Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Return Of The Prodigal Son: Introduction

It all started with a poster.

Henri Nouwen, Dutch Catholic priest and lecturer at Ivy League universities, was sitting in an office with a colleague having a discussion in 1983.  His attention focused on a poster pinned on the door - he confesses he could not take his eyes off it.  He asked his colleague what the painting was.  "The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt" they replied.  


 Nouwen described his heart as "leaping" when he saw the painting - he had just come off an exhausting lecture tour and was deeply looking into his own life and future directions.  The painting spoke to him in ways that he did not fully comprehend:  "I could not take my eyes away.  I felt drawn by fhe intimacy between the two figures, the warm red of the man's cloak, the golden yellow of the boy's tunic, and the mysterious light engulfing them both.  But, most of all, it was the hands - the old man's hands - as they touched the boy's shoulders that reached me in a place I had never been reached before."

As luck would have it, two friends were traveling to the then-Soviet Union at that time which would include a trip to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in which the Hermitage Museum was located, where the original painting was - would be interested in going? Of course, Nouwen said, and so soon after he found himself with an unexpected once in a lifetime opportunity to view the painting (and it is huge:  8’ x 6')- not just as a tourist walking through, but behind the velvet rope in a chair, where he could sit and look at the painting for hours and see how perspective changed with the daylight:

"The painting was exposed in the most favorable way, on a wall that received plenty of natural light through a large window at an eighty-degree angle.  Sitting there, I realized that the light became fuller and more intense as the afternoon progressed.  At four o'clock the sun covered the painting with a new brightness, and the background figures - which had remained quite vague in the early hours - seemed to step out of their dark corners.  As the evening drew near, the sunlight grew more crisp and tingling.  The embrace of the father and son became stronger and deeper, and the bystanders participated more directly in this mysterious event of reconciliation., forgiveness, and inner healing.  Gradually I realized that there were as many paintings of the Prodigal Son as there were changes in the light, and, for a long time, I was held spellbound by this gracious dance of nature and art."

Returning from this trip and having decided that he would spend the rest of his life at L'Arche, a community for the developmentally disabled in Toronto, Canada, Nouwen bought a copy of the painting and hung it up.  It became something he looked at and thought about often as he began a process of re-examining his life and calling, and became something that he spoke of often: "The more I spoke of the Prodigal Son, the more I came to see it as, somehow, my personal painting, the painting that contained not only the heart of the story that God wants to tell me, but also the heart of the story that I want to tell to God and God's people.  All of the Gospel is there.  All of my life is there.  All of the lives of my friends are there. The painting has become a mysterious window through which I can step into the Kingdom of God".

As Nouwen continued to think, pray, meditate, and write on the painting he started out where most of us do, of course, seeing himself as the younger son who, after a life of dissolute living, returns to the father for forgiveness and healing.  But then a friend suggested to him one day "I wonder if you are not more like the elder son".  This opened up new vistas internally for him, as he looked at how he had been "a dutiful son" and had yet become hardened and resentful.  But after that revelation came a third , again presented by a friend: "Whether you are the younger son or the elder son, you have to realize that you are called to become the father."

In all my years of hearing sermons on this (and I have heard many), this was new perspective.

From Nouwen:

"Sue did not give me the change to protest: "You have been looking for friends all your life; you have been craving for affection for as long as I have known you; you have been interested in thousands of things; you have been begging for attention, appreciation, and affirmation left and right.  The time has come to claim your true vocation - to be a father who can welcome his children home without asking them any questions and without wanting anything from them in return.  Look at the father in your painting and you will know who you are called to be.  We, at Daybreak (the community he serves in Toronto), and most people around you don't need you to be a good friend or even a kind brother.  We need you to be a father who can claim for himself the authority of true compassion."

For Nouwen, a chance meeting with the print and a painting had become a window into not only the needs he knew and did not know for repentance, but a window into his true calling.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Hammerfall 2.0: Hard Stops And New Parachutes

 It is still too early to make an accurate assessment (perhaps) on my job search, although it does feel like a few trends are beginning to manifest themselves.  One is that my career in Project Management may have been a short one - yes, it is too early to formally gain an assessment in that, but those roles seem to be the ones I have most quickly heard refusals from (or nothing at all).  As the bulk of my applications to date have been for this sort of role, the apparent lack of silence is interesting.  Or as a friend noted, Project Manager is a pretty generic title and likely a lot of people are out there.  


This week the thought struck me as I was in a dead zone of "looking for positions but nothing coming up" that in a relatively short period of time (really July as due to sundry reasons we are out a great deal of June), my days are going to look completely different.  Yes, I will in some fashion be filling them with part time work, but that still leaves a lot of day.

And so the though occurred to me:  what I did something radically different?  What if I changed my life?

Realistically, continuing to look for a job will consume a very small portion of my day.  So what if, instead of doubling down on skills (real or imagined) for this career, I looked to fill them with other things?

What would that look like?  I am not really sure as of this writing.  Some readily at hand things that come to mind:  a deep reorganization of the items I own (long overdue), more Iai practice, areas of study I have not not had the time to engage in as I might like, writing (of course)...the list is not infinite, but there are a lot of possibilities (that frankly, given what I have here in terms of resources, would cost me nothing but time).

The meaningful question to me is "Why am I not considering this more actively?"

It is funny how normalcy bias is viewed when seen in others versus seen in ourselves.  In others, it becomes clearly visible; in ourselves, perhaps we often engage in it without even trying.

The end of May is looming large in a great many ways:  end of job, end of employer related health coverage (that search is on), end of a known income amount, end of gym membership (cut due to costs; I have a smaller facility that is much cheaper but without near the equipment). 

But literally right after that in June, we have an overseas vacation coming (which was already paid for and thus, non-refundable) that I am very much looking forward to as well as the first opportunity to train with the head of my sword school in three years.

It is as if a hard - very hard - and bright line is being drawn.

I have, for the last 27 years, either been in or instinctively returned to my industry as it was known and safe.  But I wonder:  what if this perhaps not just another break in the history, but rather the end of it?  That rather than lingering in something I should move on from, God has graciously taken the liberty of  helping me exit the plane at 10,000 feet?

Intellectually I understand the concept.  Emotionally, I find myself shying away from it intensely and reaching for a parachute that is not there instead of looking to my Instructor for a different one.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Physical Time And Diet Change

 Today, in case you were keeping tabs, is Day 29 of the 60 day WARN notice.  The organization of my e-mails in to archives is complete and all but a handful of meetings canceled (of the ones I am attending, a few are required and some are for my personal interest).  My e-mail and "chat" traffic has dwindled to a trickle, mostly items I am cc'ed on.  It is odd how both the time has passed quickly and dragged.


This week, as part of my "Get the medical appointments in before insurance changes", I had a physical.  Physically I seem fine and my usual two concerns - blood sugar and blood pressure - seem relatively well in hand. What was a surprise, perhaps more accurately a shock, was my lipid panel.  My triglycerides, which have always been high (apparently), were at 292 milligrams per decaliter (mg/dL) where the normal range if 50 to 150 mg/dL.  My HDL was 33 mg/dL (range > 40 mg/dL) and my LDL was 117 mg/dL (range < 100 mg/dL); the ratio between the two was 6.34 (normal 0.00 to 4.44).  Cholesterol was a mere 8 mgs about the top of the rang (208 mg/dL; normal 140-200 mg/dL).

Kindly enough in his notes, the doctor did not ask "Are you still alive?".  He did, however, suggest a change in diet to more of a "Mediterranean Diet" and come retest in four months:

- Plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and healthy protein sources (low-fat dairy, low fat poultry *(skinless), fish/seafood, and nuts)
- Use non-tropical vegetable oils (e.g. olive oil)
- Limit sweets and avoid added sugars, sugar-sweetened beverages in particular
- Avoid fried food and limit red meat consumption
- Avoid processed foods

Also (apparently), losing some weight can significantly impact these numbers.  Which is fine; while I have some level of increase due to weight training, there is still some of level of fat that could helpfully  make itself absent.

I had thought my diet was not all that bad and I was following some of these areas, but apparently it is time for a pretty significant change.  On the bright side, it does sound like this can be resolved without medication if I put my mind to it (and I suspect that it would further improved blood sugar and blood sugar).

Finally, my prostate is apparently okay as well.  So I have that going for me.

Public Service Reminder I: If you have not gotten a physical recently, go get one.  Helpful to know and, frankly, with the ongoing disruption in drug supplies (yes, there are still shortages) and the ever-increasing cost of health care, a lot of our health is going to be up to us (more so now than ever).

Public Service Reminder II:  Tetanus Shot.  If you have not had your booster and it has been 10 years, go get it.  Because you never know.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

The Collapse C: De Ira

15 May 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

I was chatting away with Young Xerxes as I was laying out the garden on the ground today. I found him a little angry today as I spoke with him. This is atypical of our discussions, so I probed a bit further.

I am fond of the boy Lucilius, fond of him and thus of Statiera more than I had anticipated finding myself. It has been such a long time since I have had younger family around that I had almost forgotten what interacting with them was like. Probably a hazard of old bachelors and old widowers I suspect: we become so used to being alone as the younger generation lives their lives. Part of it is natural: for better or worse, we want to leave them to themselves to live their own lives out untrammeled by our mistakes. Perhaps unfortunately in our haste to leave them on their own, we occasionally forget we have wisdom to bring to bear as well.

He was unwilling to precisely identify the source of his anger – at least to me – and I have learned through a lifetime of listening and giving advice that probing the source of the anger can sometimes shut down all avenues of conversation entirely. I ascertained it was not at Statiera (and by extension, not at Pompeia Paulina) and not at his own living situation (which, to be fair, he has been surprisingly vague about in our acquaintance). It was just...something. Something about life, and perhaps the way that it has turned out.

The anger of young men. Something you and I may be more familiar with than we care to admit.

In response – after the stream of words had dwindled to a trickle – I hesitantly suggested a different view, based on my own namesake, Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

You will recall (Will you recall? I tended to just spit these things out randomly in conversations; I have no idea what stuck) that the original Seneca wrote a three part essay on anger. It figured largely into the Stoic frame of thinking which is itself interesting to me: I suppose dwelling in a time of mass democracy where the crowd could just as easily turn against you or being subject to the rule of dictators and tyrants can do that to a person.

Seneca starts by comparing the fact that wild beasts can exhibit rage, but only man has been granted wisdom, foresight, diligence and reflection (so why not use them, of course). He addresses the fact that anger can inspire things like bravery or courage, but that it can just as easily go awry and like any weapon, becomes indiscriminate in harming all around us, friends and foe alike: “Again, anger embodies nothing useful, nor does it kindle the mind to warlike deeds; for virtue, being self-sufficient, never needs the help of vice”. Standing against wrong: “And so the man who does wrong ought to be set right both by admonition and force, by measures gentle and harsh, and we should try to make him a better man for his own sake as well as for the sake of others, stinting, not our reproof, but our anger.”

“Anger”, he says, “has this great fault – it refuses to be ruled. It is enraged against truth itself if this is shown to be contrary to its desire” and “Anger aims at nothing splendid or beautiful”. The result: “But sorrow is the companion of anger, and all anger comes round to this as the result of either remorse or defeat”.

Seneca has an accurate view of human society, one that is frighteningly accurate to the way things were:

“But why recount all the different types? Whenever you see the forum with its thronging multitude, and the polling-places filled with all the gathered concourse, and the great Circus where the largest part of the populace displays itself, you may be sure that just as many vices are gathered there as there are men. Among those whom you see in civilian garb there is no peace; for a slight reward any one of them can be led to compass the destruction of another; no one makes gain save by another’s loss; the prosperous they hate, the unprosperous they despise; superiors they loathe, and to inferiors are loathsome; they are goaded on by opposite desires; the desire for the sake of some little pleasure or plunder to see the whole world lost. They live as though they were in a gladiatorial school – those with whom they eat, they likewise fight. It is a community of wild beasts, only that beasts are gentle toward each other and refrain from tearing their own kind, while men glut themselves with rending one another. They differ from dumb the dumb animals in this alone – that animals grow gentle towards those who feed them, while men in their madness prey upon the very persons by whom they are nurtured.”

To be fair, I had to dig out my Seneca to read this section; Young Xerxes just sat in silence.

The cure, suggests Seneca? To not be angry by realizing the state of man: “The wise man will not have anger towards sinners. Do you ask why? Because he knows that no one is born wise but becomes so, knows that only the fewest of every age turn out wise, because he has fully grasped the conditions of human life, and no sensible man becomes angry with nature”. Anger, he suggests, comes from an impression of injury – remove the impression of injury and we remove the source of anger, not only of great events, but of “trifling and paltry incidents” (and who among us was not angry at the order that was missing pickles on our hamburger or the coffee that was incorrect at one time?). And often our anger comes not from things we expect, but from things we failed to anticipate – so accept everything and nothing becomes unexpected.

How? Refrain from anger, delay the onset of reacting to our anger, ignore or at least feign ignorance to those acts which could make us angry. Avoid people that make you angry, if you are able – “It will, therefore, be a man’s duty to avoid all those who he knows will provoke his anger”. Fight back with the unexpected reaction: “Does a man get angry? Do you on the contrary challenge him with kindness”.

Seneca closes out his third book on the subject – written largely of historical examples – with the following:

“Let us be freed from this evil, let us clear it from our minds and tear it up by the roots, for if there should linger the smallest traces, it will grow again; and let us not try to regulate our anger, but be rid of it altogether – for what regulation can there be of any evil thing? Moreover, we can do it, if only we shall make the effort”.

Young Xerxes listened to me ramble on, mostly in silence – the sort of response that philosophers and old men are used to at some point, the response of an audience which is either confused, uncaring, or processing the information. It becomes hard to parse at some point. We talked a bit more in general about Seneca and his life, and then he headed off to his next destination. He may have looked thoughtful, although I have learned to assume nothing.

I carried on with my garden planning on the soil and on paper until the afternoon, when Pompeia Paulina appeared with a thermos of tea and – of all things – shortbread cookies, the sort you cannot get anymore. She insisted I take a break, and who would argue with such cookies and company available?

This was, apparently, her way of saying thank you. Whatever the issue was, he had left my house and gone to theirs, where he and Statiera had a long conversation (of apparently unknown subject matter); when they returned, she commented that he seemed at peace in a way she had not seen in some time. He mentioned that he and I had talked about anger.

I have no idea what the initial nature of the issue was and I suppose at this point it remains unknown and perhaps unknowable, except by a random chance. What does matter – what hopefully will matter – is that the next time Young Xerxes is confronted by anger, he has a tool kit to deal with it.

So much wisdom in the ancients, Lucilius. How much we have forgotten to our detriment.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Old English, A Historical Background: Harald Harefoot and Hardecanute

After the death of King Canute in 1035, Anglo Saxon history falls into a bit of an odd tranche.  The North Sea Empire was really the creation of a single man who was in some ways unique:  a strong personality, no imminent rivals, and the ability to manage multiple groups to his benefit (so for example, Canute's ending of the Viking raids).  Had Canute lived longer, or perhaps had a single strong heir, things might have been different.

To be fair, the collapse had already started prior to his death.  His designated heir in Norway, Swein was first forced to leave the-then capital in 1033 and Norway itself in 1035 and Magnus Olafsson (Magnus the Good) returned. Swein died shortly after his return.

His heir in Denmark, Hardecanute (or Harthacnut), was forced to remain in Denmark for three years in fear of a potential invasion by the now-restored Magnus.  The Anglo-Saxon council, the witan, decided that a regent in place of King Hardecanute was in order and so Harald Harefoot was named as regent.  But the decision was not totally supported, and so Harald became King with the support of Earl Leofric of the Northern half of England North of the Thames; Earl Godwin held the south in the name of Hardecanute supporting the claims of Emma of Normandy, Canute's second wife and mother of Edward and Alfred from her previous marriage to Anglo-Saxon King Æthelred. in 1037 A.D., Godwin was forced to concde and Harald crowned as king.

It was also during this time that Alfred and Edward returned from their exile in Normandy. It is unclear if the return was a visit to their mother or an attempted uprising; in either case it was not successful, and perhaps showed that the ascendancy of the Anglo-Danish nobility was fully in support of the house of Canute and against the house of Wessex.   Alfred was captured by Earl Godwin and given to supporters of King Harald, who transported him to the city of Ely. During this transfer, Alfred was blinded and then died soon thereafter. This death created a rift between Edward and Godwine, a rift that would continue to blossom in the years ahead.   

Hardecanute had not taken this lying down and was apparently preparing an invasion until hearing from his mother, Emma, that his half-brother was in ill health in 1039 A.D.  In 1040 A.D. Harald Harefoot died and Hardecanute became King of Anglo-Saxon England.

Hardecanute arrived as a potential invader in 1040 A.D. (taking no chances although he expected to become king); the crews had to be bought off (again) with a Danegeld of 21,000 lbs of silver and gold. Apparently as one of his first acts (and horrified, at least publicly, at the death of Alfred), he put Harald on trial, exhumed his body, and then had it beheaded.  Queen Emma also demanded that Godwine be brought to trial:  arguing he was forced to follow orders of Harald, he escaped punishment (along, as it turns out, with a healthy bribe to the King in the form of a ship).

Hardecanute, upon his arrival, attempted to rule as he had in Denmark:  autocratically. This did not work well with the evolved Anglo-Saxon way of kingship, where the king consulted the witan and the great nobles of the realm.  He was equally unpopular by the fact that he increased taxes to support a fleet to protect other parts of his realm, including destroying the town of Worcester after townsfolks killed two of his tax collectors. 

Apparently he, too, could see his death coming, and so in 1041 A.D., perhaps under the influence of his mother Emma, invited his exiled half brother Edward back, most likely as his heir.  

In an interesting side note, Hardecanute's death was somewhat spectacular.  In 1042 A.D., while at the wedding of his standard bearer, the King "Consumed great amounts of alcohol" and, as drinking to health of the bride, "died as he stood at his drink, and suddenly fell to the earth with an awful convulsion; and those close by took hold of him, and he spoke no word afterwards".  Likely, it seems, a stroke.

The House Of Wessex had returned.

(Link to previous works)

Works cited:

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.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Hammerfall 2.0: What Is Old Is New

 One of the interesting things that has happened now more than once in my nascent job hunt is the question "Have you considered going a Quality position?"

I do not suppose I should be surprised by this question - after all, if I were to view my curriculum vitae with a unjaundiced eye, I would clearly fixate on the almost 20 years of experience in Quality and much lesser times in other areas and think that this would be a logical step - after all, it is not like anyone is looking at that year I did 30 years about as an adjunct faculty member and thinking "Have you ever reconsidered a career in teaching because once upon a time, you did it?"

Initially of course, the question felt a bit out of place.  I have not been applying for Quality positions.  It is not something I have indicated in any of the conversations that I have had.  And yet, I suspect if I just opened myself up to apply for such positions, I would likely see an increase in the amount of contacts.

To be fair, a job is a job, in this economy more than ever (and more importantly, benefits are benefits).  So how much of this is my own pride?

After all, I am cognizant of the fact that while in my mind there is only forward progress in careers, in point of fact there is no such thing in the real world.  If I am truly honest with myself, I have been "back" to the same sort of job multiple times (sometimes even after I thought I had left it completely).   And I am also sure with individuals that have many years of experience in Project Management, my paltry few years almost seem like an experiment in career placement - and let us not kid ourselves that someone over 50 starting a new field can seem an awful lot like an experiment instead of a guaranteed success.

The one issue - it has come up already - is explaining the change.

This is the gap, the chink in my armor. If I only use the language in the review that precipitated the change, it looks a lot like "I am not at all good for the job".  That, as you might suspect, is probably not the best way for me to start out an interview.  At the same time, one has to be in some ways honest about something, lest the inconsistency become a red flag during the follow on interviews and references.

I have tried to split the difference, by acknowledging the change in positions (true) but also noting it was due to a philosophy change (also true).  I am not sure how well that will hold up, but it seems the most logical course:  it has the benefit of honesty, it is consistent with the career narrative, and would explain why a Quality position might again be a path forward (in this case, with the polishing of a Project Management course of work).

I am working to manage my own emotions in this - after all, it does indeed seem like in some manner a retrograde step, or a settling.  I keep trying to remind myself that this is not my ultimate end; it is something I will hopefully do until I find the next step (this, I need to be a great deal more active about).

Follow Up:  The initiation of this post were two potential phone screens.  For one I have the job description, the other was suddenly canceled at literally the last minute.  So perhaps this path is no better.

Monday, April 24, 2023

April Streams

The rains of Winter
run between the grass-green hills
proclaiming Springtime.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

2023 Hike 1 Day 3

 Our night this night was pretty awful:  There was no good level campsites left and so we all slept (more or less) on a hillside, slowly migrating down and then up all night.  The day was cold and brisk and all of our tents were soaked with condensate.  Fortunately as this was our last day, we elected to pack the tents wet and head out.

There was much less "off roading" this day, and once we hit the main trails we more or less stayed with them.

The angle of coming upon this tree made it look very much like an Ent.  This would be terrifying late at night, I suspect.

The latter part of the hike (10 miles total) had us traversing the hills and then a steep downhill. It made for beautiful views.

Our return trip was celebrated - as it almost always is now - by burgers and shakes upon our return. Other than being pretty stiff (and my soles hurting a great deal, but I think that was due to wet shoes), I would consider this a successful first outing.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

2023 Hike 1 Day 2

 Our night was not a very restful one - we all did not sleep well and even if we could have, the frogs and owls were up all night.  I must have slept, although I cannot remember doing so.

Our hike today was a long one - 19.85 miles by the time all was said and done.  The Outdoorsman took us on some "off the beaten path trails" - a different thing for me, but in a very real way, a sense of true hiking as well.

This log had been burned in some fire previously.  The color and texture of the wood fascinated me.

If you expand the picture, you will find that there are newts in the stream.  I have never seen so many before.  Of note, there is no word to describe a group of newts, although the term "knot" is used, as in "a knot of toads".

For those that may remember, this was the lake we camped at last year.  This year, it was our lunch site.  The Brit jumped in for a brisk cool-off.  I, not enamored of lake water, chose to observe.

By the time we made our campsite for the night, we were all tired.  Dinner was dehydrated meals - mine was Thai Curry - in a bag, with small sampler bottles of "guess the whiskey" to top off our long day.

Friday, April 21, 2023

2023 Hike 1 Day 1

 The kickoff hike for 2023 involved return to the site of last years kickoff hike, with the differences being 1) A month earlier; and 2) Entering at the more southerly entrance.  Another difference this year was that there were three of us, not two:  myself, The Outdoorsman, and the Outdoorsman's soon to be son-in-law, who for various reasons we will refer to as The Brit.

Leaving the parking lot, the hike pretty quickly started an ascent, which would come to be the theme of the day.

This is an example of one of the many oak trees we passed.  

Continuing to climb, one begins to get some amazing vista views.

Thanks to be a month earlier (and a great deal of rain), the wildflowers were much more prevalent than last year, and everything was quite green.

At some point the path dumps off into a series of roads that run along the ridges that make up this park.  Long views everywhere one turns.

This particular rock outcropping (and its accompanying wildflowers) was completely different from all the soil around it.  No idea why it was so different.

Looking back towards the declining sun.

Our home for the evening. We got there early enough to get the pick of the campsites and set up camp along the dam portion of the lake.  Dinner was a sort of Frito-chili pie:  minute rice, dehydrated refried beans, cheese slices, and Fritos.  Just the thing after a good 8 mile hike.

As the sun went down, the air filled with the sound of coots, frogs, and owls.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

The Collapse LXXXXVIIII: Far And Away

 12 May 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

We are apparently inching closer to planting season, or so I am reliably informed: this coming weekend, I am told, will the time for planting. Pompeia Paulina has generously offered to help my plant my garden for the year (as I have offered to help her plant hers, although I suspect with Statiera and Young Xerxes present, my contribution will largely be that of digging holes and perhaps supervising just a bit).

My broody quail, as you may recall, has in fact gone broody. She has ensconced herself at the far corner of the greenhouse; to help, I have tried to create some form of isolation pen to keep at least myself from the back end of the greenhouse in the vain hope that I will not disturb her more (let alone her fellow quail, who can be merciless at times). Whether or not she is actually brooding remains to be seen; two weeks time should tell the tale.

From what Young Xerxes relates in his travels hither and yon, Market Day was considered a great success by everyone concerned. Which is a wonderful thing, honestly. We have had so little of good news of late, that it is nice to be able to celebrate a solid win.

Or news of any kind, really. That struck me odd this morning as I was making my way around the Cabin, preparing breakfast for myself. Which is a remarkable thing as I consider it: we went from 24 hours a day news, available in any form and fashion (and language) one could desire, to a time when weeks can seem to pass without a significant update. That updates out there are occurring, I have no doubt: it is not as if the world completely halted when things halted, and I am certain even now that national governments (somewhere) struggle to reassert themselves.

Over what, I wonder.

Over the economic rubble of what their countries have become? Undoubtedly were the local representatives of the Former? Current? Federal government to appear, their initial contact would likely be the following:

1) We are in charge.

2) Taxes are due.

I gave myself a good chuckle over this thought. What would the government truly have to offer in such a situation? Food? Perhaps, but to date, no-one has starved around here that I am aware of. Security? Again to date, we have managed our own security fair well. Power, include communications? That would be nice of course, but to communicate with whom, and about what? Money? What would that mean in the world of today? The few dollars I have remaining have no more value than other paper that I have – less, in fact: I can use that other paper for writing on. Dollars, I can really just use for burning or as something to give to someone else that literally has no value.

Perhaps we benefit more than we know by no news, Lucilius. This way, at least, we are not troubled by thought of those far away who have nothing to offer us but words and exercises of customary obedience

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Old English, A Historical Background: King Canute And The North Sea Empire

Canute (Cnut in Old Norse or Canute Cyning in Anglo Saxon), was the sort of man that - like Alfred the Great - comes along once in in a generation. Medieval historian Norman Cantor has referred to him as "the most effective king in Anglo-Saxon England" - ironic in that he himself was not Anglo-Saxon at all.

Canute inherited inherited Anglo-Saxon England from his father upon the his death in 1014 A.D.; driven out  supporters of King Æthelred, he returned in 1015 A.D. and upon the death of Æthelred, continued the struggle with Æthelred's son Edward Ironsides, supported by his older brother King Harald of Demark and variety of troops including Danes, Poles, Swedes, and Norwegians.  Likely this army was composed largely of mercenaries - not coming to settle, but to conquer and get well paid for it.

The campaign climaxed in the Battle of Assandun in 18 October 1016 A.D., where the Anglo-Saxons were defeated when a key leader left the Anglo-Saxon side at a critical moment, causing defeat.  Canute, still apparently respecting Edmund's battle prowess (or perhaps still concerned about his position) signed a treaty with Edmund separating England between them, Canute hold all land north of the Thames, Edmund the land south of it.  Could there have been another period like that of Alfred the Great, where Wessex would again reconquer all of England?  We will never know, because a month later Edmund died.  Canute became the sole ruler of England and was crowned as such in 1017 A.D.

To tighten his control, Canute executed or drove off any remaining members of the house of Wessex and married Emma of Normandy, the widow of Æthelred.  In 1018 he gathered the colossal sum of 82,500 pounds of gold and silver as a Danegeld to pay off most of his fleet and send them home, leaving himself a small (40 ship fleet) - with this, the Viking threat to England was almost completed abated and the country in a position to enjoy peace and prosperity as it had not since the earliest days of Æthelred.  He also reorganized the administrative rule of England:  Ealdormen were replaced by Earl (Anglo-Saxon earl) and the territories made larger:

(Earldoms of England circa 1025.  Source)

In 1018 A.D. Canute's brother King Harald of Denmark died and Canute returned to Denmark in 1019 A.D. to claim his throne.  He took with him some of his Anglo-Saxon subjects: one, an earl named Godwine, earned the king's favor by leading an attack on the Wends.  Godwine we will also see again, as will we see his son, Harold, the future king.

His kingdom secured in 1020 A.D., Canute returned to England to rule, but spent time between the two states, overwintering in one or the other and leaving his representatives (the earls in England or the jarls in Denmark) to manage affairs.  In 1026 A.D. the then current kings of Norway and Sweden, Olaf Haraldsson and Anund Jakob, launched attacks against Denmark.  Canute responded and in 1027 defeated both at the Battle of the Helgea. Canute was now the pre-eminent king in the Norse world.

(Lands ruled by Canute the Great - Source)

In 1027 A.D., Canute was invited to attend the accession of the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad the II in Rome.  This was a triumphal trip for Canute as he was now recognized among the greatest kings of Europe.  He met with the pope and negotiated down the cost of a bishopric, complained about the tolls levied of pilgrims, and hit it off with the Emperor - so much so, that the Emperor granted him a strip of land that for years had been contested between the two powers. 

In 1028 A.D., fresh off his success at Rome, Canute invaded Norway, causing the then current king Olaf Haraldsson to flee . Crowned the same year, he now claimed himself as King of England, Denmark, Norway, and part of Sweden.  Unfortunately for Canute his conquest of Norway was not as successful as his conquest of England: plagued by the unexpected death of the jarl designated to managed the kingdom in his absence, his attempts to rule through his wife and older son did not yield the same results as England.  

(North Sea Empire.  Red are lands ruled by Canute, Orange are vassal sates, Yellow are Allied states.  Source)

Canute struggled in his relationship with the Church:  A baptized Christian and supporter of the church (He built a church at the site of his victory at Assandun), he also killed a rather large number of people (including, by indirect command, his brother-in-law).  His marriage to Emma of Normandy was his second marriage; he never divorced his first wife Ælfgifu but rather kept her on an estate in England (until he sent her and his son to Norway).  

Canute - at least for Anglo-Saxon England - should be adjudged a good king.  He kept the peace and the Vikings away.  He supported the hundred courts and the laws and richly endowed the Church.  Under his rule, trade with the North Sea flourished.  He also gave rise to the class of warriors known as Housecarls, a warrior caste with their own courts and brotherhood and regulations who served the King and his successors as bodyguards.

Canute's death in 1035 (12 November) passed the North Sea Empire onto his sons (whom we will visit with next week).  As a preview, neither of them could keep the Empire together and by 1042 A.D. all the countries controlled by Canute had reverted to individual rulers.  The North Sea Empire was an ephemeral thing, the realm of a single individual through the force of his personality.

The historian in me wonders: what if?  Canute died at a relatively young age of 45; what if he had been able to make it to 50 as did Alfred the Great or even longer?  What if his designated lieutenant in Norway had not died in 1030 A.D. but had lived, even for those five years he was still alive?  Surely Norway could have been more directly and better managed (The Norwegian had actually killed Olaf Haraldsson when he tried to return in 1030 A.D.; the re-establishment of his dynasty under Magnus the Good in in 1037 A.D. may have been more of a reaction to Swein Canuteson's rule).  What if his dynasty had lasted more than 10 years and his daughter Cunigund had married the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II and become Empress instead of dying?  History might have been very different indeed and the locus of power would have shifted in ways I cannot even imagine.

(Old English Posting Page)

Works cited:

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.

Wikipedia:  Cnut, North Sea Empire

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Of The Prodigal Son and Toilet Tanks

 Post-hike days are an interesting miasma of impressions, built up from a collection of things that I was thinking of or read prior to leaving, three days on the trail, and the post day events which bring me back to reality like a meteor plunging to Earth.

This is complicated a bit this time by the fact that my "reality" is much different than it has been in past returns:  there are no work related issues to return (instead, things to actively be avoided).  So it leaves a great more time for other things to fill the space.

Two things have filled today's space:  Henri Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son and toilet tanks.

I have completed reading The Return of the Prodigal Son, and to commenter Bob's thoughts, it is every bit as powerful as he described.  That said, I want to give it its full due as a stand alone review.  What I will say - relevant to my thoughts now - is that Nouwen has a very thought provoking (dare I say confrontational, presented in so gentle manner) about taking our place in the world as Jesus to others - the reflection of God in the father of the Prodigal Son's story.  It was a thought that left me thinking of my own role in the world.

Which was, strangely enough, interrupted by cleaning toilet tanks.

I first noticed a small black spot behind the main bathroom at the my parents' house.  That was odd, I thought, and then opened the tank top.  A coated inky blackness greeted me.  Mold, apparently.

When it arrived, I do not know.  To be fair, I want to say I had only opened the toilet tanks - at least this one - last month.  None the less, I checked all of them - and they were all the same.  Which necessitated a trip to town to get bleach, lots of white vinegar, sponges, and a new toilet brush.

Labor was, of course, provided by yours truly.

As I sat there, moving from tank to tank scrubbing away, spraying, rinsing, spraying again, letting things soak, I had a fair amount of time to think, this time specifically about my presence here and the future.

This has been the third near miss we have had here in terms of the house.  The first, last November, was the small leak in the roof that created a damp spot in the ceiling that I fixed and repainted.  The second was the same leak, now manifested to much more of the ceiling and water on the floor - no real floor damage, but that was only a fluke of the fact that I came right after it had happened (at least I was able to get the roof leak that time).  The third time is now this issue with the toilets - and, by the way, the toilet in the master bathroom is now leaking when it is flushed on the floor, so that will need to be attended to.

Yes, I know that it can be controlled: drain the tanks when I leave, put something in for the residual water.  But it points to a larger issue:  in reality, someone really needs to be here full time.

To be completely fair, this house represents not just my own sentimentality:  it represents value in an estate which is not mine, an estate that needs to be managed on behalf of someone else (my mother) with some level of fiduciary responsibility - said a different way, the house should not be worth less just because someone is not here to keep a pulse on the state of the house.  In each of the cases above, had someone been here these problems would have been dealt with much more quickly.

Which is where The Return of The Prodigal Son comes back in.

Without stealing too much thunder from an actual book review, part of item that Nouwen deals with is the idea of accepting our role in being a conduit of God's love - by growing up and into such a role.  Society, politics, culture - all seek to pull us into a mode of dependence on others to make decisions for us.  We need to see life clearly, even as work to see life through God's eyes in being conduits of His unconditional love.

The question is if my inability to move here is creating a situation where the house and thus the estate is suffering.  Because that would represent me being selfish to the point of putting my own dreams or desires - not even needs - first.

No decisions have been made at all, but I am definitely re-examining where I am in the course of life. On the one hand, I would deeply like to be here.  On the other hand, my life is in a transition where - frankly - even being here one week a month may not be possible.  Is it right to impede the estate for that?  Or better to ensure that at some level the value is being preserved and perhaps even income being added to the estate?  My mother has insurance, but there is always the risk that it will not be paid past her need for it.

If that is the case, does it mean never?  Of course not.  One thing has become painfully clear to me: that when it is time to move back, there will be no question about it.  It could be next week.  It could be years from now.  Either way, does it matter?

I do not have answers of course, just new thoughts in search of a method to consider them.  But if I am being honest - truly honest - I am acting in a way that in one light, I have no right to:  I am making ownership decisions as if I had them, which I do not.   And my selfishness should never be the grounds for the destruction of anything.

Monday, April 17, 2023

2023 Kick Off Hike

 A short note only, friends:  this is literally the last thing I do before I crawl off to bed.

I survived the first hike of 2023:  3 days, 16 hours hiking, 38 miles total, elevation gain 12,000 some odd feet. Top distance day: Day 2, 19.85 miles.   Pack weight:  ~ 25 lbs.  I have a great many pictures to sort through (I feel this is all I do on hikes, almost to the exclusion of actually keep up with the hike).  Here are few to whet your appetite.