This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Two Pics Today

Here's the newest pic of Little Will, this one taken on Easter Sunday.
Oh, the other thing I wanted to say is that one can eat the leaves of the wild sweet violets, in a salad-- along with, of course, the wild dandelions-- they are both very rich in minerals, and good for you. Just make sure dogs haven't done their wets on them beforehand (you can usually tell by the smell.) I also wanted to say something about the Swan Lake production a bunch of us saw the other night at the Colonial Theatre. This was Matthew Bourne's 'all male' version-- if you've seen the film Billy Elliott, they have a scene from it at the very end, where all the swans are male, and the King of the Swans and the human Prince fall in love. It was too beautiful for words-- it was only in town for four days, so if you want to see it you have to go somwhere else to do so. Thursday night's performance, which Kevin Merry and a friend tried to go to, was cancelled because the curtain wouldn't go up. To quote the headline in the New York Post the day after the first Stonewall Riots, "Queen Bees Stinging Mad!"

Hello Again

IT'S BEEN ALMOST TWO WEEKS since I've posted, and that's a case of not so good. My only excuse is the busy-ness surrounding my step-father's death, (the funeral is tomorrow in New Hampshire) and my own work involving the review of the galleys of my first novel, the completion of my second, and my work on my third. I've come up with an idea (stolen from my dear friend George, of Bob and George fame) how to update this more frequently, and that is to post (at the least) a picture a day, even if I don't get to write about what's going on in my life.'s picture is the small field of wild sweet violets that bloom every eyar on the right side of my front doorstep, nature's own little 'welcome home' mat when I come and go. For some reason they are especially fragrant this year-- a pansy, sweetish-smell uniquely their own. Heaven. My milkweed-- still in their individual peat-pots-- are growing apace, and out of 25 planted, 23 came up-- an astonishly high percentage. I still haven't talked to my landlord about the new flower garden I want to plant along the front wall bordering Main Street, but he is home from Florida and I hope to do that soon. We are also looking forward to precious Will's christening this Sunday-- what a shot in the arm that will be for the family.

I have too much to do today-- my current novel (a gay Hardy Boys type mystery set in Nahant)is supposed to be finished by June (not so good!) and I've only written eight chapters, although I like what I've written. The bathroom needs to be cleaned. Laundry is in arrears. The rugs are cussing out to be vacuumed. And yet with all of that, I am now stepping outside for thirty minutes to paint with my watercolors the purple wild sweet violets mentioned above outside my door. They will only be in bloom another few days or so. In the words of poet Mary Oliver, "What else should I have done instead?" Oh, speaking of poets, everybody go outside today and look at the color of the leaves now-- and think about how perfectly Robert Frost captured their ephemeral color right now, and the transcience of beauty--

Nature's first green is gold-

Her hardest hue to hold;

Her early leaf is flower--

but only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf,

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn sinks down to day--

Nothing gold can stay.

And thanks again to all who sent notes and calls of sympathy-- deeply appreciated.

Friday, April 14, 2006

RIP, John Bell, and William Sloane Coffin

First off thank you to all of those who have sent condolences over the passing of my step-father, John Bell. He was an extraordinary man of compassion, humor, resilience, spirit, and love. He lost one leg many years ago between the knee and the hip, and four of his vertabrae were fused together with metal, but he never complained, nor did these impedients stop him from driving quickly and recklessly, doing anything he set his mind to, being active, or taking risks. In the late summer of 2001, I spent a month and half up at John's ocean-front house in Maine, converting the front landscaping. Despite his physical disabilities, John would be waiting for me every morning outside, with a shovel, ready to pitch in. Part of the job called for the builidng of a retaining wall, about 60 feet long and three feet high, (see photo above) using heavy wall black with a fieldstone face. Nothing I could say would dissuade John from carrying the heavy stones over to me. "I can help! I can help!" he'd say, a little bit pleadingly-- and indeed he could, and did.
And he so loved my mother. One time driving back from Maine, he dropped my mother off at Aunt Flo's in Chelmsford, then proceeded to drive me home to Stoneham. On the way he said, "You know, I just dropped your mother off, but I miss her already. I love her so much that I can hardly wait to go back and pick her up again."
You, your love, and your humor John will be greatly missed. Rest in Peace.

On the same day as John's passing, we lost another great man, another great American: William Sloane Coffin, who came to prominence back in the 60's and 70's as chaplain at Yale for his passionate anti-war activities. Later in the 80's and 90's he became head of SANE/FREEZE, an anti-nuclear proliferation group. He was also a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights movement, a passionate critic of US foreign policy (he claimed that all true patriots had, by definition, a 'lover's quarrel' with their country) a gifted musician, and, in his youth, a one-time operative for the Civil War.
He believed in the justice-loving, justice-fighting kind of religion: the religion of mercy, the religion of compassion, the religion of charity, and peace, and social-activisim. He said that God also had a 'lover's quarrel' with this world-- and said often that when people, faced with some horrible event like 911, or a mass genocide due to hunger, turn their faces to heaven and implore, 'God, how could you let that happen?', at the same time, God is looking down at people, and asking them, 'How could you let this happen?'

He was an outspoken critic of the 'illegal' invasion of Iraq, and a frequent critic of the Bush Administration and its policies. Of the Iraq War he said,
The war against Iraq is as disastrous as it is unnecessary; perhaps in terms of its wisdom, purpose and motives, the worst war in American history…. Our military men and women…were not called to defend America but rather to attack Iraq. They were not called to die for, but rather to kill for, their country. What more unpatriotic thing could we have asked of our sons and daughters…?”
And of compassion, and religion without social justice, he said,
"To show compassion for an individual without showing concern for the structures of society that make him an object of compassion is to be sentimental rather than loving.”
Today's 'On Point' show rebraodcast several conversations held with Rev. Coffin over the past several years, and I recommend them here:

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

V for Vendetta

"Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose vis-à-vis an introduction, so let me simply add that it's my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V." -- V's introduction to Evey at the beginning of the film, 'V for Vendetta.'

I saw this movie the other night and highly recommend it as a tonic for those who feel the current fascist administration has gone on too long. Feel-Good for Fascism, one might say. It's based on the Alan Moore graphic novel of the same name, which came out in the late '80's. I'll have more to say about it tomorrow--the following is from Wikipedia:

There is repeated reference to the letter "V", or 5 in Roman numerals, throughout the film. V is held in Larkhill cell number "V". V's favorite phrase is "By the power of truth, I, a living man, have conquered the universe", (which in latin is "Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici.") V's Zorro-like signature is a "V". During the battle with Creedy and his men, V forms a "V" with his daggers just before he throws them. V's introduction to Evey, begins and ends with "V" and contains 55 words beginning with "V". (Fifty-five is the product of 11 and 5, similar to the Fifth of November.) When V confronts Creedy, V plays Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, whose openning notes have a rhythmic pattern that resembles the letter "V" in Morse code (···–). The Symphony's openning was used as a call-sign in the European broadcasts of the BBC during World War II in reference to Winston Churchill's "V for Victory". The film's title itself, is also a reference to "V for Victory". Finally, an inverted red-on-black "A" symbol for anarchy is shown as V's "V" symbol.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Big Night Saturday Night: Salamanders and Peepers

Spring Peeper (RealAudio sound sample)

I experienced Big Night Saturday Night, along with my friend Scott-- no no, it isn't what you might be thinking, a night of wild revelry and play, but Big Night in the Salamander sense of the word. Let me explain. Every spring, our local salamanders-- one of those creatures that is quite common, but not seen very often-- crawl out from under the rocks, logs, and leaf mold where they have been hibernating, and journey (up to a mile) to a local vernal (spring) pond to gather and mate. Typically the males come out a few days before the females. Once the females join in, usually on a rainy night (but always at night), the mating ritual that follows is known as Big Night. While the action can be spread out over a few nights, the bulk of activity usually takes place in one night. They gather in the ponds, and clusters of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of salamanders roll and moil and rub against each other in a kind of rolling underwater pig pile, rubbing their bodies against each other. (see pic) This results in the males emitting spermaphores, white pieces of sperm which the females take into their abdomens over the next few days; within a month, the females lay their eggs in jelly-like clusters. The Friends of the Fells, a volunteer organization assocaited with the Middlesex Fells Reservation, has many activities during the year, and in the spring their sponsor Big Night; and so it was that my friend Scotty and I found ourselves driving down to the meet-up place-- the Parking Lot at the Stone Zoo-- on Saturday night at 8.

About half a dozen people were already gathered there, including our leader, Hue Holly (great name!) who told me he has been doing this for about a dozen years. We all brought our flashlights and sturdy footgear; one of the women there, who has also been doing this for many years, brought her small-statured but husky-voiced nephew Justin, who quickly got chummy with me and Scotty. On the walk down to the vernal pond, he asked us if we wanted to hear a rap song he and his friends had made. He happened to have the cd on him, as well as a cd player, and we listened. He told us how he had sent it into a record company, and heard notrhing, and two years later a record company had had another group sing it, apparently.

After about a 10-15 minute walk, we came to the pool-- and it was Big Night! About a dozen more folks were there, and the salamanders were 'congressing' as they call it 'like mental,' according to Justin. We had to be careful where we stepped, because many of them were on the trrail, making their way tot he 'hoe-down' as it were, and these stragglers that we found we picked up and put them int eh pond to joint he fun. It was really quite amazing-- to see the curtain withdrawn for a secret, wonderful thing in Nature's bag-o-tricks. It was also just wonderful to be out at night in the woods. For tens of thousands of years, we were nomadic, traveling to the fish weirs in spring, the highlands in summer, the grain-rich meadows in fall-- and frequently we traveled by night. We held religious services by night, hunted by night, were part fo the night-- and something, I think, has died in our souls now that we've, as a species, turned our back ont he night, banished it from our lives and hearts and souls with garish light.

Anyway, it was quite an experience. And then this evening, while walking Fionn, we heard the first spring peepers!!!! (Click on the link above to hear them.) Peepers are often heard, but seldom seen. They are no more than an inch long, and the shrill peep-whistle they emit is the males mating call, which they make by inflating a sac under their mouths. (see pic). Amazing.

I cannot describe the solace these things bring to me, the delight. Yes, there are problems and troubles and worries and issues--but these things-- the salamnders and peepers and sunsets and rainbows-- have been given to us. They were here before us, they will be here after us, and it's up to us to enjoy them while we may, and remember we are of this earth-- and how lucky that we are.