Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Adventure at Pueblo Shé

Map of (some of) the ruins at Pueblo Shé. Nels Nelson, 1914 

Up the road apiece, past the Zorro Ranch and over the ridge into the Galisteo Basin, the vast acreage of the Singleton holdings goes on for miles and miles. The Singleton ranches have various names. I forget most of them, but all along the route north almost to the village of Galisteo, the red and white painted gates sport the Bar-S brand signifying yet more of the Singleton properties.

Up over a hill past the Anaya Ranch, and across the road from Tom Ford's 20,000+ acre Cerro Pelon Ranch, is a gate that is sometimes open -- say when a movie is being shot on the land (part of Hostiles was) or cattle are being driven, or once when I saw a cowboy hauling bales of hay for the horses.

June 2,  the gate was open and we turned in, waving at the dudes by the gate -- "Just follow the road" they said, a dirt track really, but not in bad shape despite the rain the day before. 

We were on our way to Pueblo Shé. The weather was distinctly cool and foggy and threatened more rain, but we didn't much care. It seemed like a good day to go exploring on forbidden land, this place now called San Cristobal Ranch, yet another of the Singleton family properties in New Mexico. They have ranches all over the west, and in the Galisteo Basin, big ranches are liable to host one or more Pueblo Indian ruins, and the ruins can be enormous. Pueblo Shé is one of the bigger ones.

We jounced along the dirt road around curves and up hills and down, past log cabin ruins that were used in the filming of Hostiles and maybe some other pictures, too. We kept going and going, close  to arroyos and stands of cholla and piñon pine until we came to a series of tents and lots of cars and cattle lowing in the distance. This was the place. We would be joining perhaps two hundred others going to the ruins in small groups led by volunteer archaeologists, each of whom had their take on where we were and what it meant in the vast eternal scheme of New Mexico's long habitation by its varied populations.

Our group was an early morning one, and we set out relatively promptly once everyone on the list was assembled. We were warned by our tour leader that the hike would be about two miles some of which would be fairly strenuous, but accommodation would be made for those who might be slower than others. We could expect to be out exploring for about two hours. We should be prepared for rain.

I looked around and it seemed to me pretty much all the dozen or so in our group were in their 70s and a few were even older. There was one young fellow, Paul D., who was one of three archaeologists in our group. He said he was with the City of Santa Fe, and he'd never been to Pueblo Shé before -- well, except for the previous Friday when the volunteers were taken around . None of the archaeologists had. Not even our tour leader, John W., had been there before last Friday. It was to be a new adventure to all of us. Access was so restricted that the ruins hadn't really been investigated or excavated for more than 100 years.

Ms. Ché and I had brought our walking sticks so the first part of our trek up hill from the tent encampment was... OK. The ground was rough and dotted with snake holes and cow-pies, but this was no great problem. We noticed right away pot sherds on the ground. Lots and lots of them. We climbed a slight rise and John W. explained it was one of the trash middens left by the peoples who had occupied Pueblo Shé, and he said that as far as anybody knew the site had been "de-populated" and abandoned sometime after 1500 but before the Spanish arrived (starting with Coronado in 1540). Why it was abandoned was a mystery, but several of the pueblos in the Galisteo Basin were abandoned about the same time, and a theory was that there was an extended drought, and the populations of abandoned pueblos migrated to other pueblos or areas where water remained accessible and available. Perhaps.

John also said that it wasn't entirely clear who had lived at Pueblo Shé. There were a number of different Native kin and language groups who lived in the Galisteo Basin over time, and every indication was that these groups mixed and mingled and there was no way to say that this group or that were the exclusive residents of any one pueblo. John was convinced that pueblo populations were always mixed throughout time as they are today.

What we saw on the ground was an indication of the complexity of the site. There were hundreds -- thousands -- of pottery sherds, many of them highly and finely made and decorated. Other household objects had been retrieved from the trash middens and from the nearby room blocks, one of which was our next destination.

Climbing a low mound, we looked down into a squarish pit. "What do you suppose this is," asked John. Some of us said a kiva. Nope, wrong answer. No, this was one of the excavations made at the site by Nels Nelson in 1914, the only real archaeological excavation that had ever been done there.

Nelson excavated approximately twenty rooms and a few kivas at Pueblo Shé, ran a trench through a trash midden, collected lots of things and shipped them off to AMNH New York where they still are, stored in boxes out of sight, and that was that. He went on to his next excavation and recovery site in the Galisteo Basin and eventually went far beyond. Nelson is credited with refining if not originating stratigraphic excavation and interpretation of archaeological sites, techniques he practiced at Pueblo Shé and elsewhere in the region.

Nelson determined that there were more than 1500 rooms on the ground floor of this pueblo complex. There are 7 main buildings at Pueblo Shé arranged in rows facing south. Several have wings facing east/west. There is also a detached section that we would visit. It appears to have been started but never completed. It's as if the footings or foundation had been laid but no superstructure had been built.

Like most of the rest of the pueblos in the Galisteo Basin, Pueblo Shé had been built of puddled adobe interspersed with local stone. The adobe had melted away while the stone had tumbled to the ground. Nothing was left of the pueblo but scattered squarish stones and low mounds. But the shape and extent of the buildings was easy enough to trace on the ground. Each mound was several hundred feet long, forty or fifty feet wide, and most buildings had probably not been more than two stories high. One building, which we would explore late in the tour, had left a taller mound, quite steep to climb, a mound that John W. said indicated at least three storeys and possibly more.

Some of us noticed right away that there were no vigas in the ruins, nor any sign that there ever had been any. Vigas are cross beams, usually ponderosa pine in Northern New Mexico, that are used as roofing beams and floor beams of multi-storey buildings. Their apparent absence at Pueblo Shé was interesting to some of us. Had there never been any? If not, how were the buildings roofed? If so, then where did they come from and what had become of them? Toward the end of the tour, John W. suggested the vigas would have to have come from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains some distance away and they might have been taken and recycled at other pueblos after Pueblo Shé was abandoned, as was the rule for valuable and not easily replace lumber not only prior to the arrival of the Spanish but since then too.

After checking out several of the building mounds and some Spanish era foundations that John W. said was likely a colonial era house (and someone on the tour suggested might have been a chapel), we headed off to a hill overlooking the ruins.

The approach was not particularly steep, but once we got near the top, the climb became rocky and precipitous. We were expected to 'summit' -- and it was clear there was no way I would be able to do so. John warned the group "You may have to do some scrambling" and most were able to make the steep and slippery climb to the top, though one lost her shoe, and several slid down before they figured out a way up.

I stayed behind with Paul D. who was kind enough to share pictures he'd taken at the top on Friday. There were petroglyphs. Not a lot of them. Two large ones only. He asked me what I thought one of them was. I said it was an antelope. He said that's what he thought too, but he was told it was a macaw or a parrot, very exotic birds in this area, as they could only have come from Mexico or Central America. Images of macaws are not rare in New Mexico, however, regardless of how rare the birds may or may not have been.

The other petroglyph I thought was a turtle or tortoise. Paul D. said it wasn't clear to him what it was. I've since done some research and realized that what I thought might be a tortoise was probably a representation of a pueblo resident protected by a large oval shield. These representations are found in many locations in the Galisteo Basin. On our way to the base of the summit, we'd both noticed a large flat-faced boulder on which was carefully pecked the letter "A".

 It wasn't too long before the group that had clamored up the sheer rock face to the top of the hill started picking their way down on a less steep path and we headed off to the next destination.

Little did we know what a challenge it would be. Remember, this was a group of mostly elderly people, spry though most might have been. John W. (no spring chicken himself) wanted to show us something he thought was vitally important. And getting there would take some doing, specifically climbing down into and then up the other side of a deep and steep-sided arroyo. OK, then.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Russia Thing

I don't think I've addressed The Russia Thing more than peripherally on this site. It always struck me as stupid to be blunt about it. Russians certainly had a hand in shaping some opinions about candidates in the 2016 election, particularly Hillary, but so what? So did a lot of other interests, national and corporate, and it shouldn't matter in the larger scheme of things that Russia and Russians were also involved. That's part of the political game in this country and it has been as long as I've been alive. And no doubt it has been true as long as the US has been a nation.

When you look at it from a historical perspective, the focus on Russia's involvement to the exclusion of just about every other national and corporate involvement is distinctly odd. Not only were they not the only ones attempting to gain advantage from the election (of Trump, but it's more complex than that), they weren't necessarily the main foreign interest in the outcome of the election. Oh no, far from it.

But in order to understand what happened, we need to understand what was going on. Trump wasn't expected to win. Not even he expected to win. The outcome was a surprise and a shock to the entire electoral system including the funders, media, and candidates. The voters were largely appalled. How did this happen?

It's not easy to sort out what was happening that led to such an unexpected outcome, but among the things I was aware of was a very concerted online effort to influence the influencers. This is tricky; it isn't self evident that influencing the influencers had much of an effect, but I think it did.

"Stop Hillary" was a really big thing online. Bernie was the great white hope, but he failed miserably. Whether or not he was robbed by the DNC and Hillary's partisans is a question I choose not to get into. I'll just say from personal knowledge that the Democratic Party apparatus is tailor made for selected outcomes, and there isn't a whole lot insurgents (or Bernie) can do about it. In a lot of ways, the Party has fossilized around a set of rules and requirements that almost always ensure that a selected candidate achieves the presidential nomination, no matter what. And who does the selection? A committee of old timers, in effect a Politburo. Hillary was the foregone nominee, despite the fact that she was opposed a large minority of party voters. Realistically, so was Bernie. If they'd had their druthers, I'm not sure who the Democratic primary voters would have chosen. The problem was that none of the 2016 primary candidates really represented the interests of a majority of the party's voters. The factional split between Hillary partisans and Bernie partisans was unbridgeable. The Party apparat went with Hillary and the rest is history.

The factional split left a wide opening for "influencers" to do their thing, and I saw it happening in real time online.  Of course it had happened before, but not to the extent I was witnessing during the 2016 election. What I saw was a relatively limited anti-Hillary drumbeat -- from somewhere, initially I thought domestic, but it turned out to be generated in Eastern Europe, with a source apparently in Russia -- hammering away at her many flaws and being picked up and amplified by all kinds of online sites and eventually by the mass media. I noticed it seemed to start with apparent Bernie partisans, particularly the canard that Hillary was going to start WWIII -- which to this day is repeated as an article of faith.

I say "apparent Bernie partisans" because I don't think they really were. I think they were using Bernie's campaign as a launch pad, but they had no interest in his winning the nomination or the election. They wanted to stop Hillary. Whatever it took to do so.

When I started seeing "Macedonian teenager" memes showing up on a number of supposedly "progressive" sites, and not long after that in the mass media, I really questioned what was going on. Obviously these kids in Macedonia (which was initially where these memes were thought to be coming from) had a more or less direct line to the internet backchannels which in turn led directly to mass media backchannels. And then right out to the public.

It wasn't just the "$100,000 in Facebook ads" that the St. Petersburg Internet Research Agency purchased. Oh my no. Those ads probably had no effect at all. What was having an effect was the meme generators, wherever they were located, trouncing Hillary for "starting WWIII", for Libya, for Syria, for Iraq, for "super predators," for her devotion to neo-liberalism, for her supposed illnesses, for Bengazi, for those damned emails, etc.

Here's the thing. It wasn't coming from the Trump campaign (which was just riding a little bitty wave), and it wasn't coming from the Bernie campaign, either. There had to be some other source. It was relentless and repetitious to the point of complete predictability.

Hillary, the Arch-Bitch, had to be stopped at any cost.

By whom? Why? I think those questions are yet to be answered. "Russia" is not the Answer, though it may be part of it.

Trump of course benefited from an enormous amount of free publicity, but it was widely thought that was OK because he would come across so badly. That kind of thinking was critically in error, but it seems to have been the underlying thought process of those who were giving him so much free airtime.

On the other hand, Hillary was given no quarter, she was criticized relentlessly for everything, and she got much less airtime, even as she spent wildly to buy ads and positive coverage -- or any coverage. She was thought to be the uncatchable frontrunner. Trump was being boosted to make it a horserace, but Hillary was going to win, hands down. Everyone was certain of it. Absolutely certain.

And yet she didn't. What happened? Officially, what happened was that less than 80,000 votes in three states meant that Trump won the Electoral College while Hillary won millions more popular votes. Yet again, the Electoral College handed the presidency to the candidate with fewer popular votes.

Among the factors that led to that outcome were voter suppression in Wisconsin and Michigan, to the tune of several hundred thousand eligible voters who either not permitted to vote or whose votes weren't counted. Pennsylvania had some very hinky voting machines that could not be audited. A recount was tried in all three states, and it was shown to be impossible. Jurisdictions refused to cooperate, machines could not be audited, votes could not be verified; in some cases there were no paper trails or any trail at all. You had to take the results on faith because there was no way to verify the counts.

Then there was the issue of "interference." Prior to the election we were told that the Intelligence Community and DHS would be closely monitoring the election for any "interference." Uh oh. To me, that meant they intended to interfere. I wouldn't put it past them. They could certainly do it. As I pondered that possibility, it occurred to me that a faction of those entities would very much prefer a jocular, macho racist idiot in the White House to Hillary, no matter what we might think. Indeed, there was an obviously strong anti-Hillary streak among the macho agencies, plain as day. Particularly true of DHS, but I wouldn't say that the other three letter agencies were much in favor of her. If they were going to monitor, there would be little or nothing to prevent them from jiggering the results themselves if they wanted to.

And when the tiny number of votes in three states made the ultimate difference, I nodded sagely. When it proved impossible to fully recount or verify those votes, I figured it was obvious.

But my thinking about it is distinctly in the minority.

"Russia!" was announced as the culprit. OK. Russia and Russians did do things, yes, and Trump is in thick with Russians and (especially) Russian money, things that were almost never mentioned during the campaign. But did Russia cause Trump's success? Uh, no.

No, what was happening was much more complex. What Russians and Israelis and many other foreign interests were doing -- and are still doing as far as I can tell -- is using every tactic they can to influence the influencers, hoping to set public policy in the US favorable to themselves. The people -- we -- have almost nothing to do with it.

And I suspect the focus on Russia! is part of an influence campaign itself.

We've been in a very decadent phase of the Republic, and realistically, we're near the endgame. Trump won't be Emperor, any more than Julius Caesar was. But his successor likely will be. The Republic will become extinct. And you know what? Most people will say "Good riddance."

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Fire at Notre Dame

Unlike so many of those who have spoken and written about the fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, I've never been there in person, but in a vicarious way I have, just like so many people who haven't been there have vicariously seen and felt the place through movies, teevee, picture books and so on. Notre Dame is in some ways more familiar to Americans than just about any other Medieval church on earth. Certainly more so -- perhaps oddly -- than the many Gothic piles that dot the British Isles. Hm. Wonder why that is so?

Of course the spectacular setting on the Ile de la Cité in the middle of the Seine increases the visual impact of the church and its flying buttresses. It's a photographic and artistic wonder, especially as the light plays on the exterior stonework.

Until the photos and videos emerged following the fire, I don't think I had ever seen pictures of the interior of the cathedral, and from what I've seen so far, there was nothing particularly special about it -- compared to other Medieval cathedrals throughout Europe, or even their imitations in the United States. What I had seen and remembered were photos of the magnificent stained glass windows that line the walls and punctuate the ends of the cross. Amazing in every way, meant to delight the senses, windows which for the most part they say have been there "forever." They are said to be mostly original from the 1300s or a bit earlier or later, some damaged over the years of catastrophes, wars and revolutions, but never destroyed, and even with the fire, most of the windows appear to have survived intact. As I say, amazing.

The 850 year old oak raftering burned, the lead roofing melted or vaporized (that must not be pleasant) and the 150 year old spire collapsed in a flaming heap, puncturing the vaulting and forming a blazing pile of primarily wooden debris on the floor of the cathedral in front of the altar. That burning heap of rubble was doused with streams of water and fairly promptly put out while the roofing kept burning. Other parts of the vaulting collapsed or were punctured, but they say the damage, while significant, is repairable. As I'm sure it is. Medieval churches and cathedrals throughout Europe have been bombarded, reduced to rubble in many cases, gone up in flames and been shaken to pieces in earthquakes. Their devastation and restoration is almost routine. So there is little doubt that Notre Dame will be restored, and Macron has set a goal of completing the restoration in five years. To me that's unlikely, but the work will be done no matter how long it takes.

The fire was truly shocking, however, a visceral shock felt throughout the European and European-descent world. At first, it seemed like the entire structure was aflame and that nothing would survive. Gradually, it was realized that the fire was mostly confined to the roof and the spire, and that the stone building mostly survived though badly damaged. Some of the closeup views during the fire and its aftermath showed very deteriorated stonework though. Parts of the building were undergoing restoration, but much of the exterior looked like it was overdue. The fire appears to have started at the base of the spire where restoration work was underway. It has been tentatively deemed an accidental fire. Roof fires are not uncommon during restoration work on Medieval buildings and that seems to be what happened here.

It's a shame and yet after the initial shock it seems that Parisians -- and just about everyone else -- has moved on, confident that the monument will be restored, and the fire will eventually be forgotten.

I haven't mentioned the many billionaires who suddenly came up with hundreds of millions of euros for the restoration but were unable it seems to help fund the renovations that were underway when the roof caught fire. Nor, it seems, have they ever been able to find a way to help alleviate the growing problems of homelessness in France and elsewhere. It's one of the Great Mysteries, isn't it? How is it they can collectively come up with more than a billion dollars practically overnight to fund the restoration of Notre Dame after the fire but could barely find a penny to help before? Mystery!

And I couldn't help but think about the shock people must have felt long ago as one by one and sometimes in batches ancient Roman monuments fell to ruin from fire, earthquake, wars and revolutions. Only they weren't rebuilt. And I think of all the cities in the United States left partially abandoned by changing economic priorities, entire sections left to rot and ruin. The fire at Notre Dame isn't quite in that category, but it is evocative of a kind of creeping doom nonetheless.

And yet, life goes on...

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Cars

I had a skill when I was very young. I could identify year and make of cars by their badging, shape and trim. It was considered cute that I could do this almost perfectly at the age of three, and it's a skill I've sort of kept over the years. Well, newer cars are difficult for me. They tend to maintain their appearance over several years, and there are a lot of brands now that didn't exist in the '40s and '50s.

I'm trying to keep a list of the cars we had through the years. I've done a post on this topic before, but I'll try to do a list without referring to it.

1. 1942 Packard Clipper. It was Hunter Green, but the paint was very faded. There was a big dent in one rear fender -- did my mother back into something, or did the car get hit by another? I don't know. The interior was ratty. Upholstery worn and torn, stuffing coming out of various places. It had an odd smell, might have been burning oil. My mother got the car in the divorce settlement from my father, and I think she hated it. Finally, the clutch or transmission gave out and she traded it for another car.

2. 1950 Plymouth. This was gray, four door, a Deluxe model. It was a pretty nice car all things considered, but it was a base model, so it had no radio or heater. My mother drove it until 1957 when she was in a wreck coming back from her late call at the hospital where she worked. The car was pretty much totaled. She was injured, broken ribs and wrist, and a nasty knot on her forehead. So she bought a Ford.

3. 1957 Ford Custom 300. This was also a base model, but it seemed to me to be very advanced compared to the Plymouth. Being shiny and new of course was the main thing. But it had fins and chrome and a low and lean look to it, whereas the Plymouth was high and rather staid.

4. 1959 Hillman Minx. An oddball car to be sure. I don't remember why my mother traded the Ford for a foreign car so soon, just over two years, after she bought the Ford. My sister was driving a French Simca at the time, so that may have had something to do with it. Anyway, I thought the Hillman was pretty deluxe, though it was smaller than any car we'd had up to then. It had a radio and heater and green leather upholstery. It was a little difficult to get used to because the shift pattern was different, but otherwise it was quite fine in a British sort of way. It was the first car I drove on my own, badly.

5. 1961 Ford Galaxie.  Well. This one was kind of spectacular. It was black with a red interior. It was a "hardtop convertible" which meant there were no pillars between the front and rear doors. It seemed huge compared to the Hillman, and I think that's why my mother liked it.

Video below of a similar car.

5. 1965 Mustang. She couldn't resist. The minute the Mustang was introduced, she wanted one -- and she got one.This one was green with a black interior. It was pretty basic, but it was sharp looking and she loved it. When the clutch or transmission went out, though, she traded it in.

6. 7. 8. A series of used Thunderbirds. There was a 1959, a 1961, and I think a 1963. My mother bought these cars for herself and didn't keep any of them very long.

9. 1969 Dodge Coronet. This was not a success. Her step-father had worked at a Dodge dealership when she was young, and he had given her her first car, a 1934 Dodge Coupe. She hoped that a new Dodge would be as much of a thrill. It was a disaster. It was too plain after the luxury of the Thunderbirds, and for some reason, it didn't "sound right" and it was hard to drive. Within a month or so she traded it for a...

10. 1969 Pontiac LeMans. She loved this car. She kept it for at least another 10 years, maybe longer. I don't know that she ever bought another car -- but we were estranged toward the end of her life and I have only sketchy knowledge of her after about 1977. She died in 1987.

Because her step-father was a machinist who became the service manager at a car dealership before he went on mercurial adventures as the owner of his own filling station and auto court, eventually losing all his money in a bogus mining venture in Nevada, my mother always had an interest and fascination with cars. My infant skill in identifying makes, models, and years cars from the '40s and '50s was widely admired, but eventually, I didn't really share her auto interest.

I've had many cars on my own over the years, starting with a 1950 Packard convertible (the one pictured below may actually be it):

Imagine a high school kid driving something like that around in 1965. My god. Just looking at the picture gives me a strange sensation, part thrill, part horror.

That was followed by a 1951 Buick Roadmaster, which was followed by a 1958 Cadillac, then a 1967 Ford Fairlane, then a 1970 Chevelle Malibu, then a 1980 Ford Escort, then a 1988 Toyota Corolla, then a 1992 Subaru, then a 1998 Pontiac, then a 1997 Chevrolet Astro van (which I still have) and then a couple of 2008 Subarus purchased in New Mexico, one purchased in 2013 which was wrecked, the other purchased in 2016 which we still have. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

I Used to be 1/4 Irish

But now Ancestry DNA says I'm more than half Irish -- including Scottish and Welsh -- and less than half "British" -- Britain, including large parts of France and Germany, and all of Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg. There is no other DNA heritage in my updated DNA scan.

Well. The initial DNA scan was 1/4 "Irish", 2/3 "British", and the rest an amalgam of "Iberian," "Eastern European," and "Scandinavian."

My father's paternal grandparents emigrated from Ireland in 1850 or so; his maternal grandparents emigrated from what had yet to become Germany a few years later. This we know from extensive records and tales told by firelight. We know where our immigrant ancestors came from and I've been able to trace their ancestors into the 18th century. They're not quite who/what I thought they were, but close enough.

On my mother's side, it's more complicated. Her father was killed when she was very young, and she knew almost nothing about him. I've been able to trace her mother's ancestors pretty well, though, and almost all of them are deep-rooted in America, some going back to the 1600s in New Jersey, and then further back into the deep mists of time in England. Yes, almost all her ancestors on her mother's side are English. There are some exceptions. There's the Indian Princess (well she might be, it's hard to say; some of her descendants vigorously dispute it) in the 1700s; there are one or two Irish or Scottish folks who married into the family in the 1800s. But apart from them, it's all English ancestry on my mother's mother's side all the way down.

On her father's side, from what I could find out, it's a good deal more ambiguous. Her father's mother superficially appears to have been of New England English stock, thoroughly English but long time in America, with no Scottish or Irish admixture. But I wonder... One of her great-grandmother's last name was Scott.

My mother's father's paternal ancestors though... I could not trace his ancestors back farther than 1798 when his paternal grandfather was born in Virginia. Frontier Virginia. His paternal grandmother was Irish. They moved to frontier Kentucky, then to frontier Indiana where they settled and some of their descendants still are. So according to an ancestry chart, my mother's father's father was half Irish, my mother's father would have been 1/4 Irish; my mother would have been 1/8th and a little bit (allowing for Irish and Scottish ancestors on her mother's side), and that contribution to my ancestry would have only slightly increased my "Irish" from 1/4 to maybe 27-30% -- if that, since the way DNA works, my mother's "Irish" contribution might not show up at all, and my father's could be less than 1/4.

So. How did I get to be more than 1/2 Irish all of a sudden? It should be impossible. I don't have enough Irish ancestors, nor am I aware of more than a few distant (possibly) Scottish ancestors. (Ancestry DNA lumps Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry into one glorious Celtish mass not three.)

I've been puzzling and puzzling this dilemma for months, and I just can't make it work. I even tried the proposition that my father wasn't my father, than one of his cousins was, a cousin who would have had 100% Irish ancestry. I even had a candidate in mind. Trouble was, I share abundant DNA markers with descendants of my father's sister and brother who have done the DNA tests. So many markers that we are from DNA evidence alone first and second cousins. If one of my father's cousins (the son of his aunt) were my biological father (possible though not probable) I would be more "Irish" but I would not be as closely related to my cousins as apparently I am. I would be third or fourth cousin rather than first and second. And if another (100% Irish-ancestry) man, not my father's cousin, had been my biological father, I would be half or more "Irish," but my cousins would not be related to me at all.

So it's still insoluble.

I tried to prepare this post a month ago for St. Patrick's Day, but I got caught up in research and other things and never finished it. The dilemma has spurred me to look ever closer at my mother's ancestry and at the people and places in Ireland that my ancestors must have known. The story I'm piecing together is pretty amazing. Not quite what I thought, but not that different either.

And in all my DNA results -- originally and updated -- there is no sign of German ancestry at all. The "British" in my DNA includes the western quarter of Germany which is where my German ancestors lived, but my cousins -- descendants of my father's sister and brother -- show definite specific German markers. I don't. It's a mystery...

The church on the road in Ireland near where some of my Irish ancestors lived:

And here is the church in Galisteo, not far from where I live now:

Both were constructed c. 1810.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Chopping Wood and Carrying Water

Before Enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.

After Enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.

Well, that takes me back a long way, fifty years or more, when Ms. Ché and I sat in meditation in our tiny studio on Hunter St. in Stockton, CA.


At the time, the practice of Zen meditation (Zazen = Sitting Meditation) wasn't commonplace, but it was no longer wildly exotic nor confined to strictly Japanese Buddhist communities. It was available to other seekers, and even if one didn't have a Master, one could practice on one's own or in lay communities, no Master required. Not unless one was a novice monk or nun. In which case, one had a hierarchy and a rule to understand and follow along with one's practice of meditation: the garments, the positions, the bows, greetings, chants, and on and on and on.

Enlightenment (Satori = Sudden Enlightenment) was possible whether you were a monk or nun or not. It was always my belief, whether wrong or right, that the monastery and nunnery could delay enlightenment, in fact may have been designed to do so, in an emulation of Sakyamuni's -- the Buddha's -- long quest for his own enlightenment. He had to experience everything and go through the literal and figurative fires of hell before he was granted nirvana. Many Buddhist devotees, in his time and now, seek their own enlightenment by following his path as closely as possible. The monks and nuns are most adept at it. In his own time, many of the Buddha's followers were "granted monkhood" by the Buddha himself. It was considered the highest favor and the highest calling of a mortal being.

But not everyone could be or should be a monk or a nun, for society would not be able to function if they were. Buddha -- generally pronounced "Buhddh" (no "uh" ending) in Hindi and other Northern India languages -- acknowledged as much in his own time, and encouraged leaders and kings to adopt the core Buddhist principles and practices while continuing to serve their communities and people in their roles as kings and princes and headmen. Women could be ordained as nuns, but their social role, though important, was subsidiary to that of men, and would be for many years to come.

Nowadays, many of the most honored and venerated Buddhist scholars, thinkers, and practitioners are women, most of whom are nuns but some are lay women who have achieved enlightenment.

The final episode of the Indian TV series "Buddha" was a presentation by its producer, B. K. Modi, who saw that his calling was to help restore Buddhist thought and practice to India and to help spread it throughout the world. His biographical series about the Buddha was a step on that path.

Comparatively, India has few Buddhists today, while other countries, near and far, have proportionately more Buddhists, approaching 90% in some places. We may ask why that is so.

According to what little history I've read about it, Buddhism was suppressed in India from before the time of the Mughal conquests in the 12th century until the establishment of the British Raj in the 19th century (when the Crown took over rule from the British East India Company). There was a slight revival under the British, but after Independence, Buddhism became more widespread especially among the Dalits (formerly Untouchables.)

The suppression of Buddhism in India contrasts strongly with its flourishing in Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, China, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. Everywhere Buddhism flourished, a somewhat different form of the practice was developed.

Our introduction to and practice of Buddhism was an Americanized version of Japanese Zen. I wouldn't say we necessarily achieved Enlightenment, but the practice had a profound effect on our lives which continues to this day, even though we haven't practiced for many years. Correction: Ms. Ché sat in daily meditation at Naropa last summer, and she intended to set up a meditation space at home when she got back, but for whatever reason, she hasn't done it yet.

What has happened, though, is a gradual transformation of our house to accommodate the possibility of a meditation space in due time, and a restoration of Mindfulness in our daily activities. Ie: Meditation without (necessarily) Sitting.

Still we chop wood and carry water. That is fundamental.

One origin of the precept is as follows:


A young boy became a monk. He dreamed of enlightenment and of learning great things. When he got to the monastery he was told that each morning he had to chop wood for the monks fires and then carry water up to the monastery for ablutions and the kitchen. He attended prayers and meditation, but the teaching he was given was rather sparse.
One day he was told to take some tea to the Abbot in his chambers. He did so and the Abbot saw he looked sad and asked him why.
He replied every day all I do is chop wood and carry water. I want to learn. I want to understand things. I want to be great one day, like you.

The Abbot gestured to the scrolls on shelves lining the walls. He said, "When I started I was like you. Every day I would chop wood and carry water. Like you I understood that someone had to do these things, but like you I wanted to move forward. Eventually I did. I read all of the scrolls, I met with Kings and and gave council. I became the Abbot. Now, I understand that the key to everything is that everything is,'chopping wood and carrying water.' and that if one does everything mindfully then it is all the same."

Sunday, February 10, 2019


Lately Ms Ché and I feel like we're coming around full circle in some ways. Buddhism has re-entered our conscious lives. It never really went away, though our lives veered strongly in other directions between the time we started Buddhist practice in the late 1960s and now. Oh my yes.

In the interim we sort of drifted between a Franciscan-ish Catholicism, Native American-ish spirituality, and a kind of strict atheism. God, what God? I know of no God. Etc.

But underneath it all was a core of Buddhist thought and practice dating so far back in our lives that we forgot its origin -- must have been Japanese in our case, Zen, sitting meditation, satori, and semi-enlightenment, flashes, coming, going, dissolving, reconstituting. Very California when you get down to it. Zen masters and other spiritual teachers including Gary Snyder and some of his disciples. This was a long time ago. I feel every moment of the time that has passed. So many years but yet it seems to be only yesterday.

So we live our lives of Adventure, dashing around the country, seeing sights, meeting people, working in a wide variety of environments, living a kind of dream we never quite awaken from. So many aspects of a dream never deferred but always present. Even our retirement to the New Mexico wilderness is part of that ongoing dream. An illusion.

And then the signs... For a time, we were beset with Adventists, Witnesses, and Mormons. I tell you it  was a constant circus parade at our front door. "Come! Join us! God awaits!" The Catholic church down the road, modest and plain, run by Carmelite monks, seemed calm by comparison. Oh they had their issues, one being abortion, that sometimes got them so worked up it was a strange and bewildering environment. If it had been a Franciscan run church, like the Cathedral-Basilica in Santa Fe might have been if history hadn't intervened, maybe, maybe... oh, but they have their issues, too, which I won't go into here, but will just say that their bankruptcy has been driven by many years of priestly abuse of parishioners.

So a household Franciscan observance/altar was set up in a corner of the living room, and we included many Native American elements in it. Well, it seemed only natural. Then we added a Native section that just kept growing, so that now the Franciscan part, while still important, is the lesser of the side-by-side home altars.

St. Francis is not as highly regarded in New Mexico as he is elsewhere, in part because it was the abuse by Franciscan priests that touched off the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. The stories I've heard of what the Franciscans did to the Indians are almost impossible to imagine. Their cruelty was way over the top. To my mind, this wasn't Franciscan at all. Something deep-rooted and thoroughly evil had replaced the compassion and charity and love the Saint had preached.

I'd say in a way, New Mexico -- Spanish and Native alike -- has never forgiven the Franciscans for what happened. As a consequence, St. Francis's presence is minimized though the Santa Fe Cathedral Basilica is dedicated to San Francisco and there is a looming statue of him in a side courtyard. Ave.

In California, it's not that way, so we brought some Franciscan thought with us and we honored the saint in small ways. Of course the Cattery is the main Franciscan observance but let's not get into that right now. (Cats!)

Ms. Ché spent part of last summer at the Naropa Institute (as we still call it, though it is a University now) in Colorado. It is a Buddhist-founded institution, a Rinpoche, I believe, being the inspirational and spiritual founder along with Allen Ginsberg and a number of other creators and writers. Ms. Ché says it's not part of any Buddhist order, but Buddhist practice -- on one's own and in community -- is encouraged in any form of devotion and meditation one chooses.

Well, that brought back many early memories for her, and she said she felt refreshed and alive once she got used to it. Again.

As I say, Buddhist inspiration has never really left us, it just went dormant. For decades.

Time passed, and it was clear Ms. Ché yearned to recreate at home some of that spirit she reconnected with at Naropa, and every now and then a little clue would emerge. Years earlier at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, poet Jimmy Santiago Baca asked me, "What is a Bodhisattva?" For heaven's sake. Why would anyone ask me that? But then I realized it was a koan, and stumbled around coming up with a patched together "Devotee/practitioner on the way to Buddha-hood" answer. But it's much more than that. More and other. Both. Never mind.

So while I was cruising around Netflix one day, I stumbled on a 2013 TV series from India, "Buddha". Started watching it and saw promise. We're up to episode 36 now. Siddharth has achieved enlightenment and is starting to spread the word and spirit. He is now "Buddha" -- The Enlightened One. There are 20 some episodes left in the series. We try to see one or maybe two every day. And it has reconnected us with long ago Buddhist inspiration. I think the series was designed to introduce Indians to Buddhist thought and practice that once was prevalent in their land but has mostly been pushed out. I understand it has partially returned among Dalits, but not so much among the higher caste Indians. Perhaps now is the time.

Active Buddhist communities are all over Northern New Mexico and into Colorado, but out here in the wilderness, we might be something of a singularity. It's hard to say. There are many Catholics, a few Native spiritualists, and that plethora of Witnesses, Mormons, and Adventists I mentioned earlier. If there are Buddhists, they keep a low profile.

Maybe some of the cowboys sit in meditation from time to time, though. I wouldn't be surprised.

Michael Stipe, "I am not a Buddhist," but then he is.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Things Fall Apart; the Centre Cannot Hold

The Second Coming
W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus MundiTroubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Looking at the political trainwreck of the last few weeks, one can't help but think the paradigm shift under way is coming close to a climax. Of course, one has thought that before and one has been wrong, so we'll see, won't we?

It's not just the gold-plated turd that is Trump, though he is certainly the Shiny Object keeping attention away from More Important Things. His constant ravings have fully captivated the media, and they hold more sway than they should over the public attention.

Yet many are beginning -- finally -- to see that Trump isn't an outlier of his class; he is a representative of these insensitive pricks who've ruled us for doG knows how long. He is them, they are him. The entrance of one prickish billionaire after another into the political fray demonstrates clearly that these people, mostly privileged white men, are appallingly dense, vicious, stupid and cruel. Well, yes. That it wasn't obvious before is the peculiar thing.

The whole "populist" act that Trump has been putting on is failing -- the Foxconn Debacle being a case in point -- but he keeps trying, so I'll grant him that. He's also methodically putting together a War Upon War finale to his reign that might just pull the popular will right along with him into the Abyss.

Yeats wrote his dirge post-Easter Rising, post-WWI. He could see -- how could he not? -- that what Used to Be was no more, and wasn't coming back, either.

We're not at that point yet, but we're getting closer.

So I'll go make some coffee in my ancient MidCentury Universal percolator. Sit and contemplate with Siddarth Gautam Buddha, nag champa incense wafting through our dusty, drafty house in the middle of nowhere. Wondering what today's new cycle will bring.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Cold

Woke up to another below zero morning. -5º right now, or so the weather thing on my notebook says.

This is fairly rare around here, thankfully, though there was a period back in the Aughts when it was below zero overnight for several days and never got much above the teens in the daytime. I wasn't here at the time, but I got a call from the city to tell me my water bill was going through the roof and I might want to check on things. In the meantime they'd turned off the water to the house. I flew out from California the next day and sure enough. None of the pipes had broken, but the valve in the toilet was stuck open after it unfroze and it was running constantly. That was an easy fix, but many neighbors had broken pipes. And some had no heat or not enough to keep warm. It was pretty bad. People still remember it as one of the interesting hazards of living out here in the wilderness.

Oh,  I did say the city contacted me and turned off the water when the bill suddenly went very high after the cold snap?Though we're in a rural area in the unpopulated central highlands/East Mountains, we are actually within the city limits of a tiny town that gained a city charter in the 1950s. Among the things they did to become a city was install a city well and piping to a number of houses and businesses -- perhaps 400 or so -- and (get this) they put in a sewage system too. So even though fewer than 2000 people live in this area, maybe 1200 or 1500 within the city limits, it is surprisingly well serviced. Most roads are paved (not necessarily an advantage in the winter), there are streetlights here and there, we get city water (which we don't drink or cook with -- a topic for another post maybe), the sewage gets treated so we don't have to have a septic tank, there are two stoplights in "town" (!), and so on.

One day I might do some research and find out how this happened back then, as such services are very rare anywhere in rural New Mexico. There are very few actual cities in New Mexico, and this is definitely one of the smallest. In the '50s it must have had a much smaller population,. I seem to recall hearing that it was an era of drought and dust storms, too, worse than during the Dust Bowl era.

And here we are now, freezing our hind ends off. It's not so bad in the house, even though it's somewhat drafty thanks to self-built incompletion  -- like fitting the floors all the way to the walls. It was particularly bad in our bedroom, where there was a gap of as much as an inch between the floor boards and the north wall. Well, that let in quite a lot of cold air, and it was only a week or so ago that I got around to fixing some of it. There are still some drafts, but it's not nearly as bad. There are drafts elsewhere in the house where uneven settlement has opened up some gaps. But they are relatively minor. I've fixed some, and others I'm still searching out. One day, I hope to find and fix them all.

As for heat, we have a great big gas fired behemoth in the living room that heats most of the house relatively well. It replaced a  '40s era gas heating stove that looked something like a streamlined console radio. I wanted to keep it, but the renovation contractor (who apparently didn't notice all the drafts) said it wasn't salvageable. Sad. He installed a new Williams fan-forced console heater. The fan gave out a while back, but we really don't need it. We use portable electric radiators where we need spot heating, and they work pretty well.

We have one frozen pipe right now, the hot water line (ironically) to the bathroom, and it's not likely to unfreeze until the outside temperature is above freezing for at least 24 hours. Not gonna happen for the rest of this week and possibly not next week for long enough. We still have hot water in the kitchen, and if that one freezes too, we can use the heating stove or the gas range to heat water as long as one cold water line stays unfrozen.

We have been through this before.

Before we bought the house, we were told that the pipes froze and burst one winter (probably 2003) and were replaced with plastic which wasn't supposed to burst when it froze. So far, we've been lucky.

I spent my first winter in Iowa where the Christmas picture in the last post was taken. That was a cold winter, I'm sure. When I went back in January, 1969, after my father died, temps were in the single digits. I have no memory of cold in Iowa when I was an infant but I do remember the smell of the coal fired furnace in my father's house. I don't remember seeing or experiencing snow in Iowa either. So it was kind of surprising how cold it was in Iowa when I returned in the winter of 1969.

Cold used to make me angry. This was practically a Pavlovian response that I didn't understand. Yet any feeling of chill was likely a trigger for anger that left me bewildered. As I say, I had no memory of my first winter in Iowa. And in California where we lived near the Coast or in Los Angeles County or in the Sierra foothills or in the Central Valley, cold, real cold, and snow and such were almost unheard of.

And yet...

Cold is a relative thing, isn't it?

You're cold compared to something else; "warmth". Cold is uncomfortable compared to what you're used to. Cold is an absolute depending on the thermometer, but your feeling of cold depends on a variety of factors including how well you're bundled up in cold weather.

I had a brief introduction to cold weather in Iowa in 1969. I stayed only a few days, and all I had were "California clothes" so I got pretty chilled, but I didn't think it was so bad. And I recall anger. It's complicated because I was also mourning my father's death, so I couldn't really sort the anger I felt at being cold from other feelings at the time.

Years later, I spent entire winters in Upstate New York and Alaska, and I'll admit those were cold. Very cold. And they did sometimes make me angry. Anger that I didn't understand.

There was no reason for anger or so I thought, and letting the cold get to me seemed stupid. I felt it might have been a body memory. In other words, something must have happened to me when I was young to make me angry when I was cold -- even if the cold wasn't anything like that of Iowa or Upstate New York or Alaska.

For years, I had no idea what it might be. What could have happened and where?

These days, my memory is not what it used to me. It's pretty much shot to hell. Many memories are scrambled. Others are gone (Ms Ché likes to taunt me about it because her memory is still very sharp -- though it too isn't quite what it used to be...). But while pondering the issue I had with cold and anger, I was able to figure out some things that had long perplexed me.

I remembered some times when I felt shivering cold when I was an infant and toddler, up to age three or four, and how in some cases, I was furious about it.

Let me explain. We lived in Santa Maria, California, which usually doesn't get very cold or very hot at all. It's about eight miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, in a valley surrounded by hills and mountains. It's foggy on a lot of mornings and evenings all year long. It rains in the winter and spring. Almost never freezes. It may have snowed once in the last fifty years.

My mother was a late shift and on-call hospital employee which meant she had to go in at all hours after she'd worked a full shift -- which was sometimes 3p-11p and sometimes 11p-7a. Until she left to break into Show Business in 1951, my sister would  take care of me at home no matter what my mother's on call and regular shift hours might be. But after she left, my mother had to figure out something else, and what she figured out was to put me in the back of the car and take me to the hospital with her.

In the wintertime, it was foggy, damp and relatively cold and being woken up and hauled to the hospital in the backseat of the car (at that time, a 1942 Packard Clipper on its last legs) was not a treat for me. I had to stay in the car while she did what she had to do in the hospital.  I had a blanket but it didn't keep me warm. The nuns ( it was a Catholic hospital) wouldn't let me stay in the hospital lobby to keep warm. Sometimes my mother had to stay at the hospital for hours before she could go back home to get some sleep herself.

But even when we got back home, I probably did not sleep myself. I would probably still be shivering cold, as the only heat in our house came from a gas radiant heater in the non-functional fireplace. It heated the living room but not the bedrooms or bathroom.

The warmest room in the house was probably the kitchen where the gas oven was lit and the oven door was left open heating the room nicely.

When I thought of those late-night treks to the hospital and how very cold I felt, I could easily imagine becoming angry at a situation I could not control, and I could see that as a trigger for my later feelings of anger at being cold.

I remember particularly Ms. Ché and I were in New York City at Thanksgiving one year and it was cold. We were enjoying ourselves even so until... we got caught in the Macy's parade crowd, and for a time we couldn't move. I wasn't scared, I was angry, and that anger actually helped get us out of that predicament. Our hotel was only a block or so away, so by dint of fury, I was able to thread a path for us out of the crush and escape back to our hotel.

But fury and rage at cold didn't always have a positive effect. It could also be utterly inappropriate. So many times I responded with anger to something that didn't call for it, and every time, I would be bewildered.

Now, however, though it is freaking cold outside, and not that warm inside in some rooms, I don't feel angry at the cold. It's just another experience to cope with. I am grateful that the anger I used to feel at being cold no longer applies.

Only memories -- maybe scrambled -- now.

Happy New Year!

1/5/2019 UPDATE -- This appears to be the seventh day in a row of single digit or below zero overnight temps, and so far only one above freezing daytime temperature (yesterday) -- 37º for a couple of hours. Frozen pipes all over the area (our bathroom hot water pipe is still one of them, but so far the rest have stayed unfrozen thanks to running a stream of water all the time. Most of the main roads are clear, but there is ice in patches, and our local roads are packed snow and ice. Have to go to Santa Fe today. What fun...