Poems by Raymond Greiner

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Letters from the Hinterland #1, Pond Food

by Raymond Greiner

From Canary Summer 2012

Raymond lives with his canine companions Orion and Venus on 14 acres of remote forested and pasture land about three miles from the hamlet of Paragon, Indiana, in a cabin about 500 yards from the little-traveled road.

       Walking down the aisles of Rural King, the local farm and feed store, I read the various labels on the multiple feed bags; sweet stuff for horses, scratch grain for chickens, meat bird, layer crumbles, chick starter and, at the very end of the aisle, a vividly white bag, off by itself on a small pallet, labeled pond food. It’s really fish food, but the label strikes a chord in me.

       Farm ponds are sanctuaries for life. Often small, they provide water for livestock and a method of water storage for seasonal dry spells. Water can be pumped into tanks, also providing water for gardens. Rural land designed for self-sufficiency centers on its water source.

       My pond has become much more to me than a farm function. It serves those purposes well, but it also represents a source of introspection, a window, a comfort zone and an observation platform. If you desire a special view of life, sit on the bank of a farm pond for a while. Be patient and let your eyes wander the water’s surface; things happen slowly. It’s quiet and peaceful here, and the occurrences are subtle. Small swirls appear, a bluegill or turtle surfacing. The wind driven aerator forms a circle of bubbles, the ducks move about dabbling for choice morsels, the water snake moves quickly across the pond with graceful speed and exits the opposite bank moving quickly into the shelter of tall grass. Frogs are abundant on the banks as they patiently eye their prey. As spring wanes cattails are forming, their tails reaching for the sky. Dragonflies are out, mesmerizing as they fly in pairs, turning in unison with absolute precision. How can they do that?

       In late winter, the pond thaws. As I approach there is a small wake moving across the surface, and upon its exit from the water I can clearly see it is a mink, the first I’ve seen here. Such a beautiful creature, it glances my way, then disappears into the woods.

       One summer day I observe a caterpillar as it ventures onto a stick that is partially in the water. As the caterpillar moves onto the stick, the stick floats away from the bank, cutting the caterpillar off from land access. The caterpillar then walks toward the end of the stick, which begins to tip into the water from the caterpillar’s weight. Then the caterpillar moves to the other end of the stick, and again the stick tips. Finally the caterpillar moves to the center of the stick, achieving balance, and remains in place. Eventually the stick floats back to the pond’s bank and the furry critter regains access to its land base. It seems a lesson that may be applied to human complexities. If one direction fails, try another; if that one fails also, go back to center and wait.

       This micro ecosystem has been an important part of my daily life for many years, offering me visual and spiritual pleasures. I have an old steel chair that sits under the oak tree next to the pond, weather beaten from sitting out all winter. This chair predates the fancy canvas fold-up models and the aluminum webbed-seat ones. It has become an attachment to my daily life. (It also represents a low-priority project that has been haunting me for years, to sand and paint this relic.) As I rest there in the evening with my companions Orion and Venus, I feel blessed to have this connection with mind/earth, a rarity in today’s high-speed culture. Pondering that pond-food bag at Rural King, I feel a temptation to buy one, toss in the crumbles to stir things up a bit, but for now, I am not feeding the pond. The pond is feeding me.

Letters from the Hinterland #10, Stuff

by Raymond Greiner

From Canary Fall 2014

I have been inventorying my stuff. I have de-junked a few times in my lifetime, but the stuff seems to have a life of its own. As I sort through boxes and clothing, I am reminded of Peace Pilgrim's sagacious advice, "Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. It is those that have enough but not too much who are the happiest." Seems to ring with a certain clarity.

The sorting and grading of what to keep and what to discard is a bit of a challenge. Things that were once important and desired now collect dust and occupy space. There is a certain attachment because at one time this item or that item added something to that time of my life. However, the pile of questionable worth is quite large and something must be done. Goodwill, Salvation Army, brush burning pile, and dumpster are options that need to be considered.

We Americans are likely the world's champion accumulators. Garages so full the door barely closes. In most communities there are multiple storage rental businesses filled with things that people have accumulated. In the nearby town of Paragon, week-ends are de-junk days, also called "yard sale" or "garage sale" days. You buy my junk and then you can sell your junk next week-end. Not sure if this is re-cycling or just plain old cycling.

My daughter's house has every imaginable kitchen device: three TV's (one a high-end flat screen technological marvel), humidifiers, electric space heaters, motorized foot massager, electronic alarm system, big screen Mac computer, high tech scale that measures weight and body fat (how does it do that?) and very sophisticated washer and dryer that confused me so much I now go to the Laundromat (much simpler and I don’t have to worry about whether I programmed all the options correctly.) I think my daughter’s household is representative of many American homes.

I wish every American could take two hours of their precious time and sit in front of their flat screen wonder to watch the documentary film The End of Poverty? Think again. Such a powerful film depicting the vast abyss between the extreme poverty and desperation of some and the rampant consumerism of others. As I think of the throngs of consumers I watched yesterday filing through the doors of Walmart, I think of this film, and I feel a mixture of sadness, guilt and disgust. Here I am in a quandary regarding what to keep and what to discard, and feeling very American in the process.

As I think of Peace Pilgrim’s words, "It is those that have enough but not too much who are happiest," I have visions of those millions of people in third world countries who don't have nearly enough. There is no "enough list," and as I listen to the political lexicon that centers on economic growth, escalating prosperity so the accumulation can not only continue but increase, it pushes a big question mark button. Are we on track? Are we meandering in a dismal swamp of glut? Do we know it? Do we care? Where are the answers? It seems like we, as a country, are plagued with an inability to view the total picture. Of course we need to drive toward economic growth and development; however, it would better balance our lives if we could gear our personal consumption toward less instead of more. If only we could stop and seriously evaluate our actual needs and then orient what we consume sanely instead of giving in to the hype, which is by design created to stimulate impulsive consumption.

Temperature dropped last night. I lit the wood stove. Orion's bed is near the stove, Venus's bed is at the foot of my mine. Dogs don't accumulate, although Orion is quite attached to his frisbee. Wish I were a dog.

Letters from the Hinterland #11, Springtime Wonders

by Raymond Greiner

From Canary Spring 2015

The vivid contrast of winter and spring begins to elevate in April.  10 days into spring and we had six inches of wet snow, such a difference yesterday.  60 degrees and sunny.  Like welcoming  home an old and dear friend.  The quiet bliss of the place where I live adds dimension to this most welcome scene.  Small leaves appearing on thorny plants, crocus and daffodils add delightful color and the pasture is turning its typical ultra-green.  Even those that hold their spirits high during bleak months of cold wind and snow are spiritually heightened with this blessed season.

We found a tiny kitten in the hay barn in late fall.  I kept her in the workshop all winter and she is such a joy.  Now she lives under my cabin and after a few days of fear she has adjusted totally.  Orion, Venus, Fluffy Cat and I serve as her audience as she presents an ongoing performance on "how to be a young cat."  Jumping and feigning attack with her back arched upward.  She plays "cat hockey" with hickory nuts, as Orion and Venus watch her with interest trying to figure out exactly what she is doing.  A chorus of spring peepers join in creating a surrealistic performance emitting a demonstration of something I am unable identify accurately.  Orion has his Frisbee session each afternoon and the kitten watches in amazement, then joins Venus at the woodpile to search for mice or some other buried critter.  These activities are ongoing.  This place is a cat and dog paradise, endless smells and places to run.  Orion is the most likely candidate to learn to read and write and I'm hoping to teach him soon so he can write a book titled The Good Life of a Dog.

I would have great difficulty living in an urban zone again.  The smell, noise and congestion of the city that I endured during my business career seems like a distant place.  Stress is absent here.  We humans are champion adjusters, adapting to our environments.  People cling to cities and urban zones for a variety of reasons, a habitual activity for thousands of years.

Four deer linger daily in the woods behind my cabin.  The resident pair of geese fly from pond to pond in vocal flight.  The daily presence of nature allows a certain balance to one's life.  

Sara Rauch the editor and publisher of Cactus Heart Literary Journal sent me an e mail yesterday describing how she is striving to reduce the clutter in her life, but to her dismay she had mistakenly discarded a book she wanted to read.  Clutter is a nemesis that bedevils most of us to some degree.  It seems to take on its own life form, expanding and accumulating, becoming a monster of sorts.  Nature's critters are uncluttered, embracing a simplistic approach to life's functions.  

I was distraught early in the week from the news of my cousin Billy Ray's death.  I had not seen him in over 40 years, but somehow the pain of this news  impacted me to a higher degree than I could have anticipated.  He was a large presence in my life during my early years, and this likely is the reason for the degree of pain I suffered.  In later years formative years seem to glow brighter than in mid-life.  I took the day off and hiked my favorite trail in the state forest, a three mile loop.  It served me well as a method of coping.  Much of life is coping.  Nature is a healer and its power mesmerizes me.  The voice of despair can sing in a variety of rhythms and tones often out of key and off tempo, like a catbird singing in a thorn bush.  Then the sky opens and darkness becomes light as clouds of doubt vanish.    

Dysfunction continues to plague our world.  Has it not always been so?  This repeating performance of war talk and political posturing to gain positions of power and prominence seem boundless.  The value and joys of life are found elsewhere.  Will we ever, as a species, discover that "elsewhere"?

From the hinterland

Letters from the Hinterland #2, Eco-Logical

by Raymond Greiner

From Canary Fall 2012

In the late ‘60s I lived in San Francisco and often took the ferry to Sausalito and the shuttle bus to Muir Woods, a magnificent sanctuary of mature redwood trees. This is such a special place to visit. Walking the busy main path just ahead of me was a nice looking family, husband and wife with three young children. They were well-dressed and obviously upper middle class. The father said, looking at the majestic giants, “You see one redwood and you’ve seen them all.” To him this was merely a logical observation, and it’s true that as one views many elements of nature there is a uniform pattern to things; it’s one of nature’s functions, repetitive duplication. What also is obvious is that such an observation rings with a tone of indifference, revealing an inability to recognize the spectrum these trees create, their history and overall importance to this geographic composite of nature, melding with less dominate natural life forms, thriving and evolving because of the existence of this grove of giant trees. Often the human species reacts to nature and its importance with shadow thoughts, forming opinions without the light of knowledge revealing a broader, more meaningful perspective.
       Historically, natural treasures have become victims of intense human exploitation, to a greater degree in what is referred to as “modern times.” I once saw an old photograph, taken in the late 19th century, with groups of men standing among hundreds of stumps of redwood trees. Some were holding very long cross-cut saws and large axes, and lying all over the ground were giant redwood logs. To each of these men, and also the lumber baron that financed this operation, this was a logical event, a display of conquest, as they emitted pride in their accomplishment. In my view this was a holocaust, willful destruction of life that had flourished and survived for thousands of years.
       The animal that most closely resembles humanity is the locust, devouring all life in its path addressing its immediate personal agenda with no regard for preservation, unaware of any necessity for balance and harmonious co-existence. The difference is that locusts are intermediate invaders, and the human invasion is continual and on-going. As the rail system began its movement West, passengers would randomly shoot wild buffalo from windows of the passing trains, and the buffalo died by the thousands, their bodies rotting in the sun. This was great sport for these passengers, and it seemed perfectly logical for them to kill these wild animals. This type of twisted logic carries on today, less vivid but no less destructive. We also now have intervention, but it is weak and considered by many in leadership positions as more of a nuisance than a worthy alternative that highlights the negative effects of our force forward as a species. As we observe various group protests, very few signs are seen admonishing corporations for their environmental destruction, but many that seek economic self-gain as they seek to become members of the “have more” social order. Economics is at the forefront of political and social efforts. When we had the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it was a clear message displaying the illogical decision to drill for oil in this area. The campaign to stop this drilling was short lived, beaten down by lobby groups blackmailing the public with threats of 10-dollar-a-gallon gasoline if drilling was ceased. Of course this is untrue, but to the lobby groups and the recipients of this message, it was logical.
       In the late ‘40s and early ‘50s we sprayed DDT randomly and without forethought, nearly causing the extinction of the Peregrine Falcon. When the lodge pole pines were threatened by the lodge pole beetle, the knee-jerk reaction was to spray poison on the beetles, which would kill endless numbers of birds that feed on these beetles. Famed naturalist Adolph Murie wrote a lengthy paper on why the beetle should be allowed to function, articulating a natural cycle for the trees. This intervention by Murie saved the beetles, birds and trees. Those that supported spraying thought it was a logical thing to do. At intervals there is talk of a hydroelectric dam to be constructed on the Yukon River, creating a low-cost energy source to attract industrial growth to Alaska. This dam would destroy the Yukon Flats entirely, the nesting ground for one sixth of all North American waterfowl. To economic speculators and dam builders, this would be logical.
        Chemical use is now pervasive in farming practices; each year the farmers saturate their fields with heavy doses of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizer. This practice has been in place now for many years. The soil is saturated with these invasive, artificial substances that eventually filter into the food, and ultimately saturate the bodies of those that consume the food. To the farmer and producers of these chemicals it is logical.
       The potential for economic gain presents itself as logical. Long-term effect is ignored. Selfishness and a collective drive toward self-serving agendas represent the main thrust of modern society. Listen to the political candidates as they speak to their potential voters. You hear nothing about preservation of Earth functions or conserving. What you hear is ongoing rhetoric directed at individual economic potential gain, the distribution of tax revenue, and how if they are elected positive change is just on the horizon. As global population growth inundates our planet, we are moving quickly toward large scale, self-inflicted damage and potential ruin. There are in place quality environmental movements, with knowledge and plans for positive change, exposing the damaging effects and lack of long-term recognition. As a species it is imperative that we begin to recognize the need to harmonize with the Earth, conserve and support environmental causes. Without the natural cycles and functions of nature, without clean, pure water, air and natural food sources, there is no future. It’s only logical. Eco-logical.

Letters from the Hinterland #3, New Year

by Raymond Greiner

From Canary Winter 2012-13

       What is predictable? We will experience the repetitive cycle of weather patterns. Spring storms will come. Earthquakes, floods and hurricanes, these are certainties and have been active as a form of Earth's energy release since its inception. Cultural changes are also a certainty, but less predictable in detail, as the "end of the world" prophets pop up regularly. Of course the world will eventually end, but as things are now, it appears to be a ways off.
       As we pivot into this ambiguous, new span of time and dimension our individual agendas are aligning within our thoughts, much to do with stage of life, or a particular position we have achieved in the previous year. Opportunities will appear, some will direct us forward, others may fizzle, losing value quickly. The heavy substance users will think deeply about moving away from their substance of choice, obese people will think about how much better their lives would be if they allowed their bodies to wander back to the way they were at one time. Many good thoughts emerge as each new year enters our lives.
       Beyond the traditional resolutions and predictions, the most profound issue is hope. Hope for life's functions to discover better paths leading to more harmonious fulfillment. Technological advancements are driving forward at quantum speeds, inundating us with changes coming so quickly assimilation becomes a challenge. I don't see this slowing down in the future; therefore, gauging usefulness and choices is the highest priority. There is also a movement toward allowing deeper spiritual enlightenment to flow. Growing inwardly is likely the key to fusing cultural direction with technology in a positive manner. Almost all spiritual paths lead to betterment regarding personal inner growth.
       My particular sanctuary is nature and its abundant revelations regarding the purpose of life and how it blends with the Earth, an adjusting momentum, conquering challenges through evolutionary processes. As we address human-born challenges, it is to our advantage to emulate nature and adjust, evolve, striding with confidence in a cadence of concord. The ancients were bound to spiritual connection. It stabilized them, creating unity. It is a hope that in this contemporary, historical time we can realize the values in this important aspiration.
       It was joyful yesterday to have that snowfall. It was a wet snow, clinging to the trees, so beautiful. Canine pals Orion and Venus sensed this and ran in a big circle. Orion bites the snow, and Venus watches him, a bit puzzled as to why he is doing that. The trees are barren but the clinging snow seems to highlight them, even without their leaves. My dogs adjust to things; whatever the circumstances, they adjust. I try to learn this from them.

From the hinterland.

Letters from the Hinterland #4, Rapa Nui

by Raymond Greiner

From Canary Spring 2013

I've been reading a fascinating book, The Statues that Walked, written by Teri Hunt and Carl Lipo, a collection of archeological accounts and studies of Easter Island.  There is much speculation about the origin and purpose of the many statues that are ubiquitous throughout the landscape on this island. There is accurate evidence as to where these large statues (called moai) were quarried, also some uncovering of the tools used to carve them.  The enormity of the task is the most astonishing aspect; some statues are over 40 feet tall weighing nearly 70 tons, and many were transported up to seven miles from the quarry site. All the moai face inward away from the sea; they seem to be gazing back, in a vain search for the society that created them.  

Mass voyaging migration to disperse the population of Polynesia began around 1000 AD, and the monument (moai) construction ritual began at about that time.  The amazing aspect of Rapa Nui is the number of statues. It would be impressive even if there were only a few, but there are nearly 1000 of these giant statues scattered throughout the island.  Some were broken in transport and remain lying where they were abandoned.

The Polynesian voyagers were the first inhabitants of Rapa Nui. they had no maps or charts; they relied on oral directions from tribal elders, following wind directions, star patterns, the setting sun and rising moon as navigational aids. They sighted birds before land, indicating a nearness to land. They used large double-hulled sailing crafts, planning voyages years ahead with the potential new island inhabitants chosen in childhood, training for years in extreme frugality regarding consumption of food and water, with the goal to find new settlements. These voyages were an ultimate human challenge, all happening 500 years before Columbus.

The Polynesians did not fear the sea as the Europeans did. They blended with the sea, and as an island culture extracted life-giving sustenance from it. Rapa Nui is extremely isolated and a great distance from the main Polynesian island group, also against the prevailing trade winds. It is likely the voyagers waited for an el nino, which causes a shift in wind direction allowing a more favorable voyage.

Easter Island was named by a Dutch explorer, Jacob Roggenveen, who arrived on Easter Sunday in 1722. At the time of discovery Easter Island was covered with a dense forest of palm trees, eventually succumbing to overuse and greed as the trees were harvested for building and the land cleared for crops. Today Easter Island has no trees; it is a barren place, and during modern times its inhabitants have been on the verge of extinction several times. It is now only a fraction of the culture it was in its prime. Easter Island remains one of the most remote islands in the world.

Such islands are like micro planets, revealing how practices of conservation and preservation can create and maintain a long history of survival, thriving and maintaining balance. In this case Easter Island thrived for hundreds of years, then was ravaged, and the results were devastating. Springs dried up, and there was no more timber wood for canoes or houses, no rope for moving statues, no fires for cooking. Life began to change as these losses created severe hardship and discomfort.

Paul Bahn and John Flenly were intense students of Easter Island and its history, studying the many works of various paleontologists and their findings. The deforestation of Easter Island was the cause of its severe cultural decline. Quote from their book Easter Island, Earth Island:

"The person that felled the last tree could see that it was the last tree but still felled it. This is what is so worrying. Humankind's covetousness is boundless. Its selfishness appears to be genetically inborn. Selfishness leads to survival. Altruism leads to death. The selfish gene wins. But in a limited ecosystem, selfishness leads to an increasing population imbalance, population crash, and ultimate extinction."

This idea has caused me to wonder about present day humankind, the ever-escalating drive to move forward without careful consideration regarding destructive practices that ultimately can reverse our development, as we venture slowly toward felling the last tree.

Letters from the Hinterland #5, Geometric Earth

by Raymond Greiner

From Canary Summer 2013

Today I have been thinking about geometric patterns and shapes and their consequences, the obvious, the less obvious, and those about which I feel quite skeptical. I’m thinking about geometry’s vastness and profuse influential melding with Earth’s functions and living forms, the way patterns and shapes release visual pulsations activating a myriad of energizing forces which directly affect all beings.

Geometric designs are prevalent in nature. Some display distinct symmetrical perfection; others are called fractals, which are formed by fragmentation, splitting into parts creating reduced-size copies of the original form, a process call self-similarity which can vary in degrees of duplication, often abstract in shape and size, some forming less accurate duplications while others are more exact. Examples of fractals in nature include clouds, river networks, fault lines, mountain ranges, snowflakes, lightning, cauliflower, broccoli, systems of blood vessels, and ocean waves. Even coastlines may be loosely considered fractals in nature. Trees and ferns also are clear examples of fractals. Artists are inspired by fractals; the renowned abstract artist Jackson Pollack often displayed fractals in his works.

I see spider webs daily in summer. A tiny creature on its mission of survival creates these devices. A single spider will often construct five webs each day, and then eat its web after it has served its purpose in order to ingest protein, creating material for its next set of webs. These webs are images of beauty, especially when the morning sun strikes them; they glisten, revealing geometric design perfection.

Honey bees are master craftsmen; their cells are perfect hexagons, constructed of micro-tolerances with each cell positioned at a 13-degree list to prevent the honey from tipping out prior to sealing it with wax. These tiny hexagon cells may vary in size. Gauged upon the space allotted to construct the entire comb, the size variations are engineered to exactly accommodate the number of cells within the comb’s available construction site. Size variation is more common in wild hives because in manufactured hives the allotted construction space is uniform. Honey bees reflect evolutionary intelligence, which functions throughout nature.

Geometry is vividly displayed throughout the earth in special applications, often in a direct relationship with human interaction. Some geometric forms and structures are linked to metaphysical speculation, mysteries as the specifics of their origins are unknown. The Great Pyramids are examples; the how and why of their construction is a source of endless debate, and there are theories as extreme as divine intervention. It’s a fascination that the Egyptians constructed these large, complex geometric structures applying a distinct knowledgeable of geometry.

The Romans struggled with geometry, (which was problematic because of the difficulties associated with the application of Roman numerals to solve complex calculations) and were probably incapable of constructing such large, precise pyramid structures. As a result of the Roman’s inability to assimilate the principles of geometry, the science stagnated for 2000 years, from the time of the Egyptian pyramid construction.

Finally, the Greek mathematician Euclid (325-265) offered the world the first clear understanding of Geometry. Euclid was an intense student of Egyptian history and also lived much of his adult life in Alexandria, Egypt, so it is speculated that his ability to absorb and understand the principles of geometry was connected to his Egyptian interests. Greece and Egypt had a long period of trade and cultural connection, which may also have contributed.

The base measurements on the Giza pyramid, the largest one, are within six-inch tolerances point to point; modern buildings of lesser dimension cannot hold such tolerances. The exactness of this large, complex structure continues to perplex modern architects. It certainly does cause wonder.

The intricate design of many of nature’s critters is another source of mystery and fascination. The common box turtle displays unique and beautiful geometric markings, extending onto its shell’s lower flange. Whenever I discover one of these turtles, I always pause to examine these patterns. Such perfection. The chambered nautilus also characterizes living geometry with its expanding spiral of distinct markings all along the shell’s exterior, growing larger as the inhabitant of the shell moves to the next chamber, a true wonder of the deep. And if the shell is cut in half, it’s revealed that the chambers are equally spaced in a perfect equiangular spiral!

Flowers and plants are directly connected to soil, water and sunlight, displaying distinct and uniform geometric patterns, flourishing with color that attracts pollinators, a great bonding of sun, earth and organisms in rhythmical, omnipresent symmetry.

Geometric wonders are captivating, unfolding with infinite variety of shape and scale. Geometry and nature are meshed, moving forward in unison, emulating the geometric universe. The abundance of these observations offers continuing proof that all life forms on our planet, and likely on other planets, are wholly fused, ever evolving in a vast variety of patterns and shapes. Geometric earth.

“The goal in life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the Universe. To match your nature with Nature.”
– Joseph Campbell

Letters from the Hinterland #6, Antiquity – Destiny

by Raymond Greiner

From Canary Fall 2013

A few months ago I was researching for an essay on the cycles of the sun, learning about the billions of years it has taken to achieve its present state, and how it will continue to expand, eventually achieving its red giant phase and then diminishing in size, becoming a white dwarf star. I mentioned this study and how Earth will perish during the red giant phase as the sun encompasses the Earth’s orbital zone to a correspondent. His response: “Why is this important? None of us will be alive.”

Of course his observation is partly correct; we will not be here. But both the distant past and future have great impact on present day organisms. How so? If it were not for evolutionary cycles, we would not be here. So what happened early on created Now, created us. At this historical point we represent the present, and as a species we project an influential force driving forward toward the near (and possibly the distant) future. The cycles of the distant past and distant future plant a notional seed of what has happened and what can be predicted to happen, therefore profoundly influencing Earth’s beings during the human cycle period. Our present-day lives are enhanced by our awareness of Earth’s movements, and the magnitude of its past and future as we transit this current time. Knowledge of Earth’s timeline adds dimensional thoughts, creating spiritual consciousness, real-time cognition of life on our planet and its importance.

The dogs and I have a few favorite trails in the nearby state forest, and one-of them transits the bank of Burkhart Creek, a meandering creek with a particular turn that offers a nice resting point. The forest workers have placed a picnic table there, but it is seldom used because this is a hike-in spot and the typical picnic folks are drive-up oriented. So this spot has become sort of our personal place. There is sedimentary build-up on the inside portion of the creek’s turn, where we have discovered several geodes.

What about geodes? They occur in abundance in only five states: Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky and Utah. These are baseball-sized, some a bit larger, round stones with hollow interiors composed largely of quartz. Rock hounds collect them and saw them in half, exposing the glitter of the internal quartz, and then polish the edges for use as paperweights or ornaments. Geodes are products of geological activity during the Mississippian Age, and are approximately 340 million years old. As I hold one of these discoveries in my hand, the sensation of its long history magnifies the emotion of the moment. This geode was intact, as it is now, when the first humans appeared two-three million years ago, and it was 337-338 million years old at that time. It challenges the imagination to fathom such a span of time.

Living organisms offer us even personal and direct awareness of the magnitude of Time, and with less strain on the imagination. The giant Sequoia, the General Sherman tree, is between 2300 and 2700 years old. Many of these beautiful and ancient trees were slaughtered by humans during the 19th and early 20th centuries and were threatened with extinction. The Sequoias are not the oldest trees, but they are likely the most spectacular of the older species. There is one spectacularly beautiful tree, the Zoroastrian Sarv, that is 4500 years old, and the oldest living tree is the Methuselah. At 4700 years old, located in Inyo National Forest in California, it was 1000 years old when the first pyramid was built.

Why is all of this meaningful? I believe that knowledge of life and its cycles in relationship to time allows perspective, opening truths and knowledge that can be applied to our journey as a species. We have stumbled in so many ways as we make our walk with time, gaining balance and stability as a species should, and probably will, as our timeline gains momentum and understanding. We must come to see the power of our own destructive force, the ways in which that force can cause the Earth and its creatures to languish and stagnate. If we are to be a presence similar to the geode, we must adjust to the challenge of longevity, blend antiquity with destiny. It seems possible.

Letters from the Hinterland #7, Habitation

by Raymond Greiner

From Canary Winter 2013-14

Home is a place of comfort and safety, shelter from the storm, a place for rest from daily toils and for planning tomorrow. Historically homes vary, ranging in scope and dimension from Buckingham Palace to cardboard shanties in third world countries, and every imaginable variation in between. Some folks have no home of permanence; wander city streets, sleeping under bridges or in other modest shelters. Some homes are constructed behind walls which serve as barriers from intrusion. Woods surrounded Thoreau’s cabin, built near Walden Pond, one room, with a fireplace, bed, table and three chairs. Each chair was given a name: Solitude, Friendship and Society. Thoreau’s notion was that a home should be small, offer warmth and comfort but not extravagance, forming a pathway to achieve higher consciousness and embrace frugality and simplicity as directive forces. In this modern era homes are reflections of identity and status, moving beyond basic shelters and becoming means for social expression, displaying positions of prominence and financial achievement. Where and how you live, the size and perceived value of your home, establishes social foundation and acceptance. Vanity is a large presence in home choices.

Baffin Island is a barren, arctic island, made up largely of granite rock and boulders; the flora is arctic grasses and moss. Wolves have lived and thrived on Baffin Island for thousands of years, feeding on arctic hares, lemmings and other small game. These wolves, classified as arctic wolves as compared to the more southerly grey wolf, do not hunt in packs, but often male and female will hunt as a team. One of the most interesting features of arctic wolf life is their dens, established in well-protected boulder crevices. The dens recycle to the next generation, using the same pathways for exit and entering. These solid granite pathways have grooves worn in them, worn from the soft pad of wolves’ paws over a long span of time, giving perspective on the longevity of these family dwellings. These dens are the wolves’ home, their place of safety, a place of welcome. Wolves have no vanity; they have society and order but place no value on the superficial.

My home is in a remote and beautiful place, surrounded by nature and quiet, and over the past 10 years I have had the opportunity to observe a variety of animals and their home choices. I have five bluebird boxes mounted at various places on the property, and I marvel at how birds and animals construct and occupy homes they design and build themselves.

One day I discovered an abandoned sparrow’s nest lying on the ground. It was so perfect; much of its construction material consisted of horsehair, lost when the local horses had brushed their tails on fence posts, barn posts, and other obstacles. I was amazed at how precisely these small hairs were woven in a perfect circle to create this nest, a task that would have been a daunting challenge for human hands.

Other nests abound. High in the oak and hickory trees are squirrels’ nests lined with duck feathers and other insulating materials. The hornets’ nest is a real engineering feat, firmly attached to a lower branch of a sturdy tree, standing up to nature’s wrath. Once while hiking the property trail in early spring, the ground covered with a light snow, I came upon a significant pile of fresh woodchips. Looking up about 30 feet on a basswood tree, I saw a perfectly symmetrical hole on the lee side of prevailing winds and storms, the work of a pileated woodpecker. The bird knew his/her wood and had built a home high and safe, selecting a tree that is the carver’s choice.

An opossum has a den in the hay barn, accesses its home via a space that tunnels the barn wall. I see it often in the late afternoon, leaving home to scavenge for food. Opossums are pre-historic, living fossils, dating back 60 million years, and they are among my favorite critters. True survivors. The dinosaur perished but the opossum prevailed.

I have been studying the history of the Adena people, who occupied a large portion of what is now South-Central Ohio. Further evidence of their lives has been found in West Virginia and parts of Indiana, along the Ohio River. The Adena lived from 1000-200 BCE, and anthropologists speculate that they represent the foundation culture that ultimately evolved into various Native American tribes. The Adena formed villages with unique small houses built from upright poles: round structures, covered with skins or bark, very sturdy homes. The Adena were also mound builders and artisans. Carved figures have been discovered on rocks, petroglyphs depicting their life activities and beliefs. The Adena were directly attached to the earth, forming cohesiveness with nature. Their homes were functional and simple, the very opposite of contemporary munuments to separation. Thoreau would have aligned with the Adena.

The film and television producer Aaron Spelling desired to build the largest home possible as a manner of identifying his success. He had had a terrible childhood, was horribly abused and bullied at school, causing him to be bedridden from injuries for long durations. He became a reader, escalating his mind to a higher dimension than those who had bullied him. This early life experience may have planted a seed, manifesting a desire to display his achievements later in life.

This mansion is huge, sprawling and simply staggering in dimension. Mansions are great sources for segregation, putting oneself on a pedestal, eliciting awe, and seeking social respect and identity. This desire is quite ingrained into the present day glut-oriented culture. The Adena were communal; housing was uniform and without social distinction. People functioned within the confines of unity, transiting life in tribal harmony. In our present day world when the rich and famous become rich and famous, their first reaction to their success is to build a mansion, segregate themselves from others, become overlords, indulging in excess. It would seem difficult to acquire a deep affection for a home that is measured in acres, as opposed to a smaller, more intimate space.

In Los Angeles there are 90,000 homeless people, and then there are the mansions. Spelling’s home is valued at 150 million dollars. I suspect that the Adena knew something that we still haven’t come to understand.

Letters from the Hinterland #8, Toxins

by Raymond Greiner

From Canary Spring 2014

The nightly radio show “Coast-to-Coast AM” spent an entire program interviewing experts and discussing a profoundly important and interesting issue, the modern agricultural practice of using chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Decisions to advance this technology were made solely from a perspective of economics: higher yield, faster field management, less cost to cultivate, more dollar return relating to time and equipment operating costs. Long-term effects were not considered. Profiteering has found a home in modern, large-scale agriculture. Economics has trumped logic, which forms a destructive, controlling force, oblivious of consequences.

Honeybees are dying off rapidly because they ingest toxins that attack their nervous systems from the chemicals used in modern-day farming practices. Beekeepers are losing in excess of 20 percent of their bees annually as a result. Honeybees are important far beyond the manufacturing of honey. Bees are vital to pollinate crops and wild plants. Weeds mutate, building a resistance to the chemicals and causing the chemical companies to increase the toxicity levels of the chemicals in order to counter the weeds’ mutations. Because honeybees are farmed, the noticeable decline in their numbers is more evident and alarming. However, there are many more species of pollinators that are likely suffering decline on a level similar, or even greater than the honeybees’. Orchard bees, bumblebees, syrphid flies, pollen wasps and hummingbirds don’t get a head count, because they don’t manufacture honey and do not contribute to economics in a directly impacting manner.

Where I live, each spring I see farmers pulling trailers with large tanks of chemicals to be sprayed on their fields. As these chemicals are sprayed year after year, the soil becomes contaminated and the toxins are absorbed into the crops, which are ingested by humans. This system is solidly in place with no sign of change or discussion by those capable of implementing change. Monsanto heads a powerful lobby group whose goal is to block legislation that can address the issues of chemical poisoning of the soil and thereby the populous. Money and profits are addictive elements of power and influences capable of destructive patterns. The question is: Are the farmers’ bank accounts and the corporate bottom line more important than human health and well being? Our food chain is being tampered with and little or no consideration is applied regarding long-term effects.

How can ecosystems flourish without pollinators? Organic farms adjacent to chemically dependent farms are influenced by the destruction of the bees. Bees were kept for their value as pollinators as far back as ancient Egypt and now are being threatened by a quest for wealth. Without pollinators we will experience devastation equal to any in human history. Technology is here to stay, but it is ever increasingly important that we learn where the boundaries are located separating benefit from ruin.

Letters from the Hinterland #9, Consumption

by Raymond Greiner

From Canary Summer 2014

When I was a kid during the 1950s our town had many stores, mostly family owned and operated, and these stores were designed to fulfill particular consumer needs. Clothing stores, supermarkets, and sporting goods stores were all individually owned. Gas stations too were locally owned, with vehicle service equal in importance to selling gas. Department stores were only found in larger cities, and it was a special event to travel to Columbus and ride the escalators at the Lazarus department store. I lived in a smaller town, Marion, Ohio, about 40 miles north of Columbus. We dressed in our Sunday best for these excursions. The Midwest, during that era, was a fascinating place to experience youth.

In this modern era things have evolved into quite a different shopping climate. We no longer have stores, we have institutions with acre-size buildings, which house every imaginable consumer item in organized rows with signage to direct customers, and phones located at strategic locations to call for assistance to locate a particular item. A fleet of electric, riding-shopping carts is available for those unable or unwilling to combine a day hike with their shopping experience

Consumption is an interesting word. It covers a broad spectrum of pursuits. Even when we breathe we consume air, which is a necessity for life. We also will die without water and food. These are necessary consumptions.

Questions arise regarding consumption of other commodities than those necessary for life. Consumption conflicts arise over the elusive line of distinction between real needs and unnecessary wants. We are surrounded by influences, directly and indirectly. The purveyors of consumer commodities design and calculate like mad scientists to influence consumers to purchase more and more, creating markets that reach far beyond basic needs and have caused present-day consumption to grow into a monstrous entity. In H. G. Wells’ (1895) novel, The Time Machine, a scientist invents a time machine and ultimately becomes a time traveler, landing in the year 800,701 AD far far into the future and discovering a beautiful but mindless race of people called the Eloi. This race spends their days in leisure idleness, and his first experience with them is seeing a woman drowning in a nearby river, struggling for her life, as her fellow Eloi lounge on the riverbank and pay no attention to her plight. The traveler is in disbelief and saves the woman himself. As the story unfolds it is disclosed that the Eloi are under the control of another race, the Morlocks, troll-like beings who live underground in caves. At intervals a siren sounds and the Eloi become immediately entranced. They walk in a semi-conscious state toward the sound of the siren and enter the Morlock’s cave to be eaten by the Morlocks. The Eloi are like cattle, harvested by the Morlocks at their convenience.

I see a similarity to this story unfolding in today’s over consumptive culture, which is greatly influenced by the sirens of clever and manipulative marketing techniques. Product choice and availability have grown exponentially, adding dimension and confusion simultaneously. The human mind can be twisted and manipulated quite easily, it seems. We can become entranced like the Eloi, falling victim to wants injected into our veins by astute, psychologically implanted marketing. The difference is the modern day Morlocks are fleecing us instead of eating us.

Another arena of dubious consumption is the food we eat. Foods are purposely enhanced through clever processing designed to cause addictive cravings that have nothing to do with nutritional needs. Modern-day, highly-processed foods are largely aimed at satisfying emotional cravings for certain foods and additives. The Morlock marketers know exactly how to increase food consumption, and it is working well. The obesity epidemic is an obvious result.

The same technique is used in marketing the wonders of technology. The device you have in your hand was outdated at the time of purchase. The high tech folks have new, updated versions waiting in the wings, as they allow the old ideas time for market marinating, establishing a place, before they bring on the next-generation device and the consumer is tempted (required?) to upgrade. It’s the Morlock siren of manipulation using a market desire created to be fueled by peer pressures and the sheep mentality that has crept into present day culture. “Got to have one of those!”

So, what do we do? I suppose we must evolve as we have historically. We must become more individualistic, much like our ancestors and previous generations. Knowledge of exactly what is happening is a good place to start. Discover individual patterns of consumption that counter the Morlock marketers. Options do exist, good options, if we take time and thought to seek them out. Food consumption is an excellent place to begin the change. Locally grown fresh, whole foods are still available. Think through decisions regarding gadgets and devices, evaluate real needs over spontaneous responses to every new twist and turn that technology offers. High-end technology is now ingrained in our culture, and it is here to stay. It’s all about change, adaptation and mindfulness. It can be done.

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