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.