Tour Poetry Day 5: Imperfect Cities

In La Rochelle, France
I once walked the crooked streets
In awe of its civilized beauty
Before long I noticed
There were no advertisements
Except the painted store signs
Crafted with careful elegance
By local artisans
Today, as I drove through the mountains
Of western Colorado
Where every bend in the road
Left you awestruck with wonder
It felt good to be free
Of the oppressive billboards
And the garish lighted signs
That fill so many of our cities
If only we had more self respect
We would tear down these aesthetic horrors
This blight upon our culture
And then maybe, even our imperfect cities
Built by the fallen hands of man
Might also stand a chance
Of wonder

Steamboat,  Colorado 8/3/14

In the Shade of Those Trees

If I want to possibly catch a glimpse of God
I’ll go out into Hill Country
Where the majestic oaks are more beautiful
Than any art made by man
How many people died raising the pyramids?
How many died building the cathedrals in Europe?
Not one died creating those trees
I’ll tell you where I won’t go
To church on Sunday
Where a person the same as me
No matter what kind of funny outfit they have on
Claims that they have some kind of
Supernatural information
Even though it was probably
Passed down to them
By some ancestor
That slew another
In the shade of those trees

Austin 7/28/14

Random Thoughts

I have been knocked out the last few days with allergies.  I love nature but sometimes it hates my shit! 

Tomorrow I am heading out on tour with Shinyribs.  You can check the dates at http://www.shinyribs.org. ; I have two pretty brutal travel days coming up as we need to drive from Austin to Chicago.  After that I hope to resume my normal posting schedule. 

I have been laughing my ass off at the show An Idiot Abroad.   Check it out if a comedy travel show seems like something you would enjoy. 

I have also found that, for someone that has certain introvert tendencies,  that I really enjoy canvassing.   Who would have thought?  I hope to share why at some point. 

The right wing still seems batshit insane.  I can only hope that reason will prevail and that they will doom themselves in the long run.  I was in Tyler, Texas the other day right before a gun rally at a bar.   The first guy there was wearing what else but tight cowboy jeans,  a Texas flag t – shirt,  and a camo hat.  I have shot skeet and enjoyed it, I have plenty of friends with guns, I don’t spend much time thinking about guns, but this kind of public display makes me wish every gun in America would be melted down.  If you are someone that likes to hunt and believes in 2nd Ammendment rights, I hope you realize this kind of behavior is counter productive.  To me it is ignorant behavior that reeks of bullying and intimidation.  I am against the militarization of our police and our citizens. 

Sorry for my absence for those of you that come here regularly.  I will return soon. 

In the future when all is well…

Jeff

Under the Skin: A Second Look

Although I can say with all certainty that the new movie Under the Skin is not for everyone, I can’t stop thinking about it.  If you want to know what it is about read my review from a few days ago.  It is cinema at its best, where imagery is painterly and infused with multiple layers of meeting.  One can’t help but look at the world in a new light, at least if you are open to this kind of film.  It is a slow movie, but this pace is rewarding as it causes you to contemplate the images being shown. 

Scarlett Johansson is an alien, but as this character she forces us to see the world in a way that we might not otherwise.  The world, stripped of its context and meaning that we impart on it, is a strange and mysterious place. 

One of the interesting things in the movie is the men that she seduces.  They have thick Scottish accents.  The accents are so thick that at times I had trouble discerning what they were saying.  Here they were speaking the same language as me, but they appeared foreign, as if inhabiting some familiar but parallel universe. 
Also, the natural world is presented as I believe it really is, as a world we rarely seen in nature documentaries that want to explain and categorize it.  Nature is beautiful and enchanting, but it is also dangerous beyond human comprehension on many levels.

Again, this movie is not for everyone.  It requires work out of the viewer.  In some ways it is more like going to an art museum than the traditional Hollywood fair.  However, if you are up to the challenge, you will see something unique.  It is if the director, Jonathan Glazer, opened up a small glimpse to the mysterious heart of the universe. 

Church for One, For Anyone

I went to church today.  No, I did not go to the place with the stain glass windows and the boring guy at the front.  (And before you get all bent out of shape for calling your religious leader boring, let’s just admit that even many of you that go to real church on a regular basis are bored stiff.  I once had a friend’s father that used to always fall asleep in church and say he was just, “deep in thought.”)  My church is out in nature while listening to music.  No one is excluded, no one tells me what to think, and no one is going to hell, except possibly me.

Today I walked through a park in my home town.  I came home for three days to celebrate my Dad’s birthday.  Spring was in full bloom and the air was cool and crisp.  For my sermon I listened to Damon Albarn’s new album Everyday Robots.  The beautiful melancholic music perfectly matches early spring here in the North East.  Nature and art dance with each other and each enhances the other.  I contemplate the mystery and wonder of the universe.  Although the land is full of memories for me, I am simultaneously present in the moment.  I take my headphones off temporarily and listen to birdsong and the rippling of a stream, the first music in the world.

I understand everyone is different, but I simply don’t need anything else to feel part of something bigger.  When I go into a regular church it simply cannot match creation as it stands.  As I have traveled the country I often wonder why places that have so much organized religion are often, though not always, places where the land is also being abused by industry.  Maybe organized religion is a way to cope with the destruction that we so often bring to the world?  Who knows such things…

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking
And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking

 I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with white clouds flying
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying

 I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life
To the gulls way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over

Sea Fever by James Masefield.  One of the most amazing nights of my life was spent no Cocoa Beach in Florida.  My girlfriend and I were drinking beer on the beach and watching an electrical storm out at sea.  It was one of those times where you are liable to believe that God is an artist.  It was simply one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.  Nature is not just a resource to be exploited.  It is a place where the mystery of the universe becomes slightly more tangible.  It is powerful and glorious.  Who are we to tamper with such a thing?

Cutting Down 5,000 Trees

As I mentioned in a blog that I wrote last night, I am reading Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.  Before reading the book I thought the book only told the story of Wounded Knee and the events leading up to the massacre there.  I did not realize that it told the larger story of destruction brought upon the Indian way of life.

In the beginning of the book it retells the story of Kit Carson helping to subdue the Navahos and the story of Canyon de Chelly.  Canyon de Chelly was a Navaho stronghold.  This story is told in greater detail in the excellent Hampton Sides book Blood and Thunder.  Even those of you that are not greatly interested in history books would enjoy Sides’s book.  It is written with the eye for detail and with the pace of a great novel.  This is not simply a collection of names and dates, but a story that Sides makes you feel as if you are witnessing.

The Dee Brown book reminded me how at one point, to starve out the Navahos, Carson had 5,000 of their peach trees cut down.  In order to make the Navaho come into the reservation Carson destroyed their crops and took or killed their livestock.  Canyon de Chelly was almost impregnable because of the geography there.  Carson, who and lived amongst the Indians at times, knew how to get results.

Every Indian tribe is greatly different.  Comparing the Navahos to the Comanche would be like comparing Italians to the Irish.  This is not a perfect comparison, but you get my drift.  In Texas, at least after reading S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon, it became clear to me that we had no right to take Comanche land, but once we occupied the same space as them, there was probably going to be bloodshed.  The Comanche were brutal to other Indian tribes, let alone to white settlers.  These were two civilizations that were not compatible.  That’s not to say there weren’t atrocities committed by whites in Texas, there certainly were.  Often Texans killed Indians without prejudice, whether they were the Comanche or not.  Peaceful bands of Indians often got killed because of Comanche atrocities.  A President of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau Lamar, of which there is still a street named after in Austin, had two pastimes that he loved:  killing Indians and poetry.  He did not care which Indians were killed.  The fact that we still have a street named after this man continues to confound me.

However, the history of the Navaho people is different.  The Navaho were much more inclined than the Comanche to try to reach an agreement with the whites.  We destroyed their way of life all the same.  I am writing this to say that I understand the tragedy of what happened to the Navaho.

But I want to get back to those peach trees.  I was thinking about how, in a much smaller way, the cutting down of those peach trees was its own small tragedy.  We, as a culture, have often found it all too easy to destroy Mother Nature.  The Indians as a whole, and it is really an injustice to write about them as a whole as I wrote earlier there is great difference between the tribes, lived in harmony with nature.  That’s not to say that there weren’t “good and bad” Indians and that they too weren’t capable of atrocities.  However, the Indians as a whole did respect nature and regarded it as something sacred.

We too often have seen this continent as something to exploit.  We have too often been willing to cut down the “Garden of Eden” if it led to short term economic gains.  This was true at the beginning of our country and it is often too true now.  Imagine the mindset of people who would cut down 5,000 beautiful trees just to see other people starve.  It is not hard to imagine this mindset living on in those nowadays who are all too willing to see nature destroyed if it leads to short term benefits.

If we are ever to turn the corner on environmental issues, many of which now threaten our civilization in the long run, we must rethink our relationship with the land.  It is important to learn about our history, so that we understand how we got to where we are.  If we don’t understand the tragedies of our past, we may blindly create new tragedies in our future.