Thursday, July 23, 2009


On Sunday, we headed down to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, having been urged by a former colleague of mine, Frank McClusky, not to miss the area since it was celebrating the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s raid. What I remembered about that raid was from my West Point days when Max had been assigned Stephen Vincent Benet’s “John Brown’s Body” as part of his plebe year English class. I knew that Brown had chosen Harper’s Ferry as the beginning of his movement to free the slaves because he thought the Blue Ridge Mountains would be ideal for guerrilla attacks and because he knew he could get weapons from the arsenal in town and I knew Brown was found guilty of treason and hung. I’d heard about a Lincoln scholar or two arguing that without Brown Lincoln might never have taken the position he took on slavery but I didn’t know much more than that.

We got to the visitor center in mid-morning and took the bus down into town. From the visitor’s sheet I learned that Stonewall Jackson had also been in Harper’s Ferry assuming his first command in the civil war just a few days after Virginia seceded from the Union. The sheet also told us there were civil war reenactments going on, but the few things that we saw—a soldier camped out and playing a fife, a woman washing clothes, and three soldiers at the Armory—were pretty paltry.

Harper’s Ferry does have the Appalachian Trail going through it so we left the town proper and went over to that, standing on the bridge that’s part of the trail and crosses over the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, build during the 1830’s and 1840’s. The views of the water from there was great.

We headed back to the car and started for the Shenandoah National Park to drive the 100 plus miles of Skyline Drive. The wildflowers—among which were black-eyed Susans, turk’s cap lilies, and what I think was lobelia—were often breath-taking, the scenic views were (obviously) scenic, and we even managed to pass a black bear about half way through the drive. I’d like to find some time to go back and walk some of the trails in the park—maybe even climb Hawksbill Mountain!

At the end of the part we headed to Charlotttesville for an evening of a lousy dinner, a swim in the hotel pool, and for me some online exchanges with the students in my summer course.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On the Way to Virginia

On Saturday, July 11th we set out for Virginia and North Carolina. We decided to head in the direction of Gettysburg, hoping to see the monuments there either late on Saturday or early on Sunday. When we got to Lancester County, it seemed wise to take a break so we decided to stop for a while and see the Ephrata Cloister, one of the U.S.’s earliest religious communes, set up in 1732 by Georg Conrad Beissel.

I’d first heard about and gone to see Ephrata when I was in high school and spending some time studying esoteric religions (though all I could remember of what I was the blocks of wood that the community used in place of pillows). Beissel seems to have fled Europe because of his beliefs after being influenced by the writings of German mystic Jakob Boehme and his beliefs are sometimes connected with those of the Rosicrucians, though this remains a contentious connection. Whether or not that connection is there, mystical and hermetic themes clearly run through the Ephrata community with Beissel putting more of an emphasis on individual experience than on creeds or formulae. When I walked through the buildings this time, I was struck by the connections with Pythagorean philosophy.

The community was originally set up on a piece of land largely triangular in shape with Bissel believing that triangles are the perfect shape. A strong connection was made between the actual tones of music and spirituality, with Beissel believing that the actual diet eaten in the one small meal allowed each day would have an effect on the individuals voice. Sopranos, therefore, were to eat a different diet than altoes, tenors, or basses. Records of how those diets differed no longer exist (or at least they weren’t mentioned anywhere) but they seem to have included the idea that meat generally hindered the cultivation of divine voices. (The exception to this meat deprivation was during the weekly love feast , a three part service that consisted of washing each other’s feet, a meal in which lamb was served, and then communion.) Other things that seem to have been prohibited included eggs, dairy, and honey. In true Pythagorean style, beans were considered “too heavy” and impure for voices that wanted to sing. And water was the beverage that was preferred.

The community seemed to be a pietistic, apocalyptic group. They lived austerely, sleeping on wooden benches that were only a little more than a foot wide. They slept only six hours a night, going to bed at 9 but rising for a two hour midnight service in which they watched for the parousia. They then returned to bed and slept from 2 to 5 am before beginning a full day of work (with gender divisions in what sisters and brothers could do) and prayer. Laughter and any unnecessary talk throughout the day was discouraged.

The community’s theology seems to have been both gender-restrictive in roles and yet gender- inclusive in divine language. They believed, for example, that God had (because of Lucifer’s actions in the earliest time) been separated out into male and female aspects. It was important therefore to unite the two back together, so Beissel spent a lot of time preaching on Sophia, especially using lover and mother images. As mother, Sophia helps reunite the gender division in God, bringing the male divine back into submission to the female divine.

When we left Ephrata, we drove side roads through Lancester County, figuring that, if we could get in, we’d eat dinner at one of the two Pennsylvania Dutch style restaurants, Good and Plenty or Plain and Fancy, that I remembered from the 1970s.

Back then, when the restaurants had just opened they’d seated about 100 people, each at tables of ten, and served what I remember as wonderful food—chicken pot pies or chicken and noodles, roast beef, the best fried chicken in the world, shoo fly pie, and apple crumb pie—all family style with endless supplies of each thing. When we got to Good and Plenty, we discovered that over the years the restaurants had become sites for tourist buses. We were seated in one of the dining rooms that had about fifty tables in it and given poor to mediocre food (though Kathy thought the fried chicken was good).

Disappointed, we headed on to Gettysburg. As we got closer and closer to town, we passed more and more groups of bikers. What we discovered when we actually got into town was that July 9-11 was Bike Week 2009 and, as it had been in several previous years, Gettysburg was the hosting city for the year.

There were so many bikers every place that we turned that all the hotels were booked, all the
restaurants were crowded, and even the empty lots were filled with people and their bikes. We drove quickly through the Gettysburg memorial and then went on, past Camp David, to a neighboring town to spend the night.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Five: Games

On RevGalsBlogPals today, Jan explains that this week’s Friday Five is
So this Friday Five is about games, so play on ahead. . .

1. Childhood games?
Kickball, Spud, mumblypeg, Horse, and Red Light-Green Light were the big ones.

2. Favorite and/or most hated board games?
Favorites as a child would be Candyland, Clue, and Go to the Head of the Class; my least favorite was Parchesi. As an adult, I still love puzzles and games including Pictionary, some versions of Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, and puzzle type (Myst type )computer games.

3. Card games?
As a child, rummy (with my mother), Spit/War and SlapJack (with my friends) and especially canasta (with my grandmother, aunts, friends, etc.) As an adult it always seems to be canasta first.

4. Travel/car games?
As a child, when we went on a trip of any distance we always sang in the car. For very long trips, there were the “find license plates from different states”, “find words beginning with each letter of the alphabet” games, and I Spy. With my kids it was trivia questions and game boys along with the same games I played.

5. Adult pastimes that are not video games?
Reading, puzzles (jigsaw, sudoku, wordfinds, etc), playing music, knitting, gardening, and swimming.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Five: Exercise

At RevGalBlogPals, Sophia writes:

I just got back from an 8 mile bike ride down the beach boardwalk near our home, and was struck with the number of people out enjoying physical activity. Runners, other cyclists, surfers, swimmers, dogwalkers, little kids on scooters....

She asks:

1. What was your favorite sport or outdoor activity as a child?

Swimming. As I got older, basketball became a close second.

2. P.E. class--heaven or the other place?

The worst time of the school day.

3. What is your favorite form of exercise now?

Swimming and yoga

4. Do you like to work out solo or with a partner?

In swimming I like to go to the pool with others but then swim by myself. For me doing laps becomes a meditation. I prefer yoga in a class. For my daily aerobic exercise and/or biking, I prefer to be alone.

5. Inside or outside?

Swimming in a pool in the sun is my favorite!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Storm King

Saturday, on one of the first sunny weekend days in what seems like months, we went over to Storm King to see the new “Wavefield” work by Maya Lin. We rode the tram around to see all the other sculpture quickly before getting off and walking near the Wavefield. The pieces that grabbed me the most were Alexalder Calder’s “The Arch” (which I loved approaching from several different angles) and George Cutt’s ever-moving “Sea Change”. The metal pieces by Mark DiSuvero and the half dozen or so steel works by New York School sculptor David Smith did very little for me.

A work by someone I’d never heard of before—Chakaia Booker—called “A Moment in Time” was intriguing. From a distance it looked to me as if it was a time gate right out of a sci fi novel. But up close, you realize it’s made entirely out of tires (mostly bike tires I’d guess since they looked smaller than car tires) and the textures change its feel completely.

I’m still not sure what to make of Maya Lin’s Wavefield. We were able to get pretty close to the grass waves, despite the recent wet weather which made walking on it impossible, and there was some oceanic feel, but I kept thinking of the contrast with Cutt’s “Sea Change” where the sculpture actually made the air and metal feel like waves moving. I was expecting that Lin might do the same thing by shaping the ground, but that wasn’t the case. Or maybe, because both Cutt’s sculpture and the air move while earth is immovable and solid, it’s much more of a reach to evoke such a feeling with that medium.

Toward the end of our time at Storm King, we passed a couple sitting in a field that I found touching. She was sketching and writing in a journal while he was reading. The balance and presence the two of them brought into the field seemed as appropriate and moving as the sculptures that surrounded them.