One Tree on a Hill

One tree on the hill standing strong, standing tall
Through summer and winter, spring and fall —
This aged tree has stood the test for the best —
And what has she seen through fat years and lean?
So many foibles of humanity born of pure insanity,
But also beauty, bravery and much love from above,
For battles have been fought, victories blood bought,
And in peace lovers have promised passion, as well,
Neath her mighty branches, sounding wedding bells,
And so this majestic tree has seen heaven and hell;
Now what would she tell us if she could but speak?
This tree on the hill standing strong, standing tall?

There Was This Boy So Regal

There was a boy of ancient lore, who walked so regally through every door;
He was ruddy and strong, wise and as stately as an eventide song sung long;
He grew in stature and knowledge, and naturally knew what to do each day,
As he perfectly balanced work and play, and would say only what was right
In sight of everyone under the sun, because even in the dark he lived in light
So bright that many thought he’d been forged as a knight by heaven’s might;
And so it was that on a battlefield fierce he dared to pierce the enemy lines
With but sling and sleek stone by which he alone slew the one giant of fear,
Who stood so near on dreary day, while his people watched with admiration
And sensation as the great, husky foe fell to the ground with terrible sound;
Then did the army gain courage against pain of war and tore into the field,
Led by this brave boy whom history knows simply as David, born to be king

In Elder Days

In the elder days
They abandoned better ways
And entered hell’s maze

No one entered in
To ask forgiveness for sin
To again begin

All good forsaking
Memories were left standing
And children weeping

In our own blind way
Do we do better today?
And what do we say?


Note: This poem is comprised of four haikus running along one theme . . . Hope you enjoy. Blessings to one and all!

Pages of Time: The Unseen Hand

An unseen hand turns the pages of time
And ages fly by but the sky still remains,
And does the range of humanity change?
Time, it seems, has been a poor teacher,
And history, too, an ill-sought preacher;
Thus the same lessons are taught
And oh-so very quickly forgotten
By unruly pupils who never do graduate
But so contemptuously self-congratulate
For achievements that grow cold
As their age grows old with time
As that unseen hand turns another page,
And for all our rage, we pass as shadows
Into the frightful blight of historic night,
But the sky still remains and gives rain
To wash away the stain of our humanity
. . .
An unseen hand turns the pages of time,
Page after page, age upon age upon age

Happy Indigenous Heritage Day

As we rightly remember blessings bestowed
We cannot help but remember what is owed;
Land we now enjoy once belonged to bands
Of people here long before our Euro-throng;

So . . .
I Give
THANKS
But Not For
CROOKS & BANKS

I Am
GRATEFUL
But Not For
The CRUEL & HATEFUL

I Have
GRATITUDE
But Nor For
ATTITUDES & EMPTY PLATITUDES

Yes, we are rightly thankful for the seeds
That we plant ‘n grow to meet our needs,
But we should count the beads of history
And recall the grand mystery we erased,
Leaving only shadowy lines to be traced

Happy Thanksgiving, perhaps, but also . . .
“Happy Indigenous Heritage Day,” I say!



Note: For a succinct chronology of the protests against DAPL (the Dakota Access Pipeline) you may want to read the following article:

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/09/dakota-access-pipeline-protest-timeline-sioux-standing-rock-jill-stein

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Yesteryear

Yesteryear is somewhere I hold not dear,
And shed not one tear that I can only peer
Into my past – to cast but a quick glance –
And it does not last . . .
Oh, yes, there’re fond memories, I’m sure
But they do not serve to cure my dejection
And so my rejection of too much reflection
Comes with ease with ne’er ghostly figure
To tease, and no shade to rise up to please,
Nothing to freeze my soul in bygone years;
And tell me, what could be more charming,
If not alarming, for an avid pupil of history?
Ah! an invigorating story I love, so savory!
But really there’s not one bone of interest
To pick from my own,
Sown in the mundane . . .
So yesteryear is not dear but rather drear;
But, then, I hear it is medicine for the soul
To reflect, to recollect, and so it might be,
So, you see, I do reminisce in quietness;
No, I do not hate the past, so I meditate,
Yet this does not last very long;
After all, I belong here and now . . .
Yesteryear may be as near as one thought,
But reliving those days cannot be bought
With the world’s gold, not even one’s soul,
And why try? To want to live in yesteryear
Comes from fear of bowing here and now,
Turning ‘golden days’ into towers of power
Under which one cowers . . .
And this came to mind as I was pondering
Yesteryear

From the Vaults of the Past, Live Today

Flowered wreaths are laid on graves and flags are waved,
Precious photos are saved and placed in handsome albums,
As should be for you and me and all who are near and dear;
Old movies are played, prayers prayed, as memories fade,
And old books are read while nostalgic looks are shared
From the bed of the past to make something glorious last
For as long as possible… Ah! But is it not quite impossible
To resurrect what has gone, and do we not really suspect
That it is the present with which we dissent and the future
We rather resent as we recall only the pleasant of the past,
Of days gone by, focusing on the highs, ignoring the lows
Else they blow away our feelings in kneeling at the altar
Of history and the stories we have conjured in our minds
That bind our hearts to an idealism that ne’er existed?
Oh yes, to honor the dead is a golden banner of humanity,
As this helps us keep our sanity and guard against vanity;
But there is the danger that in fear and anger we simply
Desire to live and expire in the past rather than live
And fight now for what will last!
Yes, always remember the past…
No, do not dismember the present

Ruff Relishes Rough Police Work

Bernie Ruff was Splinterbit born and bred, and proud of it, too, which is the main reason he had lived here most of his life and worked for the Splinterbit Police Department. Oh, Bernie had served his time in the Army, four years in all, though without actually seeing any action. Nevertheless, he had gotten a lot of good training and did see a lot of the world in the process, places like Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Germany, France, England and even Greenland, which he didn’t particularly care for because of the climatic extremities there.

Anyway, after four years of services, and at the ripe-young age of 22, Bernie returned to Splinterbit, earned an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice and immediately went to work for the Splinterbit Police Department. He was like a caged tiger just waiting to be released, but he was also a bit like Barney Fife and Splinterbit was just a bit like Mayberry … not that anyone treated Bernie like Barney; they knew better. Bernard Ruff spent his last two years in service with the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group, so … he was not someone to be trifled with, with the exception of his wife, Spikey, whom he married a little less than one year on the force.

Hell, Spivey was on the force, too; that’s where he met and fell in love with her. She was the dispatcher, but of course being married meant they couldn’t both stay on with the same law enforcement agency. Thankfully, the Verdure County Sheriff’s Department was somewhat unique in that it had its main office in Grand Oak, but also maintained two mini-offices in other parts of the county: one just outside the Splinterbit town limits, fairly close to the college, and the other in Green Twig. Grand Oak covered about half the county, Splinterbit about 30% and Green Twig the remaining 20%. Splinterbit just happened to have an opening for dispatcher, so Spivey took it … with a decent raise, too!

Well, being married calmed Bernie down somewhat, but only a little; after all, Spivey was a bit of a wildcat, too, which is why he loved her so much (and why she loved him!). Anyway, she came to the ole boy with credentials of her own. Spivey had been the maverick of her Girl Scout troop, always rough and ready for adventure, but she saw it through to the end, and even graduated high school with honors. She went on to earn her own Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice and certification as a paralegal … “just for the hell of it,” she said. Anyway, while doing all that – girl scouting, middle and high school, college – she also earned her black belt in t’ai chi ch’uan, and certification as a Range Safety Officer through the National Association of Firearms and Firearms Safety (NAFFS).

You might say life for the newly married couple started out with a real bang, and in a sense it really did. They enjoyed spending time at the firing range, camping, hunting, trapping and fishing. Bernie and Spivey were made for each other, and nobody doubted that for a minute. Moreover, they could read each other like an open book; it spooked most folks at first, but eventually family and friends got used to it. And what was there to read, anyway? Not that they were at all shallow; they were just who and what they were, no hiding anything really. They didn’t have anything to hide, because they were just those kind of folks, much like most residents of Splinterbit, really. However, there was a downside to that, too, because Splinterbit really was a bit like Mayberry, while Bernie and Spivey craved some action.

It wasn’t too terribly long, though, before drugs started rolling in more and more. Oh, the stuff had been around for decades, but Verdure County became a throughway for trade and, as officials soon discovered, Splinterbit became a convenient drop-off/pick-up point. This is when things really got interesting. All in all, Ruff, by this time a lieutenant, took three bullets in bust-ups, one landing him in the hospital for nearly a week. It earned him some medals, too … “trinkets” as he called them. Also, ultimately, his consistency, level-headedness, courage and brains got him promoted to captain. None too few thought he should have been made chief, but politics got in the way, and so Ruff had to be satisfied with second-in-command. Besides, there was an awful lot he could, and did, do from that position that might have been problematic had he been chief.

Funny changes started taking place during this period, too, almost like a throwback to the sixties and early-seventies, and in some ways to an even earlier time. Men and women, boys and girls, of every age, ethnicity and income-level it seemed became embroiled in overly intense arguments about politics, social issues, and religion. Sometimes these disagreements devolved into fisticuffs right out in broad daylight. One particular incident stood out in Ruff’s memory and specifically one encounter during that incident. The time was approximately 2 p.m. on an otherwise peaceful Wednesday when reports of multiple brawls in the city park came in; Ruff and plenty of officers were immediately dispatched with back-up help being called in from the Sheriff’s Department. When Captain Ruff arrived, he witnessed more that “multiple brawls;” it would have been more aptly described as gang warfare, except those involved were regular residents of Splinterbit!

Ruff thought momentarily that they either must all be legitimately sick or, perhaps worse, possessed. He cleared his mind quickly, though, rounded his officers to strategic positions at the parameter of the park, and then began moving in to divide and conquer, so to speak … or, maybe, to divide and subside, which was naturally their main objective. About half way in, Ruff took a really good one right across the jaw from a rather tall and stout young man, with closely cropped hair, who was wearing glasses, sullied white shirt, half-ripped tie and black slacks. Lo and behold, it was none other than Fen Sloughheart, son of the Reverend Bog Sloughheart, pastor of the Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church! A preacher’s son had just slugged him, and that made him mad as hell, so he did something he shouldn’t have done. Ruff swung back good and hard, knocking Fen to the ground and, in fact, knocking him out cold. It took a few phone calls, administrative acrobatics, apologies, and favors to get his ass out of that boiling pot … but Ruff never regretted it one minute. Better still, Spivey was proud of him and gave Ruff her own special reward that very night … better than any of the damn trinkets handed out by City Hall!

Nothing happened to Fen Sloughheart for his involvement in the melee, which seemed to center around several issues including homosexuality, abortion and the right to life, the place of Christianity in the community and nation at large, as well as sharply divergent views on fundamentalism. In total, approximately 45 people were involved; shocking for the small town of Splinterbit, but unfortunately it would not be the last.

That number was never quite reached again, but fights broke out, nevertheless, until an agreement of sorts was reached by City Hall, the Verdure County Ministerial Association, the Verdure County Consortium of Fundamentalist Churches (which died off a few years later), and various respected community leaders. Meeting together in City Hall, all parties managed to agree to the complete neutrality of the city park and other areas of public gatherings. They tentatively agreed to keep all conversations about serious subjects to a minimum and at a low-key volume when in public gathering places. In addition, churches and groups that vehemently disagreed with each other agreed to stay off the other’s property or properties, and otherwise not to in any manner infringe upon those properties. Finally, where issues were concerned, local media outlets agreed to strive to give equal time and coverage to all viewpoints involved whatever the issue. Interestingly enough, this is how Fen Sloughheart managed to remain in the newspapers, local radio and television.

More surprisingly, perhaps, was that this agreement – simple, straightforward and some said naively idealistic – was the concoction of Captain Ruff … and it worked! Therefore, after several years of dedicated service, and having brought peace to the community, Bernard Ruff was highly respected and considered something of a hero. Not that status concerned him so much, but the incident in the park and what followed put him on an investigative track that only ended with the demise and death of Fen Sloughheart, his assailant … maybe. Ruff was older now and physically slower, but he was still sharp as a tack and loved the rough work of law enforcement. It still excited him just like it still excited Spivey. Best of all, though, they still excited each other and still had it in them to be ferocious felines when they wanted to be!

*

‘A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President’

Garfield

First of all,  I must say unequivocally that Candice Millard is one of the best historical writers I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  Never did it occur to me that the rise of James Garfield to the Presidency of the United States and, more importantly, his assassination could be so intriguing and compelling.

As Millard weaves together the life stories of several unique and significant individuals brought together by an insane man’s bullet, however, the reader learns that the shooting and subsequent death of Garfield was truly “some of the most dramatic days in U. S. presidential history.” Point in fact, this was one of the most pivotal episodes in the life of America.

James A. Garfield was an extraordinary man in his own right, having risen from poverty in his beloved Ohio to Civil War hero and general, to well-educated congressman and eventually the surprise Republican presidential nominee in 1880, despite his own bitter protests.  He was truly a man of the people, someone with whom average folks could readily identify.

By all accounts, though certainly not perfect, Garfield was an individual of upstanding character and integrity, full of conviction but always congenial and gracious, even with those who opposed him and his ideas.  He loved his wife, children and friends;  he loved people and his country; he loved life and he was strong and vigorous in mind, body and soul.

Not so his assassin, Charles Guiteau, who was in all likelihood deranged from early in his tortured, psychotic life.  At one time, this pathetic man lived in a commune; at another he married and then divorced.  He tried his hand in ministry, or evangelism, and attempted the practice of law as well.  He even “wrote” a book, stolen from another author, but in everything he attempted,  he failed … except in shooting the 20th  President of the United States.

Millard beautifully contrasts the two characters of Garfield and Guiteau, portraying them as practically polar opposites, but there were other compelling people involved in this horrendous episode that literally gripped the nation for months.  Dr. Joseph Lister, for example, had recently discovered “antisepsis – preventing infection by destroying germs.”

The British surgeon tried but could not convince American physicians of the practical importance of his theory, though, which contributed in no small part to what was likely an unnecessary death.  Only after Garfield eventually succumbed to his wounds and the poisonous infection that riddled his body did the medical community finally realize the fundamental importance of antisepsis.

Alexander Graham Bell, who had just recently invented the telephone, played a critical role as he endeavored to find the bullet still lodged somewhere inside Garfield using an “induction balance.” Two attempts were made and both failed;  however, later tests were “an unqualified success,” and notably…

the induction balance would lessen the suffering and save the lives not just of Americans but of soldiers in the Sino-Japanese War and the Boer War. Even during World War I, doctors would often turn to the induction balance when they could not find an x-ray machine or did not trust its accuracy.  (298)

Even in its early and more unrefined state, the induction machine might very well have worked had Bell been allowed to search both sides of Garfield’s back. He was not, however, due quite simply to the arrogance of one Dr. Bliss, who had taken charge of the president’s care from the first day and was thoroughly convinced he knew the general location of the bullet.

Consequently, he would not allow himself to be proven wrong anymore than he would accept the ludicrous notion of Lister and his infectious germs.  And so, as Garfield struggled from day to day and week to week in excruciating pain – and dying an agonizingly slow death – Bliss was “blissfully” ignorant and arrogant, reassuring an entire nation almost to the last day that he had everything in hand and all would be well.

Millard opens up to the reader a nation still reeling from the effects of devastating war, a government hampered by corruption, peoples divided and still downtrodden … a world of fear and death as well as the hopeful promises of ever-advancing science and glories of human achievement, where lives are turned upside down and inside out and men are forever changed.

The whole narrative reads like an action-drama thriller right to the very end, and yet Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President could easily be used (one would think) very profitably in any high school or college history class. From my own experience, in fact,  I have no hesitation recommending it over typical text books.  But, then,  I would (and do) recommend it to readers in general – not just history buffs.  It is well-worth the purchase and time spent; you are sure to both enjoy and learn.