In the Sign of Libra


John Emerson Roberts

John Emerson Roberts, subject of my biography

September 28, 2013 is the 160th anniversary of John Emerson Roberts’s birth.  This makes ‘Kansas City’s Up-to-date Freethought Preacher” a Libra according to astrology.  My father and my son, Dr. Roberts’s grandson and great-great-grandson, were also born in this sign.  Libra is the Latin word for balance.  I am not sure in what sense all Libras should exhibit balance, but equilibrium has not been characteristic of any of these three men.

It would make more sense if “Libra” were connected “liber,” the Latin work that means free, as in liberation, and book, as in library.  All of these men have been freethinkers according to their times.  None of them has believed in a conventional god, and they have embraced the new, each in his own way.  John Emerson Roberts explored new ideas of all kinds: science, theology and humanism.  My father was an exponent of new ways of looking at language (as developed by Noam Chomsky).  My son has made his career in computer software development.

Paul McHenry Roberts

My father, Paul McHenry Roberts

One tradition in astrology focuses on the elements (earth, air, fire, water) associated with each astrological sign.  Libra is an “air” sign.  This connects it with the mind, with ideas.  The sign is associated with intellectual creativity and intensity.  This fits my three men well.

But I, a deep water Scorpio, also focus on intellect.  Where does my freethinking, intellectual approach to “life, the universe and everything” come from?  How does inheritance relate to astrology?

I like to explore astrological theories, because it seems reasonable to me that there are resonances at multiple levels throughout the cosmos.  However, no interpretation I’ve come across yet has been able to capture the subtleties of such possible influences.


Poems in On Line Journal

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Lantern_Journal_Fall_2013_Issue_FlyerThere’s a small sample of my poetry collection responding to William Paley, Made and Remade, on the web.  It is in Lantern Journal’s Fall 2013 issue.  The overall theme of the issue is “Evolution.”  The selections chosen by the editors are extremely varied.  My entry is a set of three poems, two from the Paley collection. You’ll find the contents and introduction to the issue (Volume II, No. 3)  at: http://lanternjournal.org/category/v2-i3-2013/  There you will find my summary statement of Made and Remade and a picture of the Wearmouth Bridge, along with other photos.  Click on “View full ARTicle here” to read the poems.

The first of the poems, “Lost Leverage” while it fits the theme just fine, is from an earlier collection.  As the word “Lever” buried in the title may suggest, it is from my Archimedes series, which has yet to find a publisher.

The connection of “Evolving” to the theme should be self-evident.  I leave it to the reader to determine how “Headache” fits.  I hope it doesn’t give you one.

The Bridge Outside Paley's Door

The Bridge Outside Paley’s Door

Chronophobia: Fear at the Equinox


Time always seems to be an issue at the fall equinox.  The shortening daylight gives a feeling of shorter hours, while the activities that resume in the fall take up more of those hours.  The tasks put off during hot weather have also accumulated.  There is one plus to this season: being up before the sun to see the dawn color.

September Sunrise

September Sunrise


The rest of the day time seems to run and leap, trampling the to-do list.  I may even suffer an attack of Chronophobia:

I’m on the monster’s back and I don’t dare get off.  Time is the enemy, a threat to all my projects.  Of hours in the day or days in the week there are never enough to keep up with all my chosen tasks: the writing, the meetings, the email, the sewing, the gardening.

Some weeks I wonder if I should even be spending Sunday morning at church.  I hear time growling, licking his lips.  Martin Luther said, “I have so much to do today that I must spend a long time in prayer.”  How could this be, I wondered.  Then I discovered the secret.  When I stop, really completely stop―not just sit down with a book, not just make a cup of coffee―when I really come to a full stop, time stops too.

It doesn’t last long.  As soon as I begin to move again, I have to get back up on the monster’s back and race toward the next task, the next deadline, the next chime of the hour. If I slip off I may be eaten.  This is Chronos, after all: the old god who eats his children.

Thanks to Ina Hughs, at last year’s October Writing Festival at Ghost Ranch, for her “sheet of fears” exercise.

Public Art in La Jolla, CA

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La Jolla from Torrey Pines Beach

La Jolla from Torrey Pines

On a trip last week to southern California we found out about the mural project in La Jolla and went to investigate.  We came south from Torrey Pines and worked our way into and around the village.

There are a total of eleven murals by ten artists.  They weren’t easy to find, especially from a car, and some of us are poor walkers, but we did find several.  Here are some I liked:

53 Women by Ryan McGinness

53 Women by Ryan McGinness

Applied, by Richard Allen Morris

Applied, by Richard Allen Morris

Tail Whip, by Gajin Fujita

Tail Whip, by Gajin Fujita

Favorite Color, by Roy McMakin

Favorite Color, by Roy McMakin

It was fun to hunt for these.  I can’t pick a favorite among the art works, but I particularly like the title “Favorite Color.”  You can learn about the rest of the eleven murals at www.muralsoflajolla.com

Salinas Pueblo Missions, Part II

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Abo is not far from Quarai (see previous post) though present roads take one around three sides of a trapezoid.  It appears to have been about a ten mile walk south from Quarai to Abo along the eastern slope of the Manzano Mountains in the days when the Spanish missions were built.  The sites are similar, but have worn and are maintained differently.


The Abo church and its buildings are surrounded by yellow grass – it would be good food for cattle if they were allowed in.  Instead of scraps of stone on the hillside, there are huge stone slabs where water ran.100_0930A

I came close to one ruin of a Pueblo building.  It is just tumbled stone, suggesting that one strong point for the Spanish conquerors was the ability to make better mortar.pueblo house A

Two plants particularly caught my attention.  The first was an nicely shaped four-wing saltbush.  Its four-winged seeds will turn golden in the fall.  I have one of these in my back yard; it gets too much water apparently, due to other plants around it, and is very shaggy.saltbush A

Another well-shaped plant I came across at Abo is one I have found in the arroyo near our house in a good season.  It shows up in summer after rain and is covered with white flowers all at once.  They don’t last long.  I have not learned its name.white flower A

Salinas Missions, Part 1

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On a trip to northern New Mexico last weekend I stopped to visit two of the Salinas Missions.  The Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, established in 1981, consists of three separate sites.  Each was once a native American pueblo, inhabited by people who spoke Tiwa.  Each became a Spanish mission site, with a big church and a number of outbuildings.  At only one site, Gran Quivera, is there much of the pueblo to see.  I visited that place quite a few years ago, before I had a digital camera.  Now that I’ve seen the other two, I am eager to go back.

This post is about Quarai, located north of Mountainair.  The church there is the best preserved and is often photographed.


Below is an attempt to photograph a grass I don’t know the name of, which has quite large heads for a grass.  I wondered if it is edible.

grassQuarai has a one mile “primitive” trail beyond the once settled area, where the “trail” is paved.  It becomes clear that the stone for building did not have to be brought from far away.

stone trail

Looking from the trail toward the green near the entrance to the ruins I had complicated thoughts: this green is neither natural nor a reconstruction of what was there when the Spanish mission was operating.  How hard the park service works, simply for our enjoyment!  Our tax dollars at work.


Two pictures show how different plants share space.  The first shows the orange flowers of desert globemallow, a plant which grows six feet tall and blows in the breeze in my back yard.


This second picture was an attempt to capture the sense of fall: red berries on what I believe is a sumac.  It is so intertwined with other plants that it is hard to tell.


My next post will have pictures from Abo, the third of the three Spanish pueblo mission sites in the National Monument.

One for Fun

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On the road this past weekend I found myself eating in restaurants and remembered this poem which I wrote several years ago.  It’s all about the word play, and you’ll see by the end, if you don’t recognize it immediately, that it is rapidly becoming dated.  Enjoy!



Checking out the new
restaurant, we place
our order, chat about
that smiling checker at
the grocery store, my
check-up – the doctor’s
clean bill of health.

It’s my turn to pick up
the check.  We recall
when checks we wrote
had stubs, those books
with three to a page
your father used, as if
home were a business.

Waitstaff scurry from
table to computer, which
prints small characters
on short thin strips.
I say, “We’re ready for
the check.”  Our server
calls it a ticket.