We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Posts tagged Mark


Spring                                                                             Planting Moon

Good news.  I can pick up the bees tomorrow.  That makes today a good bit more manageable.  I’ll pick them up, go see John Desteian about getting lost on my way to seminary or college (dreams), take them home, spray them with sugar water and hive them on Tuesday when it’s warmer and not rainy.  A better deal all round.

(In case you were wondering, this is a package of bees.  A 2 pounder. You can get 3 pounders as well.  About 7,000 bees.)

Had a Skype visit with the sibs in far away places, the desert and the tropics.  Yesterday evening I sent Mary an e-mail saying yes, I could call this morning.  She had just started her day.  I read a bit, then went to bed, woke up, fed the dogs, ate breakfast, went downstairs and called her at her bedtime, 9:30 pm.  Mark was at 4:30 pm.  While I slept, both of them finished work days.  Seems strange to me even though we do it regularly.

Just to change things up a bit, it’s raining today.  Don’t want to get into a rut precipitation wise.  Should turn into snow later on though.  Global weirding.  Indeed.

Saudi Arabia

Imbolc                                                       Valentine Moon

Saudi Arabia.  Mark has been there for well over a year, almost 2, so the day-to-day scene comes more and more into focus, even for me, 8,000 miles away.  Perhaps the oddest piece of information so far concerns postal service.  Addresses don’t work in Saudi Arabia.  To this northern European mind, used to numbered homes and buildings, named streets and precisely divided zip codes this data fails to process.  So much so that we insisted (I insisted) on sending Mark a package for Christmas to his school.  Well, it hasn’t arrived quite yet.

Apparently the only solution to this problem is to use Fedex or DHS.  Which begs the question of how they find a place, but they must have some kind of system.  So, next time we send Mark a picture of Gertie and a book on the geo-political affairs of Saudi Arabia, it’ll go out Fedex.

Banking, too, has its peculiarities.  You can’t get a bank account without an iqama, sort of a work visa, and Mark’s school has not been able to arrange iqamas for their first year employees.  This is Mark’s first year working in Riyadh.  An iqama is roughly equivalent to a green card in the U.S.  Without it Mark has to go on a familiar routine for expats in many countries, a visa run.  On a visa run you leave the country where you live, stay away a few days, then re-enter, starting the visa process again, usually for a period of 90 or 180 days.

Mark also reports that a few students watch jihadi videos and execution videos in his class. His afternoon classes have to stop for the afternoon prayer, then start up again.  The priorities of other cultures, which seem obvious to them, often seem odd or at least unexpected to outsiders.  Mark seems to have adjusted very well to the differences between his U.S. acculturation and the Saudi’s.



Video Phone a Reality At Last!

Spring                                                            Bee Hiving Moon

Technological victory today.  Mary (Singapore at 10:00pm), Mark (Ha’il, Saudi Arabia at 5:00 pm) and myself (Andover 9 am) on the same video call.  Three little screens with our talking heads beaming in real time (or whatever you call time in the instance where all of us are in different times).  Skype premium at $99.00 a year allows for up to ten individuals on one call with no additional charge.  Even when separated by thousands of miles and the International Date Line.

(screen looks something like the pic above)

That was my entire nuclear family on one video call.  Remember when video-phones were sci-fi what ifs?  Not any more.  And, there’s no phone.  Nothing but net.

Over the last year Mark and Mary and I have moved closer together, seeing each other in person last July and now communicating more regularly than we ever have before.

Mark describes Ha’il as like northern Arizona, Flagstaff/Dine homelands/Grand Canyon/polygamist Mormon country.  Come to think of it Islam allows 4 wives.  Maybe it’s the weather?

Mary says Singapore is hot.  When asked how hot, she said, “Oh, I never know.  But it’s really hot.  I know that.”  According to Weatherunderground the current temp in Singapore is 81 with a dewpoint of 77.  That last is the kicker.  By contrast it’s 84 in Ha’il with a dewpoint of 14.  Just to be complete it’s 54 here with a dewpoint of  48.   Of course that’s a daytime reading for Andover, a night time reading for Singapore and an early evening reading for Ha’il.

Both Mary and Mark are at the ends of their terms, with exams and grading and all that fun stuff on the other end of the teacher-student relationship.  Mark has a classroom full of cement workers.  Mary teaches students at Singapore’s National Teacher’s University.   Mom would have been proud.

Forgot to mention on the call, but I have a tour for ESL students tomorrow.  Both Mary and Mark have ESL backgrounds.

A Third of the World Between Sibs

Winter(?)                                  First Moon of the New Year

Both sibs have sent photographs recently.  Mary has taken several pictures of elephants in a series placed around Singapore.  They’re part of a fund-raiser to help Southeast Asian elephants.

Mary lives within short walking distance of the Botanical Gardens of Singapore, a delightful collection of Southeast Asian plants placed on large grounds.  In fact, she used to work there when her university had its campus on the grounds.

The fund-raiser reminded me of the Charles Schultz cartoon characters St. Paul had up a few years back.

Singapore is an unusual place, a city-state like days of yore, think Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Rome, Venice.  It refers to itself as the air-conditioned nation.  Mary refers to it as Asia-lite.  I enjoyed my visit there a great deal.

Mark, on the other hand, is in a much less humid environment, Saudi Arabia.  He is in his fourth month teaching English in Ha’il, a former caravan serai on the pilgrimage route to Mecca.  It sits in the northern third of the Arabian Peninsula, near the center and has some elevation, about 3,000 feet.

He has settled in there, having taken trips into the desert three times over the last couple of months.  The first time he went dune bashing in motorized vehicles. The second time he  visited a camel breeding operation run by a student, black camels, and in his most recent foray wandered the desert where this photography was taken.

That puts me in the heart of the North American continent, Mary at the tip end of the Malaysian Peninsula, near Indonesia and Mark in the sands of storied Arabia.  That must be about a third of the way around the world to each sibling.


Annual Report to Humanity: 2011

Winter                                       New Moon of the New Year

Consider this our annual report to the board of directors of humanity.

We spent a week in Denver in mid-January attending the Great Western Stock Show with the grandkids, Ruth and Gabe.

That’s Gabe on the left and Ruth on the right.

A year of transitions.  As all years are, of course, but some major ones came our way.  Kate retired from full-time practice in January and we celebrated with a big party at the Art Institute.  Lots of folks attended and Kate showed off her various talents useful outside the exam room.


In late March, early April we got the two Denver dogs, Sollie and Gertie.  Jon and Jen had begun a big remodel (see right pic) adding lots of space and the dogs would have been underfoot.

In April we got a distress call from Thailand.  Brother Mark needed a place to crash for a while he got his life back together after leaving a job in Bangkok. I picked him up at MSP a week later.

Mark stayed with us over the summer, helping out with gardening chores and learning how to live with our six dogs.  Four of ours with the Denver supplement.

In early May we installed three packages of bees in Katy Did-It woodenware.  Tom and Roxann came out for the morning to watch.  Later in May we planted our garden anew, uncovered the garlic and the asparagus and settled in for another growing season.

In June Kate had the second hip replaced using Mark Heller’s minimally invasive technique.  As usual, she weathered the difficulties with aplomb and got up and moving about well before our guests came in July.

In mid-summer we had an unusual confluence of visitors.  My cousin Diane (left with Joseph), who lives in San Francisco and was my best woman when I married Kate, decided to stop off at our house on her way to her sister’s in Kalamazoo. (Great name, Kalamazoo)  Sister Mary happened to be on her way to the States from Singapore for a visit.  Joseph had just finished a long deployment in Bahrain.

So.  We got everybody here.  The first time Mary(below with her back to the camera), Mark and I had been in the same place since, gosh I don’t know.  Maybe the late 60’s?  It meant I had my whole nuclear family here at home.  A great feeling.  A moment difficult to repeat with the very global spread of our few members.

Mark worked hard all August at job hunting in the worst job market since, gosh I don’t know.  He ended up with job offers, both in his field of teaching English as a second language and both in Saudi Arabia.  Just as the Arabic spring had begun to blossom.

He accepted and moved to Ha’il, Saudi Arabia in October.

Both grandkids started school in September, Ruth in kindergarten and Gabe in a special pre-school.  We visit them over Skype once a week and one or both of us is out there once a quarter. [We go next on January 13th for what has become an annual visit to the Great Western Stock Show.]

(Mark, Kate, me, Joseph)

Over the summer we added mulch, weeded, harvested, tended our garden.  In early September we harvested honey from two colonies of bees, a sticky, messy affair made notable this year by my decision to try a quick return of wet honey frames to a colony without benefit of veil.  Hmmm.  Thirty or forty stings and much use of the language God gave us to express ourselves while in pain thanks to something stupid we’ve done later my head calmed down.

Kate smoked my head. (keeps other bees from swarming after the attack pheromones)  She told me to get in the shower with my head under cold water.  And she gave me benadryl and prednisone. This was my most memorable moment of the year.

Joseph spent most of September and early October on deployment (again), this time stationed on Crete.  He managed military aircraft over Libya during the campaign to oust Quaddafi and support the revolutionaries.  As a result, he became one of a handful in his career field, air battle management, to have actually managed aircraft in combat.

In mid-October we drove the dogs over to Armstrong Kennels, went to MSP, flew to New York City and took a town car to dock 89, boarded the MSS Veendam and sailed away for a 40 day vacation celebrating Kate’s retirement. (thank you, Merton.)

Lots of memorable times on the trip.  Feeding leftover steak to street dogs in Santa Marta, Colombia.  Transiting the  Panama Canal.  Crossing the equator.  Seeing the archaeological legacy of Peru, riding a funicular in Valparaiso, spending time in the wonderful archipelagos of the Chilean fjords, visiting the southern most city in the Americas, going to the Falkland Islands and seeing those awfully damned cute rock hopper penguins, eating a wonderful hunk of tenderloin in Montevideo and walking the beaches of Rio.  Much to write home about.

We ate Thanksgiving dinner, two empanades and two chunks of Brazilian cheese bread, in our gate area at the Rio International Airport waiting for our plane to Atlanta.

Since then, Joseph has invited a dog into his home, Kepler, whom I showed here not long ago.  On the 28th he goes to Romania to stay at Nicoletta’s house.  He met Nicoletta on Crete while deployed to Libya.

Meeting the family in a foreign environment where he does not speak the language (he’s learning some though) of Nicoletta’s mother and father is a challenge, but one he anticipates with surprising (to me) relish.  She will move to Georgia in January to see how things might go with them together.

Fingers crossed here.

The end of the year is upon us now with today Christmas Eve and a week from now New Year’s Eve.  To all of you I wish a good night and very happy New Year.

(me as Carlito, dressed as a gaucho)

Overseas Ellises

Samain                               Moon of the Winter Solstice

Brother Mark has settled in to Ha’il.  So much so that he visited, by their invitation, a group of cyberjournalists who run an online newspaper where he participated in an interview, drank tea, then left after shaking everyone’s hand, apparently a cultural expectation.  He says he has three photos and a youtube clip as a result of the visit, though I’ve not found them yet.

Sister Mary sent these cute clips of elephants in the air-conditioned nation.

They’re part of a fund-raiser to support elephants in Southeast Asia.

Woolly Mammoths, 6 pm

Samain                            Moon of the Winter Solstice

First time at the Marsh, out on Minnetonka Blvd.  The Western burbs version of a California health spa.  In a small room off the dining area for their food service was a sign:  Woolly Mammoths, 6:00 pm.

Inside were Bill , Warren , Frank , Stefan and Mark.  Tales of the trip, yes, but mostly we were there to support Warren whose mother received a cancer diagnosis two days before Thanksgiving.  She’s now in hospice care at an assisted living center, asking only for palliative care.

Warren has been intimately involved with both his parents and his wife’s parents in their aging and decline.  They represent a degree of love and concern in that situation seen all too rarely.

On the way back I couldn’t find any music I liked, so, as I’ve done a lot lately while driving, I turned the radio off and entered into a road trip state of mind, a little bit country and a little bit Zen.


The Via Dolorosa

Fall                                                   Waning Autumn Moon

In With No God I used the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac as an example.  It was not the best choice, but I chose it because the story had deep personal meaning to me.  Perhaps a better choice would have been the story of Joseph, what some call the first novel in the world.  In that story a foreign born boy finds himself in a strange land, learns his way and prospers thanks to his wisdom.  Joseph became the name for my own son, Joseph, who journeyed here from India.  That may be too personal, too.

(Garden of Gethsemane today)

In the First United Methodist church where I grew up, my family always sat in the pews nearest the western stained glass window, a larger than life representation of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It was there, if you recall the story, where Jesus asked his father to lift his responsibility from him:

And they went to a place which was called Gethsem’ane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I pray.”  And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.  And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch.”  And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.”

(this is roughly the scene from the stained glass window)

This is no ordinary moment.  The man Jesus, aware of his impending crucifixion, wants to escape the punishment.  He is despondent, enough so that his soul feels on the cusp of disappearing.  His friends, his disciples go with him but they fall asleep.  He is alone.

He asks God to choose another way, after all he’s God.  Just seven verses later Jesus says, “My betrayer is at hand.”

I recently witnessed a man of deep faith who had faced a Gethsemane moment in his life.  He recounted the experience as like the stations of the cross.   His life was in mortal peril and his continued life depended on others.  After his friends and his wife had left him, he was alone, faced with what he knew was coming.

In this moment the stations of the cross became present to him, a way of placing his own suffering and fear in a sacred context.  He saw his own moment as one of utter dependence and articulated in its journey through the Catholic understanding of the stations.

His passion and relief at this sudden emergence of his faith was palpable as he spoke.

Is there any comparable experience open to the humanist?  I believe so.

If, as I believe, there is no God, then I still have to account for the deep feeling this man experienced.  These are powerful narratives because they are human narratives.

When faced with certain pain and possible death, none of us choose pain and death.  We ask if there’s another way?  Could we do this?  Or that?  We hope, just maybe, I don’t have to through with this.

Sometimes the hope gets an affirmative.  Yes, there is a way.  We have another trick or two up our sleeves.  Just as often, perhaps more often, we know the answer when we ask the question.  This cup will not be taken from me.  Judas awaits.

Gethsemane shows us the moment before a life altering event, an event that will change us in ways we cannot begin to imagine.  It shows us that fear and reluctance, even despair unto death, go with the crisis.  Having those feelings at such a time speaks to the human condition, our temporary, frail hold on this life.

As the disciples fall asleep during his prayer, the Mark narrative reminds us that we face these moments in our own soul, no one else can face them for us.

Embedded too in this poignant story of fear and loneliness a small fire burns.  The arrest, the humiliation, the sentencing, the crucifixion and even death do not end it.  We can pass through the very thing we most fear, have it come to pass in the most terrifying way possible and still emerge triumphant.  That too is a human narrative, a narrative of hope and solace.

What about the time after death, so crucial to the gospel story of the passion?  Katherine, a visitor to Groveland from Idaho I mentioned in an earlier post, finds the after life part of the story critical.  I do too, but in a different way.

Even the most hopeful Gethsemane moments do not always end in a resurrection.  Sometimes the story ends with our worst fears realized.

I think for instance of the story of Nick Caspar, the South Dakota auctioneer and son to Mikki and Pete, a friend to Jim.  He faced a Gethsemane moment after his arrest for murder in the death of a North Dakota man.  He and his family and friends went through the arrest, the trial and the sentencing.  Nick did not walk out a free man.  No, he’s inside for 8 years.

The question now for Nick and his family is this, does this spell the end of Nick’s dreams, the death of his future or can he go down into the prison, remain in it, then reemerge a free and hopeful man?  The passion story suggests the answer is yes.  This kind of brutal ending can be followed by a new life, a new way.

The very human narrative of Mark offers an anchor from a different time and place for a self adrift in the 3rd millennium.

Going back to my friend and his experience of the stations of the cross.  From my onlooker perspective, non-Catholic, non-theist, what I witnessed spoke to soul language, to a poetic and beautiful evocation of the human experience of anticipated suffering, the suffering itself and the aftermath.

Much religious language seems to me language of the deep moments of the human soul,  moments where our lives intersect with ancientrails already well traveled.  These ancientrails open us to that vast pool of human awareness that Jung called the collective unconscious.  Down there, far inside us, we meet the divine, the god-within-us and the stations of the cross, Gethsemane are its language.

News from Ha’il

Fall                                                            Full Autumn Moon

News from Ha’il*.  Mark reports having to leave a restaurant with a friend because it was about to close for prayers.  During prayers many businesses in Saudi Arabia lock customers in so they can continue shopping or eating.  This is at least three times a day, could be more since there are five prayer times.

He also commented on the number of funeral homes:  0.  Families inter their own dead, then have three days of mourning.

Likewise:  no cinemas, bars, karaoke places or houses of ill repute.  But, there are Pakistanis, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Bengalis, Philipinos, Brits, Americans, New Zealanders, South Africans.

The area around Ha’il has very old mountains and looks like Monument Valley or Arizona, he says.

Interesting to have an embedded informant in the heart of Arabia.  More illuminations to come.


* Ha’il is largely an agricultural centre, specializing in grains, dates and fruits. A large percentage of the kingdom’s wheat production comes from Ha’il Province, where the area to the northeast, 60 km to 100 km away, consists of irrigated gardens.
Ha’il is well-connected to other urban centres to the south, by road. Buraydah is 300 km southeast, Riyadh is 640 km southeast and Madina 400 km southwest.
Modern Ha’il is city of a widespread centre, and numerous parks.

1836: A local dynasty is established with Ha’il as its centre, by Ibn Rashid. Ha’il thrives from controlling the pilgrimage route across the desert, connecting Mecca and Iraq.
1891: The Rashidi clan make Ha’il the capital of large parts of Arabia, known as Najd.
1902: Najd loses Riyadh, but is recognized as a kingdom.
1908: The Hijaz Railway opens, beginning the decline of Ha’il.
1921: Following an attack by Ibn Saud, the rulers of Ha’il has to surrender.

The Final Harvest

Fall                                                Waxing Autumn Moon

Going out today to collect the rest of the rest of the harvest.  A few potato plants I missed the first time around remain.  Leeks, those Musselberg Giants.  Some carrots, some chard.  Beans.  Rain has appeared in the forecast for the first time in weeks.  A good thing, but it reduces the clear days for harvesting and mulching.

When I get those leeks inside, chicken and leek pot pies come next.  I’ll use carrots and maybe a potato or two.

Still no news from Saudi Arabia.  The weather has cooled down in Riyadh, only 93 today.

Been pushing to finish the fourth book of Game of Thrones, but will have to give up on ending it before the cruise.  Too many words, not enough hours.  I’ll have to finish it in a deck chair. Darn.

June 2017
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