Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I have been listening to different versions of Sarah McLaughlin's song "Arms of The Angel" a hauntingly beautiful tribute to a musician friend who died of a heroin overdose.

Spend all your time waiting for that second chance
For the break that will make it ok
There's always some reason to feel �not good enough�
And it's hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction, oh beautiful release
Memories seep from my veins
They may be empty and weightless, and maybe
I'll find some peace tonight

In the arms of the Angels, fly away from here
From this dark, cold hotel room, and the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie
You're in the arms of an Angel; may you find some comfort here

So tired of the straight line, and everywhere you turn
There's vultures and thieves at your back
The storm keeps on twisting, you keep on building the lies
That you make up for all that you lack
It don't make no difference, escaping one last time
It's easier to believe
In this sweet madness, oh this glorious sadness
That brings me to my knees

In the arms of the Angels, far away from here
From this dark, cold hotel room, and the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie
In the arms of an Angel; may you find some comfort here.

This is one of those songs I have learned to love so much that I NEVER get tired of it.

My best friend, David, died of a heroin overdose when he was 24 years old. His addiction had gotten so bad that i didn't even answer phone calls from him anymore. These came, more often than not, at two or three in the morning after he had scored and was looking for someplace to use as a shooting gallery. The last time i saw my pal Dave, the person I loved more than anybody I've ever loved outside of my family, he went into my bathroom, shot up and passed out. I went in to find him after twenty minutes or so and found him on the floor with a bloody outfit in the sink. I told his girlfriend that she had to get him up and out, because if he died there I would throw him off the back porch and leave him for the garbagemen to find. I meant it. He died a couple of months later. I talked to him once on the phone a month or so before he died and he talked about how sorry he was that he had never seen mountains. He broke my fucking heart. I told him that i would take him to the Rockies anytime he was ready to go without a needle. Of course, that couldn't work. If he had asked at that moment to trade existences, I believe I would have done so.
When Dave died, I wept. i didn't shed a few subtle, manly, tears. The floodgates of grief opened and I wept rolling on the floor. Since that day I have lost my mother, my brother, my father, but I have never grieved with the passion and ferocity that I had when David died. How to explain? It is not really possible.
I wrote a poem for David in the days following his death. I don't remember it all, but the first line was
"David died today, he bounced down the front porch steps..."
Compare this to Sarah McLaughlin's beautiful poem.
I am wondering, was i just too close to the stink of addiction, or was I just that much less loving?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Island Life

Mount Piao, 'Rainmaker' in Pago Pago Harbor, American Samoa

A cyber pal asked about my time in Samoa so I started to tell her about it. It was so much fun reminiscing that I thought I would post it here.

I went to American Samoa, which is a US territory, in 1978. We lived on Tutuilla, the largest of the US islands, which isn't saying much. It is 14 miles long and four miles wide at the widest part, or about 54 square miles. By way of comparison, the largest Samoan island is Savai'i, part of the independent nation of Samoa. Savai'i is 659 sq. miles.

We went to AS as contract educators. My title was curriculum specialist and my wife was a Special Ed teacher trainer. Because of our jobs we got to visit all the three high schools on Tutuilla, Samoana, Faga'itua and Leone. I also worked closely with the Caholic girls HS organizing a big speech festival. I visited the HS on Ta'u(pronounced Tah'oo with a glottal stop)which was great as it was much less developed than Tutuilla. When you walked through the village of Ta'u, the only one on the island, the little kids would gather to stare, point and yell, "papalagi, papalagi(pah lahngi) which means white person or off-islander. It literally means ‘white cloud’ and originally referred to the first European sails Samoans saw. Since the sailors were white, they called them palagi also.

My wife and my one year old daughter, Nelly, lived in a 'compound' for contract workers, mostly non-polynesian but some Samoans and islanders who were married to contract workers. There were also two live-in Samoan 'house girls' or nannies. I despise the term 'house girl' but it was the common parlance. Our first HG was Tongan(Tonga,by the way, is still a kingdom) and our second was Tokelauan. They were combo child care and housekeepers. Mafa(martha) our second woman treated me as a matai or clan chief. She would send us umu on Sundays sometimes. That is food cooked in an earth oven or 'umu'. They burn wood down to hot coals, put green banana leaves on the coals and put the food on the leaves. It cooks while they go to church. She would send taro root, the staple starch food, palusami which is coconut cream in young taro leaves, just delicious, and whatever meat she had fixed, usually 'pisupo' or corned beef bought in big plastic kegs. A little girl would knock on our door, hand us a basket woven of green palm fronds and say, "This is from Mafa" and leave. What a treat!
To be continued.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sioux Falls

Sioux Falls
Originally uploaded by ifmuth
Claire and I went to the big city! We take in recycling only once a month, because we have to drive two hours to do so. We dropped off the recycling, donated clothes and shoes to Salvation Army, and then ate lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant. The food was fantastic! The closest Chinese place to us is 75 miles away and it is pretty mediocre. But mmmm, veggies in hot garlic sauce! Spicy sour soup! I don't remember when I have enjoyed a meal in a restaurant so much. I wouldn't drive 130 miles just for sushi or spicy garlic veggies, but it sure is nice that they are available when we go there.
Alas, the Yoga place was closed so I couldn't try out meditation cushions, but that's ok. Something to look forward to next time. We went across the street to the used book store-what a place. I love used book stores, and this is one of the better ones. We even remebered to take books in for trade-in credits. Then we went to our favorite weird general store, Zond Bros.,where I found a Christmas present for my son Nick, a great set of glow-in-the-dark zombies! Yeah, he's 28, but I know he'll love them.
So it was a beautiful drive, green and sunny. We had a terrific lunch, went to our favorite shops, got to ogle the sculptures on Phillips Street(hence the panda here) and got to do some good karma stuff. All in all, it was a good trip.
One of the things being so far away from a city has given us is the gift of deferred pleasure. We can't visit Sioux Falls every week. Well, I suppose we could, but we wouldn't burn that much fossil fuel and spew that much carbon just for a diversion. It is satisfying to have to wait to eat at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant, to go to a bookstore that stocks something besides romance and westerns. Its fun to take in all the recycling and have to make an effort to do so. For us, a trip to town has become one of life's simple pleasures.

You Ain't Just Whistlin' Dixie Buddhists, we are admonished to expunge aversion, be averse to aversion, if you will. And of course judgements are a no-no, according to some Buddhists. Jesus taught against judging as well. But when you come across rude, loudmouthed racists, I feel we ought to call a spade a spade(play on cliche intended). Ah, that proud son of the South Joe Wilson just couldn't stop himself from screaming at the n--, oops I mean president. He apologized for calling our legally elected president a liar, but no apologies for being a racist loudmouth. According to Our Campaigns.Com ,Joe has been a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, ....

"This is an organization that, as the Southern Poverty Law Center has detailed assiduously, has been taken over in the past decade by radical neo-Confederates who favor secession and defend slavery as a benign institution. Leading the takeover is a radical racist named Kirk Lyons, who's been an important legal figure on the far right for some years."(from Crooks And Liars)
Did you know Ol' Joe was less than forthcoming on his tax disclosure- he has a mountain of debt apparently that he was to embarrassed to admit to, so he, wait for it, LIED!
A few more from Joe

"That's offensive to me that they would take my heritage and make it into a Holocaust era type description." - South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson, back in November 1999, when he was still a state senator, regarding African Americans being upset that the Confederate flag was being flown over the statehouse.

"With the death of Strom Thurmond, South Carolina has lost its greatest statesman of the 20th Century." - Wilson on June 27, 2003.

(quotes thanks to Rude Pundit)

Finally, the fact check services have determined that President Obama was telling the truth. So Joe was not only rude and offensive, but he was wrong.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tis A Gift To Be Spitting

I Love Watermelon-with a capital L & a capital W(and I guess that was a capital 'I' as well, but it doesn't count for this cliche'). What is there NOT to love? The watermelon is a beautiful, green, juicy fruit. The interior is a delicious pink(not my favorite color by any means, but watermelon never reminds me of Pepto-Bismo). It smells wonderful and tastes even better! It is fun to cut up, and you can play John Belushi, Samurai warrior, on the shell when you make smaller pieces for the compost heap. Oh, the seeds? You don't love the seeds? For years I would have agreed with that. Actually, I started buying seedless watermelons when my children were tiny choke machines, or at least I was afraid they were. I thought seedy watermelons should have a warning label like toys; "Warning! Small parts, not for three years and under." So when I found seedless watermelons, I knew the plant breeding goddesses had smiled upon us.
Last week i went to the farmer's market at American Creek, a stand alone simple pleasure. I went to the Hutterite ladies
and had a pleasant time chatting as my dogs sang sonorously in the car-completely within eyesight! Quite a concert!. Anyway, the Hutterite ladies had wonderful looking watermelons and I bought one. These were not the battleship sized monsters commercial growers produce but lovely round grey-green fruit with dark green stripes, sized for two or maybe three people. When I cut it open at home, it snapped! The dogs and I savored(yes, the dogs love WM too!) the pink, just-right-sweetness of the melon. But it had seeds! I had a few in my mouth, I leaned over the sink, and HOLY CRAP! I started poppin' those pips and it felt so good. I had completely forgotten what a joy spitting watrmelon seeds can be! Not any contest or competition, that's actually seperate fun, but just the slppery, slidey seed spitting was delightful! Maybe back when eating watermelon automatically meant seeds it was harder to appreciate this little bit of fun. OK seeds could be a pain in the ass, like fish bones, almost. But now that I have a choice? And I can go to the park by the creek and chat with the ladies and get very good home grown watermelon and CHOOSE to spit seeds? AH, it is an ephemeral summer time pleasure.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Snakes!(and dharma)

Prairie Rattlesnake
Originally uploaded by Sarah Hamilton

Every morning I take the dogs out to the trail that leads up to Roam Free Park a couple miles out of town. It is a steep walk, good for the aerobic conditioning and the dogs can run free. We often leave the trail and climb up through the buffalo grass and little blue stem, the prickly pear and the golden rod, the liatris and the sunflowers, well, you get the idea. It is beautiful. Much of the way there is a fantastic view of the Missouri River/ lake, the old bridges, the town. The view to the north is a vast expanse of river, hills, prairie and sky. It is one incredibly beautiful park. Yesterday after we scrabbled through the grasses and wildflowers and got over the ridge to the level part of the park where there are a few benches and some mowed area and a picnic shelter, you know, "park proper" so to speak, I encountered a newcomer to the area with his two dogs. As we chatted, he told me how the day before he was up there and a tourist was taking pictures of his two children. Suddenly they heard the rattlesnake a couple of feet behind the kids, near a bench. The man called his two children and Jim warned him that the snake was very poisonous and that he should put his kids in their vanhe took the fellow to be from another country. The snake began to head for his hole when Jim grabbed it by the tail, pulled it out and tossed it. he had meant to fling it over the ridge into the acres of wildness that makes up most of the park, but alas, aiming an angry rattlesnake isn't as easy as one might imagine! The snake landed several yards in the opposite direction. Jim, fearful of leaving a venomous serpent where folks spend a lot of time, picked up a rock and killed the poor beastie. As he told me the story he expressed genuine regret because he doesn't like killing anything.

I have to say, I like snakes. I find them fascinating and beautiful. I hate killing any animal so much that I am a vegetarian, and I love me some burgers and pork chops! In spite of this I had to say that 1) he has a lot more in the way of cojones than I do! and 2) He probably did the right thing. Remember, I HATE killing critters. But if that snake had been sunning that morning after shedding, it might very well have struck those children, or someone else, maybe me, maybe you! Ideally, Jim would have caught it and moved it, but THAT is a dangerous proposition. Of course, so is yanking deadly vipers out of a hole. He shouldn't have grabbed it in the first place, but once he did, he didn't have much choice but to dispatch it.

At first I thought, what a contrast! Such beauty and such danger! But as I walked back down(yes, through the grasses and flowers-but watchfully) I observed all the grasshopers and the leaves they chomped. I noticed the birds above that prey upon the grasshoppers. Then I watched the turkey vultures that clean up after the predators soaring on the updrafts and I realized, it is all just as it is. I regretted the death of the snake, but it is all part of the whole and it is just as it is,

Friday, September 4, 2009


I take my dogs on a steep uphill trail every morning. I can let them free from leashes, and they mostly run and sniff. I only walk and pant. By the time my panting turns to gasping, we reach a bench set in a little spot that the town keeps mowed. This park is all hills and prairie grass, Black Hills spruce and wildflowers. The bench has a view of the Missouri River,which is also a lake here, and the bench is surrounded by small wild sunflowers. It makes a beautiful place to sit until my heart and lungs stop imitating a speed freak's speech. This morning, all the sunflowers were gone! Not the stems, just the flowers. They were still in full bloom, and I was hoping someone had simply picked flowers to take home. When I sat down I looked to my left and there, strewn in the grass, ,were all the flowerheads, discarded like garbage. You may find this foolish, but I was really bothered by this pointless act of vandalism. My equanimity quickly kicked in, but it made me sad to see that someone is so thoughtless of living things, so indifferent or hostile to beauty that they would perpetrate such wanton destruction. There are jillions of wild sunflowers this year as well as skillions of other, gorgeous wildflowers thanks to our unusual rainfall throughout the summer, (mostly at night, with day after day of fantastic sunshine) so it isn't as if they are rare. But this was like a little natural garden. In the scale of mean things, this was pretty tiny, but the flowers never had a chance to go to seed and do what they are here for, to feed the birds and to plant other flowers.As you can tell, I love wildflowers, but I also love animals and children and people of all ages and the planet. This tiny destructive act seemed a microcosm for all the pointless violence, all the malicious cruelty perpetrated by people against people and animals and the whole natural world. It just made me sad for , for all of us.