Sunday, March 28, 2021


The Rock Climbers

Why do we never hear about the ones who fail?

I have the pinnacle in my sight.  But what I thought would be the next, crucial handhold was not marked by a shadow.  The shadow turned out to be a discoloration in a flat surface.

And why do you think that, since I got up here, I can get down?  It's not simply a matter of reversing what I have already done.  The movements are different.  The muscles are different.  The shifting of weight is different.  What I can see is different.  And I might be too enervated to do it in any case.  

And so I cling until I can cling no more.

Even the goats fail.  A mother teaching the art to her offspring.  She falls to her death before their eyes.  But they carry on as they must.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021


The membranes that separate us from all of the myths from the Celtic fairies to the Dire Wolf to the miracles of Fatima and Lourdes -- the membranes are permeable and permeating.

Saturday, March 20, 2021


Three Handshakes in One Year Under COVID

And only three, if my memory does not fail.  

The first with Rebecca, the Mistress of Keuka Lake.  The second with James, life partner, we hope, to a dear relation of mine.  The third with Charles, life partner to an even more dear relation of mine.

Is it coincidence that all three carry names that would sound in an 18th century British novel or, indeed, at the height of the Great Plague of 1665-66?

Not "Becky" but "Rebecca."  Not "Jimmy" but "James."  Not "Chuck" but "Charles."

In high school we had to memorize the chronology -- "James I ... Charles I ... Charles II ... James II."  With a regicide smack down the middle.

The handshake should not be abandoned out of some religious reaction to the pandemic.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

 As He Lay Dying

My best friend from time to time could see the future.  This made us reconsider the very notion of time.


How Do You Love Jesus?

It has always struck me as a little creepy how a Christian's, a Catholic's, love for Jesus may be expressed in displaced-romantic terms.  I can see it maybe in young girls going off to the novitiate; it is natural that their pent-up romantic feelings be projected onto Him, by default as it were.  But as a general thing it seems both creepy and false.  

Why false?  Unless you walked the earth or parted the waves with Him like Peter or Thomas or Judas, the familiarity would be impertinent, and it seems to me it would diminish His Divinity.  If you were suddenly brought face to face with Him, you might yourself be overwhelmed by the power of His love as a love aimed at you.  But the authentic response to that would not be to run up to Him and embrace Him as if he were a lost girlfriend or boyfriend.  He is too powerful for that.  Even in adoration there would be a cowering fear, a helplessness as if a typhoon had come up and come over you.  Indeed, even when Christ was an infant, the adoration of the Magi was, among other things, supine.

Romantic love implies a certain equality or reciprocity of feeling that just doesn't cut it in this context.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

 One Man's Taxonomy of Dreams

1)  There is a goal that you are required to reach, but your path is littered with obstacles; it's clearly futile.  (Ex.  You must find the dormitory room that the college has assigned to you.)

2)  A pleasant and comforting dream, but on awakening you realize that that train has left the station.  (Ex.  A young woman from long ago slips beneath the covers with you, a young man from long ago.)

3)  You bear witness to the early stages of an apocalypse, with throngs of people running and holding their hands in the air, but your feet are frozen to the ground, out of both fear and infirmity.  You awaken grateful that the apocalypse has not yet come.

4)  Bandits lie in wait for you, but it's a lucid dream; you know that you are dreaming; you check out of it before you are blown away.  Moreover, it being only a dream, you are not that scared even in the midst of it.

Saturday, March 13, 2021


A Long Sentence and a Shorter One, Beautifully Juxtaposed

This particular last day of April falls in a year very nearly equidistant from 1689, the culmination of the English Revolution, and 1789, the start of the French; in a sort of dozing solstitial standstill, a stasis of the kind predicted by those today who see all evolution as a punctuated equilibrium, between those two zenith dates and all they stand for; at a time of reaction from the intemperate extremisms of the previous century, yet already hatching the seeds ... of the world-changing upheaval to come.  Certainly England as a whole was indulging in its favourite and sempiternal national hobby; retreating deep within itself, and united only in a constipated hatred of change of any kind.

--John Fowles, "A Maggot"

Thursday, March 11, 2021

 I Won't Need My Baseball Cap Anymore

My cement shoes are drying.   If this were a movie, my friend Larry would burst in ten minutes before the credits, with a .44 and a sledgehammer.   But even in that instance all of the bones in my feet would be shattered, beyond repair.

I must practice holding my breath.  I will only get one chance to hold it before I leave this fragile world for good.

Monday, March 8, 2021


W. Y. Evans-Wentz (1878-1965) and Our Place in the Cosmos

W. Y. Evans-Wentz was an anthropologist, born in New Jersey, who focused in his work on what William James called "the varieties of religious experience."  I knew him from a young age as editor for the English-speaking world of "The Tibetan Book of the Dead," the ancient text used to counsel the dying person on his pathway from one life to the next or, if the dying person is really enlightened, on his pathway from one life to no life, which corresponds to nirvana.  In photos that accompany the text in his celebrated book, he stands next to a Buddhist mentor, and both look permanently and appropriately "blissed out."

So I was surprised to discover that, earlier in his life, Evans-Wentz directed his attention not to the demons who are said to terrify us as we navigate between incarnations, but to the fairies, the elves, the leprechauns, the "Gentry" of Ireland and other Celtic lands (this last appellation because the common folk recognized that they operated spiritually on a more exalted plane than the one to which we are confined).  These led him into theosophy, which led him to W. B. Yeats and T. E. Lawrence, who counseled him to "go East young man."

There is a theory afoot now, and gathering strength, that helps to connect the two passions of Evans-Wentz, if a spiritually enlightened man can be said to have passions.  Serious students of various anomalies -- alien abductions, near death experiences, encounters with terrifying humanoids that are facilitated by ayahuasca, precognitive dreams, past-life regressions -- have included the late Harvard psychiatrist John Mack and the French astrophysicist/computer scientist Jacques Vallee.  They tie these phenomena all together in such a way that it becomes almost beside the point to ask whether they are "real."  All are windows onto other parts of a multiverse that even the most mainstream of physicists now take seriously.  Why they are being opened to us just now in a public way, as in the case of the impossible flying objects captured on radar over the last decade or so by the United States Navy, is a great mystery.

What frightens me the most about this new perspective, though, is that some say it reveals more clearly to us a Great Intelligence that is the Source of everything, and driving everything, but One that is entirely without compassion.  Let's hope that they are wrong in this.

Sunday, March 7, 2021


You May Not Be Protected!

There might be a scorpion in your shoe.  

The Blue Angels, executing a wide, sweeping turn.  The "slot man" may lose his concentration for a moment, and the whole thing will turn into an enormous fireball with your GPS coordinates marked in it.

Around the next bend in this path in the woods, a mother bear protecting her cubs.

The harsh mid-day sun shining on your nose triggers a cascade of cancer cells, sealing your fate.

Best to build your own coffin out of simple pine, crawl inside it, and use a little stick to prop up the lid for ventilation, until ventilation no longer is needed.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Monday, March 1, 2021


Richard Henry Dana at Point Loma

Some years ago, I found myself in San Diego on a business trip.   I had rendezvoused there with my old friend from law school Bob Deloria.  We took a memorable drive one early morning out to Point Loma.

Point Loma is a peninsula just north of San Diego that forms part of the barrier that protects the city's harbor, which must be counted among the greatest natural harbors in the world, from the sea.  As you drive down the peninsula, you also drive up the peninsula, for the road that takes you to its tip is a steady incline leading to a high bluff from which one can look back on the harbor, on the city itself, on the many US Navy installations of Greater San Diego, and on the Coronado Bridge and Coronado Island.

On the drive back towards the city, while still on the point, one passes on the sheltered side a place called simply "La Playa" -- the beach.

Well north of here, nearly equidistant between San Diego and Los Angeles, is the community of Dana Point.  It was named for Richard Henry Dana, a Boston-bred lawyer, abolitionist and politician of the mid-19th century who was appointed a US attorney for Massachusetts by Abraham Lincoln.  How did that point get to be named for the man from Boston?

While attending Harvard College in his teens, which, to put it in some historical context, was very close to the time of the peak of the Irish famine, Dana contracted an infection of the eye that threatened his sight altogether.  He was counseled that a sea voyage might cure his condition.  Rather than heading off to a grand tour of Europe on a passenger ship, as would have befit a young man with a lineage going back to the Mayflower, he signed on as an able-bodied seaman on the brig Pilgrim, which was bound for California for cured hides that would be turned into shoes in the infant factories of eastern Massachusetts.  As an ABS, Dana would be quartered in the brig's fo'c'sle, the head of the ship that took the greatest pounding in heavy weather.  Hence and in that capacity he spent "Two Years Before the Mast."

Before the transcontinental railroad, before the building of the Panama Canal, the voyage from Boston to California and back covered about 15,000 miles, more than half the circumference of the earth "as the crow flies."  All of it traversed, of course, with no visible means of propulsion other than fickle winds on tired canvas.

These were the days when California was still part of Mexico.  Pilgrim explored much of its long coastline.  In exposed places like Dana Point, the biggest danger came from winter storms that often hit with very little warning.  If the ship, moored on the immediate coast, could not make miles to windward before such a big storm hit, it would likely be dashed onto the lee shore.

But the eastern shore of Point Loma was protected, in relative terms.  On its heights, locals -- Mexicans -- could slaughter cows, cure their hides, squash them very flat, and fling them down onto La Playa like giant frisbees.  There on the beach, Dana and his shipmates would gather the hides, row them out to the brig, and stuff her, pardon the expression, "to the gills" with them.

Dana had come to hate his captain for his old-school cruelty.  In fact, that cruelty turned him into a life-long protector of the rights of the common seaman.  He managed to depart the ship before she was done in those waters, and to return, also before the mast, on another merchantman.  Dana's account of rounding Cape Horn on the return voyage is among the most memorable in the annals of the sea.  Again and again they nearly made the easting to a point at which they could turn north, towards warmer and less tumultuous waters, only to be driven back to their starting point by the gales.   

Herman Melville, a contemporary of Dana, said that he must have written his account of this rounding of the Horn "with an icicle."