Active learning

I’ve always been fidgety. When I get MRIs, I really annoy the techs because I think I’m holding perfectly still, but my body goes twitch-twitch-twitch. They think I’m doing it on purpose. I can’t even tell. Feels like stillness to me.

Aristotle was famous for walking with his students while having his teasing, maddening conversations with them. The old Greek word for walking back and forth (yes, they have a word for it) is peripatētikos. Strolling back and forth while learning and teaching has come to be known as peripatesis, the adjective being peripatetic.

I learn best with intervals of activity. When I can control my obsessive focus, I do best when I take a break every hour or two and … take a walk.

Share this article:

After the burn

JC said, “Let’s take a ride.” This always precedes eye candy, long silences punctuated by little “wow” sounds from me and gentle wafts of quiet satisfaction from him. So I said, “Sure, babe, wherever you want to go.”

We went up towards a ranger station I’ll redub Indian Richard, and the vulgar among you can go wild. (My very Ute friend says the correct name with a certain wry satisfaction.) The road goes through a national forest that had extensive fires. I’ve seen quite a few of those on TV in my California years, and I’ve seen smaller ones up close — the forest fires in the Santa Cruz mountains always get controlled pretty quickly, as these things go.

But with miles and miles, and none of it belonging to anyone, and access so hard — these huge forests are sometimes left to burn.

Caveat emptor: I might have to wax lyrical. There was no way a photograph could do any of this justice, especially from my elderly little iPhone, so I’m left with words alone to draw these pictures with.

Here’s what the California coastal ranges look like normally (except the redwoods; those are temperate rain forests. The inland highlands are much drier, almost arid.) Tawny pelts of grass stretch over the flanks of hills that roll, or sometimes tumble, over knuckles of exposed rock — mottled grey, often fractured in angular planes, puzzle pieces of multicolored lichen covering them, incredibly decorative in the wild and apparently pretty useless for anything commercial, so they’re left to mark turns in rivers and roads.

Those wide tawny pelts are speckled with live-oaks, dark acrobatic limbs twisted in double-jointed abandon, leathery little leaves shaped more like holly, so dark a green they look nearly black against the lion-colored hills.

Occasional stands of cottonwood soak their feet in little streams between the hills, such a bright lively green that they look fey and fresh, too tender for this terrain — but there they are, just the same.

Manzanita twists long dancer’s limbs in dark red tights against its own rich green foliage. It clutches clusters of indigo berries like little nosegays. I can’t get enough of the manzanita. It grows everywhere: in the chapparal, in the woodland, on the edge of the dry lands.

Up on the wooded slopes, jack-pine and maple grow side by side, the jack-pine in big fat perfect shapes, long swooping arms holding long swooping needles. The maples are petite by comparison, appearing to shrink shyly in the shadow of the large-gestured pine.

The woods are never as dense as the Eastern forests, so undergrowth is rife. Poison oak (my personal favorite, hah! ;-p) and scrubby whatnots are simply everywhere. You get breaks of sweeping grasses or areas buried in pine needles hiding roots and vines underfoot, but there’s always something to stumble over.

And that is what first penetrated the overall stunned feeling of seeing such huge forest fire remains up close. The ground was utterly clear. It was covered in a perfect layer of… nothing. There was nothing underfoot. Nature didn’t even bother with a broom. There was nothing but neutral surface, a sort of grey to greyish beige, a noncolor in a monochrome land. Oddly, there were huge astrocytes of white among the grey, straggling stars splashing the grimness with a weird dash of style.

Everything was shades of grey and beige. The trees that had burned the hardest, had been burned to their purest form: no decoration, no hiding, just pure form. More beautiful than the hardest freeze of winter for absolute pared-down revealment. Their trunks had the color and sheen of raw graphite. The stark black of their flayed branches against the cooling sky was absolute.

The jack-pines’ branches and surviving needles told a harrowing story of scorching wind and searing holocaust, limbs twisted against themselves and needles curled into cupped hands as they tried to escape. The live-oaks that still had leaves clenched them into little fists at the ends of thier branches.

But already there were signs of the future creeping up on the recent past. Deer paths and rabbit trails shot through the bleak perfection, loud fawn-colored ribbons laid across the grey velvet. Where maples and the occasional sumac had survived the first blast of heat, the leaves withered afterwards and dropped, golden, on the clean ground, a touch of warmth and — though I saw that they were really just dead — looking exactly like the promise of life.

And then there were the anomalies, those random moments of wildfire charm: a perfect green-and-red-and-indigo manzanita surrounded by total monochromatic devastation, radiant and queenly though no more than 5 feet high; a green maple gracing a stand of tortured jack-pines with unshattered elegance.

The maples consistently kept their heads; somehow, surrounded by much taller jack-pines totally scorched, it seemed they had lifted thier heads and one or two limbs out of the way, and somehow were likely to have kept a bit of green there.

At the last moment, just as we crossed from the last great burn into untouched woodland, a flash of silver — not grey, but sparkling, living silver — danced into view. A fat and sassy squirrel pirouetted on a twig too small to hold it, flirting and twitching in lively activity, a visual shout of life on the edge of the stillness.

I’m still digesting. Both my friend and I have been quite harrowed recently, and he might have chosen that road for a number of reasons. It’s an interesting lot to think about, and the images are burned, as it were,  into my mind. I only wish I could do it more justice. Nature at her most natural is far beyond this language, though.

Share this article:

Regen at Black Butte

I came to CA for a leisurely camping trip with my sweetie. (One can have enough of the “long-distance” in a “relationship” until you have to cut some slack on one or the other. I chose the former.)

I landed in the fiery heart of an explosive crisis in his life, but one thing that nursing and 10 years of serious illness have taught me is, other people’s crises are not mine. It frees me up to have all the empathy in the world, without losing my own balance. (Much… :-))

Our idyllic excursion into nature with nothing much to do has turned into … an idyllic excursion into nature with nothing much to do, but a lot more to talk about.

We wound up at Black Butte Country Store and Camping, …

The store as you approach through the intersection.

…run by his old pals Tom and Margie, a charming and hospitable couple who came up from the East Bay – so they know damn well they’re onto a really good thing here. Margie’s smile just won’t quit, and that kind of says it all.

We’re at the juncture of Black Butte and the Middle Fork of the Eel River, a far corner of a protected and remote swathe of the simple life called Round Valley.

This phone is getting old, but it still shows how blue the sky is.

We’re in the shadow of the Mendocino National Forest, recently the site of a huge wildfire. You can see where the charring and scarring stop at the top of the hill right across the street. A huge sign in front of the store thanks the firefighters in letters over a foot high.

Everyone here is REALLY fond of the fire service now.

 There’s very little cell signal (neither JC nor I get phone-joy), only a few radio stations come through at all, and the only wifi is at the store run by the campground owners, a 5 minute walk from the site. This is a huge bonus: the low levels of EM radiation are letting me cope with the stress and the dietary compromises perfectly well. 

Good for neurons and what they control.

I even drank half a soda yesterday, and hardly felt a thing… In other times and other places, I’d have paid for that for 3 days. At least.

The grill (closed on Wednesdays) serves fresh local natural beef and incredible salads. Really good greens with just enough dressing and the lovely smokey meat of your choice. The convenience store is pretty small, but the coolers are packed with everything from coconut water through Naked juice to conventional sodas all the way to the rankest beer you’d hate to find.

They’re perfectly happy to make me a gluten-free sandwich wrapped in that lovely lettuce.

You can’t see the sandwich, which covered the whole plate, cuz I ate it.

On our first night, the full moon rose directly over our feet, waking us both out of our first doze to stare at the radiant spot on the tent wall in bleary wonder for at least a minute, wondering who turned on such a damn great light at that hour.  JC finally stuck his head out and told me what it was, and we both had to laugh.

The air is absolutely pure. Each evening, the spotless sunset gets punctuated by exactly one contrail, a screaming streak of orange across a melting sky of peach, green and sixteen shades of blue.

Since the moon rises later and smaller every day (and as we get caught up on our rest, able to stay up past dark!), last night we got a full hour of gazing at the Milky Way and the million million stars I never get to see.

Photo collage: TwTunes at www.digitalsky.com

Casseiopea and the Big Dipper wheeled overhead with a-a-all their lovely autumn cohorts, as familiar and ever-present as old friends.

At the time of our visit, there was a breathtaking piece on show from local artist (and Santa  Cruz transplant) Lynn Zachreson. The link goes to her web page but, of course, online photos can’t do justice to her brush control, delicate textural discrimination, or authoritative use of color. Look her up; it’s worth it.

There’s a gorgeous swimming hole a few minutes’ walk up the pike, sinking deep around great boulders of white chalcedony. Healthy-sized fish nibble your legs if you hold still long enough, and the water is perfect on one of these bakingly hot afternoons.

The water is a lot bluer once you’re in.

JC says the weather can change in a minute here (this old New Englander reserves judgement) but we’ve had a glorious run of unseasonably hot, clear weather with deliciously cool, clear nights.

This illness is hugely responsive to nutrition, air quality, and man-made radiation. In most far-flung places, the produce is dodgy and tends to look (and taste) second-hand; you can’t get good food and good air waves without a lot of advance planning and a huge cooler.

This place was a total find, and for those of you who really care about things like air, food and EM smog, it doesn’t get much better than this. Especially at these prices.

It’s absolutely outstanding.

And you can bring your horses! There’s a black and a bay here who’ve kept us endlessly amused.

Being around JC has always knocked back my pain and increased my strength since we first met, before we ever thought of getting together. He’s obviously got his own electrical field or something. Between his company and the clear and deliciously benevolent environment here, I’m stronger after a few days than I’ve been in some weeks.

I’d thought of this as a side-trip to squeeze in, before I got on with my serious healing junket… but it’s looking like an ideal start, instead. I wound up landing on my feet, and I am grateful.

Share this article:

Into hot water.. then cold water.. then hot..

This is a bit odd and I haven’t heard anyone else with CRPS trying it, so I’m just tossing it out to show how weird things can be…

I’m cold intolerant. Absolutely can’t handle it. My body locks up and the pain goes all-body and through the roof.

Can’t take too much heat either; makes me weak and foggy, and can trigger POTS symptoms (in my case, that’s mostly nausea, bloating, dizziness, weakness, lethargy.)

My body temp drops so much when I sleep that I’m cold to the touch. A housemate woke me once when she touched me affectionately as I slept, then found I was so cold that she shook me awake — she wanted to be sure I wasn’t dying. That’s how cold I was.

My first massage therapist, a good friend of mine, insisted I try the hot/cold plunges at Harbin Hot Springs, which happen to be 47 F and 118 F.


I told him that was completely insane and did I need to explain dysautonomia again?

He kept at it, and I finally went there for a few days. I was in bad shape, one of those times when I think I’m not going to live for long because there’s so much that’s so wrong and there’s so little energy left. So there wasn’t much to lose, as far as I was concerned…

At least it’s not an ugly place.

Took two and a half days to work up to it, starting with cool bath/dry sauna, working up to going between intermediate baths, dipping in the really hot for moments, splashing arms then trunk with cold. Eventually I could go for the full plunge. I did 2 full exchanges, and was all right. In fact, I was pretty good. Felt crisp, not chewed.

I went back later and did at least 5 or 6 more (I lost count, truthfully.) By then, I could FEEL my hands and feet as I couldn’t remember having felt them before: exactly where and what and how they were — which was, keenly alive.

I had no pain, no pain anywhere at all, everything was the right color — only a much better shade than I’d seen in years, and my head felt as sparkly as a diamond.

I don’t like to sound over the top, but it was such a feeling of absolute, perfect, poised and healthy ecstasy that words simply fail in the face of that experience.

Being totally pain-free makes us CRPSers high, but this was more than that. Everything worked, from the tiniest microvessel to the least drop of chemical messenger. My cells sang with the bouyant joy of it.

I copyrighted this image… kinda cool. Think I’ll use it as a logo.

I went out to the main pool, actually enjoying the cold roughness of the path on my unharmed feet, and drifted into the “quiet zone”, that is, the temperate pool. Although it’s not etiquette to contact strangers there, an awful lot of people turned to look at me and smile the sweetest smiles. I can only imagine how radiantly happy I looked. I felt that I was glowing brightly enough to light the whole space.

According to my online research, there aren’t many hot springs that have contrast baths at all, let alone to that extreme degree. If they do, they’re awfully coy about it…

I have hopes of a particular roadside hot spring at Yellowstone National Park that runs into a chilly stream. In winter, which it nearly is, that could be worth trying, though it would take a bit of effort.

I’m not sure how slippery it is, what the currents are like, or what sort of work is involved to get from hot to cold. I do have to be mindful of physical damage, until I can really find that cure I’m convinced is just around some corner on my winding path.

We shall see what comes up. I know this is something to add to the repertoire, one of the ingredients to combine into a cure, or something like it.

One more piece of the puzzle… a twitchy, morphing, complex, incredibly irritating puzzle, but one I’m rather stuck with until further notice.

Share this article:

Trapeze act

I’m preparing to start off on a cross-country odyssey to interview certain people who have CRPS and manage it particularly well, and incidentally hit some hot springs and massage methods along the way, since that (besides nutrition) seems to have the biggest effect on me.

Let me restate that. I’m about to move my simple little life (the whole suitcase) and complex little body (11 bottles of twice-daily pills &  supplements, dietary requirements that would make an allergist blench, and let’s not think about the wildly variable pain, confusion or autonomia) into a rather pretty vehicle and make my way across the entire continent (probably in increments of one hour at a time), to meet a bunch of strangers (my inner introvert is screaming), some of whom I’ll try to draw out about some very personal issues (my inner Miss Manners has the fantods), all by myself (at a time of epic mysogyny and rising crime.)

And I still intend to have my Brain Food Shakes and a cup of hot tea, first thing, every morning.

After I had a meltdown on the table today, my craniosacral therapist remarked that it’s like I’m reaching for a trapeze: I’m leaping off of the highest platform and, if I get the trajectory just right, I’ll be fine… but there’s an awful lot of the world that isn’t the trapeze bar, and it’s hard not to be hypnotized by the massive potential for disaster.

But how can I not go?

I won’t get many side trips, but I get to wrap my arms around people I’ve known online for years. We get to talk about what matters most in life: living off the steel core of the spirit, finding integrity in Hell, what it means to love and be loved.

The staggering physical beauty of Turtle Island is mine to explore, only this time on a reasonable schedule and without any cranky, arrogant pyschopaths (other than myself, of course) for company.

If I’m very lucky and very very good, I might stumble into the shape of a cure for this awful disease.

How can I not go? Whatever the outcome — really, whatever the outcome, even if it lands me in a nailed box — there is no way I can hold myself back with so much hope and love on the horizon. I’m a sucker for a challenge anyway, but this… turning my back on it would be unbearable.

Of course it’ll be unimaginably hard. Guess what, I have CRPS and I get up every morning. Everything else is decoration. This can be done.

My toes are leaving the platform and I’m reaching as hard as I can. Somehow, I don’t know how, I will make that bar — and swing it like hell. Because there’s something beyond that, too, and I aim to get there.

It’s impossible to be like this and not realize that I may die falling. But what a way to go, eh? I have every intention of surviving (Mom, take note) but the thing to do with what scares me most is to stare it down.

Keep your eyes on this space… The packing is almost done.

Share this article:

Mendo Acid Trip

Language tends to reflect upbringing, or possibly genetics, or maybe both. Anyway, there is often a familial component. (I’ll let better-paid heads argue about why.)

Case in point — my older brother’s riff on my county’s name might have a familiar feel, although only he could possibly have come up with this imagery:

‘I can’t decide if ‘mendocino’ sounds like an antacid (“Mendocino, now in new cherry flavour…”), or a garment of Mexican origin (“and now just add a chunky brown leather belt to offset the vibrant shade of your mendocino…”), and indeed maybe are old chinos with violent coloured patchwork on them….

cropped from a photo by Midori

‘Why mendo-acid-vibrant coloured-cino?’

I had to read this through 3 times before I could keep my seat long enough to respond without falling off again.

The answer is far too prosaic to make a suitable reply, but frankly, that’s a tough act to follow…

So, why here?

Hills.
Trees.
Rocks.
Air.

Gives me whiplash to read this far.

Antacid-washed chinos might be more entertaining, but I had a deep need for a wooded granite ridge to park my frazzled bones upon, while preparing for the Healing Tour — whatever the heck that turns out to be.

My timing is good. Everything is bursting into bloom:

 Cherry-flavored patchwork chinos would look pretty good sprawled under that tree. Mind you, anything would, including that dusty ol’ truck.

Share this article:

Tern to the present

This is the third major purge of my possessions in 7 years. 

The first time, I decided that anything that I was keeping for sentimental value had to trigger only good feelings; I’d keep nothing that made me unhappy.

The second time, I moved onto the boat, so everything had to have at least two uses.

Now, I’m eliminating everything that isn’t easy to handle, as well as being useful and pleasing.

That meme is extending into the realm of perception. Images and events that used to trigger emotional cascades, because of memories and associations, are finally losing their sickening zap. Associations fall away, and images and events stand out  in simple splendor as just what they are: unlayered, transient, colorful, done.

For instance, I used to hate terns, because their cry sounds exactly like a drowning cat. I blame their awful caw for my not being aware that my cat was in jeopardy when he died. For a couple years now, I’ve gotten snarly at tern-time, when they come here to breed. But, with this shift in my perspective, a tern is just a tern. My excellent companion was still an excellent companion — and, obviously, a kindred spirit.

A tern is not about the past or the future. It’s here now. It’s just that, at this moment, one is floating past with its strange sharp wings twinkling; then it hovers and wiggles for a moment; twists, plunges, spears the water; bobs up again, looking smug, with a little fish in its mouth; takes off and disappears.

Usually, there is no fish. But right now, there goes a pleased tern, enjoying the moment.

It’s just a tern, and it’s doing tern things in a ternish kind of way. Tomorrow it will do tern stuff in a slightly different, but still ternish way. Doesn’t matter. It’s just a tern — nothing more nor less.

There is no furry friend dying alone.

There is just a bird.

Gorgeous photo: Geert Wilders at http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/2426290/posts

And I want credit for resisting the obvious urge to make a crack about taking a tern for the worse.

Oops…

Anyway.

I stumbled across a quote that seemed shiningly appropriate:

“To live here and now, you must train yourself: in the seen there will be just the seen, in the heard just the heard, in the sensed just the sensed, in the thought just the thought. That is the end of  sorrow.” – Gautama Buddha

I don’t know about the end of sorrow, but it’s true that it is far easier to manage my moods, notice my body’s signals, and do what I need to do, when I keep things in this charmingly simple, deceptively rigorous perspective.

It’s rigorous because it goes against all my socialization about the importance of hair-trigger reactions and emotional responses: Am I an ice-queen? Don’t I care about things? Aren’t I human? What’s wrong with me?

I’ve gotten all of those remarks in my time, when I strove for calm in former years — especially from mere acquaintances and random strangers, which always shocked me. How I, and those around me, survived my 13th-23rd years is unimaginable at this distance of time and self-certainty, but falling into the reactivity trap was one good way not to get verbally assaulted.

One advantage of being plumply middle-aged is that, for one thing, people watch you less; for another, a degree of equanimity seems to be less … annoying.


Exqueeze me?!?

I’ve had it up to here with emotional reactions. CRPS is a roller coaster par excellence, for emotional reactions. I’m quite done, thank you, and I’d like to get off now.

Actually, I think I just did.

And now, a tern is just a tern. For better … or worse.

Share this article:

The arts are not trivial — why mythopoiesis matters

Almost 7 years ago, I was walking with a fellow writer, sharing our souls as good friends do. I was recently disabled with CRPS and, needing activity as I do, I was trying to think what to do with my life beyond struggling to stay alive and in manageable pain.  I complained about my internal blocks to any sort of publicity for my work.  (I had no blogs.  Nobody outside the Java software industry had ever heard of me.  Nearly all my output had been printed anonymously by the company I worked for.)  
She asked what I thought that was about.  I said I had been brought up with the very clear message that arts are fine for a hobby, but that making a living as a writer or actor was absolutely unthinkable.  It was irrational to take the arts seriously.
Her soft voice changed to ringing iron in the shape of a bell: “The arts are not trivial.”  
I stopped, right there on the sidewalk, shocked out of my self-pity. She turned and egged me on; we continued walking.  “What did you do after surgery?” she asked.
I mumbled, “Watched movies.”
“You watched movies. When you were a little better but couldn’t go back to work yet, what else did you do?”
“Read.”
“You read.  Writers and actors and producers and other artists got you through that time.  They got you through the last year, with the awful work and the layoff.  Survival is not trivial.  It’s significant.  The arts matter.”
Hard to argue with that.  I’d be dead, miserably dead, without the work of visionaries — especially the really  funny ones.
This came up again in the context of my own more recent absorption in the value of mythology as a ticket to survival in the face of horrible odds — a pressingly modern issue in these impossible times.  Then today, I learned that it was Professor Tolkien who created the word “Mythopoeia” — wrote a poem on it, in fact, to his increasingly rigid friend Reverend Lewis. 
While both men were theists, C. S. Lewis was much more interested in the structure and received wisdom of religion; J. R. R. Tolkien was a spiritual seeker more in the experiential, visionary, nature-loving, nearly shamanic mode of poets like Coleridge and Keats.  
 Here it is, with my annotations [in square brackets and italicized.]  Take your time and enjoy:

To one who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though ‘breathed through silver’.

Philomythus to Misomythus

[“Loves Myths” to “Opposes Myths”]

You look at trees and label them just so,
(for trees are ‘trees’, and growing is ‘to grow’);

[I love this comment on the dry limits of literalism!]

you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace
one of the many minor globes of Space:
a star’s a star, some matter in a ball
compelled to courses mathematical
amid the regimented, cold, inane,
where destined atoms are each moment slain.

At bidding of a Will, to which we bend
(and must), but only dimly apprehend,
great processes march on, as Time unrolls
from dark beginnings to uncertain goals;

[he’s making the point that there’s more to all this than we can comprehend in our poorly-constructed, limited and ignorant theories of time, space, matter, and life.
He goes on to describe fiction, which at least doesn’t pretend to hold all facts:]

and as on page o’er-written without clue,
with script and limning packed of various hue,
an endless multitude of forms appear,
some grim, some frail, some beautiful, some queer,

[he used “queer” in the sense of “odd”, but as far as I’m concerned it’s all good]

each alien, except as kin from one
remote Origo, gnat, man, stone, and sun.
God made the petreous rocks, the arboreal trees,
tellurian earth, and stellar stars, and these
homuncular men, who walk upon the ground
with nerves that tingle touched by light and sound.

[by pairing these luscious words with the plain ones, he just destroyed the dry concept that “trees are ‘trees’, and growing is ‘to grow'” — making the point that there’s more to language and life than the rules we know.]

The movements of the sea, the wind in boughs,
green grass, the large slow oddity of cows,
thunder and lightning, birds that wheel and cry,
slime crawling up from mud to live and die,
these each are duly registered and print
the brain’s contortions with a separate dint.

[he’s pointing out (with beautiful imagery) that our brains are so rich and complex, and that life and experience are so rich and complex, that each rich experience makes unique patterns in a complex brain…]

Yet trees are not ‘trees’, until so named and seen
and never were so named, till those had been
who speech’s involuted breath unfurled,

[…and that even to come up with dry little words to describe them, is a feat of imagination in the first place]

faint echo and dim picture of the world,
but neither record nor a photograph,
being divination, judgement, and a laugh
response of those that felt astir within
by deep monition movements that were kin
to life and death of trees, of beasts, of stars:
free captives undermining shadowy bars,
digging the foreknown from experience
and panning the vein of spirit out of sense.

[remove the line-breaks and read that again: “but neither record nor a photograph, being divination, judgement, and a laugh response of those that felt astir within by deep monition movements that were kin to life and death of trees, of beasts, of stars: free captives undermining shadowy bars, digging the foreknown from experience and panning the vein of spirit out of sense.” 
In short, taking pictures and otherwise recording things is often a nervous tick, used by those who aren’t enough in touch with their feelings and experiences to find some richer way to convey them meaningfully — but convey them we do, however we can, in an effort to rescue our deeper selves…]

Great powers they slowly brought out of themselves
and looking backward they beheld the elves
that wrought on cunning forges in the mind,
and light and dark on secret looms entwined.

[…and from that effort we grow, and brilliant works come in time.]

He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath an ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jewelled tent
myth-woven and elf-pattemed; and no earth,
unless the mother’s womb whence all have birth.

[in short, to see something, we must first be able to imagine it.  This idea of his has since been borne out by modern science: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080703145849.htm]

The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him.

[Tolkien’s religious background was Roman Catholic, which believes in God as the ultimate source of wisdom …]

               Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.

[…and teaches the story of the Garden of Eden as the fall of man and expulsion from paradise.]

Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.

[Our minds may be separated from God’s (his belief, not mine) but they are still derived from it, and all our rich variety of unique perceptions create endless possibilities.]

Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, ’twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we’re made.

[A triumphant assertion of the right to exercise creative will.  Go Tolkien!]

Yes! ‘wish-fulfilment dreams’ we spin to cheat
our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat!
Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream,
or some things fair and others ugly deem?

[yeah, so we make stuff up — and it makes us stronger. It’s holy.]

All wishes are not idle, nor in vain
fulfilment we devise — for pain is pain,
not for itself to be desired, but ill;
or else to strive or to subdue the will
alike were graceless; and of Evil this
alone is deadly certain: Evil is.

[now that’s pretty clear!]

Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate
that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;
that seek no parley, and in guarded room,
though small and bate, upon a clumsy loom
weave tissues gilded by the far-off day
hoped and believed in under Shadow’s sway.

[you don’t have to be a soldier to strive against evil. To make stories, or art of any kind, as a refuge and defense against evil, is to make room for a better future…]

Blessed are the men of Noah’s race that build
their little arks, though frail and poorly filled,
and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith,
a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.

[… and the future itself starts out as something imaginary, a “rumor.. guessed by faith.”]

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
It is not they that have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organized delight,
in lotus-isles of economic bliss
forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).

[it’s been said that this sounds a bit like our own times]

Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,
and those that hear them yet may yet beware.
They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
and yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have tuned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.

[artists and writers and musicians keep us going, reminding us of brighter times and a future worth having, even in the face of defeat]

I would that I might with the minstrels sing
and stir the unseen with a throbbing string.

[“I would” means “I wish” — it’s an older form, so an antiquarian like the Prof can use it with a straight face]

I would be with the mariners of the deep
that cut their slender planks on mountains steep
and voyage upon a vague and wandering quest,
for some have passed beyond the fabled West.
I would with the beleaguered fools be told,
that keep an inner fastness where their gold,
impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring
to mint in image blurred of distant king,
or in fantastic banners weave the sheen
heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.

[he doesn’t care how silly or crazy or poor he seems, he will keep his courage and share his vision whatever anyone says.  Man after my own heart]

I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient.

[in his day, “progressive” meant “making more machines, funding more science without conscience,” “making bad things happen faster”; what was called “progress” in his day, we would call “unsustainable development,” “pollution,” “health crises,” “rising poverty,” “environmental destruction,” and all those associated events. This word’s meaning has swivelled about 180 degrees]

                Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God’s mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
I will not tread your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker’s art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.

[another line that makes me rise and wave my fist in triumph. He will keep his little sovereignty over his own poor life and trivial work, rather than give himself up to the unfeeling machine of so-called “success” that’s based on anaesthetic values like logic without art, money without value, creation without creativity.]

In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True.
Then looking on the Blessed Land ’twill see
that all is as it is, and yet made free:
Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.

[when we are true to our best selves, we are heavenly and whole.  Simple as that]

Evil it will not see, for evil lies not in God’s picture but in crooked eyes,
not in the source but in malicious choice,
and not in sound but in the tuneless voice.

[evil is due to distorted perspective, vile actions and unfeeling motives — it’s not available to those who are sincere]

In Paradise they look no more awry;
and though they make anew, they make no lie.

[creativity is not a lie]

Be sure they still will make, not being dead,
and poets shall have flames upon their head,
and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:
there each shall choose for ever from the All.

[when we’re dead, those of us with the nerve and integrity to create will be valued, have endless possibilities to choose from — and work directly with God!]

Sources:

It occurs to me I should check the copyright status of this poem. Obviously, I think of Professor Tolkien’s work as being for all people and for all time, but his executors’ views may differ from my implementation.  

Share this article:

Himalayan dreams

Had a dream of a remarkable wolf. It said it was from an extinct ancestral species. There were great mountains around us. I got curious and looked a few things up.

Timing couldn’t have been much better. In 2004, scientists examined mitochondrial DNA and cleared up a lot of questions about speciation and ancestry:

Here’s the Smithsonian’s article with that graphic: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/SCBI/SpotlightOnScience/fleischer2003108.cfm

Until this study, all canids except maned wolves (truly ancient) and coyotes were thought to be basically a type of grey wolf; Tibetan and Himalayan wolves were different flavors of the same breed. (The web being what it is, the old ideas of the much-loved grey wolf being the grand-daddy of them all still show up everywhere.)

Turns out the beautiful and sweet-faced Himalayan wolf is the ancestral canid from which Tibetan wolves, grey wolves, Mexican wolves, red wolves and modern dogs (from molossers to dachsunds) are all descended.

The adorable mutt I grew up with. The huge, terrifying sheepdogs of Turkey, where I was born. The overdressed show poodle that walks my marina. The chihuahua who helped fix my boat. All from the Himalayan wolf.

There are only 350 of this extraordinary species left, as of 2004.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/3804817.stm

The main problem? Human ignorance, voraciousness and violence.

Because 12 billion of us just isn’t enough, humans are expanding cultivable and buildable land every day to feed still more. I’m not sure why this is still seen as a better option than parental education and birth control, which are tragically underfunded worldwide.

Wolves are hunted for sport, because some people just have to prove they’re better than anything that doesn’t have ballistics and steel.

Wolves are hunted out of fear, because they are the bugaboos of Himalayan legend — since wolves have been made metaphors for the vilest traits of humanity in Europe and Asia alike. They aren’t like that, we just wish they were, so we wouldn’t realize we are looking in the mirror when we think of unrelenting evil.

They are hunted for killing livestock, which they do in the winter … But the ranchers who keep a couple donkeys with their herds, never lose animals to wolves. Donkeys have no fear of wolves and will kick the living snot out of anything that attacks their herd. Many ranchers don’t know this! Livestock predation is a stupid problem with an easy fix.

Rumor has it there’s a captive breeding program in India, but I haven’t been able to track it down online. I’d be happy to make a website for them with a big, persuasive “Donate” button.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep looking.

Addendum 1

Turns out that donations aren’t possible: http://wildlifesaviour.blogspot.com/2011/05/himalayan-wolf.html. HOW is that POSSIBLE? Further research needed, apparently.

Share this article: