Regret, like resistance to the Borg, is futile. In all ways but one.

Fall                                                                                Falling Leaves Moon

Not sure why, but today I told Greg, my Latin tutor, why I was doing this. Or, maybe I’ve told him before and don’t remember, but I don’t think so. (Of course, by definition, how would I know?)

The story begins with my traipsing off to college, already doubting my Christian faith for a number of reasons, not the least of which was what I perceived as a holding back by my native Methodism of (to me at that point) elegant proofs for the existence of God. I got them from the local Catholic priest. I didn’t know that he re-iterating Aquinas.

It was not far into my first history of philosophy class that we dismantled each one, piece by piece. Oh. My.

Philosophy set my mind on fire week after week. I signed up for Logic in the second semester and the second history of philosophy segment. Even though I left Wabash I had already earned half a philosophy major’s worth of credits in my freshman year.

All this excitement led me quickly to the conclusion that I wanted to be able to read German, so I could pursue Kant, Hegel and Heidegger in their native language. So, I signed up for German, too. From my point of view it was a disaster. I struggled in every aspect of it and was faced with getting a D at the end of the second semester. That was not going to happen, so I dropped it.

A youthful decision, one I regret. It took me 45 years to get back to a language; but, I decided I wanted to challenge myself, see if my conclusion, defensively drawn in 1966, that I could not learn a language, was in fact true. It was not true.

Now I have a deeper regret, that I didn’t pursue German further and that I didn’t do Latin and Greek while in college, too. The classics and art history seem to be my natural intellectual terrain, but I never took a course in either one. Regrets are pointless, of course, the retrospective both wallowing in a past now gone and not retrievable, but I believe there is one good thing about them.

They can be a goad to action now, or future action. That is, we don’t have to repeat the actions we regret. We can change our life’s trajectory. So, I intend to spend the third phase of my life, as long as body and mind hold together, pursuing the classics and art history, doing as much writing about both as I can.



Fall                                                                            Falling Leaves Moon

Been moving at a reduced pace the last four days. Latin each day, getting further into Caesar’s Gallic Wars. Today he set out on a characteristic fast march from Rome to protect “our province”, a part of which is now Provence, from marauding Helvetians. Whom he’d set up with a betrayal by a wealthy leader of their people, Orgetorix. This is the war when Caesar, in the ever expanding effort of Rome to secure its borders, bleeds himself into world history. He speaks of himself in the third person.

Beyond the Latin, not so much else. Picked a few raspberries. Electrified the visible fence. (Kate says I should call it the invisible fence, except I didn’t bury it, I strung it on an existing fence line.)

Finished up the Southern Reach trilogy. Not sure how I felt about it. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it might have been good. In essence it presents an alien invasion that is so alien we can’t even be sure we’ve been invaded. Its central idea, that an alien might come to earth in a way so outside our experience that we would have difficulty recognizing it, seems valid to me. Anyhow. Check it out or not.

Watching the news, picking up positive threads about the environment. Bill McKibben’s 350 organization’s 400,000 person march in NYC was good news. Increasing public disapproval of the Polymet mine project is another. Coal seems to have been knocked back on its heels, at least here in Minnesota and by Obama’s actions, in the rest of the country. Little El Hierro has gone 100% renewable as did the Danish island of Samsø. Even the President’s decision to reach out to a smaller club of wealthy countries for action on carbon emissions is a positive sign, maybe the most positive of all these.

Still, as a Sierra Club staffer said when I gave her the same list, “Yeah, but doesn’t it make you nervous?” She’s right. Gaining ground would be so unfamiliar to us that we might make mistakes. But we have to take the risk that our message might finally be gaining in both public and political circles.

Feeling like I might get back to the packing side tomorrow. Clean up some clutter left behind after the SortTossPack push. Vet yet more files. Pack photographs, office supplies. There’s still more to go.


Moving on

Lughnasa                                                                           College Moon

It’s been another full tilt day. Business meeting in the morning, then shed cleaning. We worked, ate lunch, napped, and worked some more. Geez. I told Kate after this experience that I believe we should do the same in our new place. Every 20 years just like here.

We’re over half done with packing and decluttering, the momentum seems to be shifting now.  More like we’re moving toward Colorado than away from Minnesota.

In my Latin yesterday with Greg we decided I would keep on with every two week sessions, reading Caesar and Ovid and whoever else, I think Vergil’s Georgics, too. Apparently at my particular place in the learning curve reading and more reading, grappling with each nuance is the way forward. After the amount of time I’ve invested so far, I’ve decided to go all the way. I want to become a fluent reader of Latin. That’s a ways away, but no longer imaginary.

It’s odd, I realized, but every two weeks for one hour is 26 contact hours in a year. A language class for a 12 week quarter would meet at least 3 times, usually 5 with a lab, which is either 36 or 60 hours a quarter. We’re not even doing a full 26 because we have sessions that we miss or extend for three weeks. That means I’m advancing ok given the number of contact hours of teaching.

Plus, while it’s certainly luxurious to have a personal teacher, a tutor, there is additional learning from being with a group doing the same exercises-a class. All this is self-talk, really, about taking 4 years plus to get to this level. Seems like a long time to me. But maybe not.




De Bello Gallico

Lughnasa                                                                           College Moon

I asked Greg (Latin tutor) for something new, a different arrangement. He wrote back and suggested I start reading Caesar’s De Bello Gallico. That’s not quite what I had in mind, but I decided I’d try it before our time together next Friday. I’ve already translated 20 lines. It goes quicker than Ovid, prose rather than poetry explaining part of that I imagine. Translating made me feel like I’d made real progress. Probably Greg’s point in recommending it.

The commentary I’m using for Caesar suggests reading in the Latin word order first. That’s very hard with poetry because Latin poets move words around based on rhyme scheme and meter, as well as for dramatic effect. With Caesar however it gave me, for the first time, a feel for Latin as a foreign language rather than a puzzle created by unfamiliar words. Reading in the Latin word order means thinking the way a Latin writer and reader would.

There is a subtle irony involved in reading Caesar for me, two in fact. The first is that Caesar was the first real Latin text I ever began to read, way back in Miss Mitchell’s class in high school. (Yes, speaking of ancient times, that was 1964 and 1965.) The second and more profound one for me is that it is through Caesar and through De Bello Gallico, Of the Gallic Wars, that we have a great deal of our knowledge of the ancient Celts. Gaul = Celt. And, it was Caesar who invaded Briton. Between Caesar and Tacitus, a Roman historian, we have the bulk of the written accounts about the Celts, how they lived, fought, worshiped.

I’m going to keep translating both Ovid and Caesar, though I’ll finish Caesar long before I finish the Metamorphoses.


Aesthetic Comfort Food

Lughnasa                                                                     College Moon

Again, the quiet. I haven’t put a full push on with the Latin before today, but I could see the end of the Apollo and Daphne story and wanted to get there. So, I’m mentally fatigued, ready for some deep sleep, maybe some interesting chunks of rem.

Book illustrations, especially 19th century illustrations, give me a warm feeling. If they’re good. Sort of aesthetic comfort food. Not great in large doses, but every once in a while, just what’s needed.



Lughnasa                                                               College Moon

Finished up the story of Daphne and Apollo. As Daphne changed into a laurel, Apollo grabbed onto her branches and threw his arms around her trunk, feeling her agitated heart still beating there. He declares his love to the tree (Classical humor) and then proclaims the laurel dedicated to him. It will henceforth adorn great achievements including triumphs in Rome and stand before the door to the house of the great Augustus.

(Apollo Daphne Appiani)

On Friday I’m going to renegotiate my relationship with Greg. Not sure what comes next but what we’re doing has become repetitive. I would like now to have a task, an assignment, a sort of final paper, something I could work on over a given period of time and then show to him. Don’t really know what I’m talking about here, but I feel ready to move to a different level or a different set of tasks. Something.

More on this later.

Summit In Sight

Lughnasa                                                                 Lughnasa Moon

Not as smooth as last session. Now the tutorials seem to go, smooth and relatively mistake free, then clunky, filled with uncertain work. The plateaus were, in the past, obvious and as they were overcome, the terrain of the past was visible. With this plateau, and it sure seems like one in its stubbornness, the past seems to vary from session. That means knowing what needs more attention is difficult.

(Caspar David Friedrich)

This feels like the climb toward the peak where hypoxia can set in, without warning, and force a climber back down if they’re climbing without oxygen. Eventually acclimation triumphs over the thin air or the distress makes it necessary to leave the climb. In this case the peak matters enough to stay up here until acclimatization takes over.

To overextend this metaphor, the view from the peak will be enough to satisfy. That is, book after book of Latin now accessible. Yes, this peak has already been climbed many times, but as any dedicated climber can tell you, until you’ve reached the peak yourself, the mountain isn’t yours.

A Banner Day

Lughnasa                                                          Lughnasa Moon

Today I went from verse 505 to verse 524 in Book I of Ovid, translating as I went, with only two errors and those both nuances I had not yet learned. My confidence grows now with each lesson.

We pay for 8 sessions at a time. Greg and I do a session every two weeks. Or so. The next session on August 23rd will be the 6th in this series. By the final one, the 8th, I’m planning on renegotiating our arrangement, moving toward more working alone, perhaps story by story, developing a polished translation and not contacting Greg until then. Something like that.

(Apollo and Daphne w Peneus.  Tiepolo)

Kate reminded me the other day of my original purpose in starting this journey. I wanted to challenge my own belief that I could not learn a foreign language. Translating the Metamorphoses was a goal I dangled in front of myself, a reward for staying with the work. Over time I began to believe that my purpose was to translate the Metamorphoses, but that was not it at the beginning. A metamorphosis, it just occurred to me.

A Purging We Will Go

Lughnasa                                                     Lughnasa Moon

Over the weekend and as deep into this week as I need to go, I’m packing up my former study. I’ve purged one file cabinet and consolidated its content into boxes for moving. A horizontal cabinet awaits attention. A large plastic tub full of art supplies went into the move with care pile. One small bookcase has been emptied and moved. The shop work bench I’ve used for storage is empty, too. That old printer, the one I bought in 1994, is in the truck and ready to go to a recycler.  An HP laserjet, it still functions.  That leaves three larger bookcases and some miscellaneous things on various surfaces, plus the art on the walls.

(what I hope to create in Colorado, my own version of this.)

When this room has been tidied up, the next and last big push begins. My study. This room has walls of books. Many will go in boxes with red tape, but most will not. The other areas have gone well, but this one will present some difficulty. So many projects. Some of the past, some of the future, some of today. Which ones do I imagine I’ll continue in Colorado? Which ones have enough spark to be valuable in the final third of my life? These are hard decisions for me and packing this room will be both valuable and difficult.

This is a chance to prune my work over the last third of my life, clear out the branches that have grown across each other. Take out that large branch that flourished then died. Increase the circulation amongst the remaining branches so they have air, can breathe. Pruning gives renewed vigor to plants and I hope to achieve the same thing when I pack up these materials, those closest to my heart, leaving behind what I no longer need.

Matters Thorny

Summer                                                              New (Lughnasa) Moon

croppedIMAG0360Kate destemmed and clipped the wispy end off all the gooseberries I picked. Gooseberries are just this side of not being worth the effort. She put them in a bowl with our blueberries, mixed them and made tarts. Tasty. We also had green beans and carrots tonight, one day out of the garden. With fish.

The Latin I reviewed over the last couple of days continues to come more easily. Incremental jumps, consolidation of past learning and, by now, long practice have combined to push me forward. Kate reminded me (I’d forgotten.) that I started on this because I doubted I could learn a foreign language. But, I wanted to try.

I’ve felt for many years the same way about calculus and step by slow step I’m learning pre-calculus through the Khan Academy. Somewhere back in my education, maybe junior high or so, I got into the habit of racing through exams, wanting to finish well ahead of everybody else and have the rest of the time to myself. As I work on these math problems, I find that same self-pressure, a hurry-up attitude has not left me. It gets in my way. I make bone head mistakes, having to take more time going back over what I’ve done. So, I’m slowing down. Making sure.

Why am I doing this? I enjoy challenging myself, pushing myself into strange places, foreign lands. Latin was a foreign country four years ago, though I’m now a resident alien. Calculus continues to be a faraway land, but I’ve found a path and I’m on it. These are different ways of looking at the world, different perspectives. With Latin I’m going deep into an ancient culture and the deeper I go the more mysterious it becomes. I imagine calculus will prove the same.