The Value of a Weekly Peace Vigil

The discipline of maintaining a weekly vigil for peace on the steps of the Peterborough town house helps me pay attention to the many ways the war-making mentality affects our consciousness and our decisions every day. No matter what the weather, no matter what preoccupations have dominated my thoughts and emotions during the week, on Saturday it's time to remember to become, for one hour, a visible reminder that, in a world of hierarchies and strife, there is a peaceful way to live, if we keep insisting on it.

At election time, when people pass us on the street and glance at our peace-signs, they may well think we're there for one of the candidates, and yes, I'm personally passionate for and against some of the candidates, but that's not what we're there for. I grieve for the damage the proposed NED pipeline will do to our community, but that's not what we're there for either. The current hot war, or the current spate of hate speech may come to people's minds as they pass by, but if they ask, we just remind them we are standing here for "peace, not war", as a reminder that peaceful solutions are possible, a fact that is not widely advertised.

When we get together, we speak of our own personal concerns about the way our lives and those of our neighbors are playing out. We also feel compelled to discuss some of the horrific violence that consumes the attention of the media each week and to understand the political connections between those things, our national politics, and our way of life. We started the vigil to show support for non-military responses to the tragedy of 9-11-2001. We wanted to honor the longstanding traditions of nonviolence and diplomacy, which have slowly brought about many changes in society that everybody now recognizes as beneficial, though they now seem unremarkable, unless we take time to ponder how they happened. We marvel at the fact that our human race is still here after all the threats it has faced and all the threats to the natural world it has posed. We speak of the wisdom embodied in the religious, spiritual and philosophical traditions and of the twisted ways these have sometimes been used to support domination and violence.

There are those, such as New Hampshire's own Doris "Granny D" Haddock, who walked across the country in her 90th year for campaign finance reform, and Concepcion Picciotto, ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concepcion_Picciotto ) who organized and led a 24-hour-a-day peace vigil outside the White House for 30 years, right up to her death yesterday. They go much farther with their leadings to stand as a witnesses for a better way to live. Still, those of us who devote an hour to the same tasks on a regular basis are buoyed up by it, and I think we also make a difference in other lives by doing it in public.


For no obvious reason, I found myself reflecting on Inuit boats (kayaks and umiaks) during Quaker meeting yesterday, after reading from "The Sixth Extinction", by Elizabeth Kolbert. Today, I found this article from Natural History magazine, which called the umiak "almost extinct" and mentioned the "last umiak' in Shishmaref, Alaska 1n 1968, which may be the same umiak I saw "in dry dock" near the Shishmaref post office a decade earlier. I was also reminded of the legend of an Inuit settlement in Greenland forced to evacuate when its alliance with norsemen fell apart, commemorated in a Danish Christmas plate:


When a Man Drowns


You never learned to swim - water is cold.
It's freezing before drowning.
Besides, when children drown, they come right back,
bobbing up like flotsam, into the womb.
With men it's not so simple:
Some time in the seal-goddess' blue lair,
Questing in the deep, then back with kin.
A boy baby - who is he?
Watch for telltale signs.
Oh! It's him! Now we know his name.
Help him remember his song.
He was a carver; let him play with the knife.

The other part of last night's dream

I was one of four girls who were left to fend for themselves on the streets of Warwick, Rhode Island on a cold, slushy afternoon in the mid 1950s. We came to a place where an electric cable looped across the street and discovered that if we stepped on it at certain places, the juke-box loudspeaker in the spa on the corner would play a song. It played a different song, depending on where on the cable we stepped, and my favorite song was located where the slush was deepest. It took some courage to wade out and step there, and there was a sensation of electric tingling, but it was worth it for the satisfaction of hearing that song. Our respective parents had more-or-less abandoned us for the day and we were determined to amuse ourselves as cheaply as possible.

As we were getting cold and wet, we decided to go into the spa and get a grilled cheese sandwich and a lime rickey with four straws to share. We noticed that there was a box of old telephone directories on a shelf above our booth and asked if we could have some to start a fire in the wood cookstove in the housekeeping cabin our families had pooled resources to rent for the week, probably to attend an event at Rocky Point. The waitress said "Sure! But you're not from around here, though, are you?" It was true, we lived on the other side of the Bay and our accents were definitely not from "Wahvvik".

Monserrat Rock (a dream telling)

We took the ferry out to Monserrat rock. Ours was the only car on the ferry, and as soon as we pulled onto shore the ferry left, while we drove up the short, deserted but physically constricted main street to the tiny rental cottage we'd arranged to stay in. Monserrat Rock's only real attraction was the view from the inn carved out of the rock halfway up the red basalt monolith that was all there was to the island. This cottage we had rented didn't even have a view of the sea, so, as soon as we had put away our luggage, we donned our backpacks and set out hiking up the road, which had been carved painstakingly by slaves centuries ago, spiralling around and up the mountain to the inn.

As we pulled in a few minutes earlier, we missed seeing a woman whose dark curly hair flew rhythmically from side to side, run down the inn road and dart under the ferry-slip. The couple who had rented the front room at the inn, realizing that they could no longer stand each other's company, had quarrelled. The woman had run down the mountain and taken refuge in a quiet cranny by the shore, and the man, pursuing her, had chartered a boat to search for her off-island where he thought she might have gone. In their rage and haste, they had both forgotten their twin boy and girl, who had been playing on the grounds of the inn, out of earshot.

We arrived, out of breath, to find the inn looking deserted. We walked in the door and heard a woman's voice recording a voicemail message on the phone. The speakerphone was on and we could not help but hear. She told the man not to follow her, that she needed time alone to figure it all out.

We decided to camp out in the room, hearing no objection from our strangely silent consciences. We promised ourselves we would leave if the real tenants returned. Something in the southerly breeze seemed to make it feel as if our lives were charmed and anything we chose to do would work out well in the end. The room was well stocked with food and spirits. After a good lunch we went back to see the world-famous pool, carved out of the living rock, with a keyhole view of the sea below, and stocked with a variety of tame and wild animals. On the way, we found the children and decided we needed to take charge of them until one of their parents returned. There was plenty for them to do, and it seemed they were not at all perturbed to learn the parents had run off without them. They had become quite used to fending for themselves, as their parents were increasingly preocupied with petty bickering and rivalry. They promised to return from their play at dinnertime.

The kids had already been into the water, swimming alongside the many sizes of cat, dog, monkey and otter who also spent their days in and around the pool. As I was getting into the pool, I saw a tiger-sized  grey cat emerge on the other side of the pool and lie down in the shade. This disturbed me a little, but I had read that the wild animals here were quite placid and never attacked people, so wondrously unlike the other island a few miles across the salty water was this ruddy paradise of stone.

The effects of the swim were a revelation. I motioned to my companion to join me in the water, and together in the healing waters, we came to understand our fortunate position. I realized the the parents of these children had not even thought of taking a swim before they quarreled, and I thought how sad it was that they had come so close to the solution to their strife without arriving at it. Maybe it could yet be rectified.

Centuries before, a king was exiled to this place with his large retinue of slaves and the menagerie he had collected during his long life spent in the study of magic. He had been accused of witchcraft and had been banished to this rock. He and his companions moved into a warren of caves at the place where the ferry slip now stood, where earlier island residents had planted a lush garden with date palms, grape vines and olive trees. The king promised the slaves he would let them go free on the next boat that visited the island if they would build him a home high on the rock and a road to reach it by. With the promise of freedom, the former slaves went to work with great energy and before the year was out, the construction project was complete. Not long after that, a merchant ship, unaware of the king's exile status, pulled ashore to look in wonder at the spiral road and were persuaded by the king, in consideration of payment in pearls and ivory, to take the former slaves to an uninhabited island he knew, where the soil and water were good and there were no human inhabitants to re-enslave them. The king himself complied with his banishment, knowing that the combined effect of that and his emancipation of the slaves along with his already great magical powers would permit him to exempt this one island forever from the laws that subjected all other places on earth to their fair share of misery.

The king's amimals became immortal, and they were exempted from the laws of the jungle, including the one that required them to eat. The pleasure that animals usually derive from eating and dominating each other now came from breathing the island's magical winds and soaking in its soothing waters.

As for the king, some say he still lives on the island in a form so ethereal as to be one with the wind of this place.

At dinner we talked with the twins, shared our experiences and some more fine food, then sang songs and told stories and drifted off to sleep. At dawn we started cleaning and organizing the room, then we prepared a breakfast for six, knowing, somehow, that the parents would be here soon.

We woke the twins and walked out on the front patio. The woman appeared first, and after initial surprise, thanked us for looking after the kids. We told asked her if it was OK with her to share breakfast with us before we went back to the foot of the rock. She said, " Of course!"

Sitting around the table, we all paused, expectantly. Somehow we knew the man would be here for breakfast, too. Like clockwork, around the bend he came walking. The woman beckoned to him and his fearful look changed to a smile as the south wind blew gently on both their faces. "Can you forgive me?" he asked. The woman gestured to him to come and take the seat beside her. The food and conversation were good, with a considerable amount of genial laughter. When we were finished, I asked, "Anyone for a swim?"

A Walk Around Walden in Ice Time

Inspired by our reading o the book "A Religion of One's Own" by local author Thomas Moore, Denise woke up Friday morning and proposed a "pilgrimage" to Walden Pond.

Thoreau used the site as a retreat where he could contemplate what really matters in life; he saw blue angels in the Pond's water. Moore point out that thousands of people make a pilgrimage to the site every year, to visit the cabin site and to consider some aspect of the questions Thoreau pondered.

The Pond is not on the way to anywhere we routinely go anymore. When Denise's mother ws alive and living in nearby Weston, one or the other of us would stop there at least once a month. Now, Denise goes there in Summer to swim, and I rarely see the place. Denise swims there, and at other Massachusetts state parks, so often that she always gets an annual parks pass, and we thought we could pick one up on this visit, but that wasn't to be. There were no rangers on duty; someone had unlocked the rest-rooms for the day, but that was all the attention the place had gotten. Signs warned of ice on the trails, but we didn't register the seriousness of that warning until we were halfway round the pond... but more on that later.

Recent years have seen the pond ravaged by ice storms and filled to a greater depth than ever before. The roots of trees at the edge of what is usually the beach on the east end of the pond have been exposed. catkins are beginning to appear on pondside bushes. The ice begins a foot or so from the shore, and while there are no warnings against it, I would not want to venture out onto the pond ice. Thoreau spoke of ice-fishing and ice harvesting on an impressive scale during his stay there; this was really not the howling wilderness, but a scene of industry! He said the ice would reliably be broken up by the first of April, and that the thaw was more predictable on this "kettle pond" than on ponds that were fed and drained by flowing streams.

We set off walking the beach on the northern bank, where the sand and gravel were exposed. Sometimes we climbed up the bank and followed the tourist path, surrounded by four-strand wire fences that looked at first glance like barbed wire. On closer inspection I saw there were no barbs. In the warm season, people would be filing and jostling along this narrow corridor to reach the site of Thoreau's cabin, but this day we met only one fellow traveller. What would Thoreau have made of these confining alleys? Would he have understood that they were necessary to protect his beloved natural world now that there were ten thousand visitors a day rather than two or three or a dozen?

The first place we encountered glare ice on the trail was as we approached the cabin site. The trail was so slippery that it would make no sense to try walking it, so we looked at the granite foundation poles that demarcated the cabin's former footprint from a vantage point at the top of a hill, then broke the rules and set off bushwhacking across the leaves between the trail and the beach. The beach trail was still ice-free. We paused to take a few pictures. I played my pennywhistle for a while. Two commuter trains, passed along the west end of the pond as we amde our way along the north beach, one bound to boston and the other to Fitchburg. In Thoreau's time the trains also followed this route, both passenger trains and freight trains, but back then they trailed black clouds of soot and threw out occasional hot clinkers that set the brush on fire.

As we approached the west end of the pond, I realized that the remainder of the beach and trails were going to be covered with ice and snow, and I wished I had brought my ice-grippers. From tis point on, the idea of taking pictures did not occur to me. My shoes were waterproof but somewhat slippery, while Denise's boots had margianlly better traction. With great foolhardiness, we set of down the snowy beach. staying clear of the icy places and trying to avoid stepping on the pond ice. We arrived at a place where an icy trail took off steeply upward, and made good use of the wires of the fence to pull ourselves up hand-over-hand. Then the wires became slack, sagging out over the pond, though fortunately the trail evened out. We slid across to the outer edge and pulled ourselves from tree to tree. Then we came to a place where the trail sloped upward again. Denise somehow made it to the top of the slope, but I kept slipping and sliding down. Finally I sat down and slid sideways to the inner edge of the trail and grasped the wire, pulling myself up the fence line to where Denise was waiting. Then we set off again across alternate areas of leaves and untrodden snow, following a berm that led us higher and away from the pond's edge. We followed the berm a long way up and east, seeing deer tracks, snowshoe tracks, and what may have been moose hoofprints. A couple of small birds either urged us on or taunted us - I'm not sure which. At the end of the berm, an icy footpath sloped downward to a boat-launching area that was also completely iced over. It might have been a fun tobboggan ride, but we didn't have a tobboggan, so we walked deeper into the woods and found a circuitous way to the south end of the boat-launching parking area. There we made our way along wooden beams around the parking lot and to a muddy road that led eventually back to the parking lot. We then headed into the busy center of Concord for some hot drinks and then the long drive home.

Mary Susanne Edgar and her affirmation

This is the affirmation I said at the equinox gathering on Friday night. We used to recite it as a group, multiple times, during a morning Meeting at Moses Brown School in the early 1960s.

Here is a Wikipedia page ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Susanne_Edgar ) about the woman who wrote it. When I looked for it five years ago on the internet, the poem was not easy to find, and there was no biography of Mary Edgar available online. I had to go the library to find any information.

actually, we said:
I will follow the upward road today;

I will keep my face to the light.

I will think high thoughts as I go my way

and do what I know is right.

I will look for the flowers by the side of the road;

I will laugh and love and be strong.

I will try to lighten another's load this day as I go along.

It was obviously passed on to Moses Brown as a folk tradition, with slight changes from oral transmission, rather than in a written form.

Here is a play she wrote, with music, based on the Pied Piper:


My River of Stones for January

My friend Deborah Harvey got me involved in a group writing exercise called "River of Stones" around New Years Eve. The idea was to write a short piece (poetry, verse, prose) each day for a month, putting it into a single document with all the other participants. The pieces were to be inspired by something we experienced and made an effort to record in writing. The original document is here , but it may be private. Deborah has posted her "stones" on her blog , and I'm putting mine here at LiveJournal. I missed a few days, but there were four of us who made it all the way through. These are really better read in the original doc, because we seem to have inspired each other with the topics we picked.

January 1, 2012 7:30 a.m.

Morning sunlight, through clicking waving branches,
silvers the wires and reddens the snow.
The refrigerator hums the same old tune.

January 2 2013

Labyrinth Walk

Quarter-circle switchbacks
An occasional flat-out semicircle
sometimes toward and sometimes away
from the summit center

January 3 2013

Grey but gaudy,
the tufted titmouse
prefers to dine upside-down
while the dark-eyed junco waits,
yielded and still,
on the ground.

January 4 2013

Settling back under the covers at 3:00 am,
- Did you notice the icicles?
I groan, throw off the blankets,
put on glasses, go to the window.
Just the right proportion of moonlight and starlight
lets icicles gleam with blue-yellow iridescence.
Oh thank you!

5th January 2013

Icicles grow downward, don't they?
Then why does this one point dagger-like
at the wall of our house
from its perch on the lightbulb?

6th January 2013

The missing cookstove manual, page 38:
To re-light the pilot,
strike match with right hand
plunge right shoulder to the floor and
stretch to the back of the stove.
Reach left hand up to the button and push.
Lower eye and squint to see the blue flame flicker.
Keeping the button depressed,
count to sixty slowly.
Let go the button.
Lower eye to look for the blue flame.
If it's not there, repeat.

7th January 2013-01-05

"Be patient with the ice-dam",
I keep telling myself,
"By June it will be gone,
no matter what you do."

January 8, 2013

Robin Williams said,
"I haven't seen the spiders lately;
Do you suppose they're plotting something?"
I hadn't seen them either,
not even in their favorite spot by the composting toilet.
Early this morning Denise allayed my fears
with news of a giant spider sighting.

8th January 2013

I know William Morris would disapprove,
but as I round the bend,
seeing the green bow of the Tyngsborough bridge
shining in the sun
after its long long rebirth
makes my heart glad.

10th january 2013

Brown rice sprinkled with juicy,  violaceous pomegranate seeds,
beside beans and winter vegetables:
something I'd never make for myself,
just one unexpected benefit of last night's community supper.
What a luxury to have all this only a mile away!

11th January 2013

Stephen used to work in Vaudeville.
Now he is turning ninety-two,
with a walker and oxygen tube.
I sat beside him last night.
He knew all the Beatles and Woody Guthrie songs
as well as the oldies.
His voice was strong and on-key as we sang our way through request after request,
sitting together in our circle.

January 12th 3013

One by one,
the little stores and cafes have shuttered.
Chatting on the street corner,
sadly, the owner tells us the movie palace will have to close
after 60 years,
unless a miracle of community support takes shape

13th January 2013

Bright fog
skeletal trees
on white gesso ground.

January 16, 2013

Flashing lights up ahead in the driven snow:
Do they signal some awful danger
Or are they the snowplow coming to our rescue?

17th January 2013

Taking apart the Holzhaus she made
and feeding it to the stove,
all unprepared, I come upon
the squirrel's treasure trove
acorns, beech nuts, pine cones
all safe from Winter's snows.

18th January 2013

The directions seemed so simple:
make your own
bright butterfly from aluminum-can cocoon.
Crude outline drawn,
scissors for tin snips,
colored markers for the finish. 
But real butterfiles' wings don't draw blood!

19 January 2013

Wake before dawn on the coldest morning of the year
All this bustling about for warmth
makes the waking-up go fast.

21st January 2013

-They got inside the chimney and chewed away the new lining
-What did?
-red squirrels.
Thought to myself:
-these  were none of the sweet-tempered red squirrels I know,
mining for sunflower seeds under the bird feeder.

22nd January 2013

What is it about hearing Passamoquoddy?
Like a forgotten childhood language,
not from my childhood but
from some other childhood.
(Mine would have included lots of English,
some Inuit, Norweigian, Spanish.)
I wake up in the starry morning with Saturday's prayer in my ears.
All I can say is "Willywen, Thank you".

24th january 2013

Variations on a theme -
My cat says "mmmmrrr" with a rising-falling-rising intonation
I answer with rising-falling-rising-rising
He answers in kind
I answer with rising-falling
He answers with rising-dipping-rising
I think I get the message.

25th January 2013

In change I find
An 1898 liberty nickel,
Liberty's head on one side,
Roman "V" on the other.
Did everybody speak Latin in those days?

27th January 2013

Standing in the snow,
in air that numbs our mittened hands,
we gaze in wonder at the sweat-soaked brow
and bare arms of this refugee from the all-day dance upstairs.

Before signing our book,
the poet warns us that
signed books bring less
in the rare books market.
I think he knows we won't be selling this book, though.

28th January 2013

He pries back the wall plank and sees glowing eyes staring back.
Raccoon! He nearly falls off the ladder,
remembering that battle with those masked clowns
that held the Grange hall against all comers a few winters back.
"It was only me", the cat tells me later.

The Mystery of Ivy and her Owl

In the process of singing and thinking about  "The Holly and the Ivy", the Christianized pagan ballad to two evergreens, which pronounces the male Holly victor over the barely-mentioned Ivy, I ran across this Solstice ballad, complete with the information that Ivy was a girl who danced in adoration before Dionysus until she fell dead at his feet. Dionysus rewarded her by giving her immortality in the form of a plant that remains green year-round. In this song, the lively Holly (Dionysus) triumphs over the sad, shivering  Ivy in a pæan to patriarchy. It occurred to me that it was just meant to be  sung to the tune of another old ballad "The Two Magicians", in which the male and female are more-or-less evenly matched. Maybe "The Two Magicians" was originally a solstice song, and that maybe the original of both ballads was a Solstice song that put the two genders on a more even footing in their battle. In "The Two Magicians", the male magician more closely resembles Hephaestus or Wayland the Smith than Dionysus, and the female magician seems ready to counter all his spells indefinitely. In some versions, she wins and remains a virgin.

Of course, the superimposition of the Christmas story on top of these legends just does not make sense, unless you identify Jesus with the patriarchal pagan god. Jesus as a mythological figure is not patriarchal, but partakes of both the masculine and feminine. Jesus as a baby is a somewhat more malleable figure whose environment and destiny can be compared to the paradoxical qualities of the holly, but where is Ivy in any of these verses? Maybe Mary is Ivy. Is she the weeping sufferer? Is she the powerful virgin female magician? What about the Owl, who is Ivy's companion and supporter but who also consumes her. Whoever put together "The Holly and the Ivy" from the shards of ancient traditions was working with powerful images that still reach us today.

Holly stands in the hall, fair to behold:
Ivy stands without the door, she is full sore a cold.

Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.

Holly and his merry men, they dance and they sing,
Ivy and her maidens, they weep and they wring.

Ivy hath chapped fingers, she caught them from the cold,
So might they all have, aye, that with ivy hold.

Holly hath berries red as any rose,
The forester, the hunter, keep them from the does.

Ivy hath berries black as any sloe;
There come the owl and eat him as she go.

Holly hath birds a fair full flock,
The nightingale, the popinjay, the gentle laverock.

Good ivy, what birds hast thou?
None but the owlet that cries how, how.

O She look'd out of the window
White as any milk;
But He look'd into the window
As black as any silk.

Hulloa, hulloa, hulloa, hulloa,
You coal black smith!
You have done me no harm
You never shall have me maidenhead
That I have kept so long;
I'd rather die a maid.
Yes, but then she said,
And be buried all in my grave
Than I'd have such a
nasty, husky, dusky, musty, fusky
coal black smith
A maiden I will die.

Then she became a duck,
A duck all on the stream;
And he became a water dog
And fetch'd her back again.

Then she became a hare,
A hare upon the plain;
And he became a greyhound dog
And fetch'd her back again.

Then she became a fly;
A fly all in the air;
And he became a spider
And fetch'd her to his lair.

Picture credits (all from Wikimedia Commons or Wikispecies)
By Lip Kee from Singapore, Republic of Singapore (Spotted Owlet (Athene brama)) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
{Bildbeschreibung|Europäische Stechpalme, oder Gemeine Stechpalme, (Ilex aquifolium) |selbst erstelltes Foto | Jürgen Howaldt |27.10.2005 |- }} {{Bild-CC-by-sa/2.0/de}}
by Uwe H. Friese, Bremerhaven 2005