Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Buck Mountain, Christmas Morning 2002
Dear Friends,
After a long hard day traveling back from a visit with my parents, I find myself too tired to write anything new, so I offer you this by way of a Christmas greeting, written several years ago, on another Christmas eve here on our hillside farm:

It is a cold, clear night here in the Valley. Orion is rising in the
southwest over the new barn, bright in a moonless sky. The sheep flock is
quiet inside. I was tempted, briefly, to walk down at midnight to see if any
of the animals would talk, as the old tale says they do on Christmas eve. It
is very cold though, and the house is warm and quiet. It is lambing time for
part of the flock. There are now at least two dozen newborns in the barn,
small high cries mixing with the deeper voices of their mothers when we go
down to feed. A newcomer myself to this rural life, I am surprised to
realize that a manger is no longer something in a Nativity scene on a lawn
or found in miniature on a table, but a fixture I toss hay into daily. As we
fed today I recalled an Orthodox hymn, sung in preparation for the feast of
the Nativity, that compares Mary to a ewe lamb, like those we have in our
own barn: "Make ready, O cave for the Ewe Lamb comes, bearing Christ in her
womb. And do thou, O manger, accept Him who by his word has loosed us
dwellers on the earth from acts that are against reason. Ye shepherds
abiding in the fields, bear witness to the fearful wonder. And ye, Magi from
Persia, offer to the King gold, frankincense and myrrh: for the Lord has
appeared from a Virgin Mother." I look over the barnyard and, with the words
of the hymn in my mind, see our own nativity scene. There are some
differences though. If I were to go to the barn now, there would be no Magi.
My two sons, though they grow smarter by the day, are not yet wise men and
their father would be a poor third if they were. If there have been angels,
we have entertained them unaware, as the apostle says in Hebrews, in their
guise as strangers and guests. So, our home-grown nativity scene is
incomplete. We do, though, have a camel of sorts, for color, who can double
as the census taker in Luke's Gospel. Caesar, on our farm, is the name of a
guardian llama who sticks his head through the barn door at night and looks
over the new lambs. He appears to be counting, or at least conducting an
imperial inspection. Thinking of all this reminds me of a poem by Wendell
Berry, which, now that I look at it again, says it all better than I could.
Here is part of it:

Remembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night's end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world
It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times
Before), might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning's light, the air
around them joyful as a choir.
(From: A Timbered Choir; The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997)

Since I can put it no better than that, I will only add, Merry Christmas.
Christ is born, Glorify Him!

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Orthodox Churches that follow the revised Julian calendar are celebrating the Forefeast of the Nativity in preparation for Christmas. Here is Archimandrite Ephrem's translation of one of the hymns for Matins on the Sunday before the Feast of the Nativity:

Strange, wonderful and dread mysteries! The Lord of glory came to earth, and as a beggar in a cave he put on flesh, seeking to call back Adam, and to deliver Eve from her pains.

By your swaddling bands you loose the cords of offences, while by your poverty, O Compassionate, you make all rich. Laid in manger for unreasoning beasts, you free mortals from irrational wickedness, O Word of God ever without beginning.

I would encourage anyone who is interested in exploring the strange and wonderful mystery of the incarnation, which is the real "reason behind the season" to spend some time at Archimandrite Ephrem's page with his translations of the varied services for the Feast.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Small Matters of Life and Death

With the nighttime temperature below freezing, we try and get the ewes close to lambing into the barn at night. Monday night two stayed away. Susan was in Winchester doing some last minute Christmas shopping. I was caught late at the office making a last ditch effort to salvage a case that was doomed from the start. (Me: "You mean your only evidence against this guy is the testimony of a juvenile who himself is a thief as well as being a lying sack of [insert rude term for organic fertilizer] and who will plead the 5th if I put him on the stand?" Officer: "Yep, that's about right." Me: [insert colorful barnyard metaphors] ) What with one thing and another, I did not get home until well after dark. I called the ewes from the lower field in and thought I had them all. Just after sunrise Tuesday, I saw two ewes standing by the barn with something small walking between them. After putting the dog in the house, I went back to let them in and found the lamb I had seen before, plus two more I hadn't. One was frozen, laying lifeless where he was born. The second was still breathing, stretched shivering on the frozen mud, her skin covered with a delicate layer of frost. After alerting the rest of the family, I brought the survivor up to the house where a box with a heat lamp was ready. Last night Susan took her down to the barn and put her in a pen with her mother. The past two nights we have been careful about counting heads. They are so fragile, yet sometimes unexpectedly resilient. Why did one live and one die? I don't know, but here is a picture of mother and daughter, reunited, warm and sheltered.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

I tend to write far less about my work as a prosecutor than I do about life on the farm. Most of the good stories from work are told over meals, or after dinner, to friends curious about the oddities and tragedies seen in the practice of criminal law. A lot of what I do I simply don't talk much about. Some material is confidential, some of it is simply too sad for this forum. Some involves people who's right to privacy or anonymity I feel bound to respect. Nonetheless, there are a few tales that I have told and retold over the years. Perhaps I will tell them here in the coming months. In the meantime, here is a photo of the site of the other half of my life, taken the day of our recent snowstorm.

Bishop Seraphim has been writing about Mother Maria Skobstova in his LiveJournal. At various times in her life a student, a poet, a revolutionary, a wife, a mother, a social worker, and a professed Orthodox nun, she worked among the destitute and mentally ill in Paris between the wars. Mother Maria died in the Ravensbruck concentration camp, sentenced for the "crime" of protecting Jews in Nazi occupied France. It is perhaps too early to tell whether her life is a precursor of new kind of sanctity in the Orthodox Church, or simply a unique and glorious aberration. There is a growing movement of devotion to her life and memory, as witnessed by this web site, which (somewhat prematurely) contains material for veneration of her as a canonized saint. There is a fine biography of Mother Maria, Pearl of Great Price by Sergei Hackel, which appears to be out of print (temporarily one can hope.)

In a second post on Mother Maria, Bishop Seraphim includes a sketch of her with Fr Dimitrii Klepenin. Fr Dimitrii worked alongside Mother Maria, and died in Ravensbruck as well. He has been a hero of mine since I read the following exchange with Hofmann, his Gestapo interrogator, recounted in Hackel's book:

Fr Dimitrii was interrogated for four hours. He made no attempt to exculpate himself. Later, at Lourmel, Hofmann was to describe how he was offered his freedom on the condition that he helped no more Jews. Fr Dimitrii had raised his pectoral cross, shown the figure on it and asked, "But do you know this Jew?" He was answered with a blow to the face. "Your priest did himself in", stated Hofmann. "He insists that if he were to be freed he would act exactly as before."

Friday, December 13, 2002

Wednesday's ice is turning to slush and mud. A slight rise in temperature, a round of rain mixed with sleet, and the remaining snow is suddenly looking threadbare and moth-eaten. The dampness puts a chill in the bones worse than the single digit cold did. I shouldn't complain. This would probably qualify as a mild spring day in Vladivostok or Baffin Bay. Siberians would be shedding layers and complaining about the unseasonable heat. Even here in Virginia, I can think back to a blizzard a few years ago to remember what real winter weather is like. We were stuck on the farm for days, drifts blowing too deep even for the four wheel drive. Winds so cold that my sweat-soaked pants froze into knife edges, cutting into my legs as we walked back from hauling hay bales to stranded cattle. The days of snow were interrupted by a fast moving front of warm air, raising the temperature by 40 degrees in a matter of hours. Frozen water reverted to its liquid state almost instantaneously. Water filled the storm drains and shot out of the manhole covers in town, giving each street its own miniature fountains. Streams overflowed. The piles of snow remaining in the pasture vanished, leaving puddles and temporary marshes. A day later, the temperature dropped, and we were hit by an ice storm. One cow, confused beyond bearing, simply dropped dead in the field. The rest of us survived just fine, a few pictures of man-high drifts on the porch the only permanent record of the experience.

Yesterday morning there was a small break in the clouds at sunrise, illuminating the ridges to the south. Here is my attempt to capture the result:


Wednesday, December 11, 2002

This morning brought a steady fall of freezing rain. The drive into work was tricky, the drive home worse. Trees encased in ice bowed, and in some cases broke over Browntown Road. Some branches were so low that it was like driving in a crystal tunnel. Halfway home, a tree fallen across both lanes of the road send me back the way I came. A thirty minute detour, and I was home in time to help with the evening feeding down at the barn. Sheep have an unerring instinct for bad weather, and one ewe marked the occasion by having twins in the barn. Susan had locked the more pregnant sheep up last night expecting just this. Susan hung a heat lamp to take the chill off the new arrivals, and then had to wait five hours for the power company to get fallen limbs off the lines. Nonetheless, mother, son and daughter did well, and are now resting in a warm pen. By sunset, the falling ice had turned to drizzle, with low clouds and fog rolling in off the mountains. The temperature is predicted to rise tomorrow, and none too soon. As I was walking the dog tonight, I could hear branches breaking under the weight of ice. Some would groan, creak, then snap. Others would go at once, with a sound like a shotgun blast, followed by the oddly musical cascade hiss of ice down the hillside.

Here is the view at home after the ice just before dusk:

Monday, December 09, 2002

I accumulate books the way a ship accumulates barnacles. They just seem to attach themselves as I go about my daily life. Where do they come from? Chain stores, independents, used book stores, discounters, library sales; who knows. I look on my shelves these days and wonder in surprise, when did I get that? I've been trying to work the backlog of odd books acquired and then shelved unread. This weekend I pulled out a paperback edition of the Selected Poems of the late Australian poet, Gwen Harwood. I had never encountered her work before the book showed up on the library discard shelf. A quick check of shows that her work is out of print, or of "limited availability." This is a shame. She has a unique voice; erudite, passionate, cynical, sentimental and wise. She is also a master of form. Born in 1920, it is hard to think of many other poets of her generation who are as unselfconsciously at home with the stresses and rhythms of traditional verse. Yet, she is unmistakably modern. Let me bend fair use by typing out a poem from one of her later volumes. It is probably not one of her best, but it does capture some of what appeals about her work.


As always after partings, I
get from its place the Oxford Donne,
inked in with aches from adolescence.

Who needs drugs if she has enough
uppers and downers in her head?
Though names are not engraved herein,

who can be literally dead
if he leaps from an underlining
into my flesh at The Sunne Rising?

Lou Salome in her old age: "Whether
I kissed Nietzsche on Monte Sacro
I find I do not now remember."

Young Saint Therese of Lisieux, writing
"When I love, it is forever."
One mistress of half Europe, one

enclosed with a transcendent lover.
Dear ladies, shall we meet halfway
between sanctity and liberation?

Today I leave the book unopened.
Strangely, this farewell's left me joyful.
Can ghosts die? Yes, old ghosts are summoned

back to their shades of ink. My lover
will come again to me, my body
to its true end will give him joy.

Now in his absence let me walk
at peaceful sunset in the pasture
feeding my geese, my latter children,

and when the afterglow is gone
Lou's ravishing forgetfulness
will rock my soul with saving laughter,

and the singlehearted saint will braid
all loves into one everlasting.
Then, if I need a lullaby,

good Doctor Donne, will you attend?

Saturday, December 07, 2002

A few housekeeping changes on the blog today. Since the ratio of photo to text has gotten closer to fifty-fifty, the load time on the page has become a problem. The long term solution is to start writing more, and more frequently. For the short run, I have reduced the number of posts on the main page to what is, I hope, a manageable size for folks with dial-up connections. It means bumping some of my own favorite posts and pictures to the archives, but I suppose they have been out front long enough.

Greetings to St. Stephen's Musings, the new Orthodox weblog on the block, added to the list on the left. I have pruned two sites that have, in one case, vanished after months of inactivity, and in another, been inactive since August.

I am always amazed that anyone not related to me by blood or marriage reads the site, and am particularly amazed that people actually put a link on their own site. In that vein, I have added a few more folks who have linked this site to the list on the left. I wish I could come up with a better name for the cross-links part of the blog, as the folks there are well worth reading in their own right and I check in on all of them frequently. Perhaps it should be called "People I would read even if they hadn't linked me"?

For those who do come for the pictures, here is the view from home this morning:

Thursday, December 05, 2002

The first snow storm of the season arrived last night and stayed around until early afternoon. Remember the old song that went, "So if you've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"? On a farm, you always have some place to go and something to do. It doesn't make the scenery any less beautiful, but it does place the whole enterprise in a different light. We were out shortly after sunrise feeding the sheep in the barn who are close to lambing, and bringing in the Hampshire ewes from the field for some grain now that the grass is under eight inches of dry white powder. In addition to the grain, Susan had round bales delivered to have hay on hand for forage during the day. While the sheep may look cold in the following picture, they actually do pretty well in inclement weather. After all, they grow their own wool sweaters. Nonetheless, they were glad to come in for a little extra nourishment

This evening we brought in the commercial ewes from the front field for a grain ration. They had not discovered the hay bale put out for their part of the flock, so after they had eaten in the barnyard, we led them to it. Susan captured the scene below of your author playing Pied Piper with a bucket of grain:


Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Changes in Latitudes

It is hard to believe that this time last week I was walking bare footed in warm beach sand. The sun is still not quite up this morning and the temperature is barely out of single digits. Yesterday I had to use a hammer to break up the ice on the outside water trough. Snow is predicted for tonight, but last night's sky was clear and star-filled. It is the time of the new moon, leaving the stars as the only light outside not made by man. By 10:30 p.m. when I walked the dog for the last time, the ground was already frozen, bits of frost on the grass scattering light from the house, winking back in echoes of the stars overhead. The tropical sunrise was a thing of wonder, but there is beauty here too in the colder latitudes. Stars above, frost glinting below. Night's lantern/ Pointed with pierced lights, and breaks of rays/ Discover'd everywhere. Or so says Gerard Manley Hopkins in a fragment preserved in his collected works. Despite, or perhaps because of, the cold air, the stars were particularly bright. Perhaps the fragment from Hopkins was a warm-up for this great shout at the night sky:

Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves'-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! air abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!--
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.

The sun is up now, and time for morning chores. The sunrise here does not have an ocean view, but the light and shadow on the mountains have their own beauties; a little comfort in the cold.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

Susan whisked me away for a surprise trip last week with the little extra money she made coaching this fall. She lined up neighbors to care for the sheep, sent the boys to the other side of the farm to stay with the in-laws, and put us on a plane heading south. So, instead of the usual morning picture of Hogback Mountain, here is the view just before sunrise from Fortune Beach, Grand Bahama Island, 11/29/02. (I promise, no more vacation pictures after this one!)

Thursday, November 21, 2002

New Arrival

Here is the first lamb of the season, doing her best to have a meal in spite of the silly man with the camera.
I blithely (and somewhat flippantly) said in my last post that "there is always a 'better' if you know where, or how, to look." For what that means in depth, go to this cry of joy and gratitude from the Soviet Gulag, a place that, like the Nazi death camps, was as close as we humans have come to a scale model of hell. This is faith without false sentiment, paid for at great price. Thanks to Bishop Seraphim for posting it.
Committing to life on a farm is not unlike committing to a marriage, you take it "for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish," till death (or your banker) do you part. These last few weeks have brought us a little of everything. Last season's lambs brought better prices at the sale earlier this month than we had hoped for, even if the older ewes and bucks we sold to cull the flock did not. It was hard to see some of them go, but, looking at the newly reduced flock, I admire the quality I see, and admire Susan's good judgement in deciding who to keep.

The "worse" this week has been the sudden illness of Leroy, one of our llamas. He was laying down in the field this morning, too sick to rise. Susan covered him to provide some protection from the weather and I made an emergency run to the vet after getting out of Court at lunchtime. Leroy has a bad temper, even for a gelded guard llama, but did not even have the energy to spit on me as I shot paste down his throat, pushed pills down him, and injected him with an array of needles. When I checked this evening at sundown, he was no better, but also no worse. As I left, he was still unable to stand, but was eating the grain I had put out with a good appetite. We will keep fighting and, we hope, so will he.

The "better" (and there is always a "better" if you know where, or how, to look) this week was the arrival of the first lamb of the new season. A little early, but very welcome. Susan found her in the field next to her mother, still wet from birth. With a cold rain in the forecast, she brought them into the barn and set up a pen. Both mother and daughter are doing well, and I will post a picture as soon as blogger and my internet provider settle down and play nice again.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Fellow Appalachian blogger Fred1st was out himself this morning watching the Leonids. His reflections are here.
I was up early this morning, out on the lawn with the boys to watch the Leonid Meteor Shower. We live in a small valley surrounded by mountains; a bowl of mountain below, hiding the lights of town, the bowl of the sky above, filled with stars and moonlight. Too much sky to take in at a single glance. We stood, back to back, facing outward and looking up, crying out as another piece of comet dust streaked burning across the sky.
Robert Brady offers a haiku on his Notes From Pure Land Mountain site that includes crows, persimmons, and an entirely awful but appropriate pun. My own introduction to persimmons came as a boy living in Japan. Wonderful fruit, but my first bite into an unripe one taught me the invaluable lesson that, sometimes, timing is everything.

While you are visiting his site, page down here for an essay about an encounter with a handmade chair. If you ever have encountered old quality, hand-crafted furniture, you know of what he speaks. It is a great loss that this experience is not more readily available. The problem is that good craftsmanship depends on the presence of a good craftsman. They were perhaps more common in earlier days than now, but they were never just dropping off trees. If your local furniture maker (or you yourself) did not have the gift, then you sat on furniture that was ugly, uncomfortable and expensive to obtain. The same with cooking. However much we decry fast food, it is hot, filling and reliably edible. Many households in an earlier age were not so blessed in their diet. One of my great-grandfathers was an Episcopal minister in southern Virginia at the turn of the century. In his memoirs he recalls shocking a diocesan meeting by holding up a biscuit, actually green in color, and saying that what his people needed more than anything else were missionary cooks. An inadequate diet, and poor handling of what foodstuffs were available were as much a feature of the rural landscape as the classic vision of the farmhouse kitchen, tables overflowing with fresh, well cooked food.

Our mass production techniques have one great virtue, which should not be underestimated. They provide adequate goods and services for people for whom the alternative was not hand made goods, but no goods at all. The great vice of mass production is evident in Brady's essay. There is a quality about the best hand work that goes beyond computation. As Brady puts it: "This was a chair that had been made by transforming the beauty of trees through the beauty of hands into the beauty of chairs." There is evidence in the best work of something that can only be called grace. As an Orthodox Christian, I would say that it bears witness to the uncreated energies of God, that fill and uphold all things. A Calvinist might prefer the term "Common Grace" to get at the same point. The virtue of our mass-production economy is that we can fill the bellies and furnish the houses of people who in previous ages went hungry and lived in destitution. The vice is that in the quest for the adequate, we have ruled out in advance the possibility of grace in the work of human hands.

Monday, November 18, 2002

Here is a page I've been meaning to link to for a while, the online record of Hieromonk Alexander Golitzin's interdisciplinary seminar on the Jewish Roots of Eastern Christian Mysticism. Some of the work here is meant for the specialist, other parts can be read profitably by anyone. Father Alexander's two part essay, Liturgy and Mysticism: The Experience of God in Eastern Orthodox Christianity is a good place to start. (Requires the Adobe Acrobat reader.)
In China and Japan, almost to the present century, an educated man could both paint and write poetry, as the occasion called for. It was a custom to show a new painting to a friend, who would compose a poem in reaction, and inscribe it in the margin of the work. Being no painter, I compensate with a digital camera. Being no poet, I blog. Fortunately, there are some folks who are keeping the tradition alive. I thank Huw at Doxos for the fine haiku, written in response to today's view of Hogback Mountain. They should be inscribed on the picture itself, but I will settle for linking them here.
Last week was a slow one for blogging. Lots of work and family commitments. By way of apology, here is the morning view of Hogback Mountain. Yes, that is snow, our first of the season for the higher altitudes. Down here where I sit, it is crisp and cool, with just the barest remnant of frost on the ground.

Autumn's third month-snow on the banks, the flowers
first blossom white;
a whole night of frost in the forest--
the leaves have all turned red.

WEN T'ING-YUN (Trans. Jonathan Chaves)

Monday, November 11, 2002

Another View of Hogback Mountain, Morning Fog and Cloud

I read somewhere that the Appalachian mountains are cousins to the peaks of eastern China, separated with the drift of continents. I can believe it on a morning like this. Where is a Chinese watercolorist when you need one?

Saturday, November 09, 2002

Some months back I linked to Michael McClellan's pictures of monks and monasteries. Here is an equally luminous gallery of black and white photographs from a monk-photographer at the ancient Valaam Monastery in Russia. The monastery, vacant from 1944 until the fall of the Soviet state, is now being restored and repopulated by Orthodox monks. The monastery's web page is here.
Morning Light and Shadows, A View of Hogback Mountain

Today was one of those rare days where you cannot turn your head without seeing something beautiful. A warm breeze better suited to September than November, leaves past their peak, but still a riot of color to be seen.

Seated in fallen leaves
watching mountains from the
bank -- Indian summer

Kodojin (1898) (Trans. Stephen Addis)
Buck Mountain 11/09/02

Llama Update

Tippy and McKenzie did it again. The morning after I blogged about their last adventure, they found their way back to Browntown Road. They were snoozing on the lawn when I woke up on Wednesday. Later that morning, as I was walking the dog, I looked for them and they were nowhere in sight. Immediately heading for the road, I heard to my horror a long, steady honking car horn. As I got to the end of the driveway, they were leaping back across the cattleguard, ahead of a kind soul who was herding them back with his pickup truck. The pair are now banished to a field with no road access, behind the barn. Their replacements in the front field are Avery and Leroy, both white with brown spots. At night, they look like ghosts walking in the moonlight. So far, they have shown no signs of itchy feet, or an urge to see foreign parts.
I was out walking Skid, our border collie, last night after the moon had gone down behind Buck Mountain. After a week of much needed rain, the skies were clear, the band of the milky way shining in an arc over my rooftop. To the east, the constellation Orion was just sliding up over Skyline Drive, tilted sideways. The sight brought to mind a favorite poem by Robert Frost, The Star-Splitter, which begins;

You know Orion always comes up sideways.
Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,
And rising on his hands, he looks in on me
Busy outdoors by lantern-light with something
I should have done by daylight, and indeed,
After the ground is frozen, I should have done
Before it froze, and a gust flings a handful
Of waste leaves at my smoky lantern chimney
To make fun of my way of doing things,
Or else fun of Orion's having caught me.

Being a part-time farmer, too much of my work gets done at dusk, or after dark. Sometimes the warm house is so much more inviting than the cold barn that daylight escapes while I linger, changing from coat and tie into mud-spattered denim. Today was blessedly, unseasonably warm and, being a Saturday, chores were done in time to enjoy, rather than race, the setting sun.

Looking the the archives of my weblog, I ran across this entry about a cold, but clear night this April where Frost's poem made another appearance. If you are interested, you can click here and scroll down to Sunday, April 7.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Southern expatriate Huw at Doxos has some fine verse in haiku and tanka form inspired by photos of our Appalachian mountains in fall color.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Leapin llamas! Tippy and McKenzie's Big Adventure

The gentlemen staring back at you from our driveway are Tippy and McKenzie. Tippy is on the left, Mckenzie is the dark faced fellow on the right. They are llamas, a South American animal, that looks, as you can see, like a camel crossed with a deer, and then dressed up in a thick wooly coat. They are supposed to be working for their living, guarding sheep from dogs, coyotes and other neighborhood ne'er do wells. Instead, they have discovered how to jump the cattleguard into our yard, where the grass is tastier, and there are rose leaves for dessert. You can find them on a sunny afternoon stretched out full length on the lawn, idly chewing, looking for all the world like sunbathing Eurotrash waiting for the cabana boy with the next round of drinks.

This morning they discovered they could use their jumping skills on the cattleguard at the end of the driveway on Browntown Road. I was moments from getting in the shower when a neighbor showed up to tell us that we had llamas on the loose. The pair had made it down the road to the house of another neighbor on Gooney Run and were munching on his grass. This was not satisfactory to us, the neighbor, nor to the morning commuter traffic nearby on Browntown Road. If you live off a two lane stretch of asphalt like we do, you soon realize their are only two types of drivers; old folks plodding down the road no faster than twenty-five, and younger types making an attempt on the sound barrier. The thought of two llamas in the road as a Ford F-150 rounds the turn at sub-orbital velocity was too grim to contemplate. One son and I chased them up out of the yard and across the road while Susan played crossing guard. I followed them down the in-law's driveway in my own truck until we could route them through a gate in the fence, some 50 acres away from where they started. After going through the gate, they began to recognize their own field, and looked at us like we had performed some kind of magic trick. Since they were in the same pasture as the sheep they were supposed to be guarding, we figured it was a job well done. This evening they were waiting for us, back in the front yard.
Bishop Seraphim describes his drive through a "New England festival of color . . . One could do worse than to imagine Heaven in terms of a New England, or Hudson Valley village in the Fall". Here further south in the Appalachians, we have our own, smaller, festival; in my eyes no less beautiful. It is customarily greeted by lines of cars from the D.C. suburbs backed up waiting for their turn on Skyline Drive. I don't mind. As the Chinese Poet, Po Chu-I put it;

"Beautiful places basically have no established owners;
in general, mountains belong to people who love mountains

Oh to have a home
In such a quiet leafy spot,
Yearns the city man;
Yet he never builds a hut in mountain country.

Okuma Kotomichi from Donald Keene's Anthology of Japanese Literature

Sunday, November 03, 2002

Two blogs I read, Orthopraxis (a.k.a. and Xavier+ have recently mentioned the victory of Constantine (Saint Constantine for us Easterners) at Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D.. The victory followed a vision (or so the story goes) where Constantine saw a vision of the Cross, together with the words, IN HOC SIGNO VINCES, "In this sign you shall conquer." The legalization of the Church that followed changed everything. In some protestant circles it is customary to think of Constantine's embrace of Christianity as the beginning of the end of the real church and its replacement by an official, imperially endorsed counterfeit. Many writers speak of our age as "Post-Constantinian," and this is almost always regarded as a good thing. There is a truth to that. Secular power's embrace of Christianity often results in a too intimate embrace of secular power by Christians. But there is also another truth, that trying to embody Gospel truths in law and culture is itself a not unworthy goal. Let me give an example. When an ambulance comes up behind traffic with lights flashing and siren wailing, the cars in front give way or pull over. The passenger in the ambulance might be a drunk, fallen in a gutter, it might be a thief, injured while committing a crime. It might be a person of no importance, with no claim on any worldly power, nonetheless, cars pull over to let him pass. The only requirement for this special treatment is that the passenger be a person in pain and in need. If the Chairman of General Motors is ahead of an ambulance, his car pulls over. The same for a Senator. Your family name doesn't exempt you. Your religion or your ethnicity doesn't privilege you. It doesn't matter, rich or poor, famous or unknown, if you are in that ambulance, by law and by custom, all give way to let you pass. We give the sick and suffering a prerogative and privilege reserved in cultures untouched by the Gospel solely for the powerful. This is what "Constantinian" Christianity at its best is about. This is also why I have mixed feelings when I hear the phrase "Post-Constantinian."

Friday, November 01, 2002

In an entry on the LiveJournal for Orthodox Christianity, Bishop Seraphim Sigrist asks about what icon touches you. By way of an answer to that question I present the clumsily photographed image on the left, an icon made by a friend of a friend. Before becoming Orthodox, I met a Russian couple, Mark and Lena Khaisman, then living in Front Royal. Mark was working as a stained glass designer for a local studio, but had trained in Russia as an iconographer. I had seen icons before, under glass from a distance at museums, or as prints in books. When I saw his works for the first time, held them, really looked at them, there was a quality I had never before imagined. It is a cliche these days to call icons "windows to heaven." I did not see heaven, but when I looked through these "windows", there were depths that looked back, judging, and comforting. It was the kind of encounter with the Spirit I thought possible only in prayer and reading the Scriptures. This was unexpected to say the least. In my mind icons were simply another form of religious art, instructive when used properly, idolatrous when abused, but totally understandable within my Anglican/evangelical world view. Standing before Mark's icons I felt like a wading pool swimmer shown the ocean for the first time. To my regret, I never purchased one of his before he and Lena left Front Royal for Philadelphia. My wife Susan did buy me as an unexpected present the icon displayed here. It had been carved by a friend of Mark's back in Moscow, blessed, and sent to America in hopes that it would send back some hard currency to help his family survive in the worst days following the Soviet collapse. I had admired it at Mark and Lena's home, and it took my breath away again when I unwrapped it in mine. It would be overstating the case to say that I became Orthodox to make a proper place for this icon in my life, but it would not be a lie either. For the curious, the icon is a bas-relief, carved in wood and lightly lacquered, of the "Vladimir Mother of God." The Orthodox Church in America web pages have a history of the place of the "Vladimir" icon in Russian piety here.

Thursday, October 31, 2002

This one is for Gerard, who missed the peak of fall color on his visit.

How the dew and the autumn rains
Have dripped through,
Even to the lowest branches on Moru Mountain,
Coloring them for autumn.

Ki No Tsurayuki (Trans. J. Thomas Rimer)

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Robert Brady of Notes from Pure Land Mountain gives news of the shiitake mushroom harvest at home in Japan. Here in Front Royal we have our own celebration of the flavorful fungi every May. It is now a major tourist draw, officially known as the "Virginia Wine & Mushroom Festival," bringing in as many as 15,000 people to Main Street, but it had much humbler beginnings.

Like many great ideas, this one started with a few guys sitting around drinking beer, or so I am told. The major spring celebration in our area has always been Winchester's Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, which is truly a big deal, shutting down the entire city for the weekend and attended by upwards of a quarter million people. Front Royal, about 25 miles south of Winchester, had nothing to compare. Smaller, more blue collar, and until a dozen years ago, blessed with a rayon fiber factory that featured all the best odors of a chemical plant and a paper mill combined, we have always been the unwanted step-child of the Northern Shenandoah in comparison to Winchester. In the 1800's we used to be known as "Hell Town," a name which no longer applies except on a particularly bad Saturday night. The gentlemen who were drinking beer, community leaders all, decided that what was needed was a good way to thumb our collective noses at our presumed betters in Winchester and their precious festival. Someone noted that a number of folks had started growing shiitake mushrooms for the D.C. restaurant market. They decided that if Winchester could celebrate apple blossoms, we could honor the humble mushroom. They planned a parade featuring a man in a mushroom costume, called a few vendors, talked to some mushroom growers and got the thing going. It was, frankly, a joke that got out of hand. When people began showing up in larger groups, and mushroom growers became scarcer, it turned into what is now essentially a wine festival and street craft fair. It is a good time, and good business for the community and the many fine local wineries. Nonetheless I miss the anarchic ad hoc days of the earlier festivals and hold on to my Shiitake Madness! t-shirt in their memory.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

Rain past, fall colors coming; the view from home.

Buck Mountain; morning light and shadow.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Joel Garver at Sacra Doctrina has a useful summary and review of an essay by Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson in the volume The Strange New Word of the Gospel: Re-Evangelizing in the Postmodern World. Jenson is one of our more acute theological observers of the modern (or post-modern, if you will) circus. His essay in First Things, "How the World Lost Its Story" published back in 1993, has become a minor classic among orthodox (both small and large "o") Christians interested in the forging a response to the post-Christian environment in which we now live. Jenson has a long list of publications, including a two volume systematic theology. His work can be difficult at times, but it is always fruitful. He is one of those thinkers that, even when wrong, is instructive. Read the two essays linked above or go here for his essay "What If It Were True?" a fine short introduction to Jenson's "method" and some of his favorite themes.
Poet and critic Dana Gioia will be the nominee for next head of the National Endowment for the Arts. Gioia created a tempest in the literary teapot back in 1991 with his essay in the Atlantic Monthly, "Can Poetry Matter?" arguing that poets need to break out of the increasingly inbred and sterile subculture of writing programs, grants and little magazines. A larger sampling of his criticism and his own work as a poet can be found here. I have to agree with the author of the Wall Street Journal piece linked at the top, that this is a felicitous choice.

Monday, October 21, 2002

As a regular visitor to Bishop Seraphim Segrist's LiveJournal, I was delighted to find that the good Bishop is an admirer of Manly Wade Wellman's Appalachian tales of John the Balladeer. Wellman was one of the great "pulp" writers of our age, active from the 30's until his death in the mid 80's. The "Silver John" stories are some of his best work, by turns charming, scary, funny and wise. There are five John the Balladeer novels, which are worth reading, but the real treasures are the stories, now alas, out of print. Night Shade Books is reprinting selected stories of Wellman's in a series of volumes, the fifth of which is scheduled to include all the John the Balladeer stories.

Folk musician Joe Bethancourt has RealAudio samples of his versions of John's ballads at a web page devoted to his cassette release, (title taken from a Wellman tale), Who Fears the Devil.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Frost, fall color, fog; a morning view of Buck Mountain.

Feeding time; autumn light, hampshire ewes and hay bales.

Saturday, October 19, 2002

I had a face from the past drop by the office this week, a woman whose husband I had prosecuted for assaulting her on several occasions. They had one of those relationships that is doomed from the start to end up as an item on a Court docket. He does not hold his liquor well and has a mean temper when he drinks. She, while not exactly being crazy, has a mind that tends to wander off the beaten path and get lost in the underbrush. She stopped by to ask a few questions because she thought I had spoken kindly and truthfully to her those several years ago when her file was part of my caseload. If you are in any kind of public service job, you have met people like her, and after a while, you cringe when they come in. You know that whatever you can do, it will never be enough to fix what is wrong, and, in the meantime, they are taking up time you could use on a solvable problem. As it happened, she had picked a good day to stop by, and I was able to take a few minutes and talk with her. I don't think I changed anything, but it was good to have the chance to hear her out and leave her with a little dignity. I was thinking of her, and all the others who walk through my door, while reading in The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann and ran across this entry:

What is the most frightening aspect of social work, administration, power? It is the gradually growing indifference, a certain passive cruelty. In order to satisfy everybody, one way or another, one must limit each, reduce one's rapport with each to a minimum, until it becomes impersonal. Each person demands everything. The mystery of Christ: giving Himself totally to each one.

To my regret, I don't find in myself the self-giving of Christ in the face of the needs around me. Another great Christian writer of our time, the late Vassar Miller, nails the problem exactly in one of her poems:


I dip a cautious foot in the Atlantic
Of generosity, yet keep my wits
To draw it out in time before I panic.
I give myself away by modest bits
In crumbs fed birds of dainty appetite.
I give my love out in judicious doles.
Mine is the wise man's, not the widow's mite,
Leaving in my largesse enough loopholes
Through which I may escape if necessary
To practicality. For, though no miser,
Conservative and not reactionary--
I shun those few whose goodness is a geyser,
Who cannot comprehend a balance sheet
And fling their lives like pennies at God's feet.

(If I Had Wheels Or Love: Collected Poems of Vassar Miller)

Prudence is a tricky virtue for a Christian. It is far too easy to be foolish when you should be prudent. Perhaps, easier still, to be prudent when you should be a fool.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

I was asked this week by a visitor to the farm, "What do you see here in twenty-four hours?" I'm still not quite sure how to answer that. Everything. Nothing. Here, as a beginning, is the view this morning:

As I rise from sleep I thank Thee, O Holy Trinity, for through Thy great goodness and patience Thou wast not angered with me, an idler and sinner, nor hast Thou destroyed me in my sins, but hast shown Thy usual love for men, and when I was prostrate in despair, Thou hast raised me to keep the morning watch and glorify Thy power. And now enlighten my mind's eye and open my mouth to study Thy words and understand Thy commandments and do Thy will and sing to Thee in heartfelt adoration and praise Thy Most Holy Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

The past weeks have been unseasonably warm. The local insect population responded like a desperate team granted a sudden death overtime in the Reproductive Bowl. Buzzing and chirping everywhere at night, a constant drone of sound at evening feeding. The weather shifted on Monday, a cold front ahead of rain. Yesterday morning, our first frost left the lawn in ripples of white. Last night, as the rain started, only a single cricket could be heard.

Crickets --
as the cold of night deepens into autumn
are you weakening? your voices
grow farther and farther away.

Saigyo (trans. Burton Watson)

Sunday, October 13, 2002

I have spent most of the weekend struggling with an attack of the "klez" virus. I think the hard drive is now safe and sanitary, but I still feel as if I should be ringing the cyber-equivalent of a bell, chanting "unclean!, unclean!" For anyone who may have received their own copy of the virus when it hijacked my address book, many apologies. For whoever sent it to me, forgiveness. I had some rather less annoying trespassers out on the front lawn yesterday morning, who are pictured below:

Monday, October 07, 2002

For my regular readers, I apologize for the lack of new content. Exhaustion sometimes overtakes inspiration. The addition of a homicide to the normal routine of stabbings, rapes, thefts, burglaries, drunk driving, assaults and shopliftings has had the office working overtime. I do not say this by way of complaint, especially considering the nightmare that is taking place to the east of us in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Our town may have its troubles, but they are still on a (mostly) managable scale.

If I can find some time, there will be a new installment of the Suburban Ascetic and number of shorter pieces up this weekend. Until then, please check out the folks linked on the left who continue to blog good stuff daily.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Tonight, when I picked up the last bale of hay in the corner of barn, I found a three foot blacksnake looking back at me, not pleased to be disturbed. I, on the other hand, was quite happy to see him. We are unwilling donors of grain and alfalfa hay to the rat and field mouse survival and reproduction fund. Having a snake around means there are substantial penalties for withdrawal. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Burn's "Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beasties." I simply would like them to eat less than the sheep do.

My attitude towards snakes is not, I regret to say, typical of farmers around here. The old-timers wage an never-ending war against snakes of all sizes, shapes and colors. Poisonous, non-poisonous, it makes no difference. God tells the serpent in Genesis that the son of the woman will bruise his head. Folks around here seem to take that as a command, rather than an obscure messianic prophecy. Tonight's blacksnake seemed more elegant than subtle and tempted me not at all. If he wishes to share the local rodent population with us, he is more than welcome.

Monday, September 30, 2002

Thursday night we had the first murder in Warren County in almost two and a half years. It rained without letup that evening, soaking the body as it lay there in the lot by the river, spreading blood in shallow pools over the gravel like an obscene watercolor. I knew the boy slightly, which is not surprising in a small town. He had committed some traffic infractions which I had prosecuted. He also had some other, more serious, brushes with the law, but nothing that justified the scene Thursday night. I had little sleep that night, the investigators on the case even less. Work on the case in ongoing. We are all angry, angry at the waste, angry at the arrogance of someone who would take another's life for no reason worth a damn. We are angry that all our worst suspicions about human nature have been confirmed again. It is easy to get hard in this job. Sometimes it is even a necessity, to do what needs to be done. And yet . . . I saw one of our investigators, who had handled the carnage of the crime scene seemingly without sentiment, open the trunk of his car and find that a field mouse had nested in his rubber boot, falling out as he up-ended it. She scampered across the parking lot, leaving her three finger-nail sized babies there on the asphalt. The investigator put on a crime scene glove, and gently moved them all to a grassy strip near where the mother had run, having had enough of death of any kind that day.

Looking on me as I lie here prone before you, voiceless and unbreathing, mourn for me, everyone; brethren and friends, kindred, and you who knew me well; for but yesterday with you I was talking, and suddenly there came upon me the fearful hour of death: therefore come, all you that long for me, and kiss me with the last kiss of parting. For no longer shall I walk with you, nor talk with you henceforth: for to the Judge I go, where no person is valued for his earthly station: Yea, slave and master together stand before Him, king and soldier, rich man and poor man, all accounted of equal rank: for each one, according to his own deeds shall be glorified, or shall be put to shame. Therefore I beg you all, and implore you, to offer prayer unceasingly for me to Christ our God, that I be not assigned for my sins to the place of torment; but that He assign me to the place where there is Light of Life.

(From the Orthodox Funeral Service)

Gideon Strauss linked to a poem by Kodojin I posted last week. Kodojin was a near-contemporary Japanese poet (1865-1944) who lived in a time when that nation's ancient traditions were being reshaped to create a modern (and militarist) Japan. Kodojin self-consciously moved against this stream, adhering to traditions of scholarship, art and poetry, that went back thousands of years into Asian history. As one might imagine, this placed him out of step in his own time, and virtually forgotten in ours. Stephen Addis, a noted scholar, artist, potter and calligrapher, rediscovered Kodojin's work and brought it to an English speaking public in the volume Old Taoist: The Life, Art and Poetry of Kodojin. Many of Kodojin's poems were written in classical Chinese, and translated for this volume by Jonathan Chaves, himself a noted scholar of Chinese literature and a fellow parishioner at St. Mary's Orthodox Church. Here is his translation of one of my favorite poems by Kodojin, a description of the good life for the country dweller who also loves literature:

Fertile fields enrich my household;
a good wife completes my home.
Auspicious trees grow along my paths;
wonderful books fill my carts.

I have edited the 9/23 post to include links on Amazon to the books I borrowed the poems from, in case you want to add them to your own cart.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

You see, it all started with the cows. We were living in town then, and my father-in-law went and bought about twenty Hereford cows from North Carolina and an Angus bull to match. Cattle prices were up and it seemed like a good idea at the time. They arrived on the place and promptly scattered. There were cows sneaking over on to the neighbor's place. There were cows in my in-law's yard. There was one cow who jumped the cattle guard and headed full speed south to Browntown, right smack down the middle of the blacktop, traffic be damned. We made quite a few retrieval trips out from the townhouse to the farm until they settled down and started to feel at home.

Soon after, cattle prices went down, but the cows stayed, producing black and white calves each year. When my father-in-law got sick one winter, Susan began going out to help him feed. In winter when the grass dies off, you load last summer's grass in the form of hay on the farm truck. Soon enough, the cows learn the routine and follow in line when the truck comes in to the pasture, waiting for the square bales to be cut open and tossed down. This happens every day. If sleet is blowing sideways, you do it. If it is so cold your hands go numb as you cut the baling twine, you still do it. If it is soaking rain, barely above freezing you do it, and hope that some day you will feel warm again. Susan did all this. She fed cows in knee deep snow. She fed cows in mud. She fed on days when she was sick herself. She would say that she hated those cows. Each time she went out to help with some chore, be it worming, castrations, or birthing, she would come back claiming that cows were absolutely the dumbest, most aggravating excuse for an animal God had ever placed on the planet.

Somehow, in the midst of it all, her ties to the home place began growing stronger. We were out there every weekend, helping with farm chores until it began to seem like second nature. She and her father started talking about rebuilding the purebred sheep flock. The next thing I knew, the girl who wanted to hit the ground running after college had us building a house on the same place she had planned on seeing in the rearview mirror. Somehow she had found a love and a satisfaction here that went deeper than her adolescent dreams. (She still keeps pictures of tropical beaches and palm trees though.)

After we moved out here, a typical winter morning would see Susan in the truck, and when the kids were too young for school, at least one child in her lap, trying to help steer, as grandad threw hay off the back. After the kids were in school, Charlie the house dog, would go out with her, looking out the window as the cows (giants from his perspective) clustered around the truck. Feeding cows became as big a part of his day as breakfast, which is saying a lot from a dog's point of view.

Over the years, the size of the herd dwindled, until it was down to nine cows and a bull. The ladies we had left, though old, were all good keepers, used to us, used to the place. As Susan said, they were cows an old man and a woman could work. She would still say that sheep were much better than cows; that while she couldn't bring herself to eat one of her ewes, there wasn't a cow on the place that she wouldn't see sizzling on a plate. These last few years though, she said it mostly out of habit. Something about caring for an animal on a daily basis changes you. She would complain about cows in general, but speak with humor and affection about the surviving ladies on the place. She even started liking the bull, P.T., who was something of a character himself.

My father-in-law is fighting his way back from a new round of health problems and has not been able to pitch in much lately. The sheep flock has grown to a full time job on its own. We built a new barn a few years ago and moved most of the flock over closer to our house. He has been talking for a while about whether to keep the cows or let them go. On Tuesday, he had a neighbor who runs the local livestock sale come and get them. Susan was in school teaching, and never had a chance to say goodbye. She wept last night, disconsolate. Because, you see, it all started with the cows.

Monday, September 23, 2002

Today was the beginning of Fall, with the September Equinox occuring at 12:55 a.m. for those of us in the Eastern time zone. The change in season was marked by a change in the weather; clear and cool today, after yesterday night's downpour swept away the day's unseasonable heat and humidity. The equinox itself came hard on the heels of the Harvest Moon, traditionally, the full moon closest to the equinox.

Here is a small gathering of poems to commemorate the turn of the season. Their authors lived years ago and half a world away, but the sights can be seen from my own front porch, and their thoughts are as fresh as the day's weather report.

The moon speeds on --
the treetops
still holding rain.

Basho (trans. Stephen Addis)

Four or five clusters of mountains, colors
freshened by rain;
two or three lines of wild geese,
dotting the clouds of autumn.

Tu Hsun-ho (trans. Jonathan Chaves)

Solitary cloud, feeling of a thousand ages;
setting sun, a skyful of autumn.
As far as eye can see, departing birds--
watching the mountains, alone I lean on the railing.

Kodojin (trans. Jonathan Chaves)

Sunday, September 22, 2002

To my regular readers, I apologize for the light blogging this week. The lawyer part of my life took precedence, with teaching at the local law enforcement academy and a trip to Richmond to consult with a blood spatter expert at the State lab added to the normal Court schedule. I don't get many road trips as a prosecutor and took advantage of the opportunity to stop in Fredericksburg on the way home to eat lunch at Allman's Barbecue. Allman's has been serving wonderful slow cooked pork accompanied by their own secret sauce out of the same building since the fifties. My father would take me there as a boy back in the sixties when we would drive down from Alexandria to fish the Spring shad run on the Rappahannock River. Not having been back in several years, I am happy to say that the place is still the same, and the barbecue just as fine as I remembered. Those with high bandwidth (or a lot of patience) can take a video visit to Allman's here.
High on my list of things I don't need before my morning coffee: A hungry llama with an attitude:

Monday, September 16, 2002

Phrases I never used growing up in the suburbs: Boys, get that llama out of the yard! and Well, is it a live possum, or a dead one? The change from pointy-headed intellectual to farm hand is full of moments where you literally have trouble believing the words coming out of your mouth. I try to take this new life in stride, but there are still times when I find myself standing like a fool, in awe at the latest barnyard disaster, wondering, how did I get here? Why am I doing this? Will this ever come out of my trousers? What possessed me to wear these shoes down here? Can't beat the stories though.

Thanks to all the folks who linked to the post on determined, if not intelligent, sheep. Guess you can't beat a good animal act!

Today's picture is for Liz, who asked a question in a comment lost when I was editing my first photo post, wanting to know what Hampshires look like. This is a group of ewes who wandered up while I had the camera handy after memorializing their friends in the other lot.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

One reason why sheep do not rule the world:

Sheep, like some people, are convinced that what ever is on the other side of the fence is better than what is on their side. These ladies thought that perhaps the other sheep were getting better water than they were, and spent the afternoon fixed in place, heads stuck through the wire. After rescue, they ambled off, none the wiser for the experience.
Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross. David Melling has some thoughts on the place of the cross in worship at his Arimathea web site.

I have come to the depths of the sea, and a storm of many sins has drowned me; but as God lead my life back from corruption, as you love mankind.

As he hung on you, O Cross, the Creator was willingly pierced in the side and poured out blood and water, through which we who greet you with faith have been refashioned.

Life-endowed wood of the Cross, fount of immortality, redemption of the whole world, save us who greet you as our saving protection.

You have been given to us as an unbreakable weapon, through which we may overcome all the ambuscades of the adversaries, O divine Cross, we who reverently greet you in uprightness of soul.

(From the vespers for the Forefeast of the Exaltation of the Cross, trans. by Archimandrite Ephraim.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

On September 11 the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas was destroyed by the falling towers. The image above, part of the Memorial page at the Greek Archdiocese website, shows the Church outlined against the towers and the service conducted by Archbishop Demetrios at Ground Zero in the rubble that once was the sanctuary. Go to the Archdiocese' site for a wealth of images, prayers and thoughtful material.

Monday, September 09, 2002

The Orthodox Church in America has a special page on its website with materials to aid in prayerful remembrance of the events of September 11. The following petitions from the site are for use in Memorial services for the departed victims.

Again we pray for all who have fallen into the hands of our enemies: for the
children, the aged, and the sick; for prisoners of war and for all those whom our
enemies have killed and injured through terrorist attacks; that the Lord our God
may look upon them with compassion; that He may comfort, strengthen, and
preserve them; and that He may deliver them speedily from bondage and
oppression and have mercy on them.

Again we pray for the repose of the souls of the valiant people of God who have
departed this life: especially for the souls of all those who lost their lives during
the terrorist attacks.

Again we pray for our relatives and friends who continue to mourn and to grieve
the loss of their loved ones; that the Lord our God will grant them His peace and

Again we pray for those who serve in the Armed Forces of our nation on land and
sea and in the air; that the Lord our God may bring them safely out of every peril
and danger and ever sustain them with the comfort of His mercy.

Again we pray that we may be preserved from wrath, pestilence, earthquake,
flood, fire, the sword; from invasion by foreign enemies, from terrorist attacks,
from civil war, and from sudden death; and that our God, Who is good and the
Lover of Mankind, may be gracious, merciful, and easy to be reconciled to us, so
that He may turn away from us the storm of wrath and affliction stirred up against us;
that He may deliver us from the righteous judgment impending against us; and
that He may have mercy on us.
The following is something I wrote in the aftermath of 9/11 last year. I have some hesitation about posting it here, both because of its inadequacy in face of the subject matter and because it assumes knowledge of two poems by Yeats that are not quoted in full. I cannot do much about the first problem without becoming a better writer than I am. As to the second, the first Yeats poem can be read in full here and the second here. (Thanks to Steven Riddle and his Flos Carmeli blog for the link to the poetry resources at Susan and I had the honor of helping in a small way at the Pentagon crash site in the days following 9/11. We were there in response to a call for folks with a ham radio license to provide communications support for the Salvation Army. For the one night and one day we were there, I witnessed the quiet heroism of the military, law enforcement and public safety personnel. The job was massive, harsh and mostly thankless, but it was done without hesitation. I am used to crime scenes as part of my daily work, but this was on a scale beyond my imagination. This piece was an attempt to process at least part of my own reaction.

Like everyone else gathered around a screen on Tuesday, I had the feeling that the world had changed, radically, while we watched. It was as clear as a curtain closing between acts or an orchestra turning the page from a movement marked "staccato" to one captioned "largo." What it means for all of us we will find out in the weeks to come. For me, the first, and greatest, surprise was to discover I was an American again. This, I admit, sounds absurd. After all, I have lived here all my life and I'm sure that in any other nation I would only have to open my mouth to remove any doubt of my nationality. What I mean, is that for the last few years I have felt an erosion of loyalty to any grouping larger than family, friends, neighbors and congregation. Just a few weeks ago, I was revisiting a poem by Yeats, "An Irish Airman foresees his Death." The lines that have struck me since I first read them are:

Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.

Yeats' airman lives in that peculiar modern dislocation, where the glories of the brave new world draw you to strange places disconnected from the old places and values. The "lonely impulse of delight" in flying, of facing life and death in the clouds replaces the old reasons for fighting. He is not a mercenary, but neither does he fly as a patriot, for Britain, for Ireland, for anywhere. His is a life, and a death, disconnected from any place that any man born before this last century would recognize as home.

For many years I was convinced that home, in any deep sense, was something we had lost with advent of modern America. To have mobility, the ability to reinvent oneself at will, is a great thing at times, but it is the opposite of being rooted from generation to generation, in either a place or a tradition. We all, in these times, are subject to that "lonely impulse of delight" that can take us far away. The thing delighted in could be as simple as city lights and loud music, as complex as the marvels of science, art or literature. In any case, it leads us to a place where patriotism is not so much false, as irrelevant. Our true country is, at best, our callings, career and colleagues. At worst, our highest loyalty is to the products we consume.

These past eight years I have tried to run in the opposite direction. I live on land occupied by my wife's family for over a hundred years. (Longer, if the family story about a Shawnee grandmother many generations back is true.) In a time where mendacity and materialism have been the norms on both ends of the political spectrum, the acres I call home have seemed country enough. When Clinton was elected to a second term, my wife switched from flying the American flag to hoisting up the old secessionist banner of a white star on a field of blue, the "Bonnie Blue Flag" of the War between the States. I had a pretty good idea of what we were seceding from. Where we were seceding to was a little less definite. The combination of local land, relatives, neighbors and friends I felt loyalty to did not have a name of its own. In my own mind I have half-jokingly thought of it as the Republic of Gooney Run. Until Tuesday it was enough.

Now I fly the flag without hesitation. Chesterton, a great patriot, cautioning against an unreflective patriotism, once said "'My country, right or wrong,' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'my mother, drunk or sober.'" This land, right or wrong, drunk or sober, is my land and I owe it whatever I can give. Not in spite of its sins and failings, but because of them, for they are my own. When Susan and I were down at the Pentagon helping with the Salvation Army relief effort, we rode by a parking garage filled with refrigerator trucks borrowed from the local supermarkets. When I realized what those trucks were holding it chilled and angered me. Those were my people in those ad hoc mortuaries. And I thought of some other lines by Yeats:

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned

I cannot quote the next two lines. The worst, indeed, are full of passionate intensity. But after seeing the rescue crews face to face at the Pentagon, men exhausted from back-breaking, soul-tearing labor, men struggling, not with the hope of finding anyone alive, but simply to fill a coffin for a grieving family, it is impossible to say that the best lack all conviction. Men like these were ignored and disparaged in this nation the last eight years, but they were still here when needed. One of the first acts of the rescue crews, both here and in New York, was to put up an American flag. They were not ashamed, and now, neither am I.

Sunday, September 08, 2002

I'm trying another photo upload. If this works, you are seeing a sheep pedicure:

Saturday, September 07, 2002

I spend an inordinate amount of time in bookstores. While I like a Borders or Barnes and Noble just fine, the real treasures are in the small shops; independent sellers, specialty shops and used book stores. Front Royal is blessed with the presence of Royal Oak Bookshop, my own favorite reef on the ocean of bibliomania. You can take a virtual tour on their website. I would recommend a visit in the flesh if you are in the area.

Royal Oak is a small store with a constantly changing stock of new and used volumes. Literally anything may come through, like shells washed up with the tide. One day there may be nothing of interest. Come back later, and there is that odd little book you have searched for all your life. Some years back, I found on their shelves a copy of In The Service Of The King, the memoirs of my great-grandfather, the Reverend Joseph Dunn, concerning his life as an Episcopal priest in Virginia in the early part of the last century. Up until that moment I had good reason to believe the only copies in existence were in the hands of family or moldering in the State Library in Richmond. The chain stores may offer discounts, but they can't give you miracles.
Blogger appears to be having technical difficulties loading images. If one picture is worth a thousand words, I have a lot of writing to do. Will try and do some of it later this evening.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Telford Work has returned to blogging after a move to the west coast. Until I can add him back to the link list on the left, you can find his theological meditations here.
Between family, farm, job and the kids' return to school, there hasn't been much time for blogging. I do have a few things in the works which will get posted later this week. To those who have written me or left comments, my apologies. I will get back to you in the next couple of days. In the meantime, here is another picture, looking out to the south. It was taken last summer during a dry spell and doesn't do justice to the look of the place now after the rain last week. The days still feel like summer, but nights and mornings have a certain slant of light that hints of autumn. There is a moment near sunset when a rush of cool air pours down from the mountain and the heat of the day vanishes as everything is lit up by the last burst of sunlight over Buck Mountain. Who could want more?

Sunday, September 01, 2002

I'm experimenting with the new blog*spot plus/blogger pro upload feature. Here is a picture taken from the front yard earlier this summer. In the foreground are some of the flock who did a four footed limbo under the fence. Their taller, less flexible, brethren are behind them, still in their proper place. Below, to the left, are the barn and barnyard.

Saturday, August 31, 2002

Rebecca Poe died today after a long battle with cancer. She was nobody famous, though if you have lived more than a few years in Warren County, you knew her, or at least had read her work in the local papers. Becky devoted her life to recording the comings and goings of our community. In later years she took up the mantle of local historian, and became the keeper of our memories. If you wanted to know where the creek that flowed past your farm got its name, Becky could tell you. She knew the old census records, newspaper files, and the few formal works of history our community produced. More importantly, she knew stories. She was related to most of the old-timers, had talked to all of them and remembered everything. She wrote down much, but the loss of what she held in her own heart and head is immeasurable.

Becky spent most of her working life as a journalist, reporting, writing, editing; doing at one time or another every job that can be done on a small town paper. She retired when her health got bad. After an unexpected remission from the first bout with cancer, she treated her reprieve as a gift and decided it was time to do whatever her heart truly desired. She discovered that what gave her the greatest pleasure was what she had done for all those years, running a small town newspaper. She wanted to do it on her own terms though, and started the Warren Times, a small paper produced weekly from her kitchen table. My wife Susan, who was a cousin to Becky on her father's side, helped out by selling and designing ads for the Times. I grew used to seeing oversize sheets spread across the table in Susan's study, ready for advertising copy and last minute stories, before being returned to Becky and the printers. The paper thrived for several years, breaking even and even making a little money on occasion, until Becky's health began to fail again. The paper has been dormant for a while now, and with Becky gone, will not likely see print again.

We will miss her. She had a quick mind and a great heart, a love of family and a love of community. In any place, large or small, there are a few souls who do more than their share to see that what is good survives, and that what is wrong gets fixed. Most of these folks are unknown outside their own town or neighborhood, sometimes not well known within it. Becky Poe was one such person. Her time among us left us richer, her passing will leave us that much poorer.
Tomorrow (September 1) is the beginning of the Church year on the Orthodox calendar. My own Church, the Orthodox Church in America, follows a revised Julian calendar which tracks the civil calendar for most dates, but calculates the timing of Pascha (Easter) according to the traditional reckoning. (For those Orthodox Churches that use the traditional Julian calendar, September 1 is still thirteen days away. Orthodoxy being conservative in all things, many Churches have declined to use the revised, or "New" Calendar and, in some circles, the change is viewed as the first step of a descent into secularism and relativism.)

The custom of starting the Church year at the beginning of September dates back to the times when Orthodoxy was the official faith of the Eastern Roman Empire. Even in these more secular times, it is still the custom of Orthodox hierarchs to send a word of greeting and encouragement to their flocks at the beginning of the new Church year. The message of Metropolitan Herman, new chief hierarch of the OCA can be found here. Archbishop Demetrios, head of the Greek Archdiocese, sends his greetings here.

Friday, August 30, 2002

While unloading groceries this afternoon, I saw a very large bird walking by the roses along the back fence. Since the (still unnamed) peacock was over by the small sheep shed, I assumed it was one of the vultures I had seen this morning, sitting out on fence posts at the far end of the feed lot for the ram lambs. Walking closer, I could see my mistake and the reason for my confusion. It was not a turkey vulture, but an actual wild turkey. For several years there has been a good sized flock living in the National Park above us on the mountain. Usually shy, wary birds, they sometimes come down to the pasture by the house to feed in the early morning. I am used to seeing them from some 100 yards distance, not 10 feet away, walking in my own backyard. This fellow (I say "fellow" because he had the Tom turkey's characteristic beard, a long tuft of feathers dangling down in front) panicked when he saw me, tried to find an opening in the wire fence, and then flew off into a tree on the property line. I lost sight of him in the foliage, and with frozen foods thawing in the truck bed, could not stay to watch.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

What's Coming Through the Speakers:

Tonight's soundtrack is a RealAudio stream of June Tabor's album, Rosa Mundi, courtesy of Green Linnet Records. A veteran of the British folk scene, she has a dark, haunting voice, capable of crystalline beauty in the midst of heartbreaking pathos. Richard Thompson and Elvis Costello both write for her. In a better world, June Tabor would be selling out stadiums, while Madonna, Brittany, Christina et al would be reduced to strutting their stuff in front of a few drunken Shriners in the lounge of a Holiday Inn outside of Trenton, New Jersey.

Green Linnet provides complete streams of four of her albums for the curious. While this is generous of them, RealAudio, even over broadband, doesn't do justice to the quality of her singing. Grab a CD if you can find one. You can read more about her here and here.
The Suburban Ascetic

Back in June I started this feature, intending it to be a regular series on living a basic Orthodox spiritual life in a consumer culture. The first two installments, on the Jesus prayer, can be found here and here in the archives. As you can see, I now have to refer to it as a series of irregularly appearing essays on Orthodox topics. This installment has some thoughts on iconography, though I still intend to get back to the promised piece on fasting and present a basic bibliography on prayer.

Someone coming from a secular or Protestant background cannot help but be struck by the role icons play in Orthodox life and worship. If you enter an Orthodox Church, the first thing you see is the iconostasis or icon screen, at the front of the Church, between the congregation and the altar. Some may be modest and open, others reach from floor to ceiling in the traditional manner, forming a wall covered with images of Jesus, Saints, Angels and the Virgin Mary. In some Churches, the images spill out over the entire sanctuary, leaving no surface unpainted. In a devout Orthodox home, somewhere there will be a corner with small icons, and perhaps a prayer book and oil lamp. These are more than just decorations. To the horror of some protestants, icons are venerated; they are kissed, parishioners cross themselves before them, the priest censes them, they are carried in processions. It is hard to think of an act of Orthodox worship which does not involve icons in some way, shape or form. This strikes secular and protestant souls alike as superfluous and superstitious. I have heard protestants exclaim, even after a lengthy theological and Christological explanation of the basis for icons, that it still feels like idolatry. Why, if the heart of the faith is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, would anyone need these peculiar artworks as part of their life?

To give a full answer to the question is beyond the scope of my abilities, and certainly beyond the limits of what can be jammed into a weblog. The classic apologia for images was written by St. John of Damascus. The best translation of his work is published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, but an earlier translation can be found online here. St. John's argument is wide ranging, covering Old Testament precedents, discussing the worship of the Church, analyzing the role of tradition and, most importantly, exploring the centrality of the incarnation in our redemption. With the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, everything has changed. Even matter itself is charged with the possibility of bearing the Kingdom of God. Redemption does not happen simply in the mind, nor is some disembodied soul the subject of redemption. Just as Christ was raised in a body, so shall we be. The earth is not merely doomed to destruction, but will become a new earth, with a new heaven. Icons are a foretaste of this. They teach us that men and women can become transfigured in Christ. We live in the midst of glory, even in this fallen world. The Saints are part of this: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2) The images of Jesus, the Saints and the Virgin remind us of this "cloud of witnesses" and show us the goal of our race.

Orthodoxy asserts against the materialist that there is a spiritual world. It asserts against the Gnostic and Manichean that the spiritual is linked to the material and that the material, though at times dangerous, is fundamentally good. Seeing the spiritual in and through the material is one of the goals of Orthodox spiritual life. For those of us who are a long way from sainthood, icons provide a way of seeing we could not achieve on our own. Technology has shown us that much of reality exists beyond the visible spectrum. Pick up any issue of National Geographic and you will see photographs of earth or the stars enhanced in what is sometimes called "false color" to show realities hidden from the narrow band of energy our eyes can see. Infrared pictures show the heat plumes from towns and factories, x-rays show stars invisible to the naked eye. Even radio waves tell stories of pulsars and quasars inaccessible in visible light. The iconostasis, or icon screen, does not hide the altar from the people, it reveals it. The liturgy tells us that we celebrate together with Saints and Angels, that Christ is present and that His Mother is there, interceding. The iconostasis shows this to us, revealing a hidden spiritual reality, just as the "false color" of an infrared or computer enhanced photograph reveals a hidden earthly one.

The "cloud of witnesses" commemorated in icons is particularly important in Orthodox life. In Orthodoxy, no one is saved alone. Orthodoxy is not opposed to knowing Jesus as one's "personal" Savior as long as that does not mean merely personal, as if our Lord could be someone's private possession. To be redeemed is to enter into a communion that extends to both the living and the dead, to angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, as well as to earthbound men and women. A "personal" relationship with Jesus that does not involve this is unthinkable. It is as if a man or woman were to turn to their beloved and say, "I want a personal relationship with you. Your parents, your family, your friends, the people in your past, I don't want to hear about any of them, I just want you. The beloved (unless their friends and family are horrible indeed) might reply, "If that is so, you don't want me at all. All those people are part of who I am, and you cannot truly know me without them." Orthodoxy asserts that the figures pictured in icons are the friends and family of our Lord. They are part of His story and His story in turn encompasses all that is and ever will be. If we bow before an icon, or say our prayers before it, we are not worshipping an idol, but merely taking our place within that story, as part of that great company.
There is a welcome break today in our summer-long drought. Steady, soft rain has been falling all afternoon. I was trying to get one of the fool house cats to come inside out of the weather, when my youngest explained the problem: "You have to open the door real wide. Cats like to think that they're royal . . ."
I was unloading thirty bales of hay from the farm truck Monday when one of the ewes came over to scratch her back on the frame of the truck. Sheep being into groupthink at a genetic level, this resulted in a half-dozen other ewes under the truck, stretching and scratching. They had the thing (a battered battleship gray Dodge Ram with an oversize hay rack on the back) popping up and down like a low rider on an L.A. street corner. I'm glad it was the smaller commercial ewes. The Hampshires might have flipped it. I can see the pictures now; rioting sheep turning over vehicles and smashing windows!

Monday, August 26, 2002

Fred First at Fragments From Floyd blogs on the topic of vultures today. We get more than our share around here. They fly the thermals coming off the ridge line of Skyline Drive back behind the house, circling for road kill on Browntown Road, or letting us know that one of our older sheep has gone on to her last reward. The native turkey vultures are with us all year. We are on a migration route for black vultures. It is not unusual to have a tree full next to the driveway, roosting until the air warms up on spring mornings.

Last summer we had a young black vulture with an injured wing on the farm. He would never let you get close enough to catch him, but he had the run of the place for the month or so he was here. An odd sight, a giant ugly black bird running through Susan's rose garden. I used to see him standing on a large rock in the pasture, looking for something dead. I always wondered, if he did find food, would he walk around it in big circles first? I never did find out what happened to him; did he heal and fly off, get caught by something larger and meaner than he was, or just simply hike over the next hill, hissing and snapping on his way?
I read James Lilek's Bleat with the morning coffee. He is always worth a minute of my time, but today's piece is exceptional. He takes on the case of the radio "shock jocks" who encouraged a (embarrassingly enough) couple from Virginia to have sex during mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Or more to the point, he takes on those who think the swift response of the radio station was a bad thing. He goes on to confront the entire modern genre of "transgressive" art:

It’s the work of people so jaded they think that intellectual bravery is defined not by the traditions you honor, but the ones you debase.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

My father-in-law keeps a floating population of peafowl on the farm. I haven't done a head count recently, so I can't give an accurate figure. At one time there were over a dozen peacocks and peahens strutting around the place, shrieking and stealing cat food off of the in-law's kitchen porch. Their numbers are somewhat reduced, but they are still a visible and audible presence. Our house is about forty acres north of theirs and we have been spared the peafowl infestation, until now. First, the five geese that are the remainder of my father-in-law's more traditional poultry flock moved down to our barnyard. (They sneak in and eat the spilled grain from the sheep troughs when they are not honking and squawking like old church ladies mad at the minister.) Now one of the peacocks, apparently unhappy with his standing in this year's mating competition, has joined them on our side of the farm. We first realized he was over here when we began finding shed tail-feathers around the place. He has tried to move into the yard, much to Charlie, the house dog's disgust. Sheep he is used to. Llamas, he has adapted to. Peacocks are just too much. At the moment they are in a kind of stalemate, the peacock coming in under the fence rails when Charlie is inside, retreating down the hill to the barn when he is out.

Peacocks are remarkable creatures, hardy, but weirdly impractical. They grow those giant tails every year for mating displays, only to shed them at the end of the summer and start the whole process over. My boys have grown up gathering two and three foot long radiant rainbow-touched tail feathers off the ground every August. We have bundles of them stashed around, like summer sunlight stored in quills. It almost makes up for the trial of living with them. One would think, after seeing a male in full display, that these birds must have the most beautiful of all calls. Wrong. Imagine, if you will, the sound of someone crushing a cat under a giant rusty hinge, echoing off the hillside. Multiply that by the total number of nesting peafowl and you have our night time music when they are disturbed. Makes a great alarm system though.

Our friend is an India Blue Peacock, the kind usually raised domestically, but still found in the wilds of Southeast Asia. Susan commented today that, since he seems determined to stay, he should have a name. Being fresh out of ideas, I am taking suggestions. Drop me a line or leave your pick in the comments section!