Category Archives: Pilgrimage

“Hola! Buen Camino!”

My Camino pilgrimage started at Pamplona, at lower right, for 450 miles of hiking and biking…

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Well, we did it.  My brother and I arrived in Santiago de Compostela on Thursday, October 12.  This was after hiking – and biking – the Camino de Santiago, as shown in the map above.  Along the way I occasionally listened to my iPod Shuffle – to help pass the time – and one of my favorite songs was It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.  Except in my mind I had to change the words to “It’s a long way to Santiago!”

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Just as an aside, Monday October 23 was the Feast day for St. James of Jerusalem.  He was also known as James, the brother of Jesus, “James the Just,” and was said to be the first Bishop of Jerusalem.*  He held that post until his death, by “martyrdom in 62 or 69 AD.”

And just in case you’re confused – about the number of “Jameses” in the Bible –  there are at least three men named James in the New Testament, and possibly as many as eight.  (See “BIO of Philip and James,” which attempts to sort them out.) 

In that list, James the Just (“Brother of Jesus”) is listed third.  James the Less – possibly the “son of Alphaeus” – is listed second.  Listed first is St. James the Greater – “for whom the Camino de Santiago is named,” and who is in fact the Patron Saint of Pilgrims.  Which is something I mentioned in my last post, On a pilgrimage in Spain.  A link in that post added this, after first noting that in English the route is known as “the Way of St. James:”

The Way of Saint James … is a network of pilgrims’ ways serving pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried.  Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth.

So on October 23 we remembered St. James of Jerusalem, also known as James, the brother of Jesus.  But from September 13 to October 12 – you could say – I “remembered” St. James the Greater, by going for a long walk on his pilgrimage route.  (Sore feet and all…)

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Getting back to the pilgrimage itself:  On October 3, in Puente La Reina, in Spain – “about eight miles shy of León” – I wrote that – on reaching Leon – “we will have hiked 250 miles from Pamplona, in the 21 days since we left on September 13.*”  Here’s another note:

The first 10 days after [Pamplona] – on the hike – were pretty miserable.  My left foot constantly throbbed, until it blistered up and got tough.  But the day off in Burgos helped a lot.  And since then we’ve made good progress.  Still, we had to implement a Plan B, which involves renting bikes in Leon and cycling the remaining 194 miles.

Image may contain: sky and outdoorAnd speaking of Burgos, here’s a picture of the city’s famous cathedral.  It shows my fellow traveller, and was taken on the morning of September 26, on the way out of town.  (That took over an hour, hiking.)

To make a long story short, we covered the last 195 miles or so in seven days, riding mountain bikes, complete with panniers on the back.  In other words, during the first two-thirds of the trip we averaged 12  miles a day, hiking.  In the last seven days we averaged closer to 28 miles a day.

But in a way that turned out to be simply a variety of Dorothy Parker‘s “different kind of hell.*”  (We just got way too sore again, but in different parts of the body.)

You can get a better idea from the map at the top of the page.  It took ten days to hike from Pamplona to Burgos, where we too our first day off.  It took another 10 days to reach Leon, where we took our second day off and picked up our pre-ordered bikes.  Then that long section from Leon to Burgos – some 195 miles of the 450 – we covered in seven days.

But not without mishap.  Neither of us had ridden a bike in 40 years or so, so it wasn’t real surprising when my right handlebar smashed the heck out of the side-view mirror of some poor slob’s nice new car.*  In the second mishap I literally “ran my ass into a ditch…”

We were zooming downhill one afternoon.  I tried to adjust my left pantleg, and the next thing I knew I was laying in a ditch, bleeding like a stuck pig.  And not just any ditch.  A nice deep ditch covered with thorns and brambles on the sides and bottom.  The “stuck pig” part came when my Ray-Bans gashed the bridge of my nose, causing it to bleed profusely…

The third major mishap came a mere six kilometers from Santiago, when my rear tire when flat.

We finally got a new tube on and inflated, but then had a time getting the chain back on the derailleur.  I finally flagged down a passing Spanish cyclist.  He helped get that straight, but then – after he peddled his merry way – we found out there were no rear brakes, which posed a problem.  We knew that much of the remaining six kilometers was downhill, and also that if applied too forcefully, using front-only brakes can cause a cyclist to go “ass over teakettle.”

So my brother had us switch bikes, and we both glided – carefully and gingerly – into Santiago.

I’ll be writing on more of these adventures, including the several times I – or we – got Lost in Spain.  But after five weeks in Spain – the last part of which included a nine-hour bus ride from Santiago to Madrid, and a 10-hour flight from Madrid to Atlanta – I can only say, with feeling:

There’s No Place Like Home!!

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There is indeed “no place like home” (especially after a long pilgrimage…)

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The upper image is courtesy of Camino de Santiago 800 PROJECT: Map of the  

The “Tipperary” image is courtesy of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary – Wikipedia.

Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to Jesus’ brother being the “first,” see James the Just, First Bishop of Jerusalem, Jesus’ brother.

For the “RCL” Bible readings for the October 23 feast day, see St. James of Jerusalem.

As to the asterisk next to the passage “the 21 days since we left on September 13:”  We actually reached Leon on October 4. 

Re: Fellow traveller.  Here referring to a person who is “intellectually sympathetic” – in this case, to the crazy idea of spending thousands of dollars and five weeks to hike in a foreign country – as opposed to the term as used in U.S. politics in the 1940s and 1950s.  At that time and place the term was a “pejorative term for a person who was philosophically sympathetic to Communism, yet was not a formal, ‘card-carrying member‘ of the American Communist Party.” 

Young Dorothy Parker.jpgRe:  “Different kind of hell.”  The allusion is to Dorothy Parker‘s famously saying – whenever the door rang in her apartment – “What fresh hell is this?”  That’s also the title of Parker’s 1989 biography by Marion Meade.  See Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?  

Re:  “Some poor slob’s nice new car.”  City streets in Spain are generally very narrow and difficult to maneuver. 

The “bicycle in a ditch” image is courtesy of Cyclist falls into ditch at opening of new safer bike path …

The lower image is courtesy   See also No Place Like Home – Wikipedia, which noted that – aside from the famous line in the movie Wizard of Oz – the phrase may also refer to “the last line of the 1822 song ‘Home! Sweet Home!,’ words by John Howard Payne and music by Sir Henry Bishop; the source of inspiration for the other references here: ‘Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home,’” and/or “‘(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays,’ a 1954 Christmas song most famously sung by Perry Como.”  For a “live” version, see also There’s No Place Like Home – YouTube.

On a pilgrimage in Spain…

I’m going east to explore Spain.  (That’s where Columbus – center – started west to explore us…)

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Welcome to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

This blog has three main themes.  The first is that God will accept anyone.  (See John 6:37.)  The second is that God wants us all to live lives of abundance (See John 10:10.)   The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus.  (See John 14:12.)

And this thought ties them together:

The only way to live live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is to read the Bible with an open mind.  For more, see the notes below or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

In less than 24 hours I’ll be winging my way from Atlanta to Madrid (As in Spain.)  From there I’ll take a train to Pamplonafrom whence my brother and I will hike 450 miles in 30 days.  (On the Camino de Santiago.)

Which brings up the whole “whence we came” thing.  (As illustrated above right.)  That phrase is attributed – variously – to John F. KennedyJames Baldwin, and Jesus.

John F. Kennedy put it this way:  “When we go back to the sea … we are going back from whence we came.”  And James Baldwin said, “If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”  Jesus said – in the King James Version of John 8:14 – “I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go.”  

But unlike Jesus, many of us have no idea – spiritually – “whence we came.”

Which pretty much sums up the whole idea of going on a pilgrimage.  Put another way, both the Bible and a good pilgrimage can help answer life’s three biggest questions:  “where did I come from, who am I, and where am I going.” (See Where Did I Come From? – Wommack Ministries.)

And one of the best-known pilgrimages involves the Camino de Santiago(As shown at left, in an illustration from a far earlier time.)  Or as Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI put it:

To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history.  To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself…  Above all, Christians go on pilgrimage [for example] to Compostela,* which, associated with the memory of Saint James, has welcomed pilgrims from throughout the world who desire to strengthen their spirit with the Apostle’s witness of faith and love.

The point of all this being that – in hiking Spain – I’ll be going back where the American Journey began.  You could say it began when one Chris Columbus met “Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon.”  In another sense you could say I’m heading back to explore “whence we all came.”  (All we Americans that is;  metaphorically anyway.)

Or finally, you could say all this brings up St. James, Steinbeck, and sluts.

That is, St. James the Greater – for whom the Camino de Santiago is named – is the Patron Saint of Pilgrims.   For example, in the picture at right, St. James is seen accoutred as a pilgrim, complete with the accessories “needed for a task or journey.”  That is, he is shown wearing a pilgrim’s hat and with a walking stick in the background.  See Wikipedia:

pilgrim … is a traveler (literally one who has come from afar) who is on a journey to a holy place.  Typically, this is a physical journeying (often on foot) to some place of special significance to the adherent of a particular religious belief system.  In the spiritual literature of Christianity, the concept of pilgrim and pilgrimage may refer to the experience of life in the world (…as a period of exile) or to the inner path of the spiritual aspirant from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude.

See also Passages of the Soul: Ritual Today, by James Roose-Evans.  That book noted that all true ritual – including but not limited to religious – “calls for discipline, patience, perseverance, leading to the discovery of the self within.”  It added that a pilgrimage “may be described as a ritual on the move.”  That is, through “the raw experience of hunger, cold, lack of sleep,” we can – on a pilgrimage – quite often find a sense of our fragility as mere human beings.

And finally, the book noted that such a pilgrimage can be  “one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating” of personal experiences.  I’ll get back to you on all that, once I return home from Spain, on or about October 17.  (And no doubt skinnier and more foot sore…)

Between then and now – and in closing this post – I’m not sure when I’ll get to do another one.  (Another post that is, before I get home.)  That is, I’m not sure how safe, secure and user-friendly are the “public” wi-fi connections in Spain.  But in the meantime:

Here’s a map of my proposed route, of some 450 miles…

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My hike will start at Pamplona, at the lower right, for some 450 miles of hiking…

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The upper image is courtesy of Spain – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Christopher Columbus meets Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon in the Alhambra.”

Re:  “Whence.”  The Kennedy-quote image is courtesy of To sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we  Kennedy made the comments at the “Dinner for the America’s Cup Crews,” on September 14, 1962.  Here’s the full quote:

I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all came from the sea.  And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears.  We are tied to the ocean.  And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.

Re:  “American Journey.”  See also The American Journey: A History of the United States, the text book, not to be confused with American Journey, the “six-part orchestral composition” composed by John Williams and “commissioned by U.S. President Bill Clinton to accompany a multimedia presentation titled ‘The Unfinished Journey’ directed by Steven Spielberg for the 2000 ‘Millennium‘ celebrations.”

Re:  “Back ‘whence we all came.’”  Yeah, I know, the Vikings Beat Columbus to America, but they didn’t stick around very long.  See Norse colonization of North America – Wikipedia:  

The Norse colony in Greenland lasted for almost 500 years.  Continental North American settlements were small and did not develop into permanent colonies.  While voyages, for example to collect timber, are likely to have occurred for some time, there is no evidence of any lasting Norse settlements on mainland North America.

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by reference detailed in this “notes” section.  Thus as to the Christian pilgrimage to Compostela:  In my case, I’ll be hiking the 450 miles from is Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela.  My hiking partnet – my brother – will be hiking further.  He’ll hike over the Pyrenees, from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, and meet me in Pamplona.  So he’ll do 500 miles and I’ll do 450 miles.  But personally I had enough mountain hiking last August.  See On the Chilkoot &^%$# Trail! – Parts One  and Two.)

The St. James image is courtesy of James, son of Zebedee – Wikipedia, with the full caption, “Saint James the Elder by Rembrandt[.]  He is depicted clothed as a pilgrim;  note the scallop shell on his shoulder and his staff and pilgrim’s hat beside him.”

The lower image is courtesy of Camino de Santiago 800 PROJECT: Map of the  

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has three main themes.  The first is that God will accept anyone.  (John 6:37.)  The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.)   The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus did.  (John 14:12).  

A fourth main theme is that the only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind:

…closed-mindedness, or an unwillingness to consider new ideas, can result from the brain’s natural dislike for ambiguity.  According to this view, the brain has a “search and destroy” relationship with ambiguity and evidence contradictory to people’s current beliefs tends to make them uncomfortable…  Research confirms that belief-discrepant-closed-minded persons have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency

So in plain words, this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians.  They’re the Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.”  But the Bible can offer so much more than their narrow reading can offer…   (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…)

Now, about “Boot-camp Christians.”  See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”  The gist of that post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training. You begin by “learning the fundamentals.”  But after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training

Also, and as noted in “Buck private,” I’d previously said the theme of this blog was that if you really want to be all that you can be, you need to go on and explore the “mystical side of Bible reading.*” other words, exploring the mystical side of the Bible helps you “be all that you can be.”  See Slogans of the U.S. Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001.  The related image at left is courtesy of: “”

*  Re: “mystical.”  As originally used, mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.”  See Mysticism – Wikipedia, and the post On originalism.  (“That’s what the Bible was originally about!”)

For an explanation of the Daily Office – where “Dorscribe” came from – see What’s a DOR?

On St. James, Steinbeck, and sluts…

 St. James the Greater, dressed and accoutred as the quintessential Pilgrim

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At the end of “Starting back with a bang,” we were talking about how the mother of Constantine the Great found the “True Cross.”  (Shown at left, he was the Roman emperor who became the first “great patron of the Church.”)  We were also talking about the value of such pilgrimages in general:

According to legends that spread widely, the True Cross was discovered in 326 by Saint Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great,* during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem.

And speaking of pilgrimages:  Of course the two  I went on this summer weren’t close to being like going to Jerusalem.  (See “Back in the saddle again,” again.”)  But for next summer – more precisely, September 2017 – my brother and I plan to hike the Camino de Santiago

(…mostly in Spain.*  In fact, on both the Chilkoot Trail and on the Yukon River, one or both of us brothers would think ahead to “sunny Spain.”  That is, on the usual sunless day on the Yukon, we would look ahead to the prospect of hiking, but not over one &^%# pile of rocks after another.  And to the prospect of hiking where the sun comes out occasionally…)   

The point being that hiking on the Camino de Santiago will be more like a pilgrimage to Jerusalem than one on the Yukon River.  For one thing we probably won’t see any “Naked lady,” as on the Yukon.  (Friday, August 12, around 4:15 p.m.  Not that it stuck in my mind or anything…) 

But once again we digress.  We were speaking of pilgrimages.  More to the point, of why an otherwise-relatively-sane 65-year-old would either hike the Chilkoot Trail or spend 12 days canoeing 440 miles on the Yukon River.  That of course brings up St. James the Greater, seen below right and again at the bottom of the page, just above the Notes.

And St. James is the Patron Saint of Pilgrims.

Guido Reni - Saint James the Greater - Google Art Project.jpgFor example, in the picture at the top of the page, St. James is seen accoutred as a pilgrim, complete with the accessories “needed for a task or journey.”  That is, he is shown wearing a pilgrim’s hat and with a walking stick in the background.  See Wikipedia:

A pilgrim … is a traveler (literally one who has come from afar) who is on a journey to a holy place.  Typically, this is a physical journeying (often on foot) to some place of special significance to the adherent of a particular religious belief system.  In the spiritual literature of Christianity, the concept of pilgrim and pilgrimage may refer to the experience of life in the world (…as a period of exile) or to the inner path of the spiritual aspirant from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude.

Also on the topic, see Passages of the Soul: Ritual Today, by James Roose-Evans.  It noted that a healthy sense of ritual “should pervade a healthy society, and that a big problem now is that we’ve abandoned many rituals that used to help us deal with big change and major trauma.”

The book added that all true ritual “calls for discipline, patience, perseverance, leading to the discovery of the self within.”  More to the point, the book said a pilgrimage – like a 12-day canoe trip on the Yukon or “hike” on the Chilkoot &$%# Trail – “may be described as a ritual on the move.”  Further, that through “the raw experience of hunger, cold, lack of sleep,” we can quite often find a sense of our fragility as mere human beings.  (Especially when compared with the “majesty and permanence” of God’s creation, which of course includes all those &$%# rocks!)

Finally, the book noted that such a pilgrimage can be  “one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating” of personal experiences.

For my part, I certainly felt “chastened” after we got back to Skagway from the Chilkoot Trail.(Although the 10-of-12 beers that my nephew and I shared – of the two six-packs I bought – helped a lot too.)  And I had a blister-on-a-blister that got infected – that didn’t fully heal until three weeks after the hike – to further heighten the feeling of getting “chastened.”

So you could say this past summer I was “discovering the self within.”  (There was more than enough hunger, cold, and lack of sleep.)  But as I said in I pity the fool, “I pity the fool who doesn’t do pilgrimages and otherwise push the envelope, even at the advance stage of his life.”  (Loosely translating Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s, “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.”)  

Then there’s John Steinbeck.  He began Part Two of Travels with Charley:  In search of America by noting many men his age who – told to slow down –  “pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood.”  (They “trade their violence for a small increase in life span.”)   But that wasn’t his way:

I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage…  If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway.  I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage.  It’s bad theater as well as bad living.

So if nothing else, I’m in good company:  With people like St. James the Greater, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John Steinbeck.  And that’s not to mention Robert Louis Stevenson, whose own pilgrimages I wrote about in On donkey travel – and sluts

“One of the single greatest works of English literature” – said John Steinbeck

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The upper image is courtesy of James, son of Zebedee – Wikipedia, with the full caption, “Saint James the Elder by Rembrandt[.]  He is depicted clothed as a pilgrim;  note the scallop shell on his shoulder and his staff and pilgrim’s hat beside him.”

Re:  Constantine the Great.  Wikipedia said he was a “significant figure in the history of Christianity,” the first Roman emperor to “stop Christian persecutions and to legalise Christianity along with all other religions and cults in the Roman Empire.”  See also Constantine the Great and Christianity – Wikipedia:  “Constantine’s decision to cease the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire was a turning point for Early Christianity, sometimes referred to as the Triumph of the Church, the Peace of the Church or the Constantinian shift.  In 313, Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan decriminalizing Christian worship.  The emperor became a great patron of the Church.”

The caption for the image of Constantine – immediately below the painting of St. James – reads as follows:  “‘Constantius appoints Constantine as his successor’ by Peter Paul Rubens, 1622.”

Re:  “Mostly in Spain.”  As noted in Camino de Santiago (route descriptions), there are a number of routes – both inside and outside of Spain – by which such pilgrims may “walk for weeks or months to visit the city of Santiago de Compostela.”  (In northwestern Spain.)  And the Original Way or Camino Primitivo,” begins in Oviedo,” in northeastern Spain.  

Further, while my brother hopes to hike the 500-plus miles of the popular “French Way” including going over the Pyrenees Mountains – I’m figuring on a more-manageable 14 days, or around 200 miles.  (The French Way runs “from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles on the Spanish side before making its way through to Santiago de Compostela through the major cities of Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and León.”)

Central pyrenees.jpgOn that note, the “Central Pyrenees” – at left – look way too much like the Chilkoot &^%$ Trail

Re:  Passages of the Soul: Ritual Today, by Roose-Evans.  The quoted portions are from the “Element Books” edition (1994), at pages 23-25.  On that note see also The Social Importance of Rites of Passage and Initiations.  The study said that “all people have a psychic need to have the support of ritual at transitions in their lives.”  On the other hand, one authority asserted that “Western societies do not have initiation at puberty, instead of ritual, we have disturbed teenagers and infantile adults.”

The lower image is courtesy of Robert Louis Stevenson Trail – Walking in France.

“Back in the saddle again,” again

You call this a pilgrimage?  I call it a pile of ^%$# rocks!  (Other people call it the Chilkoot Trail...)

*   *   *   *, August 28 – I said this a year ago, but once again “I’m back in the saddle again.” (Not unlike Gene Autry – “Singing Cowboy” – at left.)

I posted the first “Back in the saddle” after last year’s canoe trip on the Columbia River.  That four-day canoe trip took a total of three weeks to accomplish, from August 10 to August 27, 2015.

This year’s pilgrimage – including 12 days canoeing on the Yukon River – is now in its sixth week.  (I flew out to Salt Lake City on July 23, and am “fixin'” to fly back tomorrow, to the ATL.  Also known herein as “God’s Country…”)

For one description of this latest pilgrimage, see “Naked lady on the Yukon.”  (From my companion blog.)  It noted that last July 26 – a Tuesday – my brother and I started the drive from Utah to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.  Four days later – on Friday, July 29 – we met up with my nephew, fresh from the Army.  From there we drove to Skagway, and the following Monday – August 1 – we started a four-day hike on the Chilkoot Trail.  (The “meanest 33 miles in history.”)

Once we three finished the “Chilkoot &$%# Trail” – as seen at the top of the page – my nephew flew back to Philadelphia, and from there to Penn State University, for fall classes:

That left two old geezers – my brother, 70, and me, just turned 65 – to paddle our canoes “up*” the Yukon River.  From Whitehorse  to Dawson City, that’s a distance of 440 miles, and we covered it in 12 days.  (Not counting the full day we took off on Sunday, August 14, in beautiful Carmacks, Yukon Territory, to rest and refit.)

So it’s been a busy several weeks.  And – during most of that time – I haven’t had a chance to write much on this blog.  But my last post – The Transfiguration of Jesus – 2016, which included the image at right – did note that I was “on a pilgrimage of my own.”

It also noted, “Assuming I survive all that” – that being the Chilkoot and Yukon ventures – “I should be back in business some time after August 29.”

It’s now Sunday, August 28, and I’m “back in business.”

On that note, a word on “reading the Bible on a daily basis.”  Not only did I have no time or opportunity to write on this blog, neither did I have time to do my daily Bible readings.  That is, neither on the Chilkoot Trail nor on the “mighty Yukon River” did I have the time to do my Daily Office.  (That’s where the “DO” in the name “Dorscribe” comes from.  See THE SCRIBE.)

And aside from no time, there just wasn’t room to pack either a Bible or the laptop I’ve been using since leaving home.  (Using the Satucket website instead of the actual books at home.)  

Aerial view of Dawson City with the Yukon RiverWhich meant that beginning on Sunday, August 21 – the day after our two canoes landed at Dawson City, Yukon Territory, at left – I had some catching up to do.

So this post will focus on two things, to help bring us up to game speed:  The spiritual side of pilgrimages like the one – or two – that I just finished, and catching up on the gap in Bible readings between August 1 and 21.

As to why an otherwise seemingly-sane 65-year-old would leave the comforts of home for the “harsh northland” – as Jack London might call it – see “I pity the fool!”

That post noted Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.”  I freely translated that to:  “I pity the fool who doesn’t do pilgrimages and otherwise push the envelope, even at the advance stage of his life.”

It also quoted Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, by Robert Louis Stevenson:

Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for.  To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind.  And when the present is so exacting, who can annoy himself about the future?

In much the same way, nothing can “occupy and compose the mind” so much as trying to walk the Chilkoot Trail. (Especially with only one good eye and thus no depth perception, as illustrated at right.)  Or for that matter, canoeing 440 miles “down” the Yukon River…

Which brings up a moment during that river pilgrimage.

At that moment I thought to myself, “I wonder how the Don-and-Hillary show is going?”  Then I asked myself, “Who is Don again?”  Which itself is a very good reason for a pilgrimage.

I’ll be writing more on the Chilkoot and Yukon experiences in later posts, but now it’s time to address that gap in the daily Bible readings.

On August 1 – when we started on the Chilkoot – the non-psalm Bible readings included Judges 6:25-40; Acts 2:37-47; John 1:1-18.  The “Judges” part was about Gideon, who was a “judge of the Israelites who wins a decisive victory over a Midianite army with a vast numerical disadvantage, leading a troop of 300 men.”  The reading from John started with the well-known, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

PullingBy Thursday, August 11, “Judges” had moved to the story of Samson. (And Delilah.)  As Wikipedia noted, Samson was blessed with supernatural strength.  However, “Samson had two vulnerabilities – his attraction to untrustworthy women and his hair, without which he was powerless.  These vulnerabilities ultimately proved fatal for him.”

From which story an object lesson or two might be gleaned…

But then on Thursday, August 20, the Old Testament readings switched from Judges to the Book of Job.  I covered that perplexing book in On Job, the not-so-patient and On “Job the not patient” – REDUX.

One key point from the “Redux” post:  No matter how hard we may try, our limited human minds are simply incapable of ever fully understanding God:

We are simply not up to the task, not wired for such an overload.  We are no more prepared to comprehend [God] than – to make use of a memorable example – cats are prepared to study calculus.  It’s just not in our nature.

Which may have been why God “chose to bring Jesus into the world.”  Without that image of Jesus as a “finite” human being to focus on, our poor little pea-brains simply couldn’t even begin the process of bringing The Force That Created the Universe into any kind of focus at all.

In other words, the main point of the Book of Job seems to be this:  We can never fully either understand or explain “God.”  Yet that’s just what Job’s friends tried to do.  Their solution was to “make a god of their idea of God.”  They tried to put God into a “conceptual box.”

Which seems to be a fallacy trap that many people fall into, “even to this day.”  They give the impression that their limited minds are capable of not only fully understanding God, but also of telling other people that their interpretation of God is the only valid one.  (And that if you don’t believe their version, you will certainly “burn in hell.”)

Which is one good reason to go on a pilgrimage, like the one – or two – that I just did.  A good pilgrimage will remind you – sometimes forcibly – that you are not the center of the Universe.

And it may even help by making you ask yourself, “Who is Don again?”


Ilya Repin: Job and his Friends

Job – on the left – “and his friends, by Ilya Repin (1869)…”

*   *   *   *

The upper image is from a series of photos I took during the aforementioned “pilgrimages,” on the Chilkoot Trail and the Yukon River.

On “latitude, attitude,” and other life changes…

This is something like how it was at the high-school graduation party I attended yesterday…

*   *   *   *

It’s early June.  (Actually June 12, 2016.)  That means it’s time for Changes in Attitude.  Or at least time for a change of status, for “moving on.”  In other words, June is a time for big changes, like weddings and graduations.  (See also On June 6, about another major “Life Change…”)

In my case, yesterday I went to the high-school graduation of my “favorite grandson named Austin.”  And among other things, such life-changes for other people – especially those important to you – can lead you to do some reflections of your own.  (As illustrated at right.)

Like my giving Austin a check for $100, to celebrate his change in life-status.  I did that in part because my aunt Esther gave me a check for my high-school graduation, back in 1969.  (Which I promptly blew on playing poker “with my idiot buddies.”)

That led me to give a cautionary instruction to Austin:  Here’s a hundred bucks for you, but don’t blow it “playing poker with your idiot buddies!”

But we digress…

The point of all this is that the graduation reminded me of some recent Daily Office Readings.

Like the ones for June 1, 2016.  That was the morning I set out on my most-recent jaunt into the Okefenokee Swamp.  (As detailed in “There he goes again,” which included the image at left.  And which itself will be the subject of a future post.)  

So anyway, those readings included Ecclesiastes 3:1-15.  It begins:  “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die.”  And verse 8 reads like this:  “A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

If all that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because this Bible passage was immortalized in Turn! Turn! Turn!  That’s the song sub-titled, “To Everything There Is a Season,” which makes it especially appropriate for June, the time for weddings and graduations.

Turn! Turn! Turn! as a song “became an international hit in late 1965 when it was covered by the American folk rock band The Byrds.”  But it was written a decade before, by Pete Seeger:

The lyrics, except for the title which is repeated throughout the song, and the final verse of the song, are adapted word-for-word from Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes, set to music and recorded in 1962…

Wikipedia noted the Book of Ecclesiastes – illustrated musically at right – was written in the “late 3rd century BC,” and is traditionally ascribed to King Solomon.

Finally, the article noted that the song is “notable for being one of a few instances in popular music in which a large portion of scripture is set to music.”  And that the song holds the distinction of being “the #1 hit with the oldest lyrics.”

Ecclesiastes has had a deep influence on Western literature…  American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote that of “all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth – and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth…  Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound.”

Which makes it well worth reading in its entirety, and especially at times of great change.

Like for the month of June in general, with its weddings and graduations.  (Or during a fascinating election season, like the one we’re now in the middle of…)  

But be forewarned:  Ecclesiastes can be depressing.  For example Ecclesiastes 2:17-18, where the writer said, “I hated life, because [it is] grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.”   And that he “hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me.”  Or Ecclesiastes 2:23:  “For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest.  This also is vanity.”

Or – for that matter – your grandfather giving you $100 for a graduation gift, but then adding, “don’t blow it ‘playing poker with your idiot buddies!'”

But it also has some positive notes, like in Ecclesiastes 3:1-15.

That passage also contains some good advice, like that there is “nothing better for [us] than to be happy” and enjoy ourselves.  And that “it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.”  And also that “God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him.”  (Which is good advice indeed.)

So for those of you undergoing life changes this June 2016, remember to enjoy the good times, while also remembering to “stand in awe” before God.  (Which sounds a lot like some of those long and – shall we say – “involved” graduation speeches I listened to yesterday…)

And incidentally, the Daily Office Readings for last June 1 included the Gospel – Matthew 14:1-12 – which told of John the Baptist literally “losing his head.”  (Talk about “life changes.”)

But that’s a subject for another time, and another post…“Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist…”

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of the graduation parties link within the article, Graduation – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The actual caption:  “Wedding Feast in front of a Farm by Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel c. 1620.”  (But Brueghel’s painting did look like “my” graduation party…)

The “reflections” image is courtesy of the philosophy link in the Wikipedia article, Human self-reflection.  The caption: “Plato (left) and Aristotle (right): detail from The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509.”

The full Daily Office Readings for June 1, 2016, were Psalm 119:49-72 (for the morning); Psalms 49 and 53 (evening), along with Ecclesiastes 3:1-15; Galatians 2:11-21; and Matthew 14:1-12.

Re: “few instances” of a “large portion of scripture is set to music.”   Other examples include:  The Melodians‘ “Rivers of Babylon,” Sister Janet Mead‘s “The Lord’s Prayer,” and U2‘s “40.”

The “aces and eights” image is courtesy of Dead man’s hand – Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of  From the “New Testament [Mark 6, verses 14-29].  Salome had danced so well for King Herod that he swore he would grant her any request.  Her mother, Herodias, who sought revenge on John the Baptist, persuaded Salome to ask for his head.  The old woman behind Salome may be Herodias.”  (I borrowed the image from a prior post, On the Nativity of John the Baptist.  And again, “Talk about ‘life changes…'”)

A Mid-summer Travelog


The One World Observatory, a highlight of my recent road trip


Assiduous readers will notice I hadn’t done a blog-post since last June 20.  The reason:  I took a two-week-long road trip, to points north including Atlantic City and New York City.  (Also known as the Big Apple.)   As always, such a pilgrimage can be both instructive and enlightening – not to mention just plain fun.  There’s more on that below, but first:

Welcome again to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

John Steinbeck’s 1960 book Travels with Charley is all about pilgrimages in general and driving pilgrimages especially.  (See also 12 miles offshore, in a companion blog.  That post also refers to a “journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.”)

So the theme of this post will be to treat my recent road trip as a kind of Reader’s Digest condensed version – slash microcosm – of Steinbeck’s book and/or his travels.  In doing so I’ll be trying to find some moral and/or spiritual significance.  Also in doing so, I’ll be noting some significant differences between road-trip travel in 1960 and 2015.

But before we get into that, I should note that all during the trip up I “religiously” kept up with my Daily Office Readings.  And they were pretty exciting.  Early on there were Old Testament readings about the ancient practice of gouging out your enemy’s right eye.  (See the OT readings for Monday, June 28, 1 Samuel 10:17-27, and Tuesday, June 29, 1 Samuel 11:1-15.  See also Gouging the Eyes – Holman Bible Dictionary.)  And they ended with the well-known story of David killing Goliath.  See 1st Samuel 17, verses 31-39.  That was on July 11, the day before I got back home.  (And in turn I figure there might be some kind of object Lesson there.)

There’ll be more on those below, but getting back to the drastic differences in highway travel from 1960 to 2015.  For one thing, for the price you pay to camp these days – as Steinbeck generally did – you can get a quite comfortable Motel 6.  (And that’s tent camping.  Then too, for the price you pay for an RV or travel trailer, you could have stayed at a lot of Motel 6’s.)

For another thing, I didn’t pack hunting or fishing gear for my travels, as Steinbeck did. did pack – in my spandy-new 2015 Ford Escape – an 8-foot kayak, along with a stair-stepping stand and a 22-pound weight vest.  (To earn my Cooper aerobic points along the way.)  In that kayak – for example – I paddled across the Delaware River just below Wilmington.  (As seen at right, from the New Jersey side.)

I also paddled – some – up the Shenandoah River in Virginia, and through some of the backwater “meadows” southwest of Atlantic City.  Last but not least, I paddled for two hours on a nice little hideaway, Carvins Cove Reservoir.  It’s also in Virginia, just outside Roanoke.

A third big difference:  I didn’t get lost as much or as easily as Steinbeck.  (Or as he said he did.)  That was thanks mostly to my finally figuring out how to use the “map app” on my cell phone.

And I didn’t have to stop at a payphone – remember those? – to have a three or four-minute conversation every third or fourth day, to re-establish contact with the family “back home,” as Steinbeck did.  There was no need to.  The three branches of the family converging at the Swedesboro (NJ) cemetery – one of the main reasons for the get-together in the first place – could maintain constant contact via cell phone, including “instant texting.”

I did need to stop from time to time at local libraries, to use their computers.  But that was only if I needed a secure connection, like to check my bank accounts or – with the Ford being so new – to make the first payment, a few days into the trip.  (At the Hoboken Library.  Hoboken – across the Hudson – was the family base for visiting Manhattan, seen above left.)

And I wonder what John would have thought of cruise control?  (In either sense of the term…)

So now to set the stage for the trip:  Earlier this year, my brother from Utah sent an email saying that he and his wife were visiting the Northeast in July, and would I like to join them?  Naturally I said yes, especially when another reason was added:  Laying our father’s ashes to rest in the family plot in Swedesboro, New Jersey, along with those of his first wife – our mother – and our maternal grandmother and grandfather, and other of their offspring.

The ashes had been left in the care of Dad’s second wife, who in turn had died just last November 2014.  So in the months leading up to the road trip, discussion was had via email concerning the interment, along with getting headstones honoring their service in World War II.  (He was a navigator in the Army Air Corps.  She was an Army nurse in Memphis, where they met.)  And the memorial lent a certain gravitas to the whole “joint venture.”

Which makes this as good a place as any to end the first installment of my mid-summer travelog.  Except to note that one of the places I wanted to visit – on the way home – was Reading PA, known in literary circles as “Brewer.”  This fictional Brewer is the setting of John Updike’s five books about Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, each constituting an homage to the full decades from 1960 to 2000.  (I’ve read all four novels and the final novella.)

In this way my trip emulated Steinbeck’s visit to Sauk Centre, Minnesota, “metaphoric setting of [Sinclair] Lewis’ satirical novel, Main Street,” seen at right.  (See also On Oscar Wilde and “gross indecencies”.)  There’ll be more about that aspect of the road trip – and more – in the next installment.

But getting back to that David-and-Goliath story, as told in the Old Testament reading for Saturday, July 11: 1st Samuel 17:31-49.  As noted in Goliath – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Jewish traditions stressed Goliath’s status as the representative of paganism, in contrast to David, the champion of the God of Israel.  Christian tradition gave him a distinctively Christian perspective, seeing in David’s battle with Goliath the victory of God’s king…   The phrase “David and Goliath” has taken on a more secular meaning, denoting [any] underdog [] contest where a smaller, weaker opponent faces a much bigger, stronger adversary.

The article further noted this is “arguably the most famous underdog story” of all time, and that the phrase is widely used in news media, to characterize “underdog situations in every conceivable context, without religious overtones.”  The article also cited the work of Professor Leonard Greenspoon.  See  David vs. Goliath in the Sports Pages:

While most writers use the story for its underdog overtones (the little guy wins), there are rich subtleties of the biblical narrative that writers of all stripes can mine.  For example, David leaves behind his armor when he fights the militantly attired Goliath.  Where Goliath is heavy and slow, David is light and agile.  David is modest, but Goliath brags about his might…

So I guess there is some kind of object Lesson there…



David and his big-headed enemy, Goliath



*  Not to be confused with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the comedy by William Shakespeare.  Written between 1590 and 1597, it’s “one of Shakespeare’s most popular works for the stage and is widely performed across the world.” See Wikipedia, and also Travelogue | Definition … by Merriam-Webster.

The upper image is courtesy of  One World Observatory: Curbed NY.  It’s part of the article,  It’s Official: One World Observatory Will Open May 29.  On July 13, 2015, that was five articles down from Don’t Eat at One World Trade Center’s Sky-High Restaurants.  And it was true that the place was crowded, prices were high and seating was at a minimum.

Re:  Earning aerobic points along the way.  The term “aerobics” – along with the need for cardio-vascular exercise in general – didn’t enter into popular use until 1968, some eight years after Steinbeck’s road trip.  That was with the publication of his ground-breaking book AerobicsSee also Kenneth H. Cooper – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Delaware Bridge image is courtesy of, which is apparently the German-language edition.

The view-of-lower-Manhattan-and-Observatory is courtesy of

The bottom image is courtesy of Goliath – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaThe caption:  David with the Head of Goliath, circa 1635, by Andrea Vaccaro.

On “I pity the fool!”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, who first said – in essence – “I pity the fool!



March 10, 2015 – That full quote would be (from Emerson),  “I pity the fool who doesn’t do pilgrimages and otherwise push the envelope, even at the advance stage of his life.”

(Or “words to that effect.”)

Which is another way of saying that this is a follow-up review of Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.   And that’s another way of saying that my brother reviewed the last post that I did on our eight-day canoe trip back in November.  (Which you can see at Part II of the post On achieving closure.)

One of my brother’s conclusions was that I had given undue credence to “the ‘pat-pat’ people of the world.”  Which was another version of a quote that actually did come from Emerson, “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist…

To bring you up to speed:  My brother and I did an 8-day canoe trip, starting west of the Rigolets between Lake Ponchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico.  We paddled 12 miles out into the Gulf and camped on places like Half-moon Island and Ship Island (and an occasional salt marsh.) ended the trip in Biloxi under less-than-happy circumstances.  (We got picked up by a Biloxi Marine Patrol boat due to “inclement weather.”)  So, my Part II review – which included the image at left – was about me trying to “achieve closure” back in February.   (I wanted to bring the trip to a de jure happy ending, if not a de facto happy ending.)

So anyway, this was part of my brother’s analysis:

Read your blog on the trip and I think there is one point where you give [undue] credence to the view of the “pat-pat” people of the world.  The issue is the idea that only people, “not in their right minds,” would go to places (or do things) that are unique experiences  –  ones that most others never have.  In my mind, this is exactly what people in their right mind should be doing.  I pity those who don’t.

I responded that agreed with him about the “pat-pat” people.   Then too the exchange reminded me of Mr. T and his famous phrase.  (Shown above in an imagined quote from Emerson, and below in the more familiar form.)  I said the phrase “I pity the fool” actually reflected my true feelings about any stay-at-home milquetoast who would dare to ask, “Why would anyone want to do that?”  (As in, “Why would anyone want to take an eight-day primitive-camping canoe trip 12 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico?“)

So here’s how the whole thing – that Part II comment – came up in the first place.

Last February 8, I drove down to Biloxi, where our eight-day canoe trip ended some three months before.  I’d packed my 8-foot kayak in back of my Ford Escape.  I got a motel on the beach, and next  morning set off in the pre-dawn darkness.   (I wanted to close the gap between how we wanted the canoe-trip to end, and how it actually ended.)   In the Part II post I described how it felt, that dark morning of February 9,  with a “nagging feeling, setting out in the complete darkness, of either going off the edge of the world or being eaten by sharks.”  Then came this:

Every once in a while I’d pause, turn off my stop-watch and just enjoy the feeling “of being somewhere, someplace that no one else in his right mind would ever be.”  I imagine the explorers back in the olden days had something of the same feeling.

Now about that emphasis in the original.   I must confess  –  I do not deny, but confess  –  that the comment  was an attempt at the rhetorical device of irony.    (“The expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.”  See also Irony – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

But sometimes – it seems – I am a bit too subtle to get my point across…

The truth is that I was very happy on that February 9 morning, paddling out from Biloxi Beach, even in the complete darkness.  It was very peaceful and the sunrise later on was “to die for.”  And – every once in a while, especially when I reached the turn-back point –  I’d stop paddling, enjoy the ambience and say to myself, “This is what it’s all about.”

Robert Louis Stevenson Knox Series.jpgWhich brings up some of the similar things that Robert Louis Stevenson – shown at right – said in his Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.   (See also On donkey travel – and sluts.)  In other words, my true feelings about such a strenuous pilgrimage – even at the advanced age of 63 – reflected pretty much was Stevenson said in Travels with a Donkey, and what John Steinbeck said in his book, Travels with Charley.  (See Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Again (to bring the reader up to speed), Stevenson’s book recounted a “12-day, 120-mile solo hiking journey through the sparsely populated and impoverished areas of the Cévennes mountains in south-central France in 1878.”  The book – “considered a pioneering classic of outdoor literature”  – is said to have been the basis for Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.

So, at the end of my first review we left Stevenson at page 50 of the 197 pages of his Travels.  He’d just run across a “pair of impudent sly sluts, with not a thought but mischief.”  (Young girls about 12 from a village of people “but little disposed to counsel a wayfarer.”)  So Stevenson had to grope in the dark for a campsite; “the scene of my encampment was not only black as a pit, but admirably sheltered.”  He ate a crude dinner – a “tin of bologna” and some cake, washed down by brandy – then settled in for the night.  “The wind among the trees was my lullaby.”

But he woke in the morning “surprised to find how easy and pleasant it had been,” sleeping in the open, “even in this tempestuous weather.”  He then waxed poetic:

I had been after an adventure all my life, a pure dispassionate adventure, such as befell early and heroic voyagers; and thus to be found by morning in a random nook in Gevaudan – not knowing north from south, as strange to my surroundings as the first man upon the earth, an inland castaway – was to find a fraction of my day-dreams realized.

(Pages 50-56, “Upper Gevaudan.”)  Stevenson seemed to  be saying pretty much the same thing that I did in my Part II post:  That the dawn and sunrise was “to die for,” and that he immensely enjoyed the “ambience.”  Also, he experienced something that the less-adventurous among us – then and now – have no idea they’re missing; something of the feelings that “the explorers back in the olden days had.”  (Those “early and heroic voyagers…”)

On page 64 Stevenson expanded on that thought:

Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for.  To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind.  And when the present is so exacting, who can annoy himself about the future?

Indeed, “who can annoy himself about the future” when immersed in the exacting task of holding a pack atop a stubborn mule and facing a “gale out of the freezing north?”   (Or for that matter, “immersed” in paddling for hours on end, 12 miles offshore, at the mercy of the elements, with the day’s end promising nothing but a warm meal on a soggy beach, or salt marsh.  Which actually turned out to be quite rewarding…)

But that’s the nature of such pilgrimages.   They give us a break from “real life,” from the rat race of so many lives today.  All of which I noted in St. James the Greater, an image of whom is shown at left.  That post noted a quote describing such a pilgrimage as “ritual on the move.”  And that through the raw experience of hunger, cold and lack of sleep, “we can quite often find a sense of our fragility as mere human beings, especially when compared with ‘the majesty and permanence of God.'”   In short, such a pilgrimage can be “‘one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating’ of personal experiences.”

Of course it’s hard to get that point across to people who would ask, “Why would anyone want to do that?”   That’s where the “I pity the fool” part comes in.  And that reminded of what Ralph Waldo Emerson said:  “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist…

See Quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and/or Ralph Waldo Emerson – Wikipedia.   See also Paragraphs 1-17 – CliffsNotes, a review of Emerson’s Self-Reliance:

Emerson begins his major work on individualism by asserting the importance of thinking for oneself rather than meekly accepting other people’s ideas…   The person who scorns personal intuition and, instead, chooses to rely on others’ opinions lacks the creative power necessary for robust, bold individualism.

So, have I made myself clear?  Or am I being too subtle, again?   The point is this, to that person who has to ask, “why would anyone want to do that?”  My answer: “I pity the fool!

But of course John Steinbeck said it more diplomatically.  He began Part Two of Travels with Charley by noting many men his age who – told to slow down –  “pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood.”  (They “trade their violence for a small increase in life span.”)   But that wasn’t his way:

I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage…  If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway.  I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage.  It’s bad theater as well as bad living.

An updated version of Emerson’s observation, above…


The upper image is courtesy of Ralph Waldo Emerson – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The lower image is courtesy of, to wit: the “Jacob’s Well” blog, based in Memphis, Tennessee.  Jacob’s Well is “a place where people come together from different racial, economic, and cultural backgrounds to grow in the gospel and work together to overcome racism, addiction, and poverty.”  Further:

People who are hurting throughout our city have been turned off by religion and religious people.  Jacob’s Well is opening up the doors of a church, but offering a different experience.  Those living in poverty have received handouts for years, yet the conditions in our city have only grown worse.  At the same time, many enfranchised families desire to alleviate poverty in Memphis yet don’t know anyone personally who is poor.  Memphis is thirsty; the living water of Jacob’s Well is plentiful.  What better place than here?  What better time than now?

Emphasis added.  The upshot is that the blogger in Memphis seems to be a “kindred spirit.”  He’s trying to undo some of the same damage I am, by reaching out to those “turned off by religion and religious people.”  (Though I would add, “so-called religious people.”)  For further reading you can Google “faith in action,” with or without “definition” added.  See also James 2:14.  From there click on the blue “forward” icon to James 2:17.   (You just need to take care to avoid the temptation to think that you can “buy your way into heaven” or otherwise “grease the skids.”)


On achieving closure

November 10, 2014 photo IMG_4329_zps7f7b5ddb.jpg

Here we are – 10 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico – at sunrise on November 10, 2014…


Friday, February 13, 2015 – One prevailing theme in this web blog is the idea of a pilgrimage, and I’ve done a few of those myself.  This is a story from my latest pilgrimage:

In the spiritual literature of Christianity, the concept of pilgrim and pilgrimage may refer to the experience of life in the world (considered as a period of exile) or to the inner path of the spiritual aspirant from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude

See “On St. James the Greater.”   (He’s the patron saint of pilgrims.)

*   *   *   *

I just got back from a quick – hopefully last – trip to Biloxi.  The mission?  “Achieve closure.”

Just to be accurate, I “e-searched” closure and got this:  1) “the act or process of closing something, especially an institution, thoroughfare, or frontier, or of being closed,” and/or  2) a “sense of resolution or conclusion at the end of an artistic work.”  Yup, that’s it!

The closure involved the canoe-trip pictured above, and noted in Home from a pilgrimage:

My brother and I took eight days to canoe out to some offshore islands … 10 or 12 miles offshore – including Half-moon Island, Cat Island and Ship Island [both East and West…  For that earlier trip]  I drove down to Biloxi on Sunday November 2 [2014], and we left Slidell [Louisiana] on Lake Ponchartrain on Wednesday November 5.  It took us eight days – through the morning of Wednesday November 12 – to get through the Rigolets (pronounced “RIG-uh-leez”) out to the Gulf islands noted above, and back to Biloxi. [E.A.]

Unfortunately, the end of the trip didn’t go as planned…

That November 12, we got up at 2:00 a.m. and hit the water at 3:00 a.m.   (We had camper lights that attached to the bill of a baseball cap.)  Our goal was the Beau Rivage Casino and Hotel.  We could see it shimmering brightly on the horizon, nine miles away over the open water.

Things went well until somewhere around 5:30, when a storm started coming up, threatening from the north.  (The weather forecast called for a bad line of storms the next day.  That was why we had to make Biloxi that day.  The alternative was spending two or three more days away from the comforts of civilization, like running water and not having to “dig a hole.”  The alternative was huddling in our tents on East Ship Island two or three more days…)

There was no real danger, yet.  But then all of a sudden there was no real horizon either.  And somehow, in the gathering wind and darkness and no horizon, the two intrepid canoeists got separated.  To top it all off, we learned that when we – or at least I – looked around in the darkness for my brother’s “beacon,” those camper lights weren’t all that helpful.

As I peered out into the darkness, the light from my brother’s cap – wherever he was – pretty much blended in with all the other navigation lights, the ones you could see “seaward.”

To make a long story short, my brother ended up calling 911.  (On his cell phone.  This was after he tried to call me on my cell phone.  My cell phone was safely tucked away in a dry bag, somewhere in the bowels of my canoe.  And it wasn’t turned on, for the simple reason that for most of the eight days out, there was no cell-phone reception.  Go figure.)

So anyway, we finished the trip by getting picked up by a boat from the Biloxi Marine Patrol…

Ever since then it has stuck in my craw that I didn’t do the whole eight days’  paddling on my own.  (To stick in one’s craw refers to something that causes one “to feel abiding discontent and resentment,” based in turn on something you “cannot swallow, based on the literal meaning of craw (the throat of a bird).”  See stick in craw – Idioms by The Free Dictionary.)

Here’s how I started figuring.  After I got picked up – in my little Rocinante of a canoe – the BMP boat traveled quite a distance eastward, heading back to the marina just east of the Beau Rivage.  (This was after the officers had picked up my brother and his canoe.)   I remembered too that most of that ride was close to the shoreline.  Thus I interpolated that in the pre-dawn no-horizon hours of November 12, I had drifted quite a way to the west of the Beau Rivage.

I also remember that just before the pick up, I’d been drift-paddling toward a piling with a bright red flashing beacon-light at the top. This was about 5:40 a.m.  I figured I’d wait for the sun to come up and burn off the fog.  (The fog-haze that blur-erased the horizon so well.)

So I wanted to get to the pole, but I didn’t want to get there too soon.  I didn’t want to be seen “clinging to the pole,” like some decrepit old geezer who had no business being out there at that time o’ day.  Also, the waves were rolling pretty well.  That meant it would be quite an effort to either hang on to the pole by myself, or tie the canoe up to the pole, only to see it being tossed up and down, and likely to snap the connecting rope.


This “pilgrim’s progress” is continued in Part II


Pilgrim's Progress Map


The upper image is a photo I took near dawn, the morning of November 10, 2014.  (And incidentally, those are clouds on the horizon, not land.)  That day we got up and broke camp at 3:00 in the morning.  We hit the water at 5:00 a.m. and paddled 17 miles in 11 hours, not counting an hour break on Cat Island, before proceeding to Ship Island.  Not bad for a couple old geezers!

The bottom image is courtesy of, with the caption:  “A map of the journey of Christian, from Pilgrim’s Progress.”   Pilgrim’s Progress is a “Christian allegory written by John Bunyan , published in February, 1678, and “regarded as one of the most significant works of religious English literature.”   It has been translated into more than 200 languages and has never been out of print.  “Bunyan began his work while in the Bedfordshire county prison for violations of the Conventicle Act, which prohibited the holding of religious services outside the auspices of the established Church of England.”  On that note see also On Oscar Wilde and Psalm 130, regarding the “popular opinion that some of the world’s best writing has been done in prison.”

The full “mixed emotions” reference is Mixed Emotions – The Rolling Stones – YouTube.

The full “dry bag” reference is Dry bag – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


On achieving closure – Part II







The feeling I had – a bit – setting off into utter darkness on the morning of last November 8…


Friday, February 13, 2015 – Back in “Part I” we left our intrepid travelers – or one of them – “drift-paddling toward a piling with a bright red flashing beacon-light at the top.”  He – I – waited for the sun to burn off the fog, but wasn’t in too much of a hurry, lest I be seen “clinging to the pole,” like a decrepit old geezer with no business being out there “at that time o’ day.

In other words, I was in no hurry to actually get to the piling-beacon, on that misty, horizonless morning of November 12.  That’s why I was “drift-paddling.”

Besides, I was rather enjoying the sense of being somewhere, someplace that no one else in his right mind would ever be.  But my reverie ended when I saw a boat some distance away, near the edge of the limited-visibility horizon.  It was traveling fast at a right angle to me, and after a bit I noticed that it had some flashing blue lights.  Then – after another little bit of time passed – it swerved and made a beeline, straight toward me and my canoe…

Which brings us back to “achieving closure.”

My brother and I did eight days and 80 miles worth of canoe-paddling on our own.  We’d also camped in and on a salt marsh, and seen nature at her majestic best (and worst).  We’d seen dolphins capering, once just off our salt-marsh camp, and other times just off our bows.

I learned to live on a breakfast ration of one and a half granola bars and tepid instant coffee.  I learned to pitch a tent on a salt marsh, with water sloshing around my feet, only to find that the abundant bullrushes provided a most comfortable bed.  And I experienced that nagging feeling, in the back of my mind as we set off due south from Half Moon Island, noted above…

What “nagged me” was the feeling, as we set off into the utter darkness on the morning of November 8, that we would either fall off the edge of the earth, or “there be dragons.”

The high point of the trip was covering 17 miles in 11 hours in one long day of paddling.  (Not bad for a couple old geezers.)  But in that time I also learned that kayak-paddling is way different from canoe-paddling.  (I’d been practicing paddling a kayak in the year leading up to this particular pilgrimage.)   As I found out, canoe-paddling can be quite a bit more wearing on the abdominal muscles, especially when the paddling follows hour after hour and day after day.

Which meant that when the ol’ BMP boat picked us up, I had Mixed Emotions.  On the one hand I was relieved to get back on the mainland, away from skeeters and salt marshes and the endless rolling that permeated my dreams. (Urp!)  Yet I still had that gnawing feeling of “abiding discontent.”  And so, ever since then I’ve been planning to do something about it.

*   *   *   *

Last Monday morning, February 9, 2015, I did it.  The night before – after a seven-hour drive – I got a room at the Motel 6 on Beach Boulevard, four-tenths of a mile west of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.  I woke up at 5:49 – 4:49 Central Time – and found a 24-hour IHOP right down the road, for a carb-heavy breakfast.  I then carried my kayak across Beach Boulevard, over and across the long beach itself, then set out to achieve closure.  It was still dark when I started paddling out, just like on that morning of November 12, 2014.

I set off paddling on a roughly south-southeast course, determined to make sure that the Coliseum stayed visible behind me.  (But then – too late – I realized that I’d left my cell phone back in the room.  That would have been a nice thing to have,just in case…”)

In his Travels With Charley (“TWC”), John Steinbeck noted the map people, “whose joy is to lavish more attention on the sheets of colored paper than on the colored land rolling by.”  At one point, “knowing the passions of the mapifiers,” he threw in (as a sop) a detailed account of all his map-remembered travels from Houlton down to Millinocket, Maine.

And so – since a “Suggestion from the Master is a Command not unlike Holy Writ” – I too will give such a  brief sop.  After leaving the beach across the road from my motel, I shortly passed the Old Harbor jetty to my left, and close to the “Broadwater Harbor AR” (artificial reef).  Not to mention the Coliseum Pier (a citation that may or may not be redundant).

Incidentally, if you check the “Coliseum Pier” link, the Motel 6 is right at the intersection of Highway 90 (Beach Boulevard) and Briarfield Avenue.  And if you zoom out enough you can see the whole coast from Gulfport to Deer Island.  Deer Island is that long stretch of offshore land that ends right in front of the “Hard Rock” and the Beau Rivage.  That was the Plan B we had before setting off that morning:  If we get separated, head east to Deer Island, then hang a left.

(For purposes of completeness, we left that morning from East Ship Island, the one that isn’t all touristy.  To see the full scope, check Google Maps and type in “Ship Island MS.”)

But we digress…

I’m guessing I paddled two miles out in the first hour and six minutes of my mission to achieve closure.  (That November 11-hour stretch where we covered 17 miles actually amounted to roughly six hours of actual paddling, which was still plenty.  In turn that translated to a speed of 1.546 miles an hour, but much of that 11 hours of paddling happened when the sun was up and its heat roiled wind and tide.  But when I set out last Monday, the Gulf was smooth as a baby’s bottom, as it is wont to be at that time of day.)

At first I had that same nagging feeling, setting out in the complete darkness, of either going off the edge of the world or being eaten by sharks.  But after awhile I settled in quite nicely.  I watched the sun slowly come up, off to my left at about “10 o’clock.”  (See Clock position.)

And every once in a while I’d pause, turn off my stop-watch and just enjoy the feeling “of being somewhere, someplace that no one else in his right mind would ever be.”  I imagine the explorers back in the olden days had something of the same feeling.  (One good reason to take such a trip.)

So anyway, near the end of Travels With Charley, Steinbeck explored “the nature of journeys, how they are things in themselves, each one an individual and no two alike.”  One conclusion?  “People don’t take trips – trips take people.”  He’d known trips that were “over and dead before the traveler returns.”  Like in TWC, where his  trip ended long before he got home:

I know exactly where and when it was over.  Near Abingdon, in the dog-leg of Virginia, at four o’clock of a windy afternoon, without warning or good-by or kiss my foot, my journey went away and left me stranded far from home.

Then there’s the other kind of trip.  That’s the journey that continues “long after movement in time and space have ceased.”   Steinbeck remembered the town of his birth – Salinas – where a neighbor once took a trip to Hawaii.  Ever after, the  neighbor could be seen, rocking on his porch, “his eyes squinted, half-closed, endlessly traveling to Honolulu.”

This last pilgrimage of mine had a kind of in-between ending.  It didn’t end in “Abingdon,” metaphorically or otherwise.  There was too much paddling to do, right up to the end of the eight days.  And after the BMP boat dropped us off at the Biloxi marina, there was too much packing-up to do.  Then the luxury of a long hot shower.  Then the luxury of a big steak dinner…

Even on the long drive home back in November, I had planning to do.  I knew somehow, some time, I’d get rid of the nagging feeling, that “abiding discontent and resentment.”

It had hung over me for over two months.  Then, last Monday, after an hour and six minutes paddling out from Biloxi Beach, I started getting a feeling of at least a bit of peace…

But naturally the long trip back to shore had to be a pain.  Somehow the god of headwinds always seemed to find us intrepid canoeists, whether back on the Missouri near Judith Landing, or on Lake Ponchartrain in 2013.  (We brothers have done this before.)

And so it was for me last Monday morning.

The wind and tide got more and more against me the closer I got to shore.  Finally I headed straight for the west side of the Coliseum Pier noted above, four-tenths of a mile short of my goal, but still “mainland at last.”  After hours on the water, I figured it’d be easier and less stressful to either walk the canoe through the shallows, or drag it up across the beach.

I ended doing a little of both, in an effort pretty much like what would have happened that morning of November 12.  (Assuming the horizon stayed visible, no storm came a-brewing, or that I’d remembered to take my cell phone out of the dry bag and turn it on.)

So as I carried my kayak west along Beach Boulevard, I felt like I’d done what I’d come to do.

And that’s how the traveler came home again (closure-wise)…



November 10, 2014 photo IMG_4332_zps47e076b9.jpg



I borrowed the upper image from The Blog, and in turn it is courtesy of

The lower image is a photo I took on November 10, the day we made 17 miles in 11 hours.  As noted above, that amounted to some six hours of actual canoeing.  And given the age of we intrepid canoeists, it behooved us to learn the technique of “siesta at sea.”  Note the calm water, a necessity for such a siesta when you’re 10 miles out in the Gulf. 

Other full “Wiki” references: Half Moon Island (in St. Bernard Parish, LA), along with Houlton, Maine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and Millinocket, Maine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  Also Mississippi Coast Coliseum – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Deer Island (Mississippi) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Ship Island (Mississippi) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and Salinas, California – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

See also smooth as a baby’s bottom – Wiktionary.

The “TWC” quotes are from Travels with Charley, Penguin Books (1980), at pages 70-71 and 272-73.  (For more on Steinbeck and TWC, see also On donkey travel – and sluts).  The “suggestion from the Master” quote is from pages 37-39, where Steinbeck spoke of Joseph Addison (1672-1719), the “English essayist, poet, playwright, and politician,” remembered as a founder of “The Spectator magazine.”  Steinbeck remembered Addison both for his use of capital letters for nouns and his observing that readers are often more interested in an author’s personal quirks and history than in the finished work itself;  “I have found many readers more interested in what I wear than in what I think.”  See Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

I found the “Coliseum Pier” link at Biloxi piers provide great fishing opportunities.

The full citation for Judith landing is Judith Landing Recreation Area – Visit Montana.  See also Missouri River Fort Benton to Judith Landing | Trail Head.  The first pilgrimage taken by the “intrepid canoeist brothers” was also from Fort Benton to Judith Landing.

Travels with Charley ends with Steinbeck back in New York City.  (This was after his trip “left him” back in Virginia.)   He got stuck in a back street, collapsed in nervous laughter and was approached by an “old-fashioned cop with a fine red face” who thought he was drunk.  When Steinbeck explained that he’d gotten lost in his own home town, after driving “all over the country – mountains, plains, deserts,” the officer sympathized.  “Think nothing of it, Mac, I got lost in Brooklyn only Saturday.”

The last line of TWC is, “And that’s how the traveler came home again.”


On Thomas Merton

“Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama, 1968. . .”


Thomas Merton was a Roman Catholic monk.  In his later years he found parallels between his orthodox Catholicism and those exotic Eastern religions that became all the rage back in the 1970s.   Near the end of his life – he died in 1968 – Merton traveled to India and Tibet and at one point interviewed the Dalai Lama, as shown above.

Merton also met with Chatral Rimpoche, “a Dzogchen master and a reclusive yogi known for his great realization and strict discipline.”  (See Chatral Rinpoche – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)   Merton interviewed Rimpoche on the subject of meditation, and how difficult it was to reach the “perfect emptiness” that is one main goal of Eastern meditation:

“He said he had meditated in solitude for thirty years or more and had not attained to perfect emptiness and I said I hadn’t either.”

That brings up what might be called the ongoing Christian meditation, as it is practiced by most denominations.  One version begins each Sunday service with this summary:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

(See the Book of Common Prayer – “BCP” – at page 824, referred to in an earlier post as a “Cliff’s Note summary” of the entire Bible by Jesus.  See On “what a drag it is. . .”.)

But not too much later in this standard mainstream Sunday service, parishioners “confess their sins” by admitting candidly, “We have not loved thee with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” (See the BCP at page 331, emphasis added.)

So what’s the point?

The point is this: both orthodox Christians and Eastern meditators like Chatral Rimpoche and Dalai Lama are – in their spiritual discipline – literally trying to do the impossible.

Both are trying to do what can’t be done, either meditating “perfectly” or loving God and all humanity with all your heart and soul and mind.  But to make a long story short, in practicing such  spiritual discipline you tend to become both a better person and closer to that “oneness” with The Force That Created The Universe that is the goal of true spirituality, as Jesus prayed:

I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.  I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one.  I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one.  Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.

See John 17:21-23, emphasis added.  (And before you get all huffy, Mr. or Ms. Orthodox Christian, I’m not saying all religions are equal.  But see the notes below.)

There’s another point.  One biographer said Merton was helped in his spiritual quest by both Christian mysticism and his “wide knowledge of Oriental religions.”  As noted, Merton became fascinated with Zen Buddhism and Zen writer D. T. Suzuki.  He studied Taoism, “regular” Buddhism and Hinduism.  But dallying in these exotic disciplines didn’t weaken Merton’s Catholicism; if anything, they strengthened his faith.  As the biographer wrote:

[B]y approaching the spiritual quest at unexpected angles, they opened up new ways of thought and new ways of experiencing that invigorated and released him. . .

 Which leads to my theory:  The Bible is for liberating the human spirit, not shackling it.




The upper image is courtesy of Thomas Merton in Pictures, which included the caption quoted.

The lower image is courtesy of the Thomas Merton Center website;  “The Thomas Merton Center [at Bellarmine University in Louisville KY] is the official repository of Merton’s artistic estate, which includes over thirteen hundred photographs and nine hundred drawings in addition to his writing.  The Center archives more than fifty thousand Merton-related materials.  See also Thomas Merton Center (Pittsburgh) – Wikipedia, the free …, “a non-profit grassroots organization in Pittsburgh whose mission is to educate, raise awareness and to ask the moral questions that surround issues of social justice, poverty, workers’ rights, racial discrimination, environmental and economic justice, peace and nonviolence.” 

Sounds like a pretty radical guy. . .


As to “the real Good News.”  The term Gospel is from “the Old English gōd-spell . . . meaning ‘good news’ or ‘glad tidings.’   The word comes from the Greek euangelion.”  See Gospel – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  Unfortunately these days that Good News seems to have been transmogrified into bad news, as in “How can we get political power so as to control other people?”  (That seems to be the perception anyway.  See e.g. Why are Christians so negative and judgemental? – RZIM Europe, Do Christians spend too much time being negative? – Christian …, and 5 Negative Effects of Complaining for Christians – Patrick’s ….)

Merton’s conversations about meditation and/or his interviews with Eastern “masters” were related in Monica Furlong’s Merton  A Biography, Harper and Row, 1980, at pages “xx” and 324-26. 


Finally, not all Roman Catholics are enamored of Merton’s spiritual explorations.  See for example, Can You Trust Thomas Merton? | Catholic Answers, which said that Merton was controversial and that some of his ideas were dangerous, then asked:  “where do his ideas become suspect?  Does he stray from Catholic orthodoxy?”

Which raises a good question:  If Jesus was “orthodox,” why aren’t we all still Jewish?