Blessings on Beltane!

April 30, 2021

The veil is thin at this time of year, just as it is on Samhain. This is a good time to meditate and journey. Psychic abilities are heightened. I’ve been having some interesting visions these past few weeks.

The saying goes: What you lose on Samhain always comes back to you; what you lose at Beltane is gone forever. The saying refers to loss of virginity or innocence.

An Adirondack Guide: Orson “Old Mountain” Phelps

April 23, 2021

I did some research for a this famous mountain guide for a local 2022 calendar.

Orson “Old Mountain” Phelps (1817-1905). World renowned mountain guide and longtime resident of Keene Valley. He cut the Bartlett Mountain Trail and the trail to Mount Marcy from Lower Ausable Lake. He had a special affinity for Mount Marcy, which he claimed to have summited more than one hundred times. Phelps Mountain and Phelps Brook were named for him.

Born in Vermont, he was the son of a surveyor and worked at the Adirondack Iron Works in Tahawus in his youth before becoming a professional guide. He was celebrated for his keen observation of wildlife and plants. Like most other guides of the time, he fished, hunted, and trapped. He also collected wildflowers and harvested materials he used to craft durable pack baskets. Alfred Donaldson observed that “One does not think of Old Phelps so much as a lover of nature…as a part of nature itself.”

Unsurprising for a man who spent much time alone in the woods, Phelps was considered unique and even eccentric in his perspective. He was as deeply religious as any man of his century, but his sporadic church attendance never overshadowed the God he met in meadow flower and mountaintop. A storehouse of information about natural lore, combined with a trove of knowledge of scenic hideaways, were his attractions as a guide. While other entrepreneurs mined the early tourist trade for the sport of hunting and fishing, and today’s pilgrims are drawn to test their grit against the mountain, Phelps was in the wilderness to hear the voices of God. As such, he attracted disciples more than clients, bursting into national acclaim through Charles Dudley Warner’s tribute in The Atlantic. “Old Mountain” Phelps became the consummate denizen of the wild, with the disheveled appearance and primitive education requisite in the philosopher sprung from nature.

His dislike of bathing was well attested, but far from being an anchorite, he was in fact a village dweller with a large family. His intellect was cultivated as much by voracious reading as by forest spirits, and the quality of his published field studies led dedicated scholars to lament his loss to the natural sciences. The popular portrayal was true, however, in the sense that Phelps was not a goal-oriented man. Others might scramble for a decent living or strive to conquer mountain upon mountain, but Phelps was in the world to enjoy it. His appreciation shone through his poetry:

Of great boulder rocks and their sweet crystal fountains,
Fresh from their Creator they have all come to me.
And I must soon leave to unborn generations,
Those scenes that so long have been dear to my sight,
Who will hereafter view them with varied emotions,
And volumes about them great Authors will write.
Oh! The old feldspar mountains, with their sweet crystal fountains,
The evergreen mountains we all love so well!

We all love the Adirondacks, but we all differ in our capacity to understand how remarkable our place in the world truly is. Old Mountain Phelps was a guide into this ever uncharted terrain.

A Great Bear

March 26, 2021

For a class this week, I’m translating a story about Yellow Yellow, a Black Bear who was famous in the Adirondacks for breaking into bear cannisters. For some reason, she was tagged twice and got her name from the two tags. While most bears drop the cannisters over a cliff, hoping to break the cannister, Yellow Yellow actually figured out how to open the lid. She foiled a few generations of cannisters, driving hungry backpackers crazy, before she was killed in season by a hunter.

One Fish, Two Fish, both of them fishy

March 19, 2021

One of the worst things about cancel culture is that it provides shelter for people like Woody Allen. When I talk about cancel culture, I’m talking about the job loss, censorship, and no-platforming of individuals for expressing heterodox opinions or calling attention to inconvenient facts. Cancel culture is policed on social media and enforced by self-serving clueless boobs, especially in the corporate media. Just as the McCarthy witch hunt was unable to bring down people like Lucille Ball, while ruining the careers of lessor figures such as John Garfield, today’s cancel culture has only managed to annoy JK Rowling, while forcing people like Julia Robertson out on their own. Cancellation is about disallowing legitimate speech, not about behavior. Ironically, purveyors of witch hunts and cancellation, while often denying these crusades are taking place, reserve for themselves illegitimate libelous speech, such as wantonly calling someone a “communist” or a “transphobe” without evidence.

Which brings me to Woody Allen. He has long been under fire for behavior, not for opinions or for speaking about unpopular facts. Even granting that the credible allegations by Dylan Farrow have never been proven, for reasons having nothing to do with their merit, the dude hooked up with the young daughter of his former romantic partner. It may be true that he waited to become sexually involved with her until she became barely legal, in which case what he did wasn’t against the law, but most people consider his actions exploitative and despicable, and some people hold him accountable accordingly. If people object to this pervert being feted in awards ceremonies, it doesn’t bother me a bit.

What bothered me about his quashed autobiography was not that it was being published. I wouldn’t have read it, being way too familiar, throughout my social work career, with the whining victim tone predatory men use to describe their life. But I personally wasn’t upset about the book deal. What did upset me was Ronan Farrow’s allegations that Allen’s account of the crimes he remains accused of was not fact-checked. This, after Ronan Farrow’s journalism on sexual predators in the film industry was minutely scrutinized for evidence.

For Allen to claim that Dylan Farrow’s allegations are unfounded is to say that she is lying or delusional. Women who bring false claims of sexual abuse are treated harshly, by public opinion and the law. It’s one thing for Allen to claim he’s innocent in an interview. In a nonfiction book, it calls the publisher’s vetting process under scrutiny. I am not privy to serious discussions about the course of action after Ronan Farrow raised a stink, but I don’t see how the book could have been published while giving Allen permission to address allegations against him without proof. He’s had adequate opportunity to respond, without making the credibility of those associated with his projects problematic.

On to the second fish to be fried, flayed, and charbroiled. The Dr. Seuss biz has about played out, but I’m bringing it up here as another example of something being reflexively assigned to “cancel culture.” The situation here is more of a gray area.

The trust for Dr. Seuss voluntarily withdrew a half dozen of his many books from publication. The drawings in the books, most people would agree, are unequivocally racist. There is no evidence that the trust was forced to do take the action they did, although there have been calls from some quarters to withdraw all Dr. Seuss books from school libraries and publication, whether overtly racist or simply penned by the author. So there were calls to “cancel Dr. Seuss,” yet there is a difference between responding to legitimate criticism and having your arm twisted to (not) say “uncle.” There were other ways to address the racism in those particular books, but the trust chose their own course of action.

I supported the decision to withdraw the books in question from publication, and would not call this “cancel culture.” In retrospect, however, I think the way the decision played out is a cautionary tale. If the Dr. Seuss trust was not under any exigent threat, why was the decision accompanied by a formal announcement? That in itself triggered an outraged response. Perhaps the hope was that the public statement would mean racism in other children’s books would be addressed, through being withdrawn, redrawn, or edited. (This process has actually been happening since the sixties, though not fast enough or complete enough for some.) Perhaps the trust thought the calls to cancel Dr. Seuss altogether would cease if they responded to legitimate criticism. If that was the hope, it was misplaced.

Soon there were calls for all libraries everywhere to destroy the books in question. Then the calls to cancel Dr. Seuss altogether were amplified, along with similar outcries against other twentieth century children’s authors. EBay and other resellers banned the sale of the now out-of-print Seuss books. Considering the amount of racist memorabilia sold on eBay, not to mention the appropriated archeological treasures, this action could only be called a cynical ploy to pander to what was becoming a mob frenzy. The move to halt publication of the books may not have been provoked by cancel culture, but cancel culture took over.

Calls to cancel “racism” in books, longstanding or newly published, are often, in the current climate, not made in good faith. This is a power and control game, one that shuts down discussion of racism instead of furthering it. When the trust made an announcement about withdrawing those six books, rather than doing it quietly, some people smelled blood in the water while others had fears stoked that were not about racism. Suddenly we were talking about censorship and cancel culture, and while that needs to be talked about, racism itself, as opposed to ass-covering virtue-signaling designed to avoid being called a racist, was no longer part of the conversation. Was quiet action a better choice? Either way, a discussion that could have been had, was not had.

Which is what cancel culture is all about.

Call for Contributions

March 5, 2021

I thought I’d pass this along to women who are interested. It looks like it will be an interesting anthology.

I decided to rework my online series about women’s intentional communities into an essay for the forthcoming She Summons, also by Mago Books, the first volume of which will be out late this year or early next. That’s what I’ve been working on this week.

What It’s Like to Live on Wimmin’s Land

This essay discusses the pros and cons, joys and pitfalls, of women’s intentional communities, also known as “wimmin’s land.” There has been more talk in recent years about re-establishing all-woman living collectives in rural areas, a phenomenon that began in the 1970s and faded somewhat by the turn of the century (though some women’s communities are still around). For women dreaming about this alternative, I wanted to share some of my experience and perspective.

Sharing Community Stories

February 26, 2021

Over the past few years, a community in the Adirondacks has been coming together to record local history through stories. Under the brilliant organization of Jeri Huntley, with the support of the Keene Valley Library, My Adirondack Story is a website where the meaningful stories of ordinary people who live in the Adirondacks are told in their own voices. The stories are about five minutes long, and together they give a mosaic of life here. For people who come to the Adirondacks for a few days of recreation during the summer, it can provide a fuller picture of place.

Now there is a resource guide for others to create a project like My Adirondack Story in their communities. Our Story Bridge is a great way to connect and preserve history. There is also a teacher’s guide for helping schools create a similar project. The guide is designed for middle and high schools, but many colleges in New York State are already using these materials.

Yours truly shares an Adirondack story for the project here.