Thursday, August 5, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 08/04/2021: A Gift for Luna and Copper, Organizing the House, A Semi-Siena Breakfast

1.  I gleefully dashed to the front door and brought in my latest purchase for Luna and Copper. With my heart thumping, I opened the package and immediately assembled the 21 inch tall scratching post with a ball to play with attached to it. Copper and Luna were relaxing in the smoke and heat on the back porch and I thought long and hard about the perfect spot to place their new post and could hardly wait to see their excitement when they came back in the house and saw their dream scratching post.

A while later Luna and Copper came back in the house.

Neither of them acknowledged the post. 

Luna walked right by it.

Copper scratched for a second on the side of the couch. 

I guess it wasn't exactly Christmas in August for Luna and Copper.

2. We don't have a lot of book shelf space in the house. I've bought several new books over the last year or so and have received several great books as gifts. I try, not always successfully, to send something out of the house when something new comes in.  I like to live with as few things around as possible -- especially since our house is small. 

So, today, I gathered and stacked books from different rooms. I gathered up magazines, too. I also gathered up stray documents that were lying around and need to be filed. I'm in the midst of trying to figure out where to put the books and magazines I want to keep and where to donate the books I want to send on. I'll recycle the magazines I don't want. This is a pretty good project I'm working on, slowly. 

I'm more relaxed when things are less cluttered, papers are filed, and whenever I let go of what feels like excess stuff -- even books. 

Or a scratching post? (We'll see!)

3. As time crawls along, those occasional days when I'd go down to 853 E. 13th in Eugene for breakfast at the now defunct Siena Cafe inevitably fade away. 

This morning, however, I imperfectly brought those days back. I used to order a breakfast that included corn chips on scrambled eggs. I bought a bag of corn chips yesterday and, this morning, I scrambled a couple of eggs, and, as they were nearly firmed up, topped them with shredded sharp cheddar cheese and Juanita's corn chips and topped it all with salsa. This approximated the Siena breakfast, but because I didn't have any cooked beans handy and didn't feel like making refried beans this morning, it fell short of the meal I used to enjoy years ago.

No problem. I'm glad I thought to make my eggs this way. If I'd had it on hand, sour cream would have been good. My guess is that the more I mess around with this egg/cheese/corn chip combo, the more I'll make it into my own dish and the less I'll even try to accurately remember, let alone recreate, the food I ate years ago at Cafe Siena. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 08/03/2021: Air Conditioner and the Internet, Get Out of the Way, Bill Plays Tree House #56

1. On Monday evening, I saw that the check filter light was lit on the front panel of the window a/c. I temporarily experienced a departure from the calm and jolly demeanor I try to maintain and immediately imagined that checking and cleaning the filter would require such a complicated process that I'd be on the phone or the World Wide Web all day Tuesday looking for the right professional or the right family member or friend to help me. I went to bed with visions of doom dancing in my head. I succeeded, though, in pushing them away. 

This morning, I fixed myself a calming cup of dark roast coffee and rushed onto YouTube. I found a video demonstrating how to remove and clean a window a/c filter.  


And, so, my day began in triumph. Following the example of the calm, confident, competent, soft spoken, reassuring guy on the video,  I took out the filter, washed it, gave it plenty of time to dry, gave it a once over with a dish towel to be sure, and replaced it.

Now I was ready for Project #2: call Ziply and see if, with the help of Joe, a friendly tech eager to work with me to restore my internet service, I could get back online from home and not depend on Christy for service. 

Joe walked me through a variety of options -- unplug this, plug that back in, and none of them worked. 

A technician will come to the house on Wednesday afternoon to get it all working again.

2. Today my niece Molly posted a picture of a beaver on Facebook. It accompanied a story about a baby beaver, a kit, being born in England's Exmoor National Park, the first beaver birth in 400 years. 

The adult beavers of this family have been active, felling trees and dragging wood and vegetation around to build a dam and a lodge.

The beavers' efforts will enhance 

wetland habitat in the park.

I immediately thought of my favorite quotation from Ben Goldfarb's book Eager. It's a mantra, really, a maxim, repeated by Utah State University Professor of Riverscapes, Joe Wheaton. When it comes to land and water restoration, Joe Wheaton says, "Let the rodent do the work." 

In other words, he is imploring humans to get out of the way and let the beavers work their restorative wonders on bringing damaged riverscapes back to life.

I've been thinking of this quotation in a couple of ways. Today President Biden issued a plea to governors  to make positive efforts toward encouraging Covid vaccinations and, at the very least, "get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing."

Get out of the way. 

Let the (insert your own word here) do the work. 

Joe Wheaton and President Biden's statements took me back to my days as an English instructor.

The more experienced I became as an instructor, the more I wanted to get out of the way of my students. In the spirit of Joe Wheaton, I wanted to "let the students do the work." 

I felt under some obligation, even pressure, because of objectives mandated by the institutions I worked for (Lane Community College and the State of Oregon), to impose these institutions' will upon my students' writing. 

So, yes, I did intervene. I did suggest ways students might structure their work more solidly and develop their work more fully and I tried to help them out with grammar and punctuation.

I could expand on this more, but, for now, I'll just say that I did my best to encourage students to write in an authentic voice, develop their own style, and work out their own perspectives on the questions we addressed in the courses I taught.

I did my best to "Let the students do the work."

This has been on my mind because, primarily through Facebook, I frequently read several of my former students' elegant and thoughtful writing.

Recently, one of these former students, Leah, has been posting meditative and eloquent Three Beautiful Things. 

As her instructor, I can't remember what I might have done, 10-15 years ago, if anything, to further Leah's thinking and eloquence.

My hope is that I got out of her way. 

I hope I let Leah do the work. 

I hope I had the wisdom to encourage Leah, possibly help build her confidence, but, whatever I did, I hope it was with a light touch and not a heavy hand. 

3. Bill Davie was first my student in 1977 and the last time he enrolled in a course of mine was 1983.

Tonight, I tuned in to Bill's 56th Tree House Concert. The symptoms Bill experiences because of MS are exacerbated by any season's heat, but especially the summer. 

As a result, Bill performs these concerts from his home twice a month now, not every week.

Because he has to try to impose his will upon his sometimes uncooperative hands, Bill establishes a set list of about six or seven songs ten days or so ahead of his performance and works those songs over repeatedly, doing all he can to get them back in his hands again.

His approach certainly worked tonight. Bill gave his hands all the rest he could by talking with us between songs, taking a poetry break with Marvin Bell, Ruth Stone, and some of his own poems, and announcing upcoming birthdays. 

Why did I mention that Bill was once a student of mine?

Well, Bill is another example of a writer whom I had no business being heavy handed with. When I listen to Bill's songs and poetry and read other writing of his, I'm impressed by the free play of his mind, a free play no one should have ever interfered with or imposed their will upon. 

As with Leah, and, as with scores and scores of other students I worked with, I hope all those years ago I stayed out of Bill's way, encouraged his mind's free play, and let him know how much I enjoyed his writing. 

That was my job as an instructor. 

Let Bill do the work. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 08/02/2021: Luna/Copper and the Mariana Trench, Now It's Salmon, A Cocktail After My Internet Crapped Out

 1. As she usually does, Luna began to paw my hair and lightly bite and sort of scratch my arms, leaving no mark, around 4:30 a.m. For her, it was breakfast time. In his book, Eager, repeatedly Ben Goldfarb described the strong will of  beavers (it's why they are regarded by [too] many as pests) and, as I read this, I thought of Luna. Any effort I've made to quell Luna's pre-dawn insistence that I get up and feed her have been in vain. I've surrendered. This willful cat, morning after morning, gets her way.

Once I parceled out some Friskie's pate for Luna and Copper, I returned to bed and fell into a Mariana Trench of deep sleep and didn't wake up until 7:45, well past when I'm usually up and around. 

I stumbled to the kitchen and turned on the hot pot and scooped ground coffee into a pour over filter.

I realized I didn't know where Copper and Luna were. I retraced my stumble back to the bedroom. Luna occupied the head of the bed and Copper the foot and, as if following my lead, they, too, had dived into a Mariana Trench of deep sleep. I stood for a minute or two and marveled at how fully at peace they were.

2. I didn't get very far into it this afternoon, but I started reading seasoned biologist Jim Lichatowich's book Salmon, People, and Place: A Biologist's Search for Salmon Recovery

I love reading about water and creatures who inhabit rivers, ponds, oceans, creeks, bays and other bodies of water. I started reading water books back in February when I read the great Mississippi River history, Rising Tide. I then read Grayson, Lynn Cox's short book about her encounter with a baby whale. Wanting to dive deeper into the world of whales, I read Fathoms. I moved closer to land and read about beavers in Eager next. And now I'm going to learn more about salmon. 

Yes, these books are primarily about bodies of water, but all five books are also about humans and how so much of the human response to these bodies of water and the animals who live in them is to try to wrest control, a dicey undertaking doomed, I'm afraid, to more failure than success.

3. I thought I needed a number on the bottom of my internet service's Optical Network Terminal box (turns out I didn't), but when I turned it right side up again, it stopped working. I have no home internet service. I contacted a rep from Ziply via chat, but my problem was not in her purview, so she gave me the number of tech services. I didn't call right away. My cell phone was low on power and while I waited for it to juice up, I did some reading about OTNs. 

Christy and I had arranged to each have a Dark and Stormy and she arrived just as I was ready to call Ziply, so I delayed my call.

No problem. 

You see, luckily, Christy's wifi signal reaches my house. I have internet service thanks to her. I decided that after having a drink and then eating a thrown together dinner of sweet potato, brown rice, and spinach in a bowl, that I'd call Ziply in the morning -- might it be after another dive into the Mariana Trench? Who knows? But it will definitely be some time after feeding Luna and Copper at some ungodly early morning hour! 

Monday, August 2, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 08/01/2021: Twenty Hours Without Copper, Beaver Management, *National Geographic* Meets *Hallmark*

 1. Now that Copper and Luna are indoor/outdoor cats, I get a fair amount of exercise gladly getting up from my reading and letting them in and out. Saturday, about 1:00 in the afternoon, Copper trotted outside. Normally, he spends a few hours out and comes back in to eat and often takes his place lying on the quilt on the floor by the front door.

But, on Saturday, Copper didn't come back to the porch, not late in the afternoon, not early in the evening, not late in the evening. Every time I got up during the night, I checked the back porch. No Copper. Before I went to bed, I walked around in the back yard, searching.  No Copper. 

I got up for the day fairly early, checked the back porch, and no Copper.

Copper had never been out this long, but, to my knowledge, he's never left the back yard either.

I wondered if he'd found his way out and was on an incredible journey. I began to think of how I might find him if he was off on a neighborhood safari. 

The morning continued apace. I messaged with Stu, drank coffee, blogged, and returned to reading about beavers.

Around nine o'clock I heard a brief cat scream and some hissing in the back yard.

I leapt up, dashed to the deck out back. 

I hadn't seen Copper for twenty hours and I hoped that was his yowl.

It was.

Copper had been hiding in a thicket of rhododendron and other untamed growth near the gate on the yard's west side. 

Christy's cat, Grayson, had evidently come to close to Copper's nesting place and Copper let Grayson know he was too close with a scream and Grayson responded in kind. They kept several feet of distance from each other and I walked in between them. Doing so freed Copper to leave the thicket and trot up to the porch and come in the house.

I still don't think Copper has left the back yard, but because the vegetation bordering our lawn is, to put it generously and politely, unkempt (thanks to me), Copper has plenty of places in tall grass and weeds, unpruned bushes, scrubby brush, and other untamed spots to nestle himself into. He does a good job staying out sight. 

Copper returned to the living room quilt and sacked out much of the rest of the day.

2. I finished reading the book, Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb.

 While much of this book is about the ingenuity and industry of beavers and about the stunningly positive affect they have on ecosystems and the natural world well beyond themselves, it's also a book about how human endeavors, like raising cattle, building roads, farming, locating a WalMart near a stream where beavers live, and a host of other commercial enterprises are hampered by the way beavers fall trees, dam waterways, and create ponds. All of this beaver activity is supremely beneficial to countless animals -- the water soaked ground and water storing ponds are perfect habitat for water fowl, numerous insects, and fish and provide both feed and sources of drinking water for four-legged animals like moose and others. 

But, because these ponds flood roads, submerge grazing land, sometimes water log houses and barns, put train tracks under water, and interfere with other human endeavors, we humans take it upon ourselves to try to manage beavers.

For me, Eager developed into the next of several books and essays I've read over the years that explores the complicated human endeavor of managing the world of nature -- whether it's climate, forest, stream, river, land, species, or any other kind of management. 

I suppose part of what makes human management of so-called natural resources complicated is that humans cannot enter into negotiations with animals and rivers and forests. I mean beavers are going to gnaw through trees, transport logs, gather huge rocks, branches, moss and other materials and build dams and lodges without consideration of any nearby human activity and humans can't sit down with them and try to work out plans for where the beavers might consider doing this or not doing it. 

In addition, men and women who work as managers of natural resources have widely varying ideas of how best to go about it and have widely differing attitudes toward working in tandem with the industries that extract resources from land and water. Conflicts are inevitable and beavers, salmon, whales, as well as forests, creeks, rivers, and seas are acted upon, that is, managed, in vastly different ways and the success of this management depends on whether one measures the success commercially or ecologically (or environmentally) or, I suppose, recreationally. 

I indulged my imagination as I completed this book and wondered if, say, the North Fork of the CdA River and the many creeks flowing into it were ever populated by beavers and if, say Beaver Creek, near Prichard, was once a series of beaver ponds, marshy wetland areas; was it ever home to countless species dependent upon these ponds? Did it only become a heart stopping rushing creek late in its life? Were there once beavers here that were eliminated by trappers or exterminators? 

I don't know, but I sure enjoy wetlands and, if nothing else, I have fun imagining, say, the 17th century Coeur d'Alene River basin and wonder where the waters flowed rapidly and where (if they did) beavers built dams and lodges and created ponds teeming with life.

3. Upon finishing Eager, I fixed myself a bowl of green salad with jasmine rice and then mixed myself a pint glass of gin and tonic -- emphasis on tonic, light on the gin. 

I retired to the Vizio room and tuned into an episode of Nature entitled "Leave It to Beavers".

I had a great time watching this program. In the best possible way, it was a hybrid combining what you'd expect from, say, a National Geographic documentary with a tear jerking Lifetime or Hallmark movie.

That's right. On the one hand, the hour long show reinforced and provided video evidence of the life and work of beavers with some scintillating underwater footage of a family of beavers in their lodge, occupied cooperatively also by muskrats and other creatures.

I expected that.

I didn't expect to be moved to tears, though, and I was.

I don't want to give a lot away, but the episode featured a beaver love (mating) story and two very moving stories about two different women and their relationships with beavers. Were the human/beaver stories kind of sentimental? YES! Count me in! I found the tears these stories pulled out of me satisfying and the two stories both compelling and beautifully told. 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 07/31/2021: Beaver Conundrum, Beaver Believers, Simple Dinner

1. I'm enjoying the two prominent threads running through Ben Goldfarb's book, Eager. The book's prominent thrust is to illuminate the great ecological benefits beavers provide, while, at the same time, wrestling with the fact that beaver dams can cause flooding over roads, railroad tracks, farm land, and other places that interfere with human commerce. Beavers also cause humans problems when their dams clog culverts.  It's a sticky and often contentious problem as those who would eradicate beavers come into conflict with people who don't want to see them killed.

2. It's this conflict that constitutes another prominent thread in this book. Ben Goldfarb chronicles his travels across the United States as he interviews a number of fascinating, learned, sometimes colorful, and always devoted people known as Beaver Believers. In a variety of ways, these people work to save beavers from being exterminated. Some have developed fences and flow devices to keep beavers from clogging culverts. Others work on moving beavers from one locale to another. Others work to educate people about the ways beaver activity alleviates drought damage, helps fisheries thrive, and is a boon to the habitat of many other plants and animals. Many landowners and government agencies hold strong preconceptions about beavers being pests -- and in human habitats they can be -- but these Beaver Believers are committed to doing all they can to enact workable ways to keep beavers from being trapped and killed or shot. Goldfarb's interviews with various Beaver Believers energizes his book with great stories about these people's commitment to enhance reputation of the beaver and its existence as a species.

3. I'd forgotten, until tonight, that to caramelize a chopped onion, mix it up with leftover rice, and add shredded sharp cheddar makes a delicious accompaniment to steamed broccoli and cauliflower, especially when I combine all these things into a single bowl and season it all with Bragg Liquid Amino.   

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 07/30/2021: Beavers Are Builders, Online Shopping, Start Snapping!

 1. It's a neutral factual point: human beings do not have a natural habitat. Human beings create habitat. Humans build places to live. One other species on earth does the same thing: the beaver. As I read more of Ben Goldfarb's book Eager, I realize that I'd never thought about how similar human beings and beavers are as unique species who, in Goldfab's words, "rearrange [their] environments to maximize provision of food and shelter".  Not quite satisfied with reading about beavers constructing dams and lodges, I wondered if I might find a video on YouTube of beavers at work. I did. I found a segment from a BBC program, narrated by David Attenborough, that complimented Goldfab's detailed descriptions perfectly. That video is right here

2. I shopped for a few minutes at Yoke's today and then returned home and purchased some online items. I went to and purchased copies of Being Peace and The Gift, a collection of books by Hafiz. I found a used bookstore that carried Robert Grudin's On Dialogue: An Essay in Free Thought. My plan is to draw upon these books, along with the Tao te Ching, when the Basementeers have our next ZOOM meeting exploring the comic spirit.  Robert Grudin's book will also aid in our future discussions of The Hollow Crown

I bought Luna and Copper a scratching pole, hoping they will find it satisfactory. I purchased a couple kinds of coffee from Doma, the Post Falls coffee roasting company headed up by Terry Patano (KHS, '74) and his wife, Rebecca.  Lastly, the Yoke's section dedicated to Bob's Red Mill products doesn't carry couscous, farro, sesame seeds, or teff. So I went to Bob's website and ordered them.

3. As subjects to photograph, I have found Copper and Luna elusive. Today, Deborah sent me gorgeous pictures of her daughter with her cat and one of Deborah and Scott's cat. I see all kinds of enchanting pictures of cats on Facebook and elsewhere. I think it's time for me to put out a little more effort and try to take some decent pictures of my pals, Luna and Copper. 

Friday, July 30, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 07/29/2021: Humans and Ecology, Covid Caution, Copper Changes It Up a Bit

 1.  Tonight I finished reading the fascinating, haunting, complicated, and often difficult book, Fathoms: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs. Upon completing it, I took a short break from reading and then started reading Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb. 

I'm drawn to writings about interconnectedness, both in the natural and the spiritual realms,  not for sentimental or romantic reasons, but because of what interconnectedness demands of us, if we are not indifferent to it, don't ignore it, or don't act as if it doesn't exist. 

I'm not sure I can, right now, spell out the demands of interconnectedness -- or interdependence --, but upon finishing Fathoms and then reading the introduction to Eager and thinking back to reading Dan O'Brien's brilliant Buffalo for the Broken Heart and recalling when about thirty years ago when I read Bruce Brown's astonishing Mountain in the Clouds: A Search for the Wild Salmon and Bill McKibben's The End of Nature, I came to an obvious and sobering realization.

Human beings are the only creatures on Earth that can ignore ecological relationships, can be indifferent to them, and can act (often aggressively) on this apathy. On the other side of this fact is this one: we are the only species on Earth that can examine, analyze, and arrive at understanding of the planet's ecology.

One brief example: beavers and swans cannot choose to break off their ecological relationship to one another. Swans benefit from the dams beavers build. The water behind a beaver dam provides still water for swans to glide on, shelter for nesting, and support for the life forms swans eat. When trappers ravished beaver populations in the 19th century to make money off of beaver furs, swan populations diminished because of habitat loss. The swans couldn't decide they were no longer ecologically dependent upon beavers. All they could do was begin to die off, and, over time, a series of ecological relationships were damaged. One quick example: beavers' dams enhance wetlands. Wetlands might be lousy areas for commercial or residential development and they have to be drained if farmers want that land to grow, say, alfalfa or expand grazing land for cattle, but ecologically they provide water filtration for aquifers, suppress wildfires, help dissipate floods, among other benefits. Beavers enhance wetlands. The loss of beavers meant a loss of wetlands, too. 

Humans can decide what they want to do within ecological systems, whether mindful of the impact of their actions or not. Humans can also decide to back off -- not trap or shoot beavers, not fill in wetlands, and not do countless things that upset ecological balances.

Plants, water, animals, air, rocks, soil, climate etc. can't decide. 

They are dependent on one another and often at the mercy of whether humans have regard for the place plants, water, animals, air, rocks, soil, climate, etc. in the ecology of creation or not. 

It's sobering. 

2. I can't say that I've come to accept all inconstancy, inconsistency, and unpredictability in my life and in the world around me, but I do my best to embrace that we live in the midst of impermanence and constant change. It's kept me from being disillusioned about the latest news regarding Covid-19 and the delta variant. Right now, I am uncertain enough about the percentage of people vaccinated in North Idaho, my own susceptibility to the virus because I have chronic kidney disease and a history with both toxic and bacterial pneumonia, and the potential for me to be a vector of the virus (I don't want to spread it), even though fully vaccinated, that I'm going to spend most of my time here in the house and always have my mask with me so I can slip it on if, say, Yoke's or the liquor store seems crowded to me. I was already going to be spending most of my time indoors before the latest Covid news came out because of how hot and smokey it is outside. But, for the time being, my plan is to exercise caution -- and, I suppose, err on the side of being too cautious. 

I know I say this all the time, but there seems to be a stigma about fear and the virus. So, I'll just say, I'm not feeling afraid. To my way of thinking, it's rational for me to lie low again and put whatever protective measures I can into practice. I'm fortunate that doing so doesn't mean I'm not living my life -- thanks to books, cooking, family dinners, movies, electronic contact with friends and family, the companionship of Luna and Copper, and my enjoyment of quietness, I will not quit living just because I won't be out doing things very much. 

3. Normally, Copper maintains a fair amount of distance from me, but I think he's much more bothered by being alone than Luna is. Copper never wants to be far away from me -- he likes to be in a chair near where I'm sitting or, if I'm in the Vizio room, he likes to be in the same room and lie on the rug. 

This evening, though, as I was lying on top of the covers, waiting for the fans to bring more cooler evening air into the bedroom, Copper inched toward me and somehow non-verbally communicated to me that he wanted me to pet him. We had a short session. Satisfied, he loped to the foot of the bed, not far from my feet, and resumed his usual posture of being nearby but not too close. 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 07/28/2021: Human Spirit/Holy Spirit, Humans and Nature, Remembering Life on W. Broadway

 1.  I spent quite a bit of time today pondering how my religious life (often referred to as one's faith) and my professional work intersected. One point of contact between the two was that either explicitly or implicitly the courses I created focused on what endures, what persists, what seems to be always with us in life. I don't remember, as an instructor, ever referring to this emphasis as exploring "eternity", but I do think my secular concern with what endures paralleled the concern in my spiritual life with living a finite life in the presence of the infinite -- or a temporal life in the presence of the eternal.

To me, the bedrock of a liberal arts education was to persistently examine what it means, in Socrates' words, not to live, but to live well. What is a well-lived life? Alongside this, I'd say the content of my courses was guided by another maxim of Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living. 

Working with these enduring questions, examining topics like happiness, reconciliation, vitality, justice, the nature of knowledge and how we arrive at it, the nature of reality, ethics, and a host of others over the years animated me. 

In my spiritual life, structured largely by being an Episcopalian, I am not animated. I'm quiet. The fervor that many express in their religious practice, I expressed in my life as an instructor. 

I'm all for ecstatic experience. It's the human spirit that invigorates me. Reading books, listening to music, watching athletic competition, spending time with friends, enjoying well-brewed beer, watching movies, enjoying hiking trails, writing in this blog, the old days of teaching -- these are all experiences growing out of the human spirit that fire me up.

The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, calms me. Worship in the Episcopal church is mostly sedate, rarely boisterous. I loved leading Compline services at Whitworth over forty years ago and reserving generous spaces of time in those Wednesday night services for silence, contemplation, unspoken prayer. 

It's all connected, the holy and the human. I go back to what I quoted yesterday. As Brandan Robertson said: "We're all finite beings trying to comprehend the infinite." The infinite can be as human as Socrates or Rumi and as sacred as one's experience with the Divine. 

2. On occasion, back in my teaching days, I would focus the research writing course (WR 123) on the relationship between human beings and nature. One of the books I assigned was John Krakauer's Into the Wild, a story that explores how the world of nature, for the book's protagonist, Chris McCandless, is both a source of spiritual union with the life forces of creation and the source of his death at a young age.

The questions we explored in that course are all before me again as I read Rebecca Giggs' book, Fathoms

One the one hand, whales have been a mythological source of awe for different cultures for ages. They still are. Whale watching tours are popular. Activists working to stop the industrial hunting of whales have always drawn upon the mystique of the whale to inspire support for their efforts -- and it's worked. The movement known as "Save the Whales" has achieved international success.

On the other hand, the human impact upon nature, the atmosphere, the soil, and the ocean, for example, devastates whales. While whale hunting has, by international agreement, diminished (but not disappeared), whales are endangered by pesticides that get washed into rivers and make their way to the ocean; by changes in atmospheric temperatures as the global climate gets warmer; by all matter of plastic trash in the ocean. Much of this plastic is granular, barely visible or not visible to the human eye. Much of the plastic is very visible. Whales, as a result, ingest plastic netting used in fishing, broken DVD cases, plastic shopping bags, balloons, cords, packaging tape, rope, plastic drinking cups, food wrappers, and many other items ranging from pieces of plastic buckets to styrofoam items.

Ecology is the study of interconnectedness. Humans feel connected to whales in any number of spiritual ways, including drawing inspiration from recordings of whales singing, recordings that can be purchased.

The human connection to whales is also material, not only in the way warming waters and atmosphere affect whales, not only in the way whales' lives are endangered by hunting and human pollution, but by the noise generated by the huge vessels that cross the ocean with many of the goods that help shape the way we live our material lives.

It's overwhelming to read. I'm nearing the end of this astonishing book. I find it very hard to believe that as Rebecca Giggs draws this book to a close that she will have anything hopeful to say in her conclusion. 

3. The cheese sauce I made this evening to pour over the broccoli and cauliflower I steamed and brown rice I heated up was a little bit lumpy, but I enjoyed how this dinner tasted and enjoyed traveling back in time to the tiny apartment I rented in in the basement of a building at 361 W. Broadway and how I gave so much effort to preparing nutritious, vegetarian meals for myself while living on the stipend I earned as a Graduate Teaching Fellow. My kitchen was tiny. My income was modest. But, I prepared a lot of delicious food and learned a lot about how to cook in that little place. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 07/27/2021: Playful Faith, Current Pandemic News, Awe and Grief BONUS: A Limerick by Stu

 1. My eyes were cruising up and down my Twitter feed when this quotation from Brandan Robertson popped up. It's the first time I'd ever heard of him and if you want to know more about him and his ministry, his life, and his work are summed up in the article about him over at Wikipedia. 

I read his quotation and provided my own context. I thought the timing of coming across this quotation was uncanny given that I'd been rereading Rumi and reflecting back on my experience as a student, chaplain's assistant, and instructor at Whitworth. 

Here's what Brandan Robertson posted:

Religion and Spirituality should be creative endeavors.

If your faith doesn’t free you to be curious, imaginative, and playful, it’s probably not a healthy faith. Take it easy. We’re all finite beings trying to comprehend the infinite.

Personally, I would recast the second sentence and write it something like this: "A healthy faith frees you to be curious, imaginative, and playful." Or, I might leave out the words "A healthy" and just say, "Faith frees you to be curious, imaginative, and playful." 

I'm attracted to Brandan Robertson's insight.  I'm less attracted to the implicit criticism I think he's leveling at others about what is or isn't "a healthy faith". 

While a student at Whitworth, and in the nearly fifty years since then, I came to understand that living a life grounded in faith is what has driven my curiosity to explore ideas, perspectives, a variety of ways of experiencing spirituality (both secular and religious), and to revel in the boundless wealth of how writers, thinkers, scientists, wisdom teachers, and others engage the mysteries of existence. 

As I've aged, I've explored more deeply and settled more and more fully into a flawed life shaped largely by my ongoing Christian liberal arts education. This approach drove my studies, especially of Shakespeare, as a graduate student after graduating from Whitworth, informed the way I approached teaching courses at Lane Community College, and continues to inspire the breadth I pursue in the books I read today as well as the documentary and fictional movies I watch and the music I listen to.

Essentially none of these books, movies, and music is explicitly Christian. Nor, of course, were my courses at Lane Community College. 

But my playful faith moved me to encourage the free play of the mind in myself and in my students.  This playfulness is far from frivolous. It resists absolutism but not critical examination.  Playfulness encourages expansion, delight, flexibility, curiosity, imaginative thinking, creativity, discovery, errors, and openness. 

That's it on this subject for now. For better or worse(!), I'll return to it in future posts.

2. As I slowly move forward in reading Rebecca Gigg's book, Fathoms, I'm tossed back and forth between awe and grief. Whales are complex, complicated, mysterious, elegant, and mighty. Reading about their songs, migration habits, anatomy, sensitivities, and essential role in the ocean's and the globe's ecology moves me. But, human activity like whale hunting, shipping, war at sea, dumping waste, releasing carbon into the atmosphere, and other things we do to support our ways of living have had a long term destructive impact on whales. Reading about this is grievous and the scale of human invasiveness upon the lives of whales (and other marine creatures) is beyond anything I had ever imagined -- as is its destructive impact.

3. Normally, I digest the news by looking back upon events after some time has passed rather than depending on day to day coverage. Today was different, for the most part. I spent time today reading about and listening to experts in epidemiology sharing insight about the recent surge in Covid-19 cases, the mutation known as delta, and the CDC's response. 

I'm also trying to keep somewhat current with the local fires burning nearby in wooded lands not far from Kellogg.

I've been staying indoors a lot because of the heat and smoke in the Kellogg area, both because the heat makes me feel nauseous and because I don't want to expose my compromised respiratory system to the smoke. 

I'm also trying to gain an objective understanding of the Covid situation in Shoshone County. Cases have increased. The percentage of local people vaccinated is pretty low. These facts, along with the smoke and heat, will probably move me to lie low for a while -- but not quarantine. I'll carry a face covering with me and be ready to slip it on if I determine I need to. 

Here's a limerick by Stu:

Now "Milk" is the choice of the day.
Neither bitter nor dark are in play.
Do not choose semi sweet,
And pass if there's white to eat.
The choice would be BROWN I would say.

National Milk Chocolate Day

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 07/26/2021: Reflecting on Our Liberal Education, Home Food Options, Bags of Snacks

 1.  I love the handful of longtime connections I have with friends I made and students who were in my classes at Whitworth. My first day as a student at Whitworth was in Sept. of 1974 and my last day of employment at Whitworth was in May of 1984. (I left Spokane and was a grad student at the U of Oregon in this time period, too, from the fall of 1979-spring of 1982 and resumed my graduate work in the fall of 1984.)

One subject we Westminster Basementeers discussed on ZOOM on Sunday was how much we value the liberal arts education we dug into at Whitworth (Diane feels the same way about her studies at Pacific Lutheran University). 

All of us are grateful that the emphasis of our studies at Whitworth was not career focused. Val was a history major, I double majored in history and English, and the rest of us Basementeers were English majors. (I think I got that right.) 

The focus of our education was to learn to read and think critically and to ask questions. I have often thought about how my education at Whitworth, and later my approach to teaching, was fundamentally more interrogative than declarative. We learned to be open to a variety of world views, ways of thinking, perspectives, and possibilities. 

So, when my friend  since we met in 1974, Deborah, emailed me and said that after reading about Sunday's Basementeer ZOOM session, she was going to set her book of Rumi poems on her bedside table and read from it before going to sleep at night, it made me very happy. 

It made me happy that while I don't think any of us read Rumi at Whitworth, the way our professors approached their work as Christian liberal arts educators inspired our curiosity to explore the wide world of ideas, art, music, ways of thinking,  literature, and so much more. 

I know I carried this inspiration forward in my work at Lane Community College. It moved me to teach my writing courses philosophically. I wanted to teach classes in which we could explore Rumi, the Tao, Buddhism, movies from Israel and Iran and other Middle East countries, and other writers and thinkers outside the Western tradition, as well as explore more traditional writers like Shakespeare and Homer.

The emphasis of our liberal arts education at Whitworth was to understand a wide range of ways of thinking about human experience and to assess these ways of thinking after we'd arrived at an understanding of what we'd read. 

Right now, I'm reading about whales from an ecological perspective as I work my way through Fathoms by Rebecca Giggs. 

It's not Shakespeare. It's not Rumi. It's not exactly a history book. In other words, I'm reading this book not because it's similar to other reading I've done over the past year, but because I committed my life to the value of liberal (broad) education and I'm curious about a wide range of things. I will always be grateful, first, to North Idaho College and then to Whitworth for setting me on this path -- not a career path, but a path of curiosity, learning, questioning, weighing, reading, listening, and discussing. 

2. Thinking and reading was on my mind today and so was food. 

This summer's heat has eroded my interest in cooking and, moreover, has diminished my interest in cooking meat. Today, I got out a couple of cookbooks that I first started cooking from 30-40 years ago. First, I thumbed through Laurel's Kitchen and then I read recipes from Moosewood Cookbook

It helped me remember the ways I used to prepare food when I was in my thirties. Back then, much like how I'm thinking about food right now, I didn't eat meat at home, but enjoyed eating meat in restaurants and if I was a guest at someone else's table. 

Right now, at home, I'm finding that meat sits heavily in my system and I'm wanting to eat lighter food. 

My guess is that I'll be eating steamed vegetables and rice, tortillas with beans, rice, and cheese, pasta with butter and pepper, and other such things which not only taste better when it's hot, but feel better in my system.

3. When I went to Glacier National Park with Meagan and Patrick back in June, I was impressed with the number of bags of snack foods they carry when traveling. I'm disappointed that I don't remember the names of these products, but today at Yoke's, I bought three bags of snack food: lightly salted almonds, a bag of peanut butter and chocolate Snappers, and a bag of Wiley Wallaby black licorice. 

I knew I'd enjoy the almonds and the licorice, but the Snappers were new to me. 

Oh, my.

Chocolate, peanut butter, and a pretzel combined into a bite-sized snack.

I'm all in.