Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shovel Time

The calendar lies today, declaring it to be winter,
tomorrow’s date will be a new month, still winter.
I’m out anyway, pealing off my sweatshirt--
the first roll of sweat wet and hot down my face,
my shovel quick and sharp through the sod,
pile of dirt and sliced sod growing higher,
the hole deeper, though not so quick--
sweat thinner, wetter, hotter
over muscles yearning for the easy chair by the fire
and a good book on a Sunday afternoon.
Not soon enough, they say, the shovel going deeper, deeper.

Long fat earthworm tries to hide from new light
shovel blade tearing up its black, rainy season wet home--
but just for a bit, just until I can roll the fat root ball
over the edge and into the pit, with my best imitation of
Sumo wrestler grunt.

Clods of dirt, and bits of sod, pushed around the roots
bottom of the new tree is – finally -- flat, solid, until
Tree’s trunk is straight, true, climbing up
into the blue of the winter sky, the warm wind blowing in
from the south, just ahead of the next round of wet,
just over the horizon. Tree, worm, and I smell it, knowing,
knowing it will come, breezy and cold in the night,
when we are dreaming of shovels and dirt, and the new leaves of spring.

More dirt, back into the hole, even the earthworm returns,
writhing at my invasion, finding a hole, slipping in,
away from the light, away from the shovel--
dirt now back in,
rearranged, disrupted by Tree’s roots moving in—even now, I hear them.

Birds fly overhead, circling, circling
waiting for me to leave, waiting for new leaves,
waiting for the next one hundred years of Tree.

--Neal Lemery, 1/2010

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Visitor

A Visitor

My father, for example,
who was young once
and blue-eyed,
on the darkest of nights
to the porch and knocks
wildly at the door,
and if I answer
I must be prepared
for his waxy face,
for his lower lip
swollen with bitterness.
And so, for a long time,
I did not answer,
but slept fitfully
between his hours of rapping.
But finally there came the night
when I rose out of my sheets
and stumbled down the hall.
The door fell open

and I knew I was saved
and could bear him,
pathetic and hollow,
with even the least of his dreams
frozen inside him,
and the meanness gone.
And I greeted him and asked him
into the house,
and lit the lamp,
and looked into his blank eyes
in which at last
I saw what a child must love,
I saw what love might have done
had we loved in time.

from Dream Work (1986). © Mary Oliver

Brushing my teeth, he is there, in the mirror--
I am nearly his age now, the age when he died
thirty eight years ago, or was it last week?
He stares back at me, as toothpaste runs down the sink
and I wonder who he was, and what he really thought of me
before he went away, to wander among the stars
and occasionally return, when one of us has
something to say.

Now, at least, we each have the sense, and the patience, to listen.
We talk now more than when he was alive, and I feel him near
when I am doing something like him, the things he did so well.
His legacy moves now, a slight breeze in my day, but here nonetheless.

Anger rises, when I remember what he did for others, so much
but so little time for me, growing up, wanting
time with my dad, time to talk, time to know he loved me.

And, in the car now, there is silence, just like when he drove me to school
and I had so much I wanted to hear him say
but time got away, for both of us, and then, it was too late,
or so I thought at the funeral.

Almost too late, the week he was dying, but I managed to get out the words,
and so did he, just before he left.

Love, was it that hard to say?


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Introduction to Poetry

Introduction To Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Billy Collins

And, so, perhaps today, I can just enjoy the poem, enjoy the moment, enjoy the sunrise, and not think too much about it all.

Perhaps the poem is just the moment, the sunrise itself,
the feeling in my heart

Without all my analysis, my thinking.

In the moment,
in the silence
of the early morning

Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King Day, 2010

Martin Luther King Day, 2010

“We must have the spiritual audacity to assert our somebodyness.” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because “he who feels he is a somebody, even though humiliated by external servitude, achieves a sense of selfhood and dignity that nothing in all the world can take away”.

I am somebody. And, being somebody, I am the one who decides how I look at myself, and define who I am, and who I am becoming. In having selfhood and dignity, I therefore don’t need to dance to the tune of the bigot, the oppressor, the naysayer. I choose to lift myself up or to put myself down.

I am the definer of who I am, who I was and who I will become. I am, as the English poet Willam Henley says, in Invictus:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

--William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

And, so, when I gnash my teeth and bemoan the injustices in the world, or the inaction and inattention of others, and of myself, I again realize that when I point the condemning, accusing finger at another, three fingers point back at myself.
Oh, I am in charge. I decide how I will respond. I decide if I am to marshall my resources, my talents, my creativity, my intelligence.

And, if I don’t, then I still have chosen, I still have voted, I still have acted. Though, in my inaction, my acquiescence, I have decided that the status quo is acceptable, that what others may decide, by their action, or inaction, is what I want to see happen. And, when it does happen, I need to shut up, knowing that yes, I have made a choice, I have responded, I have acted, in my inaction.

So, if I launch my arrow, speak my mind, take my hand and offer assistance and direction and labor, if I cogitate problem solving and solution and needed action, and take those steps, then I am pro-active, I am moving.

And, in all of that, perhaps I have finally grasped the concepts of William Henley and Martin Luther King, and all the others who we uphold as inspirational and exemplary of leadership and courage and wisdom.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Additions to my Winter Dictionary

As I was slogging along the streets of Tillamook the other day, on my way back from lunch, the usual winter storm downpours and sideways rain attempting to soak me to the skin, I contemplated all the various words I have for the wet stuff. I’ve put up with the local weather for quite a few decades now and consider myself somewhat of an expert on the various types of rain and the words we locals have for its various forms.

There’s rain, downpour, drizzle, Oregon mist (actually a heavy rain), monsoon, and flood rain (rain that doesn’t let up for at least 24 hours and will produce one of our periodic lowland floods).

Storms have a few names, such as Sou’wester, pineapple express (very warm, wet, and windy), and Chinook. Chinooks are warm, wet, and windy storms, which can quickly melt any snowpack in the higher mountains in the Northwest, and will cause major flooding. We added “typhoon” several years ago, after two typhoons, rare in these parts, merged and attacked us for three long days, with very heavy rain and winds over 120 mph. The experience managed to knock out the electrical grid for nearly a week, and close all of our highways. Impressive, to say the least, and enough to add a word to our dictionary. We compare storms now with the typhoon, and, when wind is the issue, with the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, which was also a typhoon. Many of us are too young to remember 1962, so “typhoon” seems to be the new Columbus Day storm.

Yet, our vocabulary seems pretty limited to the ordinary days of wet around here, and our jokes are limited to referring to it all as Oregon sunshine. Frankly, we need to spice up our vocabulary, folks. We’ve certainly done that with coffee, and most of us know at least 30 words and phrases for the stuff. We pay more for it now, but being able to sound so smart with all those new words, well, its worth it, isn’t it?

And, I live in Tillamook, which means the “land of many waters”, so you think we’d have a pretty long list of weather words. But, we really don’t. Its time to educate ourselves a bit, don’t you think?

I recently came across an essay on Scottish weather words. They have a similar climate, and have been around for several millenniums longer than we Oregonians, and their vocabulary is impressively longer and more descriptive.

I offer these Scottish words to you, in the hopes we might adopt a few of the more descriptive terms for our own weather. And, maybe in adding these to our weather discussions around the coffee shop, we can spice up the conversation. If you try them with just a bit of a Scottish accent, you’ll gain a bit more attention to yourself.

Attery -- stormy
Blenter or flaff – gusty wind
Bullet stanes – hail stones
Dreep – steady fall of light rain
Dreich , a wet, dismal day
Dribble – drizzle
Fair jeelit -- cold as ice
Gab o’ May – stormy weather at the start of May
Gandiegow – heavy shower
Greetie -- showery
Grulie – unsettled
Haar – mist from the sea
Lauchin rain (or laughing rain). A long shower from an apparently clear sky
Leesome -- fine
Linn – torrent or waterfall
Littesdale drow – a wetting drizzle, named after a Scottish town
Mochie -- warm and damp
Plump -- downpour in a thunderstorm
Rainin auld wives and pipe staples (heavy rain)
Rumballiach -- tempestuous
Pirl – gentle breeze
Pishoot -- downpour
Plowtery – showery
Plype – sudden, heavy shower
Sclutter or slaister -- messy wetness
Smirr – light rain
Sump – a great fall of rain
Tousle – blustery wind
Watergow – fragmentary rainbow

Leaving us drowkt (drenched) and draggled (bedraggled).

Neal Lemery, January, 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Some Time With Christopher Hitchins

Hitchins is the author of a bestseller, God Is Not Great, and a contributor to Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and Slate.

Here are some ideas I’ve gleaned from his book and a talk he gave this week in Portland:

Hitchins’s essential premise in his book is that God is simply a human construct, and not based on either logic or fact. Religious scripture is an expression of wishful thinking, magic, folklore, and myth, and, especially, flawed logic and reason.

• Occam’s Razor: Don’t rely on unnecessary assumptions in pursuit of truth. You can understand created ideas without any reference to the creator of the idea. Ockam was a 14th century logician. When competing hypotheses are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selection of the hypothesis that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities while still sufficiently answering the question. It is in this sense that Occam's razor is usually understood. To quote Isaac Newton, "We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. Therefore, to the same natural effects we must, so far as possible, assign the same causes."
In science, Occam’s razor is used as a heuristic (rule of thumb) to guide scientists in the development of theoretical models rather than as an arbiter between published models.

Occam, in expressing a belief in God, had to fall back on the position that the existence of God can only be demonstrated by faith.

• Religion is the original sin. Religion presents a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous. Creation stories are simply ancient myths. The major religions of the world are based on the false assumptions of blood sacrifice, atonement, eternal reward and/or punishment, and the imposition of impossible tasks and rules.

• How moral is the story that because of a human sacrifice two thousand years ago, my own manifold sins are forgiven me and I may hope to enjoy everlasting life?

• Socrates taught that consciousness is innate. Dogmatic faithfulness can always be outpointed and satirized by one who pretends to take their preachings at face value. Facing the death penalty for his logical arguments, he told his accusers that while he did not know for certain about death and the gods, neither did his accusers.

• The true value of a human is not determined by their possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by the person’s sincere exertion to get at the truth. Possession only makes one passive, indolent, and proud.

• Religion minimizes, trivializes, relativizes the human experience.

• No religious person makes the argument that without religion, you wouldn’t know the difference between right and wrong. In reality, there is no “true north” for morals and values.

• Who is making evil relative? Relative to what?

• Without God, all things are possible.

• Religion is man-made relativism.

• No one argues that without God, evil would be worse

• Religion and its values should be self-evident, and not have to be taught, or preached, or “found”

• The murder-suicide community, the genital mutilation community, the child abuse community is faith based.

• Religion advocates moral relativism

• The Church never excommunicated a Holocaust perpetrator.

• The power of religion is to buy into absolutes, and access supernatural information.

• Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.

Web sources:

Monday, January 4, 2010

Thoughts on God

I wrote this four years ago, and just rediscovered it. This still expresses my thoughts.

“When the word God is used on these pages, you may substitute the thought good orderly direction or flow. What we are talking about is a creative energy. God is useful shorthand for many of us, but so is Goddess, Mind, Universe, Source, and Higher Power…. The point is not what you name it. The point is that you try using it. For many of us, thinking of it as a form for spiritual electricity has been a very useful jumping off place.”
---Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Hmmm. God as a useful reference, one of many terms in the thesaurus for creativity, innovation, creative force. Let me ponder that. It’s heavy stuff.
God isn’t found easily in my thesaurus, or my dictionary for that matter. Those places are too dull, too lifeless for such a word. Something else I was reading this morning was an essay on thrift. The writer was arguing that thrift should be a verb as well as a noun.

I feel that way about God. God is a verb, not a noun. God is action, is doing, is being, and is creating. Isn’t that the essence of God – creation? What I see God doing in this world certainly isn’t passive, and certainly isn’t just a thing, or an object. Instead God is the doing, the acting, the growing, the changing that is around us -- if we choose to look.

As I sit down with pen and paper seeking to write, or pick up the guitar, or break out m camera and take a look at a vase of Japanese iris on a rainy day, I experience God. I experience God in the rolling of the thunder and flashing of lightning awakening me from sleep in the night, or the purring of the cat as I pet his belly and scratch his ears, or in the flickering of the silver screen as I lose myself at the local cinema. These actions, doings, creations are God, around me.

I experienced God as a verb at a funeral a few days ago. People spoke of Kate as a person of action, her beauty and love expressed in her actions, her love and embracing of others. IT was not a sad service, but instead a slide show of countless actions of love and kindnesses. It was a rich kaleidoscope of her love energy, of God-action. Rather than grief, the room was filled with amazement and vibrancy.

“The point is that you try using it.” Ah, but can I simply study it from afar? Can I intellectualize it, analyze it, look it up in books, and create footnotes for my essay? No, that’s not the point. The point is that one needs to get off one’s butt, and tap into this energy, this God, and then go out and God. Let it flow, let it vibrate; let it out, in one form or another. Just do it. Just God.

-Neal Lemery, January, 2006

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What I Did On My Christmas Vacation

Slept in

Tasted the very nice Scotch a co-worker gave me for Christmas. This was important enough to do every day.

Ate some Christmas cookies and fruitcake in the afternoon, with tea.

Took a few naps.

Worked out nearly every day.

Walked on the beach.

Took pictures along the Trask River, and spent time looking at ice crystals and frost.

Had long lunches with good friends.

Took myself to lunch several times, enjoying a good book and not having to rush back to work.

Spent time at Christmas with my sister in law and sang Christmas carols.

Enjoyed dinner with friends and watched a video on the Bethlehem star.
Read four books.

Finished my barkdust hauling project in the front yard, covering up weeds and improving the look of the neighborhood.

Went to the movies and watched Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, and Invictus.

Wrote on my blog.

Wrote several poems and essays.

Had coffee with friends.

Moseyed around a big book store .

Stood in a long line at Starbucks on Christmas morning, enjoying people being relaxed and happy.

Cleaned off my desk area at home, and tossed about two years worth of paper that I had “saved”, thinking I should file it away someday. The “round file” is a good file cabinet.

Sent thank you notes for the gifts I received at Christmas.

Talked with my brother, my grand nephew, and my mother in law on the phone.

Took out all the compost, burned the trash, and cleaned up the area around the hot tub.

Scrubbed the deck and washed away the scum from the winter rains of late.
Straightened and organized my bedroom.

Took a pile of books I’d read to the library and donated them.

Played my guitar every day, and practiced my strumming patterns. I also tried several kinds of picks and also did some fingerpicking.

Restrung one guitar, and am trying thicker strings, and am enjoying the new, richer sound.

Read Christmas card letters from my college roommate, and friends I only hear from at Christmas time .

Filled up the bird feeders and put out more suet cakes on a cold, frosty morning .
Finished making a bird house and delivered it to my great nephew for Christmas .

Watched the juncos and house finches enjoying the bird seed on Christmas morning.
Visited with about a dozen people at the grocery store one morning, and enjoyed not having to rush through my shopping.

Laughed with a man at the checkout line, as we were both buying ice cream and laughed as the item was not on either of our grocery lists.

Did the newspaper’s crossword puzzle every morning, along with enjoying a second cup of coffee.

Wrote some essays and reflections and put them on my blog.

Found my list of goals for 2008 and realized I’d accomplished all of them, but maybe that took me two and not one year!

Thought about goals for 2010 and realized wanting to live less complicated was at the top of my list.

Discovered I enjoyed reading electronic books on my new e-book reader.

Noticed that some daffodils were starting to poke through the ground, and that the magnolia tree had buds developing.

Noticed that at 6:30 a.m., there was a hint of the coming dawn, and that the days may actually be getting a wee bit longer.

Fell asleep on the couch at 8:30 New Year’s Eve, but reawakened long enough to watch the ball fall at Time’s Square. Was in bed by 9:30.

Replaced the CD player on the stereo, noting the old player had given 20 years of service. Thought that 20 years is not all that long of a time, really. At least at this age.

Enjoyed wearing jeans every day for ten days and not wearing my watch and not really caring what time it was.

Rediscovered my ID badge this morning, by the coffee pot, and promptly put it in the car, as otherwise I’d be sure to forget it tomorrow when I went back to work.
Finally cleaned out the back seat of the car, throwing away a month’s worth of stuff I thought was important one time, and realized I now have five big shopping bags. That should be enough!

Realized that yesterday was one of those odd days when the date could be read backwards and forwards, “pallindromic”. 01022010.

When writing the year for the first time today, on a form, managed to write “2009” instead. I usually don’t do that trick until February. I guess I’m just early this year!

Neal Lemery 01032010

Friday, January 1, 2010


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

--William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

Take courage in this new year. Gather your courage to face what is hard, what is challenging. Meet it head on, and chip away at obstacles, each and every day. Celebrate your progress, celebrate your goal of taking on a challenge, and take one step at a time. Know you are headed in the right direction, and move. You are stronger, more skilled, more knowledgeable than you give yourself credit.

Each day is a new beginning. Each day is the right time for a new step in the right direction. Truly, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."