Archive for July, 2010

Lucifer

July 30, 2010

 

  Before setting up her studio in Hot Springs, wife returned to site of a previous residency in west central Arkansas* to visit with the two horses that lived in the barn below the apartment in which the resident resided.  Fred and Molly.

  The situation is remote, hot, and dusty.  National Park Rangers visit only rarely and the horses thus largely must fend for themselves.  Pat them on the neck or rump, flies scatter as dust cloud erupts.  When he did appear, rider ranger made a big deal about showing them “who’s boss”.

  Wife bathed them regularly and provided exotic additions to their diet like apples and carrots.  Attendant snorts and vocalizations were more rich and varied than could have been imagined. Wherever they might be, they’d rush to greet her whenever she’d appear.  Which they did enthusiastically early in July even though it’d been several years since her time in that park.

  That reunion brought to her mind one at camp during the summer of her thirteenth year.  Early on she had developed blood poisoning so severe that she passed out and rode the ambulance to a hospital where she spent two weeks (out of eight).  No one from home was able to visit.  As she began to recover all she could think about was Lucifer.

  Lucifer was a horse that none would ride.  He frequently kicked other horses and, less frequently, people.  Not possessed of that knowledge however, she’d noticed him the first day because he made vigorously about in a ring all by himself.  She’d wondered, approached, he came right over, and accepted her strokes.

  Wouldn’t happen in this day and age, but camp let her try to ride that devil.  They had quickly developed a deep mutual understanding and she knew he’d be waiting for her return.  Upon her release they rode every day after which she’d brush him down and braid his mane.

  Last day at camp was race day.  Riders would take horses through a difficult and technical series of obstacles including thirteen jumps.  Some (senior level!) were to go down.  The audience included parents and nail biting staff.  War hero father grew more nervous than he’d been at Guadalcanal.

  Invigorated by the commotion and excitement, the bay’s nostrils flared and he foamed at the mouth.  When their turn came, the little girl (she’s only 5’4” now) leaned over and whispered in Lucifer’s ear “I’m a little scared.  Don’t throw me.  We’re going to be a team!”

  They won the whole dang thing.  

*cf 8/7/09

**Wife took me riding once in Utah.  Asked for “the ones with most spirit!”  Gulp.  She took off, mine followed.  I fell off and I’m here to tell you it’s a long way down.

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Unfinished Business

July 23, 2010

 

  Whenever I get bewildered or stuck, I like to look through Jung.  He once wrote: “Life is a luminous pause between two great mysteries which yet are one”.  And he spent most of his career assisting those in the second half of life figuring out how to incandesce.

Uh, perfect timing.

  “The more a man’s life is shaped by the collective norm, the greater is his individual immorality.”  Easy for him to say.  How does one dig deep, take risks, and still be a responsible member of this species?  I understand him to say that’s just it.  One has to will a way to be comfortable living in those questions.  “What work then, needs to be done?”

  Or put another way, Jung defined neurosis as “suffering in search of meaning”.  Or “it’s not so much that one has a complex, it’s that the complex has him.”  And should one, a parent, not feel like taking up this great challenge he/she “should be conscious of the fact that they themselves are the principal causes of neurosis in their children”.

  And it goes way back:  “Together the patient and I address ourselves to the 2,000,000-year-old man that is in all of us.  In the last analysis, most of our difficulties come from losing contact with our instincts, with the age-old unforgotten wisdom stored up in us.  And where do we make contact with this old man in us?  In our dreams.”

   Furthermore, I’m obviously interested in all aspects of neuroscience, its explication and promise.  But I don’t think that science alone will ever completely demystify the living of a life.      

  “Scientific materialism has merely introduced a new hypostasis…It has give another name to the supreme principle of reality and has assumed that this created a new thing and destroyed an old thing.  Whether you call the principle of existence “God”, “matter”, or anything else you like, you have created nothing; you have simply changed s symbol.”

  “The danger that faces us today is that the whole of reality will be replaced by words.  This accounts for a terrible lack of instinct in modern man, particularly the city dweller.  He lacks all contact with the life and breadth of nature.”

  I’m going outside.  Be right back.  Well,  maybe Monday…

Hot Springs

July 19, 2010

 

  Native Americans must have been amazed when they first came across the 143 degree hot springs in what is now south central Arkansas.  Should be no surprise that they imputed therapeutic properties thereto.  Choctaw introduced French trappers to the area in the 1700s and word spread.  After the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson sent the (subsequently unheralded and overshadowed) Dunbar and Hunter expedition to investigate.

  Their reports were widely circulated and the purported healing properties catalyzed great interest.  The Hot Springs’ reputation grew so that in 1832 the federal government set aside four sections of land as its first act in protection of a natural resource.  Luxurious bathhouses arose to rival Europe’s finest.  In 1921 the Hot Springs National Park was established.

  Popularity peaked during the war years when 1 million baths were given annually.  It was ironic therefore that advancements in medicine born of wartime necessity led to a rapid decline visits during the fifties.  The rise of the motor vacation and its attendant flexibility also carried away many erstwhile bathers.

  Today two bathhouses remain in operation and others have been similarly carefully refurbished and are in the process of being repurposed.  Bathhouse Row now imbues one with a magical sense of place and time.  My first view down its length immediately brought to mind the first panning shot of the Grand Ballroom of the Titanic in the eponymous film*.

  The Fordyce Bathhouse has become Park Headquarters and museum.  The Quapaw and Buckstaff remain in operation.  The Ozark reopened as the Hot Springs Museum of Contemporary Art.  Nearby burgeoning retirement communities and proximity of potential weekend vacationers from Houston, Dallas, and other major metro areas virtually guarantee that it is only a matter of time till Bathhouse Row assumes even greater new splendor.

 

  Hot Springs National Park is one of about half of America’s best ideas to host artist-in-residency programs, hence our visit.  My artist took up hers several weeks ago a Gulpha Gorge stone bungalow.  As expected, by the time I arrived, she had befriended nearly everyone, had explored nearly every corner, created a prodigious amount of work – pottery and watercolors, and provided children with the benefits of her talent and warm enthusiasm***.

*I was thus induced to attempt to pick out the theme of the movie on the guitar I’d brought along.  Thought I’d figured it out and asked family members to guess (wife in person and others via Skype).  Closest anyone guessed was son: “Mission Impossible?”  Me very talented.

**Photo at bottom is of the A-I-R with HSNP Superintendant Josie Fernandez.   

***She sent home an in situ self portrait which developed an ever greater Klimptian aura as my bachelorhood bore on.

Without A Trace

July 9, 2010

 

  With wife out of town, dog doesn’t get the amount of exercise to which he’s become accustomed.  He’s thirteen, slower than he used to be, but still just as curious, so I can’t take him on five mile perambulation that does wife and still get to work on time.

  So last Saturday he had plenty of energy and we set out.  Once he realized that we weren’t just going around the block, he became so enthusiastic that he grabbed the leash in his mouth and began to pull.

  Our route takes us down a hill, across a busy street, by a park, across another busy street, and thence to a park along the river.  All that way I keep the pressure on the leash (once he gave it back) and hew to the middle of the road.  Those two things usually keep him from doing his business in residential areas.

  We nosed through a few hissing geese, dodged some bikers, and thoroughly marked off our territory.  After a mile or so we got to the spot where, when it’s warm, we unleash him and let him jump in the river to cool off.  Which I did and he did.

  Oddly for a Labrador he’s not a great swimmer so I wasn’t surprised, at first, when he seemed to flounder a bit.  But then he coughed a few times, regurgitated a small bit, and then passed out.  He went completely limp and began to sink below the surface down into the murk.

  Horror stricken, I got to him just before he fell from view and was swept away in the strong current.  Cradling him in my arms I stumbled and we both went under.  Quickly regaining my footing I soon had his head above the surface and made for shore.

  The bank there is steep and rocky and I made it up with some difficulty.  I laid him down and could tell he was looking at me, though without raising his head.  All possible outcomes ran through my head, worst first.  What would I tell his true love?

  After about fifteen minutes he rolled from side to side a bit and after another quarter-hour was on his feet ready to go.  It sure felt like a miracle.   I was light on my feet even though my knee still needs something magic to happen. 

  Only problem between there and home then was the fact that all of the duty bags I’d stuffed in my shorts fell out when we fell in.  He went three times. Fortunately I’ve trained him to back into shrubbery when it is time to make a deposit and thus leave no obvious trace.  Uh, a visual one anyway.

  Bowl of cherries tasted mighty fine that morning.

*Painting above is “Ophelia” by Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais.  It hangs in the Tate.  Ophelia from Hamlet just after a branch broke on the tree into which she’d climbed, she fell into the brook below, and drowned.  Why that picture with this post?  Whenever the image of lifeless dog underwater surfaces in my brain I conjure up Ophelia as sort of a cerebral side step.

Yep, She’s Out Of Town Again…

July 2, 2010

   In his Once And Future King, T. H. White wrote: “Don’t ever let anybody teach you to think, Lance, it is the curse of the world”.  Ever feel like that?  Analysis paralysis.  Think too much and you invariably come up with the wrong answer.  Unfortunately my usual M.O..

  I’m not talking about working a problem – more like when the problem is working you.  The opposite of being in the ‘zone’, or in ‘flow’ – the term coined by researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi*.  So absorbed in a task or activity that there is no extraneous cerebration. 

  Take last week’s England v Germany game in the Bloemfontein-Free State Stadium.  It was clear that the lads were thinking too much.  The Germans floated through them like Luke Skywalker and the rebels through the forests on the moon of Endor at 500 kilometers per hour.  It was as if the English (and the trees) weren’t even there.

  Or take metaphysics.  How much mental energy has been spent, pain wrought, and lives lost trying to know the unknowable.  A famous Zen mondo illustrates another approach.  A samurai once asked Zen Master Hakuin what happened after death.  “How should I know” was his answer. The astounded samurai responded: “How should you know? You’re a Zen Master!!”  “Yes, but not a dead one” Hakuin replied.

  A personal example?  Well, thirty three years ago on this date I was at the start of a several day funk.  My heart told me that I should ask this one really cute girl to be my permanent roommate.  My head was certain that I ought to analyze every possible sequence of events from the hoped for positive response through to the end of time.  Finally, on July 4, in the rustic spot** pictured above, before that cold St Pauli Girl touched my lips, I went with the flow of my emotions.

  Fireworks ever since.  Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way.

* Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience, NY, Harper and Row, 1990.  Csikszentmihaly has written many interesting books.  Read my post of March 21, 2008 to hear about Talented Teens,  his study of what lead some identified as gifted to continue making the most of their talents throughout high school while many do not.

**Millsite Inn.  Ward, Colorado.