Archive for April, 2020

Newspapers are publishing poetry these days as an antidote to the gloom of isolation. More people are writing it too. Maybe face coverings, so obviously concealing a lot of who we are, have led to this increased self-expression. My wife Lynn tells me that the writing of poetry was on the rise before sheltering-in-place was imposed. She herself returned to it some years ago after decades of a prose-filled professional life. Recently an Irish literary journal published the following poem of hers. 

How Much

Low stream flows, deceptively gentle
incubate fish eggs, keep them safe,
while storms would sweep them away
toward predators downstream.

Birthing salmon and steelhead, fins flinch,
shudder in waters too calm for swimming
to tributaries, their birth canals.

In the main stem, they dig up
each other’s eggs, lay their own. Animals
fond of ikura, meaning salmon eggs
and also how much, quickly feast.

Sword of storm, sword of calm hangs above.
How often we celebrate, scoop caviar,
lives swallowed like casual swords
cutting through first life.

Custom of delicate spoons, as if fearing
fragility of wealth, prone to slip away
overnight, glistening pearly ounces, as if
taking less dignifies the taking, as if

life’s thrashings disappear beneath
gleaming dishes of roe, as if
too much would reveal our gaze
deciding who survives cycles,
dying, regenerating.

Fish ache to fly upstream like birds
swim through clouds like blooms
welcome the sun, as fawns bond
in faint cries to their does.
Doe and fawn graze, lie on grass,
each blade holding its own weight.
                                                ~ Lynn Axelrod

With friends and relatives sheltering in place because of coronavirus, many are trying to brighten the gloom by forwarding humor. In that spirit, I’ll pass along a couple of recent examples.

And these sentences actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced at church services:

• The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.

• Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.

• The sermon this morning: ‘Jesus Walks on the Water.’ The sermon tonight: ‘Searching for Jesus.’

• Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.

• Don’t let worry kill you off – let the Church help.

• Miss Charlene Mason sang ‘I will not pass this way again,’ giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.

• For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

• Next Thursday there will be try-outs for the choir. They need all the help they can get.

• Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.

• A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.

• At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be ‘What Is Hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice.

• Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

• Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

• The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.

• Pot-luck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM – prayer and medication to follow.

• The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.

• This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.

• The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.

• Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM.  Please use the back door.

• The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.

• Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.

And this one just about sums them all up…

• The Associate Minister unveiled the church’s new campaign slogan last Sunday: ‘I Upped My Pledge – Up Yours.’

This posting was written in 2011, and year in and year out since then, it has continued to draw surprisingly steady readership. With Easter Sunday coming up this weekend, I thought it might be fun to post it again.

Easter will be celebrated on Sunday, making this an appropriate time to ask: do you know where the word comes from? Easter is never mentioned in the Bible. In fact, Easter as we know it originated in the pagan world.

This story begins with Gregory the Great (above), who was pope from 590 to 604. At the time, England was populated by pagan Anglo-Saxons, and this prompted Pope Gregory to send a mission to England to convert them to Catholicism.

The conversions would be easier, Pope Gregory wrote Archbishop Mellitus, if those being converted were allowed to retain their pagan traditions. They would simply be told that their rituals, in fact, honored the Christian God.

Missionaries should accommodate the Anglo-Saxons in this way, as the pope put it, “to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God.”

Among the “gratifications” permitted were Easter festivities, which had been a pagan celebration of spring. Because the actual date of Jesus’ death is unknown, the missionaries could tell the Anglo-Saxons that their spring celebration should go on as always but to understand it was really all about Jesus’ resurrection.

This redirecting of traditions was so successful that the church then used it to convert pagans in the Netherlands and Germany.

.

The Venerable Bede is responsible for our knowing the origin of the word Easter.

A Christian scholar, the Venerable Bede (672-735), a century later wrote that Easter took its name from Eostre, also known as Eastre. Eostre  was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe.

Similarly, some of the Teutonic names for the goddess of dawn and fertility (above) were Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, and Eastur. These names were derived from an old Germanic word for spring, “eastre.”

Since ancient times, spring has been seen as a time of fertility, so it was not surprising that among the pagan symbols of the season were rabbits (because large litters are born in early spring) and decorated eggs (because wild birds lay eggs in spring).

Bizarrely, these pagan symbols became so intertwined that Easter Bunnies ended up distributing Easter Eggs.

And so it was that in this roundabout way Pope Gregory I unintentionally helped bring about a goofy bunny’s becoming associated with….

the resurrection of Jesus, who is seen appearing to Mary Magdalene as she weeps outside his tomb.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Pandemic humor forwarded to me by retired Sheriff’s Sgt. Weldon Travis, who patrolled West Marin for many years. 

What to do when we’re all supposed to stay home and away from each other during the coronavirus pandemic? The result, as has been reported in the press, is too often loneliness and boredom. I certainly miss Friday evenings listening to jazz at Sausalito’s No Name Bar, and I miss late mornings reading my San Francisco Chronicle over a cup of mocha outside Toby’s Coffee Bar. Much of my current social life evolved at those two locations.

While sheltered in place, I’ve tried to compensate for the loss of the No Name by starting to drink two or three rum-and-pineapple-juice cocktails every evening. I now read that I’m part of a trend. Newsweek reports that in one week after stay-at-home regulations began, sales of hard liquor were 75 percent higher than they were a year earlier. “Beer is the next most popular drink, with purchases up by 66 percent, then wine up 42 percent,” the magazine added.

Going to pot. Since shelter-in-place orders took effect, I haven’t had too many random conversations with townspeople, but I have learned that at least some folks are enduring the isolation by smoking more marijuana than usual. An Inverness Park friend a few days ago told me that while pedaling her bicycle into Point Reyes Station that morning, she’d noticed the smell of pot coming from a surprising number of car windows as they passed her on the road. Nor is this phenomenon limited to West Marin. A headline in The Independent Journal of March 22 confirmed, “Marin pot sales surge amid coronavirus lockdown.”

As soon as the countywide stay-at-home order was announced, the San Rafael-based marijuana-delivery company Nice Guys Delivery started getting 60 orders per hour, The IJ reported. Only essential businesses such as grocery stores, gas stations, and hardware stores are being allowed to remain open during the countywide lockdown. As for Nice Guys, The IJ quoted Danielle O’Leary, the city’s economic development director, as explaining, “San Rafael has deemed cannabis delivery services an ‘essential business,’ and is allowing the companies to continue operating during the lockdown.” That is heady news.

 

A NASA model of Voyager 2, which is a small-bodied spacecraft with a large, central dish and many arms and antennas extending from it.

Scatological science: On Saturday, the Australian news service Happy Mag carried a startling headline: “Uranus has started leaking gas, NASA scientists confirm.” The news service noted, “NASA scientists looking back through decades-old data from the Voyager 2 spacecraft have discovered a mysterious gas escaping from Uranus. The data showed some mysterious force sucking the atmosphere straight out of the planet and into space.”

The Voyager spacecraft is still sending signals back to NASA 42 years after it was launched. From examining old data, it has now been determined that while traveling past Uranus in 1986, Voyager 2 passed through a “plasmoid,” a glob of ionized gases pulled from the planet’s atmosphere.

NASA’s enhanced photo of Uranus showing where atmosphere was pulled off.

“Did you hear Uranus is leaking gas?” I asked a friend. “I guess I’d better cork it,” he laughed. Not surprisingly, the easy play on words has been widely recognized. “Uranus, No Joke, Is Leaking Gas,” headlined Popular Mechanics last Saturday. “Bursts of atmospheric material,” that is “globs of gas,” in the magazine’s words, “are flung away from a planet by its magnetic field.”

Apparently Earth isn’t the only planet on which things are falling apart.