Seasons

Chapter One

Salvation

 

A week after Alex’s funeral, three days before the McKays and he were to travel to Perth,  Peter began to have his meals with the McKays. Before then he still had his meals in his room as he had done when Alex had been alive. No longer, Maureen decided.

In some  ways his room was as much Alex’s as it was Peter’s.  It was still the same small room Peter had stayed in  on his first night at Kilmarnock Hill. Now, Alex’s books crammed into their old pine bookcases lined one side of the room.  To Alex’s books Father Byrne had added a Catholic bible as well as the crucifix hung above Peter’s bed. Next to the window was a small table flanked by two chairs. In one of the chairs  sat Peter. He looked at the chess set in front of him.   Every evening alone in his room he would ponder the board.   First white.  Then he would turn the board and move a black piece.  White always won perhaps because white always moved first.  He   understood now how the game worked.  Playing white he built a strong defensive position, as Alex had taught him.  Her would always move the king’s pawn to the fourth space, bring out the queen pawn and then the knights.  Move up bishops, castle and place the queen between the knights.  He would then wait for the attack.  When black came he would pick off  the pawns.  Confident that he had the material advantage he would then push black back.  So he had played by himself again and again until he understood the moves.  The only problem now was the ending, closing in on the black king.  He glanced at the crucifix above his bed.  Prayers and bed soon.  He would have to  be quicker in finishing. Father Byrne had asked if he would play chess with him.  Peter had decided not to.  He would probably lose and Father Byrne would think him stupid as he had with the letter. Better just to keep it like this.

He thought of Doctor and Mrs. McKay.  The doctor had left with Ian Campbell and old Elijah.  Maureen had seemed disappointed but perhaps reassured by Ian’s presence had not complained. She and Mary were now busy making ornaments for the tree.  He had helped gather pinecones and acorns for them but  he saw no reason why he should take a further part of such silliness   He had excused himself and retreated upstairs.  Peter missed the doctor.  The house was too feminine.  With the doctor he could consider scientific things, not just housework and other silly things. There was also the tree,

He pushed the king pawn forward.  He always made the same opening move, the one Alex had taught him. King pawn forward two squares to E4  Hold the middle Alex had said.  Never allow yourself to be boxed in.  Turning the board he did the same on the black square.

“Peter?” Maureen tapped Peter’s door.

Peter looked towards the door.

“May I come in?” she asked.

Peter wanted to say no.  A woman in her condition should stay in her room.  Radek had once said that such women should be hidden away until delivery. People seeing them would be reminded of how dirty they were.

He turned back to the board.  “Yes.”

Maureen opened the door.  She glanced at the smasll crucifix and missal besides Peter’s bed, gifts from Father Byrne. She could not refuse to let Petyer have them and yet could not feel comfortable in their presence.  Then she noticed the board on the table.

“You’re playing chess?”

“Yes.”

“Could I play with you?”

“You?”

“You’re not the only child Alex taught chess to. White or black?”

“I always play white,” said Peter.

“Why?”

“I always played that with Alex.”

“I see I suppose we can do the same here.”

The game ended in a draw.  This irritated Peter.  He had expected an easy win.

“I’ll go to sleep now” he told her. Maureen nodded and said good night.

Maureen added one more thing. “Tomorrow you will have breakfast with Doctor McvKay and I. You will have all your meals  in the dining room with us.  Goodnight.”

***

The next day at breakfast. Peter appeared at the door of the room. He waited there for permission to enter.  He stood, looking down at the floor, his hands behind his back. He hoped that the McKays had changed their minds or had simply forgotten about him.

“Come in Peter.  Doctor McKay will say grace and then we’ll eat.”

Peter perched himself upon his chair sitting forward his hands on his lap. His eyes still downcast he waited.  Doctor McKay passed him a plate of  bacon. Peter looked at it for a moment extended a fork and took one slice, the smallest. “thank you,” he whispered.  He then busied himself with dividing into I small pieces, a dividing interrupted only by Maureen passing him scrambled eggs and fried potatoes. He allowed himself a small scoop of each and returned to dividing his bacon.

“Toast” asked George.

Peter frowned as he studied the toast. He searched for the smallest one but they were all the same size. He chose the one that looked a little over done.  “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“So what book are you reading now?”

“Don Quixote.,” said Peter slicing his toast into halves.

George nodded. “Do you like it?”

“No.”

“Why not.”

“He is mad. They are all mad.  It is sad.”

“Then why read it?”

“It was Alex’s.” He put down his knife. “Please, may I go?”

“When you finish” said Maureen.”

Peter replied by shoveling egg into his mouth.  George spooned more egg onto his plate.

“Next week, when you are in Perth,” said Maureen, wishing that Peter would look at her, “ you will be measured for a new set of clothes

“But …. I have clothes,” Peter whispered.

“Yes, well they stay the same size. You do not” said Maureen.  George nodded in agreement.

“A good winter coat as well.” She added.      All very odd she thought.  Yes, the boy e was being polite but underlying the politeness lurked a fear that any mistake on Peter’s part would be severely punished.

Weeks later Maureen would mention that first meal to Katrina .She nodded. “That is Josef.”  She poured Maureen another cup of coffee. “That is how we trained him.”

“What do you mean?”

“He must never forget that he is dining with his betters.. To Radek and my brothers, that meant everyone.”

“And to you?”

Katrina paused. “To them he was the pig. To me  he was Josef.”

***

The tiny yellow candle flame led Peter through the black hallway. The cold floor chilled his bare feet. He stopped at the door of the McKays bedroom and listened.  He could hear nothing except the distant chiming of the mantel clock from the drawing room.  Three o’clock.  The McKays would be sound asleep as he should be.  He stopped by their bedroom door and strained to hear   Hearing nothing he slipped through the dark stopping at the door of Alex’s old bedroom.  Hesitating for a moment he opened the door and entered.

No trace of the assault remained in the room. The walls had been repainted, the ceiling re-plastered, floors scrubbed.  Peter stood at the doorway candle in hand and wondered why he was there. Maureen had told him that he should not go in there.  Too many bad memories remained lurking in the dark.  Perhaps so but in a life filled with bad memories would a few more matter?  Besides it still remained Alex’s room, the only room in this room that in which he had ever felt safe.  All the horrors that had followed, the death of Alex, the memory of Franz pressing a shotgun against his skull, none of them could erase the memory of Alex having been in this room.  Yes Alex had died in it but he had also lived in it. Not for the first time that day Peter reminded himself that he should have died when Alex had died. One thing Peter did know.  Death and fear had followed Josef here. He must therefore never allow Josef to run free again.

Peter stepped into the room.  There remained Alex’s bed.  Beside it the same old leather chair that he had sat in and tended Alex  during the old man’s illness, the same chair in which he had first seen Alex darning a sock. Peter pulled the quilt off the blanket.  Wrapping it around him he settled into the chair and tried to sleep    Peter pressed his faith against the back of the chair.  What was going to happen to him? Stupid, blundering fool. How could he be any better then what he was now? Best to just leave. Maybe he would leave tomorrow. He would think about it. Shivering he pulled the blanket up over his head cocooning himself and slipped into a troubled asleep.

He dreamt of the Church of the Sacred Heart. During the three months that he had spent with Alex Peter had never stepped inside it.   Occasionally as he had passed  he would catch himself making a furtive sign of the cross something everyone did in Jablunka.  If Alex noticed he never mentioned it.  Only after the old man’s death did he enter it, at a memorial mass held by Father Byrne at the request of Rebecca Cleary.

As he had sat in the front between Rebecca and Anna Cleary he had noted how shabby and small the church was compared to the chapel at Marienburg and the churches that he had seen in Austria, Bavaria and in France. Pine and Maple and cheap paint served instead of great stained glass windows marble statues and gold and silver ornaments.  Even so, he could feel God’s presence pressing down on him.  If it had not been for his being squeezed between the Clearys he would have bolted.   God would never forgive him.  He had no right to be in a sacred place unless he could prove that he was no longer what he had been.

He  looked up at the small crucifix on the wall behind the altar.  Looking down at him was Franz.  He remembered the man’s hand holding him down pinning his head to the pillow as he thrust into him.  Through it all, the pain and the fear, Josef had not uttered a sound.  In not screaming, groaning or sobbing he felt that he had stolen away some of Franz’s pleasure.   Of what had happened between himself and Franz, Peter had not spoken a word.  He never would, keeping it hidden within him until the day he died.

As the night passed he wondered how he could ever find his way back to God.

They were taking him to the judge’s estate near Perth. There he would stay until they returned from New York.  Then what?  The trial?

The McKays were lying to him.  He was not surprised. Radek had once told him; “The only person who never told a lie died in their infancy.”

The question was why.  In his short life Peter had discovered three kinds of liars. Those like himself were inherently bad and lied because it was their nature to lie. Those like Radek or Frederick lied t5o get or to keep power. Rarest were those like Alex who lied to protect others.  Perhaps that was the reason for the McKays but protect him from what? From Radek? But that was why they were going to New York.  To have him arrested. Why lie about it?  Something else thern.  He considered the question as he washed his face and hands, undressed, out on his nightshirt and knelt by his bed.

“Holy Mary Mother of God…”

Perhaps they just did not want to admit that they did not like him?  That would explain it. .  Feeling a little better he thought again of what Father Byrne had told him, that God would forgive anyone who prayed for it.  There was a price though.  Part lay through punishment, part through prayer and the last part through good deeds. Only by all three would God be willing to accept him.  Maybe then the dreams would stop.

 

 

 

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Gilgamesh

 

At times when the ties holding societies together become frayed and are in danger of breaking, it is not a bad thing to consider what a society is and where it came from.  The earliest known complete work of literature is the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. Much of it is concerned with the struggle between a powerful individual and the needs of a community.

King of strong walled Uruk, son of a goddess, the first of a series of semi-divine heroes that will extend through literature to the New Testament, Gilgamesh is the hero of the oldest surviving work of literature.  The opening limes of the epic depict a man revelling in his physical strength. An autocrat he terrorizes his people who plead to the gods for help.  Any civilization is a communal affair, Individuals joining together for the common good.  Gilgamesh for all his physical prowess, or because of it,   seeks only his pleasure.  He ravishes young women and seizes young men for their labour.   Gilgamesh possesses the strength of a god but lacks wisdom.  The story is concerned with his gradual realization of man’s true destiny.

The people of Uruk pray to the gods for aid. The gods respond to the prayers of the people by sending to Gilgamesh the wild man Enkiddu.  Not to punish Gilgamesh but to make him realize the limits of his strength. Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and Enkidu, the man of the wild, have much in common.  They both revel in their physical strength.  Instead of chastening Gilgamesh Enkidu joins him in defying the Gods.

The gods reply by condemning Enkidu to die of a fever.

Utanapishtim:   Man is snapped off like a reed in a canebrake.

 

For all his power Gilgamesh cannot save Enkidu. With the death of Enkidu Gilgamesh understands that at the end of life there is sorrow.

You are lost in the dark and cannot hear me.”

“Seven days and seven nights he wept for Enkidu.”

  “Bitterly Gilgamesh wept for his friend Enkidu.”

Distraught with grief and terrified that Death will also come for him Gilgamesh wanders in search of Utnapistim, in the land of Dilmun, survivor of the deluge the only man granted immortality by the Gods.  From him Gilgamesh hopes to find immortality.

Utnapishtim disillusions him There is no permanence. Man can not live forever.  Gilgamesh is wasting his time and is failing in his duty to his city.

“As for you Gilgamesh, who will assemble the Gods for your sake so that you may find the life for which you are searching?”

However he offers Gilgamesh a test. He must not sleep for six days and seven nights. Gilgamesh fails and now must return to Uruk.  As a consolation Utnapishtim tells him of a plant that will restore vigour to old men.  Gilgamesh secures it from the bottom of the sea and elated with the gift sails back.  However  before reaching Uruk Gilgamesh stops to have a bath. While he is bathing a serpent swallows the  flower.  At this point one wonders why the tale is not called Gilgamesh the fool.

Gilgamesh has failed.  He has failed as a king in antagonizing his people. He has angered the gods and could not protect his friend Enkidu from their anger. He fails to find immortality or in even safeguarding its substitute.  If the story had ended there it would have been little better than a farce.  An ep[ic however is not concerned with just the trials of it’s hero/heroine.  It isconcerning with the hero gaining greater understanding from, those trials. Gilgamesh leaves Uruk a semi-divine. He returns as a man.

Man’s life is compared to that of a mayfly, brief, fated to perish into oblivion. .  Only the Gods can hold immortality. But Gilgamesh has attained something. As he surveys his city he understands that  it is in the communal life of the city that man attains immortality.  In the city man learns to be human, The individual without the city is a savage unable to live with other men as a civilized being.

He who saw the deep, a man in search of immortality.

Instead he finds wisdom.

His journey to Dilmun has failed to bring him the secret of eternal life but as he reaches Uruk Gilgamesh now understands that immortality was never his destiny.  His destiny was to be king of Uruk and to rule it justly.  Yes, he has failed in his quest, but all men fail. Every human being has limitations.  What Gilgamesh has realized is that, great as he is,  he is a man like other men.  For that is what an epic is. The hero endures trials and from them gains a new understanding of themselves and of others.  Whether he or she gains anything else is beside the point.

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Margaret

Margaret

 

Mrs. Margaret Wheeler‘s  memory of her  last night on the Titanic was at best blurred.  From the time she boarded it to the moment she left Margaret  never walked its open decks.  She had remained deep within steerage hugging the warmth of her tiny cabin that she shared with three other ladies.   She ventured out only as far as the lavatory and  the  dining room on F Deck. when not immobilized by seasickness. She was also dogged by  homesickness for her parents in Somersetshire.  A country girl this was her first long trip away from home.

Margaret like most girls from poor families had left school at thirteen to work on her family’s farm.  She had liked school, reading and writing. She had especially admired the world map decorated with red splotchers showing how great the British Empire was. It had made her proud to be English and had shown her how much there was to be seen outside of her county.  At sixteen wanting to see a little more of the world and to help her family she had taken a job as a kitchen maid in Shrewsbury.   It was then that she had met James Wheeler.

Baby Judy and the thought of meeting Jim helped her through her time at sea.  As she lay in the lower mattress of the bunk bed and felt the engines vibrating  she thought of the home they would build together in America a home far from this horrible ocean. Jimmie would meet them in New York.  He would take them to a place called Detroit where he worked for a Mister Ford, making automobiles.  Five dollars a day, almost a pound.  A gentleman’s wage.

Margaret Wheeler shared her cabin with three other women Irish girls seeking work as domestic servants in New York;   Mary and Elizabeth Clare shared the other bunk.  Above Margaret slept Bridget O’Toole.  The three had boarded at Queenstown, bound for New York to seek work as domestics, the Clare sisters as maids, Bridget as a cook.  Margaret has been hesitant at first with sharing her cabin with them speaking with. they were Irish and Catholics. However they were also  they were good tempered sand adored baby Judy.  Their willingness to look after the baby while Margaret suffered through seasickness soon won her over and they became  good friends .  Bridget being in her thirties was a quieter woman. Friendly but somewhat more reserved in manner, she spent much of her time reading and knitting.

Just before midnight April  14  The four ladies were wakened by a firm knocking at their cabin door.

Mary Clare opened the door to see a white-jacketed, ginger-haired steward holding four life jackets.  “Apologies madam.  We’ve developed some engine.  Captain would like steerage passengers to gather in the dining room F Deck. Just as a precaution.  Make sure you dress warm.”  He handed Mary the life jackets.  Once dressed and with Judy wrapped in a warm blanket and nestled in her mother’s arms the ladies joined a stream of people flowing towards the dining room. As she stepped into the room a surge of nausea gripped her stomach.  Attributing this to the lingering effect of sea sickness she looked around for the person in charge.

In the centre of  each dining table were large pots of tea and mounds of sandwiches. Later, much later, she would think about the sandwiches and tea.  Everything had been so well prepared.  At the time however she found them reassuring.  People gathered around the tables drinking tea and munching as they considered what might be happening.  An officer came with a clipboard checking people’s names.  Everything seemed very  efficient.  Whatever was happening could not be that serious.  After all the ship was unsinkable.  She sipped some tea, sampled a cheese sandwich, nursed Judy and waited for the officer to tell her what to do.

 

At a quarter to three the officer hurried into the dining room. He nodded at the waiting faces and smile.  “ladies and gentlemen.  Again my apologies for any inconvenience caused.  The difficulty with the ship has been resolved.  We will soon be on our way again.” He paused to allow for sighing and whispering.  He then continued. “For now return to your cabins and get some sleep, which (he smiled)  is what I plan to do.”

Relieved and warmed by the tea Margaret returned to her bed.  As she lay in her bunk she strained to hear the engines starting.  They were still silent when she closed her eyes and slept.  When she woke the engines were still silent.  Turning over she looked at Judy asleep  in her crib.  The other bed was empty.  Only she and Judy were in the room. Margaret closed her eyes and went back to sleep.  She dreamt that she was in another room on land somewhere.  The weather was warm.  A soft breeze wafted through a curtained window.   Next to her bed stood Bridget O’Toole but a Bridget different from the one that she knew. Dressed in a white shirt and white trousers and wearing a green  that covered her hair.  Bridget leaned over her. Cap.  She whispered in a voice different from her normal Irish brogue.

“Sleep child.  Time enough for waking later.”

That night Margaret dreamed strange dream. Hours later the soft chirping of a bird by her bedroom window caused her  to stir. Then she remembered.  There were no songbirds in the north Atlantic.  There was no window in her steerage room.  She sat up to find herself in a strange bed. She must be in America. She looked for Jimmie to see a woman sitting in a chair, A woman that reminded her of  go away.  Bridget O’Toole.  “Bridget?”
The woman smiled.  “I was. People change over time, you know.” Then her voice turned serious.  “Just before midnight on the 14th of April 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg.  Within two hours it sank. Thirteen hundred souls were lost including you and your daughter. I don’t expect you to understand what I am trying to tell you.”

“I am dead?”

“No. No you’re not.”

Margaret nodded. ”The soul lives on I know.”

“No. It’s not a question of soul.  You never died. When you stepped into the dining room, you and all the others, you left the ship.  Someday you may understand.”

“I left …? What are you talking about?”  This was all part of a strange dream. “Then ..if I’m not dead then I will see Jimmie again.”

“No. No. You can’t.”

“Of course I will. He’s waiting in New York. When do we get to New York?”

“You’re not going to New York.”

Margaret snuggled against her pillow. “Of course I’m going to New York. Jimmie will be  there.”  The dream would pass.  She would wake in her real world and in three days perhaps she would be with Jimmie.

Morning light filled the room.  Margaret stirred and opened her eyes expecting to see the bottom of Bridget’s bunk.  Instead she saw a white ceiling.  She blinking think that it would go away. It did not. She turned and looked for Judy.  She found her asleep in a crib covered in pink silk.  Satisfied that her baby was sleeping Margaret walked through the strange wondering where she was and how she would get back to Jimmie.  The woman who had once been Bridget sat at a kitchen chair.

“So it wasn’t a dream” said Margaret.

“No.”

“The Titanic?”

“Is at the bottom of the Atlantic.”

“You saved our lives.”

The woman nodded.

“What is your name?”

“You can call me Louise.”

“What do we do now?”

“You can start by meeting your neighbours.”

“New York?  My husband?”

“Some things we can do.  Some things we can’t.  I’m sorry.  You can never go there.  You can never see him again. But you have your child, your life, this house.”

“This house?”

“Yes.”

“What do you want from me?”

“Want?  Life.”

“ Are you missionaries?”

“Mission..?  No. Not as you understand it.  We just prefer life to death where it’s possible.”

“Where possible?  What about the others, the ones who died.  You knew what would happen ans you did nothing to help them.”

“There was nothing we could do.  We cannot change history.”

“You saved Judy and I and the others.”

“You were all listed as missing.  Your bodies were never founded.  As far as history was concerned you had ceased to exist. That was why we could save you.  Before the ship struck my friends and I sought out where the missing where.  Those were the ones  we assembled.  No one else.”

“All the others?”

“No one else.”  The woman stood.  “I have to go.  Tomorrow you and the others who we chose you will meet together. Plan your lives.”

“And you?”

“I will not be there. Maybe later.”

“What happens tomorrow?”

“You will meet with the others and plan your new lives.  That will be for you to decide.  Not me.  Each family has been provided with a house. Every house is stocked with food. There is land, the sea, your hands, your intelligence. There is also a library and a medical clinic.   Make of them what you will.”

The air behind the woman shimmered. She smiled, nodded, stepped back and disappeared.

Bewildered Margaret continued to sit half expecting Louise to re-appear.  Then not knowing what else to do she returned to the bedroom to check upon Judy.  Satisfied that the baby was asleep Margaret curled up on the bed and went to sleep. As she lay in bed she imagined what would happen tomorrow.  People would meet. The men would form some kind of council. Whoever these strangers were, no matter if they were well-intentioned they had no right to interfere with God’s creation. She then thought of Jimmie feeling him cuddling next to her as she thought about the house in which she lay.  Men must have built it. They must have installed the water and electricity.  They must have bought  the food.

Judy’s crying woke her.  Margaret knew she had to change the baby and find her milk. Her place in time or space did not matter as much as the need to tend to her baby. . After that she would have to feed herself.  On the dresser she found a pile of clean white cloths and in a jar safety pins.  She walked through the house at last coming to the kitchen.  Here she found an ice box that contained milk, butter bread and  a large chunk of cheddar  cheese.  Near the icebox was a pantry stocked with flour, sugar and canned goods.  There was even a canister filled with Earl Grey tea.  She made herself a cheese sandwich and a mug of tea.

Turning  a tap marked H she filled a kettle and placed the kettle on a stove.  She did not wonder how the water came out or who had constructed the plumbing or where the water came from.  Her concern was her baby and then herself. She wondered how to ignite the gas until she found a box of matches.  Soon the kettle was whistling.   Then, having breakfasted, and hugging Judy to her breast  Margaret stepped out onto the street.

 

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Walls

Walls

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.

He only says, good fences make good neighbours.

Robert Frost Mending Wall

When I was young the East German government built the Berlin Wall. That wall built to keep East Berliners from entering West Berlin became a symbol of the Cold War. With its watch towers, barbed wire and armed guards it told me that East Germany was little better than a prison. The Soviet Empire was an empire of walls controlling its peoples. Freedom of movement existed only in the Democratic West. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 Demolished by Berliners I rejoiced. The west had won the Cold War. Walls were coming down all over the world. The crumbling of walls meant more than just the free movement of peoples. It also meant a greater flow of ideas and the crumbling of authortarian and totalitarian regimes. Then came the eleventh of September 2001. Across Europe and Americas walls began to rise. The other great symbol of the time representing the west was the Statue of Liberty.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.

The song of the Statue of Liberty celebrated the belief in personal liberty that lay at the core of Western Democracies. The right to seek out a better life, the right to travel freely, to think freely and to speak freelly. Walls stood against that against freedom of movement. That was what the Cold War was about to me. Did this mean that walls were inherently evil? Of course not. They were simply a tool developed as other devices were to serve human needs. In the same way it could be argued that the rightr to the freedom of movement was not an absolute good. With the masses yearning to be free came cri minals and political extremists. But there was nothing new there. The benefits in talents that a society received from a leniant immigration policy more thsan outweighed the hazards..

There are two purposes to walls, security and control. When early man first gathered brush together yo make a primitive shelter he first began to make a wall. Within these flimsy structures mankind found shelter from predators and from the rain. Keeping people and things in or out was the first purpose of walls. The second seems to have developed with agriculture, the marking of boundaries. In pre-agricultural societies, walls, with some exceptions, reflected their builders in being mobile., tents, igloos or simple grass huts. Where permanent food supplies existed as with the tribes of the Pacific Northwest.With agriculture walls became more permanent. The keeping of herds needed enclosures to protect them from predators and to keep them from wandering off. The raising of crops brought a sense of attachment to particular bits of land, and with an attachment the need to protect it. Knowing that the crops were rooted to one spot brought about the building of permanent structures and the need to protect both crops and structures. The art of building walls contributed to the creating of civilization, to the building of schools, hospitals and homes. It also led to the building of slave pens, prisons and extermination camps.

Walls are more than a matter of concrete and steel. There must be a reason for a wall. The reason may be motivated by the common good as in the constructing of a protective wall around a village. It may be motivated by the fear of another group as in the construction of a ghetto. For a wall whatever its purpose implies separation: separation of people from one another, separation of people from goods or from a place but always separation. By the end pf the Twentieth Century ideological and political walls seemed to be crumbling. Then came the eleventh of September 2001, the beginning of the twenty first century.

Minds locked into Religious extremism attacked New York. The lady wept when New York was attacked but she still held her torch high. That was her finest moment. Sixteen years later she still holds it although she is now obscured by the rising walls of ignorance, fear and hate. The words at her base are now being rewritten.

Take away your huddled masses yearning to be free.

Now another wall is being raised, along the Southern border of the United States. Perhaps someday words will be engraved upon the wall.

From California to the Gulf Stream Waters
This land was meant for only me.

Nine Eleven also witnessed one of Canada’s finest moments. As American airports were closed dozens of flights found themselves with no place to go. The Canadian government opened up airports across Eastern Canada. Crews sand passengers were taken in, fed, and kept safe until they could go home. It was not done for gain, or for gaining political goodwill. It was simply the right thing to do. Being a good neighbour is not a matter of building walls. It is just a matter of helping when help is needed. Robert Frost knew that as does most people. Good people make good neighbours.

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The Road From Bontoc

The Road From Bontoc

It is 156 kilometres from Bontoc, the capitol of Mountain Province to Baguio. It takes about six hours to travel that road. Why does it take so long?. There are both natural and manmade reasons. To understand why it takes six hours you have to know something about the geography of Northern Luzon and Filipino nature. The first thing you have to understand is that up here is that when it comes to roads there is no such thing as a straight line. Here there are three directions, up, down and around,Bontoc lies deep within the Cordillera, the great mountain chain that forms the backbone of Northern Luzon. Rising to just under three thousand metres. There is no pass through these mountains so the only way to Bontoc is to go over them.The road twists its way up and down passing valleys offering great views of mountains river valleys and terraces where farmers grow rice, fruits and vegetables. Flooding and rock slides are frequent occurances. Sections of the road are torn away. Constant maintenance is required. Again and again ytou can observe parts of railing torn away. Construction crews repave the surface and replace broken railings and washed out bridges.

Lyn and I had travelled from Baguio to the small town of Sagada, famous for its natural scenery, examples of Ifaguo weaving and the house of hanging coffins. The last I dedided not to see. Too many steps and at my age I have no great desire to see coffins.. We spent the night in Sagada and.the next morning we caught a jeepney to trsavel the eight kilometres to Baguio. There wee foubd an kinteresting museum devoted to the hill tribes including a reconstruction of the village. Having viewsd the museum we then went to the bus terminal for the retutrn to Baguio, knowing that to be home by dark we would have to leave by one o.clock.At the station a sign told us that the next bus would not b be until one o’clock, so I settled down in my walker for a waiyt while Lyn went across the street to the market. At noon a bus pulled in bound for Baguio. As people lined up I looked across the street to see if Lyn was there. Nowhere in sight. I positioned my walker near the bus door, sat down and waited. Soon Lyn appeared, a bag of peanuts in hand, hurrying across the street. We boarded and a few minutes later the bus edged its way onto the road. It took half an hour for it to clear Bontoc, steering between jeepneys, motorized tricycles, trucks and cars.

Two hours of ytwisting and weaving. We then pulled into Atok for a thirty minute stock at a place called Rickton Centre. It offered a restaurant and a washroom. Whoever wrote about the tromance of travel had precious little to say about washrooms. Thirty minutes later we were back on the road.

Highway 204 going from Bontoc to Baguio is a two lane concrete road in width resembling a North American Secondary Road.The maximum speed on the road is about fourty kilometres an hour but driving is complicated by the fact that the two lanes keep changing into one. One reason for this is that construction crews are always found working on damaged sections of the road. Another reason is that unoccupied flat land is a scare object in the mountains. The terraces that cover the mountains are proof of this, built to provide land for crops as well as to control the run off from torrential downpours.. The road provides more than a transportation route. It provides space. In North America houses are set back from highways. Here they are on the side of the road. The road is used as a parking lot, a place for displaying merchandise and for drying rice. The highway does not go around towns. Instead it serves as the main street for the towns that have grown up beside it which means that the bus has to push its way through the local traffic. There are no traffic lights and very few speed limit signs.

At five o’clock we crosseed into Baguio and for the next hour pushed our way through the city traffic until we reached the terminal.just after six o’clock. A typical bus ride to from Bontoc had ended.

Favourite Filipino Moments

The Filipino greeting, placing the back of their right hand on your forehead as a mark of respect. Beats “cold enough for you, eh?”.

On the bus from Bontoc I notice written in green letters PLS. Fasten Seat Belts. I had seen the same sign before in jeepneys were belts are provided for drivers and passengers at the front. On this bus,I saw no seat belts at all. “What is the sign for” I ask my wife.
“For the inspector.”

A farmer leaves his rice to dry on the road. Motorists are careful to avoid the drying rice.

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City Of Storms

City of Storms

. Another morning in Baguio.The clouds scuttle through the valley blotting out fields and houses. From the street below a vendor can be heard. “Puto. Puto.” Rice cakes for twenty pesos. A jeepney rumbles past. The dogs continue their incessant complaints. Chickens cluck. Another day in Baguio. Our house sits on the edge of a mountain crest. Thick green shrubs speckled with yellow Baguio Sunflowers. I look out to see the valley filling with cloud. Here the mornings are brighter than the afternoons. It is then that the clouds gather blotting out the view.

Baguio lies in the mountains . It is known as the City of Storms where the clouds fill the city. Little interest had been shown in the area by the Spanish. The mountains made occupation difficult. Military outposts were not established until the 1840’s. Apart from a few ranches and the introduction of coffee production little attempt was made to develop the mountains. but this changed with the coming of the Americans. 1903 opening of Kennon Road allowed the Americans to open the region for development. It offered access not only to the interior but also something rare in the Philippines, cool, clean mountain air. The Americans found a refuge from the heavy heat of the lowlands. They built a military camp John Hay and in 1907 Baguio became a city.

Baguio is far from beinmg a tropical paradise. The streets are overcrowded and dirty. The traffic is intimidating. The weather can be extremely gusty and windy. The valley where I live, once scenic is overrun with houses jammed together and narrow twisting roads. The people though are courteous. The weather is good, at least ten degrees cooler than on lowlands and for me this city became more than a city of Storms. It became to me a symbol. a goal by which I could regain part of my past life..

When I first came to this valley in 1987 only a solitary house rose amid the fields. Once known as Saguid the valley had been the home of subsistence farmers far away from the fertile lowlands of the central Luzon plain. Lyn and I had thoughts of retiring in the Philippines. Lyn’s family lives near San Carlos down near the Lingayan Gulf but after her years in Canada we were interested in a cooler climate. Baguio offered that. A temperature at least ten degrees cooler than the lowland, cool enough to require a sweater at night. Pine scented air that reminded me of Canada. Visioning vacationing amidst scenic panoramas of mountain and valley we bought a lot for just over a hundred thousand pesos and made plans to have a house erected. When I returned in 2011 houses had spread over the hillsides. Diesel fumes suffocated the sent of the pines. Now it had become a suburb of Baguio crowded with trucks and jeepneys. The house itself was still in a state of construction. Plumbing was still primitive. Windows were unsealed, some being impossible to close. We made plans to return in 2013 to see to the remaining work. It would take me four years to get back to the valley.

In May of 2012 while we were traveling through Peru I had a stroke. A blood clot at the back of my brain burst. For almost a month I lay in a bed in Lima. The stroke left me partially paralyzed on my right side and unable to stand. My throat muscles were paralyzed which necessitated a feeding tube. As I lay in the bed barely able to do more than say a few words I dreamed of being home again, After a month of Peruvian hospitals, and then two and a half months in Saint Mary’s by the Lake in Kingston I did get to go home. By then my dream had changed. I wanted to walk, to be able to get up out of the wheelchair and walk out my own front door.Such a thought seemed at best remote. Not only had the stroke taken away my ability to walk by paralyzing my right leg. It had also left me with severe vertigo. Any sudden movement would cause me to lose all sense of balance. Such a condition had taken away the ability to walk.
During the months after being discharged from Saint Mary’s as I struggled to walk again I had begun to accept that there was so much in my life that I would never do again..I had spent much of my life teaching English both in Canada and overseas. I had become used to traveling and working overseas. Now I could only lie in bed aware that any sudden movement would precipitate another attack of vertigo. As the swelling at the back of brain healed the vertigo eased.

For three years the limits of my world grew again. In the first months after Saint Mary”s the vertigo made it difficult for me to travel by car. Any sudden change in speed or turn could trigger it. The idea of any form of travel seemed absurd. Then slowly, as I healed the vertigo receded. I was able to travel across the city, then to Ottawa, then to Florida. Now, four years after the stroke I find myself in the Philippines again.

I could have stayed in Kingston and waited out the winter, every day knowing that one slip could result in a broken limb or I could go to where there is no winter, to a house half a world away. I chose the Philippines.

Any life worth living has an element of risk. By risk I do not mean that you have to jump out of an airplane or dive to the bottom of the sea. You do have to decide if you want to take steps towards following your dream knowing that it could mean hardship and failure, There is a scene in Death Of A Salesman when Willy Loman mentions that he once had a chance to go to Alaska. He never did and has regretted it ever since. That scene has haunted me.Willy is a man who decided not to follow his dream. Every one’s life is marked by dreams, some simple, some difficult. A life hiding from dreams is a life not worth living. I have had two dreams since I was young, to write and to travel. To date, I have written four novels, several short stories and a cluster of essays. None lof these have been published but I continue to write. Why write what no one will read? Maybe someone will, but more important I write because I have to. If I do note I feel incomplete. .Another dream that I have held since I was young was to travel. It has led me across Africa, Asia and Europe. It led me to the woman who became my wife. Now it has led me here. If I do not survive this trip, so be it. No regrets. So I sit in a house I thought I would never get back too and I write this essay. In March I will return to Canada. Whether I return to Baguio will depend on my health. At this stage in my life only the love between myself my wife and son is certain.  Everything else could change. The winds of life brought me to the City of Storms. Hopefully they will do it again.

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A New Dark Age?

A New Dark Age?

In the Iliad lies an interesting omission. Homer who is meticulous in describing armour and weapons never once refers to the Mycenaens and Trojans as possessing the art of writing. Archaeology has shown us that the Myceneans kept written records as did other societies of the time. The discrepancy lies in Homer’s society, not with Mycene and Troy. Homer was illiterate. Writing in Greece had disappeared with the collapse of Mycene and would not reappear until centuries later. The destruction of Mycene precipitated the first known dark age in European history.

What is a dark age? It is a time usually following great social and political upheaval. The former culture has been destroyed or at least weakened. The new society has not been formed. Everywhere there is a sense of loss, that the past was better than the present and the future is uncertain. The most famous was the one that followed the collapse of the western Roman Empre in the fifth century but there have been many occuring at different times in different civilizations. As Western Europe struggled through its dark age Byzantium, Islam and Southern Spain prospered. In our own time Europe went through a dark age from 1914 to 1945. Eastern Europe’s Dark Age lasted well into the second half of the Twentieth Century with the Stalinist Terror.

In the United States a candidate running on an anti-immigration platform has been elected by a minority. His opponent although polling over two million more votes lost because of her failure to secure enough electoral votes. This has happened before in American politics although not by so wide a margin between the candidates. The man who won has no experience in public service. He has never served in the military and has probably not even paid income taxe in two decades. He is a billionaire land developer and Reality Television personality. His victory may h be a symptom of the illness plaguing American Democracy..

In 415 AD an Alexandrian mob attacked the Mathematician and scholar Hypateia. A pagan, Neo-Platonist and a supporter of the Byzantine govoner Orestes she had become perceived as an enemy to Christians.They pulled her from her chariot, took her to a church and beat her to death. I could not help thinking of her as I watched Donald Trump egg on his supports to lock up Hilary Clinton. She had become a hated symbol of a political order that millions of voters rejected. Tens of thousands shouting “Lock Her Up” had become a modern equivalent of a lynch mob. Worse was that the presidential candidate was urging them on. Making America great again seems to involve the legalizing of lynch law.

One of the characteristics of dark ages is that they represent a breakdown of previous social orders. People withdraw their support from the old order and turn to something or someone else that will promise security and a return to past glory. It happened in Tsarist Russia and in the Weimar Republic It happened in China and Cuba. Today it seems to be happening in the United States.. Twns of millions of voters spurned candidates Republican and Democratic. .

A nation’s decline is not enough in itself to explain its collapse into a dark age. The European powers lost their colonial empires but remained prosperous democratic states. They had ceased to believe in imperialism but not in themselves as free nations. They adapted without collapsing into ruin..As long members of a society continue to believe in it that society will survive the ups and downs of history. Defeat can trigger a dark age but not always. The Japanese recovered from a
catastrohic defeat to become an economic superpower. Nationalist China which won, disintegrated. Loss of belief has toppled more states than military defeat. It is this loss that seems to be most troubling about Trump’s election.

Twice in American History the country lost its sense of unity. at the time of the American Revolution and at the time of the Civil War. The result were profound political changes at the cost of thousands of lives. Are we now at the beginning of another such era?

There are three kinds of elected officials. There are a few who inspire us. Most belong to the second group, competent administrators dedicated to public service. Then there is the third group, those who see in politics a means of striking at their enemies and a means of feeding their own egos. Donald Trump is self centrered, a liar and ignorant. This does not disqualify him from being a leader but it does determine what kind of leader he can be and the effect such leadership will have upon his country. From the indications that we have he belongs to the third group, a demagogue using public anger to rise to power. We have seen this type of leader before and we will probably see him again. Even before being sworn in Trump is distancing himself from his supporters. The Populist leader is staffing his cabinet with white male millionaires and billionaires, men opposed to the Environment, to Public Education, to Social Welfare, to anything that discourages the making of money. The EPA will become the Environmental Plundering Agency. Public Education will be concerned with the poromoting of ignorabnce. Social Security will be stripped with the savings going to corporations.Leading them is a man inexperienced in Public Administration with a giant ego and an utter disregard for facts that contradict that ego. Whatever he has to say is crippled by a history of falsehoods and four bankruptcies..

One of the principal reasons for the coming of a dark age is administrative incompetence coupled with short-sighted self-interest. During thre years to come the gap between poor and rich will grow while the deficit swells to cover the President’s security program. As the gap between the wealthy minority and impverished majority grows the rifts between the two widen causing national unity to erode.

Eight years from now in the vast slums that cover the land people will watch Donald Trump announce his chosen successor, his son. Only with a Trump can he ensure America’s safety. As people watch they will try to remember an America before Trump. They will then ask themselves, “How do we make America great again.”

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