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Ambler, No. 37 [On the Birds That Rise Early]

He is happily seated who lives in Places whose Air, Earth, and Water, promote not the Infirmities of his weaker Parts, or is early removed into Regions that correct them. -- Sir Thomas Browne

(c) National Trust, Polesden Lacey; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationThough the holidays afford us with much joy and cheer, I must confess one minor drawback, and that is the modern party. Now, depending on how one defines a party, I am not necessarily against parties. If, for instance, the party consists of six or seven (eight becomes a crowd) men sitting around a fire smoking pipes and having a true conversation, then I am all for partying. If it consists of multiple family members gathered around a large table eating food, I will gladly partake. But the common notion of the party is altogether repulsive to me. In these torture chambers, no fewer than twenty people show up. they play music at volumes which make it nigh impossible to converse. A man nearly loses his voice five minutes in, for he must scream at whomever he is talking to. And even when that unfortunate man is understood, his tone rarely is. And thus his jokes too regularly fall flat. And the only thing worse than falling flat on your face is having your jokes fall flat. It is a rare talent who can both scream at the top of his lungs and deliver a decent, dead-panned joke. It is next to impossible. And even if such a man does exist, that peculiar talent is largely wasted at these modern shindigs. For the types of individuals who partake in them don't get the jokes in the first place.

I say, if a man cannot be humorous at a party, where ought he be humorous? Perhaps that is why many a good joke is said in a solemn setting, for people are actually listening. But I intend not to belabor this point. I merely wanted to state that the holidays are in some ways depressing because of these parties. This year I attended two—one a Christmas party and the other in honor of the new year. Now, as far as parties go, the latter was far superior, though it celebrated a worse cause, of which I will rant about in a moment. But I must first explain that a peculiar thing happened at each party. Each one consisted of people in my generation as well as older folk, and at each I unintentionally gravitated and mingled toward the older folk. At a Christmas party, I chatted with a gentleman in his late sixties or early seventies about bird watching and trees. At a New Year's party, I attempted to describe the differences between Mennonites and the Amish to a middle-aged woman. Now, on my journey home from that New Year's party—which was far superior, as parties go—I recollected to a friend that I find it far easier to converse with the older generations than my own. But upon further reflection, I do not think it is because my generation misunderstands me, in some egocentric way of looking at the matter. Nay, I do not really think that my generation thinks for two seconds about me. I think the real disconnect is that I do not understand my generation. And one thing I do not understand is why they insist on completely disregarding Poor Richard and staying up for all hours of the evening. They insist on sleeping in as late as possible, almost as if it was morally repulsive to wake up at all.


I Say the celebration of New Year's is really a celebration of tyranny against those of us who wish to go to bed early. It seems to be that one time of year where night owls lord the bed time over early birds. It is the one night of the year where a man feels guilty about going to bed at a decent hour. He even feels more guilty the closer he gets to midnight, as if by quarter-till he has not served his time enough. But he must "welcome the new year," as if it was some weary traveler who could not find his room lest we held his hand and led him to it, as if everyone had to lead him there. Yet for most of my generation the celebration is mixed with too much alcohol, and even if the new year were some traveler from a distant land, the drunks would probably only lead him to a bed with a person already in it.

Now, if we are really going to make men feel guilty for going to bed at a decent hour on New Year's, we ought to be more rational about it. What with all the carousing and what not, everyone is either sloshed or nearly snoring by midnight, and the new year's greeting is really full of half-hearted enthusiasm and incoherence. If we were to truly "great the new year" with some pep and zeal, I propose we all go to bed at nine, wake up at five till that hallowed hour, and scream, yell, holler, hoot, bang, clang, chime, whistle, moan, crow, bellow, blow, and buzz until five after the hour, at which time he will be fully and enthusiastically welcomed. I would then propose we go right back to sleep, so as not to keep the weary traveler up.


The benefits of getting some early shut-eye have been documented so often that it would be mere redundancy to list them here. I must add something to the list, however. The real issue with New Years' celebrations is not only that we great him half-heartedly; it is also that the next day—indeed the majority of the day, we walk around like zombies. The drunks celebrate New Years, not be welcoming him but by trying to kill themselves. One might think they don't actually want to see the new year. Now, as I pen this, it is New Year's Day, and I woke up four hours past my ideal hour because I waited up for him last night. Of course, the whole time I was waiting up on 2015, I was hanging out with 2014 (whom I did not wait up for last year). The point is this: I lost four hours of my life this morning because I spent it in a (very sober, but sleepy) haze last night. The point is that early risers are often considered odd, and I think I am beginning to understand why. In a modern world that despises life and embraces some materialistic nihilism as the non-meaning of their existence, it is no wonder that early risers are despised. An early bird may not actually get the worm. Many an early bird does not get the worm. But the early bird will always see the worm, or at least be able to hunt the earth for it. It is not just that an early riser does not just get something others don't. The early riser rises before the day, and sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels life. That is, men stay up late because they are bored with life and know not what to do with it; but men rise before the sun because they cannot wait for life to begin again. They go to bed early because to them it is the necessary step to a vibrant reawakening. They understand a man must die if he is to be born again. They understand that in many ways the beginning of a thing is superior the end. They understand that in order to reach a beginning an end must take place: That sunrises are nice but sunsets are necessary for them to occur. They do not see the world as dreary and drab, full of nonsense and weariness; they see the world as full of meaning, vibrancy, and joy. And if the early birds are to be discriminated against once a year for being joyful, I say we should return the favor. There ought to be a holiday where every man is forced out of bed before the sun rises so he can (for once in his life) great that mighty and glorious star. If all men are going to be forced to disdain life once a year, we ought to celebrate it with every morning we are given. The dawn, truly, is like a dead-panned joke. In our initial weariness, we may not think the birds are telling jokes, but if we listen closely, we may begin to perceive they are not just singing. They are laughing.

Sam Snow,
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
January 1, 2015

Transcribed by the Author,
With a heavy heart,
January 7, 2015

Painting: "An Old Man Sleeping by a Fireside Attended by a Maidservant"
By Quiringh van Brekelenkam,
Oil on panel, n.d. 


Young Twins Watch an Accordion

For R and N

seated arm’s length from the keyboard,
a boy and girl, patient faces
alike and different, jaws unhinged
in transfixion, rapt in stare.
The player’s fingers
traverse among sharp, flat,
natural; theirs twitch, imagine
the wealth of grown dexterity,
reach to walk up keys like stairs,
the tireless climb of wonder,
the bellows’ breath in squeeze
and stretch, like a muscle flexed
and released,
like the swell of their mother’s lungs
from inside the womb,
a piece of their beginning
interlaid with the wood, the reeds,
the lacquered shell,
the one instrument, two hands,
a symbiosis in ongoing duet.

Bryn Homuth
January 1, 2015 

"Boy with Accordion"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Italian School 


Ambler, No. 36 [On Advice to an Aspiring Writer]

A contended mind enlargeth the dimension of little things. -- Sir Thomas Browne

No. 36If one wishes to someday be an avid writer, the last thing he ought to do is aspire to be a mere writer. Let me explain by way of example. Roughly three years ago, I first realized the truth of this paradox. I was in a room with six or seven other literary-minded folk, and a professor. I remember not the point, nor many details of the activity but that each student was to quickly jot down a potential occupation we wanted. In my literary-minded spirit, I wrote down the occupation of a writer, while a colleague wrote that of a juggler. Now, never mind that he probably had little to no inclination of actually becoming a juggler. Never mind that he would probably make a very poor juggler. Mind that a story about a man juggling poorly is certainly more fascinating than one about a man writing, even a man writing very well. There is a very real reason why men pay to see jugglers juggle and why no man -- not even my scribe -- would pay to watch me pen this post. It is the same reason why few books have bookworms for protagonists and those that do do not subject us to watching them read. In fact, the bookworms in books usually literally end up in their books, which themselves have nothing to do with bookworms. In any of the world's finest novels -- Crime and PunishmentThe Pickwick Papers -- men are not lounging around reading books. They are out murdering old women or erroneously placed in debtor's prisons.

Just this past week, I was faced with a similar dilemma. I sat alone at my place of residence, The Ole Midshipman, reading a fine novel by Kipling. Yet I was rather restless. There comes a time in a man's life when he needs to do something, and something that morning had to be done. If all one does is read, he never ends up like the men he readers about. He never rides on the backs of panthers like Mowgli. So, I grabbed my smoking-bowl, as Kipling would probably call it, and I headed for the river. I was rather under-dressed, for the winter winds produced a chill that pierced the marrow. Now, as I aimless sauntered by the waters, I kept a fresh eye out for a nice place to begin my smoke. The clouds that day were a light gray that seeped through the leafless trees, and upon hitting the waters, did not bounce as the sun does but rather folded into the already brown waters. Gray skies hitting water die quickly, and the only other colors signifying any life were the evergreens and pines across the way. I could not help but notice, however, their green seemed faded, if not by the cold than by the harsh winds.

I too was fading in the cold as I stood by the banks with one bony hand clutching my bowl and the other thrust into my pocket. I scoured the shore and decided to maneuver myself over to a nearby tree. The tree was one of those interesting sights with the bulk of it over-hanging the lazy river and its lower trunk creating a chair-like little nook. It was no easy feat making my way over to the tree, for I am a scholar, and I had to hoist my limbs across branches while artfully balancing the smoking-bowl between the teeth and keeping it lit. Nevertheless, I managed, and i was pleased, for the tree offered some relief from the wind. And thus I sat and pondered, and it occurred to me that though I was rather alone, God may not have meant "solitude is bad" when he said it isn't good for man to be alone. I think there is something of sanctification and holiness in solitude.


Now, if I was to have a companion that day, I would choose someone who could explain to me the mysteries of the wild. For any faithful follower of these ambles well knows I have little notion about nature. And if I have learned anything this past year, it is that writing well on subjects you are ignorant of is altogether difficult and often painful for the audience. But that is the whole point of this post. I sat with my back to a tree I couldn't identify (I believe it was an oak), hoping to see a water-snake I couldn't name. I mused at some carvings in the trunk of another tree, but couldn't tell a soul how they got there. I listened to birds who would not tell me their story. Yet in all this, I sat contented (but for the increasing cold). And I was contented because, perhaps for the first time since I became an avid reader, I realized I was beginning to understand the true nature of becoming an avid writer. And that is to stop wishing to "be a writer." It is to be a human and then write about it. That is, one man writes because he likes toe idea of being a writer. Another writes because he sees something of the world he lives in that harkens to something outside. One man need make an adventure and then write about. Another man lives in a perpetual adventure and cannot help but write about it. The first man is too busy trying to fit heaven into earth. The second sees that the world contains multiple clues about heaven. The ambles of this past year have taught me that even the dullest of the dull days is a small whisper from the other side of eternity.


Much of the modern problem with reading and writing classrooms is that everything is inward focused. Students may as well write about themselves and read themselves into books, they say, than to not read or write at all. You may as well tell a blind man that staring into a mirror for eternity is better than being blind. The truth is that a blind man sees further than many an American student today. And the trouble is, moreover, that if students do nothing but write about themselves, they never learn to write about anything outside themselves. The trouble is that writing is, for many, a way of escape just as is reading. It is a mighty attempt, and one often failed, to make the personal ventures of one's everyday life exciting and relevant to an outside audience.


Thus, I sat there lazily like a modern-day Huck Finn, smoking my pipe and aimlessly musing. Eventually, the wind became too much, and I ambled my way back to my car, continuing to smoke, and I gazed at the solemn trees full of humming birds. To my left, the cornfields were perfectly shorn, displaying their calculated rows. Likewise, the trees were stripped for all to see the inner-workings of their limbs. I think back now that even the natural cycle of life, the death of a tree, has a breadth of eternity in it. And that is what this week reminds us of -- the end of the year forcefully proclaims the end of a cycle. This week forces us to reflect on that cycle, to reflect on whether it wants changing or meaning. I say, though, that the face that it is a cycle is quite obviously evidence for meaning. I say, one might be perplexed (and a little depressed) to find a random ambler in his inbox one day. I say, that man might begin reading, and if he hated it, leave it and go on his merry way, forgetting the thing ever occurred. But I say, if the poor chap came back for the next forty-five weeks or so and discovered all thirty-six, he may begin to believe some ghostly spirit had it out for him. Well, I say, he may be depressed to hear that the cycle won't change. The ambles will continue. Though perhaps, it will be of some comfort for him to know that that ghostly spirit is always working toward being less of a writer and more of an ambler.

Sam Snow,
Written with a common pen,
Olathe, Kansas
December 26, 2014

Transcribed by the Author,
Longing for the return of Adam,
December 30, 2014

Painting: "A Little Boy Writing"
By Pierre-Auguste Renoir,
Oil on canvas, n.d.


Ambler, No. 35 [On the Light of the World]

In this virtuous Voyage of thy life hull not about like the Ark without the use of Rudder, Mast, or Sail, and bound for no Port. -- Sir T. Browne

Ambler, No. 35

The silvery smoke was nearly the only light guiding my path on a cold evening this past week. As I strolled past the towering smokestack, I paused for a few moments and gazed at the billowy smoke. Any of my colleagues would have cursed it. I was grateful. For that shivery evening--indeed, the wind made its way to my old bones--the lights in the building I had been working went out. As I made my way out, to my dismay, the streetlights were also out, and the short road had little to light the way. It is indeed interesting how a man can see a place in an entirely new light once all lights have been snuffed out. I made my way to my automobile, casting glances at the silvery smoke pouring out of the industrial building next to my own, and I reflected. I fought the frost and looked further past the smoke to the lesser lights beyond. And though the world on that short road had little light, I considered the setting and all its discomforts to be very good.


A modern apologist may declare that discomforts are good because they remind us to be thankful for what we have. This is the same thing as saying discomforts are good because materialism is good. But discomforts are not good because they allow us to be thankful for a thing that has been taken away; discomforts are good because they remind us of a world that once was--that is, a better world free from the comforts of modern technologies. Discomforts remind us not that we have much to be thankful for but that much of what we thought would make us happy or joyful actually leaves us quite depressed. One might even say discomforts bring us closer to a world that was pronounced good; that is, they bring us in closer communion with that Creator.

Take any comfort you can think of and apply it. The man whose care breaks down at the same time his phone battery dies is the man who gets to travel these lands on the feet God gave him. He's like a modern day Davy Crocket or Zebulun Pike. He is not bound to his two feet; he is freed to his two feet. He is freed from that evil invention, the internal combustion engine, which does little but spread death, destruction, and depression to mankind. But an even better example of a discomfort that frees us from modern morbitities is the case from above. When a man is sitting in his study and happens to observe the lights flicker, joy should enter his breast. This is especially true if he is engaged with some electronic device that must be plugged into the wall. When the lights go out, he is altogether giddy, for he must light a candle to find his way.* Indeed, the best moments from a man's childhood are those moments when the lights of the modern world are snuffed out--when the entire family is forced to huddle around one single candle and listen to the sounds of their own voices.

And these moments are best when experienced in the northern states where snow frees us from the modern world for a few days. In times like these, creativity is bred, for the house becomes a type of haven from the frozen world. I think, moreover, that this creativity is bred from lack of options. On any particular day, a man can go out and chew the fat with his neighbor or friends or relations. He can zone the entire world out watching T.V. But when the blizzard comes, and he's locked inside, he must buck up and get along with whomever may be present. Better, he must get alone with whatever may be present--that is, his options are quite limited to the tiny kingdom of his house, and he sees this new place in a new light, the light of his candlestick. This truly is the answer to the riddle of modern nihilism. One may sees life as a never-ending array of random, meaningless choices that cycle year-in and year-out until his brief candle goes out. Another man subjects himself to his house and walks around as if he has discovered some untouched island. Yet another does this every day. And when this third man does leave the island, the wide world is more even more grand and mysterious than he previously imagined.


It happened, as it should every Christmas season, that I was out last week with friends gazing at Christmas lights. Now, Christmas is the one time of year when grown men become children again, perhaps in celebration of the one time God became a child. These men do altogether silly things, such as singing carols, banging bells, or telling people to be merry. They even go so far to light the more useless place in their house: the outside. Lighting the outside of your house is entirely useless and opposite of what men should do. It is like wearing your skeleton on the outside of your skin. Now, I say, the problem with modern comforts is this: That though the comforts begin as toys, they end as utilities. It would not surprise me one bit if the first train conductor sat up in that front car blowing his horn with the giddiness of a child at play. It would not surprise me to find out that the first thing Edison did with the lightbulb was amble around his house making discoveries in the dark. I would be altogether flabbergasted to hear that Edison, upon creating light, only used it during the day, to see more clearly what he already saw quite adequately. So the whole notion of Christmas lights is altogether refreshing. For in this ceremony, men play. In this ceremony, the lights have no utility, and because they lack utility, they gain meaning. They trumpet the coming of the light of the world to a very morbid and dark world. And perhaps this is why our Creator said that even the dark was "good," for light is most appreciated against a black backdrop of nothingness. Indeed, the night sky is nothing but many houses lit for Christmas, offering hope to a dark and depressed world.

One house in particular caught our attention that evening. As we entered the subdivision, blazing blue trees, like stars, flashed before us as the angels did to the terrified shepherds. As we could not yet see the house, we drove near out of curiosity and turned the corner to get a view. It is at this moment that memory begins to fail. For the star that had led the wise men to the baby had landed in that lawn, and its brightness overtook me. The same blazing blue lights on the trunks of the trees were wrapped around every nook and cranny of the large home, and the glory of the blue trees was merely the feeble voice of one crying out in the desert. That blazing blue house looked as if it was lit on fire with scorching flames against the blackness of the night. Its glory, in comparison to the glory of the trees was that between a waning moon and a midsummer's sun. But I cannot help but imagine that those jolly men who put the lights on the outside of the house were enclosed in darkness on the inside. I do not refer to a darkness of ill deeds or sin-nature. I refer to a darkness of discovery. I refer to a darkness that makes everything bright. A darkness that takes unending joy in the little light of a candle, a joy manifested in the light of the bright morning star. Better, a joy manifested in the light of the Sun.

Sam Snow,
Written at Kansas State University,
Manhattan, Kansas
December 19, 2014

Transcribed by the author
Yet in a jolly mood,
Olathe, Kansas,
December 22, 2014

Painting: "Candlelight: Youth Lighting a Pipe"
Godfried Schalcken,
Oil on canvas, n.d.


*The candle should be used, not a horrid flashlight.


The Art of Rest


The musician masters it
in the elision from play
to silence,
lift of bow hair from the string,
mouthpiece drawn away from lips,
the metronomic count
no one can hear, the exactness
in the next note sounded, a cycle
of forgettings and remembrances.
Or to be among those included
only as an afterthought, unnamed,
an auditioner passed on for a role,
a contributor fallen short of standout effort,
any who linger on the fringe
of limelight, who long to bathe
in a citrus glow.
Or relaxation’s elusive sidekick,
more potent than the strongest drug, the want
of every life. In death, of course, the tables turn—
that familiar stone engraving, the rip
from brain and blood and beat to join instead
with peace, where the living wonder
if it is, indeed, history,
or something else entirely.
We might think of sleep
as the oldest instance of the form,
the challenge greater before the first mattress
of leaves, straw, skin.
There are those who retain that skill
of ancient times; those of us awake hear
the rosiny scratch of dreams in the pitch
of every breath,
the song of it all,
the marks of the composer.

Bryn Homuth

On a sleepless midwinter night

December 19, 2014 

Image: "James VI Asleep at Church"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
John Ritchie