More from Ishi

In describing the mindset of the legions of prospectors traversing Ishi’s homeland, the author provides this illuminating historical context through the eyes of an abandoned prospector, J. Goldsborough Bruff, who kept intricate journals of his experiences:

Gold seems to work on the human psyche to its undoing.  The Reverend Walter Colton, Alcalde of Monterey, is quoted as saying in 1848, “The people are running over the country and picking it (gold) out of the earth, just as a thousand hogs let loose in a forest would root up the ground-nuts.”  Of those who stopped at his camp, Bruff writes, “Many I recognized as old acquaintances as far back as Pittsburgh: large companies (they were then), with fine animals, a great amount of provisions and stores, and smiling faces; now scattered, broken, selfish stragglers, thin with hunger (and) anxiety.”  He told of one grandfather who, sick with scurvy, was dumped from the family wagon and left to die beside the trail.  He watched a man hammer in useless scrap the tools he could carry no farther–if he could not use them, neither should Bruff nor anyone else.  There were those who burned the precious pasture grass when their own animals died.  Mules, cattle, sheep, and horses were stolen in great numbers, branded and added to the herds of a sub rosa group or groups recruited from the criminally inclined and disaffected members of emigrant parties.

Bruff fed, warmed, doctored, cheered, and buried the dead of these people.  Not one offered to take him the thirty-two miles to the rancho.

The author goes on to point out that, as Bruff faithfully kept a record of all he saw, honestly recording the worst of humanity’s self-fulfilling inclinations, he also painted every word within a compassionate, understanding, and empathetic context, knowing that he too often felt such destructive proclivities.  Perhaps this knowledge of his own fallen nature allowed him to be a lover and nurturer.

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Ishi by Theodora Kroeber

An excerpt:

 

The big winds of Spring were a welcome announcement of renewal.  They were cold and gusty, but they blew around the warm earth-covered houses harmlessly, blowing themselves out, and were followed by warm rain.  Then came the miracle.  The bare rocks of the plateaus, the hills, and the meadows were painted overnight in the fresh green of new clover.  The sun shone warm, and the streams filled with leaping salmon swimming strongly upstream from the sea.  While the men speared and netted the salmon, the women filled baskets with the precious clover.  There was feasting and thanksgiving.  No salmon bones were thrown away: it would have been a disrespect to do so; dried and pounded and ground in mortars, they were eaten thankfully.  The ribs of the Yana became overlaid with fat, and babies no longer cried hungrily.

 

Kroeber’s Ishi is a non-fictional biography of the last member of the Yana clan of native Americans, who were once living in the foothills of California.  It is truly remarkable to learn about their cyclical way of life and how each season served a very distinct and important function.  Whereas, often times, our culture attempts to nullify the effects of seasons, some cultures thrived in embracing them and the change (or, renewal, as it were) they bring.

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Bruce Nauman

“I think the hardest thing to do is to present an idea in the most straightforward
way… Still, how to proceed is always the mystery. I remember at one point
thinking that some day I would figure out how you do this, how you do art – like,
“What’s the procedure here, folks?” – and then it wouldn’t be such a struggle
anymore. Later I realized it was never going to be like that, it was always going
to be a struggle. I realized I would never have a specific process; I would have
to re-invent it, over and over again.”

 

The simplest of life’s tasks should be approached with this sort of unknowingness, if you will.

 

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Excerpt from The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Then he began to pity the great fish he had hooked.  Life is wonderful and strange and who knows how old he is, he thought.  Never have I had such a strong fish nor one who acted so strangely.  Perhaps he is too wise to jump.  He could ruin me by jumping or by a wild rush.  But perhaps he has been hooked many times before and he knows that this is how he should make his fight.  He cannot know that this is only one man against him, nor that it is an old man.  But what a great fish he is and what will he bring in the market if his flesh is good.  He took the bait like a male and he pulls like a male and his fight has no panic in it.  I wonder if he has any plans or if he is just as desperate as I am?

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Terence McKenna – Psychonaut/Scientist/Anarchist/Feminist et al

During an enlightening conversation with one of my dear friends this past weekend, I was reminded that I used to read the writings of Terence McKenna frequently.  Enjoy:

Our present global crisis is more profound than any previous historical crises; hence our solutions must be equally drastic. I propose that we should adopt the plant as the organizational model for life in the twenty-first century, just as the computer seems to be the dominant mental/social model of the late twentieth century, and the steam engine was the guiding image of the nineteenth century.

This means reaching back in time to models that were successful fifteen thousand to twenty thousand years ago. When this is done it becomes possible to see plants as food, shelter, clothing, and sources of education and religion.

Terence McKenna, Plan/Plant/Planet.

 

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Ode to an Artichoke by Pablo Neruda

The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained
Unshakeable,
By its side
The crazy vegetables
Uncurled
Their tendrills and leaf-crowns,
Throbbing bulbs,
In the sub-soil
The carrot
With its red mustaches
Was sleeping,
The grapevine
Hung out to dry its branches
Through which the wine will rise,
The cabbage
Dedicated itself
To trying on skirts,
The oregano
To perfuming the world,
And the sweet
Artichoke
There in the garden,
Dressed like a warrior,
Burnished
Like a proud
Pomegrante.

And one day
Side by side
In big wicker baskets
Walking through the market
To realize their dream
The artichoke army
In formation.
Never was it so military
Like on parade.
The men
In their white shirts
Among the vegetables
Were
The Marshals
Of the artichokes
Lines in close order
Command voices,
And the bang
Of a falling box.

But
Then
Maria
Comes
With her basket
She chooses
An artichoke,
She’s not afraid of it.
She examines it, she observes it
Up against the light like it was an egg,
She buys it,
She mixes it up
In her handbag
With a pair of shoes
With a cabbage head and a
Bottle
Of vinegar
Until
She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Then
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.

 

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Excerpt from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

On Clothes

And the weaver said, “Speak to us of Clothes.”
And he answered:
Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.
And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy you may find in them a harness and a chain.
Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your skin and less of your raiment,
For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind.
Some of you say, “It is the north wind who has woven the clothes to wear.”
But shame was his loom, and the softening of the sinews was his thread.
And when his work was done he laughed in the forest.
Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean.
And when the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling of the mind?
And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.


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The Portent – Herman Melville (1859)

Hanging from the beam,
Slowly swaying (such the law),
Gaunt the shadow on your green,
Shenandoah!
The cut is on the crown
(Lo, John Brown),
And the stabs shall heal no more.

Hidden in the cap
Is the anguish none can draw;
So your future veils its face,
Shenandoah!
But the streaming beard is shown
(Weird John Brown),
The meteor of the war.

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The Measurements of Success

Since my graduation from what would appear to be my final stint in academia, I have had a particular reoccurring dream.  The setting of this dream varies in people and places, but the overwhelming sense and feel remains constant:

I am on my way to class, terribly afraid because I have not been to this class in weeks.  I have no idea what subject matter is being covered, and no clue as to what assignments are due or have been due in my absence.  I am embarrassed by this fact, thinking that all my professors and classmates see me as a failure or lazy or stupid or some combination thereof.  To top it off, this awareness concerns not only the class to which I am headed, but encompasses all my classes.  It is apparent to me that I have not been attending any of my classes for weeks.  I even have a hard time remembering which classes I am in and where and when they meet.  Overarching all of this is the fear that I will not be able to graduate.

In awakeness, I have never taken the time to assess the meanings of these dreams.  I simply felt thankful that I was no longer in school and relieved that the dream was nothing more than a dream.  Yesterday, however, a possible interpretation jumped into my mind.  The curious thing is that I have not had the dream recently.  I was not even thinking about dreams or about school or any such related thing.  I do not know what I was thinking about at the time, but nonetheless, some subconscious cue was triggered and my mind was sent off to ponder the mysteries of my life.

I have been raised in an atmosphere of schooling: generally characterized by tangible and measurable success.  I know the assignment and I know the deadline for the assignment.  I work to complete the assignment and the end product is assessed.  Ultimately, there is a final achievement: the degree or certificate and a graduation.  The cycle, if you will, is predictable, stable, measurable, and, perhaps for these reasons, easy.  This is probably a good thing for one’s formative years.

I realize now, that I am having a separation anxiety of sorts from this former reality.  To be sure, at work I have measurable deadlines and assignments and am assessed on performance and work product.  In a macro sense, however, I am no longer in that predictable, stable, measurable cycle.  I no longer have an institution setting my goals and measuring my success in achieving those goals.  Much of the stress and anxiety I have been experiencing as of late is caused by my continually searching for such tangible measurements of success and finding none.

To apply the dream-allegory:  when are the assignments due, what assignments have I missed, in which classes am I even enrolled?  That formula which once stabilized me in a season of formation no longer holds any value.  I now have to set my own goals and my own personal measurements of success: what will I do with my life, where will I be in twenty years, who will I be with?  These are the new potential questions, and they do not fit in the old paradigm through which success had been measured.  I have to make up my own assignments and schedule my own deadlines and self-assess my performance and the end product.  I no longer have professors and classmates to disappoint or impress.  I am now moving into the phase of life in which I have only myself to disappoint or impress.  With this realization, I am liberated to be who I am called to be and to do what I am called to do.

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Winnebago Man or The Angriest Man in the World

I left the theater last night feeling both heavy and empty.  This documentary caused me to laugh the hardest I have laughed in quite awhile.  At the same time, however, it forced me to reflect upon life in a profoundly sobering way.

The subject of the documentary, a flamboyantly articulate septuagenarian,  began life with a clear and particular dream of what he was to become in life.  He worked hard towards that end.  While in pursuit of his goal, he happened to make an industrial video which was far removed from his ideal.  In the end, this one, humorously absurd blip on his biographical radar suddenly became the reason why millions of people now know this man.

We all set out on a course which is purposed to lead to our dreams.  This documentary and its portrayal of this man’s life makes one wonder, “could I, too, veer so far off my intended course?”  None of us dream dreams and set ultimate life-goals with an understanding or even, perhaps, an inkling that we may not only fail to come close to them, but we may achieve the exact opposite.

My advice: do not find contentment in your aspirations; find contentment and let that contentment birth forth your aspirations.  Contentment is an end in and of itself.

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