Friday, May 30, 2008

eroding monuments

into this desolate land

filled with crumbling rocks

and ancient memories of glory..........

Painting with out-of-focus camera

Available light, 2 pixel digital. Up at 3 AM for a drink of water. Withdraw camera from sewing machine drawer under computer, and compose. Try several shots of knives and grapfruit. Flash, then no flash,
as above. Much more interesting to me. Seeking a look, playing with brightness and contrast, and cropping...........


To cut a grapefruit?
High carbon old blade
kept sharp with gentle drawings
through electric knife sharpener
On the old blade
at the heft
is stamped
"Geneva Tempered,
Hi-Carbon USA"
and a likewise stamped fine impression
of two metal crafters
working with clamp and hammer
at an anvil;
To easily cut one of these
one has only to draw the knife
over it
with little pressure
and it is halved;
That is sharp !

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

They were here, once.......

by Olivia Judson
Opinion: New York Times
Releasing a Carrier Pigeon (extinct)
(photo from SR News archive)

May 27, 2008, 11:00 pm
Musings Inspired By a Quagga

The Harpy eagle, Panama’s national bird, is an endangered species due mainly to poaching and to the destruction of the rain forests in Central and South America where it inhabits. (Credit: Elmer Martinez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)
The hall is hushed, like a church. No one else is here. The only sound is the clicking of the heels of my shoes. I walk up and down, looking at the animals. They make no noise, for they are dead.
Many of them are also gone. Like the quagga, a kind of zebra from southern Africa, which was hunted to extinction in the 19th century. It stares at me from behind glass. I stare back. It has a zebra’s face and neck, but lacks stripes on its torso, which is a dusky gray. Zookeepers said that the quagga was more docile than other zebras; but even in zoos there are none today.
A few glass cases later, I come to the O’ahu O’o’, a small, pretty bird from the forests of the Hawaiian island of O’ahu. A living specimen has not been seen since 1837. I pause to wonder about its mating display. Further on, there’s the desert bandicoot, a tiny creature with huge ears and kangaroo feet that had vanished from Australia by 1907. And now I’m gazing at the dark flying fox, a fruit bat from the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and Réunion. In the 1730s it was so abundant it was considered for commercial exploitation (the making of oil); by 1880 it had gone.
Here, at the natural history museum in Paris, in the hall of the endangered and the recently extinct, the vanishing and the vanished, it’s poignant to see these creatures. To put a few faces to the names, to visit a handful of representatives from the dreary and numbing statistics of forests felled and oceans over-fished.
Extinction is so much a part of today’s cultural background — this species endangered, that habitat lost, save the whale, save the rhino, save the rainforest — that it’s strange to think that as little as 200 years ago, most people didn’t think extinction was possible. The very idea was an affront to the Creator: it suggested imperfection and incompleteness in the original design of the world. So even once it became accepted that fossils had been formed from living beings — which itself took some time — most people supposed that the corresponding organisms were still alive, somewhere, awaiting discovery.
But in the last years of the 18th century and the first decade of the 19th, the great French anatomist Georges Cuvier made a study of the fossil bones of enormous animals — giant ground sloths, and extinct elephants like mammoths and mastodons. Some of the giant ground sloths reached 6 meters (almost 20 feet) long. The bones and teeth of mammoths and mastodons showed that they were clearly distinct from living elephants.
Cuvier argued that such creatures could not correspond to anything currently alive: if animals that big were still blundering around, they’d be known about. It was only then, in the years after he presented and published his work, that the reality of extinction in the history of life became recognized and accepted.
Two hundred years later, we are, perhaps, causing a series of extinctions on a scale that hasn’t been seen since an asteroid smashed into the planet 65 million years ago, and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Well, so what if we are? From the Earth’s point of view, it doesn’t matter. Just as the emergence of new species is part of evolution, so is extinction. Most of the species that have ever lived are now extinct. Indeed, most species don’t last more than 10 million years or so anyway. The planet has already seen five mass extinctions — episodes of extinction where the rate of species vanishing is much, much higher than usual. During a typical mass extinction, more than 65 percent of species may disappear. The one that polished off the dinosaurs was by no means the most spectacular: 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, 90 percent of species — including saber-toothed reptiles — were wiped out. (The causes are not completely clear, though the initial trigger may have been a series of gigantic volcanic eruptions. Nor do we understand why certain species survive a mass extinction, and others don’t.)
Moreover, each mass extinction has been followed by a pulse of fresh evolutionary change: large numbers of new forms appear. The reason is that before the mass extinction, most niches are occupied — a situation that typically prevents radical changes. Afterwards, many niches are empty and available for re-occupation — which promotes rapid change. (This is why new islands and lakes are always sites of rapid evolution and invention: the few animals and plants that arrive rapidly evolve to fill the various empty niches. Think of the Hawaiian islands, the Galapagos, New Zealand or Madagascar, each of which has — or had, until we got there — a variety of unique animals and plants.)
Taking the long view, then, the extinctions we are causing may open the way to a burst of evolutionary invention, the creation of new forms even more remarkable than those around today.
Only trouble is, we probably won’t be around to see it: after the dinosaurs vanished, it took 10 million years for diversity to recover. Ten million years! For us, that might as well be eternity. After the Permian extinction, the recovery took 100 million years. Eternity times ten.
And in the short-term, we may be in for a rough ride. How rough is a matter of angry debate. Some are blasé. Others forecast a catastrophe, arguing that extinctions will begin to accelerate, like an avalanche, and that the planet will soon become uninhabitable for us and our entourage.
Certainly, we’re having an impact. For example, fishing in the northwestern Atlantic has caused population collapses in several species of great sharks — including bull sharks, blacktips, dusky sharks, hammerheads. Since 1972, scalloped hammerhead shark populations off the coast of North Carolina have fallen by 98 percent; dusky sharks, bull sharks and smooth hammerhead populations have fallen by 99 percent. By comparison, blacktips are doing well: their population fell by only 93 percent.
The population crashes have had a big knock-on effect. The vanished sharks fed on skates and rays, which have seen their populations grow by a factor of ten. Cownose rays now number 40 million, up from 4 million in 1972. These animals feed on scallops and clams; the increase in their numbers recently caused the collapse of North Carolina’s bay scallop fishery. And this isn’t even a problem we can blame on climate change.
But to me, whether we need to save other species to save ourselves is not really the point. Each time a species vanishes, the planet becomes a poorer place. It doesn’t matter if we’ve never seen them, if they go extinct without our ever knowing they were here. To live is to participate in the carnival of nature, and the carnival is diminished by the losses.
For there is so much to marvel at. Like the spraying characid — a fish that lays its eggs out of water, jumping to stick them onto leaves that hang down over streams. (The male keeps the eggs wet by splashing them with his tail several times a day.) Or the just-discovered mimic octopus, which can assume the shape, colors and undulating swimming motions of a flat fish like a flounder. When it does so, the octopus even bugs its eyes out, so they look like flounders’ eyes.
Or what about the predatory fungi in the soil, which catch tiny worms by means of nooses and sticky webs. (When you get caught by a web of fungus, there is no spider. The web itself digests you.) Or, Philodendron solimoesense, a tropical plant that actively heats its flowers at night, keeping them several degrees Celsius warmer than the surrounding air. It does this to encourage scarab beetles — which serve as pollinators — to stay a while. Safe inside the warm flower, the beetles engage in riotous living: feeding and having sex during the night, and resting during the day. Or the Darwin frog: the male guards the tadpoles by keeping them in his throat. Or, or, or.
I wander over to look at a big bird with a fierce beak and a magnificent crest of white feathers. The harpy eagle, says the sign. Endangered.
What a shame.
La salle des espèces menacées, espèces disparues is upstairs at the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. For zookeepers on quaggas, see Nowak, R. M. 1999. “Walker’s Mammals of the World.” Johns Hopkins University Press. Volume two, page 1024. For commercial exploitation of the flying fox, see the IUCN redlist.
For a history of views on extinction, and Cuvier’s role in establishing it once and for all, see Rudwick, M. J. S. 1972. “The Meaning of Fossils: Episodes in the History of Palaeontology.” Macdonald and Co.
Mass extinctions of the past can be read about in any textbook on evolution, but for detailed discussions of the end-Permian extinction, the longevity of species on the planet, the recovery times after mass extinctions and references for further reading, see Erwin, D. H. 1993. “The Great Paleozoic Crisis: Life and Death in the Permian.” Columbia University Press, especially pages 261-264. See also Benton, M. J. 2003. “When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time.” Thames and Hudson. For ways that high biodiversity can inhibit evolution, see de Mazancourt, C., Johnson, E. and Barraclough, T. G. 2008. “Biodiversity inhibits species’ evolutionary responses to changing environments.” Ecology Letters 11: 380-388.
There are any number of gloomy pronouncements about the impact of human activity; see, for example, Balmford, A. and Bond, W. 2005. “Trends in the state of nature and their implications for human well-being.” Ecology Letters 8: 1218-1234. For vanished sharks and the collapse of the bay scallop fishery, see Myers, R. A., Baum, J. K., Shepherd, T. D., Powers, S. P. and Peterson, C. H. 2007. “Cascading effects of the loss of apex predatory sharks from a coastal ocean.” 315: 1846-1850.
For the egg-laying behavior of the spraying characid, see Krekorian, C. 1976. “Field observations in Guyana on the reproductive biology of the spraying characid, Copeina arnoldi Regan.” American Midland Naturalist 96: 88-97. For the mimic octopus, see Hanlon, R. T., Conroy, L.-A. and Forsythe, J. W. 2008. “Mimicry and foraging behaviour of two tropical sand-flat octopus species off North Sulawesi, Indonesia.” Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 93: 23-38. For predatory fungi, see Kano, S., Aimi, T., Masumoto, S., Kitamoto, Y. and Morinaga, T. 2004. “Physiology and molecular characteristics of a pine wilt nematode-trapping fungus, Monacrosporium megalosporum.” Current Microbiology 49: 158-164. For heated flowers in Philodendron, see Seymour, R. S., White, C. R. and Gibernau, M. 2003. “Heat reward for insect pollinators.” Nature 426: 243-244. For the Darwin frog and his tadpoles, see Goicoechea, O., Garrido, O. and Jorquera, B. 1986. “Evidence for a trophic paternal-larval relationship in the frog Rhinoderma darwinii.” Journal of Herpetology 20: 168-178.
Many thanks to Dan Haydon, Gideon Lichfield and Elizabeth Pisani for insights, comments and suggestions.

They speak......


The house is filled with them. Son Leland's full set of drums repose upstairs in the entertainment room while he is in college, or until he finds a place where he can play them at will.

The animal skins covering them have their songs, proving once again that nothing really dies. Before me lies the zeppelin drum I beat with a bone that a friend's Irish Setter brought up and dropped at my feet from the shore of Lake Michigan.

He carried it up the 100 foot bluff in Port Washington. It holds magic, I am sure. I use it to help make the music that the tightly stretched deer's skin of the drum re-sings each time it is played.

On the drumhead I have painted a zeppelin pierced by a lightning bolt in a Tao design; a Pisces double-fish symbol; a star and moon and planet; and around the border some German sayings my mother repreated as a child. Among them: Wie can ich rouse flieghen wen ich nicht keina fliegel haben? Riding in the family jitney, little Ruth, my future mother, leaned out too far from the car, and her grandmother (Wildgrube) said in German, "Don't lean out so far, you will fly out!"

My mother answered, "How can I fly out when I have no wings?" Profound to me, and fit for a drum-head that I play a lot.


Another drum here is one I made at a Native American drum-making workshop one week-end near the Wis. Dells at a retreat called Manitoumie. On the inside rim is written in pencil: Made by David Dix with the help of a teacher, Fred Gustafson, 4-15-00, at Manitoumie, Lyndon Station WI. Fred's signature is also there.

We made our drums from Native American scratch. Fred obtained raw, furry deerhides from hunters and we picked them up at his West Allis psychiatrist office, and went right to work on them. We had to, because they were arresting of our nostrils outside of their plastic wrappings.

Scraping off the hair was difficult. That preliminary work was accomplished in our homes before our journey to Manitoumie(I used our detached garage), and then we brought the cleaned and ready skin to the workshop "up north." It gave the drums we made plenty of hands-on history, along with the intricate technique taught by Fred at his retreat, a weaving of lacing cut from our same deerhides. The communication with the deer who gave it's skin is present whenever I play this drum.

I can play it, it so sensitive, with my bare fingers, sometimes holding the laminated rim - furnished by Fred - up close to my ear. I can hear the deer as my lightly-tapping fingers touch the drumhead, even the swishing of the grasses is audible when I draw my fingertips across the hide.

It is perhaps my most valuable treasure.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Two sermons re: birds, etc.

As happenstance had it
on Sunday May 25th, 2008
two great sermons were given, at two churches in the Milwaukee area, one by my wife Dee Dix at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Waukesha
and the other by good friend Rev. Dr. Tom Bentz at Brown Deer UCC.
Dee practiced hers before me Saturday as a trial run - among other reasons because she did not want to run, heaven forbid! overtime. I first listened politely and with all ears and eyes on her, but soon I realized that this message was something very special. For me, and later for several others.
I sent copies to Rev. John Helt and to Tom Bentz with whom I correspond regularly. Both of these clerics admire Dee, and in fact she came to Milwaukee from Maryland in 1980 when John Helt, then pastor of Friedens UCC (13th and Juneau) convinced the church council on which I served that we should have a Parish Worker. Especially as it would cost the once mighty but then poor and foundering church little, for her stipend would be paid by the UCC Board of Homeland Ministries.
The indelible humor runs that I was assigned by Rev. Helt to be Dee's contact person from the church council. "Be sure she gets what she needs." I tried to answer the charge. He later baptized our infant daughter Erin, now about to be graduated from Lawrence University.
When Tom Bentz received Dee's sermon on Sunday, he greatly admired it and then offered his from the same day. Following the lectionary they both hewed the same schematic.
These are two very important people to the sewer raccoon news editor. The sermons follow, and I am lucky to have their permission to run their sermons in this lowly rag. They're making sure I get what I need:

May 25, 2008--- Dee Dix
Scripture: Psalm 131
Matthew 6:24-34

“Birds of the air….lilies of the field…contented children.” Beautiful, bucolic images that also have a finger-pointing indictment quality about them.

I apologize to those of you who have heard this story before but it has a grounding power for me whenever I begin to sink in a whirlpool of worry. It was years ago and yes; it is about Erin and Lee, though I won’t be more specific about who had what role. We were using a giving calendar for the One Great Hour of Sharing special offering in Lent. Most of you are familiar with the calendars; they are fun to use for givers of all ages. We were counting shoes and putting money in a box for each child, counting coats, counting cans of food…you know the drill. Then we got to the square that read “Make a gift in gratitude for your family’s love”. Okay, I said, we’re not going to take this from the common pot of coins; I want each of you to make a gift from your own piggy bank. One child placed a generous gift in the box. The second put in a $20 bill, almost the whole bank’s worth. Ever aware of the sibling rivalry at work between them I said, “Wait a minute, this isn’t a contest. Don’t put anything in that box you want to get back later. This is a gift for less fortunate people, not a game. Put it in, it stays in. Do you really want to give that much?” It was truly one of my better parenting moments. And with a sincerity that pierced my heart, our child replied, “I don’t need it. You and Dad give me everything I need. I want to give it away.”

Now I realize this kind of logic won’t carry water with We-Energies if they want to shut off your electricity, or pay for the medicines your insurance won’t cover, or put gas in your car to get to work. But a heart grounded in love sees a world of possibilities and joy that no stockpile of possessions can guarantee.

Both of our scripture lessons today invite us into a place of security that our world denies with vehemence. We need money, we need status, we need health & good looks, we need a strong defense, we need…. Scarcity and danger are everywhere. If we don’t amass enough resources we will be lost, impoverished, alone, overwhelmed. I don’t believe this is a unique time or circumstance in history except that the extraordinary breadth and speed of our communications gives the negative voices exceptional power. Birds, and flowers and children are sentimentalized but not valued to the same degree as economic “experts” and prophets of doom.

Psalm 131 is one of the shortest psalms of the 150-song collection, but it is more intriguing than many of the longer ones. The authorship and date are really not known though it’s sometimes lumped under “David”. David would certainly have had the ego to qualify as author, but it was probably just attributed to him. What was the author’s story before the hymn was penned? It does not sound like the creation of a life-long practitioner of humility. No, the author seems more likely a battle-scarred veteran of the self-made man wars. He has known grasping, scheming, defeat and victory. I wonder, does he write this after he bottoms-out or as he sits with his Midas treasure? Either way he recognizes the emptiness of his life and yearns for a contentment long forgotten. Oh, to be as a child comforted by his mother or father, secure and safe. In verse 3 he identifies the source of his comfort--confidence is God’s promises, and extols Israel to embrace the same wisdom.

The author of the Gospel according to Matthew was a Jewish convert to Christianity who repeatedly emphasized to his community that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promises found in the Hebrew Scripture. The Realm of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, the realization of God’s ultimate victory of love and justice---that was the main point for Matthew’s gospel. Jesus teaches that we are not lost, but rather found, in God’s embrace. The God who gave us life knows the struggles we face, cares about the details. Know that, and live accordingly. Resist the temptation to feel responsible for everything. Turn away from the powerful delusion that we can ever be truly secure with our possessions and life circumstances.

Today’s reading in Matthew comes early in Jesus’ ministry. He has been baptized, undergone temptation and preparation in the wilderness, left Nazareth following John’s arrest, called the first 4 disciples and begun preaching, teaching and healing throughout the region of Galilee. The other gospel writers deal with this introductory period differently, but as I said, Matthew very carefully builds a case for Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Some commentators liken this gospel to a play in 7 acts. Today’s text is part of the chapters 5-7 section, an inaugural discourse by Jesus. We find the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, the Golden Rule, the salt of the earth, light of the world passage and other familiar sayings in this section. At this very beginning of his ministry, Jesus is laying out directly to his followers that God’s realm is different. Discipleship will not be a step up the social or economic ladder. It will be costly. Following the old rules isn’t enough, God expects us to live with a radical spirit of compassion, and courage and confidence. Few of his followers “got the message”, still seduced by messianic dreams of victory over the Romans and a restoration of King David’s glory days.

Most of us don’t get it either. We try, really hard and perhaps succeed for awhile, but usually we soon fall back into fear and return to parceling out our goods in a miserly fashion, as if any of this was “ours”. The birds and flowers don’t have bills to pay, you say. If we all just trusted in God where would the world be? What would happen to civilization and progress?

I believe that applying Jesus’ words to these questions is the wrong formula though. Like using “why” answers for “how” questions. Both are legitimate, but they don’t make a pair. Jesus repeatedly warns about the spiritual dangers of wealth and sends his disciples out with few possessions, but he also cautions them to be wise to the world. I do not believe he would be opposed to reasonable planning or resource provision. Defining “reasonable” and “how much” is where we get into trouble. The birds and flowers offer some insight. Both of them unselfconsciously participate in God’s realm. They live without (apparent) anxiety, radiating a beauty that few human endeavors can reproduce. When Jesus points to their example I think he also invites us to pay attention to the uncomplicated blessings of God’s realm. Too often our lives are a whirl of dreaming, scheming, acquiring and tending, moving from one task to another with hardly a moment to rest or appreciate. How many of us are really going to rest this Memorial Day week-end, or give thanks for the sacrifices of lives in service in the military and to humankind in other areas? Will we be so busy “celebrating” that we’ll have to go back to school or work on Tuesday to recuperate? Slow down, Jesus says, echoing the commandment to keep the Sabbath. Yes, resting periodically is one of the Big Ten. Stop a moment and savor the countless gifts around and within us. I’m not saying anything new and I don’t need to make an exhaustive list of ideas; just restating Jesus’ examples is enough. Whether we live in an apartment or a house we can find ourselves re-centered by watching a finch, or chickadee or even a noisy sparrow. And don’t we smile with surprise to find a persistent dandelion brightly blooming in the crack of a sidewalk? Who has not known the glory of a sunrise, the sound of a gentle brook, the aroma of fresh bread, the endearing love of a pet, or the laughter of children? Children are exceptional guides to attentive living, of course. Take a walk from A to B and it is always full of detours and discoveries…stop and look…what’s that?….

Rest in God’s promises and find your heart opened to new possibilities. I’ve been known to say I felt nibbled to death by guppies when worries consume me. I found an even better saying that makes the same point. “Ants pick a carcass cleaner than a lion”. Terrible troubles may come upon us, the lion may come to our door, but our spirits are more likely to be destroyed by small worries that obstruct hope and limit our vision to seeing the world as only a dark and fearful place.

And finally, a reminder that Jesus’ words apply to communities as well as individuals. Fear saps our collective energy, limits our imagination and is dangerously contagious. This may not be a popular question, but I believe it is an appropriate one—how might our deficit anxiety be limiting our ministry? I am not suggesting we ignore the “elephant in the room”, but that we invest equal energy in faithfully examining our call to service in this time and place. This church, in Christ’s name, has extended herself in tremendous ways. We have taken risks and sometimes paid a steep price, but we are still here at 100 East Broadway. In this Ordinary Time of the church year, of our lives, where are we being led to radically trust God’s providence? What lessons do the birds and flowers and our children have to teach us? May the Holy Spirit bless us with vision and courage, to serve with confidence and love. Amen

Now, for Tom's; to me it's like two birds of a feather answering each other:

For the birds

Sermon by Rev. Dr. Thomas Bentz May 25, 2008
Brown Deer United Church of Christ Brown Deer, Wisconsin

This is it: this is the day you may truly say: “This sermon is for the birds.” . . . for the hawk, the eagle, the sparrow, the robin, the vulture, the ostrich & other strange grounded birds – like us.
But first (did he say “vulture”? yes) my favorite vulture joke: Guy gets on an airplane carrying two vultures. As he tries to stuff them in the overhead compartment, the stewardess comes & sternly says: “I’m sorry, sir, but you can only have one carrion.

Carrion birds were the congregants when St. Francis started to practice his preaching. The people in town wanted nothing to do with him and would not listen to his preaching, so Francis went out in the cemetery and preached to the birds, and, as his biography says, “As he began to preach, all the birds in the trees came down to him, and stayed still, even as he went among them, touching them.” (So, I trust, you will not move, but be moved by my touching sermon, see and get in touch with the birds.)

This holiday weekend we can see, as I did yesterday, the bright electric billboard coming into the city on I-94, the bright electric billboard with an American flag and the words: “Remember the fallen.”
This is a “memorial" day to remember not just the past flights of the American eagle, and those who have fallen under her banner, but to recall all the fallen, and all who have & will fly on wings of faith.
This is not really our memorial day, nor an American holiday, nor our ancestor’s Decoration Day; this is Sunday, “the Lord’s Day,” when tested Job and the rest of us who rest from our jobs are asked: “Is it by our wisdom that the hawk soars and spreads its wings?
"Is it by our command that the eagle mounts up?” (Job 39:26)
Is it by our hand that the sparrow is fed? Is it by our hands that the nearly given-up-for-dead, rise up?

My “good news” lesson this week came not from America, but from under the earthquaked rubble in China, where Wang Zhijun tried to kill himself by twisting his neck against a brick cutting his throat. Breathing had become harder as day turned to night. The chunks of brick and concrete that had buried him and his wife were pressing tighter by the hour, crushing them. Their bodies had gone numb.
“I don’t think I can make it,” he told his wife, Li Wanzhi, his face just inches from hers, their arms wrapped around each other. She sensed he was giving up. “If God wants to kill us, he would have killed us right away,” she said. “But since we’re still alive, we must be fated to live.”
And they lived. They were pulled from the rubble of their collapsed six-story workers’ dormitory 28 hours after last week’s earthquake. Though she lost the arm that was wrapped under his body, they were spared the crushing end that was met by at least 32,000 others. They were spared by the “God of the sparrow,” and, as we sang and Li and Wang live, “God of the earthquake: How does the creature cry Woe? How does the creature cry Save?”

Buildings fall, builders fall, birds fall, airplanes fall, empires fall, as Tom Petty sings, “We all fall down.” The greatest downfall recorded in the Bible is the fall of Job: he lost his property, his money, his family, his status, his fawning so-called “friends,” his health, his status, and almost lost his faith. On Job’s sad “memorial day,” all he could say was, “Oh, that I were in the days when God watched over me … when I was in my prime 29:2,4) Job bemoans the rise of bad people, and his own fall, despite his goodness, or at least all of his good works.

Then Elihu (whose name means “Yahweh (Jehovah) is God,” speaking for God, tells discombobulated Job: “Hear this, Job: Stop and consider the wondrous works of God. Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars and spreads its wings?
"Is it by your command that the eagle mounts up?” (Job 39:26)

I don’t know about you, but as gas prices are mounting up with wings like the red flying Mobil horse, my retirement savings are tanking, and the house I once owned now owns me, with negative equity, & we can hear Proverbs reverberate: “Don’t wear yourself out to get rich…for suddenly it takes wings, flying away like an eagle.” (23:4-5)

God knows, & we should know, that money is not what we amount to; the wings of faith mount us up.
The Word of God does not tell us: Wait for your stock to go back up, wait for wealth, wait in the doctor’s office for steroids, wait for a fresh reinforcement regiment of Marines. As Isaiah (40:31) says, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles.”

You know the American bald eagle, mounted on our money and our flagpoles, was an endangered bird; now it is mounted back up and soaring again from the mountaintops in the skies and in our eyes.

But we, at least it’s true for me, seldom soar like an eagle. I am more like the robin flying into a closed window, blessed just to be still breathing, hoppin’ and bob bob bobbin’ along.
And the song is something to which I can hear Jesus sing along: “Live, love, laugh and be happy.”

Hear also this little echo after Elihu: Consider the tiny – as well as the wondrous – works of God. Or as Jesus saw it: “Consider the lilies. Look at the birds.” Not just the soaring hawk & the lofty eagle but also, he would say, the lowly sparrow. Though Jesus does not name the sparrow in our Gospel lesson today, he did say, earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, the only time that he speaks of sparrows: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground.” (Matt. 10:29)

Well, I have to tell you: one of them did fall to the ground – on my front porch, on ice, right under my empty birdfeeder, when it was around zero. I found the frozen dead sparrow, and found myself guilty of unintentional birdslaughter. Had I just put some seeds in that feeder . . . But then Elihu asked me: “Is it by your command that the eagle soars?” With an echo: “Is it by your hand that the sparrow is fed and survives?” And I must admit: No; it is not I; it is God’s eye that is on the sparrow, God’s hand that feeds the birds. God spares the sparrow, so I know he cares for me.

Ah, yes, the sparrow; but would God also spare the grounded, head-in-the-sand ostrich? You bet. Elihu told the wing-clipped Job, “The ostrich’s wings flap wildly, though its plumage lacks” the lift to fly, and it leaves its eggs on the ground, so “that a foot may crush them,” yet “when it spreads its plumes aloft, it laughs at the horse and its rider.” (Job 39:13-18) Ostrich? Us? Head in the sand? Sure. Sometimes. All of us. But not long enough to suffocate. We may not fly, but God has given us wings … and grace. God’s eye is on the ostrich, and on us.

Can we fly? Why not? Have any of you ever dreamed that you were flying? It is my favorite dream. I feel deflated when I am awake and land back on the ground. But the dream is real. Birds, holy spirits and saints from Francis to us are made to fly.

The early bird catches the worm. The eternal God dispatches the living Word, hatches the world, catches us all when we fall, snatches us off the ground after we’ve crashed into locked windows or on Wall Street, and, in the promise of Isaiah and Francis, we sparrows and saints “will take on wings … and will fly … and will not die.”


Monday, May 26, 2008

A leftie, alright!

Milwaukee Bayview WI
Seated at the SR News assistant's right, the editor gave her plenty of elbow room for accurately partaking of the the luscious variety of Serbian fare. Pictured above, her left hand puts the finishing touches to a roast suckling pig, bony carcass revealed.
On Saturday, May 24th, we'd gone down along the Milwaukee lakeside over the Hoan bridge to the old corner Schlitz tavern, to dine with our newlywed friends Roxane Bartelt and Steve Platterer (see SR News May 9, 2008).
Civil War reenactors by avocation - Steve is a private in the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry and Roxane is his non-tenting campfire mate - they're both librarians by trade. They came Saturday in casual mufti. No Jack the horse, no uniforms, no sabers. The 3 Bros. trademark mismatched *silver, set around mismatched* aluminum kitchen dinette tables were the only blades in evidence at our table.
The Three Brothers restaurant is almost the same as it was when I first went there with number one of serial dinner partners, in the 1960's. I venture that the BIG aloe cactus in the window is descended from the same style of roots as the longtime and current operators are, from their own deeply rooted stock.
The signal third brother, Branko, at 85 now and going strong, still supervises the staff, greets guests in his genuine and friendly way, and is still clad in an apron and blue beret, his still full head of hair protruding beneath, now nicely white.
The food turned out in their little "family" kitchen - which you can see if you look to the right when making a stop at the restroom - is still attended by family cooks in head-clothes, and the filo dough and flour dust still carefully and rapidly fly, to satisfy the requests of their jam-packed and happy rollicking guests. The menu includes many entrees, including their famous roast lamb, eggplant mousekka, and wrapped grape leaves.
The feta salad cheese is grated, the tomatoes chopped, their widely-sought dishes emerge on mismatched *plates, the aromatic ovens spreading incredibly good smells throughout the small establishment. Their jukebox - gone to CDs - still plays Balkan music.

If you order a burek, (three kinds) be prepared to wait about 45 minutes for baking, but it's well worth it. It's home cooking style all-around at The 3 Bros. And if you do have a burek, it will come home with you, what's left, tightly-wrapped in aluminum foil, and is almost as good, oven-warmed, smell AND taste, within the next day or so.
The minutely-thin filo layers will not be as crispy but you cannot leave that gold at the restaurant.

You will leave some other gold there, and it's going to be old world cash on the barrel-head. As always, no credit cards. Patriarch Branko, a WW II Nazi concentration camp survivor, has his ways. If you're from the health department, for example, you cannot gain entry just as though you owned the place. You can come back another day, by appointment.

Somebody once let the word get out that there was a cat running loose in the restaurant. The inspectors descended like the gestapo, said Branko, who would not let them in. "No! No! This is the United States of AMERICA!" Later, when they came back, on another day, there was no cat.
* footnote: There is no such thing as MISMATCHED at the Three Brothers. Everything goes together beautifully.

Good to the last morsel!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

He's back!

IMAGINE our surprise when the royal magesty of Raccoonery
paid a 2nd visit at our portal this very morning. Once again to have the pleasure of the masked regal presence, the blind and aged coon. He came tapping at our door without need of his usual guide and guardian, carrying the white and red walking stick of a sight-impaired creature as his sole navigational aid.

KING KOON said he could almost skip from the sewer grate, now that his corner digs had been flushed and vacuumed by the city crew yesterday. He was ostensibly just checking the spring clean-up, and then decided to cross over the street and visit, and see if perchance we had any more raccoon (Ritz) crackers and root beer, his true want.

He asked about our daughter, Erin. Wasn't it about time for her to be graduated from Lawrence? Yes, it is, come June 15th, we slowly answered, in puzzlement. The King said he used to tail Erin back and forth from Hadfield Elementary and then to and from South High School after that. He's been missing her these past four years, he said. (We knew none of this.)

'There was a humane girl, Erin, very close to our sewer raccoon hearts!"

After we told him what she is going into as a graduate student at UW Madison (library science), he nearly choked on his root beer. "Why, bless my soul! Yet verily, I am not surprised! I am in possession of several old books myself in my library chambers under the old downtown post office. I am an archivist of antique volumes!" Then he told us of his purloined stamp collection from when the *Rotundra* was really a working post office, before the socialite place, and before the later bank incarnation.

"I always was amused by Erin's reading of books while she walked to and from school, so distracted was she that I could creep right up to her and practically read over her shoulder.

King Koon stayed and chatted about an hour and then slowly arose and carefully strode to the door, tapping with his cane, remembering almost right where it was. He said, "Please, don't get up."

"PARDON ME FOR ASKING," I said before he could find and turn the doorknob, "but just how old are you anyway?

He threw his cloak over his tail before I could count the rings.

"I am as old as you want me to be. I cannot come and dine with you on raccoon crackers and root beer if you must know my true age, but I do understand your human curiosity.

"Let's just say that I was here before your country dropped the nuclear bombs on
Japan. It was then that we raccoons became 'sewer raccoons,' living underground, fearing reprisals against the above-ground blood-lusting inhabitants. They eventually came. We must stay in the sewers at least until the current administration is got rid of.

"But I remember that day when you took Erin to Bethesda Park (he was there?) for the remembrance service on the anniversay of the bombing of Hiroshima. I still have the 1995 newspaper picture of her dabbing ceremonial tears from a bowl upon her cheeks."

"Yes," I mused. "She recently presented a paper at Lawrence on the factor of 'countenance' in Victorian times. I wondered if she remembered the picture you mention."

King Koon called over his velveted shoulder as picked his way over the threshhold,

"Please give her my regards! We all love her!"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sewer Raccoons get a hosing and a vacuuming

City crews maintain raccoon quarters
As usual, the public works department of Waukesha is looking out for the well-being of the city's subterranean-dwelling raccoons. It's spring cleaning time for the little burglars. This afternoon the maintenance workers pulled up in their big trucks outside one of the major raccoon arteries at Colton and Arcadian to swirl down and suck away the gutter refuse clogging the storm grate threshhold tunnel.
The grates were lifted up and set aside so the giant vacuum pipes could access the old soda cans, tennis balls, miscellany and road dirt that collects in the sewer and impedes the smooth and cunning coming and going of the raccoons. Two were sitting like little sidewalk superintendants, watching the kindness of the city of Waukesha at work.
Hail to the Waukesha, making housing hospitable for its lowliest citizens.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Lawrence Tamarack


- Oh see, can you say
By the dawn’s early light -

That the tamarack tree
In the backyard is dead?

Three years have passed
Since it threw out its
Tufts of bristles
In the springtime;

The tamarack in this unswampy locus
"Just Keep It Wet!" he said
Is replenishing the earth
In newer ways

It would seem;
What so proudly we hailed
Stands skeletonly

At 30 foot greenless attention;
Pale lichen grows on it now
At the twilights last gleaming

But other tamaracks in their earlier
Life stages
Present sun salutes

As ours once did
In this unlikely place
On this troubled globe
o'er all

Through perilous days and nights
on a college campus, say;
Soar to proud

[dd 5-19-08]

Sunday, May 18, 2008



On a trip to Appleton WI this weekend

attending to various assignments

our eyes rose above

the gutters and sewers

during our raccoonoitering;

Just down College Avenue

a couple blocks from the Lawrence campus

and directly across the street

from the Copper Rock cafe

where our student daughter Erin works part-time

the usually sewer-studying editor and his assistant

let their eyes drift to the tops of the

weathered buildings, standing out

in their enduring variety

And, LO!

Two other animals reside

side-by-side on the parapets;

A lion, lowlier

and a horse at a summit adjacent

have held forth for untold decades

keeping watch over their Appleton flocks

by day and by night

as they pass in evolving cartages

or as perambulators

on the avenue;

the noble animals

from their apexian and penultimate positions

await - perhaps - the addition

as time washes parallel-by

on the mighty and near Fox River

a raccoon likeness;

The viewer might keep

his eyes set lower

much lower

as he traverses the urban causeway


raccoonland unter das all

Friday, May 16, 2008

for Dorothy:

Stella the Chalk Dancer

A little girl
was a champion hop-scotch player
She lived a block from the train station
next to the railroad tracks

Her parents warned her
not to play near the train tracks because
the tramps would tumble off the rods
and out of open boxcars

as the train slowed
and the bulls walked down the line
looking to bust some heads
for the railroad company

But this girl, Stella
she wasn't afraid of tramps
and she knew some of them
used to give them cold water
to drink from a bucket and dipper

Sometimes she snuck biscuits
out of the kitchen for them
She liked living by the tracks
and looking for passing adventure
Her town was so quiet

Stella as a five year old
listened for the steam engines
nearing her yard by the tracks
They would come with a

The back pressure hissing
off to the sides of the slowing
iron horses in great clouds of hot steam
kept Stella at a safe distance
until the engine passed

But then she moved in closer
and stood on her tip-toes
waving her hankie
as the red caboose approached
and the trainmen watched
for their regular customer

Stella was the darling
of these sooty men
She loved their chalk
it was the best chalk in the world
for drawing hopscotch squares

Her feverish waving
was something they looked forward to
in this one town an amusement
a special feature on their route
of hundreds of towns like it
There was only one little Stella

Stella would call out
Chalk! Chalk!
Do you have any chalk?
Could I have some, please?
Could I, huh, could I?
It's me, Stella

The men dropped chalk
at her feet as they passed by
leaning out from the back rail
a nice piece of thick
boxcar-marking chalk
for Stella they would toss

As Stella grew older and was
filling out she learned
that the trainmen threw more
chalk to her if she danced
and by then she had begun to hop
around like the peasant women
she saw in the movie house films

Plus Stella's family was Hungarian
and from gypsy stock
Her father played flamenco guitar
and her mother castanets
The tambourine was not unknown
in their home either
Each of the five children had their own

They made brushes by day
in their family business
but by night it was roundelay
after the good radio programs
and the dishes were done

As Stella passed from her babyhood
as the youngest child
her family seemed to loosen up
and the truer forms of hot-blooded
Gypsy music and dance obtained
before her widening eyes

Encouragement was shouted
instead of whispered as she'd
heard from her bed sometimes
and her mother danced on the tabletop
in boots, not barefoot anymore

She adopted some of the moves
in her routine at trackside

At eighteen her black hair had grown long
and it spiraled around her lithe form
as she pirouetted and held aloft
her be-ribboned tambourine

The trainmen vied for the route
through her town
even taking extra duty
just for the chance to see
Stella the chalk-dancing gypsy girl

Chalk fell like rain
upon Stella
and the trainmen leaned
way way out to realize their dream
To have their fingertips brush Stella
in passing

By now Stella realized she was playing
these men like a musical instrument
She had them completely in her
mesmerizing power
and her burgeoning chalk supply
which she now sold on the school yards
seemed endless

She took the proceeds
from her chalk sales
and bought bindles of canned soups and crackers
for the scrambling tramps
who thanked her before
vanishing quickly
into the wings of town and into the countryside

theirs was not to be an audience
for Stella
but she wished they could be
With the poor people of the world
Stella wanted to share her fate
Her gift of dancing
and love of nurture

Stella's family grew accustomed
to her performances of gypsy skill
and humanitarianism
and over time grew proud
of the local niche she had carved
for herself
as The Chalk Dancer

One evening when a non-stop
locomotive swept through town
Stella danced particularly close to the tracks
and her favorite cabooseman Roy
a single and kind Hungarian with rhythm
counted the beats

And at the precise moment
swooped low and out from the gangway
clasped Stella by the waist
up and unto himself
for evermore

A greater brass ring than Stella
there never was
Scattering tramps had seen Roy's win
and they cheered
Roy, too, had watered and fed them
They knew these two belonged together

Such things happened
In the age of steam locomotives
they happened
and much more
oh yes

[dd ]


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bald was beautiful in 1987, and still is, and evermore shall be. World without end.

The sewer raccoon editor

in possession of all his faculties - and old, unsold Air Combs (reg.) - is currently in negotiation with his Vermont cousins, manufacturers, to bring back the product, shown in use above. The Air Combs (reg.) originally were constructed of old combs found abandoned, sometimes in gutters which were close to sewer gratings, which shows how all things are connected.

The Yibawean air comb-makers merely collected these old combs, often with missing teeth, and knocked them ALL out, then sanitized the comb frames in boiling water. A silk carrying case came with the product.

Now with Steve and Marnie's input, the Air Comb will perhaps be made of eco-friendly forest products. Stand by for further information.
[Please sit down while you're waiting]

new yorker cartoon

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


The Sewer Raccoon News editor and his spouse recently took a trip to Evansville WI to visit and partake of a home-cooked dinner with our friends Shay Harris and Boye Nagle. Professional counselors and therapists, they have a charming old house in this brick-streeted town of 4000 residents near Madison. And they are the guardians of a compliment of four (4) four legged co-residents. At least one of their cats is possibly reincarnated from a predecessor, a multi-colored calico who liked to have his white patch rubbed for long periods of time. It is believed that he came back and into Shay's loving arms as a 100% white long hair.

The SR editor met Shay Harris at a drumming circle some years ago at the Elm Grove WI Unitarian West church. From the first moment that she smudged him with the incense via a large bird's wing, along with his friend Norman (they saw that and momentariy considered leaving), she has been a special and steadfast friend.

Boye is a poet. Below is a wonderful one that she gave permission to reprint in the SR News. It has been previously published in the magazine Matrifocus. (On the WWW) Here are a few previously-printed words from Boye ahead of the poem:

"As a working-class Irish girl, I didn't exactly grow up with a literary background. In our house we were never exposed to poetry, unless it was the words to one of my Father's favorite folk songs. In fact, a childhood brain injury made traditionally taught English Literature classes very difficult for me. However, one of the ways my brain compensates for the frontal lobe injury is to find the rhythms, feel the heartbeat in everyday life or a piece of writing. This gives me an innate ability to read and understand poetry. If you like, I'm wired to be a poet and to appreciate poetry.
I could write passable poems before I could successfully write prose. In my early twenties I started performing poetry in pubs and bars, and for a couple of years I was probably the most well-known dyke poet in London. It was my mission to seduce women who would never consider reading a poem or buying a book of poetry.
Since that time I have been published in international collections with poets like Judy Grahn, Pat Parker and Adrienne Rich. I have also had poetry published in women's journals around the country, in web-publications, and in a number of self-published chapbooks. In graduate school I discovered the Sufi poets and the mystical poet in myself. My serious study of poetry and the mystical aspects of poetry began. I took a doctoral class in mystical poetry, which ultimately became the basis of my graduate thesis, Mystical Poets Don't Have to Be Dead Poets. I edited a collection of mystical poetry, a poetic conversation between famous poets — most of them dead — and the poetic responses to their work from the members of the class, who were very much alive. The resulting book reveals the potential of reading and writing mystical poetry as a form of spiritual practice. Based on this, I have been negotiating with a publisher for a book based on the power of words in magic and the use of mystical poetry as a magical practice."


Crow Magic

We chant open our hearts and the Great Mother enters the room —I feel her round form emerge from the black clay of my chest—She is crying—Her tears are springs of new life washing over us—The truth she sings becomes the hue of our shadow—She speaks us into the circle of life—


is the beginning of life,

It contains the spark of creation


is "nigredo" matter unformed

Bursting with potential.


Is nothingness, the building block of all that matters

The foundation of all matter.


Is the night sky

Where the ancestors burn their fires and watch over us.


Is the canvas of our dreams,

The roadmap to health and wholeness.


Is the moment before dawn

Pregnant with morning.


Is the womb,

The mother's power and protection.


Is the coal she gave

To fuel the fire of my childhood winter evenings.


Is faith, the ability to walk forward

Without the comfort of vision.


Holds infinity,

Unknown possibility and the potential of magic.


Is the crow,

Cawing death, chance and prediction.

It is black we wrap around ourselves when we go inside, to the still, silent place where no one can harm us.

In black-ness everything mingles; it is where the spirits of the four legged and the two legged are one; it is where we learn to be shape shifters.

Without black, white cannot know itself as white, white cannot exist.

Black is the beginning. Black is the end.

Black is the mother. Black is home.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

everywhere, spiders, our friends


When I jump into bed

with Denise

it's like a drop of spit


on a red hot pot-belly stove;


evaporated in a second

but oh

what a second!

Monday, May 12, 2008

LIGHT, let there be * 2 pixels*

it's in the Bible
and was in Georgia OKeefe
who painted flowers like she seriously knew and meant them. This photo was taken May 12, 2008
with an old & simple 2 pixel Olympus digital camera. But Georgia O'Keefe might have liked to paint it. If she did, it would be much better than this.
[note contemplative pussy to the right]



Friday, May 9, 2008

Dreaded bathroom upstairs

After about three years of procrastinating, he got around to overhauling the now-college-gone childrens' bathroom. In the interval, it should be allowed, he had heart surgery and complications that laid him up for a year, but still...............[see moral below]
That bathroom always was a never-never land. His showers were taken in the improvised basement shower stall, commemorated in Vulcan Weathervanes, as the serialized centerfold simple devices feature, in the Sept. 1980 issue. In that article he praised the easy care of such a stall, with a 4-sided curtain hung from the rafters on a bent curtain rod. The platform was made of wood so a showerer could stand on that, rather than cold concrete,
take the shower efficiently and walk away from it. No wiping down ceramic tile, no nothin'.
But the children didn't like the spiders who are given free rein in the basement. Now with the upstairs shower recess inoperative, everybody HAS to shower in the basement. Pressure built. He had to get out the old Saws-All and do some serious ripping and tearing.
As he worked toward completion, which is expected within a few days, he remembered a poem he'd written about merely cleaning out the drain pipe on that affair.
As follows:


Black muck is stuck in the upstairs tub drain
Where the fleeting teens’ soaps, shampoos
And exfoliated skin trots, jogs, ambles, staggers,
And then barely makes it down the plumbing
To the city sewage system;
And then it doesn’t make it at all;

Their shower water gradually stands still
Taking a day to go down for a while
Whereupon I get told about the situation
As I do not use their bathroom
Preferring my historic basement stall
(See Vulcan Weathervanes, Issue SEPT. 1980)

OK, maybe I get told more than once
To a point reaching a plea

And then I ascend the stairs with my plumber’s snake
And become once more
More familiar than I’d wish
With the sheddings of my children;

The gunk that emerges stuck to the twisting
Probe is truly ugly, an inky-black mush
- can’t be related to this family! -
Perhaps best left unspoken about

Except that there are ONLY so many more
Such reamings to be done before
These mucking orangutans are gone,
- is that why I put off the job? -
Gone off to clog other drains
I won’t get to clear (Hurrah?)

And as I am given to losing things
And missing people
Even while they’re still here
I bet I can even work up a happy mood
Over no more black sludge………..

……………..but not today.

[Handy-Dad 12-9-2002]

[Moral: Never let things go until they get REALLY bad......]



(left to right)

A couple of weeks ago we attended the marriage of Roxane Bartelt and Steve Platterer in West Bend WI. It was a glorious event, and if Jack could have, he would have been Best Horse. Every human there joined forces to merrily jubilate and put on wonderful feed-bags.

Roxane well-sustained the sewer raccoon occupants - meaning the editor and his family - with a seemingly endless series of residential real estate transactions, as she wended her way, unbeknownst to her, to Racine and Kenosha libraries - for Roxane IS a librarian - and into the eventual arms of Steve, her first husband, another librarian who also bears arms as a private in the 1st Wisconsin Cavalary Civil War reenactment society.

Roxane is naught if not an all-or-nothing companion, even when it came to joining and supporting Steve in his enactment pursuits. She made her costume to compliment his and attends the battles and events of the society with Steve, faithfully.

The only caveat for Roxane is that she doesn't sleep in tents. Has not willingly ever, and she maintains, never will. She was, pre-Steve, a garrulous and noble celebrant at various week-end church camping trips also attended by the SR editor and family, sat around many campfires, as she now does with her husband, singing songs, toasting marshmallows, and eventually growing weary enough to retire - - -but, always to her motel room.

My brand-new sewer raccoon hat is off to the newly-weds, to Roxane, a true friend, a trooper. I will be seeing her and newer & getting-to-be good friend Steve at The Three Brothers restaurant in Bayview WI on May 24th. Roxane, an accomplice in many things, also does Serbian. [Alas, Jack will be absent but will be there in spirit, wherever they go. For Roxane it's no tents, but otherwise: Whither Thou Goest.....]

The saying on Steve the librarian's correspondence is: