21 December 2007
30 November 2007
"May the Peace of God be upon this household! May the Light of God be in your souls! May the Wisdom of God be in your minds! May the Virtue and Purity of God be in your feelings! May the Strength and Vitality of God be among the members of your household! May the Health and Well-Being of God be manifest through the bodies, the garments which you wear! May the Grace of God be in your worship! May the Talents and Genius of God be manifest through your senses! May the fullness of the Victory of your own God Plan be manifest through your souls at the close of your earth life!"
27 November 2007
If I die, survive me with such sheer force
that you waken the furies of the pallid and the cold,
from south to south lift your indelible eyes,
from sun to sun dream through your singing mouth.
I don't want your laughter or your steps to waver,
I don't want my heritage of joy to die.
Don't call up my person. I am absent.
Live in my absence as if in a house.
Absence is a house so vast
that inside you will pass through its walls
and hang pictures on the air.
Absence is a house so transparent
that I, lifeless, will see you, living,
and if you suffer, my love, I will die again.
"Joy and Sorrow" ~Zhong-Yang Huang
23 November 2007
21 November 2007
Celtic Advent Wreath
BOOK OF KELLS
BRONZE ADVENT WREATH
Crafted in solid bronze, this heirloom Advent wreath will be cherished for generations. The interior is a Celtic Cross decorated with knotwork from the Book of Kells. The exterior is inscribed “As I Light This Flame I Lay Myself Before Thee” -- words from an ancient Celtic prayer set in a bed of green enamel. 9" in diameter.
31 October 2007
A THIN moon faints in the sky o'erhead,
And dumb in the churchyard lie the dead.
Walk we not, Sweet, by garden ways,
Where the late rose hangs and the phlox delays,
But forth of the gate and down the road,
Past the church and the yews, to their dim abode.
For it's turn of the year and All Souls' night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight.
Fear not that sound like wind in the trees:
It is only their call that comes on the breeze;
Fear not the shudder that seems to pass:
It is only the tread of their feet on the grass;
Fear not the drip of the bough as you stoop:
It is only the touch of their hands that grope--
For the year's on the turn and it's All Souls' night,
When the dead can yearn and the dead can smite.
And where should a man bring his sweet to woo
But here, where such hundreds were lovers too?
Where lie the dead lips that thirst to kiss,
The empty hands that their fellows miss,
Where the maid and her lover, from sere to green,
Sleep bed by bed, with the worm between?
For it's turn of the year and All Souls' night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight.
And now they rise and walk in the cold,
Let us warm their blood and give youth to the old.
Let them see us and hear us, and say: "Ah, thus
In the prime of the year it went with us!"
Till their lips drawn close, and so long unkist,
Forget they are mist that mingles with mist!
For the year's on the turn, and it's All Souls' night,
When the dead can burn and the dead can smite.
Till they say, as they hear us--poor dead, poor dead!--
"Just an hour of this, and our age-long bed--
Just a thrill of the old remembered pains
To kindle a flame in our frozen veins,
A touch, and a sight, and a floating apart,
As the chill of dawn strikes each phantom heart--
For it's turn of the year and All Souls' night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight."
And where should the living feel alive
But here in this wan white humming hive,
As the moon wastes down, and the dawn turns cold,
And one by one they creep back to the fold?
And where should a man hold his mate and say:
"One more, one more, ere we go their way"?
For the year's on the turn, and it's All Souls' night,
When the living can learn by the churchyard light.
And how should we break faith who have seen
Those dead lips plight with the mist between,
And how forget, who have seen how soon
They lie thus chambered and cold to the moon?
How scorn, how hate, how strive, wee too,
Who must do so soon as those others do?
For it's All Souls' night, and break of the day,
And behold, with the light the dead are away. . .
12 October 2007
good luck, gifts from angels, etc. This is the first time I've ever
heard this twist on the story. Gives you something to think about.
Several years ago, a friend of mine and her husband were invited to
spend the weekend at the husband's employer's home. My friend, Arlene,
was nervous about the weekend. The boss was very wealthy, with a fine
home on the waterway, and cars costing more than her house.
The first day and evening went well, and Arlene was delighted to have
this rare glimpse into how the very wealthy live. The husband's
employer was quite generous as a host, and took them to the finest
restaurants. Arlene knew she would never have the opportunity to
indulge in this kind of extravagance again, so was enjoying herself
As the three of them w ere about to enter an exclusive restaurant that
evening, the boss was walking slightly ahead of Arlene and her
He stopped suddenly, looking down on the pavement for a long, silent moment.
Arlene wondered if she was supposed to pass him. There was nothing on
the ground except a single darkened penny that someone had dropped,
and a few cigarette butts Still silent, the man reached down and
picked up the penny.
He held it up and smiled, then put it in his pocket as if he had found
a great treasure. How absurd! What need did this man have for a single
penny? Why would he even take the time to stop and pick it up?
Throughout dinner, the entire scene nagged at her. Finally, she could
stand it no longer. She casually mentioned that her daughter once had
a coin collection, and asked if the penny he had found had been of
A smile crept across the man's face as he reached into his pocket for
the penny and held it out for her to see. Sh e had seen many pennies
before! What was the point of this?
"Look at it." He said. "Read what it says." She read the words "
United States of America "
"No, not that; read further."
"One cent?" "No, keep reading."
"In God we Trust?" "Yes!" "And?"
"And if I trust in God, the name of God is holy, even on a coin.
Whenever I find a coin I see that inscription. It is written on every
single United States coin, but we never seem to notice it! God drops a
message right in front of me telling me to trust Him? Who am I to pass
it by? When I see a coin, I pray, I stop to see if my trust IS in God
at that moment. I pick the coin up as a response to God; that I do
trust in Him. For a short time, at least, I cherish it as if it were
gold. I think it is God's way of starting a conversation with me.
Lucky for me, God is patient and pennies are plentiful!
When I was out shopping today, I found a penny on the sidewalk. I
stopped and picked it up, and realized that I had been worrying and
fretting in my mind about things I cannot change. I read the words,
"In God We Trust," and had to laugh. Yes, God, I get the message.
It seems that I have been finding an inordinate number of pennies in
the last few months, but then, pennies are plentiful! And, God is
08 October 2007
I am the One with Mercury in Gemini.
I am the One who is clever and curious.
I am the One with a super sensitive nervous system.
I give you the ability to think quickly and to communicate effectively.
I give you the ability to alter your course and change gears without slowing down.
I want you to recognize that when you step back from the cacophony of everyday stress and stimulus is when you find that inner peace that comes from tapping into your higher mind.
I am the One with the Gemini Sun.
I am the one who likes to have fun.
I am the One who is sometimes two.
The One who can't decide what to do.
I am the One who is Mutable Air.
I am the One who can change like the weather. Unpredictably.
I give you an insatiable curiosity.
I give you the ability to communicate effectively.
I give you an active mind.
I give you the ability to see both sides.
I want you to balance your restless energy with calm introspection.
I want you to trust in your ability to be decisive.
You will remember when you overcome innate boredom by focusing on your many, diverse interests. When you quiet the many conflicting voices in your head and learn to love the twin who is your Self.
You are The Hierophant
Divine Wisdom. Manifestation. Explanation. Teaching.
All things relating to education, patience, help from superiors.The Hierophant is often considered to be a Guardian Angel.
The Hierophant's purpose is to bring the spiritual down to Earth. Where the High Priestess between her two pillars deals with realms beyond this Earth, the Hierophant (or High Priest) deals with worldly problems. He is well suited to do this because he strives to create harmony and peace in the midst of a crisis. The Hierophant's only problem is that he can be stubborn and hidebound. At his best, he is wise and soothing, at his worst, he is an unbending traditionalist.
What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.
18 September 2007
12 September 2007
by Leonard Cohen, a song for the end of Saturn in Leo and the new eclipse cycle
The birds they sang
at the break of day
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government --
signs for all to see.
I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
and they're going to hear from me.
Ring the bells that still can ring ...
You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
Thanks to Lynn Hayes
28 August 2007
22 August 2007
My brother had his first art exhibit.
Posted on Sat, Aug. 18, 2007
Politics & pancakes
A duo act is now a solo at the Porch Cafe in Santa Margarita.
David Lewis and Dustin Pace planned on sharing wall space for their politically themed art exhibit, but the cafe owners were unprepared for Pace’s offerings in the family-oriented business.
“We asked if he had something else he could bring,“ said co-owner Carol Somano.
Her partner, Susanne Stadler, said that although she shares Pace’s political sentiments about war, she asked if he could switch his offerings for works that were pro-peace.
“A painting of the president with an arrow through his head is not appropriate for kids coming in for pancakes,” Stadler said.
Pace chose to withdraw his works rather than compromise his integrity. “I was asked to take down the current works of art and sanitize them with neutral replacements,” he said.
A cyber nexus
The two artists met on My-Space and discovered they were kindred souls. When Lewis moved his family to Shandon six years ago, he said he felt isolated and out of place with the flannel-shirt country crowd after growing up in the ghettos in Washington, D.C. “I’ve had a different life experience,” the 43-year-old said.
Nor could the illustrator and graphic designer find artists he could relate to, whose art was more edgy. Although Lewis has done landscapes, “I also do a lot of cartoons, silly stuff, and there’s no venue for that,” he said. The two men discovered a common bond in their off-the-wall art interests.
Leaders and kings
For the current show at the Porch Cafe, they took the premise of leaders and kings and “kind of twisted that to mean different things” Lewis explained. “I’ve always used art all my life as a way to deal with frustrations or solve problems,” he said, and the lack of good leadership on various levels is among his concerns.
Both knew of Somano and Stadler’s support of the arts through their cafe, where they usually show artists’ work back to back.
Pace said he was concerned their art might be offensive and drive away customers, but Somano shrugged off that possibility, he said.
His submissions consisted mainly of cartoons and other images that poke fun at people in power.
“I like the in-your-face approach,” said Pace, whereas
Lewis’ work is subtler, he added.
When Pace brought his artwork in, however, the in-your-face aspect was “too extreme,” said Stadler, who saw the art two days after it was on display.
A different impression
“I was very surprised,” she said, noting the work was anti-war, and since her partner‘s husband is serving in Iraq, she didn’t think it was right.
Pace said he was asked to replace his selections with art that was less depressing, and he refused to do so, opting instead to pull out of the show. Lewis was going to follow suit, in protest, he said. “But Dustin and I felt it was best to leave my work up as a statement.”
“I will not do what they ask,” Pace said, “because I believe this is why artists, musicians, playwrights, filmmakers, and authors do what they do.
“I am not an artist because I can make attractive squiggles. I am an artist because I have something to say.”
Pace, who lives in Santa Margarita, recently mixed crushed charcoal with used motor oil and “attacked the newsprint” with his invented medium. The 34-year-old said the result is a turmoil, a metaphor for what’s going on in the world today.
A learning curve
Lewis is being philosophical about the show’s bumpy start.
“It was definitely a kick in the gut for both of us, but we believe that something good will come from this learning experience,” he said. “It was a risky move on our parts to try and use a coffee shop to show art.”
The artists are seeking another venue for their duo exhibit.
They may have to resort to a previous idea. In the past, they’ve kidded about showing art at their homes, with wine and cheese, and having friends do the same, said Pace.
“We were laughing about it; we were calling it ‘Tupperware Art.’ ” Pace said.
Reach freelance writer Lee Sutter at email@example.com.
© 2007 San Luis Obispo Tribune and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
06 August 2007
02 August 2007
If you notice on the side-bar of this blog is my Library Thing. On it has been for several months the Autobiography which is afterall my favourite all-time book. I just added Henry Miller's Sexus, which I am currently reading. Well, it might seem that is a contradiction, but it isn't really so much.
Afterall...didn't Walt Whitman say it best..."Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."
The voice-activated SmartShopper™ Grocery List Organizer. It alphabetizes and groups items by where they’re found in the store.
* Recognizes nearly 2,500 grocery items, or add your own to the database.
* Coupon flag feature (*very cool*)
* Add simple errands like bank or dry cleaning.
* Built-in printer requires no ink cartridges.
Unfortunately, it is a little pricey for my take, especially since I am saving for a trip to Scotland. But what a great idea!
31 July 2007
27 July 2007
Jayne Torville and Christopher Dean's Gold medal winning performance in 1984 at the Winter Olympics in Ottawa Canada continues to be the most exquisite ice skating performance I've ever witnessed and which has yet to be matched or surpassed; truly one of the most exciting and passionate works of art ever performed. The music is Ravel's Bolero, one of my favourite pieces. It is no surprise to me that is occurred on Valentine's Day. Just watching it puts me in the mood for love.
Christopher Dean turns 49 today.
26 July 2007
25 July 2007
VINCENT BLACK LIGHTNING - 1952
"Oh," says Red Molly to James, "That's a fine motorbike.
A girl could feel special on any such like"
Says James to Red Molly, "My hat's off to you
It's a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952.
And I've seen you at the corners and cafes it seems
Red hair and black leather, my favourite colour scheme."
And he pulled her on behind and down to Boxhill they did ride
"Oh," says James to Red Molly, "Here's a ring for your right hand
But I'll tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man.
For I've fought with the law since I was seventeen,
I robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine.
Now I'm 21 years, I might make 22
And I don't mind dying, but for the love of you.
And if fate should break my stride
Then I'll give you my Vincent to ride."
"Come down, come down, Red Molly," called Sergeant McRae
"For they've taken young James Adie for armed robbery.
Shotgun blast hit his chest, left nothing inside.
Oh come down, Red Molly to his dying bedside."
When she came to the hospital, there wasn't much left
He was running out of road, he was running out of breath
But he smiled to see her cry
He said, "I'll give you my Vincent to ride."
Says James, "In my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a '52 Vincent and a red headed girl.
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeves won't do,
Ah, they don't have a soul like a Vincent 52."
Oh he reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
Said, "I've got no further use for these.
I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome,
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home."
And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride.
© 1996 Richard Thompson
20 July 2007
By Melinda Wenner, Special to LiveScience
29 June 2007
If you name your emotions, you can tame them, according to new research that suggests why meditation works.
Brain scans show that putting negative emotions into words calms the brain's emotion center. That could explain meditation’s purported emotional benefits, because people who meditate often label their negative emotions in an effort to “let them go.”
Psychologists have long believed that people who talk about their feelings have more control over them, but they don't know why it works.
UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman and his colleagues hooked 30 people up to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines, which scan the brain to reveal which parts are active and inactive at any given moment.
They asked the subjects to look at pictures of male or female faces making emotional expressions. Below some of the photos was a choice of words describing the emotion—such as “angry” or “fearful”—or two possible names for the people in the pictures, one male name and one female name.
When presented with these choices, the subjects were asked to pick the most appropriate emotion or gender-appropriate name to fit the face they saw.
When the participants chose labels for the negative emotions, activity in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex region—an area associated with thinking in words about emotional experiences—became more active, whereas activity in the amygdala, a brain region involved in emotional processing, was calmed.
By contrast, when the subjects picked appropriate names for the faces, the brain scans revealed none of these changes—indicating that only emotional labeling makes a difference.
“In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses,” Lieberman said of his study, which is detailed in the current issue of Psychological Science.
In a second experiment, 27 of the same subjects completed questionnaires to determine how “mindful” they are.
Meditation and other “mindfulness” techniques are designed to help people pay more attention to their present emotions, thoughts and sensations without reacting strongly to them. Meditators often acknowledge and name their negative emotions in order to “let them go.”
When the team compared brain scans from subjects who had more mindful dispositions to those from subjects who were less mindful, they found a stark difference—the mindful subjects experienced greater activation in the right ventrolateral prefrontral cortex and a greater calming effect in the amygdala after labeling their emotions.
“These findings may help explain the beneficial health effects of mindfulness meditation, and suggest, for the first time, an underlying reason why mindfulness meditation programs improve mood and health,” said David Creswell, a UCLA psychologist who led the second part of the study, which will be detailed in Psychosomatic Medicine.
17 July 2007
This is actually one of my two favourite spots to be at the Gardens.
This picture was borrowed from this site here which offers several pictures of Encinitas and of Lake Shrine.
My other favourite meditation spot shall remain secret. Don't miss this lovely treasure if you're ever in Southern California.
04 July 2007
Expect nothing. Live frugally
Become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Take only enough
Stop short of urge to plead
Then purge away the need.
Wish for nothing larger
Than your own small heart
Or greater than a star;
Tame wild disappointment
With caress unmoved and cold
Make of it a parka
For your soul.
Discover the reason why
So tiny a human midget
Exists at all
So scared unwise
But expect nothing. Live frugally
~ Alice Walker
24 June 2007
A tribute to his genius, Jeff Beck, who celebrates a birthday today, is a video from YouTube of the inspiring Declan, with Jennifer Batten accompanying.
And for a dose of nostalgia, the acclaimed scene from the cult classic movie Blow Up, of the Yardbirds, with Jeff and Jimmy Page, as Jeff proceeds to destroy his guitar and amp for producing an unwelcomed static while the Train Kept A Rollin'. Bad amp, bad guitar. Great scene.
21 June 2007
The summer solstice, about June 21, is ruled by the Archangel Uriel, who offers us the light of God.-Ambika Wauters,"The Angelic Year"
Summer begins June 21, 2:06 P.M. EDT. "Solstice" means "sun stands still." In late June in the Northern Hemisphere, and in late December in the Southern Hemisphere, the sun appears to stay in one place north or south of the celestial equator (the projection of the Earth's equator onto the sky); it changes little in declination from one day to the next.
18 June 2007
"OK," Norah Jones says, "I really loved Axl Rose. I was into Motley Crüe and Guns N' Roses, and then Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I loved that music."
She's sitting in one of those overstuffed chairs that hotels specialize in -- this particular hotel being in Los Angeles -- with her feet tucked under her so she won't fidget.
"I'm very short attention span," she says.
At 28, Jones seems engagingly like a teenager -- a very well-adjusted teenager, admittedly. Partly it's the implied italics, exclamation marks and attention-deflecting laughter that pepper her conversation. Partly it's the clothes -- mall-casual more than old-time glamour, nothing at all like those posters that sprouted all over San Francisco a couple of months back when her new album, "Not Too Late," came out.
If someone were to walk in here right now, someone who didn't know much about music -- let's make it harder, someone who did -- and you told that person that this was one of the biggest pop sensations of the past 10 years, that person would think you were putting him on. Meanwhile, Jones continues with her testimonial to heavy rock, recalling how, at a tender age, she used to air-drum along to the radio.
"But I imitated Sarah Vaughan in my bathroom shower, I didn't imitate Axl Rose -- until I was much older," she says with a laugh. "I was building up to that."
Of course, we know she wasn't. Jones made her name and her fortune -- her first two albums sold more than 30 million copies and garnered eight Grammys; her third and latest premiered at No. 1 -- with songs that are smooth-edged and intimate, sad but somehow comforting, whose soft-focus, languorous beauty recalls an earlier, less complicated time. She says she's not the "melancholy, romantic" person she appears to be in the songs -- even in the songs she wrote herself, which make up just about all of "Not Too Late." She's a happy person, she insists, saying she "borrowed a lot of stuff from other people's psychology" for her songs.
"It was stuff I could relate to, of course, but no, it wasn't all my own stuff, all pouring out in one go," she says.
Drawn to sad, slow music ever since she was a little girl, she used to compile her own anthologies of sadness, "just so I could cry. When I was feeling sad, to get it all out, I would just put on my mix tape."
Bar the first four years of her life, which when she lived in New York, where she was born, Jones' childhood was spent in Grapevine, Texas, near Dallas. It was just Norah and her mother, Sue Jones, a onetime dancer from Oklahoma. The locals thought Norah was Mexican ("I did look very Mexican, actually"). As is common knowledge now, she is a half Indian, the daughter of sitar superstar Ravi Shankar. An absent father for more than half her childhood -- Jones thinks he came to Texas to visit once, but she was too young to remember -- Shankar has long since reconciled with her.
"It's all in a really good place now," says Jones, who especially delights in having a half-sister of a similar age, sitar player Anoushka Shankar.
Jones is the first to acknowledge that she doesn't know much about her Asian heritage.
"My mom tried to downplay it, I think," she says. "I think she thought that unless my dad was around, it would be mean to have his music and all of the stuff, you know what I mean?"
But she's quick to point out that "there's time for that. And I do have a strong sense of my heritage, and that's this whole Texas thing."
If asked to pick her favorite singer-songwriter, she chooses Willie Nelson.
"I come from Texas," she says, "so Willie is God."
She laughs while describing how she tried to persuade Anoushka Shankar of the country singer's genius.
"She doesn't listen to Willie Nelson, and I feel like he's my homeboy, you know? He is the root of all music for me," she says.
Jones' low-key country side band, the Little Willies, was named in homage to Nelson, with whom Jones has sung a number of times. The first time was in San Francisco, when she opened Nelson's four-night stand at the Fillmore, "just before my first album came out. That was just the thrill of my life, and one of the things that makes San Francisco so special for me."
It was her second time in the Bay Area. The first was in September 2001, to attend a wedding with her boyfriend, bandmate and co-writer, Lee Alexander.
"I just fell in love with the place," she says. "We almost moved here. It was right after 9/11, when a lot of us, as a first reaction, thought of moving out of New York. Actually, most of my band lived in the Bay Area during the dot-com thing and all knew each other, which is how I met them all. If it weren't for San Francisco, things would be very different for me."
Right now she has no intention of leaving New York, where she and Alexander have an apartment in the city and an upstate country house. In the past, Jones has seemed less than enthused about spending much time away from home, but she says she's really enjoying her current tour, which brings her to Berkeley's Greek Theatre on Saturday and Saratoga's Mountain Winery on June 25. "The fact that I finally had a break from touring, before we made the new album, was a big part of it -- that I was finally able to just settle into my normal life again," she says. "I mean, I love playing with my band, but I just felt like I was living 'Groundhog Day' every day, you know? But this tour has been a lot of fun. I feel a lot more comfortable performing, and we have a cool show, really different from last time we toured. We're switching around on instruments a lot, and there's a lot more variety, even though it's still all quiet, mellow music. I think I'm finally finding the balance between us just playing the music like we always have and having to put on a show for a lot of people in a big place when the way we play isn't really conducive to big places. This time it's more of a show"
Between concerts, she has been writing more songs.
"We haven't worked them into the set yet," she says, smiling, "but maybe by the time we get to the Greek, which is one of my favorite venues, we will."
NORAH JONES appears at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Greek Theatre at UC Berkeley
Temperance native makes a CD with little help from some famous friends
From left: Jeff Beck; Steve Bush, Ron Wood’s engineer; Ron Wood, and Jimmy McIntosh.
By ROD LOCKWOOD, BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jimmy McIntosh had this nutty idea that seemed so far out even his wife didn’t buy it.
The Temperance, Mich., native who relocated to Las Vegas years ago would get one of his guitar heroes to play on his solo disc. He’d just send an e-mail to Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones and invite him to play on a track or two.
It was a stretch, for sure. McIntosh and his buddy Roger Stanton had journeyed to Cleveland in 1975 to see Wood on his first Stones tour, two southeast Michigan kids on a Greyhound to see the legends. Now, 30-some years later, he was inviting Wood to play on his CD.
“I told my wife, ‘Man, that would be awesome,’ and she said, ‘You’re crazy, you’re not going to hear anything from him,’” he said in a phone interview from his Las Vegas home.
Except it worked, which is a testament mostly to McIntosh’s talent as a jazz guitarist, which has connected him with some of the top musicians in the world, and to his willingness to take a chance on having his ego bruised. And not only did the Bedford High School graduate get to visit Wood in his London studio, but another of his heroes, Jeff Beck, showed up and also played on his disc, “Orleans to London.”
“It was really exciting, I’ll tell you that. Geez,” McIntosh said.
Here’s how it happened.
Growing up in Temperance, McIntosh took up the French horn and — in what would become a lifelong association with famous people — received encouragement from one of the greatest American musicians ever: Duke Ellington.
McIntosh’s mother, Ann, met Ellington in a Las Vegas coffee shop in the 1960s and was friends with him from 1968 until he died in 1974. His parents were divorced, and his mom — a Bedford High School English teacher — met the great band leader while she was at a conference.
Ellington immediately became friends with her and invited her to a reception at the White House, which she rejected because she didn’t know him that well, McIntosh said.
“She turned him down and I think he was impressed by that,” he said, laughing.
Ellington was a frequent presence in the McIntosh family’s life. Jimmy, his mom, and his sister would go to Ellington’s shows when he played in Ohio or Detroit, and he was a regular caller to their home.
“The phone would ring two or three times a week and it would be Mr. Ellington,” he said. “My sister and I just loved him. We thought he was the greatest thing.”
For his first French horn concert, Ellington called and gave him a little pep talk and he would tell Jimmy’s mom that the boy was going to grow up to be a musician and one who would want to play his own music sometime in his life, planting the seed that would help spur McIntosh from being a career sideman to making his own CD.
“About once a year I would remember that statement, ‘Hmm, Mr. Ellington said that.’”
As a teen, McIntosh found his way to the guitar and began studying it intensely, honing his chops in the ’70s and working with longtime Toledo music teacher and highly respected player John Justus.
“He was a good boy from the beginning,” said Justus, who is now in his late 70s. “He was sort of special to me. He worked hard. He always got his lessons and had a lot of respect for what he was trying to do. He was really sold on being a musician.”
McIntosh wasn’t afraid of the hard work that it takes to develop the skills to be a top Vegas sideman and session musician who can jam with Beck and Wood.
“He seemed to have nothing on his mind but music, hour after hour,” Justus said. “I would talk to his mother and she said that’s all he ever does, he just sits there with his guitar. That was his life.”
For his part, the student gives all the credit to the teacher.
“If I wouldn’t have had him for a teacher I probably wouldn’t have become a professional musician,” said McIntosh, who still keeps in regular touch with Justus.
After graduating from Bedford High School in 1976, he attended the Berklee College of Music for two years before transferring to the University of Michigan and earning a bachelor’s degree in musical arts with a major in guitar performance.
Graduation ended McIntosh’s time in Toledo and Bedford Township. He took his experiences working with Justus and playing with renowned jazz guitarist Scott Henderson — another Toledo-area native — and headed west to Las Vegas.
He moved there in 1981, taking gigs wherever he could find them and carving out a career as a guitar-for-hire. He played with Little Anthony & The Imperials, backed up Buddy Hackett and Ben Vereen, and even toured in David Cassidy’s road band.
McIntosh was in the house band for Penn &Teller’s Sin City Spectacular on the FX network, striking up a friendship with Penn Jillette that includes jamming with the magician in his home studio (Jillette plays bass), watching movies and writing songs.
Beginning in 1990 he played in the Lon Bronson All-Stars Band, a horn-based R&B band that played a regular after-hours show at the Riviera. The group attracted artists ranging from Drew Carey to guitarist Joe Walsh.
Now he’s in the band for the Vegas Mamma Mia production based on the music of Abba. While his passion is his solo work — he also plays in a trio that focuses on his own music — the gigs with the professional productions pay the bills. And more.
“You’re playing the same music night after night. They’re not into changing the songs up or anything like that. If you’re a young musician and you want to play the blues or jazz and you come in with a job like that you might think this might be kind of a drag,” McIntosh said.
“But when it comes time to make a living and you want to own a house and so on, it’s a very good job. There’s actually benefits, there’s a pension fund, the pay is pretty good. If it wasn’t for Mamma Mia, I wouldn’t have been able to make this record.”
With Ellington’s voice ringing in his ears and the recent deaths of his father, Woody, and buddy Roger on his mind, McIntosh decided it was time to make his own music. Over the years he had made friends with Art Neville and his drummer, “Mean” Willie Greene, and they would form the core of the band he put together to start recording songs.
As the “Orleans to London” project evolved, McIntosh recruited Cyril Neville and Ivan Neville to round out the players on the jazz/funk disc, which is mostly instrumental except for the Jillette-penned “It Was A Virus.” The result is a breezy, soulful disc that echoes Beck’s mid-70s works, “Blow By Blow” and “Wired.”
The Neville connection is what gave McIntosh access to Wood. He had bought some of Wood’s art years ago and still had the phone number of one of the guitarist’s representatives. So he sent him an e-mail and mentioned that the Nevilles — who the Stones have long cited as a significant influence — were playing on the new work.
E-mails were exchanged and the next thing McIntosh knew he was jetting to London with his wife to visit Wood, who heard the demo tapes and said he’d like to add his guitar work to the disc. They were in Wood’s studio when he casually mentioned that a friend might show up.
“He said, ‘Gee I told Jeff Beck about your record with the Nevilles and he might drop by and play on it.’” McIntosh said. “I couldn’t believe what I heard. I was speechless, literally.”
The end result of their work is that Wood is on five songs, including the tribute to Stanton called “Rogent,” and Beck (credited as “Hot Rod” because of contractual issues) is on three. Beck, a notoriously difficult character, was a bit “stand-offish” but nice enough and generous with his time, McIntosh said.
After the session Wood took McIntosh and his wife to a concert by former Stones bassist Bill Wyman in London. He found himself sitting in a Mercedes with his wife, Carol, in the middle and Wood on the other side, chatting and enjoying a night on the town. Thanks to Wood’s gregarious nature, it wasn’t intimidating — just fun.
“Even though he’s one of the Stones... you’re just like, ‘OK these guys are musicians first.’ And I’ve always thought that, even though these guys are larger than life.”
McIntosh, who no longer has family in the area, was recently featured in Vintage Guitar magazine and he plans to continue promoting his “Orleans to London” while holding down sideman jobs.
“If I had my choice I’d play my own music for a living six nights a week. I wish I could do that,” he said. “I’m happy to make a living just playing the guitar and that’s difficult enough, unfortunately.”
“Orleans to London” is available at www.jimmymcintosh.com
14 June 2007
13 June 2007
By Bridget Stutchbury
WALKER; 256 PAGES; $24.95
The dramatic decline in songbird populations is a crisis that's unfolding worldwide, writes York University Professor of biology Bridget Stutchbury. While this change may not at first appear as dangerous as global warming, the ozone hole, overpopulation, increasing pollution or massive deforestation, once again, birds -- like the canaries used long ago to alert miners of invisible, fatal underground gases where they worked -- have become universal biological indicators of rapidly worsening, urgent environmental troubles.
Some estimates set the songbird population loss during the past four decades alone at almost half. Why should we care? Because, Stutchbury explains, "Their jobs as pollinators, fruit-eaters, insect-eaters, scavengers, and nutrient recyclers will not get done, and this will disrupt ecosystems and affect everyone on the planet."
New World songbirds spend part of their year in Central and South America, then as autumn approaches there, they migrate north during April and May to breed in the Northern Hemisphere just when spring insect populations burgeon and plants bloom. The fewer the birds, however, the fewer the insects they and their young consume, necessitating increased human dependence on pesticides, whose long-term toxic effects are themselves a major cause for concern.
The same is true for bird species working as pollinators or distributors of the seeds they eat: Fewer birds mean fewer plants and less diversity, which -- alongside rapacious, unsustainable human practices -- mean smaller, ever more fragmented forests, less rain and more erosion, all contributing to a cycle of chronic depletion.
Songbirds, Stutchbury demonstrates chapter by chapter, "are the unsung heroes of our modern world." Everyone knows we would have precious little food without bees or worms, but research is now beginning to reveal how many crucial roles songbirds play in the interlocking puzzle that supports the health of the natural world, too.
Bird counts begun in the 1960s provided a baseline. No census will ever be entirely accurate, Stutchbury writes, due to the huge numbers of birds and the enormous distances they travel annually. And it's because of this long-distance lifestyle -- songbirds, literally, inhabit entire continents in both Northern and Southern hemispheres as each year progresses -- that the message about what happens far away has finally begun to be acknowledged to have profound relevance locally. The globe, that is, really is one big, interconnected web; however tired the image, its intricate, subtle connections span the entire planet.
For example, when unregulated quantities of pesticides, some of which are now forbidden in the United States, are used heavily and/or incorrectly in Central and South America, not only do birds suffer and die there, but also their failure to return to North America or their difficulties reproducing successfully if they do manage the long journey, signal hazards we may not have noticed yet, but must become aware of and not continue to ignore. Once again, these small birds are our canaries in the mine. That their numbers dwindle year by year, decade by decade, with little or no sustained improvement, signifies a serious, long-term problem.
Stutchbury makes many convincing cases for doing the right thing: buying shade-grown coffee instead of beans from slash-and-burn properties, turning off lights at night during spring and autumn migration times, choosing recycled paper and forest products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, selecting organic produce both from Latin America and North America, avoiding crops that pose the greatest chemical risks to birds (alfalfa, Brussels sprouts, blueberries, celery, corn, cotton, cranberries, potatoes, wheat), and keeping cats indoors.
Sadly, the writing itself is awkward, disorganized and repetitive, peppered with cliches and grammatical errors, but the book's message is so important, the writer's earnest belief in her thesis and that of a growing number of like-minded scientists so enlightening, that linguistic problems may take a backseat. Here is an essential primer for any person who cares about our planet as a whole, or about our immediate environment. It's an eye-opener, to bird watchers, and an introduction that once again illuminates how nature is subtle beyond our humble efforts to comprehend.
Stutchbury spends part of each year in Ontario and the rest in Pennsylvania. A migrant herself, therefore, she exudes an insightful empathy for her study subjects. Her analogies are apt: A fragmented environment full of visible and invisible threats, with poor resources and high predation, would strain any animal's ability to succeed. The metaphor should be easy to apply: If we can, as individuals, learn to make caring choices about what we buy and how we live, if we can think of others on whom we depend -- perhaps, unknowingly until now -- each contribution, however tiny, will be a step in the right direction.
Irene Wanner is a New Mexico writer.
This article appeared on page M - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
It has taken more than three decades, but singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading
has finally made it to No. 1 at age 56, thanks to her first foray into the blues.
Armatrading became a star in 1976 when her third album spawned the hit "Love and Affection," but she never topped a U.S. chart until her new CD "Into the Blues" hit No. 1 on the Billboard and iTunes blues charts.
The success comes as no surprise to her.
"I started this tour in England on February 13 and on May 9, I got the news the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. But from the start of the tour, I told the audience every night that it was going to be No. 1. I just knew it," Armatrading said in an interview.
Born on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts before emigrating to Britain as a child in 1958, she put out albums in 1972 and 1975 before gaining attention with the self-titled "Joan Armatrading" in 1976.
But if she were starting now, she would not expect the same luxury from a record company.
"Probably today, record companies would not wait for your third album to be a breakthrough," she said. "Back in the 1970s, record companies looked at an artist and saw potential and knew it doesn't always come to fruition on day two."
Armatrading is known for her complex and interesting musical arrangements, which often defy categories.
Longtime fans know her for such lilting songs as "Willow" and "Show Some Emotion." Her new album takes its inspiration from Chicago-style blues icon Muddy Waters and has won warm reviews by critics.
But she is no tortured songwriter, saying she waits for inspiration before writing anything, does not write songs for long stretches and then knocks out new compositions in 10 minutes or so.
Between tours and writing binges, she rarely picks up a guitar -- and she never practices.
"If I practiced the guitar, I'd be absolutely brilliant," she said with a laugh.
While young musicians now increasingly get their start by posting songs on MySpace and YouTube, Armatrading began in an old-fashioned talent contest.
"I came in second, oddly enough to a guy who was playing a saw," she said.
Yet while YouTube and MySpace help new acts get noticed, some things remain the same, she said.
"People think all they have to do is record the song, put it on MySpace and become a huge star. But you still need to have the talent and be good enough to get people keeping coming back," she said. "And if you really want to be big, you will still need some help."
Armatrading has managed to keep her personal life private over her long career. She reveals little about herself beyond saying she does not drink or smoke, attends few parties and never uses curse words.
"You need a private life," she said. "Why on earth would I want to divulge my private life to everybody?"
But despite her closely guarded privacy, she said she loves reading tabloids, especially for coverage of the exploits of jailed socialite Paris Hilton.
"I love the comedy of it. Sometimes it's a little too cruel but it is very funny," she said, becoming animated while talking about Hilton's jail sentence, which she said "seems excessive."
"But at the same time, maybe...," she says, trailing off into a deep laugh.
11 June 2007
Andrew McCormack, 20, was asked to recommend to a US court what his sentence should be for stealing beer.
McCormack: Got more than he bargained for after his beer theft. He wrote: “Like the Beetles say, Let It Be”. But his cheeky quip did not impress Gregory Todd, a 56-year-old district court judge in Montana.
In a sentencing memorandum Judge Todd first corrected McCormack's misspelling and then gave the defendant a lesson in The Beatles discography.
He replied: “Mr McCormack, you pled guilty to the charge of Burglary. To aid me in sentencing I review the pre-sentence investigation report.
“I read with interest the section containing Defendant’s statement. To the question of ‘Give your recommendation as to what you think the Court should do in this case’, you said, ‘Like the Beetles say Let It Be'.
“While I will not explore the epistemological or ontological overtones of your response, or even the syntactic of symbolic keys of your allusion, I will say Hey Jude, Do You Want to Know a Secret?
"The greatest band in rock history spelled their name B-e-a-t-l-e-s.
"I interpret the meaning of your response to suggest that there should be no consequences for your actions and I should Let it Be so you can live in Strawberry Fields Forever.
"Such reasoning is Here, There and Everywhere. It does not require a Magical Mystery Tour of interpretation to know The Word means leave it alone.
"I trust we can all Come Together on that meaning.
"If I were to overlook your actions and Let It Be, I would ignore that Day in the Life on April 21, 2006.
“Evidently, earlier that night you said to yourself I Feel Fine while drinking beer.
“Later, whether you wanted Money or were just trying to Act Naturally you became the Fool on the Hill on North 27th Street.
"As Mr Moonlight at 1.30am, you did not Think for Yourself but just focused on I, Me, Mine.
"Because you didn't ask for Help, Wait for Something else or listen to your conscience saying Honey Don't, the victim later that day was Fixing a Hole in the glass door you broke."
Judge Todd went on: "After you stole the 18 pack of Old Milwaukee you decided it was time to Run For Your Life and Carry That Weight.
“But when the witness said Baby it's You, the police responded I'll Get You and you had to admit that You Really Got a Hold on Me.
"You were not able to Get Back home because of the Chains they put on you.
“Although you hoped the police would say I Don't Want to Spoil the Party and We Can Work it Out, you were in Misery when they said you were a Bad Boy.
"When the police took you to jail, you experienced Something New as they said Hello Goodbye and you became a Nowhere Man.
"Later when you thought about what you did you may have said I'll Cry Instead. Now you’re saying Let it Be instead of I'm a Loser.
“As a result of your Hard Day's Night you are looking at a Ticket to Ride that Long and Winding Road to Deer Lodge.
"Hopefully you can say both now and When I'm 64 that I Should Have Known Better."
In McCormack’s sentencing he received probation, a community service order and a fine.
08 June 2007
OM is the supreme symbol of the Lord.
OM is the whole, OM affirms; OM signals
The chanting of the hymns from the Vedas.
The priest begins with OM; spiritual teachers
And their students commence with OM.
The student who is established in OM
Becomes united with the Lord of Love.
AUM stands for the supreme Reality.
It is a symbol for what was, what is,
And what shall be. AUM represents also
What lies beyond past, present, and future.
07 June 2007
HOW TO STAY YOUNG (actually not written by George Carlin but attributed to him often.) Still worth remembering in my book.
1. Throw out nonessential numbers. This includes age, weight and height.
Let the doctor worry about them. That is why you pay him/her.
2. Keep only cheerful friends. The grouches pull you down.
3. Keep learning. Learn more about the computer, crafts, gardening, whatever. Never let the brain idle. " An idle mind is the devil's workshop." And the devil's name is Alzheimer's.
4. Enjoy the simple things.
5. Laugh often, long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath.
6. The tears happen. Endure, grieve, and move on. The only person who is with us our entire life, is ourselves. Be ALIVE while you are alive.
7. Surround yourself with what you love, whether it's family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies, whatever. Your home is your refuge.
8. Cherish your health: If it is good, preserve it. If it is unstable, improve it.
If it is beyond what you can improve, get help.
9. Don't take guilt trips. Take a trip to the mall, to the next county, to a foreign country, but NOT to where the guilt is.
10. Tell the people you love that you love them, at every opportunity.
AND ALWAYS REMEMBER:
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
George Carlin did, however, say the following:
Life is not as difficult as people think; all one needs is a good set of rules. Since it is probably too late for you, here are some guidelines to pass along to your children.
1. Relax and take it easy. Don't get caught up in hollow conceits such as "doing something with your life." Such twaddle is outmoded and a sure formula for disappointment.
2. Whatever it is you pursue, try to do it just well enough to remain in the middle third of the field. Keep your thoughts and ideas to yourself and don't ask questions. Remember, the squeaky wheel is the first one to be replaced.
3. Size people up quickly, and develop rigid attitudes based on your first impression. If you try to delve deeper and get to "know" people, you're asking for trouble.
4. Don't fall for that superstitious nonsense about treating people the way you would like to be treated. It is a transparently narcissistic approach, and may be the sign of a weak mind.
5. Spend as much time as you can pleading and impressing others, even if it makes you unhappy. Pay special attention to shallow manipulators who can do you the most harm. Remember, in the overall scheme, you count for very little.
6. Surround yourself with inferiors and losers. Not only will you look good by comparison, but they will look up to you, and that will make you feel better.
7. Don't buy into the sentimental notion that everyone has shortcomings; it's the surest way of undermining yourself. Remember, the really best people have no defects. If you're not perfect, something is wrong.
8. If by some off chance you do detect a few faults, first, accept the fact that you are probably deeply flawed. Then make a list of your faults and dwell on them. Carry the list around and try to think of things to add. Blame yourself for everything.
9. Beware of intuition and gut instincts, they are completely unreliable. Instead, develop preconceived notions and don't waver unless someone tells you to. Then change your mind and adopt their point of view. But only if they seem to know what they're talking about.
10. Never give up on an idea simply because it is bad and doesn't work. Cling to it even when it is hopeless. Anyone can cut and run, but it takes a very special person to stay with something that is stupid and harmful.
11. Always remember, today doesn't count. Trying to make something out of today only robs you of precious time that could be spent daydreaming or resting up.
12. Try to dwell on the past. Think of all the mistakes you've made, and how much better it would be if you hadn't made them. Think of what you should have done, and blame yourself for not doing so. And don't go easy. Be really hard on yourself.
13. If by chance you make a fresh mistake, especially a costly one, try to repeat it a few times so you become familiar with it and can do it easily in the future. Write it down. Put it with your list of faults.
14. Beware also of the dangerous trap of looking ahead; it will only get you in trouble. Instead, try to drift along from day to day in a meandering fashion. Don't get sidetracked with some foolish "plan."
15. Finally, enjoy yourself all the time, and do whatever you want. Don't be seduced by that mindless chatter going around about "responsibility." That's exactly the sort of thing that can ruin your life.
Happy Birthday to me Happy Birthday to me Happy Birthday to me Happy Birthday to me!
23 May 2007
A Naked Man, A Blow Torch, And One Fine Motorcycle
Dude really wanted the motorcycle, so he came equipped - with a blow torch, gas cannisters, a screwdriver and a claw hammer. Problem was, he was a little bit to loud. The homeowner's 4-year-old son heard some noise, and woke his dad. So dad chased him down the street, then realized he was buck naked. By then the would-be thief was well on his way - without his tools or the motorcycle, though he had managed to melt the lock on the motorcycle.
Neighbors had seen a man with a dark jacket and gloves (see police artist sketch below) dragging a wheelie bin through the neighborhood, looking around to see if he was being watched. Hmmmmmm. If you have any information on this crime, call the South Wales Police at 029 2022 2111 (collect!). (You can read the entire story here.)
There is grey in your hair.
Young men no longer suddenly catch their breath
When you are passing;
But perhaps some old gaffer mutters a blessing
Because it was your prayer
Recovered him upon the bed of death.
For your sole sake--that all heart's ache have known,
And given to others all heart's ache,
From meagre girlhood's putting on
Burdensome beauty--for your sole sake
Heaven has put away the stroke of her doom,
So great her portion in that peace you make
By merely walking in a room.
Your beauty can leave among us
Vague memories, nothing but memories.
A young man when the old men are done talking
Will say to an old man, "Tell me of that lady
The poet stubborn with his passion sang us
When age might well have chilled his blood."
Vague memories, nothing but memories,
But in the grave all, all, shall be renewed.
The certainty that I shall see that lady
Leaning or standing or walking
In the first loveliness of womanhood,
And with the fervour of my youthful eyes,
Has set me muttering like a fool.
You are more beautiful than any one
And yet your body had a flaw:
Your small hands were not beautiful,
And I am afraid that you will run
And paddle to the wrist
In that mysterious, always brimming lake
Where those that have obeyed the holy law
Paddle and are perfect; leave unchanged
The hands that I have kissed
For old sake's sake.
The last stroke of midnight dies.
All day in the one chair
From dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme I have ranged
In rambling talk with an image of air:
Vague memories, nothing but memories.
~William Butler Yeats, Easter 1916 and Other Poems
22 May 2007
Look to this day, for it is Life, the very life of Life;
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence...
the bliss of Growth, the glory of Action, the splendour of Beauty.
For Yesterday is but a dream,
and Tomorrow only a vision;
But Today well lived makes Yesterday a dream of Happiness
and Tomorrow a vision of Hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
Such is the salutation to the Dawn.
21 May 2007
On a silent retreat, the author cleared his mind enough to open his heart--and help out some small, winged beings.
By James Kullander
Halfway through a two-week retreat at a remote Buddhist monastery in Nova Scotia, I was startled awake by a thud on my tiny cabin’s picture window, and then a softer dunk on the deck below. It had been a quiet week. I’d not talked to anyone and no one had talked to me.
To reach the cabin I had to walk down a long path through a dark gauntlet of hemlocks, their roots pushing up from the earth like bones in a shallow grave. The cabin, aptly called Cliffhanger, is perched high over the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I stood at the door, uneasily gazing through a window in the opposite wall, a postcard of deep blue open water and the vast curve of the earth. The veteran nun in burgundy cotton robes and green rubber muck boots who’d escorted me here assured me in a low voice punctuated with a mischievous chuckle that the place would not blow away, even though, in a gale, the walls might shake. Then she left me.
Now, as I twisted around in the hard, narrow bed and squinted into the dawn, I knew, sadly, those two sounds like the words to a bad song stuck in my head. It was the second time since I’d arrived that a bird had crashed into the window. The first time, the bird stood on the deck, stunned and shaken, but alive; I watched it pull itself together and fly away. I was relieved. But this time the bird, a sparrow, remained on its side, motionless. Suddenly, I was filled with a great sadness.
My longing for solitude and silence baffles most people I know, but I’d been on retreats like this many times before at Buddhist and Christian monasteries. I don’t wear a crucifix around my neck or beads on my wrist. I’ve taken no vows. It’s just that there are times when I want to be silent and in a spiritual community that aspires to more than what Shakespeare called “this mortal coil.” The point of it for me is to stop running and dodging the stuff I am made of; to sit still and take in the fullness of who I really am. I remember in seminary learning how the search for self and the search for God, the 4th-century Christian St. Augustine believed, are one and the same because your truest, most complete self is written in God’s memory. That has always made sense to me.
The search is a meaningful one because the only way any of us is going to be really happy and of any genuine help is, as founder of this abbey, Chögyam Trungpa says, if we "discover what inherently we have to offer the world.” To find out who I am and what I can offer the world I sometimes need to get away from the world, and I like what I find: I am not so quick to anger, easily annoyed, or frequently critical. In Buddhism, it is believed this sense of clarity comes from stilling the mind; it is compared to clear water after the sediment settles.
It was late summer in the Canadian Maritimes—warm days and chilly, sometimes stormy nights. Scents of sodden leaves and stubbled fields filled the air and the sun went down a little earlier each day as summer slipped into fall. After a few days and nights at the abbey as the familiar drone of my daily grind diminished, I began to notice the wildlife all around me. Suddenly, in fact, I was seeing more wildlife than I ever had. I was delighted.
I stood in awe as schools of a dozen or more pilot whales churned by in the changeable waters of the gulf just a few hundred yards away. A bald eagle soared over the cabin’s tin roof. I almost ducked; if I’d been outside I’m sure I could have heard its wings slice the sky. Flocks of ravens traced the lines of an invisible rollercoaster as they rode the thermals above the cliff.
One morning while I was meditating on the deck, four hummingbirds, one after the next, came to draw nectar from the wildflowers nearby. One hovered a couple feet from my face for a few seconds as if to say hello. A small red squirrel scampered on the cabin roof to toss a big, stale dinner roll (scrounged from the abbey’s composting pile) onto the deck in a barely successful attempt to break it into smaller pieces to stash in a small hole in the ground nearby. I had to laugh. Animals, not people, became my companions. I began to befriend them in ways I never imagined.
Back at my home in upstate New York several months before, I was getting ready to leave for another hectic day at the office when a bird crashed into my big kitchen window, and it seemed like just another upsetting event among many. What’s the death of a bird compared to the thousands of people slaughtered in Darfur or blown to bits in Iraq? Or even, I’m sad to say, everything on my to-do list? The bird flew away and I thought nothing of the fact that it could have died. I felt much the same when the first bird hit the abbey’s cabin window. I’d just arrived and I was thinking about the many things I always think about. My thoughts seemed like, as I read on a bulletin board in the monastery a few days later to describe our frequent state of mind, bees trapped in a jar.
But days later when a second bird crashed and died, it was not just another event I could so easily ignore. My mind was clear and open enough to see that it was a big deal. I shuffled outside and mourned its passing. I gazed at the tiny dead bird, my head down in an attitude of prayer, as the wind ruffled its feathers. The Gospels remind us that not one sparrow is forgotten in God’s sight. This one had not gone unnoticed by me either. I found a shovel leaning against the cabin, scooped up the sparrow, and gave it a proper sea burial: I flung it over the cliff, and down it went in a wingless arc into the white swells detonating on the boulders of the Canadian Shield below.
But that was not the end of it for me. I began to see again how removing myself from human contact like this, ironically, attunes me to the shared plight of humanity—and all of existence, for that matter. There’s no other way to explain it other than that I feel a certain connection to the world that reminds me that I am not really alone in the ways all of us suffer in our lives.
And as I sit cross-legged on my cushion in relative comfort, I find myself haunted by waves of recrimination. Innumerable noble causes and people to whom I can give my attention arise phantom-like in my mind. The pathology of a frequently divisive and violent world hollering at me, now seen at distance, strikes deep into the heart of me. At the same time I feel helpless as I think about all the people—and our planet itself—in such dire straits. There were times when I could almost hear at night a collective groaning of grief gusting in the treetops. How can I possibly stop the wind?
In Buddhism, however, you learn to deal with what’s in front of you. And what I could do in that place and at that time was to try to prevent any more birds from the fate of that sparrow. On the inside of the big pane I put up a half dozen pink Post-It notes like small warning flags: Stay away. It worked; no more birds flew into the window for the remainder of my time there. I was relieved.
When my retreat was over, I told the abbey’s director what had happened. He said there were semi-transparent decals that look like spider webs in a large window of another cabin on the grounds that deter birds from flying into the glass. He made a note to add them to Cliffhanger. We thanked each other. And the birds, I noted to myself, thanked us both. When I returned home I was shocked to learn from the Cornell University Ornithology Lab website that an estimated 100 million birds die every year by colliding with windows. "These collisions usually involve small songbirds, such as finches, that may fall unnoticed to the ground,” read the site. I put two spiderweb decals on the big kitchen window of my house, too.
It was a small thing, putting up those Post-It notes and spider web decals, at least compared to what else needs saving in the world. But one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Pema Chödrön, suggests that to make the world a more humane place, you start where you are. That’s what I did, and to the birds whose lives may now be spared, that’s huge. I’ll admit that I am often still quick to anger, easily annoyed, and frequently critical—no matter how many retreats I go on. But I do try to remember now that it often takes so little to help so much.
Angels offer 'unconditional love' – they set no rules, no standards to be fulfilled. Angels are here for us this instant, loving and guiding, giving us the support we need to move onwards and upwards towards spiritual enlightenment.