Sunday, April 13, 2014

Absurdity: 1. at variance with reason; manifestly false 2. ludicrous; ridiculous

Most of the free world has heard of the Westboro Baptist Church, founded by the notorious (and recently deceased) Fred Phelps. The members are the ying-yangs who believe that by holding shocking anti-gay day-glo signs in public, they are doing God's work. They believe picketing the funerals of American soldiers, people who have died of AIDS, or any unfortunate death that makes the news, is bringing God's message to the evil and lost. They travel widely, apparently able to finance these pointless excursions due to the tax exempt status as a church. Maybe there are actually enough nitwits in the world to send donations so they can picket. Who knows?

They are always on some street corner in Topeka, Kansas. They indoctrinate their children by giving them hateful signs to hold. I have often thought they put their children on the corners in order to keep themselves safe. Surely many people have fantasized driving down the sidewalk, gleefully seeing the signs fall as the ying yangs scramble for safety. No reasonable person would endanger the children, standing with signs referring to issues they cannot possibly entirely understand at such tender ages. The presence of those unfortunate children has protected the pea-brained adults probably more often than anyone realizes.

Westboro "blesses" every event in Topeka with their signs. At every concert, comedian, or public performance at the Topeka Performing Arts Center, the Phelps gang shows up with their day-glo signs to stand front and center, on the public sidewalk. They are not allowed to block the sidewalk, but they are an obstruction just the same, in my opinion. The general public knows they will be there and have learned to simply live with it, the way we all accept a certain amount of ugliness and discomfort - like hemorrhoids - or nose hair.

Of course, the Westboro "klan" was there for the Joe Bonamassa concert. It was such a pleasant evening that people lingered leisurely outside. Waiting for my family to arrive I witnessed multiple reactions as people discovered the ying yangs and their signs. There were many older ladies on the arms of their husbands whose faces showed embarrassment at the profane and indecent references. There were people being delivered by hotel shuttles who had to step from the the vehicle between the two rows of those ridiculous placards. (Most of the signs are enormous, too large to hold up, so they are constructed to rest on the ground.) When does their right to free speech infringe on our right to attend a concert without their pollution? Why must they be allowed to stand right in front of the damn theater? Across the street would be free enough speech for most of us.

Some people were so offended that they cursed the placard holders. People from out of town were shocked and dismayed... and puzzled. My favorite overheard comment of the whole evening came from a genuine cowboy, who stopped for a moment when he first saw the signs. "What the hell does Joe have to do with any of that? Dumb son of a bitch," he said wonderingly, shaking his head. It was that poetic, musical "dumb-son-ova-bitch" only a true Kansas man can lay out, reserved for people who are simply too damned stupid to walk and chew gum at the same time. It made me laugh.

As I sat there in the pleasant evening, anticipating the concert and time with my family, a flash of sublime clarity struck me. How absurd to think that shoving shocking signs in people's faces will change anything. It is absurd for adult human beings to invest their lives in such a pointless activity and call it God's work. It is possibly even more absurd to be disturbed by those signs.

Post script: My favorite sign of the night: "Topeka, City of Whores!" I'm down with that.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Joe Bonamassa Topeka, Kansas

Once again, life brings the world to my doorstep. I do not have to leave Kansas searching for treasure. Joe Bonamassa performed in the small Topeka Performing Arts Center the evening of April 9th. Without fanfare, he took center stage alone, and played a blistering acoustical piece that "announced his presence with authority". And then, he simply continued on into the night.

Channel surfing in the dark hotel wasteland of a sleepless night last year, I discovered Joe Bonamassa performing "Midnight Blues". I have been listening to Live from New York - Beacon Theater almost daily since then. I know almost every note and nuance. Recognizing each familiar melody as Joe brought it to life on the small local stage, I marveled to myself, "What good fortune. What good fortune!" The music I had never heard before was simply more of a very good thing.

I bought tickets for myself and my family fully six months prior to the concert. Neither of my adult children had been impressed when I enthusiastically shared a song or two from my CD, so I knew they were going to simply be polite. My own anticipation was dampened by the fact that it might be a long night for my unenlightened family. Another concern was the fact that Joe has been on the road, literally all over the world, for the last two years. What if coming to Backwater, Kansas on a Thursday night, to a partially empty small theater, (plus the Westboro Baptist Church picketers out front), was an excuse to have an off night? Who would blame him? But, oh no - we got the goods from the first note to the last. I report, with extreme personal satisfaction, all members of my party that evening were sufficiently stunned into seeing the Joe Bonamassa light.

It was not just another rock concert - not to me. There are excellent musicians everywhere - a dime a dozen, as they say. There is just something about that young man's artistry. It seems that his performance motive is pure. He plays his music simply because he loves it, because he was born to it. It is his gift to the world. What good fortune! What good fortune.
Joe Bonamassa
Topeka Performing Arts Center
Topeka, Kansas
April 9, 2014
photo by Anda Arms

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

That Meddlesome Crowd is Back...

All winter long I set out good seed for the birds. There are cardinals, blue jays, two different kinds of woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, wrens, gold finches, sparrows, and nut hatches. There are a few others that come in, too, but I have not positively identified them. These are the birds that live year 'round at Spiritcreek farm. They tough it out along with the dogs, horses, chickens and me.

I buy excellent quality bird seed from a delightful little shop in Topeka, The Wild Bird House. The more I feed the birds, the more birds come to feed, so by this time of year, I am hauling home 25 pound bags of bird seed along with oats, dog food and chicken feed. I don't mind it because nothing in this life takes the place of bird song in the morning. All is well until the bad guys arrive - the red winged black birds, and their quarrelsome kin (which are another kind of black bird). Of course, they aren't really bad, but they live in flocks. They return from their winter vacation homes understandably tired and hungry. The problem is they descend on the feeders and literally empty them. There are only a few seeds left for the others.

Maybe it is not a bad thing. The arrival of the black birds corresponds roughly to the arrival of warm weather. As soon as it begins to warm up, the male song birds, (who live peacefully all winter sharing the food and space with their own kind and all others), begin to scuffle and chase one another. Love does not necessarily engender peace.

It is distressing to see the scores of black birds covering the little red bud trees where the feeders hang, waiting for their "free" food. We need red winged black birds to help control the insect population but oh my gosh, they are like a swarm, a plague, a twister consuming everything in just a few minutes! At the end of the day, I see the industrious little juncos and a few cardinals searching the ground for any left over seeds, and I feel sorry for them. Soon enough, the black birds will have spread out over the prairie to begin nesting. Then there will not be a huge flock of them decimating the seed supply intended for the song birds.

I guess I can spare a few extra bucks for the black birds, too.  I love to see the little males with their distinctive red and yellow shoulder patches, sitting on the fence wires in the summer as much as I enjoy seeing the cardinals in the snow.  It's all good.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

So Long, Little Buckaroo

Now I bid farewell to my good friend Cyberkit. March 3, 2014 he peacefully let go this world, escaping overwhelming physical suffering to embrace the beckoning mysteries with his usual confidence and good humor. Oh, my world is suddenly much smaller. I will greatly miss his good mind, his humor, his love and support, his friendship.

I met Kit when he came to Patti's Lodge in the late 1990's. His doctor's had given him sixty days to get his affairs in order because their medicines and procedures could not save him from cancer. He came to Patti for one final bid at life.

We became better acquainted each time we met at Patti's house for Lodge, but it was the miracle of email that sealed our friendship. We lived 8 hours apart by land travel, making regular visits a hardship. We found, to our mutual delight, that we had deeply compatible minds. And perhaps a bit like Helen Hanff and Frank Doel, we forged a wonderful friendship almost entirely through the written word - without the intellect and genteel decorum of Helen and Frank, of course. (Our coarse humor would have mortified the properly British Mr. Doel!)

After Patti died, Kit and I were left to console one another, facing our respective lives without her. We each needed the another, even though it was all through email. I often ended my letters to him with "Be brave, little Buckaroo", which became a silly thing to say after he became ill again. Anyone suffering with emphysema is the epitome of courage. It is a long, slow descent into physical hell with no hope. He was brave, and smart, and wickedly funny, and my good friend. He blessed my life. Now he is blessing another reality with his wit and constant love. Farewell, my dear friend. Farewell.

Pama mine, Nekan.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Meditation Woes

I have been attending meditation classes twice a month for the last couple of months, and I have been meditating at least once a day, and often twice a day. Meditation is such a simple thing to do. Meditation is such a nearly impossible thing to do!

Basically, all I have to do is straighten my spine, relax my whole body, take deep centering breaths, not pay attention to any mental thoughts as I attend to the breath entering and leaving my body. I either fall asleep, or my mind is so active that I simply cannot attend to the breath entering and leaving my body. This is a true challenge for the attention deficit disordered mind!

Baby steps - that is all I can manage toward this amazing methodology of exploring human consciousness. Maybe it will take multiple lifetimes to master meditation. It will give my immortal spirit a hobby, keep it out of trouble, I guess. 

Some of the instructions are designed to drive you crazy: be aware of being aware. What?! After trying that several times, it begins to make sense. Some things are beyond mundane expression.

I have it on good authority that practicing meditation is a worthy pursuit. His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes in the foreword of the Alan Wallace book Genuine Happiness, Meditation as the Path to Fulfillment, "When the Buddha and other great teachers of the past first gave these instructions, they did not do so in order that only Indians, Tibetans, or Asians should benefit, but in order that all sentient beings should find peace and happiness. It is my prayer, too, that whoever puts these instructions and words of advice into effect may find the tranquility and insight that is their fruit".

I am giving it my best effort.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Of the fifteen winters I have lived here in my little corner of the Flint Hills, this has been the most extreme one. (It is the counterbalance to the winter-that-never-was a few years ago, when it never got below freezing the entire winter.) I provide food for the wild birds every winter. I do this to help the declining bird populations and because I greatly enjoy watching the variety of song birds and their peaceful sharing of a steady food supply. Unfortunately, the trees where the feeders hang are too far from the house for me to have the ring-side seat I enjoyed at the old house. The larger birds I can still recognize, but the little guys are just too far away for me to identify, except the juncos.

The juncos are easy to recognize because they are the first to arrive and the last to leave. Even when the cardinals, blue jays and gold finches have exhausted the feeders, the juncos are still scratching through the remains and finding the last little millet seed or bit of corn. All the birds scatter into the safety of the mature trees when I arrive with the buckets of seeds, but the juncos are the last to take flight. They only rise into the tops of the two redbud trees, safely out of my reach, but close enough so they can descend immediately when I walk away. This winter, they are even more reluctant to waste energy scattering for the big trees when they know I present no threat to them.

While I shake the feeders empty and refill the little nyger seed dispenser for the gold finches, the juncos patiently wait, whistling and making a pleasant musical twittering among themselves. One little guy has decided he does not even need to fly to the top of the tree, but remains just a branch or two out of my reach. Just like chickens, there are one or two birds smarter and braver than the others, who will avail themselves of every opportunity to get to the food first. If winter lasts long enough, I know I could coax the little junco to land on my hand and eat the seeds offered. That is, I COULD if Jake would stay the hell back! He already knows he is not supposed to follow me to the bird feeders because he hoovers up the seeds that fall to the ground. Each time I see the brave little junco, I put a few seeds in the palm of my gloved hand, and hold it up toward the bird. I mentally quiet my thoughts and consciously extend the energy of invitation toward the little bird. The instant I extend the mental invitation, Jake apparently feels it too and comes directly to me. The junco immediately flies higher into the tree, and I am so irritated at that dog that it ruins the chances of trying again with the little bird. Bad dog!

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Plight of Jackalopes in Kansas

(Plasitchrome by Colourpicture Boston, Mass Rushmore Photo Inc, Rapid City, S Dakota)

This is a jackalope, a once rare, nearly mythical creature of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain areas of the middle United States. The world best knows this species from the dusty and moth-eaten mounted heads hanging in every beer joint from Silverton, Colorado to Topeka, Kansas, and from 25-cent truck stop postcards sold across the world. Most people consider the jackalope a joke, a corny joke. The dismissive and irreverent attitude is widely believed to be the central cause leading to the tragic clash between jackalopes and the human population in Kansas.

The Kansas State Board of Tourism and The Wizard of Oz have combined resources in an effort to control what information is leaked to the outside world. Tourism in Kansas typically brings in upwards of $19,000 annually, so great pains are taken to shield the reputation of the state as a desirable tourist destination. Despite these efforts at suppressing the truth of the violent and deadly uprising, the jackalope's plight has been prominent in international news.

A series of bloody clashes between jackalopes and tavern owners in the north and central part of the state repeatedly makes headlines in the foreign press, such as Al Jazeera and the BBC. Due to the State's efforts, little has been reported locally or nationally. Jackalopes have decried the practice of headhunting among their species and have been largely ignored. In some areas of Kansas, the species has been extirpated due to the savage genocide fueling the legal trade of jackalope heads to bars in other western states. The despicable practice of taverns displaying the mounted heads of dead jackalopes has outraged and inflamed a grieving population. In addition to the genocide, and losses suffered in the inter-species warfare, jackalopes have faced starvation in dozens of Kansas counties. Their primary food source has been entirely eradicated with the widespread herbicide applications, and the planting of genetically modified organisms (GMO) crops targeted to be poisonous to jackalopes.

The jackalope's plight is not without its sympathizers. Brian Birk, PhD, University of Washington, has spent many years in the field studying the macabre practice of displaying jackalope heads in taverns. He has lectured and written extensively on the long and checkered history between humans and jackalopes. He noted in recent publications that Kansas is the only state limiting license to drive an El Camino to Jackalopes. "Kansas is a classy state in that respect," he has stated.

Native American tribes in Kansas, directing much of their casino profits toward reintroducing the jackalope species into areas where untouched prairie remains, have been quite successful. A significant number of farmers who once ruthlessly eradicated jackalopes from their lands formed a political group in the southeastern corner of the state. These repentant farmer advocates symbolically and ceremonially "marry" jackalopes as a form of protest against the continued decimation of the species, and to draw attention to the plight of the jackalopes. It is thought this symbolic practice of men marrying animals is the source of the strident argument against gay marriage. Opponents point to the jackalope/farmer marriages as a prime example of the "slippery slope" theory that once gay marriage has been legalized, bestiality is sure to follow.

The jackalopes themselves are taking action to protect themselves. A large rebel population in the northeast corner of the state has been consciously and systematically interbreeding with elk in order to increase the size of antler jackalopes can grow. It is assumed the larger antlers will be used against tavern keepers who refuse to remove the mounted heads of dead jackalopes.

Chevy El Camino - only Jackalopes are licensed to drive these cars in Kansas.
Jackalope Reserve in Cherokee County, Kansas, early spring after jackalopes shed their antlers.
(Photo courtesty of Yu Yu Lam Lam, who originally posted the video to Facebook.)