Saturday, November 29, 2008

As I walked toward the house in the dark I heard a squeaking twitter in the branches above -- too low-pitched to be a bat.  I stood a few moments patiently and a small form skittered to a branch tip.  It launched itself, unfolding into a cream-colored swatch that glided smoothly across the night to land and disappear onto the dark skin of an oak.  The first time I've ever seen a flying squirrel take flight, and that must be a good omen for something . . . .

Friday, November 28, 2008

After the feast I went for a hike.  The railroad right of way that once ran from Cornwall Furnace has been turned into a trail for walkers, riders and bicyclists.  Chris, Hanno and Fred and the boys were strolling with the dachshund back from the pond.  But I wanted to walk far and fast to clear my head of the turkey-fog, so I struck northward past Mount Gretna.  The trail takes its gently graded way through the state gamelands and woodlots rustling with squirrels and woodpeckers.  

I've always detested backtracking and so I imagined an ambitious loop in my mind.  After about three miles or so, I turned off the railbed and struck a trail up the ridge into the thousand acres of the Governor Dick preserve.  The climb to the ride-top is only about 400 feet or so and something less than a mile, but I still was winded and sweating by the time I got there.  I hadn't been up there in 20 years probably, but the geography is pretty straight-forward and I figured that even if I got caught out in the dark (which had grown increasingly inevitable) I'd find my way back home.  (In the cub scout pack, I'm always tasked with leading the night hikes, because I'm the one with a sense of direction even at night.)

But I met a couple there on the trail, who offered me a lift back home -- saving me from the unsafe descent down Pinch road that I had not been looking forward to.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

New Bridget, of course, was the star, 
who passed from hand to hand.

And her parents were happy 
to let the momentary band
of family do the coddling
and the cooing.

Anthropologists have fretted sometimes
that babies cut off within their nuclear families
don't get handed around enough.

New Bridget took it all, 
of course, 
as her due.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In Pennsylvania,
the family is gathering.

Fourteen there'll be
around the table.

Porter wields
a knife in the kitchen.

Monday, November 24, 2008

After days of locked in cold that froze wind-sheltered ponds and inlets, I was surprised to see a pair of hermit thrushes scratching at the leaves under the maple tree.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Another hard frost this morning, and the hummingbird feeder is frozen solid.

(Why, you ask, is the feeder hanging out there when the last ruby-throat fled south two months past?  Is it possible that we are still in denial about the talons of winter sinking in?)

But here is the stuff of evolution.  Long after most of the brown-eyed susans sent their seeds to ground and withdrew in retreat, one lonely stand has insisted on a late bloom.  Despite the nights' frosts and the days' stingy sun; despite the demise of the pollinators, they are trying out November.  And as global warming continues its march (and November loses its ice), maybe it'll be these flowers with their out-of-sync genes who will be colonizing it.

Photos by A.B.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Alberto's been in the hospital down in Medellin.  70+ years of breathing - and too much of it through a Marlboro filter.  His lungs can't cope with the mountain air.  He fell to pneumonia.  His sisters now have taken him home, but Monica and her sisters are mobilizing to get the medical bills paid and get their father out and back to the US or Costa Rica where his health insurance can cover these things up front.  (Eventually the US insurance pays, but meanwhile cash has to be gathered and spent.)  As the hospital bills' echo, however briefly, through the extended family's bank accounts, the migratory man may be losing the Colombian option in his itinerary.

We'd invite him here, but he's probably right that nothing would kill him more quickly than the New England winter.  He'll be bound for Southern California.

Nico . . . .

Friday, November 14, 2008

Chloe's been holding her grudge about the kitten.  

We've been putting some catfood outside on the step for her on the days she doesn't come inside.   But more than once we've failed to bring it in at dusk, and a skunk has grown proprietary of the food dish, now.  Tonight Monica and the boys had to come round to the front door because the skunk couldn't be bothered to move off away from the side door.  Monica wondered what it must be like to be a small creature so utterly fearless among the many larger beasts.

Photo by A.B.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pine Point school was closed today for parent-teacher conferences.  Porter's friend Aithan and his sister Katia were over for the day.  I was working in the upstairs office, but even over a long conference-call, I couldn't help but hear the louder tussles outside in the back yard.  Four strong-willed and stubborn kids, two fifth-graders a third-grader and a second-grader -- squealing happily, hollering in outrage, screaming in mock terror, raging about some violation of the rule or spirit of the "leaf monster" game.  Cracking out in laughter at another story of Aithan's.  

I remember that everything important I learned about politics and people I learned among the kids of my neighborhood in what is now called (somewhat sadly) unstructured play.

They had a great time and are lobbying hard for a sleep-over.

Monday, November 10, 2008

There's been a breathing space in the research-scape, but it's passing.  

At midsummer we had finished 50 interviews on a project about framing national security issues in progressive terms.  By the time that was written up we were doing elicitations in New York about "disconnected youth" -- talking to both regular New Yorkers and policy-makers.   And ramping up into a set of 20 interviews in Ohio about people's conceptions of "the arts."  While I was looking after the elicitations projects, Joe and Axel were also focusing on smaller consultations with Demos and the Union of Concerned Scientists and some internet surveys for the Ford Foundation on government accountability.  

As the reports have passed over to clients there's been a lull, at least for the Research Director.  Time to do some overdue maintenance on the subjects' panel.  And go sniffing around the academic job market to see if there's anything there to tempt me to jump back.

But now we are wading hip-deep into some fairly complex research about communicating on global warming.  So, break's over . . . .

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Betty, our Unitarian-Universalist pastor called me up the other Wednesday to ask if I'd be willing to speak for a few minutes that Sunday about my own "spiritual journey."  I was a little flattered that she felt she could ask me on such short notice.  I said I would and this is what I shared:

"I grew up in the Unitarian church.  My parents had both turned away from what they'd seen as the small-minded, rural churches that they'd grown up with.  But when they had children they got involved in the church in Lancaster, PA.  So I came up through the religious education program there and came out a fairly comfortable agnostic.

I had no real interest in what I saw as the big religious questions about the existence of God or whether there was an afterlife.  I felt no great need for a divine underpinning for my moral compass or the meaning of life.  I had internalized the central Christian tenet of my parents -- that you shouldn't put your own interests above the interests of others.  If you could live that, then you were doing good.

So I went on with going to school, working, traveling, falling in love with girls and all that.

When I was about 25 I was living for a while in Eugene, Oregon.  I was hanging around with pagans.  It was a very active and politicized scene.  And I knew some guys -- or rather I didn't know them very well, but our girlfriends were all getting together to do pagan witchcraft.  A lot of it excluded us males, and we got envious.  So we decided to do a men's sweat.

Someone knew someone who had a sweatlodge out in the woods and one evening we gathered there for the sweat.  You sit there and you sweat -- and then you jump in cold water and hoot and yowl and holler at the moon and then you sweat some more.  And the sweat pushes out of you; it pushes the dirt out of your pores; it pushes the toxins out of your body; it pushes the clutter out of your mind.  And someone had brought drums, so we sat there drumming and chanting and singing Simon and Garfunkel songs.  And someone else had brought some bowls of clay - gray, brown, white, black - and we painted each others faces until they were bestial masks.  And we sat around and gave each other names, guessing what each person's totemic name would be if they had one.  And it was fun.

That evening I looked around at these 8 or 9 guys and I realized that I loved them.  I just loved them.  And I knew for a certainty that they loved me, too.  This was shocking.  For mid-twentyish heterosexual males to just come to love one another like that -- well, I didn't even know that was possible.

I recognized that Christian tenet that I'd understood at an intellectual level: don't put your own interests above others.  Well this love was exactly that and it was something un-utterably beyond that.

And I realized that the spiritual practices and technologies that we were playing with: sweating, drumming, singing, masking, naming -- which humans have been doing for a hundred thousand years at least -- had an incredible power to open us up -- emotionally, psychologically, socially to connections and potentials that we didn't even know existed and which we couldn't achieve on our own.  I was amazed and I'm still amazed.

Now what I'm describing of course is an epiphany.  It's not something I live every day or would want to live every day.  But what I took from that experience and from others like it is the importance of what we have here -- where there is music and singing and sharing and candles are lit.  I carry the knowledge that spiritual practice does have this power to take us beyond what we can see and be on our own."
Photos by A.B.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Esperanza sent us a picture she took a few weeks ago as we were stepping out to a friend's wedding.

Photo by E.Gallego

Friday, November 7, 2008

With everyone from the Kenyans and the Indonesians to the Irish claiming Obama as one of their own, I'd like to point that we anthropologists also count him as a member of our tribe.  He's the first president to be raised by an anthropologist.  And it shows . . . .

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Americans showed that they could judge a man not by color of his skin, but by the content of his character.

It bears repeating: 


Sunday, November 2, 2008

While she was visiting Anna took the boys to Manfredi's farm to get pumpkins to carve for jack o' lanterns 
but they came back with a black kitten instead.  
Our gray cat Chloe hates it with a hissing hatred and has moved out.

Photos by A.B.