Monday, November 30, 2009

survival of the kindest

Compassion, in Tibetan Buddhist terms, is a spontaneous feeling of connection with all living beings. It's not 'feeling sorry for' or even love in the usual way we understand the word. Instead, it implies a direct expansion of the heart and the deep understanding there is no difference between us.

I know we're programmed at a biological level to avoid threats to our survival and to grasp opportunities to enhance our well being. You don't have to subscribe to the daily papers or watch television to understand our history is one of violence to one another. But I don't believe that's all we are and it's equally apparent we may have an even stronger biological tendency toward kindness, compassion, love and nurture.

There were amazing stories throughout Europe during the Second World War of ordinary people risking their lives to shelter their Jewish friends and neighbors from the Holocaust. We often hear stories of people here doing extraordinary things in times of crisis - like the thousands who helped at the World Trade Center after 9/11 and the thousands who went to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina - as examples of a general human tendency. There are smaller examples too, ones we've all experienced, whether the small acknowledgement of holding a door open, giving money to someone in need or even a shared smile between strangers.

Just the simple fact that we've been able to build societies and civilizations that at least concede the need to protect and care for the poor, the weak and the defenseless supports the idea that an ethical sense is part of our make-up as human beings. I think we're not as bad as we sometimes imagine we are as a species.


I've decided to put aside the silk painting for a time and go back to paper and watercolors. There's an immediacy with drawing and painting I truly enjoy which maybe you'll notice about the pencil sketch above that I did on the weekend. It will be a small painting (5x7") and will change during the process but that's what I seem to have the energy for right now. It's called 'Joy'. It's okay if you call me sentimental :-)

Friday, November 27, 2009

taking the long view

You're likely to think I've been hitting the holiday eggnog or Crow's Remy Martin stash a little too hard when you read this one but I don't mind because my interest in alternate history is one I'm not ashamed of. Although anything other than absolute mainstream science is considered a foolish waste of time by many, I happen to think there are writers and scientists whose work has been unfairly marginalized. This is a post about such a person and his research into a subject we're simply not accustomed to considering.

'During a period of glaciation, the average global temperature drops considerably and the volume of the ocean decreases greatly. The water that would otherwise be in the ocean is frozen as ice in continental glaciers, or as sea ice in the oceans making the world in general a much cooler place than the one we know. This map shows coastlines (solid lines are today's coasts) as they were about 20,000 years ago which you may easily imagine provided a very fertile original homeland for civilization when the major land masses we know today were desert like and cold.'

I decided to re-read Underworld, a book written by Graham Hancock in 2002, that I first read when it was published. At the time I wasn't the least bit interested in our computer or its connection to internet search engines but now that's changed and not only does the book deserve a fresh reading (at least by me) but also an examination of references that are searchable online. He explores a subject that should be fairly obvious, that when the ice age glaciers melted, sea levels rose, obliterating civilizations that lined the ocean shores. However, archaeologists have confined their research to mainland structures - not too surprising considering difficulty and funding. Nevertheless, there is still much to learn about unrecorded, ignored or misinterpreted human history.

We have a tendency to think the world we know has always been much the same but science has proven that the oceans were once 400 ft lower than they are now. What most of us don't understand is that the last Ice Age was at its maximum 20,000 years ago when human beings just like us had been inhabiting the planet for at least 200,000 years. Once the massive ice sheets that covered most of North America, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere to a depth measured in miles began to melt they didn't just gently drip away inch by inch. What happened instead were periods surface ice melting into huge lakes which on three separate occasions broke through massive ice dams in what are called glacial outburst floods. There have been smaller versions of these in recent years but nothing like the three that happened 14,000, 11,000 and 8,000 years ago. At one point the accumulated water from an ice sheet the size of a third of Canada poured into the North Atlantic over the period of a few weeks. Not to oversimplify, related catastrophic events occurred when so much ice melted in a relatively short time. Earthquakes and volcanoes struck with great ferocity when the ice shields were no longer pressing down on the earth's crust. It's almost impossible for us living in this quiescent age to imagine what it must have been like for people who were living comfortably in wide alluvial plains where edible plants grew without requiring much labor. It sounds like Eden, doesn't it?

Interestingly enough, archaeology dates the rise of modern civilization to approximately 8,000 years ago with the discoveries of the Indus Valley and the Sumerian cultures. What is so strange about both societies is that they appear in the historical record at a very high level of development that dissipates over time. In other words, the deeper the archaeologists dug the more sophisticated the architecture and objects they found. It's also true the oldest Egyptian pyramids are the ones still standing. There's growing evidence that suggests the Persian Gulf (only 100 meters deep) was a large valley with the Tigris and Euphrates running through it to the sea. It was only completely engulfed 8,000 years ago. Could it be a total coincidence the remains of Sumer are close by in southern Iraq?

I'm enjoying the book again and may post more about it if you're interested or you may want to read it yourself. It is a very long book (700+ pages) but it's a fascinating subject to explore that has vast implications of how different our history might actually be. Perhaps there was once a very large and relatively advanced culture that goes back much farther in the archaeological record than previously accepted. I'd certainly like to think so particularly because the archaeological record of the Indus Valley culture in particular provides no evidence of armies, kings, slaves, social conflict, prisons, and other negative traits that we associate with civilization.

Maybe that's why all of recorded history appears to us as an ongoing disaster - one from which our Earth hasn't yet recovered. Isn't it possible the disaster was simply the sudden and dramatic loss of its ice shield? Could real floods be the basis for the world wide myths about Great Floods?

Monday, November 23, 2009

accidents and intentions

This is one I finished last weekend and it still has me wondering where it came from. I called it Desert Sun because it required a name that suited its character. I turned an accidental splotch into a little oval with the Tibetan Om sign which was no mistake at all.

Real beauty is more than skin deep. Just about everybody gets to be young and pretty once, but all revert into what they actually are: a person. Superficial good looks can go ugly fast, just a glimpse into the future at age thirty or forty, the emerging truth at fifty or sixty. Ultimately we see who a man or woman really is.

People with real character and depth grow more beautiful over time, no matter whether they are conventionally attractive or not. Their natural beauty dawns as their nature shapes their looks from inside out. Eccentricity or plainness matures into glamour and charm that are as individual as they are wondrous.

At least I'd like to think so. Me? I'm just addicted to colour.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

mystery solved

Okay, it's no big secret or anything but the other day I ran out of room talking about the reasons we're feeling ready to leave Portland. After that come the reasons why we're ready to leave the US. Maybe it's enough to say I arrived in this country during the Carter administration thinking now that Nixon was gone everything would be okay. Fooled me, eh? We're not rich but we can afford the rent and food somewhere else. (You didn't guess I was that old, did you?) What we can't afford is paying for medical insurance. Hmmm. Where to go?

To tell the truth I was very interested in Chile - nice climate, beautiful scenery, ancient architecture and friendly people all sounded pretty good. Numb, on the other hand, was leaning more towards Tahiti or its tiny neighbor, Moorea (a heart shaped island surrounded by a heart shaped reef). It looks lovely but I'm averse to living in the South Pacific with the oceans rising. You can keep moving to higher ground for just so long on a little island and I'm not convinced the talks in Copenhagen are going to change things.

So we decided to move to Canada. Okay, country chosen but where there?

Toronto is a large and comfortable city much like a version of LA North but I grew up there - so no. Vancouver and Victoria are beautiful and very modern but they're also very expensive - so no. Cities in central Canada like Calgary, Regina (as well as everywhere in the Far North) are all too too cold in winter and often in summer too - so no. Montreal and Quebec are wonderful cities but totally French speaking and neither of us is quite ready for that - no again. Where else? Finally. the answer struck us - Nova Scotia!

We spent 16 years in New England but neither of us have ever lived in Nova Scotia so it will be a new adventure. I did visit the Maritime provinces long ago and visions of blue green waves exploding into white spray against rocky shores has remained a powerful memory. I see dunes and gorse in my dreams. Then too we're pretty much settled on continuing to be urban dwellers but like older cities - places with enough old buildings that nobody would dare pull down to build a shopping mall or insurance office. It sounds a lot like Halifax which isn't that far from Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Providence. I've promised our son not to make a nuisance of myself.

If all goes well that's where we'll be by the end of next summer. Why do I hedge that statement? It's simply because the documentation required by the Canadian government in regard to sponsoring someone is so complicated we decided to hire an attorney to help us through the process. No more, 'Hi, I just ran away from the US Army and I want to live here now' to which they used to say, 'Welcome, we feel the same way about your endless wars of aggression'.

There'll be more to tell you as time goes by and I'll even talk about many of the wonderful people I've known as well as the things I'll miss. For now I just wanted to clear a minor mystery.

At least I won't have to knit Crow a new umbrella for that winter. Besides, he loves dancing to Celtic music and knows Pema Chodren quite well :-)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

bursting our bubble

I find myself gradually saying good-bye to Portland. It's been fun and it's been interesting, though not necessarily both things at once. Perhaps it's the 16 year itch affecting us again or maybe it's just that another place is drawing us into its gravity well. Nevertheless, a year from now we'll be somewhere else and the time between promises to be one full of both expected and unexpected change. I'll tell you more about where later because in the meanwhile I'm busy reminiscing.

We got here in late summer of 1993 after a long drive in a tiny car across a very big country in a short amount of time. My original description of the trip in a letter to a friend was 45 pages long but the essence is contained in that sentence. We stayed in a hotel on a Friday night, bought a paper in the morning, found a suitable apartment close to downtown, emptied the car, went out and bought a futon, carried it home so we'd have a place to sleep and here we were. One of us went to work on Monday morning and I went out to explore the city. Several weeks later 10 tightly packed boxes of our essentials arrived from RI. As old friends announced their intentions to visit we added furniture.

I spent the following 6 months walking, painting, making jewelry, sometimes convincing galleries to show my stuff and sometimes not. One gallery owner told me my stuff wasn't Northwestern enough. Eventually I gave up trying to be a successful working artist and went out and got another job in medicine. Up here. On the hill. Known as Pill Hill back then but not so much now. Portland was funkier and more naive 16 years ago. My first job paid half of what I'd been making on the east coast but it was fun working with neurosurgery researchers. Most of them were quite crazy which suited me very well.

There were still lots of cool places in town - the Church of Elvis you entered by a long narrow staircase and on our first visit Elvis was screaming and chasing a poor tourist down the stairs. LaLuna was one of many neat clubs and the place where we saw Public Enemy one New Year's Eve. 'Weren't you afraid?' someone asked. Well no, we were still in Portland, duh. The was the Sci Fi Museum on Burnside where you could browse through a guy's life-long collection of bizarre treasures for free. Daisy World was a huge fabric store that had been in business for 75 years with a remarkable collection of wonderful stuff that mostly females would like. Along every block there were unique shops full of magazines, records, beads, 50's furniture and antique clothes. I had a favorite place to buy stuff but can't remember now if it was called Good Clothes For Bad Girls or Bad Clothes For Good Girls. You get the idea. Spartacus used to make their own little treasures with leather and lace but now it's all kinky plastic from China. We bought a lot of our cd's at Music Millennium and a lot more at Django's, another business left over from the 60's. There was even an old style department store, seven stories tall with fewer and fewer customers the higher you rode the increasingly narrow escalator and the older and older the staff. I wondered if they just put dust covers over them at night. Once there were many old theaters on Broadway but now it's just the name of a street.

Most all of those places are gone now - buildings torn down and new modern ones where they stood and the others unrecognizable. Mt. Hood is still there in the distance and on clear days you can still see the flat-topped Mt. St. Helen's. Roses still grow here in a profusion like few other places but I've never seen the Rose Parade - nor do I intend to. Powell's, no longer alone in a wasteland of old warehouses, is surrounded by green apartment buildings and the false fancy boutiques of big business.

It's still a nice city, if you can stand the idea of half the streets being turned into bicycle lanes only in a place where it rains and freezes half the year, but it's time for us to be going. More next time :-) and yes, Crow's going with us.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

do you believe in magic?

Crow hasn't made it back here yet but he's assured me he's having a wonderful time. His most recent letter and a little video trailer was delivered this morning by some Canada geese who were on their way south. I was a bit annoyed at them honking outside my bedroom window until I saw what they'd brought. The first thing that fell out of the package was this picture he'd sent because he knows, now that winter's on the way, I miss seeing the little girl musician in the trees.

It had this note: 'What happens when the Universe speaks, but no one listens? Do we even understand the language of the Universe? It has been said by the mystics that the language of the mysteries are found in symbols and not words. These symbols speak to the human spirit and convey concepts, feeling, emotions, and experiences which transcend words. While familiar in the East, the West has long had a problem with the interpretation of symbols. We have a difficult time with the concept of ideas that bypass our rational thought process. The irony is that it appears that the Universe seems to have chosen the West to deliver its message. Perhaps, it is we who need it the most.'

Find more videos like this on Bioneers Community

What is real? What is art? What is the nature of proof? What are the limitations of science? What is the place of humanity in the cosmos? What do you think?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

back in style

I finally finished the 'Lioness & Cub' painted silk bag on the weekend and thought you might like to see how it came out in as close to the real colors as I could manage. Now that we've had some rain and wind storms the girl with the horn is no longer visible in the trees outside my window and likely won't return in the same form next year. Never mind, she's safe here.

Crow's off visiting some old friends and making new ones. He sent me a telegram yesterday to say he'd be back soon but in the meanwhile he told me about the bioneers - an interesting group of social and scientific innovators who are working right here in the US on projects that mimic nature's ways of looking after herself. Crow sounded quite excited about the organization and promises more news once he gets home.

Now I have to go and find his fruitcake and a bottle of Remy Martin. Maybe I'd better polish his perch and his goblet too - but I'll remember to use a separate cloth this time :-)

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Once upon a time, there was an idea and its name was Hugo. Hugo was a small idea and of the type that come out of the blue.

And Hugo, like all ideas that come out of the blue, had but one purpose in its life - to find one person who just happened to be ready to take Hugo and change it from being an idea into being - a something!

For, just as caterpillars dream of becoming butterflies, so also do ideas from out of the blue dream of becoming - something!

and so Hugo began its search for that person.

The first person Hugo came to just happened to be considering other ideas, and though Hugo tried to fit in, there was just no room.

The second person Hugo came to just happened to be watching television, so Hugo didn't even bother.

The third person Hugo came to just happened to be meditating, and Hugo quietly slipped away.

The fourth person Hugo came to just happened to be making a decision, and Hugo knew it would just be in the way.

The fifth person Hugo came to just happened to be speaking to someone else, and Hugo didn't want to interrupt.

The sixth person Hugo came to just happened to be angry, and Hugo was quickly bumped away.

The seventh person Hugo came to just happened to be very happy, and Hugo was floated away like a balloon.

The eighth person Hugo came too just happened to be depressed, and though Hugo waited a while, it grew impatient and left.

The ninth person Hugo came to just happened to be remembering, and Hugo felt a bit out of place.

The tenth person Hugo came to just happened to be a bit too young, and Hugo, small as he was, was still a bit too large.

But - the eleventh person Hugo came to just happened to be waiting to take Hugo and change it from being an idea into being - a something!

And that is why this story is named Hugo- for you see - the eleventh person was me, and this story is the something that Hugo became.

The End


I met Jer (numb) in 1975 when my son and his best friend Zoe were both five. This is just one of the stories he wrote to entertain them... is it any wonder I fell in love? Some things, like good ideas, never get old.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

where's the palace guard?

Not long ago, one of my favorite artist bloggers, Marja-Leena Rathje, posted some beautiful photographs of small, frequently unnoticed details among the larger and more obvious charms of Paris. Her incredible eye for detail is one of the many reasons I like to visit her site often. One of those pictures reminded me of a little story of my own that I mentioned to her in a comment. She asked me to show her the result so this picture is first of all for her but I'll tell you the story too.

When I was still quite young back in 1958, my mother took me for a three month trip to England to visit the family. We stayed for a couple of weeks with an aunt and uncle who lived in London and while there it was of course necessary to go to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the Guard. After one group of equal sized soldiers wearing bright red coats, black trousers and tall bear skin hats had replaced the last batch I left the grownups so I could get a closer look at the palace through the tall iron railings of the main gate. I was also hoping to get a glimpse of the golden Coronation Carriage I'd seen so often in pictures or perhaps the Queen would come out for a stroll with Prince Charles and they would recognize my royal qualities and invite us all in for tea. I was a very romantic and imaginative child.

What happened instead was that I noticed a gold plated lion's head about the size of an adult's fist that was part of the gate and reached up and touched it. I swear it was just a gentle touch with one finger but the next thing I knew it had fallen and I caught it. I was terrified one of those Guards would clamp his hand on my shoulder and lock me away in the Tower of London for the rest of my life. I turned in shock to look where my mother was standing with my aunt and uncle and never in my short life had I felt so far from safety. Then my uncle, a quick thinking man, ran over, grabbed the little lion's head and wrapped it in his raincoat before the nearest Guard had turned for his return trip marching up and down the square.

I brought it home nicely packed in my suitcase and I've had it ever since. If you look at the back it's easy to see it had been hanging on the gate by only one rusted out screw. I wonder if I mailed it back if the Queen might be so grateful she'd invite us for tea? It seems I'm still a romantic even after all this time.

But please don't mention this to anyone since I still worry about the Tower.