Tuesday, January 30, 2018

history and mystery

 One thing the internet is very good for is the fact you can look things up. There's no waiting, no trekking to the library and no wondering where you packed away your most recent compendium of the encyclopedia. In recent years having the ability to make random investigations has proved to be very beneficial when it comes to enhancing my enjoyment of novels. In fact sometimes I'll put a particular book aside while I follow electronic trails through the ether. While these rambles won't lead to a degree, never mind augment my future earning potential, the things I learn enlarge my understanding of many subjects I'd otherwise miss entirely.

For instance, although The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons provided more than enough entertainment by seamlessly combining melodrama and metaphysical speculation with a brilliantly detailed portrait of Gilded Age America, it also made me curious about an event that occurred in Chicago at the end of the 19th century - the Columbian Exposition World's Fair of 1893. This exhibition, also known as the White City, was built in honour of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's discovery of America and was itself a major character in the latter part of the book. Other than having vague knowledge of the event I was unfamiliar with its extent and its importance. When I looked it up I was quite amazed by the pictures of the extravaganza that can be found on the web of a marvel that came and went six months after it opened to the public.

Pictured above is a close-up view of George Washington Ferris's wheel of steel, 250 feet in diameter. It carried 36 cars, each about the size of a Pullman train car, equipped with a lunch counter and with an overall capacity of 2,160. It propelled riders 300 feet in the sky over Jackson Park - a bit higher than the crown of the Statue of Liberty.

Considering the fact that most cities in those days were dark and dingy places the White City was a marvel to all the millions who visited the Fair that summer. The wikipedia link will tell you far more than I can - and besides, research is fun.

But I began this by mentioning The Fifth Heart, didn't I? Dan Simmons has written several very good historical novels * and this one begins in Paris early in 1893 when Henry James, the distinguished American author, is about to kill himself by plunging into the Seine, overcome by crippling depression. Just before stepping off le pont Neuf, he notices a man with an aquiline profile standing nearby; he quickly ascertains that the man is actually Sherlock Holmes, believed to have perished with Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls two years earlier. James is shocked to learn that Holmes was himself on the verge of taking his own life - because the detective has discovered that he’s merely a “literary construct.” His evidence? The same inconsistencies in the original Conan Doyle stories that have entertained readers for a century.        

Much against his will but unable to thwart Holmes's assumption they are now partners, James joins Holmes on a mission in America, where the Baker Street sleuth hopes to prove that historian Henry Adams’s emotionally fragile wife, Clover, was not a suicide but a murder victim in 1885 - and to thwart an international conspiracy involving an attempt to assassinate President Grover Cleveland at the opening of Chicago’s Columbian Exhibition.

For both Holmes and his unlikely partner, the path to personal redemption leads through these two very different mysteries.

note: At one point in the book James and Mark Twain discuss whether they’re characters in a novel and, if so, who might be the author. Twain says to James: “It’s almost certainly some lesser mind, lesser talent, than you, than me, even lesser than Arthur Conan Doyle, which is saying a lot. And it might be written thirty years hence, or fifty, or a hundred.” It was a wonderfully self-deprecating statement by Simmons.

* This one is good but even better is Drood and, according to a good friend, is The Terror. Since the latter is about the fate of the crews of two wooden sailing ships attempting to navigate the NW Passage in winter I shall wait for better weather before reading.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


A year or so ago on a grey winter's day (not unlike this one) something reminded me of a book my mother had told me she'd loved as a girl. Considering the fact that if my mother were still with us she'd be one hundred and two, you can surmise the book alluded to is an old one. I remembered its title but no more so my search wasn't an especially hopeful one. It turned out I couldn't have been more wrong - even more than a hundred years since it was first published 'Girl of the Limberlost' is still a favourite among many people. What I found that day, though, was that there are two Limberlost books, the first one called 'Freckles', both written by the self-trained naturalist, photographer and writer, Gene Stratton Porter.

Once there was an Eden in the Midwest of the United States, Indiana to be exact, called the Limberlost Swamp. Yes, it was a wetlands region with streams that flowed into the Wabash River that originally covered 13,000 acres of land. After being drained 1888-1910 by a steam-powered dredge, the area was cultivated as farmland for 80 years. In 1991 local citizen Ken Brunswick established "Limberlost Swamp Remembered," a group organized to restore some of the wetlands, because of their importance as habitat. The work has included removing or blocking drainage tiles, allowing water back on the land, and planting native species of trees, bushes and flowers. But 428 acres is nothing like 13,000 acres. Since photographs of the Limberlost as it is now can't portray the beauty of its primeval past, I chose a painting by William T. Richards (of the Hudson River School) to indicate the mystical quality of the region as it was in the late 1800s. The author's greatest goal in these and her other books was to persuade the public to care about nature.

'Freckles',  a sentimental tale set in the early 20th century, offers contrasting characters, from vicious brutes to folks almost too-good-to-be-true. Decent people recognize the innate goodness and ingenuous soul of this love-starved youth. The Boss considers him a son; the kindly Duncans offer maternal love and warm respect; the Bird Woman appreciates his knowledge of Limberlost animals for her wildlife photographs. And then there is the Angel, a 16-year-old Irish-American girl of stunning beauty, quick wit, gritty determination and the ability to charm all she meets. Freckles frankly idolizes this princess-goddess, who delights in his private creation of a room in the forest 'Cathedral' and encourages him to develop his voice. But he is painfully aware that he is beneath her in every way (low birth, maimed body). He has no right to hope - he may only worship from afar..

You can think of 'Girl of the Limberlost' as an American Cinderella story, but with no glass slipper and plenty of moths. Gene Stratton Porter was at the peak of her skills when she wrote the novel, which starts off as a young girl's struggle against her mother's virulent hatred - and soon evolves into an enchanting little romance. Elnora Comstock has barely signed up for college when she discovers that she can't afford it - tuition and textbooks cost too much, and her shabby clothes are mocked by her classmates. Even worse, her half-crazy, malicious mother refuses to cough up any money. But she soon finds that she can pay another way - a strange lady called the Bird Woman is willing to pay money for moths, butterflies, caterpillars and chrysalids, which Elnora can easily find in a vast dangerous swamp called the Limberlost. And her friends Margaret and Wesley are happy to help her in any way they can - clothes, a violin - until the day when Mrs. Comstock comes to a shocking realization about her daughter.

Gene Stratton Porter's stories are full of hope, promise and goodness. Of course there are the usual bad elements as well that create enough angst to give dimension to her stories. I think her books reinforce that part of us which makes us better beings. They may well not be for you, but if dismal winter (this is Halifax where winters can be dark, wet, and very cold) has a grip on your mood, do yourself a favour and read one of her books and be transported into a different world, one where goals were clearer.

“We are only the trustees for those who come after us.”
- William Morris

'The Well at World's End' is next on my list.

Monday, January 15, 2018

some are left unfinished

It's kind of funny to consider the fact that our species, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, is roughly three hundred thousand years old, and possibly even older if recent discoveries are true. Yet for all but the last three centuries of that span, predicting the future was fairly easy: other than natural disasters, everyday life in fifty years time would resemble everyday life fifty years ago. For 99% of human existence, the future was static (or so we're told). Then something happened, and the future began to change, increasingly rapidly, until we get to the present day when things are moving so fast that it's barely possible to anticipate trends from month to month.

Of course it's easy to romanticize the past - largely because many of us are able to remember our own. Life was perfect when I was a child even though I know I recall it imperfectly and the same goes for those more recent past decades. When I was young I romanticized the future.  Now it frightens me - not so much for the fact that there's only just so much time allowed to me personally, but because our race in recent history has caused and continues to cause such damage to our biosphere. The planet will continue, no doubt of that, but so much of what makes our lives beautiful is at risk.

I like to imagine a more equitable future for us and all the other species with whom we share the world. Yet I dare not envision some particular utopia - a word that translates from the Greek as 'no place' - but simply to hope for a larger world less driven by greed. I know things were different once and perhaps they can be again.

The fact that there is a highway to Hell and only a stairway to Heaven says a lot about the anticipated traffic numbers.
~ Anon


Monday, January 8, 2018

great minds Don't think alike

Whereas I don't participate in any social media circles (other than this one) what I do love about the internet is all the information to be found. The news is generally depressing but I do my share of 'witnessing' since I believe it's the responsible thing to do - with the caveat that it's necessary to exercise some judgement and discernment. In other words, I read but don't believe everything that passes by my sight.

Then there are all the other odds and ends - the latest news about discoveries, scientific, archeological, historical and too, some hopeful and some intriguing. I will read anything that catches my attention.

Many of the blogs I enjoyed during their heyday are gone now and while I regret having lost access to the ones that were deleted I'm happy some are still here to be read. One such was called 'The Big Study', a blog that proved to be a treasury of carefully collected anomalies and ideas hosted from 2009 to 2015 by 'The Professor'. If there was ever any solid information about his personal history I missed the post but it appears he is/was a teacher of physics. The following is an introductory one posted in August of 2009.

The Professor:

The old people have always known that there was more to reality than the stone which hits you in the face. There was the Self. There was the Soul of the friend, the lover, the child, the Other. There was GOD. There were the Spirits, the nature beings, even the things that "go bump in the night".

The foundation of this blog is that they were usually smarter than we are. They were generally right. All these were real. All these ARE real. We are letting them slip from our consciousness, and we are losing touch with half the world. You will not want to read this blog if you cannot stretch your universe to include the possibility that such things can be true. The Soul who writes here believes in Soul, believes in a Great Maker, believes in a many colored array of wonders, both material and spiritual. This soul believes that there are (often) factual events within which this "lost" part of our reality strongly shows itself.

There are "encounters", there are "anomalies", there are inspirations and guidances. They are all there, but rarely to the mind closed to them. The mind of a scientist can be a very productive thing. It usually knows a lot. It can analyze certain things amazingly--I once did a little of that myself. But the mind of a scientist (if that's all it is) has come to live in a very small world. It is a paradox. The culture's (alleged) truth-seekers are occupying boxes so small that the big study of what is has ended up outside their walls. And they ARE walls. They are walls that so forbid the exploration of "dangerous" areas (even of conversation let alone active seeking) that most of these powerful IQs are ashamed to speak of them.

This writer is an old retired member of that mistaken and wandering tribe. It's too late to care what the dogmatic tribal elders think. It's time to call out for the things that are, but which they say cannot be. And just breathe the free air. What will these topics be? GOD, Spirit, Free Will, Afterlife, of course. Angels, devils, spirits too. Nature entities, what the old folks called "the good people" and "the middle angels"--well lets at least see. Encounters with the strange, the weird, the "impossible". Lets forget the sayers of "can't", relax, and let be.

Posted by The Professor at 11:04 AM No comments:
Labels: Spirituality; Anomalies; GOD

Here is another favorite of his posted topics.

The picture at the top is from this past weekend. Yes, it's been very cold and while the ground is still free from snow (likely not for long) everything is hard and colorless. Meanwhile, I continue to read.. and consider the possibilities.

Monday, January 1, 2018

back away from the future

I suppose yesterday, or should I say, last year, was more the time for looking back than today. But this afternoon when all is quiet here and it's still far too cold to go out for a walk I found myself thinking about decades ago when the world was a different place.

What came to be known as the New Age movement was still in its early days and generally unknown outside the occult and metaphysical religious communities in the 1970s and ʾ80s. It looked forward to a 'New Age' of love and light and offered a foretaste of the coming era through personal transformation and healing, a religious perspective that is based on the acquisition of mystical knowledge. Many people, particularly young people, gathered together to live in urban and country communes where they made an effort to practice more Earth friendly lifestyles than the ones offered by the larger society. Some worked better than others, true, but the longing for a return to the 'Garden' was real enough even though the trappings were easy for the fashionable to latch on to - which they did and 'New Age' became a pastime for bored suburbanites.

While there are any number of web sites and periodicals that still advance the goals one very important aspect, its saving grace really, seems to have fallen by the wayside. Transcendence: the sense that entering into relationship with the spiritual realm is about stepping into a wider world, waking up to the things that really matter - walking through the walls and into the Fire.

Now it's all about soothing your nerves, boosting your health, managing your career and your love life, making your life bland and safe and predictable. Take up meditation, so you can lower your blood pressure and smooth out your wrinkles. Practice t'ai chi or hot yoga - it's so very relaxing, and it makes your bowels regular! Go listen to a trance channeler to get advice on your relationships. Here are some tasty vegetarian recipes you can share with all your friends...

Back in the 70s it wasn't like that. There was plenty of nonsense and plenty of deception and a ton of babble, but in there with all of that you found a lot of people who wanted to tear open the sky and step into the luminous Beyond. People meditated and did rituals and practiced martial arts and did all sorts of other things to become something more than they were.

That's still a worthy goal -
even for someone like me whose resolutions generally add up to a list of things
I'll never accomplish. Where's that mandolin I never learned to play?

Happy New Year.