Found poem: On reading Rumi, while not reading Rumi

September 3, 2021

I decided to tempt fate again and wait until Thursday to schedule my weekly blog. Here’s hoping the internet holds out.

I was talking to a friend recently about the 13th century Persian poet Rumi. She had never heard of him. In searching for something to show her, I found this old poem of my own that I had forgotten about. I guess it’s more a Spring poem (Everyone should write a Spring poem, said Louise Gluck), but it’s apropos because it’s timely.

Life Interferes with Reading Rumi

I want to read Rumi
But my cat believes this is the time to pet.
She’s batting paws on the page
Wet nose pushing against my fingers.

I want to read Rumi
But I hear the carpenter puttering in the garage
And a conversation must be had
about a broken window.

There are times to contemplate life’s mysteries
Times to reminisce about a blissful moment
Times to reflect on insight glimpsed
between pages, within pictures, inside symphonic movements.

That time is not today.
Leave the musty books indoors.
We will stroll to the river this pestering day
Hear the giggle of persistent water
Greet the greeny tree buds opening

And read Rumi.

Ten Years Later

August 27, 2021

Couldn’t schedule my post yesterday due to internet outage. Spotty broadband reliability is one of the issues with rural living.

This weekend marks the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Irene. An incredible amount of rain (17 inches where I live) was dumped here in about a day, plus all the runoff from the High Peaks. I counted fourteen major landslides, and the Ausable River changed course in places.

About a third of the properties in the area sustained damage. Businesses were devastated. All roads out of the area were impassable for a few days, and many roads were wiped out. There were casualties in the Catskills and Vermont, though thankfully none in the Adirondacks. Vermont lost many of its iconic covered bridges.

The reason the impact of Irene in the Keene, Wilmington, and Jay areas isn’t more widely known is that not many people live here. The worst geographical impact was on state land, though the communities downstream were hit hard. Unfortunately, some people decided after Irene that they were done here. Nobody can blame them, but we appreciate people who persevered through the long process of recovery.

For better or worse, Irene was how the area got limited cell coverage. The governor’s assistant was here to assess damage and he was amazed when he was directed to a certain field where a signal was maybe sometimes available if the wind was right. There was a working cell tower in the area within a few days.

What I remember most about Irene was how we came together as a community to rebuild, and how people from downstate, who hike and vacation here and love the area as much as we do, came up to help. It was a long slow process that took much love. A film about Irene premiered last week, and I was pleasantly surprised that the focus was more on the rebuilding than the devastation.

Batting around the Rings of Saturn

August 20, 2021

Last week I indulged in one of my favorite activities: going to the cemetery at night to watch bats. I’m happy to report that the Little Brown Bat population in my corner of the world appears to be healthy.

Isn’t he adorable? Photo: Ann Froschauer/USFWS

I caught the end of the Perseid shower and saw a stunning meteor with a long tail just after dusk. A man named Kevin was there with his telescope and I saw the rings of Saturn and four moons of Jupiter. On this evening, Jupiter appeared brighter in the sky than Venus. It has to do with Jupiter being opposite the Sun right now.

I just finished a piece for Return to Mago for next month that will begin looking at defensive magic. In this context, I am interested in the Mesopotamian giant Huwawa and the story of how Gilgamesh and Enkidu killed him. The three appeared to me in a recent meditative journey. Huwawa looked like he does in the frescoes. Enkidu was thin and gray, in his death form.

Huwawa from second millennium, B.C.E. Photo: Rama

Gilgamesh surprised me. There is a popular theory right now that the Sumerians were a black-skinned people, based on the name for themselves ,”the black-headed people.” Since the Sumerians also say that they came by boat from a land to the south, this is plausible. However, Gilgamesh looked as if he could be a typical man from present-day Iraq, only hairier and more buff. He had dark hair mixed with gray and a very long full beard. Only a little of his face showed in all that black-gray beard, and it was a good-natured face.

Gilgamesh killing the Bull of Heaven, another really bad thing he did. Second millennium, B.C.E.

Mesopotamian culture was multi-ethnic, before and after the arrival of the Sumerians, so this appearance of Gilgamesh doesn’t really contradict the theory that the Sumerians came from an island off the coast of India. And Gilgamesh may have appeared to me in a later, Akkadian guise. I don’t think this was the first time I’d seen Gilgamesh either; only the first time that I recognized him.

I’m not sure how to feel about Gilgamesh. He does some bad things, some cowardly things, and some bone-headed things in his “epic,” and the narrative doesn’t attempt to put a positive spin on his actions. I think about him a lot, however, and I’m looking forward to writing about him and his adventures.

Fox!

August 6, 2021

I saw a fox under the Champlain Bridge this week.

Photo: Krista Lundgren/USFWS

This was a Red Fox, which is unusual where I live. Most of the foxes in the Adirondack High Peaks are Gray Foxes, which seem to crowd out the Red in wooded places. Gray Foxes can climb trees! Their claws are partially retracting, like cat claws. They tend to be mostly red, the name notwithstanding.

Gray Fox. Photo: USFWS

The easiest way to tell the two apart is by the white tip on the tail of the Red. The Red Fox can be all red and white, red with gray, or all gray.

Melanistic Red Fox. Photo: Lisa Hupp/USFWS

(Review) Rural Indigenousness: A History of Iroquoian and Algonquian Peoples of the Adirondacks by Melissa Otis

July 30, 2021

Part three of three

This is a continuation. Part one is here.

One of the things Melissa Otis discusses in Rural Indigenousness is the trope of the “Old Indian who used to live here.” I’ve read about this Old Indian in various places of the Adirondacks since coming to live here, and this new perspective was highly intriguing to me.

Melissa Otis contends that where the Old Indian legend arose, there lived an extended indigenous family group. This family group, usually Mohawk or Abenaki, often interacted with non-indigenous men as paid guides.

In Colonial times, indigenous guides were hired for geographic exploration or military reconnaissance. During the 19th century, guides were used more for location of geological resources or for recreational hunting and fishing. Guides recorded during this time, always men, were popular with hunting enthusiasts or associated with important mining developments.

As indigenous families ceased their seasonal use of the Adirondacks and created permanent settlements, they became obscured in the historical record. For one thing, their way of life in the 19th century was often no different from the Euro- and African- Americans who settled here. Permanent residents in isolated rural Adirondack communities, regardless of their ethnicity, practiced subsistence farming, hunting, and trapping, augmented by seasonal paid work. Indigenous families shared knowledge of sustenance activities such as farming, hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering plants with incoming residents. Of course, settlers brought knowledge with them as well, but there was more integration into indigenous culture here than was occurring elsewhere in the Northeast. This was true into the early 20th century, fostered by the remoteness the Adirondacks, the small year-round population, and the harsh living conditions.

Adirondack men, again regardless of ethnicity, often traveled away from home for part of the year for paid employment. They might live in lumber or mining camps or obtain seasonal commercial work in the cities and towns bordering the Adirondacks. Recall that indigenous people in the area moved seasonally as a survival strategy before colonial contact. Adirondack women would supplement their income in cottage industries. In the summer, there was money to be made from the rich city folk who traveled to the area for recreation.

Unsurprisingly, indigenous families often intermarried with settlers who lived as they did, class distinctions being more along the lines of part-time recreationalists versus permanent residents. Sportsmen referred to both White and Indian guides as “Natives.” Descendants of blended families might be listed as either “White” or “Indian” on census forms, the rationale for racial distinctions being unclear, as the same person might be recorded as a different race in different census years.

However they are recorded in official records, many families in the Adirondacks are aware of their Mohawk or Abenaki heritage. The old saw that the Adirondacks were uninhabited prior to tourism and commercial exploitation is blown away by this book. Indigenous people have always lived here, and live here still.

Carol Christ 1945-2021

July 23, 2021

Early women’s spirituality thealogian Carol Christ passed away last week. Carol Christ critiqued Western philosophy, particularly Platonic philosophy, as going wayward from a primary mistake: denial of the primacy of the body, “the locus of changing life.”

From She Who Changes:

…Plato draws a sharp contrast between the time-bound world we inhabit and the eternal. Change is what separates our world from the eternal. In our world, things come into being or pass away. In our world, things are born, grow, and die. In the phase of growth, things increase or become more than they were. That which is perfect cannot change; otherwise it could become than less of itself, but this was thought to be impossible, as that which is perfect cannot become more perfect or less perfect. Plato asserts that in order to be free from change, the eternal must exist alone with itself, because relationships inevitably involve change and dependence. The highest Good or, as theologians understood Plato, God, therefore must be free of change, and therefore he must exist alone–that is, free of relationships that could cause him to become more or less perfect than he already is. For this God there is no change and no touch.

Carol Christ’s essay, Reading Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as Matricide and Theacide got to the heart of the misogyny embedded in Platonic philosophy.

In light of this, it seems certain that Plato did not “just happen” to choose a cave as the location of his “prison.”  Like the Genesis story in the Bible, his was  a “tale with a point of view.”  The point of view Plato was challenging was the view that this world is our true home, that we should enjoy life in the body, and that we should honor the mothers and the Mother who have have given us life. 

A lover of Greek culture and herstory, Carol Christ spent many years on the islands of Lesbos and Crete, conducting guided tours for spiritual feminists.

A biography of Carol Christ’s life can be found here, along with information about a virtual memorial service to be held December 20, 2021.

(Review) Rural Indigenousness: A history of Iroquoian and Algonquian peoples of the Adirondacks by Melissa Otis

July 9, 2021

Part Two

This is a continuation of the review from last week.

Last week’s post discussed Indigenous peoples in the Adirondacks before European settlement: Iroquois, Abenaki, and Mahican nations pre-contact and later Algonquian peoples displaced by English settlement along the Atlantic coast. According to Melissa Otis, much of the 1700s was characterized by indigenous accommodation of Euro-colonial hunters and trappers and a few settlers. Shared land use was negotiated through family alliances, often cemented by intermarriage. The period after the Revolutionary War brought a sharp increase in violence and upheaval as colonial expansion continued.

The violence itself was not altogether new. Before European contact, Iroquois and Algonquian peoples sometimes came into violent conflict over shared resources and disputed territories. What changed was the inability of indigenous groups to collectively resolve disputes. Euro-Americans had the upper hand. Even accounting for the primitive legal establishment, acts of aggression against indigenous people were under-prosecuted. Otis was not able to name a single trial for murder or violent aggression where the White perpetrator was convicted. Many Euro-American settlers, trappers, and businessmen continued negotiating with indigenous peoples on friendly terms; others simply took what they wanted, backing up their claims with violence. Still others, nursing hostility through prejudice or historical grievances, simply lashed out in unprovoked aggression. Copious amount of alcohol consumed by both White and indigenous men did not help the situation.

As competition with White trappers increased, mining and lumbering became established, and settlement expanded, indigenous groups found it more difficult to support traditional ways of life. Access to hunting and fishing territories became limited and animal populations declined. Euro-Americans appropriated Abenaki and Mohawk seasonal camps, claiming these peoples, with territories on both sides of the border, were in fact “Canadian Indians.” Dependence on the emerging wage economy further fractured indigenous communities and attenuated traditional practices.

There are two stories told about colonialism in America. In one story, the one usually told about the Adirondacks, the land was empty and unused, available for settlement. In another, acknowledged in more populated areas of the country, the people already living on the land were either massacred or uprooted in forced relocations. The indigenous people in the Adirondacks were not massacred, even though sporadic deaths by violence went unatoned. Nor were they physically relocated en masse, even though many moved away as traditional livelihoods evaporated. Neither story fits, although indigenous peoples did lose land, traditions, and social cohesion.

The next installment will discuss how indigenous people in the Adirondacks adapted to changing circumstances in the second half of the nineteenth century.