Category Archives: Blogged Passages

Divine Dawning

There are some places on this planet that are holy. Not because some religious cleric once said they were, but because by their very nature they just are. This holiness has nothing to do with religion but everything to do with spirituality. These places are holy to anyone with minds open enough to recognize them as such from any religion, or to anyone with no religion. Such secular spiritual places needn’t be constructs of human kind for I have mostly found this energy in the mountains, on the savannah, on the oceans. That is one of the aspects that makes the place in this story so unique, for I have rarely found this holiness anywhere but in the natural realm.

Among Incan Ghosts

He could never have imagined that one day he would be reading from the English translation of Pablo Neruda’s “Las Alturas de Machu Picchu” while standing on the pinnacle of Huchuy Picchu at sunrise looking down upon the fabled Lost City of the Incas spread below him. But that day he was! And, apart from his wonderful Peruvian born companion who had somehow convinced the guards to let them in hours before any tourists arrived, there was not one other person there. Nor would he have imagined one place could posses such celestial strength sufficient to influence so evocatively several aspects of the personal spiritual path upon which he was starting to walk.

Upon entering in the half light of that new day’s birth they had made their way through the city haunted with the great history of that once mighty empire. They were immediately engrossed by the craft with which the buildings were made using the traditional ashlar style of masonry; each polished hand hewn stone fitting seamlessly and solidly with those adjacent without need of mortar or caulking. The on-going reconstruction had been carried out with great care to keep the ruins as authentic as possible and a true sense of what the city must have been like in its prime was easy to access.

Their route took them through the various plazas in the direction of the omnipresent Wayna Picchu which they had decided to climb to visit the Temple of the Moon. Unbeknownst when it happened, he took a wrong turning and followed a side path which turned out to be more beneficial for them given the window of solitude they had been granted by the guards and that the weather was soon to close in on them causing the much longer, more rugged trail and higher peak of Wayna Picchu to become potentially more time consuming and risky.

The erroneous trail took them to the left of the one upon which they had planned to walk, upward to the lesser summit of Huchuy Picchu which proved that day to be the better vantage point from which to observe the ruined city. Upon reaching the peak, where there was room only for one to stand, the Englishman took up the book his companion had gifted him knowing his love of poetry. While looking down upon the incredible architecture and masonry of that pre-Columbian civilization he turned reverently to the twelfth poem in the second series of Neruda’s “Canton General” and imagined, as surely had Neruda, the artisans of that era involved in the city’s construction and daily life. As Neruda, himself a son of that continent, experienced his own rebirth through an ethereal connection with that location, that era, those people, the Englishman too became engulfed in the words and the energies of that most otherworldly place.

While Neruda was calling upon the souls of the ancient Incas to tell him of their sufferings that he may speak for them their unheard stories, the clouds rolled down from the snow-clad peaks surrounding the Urubamba River encircling the plateau upon which Machu Picchu was built. And while the great poet detailed their trades and their roles within the structure of Incan society the clouds completely engulfed the city at the base of Huchuy Picchu, enshrouding the buildings and terraces once more in vapour, myth and legend. And while the laureate entreated the dead from that mystic civilization to inflict upon him their pain that he may know the anguish they endured, the Englishman was alone on the summit, standing on the very tops of the clouds that now completely hid the city, gazing in transcendent awe upon the silence that Neruda had asked the spirits of that bygone civilization to grant him that they may speak their unvoiced woes through his mouth, bleed their unseen agony through his veins.

Soon after the poem was finished the clouds at his feet began retreating from their occupancy of the Lost City. The strengthening sun ushered them back across the serpentine Urubamba to the high Andean ranges from whence they came where the great sacred condors soared above the precipitous depths below.

The two travellers retraced their steps down to the plateau so steeped in the past and continued to marvel at the evident history that oozed from every crevice in the precise stonework; from every structure of the citadel once used for worship or sacrifice.

They were still alone; just the three dogs that had joined them as they entered through the guardhouse and a few llamas being the only other creatures they could see. Yet the Englishman sensed he energies of the ancient ones all about him and wondered if reading Neruda’s words aloud had aroused them from their centuries of slumber invoking lost hopes of having their stories finally told; their suffering spirits released from anguished anonymity.

At the hitching post of the sun, the Intiwatana stone, he imagined the priests fooling the peasants on the winter solstice into believing they had the ability to arrest the departure of the sun and convince it to begin its return journey to bless them with it’s presence for another year. At the Temple of Pachamama he studied what Hiram Bingham, who exposed the ruins in 1911, referred to as “the most beautiful wall in all America” and pictured the artisans, arguably the finest masons the world has known, polishing the intricate stone work to perfection. At the temple dedicated to Inti, the paramount Incan god of the sun, he envisaged the worshipers entreating the deity to bless the fertility of their crops and livestock and themselves.

But all too soon the morning neared that time when the gates officially opened and the tourists would start flocking in to overwhelm the site with their curiosity, cameras, noise, litter, causing all hope of further connectivity with the essence of such a mystical and spiritual place to evaporate along with the spectres of those who once walked those same paths and alleys centuries before. At that time the two travellers were content to leave with the memory of their ethereal experience that so few who go there would ever have the opportunity to enjoy with such uninterrupted focus. Yes, they also had their photographs, but what they took from Machu Picchu could never be reproduced through the lens of a camera for it is the lens of the soul that creates the most endearing memories and captures the true essence of any experience.

Such can never be displayed or recounted to another for they are unique to the spirit of the individual who experiences them and so cannot be appreciated in the same way by someone other. A quarter of a century later that brief uninterrupted period among the spirits and ancient energies that yet existed with such incredible magnitude among the masterful stonework of the Lost City persists as one of the most enthralling experiences that Englishman has yet known. The spirituality of Machu Picchu is for him, so often a spiritual sceptic, assuredly real and for the most part understated. But then not many have had the opportunity of standing in isolation upon a peak above that numinous place during a dawn when Inti sent down the clouds to enshroud his temples in mists and mysticism, allowing the observer to absorb in solitary silence the quintessence of that most sacred place. Not many have wandered afterwards those same temples with the enchanted words of Neruda still resonating through a mind filled with the supernatural images they conjured. Not many have travelled with a wonderful companion who, unasked, can arrange for locked gates to be opened before dawn and relocked once entry is gained. Not many have spent a quarter century of reflection with a strong unsatisfied desire to experience again that connection with the spiritual that has been, by comparison, all too scarce in the other lands in which that quarter century has been spent.

It is impossible to put into words such deep ethereal experiences as that which occurred upon that mystical dawn at Machu Picchu. As one wanders through life there are events that seem very significant when they transpire but don’t stand the test of time, eventually fading into the darker recesses of memory from where great effort is required to extricate even an outline of what happened. There are others that may not seem too earth shattering at the time but manage to endure at the same level within the memory long after others have faded. Then there are those that immediately strike you as being so rare and profound that you know they cannot help but be with you as long as your faculties allow. Machu Picchu was one of those; awesome then in the fullest sense of that word; awesome still. Perhaps more so now when put into perspective within a bigger picture created by decades of added experience and the maturing of understanding.

I have to wonder though whether, had we been there with the throng of tourists arriving as we departed, the experience would have borne anything like the seemingly extrasensory qualities it did. That answer I can only speculate upon, but the fact remains that the circumstances, thanks to my wonderful companion on that trip, were as they were, and the experience opened my previously blinkered eyes to areas of the spiritual and the intuitive to which I had never until then allowed their rightful share of credence. That realization set me on exciting new journeys of understanding and acceptance upon which I yet walk without caring for their destinations, for where a journey ends, I realize, cannot exist until the final step is taken, and there is no final step upon the spiritual path; not even in death. How we take each step determines where the next step will be trodden, and how we take that one will determine the next. And there is no pre-determined end to any journey on the spiritual plane, for how each step is trodden bears the potential to change its direction, just as that step trodden so long ago amid the ghosts of that lost Incan civilization irrevocably changed mine.

He’s edit again

Here’s a tip for (impoverished) writers ….. If, like me, you are writing/publishing on the proverbial shoe-string and of necessity doing as many would-be professional functions yourself, never short change the editing rounds. You must keep proof-reading your manuscript every chance you get. Then when you’re comfortable you’ve done so enough …… do it again. And then again. And then get a friend to do so ….. And then another friend……. And then your sister …. And then …..

If you cannot afford the skills of a professional editor then the onus is 100% on you to be as thorough as you possibly can in ensuring your manuscript is absolutely correct prior to hitting the go button on the printing press. As I have found, self-editing/proofing is open to risk of missing subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) errors and once the book is out there your friends are no longer offering proof reading advice when they tell you about them, they are pointing out mistakes indelibly set in the finished version of that unblemished masterpiece you’ve striven so long and hard to produce.

So next time you hit the wall and the dreaded writer’s block kicks in, don’t waste your time crashing you’re cranium trying to be creative when it just isn’t there; go back and read that manuscript for the umpteenth time and check what you’ve already created. Try not to get into the art but look at the mechanics, the nuts and bolts, the spelling and grammar and syntax, and leave the creativity for when you’re in the mood. You’ll be grateful you did for this way you won’t have consumed your time (as well as half a conifer forest) throwing away sheets of paper on which you’ve attempted to write stuff that just wasn’t meant to happen. But you may well have found a copula stooped spoiling mistakes that your smell chucker thought were OK, or a silly, grammatical error. or two, or incorrect used of tense, or a run on sentence that should be shortened that seems to go on pointlessly for ever stating the same thing repeatedly, over and over, again and again, that leaves the reader wondering when, or for that matter if, the next full stop will come and hoping it will be soon before they run out of breath.

With two books out now I cringe when I see (or, worse yet, hear about from a reader) a stupid mistake that I just didn’t pick up in proofing rounds. OK, so far it seems that there are very few and relatively small, but even one is way too many. Like that little scratch in the paintwork of your brand new car, it stands out like a sore thumb to the point where that is what you notice and not the rest of the blemish free paint job.

So even if you’re on a very tight budget my advice is: if you can scrape it together to have a professional editor help you then definitely do so. But if you can’t then go back and read the first paragraph here and then add a few more do-it-agains. Otherwise you might find your shiny new car has a copula scratches in the paintwork.

Atavistic Medicine

I found a dead bird today in the car park at the office. It was beautiful in death as it must have been even more so in life, but it was still beautiful. Yellow, red, dappled black, grey and white. A blazing crown of scarlet gave it an appearance of a deep and conscientious thinker. Its pale yellow downy belly gave it a look of gentle warmth and kindness. It must have collided with the office building; driven into it by the turbulent winds we have had these last couple of days. I hope it felt no pain.

I picked it up; took it home. It was significant for me because I rarely find beauty amid concrete, steel and glass. Only ugliness, disrespect and reflections of the synthetic in which most of industrialised man chooses to live and that I so much despise.

As I often do, when faced with an unexpected gift of natural beauty I turned not to the constructs of my own culture to research its possible significance, but to the experiential wisdom of a culture long frowned upon and supressed by my own. I looked toward Aboriginal culture to explain just what it was that nature had gifted; the beauty she had let me find from her realm amid the ugliness of my own.

It was a female Sapsucker. According to Ojibwe lore her medicine is to teach us how to connect with the earth and how to ground ourselves in nature. What a shame she had to be found dead on a concrete car park pavement to do so for me, but with the day I had been having I needed that, which perhaps somehow nature knew. She normally shows me Hawk on the way to the office; sometimes as many as five. Their medicine is to guide in mind, body and spiritual aspects of our journey; to help see clearly the bigger picture and understand the path that must be taken…… But today she didn’t show me any …. And today I heard of something with which I didn’t know how to deal. Something quite significant. Something quite worrisome. I needed to be re-grounded in order to know what was best I do about it.

And there was Sapsucker, beautiful in death, whose medicine was to do just that. Coincidence? Who really knows? I don’t. But the older and theoretically wiser I become the less inclined I am to believe in coincidence when it comes to natural occurrences. The more inclined I am to recognize or perhaps atavistically remember the connectivity between our own spirit and those of all else, and so to accept that perhaps our brothers from other cultures, who arguably require shorter measures of atavism in order to remember and understand that connectivity, might be on to something.

The dream catcher in the bedroom, made for Karen by our friend raised in the old ways on the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve, now has feathers attached from the wing of Sapsucker along with those of Red Tail Hawk, Peregrine Falcon and Blue Jay, as does the sheath I made for my old Nepalese bush knife that always accompanies me into the back country where the ability to remain grounded is essential.

Tonight I will sleep on the troubling issue with the moon shining through the dream catcher where now reside Sapsucker’s wing feathers which will cast their shadow above the bed. Tomorrow I will drive to the office and will be looking to see if Nature will show me Hawk, and how many, for it always seems the more I see the better the day turns out.

Coincidence? Perhaps …… but I think not.

There’s A First Time For Everything

Despite 40-some-odd years of writing lyrical verse I have never entered a competition …… until yesterday. The fact that I’d never previously done so seemed like sufficient reason to do so …… so I did. The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for those from away) is holding a short poem contest ….. That is the poems are short, not the contest. It’s hosted by their program “Fresh Air”. Max 50 words and the theme must be about the first time for something …… which seemed appropriate …. almost a sign ….. an imperative.

So here’s what I sent in …..

The First Night Alone

Soft and silently she blows…the warm breeze in the night.

Still and steadily she glows…the old moon shining bright.

Slow and sensuously she flows…the wide sea to the shore.

Sad and solemnly she grows…the memory of before

They’ll be reading the winners on the Fresh Air edition on April 29th.

Hmmmmmmmmm ….. guess I better listen in that day.

BTW, I think that’s about the shortest poem I’ve ever written …… Now if they have a looooong petry competition the one I’m working on at present has so far passed 40 X 8 line verses (320 lines) and is still going strong. (Sounds like it’s going to become book 4 all by itself).

OK …. Time to get ready for my day time job. After all, even us starving poets have to have the money to eat sometimes.

On Libre ex Libris

Book sharing is part of the ancient tradition of story telling where a person would pass on some pertinent lore, lesson or just entertainment to others by recounting what they themselves had heard from another story teller at some stage.

This has always been with us as an integral part of what has catalyzed societies from whenever man could speak and lives yet today, although for the last couple of thousand years we have found ways to write these stories down and share them in printed form as well as verbal.

I am happy, therefore, to see my books starting to be taken up by libraries where this sharing of stories among societies can continue. Does it bother me that it also means people can read my books without paying me anything for them? No! I believe the sincere writer is not writing purely for financial gain (although that aspect obviously is useful) but if they have a story to share the important thing is that it be shared, and libraries are a great way for that to occur.

It saddened me recently to hear of huge funding cuts to the Toronto library system for that can only damage the ability of that community to share stories, particularly with those who cannot afford to buy the books. In an ironic twist it is often those who cannot afford to buy them that most need the inspiration, the learning, the entertainment, the shared stories that they find in libraries. By reducing the capacity of libraries the government is damaging that societal catalyst that has been with us since first we could do more than grunt. If libraries want to put my books on their shelves so people can access them for free, that is fine with me, for I am a firm believer that (particularly today!!!) we need to be contributing to the reinforcement of societal catalysts, not their depletion.

Quick! Follow That Poem!

Poems that work mostly write themselves. A poem cannot be forced, it must flow and the writer must follow.

One such I’m following at present has thus far led me through 39 verses of eight lines each (312 lines), and is still not done with its journey. It has led me via storm at sea through heroism, community, pain, respect, love, loss, challenge, courage, strength, trust, helplessness, responsibility and myriad other factors of life ….. and, to be honest, I am enjoying the ride so much I don’t want it to stop.

But it will, and when it does reach its destination I’ll put it aside for the mandatory cooling off period before being picked up again for review and assessment; a necessary step. For while on the journey upon which the poem takes him, especially such a long and thrilling one, the writer becomes too enamoured with the scenery to see the road he has traveled and so perhaps has not ended up where he’d thought.

If it turns out well it will replace one of the poems already included for the next book, although if it doesn’t reach its destination soon it will need a book of its own to accommodate it!

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Literary Psychoses

Starting to worry that this writing business is psychologically damaging for me. I worked the largest mining trade show in North America today and put my business card into a raffle draw at one of the booths. If you win you get a choice between a 40 oz bottle of 12 year old single malt whiskey or a Kindle Fire. I ticked the Kindle Fire box ……. WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?!?

AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!! Does anyone know a psychiatrist that specializes in literary psychoses?