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Tuesday
Aug192014

Ambler, No. 22 [On the Transitory Nature of Man, With a Poem Addressed to Adam the Scribe, On Account of His Tardiness]

 Circles and right lines limit and close all bodies and the mortall right-lined circle, must conclude and shut up all. -- Sir Thomas Browne

Roughly one year ago I was traveling by automobile in the city when I came across another car with a bumper sticker which read something to the effect of “We are not earthly beings having a spiritual experience but spiritual beings having an earthly experience.” Whether or not the theology of the statement is true, it had a profound effect upon me, and I confess to agree with it in part. Man, though very earthy, is spiritual, and he spends the majority of his days, whether he acknowledges it or not, feeling as if he is not entirely home. Even the unique soul that has spent the majority of his lifetime in one geographical location wrestles with the peculiar longing for a more permanent lodging, and those physically transitory souls on earth are necessarily aware of their lack of permanence as they are reminded of this truth with every move. For the body of man is but a tent, settled but for a moment until the elements of nature have so battered and bewildered it, that it remains no more and must be replaced with a more secure structure.

*****

A recent evening afforded me the opportunity to sit outside the Ole Midshipman and have a pipe. Now, anyone who has ever tried to smoke a pipe is aware of the difficulties one has in keeping the thing lit. As a very novice pipe smoker, I go through roughly fifteen matches before it decides to cooperate, and every time I curse myself for not properly packing it - an art in itself. Thus, I hold that pipe smoking should be a relatively private affair in which not much else is being tended to but the bowl. It is best to smoke amongst friends who are also smoking and who delight in good-natured conversation. The second best way to smoke a pipe is to do so in complete solitude with only the bowl and the brain working on all cylinders.

It is in this state which I smoked. The night was cool and the sun had just gone to bed. After what was probably the thirteenth or fourteenth match, I finally hit my stride, and through the billowy smoke proceeding from my mouth, I gazed upwards at the heavens. It was a clear night which meant that, despite modern pollution, a few stars could be seen, and I specifically noted the handle of the big dipper and the north star --that ever-fixèd star that remains entirely constant. As I was gazing I perceived one of those stars begin to move westward, for it was no star at all, but a plane. I wondered to myself where it could be going and where it had originated. It struck me that the plane could possibly be traveling from any number of distances and that man has so greatly advanced that both time and space are with each passing decade becoming less relevant.

Moments later a much larger plane entered the ether, reinforcing my earlier belief that the first plane came from some distant land. The pipe in my hand was at full throttle -- smoke billowed from from the bowl and poured forth from my mouth as if I were a dragon in long cloudy lines, lasting for a good ten seconds. The mouth from which that smoke came grew warmer, and the mind reposed into deeper thoughtfulness.

*****

It is true that man, at the end of his day, is a very restless being, moving to and fro, never fully satisfied with his geographical positioning on the globe. The night grew darker; the stars shone a bit brighter; my thoughts turned inward in reflection. I began to muse on where I had been a year prior to this date -- likely I had been out on an evening stroll or sitting out in my backyard, observing the same nightly ritual I was currently undertaking. In any case, it was all too true that I was miles from my current place of residence, in another city entirely.

Those transitory souls that haunt this globe -- moving from city to city and unable to settle down -- have a few common qualities. In a negative sense, we look down on those stationary souls who have never traveled the globe, let alone moved their residence, as if choosing to invest in one’s town, city, or state was morally questionable, as if the world traveler experienced in lands in he will never invest it, is thus superior to the man who knows his town better than Timbuktu.

The world traveler, though, does have a leg up on the man who has never been anywhere. I once knew a young man who rarely left our county. In fact, he had left his state but once in his life and happened to only because the city he was visiting happened to be on the border. There is both a quaintness and a sadness to this story. For though my friend possessed a thorough knowledge of, and a healthy respect for, his county, he suffered from the narrow-mindedness that may keep one from properly understanding outsiders. And thus while the negative quality of the traveler is one of vanity and pride, a nuisance to lifers and townies, a worse quality arises from the transitory being.

For those who spend so little time in one city develop the much worse habit of physically residing in one town while mentally, and therefore spiritually, residing in another. So as I smoked my pipe and reflected on where I had been but one year prior, I thought more deeply about where I would be in one year. As the past fourteen years of my life have roughly been on a two-year cycle, in which every two years a new town is introduced, it happens that more time is spent musing on where I will be next than where I am presently. And the habit has become so normal that slowly distancing myself is but second nature. I am unaware if this is peculiar to my own capricious whims or if other transitories out there are familiar with the symptom.¹ What I do know is that though it is a negative quality, engendered by my constantly moving, I am not so sure I am willing to give up my transitory nature. It is good for a man to invest in a town or city.

There is nevertheless a certain sense of adventure in moving to a new town which never entirely grows stale unless one allows it to. The adventure would have been more tangible fifty years ago, when towns differed in more ways that mere size and scenery. In this I find that oddly the fear in life comes not from constant up-rootings, not from hopping from house to house, but from staying put. It is far easier to invest little in your neighbor when you know he will only be a neighbor for a relatively short period of time. And the fear comes not in feeling out of place in a new town, for we often feel very much at home in a strange town. But the fear comes in feeling out of place in your own home: In commitment. In such things as marriage or parenthood. For the gypsy can leave without a second thought, but the mayor must stay for better or for worse. And the tragedy arises when the mayor begins mentally residing in some far off land. Thus whether man grows stale and stagnant in the town he was born and raised; whether he is merely passing through, he ought to embrace where he presently is, and should not be like so many millennials on Facebook and Twitter, forever fastened to their phones, eternally elsewhere.

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written over a period of days,
Manhattan, KS
August 13, 16, and 17, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe
A day late,
August 19, 2014

Painting: "A Peasant Filling His Pipe"
By Adriaen van Ostade
Oil on Panel, 1660-1669

_____________________

¹Word courtesy of Adam the Scribe

 

“To Adam, On Account of His Tardiness”

As fruitful lands, yet have barren spots,
Your work, though good, sometimes does blot
the page and your good name,
which , in time, will acquire such fame

Birds fly here and there, and everywhere,
No sense of time do those beasts share.
Yet every spring and fall will surely prove,
Their timely arrivals they will not move.

--Sam Snow
August 18, 2014
Transcribed by Adam the Scribe, 
August 19, 2014

Monday
Aug112014

Ambler, No. 21 [On the Fall of Man]

For the act of laughter which is a sweet contraction of the muscles of the face, and a pleasant agitation of the vocal organs, is not meerly voluntary; or totally within the jurisdiction of our selves: but as it may be constrained by corporall contraction in any, and hath been enforced in some even in their death; so the new unusuall or unexpected jucundities, which present themselves to any man in his life; at some time or other will have activity enough to excite the earthiest soul, and raise a smile from most composed tempers. -- Sir Thomas Browne

 

Ambler, No. 21

That man has fallen is evident in his inability to smile and laugh with ease, to be humored and amazed at the seemingly insignificant trifles that consumed the majority of his moments in this life. Man is a very serious animal - the only animal that thinks so highly of himself. Though "a man may smile and smile, and be a villain," though man must necessarily, in certain scenarios, put on a false face to hide what the false heart doth know; it is yet true that the most self-conscious of our conscious brethren cannot suppress a genuine smile when his soul has been so moved, and this type of man is closer to God as he is closer to children. For though the scrupulous author of these rambling Amblers has little, if anything, of a child-like nature within him; for though the society of children to him is often associated with a common corn crop; it does happen that the author -- in order to refresh his old bones -- at various times engages with children, and in so doing, observes their nature.1

A child is anything but fickle and is the epitome of consistency and honesty in emotions and thought. Few men can claim to be wholly consistent in both emotions and thought, let alone deeds. Many a parent of a child may think their children to be inconsistent, and the fear of raising one is the fear or not knowing what their next course of action will be, what objects will be choked on or what ledge will be tried. But though the object which enters the child’s mouth may be of different size or have more or less toxicity, the fact remains that a small child will consistently insert nearly everything he sees -- except perhaps his dinner -- into his mouth. And while all ledges vary in height and danger, it remains that all ledges are tempting

*****

It takes a man little effort to force a smile from my 1-year old relation. You but enter a room and the girl beams with joy; nothing particularly creative is necessary to keep her attention. In the small time I have spent with my niece, it is evident that smiling is nearly as natural as eating, and sucking on the shoes of weary travelers a temptation as enticing as dessert before dinner. In an effort to accomplish many things in one short moment, I attempted to enter the minds of my niece and nephew, nigh one and three respectively. Their mother having left them with their incompetent uncle, they were at the mercy of a man nearly as fun and exciting as a rocking chair. 2 But the joy of children is that they are not too old to be unimpressed or unamused by a rocking chair let alone a small, perhaps cheaply crafted, child’s chair. For it should be noted that in an attempt to complete my nephew’s wooden railroad, in sitting on one of his chairs I so leaned in such a way that after removing myself a decent-sized crack was observed, sending my nephew into a wail of tears, leaving me with a raw feeling for my nephew’s loss (and my apparent gain.)

Nevertheless, children need little to be entertained. They need, for example, a queen sized bed. Thus as I regarded the fateful situation before described, I realized that at any moment my beautiful niece could place a life-threatening object into her mouth, and I noticed that she was currently heading for my sandals. The bed is, in many opinions, a relatively safe area of the house for one to crawl and discover -- it rarely consists of sharp objects and if one falls on the bed the experience is almost delightful. An example affords itself in my picking up my nephew and throwing him on the bed -- to the delight of my niece and the dismay of my knees. This activity taking its toll, I offered to read my nephew a book. Now, reading is always considered a safe habit for the physical body, for it rarely puts one in harm's way, unless reading a moving book on a large precipice causes one to move. However, though physically safe, a book can be spiritually dangerous, and I think too little attention is paid to the harm a children's book can have.3 That stated and out of the way, I found little harm and only an illogical plot in The Runaway Bunny. We got under the covers, situated ourselves to comfort, and I began, reading with such passion and force, I thought to myself it was a wonder the neighbor kids were not lining up at the door to hear the oration.

About three pages in, my nephew had had enough and started flailing about the bed like a fish out of water. It is too true a consistency in children that they will only be read to when they feel like being read to. I corralled my nephew so to save my niece, and we began again, only to again be interrupted by the flopping of my nephew which did nothing but cause great vexation in me and a smile in my niece.

*****

The consistency of children further proves itself in the longevity of their amusement. The younger the child, the longer this longevity appears to exist, so that a game of peek-a-boo with the niece lasts until your arms fall off but will amuse the nephew little. Now, in my keen understanding of the situation at hand, I laid the book I was reading on the floor and decided to entertain new ways to entertain my nephew, for the niece was seemingly content. It is another consistency in children that they always seem content but never are.

I made my way to the edge of the bed where my nephew was, and curling into the fetal position, expecting the worst, was pushed off the bed by my nephew. There is a fine line in teaching young children bad habits. I rose to my feet, entered the same position, and again was pushed off the bed. One unfortunate truth we learn from children is just how easily bored and fagged out we become. It took merely two tumbles before I was willing to call it quits, but the game brought great pleasure to my nephew, even if it did come with a bad moral, and so, a third time I entered that fetal positions and a third time, I was pushed by my nephew.

Whenever I travel I take with me a small Portmanteau in the spirit of Pickwick and what I will call a shoulder bag for books and writing materials. These items were naturally placed at the edge of my bed on the floor. Though, I should say their placement was inconsistent, for they were often moved around the room for no apparent reason. Now, it is another consistency in children that the more they can move, the more they will. My niece, having mastered the ability to crawl and having a decent ability to climb down from such things like a bed on the floor, naturally would strive to do such a thing. In my negligence as I entered the fetal position a third time and was pushed, it so happened that a relatively loud thump was heard as if a head had made contact with the wood floor. I scarcely perceived it was not my head that had made contact, and the deafening wail which followed the noise, the sight of my niece -- such a good ambler! -- lying on the floor in tears, a good five feet from the bed, caused me to realize where the noise originated. It is another consistency in children that when they fall, they cry. I rapidly gathered my niece in my arms and awkwardly caressed her back to health. In an apparent attempt to leave the bed, she had mis-stepped on my Portmanteau and had a tumble unlike mine.

But as I held my niece in my arms and her tears began to abate, another wail was heard from my nephew. Was he distraught that his dear sister had taken a tumble? That is uncle proved, once and for all his incompetence at raising children, forever subjected to an unfruitful life so to save a few unfortunate lives from the danger of having him for a father? Was he crying for the general fall of mankind, so adequately portrayed in the falls of his uncle and his sister? Was he even crying because his mother, such a good soul, trusted her brother and left him alone, and was thus nowhere to be seen? No. I tell you, the child cried in the consistency of all children and adults alike. As he wailed he shouted his frustration: “I wanna play ‘Push You Off the Bed!’” The child cried not because his sister almost died -- as I so adamantly tried to explain to him -- but because he did not get his way. But before we rest our judgement, we should take note of this consistency in the child and man. For the fall of man is the fall of our wills which consistently pine that they differ so from that un-fallen Being from above, our Father.

Sam Snow
Written at the Ole Midshipman
Manhattan, Kansas
August 9th, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe
The Great Room, Kansas State University
August 11th, 2014

Painting: "Landscape with Children"
Unknown Artist
Oil on canvas, N.D.

___________________

¹The Ambler does not pretend to know two cents about children.
²I, for one, find rocking chairs to be both fun and exciting but yet perceive moderns to largely disagree.
³C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.

Saturday
Aug092014

The First Surfer

 

THE FIRST SURFER

It must have begun with a stare
into the crashing water, a different eye
than any before, a version of the one
that scanned up a cragged rock face
before fitting a toe to a horseshoe crevice,
drying palms, straining for the next handhold.
Or the one who set bladed feet
atop a powdered peak, pointed
toward the downslope as a slow glide
accelerated into a fall. 

That’s how it must have been
that day on a somewhere beach,
the slip of cool grit between the toes
not satisfying enough, the breeze
seeming to quicken in gust on shore’s edge.
Driftwood worn smooth by tidal lapping,
musty, slivered in urchin spines.
Belly-down paddle through the shallows.
Wide-set hammerhead eyes
slashing through the deep. 

A breath of quiet must have followed—

the water column rises under the makeshift board,
the rider stands, balances, as if driven
by a sunken instinct surfacing inside. A seismic churn
sweeps into surf’s curled mouth,
and the rider breaches an unending tunnel,
one others would enter, chisel in hand,
to chip away the eddying swirls
that vanish as soon as they are carved.

 

Bryn Homuth
Near the Shores of Medicine Lake
August 9, 2013 

Image:
"Beach Scene"
Oil on Canvas - 1956
Henry E. Ford 

Friday
Aug082014

Ambler, No. 20 [On Townism]

For others when they seem to sit, as Dogs, Cats, or Lions, doe make unto their spine acute angles with their thigh, and acute to the thigh with their shank. — Sir T. Browne

 

The world is so small it consists merely of the self. Two cars were stuck at a green light this past week. Yes, I say “stuck” for they were certainly not stopped by any physical means or moral obligations. As a companion and I stood on the corner of 11th and Bluemont Avenue, we observed how dreadfully long the crosswalk was taking. After witnessing the light cycle through, it eventually occurred to us that the two cars on the west side of the intersection remained dormant despite the green light opposite them encouraging their progression. Ten seconds passed. No movement. Twenty seconds passed. Nothing. Thirty seconds passed, and (finally) the old man behind the northernmost car laid on his horn, shocking the two dead boys back to life as my friend and I both laughed at the boys and groaned at the whole situation. For after about ten seconds into the debacle we noticed that the reason neither boy pressed on the gas after the light turned green was because both heads were bowed in holy reverence and submission to their phones; their minds were so far removed from their present scenarios that their eyeballs may as well have been turned inwards so they could see nothing but themselves.

The phone is a monstrosity. It is a barbaric monstrosity. The surest way to know that a man is devolving is to look at the hundreds of undergrads on college campuses who lack more culture than any caveman with a club who would at least grunt, snort, or draw a picture. But too commonly the new barbarian will, with head down at his phone, fly into a pole or get hit by a bus before any sign of life is found. And the phone destroys culture because it makes the world very small. But, of course any sensible man knows that before the world can be big again it must be small. We cannot merely disregard towns, cities, states, and provinces before we wish the world to be big. Better if Buffalo, Wyoming is as big as Buffalo, New York than if the latter were nothing but an afterthought. If my 5-year-old self could make ten measly trees the size of Boise National Forest, imagine what that boy could do with Boise National Forest.

*****

That crosswalk eventually lit our way onward, and we continued on to a park. Our mission was to go spy on a few houses we secretly envied for their quaintness, when suddenly the noise of a blaring trombone, crashing symbols and whirling wind instruments stirred in us no little curiosity. Toward the noise we headed, and we joined a good sized crowd with an average age of about sixty, listening intently to the noise performed by a traveling army band. It was perhaps a tad warm, but yet pleasant for a July evening in the central plains region. So we sat and listened as the band played songs that once made men giddy to rush off into war and face the music. An interlude of sorts graced the crowd with three jazz tunes. A man gave a delightful trombone solo during the first song, and he got so worked up, I wondered for half a second if he would meet the same fate as the unfortunate Mr. Krook of Dickens’ Bleak House.

The whole band returned, and we were again blessed with rousing songs that took the soul out of the body and placed it in a country, a community. I knew but one person in that crowd, but we were, at that moment, reflecting on one of the most spiritual of things, nationalism. It may be true that nationalism leads to conflict and competition. It may also be true that a lack of nationalism leads to one nation under self. If no respect or honor is left for a country by its inhabitants, the only sensible thing to do is to abolish it as a nation altogether. If no standards or culture exists within that nation, a lack of respect and honor will certainly follow, for a man must have an ideal to fight for, and it is just that ideal that is vanishing in the hoards of plugged in millenials who haunt our streets and shopping malls.

*****

If it is to be supposed that a smaller world is necessarily a better world, it is to be supposed that smaller things are necessarily to be disregarded. A man from Ladysmith, Wisconsin has very little to do with any Ladies or Smiths in his town if he is mentally residing in Hollywood or New York. It is, of course, not an evil to imagine oneself somewhere else. The entire concept of planning is founded on the notion of “being elsewhere.” But the evil exists in Ladysmith looking more like Hollywood, and the Ladies and Smiths from Ladysmith looking more and more like Beyoncés and Biebers. That “every town in America is exactly the same” is certainly not true, but it is becoming more true. It is becoming more likely that a man can be at the exact same diner whether he is in Americus, Georgia or Americus, Kansas.

And a one world government would be about as desirable as having nothing but Beyoncés and Biebers running around. The tendency in America is to do nothing but stress individuality until we have nothing but conformity. The problem, of course, is that the individuality crusade is preached on the false ideal that they are open to all opinions, and that any conformity at all is a horrid evil. But individuality that is absolutely open-minded is like anarchy; it is chaos, and it will last about thirteen minutes before someone sets a trend or a fad. And conformity is to be sought if conformity is the morally correct way to live. It should not be looked down upon; it should be embraced that, say, all ministers in Hawthorne, Nevada wear black veils across their face or that in Marked Tree, Arkansas all the trees have Rosalind’s name written on them.

Above all, the songs which brought me back to my childhood, when this cantankerous country was in my mind equally loved by all, also brought back the patriotism I once had but recently lost. “America the Beautiful” was played, and I could not help, in my cynicism, to comment on the way home that it is a shame America is no longer beautiful. My compatriot reminded me that it still is, one just cannot see it anymore. Indeed, she was right. There is beauty in this land, and it is not found in Hollywood or New York but in Valentine, Nebraska and Atoka, Tennessee. It is good and all that our country and states have a song, but I say our cities and towns should have a song. The problem with our world is that it is so small no one can have a proper adventure; it is so small only the big things matter, but when only the big things matter, they eventually become very small in size. What we need is for townspeople to go back to being townspeople — to walking up and down main street and talking about town as if it is the world. And these inhabitants may be unaware of the recent Hollywood divorce that has taken place, but they will be aware of the scandal across the street. Maybe when town rivalries grow so fierce; when the inhabitants of Henderson, Kentucky cross the Ohio and attack Mt. Vernon, Indiana; when the battle is at its bleakest, and Mt. Vernon’s flag is barely seen through the haze of smoke and darkening skies, that a lone lifer from Mt. Vernon will pen a song in its honor. When the battle is over and Mt. Vernon has their independence, sons will once again be named Vernon. And all will be right with the world, for it is found in Mt. Vernon.

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at the Ole Midshipman,
Manhattan, Kansas,
Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe,
Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

Painting: “A Battle”
By Jacques Courtois
Oil on Canvas, 1655-1670

Monday
Aug042014

HOBBLER No. 2 [On the Gift of One’s Body]

 I am reminded these days of how much I take for granted.

I am reminded, when I wake in the morning, to stop and savor that first full, deep, expansive breath, perhaps accompanied by a slight coolness if drawn quickly enough. To enjoy the stretch of one’s chest, bowing out as the lungs coax the ribs’ widening. Or the ability to interact freely with one’s environment—stooping to examine the low, craning to view the obscured, straining to grasp the out-of-reach. These simple joys may differ from person to person, and are so numerous that it is difficult to maintain awareness amidst the blur of the day; at best, when my senses are most attuned, I am sure I recall only a fraction of them. 

Recently, the summation of some two months of radiating nerve pain (properly: radiculopathy) arrived in a diagnosis of a herniated disc in my lower back. After some weeks of physical therapy, I’ve finally started to return to normalcy.

When we experience a bad cut, deep bruise, or any of the wounds that we can actually watch as they heal—the cut coagulating and sealing itself, the bruise darkening, yellowing, shrinking—its easy to become used to the rapidity and visibility of those processes. But in those injuries that manifest themselves internally, those that slowly creep upon a person until some (or several) aspect(s) of their lifestyle must be discarded or rearranged, patience and resolve become far less attainable. Such has been the case for me, but despite the despair that occasionally worms into my consciousness, these months of slight suffering have invited me to consider, for the first real time in my life, how extraordinary God’s construction of our flesh really is. 

Consider the staggering number of provisions with which our Lord outfitted our bodies for healing. The fact that our physical existences can be so compromised and eventually return to a state of equilibrium is astounding, especially considering how highly we regard medical professionals today. Now, in no way do I mean to discount or critique modern medicine. Instead, I seek only to marvel anew at our regenerative capability, which, in all its intricacy, is but a grain of sand in comparison to the other infinite traits of our Creator.

Certainly, there are those maladies from which such recovery is not possible. Romans 6:23 reminds us that “the wages of sin is death,” and with sin an inescapable reality while on this Earth, we all meet an end eventually. We are, being time-bound for the present, destined to wither away in some respect until a timeless kingdom becomes our eternal inheritance. While we Christians look forward to that ultimate gift of our spiritual bodies, I think it’s still important to value the less grand but still significant gift of our mortal selves. There are those whose human ‘walk’ is not a walk at all, but a limp, a crawl, or even a life of immobility. Rejoice in knowing that one day, God’s children will be freed from those hindrances, and be thankful for the moments you live without them. Perhaps the silver lining of what I’ve experienced is that each time I enjoy a run through a park, an afternoon on a tennis court, or a swim in a lake, I will enjoy it in a way that might have remained unavailable to me, had I not sustained this injury. I hope that these words, in part, make that kind of joy available (or nearer to available) for you.

 

B. L. Homuth
Lying on my couch, in the dawn of a muggy morning
August 4, 2014

Image:
"Sad Inheritance"
Oil on Canvas - 1900
Joaquin Sorolla