Subject: electronic notebook

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Date: Tue, 6 Nov 2001 12:03:28 -0500
When I was a teenager, my minister hosted a five minute radio broadcast every morning on our local radio station; a thought of the day kind of thing with a prayer. This "electronic notebook" idea is an up-dated version of that (I'll try not to clutter up your mailbox too much!!). Once a week I'll send out something I've come across that I think might be of interest. Einstein once said that our universe of ideas sometimes gets restricted by our "optical delusion of consciousness". Here's to widening our scope just a bit every day.
"A human being is a part of the whole called by us "the universe," a part limited 
in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something 
separate from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of consciousness.  This delusion 
is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a 
few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by 
widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures 
and the whole of nature in its beauty."                                                                
                                                                -   Albert Einstein 

Have a great week!!
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Thu, 15 Nov 2001 16:03:57 -0500
We had our first snowfall during the night this past Saturday. It was only an inch or so, but it covered everything in a wet, heavy layer of white. Usually this kind of early snow melts off in a few hours, but it's now four days later and the rope bridge is still coated with an icy frosting. The milk I set out on the front porch, intending just to keep cool, is frozen solid!! I guess this little cold snap has taken me by surprise; wakening me to the season at hand as I chisel a few chunks of milk onto my cereal.

The ancient masters were profound and subtle.
There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.
They were careful 
as someone crossing an iced-over stream.
Fluid as melting ice.
Clear as a glass of water. 
                        -  Tao te Ching
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 19:14:28 -0500
Paramahansa Yogananda came to the United States in 1920 as India's delegate to an International Congress of Religious Liberals. In 1925 he established the Self-Realization Fellowship International Headquarters in Los Angeles, and is most widely known as the author of Autobiography of a Yogi. In my office, I have a framed collection of photographs hanging on the wall of 19th century Unitarian ministers who served in Houlton. Alongside this impressive line-up I also have a plastic-coated photo of Yogananda stuck to my filing cabinet. Invariably people will ask about him, curious I suppose if he's Unitarian...

When asked to define Self-realization, Yogananda replied:

Self-realization is the knowing - in body, mind, and soul - that we are one with 
the omnipresence of God; that we do not have to pray that it come to us, that 
we are not merely near it at all times, but that God's omnipresence is our 
omnipresence;  that we are just as much a part of Him now as we will ever be.  
All we have to do is improve our knowing. 
Have a great week!!
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Tue, 4 Dec 2001 11:26:44 -0500
There's a lot of George Harrison music playing on the airways this week, and I must confess that I dug out my scratchy LP version of All Things Must Passs and gave it a spin on my turntable. This is one of his more obscure songs written in 1967, related to the Beatles experimentation with LSD and Paul's experience with the press. It remained unfinished until he remembered it in l976, added a couple of extra verses and recorded it.

It's easier to tell a lie than it is to tell the truth
It's easier to kill a fly than it is to turn it loose
It's easier to criticize somebody else
Than to see yourself
It's easier to give a sigh and be like all the rest
Who stand around and crucify you while you do your best
It's easier to see the books upon the shelf
Than to see yourself
It's easier to hurt someone and make them cry
Than it is to dry their eyes
I got tired of fooling around with other people's lies
Rather I'd find someone that's true
It's easier to say you won't than it is to feel you can
It's easier to drag your feet than it is to be a man
It's easier to look at someone else's wealth
Than to see yourself
We will miss you...
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Wed, 19 Dec 2001 16:16:53 -0500
There is a light cover of snow on the ground and it's quiet in the woods. The river is finally starting to freeze and there is only a narrow channel of open water winding its way on the opposite bank. During this busy season, I find it of great benefit to distance myself from the commerce only 12 miles away. The mail-order catalogs stacked alongside the kitchen table are enough of a challenge for me. Renunciation is such an austere word to use during the holiday season, but I'm in one of those moods again...

A quotation of Thomas Merton:

The most difficult and the most necessary of renunciations: to give up 
resentment.  This is almost impossible, for without resentment modern life 
would probably cease to be human at all.  Resentment enables us to survive 
the absurdity of existence in a modern city.  It is the last-ditch stand of 
freedom in the midst of confusion.  The confusion is inescapable, but at 
least we can refuse to accept it, we can say "No."  We can live in a state 
of mute protest.  The problem is to learn how to renounce resentment without 
selling out to the organization people who want everyone to accept absurdity 
and moral anarchy in a spirit of uplift and willing complicity.  Few people are 
strong enough to find the solution.  A monastery is not necessarily the right 
answer; there is resentment in monasteries also, and for the same reason that 
there is resentment anywhere else.
It is a most special time of year. Merry Christmas and the best of holiday celebrations!!
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Mon, 31 Dec 2001 11:18:35 -0500
The old year is about to expire (and none too soon I might add!!). I picked up the week-end Boston Globe to look at the year in review summaries, and not surprisingly the year is subdivided into "the before" and "the after". In light of that, I selected this poem from a New York poet, Tony Sanders. This came from a collection of poems titled Transit Authority, published by Grove Press in 2000. Sanders currently teaches English and creative writing at Fairfield University in Connecticut.

The days of mutual admiration come and go
        and come again replete with fulsome asides
so that everybody looks more numinous
        in a kind of electric, Christmas ornament way.
Just as holidays give way to a mass mutation,
        so they snap to with a start at a dropped fork
or a flute tapped to clear the air for the toast.
        Sometimes it feels as if uniformed members
of a parade band are gathering in the distance
        where blue barricades are up to tame a crowd,
but the trouble with such laudable inkling is
        the way the streets are afterward when brooms
push paper and, once in a while, a child's glove.
        There must be some kind of allegory in play,
but that sort of thing's dropped out of fashion
        and sits nodding out at home, dreaming of return.
The feeling "we're all in this together" comes
        and goes like packs of taxis roaming "off duty"
through neighborhoods with cinder buildings
        now too tired-looking to have any personality.
Even holidays have lost much of their sheen;
        the pennants are lengthening their frown lines
from being furled and unfurled so many times,
        the balloons barely holding out against slow leaks.
Mercifully, any side street leads to the water.
        There is still something restorative about the edge
of a river and its unceremonious procession,
        even if the weather has deteriorated into fine rain.
It has everything to do with the putting of hands
        on the railing to marvel at the river's insouciance.
But sometimes a moment of solitude has a halo
        that fades into the distance without waving goodbye.
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2002 18:01:53 -0500
It's a Thursday afternoon and the snow is gently falling outside the cabin window. The forecast isn't calling for much accumulation, and that's okay. The past-due snows finally arrived in bulk this past week, so I am content. The fourteen or so inches (according to my snow-stick calculations!!), officially closed our road to the cabin for the season. Along with this comes a more thorough solitude initiated by seasonal mandate. Linda and I don't get as many visitors dropping by this time of year. If someone does show up on at our front door, we figure they must really want to see us!! I look forward to the limited access and instant isolation that accompanies the road closure. This is the time of year when the stack of books in the corner get more attention and thoughts find their way to paper more readily. The silence rests heavy in the snow and the dogs position themselves in strategic indoor spots. The coffee pot sits on the woodstove like it's a backwoods diner, only I haven't seen the waitress for a couple of hours and I'm starting to wonder if I should leave a tip...

The days pass by quickly no matter where we are. Count them each with care.
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2002 22:17:18 -0500
The old-timers used to say, "If you still have half your wood-pile by Feb 2, you should make it..." This is the official half-way mark of a Maine winter, and taking inventory of our stack as of today - we have two of our four tiers sitting pretty!!! This elicits a practical and most satisfying feeling when you live in the woods; a feeling bred by a little simple work and some carefully selected hardwood. At this point, you can kick your feet up on the warming ledge of the cookstove and congratulate yourself, knowing your count wasn't too far off!! Today is also Norman Mailer's birthday (Jan 31). Here is an excerpt from an interview of Mailer's with The Independent magazine in 1959.

Q.  Philip Rodman once remarked that if a writer were very successful, he 
    might reach six people who really understand what he is trying to say.  Are 
    you reaching your six?
A.  In a certain sense no one can "really understand" what another person 
    is trying to say, not if we take into account the enormous complexity of 
    experience and the greater complexity, if not total uniqueness, of every 
    human alive.  But as a practical matter, depending on the artistry of the 
    writer, and in inverse proportion to the difficulty of his style, a sizable number 
    of people can usually "understand" most of what the writer is saying. 
Q.  If you could send a ten word message to every man and woman in 
    America, what would you say?
A.  Please don't understand anybody too quickly.
Have a great week.
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Fri, 15 Feb 2002 10:41:19 -0500

February 15, friday morning

It's quiet in the woods this morning. The temperature is back above zero and the winds have calmed. Even the dogs seem to appreciate the brief reprieve from this week's more traditional winter norms. I'm sitting in the cabin enjoying a black cup of cheap grade, pre-ground coffee. The wood is crackling in the stove and NPR is playing in the background. I've never noticed my coffee sitting so still. It is very dark, impossible to penetrate its depths (my brewing method is unabashedly backwoods!!!), and slowly the unfiltered remnants settle on the bottom of my cup only to be tossed back into the pot in this never-ending cycle of my friday morning. Here is an entry from The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, written November 7 in 1968:

The contemplative life must provide an area, a space of liberty, of silence, in 
which possibilities are allowed to surface and new choices - beyond routine 
choice - become manifest. It should create a new experience of time, not as 
stopgap, stillness, but as "temps vierge" - not a blank to be filled or an 
untouched space to be conquered and violated, but a space which can 
enjoy its own potentialities and hopes - and its own presence to itself. One's 
own time. But not dominated by one's own ego and its demands. Hence 
open to others - compassionate time, rooted in the sense of common illusion 
and in criticism of it. 

Have a warm week!!!
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Tue, 5 Mar 2002 13:25:35 -0500
I'm just returning from my annual winter excursion to Baxter State Park. Although my muscles are still a little sore, it's a small price to pay to access wilderness so close by. Like the rest of the northeast this year, there is not as much snow as usual at Chimney Pond (only three feet on the official snow-stick according to the ranger!!). To anyone who has been to Katahdin, this is a place dominated by rock. But again, due to the scant snowfall, there is more rock exposed this year than normal. It is a rock-ice-snow environment that envelops your lifestyle for a couple of days. This is my first day back in the office. My office is also a stone room, so I feel strangely in place sitting here behind my desk. The poet, Rainer Maria Rilke had this to say about stone:

The poet's task is
hart sich in die Worte zu verwandelin,
wie sich der Steinmetz einer Kathedrale
verbissen umsetzt in des Steines Gliechmut.
to transform himself austerely into words,
just as the mason of a great cathedral
persists in changing his whole life and passion
into the equaniminty of stones.
("Requiem for Count Wolf von Kalckreuth," Requiem) 
Have a good week!!
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Thu, 21 Mar 2002 11:49:40 -0500
The fresh snow is laying heavy in the woods. It's 34 degrees and you can almost wring the water out of a spring snow such as this. I was reading a little Emerson this morning and came across his definition of scholar as Man Thinking; not in the sense of mere thinking or accommodating to general public opinion, but independent thinking in a critical sense. I like this usage since that kind of scholar can be found practically anywhere (although they are hard to locate these days!!) I've run into them at the local garage or post office, as well as reading their editorial columns in the New York Times. Here's what Emerson has to say...

The scholars are the priests of thought which establish the foundations of the 
earth.  No matter what is their special work or profession, they stand for the 
spiritual interest of the world, and it is a common calamity if they neglect their 
post in a country where the material interest is so predominant as it is in America.  
We hear something too much of the results of machinery, commerce and the 
useful arts.  I do not wish to look with sour aspect at the industrious 
manufacturing village, or the mart of commerce.  I love the music of the 
waterwheel; I value the railway; I look on trade and every mechanical craft as 
education also.  But let me discriminate what is precious herein.  There is in each 
of these works an act of invention, an intellectual step, or short series of steps 
taken; that act or step is the spiritual act; all the rest is mere reputation of the 
same a thousand times... While the multitude of men degrade each other, and 
give currency to desponding doctrines, the scholar must be a bringer of hope, 
and must reinforce man against himself.  

Ralph Waldo Emerson
An Oration delivered before the Society of the Adelphi, in Waterville College, Maine   
August 11, 1841 
Have a good week!!
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2002 14:31:50 -0400
I've been reading too many newspapers lately trying to stay on top of the headlines coming out of the Middle-East. At this point, I think I'm suffering from a serious bout of information fatigue. Since April is national poetry month, I think a little diversion is in order. American poet A.R. Ammons died this past year at age 75. He wrote such works as Brink Road (1996) and Garbage (1993). He also wrote several book-length poems; Tape for the Turn of the Year (1964) and Sphere:The Form of a Motion (1974). His writings emphasize the littleness of everything we know: Ammons sought and found humility, flux, provisional order, and homeostasis wherever he looked - in the human mind, and in the body, in forests and rivers, on earth and in space. Here is one of his shorter poems:

my empty headed
contemplation is still where the ideas
    of permanence
and transience fuse in a single body:
    ice, for example,
or a leaf: green pushes white up the 
    slope: a maple
leaf gets the wobbles in a light wind
    and comes loose
half-ready: where what has always
    happened and what
has never happened before seem for
    an instant reconciled:
that takes up most of my time and
    keeps me uninformed:
but the slope, after maybe a thousand
    years, may spill
and the ice have a very different look
    withdrawing into
the lofts of cold: only a little of that
    kind of
thinking flashes through: but turning
    the permanent also
into the transient takes up all the time
    that's left.
Have a good week.
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Thu, 9 May 2002 20:58:03 -0400
When I have the cabin to myself on a day like this in the woods, language does not play a large role. I keep my unarticulated thoughts to myself and motion to the dogs if I want to get their attention or simply drop something in their food dish. (That always works!!) Words get lost in between the trees and absorbed where the sun of early May stretches out. I'll still have to find these words sometime before I write my next sermon, but not today. It's important to have space for ideas to "air-out" before they take form on paper or in a poem. Out of this open space the creative options for something new arise. Anne Waldman has a new book out, Vow to Poetry (Coffee House Press). I liked what she had to say about language in this recent interview:

QUESTION: So what's your sense of your role in a culture in which language is used as a tactic, as in portraying oneself as a compassionate conservative without ever having to demonstrate one's compassion?

ANSWER: My role is to be a language guardian. I uphold and query the use and abuse of the gorgeous, subtle, mellifluous, energetic, and imaginative Mother Tongue! I get nervous around self-enclosed, solipsistic realms, where everyone is supposed to "get" it and is really brainwashed and not thinking on his or her own two feet. Or is not demonstrating originality of thought or language...If you don't valorize reading and study and thinking and imagination, you are in trouble as a culture. So it's much more than the hypocritical "compassionate conservatism" we need to guard against. It's also the touchy-feely, soft realm of lazy and disempowered speech: stale, dead lingo that deadens our sensibilities, shuts down our perceptions. Words are powerful. William Burroughs calls the word a "killer virus." It's the ignorant folk like us - presumably on the other side - the bleeding heart liberal "enlightened" side - who should demonstrate language's intelligence, humanity, and compassion by not allowing it to become canned, programatic, pre-fab, disingenuous, ideological.

Have a good week!!
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Fri, 24 May 2002 09:00:05 -0400
Linda and I are enjoying the spring wildflowers around the cabin this year. We're using her grandmother's paperback copy of Pocket-Guide to Wildflowers from 1951 to identify a few. Usually I simply refer to flowers as "cute little yellow ones" or "nice flower". Now I have names. (I'll try not to be too annoying with my new-found knowledge!!) Two of the most prevalent wildflowers along the stream are the Trout Lily Erythronium which has tiny yellow flowers and a mottled leaf that feels like a sticky rubber mat, and Bloodroot Sanguinaria canadensis which has little white flowers and a red liquid that leaks out of the stem and onto your hand if you're not ready for it. They are everywhere!! (And they require no work or placement on our part!!) I would probably pay good money for these plants if they sold them in a store. I'm starting to appreciate them more all the time!! Here is a journal entry of Thomas Merton from his 1965 book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

More and more I appreciate the beauty and the solemnity of the "way" up 
through the woods, past the barn, up the stony rise, into the grove of tall, 
straight oaks and hickories around through the pines, swinging to the hilltop 
and the clearing that looks out over the valley. Sunrise: hidden by pines and 
cedars to the east: I saw the red flame of the kingly sun glaring through the 
black trees, not like dawn but like a fire. .. It is essential to experience all the 
times and moods of one good place. No one will ever be able to say how 
essential, how truly part of a genuine life this is: but all this is lost in the 
abstract, formal routine of exercises under an official fluorescent light. 
Have a good week.
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Sun, 9 Jun 2002 17:20:55 -0400
A warm breeze is blowing in the woods today and I'm sitting on the sauna porch taking it all in. I have several jobs beckoning me, but they will just have to wait until I'm finished with my porch sitting. The sauna rests on a dry-lay stone wall that my Dad and I built from one of his numerous rockpiles generated from 50 years of working the ground. (Rocks are one thing New England has no shortage of!!) Building a stone wall is like working on a life-size puzzle; piece by piece it slowly begins to take shape. Gary Snyder speaks of poetry in the same manner This poem is from his first collection (Riprap) published in 1959.

riprap: a coble of stone laid on steep slick rock to make a trail for horses in the mountains
Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
    placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
    in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall
    riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way,
    straying planets,
These poems, people,
    lost ponies with
Dragging saddles
    and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
Game of go.
    ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
    a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
    with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
    all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.
Have a good week!!
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Wed, 19 Jun 2002 08:44:56 -0400
There is no separation between "in town" and "out of town". It is a practical distinction (out of convenience I suppose), but it only goes so far. This no separation speaks of an ever-fluent experience that underlies surface observations, crisscrossing back and forth with no clear-cut lines of border. Language is an attempt to play in these areas of no-distinction, no-borders, or no-nature. As I'm sitting here on my summer porch, the 12 miles between here and Houlton expand and collapse like two dogs chasing squirrels back and forth between woodpiles. Walking down the sidewalk in Market Square looking at storefront windows is just as natural, in this sense, as walking a trail in the backwoods. There is no escaping nature. There is no escaping human nature. It is always what we are and where we are, regardless of the mileage. Here is something else from Gary Snyder (two in a row!!). This appeared in the preface of his 1992 collection of new and selected poems No Nature, which was nominated for the National Book Award that year. No Nature. Human societies each have their own nutty fads, mass delusions, and enabling mythologies. Daily life still gets done. Wild nature is probably equally goofy, with a stunning variety of creatures somehow getting by in all these landscapes. Nature also means the physical universe, including the urban, industrial, and toxic. But we do not easily know nature, or even ourselves. Whatever it actually is, it will not fulfil our conceptions or assumptions. It will dodge our expectations and theoretical models. There is no single or set "nature" either as "the natural world" or "the nature of things." The greatest respect we can pay to nature is not to trap it, but to acknowledge that it eludes us and that our own nature is also fluid, open, and conditional. Language is an open space to move in, with the whole body, the whole mind. My gesture has been with language.

Have a good week!!
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Fri, 19 Jul 2002 08:36:10 -0400
One of the advantages of having the privy a goodly distance from your dwelling (there are some disadvantages as well!!), is the mandatory walk to and fro. This provides a convenient excuse to see a little scenery and complete a practical task at the same time. As I returned from my morning walk today, I noticed Linda had her "Pocket-Guide to Wildflowers" back out again. The berry plants are making an appearance around our place and the blue ones are just starting to turn color. When I was a child I remember my uncle saying, "You don't eat blueberries that grow in the woods." I took him at his word. According to Linda's book, these are yellow clintonia (clintonia borealis), part of the lily family. They have a waxy green leaf almost like plastic, and flower in the spring with small yellowish bell-like adornments. In late July and August the upright cluster of blue berries form. (But do not eat!!) The other plant is the red baneberry (altaea rubra). Its berries are already bright red, and they are hiding under our rope bridge and a few along the stream. Our little book points out that these delightful berries are poisonous. Although our dogs eat just about everything in sight, they do have smarts enough to leave these alone!! This is all part of getting to know your environs first hand. Here is an excerpt from Scott Russell Sanders' essay "Settling Down".

It has taken me half a lifetime of searching to realize that the likeliest path to the ultimate ground leads through my local ground. I mean the land itself, with its creeks and rivers, its weather, seasons, stone outcroppings, and all the plants and animals that share it. I cannot have a spiritual center without having a geographical one; I cannot live a grounded life without being grounded in a place. In belonging to a landscape, one feels a rightness, at-homeness, a knitting of self and world...I am suspicious of any philosophy that would separate this-worldly from other-worldly commitment. There is only one world, and we participate in it here and now, in our flesh and our place.

Have a good week!!
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2002 14:40:13 -0400
You will have to excuse me for a moment. You are looking at a man who is in love with the world!! (In fact, it's getting so bad that I'm listening to Herb Alpert's, 'This Guy's In Love With You' as I write this...) I know how obnoxious this sort of thing can be, but as many of you know, Linda & I were recently married and just returned from a lover's trip to Quebec City. Usually I try not to subject people to my self-indulgent love poems, but in this case, please bear with me. Here is something from August 3rd.

It is 9 am and already the air has acquired a sultry quality
befitting such a day as this in early August.
This is my wedding day.
The over-night guests have already taken their morning dip in the stream
and are off dressing children and rounding up dogs.
People will soon arrive helping to set-up for the day's events.
For the moment , I have the stream to myself;
a brief calm before my new bride and I are surrounded
by the love and laughter of our family and friends - 
music drifting into the night.
For the moment, I stand alone;
my body naked in the stream,
the water cool and refreshing like champagne out of a bottle.
Washing soap bubbles off my body,
the Dr. Bronner's floats downstream and
crosses the highway under US Route 1...
This is my wedding day.
From the bath I can see the spot
where I will soon stand and say my vows.
Her words will meet my words
and our two hearts will listen to the sweet sounds -
the love that is our being.
Have a great week!! LOVE
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2002 16:53:17 -0400
With the sudden turn to more "seasonable" temperatures, Linda and I officially christened the old woodstove for the 2002-2003 wood-burning season. There is no set-date for this occasion, you just know when it's time!! We walked in the door one evening, and without saying a word I went straight to the kindling box for a Boston Globe and some cedar starter. I knew Linda was thinking the same thing. (She's easy to read when it comes to heating variables!!)

Our cabin sports a vintage turn of the century Portland Foundry Co. cast iron cookstove. A couple of years back, my Dad and I were returning from the town dump on a Saturday morning, and we decided to stop at Cote's Auction House in downtown Monticello. Cote's has all the local flavor you can expect out of a small town. The floors are slanting in several different directions at the same time, a couple of old couches for sale in the back serve as a customer lounge, and the standard pot-bellied stove is always cranked up in the cold time of year. When I walked in, I spotted the Portland Foundry stove sitting in the corner. Standing right in front of it was my Uncle Charlie, eyeballing it real close. My Dad walked up to him and said, "You're not thinking of buying that old stove, are yuh?!" After a few minutes, my Dad had convinced my Uncle Charlie it was too much money for something he didn't really need. As the story goes, my Dad had a harder time convincing me. Time to fire up the stove for another year!!

This is a short excerpt from Scott and Helen Nearing's, The Good Life:

Wooding-it (in the vernacular) has been a basic source of income, a pleasant leisure 
occupation and health-preserving avocation ever since human beings learned to make 
and use fire for their purposes.  The practice is still popular, even in centers dedicated 
to technology, mechanism and automation.  Wooding-it can be practiced by any homesteader 
or householder.  It requires only a few simple hand tools which anyone can learn to use 
effectively.   It occupies spare time that might otherwise be spent in front of the TV and 
keeps even decrepit oldsters out in the open while they make a real and substantial 
contribution to family comfort and practicality.
Have a great week!!
Houlton Unitarian Society

Date: Thu, 17 Oct 2002 22:14:43 -0400
Nothing is more insane than the appearance of sanity. The world is crazy right now and I would feel better if more people said so. I fear that we are on the brink of something that could pull us somewhere no one wants to go. If we continue to define terrorism in such broad terms and use "War on Terrorism" as a means to ensure the success of Good over Evil, we will never run out of skirmishes to keep our military busy. It gives new meaning to the concept of world war, one with which we could do without. American global interests are going to meet resistance and we need to rely on something else besides force or fiscal leverage. That being said, it's a beautiful Fall afternoon and each of our lives are vitally important...

I went to rinse dishes in the stream
the water a few degrees cooler since my last visit
the autumn leaves flagrant
crouched on the ledge I scrub carefully
(as not to fall in !!)
I offer the remnants of breakfast to the stream
and the maple syrup and sausage grease part company
a miniature oil slick floats on the surface
and captures the morning sun in iridescent swirls
stacked dishes on the edge of the stream
Have a great week!!
Unitarian Society of Houlton

Date: Tue, 12 Nov 2002 13:03:00 -0500
Journal entry
11/06/02 (post election day or the political day-after)

The cold came earlier than expected this year. Even the Farmerís Almanac missed this one, calling for above normal temperatures; a mild and rainy first week of November. After my complaints of last year and my reckless rantings to the snow gods, this year I will shut up. I am content. And I have garnered a new-found respect for what the frozen-turf deities can accomplish by election day!!

I must admit I was caught by surprise. I had been lulled into a false sense of security, delaying fall tasks a little later each year thinking that global warming was buying me extra time. Yet, in spite of the gods treacherous early-season antics this year, Linda and I still succeeded in stacking our winterís wood, tilling the garden and planting next yearís garlic crop. But where we did get caught with our pants down (and itís damn cold right now to be caught in such a position!!);

1. Our propane company is still waiting for more opportune conditions to get down our hill and deliver our winterís gas supply.

2. Our wharf is still floating in the stream encased by ice like Captain Shakleton's doomed ship in the Antarctic!!

So here I am in this personally awkward position of having to petition the deities that be, to back-off and give me a break. (or at least let me pull up my pants!!)

When I woke up this morning, I woke up in a thoroughly Republican-controlled country. Even a strong cup of camp-brewed coffee couldnít wash the taste out of my mouth. As I stood on the front porch watching the snow fall, I noticed a snowflake just to my right that wasnít moving. It was just hanging there in empty space!! It was a huge, fluff-flake, the kind where you can see space in-between the snow crystals, and it had two distinct parts like a mechanical model of a molecule in high school science class. I reached above it about 4 inches, pinched my fingers into thin air and moved to the side. The snowflake followed. It hung below my hand like a delicate pendant. I moved again and the invisible force moved the snowflake as well. It was weightless and silent, defiant of its fellow snowflakes that let inertia and gravity have its way. As simple wonder abdicated to practical scrutiny, I could see that the snowflake had been snagged on a spiderís web-strand hanging from the edge of the roof. I spotted 4 or 5 others, and as I walked in the woods I noticed more of these snow pendants hanging like natureís jewelry. It may be awhile before I see this phenomena again, but I can damn well say I saw it. And on a morning like this, it is a timely sign. It is a snowy sign of personal defiance and adherence to ideas and policies that sometimes defer from a comfortable political majority drifting down. It hangs solitary, but itís not the only one, and I will keep an eye out for more of these aberrant snowflakes as I sit here in the woods, waiting to see what the mischievous snow gods come up with next.

Have a great week!!
Unitarian Society of Houlton

Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2002 23:16:59 -0500
Winter came early this year. We've already had several sub-zero temperature readings and 20 inches of snowfall according to my backwoods measuring methods. (This consists of sticking a tape-measure into the snow until it hits something solid!!) The road to our cabin closed for the season on November 17th, so Linda and I have been skiing back and forth for a couple of weeks now. We find it helpful to differentiate between recreational skiing and commuter skiing, when people ask if we've done much skiing lately. Even though we're only a half-mile in from US Route 1, it may as well be 10 miles when it comes to the psychic distance or sense of solitude that it creates. We just didn't expect our solitude to arrive quite so soon!! I'll leave you with one of Linda's favorite sayings of late, "cold is cold..."

    The quiet of december reclines unnoticed
    in the frozen north country
    stillness settles upon stillness  

Unitarian Society of Houlton

Date: Sun, 29 Dec 2002 21:24:08 -0500
Freeze-up came early this year. I was walking on the river ice a couple of weeks ago and it appeared the ice was here to stay for the duration. The dogs as well as the deer use the frozen riparian surface as their winter highway. It's also great for skiing (no up-hills or down!!) and opens up numerous trail options to explore. But then it rained, and the influx of water simulated a spring melt-off creating December ice out!! The ice slabs sitting on the edge of the stream resemble an artic deck of playing cards scattered across a table. I measured the slabs at over 16 inches thick!! With the new year approaching, I'm taking this as a dramatic out with the old ice and in with the new!! Already it's reforming and I will soon be able to take a stroll upstream with a cup of coffee in my hand. But for now, I'm content to sit by the stacks of 2002 ice and bide my time...

in the cold dark nights of winter
the thermometer plummets
and nature's dreams are formed
Unitarian Society of Houlton

Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2003 14:21:13 -0500
January 22, 2003 I am sitting here in the woods patiently watching the outside thermometer, but I don't believe it's going to crawl above zero today. I'm afraid it's already peaked and will soon be heading back down again. The dogs have been sticking close to the wood stove all morning and none of us have ventured far beyond the front door. It's a good day to keep the fires going and count pots of coffee consumed. Keep warm...

"Western democracy is on trial; on trial to be judged by its own claims to be the rule of the people themselves. Not realizing itself to be on trial, assuming its own infallibility and perfection, Western democracy has resented every attempt to question these things. The mere idea that it might come under judgement has seemed absurd, unjust, diabolical. Our democracy is now being judged, not by man but by God. It is not simply being judged by the enemies of the West and of "democracy." When anyone is judged by God, he receives, in the very hour of judgement, a gift from God. The gift that is offered him, in his judgement, is truth. He can receive the truth or reject it; but in any case truth is offered silently, mercifully, in the very crisis by which democracy is put to the test. The truth is too enormous, too ominous, to be seen in comfort. Yet it is a great mercy of God that so many of us can recognize this fact, and that we are still allowed to say it."
      - Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander 1966

Unitarian Society of Houlton

Date: Wed, 5 Mar 2003 13:33:48 -0500

Wednesday Morning
March 5, 2003

Winter is still here in full force. We just finished digging out from the last storm and there's another one right on its heels. It's already snowing outside as I write, so I guess it's arrived. (8 hours earlier than forecasted!!) The old-timers around town say this is the kind of Maine winter they used to brag about. I know a couple of weeks ago, my thermometer did not register above zero in over a 90 hour span. It was like living in a walk-in freezer with the door closed!! I call it the "90 day deep-freeze", and I'll probably reminisce about it 30 years from now myself, when I'm bragging about those damn Maine winters...

Here is a comment from Norman Mailer written in 1952 about the state of American democracy. It comes from his book Advertisements For Myself, which I found a copy of in a used book store for 50 cents. This quote alone is worth a couple of quarters.

The history of the twentieth century seems made to be ignored. None of the intellectuals who now find themselves in the American grain ever discuss - at least in print - the needs of modern war. One does not ever say that total war and the total war economy predicate a total regimentation of thought. Rather, it is suggested that society is too difficult to understand and history impossible to predict. It is not polite to suggest that the prosperity of America depends upon the production of means of destruction, and it is not only the Soviet Union which is driven toward war as an answer to insoluble problems...The symposium posed questions about mass culture and democratic society without seriously debating how much freedom there is to find the effective publication of one's ideas if they are dissenting ideas, without wondering whether democracy becomes more attenuated and may cease to exist when the war comes, and without considering how America may change in the future. Everything is viewed in a static way. We are democratic. We support the West. It is worth something to remind ourselves that the great artists - certainly the moderns - are almost always in opposition to their society, and that integration, acceptance, non-alienation, etc. etc., have been more conducive to propaganda than art.

Unitarian Society of Houlton

Date: Thu, 27 Mar 2003 13:47:31 -0500
Wednesday, March 26
It is raining in the woods this morning and the winter accumulation of snow is soaking it all in. I think the dogs are more interested in staying dry today and staying out of the "soggy" snow if possible. I may do the same.

There is no way to remove oneself from the world. No matter where one may be located (be it a monastery, the backcountry or the city), the world of politics, society and nature are always with us. Contemplative practices such as prayer, reflection and listening to the radio all keep us in touch with the challenges of our contemporary world. Here is an entry from Thomas Merton's Secular Journal written in February of 1941:

We have no peace because we have done nothing to keep peace. We have not even desired peace except for the wrong reasons; because we didn't want to get hurt, we didn't want to suffer. If we are ever going to have peace again, we will have to hate war for some better reason than that we fear go lose our houses, our refrigerators, our cars. If I pray for peace, the prayer is only justified if it means one thing; not that the war may end, the fighting stop, and murdering and injustice continue some other way. To pray merely for the war to stop, and some fake armistice to be signed is not to pray for peace. If I pray for peace, abstractly speaking it makes sense if I pray for a "just peace," although I do not know what, in political terms, would constitute a just peace now, and I am totally unable to get any relevance, politically out of the term. But when I pray for peace I pray for the following miracle. That God move all men to pray and do penance and recognize each one his own great guilt, because we are all guilty of this war, in a way.

Unitarian Society of Houlton

Date: Tue, 27 May 2003 19:56:15 -0400
May 27, 2003

The sun is getting stronger these days even in the northern extremities of New England. The farmers and the gardeners are back on the ground planning their annual strategies and the brook trout are just starting to check out this year's hatch of insect life on the stream. These are some of the natural interests of the season, but so too are the political and economic affairs of people and societies around this global ball. These are indeed interesting days to be alive. (a little too interesting perhaps?!) These comments of Camus and Merton capture my feelings completely.

An oriental wise man always used to ask Divinity in his prayers to be so kind as to spare him from living in an interesting era. As we are not wise, the Divinity has not spared us, and we are living in an interesting era. - Albert Camus

We live in crisis, and perhaps we find it interesting to do so. Yet we also feel guilty about it, as if we ought not to be in crisis. As if we were so wise, so able, so kind, so reasonable, that crisis ought at all times to be unthinkable. It is doubtless this "ought," this "should" that makes our era so interesting that it cannot possibly be a time of wisdom, or even of reason. We think we know what we ought to be doing, and we see ourselves move, with the inexorable deliberation of a machnine that has gone wrong, to do the opposite. A most absorbing phenomena which we cannot stop watching, measuring, discussing, analyzing, and perhaps deploring! But it goes on. And, as Christ said over Jerusalem, we do not know the things that are for our peace. - Thomas Merton

Unitarian Society of Houlton

Date: Wed, 25 Jun 2003 07:52:29 -0400

Wednesday, June 25

Linda and I have a frog living in our spring-box. Since we don't have refrigeration at the cabin, we have a dug spring a short distance away with a 30 gallon plastic Rubbermaid garbage can sunk into it with drilled holes in the side to allow water in and out. Now I don't know how the frog got inside, but he appears to be perfectly happy. Each time I lift the lid to get something out of the spring-box, there he is sitting on top of a jar of pasta sauce or the pickles!! The water is ice cold, so I can see why he likes to hang out on the mini-floating platforms!! I know it's kind of odd to have something living in your refrigerator, but at least he doesn't eat much...It's also become part of my morning routine; walk to the spring for the jug of milk, lift the lid and say "Good morning, Frog."

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least.
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass.
I find letters from God dropped in the street - and every one is signed by God's name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that others will punctually come forever and ever.

                  - Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Unitarian Society of Houlton

Date: Sat, 19 Jul 2003 22:46:00 -0400

Saturday Morning, July 19, 8 a.m.

The sky overhead is clear blue with a few wisps of white.
The sun is finding its way through the tree branches to the front porch.
The overnight moisture is rising off the cabin roof like the steam
coming out of my morning cup of coffee...

A couple of weeks ago I came across a used paperback edition of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World Revisited (1958). It was a follow-up analysis to his Brave New World which he had written twenty-seven years earlier. He says, "I feel a good deal less optimistic now than I did when I was writing it. The prophecies made in 1931 are coming true much sooner than I thought they would!" Well, I hate to say it, but many of his comments still fit our headlines in timely fashion. It kind of makes you wonder where this idea of a "new world order" came from anyway?!

Non-stop distractions are provided by newspapers and magazines, by radio, television and cinema. In Brave New World non-stop distractions of the most fascinating nature (the feelies, orgy-porgy, centrifugal bumble-puppy) are deliberately used as instruments of policy, for the purpose of preventing people from paying too much attention to the realities of the social and political situation...Propaganda in favor of action that is consonant with enlightened self-interest appeals to reason by means of logical arguments based upon the best available evidence fully and honestly set forth. Propaganda in favor of action dictated by the impulses that are below self-interest offers false, garbled or incomplete evidence, avoids logical argument and seeks to influence its victims by the mere repition of catchwords, by the furious denunciation of foreign or domestic scapegoats, and by cunningly associating the lowest passions with the highest ideals, so that atrocities come to be perpetrated in the name of God and the most cynical kind of realpolitik is treated as a matter of religious principle and patriotic duty.

Unitarian Society of Houlton


Sunday, August 31

Our cucumber plants were nipped a couple of nights ago by a light frost.
(approximately 35 degrees) This is the sort of thing that gets your
attention in August!! Linda and I have already lit the woodstove, so
for us, the wood-burning season has officially begun. For most Mainers,
a typical wood-burning season consumes almost eight months of the year.
I don't mind getting into the wood supply by Labor Day, but this year
it's been a little early even for me!! Linda and I have also decided
not to go anywhere this week-end in our vehicles. With local gas prices
hitting an all-time high of $2.06 for premium, and over 700,000 vehicles
anticipated clicking through the York County toll-booths, we have
decided it's a good week-end to stay off the road and in the woods.
Here is a timely quote for Labor Day Week-end as we consider the days in
which we work and live:

To require little is better capital than to earn much. The need to earn
much enslaves a man, while the ability to do with little makes him free.
He who needs little will more easily strive toward the goals he has in
view, and will in general lead a richer, fuller life than he who has
many wants.

Fridtjof Nansen

Unitarian Society of Houlton


September 18, 2003
5:45 PM mixed sky; 72 degrees

Linda works on Thursday evenings, so the dogs and I end up fending for
ourselves. Tonight is pancake night, or "hot jumpin' griddle cakes" as
it's known around our place. The dogs think they should get more than
their one griddle cake allotment, but I'm still the one with the
spatula!! As I rinsed the dishes down at the stream (this is our
backwoods version of running water!!), I noticed how unseasonably warm
the river is. The leaves are just beginning to turn, but the recent run
of warm days and nights have left the stream feeling more like August.
Still, one cold night will be all it takes to get us right back on
track!! I wave my cast iron frying pan in the air to the coming Fall...

This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals,
despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid
and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue
not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward people, take off
your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go
freely with powerful uneducated persons and the mothers of families,
beat these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your
life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any
book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall
be a great poem and hide the richest fluency not only in its words but
in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your
eyes and in every motion and joint of your body...

- Walt Whitman
copied from a greeting card when brousing in a bookstore in New Paltz,

Unitarian Society of Houlton

October 16, 2003
Thursday morning: 48 degrees, brisk wind

A heavy rain storm ran through the area yesterday accompanied by strong
winds. Anything not properly lashed down took a ride. This morning I'm
sawing wood for the kindling pile. When it comes to soft-wood I'll
salvage anything I can get my hands on, but cedar is the best. I like
white cedar because it makes a nice quick fire and it's easy to saw.
The "easy to saw" part is especially handy on a day like this when I
don't feel like fighting wood. The sun is shining brightly in-between
the clouds, but the wind has not lost much momentum from yesterday. It
makes for a noisy morning in the woods. The river is high and loud from
all the extra rain and the wind is keeping everything in motion. The
leaves are blowing around the place like loose scraps of paper were
blowing around Yankee Stadium last night in game six!! The same winds
that were a factor in New York last night are a factor here today. Good
thing my wood isn't putting up a fight!!

Here is a quotation from photographer Ansel Adams. To experience nature
through a camera lens is only one means, the perceptions of the human
spirit are unique and limitless.

Who can define the moods of the wild places, the meaning of nature in
domains beyond those of material use? Here are worlds of experience
beyond the world of the aggressive man, beyond history, and beyond
science. The moods and qualities of nature and the revelations of great
art are equally difficult to define; we can grasp them only in the
depths of our perceptive spirit.

Ansel Adams
Introduction to Portfolio Three: Yosemite Valley 1960

Unitarian Society of Houlton

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