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The Establishment

I wrote this poem when I was in high school, so some 50 years ago about the time I wrote Angry Young Poet. I updated both poems several years ago, but the underlying theme was evident in the orginals and I tried to keep that in mind in editing.

I found both poems as part of handwritten notes I dug through one weeked while Kathy was away. What struck me was how little things change. In fact, I might argue things are more entrenched than ever; the rich got richer and the poor poorer. One only has to consider the enormous wealth being accumlated by billionaires during the multiple crises we are experiencing.

Multiple crises, health, economic, and social justice, might give us room to re-imagine the world we want for our children and grandchildren. Instead, I am afraid we are more entrenched in our binary positions. Despite this, I hold out hope, not optimism and positivity, that we can begin the process of transforming the world to make it more democratic, socially just, and equitable. Part of my writing is revisiting an article I published in 2012 called Rocky River: Building a Learning Organization to re-imagine how we might educate children, youth, and adults. I begin re-imagining with a simple shift in language and call those engaged in teaching and learning educands a word Paulo Freire used in Pedagogy of Hope: Revisiting Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

More broadly, we can apply the learning organization’s principles to other institutions. Peter Senge cautioned it is hard work and takes time. Unlike other revolutionaries, Freire stated incremental change, based on dialogue between humans, was essential to transforming the world. Although Senge does not draw on Freire’s dialogic model, he suggests dialogue, with deep and caring listening, is at the heart of transforming institutions.

They know best for the rest–

Indoctrinating,

Not transforming,

Recalling non-existent good old days.

In disagreeing–

Simply wrong-headedness,

Daring to rebel:

Who are we to question?

Having it made–

Hunting and gathering,

Material wealth signaling success,

Repress, suppress, oppress.

Depending them to know best.

Maintaining existing order,

Demanding blind loyalty,

Failing to practice what preach.

I re-worded the poem again. I see how little changed in 50 years. Without a picture, I thought of which blues musician might best convey my message. I immediately thought of Nina Simone, who sings with edge. When I play her songs for undergrads, those with backgrounds of privilege demonstrate a visible level of discomfort.

 

Stairway to Heaven

Kathy took these pictures at Sunwapta Falls in Jasper National Park. The Sunwapta River flows from Athabasca Glacier and the falls plunge over a hanging valley left by receding glaciers about 8000 years ago. The path down to the overview above the falls is unique with the tree roots playing an integral role in the stairway. The “staircase” is a product of human and nature wearing the surface. With the help of the stairway, I got closer to the edge than I usually do.

I wrote the following poem to accompany the pictures of the and borrowed the title from a more famous group, Led Zeppelin. I took time to read about the meaning behind the lyrics. It appears to be a statement about money not buying one’s way into heaven, whatever one might think that is.

Gnarled and gnarly,

Wending its way upwards,

Nature’s stairway

Revealing beauty.

Gaining confidence,

Moving safely,

Finding my way,

Fuller, richer.

Nature awaiting,

Golden rays find space–

Guiding steps,

Shining on each step,

On a ‘highway to heaven.’

For those who want to compare my poetry to that of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, here is a version of the video.

On the Edge

When I wrote this poem, it was at a time I was unhappy going back into the classroom and teaching. I loved the students and looked forward to being with them. So much had changed in the little school I taught in with change imposed upon us, rather than negotiated with us. In my writing, I am beginning to look at what is essential to the spirit for each of us to flourish. What gives each of us hope? it will be different. What is certain is we each want to have a voice in what we are doing.

When I wrote the poem, I wrote from a negative place. Now, as I look at the image, the tree on the dge of the cliff fourished in its environment, which is rock with little soil. The tree is actually quite old. Our tour guide said about 300 years old. Despite its lack of size, it flourishes and that is what I failed to see in the last two years I taught. It begs the question: “what might I have done differently.” I was not very patient at times. Cornel West tells young people looking for change to be patient. Real, transformative, democratic, and sustainable change takes time and patience.

In being with each student and present to them, I found something other than gave me the impetus to teach for two more years and find ways to cope with the imposed change. One of the challenges I faced was what we did was so different than what other classrooms looked and felt like it was difficult to convince other educators what we did had merit. Teachers teach one grade at a time in isolation with children separated from families, like a workplace. We had a parent in the classroom each day to assist, many of the families knew each other, and I had a multi-grade classroom with 3 or 4 grades together. Children and youth attend school each day and homework is something we assign, because often there is not time to complete everything at school. Students attended our school 40-50% of the time on a set schedule, depending on grade level. I negotiated with parents the extra things to be done at home. Often, they were large culminating projects at the end of a unit. I taught and students learned what was necessary in class and had little homework. I did not teach all subjects in school. Parents taught Math, Health, and some Phys Ed at home. I went on home visits to support their teaching and make sure we were on track. I had no desks in my classroom. We sat at tables usually based on grade level, but, during complementary courses e.g. Art, Food Sciences, Programming, etc., students sat in mixed grade groups.

In short, we were on the margins, the edge of what was perceived as “normal’ school. Today, in the midst of a pandemic that sent children home to learn online, the relationships and support we had in our small community would have helped many families and teachers cope with the sudden and unpredictable change.

With each step,

Closer–

Be bold.

Balance precariously,

Hover over abyss

Be brave.

Instability and stability dancing–

To soundless music;

Be graceful.

Quieting one’s self;

Listening to soul’s–

Be poetic.

Between lines and stanzas–

 Wisdom emerges–

Be patient.

On the edge,

Sisters and brothers–

What calls you with passion?

I try to walk in the neighbourhood each day. When I do, I listen to music. Yesterday, I heard a song by Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, which fit with this poem and how I felt when I wrote it. In talking to one’s younger self, they use words like bold, love, bold, and fear. I use passion, which suggests suffering as a necessary piece to flourishing.

Angry Young Poet

In keeping with Why Do I Write Poetry, the following poem is one I wrote many at about the same time. This is the third time I visited the poem in terms of writing and editing. Several years ago and while explaining the importance of teaching poetry, a student asked if I wrote poetry in junior high school and I responded, “Yes!”. He asked me to share with them. I found them in a small lock box I keep at home and shared several with the class. We talked about the context I wrote the poem in. Even in Canada, I lived in the shadow of the Vietnam conflict and struggled with what that meant.

Sam Intrator suggested teachers expose adolescent students complex, existential questions of life as they move through those formative years. I wrote my poems in 1969. It was a time when identity was increasingly rooted in a global nature of the world, not just immediate community and family. War entered homes via television. Increasingly, I discovered my voice through poetry, expressing an abhorrence to institutional and government sanctioned killing. What set me apart from my peers, was I took no sides. Each was equally wrong in my mind, advancing their ideological stance. My teacher, Mr. McKenzie, an innovative English teacher, encouraged us to discover our voices.

I shared the following poem with my students. We talked about how metaphors of war are used commonly in various institutions and how I found this as troubling as the violence and trauma of war. That feeling re-emerged over the past months with describing dealing with Covid-19 in war-like terms and the troubling events of the past weeks where purported leaders feel it is OK to speak about human beings, not citizens, as an enemy and objects to be manipulated for financial gain based on the basest forms of self-interests. It is worse than the war as it takes on invisible and pervasive forms. It is a form of Social Darwinism where the strong survive, trampling on those further down what is understood as a food chain premised on unfettered oppression of other humans, including various forms of systemic violence. Consider billionaires, in the Covid-19 crisis, gained while those in most need lose what little support they had.

I contrast this with Jacinda Ardern‘s message as the Prime Minister of New Zealand. In The Atlantic, Uri Friedman describes her as an empathetic leader. What emerged in reading the article was we de-serve better leadership, mindful, transforming, serving, etc. focusing on people as humans, not objects.

Students asked me to share poems and I did, with the context within which I wrote them. Parents, who were in the classroom each day, asked about my candour. I responded “I am not about changing minds. I try to change how each student thinks about the world, to see under the surface, reveal a sordid underbelly, and revel in the wonderfulness of human life.” This is a hopeful message, and the leadership we need is evident e.g. Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, Mary Wollenstonecroft, Anne Frank, Maya Angelou, Soujouner Truth, Rosa Parks, etc.

Win or Lose: What Difference Does it Make?

A game–

Darwin misunderstood,

No great thing to win.

War and it language!

Bells ringing hollow,

Men, women, children gone!

Woe! vanquished losers and winners;

Humans, vanquished in every sense–

Thriving on dividing.

Resenting conquerors,

Rebuilding ruins–

On countless graves.

Morally rudderless,

Blaming the fallen,

Beggaring humans.

Homes on streets,

Hollowing souls–

What war brings?

Innocence dying–

Prryhric victories,

What war brings?

Comrades fallen,

Enemies vanquished–

Proving nothing.

Will we learn?

I pray

For human survival.

I leave you with the following video and song. We listened to Harry Belafonte, and I still do, with his uplifting and hopeful message. We are in this together, not against one another, with each other.

Weaving the Sacred

Humans often set the sacred in opposition to the profane and mundane. In what we might consider of as less sophisticated or mystical traditions, the distinctions are less in evidence. The sacred and profane blend together and are readily experienced in the traditions and daily lives of people. Sophisticated has to do with wisdom (sophia, so who am I to judge what is wisdom in a world I am an outsider to? This stands out to me when I visit Indigenous sites in Alberta and beyond. In ways they are stewards of Nature in ways I cannot be as I do not understand my relationship to Nature in a proper way.

On our way to Waterton, we went to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Archaeologists discovered evidence the site was on a migratory path for indigenous people, primarily the Niitsítapi (Blackfoot Confederacy), who used innovative ways to hunt plains bison at least 5500 years ago. A jump or ‘pishkun’ in Niitsítapi used drive lanes marked by rock cairns. The buffalo ran between the cairns and the last part of the drive lane sloped up, making the jump unnoticeable. The process required perfect human timing and was extremely dangerous.

Legend has it the name comes from an unfortunate incident when a young man wanted a closer view of the action. He waited at the base of the cliff. The hunt was successful and, when he was found, he sustained a broken skull and died.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is at the confluence of three geological formations. The Rocky Mountains and Great Plains are well-known. The picture below shows the rise into the Porcupine Hills. Young Niitsítapi men transitioned to manhood through a vision quest and went to the hill in the foreground. The hill, with spiritual meaning to the Niitsítapi, does not have public access.

Journeying alone

Enter spiritual space

Questing for adulthood.

At Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump’s interpreprative centre, we watched traditional dancing and heard traditional drumming and singing. The drum symbolizes Mother Earth’s heartbeat in Niitsítapi and other indigenous traditions.

Beating hearts gather

Singing, dancing, encircling

Joining as one with Her.

I took this picture as we turned towards Waterton. It was a hot, hazy day, blocking a view of the mountains.

The Niitsítapi meaning ‘original people,’ had their tradtional homes here. The Piikáni (North Piegan), a member of the confederacy, traveled to Waterton’s Blakiston Valley and gathered at Akaitapi (good campsite), providing food, water, and shelter. The area was also used by the Ktunaxa (Kootenay or Kootenai) who traveled from the west, through what is now the Crowsnest Pass.

hot, hazy beauty

shimmering above prairies

block distant bastions.

A small herd of bison live in a paddock at Waterton. At one time bison covered the Great Plains of North America. This was literal. People heard them long before they came into view and, when they were visible, it was a mass of brown and black that covered the prairies. Indigenous people used this animals as a ‘walking supermarket’ as almost all its body parts were harvested and usable.

Proud people’s icon

Plains symbol of abundance

Today’s sad sideshow.

We have attended a number of concerts with John Wort Hannam performing. He is from the part of Alberta I highlighted and has a beautiful song about the hills around the area. Enjoy.

Paradise

Here is another post with photos and poems based on travels through of the natural beauty of Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park. Parks Canada describes the former as where the prairies and mountains meet. The latter is known as the crown of the continent.

As we drive along Highway 22, we get this view of the mountains in Waterton. The sign says, “Where prairie meets the mountains” and they do. We saw this view later in the day.

This is what a few minutes does in this part of the world.

Embracing mountains

Emerging peaceful fury

Signaling day’s end.

Can you imagine waking up to the view below each day? It is intense. The Canadian census indicates 88 permanent residents of Waterton town site experience this. This is Mount Vimy viewed from the townsite across the big lake.

We traveled down the big lake crossing the Alberta-Montana border about half-way down. We cleared customs with our passports and hiked on the Montana side. At the end of our hike we arrived at to Kootenai. The scenery is spectacular.

Soaring ramparts,

Sheltering nature’s bounty.

In their shadows, safe.

At the end of a dayn hiking we saw this across the lake looking at Mount Vimy again.

Fair maiden rising,

Watchful eye surveys Nature,

Keeping safe til morn.

I know I shared this video a couple of weeks ago. It is my favourite John Prine song and reminds us Paradise is within reach. The challenge is to protect what we have.

John Prine

This was not going to be my next post. Fate steps in and calls on me to share one of the wonderful performers we had a chance to see live. John Prine is as as close as I am to someone contracting Covid-19 and, sadly he passed away last night due to complications. He had underlying health issues as he was a cancer survivor and was 73. The beauty is he leaves a rich book of songs and videos. I share three with you.

The last time Kathy and I saw John Prine he sang this song . It is normally a duet he sang with Iris Dement. Last night, we watched Kevin Bacon and Krya Sedgwick do it on Facebook. The audience howled with laughter as Prine sang the female parts. As you listen, you will understand the humour of the moment. It is called In Spite of Ourselves and is about a couple whose love is unquestionable and they are each other’s big door prize.

These links will take you to many others John Prine did, if you are inclined. He wrote and performed for 40 years and tackled social issues and love in various forms with humour and fearlessness. He is likely entertaining someone in the great beyond.

I played Paradise for students and it has a strong environmental message that echoes mine and I think Wendell Berry about what is lost as faceless corporations tear up Earth, haul it away in big trucks, and label it the progress of man. In Alberta, regulatory processes include land reclamation leaving it as good as it originally was . It reminds me ecology and economy are from the Greek oikos, meaning household.

I leave you with the Missing Years of Jesus, which was the first song I heard of John Prine. It is a tongue-in-cheek look at what we think we know about Jesus, a person we actually know little about in a historical sense.

A Grateful Haiku

via A Grateful Haiku

What are each grateful for at this time? We live in unusual times. As I go through my daily routine, I read articles and posts about how this is a time to rethink what we value and what we are each grateful for in our lives.

Tanya wrote a haiku about the symbiotic relationship between a monarch butterfly in its larval stage and milkweed. I often overlook how nature provides a sense of harmony I have to look deeper to see. When I look past the monarch butterfly’s beauty to its larval form I understand it exists by taking bites out of the milkweed flower’s beauty.

In that vein, when I read the comments, I realized it was “dueling haiku” between Tanya and Stephen. I appreciated what lay beneath the surface of the post and was grateful for their poetry skills. After all it is National Poetry Month.

Thich Nhat Hanh reminds me to find the extraordinary, I look past and beneath the surface of the visible to uncover hidden beauty. Yesterday, it snowed and was cold, below 0 Fahrenheit (about 20 degrees Celsius), and there was beauty. I took this picture of a tree in our front yard with the clear sky in the background. If it had been January, not the end of March, it might have been easier to see beauty. I remind myself we need this snow to melt and add to a needed water table so we might grow and harvest later in the year.

Front Yard with Fresh Snow March 31, 2020

I recently wrote about challenges of being unable to teach in a university setting. At my age, the doors appear closed. As I reflected and wrote, I realized my days, as a teacher in some formal way, might be over. Quite frankly, we do not value the wisdom elders have to offer. Emerging from this sense of frustration and despair was a sense something else was calling me: to write in various ways. This is a form of teaching perhaps and a gift I had not been grateful enough to have.

Yesterday, a colleague and I were advised we were accepted to write a peer-reviewed article for a special edition of a journal. This is asecond peer-reviewed article in several months that has been accepted. For that, I am grateful. In being grateful, I need to look past how things appear superficially and re-cogize there is more I am becoming.

I leave you with this beautiful video from the late Israel Kamakawiwo`Ole or IZ as he was known.

Bodhisattva Prayer for Humanity

In my post one step, then another, I concluded with The Prayer of St. Francis, which is a significant part of my life and of my family.

Recently, I came across this prayer and understand the Dalai Lama recites it daily. I found several links between the two prayers. I serve as a guide, bridge between the our lives and those in need. There are many metaphors in this prayer for me to take the shape of as I move through the world. Even if I cannot reach others physically, perhaps I can be a lamp from a distance as to help guide them in a moment of darkness.

Perhaps it is only in a kind word and acknowledging of the other who is present as we pass each other in a store. Kindness can be in short supply and in moments such as the one we are presently in a smile and greeting may make all the difference.

As I watched the news last night, they interviewed people who were setting up local help initiatives for seniors, donating food that might go to waste from a restaurant, and setting up a small food bank on the walk in front of their house. It is in moments such as this we become a lamp in darkness, a vase of plenty, and a tree of miracles.

Too often, we think (over-think) that miracles happen out there with some divine impulse. Maybe it is in the ordinary we discover the extraordinary.

“May I be a guard for those who need protection
A guide for those on the path
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood
May I be a lamp in the darkness
A resting place for the weary
A healing medicine for all who are sick
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings
May I bring sustenance and awakening
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow
And all are awakened.”

The other day, I heard Lean on Me by Bill Withers. It has this prayer’s message. Withers wrote the song as a call to others to lean on one another during challenging times. This form of love is agape, a love of one another as human beings, as opposed to a romantic love per se. But, romantic love that survives to become a pragmatic love (from the Greek pragma) takes on the agape more than romantic with time and seasoning.

My Ojibwa prayer.

via My Ojibwa prayer.

John shares a beautiful prayer and a wonderful segue into a New Year. Many Indigenous peoples, like the Ojibwa (Anishinaabe and Saulteaux) cherished Mother Earth in their spirituality. Also in his post, there is a cover of John Lennon‘s Imagine.

When I read the prayer, I consider what questions arise from the various words and lines John shares. What if each human being prayed for peace? What would this mean? What if we questioned how much an acre of land is worth in human life, lives of other creatures, and destruction to land ? What if we each reflected on sacred places we seek refuge in, whether they are in some remote spot, a city park, or our backyard garden? What do those places mean to each of us? What is the cost to us if they disappear?

John’s words remind me of a story Leo Tolstoy wrote, How Much Land Does a Man Need? The main character Pahom consumed with greed makes a bargain with the devil to acquire as much land by walking around and returning to the starting point by the time the sun sets. As it turns out, Pahom’s greed gets in the way and he fails, giving up his soul and life in exchange for a grave that constitutes the amount of land he needs in his life.

100_4758

Kathy took this picture from the one of the overviews on the Road to the Sun in Glacier National Park.

There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of
wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in the wind that does not preach and proclaim the
greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world. There is not an act of kindness or
generosity, not an act of sacrifice done, or a word of peace and gentleness spoken . . .
that does not sing hymns to God.

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948)

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