Posts Tagged ‘travel’

The Beginning and the End

June 15, 2018

To go with the flow, or to go against it—that is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler to nurture the notion that mankind was innocent in some presumed condition of noble savagery—or to accept traditional religion that pronounces us guilty of offenses against Nature or against God.

If we are, or were, indeed, noble savages in our beginnings, why should we have taken on the disciplines and restrictions of religion—doctrines that judge us culpable of sin and thus in need of repair, salvation, or some kind of evolving perfection yet to be realized?

Hawaiians, for instance, who were alive here on the island of Kauai (I am wondering, as I write this on Kauai in 2018)—those Hawaiians who lived here in 1778 when Captain James Cook suddenly showed up with his fancy ship and his threatening weaponry, his magical gadgets, highly-trained crew, impressive use of language and documents, his tailored clothing and highly developed European culture—those relatively primitive people who first saw Capt. Cook’s two ships sail up to the mouth of the Waimea River . . .

CaptCook

Why should they have accepted his intrusion into their simple, primitive life?

To go with the flow, or to go against it—that was their question.

Would they go with the “arc of history” or resist it?

Did they eventually accept highly developed European culture to replace their traditional tribal existence? Did they accede to it out of submission, or out of necessity, or out of attraction to the new fancy stuff they saw? Were they conquered? Or were they taken by the hand and brought gently, Christian-like, into 18th-century civilization, and ultimately into 19th, 20th and 21st-century lifestyle?

Look around Hawaii today. What do you think?

They accepted it.

They went with the flow. One thing we know for sure about the so-called primitive Hawaiians of 1778: they knew how to go with the flow. They were here on this remote island in the middle of earth’s largest ocean, long before we technolified haoles were here, and they had arrived here at some earlier time because they knew how to make “the flow” of this life and the Pacific Ocean work for them.

So now, 2018, it is what it is. Hawaii, like every other place in our modern world, is what it is. Some may lament the demise of noble savagery that has been the result of Captain Cook’s intrusion into this paradisical (though deadly if you don’t know what you’re doing) island. Others may celebrate the entrance of the Hawaiians into modern life.

Some may come and some may go.

Captain Cook came. He left and came back again. The beginning of Captain James Cook’s Hawaii experience happened when his crew sailed their two ships to the mouth of the Waimea River— a river that flowed from mile-high Waialeale crater down to sea level at the southwest shore of Kauai.

Waimea1

He died in 1779, shot dead by an Hawaiian on the Big Island of Hawaii, at the other end of this island archipelago. His sudden demise came in the midst of dispute between some of his own crew members and the natives of Hawaii.

Many have lived and died since that time.

Two days ago, up on the other end of Kauai island, the northeast end, at a strand called Larsen’s Beach, we witnessed the life-end of another person, a contemporary. The man was a traveler from Pennsylvania. He had been snorkeling at a reef in unpredictable waters when the Ocean took hold of him.

A little while later, his flippers floated to shore. After we had witnessed a team of chance beach visitors (us), and then a couple of jet-skiing lifeguards from some other nearby beach, and then EMT guys flown in on a “bird,”—after we had witnessed all this collective noble attempt to coax life back into the snorkeler’s breathless lungs and heart, we saw his neon-green flippers float back to shore.

Flipper

Maybe he was going with the flow; maybe he was going against it; maybe he was fighting against the current, or maybe he was just going with that flow of life and death that eventually captures us all.

In my case, that flow will, in the long run, take me to death, and then resurrected life, as was demonstrated by Jesus.

Am I really going with the flow, you may ask, in joining the historical current of the Christian faith into which I was born?

Or am I going against the rational flow by subscribing to such an incredible prospect as life after death?

God only knows.

King of Soul

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Tall Tales of Hawaii

June 1, 2018

The islands of Hawaii are the very tippy-tops of huge volcanoes that erupted from the ocean floor a long, long time ago. So while each one appears to be a small island, they are in fact all very high volcanic mountains surrounded by water that is a couple of miles deep.

How this happened is a funny story.

Several geologic ages ago, ole mother earth began spewing out a gargantuan pile of molten lava through a hot spot in the Pacific ocean floor. Solidifying as it piled upward during eons of  time, the great magma pile finally popped up above sea level and became the island of Kauai.

Over vast periods of time, one pile after another eventually rose above sea level to become a new Hawaiian island.    The molten  lava flows were being extruded from earth’s inner parts because of very high heat way down underground. This extreme hotness is always being generated somewhere down there, by mega-friction between between our planet’s internal moving parts. Every now and then the resultant outward pressure overwhelms all the surrounding crud. Molten rock then bursts through and gets spewed out through whatever weak spot or fissure it can find.

Volcanoes, we call them. This process is how the eight islands of Hawaii were formed.

If you look at a map of the Hawaiian archipelago, you’ll see that the islands are all strung out in a geographical chain. This is because, as each volcanic mass was slowly mounting upwards, the bottom of the ocean was, at the same time, taking its own sweet time sliding along sideways. Consequently, each volcanic tower became an island in a different location.

Although we are not generally aware of it, our earth’s outer layer is divided into several giant mega-slabs. These vast tectonic “plates” (as scientists call them) are always shifting. Only seismologists and geologists can  track these planetary developments; technicians have hyper-sensitive seismologic equipment that detects the changes and documents them.

So that’s how we know about all this stuff. We have people somewhere all the time keeping tabs on the incremental, though massive, shifting of our planetary home.

Way, way down deep beneath Pacific waters, a very gradual but steady long-term northwesterly movement of the vast Pacific “plate”  determined in what geographical arrangement the Hawaiian islands got placed. A  generally southeast-toward-northwest sliding, over time, thus established a southeast-to-northwest configuration of the Hawaiian islands chain.

Each island pile is an extrusion of earth’s internal processes. These planetary developments are actually happening beneath our civilization all the time, although we are rarely aware of them. Every now and then ole mother earth makes her inner workings known by spurting out a fresh load of melted stuff.

LavaFlow

Volcanoes, we call them.

The latest  is happening now on the biggest, newest Hawaiian island, which shares its name with the whole group—Hawaii, the “big island.” You may have heard about this new volcano; it’s called Kilauea. Video reports of its activity have lately been all over the web and other media.

At Kilauea

I’ve been to Kilauea, and seen the bright molten lava as it was sloshing down its deep crater hole in the ground. But that visit was a few years ago.

This morning, I woke up in a breezy dwelling on the absolute other end of these strung-out islands.

Here on Kauai, I spend part of my morning reading a very good book about this island, Edward Joesting’s Kauai: The Separate KIngdom.

  https://www.amazon.com/Kauai-Separate-Edward-Joesting-III/dp/0824811623/

This scholastic work has opened my eyes to some fascinating history of this oldest Hawaiian outcropping.

The ancient storytellers here seem to have had a sense that their beautiful islands share a common origin.

Long before we had sophisticated seismology equipment to track planetary changes, we humans had ancient storytellers, people like Moses, Josephus, Homer, Confucius, Herodotus, and many others.

Today I’m reading about some ancient storytellers of Hawaii. In his book, Mr. Joesting writes of native legends that go way back in Hawaiian time.

  It seems to me that some of the ancient storytellers must have felt a tribal urge to somehow, through tall tales, bring their islands back together as one.

This is Hercules and Paul Bunyan-type tall tales, Hawaiian version.   

Edward cites the legend of the demigod named “Maui”— not the island of Maui, but the mythical deity whose name that island bears. As a sort of early comic-book hero, Maui did some amazing feats.

Edward Joesting provides this mythical account, on page 7 of his book:

“The demigod Maui, among his various escapades, chose to draw all the islands together into one land mass. To do this he had to catch a giant fish called Luehu, but the fish avoided all of Maui’s efforts.”

(Long story short, after Maui had managed to snap the big fish on a line . . .)

“Luehu pulled Maui and his canoe around the Hawaiian islands, wrapping the fishline around the islands and drawing them together with great strength. The only two islands that actually touched were Kauai and Oahu (even they are the two farthest apart).”

(But Maui’s project was complicated. He had eight brothers who were helping him with this unique angling expedition.(Talk about a fish story!) As it happened. . . at one point in their super striving to keep the fish Luehe on the line, the brothers got distracted by—I’m not making this up— the sight of a beautiful woman.  She must have been the first Miss Hawaii, quite an extraordinary femme fatale. Because the sight of her caused Maui’s eight brothers to lose their concentration for the matter at hand . . .)

“At that moment Luehu escaped from Maui’s line and the two islands drifted back to their original positions.

The legendary hero Maui returned to Wailua (on east shore of Kauai). His brothers had disobeyed his orders, and so he turned them into stone and sank them in the mouth of the (Wailua) river. The eight boulders remain there still.”

Now here’s the ancient tall-tale evidence that corroborates the geological, volcanic facts mentioned earlier in this blog: According to the legend abpit fearless leader Maui . . .

“At Kaena Point (on Oahu) there is a rock called Pohaku o Kauai, Rock of Kauai. It was a piece of Kauai that became stuck on Oahu when the two islands touched.”

So there you have it: the two islands of Kauai and Oahu shared a very important rock, which goes to show you . . .

These two islands— Kauai and Oahu— surely were generated from the same volcano! Either that, or they share a very big fish-tale. Take your pick which.

Glass Chimera 

On the Rails of Old Memory

January 14, 2018

Memories linger mysteriously in our minds, sometimes like precious old photographs, sometimes like skeletons in the closet; they can hang around being stubbornly unpleasant and fearful, or they can shine happy and hopeful like a walk in the park in springtime.

I suppose most memories are intimately personal, but not all of them.

I feel we have collective memories, especially in this modern atmosphere of media saturation, where public events pry deeply into our private imaginations.

My g-generation, the baby boomers—we were the first to grow up with this thing called TV. Now our kids are the first to grow up with this thing called the worldwide web. These media—TV, Internet, radio, cellphones etc. fortify and intensify our memories, especially the collective ones.

Most of us American boomers remember, for instance, where we were and what we were doing on the day that President Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

And we and our children remember, most of us, where we were and what we were doing on that fateful day in 2001—9/11 when the twin towers came down.

These collective memories are potent; they latch on to us; and while they do recede into dark tunnels they can be easily brought to the surface at the mention of those circumstances.

And we have, of course, powerful  personal memories from our own youth. Most vivid perhaps, are those that surround a first love or romance. These vague vestiges of the past are capitalized upon by our songwriters and movie-makers. Here’s an excellent example of a very special song about the mysterious aspect of memories.  It was popular when I was a teenager, Dusty Springfield’s Windmills of Your Mind.

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKV9bK-CBXo

But there is another kind of collective memory that goes back even further than modern pop-music or movies. It is tucked away in the crevices of history itself. And I find that certain settings or objects can serve as talismans through which human memories are passed from generation to generation and possibly from age to age, even from century to century.

You’ve heard of deja vu, haven’t you? That’s the feeling you can suddenly experience sometimes in a situation that you could not have been in because it took place before you were born.

This deja vu, which is French for “already seen”  is a feeling I get whenever I’m near or in an old train.

So yesterday I was uncovering some serious deja vu when I toured the North Carolina Transportation Museum which is located at an old, obsolete railroad service yard in Spencer, NC, near Salisbury.

   http://www.nctrans.org/

RailEngn

There is, for me, something very special about these old trains . . . something that stirs intensely in my soul pertaining to days long ago, in past centuries, when these steaming iron beasts roared across the vast landscapes of that hastily-industrializing age. The feeling that I get has something to do with retrieving past memories that I myself could never have experienced, almost as if the locomotives themselves were mnemonic repositories of 19th-century passengers who embarked to ride in those ancient passenger cars.

In the 2014 novel I wrote, Smoke, I attempted to capture this feeling in the story I was composing at that time. The collective memory, mentioned at the end of the scene described below, is implanted in Philip’s mind when he grabs a brass handrail on a French train passenger car. The scene takes place in 1937, in Paris.  It depicts the beginning of a journey being taken by a young American and an old Frenchman who are about to travel from Paris to Lille, in northern France:

       Half a morning later they were boarding the northbound train. By that time, whatever it was that had brought together this aged Frenchman and  his young, attentive American charge had been uncorked to its full expression.  The old fellow was intermittently pouring out his life’s vintage in a slow trickle of memory;  its balmy flow had begun to endow their embarkation with a kind of therapeutic anointing, the beneficiary of which was neither the young man nor the old, but that Man of the ages whose fermented wisdom percolated through deepened souls of both men.

       Now they were walking beside the train, small luggage in hand. Pausing in mid-stride, Mel managed to recap, in the midst of crowd and bustle, a simple advisement that he had begun last night and had already landed upon this morning. “Half the battle in this life, I think, is deciding what to keep and what to let go. You have got to know when to hold them.”      

       They arrived at the railcar to which they had been billeted. Philip appropriated Mel’s briefcase, collecting it with his own, both in his left hand. Placing his right gently hand on Mel’s lower back for support, he waited patiently as the old fellow carefully climbed  onto the steps to ascend into their coach. As Mel’s bony, spotted hand grasped a vertical brass handrail inside the little stair, it seemed to Philip that the ghosts of ten thousand French souls were lingering there. The rail’s brass patina had been worn to a dullish sheen as ten thousand reaching hands had, in the beginnings of their ten thousand journeys on this train, taken hold of it.

RailBrass2

I felt like I, or somebody, had grabbed this rail before. The worn brass summons up a kind of  old, collective memory from days gone by.

I guess you’d have to be there . . . Maybe I was, in a sense, there, yesterday when I visited the Railroad museum.

Smoke

Carolina on my Mind

July 21, 2017

Yesterday we spent the entire day traveling back from Hungary to our home in North Carolina.

You could say I had Carolina on my mind as it was my destination, while we shuffled through multiple planes, seats, lines of people, airports, coffee cups, etc to get back to my Carolina home. But I wasn’t really thinking about home yet.

What had happened in eastern Europe during my lifetime was thoroughly fascinating to me.

After spending a couple of weeks hoofing around Vienna, Prague and Budapest, I had developed an intense new interest about how these three countries that we visited–Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary–had managed to endure and overcome Soviet occupation, which finally ended in 1989.

So I filled those long stretches of airliner time reading a collection of letters that Vaclav Havel had written during his lifetime. Vaclav was a Czech, a dissident playwright who had dared to resist and criticize the Soviets during their many years of trying to communize eastern Europe. Fortunately, Vaclav had squeezed through all that long time of communist mumbo-jumbo; when the Czechs, Poles, Hungarians and other eastern Europeans managed to eject the Soviets in 1989, the newly-freed citizens of the Czech Republic elected Vaclav Havel as their first President.

All of those changes had not come easily.

While trying to understand some of those changes while reading on the plane, I came across a statement that Vaclav Havel had written in 1969 to Alexander Dubcek, who had  formerly been First Secretary of the Communist Party of Hungary during the time of the Prague Spring movement and the subsequent military invasion by which the Soviets had crushed the Czech initiatives with their tanks, guns and occupying soldiers. Through the roughest part of the 1968 showdown between the Czechs/Slovaks and their Soviet oppressors, Alexander Dubcek was the Czech in charge who had tried to reconcile the two differing positions of Czechs and Soviets.

Here is a thought that Vaclav wrote to Dubcek in 1969 a few months later:

“Though (I was) moved by the physical and psychological pressures you endured, and deeply aware of the complexity of the situation and never for a moment doubting the honesty of your intentions, I was still convinced from the beginning that by signing the Moscow Agreements, you were making a terrible mistake. . .”

Vaclav Havel was quite an independent thinker,  a brave man who survived perilous persecution to ultimately prevail and become President of his own people.

He was one of many dissident Czechs. There were many, many others of eastern Europe who suffered all those changes.

We heard quite a bit of info about it, along with other facts about Czech history, as we followed two excellent guides through two different walking tours in Prague.

On the Discover Prague tour, guide Kevin provided an excellent backstory for us about the events/effects of World War II in Czech lands, and the subsequent Soviet communism period.

On the Sandeman’s tour, guide Karel featured the main points and places of historical interest, such as the Castle, but also including this one:

UCarolina

Our Prague guide Karel stands here in front of Universitas Carolina, which is actually called Charles University, because it is named for Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire back in the 1300’s. So this association of similar names is one reason that I say Carolina is on my mind, aside from the fact that both of our daughters are graduates of the University of North Carolina, back home in the good ole USA, to which we have just returned.

A curious collection of European confusion can sometimes be recalled and possibly correlated when one considers the cornucopia of names directly related to this Carolina root. For a long time I have wondered about it. Between England, France, Germany, the Roman Empire, Austria, Hungary, Czechia et al, the Car… prefix nomenclature becomes quite confusing. There’s the Latin Carolus, the several French kings Charles, going back to Charles Martel, Charlemagne (the main guy), and the Carolingian dynasty that arose from their loins. Also, across the Channel, we find the several English kings Charles (including the one who was beheaded), not to mention the German version Karl and the Czech iteration Karel, and we shan’t neglect to mention wild and crazy American variations  like Charlie and even Chuck. And as if that wasn’t enough. . . my own name, Carey, was mentioned to me– by a girl I knew many moons ago who was proud of her German heritage–she claimed that my name  was  a French or English corruption of the German Karl.

But as I was saying. . . Karl in Prague was telling us about Charles IV, and the founding of Universitas Carolina in 1348 as the first University in central Europe, not to be confused with Central European University in Budapest,

CEUBudp

which I hear was funded by George Soros, a financier quite unpopular among my American conservative colleagues because they say he wants to cram more immigrants into  Old School Europe.

Nevertheless, lest I digress, I will mention, in closing, that  Charles University or Carolina, as we see in the first above pic,was attended by Franz Kafka, Albert Einstein and many other notables. This collection of courageous revisionists goes way back. In the 1400’s the Universitas Carolina became, under the influence of Jan Hus, a hothouse of emerging Protestant revision of the Christian faith.

Thank God for that!

Anyway, speaking of God, back here in my Carolina home, we have an old joke: If God’s not a tar heel, then why’s the sky Carolina blue?, which only adds more curiosity to the confluence of C-words connected to a  Carolina root from which it all came and later culminated, I must conclude.

All in all, it’s good to be back in the New World Carolina, the one sung about by James Taylor,

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXmgkvIgc0w

 the very same Carolina  that I was on my mind as I was returning here from recent travels in the Old World Carolina.

King of Soul

The End Room

July 12, 2017

For 600 years, a royal dynasty named Hapsburg ruled the vast European domains called Austria-Hungary.

In 1848, an emperor died; and so an emperor’s son replaced him.  From 1848 onward, Emperor Franz Josef ruled the empire for almost 68 years, until his death in 1916.

Franz Josef had a nephew named Ferdinand, whose place in the extended family would later qualify him as the heir to the throne at the occasion of Franz Josef’s death.

HapsLine

But Ferdinand never ascended to that throne,  because he was assassinated in 1914. This assassination happened in Sarajevo, Serbia, on June 28, 1914. It is considered by most historians to be the fatal event that sparked the powder-keg of militarized Europe and ignited World War I.

But before all that, when Emperor Franz Josef was still ruling over the quasi-peaceful Austro-Hungarian empire, and the Hapsburgs were still lolling along as royalties habitually did, the royal family spent their summers at their summer palace near Vienna.

It is a place called Schonbrunn.

Schonb

We visited the palace at Schonbrunn as tourists. As I was walking through the “royal apartments,” the audio-guide mentioned that Franz Josef was a real go-getter when it came to performing his roles as Emperor. I got the impression that he was a workaholic monarch who spent his entire day, every day, dealing with matters of state. It makes sense if you think about it, because. . .

Ruling over an empire is no easy task. But in fact, it ultimately proved to be an impossible task. After his nephew Ferdinand, the heir, was assassinated, things really got out of hand for Franz Josef and the Hapsburg monarchy.

The whole royal arrangement really started to unwind when he demanded restitution from them upstart Serbs down there in Sarajevo who had shot his nephew.

But a Serbian concession was not going to happen. The Serbs did not like being subjects to Austrian control; they wanted to have their own country. Franz Josef’s ultimatum soon became a declaration of war.  Next thing anybody knows, there’s a whole damn alliance-mongering world war exploding all over the place, because one very important man was shot to death.

Cutting toward the chase here, I must say that about half-way through that war, the old Emperor Franz Josef died, in 1916. So the Austro-Hungarian Empire was in need of a new Emperor.

But nephew Ferdinand, the would-have-been heir, could not ascend to the throne at that time, because he had been assassinated.

Therefore, the scepter of royal authority of the house of Hapsburg passed to another nephew, Karl. Karl was the nephew of the nephew and therefore the next in line to be Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

But this would be no easy task for young Karl. The prospect of assuming that royal authority must have been, in the wrath of an escalating world war,  akin to accepting the gift of a hornet’s nest. Most all the European potentates and their armies were mad as hell at the German Kaiser Wilhelm and his Austrian co-potentate, the erstwhile Emperor of Austria-Hungary. The wrath of Republican Europe was fast mounting fiercely to dismantle their Entente Axis of presumptuous military power.

But at a terrible cost: millions of lives perished in World War I.

Emperor Franz Josef’s death in 1916, only half-way through the hostilities, was for Karl, more an overwhelming burden than some whoopdeedoo ascension to kingly privilege. His uncle’s prickly challenge to the Serbs had rendered Europe into a grand bloody mess.

So in the year  1918, a scant two years after his accession to the throne, Karl was in no position to wheel and deal on behalf of Austria, or Hungary, or his supposed royal realms, or any other entity except, perhaps, for his immediate family. He was between a rock (Germany) and a hard place (the Allies who were hell-bent on demanding reparation from Germany and Austria.)

This was no easy position for a young monarch to be in.

As we traipsed through the royal apartments of Schonbrunn last Monday, the audio-guide informed me that I had just entered a certain room where, in 1918, a gang of both friends and foes of the Emperor had presented to young Karl his choices pertaining to the Empire.

Karl’s choices were not pretty. The military leaders, diplomats, politicians in that room told him that they were taking the whole damn empire away from him and his family. He was in no position to argue with them, so that was where it all ended for the Hapsburgs. Therefore he had no choice but to concede to their demands.

So Karl and the Hapsburgs lost it all, right here in this room.

Except one thing. Karl refused to abdicate. He managed to slink away still having his title.

Whatever that means, I thought, while standing there with all my fellow-tourists in the room where a 600-year empire had ended. Karl would still be Emperor, but emperor of what? His own kingdom exiled him.

At that moment, I accidentally snapped a contraband photo:

EndRoom

This is where it all ended for the legendary Hapsburgs. As cousin George said later, all things must pass.

Smoke

Vienna

July 8, 2017

My mama raised me to be a Catholic. Daddy wasn’t into religion much.

After I grew up, and became a man who could/would relate to the world on my own terms–after I had reached the age of reason and I had decided for myself what this life was all about. . . after I had lived life to the full, and managed to do a few things right and many a thing wrong–after I had made a grand mess of my life, then allowed the Lord of the Universe, our Creator, to take hold of me at the ripe old age of 27 and turn me around and plant my wayward feet firmly in the ground of the gospel of Jesus Christ–after all that. . .

I met my wonderful little women, Pat from New Jersey. We got married in 1980 and by n’ by she presented three lovely children to me. Eventually the kids grew up, became responsible adults, etc and, long story short, we have followed each one of them to various points of interest all over the world.

Our current adventure in following progeny has brought us to the wonderful city of Vienna, Austria.

Now I have to say that this is an amazing place. Walking around this city for just one evening has already taught me some profundities about what life is all about and where things came from, long before I was born. Previously unexplained elements of my childhood, my heritage as a Catholic kid who later turned born-again Christian, can now be contemplated from the perspectives of history itself, and the movement of certain people groups at various periods of time from the Old World to the New, which is to say, America.

I mean, we grow up and we see things and we don’t really have a clue where all this stuff came from or how it got here and how we came to be in the midst of it all. In my case, I was a kid in the middle of the Deep South, in Mississippi in the 1950’s. Growing up, snotty-nosed and clueless as I was, now I’m wondering how likely it could have been that I grew up Catholic instead of Southern Baptist.

Well, my mama was a French-American Catholic from Louisiana, and my daddy’s people were from Scotch-Irish stock from up in the piney wood of Mississippi and before that they had come through Pennsylvania and before that from the old country, Ireland or Scotland or somewhere over there on the other side of the Pond.

So now, at this particular moment in time, it just so happens that I wake up this morning on the other side of the Pond, which is to say: now we are in Europe, the Old World, because yesterday (or maybe it was the day before that) we flew from America– formerly the New World– to this Old World, and one plane led to another and now I find myself in Vienna on a sunny morning and thanking God for such a wonderful life a the one we now find ourselves in.

As we strolled along the Karntnerstrasse last evening, we encountered this very impressive big cathedral structure, so I snapped a pic:

Steph-z

The immensity of history–what has gone before–is what I’m feeling as I pondered this structure. The erection of this church building took lifetimes of work and toil and sweat, and devotion, back in the days of the Holy Roman Empire, whatever that was, and its long tails of historical development through Peter and Paul and later Constantine and then all the Popes in Rome and eventually the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Hapsburgs and their hunky-dory relationship to the Catholic Church. . .

Until that fateful day in 1914 when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand got shot in Sarajevo by an angry young Serb and the Empire ended and the Old World ended and World War I dealt the final death blows to the ancient reins of power and the reigns of the royal houses that had ruled Europe for a couple a thousand years or so.

As I was pondering all this, we did stroll inside, into the Church at Stephensplatz. We found there a group of devoted Catholics celebrating Mass. This kind of thing has been going on here for a long time. And I don’t care what you think or say about it . . . This was a good thing.

Steph-in

That devotional setting took me back to childhood memories of being Catholic because that’s the way Mama raised me, even though Daddy wasn’t into it.

So as I contemplated, and in some sense, entered into. . . the devotion of these congregants to their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and their expression of that devotion in the sacrifice of the Mass,  and as I reconciled in my mind between those ancient strains of high-church faith and the Protestant Reformation that later changed everything . . . right down to the johnny-come-lately tides of Charismata that had drawn me into my experience of the Christian faith in 1978, and my present appreciation for all that God has done for me and Pat and our grown-up children and their spouses. . . as I stood there in the quiet reverence of a tourist who just happened into a cathedral while other believers worshipped in their strange high-church way . . .

I could relate. I could relate to what they were feeling.

This morning, I can still feel it, devotion.

Devotion goes way back. This is a good thing.

King of Soul 

Bon Voyage for Joey and Maria

December 24, 2015

Joey was really in love with Maria, so it didn’t matter so much to him that she was carrying someone else’s baby. He intended to marry her anyway and raise the child as his own. Blinded by love, he was ready to do anything to protect her. Her face was always in his mind, in his dreams. Whenever they were together, he felt himself to be a true man. Whenever they were apart, he felt himself even more, a man. That meant something–something very precious, very strong, and very. . . ancient, as if they had been together since the dawn of time. In spite of all the trouble and displacement of their immediate circumstances, he felt more a man now than ever before in his life.

What is a man anyway? Someone who takes responsibilities for his own action.

But to take responsibility for someone else’s carelessness? That’s crazy, especially if it requires a lifelong commitment to some other man’s kid.

It wasn’t like he could explain why he was willing to do anything for her. She had told him the whole terrible truth about what had happened–how she had gotten pregnant unexpectedly after making some poor choices.  He had known her far longer than the guy who had inflicted this condition on her.

But it was more than a condition that had taken hold of Maria. It was a child.

Nothing about that loser mattered now anyway. It was all water under the bridge.

They had left Izmir two days ago. Now, Joey and Maria were stepping onto an overcrowded boat to depart Lesbos. Two sketchy-looking characters were up on the deck, acting like they owned the place, rudely waving their herd of misfits through while checking each one’s ticket to make sure they had paid. No freeloaders. The two goons had already turned several off the boat, provoking loud protests from those rejected travelers–protests that were shouted loudly to no avail.

Joey felt secure in one thing; he had paid dearly for their two tickets. It had cost him more than half of everything he had managed to bring with them.

As the goon waved him and Maria through, he felt great relief.

He looked at Maria’s face. She was still smiling. It had been days since he had seen her smile. Suddenly, everything was worth the trouble and the pain of whatever the hell they were getting into now, whatever new phase. As they stumbled, then walked, around the stern, and to the other side of the boat. There was an open space at the side. He gently placed his had on her back, just above her perfect derriere, and urged her with a tender guidance to rest for a moment at the railing. This was, after all, a very special moment–one they had talked about for weeks. Now they were here at last, on the boat, bound for Athens.

He looked out seaward, across the bright-on-dark horizon, at the deep blue sea. Soon they would be skimming o’er the waves. Some time tomorrow, they would arrive in Athens and find the place that Gabe had told him about. If they could get there, surely their troubles would be over, at least for awhile.

After surveying that long-expected horizon for a few moments, he looked again at Maria’s face. The smile had morphed into what seemed a painful expression. But there was still a smile, somehow, beneath the pain. That’s what he loved about her. Now he couldn’t resist the urge, and there was no need to anyway. He bent down and laid a a long, wet kiss on her lips; she responded in a way that made him long for a place of their own. But this intimacy could only go on for so long here in this place, on this boat amongst all these straggly people, and then. . .

Then he looked out to the Aegean again, and his mind began to, in spite of itself, jump to the next phase–whatever that might be. He was hoping there would be room for them at the inn.

Smoke

The Bookends of Experience

October 31, 2015

As far as East is from the West,

and near to worst as to the best,

I have wandered lonely as a cloud

as we travel from some swaddle to the shroud.

Once we drove a stake in the ground and called it home;

now this morning wakes me here as sun is shone.

DawnWoods

Situated now on continental sunrise heights

while recalling vivid island sunset sights,

and noticing here our stark and spindly leaves, these trees,

I recollect the wide and warm of ocean breeze.

SSetHuna

Experience goes as far as mountains are from sand,

then circles back around to water, air and land.

Sometimes life is hard, you know;

at other times it’s soft as autumn leaves make show.

As days turn dark,

so light doth continually toss out some spark

of hope or happiness or flexibility

that is yet assailed by despair or dearth or rigidity.

Experience comes as vividly as rising sun;

then memory renders it precious when day is done.

Doors of perception

open into windows of reflection

as present slips into the past

and future finds a fleeting foothold fast.

We amble here and there and everywhere;

we ramble now and then without care.

When reality and reflection mingle in the sands of time

imagination splurges into rhythm, sometimes in rhyme

when myself is beached upon the rock of time,

Boone53

and our family finds itself with God and universe in line.

SunsetFam

Glass half-Full

A Woman’s Love makes Possible

July 7, 2015

Well my bride of 35 years hath done it again. Last week she took me to Washington, so we could escort nieces and nephews around our great national memorials.

This week we’re in Chicago, while she attends a Nurses’ conference.

While we were walking along Michigan Ave yesterday, I thought about Mama Cass.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OouK3QOzW6Q

because she had sung that song back in the day. . . Words of Love, which contains these lines:

“Worn out phrases and warning gazes won’t get you where you want to go;

if you love her, you must send her somewhere where she’s never been before.”

 

This love strategy is appropriate to my wife and me, but in a reverse kind of way, because she is the one who takes me places!

Sunday morning, I had awakened in our home and made some coffee, then sat in my usual comfy spot to begin a day of reading and writing (which I cannot generally do for five days out of every week because of work.)

My comfy home-working spot is a chair by the living room window, which affords me a quaint view of our back deck and back yard. It usually looks something like this:

BirdDeck

But yesterday, after we checked into the Burnham in Chicago, this was my window view:

Burnhmvw

What a difference! Talk about literary inspiration! Chicago! Carl Sandburg rattling in my brain.

So today, Tuesday she will be attending her professional confab, while I amble over to Grant Park and pursue some groundwork for the new novel. The story, as it appears now in my mind, begins in Grant Park. That’s where, on August 28, 1968, some events took place that made an indelible mark on my generation.  I’ll have more to say about that in three or four years after the book is finished.

Meanwhile, a couple of pics may indicate where this thing is headed, at least for its first part:

ChiHiltn

Logan1
 

King of Soul

While flying over the Alps. . .

March 25, 2015

Yesterday I heard the sad news about a German airliner that crashed over the French Alps. 150 people were killed.

When I heard about the crash, I thought about my daughter. In a few hours, she would be getting on an airplane to fly from San Francisco back here to North Carolina.

Will she be safe?

Don’t even think about it. Just pray.

As I write this, our other daughter is settling into a long trans-Pacific flight that will land her ultimately in Vanuata, the tiny island nation recently devastated by a hurricane.

Will she be safe?

Don’t even think about it. Just pray.

I’ve been thinking of a line in an old song from John Denver, singing about a plane trip . . .

“it’s a long time from this place to Denver, a long time to hang in the sky.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VATSdTRtK

Being a songwriter myself, I have always appreciated that line. . . a long time to hang in the sky. . .

How many people are hanging in the sky right now, at this moment?

How many people in the world are waiting at airport gates, about to walk onto an airplane. How many are walking through the aisle looking for their seat, then stuffing the walk-on bag in the overhead, having a seat, and . . .

and what?

We never think about what might happen, or what might not happen. We politely ignore the flight-crew’s recorded instruction about flight safety and emergency procedures.

Forget about it. If this thing goes down from 30,000 feet, what are the chances its anything but goodbye cruel world?

Don’t even think about it. Just pray.

Just about six weeks ago, my wife and I were hanging in the sky, high above the Alps, on a flight from Athens to London.

I snapped this picture:

AlpValyGood2
Two days ago, Tuesday morning, 150 travelers were sitting in their assigned seats, expecting to leave Barcelona, expecting to glide over the Alps like nothing happened and then land in a few hours in Dusseldorf.

But they never arrived.

Don’t even think about it.

Flying has always been a kind of escape for me. But the opportunity comes only every now and then, when my wife makes plans with elaborate arrangements for some exotic travel. In between those occasional, adventurous flights of our life, I have embarked on flights of fancy about getting on a jet plane, flying into the wild blue yonder to distant lands. Many a cold, crisp winter morning here in the Appalachian mountains, I would steal a few  daydreaming moments from my maintenance job, gazing up at sky, seeing white jet-trails that criss-cross against brilliant blue sky, wishing I were on a jet plane, flying over an ocean, maybe over the Alps, then having dinner that evening with my wife in some faraway place.

And we have actually done that, many times, because Love is a wonderful thing; we celebrate it as often as we can, by traveling together.

But we always got there, to our destination; and we have always returned home after a week or two.

We never crashed.

Don’t even think about it.

Upon hearing, yesterday morning, about the flight that crashed in the Alps, I was sad.

This evening, two days later, an old song, old sad song, is streaming through my head. It’s a song about a man who was at an airport, but he did not get on a plane:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OCnHNk2Hac

There’s a line in this song that I’ve always liked, although I have no idea why.

“.  .this old airport’s got me down; it’s no earthly good to me, ’cause I’m stuck here on the ground. .”

But in some cases, the ones who never got on the plane would be lucky ones.

You never know. . .you never know. . . Don’t even think about it.

Just pray, today.

 

Smoke