Saturday, March 25, 2017

as winter wanes (slowly)

The beauty of our life is that, despite the danger and fragility and outright darkness that lie all around us, we are free. We are free to be something.

Anything can be chosen today; we can take ourselves down any path tomorrow. The day after we can choose another detour. We are free to live, free to die; free to be miserable, free to dance; free to fast, free to gorge.

We haul around an oasis of blood, bone, proteins, enzymes inside these carapaces we call our bodies. They aren't really even ours. They're like pets we wash, feed, exercise or let go. It's not even a luxury ride but a crude beast that happens to be required in order for us to happen.

We're each alone on this road, this place of moon and stars. We become. That's all. Exposed to novelty and chance and circumstance, not to mention our own sense of self and mindedness, we are our own perfect celebration. Unless subjugated or imprisoned we can do anything we want, but even under the most dire conditions we still have a choice.

We never know who will live or how long or whether it is ourself. We're born by lot and die when the time comes and that's a good thing. We don't have an expiration date or a guaranteed lifespan either and who would want that?

At the end we report back to the universe what we've seen.. a lake, a flower, rain, a shawl a mother made. There was a child, a lover, a friend. This is all we have or ever will have. We're free to hold on tight or free to let go. The moment belongs to us.


The painting, one of my favourites, is by Michael Sowa, a contemporary German artist whose work is always amazing.

This is a reprise of a post written in early 2009. 
Still works for me..

Sunday, March 19, 2017

unearthing history

In the northwest part of India that borders Pakistan there is a huge area where the Indus River flows to the Arabian Sea. In that river valley on the frontier of two modern countries are the remains of another river that was once fed by annual monsoons and the Himalayan glaciers, the Sarasvati, on whose banks the very ancient Indus Valley civilization once thrived. Also known as the Harappa (named after a nearby village) the culture remains an enigma. The Sarasvati, a miles wide river that ran south of the Indus whose course is still visible from space, has been a dry river bed for the better part of three thousand years. Once the Indus Valley civilization itself collapsed circa 1900BC its cities eroded and their remains covered by (that old standby) the sands of time.

It was in 1826, that a British Army deserter, posing as an American engineer named Charles Masson, recorded the existence of mounded ruins at a small town in the Punjab, Pakistan. The Punjab came under British control after 1849, and with the building of canals, roads and bridges, it became one of the most prosperous agricultural provinces of the empire. Archeological surveys undertaken in the mid-1800s led to the assumption that as the mounds were remnants of a recent culture it would be okay for the engineers constructing the Lahore-Multan railroad used brick from the Harappa ruins for track ballast. The bricks taken from the site were more than enough to furnish 100 miles of railway track, testifying to the scale of the buildings that existed there.

In 1919, the site of what turned out to be another important city, Mohenjo-daro, was visited by an Indian archeologist who found items indicating the place was very old and likely very large. Major excavations were carried out at separate periods from the 20s to the 60s when they were banned due to weathering damage to the newly exposed structures. In recent years less invasive methods have been used to gather further information.

Thousands of years ago (as of last year determined by geologic survey and modern dating methods to be at least eight thousand years) the Indus Valley civilization was larger than the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia combined. Many of its sprawling cities were located on the banks of rivers that still flow through Pakistan and India today. This culture once extended over more than 386,000 square miles (1 million square kilometers) across the plains of the Indus River from the Arabian Sea to the Ganges, and at its peak may have accounted for 10 percent of the world population. The cities were so sophisticated and well-planned, that many archaeologists believe they were conceived as a whole before construction on them begun. Lothar, a port city found in the 1950s,  has the earliest known shipping docks.

The Indus script is made up of partially pictographic signs and various human and animal motifs that have been found inscribed on miniature steatite seals, terracotta tablets and occasionally on metal. As none found have been longer than 26 characters decoding them has proven impossible so far.

Well-planned street grids and elaborate drainage systems hint that the occupants of the ancient Indus civilization cities were skilled urban planners who gave importance to the management of water. Wells have also been found throughout the cities, and nearly every house contained a clearly marked bathing area and a covered drainage system. The houses were thick walled with tall ceilings to help keep them cool; flat roofs, latticed windows, and gardens were part of every home. Archeologists found a large pool surrounded by the remains of small bathing chambers on the upper level of Mohenjo-daro that may have held religious significance. It was so well sealed that it could be filled with water even today.

The civilization's prosperity and stature are evident in the artefacts, like beads, jewelry, and pottery recovered from almost every house, as well as the baked-brick city structures themselves. It appears not everyone was rich but even the poor probably got enough to eat. The cities lack ostentatious buildings like palaces and temples, and there is no obvious central seat of government or evidence of a ruler. Also, the lack of many weapons shows that the Indus people had few enemies and that they preferred to live in peace.

Farmers, traders, and craftspeople, the most commonly found artefact in the Indus Valley civilization is jewelry. Both men and women adorned themselves with a large variety of ornaments produced from every conceivable material ranging from precious metals and gemstones to bone and baked clay. Excavated dyeing facilities indicate that cotton was probably dyed in a variety of colours (although there is only one surviving fragment of coloured cloth).

Archaeologists have long wondered about the sudden decline of the Indus Valley civilization. There is no convincing evidence that any  city was ever burned, severely flooded, besieged by an army, or taken over by force from within. It’s more likely that the cities collapsed after natural disasters or after rivers like Indus and Ghaghra-Hakkar changed their course and the Sarasvati dried out.


I've been fascinated by history for most of my life and deep history has enthralled me these past years as more discoveries have been made and disseminated. The subject of the Indus Valley civilization is very big and much more complex than a small blog post allows. I've even had trouble choosing just a few photos and imagined illustrations of the period to show here for the simple reason there are so many. I hope you'll be interested in looking at some of the links or checking out the subject for yourself. If you do you'll find that it's also a contentious issue because of continuing political, religious, and caste-class issues.

There is one last thing I'd like to mention before I finish and that's the fact that at the Last Global Maximum (21 thousand years ago) of the most recent Ice Age coastal sea levels around the world were 400 feet lower than they are today. 10 thousand years ago, when the enormous glaciers began to melt, it's very likely that a number of places where people lived may have been inundated by sudden overwhelming floods. Considering the areas in red on this map were once dry land it's easy to see the Indus Valley was much larger then than now, a fact that opens many possibilities about origins.

When it's hard to think about the future there's some comfort in imagining the past - at least for me..

Saturday, March 11, 2017

unseasonal beauty

Quite a few years ago, on her return from a visit to England, my mother brought with her some leaf cuttings from a plant belonging to one of her brothers. Called a streptocarpus or 'cape primrose' the tiny cutting eventually grew into a flower producing factory with fifteen inch long soft furred leaves that was quite wonderful to behold. Related to african violets, but more magnificent in bloom, streps are even easier to grow. I know that because, naturally enough, I got to carry another cutting home to Portland. The flowers on that first plant were a soft blue-purple colour with a yellow throat. When we moved here from the west coast it was without my plant collection except for a few bracts taken from a very old and hardy christmas cactus.

Although I grew a whole new collection of house plants I missed my  streptocarpus plant enough that I regretted not having made an effort to nurse a new plantling through our relocation; but trying to find one turned out to be more of a chore than I'd ever expected. Easy as they are to grow (and at least as beautiful as orchids, I think) they are very rare in Canada. I found the web site of a nursery in upstate NY that specializes in african violets, streps, and other moderately exotic plants whose products I hungered to own. Most were far more fabulous than the originals that my uncle, my mother and I had nurtured. The problem was, that although the young plants were inexpensive, the charges for international shipping and handling were outrageous. I couldn't bring myself to finalize an order.

Early last autumn I came across an ad on Kikiji placed by a lady in NS who had a few varieties for sale. I bought three (this one and two smaller varieties) and set up a small lamp with a daylight grow bulb to light them safely through the dark months. It all worked out quite well.. even on those days when I put my own head under the lamp.. They didn't seem to mind sharing the light and I got a very close-up view.

"Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge."
~Teilhard de Chardin

Sunday, March 5, 2017

whether the weather

After spending a nice visit with Crow and some of his old friends he and I shared some Remy and fruitcake while we talked long into the night. Here's the gist of our conversation:

Global warming had us all worried for a while. Luckily, conservatives aren’t fooled by the 97% of scientists who insist that global warming is indeed a provable fact, and we should be comforted by the U.S. Republican Party’s assurances that it doesn’t exist since it isn’t mentioned in the Bible.

Because global warming is such a controversial (of course not generally among those with two neurons to rub together) issue these days, it has allowed for the emergence of a more accurate, and far more fascinating term in our humble opinion  - climate chaos.

The climate chaos theory explains that although the climate will get hotter due to carbon emissions, that isn't the end of the story. I don't know what kind of weather patterns you've witnessed lately, but around here we've had many warmer days than seems typical for the Atlantic provinces in winter as well as a few heavy rainfalls that would have seen the place under deep blankets of snow had it been colder at the time. Not that we haven't had snow, but it was washed away every time.

While it's true we haven't been here long enough to know about what factors define a normal winter in these parts other people have said it's been weird. Crow says that basically, it's not just the heat that is cause for concern, rather the strong divergence in the intensity of various forms of nasty weather on a regional basis (and he should know because he flies everywhere). Those who choose to live in the fantasy world where humans have no obvious negative impact on our natural environment rightly point out that climate change is simply an inevitable environmental  fact, and the Earth regularly goes through cycles of warming and cooling - therefore it is simply human pride to assume we have anything to do with it.

Maybe so, yet the biosphere of Earth has also undergone cycles of mass extinctions based on environmental factors. Call us crazy, but I think that’s probably what the scientists are worried about. It’s hard to argue this with people who believe the world is only 6000 years old and that dinosaur bones were put there to trick us. 

The concept of climate chaos is an attempt to explain climate change in terms that anyone can understand (since nothing else seems to be getting through). As Mark Twain once said, “Climate is what we expect.  Weather is what we get”.

Let's hope we still have good reason to have high hopes for the in-between seasons. Spring will soon be here and autumn is on its way to our friends in the southern hemisphere.

ps: I found an international weather page app you might like to check out.

wonderful artwork by Peter deSeve
known for New Yorker covers