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Ed on Cold Mountain
From the air, if you could have risen high above the sandy wastes of the Blasted Lands, you would have seen that the battle-weary troops of the Arm of the Almighty had regrouped into marching formation. A gritty cloud of choking red dirt swirled around and above the thick gray line that twisted like a serpent across the empty desert. The Arm moved slowly, but with deadly intention, towards the site of what everyone in that grim mob, from the resplendent purple-robed figure of God's General himself to the shabbiest of the boot-less slaves knew would be The Last Battle.
God's General walked at the head of the dusty column. Flanking him and behind him were his handpicked bodyguards. No one walked ahead of him. The Arm of the Almighty had been marching for three days; the General knew they were nearing the Valley. Frequent earthquakes and powerful bombs had recently altered the once familiar terrain through which they moved and he couldn't be sure of their precise location. Without speaking, the General tapped a bodyguard on the shoulder and pointed to the ridge that loomed ahead of them. The man set off at a trot, headed for the ridge
First: The word "charm." Some people are charming, some people wear charms, some people cast charms, some people remember the candy charms of childhood. Second: Word processors and computers have created a new thing in the world, the "1/4 sheet"phenomenon. Typo? No problem. Forget the White Out, just correct on screen and print another page. Millions of times a day all round the country. Excess letters, memos, agendas, minutes and announcements pile up. What to do with all these "useless"sheets? 100th monkey style we all at once invented the "pile of Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¼ sheets"scratch pad. A charming solution.
Another weekend, so another movie review. Taking a chance, I rented a popular Hollywood production. Normally I shun the big studio products with their tsunami of media hype, but this one came with a recommendation from a (formerly!) reliable source. "The Constant Gardener"combined the worst of the plots of "China Syndrome"and "Erin Brockavich-, tossed in an unhealthy dose of "Fahrenheit 911"paranoia, then seasoned all with a punishing helping of the David and Goliath metaphor. The result was a politically correct soup, naively presented, totally unpalatable and completely lacking in nourishment. Nice exotic scenery, though, and well photographed.
Writing the date on a piece of paper confers upon the document an aura of bureaucratic officialness. The act of writing itself feels like fixing something in place permanently, as if the date were a butterfly now pinned to a display panel, a painting firmly secured in its frame with stout hardware or a signature. The way it really is, though, is that writing a date is like taking photographs of a waterfall or like a kid skipping rope. Each time the revolving rope brushes the surface of the sidewalk, someone somewhere writes a date on a piece of paper
Today I saw a small car freighted with two bumper stickers, one over the right wheel and one over the left. In beautiful Buddhist colors the reader was challenged from the left to "Free Tibet!"while admonished solemnly from the right "War never solved anything." I followed the word-laden bumper through town for a mile or more and had the opportunity to reflect on these broadsides while staring at them through two long red lights. I wondered what the Tibetan soldiers who died delaying the Red Army so the Dalai Lama could escape would have made of the combined message.
Just in time for Valentine's Day, NPR did an in-depth report on the chocolate industry. It turns out, according to the earnest reporter, that 70% or so of the world's supply of the tasty beans come from Ghana and the Ivory Coast. No problem, you say? Rewarding work for deserving third-worlders, you say? Wrong. Cocoa plantation workers are overwhelmingly underage, unpaid, de facto slaves. Kept from attending school, beaten (or worse) for shirking work or trying to flee, not provided with safety or health equipment, these are the workers who bring us the chocolate hearts that help us celebrate love.
It really is a struggle to walk by a free fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie. In the meeting room where I suffered through a day devoid of fresh air and sunshine, on a long table stretched against the back the wall, was a heaping pile of warm chocolate chip cookies. The silent presence of those cookies pulled on me like Tahiti must have on Gaugain. In that dull room they were wilderness, adventure, an unexplored foreign coast. It is a sorry day, to be sure, which has as its passionate and vital heart only a silly and trivial lust for chocolate.
My legs are outstretched as I sit on the coach; my feet are propped up on the old blanket chest "coffee table"and my legs are crossed at the ankles. The cat has developed the habit of sprawling in the "v"thus formed and is stretched out there now, like a breathing rug, reaching her front paws towards my feet. This is where she likes to sleep while I read or fiddle with my 100 Words notebook. This is much better than the old arrangement, which had her stretching herself across whatever book or paper was in front of me.
In his village, the bodyguard had been known for speed, strength and aggressiveness on the soccer field. He had been heavier then, broad-shouldered and thick-necked, but the hard years of war had changed him. He was thinner and lighter now, his face wrapped more tightly on his skull bones. He had become as rangy as a jackal. Those closest to God's General ate well, though, and he was still strong. He moved up the sandy slope quickly, his breathing unhurried. As he neared the ridgeline he unslung the AK from his back and cradled the weapon in the ready position.
The frequently stated and believed truism that "time accelerates as we age"correctly depicts the phenomenon, but incorrectly explains it. Time's passage is indeed perceived somewhat subjectively and elastically by the mind, but rather than being a function of the observer's age, the apparent rate of time's flow is inversely linked to the intensity of attention being paid by the observer to the senses. Chris McCandless says, "The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences." Closer, but still not quite right. Joy springs from consciously attending to life's experiences, even if those experiences are routine and familiar.
Snow on and off today. It's a bit warmer than this weekend, but the price of that comfortable warmth is the loss of the bright sunlight that accompanies the cold. There was a record setting snowfall in NYC this week, I hear. The thought of gray granite and concrete getting layered over with a thick white icing is cheering. I like the idea of those stonescapes being transformed into snowscapes. It makes me wonder how the big cities in the northern tier of states will look after they have been layered, buffed and polished by the next round of glaciers.
When he was only 10 feet below the ridge, the bodyguard paused and stood still. He listened intently, but heard no sounds in front of him. He turned his head to hear better, and just as he did he felt the scratch of a bug landing on his neck. An instant later he felt a sharp sting of pain. Reflexively, he swatted and saw a large black fly with blazing red eyes fall to the sand in front of him. He quickly slid the toe of his boot over the fly, but the insect suddenly took to flight and escaped.
There really should be some sort of insignia a guy could sport to indicate his level of competency with handling the emotional subtleties of Valentine's Day. Nothing so military as shoulder patches or breast pocket medals. The insignia of rank that I visualize would be 1, 2 or 3 hearts tattooed on the left side of the chest. One heart would reward always remembering the Day, 2 would announce the wearer capable of using imagination to present chocolate and flowers creatively and 3 hearts, the highest rank, would be awarded only to those who have demonstrated an understanding of Love.
The cold is returning. The National Weather Service forecast for my Cold Mountain hideaway is for -7 and -3 over the next two nights. I think I may take Friday off from work to keep both woodstoves cooking. In the end, the weather always has the last word. Cold has been compared to an iron fist or a stalking tiger, but really it is a word, the final word, a one syllable word, a long low moan of a syllable exhaled in a plume of steam formed by the last warm breath of the person to whom cold is speaking.
Last night I dreamed I was one of a group of monks being quizzed by a jovial old master on the depth of our understanding. A dozen of us sat in a group. The master handed each monk a piece of paper. On the paper was a brief list of short questions. Going around the circle, we each answered one. I was first. My question: "Are these the wrong words?" My answer: "In February garden, empty flower pots full of frozen snow." As soon as I uttered the image, I awoke, came downstairs and froze it into place on paper.
The metallic black insect flew directly over the ridge, into the sun. The bodyguard's eyes could follow its flight for only a moment before the intense brightness forced him to avert his gaze. The sting on his neck now began to burn, and a wave of searing pain was spreading across his shoulders, sending tendrils of fire down his spine. He took a step forward, lurched, but remained upright. His lungs began to falter; each inhale was like breathing smoke and fire. His breath became a rapid staccato. He took another step, stumbled and sprawled face down in the sand.
It has been cold the last few days, really cold, a killing cold, with double-digit sub-zero wind chills. Nighttime temperatures are below zero without the wind chill, and the cold has frozen the snow hard as a concrete city sidewalk. I spent some time today wandering the property, suspended firmly a foot or two above the ground. Deep in the trees, I encountered a thick cluster of dog tracks, and followed them to the skeletal remains of an unlucky deer. Half of a rib cage, with its bones bleached by the intense sunlight, stuck up above the hard white snow.
What if God's name was not YHWH but Suzette? It feels blasphemous even to ask the question. And yet, if the nature of God defies limits or definitions and encompasses all things and is beyond all words or conceptual corrals, then why not use a name that evokes a human response? I guess that would be why God is often called Father or Mother. And yet, now that I think further about it, I wonder if maybe a less evocative name might indeed be best. Who could project restrictive ideas onto names like YHWH or MU or TAT TVAM ASI?
I am imagining what I would want to say about my life if I were to have to file an Exit Document at the end of it, some sort of archival testament for future folks to consider. I think I would take a jocular tone in the telling of my history. I might explain my transplantation from NY to ID this way: "As a member of the once numerous and easily located Tribe of Leary, I, leaf-like on the stream of Change, went with the flow and was poured into the West, part of the great Scattering of the 60's.-
At the core of his body, the bodyguard felt a sensation of being simultaneously frozen and burned. The feeling grew rapidly, spreading outward from his center. His arms failed to respond to commands to push him upright. Before the icy fire reached his hands and feet, while he still retained some ability to move, he sank his fingers and the toes of his boots into the sand and pulled and pushed his way forward. His fingers began to stiffen in paralysis just as his head cleared the ridge. His jaw clenched in a spasm and his vision began to blur.
The Stephen King habit is harder to break than even the chocolate habit. He has the "words equal paint"skill honed so keenly that word pictures lift off and float (in gory pool) above the page, shimmering like reflections on a dark pond's surface at late afternoon, refracting and distorting the image of the reader's own face. Reading his stories is like staring into a crystal ball. You hope to see some profound secret or at least to glimpse life-changing details of the near future, but instead you see only the burning glow of your own mad, story junky eyes.
"Port-Gate"(Michael Savage's term), seems to have made multilateralists of our national defense President and many of his patriotic allies, while morphing those Lefties whose allegiance is typically saved for the UN into xenophobic isolationists. "Curiouser and curiouser,"said Alice. If there isn't a pitchfork-waving Devil orchestrating this crazy world symphony, then I suspect evolution is to blame. Favoring both aggression and creativity has guaranteed human survival (along with the dreary litany of crimes and conflict we call "History-) in the past, but may in the future serve only to assure a limitless supply of innovative, and ultimately destructive, mayhem.
I turned an interesting corner today while recalling a conversation last week in which the word "clerestory"was used. No one was sure of how to pronounce the word. Thinking today of how I could determine the correct pronunciation, I got hung up trying to remember the URL of my favorite dictionary site. After struggling for a few moments to recall the electronic address, I thought of the perfectly fine paper and ink dictionary shelved above my desk. It came as a shock to realize that my first impulse had been to consult the Internet rather than a "real"book.
It has been a quiet Saturday. Thick, warm clouds moved over the sunny skies and by nightfall small flakes of sugary snow were in the air. Earlier in the day I heard an accordion version of "The Devil went down to Georgia"that was excellent, except for the fact that they used the weak "son of a gun"ending instead of Charlie Daniels original hell-raising "son of a bitch." But, hey, it was an accordion band. I finished the new Stephen King novel, which is a good thing...finishing it, that is. The hero, Clayton Riddel, is certainly no Roland Deschain.
This week I received notification from two of my friends that they had changed their e-mail addresses. So tonight I decided to enter the new addresses into my "Outlook"address book. While I was doing that, I noticed that I was still hanging on to Dad's addresses, even though he will have been dead for two years this coming July. I guess I knew the addresses were still there, but I'd been avoiding looking at them. I felt sad realizing that the time had come to erase them. When I clicked "delete"it was almost frightening how suddenly they vanished.
This was a day that just dragged on and on and on. I can't say for sure whether my horse mind pulled my cart body through it or whether my wheeled mind cart was tugged along the muddy road by my plodding mule body. Thinking came as hard as moving. Eyes, really extensions via the ropy optic nerve of the gray old brain itself, burned, while muscles, those sometimes willing servants, grumbled and muttered constantly. There was all day a force acting to get me horizontal, slow my breathing and let life be the dream it really seems to be.
The month ends in a rattle of hard rain, and this journal of 100 Words melts under the force of the insistent downpour. It has been satisfying in the way that pulling a plow down a long furrow must be satisfying to a farm mule to have accomplished another month of 100 Words, but it has also on some days felt like a just another job. I think I will take a break from this for a while and go back to some less structured journaling. Lets see what happens when I turn the mule out into a different pasture.
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