Sunday, April 10, 2016

canine companions

A few days ago we'd stopped at one of our stations in the park where a family of crows meet us for lunch (their lunch, that is) when I noticed someone shouting and waving from higher up on a cross path. Since a group of people were passing with their dogs I assumed he was greeting friends and we continued on our way. A few minutes later the young man and his girlfriend caught up with us and, gesturing at the big brown dog they had on a leash, asked if she was ours. Our answer was no, but we patted her and talked to them for a few minutes. They'd found her wandering lost wearing just a collar with no tags. When I asked about the leash he told me it was his belt. I wonder how many young guys wear belts these days? After a few minutes they went off in the opposite direction with the plan of putting a note online before taking her to a shelter. We were kind of sad about the sweet natured beast who appeared to have been abandoned.

Later on our walk we decided to take a different path from one of our usual ones. About ten minutes along it I recognized the big brown dog walking behind a different young couple. As they passed I stopped them briefly to ask how they'd found her and heard, 'She'll go off with anybody'. I should have mentioned she needed some identification but they'd kept on walking and the chance was gone. We were glad to see she'd been reunited with her owners and still just a little bit sad because her owners were idiots. She deserved better ones.

Dharma by Billy Collins

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her dog house
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Ghandi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

a public service rant by Crow

New York City, 1927

Have you ever heard a Crow chortle? It's a little disturbing.

A few evenings ago while I was tidying up one of his albums, Crow relaxed on his antique perch by the fire reading the news. After the chortle I heard a distinct snicker. Since by then he'd caught my attention I had to ask what was causing him such amusement:

It appears no matter how long I share the world with your species I will never understand the logic of humankind. Listen to this:

"America’s infrastructure is so bad the self-driving cars can’t even find the lanes on the road.

Shoddy infrastructure has become a roadblock to the development of self-driving cars, vexing engineers and adding time and cost. An estimated 65 percent of U.S. roads are in poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, with the transportation infrastructure system rated 12th in the World Economic Forum’s 2014-2015 global competitiveness report.

Tesla, Volvo, Mercedes, Audi and others are fielding vehicles that can drive on highways, change lanes and park without human help. But they are easily flummoxed by faded lane markers, damaged  signs or lights, and the many quirks of a roadway infrastructure managed by thousands of state and local bureaucracies."

I love stories like this, in which a robot can’t even manage with great difficulty to do what any human being or crow can with ease. The proposed solution is always “transform the world to suit the needs of the robot” and not to recognize the limitations of technology. Why can't the genius entrepreneurs of Silicon valley grasp the fact that in the real world “faded lane markers, damaged signs or lights” are normal, and part of the reason for that is the systematic withdrawal of funding for public infrastructure that has been supported by them.

Only projects that make use of computer software have any interest for those people. While they ignore the many serious concerns (like how to increase public transport, save creatures from going extinct, or finding a cure for cancer etc.) they waste time, money and resources on inappropriate technological solutions to non-existent problems. Do you remember the big story a week or so ago when the Google data center beat a human Go master three out of four games? What was hardly mentioned at the time was that the machine used 50,000 times the wattage of the human player.. and all it can do is play Go.

The cars are flummoxed? So are the humans! You don’t need artificial intelligence. You need some real intelligence - coupled with a set of ethics. Hmpff.

It was obviously time for us both to calm down so I poured us both a snifter of Remy and we nibbled on fruitcake while we watched Michael Grab work his magic:

Quote of the week:

Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.
Read more at:
 “Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe. ”
Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe. Alan Watts
Read more at:
~ Alan Watts

Thursday, March 24, 2016

liberating creatures

An old monk liked to sit in meditation on a large flat rock next to a placid pool. Yet every time he began his devotions in earnest, just as soon as he had crossed his legs and settled down, he would spot an insect struggling helplessly in the water. Time after time, he would lift up his creaky old body and deliver the tiny creature to safety, before settling down again on his rocky seat. So his contemplations went, day after day..

His brother monks, dedicated meditators who also went off daily to sit alone in the rocky ravines and caves of that desolate region, eventually became aware that the old lama hardly ever managed to sit still but actually spent most of his meditation sessions plucking insects out of the tiny pool. Although it certainly seemed fitting to save the life of a helpless sentient being of any kind, large or small, some of the wondered if the old monk's meditations might not be greatly furthered if he sat undisturbed elsewhere. away from such distractions. One day they finally mentioned their concerns to him.

"Wouldn't it be more beneficial to sit elsewhere and meditate deeply, undisturbed all day? That way you could more swiftly gain perfect enlightenment, and then you could free all living beings from the ocean of conditioned existence?" one asked the old man.

"Perhaps you could just meditate by the pool with your eyes closed," another brother suggested.

"How can you develop tranquility and deep, diamondlike concentration if you keep getting up and sitting down a hundred times in each meditation session?" a young scholarly monk demanded, emboldened by the more tactful queries of his senior brethren... And thus it went on.

The venerable old lama listened attentively, saying nothing. When all had had their say, he bowed gratefully and said, "I'm sure my meditations would be more fruitful if I sat unmoved all day, brothers, as you say. But how can an old worthless one like myself, who has vowed again and again to give this lifetime (and all his lives) to serving and liberating others, just sit with closed eyes and hardened heart, praying and intoning the altruistic mantra of Great Compassion, while right before me helpless creatures are drowning?"

To that simple, humble question, none of the assembled monks could find a reply.


I haven't posted a Tibetan Buddhist story in quite some time, but when this one appeared in front of me again a few days ago I decided to paint a quick picture.

Happy Springtime

Saturday, March 19, 2016

other people's work #57 - Inga Moore

Sometimes when I think I want to draw I'll find myself doing  absolutely everything I can think of to put off the moment of starting to work.

I make another cup of tea.

I find a telephone call that must be made, a letter or an email that must be answered.

I sharpen pencils.

I look at the plant on the windowsill and decide that this is just the time to water it, or fertilize it, or prune it.

Maybe it's even time to repot it.

So I hunt for the houseplant book or search online where it says severely that this kind of plant enjoys being pot-bound and should never be repotted.

Then I might turn to the jars of brushes and pens on my drawing table, and find that some of the pens are drying out, so of course those must be sorted out..

Far too often I find a book to read until it's time to do some other practical task - like making dinner.

The drawing has been put off to another day, days that have added up to weeks this winter.

A week or so ago I came across the relatively recent illustrations Inga Moore made for 'The Wind in the Willows'. Her work isn't too easy to find online since she has no web page and tends to be reclusive. I did find a very well written article about her here. According to reviews I've read of it the book has been seriously abridged but I'm thinking of buying a copy for the 100+ illustrations. I can always read the unabridged book we have here while I look at her pictures.

I may just give up sharpening my pencils for good.. or maybe not. The reward of art is in being able to spend time in that world apart from the world we know.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

springtime with Crow

Spring is generally known as Mud Season here in Halifax. While people on the opposite coast have already welcomed snowdrops and crocuses and are currently spending their mornings dancing through fields of daffodils, we're hauling on our Wellingtons before heading to the park. Guess where Crow has gone? Must be nice to have wings and an open schedule. Goodness knows, he might even be in England in 1903 for all I can tell from this postcard he sent.

Before I climb into my rubber overshoes, I thought I'd mention something about blogs you may or may not already know. Earlier in the week all the content disappeared from a co-blogger's site. Eventually I heard from him that his blog had been hacked and all the posts deleted by some awful person. It wasn't until then I remembered I hadn't backed up my own blog in about two years. Losing everything we've written over the course of years can be a scary prospect and it's not just hackers we need to be concerned with.

Remember that Google owns Blogger and all its content. Occasionally blogs disappear for no reason Google can explain or fix. There have also been situations where Google decided to block a blog for policy violations the blogger may not have made. 

Anyway, here's how I backed up Phantsythat and Adventure's Ink to my computer. Now I should mention that I have an Apple mac

Open Blogger
Open 'Settings'
Open 'Other'
You'll see 'Import & back up' at the top
Click on 'Back up content'
Click on 'Save to your computer'
The content backup including all posts, pages and comments (but not pictures) can be saved as an XML file (that appears on Text Edit on my computer).

Okay, if you open the XML file you've created you'll see gibberish (at least I do). What you do next is to highlight the file on your desktop and go to 'open with' in 'finder' (file). In my case I'm offered the choices of opening the XML file in Safari or Opera (it might be different for you depending on the browsers you run) since XML can only be opened online. I opened 'blog-03-13-2016-1.xml' in Safari. It still looks like gibberish but if you keep scrolling down you'll see the text of your blog posts appear. You can save the XML/text edit file in your documents and replace/update as you prefer.

This is simply what I know how to do with a Blogger blog and the instructions about that are standard, but if you use a different service, have a PC, or need clearer information you can always do a search for how to back up your own blog. Considering XML was designed for Windows you might even see a pristine copy of your blog reproduced outside Blogger. While I can't be sure of any of that what I am sure of is that it's good to have a backup copy of all the text I've written over the years and the comments made by my friends.

Crow promised to return when the Spring flowers bloom here - that usually happens some time in May. Perhaps I'll be lucky this year and he'll come home early; I'll keep the fruitcake and the Remy stocked up just in case.  He's always full of surprises.

Quote of the week:
“I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process”
– Vincent Van Gogh

Friday, March 11, 2016


Irish poet, philosopher, and theological scholar John O'Donohue (1956-2008) wrote that the Celtic Christian and pre-Christian traditions are closely aligned, both rooted in the natural world.

"Celtic thought contributes magnificently to a philosophy of compassion deriving from its sense that everything belongs in one diverse, living unity. On an ontological level, the exercise of compassion is the transfiguration of dualism: the separation of matter and spirit, masculine and feminine, body and soul, human and divine, person and animal, and person and element. The beauty of the Celtic tradition was that it managed to think and articulate all of these presences together in a profound, intimate unity. So, if compassion is a praxis which tries to bring that unity into explicit activity and presentation, then Celtic philosophy of unity contributes strongly to compassion. The Celtic sense of no separating border between nature and humans allows us to have compassion with animals and with places in nature. For the Celts, nature wasn't a huge expanse of endless matter. Nature was an incredibly elemental and passionately individual presence, and that is why many gods and spirits are actually tied into very explicit places, and to the memory and history and narrative of the places.

"The predominant silence in which the animal world lives is very touching. As children on a farm, we were taught to respect animals. We were told that the dumb animals are blessed. They cannot say what they are feeling and we should have great compassion for them. They were tended to and looked after and people became upset if something happened to them. There was a great sense of solidarity between us and our older brothers and sisters, the animals.

"One of the tragedies in Western religion is the way that we have been so elitist in reserving the spiritual exclusively for the human. That is an awful, barbaric crime. When you subtract the notion of self from a presence, you objectify it and then that presence can be used and abused. It is a sin and blasphemy to say that animals have no spirits and souls. One of the cornerstones of contemplative life is going below the surface of the external and the negativity. The contemplative attends to the roots of wrong and violence. Because the animals live essentially what I call the contemplative life, maybe the most sacred prayer of the world actually happens within animal consciousness. Secondly, sometimes when you look into an animal's eyes, you see incredible pain. I think there are levels of suffering for which humans are not refined enough, and maybe our older, ancient brothers and sisters, the animals, carry some of that for us.

As you know, today is the anniversary of the calamity that struck Japan in 2011. Fukushima prefecture, a primary centre of agriculture, remains too contaminated for its inhabitants to occupy. One man, Naoto Matsumura, returned to look after the abandoned animals. That's his picture at the top and you can find more here.

"Self-compassion is paramount. When you are compassionate with yourself, you trust in your soul, which you let guide your life. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny better than you do."

Friday, March 4, 2016

some things remain

Rather than painting, drawing and writing blog posts these past few days I've found myself reading books and finding thoughtful passages here and there on the internet. Here's something I think is worth sharing:

From Keeping the Faith Without a Religion by Roger Housden:

"It seems to me that a materialist view of the universe is reductionist. It makes every kind of experience subservient to the laws of matter. It applies the tenets of the known to the mystery of why we are here at all.  It chases away not only the old gods and spirits and half heard whispers in the night; it chases away the mystery of life and being itself. For a materialist, there can be no mystery that will not eventually be made clear in the light of reason and critical intelligence.

"Ultimately, what is in danger of being excluded from the cultural conversation is not the old gods, but the quality of imagination that gave birth to them; an imagination that sees and feels humanity to be part of a living, breathing world with an intelligence that we will never fathom; full of qualities that our ancestors gave names to, but that live on as always even as their names have fallen away.

William Wordsworth gives voice to this imaginative faculty in this excerpt from his poem, 'Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey':

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of the setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of thought,
And rolls through all things."

The beautiful bones of Tintern Abbey (pictured here) rise from the banks of the River Wye on Welsh side of the English-Welsh border. The abbey was founded in 1131 for the White Monks of the Cistercian Order, followers of the Rule of St. Benedict, whose silent and austere way of life was devoted to prayer, scholarship, agricultural labor and self-sufficiency.

Quote of the week:
“Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake” 
~W.C. Fields

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Crow and the Emperor

"I closed the gulf of anarchy and brought order out of chaos. I rewarded merit regardless of birth or wealth, wherever I found it. I abolished feudalism and restored equality to all regardless of religion and before the law. I fought the decrepit monarchies of the Old Regime because the alternative was the destruction of all this. I purified the Revolution."

~ Napoleon Bonaparte

My friend Crow who met the Emperor many years ago had this to say about him:

For all his faults, (he had some world class ones) Napoleon's greatest achievements, other than in battle, were in the field of law, the arts, government, and civil reform. Wherever the writ of the French Empire ran, there were basic civil rights, freedom of religion, hospitals and orphanages.The Code Civil, better known as the Code Napoleon has survived and thrived to this day, and gave France its first written code of law. It is also a part of the laws of Italy, Germany, and parts of the United States.

He revamped French education, instituted the precursor of the metric system, granted full citizenship to the Jewish people, granted freedom of worship for all denominations, encouraged industrialization and agriculture, built roads, bridges, harbors, drained swamps, encouraged and sponsored the arts, established the first governmental office to oversea France's natural resources, planted trees, balanced his budgets, put France on a stable economic footing, brought the smallpox vaccination to the continent, encouraged the use of gas lighting, and opened careers in France to talented people, not caring if they were peasant or noble, middle class or fanatic, as long as they would serve honestly and loyally.

Napoleon also established the Legion of Honor as a system to recognize those who had served France in an extraordinary capacity, be they military or civilian. He also established fire departments, hospitals, and orphanages. The fact that not one European nation alone could defeat him is testimony to his greatness. It required not only the combined forces of Russia, England, Austria and Prussia to remove him from power, they needed treachery and deceit to remove him for good. His position in history is positively unique, there never was another character quite like him and there never will be again.

At 5'7", the Emperor wasn't short either. That was propaganda. Yes, everyone has faults and Napoleon Bonaparte's major fault was that he thought he could make the world a fair place by force.

Unfortunately, now we have those who embrace the idea of force while forgetting the principal of fairness:

Quote of the week:
“One person with a belief is equal to ninety-nine who have only interests” 
~ John Stuart Mill

Saturday, February 20, 2016

the seven ravens

THERE was once a man and woman who had seven sons, but never a daughter, however much they wished for one. At last, however, a daughter was born. Their joy was great, but the child was small and delicate, and, on account of its weakness, it was to be christened at home. The father sent one of his sons in haste to the spring to fetch some water; the other six ran with him, and because each of them wanted to be the first to draw the water, between them the pitcher fell into the brook.

There they stood and didn’t know what to do, and not one of them ventured to go home. As they did not come back, their father became impatient, and said: ‘Perhaps the young rascals are playing about, and have forgotten it altogether.’ He became anxious lest his little girl should die unbaptized, and in hot vexation, he cried: ‘I wish the youngsters would all turn into Ravens!’ Scarcely were the words uttered, when he heard a whirring in the air above his head, and, looking upwards, he saw seven coal-black Ravens flying away.

The parents could not undo the spell, and were very sad about the loss of their seven sons, but they consoled themselves in some measure with their dear little daughter, who soon became strong, and every day more beautiful. For a long time she was unaware that she had had any brothers, for her parents took care not to mention it. However, one day by chance she heard some people saying about her: ‘Oh yes, the girl’s pretty enough; but you know she is really to blame for the misfortune to her seven brothers.’

Then she became very sad, and went to her father and mother and asked if she had ever had any brothers, and what had become of them. The parents could no longer conceal the secret. They said, however, that what had happened was by the decree of heaven, and that her birth was merely the innocent occasion. But the little girl could not get the matter off her conscience for a single day, and thought that she was bound to release her brothers again. She had no peace or quiet until she had secretly set out, and gone forth into the wide world to trace her brothers, wherever they might be, and to free them, let it cost what it might.

She took nothing with her but a little ring as a remembrance of her parents, a loaf of bread against hunger, a pitcher of water against thirst, and a little chair in case of fatigue. She kept ever going on and on until she came to the end of the world. Then she came to the Sun, but it was hot and terrible, it devoured little children. She ran hastily away to the Moon, but it was too cold, and, moreover, dismal and dreary. And when the child was looking at it, it said: ‘I smell, I smell man’s flesh!’

Then she quickly made off, and came to the Stars, and they were kind and good, and every one sat on his own special seat. But the Morning Star stood up, and gave her a little bone, and said: ‘Unless you have this bone, you cannot open the glass mountain, and in the glass mountain are your brothers.’
The girl took the bone, and wrapped it up carefully in a little kerchief, and went on again until she came to the glass mountain. The gate was closed, and she meant to get out the little bone. But when she undid the kerchief it was empty, and she had lost the good Star’s present.

How, now, was she to set to work? She was determined to rescue her brothers, but had no key to open the glass mountain. The good little sister took a knife and cut off her own tiny finger, fitted it into the keyhole, and succeeded in opening the lock. When she had entered, she met a Dwarf, who said: ‘My child, what are you looking for?’

 ‘I am looking for my brothers, the Seven Ravens,’ she answered.
The Dwarf said: ‘My masters, the Ravens, are not at home; but if you like to wait until they come, please to walk in.’

Thereupon the Dwarf brought in the Ravens’ supper, on seven little plates, and in seven little cups, and the little sister ate a crumb or two from each of the little plates, and took a sip from each of the little cups, but she let the ring she had brought with her fall into the last little cup. All at once a whirring and crying were heard in the air; then the Dwarf said: ‘Now my masters the Ravens are coming home.’ Then they came in, and wanted to eat and drink, and began to look about for their little plates and cups. But they said one after another: ‘Halloa! who has been eating off my plate? Who has been drinking out of my cup? There has been some human mouth here.’

And when the seventh drank to the bottom of his cup, the ring rolled up against his beak. He looked at it, and recognised it as a ring belonging to his father and mother, and said: ‘God grant that our sister may be here, and that we may be delivered.’
As the maiden was standing behind the door listening, she heard the wish and came forward, and then all the Ravens got back their human form again. And they embraced and kissed one another, and went joyfully home.

 Crow was visiting the Brothers Grimm when they first told this tale. He'd dropped by with his old friend and wonderful artist, Arthur Rackham. Brandy and fruitcake were enjoyed by all.

With thanks to Project Gutenberg 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

cultivating Crow

Once again, this winter as in others, Crow has been sending me field reports from his annual flight of phantsy. This time I got another crudely wrought picture post card with a story he hopes we'll all find fascinating. Here's his letter:

My very dear susan and good friends,

I wonder if you're aware that my relatives are excellent arborists? Yes, it's true. Over the course of history crows and other corvids have planted thousands of acres of trees - namely, nut bearing trees like walnuts, oaks and beeches but they've managed to plant a fair number of berry bushes as well. You see trees, intelligent and sensitive as they are (being the highest form of plant life on the planet), have a singular problem - the fact they can't move. Birds, on the other hand, can move great distances.

Corvids roam large territories to scavenge seeds, fruit, and even meat, storing as many morsels as possible to eat later but they don't have one giant trove filled with loot the way squirrels do. Instead, they hide each treat in a separate place. While they remember a lot they can't remember everything (much like humans). Each year, a certain percentage of the birds' cached seeds goes uneaten. Because the birds like to hide food just an inch or two under the soil, these seeds have a chance to take root and grow into trees.

Over the course of time, this arrangement has become mutually beneficial. Many large-seeded trees have co-evolved with corvids, developing seeds that contain enough nutrition that the birds fill up faster and aren't so likely to eat them on the spot. Even better, many corvids prefer to cache their seeds in recently burned or disturbed landscapes, which are the most in need of reforestation.

For instance, for 150 years on two islands in California’s Channel Islands National Park oak and pine forests had been ravaged by imported, non-native livestock. But when the animals were taken back to the mainland in the 1980s, the local island jays (who can bury up to 6000 seeds a year) managed to double the size of the oak and pine forests in just a few decades.

By planting seeds and nuts, my friends lay the groundwork for entire ecosystems. Many plants thrive in the shade offered by trees like oaks and pines, and animals flock to the area as well. Finally, forest floors are excellent carbon sinks. It turns out that corvids are, in fact, guardians of the forest. But you already knew that, didn't you?

I hope you found this entertaining as well as educational (these things always go best together, don't you think?).

I'll be home soon. Please leave me some fruitcake.

Ever yr affec friend

ps: Crows also like to have fun for no reason:

Quote of the week:
Humanity has already achieved, technically, the total success all Utopians ever dreamed of; our problems now are entirely due to wrong thinking. We are in the tragic-comic predicament of two crazed men dying of thirst, fighting over a teaspoon of water in the middle of a rainstorm. We cannot see the rainstorm because we are hypnotized by emergency-reflexes fixated on the teaspoon.

Robert Anton Wilson