Friday, July 29, 2005

Heading Out

I'm headed to the high country for a spiritual retreat.

I leave with the clothes on my back and will return in a fortnight.

Camilla fears that I will not return at all, and asked to take possession of the Cottage in that event. I have consented.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Photo #29

The Geometry of Life and Death Posted by Picasa


Still in a summer lull.

I didn't realize how much a pattern I could describe and analyze so minutely could still affect me this much.

Life is funny that way, I guess. No matter how well you can analyze its components, you still have to live it in real time. And it is not always clear whether you are living it or it is living you.

I watched Krystof Kieslowski's White and Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing yesterday.

They were both excellent movies and while I was watching them I was fully immersed in those worlds, but as soon as they were over I was back to lulling around the Cottage.

I think I might go on retreat. Maybe to the high mountain country. Maybe for a while. Maybe I won't come back.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Photo #28

Fall in the Air Posted by Picasa

The Turning Season

Something's turning in the air.

I can feel it.

It's the physical, metaphysical and spiritual nearness of fall.

Camilla spent the day brooding and snappy.

The fish were lethargic.

The heavy air drained all the color from the world.

This is the turning season.

Fall's coming.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Plato's Cave and Ithilien

I was thinking some more about the conversation that I had with Markus in connection with Scriblerian’s concern that living out here in Ithilien was an attempt to escape Plato’s cave. I’ve been mulling over the latter since he made the comment and I have decided that being out here both is and is not an attempt to escape from the Cave – depending upon how you read Plato.

Many have taken Plato’s metaphor of human enslavement and freedom to advocate a metaphysical escape from the real world to a world of pure ideas – an escape from things human to things divine. There is some justification for this, especially in the context of Plato’s Phaedra and I do not entirely discount that Plato is engaged in constructing a metaphysic.

But if you take the metaphor of Plato’s cave as phenomenological epistemology rather than metaphysics (and I believe there is considerable warrant for this interpretation in the context of Plato’s discussion of education), then the ascent from the cave represents not a metaphysical escape from the material cosmos but an epistemological escape from the socially constructed ‘images’ of the rhetoricians, politicians, advertisers, power brokers and spin doctors. In this interpretation, the empahsis would be upon the image makers who use the shadows to enslave rather than upon the material conditions for the slavery (our dependance upon the senses and opinion).

Perhaps in this sense, I have come to Ithilien to escape the ‘cave’ – to escape from television advertisements, billboards, promises by politicians to serve the interests of the hoi polloi at the expense of the common good, warnings from doctors about imminent dangers all around us, etc. etc. etc.

Those things are no good for clear thinking and right living, and yet the compose the fabric of basic social existence in the Cave. In order to return with a mission to the world of shadowplay, one must first escape their pernicious influence. What I noticed in my conversation with Markus was that we were able to carry on a much more sophisticated conversation out here in Ithilien than we ever could have done in the City in the context of elections and personal relationships and wider social dynamics.

Cedric left yesterday - very happy and eager to get his own rod when he gets back to 'civilization'.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Teaching Cedric

We're in the middle of a bit of a heat wave here. Fishing has not been very good for Cedric’s lessons. As in all higher instruction, success is an element in teaching someone how to fly fish. When a new fisherman is not catching fish, he tends to think he's not doing anything right and grows disappointed because he is not getting results. When he's getting fish (or even good strikes) he tends to believe in himself more and want to improve.

The garden is doing well in the heat, though. We can have a complete garden salad every evening.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Economics in Ithilien

I apologize for those who visit daily, I lost my satellite link for a while again the past few days.

Markus has gone on ahead while Cedric stayed for fishing lessons.

I ended up having quite a conversation with Markus while he has here. I mentioned that I had just finished a book on economics and public policy and Markus wanted to know what I thought. It turns out that Markus is a militant socialist – an advocate of planned economy and the governmental direction of economic resources.

Having just read and agreed with Hayek, who highlights the connection between political and economic freedom and the connection between plannedeconomyy and totalitarianism, I couldn't resist the tendency to engage Markus. We had a spirited conversation that spanned three days. In fact, at one point Camilla and Cedric got frustrated with it and went for a hike.

The basic question on the table was whether the society, the individual and/or both are better off under a limited government that enforces the rule of law and interferes only minimally in economic choices or under a government that takes as its conscious and philanthropic aim the betterment of society through the direction and redistribution of wealth.

I was arguing that the freedom that is achieved under the rule of law and a regulated but free market creates the conditions for individuals and free associations to pursue their own aims and choose their own ultimate ends, while he was arguing that such freedom did not deliver on its promise of equal opportunity for all but merely protected the interests of the socially advantaged.

It was an interesting and helpful discussion, but one of the most interesting dimensions was that the conversation was carried on between two people who have essentially dropped out of the daily ebb and flow of society. There's something to be said for that ...

Friday, July 15, 2005

Quote of the Day 7/15/05

And when I speak of the other division of the intelligible, you will understand me to speak of that other sort of knowledge which reason herself attains by the power of dialectic, using the hypotheses not as first principles, but only as hypotheses — that is to say, as steps and points of departure into a world which is above hypotheses, in order that she may soar beyond them to the first principle of the whole; and clinging to this and then to that which depends on this, by successive steps she descends again without the aid of any sensible object, from ideas, through ideas, and in ideas she ends.

Socrates in Plato's Republic

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Fly Fishing with Cedric

Yesterday morning Cedric came fishing with Camilla and I - or, rather, he watched while Camilla and I fished. He had never had an opportunity, apparently, to observe fly-fishing up close and really wanted to see what it was all about.

For a certain kind of person, the art of fly-fishing does have an overmastering enchantment. Though I always tried to avoid bringing it up, when the subject somehow arose at a dinner party or backyard barbecue or some other such gathering and the person I was talking to found out that I was a fly-fisherman, I could sometimes see a wall of strangeness rising up between us in their eyes, a yearning - as if they had caught a sudden glimpse of whatever it was that distinguished the gods from men on the battlefields of Troy. Cedric is apparently that kind of person.

Markus, on the other hand, didn't want to get up that early.

When I woke Cedric a little before dawn, he scrambled out of his sleeping bag like a kid on Christmas morning, and the whole time we were fishing he just stood back and watched in awe. I caught a few 16 - 18 inch fish and he would run down to the stream with various expressions of amazement.

When we came back for lunch he was asking all sorts of leading questions like "How long would it take to learn to do that?" and "Do you always catch that many?" and "How hard is it to figure out what kind of fly to use?". He would clearly like to learn how to fly-fish.

I told him that if he stayed for a week I could teach him everything he needed to know to undertake the art, but he's not sure if Markus will wait. He even suggested that perhaps Markus could move on to their next Barefoot Hiker meeting by himself and he could catch up with him.

We'll see.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Quote of the Day 7/13/05

In the midnight moonlight I'll
be walking a long and lonely mile.

And every time I do,
I keep seeing this picture of you.

in Cat Stevens' "Here Comes My Baby"

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Barefoot Seekers-Errant

I've been having a great time with Markus and Cedric. We ran down to the monastery yesterday to get another case of St. Godric's. It reminds me of the good ol' days of the Wanderings!

They're very thoughtful young men, probably more so than your average Seeker-Errant who tends to have well developed intuition and feeling but a lesser capacity to articulate the framework for such intuition and feeling than your average Coenobitic or Eremitic Seeker.

They also happen to be Barefoot Hikers!

I have run into several Barefoot Hikers before and even hiked along with one group for a while. I just never had the time to become a permanent member.

We're having such a good time, I'm not sure how long they'll end up staying.

In order to keep up good relations with St. Godric's, though, I can't let them stay too long.

Monday, July 11, 2005


The visit of Markus and Cedric prompted me to create a Seekers-Errant thread in the sidebar. For those of you new to Ithilien or those of you interested in reviewing some of my encounters with and thoughts concerning these curious folk of whom I was once a part.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Two Out-of-Season Seekers Errant

Wonder of all wonders have two Seeker-Errant visitors. This isn't the normal season for them to be on the move. But there they were, passing through the valley. Yesterday afternoon I was gathering watercress from a small rivulet that feeds into the stream, and they walked right by me. One was tall and muscular with shoulder-length blonde hair. He wore cutoff jeans and military shirt with the sleeves ripped out. The other was Asian - much shorter and with a buzz cut, but also muscular. He wore surfer shorts and a white t-shirt. Both were barefoot.

I invited them to dinner and they agreed to stay for at least the evening. They're still here, now, though and seem to be enjoying themselves (and my St. Godric's Ale, which I'm going to need to replenish). It's very odd for them to be in these parts during the summer months, though. Perhaps I am entertaining angels unaware.

You see, by some principle of bio-metaphysics, Seekers-Errant, while unpredictable on the micro-sociological level of individual behavior, are fairly stable as a demographic on the macrocosmic level. And like birds, though on different principles, they tend to migrate in the spring and the fall.


The Seeker-Errant Migratory Pattern is something like this:

Spring (April - June) is the time for the Seekers-Errant to move from wherever they have been during the winter to somewhere they have 'always wanted to see.' Therefore, in these months you can find Seekers-Errant purchasing inexpensive airfare to distant destinations, looking for a good deal on a used motorcycle, booking travel on a freightliner, hitchhiking up the Alaskan Highway or preparing themselves in some other such endeavor.

New social groupings form, typically composed of 2 - 5 members.

For many juvenile Seekers-Errant, this migratory pattern begins the summer after their senior year in high school and corresponds with a radical change in their plumage.

Spring is a time of excitement and anticipation for the Seekers-Errant.

During the summer months (June - August) the Seekers-Errant are usually happily occupied in roaming a fixed territory - Europe and the Holy Land being the most common destinations, followed by Alaska, South America, and Central Asia (Tibet and Nepal). The early and middle parts of the summer are times of contentment and openness for the Seeker-Errant. This is the time when they are most likely to engage in meaningful conversation with others in coffeeshops and bars, on buses and subways, or at theaters and parks.

Towards the end of the Summer period, however, a vague ennui begins to mark the transition to the fall. Groups of Seekers-Errant that had formed in the Spring often fall to fighting and squabbling amongst themselves, usually diminishing to no more than two or disintegrating altogether before the predetermined date. Late-summer Seekers-Errant are often surly and incoherent. Sometimes they begin drinking too much, though this usually only lasts for a few weeks.

Fall (September and October) is a period of recovery for most Seekers-Errant. Having come to the end of their summer adventures and found themselves homeless (be it literally or metaphorically) they savor the harmony between themselves in the melancholy season, taking long walks in deciduous forests, writing a good deal poetry, smoking, sitting in libraries, gaining five or ten pounds.

Commonly, however, at some point during this time the Seeker-Errant will stumble upon some vision of common life that offers itself as a more serious project for her life - a plan, an ideal, a shared vision. Maybe she reads an article. Maybe someone asks her what he's going to do for a job during the winter. Maybe she just sees a vagrant beneath a bridge, beginning to shiver in the October frost. Whatever the cause, it is typical in the late fall for the Seeker-Errant to commit herself (though always provisionally) to a common life in a Buddhist monastery, a planned community, even a church or family.

Winter (November - February) is the time when the Seekers-Errant are most in touch with the common life of the human race. Most of them, though not all, have attached themselves to a community and try in good faith to live out that pattern of life. For most Seekers-Errant, this external principle of order and direction is alien and difficult. They often feel externally 'happy' with their new set of relations, but ill at ease in their own skin - like they are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The end of this season always marks a crisis in the life and identity of the Seeker-Errant. Most of them smell spring in the air and abandon the common life. But if f a Seeker-Errant is to undergo a metamorphosis and become a Coenobitic Seeker, it almost always happens during the winter. He may find that he has acclimated himself sufficiently to the common life he had provisionally committed himself to and decide to stay on and attempt to overcome the feeling of being ill at ease. If this happens, it usually takes between 12 and 48 months for such a transformation to become permanent. At any time during this period, the Seeker-Errant may rise up and depart without so much as a goodbye, inserting himself back into the migratory pattern. Others, in similar fashion, may become Eremitic Seekers or even reinsert themselves into the ranks of the Settled.


So I am glad to have these two with me. If they stay a little longer perhaps we'll be able to engage in some meaningful conversation. They seemed very interested that I was reading the Dao and expressed a general admiration for my little library.

Their names (if they are using their real names) and Markus and Cedric.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Photo #27

The Texture of Clouds Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Seventh Poetry Workshop

Though I write chiefly free verse at this point in my life, I have always valued the discipline of formal stanzaic verse. Being forced by the traditional restraints into a consciousness of the rhythms and sounds of the language, knowing when to judiciously substitute an irregular foot for a regular one, learning how to match the form the content of the poem - all of these are invaluable to a poet writing in free verse. Apart from a consciousness of these things, his craft is arbitrary and artless.

So today I lectured on poetic form, with an emphasis upon quatrain stanzas (in my opinion the most useful at present in learning the discipline of a poetic approach to language). If you can learn how to effectively craft and manipulate a variety quatrains, you have learned all you need to learn of poetic language.

For homework, however, I showed them the triolet and asked them to compose one on a subject of interest they had discovered in any of the previous poetry workshops.


1st Course
Smoked Trout Salad

Main Course
Roasted Rock Cornish Game Hen
Roast Vegetables and Small Potatoes
w/ Beaulieu Vineyard Pinot Noir Vin Gris 2001

Vanilla Ice Cream with a Honey Mint Chocolate Sauce
w/ 2002 'R' De Rieusec (Dry) Sauternes


Having finished The Road to Serfdom, I engaged Brother Palgrave in an after dinner discussion of individual liberty in society. We are largely in agreement that society ought to be as libertarian as possible, allowing for the flourishing independence of individuals and free associations; but the extent to which the two of us could butt heads over the details of such freedom in society was almost comical given Ithilien's distance from the actual limitations of any society upon our freedom.

Perhaps if I discover the inclination to do so I will post more on our debate.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Noticing #6

I was reading the Dao today and I think I saw through my hand.

Perhaps the gradual readjustment in Western physics from a conception of the material world as matter to a conception of the world as energy would accord with a move towards some elements of Eastern metaphysics.


Heading down to St. Godric's for the poetry workshop. I will likely spend the night and carry on my conversation with Brother Palgrave.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Quote of the Day 7/6/06

We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish.

F.A. Hayek in The Road to Serfdom

Winter's End and Scare Squirrels

Well, well, well ...

They are two valleys over and it took Camilla and I five hours to get there, so we didn't arrive until mid-afternoon. But I finally visited the new settlement that Brother Damien has been assigned to help out during the week.

As the path Brother Damien had directed us to came out of the trees onto the valley floor, all I could see of the settlement from that distance was a cluster of whitewashed buildings and some smoke or, more likely, steam rising from somewhere outside the cluster.

Still quite a ways from the buildings we passed through a circle of wooden posts about two feet high - a bit unnerving. Camilla agreed but we kept on going.

As we approached, we passed through another ring, this time a ring of standing stones. I could see children in blue and white running playing tag on a grassy sward bounded by the buildings. To the West of the settlement was a fair-haired man doing the wash.

We finally approached the buildings and Brother Damien came out to meet us, along with a representative of the settlement - a large man dressed in denim overalls and a course white shirt, his head covered by a wide brimmed straw hat on that shaded his eyes from the mid afternoon sun. He introduced himself as Thor and welcomed us to Winter's End.

(I couldn't help but notice him glance at Camilla's head when he greeted her. She's still wearing a kerchief around it, but you can tell she hasn't any hair.)

Whitewashed from the roof to the ground, the houses were glaring in the sun as we walked into the settlement. Their arrangement struck me as odd but a bit unfamiliar. There were 10 identical buildings arranged in an elongated horseshoe shape with a larger structure in the middle of the horseshoe, nearer the closed end than the open (a common lodge perhaps?) . As Thor was confirming my suspicions concerning the central building (though he called it the Meeting House), I finally put the arrangement of the houses together with the standing stones. Though Thor had said nothing concerning the arrangement, Winter's End was laid out, if not in exact proportions at least schematically, in imitation of Stonehenge! The two rings of stones we had passed through had been the Aubrey Circle and the Sarsen Circle! Amazing! (I must have missed the Bluestone Circle - either that or they hadn't installed it.)

Thor showed us through one of the simple houses where we met Sif, Heimdall, and young Loki. (It turns out they all renamed themselves after Norse gods and godesses.) Loki accompanies us as Thor then gave us a tour of the Meeting Hall, which functions as the common kitchen, dining hall, and, well, the meeting hall. They also have a barn and hen house (where the heelstone of Stonehenge would be!).

When he had finished, I casually asked Thor how long it had taken them to assemble the Aubrey Circle out there.

He looked at me with wry astonishment, tipped up the brim of his hat and said, smiling, "Well, so we have a scholar of the old ways with us! Welcome!"


We spent an enjoyable evening at the settlement. Shortly after the tour everyone returned from their chores and we met the entire settlement. They honored us as guests and there was even dancing in the Meeting Hall after dinner. I'm really no dancer but Camilla connived a couple of dances out of me and then I danced with several of the settlement women.

The settlement is small, there are 12 adults and 8 children, but they seem to have worked very hard to get themselves established. Men and women alike all wear the same uniform - denim overalls, course white shirt, straw hats. They all even have the same haircut - shoulder length and either parted in the middle or drawn back into a small pony tail.

On the surface of it, they strike me as a small version of a Findhorn or Bruderhof. I don't know if they are religious at all in the conventional sense. They did say a sort of 'blessing' over the meal, but it was one of those blessings that could easily be adapted to Native American, Christian, or Buddhist spirituality.

I suspect some very clearly articulable reason for them being out here, but we didn't get into any discussion of their philosophy of life or reason for coming to Ithilien. Maybe next time. This was just an envoy to put us on visiting terms.

Camilla and I each slept in one of the vacant dwellings in the horseshoe and left in the morning after breakfast a breakfast of polenta and eggs.


When we got back I discovered that a squirrel had gotten into the damn cottage and knocked everything around. Those little beasts are going to be hell when the fall comes. I wonder if I could shoot a few and make some little "scare squirrels"?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Recovering the Spot of Time

I walked upstream early this morning intending to fish a little piece of the water that I had hitherto neglected - a stretch that passed through some considerable brambles and fallen trees.

After working my way in there I found the casting very difficult, but came across a little stretch where I thought I could roll cast across the stream to a hole overhung with roots. The surface of the poll was a swirl of obsidian in the dark shadow, but a hatch of small white flies was buzzing around and I saw a couple of ripples on the surface near the front end of the pool.

I cast there first and caught an eight inch brookie.

I caught one more at the front end of the pool, but then noticed that there was very little activity in the downstream portion and wondered if just maybe ... perhaps where the water ducks under that log ...

I roll cast to the middle of the pool and let the fly drift ...


The line snapped up off of the water and zipped out of the reel, and almost before I knew what was going on he was under the log. I played him well, though, and slowly brought him out without getting tangled in the brush.

When he came out from under the log he charged upstream and jumped about mid-pool - a glorious, arching, twisting leap! He must have landed a yard from where he leapt. I kept the line tight and let him run upstream as far as the shallows then gradually played him back onto a sandbar.

It was a 23 inch rainbow!


I released him back into the pool and walked up to Camilla's to meet her for our day trip.

We're at my cottage now but will be taking off soon to visit the new settlement. Brother Damien gave me directions on Sunday.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Too Quiet?

Camilla was up at her cave all day yesterday and none of the monks were around, so I had the day to myself.

It's funny. After the trip to the City, it almost seemed too quiet out here!

I hadn't realized it until late last night, but I needed a day to reconnect to this place, these things, this pattern of life.

I spent the morning checking over Camilla's smokehouse a little more closely - to make sure she didn't mess anything up. (Then I felt bad about doing it.)

I gardened some, though everything was in great shape.

I fished for a while, but could not get into the zone.

After that, I couldn't think of anything I really wanted to eat for lunch so I just tore off a piece of bread and hiked up the foothill trail. I fiddled with the Richelieu sculpture a bit, but I'm at the point with it that I don't want to do anything to mess it up, and I didn't have the mental focus to really devote to sculpting.

So I came back down and sat on the porch for the afternoon, reading Hayek off and on, smoking my pipe, watching the birds. I saw a couple of scarlet tanagers and several Bohemian waxwings - but even those did not stir in me the usual wonder.

At this point, I was in a bit of danger from the Boredom. Throughout the afternoon I was edgy, missing the City, looking for something to do; but without consciously trying I settled eventually into the silence - letting it flow over me, around me, through me. There was still nothing but the silence. Nothing to do. Nothing to contemplate. Nothing even to approach apophatically. Nothing.

It was an afternoon of absence.

But when the silence and solitude grew unnervingly vacant of meaning, I realized that it is this very state that had allowed me to gain a new perspective on all of human society - for that was certainly what my experience in the City represented. Only having somehow transcended or escaped the background noise of life in the City can one see the City for what it is and enter into the joy. I believe this could be done in the City though it could never be done without 'silence' in the truest and deepest sense - silence in which meaning must be for the time being absent.

I wonder if this is why Jesus often went into the wilderness alone to pray.

Camilla is coming by for dinner this evening and tomorrow we are going to set off to check out that new settlement.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Photo #26

Dryad Hide and Seek Posted by Hello

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Photo #25

Resurrexit: Summer Sky, after Anselm Kieffer Posted by Hello

An Excellent Trip

Now that the wireless is stable again, I can report that the trip home was uneventful.

We spent most of the time in silence - each, I suspect, treasuring his own private reflections upon the experience.

And, unfortunately, we still didn't catch the Old Fisherman at home. I wanted to hang around for a little while to see if he showed up, but monks told me that he is sometimes gone for days at a time. The case of St. Godric's Ale we had left was diminished somewhat, though, so I suspect he was just out for the day.

In reflection, the trip to the City was an excellent antidote to what could happen to someone out here in Ithilien. Father Joseph was right.

The ecstasy I experienced upon approaching the city and the joy and delight I felt wandering around the next day were all the evidence I needed after three months here in my valley that 'real life' is not the exclusive domain of Seekers. Though we do represent a vital dimension of the human spirit, we are not the whole of the human spirit - nor do we even exist apart from the City. On the contrary, we exist only in relation to the City. I suspect I will have more to say about this soon - perhaps in relation to my reflections from some time ago upon Rilke's "The Solitary"

While in the city, I did purchase several more books and a CD

First was F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, which I will be finishing soon in order to further my conversation with Brother Palgrave.

I also picked up the Ames / Hall translation of the Dao De Jing (with commentary) , Marilyn Robinson's Gilead and Ben Folds' new CD, Songs for Silverman.

So far, Hayek's book is enlightening beyond what I expected from a 60 year old treatise on economics and society, the CD is exceptional and bears repeated listening, the commentary on the Dao and my journey through yet another translation are going to provide a lot of food for thought, and Gilead promises to be a second Jayber Crow. So all in all, I'm very content with my purchase, though I will have to wait until the autumnal equinox to find out the identity of the Half-Blood Prince.

The garden looks excellent. The zucchini blossoms are in their full glory and the onslaught of the never ending squash will soon be upon us.

In addition to keeping up the garden, Camilla did finish the smokehouse while I was gone. She's really proud of it and it does look great - though I feel weird not having built it myself. She also had a couple of excellent days fishing and smoked about a dozen good size trout, two of which we tried for lunch today.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Back Up

I'm exhausted from a day of fiddling with the laptop while Camilla hung around and gardened, but here we are finally up and running and stable.

It was a great trip into the city, but it is very good to be back.

Photo #24

EarthenWare Posted by Hello