The Desolate Wilderness

“. . . .they knew they were pilgrims and strangers . . . and looked not much on these things but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. 9:16) and therein quieted their spirits.

The next day they were on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting. To hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other’s heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood as spectators could not refrain from tears. . . . .

Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succor; and for the season it was winter. And they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.

Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men? And what multitudes of them there were, they knew not; for which whatsoever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content
.”

— Recorded by Nathaniel Morton, keeper of records of the Plymouth Colony based on the account of William Bradford.

Best wishes for a wonderful and Blessed Thanksgiving!

The Lottery of Birth

[A repeat from April 9, 2015] I’m lucky.  You who read this post are probably lucky.  You were born into a relatively stable environment. To decent parents. You have an education.  Job.  Family.   Friends.  A religious tradition.  You can travel. And if you get sick, there are doctors to take care of you. The twinkling spark that suddenly became YOU arrived just in the right place.  At the right time.  It was a lottery.  Of birth. 

What if that spark had come to life a hundred years ago. A thousand. For many in those times, they just endured.  Day by day.  Struggling with the things we take for granted today.  Yet even now there are those who are born into a life of abysmal poverty, suffocating hunger and crippling disease.  Raised in countries ravaged by violence, hatred and injustice.  Where every single day may be an arduous, painful and frightening saga.   Do you ever think — that could’ve been me.   

While I go to church on Sunday, I scratch my head over those faith traditions which deny salvation to those not exactly like them.  Can a little boy help if he is born in Totonicapan, Guatemala?  Or to a Hindu family in Rajahmundry, India?  Can we help that we are born Jewish?  Lutheran?  Buddhist?  And if the little girl in Zimbabwe never hears the message of [pick your faith tradition] what does that mean for her eternity?  Her hope of salvation? Is it a closed door?   I wonder how Gabriel might answer that question (see post of 1/30/12).

The Gutenberg Bible

[A repeat from October 26, 2017] No book has received the attention or acclaim as the Gutenberg Bible.  The first example of mass-produced printing using “movable type,” the Gutenberg Bible is surely the rarest and most unique example of the printing art.  The Gutenberg Bible was first produced by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1450’s with the financial backing of Johann Fust.  The Bible was completed in an “edition” of approximately 180 two volume sets (Old Testament/New Testament) with perhaps 100 on vellum (no one is quite sure).  The great curiosity is that today only 48 are known.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gutenberg_Bible

I first became interested in the Gutenberg Bible when I acquired the rare book room of the Boca Grande (FL) Library in 1984.  The one rarity they would not sell was a page from an original 42 line Gutenberg Bible (grrrrr).  While it is speculated that the remainder of Gutenberg’s Bibles have been destroyed over the centuries, I have my own theory.  I believe that somewhere – out there – there is a copy or two of the Gutenberg Bible.  Lying undiscovered, layered with dust, laced with cobwebs and swarming with dust mites.  My daughter has suggested that I take a sabbatical to hunt for this treasure much as I did in the ’80’s when I traveled to Spain and Portugal every few months on the hunt for manuscript rarities.  I may still do this. . . . 

The last Gutenberg Bible (Old Testament volume only) sold in 1987  for $5.5 million.  Today, one might fetch $30 million.  Individual leaves sell well into five figures.  If and when I find a Gutenberg Bible, I may then go on a quest – to seek out the yet undiscovered ships’ logs from that 1492 voyage of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. . . . .

America’s Funniest Home Videos

[A repeat from February 21, 2013] While waiting for a carry out order at a restaurant in Boca Grande Florida a few weeks ago, I sat at the bar, sipped on a glass of cab and relaxed.  There were two televisions on.  Above the bar.  Both were tuned to the same program: “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” I’d never watched the program before, so I began to watch — with a tabula rasa. The tabula rasa quickly became a “what the $%^X!&?”

The setting of the show was a glitzy lounge with elegantly-attired people sitting around cocktail tables sipping on what appeared to be champagne or some pseudo bubbly.  And the host played “home videos” while babbling.  Many of the videos involved men being hit where it really hurts (prompting many laughs).   A lot of the clips involved people falling, tripping, slipping or otherwise embarrassing or even hurting themselves (guffaws and belly laughs).  And the elegantly-dressed people would howl and applaud like world peace had just been declared. 

Three men and two women were sitting at the other end of the bar (and not elegantly dressed) — paying rapt attention to the “videos” (which I suspect were for the most part staged).  They were laughing (one guy snorted as he laughed) and howling and poking each other every time someone tripped, fell, was bitten, smacked or fell into water (I think the beer helped inspire these reactions).  Watching this fivesome was more fun than watching “AFHV.” 

My bag of food arrived and I mercifully left — but not without my concluding that “America’s Funniest Home Videos” has got to be one of America’s dumbest programs as well.

Conservation

My good friend Antonio, who lives in Monterrey, Mexico (see post of March 12, 2012), and I were communing about how conservation worked when we were young (he is a few years younger than me).  It was pretty simple.  

Bottles were returned for a deposit – then reused.  Clothes were dried on a line – by solar and wind power.  No 220 volt dryers chugging for an hour and a half.  Diapers were washed and reused.  We had one television in the house with a screen the size of a placemat.  There were no “stadium sized” televisions.  Our moms used an egg beater to whisk everything (there was no blender).  And when we shipped Christmas presents, our parents crumpled newspapers for packing.  There were no plastic “peanuts” or bubble wrap.  We cut the grass with a hand mower.    And raked leaves. Wardrobes were pretty modest.  No “new models” except hand-me-downs.   There were no plastic water bottles (which today are made, used in a minute and thrown out by the billions).  There was one water glass by the kitchen and bathroom sinks — that everyone used.   Rinse to clean – drink.   Stores and businesses had water fountains.  Thirsty?  Use the water fountain.   And my father changed razor blades in his Schick razor.  Very little was “disposable” . . . .  

Have we become lazy and complacent?  You tell me.   We hear political trumpets sounding about saving the environment and how we must look forward and not back.  But I do think that looking backward – at least in some areas – could sure provide a lesson for how we might best look ahead.

Crossing paths with Sean Connery

On May 21, 2017, I talked about my experience of being on the Board of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation – and spending my first board meeting (Taliesin West in Scottsdale) staying in the Sun Cottage – Mr. Wright’s home – and sleeping in his bed. Quite an experience. . . .

At one of the winter board meetings, I happened to be in the Taliesen (West) store perusing stuff. Some guy was next to me also perusing. He started to speak to the clerk and I thought I know that voice. I looked over and it was 007. Sean Connery. Oh my socks and shoes! I slipped out of the store and went into the architectural school – and casually mentioned that 007 was in the store. It seems that the speed of light was exceeded as the students whisked out of the school – to see the legendary actor. It’s what happened next that sticks in my mind.

Mister Connery came out and began walking to the parking lot with a chap (presumably a protector). Students approached him and asked for photographs and autographs. And Mister Connery could not have been nicer — staying the course until the gaggle of fans had been satisfied. And dispersed. It’s nice to see celebrities who maintain respect for those who admire them. The stories are legion about those who . . . . shall we say don’t . . . .

The Last Brownie?

(A repeat from November 29, 2012)

A man lay on his deathbed. Perhaps a few hours to live. His hands were folded on his chest.  And his eyes were closed. Suddenly his nose began to twitch. A familiar smell. He drifted upward out of the deep recess of sleep. That smell he thought. CHOCOLATE. Brownies baking! One eye flickered open. Then the other. And he slowly tilted his head. The smell of chocolate was overpowering. The kitchen was just down the hall.  I need. . . one last brownie. . . .

With great effort, he rolled onto his side and let gravity take its course. He flopped heavily onto the floor. Slowly, laboriously he elbowed his way toward the kitchen. After what seemed like hours, he crossed the threshold of the kitchen.  And there – on the kitchen table – was a plate of warm brownies. He elbowed his way forward and then slowly extended his grasp . . . . fingers . . . . reaching . . . . almost there.

Just then his wife walked in the kitchen – “GEORGE!   You leave those brownies alone! Those are for the funeral!”

My Favorite Trees

Has anyone ever asked you what your favorite tree is?  I didn’t think so. On July 23, 2020, I posted on the 178 year old tree in my front yard. It is one of my favorites. But there is competition. . . . .

Up until the Covid thing started, I would walk to and from the train station every day. And each day pass the same trees. Elms, oaks and maples. Plus a few coniferous offerings — pine and spruce varieties.  But there are two trees – that stand out.  And gather my attention every day.   The first is a copper beech.  A beautiful, old, twisted thick-trunked tree with noble mien and stature.  It has the elephant hide bark and beautiful leaves in summer.  If I was 10 years old again, I’d be climbing it.  

It is the second tree though that has my greatest admiration.  It is a ginkgo.  One single ginkgo in my half mile walk.  The ginkgo is a rarity among trees as it dates back 270 million years.  Its leaf design is the symbol of the prefecture of Tokyo.  Male ginkgos develop cones and the female ginkgos sprout small flowers.  And extract of ginkgo is marketed as a dietary supplement for enhancing cognitive function (I buy it by the gallon).  And ginkgo nuts are edible.

The most amazing feature of the ginkgo is that in the fall, the tree loses its leaves all within the space of hours.  Usually after a hard frost. One day, I will walk by this noble tree and it’s full of leaves.  The next day, the leaves are all lying in a thick, yellow, circular carpet around the base.   If one day I come back to this world as an animal – I’d want to be an eagle.  If I ever come back as a tree – I’d want to be a male ginkgo.  In a forest of female ginkgos.  Hellooo there good lookin‘ . . . . . .

Peace

[A repeat from January 12, 2017] Pax vobiscum. As-salamu Alaikum. Shalom. Shanti. Aloha. Peace be with you. . . .

It’s interesting how most faith traditions include a blessing to others — extending peace. And asking for peace in return. In my church, there is a time when we “share the peace.” Peace – be with you. And also with you.

The Prince of Peace has been around for 3,000 years (Isaiah 9:6). Plato encouraged moderation and a sense of limits that bring peace. There is a Nobel Peace Prize. There’s a peace symbol. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 was to end the war of all wars. There’s a Peace Corps and the United Nations has “peacekeeping” missions.

With all the peace being promoted around the world, you would think that peace would be bubbling over. But no. Families suffer discord. As do school boards. City councils. Communities. Counties. States. Our nation. Other countries. The world. Pain. Anger. Hatred. Violence. Discord. Just how serious are we about being peaceful? Seems like everyone wants peace. But nobody wants to give it. Peace is like a bridge. It’s always been under construction. But it hasn’t been completed in several millennium.

So – what’s the answer? That is the 64 dollar question. Perhaps peace begins at home. Or in the workplace. We need peace in the political arena. That’s for sure. I believe charity of heart can help. Along with an understanding that good people can have differing views on different subjects. Not everyone agrees though. But can you try?

Peace be with you.

Pat Paulsen

Following my post on the candidacy of Alfred E. Neuman for President in 1956, a friend reminded me of another celebrity who ran for President of the United States — Pat Paulsen. Some of you, may scratch your heads “Pat Paulsen, Pat Paulsen” but this chap was a contender. From 1968 until 1996.

Patrick Layton Paulsen (1927-1997) was an American comedian who spent a lot of time on television. He was a regular on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and he even had his own short-lived show (13 weeks) in 1970. But Pat Paulsen is probably best remembered for his appearances on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour which premiered in 1967. In 1968, Tom and Dick Smothers convinced Paulsen to run for President. And he did. While his candidacy was predicated on humor, he actually appeared on the ballot in New Hampshire on several occasions. When asked about his policies, he’d respond “picky, picky, picky.” And he got votes all over. Check out a few of his campaign slogans.

As I’ve always said – The future lies ahead

I am neither left wing nor right wing. I am middle of the bird.

In America, any boy can grow up to become President. Or if he never grows up, Vice President.

United we sit.

The number 1 cause of forest fires is trees.

Will I obliterate the national debt? Sure, why not?

It’s tough campaigning. Kissing hands and shaking babies.

And on and on. I know what you’re thinking. How about a Paulsen-Neuman ticket? Coulda worked. . . . .