November has flown by with a swiftness of a fleeting blink of an eye. The autumn this year was reluctant to begin, with summer-like temperatures holding fairly steady well into October in the Northeast corridor, and the delay in arriving at more seasonal weather seemed to mute the changing colors when they finally began to change in earnest. As I came slowly to consciousness this past Saturday morning, I awoke to the sound of a robust and formidable wind stirring the trees outside my bedroom window. Since I had no urgent events scheduled for the day, I was able to awaken slowly and reflect for a bit before rising.
I sat up for a moment or two once I had gathered my wits and took a few photos as the day began, and then settled back down again to contemplate the day’s beginning and the events of late that accompanied the strangeness of the reluctant autumn taking place all around me. I generally try to capture some seasonal images as the earth alters its course around the sun each year, but this time around, it seems that mother nature had other ideas, and stubbornly withheld the expected changes until just last week.
In the yard next door, my usual view out the window on that side would have displayed this scene a month ago, but only last week came into full blossom with many of the leaves already missing. In just the last few days, most all of the foliage in the trees lining the street was gone. The wind had wreaked havoc on whatever plumage remained and the tree now appears almost totally bare. This experience goes against the traditional one I generally expect at this time of year, and as I lay in bed pondering these changes, I looked back over several extraordinary life events that led up to the strangeness of my early morning awakening.
Beginning in late August, as I traveled to the first of three family gatherings as autumn approached, the sky above me looked so strange and peculiar as I rode astonished at the sight, that I had to capture the event, as though it were an omen of some sort. I couldn’t decide if this sky was ominous or simply extraordinary.
Gliding down the highway in silence, almost mesmerized by the sight of it, it gave me shivers as I held my eye up to viewfinder. What an amazing sight!
Last month brought me once again into the emotional rollercoaster ride as Father of the Bride. As we gathered for the marriage of my youngest daughter in the spectacular landscape of rural Virginia, the anticipated autumnal awesomeness was only barely underway as we prepared for the outdoor ceremony in the afternoon of Saturday, the 21st of October. Driving through the beauty of the sun kissed scenery, my heart already primed for the flood of feelings and memories, I was struck by the contrast with the previous driving experience, and could barely contain myself as I soaked in the spectacle before me.
On the first morning in Virginia before the wedding, I awoke at sunrise in the mountains, and was able to observe the first light while chatting with my daughter who called me on the phone. It was a compelling moment of many that would occur during the trip, but all the more poignant as I was able to share some fatherly advice with a nervous bride.
The view off the deck of the rental house above was taken on October 23rd and offered only a hint of Autumn’s colors, and while the temperatures were mild during the day, it was still chilly in the morning and that helped to remind me that we were indeed experiencing the autumnal transition. The thoughts passing through my mind on that morning turned to one of the most poignant moments that occurred over the weekend, when I first saw my youngest daughter in her wedding dress. I nearly fainted!
With one day available to me after the wedding to relax and look around, I decided to travel to nearby Charlottesville, Virginia to satisfy a lifelong desire to visit Monticello–the home of Thomas Jefferson. Ever since I was a small boy learning American History in school, I had wanted to visit this historical home, and it was another monumental and emotional experience on a weekend full of them. I will be writing a separate blog post about that visit soon, but I wanted to include an image from that day. The visit and tour of the estate will remain as one of the most significant of the many I acquired in any autumn season.
There have been so many moments throughout the season before winter this year that seemed to overwhelm my ability to process them well, and I couldn’t help but wonder about the confluence of each of these events and what the meaning might be for me personally. The perspective of years of memories of past autumns has run the gamut from the most stunningly beautiful to the personally devastating, and all along the way, every variation in between has contributed to the auguries of autumn for me.
It is sometimes said that a person in their sixth decade of life is approaching the “autumn of their years,” but I wonder now just how close the winter might be, and what wonders await me.
I found myself traveling today along the rural back roads near my home, on my way back from visiting with my children, and I had the rare opportunity to enjoy a pleasant drive through brilliant sunshine and vibrant blue skies, surrounded by farmland and the exquisite greens of a late summer afternoon. My heart has been burdened lately with a host of concerns that have made settling down to write here on my blog a bit problematical, and today it finally seemed like the sun was poking through within me, just enough to gather a few words to share with all of you.
As I traversed the beautiful byways between where I was and where I was going, I decided to insert the soundtrack to the film, “Amadeus,” into the CD player, (yes…some of us still do that…) and the music brought me to a place that nearly always is provocative and contemplative simultaneously–the musical landscape created by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The traffic was light today, so driving down the road alone, taking in such spectacular visual delights as I listened, allowed my mind to wander a bit, and also to connect with the creative human spirit which was Mozart, opening my heart and mind to both the nature and the nurture possible in such circumstances.
The visit with my son included an opportunity to enjoy the play of light and the elements that make up the environment where he lives. Lounging in the old fashioned kitchen was the perfect prelude to the journey through the rural landscape, and before I headed out on the highway, I took a few minutes to capture several images of the magic light which always seems to illuminate the kitchens in our family.
As I turned out of the driveway, I slipped in the Mozart CD and was surprised by the power of the music to fill in the gaps of the silence within me; it seemed to accompany the passing sights perfectly, particularly two choral renditions, one from his opera, “Don Giovanni,” and the Requiem, K626. The performances were nearly hypnotic in their effect, and I thought it a bit synchronous for the music which was created so many years ago, (Mozart lived from 1756 to 1791) to be able to match perfectly this 21st century road trip.
My inner landscape also seemed to match the outer one as the excursion progressed, and I briefly felt completely one with all the elements of my experience, placing those concerns and delights into a temporary state of equilibrium. A recent conversation with a dear friend who encouraged me to continue with my work here, gave me just the push I needed to find a moment to bring it all together and share it with all of you.
The challenges are great for me at present, but I have been journaling and recording ideas for expanding my mission and my vision, even though none of it, so far, has made an appearance here. As I contemplated what I might write about this particular day, it occurred to me that having to endure situations like mine is one of the reasons God sent us Mozart. He was like a brilliant shooting star across the skies of life in the 1700’s, but his music and his genius have endured across the centuries to fill in the gaps of our inner silence, even today…
…more to come…
I can feel you. I know you are there. I want you to be there. I think that’s the reason it keeps happening. At some point, we both reflect on those moments, and it brings us somehow together. Your face said everything. Just for a moment, it all came rushing back to you–all those moments–they all passed through your mind’s eye. Your body posture changed immediately. You opened to me. I wanted to run right at you and hold you close, but the moment was gone and you–you were brought back to the temporal–you were brought back to the moment in time and space, but before you turned and remembered where you were temporally, I had you completely–I had you completely–and I wanted you completely. For just a few seconds, everything stopped, and that place that only we inhabit burst open. Your face softened. Your shoulders relaxed. It was relief–you were relieved–just for that moment. I played right along in the temporal. I allowed a suspension of my inclinations and yours. Twice during the conversation in time and space, we leaned into each other. Your face immediately softened. You were close enough to hear my heartbeat.
After a few seconds you snapped out of it and returned to the space and time of the temporal world, and once more, I extended my hand. You came immediately in and again your face softened and you smiled. It was like you were looking right through me. It would have been a completely different experience had it been under different circumstances. I imagined how it might have gone, had we been alone. I would have pulled you in, surrounded you with my arms. My heart was flung open only for a few seconds, but if the circumstances were different, I would have opened up all the way.
I wouldn’t let you go. I’m so much taller, I always seem to be looking down at you, but your face, when it looks up to me, makes it feel like we’re the same height. Height becomes irrelevant. I know I would have put my hands on your face, and I believe your face would be grinning broadly. I would hesitate for just a second or two, and I would say, “I love you,” and I would kiss you deeply–passionately. I wouldn’t be able to stop myself. It wouldn’t have to be anymore. It would be alright. We’d be fine. I would look deeply in your eyes; I would sigh; I’d probably be giggling–a nervous laughter. I wouldn’t want you to be upset. I would want you to giggle too.
Even if it never happened again, I would know that moment and I would create a point of worship. I’d worship that moment–cling to it–always. So many times when you have been in my arms, and our faces have been very close, I have wanted to kiss you, but it was almost unnecessary because it seemed that your face registered my desire–you knew that I wanted to kiss you, and you smiled.
There must be a chance, even if its only once, to relive this imagining, to manifest it in the physical world, but even if it never happens it’s really already happened dozens of times, and each time you smiled, knowing. I don’t understand, but I accept–I accept you, just as you are. You see, the person to whom that face belongs–I love that person; the person who inhabits that body–I love that person; the soul that manifests as that person–I am one with that soul. We will never be apart–ever. We are forever one.
“Spring Landscape,” by Achille Laugé (French, 1861–1944). Laugé was a Neo-Impressionist painter born in Arzens. Laugé never followed his teachers’ methods and advice, and his work was considered radical for its time. Influenced by French Neo-Impressionist painters Georges Seurat (1859–1891), Paul Signac (1863–1935), and Camille Pissarro (1831–1903), Laugé adopted elements of their style without aligning himself with Seurat’s strict and scientific method.–Wikipedia
Speaking of Spring, I took the opportunity a few weeks ago to photograph the signs of Spring right in my own yard around the house, and as it turned out, it would be the last sunny day for a while. I was cautiously optimistic on this sunny afternoon and captured some of the essential sights that I see each year about this time.
Right after I captured these images, we began to endure one of the longest runs of continuously rainy days in recent memory these past two weeks, and it reminded me of a passage from Hemingway:
“Sometimes the heavy cold rains would beat it back so that it would seem that it would never come and that you were losing a season out of your life…You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason.
In those days, though, the spring always came finally but it was frightening that it had nearly failed.”
― Ernest Hemingway, passage from “A Moveable Feast.”
After the terrorist incident in Paris in November of last year, “A Moveable Feast” became a bestseller in France. According to a CNN report by Watson, Ivan, and Sandrine in November 2015 called “Sales Surge for Hemingway’s Paris memoir, “the book’s French-language title, “Paris est une fête,”…was a potent symbol of defiance and celebration. Bookstore sales of the volume surged, and copies of the book became a common fixture among the flowers and candles in makeshift memorials created by Parisians across the city to honor victims of the attacks.”
First page of a miniature of Cicero’s “De Oratore,” 15th century, Northern Italy, now at the British Museum
“Historia magistra vitae est,” is a Latin expression, taken from Cicero’s “De Oratore” which translates to “History is life’s teacher.” According to Wikipedia, “…The phrase conveys the idea that the study of the past should serve as a lesson to the future.” Cicero writes eloquently in “De Oratore,” about how “…An orator is very much like the poet. The poet is more encumbered by rhythm than the orator, but richer in word choice and similar in ornamentation.”
This relentless run of rain and overcast skies has had the beneficial affect of keeping me indoors to read and contemplate my thoughts in a way that I don’t usually get the opportunity to do when the weather is better, and the following quote from Cicero’s work struck me as I reviewed it the other day:
“Nevertheless, since philosophy is divided into three branches, which respectively deal with the mysteries of nature, with the subtleties of dialectic (inquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions), and with human life and conduct, let us quit claim to the first two, by way of concession to our indolence (laziness), but unless we keep our hold on the third, which has ever been the orator’s province, we shall leave the orator no sphere wherein to attain greatness. For which reason this division of philosophy, concerned with human life and manners, must all of it be mastered by the orator; as for the other matters, even though he has not studied them, he will still be able, whenever the necessity arises, to beautify them by his eloquence, if only they are brought to his notice and described to him.”
It has occurred to me that my poetry, my sense of history, and my earnest deliberations in studying the philosophical aspects of our human subjective awareness have all been in the service of the mysteries of nature, the subtleties of dialectic, and with human life and conduct, and although I don’t feel particularly “encumbered by rhythm,” a recent poem erupted from me that seems to address these mysteries in the way that Cicero suggested is often produced as “necessity arises.”
Every nuance of the life within me
Yields to the power of the
Divinity within this sacred place
We are building together.
Across the eons of time,
Through centuries of human presence on Earth,
The world within has blossomed and flourished,
While the life of the body without
Struggles to continue.
Nature reveals itself only slowly
To the spirit, like a flower
That opens at twilight.
Abiding with you in the deepest
Union of souls of my short life,
The goddess breathes life into our
Sensual union and intensive mingling
Of spirit and intimate places.
Sitting at length within her grasp,
I submit willingly to the opening
Of my soul by her gentle hand.
My tortured heart cries out silently–
While the spirit mends.
© May 2016 by JJHIII24
In my previous post, I wrote about author Richard Brautigan, whose success in the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s brought him great notoriety and financial rewards for a time. His tendency to engage in a variety of self-destructive behaviors, and a degree of recklessness in attending to his own well-being, over time, ultimately led to his gradual decline into near obscurity, and to tragically choosing to end his own life at age 49. While my life has been much different in a number of ways, the lessons contained in his all-too-brief life, as well as in the lives of others with similar outcomes, have challenged and complicated my own journey in ways that have forced me to re-examine my path–to stop here at the crossroads–and to take a long, deep, breath.
Naturally, I have all the usual concerns about the future and planning for retirement that most people do. All of my children are grown and have started having their own children, but the opportunities presented by an “empty nest,” have actually unsettled me a bit. For a handful of years now I have been attempting to formalize my research and writing into a more coherent stream in this blog, and it has been both illuminating and challenging to direct and sustain my energies in the process. It seems that I am quickly approaching a point where I must consider my choice of direction for the time I have left to act in this life. Looking ahead and looking back, as well as looking at the divergent roads that may lead in one direction or another can be daunting, especially when measured against the responsibilities and demands of sustaining oneself in the 21st century. The crossroads can represent an approach to the culmination of everything that came before reaching them, but it can also bring to bear the memories of all the uncertainty and mystery that one had to face in order to arrive there in the first place. As always, not all choices are equally viable, but now there is far less time to redirect them, should it become clear that alternative choices may have provided an opportunity for a better outcome.
Throughout most of my life, trying to discern in which direction I should turn when I’ve arrived at crossroads has always been a bit problematical, but these days it seems heavy-laden with considerations that reflect the uncertainty and mystery even more than before, as well as a heightened awareness of them, brought about by a number of harsh life lessons in recent years. A post by a fellow blogger and creative writer, David Cain, speaks to the central dilemma:
“I will never see the world quite like anyone else, which means I will never live in quite the same world as anyone else — and therefore I mustn’t let outside observers be the authority on who I am or what life is really like for me. Subjectivity is primary experience — it is real life, and objectivity is something each of us builds on top of it in our minds, privately, in order to explain it all. This truth has world-shattering implications for the roles of religion and science in the lives of those who grasp it.”
Clearly, I have been in the torrent of the world this past month. October managed to escape me with my attention focused elsewhere, even though I have been struggling to hobble together an important blog post which I hope to be posting this week. The quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is actually from a play he completed in 1790 after a trip through Italy entitled, “Torquato Tasso.” I was able to locate an English translation from the original German by Charles Des Voeux which is available online thanks to the Harvard College Library Dexter Fund. In that play, the character Leonora reassures Alphonso:
“A talent doth in stillness form itself–A character on life’s unquiet stream.”
I have been swimming in “life’s unquiet stream,” and in moments of stillness, perhaps I have been developing a degree of character in the process. One can only hope! I also revisited a musical recording from my youthful days in the military by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer:
I carry the dust of a journey
that cannot be shaken away
It lives deep within me
For I breathe it every day.
You and I are yesterday’s answers;
The earth of the past came to flesh,
Eroded by Time’s rivers
To the shapes we now possess.
Come share of my breath and my substance,
and mingle our stream and our times.
In bright, infinite moments,
Our reasons are lost in our eyes.
–Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Pictures At An Exhibition Lyrics
Reviewing the events of my life these days, I’ve begun to see the role that the expectations of others has played in many of my choices. Beginning with my experiences in the formal education portion, not only was I constantly concerned about not meeting the expectations of my parents and teachers, but I often suffered the consequences when some performance I gave fell short of those expectations. All of my efforts were inevitably scrutinized to the point where it seemed I was only just barely surviving that scrutiny, until eventually it all came to a breaking point–a crossroad–when I turned in one particularly awful performance in my sophomore year at college, which resulted in re-directing my life away from the university for a time, and propelled me toward the events which took place in each of the far-flung locations I have been describing this past year as a young soldier, winding his way through the labyrinth of spiritual awakening.
There are challenges for me these days, but I have been seeking guidance and support and remain hopeful that November will be a first step in a positive direction. Thanks to all my readers and friends for your patience and comments!
“I can control my destiny, but not my fate. Destiny means there are opportunities to turn right or left, but fate is a one-way street. I believe we all have the choice as to whether we fulfill our destiny, but our fate is sealed.”–Paulo Coelho
“Strange things blow in through my window on the wings of the night wind and I don’t worry about my destiny.”–Carl Sandburg
“Destiny is something not be to desired and not to be avoided…a mystery not contrary to reason, for it implies that the world, and the course of human history, have meaning.”–Dag Hammarskjold
Sometimes, I worry about my destiny, as though I may be sitting on the sidelines and might somehow miss my opportunity to pursue it. Some might say if you just calmly accept your destiny it will come. I’m not entirely certain that I desire it, but sometimes, I can’t seem to push myself to the place where my destiny seems to be waiting. It’s not that I’m avoiding it necessarily, but I’m concerned that some crisis may precipitate it or that a crisis may result from going toward it. I can’t seem to clearly envision a future that will result in some equitable resolution of whatever destiny holds in that future. One of the main stumbling blocks for me is when I examine the lives of others whom I admire–authors, poets, philosophers, scientists–people who embraced their destiny and who suffered greatly as a result.
One example of such a life which brought this idea to the point for me was a recent reading of biographical research regarding author Richard Brautigan, who became internationally famous for his novels, poems, short stories, and nonfictional pieces written in the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s. In one account by Claude Hayward, an early printer of Richard’s poems who worked with him in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, he described him in this way:
“Richard was an imposing figure, tall in stature with long, straw-blond hair and a walrus mustache, and always dressed in that heavy range coat, and worn boots that had seen the prairies…Richard was an observer, an acute, bemused one with a keen eye for the absurd and the surreal.”
My recent investigation of his life in San Francisco and elsewhere brought out revelations that were quite surprising. His early success as a writer brought him international fame and, for a time, great fortune. He published his first truly successful novel, “Trout Fishing in America,” in 1967 and it became an instant sensation, selling over four million copies worldwide. He was a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone magazine, and along with his other poems and articles, brought him to the forefront of the writers of his day.
Unfortunately, along with his success came a number of difficult struggles in his personal life. He was married several times, and had a fair number of difficulties maintaining relationships with those who knew him well also. In a 1985 tribute to Brautigan by Lawrence Wright in Rolling Stone, Wright describes Brautigan’s harrowing descent into a host of personal problems that made it difficult for anyone to handle being around him:
“He had a difficult habit of testing his friends, but he was even more demanding of his lovers. He pushed them away, he was abominable, he wanted unconditional love and forgiveness. They put up with it, some of them, because he genuinely valued a woman’s intelligence. ‘That appealed to women,’ one of his girlfriends recalled. ‘It was a trade-off.’ It became a liability to be seen with Richard.”
He struggled for years with alcohol which eventually hampered his writing efforts, led to a lessening of his fame as an author, and contributed to his decline into near obscurity toward the end of his life. He continued to write up until his excesses and deeply personal challenges that he created, led him to take his own life in 1984 at age 49.
In a very strange and unusual coincidence, of which I only recently became aware, I happened to be in San Francisco in 1974 when Richard Brautigan actually lived there. Come to think of it, I could have easily passed him on the street without realizing it. I had been walking the streets of that great city many times, spending a fair amount of my spare time on weekends exploring and visiting many different parts of the city by the bay. In one of my earliest visits there, while casually walking along the streets I happened by a photography shop window with a sign that read, “Make a poster of yourself!” Posters were very popular in early seventies and I couldn’t resist the invitation to try it.
At the time, I was attending the Defense Language Institute, a federally funded language school in Monterey, so I had with me one of the current textbooks from the course, as well as a copy of a book by Brautigan called, “On Watermelon Sugar.” I was already well into the reading of it and wanted to continue reading it on my trip, so when I walked into the studio and spoke to the photographer, I expressed to him that I was at a truly pivotal moment in my life, and how I wanted the image to reflect just how important it was to me. I insisted on holding the two books since they were representative of where I was in a broad sense, both psychologically and geographically at that moment. Also at this time, like many of my fellow members of the U.S.military, I was a casual smoker, and as a young man I thought holding a cigarette would make me look “cool,” so I included that also. I sat for about a half dozen photos and then had to go away for about an hour or so while the processing took place. When I returned, I was handed six small prints of the images to look at and I selected the one that appears above.
As an impressionable young man of twenty-one years, Brautigan’s writings seemed to speak directly to my experiences and the chaos of my life as a soldier in training. Looking back at those times now, some forty plus years later, I have to admit that I never once thought of them in any other way than as simply a part of my experience, and only within the context of the actual events themselves. It was quite a surprise to discover, after all this time, that an author for whom I had great admiration, and whose work resonated so well with me in those days, was very likely somewhere nearby as I traveled the path of my own destiny.
Destiny, it seems, may lead us inexorably on a path to fulfillment of some purpose of which we may or may not be fully aware. It also may take all our strength to sustain ourselves along that path, but we all must discover that strength within us if we are to succeed.
Passion drives the winds of fate
To uncertain shores and fatal flaws;
True love brings us forward and home,
Into the gentle comfort of destiny’s flow.
–from my poem, “Uncharted Hearts,” 2014
As the morning light bestows its first sweet caress,
It stirs my waking dream to life,
Loosening the reluctant grasp of
Yesterday’s liquid night;
The stillness of the dark water,
In the wee hours before dawn,
Slowly yields to the tides within me.
They ripple gently in steady, rhythmic response,
As my heart reclaims its rightful place,
Among the hidden pillars of my spiritual center;
Tender thoughts of affection newly-born,
Cascade like a waterfall of epic delight,
Propagating along networks of neural pathways,
Bursting now with skittish ions,
Jumping to each new tendril that reaches out,
As they await the sparks
Of their measured and anticipated embrace,
With invisible and mysterious arms
Of infinite possibility.
How delicately we step into the light of each new day;
How faithfully we sow the seeds of our delight;
How often we strive to open our hearts and minds to its potential,
Only to discover the ever-changing distance,
From morning light to the next liquid night.