Sunday, February 20, 2011

Being Steward of the Wood

A view of my land from Google Earth. Viewed at 1760 feet altitude. Judging by my tree color I'd say this is early spring. The bermuda grass is just starting to turn green. This is a little over ten acres. Up is straight North. This is a couple of years old as we have planted more trees in the last two years that are not visible here.

Obviously, to anyone familiar with this blog, I am a pupil and lover of nature. Earth’s diverse environment (I find the Gaia concept useful) is great because of its diversity. Still, you never know how things are going to play out. There could be draught, or flood, or tornado. The world might heat up and make it too warm for certain trees and shrubs and other plants, for insects and birds, changing a holistic habitat.

Last spring we had no bees of any kind on our farm. Little things get amplified when they are connected to the land as a sense of “place” similarly to that found in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. This coming spring I’m hopeful insect life will return to normal and will find honeybees in our prolific honeysuckle patch.

But, insects are diverse as well. And it is difficult to control their thriving nature. To do so is a kind of gardening in three dimensional space. Insects are weeds to the arborist. To garden a forest you must nurture it by weeding out diseased and troubled trees and branches. You don’t passively witness mistletoe. You attack it with selective branch trimming high the red oaks and the twin water oaks down by the mailbox.

Trimmed southern red oak.

I own 10 acres of land. When I bought this land in 1993 there were numerous short oaks, average pines, a half dozen large southern red oaks, and a plethora of dogwoods scattered all about. The trees were thicker and more numerous then. Overblown bushes really. 18 years pass. The trees are thinner and much taller now. Many healthy young oaks and maples, some fine tall pines, but most of the dogwoods are dead now. The woods change.

And I watch this change and I plant more trees and allow other trees to volunteer in places where, for whatever reason, we once piled dump trucks full of mulch. The average pines grow massive and tall. The oaks fan out to claim their part of the sky. The dogwoods disappear. I walk and read in these woods. I have beers with Jennifer and talk in the canopy of these woods. I feel part of that, that expanse of time on the 10 acres of land.

Most of my property is now a wood. It would be too arrogant to call about 7 acres of land a forest. It is a small preserve of trees. A “wood” (“two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”) seems more appropriate to me. Jennifer and I own these trees and care for them by cutting back pervasive wisteria and trimming and burning numerous piles of small trees and privet, mostly many years ago before my back went out.

I am a steward of this wood. One extravagance in the way Jennifer and I choose to live our lives is we allow ourselves to employ the services of a true tree surgeon. It saves my back a lot of problem and keeps the woods maintained as well. We’re lucky he is a native born to this county, like me but more redneck. Intelligent though, at least about what’s happening with our trees. Jennifer and I scout for signs of trouble and then call him in for an interpretation, and usually several hundred dollars worth of work. Good family, decent, honest and hard working for a fair price. Basically, a father and sons type operation.

Growing up as a remote teen (except for church, school and girlfriends) I was walking isolated fields that are now quarter-acre lots of houses; open fields with briars and tall sage in the fall. My dogs would walk with me. My dogs that didn’t live long for various reasons but they are all great field companions. But, I have always felt the need to be near the woods and listen to what they can teach me.

Through the years we have had all sorts of trees require either cutting or trimming, often hauled off our property because of the pine beetle infestation or some fungus in the oaks. Our tree surgeon has been cutting trees on our property for about a dozen years or so now. He takes the diseased trees and massive, decaying branches away and we try to protect the remaining ones as best we can.

One of the basic faults I personally find with mainstream Christianity is the idea that God gave Man “dominion” over the things of the Earth. Genesis 1:28-31, like every other word of the Bible, is interpreted many ways. In some versions God instructs that Man “conquer” the Earth, in others it is more mildly put as “subdue it”. But, the next verse tells Man to “rule” the fishes and birds and animals of the land. No matter how you slice it, whatever the original words are here (I admit I don’t know what the root Hebrew words are) they must be seen as enslaving the Earth. (Curiously enough, the Koran states that Allah “hath appointed the earth as a resting-place for you”, Surah II, 22.)

If this was an entrusting quality on the part of God toward humanity, if God meant to tell Man to take good care of the Earth and protect it, then it is not mentioned in the Bible. The Bible is about a humanity that dominates its environment. This is not stewardship and, unfortunately, my Christian friends who would acknowledge stewardship don’t realize there is no Biblical precedent for stewardship of Creation. Man is given a specifically dominant role in Genesis. This is clear.

I think Genesis is wrong on this point. A God giving Man dominion over the Earth is an insane god, not understanding His own creation at all. Man will destroy the Earth without intending to do so. I proclaim stewardship to be superior to “subduing” the Earth. Stewardship gives precedence to the Earth before Man, clearly not the way Genesis has it. Stewardship implies a respect for the land and for nature that domination simply doesn’t ever consider.

I tend a 7 acre wood. That is my cosmic contribution in terms of the environment. Whether this is a worthy endeavor, or even the highest, I do not know. It comes naturally for Jennifer and me. It is who we are. The trees deserve our respect and we often walk among them talking of individual trees. We don’t name our trees. Much. We do call the two water oaks by the mailbox the “Twin Oaks”. A relationship of specific trees in specific space through decades of specific time.

Even though we have no ponds on our property I observe the nearby ones. All around our land the pasture ponds are rising, filling up. They are not at capacity yet but I’d say they are at least 80% full. This has all happened here over the past week. They were still noticeably low until recently. The funny thing is we haven’t had rain here in that time. In fact, we have had unseasonably mild, low humidity days with lots of sunshine. It was 70 degrees here yesterday. In February. It rained almost two-weeks ago and we had a one-inch snow the week before that with some drizzly rain in it. Otherwise it has been dry here.

But, when we got our last lite rain here it meanwhile rained very heavily about 30 miles south of our land. Over the course of the last two weeks the excess water from that heavy rain has flowed through the many underground rivers of Earth and is raising our water table. The ponds rise like boats in a harbor with the tide. Thanks to the heavy rain 30 miles away, two weeks later we are enjoying a deep rise of ground moisture. Nourishing all roots. Connecting vast stretches of land in ways few people ever consider.

We all should be reminded of that lost connection, or at least that subdued connection. They’ve found strangely fused debris from last year’s Gulf Oil Spill off the Georgia coast. Fragments of the spill are in the Atlantic now (see the Georgia Outdoors episode "Dark Waters Ahead" for what has been found). Things are so connected over such great distances. It is like the stars. Their very existence makes our place in the universe so small. Even the great workings of Gaia show humanity who’s still in charge, despite the impact of our pollution.

If I compare our human needs and desires with that of the holistic Earth, the complex web of endless systems of life and Being, I cannot place myself above it. To do so is human arrogance. Perhaps this is our natural tendency, perhaps a God-given right. But, I choose to oppose such a tendency in us. I and my kind are but a tiny part of Gaia. If we upset the imbalance out of Gaia’s favor we give ourselves too much weight in the natural scheme of things. That is why I fundamentally think humanity must never elevate Man over Earth and, further, Man must take good care of Earth, know Earth’s ways, and Be with that special knowledge as Man’s guide.

My great-grandmother's flowers on the bank of our land.

My great- grandmother decorated the rock wall surrounding her house with hundreds of daffodils which used to stand across the road from us when we first built our house. Her house had been semi-abandoned for years. A place of storage mostly. I once stored most everything I owned there. But the daffodils died through the years, more so in the last decade or so.

Across the road from her house, in the ditch of the road, was where she would burn her trash. That’s the way we did it when I was a kid. All kinds of things got thrown into the burn pile, weeds and old plants among them. Through the years my grandmother’s daffodils migrated into a small spot on the bank of what is now our property under where the Twin Oaks stand. Each February they are the first sight of spring and they were beginning to bloom yesterday.

Today I sat on the bench in the wood in the afternoon. It was overcast and breezy but warm. Jennifer and I watched dozens, maybe hundreds, of geese flying directly over our woods, over my bench on two different levels, which is a rare sight. One level was maybe 500 feet up. The other maybe half that. The two groupings circled, one underneath the other, and croaked out to one another not in unison but certainly choir-like. It was a highlight to behold, a special moment of Now.

“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery. The surface of mystery is not smooth, any more than the planet is smooth; not even a single hydrogen atom is smooth, let alone a pine. Nor does it fit together; not even the chlorophyll and hemoglobin molecules are a perfect match, for, even after the atom of iron replaces the magnesium, long streamers of desperate atoms trail disjointedly from the rims of the molecules’ loops. Freedom cuts both ways. Mystery itself is as fringed and intricate as the shape of the air in time. Forays into mystery cut bays and fiords, but the forested mainland itself is implacable both in its bulk and in its most filigreed fringe of detail.”
Annie Dillard

Jennifer's crocuses started blooming. Photos of them by my daughter.

Just for fun. My land compared to Turner Field, same altitude on Google Earth...same orientation, same scale.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Poetry of Tahrir Square

In the mere span of 18 days one of the most entrenched dictatorships in the Islamic world fell to what was essentially the power of peaceful protest. Though more than 300 people died mostly in the early days of the revolt, those were almost entirely due to police actions. The military did not attempt to put down the protest by force. Thus, the military established some semblance of good will in the eyes of the Egyptian people and is now in charge of the transition to democracy. The fact this happened at all is remarkable, but the fact it happened in the traditionally violent Middle East is truly amazing.

Mark Shields summed it up nicely on Friday evening’s PBS News Hour: “Joyful, ecstatic. It's bottom-up. This wasn't orchestrated from the top, no artillery, no carpet bombing, no IEDs, unlike Iraq, no body-counts, just a remarkable, remarkable, historic achievement. And I think that it puts a brand-new face for those outside of the Middle East on Islam. I mean, this is -- al-Qaida hates what happened, is happening right now in Egypt. I mean, this is an achievement of such signal proportion, you can't -- look, this is a, what, 90 percent Islamic nation. And you look at Muslim faith, and you look at that right now, and you say, wait a minute, how different can they be? They crave democracy, self-determination. Secular, better for their future. I mean, just a remarkable, remarkable moment, and encouraging.”

Protests by workers, in fact, continue in Egypt today. Some residual activists remain in Tahrir Square, though the massive throngs are gone and the military is trying to restore things to normalcy. Hopefully, that will happen and elections can take place without further violence. But, there is every reason for caution here. Hosni Mubarak was the focal point of the dissent, but that is no guarantee that the military will continue to restrain itself if the activists don't allow time for reforms to move forward.

The future is anything but certain, of course. But, that should not diminish the poetic moment of Tahrir Square is that there was no singular organized movement. There was no opposition figurehead. There were no political parties, nor specific political agendas beyond the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. This was democracy is its most pristine form, without a flashy, plastic electoral process. It was a spontaneous wellspring of participation, inspired in part by the recent experience in Tunisia, but chiefly motivated by decades of corruption and economic stagnation.

This is perhaps the dawn of the Egyptian equivalence to America’s 1960’s Youth Movement. The Islamic world, particularly in Arab countries, is predominantly young. What we are witnessing is a revolution by a generation very comfortable with social networking technology feeding on the frustrations of their parents as well as themselves. Yet, the comparisons with the 1960’s should not go too far. I am unsure as to whether there is a precise equivalent to the fall of Hosni Mubarak during my lifetime. I expected far more violence and I was happily surprised by the depth and commitment to peace and maintaining order by all factions (except for Mubarak’s police forces, of course).

As beautiful as it is to witness the pure democratic display of power in the face of potentially far more deadly forces inside Egypt, who boasts one of the largest armies in the world, there is a flip-side to all this. Because there were no opposition parties, no specific leaders of the political uprising, no clear venue for the protesters to organize themselves, it will now be all the more difficult to move from political ideals to political policy.

The Islamic Brotherhood is one of the more organized members of the former opposition movement. Subdued and outlawed under Mubarak’s rule, they now can potentially emerge as the primary force to be reckoned with. Hopefully, this will not be the case. The last thing Egypt needs is to polarizing effects of radical Islam.

But, there is reason for hope here. Egypt is not Iraq or Afghanistan. It is a much more sophisticated culture, indeed the very cradle of western civilization after Babylonia and Sumer. Here are the great pyramids, massive architectural achievements of their age. In Egypt was the world’s first great library, a place of learning and discussion and ideas. The first great western empire before being eclipsed by Greece and Rome.

Egypt, as a state of mind, has a rich past to draw upon and a vibrant diversity in its populous. That diversity means the democracy will likely be messy but, it also means that it is unlikely to be ruled by extremists at least to begin with. Instead, the most likely path is that Egypt will find a coalition of non-radicals. There is every reason to hope that more moderate voices will be heard in the coming days out of Egypt and that there is middle ground from which to rule because the protest never escalated to full-blown violent revolution. Peace allows for moderation in a way that violence never does.

As for the rest of the Arab-Islamic world, other countries seem to be caught up in this uprising brought about predominantly by young, mostly non-radical, Muslims. What has happened in Tunisia and Egypt is now a possibility in Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain, and other countries. It is difficult to define the cause of this political and cultural upheaval in precise terms. The best word I can use for it is karma. This is the karma of the Islamic world moving forward in a completely unorchestrated, grass roots inspiration. It is fascinating to behold and shows the power of popular frustration in an era of social networking.

This is anti-Tiananmen Square. But, of course, this isn’t China. There is no worship of society as a whole the way the Chinese worldview expresses itself so steeped in the tenets of Confucianism. Conformity to social norms is part of the Chinese cultural DNA which makes things like individual expression much more frowned upon than in the Islamic world. Still, it could have turned out far more bloody than it did.

The Egyptian military could have cracked down on the protesters. My guess is that they didn’t because the Egyptian military doesn’t want to upset the delicate alliance with the United States and jeopardize the continued flow of $1.3 billion in US military aid to that country annually. Perhaps in this regard, the United States influenced events by simply acting as a governor on military leaders anxious not to squash the protesters, show a lot of bloodshed and violence, and risk the tether of assistance from their greatest financial ally.

When you find a society in the Middle East that chooses to minimize violence, that chooses peaceful protest over brutal confrontation, that chooses spontaneity over repression, collective awareness over car bombings and beheadings, then you have suddenly opened up all sorts of possibilities for the future of the region. What happened in Egypt is almost miraculous. It will take a miracle to guide the entire region through the troubled times ahead. Let Egypt lead through these times. Let Egypt reclaim its former guiding light to civilization.

To all the many people I spoke with over the past few weeks that have proclaimed that "Iran is behind all this" I would just like to say you couldn’t be more wrong. The peace proves the lack of Iranian or any extremist involvement. Iranians are Persians. Egyptians are Arabs. This is not the historic basis for cooperation and it only proves how shallowly the sheltered citizens of America can be with their tendency to reduce the world to black and white caricatures of reality. Human expression is always more complicated, always defies simplification.

The Egyptian transition, ironically, might just turn out to be the thing most feared by the tyrannical regime in Iran. Tehran seems to have its place in the Islamic Karma hit parade. You recall the violence there after the last Iranian con-job of elections. I’m not sure the Iranian regime will come out so well the next time elections are held. Of course, Iran is a society ruled by religious clerics whereas Egypt is much more sophisticated and modern. Nevertheless, if a dictator can peacefully fall anywhere in the Middle East there is hope for the toppling of any and every governing institution in the region.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the fall of Iran began in Egypt? And the transformation of the Muslim world became the death knell to al Qaeda? The last place any of us looked for answers to the problem was among the peoples where the problem supposedly manifest itself. Sure, Egypt is not Iran nor is it Pakistan nor Saudi Arabia. So, I don’t want to overly simplify things. But, if transformational democracy is possible in Egypt who’s to say what the next gravity-defying feat of the Middle East might be?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ron Paul's Newsworthy Plurality

As I have posted before, I like Ron Paul. I find him the most interesting politican in America. Far more fascinating than Palin, Romney, or Obama. There is no one else quite like him. He spoke a couple of days ago at a conservative activitist gathering in Washington, DC. It wasn't his best speech but what he said seemed highly relevant and honest to me.

He throws the word “liberal” around in an evil manner. But, he is quick to criticize Republicans and “conservative” ideals as well. “The liberals want to talk about how to regulate your economic activity and how you spend your money and the others want to regulate your personal lifestyle but government should not be regulating us. We should adopt one other principle for that to work. We should all swear off the use of violence against our neighbors, our friends, and other countries.”

Ron Paul won the 2011 CPAC Straw Poll yesterday, the day I first put out my post-Christmas Season flag. He won 30% of the vote of a group of conservative activities. This means that, likely, this right-wing section of the Republican party is significantly Libertarian. But, being a libertarian Republican is about as strange as being a libertarian Democrat.

Who knows how many libertarian Democrats there are, maybe 25% at most. Who knows? There is no Ron Paul in the Democratic party, no libertarian figurehead that I know about. But, libertarians are there. I have voted democrat most of my life. My dad and grandfather were both union members. So, liberal thinking is strangely part of my conservative family.

Nevertheless, Libertarianism is alive and well. Ron Paul supports ending the Federal Reserve system, Gay Rights, legalized marijuana, attacking the ‘Military Industrial Complex’, peaceful and open expression of political ideas, opposes the Economic Stimulus, and government intrusion of any kind into the private lives of Americans as long as they aren’t harming someone else.

I agree with him on most issues, though I differ in areas of foreign policy, abortion, and how to take care of the environment. His personal sense of liberty, however, is a tremendous source of support for him in my mind. He is the refreshing anti-politician of our times.

You might not want to listen to the whole link but there snippets are from throughout. A most unusual anti-politician won the CPAC straw poll….

The Patriot Act we know has nothing to do with Patriotism. They always name it opposite of what it is. The Patriot Act is literally the destruction of the Fourth Amendment.”

“Foreign aid as taking money from the poor people of a rich country and giving it to the rich people of a poor country.”

“It makes no sense for us to think that we can keep troops in 135 countries, 900 bases, and think we can do it forever. It’s time for us to bring troops home. We’ve had troops in Japan since World War Two and in Germany. Why are they there? Why are we paying for their defense?"

“We’re going to continue to bailout and continue to spend the money. I’m sure half the people in this room won’t cut one penny on the military. And the military is not equated to defense. Defense spending is one thing. Military spending is what Eisenhower called ‘the Military Industrial Complex’. We have to go after that.”

“Government, as I’m sure you all would agree, is out of control. It is very hard for us to get a handle on it. So, let’s say theoretically a miracle happened and we balanced the budget where we are today. It would still be a disaster because we are spending too much money.”

“The Federal Reserve creates money out of thin air. They can loan to banks, central banks of the world, other governments, and international financial institutions and we’re not even allowed to know. They resent the fact that when I ask these questions that they don’t have to give us information. That is why the bill to audit the Fed is the first step to ending the Federal Reserve.”

“I believe that we’ve had way too much bipartisanship for about 60 years. It’s the bipartisanship of the welfare system, the warfare system, the monetary system , the challenge to our civil liberties, it all goes through with support from both parties. This should be a challenge of the issue of philosophy. Good philosophy versus bad philosophy.'

“Force doesn’t work. It never works. The best way to get people to be more like us, if we’re doing a good job, is for us to have a sound economy, a sound dollar, treat people decently, have a foreign policy that makes common sense, and then maybe people would want to immulate us. But we can’t force it on other people.”

“The purpose of all political activity from my viewpoint is to promote liberty. Liberty is the most important element. Liberty comes from our Creator. It doesn’t come from our government. If we have a free society we can go about our business, do our very best, work toward virtuous things, and work toward excellence. When government takes over the role of making us virtuous and making us excellent and redistributing our wealth they only do it at the expense of liberty. Government should never be able to do anything you can’t do.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Stars and Bars

The First National off my front porch this afternoon. Fresh out of its plastic package.

In December, Jennifer gave me a Confederate Flag as part of my Christmas presents. She loves giving people lots of little gifts. It is more fun for her than big gifts. This was a real treat, I have to admit. A First National Flag. So festive and hopeful, before all the battles and defeats and deaths.

It was February 1861,
in Montgomery, when the Confederate States of America officially formed. But, when Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the first President of the new government, there were no flags flying over the ceremony. A photo of the moment is strangely void of flags of any kind. The sketch in the Montgomery link of a parade of what appears to be a southern regiment clearly shows but few flags. The Stars and Strips is, in fact, quite prominent. Secession was so fresh that the US military flag still served the newformed regiment.

First National Flag was adopted later, in March 1861, and was obviously inspired by the United States flag. Since the convention of secession was held in February I try to put out a Confederate Flag each year during this month. To commemorate many things, I guess. Arrogance, chivalry, honor, and pride, a belief in the original spirit of the American Revolution. It was a different world and these things were still prized.

This year it seemed proper to place my Christmas present flag, creases and all, out into the late winter sunshine. In honor of the original convention of the Antebellum South's most outrageous suggestion that it could be independent. It felt warm today, bright and sunny and temperatures in the mid-50's. There was a nice breeze, a bit brisk at times.

Some might think it racially prejudiced of me to fly these flags. The Stars and Bars is certainly not the same thing as the Confederate Battle Flag but, of course, that is a rather lost distinction these days. It is prejudiced by association, I suppose. But the funny thing is is that these people who might think me racially prejudiced with my flashy symbolism are of themselves only expressing a prejudice against me. I am no racist, though I harbor many cultural prejudices, as do we all.

My g-g-great-grandfather who fought for the Old South could not read nor write was probably a bigot and completely racist. Am I, too, guilty by association? Is there no space for celebration of the Confederacy left without racism? There is no place for his bravery, his humanity trapped within the large political and cultural forces of the day, to be recognized in the freedom of flying flags? Perhaps not for most but there is in me.

So the irony is the prejudiced ones are the ones dictating what this flag can mean. Of course, we can't speak of it from this perspective. It is a trashy, unenlightened perspective. Race overides every other possible way of looking at my ancestor. That is the prevailing prejudice, the essential theft of southern symbolism by right-wing extremists and left-wing interpretations of southern sins.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Wish Upon A Star

The recent announcement that, Betelgeuse, one of the ten brightest stars in the sky, might become a supernova in 2012 created a lot of internet buzz. The sensational, tabloid version of the story indicated that Betelgeuse would become a “second sun”, erasing the difference between night and day on Earth, leading to all manner of disruptions and possible apocalyptic doom.

Fortunately, this is not the case. While the fact that the red giant star is losing its mass does mean that it will eventually go supernova, exactly when this event will occur could be anytime in the next million years. Still a blink of the eye in galactic terms, but hardly something to concern you and me, temporary fixtures as we are here.

Even if Betelgeuse does go supernova next year, it is unlikely to become a “second sun”. Not that the event wouldn’t be noticeable to the human eye. It would. But the luminosity of the explosion would be something on the order of the brightness of a crescent moon rather than a second sun.

The effect should last for several months when it finally occurs.

Still, a supernova in our galactic neighborhood, so to speak, is interesting food for thought. Astronomers find dozens of supernova in the skies every year but we have never seen one as close as Betelgeuse (a mere 640 light-years away or so). The sudden brightness would obviously be pronounced even if it resembled a crescent moon.

So, I found myself wondering as I have gone out into the clear winter night sky a couple of times recently what the effect of such an occurrence might have upon humanity, who, as a majority, live under the mistaken assumption that the stars are rather fixed and unchanging.

Doubtlessly, it would cause many to marvel and heighten awareness of our tiny place in cosmic space. Many more would interpret it as some sort of “sign” for good or ill. Perhaps, mostly for ill. Certainly, many simpleton fundamentalists would see this as a proclamation from their God. Perhaps, the equivalent of Gabriel blowing his trumpet.

I could see places of worship more crowded with people looking for answers. The night is the place for darkness after all except for the silvery shadows of perhaps a full moon; not the nightly flickering of a suddenly brightened star. This has some precedence. Humanity has probably witnessed supernovae in the past and those likely inspired various religious explanations.

Personally, I would like to entertain the naive hope that such an event might bring the world together a bit more. Our differences as a species are great but that is also a matter of perspective. What makes humanity so contentious is not as awe-inspiring as the vast powers of exploding stars.

We should all appreciate the wonders of the night sky. I can think of nothing that is more unifying than the sun that shines on us all, the air we all breathe, and the stars that shine on every human being every night. We are not so different, we stargazers and sun worshippers. Our differences arise from instinctual, competitive behavior; probably learned traits from our days of surviving as tribes.

From space there are no tribes. There is only what Carl Sagan so aptly termed our “pale blue dot”. Everything we are, everything we can hope to Be, is confined to this tiny bit of blue, watery dust in the cosmos. If we could see how small this place is that we call Earth, perhaps we could see how much greater our dependence upon our own human diversity is compared with the magnitude of our differences which we so readily and unquestioningly assume.

We appear to ourselves as clustering tribes of seething otherness without ever considering the fact that it is by the very abundance of our diversity that we have ever survived as a species at all. So, we have much to learn. And something like a nearby supernova might just be the ticket to point this out.

Unfortunately, we can’t all go out into space and view our pale blue dot from vast distances. I’m sure such an experience would have a profound effect on our Being. But, perhaps, Betelgeuse going supernova might be just as instructive. Perhaps, if the night sky suddenly became lit with a great shimmering glow for a period of many months it might awake more curiosity and respect than fear and dread in us. Perhaps we have evolved to the point where a sudden galactic light might shine deeper in us than any political, social, or religious movement; and bring unity where before there was nothing more than a clambering sea of competitive diversity.

It is wishful thinking, of course. My faith in humanity as a whole is, in fact, rather tainted and limited. But, Betelgeuse just might change all that in a way Carl Sagan could not.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Table for 11 in 2011

The Dillos gathered at Mark and Eileen’s home in Atlanta this past Saturday evening for what has become an annual tradition, First Feast. First Feast kicked off the Dillo collective calendar of events for 2011. (Swan Cabin, for example, is our summer gathering.)

The Feast’s theme this year was Spanish. Kinda vague really; the best Jennifer and I could manage was Portuguese music and some kind of tangy, leafy salad with oranges prominently featured and all the onions that were supposed to go in it forgotten in the refrigerator.

Three of the plentiful assortment of hors d'œuvres inspired special attention for me. Clint brought these deviled eggs that are probably banned in a dozen states. The special deviling of the egg is laced with Sockeye salmon. They were incredible, just made to put fully in your mouth (that is, hammered not nibbled), and I enjoyed many of these with a couple of Fat Tire beers poured into a frosty mug so generously provided by Mark.

Another was part of Diane’s commitment to authenticity within the Spanish theme. Real Spanish olives with anchovies and Italian (her compromise) peppers. The peppers infused the anchovy and took the dry edge out of it. They tamed the anchovy wonderfully. The olives were delightfully mild, superb pallet cleansers, and they were a much brighter green than any I had seen before. Later, Will arrived and offered us some incredible Ceviche. That went nicely with my last Fat Tire for the evening.

All the abundant food preparations (and presentations) were awesome as usual, the banter and laughs were even better. During hors d'œuvres I had numerous and widely varied conversations. For a long time Eileen and I chatted about classical music. Spanish music played in various forms throughout the night on the stereo.

Clint mentioned to me how the more urbane and sophisticated Dillo gatherings reminded him of some of the much larger parties so richly detailed in seemingly countless places throughout the course of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I’m so thankful some brave Dillo besides myself finally read this peerless novel.

Of course, Clint with his expansive mind could see things in Proust that seemed fresh to me. I agreed that Dillo parties sometimes seem bigger than they really are in certain respects. Not less intimate at all, mind you. The intimacy comes from an openness that we more or less acknowledge as a group. No matter how many people come or might have come, the number doesn’t fill the space of our collective freedom as a community of friends.

Diane had hip surgery four weeks ago and seems to be recovering nicely but for occasional pains. She was warm and funny as usual. Jean and I reminisced about her wedding day, which I attended, almost 30 years ago. She wore flip-flops and had flowers in her hair that day as I recall.

Jeffery drove down with Jennifer and me. Business has picked up noticeably for him. He’s putting in long hours at work and doing well work wise. He brought along a quart of the best moonshine I’ve ever tasted. I limited myself to two hearty shots. Very nice stuff. Others drank more.

Will brought another interesting girl to the party. Denise seemed very comfortable among us strangers. She was bold, intelligent, and very genuine. Will has decorated our affairs through the years with a variety of female presences. That’s always a fun part of the evening for me.

Brian shared the incredibly fascinating fact with me that the placenta in human beings is a biological result of a virus we resisted millions of years ago. I had never heard this piece of evolutionary biology before and I asked him several questions. He was animated with his responses and I awoke to the fact such things as virus’ have shaped human biology as fundamentally as love and fear and desire. I googled a couple of sites since then and confirmed the findings. It has even been in the news recently.
Clint listened to all of this with me and opined that space and time are really just “the womb” of consciousness.

How fortunate I am to know and enjoy such fun and interesting people.

When it came time for the main course we gathered around the large dining table. I toasted to being a free spirit and being among free spirits. Clint complimented this with a toast to the freedom we all enjoy with each other. There were other toasts later, at different times, I don’t recall them all but Eileen had to clang her dessert fork gently on her lifted wine glass and rise slowly from her seat on a couple other occasions to announce a brief pause in the merriment for new toasts, quieting three or four loud conversations going on simultaneously around the table. There were 11 of us and group-talk came and went, interrupted by frequent periods of random eclectic musings in odd assorted groupings of us.

We feasted on salt-baked snapper with a tangy sauce. A wonderful paella, a yummy cactus salad (first for me), and the orange salad we brought. As mentioned above, our salad was served without the sliced red onions that we brought from home. I didn’t know about the onions (which Jennifer apparently sliced after we arrived) and Jennifer forgot them. Instead they resided in a moist towel in Eileen’s refrigerator until their aroma almost overwhelmed the interior of the appliance. Eileen found them much later in the evening and they were discarded for compost I think. The towel was a hopeless case and we left it behind. We didn’t want to breathe red onions the whole drive home.

God help us if Mark and Eileen ever decide on a color for their dining room. It might be a sign of the end times. One of the cool things about being a Dillo is that your hosts realize they can be totally honest with all of us. We were presented with maybe 20 painted “swatches” all over one dining room wall on a medium grey primer. Hey, no need to really get the room painted for guests. In fact, let’s make the whole damn thing into a color exhibition.

The range was a light green through many variations of blue before transforming into yellows and some brownish thing Mark labeled something I forget for the adjoining sitting room. Disagreements and passionate discussion abounded. I don’t think any of us agreed on much of anything about colors but we were satiated and happy with the dining experience all the same. I might venture to suggest that our hosts seemed a bit non-plussed by the lack of consensus. Oh well, they can always re-prime the wall and try new, unexplored sections of the color palette next year. What's the hurry?

All through the meal various wines were being passed around, accompanied by endless bottles of Cava, and Amontillado. Round and round it went with the conversation and eating and laughter, each round splintering us into changing tribes of chat, louder and more outrageous. Funny, as I sipped my sparkling water.

I was the designated driver. So, while Jennifer proceeded to be Jennifer at this sort of affair and got completely wasted, I was sobering up from an earlier buzz. In Jennifer’s “party-mind” she is still 25 but the rest of her eventually disagrees. I enjoyed about three beers early and then drifted along on fine sparkling water for the remains of the evening (well, except for two great shots of moonshine) until a few cups of black coffee made their way to me during a wonderful tart dessert about 10pm. The tart was of apricots and pears with almonds throughout. All that sweet, fruity, slight crunchiness went well with straight black coffee. The sugar-caffeine combo made me anything but drunk.

We hung out for a couple of hours afterwards. One of the discussions I recall was among several of us about how symmetrical bodies were naturally more attractive and whether that sort of thing played a more important role than pheromones in human interaction. The ideas flowed fast and the jokes played on them at any given time by any of us kept things lively. Being sober in such a stimulating situation is fun but, of course, it's way better with some kind of buzz. All Dillos agree on this.

So, we’re off to another year of punctuated, quasi-pagan gatherings together. The next big event will be another trip to the place that started it all – Cumberland Island in March. There was plenty of organizing and coordinating discussion going on about that during the evening as well. Who will drive with whom? Who will take what? Jennifer threatens to go down there with nothing but a couple of bottles of Crown Royal and barter for everything else she needs. Everybody usually over-packs anyway. It is a joke, of course, but, theoretically speaking, I bet she could get away with it and be just fine.