Monday, August 29, 2011

Cruising for Women

The body shop gave me a loaner car today: a 2010, Grey Nissan, Vera. Since this is the newest and fanciest car I've had in more than 50 years of driving. I figured now was the time to go cruising for chicks

First, I went to Walmart. Ann wanted some mums to replace ones which froze out last, winter. I'd been on the lookout for them. Dead place around suppertime. I brought the mums home.

So I went to Sammy's Pizza here in town, because I figured I had eaten a pretty healthy diet this weekend: a reward! Mainly guys with their girlfriends were there who wore 3X Large shirts (lest you think I have a misplaced modifier here) -the gals wore the 3XL shirts, the guys' biceps and chests fit nicely into smalls and mediums.

After Sammy's I cruised by the Cloquet Public Library. Because I chose to eat first, the library was closed. I forgot the library was on its summer schedule in the summer.

Then I drove by the Cloquet Fitness Center. The women had a martial arts class in progress. So I moved on. Seemed like a dangerous place to be looking.

Next I rode by the Bearaboo, Broadway Espresso and Gordy's Warming House, three local coffee houses. Because Gordy's has twenty to thirty flavors of ice cream every woman there seemed to have a mess of little kids. Literally - a mess! Again I moved on, quickly.

Finally I circled the bar at the Northeastern; twice! The women I saw sitting outside at the tables there were about the age of my youngest stepdaughter.

Only woman who seemed to take an interest in "my" new car was, Irene, my neighbor, wife of George.
"Oh, Ken, new car?" she asked.
I replied, "No, a body shop loaner."
It seemed she ended the conversation and lot more quickly than polite convention would suggest necessary.

I'm thinking there's more to this process of cruising for women than a fancy car!
A reader commented: "Ken, next time you need a rental car for chick cruising, try a little BMW convertible, or even a Mazda, not a soccer mom SUV."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Fair Rain Of Blessing; The Reign Of Justice

Last Sunday we heard Jesus ask, "Who do you say that I am?"
Then Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
A week ago Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
This week we hear Jesus say to Simon Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are not setting your mind not on divine things..."
Last week Jesus called Simon son of Jonah a blessing and a foundation stone for the Church, and proclaimed that he must have had a revelation from God to have come to the profound understanding he had shown of his friend as Messiah.
It seems it's not enough to recognize the goals of the Jesus Project. It is not enough to agree with its purposes, for Peter got the names right, first time he was asked. Like most of us, he was eager to get the title right (as we learn quickly in our churches to call the preacher "Doctor" or "Father" or "Reverend Mother", according to the venue). But Jesus wants us to get the game right and not just the name right. It is not enough to call Jesus, "Lord", or any other title, if you haven't thoroughly enlisted in the Way, in the Style, in the Method, and in the Means by which his liberation, his freedom, his justice is to come in human civilization.
So when Jesus begins to explain the implications of the tasks set before them, Peter has another way of looking at things. Perhaps it was precisely because Jesus had named him Rocky, "the hard-headed one", the tough guy, that he now says, "God forbid, Sir. You have nothing to worry about now. I'm the Rock, and no suffering and no risk of death are going to come your way. I'll see to that."
Jesus disciples went up to Jerusalem to see the great glory but Jesus got strung up like a common criminal and these followers cut the scene like rabbits
Remember the authorities didn't crucify Jesus because his followers had clubs and cudgels in hand with a good supply of cobblestones to throw in their cart. That's how the authorities spun the story. Paul, however, pretty well sums up what Jesus was pushing that really worried the folks on top: Justice.
"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. … "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
You could expect, were folks to live like this, things would change greatly for those on top.
Let me say this another way: God freely rains blessings upon us and expects us to find an honorable, effective and fair way for everyone to share in these blessings. What irked the leaders was the audacity of Jesus to suggest that the reign of justice and the fair rain of blessings weren’t happening.
Let me get more to the heart of this reflection on justice citing Rabbi Edward Bernstein.
Each day, Rabbi Bernstein reminds us, a Jew prays the Shema
It begins:
"Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One.(Deut. 6:4).
Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity.
You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources."
No problem here says Rabbi Bernstein but in paragraph two we find trouble. The reward-and-punishment theology unnerved many through the past decades.
"It shall be, that if you obey My commandments that I command you this day to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all Your heart and with all your soul, then will I send the rain for your land in its season, the early [autumn] rain and the late [spring] rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil."
However: "Be careful that your heart be not tempted and you turn away to serve other gods and bow to them. For then God will be furious with you and will block the heavens and there will be no rain and the land will not yield its produce, and you will perish quickly from the good land that God gives you."
Roughly summarized: "Obey God and prosper; disobey God and suffer." You and I and Rabbi Bernstein know that is not how the world works. Often the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. It would seem you'd need to be rather simplistic or primitive to make this your religious creed.
So the modern Jews did what Anglicans have often done throughout the ages they've spun compromises.
The early American Jewish Reform Movement omitted this passage from their prayer books. Mordecai Kaplan founder of Jewish Reconstructionism dropped the paragraph from his prayer book saying "I cannot believe that the process of meteorology is dependent on man's moral behavior." He said, "I cannot believe that the process of meteorology is dependent on man's moral behavior."
Other Jews kept this second paragraph in the liturgy but while they proclaimed the first and third paragraphs loudly in song, they read this the embarrassing second paragraph silently
But, “my my”, Rabbi Bernstein notes, with this global warming stuff it looks like our moral choices are beginning to affect the “Meteorological Processes"!
Much to the surprise of the Rabbi Mordicai’s among us the process of meteorology do seem to be affected by affected by our moral behavior – called Global Warming.
How we choose live, whether in a spendthrift and profligate fashion or careful, conserving way is a moral choice.
And yes, “the calculus of reward and punishment articulated in Deuteronomy and the Shema may be too simple and ultimately inaccurate, but it does nail the central aspect of our belief when it insists starkly (even it too starkly) that God is ultimately just. Somehow justice is an inherent part of the world and of God; and since God is the model for human beings, the possibility of justice must be inherent in us as well.” (Rabbi Elliot Dorff)
Had I been Peter's adviser, which I wasn't, I would have slipped him the last paragraph of the Rabbi Bernstein’s article. "You know Peter this will get you in less trouble. So Peter would have said to Jesus:
“Yes, Lord lets go to Jerusalem and make it happen! For
"When a whole society does the right thing," quoting Rabbi Bernstein now, "behaves in the right way, learns to love God and love their neighbors, the overall quality of life for everybody gets better. If everybody lived such a life we would all feel the reward."
That's what Peter should have said.
And Rabbi Berstein concludes:
"In our day environmental stewardship and society's virtues are intertwined with each other. My hope is that humanity will heed the call of this ancient Scripture to clean up our planet AND restore justice to the world."
Thanks to
HOMILY GRITS Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost Year A September 1, 2002 Copyright Grant Gallup
Rabbi Edward Bernstein: Recovering Ancient Scripture To Face Modern Challenges

Lessons for Sunday closest to August 31, Year A Proper 17, RCL

hp17a082511 Delivered at St. Andrews Episcopal Church Cloquet, MN 8/28/2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Brawn and Brains

There seems to be hardly a story in the book of Genesis that does not involve some incident of deception, deceit or chicanery!

Consider this story about Jacob. The shepherds usually came to the well in groups because it took more than one of them to lift the huge stone cover off the well. The shepherds designed the cover so a group was necessary to remove it. That assures that the precious water resource would be shared more equally. So by intention, one man could not remove it. Certainly not a woman like Rachel. She must sit and wait with her sheep patiently for the men to arrive.

Then along comes Jacob, the near superhero exception, who displayed his special strength by removing the huge well cover single handedly. He sure caught the attention of the local folk, and especially Rachel. She took Jacob home to meet her father!

I'd guess that Jacob was quite the hunk. I saw a scene in a movie trailer Friday night which pretty well sums it up. I don't remember the movie being advertised, but in the trailer the girl demands the young man remove his shirt. He does and, astonished she exclaims, "My God, you look like you’re Photoshop-ed!"

That's Jacob a photoshop-ed man.

As the story progresses, however, we begin to wonder if Jacob might not be a man who is mostly brawn and little brain.

Jacob falls madly in love with Rachel. He’s on the road looking for a wife and now he has found her. So he approaches Laban, her father, and asks. "Can I marry your daughter?"

Laban replies, “Yes, but the price is seven years labor, hard labor."

Seven years, not a protest at all from Jacob." Seven years for one so beautiful and as Rachel? What a small price.” He says to himself.

After 7 years comes the wedding. What happens? Jacob takes the wrong woman to bed completing a marriage to Rachel's sister Leah instead!

Women folk often accuses of Men of being somewhat oblivious to social cues! But in not recognizing the object of your desire for the past seven years, Jacob earns a prize as great as for single-handedly removing the well cover!

One scriptural commentator tries to save Jacobs reputation with the observation, "Well the women of that day were veiled, so of course it could happen." I read that and remembered a song by James Taylor, "There’s something in the way she moves,

or looks my way

or calls my name, …"

Nah, I don’t think so.

Obviously Jacob was pretty deep in his cups by evening’s end for such a substitution to succeed. Or, maybe old Laban added something to Jacob’s cup to make sure his future son-in-law was pretty drugged up. Laban slipped a Mickey in Jacob’s cup for the Best Man’s toast.

Now granted, this story is pretty male oriented with the women not displaying much agency, but WE can imagine events and discussion in the women's part of the household. The teller of this tale might have convinced himself that the ladies just went along meekly to what the men suggested. But, is that ever really so?

Said politely it seems the eligible men of the neighborhood thought Leah rather plain. This older daughter was not a great beauty. To put it rather bluntly she seems to have been a loser when it came to having prospects to get a husband. It seems Rachel and Leah were close, so in that polygamous society was this the sisters' plan. Where would Leah get a family? Who'd support her in life? How would she face the shame of being the old maid?

Well maybe they thought this Jacob, a little slow on the uptake, but who could lift heavy things could support them both. I know it seems a little quirky to us, but those were different times.

Besides that sub plot is more believable to me than this alternative. Jacobs goes to the party to marry Rachel, instead he spends the night with Leah. The next morning, however he approaches Rachel to makeup, "Oops, I got you confused with your sister and slept with her. Will you forgive and still marry me?"

"Of course my dearest Jacob."

So was it Laban, the father or was it the sisters who hatched this plot?

Anyhow, lest you are feeling too sorry for Jacob, remember he is the Trickster on the Run. He's on the road to escape his brother. Recall, Jacob is the younger son, but when his father, Isaac, was very old, feeble, blind and a much affected by dementia, Jacob took advantage of him to trick his father into blessing him and thus stealing the eldest brother's birthright. Jacob plied his father with his favorite food and wine, put on a disguise so that he felt and smelled like his older brother and thus deceived his father into blessing him. Only one blessing per family so the eldest was out of luck and angry. Really angry! Jacob had to flee.

(By the way, just to give the women their due here, Jacobs mother, Sarah, to hatched the plan, presented it to Jacob and helped him pull it off!)

In short this was not an upstanding virtuous band of people bringing about the Lord's will through their exemplary actions.

Let's move to the Gospel. I bet these stories, the mustard seed, the woman making bread, the Pearl of Great Price are tattooed on the hearts of many people, probably some who have never read much of the Bible. We have great art inspired by this passage this morning. Go into a house and you might find a embroidered piece in a fancy little frame with words from this story. When I was in high school some of the girls wore jewelry, little spheres of glass with a tiny little mustard seed enclosed. For centuries Christians have been summoned to courage with the words, "if you had faith, even the size of a mustard seed ... "

Beware, however, there's much more involved with these comforting little nostrums of our Christian faith.

No farmer in his right mind would plant mustard seed in his garden. Mustard, the quack grass of the middle east, the bind weed of Palestine. You didn't want it. You considered yourself cursed if you got it. It greatly added to your work, this horticultural undesirable.

Rising dough, and fresh baked yeast bread smell wonderful to us. But consider the process of making bread with yeast is just the first step along the road to putrification.

Jesus' folk considered yeast leaven unclean and impure. For this reason we don't use bread leavened with yeast as our Holy Communion bread. Yeast and the bread in produces is unclean not fit for godliness.

Say what you will don't the business practices mentioned seem just a bit shady, unfair and conniving? They remind me more of our big city investment or mortgage bankers of a few years past than an arrow-straight, honest business man of woman.

Since I have been referencing women from time to time in this homily, consider the scandal of using a woman- using a woman - and woman's work as an example, symbol, teaching about such a holy thing as God's reign and heaven!!

Much of the religious establishment in Jesus time would recoil at the thought of representing something sacred or something holy as a woman or women's work!

So what’s the lesson of all this?

I think Jesus chose quite carefully and deliberately these flawed, imperfect, unclean, corrupting, beyond the pale people and examples to give the most of us hope.

I can't speak for you and yours but I know me and mine have lives with weakness, problems, moral failure, kinks and warts of their own doing. The gardens of our lives aren't weed free, producing only unbruised produce of uniform texture, color and size. Me and mine need forgiveness, shoring up and patience more often than not. So like mustard seed, leaven, women, shady businessmen and Jacob’s in-laws, me and mine can be the stiff of God. Now, that's Good News!

I don't know about your garden, but in mine noxious weeds like mustard, bind weed and crap grass are perennials requiring constant vigilance and labor to up root them, while the good things like broccoli, romaine and tomatoes require careful preparation, planting, care, and cultivation. Thank goodness, God sends rain and sunshine for their thriving even though it also causes the weeds to grow.

And Laban, that father of the bride. What a powerful image of God, a father who wants to assure that both his daughters have the best he could manage to give them even if it involved making a fool out of his son-in-law! Now that is a Father!

However, before you rush to sign the adoption papers and become this father's child, I believe Sister Sarah, and the two Laban girls, Rachel and Leah also represent part of God's parenting style. They hesitated little in allowing considerable grief and heartache into a man's life.

Still ....

Actually, I must admit Laban was doubly generous to Jacob. By giving Jacob two wives he compliments Jacob’s brawn with the social savvy of his two daughters and their brains!!!


With help from:

Barbara Brown Taylor's: The Seeds of Heaven

Bernard Brandon Scott: Re-Imagine the World: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus

Song James Taylor: there's something about the way she moves

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Three Wilderness Fire Towers

Read a PDF file of the article will all photographs

This article appeared in The Lookout Network Vol 22 No 2 Summer 2011

Three towers, Norway, Sioux River and Angleworm, graced lookouts in the western part of the present Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness near Ely, Minnesota.

Rangers hewed a trail in the wilderness around 1910 to provided access and a telephone service to Ranger Stations stretching Northwest of Ely. The trail eventually became a 45 mile roller coaster road of gravel and rock in the 1920's. Gradually highway engineers straightened and paved portions. However, much of the Echo Trail retains its twisty, unplanned look.

Cab of the Sioux River Lookout Tower
September 2009

I drove the Echo Trail with my brother to visit these three wilderness tower lookouts during the summer of 2009.

After a 7 mile drive south down a minimally maintained forest road from the Echo Trail, I hiked 1 mile into the wilderness to the site of the former Norway tower. The trail has the characteristics of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built trails: rock curbing which strengthens the tread and neat flat rock bridges over low spots.

Before my hikes, I set waypoints for the tower locations on my GPSr unit. The forest has reclaimed the spurs to the Norway and Sioux River tower sites. Finding the towers requires GPS guided bushwhacking. The waypoint at Norway guided me over a tangle of windfalls, hazel and brambles. However, when leaving the site, I noticed orange plastic tape which marked the track of the former access trail. Perhaps the Forest Service anticipates clearing the old trail.

These three wilderness towers keep many secrets: age for example . My research to date tells me that Sioux River is the oldest. The forest service used this lookout and had some structure built before the CCC era (1933-1942).

The Forest Service instructed new Rangers, or Guards as they were called, to use high points to scan for smoke. In some cases they climbed a tall pine or built wooden structures to get a better view. A strong push for towers on lookouts with telephone communication began in 1910-11. Before then a fire report to Ely might require days or a week or more depending how quickly a ranger could hike or paddle back to headquarters.

Ely, Minnesota and the Western United States experienced drought in 1908, 1909 and 1910. Just 1 month into the summer of 1910, Minnesota already reported 189 fires . Many burned around Ely and threatened the town. A new forest supervisor in Ely, Joe Fitzwater, announced an aggressive goal, "As fast as appropriations allow, trails together with telephone lines, will be built through the more inaccessible districts."

To demonstrate his resolve, in early spring United States Forest Service (USFS) Supervisor Fitzwater dispatched a crew of 6 up the Kawashiwi River east of Ely. On a high rock outcropping at a bend in the river they constructed, a 50 foot lookout tower by attaching poles and a platform to a large pine tree. The Rangers cut a trail with telephone to connect with Ely Headquarters. Ole Fernlund and John Handberg, two crew members, contributed their names to the title of the new tower: Fernberg.

During that same time another crew built a station on the Echo River some 50 miles northwest of Ely. By 1920 the Forest Service had built 5 Ranger Stations along the Echo Trail.

The towers proved successful. In 1920 the Minnesota Forest Service (MFS) reported they had placed the final equipment in the Jasper Peak tower. Already the tower had more than earned back the initial investment for its construction through lessening the cost of firefighting.

'As funds permitted'… I can imagine another crew paddling the Little Indian Sioux River and choosing a tall pine on the high ridge above the Devil's Cascade some 8 miles off the Echo Trail. A December 1920 issue of the outdoor magazine, Outing, notes the existence of the Sioux River Tower in an article titled "A Canoe Fire Department" .

In 1910 the Forest Service required: 'every patrolman and ranger, in his early trips through the territory assigned to him' should search 'for points where lookout stations would be of value.'

Eventually among the many possible lookouts, the forest services selected those which fit the pattern needed to see smoke and provide triangulation to locate fires. In some cases, Sioux River for example, the lookout guard would hike the telephone line trail many miles or, perhaps, paddle and portage a canoe that far.

The Minnesota Forester reported: " in 1911 the money spent build: 92 wooden towers, 13 steel towers and 8 cabins for a total cost of $3587.52."

I hiked 6 miles into the Sioux River Lookout. Ambitious tourists use this trail to visit the Devil's Cascade along the Little Indian Sioux River. Wilderness hikers use it as the first leg of the 35 mile Sioux Hustler Trail. The huge bald rock outcropping is the most spectacular of the three towers. The lookout guard occupied a cabin about 1 mile away perched above the canyon of the Devil's Cascade.

The USFS and MSF scattered small ranger cabins throughout forest. District rangers lived permanently in some of these cabins. Other cabins served as temporary headquarters for rangers working in the area and as caches for firefighting supplies. If necessary, a fire fighting operation might headquarter in such a cabin. Also the forest services placed cylindrical steel chests on prominent rocks throughout the forest filled with fire fighting tools.

A network of telephone lines strung along forest trails connected these remote wilderness cabins and fire lookouts to each other and to headquarters.

Sioux River Tower Guard Cabin Aug 1932

How would you build such a telephone line? First clear a trail. Next string a single strand of No. 9 GI (galvanized iron) wire through an 8 mile series of split ring insulators attached to trees. The split ring insulators allow some play in the line. This slack will often prevent a fallen tree from snapping the line. In areas void of trees due to past fires, barren rock other reasons cut a tree, drag it in a erect it, an 'artificial' telephone pole, supported by a cairn of rock. Make sure to mount the wire high enough to avoid entangling the antlers of a bull moose, but low enough that the ranger who must regularly patrol the line can reach to repair it. Also install regular lightening grounders minimize damage from lightening strikes during storms.

Angleworm tower and its tiny cabin formed part of the "Canoe Fire Department". A 2 ½ mile hike off the Echo Trail brought me to the site of the former tower.

Angleworm Tower Guard Cabin Aug 1928

By the early 1920 a spur of the Swallow Hopkins logging railroad reached the eastern shore of Angleworm which could provide easy access to the site of the Angleworm Tower on the western shore. The USFS used a small gasoline powered speeder to facilitate access to the tower until 1937 when the logging company pulled the rails.

How much longer the USFS used this right-of-way or when they built the present 2 ½ mile trail from the Echo Trail to the tower is unclear. (However, the current trail does not show the markings of CCC work.)

I found pieces of the entire tower structure deposited a few hundred yards in the brush, over the brow of the hill. It appears that once toppled (with explosives), the crew disassembled the structure into pieces a man could carry.

We have the Canoe Fire Department in place. On the hike to Sioux River lookout I paused and imagined how the men and women in the USFS and MFS made this system work. So, as Donald Hough in his article The Canoe Fire Department suggests let's "have a fire, just to try the thing out."

A party of canoeists travels one of the many routes. They cook coffee and breakfast over a small camp fire one morning. The fire seems out especially after casting the dregs of the coffee pot over it. By day's end our party is many miles away and all seems well at their morning campsite. However a few hot embers remain in the thin duff. A wind freshens the second evening after their departure. The embers glow, a bit of flame erupts, spreads; the woods begin to burn. With nightfall the fire abates a little, but still slowly eats into the forest.

On the third morning our lookout guard at Sioux River walks the mile from his cabin at Devil's Cascade to the tower. He climbs the tower, scans the horizon but sees nothing. A stronger wind starts late morning. During a later sweep of the horizon with his glasses he sees smoke rising from trees on the mainland of Lac La Croix, a lake many miles to the north. He sights across his map and notes the compass reading. Climbing down the tower he opens a cast iron box, retrieves the telephone and rings Ely to report smoke at the compass reading of his sighting

Next, on the large map at headquarters in Ely, the supervisor takes a string attached to the Sioux River tower location on the map. Surrounding that spot, and the places of other tower locations, is a large circle inscribed with degrees of a compass. He stretches the string out from Sioux River to the compass degree reported by the lookout and fastens the end on the map with a thumbtack.
He then calls other towers that might see the smoke and asks them for readings as soon as they see smoke. Being at greater distances other towers might not see smoke until the fire has grown. Finally he gets more readings, tacks more strings to the map. The intersection of the strings pinpoints the location of the fire.

Now he calls the nearest district ranger give him the information and says a fire crew of 20 men will leave as soon as he recruits them. Men in town learn the forest supervisor needs a crew and enlist. From the warehouse, he pulls canoes from storage and gathers the packsacks and boxes with supplies. The Minnesota Forest Service supervisor in Tower, a town close to Ely, often sent along a crate of homing pigeons with the crews . The fire crews could then send emergency messages back to headquarters.

After enough men assemble, they mount a truck with their supplies for a short to ride to the water route which they will follow to the fire. (These early crews used water travel. In those days road travel for any distance around Ely followed tote roads and required the extensive use of a shovel and axe.) These fire fighters must paddle through lakes, channels, around rapids, walk long and short portages. They may arrive at the fire site that evening or the next day to begin fighting the fire.

The Sioux Tower guard and those of other towers continue monitoring the smoke. When the smoke continues for several days, the supervisor will dispatch more supplies by canoe. When smoke increases indicating an intensifying fire, or the smoke plume moves from a traveling fire, the supervisor recruits, outfitts and sends more crews to the fire.

Extensive use of airplanes in spotting fires would not begin until the late 1940s - after the Second World War. When planes began to replace towers, trails and canoes, our three towers retired. Wilderness legislation in the 1964 required removal of man-made structures throughout the wilderness. Crews toppled the towers from their heights.

Sometime in the late 60's' or 70's the USFS brought down the Sioux River tower and her two sisters. They placed them out of sight to rest in the wilderness forest the towers guarded for half a century.

Towers: North: Sioux River (N48° 12' 29.5" W092° 14' 33.5"),
West: Norway (N48° 02' 36.4" W092° 16' 18.6"),
East: Angleworm (N48° 05' 07.4" W091° 53' 32.3").
The dark line is the US-Canadian Border
Straight-line distance from Norway to Angleworm approximately 16 miles