Saturday, October 31, 2009

Samhain


We are now at Samhain, the Day of the Dead, where the veil between the living and the dead thins-- or so some believe-- and communication from the other side would be easier. Of course, this could only happen if a soul survives the body's death.

Now to get technical here, I have been told that the soul is never in the body, that it's the driving force from elsewhere which could be living more than one fleshly life. They would say the spirit is what leaves the body at death. It's a metaphysical concept; but for the purposes of asking what happens after death, it doesn't matter a lot. The question is more about what happens to what we consider us. Disappear or go on, and if go on, go on where?

Most religions claim they know the answers and can assure their adherents of security-- if they properly follow their rules (too bad they don't agree on what those are). Will it be heaven where we sit in heaven with angels singing the praises of a heavenly father, or will it be hell where we roast forever with the devil and lost souls? Or what about reincarnation, where like the wheel of life, we keep coming back until we finally get it right, which could explain why so many here today don't seem to be getting it right.

I don't know the answers, but I am one who believes there is something that comes after the body dies. I don't have the certainty of what it might be like some of those at a recent burial service apparently had. Do they ever allow themselves to doubt? Doubt is a bad word to many believers. Last week, I saw one of those bulletin boards out in front of a church which said (paraphrasing) to pray without expectation was to pray with disbelief. In short, if you didn't get what you prayed for, it was your fault. Doubt got in the way!

As an adult, the feeling of a warm loving presence with me hasn't given me prophetic messages, no burning bushes or speaking out loud although sometimes there have been dreams that helped me solve problems or see insights. Sometimes there have been things that came together in a way that I can only label synchronicity. That didn't mean always as I hoped by the way, but always as I could later see were for the best. Best isn't always easiest or most popular. I tried to put a name to what this might be at one point in my life, but now am content to not name it.

As an adult, when I became a member of churches (two of them and for about 13 years each time), it was to try and understand that spiritual power, what was behind all of this, and to do what would please it. It was never because of fear of dying. Several pastors were much amazed that fear of hell hadn't brought me to our local church. No, I came into religion out of a desire to live my life fully and as close to the truth as I felt I could.

Since leaving organized religion, my truth has encompassed exploration of Tarot cards, astrology, reincarnation, visiting sacred energy sites (which sometimes can be a church), psychics (not sweat lodges), but none of it religiously. Although I follow no religion now and don't know if I ever will be again, I also don't know that I won't. I accept that I have taken a less traveled road which to some would be fallen away or even evil. To me it has been following my truth as far as I can.

I think for as long as I live, I will be a seeker. I still hope someday to find my answer to what it's all about-- although I recognize that might not come while I am alive. I don't spend hours fretting over it but it's part of my personality to think about spiritual questions. I do not believe churches have the answer for me even though I much enjoyed the experience of both of the ones to which I became part. They can be great social communities, with some wonderful people.

Sometimes I dream about those people at night. After all, I was in the nearby church and very much part of its community a lot of years. When I was there, I believed in what it claimed. I left almost 20 years ago because my belief on what was true changed and my presence there would have been a testimony to believing something I no longer did. Worse I (personally) came to believe it not only doesn't get us closer to the truth of life but might be a barrier when it becomes a substitute or teaches things that work against fully living (and religions can do that).

I hope there is more to life than what we can see... and hope it doesn't encompass hell for anyone (even though that's an important part of many religions). I don't put a lot of stock in hope but do stand on what I believe is truth-- convenient or not. There should be no inconsistency between the two.

!Happy Samhain!
(pronounced with many possibilities from my researching but possibly SAH-vin, SOW-in, or shavnah. Until I run across someone with Gaelic language credentials, I have no clue which is correct. Whatever the case, the m is definitely not pronounced... probably) .

By my age, many I have loved have gone on. Someday I will also. I hope that when I do, some of my family and friends, who have gone before me, will be there waiting to help me across-- along with the spirit helpers I have experienced through the years (call them what you will--angels, spirit guides, or god). Perhaps someday I will be the one waiting to help those I love also to cross when their time comes.

The people in this collage, they are the ones whose stories have impacted my life, who I still dream about sometimes, from whom I came and maybe someday to whom I shall return.

"The year is dying," she asks, "am I?" The Hags say it is not her time. She is led to the Altar of the Dead to light candles for her ancestors. She glances beyond the Old Ones and sees her beloved dead gathered on the bridge. They offer gifts: acceptance of her Crone-self, and the slow death of her physical body. She embraces death as a delicious reunion. She weeps with gratitude."
Ffiona Morgan © Mother Tongue Ink 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Death and then what? (continued)


When I get to thinking about the spirit world, I bring into it all that I know about the physical world because no spiritual tradition or religion that tells me to ignore physical reality is one I am willing to follow. Truth is truth and a truth that tells people to ignore what they see, feel, and experience is more like a cult-- no matter how many members it has.

For quite awhile, especially this summer, I went through a period of exploring the possibility that there is nothing after death and that when we die, that is it. I was okay with that frankly as whatever is truth, that's what I want-- comforting or not.

But it did make me wonder about some things. For instance when we spend a whole lifetime developing our minds, what we know, our talents, our emotions, and then our body destructs, the whole thing was for nothing?

I got around this by thinking how we leave behind our impact on others. We leave behind our stories. So the good we did (or evil) will not end with us-- in some cases sadly. Like has Hilter's power lessened in terms of how it impacts minds as long as he keeps being dredged up over and over again? Want to end someone's power-- quit talking or thinking about them. Want to keep them alive? Tell their stories and make sure your family knows those stories; so they can also tell them when you are gone.

To look at the universe, its size, the beauty out there, the way it's constantly evolving and changing and it's easy to think we might've been a cosmic accident in a huge story. The Hubble photos of the Universe really could make me feel it's flesh to dust for us. This is too big and too organized to not be just an accident... or would that be the other way around?

In figuring out what might come after life, there is the question of ghosts. What is it that people saw who claim they saw an apparition? I find it impossible to not believe some kind of spirit beings exist (whatever they might be) because I know too many people (not me) who have seen, smelled or heard them, and these are people not given to hallucinations or wishful thinking. So if everything dies when the body dies, what would be those beings?

(Coincidentally after I wrote this, I came across this article by [Dan Aykroyd About Ghosts] and thought it worth including as part of the hmmm now what is that about debate. Some believe ghosts were those who weren't prepared for death and cannot accept it has happened. There is also the possibility, such as has been posed in many books, films and by psychics, that they are spirits who felt they had something more to do before they can leave. Definitive answers are few-- questions many. If they are those who have not prepared themselves for dying due to its suddenness or even their fear of it, could they then not find a way to go on? Does part of living require us to prepare ourselves for that other side, have 'contacts' there for wont of a better word?

Then there are past life memories which come to some spontaneously and to others through hypnotism. From where do those stories come? They could be fantasies but some connect to physical realities. They could be connecting to DNA memories or energy in the atmosphere, but they often don't seem to connect to any ancestor or even culture that we know was part of our family history, and they do seem very real. Many such memories end up relating to people's current physical life in terms of talents but sometimes in unexpected ways (now that I have experienced).

There is also the question of out of body experiences and I don't mean when people almost die where it might be hallucinations. No, I mean the kind that people have without planning or bring to themselves through spiritual practices such as deep meditations.

Farm Boss has talked of something that happened to him many years ago. He was in high school, studying science, but interested in Eastern religions. In doing a candle meditation, he felt, without asking it to happen, him leave his body. He said floating above it he saw the silver cord that connects our body to our spirit. When he went back into his body from the ceiling, he didn't feel fear at what had happened but he also didn't try repeating it.

What are those experiences? Is there a reason for the spirit to be able to leave the flesh if it's going to perish when the body does? I guess it would still be possible that the spirit can float around that way until its source of energy, the body, finally does die but what would the purpose be? And is our spirit energized by the body or the other way around? If the spirit can leave the body, then it seems to me likely that it is what happens at death.

So where does it go? If the spirit survives, should we prepare ourselves for what might come next? Will it matter if we do?

(one more to come)

Photo is one of Hubble's (you don't see color in space but they use the colors of the elements to enhance them to what we see)-- Starry Night.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Death and then what?

With the approach of Samhain, the Day of the Dead, it's not surprising that I would be considering some of the big questions in life. Is there a god? Is there one true religion? Who created this earth or did it just happen from nothing? Pretty much all are the questions that go beyond biology and try to explain existence. Don't all of them come back to one core question which we all might eventually ask ourselves: Does our personal being go on after our body dies?

If our inner being doesn't die, if the soul/spirit can leave the no longer functioning body, then the question becomes what happens to it next. I think answering this is why there are so many religions, why so many people need religion. People hope somebody has figured it out even if they have not. They seek some kind of security in a world that offers very little. In reality, since nobody who is dead can write up a new religion, most count on channeling (by themselves or a founder) to get their information and followers have to trust that they really are connecting with the other side to believe in what they claim.

There are, of course, reasons people choose to be in a religion besides the question of eternal life. Some are born into one. Others may seek a community. They could be searching for the answers to life. Major health problems or some emotional trauma can lead people to hope a power beyond theirs can protect them, heal them, or at least explain it all.

With a myriad of religions from which to choose most people will end up with one approved by their family or local community. When they go against those traditions, it can be hard-- even dangerous in some cases. If you don't have much choice, then there's not much point in considering the wisdom of the choice.

(This was an interesting debate between an atheist and a pastor exploring these questions: [Christopher Hitchens-- Collision: Is Religion Absurd or Good for the World?])


When we see something like what happened recently with people perishing in [a sweat lodge spiritual retreat experience], many wonder what the heck? Why would someone put themselves through something so miserable? I am guessing as to the reasons, since I have never felt the need to do anything like it, but it might be done to transcend the body and hope to get their soul/spirit to a place where it can see into the netherworld. Or they might see it as a test to prove their worthiness for achieving 'enlightenment.

It sounded, from what I have read, as though the leader of this particular sweat lodge led them to believe that those who stuck out the suffering would receive an emotional and spiritual breakthrough. Were those followers so under his spell that they quit thinking for themselves? While this event was part of what most would consider New Age religion, many religions practice some kind of bodily denial (usually to lesser degrees) like fasting.

To me it's a mistake to breeze into another religion's traditions with no preparation, no real understanding of its rules, powers or limitations. In the case of this particular sweat lodge, the man running the program was making many dollars from pushing people past their limit. He took something (vision quest and sweat lodge) from another religion with likely (giving him the benefit of the doubt) little understanding of with what he was tampering. Most likely he didn't expect anyone to die (which should not excuse him from potential manslaughter charges).

At the beginning of October, Farm Boss and I were at a graveside service for a man, younger than us, who died shockingly fast but after a long illness. Most people there were from the church where we used to go and most of them, if not all, believe in the truth that church teaches.

In some ways, I envied them their faith. It helps when tragedy strikes, if we can think it has meaning. If we have to lose someone we love, it's helpful to think they are happy where they are. If I could still believe that way, I probably would, but I have looked at it from a logical, emotional, and yes, spiritual point of view and it stopped registering for me as truth. I recognize the comfort they get, but I can't lie about what I believe-- although I kept my mouth shut there. I was there as a neighbor, providing support to those still living.
The argument goes that religions are about faith. If you don't have it, it was your doing. So that's it? No evidence. No proof. Just faith and that faith can go against all practical considerations. That faith could tell you to kill your son (as it did Abraham) and you'd be willing to do it? That faith tells you certain things are sin even if your inner voice says that doesn't make sense.

Faith isn't supposed to make sense. With proof, there'd be no need for faith. Faith tells you to ignore inconsistencies in what you believe so you concentrate on the ones that build up that faith. Have faith and it will all work out. If it doesn't, you will get your reward on the other side.

Faith lets religions ignore what they do, what they actually illustrate by their lives, and justify ignoring what the believer sees around them. Logic would not send someone into a steaming hot tent crowded with other people and then stay there even when they clearly, factually know their body is in trouble. It's easy to point out what seems the lunacy in that but there are similar things, if less risky, in many religions if not all.

When someone dies suddenly as did the people in that sweat lodge and as did our younger neighbor, I always wonder what they find. Is it what they expected?
(more to come on this)

[The roses were a garden surprise as I had thought the freezes ended their blooming until next spring. These were somewhat protected under a pine tree and because I planned to let the sheep clean up the garden, they were brought into the house where they were appreciated. The sheep wold have appreciated them also-- one or two bites worth. Do any roses smell so sweet as the last roses?]

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Changing Skies


One of my favorite things about fall is the intensely changing skies.


On the drive home from town, I wait for when we turn off the main highway and head across open farmland. For awhile the sky is huge against the land.


With shifting light, different cloud patterns, the country landscape is rarely the same even from one side of the highway to the other. The last time we did this drive there were hawks on telephone poles, about a mile apart, some alighting on the ground. This time when I have my camera, not a one. How do they know?


Storm clouds mix it up with patches of blue sky, no clue from them what weather will come next.


The harvest is over and the land waits.


These were all taken October 18th while driving back from Corvallis... uh Farm Boss was driving.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Time of Releasing

This season is also one for releasing as I am reminded every time I plug in the electric leaf blower to remove oak leaves from the driveway, deck, gardens and some of the lawn. Always as I work, I look up and estimate how many leaves are yet to be released. I was guessing today maybe 90% are still hanging on.

It's a job I don't mind because it has a satisfaction as I see more and more ground open up. Now days I try to avoid rolling off the acorns as the sheep regard them as a delicacy and graze the region several times a day for new falls.
.
This time of releasing, for the agrarian people of the past (and small ranchers like us), was also the time where it was determined which animals could be carried through the winter and which must be slaughtered to enable the people and remaining animals to survive the dark season.
At our farm, we are doing this right now which I have mentioned began this summer but much more needs to go. For years we had the luxury of raising these animals without a lot of concern for them paying their way. Those days are done. It can no longer cost us more to feed them than we take in. For us, this means just what it did to more ancient peoples. Some must be sold or slaughtered. As always, this is a tough thing for me.

The only thing that makes me feel good is that we found a good buyer for a heifer and one young cow; where I think they will have good lives. The rest may not be so fortunate. They are so trusting of us. Actually they are not. They always look at us a little suspiciously. To them, we are both predator and shepherd. It must be confusing if they think that deeply which I hope they do not.

Economically we also are facing a time to have to figure out finances for our old age. Due to the economic turn-down, we went onto Social Security for income. My first check comes in late November. This happened because of some major economic disappointments (but who hadn't experienced that this year.) We had intended to put off taking Social Security until 70 but at least we made it to full benefits.

As any of you know who already may be living on Social Security or a reduced budget, it is requiring a lot of readjusting to figure out what can and cannot be afforded. It has been quite a few years since I had to worry about budgets, but luckily I have known such times before and don't have a lot of expensive of tastes to readjust now (well a few).

We will soon be making a trip to Tucson to get our house down there ready to hopefully become a vacation rental which is another releasing for me. I love the house, the desert around it, and have enjoyed having it be set up just for us, but I am reworking my thinking into ways to make it welcoming to renters, asking myself what would make someone else enjoy a week in a place I love. To do this, some things have to go, others be changed. We are learning the ropes of operating that type of rental. Hopefully that will work out as selling it right now would not be wise.

So it really has been a time of letting go for me. The darkening skies are hard as I let go of days where I can have the doors and windows open, where the night breezes are sweet with fragrance and the flowers full of color, vegetables waiting to be picked for dinner, where walks don't mean bundling up in several layers of clothing and a hat.

To not get seriously depressed, I remind myself of the good things in my life and there are many bright spots. Still I accept that sometimes it is okay to accept some darkness along with the light. To deny it would be to deny the seasons, to deny part of who I am which is not a Pollyanna all the time... Okay not much of the time... Never? I won't go there or that might be depressing too.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Darkening Days

To be honest, I am going through a kind of depressing/stressful time which is not at all unexpected for me at the end of summer with winter ahead.
"She parts the thin, fragile veils that stretch into eternity, between life and death, on this Cross-Quarter when the intense Scorpio Power Gate Opens, releasing the potent water element that signals the dying of the solar year."
Ffiona Morgan © Mother Tongue Ink 2009
Samhain, October 31st, marks the beginning of the dark season for Pagans who follow the Celtic tradition of dividing the year between the dark and the light seasons with Beltane on May 1st marking the entering of the light again. These festivals are earth grounded, a recognition of seasonal changes that more 'advanced' cultures mostly choose to ignore.

The most symbolic, for me, way to celebrate Samhain is with a big bonfire. In a Celtic village the people would build it in the center of the village. Sometimes there would be two for the people to walk between as a symbol of being purified. Other times all the homes would extinguish their home fires. From the darkness, they would bring candles or a torch to the central plaza where from the fire, they would bring light and heat back to their homes symbolizing their connectedness to each other.

For Americans today, instead of entering a season of dormancy, we are about to begin the busiest, most expensive, high expectation season of the year, at a time of the year, where we have the least energy, where we are all more prone to getting sick, where flu will be everywhere along with colds, where we are also most apt to over indulge. Do we recognize any connection to natural cycles?

This season they are additionally warning us to expect dire consequences from the H1N1 flu which will hit younger people harder than oldsters. So with that ahead, what are these coming months about-- overeating and lots of desserts which will further reduce our immunity. Modern cultures make so much sense.

I know things I can do to help get through what for me are some depressing months: going for walks, painting colorful paintings, writing or editing my own fiction, reading good books, watching uplifting movies, reminding myself of all the good in my life, making future plans for things that I can do, fires in the fireplace, lots of white candles, eating right, and sometimes replacing light bulbs with those which help with seasonal depression.

Doing those things will help, as will reaching the Winter Solstice when I can start turning my gaze toward spring again. Oddly enough, the heart of winter is easier for me than right now because today it's all heading the wrong way. After the Solstice each day will be just a bit lighter.

Others can remind me how beautiful the leaves are in this season, how exciting are the constant sky changes; and I will agree but still it's hard for me. That's the plain out truth and it's been this way for a good many seasons.

(more to come about Samhain)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Let's Talk Politics

Political Rant
For now, I am still reserving judgment on Obama's presidency. I expected him to take some learning time; plus I saw how he ran his campaign. He's not a rush to the finish type of leader. I also have no regrets for having supported him in 2008 given the alternative the Republicans provided. As for whether Obama will be a great president or one I won't even vote for in 2012, time will tell. This article in the New York Times by an Oregon Congressman, Earl Blumenauer, pretty well sums it up for me: Frustrated Liberal Lawmaker Balances Beliefs and Politics.

Maureen Dowd also had a good column on Sunday: Fie, Fatal Flaw! And there was Frank Rich's Goldman can you spare a dime? which concerns me as it did when I saw who Obama put into his Treasury Department. While I am reserving judgment, I won't blindly support whatever he does and end up like those who gave George W. Bush a blank check constantly defending him no matter what he does. There are things progressives want from Obama. We shall see how many he delivers on. Yes, you righties don't like any of it. Better luck with a candidate next time.

There are complaints from the right against Obama that I don't think are fair. What many Republicans claim they dislike most is that he is escalating our federal debt. They point to current numbers to prove what he's done in 9 short months. They ignore the actual facts about the budget, about what happened for the previous 8 years.

Here's the current situation: Debt Clock with some good articles right below it explaining some of how we got here. It didn't start with Obama's stimulus package to help the middle and lower classes. We've been on a collision course with financial disaster since Bush put through tax cuts (weighted toward the richest) in the middle of a war with escalating spending. None of that appeared to worry people from the right-- not enough anyway until a Democrat got in power (assuming anybody there has power).

Two extra reasons beyond current spending for the deficit's escalation this year is because of actually adding in the cost of war that had been kept off line and paying the increasing interest on that debt. I suspect if the real costs of that war had been added in earlier, we'd have had a lot less of the patriotic flag waving. Amazing how popular things are until someone gets the bill.

This year, with the stimulus package, the deficit jumped again because money was given to the states to try and put the brakes on a possible depression. Sure there was pork in it. Yes, Obama should have been more hands on and less turning it over to Congress (both parties) to figure out where to put it; but maybe he figured these legislators, from each state knew best where it could help right away. Unlike the bank bailout, which may or may not have been wise but didn't seem good to me at the time, and makes me even more angry right now with the big bonuses for the investment firms (who make what again to help the economy?) this one was weighted toward the people. Does that worry Republicans more somehow?

I would be far more tolerant of the right wingers complaining about Obama if they had demanded those tax cuts during the Bush years be connected to equal spending cuts; or if they had said, if we want this war, we have to raise sufficient taxes to pay for it. Instead people were told they could fight a war on the cheap and didn't worry that the difference between the rich and middle class was escalated by that tax cut.

Even today when I hear things from the right that Obama should send more troops to Afghanistan, I wonder and who pays for it? Never mind, to the tea partiers-- manna from heaven, I guess. Constantly I hear these anti-tax people say it was the right thing to fight a war of choice in Iraq as they also say they don't want to pay taxes. Talk about faith based wars.

Then there are those who claim Obama should do whatever General McCrystal demands about the war in Afghanistan (i.e. 40,000 more troops). Did a military junta take us over while I wasn't looking? Some hope Petraeus will run for president in 2012 and they might get their chance for for a war president (who knows what he actually supports). As for me, I hope Obama remembers something wise that he said while running for office that a general has the responsibility to determine how to 'win' one war but a president has to look at what is good for his overall country.

Anyone who reads anything at all about Afghanistan's history can see where increasing our troop levels there will lead. Currently it apparently has a corrupt government (that Bush's administration put in place) but more than that, it's been a sinkhole for lives and dollars for its entire history. What plan is in place to make this any different?

I think if Afghanistan had had any chance to work, it would have been finishing it before jumping to Iraq. We lost the window, allowed the Taliban to regroup (and fund themselves from the poppy fields) and now we are facing some pretty ugly choices including their ease of slipping back and forth between there and Pakistan who has the nuclear bomb. No easy options. Nor are there for other big problems.

What I see happening, unless there is a major change, is us heading to a Dickensian world where there are the rich and there are the poor. The right wing seems to only like to spend money on bombs. They are blocking anything that might help the middle class continue to exist. The left wing is so inefficient (or bought off) that they can't do anything they claim to want. How convenient as they continue raking in lobbyist bribes donations. That sucking sound you hear is Congress at the tit.

The middle class is being undermined in health care, education, and jobs. Does Congress not see itself as part of the middle class? I think it doesn't because when these guys leave office, they get jobs in those same big lobbying firms and make millions. They identify with the rich because it's where many of them expect to end up.

The way it's heading right now, our children's children will never know the world we did. I suppose some don't care so long as they don't live to see that day. They very well might.

The photos I chose for this blog illustrate a couple of my thoughts right now. The top one is a waning moon in the middle of the morning. The United States does not have to be a waning power. It can be like the moon, go through this down cycle and build again.

While the moon just does its thing, we have to put resources into changing our course. We can rebuild our cities, fix our health care system, accept that the stock market is not the main criteria we must use for what is right but rather do what is best for people's lives, and pay for what we say we want rather than be always borrowing. Money is not the only standard by which something must be measured, is it?

I believe we can still change things, but if we don't, we will be a waning power that stays down permanently because I believe our power has come through our strong middle class where real things have been made. A vital middle class has been the engine that made this country great. If that disappears, if the hope for the poor disappears with nowhere for them to move up, then it won't be good in the future for anybody but a few rich. If that's the world we want, then do nothing and it'll happen because there are those working to make it happen. Some think they can get more gold by killing the golden goose.


The other photo is a woolly bear caterpillar from last week-end, which if it completes its cycle will become an Isabella Tiger Moth. I grew up being told that you can predict the hardness of a winter by this little guy's bands. A wider brown one means a tough winter ahead (or some say it's just the opposite).

This was the first one I had seen this fall. When I find them on the road, they curl up into a little ball which I pick up and throw off, trying to help them toward the direction they were heading, but this one was in the pasture where its only danger would be the cattle stepping on it.

Its photo is here because it represents one way man looks to guess for what will happen. We can't really do that with life (not sure it works with winter predicting either) but it seems to me that if we keep going as we are, fighting wars elsewhere and forgetting the ones here, we are in big trouble.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Soloist


Because I like anything Robert Downey Jr. does, because I like Jamie Foxx almost as much, because I have read Steve Lopez's columns in the LA Times, I put The Soloist on my Netflix list. I knew only a little bit about the story but that the film had gotten mixed reviews.

After seeing it, I have no idea from where the bad reviews came. I thought it was a tough but poignant film on mental illness, homelessness, poverty, and the creative process. It is based on a true story and the book of the same name by Steve Lopez.

Basically Lopez, in looking for something to write, [Steve Lopez-- LA Times], became interested in a street musician, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, who was homeless and mentally ill. I won't go into more about the plot than that it involves Lopez's desire to get a story, help Ayers get back into his music, get off the street, and the impact that all has on Lopez's life. The performances are first rate as would be expected. The plot was interesting and pertinent to our times. The extra features well worth watching.

What blew me away was what it showed about skid row. Like most Americans, I see the homeless sometimes but not like this, not so concentrated where they live. Mostly I see them walking past or asking for money. I thought that the people in the film looked like the real deal and they were. The outdoor set was Los Angeles's skid row. Most of the extras were people who live there.

I don't know if the homeless districts in all cities look like in LA; but if so, what are we doing as a nation to let this happen to fellow humans? Probably half of them are mentally challenged, some physically handicapped.

Some years back, on a trip through California, we stopped to see the mission in San Luis Obispo. A young woman came up to me asking for money. I had seen all of the men hanging around and saw that there was a soup kitchen nearby. She said she had missed the time for food and asked if I could help her. I dug out $5.

Yes, I knew she might well be giving it directly to those watching men; but I couldn't not give her something. She had a birthmark that covered one half of her face, sounded mentally challenged in how she talked, and was way overweight. Life had dealt her a hard hand. I saw her as a sister and even today it's harder for me to not give money to women who find themselves in these situations than to the men. There could go me and sometimes it's a thin line for why we aren't the ones out there decided by the right parents, luck and genetics.

The ones I see where I live run a gamut of ages and seeming mental states. Some truly don't know where they are; some are on drugs or alcohol; and maybe some have chosen it as a way of life. I haven't seen anything like Los Angeles's skid row.

I had read the number of homeless has been growing. I have seen the lines to get food. I didn't know until I began looking more into this that Portland school district this year reports 1706 of their students are homeless. [Number of homeless growing at schools near you].
"Not all the students — not even a majority — are living on the streets. The federal government defines homeless students as those who "lack fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence."

"More than 13,000 students are living with relatives or families. About 750 called a motel primary residence last year, another 1,700 were living in shelters or transitional housing. Finally, 2,264 were classified as "unsheltered" meaning they were living in cars, sheds, tents, or on the streets." from the above link

How often I have written that our big problem is the middle class becoming extinct. I still see that as important because the middle class has been the hope of the poor, a road up that they can see they could reach by hard work or luck. It used to be that way.

After watching The Soloist, I became more aware of how too many Americans are forced to live. Some low income families are just a thin line away from this. You can't even get medical care, like say surgery for cancer if you don't have a home address. I learned that after reading more about the film

It's not just the poverty which is bad enough but our limited ability to help those with serious mental problems. We want a magic pill or some think prayer will fix it as they see it as an emotional or spiritual problem instead of physical. The truth is not enough research has gone into something that can totally rip a normal life away from people. With more and more children being diagnosed with different degrees of autism, what will a future United States look like?

If you get the chance, rent The Soloist. It is a powerful movie that brings home the difficulty of trying to help the mentally ill and the reality of homeless lifestyles. Most of what we are doing today is stopgap-- keeping people from starving, offering medical clinics that can treat some problems, nighttime shelters that sometimes seem so undesirable to the homeless that they would rather sleep in camps.

You know, no matter what the 'experts' tell us, this is looking more and more like a depression. Even if we are in a recovery, will it bring everyone with it? We face many problems today and not the least of which is inner city deterioration.

Bob Herbert wrote a good piece that fits with this topic: Behind the Laughter. Please don't tell me everybody has an equal chance at a good education and job. If you think that, you are uninformed of what it's like for many families as well as the inner city problem. I think it's going to take real commitment, more tax money, people who know how to make a difference, not just throw money around, and some positive planning to have any hope of turning this thing around.

Many years ago my father said that he saw this country becoming a nation of haves and have-nots. He didn't live to see it, but I am afraid it's what I am beginning to see. There was a second part to what he said would happen then that it would turn into a far more violent culture where people shoot others for no reason. Well we are seeing that happen also. What should we do about it?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

SICKO

Finally we got around to watching Michael Moore's film on the health care questions the United States is facing. Sicko starts out hard to watch (no, not because of Moore); but if you rent it from Netflix, give it some time.

The first part is about people who have faced catastrophic health problems due to not being able to afford insurance, having it and finding their company found a cancellation loophole (something they apparently are good at finding), or having it and finding co-pays for a major illness still sent them into bankruptcy and the homeless category.

Does it sound tough to watch a man being told by the hospital that they can reattach one of two fingers (which he lost in an accident with his saw) and he can decide which one based on the cost of $12,000 for one or $60,000 for the other? He chose the cheaper one.

The next part explains how we got here. It runs tapes of Halderman and Nixon chuckling over his approval of the HMO bill if it was aimed at not really covering much. It showed how the insurance companies operate with trying to get doctors to do less than might be wise but that saves them money.

It doesn't go back to the early part of the 20th century when one president after another tried to get universal health care and failed under the same forces that are blocking it today. It did go into the cost we are paying for what we have let go on too long. It is escalating.

Finally Moore visited Canada, England, France, and yes, Cuba to see how it's done there for ordinary people who get sick. Not only do the people there not have to economically fear illness, but the doctors are freed to do what is best for their patients, not what the insurance company is forcing upon them. The doctors still make good salaries even in England where they are paid by the government.

It is enough to make you sick if you come from the United States and see what we here are doing to our sick and in the name of... uh exactly what was it in the name of? Oh yes, fear of socialism which we evidently tolerate with firemen and policemen but are trying to undo with public education. It also is to keep the stock market looking good for those of us who have investments there-- but at what price?

I really wonder how some people live with themselves. I have no answer to it. The irony is it's not just the rich who don't want to see health care become affordable for all. Many middle class people, who could someday find themselves under the gun, they have also been taught to fear so well that they turn against what is in their own interest.

He asked people in countries with universal coverage how they felt about paying higher taxes for this. They said they saw themselves as all connected and felt the need to help each other. Wow, and we call ourselves the Christian nation? On what evidence?

Anyway I very much recommend that everyone see Sicko especially if you don't favor health care reform. You at least should look at who you are hurting by your stand. If you think you can escape responsibility by not looking, you can't. It's being done in your name.

Also check out this excellent column from Nicholas Kristof-- Uninsure Congress. I really liked his suggestion and it'd do a lot to change the view in Congress if they faced what so many other Americans do. This is not a Republican versus Democratic issue as a lot of the Democrats talk a good game but then let this be blocked again and again because of the money they make as it stands. Or they enable 'reform' that only makes money for the insurance companies and still doesn't give people the best care possible.

I know a lot of people don't like Michael Moore, but he did a very good job on this film. It is humorous at times and always informative as he explores the questions and personalizes what is happening right now. It's something all Americans should be thinking about.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

News Distractions

To start, what I think the news should be covering, what is not a distraction in my eyes, is the health care debate as it's a key issue for our well being-- however you see it. Other important things are going on (wars, climate questions, civil rights) but nothing with such an immediate impact on us all.

I know some, who have reliable insurance, think it's not an issue to them, but if the costs keep going up, it will be. The insurance corporations have said if they are forced to cover the people who they currently kick off of insurance for any reason they can find, they will up all our premiums; so you can bet it's going up.

Thanks to 'special interest' politicians on both sides, Americans are confusing "insurance" with actual medical care. The cost of this insurance is going so high (and if you don't know how high, it's because your employer pays it) to keep the profits high for those corporations and benefit the stock market. What insurance has to do with health care is stand between the sick and extremely high medical bills-- except today it does not always do even that. Whatever good it actually does the sick is being done through higher and higher premiums to keep the stock market looking good and the profits high enough for those CEO salaries.

So when I saw that Roman Polanski was arrested, I was upset. Not because I care if the disgusting rat goes to prison. He deserves prison for what he did to that girl. Sorry but Lolita was a disgusting view of girls and anybody who is buying into that is sick. A thirteen year old deserves to be protected. Too bad her mother didn't agree. But my upset wasn't that he would be dragged back to this country kicking and screaming; it was that I knew the media would be covering it-- every disgusting detail will find its way into the news entertainment media.

It became quickly another tool for the fools who whined (because a few Hollywood celebrities defended Polanski) that it shows the difference between the good people and the bad. The story goes that the good people, Republicans, want Polanski to spend serious time in prison for raping a girl and skipping out before he could be sentenced. Democrats think it's been too many years to worry about it, the girl has been paid off, he isn't doing bad things today (so far as anyone knows), and he had a lot of bad things happen in his life. Well there is a third view from we who wish the courts would handle it and we could quit reading about it and him.

If that wasn't enough distraction from the important issues like what to do about Afghanistan or Iran's nuclear weapon program, we had Obama going to Europe to try and get the Olympics for Chicago and the United States. Now this kind of thing is what a lot of leaders do and since it was an overnight flight, short speech, it really was a non-player for how long it took (except to the partisan right who didn't mind Bush going on vacations to Texas regularly but a trip to Europe-- definitely bad) but then it became a news story when the United States didn't get the Olympics.

Once again news distracted itself from actual information on the health care proposals (of which there were many that week). Instead it was-- What did the loss mean for Obama's political future? I will tell you the answer. It meant exactly nothing. Those, who supported him before, still do. Those, who didn't, hope every falter is the end of the road.

As for the media, we saw videos of Rush Limbaugh chortling over it as though he thinks this will have made Obama ready for a nervous breakdown. Failure. Oh the woe. How can Limbaugh Obama stand it? I was left with two other questions. First, since I don't watch Limbaugh or listen to him, why is my liberal station constantly running clips of him? Second is Limbaugh on some kind of mood drugs to lose the weight he has? He is joyous that the United States didn't get the Olympics because it will hurt Obama? Then he was upset that our country has a president who was honored by the Nobel Peace Prize. Is there ever a time he can be proud of us for anything but bombing someone? What does patriotism mean to someone like him?

Last week there were a lot of stories again about Sarah Palin. Her ex-future son-in-law is evidently going to pose for Playgirl (does it get any ickier than that?) and she has a best selling book putting her back in the news distracting from say what should we do about the prisoners in Gitmo who cannot be released, cannot be tried because of torture, and some fear our US prisons aren't sufficient to hold. (How are we holding the other bad guys?)

Palin didn't write her book but worked with a politically oriented ghost writer which is not unusual for celebrities. You can bet this book will be about politics and not about her personal life beyond whatever sounds like Mother Knows Best. If you hoped for the truth of her life, her family (maybe even written by her), that book is somewhere down the road. This one is all about getting big fees for speaking and maybe becoming the next Republican candidate for president.

Her title, Going Rogue, was an interesting choice. A rogue animal is one that interferes with the effectiveness of the herd, that threatens all around it. Does Palin really know anything about nature, life or anything beyond herself? Did someone trick her into using that title?

An interesting side-note to the Palin distractions was a journalist who suggested the reason Republicans want her is because she annoys the left so much. So in other words the pleasure that the right gets at maybe running her for president is because the left goes completely crazy at the idea? Okay then should the left run Michael Moore? Just a thought...

And finally to distract from the (some democrat and all republican) Senators stonewalling the public option was the story of David Letterman having had affairs. Oh the shock. A famous celebrity, who was also famously marriage shy, had an affair-- or rather multiple affairs with women who worked for him.

There are those who will never watch his show again. Of course, they never watched it anyway but that's not what is important here. It's making the point that the right wing doesn't approve of sex outside of marriages, between employees and bosses, or maybe kinky sex anywhere.

I won't even go into the Ensign story coming up again because about now I am thinking I need a glass of Merlot-- for my health...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Day the Right Went Nuts

Politics

When Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, the right wing went nuts-- figuratively and in some cases literally. I don't know what was going on with them but suspect they had hoped Europe had turned against Obama because of Chicago's loss of the Olympics. I think the Olympics related to a lot of things but Obama's popularity wasn't one of them.

According to Wikipedia, the peace prize is given "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." Alfred Nobel's will stated that the prize (monetarily worth over $1,000,000 which Obama said he will give to charity) is awarded by a committee of five people elected by the Norwegian Parliament.

Yes, I understand Obama hasn't been president for long, but he has been working toward those goals. One of his first trips overseas was to the Middle East and places presidents don't always choose to go like Cairo where he gave a major address. He got flak from the right in this country, but he was making a statement that he has stuck with every since. Look at what he does and you see a steady course toward the kind of goals the Nobel Peace Prize is set up to highlight.

What I think the Nobel committee was saying was meant for us in the U.S.A as well as for him. They want us to not place ourselves above them but alongside, to operate with treaties we have agreed upon, to work for peace, to care about climate change, and to want to be part of the world community, not seek to either pretend it doesn't exist or dominate it.

The Nobel committee knew Obama committed himself to these causes and I think that is what they probably based the award upon. It really is for the new direction of this country. Obama was elected by many people on that platform. Yes, the right didn't want that, but they lost this time. They have another chance to earn the disdain of Europe by electing someone like Sarah Palin next time.

The committee may have thought, with the power of the United States still impressive, Obama has the most opportunity to make a positive difference toward real dialogue between countries, toward peace. Why is 'that' a bad thing? Or more accurately, to whom, is 'that' a bad thing?

Ironically Limbaugh actually said , in this case he's on the same side as the Taliban because they also didn't like Obama getting the award. I don't know how many times I have had conversations with my leftie friends and family where we have said we saw that connection between extreme fundamentalists who always seek to go back rather than forward, who seek power rather than cooperation. Did Limbaugh just figure out that he has more in common with the Taliban than either want to admit.

Oh, I know Limbaugh loves women. He'll be a judge of Miss America and doesn't that prove his liking for women. How could he be like the Taliban? They dislike women. Well, they both love a certain aspect of women, but that doesn't mean either respect women. On his show, he has been more an example of misogyny than liberated thinking. Women are okay in their place and behaving appropriately by his standards which means parading down a runway in a swimsuit, I guess.

The right seems to fear this award will impact Obama's ego. They have decided that if he is admired by others, it will make him be egotistic-- something that is evidently okay in Limbaugh who proudly says it's how he is. It was also okay when Bush said he was the decider and didn't care about polls or what anybody else thought, where he said he only needed to discuss war policy with his Father in heaven, but not ask advice of his father down here. That's not egotistical?

The right thought Obama went to Europe to try to get the Olympics because of his ego. How about a different reason? Perhaps his wife and two women (Oprah and Valerie Jarrett), women who have helped him in the past, asked him to go? How many men turn down their wife in such a case? Especially not men with loving relationships. To see the right take joy in the United States losing out was exactly like when they took umbrage that the United States was honored by having a leader the world admired. This is patriotism?

It's hard for me to understand how the right thinks. They have decided we on the left hero worship Obama and I guess this plays into their fears. Some are waiting for an antichrist and when Europe likes one of our leaders that makes him potentially that person? I mean this whole thing makes zero sense to me.

We on the left did vote for someone hoping they could improve our image in the world. Well it obviously happened. That's bad? Most people know that to have a good relationship in their community is important. They want to be respected and trusted. Why can't they see that applies on a world scale also.

Thank you Norway for encouraging the rest of us!

Friday, October 09, 2009

The John Day Experience


Putting the whole thing, the John Day experience, together which would mean the rivers, mountains, forests, lakes, ranches, small towns, fossil beds, colored hills, animals, insects, people, flowers, petroglyphs... *taking a breath* just writing down the list causes my mind to go blank and probably yours too.

Which led to my decision to create another slide show with music. This one, even with leaving out a lot, will take a bit longer (as in 9 minutes 24 seconds); so do it when you have time to sit back and let the music and beauty of nature have its way with you. It is about a little known and lightly populated part of Oregon and some of its prettiest scenery-- and that takes some doing.


Sadly, you can't feel the wind, hear the birds, watch the colors shift with the lighting, the clouds move across the sky, walk up the trails hearing the rock crunch under your foot, read all the explanations as to what created these lands, feel the sun on your back; but maybe you can see enough of it to plan your own trip to the John Day country. If not, then enjoy our trip along with very appropriate music from Franz Liszt.


(Music from On Classical Years of Pilgrimage II Sposalizio. Pianist Roberto Poli. Listening to it alone is reason to do the slide show.)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Walking Through Time

100,000,000 years ago Oregon was-- under the Pacific Ocean. A visitor from another planet, as there were no humans yet, would have seen ocean waves lapping the shore near McCall, Idaho. Things happened-- as they tend to do where it comes to the earth. Volcanic eruptions, uplifts, weather and eventually Oregon rose to take its place as the left wing capitol of the country-- well not really.

Places like John Day Fossil Beds National Monument's three units (Sheep Rock, Painted Hills, and Clarno) give us a sense of timelessness and time. It cannot help but make anybody think that climate change is both inevitable and something we better plan for-- over say a few million years, give or take a few.

Where I walked through beautiful stone canyons, once there were lush forests with 100" of rain a year, where predators and prey lived together. Some of the species living then didn't evolve into anything else. They disappeared. Others can be recognized (with DNA) still today. None of them had any idea that things might change because their concerns were strictly about from where their next meal might come.

The earth did change though due to more volcanic action, more earthquakes and uplifts and a steady change of the climate that left behind a fossil record from what they call The Age of the Mammals that is fascinating and really does stir the soul. My guess is most who visit this Monument, not that well publicized nor known, have already felt stirred by the history of earth.

To help a person equilibrate themselves to the vast sense of time and change, the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center is a great spot to start. There you find fossil exhibits, a working laboratory where you can spy on the work through a glass window, paintings and exhibits to help you see what animals would have been out there say 20 million years ago. It also directs you to the various units.

This is a glimpse into that time after the extinction of the dinosaurs until the Ice Age. Some of the fossils of animals I saw as familiar but others were new to me. What made some survive and others disappear? Fascinating story with no definitive answer-- yet anyway.

Here we get a view of earth's physical reality where sometimes we have had absolutely nothing to do with what happens-- like the recent string of earthquakes in Indonesia and Samoa. Not to say we cannot sometimes have an impact with our human finger in every pie attitude.

Spending some time in the center is helpful, but the real experience is walking the many hiking trails to look at the layers of rock and earth. It's beautiful but more than that, it feels spiritual and to a pagan like me-- sacred. Earth is more awe inspiring than the most beautiful temple ever made by man and some of these formations seem very much like cathedrals.

When we reached the end of one trail (signs clearly mark where visitors can go) we heard a tapping farther up the canyon. A gentle, steady tapping. Back at the center we asked to be sure but were relatively positive that it was a crew from there. The careful work goes on in the laboratory as the matrix is further removed from the fossils.

There were others visiting the monument but not many. It was easy to find quiet places to just sit and think, to let it all soak in.

Mankind has only been here a few million years and in his present form only about 90,000 years. Some of the animals that once walked the ground where I walked, they don't exist today. Someday if mankind is foolish or maybe even if not, our species may not.

To better understand this land and the influences that made it what it is, at the museum, we asked what they recommended. We bought the book In Search of Ancient Oregon by Eileen Morris Bishop. It has many photographs and well-written texts to help put the story of Oregon's beginning, the stages through which it went, that got us from 100 million years ago (when dinosaurs roamed Montana) through the processes that bring us to today-- which is clearly not the end of Oregon's story even if we humans might like to think so.

Going somewhere like John Day Fossil Beds puts our own time on earth into perspective. I don't know what its energy is, but it's strong. Is it those animals wanting their stories to be told? They didn't die leaving no sign behind. Their stories are being told. It's a blessing that others saw these places and worked to preserve them for future generations to have the chance to walk back through time.

Monday, October 05, 2009

John Day towns

Western towns are flavored by ranching, mining and logging. There is a lot of open space around them. For nearby ranches, these places are where community is found. They are also where recreationists can find the potato chips they suddenly realized they forgot.

Some of that Old West aura is for tourists. Some is the heritage of which the residents, often whose family helped settle this country, are justly proud. Most aren't very big.

People come here out of love of the land or they were born and don't want to leave. They are probably as corrupt or honest in how they govern their communities as any big town. Humans are humans with those who act honorably and those who can be bought for a buck. This a region that is changing as new people come in, sometimes buying homes as second homes but eventually coming to live there full time.

Mitchell, Oregon has a population of around 170 depending on the day. It has a hotel, several cafes (sometimes with more flies than diners), a gas station (if the owner is in the mood), mercantile, feed store, schools (with an actual football team of which the town is proud), and sometimes a pet bear, Henry, with whom the owner says he enjoys wrestling when he's in the mood-- didn't answer whether that was the bear or the man in the mood.

A lot happens in small towns based on mood.

Western towns have personality. I really like them, like their energy and the people who stick with them.

Incidentally, Henry seemed pretty contented in his cage which was as large as some I have seen in zoos. He only occupies it off and on as he has another cage which is even larger on the owner's property. The cage is double-wired to protect Henry from the dumb tourists who would stick a finger in there or give him some food that wasn't good for him.

If anyone expects to find the refinements of big cities on a regular basis, these aren't the places. You can often find espresso though.

Photos are from Mitchell except the first one outside of Prairie City and looking toward it.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

John Day rivers and a high mountain lake


For me, the greatest appeal of the John Day rivers would be their beauty against the hard lines of the land. There are the cliffs, the rock formations, the rich colors, the uplifts and then these beautiful, peaceful little rivers. Their water is what makes the John Day country possible for agriculture.

The John Day country is more or less created by upheaval, volcanic and river action. The center of Oregon is drained by four rivers: the North Fork of the John Day, the Middle Fork of the John Day, the John Day and the South Fork of the John Day.

One thing about rivers in this high desert country is they look innocent and innocuous but they are not. They can abruptly change into torrents. Three times the town of Mitchell has been badly damaged by a flooding Bridge Creek which was so nearly dry at this time of year that you'd only know it was a stream because of the indent and trees.

In the high desert, even the smallest streams have caused catastrophic floods as this is not a country of dams and it is a country where a fierce rainstorm can settle in mountains far away, eventually sending a torrent of water down the gullies to wipe out homes and towns.

The hard part, especially in the 1800s was you wouldn't have any way of knowing the flood was coming. When such a flood hit the town of Heppner, Oregon (to the north of the John Day country, in 1903, 250 people were killed. Story of Heppner Flood. This experience was and can still be repeated many places throughout the west.

The John Days are beautiful rivers, famous in Oregon for their fishing and rafting, but they are as tough as the land through which they flow. Even the photos of the lake don't tell of the avalanche of rock that formed a natural dam making it possible.


Since there was no way to cut the number of these photos down to anything reasonable, I created the above slide show. The music is Chopin from On Classical which if you listen to the whole thing, you will hear their blurb at the end. It is free for non-moneymaking sites and has beautiful versions of many classical compositions.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Full Moon October 4

For those of you interested in astrology, the full moon called the Harvest full moon (first full moon after the fall equinox) will be Sunday. I received an email with some information on how we might use this time and posted it on Rainy Day Extras.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

John Day Country


It has taken me awhile to put together my thoughts on the recent vacation-- let alone comb through the photos for the ones that best tell its story. The rough map above gives you the general idea of where in Oregon we were.

It was not so far away from the farm-- about five and a half driving hours more or less east. The route took us across the Willamette Valley, over the Cascade Mountains, down into Central Oregon's valley and back up over the Ochoco Mountains to come into the John Day basin.

Once there everything was within one hundred miles although off main highway, many roads were gravel. It is a place of small towns, rivers, fossil beds, colored hills, sunflowers, ranches, antelope, museums, little cafes, lakes, tall pines, juniper, sagebrush, and grocery stores that are more mercantile than anything you would find in big towns. They provide the simple needs for the community and recreationists coming through and that includes hardware and even clothing sometimes.

The John Day is a basin within mountain ranges, drained by one river with four branches-- the South Fork, John Day, Middle Fork, and North Fork.

The region is the home of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument with three sites-- Clarno, Painted Hills and Sheep Rock. I had been to two of them but never had the time to spend that this trip allowed.

We rented two different houses for three days each time. They are represented by the x. One enabled us to spend (never enough) time out at Painted Hills and beyond to the John Day River. The second one was farther east and from it we drove up to Clarno and to Sheep Rock. Each National Monument had short trails into the hills, easy walking for anyone. At Sheep Rock there were two museums explaining the history, both geological and human, of the region.

I came home with wonderful memories, met some nice people, saw a lot of inspirational country, and took many photographs. Even after being ruthless, I still have about 500. Writing about the John Day is the kind of thing writers could spend many books doing (and have), and still not cover it all; but I can give you a taste of it. If you find it of interest, you can learn more online or even visit for yourself.