Monday, December 10, 2018

A new hymn



Yesterday I attended services at the congregation I frequent (I also do several services a year for them), and we had a couple discuss the "Life of a Peacemaker." It was an interesting message, although frankly not as deep or informational as I could have wished. Still, I can't fault it for what I expected it to be. 

But what I want to talk about is a song. The service's second hymn was John Lennon's "Imagine." The lyrics were printed out and passed around with our hymnals. I've discussed in the past my firm belief that, as churches and services grow and change, one of the likeliest changes will be the co-opting of seminal, probably secular songs into our hymnals to take the place of songs that either don't connect with our theology (we already see this with the dropping from many denominations of such aggressive, warlike songs as "Onward, Christian Soldiers") or that have greater resonance with our congregations (in my own UU faith, we see this in the inclusion of the song popularized by Cat Stevens, "Morning Has Broken"). I suspect "Imagine" could be the bridge between every faith by its inclusion as a hymn.

If this is the case, it'll be helped along by its simple tune and rhyme scheme, its ubiquity in mass culture, and the simple fact that, as I looked around, I noticed that nearly everyone my age was singing from beginning to end without looking at the lyrics. We have already taken it in as our own.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Making Judea Great Again

This is the text of a sermon I wrote and read this morning when I led worship for a friend who was on vacation. It is a different topic than I would normally write about, or is aimed differently, because she is minister of a Christian church and follows the lectionary. Today was Christ the King Sunday, so a reading from John 18:33-7 is my reference.






Making Judea Great Again
          A couple decades ago, when we were first married, my wife and I developed the habit of describing anything that was garishly colored—cerulean, aquamarine, taupe, copper, any neon hue—as a prom dress. As in, “That’s not a whatever, that’s a prom dress.”
          I was working at a group home for adults with emotional and developmental disabilities back then. One day, one of the residents had the day off from work and I took him shopping. When we parked in the mall parking lot, we were a couple yards from a small car that was colored a lurid lilac color. My passenger, who loved cars, pointed it out to me. “Look at that car!”
          Instinctively I said, “That’s not a car, that’s a prom dress.”
          He looked at me, he looked at the car, looked back at me, looked back at the car. Then he said, in exactly the same slow, deliberate cadence I’m sure had been used more than once on him, “That’s a car.”
          Words mean. They make solid the ephemeral world around us. They can hurt and they can heal. Before I became a full time preacher I was a full time writing teacher so you can perhaps imagine how important getting the right word or choosing the right interpretation of a word can be for me. When I taught technical writing, I had an exercise asking students to imagine I was a knight from the Middle Ages and they had to explain how a car worked to me.
          One of the most important elements of communication, whether written or oral, is to meet the audience where he or she is. To use the language that makes someone’s world real. This means using the terminology or words and phrases that the person you want to communicate with uses to make them mean roughly the same idea you want to get across. In my exercise, this meant using terms like “horse,” “spark,” and “chain,” and avoiding words like “gas”, “combustion”, “engine”, not necessarily because the words were unfamiliar but because their meanings had changed so dramatically from how someone a millennium ago would have understood them.
          The original speaker of what came to us as the Book of John may have used some word or phrase his audience had long since come to understand by virtue of its repetition. But a century later, the writer of John’s gospel, in trying to get across the newness of God’s community without bogging down his readers with questions about what exactly an unfamiliar word means, used words they had heard and understood all their lives. Hence, we get a God who is king, a Jesus who is Lord, and a place below them for the rest of us we comfortably understand.
          “Are you the king of the Jews?” “My kingdom is not from this world.” “So you are a king?” “You say that I am a king.” Why king? The John writer’s Jesus, who’s speaking Aramaic, a now nearly-extinct Semitic language related to Hebrew and Syriac, being supplanted by Arabic eventually in most places a few centuries into the Common Era, uses a word that seems, in nearly everything we understand about his theology, contrary to the freedom he otherwise espouses. If Jesus were to preach this message today, he would use a different terminology. We might get instead a God who is Chief Executive Officer, a Jesus who is our Supervisor. “Thy corporation come, thy will be done.”
To understand this, and why the John writer makes a lot about it, we need to read ahead. In seminary, I was taught two important rules in interpreting selections from the Bible: read the chapters before and after the selection and place yourself in the position of the original hearers of the selection.
          We know the books that comprise the Bible, like all ancient literature, were initially oral recitation for small audiences of believers meeting to hear the Word. These were eventually written down over the course of several hundred years. The oldest scrap of the Gospel of John has been dated to the Second Century Common Era, at least a hundred years after the death of anyone who would actually have laid eyes on the historical Jesus So to make sense of what is said, to hear it fully, we have to place ourselves in the minds of men and women who have heard scraps of the teachings of this peasant killed by an imperial force which was still very much in charge.  
It’s in chapter 19 we are given the ultimate rejection of Jesus by the people he came to Jerusalem to save. Having had Jesus whipped, Pilate presents him to the crowd gathered for Passover, saying “Here is your King!” But the crowd refuses to accept responsibility for Jesus, crying for his execution. Pilate, in John’s account, tries one last time, asking incredulously, “Shall I crucify your King?” Caiaphas and his cohorts answer him, “We have no king but Caesar.”
          The initial listeners of John’s gospel would have heard something very different. At the time of its telling, a common hymn sung during Passover contained the declaration, “We have no king but you [God].” Caiaphas and the high priests’ words make explicit their rejection not only of Jesus but of God. As followers of the Scriptures, intimately familiar with the story known to us as Exodus, the first century listeners would have heard something familiar and frightening.
Caesar is a Latin word, and in Greek is Kaiser, a word we still use. But there is no word for Caesar in Aramaic or in Hebrew, the languages the original hearers might have heard. They would have heard the word malik or king in close relation to Caesar, just as in Exodus they had heard the word Pharaoh. What they hear is a demand to return to the slavery their ancestors had escaped. 
It would be a return to, well, better the devil you know. God may have brought them out of slavery, but the people are electing to return, metaphorically, to Egypt. Knowing full well how badly most of them had it during that period, they wanted to return to that semblance of comfort. Making Judea Great Again, as it were.  
A jaded, servile Pilate famously mocks what Jesus said, that his purpose is to testify to the truth of the new community God will bring about. “What is truth?” Truth is just as malleable today as it was when Pilate said this. We live in an age of “fake news,” of “alternative facts.” We watch a video of a fight and we’re certain we understand who started it and who ended it. But then someone points out that it’s filmed from a perspective ignoring this guy over here, or that the video starts just after the first punch is thrown so we don’t hear what the other guy said. Or it’s been cropped, or speeded up or slowed down, or that the person recording is friends with one of the combatants and shows him in a better light.
Or we listen to a speech and we hear, quite clearly, the speaker make a racist comment. We are certain of what we’ve heard. But when the Pilates who work for Caesar go on TV or the Internet, saying, “That’s not what he said, or it’s not what he meant, or he was clearly joking. You are the real racist for having thought you heard him say something racist,” what are we to believe? When we’re told our eyes or our ears or our intellect is suspect, that our news sources and our schools and history books, the organizations whose intent are to collect what was said and done and tell others, are purveyors of “fake news”, then we have to admit Pilate’s mockery is justified. If Jesus’ intent is to testify to the truth, and the truth is subject to alternative facts, where does the truth lie? Does the truth lie? Scholars have discovered a Gospel of Judas. Will we someday unearth a Gospel of Pilate? 
This is a problem inherent to continuing to use, thousands of years after the event, words that were at the time an approximation of what the writer meant. Pharaohs built monuments to themselves, Caesars named conquered cities and nations after themselves, kings and princes kill people on a whim and declare themselves innocent. They aggrandize themselves, not God.
What’s needed is a different way of looking at the words we bring the world around us to life. Instead of the kingdom of God, perhaps what is to come is the community of beloveds, a phrase popularized by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. The beloved community, however, I tell you already exists. Like the John Gospel’s kingdom of god, it is not a place but an agreement between people to care for one another, to help one another, feed one another, keep one another warm and safe. The beloved community is one of radical inclusivity, where someone looks out not for himself but for everyone, knowing that in their humanity they are all him. “My kingdom is of another place,” Jesus says, locating it not in the world of then or now but to come. It requires a lot of work, and 2 millennia after Jesus, we have barely begun.
But examples of the work of the beloved community are all around us. Last month Milwaukee bus driver Natalie Barnes was on her regular route when a stranger came up to her, told her his house had been condemned, and that he was homeless and asked if he could ride the bus all night to stay warm. She did so, and when she stopped for dinner, she bought him some hot food too. When her shift was over, she bought him clothes and supplies, then dropped him off at a homeless shelter where a friend works.
Will there be a happy ending? Well, I hope so. Barnes says she speaks to him every couple days to let him know someone cares. He was a stranger in need asking for a kindness and rewarded with more than he could have hope for. As that prolific speaker, Anonymous, has it, if you have been blessed by God, build a longer table, not a taller fence.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Slow, steady, resiliant

Yes, this is a photo of part of the group
There are a number of solid progressive advances made in the midterm elections--and for those without a historical memory, I'll tell you of the steady incremental election strategy of the Moral Majority, whose elevation of populist Xian "values," most of which are about exclusion rather than inclusion, and its tremendous continuing success under other names and leadership--that most of us may be unaware of or that are buried in the back pages of local outlets. But it is those small, solid, progressive victories that we must build on if we want to make lasting change at any level.

Last evening I joined a number of like-minded progressives on a street corner in downtown Sheboygan in the cold and early darkness. I was surprised by two things. One was the number of people who had shown up. When I had signed on as a participant the night before, there had been about 8 others in solidarity. As I drove there, I vowed that if I was the only one to show, I would at least stand at the corner myself (I was thinking specifically of this example). But between 40 and 50 people, ranging in age from late teens to early 90s, appeared, some with signs, some with kids, one with her dog. We made noise and we were a presence.

And it was the reaction to this presence that supplied me with my second surprise. Unlike most protest marches or rallies where I've walked or stood, the response from people passing, both walking and driving or cycling, was overwhelmingly positive. Horns honking, hands waving out of windows, shouts of encouragement and support, a few walkers and cyclists who chose to stop and stand with us, swelling us beyond the 50+ mark. Negative responses? One or two shouts of "Go home!" delivered from cars that had already passed us.

My takeaway? We are on the right side of both history and a majority of the American people. At least that sample passing through a main thoroughfare of Sheboygan at ~6PM on a Thursday.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Some don't need to ask

I was having lunch at New Paltz's Gay 90s Bistro with a friend who lived in the same community house I had. After, we noticed a mutual friend was working the grill in the kitchen and he called her out. She stood behind the counter and he said, "Give us a hug."

She leaned across and, dutifully, did so. Then she leaned over and pulled me into one of her own. I said,"Oh, I get one too?" She said, "Of course you do. And you, you don't need to ask."

Decades later that's something that sticks with me. That there are people who need to demand hugs and those of us who get them without asking. Donald Trump, we know from his own admissions, is one of the former. Barack Obama, as we have seen for a decade, is the latter.

Friday, October 12, 2018

We can't just mark a ballot

Before becoming a minister, my field was literature.  The most important lesson in criticism is not to criticize a work for what it's not. I published a recent sermon a few days ago which garnered many responses on one of the FaceBook pages I link to, most of them negative. My sermon was not intended to be a call to the barricades. I would love to storm the Bastille, but tell me where it is in 22nd century America. Is it in the school board? The town hall? The state capitol? Congress? The White House? It's a genius of democracy that power is diffuse, and to use it we need to know who to address. I know my congregation audience. One response I especially appreciated was a friend coming forward to say she, who had never been to a public protest in her life, would attend the next one with me. That's the best I could want.

I'm uninterested in responding to the criticism. Again, from literature, the work stands or falls on its own. But it did leave me wanting to make a stronger statement about the responsibility we have as people of faith to call it as we see it. This administration is actively involved in crafting and doing evil to the people least able to defend themselves among us: immigrants, children, the undocumented, non-Christians, women, people who work with their hands, gays and lesbians, members of the trans~ community, the poor who rely on government services and the poor who work for minimum wage and less, the homeless, the mentally ill, native Americans, the sick and the dying. In short, the members of the Beloved Community who most need community.

We're reaching a vote soon that can do some real good, that can put into place the actors we're counting on to move the country back in the direction of helping, not hurting. Of giving, not greed. But even if we win every single seat we hope for it means nothing without our involvement. When Obama was elected, our work had only started, and it was going to be a long, hard slog, even with an ally in the presidency, to accomplish what we need to. When he won reelection, we needed to continue working, maybe work harder.

We have been lazy, leaving it to others to do the things we need done, as if we can mark a ballot every couple years and that does it. That's why one of the greatest presidents of my time has been followed by one of the worst, why he has taken it as his mission, and his supporters' mission, to dismantle even the few good things we accomplished to help people who need it. 

We can't change that direction with cobblestones or bullets, even by overturning tables in the temples. We have to work together, understand one another and our friends, and make the changes necessary. And then we have to pay attention. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

We Were Never Meant to Survive


This is the text of a sermon I gave yesterday at my congregation. The title is taken from a line in the poem "A Litany of Survival" by Audre Lorde. If you were there, the bracketed sections were ones I excised in the interest of time.  


We Were Never 
Meant to Survive
A Sermon Delivered to Unitarian Church North October 7, 2018
          [To be a good sermon writer you need to pay attention to what happens around you and bend it to make sense in a sermon. To be a great sermon writer you just need to pay attention and write it down, whether it makes sense or not.]
          Friday morning, just after my wife left for work and I was settling in with a book, she called me to say, One of the cats got outside and there are a couple people in front of our house trying to change a tire. I popped my head out and let the cat inside and saw a pair of young women.  I said Hi and they said, Please, do you know anything about changing a tire, because we don’t. They were practically crying. I said, Yes, I do know how to change a tire, because that’s something my mother taught me many years ago, saying If you’re going to drive, you need to know how to do this. [Now, in a good sermon I would tell you that] I changed their tire and they went happily on their way and I’d say something about how we all need to help strangers in need and that would be that.
          But [I’m going for a great sermon, which means I need to tell you,] try as we might, we could not get that flat tire off. We just didn’t have the right tools to take the lugs off the flat. They called friends and came back later to fix it.
          Kinda anticlimactic. But what makes this worth telling you about is why they stopped at my place with the flat tire. They weren’t sure what kind of reception two early-20s Hispanic single mothers with a flat tire, a trunkful of their kids’ clothes, and the wrong tools on the street of a mostly-retired white neighborhood would get at 8 in the morning. Then, they said they saw this sign [holds up “We’re glad you’re our neighbor” sign] on our front lawn.
          We live in a nation—and probably a lot of you knew this already, and for some of you this may have always been the case—where we have to advertise our willingness to help strangers. In the last two years we’ve developed other, sometimes subtler (shows safety on shirt) ways, sometimes not (pulls out pink pussy hat) of showing strangers we’re on their side, or at least willing to listen to them.
          Fred Rogers famously said in an interview, When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
·        "Separations from their parents, especially in moments of extreme distress and displacement, has a very negative impact on a child’s wellbeing, mental health, and development…And I don't think that we want to be a society that does that to children." Dr. Lisa Fortuna, director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Boston Medical Center
There are a lot of scary things in the news nowadays, and a lot of it scares adults. One thing is called Zero Tolerance and it refers to the program put into practice by the current president and his administration to prosecute everyone entering the United States illegally. Now, this type of program isn’t new itself—it’s long been a staple of Republican and Democratic administrations that, when families entered the country illegally and were caught, they were detained or returned to their origin country or paroled into this country. But the difference is that they remained together throughout the ordeal. The Trump administration’s Zero Tolerance policy of separating parents and children, something very costly in time and money and considered by previous administrations as “unnecessarily harsh”, was begun earlier this year. Its stated purpose was providing a greater deterrent against people trying to enter the country illegally.
This sort of news leaves adults looking for the helpers too. You realize one day that If you can’t find the helpers, then you have to be the helper.
·        [“Separating children from their parents contradicts everything we stand for as pediatricians…So many of these parents are fleeing for their lives…So many of these children know no other adult than the parent who brought them here.” Dr. Colleen Kraft, president, American Academy of Pediatrics]
As we’re here in a Unitarian Universalist church I think we can count on everyone’s beliefs in the first and second UU principles: That is, there is inherent dignity in everyone and a commitment to justice and compassion in human relations. The Trump administration’s Zero Tolerance policy promotes neither. If anything, it promotes the idea that some people are more worthwhile than others, with immigrant children at the bottom of whatever list someone might create.
     It is, at bottom, an evil policy that does evil to the people least able to defend themselves.
·        “The food was often expired, the milk was spoiled, and we weren’t provided with snacks for our children between meals. When we saved food for snacks, it was taken from us and thrown out because of concerns about rats in the dorms. Children went to bed hungry. And we could get water between meals only by asking the officers. Sometimes they wouldn’t bring any. The water we did have made us sick… When our children were sick, we waited days for medical attention. When one mother whose daughter had asthma informed the officers that her child needed medical care, she was told that she should have thought about that before she came to the United States. Another mother asked for medical assistance for her son, but it never came. She was deported, and her son died just a few months later.” Anonymous woman at a family immigration center, New Mexico
Shame on them. Evil is ubiquitous, it’s everywhere, so much that we sometimes are blind to it. You know it when you see it. Evil is hurting other people or animals when you don’t need to. Evil is treating other creatures as if they don’t exist, or if they do exist, they don’t matter. Evil is treating other people like they’re means to an end. Evil is pretending they don’t have people who love them.
·         “The expectation [of officials in the Trump administration] was that the kids would go to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, that the parents would get deported, and that no one would care.” Anonymous immigration official quoted by Jonathon Blitzer

As an example, those two girls I mentioned at the start, the one’s with the flat tire. Would it have been evil, given that I feel we all are connected whether we know it or not, not to have put out that sign that led them to believe they were safe if they stopped? I don’t know. But I can tell you it would have been evil for me to have that sign up and then to look out the window, see them struggling with their tire, and pretended they weren’t there. That would have been to pretend they weren’t us.
·        [“I was forced to flee my country because of violence and threats of violence against me and my family. When I was a teenager, my father and I witnessed a murder by local gang members. In 2005, my father was murdered for having testified. The gangs threatened me as well, but since the murder case got dropped, I was able to continue my life and found a job in law enforcement. However, several years later, they threatened to kill me too. That’s when I decided I had to leave and bring my son and my 16-year-old sister with me. If we had stayed, they could’ve killed us all.”  Anonymous woman at a family immigration center, New Mexico]
Evil is knowing this is happening to people, and when they tell us about it, to pretend maybe they’re not telling the truth, or worse, if they are telling the truth, that it doesn’t matter because they don’t look like us, they don’t sound like us, they don’t eat the same things we do, they don’t care about each other the way we do. It’s okay to separate them because, well, if they really loved their kids they never would have taken them on such a long, dangerous journey. They’re not like us.
Now you may think the “us” of Audre Lorde’s poem we read earlier includes us, and it does, but only if we use that second principle, justice and compassion. Compassion. Looking at situations or events as if we are living it too. For most of us, certainly for me, living on the shoreline is a good thing. I hear Lake Michigan in my dreams, see it even as I step out the front door for work. But this shoreline is metaphorical, it’s a line where on one side there is solid ground and on the other is deep, unfathomable unknown. To treat someone like he’s not us is evil. Because ultimately there is only us. Evil is pretending not to know it’s because immigrant parents love their children like we do that they were desperate enough to take them on such a long, dangerous journey.
·        [“There were people there who only spoke English, and they always said to us, ‘No touch, No touch’…You always had to be ‘an arm’s length’ from everyone. Un brazo de distancia. Un brazo de distancia.” Leidy Veliz, 9, from Guatemala. “No touch, no touch” is a phrase repeated by nearly every former child detainee]
·        "I couldn't hug my mom because the official didn't allow us to touch. Physical contact wasn't permitted…They took us to another cell, and we were talking there, whispering, because they didn't permit us to speak.to one another. They put ankle monitors on us and were going to drop us off at the bus stop. All I want is to live with my mom, go to school, get an education, and when tomorrow comes, be somebody…I know everything in life costs something. Nothing is easy. And whatever is easy isn't worth it." Alejandro, 13, on being reunited with his mother after 2 months separation
·         “Just take me back to jail. You’re not my mom anymore.” Jenri, 5, after being reunited with his mother Anita after a month’s separation
Evil is hearing these reactions from kids and pretending we don’t have anything to do with it. Or that there’s nothing we can do. Or that it just plain doesn’t matter.
     Evil, see, isn’t just doing something bad, it’s also not doing something when it’s possible for us to do. It’s dumping a kid’s lunch into the trash at school because he doesn’t have enough to pay for it. It’s delivering a pizza and seeing a woman with a black eye mouthing, Help me!, and not calling the police as soon as you’re able to. It’s seeing a guy on the street asking for your change, and even though you have some, not only pretending you don’t but pretending you don’t even see him. Evil is not doing anything when you could do anything.
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
Every once in a while, we get a glimpse of that peace and tranquility. That Anne Frank, one of a swiftly vanishing handful of people who could legitimately tell God that She had messed up mightily, could still say this about Hitler, a man whose policies killed so many people including Anne that we refer to him only by one name, like Voldemort, as if that will keep him from returning.
Hitler’s policies and practices were evil. But there were still helpers. People like Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, who, after the family was arrested and sent to concentration camps in Germany and Poland where all but Anne’s father died, returned to the hidden rooms and retrieved, among other things, Anne’s diary. I will share a secret with you. In spite of everything, while they did evil, the Germans were not evil. The Nazis, even when they were sifting through the ashes that had once been people, looking for gold teeth, were not evil. What they did was evil and what they believed was evil. But if our first principle is to mean anything, it means Nazis had dignity too.
There are evil acts, evil ideas, evil practices, and I am convinced that the Trump administration’s Zero Tolerance policy is among them. But do I believe that anyone who takes a child away from his mother and father because of where they come from, from agents to supervisors to administrators to cabinet secretaries, is, in spite of everything, good at heart? Yes, I do. Does that mean I believe that Stephen Miller, who has argued most successfully for the implementation of Zero Tolerance and who has overseen its practice, is, in spite of everything, good at heart? Yes, I do. Do I believe that Donald Trump, in spite of everything, is good at heart? Yes, I do.
If our principles mean anything, they mean that we have compassion for the people we know are doing evil things, even if they don’t see it that way, and we afford them the dignity they deny others. Most of you know that I work with people who are dying, and you might be surprised at this, but in their last days or hours they don’t ask me where I think they’re going, either heaven or hell. I couldn’t answer that anyway. But the question they ask me is as hard to answer. They ask, in one way or another, if what they did in their lives was the right thing.
Boy, if that isn’t the hardest thing for anyone to answer. Here’s the thing I’ve come to understand about the end of life. At the end of it all, we must face our parents and our spouse and our children and our friends and ask them, Did I do the right thing? Now, if those are the only people we ask, maybe we can say, Sure, for them I did the right thing. But we also have to turn to other people’s parents, other people’s spouses, other people’s children and the friends of strangers, and ask of them, Did I do the right thing?
This is maybe the best test of whether we have done the right thing, because helpers can answer, even if it’s only tentative, humble, or a whisper, I did the right thing. In the absence of helpers, in the face of someone hurting, us are the helpers. (Touch chest) Us. (Indicate congregation) Us. (Indicate the world)


Sunday, September 2, 2018

The heart is filled by water

I used to think of myself as a forest person. I grew up in the woods of upstate New York, and one of my first memories of sheer joy was taking off shoes and socks and wading in the the stream behind the garages and down the steep bank. The stream, a distant cousin to the stronger Agawamik Creek further north, flowed lazily along the north end of our property and it was full of crawfish and tadpoles and water skippers and picked up speed as it narrowed. It was cool and wet and in places you had to look hard through foliage to see it. That's how I saw the world then, as something where things were hidden by nature and to find them you had to look hard.

I started thinking more like what Bill Holms called a prairie person when I studied poetry with him in graduate school in Minnesota. Things were still hidden in that view, but because they were closer to the earth, often right underfoot. You didn't have to look hard, you just had to notice them. Now I live on the edge of a Great Lake, which is like a moist prairie in what things aren't hidden but you do need to notice them. I often start my barefoot walking starting with the grassy hill about a half mile from my home that runs down to the beach and then northward for a mile or two, before disappearing under a pier and the weight of local businesses.

I've written of the jolt of recognition I experienced when I realized that, in doing this, I've come to live out the dream I had for myself 30-odd years ago. I've lived in several river towns--in the east and midwest it's almost impossible not to. Lakeside living was never something I had experienced before moving here, and in the winter especially I cherish it. In the forest, nothing ever seems dead in the winter; on the prairie, everything seemed dead when covered with two feet of snow, ice, and bitter wind; here on the Lake, there is a sound of life all winter long, even when the ice shelf covers a mile and a half from the beach, the regular pulse of water coming in and going out, helping me to breathe through the winter.

What brings all this thinking on is having read Terry Tempest Williams' An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field. I hadn't read a book by nature essayists in a long while, and since I picked that up I've gone back to Gary Snyder's Practice of the Wild, an old essay collection from Anteus someone sent me decades ago, Peter Jenkins' A Walk Across America, Bill's The Heart Can be Filled Anywhere on Earth: Minneota, Minnesota, books about not only wandering around in the woods but stopping to look closely at what you're walking among and on. I expect I'll even go back to Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, the one that began it all for me. I have a first edition I picked up somewhere on whim 40 years ago that is so water- and sun-logged, its sleeve long since shredded memory, whatever value there might be to it rests in what the cost to recycling the paper might be.