Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Primary Sources

There is a great temptation in this day and age to take one’s reading filtered. Scholars, pundits, commentators, journalists, and writers of all kinds generate streams of words that trickle out of the sumps and springs of our culture, run down the sides of our societal landscape and into the vast oceans of words and ideas that form our collective consciousness. Some of what is written is quite useful, good, truthful, and a portion of it even qualifies as beautiful. Much of it is about other words, other writings, other comments, other stories. We write and we write about writing, and we write about writing about writing.

Case in point – you are reading some of it right now.

Unlike drinking water, however, filtered reading is not purer or even tastier. Filtered water may seem more palatable and feels safer. None of that nasty giardia lamblia, or cryptosporidium to worry about. But in the process of filtering much is lost and something is typically added. When hiking the Appalachian Trail I carried a large and expensive water filter to purify my water. It was heavy, but I preferred it to dropping musty tasting chemicals into my water. But even this filter would add traces of iodine to my filtered water.

There were times, especially in the southern states, where I was extremely glad to have a quality filter. The water sources were sluggish and sometimes stagnant. Muddy water was more common than clean water. In these cases, the filter was a godsend. But as I moved further north I found more and more springs and high altitude streams to drink from. Especially once into the New England states I began to simply not use my filter at all. If I’m standing in a place that is already higher than 90% of the population of humans OR animals, and the stream originates from someplace higher still, and if it is quick running over rocks and rills, I figure that drinking it is pretty safe. I might still filter if the source is near human or animal habitation, either wild or domestic. I might still filter if that water source is slow moving or stagnant. But more and more I found it to be safe and rewarding to drink directly from the source – the pure unadulterated water spurting from the heart of the earth herself.

I think this says a great deal about our reading. There is a generally recognized canon of “Great Books.” The list may vary in length and selection depending on who makes it. Most of these lists are oriented toward Western thinkers and those works foundational to western civilization. Some go broader to include Oriental works as well. It is not that these books are held to be true in all their ideas. They are considered great because they contain powerful ideas, powerfully expressed – so much so that in many cases the ideas contained in them have changed the world.

I have read much about these books. I have actually read very little of the books themselves. As I mentioned before, it takes work. First you have to find them. They are not always down in the valleys, along the highways where they are easily accessible. In fact, much of what you find in along the roads must be filtered. The purer better reading requires climbing and effort and sweat to attain. One has to be in a certain mental condition to get to where one can drink from those wells.

But, if my metaphor holds true, it is totally worth it. The experience of drinking directly from a mountain stream, plunging your face into the frigid water and sucking deep draughts of cold liquid diamond is elemental and altogether delicious. There is no better tasting water in the world. I suppose a scientist could argue, stating that the mineral content is not appreciably different or better than tap water, and that the risk of contamination is higher, but it’s not about minerals. It’s about the spirit of the water, I think.

I suspect the same may be true of the great books. There is something valuable in the work, in the spirit of the original work, the primary source. It is colder, fresher and cleaner, even though the language may be archaic and strange to the ears. The ideas are direct, unfiltered and bear with them a raw energy not present in commentaries and criticisms. Not that we should not read writing about writing. I suspect, however, that I would do well to drink more from mountain streams than I do, and I would do well to read more of the primary sources than I do.

We cannot afford to be lazy in anything we do. We can least afford it when it comes to our hearts and our minds.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Food, Booze and Books

A friend of mine recently commented on my remarks on books that are difficult to read.

Just because everyone else likes something doesn't mean you have to. I don't like eating at fancy restaurants, I'd rather watch a game at a bar than in the stadium, and I don't like any of those books either.
This got me thinking. My comments about the books I haven’t read were intended more as a commentary on me, not a comment on the books. The fact that I find so many of the great books difficult is because they are difficult. Is that an excuse not to engage with them?

Reading great literature gives you the opportunity to sit under the teaching of the greatest minds of all time – of ALL time. A teacher can be long dead, his bones turned to dust, but through his book, he can teach you. You can learn from him. Sometimes this will only happen if you have the courage, the tenacity, the will and, indeed, the intellect, to engage him on the page. It is certainly a different experience from working with a living teacher, but at the same time, it is not. Some teachers are clear, pleasing to work with. They reach out to you and attempt to shape their ideas to your understanding. Other teachers dish out almost grudgingly, making you work for each step of growth in understanding.

The question is, which is more important; the ease with which you can grasp the idea, or the power of the idea itself? It is useful to separate the value of the content of ideas in a book, from the style or manner of the writing of it. There have been certain teachers in my life that I did not like at all. Yet my time with them was extremely valuable. I cannot say that they did not care about my learning. They did. Style was not the issue.

The fact is, some ideas are hard, and must be hard won. There is no other way.

What especially struck me about my friend’s comments is that in some ways it sounded much like me 20 years ago. Eating in fancy restaurants? Not for me. High falutin’ digs? Not comfortable. I have since learned that this says more about me than about the restaurant. How did I learn this? I have paid my money and I have eaten at fancy restaurants. I discovered that there are few experiences that parallel truly excellent dining.

My first experience, and most memorable (we always remember the first time, don’t we?) was at La Poulet au Dents in Norwich VT. I’m not sure it’s spelled correctly, but it is supposed to mean The Teeth of the Hen. I don’t believe it exists any longer. I took my bride there when we were on a vacation visiting family in NH during our time in exile in the Midwest. It was, up until that time, the most expensive meal I had ever had. It cost us over $100.00 in 1989. For a young married couple on limited means this was a significant splurge.

And it was pretty classy. It’s one of those places where the busboy comes out between courses with a little silver whisk broom and dustpan to sweep off your tablecloth. Yet I must say, it was one of the most delightful experiences I have ever had. We simply put ourselves in the hands of the staff. From the beginning we explained to our waiter that we had not experience with this type of cuisine or establishment and we asked for his recommendations. We were feeling adventurous and willing to try new things (as we usually are when it comes to food). Neither the staff nor the food disappointed.

When it was all done, I sat back feeling an amazed and delighted contentment. I had paid over a hundred bucks for a truly astounding experience of beauty and sensual delight. It was completely worth it, and my horizons had been greatly expanded.

I likened it to attending a musical concert. Many musical concerts will end up costing at least that much to attend. Yet we don’t think that’s particularly odd or unusual. This was music for the palate and the nose and the skin and the eyes. It was the shared enjoyment of good things, with someone I love deeply, and whose company in that quiet sharing was delightful. It came at a cost, and the return on that investment was enormous. You do get what you pay for. This is true on many levels.

More recently I have experienced something similar with another friend who introduced me to single malt scotch. This is certainly not a drink for the weak or flighty. It is a drink to be considered, pondered and enjoyed (pardon the pun) soberly. It actually takes a certain degree of concentration to appreciate it. This does not mean that it is a bad liquor. It is just that it is not an easily accessible liquor, aesthetically speaking. But is it worthy? Oh yes. Oh my yes!

Just don't expect to mix it with 7-up. You can drink it that way, but you will completely (and I mean COMPLETELY) miss the point.

So what does food and booze have to do with books? Just this. I am still young. I am growing into these books. I will be reading until I am dead. I will never stop trying to read War and Peace. I will someday actually tackle Calvin. My difficulty with these books simply means that I have some maturing to do. Someday, I may even learn to love opera. Some people for whom I have tremendous respect assure me that there is much in opera that is worthing learning to like.

Just because it is an acquired taste does not mean that it isn’t good. It just means that I can’t find that goodness yet. But when the time is right, I am confident that I will be ready to learn.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Edito Musico Pentecostalo Vee Dee Oh

The editing in this video is brilliant.

The combination of footage from an evangelistic/pentecostal meeting with euro-techno pop-like music is mildly interesting, but the way the editor put it together is truly amazing. In particular, watch the preacher's mouth and listen to the (dutch?) words that are being sung. Wow.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Go Indexed

I suppose there are lots and lots of blogs and bloggers out there. I don't really spend much time looking around. Most of them probably go on like I do -- blah blah blah blah. Words on words on words.

But then I come upon something else. As the saying goes on Monty Python..."And now for something completely different."

Try Indexed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Books I Haven't Read

I was looking at the book list I posted recently. It occurred to me that I’m really NOT that well read. It seems that there are a good many books or types of books that I simply have not ever read. These are things that I have always considered that well educated people should have read. I consider myself to be reasonably well educated, and yet my book list has huge holes in it.

For instance, you see nothing of the following authors:

The early Church Fathers
Adam Smith

Just to name a few. They aren’t on my list because I have not read them. This bothers me.

Of course, I know how to fix that. Just traipse on down the library, check them out and read them. And yet…I’m not sure I really want to. These books do require a certain degree of work, don’t they? Right now, I’m not sure that’s work I’m willing to take on.

There are other books by great authors that I have read that have done nothing for me. Moby Dick is supposed to be a great masterpiece. Am I the only one that found it almost unbearably tedious? Is it’s tediousness a sign of it’s greatness? Personally, I think Herman could have used an editor. I have read several by Tolstoy and ended up thinking that I should have been much more affected by it than I was. War and Peace still escapes me after 5 attempts. W&P is not almost unbearably tedious. It IS unbearably tedious. Is this a sign that I am shallow? Or weak of intellect?

I suppose it is good to take a cold hard look at one’s reading occasionally. I think it might be useful to ponder what exactly I hope to achieve with my reading life over the next 5-10 years, and set some goals.

Then again, I really enjoy just having books sent to me, and discovering, to my surprise that they have turned my world around and inside out. Serendipity has it’s advantages.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Blueberries Bottled

While living in Wisconsin, we were introduced to a nice little custom. Some people gather cherries, preferably Door County cherries, and place them in a bottle filled with brandy (or some other strong spirit) with a little sugar and perhaps some spices. This bottle then is closed and allowed to sit for several months so that the cherries are completely steeped and the liquor takes on a delightful mellow sweet cherry flavor. The concoction is called Cherry Bounce and is very simple to make and quite delightful on a cold winter night.

A few weeks ago my bride and I were talking about this, and started thinking about how we could do this with a more local spin. We live in NH, so cherries are not that common. We also live about 5 minutes from a blueberry farm, where we go several times a year in season to pick a pile of the lovely luscious blue globes. Well, you can see where this is all going now, can’t you?

A few minutes spent looking up recipes on the internet, an hour spent picking about 20 lbs. of fresh blueberries this afternoon (a perfect New England September day), another hour or two picking out stems, leaves, bad berries and spiders. Now this evening we shall put up the liqueur. I’ll let you know in a couple months how it turns out.

Also, we are trying to think of a proper name. Blueberry Bounce is adequate, but lacks originality. Blueberry Cordial sounds sophisticated but very serious. Hmmmm…have to think about it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Most Influential Books

Started thinking lately of what might be the most influential books on my life. Some of them are not single books, but series of books that hang together. Others are the first I’ve read of an author, and it is really the author who is influential. I list the book here as the gateway to the work of the author. They are listed in no particular order.

  1. The Bible – well, this had to make the list, didn’t it? I would have to say that this is the single most influential book in shaping my life, through and through.
  2. Creation Regained (Nicholas Wolters) Wolters gave shape and biblical support to ideas that had been developing in me for some time. He helped me to break down the Gnostic sacred/secular distinction. Creation is more than what we think of as nature. It also includes human work and institutions. A biblical worldview comprehends that all creation is good in structure. Not everything is good in it’s orientation or direction. This book helped me to understand my freedom to enjoy all of life as a gift of God.
  3. The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings/The Silmarrillion (JRR Tolkien) I lost track of the number of times I have read these, and I still return to them every few years. They provide a well of deep water that refreshes my spirit in a way that I cannot quite articulate.
  4. Chronicles of Narnia (CS Lewis) Lewis’s picture of Aslan is a flawed allegory if you get too picky, but one that I found incredibly helpful and useful in understanding my relationship to Jesus.
  5. Christ and Culture (Rienhold Niebuhr) Culture is part of creation. Alongside Creation Regained, this book helped me to understand that the problem lies not in creation itself, but in how we react to the world. We are not victims, but are called to agents of redemption and transformation of culture, bringing the Kingdom of God closer. We are little redeemers, in the footsteps of Christ.
  6. Dandelion Wine (Ray Bradbury) This book opened up to me the power of writing with powerful imagery. I remember being entranced by not only the sights, but the smells and sounds and sensations that Bradbury created inside of me through words on a page. It was a powerful experience in the glory and weight of language.
  7. Nature I Loved (Bill Geagan) Bill Geagan spent a year living by himself in a small rundown cabin on backwoods Maine. To this day, I dream of such a place and such an opportunity. This book strongly influenced my love of the outdoors and wild places where most people never go.
  8. Structures of Scientific Revolutions (Thomas S. Kuhn) Science is another branch of philosophy, not the final arbiter of ultimate truth. This book helped to be understand how our understanding of truth and reality develops and is shaped by our underlying paradigms.
  9. Appalachian Odyssey (Steve Sherman & Julia Older) I read this book many times as a teenager. The tale of Sherman and Olders 2000 mile trek of the Appalachian Trail was very influential on my dreams of thru-hiking the AT.
  10. Angels in the Architecture (Douglas Wilson & Douglas Jones) Our medieval forbears get a bad rap. All they were trying to do was to live out the Kingdom of God on earth. Did they fail? Surely. But in making the attempt, they lived much closer to the kingdom in many ways than we arrogant moderns do today. Wilson and Jones unfold a powerful vision of value and power of returning to the medieval spirit and worldview.
  11. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (Douglas Wilson) This book was very influential in our decision to home school our girls. It sets forth a model for classical pedagogy that stimulated us to attempt to take on a job that has too often been left to the professionals.
  12. The Unsettling of America (Wendell Barry) Just the tip of the iceberg in my Wendell Barry collection. This book started me thinking about the powerful connections between humans, the natural world, agriculture and environment. I’m not always sure what to do with the things Barry writes. I am almost always moved and challenged by his work. He writes as one with a powerful sense of both place and history that resonates deep within me.
  13. The Ancient Future Faith (Robert Webber) Again, the first of several books by Webber that could be on this list. Challenged me to remember that 20th Century Evanagelicalism has a tendency to want to float rootlessly along, as if no one came before us. Yet, our faith is ancient, and we ignore those roots to our peril. This is especially important in a day when our culture chatter is becoming much more polyphonous – like the time of the ancients. How did our early church fathers deal with competing pagan voices? We must learn from them and draw deeply from the wells the strove so hard to dig.
  14. Reaching out without Dumbing Down (Marva Dawn) One of the first of several penetrating critiques of modern evangelical worship theology and practice. The problem is that most evangelical churches have no intentional theology of worship. Instead, they try to model their worship on current entertainment and marketing trends. But is it biblical? Is it Godly? This book really helped me to frame the questions and categories to change the way I worship and lead others in the worship of the One True and Living God.
  15. Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail (Robert Webber) Can an evangelical go Anglican? I’m tempted myself, although I’m sure I’m not sure what I’d be getting into. God has not thus far led me there, but I have been shaped by Webber’s account of his journey.
  16. Men and Marriage (George Guilder) This controversial book lays it out. Women need men to build their homes and cities and civilization where they can raise their children. Men need women to motivate them to curb and channel their energies into useful pursuits that build and create rather than destroy. Makes common sense to me, but many “modern” thinkers find it to be a highly offensive hypothesis.
  17. Perelandra (CS Lewis) What would have happened if Eve had chosen differently. Lewis once again takes our deepest myths and transforms them through new stories so that we can examine them from different angles. The whole “Space Trilogy” series has actually deeply influenced my cosmology and understanding of how God works in the world.
  18. That Hideous Strength (CS Lewis) Lewis’s fictional treatise on the ultimate end of modernism. I was especially influenced by certain scenes involving Merlin, whose pure and unadulterated ancient/medievalness makes me think of how wan, weak and emasculated are modern males.
  19. An Offering of Uncles (Robert Farrar Capon) This is a very recent read, but I put it on this list because I can already feel it reshaping my thinking. Capons discussion of knowing the shape of the world through Place and History, and our roles as priests of this creation is providing a newer deeper framework for my engagement with creation.
  20. The Appalachian Trail (Ronald M. Fisher) This is the first book I ever read about the AT. I remember seeing it and feeling this little explosion in the back of my head when I realized that their was such a thing as the AT for the first time. I knew very little about it, but I knew that I wanted to hike it.
  21. Dune (Frank Herbert) All the Dune books have been very influential. Explorations of the nature of religion, culture, politics and power. Rollicking reading, full of thought provoking dialogue and discussion. More philosophically modern, and less influenced by Christian thought than Tolkien or Lewis for sure, but powerful influences on my nonetheless.
  22. The Vampire Chronicles (Anne Rice) The entire library of vampire books by Rice took me by surprise. Her skill as a storyteller is enormous and makes worthwhile reading for that alone. As with any great literature, there are many lessons about life and the world included for free. You also find Rice wrestling with many religious questions throughout the series. Come to find out, the process of writing these books was strongly influential on her return to Jesus through her Roman Catholic roots. Proof again that if God wants you, He will have you.
  23. All the Pretty Horses (Cormac McCarthy) Like Dandelion wine, this book powerfully affected me simply with the language. To read McCarthy is to be fully present in the moments of his story with all your senses.
  24. Legends of the Fall (Jim Harrison) I am a fan of the epic and the heroic. Jim Harrison is a writer of the epic and heroic couched in stories of places we know now, or times not long past. This is a tragic novella, made into a movie. I saw the movie first, then sought out the novella. The themes still haunt me.
  25. Rich Dad Poor Dad (Robert Kiyosaki) RDPD changed the way I view money. I’m still working on bringing that change of meaning into reality in my life. Nevertheless, everything starts with a change of thinking.
  26. The E-Myth (Michael Gerber) E-myth influenced how I understand the structures of organizations and the differences between technicians, managers and entrepreneurs. A valuable work for anyone who wants to own or operate a business.
  27. The Greatest Salesman in the World (Og Mandino) Along with The Power of Positive Thinking, this was one of my first introductions to American Success Literature of the 20th Century. It was introduced to me while I worked summers in college selling books door-to-door to earn money for school. That experience, and this book, literally changed the entire trajectory of my life.
  28. Body for Life (Bill Philips) - Picked up this book after completing the 2000 Green Bay Marathon, looking at myself and realizing that although I ran the race, I was still lacking in overall fitness, muscle tone, and strength. The program in this book introduced me to weight training. In 12 weeks I lost 10 lbs of fat, put on 13 lbs of muscle and dramatically redistributed everything into a much stronger healthy package. Since then I have always included a strength resistance component in all my physical conditioning activity. It has served me well.
  29. The Russian Kettlebell Challenge (Pavel Tsatsouline) Pavel introduced me to kettlebells, the old time russian instrument of torture and conditioning. A kettlebell is an iron ball with an intergrated iron handle. The offset center of gravity, and the use of full-body ballistic movement make kettlebell training very challenging and extremely effective. This book helped me to leave behind the pretty-boy body building emphasis of Body For Life and pursue a more gritty old-time approach to strength training.

  30. Combat Conditioning (Matt Furey) Furey introduced me to the power of body-weight exercises for strength and conditioning. We used to call them calisthenics. Now I don't need no stinking gym. I am my gym, wherever I go. There is good reason why gymnasts and wrestlers are among the strongest and best conditioned athletes around. And most of the training they do involves simply using their own bodyweight. I love the freedom of not paying for, or having to go someplace special to train. More people should eschew the marketing, and just start moving.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Useful Advice - Tip #78

If while mowing the lawn you find yourself approaching a nerf-foam soccer ball, and you are tempted to save time by simply continuing forward, allowing the lawn mower to push the ball aside, so that it rolls away, you may want to reconsider.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Beer and Shrapnel

My office is in the basement. Just outside the door is a set of industrial shelving that serves as our pantry. This afternoon, as I was finishing up my work, I was startled by the sound of an small explosion with wet spattering fizzing sounds and tinkling glass. It seems that a beer bottle exploded, spewing and yeastie goodness several feet. We had stored a bit of Old Brown Dog and Shoals Pale Ale from Old Smuttynose brewery, some Old Thumper from Ringwood Brewery, and Shipyard IPA. I believe it was the Shipyard that blew. I just realized how much brewers like to put the word "Old" in the names of their beers. What's that about?

The Bride narrowly missed getting a faceful, as she had been kneeling in front of that shelf seconds before. Small graces in short moments.

Our musty basement now smells rather brewery-like. I think it's an improvement. Time will tell. Even so, it's a sad waste of good beer.

As my Bride and I cleaned it up, we remarked upon how nice it was to spend a few minutes together, even it if was to clean up wasted beer. At this stage, I think we will just take our moments where we can find them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Original Dragon

Speaking with a friend today about dragons and our proper response. Our conversation moved around to the original dragon, that one that spoke so smoothly to our Mother Eve in the Garden. It is a testament to the charm and beauty of the dragon that he was allowed to live. If he had not been so beautiful, and so attractive, and so seductive, would not Adam have seen him for what he was, grabbed a stick and beat the living crap out of him?

Why didn't he? Did he even notice that Eve was talking to a worm? Why did he not notice? And if he did, why did he not act? I'm afraid I'm not much different. I don't notice lots of things. And when I do notice them, if they are seductive, and feel good, I do nothing about them. I am indeed Adam's son. This is how we all got screwed up in the first place. Dragonslayers are not allowed to fall in love with their mortal enemies. But we want to.

So who has the bigger part of me? The first Adam, who didn't know a dragon if it bit him? Or the Second Adam, who kills all dragons without mercy, and restores both the garden and the city back to the full weight of their glory?

Higher Level

I found this item in a Reader's Digest at an auto shop while waiting to have my car inspected. I tore the page out surreptitiously and stuffed it in my pocket for the sole purpose of smuggling it here so I could share it with you, dear reader. I suspect this may sum up most of the problems plaguing the world right now.

We have not succeeded in solving all your problems. The solutions we have found only serve to raise a whole new set of problems. We are as confused as ever, but we believe we are confused on a higher level and about more important things.

Oh man. I think I'm going to commit this to memory.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Playing with Rocks

I spent the majority of this weekend past playing with rocks.

It has been my intention for some time now to build stone wall in front of my house. I happen to have a deep and abiding infatuation with stone walls. Not the kind that are all fancy pants, with the stones all cut and dressed to the nines so that each fits perfectly. Those are all well and good in their own way. The kind of stone wall that appeals to me is the type made of New England field stone, natural and uncut, piled without the use of mortar, held together only by gravity and friction. This is the kind of stone wall you are likely to run into in the middle of the woods around here. Those who lack historical perspective will tend to wonder why someone would take all that trouble to build a wall out here in the middle of the forest. What they fail to comprehend, in the chronological myopia, is that this was not always forest. In fact, until about 100 years ago, most of NH was open fields. When all the New Hampshire dairymen moved to Wisconsin, where the fields actually have more dirt than rocks, the field began to grow over in trees. The stone wall that had formed the boundaries of those fields remained.

I own about three quarters of an acre on a corner lot. It has in front of it a rather sad and dilapidated post and rail fence. I have already torn out about half of it. I would like to replace the entire thing with a low wall composed of stones. A true farmer’s wall, as you might now see along most back roads in NH is simply one row of stones pile atop another, the larger stones forming the foundation and smaller stones on top. It is a strictly utilitarian thing, not requiring thought or planning. It mostly provides a place to dump rocks pulled out of the field, and putting them to good use to separate the fields. Frugality in granite.

The wall I intend to create will involve a bit more thought and effort. I propose to construct a double foundation wall, involving two rows of stones running in parallel courses, leaning in toward each other. This creates a more stable structure over the long term, much more likely to survive the thrusting and dipping created by the freeze thaw cycles so delightfully characteristic of our northern climate.

Last Father’s Day, my lovely bride presented me with a gift of an enrollment in a two day course in building of traditional dry-laid stone walls. The course is offered through the Canterbury Shaker Village, and is taught by master stone mason Kevin Fife of Twin Elms Landscape in Northfield NH. Kevin is internationally recognized for his work – both restoration of historic stone walls and new construction. I will say that he is also a fine teacher. The design of the workshop is not complicated. It was simply a bunch of guys building a wall with the aid and instruction of someone who really knows what he is doing. Kevin was alway ready with a quick word, a quiet suggestion, a simple correction and more often than not a solution to a problem. It is the kind of skill that one must really learn by doing. And that's exactly what we did.

I arrived Saturday morning, along with 9 other men of varying ages and shapes. We spent the first hour or so viewing slides and discussing the basic principles of dry-laid stone walls. Then about 10:30 we got out and walked around the village to examine actual walls and see the principles in action, as well as reviewing tools used to move and shape stones. A bit past 11:00 we reached our project area. A section of a long stone wall fronting Shaker Village Road had been torn apart by Kevin and his trusty Bobcat loader. The wall was well over 100 years old and had spread, shifted and collapsed inward with time. It needed rebuilding and we were just the crew to do it. This particular section was chosen because it was the worst. I estimate that our span was perhaps 40 feet. The entire wall was easily over 1000 feet long in total. A long portion of it down the hill (about 350 feet) had been rebuilt by Kevin almost 10 years ago over a span of 6 weeks.

The day was nasty hot. It was not good weather for carrying large rock. No matter, we gamely laid into the work. It did not take long for us to learn to pace ourselves. Our efforts were greatly aided by Kevin’s Bobcat excavator. It has a handy little thumb attachment to the bucket that enabled him to lift rocks and place them where he wanted them. Half the fun was watching Kevin gently lift these 150 lb chunks and place them with delicate surgical precision. It sure beat using ropes, ramps, block and tackle and sheer muscle. We could have done it, but the Bobcat just made everything quicker. If you are at all inclined to give me grief that we used a machine to do this work, don't bother. I will simply consider you rude and untutored.

It was so hot that several time I looked down at the stones I was working on and noticed that they were spattered with rain drops. I was about to look up, then I realized that those were not rain drops. They were coming from me. Yeah. I have exceptionally powerful sweat glands.We made a good start the first day, but we were cut off by thunder and lightning approaching from the Northwest about 3:00.

We reconvened on a rainy Sunday. The weather was much cooler. There was just enough rain to keep down the dust. It was excellent stone tossing weather. We set to with a will and we had most of the wall done by 3:00. We were still a little short, so we made a run across the fields and orchards to an old stone dump (where they apparently dumped stones picked from the gardens) and loaded up about a ton of smaller stones to finish off the top layer of wall. Within about a half hour after dumping the load, we had laid them all in and pronounced it done. You can see the results for yourself.

I found laying stones to be very meditative. This surprised me a bit. In a carefully built wall the stones are not dropped, but are placed purposefully. Each stone must find the right place, in proper relation to all the other stones. A stone that may not seem to fit may often work if you turn it, turn it again, flip it and turn it again until you find the right angle. At times you may pull out a stone you already laid in order to put in another two that fit better. You note a space or a gap, and you wander through the stone pile until you see a stone that just seems like it might work. You take back and try it and it does. Or it doesn’t. No matter. A few minutes later, you end up finding the perfect spot for it, almost as if it were meant to be. This process involves a sort of quiet concentration that I found very pleasant and restful, even though it involved a fair amount of labor.

And looking at the finished wall….well, it’s beautiful. It may not be the most artful example of it’s kind. It certainly could have used more careful fitting and chinking in places. It was built by amateurs, but I think it’s lovely. I believe I shall go back soon and spend an hour or two just looking it at.

Monday, September 3, 2007

God Knows

Snippet from a recent conversation. The subject is the completion of the mounting of a ceiling fan/light in the bathroom that has been half finished for 6 months due to the need for some extra drywall work.

I'm going to wait to paint it later. Painting is easy.

Right. It's easy for you because you will never do it.

But if we get sidetracked on painting it and waiting for the paint to dry right now, God knows when I'll actually get the thing mounted and up. It needs to get put up.

OK. You're right. But I don't even think God knows when.

No. God knows. He just ain't tellin' us.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Thoughts on my Business

I have been away most of the last long weekend at a professional conference for my business. I work as a professional speaker and trainer in the the field of personal development. The conference is conducted semi-yearly by the company with which I am affiliated for the purpose of helping salespeople, speakers and instructors to grow our businesses.

Yeah, ok whatever...I can hear your attention wandering. So, a few tidbits gleaned from this weekend. Some of these may require more development, but take them as they are here and do what you will with them.

Verbal Economics - using more words does not increase the value of a speech. Instead it reduces the value of each word you use to such an extent that the entire speech can become worth less than the time spent listening to it.

There is a great deal of power in asking the right questions.

Meditation is the process of merely observing and interrogating your thoughts.

When seeking excellence, comfort is not the objective.

Take out the trash.

Ultimately, what I am experiencing right now is the sum of my thoughts and choices up to this point. I am here because I have brought myself here. I am responsible for what I am, where I am, and how I am experiencing it.