I eat these
wild red raspberries
still warm from the sun
and smelling faintly of jewelweed
in memory of my father
tucking the napkin
under his chin and bending
over an ironstone bowl
of the bright drupelets
awash in cream
with the sigh of a man
who has seen all and been redeemed
said time after time
as he lifted his spoon
men kill for this.
~Maxine Kumin, “Appetite” from Selected Poems: 1960-1990.
We’ve exhausted the strawberries with only a few “everbearing” continuing to produce through the remaining hot days of summer. The raspberries too are drying up with leaves curling. The mountain huckleberries have had their hey-day. The blueberries continue strong and juicy.
And now blackberries, free for the picking, hang in mouth-watering clusters from every fence line, long roads and ditches, just begging to be eaten. Blackberry vines seem like trouble 90% of the year–growing where they are not welcome; their thorns reach out to grab passersby without discriminating between human, dog or horse. But for about 3 weeks in August, they yield black gold–bursting unimaginably sweet fruit that is worth the hassle borne the rest of the weeks of the year.
Thorns are indeed part of our everyday life. They stand in front of much that is sweet and good and precious to us. They tear us up, bloody us, make us cry, make us beg for mercy. In fact, man has died by thorns and been killed for the sweetness.
Yet thorns did not stop salvation, did not stop goodness, did not stop the promise of redemption to come. We don’t even need to wait to be fed and no one need die: such a gift as this was dropped from heaven itself.
For Memorial Day 2018~
~standing in gratitude and reverence for the few
who suffered great loneliness and loss
to secure the future and well-being of many,
including the unknown generations to come
who must live in a way that gives those sacrifices
the honor they deserve~
In great deeds, something abides.
On great fields, something stays.
Forms change and pass;
but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.
And reverent men and women from afar,
and generations that know us not and that we know not of,
heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them,
shall come to this deathless field,
to ponder and dream;
and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom,
and the power of the vision pass into their souls.
This is the great reward of service.
To live, far out and on, in the life of others;
this is the mystery of the Christ,
–to give life’s best for such high sake
that it shall be found again unto life eternal.
~Major-General Joshua Chamberlain at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 1889
I hear the mountain birds
The sound of rivers singing
A song I’ve often heard
It flows through me now
So clear and so loud
I stand where I am
And forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home
It’s carried in the air
The breeze of early morning
I see the land so fair
My heart opens wide
There’s sadness inside
I stand where I am
And forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home
This is no foreign sky
I see no foreign light
But far away am I
From some peaceful land
I’m longing to stand
A hand in my hand
…forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home
~Lori Barth and Philippe Rombi “I’m Dreaming of Home”
“Comrade General, instead of a decoration, could I go home to see my mother?”
I was sixteen, taking second year high school Russian during the Cold War, partly for the challenge, but mostly to understand better who our “enemy” was. Our teacher assigned us unusual homework one weekend: watch the 1959 Russian movie “Ballad of a Soldier” being broadcast on PBS in 1970. It had English subtitles, but the point of the assignment was to experience the sounds and inflections of native Russian speakers. Although the movie was a fictional story of a Russian soldier’s brief leave from the front during WWII, it complemented a concurrent assignment in our World History class, reading All Quiet on the Western Front. The unforgettable juxtaposition of these two works of art helped me appreciate, in the midst of the nightly news from Vietnam, the terrible cost of war.
Recently, some forty seven years later, I watched this movie again. The tale is a classic “returning home from war” saga with the twist that young Alyosha is only on a brief leave granted by a compassionate general rewarding the front line soldier for an extraordinary act of bravery. Alyosha asks only to return to his home village to fix the leaking roof of his mother’s home. Given the extraordinary difficulties of war time travel in an economically struggling country, as well as the challenges and people he ends up meeting along the way, his time home ends up being only a few precious minutes before he has to turn around and return to the front. He only has enough time to hug his mother, and say goodbye one last time, never to return again.
Although the story focuses on a son’s determination to get home to his mother, it also allows a view of war’s permanent damage to bodies and minds, as well as the toll of war time separation on relationships. There seems little sense of hopeful future for the characters in this story, so the immediacy of what they experience takes on greater significance.
Alyosha meets a young woman on the train and their evolving connection offers a glimpse of a potential love that can transcend the ugliness of war. They part not even knowing how to find each other again, after having spent precious few hours in conversation. Acknowledging that lack of future hope is the most painful of all; there is no ability to make plans with confidence, no sense of a long life stretching ahead like the dusty road leading from his village that reaches endless to the horizon.
I remember sitting in my childhood home, watching this movie as a teenager with so little life experience at that point. Tears streamed down my face, touched forever by the tender story of a man made too old by war and hardship for his young years and his simple desire to once again hug his mother. This Russian soldier did not feel like an enemy to me. This felt like someone I could easily love and hold on to–as a brother, someday as a cherished husband, eventually as a precious son. Years later I would identify with the role of the mother with moistening eyes, watching my children leave our home, heading down that long endless road to their own uncertain futures.
On this day — May 26 — what would have been my mother’s 98th birthday — I have the simple desire to once again hug my mother and feel her tender love. The wrenching moments of saying goodbye as I left home remain my precious bittersweet memories of her, even as my own road now grows shorter.
There will come a time, in our forever home, when there will be no more goodbyes, I’ll never have to let go of her and neither of us will walk away to an uncertain future.
Reflecting on, and with respect for, the courage shown by Tanzanian park rangers and my kidnapped research colleagues on this unforgettable day 43 years ago — I’m reposting this again as part of my Gombe saga from when I worked as a student research assistant for Jane Goodall in western Tanzania in 1975.
At first glance, Gombe National Park in Tanzania felt like paradise—a serene piece of the earth filled with exotic and fascinating wildlife, an abundance of fish and fruit to eat, and the rich unfamiliar sounds and smells of the tropical jungle. It was a façade. It was surrounded by the turmoil and upheaval of political rebellion and insurgencies in its neighboring countries, inflamed even more by the fall of Saigon in Vietnam a month previously due to the earlier pull out of the Americans from that long and tragic war.
Only a few miles north of our research station in Gombe National Park in western Tanzania, there had been years of civil war in the small land locked country of Burundi. When the wind was just right, we could hear gunfire and explosions echoing over the valleys that separated us. Escaping refugees would sometimes stop for food on their way to villages in Tanzania to the south, seeking safe haven in one of the poorest countries in the world, only a decade into its own experiment with socialism, Ujamaa.
There was also word of ongoing military rebellion against the dictatorship of President Mobutu in the mountainous country of Zaire twelve miles west across Lake Tanganyika.
Morning comes early for field studies of wildlife, as the research day must start before the chimpanzee and baboon subjects wake up and begin to stir. Before midnight, while we slept soundly in our metal huts scattered up the mountainside, a group of armed soldiers arrived by boats to the shore of Gombe National Park.
Storming the beach huts housing two unarmed Gombe park rangers and their families, the soldiers seized one and demanded to be told where the researchers were. The ranger refused to provide information and was severely beaten about the head and face by the butts of the rifles carried by the invaders. The armed soldiers then divided into smaller groups and headed up the trails leading to the huts, coming upon four sleeping student researchers, tying them up, taking them hostage, forcing them into boats and taking them across the lake back to Zaire.
Asleep farther up the mountain, we were wakened by other researchers who were fleeing, hearing the commotion. No one really understood what was happening down lower on the mountain. There were shouts and screams, and gun shots had been heard. Had someone been injured or killed? There was no choice but to run and hide deep in the bush at a predetermined gathering spot until an “all clear” signal was given by the rangers.
We hurried along barely familiar trails in the black of the jungle night, using no flashlights, our hearts beating hard, knowing we had no defense available to us other than the cover of darkness.
That was the longest wait for morning of my life, sitting alongside Jane holding her son Grub. A hand full of other students had also made their way to the hiding spot, none of us knowing what to think, say or do. We could only barely see each other’s faces in the darkness and were too frightened to make any sounds. We carried no weapons, and there was no way to communicate with the outside world. We had no idea how many of us may be missing, or possibly dead.
Jane held Grub in her arms, endeavoring in vain to keep him quiet, but his eight year old imagination was ignited by the events that had just unfolded.
“Will they kidnap me, Jane? Will they come for me? Where will they take us? Will they shoot us dead?”
Jane, her face hidden by her blonde hair loose about her shoulders, sat rocking him, cradling him. “Shhh, shhh, we don’t want them to find us. We’re safe staying right here. Everything will be fine in the morning. No one will take you from me.”
Grub began to sob silently into her shoulder.
When the morning of May 20 dawned, the park rangers located us, and pieced together the events as best they could–the soldiers were Zairean rebels living in remote mountains, fighting an insurgency against the Zaire government. Seeking funds for their cause, they saw a kidnapping of Americans and Europeans as a way to raise quick funds and world publicity and sympathy. Four of our friends/coworkers were missing, the camp was ransacked and the rangers beaten but with no life threatening injuries. There was no way to remain safe at the Park, and our colleagues needed whatever help we could offer for their rescue.
We were able to send a messenger to a nearby fishing village, and a radio call was sent out to the small town of Kigoma, then relayed to Dar Es Salaam and Nairobi. Help arrived within a few hours, when a United Nations boat monitoring the civil war activities in Burundi pulled off shore near our camp. We were told we needed to evacuate Gombe that day, and would be taken to Kigoma, and then flown by bush pilot to Nairobi, Kenya to cooperate in the investigation of the kidnapping.
In Nairobi, at the US Embassy, I met CIA agents who viewed our wild primate studies with suspicion. Each of us were grilled individually as to our political beliefs, our activities at the camp and whether we may be somehow involved in subversive actions against the Zaire or Tanzanian governments. We were dumbfounded that our own countrymen would be so skeptical about our motives for being in Africa. It became clear our own government would be no help in resolving the kidnapping and bringing our friends home to safety. The agents did not shed any light on whether they knew our friends were alive or dead.
We were then hustled into a press conference where we were interviewed for television and print media by the worldwide news agencies, and my parents saw me on the CBS evening news before they actually heard my voice over the phone. I flew back to Stanford the next day, spending 24 hours on a plane that made six stops up the coast of West Africa on its way back west, to tell what I knew to Stanford President Lyman and other administration officials as they prepared a plan to locate and free the students. I then returned home to Washington state to await any news that came too slowly from a place so far away that I remain astonished to this day that I was ever there at all.
It took over three months, private negotiations and ransom money to free all four of our friends back to safety. They remain close to each other and the remarkable man who helped free them, Dr. David Hamburg. We have had several reunions together over the years to remember those days of living in a place that at one time seemed like paradise.
several of my colleagues have written books about their experience at Gombe:
Following Fifi by Dr. John Crocker
and of course, Jane’s wonderful books that led me to Gombe in the first place:
Brief, on a flying night,
From the shaken tower,
A flock of bells take flight,
And go with the hour.
Like birds from the cote to the gales,
A fleet of bells set sails,
And go to the dark.
Sudden the cold airs swing.
A verse of bells takes wing
And flies with the cloud.
~Alice Christiana Thompson Meynell – “Chimes” from more Collected Poems
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
~Lord Alfred Tennyson
I know there are still communities where the New Year begins at midnight with church bells ringing, just as in days of old.
Here in the frontier of the rural Pacific Northwest, all we can hear from our farm are gun shots, bottle rockets and (what sounds like) explosions of cannon fire.
So much for larger hearts and kindlier hands.
Even without being able to hear wild bells ringing out the old and ringing in the new, let us begin with harmony and manners and care for our neighbors, abandoning a thousand years of war to find a thousand years of peace.
Let the darkness make room for the Light that was and is and will ever be.
The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
~Kobayashi Issa (translated by Robert Haas)
A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.
Matthew 2:18 and Jeremiah 31:15
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cosy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people|
On the long road of weariness and want.
For even as we sing our final carol
His family is up and on that road,
Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind and shouldering their load.
Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower
Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,|
The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,
And death squads spread their curse across the world.
But every Herod dies, and comes alone
To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.
~Malcolm Guite from Waiting on the Word
And the slaughter of innocents and weary road for refugees continues unabated-
In observance of The Feast Day of the Holy Innocents:
There is no consolation for the families of those lost:
Their arms ache with emptiness tonight,
beds and pillows lie cold and unused,
blankets and cuddlies await all night hugs
that never come again.
There can be no consolation;
only mourning and great weeping,
sobbing that wrings dry
every human cell,
leaving dust behind,
dust, only dust
which is beginning
He came to us
for times such as this,
the dust of woman and
the breath of Spirit,
God who bent down to
lie in manger dust,
walk on roads of dust,
die and be laid to rest as dust
in order to conquer
such evil as this
that could displace masses
and massacre innocents.
He became dust to be
He began a mere speck in a womb
so often washed away from life
His heart beat
breathing each breath
until a fearful fallen world
and our breath
He shines through
the shadows of death
to guide our stumbling uncertain feet.
His tender mercies flow freely
when there is no consolation
when there is no comfort.
He hears our cries
as He cried too.
He knows our tears
as He wept too.
He knows our mourning
as He mourned too.
He knows our dying
as He died too.
as this happened.
Evil comes not from God
yet humankind embraces it.
Sin is a choice
we made from the beginning,
a choice we continue to make.
Only God can glue together
what evil has shattered.
He just asks us to hand Him
the pieces of our broken hearts.
We will know His peace
when He comes
to bring us home,
our tears will finally be dried,
our cells no longer
never only dust
as we are glued together
by the breath of God
the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.
Luke 1: 78-79