Pooh as Sacred Text

A few weeks ago, my friend Sheila gave me an article about reading Jane Eyre as a sacred text. The article—and the concept—intrigued me and I shared it with my spouse. He was equally intrigued, though not so much by the Jane Eyre aspect. Neither did I think I could read Jane Eyre as sacred, but might something else work in its place?

We considered The Annotated Alice and had even gone so far as to take it out and read the Pooh bookbeginning bits. And then one morning Hal referred to himself as “a bear of little brain,” and I thought, Pooh! If Winnie-the-Pooh can inspire Benjamin Hoff to write The Tao of Pooh, we figured it might hold some wisdom for us.

I think I have to call it an amazing experience (much like listening to Pink Floyd while watching the Wizard of Oz). We have found much to talk about and many relevancies to our relationship. We have gained some insights—about ourselves, each other, and our relationship. Here is an example from my perspective:

Piglet is afraid of encountering a Heffalump in the trap he set with Pooh, because said Heffalump might be Very Fierce with Pigs and Bears.

Wouldn’t it be better to pretend that he had a headache, and couldn’t go up to the Six Pine Trees this morning? But then suppose that it was a very fine day, and there was no Heffalump in the trap, here he would be, in bed all morning, simply wasting his time for nothing. What should he do?

This is how I feel when I am afraid of something. I just want to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head. More often than not the feared thing doesn’t come about. We don’t often talk about our fears and how we respond to them, and I found it enlightening.

At the end of that same chapter, Piglet was so ashamed of himself that he ran home and went to bed, and this led us to talk about friendship and love and loyalties.

After reading the chapter where Pooh and Piglet are tracking Woozles (and possibly a Wizzle), Hal said, “He who follows his own footsteps is chasing himself.” Sounds like something you’d find inside a fortune cookie, and we talked about that for a bit.

And then of course there are the purely funny parts (either I am growing more fond of Pooh as I read, or the book gets funnier as it progresses). My first favorite passage:

‘Help, help!’ cried Piglet, ‘a Heffalump, a Horrible Heffalump!’ and he scampered off as hard as he could, still crying out, ‘Help, help, a Herrible Hoffalump! Hoff, Hoff, a Hellible Horralump! Holl, Holl, a Hoffable Hellerump!’

Pooh and PigletWe are reading it a chapter at a time. We each read the chapter separately, giving it serious thought, and then we discuss what we got out of it—about our relationship, about each other, about ourselves. Already we’ve decided to read The House At Pooh Corner next.

And since Hal’s never done the Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon/Wizard of Oz thing, we’re going to do that too.

Summer Bounty

My cell phone broke yesterday. I needed to make a phone call (to complain about my broken cell phone) but when I went to the land line it was not functioning either. It never rains but it pours. So I moseyed over to the T-Mobile store (I will jump ship if they merge with ComCast or some other outfit, but for now I still like their excellent customer service).

I decided to step a little further into the 21st century and got a smart phone to replace my flip phone. I did this partly because it’s nice to be able to check email on your phone in a pinch (though I still haven’t figured out how to do that), but mostly so I could take pictures to post on this blog.

We’re now in the throes of summer, and the plants are bursting with color. The butterfly weed BWeedthat I planted last summer is in blazing orange glory, and it’s attracting butterflies like crazy. Mostly monarchs (I’ve never seen so many monarchs as I have this year, and the butterfly weed is right next to the swamp milkweed, which they are massively attracted to) but in the last few days, it’s also been frequented by tiger swallowtail butterflies. And this morning, a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird stopped by to investigate! (No picture of that, I’m sorry to say. So far I’m sticking with plants, which are relatively stationary.)

The swamp milkweed is getting its seedpods, though they aren’t anywhere near opening. I also noticed big pods on the butterfly weed, which I hadn’t noticed before. I will watch these along with the milkweed pods to see what they do.

Chamomile2Attracting slightly smaller animal life are the calendula and chamomile flowers. I’ve been drying chamomile for the last few weeks and hope to have enough to last me through the winter. I’ve also realized that I need to dry some yarrow for the winter months, now that I’m finding so many uses for it (astringent, disinfectant, cold and flu, and it stops bleeding).

Most importantly, the hops are coming in! I use hops primarily as a sleep aid, and several of myhops friends have found them quite useful. Hops are beautiful plants. Just now the flowers (called strobiles) are green. As they mature they will turn golden and papery. They are best harvested when they are all sticky and resiny (before they completely dry out), and they have a most wonderful smell—kind of citrus, but with some other enticing aroma I can’t quite put my finger on.

This is simply the best time of year (you may hear this again in the fall, and then perhaps again in the spring, and you may even hear a variation on it in the winter—I am very fickle that way). And the animals! This morning there was a baby rabbit in the front yard, and yesterday I saw a juvenile Baltimore Oriole in the boulevard tree. My yard has been filled with baby everything: baby squirrels, baby robins, baby cardinals, baby chipmunks, even the baby starlings are fun to watch. (I hope to graduate to animal pictures when I develop a little finesse.)

Cheers to summer!

Sadness

I seem to cry at the drop of a hat these days. This morning, it was this passage, an excerpt of a speech by Winston Churchill, in No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin:

We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, weChurchill shall fight in the seas and oceans . . . we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle until, in God’s good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

This was in 1940, just after the evacuation of Dunkirk.

KearnsNo Ordinary Time is primarily the story of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the home front in World War II, but we get a bit of the goings on in other parts of the world. As usual, Goodwin’s writing draws you in, almost making you feel like you’re living in the early 1940s. It will almost certainly make the year’s top 10, and I say this even though I have read only 80 of its 759 pages.

It makes me want to read 20 more books about the Roosevelts, World War II, and Winston Churchill. However, in a huge show of restraint, I will refrain from buying any until I’ve finished my current tome.

Anti-government Fervor

We were invited to a small dinner party last weekend, and the conversation wandered into politics and how large swaths of both people and parties in the United States as well as Canada are becoming anti-government.

In particular, they are against paying taxes. Yet as one of the guys seated at the table said of his extended (and extensive) conservative farming family, “they never got a government check that they turned down.”

Even Michelle Bachmann received more than a quarter of a million dollars in farm subsidies. And of course she raised many foster children which the government reimburses to the tune of thousands of dollars a year (per child). Note I am not saying foster parents should not get reimbursed by the government, but I do wonder why it is that so many stridently ardent anti-government types have fed so very thoroughly at the government troughs.

When did it become patriotic to be anti-government? Isn’t that the very position that used to be considered traitorous to one’s country? Mind you, I’m not talking about disagreeing with government or speaking up to change things, I’m talking about those people who are saying that government is bad, perhaps even evil.

Interestingly enough, many of them work for government (e.g., Michelle Bachmann, see note above). They think it a bad use of tax dollars for things like unemployment benefits, renewable energy, and food stamps, but a good use of tax dollars for things like subsidies to big oil companies (billions of dollars a year) and agribusiness (also billions of dollars a year).

I like my tax dollars going for unemployment benefits and food stamps. I’m also partial to streets and roads, sidewalks, schools and the public education system, libraries, bridges, sewers, bike lanes, and parks. Clean drinking water. Healthy lakes.

I’m less fond of my tax dollars going to big oil and the military. The military accounts for more than half (55%) of our discretionary spending and at least an additional 4% of mandatory funding (through veterans’ benefits). I’m not saying we shouldn’t have a military, but I do think our military is bloated and consumes far too many resources.

Discretionary spending

So, back to anti-government. Are these people against roads and clean water? Or do they want us to go back to the days of raw sewage in the streets? Are they against public schools? Do they want to close our public parks and libraries?

These anti-government people: Aren’t they, for the most part, wishing themselves away?

And if they believe that government is so bad and evil, why don’t they get out? Then maybe we can start to fix what they are so determined to break and destroy.

Book Time

The reading theme for August is time. A cornucopia! My shelves runneth over! All sectorsHawking 2? contribute equally this month—nonfiction, poetry, and fiction.

I have to admit I front-loaded this one a bit. I started Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time in late July. I wanted to give myself plenty of time because I had tried to read it before and found it difficult. But this time I’m understanding a goodly bit of it (certainly not all of it) and am plodding through at a chapter a day. I did not expect Stephen Hawking to have a sense of humor, and he writes with exclamation marks! This is a man who so loves physics you can feel his glee. I am nearly halfway through, and now I am thinking I need to read something to find out what’s happened in the last 25 years. I bought this book 25 years ago!

Usually I only read one nonfiction, one fiction, and one poetry book at a time, but since I was reading only one chapter of Hawking per day, I needed more nonfiction, so I picked Armstrong bookup Sigurd F. Olson’s Of Time and Place, which I finished this morning. So I sought another book to accompany Hawking, and settled on Slow Love, by Dominique Browning (basically a treatise on slow living). But that wasn’t quite enough, so I’ve also picked up In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis, by Karen Armstrong. I love Karen Armstrong—a religion scholar of the highest order. I am only to page 6, but already I found this: Reading the Bible “demands the same kind of meditative and intuitive attention that we give to a poem.” I love even just thinking about reading the Bible that way. A poem says something different every time you read it.

Fiction has been lower on my radar. I finished Out of Time, a fantasy novel that I didn’t much care for, and have just started Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin. I definitely want to read Blackout, by Connie Willis—a time travel novel of 2060 and World War II. Then perhaps The Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler.

Poetry is crazy fun for the time theme. I just yesterday finished The Time Tree, by Huu Thinh (which I liked a lot) and jumped right into Quick, Now, Always by Mark Irwin. And I have already chosen the poetry book I want to read next: When It Came Time, by Jeri McCormick. But look at all the titles with their siren call:

  • Ninety-five Nights of Listening
  • Sleeping Late on Judgment Day 
  • Time’s Power
  • The Last Usable Hour
  • Time & Money
  • Wait
  • Why I Wake Early
  • A Perfect Time
  • Timepiece
  • Rush Hour
  • Longing
  • The Arrival of the Future

The possibilities seem almost endless, and within the timeframe of a month they are; so I am very much looking forward to my August of endless poetry possibilities (this did not happen with last month’s theme of summer vacation).

KearnsEvery time I walk the river I am reminded of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), who built the trail through the river valley. This makes me think of FDR. So for the past several months I’ve had thoughts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt cross my mind on a frequent basis, while Eleanor has been crossing my path in the form of “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

It’s time to learn more about both. After I finish my nonfiction in progress, I am going to read No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

I think. But this month is so rich in possibilities, the uncertainty principle shines in all its glory. I either will, or I won’t.

July Reprise

July is usually the hottest month in Minnesota, but this July was pleasantly mild, with very few really hot days. This made for a good mix of hanging out on the front porch reading and puttering about in the garden.

I read 16 books in July, mostly fiction (6) and poetry (6). But the two best books of the month were nonfiction (and both will likely make my Best Books of 2014 list—these are books I read in 2014, not books published in 2014).

Sweet CornMy favorite favorite, and one that will likely be in the top five at the end of the year, was Turn Here Sweet Corn, by Atina Diffley. This is the story of the Gardens of Eagan, a local organic farm in Dakota County (one of the counties in the Twin Cities metro area). I loved it for the local angle, of course, but I would have loved it regardless. Diffley is a good writer and passionate about soil, land, nature, and organic produce. She communes with nature. She is practically a force of nature herself. Who else could (or would) take on the Koch Brothers?

After losing their land to development in Eagan, Gardens of Eagan relocated to nearby Eureka. Just after they had really gotten established in their new location, they received notice that the Koch Brothers were planning an oil pipeline right through their prime fields, including their prized kale field. Eminent domain. Pipeline companies don’t change routes. Diffley says:

Maybe it is historically true that pipeline companies don’t change routes for landowners. But this time they have picked the wrong plant, on the wrong farm, the wrong woman, and the wrong community.

The Diffleys won. But that is only a small part of the book. There is so much here, I just want everyone to read it. A high recommend!

MuirThe second excellent book of July was My First Summer in the Sierra, by John Muir. This is a book I bought 25 years ago, June 19, 1989, and am only now getting around to reading. It was worth the wait. Immerse yourself in love of nature and mountains and an insatiable curiosity, all wrapped around a poet’s heart. “Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.”

I mentioned the garden. We had a good raspberry crop this year, and I’ve harvested currants and a few cucumbers and tomatoes (I only have two of each plant). I’ve also got basil, thyme, rosemary, chamomile, calendula, and lemon balm. I’m drying the chamomile and calendula flowers, and have used the lemon balm to make an insect repellant (it’s still macerating in witch hazel, but I will let you know if it’s even remotely effective).

Also in the herbal world, I put up a tincture of sage (which will be useful primarily for night sweats, but also cold and flu).

In the writing world, I launched the Obama postcard project (wherein I send him a postcard each week) and July being so long resulted in five postcards to Obama. Here is the first one: Dear President Obama, Earned income is taxed at higher rates than unearned income. Doesn’t this seem wrong? Or even backwards?

I’ve also continued my regular haiku project—for the 9th month! A lot of them reflect the beautiful weather:

a gorgeous cool day
    outdoor chores are a pleasure
clipping the wild trees

Some of them focus on the explosion of life that is July:

robin convention
    baby squirrels and rabbits
I watch for hours

I have never seen so many monarch butterflies as I have this year. And I have seen two caterpillarmonarch caterpillars on my swamp milkweed and I’m absolutely thrilled. I don’t think I saw but one monarch butterfly last year, and this year I see them almost daily! Also, a beautiful yellow swallowtail butterfly has been frequenting the front yard. Is it possible to see a butterfly and not smile?

On the activist front, I’ve been contacting my representatives, talking to others, and blogging about finding the $1.1 million needed for bird-safe glass for the new Vikings stadium that’s going up in east Minneapolis (a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River Flyway, a major route through North America for migrating birds, including our own state bird, the Common Loon).loon

I also got together with a lot of extroverts this month, and it has led to a very spirited discussion with my introvert friend Sheila about the dynamics of conversation. It seems like the ideal conversation between two people would be 50/50, each contributing about half. But with my extrovert friends, I often find myself with 20% of the conversation. I just can’t find a place to interject. And if I try, they just keep talking. I wonder if they would say an ideal conversation is them talking 80% of the time, or if 50% is a goal they’re working toward, or perhaps they think they talk 50% of the time.

Any extroverts out there?