A Transcendental Journey

Twenty years ago today, I started a journey across country that I'm sure changed my life and helped me become, if not a serious writer, at least serious about writing. The journey continues, and I am grateful for both the mountains and the valleys.

Here is a little bit from A Transcendental Journey:

We know we're awake because our eyes are open.

By late afternoon, I was ready to stretch my legs. Following a particularly long swell of highway, I reached the top of a bluff. Spotting a rest stop across the highway, I pulled across and into the parking lot.

Set back a few hundred yards from the edge of the bluff, the building was long and low, mostly one big room, with a massive rectangular information desk in the center manned by several busy aides. Beneath the windows, low slung metal racks brimmed with brochures describing every attraction you could imagine, and many you couldn’t.

I strolled outside the building towards the bluff. The grass was tall, not Really Tall, but enough to hide a snake or two. So I kept my head down heading toward the brink. At the edge of the bluff, I looked up.

The slope fell sharply away hundreds of yards to where the Missouri River engraved a broad S through the grasslands. Beyond the wide impassive river, the brown flat earth stretched to the curve of the world, melding into a white horizon unguessably distant. But it wasn't the distance that held me to the spot.

There are qualities that belong to a place, that inhabit its essence and mark it in the memory. The quality of this bluff was Blue.

Blue has many names: azure, sapphire, navy, even cornflower. I have never seen a cornflower, or any blue flower for that matter. But cornflower blue I can picture in my mind: draw a luster from the earth, blend in sunlight, sift in moonlight.

What I saw from the bluff was not any blue I could imagine: not azure nor sapphire nor navy nor cornflower. Even now, when I close my eyes, I can't picture it. But I can remember how it felt, dodging my eyes and seeping unfiltered through the pores of my skin: Blueness, essence of Blue, narcotic Blue. Manifest Blue. True Blue. Transcendental Blue.

But there were two blues, not one.

We see the sky as blue because the blue electromagnetic waves of sunlight are shorter and are scattered more easily by the dust in the atmosphere. But nothing about this blue seemed scattered nor did sunlight seem required. Standing there, I realized that I had never truly seen a blue sky before. A stain had been washed from the stratosphere. Blue shone through.

Bodies of water are blue when they reflect the sky. But the Missouri had a different recipe that day, independent of the firmament above. Take a sea, fold it over and over and over like a translucent sheet, then glaze it in a tawny bed of grass. That is Missouri Blue.

Go to the Missouri River crossing.

Stand on the bluff on a cloudless day.

Blue lives there.

Copyright

© Copyright Stephen Evans 2017

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Why So Glum

Lee Hamilton, ex representative from the US House, now a college professor, wrote a column. Appearing in our local paper, he extolled all the great things Americans have going for them. No numbers were provided, just nice, broad strokes, the sort used while whitewashing broad stretches of fencing. He didn’t address what makes me glum. Like him, I won’t give numbers, just present my impressions.

Mr Hamilton makes a point that most Americans are very unhappy with Congress but insists that we have a good representative Democracy. I’m like most Americans, glum because as infrastructure collapses, Congress takes no action other than posturing and campaigning. I’m a bit glum about our Congress and Democracy because Republican controlled states gerrymandered Congressional districts to keep themselves in power and silence the majority. I’m glum because where gerrymandering didn’t succeed, Republicans worked hard to disenfranchise, cheat and alienate those who didn’t side with their flimsy, reactionary platform. I'm glum because the wealthy are taking greater control of our political process, creating marketing ads that sell candidates without attention to the candidates' strengths or positions. Big money, with a few scattered exceptions, just wants people it can control electrd. 

Our military is one of our strengths, Mr Hamilton notes, with a nuclear deterrent and military prowess that other nations envy. I believe this is the same nuclear deterrent that existed when terrorists destroyed the twin towers in the WTC back when George Bush was POTUS, the same military power existing as the terrorists hijacked commercial aircraft and crashed them, one into the Pentagon, the center of our military capabilities, and that makes me glum. I think it’s the same military power we used to slog through the longest, most expensive wars in our history in Afghanistan and Iraq, the same military power that we’re trying to exercise in yet a third war against ISIS.

Lee Hamilton doesn’t mention the impressive numbers of mass killings by guns the US is aggregating. He doesn’t talk about the increasing protests and the dismay of Americans who see our police forces growing more militarized, and he doesn’t talk about the number of people our police are killing.

Hamilton tells us that America put more people back to work after this last economic recession than all the rest of the industrialized nations combined but doesn’t mention how people’s wages are stagnating or the rising rents in our urban areas. He extols our higher education as the best in the world without noting how costs are raising and that students are leaving colleges and universities burdened with record debts and few job opportunities. Left off his list is our secondary students’ falling scores and how often our results pale when these students are compared to their international peers, or that remedial college courses to teach math, English and history are all on the rise. Health care and its extraordinary costs in America aren’t addressed in his essay on America’s greatness, nor is our increasing infant mortality rate. Thinking about these things make me glum.

It's not that I'm a pessimist. I consider myself a pragmatic progressive, actually a hopeful idealist, although a glum one. Hamilton made a point that all is not good and he recognizes that. The problem to me, the reason I’m so glum, is that I see little political will being exercised to address these matters, that there are too many, like him, willing to pretend that the good things America has to offer are sufficient to keep us from being glum. The reason I’m so glum is that it’s never our strengths that keep us from becoming better. It’s our weaknesses that keep us from becoming a better nation, that stay the world from a course to improving our lives for everyone, everywhere, and actualizing the potential we as humans have to improve ourselves and our societies without destroying the planet. But if we do not acknowledge our weaknesses and work to improve them, there will be no improvement.

 

I see few, far too few, acknowledging the weaknesses or working to improve them, instead comfortably accepting the status quo. That's why I’m so glum.

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Reflections from the other day

The wind has the trees enthusiastically cheering today. Flags snap to an up-tempo beat. A murder of crows locate haven in a big fir tree’s lee alongside the walking path ahead. I approach. At a silent signal, they rise without cries. The wind’s sounds mask their wing noise. Almost all break for the street’s other side, momentarily forming a crow arch over the road. But a third find the wind’s stiffness too much and retreat into the pine’s coziness. The other two thirds seek shelter down between houses. One brave individual alights on the swaying telephone line over the street and makes a one note announcement.

I can’t blame the winds for my tumultuous thoughts. I usually walk and think, what will I read write? Who is on stage? Lights, please. Today, I go through the characters and situations without settling on a direction. I’m adrift with thoughts on our society and its violence. Then they came for me, I remember, thinking of how many hunker down without thought about America’s escalating gun violence. Most police victims, it’s said, deserved it, even it it sure looked like I'd be found guilty of murder if I did it. But then I'm not the police. They have an expanding different standard than me.

The police tell us because their victims were thugs, or high on drugs, or suspected of a crime. Even when it's the wrong person. Shoot now and ask questions later. The dead don't lie. Many times the police officers just feared for their lives from their victims, who, armed with a toy sword or toy gun, twelve years old, twenty years old, sometimes unarmed but on a cell phone or reaching for their pants, were still a threat to the fearful police, so fearful that officers don’t shoot just once but multiple times, hitting their victims in their arms, abdomen, head and chest, but often with many shots somehow landing in the backs of these people they feared. Or they taser the victims and put them into choke holds, ignoring their human protests that they can’t breathe, ignoring it when they fall unconscious, bent on protecting themselves and advancing justice.

It’s a real fact not an Internet fact with uncertain veracity, that an increasing number of blacks are being killed by the people paid to protect them, an affront to America's advertising campaign that we value life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, particularly that life one. Hard to be free and pursuing happiness from the morgues’ cold tables. I stand with them, the blacks and poors and others suffering these deaths. How can I enjoy my freedom when so many fellow citizens have their freedoms handcuffed with fear?

I remain amazed that the right to bear arms has managed to propel itself to the second most important right or privilege in America, the first being the right to turn a profit. Stunning how both of these have overturned Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We need first and foremost, apparently, to have guns. I guess being armed that does fit into the fearfuls’ psyche and their need for security above everything else, even above the right s of others to live.

 

We’re marking a solemn anniversary today. Well, no, not solemn. It was an act of war. Not really solemn. I guess some will say our solemn observances are over those who died, not over what was done when another nation attacked us over 70 years ago. Japan, the attacker, is now our staunch economic ally, just like the other enemies in that war, Germany and Italy. This is different from the communist cold war results with the Soviet Union and China. China emerged as an economic powerhouse and we see them as a continuing threat, ala Asimov's wonderful Foundation series. Russia emerged as a major power out of the Soviet Union's breakup and continue seeking more power, which bugs America, since we want all the power.

We weren't pleased when Japan attacked us and we vowed, Never Again. Despite that vow and our arsenal, some other group, pissed at what we’re doing to others and deciding to take us down, attacked us in 2001, sadly scaring us even more. So we live in fear, the most armed and deadly nation in the world, killing our own and declaring ourselves free. Meanwhile, the sniff tests are starting to say another revolution might be in the air in America. I wouldn't expect it to happen soon, but as more and more Americans sing about their poverty woes, and more importantly, have no way out because of the rising costs of education and the jobs moving overseas, the chances of violence would seem to increase. Isn't it the nature of empires to destroy themselves from within? The Powers, and we all know who that there are those with Powers who want more power, who want it all and don't believe others deserve anything because the others are lazier, have been reacting by applying more pressure. That's the best thing to do as pressure grows from inequality: apply more pressure. That's the American Maxim: if some is good, more must be better.

I wonder if there's a doomsday clock somewhere, ticking down toward midnight in America.

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Latest Comments

Stephen Evans A Transcendental Journey
24 September 2017
Thank you!
Monika Schott A Transcendental Journey
24 September 2017
This is so beautiful, Stephen. Transcending.
Rosy Cole A Full August
22 September 2017
I was probably less than average at sports, Sue, but did love tennis and netball and excelled at rou...
Stephen Evans A Transcendental Journey
21 September 2017
Thanks, Ken. I think you are right - it really helps to get out of your comfort zone to up your awar...
Ken Hartke A Transcendental Journey
21 September 2017
I enjoyed this. I used to live on a bluff above the Missouri River but I had to go elsewhere to beco...

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