Sunday, November 19, 2017

Beasts of the Forest

Those of us who may or may not be that interested in current events, but for some reason or other still aimlessly seek a silver lining somewhere in the news could well have come across reference to a 1999 study from social psychology titled The Kruger Dunning Effect, a misreading of which might well have tempted some to produce an explanation for our current predicament. A careless reading of the study would suggest that "The less competent a person, the more competent they think they are, and this confluence can make a person irredeemably obnoxious." This is actually Fake News that bristles a little on the boardwalks of an academia that has long been chastised for lack of relevance in a new age of communication that depends for it's income upon brevity in its passion to appeal to the least and most wretched part of each of us. Should you be tempted by the misreading, and are short of time, best to recall that a more accurate reading of the study and its criticisms might go this way "A jackass, like a rose, is a jackass no matter how competent or incompetent he or she might be." Certainly a Eureka sprang from my lips, but not knowing whether or not I am competent or incompetent, I have come to the conclusion that to avoid being a jackass I must endeavor to improve my grammar, my sentence structure, my punctuation. Spelling will rightly remain one of the holy mysteries, but call the entire exercise a come to Jesus moment between myself and the English Language as it is written.

And I fully intend to begin lesson one with an understanding of the Colon, not talking the digestive aid, we're talking the two full stops, one on top of the other, and we're talking the full stop on top of a comma, or the Semi-Colon. Both mysterious little punctuation marks that figure quite large, not only in literature, you can find them in lists, tables and a whole bunch of things including my imagination were they lurk in the corridors along with memories of detention and wholly obnoxious jackass type statements such as "In future you will...."  Fortunately there is no shortage of information about the Colon and the Semi-Colon, their ubiquity as a totally confusing punctuation marks draw considerable attention from millions of people who quite clearly have nothing better to do. Sadly if I'm to begin to understand either one of them, I have first to grasp the meaning of a Clause its relationship to an Independent Clause, and Connections between Independent Clauses or boring old Clauses provided by either Conjunctive Adverbs or Transitional Phrases. And while I probably have a couple of years remaining to me during which I might make the journey into a comprehension of these weighty issues, so long as there is food on the table I am tempted by Job's uncontrollable Bellowing Behemoth, to remain ignorant and dismissive, a farewell to curiosity. Yes indeed, the Psalms of David were written by a repentant king; broken by his sins; tears in his eyes: a warning to the power hungry, not a road map to a seat in the US Senate. Amen. And if you're interested in the Behemoth it's Job 40 15-24:  Job 40 15 through 24

Saturday, November 18, 2017


Many years ago, long before the Kitten emerged from under the front seat of a beaten up red pickup truck and long before the Girl Cat arrived in a nicely appointed hand crafted cat carrying basket, there was a big to-do that revolved around Compost Piles. There were seven of them, and it's a well known fact that some gardeners can be very picky about what goes on what pile, and they can go on a bit about the indolence and slothful behavior if other gardeners who do things like put the stalks of Iris blooms on the wrong pile, and they can get close to having a nervous break down if they find something like a bit of nylon string on the end of their compost turning fork. So in a vague attempt to maintain harmony the GICOCP, or Gardener In Charge of Compost Piles, decided to ceremoniously name his seven Compost Piles, and when asked on which pile to put something like a wind damaged Bush Bean he'd be able to sensibly and promptly reply "Ann of Boleyn." A majority might consider this a simple answer to the question of what pile to put what on. But the other thing about all gardeners, and I think it has something to do with the fresh air, as they achieve their less sentient years they struggle with memory. And while the naming of Compost Piles might have seemed like an obvious solution to a simple problem, it quickly fell foul of the GICOCP's inability to remember the names of his Compost Piles.

I do however remember the name of one of those Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It was called Isis, after the Egyptian Goddess, friend to slaves, sinners, artisans and the downtrodden. Not in the least a mystical child, she was the first daughter of Geb, who was god of the earth and of Nut who was goddess of the Ancient Egyptian sky. And indeed Isis was the go to Compost Pile, not just for those wretched fronds of faux Pampas Grass that linger for month after thatched month, but any and everything from woody tree cuttings to the endless roots of Creeping Grass. And today, many years later, someone, more saint than sinner, out there in the gusty southern drafts with the perfect excuse of rain in the forecast, did for some unaccountable reason chose to find out what lay inside the golden heart of Isis.  She was well covered by dry leaves that had fallen over the more recent contributions to her girth, the trees around her had gown in stature, the roots of Grapevine, Virginia Creeper and poison Ivy reached into her for nourishment. It's Pessoa, the Portuguese Poet, who's happy to remind the ambitious that no matter how hard you try, your descriptions fall flat when placed beside the reality of experience. And what lay inside Isis is right up there with that kind of Joy a Compost Maker might share with himself only once or perhaps twice in a lifetime. I had to close my eyes and remind myself that Isis had married her brother, which returned both of us to a more settled frame in which we might plot the future. Being a mortal, I gave consideration to a statue marking her presence, then thought Potato, maybe Asparagus, possibly Strawberry, giant pots of Tomato and I then fetched the wheel barrow.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Yellow Roof Hotel

It was a pretty day in Saint Barbara, not too warm, nor too cold, sunshine, a light breeze from the west kept aromas from the River Styx at bay. Peepers had emerged from their winter to fill the late evenings with the high trebles that can get on people's nerves, drive them to both drink and distraction. There'd been a Barn Dance to celebrate these signs of spring, Alejandra had made large quantities of her famous Peeper Broth, a sort of nourishing froggy soup with tiny little eyeballs flavored with wild garlic and ginger root, and the Dutchman might have had one helping too many. That morning he wasn't feeling very well as he went about the work of a ticket collector for Saint Barbara's Halt. But, at the Barn Dance while enjoying a whirling boot scoot, it occurred to him that if Rome was going to send emissaries who could read and write to Saint Barbara these emissaries would more likely be high end characters accustomed to the creature comforts, good beds to sleep in, familiar food with proper matching plates, knives and forks, bathing and toilet facilities, as well as things like souvenirs to hang on their mantel pieces at home. None of which were really available in Saint Barbara. And the other thing that occurred to the Dutchman was that high end characters who could read and write were usually accustomed to paying good money for knickknacks and creature comforts. The Dutchman himself was more of an Episcopalian in his choice of God, so he had no clue what a Carmelite might be, rather it was the Emissaries ability to read and write, use really nice stationary, and travelling all the way from Rome that informed the Dutchman's assumptions which as the day progressed melded into a brilliant plan. Rather than sit around waiting for trains and passengers with tickets, he set about building an Inn. And it so happened that the first person to ever earn a wage in Saint Barbara became curious about the comings and goings on the level ground to the east of Saint Barbara's Halt.

When the Dutchman explained the plan, Young Pudesduckle saw dollar signs and he began to salivate in a most entrepreneurial manner. "I'm all in!" Young Pudesduckle slapped the heel of his shoe in that aggravating way of his, and being effectively the richest person in the county he offered financial assistance. The Dutchman accepted and this was the beginning of the long often difficult relationship of Beek, Pudesduckle and Slattery LLC. The business went on to dominate the hotel and catering trade with it's chain of Yellow Roof Hotels which popped up like poisonous mushrooms all over pioneer country, it struggled a little with the advent of hot and cold running water, flushing toilets and finally went bankrupt with the arrival of things like the electrical grid, coin operated laundries and ice machines. Very fortunately the visitor to Saint Barbara is still able to rediscover the wonders of those early and much happier times, get the flavor, the local color, good times and reasonable rates by spending a weekend in the only existent Yellow Roof Hotel. It's within easy stumbling distance of both Saint Barbara's Halt and Owl's Bar. For those interested, the Slattery in Beek, Pudesduckle and Slattery, was more of an invisible partner. In her book "My Life as a Pioneer" Bronwyn explains in great detail the sin of vainglory and goes on to give as her down to earth example of this mysterious sin how the Dutchman and Young Pudesduckle added Slattery to the partnership because neither could tolerate the idea of their name being the last name on business paraphernalia such as advertizing, stationary and business cards. But I think if there is a point, when Brother Ryan and his two accomplices finally arrived in Saint Barbara, and The Dutchman was finally able to inspect a railway ticket, the county had scented beeswax candles, dried sweetmeats, scrimshawed rosary beads of various kinds, other local crafts for sale, and there were rooms available for rent by the day or week in a Charming Rustic Inn with a freshly painted yellow roof. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Letters from Rome

Carmelites have never been much on that sort of evangelism that goes round knocking on doors handing out pamphlets, but at the same time there's always a branding issue, you can't just wake up one day have a vision and call yourself a Carmelite or even a Barefoot Carmelite. Just doesn't work that way, never has. And soon enough news reached Carmelite Headquarters in far away Rome that there could be some kind of heretical activity that was using the good name and reputation of the Carmelite order without permission. And indeed in the wider perspective the Church of Rome had had a certain sensitivity around Carmelites ever since the Heretic Martin Luther had briefly found sanctuary amongst German Carmelites. Nor had this suspect reputation been in anyway ameliorated by Saint Teresa who had created a bit of a schism in the Carmelite order when she and John of the Cross went all mendicant and discalced on what had been an otherwise fairly relaxing life choice in the painful path to a comfortable retirement in the afterlife. It's also the case that your N scale enthusiast, like a good majority of N scale enthusiasts are devotees of the relativist calling and grains of salt should be liberally sprinkled on our interpretations. However, one thing you can put in the bank is the fact that soon after the first Steam Engine pulled a single passenger carriage to a gliding stop at Saint Barbara's Halt there was an umbrage in Carmelite Headquarters that resulted in a genuine, highly qualified, boy Carmelite of excellent reputation being sent to Saint Barbara. His name was Brother Ryan, he had the outfit and everything, and he was accompanied by a couple of youthful novitiates, Paul and Davis, to help with stuff like luggage.

Bronwyn the Seamstress had received several cease and desist letters via Georges Papadopoulos of the Pony Express, but she along with her sisters couldn't yet read, so the whole thing was rather sinister and Papadopoulos wasn't much help because apparently according to his terms of employment he wasn't permitted to read other people's letters or make any kind of comment about them. "Thou art a sweet boy Poppy," Bronwyn still had her Omani accent. "Canst thou place an origin upon the source of these missives?" Georges, who was a stickler, agreed there was nothing in his rule book forbidding that sort of thing and not only did he read the return address out loud he knew where Rome was and he did go on a bit in an incomprehensible way about boot heels and Elba, none of which made any sense to Bronwyn. Nor was Bronwyn the sort of Carmelite who just gave up, left things to the gods. She'd heard that Saeed's former translator, the Dutchman, had found work with the railway line as a ticket collector, and she guessed that the Dutchman would be able to help resolve at least some of the confusion. The Dutchman was struggling with his new job. In those days timetables were a little random, there weren't that many trains, and people travelling on trains that did stop at Saint Barbara's Halt so the engineer might refresh the boilers never even got out of the carriages to stretch their legs, so what with one thing and another The Dutchman became very excited as he read the letter from Rome to Bronwyn the Seamstress' Sisterhood of Barefoot Carmelites. "What does this mean, Honorable One?" Bronwyn offered. "It means," the Dutchman beamed, "I'll soon be collecting my very first ticket!" 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Early Days

The founder of Saint Barbara's branch of the Carmelite calling didn't learn to read or write until she was well into her seventies. And more likely Bronwyn's first vision of Saint Teresa was an insight unadulterated by anything like Sunday School, or Saturday School, or any kind of sacred text, or word from an Imam, or cowled priest, or sandal wearing country music singer with cross around his scrawny neck. In her uncomfortably honest book "My Life as Pioneer" she describes her defining vision as being that of a young, impressionable, cloistered seamstress, and the sad fact is that when eventually she did learn how to read she found it necessary to first exorcise then burn her copy of Admiral Flynn's "Lives of the Medieval Saints." Which she recalls "was a beautifully written and illustrated work of smut." And she goes on a bit about God moving in very mysterious ways, and that while Admiral Flynn was a horrible person he was mostly accurate in his description of Saint Teresa who as a young gal did indeed run away from home to fight what she thought was a crusade, turned out to be an attempt to discourage Hapsburg ambitions in Spain. And Bronwyn goes on to explain why even though Admiral Flynn might have been yet another casualty of the Lutheran Reformation, he'd definitely missed out on any chance at purgatory and was sent directly to the lowest regions of hell, where in one of her dreams she'd seen him being eternally boiled by stick wielding lobsters. Some recent, possibly flippant, analysts of Bronwyn the Seamstress' defining vision have suggested she was moved entirely by a singular idea of style that would have made fashion houses of the world utterly redundant.

It's also the case that had it not been for a devotee of Diana, Saint Barbara's branch of the Carmelite calling might never have broken ground and they could easily have succumbed to the vicissitudes of an environment and climate Saeed's royal seamstresses had never been properly prepared for. The first structure was built from hand crafted, gathered materials, which included bits and pieces, a couple of big pillows, camp beds, sheets, blankets, some very nice carpets, and tenting materials from Saeed bin Saeed's camp site. "We did pine a little for our warm, sweetly scented homeland," Bronwyn admits. "But we had youth, enthusiasm, God and the sturdy Alejandra's poorly cured and lice infest assortment of animal pelts on our side." These days the visitor to Saint Barbara can peer through the locked gates that prevent the idle from wandering aimlessly from the railway station of Teresa's Halt into the private convent grounds, and if they stand on tip toes, crane their necks they are able to see the remains of a rough hewn stone chimney which through the course of that first miserable winter was built with local advice by Bronwyn and her sisters. "At last we were able to gather kindling," Bronwyn recalls after digressing a little on flues and chimney drafts. "We lit our fire, warmed ourselves, thanked our god, ate a hot stew of unidentifiable animal parts and carrots and suddenly the sun returned to our new world, temperatures soared, humidity returned and I was attacked by a crowd of our saviors blood sucking insects. This I realized was heaven on earth and we Carmelite sisters sang the only Christian song Alejandra could remember. Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pale of water, Jack fell down and broke his crown, and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't but Jack together again."

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Carmelites of Saint Barbara

One of the many, many, many questions that haunt Saint Barbara is "Why on earth did Saeed's Seamstresses choose the Carmelite Calling." An excellent question, the answer to which is incredibly long and filled with detailed and life altering insights, so those who have useful things to do like leaf raking, gutter cleaning and the list is horribly long, should avoid these pages for at least five days, possibly longer. But anyone who might once long ago have heard the older Elvis Presley say "It will fascinate you" and found themselves curious, then the answer to the above mentioned question is the stuff for you. It all began with a book, not just an ordinary book with long Bronte-esque sentences that went on and on endlessly before achieving a moon landing on a full stop. This book followed the poetic styling's of the very ancient Sumerians, three, or four thousand years ago, the sentence structure kind of looks like the Arab poet Al Qamar from the seventh or eighth century who wrote things like "They  crouched by the artebrakes, the hunters, in order to achieve a safe prey, but she outran their spears and pursing hounds." A love poem by the way and I'm sure there's a semicolon or a line break in there somewhere. This book that so inspired Bronwyn Applegate was written by a man called Jackson Lee Flynn who gave up on the whole business of being an admiral for the Spanish Navy and rather than do the traditional thing which was to sell his soul to a number of foreign fascist dictatorships decided to devote the remainder of his days to investigating the life and times of the Medieval Saints.

It's also the case that while many scholars don't cleave to the idea that the founder of the Carmelites was a Medieval Saint, Jackson Lee Flynn had been an Admiral for goodness sake, and he didn't mess around with the minor details like whether Saint Teresa of Avila was Medieval or not. And the thing about it was, and I don't know what it's like now, but in those days when Bronwyn found the admiral's beautifully written and illustrated book, royal seamstresses weren't really allowed to know how to read. It was bad for them apparently. All the same on page 69 of Flynn's book there was a wonderful illustration of Teresa. She looked incredibly happy, not a care in the world, her skin flawless, not a wrinkle on her face, and indeed she was barefoot, dressed in a simple, uncomplicated dress, a small, very calm woolly creature in her arms, which could have been a curly haired kitten, but she was surrounded by what could have been pigeons none of which looked at all nervous. Worth mentioning that in those days images of human beings were rather frowned upon in Oman, and according to the rules a person found with an image of a female human being, could have their leg, or their arm chopped off.  All of which is a long, long way from the traditions of the ancient Sumerians, where if I recall, the goddess of Gilgamesh's city was a very beautiful woman for whom anything remotely associated with fidelity or modesty was really very low on her list of priorities. Either way, Bronwyn was so struck by the image of Teresa in Flynn's book, she had a vision.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tunnel Collapse Aftermath

It wasn't so much that the Sultan of Oman was heart broken at the news of his youngest son's departure from this earth, rather it was the disappearance of his youngest son's six valuable seamstresses that put an ire into the old man's eye. "A seamstress is a seamstress is a seamstress!" he riled at his advisors. And indeed the very idea of a royal seamstress being ordered to labor in the dirt by his reprobate youngest son for the sake of a couple of old bones was a disgrace the Sultan's pride was unable to tolerate, and he determined to find out exactly what had happened in that corner of a foreign field that would forever remain Muscat and Oman. He chose his baldest and ugliest eunuch, and he issued a royal command, "Henceforth thy name shall be Keith Schiller! Thou whilst adopt the mannerisms and accent of a New Yorker of Germanic ancestry, voyage to the land of the Barbarian and thou shalt discover the truth, and if the truth darest not meet with royal approval I shalt order thine head removed by a blind executioner." A cruel and unusual punishment the Sultan was rather fond of. Nor was it easy for Keith to reach Saint Barbara. Muscat was having a problem with Elphinstone, something to do with Zanzibar, sea travel was a tricky and the overland route was dogged by brigandage and the wretched Ottomans. Luckily for Keith he had a few connections in the lower decks of the British Navy and was able to reach Saint Barbara with an astonishing degree of promptness, which is just as well because otherwise an objective reader on a sensible planet like Jupiter might begin to doubt the veracity of this account of how Said's Cutting got its name, and just go for some totally joyless and completely wacky, ridiculous theory about out of control behaviors from spoilt rotten domestic pets chasing spiders and leaping onto badly thought out landscapes before plaster of Paris has properly set, and how there was indeed some very unchristian calling from the minaret beseeching Allah to bring down something like a Long Eared Owl to relieve an N scale enthusiast from his burden.

In Bronwyn Applegate's "My Life as a Pioneer" she recalls how her sisterhood had grasped the very real possibility of an adverse reaction in Oman. "The old lecher had very fixed ideas about who did what. But we gals were determined to follow in the footsteps of Saint Teresa. We would become Barefoot Carmelites or be martyred in the process. And anyway I'd already had a vision of the ideal site for our convent in the wild barbarian countryside, so there could be no retreat from our dream of simplicity in this extraordinarily backward part of the world." The minute the seamstresses knew that Saeed bin Saeed would never come out of the dinosaur tunnel, they kicked off their shoes and after a short, possibly unseemly pause they reminded Alejandra Pachis of the time she'd lifted the prince onto her shoulders intending to throw him into her unfinished duck pond. Alejandra recalled the moment well and she remembered the sets of heavy necklaces the young prince wore around his neck. "Never took them off," Bronwyn sighed. "Pure gold, worth a fortune!" This news spread like wildfire from one corner of Saint Barbara to the other. And when Keith Schiller arrived in Saint Barbara every last bit of rubble had been removed from Said's Cutting, it was so clean and tidy it was almost dust free, an N scale enthusiast's idea of perfection. The Industrial Magnet and investors who'd been made a little gloomy about their prospects after the tunnel collapse, were now delighted with the progress on their railway line. The new batch of young, mainly obnoxious Industrial Magnet representatives were all given fancy titles, and were strutting around getting their photographs taken. In his diligent hunt for the earthly remains of Saeed and his entourage Keith did find what could have been a bone from a seamstress' thumb in the rail line ballast of a poorly designed tight curve a little west of Saint Barbara's Halt. He didn't dare tell his master and instead he gave the Sultan of Oman a long, gory story about cannibalism amongst the infidel.