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On The Road: Hot Springs, AR

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park sign

Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas has a network of trails up its small mountains, but in other ways it is unlike most national parks.  There is no entrance gate and no fee.  There is and has always been a public/private partnership.

hot spring

We stopped here because it is a park we’ve never visited, and because it was on the way from our home base to where we needed to be two days later.  The park began as a federal preserve to protect the source of the spring water from developers before there was a park system.  A row of bath houses right downtown are fed by these springs, grand buildings, two of which are working bath houses; others are in disrepair, one is the national park office/store.  The buildings and the preserve were established as pleasure places for the elite in the late nineteenth century.  These days the clientele is more varied; the woman who served breakfast at our hotel said she gets “the works” (soak, massage, etc.) once a year.

The water is also available at several open spigots.  People come to fill jugs with the water, which has been extensively analyzed and tastes very good.

mountain road

I was hoping for more wildflowers on the drive up the mountain.  We saw mostly straggly buttercups along the road.  And we came upon one resting place which must have been there a long time.  They don’t build them like this anymore.

rest stop

Marks of Spring

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Two signs that we are really into spring have appeared in my yard this week. primrose.1

One is the Mexican Primrose.  I planted this early in my gardening efforts and thought it had died, so I planted a chamisa bush in the “empty” space.  The Primrose evidently appreciated the cover and came back to life.  It blooms in spring and then is covered over by the chamisa.  In late summer or fall, thin tendrils push through the bush to produce a few more of the lovely pink flowers.  I don’t dare transplant it.  It likes its present location.

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100_0788

The second sign of spring is the leafing out of the mesquite tree.  I planted this tree as a wee thing out of a seven inch pot about six years ago.  I worried for two years whether it would ever tree; all it took was patience.  I have been told by more experienced gardeners that the mesquite is the best marker of spring.  Unlike the decorative fruit trees and some others, when the mesquite begins to leaf, one can be confident that the danger of serious frost is past.

What have these signs of spring to do with either freethought or metaphor?  Both freethinkers and poets are aware, though in different ways, that humans are connected to the rest of nature.  The wisdom of these plants appeals to both sides of my mind.

Dr. Roberts Reaches a Wider Audience: From the Biography

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94933_CoverFrontIn November 1900, Roberts was one of several featured speakers at the Twenty-fourth Annual Congress of the American Secular Union and Freethought Federation held in Cincinnati, Ohio. This group, supported by The Truth Seeker, and by Ingersoll, who regularly spoke at its meetings during his life, was a coalition of local societies and interested persons. It supported secular interests such as keeping World’s Fairs open on Sundays. . . .

Roberts chose for his topic “This Natural World of Ours.”  As reported the following month in The Truth Seeker, this speech shows that Roberts is still as reverent as any minister. He has transferred his reverence to nature, the “sublime” discoveries of astronomy, and the gradual revelation of the universe as an “ordered whole.” As he has done before, Roberts faults Christianity for condemning the world as evil. If God lost the world to the devil, he argues, this makes God the creator a failure. He speaks harshly of medieval piety:

Within the cloister, the sanctuary and the cell, with bleeding knees on floors of stone, crouched and cowed the saints in terror. With aching bones, exhausted bodies, tortured nerves and disordered brains, they were visited by visions of horror. Those hideous dreams were called revelations from God, and have come down to us as theology.

The true secularists among the audience would have enjoyed this immensely. It is not clear whether all would have agreed with where Roberts goes next. He makes a general argument that the world is divine. He sees only two possibilities: either the world was created, in which case it must reflect its creator and that creator’s divinity, or it was not. If it was not created, then the natural world “is eternal, self-existent, intelligent and self-sufficient. Can God be more than that?” Either way, he asserts, the world is divine. The Christian theologians, he claims, “turned into a cell” and refused to see the light in which this divinity should be obvious.

After offering the lessons of astronomy as evidence that the world is wonderful and not evil, Roberts goes on to personify the natural world as mother:

The faithful world pays the strictest and most minute attention to the least and humblest thing, and treats it with the same dignity that she does the largest and greatest things, the worm, the bird, is as much provided for in the intelligent plan of nature as is any rational being . . . Moreover the laws of nature are moral. They exist in the interest of the health and well-being of man.

He affirms that the origin of life is unknown, adding, “It may be that the vital forces were somehow in the earth; we can only guess, but we do know that being here the great mother-world nourishes, cherishes and sustains all.”

Having praised the world that is, Roberts turns to the question of the world to come. We can have no knowledge of this, he says. Why, then, have Christians assumed it would be perfect? “Can it be that the dream of the beautiful world beyond was the gambler’s dream of something for nothing, or the visionary’s dream of sudden wealth?” A world that was not earned would be immoral. Rather, this is the world we have, and moral action will make it right:

There is an eternal law of exactness and compensation whereby the great world gives back to every one in equal measure and undiminished what each one gives to the world. If we knew this world and kept its laws we should find that sickness and disease, deformity, weakness of will, and poverty were unnecessary, and we should look upon them as disgraceful just as we look upon crime. If we knew this world and kept faith with it we should make our heaven here and ask for none here or anywhere that we did not make.

Roberts was paid $25 for giving this speech. Another speaker at the Cincinnati gathering was Clarence Darrow, who also received payment of $25.

More on Clarence Darrow to come.  All of the above is from the biography, John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher. For more information and a link, go to the Books page.

First Anniversary

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Today, February 8, this blog is one year old.  A year ago I thought it would be quite a challenge to keep going so long.  This is my 102nd post.  Perhaps I am hitting my stride.

The life span of blogs is more like that of cats than humans.  At one year old this blog is past its infancy (It has learned to walk and talk) and adolescence (I’ve learned a variety of techniques and made some long term connections) and is into the stage of young adulthood, finding its on-going role in the world.

Much of this blogging world is still a mystery to me.  I’ve seen some blogs disappear, others go dormant.  Some have thousands of followers, and I can’t figure out how they got there.  My numbers are small in comparison, but I appreciate all who follow, and all who comment.  You have been a wonderful audience.

Sotol on Baylor Canyon Trail

Sotol on Baylor Canyon Trail

 

I’m moving into my second year of blogging with the expectation of new and better things to come: guest blogging perhaps, and more recommendations, and links with other like-minded blogs.  But I’ll continue to pretend that my mix of freethinking and metaphor is unique, special.  Aren’t we all?  Plants may be fine examples of their species, like this sotol I noticed on a hike in January, but every human being is different.  Thank goodness!  Keep visiting to see what comes next.

What is Nature? (From the Biography)

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In November 1900, John Emerson Roberts had begun his fourth year as an independent freethought preacher, speaking on Sunday mornings in theaters.  He was beginning to be noticed beyond Kansas City.  A nationwide network, the American Secular Union and Freethought Federation, invited him to speak at their conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.  This was a great opportunity to make his views widely known.

            Roberts chose for his topic “This Natural World of Ours.” As reported the following month in The Truth Seeker, this speech shows that Roberts is still as reverent as any minister. He has transferred his reverence to nature, the “sublime” discoveries of astronomy, and the gradual revelation of the universe as an “ordered whole.” As he has done before, Roberts faults Christianity for condemning the world as evil. If God lost the world to the devil, he argues, this makes God the creator a failure. He speaks harshly of medieval piety:

“Within the cloister, the sanctuary and the cell, with bleeding knees on floors of stone, crouched and cowed the saints in terror. With aching bones, exhausted bodies, tortured nerves and disordered brains, they were visited by visions of horror. Those hideous dreams were called revelations from God, and have come down to us as theology.”

The true secularists among the audience would have enjoyed this immensely. It is not clear whether all would have agreed with where Roberts goes next. He makes a general argument that the world is divine. He sees only two possibilities: either the world was created, in which case it must reflect its creator and that creator’s divinity, or it was not. If it was not created, then the natural world “is eternal, self-existent, intelligent and self-sufficient. Can God be more than that?” Either way, he asserts, the world is divine.

After some additional arguments against old Christian views, Roberts personifies the natural world as mother:

“The faithful world pays the strictest and most minute attention to the least and humblest thing, and treats it with the same dignity that she does the largest and greatest things, the worm, the bird, is as much provided for in the intelligent plan of nature as is any rational being . . . Moreover the laws of nature are moral. They exist in the interest of the health and well-being of man.”

Having lifted up nature, Roberts goes on to challenge the Christian view of heaven.   He asks, “Can it be that the dream of the beautiful world beyond was the gambler’s dream of something for nothing, or the visionary’s dream of sudden wealth?” A world that was not earned would be immoral. He concludes:

“There is an eternal law of exactness and compensation whereby the great world gives back to every one in equal measure and undiminished what each one gives to the world. If we knew this world and kept its laws we should find that sickness and disease, deformity, weakness of will, and poverty were unnecessary, and we should look upon them as disgraceful just as we look upon crime. If we knew this world and kept faith with it we should make our heaven here and ask for none here or anywhere that we did not make.”

Another speaker at this conference was Clarence Darrow.  Both men were paid $25 for their efforts.  Roberts and Darrow began an acquaintance that lasted for decades.  That is another part of the story told in the biography.

Excerpts are from John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date’ Freethought Preacher, which is available from Amazon, through ERYBooks.  Or use the contact page to order directly from the author.

Haiku, “Rules,” and a Recommendation

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Haiku, that Japanese form which took hold in English about 50 years ago and has continued to be of interest to many, is a great example of the role of “rules” in poetry.

I particularly like a haiku posted recently on the blog, Five Reflections:

soft subtle mantra
hoes the garden of the mind
new poem blossoms

I was delighted by the contrast between the mantra described as “soft subtle” and the hardness of a hoe.  But then my inner critic sounded alarms:  “the ____ of the ____” the critic complained.  “Couldn’t he have avoided at least one of those empty words?”

I keep my critic busy checking my own work for unnecessary cases of “the” and “of the.”  But was he (or is my inner critic a she?) right to complain in this case?

There are two schools of thought about haiku, those who insist on a 5-7-5 syllable structure and those who argue for shorter, tighter lines.  The 5-7-5 imitates the Japanese form.  But the second party asserts that those Japanese “syllables” are not all words, some are signals of other kinds, so the 5-7-5 structure is a poor substitute.

The Haiku Society of America takes no official position on this question.  Their definition a haiku reads: A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.  I have noticed, however, that the winners in their annual contests are more often of the shorter style.

I had a workshop with a person of the “shorter is better” school.  He ruthlessly cut down my already short attempts.  I was persuaded that he knew what he was talking about.

Now, I’m not so sure.  “the garden of the mind” has a gentle flow to it that appeals to me.

On the other hand, does this haiku fulfill the Haiku Society’s definition that it “convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season”?  “The garden of the mind” is completely metaphor.  No actual garden, no hoe.  What should I make of this?

My favorite of the haiku I have so far seen on Five Reflections is this one:

sea smoke illusion
ancient seafarer ghost ship
grandpa’s story time

What I like best about this poem is the turn in the last line: the misty sea scene is suddenly transposed to an indoor scene, warm and cozy, where “grandpa” tells his story.  I didn’t even notice at first that this poem has nary a “the” nor an “of.”  This poet knows what he is doing, which further confirms my suspicion that sometimes those “lesser” words are the right ones for the flow and mood of the poem.

In summary, the following, sometimes contradictory, “rules” are apparently made to be broken by skillful haiku writers:
“Always use a three line construction of 5-7-5 syllables.”
“Don’t waste syllables on lesser words like “the.”
“Start with or focus on nature.”
As one who finds haiku challenging to write, I’ll take these “rules” as suggestions, refusing to be bound by them.

To read more at Five Reflections, click on the link in the blogroll in the column to the right of this post.  Enjoy!

 

 

Road Tripping

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We are on the road again.  Each year we drive across the country from Las Cruces, NM, to Maine and back.  Ten years ago we would have made no reservations and looked for a place to stop as we went.  We’ve minimized the adventure since then.  We’ve chosen one hotel chain which gives us what we want: nice towels, a box, not a pocket pack, of tissues, continental breakfast and internet connection―and every so often we get a free night.  But there are still unexpected experiences.

I was staring out the window of our hotel in Quincy, Massachusetts, when a very long red trailer truck appeared.  I watched as it was maneuvered, with the help of several people around it, into parking along the back edge of the lot.  All I could read from my window were the words “75th Anniversary” at the front and “Meals on Wheels” at the back.  What appeared to be an enormous granite rock was strapped in between them.

75th Anniversary of Meals on Wheels?  This did not seem likely.  I went over to investigate.

The truck is the 72 foot long project of the Idaho Potato Commission, called The Famous Idaho Potato Tour.  It’s the Commission’s 75th anniversary.  The “rock” represents a giant potato: one that would take 10,000 years to grow, were nature capable of doing that.

Famous Idaho Potato Tour Truck

Famous Idaho Potato Tour? I conclude that it is the potato, not the tour that is famous.  But if Idaho potatoes are already famous, why all the publicity?

An Idaho potato in the hand gives pleasure: solid, attractive in its usefulness, it is a good base for a healthy meal.  The Idaho Potato Commission seems to have caught a serious case of the “more is always better” syndrome and gone over the top.  It’s marketing supersized.  I found the Famous Idaho Potato Tour Truck at once charming and disturbing.  Why pretend a potato could grow so long, so large?  Why not demonstrate how real potatoes grow?  That “giant spud” still looks like imitation granite to me.

The four crew members must be having a great time traveling the country, though it’s a mighty long rig to handle.  Wouldn’t it have been enough, and saved a little gas, if it were 60 feet long instead of 72?    In the month since I saw it the truck has moved south into Georgia and Alabama.  Then it will be heading west.  For more information check their website: http://www.bigidahopotato.com.  They may be coming to a parking lot near you.

Juxtaposition and more of Levi Romero

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I have a long-enduring fondness for the word “Juxtaposition.”  In an early poem using that title, now justifiably forgotten, I wrote “things touch at their edges.”  Where things touch, they affect each other; that’s juxtaposition, whether in nature or in art.  In this entry I juxtapose a piece of my work with a little more of Levi Romero’s work

Levi Romero’s book, Poetry of Remembrance, focuses, as I discussed previously, on stories and the past, but he includes other more current facets of his life: as teacher and leader of workshops and as an architect – an architect who cannot expect to be welcomed into a home he has designed.  In a poem he titles “Juxtaposition” he describes a visit to one such building as it was being built:

may I help you?
I am asked by the realtor
standing at the door,
thinking that I may be the guy
who mixed the mud and pushed the wheelbarrow . . .

I once was asked by a home magazine journalist
if I felt insulted by such incidents
well, no, I said, my mind mixing for an answer
a good batch of cement is never accidental

Romero has learned to live with  kindness but close attention on the edge of a culture where others assert that he does not belong.

This “outtake” from my own recent writing uses the term to describe juxtaposition in nature:

Chance
juxtaposing gypsum
deposits, playa, crystals, wind,
forms rolling dunes of white
sand in a brown desert.

in the Tularosa Basin of New Mexico, gypsum washed down from bands in the mountain collects in Lucero Lake, then crystallizes as the lake goes dry, is worn away by wind, and blows into the dunes of White Sands National Monument. 

When I think anthropomorphically about God (and sometimes I do, knowing that all language about God is metaphoric) I picture an artist putting different elements of nature together to see what will happen.  The result may be wild or wonderful―and totally impractical.

What a powerful word!  “Juxtaposition” has taken me from society through poetry to nature and theology.  This may explain why I can’t seem to categorize my posts.

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