“My Heart’s in the Highlands” Robert Burns

Robert-Burns-012

Arvo Pärt, Else Torp, and Christopher Bowers

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.

Farewell to the mountains high covered with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.

 

 

 

 

A good whoopin’

A good whoopin’.

It’s happened to many of us.  To the fortunate others, it has not.  Corporal punishment.  Punishment intended to cause pain.  In polite, more acceptable terms, a spanking or a paddling.  Less acceptable, but perhaps more accurate: slapped with an angry hand, whipped with a belt, struck with an object like a stick, ruler, or spatula.   A caning, a thrashing, flagellation, a strapping, a lacing, or at the more extreme end: a beating.  A good whoopin’.

“Pull down your pants.”

The anticipation.  Then the delivery.  Whoosh, crack, pain.  Just like that.  Then again.  And again.

When I was a boy, my mother delivered the corporal punishment.  I was the oldest by about five years, so she had plenty of opportunity to get some of the meanness out of her system, as I never saw my brother or sisters experience what I had, though they did get the occasional spanking.

Was I just that much more incorrigible, a child who deserved to be smacked?  I asked myself that question many times.

I was mischievous, daring, an inveterate explorer, often pushing the boundaries.  I don’t recall a lot of lickings before my next sibling in line was born.  As best I can remember, it all started not long after my mother miss-carried and lost a brother I never knew when I was about three years old.  She and my father began arguing more, and yet, three more children were born.

I never saw my mother hit my father, nor my father hit my mother.  And my father never hit me.  But good ole’ Mom sure hit me.  Hard and often.  Sometimes it was a random strike at whatever part of me was most convenient.  A smack on the head, a punch in the shoulder, a slap in the face, a yank on my hair.  Other times it was an orchestrated event where I was orally chastised, often at great length, then the pants came down and I would take a set number of lashes in the biblical fashion on my bare ass.  It didn’t seem to depend on the transgression, as most I remember as being minor.   It depended on my mother’s mental state of the moment.  She had me pull down my pants, set me over her knee, and hit me with whatever was close at hand.  A yardstick, a ruler, a hairbrush, a stick, or a belt.

One time when she was hitting me with a yardstick, as I silently counted the blows, she broke the yardstick over my ass.  She stopped.  Then she laughed.  I counted this as good luck as she was only just getting started, and I laughed, as well.  I’d broken the yardstick on my skinny little butt!  I’m sure I didn’t consider how insane it was to laugh because I’d stopped being whipped.  I had yet to develop the keen sense of irony that I have to this day.

Mother had a variety of ways of meting out her punishments.  The most diabolical was to send me out to a willow thicket in the field and select a willow reed to be thrashed with.

“Go out and find yourself a strong willow branch and bring it back to me,” she’d say.  As you may know, willow branches are very flexible – they are like whips.  For ages, willow was used as a horse whip.  What a dilemma: I was to select the branch to be used in my punishment.

One day, when I was about 10, I didn’t return.  I just kept walking.  Past the willow grove, through the fields to my favorite spring-fed pond in the far reaches of the farm’s fields.  I sat in the shade of an old maple, or maybe it was a box elder, and thought long and hard about my alternatives.  Should I keep walking to the nearest road and not look back?  Should I just jump in the water and drown myself?  I didn’t know.

I sat for a very long time, then stripped off my clothes and jumped into the pond as I’d done many times before.  The cool water brought me around, cleared my head, and brought me back to the present.  I surfaced, and then I dove down again.  As the bottom grass tickled my face, I decided what to do.  I was going to walk back without the god-damned willow reed and announce that I was never going to the willow grove again.  If I was beaten, I’d get up in the middle of the night, take all the money I could find in the house, which wouldn’t be much, walk into town, and get on a bus to somewhere.  Anywhere.  And I’d never return.  I’d die first.

I went back to shore, slowly dressed, and then, over the hill, I saw my Grandpa walking to the pond.  He knew where to find me.  They’d been looking for me.  He took me in his arms, gave me a long hug, and I explained what had happened.  He shook his head and we walked back to my parents’ house without words.  He had me wait outside while he went in and talked with my mother.  When he came back out, he said, “You can go in now, there’ll be no lashing today.”  I walked through in through the kitchen, past my mother, who turned her back to me as I passed by, and went to my room.  Later, we all sat around the table to eat dinner in mostly silence.  I had little appetite.  I just wanted this dinner to be over.  I wanted this life to be over.

Much later, I talked to my grandparents about my mother’s behavior.  She was their only child.  They said they’d never touched her in anger or with malice when she was a child, and they did not understand how she came to be like this.  They thought it may have been due to a horse riding accident she’d had when she was seven years old.  Like me, she’d ridden and driven horses as a very young child.  Like me, she was a daredevil rider, and one day she was racing a car on the dirt road alongside the field when her horse stumbled at a full gallop, throwing her.  She hit her head on a rock and lost consciousness.  The car driver took her to the hospital in the nearest town of Beloit, Wisconsin.  She went into a coma and didn’t come out for three weeks.

When she finally opened her eyes, she couldn’t talk, walk or move her arms.  She wasn’t paralyzed.  Her brain had simply turned those functions off.  It took several months before she regained mobility and speech.  She had to learn to talk and move again from the beginning.

That was my grandparents’ theory, and it’s as good as any.  I just had to learn to protect myself from my mother when her brain was on fire.

Now, it’s often said that children who have experienced constant physical abuse often take on those same characteristics as they grow older and into adulthood.  It was exactly the opposite for me.  As a child, an adolescent, a teen and an adult, physical violence revolted me.  I looked on the school bullies with scorn and disgust.  I walked away from many fights, though I defended myself as necessary and defended others when needed.  I detested violent and aggressive school games like football, and I refused to play them.  My sports were track and field, skiing, basketball, skating, and riding horses.  To this day, I detest those who resort to physical violence.

I forgave my mother.  My grandmother often told me to “always forgive, but never forget.”  I follow her words to this day.

I’m most thankful for my grandparents and their farm across the field from my parents’ house.  I spent as much time as I could with them.  I loved the farming life, milking cows and goats, herding sheep on my horse with my grandfather’s German Shepherd, Prince, and being intensely involved in the life and death of every creature through all the seasons.  I enjoyed hard work and helping my grandfather with everything from fencing to haying to animal husbandry.  I nursed the orphan lambs through the first weeks of their lives. The farm gave me strength and purpose.

Here’s the final story I’ll tell on this subject.

One day, my mother came across the field from our house to my grandparents’ farm looking for me.  She was madder than a wet hen about something only known to her, and she started yelling at me about being irresponsible, not returning home on time, being just like my father, and whatever else surfaced.  I knew it was time to start putting distance between her and me, but when she saw me take off she grabbed the baseball bat I’d been playing with and came after me.  I headed for the nearest tree I could quickly climb at about the same time my grandfather came running from the barn.  He caught up with her, took the bat from her hands and told her to go home.  I spent the next days at my grandparents’ house, sleeping in my favorite place on earth, the large screen porch overlooking the big valley below.  It was pure peace.  I slept there many summer nights and late into the fall.

My mother, her soul at rest at last, used to say my grandparents “spoiled” me.

They didn’t spoil me.  They saved me.  I know exactly how lucky I am to have had them nearby.

Summers, I lived mostly with my grandparents.  My grandmother was an excellent cook, so I ate well.  She taught me about cooking and baking.  After supper, I played from the Lutheran hymnal or 1950s sheet music on Grandma’s old piano, listened to classical music on WCCO radio on the porch at bedtime, and drifted off into deep sleep.  I woke each morning to birds chatting in the misty sunrise that settled over the St. Croix River Valley from the porch of their 19th century farm house, had a hearty breakfast, and went out to help Grandpa with the chores.  I milked cows – and goats – collected the eggs for market, tended the huge garden, pruned trees in the apple orchards, rode my horse out into the fields, drove the tractor, and built forts.

As it happened, in the coming years I did run away from home a few times.  My mother and father got divorced.  My mother kicked me out of the house at 17.  Later in life, we reconciled to the extent we could.

All’s forgiven, nothing is forgotten.

 

Hey, can you guys come by to help me drop an engine into my Chevy?

Ever dropped an engine?  Into a car, that is.  I have, many times, back in the 1960s.

My first engine install was when I was 18 years old.  Dad had been an airplane mechanic, and he was a very competent car mechanic.  So I grew up with a wrench in my hand.  I’d bought a ’57 Chevy Bel Air four-door hardtop on the cheap, then wrecked it.  Went off the road in the early morning hours, through a fence, then end-over-end into a farmer’s field.  Flattened the top almost down to the dash.  My buddy and I were miraculously not injured, so we walked back to the road where there was a county sheriff waiting for us.  He had some questions.  Times being what they were, he told us to hop in and then gave us a ride home.  “Too bad you wrecked your car, but come by tomorrow and get it out of the field.  And get hold of the farmer to see about fixing his fence.”

This is almost exactly the same 1957 Chevy Bel Air four-door hardtop – even the same colors.

1957-chevrolet-bel-air-4-door.jpg

Next day, I got the Chevy home.  It was totaled, but the iconic small-block 283 V8 was just fine.  Word got out that I was looking for a car to put that engine in, and within days a friend towed over a ’55 Chevy Bel Air two-door hardtop with a blown 265 small-block V8 engine.  Perfect swap.

I got hold of a couple friends and we pushed the cars under a big oak tree, attached a block and tackle to the engine in the ’55, and started loosening bolts and tearing it out.  Took half a day.  The shade tree mechanics spent the rest of the day pulling the good 283 from the ’57.

Now came the interesting part – dropping the ’57 engine into the ’55.  In our haste to get me back on the road again, we hadn’t paid a lot of attention to what parts went where.  It all seemed so straight-forward as we worked away, banging our knuckles into bare metal, mixing blood with engine grease, and ripping everything apart.  Piles of parts everywhere.  Now we had to put it all back together.

I was not about to learn that dropping an engine into an engine bay was a lot trickier than taking one out.   We hoisted the engine and transmission on the block and tackle until it was dangling in mid air, then pushed the ’55 under it.  As we started to drop the engine in, we narrowly missed dropping it right through the windshield!

We finally got it in, secured the motor and transmission mounts, and then got to work installing the parts that would make it a whole car.  Connected the exhaust headers that had come with the ’55, and started on the drive shaft, wiring, gas line, radiator and cooling, and linkages – including the Hurst floor shifter.

Soon it was back together, and I was ready to turn the key and go for a spin.

It wouldn’t start.  It was turning over just fine, but it was just backfiring, which brought my next door neighbor over because it sounded like gunfire.  He was a veteran hot-rodder, so I immediately enlisted his expertise to find out why this pig would not grunt.  He couldn’t see anything.  Then he asked “the question”: did you take out the distributor and reinstall it?  Well, we had because when we were dropping the engine in, we’d mashed the distributor against the firewall and had to replace it with the spare distributor from the other engine.  He just smiled.

“Are you sure you got the distributor camshaft gear in exactly the right position?”

I thought we had, but there was an excellent chance we hadn’t.  So I pulled the distributor out and reinstalled it one notch over.  Pumped the gas, hit the key and it fired right up, sounding very sweet through those cherry bomb dual exhausts.

I was back on the road.  The ’55 was a mean looking car.  It had dark grey primered paint, no front bumper, and the front end was jacked up to give it the drag car look.  It sounded like a dragster, and it went like hell.  I drove it back and forth to college for about a half a year.  Never got a ticket.

Took a little searching, but here is a photo that comes very close to my ’55 Chevy two-door hardtop.  Primered paint, no bumper, mags on the front but not the rear.  Ruff, ready, and willin’!  See trailer at the end for a clip of “Two-Land Blacktop.”

1955-chevy-bel-air-2dr-hard-top.jpg

The end came on a back road on the way home from school one afternoon.  I was doing about 85 mph when there was a loud bang, the oil pressure gauge dropped to zero, and the exhaust turned to black smoke that appeared to mixed with some kind of particles.

I’d blown the engine.

I didn’t have time to swap in another engine, so I sold it cheap to a hot-rodder buddy.  He took the engine apart and told me the inside was just a mangled mass of rod bearings and parts of pistons.  He dropped in a 327 Corvette engine and raced it at the local drag strip.

I replaced it with a ’58 Chevy two-door hardtop – pretty blue with that venerable 283 V8.  Floor shifter, headers and very mellow sounding dual exhausts.  It needed a clutch, so I picked it up cheap and installed a clutch in my back yard, scooting around on my back in the dirt.

Here’s an image of the same model ’58 Chevy Bel Air two-door hardtop as the one I owned, except that the car was solid blue, not two-tone.

1958-chevrolet-bel-air.jpg

Over the next several years, I did a couple more engine swaps.  Dropped a 327 into my ’65 Impala Super Sport, swapped a Mercedes OHC six cylinder into my ’62 Mercedes 220S,  put a junk yard engine in a ’73 Pinto (why bother, one might ask), and even swapped a English Ford engine into a cute little ’58 English Ford Squire station wagon.

Never again!

Here’s a couple minutes of one of my all-time favorite films: “Two-Lane Blacktop,” starring songwriter James Taylor, Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, actor/director Warren Oates and Laurie Bird.  And – a primered out ’55 Chevy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Solitude” by Rainer Maria Rilke 

Solitude
Rainer Maria Rilke

Solitude is like a rain.
It rises from the sea toward evening;
from plains, which are distant and remote,
it goes to the sky, which always has it.
And only then it falls from the sky on the city.

It rains down in the in-between hours,
when all the crooked streets turn toward morning,
and when the bodies, which found nothing,
leave each other feeling sad and disappointed;
and when the people, who hate each other,
have to sleep together in one bed:

then solitude flows with the rivers . . .

“Questionnaire” by Wendell Berry

QUESTIONNAIRE
by Wendell Berry

  1. How much poison are you willing
    to eat for the success of the free
    market and global trade? Please
    name your preferred poisons.
  2. For the sake of goodness, how much
    evil are you willing to do?
    Fill in the following blanks
    with the names of your favorite
    evils and acts of hatred.
  3. What sacrifices are you prepared
    to make for culture and civilization?
    Please list the monuments, shrines,
    and works of art you would
    most willingly destroy.
  4. In the name of patriotism and
    the flag, how much of our beloved
    land are you willing to desecrate?
    List in the following spaces
    the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
    you could most readily do without.
  5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
    the energy sources, the kinds of security,
    for which you would kill a child.
    Name, please, the children whom
    you would be willing to kill.

With thanks to https://www.brainpickings.org/2019/08/14/wendell-berry-questionnaire-amanda-palmer/

 

 

This is the way the world ends – Not with a bang but with a whimper 

674612.jpg
The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot

Mistah Kurtz – he dead.

A penny for the Old Guy

I

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other kingdom
Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

Picture

II

Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer –

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom

Picture

III

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

Picture

IV

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of this tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

Picture

V

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper.

World Traveler

My Irish Setter Erin taking a break from our walk on the Arno River in Florence, Italy. Anno 1985. Erin was 15 years old. I got him when he was 8 weeks old.

In his lifetime, Erin traveled the United States, North Africa, Japan, and Europe. Not long after this photo, he would be on a plane with us to Japan, then back to Germany in 1986, where he died of old age at 17.

He’s buried in a Hun burial ground in the forest behind our house there north of Würzburg, Bavaria, Germany. 

More stories and photos with Erin, the world traveler:

Travels With Erin

North Africa Diary – Lost in the Medina  

Media Plage – Aussies Go Walkabout

How we came to live in North Africa at Mehdia Plage

 

Relaxing at our 2CV camp site in a sand dune overlooking the Atlantic Ocean just outside of Agadir, Morocco.beach Africa

Visiting the stones at Carnac, Brittany, France.2cv-carnac.jpg

On the road, Costa del Sol, near Torremolinos, Spain.2CV theresa spain

The Wild Pacific Trail at Ucluelet, British Columbia

Take a pictorial walk with me on The Wild Pacific Trail at Ucluelet, a tranquil village of about 2000 on the Ucluth Peninsula of Vancouver Island’s far west coast.  It’s about 288 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital, Victoria.

map

Its location supports Ucleulet’s motto – “Living on the Edge” – as the peninsula is almost completely surrounded by water, making it more island than peninsula.  The Ucleulet Harbor provides easy water access to the ethereal mists of Barkley Sound to the south, featuring the Broken Group Islands of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.  To the west is the thundering Pacific Ocean.

aerial

It’s on this western shore you can walk The Wild Pacific Trail, which clings to the coastline as you meander the trails and boardwalks amid an old-growth coastal rainforest – a labyrinthine wildwood of trees, ferns and moss.  Without warning, the trail bursts onto spectacular views from the rocky shoreline of the roiling Pacific Ocean, Barkley Sound, and the Broken Group Islands.

The trail is an easy, relaxing hike, with two large parking areas, easy access (including disabled), and well-signed trails.  When I was there, signs instructed you on what to do in the unlikely case that you found yourself sharing the trail with a bear.  Sadly, I didn’t see one.

Photography by S.W. Cosgrove.

Looking south from the far end of the peninsula, towards Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands.  In the mist on the other side of the sound is Bamfield, a tiny resort hamlet that is best reached by packet boat from Port Alberni or by float plane.

DSC_0078

DSC_0089

DSC_0072DSC_0062

DSC_0098

DSC_0102

DSC_0068

DSC_0117

DSC_0109

Here is a very engaging Blue Jay, who decided to accompany me.  Chatty bird, and quite friendly.

DSC_0123

DSC_0071

DSC_0127

Hidden in the woods on the other side of the water is the lodge that I stayed at.

DSC_0126

DSC_0106

Following is the view from the private patio of the studio apartment I rented in an elegant new wood-built lodge that a young couple shared with visitors.  It was in a very quiet location, situated just a few steps from The Wild Pacific Trail.  Reasonably priced, very comfortable, with an oversized soaking tub.

The last afternoon, a storm blew in and rain pounded windows and deck.  Then, a half hour later, the sun came back out and dried everything off.

DSC_0135

DSC_0137

DSC_0138

DSC_0142

Ucluelet Harbor

DSC_0132

DSC_0133

Walking on the Western Edge of North America – the Washington Coast.

It’s autumn, when the Pacific Ocean coastal skies may be sunny or turn dark, ushering in the magnificent storm season.  Either way, it’s a perfect time to explore the westernmost edge of the North American continent.

moclips-wa-965fafeea3373724

So my German Shepherd, Jack, and I headed out from our home on the Puget Sound to spend a week in the historic seaside resort town of Moclips, which was originally a village of the Quinault Indian Nation.  Spaniards were the first Europeans to come ashore here at Santiago beach, adjacent to the Moclips River, which runs to Point Grenville.

Moclips was homesteaded in 1862, and in 1905 it officially became a town when the western most terminus of the Northern Pacific Railway was completed at Moclips and the first Moclips Beach Hotel was completed.  Vacationers came to the beach by the thousands on the Northern Pacific.  No trains run to Moclips these days and most remnants of the the railway’s existence have faded away.  Click the photo below for more Moclips history.

depotheadernew

Today Moclips is a sleepy little seaside town with pristine beaches that stretch to the horizons.  The Moclips River flows from a natural riverine rain forest on a bed of agate rock.  You can see the remains of the train bridge trestles in my photos.

I stayed at the Hi-Tide Ocean Beach Resort, a peaceful and well-maintained collection of very comfortable, fully furnished and tastefully appointed condos with patios facing the ocean, the river and the setting sun. Hi-Tide welcomes dogs!  You can arrange rental on the Hi-Tide Resort website. 

img_20171024_1746538.jpg

During our visit, we had a full compliment of weather: sun-drenched shorts and sandals weather at the beginning of the week, with marine air moving in, then darkening skies, wind picking up and rain by the time we left.  It was, in a word, a perfect autumn week on the Pacific Northwest coast.

Here are some of my photos of the journey. If you use them, please attribute.

Hello from Jack!

IMG_20171024_1745085

IMG_20171026_0852577

IMG_20171024_1737514

IMG_20171024_1720072

IMG_20171024_1757084

IMG_20171024_1732010

IMG_20171024_1722550

IMG_20171026_0833070

IMG_20171024_1758365

IMG_20171025_1255253

IMG_20171025_1257497

IMG_20171025_1747369

IMG_20171026_0849396

IMG_20171026_0854593

IMG_20171025_1300510

IMG_20171026_0849466

IMG_20171025_1744098

IMG_20171025_1746330

IMG_20171025_1749119

IMG_20171024_1741451

IMG_20171026_0839345

IMG_20171026_0903207

IMG_20171026_0842165

IMG_20171026_0907202

IMG_20171024_1749197

Habanera

At my annual piano recital when I was 12 years old, I played a piano transcription of the Habanera from Carmen. I practiced over and over until I could play it with my eyes closed.

I walked onto the stage in a cold sweat, sat down at the keyboard, closed my eyes, and let it flow.

When I opened my eyes, the audience was standing, clapping, shouting “bravo.” I have no recollection of actually playing the piece, only the experience.

As a child, my father, who was stationed with the Army Air Corps in South America during WWII, parked me in front of an RCA Victor record player listening to the 78’s he’d collected from that era of Spanish ballads, flamenco guitar, and Carmen.

This selection is from an absolutely brilliant 1983 film directed and choreographed in the flamenco style by Carlos Saura and María Pagés. The image is grainy, but still powerful. The film was magnificent.

The Habanera from Carmen.

Here is the official movie trailer.