morning ride

 

We left the pavement and turned onto the gravel road that rose through the tall weeds.  By the yard the hills to our right and left closed in around us and grew steeper and our way more narrow.

“This is a hollow.  This is what they mean by ‘hollow.'”

One mile in and the creek beside us was nearly still and we had passed lone houses that might have been abandoned but would have been scarier if they were not.  In one little shambles among tall weeds the door to the house stood open and cats and kittens scattered into the house as they saw us approach.

On a high hillside one house stood on an unkempt lawn and I imagined walking this way at midnight and seeing a light flicker on in some window of that place and being chilled to the bone with an imagined story of who was there and why.

The road went on even though the houses were fewer and farther between and there was less evidence of life.  Why ever was this road built?  How was this three-mile long effort ever considered, ever justified?  What once stood here?  What were the dreams and ideas?

Farther up the hollow the trees become giants and as we coast out of the other side and into a neighborhood of mowed lawns we see men and heavy equipment dragging logs out of the forest along a muddy sluice.  The stack of fat oak trunks at the edge of the road is ten feet high.  This the fruit of a hundred years.

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Morning Poem, June 14, 2017

This summer morning is of deepest green

As if the old oaks and maples along the lane

Had taken bits of last night’s darkness

And hidden them under their arms.

.

I think of the empty classrooms in the town below

And the rows of old desks that bear the carved initials

Of one boy and one girl

.

All is silent in these rooms

Even as the morning sunlight pours through the tall casements

All of the school’s life is away

Except for the janitor who sweeps in the hall

The children pity him, confined as he is

To that world they have so happily and completely escaped

They run barefoot in the grass in the shade of the old elms.

But the janitor is happy in his lot

His days are easy now

And the empty classrooms speak to him of time and season.

.

It is good that all should have rest

 

copyright 2017

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evening poem, June 13, 2017

Walking At Twilight

 

One week from Summer solstice

And the hill is newly mown

Fireflies lift from the short grass

And hover low, like stars in a green sky.

.

At the top of the ridge the first cool of evening

Breathes out from the forest

A deer stands behind a tree, statue-like

His coat matching the last of the dusky light

The beginnings of velvet antlers showing.

.

The western heavens are violet and gold

As the planet nods its head toward the sun

Above, some crested bird sits on a wire

The shadow outline of a cardinal

But his color is lost in the dim light.

 

 

 

copyright 2017

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SCREENPLAY: Mr. Darcy Confronts Mr. Wickham

Jane Austen never wrote a scene where men were talking without a woman present. 

 

 

She said she did not know how men would talk in that circumstance.  Well, I do, and I have always been intrigued by the scene (unwritten in the book) where Darcy confronts Wickham after he has run off with Lydia and scandalized and humiliated the Bennett family.  I think we would see another side of Darcy’s character in this scene.

 

INT:  A ROOM BENEATH THE INN IN LONDON.  DARCY IS STANDING IN THE ROOM, HAT IN HAND, AS WICKHAM OPENS THE DOOR AND ENTERS.  WICKHAM INDICATES SURPRISE.  DARCY IS STONE-FACED.
WICKHAM
Mr. Darcy.
DARCY
Mr. Wickham.
WICKHAM
This isn’t what you think it is.
DARCY
(scoffing laughter)
No.  This isn’t what you think it is.
WICKHAM
(chin out, bravado voice)
It’s nothing at all, really.  A mistake.

DARCY
She’s fifteen, man.
WICKHAM
She told me she was sixteen.
DARCY
Doesn’t matter.  What’s done is done.
WICKHAM
What concern is this of yours?  You have no say in this matter.  Do you still think you have power over me?  You don’t.  Now get out and let people be about their business.  I am no longer any concern of yours.

.
Darcy lays his hat and gloves on the table between himself and Wickham and leans over it, knuckles on the table-top, glaring at Wickham.

.

DARCY
How many times I have wished that very thing and yet in patience and respect for your father and mine I have indulged you and refused to say it. I am done with you and will say it now:  How deeply I wish that you were no concern of mine.
WICKHAM
(turns to leave)
Very well, Mr. Darcy.  If you wish to stay, you may, but I have business to be about.
DARCY
(in louder voice than ever)
Stand still, man, or you will be in jail before the morning.
WICKHAM
There’s nothing you can do, man.  This is not Derbyshire.  You can’t order people around here.
DARCY
You are in violation of the laws of the kingdom as we speak.  The prosecutor here is Sir David Mounts.
WICKHAM
(obviously troubled)
From Oxford?
DARCY
The very same.
WICKHAM
He remembers you?
DARCY
Better than that.  We have never been out of correspondence.  Even better, man, he remembers you.
WICKHAM
You wouldn’t.
DARCY
And why wouldn’t I?  You have used up every bit of mercy and indulgence that I can muster.  More than either your father or mine would have seen fit to give you.  You’ve done nothing but waste your inheritance and shame the legacy of your father and the name of my estate.  I’ll say it:  I don’t care what happens to you.  And when Mounts is through with you here, there are forty or more in Hertfordshire who are ready to prosecute for unpaid debts.  You may never get out, man.  I will not come to your rescue again, no matter what the consequences.  Not for your sake, anyway.

WICKHAM
But what about Lydia?  Surely the name of her family should not be shamed.  So young a girl.  And other lives to be thought of.  For the good of all.
DARCY
Aha.  Now.  There is the right question.  What is it you intend for her?

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Jane Austen and The Book of Ruth

 

Hey, summer comes along and you switch gears and – in accordance with much protestant tradition – head for the Old Testament to slow things down a bit for the vacation season.  I’ve gone straight for the Book of Ruth.  I am perhaps more of a literary type than lots of Baptist Sunday School teachers.  I am a sucker for Jane Austen and I always keep one of her novels on my nightstand to dip into as I fade off into sleep mode.

You would think that after the first few ( twenty?) times through a Jane Austen novel the reading would be all relaxation and pleasure.  You know – all the real meat of the story already long understood and digested.  No surprises left.

But that’s not my experience.   To steal a phrase from John Sebastian, “the more I see, the more I see there is to see.” In just the last few evenings I’ve been reading middle chapters in Emma.  Chapters where Emma is infatuated with Frank Churchill and is weighing his every word and action as she considers whether she’s in love with him or not.  About this same time, Emma is working to bring poor old Harriet Smith back to her right mind after her ill-fated romantic attachment to the perfidious Mr. Elton.

Austen gives the reader all kinds of clues as she goes along about what’s really going on in Frank Churchill’s mind as he dallies with Emma; clues I missed in the first (and second and on and on) readings.  This book is psychologically dense and sophisticated.

But it is also shot through with standards.  You know – those things that nobody seems to agree about today and that the righteous marchers are now claiming are the remnants of patriarchal oppression, etc.

Here is what Emma finally tells her little friend Harriet to encourage her to stop moping and pining for the lost Mr. Elton who has gone his way and married another (monied) woman:

I have not said, exert yourself Harriet for my sake; think less, talk less of Mr. Elton for my sake; because for your own sake rather, I would wish it to be done, for the sake of what is more important than my comfort, a habit of self-command in you, a consideration of what is your duty, an attention to propriety, an endeavor to avoid the suspicions of others, to save your health and credit, and restore your tranquility.

Oh, yeah.  All of that stuff.  Who can doubt the importance of any of it?  And is this not what the rising generation ought to learn?  A bit of an aside here, but how much of the world’s problems are due in the final analysis to a failure to mature sexually?  I am out of school here, I know, but it sure looks to me like a lot of this terrorist business is fomented among men who, you know, can’t make it work with a woman.  This guy Q’tub or whatever his name was – the guy who was the philosophical inspiration for Bin Laden, et al – his life story (as told in the great book, The Looming Tower) shows that the turning point in his life , the beginning of his radicalization, was when he was rejected by the young woman who was his childhood infatuation.  In popular American culture, we would think of Teen Angel, the black-jacketed, duck-tailed youngster who rebels (motorcycle and all) because “Betty Lou done me wrong. . . .”

Teen Angel ends up with an arrest record or dies one midnight in a railroad crossing accident.  But in the case of the Islamists, all that frustration and rage fits rather squarely into their religion and the result is something like this:  If I have failed to get what I wanted and if I am unhappy, it can’t be my fault.  It must be the world!  It must be that the prevailing system gives women too much freedom – freedom to tempt and to reject men, for example.  Better start blowing stuff up until we can put them all under burkas, where they belong, so we can be pure and happy as men.

Okay, that’s off of my chest.  Now back to Jane Austen.  Look at how Emma considers the action of Frank Churchill in deciding to travel some thirty miles round trip to get his haircut.  Doesn’t really sound like something anyone should get their noses out of joint about, even though thirty miles (by horseback at that time) was much more of an extravagance then than it is now.  But look at the complexity and subtlety of Emma’s analysis:

It [the journey for the haircut] did not accord with the rationality of plan, the moderation in expense, or even the unselfish warmth of heart, which she had believed herself to discern in him yesterday.  Vanity, extravagance, love of change, restlessness of temper, which must be doing something, good or bad; heedlessness as to the pleasure of his father and Mrs. Weston, indifferent to how his conduct might appear in general . . . .

In the story, of course, the trip for a haircut was really a cover for Frank’s trip to London to buy a piano for his secret love, Jane Fairfax.  So, his real motives were more complex than Emma knew or could judge.   But that takes nothing away from the validity and perspicuity of Emma’s initial reactions based on what she then believed.

Given such sensibilities, such standards, who among us can stand?   Who could please and satisfy such a woman?  Well, someone who is educated, maybe.  Someone who has learned (been taught) a thing or two about selfishness and the fall of man.  Someone who has read Jane Austen, even.

And all of that points to just those things that the righteous marchers now tell us are the problem.  The education that Frank Churchill – and every man – ought to have is right there in the books and culture that it is now vogue to reject.  The Bible.  The church.  The classics.  In the extended and natural family.  And nowhere else.

And, speaking of the Bible, back to the Book of Ruth in the next post – coming soon.

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Book Review: Soft-Wired

The trouble with trying to write a fair review of SoftWired is avoiding clichés.

 

There are several that are applicable and so maybe I should just list them here and get them out of the way.  Here they are ( some of them, anyway):  revolutionary; earth shaking; groundbreaking; life changing; landmark.

Yes.  This book is all of that.  Its appeal is to basically two groups of people:

  1. those who have suffered trauma to the brain either through accident or disease;
  2. anybody over forty years old

I’m not going to hide the punch line here.  The message of the book – the thing that makes all those grand cliché s appropriate – is this:  the brain is like a muscle and it can be strengthened dramatically through the right kind of exercise, diet and lifestyle.  The book is full of examples of dramatic changes – healings, really – in the lives of men and women who had suffered terrible, seemingly permanent brain damage or who had been born with congenital defects that prevented them from functioning normally.

Not only that, the book claims that the neurodegenerative effects of aging can not only be slowed, they can be reversed.  Fading memory, slowing processing speed, all can be remedied.

Think of this:  If you are over forty years old you can look around at your peers and see enormous differences in physical health.  Some of your friends are overweight, some have even allowed themselves to slip into Metabolic syndrome and are obese.  Some are stiff as a board and some are weak.  Many have digestive or respiratory problems and have a line of prescription pills on their table every morning.  Then, on the other hand, there are those who have kept themselves in shape – women who can still turn heads and finish marathons and men who can do more pull-ups and push-ups now than they could at twenty.

What Mezernich is saying in this book is that with the same kind of dedication to our brain health we may enjoy that same difference in mental vitality.  That is, we may take twenty years off our brain age and fifty-year-olds may think and perceive as fast and remember just as accurately as a thirty-year-old.   Here is an appropriate time for one of those clichés.  That is revolutionary!

Here is what Mezernich tells us:

“But understand that as your brain gets healthier, that health will be manifested to a very significant extent by a greater capacity for having fun and enjoying life.”

And, yes, he does tell us how it can be done.   The modern lifestyle – the lifestyle of Western Civilization – does much to encourage the natural, age-related degeneration of the brain.  It’s very like the relationship between the Standard American Diet and the diseases of aging that are now raging among us – diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  That is, it is not a matter of doing a few things wrong some of the time; we are doing almost everything wrong almost all of the time.  The paved and air-conditioned world we live in does not present our brains with enough of the right kind of challenges needed to keep it sharp.  Moreover, we find ways to compensate for our fading memory and our slowing processing speed and these shortcuts only make matters worse.

The book convincingly makes the case that a concentrated effort to retrain our brains, done over a reasonable amount of time, will make profound and lasting changes in our abilities and, accordingly, our lives.  We can do this on our own with a computer and an internet connection.  It is that available.   We may consequently avoid mental decline and enjoy more freedom and longer independence and productivity.

That is earth-shaking; that is groundbreaking; that is life-changing.

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One More Try

 

I never felt comfortable with the last two lines of yesterday’s poem.  A better ending (I think) came to me last night.  Why don’t you give this one another read and see if you agree. . . 

 

 

On a morning in May you can walk bright and early

Down the alley and lane where the grapevines are curling

 

The shadows are old and the sunlight is new

And the lawns, newly cut, cradle diamonds of dew

 

And the moon lingers faint in the south sky out there

And the scent of the honeysuckle floats in the air

 

All the houses look neat, with their porches swept clean

And the birds sit and sing in the bushes and trees

 

The breeze is still cool and it moves like a breath

And it flutters the drapes on a world still at rest

 

And I walk on alone, taking all of it in

Wishing life would stand still and that time was my friend

 

 

copyright 2017

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Morning Poem, May 16, 2017

On a morning in May you can walk bright and early

Down the alley and lane where the grapevines are curling

The shadows are old and the sunlight is new

And the lawns, newly cut, cradle diamonds of dew

And the moon is still high in the south sky out there

And the scent of the honeysuckle floats in the air

All the houses look neat, with their porches swept clean

And the birds sit and sing in the bushes and trees

The breeze is still cool and it moves like a breath

And it flutters the drapes on a world still at rest

And I walk on alone, taking all of it in

Wishing life would stand still and that time was my friend

 

 

 

copyright 2017

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morning poem, May 9, 2017

 

.

Long ago

In this very place

Two weeks of June came in April

All the half-measures of early spring

The raw mornings and frigid rains

Were replaced by a fortnight of summer

Straight up

Clear, warm days and sultry nights.

.

This completely changed everything

Microscopic life forms came on too quickly

And bred with other microscopic life forms

That were still hanging around from winter.

This had never happened before and it produced

All kinds of microscopic life forms

That had never been seen before

Nothing has been the same since

And, oh yeah, people fell in love, too

People who otherwise would never have met

Never otherwise would have had the guts to even ask

Nothing has been the same since.

 

Copyright 2017

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Voices XVI

 

It’s the last day of school.  For the year.  And for me the last day forever.  I’ve been here for forty-five years and only four of those as a student.  I stand here now in the main hallway before the trophy case.  It’s late afternoon.  The students are all gone now and in the quiet and the sunlight I stand and look through the locked glass at the relics: the plaques for third-place finishes, the loving cups for championships; jerseys from players I knew – once young and now dead for a dozen years; the list of names of the dead from WWII – those who came before me and who I never knew; and paintings and drawings from art class students that must have marked some event in the school’s history, at that time important and seemingly so significant that no explanation would ever be necessary.  But now the images rest there as if torn from the middle pages of some unknown story, fading with time, and their meaning lost to any living soul.

And time goes on.

I look for those memorabilia that will take my back to my beginnings here; to the days of glory.  And there they are – the picture of Principal Hoyt Riley standing in front of the old building.  Red brick, slate roof, blue suit.

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