Thursday, September 30, 2010

i could write a novel, based on the time i spend here, just telling you the mundane facts of my everyday life. but if my life is mundane, my imagination would similarly get bogged down in whatever territory my novel would shoot me off into; that is my pattern. you set up this imaginary world, and then the choices are very much like the real ones, only they have no consequences. you can literally invent any character and let him walk in, walk out, walk all over your story and the enormity of your choice, and the total lack of control, is overwhelming word after word. i can't do it, unless i have a plan. and i've yet to come up with a decent plan.

but it will still happen, i promise, and that's why i keep writing here: to stay in training. my life is full of the everyday, usual kind of stuff: in one class, it's yard art and car decoration; in the other, it's the suddenly homeless, and a trippy movie about detroit's ghetto. i sometimes use this stuff for ideas for my haiku, but in general, i just grade huge stacks of papers, and try to keep up with other miscellaneous duties at work. for example, a round of grammar tests comes & goes: i try to make students in our program know some grammar. easier said than done.

the back tire on my bicycle is just slightly flat, which makes all my uphill pedaling just a bit more strenuous in the morning; it's the kind of situation where i should just go to a gas station, pay seventy five cents for a blast of air, and use it the absolute minimum; the pump, here at the house, is so totally lame that you lose air when you try to use it. at the gas station it's a dare & a risk; you could blow the whole thing, if you leave that pump on even a hair more than a split second. but it's also ironic, to pay seventy five cents for an infinitesimal moment of pump. maybe the secret is to slip in behind someone and grab an infinitesimal piece of their seventy five cents.

in the mornings, the sun comes up over the neighborhood houses; i make a strong cup of bitter seattle's best, and i sometimes sit, here at the computer, reading the news, which is comforting in a way. the indians are not in last place, and the teams that are still in the race are interesting and slightly different. minnesota, texas, san francisco - an interesting mix. that, and the hurricanes, battering the east coast, that's my breakfast fare. i could read about lindsey lohan or the china-japan tensions, but, it's good to keep it light. slowly i try to focus on another busy day.

tomorrow, a day-long retreat at work. i've lost my voice, so i'll be of little use to them. also i have a stack of papers so thick, it would take all day to grade, even if they gave me all day to grade. with every hour they steal from my grading, my resentment at lost weekend will build up. finally when we are released, late in the afternoon, i'll bring most of my stack home with me. a grim weekend. meanwhile, the weather is stunning. with the turn of october, a color change in the leaves; the sky is deep blue and clear, dry, sunny; the nights a little cool. as i pedal to work kids run for their school buses, and the dry grass cracks under their feet. some wait sullenly at the corner. the bus drivers are sometimes cavalier on the small town streets as if they own the place, but the cab drivers are the same way and one way or another, the squirrels have to look out for them all. me and my flat tire aren't going to run over any of them, though, especially not tomorrow, as tomorrow, i head out to the country, take a deep breath, and rest my voice.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

a beautiful late september saturday so of course everyone's got to go outside; we started with two soccer games and both boys played respectably as far as i could tell though the games weren't outstanding as they were the week before. i'd like a big long fat cup of coffee on a saturday, and then another one when that's over, but it wasn't to be on this day as i came home, made another one but got caught up in something and lost track of it; lost track of maybe two or three in the course of the day. but that was because, when i had the chance, i came to this mini-computer and started googling the mound builders and mound 72.

turns out the whole american bottom is full of mounds; they even called st. louis "the mound city" because the whole area was full of them; the present-day cahokia site only encompasses a fraction of the known ones, and those known ones are only a fraction of the total. i started reading all kinds of stuff about these people every time i got to sit down, though later in the day i ended up almost entirely, every minute, with the five-year-old, all the late afternoon, dinner, into the evening, we went for a walk, and then i put him to bed. now for more of the mound people.

it also turns out they had quite an empire, as many people have pointed out. there is all this huge debate about why it went down, about 1200 or 1300, and it's known there was an earthquake around then that might have destabilized their mounds a bit; another time the mounds were destabilized was when the city depleted the water tables about 50 years ago. they were made with intense and well-planned vision, so that waters would keep the mud packed and the walls true, but that's another story; another reason the city might have declined, was simply that the arrival of the buffalo and other kinds of food made moving off into more egalitarian and less dense areas more attractive. this was a place that had a strict social structure; it killed people; rulers collected taxes and ruled its area with an iron fist. but yet at around 1000 it had an explosion; it became huge; it attracted people; it was in its heyday. now i've said that its 20,000 made it the largest city in north america for hundreds of years; it was the largest until philadelphia was to replace it in the mid 1700's. but at 20,000, in the year 1000, it was also bigger than london, and that was an accomplishment, since it stayed that way for a few hundred years. it clearly had a high point, a very charismatic leader.

so they were looking at these mounds one day and they noticed that one was at a 30 degree angle to the others, and that rung a bell with one archaeologist, because he knew enough about astronomy to know that in the saint louis area, the equinoxes came in at 30 degree angles, so these astronomers were placing their mounds according to their astronomic knowledge. and eventually the archeologists came to realize that all the so called "bathtub" structures they kept finding were places that they put the posts to make so-called "woodhenges"...these woodhenges were solar calendars, made entirely of telephone pole-type wood...and told the time exactly as according to the sun's regular behavior at the equinox and other times. it took them a while, because everything being made of wood and mud the way it was, everything was gone, by the time europeans or those who write about such stuff showed up. but then they opened up this mound 72, and the bodies they found in there kind of rocked the world of archaeology, you could say.

there were over 200 of them, but there were about 50 young women, and it was pretty clear that they had been sacrificed, and dna testing later showed they were unrelated to the rest. there was one clear leader, a man of about 40, resting on a bed of shells brought up from the sea, and laid out in the design of a thunderbird bird-man type of arrangement. there were four men with their hands and feet cut off, and there was a variety of other people in there, some of whom had been thrown in, it seems, not as part of a sacrifice, perhaps not even willingly.

now you'd think that such finds as this would set off a digging frenzy that would uncover most if not all of the other 150 or so mounds that dot the landscape, or at least the ones we know of. but, too late. the city of st. louis and the city of east st. louis, and collinsville, bellville and the rest, had already taken care of that more or less. there's been a steady string of development, development so bad that, in the 40's, some guy in a tract house dug his swimming pool right into the main plaza of the main mound. such things were happening all the time. archaeologists were criticizing previous archaeolgists for digging recklessly, not keeping track of what they found; they had feuds with each other; everyone criticized illinois for not caring enough, or for not preserving enough of it, or for building at least three interstates right up against it.

there are some other stories that stick out: those three interstates, 255, 55, and 70, all come together in a tangle of bridges and roads and the land is so low there that there are lots of rivers and bridges, and i often call it (as we drive through, on our way to the airport or peoria) "the bridges of madison county," although it's gritty, and the highway signs always point to toxic waste dumps like times beach and pntoon beach that are notorious to say the least. that intersection, though, was the center of it all, and one time an archaeologist actually saw a guy pushing a bulldozer into a stone figure that turned out to be half woman-half serpent, one of the major finds of all excavation. they apparently had a dualistic religion, you had the man-bird on god's side, on the side of light and good and order, and then there was this serpent character, that was more aligned with chaos, and the earth, and all the weeds that grew in it.

one article, it could have been the one that called the young women "the virgins of the mississippi," said that all this guessing about their religion and why it rose and fell is missing some crucial points. we always assume that we have become more developed over time, more organized, more hierarchical, more complex, etc. and we tend to romanticize native americans as non-violent, egalitarian, etc. when in fact they had organized religion, hierarchy, tax collection, lots of complex and developed stuff, and for a long time too. when desoto came up into the americas in about 1500, what was left of the mississippian culture turned him back, unlike what happened to the spanish in mexico or the south, where the spanish were able to move in and take over. here, the main palace of cahokia and the mounds that encompassed its suburbs were already overgrown with weeds, to the point that when lasalle and his buddies came down the river, they couldn't even recognize it as a city; they did, however, notice that piasa bird up by alton, and i'm still wondering how that ties in. but the point all these writers make is that so much is lost: what did they call themselves (cahokia is obviously a misnomer)? what did they speak? clearly they had access to shells from the sea, metals and minerals from canada, the rockies, the carolinas, the delta; they got around. the "virgins" clearly came from somewhere else too, and didn't eat as well as they did; but, after a point, everyone admits they're just guessing.

so then, you have these obvious questions. why is there dumb luck that circumstance converges to cover their empire with such a place as east st. louis, collinsville, etc.? why is it that even today the vast majority of americans have no clue about it, even as they begin to learn about such places as tikal, macchu picchu, etc.? who exactly were these poor women, sacrificed in mound 72, and would we find more like them if we could successfully uncover some of the other mounds? is it true that, as someone pointed out, they've never found any true connection between this city and the great ones of mexico and the south, leading to the conclusion that great cities sometimes spring up entirely of their own, getting their own complex social organization, by themselves and for their own reason, not inspired by "development" in other parts of the world...that, though the kinds of corn and the buffalo were to find them, eventually, by working their way over to illinois, they had enough here in the bottom - namely wood, corn, fish, and deer - to take care of themselves for a decade or twelve. they speculate based on what they've found: who were these people, and what happened.

i fall asleep easily here at the mini; it's still early, and i've played but a game or two of the bog, nothing more, fell asleep at that too, spent a fair amount of time worrying about the little and big guys passing through the place, plus the weight of the carbondale junior soccer leagues which falls on our family and others, on a saturday. so you'll have to forgive me if i got a few of the details wrong, and be warned: i tend to exaggerate, even on a good day. but this all, mark my words, is true: you can read it yourself on the web, in various spots. google cahokia, or mound builders, or mound 72; read 'em & weep. we here in the americas had mississippian cultures, and their people ran up and down its banks for years, building these mounds and then living on them, or burying people in them, or using them for various things, in one case just to represent the serpent of their religion; we know almost nothing of these people, and even tell history as if it started in what, 1619, or whatever. their calendars were, in fact, better than ours, or at least they stood out there under the sun and moon, and whatever system they had, it made it a lot longer than our paltry four or five hundred years. and yeah, it broke down; it went back to the earth from whence it came; it succumbed to the ravages of a large and occasionally unhappy river. but even that was nothing new, in the annals of this valley, i suppose.

Friday, September 24, 2010

i don't believe a word they say, yet i'll readily grant they've done more research on the topic than i have, and they seem to have gathered lots of evidence one way or the other. i'm referring to what they know about the great city they now call cahokia, although everyone involved with it readily admits it's a misnomer: cahokia was the name of a small illini tribe that occupied the place later, related to the kaskaskia, whereas these people, there for hundreds of years, had the biggest city north of mexico from about 700 to about 1200. so big, they got metals from the rockies, from canada, from north carolina; shey were at the confluence of the rivers, and surely by having traveled that far, in every direction, they had seen quite a bit. their leaders lived high on the ten-story mound, claimed they were the sun gods, controlled woodhenge, the solar calendar, and its rebuilding, and used the bird-man and central to their religion. the bird man represented the sun, light, and the heavens; the serpent, on the other hand, represented the earth, and disorder, and all the evil forces that people had to tame when they cultivated their corn.

now it's said that they practiced human sacrifice like the incas, and had a social order similar to those places in mexico that they have dug and which they know quite a bit about. evidence of sacrifices comes from a place called mound 72; 53 skeletons of young girls were found there along with the remains of an obviously powerful leader. how did they manage this? who knows? it all gets murky around here, though it's clear that the place was well abandoned by 1400, and the cahokias and kaskaskias all agreed; these were not their direct relatives. people wandered up and down the rivers for years, settling in and around what they call the american bottom, the lowlands on the mississippi, and some just say, these people had larger mounds than most, but were otherwise very similar. i say, i don't believe a word they say. not that i have any evidence to the contrary.

ok so over by cincinnati there is a serpent mound, and this one also is in a kind of bottom land, very huge, equally mysterious, but you know, if the bird man and the serpent are the pillars of this religion, and i'm not sure you can conclude that, it would make sense that there would be mounds built in their honor. i just find it ironic that the capitals of good and evil are both so close to these national league cities....and, that they know so little, really, of what went on there. these 5-700 years are longer, really, than anyone else hung out in the valley, a larger, more prosperous, more stable, more successful society than anything we've seen since. in 1910 there were race riots, worst riots in history, by the way, 100 people died, in east saint louis, and this contributed to hostility between the races which even to this day makes it hard for white folks to knwo anything of consequence about an entire culture that remains around cahokia; i don't know the area well, but i always feel, when i'm around there, that what bit of racial tension there is in the area has its roots in that riot, the incident that got the white folks to flee up the cliffs and down the river a bit, and left east saint louis itself, and the towns around it, home of a steel mill, a race track, some superfund toxic sites;a bunch of bars; no working ambulance system; a police department that can't pay its own bills; in short, a place you wouldn't want to slow down and poke around. but i feel that it's almost like this stuff has worked out this way purely because of luck, because the mound builders wanted to be left alone for a couple of hundred years, before the archaeologists started serious guessing about who this bird-man actually was. it's like, yes, the superfund sites will keep them at bay for a few years...

the sun beats down days, the last fight of summer, though the equinox came and went, and supposedly things will be cooling off. these mound builders survived this kind of saint louis weather, one day hot, the next cold, then a thunderboomer; they made it through hundreds of years of this. this is unlike me, who, sixteen years into this illinois life, and i have my doubts. but the hospital, deep down in there, tucked in amongst the steel mills, saved one of my sons' lives; the day he realized he was in cahokia, i'll never forget, i was so glad to get him back. driving there and back, i'd pass under this huge mound, that blocked out the moon, and look up in awe at how dark it could be at night, with no lights on it at all, yet totally surrounded by racetrack, steel mill, urban blight. they call it monks mound, but that's a misnomer too (like des moines) - those monks that named it had no good reason to call it that, but this wrong-name habit kind of throws everything off, makes them think this mound is some catholic place or something related to those illini, or both. it slows down the digging, because they have to stop to explain it to all the tourists.

more on this stuff later. i'm in awe of it, kind of like when i was in peru, and they had this whole museum devoted to a girl whose body they'd pulled out from inside the volcano...this was a sacrifice? she'd been convinced that she was a go-between, between her people and the gods? do archaeologists actually get in there, amongst these graves, and sift around and put together bones? it's a little scary, i'd say; i'm not sure who they were, or what they did there, but i'm sure that, on some level at least, they probably didn't even want me coming along, 800 years later, speculating about who the heck they were. mississippians. mound builders. river runners. nobody knows what they called themselves, but they ruled. there, in the shadow of the arch, sandwiched among saint louis' ring roads and interstates, it looms high over that industrial area. that area gets almost quiet at night, when the traffic slows down, and the race track empties out. the spirits are left alone, a little longer.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

life is busy & i carry around big piles of junk which i occasionally have to put on my back as i ride my bike around or go from place to place. i put the youtubes that they show in my class, here, and there are all kinds of cool ones here, but in my other class, we watch about the mound people and cahokia. finally late tonight i was fishing around for something for them to read, and the problem is, there isn't much written about it, that isn't very dry archaeology-type stuff. i wanted a news story, and it had to include an artifact or something about the material culture of the place.

but here's the was all made of wood, so there's nothing left. they had a solar calendar called woodhenge - tall posts laid out in a circle, but they were wood; they're long gone. they find little things, sandstone tablets and such...

so there's this one, a lady found it out in her field in about 2000 or 2001, it's called the bird man. the bird man is a kind of combination man and bird and from what little i glanced at, he got people to speculate about whether the birds represented the heavens, and the man the earth, so the bird man would be like a go-between? our anthropology textbooks are full of this kind of speculation, but it kind of galls me, because what do we know? nothing. maybe it was just big bird like my lunch-box.

but anyway there he is, about the size of a playing card, an interesting image, and now he has taken his place near the top of the echelon of cahokia area artifacts, though in general, i have to say, cahokia is still virtually unknown; put "bird man of cahokia" into google and it will ask you if you wanted to say "birdman?" but when you do, it gives you no results. google images will give you a picture though; he's real. i kid you not. the woman found hime, and gave him to a museum. can you imagine? one of the few artifacts left over, remaining from the era.

googling around, you get a sense of the anthropologists' world: arguments about how important cahokia was, what happened to the artifacts, why it was all wood, whether they were indeed related to various other known bands of people throughout the area; what else has been found, what other "bird-men" have been uncovered, etc.

more research obviously has to be done. not now though; it was garbage day; i'm exhausted; a stack remains; one more day before the weekend. a son's birthday approaches, and, i'm grateful: he's home, safe, in my own house; i'm grateful he made it to this one, and hopeful he'll make it to many more. civilizations come and go, and, on a micro-level, kids grow up, and eventually leave the home. the vernal equinox comes, a full "super" harvest moon with it, jupiter right up there in the mix, the time when the moon is closer to the earth than any other time, and also brighter, and rounder; it's the korean thanksgiving, not to mention a jewish new year and other stuff. the hottest of the hot (september is the cruelest month) hot spell finally might pass over, in favor of slightly cooler nights, soon, now that it's fall, hint hint, but meanwhile, i'm thinking about this birdman - she just gave it to the museum, but, most likely, there are others like it around. this was a place, i think, hit hard by the floods - not too far from here, about halfway to cahokia really, but on the bluffs, like we are, not too far out above the mississippi. turned out, anyone who wandered up and down the valley, they called "mississippian," so i guess i qualify. up by alton, i had some ancestors that moved up there, and actually i have some old relatives who still live up there i believe, and there by the river, on the cliffs, just north of town, is a kind of bird-man, the piasa, who overlooks the area and who has occasionally been defaced or whatever. one night we were driving around up there and rain was coming down in sheets, so bad, i couldn't even look up and see the thing, because i was afraid of being washed right into the river, the water was coming at me so strongly. coming at me in sheets. but i knew it was there; they tell the legend of the piasa, and apparently, several bands of indians moved into the area, and just took up where the old legends left off. so you shouldn't be surprised if someone else did the same. the indians are gone; the piasa is almost gone; little bird-man sandstone tablets are hard to find, maybe they're almost gone too; but, the stories remain. and if they don't, someone oughta make them up. it rains hard here, and half the time this stuff washes right on down the river.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

if i stick entirely to the program, and only teach the textbook and what's in it, sometimes i'm bored to tears but the students actually have it worse, because they're bored to tears squared, double the pain. but if i take the subject, mix it with what they're interested in, and then overlay that with what i'm interested in, it turns out to be a spicy gourmet kind of dish, with all kinds of interesting things coming out, and movies that, for example, you can watch a couple of times and not get bored. so it happens that i've been watching about facebook addiction, twitter and its role in iran, and the mound builders, a people who occupied this part of north america for a thousand years or so, but who nobody knows about.

facebook itself has become quite lively, and while i was at work, obama said something about healthcare, and right there in front of my eyes got 800 comments in 40 minutes, and, it didn't let up; after 60 minutes, he'd gotten 1200. A lot of them were vulgar; some constituted passioned and well-said frustration; some offered support. it was clear that a fair million were on the spot when he spoke up. in iran, however, they couldn't find more than a hundred or so who would even admit to using twitter; and even those, they probably had to cajole into saying something to the effect that, yes, well, i saw it, but i didn't actually write anything...

as for the mound-builders, their town had only 20,000 people, barely the size of carbondale, but it was the biggest city in north america from about 1000 BC to about 1200 AD, a span of a couple of thousand years, give or take a few hundred, until they disappeared entirely; in the ensuing centuries small wandering bands of native americans would come by, occupy the mounds or not, and then be replaced by others. why did they disappear? there are theories. were they related to the ones who came later? apparently not, except possibly in the south, where the caddo (of louisiana) had legends of a sun god who occupied a 10-story mound (cahokia), ruled up high, and gave declarations to the people. and are the caddo related to the mound-builders? not sure. the movie does not prove it conclusively, in my opinion. i'm sure someone is related to them, but how can one know?

so we are in effect in the dark about this incredible civilization, that ruled the americas, used the rivers and great lakes effectively, to get resources from the deepest appalachians, the high rockies, canada, the farthest edge of huron and superior. grew corn, and made it into alcohol; killed deer, and fished in the fresh rivers- and still, even their capital, their megametropolis, was no larger than carbondale. but they would occasionally burn their cities, then, basket by basket, bring dirt up from the lowlands to fill in the holes, until their mound was higher, and they could start again, build more houses, and be that much closer to the sun. was this sun worship? understanding caddo legend and tradition would help unravel this, but who knows? very little is left of them; when they left, they left completely, and it took years for the land to restore its own health, presumably.

so nowadays, the roads we know as going around, through and toward st. louis and east st. louis surround this place and people siphon the dirt, one scrape at a time, having uncovered only 1% of the site. 1%, yet they seem to know what they might find as they go after the second percent. they seem unfazed by the fact that apparently, the history of the modern world and east saint louis itself goes marching on, right on top of this ancient capital. and the mound that remains looms high, at night especially, dominates the landscape, even though there are such things as enormous race tracks (dogs?) and casinos nearby. it's somewhat seedy; but, in its day, it was a world capital.

sure people are addicted to facebook. the movie shows people with mobiles, checking their facebook while they meet clients, while they should be doing other stuff. this was certainly true when 1200 people pounded obama within an hour. it's a modern city, all online. i'm working on an online spectacle; somehow it will involve a virtual abe lincoln, a gettysburg address-type event, an address to obama himself, ultimately asking him to put his presidential library in southern illinois. so i'm talking to my friend dave more, and discussing the possibility of publicity as spectacle, and i actually thought of my old friend dr. alphabet, a guy who would write poetry across bridges, or from the top of a building down to the street, or around a city block. he would wear these enormous top hats, with letters on them, and make poetry into a city event, which would turn everyone's head, and even make it into the local paper. the guy inspired me in many ways, and in addition, was a friend of mine, so when i encountered his facebook site on the wikipedia page, i immediately asked to be his "friend." this may or may not happen (keep you posted), but keep in mind that iowa city was a truly unusual place at that time, any connection i had with it (i lived in it), i want to glorify, keep alive...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

the politics of the soccer field go like this: some people really really really care about winning, and other people feel that all that caring isn't as good for the kids as, say, learning sportsmanship and running around. we are in the second camp, and, trying against my own upbringing, i try not to emphasize the score or even ask other dads what it is. i did however ask one dad how the orange team was doing, and he interpreted it as a question about the score; this is how i knew that, when i saw my son score a goal, i also knew that that goal had tied the game. this was a big moment for me; i hadn't seen him score any goal yet, so this was the first one. across the field, in the younger child's match, that son also scored two, though there are a lot of butterfly-chasers in those games, and having goalies is something they don't do; it's a bit easier for any single-minded kid to break away.

the younger team is the one my wife is the coach of; she has helpers; she tells parents what to bring and what to dress their kids in; she decides who goes in and who sits out. it's admirable that she's taken all this on, and she does a good job; most of all, she encourages parents not to get too taken up in the score, or to worry most about a kid's natural evolution into a serious soccer player. the day was hot, and one game nearby had very maroon-looking shirts playing dark green shirts, as if it was a james-joyce league. i was happy that the older kid seemed to get a boost from his important goal; this was good news, and ensured his willingness to go play some more next week. one never knows, though, how these things will work out.

those victories behind us, i went roller skating with the older boy today, and that was a different kind of victory. it was his first time; his first pair of skates was very slippery and he fell several times right away. he got a pair that was a little less likely to fly out from under him, and more tentatively, made it around the rink a few times without falling. he got interested in the arcade games but mostly lost quarters. at one point though he got a fistful of tickets and skated over to the window that said "redemption" in fancy letters. you turn in fistful of tickets there, and get some tiny trinket, that somehow makes kids really happy because they feel like they've earned it. in fact he'd gotten what tickets he had, by luck, or because maybe somebody had given them to him; but, it doesn't matter. it allowed him to rest, so that later, he could make a couple more passes around the rink.

i was reminded of growing up in ice-skating country, where some kids were really fast, and would do eights around slower plodders like myself. i have never learned to skate backwards. i could however go around the rink and show him how it was done, so this alone was a kind of victory, to be there, show him a trick, be able to do it myself. i also won a prize, for some reason; i won the game where they roll a huge die and eliminate all the skaters until, in this case, i was the only one left. they gave me a free ice cream sandwich; i gave it to the boy. this also lifted his spirits; it was a fun time for him. skating in this town, and also in the ones nearby, seems to be family-run operations, where more than half of the skaters were probably related, and only a few truly came from the town. i judge this simply by how good they were, and by the fact that all the good ones seem to both know each other and betray their family relation, regularly. i could be wrong though.

the rink seems to be a world of its own, brightly painted, a faint smell of new chemicals on it, no windows; disco lights, music, spectators, 'redemption' sign off in the distance. kids fall; others help them up; teenage girls play out passionate dramas with each other over what some kid did or what someone said to someone else. one grandfather took his tiny young grandsons, or maybe great grandsons, around the rink; i myself skated hard and long enough that i will surely be sore in the morning.

it's supposed to be over ninety again this week, which is treacherous weather for late september, but not especially unusual for the area. we don't really have the hot muggy terrible stuff beat until sometime in october, and we have to prepare for this late blast of summer; you can get a fair sunburn, also, if you let the sun hit you at a certain angle, this time of year. fortunately though, we're beginning to maximize the goodweather; if it's going to be intolerable, all june, july and august, getting outside on a good weekend in september, is as good as you can do. it may be a little hot, but the air is fresh, and it's clear; it's time to get out in it. somewhere, i'm sure there's baseball on television, and i'm sure it's good too; and, i kind of need a rest, but it's kind of like i was telling someone about minnesota. if it's only nice for a short window, but it's real nice, you get out, in that window, and you stay out. the sunset lands smack on the highway and virtually blinds us east-west travelers as we go back through town, home; we're all tired, but hopefully in better shape to face the coming week. thanksgiving and christmas come on the horizon, and we begin to wonder where'we'll be. now that's a nice season here, unlike minnesota, where you're driven inside, i suppose; here, you can walk around and enjoy the place, as long as you ahve a jacket sometimes. there are allergies now, with grass gone to seed and various plants going to seed, but once that frost comes by, it gets calm, and when you go out for a walk, you see stars, even in the city.

Friday, September 17, 2010

got out of work today, and started riding the bike; it was a stunning day, again, bright, clear, beautiful. it rained a couple days ago, and this morning there was a chill in the air and a fog on the ground, as the water from the rain presumably was just evaporating in front of my eyes. but today, getting out of work, it was all burned off; it was sunny and bright, clear, beautiful.

it rarely rains in september. people who mow for a living work frantically through may & june but by september they're on vacation, not quite ready for what happened: the grass absorbed the rain so quickly that it went to seed in days, and now the town is full of pollen and it was so clear, i could practically see it blowing off of the top of the grasses. various lawns across town, including ours, went to seed almost immediately, as if they'd been waiting for a little moisture all summer.

i came home and played some online boggle; this is a sick habit i've gotten into, that has overtaken me badly even on a beautiful day. here i am, by an open window, worrying about whether things like hee, tor, gaw, or gae are words...who cares? i rarely finish in the top half but it somehow relaxes me, like sudoku, a kind of mental swimming. i rarely read, even the blogs in the template here; i'm like the young people i teach, and the americans they talk to, who are too busy to read anything except their own facebook, and possibly a study sheet for a quiz...and i know it's ironic; i can't expect others to read anything i write, if i myself read virtually nothing...also, i have collections of stories; some of them come from this blog; others here; yet, i don't wrap them, put them in a cover, distribute them; why? too busy playing online boggle. it's like i'm avoiding the whole mess.

at work, the papers are flying: midterms, grades, assignments, writing, words by the millions. it's like grass going to seed, like so much pollen in the air, or at least, it feels that way on a friday. i'm way behind; i step out the door on maybe my fiftieth hour of a week, and can't even say i'm caught up. i did however get over to the pool a time or two, just for sanity's sake; behind the pool, in a tiny glade, is some grass that is way-over, gone to seed; they have trouble getting a mower in there, and again, they were caught off guard, i'm sure. right there is a pine tree that has a rich smell too, so that, even though you are in a back courtyard, a tucked-away place with a potter's kiln and a blacksmith's patio, where it often stinks of things associated with those, it now, on a calm and peaceful day, smells only of the pine. right there, i often look way up at the clock-tower, which has become the symbol of the campus; the pool is more or less directly under this tower, way down in the basement; but, it's the kind of place where they put a lot of energy into the front view, and often forget about the little tucked-away courtyard; in winter the steps there can be treacherous, until somebody remembers that it exists, and comes back and salts it. my favorite place, though, in spite of its general disrepair, and the fact that i'm probably allergic to all those grasses.

early in the morning, i've taken to drinking my coffee, by this very open window, very slowly, as the sun rises; my cell alarm has been stuck on a very early time for a little too long, and it's too much hassle to change it; besides, i love that early time in the morning, where the cool air draws up the moisture from the ground, and you can wear just about anything you want, and be comfortable. a few joggers pad by, tap-tap-tap, and the birds sing with reckless abandon, but the car noise is pretty minimal. it's a kind of meditation, since, at that time in the morning, there is almost nothing in my head except the faint memory of whatever i was dreaming when i woke up, and the coffee, bitter, fresh and aromatic, slowly goes to work. it's really the last peace and quiet i get until about now, at after ten at night, when almost everyone has gone to bed and again, left me alone. only now, there are faint signs of people out there partying; it is, after all, only ten, very late if you get up early, as i do, but not late in the big picture; half of this town is only now getting started. sirens and ambulances can be heard in the distance. i realize one thing though: crazy as life was, today, i never got in the car, even once; in that sense, i've kind of let the world drive around me; people with their windows shut, in a hurry; it's the busy time of year here. some of this activity, i suspect, is like the words on a boggle screen - barely worth the points you might get by successfully typing it in the little box. if i don't win, and i don't have any particular message in my name, then i just go down in history as one more futile player in games of about 80-100 that finish every three or four minutes. what is it worth, in the end? i feel, sometimes, like the pizza-sign guy; this guy stands at a busy corner, on my way home (usually); he waves that big orange pizza sign in people's faces as they drive down the hill, and they pay him minimum wage, i'm sure. but i'm also sure that he's sick of the message on the sign, and watches the cars themselves, for the most part; you can learn a lot, from license plates, and the grumpy faces of people on the town's busiest road, all heading somewhere very intently. for six bucks you can get a pizza, but you might have a hard time telling it from the cardboard box it's in; excuse my attitude, it's not that bad, but sometimes, i'm just real tired, and though sometimes a job like that would appeal to me, reading license plates and all, on a day like today; however, it's also possible that i would get out there, shake that sign, and some guy would come down the hill that thought i owed him $20, and would start yelling at me out on the street. you would be somewhat vulnerable out there, holding that sign, and it's also possible, that there's someone out there that i do owe $20. so i'll apologize right now; it makes me tired just thinking about it. i'm going to bed; i wish everyone a good weekend, a gut yom tov, a prosperous new year.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

around academia and especially where different cultures come together, it is common to discuss "superstitions" and how different people do a variety of things for no better reason than to get good luck, avoid bad luck, or follow a silly custom that has come down through the ages. it is generally accepted that the college-educated crowd doesn't believe in these things, but i, being a rebel, not only started believing them but also picking them up when i went abroad. if people told me you shouldn't write names in red, in korea, then i stopped writing names in red, not only in korea, but also when i returned home where the superstition isn't shared. as we teach the standard ones- not walking under a ladder, the black cat, thirteenth floor, etc., i find myself wondering if anyone actually practices these, or if visitors, upon noticing our habits, would pick any of them up, just in order to do as the locals do.

some of them are more just cultural habits than superstitions, but in practice, they are similar. for example a colleague told me that in turkey you do not walk out in the street with wet hair, or people will judge you poorly; as a result, i no longer want to walk around with my hair wet, especially after i swim. the knowledge that this sets off bad thoughts in people's minds is somewhat like using your left hand to hand someone a paper, after you learn how difficult it is for some people of other cultures to receive that without making assumptions about your motive. you begin to realize that life is fraught with opportunities to be paranoid about what other people are thinking about you, and there's no way you can avoid slipping and doing something that will offend someone of another culture, who might be in your midst.

but i finally realized why i tend to honor the true superstitions that i find out there, such as the prohibition against putting your name in red. a good superstition is really no more than a symbol of respect, a token gesture pointed at the spirit world of which we know absolutely nothing. activities that you do to ward off bad luck rarely take you more than a minute or two (consider walking around the ladder) but make you feel that, by some small gesture, you have shown respect to an important force that really, you don't understand at all. and that's why, when you learn one from abroad, it's all the more important to be respectful. there are legions of korean spirits, for example, and, since i have just become acquainted with them, it's all the more important that i should show them respect. the same old ones that i have been living with for decades, however - they know me; they'll forgive me if i slip up once in a while.

in a way, it's the cultural majority's overwhelming insistence that we call these "superstitions" that i object to the most: if i go around a ladder, am i some kind of dumb or what? this is enough to make me actually look for a ladder to go around, because i hate when people make judgments like that. another problem occurs when you open a door for someone and they get mad at you, as if you thought they couldn't open the door for themselves. this hasn't happened to me for a long time, but i've always felt like, it had nothing to do with whether i thought someone couldn't open a door. it's more like, if a couple of steps out of your way could help you show respect for someone, why not do it? it's a symbolic gesture, but it doesn't imply that someone is a king, or queen, or someone is better than someone else. it's more that, and i feel this way about the spirit world too: we barely know you, but we at least recognize that you're there, and that maybe you have feelings. would it be ok to stop for a minute, recognize that, and then go along on our way?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

woke up to obvious evidence that it had been raining; the patio outside was wet, and it was in fact drizzling even as we drank our morning coffee, and my wife fed the dogs. she's become a soccer coach of the kids' league, so now i go along to watch the 8-year-old, while she coaches the 5-year-old team which is playing at the same time this saturday morning. you'd think they'd call it off, with a thunderstorm threat and a wet field, but apparently a light rain doesn't affect the hard ground, and the thunderstorm never materializes, so it's all games forward, on a cloudy morning.

the 8-year-old has been bitten twice by hornets, so he's hobbling around looking injured and pained, but he's willing to play for a while with his new team anyway, and does. they are orange: should they call themselves the orange crush? the cantaloupes, is the best name anyone comes up with. they tear around on the field; many of his old friends, good friends, are on the team.

my wife has mentioned that it's really not helpful to be obsessed about the score, so i've tried an experiment: i won't mention it. if i obsess about it, i'll just keep it to myself. the kids themselves tend to notice, and care, and point it out, whether they won or lost. but we don't have to. it's strange, to suppress such natural obsession, but it's interesting - there are, in fact, other parts of the game that one can notice and discuss.

i used to have my boys in baseball - both tried it, in fact, but only one here in town, and they tried their best, but it became apparent, as they rose up the leagues (just by virtue of getting older) that everyone was taking it more seriously; the parents in particular cared more and more; it was so competitive that in some cases nobody was having any fun. two experiences taught me this very intensely; in one, a playoff game, our coaches rode the umpires so mercilessly that i was ashamed to be part of our own team; in another, the game was forfeited because the other team did not produce enough players; the parents backed off, and we had fun, for a change. that one night, under the lights, just playing for fun as i did as a child, i thought, this is how baseball should be. but that alone taught me that it wasn't how it is.

in soccer, the parents have much less of a clue, how the kids should play, and what they did wrong, in any particular incident. therefore they are much less likely to notice, point out, or care intensely about the thousands of mishaps that occur on the field in any given hour. let's face it, it's possible that very few of these kids will make it to the big leagues; in fact, we have a private soccer club in town that would probably want them if they really had that in mind. so it gives the game more of an amateur feeling; there is a general consensus that we should let the kids play, if possible, and not mix in too hard with the people that matter.

on my wife's team, which coincidentally has coffee-colored shirts, the amateur ethos is much more apparent, as the 5-year-old attention span is somewhat erratic and unpredictable. one year a few years back there was a 5-year-old team that came up against another similar one, one which was coached by a couple of international students with professional experience, who had the kids doing a warm-up involving an eight-design, and passing the ball to each other. i was impressed, and thought, oh this team will kill us; they've been trained by the pros. but when the game started, they were just like us; their players kicked the ball into their own goal, instead of ours; some were distracted by butterflies or by a tick crawling up their leg; in short, they were just as bad as we were. it helped reinforce in me the idea that, you can put your training regime down on them; you can teach them certain skills in isolation, but they're basically kids; they're out there because we want them to be; they're trying their best, but the vast majority of them weren't born for this situation, any more than they were born for a classroom. it's curious to watch them try to make everyone happy, but they're actually pretty transparent, in the way they like their treats, and go straight to the play structure when it's over.

i'm proud to say, i don't know the score for either game. in this regard, i'm a poor sports reporter, because sports reporters should keep track of the facts and try to report them in such a way that nobody trash-talks the newspaper for misrepresentation. it's big business, sports reporting, and still does well even as all other kinds of reporting are tanking. but i'm not reporting, i'm blogging, so i'll just put in my two cents about the parents' role, out there on a sideline, on a cloudy but pleasant fall day, you don't have to play, we told the kid with the hornets' bites; but he saw his old friends out there, and wanted to, because they were there. he looked pained, like it was hard for him to keep up with the pace of the game, but that would have been true anyway; you have to get in there, and elbow around for position. i supported him the best i could, and yelled things like "go orange" whenever it was appropriate. at one point the sun kind of came out, and folks got a little hot, but in general i think you could say that the fall games have better weather likelihood than the spring season, and i'm grateful they don't try it in the summer. soccer is alive and well at this level; lots of kids there; we knew lots of the parents; and, they'd told my wife she'd be an assistant, and then essentially gave her an entire team, and let her pick out her own assistant, from other parents who offered help but never actually signed up. it was our turn, i guess; they have a constant shortage of coaches, and we'd simply watched for a few years, basically letting others do the scheduling. now, i'll keep you posted on the progress of the coffee team (if i can) - the season stretches into the nice weather and beyond, and i'm sure there's a lot to write about. i'm not sure how it is in other towns. in towns like this though, this is what there is: you get out there, you get a colored shirt; you do your best, and you get some memories. there's usually a pizza party at the end. parents who help alot get some kind of invisible 'good parenting' award, that allows them bragging rights, and the knowledge that on some level, they did the best they could for their kids.

Friday, September 10, 2010

the great wheel of life turns relentlessly on; the weather has a touch of change, even if it isn't really much cooler. a little rain came through, and that's actually rare for this time of year, though it happened that year katrina pounded new orleans and is probably in some way related to those hurricanes that keep pounding the coasts, hundreds of miles away. a touch of change in the air - some leaves dry out and drop early, because, what the heck, it's all pretty much over anyway, why wait to the bitter end. but the pin oaks leaves, wide and brown, hang on, and will probably still be there even in late november.

so news comes from seattle that the baby actually has two teeth in front, and also is beginning to scoot, albeit backward. scooting backward, my wife says, is god's way of making sure they don't go straight into the fire. guess that assumes they're always facing the fire, if there is one, that is. but either way, it's the beginning of mobility, beginning of a long haul into adulthood where they will get a car and struggle to keep it running. we have milestones at all the developmental stages; another has just lost his two front teeth, and is walking around with a gap-tooth smile on a wide face that is trying to adjust to kindergarten. comes with the territory, i remember a kindergarten teacher saying, when a kid walked up to her with a slightly bloody mouth and an odd-shaped tooth in his hand. other kids are learning to pay bills that definitely put a crimp in their style and make them face some of the realities of adulthood. but the wheel, marching forward, pushes them into the next stage, ready or not.

a friend at work tells of teens using substances in a park at four in the morning, scattering to the winds when the police come, getting caught by their own license plates, and eventually having to own up to what they were doing. does it ever end, she says? hoping only that that age, maybe fifteen, would stop lasting five years per day. in drama, and anguish, and spirit wrung out of you like a dishrag, it might last more like twenty per day. but you have to keep it in perspective. she is obviously there to tell me that story, to help keep my story in perspective. but it's a scary world they're growing up in, one in which they can not count on the kind of stability we had, in national government, weather, ability to make it day to day without war or massive weather-caused disaster. i was telling a friend about iowa, its beautiful hills and river valleys, the corn fields on the hills this time of year, with fog on the grassy lawns and husks to mark the season, but iowa has had four or five hundred-year floods, just in the last ten years; it seems, every time the east coast gets a bit of hot air, the westerlies get stuck out above iowa and just dump all their rain. what's up with that? what used to be very fertile farmland, turning into areas where there's so much rain, it has no where to go.

ok, so things change, i understand that; i've even come to live with it, unwillingly, but i recognize it and even embrace it in my better moments as inevitable at worst...i remember katrina, and the old days, and times when i myself learned hard lessons, the hard way. it's the earth turning, and some things, come loose, come round to hit you in the head, or wherever, and change your path so as to make you more alert. that earth will keep on turning, and tilt over to where it runs up against some weather, so as to cleanse itself or whatever; maybe it's just all churned up about world events, or family events, like we are, and doesn't have much reason for violent upheavals like hurricanes, tornadoes or the rest of it. it just happens, because it's turned. and we're not jumping off, yet, so we might as well find a balance, and hang on for the long haul.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

won't be water next time, it'll be fire, says an old folk song, warning us that noah's flood won't be repeated but it will likely be worse, and soon enough. every time you hear of those fires, outside of boulder, for example, or outside of l.a., you imagine an inferno where there is no water or not enough to make a difference. a friend tells a story of how he accidentally walked away from a campfire, which set a yard on fire, and threatened an old house, way out in the country, but a farmer happened to be driving by on a tractor, and dug a ditch right in the way of the fire, saving the house.

so, the stories we told, by the campfire; then come home to find out this christian group wants to burn the koran to protest muslim extremism. my first reaction is, no, i wouldn't burn a bible either, even if all the people who read it were extremists. there's something missing in the logic here. would you burn usa today? would you burn the salt lake tribune?

i have enough of a hard time burning an old box of cheerios, knowing that the ink they used to make the picture of the hero hitting a home run, is probably toxic and will do something to the fresh air around a campfire. i wouldn't mind burning old textbooks, or old notes for courses i took, but even this is not so much exorcising things i have a lively dislike of, so much as just unloading something i don't want to carry around. holy books don't qualify for either, so, i'll just let it go i guess. but it reminds me of a couple of stories. i'm not a flag burner or a koran burner, but i am a story teller.

back in the old days you'd go through o'hare airport and the hare krishnas would spot you for someone who might be a sucker for a hare krishna holy book. this they would offer to give you for free, pointing out the beautiful pictures of krishna himself, or maybe the many-headed god-elephant, or some such thing in a saffron color, in the middle of the book. all this was fine and good, especially since it was free, but it soon became apparent that it wasn't really free, and they wanted upward of seven to ten bucks, because, after all, this was god and gods we were talking about. ok so i didn't have seven bucks, thank you anyway, i'm on my way home to iowa, so i really don't need the many0-headed elephants or the krishna beating the bad guys with a golden sword and a halo of enlighenment. the sales pitch gets more and more intense; he refuses to let me go in any way without extracting some money out of me; he finally settles for about five, but both of us are aggravated at the poor outcome and i'm especially peeved and somewhat stuck on the word "free" which i had distinctly heard in the beginning of the conversation. but what the heck, the pictures were good.

and then in the cedar rapids airport, which at that time was a small, homey place, plain, no international flights or anything, a policeman walks up to me, and gives me two more of the holy books, bhagavad gitas, they are called. these two are slightly different from each other, but one is the same as the one i'm carrying. you can have these, he says; it looks like you're going to iowa city. somebody left these behind in the airport, he says, and we didn't want to throw them away, because they have the nice pictures and all; but, if you're going there, maybe you can find someone who can use them.

i tell and retell this story, because, at that time, a policeman was the last guy i wanted walking up to me out of the blue; yet, his message had a kind of iowan utilitarianism to it. it wasn't especially harsh on the religion at all; it meant nothing to him really. it was more that he didn't want to throw away a perfectly good book, no matter what it was about. better to find somebody who would at least know what to do with it.

now having a book that was truly dangerous, say, like a book about how to build a bomb out of fertilizer, or some such thing, maybe i'd want to keep out of the public library. which reminds me, someone was stoned the other day; i hadn't heard of anything like that happening, since i read the bible itself, but i sure wouldn't want that habit catching on, or have anyone picking up any directions on how to do it and get away with it. some books have a way of inciting people, and others have a way of telling them how to cause trouble, but what you really don't want are people who read both kinds, and read them in order, so as to cause the maximum damage. maybe some librarian could be keeping track of this stuff, but it's not likely, since the library's budget has been cut, and it's all they can do to keep the newspapers off the floor.

Monday, September 06, 2010

labor day dawns clear and beautiful in the mississippi valley; it may be hurricane season in the carolinas, and in the caribbean, but here, it's dry season, the air fresh and light, entirely missing the oppressive humidity that weighs on you like a backpack in the sultry summer. the kids get up eventually and go off, the little one first; they are called for by friends across town where people's kids get restless and they bug their parents to invite over other kids, and the parents relent because it makes the whole thing easier, with everyone occupied. but the little one comes back, and we find ourselves, mid-afternoon, beautiful day, nothing to do, going to the lake.

in the cool shade by the park diagonal sign, i gather up the towels, chair and sunblock and go in, using my ticket for the last time; i've won. you win, if you buy a discount ticket, and use all the punches. the place is empty, but the sun on the cliffs and on the water is stunning; it's a beautiful day. and the water is cold now; i'm not sure how it got that way; just weeks ago it was rising to meet the general august temperature, which was never below ninety. now, even the water is clear and beautiful, but on closer inspection, it has some of the leftovers from summer; a thin layer of oil that could be from a motor-boat, or could be from sun-block; a bit of seaweed suspended in murky brown stuff. we look for the turtle, but he's nowhere around; we splash around and swim for a while. the cool breeze comes off the lake; it's clearly fall. a couple of leaves fall gently, although the trees haven't changed colors; occasionally we see a leaf suspended in the water that looks somewhat like a fish, or maybe a frog, but it's not. we do see a real frog; he's small; he's the color of sand; he can barely be distinguished from the sand that he hops on, and if he detects any movement at all, he stops completely. shadows are long, so he detects lots of movement. the leaves also seem to be suspended in the air, as if they didn't really want to fall so quickly.

last day at the lake; it's closed tomorrow; it's a pretty thin crowd and it's getting cooler by the minute. friend of mine on the jersey shore used to say, labor day was the big day; the road back to new york city was bumper to bumper all day; the shore towns were virtually abandoned afterward, and that's how they liked them; only the people who lived there, remained behind. he painted a picture of mass exodus, so many people that they hardly got anywhere at all, but anyone with any sense would basically not be on that road at that moment. here, the parking lot, the beach, the road, virtually empty. we change clothes at the park diagonal sign and go back for an ice pop. a guy offers me a leftover ticket; he's got punches left. too late; we already swam.

the sun goes down slowly; soon enough, we'll be back at work. they had a pizza party, the work folks, and these things are generally good, as they welcome the new folks, and there are lots of them, and they allow a little social time in a schedule that has almost no social time built into it. but today, labor day, i couldn't do it. the lake was open; we are on the outer edge of town; going in, talking shop, just seemed impossible. i could do it, if you don't mention the oppressive work load. but that wasn't going to happen. instead, i watched the frog on the sand, in his camo, reacting to the shadows. out in the water, a snapping turtle, large head, seemed to show in the part where people swim, out of his usual buoyed-off pond. i'm not sure if that was him; some girls, out in the water, kind of made a shriek, and he ducked away and left again quickly. i don't know how the turtles would react to the cooler water, the cool wind off the lake, or even if they knew: the people will be gone tomorrow. on the road home, grasses by the road have gone to seed, turned brown, given the place a halloween look. the corn is brown, green and yellow all at once, dying to be harvested. the kid falls asleep in the back; the ice pop isn't enough to keep him going. the road is narrow, with no shoulders, but i can drive with the windows open; the cool breeze is a relief, and it will be tolerable again, at least until about may.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

giant city stars,
a falling leaf - made it to
another campfire

went camping for the labor day weekend - a change from past years, when we'd try to do it over easter and invariably got rained out. though we missed the eggs, and thought of dying labor eggs, we were rewarded for our rescheduling with stunning weather. it was clear, fresh, blue; there were so many stars out that one could see the galaxies splayed across them in white back-lit glow. i got to show this to one son who had literally never seen such a thing. i however have seen stars like that, and wonder, when i see them, why i don't choose to live out where i could see them more or at least more often; this campground is only seven miles out of town, and all the houses in the area probably enjoy this kind of night. there was no sign of ticks, mosquitoes or raccoons although there were daddy-long-legs everywhere; a question involved whether they actually bit and were poisonous, or maybe they bit everyone but couldn't get their small teeth into people; or what. i'd pick them up by the legs (easy) and pitch them out of the tent; my son thought i was quite brave but i thought, i'm actually not too smart, to not even know if they could hurt me or not.

some years the animals come and have at the food, knocking stuff over and rifling through bags; others, it's too crowded with people, and they would only bother us if we were on the edge. this year we were in the middle, more or less; we weren't bothered. we told some good animal stories, but didn't experience anything dramatic; no bears, no wolves, no coyotes. told bear stories, but didn't see any bears. just the daddy-long-legs, which were everywhere.

by the fire i asked about zoroastrianism, which was one of the world's eight great religions at one time, but is now down to a small minority in iran. and india, one person added, which showed that people weren't entirely ignorant of it. it was a line in the "old-=time religion" song, one guy said; he was a musician, and knew that much. i know virtually nothing about it myself, except that they made these huge tombs that still stand. but what attracts me to it is that they were considered "the keepers of the flame" 0 and that, it seems to me, is on the right track. it may just be me (and my personal inclination), but it seems to me that the fire itself is the very essence of life - at the same time warming, comforting, source of heat, food and light, absolutely necessary in our lives - and also dangerous, easily out of control, easily beyond us and hotter than we can imagine and deal with. i'm always mesmerized by the jumping flames of a typical campfire, and i watch idly as people try to roast marshmallows or hot dogs, usually missing the coals and catching them on fire, until they get older and learn how much better the lightly browned ones are to eat. i breathe in the camp-smoke, and know that it's not good for me, but don't care, because it smells so good, and it seems to bathe my spirit for a while, and make me grateful that i'm out in the woods, once more, with the fresh air and the good-earth feeling.

the pads, sleeping bags and old pillows pulled from the garage along with the tent all had that old mildew smell that repulsed the boys a little and followed us around; the van would be full of it, though we were able to drive with windows open; it's possible that they didn't sleep as well as they could have. i however slept like a baby. the smell only reminds me that i need to go camping more often; that in fact the light of a fresh fall morning needs to fall on everything in my garage; that even when the ground is as hard as it can be, the ease of dreaming, in that woody glade, is the only thing that really wears me out. the rest of it, the hot coffee, the potluck dishes, the watermelon, the smores, the hotdogs and bagels - it all goes down in the history of campouts - one of the nicest, the first in maybe twelve years that didn't get rained out.

Friday, September 03, 2010

the weather is stunning, clear, breezy, and fresh, but many of us are hanging around inside, playing monopoly or computer games, or like me, blogging, or maybe sometimes bogging. bogging is doing the weboggle, or the online boggle game, which is like doing a sudoku, very relaxing in a way. i often find my sister or brother on there; when they are, team leverett rocks the house, and i get cheap thrills, since i'm so bad i can rarely get even in the first half, by myself.

it's not such a bad time for exercise, although i've given up on dragging my son out there with me at 5:30 in the morning; most times, i'd rather just drink a big fat cup of coffee myself, in my chair, and watch the sun rise, and get my exercise later. i do this by riding my bicycle in, or maybe swimming at the noon hour, or maybe both, or in the case of today, doing both plus walking a little, and calling the triathlon. this is ironic, since it's a tiny town, and i'm not really racing, but in busy times and clear weather, like we had today, any little bit i can get out in it, will keep me sane. i come home ready to relax; i get on the bog, and i play hard though my dumb little computers don't handle the game well.

oniondip is what i consider a champion; he/she has been around since the early days, and always places in the top five; also, there's Pseudonym who capitalizes his/her name for whatever reason. the best teams by far are team axolotl and team Loki but there's also the omnipresent Team Join Me which occasionally places at the top. my brother gets mad when other people join our team, but you never know, they could be from leverett mass, or leverett hall harvard; they could even be leveretts i suppose, though that would be unlikely. when my brother is in there, we often win; he places anywhere from second to tenth all by himself, and has won by himself more than once. he's been accused of practicing during work, but what do we know? he says he only does it when he's waiting for something else, like a printout.

the cooler weather seems to have brought out the hurry in everyone, like they're going to the big football game, or some wild drunken party across town; more than half the students text while they drive so there are accidents everywhere, including a whopper just the other day. who knows if this is really due to texting, or just foolish driving by itself, or some third distraction, but there seems to be a lot of this these days, good weather or not, and i'm sure it keeps the insurance people busy. i keep my eyes very open as i ride the bicycle around town; of course, the first round of this is at seven in the morning, and i can't say the town is full of texters then. on the contrary, it's mostly singing birds, squirrels, sometimes kids waiting for a bus. it's really pretty nice in the morning; it's my favorite time of day; it reminds me of my paper-route days whe a guy who was awake at all could virtually do what he wanted. the bad drivers don't get started until about noon, but by then the combination of bad drivers and texters make the place a downright hazard, even if you're trying to negotiate a simple four-way stop.

back home i avoid going out, even in good weather; we open the windows; we enjoy what i call the ornament valley, a peaceful suburban area with lots of ornamental trees and bushes; it's actually in walking or biking distance to lots of places, and several of us in the house virtually live on our bicycles. yes, when it rains, it throws us off a little. but that's not likely, until at least november. in the meantime, it's clear sailing.