speak. After several unsuccessful tries, Borden angrily sat down.
After the war ended, and there was finally an end to the painful tests of loyalty in Waterloo County, Breithaupt envisioned a Peace Souvenir, with photographs of the honoured dead and names of all who enlisted. The president of the Waterloo Historical Society, he wrote an essay for the magazine that showed an idealized interpretation of our war experience.
"In the Great War, 1914-18, the county, without distinction of ancestry, whether Pennsylvanian, Scotch, English, Irish, German, or other, responded freely and immediately to the call to arms. There was no thought of conscientious objection by Mennonites or anyone.
The first Waterloo County man to be killed in action was a Pennsylvania descendant, Ralph Alexander Eby, great-great-grandson of Benjamin Eby, a noted early settler, Mennonite bishop and founder of Berlin (now Kitchener). The bulk of enlistments was by volunteers, many of them under military age.
Breithaupt talked of the "noble" record of Waterloo County's support for the war effort. There were 3,768 enlistments in the war from here, of which 112 won military decorations and 486 were killed or died of injury or disease.
The town of Hespeler sent more men to the front, per capita, than any other town in Canada. The town of Waterloo subscribed for more Victory Bonds in 1917, 1918, and 1919 in proportion to its population, than any town in Canada," he said.
Meanwhile, a soothing balm was being applied to the harsh story of the Great War. Hayes argues that the building of cenotaphs, memorials, even the visits to the French battlefields "helped create the idealized memory of a war where Canadian soldiers had fought and died for a just victory."
The inscriptions on the monuments describe that the soldiers "died for civilization, government and the King," said Hayes. "And so you refashion what the war was about. It was "a curious kind of mix of fact and fiction."
And finally, Waterloo County had to heal from the violent divisions it experienced in its own identity crisis. It did this by emphasizing the German heritage of the Mennonite settlers from Pennsylvania, rather than that of the German-speaking immigrants from Europe.
"At a time when it was no longer possible to be loyal to both Germany and Canada, the area's Pennsylvania German and Swiss-German roots offered a more acceptable German identify to celebrate, one based not on "Busy Berlin" but on the trek of the Conestoga," Hayes wrote in an article for the journal of the Ontario Historical Society.
Thus, Pioneer Memorial Tower was built by 1926 near the banks of the Grand River and beside an old cemetery for the Betzner family, who were among the first white settlers to the area.
Meanwhile, an important book was written in 1924 by local librarian Mabel Dunham. The Trail of the Conestoga was standard fare for generations of schoolchildren. It tells of brave Mennonite pioneers who dodged bear attacks and crossed the mighty Niagara River as they pressed north to settle in Waterloo in the early 19th century. Their good relations with the British are referred to several times in Dunham's novel. From the early 19th century, peace-loving Mennonites were able to escape the turmoil of the American Revolution and its aftermath by coming north to Canada. The British welcomed them and guaranteed they would not have to serve in the military.
This arrangement "allowed Pennsylvania Germans to reconcile their loyalty and religious faith even during the War of 1812, "Hayes wrote. If only the First World War had been so simple." 
In my years at the Post office I worked beside a Japanese Canadian who had his family torn apart during WW II and split up into various internment camps across Canada. I worked with a Kwakiutl man who’s entire village was wiped out. When he retired he was offered a post as a live tourist attraction at the University in Seattle in a mock-up of his original home that they were planning to build. He declined. I had a Chinese father-in-law who suffered at the hands of Japanese Imperialists intent upon “helping” their Asian neighbours before the British, the French or the Germans did.
I grew up noticing that my relatives which represented Swedish, Irish, Cherokee, Welsh, German (Alsatian), Canadian and American heritages seemed to downplay some of those connections and completely avoid identifying with others. Over time I came to understand why. Some of my Cherokee ancestors experienced this in a bid to find peace in what later became the Republic Of Texas. Other Cherokees in a more distant past made a long trek from the Orinoco River basin all the way up to the Great Lakes where they found conflict among the native peoples already there and subsequently returned southward into Appalachia and the South-East USA. Everybody needs a place to live and grow and everybody is being played by the few who would have it all.
My Canadian great-grandfather, grand-father and father, two of whom were born in Ontario, would have had to deal with the pressures mentioned in the articles about the town of Berlin/Kitchener. Another layer of the onion as to why young men and women in the flower of youth re-cross oceans already crossed by their parents and throw their lives away, begins to peel back.
As many conquered people down through the ages who have served in this King’s or that King’s armies have found out the hard way, the sacrifice holds no real weight to men inspired by the ravings of those who deem themselves superior and insist upon hammering the world and all its inhabitants into the “proper” shape, publicly in the name of altruism, the greater good and progress. Privately, for quite different reasons, in my opinion.
If we read the story of the chosen namesake for the old town of Berlin, Ontario we see a privileged young man schooled in military tactics in Montreaux and Britain. He is showered with enough titles, medals, knighthoods, orders and Masonic ranks to choke a pony. In South Africa where Kitchener was sent after having had adventures in India, Afghanistan, Palestine, Egypt and many other places coveted by the British Crown; the Boers were fighting the British using guerrilla tactics.
“Conditions in the concentration camps, which had been conceived by First Earl Roberts to control the families whose farms he had destroyed, began to degenerate rapidly as the large influx of Boers outstripped the ability of the minuscule British force to cope. The camps lacked space, food, sanitation, medicine and medical care, leading to rampant disease and a very high death rate. Eventually 26,370 women and children (81% were children) died in the concentration camps. The Boer forces disintegrated and with the war apparently effectively over, First Earl Roberts handed over command on 12 December to Lord Kitchener.” 
While he was at this task, American troops were exterminating Filipinos two oceans away, in the same spirit of proper progress that would later manifest as the Residential School systems of Australia and Canada.
Here are several interesting articles about those days.
* Women & Children In White Concentration Camps During *
The Anglo-Boer War, 1900-1902
“Boer women, children and men unfit for service were herded together in concentration camps by the British forces during Anglo-Boer War 2 (1899-1902). The first two of these camps (refugee camps) were established to house the families of burghers who had surrendered voluntarily, but very soon, with families of combatant burgers driven forcibly into camps established all over the country, the camps ceased to be refugee camps and became concentration camps. The abhorrent conditions in these camps caused the death of 4,177 women, 22,074 children under sixteen and 1,676 men, mainly those too old to be on commando, notwithstanding the efforts of an English lady, Emily Hobhouse, who tried her best to make the British authorities aware of the plight of especially the women and children in the camps.”
“September, Major-Gen J. G. Maxwell announces that "... camps for burghers who voluntarily surrender are being formed at Pretoria and Bloemfontein." This signals the start of what was to evolve into the notorious Concentration Camp Policy.
22 September, As result of a military notice on this date, the first two 'refugee' camps are established at Pretoria and Bloemfontein. Initially the aim was to protect the families of burghers who had surrendered voluntarily and their families by the institution of these camps. As the families of combatant burghers were also driven into these and other camps, they ceased to be 'refugee' camps and became 'concentration' camps.
20 December, A proclamation issued by Lord Kitchener states that all burghers surrendering voluntarily, will be allowed to live with their families in Government Laagers until the end of the war and their stock and property will be respected and paid for.
21 December, Contrary to the announced intention, Lord Kitchener states in a memorandum to general officers the advantages of interning all women, children and men unfit for military services, also Blacks living on Boer farms, as this will be "the most effective method of limiting the endurance of the guerrillas... "The women and children brought in should be divided in two categories, viz.: 1st. Refugees, and the families of Neutrals, non-combatants, and surrendered Burghers. 2nd. Those whose husbands, fathers and sons are on Commando. The preference in accommodation, etc. should of course be given to the first class. With regard to Natives, it is not intended to clear... locations, but only such and their stock as are on Boer farms."
“21 January, Emily Hobhouse, an English philanthropist and social worker who tried to improve the plight of women and children in the camps, obtains permission to visit concentration camps. Lord Kitchener, however, disallows visits north of Bloemfontein.
24 January, Emily Hobhouse visits Bloemfontein concentration camps and is appalled by the conditions. Due to limited time and resources, she does not visit the camp for Blacks, although she urges the Guild of Loyal Women to do so.
30 January, Pushing panic-stricken groups of old men, women and children, crowded in wagons and preceded by huge flocks of livestock in front of them, French's drive enters the south-eastern ZAR (Transvaal).
31 January, Mrs. Isie Smuts, wife of Gen. J. C. Smuts, is sent to Pietermaritzburg and placed under house arrest by the British military authorities, despite her pleas to be sent to concentration camps like other Boer women. Concentration camps have been established at Aliwal North, Brandfort, Elandsfontein, Heidelberg, Howick, Kimberley, Klerksdorp, Viljoensdrift, Waterfall North and Winburg.
25 February, A former member of the Free State Volksraad, H. S. Viljoen, and five other prisoners are set free from the Green Point Camp near Cape Town. They are sent to visit Free State concentration camps with the intention of influencing the women in the camps to persuade their husbands to lay down their arms. They are met with very little success.
27 February, Discriminatory food rations -1st class rations for the families of 'hands-uppers' and 2nd class for the families of fighting burghers or those who refuse to work for the British - are discontinued in the 'Transvaal' concentration camps.
28 February, Concentration camps have been established at Kromellenboog, Middelburg, Norvalspont, Springfontein, Volksrust, and Vredefort Road. At the Middelburg conference between Supreme Commander Lord Kitchener and Commandant-General Louis Botha, Kitchener comments to Lord Roberts, now Commander-in Chief at the War Office in London: "They [referring to the Burghers S. K.] evidently do not like their women being brought in and I think it has made them more anxious for peace." The conference is discussing terms of a possible peace treaty. Sir Alfred Milner leaves Cape Town for Johannesburg to take up his duties as administrator of the 'new colonies'.
1 March, Concentration camps in the 'Orange River' and 'Transvaal' Colonies are transferred to civil control under Sir Alfred Milner.
4 March, Emily Hobhouse visits the Springfontein concentration camp.
6 March, Discriminatory food rations are also discontinued in the 'Orange River Colony' camps.
8 March, Emily Hobhouse visits the Norvalspont concentration camp.
12 March, Emily Hobhouse visits the Kimberley concentration camp.
6 April, Emily Hobhouse returns to Kimberley
9 April, Emily Hobhouse visits the Mafeking concentration camp.
12 April, Emily Hobhouse witnesses the clearing of Warrenton and the dispatch of people in open coal trucks.
13 April, Emily Hobhouse returns to Kimberley, witnessing the arrival of the people removed from Warrenton at the Kimberley camp, where there are only 25 tents available for 240 people.
20 April, The towns of Parys and Vredefort and many outlying farms have been cleared of inhabitants and supplies. The women and children have been removed to concentration camps.
21 April, Emily Hobhouse arrives in Bloemfontein.
23 April, Sir Alfred Milner refuses to issue a permit to Emily Hobhouse authorizing her to travel north of Bloemfontein.
4 May, Emily Hobhouse arrives in Cape Town.
7 May, Emily Hobhouse leaves for Britain after an extended fact-finding tour of the concentration camps.
14 June, Speaking at a dinner party of the National Reform Union in England, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, leader of the Liberal opposition, says the war in South Africa is carried on by methods of barbarism.
17 June, David Lloyd-George in England condemns the concentration camps and the horrors inflicted on women and children in the camps in South Africa. He warns, "A barrier of dead children's bodies will rise between the British and Boer races in South Africa."
18 June, Emily Hobhouse's report on concentration camps appear under the title, "To the S. A. Distress Fund, Report of a visit to the camps of women and children in the Cape and Orange River Colonies". Summarizing the reasons for the high fatality rate, she writes, "Numbers crowded into small tents: some sick, some dying, occasionally a dead one among them; scanty rations dealt out raw; lack of fuel to cook them; lack of water for drinking, for cooking, for washing; lack of soap, brushes and other instruments of personal cleanliness; lack of bedding or of beds to keep the body off the bare earth; lack of clothing for warmth and in many cases for decency..." Her conclusion is that the whole system is cruel and should be abolished.
26 June, Lord Kitchener, in a telegram to Milner: "I fear there is little doubt the war will now go on for considerable time unless stronger measures are taken... Under the circumstances I strongly urge sending away wives and families and settling them somewhere else. Some such unexpected measure on our part is in my opinion essential to bring war to a rapid end."
27 June, The British War Department promises to look into Emily Hobhouse's suggestions regarding improvements to the concentration camps.
30 June, The official camp population is 85,410 for the White camps and the deaths reported for June are 777.
15 July, Dr. K. Franks, the camp doctor at the Mafeking concentration camp reports that the camp is "overwhelmed" by 1,270 women and children brought in after sweeps on the western ZAR (Transvaal). Lack of facilities ads to the hardships encountered by the new arrivals.
16 July, The British Colonial Office announces the appointment of a Ladies Commission to investigate the concentration camps in South Africa. The commission, whose members are reputed to be impartial, is made up as follows: Chair lady Mrs. Millicent G. Fawcett, who has recently criticized Emily Hobhouse in the Westminster Gazette; Dr. Jane Waterson, daughter of a British general, who recently wrote against "the hysterical whining going on in England" while "we feed and pamper people who had not even the grace to say thank you for the care bestowed on them"; Lady Anne Knox, wife of Gen. Knox, who is presently serving in South Africa; Nursing sister Katherine Brereton, who has served in a Yeomanry Hospital in South Africa; Miss Lucy Deane, a government factory inspector on child welfare; Dr. the Hon Ella Scarlett, a medical doctor. One of the doctors is to marry a concentration camp official before the end of their tour.
20 July, Commenting on confiscation of property and banishment of families, St John Brodrick, British secretary of State for War, writes to Kitchener: "... Your other suggestion of sending the Boer women to St Helena, etc., and telling their husbands that they would never return, seems difficult to work out. We cannot permanently keep 16,000 men in ring fences and they are not a marketable commodity in other lands..."
25 July, Since 25 June, Emily Hobhouse has addressed twenty-six public meetings on concentration camps, raising money to improve conditions.
26 July, Emily Hobhouse again writes to Brodrick asking for reasons for the War Department's refusal to include her in the Ladies Commission. If she cannot go, "it was due to myself to convey to all interested that the failure to do so was due to the Government".
27 July, St John Rodrick replies to Emily Hobhouse's letter, "The only consideration in the selection of ladies to visit the Concentration Camps, beyond their special capacity for such work, was that they should be, so far as is possible, removed from the suspicion of partiality to the system adopted or the reverse."
31 July, The officially recorded camp population is 93,940 for the White camps and the deaths for July stands at 1,412.
16 August, General De la Rey protests to the British against the mistreatment of women and children.
20 August, Col. E. C. Ingouville-Williams' column transports Gen. De la Rey's mother to the Klerksdorp concentration camp. A member of the Cape Mounted Rifles notes in his diary: "She is 84 years old. I gave her some milk, jam, soup, etc. as she cannot eat hard tack and they have nothing else. We do not treat them as we ought to."
31 August, The officially recorded camp population for White camps is 105,347 and the camp fatalities for August stand at 1,878.
13 September, The Merebank Refugee Camp is established near Durban in an attempt to reduce the camp population in the Republics. Its most famous inmates are to be Mrs. De Wet and her children.
30 September, Cornelius Broeksma is executed by an English firing squad in Johannesburg after having been found guilty of breaking the oath of neutrality and inciting others to do the same. A fund is started in Holland for his family and for this purpose a postcard with a picture of himself and his family is sold, bearing the inscription: "Cornelius Broeksma, hero and martyr in pity's cause. Shot by the English on 30th September 1901, because he refused to be silent about the cruel suffering in the women's camps. The officially recorded camp population of the White camps is 109,418 and the monthly deaths for September stand at 2,411.
1 October, Emily Hobhouse again urges the Minister of War, "in the name of the little children whom I have watched suffer and die" to implement improvements in the concentration camps.
26 October, As the commandos in the Bethal district, Transvaal, become wise to Benson's night attacks, his success rate declines and he contents himself with 'ordinary clearing work' - burning farms and herding women, children, old men and other non-combatants with their livestock and vehicles.
27 October, Emily Hobhouse arrives in Table Bay on board the SS Avondale Castle, but is refused permission to go ashore by Col. H. Cooper, the Military Commandant of Cape Town.
29 October, Reverend John Knox Little states in the United Kingdom: "Among the unexampled efforts of kindness and leniency made throughout this war for the benefit of the enemy, none have surpassed the formation of the Concentration Camps".
31 October, Despite letters of protest to Lord Alfred Milner, Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson and Lord Ripon, Emily Hobhouse, although unwell, is forced to undergo a medical examination. She is eventually wrapped in a shawl and physically carried off the Avondale Castle. She is taken aboard the Roslin Castle for deportation under martial law regulations. The officially recorded camp population of White camps is 113,506 and the deaths for October stand at 3,156.
1 November, Miss Emily Hobhouse, under deportation orders on board the Roslin Castle writes to Lord Kitchener: "... I hope in future you will exercise greater width of judgment in the exercise of your high office. To carry out orders such as these is a degradation both to the office and the manhood of your soldiers. I feel ashamed to own you as a fellow-countryman."And to Lord Milner: "Your brutal orders have been carried out and thus I hope you will be satisfied. Your narrow incompetency to see the real issues of this great struggle is leading you to such acts as this and many others, straining [staining S. K.] your own name and the reputation of England…"
7 November, The Governor of Natal informs St. John Brodrick that the wives of Pres. Steyn, General Paul Roux, Chief Commandant C. R. de Wet, Vice President Schalk Burger and Gen. J. B. M. Hertzog, the last four all presently in Natal, are to be sent to a port, other than a British port, outside South Africa. Lord Milner, referring to the concentration camps, writes to British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain: "I did not originate this plan, but as we have gone so far with it, I fear that a change now might only involve us in fresh and greater evils."
15 November, In his 'General Review of the Situation in the Two New Colonies', Lord Milner reports to Chamberlain, "... even if the war were to come to an end tomorrow, it would not be possible to let the people in the concentration camps go back to their former homes. They would only starve there. The country is, for the most part, a desert..."
16 November, On being questioned by St. John Brodrick on his motivations for proposing the deportation of prominent Boer women, Kitchener cancels his orders.
21 November, Referring to a 'scorched earth' raid, Acting State President S. W. Burgers and State Secretary F. W. Reitz address a report to the Marquis of Salisbury, the British Prime Minister: "This removal took place in the most uncivilized and barbarous manner, while such action is... in conflict with all the up to the present acknowledged rules of civilized warfare. The families were put out of their houses under compulsion, and in many instances by means of force... (the houses) were destroyed and burnt with everything in them... and these families among them were many aged ones, pregnant women, and children of very tender years, were removed in open trolleys (exposed) for weeks to rain, severe cold wind and terrible heat, privations to which they were not accustomed, with the result that many of them became very ill, and some of them died shortly after their arrival in the women's camps. The vehicles were also overloaded, accidents happened and they were exposed to being caught in crossfire. They were exposed to insults and ill-treatment by Blacks in service of the troops as well as by soldiers. ...British mounted troops have not hesitated in driving them for miles before their horses, old women, little children, and mothers with sucklings to their breasts..."
30 November, The officially recorded camp population of the White camps is 117,974 and the deaths for November are 2,807.
1 December, Fully aware of the state of devastation in the Republics, and trying to force the Boer leadership to capitulate, Lord Milner approves a letter that Kitchener sends to London, with identical copies to Burger, Steyn and De Wet. In the letter he informs them that as they have complained about the treatment of the women and children in the camps, he must assume that they themselves are in a provision to provide for them. He therefore offers all families in the camps who are willing to leave, to be sent to the commandos, as soon as he has been informed where they can be handed over.
4 December, Lord Milner comments on the high death rate in the Free State concentration camps: "The theory that, all the weakly children being dead, the rate would fall off, it is not so far borne out by the facts. I take it the strong ones must be dying now and that they will all be dead by the spring of 1903!..."
7 December, In a letter to Chamberlain, Lord Milner writes: "... The black spot - the one very black spot - in the picture is the frightful mortality in the Concentration Camps... It was not until 6 weeks or 2 months ago that it dawned on me personally... that the enormous mortality was not incidental to the first formation of the camps and the sudden inrush of people already starving, but was going to continue. The fact that it continues is no doubt a condemnation of the camp system. The whole thing, I now think, has been a mistake."
8 December, Commenting on the concentration camps, Lord Milner writes to Lord Haldane: "I am sorry to say I fear... that the whole thing has been a sad fiasco. We attempted an impossibility - and certainly I should never have touched the thing if, when the 'concentration' first began, I could have foreseen that the soldiers meant to sweep the whole population of the country higgledy piggledy into a couple of dozen camps... "
10 December, President Steyn replies to the British Commander-in-Chief Lord Kitchener's letter about releasing the women and children, that, however glad the burghers would be to have their relatives near them, there is hardly is single house in the Orange Free State that is not burnt or destroyed and everything in it looted by the soldiers. The women and children will be exposed to the weather under the open sky. On account of the above-mentioned reasons they have to refuse to receive them. He asks Kitchener to make the reasons for their refusal known to the world.
11 December, In his reply to Kitchener's letter about the release of women and children, Chief Commandant De Wet says: "I positively refuse to receive the families until such time as the war will be ended, and we shall be able to vindicate our right by presenting our claims for the unlawful removal of and the insults done to our families as well as indemnification on account of the uncivilized deed committed by England by the removal of the families..."
12 December, The report of the Ladies Commission (Fawcett Commission) is completed on this day, but is only published during February 1902. The Commission is highly critical of the camps and their administration, but cannot recommend the immediate closure of the camps "... to turn 100,000 people new being fed in the concentration camps out on the veldt to take care of themselves would be a cruelty; it would be turning them out to starvation..." The Commission substantiated the most Emily Hobhouse's serious charges, but reviled her for her compassion for enemy subjects.
22 December, On Peace Sunday, Dr. Charles Aked, a Baptist minister in Liverpool, England, protests: "Great Britain cannot win the battles without resorting to the last despicable cowardice of the most loathsome cur on earth - the act of striking a brave man's heart through his wife's honour and his child's life. The cowardly war has been conducted by methods of barbarism... the concentration camps have been Murder Camps." He is followed home by a large crowd and they smash the windows of his house.
31 December, The camp population in White camps is 89,407 with 2,380 deaths during December.
22 January, In a daring exploit, General Beyers and about 300 men seize the concentration camp at Pietersburg and take the camp superintendent and his staff prisoner. After all-night festivities with wives, friends and family, the superintendent and his staff are released the next day on the departure of Beyers.
31 January, The officially reported White camp population is 97 986 and the deaths for January are 1,805.
4 March, The long-delayed report of the Ladies Commission (Fawcett Commission) on the concentration camps is discussed in the House of Commons. The Commission concludes that there are three causes for the high death rate: "1. The unsanitary condition of the country caused by the war. 2. Causes within the control of the inmates. 3. Causes within the control of the administration." The Opposition tables the following motion: "This House deplores the great mortality in the concentration camps formed in the execution of the policy of clearing the country." In his reply Chamberlain states that it was the Boers who forced the policy on them and the camps are actually an effort to minimize the horrors of war. The Opposition motion is defeated by 230 votes to 119.
24 March, Mr. H. R. Fox, Secretary of the Aborigines Protection Society, after being made aware by Emily Hobhouse of the fact that the Ladies Commission (Fawcett Commission) ignored the plight of Blacks in concentration camps, writes to Joseph Chamberlain, Colonial Secretary. He requests that such inquiries should be initiated by the British government "as should secure for the natives who are detained no less care and humanity than are now prescribed for the Boer refugees". On this request Sir Montagu Ommaney, the permanent under-secretary at the Colonial Office, is later to record that it seems undesirable "to trouble Lord Milner... merely to satisfy this busybody".
9 April, Emily Hobhouse's 42nd birthday.
30 April, The officially reported population of the White camps is 112,733 and the death toll for April stands at 298.
15 May, Sixty Republican delegates take part in a three-day conference in Vereeniging, debating whether to continue fighting or end the war. Complicated negotiations continue between Boer delegates among themselves and British delegates, also with different opinions, up to the end of May. During the peace negotiations Acting President Schalk Burger of the ZAR (South African Republic/Transvaal) says: "... it is my holy duty to stop this struggle now that it has become hopeless... and not to allow the innocent, helpless women and children to remain any longer in their misery in the plaque-stricken concentration camps..."
31 May, The officially reported camp population of the White camps is 116,572 and the deaths for May are 196.The final peace conditions, comprised in The Treaty of Vereeniging, is signed by representatives of both the Burghers and the British at 23:05 at Melrose House, Pretoria. After this, inhabitants of the concentration camps were gradually released as burghers came to claim the members of their families still living, while other left on their own to return to their burnt-down houses and farms. 27,927 persons died in the camps, 1,676 men, mainly those too old to be on commando, 4,177 women and 22,074 children under sixteen.” 
* Role of Black People In The South African War *
“The South African War of 1899-1902 was essentially a 'White mans' war, fought to determine which white authority had real power in South Africa but other populations groups like the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazis and Basotho and Sothos were also involved in the war. Although there was an unwritten agreement between the Boers and the British that Blacks would not be armed in the war, neither side adhered to this agreement.
It should be mentioned that the South African war was fought in a region where four fifths of the population was Black and that the conflict was over land that belonged to the various African tribes
Most politically conscious Blacks, Coloureds and Indian groups in South Africa believed that the defeat of the Boers would mean more political, educational and commercial opportunities would be afforded to them. They hoped that the Cape franchise would be extended throughout South Africa. The Indian community was encouraged by MK Gandhi to show loyalty to Britain if they wished to achieve their freedom. Thus, the Ambulance Corps was formed in Natal, was and became active on the British side during the early months of the war.
Reasons For Not Wanting To Arm The Black Population
The British believed that the Boers would be easily defeated and that any military collaboration from groups of Blacks would not be decisive in winning the war. In addition, it was commonly believed by both sides that the military methods of the Black people were more brutal than those of white people and that white women and children would not be shown mercy by Black soldiers. Another reason for not wanting Blacks to be given arms was the fear that this would increase the possibility of Black resistance to white control in the future. However, as soon as the war started, it was evident that Black people played an indispensable part in military operations.
On The Boer Side
Republican law forbade the carrying of arms by Blacks, but because many Boers were pressed into service, they allowed their servants to carry arms. Black cooperation in the war enabled a larger number of whites to serve actively in war operations on both sides.
According to the law of the Republics, all males between the ages of 16 and 60 were eligible for war service, and although the law did not refer to race it was generally applied to the white population only. Provision was made for coloureds to be called up, but in most cases, this meant an employee going along with his employer.
On the Boer side, Black people assisted at various levels. Most were assigned to the roles of wagon drivers or servants. Blacks were also used to stand in on farms of Boers who were commandeered to the war. Many were used as "agterryers" who would tend to chores at the camp or see to the horses. On the battlefield, the 'agterryer' would carry spare ammunition and spare rifles and even load up the rifles for his master.
The Tswana people were conscripted by the Boers to help maintain the siege of Mafeking. Many armed Blacks and Coloureds also assisted during the siege of Ladysmith. Refusal on the part of the Blacks to serve could see them punished with a fine of 5 pounds, imprisonment or 25 lashes. Although there is no accurate figure, some sources say that at least 10,000 Black men accompanied the Boer Commandos and, as a rule, labour conscripted by the Boers received no pay.
On The British Side
It was estimated that about 100,000 Blacks were employed by the British army and more than 10, 000 received arms. The British army used Black workers for carrying dispatches and messages, to take care of their horses and assist in the veterinary department. They also were used to do sanitary work and construct forts. Armed Black sentries guarded blockhouses and were used to raid Boer farms for cattle.
In 1900, 7,000 Blacks took part in General French's march to Machadodorp in the Transvaal. Over 5,000 others, mostly transport drivers and leaders, were employed by Lord Roberts' columns on his journey to Bloemfontein.
The British army also provided the Kgatla chief and Kgama of the Ngwato with 6,000 and 3,000 rounds of ammunition respectively, to defend the Bechuanaland Protectorate. In the Transkei, 4,000 Mfengu and Thembu levies were assembled to ward off any attempt at invasion by the Boers or to suppress any Boer uprising. The Boer occupation of Kuruman was initially resisted by a small force of local Coloured and white policemen. In Mafeking, over 500 Blacks took part in the town's defense during the siege and 200 more enrolled as special constables in Hershel to discourage incursions into the area by Free State commandos.
In Natal, the Zulu Native Police were armed with rifles and a number of them were mounted. However, after the war, Blacks who had served as scouts or fighting men were denied campaign medals which they were entitled to.
It is apparent that both sides would deny that armed Blacks served with them, each accusing the other of doing so, However, in April 1902, after much pressure, Lord Kitchener finally admitted that some 10,053 Black men were issued with arms by the British army. The Boers cited the arming of Blacks on the side of the British as one of the major reasons for discontinuing the war.
Reasons For Blacks Entering The War
Black poverty was a major spur to enlistment in the British army. For many Black families, the war had disastrous consequences as it disrupted the migrant labour system, a development that deprived them of an income used to buy grain, and pay taxes and rent. Also, the return of thousands of men to the rural areas increased the pressure on food resources in some already overpopulated districts of Natal, Zululand and the Transkei. In the Transvaal and Orange Free State Britain's scorched earth campaign destroyed the livelihoods of many thousands of Blacks. In 1901, separate concentration camps for Blacks were established to accommodate those who were uprooted from the land. Most of these were from Boer farms, where they resided as labour tenants, cash tenants or share-croppers. Those who entered the camps had very little or no food. Only in exceptional cases were free rations provided, thus most Black men had no choice but to accept work in the British army in order to survive. By April 1902, over 13,000 refugees were found to be working in the British army. As a result, the camps were mainly filled with women, children, the elderly and the infirm. The British recruited on the basis of a three-month contract with a monthly wages of 40 to 50 shillings. A major consolation to Blacks entering the British army was the fact that rations were usually included.
Many Black people were held in concentration camps around the country. The British created camps for Blacks from the start of the war. Entire townships and even mission stations were transferred into concentration camps. The men were forced into labour service and by the end of the war there were some 115,000 Blacks in 66 camps around the country.
Maintenance spent on white camps were a lot higher than that spent on the Black camps due to the fact that Blacks had to build their own huts and even encouraged to grow their own food. Less than a third of Black interns were provided with rations. Black people were practically being starved to death in these camps.
Blacks in the concentration camps were not given adequate food and did not have proper medical care, which resulted in many deaths. Those in employment were forced to pay for their food. Water supplies were often contaminated, and the conditions under which they were housed were appalling, resulting in thousands of deaths from dysentery, typhoid and diarrhea. The death toll at the end of the war in the Black concentration camps was recorded as 14,154, but it is believed that the actual number was considerably higher. Most of the fatalities occurred amongst the children.
After the War
After the war the Black camps remained under military control even after the white camps had been transferred to civilian control.” 
* Black Concentration Camps During The Anglo-Boer War 2, 1900-1902 *
“While the two main forces in the Anglo-Boer War 2 were White, it was not an exclusively White war. At least 15,000 Blacks were used as combatants by the British, especially as scouts to track down Boer commandos and armed block house guards, but also in non-combatant roles by both British and Boer forces as wagon drivers, etc. They suffered severely as result of the British "scorched earth policy" during which those who lived on White farms were removed to concentration camps, as were the women and children of their White employers. The rural economy was destroyed as crops were ravaged and livestock butchered. Displaced and captured civilians were forced into 'refugee camps', a total misnomer, because more often they did not seek refuge in the camps, but were rounded up by the British forces and forced into the camps, which soon became known as 'concentration camps'. Field-Marshal Lord Roberts had an ulterior motive in putting Blacks into camps, namely to make them work, either to grow crops for the troops or to dig trenches, be wagon drivers or work as miners once the gold mines became partly operational again. They did not receive rations, hardly any medical support or shelter and were expected to grow their own crops. The able-bodied who could work, could exchange labour for food or buy mealie meal at a cheaper price. The British along racial lines separated the White and Black camps. The inmates of the Black camps, situated along railway lines and on the border, became the eyes and ears of the British army. They formed an early warning system against Boer attacks on the British military's primary logistic artery - the railway lines and acted as scouts for British forces. This strategy alienated Whites and Blacks from each other by furthering distrust between the two population groups and was detrimental to racial harmony in South Africa after the war.
Concentration Camps for Blacks
Transvaal Colony: Balmoral; Belfast; Heidelberg; Irene; Klerksdorp; Krugersdorp; Middelburg; Standerton; Vereeniging; Volksrust; Bantjes; Bezuidenhout's Valley; Boksburg; Brakpan; Bronkhorstspruit; Brugspruit; Elandshoek; Elandsrivier; Frederikstad; Greylingstad; Groot Olifants River; Koekemoer; Klipriviersberg; Klip River; Meyerton; Natalspruit; Nelspruit; Nigel; Olifantsfontein; Paardekop; Platrand; Rietfontein West; Springs; Van der Merwe Station; Witkop; Wilgerivier
Free State: Allemans Siding; America Siding; Boschrand; Eensgevonden; Geneva; Harrismith; Heilbron; Holfontein; Honingspruit; Houtenbek; Koppies; Rooiwal; Rietspruit; Smaldeel; Serfontein; Thaba 'Nchu; Taaibosch; Vet River; Virginia; Ventersburg Road; Vredefort Road; Welgelegen; Winburg; Wolwehoek.
Cape Colony and British Bechuanaland (Administered by the O. R. C): Kimberley; Orange River; Taungs; Dryharts.
21 December, The inaugural meeting of the Burgher Peace Committee is held in Pretoria. Lord Kitchener discusses his concentration camp policies with this group, mentioning that stock and Blacks would also be brought in.
22 January, At the Boschhoek concentration camp for Blacks, about 1,700 inmates, mostly Basuto, hold a protest meeting. They state that when they have been brought into the camps they have been promised that they will be paid for all their stock taken by the British, for all grain destroyed and that they will be fed and looked after. They are also unhappy because "... they receive no rations while the Boers who are the cause of the war are fed in the refugee camps free of charge... they who are the 'Children of the Government' are made to pay'."
23 January, Two inmates of the Heuningspruit concentration camp for Blacks, Daniel Marome and G. J. Oliphant, complain to Goold-Adams: "We have to work hard all day long but the only food we can get is mealies and mealie meal, and this is not supplied to us free, but we have to purchase same with our own money. We humbly request Your Honour to do something for us otherwise we will all perish of hunger for we have no money to keep on buying food."
30 January, The population for the Black camps is 85,114 and 2,312 deaths are recorded for the month.
31 January, The population of Blacks in camps is 75,950 and 1,327 deaths are recorded for the month.
4 May, The first gold mine on the Rand re-opens, after all mines have been closed in October 1899, a few days before war was declared. The Minister for Native Affairs permits the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association to recruit mining labour from the concentration camps. Simultaneous to the resumption of economic activity is the establishment of the Department of Native Refugees (DNR) under direct British military command.
15 June, The British authority establishes the Department of Native Refugees in the 'Transvaal Colony'. The Transvaal camps are brought under the control of the newly formed department.
30 June, The official camp population of the Black camps is 32,360 and the deaths are not shown in official returns.
31 July, The camp population in Black camps is 37,472 and 256 have died in the Free State camps during the month, while in Transvaal deaths are not yet recorded.
31 August, The Free State camps are also brought under the control of the Department of Native Refugees.
31 August, The camp population in Black camps is 53,154 and 575 deaths are recorded for August.
30 September, The camp population in Black camps is 65,589 and 728 deaths are recorded.
31 December, The population in Black camps is 89,407, while the deaths peak during December at 2,831.
18 January, Major De Lorbiniere, in charge of the Native Refugee Department, writes that supplying workers to the army 'formed the basis on which our system was founded'. The department's mobilization of Black labour is very successful - not really surprising, considering the incentives offered: those in service and their families can buy mealies at a halfpence per lb., while those who do not accept employment have to pay double or more per bag. By the end of 1901, when the death rate peaks, more than 6,000 accept employment in the British army. This figure grows to more than 13,000 in April 1902. The labourers are largely housed in Black concentration camps, situated close to military garrisons and towns, mines and railways sidings.
31 January, The population of Black camps is 97,986 and 2,534 deaths are recorded.
28 February, The population in Black camps is 101,344 and 1,466 deaths are recorded.
24 March, Mr. H. R. Fox, Secretary of the Aborigines Protection Society, after being made aware by Emily Hobhouse of the fact that the Ladies Commission (Fawcett Commission) ignored the plight of Blacks in the concentration camps, writes to Joseph Chamberlain, Colonial Secretary. He requests that such inquiries should be instituted by the British government "as should secure for the natives who are detained no less care and humanity than are now prescribed for the Boer refugees". On this request Sir Montagu Ommaney, the permanent under-secretary at the Colonial Office, is later to record that it seems undesirable "to trouble Lord Milner... merely to satisfy this busybody".
31 March, The population of the Black camps is 101,299 and 972 deaths are recorded.
30 April, The population of the Black camps is 108,386 and 630 deaths are recorded.
31 May, Black concentration camp population in the 66 Black camps (some sources give the number as 80) reach 115,700, of which 60,000 are in the Free State camps and 55,969 in the ZAR (South African Republic/Transvaal). 523 deaths are recorded for the month.
31 May, The final peace conditions, The Treaty of Vereeniging, is signed by both the Burghers and the British at 23:05 at Melrose House, Pretoria.
The total Black deaths in camps are officially calculated at a minimum of 14,154 (more than 1 in 10), though G. Benneyworth estimates it as at least 20,000, after examining actual graveyards. According to him incomplete and in many cases non-existent British records and the fact that many civilians died outside of the camps, caused the final death toll to be higher. The average official death rate, caused by medical neglect, exposure, infectious diseases and malnutrition inside the camps was 350 per thousand per annum, peaking at 436 per thousand per annum in certain Free State camps. Eighty-one percent of the fatalities were children.” 
What do we take away from this brief examination? We’ll, we could turn on our TVs and watch any newscast and pretty much lay this story on top as a template. Successful strategies are rarely abandoned and human nature changes at a glacial pace. Both are free to practice evil. Those in the minority who employ the former are hereditary masters of rhetoric, spin, deception, delusion, sleight of hand and they cover their rottenness with refinement. The majority turn on their own, acquiesce or deny. Harming women, children, the elderly, sacrificing generations, destroying property, destroying food, persecuting peaceful self-sufficiency while rewarding dependence and parasitism can never be made right. It can, however sadly, thrive and endure.
Sources & References:
 https://www.kitchenerpost.ca/news-story/4605027-first-world-war-ripped-away-canada-s-age-of-innocence-/- Luisa D’Amato
 http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/women-children-white-concentration-camps-during-anglo-boer-war-1900-1902 -This article was produced for South African History Online on 20-Mar-2011 -Last updated: 06-Dec-2016 and referenced:
Cloete, P. G. ( 2000). The Anglo-Boer War: a chronology, Pretoria: Lapa.
Potgieter, D. J. et al. (eds)(1970). Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, Cape Town: NASOU, v. 3, p. 378-380.
Potgieter, D. J. et al. (eds)(1970). Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, Cape Town: NASOU, v. 5, p. 544-546.
 http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/role-black-people-south-african-war -This article was produced for South African History Online on 30-Mar-2011 -Last updated: 03-Oct-2016
 http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/black-concentration-camps-during-anglo-boer-war-2-1900-1902 -This article was produced for South African History Online on 20-Mar-2011 -Last updated: 19-Sep-2016
Photo -Joyce Blyth
Someone once said that it was better to tell a massive lie rather than a small one because the former stood a greater chance of being believed due to its sheer audacity. The Bible clearly tells us not to engage in this practice. There are many varieties of lies ranging from little white lies to half truths to omissions to obfuscations and onto fabrications. They are classified from black to white through all the shades of gray according to their perceived justifications. If they prevent human discomfort they are placed on the white side.
This classification structure is very logical and from it we can become very creative as we race back and forth from the public stage to our private dressing rooms. We are generally more inventive and lenient with ourselves than we are with any others, including our relatives and friends. It is an accepted practice to lie to children the world over under the twin justifications of protecting and entertaining them. Part of the behavior expressed by adolescents as they make the transition from childhood into adulthood is a quite natural rage against the lies that have been told to them. Interestingly, at this point it matters not to the young adult which shade of gray the lie is painted in. In this phase of life, there is only black and white, true and false.
Not very sophisticated or conducive to a busy social life but nonetheless pure and purely human, I might add. Our modern, civilized culture in particular exacerbates this phenomenon when held up against other more ancient cultures as well as when compared to the state of mind of young people who enjoyed privileged educations at private institutions. With an eye to the future and to providing new captains for steering the ships of state along desired courses, they are taught very different philosophies with which to complement a less propagandized sugar free curriculum, especially as regards to history.
Each generation is a living breathing chance for mankind to reach for far more practical goals than orbiting hotels, mining asteroids and devising new taxes. Each generation instead is either thrust out into the maelstrom or coddled in the basement if they have somehow escaped being diagnosed with ADD, hyperactivity, autism or depression and have managed to make some noise.
When punk music washed ashore from England onto North American shores, I hated it. In my opinion you could have used it to churn butter or strip paint. At that time, I knew not of the de-industrialization purposely carried out on that island or of Prime Minister Thatcher’s announcement in a speech that there would be an entire generation of Britons who would never see gainful employment in their lifetime. Pub hours were extended, the heroin taps were turned on and rich people chuckled about how you have to break a few eggs if you want to make an omelet.
The first few tattooed and pierced individuals I worked with in the Post Office initially repulsed me. As their numbers grew and I worked more closely with them, I came to learn that they were, in general, a very conservative bunch of people. They were very spiritually oriented and had a well defined sense of morals. At first this perplexed me until I realized that the outward appearance was a statement which served the dual purposes of protection and identification. Protection from the many evils they perceived in the world they had been handed and identification for recognition by others of that generation. A tribe, if you will.
I have noticed that this effect can be seen around the world, regardless of race or indigenous culture as places are literally hammered into the Globalist Utopia. This is being done in such a way that it appears to be a Western or a Capitalist or a Socialist trend. The keystone is the adoption of the central banking system and this is furthered strengthened by the signing of international treaties which bind large populations to vague rules enforced by non-resident tribunals. Sovereignty falls on the field of progress just after truth, while local privilege seeks safety by signing up tax payers as collateral to guarantee World Bank and IMF development loans. All the nice bits such as natural treasures, islands, nature preserves and ancient heritage sites are swapped for temporary debt forgiveness. In this way, corporations will have less interference when extracting resources in the future and something to show the world that they have protected by putting a fence around it, installing a zip-line, a tourist center and selling tickets.
If we look at Britain through the centuries and compare other countries to this model, we may get a foreshadowing of things to come if there is no change in current trends. Elderly people freezing in their own houses, young people ravaged by drugs, mass unemployment and the whole shebang caught on zillions of CCTV cameras. This is also true when looking at the symptoms manifested by the popular culture of such unfortunate places, such as dissonant music accompanied by agonizing visceral poetry screamed at unintelligible volumes. We seem to always fall short of a diagnosis or wait to be provided one by a face we trust from our local news outfit.
I saw on my local news just yesterday that there were only fourteen million households in Canada. I had recently heard on the same media that the average Canadian citizen had not enough savings to see them through any major unforeseen expense without resorting to borrowing, if they were able to qualify. It always strikes me as absurd that anyone should go homeless or penniless due to the servicing of a monster mortgage in such a vast land of resources. I was struck by the same incongruity in parts of Asia where people starve in lands that enjoy three growing seasons per year. Here at home, we are reluctant to provide door to door mail delivery for a population that would fit inside California.
I calculated the other day that I will have to draw my pension for twenty-five years in order to have been paid the same amount as the first years salary of the CEO of my former employer, Canada Post. I’m one of the lucky ones. Just as the Red Coats, Highlanders, Gurkhas and Fusiliers left their dead across the world, the American Forces were handed a false global burden after hearing rousing speeches by the likes of Rudyard Kipling and they have added immensely to the body count. In both cases, lines were drawn and redrawn on maps with little regard to the humans contained in those strategic containers. Many times over the number of the uniformed dead, civilians and non-combatants populated mass graves. Waves of displaced homeless refugees came to the shores of Britain and America.
They in turn sacrificed their sons and daughters for yet other military adventures.
The charade can be easily seen in a study of the Korean Conflict or Police Action as it was called. These new euphemisms for war seem to have stuck with us. The back and forth from Seoul to Pyongyang and on to the Yalu after the Inchon Landing and then the scorched earth retreat back to Seoul and the subsequent firing of the 33rd degree Mason, MacArthur by the President can tell us much.
MacArthur, like Patton before him recognized a future adversary and wished as a military strategist to engage that enemy at a time and place of his own choosing. Both men were stopped in their tracks by Presidents whose loyalties slunk in the shadows. During the entire conflict, the orders came from a United Nations where Americans paid for everything and Russian Communists were aware of each new objective prior to its execution on the ground. Cities and towns were razed to the ground, waves of innocents were made homeless, brave men sacrificed their lives for naught and lucky contractors got to rebuild the mess. A bogeyman was left in place to be used as an excuse for future adventures in the region. It is a modus operandi that is clearly visible throughout history down to the present day.
It may well be that we now stand on the verge of another chapter in this ancient game. The race to privatization and monopoly affects the defense, security and detention industries just as it has the power, transportation and agricultural industries. Atlas may shrug and Sisyphus may take a nap while migrants roll his stone. Time will tell. Meanwhile we must be aware that precisely those things we do not like to hear or see, such as that awful racket coming from the independent music scene can be helpful in diagnosing some of the ills of society that certainly should be addressed. Or we could watch the brand new season of Mary Kills People while our children Tweet themselves into a coma.
One of the barriers to remediation of many of the problems we face is the fact that the truth, particularly in regards to history and politics, is so outrageous that it would scarcely be believed if its pieces were dragged from their shallow graves and laid out in the Main Streets of the world. The opposite intentioned Freedom Of Information Acts of the world ensure that at least two generations of publicly educated individuals grow up thinking the wrong things before a tiny percentage ever bother to read the declassified bits that have escaped the censor’s Magic Marker. This keeps everyone quite busy jumping to conclusions, flying off the handle, carrying grudges, running interference, seeking shelter, nursing hangovers, killing time and fishing for compliments. Me and you included.
Sometimes we can easily tell when someone is lying to us. If it is a well intentioned person having a laugh at our expense, they always give visible clues, wait for the light bulb to go off in our head and give up the ghost if we don’t catch on. Like the time I asked a gas station attendant in Nanaimo how to fish for abalone. I had just moved there from North Vancouver to work at the Keg N’ Cleaver Restaurant. I had my eighteen year old wife from Nevada, my old Beaumont Acadian and not much else but a desire to pursue success and happiness.
I think it was my accent that triggered the mischief. The young man was about my age, twenty that is. As he pumped the gas, he told of a time honored complex ritual involving Honda generators, miles of extension cords, moonless nights during neap tides and several pit lamps. I followed along the instructions so far, he couldn’t stand it and confessed the ruse. The upside was that he told me of a good spot off Hammond Bay Rd. to fish for oysters. I used to keep a one gallon glass jar full of shucked meat and produced enough shell to pave the drive where I parked the Beaumont.
These oysters, unlike the small ones in the Gulf of Mexico on the Texas coast, were simply lying on a sandy bottom attached to nothing. Texas oysters had to be dredged up by strong metal hooks to break them off their ancient beds. Also, unlike Texas where you wouldn’t have been allowed to cross a waterfront homeowners property to access the beach without risking some buckshot, we could stroll right down the side yard of any house to get to the spot. I have always appreciated Queen E. for this and I hear from my cousin that it is much the same in Sweden under their Royal Everyman’s law.
I took friends and family from Vancouver and some guests from Texas out there many times. We would float a large plastic beer cooler out in front of us and dive for the treats. Each time we popped up we had one monster mollusk in each hand to plop in the box. Those evenings would be spent shucking in the back yard, reminiscing, slapping skeeters and planning the gumbo. I found out that they were very good with eggs in a local dish called “Hangtown Fry.”
Sometimes it is nearly impossible to believe the truth. This can be because we may have never confronted a particular event ourselves. When my young wife phoned me at work to tell me that objects were flying around our rented old house, I didn’t believe it. I rushed home due to her hysteria and saw what she had seen and still didn’t believe my own eyes. In due time, I had to make a bigger space in my awareness and accept something new. I have told the true story of that haunted house and it will air in two parts one day soon under the title of “Ghost Story.” Our story even made it into the Nanaimo Free Press.
I was able to experience a similar occurrence of disbelief in the face of truth from the opposite vantage before leaving Nanaimo. It happened that I became temporarily unemployed while in the ghost house and I had heard through the grapevine that I might have a chance of getting a gig as a deck-hand on the Gabriola Ferry. This is a small ferry that runs back and forth from Nanaimo to one of the many Gulf Islands off the B. C. coastline. My father had gone to sea in Montreal at age fifteen and my mother’s father had gone to sea at the age of fourteen. I figured, being twenty should make it even easier.
I was armed with good intel that the Captains were suitably impressed if you came on board during a run dressed for the job and eager to show off some knot tying skills. Back then I was pretty good with clove hitches, camel hitches, bowlines and such. I had been bringing my wife to work with me prior to getting unemployed due to her inability to remain alone in the spirit-ridden house. If you are wondering why we didn’t simply move, it was because we had innocently signed a six month lease that stipulated we were to pay in full for each month early we would have vacated the premises. It was money we didn’t have and thus not an option. The landlord turned out later to confess full knowledge of a murder that had occurred there but had purposely chosen to omit this information when I signed the lease. Conversely, when I moved out six harrowing months later, he used the notoriety of the place generated by the newspaper article to rent the house quickly and easily for double the amount I had paid.
The day I set off to apply for the ferry deck-hand job, I had my wife along as usual. I pulled up to the grocery store on Front St. near the terminal, told her to wait patiently and that I would bag this job. I reckoned I would be less than ten minutes. After all, the ferry was loading, it only held a few cars and Captains were good judges of men. She wished me luck and adjusted her sun-glasses to the glare reflecting off the water.
I strode aboard and quickly found the Pilothouse after negotiating a slew of bicycles, tripods, cases, back-packs and other equipment which clogged up the deck. It was as if a group was getting ready to climb Mt. Everest judging by their gear. I glanced at the deck-hand on my way up, certain that I could do what he was doing. As I finished my introduction, hand-shaking and offer of services for a position that the company had not advertised for, the Captain tooted his horn and threw her into Back Slow. I made a tiny bit of a face and he smiled and said that it couldn’t hurt to go along one run although he didn’t know of any openings for deck-hands in the foreseeable future. I figured it was a test and held my mud.
The run to Gabriola doesn’t take too long and I knew I could smooth things out with my wife when I got back. Truly, I was Shanghaied. I would have thought the Captain would have had the decency to notify me before casting off. Anyway, the round trip was about six nautical miles and would take under an hour. I chatted a bit longer with the Captain, not showing any concern or distress. After a suitable time, I went down to talk to the deck-hand. As the Gabriola dock hove into view, I felt that wonderful ancient feeling all mariners experience when coming ashore.
The deck-hand sprang into disciplined action and soon had the few vehicles safely on their way like so many geese shooed away from a tree stump. What happened next took a few moments to implant in my brain and a few more moments to process as being real. A man and woman rode their bikes off with three children in tow.
Halfway across the gangway, the mother stopped, turned, held up a small packet and yelled, “Who wants gum?”
“I do, I do.” came an answering chorus from the youngsters and father.
It was only then I turned and saw that all the equipment I had seen earlier was set up in place behind us and a film crew was busy with the shoot. The family began to chew their Trident Sugarless Gum and giggle as they rode off the ramp and a hundred yards down the bend in the island road. I looked at the deck-hand, the film crew and the Captain grinning in his cockpit.
“Are you shitting me?” I inquired of the deck-hand.
“I shit you not,” he replied and handed me a pack of gum.
I knew I’d need it as evidence, so I didn’t chew any. I let the novelty of the situation become comfortable on the sofa in my mind and leaned against a rail to watch the cyclist come back aboard. They were swiftly stowed away and in short order we cast off. It couldn’t have been too soon for me. Due to the situation at home, my wife’s nerves were not the best. Like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wandering the Sahara after crashing his mail plane en route from Paris to Saigon, I was suffering agonies at having inadvertently caused her to worry. While I made peace with this, the ferry Captain threw her into slow Ahead and took another run at the dock. As I stood gripping a stanchion, we docked again and repeated the entire scene. I heaved a sigh of heavy relief when we were again moving astern and I felt that wonderful feeling all mariners experience when watching the land slip away.
The third time we docked I turned to the deck-hand, “Are you shitting me?”
“I shit you not,” was his calm measured reply.
The fourth time, I checked my tobacco pouch to make sure I could pass the balance of the day without mooching. By the fifth landing, I was considering asking the camera crew if I could get any cash for appearing in a cameo role. By the sixth and final repeat, I had decided I didn’t like the film business, I hated gum and I sorely missed my little wife. I tried to concoct something more believable than the truth on the way back to Nanaimo. I couldn’t. When I got to the car, in the waning light of a late afternoon, I told my poor dehydrated woman the truth and I even showed her the gum. I apologized profusely but made it clear that I admitted no guilt under the peculiar circumstances. As a back up, I added that I had been told that the commercial would be aired in six months and that then she’d see for herself.
She pointed her face to me, tilted up her sun-glasses, tossed her corn-silk hair and said, “Are you shitting me, Michael?”
“I shit you not,” I replied with the conviction of a Southern Baptist preacher.
We never did see that commercial. We didn’t own a TV during our short marriage. I honestly don’t know if my ex-wife ever believed the truth of that afternoon. Yet, there it lay like a grease stripe atop a cat’s head after it has crawled under a differential.
Today we are affected by many new and numinous maladies. When diagnosed by our medical professionals, they are merely described in Greek and Latin. The underlying causes are frequently admitted by Doctors to be unknown as are the cures. Personally, I figure this is environmental and is due to many the irritants, additives, pollutants and altered substances we ingest and absorb.
Whether a person is looking at social, political or medical issues, it is important to describe what is observed like the emo music lyrics referred to in the beginning of this essay. A description is a starting point but far from a cure. Anything administered to alleviate symptoms does not provide a lasting solution either. I am sure that cures and prevention are very difficult to attain but I am equally convinced that these are the only destinations worth aiming at regardless of where we end up.
I have found that sometimes lasting solutions to problems and their proper diagnosis can come from very unlikely sources. I experienced this last month. I had been feeling very run down, lethargic, itchy and sore for some time. The TV medical experts spewed out an endless barrage of maybes to be considered and although I don’t watch it much, it is on in my house, it is Winter and I can hear it. I puzzled over the way I felt for a considerable stretch of time. Then I paid attention to a silent partner, my cat, Mr. Dusty Bones, Esq.
He had taken to sitting on a high perch in the bedroom and staring like a sphinx at a small ventilation hole near the ceiling that most trailers have in the living room and the main bedroom. He continued this behavior for some days and nights. I was really getting fed up with feeling off kilter. So much so, I even contemplated heavy physical exercise. One morning, I woke and saw him there like a Royal Bank granite lion staring at the vent which had been cleverly blocked up with Styrofoam in order to save on the last occupant’s heating bill. I stood on a chair and smelled it immediately. Mold.
When I pried out the foam, I was treated to the sight of several paper wasp nests which had been constructed from the outside through a hole in the screen. They had subsequently become wet from condensation due to the blockage of the foam and then had molded. This was the mysterious cause of all those symptoms. I had experienced something similar in Vancouver at an apartment I rented. I removed both foam blocks, cleaned out the molded wasp nests, scoured the aluminum sills till they shone, disinfected them and replaced the screens behind the small glass louvers. All while my cat watched silently and knowingly. We cracked them open a wee bit to let the air circulate and carry away moisture and one by one all the symptoms disappeared. Maybe one day the world will learn something vitally useful from those who don’t communicate in the usual manner. Whether they stand on four legs or on two.
There are many kinds of snow. I have heard that there are dozens of words in Inuit languages to describe the many different kinds of snow and ice with incredible nuance and accuracy and this seems altogether reasonable for a people who spend most of their time in such an environment. Likely, there is a corresponding wealth of words describing sand, dunes and wind in the desert regions of the world.
This Texan knows only two kinds of snow. Wet snow or cole snass as it is referred to in Chinook jargon and the lovely delicate powder which travels great distances sideways before ever falling, which we have here in Lillooet. It can be so fine that you have to look at a light pole and block the bulb with your hand to be able to discern the crystalline shower which is revealed in the aurora.
Wet snow accumulates directly in a place like Vancouver, while here in the canyon, it drifts in the wind until anchored by an obstruction. When I first came to North Vancouver as a boy from Louisiana, it was December and the snow was a couple of feet deep in Lynn Valley. The chain link fence surrounding the elementary school was completely hidden under the combination of drifted and plowed snow. I remember the thrill of walking up and over the top with my sister in our first pairs of wellies from Zellers.
I got acquainted with shoveling snow that first winter due to having lost one too many snooker games with my apartment manager’s son. In those years, the winters were fairly consistent and by the time I reached high school and began my drivers training, there were components of that instruction specific to winter driving. A nice man would come to the front of the old Argyle Senior Secondary right after school in a small car with two steering wheels and pick up the waiting student.
My Dad had recently issued orders for me to take that driver training and to buy a vehicle from the proceeds of my night job. According to him, I was to be fully ready to leave home by the age of seventeen. While I was growing up he used to ask me from time to time how old I was and when I answered, he would subtract my answer from seventeen and say, “Well there’s only that many years left until I want you out of here.” I never figured out the significance of that number other than it was two years later than he had gone out into the wide world.
The Driving School instructor was a jolly confidant middle aged man and a very different teacher than my father. The first thing he showed me in order to relax the situation was that if I screwed up, he could steer and brake for both of us. This made me immensely grateful and he demonstrated this a few times as we cruised out of the school zone. We pulled over again and he briefed me like a pilot on the function of all the controls of that particular vehicle. When he figured I had absorbed as much as I could for the moment he did something unexpected. He told me a joke.
“A man from the Government had to go to River View Asylum to assess the progress they were making with their patients. He was to file a report which would recommend either increased funding or closure of the facility. He arrived, grabbed his briefcase and entered the massive complex. There were a few inmates outdoors on the green sward that looked over the Fraser River, apparently tending some scraggly sheep which bleated as he passed indoors."
"The Director was expecting him and greeted him before he had walked ten feet toward the reception desk. The tall balding man pumped his hand, offered him coffee and grinned like a used truck salesman. The old battleship linoleum floor had a hard wax shine that would have done justice to a bowling alley and everywhere staff members in a variety of color coded uniforms strode to and fro with the purpose of pastel Corporals delivering messages to the War Room."
"Suitably impressed, the Government man smiled and accepted the offer of refreshments. He was escorted into a spotless cafeteria and given a piping hot mug of coffee and a fresh bran muffin studded with fat juicy raisins. While he sipped and chewed, the Director fleshed out the work carried on at his facility with special attention given to his new initiatives that had yielded such promising results after decades of failure. It was these new initiatives that had prompted the call for increased funding and the subsequent assessment."
"After a chat, the Government man smiled and said that he would like to have a tour of the different floors and see the inmates and patients for himself. The Director said he would be delighted and proud to accommodate that request. First they walked down the hall of a lower floor. All the doors were open and there was a happy racket coming from a set of double doors. They approached and the Director pushed the panic bars open to reveal a gleaming gymnasium where about twenty adults both male and female were having games of indoor soccer. They were so obviously having a wonderful time that they didn’t even look up."
"Next, they went to the second floor where people suffering from slightly more serious forms of mental illness were housed. This hall had several medium sized rooms at the end and as they peeked into each one, it was revealed that these inmates were busily and happily engaged in playing pool, table tennis, shuffleboard and Foosball. They looked up briefly at the two gentlemen and grinned."
"At the next floor up, the room doors had little windows with sliding shutters and the Director had to use a special card to activate the elevator. They strolled down to a series of smaller rooms and peered into each one. There were people playing cribbage, chess and other board games. Most of these were elderly and the Director elaborated on his vision of using physical activity, sports and such as the way to rehabilitate the psyches of the unfortunates."
"With only one floor left to tour, the Government man followed his guide up the elevator, almost like an old friend, such was the respect that he had developed for the brilliant showing. He was already composing a favorable report in his head when the Director broke into his thoughts. He explained that they were now on the maximum security floor with the most dangerous and difficult population of the facility. With a firm squeeze on the shoulder, he steered the Government man into the corridor and added that he would likely be surprised how well his strategy had worked even there on that floor."
"The first inmate they encountered stood a few yards away down the hall and was miming the action of a man serving a tennis ball. The Government man asked if he could speak to the inmate. With no hesitation, the Director said, “Yes by all means.”
“Hi,” said the Government man. “What are you doing today?”
“Oh Hi,” said a frail old man in a stained blue bathrobe. “I’m on the sports therapy program. I’m practicing my serve. Soon I’ll go down to the lower floors and get to play in the gym. When I get out of here next year, I want to go on to be a tennis pro.”
“That’s incred…, I mean that’s wonderful!” gushed the Government man and with a grin he continued down the hall to another figure. It was a middle-aged woman. She was dressed in faded pink pajamas and fuzzy slippers. She appeared to be swinging an invisible stick and had on a huge visor cap and plastic sunglasses."
“Hi Ann, why don’t you tell our guest what you are doing today,” said the Director.
“Hi you guys. I am getting out of here in the Fall. Right now I am on the sports rehabilitation program and I am practicing my golf swing. When I go home, I am going pro, what ever it takes.”
"The Director thanked her and smiled at the Government man. His guest smiled back and said he had seen quite enough. As they strolled down toward the elevator, the Government man wiped a tear from the corner of his eye and intimated to the Director that this tour had indeed changed his viewpoint on mental illness and his perspective as to its treatment. He said that he had been deeply touched in an almost religious sense. Arms thrown over each others shoulders, they walked down the tiles like brothers on a fishing pier. Over by the elevator, silhouetted by the light from a small reinforced window they saw another man."
"He was perhaps thirty, of average height and barefooted. He was wearing a pale green hospital gown turned backwards. He spun around to face the two approaching men but kept his attention focused on his own hands. He gripped a peanut, still in its shell, between his thumbs and forefingers. He held it tightly onto the tip of a massive erection."
"The Director let out a small groan when the Government man broke stride and approached the figure alone."
“Hi, friend. Can you tell me what you are doing today?”
“Sure can, dude. I’m fucking nuts and I’m going to be here for a long, long time.”
When we finished laughing, we took off and began driving lesson number one. Over the course of that Winter, my instructor took me up to the parking lot of Mt. Seymour to learn skid control and other techniques for Winter driving. He would barrel us into a skid and let me pull us out of it.
I can still hear him shouting, “Steer into it Mike, don’t hit the binders or we’re gonna be here for a long, long time.”
Just as my father had excelled at throwing mountains in my path and then ordering me to go up the slippery roads, my driving instructor showed me how to regain and to maintain control while navigating them. His other gift to me was the exposition of the power of humor by example. I just turned sixty yesterday and I still think of him.
On the final day’s road test we had been up the mountain, on the highway, into Vancouver, over both bridges and were finally coming West down Lynn Valley Road approaching Mountain Highway. I licked my lips involuntarily when I spied the Cockney Kings Fish and Chips booth up ahead. There in a small structure, the size of a generous phone booth, the man with the funny accent would fry you up two fat pieces of cod, roll a cone of old newspapers, fill it with steaming chips and deposit the beer-battered fish on top for less than two bucks. A shake of salt and a dowsing of malt vinegar and you were impervious to the cold for hours to come.
I cruised down the hill and thought of the joy of the open road. The road was hard-packed salted frozen snow and had turned the color of ash. I eased off the gas when I judged that I was close enough to the approaching stop signal. Just as I did so, an unseen cat leaped over the snow bank on the passenger side and bee-lined for the Jack and Jill Superette across the street. The creature sprinted like a cheetah and its path, speed and angle were perfectly timed to meet my right front wheel.
There was a horrifying crunch, a small bump and then another. I kept straight as an arrow and gently braked for the red light. I remember looking in the rear view mirror and hearing my instructor say that it was surely dead. Snow had already started to cover the carcass and soon it would be frozen stiff. I immediately imagined some rarely used paper that barred me from driving in all British Commonwealth Countries, Territories or Colonies.
“I...I didn’t see it in time,” I stammered.
“Pull over after the light, Mike.”
I pulled over in the little strip mall in front of a Mac’s Milk Store. My face was white and my ears were red. The instructor told me that we were done for the day, done for the lessons and done for the test. I waited for the bad news and tried to figure out what I would tell my father. After making some marks on his clipboard, my teacher turned and spoke to me.
“Mike, listen to me carefully. You did exactly the right thing back there. On a road such as this one on this day in this weather, it would have been foolhardy to attempt to swerve or brake for such a small creature. We would have wound up in the opposite lane and maybe even the intersection itself. Now, a moose or a deer, that is a different story. I’m sorry for the poor kitty and I’m sorry for you but I would have failed you right then and there if you had swerved. Congratulations. Now take me back to the school.”
Astonished, I asked, “Should we go back and get it?” “Try to find the owner?”
“I think not, I have another test to give today and there isn’t much left but crow bait anyhow.”
When I had my paperwork in order I bought my mother’s 1957 Morris Minor and bombed around in it for several months. The engine was the size of a Singer sewing machine and the turn signals flapped out like turkey wings from the side of the chassis. I had paid 75 dollars for the piece of British whimsy and if I recall correctly, I sold it for fifty. I next bought a 1967 Beaumont Acadian from the brother of a school mate, who belonged to a gang. We settled on four hundred dollars as the price.
It was a flat silver with a matte finish as if primed and ready to be painted. The interior was hand-painted with dragons, daggers, swords, big-breasted elf maidens, gang tags and lightening bolts. It sported a Holly four-barrel carburetor and small red Christmas lights were strung through the interior for ambiance when driving at night. Almquist had thought of everything. I proudly drove it home after the Swede promised me it would make it to Texas and back with no problems.
That evening, my father forbid me to park my mirth mobile in the driveway of our rental on Kilmer Road. I asked why and by way of answer, he ordered me to keep it at least a block away from his gold Oldsmobile Delta 98. I was perplexed, especially as I hadn’t been keen on getting a car anyway. Grudgingly, I backed out of the drive and found a nice spot under some cedar trees on the other side of Kilmer and about ten houses down.
The very next morning, I was looking forward to a drive through the hood to show off my ride to the boys and girls. Halfway to the silver stallion, my knees went weak. There it stood, covered in eggs, spray paint, the tail light lenses shattered and the tires slashed and flat. One window was smashed and crystals of safety glass festooned the back seat which was also slashed. It took me a few weeks to get it up and running, paint over the graffiti with silver-gray primer, replace the tires, duct-tape the upholstery and have a new glass put in. I was allowed to park it somewhat closer to home after that but not on our side of the street.
I eventually learned that the perpetrators were a rival gang which operated in my little section of the Valley. I was always in a gang of one, so I had little time for such fraternal organizations. Besides we moved too often to make joining one a practical enterprise. Except for the Baden-Powell gang which I had become a member of in Baton Rouge, I considered them cowardly and dishonorable. Over the next year, I accidentally found a philosophical gal who liked to skip school and we spent a lot of Algebra classes in Lynn Canyon, listening to the radio, munching fish and chips and chatting about the universe while the snow fell through the cedars.
When I was a Vancouver mailman, I got very acquainted with coastal snow. In the thirty years I delivered the post, there were perhaps four exceptionally snowy Winters. On these occasions when the usual melting rain did not materialize, the snow would build up quite high, quite fast. The first day after a big snowfall caused me to rise an hour or two earlier than usual to shovel the sidewalk in front of my own apartment. Then, I would ride the bus or train until it inevitably broke down and walk the rest of the way to my station.
After a very late start sorting, we would bag out our mail only to be told by the Supervisors that the couriers couldn’t drop any bundles on side streets due to the snow. We would be encouraged to put multiple bundles in relay boxes that sat on main streets and to walk back and forth to them rather than follow the regular line of travel. This added hours of what we call in the trade “dead-walking” to an already gnarly day.
It was always a blessed relief to be out in the bracing air, however. After the stuffiness of the depot’s monoxide, wet paper and moldy woolen smells, it was medicine. The first job on the route was the breaking of the trail. This consisted of stomping big boot prints and connecting drag lines through the hundreds of front yards and doing the same for the yet to be shoveled steps. In this way, a person could follow easily on the next day, burning far fewer calories.
Because we carried our sandwiches with us, this was important if one was to have enough gas to get through the slog without burning out. Those few times when it snowed each night for three or four consecutive days, the trail breaking had to be repeated each new day. By the third day, I used to pack two massive meat sandwiches, two frozen apples, two oranges, two liters of salted water, a quarter pound of chocolate and a half dozen Jägermeister sausages. I had no room in my two overflowing pouches for this feast, so I rigged a mesh bag to the back hasp of one of my satchels.
Once I fell on some ice and clattered down a flight of concrete steps. Usually in such a situation I would be up and swearing faster than a German soccer player prior to the 1990s. This time I lay for a while staring into the snow globe scene and trying to wiggle all my parts before attempting to rise. Across the street, I saw a man pulling on his boots and gloves and doing the old man shuffle to cross over to where I was prone. His wife peered through the kitchen window with a dish rag in her hand. He waddled over just as I regained my footing and was doing some stretches to lessen the pain that was sure to follow that night and the next morning.
“My wife saw you, Mike. You OK? She said that you usually get back up quicker and that I should check you out.”
“Thanks, man. I’m OK. She’s right you know. That’s the longest I ever stayed down.”
There was one house that I delivered to for about five years that got buried in snow one particularly bad winter. It was on a side street with no snow removal and the properties were set back from the road with large front yards. This house had a big Alpine style balcony which fronted a master bedroom upstairs. Every day, I would see a huge man in his striped gray and black pajama bottoms standing there, regardless of the weather. He never wore a shirt. There was no need. He was one of those individuals you come across from time to time when you attend a spa or mineral water bath with your wife or girlfriend. Hairy as a sasquatch. He could have parted the hair on his shoulders with a comb and they paled in comparison to his back.
He would make a sour face, glance at his watch through the fur of his wrist and remind me that according to his schedule, I was late. After a year or two, I got used to it. I never liked it but I got used to it. I heard through the grapevine that he was the very man who had begun one of Vancouver’s first successful pizza franchises. He had sold the company and retired at a very young age and in very comfortable circumstances. He was a Greek. The reason he wore pajamas all day was the same as that of a Chinese stock trading customer of mine. Because he could.
One terrible wet Winter a few days before Christmas I kicked my way into Shaggy’s yard and stomped across the drifted snow that hid his driveway, walkway and steps. I glanced up just in time to see him check his watch and give me the face. I folded the wad of mail in two and pressed the bundle through the slot with some effort and as it clunked on the hardwood floor I turned and picked my way along my old footprints.
As I neared the street, he beckoned in a booming bass, “Hey Buddy! My wife wantsh to talk to you.”
I stopped, turned and began to trudge back to the door, wondering what the woman I had never seen was going to complain about. I knocked crisply on the door with numb knuckles. The door swung open and a pretty woman in a checkered apron adjusted her graying hair and asked me to wait a minute. She padded off to the kitchen and returned swiftly with a metal tray, which she held in mitts. On top were four of the most beautiful spanakopitas I had ever seen.
“I made thish for you. Itsh khold out there.”
I thanked her profusely and she closed the door against the chill wind. I stood for a moment deciding what to do. I turned about, marched into the front yard and made a snow table and bench. I sat the tray on the snow where I could face the balcony and began to devour the sumptuous green manna in its cigarette paper thin flake pastry. I looked up at the sasquatch and thanked him heartily and gave a thumbs up. He stared for a moment and then went inside and slid the door closed. When I was done, I returned the tray to the front door and forgave all mankind for all the sins ever committed, happier than a porpoise.
Many years went by and I met another Greek man on a different route. He was a widower and was raising his daughter alone. Sammy the Barber’s nephew rented the basement. I never met the college aged daughter but the old man would chat once in a while if he happened to be home when I passed by.
He was a friendly guy and from what I could tell, a great father. Their house sat on a corner with a view of the back-side of Grace Hospital. After about a year, it happened one Spring that I heard a wonderful lusty singing coming from the little bathroom window that communicated to the front yard. I had permission of the old man to use their steps for a lunching platform and I was entertained by the mystery male vocalist many times. Sometimes it was country western but mostly top 40 songs.
One day after this had been going on for several months I was greeted in the yard by the old man, who rushed out and asked me if I could stay to have my lunch on the steps that day and do him a favor. I said of course I could. I sat on the concrete steps and rolled a smoke. There was an intoxicating aroma wafting out of the house and washing over me. I was just about to put my finger on it when the old man and a young woman came out of the house carrying metal trays with mitts. They each placed a tray on the stoop. His tray had small spanakopitas and hers had large ones.
“Thish my daughter. You never shee kher. She go to khallege. Look, she gonna get married in a khople weeksh. Her mother passh away before teach kher to khook. If you will be sho khind, would you pleashe try theshe spanakopitas and tell kher the trute khwat you tink. She will be the khook for the wedding.”
I shook hands with the dark haired lass as we were introduced and said that it would be my honor and a privilege. She stood nervously clasping her hands to her checkered apron as her and her father watched me like doctors waiting for a patient to regain consciousness after a particularly sketchy surgery. I ate a small one slowly. Then I ate another a little faster. They asked me to try the second tray. I did so.
“Well, khwat do you tink?” asked the old man.
“I think your daughter is an exceptional cook. The second tray, the bigger size ones, are the best. The seasoning is exact. The smaller ones have too much pastry and don’t feel right in the mouth. No offense. Not enough spinaka. I can also tell you that the bride groom is a nice boy and very much in love. He sings like a canary.”
“I told you Papa,” said the young woman. “The big onesh are IT. They are the pomb, jusht like Mama’sh!”
We all sat on the steps and gobbled them up and talked of marriage and life. I told them how I had gotten married for the third time in a Greek restaurant which I had purposely chosen for its spanakopitas. I told them of my wife who could cook Italian, Chinese, Western and Filipino cuisine.
“I told you khirl, food ish very important,” said the old man to his daughter.
The other day I was watching the snow blow like icing sugar out my office window. Dusty Bones was playing soccer with a walnut on the floor. Those times and places I have spoken of came to mind like a parade. At length I decided to distract myself with a little Google search for an obscure piece of music. Somehow, I found myself viewing a taped live session of eN-Kriya. This is a modern brand of old Vedic traditions concerned with awakening the Kundalini. A young guru in a saffron robe with a leopard print vest and massive gold necklace spoke for quite some time to a rapt audience of European and North American disciples.
He wore a beatific smile and had an array of facial expressions and voice tones that ranged from a doting mother to a stern grandfather. Using these voices and the corresponding expressions he explained in glacial detail how to do breathing exercises that are very similar to those taught in Pa Kua. In one nostril and out the other. After a set of these, some deep breaths which are held and slowly released. The empty lungs are held and then slowly refilled.
Next came the Sat Nam. This was basically, a rhythmic, forceful pulling in and up of the diaphragm, which serves to physically massage all the internal organs. There are some further breathing techniques employed afterward as well as a chanting and a visualization of the Master, who ever that was, showering one with his Holy energy. This gift of energy was now to be shared out to all the world in the minds eye. At the end of the lesson, the camera man panned the audience of devotees.
They were mostly middle-aged women with a sprinkling of bald younger males. They were all Caucasian and were seated in the lotus position on old mattresses likely borrowed from the Tantra classes. The guru now spoke of levitation. I had just replaced the old kitchen chair I used at my desk with an adjustable computer chair from the Canadian Tire Store in West Bank and I worked the lever and slid up a few inches as I watched.
After forty-five minutes of meaningful pauses peppered with admonitions that it was indeed possible, the guru said he would give the class a chance to try levitating. First, he said, he wanted to tell them a story.
“There vas vonce an old voman”, he began. “Her family vas no longer able to take care of har at home because abry von vas busily vorking many jobs. They decided to all chip in and pay for her a nice room in a care facility. Understand. The daughter found a suitable place and the sons negotiated a fair price for the sarvices after carefully inwestigating the company. They drove the old voman there next day and settled her into her room. It vas small but clean and comfortable. After many tears they left her and told her they vad be bek next morning to make sure the staff var treating her very good and kind."
"That afternoon as the old voman sat at her chair by the vindow looking the beautiful flowers outside, she began to lean over slowly to the right side. The narse on duty passed by her room and as all the doors were kept open as a policy, she noticed the old voman tilting in har chair. The narse came in quickly and gently sat the lady up straight in har chair, combed har hair and left again."
"After ten minutes, the nurse passed by again. The old voman vas now leaning very far to the left side. Understand. The dutiful narse came in again and straightened the poor old voman in the chair and massaged har shoulders for a moment and asked har vat she vanted for her suppar."
"The vary next day, as they had promised, the family arrived to check on their Mom. They all went to har room and found her again by the vindow in har chair. The daughter asked har Mom if the narses var kind to har and if the food vas OK.”
"The old voman turned slowly to har daughters face. “Yes,” she said, “They are vary kind to me here and the food is vary good.” Abry one smiled. “There is only bon problem”, said the old voman. “They von’t let me fart!” Understand. Now you may try to levitate.”
The camera man turned away from the guru and panned across the devotees who were in deep rapt concentration, over oxygenated and likely undernourished. None were laughing. One fellow that looked like the manager of a mid-west shoe store was using his lotus-folded knees to spring repeatedly into the air a few inches and the bounce of the mattress to keep it going. A woman who looked like a bookstore owner from Portland began to emulate him and soon dozens were popping up and down like amputated frogs, each one expecting to be the one to stay aloft.
“Steer into it, baby,” I thought out loud, “Or we’re going to be here for a long, long time.”
Last Summer I happened to keep a date with Seton Lake that I had been putting off for days. It was a lovely dry hot day and I figured the water was probably just the right temperature for my rather uninsulated body. I took only my bathing suit, some water, my smokes and a book. The paperback had been picked up at a library sale and contained a set of essays from the 1970’s written by American anthropologist, Jay Gould. They were scholarly to be sure but obviously written for a much wider readership.
After a soul satisfying, spirit bracing quarter hour in the green-glass water, I hauled out like a weary harbor seal and lay down on a Donald Duck towel which boasted of a vacation to the British Virgin Islands by a former employer of my wife. I rolled a smoke and set to reading the last two essays in my book. The entire work was written from a Darwinian viewpoint of evolution and for the first time, I was introduced to some quite interesting questions and possible answers that had been asked in the time since that man’s theory had been introduced to the science community and the world at large.
When I was literally on the last page, a tall young man got up from his blanket where he had been sitting with a woman, I took to be his wife or girlfriend and came over to sit by me. He introduced himself and shook hands. He grasped a small book in his other hand. He said that he had not seen many people reading out doors down by the lake and that was what had gotten his attention about me.
He chatted for some time about himself, his work, his home, his woman and his life experience and inquired about my own reflections in that same pond of information. He was of German/Aboriginal heritage and in my opinion those particular two gene pools had melded wonderfully judging by their expression with which I was now conversing. I spoke of my own genetic omelet, which also included some German.
At length, as the sun dipped behind the mountains to the South and the ground started to give up its easily gotten warmth to the void, people started to fidget and pack up their beach things. My new young friend said he wanted to give me the book he was holding. I laughed and said that I had literally just finished my book as he was crossing the thirty feet of goose droppings to approach me. I added that I would like to trade my book for his, if he wanted.
This brought about a swap and we both smiled when we noticed that both books were collections of essays on anthropological themes. His was by a well lettered Scot still active in the academic world and mine by a well respected American scientist. His was however some thirty years newer and thus likely closer to what is currently being taught in universities by those pursuing this field of study. In other words, it was the perfect companion piece to follow on the heels of what I had just read and my paperback conversely, was the perfect background piece for the other fellow, in order for him to see where the thinking had been focused just prior to his probable time of birth.
We call these things serendipity, synchronicity, happy accidents or coincidences. Personally, I find these types of events so frequently occurring that when they seem to diminish, I experience a sense of being off my proper trail. I haven’t seen the young man since then but I have read the book he gave me.
Just as I was finishing the last chapters, my friend and neighbor acquired a new tiny charcoal gray kitten, which he named Dunbar. Another shred of synchroincidipity, as it turned out, for the book was The Human Story by Robin Dunbar.
Firstly, I will praise its scientific honesty. Secondly, I will praise the style in which it was written which makes it accessible to the widest possible range of readers. Thirdly, I will laud the fact that it quite rightly leaves one with a better set of questions rather than a pocketful of answers waiting to be made obsolete by the next bright light to blaze trails in the discipline of anthropology.
By way of scientific honesty, I mean to say that the author gives sets of facts drawn from known but necessarily incomplete data. These are drawn into visual graphs to underscore the thrust of his personal intuitions as to how we humans came to be what we find ourselves today. The honesty comes from the clear admission that the data is far from satisfactory in its quantity. That said, the reader who ponders Mr. Dunbar’s work is free to speculate a few new trails and this is precisely what gives rise to the great discoveries in the academic disciplines.
In explanation of my second praise of the book, I will say this, I noticed from childhood that short of taking the time and trouble of learning to read at least a modicum of Latin, Greek and Hebrew; that I would be barred from much information that had already been worked out by those intrepid souls who went before burning the mid-night oil over their desks. This has always saddened and angered me by turns. I find it sad that anyone would want to compartmentalize useful information by restricting access to it via use of a language or vocabulary which is unintelligible to the larger part of ones fellows.
I am angered by the divisions, borders and exclusions that this way of gathering, recording and dispensing knowledge generates among the population. Many a bright, inquiring mind is kept in the sandbox of intellectual childhood by such barriers rather than being encouraged to enter the ring and fight a few rounds with the Riddler. Whether this is by design, tradition or accident matters not to me. It holds back our species. I believe in species loyalty.
I have recently seen an illustration of what I’m talking about treated in literature and film. It was the Swede, Jonas Jonasson who brought it out in his novel, The 100 Year Old Man Who Jumped Out The Window And Disappeared. In the book, the main character as a boy plays with explosives with no tutelage or instruction until he becomes quite expert at it. Later in his life, he finds himself serving as a waiter and janitor at Los Alamos for the nuclear physicists assembled there. While handing out mugs of coffee he overhears that they are stymied by the final phase of their atomic bomb project, which is the seemingly insurmountable problem of a safe way to detonate the bomb with accurate timing.
Our Swede walks over to the whiteboard and with a marker shows that simply dividing the charge into two parts and positioning them correctly will yield the results that they have agonized over for weeks. We will not side-track into the morals of this example, although the Swedish author of the work cited does so and quite satisfactorily, in my opinion. But I won’t spoil a good read for those listening who may get his book.
Rather, I mention the above as an example of humanity slowly lifting its gaze from the study of its own shoelaces to peer into the close-set eyes of those who speak strange jargon in learned tones. There is an awkward moment, a patronizing audience is given and then pure astonishment and celebration erupts. If more people around the world simply knew what the hell the experts were talking about in the common speech of current languages; this happy scene would be repeated many times a day. It must be born in mind, that the fire and tool-makers of antiquity did not have any credentials other than a human brain, necessity and opportunity.
My third point of praise for Mr. Dunbar, that of leaving his readers with better questions rather than presuming to provide them answers speaks to me of intellectual honesty, which is the perfect seasoning for the scientific honesty he serves up. When the man who wrote a book tells you what aspects of his field of expertise that he honestly doesn’t know, it serves to encourage anyone with an active brain to take up the challenge and try to move the ball a few yards closer to the goalpost. Conversely, when an author tells you that they definitely know something that is by its nature unknowable, they are revealed as that dominant child in any playground that moves the goalposts around whenever the ball doesn’t cooperate.
What I took away from this book that I hadn’t heard explained before was something the psychological anthropologists define as levels of intent. A major point made by the author was derived from a study of this phenomenon. I will paraphrase what I took the term to mean. It turns out, according to tests conducted on chimps, apes, orangutans and humans, that the mental ability to imagine the intent of another party is limited to a factor of two in other primates and can reach as high as five in humans but usually a human achieves no higher than four.
For simplicity, I will refer to these levels or layers of intent as plies. Mr. Dunbar has studied the skulls that have been unearthed so far from the fossil record and by measuring a hole in the back through which a particular nerve bundle passes to join a specific processing center, as well as the size of the cranium; he has been able to calculate at which point in our long history that we became able to think in this complex manner. He presents some evidence to suggest the possibility that Cro-Magnons made this evolutionary adjustment first and thus were able to outwit, outlast and outplay the Neanderthals they encountered when they spread up through Europe. Despite the fact that Neanderthals had larger brains, he points out that the area of their brains which was larger was that part which processes visual information. Very practical for hunters and gatherers, whereas the abilities of the newcomers was perfect for organizing and managing those activities. Any similarities in this paragraph to the popular show “Survivor” are intentional.
It will be good to add here that, according to science, the size of groups maintained by us humans and various other types of primates relates directly to this ability to think in multiple plies. According to Mr. Dunbar, monkeys, apes and such tend to max out at around a group size of 70, while humans can successfully push that number to more than double that figure. Without stating in concrete terms that other animals are absolutely incapable of this cognitive gamesmanship, I came away from the book with the strong feeling that this was indeed his own conviction.
I couldn’t help at that juncture to think of a mother grouse feigning a broken wing and straggling away from her nest to draw a predator astray of their meal. Also, I immediately saw in my minds eye, a coyote doubling back on its trail so that a person couldn’t make out who was tracking who or in what direction it actually intended to go. Provision was made for swarming bees and wasps, schools of fish, flocks of birds and herds of herbivores to maintain larger groups than humans even though they lacked the same level of intent score that the author attributed to us humans.
The grouse is a good example to illustrate the concept we are dealing with. Let’s say I am walking through the sage one day and happen to come upon a grouse hen several yards off. She begins to drag a wing and make a big show of stumbling in a direction away from her nest, which I do not at this point even see. The grouse mother thinks that I am out to make a meal of her chicks and that if I believe she is wounded I will pursue her instead. She has just demonstrated 2-ply thinking. Now, let’s say a coyote was watching this drama from up the hill where it had been tracking me earlier out of curiosity. If he comes downhill to raid the nest because he thinks I believe the hen’s ruse which is based upon her assumption that I was after the nest myself, he has just demonstrated three-ply thinking. If I spot the coyote just prior to his descent of the hill to raid the nest while I pretend to follow the hen and then turn quickly to land a rock on his flank in order to protect the nest, I have just demonstrated four-ply thinking.
We can see from this that humans capable of five-ply thinking, though in the minority, could keep large numbers of their fellows tied in cognitive knots. As a result, I have to conclude that this adaptation is perhaps a very mixed blessing at best and that the majority may live to rue this ability as employed by the minority possessed of five-ply thinking. Of great interest and placed at the end of the book after the other concepts were covered, was the inclusion of the fact that several of the things currently held by academics to separate our species from all others are talked about and tied together with brain size, group size and levels of intent abilities. The main of these are music, song, speech, written language, literature, laughter and religion.
It turns out that laughter and song is considered a human adaptation of grooming and is effective over a larger group, a wider physical range and requires less time to get the same benefit. The maximum waking time spent grooming by primates according to the scholars is twenty percent. If we sing and joke as we go about our business, we accomplish several important objectives simultaneously.
Some of the other uniquely human things would not be possible without a level of intent beyond two. The author places a rough date on the appearance of those particular items in human culture by pegging them to carbon dated physical evidence which is deemed to be large enough to accommodate the software, if you will allow the term. It is shown statistically that religious individuals and communities enjoy longer healthier lives. It is also shown that the creation of a religion requires a mind capable of the fifth level of intent. Some interesting facts from modern history are presented to illustrate religion by its deeds both beneficent and wicked. You the reader may then extrapolate many interesting side trails of cogitation which I hope will yield you either the fruit of personal discovery or at least the fragrance of the blossoms that grow on those untrodden hills.
One thing that scientists, poets and philosophers all seem to agree upon is that this penchant we have for inquiring into our world, ourselves, our motives, our origins and the seeking of pattern and purpose therein, is a uniquely human trait and ability. In regard to religion, I find that I am in agreement with the statistics cited. Life is much too hard, unpredictable, contrary and at times counter-intuitive to endure without something much larger than ourselves to use as a backdrop, a guide and an explanation.
I taught both my sons this lesson, as most parents the world over have also done. One thing I did differently than is perhaps usual, was that I did not indoctrinate them into any particular faith. While their examples to live by could well be described as Christian and the tenets of that faith were discussed the most, we discussed many other religious modes also. I figure that since, in my own belief and experience, a man has to have a code to live by, it should be the man who chooses that which he shall strive to uphold and will measure himself against when he approaches death. That to me is freedom of religion.
Freedom is a thing not unlike quicksilver. We use the terms freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of choice all the time. When called upon to examine or debate these issues within a political context, they seem to defy our efforts to even define them in a manner satisfactory to an entire group. We, in the West uphold free speech, yet have acquiesced to the censoring of many voices through various means ever since we had that right entrenched in a legal document. History cannot show any examples of freedom being truly bestowed upon one human by another. You may not be given what you already possess. But you may relinquish it in any number of ways for any number of reasons.
Our nature has led us to continue to live in groups of ever larger concentration. We govern and manage these large groups in a variety of ways. The benefit is always greater overall safety and security and the drawback is a corresponding shrinkage of individual liberty and freedom. In that system, upon a time, it was feasible that a man or woman could travel to different countries and find one that matched their own personal tastes and convictions as to customs, religion, rules and regulations, climate, food, culture and such. This could be seen as finding one’s tribe. It was the differences in those diverse places that made this stage of larger human groupings work. It was advances in transportation that made it even possible. I feel that this stage has now passed but like a long freight train at a road crossing, we don’t yet perceive it has passed. As far as we can see in both directions, it curves like a great segmented graffiti covered snake rumbling and hooting as hobos jump off and onto it by turns.
The evidence is in the sameness a traveler today would encounter as opposed to a traveler from a hundred years ago. Yes, there are still some populous destinations which stand out in stark contrast to others but this is diminishing daily and there is a cultural spill-over and blending happening both by accident of technology and by design. Never before has there been so many people on the same page. The sloppy part in our time is that the older models that we have called countries have not been dismantled or fallen to their own ruin in their entirety as yet. We are watching it on the News at night as it happens. Of course, the new baby is a cutie pie and the hope of the future for the gene pool but that cradle she’s sleeping in was carved by Grandpa’s own hands from wood he cut on the mountain he bought after the Civil War with money from the family fortune made by great grandpa’s slaves the in cotton fields after the Indian Wars.
We can be sure that as long as we prefer to let others do the planning, that there will be aspects to what is wrought and how it is fashioned that we may not find palatable on a personal level. Remember that power is never given away and that freedom is inevitably traded for security. By allowing think tanks, associations, governments, movie stars, scientists and CEOs to supervise us from Lincoln Logs to Lego, we are all complicit in what will become our shared fate. I have always felt that the fewer the plies of intent we employ in our interactions with each other and the world, the happier we are and the more honorably we behave. In other words, our evolving brain appears to be sullying some of our most praiseworthy, if antique, human characteristics.
Borders will shift anew, cities will be razed and herds of shivering men, women and children will be re-located. Oil will be drilled and minerals will be dug. It must be remembered by those who live in the nice countries that walls serve not only to keep people out but also to keep people in. Places in the world where the bicycle was king are becoming choked with automobiles and places designed for automobiles are becoming choked by both. Jobs long ago sent overseas from North America may now be returning. But at what rate of pay? The world turns its gaze on the USA wondering how will the Great Experiment deal with these changes? I am very certain that the self-appointed architects of these dramas are four-plies who employ a small army of five-plies. As long as the dominant traditional money systems of this world do not change, those folks are calling the shots.
It is highly ironic to me that in a time of endless rhetoric about sweeping out the old to bring in the new, no one places the private central banking cartel fiat currency manufactured debt system on the table top for a makeover. I see a very strong tradition of not abandoning things that work well doggedly adhered to by the power brokers of the world. While hypocritically pushing, nudging, funding, organizing and advocating that all those who pay the taxes, fight the wars and build the real wealth should change their familiar traditions of marriage, family, gender, education, nutrition, transportation, lifestyle, religion, child rearing and work.
If we are clever enough to manufacture alternative power sources to take everyone off the grid and save the rivers, why haven’t we done so? Because we are human and are waiting for someone else to do it while hoping we have enough Air Miles to fly to Wal-Mart and pick up a set when they go on sale with our puny after tax dollars. The few people that the many have left in charge to manage things, in my opinion, hold the many in somewhat justified contempt while living in fear of them. Recently, a man sent me an article speaking to the oppression suffered by the people of the Baha’i Faith in Iran. It told of their network of offshore educational facilities which germinated to compensate for the local ban on higher education for those individuals in their home country. This is my reply:
“I am sure there will be further book burnings to come in our species not-to-distant future; aimed at the mid-levels, abetted by the lower levels, funded and fueled by the inevitable paranoia of the highest levels. Happily (in my forecast) the very human gifts of our griots, our bards and our keepers of the Winter Counts shall remain in the DNA to regain that which is lost and to surpass it with greater rapidity than any model is likely to show. Like dandelion seeds falling randomly in warm wet earth. Why? The simple answer is: That which serves to liberate and elevate has, in my opinion, a longer, nobler pedigree than that which seeks to control.”
In other words, as far as I can see, we are our own bane and salvation. Perhaps, and this is my hope, if evolution is the mechanism driving our development; we may come to a point where the difference in cleverness and wisdom is so clearly delineated that natural selection may start to favor the propagation of those areas of the human brain that foster the latter, rather than the former. Far from a dumbing down, this would be a wising up. As all the tricks used to manipulate each other have proven through modern history, if something ain’t broke – don’t fix it.
Here we stand in the first few days of the Chinese Lunar Year of The Rooster. I happen to be a Rooster, a Fire Rooster that is and I am held in wonderful balance by my Water Dragon wife. This is the beginning of my sixth time around the sun. I have penned a poem for the occasion and I feel that it bears some pertinence to this essay both in content and by way of explaining why I even bother to write essays.
I Am A Rooster
The buildings of Men collapse without sound
Trees of our Maker spring from the ground
The sun ever shines on both kinds of wood
Rising and setting on Evil and Good
I am a Rooster and therefore I Crow...
I keep both eyes open and aim very straight
At a place beyond Fear and well above Hate
Over the tree line on the Mountain of Life
Dwells the Imposter who hides in plain sight
I am Labuyo and that's why I Fight...
Up toward the peak is where we must strive
Past swamps, along creeks, through forests alive
With Beasts at the bottom and Angels on high
From every direction all Humans must try
I am El Gallo and that's why I Cry...
Main Trails at the Base are Busy and Safe
Conically Converging if Viewed from Space
High Trails are Legion and necessarily so
You are surmounting yourself, didn't you know?
I am Le Coq who lives in your Soul...
A boy upon the shore
Questions the abyss
O' er moonlit shells
His spirit flits
Past mountains ground fine
And wood carved by time
He hears the song
And answers the kiss
His destiny, the flavour
Of Amphitrite's lips
There is a place I go to in dreams that resonates in my waking life as if making sure I don’t forget how how to navigate thither. It is a wooded landscape, always blessed with a river, mountains and if penetrated deeply enough, a high shelving beach which slopes into the vastness of the sea.
Whenever I find myself there my dream being will always pause on his way until my fleshly being takes that cue and acknowledges the familiarity of that special landscape. This spiritual “heads up” does not wake me but it does forge a connection between two states. It is analogous to having two stereo tracks and adjusting the sliders so that the channel that is usually muted during sleep is pushed forward just enough to mingle its sound with the dominant channel.
Rather than a re-balancing of sound, however, think of a re-balancing of awareness and you will easily imagine the rare quality of this state. I take this phenomenon as a purposeful blessing which carries responsibility. It first occurred when I was twenty years old.
I was living in Deep Cove with my first wife. Our possessions consisted of two cups, two spoons, two plates, two pots, a frying pan, two guitars, our clothes, milk crates full of books, a record player and our combined collection of vinyl albums. The simplest way to describe what occurred would be to say that I fell asleep with complete awareness of the process. It was experienced as invisible blankets of Morpheus, being gently placed atop my prone form.
With each layer, a physical weight was perceived and a corresponding sense of safety and peace increased. At a certain point, I went unconscious. Immediately on the heels of this oblivion I became aware of being soaking wet. My dream body snapped to attention and sprang up from a shallow warm surf to stand and gaze out to sea. I dug my toes into the wet sand and sharp grainy bits of shells.
The very next thing I did was to reach down and scoop a handful of salt water and taste it. I swished it around my teeth and spit it out. I reached again and splashed two handfuls over my face and hair. It was afternoon according to the sun and no sooner had I taken note of this that I began to laugh. I giggled, pranced, splashed, ran to and fro and even exclaimed to myself, “I’m really here!”
That made me start to wonder where “here” was and at the same time I had a strong desire to figure out how to come back whenever I wanted and to describe that place to the folks back home. I searched the horizon of that calm sea for ships or boats and saw none. My next inclination was to explore the land behind me.
Up to this point I hadn’t turned around and as I did so, the first thing that impressed me was the steep slope of the beach. The second thing to impress upon my awareness was the well-wooded ridge about a hundred yards inland and high enough that one could not see anything of the interior. The third thing I noticed made the hairs on my arms stand at attention. They peeled away from my wet skin and formed a keratin halo together with the small hairs on me neck. My reckless celebration became the caution of any wild creature before crossing unknown ground.
There before me some distance away, just underneath the high sandy ridge and well above the tide line stood an array of massive chairs. They were situated in a semi-circular fashion with the two ends closest to the sea and the center tight against the ridge. I took some moments for me to begin to understand their scale. Feeling watched and exposed, I cautiously walked toward them thankful that they were not occupied.
The only possible cover was in the woods behind and my curiosity demanded to be satisfied on the way to that haven. As I approached, I kept looking up to the ridge making sure I was truly alone. The beach was empty of any visible beings so there was only one direction which required vigilance. As I walked and the chairs got larger, it struck me as ironic that the depth of joy I had felt moments ago, co-existed in a place that generated such apprehension.
With one eye on the high ground and one on the furniture which now I thought of as thrones rather than chairs, I approached. Counting the thrones and re-counting to make sure yielded a figure of twelve. That number put me in mind of biblical themes for the first time since falling asleep. About that time, I first noticed that there were several trails coming down from the woods, descending the sandy bluff and leading to the thrones.
I fervently tried to imagine the size of the creatures who made those trails from the evidence of their passing and found it difficult to be sure. I touched the dark handsome wood of one of the throne legs. I couldn’t reach high enough to touch the seat but I could see that it was upholstered in a beautiful mellow red leather. This covering was fastened with old brass tacks, the heads of which were much larger than my hands. I backed away a few steps and looked for any other clues. A moment later, I felt very strongly that those who sat on the thrones were approaching through the wood and were nigh at hand.
I stood waiting for the beings to top the bluff, convinced that I was soon to be examined by unknown Kings in that unknown place for unknown reasons in furtherance of unknown ends. Just as the familiarity of the salt water and sand had brought joy, the mysterious qualities of the place caused a feeling in me that was seven parts awe, two parts fear and one part dread. The slanting sun had rendered the breeze cooler and it shifted now to blow from the woods toward the sea.
I shivered and watched the tops of the trails like a sparrow watches a stalking cat. Tension increased within me until a point was reached wherein I felt all those previously laid blankets of sweet oblivion being retracted rapidly. The lightness brought about by this served to lift me like a cork and when I broke the surface into my full ordinary state of consciousness, I had complete vivid recall and awareness of where I had been and what had occurred there.
Over the years since, I have revisited that dream-scape. The next series of visits were conducted within the forest and involved leading my deceased father through those woods, over a mountain and up to the bluffs overlooking the beach. In those forays, the most interesting part to me was the phenomenon of my father being in the body of a small child with an adult face at the beginning of the trek. With each successive leg of the journey, his body slowly caught up to his actual adult size. He stopped on the last muddy pitch to the summit of the bluff at a place where I could smell and sense the sea. He said he could not possibly make it. I grabbed his wrist and literally towed him up the final incline. We stood together peering through the foliage at the sun shimmering off the water like molten silver.
“You did it,” I said.
My father has never peopled my dreams since that time. During the ten years or so that I was involved with my second wife, I had one lucid dream but in a different and much more mundane setting than before. The dream had to do with a battle to the death between myself and a very aggressive, ill-tempered bear. The setting was her childhood home in East Vancouver. I won the fight and when I phoned my boss at the heating company I worked for to explain why I had awoken late, he invited me to go camping with him and his family that coming week-end and teased me in a goodhearted way for dreaming of bears instead of pretty girls.
I bore no physical marks from the combat but I was physically exhausted upon waking and had the same post adrenaline rush jitters one would experience on this side of the chain-link fence of reality. One of the longer term effects of these forays is becoming used to sometimes rising from my bed with the physical feeling that I have just concluded an arduous day’s work on the other side coupled with a sense of relief at being able to now take my rest in the automatic routines of modern life and work.
My next visit occurred just before meeting my much beloved third wife, some twenty-seven years ago. In that instance, I came to consciousness within the dream quite abruptly. A mosquito bite on my neck and sweat stinging my eyes brought me upright from the ground I lay on. I was in the tropics, it was near noon and I was looking at a field of sugar cane a hundred yards away.
Next to it was a tangled forest that reminded me of the Louisiana woods. As I watched, a family group emerged, laid a mat and began to set up a picnic on the edge of the canebrake. A man, I guessed was the father, stood after awhile and looked right at me. He beckoned me over in a friendly way and I went to them. I couldn’t understand a word they spoke but I could see the good will in their eyes and sense their kindness in laughter and gestures.
There were two young men, an older woman, the man who had beckoned me and two young women. One of the younger women had a face that registered in my mind like a fingerprint on a piece of blotter paper. I knew I would never forget it. We finished up the meat, rice and fruit that was served. The younger folks picked up some tools and went into the cane while the older woman started to clear up our leavings.
The patriarch took me aside and indicated that we were to walk toward the forest. As I walked beside him, he struck the air behind me with his machete. I heard a yelp and spun around. There stood a squat, ugly man. One whom I recognized from my waking life. I had encountered him in a North Vancouver cafe one rainy afternoon and the memory of it still chills my blood. I have recounted that meeting in a different narrative but I will tell you that he was much older than he looked, always brought trouble and had power on his mind.
My host uttered some words and by the inflection and meter of those words I guessed it was a spoken formula of some kind. The repulsive old man behind us wore a malicious grin with the same nonchalance that a dog wears the stain of dung it has rolled in. Presently, as the man guiding me chanted louder, that smile widened to an incredible circumference. As we watched, the nasty mouth opened, a mottled tongue protruded and a small frog forced its way out of this unlikely door and hopped to the ground at our feet.
I let my eyes follow the progress of the amphibian as it hopped toward the forest. When it neared the edge of the brush I turned back to see the being it had issued from and there in the sunshine was a small black dog. The cane farmer spat at it. It growled and ran off immediately to the trees. My friend handed me a small pouch on a string and indicated that I wear it. He led me to a large tree several meters away from the wall of jungle.
He indicated that I was to sit against this tree. I did so and became aware that I could now understand that man’s speech as if a translator was inside my head. He said to keep the bundle as a protection when traveling between different states. He said that the shape-shifting fellow was a potentially powerful but parasitic entity, thus he was at the core a pathetic creature. I was to never forget that he was always in the woods, could take many shapes and though I shouldn’t fear him, I should never let my guard down. Ever. I was instructed to go to sleep just like I had done on the other side. I awoke abruptly in my Burnaby bedroom surrounded by the trappings of a very toxic marriage.
It wasn’t long before I saw the face of the young woman I had seen in the cane field. I was shuffling through a stack of documents and looking at photographs and bios of prospective nannies for my infant son at the behest of my second wife. I nearly dropped the paper when I saw it and as I eagerly read the thumbnail biography, I was moved to laughter when I saw that the birth date of the individual who’s particulars I was reading was the same as mine save for the year.
Years later when I was extricated from my legal bonds and had done much personal work fixing things within myself before trying any new endeavors, I began to consider formalizing a possible union with that woman in the picture. She had cared for my son prior to the dissolution of my marriage and I had gotten to know her better afterward. Eventually, I told her about the dream I had had. I described the father figure and the others, including herself. Her father and one of her brothers were long deceased and my descriptions of them and the ground on which we had met surprised her very much by its accuracy. It had been the Philippines.
I was reluctant to get married for a third time. Not from mistrust of the woman, but rather from lack of confidence in my own powers of discernment, due to two previous fiascoes in that arena. Just when I was about to surrender to celibacy as being the safest mode of existence, I had another special dream. That one was very powerful and literally changed my life. I described that dream in detail in my story, “Train To Heaven.” Any interested party can find that story in the archives at Radio Lillooet.
Since I have mentioned it, I will give you the gist of what I learned from that lucid dream. I learned to trust. Both myself and the woman I am now with. I learned that we can still arrive at distant destinations although we may lack skills of navigation simply by knowing who to trust and when to trust without fear or reservation. It was fitting that the lesson in trust came after the lesson of the frog spewing imp lurking in the woods. To learn trust was for me many magnitudes scarier than fighting the bear. I do not think that my life would have moved much beyond singing the blues over a bar-top had I not been graced with enough fortitude to set sail and damn the torpedoes.
I married that wonderful woman and some distance into our life together I found myself happily awake in another dream. I was in a lovely meadow of tall grass. The ground was surely North America. It was Spring and I sat delighted with the burbling sound of a small stream nearby. Over the next hour I was visited by rabbits, squirrels, foxes, badgers, weasels, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats and just about every fur-bearing creature smaller than a wolf.
They swarmed me like house pets, jumped on my chest and played at fighting without drawing blood. I talked to, laughed at and petted each and every one of them as they came out of the woods and crossed the field. Eventually I fell asleep in the grass and woke abruptly in my bed in a third floor walk up in New Westminster where my wife and I had begun housekeeping. I felt like a King and glowed from my contact with these creatures. I could swear that I smelled their fur on my hands as I went about my business that day.
In my own belief and experience, in the realm of dreams, there is no single meaning to be drawn. A single interpretation laid out in a psychology text or New Age tome is likely folly. Patience is always rewarded with deeper levels of meaning and confirmation. I am still learning from the dreams I have shared with you here. Each new dream examined against the past and present is further enriched by accumulated living, thinking, listening, looking, talking and reading. The other day a friend of mine described how the angle of the light illuminating the mountains affords an endless variety of interpretations of the same piece of geography. Dreams are very much like that.
Recently I revisited a dream place which I had started to wander several years before moving to Lillooet. It is a beautiful wooded area with well trodden footpaths that lead away from a town toward a river. There are a few small cabins near the river but they are very far between. When I walk along these paths, sometimes in the daylight and sometimes at night, I always encounter bears. Usually Grizzly bears. I have a strong yearning to see their river and I am also aware that they could easily eat me.
A few times I have started out on the trail and have even had the company of other people. Generally, when the bears are far away and I can see them, I have no angst. But when the light is waning or I am suddenly surprised by a bear behind or beside me that I had passed earlier without spotting, my feeling turns to caution, healthy respect and some trepidation. I always work my way back to the little town as quickly and as quietly as I can. There was a significant change in this routine during the time I speak of.
I came to consciousness upon the back of something big, furry and alive. We were already in motion and I want to say galloping but the method of locomotion was different from that of a horse. I was busy watching where we were going and I hooted with glee every time we leaped off a small height or made a sudden directional change. I grabbed handfuls of coarse long hair and pulled my torso down prone as if hugging the beast with my arms.
I could guide the animal with pressure from my hands applied to its right or left shoulders. That was the extent of my control, I soon learned. I had no say as to our speed or our destination. We scrambled down one of the dirt paths I had trodden before. Within hearing of the river I began to notice the bears that always decorated that space. I told my carrier to be aware of this. We passed a big mother lynx with two kittens under a pine and I got my first close up look at that magnificent species. She looked at me intently as if to say, “Now you know.”
Right about then I whooped for joy at being gifted to see the lynx. Then I shouted out a warning to my transportation that the bears were getting a bit thick. What I noticed next, made me laugh so that I nearly fell off the back I was riding. Some of the foraging bears scattered around the perimeter looked up at my commotion. I wrapped hair in my hands and gripped tighter than a bull rider grips his rosined rope just before the gate swings open. I had just realized that I was astride one golly-whopper of a Grizzly and we could go where ever he pleased.
I pressed the left shoulder and the bear responded like it had power steering. We tore past all those bears and ran flat parallel to the river until I saw a highway up ahead. I tried to steer a course so as to skirt around a big clover-leaf of asphalt. There were some flashing red lights. As we powered through our trajectory, I saw a big long car lying upside down. Other than that I could see no damage on it. A lone policeman stood near his cruiser writing notes in a little book.
I tried to steer the Grizzly away from the shoulder of the highway. To my chagrin, the bear ran up to the guardrail, climbed over it and then ran several yards up the ramp leading away from the river. Next he clamored back over the rail and sped straight along the shoulder right into the mess. I rode along, feeling unable to change any of these events.
We whizzed past the police officer, his cruiser, the upside down car and finally a man who had been flattened. Literally flattened. A perfect life sized two dimensional man. There was no blood on him and where his eyes should have been there were only two black voids. I didn’t recognize his face and I marveled at the horrible but bloodless sight. My four legged chaperon seemed disturbed by the flat man more than anything and he spurted ahead at top speed. I could hear his claws clattering on the tarmac. He ran straight over the eyeless horizontal man. I could feel the bear's back pad slip when it trod on the boneless manikin like a loose table cloth.
The last thing I remember was a sarcastic, caustic, tattle-tale voice. It was behind me and I have heard it many times before. It was hurling epithets and accusations at me for purposely treading on and disrespecting the strange body. I knew it was lying and the dramatic vocal manner was calculated to affect those around me more than myself. Nothing could have stopped that bear however. When the bear stopped on its own, I woke suddenly, snug in my trailer. My cat Dusty was napping beside me with one of his paws thrown over my leg.
I needed to drive my wife to Kelowna the morning of that dream and we had to leave at six am. After a coffee we headed out. I drove to Lytton, Spence’s Bridge, Merritt and over a big mountain to the lake. The pass over the mountain was howling with blowing snow and buried in a cloud. I saw a mule deer up to its armpits in a drift. It was looking uphill where a sturdy fence further barred its passage. My need to keep eyes ahead precluded watching to see how it fared but it was gone when we passed over the same ground later that afternoon on the way home. A trucker in front of me put his four way flashers on and I did as well. A few fools sped past into the maelstrom. The blinking red lights reminded me of my dream and I decided to tell my wife about it, later.
We did our business in Kelowna. The highlight of which was when a woman in an office was taking down information and saw our Lillooet address.
“Is that a Place?” she asked in an innocent tone.
We assured her it was indeed a Place. We scarfed some Thai food while watching the parking meter a few yards away out the window. It was also being watched by two police officers in two different vehicles. The thick blue line could rack up $63.00 every thirty minutes from each meter in theory. I covered my too mild food with two kinds of chili and started a nice fire in my belly to see me home over the mountain. I reached the car with 30 seconds to go on the meter and nodded at the policeman with a small grin.
On the way back, near where the stranded deer had been, I saw a big long upside down car. It was even the same style as the one in my dream. There was a policeman, his car, a young man and a young woman all standing by, apparently awaiting a tow vehicle. The car was also remarkable in that it had no visible damage other than being on its back. The roof wasn’t caved in. The passengers were not bleeding or scuffed, the airbags weren’t deployed and there was no broken glass.
We dodged a lot of rocks on the stretch between Spence’s Bridge and Merritt as we wound along the Nicola River. This cleared up pretty good by Merritt and I was so relieved that I accidentally took a wrong exit and found myself Southbound to Hope rather than Westbound to Lytton. Just as my sleeping but very sentient wife was asking why I was going the wrong way, I saw a cloverleaf that looked like a toboggan run, hard packed with snow. I gently veered over, wheeled around a corner as if I’d been there before and after running under a metal culvert that dove beneath the highway, we were on track to try again for the exit to Lytton and a bowl of hot Won Ton.
We drove Highway 12 dodging rocks brought down by the sudden thawing of the past week or so. A few miles from Izman Curve there was a semi stopped with all its lights flashing in a pile of potato-sized rocks. There was no damage but I wanted to ask if the driver needed any assistance. The road was rightfully lonely that particular night. The window rolled down and a brave young woman leaned out into the wind to tell me that she and her rig were fine. She was waiting for the highway department to come scrape the road ahead before continuing. She warned us of a boulder near Izman and another one near the Big Slide.
Soon after returning home safe and sound I had a nap and found myself again on the dream beach I have been describing in this narrative. This time I came to awareness inside a truck. It wasn’t my Suzuki but I seemed to be familiar with all its imperfections and that made it feel as if it was mine. It was the first time I recall having a motorized vehicle on the other side of the curtain.
I was parked on the beach sloping down the sandy shelf and the tide was out. The windows were open to the delicious breeze which I inhaled like medicinal vapors. I have a small bottle of Tibetan Pink Rock Salt that smells just like that salt air. I turned my music down to balance the background of the surf. Sure enough, I fell asleep in that dream.
I was started awake by an effervescent laughter and one of the loveliest voices I can recall. I looked toward the passenger window and there leaning on the sill was a dark haired woman of perhaps thirty years. She smiled in a friendly way and indicated that I should look in front of me. When I did, I was humbled to see that I had let the tide creep up while napping and that my two front tires were completely under water.
“Get in,” I said. “I can use the bit of extra traction.”
She laughed again and hopped aboard while I started the engine and threw it in reverse. The slope of the beach was such that I learned quickly we couldn’t back out. I put the shifter into second and gingerly crept forward while slightly turning the wheel to the left. When I got the truck rolling along just fast enough, I completed the turn and barely garnered enough momentum to climb out onto the firmer sand. Then I gunned the engine and raced toward a notch in the bluff. I could see no sign of the thrones and I was glad. The young woman laughed all the way up and over the last barrier of tide wrack and soon we were cruising along a grassland.
I asked if she’d like to come see one of my favorite places and she assented. I drove to a spot where a few shade trees grew amongst long golden stalks of prairie grass. We left the truck and hunkered down against a fallen log. Side by side and staring out over the rippling grass tops. I pulled a stalk of grass and began chewing on it like cigar. I began to talk of all manner of things. The lady pulled a stalk of grass and chewed on it in mimicry.
I grinned and continued. A tap on the shoulder caused me to turn. The young woman had put so many grass stalks between her teeth that she looked like a shoe brush. We both laughed until we were exhausted. She spoke in a kind voice plated with sterling silver mirth and told me that I was becoming an old white haired man. She talked while I closed my eyes. I floated on the quality of her voice rather than the content of her words. She snuggled beside me and everything melted like a snowflake in a warm wind into a delicious slumber. I awoke at home and pondered who that laughing lady might have been.
The next day, I lay down for a nap and came wide awake in a canoe of sorts. I was in the front and my legs were dangling over the sides fending off rocks. There was a tremendous force propelling the craft. I recognized the water. It was the Nicola River that I had just driven along a few days prior. It was flowing under sporadic sheets of thin ice. There were green algae laden patches, ice blue stretches and some clear water as well.
I was curious where we were going and who was doing the rowing. I could hear the unmistakeable creaky-leather and rubber-band sound that big bird’s wings make. Also I could see shadows with my peripheral vision that certainly were cast by wings. Big wings. When I judged the river in front to be safe of obstacles I turned for a quick look.
Rather than seeing an outsized eagle, I saw the form of a small boy perhaps five years old. That he was St’at’imc, I had no doubt. He didn’t speak and the boat kept gliding just over the surface of the water and ice at a brisk pace. I turned around to continue my job, marvel at the scenery and speculate on our destination. Three times I turned to see the child’s placid face and each time I spun around forward I caught a glimpse of massive brown wings and the shadows they cast on the ice. A ringing phone woke me.
The next day, I had the honor of being one of two guest hosts for Radio Lillooet’s Open House. It was a live broadcast and we invited the public to share stories about how they came to be in Lillooet. Three of us hosts told our tales and played some of our favorite tunes. Two youngsters took the mike that afternoon. One bespectacled lad who appeared to be a natural, so at ease was he while his cousins and his grandma watched him with pride
The second boy was much smaller and younger. He gripped his little brown bag of popcorn like an osprey grips a fish. I held the mike for him as DJ Jeff tried to engage the youngster in conversation. The boy spoke so softly I had trouble hearing him from inches away. He was bundled up and thus had trouble hearing. I squatted down, got near the hood of his parka, put a hand on his shoulder and suggested he look at Jeff instead of the microphone. He turned his little face 90 degrees East and we were right back on the dream side Nicola River flying over the ice. I realized then that it was the fourth time I’d seen that boy.
The Yolngu in Australia speak of something they call “The Dream-time.” They talk of singing their world into existence. The language these songs are sung in is forty thousand years old. They describe “Song Lines” that run through their land and believe that it is these lines and the songs that intersect them that continually call into existence those things that are familiar and beneficial to life and balance.
Some scientists describe much the same thing in the language of quantum physics and probability. There is an Apache gentleman who teaches that reality, just beyond the edge of the moving crest of the reality wave is no more than a set of probabilities. When enough creatures agree upon one of these probabilities, a pivot point is tipped and that particular thread will be the one drawn down into the loom to be woven into our tapestry rather than any other. It is for this reason that one must guard their mind, their individuality, their heart, their spirit and their integrity.
Media today makes the manipulation of information exponentially easier and thus the probabilities and possibilities that we fear or enjoy by turns can appear much more restricted in number and kind than they actually are. I don’t know if there is a multiverse and I don’t know if I will live long enough to see a working provable Universal Theory. To be sure, I don’t care to know those things. I would rather work with what I find in front of me literally and in my dreams.
I have found that these two sides of consciousness constantly overlap, blend their colors and inform each other. It is as magical out there as we are willing and able to accept. We are all part of the process in spite of ourselves. Dancing on the beach, cupping handfuls of salt water and splashing it on to prove we’re really there. I sense that I have slept through much of my forty-plus years of work and have worked hard throughout much of my sleep. Somewhere in the middle is where I now strive to walk so I can keep an eye on both sides of the road.
I often dream of distant lands
Blind to the beauty of where I stand
In my dreams, I encounter a man
Who often dreams of where I am
The longest I ever stayed in one place while growing up was five and a half years spent in suburban Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was a quiet little collection of modest brick-faced houses off Airline Drive. Every house had the obligatory white painted faux antebellum pillars and genuine wooden hurricane shutters graced every window. The Mississippi River flowed past on its way to the sea a few miles to the West. Many impressions of this time are like coffee stains on a sheet of letter paper in my mind.
That interlude was the first time I became truly aware of other cultures. Of course I had been aware of black folks but due to the segregation policies in place in my neck of the woods, I had little interaction on this front except for the close relationship I developed with our maid, Delores, a seventeen year old domestic, fountain of love and encyclopedic folklorist. The only full-blooded Native Indians I had seen were on the silver screen. I met mixed-race Cherokee kinfolk at a giant family reunion when I was very young in East Texas.
I was around eleven years old before I encountered a real Chinese boy. He wasn’t too friendly when I went across the street to knock his door and introduce myself at the insistence of my Mother. I had unceremoniously interrupted the viewing of his favorite show, Iron Sides. He brushed me off pretty quickly, so his Mom took me to the kitchen and showed me how they kept a pet cricket in a little bamboo cage. It was fed a single grain of Louisiana rice per day and besides bringing luck, she told me it sang a lovely serenade to sleep by at night. That was one of the first times I recall verifying something I had read about in a book with my own two eyes.
I also remember two Iranian brothers whom I played with at the Unitarian Church while the big people talked. They, like the Chinese boy, wore long-sleeved white linen shirts buttoned up to the neck in the 90% humidity and relentless soul-sapping sun. None of them liked to climb trees or catch snakes, so I usually spent more of my time with other friends. They did, however love science and we had very interesting talks under the oaks whenever we got dragged to Church.
One boy, Shaheen, would draw equations and diagrams with a stick on the dry clay ground. Although many were beyond what my class was covering in school, under his narrative style the concepts were easy to grasp. His tuition was like being told to go get a bowl (an open mind) and then having it filled with scoops of home-made vanilla ice cream (in the form of mathematical symbols). Lastly, he would hand you a metaphorical spoon (fashioned from one possible useful application of the formula) with the implied question, “Now, Michael, what do you think this is for?”
Once I was settled into school, I began to notice that there were two kinds of school children. One one side, the gray slacked, white-shirted Catholic boys with their gray-skirted, white-bloused sisters and everyone else. The Catholics had a newer school bus, better hand-writing and as a rule, didn’t mingle too much with the children of other denominations. Many of them smoked. Over time, I became aware that they were by far the majority in our neighborhood and were nearly all of Italian descent.
I became friends with two brothers who lived a few houses down the block. Their Grandma lived with them, which I thought was great until I learned that the woman was a bitter, evil-tempered crone. The boys’ father was a nice man and it was he who invited our entire block over to his house so we could watch Walt Disney on the very first color TV any of us had seen. I can still remember the gasps that echoed through that crowded room when the Peacock logo of the broadcasting station spread its multicolored tail plumes.
The Mama, named Josie, was a very nice woman and I spent a lot of time watching her in her garden if the boys weren’t home when I happened to come calling. She grew tomatoes, basil, oregano, eggplants, lettuce, radicchio, garlic, rosemary, onions and such. She allowed me to watch her convert this into huge vats of pasta sauce in one of the best smelling kitchens I have ever attended. They spoke Italian in the house among each other and I started to get used to being in non-English environments. Several times she appeared at our door at supper time bearing a basket of steaming fresh home-made Italian bread. I can still smell and taste it fifty years later.
I started to wonder at this point, why, in light of the fact that my own family carried Welsh, Swedish, Cherokee, German and Irish blood as well as Canadian and American nationalities; that we seemed to be so culturally sterile compared to this first ethnic group I had begun to have contact with. I wasn’t aware that my ancestors longer number of years in the melting pot had blurred many distinct characteristics and customs into a palimpsest that could only reveal its secrets to a close observer. A Nordic-Celtic-Teutonic-Brythonic-Aboriginal could thus easily pass for a Tom Sawyer, even in his own mirror.
Further to this, for many folks in my situation, the task of re-acquiring culture is incumbent upon them if they care to know where they came from in order to know who they are. The job requires reading, travel, visiting kitchens and a lot of music. I chose that road way back then and I am still engaged in that work as far as my finances have allowed. I believe it to be the most rewarding, frustrating and illuminating task imaginable. Along the way I have discovered previously unknown sources, separations and confluences. Particularly in food and music.
Being among people who’s language I couldn’t decipher strengthened my comprehension of the underlying messages which our species dresses in words. To this day, I prefer listening to songs sung in languages I do not speak so as not to be fooled by the subtleties of the lyrics. Over time, I began to see and hear that men, women, boys and girls worldwide were all expressing the same human joys and woes. The choice of social arrangements, cooking methods, costumes, which accoutrements we call culture and see as distinct, have become to my eyes like team uniforms. Some parts were adopted by necessity of the moment, absorbed from others for gain or imposed by others to detriment. Always, these decorations serve the definite purpose of holding a group together while affording some sense of peace and ease in a very uncertain world.
I take the window dressing of culture with a grain of salt but I also like my food with a grain of salt. Variety is indeed the spice of life and I find myself a bit dismayed at the politically correct smoothie that the world is rapidly becoming with much help and coercion from many sources with extremely deep pockets. I believe that a well-educated, respectful and humble person can visit, travel with or live among any other person or persons who possess those three traits.
Indeed, it is my suspicion that this has always been the case with common folk of all periods in history. Having said this: I will add that where ever and when ever power is exercised by few over many via monetary, political or religious means; the natural affinity, respect and curiosity shared by our species is twisted into superstition, aggression and arrogance. Positing that any group of three humans is practically guaranteed by our very nature to become a functioning unit of two led by one, we may begin to pull the curtain back and see the stage Shakespeare spoke of.
Mad kings, idiot-savants, Mr. Bean cast as Napoleon and a million poor little Cossettes. Followers all, impatiently awaiting signs of weakness in those that they follow. Look, there is a man in a school tie reclining on a chaise-lounge by a window with a copy of The Golden Bough for a pillow, dreaming of the Golden Fleece and a Golden Age. A buxom young woman enters the room and sets down a tray of cheese and a cup of wine on the window sill. She hesitates a moment, giggles and then gently places his hand in a bowl of warm water.
She silently treads out to tell the other servants while his dog steals his cheese. Out in the lawn, gypsies have happened by and encamped. A few men produce fiddles and begin to play while some of their women dance. Their song relates perfectly the sleeping man’s life story in an alien language. The aroma of their cooking wafts through the iron grill waking something deep within him. Grimacing momentarily and then gazing at the strangers below, a smile begins to spread across his lips like the stain across his tweeds. A human laugh older than the last ice-age burbles up and heals everything it touches. Grabbing a bottle of Port off the side table he strides to the door with genuine tears in his eyes. We let the curtain fall closed and ponder this scene as we walk past.
We need our perceived differences in order to be able to grasp the fact that we are the same. When coerced into actually being the same inside and out, in thought and behavior, I would venture that a look into the Galadriel’s pool would teach us that this fruitless, inhuman endeavor will surely have an opposite effect. That is: If we are to remain genetically human. These are options that you have likely never seriously considered which carry consequences well beyond the control and ken of those individuals who have strongly considered them. If some part of you drank, dined and danced with the Gypsies in the paragraph above, while another part of you ran them off the property next morning, dear human, you have already made your choice.
There are people: Whose lack of understanding, engendered by the cognitive dissonance induced by modern public education methods, which actually date from the Nineteenth Century, leads them to become victims of drugging (prescriptive or otherwise) purportedly for the purpose of addressing the endemic flood of brand new disorders caused by this very schooling and by their treatments. People who may “choose” in rather larger numbers than you might suspect to become indistinguishable from their fellows. Caught in a Mobius Strip Idiot Feedback Loop that only a shit-house rat could have designed, they will see no other way if they are cognizant at all. That first big wave who pass through into homogenous anonymity will experience a difficult period during which an out-sized sense of uniqueness fights to maintain the balance in the exquisite equation that was originally expressed as the traits of our human species. They will be well supplied with every manner of chemical, sensory, psychological, emotional and existential escape. When science is bold enough to reveal that it has indeed already “caught up” to the practical challenges of converting humans to self-replicating, sexless, made-to-order specialized work units; a frontier will have been crossed. Only the most ignoble expressions of humanity will remain human by the old definition of that term. Their servants will have become artificially engineered hive creatures.
A not-too-distant future writer pulling back the curtain may reveal a scene wherein a man stands at a window watching in horror as drones belonging to his cousin destroy his incubators. His own vanquished drones litter the same ground where the Gypsies had danced so long ago. A pleasant looking smallish domestic appears to inform him of the intrusion, the destruction and the kid-napping of his sister-wife. It proffers a plate of cheese and glass of wine. Grimacing momentarily while gazing at the carnage below, a numbness descends upon him. It gives him a feeling akin to watching his shadow on a wall being eaten by the shadows of sharks. He shakes involuntarily, slopping the wine over his trousers. He remembers that he hasn’t laughed since his life extension and that one thought poisons everything it touches. Tossing his glass at the door, he realizes that he has lost the ability to cry.
One of my favorite quotes is by Aldous Huxley, a man who claimed to have actually read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, one volume at a time. He said, “My ignorance is encyclopedic.” You may know of him from his book, Brave New World. His brother, Julian was the first leader of UNESCO and in 1947 stated that the task of the organization was “to help the emergence of a single world culture, with its own broad purpose.” I wasn’t at the meetings, thus I wasn’t able to lend any input as to the culture which was to be created. Neither were you, likely as not.
I have been able to see first hand the differences in the education I received and that of my children and to review the published statistics on our plummeting literacy and academic performance rates, particularly in North America. Clearly, either the plans aren’t working if their intents are to be taken at face value. Or they are working all too well if their intent is actually other than stated. As shown above, if highly intelligent men are willing to admit their ignorance to their fellows, should we follow them blindly to what ever ally they lead us down.
I remember trying to help my son with his math homework around the turn of the Millennium. Within minutes we were at each others throats. He was upset for not understanding what he was supposed to do but being adamant that he was required to do the mystery thing in an exact way that was acceptable to his teacher. I was charged up because I easily saw what was the required answer and knew how to get it using methods I had been taught that were now forbidden to use for some unexplained reason. I remember winning the argument and solving one of the problems my way and being taken aside by my son’s math teacher at the next classroom visit. He produced the sheet of homework he had saved and had me go over with him just how I had solved it. His eyes were as big as pie plates and he seemed astonished that it was that simple.
Here below is an example of what I am talking about taken from Straight Dope Blog which can illuminate what confronts us.
“1960: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of this price. What is his profit?
1970: (Traditional Math): A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. What is his profit?
1975: (New Math): A logger exchanges a set L of lumber for a set M of money. The cardinality of set M is 100 and each element is worth $1.
(a) Make 100 dots representing the elements of the set M
(b) The set C representing costs of production contains 20 fewer points than set M.
Represent the set C as a subset of the set M.
(c) What is the cardinality of the set P of profits?
1990: (Dumbed-down Math) A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Underline the number 20.
1997: (Whole Math): By cutting down a forest full of beautiful trees, a logger makes $20.
(a) What do you think of this way of making money?
(b) How did the forest birds and squirrels feel?
(c) Draw a picture of the forest as you’d like it to look.”
When I was a lad in primary school in Baton Rouge one of the most frequent reprimands I received from principals and playground monitors after being caught for doing some misdemeanor and mentioning in my defense that Johnny dared me to do it, was, “Would you jump off a bridge because Johnny told you to?” I found it highly ironic a few short years later that I was fully expected to go over to Vietnam and kill people who had never crossed my path or wronged me in any way because LBJ told me to. Fate stepped in and my father repatriated to Canada for his own reasons before I had to crack open my Berlitz Teach Yourself Swedish book.
And all this before I had even begun shaving, which brings me to Sammy the Barber. I can see him always in my minds eye just as I knew him when I was his mailman. Going through drawers, stacking business cards, cleaning combs and scissors or simply reclining on his own empty chair watching The Wheel Of Fortune. He was nearly the same age as me but looked ten years younger. One day I caught him blackening his hair and mustache. He grinned and said he would fix mine if I wanted him to and intimated that I would get a lot more attention from the ladies if I did.
I laughed and said in my best Deniro voice, “Hey. Why I wanna do dat? Ima already had tree wives. Why you don’t make me looka poor? Capisci?”
He looked at me carefully up and down, then his face softened into a smile and he bade me to sit awhile and have a coffee. Thus began a four year relationship. I arranged my deliveries so that I got all my business customers taken care of prior to bringing his mail, so we could chat for a while. The shop was small, just three chairs and was located in the ground level of an old-style office complex across the street from Oakridge Mall.
Sammy related how he had come to Vancouver as a young man of seventeen from Calabria and had opened his barber shop straight away. He had watched the big mall come into existence and slowly but surely erode his business. When I knew him, the Cambie Skytrain Tunnel was under construction. This massive four year project had the effect of reducing the revenue of the small businesses along that corridor by half again. Sammy was taking notes and planning to go to court.
It happened that one of the Soccer World Cups was underway during this time and Sammy always switched the channel from his favorite show to the sports channel, so we could watch together. He wasn’t a real fan, he told me in low tones as if somewhat embarrassed and I told him that I had only learned to love the game in 1990 during the Italia 90 Tournament, when a man named Scillacci, an older, unknown player had won the Golden Boot and galvanized his team and his nation. This got his interest up and within a week, one of the Chinese young ladies from the Insurance Agency that shared the ground floor, popped her pretty head through the door and politely informed us that our lusty shouts, cheers and swearing were being heard on the third floor and someone had complained.
When she left, she made it clear that she understood our enthusiasm and didn’t mind personally.
“Sonomabitch!”, laughed Sammy, “The Chinesa lady, she lika da soccer too. I guess we cheer a little bit TOO HIGH!”
If I ever had a worry or concern, Sammy was always ready to listen. I hadn’t enjoyed this sort of luxury with someone of my own gender for longer than I cared to recall and his analysis and advice were precious to me. There was the time my youngest son and his friends had skipped going to the movies as they had told me they would. I had returned home from work to find my son and three friends at my place. This pleased me no end because my son as a rule always went to other people’s houses and never brought his friends home.
I filled a big bowl with tortilla chips and went into his room to talk with the youngsters. They told me they were wanting to walk to the mall and catch a movie. I gave my assent and when I went into the kitchen to make coffee one of the boys followed me out and told me in glowing prose that I was a cool Dad. I didn’t know what was going to happen but I knew it wasn’t going to be good. All I could do was wait. Some hours later as I and my wife sat on our sofa, the boy came in from the shadows.
He is a double Sagittarius and as such he strode to the center of the living room and said, “Mom, Dad, I didn’t go to the movies. We went to the liquor store instead and got a hobo to buy us a bottle of rum. Then we went to the park and drank it. Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about over alcohol. It didn’t do anything for me.”
Sammy reclined back in one of his red leather barber chairs as he listened to me relate the subsequent backlash that had occurred among the other three sets of parents. He gazed at the shelf where stood two small framed photos of his own boys when they were in grade school while absentmindedly rolling a small fold of his black dress slacks between his thumb and forefinger. His other hand was busy twirling the end of his perfectly trimmed mustache. Presently, he spoke.
“OK. Mike, Lookit. OK. He went out wit hisa friends. He got a little bit TOO HIGH. It happens. Happened to me, happened to my boys. Don’t worry about it. As longa he no do it alla da time. Now, datsa different.”
One afternoon, on my way home from the downtown Post Office, I paused for a smoke by a fake waterfall. A guy came up to chat and within four minutes he had convinced me that I could purchase a good quantity of my favorite tobacco at a huge discount. All I can remember of my mood at the time was the certainty that the law of averages must dictate that once in a blue moon, its my turn. The timing of the con was impeccable and his technique was flawless. A half hour later I was conducting the postmortem on my stupidity as I watched my money flying down a one way street the wrong way on a stunt bike.
When I shared this one with Sammy, he wore a physically pained expression during the telling. He would look at me from time to time as if to see if I was having him on. By the time I told him how much I had lost, Sammy was bent at the waist in sympathy and grimacing like he had just taken a shot below the belt. I eventually convinced him that no matter how smart or experienced anyone of any age was, the potential to suffer a similar fate was always as close as the person standing next to you. It simply required a momentary lapse of principals on the part of the victim to allow the culprit to do their sleight of hand. I was embarrassed, angry and disgusted.
“Looka Mike. Ima sorry. Itsa stupid what you did. Thatsa for sure. I see you worka you ass off, ina da rain, ina da snow. Every day. Bigga packs of mail lika donkey. You money isa too hard for you to get it. You donna trow it away to somma asshole like dat. I know the tax is a little bit TOO HIGH onna da smokes. Mike, listen to me. You donna do this thing again, eh? Promise me.”
Some times the roles were reversed and Sammy sought my counsel. At one point, his wife had been to see her own doctor. The young doctor, whom Sammy didn’t like to begin with, had suggested a procedure to her that she was going to do on the strength of his advice and against the wishes and judgment of her husband. It was the most deeply upset I had ever seen him. I listened to his story and his views. In the end I could only share a similar tale from my own life and point out to him that at bottom, if each person didn’t have control over their own body, then what did they have? In this case, I was in agreement with his stance on the matter and that fact offset my defense of his wife’s right to make her own decision enough for him at least get his appetite back.
Another day, a young man poked his head in the door and inquired as to the price of a haircut. Sammy looked down from The Wheel Of Fortune and pointed at the sign on the wall next to the pictures of his sons.
“Twenny bucks for da man.”
The fellow made a face like when you open a new tub of plain yogurt and discover that it is blue and has the texture of velvet. He made a comment about how that was too much to charge nowadays and that so and so over town did it cheaper. He pointed to his cell-phone device as proof.
“You better go over there then,” said Sammy in an icy tone.
The young fellow turned on his heel and Sammy rose up and started sifting through his favorite drawer. Sweeping out bits of hair, stacking business cards and arranging envelopes. He held up a business card to me.
“See thisa guy. He comma here to get hisa hair cut here for forty year. He lives in Seattle now anda still he drive uppa here to cut hisa hair. Sonomabitch! Thosea punk lika dat guy just now. They donna know nothing. Lookit. Heresa how it work. I gotta sign. Twenny bucks for da man. OK. You walka in, you siddown and you shaddup. I cutta you hair. You giva me twenny bucks and you get the hella out. Go home.”
“Sammy,” I said, “They got a $30,000.00 bottle of goddam whiskey at that liquor store next door. When I brought the mail this morning, I joked to the lady that she would be dusting off that glass case for a long time before she ever unloaded that thing. You know what she told me? She told me they have a big showcase full of that kind of merchandise and that her real problem is trying to keep it stocked. Then she showed me a $13,000.00 bottle of wine. Honest to God.”
“Sonomabitch,” Sammy laughed and slapped his chair with a folded apron. “Mike, I think I gotta retire someday. This all is getting a little bit TOO HIGH!”
I was in Mykonos one time and had spent the day in the company of a local expat who had come to the island from the Midwest to paint Greek fishermen in the 60’s. Within a month she had been seduced, impregnated and abandoned by one of the subjects of her paintings. I met her on the street selling Greek Fisherman dolls she made by hand. I bought one for my wife and she invited us to her house to have tea and meet her son. During our visit, she told many tales of her adopted island. She said that her tourist business was brisk in season and that she had seen many famous movie stars over the years.
When I remarked that I found it refreshing that all the sweaters and wares were hung up in the pretty narrow streets she adjusted her black eyeglasses glasses and flipped her graying long black hair over her shoulder and snickered. She then explained in detail a procession of the tourists seasons. Different nationalities evidently came to visit at different times throughout the year. I was there when the cheap flights from North America became available due to the fact that the wind off the Mediterranean could cut through the thickest angora sweater in spite of the dazzling sun.
There was a different season for the Italians she explained. During these weeks, as opposed to all others, no merchandize of any value was kept outside for viewing by the public. I asked why and was told that it was as if those guys had a penchant for shoplifting that bordered on being a national sport. I was shocked but duly noted this information in my internal notes to self. It wasn’t a day later I got to trot this gem of worldly wisdom out into conversation.
It was during an impromptu dinner party with a family from Australia. We had met somewhere in town and had agreed to dine together so as to be able to relax from our remedial Greek struggles for a few hours. The food was excellent, the ambient was enchanting and the company was top-notch. I wasn’t on very good terms with my second wife at the time but we managed to put our problems aside long enough to enjoy visiting with these gregarious Aussies. After a few beers, I decided to show my intimate knowledge to those assembled.
With great detail, clever use of metaphor and just the right amounts of humor and gravity, I briefed the table on the Italian situation in Mykonos. The young couple and the parents of the young woman, who were sitting opposite me listened with great interest. So great, that I continued on for some while waxing as eloquent as a salesman on a late-night TV infomercial. At last, I was done and took a hearty swig of beer, satisfied that I had educated my new friends and perhaps given them something which might help them in some small way someday further down the road on another shoreline.
The young woman spoke first, “Moik, moi usband Tony hea, ees Oitalian, eh.”
When the blood left my core a second later, I noticed that Tony’s father-in-law had a firm grip on the lad’s shoulder with a meaty sun-spotted hand. Tony face resembled an electric element on a stove top in a dark kitchen. We had a collective all too human moment before the old man broke into peals of brawny laughter followed in seconds by his Missus, his daughter and eventually Tony caught the wave of mirth. I ordered another round of beers and apologized with twice the eloquence I had mustered during my diatribe. I have always suffered from Texas Foot-In-Mouth Disease and explained this by giving several examples. My Chinese wife nodded her silent verification of this fact.
That was thirty years ago and as we race into the future, microchips in hand following people we’ll never meet, I may as well tell you, I’m the guy in a cowboy hat chowing down on a big plate of pasta putana in the cheap seats, washing it down with a cup of New Orleans Chicory Coffee, listening to Lata Mangeshkar, reading Lao Tzu to a cat, laughing at myself, crying for us all, eager to hear your stories and happy to share my own. I am a big-eared proud member of our resilient complex species soberly aware of our delicate predicament.
Much ink has been spilled toward the end of convincing those who refuse to use their intellect that the Captains of this world are something other than human. Usually in a very negative sense that draws upon the palette of spiritual duality framed long ago by religious philosophers for presenting the case. It may well be that the problem is quite the opposite. Indeed, if we place this premise on the table of human history and then walk around that table viewing the evidence from all angles, we might discern that the Titans have been seduced, hypnotized and led into a situation wherein their fulfilling of impossible rôles seems the only safe course. Along the way, a type of amnesia of the fact that they are also made of the same stuff as those they have striven to manage, control and profit by with such disdain, has set like plaster of Paris over their best gifts.
I see evidence of a keen understanding by our ancestral stern-faced authorities that humor was long ago identified as a uniquely human gift and a tool as formidable and useful as any edged weapon. The evidence is in the fact that the comic, if properly attired so as to be identifiable as such, has always been tolerated, even when treating topics that are taboo for the population at large in all times, all cultures and in all phases of history. To continue much further on the present course may well lead us to a place bereft of laughter and unwashed by tears. There we will exist and expire to serve unhappy catatonic Commanders once again. This sterilized stagnation will remain until one day a voice is heard rising above the hum, “Hey whatsamatta you people! Eat some cacciatore. You, Boss, siddown, shaddup, I cutta you hair. Hey Buddy, nota my business but with respect, looka to me like you all got a little bit TOO HIGH!”
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.