Monday, November 30, 2015

Sort of a synthesis by a former cave dweller

Some of you may have noticed that Thanksgiving, 2015, came and went in the United States last week. That is what I did, too -- I came and I went .... mostly went -- away from my home, from my blog, from my routines. I escaped for six days. And, by the way, I will again toward the end of this week and toward the end of next week, although I might bring my laptop with me on those jaunts. Maybe. We shall see. I am hoping my next metamorphosis is under way.

Next, the photographs: Those who read here regularly may be aware that much of my life as a boy and a young man revolved around hunting. The photographs illustrate one reason why I no longer hunt. Like any skill, those who study hunting and practice hunting (and, I might add, have a natural talent for hunting), generally become good at it. This is to say that hunting should become child's play after a time, something any fool can become adept at doing. The photographs were taken on a frigid, windy day, with blowing snow and the atmosphere hazy with dampness, which obviously affected the technical quality. That aside, my questions are these: If I can learn to reach this proximity to a whitetail buck in the wild, anyone who claims to be a "hunter" should be able to do the same, right? Which means, would shooting this buck be sport or merely murder of an animal? Hunting really has not been much of a challenge since the days of the saber-toothed cat and the Pleistocene bears, and should be re-evaluated in terms of thinking of it as "sport." There is nothing sporting about it.

Next, the music: For me, a glimpse back to more interesting times and a means to wander in memory for a few moments; for Western Civilization, a reminder of what its indolence has set adrift and is on the verge of losing in the face of a merciless tidal wave. Do you really understand this ??

Here I am again, lost in the futility of disorder

I grew up in a town and a state which were about one hundred years old in context to the existence of the United States and in a country a few hundred years old itself. I have walked among ruins in Europe several hundred and even a few thousand years old. I have seen populations linked to Native Americans and other groups which, only a few brief generations ago, were still tied to the stone age.

All that is difficult for me to grasp at times when thinking in terms of the typical human life span, but what I really have to struggle to comprehend are the hundreds of thousands of lives of homo sapiens and homo sapiens sapiens which came and went in the hundreds of thousands of years before "now."

I am not thinking about "Lucy" or her hominin kin, Australopithecus afarensis, who walked our Earth more than three million years ago. My mind cannot firmly grasp such a span of time when measuring/understanding my own existence, which is measured in hours and months and years .... and, in breaths. Later, maybe I will try, but not today. Let us reduce those years to the hundreds of thousands, presumably a span easier to comprehend.

The word Neanderthal should be familiar to most. They have been known and studied for about one hundred fifty years. But, there also are the Denisovans, whose existence was recognized only about four years ago. This group split from homo sapiens around six hundred thousand (600,000) years ago. Wrap your conceptual self-perception around that, if you are able, understanding that DNA markers from both groups are among your own.

Mix into that cocktail established DNA markers of a known third species and of an apparent fourth. There is growing evidence of other archaic groups predating humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans. And, if you really are looking to complicate matters, jump way, way back beyond the establishment of genus homo and you will discover that we are a very late arrival to planet Earth and certainly not the first to believe we are the best, brightest and most beautiful ever to be born.

Our march toward becoming what we are today began millions of years ago. Regrettably, we, who are alive today, probably are closer toward ending that march than any of those who came before us.

My point for this, other than the fact it all interests me, is not to sound like a purveyor of doom and destruction or to say we live a purposeless existence, but to create a visual image of life going on from generation to generation of changing, evolving populations of varied human species. Then, place the visual image of those seemingly endless generations living in a single cave complex in, for instance, southern Siberia for a hypothetical number of years -- say one hundred thousand (100,000). Then, realize that throughout all those generations of beings and all those years of them coming and going, change was happening, but was almost imperceptible -- until now.

Imagine yourself, if you are able, seated comfortably before the entrance to that cave, watching the comings and goings of individuals, of sons and daughters as they become parents and then grow old and die, and each generation flowing into the next, affected by plagues, by changes in climatic patterns, by the appearance and disappearance of warlike strangers entering their habitat and departing from it .... seeing near-imperceptible change in garb, in diet, in weaponry, in appearance, in religious patterns .... imagine it if you can while you are seated comfortably as if in a theater watching a film rendition of every ancestor you have had during those 100,000 years, good and evil, happy and sad, intelligent and dull, everything which once was and has been transmitted into you.

So then, what does your existence mean in context of the next 100,000 years as your genes pass along this timeless trail? Or, is the trail about to abruptly end? Now that we have evolved into creatures wise enough to depart from living in the cave and have become the best, brightest and most beautiful ever to be born, will there even be another 100,000 years of us? Beyond the cave or, maybe, back into the cave, if at all? 

If the visual image is planted and you are comfortably seated and have the time to think about these things, do they mean anything at all to you personally?

I will answer my own question: Probably not.

I wonder if the time has arrived for me to start hunting again ....

Saturday, November 21, 2015

"After a few brandies ...."

What you are seeing is a line of oft-read and well-worn books by or about Ernest Miller Hemingway, primarily a novelist and short story writer, but also a bit of a poet and who has one stage play among his credits. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, ostensibly for his magnum opus, "The Old Man and the Sea." Foremost in this line is the latest book about him, "Hemingway in Love -- His Own Story," by one of his closest friends and confidants, A.E. Hotchner. This slim volume was published just last month. Read on, to learn more. The music accompanying this post is composed of a pair of songs by and from Styx. One reflects my thoughts about a Lady named Liberty and the other my memories of a Lady named Claudette, who chose to stay behind rather than to run with me.

Words spoken by Ernest Hemingway
in "Hemingway in Love -- His Own Story"
by A.E. Hotchner (2015)

"When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz. It's a fine summer night. I knock back a couple of martinis at the bar, Cambon side. Then there's a wonderful dinner under a flowering chestnut tree in Le Petit Jardin, the little garden that faces the Grill. After a few brandies ...."

A student again -- for a few hours
I was surprised -- no, actually I was amazed -- to learn a few days ago that there is a new book out about Ernest Hemingway written by one of his confidants. Hemingway died in 1961 -- fifty-four years ago -- and I would not have guessed any of his close friends were still living. Well, I live to be surprised ....

The author of this Hemingway memoir is A.E. Hotchner, who happens to be alive and, apparently, active at age ninety-five. Hotchner himself has written seventeen books, a few plays and screenplays, and been a personal friend of more than a few celebrities, including actor Paul Newman. Hotchner's best known work regarding Hemingway was a biography published in 1966 and entitled, "Papa Hemingway."

This new book, entitled, "Hemingway in Love -- His Own Story," consists of recollections of conversations Hotchner had with Hemingway, mostly about his first marriage to Elizabeth Hadley Richardson and second marriage to Pauline Pfeiffer, as well as other elements surrounding his time in Paris during the 1920s. The book is brief, one hundred sixty-five pages with a forward. I read it over the course of a day.

I do have more than a bit of skepticism about the contents of the book. Much of the material, Hotchner claims, was told to him by Hemingway in 1954 and 1955, about thirty years and more after the fact. More of the conversations took place in 1961 while Hemingway was a patient in the psychiatric ward of St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, under the care of Mayo Clinic doctors, just days before Hemingway killed himself. Hotchner admits to scant notes existing from these talks, and although some were recorded, the tapes no longer exist. Of these facts, Hotchner writes:

"I have lived with Ernest's personal story for a long time. This is not buried memory dredged up. The story he recounted over the course of our travels was entrusted to me with a purpose. I have held that story in trust for these many years, and now I feel it is my fiduciary obligation to Ernest to finally release it from my memory."

Who am I to be a doubter about the honesty of Hotchner's memory ??

As to the content of the book, these words from Hotchner might describe it best:

"Over the following years, while we traveled, he (Hemingway) relived the agony of that period in Paris when he was writing "The Sun Also Rises" and at the same time enduring the harrowing experience of being in love with two women simultaneously, an experience that would haunt him to his grave."

How is that for a teaser ??

I first encountered Hemingway's short stories in an anthology of required reading as a high school sophomore. I fell in love with those stories and, later, with the novels. Work for my master's degree centered upon him and naturalism in literature. There was a time when I could accurately claim to have read everything published in book form by or about Hemingway, but I drifted away from words written about him quite some time ago. Whatever .... encountering "Hemingway in Love" made me feel like a curious student again -- at least for a few hours.

I am not going to go any further in the sense of a review, but I will add that the book offers not only insight about how and why Hemingway's first two marriages fell apart, but also sort of a superficial psychological study of the man and his relationships with others, including notable writers of the era like F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce.

Sometimes twists and turns in books seem to bring events into a focus more sharply for some than for others. That is happening here to me. My father died and my former wife No. 2 had surgery in St. Mary's Hospital, where Hemingway was treated twice by Mayo Clinic doctors for depression and suicidal tendencies. Hemingway underwent electroconvulsive (shock) therapy for depression at St. Mary's. I know someone who experienced the same treatment, and I recently completed a pair of books by or about Sylvia Plath, who experienced the same treatment. Random coincidences of life and books intertwining, but they combine to allow me to understand people and their situations better, I think.

I also think I will say no more .... finis ....
".... After a few brandies, I wander up to my room and slip into one of those huge Ritz beds. They are all made of brass. There's a bolster for my head the size of the Graf Zeppelin and four square pillows filled with real goose feathers -- two for me, and two for my quite heavenly companion."

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day : What difference does it make?

To those who know the difference

November 11, 2015
Veterans Day
Armistice Day
Remembrance Day

Today -- November 11 -- is Veterans Day in the United States. It is observed in many countries throughout the world, sometimes called Remembrance Day or Armistice Day, as a time to pause and give thanks to those who have served in the military formations of their nations. It came about gradually, beginning in 1919, to commemorate those who fought in World War I.

Today -- from my perspective -- I think it is appropriate to pause beyond the usual elements of Veterans Day and add a specific salute to the four men who were killed and to the at least eight other Americans who were wounded, some most severely, in defense of the U.S. Special Mission Compound and a CIA Annex in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11-12, 2012.

The four men killed were Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith and two CIA contractors, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, both former Navy SEALs. The names of those wounded as well as other participants generally remain shrouded in secrecy, but three who were there and fought did come forward for a joint interview with Bret Baier of Fox News. Those three were Kris "Tanto" Paronto, Mark "Oz" Geist and John "Tig" Tiegen.

The first video is of that interview. (Yes, I know the words "Fox News" frighten some people -- mostly people who are afraid to listen to anyone who has opinions differing from their own.) It is an important interview because it is with three men who actually were on the ground at Benghazi during the attack, one of whom was seriously wounded, and who all were on the roof of the CIA Annex when and where Doherty and Woods were killed by mortar fire.

So, if you are afraid to watch the interview or choose to believe the fairy tale versions coming from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who were fast asleep (or whatever) while these three men were fighting for their lives and their comrades were dying, well, then, I think you are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Obama, you might recall, really said nothing the next morning and flew off to a fund raiser for the Democrat Party in Las Vegas. Absolutely disgraceful, in my view.

There are those who will think it inappropriate to rebuff and to rebuke Obama and Clinton in a post which ostensibly is meant to honor military veterans on Veterans Day. My point is that calling out self-serving politicians who are habitual liars is part of the process to ensure those who fought honorably for their nations receive the recognition they are due and are not relegated to "burial" in an entanglement of bureaucratic deceit.

These men who fought for their country, these men who died defending the U.S., most certainly deserve more than a secretary of state who hopes to be president shouting out, "What difference does it make?" when it comes to the difference between the truth and a lie.

Whatever you feel, do not be afraid to learn and to think for yourself. Life is being brave enough to walk your own path, rather than following the footsteps of others.

The second video is a clip from a film entitled, "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi." It is scheduled to be released on January 15, 2016. I wish the date could be sooner. It is billed as, "The true story of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Special Mission Compound and the CIA Annex in Benghazi on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 through firsthand accounts." Whether a Hollywood film can achieve the stated claim of its makers, obviously, will remain unknown until its actual release.

I hope you watch the videos, especially the interview. Semper Fidelis, baby ....

"What difference at this point does it make?"

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Anytime, anywhere .... Marines

Happy 240th Birthday
United States Marine Corps
November 10, 1775
November 10, 2015
Semper Fidelis
                                                                     Marine Corps photographs

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The world is whatever you wish it to be

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.
With apologies to Robert Frost, I am absolutely certain the world will end in ice, and climate change will have nothing to do with it. My mind dwells on winter this year. For those who have not noticed in the past, my winter begins on November 1 and continues through March 31. So, it has begun, not on the calendar or in reality. (The photograph is old, taken on February 20, 2014, from the open door of my garage; the view is a metaphor of my mind.) Winter has been in and on and enveloping my mind the past few days, and I am not sure where these thoughts are leading. I usually wish to escape winter, but rarely have and this year I even have been thinking about doing a bit of winter camping if I do not manage a lengthy trip far, far away from home. There have been winters in the past when I have set up camp in a snow/ice cave for days at a time, but that has been a while. Now, I seem to be yearning to do it again. Just below the surface, however, as always, is a wish to escape to something/to somewhere new and to don a new mask. (What could be made more obvious than that by the selection of the music for this post ??) Well, we shall see which winter comes to pass this year, shan't we .... a winter with an ice cave or a winter of escape ??

Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice

For a number of years when I lived on a hilltop near the Missouri River, I had a custom I suppose would cause some people to question my ??22!!**$$33[] stability. Actually, it was a way of clinging to an element from my past I could not let go of and a means to communicate with people and to return to places which had disappeared into time, but which I sensed were still with me in a dimension just out of sight, just out of reach. (Are you totally confused now ??)

The last thing I did each night before I went to bed was go outside to a rise of land and fire four pistol or rifle shots into the air, one in each direction. It did not matter what time it was; it did not matter what the weather was -- summer heat or winter cold; gentle rain or torrential rain; a light, moonlit snowfall or a howling blizzard. It was my custom, and part of a promise to keep some memories alive for as long as I lived.

It was beautiful there some nights, especially with countless glistening stars and a full moon and the black river meandering a half-mile in the distance. It was the river of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, with its white, chalk stone cliffs reaching up to the bluffs where the explorers parleyed with Native American tribes more than two hundred years ago. Their spirits still wandered there, I often sensed.

I had cleared the area of trees and brush, and it was not unusual for deer to slowly move out of the meadow-like hilltop as I arrived. There were times when a pack of coyotes would line the edge of the clearing watching me. In the spring, the sound of the ice breaking up on the river would carry to the hilltop. When atmospheric conditions were right, the gunshots would echo on and on and on.

As echoes reverberated down the river valley, it seemed only natural to believe there were spirits listening, remembering the sounds of their own rifles -- and, feel running water from rain going down their collars as I was feeling it or the stinging bite of sleet on their faces as I was experiencing on mine.

I will not go any further into this custom or the reasons for it. It has no foundation in logic or in common sense, but emerges from primitive instinct. I will say that even today, when I am at home, I still adhere to this custom, but without the four gunshots into the dark night. City life has ended that segment (for now). I simply go outside now as the last thing I do before I tumble into bed (be it a chair, the floor, a love seat/couch or ....) and spend a bit of time looking in each of the four directions and sending a smile or a wish or a memory drifting away from me into that other dimension which lies just beyond my reach.

The reason these thoughts have surfaced now is because November 1 is the start of FramWinter, and, probably because the beauty of snowy, frigid winter nights paints more vivid portraits in my memory than do the nights of other seasons. And, in the back of my mind, I realize the pagan part of me actually believes in FimbulWinter. I relish and I celebrate the obscure, especially that which is within me.

Something special ....