Remember the cool breeze of the mountains and the garlands of flowers that line up the market stalls.

Remember the second month of the year.  It was an ordinary month but felt like a leap year.

Remember the big picture even with eyes closed.

 It’s everlasting.

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Jack the Talking Crow and Other Tales

On Surviving School and Learning a Little Along the Way -- Pardon my self-indulgence. It’s Funny how things come back to you while you are doing something else. I was writing on an entirely different topic when I took a turn and ended up here. I guess sometimes things have to break out of your head and land on paper. This is a rambling autobiographical account of my early days in elementary school back in the “Leave it to Beaver” era.


I was one of those students that, if in elementary school today, would be spending quality time with the school psychologist and probably diagnosed as having some degree of attention deficit disorder.  Somehow I learned that putting words on paper was fulfilling at this early age. Kids at this age are looking for something that they excelled at and I was a champion reader. I read early and often so I became familiar with how ideas were expressed on paper. Conversation was sporadic and disjointed but when an idea was committed to paper it had to be clear and complete. I can actually remember learning about the period and experiencing one of those light-bulb moments when it became clear that when someone was trying to communicate an idea they had to do it before the period showed up. Periods and commas did not just appear at random.  I also figured out that before you can really be a writer you need to have something to write about. Luckily, there was so much going on in my world that the normal school work of arithmetic and cursive writing were an intrusion.

In first grade we had Jack the talking crow who would come and sit on our class window sill and entertain the kids and aggravate the teacher. The windows were at ground level and Jack would just walk up, like crows do, and peer in the window. If it was warm and the windows were open he would hop in and walk up and down the window sill. Jack was wild and big and the girls were terrified -- which made his visits to first grade so much more enjoyable. The school legend was that Jack had been captured by a neighborhood ne'er-do-well and had his tongue split and somehow he learned to talk. We hung on every word but he wasn't much of a conversationalist.  My first grade teacher went nuts (literally) and had to leave about two-thirds of the way through the school year. Maybe Jack had something to do with it.  We could see it coming; she had been going downhill for a while and the Christmas vacation must have sent her over the edge. She hung on for a few weeks but eventually she “went to Chicago”.   As a result, we were parceled out to other classes like refugees for the last few months of the school year. Each classroom develops a culture after a few months so we were alien beings in our new surroundings and Jack the Crow couldn’t seem to find us. The other kids were crow-deprived and had no experiences with Jack and figured we were as crazy as our old teacher.

In second grade my teacher was a rookie straight out of Little Rock, Arkansas. We only understood about half of what she said (I swan!). We liked her mostly due to the novelty of her approach to English. We all sounded like southern aristocracy after a couple months. She seemed very young even to us. She couldn’t have been over twenty-five.  We liked her a lot. Since we had more tenure at the school than she did we could stretch the rules and she didn't know any better.

The novelty of second grade got even better because my school caught fire and burned down during the Christmas vacation. The students were farmed out to local church basements where tables and a few salvaged desks were arranged around portable blackboards.  I actually had nothing to do with the fire but I recall having my picture taken in a triumphant pose next to the smoking ruins. I suspect that there were a lot of similar pictures of other kids. They said it was faulty wiring up in the attic that started the fire. The school was old and decrepit but it was better than the church basements we had to report to in January.  The teachers and students struggled to keep things moving ahead but conditions were terrible.

Those years spent in the church basements I count as my missing years.  I spent most of my time concealed behind the blackboard copying lessons that everyone else copied ten minutes earlier. I was too busy at the time but was expected to catch up and to this day I’m still running about ten minutes behind. Sometimes the blackboards flipped so I was back there trying to copy the lesson upside down. I was right side up…the lesson wasn’t.  Sometimes there were several of us back there and it was great fun until the teacher figured it out. Third grade was a total loss. We were in the dungeon at the local Missionary Baptist Church. I didn't know churches had dungeons and if they did I was sure that mine, being a semi-rural, hard-rock Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, would have a doozy plus some torture equipment. But my experience among the Baptists was bleak and foreboding. I remember it as dark with bare light bulbs and no windows and I really needed windows. My third grade teacher was a hatchet-faced lady who was always in a bad mood. I have to give the teachers credit because the working conditions were terrible and I'm sure (now, being much older) that they tried very hard to keep us on track. Some of our text books were water damaged and smelled of smoke so no one even wanted to touch them. Everything was makeshift.  In third grade I don't even recall having recess.

The sky opened in fourth grade. We were no longer in a church basement but were in a funny looking asbestos cardboard type of building. All of the exterior walls were asbestos. It had lots of windows and was full of all kinds of cool stuff like bird nests and hornet nests and fossils and some real stuffed animals…never mind the asbestos. We had class pets and terrariums and pen pals. This was heaven and the teacher was an angel. I have friends from that period who stayed in contact with that teacher well into adulthood. I was finally inspired to write what was bouncing around in my head and some of it was good. My life behind the blackboard ended and I was welcomed with open arms back into the society of fourth graders.

As luck would have it, they rebuilt the school and we finally moved back in at the start of fifth grade. This was my first male teacher. I didn’t know they came in that variety.  Up until this time I figured all teachers were women...except for the music teacher who was a little bit odd and peevish and was easily provoked into spasms of rage.

The new school was a disappointment as it looked just like the old school. Our teacher was a part-time Baptist minister whose day job was trying to teach something, anything, to ten year olds. I was a little wary of the Baptist minister connection because I still had haunting memories of third grade. As it turned out, he mostly enjoyed having the little girls sit on his lap.  The boys were free to do anything that wasn't too disruptive. I was a budding scholar by this time and was beginning to get the idea that if I was going to learn anything useful I was going to have to teach myself. Unfortunately, my interests didn't always coincide with the classroom material. I would write letters and ask people to send me information. I wrote to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and got a large bundle of material on King Tut, Luxor and Giza. My parents had an old Crosley radio with a shortwave band that I used to listen to English language broadcasts from Paris and (God forbid!!) Moscow. I wrote off to the Paris broadcasters and received a bundle of information and ended up on their mailing list for several years. What they sent was very technical and way over my head but it was still cool getting mail from France. I had a pen pal in England and we sent letters back and forth for a couple years.

This was 1957 and the floodgates had opened and we didn't have time for this mundane school stuff. Everything was cool. Cars had huge fins and soon the Edsel was introduced. Elvis was on the television...or at least his upper half. This was the International Geophysical Year for heaven's sake! Sputnik was flying around overhead. I managed to be sick (wink, wink) the day the USA tried to launch our Vanguard rocket in an attempt to catch up to the Soviets. I was tuned in on the old Crosley when they launched it and the sucker blew up on the launch pad. I was mortified because I was sure I could hear Sputnik’s little beep-beep on the shortwave laughing at us.    I remember when a kid smuggled the first transistor radio into school and we had to attach the wire aerial to a chain link fence in the schoolyard to pick up anything and then you could only barely hear it. We still had a classroom schedule but it was often interrupted by TB patch tests, fire drills, tornado drills and atomic bomb drills.  This was the year I joined the school band.

My band career was relatively short lived. I struggled with the clarinet for two years. We still had the same old music teacher and he served as our band director. He was even more high-strung when working with the school band. His nerves were shot and he was beginning to hold grudges. If you did something wrong you were on his list forever. We only performed one piece of music,  the "Our Director March" by F. E. Bigelow. We made no attempt to learn anything else and I can still hear it in my head. Even at the Christmas assembly we played the Our Director March. One day I managed to get tangled up in several music stands and caused a racket and the music teacher suffered a melt-down. I had apparently been on his list for some time already and this was the last straw. We were both yelling and somewhere along the way I told him what he could do with the clarinet. That was the end of my music career.

In my elementary school, sixth grade was the “senior” class. The teacher that year was a nice lady with hairy arms (as I remember it) who meant well but had no idea what was going on in class…or should I say out of class.  All the boys seemed to have weak bladders that year and we tended to congregate, one by one, in the boys’ bathroom several times a day. Our classroom and the bathrooms were on the second floor. If one was so inclined, one could climb out the boys’ bathroom window and walk sideways on the ledge, flat against the brick wall of the building, and peek into the girls’ bathroom (much to the delight of any of the girls who happened to be there). One could also go the other direction and peek into the classroom window.  I’m not sure what the local neighbors thought about kids being on the second floor ledge during class time but they apparently never called the school to report it. At one point the teacher noticed that most of the boys were missing and had been gone for quite a while. She decided to investigate and stormed into the boys’ bathroom.  As eleven year olds, we were scandalized that she would dare to enter this male sanctuary. In spite of our protests, we were frog-marched back to class…all of us except for the kid out on the ledge.  It never occurred to her that someone would be out there. That episode put a damper on our ledge walking for a while. We had one kid who would still occasionally spend time on the ledge but most of us found other diversions.  We had to get serious because we were heading to Junior High!

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The Facebook Golem Or The Man On The Street



 I have nothing against other people’s opinions, sometimes  I even change my mind based on what I hear. But I would like to choose where, and when to hear or read them.


In the past I could think of two main examples when those opinions were not welcome. First, on the evening news when reporters chose to spend a good part of the program on interviewing  “the man/woman on the street.”  I guess the rationale was that their opinions were representative of  most people. I always preferred to hear the opinions of experts in the field.


The second  occasion happened when during  the questions and answers session after a formal lecture, some people in the audience mistook that time to be an opportunity to voice their opinions rather than to ask for those of the speaker.


Now because of the war in Gaza I can add  Facebook to the  list of unwelcome opinions


Until recently I was an active user of Facebook and enjoyed reading about my friends’ life. Facebook for me was exactly what Mark Zuckerberg meant it to be: a social network. I didn’t know the political opinions of most of my friends and never requested new  friendships based on people’s political inclinations. Yet,  I didn’t mind reading  my friends’ opinions  about those subjects as well.


However, with the war, many people started sharing and promoting those  political views to which they subscribe. For me  it means that the social media stopped being social. I should have known that, what is Facebook if not the man on the street in his contemporary attire?  While I like my friends and used to look forward to hearing about the different aspects of their lives, now I dread Facebook and it has lost its appeal.



I hear that this war is the war of the social media. My friends are civilized people, their posts may be  disturbing, yet they are never offensive. But  our activity on Facebook does not represent what is out there  in other parts of the social media. I guess we are not the "real man of the street" of Facebook, where I was exposed to horrible posts  full of violence and hatred. It is scary.


Several months ago I wrote about the benefits of  Facebook.as a  big bazaar where treasures could be found .  




But now I realize that the big unpredictable bazaar has become a Golem, that unintelligent creature who was commanded to perform a task, but became enormous, uncooperative and ultimately out of control. There is evidence everywhere, and not only in Israel, of the damages created by the Facebook Golem.

I wonder if it is too late to stop it. In one version of the Golem story the rabbi who created him had to resort to trickery to deactivate it, whereupon the Golem crumbled upon its creator and crushed him.


I sincerely hope that we are not looking at a similar future. 

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Where The Lilies Blow



'I was vowed to liberty. Men were to be as gods, and earth as heaven.' Robert Browning.


Ever since Eve was seduced by the serpent while Adam looked on, last Friday was it? - or Tuesday? - I forget, her children have been plagued by a desire to return to the idyll of Eden and to innocence.

There, everything was of a piece. Time was timeless. Language was the inspired communication of all the senses at once. Body, mind and spirit were entwined in a joyous interface that set the scene for success and happiness in all undertakings, and the slip between cup and lip, so to speak, was unknown.

No Decalogue was yet devised to keep our primogenitors address-tagged and mindful of their true home. (Darwin still has a place.) There were no Fauvists, Cubists or Pre-Raphaelites, no practitioners of the Impressionist and Expressionist schools. There was no Canova, Bernini or Michelangelo to beguile them with petrified ghosts of immortality. There was no call for Shakespeare, Ibsen, Tolstoy or Salinger to spin their deep-textured tales and pour wisdom into deafened ears. Furthermore, and a searing index of how consummate their bliss, there was not the faintest need of Mozart and Beethoven, Bach, John Tavener or Bose Ltd!

Adam and his spouse were engulfed in a state of being that naturally incorporated surround sound; they were living the vision. And what a vision it was! A multi-dimensional world of rainbows and efflorescence, abundant fruit and gem-paved pathways, and everything exuding the same radiant energy.

The beginning was a golden time. The tenants of the Garden were as free as air. Or birds. Or fish. Or snow leopards. Or forest gazelles. They could soar with the eagle and dive with the dolphins, interpret the sonar vibrations of the seas, the glistening tick of the cricket in the meadow and the chirrup of the wren in the hedgerows. They could call constellations into being, just for the wonder of it, and dissolve themselves in the spectral colours of a raindrop.

No delight they could imagine was denied them. But there was just one proviso to keep all this in place. The tree at the heart of the Garden was out of bounds. Its pendulous crop, glowing and gilded, must be ignored. That seemed a small price to pay, for Adam and Eve did not yet know how to covet.


 All was well, until one day, Eve chanced to walk where the lilies blow. They bloomed near water cascading into a rockpool that was dappled with sunlight and shaded by the mysterious Tree. There she lingered, caught up in the Music of the Spheres, when the breath was suddenly snatched from her throat. The first frown etched her features. A stifled note was struck. A sibilant note that crept and wound and bound the sound, pinning the Music to staves from which it was impossible to fly. A breeze whispered across the surface of the water, disturbing it with a pattern like angels' wings and seemed to speak of other presences.

At that moment, Eve caught sight of the golden snake coiled amiably about the branches, peering between the luscious globes of fruit. He observed her, smiling, and her heart, which had not learnt to fear, did not recoil.

“Come eat,” said the snake, “and you will see what you are missing. You will become as wise as God. The husband who gazes in adoration upon your being will know that you are beautiful and to be forever desired.”

Eve looked down at her reflection and saw that she was indeed beautiful and wished the angels' wings away so that her image was less blurred. She stretched to the highest place her arm could reach and plucked the fruit and bit into its juicy pulp and savoured it.

“Adam, taste, oh taste,” she cried, “this fruit has the most succulent flesh of all.”

“Then we may eat and not sicken?”

He took and ate and it was indeed delicious. The pair were beside themselves with ecstasy to have penetrated the mind of God. They could be in control of their own destiny without let or hindrance. How impoverished seemed the paths of humility which required them to be beholden to their Creator, trusting him like a parent.

Soon the sun began to set, the shadows of evening gathered and the air grew chill. The couple knew that they were naked and, of themselves, without sustenance. Then they heard the footfall of the Lord God upon the stepping stones and were filled with dismay. The spirit of Nemesis stalked them. The lustre was fading fast and the Garden, though hauntingly beautiful, was suffused with a knowledge of blight.

The Lord God was as greatly displeased as he was disappointed. He seemed to have taken on their own fearsome aspect. And still he was mightier than they.

“I gave you the gift of free will, but for one thing. I charged you not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, lest you lose sight of your heritage. Sadly, you have disobeyed. Go, then, and find your own way. Man, dig for your supper as the serpent bites the dust, dig though the elements may conspire against you. Work out your salvation by your own toil. Woman, labour, bear the pangs of Creation in your own body. This is what you have elected.”

The couple's sorrow was profound, so that the Lord God had pity on them.

“Your free will I do not withdraw. Go and do it your way. But whenever you turn to me in distress, I will deliver you. Wrath shall become mercy until many things have come to pass and Heaven is restored.”

He pointed to the horizon beyond the Gates and ushered them out of the Garden, into the damp and the cold, to trudge the desert, looking for this oasis and that, tilling and sowing and reaping, tiring and begetting and striving. When they turned and looked back, there were guardian angels at each entrance armed with flaming swords and none could enter without a key.

All too quickly amnesia set in. And that, perhaps, was a mercy in itself. The memory of possession would have been too overwhelming, the agony of longing for paradise too acute, the remorse too burdensome to carry in the throes of all that must in future be endured.

But all was not to be lost. The where and when and why are gone, but Adam's children know that there is somewhere they belong, in a realm where peace and joy rule and there is no currency of having and getting. Sometimes the soul flashes with recognition, the scintilla of dew upon a rose, the lark song as the streaming sun rises and floods the opal sea with molten fire; the icon, idol and image that are inanimate conceits but yet speak of what once was and still might be again if only the cipher could be decoded, or the shifting formula adjusted this way or that.

Princes and Presidents have not discovered it. Tyrants have mocked it and tried to appropriate their empires by force. Everywhere men and women are in chains, no matter the colour of their skin, or their class or creed. They are pawns of their masters, of their régimes, their bankers, their inner gods, their dogmas. They are hooked on the biochemistry that will keep them forgetting. They are slaves to the lottery, supposing it can restore for them the kingdom of happiness.

The tragedy is that since the great Fall, wholeness has fragmented. Body, mind and spirit have come adrift from each other. The psyche is forced to seek consolation from its dreams and to cling to Hope, its guiding star.

Yet a key still remains under the lily-pot of innocence. It is the lost virtue of humility that admits we are not God. We need our Heavenly Father upon whom to rely in all our vagaries, who is willing to pour out upon us more blessings than we know how to ask for.

For me, this is the essence of freedom.

What we sacrifice is the yearning for what we think will make us happy: what we gain is what we truly need and much more besides.



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Latest Comments

Ken Hartke The Architecture of Trees
20 March 2018
To marvel is to live...even at the engineering of a lowly dandelion. Marvel mar·vel /ˈmärvəl/ verb:...
Rosy Cole The Architecture of Trees
20 March 2018
Beautiful. We labour under the misconception that all knowledge passes through consciousness.
Stephen Evans Sedona: A Serendipitous Journey
18 March 2018
Your quote of "I waited for the Lord" struck a chord with me, but I couldn't think why until I remem...
Rosy Cole Sedona: A Serendipitous Journey
17 March 2018
Ken, we shall look forward very much to hearing about your travels! :-)
Rosy Cole Sedona: A Serendipitous Journey
17 March 2018
Certainly, I've experienced some serendipitous revelations, often when dog-walking in the country an...

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