Monday, March 27, 2023

Have I Gotten Better?

 One of the things that rejoining LinkedOut has done for me is indirectly link me to a lot of former coworkers - every time one of your "connections" likes something from someone, it shows up in your feed.  I tend to just whip through such things in general, but one last week caught my eye.

The like was for a former employee of my company. I sort of remember the young gentleman (almost everyone is "young" anymore, or at least younger than I).  He left, as I recall, three or four years previously, seemingly just another in a long line of people that have worked there and gone to something different.  This happens I think as you grow older: you move around less in your career as the "younger folk" are establishing theirs.

His post was about his completion of his medical degree and announcing his residency. 

I just sort of sat there and looked at the post.  In the last period of time, what had I really done?

I supposed I could put all sorts of caveats around things:  my parents, the Plague, my job change.  

But really, what had I done?  Or more importantly, how had I changed and become better?

The answer, I fear is, "not much" or "nothing at all".  If I compare myself to three years ago I find myself to be largely the same. Same position, same place, same activities (mostly), same me.

For some reason, that really bothers me.

Yes, I understand that this is probably an extreme example, and that inherent comparison to others is not necessarily the best thing.  At the same time, I think it is fair to ask the question - be it daily, monthly, annually, or even just randomly: "Am I a different person than I was the last time I asked this question?  Am I a better person than the last time I asked this question?"

In theory at least, we should only stop improving ourselves somehow when we die.  The fact that I at least feel exactly the same as three years ago is, frankly, not a comfortable feeling.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Dances With Wind

Invisible breath
of March reeks of Winter's cold:
flowers kiss Springs' grace.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

March 2023 Ranch Walkabout

 The snow has all melted away.  Although we are still in the rainy season (which is persisting a bit this year and is badly needed) from the greening up Spring is on its way.

I was fortunate in that I started my hike during a fog, which then blew out as I continued on.

The spring has not been this full in years:

"Greetings Friend!"

Even with the significant snow and wind last year that brought down so many trees, there were still a few new ones down:

The daffodils that were last month peeking up through the snow:

Friday, March 24, 2023

Going Home Three Years Ago

(Note:  The point of the post is not to rehash The Plague or how we got here (if we could not, that would be eminently appreciated; lots of other people in other places are more than willing to do so); it is to denote one of those before and after moments that happens a great deal less in life than perhaps we think it would. )

Looking back into the historical files (e.g. blog postings and journals), I note that three years ago this week (technically 23 March 2020), I was sent home from the Office for the duration of "The Temporary Emergency".  

Although I often do not remember details about a great many things, I remember the details about this one - I suspect that somewhere in my giant e-mail archive that I have acquired over the last six+ years, the e-mail notification is there somewhere.  In my case I gathered everyone in the main conference room - at that time I was still nominally in charge of Quality Assurance and so had a number of people reporting to me - and made the announcement that we were all going home.

I remember the colors of the conference room and the looks of everyone looking at me for words - odd, because I had already announced I was "changing" positions I was still considered in charge of them.  I cannot remember the words I said - probably something bland and generic about not to worry, do good work, be safe, we will communicate when we know more, etc.  The sorts of things that one is expected to say in such circumstance.

I violated what would have been a number of "gospel" points in the coming days and weeks:  multiple people gathered in a space, not masked, etc. etc.  In retrospect had anyone known at the time, I likely would have been reprimanded for putting people's health at risk.  But that was all lost in the ensuing storm.

Since that time, I have not been formally recalled to on-site work.  My office - already forfeit as I been transferred out of my previous position - was gone and no work space ever reassigned to me.  I, like many many other people, became work nomads:  voices and words and 2-D faces on a screen.

It is odd to me how much of a before and after event this feels like now - even more so that something like 9/11, which created visible differences in how we conduct our lives (I am still reminded of this every time I fly).  The sense of time has been completely stretched and thinned and turned - The Ravishing Mrs. TB has noticed this as well:  she has often commented how three years ago seems like a lifetime ago and events in the interim seem either very close or very far away - or both, at the same time.

I had reason to go onsite earlier this month.  The conference room has now been converted into a lab; the bulk of the people that were there on that day are no longer with the company.   And yet looking into the lab, I can still see all of us gathered around that large conference table facing a future which none of us could have predicted the shape of.

How odd that one of those significant moments of my life - one of those "Gone With The Wind" moments occurred - in such an innocuous space.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Collapse LXXXXVI: Cameo Appearance

May 6th, 20XX+1

Dear Lucilius,

Surprise! Today’s letter is not from Seneca. Instead it is from me, Pompeia Paulina (I understand now that this is how Seneca refers to me. He won’t tell me why he refers to me this way, just that he does).

Seneca has told me about his writing to you, even after the Internet went down. I insisted he show me all of the letters – the fact that someone would be so dedicated to something that may not be published was interesting to me. It took a bit to read – gracious, that man can seem to go on about almost anything at length! Once I finished, I insisted that I be allowed to write to you as well. He seemed a little bit reluctant – “You have never met him” and things like that – but I convinced him that if the letters were not going through anyway, what is the harm?

(I am absolutely sending the letter out if we ever get electricity and Internet again)

So it seems you have met my daughter Statiera before you “met” me – Xerxes (why he insists on these names, I have no idea) is a very nice young man and very good to my daughter. I know you know how Seneca met me – how did I and my daughter end up here?

A love of silence and beauty, mostly.

I came from Arizona originally, where I grew up and lived for many years. And I loved it there: the sunsets, my large family of parents and sisters and nieces and nephews. I would go to places like Sedona and Tucson as often as I could to see the sunset and rocks and feel the energy of the places. It was so…redolent of Nature as it should be, not like it was in the city.

My daughter and I moved here a few years ago – I think it was a few years; I’ve quite lost track and then with everything shutting down, it seems a little silly to think of it now. The city had just become too confining and both and she and I were in a place in our lives that we needed to escape and find room to breathe. We drove through here on a trip from one place to the other; the beauty of the Valley and this quiet, sort of broken down town appealed to me. And so we ended up staying.

I was a masseuse for many years and as a masseuse, it is pretty easy to take your job with you. I made an okay living here – not like I did at home where I worked in a top rated destination hotel, but enough for the two of us. My daughter’s life calmed down. My life calmed down. We kept a lovely garden and watched the seasons and for time, just got to enjoy life.

And then everything else happened.

I am sure that I must have seen Seneca before – even in a town that in some ways was dying, it was still small enough that I should have seen everybody or at least heard of him. I knew his house, of course – everyone did: the small red Summer cabin that someone from down South had completely gutted and refitted with the greenhouse and the garden and whoever lived there practicing with a sword outside all Spring, Summer, and Fall. But people respect privacy here, and will not intrude unless asked. And it seems like Seneca never asked.

I am so very glad my daughter’s boyfriend insisted he come for Palm Sunday brunch.

He seems so isolated, Lucilius. In our conversations and even when we discuss books or goings on, there is something down deep that I cannot fully see. Being a masseuse, you come to learn to feel the energy of people, the places that are hard physically and psychically. I am sometimes not even sure if he himself is aware of it, or how it impacts his life. It is a stoic, lonely sort of thing, and it seems to cover him almost like a velvet cloak of sadness.

But he does seem willing to at least talk a little bit more about his struggles. He is willing to listen to suggestions about things – silly man, he still has a lot to learn about gardening here. And he has his rabbits, which are delightful friends, and bookshelves and bookshelves of books which he claims that he is will to talk about. We certainly do not lack for conversational items.

I do like him, Lucilius, an awful lot. Be sure that I will take good care of him.

Warmest regards, Pompeia Paulina

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Old English, A Historical Background: Alfred (The Great) II

(Editor's note:  I have assembled the entries to date (and going forward) onto a single page, Old English, which I link directly in future posts for ease of reference.)

 When we last left Alfred (still not quite The Great, but at least The Quite Remarkable), he had succeeded in defeating the remains of the Great Heathen Army at the battle of Ethandun (Edington) in 878 decisively enough that they retreated to East (and, as luck would have it, the defeat was resounding enough that it drove off a second fleet of invaders).  Parts of Wessex had been held and other parts reclaimed.  But it was a tenuous peace at best.  There was a kingdom to be rebuilt and who knew where or when the Vikings might reappear?

Alfred took the learnings he had seen from the defeats of his brothers and himself to heart. He reorganized the kingdom by creating the burh, fortified locations located within twenty miles of each other.  These burhs (eventually our Modern English word "Boroughs") provided a defense network in the event of another invasion.  Indirectly, these also ended up become the nuclei of towns and cities which would spring up around them.

(Source.  Note that this is from the 10th Century Burghal Hidage; not all of these would have been built by Alfred but by his successors as well.)

He also reorganized the fyrd, the standing army of all military aged men.  He simplified it and organized it such that at all times, some men were available for service and others for campaigning. This also directly or indirectly began to emphasize the responsibility of the nobility and their standing retinues to take a more active role in defenses.

Finally, he is recorded as also designing ships - "neither Frisian nor Danish, but as seemed to himself to be most serviceable".  While earlier Anglo-Saxon kings (such as the Sutton Hoo ship) had existed, and Wessex had possessed a navy (Alfred had commanded some of those ships), We know little enough about those ships although there is one ship, the Graveney boat, that has been dated to 895 A.D.  It interesting to speculate (though completely ridiculous, of course) that some part of that boat was influenced in some small way by Alfred's ship building program.

His preparations were the tonic that was needed:  A follow on invasion by Guthrum and the Danes from the Danelaw in 886 was turned back and a formal treaty put in place between Alfred and Guthrum.  London was reconquered by Wessex.  As a part of this recapture, parts of Mercia were recaptured:  Edward created an Ealdorman (Modern English Aldorman) named Æthelred to act as as sort of royal officer or sub-king of Mercia (and promptly married his daughter Ethelfleda to him). The future of Mercia would be that as determined by Wessex.

A second thing happened as a result of the reconquest of London.  For the first time, as Asser the Chronicler records, "all the English people that were not under subjection to the Danes submitted to him  (Alfred)".  By the late 880's and into 890s charters style Alfred as "king of The Angles and The Saxons" or "king of the Anglo-Saxons".  For the first time, the concept of a king of all the Anglo-Saxon peoples - not just a breatwalda, a sort of "first among equals - appears.

Another Viking army returned in the year 892 A.D. and did not leave until 896. During that time the defenses that Alfred had built in the burhs held back the Vikings to the outer defenses of Wessex In a series of battles across those years - Farnham, Benfleet, the Siege of Exeter, Buttington - Alfred, his son, and his ealdormen harried and defeated the Vikings until in 896 A.D., threatened by Alfred blocking the River Thames, the Vikings fell back, first to Southeastern England, then to the Continent.

But Alfred was not only a great leader, military strategist, and naval designer.

Previous Anglo-Saxon kings had issued law codes but they were fragmentary and specific at best.  Alfred undertook a comprehensive law code update, the first in over a century.  By doing so, it "...would have represented a dramatic assertion of his role as the shepherd and guardian of an amalgamated English people" (Keynes and Lapidge, p. 39).  Basing his on the Bible, previous law codes of older Anglo-Saxon kings, and his own thoughts - "Then I, King Alfred, collected these together and ordered to be written many of them which our forefathers observed, those which I liked; and many of those which I did not like, I rejected with the advice of my councillors, and ordered them to be differently observed".  For the first time since Romans rule, a law code was introduced for the country (Less those in Wales and the Danelaw - for now).

Finally, there was Alfred The Reviver of Knowledge.

Alfred was, from childhood (so his chronicler Asser tells us) a lover of stories and when young although he could not read, he could memorize.  He memorized a book of English poetry (with the help of a teacher) that his mother had offered to give to whichever of her sons could learn its contents first.  He learned the daily Christian services, some psalms and prayers.  He had the favorite passages from them copied out for him into a small book which he carried.

After the initial victories over the Vikings, Alfred realized that that great age of Anglo-Saxon learning - the Age of Bede The Venerable and the world of the 7th to 8th Century - was decayed and nothing had come up to take its place.  He is recorded as saying "So completely fallen away was learning now in the English race that there were very few on this side of the Humber who would know how to render their service book (from Latin- Ed.) into English, and I doubt that there would be any on the other side of the Humber.  There were so few of them that I cannot think of so much as a single one south of the Thames when I took the realm".

Alfred at some point had learned to read Anglo Saxon.  He then undertook to learn Latin - this, while planning for defenses and conducting campaigns and leading armies and generally rebuilding the realm.  He gathered a group of scholars - first as many as he could find from the neighboring former Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and Wales, then across the continent to the Kingdom of The Franks.  Most of these men were bishops and monks - Asser, Werferth, Plegmund, Werwulf, John the Old,  Grimbald, Æthelstan.  These men taught - and they translated.

Alfred wanted learning to be made available - not just to the clergy but to his own royal officials as well, as he expected them to be educated.  And so a series of translation took place not only of religious works, but of secular works that Alfred thought would be useful.  Four of the books so translated - Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care,  Augustine of Hippo's Soliloquies,, and a prose translation of parts of the Psalms, were done in part or in whole by Alfred himself.  In some cases they were not word for word, but more of idea to idea, reflecting what the king felt were the needs of the his subjects (and their educational levels).

To Alfred as well we owe the formalization of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  While the chronicles had likely existed in older forms, it was Alfred that commissioned a gathering of the other Chronicles which were collated and turned into a single documented distributed to several monasteries.  Henceforth, there was a common starting point for Anglo-Saxon events.

He believed in personal development as well.  The book that he recorded passages in as a child he continued to carry all his life - his chronicler Asser records at one point the King asking for more entries than could be held so he asked for a new book to be made.  (An interesting side note:  the book actually was known to have existed as late as 1204 A.D., although it was lost to history after that.  Oh, to see what a man like Alfred would have considered worthy of recording in his own personal journal.)

Alfred's last few years (897-899 A.D.) we know little about; his newly created Chronicle records nothing of the era.  We can imagine him continuing to work away on his translations and strengthening the kingdom's defenses against future attacks, working on implementing his revised law code, counseling his son Edward (his heir) and his son-law Æthelred  and daughter Ethelfleda  about the eventual reconquest of the Danelaw, attending divine office almost every day as he had for years, until he passed away on 26 October 899 A.D.

Alfred remains unique in the history of England and in some ways, perhaps the world.  A man who saved his country from invasion multiple times, instituted defensive measures and redesigned an army, legislated a law code, and not only encouraged learning but translated books from one language to another after learning that language late in life - any one of these would be worthy of admiration; the fact that he did all of them - and before he was 50 - is truly astounding.

Of all the Kings and Queens of England, he certainly is worth to be called "The Great".


Keynes, Simon and Lapidge, Michael:  Alfred The Great:  Asser's life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources.  Penguin:  Great Britain, 1983.

Brooke, Christopher:  From Alfred to Henry III 871-1272.  Norton Library:  USA,  1961.

Trevelyan, G.M.:  History of England Volume 1:  From the Earliest Times to the Reformation.  Anchor Books:  USA, 1953

Hollister, C. Warren:  The Making of England 55 B.C. to 1399.  D.C. Heath and Company:  United States,  1976.

Nicolle, David:  Arthur And The Anglo-Saxon Wars.  Osprey Publishing:  Hong Kong, 1984

Heath, Ian:  The Vikings.  Osprey Publishing:  Hong Kong, 1985

Harrison, Mark:  Viking Hersir 793 - 1066 AD.  Osprey Publishing:  Hong Kong, 1993.

Wikipedia:  DanelawAlfred The Great

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Events That Do Not Matter And Events That Do

 One of the things that is coming to fore as I an working through the small introduction to Anglo-Saxon history which has turned into its own research project is the inability of individuals to properly assess the actual impact of current events in their time.

Time and time again in my reading, events (mostly battles in this case) occur and are considered to be of major importance. In some cases they are:  the battle of Mons Badonicus (circa 500 A.D.) bought the Romano-British the breathing space of a generation, but also concentrated the invading Angles, Saxons, and Jutes into a small area that became totally Germanized unlike most of the other barbarian invasions of Western Europe at the time, which flowed over and through the population, becoming a thin elite class which was subsumed into the existing population.

Or the battle of Brunanburh (we are not quite there yet) in 937 A.D., in which the King of The English engaged the Kings of Strathclyde, Scotland, and the Norse Kingdom of Ireland.  In the literature at the time, it was felt to be "The Deciding Battle of England" - yet a little over a hundred years later, the entire Anglo-Saxon kingdom and its ruling class were overthrown by Norman invaders.

One could argue that the Concert of Europe (1815) may not have fully played out until World War 1 (1914-1918), or World War I did not fully play out until World War II (1939-1945) or that any of the events that were current even five years ago have played out to their logical conclusions.  In my lifetime I have seen the end of the Cold War, but still live within the framework set up by it; the final implications of it may not be fully visible until well after my death.

There are events that really do change things, of course:  the defeat of the Vikings by Alfred the Great at the Battle of Ethandun (Edington) in 878 A.D. really did change the course of history (had Alfred lost, the likelihood any Anglo-Saxon kingdom would have survived would have been much smaller). The defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 really did change Western (and Eastern) Europe.  The Russian Revolution of 1917 really did change everything about the Russian state as did the Chinese Revolution in 1949.  Sometimes one can look an event and say very clearly, "This changes things".

We are awash in media and news these days: 24/7/365 updates, if one wants them.  And one can spend their time running through nothing but news cycle after news cycle, only to discover after the fact that the news cycle had absolutely no impact on things whereas some event that was not even on one's radar turns out to be a significant development.

It is a hard balance to hold, this looking forward and back and to the sides all at the same time while trying to keep one's own life on track and moving forward towards the plans one has set in place.  The only advice I can constantly remind myself of is that while events local, national, and international have the ability to impact my life, the only thing I can truly control is my own reactions, both emotional and practical actions.

If history teaches one anything, it is that the world has always been a troubled place.  And as to the impact of current events on the future, one can look to that paragon of wisdom, Yoda:  "Always in motion is the future.  Difficult to see."

We can see the immediate impact of events, but can only see their long term impacts as we live through our days, twenty-four hours at a time.  That, too, has not changed since before the time that history was recorded and "the future" became a thing.