Thursday, May 31, 2012

Time Out

I am back in Virginia, back in the county where I live, back in the village where I work, back in the house I call home.  I had forgotten how lovely it is – not in a general way, but in the specific beholding-with-your-own-eyes-in-the-moment way . . . the mountains covered with trees . . . the forest canopy that shields most of the road home . . . the church grounds . . . the home I’ve decorated and adorned with the trinkets and colors and comfort that are uniquely me – I love them all.

Sundial at Culzean Castle, Scotland
But I also love the very rare – unique in my own life, actually – gift I was given – the ability to spend 7 weeks of my life in Scotland, doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, having to be nowhere at any particular time, having to answer to no one about what I would do or not do or when I would do or not do it.

It was, it is, the liberation of the disconnect.

It wouldn’t do for a lifetime, but for a wee while, it was . . . heaven – the essence of the practice of being made easy.

We don’t get time outs very often, if ever, we grown ups.

Being so precious, so rare, perhaps something spectacular should come out of them.

But that’s the thing about just being.  It isn’t about the spectacular.  I’m not sure what it is about, but it’s not about that.

I am back in Virginia.

And the lessons, if any there are, will come.

But for now, I have had my time out and it was glorious.

And that is

Memorial Day

It is early enough in the morning to still be dark outside and I am standing in Rhonda’s back garden, as a deer, a yearling walks by and then another and I am blessed.  Home.


Later I learn that Doc Watson died Tuesday.  Washington Post

And I remember back to Ronceverte, 1977 and the bluegrass festival where I saw and heard Doc Watson – the one and only time that I did.

And I remember Uncle Howard dying – the catastrophe for my cousins; but if I am truthful, the interruption of a bluegrass festival in the mountains of West Virginia that I would return to after the funeral for me.

It’s Memorial Day.  I for one like very much that we have moved from remembering the dead who died in wars to simply remembering the dead.

My mother will go alone to the cemetery today, for all her accompaniers of times past have died before her.  I miss them; but she honors them.

Willing or unwilling, the one who lives on becomes the witness to a collective past to which the dead may no longer attest.

My mother, Harriett Pyles, with her family at Thanksgiving
Today I picture my mom at the family cemetery for my dad’s family, paying homage to a people not her own, remembering the various aunts and uncles, babies who never made it that she never knew alongside her own mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and husband.  And I picture her imagining her own people, buried hours away at the other end of the state – her own parents and sister Lucie and a bit of the ashes of brother Harvey and brother Howard – her protector and teacher, he the oldest and she the youngest - he the first of them to die, she to be the last in some future moment that awaits us all who draw breath.

My Uncle Howard was only 50 when he died.  It was sudden and it was tragic.  I remember the day and the days that followed.  I remember the sense of tragedy that I felt for his daughters, my cousins.  I remember the concern I felt for his wife.  I remember the sadness I felt for my mother bereft of her protector, for them all.


When the second yearling walked by moments ago, she stood for a time, framed against the emerging dawn when she slowly turned her head and looked at me and for an instant only, we two saw each other - truly saw each other; and in the place within the mind of a deer that whispers . . . danger . . . human . . . she will remember me always and in that place within a human mind that whispers . . . she matters . . . I will remember her.

As with the yearlings, the passing of so many through a life sometimes changes the life, sometimes not.  But the life remembers.

In one way, this is a fictionalized remembering.  Today is Memorial Day and so it is the day that my mother would, in times past, have been at the cemetery.  But moving all things to accommodate the long weekend fetish of we in the US, the last Monday in May long ago became the day when most folks do their Memorial Day-ing; so too with my mother.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

ScotlandTour -- The List

Whenever you get the chance, as I did with this trip to Scotland, to spend a significant amount of time away from your day-to-day life and routines, it seems a good idea to take some sort of stock – an inventory, if you will, of what you come away with.  Here’s mine.

Days spent in Scotland – 48
Books read – 13.5
Miles traveled to get there and back – 8,106.86
Days spent in Scotland – 48
Modes of travel – 4 (trains, planes and automobiles, oh, and feet)
Miles driven in Scotland – 1,400 (give or take)
Friends visited (old and new) – 36
Restaurants – 16
Hours slept – at least 384
Something intentionally spiritual done – 0
Ska punk band concert attended – 1
Cities/towns/locales/sites visited – 18
Sunsets seen – 47 (not nearly as many sunrises)
Days of sunshine – 48 (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it)
Trinkets & souvenirs purchased for the folks back home – enough to require an                               additional suitcase
Pictures taken – hundreds
Blog entries posted – 41
Miles walked – I’m guessing 10 (not nearly enough, I know)
Folks in Virginia and West Virginia won’t believe me, but number of times I drove            
               faster than the speed limit - 1 (and that was unintentional - really hoping
               the vidcam wasn’t on just then)
Times driven on the right side of the road instead of the left - 1
Fun/silly things done – 4 (not counting time spent laughing with friends)
Preached – 0
Participated in worship –  1
Money spent – more some would say than I should have and less by far than I          
               could have
Number of people worshiped with – thousands
Number of young people I spent time with – 5
Percentage of overpacking (when will I learn?) – 80
Cuddles with Zara & hugs from Rudaridh - countless
Conversations and catching up with friends - too many to count and yet not enough
Moments of hospitality received – infinite
Time spent doing absolutely nothing productive – glorious!
Laughs with pals Liz and Idris around the table – lots
Puppy kisses from Ruca – laughter producing
Scottish wool sweaters looked at to get just the right ones for my boys
               at home – hundreds
Number of good-byes – too many
Spirit rested and refreshed from the love, grace and care of so many,
               but especially my friend Liz, to take back with me – 1

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Journey of Goodbye

Early tomorrow morning, I fly back to the United States; and thus will end my time in Scotland.

At this stage in my life, goodbyes have a distinctly different flavor than they did when I was much younger.  Goodbyes have always been hard for me (see Hard Good-byes ), but now they are even more so as I come to the stage in life when you know, genuinely know, that each goodbye has the potential of finality, of the last time, the last embrace, the last fond glance, for nothing in this life is guaranteed.

So even as we plan when we will meet again, we say goodbye as if it really mattered, because somehow, it does, as, looking back over my shoulder (both literally and figuratively), these people oh, so dear to me, fade smaller and smaller, them to me and I to them, into the backdrop of the past.

Photo of grounds of Culzean Castle by Idris Crumlish
It is a disconcerting moment, this bending and blending of time present and time past.

Thus am I left with the visuals of memory . . .

The chance meeting with Peter and Ann, as we each dance so briefly into and out of each other’s lives . . .

Myra left in my hurry to the next friend, standing in the shop looking at shoes – it’s so very ordinary and made the more special for it . . .

Alison and Jamie walking away, hand-in-hand, into the night on the sidewalks of Largs as I sit in the car and watch for just a moment before heading in the opposite direction – away and towards . . .

Cameron and Fraser and Rachel and I posing together, Alison always being good at capturing the moment as we measure my visits like growth charts with me as the wall against which these maturing young people move from childhood into something somehow sweeter for its fleeting . . .

Charlie, always with smile on his face, as kind in the parting as in the welcome . . .

Christine, who seems to get younger as I get older (so unfair as we’re the same age and she about two months older) – as we hug, I feel her shoulders are so small for all they carry that I hate to let her go . . .

Ruaridh smiling his way through it all – his life just begun, such things as goodbyes must seem so trivial in the hurry to the next thing . . .

Neil’s smile above his mother’s head, the son now larger in life than the mother – and Moira’s hug, always reminding me of our first goodbye when she whispered hast ye back into my ear . . .

Bill’s final act of tending this former student, leading me in caravan fashion out of town in the dark of the night, the wave of the flashing car lights our final goodbye as he went right and I left on the roundabout, my spoken thank you unheard by intended ears . . .

Zara hugging me tight and telling me over and over again I don’t want you to go . . .

The well-wishing handshakes at Castlehill Church, all asking with the anxiety of the superstitious – or the weather-worn –  you won’t take the sunshine with you, will you? – I think but do not say that even if I could, I would never take sunshine from these people . . .

Idris and what I imagine will be a quiet hug and goodbye, having had far too many of the hard forever kind of goodbyes of late . . .

Liz – friend and colleague, mentor and confidant, trailblazer and listening ear – how will I do without you close by?  I know when we hug for the last time, I will cry, but it will be all right – we both know it is what I do . . .

The lasting visual of my goodbye to Scotland will be the crowd at the window. . . Leaving Christine and Charlie’s house after a lovely evening filled with good food and better conversation, I turn back for one last look and see in the dark the lit front window as frame for the crowd standing there – Stuart and Patricia, Monica and Les, Ricky and Susan, Charlie and Christine – all waving goodbye.  They are in shadow to us, but I can still see them smiling . . .

All my goodbyes – the ones already had and those yet to come – stand framed in my mind, the real people that they are frozen in moments in time – that thing we call the past – even as they and as I continue our own presents.

And so it is that through all my goodbye tears, I too am smiling – smiling into the faces of friends – even those I leave, knowing the comfort that the void of these goodbyes will soon be filled with the presence of heart-warming hellos – home.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Looking at the Royal Scots Memorial
and wondering –
truly wondering
if only for a moment or two
what it must be like
to live in an Empire

the moment evaporates
        into self-awareness
and I say to myself
aloud “Oh.  That’s right.
I am an American.
I know exactly
        what it’s like
to live in an Empire.”
I hate that part.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The whispering beggar

The whispering beggar
Instead of walking on by
I want to stand before him
and say “I see you, you know –
you’re not invisible to me.
I think it’s cruelly funny and tragic
and wrong and yes, funny (more’s the shame to me)
that you would make so much more money
if, like so many of your more
savvy beggar colleagues,
you got yourself a dog.”
I want to say sharply, “I see you, you know –
and that fake-whisper ‘help me’ nonsense
isn’t going to cut it – either get in my face
and demand that I take account of you
or just sit there with your placard –
anything else is just insulting to us both.”
That is the conversation that happens in my head –
the one I am ashamed to admit,
even to myself.
At times like this, I wish I were a Muslim woman –
the rules of zakat are clear, at least to my friends –
someone asks – you give – simple as that –
my financial, emotional and spiritual obligations
would be so much more clear, I think,
if I were a Muslim –
but I am not
and so I live in the land of
having no idea what to do
and today
as with most days
when I meet the beggar on the street
I do nothing
and condemn myself to hell
But please know, my friend
(I say friend with no trace of irony,
although we both know I haven’t
been any kind of friend to you)
you weren’t invisible to me
not ever
I saw you
I just don’t know what to do with you –
well, without giving you the gift of my time –
the thing, it turns out,
I least want to give.

There are quite a number of beggars in Edinburgh.  Many of them have dogs with them; and the ones that do have pets at their sides seem to get much more response from the passsers-by than those who do not, on its own an interesting and disturbing observation.  This young man had no pet at his side and when we walked by, he whispered, "Help me".  I hate that I kept walking, but that's what I did.  I get no credit for thinking about him without helping him, responding to him.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Trees in the Woods Are Speaking to Me

The trees in the woods are speaking to me
One whispers look this way, its branches    
pointing to the still waters below

Ayr Gorge - Peden's Cove

another’s branches growing out at
an awkward right angle offer the image
of gentle embrace and comfort merely by presence

yet another shouts
behold all things are made new
with its uplifted branches

Grounds of Culzean Castle
at sunset

at the margins, a stand with branches all
turned leeward from the constant and
never-changing winds
remind me to notice, to read,
the signs of the times with humility
while deep in the woods
one lone tree fallen at the waters’ edge
arms outstretched towards the source
of all life would have me see anew
The Sacrifice . . . and its cost –

Ayr Gorge

whether the tree that falls alone
in the forest is heard by human ears
does not matter so much
for I am given to know
that the Divine Ears hear
every tree . . .
every branch . . .
every twig that falls . . .
hear and weep . . .
hear and rejoice . . .
for the life that was
the life that could have been
and, as solid wood melts into
the loam of the forest floor
food for the sapling
to rise yet again,
every life that will be
from every life that was

The trees in the woods
are speaking to me and
it is well with my soul

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Ailsa Craig . . .

men in tweed on bicycles with helmets on their heads . . .

older men in navy blue suits with vests, clutching SmartPhones to their ears. . .

all bring me lessons in perspective.

Even the word brings to mind wildly varying concepts . . . Google a question about perspective as relates to objects in the distance and you get both an explanation of why the moon seems to follow us as we drive (Following the moon) and an article responding to someone seeking advice on how to get past the hatred and disappointment in her marriage - I think the common tag must have been ‘moving’.


Ailsa Craig

I drive more than 5 miles and do not pass Ailsa Craig from sight when I’m going along the coast towards Girvan.  Ailsa Craig remains alongside me from the time she comes into view over the crest at Turnberry until the last cross street before I pull up to the Crumlish vacation home where I’ve been a guest these last weeks, but the buoy that’s in front of her but so much closer to the shore passes from my view measures in yards, not miles.

Distance brings perspective.

Physical distance brings changed as well as better-focused perspective.  So too does cultural distance.

Some time ago I was thinking about aging as it shows itself in the silliest of ways – things like wondering when I stopped updating the decorating of my home and why, realizing I am become the fresh makings of a little old lady whose home appears frozen in some long-ago past barely imaginable to the young ones who might stumble in.  I was really feeling my age.

And then I saw these Scottish gentlemen all about, riding their bicycles dressed in their old-fashioned tweed suits, but with state-of-the-art bicycle gear, including helmets and those in their dated navy blue suits with vests, speaking into their Droids or SmartPhones as they headed home for some neeps and tatties (how’s that for a stereotype?).

None of us are all one thing or another – neither old nor young, fresh or outdated, even good nor bad.

And call me stone-age, but I quite like how my house is decorated.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

ScotlandDay41: Things You Won't See in the US

Castles bursting out of the mountains . . .

Edinburgh Castle

A fully kilted drum and pipe band at rest . . .

At Heart and Soul 2012

Closes . . .

In Edinburgh

A police station for sale . . .

Yes, it's for sale & several others
like it in Edinburgh -- you too can
have your very own Tardis, a la
Dr. Who (I'm told there's a Church
of Scotland minister who has his
own in his living room in Girvan,
although I have yet to see it with
my own eyes.)

Anything etched in stone from 1606 . . .

A blessing of irony:  Blessed are the peacemakers
beneath the "God save the king", referring to King James
of KJV fame - King James I (VI of Scotland) prosecuted
under his own supervision, the torture of those accused of
witchcraft, although he later changed his mind about the
practice -- mostly, it seems on grounds of workability
rather than morality, but the result was the same, with
his abandonment of the practice, by and large.

Red mail boxes . . .

I don't know why, but
they're just cooler than
the blue ones where I'm

The sun setting on the Atlantic Ocean . . .

Sunset at Culzean Castle

Monday, May 21, 2012

ScotlandDay39: It is well

The woman on the mountain stopped in her tracks
by Karen’s* Metropolitan-Opera-sized voice
singing It is well with my soul
We thousands worship in the valley
so too does the lone hiking woman
on the mountain
frozen for a moment in time
by a voice too big to be contained
        and the truth it sings.
As the last note fades,
on she moves
back to her journey
up the mountain
But for a moment
we were bound together,
she and I,
in that worship space
of the two- or more gathered
Both of us stopped in our track-making
on this planet
we call home
And it was well with our souls

The woman hiker is in the center of the photo

Opera singer Karen Cargill sang some hymns during worship at Heart & Soul 2012, the Church of Scotland kick-off event for their annual General Assembly in Edinburgh.  This is the third GA of the Church of Scotland that I've been able to attend at least a portion of.  During the closing outdoor worship where thousands gathered together (a first for me), Edinburgh Castle and the mountainside approach faced us as the background to the worship stage area; and as I listened to one of my own favorite hymns, I noticed a woman hiker standing rock still while Ms. Cargill sang.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Edinburgh Signage

Some words of wisdom
Just one of many reasons
to love the Guardian
Yeah!  for free speech
that's truly free!

I'm so glad Scotland says no to Nazis,
but so very, very sad that
they would have to.

What can I say?  I'm a Gran
there were some steps
the sun was shining
and the grass was green
Thoughtful of the friendly Scots to place a sign
to commemorate the event!

Fringe now has
its own store
Can't decide how
to feel about that.
Even the haggis here is having a great time!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

ScotlandDay38: A Country Drive

Yesterday I took a drive through the countryside, heading east, away from the sea and into the hills.  It's always interesting what you see, what you learn, when you have no particular destination in mind.

Unbidden but not surprising in this land of many ruins, I came upon the outline of a building that had once been a church (I think) with a graveyard.  What was surprising was that quite a few of the more modern (the oldest one was 16th century) graves were actually inside what would have been the church but is now grass.  Jesus once said, in response to a man who would delay following him in order to attend to a parent's funeral, "Let the dead bury the dead."  I have often wondered whether Jesus later regretted those words as unfeeling or whether he meant them, literally as well as figuratively, making his case that his work, his mission, was more urgent than even the social, cultural and familial obligation to lay the dead to rest.

It's also more than a little disquieting to see, in what the young so often perceive as a dead place, the literal dead resting within the walls of a church.

Leaving the wee village of Old Dailly (not to be confused with Dailly), I headed towards Barr.  On the way, I came to a stop before a man standing in the road.  Looking farther down, I saw why he was blocking traffic:  his partner was bringing along a heard of sheep, moving them from one field to another.  It is that season and it reminds me of home and my friend Ginny's blog on the dirty work of actually getting it done: It's a Dirty Job, which has kept me smiling all week.

And there I was, watching the herd measuring time not by clocks but by when the lambs are born, when shearing time comes, and by their movement from one field to another.  It was a good few minutes in a life to simply sit and watch the herding of the sheep.

On one stretch of the road, I went first up and then back, and was reminded that you see different things and you see the same things differently depending on which side of the road you're on.

A train track ran parallel to the road for quite some time, but going in the first direction, I didn't even notice the tracks.  Headed the other way, I was surprised to see a two-car train running parallel to me on the road and only then noticed the tracks.  A good reminder that just because I don't notice something doesn't mean it isn't there; just because I don't know something does not mean it isn't true.

Throughout the drive, especially in the wide open fields, I saw the gorse in full bloom.  It's beautiful to behold, but you don't want to stick your hand in there - it's a thorny and hardy bush -- very hard to kill.

Finally, I made my way to Barr, a tiny village nestled in the valley.  Looking forward to a light lunch, I headed to The King's Arms, whose sign proclaimed them open, but whose locked door proclaimed otherwise.

Laughing, I got back in the car and headed home.

Friday, May 18, 2012

ScotlandDay37: Changed Priorities

Isn’t that a great sign?

Imagine actually being told that your priorities will change in the immediacy of the time it takes you to travel 100 yards – the length of a football field (American football, that is)?

In light of such information, would you stop?  Take stock even if for a moment?  Turn around and head back the way you came?

Or would you just keep going, walking into your own life, your own future, into whatever changes were waiting to meet you?

Should life come with warning signs?

I kind of doubt it – after all, it often does, but they seem largely wasted on us, at least collectively.

So what did I do when faced with this portentous omen today?

I kept going forward, of course – smiling – but forward I went.

The sign was simply an advisory that we would soon come to a single-lane bridge in which the right-of-way was specified – in my favor, which left me wondering why it was that I would need to know about the priority change for the folks coming in the opposite direction.

Nevertheless, I appreciated the heads up.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Sonnet – not Shakespearian – to

Flickr Commons

what?  Of what shall I write?  A sonnet - a song of praise - a paean to – a burst of joy about – exactly what?  Maybe babies – they’re cute, after all – or maybe to a butterfly – who doesn’t love butterflies?  Well, that suggests I go for the unlikely - a sonnet to the turkey buzzard?  Ben would approve, no doubt.  Maybe to politics and pundits.  Or bad daytime television - that’s it!  Bad daytime television - here goes . . .

1 There’s a place to which I aspire – if you will, a summit
2 the very peak of civilization – television in the daytime
3 I step into the land of the remote and my IQ begins to plummet
4 as I settle in to watch game shows, soaps, and all sorts of visual grime

5 restaurants at war and cooking gone bad
6 syndicated reruns I’d never waste a minute on after 8
7 houses oh, so so, desired, but not had
8 lovers, mothers and brothers spewing hate

9 whether Jennifer’s baby belongs to Brad or to Sam
10 whether this one or that knows where Canada is
11 whether it’s true love – or a scam
12 whether the bad-boy beau will break a chair or walk off stage in a tizz

13 Another day’s gone and I find I’m late
14 for my own life – off the couch with me – it’s a date!

This bit of silliness is the result of my playing around with poetic forms.  The doggerel reflects time I’ve spent totally wasted – mindlessly – watching daytime television.

ScotlandDay35: Sticky Toffee Pudding

Continuing the theme of being separated by common language, the concept of a cake as a ‘pudding’ is simply confounding to me.  And so, of course, I went to the internets in search of an explanation: just what is a ‘pudding’ in the collective consciousness of the British (sorry Scottish friends, but I’m including you as British on this one).

It turns out that ‘pudding’ referred originally to the manner of preparation (which actually clears nothing up for me): a pudding was something containing flour that was stuffed into a casing like a sheep’s intestine and then steamed or boiled, removed from its casing, sliced and served.  Pudding

As ‘pudding’ evokes an image as much of texture as of taste in the US,  I’m still trying to make the connection: was pudding referring to a somewhat jiggly, not-quite-set texture?  I’m still not sure.

But another article, even more interestingly, makes a case for the use of language to describe a meal within the UK as a matter of class distinction; thus, ‘pudding’ is to be preferred over ‘dessert’ (used by the newly rich gauche set). Pudding

And then, I searched exactly what goes into a sticky toffee pudding, and stumbled onto Jamie Oliver’s site, where his recipe calls for a dollop of Ovaltine – that’s right: Ovaltine.  (Never a fan, should I venture to make my own sticky toffee creation some day, I think I’ll skip the Ovaltine, The Christmas Story movie favorite connection notwithstanding).  Jamie Oliver's Recipe

Dining the other evening with friend Liz and a group of her supervision ministry students, all of us save Liz (who went for the healthy fruit plate option) opted for the sticky toffee pudding dessert (is that a redundancy?  I still don’t know).

Regardless of class implications and historical confusions, it was lovely.  Beautiful presentation (and yes, we all ate even the spun sugar and iced kumquat garnishes), wonderfully moist cake (aka pudding), delicate sauce and simple vanilla ice cream accompaniment made it plate-licking good (there I go again revealing my betrayal of all the good breeding my mother so desperately tried to instill in me at an early age – sorry Mom!).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

ScotlandDay34: Rediscovering Rainbows

I’ve rediscovered rainbows since returning to Scotland.

We have rainbows where I live, but nowhere else that I’ve ever been has there been such an abundance of color exploding from the dark clouds in the rain-swept sky.

I’m no meteorologist, but I’m guessing that the fast-moving weather patterns, brought about by so much wind, allows for the blessing of the many rainbows above Scotland.

My kids are big fans of the ocean and all not-so-secretly hoped I’d take a call in some place like Florida or South Carolina, preferably with a beach-front property they could come and visit regularly for their annual sun quotient.  But I am much more a mountain gal and opted for a different direction.

Here is not a place I’d describe as the ‘beach’, which conjures for me the idea of warm sun and sand and crowds of people basking in the warmth and frolicking in the water.  Here, the water is almost always much too cold to spend much time in it.  Here, the rains are far too often to allow for sand wallowing.  Here, sandy shores are more for walking than sprawling upon.

Here, it is the sea that greets you.  Here, the winds force your body into a horizontal posture as you navigate the sand.  Here, the shoreline is more like the rough coast of the northern states of the US than the more gentle sands of the southern coastline.  Here, most days you can watch the storms far out to sea and wonder whether they’ll make it in to the shore or not.

Here, a rainbow is a respite, not a sign, a fleeting blessing, as fleeting as the sun.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Scotland - Day 33: Otter Crossings

The otter crossing signs here, like the one on A-77 on the way to Girvan, crack me up.  I have yet to see any otters slithering – shimmying – lurching – scooting – crawling – whatever it is that they do on dry land – across the road.  The image the road-crossing reference begs for is a good joke, as in Why did the otter cross the road?  To – . . . well, you fill in the blank.

But as with similar deer-crossing signs back home, I am always left with the question, How do they know?  How do ‘they’ (whoever ‘they’ are) know that this is where the otters will cross?  How do ‘they’ know that a one- or two-time event is actually a trend, a habit, a pattern?

If it’s so common that it needs a warning sign, why have I not seen any otters?!?

Of course, I really don’t want to see any otters while barreling down a country road at 55 mph or better.  But a hint, a peek, of an otter rearend as it's already made its way across would be nice – just some evidence that otters really do cross the road and that they cross it here would be nice.

As with so many things in life, I am left wondering without evidence from my own experience; and yet, when I see the sign, I do slow down, just in case.

The tension I run into (and maybe I’m not alone) is this: how do I know when I should take the signs posted along the road of life at face value and when I should take them with a grain of salt and when I shouldn’t take them at all?

Jesus chastized some questioners once about their inability to read the signs of the times.

But with all due respect to my Lord and Savior, it really isn’t always so easy.  Faith or no faith, blind-following vision or none at all, it isn’t always that easy to know when an otter crossing is really an otter crossing or when someone’s merely having me on.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Flirting Tree

Like a girl
showing off
her newly 
painted fingers

See my nails?
Aren’t they pretty?

the tree
stands proudly
in the well-tended
woods and flirts
with passers-by

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Things Are Not Always as They Seem

Yesterday’s visit to Culzean Castle was a feast for the senses.  It was a beautiful west-of-Scotland spring day: sun shining, wind blowing, clouds quickly scattered.  And the grounds of Culzean Castle are lovely.  The well-tended gardens, the swan pond, the nicely-kept walks through the woods all reveal treasures.  The smell of wild garlic wafted on the air; flowers in bloom, known and unknown, were a feast for the eyes.  Birdsong filled the air.  You could walk and walk in the darkness of the woods and forget that you were right on the sea, only to come across another opening and have it there before you.

At one point, we came onto some grounds well into our walkabout that opened to the sea and as we approached, I noticed a series of regular humps of ground, like the scalloped edges of an Irish-lace tablecloth.  Eagerly I walked forward to see what they could possibly be, only to discover a small canon set in each of the scallops.  I literally cried aloud in dismay and disappointment.

But what did I expect?  The main function of a castle from any age, after all, is that of the fortress.  It is truly terrible how often and how well the form and function of violence meld into an aesthetic of beauty.

Some of the early Reformers so eschewed beauty because of this very concern – that beauty can be such a seductress, tempting the beholder to believe that the beautiful is, by its very nature, the good – so often not the case.

Perhaps we are the problem, in that we ascribe to beauty both more and less than it actually has to offer.  A beautiful landscape is a beautiful landscape – or is it?  Knowing its history, its context, can change our very perception of its beauty (or lack thereof).

In Baghdad, there is an almost beatific sculpture of a woman pouring from a large pitcher into the urns surrounding her at her feet.  Such a serene, pastoral vision – until you know that she is Ali Baba’s handmaiden and that what she is doing is pouring boiling oil into the jars, which contain hidden men who planned to attack from their hiding places in the night.

I never know quite what to do with all of this.  My ancestors in the faith seem too extreme to me, repudiating, as some did, all forms of physical beauty; beauty seems as much a divine gift to me as is the air we breathe and the food we eat.  It nourishes us somehow.

But mistaking beauty for moral good won’t do either; there’s simply too much evidence to the contrary.

Living in the tension – that, I suspect, is the premier challenge of being human: accepting that very few, if any, of the things of this world are absolutely good or absolutely evil; taking it all in with provisional judgment – judgment willing to be changed with new or different information; seeing the beautiful in the ugly and the ugly in the beautiful – now that’s the job of a lifetime!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Locking the Church Doors

Blessed are those who throw the church doors open wide.  –Kathleen Norris

Last Sunday I headed to church in Girvan.  I remembered that it began at an unusually early hour, but I was still late, dawdling the morning away.  I kept dithering about whether to even go or not, as I well knew the doors would most likely be locked when I arrived 5-10 minutes late, depending on my walking pace.

Photo by Dennis Behm at Creative Commons
But I went.  And sure enough, the front doors were locked tight.  I could hear singing inside, so I knocked, hoping to be heard, but alas, I was not.

I went around back and found the door to the choir room and the youth room in the separate building both open, both empty.  I went into the choir room and sat down.  I went back around front and tried the door again, thinking that perhaps it was unlocked but heavy to open – wrong.  I went back to the choir room.  I thought about leaving.  I stayed, knowing that the children would come out after the children’s sermon for Sunday School and this was their only route of escape.

A few minutes later, the Beadle came out with the kids following and with his reassurance that all was well, I scooted in to a side pew and joined the worship.

But as I had wandered about trying to get in to the worship space, I was, as I always am, struck by how difficult it can be to actually get inside a church.

This time, however, I vacillate between Kathleen Norris’ benedictory command to fling the doors open wide and wondering whether it might not be better somehow to have to struggle to gain access.  But even as I ponder, that doesn’t feel right.

I am lucky enough to ‘belong’ in the sense that as a minister, church buildings are innately familiar territory to me – going in back doors might feel a bit intrusive, but I’ve no compunction, really, about doing it.  I’ll wander in the kitchens, stand in the pulpits, look under, over and around things as if I have a right to.  I think we all do, but familiarity of landscape makes it a lot easier for me.

Which brings me full circle in my ruminations that particular Sunday: I was wrong to be late.  But many of us come late to God’s party one way or another.  Now there may come a time when it is too late, as the parable of the bride’s maids suggests.  But that is for God, and not for the likes of me, to decide.

In the meantime, I feel blessed for all the church doors I’ve come across, those closed tight and those open wide; but I have to admit – I see the arms of God in the church more clearly when the doors are flung open into the morning sun.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Great Recipe + A Bad-Cooking Day = Disaster

Yesterday I revisited a common plight when visiting or living in another country: nothing is the same as it was at home – nothing.

If you’re a creative cook, this can make for great adventures.  If, however, you’re more like me and require a recipe road-map, this can lead to disaster – a lesson you forget at your peril.

Fortunately for me yesterday, I was cooking for a palate of one, so I can truthfully disclaim that no guests were harmed in the preparing of this dish.

What Sandra's ravioli should look like!
There is a recipe from Sandra Lee's  Semi-homemade Cooking television show that I absolutely love to make and to eat – White bean ravioli with brown butter and caper sauce.  It’s really quite good.  And to reassure you of that certainty, I refrained from taking a picture of what I managed to ‘create’ yesterday.  If you want the recipe, just click on the link above and banish all images of the below-described fiasco from your mind - this does not have to be your fate - I promise!

I had the beans I needed, but no blender or food processor, so I tried mashing them first with a fork and then with my hands.  It’s not as easy as you would think to get a bean puree by hand.  I looked at the clumpy mess I had created, reminded myself that I was dining alone, and proclaimed, Good enough!  Mistake #1.

Next I learned that no matter how finely chopped something (even something like cheese) is, finely chopped is not the same as grated.  The results are predictable, as your cheese absolutely refuses (who knew cheese was such a wilful beast?) to melt/combine/play nicely with the other ingredients.  Mistake #2.

I relearned that at some point, persistence moves from being a virtue to being its own worst-enemy kind of vice.  They didn’t have wonton wrappers at the store, so I got some fresh thin lasagne noodles instead.  But no matter how thin, unless homemade, a lasagne noodle is soooo much thicker than the wonton wrapper or the ravioli pasta that the restaurants make and use.  Thus my spooned in mixture would not be contained in the lovely triangular-shaped pasta purses I had envisioned – the dough simply broke in half when I folded it.  That’s when inspiration (translate insanity) struck: I would boil the pasta for a few quick moments to soften it up (and make it wet and slippery and impossible to work with) so that it could be folded.  Still it would not stick to itself no matter what I did.  So finally I rolled little tubes around the bean mixture, laid them in a glass pan and poured boiling water over them (this was after I kept trying to flash boil them in the water on the stove, only to have the bean mixture slide out of each little triangle, tube and other shape I tried to create).

That worked after a fashion, but what I ended up with on my plate after I had dirtied about every dish in the kitchen was fried beans with some buttered fried pasta atop them.

No worries, I thought to myself – it isn’t how a dish looks; it’s how it tastes.  Of course, I was delusional by this point, forgetting everything I have learned from the most basic of cooking shows: people eat first with their eyes.  And in this case (as is, I suspect often the case), what it looked like was a good predictor of what it would taste like.  Mistake #3

Finally, this isn’t my first kitchen disaster and it won’t be my last.  The difference a bit of age has brought to me is that I know that. So after a few bites, I resigned myself to throwing the mess away.  Maybe that’s wisdom.  Final Lesson #4


1. What you wouldn’t serve to/give/present to an honored guest, you should not serve to/give/present to yourself - for you are your own honored guest.

2. Instructions are offered by those with more knowledge than I possess for a reason.  They are usually not intended as suggestions and I ignore them at my peril.

3. Know when to quit.  Think Kenny Rogers here.

4. “Try again, fail again, fail again better.”  –Samuel Beckett, quoted by Chef Tamasin Day-Lewis in Don't Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs , Kimberly Witherspoon & Andrew Friedman, Eds.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Who Sends Their Children to Die?

Some years back while I was in Iraq, an Iraqi woman, serious and intent, seeking an equally serious and intent response, asked me, “What kind of people are you?”

Somehow I knew what would come next, but she explained to make sure I took her meaning: “What kind of people are you that you send your children here to die?  Who does that?  What kind of people are you?”, her voice rising with each word.

Years later I sit in a borrowed vacation home in Scotland, in one of the most peaceful and safe places perhaps on the entire planet.  Surrounded by beauty and safety, I read novels set in war times.  I don’t know why I do it – this self-inflicted wounding, for that’s what it is.

Sometimes I simply seek understanding through art.  But for all the beauty of the well-told story, they all, whether standing on the side of peace or war . . . they all slide down the slope of inevitability – the biggest lie of all.

And I am sick of it – heart sick and soul weary of this lie we humans proclaim as if it were wisdom, as if it were true: the lie that war and violence are inevitable.

For here’s the thing: that something has been done and has been done often does not make it inevitable.  We are the inevitable piece.  Our participation is what creates the reality.  We choose, and in our choosing, determine whether lions and lambs will or will not co-exist in peace or move on towards destruction.

In the book Resistance by Welsh poet Owen Sheers, a woman of the country whose husband disappears into the night to fight with the resistance cries out in her heart against the notion that Tom had gone to defend his country:  “She was his country and she was in need.”  Tom chose and in the choosing of one thing, abandoned another.

And now I read Remembrance about WWI.  Among the characters is a young man who fervently believes not in pacifism, but in his own certainty that the so-called war to end all wars is wrong – foolish, wasteful, and wrong in its aims and objectives.  And yet he too goes after a period of some resistance.  He goes because the very things he believes are true strike his own family.  He goes to die because others he loves have died – not out of revenge or any change of heart about the rightness of the ‘cause’, but because some internal sense of honor tells him that because these have died so too must he.

It is the worst, the most pernicious, kind of lie, this lie in our fiction as well as in our fact, that a social decision to war has a claim of inevitability upon our hearts, against which we can do nothing but acquiesce.

And it is an outrage.

It is the outrage of the broken widow women at their sinks, the same women who applauded the sending of their sons as well as husbands, to the killing fields.  Do we really so lack in imagination that we can little foresee that what happens to other sons and daughters will happen to ours?  When the telegram comes, how dare we be surprised?  And yet we are and continue to be – deluded, surprised, taken aback by the horrors we so carefully orchestrate that it can hardly be other than thus.

I read and I remember the diaries of my Grandfather from World War I and his two sisters from World War II, particularly the writings of my great aunt Lucy.  I remember her blithe tales of her times in North Africa and Italy, of sun-bathing picnics with officers and teas, dinners and dancing, and I am staggered with the anger I feel towards her.  How dare you, Aunt Lucy?  How dare you lie so even in your own private diaries?  Even when she writes to herself, all she speaks of are light-hearted things, as if she were on her own Grand Tour of Europe.

Here’s the thing: if, and it should (although seldom is) always be the biggest of all ifs – if we are to head to war, ever, then should it not only be after the gravest consideration by us all of the great cost to ourselves and to the others, even and perhaps especially our enemies?  Should not those who have been there before recite with the most somber of tones the enormity of what is to be encountered?  Should we speak not of parades and parties and shining uniforms, but of dirt and grime and death and killing, of those who will never come home and of those who will – but never the same?

How could my ever-so-brave great aunt leave only a legacy of lies?  How could she do that to us who came after?  How could she not see?  Or if she did see, how could she not tell, even herself?

I read and ponder and I walk this ancient land pockmarked with memorials not to the dead, but to their wars.  The one thus far leaving me most puzzled, most troubled, most amused, is perhaps also the most telling of such things:

Near Girvan, in the village of Lendalfoot, along the shore of the Irish Sea, stands a bulky iron anchor monstrosity of a monument, with commemorative words written mostly in Russian – yes, Russian.  What little English there is tells of the life of a Russian ship named Varyag, hailed as a “a symbol of courage and heroism of Russian seamen all over the world.”  Girvan online

The Russian cruiser was blockaded in 1904 by the Japanese at a Korean port.  Refusing to surrender, a battle ensued, the ship was damaged, and her Russian crew scuttled her and escaped back to Russia.  The ship was raised by the Japanese in 1905 and renamed Soya.  In 1916, Russia bought her back and she was renamed Varyag.  In 1917, she was sent to Great Britain for repair, but (here’s my favorite part – saying so little, it says so much), “. . . because of the revolution and civil war in Russia, the legendary ship was set adrift.”  No explanation is offered as to just who set her adrift (I’m guessing the British) or why (I’m guessing they were on the side of the Czar, who was losing the fight).  Again without explanation, it is noted that in 1920 (what happened during the 3 years she was ‘set adrift’?), Varyag was sold for scrap to Germany (sold by whom, one is left to wonder).  And let us note that within less than two years of the end of World War I, someone (I’m guessing Great Britain) is selling off the parts of war ships to the Germans, in what would have to have been a stretch of thinking to be legal under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which allowed the German nation only six naval ships.  Again, I’m guessing that the rationale went something like this: these are spare parts and the treaty says nothing about parts, after all.  But not to fear: on the way to Germany for dismantling, Varyag grounded and then sank near Lendalfoot.  And almost 90 years later, a monument is erected to the ship and her crews by the Russians on Scottish soil.

There it is; I’ve seen it with my own eyes: a monument to something rather different than the courage of the seamen who manned her 80+ years ago, I’d say.  Rather than a monument to the seamen of an obscure confrontation in an all-but-forgotten page of history, this monument stands as a wonderful articulation of the history of war and conflict: the Russians and the Japanese fight over a Korean port, each taking from the other and from the foreign soil they invade with their claims, and decades later, one side dares to call that venture epic and heroic.  I wonder how the Koreans tell the story?  Years pass and the armament in the form of a ship is bought back by one side from the other in the previous conflict.  Years pass and a third party refuses to repair the ship because of the shifting political tides within the country which owns her.  Rather than repair her, they set her adrift and then reclaim her to sell her for parts.  It’s such an elegant traipse around the law of the sea, isn’t it?  And of course, her parts are sold by one old enemy to another, with both turning blind eyes to the treaty that would make such a transaction illegal.

And to celebrate all this wonderful history of back-stabbing, war, treachery, and business as usual in the midst of it all, all sides get together and build a monument to it, without the least sign or recognition of irony.

God, how I hate this planet some days.

Siegfried Sassoon, Suicide in the Trenches (1917)

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

The Iraqi woman’s question still begs to be answered: what kind of people are we that we would send our young to die in such a place, in such a way, cheering as they go?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Scotland Days24-25: Book Towns & Folk Festivals

Road into Wigtown

Only in the UK have I encountered places that define themselves as ‘book towns’: Hay-on-Wye in Wales has to be the best book town ever, but Wigtown near the Scottish borders with England, is a quaint, if distant, second and Saturday, I traveled to Wigtown to check out their spring book festival.  I don’t know how it started for Hay-on-Wye, but Wigtown apparently made a self-conscious decision to become a book town (simply meaning a village with more than one used book store, as best I can tell) in an effort to promote tourism.  Well, it got me there.  And I did buy some books.  So good on Wigtown.

Samba Fusion on the green at Wigtown
The Samba Fusion rhythm playing and dancing on the green was a bonus, especially since the folks doing most of the playing and dancing were old enough to be my parents – their percussive downbeat an ironical contrast to the complaining of the Englishman at the adjacent table in the café where I enjoyed some potato-leek soup and the best ham sandwich I’ve had in a long time.  They would beat, he would complain and then they would beat again, only louder, as if they could hear or sense his displeasure.  It became quite comical, this contest of sound.  But of course, the drums won.  Don’t they always?

The main surprise for me were the comparative numbers of Englishmen and women to Scots: just about everyone I heard had a distinctive English accent.  Then I remembered how very close to the border with England I was.  Going north for a day seems to be a good past time when the weather accommodates the journey.

Ailsa Craig and could that be Ireland behind?
As they had a beautiful drive north, so I had just a beautiful long drive meandering south along the western coast, with fantastic views along the way of the Irish Sea.  It was a clear enough day that I really do believe I spied Ireland across the way behind Ailsa Craig.  It’s only 30 miles or so, so maybe I did.  Or maybe it was low-laying clouds.  Doesn’t matter – whether I saw it or not, I know it’s there.

But the Ireland connection was brought home more firmly the next day.  After church (I was late, the door was locked in typical Scots fashion - more on that another time), I meandered in Girvan to one of the local venues for their annual Folk Festival.

Recitation winner reciting The Twa Dogs
I headed to the story-telling location and was treated to stories and recitations enough to delight for a long time to come.  The recitation that won was a gentleman doing The Twa Dogs by Robert Burns.  He was fabulous, with two hats with dangling ears he’d switch off as he took the part of the high-born dog and then the lowly dog of a poor house, each to espouse the advantages of their respective ways of life.

And I met an Irish Scot, a Protestant Republican.  I leave the politics and legacy of that one to those more politically and culturally astute than I.  But he was a raconteur of the first order in his own right and made for a very enjoyable time as our erstwhile host.

Outside, musicians gathered round the tables of the hotel’s sidewalk café and played and sang – guitars and mandolins and a recorder that broke your heart with each note.  And to my surprise, much of the folk music played was Irish and told the stories of migration to the United States, particularly New York.

This wasn’t one of the venues; it was simply where some musicians sat down and started talking with each other and randomly playing, taking the center by turns, with we non-musicians graciously allowed to sit and stand at the periphery tapping our toes and wiping our eyes.

Whatever the day, when you encounter people making music as you walk by, that, friends, is a blessed day.  And so it was.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Scotland Day22: Greenock

I am delighted to be back in Greenock where I have so many wonderful memories of my time as a student minister.  The filled roll at West Station Café is as good as ever – jokingly, I told the waitress I came all the way from America for it.  I recommend hard-fried egg, tomato, bacon and cheese, the mere description of which makes friend Charlie cringe at its artery-clogging capacity.  But trust me, if you like greasy fried foods, this is not to be missed.

Standing atop the Lyle Hill still manages to take my breath away; it is a sight that never grows old.  A bench bears a commemoration to a man, the memorial reading, “He loved it here . . .”  I can give this place no more fitting descriptor.  The Cross of Lorraine combined with an anchor commemorates the Free French naval forces who fought for their lands from Greenock in World War II.  On this day, it is as if the clouds opened to shine upon the scene and I wonder what exactly God is blessing in this moment.

Friend Stuart and his faithful companion Jura, a wonderful gal of a dog in her old age catch me up on all the happenings since last we met.  Cameron, Rachel and Fraser just grin at my awe at the changes time has brought to them – even three years is an eternity in the life and framework of the young and they are barely recognizable from when last I saw them.

Christine and Charlie regale me with tales of their own travels and when I leave, Christine presses into my hand a wooden angel made as dedication to God by a Catholic man and I am more moved by her gesture than my words can say.

Alison feeds me, houses me, walks me briskly round the Esplanade, and generally nourishes my soul.

There are more friends to see, but they’ll have to await another time.

For now, I stand in front of the tenement building where I lived, occupying the top right flat (auspiciously now for sale) and just soak it all in.

Scotland has always been good to me.

Lucky, blessed, am I.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Scotland Day21: Why Do Old People Cross the Road . . . Here?

Signage is just another wonderful aspect of culture and its differences met in travel.

A favorite of mine in Scotland has to be the elderly people crossing signs.

A much younger and much less kind me would have made crude jokes about how thoughtful it was for the locals to provide a place to line up the old folk so we motorists could knock them down in a form of driving sport.  I would have been joking -- of course.

The middle-aged me often wondered how on earth the local authority knew with any certainty that here, right here, is where the old ones will actually attempt to cross the road (much like I wonder the same thing about deer crossing signs along the roadways back home).

The approaching old me is now both grateful and petulant at the same time (a sure sign of old age, I’m guessing): it seems thoughtful that someone would provide a place for me to cross the road, but generally, the crossing is never where I actually want to cross the road, making it more a bother than a blessing.

And if you aren’t from these parts, aren’t familiar with the sign convention for identifying road crossings, all you will see is an odd picture of old people, and here in Scotland, anyway, lest you misunderstand, a written sign below simply saying ‘Elderly people’, which, absent some additional necessary information, would leave you wondering why on earth the Scots choose to alert you to the presence of the elderly.  Do the Scots segregate their old?  Are the elderly in Scotland remarkable, somehow?  Should I as a tourist get out my camera and prepare to take a picture of some spectacular, one-of-a-kind old people?  Why, exactly, are you telling me this?

Which takes me back to one of my own travel axia: Signs are helpful only to people who already know where they’re going and what they’re doing.

Case-in-point: signs are seldom, if ever, placed where the eyes of the uncertain will alight on them, let alone have time to read and comprehend them.  You think I exaggerate?  Consider: in Glasgow (perhaps in the whole of the UK), street name signs are often actually on buildings.  Once you figure that out, you’d think you had it made, but no, for seldom, if ever, are they on the same spot on buildings – some are high up; some are quite low to the ground; some are right at the edge of the building, some are quite far in; some are on the building on the left side of the road; some on the right.

Emerson might be right that consistency is the hobgoblin of the little mind, but it is the savior of the traveler attempting to read the signs.

So on behalf of all the travelers to the UK, I would like to say a hearty thank you to the sign folks for alerting me to the presence of the elderly in my travels and to the elderly who are apparently sufficiently thoughtful to cross the road where they have been told they may.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Scotland Day20: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous and Back Again

I visit the Crossraguel Abbey ruins on my way to Girvan on the western coast of Scotland and like any good tourist, I take all the free literature on offer and snap pictures that years from now will make absolutely no sense without a remembered context.

And that’s kind of what the ruins themselves seem like to me: a thing that makes no sense without its history remembered.  Thus do they become sublimely ridiculous and wonderful all at once, their own context having slipped into history long ago.

Abbies are places where people lived out the entirety of their lives, so in addition to worship spaces, there had to be places for beds and places for latrines.  And here remain evidence of all three and more besides.

And two of my own favorite views were views not available at the time the Crossraguel community was active, way back before the Reformation:

The view of the cross against the sky while standing within the choir (what my lot would call the   sanctuary or simply the church), for the simple reason that there would have been a roof impeding the view.  Looking toward the cross, one can actually still see the roof line.  It seems somewhat ironic, in a sad sort of way, that what directs my own eye to God (often an upward thing for me) in this space is possible only because the place is in ruins.  When it was a living community, the cross was not there to direct the gaze upward; rather, it stood higher than surrounding landscape to draw the people in for worship – serving as a literal signpost: here’s the church.  People thus could spot it from miles away.  But they were meant not to be sky-gazing; rather, they were meant to be earth-walking.  And that, surely, is the better purpose.  Isn’t it?

The view from through the waterways serves as a wonderful frame for the visual of this quiet space sitting as it does adjacent to the motorway.  The viaduct structures I look through served as the sewage system.  Literally I stand in the midst of the fairly complex latrine system in order to look through, look beyond.  I wonder whether folks in centuries yet to come will one day stand in the places where my own waste once coursed and ooh and aah at the view.  Maybe they’ll read historical records – things like this blog even – and decide to give that particular pleasure a miss.  Besides, I’m pretty sure our plastic pipes, even emptied of all dross, won’t have the aesthetic appeal of the stone-laid tunnels, gulleys and gulches – more’s the pity.  Isn't a society that views even the courses for the removal of waste as things not only of utility but also of beauty, a society from which we might have much to learn?