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This site is a group of individuals sharing thoughts, stories, and passages together on one site. Peruse, join the conversation by comment, and enjoy. 

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Saturday
Aug292015

Gambler, No. 2 [On Taking a Hike]

And I have no more pleasure in hearing a man attempting wit and failing, than in seeing a man trying to leap over a ditch and tumbling into it. — Samuel Johnson

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

As men are debauched from within, so too is the town of Las Vegas. At its core, no small number of licentious deeds dwell. Vegas, though rotten at the core, is surrounded on all sides by barren mountain ranges, which add a glory to the outer edges. These mountains look like large boulders placed by some giant. By day they are a bright brown, nearly reflecting the ever-present sun. Frenchman Mountain triumphs over the east side of town, a tree-less rock, rising four thousand feet above the raging Pacific and two thousand above the Valley. But to the west truer, taller mountain ranges tower over our town—the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness and the Le Madre Mountain Wilderness, home to the Spring Mountains and Nevada’s eighth tallest peak, Mt. Charleston, first scaled by explorer John C. Fremont.

Due to their barrenness, these mountains are prettiest at dawn and dusk. When that sun has just finished his day’s course, Frenchmen Mountain is set on fire and looks nearly like a fat match, its tip a reddish hue and its base still tan. When the sun fully sets, all the mountains turn on their nightlights, blazing blue and turquoise. One may just consider them to be great frozen tidal waves stopped by the hand of Our Lord, only to be loosed once His patience in our debauchery has flowed over into the cup of His wrath.

*****

The air was crisp and cool at eight thousand feet, and though temperatures would rise into the triple digits in the Valley, my companion and I braced the fifty-degree weather as we began our hike to Mt. Charleston’s peak. To my knowledge, there are four ways to the top. One might take the shortest route by first ascending Griffith Peak, a five-mile trail that climbs roughly 2,500 feet, before connecting with the South Loop Trail, climbing another thousand feet to the summit. Naturally, we ventured to take this path, but due to forest fires from over two years prior, the trails were closed. The individuals who wish to reach Charleston’s peak today must choose to take Trail Canyon, a two-mile trail that ends at Cockscomb Ridge and conjoins with North Loop Trail. From that junction, one has over six miles and fifteen hundred feet in elevation, braving switchbacks, winding along canyon walls, before the intense final climb up Charleston’s peak. Most take this eight-mile route to the top. Only an idiot would decide to take the entirety of the ten-mile North Loop Trail, in which four total miles of switchbacks up and around Kyle Canyon are added to the hike. If a man is not conditioned to mountain climbing, he is a fool to take such a route, certainly the longest, if not that hardest, to the top.

*****

At 8,400 feet we began our ascent at the start of the North Loop Trail. “I hiked Pike’s Peak,” I said. “The elevation there is far worse—thinner air,” I continued as if I had been born in a mountain cabin and not a Kansas City hospital. “Once we get out of the tree-line, you’ll see the top and, psychologically, it’s much easier.” “The way back is really a joy—all downhill. Takes half the time.” And so on and so forth I spoke as a blind guide to the blind.

Our spirits were truly quite optimistic. We had our provisions. We had our food. Two bottles of beer, two pipes and smoking-tobacco, carrots, chocolate chip muffins, lemon muffins, sandwiches, granola bars, fried kale, and, of course, four large bottles of water. Nothing could stop us.

The first two miles of this hike are an intense ascent, which is nothing but switchbacks. “This will be the hardest part, getting up, out of the trees,” I said as if I were John C. Fremont himself. At various points we came to clearings, where we could take a gander at the terrain. At this point, we saw two prominent peaks; surely one of those was it. Another hiker, who seemed to cover five yards with each stride, passed us, and asking him how long it was to the top, he gave us a perplexed look yet left us with the notion that the trail was ten miles total. Thus encouraged, we continued on until we covered the first two miles, and the trail began leveling off, wrapping itself around the two peaks earlier spotted.

Kyle Canyon is full of pine, aspen, and Mountain Mahogany. Across the canyon two other prominent peaks towered, one fully clothed in the green of the Bristlecone Pine, the other a bald peak, which looked much like an old man’s bumpy head. We stopped and ate a muffin while sitting on a log, overlooking the canyon. Our path began to descend rather steeply, again crossing back-and-forth through switchbacks and leading away from what we had believed was our peak. Two men crossed our path, one telling us we had eleven miles to go. We were, nevertheless, full of the youthful spirit of optimism that will, at times, lead a man to continue in ignorance. When one is descending, as we were, it is easy to be deceived; it is easy to believe the whole trail of life will be one downward motion.

We, at least, made it to Cockscomb Ridge and the junction with Trail Canyon. Seeing that we had already made it four miles, we continued on, seeing a sign that declared we had six to go. What is six miles more to two young, spritely men?

After this junction, the North Loop Trail takes a nasty turn. The mere scent of switchbacks sent shivers through our weary skeletons. We were deceived at just how much energy was exerted on the way down the canyon, and after what was probably a mile of upward switchbacks, I began to question my initial judgment of this might mountain range.

We stopped and supped on another log, eating sandwiches and carrots, foolishly drinking too much water. If one does make it up this series of switchbacks, he is rewarded with a relatively level two-mile journey along the edge of rocky canyon cliffs. Though there is little ascent overall, the terrain is nearly more difficult because one is walking on loose rocks, and the whole path is characterized by little dips, dives, and dells, which do wonders to the hipbone. Firmly convinced our initial peaks were falsely identified, we met a man, who had measured the distance with his phone and confirmed that we couldn’t see the peak, but we had four miles to go. Here a certain dismay began to overtake us. Perhaps due to my general distrust in the accuracy of phones and the goddess Surrey, or perhaps due to my insane pride, we yet sauntered on, slacking in our pace with each dip, dive, and dell.

That man, when he sees the end of his desires, is the more encouraged to press on to that end, is a truth that cannot be applied to hiking a mountain. We saw it. Mt. Charleston’s peak. We had seen it, for he was the bald-headed peak we had seen before—the peak that, if we had known it at the time, would have sent us to our knees in worship. There he was: Three mountain-miles away. With my binoculars I could clearly see the path that wound around his limestone and dolomite rock. And though we had our end in clear view, we saw that our path angled to the right and again ascended switchbacks for a quarter of a mile. Dismayed at such a prospect, we further recognized that we were nearly out of water, and with heavy hearts, we turned our backs to that mighty, bumpy, bald-headed peak and made our way back to Kyle Canyon.

*****

The way back took longer. By the time we began our descent back down the canyon, we had been out of water for nearly a mile. We munched on carrots for sustenance, and I feigned optimism. As we made our way down to Cockscomb Ridge, our spirits once again picked up; we nearly sang with joy at the mere prospect of heading downhill again. Much like Shadow, that noble dog from Homeward Bound, I proclaimed that we just “had to make it over that little ridge we had descended earlier,” and then we would have it all downhill from there. Little did we know that our memories of the initial entry into Kyle Canyon were blurred at best, for a two-mile upward hike awaited us.

We made it nearly a mile, but the lack of water was beginning to take its toll. As if leading a horse, I fed my companion carrots and attempted to remain positive, fearful of any fatal fainting. Beginning to grow dismayed, I soon wondered if we would ever make it to the top of the canyon. I then, with what energy that was left in me, grabbed both packs and ventured forth—“I will come back with water,” I said and bounded away like a wounded wood-elf.

Whether the sinking sun illumined their faces, or whether it was the glory of Our Lord who shone through them, I met two angelic beings, who, after much bewilderment, graciously emptied their camelbacks, and gave us two plums. As we conversed and blessed these two heavenly beings, two other weary travelers approached from behind. They too had tried the North Loop. They too had failed. But they failed with enough water for three, and I gladly took an offered bottle.

My compatriot and I thus continued up the canyon with a brighter outlook on life. When we finally began our two-mile descent, our spirits were nearly so high we could sing. I will, nevertheless, not forget how much longer those two miles were going down than they were going up that morning. And thus is the way of life. In the sheer novelty of a task, we begin with a vigor and energy that overcomes its difficulty, but familiarity breeds toil. May we scale our daily mountains with the novelty of seeing each sunrise as the first to beget the world and each sunset as the first last call to drink of that Living Water which sees us through the dark valley of Night.

Broom Snow
Written and Transcribed at The Desert Schooner,
Las Vegas, Nevada,
Saturday, August 29, 2015

Painting: "A Mountainous Landscape"
By John Glover,
Oil on canvas, n.d.

Thursday
Aug272015

Lying Awake


LYING AWAKE

There are the arcane sounds 
best discovered after dusk, flushed,
like earthworms from the porous ground
by the dark—as if a black rain fell in sheet 
to wrap the supine body of each day.
Walk with ears
down those listening sidewalks,
not a muscle stirred
and you might hear them: 
a red eye’s drone
cricket whistles
wheels’ rubber shrieks
or the seething of the air itself.
Wait for the dreamer’s expression
if you lie next to another;
the cadence in their breath,
the fitful murmurs,
the roll and doze 
and readjust,
the conversations overheard
between chemical and memory
voiced as if by alter egos.
These are the things we could never learn 
about ourselves
unless you, or I, or they
eavesdrop on the unconscious.
Not only old age burns and raves
as Thomas said, 
but so too does the wakened, seething night
pacing at your other side
angry at how little attention it commands.

Bryn Homuth
On a short drive as I rode passenger
August 24, 2015 

Painting: Moonlit Night
Ivan Aivazovsky 1817-1900
Oil on canvas, 1849 

Wednesday
Aug192015

Gambler, No. 1 [On Gambling]

Gamble. v. n. [To] Play extravagantly for money. — Dr. Johnson 

Gambler, No. 1At various times during my brief pilgrimage on this planet, I have regarded the human race as mere insects. As if, I suppose, we all lived a Kafkaesque experience, walking our streets like respectable Gregor Samsa’s, understood, mind you, for all share the same plot. It is easy enough to imagine all human’s scurrying about as one small vessel, like ants zipping around their hill. In cities that hold millions, this image makes sense. And so does another. Looking at a city at a giant’s viewpoint may suggest an anthill by day. But by night we resemble something different. In our ecstasy, many of us head for the brightest lights we see. We head downtown. Like flies, we fling ourselves headfirst into the chaos of the lights. We go there to die.

Not too many days ago, I was drawn to what may be the brightest district in America. Las Vegas Boulevard. Unlike other cities, this district does not necessarily attract its own. Nay. Las Vegas Boulevard is so bright it attracts men from every area of the globe, who come to stare at its monstrosities and gawk at its vanities as kids used to stare at candy shops. It should be correctly called Vanity Fair. For one crowds in amongst thousands of mindless tourists, insisting on stopping every two minutes to take pictures; one will watch these tourists do nothing but walk and gawk; one will hear seven-year-olds ask their father if they can stay to watch Britney Spears, only to hear the father say, like some grand idiot, “I don’t know, sweet-heart. We’ll see.” Young men, dressed up as if they’re going to prom, waltz around with long, skinny drinking glasses, chasing skinnier women in skinny outfits smoking even skinnier cigarettes. The smell of sweat and bodies mixes with the smell of cigarette smoke as more people fly toward the lights. Men—without hesitancy—pass out fliers to unsuspecting, or suspecting, young men, as long trucks with mere advertisements covering their women, suggest other ways a man can be led to death. And then one remembers there is a seven-year-old here. The Homeless also join the fray, playing instruments if they have the energy, or sitting and looking as miserable as one can possibly look. And when one isn’t noticing them, he is given another flier by another shameless man. And when one has had enough of the idiotic fathers and shameless men, he turns to the casinos, and gambling does not seem so sinful after all.

*****

It is erroneously thought in this country that mere stupidity is the equivalent of gambling. The equivalent of mere stupidity is not gambling. The equivalent of mere stupidity is foolishness. The man who puts down his lifesaving on a racehorse does not have a gambling problem. He has an intelligence problem. The man who flings himself onto crocodiles his whole life, only to end up eaten by one, is not gambling with his life; he is throwing it away. The man who holds a view that is contrary to tradition is not a man “taking a chance;” he is merely a rebel, rebelling against he knows not what toward something he knows even less about.

It is supposed that being intellectually risky, having some sort of opinion that questions the supposed belief, is a type of wisdom. A professor will saunter into a room, lay down the beliefs of our forefathers with perfect clarity, and then debunk the whole thing. He will do so not with anything necessarily concrete. For to be concrete in one’s thinking is not being quite risky enough. He will debunk the concrete beliefs of dead Theists with such statements as, “It’s hard to really know if God exists. He may or may not.” “I believe there is truth, but it is something fluid, something constructed from both within us and among us.” “It’s possible that our death is part of some larger order. What that is, is hard to say. But it could be something great. It usually is reserved for those who love the most.” And so on and so forth. The professor may believe he is taking great risks in his belief system, when really he is only stating platitudes that offer little hope. And if one has little hope, it cannot be said that he is taking any sort of thing that can be called a risk. For to gamble without hope is not to gamble at all. To say, “I do not know. Therefore, hedonism” is not a life of risk and adventure but a life of sad slavery to pleasure.

If one wants to meet a real gambler, one who is willing to take a risk, it is not the intellectual snob who knows not why he believes his own unbelief. It is the family praying to the invisible God at dinner. It is the Christian holding onto his hope in the face of beheading. For those in America, it is often the man unwilling to succumb to the nonsense of the world, throwing in his lot with the nonsense of heaven. Not without mistake did the great apostle claim that the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world. But, indeed, it is better to be a knave or a jester in the courts of the king, than a sage or tyrant in the hierarchy of hell.

*****

We chose the Bellagio. The most iconic perhaps. It is a gorgeous building rounded in a half-circle which opens to a small pond. Tourists often stop outside to watch the fountain show (which is quite good if the correct song is played) and pretend they are Brad Pitt.

I cannot do justice to the description of the Bellagio casino, for they all look quite similar to my Midwestern eyes. They are quite pleasant places, if one does not mind cigarette smoke. They are very clean, and actually not so crowded. I find them enjoyable to be in after being out on the strip. I suppose that is what they want. Anyhow, looking for penny slots, we sauntered on up to some shiny slot. After much initial confusion, the time came to place the bet. Having virtually no idea how the machine worked, I slowly inserted my cash. I quietly said goodbye to Andrew Jackson as I put him in what I thought was a fancy garbage can.

“Alright,” I said. “Here goes.”

I hit the button that said, “max bet” and saw it light to life. Then, fully expecting nothing to happen, I hit the “place bet” button. Now, it would be a lie to tell you what happened next with the slot machine, for I have little idea. This slot had roughly six or seven columns of icons—those in the movies, you will remember, have three—and nothing really seemed to line up with anything else. But what really caught my attention was a quite audible dinging sound mixed with many coins on the screen falling down like large, golden raindrops.

“I think you won,” I heard from behind me.”

It certainly seemed that way.

“Eh? Where does it say…” I questioned as I squinted my eyes, looking frantically for some type of indication as to what happened. Then I found it. $120. Just. Like. That. I will not fail to confess the temptation in my breast to put that $120 back in the machine. But greater heads prevailed. Vowing to never place a bet there again, I strolled out and watched the fountain show, feeling as if I had broken the Bellagio.

Each day, on my way to work at the local university, I drive down Flamingo Road and see that Casino in all it's morning glory. As I park and begin my walk into campus, I give the Boulevard one last glance. It is not a temptation but a reminder. If I am indebted to One, it is only because I am the Gambler.

Broom Snow
Written and transcribed at my apartment, The Desert Schooner,
Las Vegas, Nevada
August 18, 2015

Painting: "The Gambler"
By Christian Ludwig Bokelmann,
Oil on canvas, 1873

Saturday
Aug082015

A Blessing for the Beer


A Blessing for the Beer

Oh God—Who makes the wheat and barley fields grow from the soil, Who sends the rain to fatten and ripen each head of grain—thank you for this beer. May it lift our spirits without making us intemperate in any way, that we have no regrets for using this fermented gift improperly. May our moderation as we drink be an example to those who drink immoderately. Now, as we savor the barley, yeast, hops, and malt we drink in thankfulness to you who made them ripe in their season. Amen.

R. Eric Tippin
The Catacombs, Kansas State University
January 22, 2014

Image:
"Cheese and Beer Mug"
Oil on Canvas - 1960
George L. Reekie 

Saturday
Jul252015

On the Universe and Other Trifles: An Imitation of G.K. Chesterton’s Prose

Last fall, as a part of an independent study in which I participated alongside the now diceased Sam Snow, I was given the monumental task of imitating, at intervals, Rudyard Kipling, Hilaire Belloc, and G.K. Chesterton. I have posted my first two imitations on this site here and here (not here) but have felt a reluctance to post the third. This reluctance stems from a certain acid tone in the Chesterton imitation that the author himself might have taken toward modern ideals were he alive today.

I have decided, however, after very little thought, to post the imitation, trusting to my readers' sophistication and their and understanding that sometimes (perhaps always) content and style conflate. I exaggerate for effect because Chesterton exaggerated for effect. I over-simplify for effect because my subject utilized the same tactic. Now, to the imitation:

It is true, the universe is the largest thing we know, but we know so little, really[1]. We have placed our mustard seed faith in the universe as something vast beyond measure, but it could be that the universe itself is the mustard seed to some other colossal object. We believe our universe to be gigantic, romantic and hauntingly cold and beautiful, but, as universes go, it could be a rather medium-sized, homely one. Maybe in a cosmic perspective its great galaxies are mere clouds of sediment suspended in the flowing tides of space and its fiery nuclear orbs are but fireflies to some invisible galactic race of giants. In other words, we feel we are small because the universe is large, but perhaps the only reason the universe seems large is that we are so small.

The weak-eyed, shortsighted modern is reluctant to address is this all-important question of the firmament, but the question remains: Why is our universe so unfathomably large, so spread out, so maddeningly outside our ability to explore it? Space may be the final frontier, but in it we have finally found a frontier we cannot explore as Shakleton did the arctic or Livingston did the Congo. Our pride in our pathetic attempts at going to the moon and mars are like swimming a couple meters off the coast of California and claiming we have explored the Oceans of the earth or reading Sartre’s “No Exit” and claiming we know drama. We are like a colony of ants in Texas calling Siberia our “last frontier” or a snail in Seattle setting his sights on Singapore—a fine sentiment but a weak demonstration of sentience. The theist and the atheist alike are faced with answering the question of meaning behind this unexplorable size of our cosmos, this elephantine girth so incredible to us. The theist, faced with this question, can and does answer the “who” and “how”; the atheist does not have the luxury of the “who,” and, because of this, generally ignores the how. The atheist even goes out of his way to avoid the giant “why” question behind the universe in one of the most natural places in the world for discussing it—the university. One would expect every class at a university to begin by speaking about that university’s namesake; that every history class would begin with the history of the universe, that every algebra class would not proceed without outlining the numbers and formulae dictating all motion in the cosmos, that every writing class would start by tracing the primal and universal language written boldly in the stars, that students of art would not place brush on canvas before they looked into that most venerated and ancient portrait of the man in the moon.

But this is the modern trend. Just as the universe has no place in the modern university, so subjects modern professors profess to teach have strayed from their real subjects. Take, for instance, the new, vogue, and progressive new field of study, Children’s Literature. Now, there is one group of individuals unwelcome in the modern study of Children’s Literature, and happens to be the one group most naturally associated with it. I speak, of course, of real children. Introduce a real child into the modern academy’s study of Children’s Literature, and it would crumble under the sheer rationality of that child. For the child knows far more than the academic how to read Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast. The child knows Cinderella’s gender identity is far less important to the story than the fairy godmother’s strict rules or Cinderella’s shoe size, but the academic will write of jargon on the first and hardly mention the second two. The child knows the beast is transformed into the prince through the good graces of the beauty, but the academic seems to believe the beauty need become the beast in order to be a female worthy enough to subvert the male beast.

 It should be a requirement for every Children’s Literature department to have daycare attached, in whose playroom scholars must write every word of their criticism, surrounded by rollicking hoards of those they claim to represent. Let that scholar read his prose aloud to a company of seven-year-old-kids and let them be the judges of its acuity and cogency. Let him defend his dissertation before a dissident panel of hungry toddlers. Let him be dragged before a tribunal of eager kindergarteners and let them decide whether his attempts to prove the presence of phallic symbols in Winnie the Pooh make him worthy to take the name of children’s scholar. Let him find out that “serious Children’s Literature scholar” is an oxymoron to the real child and that his jargon-packed work serves only one practical purpose in the nursery—to put any child to sleep.

But in the universe of the university all things are topsy-turvy. Children’s Literature has little-to-nothing to do with real children; cultural studies celebrates everything but good culture; philosophy departments no more love wisdom than they believe they can prove the word wisdom has meaning at all; rhetoric and composition take only scant and scoffing glances at classical rhetoric and the tools of composition; communication scholars have made it their job to end any and all communication of unsafe ideas coming from those less open minded than themselves. Yes, it is only natural that the universe is ignored in the university. And why should it not be? It screams for answers and the modern is too busy screaming for questions. It declares the glory of God and they declare the irrelevancy of God. It makes man feel insignificant; they make man the measure of all things. It declares that there are constructs beyond social ones. They declare the social ones are the only true constructs. It threatens to cool man’s pleasure in time. They worship man’s pleasure wildly like pagans did Baal. It preaches a singular reality behind the university. They can preach nothing but diversity.

R. Eric Tippin
In "The Catacombs," Kansas State University
October 22, 2014 


Image:
"Blue Sky"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Herbert Rollett 

[1] Careful readers of this blog will recognize this sentence (and the title of this imitation) as self-plagarism. I care little.