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.