Steven Riddle: July 2005 Archives

Euplectella Aspergillum


There must be some people out there desperate for pictures of sponge skeletons because, believe it or not after Flos Carmeli, this is the top search that leads people to my site. Frankly, I don't even recall posting anything about this truly beautiful animal; however, I'll look at my search engine and see what it was that I did that would lead people here.

Just to make certain we have things straight--it should be Euplectella aspergillum

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I am:
Hal Clement (Harry C. Stubbs)
A quiet and underrated master of "hard science" fiction who, among other things, foresaw integrated circuits back in the 1940s.

Which science fiction writer are you?

At the bottom of the same page, you can find out which composer you are and I'm pleased to announce that

You are:

Johann Sebastian Bach
Only a hundred years after his death was he recognized as possibly the profoundest musical genius of all time.

I would only be happier to be Vivaldi, or anyone who composes extensively for mandolin.

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Why is it so difficult for us to love unreservedly? Why do we constantly find ourselves embroiled in controversies that divide us and give us the "right" to judge another?

I pick so many ways to judge. Often I am scandalized, stunned, shocked, and secretly gratified that I have found a way to be more pious, more Godly, and more Christian than my neighbors. In the non-relgious realm I do the same, but the qualities that I am improving in myself are somewhat different. It is good that I am more refined, more intelligent, more cultivated, more honest, more loving, more whatever.

It is a problem I find myself constantly combatting. My rush to judgment is nearly always (although often unconsciously) about feeling good about ourselves. I am piqued or provoked than an opinion on some matter differs from our own.

I read a number of so-called "progressive" blogs. One of the reasons I read them is that they challenge me, sometimes strenuously, to enlarge my view of what the Catholic Church is and of the diversity of opinion within the Church. I almost never find my views of the doctrine changing as a result of reading these blogs--but what I often do find are faithful, strong Catholics, who while holding a divergent viewpoint, still want to belong to, and from their point of view, improve the Church. On the more traditional side, I read a number of blogs that wish to do the same things in the other direction. And what I find here is a difference of opinion--sometimes a difference in which one party or another can be demonstrated to be wrong according to all reasonable explications of tradition and Church Doctrine. But still, there is seldom, if ever, any malice in this wrongness.

This is one of the reasons I'm so apposed to "cleansing the temple" of those who disagree. Heaven knows I would ultimately be one of the ones cleansed because so many of my opinions are pressed right against the border of Orthodoxy and I hold on only by will. For example, you all have heard time and again how I feel about "just war." And honestly every fiber of my being repudiates such an oxymoron. Nevertheless, the Church holds and definitively teaches that such is a possibility--therefore, while all that I am rails against it, I stand with the Church. I guess this puts me in a good stead to sympathize with those whose views differ.

Nevertheless, I find judgment creeping into my thoughts. I find that I use myself as the measure of all things and what a poor measure it is! But woe be unto you if I perceive you do not reach my exalted heights and standards. (Not really, but I am sometimes shocked by my own propensity for judgment.) And so I attribute this to many of us. In some cases, people are more willing to articulate and make a point of their judgments. In my case, I pray that I can learn to stop making those judgments. And as with all such prayers, I have ample opportunity to practice the skill.

But learning to love isn't merely about learning not to pass judgment, but it is learning to accept grace and look out of oneself toward the Other. I must look first to God who is the source and image of all love. If I strive to love without grounding in God, I do so in vain because of myself I can do so little. But with His grace I can do all things. With His love I can learn to love. Paradoxically, seeking His love demands that I look beyond myself and my judgments. Seeking His love requires total abandonment to it. I've said before and will say continually, God's love is "All or Nothing at All." One cannot serve God and Mammon or God and _____. One cannot serve two masters because the one less visible will always be the secondary. As money, sex, fame, and food are all overtly present before us at all times, God will always take the back seat to them if we try to serve both.

An answer to my question then--it is so hard to love because I am so bound up in myself and my own concerns. It is so hard to love because original sin has alienated me from love. To learn to love, I must reach out to the Cross and come to an understanding of what love is by embracing Jesus as He offered Himself--not as I would like Him to offer Himself. I must accept the sacrifice of the Son of God as my own and not seek to alter, change, or transfigure it. That is part of taking up my cross. And it is only in taking up my cross that I can begin to learn love.

(P.S., I know this is a lot of I, I, I, but I also discover that the third person plural is not nearly so convicting as is the first person. That "we" do something hides me in a mass of humanity and in some way excuses what I do. But strip it down to what I do, and I need to acknowledge and answer it. And as one of my theories of blogging is that I do it largely for an audience of one who needs to hear over and over again the truths of the faith--well, please forgive me for burdening you with it.)

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Erik's Friday Five From Last Week


These questions interested me:

1. What is your favorite way to beat the heat?

Heat? What heat? Who needs to beat it? Join it. Luxuriate in it, be one with it. Savor it.

2. What is your favorite hot weather dish? Whatever anyone puts in front of me to eat.

3. What is your ideal hot weather music? Vivaldi--it makes me want to dance.

4. What smells do you associate with hot weather? Rain, cut grass, confederate jasmine and honeysuckle.

5. OK. Enough is enough. If time and money were no object, where would you go to escape this infernal heat. (a) How hot is infernal? (b) Go someplace even warmer--Everglades to Tucson.

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A Quiz Found in My Travels


I think I found this at Zadok's Place, but I don't remember and I wasn't able to get back to the site after taking the quiz. Please accept my apologies for lack of reference.

You scored as Mystical Communion Model. Your model of the church is Mystical Communion, which includes both People of God and Body of Christ. The church is essentially people in union with Christ and the Father through the Holy Spirit. Both lay people and clergy are drawn together in a family of faith. This model can exalt the church beyond what is appropriate, but can be supplemented with other models.

Mystical Communion Model


Sacrament model


Servant Model


Herald Model


Institutional Model


What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
created with
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Pope Benedict XVI

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Can anyone out there recommend a truly compelling work by Cardinal Ratzinger? (I know that he has not yet had an opportunity to produce great work as a Pope.) I ask because I have now tried three different books and find that my eyes snap shut almost before I am out of the introduction. When I make my way into the body of the work, I find that I can't seem to follow the thread of thought, chain or reason, or logic of the piece. I drift in and out and end up wondering why I'm reading. I've had better success with the larger of the two interview books, the name of which escapes me. But Introduction to Christianity lulled me quickly into a pseudo-reading stupor so too with the book of essays about communion and ecumenism.

I'd like to see what everyone else sees to rave about, but honestly, at the present time I don't. Could be my choice of works, or could be that that door simply will not open for me. In that case tant pis. I know there are those who did not see the attraction of John Paul the Magnificent's poetry and prose and I would be hard pressed to explain it to them. But I'm thinking that I've just started with the wrong works and once I get a good leg up these books, forming part of a greater oeuvre will fall into their proper places.

So, any suggestions as to where to start?

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First, this is not by way of criticism or slight to anyone who may differ from this opinion. Indeed, I find it one of my great burdens. But let's just say I don't get the idea of a "beach book."

I don't quite understand the concept of going to a beach book in hand. And when I come back from a beach after ten or twelve hours of walking the entire strand, dodging sharks, and collecting whatever might be collectable, I'm in no state whatsoever to read a book. In the entire time I spent on vacation, I brought about twelve books to read--I ended up reading perhaps a couple of chapters of one of them.

I am, in fact, exceedingly pleased by an observation made by my host with regard to my approach to the beach. He said (and I paraphrase most of it), "I've noticed there are different styles of going to the beach. Some go and sit and sun. Some savor the beach, letting it come to them. You devour the beach."

Now there is truth here. The day we went to the beach when it wasn't stormy and the beach was our only destination, I walked from Delmore-Wiggins pass (a turtle beach) to the North Side of Downtown Naples and back. I don't know how far that is, but my guess is about eight-to-ten miles. My goal would be to walk from Naples to Venice. However, as that would entail swimming several rather large, probably bull-shark infested rivers, I rather think I'll keep it down to between large tidal rivers.

But back to the point. I love the beach. I go with the intent of sitting and absorbing and just being there, but the beach calls to me. Like Prufrock, "I hear the mermaids singing each to each," unlike Prufrock I do not care that they do not sing to me--it is sufficient to be privileged to overhear the conversation meant only for them.

But then we must keep in mind that Steven has, among his friends, a reputation for being robo-tourist. I just read MamaT's description of her first few days of vacation and thought back to my time in San Francisco. And I had written a long description here of it; however, it would seem to detract from that wonderful entry i cited above. Suffice to say that I am known for my ability to take in the sites in a given location. Thus, it should come as no surprise that my recreation at a beach is to walk as far as I possibly can in either direction from where I start. The idea of sitting with a book seems somehow contrary to my notion of a beach--and that, I admit, is my failing. I guess when I take a vacation, I take a vacation from me and my driving impulses as well as from a location. I was amazed at how very little I read (only the directions to and descriptions of the places we were going or just had been.)

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Via Siris

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Samuel called me last night nearly breathless with excitement, "Guess what, Dad?"

"What, Samuel?"

"My dream has at last come true! I can be a cowboy."

"Oh, how did that happen?"

"Grandma bought me a cowboy hat and cowboy boots and a cowboy belt."

"Oh, really?"

"And they're all black. And when I wear mommy's sunglasses I look really cool."


"Oh yes. And we took lots and lots of pictures."

"Well, I think your grandma bought those clothes for me."

"Don't be silly Dad, they're only in my size. But we'll look really hard for something similar."

Sam's grandma decided that Sam should have his cowboy outfit. (Not that there was ever any question of him getting it, because if he didn't get it from Grandma, we'd have gotten him some next time I went to buy a hat.) Sam was beside himself. Mom reports that he wanted to sleep in everything but the boots and he had a hard time getting to sleep last night. When I go up to visit next week, I'll take pictures and hopefully get around to posting them shortly.

Anyway, I figured the Texas mommies would particularly appreciate this budding surfer/cowboy who plays classical music and has been spending the summer learning Italian. Now, that's what I call a Catholic boy!

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Obviously can't say much about the book itself other than that it is thoroughly predictable even as to the identity of the mysterious half-blood prince, and yet thoroughly enjoyable. Hopefully in what follows there are no spoilers.

What we learn:

(1) And the greatest of these is love
(2) Do not do what you do not know
(3) Evil always overreaches itself because it believes itself more powerful than good
(4) Make no promise that you are not willing to keep

All pretty good lessons for young people. I am hoping though that part of the overall message of the series does not turn out to be "The end justifies the means." A friend of mine suggested that the introduction of non-verbal spells may provide a way out of that dilemma. We have yet to see.

Rowling is not a great prose stylist--there are any number of problems with her writing, sometimes more glaringly obvious than others. What Rowling does do is weave a good, lengthy, complex story--by that I refer to the entire series rather than to the single book.

Another failing is that while Rowling often allows us to see action, her writing sometimes becomes muddled in the heat of action. And finally, she isn't really good at emotion. Harry angry is much the same as Harry sad. Dorothy Parker's quote regarding Katherine Hepburn applies.

Nevertheless, the books are interesting, fun, fast reading. They undoubtedly teach some very important lessons--although to that point there are other books that do it as well or better. However, these other books fail to engage young readers in the same way as this series. Yes, magic is used, as it is in innumberable works of children's literature throughout time. That's because the best children's writers have not forgotten that all around childhood there is a sense or a touch of magic. Those writers engage a child's sense of otherness. Hence, I believe the popularity of these books.

No, my prime objection to a child reading these books is simply that they might learn less-than-adequate prose style. Hardly a debilitating or incapacitating problem.

Those inclined to read it, get it and do so, I'd love to be able to discuss it. Those no so inclined--you're missing a little magic, but then you probably find it elsewhere--no great loss for you.

One last note--while this is shorter than Order of the Phoenix what she has served up for the last book promises a work four times as large. Given her at times torpid pace, I cannot begin to imagine how she will cover the necessary ground. But I can't wait to see it done.

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I don't know quite how to class this entry. It's something I off-handedly promised in an earlier post, but it isn't really about the title because frankly, I've mostly forgotten what the title means because it isn't a meaningful part of my existence.

I think what I wanted to point out is that there is a wonderful series of modern College courses available on CD. On the long drive down to Naples and then back up again, I finally had sufficient time to listen to a course by Peter Kreeft on Ethics. I didn't absorb everything upon listening, but I did learn some things and I was provoked to investigate a few philosophical works. Likewise, I was listening to the first lecture in a series called Masterpieces of Western Musice. The title of the lecture was "The Red Priest and His All-Girl Orchestra" and it featured a nice mid-level discussion of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. I recommend the series.

Now to Kant. I found Kreeft's observations on Kant and Sartre to be exceedingly helpful in sorting out some important differences and feelings. I find Sartrean existentialism utterly repugnant and, more to the point, just plain wrong-headed. Honestly, I'm not all that keen on any form of existentialism--I think the Medieval and Ancient Philosophers were closer to the truth with their essentialism.

My prejudices now defined, let's move on to the "discovery" I made in dealing with Sartre and his existentialism. This discovery was that in essntials Sartre was more honest at facing the consequences of his philosophy than was Kant. Kant basically tells us that he cannot prove and does not know for certain about the existence of God and the Afterlife, but even if we do not know, or even if we believe that they do not exist we should behave as though they do. In other words, we live a lie. This is deplorable, reprehensible philosophy. It does not seek a truth but posits a substitute truth. Sartre on the other hand simply says, "Cowboy up. There is no God, no purpose, no meaning, no essence, no value to life at all. Even suicide isn't worth it because it no more causes or defines meaning than any other action of the mass of the human population. The human being is absurd in his meaninglessness." Wrong, of course, from the get go and repugnant beyond the ability of words to express. Nevertheless, brutally honest and true to the nature of the proposed philosophy. There is something to be said for living the truth rather than pretending that existence is otherwise and living so.

Personally, Aquinas, despite his propensity for splitting hairs and remaining true to a construct to the point of absurdity, (see the discussion of "the vice opposed to drunkeness" over at Disputations--excessive sobriety as a vice?) presents a far more livable philosophy and ethics. Problem is--you must believe in order to accept it. Or perhaps in accepting it you can be led to belief--however it may happen the two go together. There is an appealing simplicity in the congruity of this notion. Man has meaning and that meaning is defined by a creator from whom we receive the understanding to pursue the good and the right.

Oh well, enough very amateur philosophizing. The point of this was to encourage everyone to take up some of this Modern College Courses. They're generally available from your library. There's one of the writings of C.S. Lewis. There's one by Joseph Ellis on Revolutionary American History. There's one on the Bible as the source of Western literature. And there's even one by Alexander McCall Smith.

Go, seek and enjoy!

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She's Up!!


One of the great things about the place I work in Orlando is that it is one of the taller buildings in the area. As a result we all go up to the seventh or eighth floor and watch every launching. Usually they are sparsely attended, but today the bulding had a distinct list to the east as everyone crowded the windows to hope, pray, and wish Discovery on her way. Four, five-hundred people all watching the ascent. No, it's not the view from Canaveral, but it is very, very nice indeed, and very nice to see so many interested and so many praying for a safe journey.

I stood and peered anxiously out the window looking for the little flame and the plume of smoke that would mark her ascent. And there it was to the left of a crane of the horizon, arcing up into the clouds, flame strong, plume of smoke thick but quickly swept away so that the trace of her path was quickly removed. And with her my heart also ascended knowing that we were once again on our way. Here in Florida, this has been the constant subject of discussion for the last two weeks or more, and today we were able to witness its execution. Pray for a safe and fulfilling journey, for safety for the present crew and for those who return and for a return of information that will benefit all of humankind.

Oh, how wonderful it is to be able to see this continued movement into the next frontier.

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Ordinary Miracles

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Who needs speaking, bleeding, or crying statues when you have these kinds of things around you every day? (To protect bandwidth, they are in the extended entry.)

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Digital Cameras


Are a blessing or a curse. Personally, I find them a tremendous blessing. I'm able to take pictures of hundreds of different things without worrying about developing them or how they will come out. As a result, I take far more pictures--not necessarily better pictures, though I'm working on that as well.

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The post that follows should probably be at least two different posts, but it is what it is. Someday perhaps I'll tease apart these two strands of thoughts that have converged here, but until then--this post. I'm much, much too busy repeating my vacation in my head as I walk around the neighborhood to be bothered with such things as making any sense.

Much cyberink has been spilled over the Holy Father's supposed statements about Harry Potter, and it has given me pause to reflect.

I am exceedingly grateful that the Holy Spirit saw fit to fill the vacancy left by the death of John Paul the Magnificent so rapidly. However, unlike much of St. Blogs, I haven't been overwhelmed with the person who was chosen. I'm sure those who are pleased have good cause to be, but as hard as I have tried, Cardinal Ratzinger's works simply haven't spoken to me the way JPII did. This is a difference of style and certainly not a fault of either the Holy Father or me--one person's style simply means more to me from the get-go than another's. That is a fact of human nature. However, I've never been a rah-rah fan of Benedict XVI. Nevertheless, he is now the Holy Father and due submission of will and intellect when pronouncing infallibly on matters of faith and morals, and due reasonable leeway in considering pronouncements not made infallibly.

However, when the Holy Father speaks outside his realm of expertise, he is due no more deference than any other critic. On the matter of Harry Potter, it is fairly clear to me that the Holy Father made a completely unremarkable statement that could be made apropos of any popular work of literature--to wit--"There are things in popular literature that subtly (and not so subtly) misconstrue and misrepresent things we know in faith to be true. These things can mislead, and the danger of their misleading ability is more severe with those more innocent of things in the world." This is an appropriate evaluation and correct not only for Harry Potter, but for John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Stephen King, and any number of popular writers.

However, I do maintain that I am not required to submit either intellect or taste to the opinions of Benedict XVI in literature. Had he said that Claude Simon was the most sublime author ever to have walked the face of the Earth, with the wisdom of the ages and the intellect to match, I would find Claude Simon no more readable to me than before the pronouncement. I might be inclined to seek him out and see what the Holy Father liked in the work--but I would neither be required to nor feel particularly obligated to. If the Holy Father were to say the Fractal Mathematics were somehow contradictory to the faith, I would not be inclined to take such a comment seriously until he had demonstrated an extensive and incontrovertible understanding of Fractal Math.

Thus, the Holy Father's pronouncements now or before, in the matter of literature are of vanishingly little concern to me. If I agree already, I would likely nod my head, if not, I wouldn't give the matter second thought. If the Holy Father does or does not like Harry Potter, it is of little moment. If he definitively states that reading these books is contrary to doctrine and faith, then I would be required to pay attention. As that has not happened, and I have yet to read anything that informs me of the Holy Father's understanding of the mechanics of literature and in particular children's literature, I find nothing of moment in his cautionary statement. I suspect that he comments on the books only from what he has heard of them, not on first hand knowledge.

That leads me to another little matter, which is the problem of Michael O'Brien. A passably good author in his own right, his opinions and understandings of children's literature are highly suspect. I've read his book and found that most of his points strike me as highly inflammatory and somewhat paranoid. He does a great disservice denouncing nearly everything in children's literature because it leaves undifferentiated things as disparate as A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter and the Prison of Azkaban, and The Golden Compass. To my mind, this does not help prepare the parent already frightened enough of the world of children's literature, but rather puts obstacles in the way of the legitimate enjoyment of what is not truly harmful. He is, of course, entitled to his opinions, but I find them fractious, unsupported, and uneven. Moreover, I have no confidence in his judgment of literature as the list of works that he would approve include things even more problematic than those that he would dismiss. For example, his endorsement of Gene Stratton Porter's A Girl of the Limberlost with its overt and very ugly racism (although despite these elements it is a fine book) leaves one wondering if the only evil in literature is the introduction of any part of the element of magic. So, too, with his listing of Earl Biggers Derr and its stereotypical portrayal of Chinese and the truly deplorable "Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club" with its very ugly racist overtones. I'm getting too close to being polemical here, and I need to back off. But when I see O'Brien sited as a source for anything, my instinct is to immediately ask what his credentials are for making any pronouncements about the good or harm that is done by the working of fantasy in literature. When Peter Pan is approved with its implicit message of the goodness of not maturing and L. Frank Baum is disapproved (one assumes because of the presence of witches and enchantment) one is left to scratch one's head in bemusement. The list of suggested children's literature is so wildly uneven and idiosyncratic that the only unifying factor seems to be an implicit bias against anything that might mention magic, witchcraft, or enchantment.

But enough of that matter. I have said, and will continue to say, that children exposed to literature with appropriate adult intervention will likely come to no harm because of it. How many of us went on to blow up cars or leave horse's heads in beds because of reading The Godfather at an early age? Children should be protected against a great many things, but I'm not certain that Mr. O'Brien always chooses the best things to ward off. I'd far rather Samuel read Harry Potter and learn about working for the oppressed than read the racial slurs present in many books of the past. I'd far rather he read Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn than other similar literature.

I guess my point is that we need not be so afraid of these things in literature. Objecting to Harry Potter on the basis of magic is less good than objecting to it on the basis of it being substandard writing and literature. And given what most adults read, this is hardly a valid objection at all, because nearly every adult author is worse than Ms. Rowling in any number of ways. The harm in Harry Potter comes from the fear of the things it discusses. Samuel knows at his age that he does not live in the world of Harry Potter and no number of spells or charms will do anything at all. But the thought engages his imagination and makes him think about things beyond human capacity--it directs his attention to the supernatural--to the realm of God and the Angels and it helps him to engage those concepts as well. He may not see God and the Angels in this world, but they are, in some way, real, just as Harry Potter is, in some way real. God is more real and there is greater evidence for Him, but Harry Potter can be an introduction to belief and understanding of things one cannot see or hold.

An attentive, engaged adult is a child's best protection against any possible harm in children's literature. It is the prerogative of any parent to choose what a child will be allowed to read while that adult is paying attention. But the reality is that when your head is turned, your children will be exposed to these things, and it were better that they were well prepared for it. For example, I see greater potential harm in the movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with its apparent implicit endorsement of "alternative lifestyles" (note the end conversation with Lupin) than with the book. But it is entirely possible that one's child might encounter this at a friend's house during a slumber party or just a day out. Give your child the weapons for understanding and interpreting--because attempting to shield him or her will most probably not be completely effective and you want him or her to be able to give good reason for what he or she believes. It is important that a child understand where Harry is convergent with faith and where what it says and teaches is divergent from our values. (Although honestly most Catholic Children I've encountered who have read the work already know this quite clearly.) Every film they encounter, every television show, every work of popular culture will be to some degree at variance with the teachings of the faith. It is our job to use those things that engage them most to teach them how to recognize these subversive threads. We disarm the harm when we teach the children what we value--I think we extend the harm when we do not teach them how to deal with these things they will encounter. I think about a statement made by a friend of a friend, "The problem with Orthodox Judaism is that they value education just enough to teach the children to doubt the faith." Good education teaches a child to engage ideas in a way that allows them to consider the points and retain the truth. This must be done at the appropriate time, but shielding will often fail--if not in the home or at any early age, possibly later, with entirely more devastating effects.

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One Last Image

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In a private communication one reader was surprised at how much I had liked Key West and how poetic I had waxed over it. Well, this little photo will give you a sense of why. That was the view from my hotel room. Three days after Dennis and sea and sky have returned to where they started. In other pictures the swirls of sea and sky reflect one another with the same apparent flatness. I cannot say enough about the water and its color. As soon as I can reasonably well capture it, I will likely substitute it for my background on this site. Problem has been that there has been no good way to capture it well.

Well, good night all.

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Arizona_Sonoran_Desert_Museum 030.jpg

Sorry. Not the spiny lizard, but I thought you might prefer one in focus. I'm still sorting through the spiny lizard photos with some hope that I might find one that isn't all blurred out.

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My Javelina pictures did not come out as well as I would have liked and the Coyotes were downright dreadful. Got a lot of great spiny lizards, but figured you might enjoy these more.

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And the lovely San Xavier del Bac, presently undergoing restoration.

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And to RC if he happens to drop by--I promise never, never, never to do this again. For one thing it is entirely too much effort--but I'll work really hard to reduce server strain.

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Corckscrew_Swamp (2).JPG

The flower above and the friend below were both experiences to be savored at Corkscrew Swamp--an Audubon preserve.

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Said friend is heralded by this plant--appropriately enough called Alligator flag. Throughout the swamp we found them with these regular, even perforations. They were so perfect that it seemed unlikely to be caused by a browsing insect. I thought perhaps they functioned like the slits in banana leaves. Alas, I know too little about this mystery to help you resolve it.

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And the friend below brought to me courtesy of a short side-trip to Estero, Florida--the Koreshan Settlement.

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Why I Love the Dry Tortugas


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And yes, for many reasons, this is likely to be the best picture you see of me on this site.

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The view of Fort Jefferson--the place of incarceration of Dr. Samuel Mudd, unjustly railroaded into prison for setting John Wilkes Booth's leg and released after helping tend a yellow fever epidemic in the Fort. Certainly the acts of a traitorous coward.

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What you can see without ever entering the water. (From the moat walk around the fort.)

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A Garden Plot

A Garden Plot

On paper I ordained my garden grid
neat and sqaure and true, laid out with no
vanishing point, t-square perfect, a grim
mathematician's dream of order. And so
I went out to the real garden--neither wide
nor true, squared with no boundaries I could
see, rough, rocky, low, unkempt--and I tried
to set my level straight upon the ground.
With stakes and twine I pinned the garden's frame,
here I hit a pebble and so moved the stake,
for a tree the line bowed out there, a claim
from a neighbor moved a line, a stream made
a jog, and so it continued until
I had the whole laid out--to no avail--
my grid, a wrecked rhombus, skewed in untilled
soil, shaped by Earth, not by hand, not the plot
I had plotted but one completed by
hands unseen. My vision of a perfect
garden plot came undone, and with it me.
I stand, unmade by my own attempt to
make, and delighted with the design that
moves beyond my own meager means and ways.
What can I find in this design? Can I
come to better know the hand that formed it
the mind that made it? Can I come to love
what I could not see 'til I failed in my
design? Can I give myself over to
another, grander designer--a new
lover who will love me to perfection--
who I cannot see and do not know? Only
if I abandone plumb and t-square, only
if I give Him the chance to shape me as
His secret garden, His perfected love.
Only if I abandon me among
the garden paths, amid the perfections
I had no hand in making--I strive so
hard to see. Here among the lilies and
the irises, amid the willows, oaks
and maples. Here alone may I again
find the me the Maker made me to be.

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Struggling Against Birth


At times it seems that I kick against the goad when it comes to God. There's one metaphor for you. But let's go to Nicodemus and take our substantive metaphor. Jesus says, "Unless a man be born again of water and the spirit. . ."

At times it seems that I struggle against being born. What I need to do is relax (surrender) and cooperate. But let's face it--the womb is a comfortable, sensual place. No child in his right mind would choose to be born over staying in this warm, comfortable, quiet, intimate space. Well, that's probably not true of children. They are ready for the world. But as adults many of us have had enough of it to think that an additional decade or two suspended in an amniotic sac doesn't sound like so terrible a prospect.

That's the way it is with my spiritual life from time to time. For example, I can feel the movement of the spirit within me, coaxing me toward birth and renewal. But the "womb" of the world, the lure of what I know, the delights of the senses keep me pinned here. And pinned is exactly the right metaphor as well. So long as I cling to all the admitted delights of the world, I am pinned as a butterfly is pinned in a collect--beautiful, perhaps, but inert and dead. I am suspended without life.

True life lies beyond the sphere of the merely sensual. It lies within the realm of the spirit living with but not in the world. My struggle against birth is the fight of the Old Man to retain what is his "birthright." My struggle to be born is the struggle of the man renewed in Christ, the New Man, to claim the proper birthright of the one Risen from the Dead.

And all that it requires is surrender, to struggle to supress the urge to stay in the warm amniotic sac of the world and to allow myself to be born again to my true heritage--to my place in the body of Christ. That is the struggle that is what I go through daily--to choose myself and the world, or to choose my place in Christ's body and my spiritual heritage. God knows it is difficult, that is why many of us have been given so much practice in a lifetime. But the world is a more beautiful, more wonderful place when you have entered the new birth and can see more clearly our Father and our Brother in all that is around us.

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The Forgotten


This little film has a couple of really nice jolts, an interesting plot that cooks along, and a very heartening "message." I'm not usually keen on such transparent vehicles for a message, but given that I like the message as much as I do, I can forgive this film for it.

The downside is that the acting isn't all that great, but it isn't so terrible as to be intrusive most of the time.

The plot: A woman who has lost her son discovers that little-by-little all the things that remind her of him are vanishing and all the people around her are forgetting him: his oftentimes babysitter, the father of one of her son's friends, her own husband. Is she going insane, or has she been insane all along and has she invented this child as the result of having miscarried a child? The question hovers over the first half of the film.

It is resolved in the seond half very satisfyingly with the ultimate message that nothing stands in the way of a mother's love--nothing. It was one of those movies that touched a biblical strain in me as I thought of the passage, "Though a mother forsake her child, I will not abandon you." If this is the strength and the passion of mere human love, what then is divine love? Also (and this may be me merely projecting) it seemed to me that there was a strong pro-life strain in the film. The ultimate message seemed to be that there is an indissoluble link between a mother and a child--something that would give one pause were one to consider trying to dissolve it.

A good movie, some very strong language from time to time, but otherwise probably okay for all older teens and recommended for all adults.

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My hotel room here looks out over the Santa Catalina Mountains, a golf course, and some desert set-pieces that punctuate the artificial (and irresponisible) green.

Last night I watched as the heavens played out a magnificent thunderstorm--lightning as I have never seen it before, even though I live in the lightning capital of the world. Huge jagged bolts that tore apart the night sky and light up the mountains in glorious silhouette. Unimaginably beautiful--to see a saguaro highlighted against the sky. Beautiful.

This morning I walked around seeing what the desert had to offer for the waking person. Rabbits, lizards, and a few other fast-moving ground things. But most wonder of all--a cactus wren in its nest and an unidentified owl high in the tree. La Paloma (the name of the resort) certainly has a home here as well.

Please join me in giving great thanks for all that the Lord has shared with me on these two trips. They have been utlimately restorativeo--to the point where tomorrow or the next day I may be writing about the categorical imperative or the Discourse on Method. Yes, my brain has recovered, ever so little.

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Blogging from Tucson


From the wonders of Manatees, Dolphins, Leatherbacks, Hawksbills, loons, alligators, tricolor herons. . .

From the turquoise of water that is beyond the description of water, water never meant to look like heaven and promising the gates thereof,

From bridges spanning mangrove islands filled with yet more gators, salt-water crocodiles, and a panoply of birds and animals you cannot begin to imagine. . .

from black bears and Flordia panther, from ghost orchid and spider lily and alligator glad,

To Saguaro, ocotillo, barrel cactus, and desert palms,

road runner, coyote, javelina, rattlesnake, and best of all (and I'm not joking her because I love them) scorpions,

from the humid to the dry.

In a single day I return from the wealth of Florida and emerge into the wealth of the desert. The sere beauty, the austere and lovely surroundings that allow for no miscalculation, no mistake.

I'm hoping that during this brief stay I will be able to take in San Xavier del Bac--aka "The White Dove of the Desert."

God is very, very good indeed and He has blessed me beyond blessing with the riches He has showered on me in the last few days. More later, but now, to enjoy the desert sunset--sure to be completely different from tht of the ocean, but enchanting, beautiful, wonderful all the same.

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States Visited


From TSO--

I included only the states I have statyed in or gone to deliberately for some reason, not the ones I have passed through.

create your own personalized map of the USA
or check out ourCalifornia travel guide

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A Meme! A Meme!

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I have not been as faithful in my blog-reading as I ought to be in the course of vacation--I'm sure you'll all note why. Nor have I written as much as I could have written either about the vacation nor about other matters. That is partially because I spend so much time in conversation with my excellent host that all things I have to say are said before they make it to ether.

However, Father Jim has passed a meme that ask what is atop my nightstand. That is a tough question in a couple of ways because my nighstand amounts to a multi-shelf bookshelf. However sticking to the absolute letter of the law, I will detail what is on the uppermost shelf: a lamp, three piece of fossilized coral from a reef on San Salvador Island, Bahamas; a basalt hand carved Tiki; a Queen Conch also taken from the rubble pile outside the cracked conch shack near the ex-naval station, now research station on San Salvador Bahamas; a polished nautilus (to reveal the mother-of=pearl layer beneath the brown and white exterior; and finally a lump of amethyst. This peculiar array is in deference to my wife's decorator sensibility. Obviously there are other more practical things on the other shelves )among them, books) but, this is the topmost shelf.

As a meme requires a vector and a host, I operating as vector, pass this on to bill (Summa Minutiae), TSO, MamaT, Julie, and Dan (Lofted Nest) unless they should prove to be resistant to its charms.

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The Vacation Winds Down


All I can say is that it is a good thing that the Keys were the last point of my agenda rather than the first. I would never have escaped from them--never found my way anywhere else. I did not expect to like them as much as I did, and yet, there it is. Nearly everything else pales in comparison, as lovely as it all was. I'm suffering from Keys withdrawal.

The pace of Island life was so subdued and so Caribbean--I don't do night life so I didn't really see Key West at its worst--in fact, I saw nothing that put me off overmuch, and certainly nothing that was as bad as the Ocean was good. There is nothing like the sight of turquoise waters broken by the deep blue of channels and the occasional brown of a shoal or coral reef. Nothing like seeing parrotfish and angelfish swimming free. Nothing at all like the Dry Tortugas. While I was there I met a volunteer in the gift shop and asked him about the living arrangements for volunteers. I didn't think that they would come in with an early boat and go out in the evening. And I was right. They live on the island for thirty day stretches. Suddenly I saw myself as a gift-shop volunteer on Garden Key--somehow don't think they'd put up my whole family though.

And Key West, while magnificent and displayed for tourists in a way unmatched by any other key, was simply the jewel in the Crown. Bahia Honda, a long key with a gorgeous beach and a magnificent view of the Flagler bridges was our last stop on the way out. We only spent a couple of minutes, but it was once again gorgeous beyond words.

My host has been extremely patient and kind. We have schedules that work well together to give each of us a lot of private time. He gets up along about 4:00 am and I get up about 7:00 and follow that with an hour or so of hemming and hawing, prayer and prep for the day. He goes to bed along about 8:30 (or earlier) and I go to bed along about midnight or 1:00 am. Again, open spaces of free time for both of us.

This vacation has been a blessing, a deep and wonderful blessing. And in the course of it I have seen a great many things, most particularly those recounted here. But Key West overwhelmed me. I would like to go back and go parasailing (a desire I have never before in my entire life felt). It's odd, I have no longing to live there. I don't know that I would like to live there all the time. But as a rejuvenating charge, they simply can't be beat. Next time it will be with the family.

(Oh, and the major impediment against these things--the very frightening prospect of a hundred-mile-long bridge is not even remotely a reality. There are only two fairly long stretches of bridge. So, I suspect that I will return as soon and as often as is feasible. These are a taste of paradise on Earth.)

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Preliminary post on the Dry Tortugas.

Just returned and rocking, endlessy rocking, compensating for ship motion. It's amazing what six hours on a boat will do to you--even if they are spread across two three-hour spaces. I haven't had time to absorb the trip yet, but suffice to say that it is paradise within paradise. If the Keys are wonderful and beautiful, the Dry Tortugas are that and more as there are far fewer people--flying fish, parrot fish, tarpons, dolphins, sea-turtles, frigate birds and boobies--but only the people who arrived on the boat.

We did not opt to camp out and I now think that might have been a mistake. I think about seeing the Milky Way from the middle of the Gulf of Mexico--Okay not the middle, but well nigh the last little spot of land east of the Yucatan.

And the sea is turquoise--perfect turquoise--the water still slightly turbid from the churning Dennis gave them, the silt and clay still settling, but not dense enough to both the local life.

And the fort itself--the prisonhouse of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd--one of those accused in the "conspiracy" to assassinate Lincoln. Tried and convicted during a suspension of proper legal procedings that passed for law at the time. Pardoned upon helping the garrison when a Yellow Fever Epidemic broke out.

The shopkeeper there was a volunteer. He said that he worked a thirty day shift and lived on the Island during the time. What an opportunity! I'd love to do something like that. Every night the moon, the stars, the dolphin, and the sea=turtles. All of nature cries out to God in praise, and the cries are the loudest I have ever heard in this subtropical haven. (Yes, not heaven).

I'll think about this some more and hopefull come up with something better to say. But don't count on it because words fail in the face of such glorious beauty and majresty. I will try regardless.

Tomorrow leaving Key West, which I have come to love. I wouldn't be able to live here--there is a weirdness here that is merely trying and tired--there is an attempt at energy and night-life that is merely dissolute. There are boutiques and shops that do business as though one were in a third-world country.

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Key West


Nine o'clock and the sun is still westering over Key West. The sky is painted with the red, yellow, and orange clouds and split by rays of the deep turquoise blue tht seems to radiate out of the west, a final glowing sky to fight the shadow that encroaches. The Harbor Lights wink on and the silhouette of a man in a row boat works across the bight as does the shadow of a bird in flight that cannot yet be identified.

Key West is recovering from Dennis. Piles of debris line the streets and many of the parks are not open until Wednesday. We had to postpone our trip to the Dry Tortugas by a day, but it buys us a day on the island.

We may spend part of the day tomorrow visiting Bahia Honda a few keys up. We will probably walk by Hemingway's house (we can't really go in as we are both deathly allergic to cats and the polydactylate cats still wander and (I'm told) aromatize the premises.) We will then probably take in a tourist trap or two--such as the pirate museum. We might also visit the beach hear. Already have visited Southernmost point, Southernmost house (with a real widow's walk) and Southernmost Hotel.

Key West is the land of cultivated, calculated wierdness. Needless to say we will not partake of the Duval Street Drawl, nor shall we be in attendance on her royal highness Sushi, the local drag queen. We will try to visit Fort Zachary Taylor--I'm told the largest masonry structure in the United States. And we may try to take in a few more keys or museums. (There's a fossil coral reef on one of the keys.)

Any way, pray for continued good weather at least for the duration of this trip and pray Emily away from habitations. I'm already dreadfully tired of this hurricane season. Having four in one season can do that to a person.

Hope to fill you in on more details tomorrow.

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Key West and Environs


Well, today we embark for Key West. I'll be able to give a first-hand report about any damage from Dennis--although Key West is really built to weather the storm so I don't anticipate much, if anything.

If all goes well and the tours are still being conducted I'll be visiting the Dry Tortugas tomorrow. After returning we'll tour the Everglades Park including the small town of Flamingo on the very tip of Florida looking out across the ocean toward the Keys--so, if fortunate I'll have several views of the Keys.

Also I need to write about Day 8 which included the Caribbean Gardens Zoo and The Collier County Museum. And Day 9 which was our trip to the Beach during the height of Dennis. Finally Day 10 which was a trip to the Naples pier in the not-quite-aftermath of Dennis.

Please pray for those who faced the wrath of Dennis yesterday and who will be receiving the remainder of the storm over the coming days. While they won't have a hurricane, they will have the fall out which can precipitate floods and other very ill effects.

Hope all is well in blogland--have only had time to visit a few places during vacation. Regular rounds start up again after. I'm able to do this much because of the disparate schedules of me and my host. I tend to be a late-night person, he an early morning person. Thus our mutual functional period covers our various activities and we part ways long about 7:00-9:30 depending upon his tolerances. It's really a wonderful way to vacation--plenty of "alone" time and plenty of time with my friend--well-balanced.

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In contrast to the Edison/Ford summer place Ca D'zan (The House of John in a Venetian Dialect) was built to impress. And it does from the moment of entry to the grounds. You come up a circular lane and enter between two very feminine sphinxesd. The Tower of the house rises up against the blue of the sky and the blue of the river sets the backdrop for the whole scene. A statue of one of the Martial Caesar's decorates the right flank.

Inside, doors covered in gold leaf, hand painted cypress and plaster ceilings and an array of befuddling marble staircases that would entrance Escher. Mrs. Ringling liked green--thus the breakfast room is green, as is the pantry and the kitchen.

Overall, opulence deliberately calculated to give the real estate clients he often entertained a sense that the good life was possible in the Sarasota of the 1920s. A beautiful house.

The small museum on the grounds had a large collection largely of late Gothic and early renaissance "no-brand-name" painters. For example there was a painting fashioned after one of the most famous by El Greco, readily recognizable, however it was painted by his son. The Arcimboldo were from the school of Arcimboldo, etc. Which is not to say that the pieces did not have interest and attractions all of themselves. It was especially nice because it wasn't overwhelming. Easily walked in a couple of hours and enjoyed to the fullest.

The less said of the Circus Museum, the better. I find circuses and most particularly clowns disturbing at best. I suppose this represented the circus well, but I couldn't really advance an opinion. My host liked circuses and so I went through and looked at a collection of really neat photographs of Native American subjects that was for some reason included in the collection.

A very satisfying counterbalance to Wednesday's visit to the Edison/Ford estates.

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Day 6 Edison and Ford


Day Six was spent largely in Ft. Myers where we visited the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. I've been thinking for a while now about how to tackle these houses and talking about this two men because I have such an ardent antipathy for one, and a creeping dislike of the other.

Okay, my opinions out of the way, you might better be able to understand my ambivalence at visiting these homes. Both are interesting figures and "great" men and I'm interested in seeing the furnishings and appurtenances of historic homes.

When you visit the winter estates, you pull into a parking lot that is in front of a banyan tree. This tree was a gift of Harvey Firestone. When planted it was two inches around and about four feet high. Presently it has a cricumference of 400 feet and covers about an acre. Now, this number is a little deceptive. A Banyan tree is a kind of Ficus or fig tree. In its native India it is called a "Walking Tree." Aerial Roots drop down from high braches and form new trunks so you have a collection of interlaced trunks and branches all forming one tree. It is one of nature's most astounding and miraculous trees. And this complex forms the entry to the museum and grounds.

We bought a ticket for the works and viewed the Estate and took a really nice boat ride on the Caloosahatchee River to view the estates from the river. At first I missed them, and when we toured the estate, I figured out why.

In reality, these "estates" are very simple, very plain, very ordinary American Houses of their time. There is nothing whatsoever "estate-like" about them. They are about the size of an ordinary tract house amid gorgeous grounds, On the grounds I found at least four species of orchids. There were supposed to be some Dendrodium but I suspect they were not in bloom, Instead there were three species of Cattleya and one species of Endrobium (I think). Also on the grounds were several more Ficus of different species an Africa "Sausage Tree" and and absolutely gorgeous Frangipani. In short, the kinds of things I would very much like to have in my yard if I thought they would continue to grow.

Anyhow, you can see that I wasn't overwhelmed by the houses, but the grounds were truly magnificent and the whole experience is well worth undertaking.

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Prayer Request


For friends who are undergoing a tumultuous and difficult time, that the Lord be there to guide, to heal, to comfort, to provide.

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Prayers Needed


For the people of Great Britain, most particularly the people of London affected by today's attacks.

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My friend here is a lifelong reader. He reads very, very slowly. As a result he is particular about what he reads. However, he has a very nice bookstore nearby--a very large--two story Barnes and Noble which has no rival anywhere near where I live. Also this city (Naples) seems to be stuffed to the gills with used bookstores, once again, the antithesis of where I live.

As we were carefully combing through the store, looking at all the wonders there were to read, I noticed one of the advantages of a very large bookstore. Looking through the "Religion" section, and particularly the section on "Catholic Thought," I found both I Am a Daughter of the Church and I Want to See God on the shelves. I was shocked. In addition, I was able to once again find the full four volumes of the Philokalia--something I haven't seen on the shelves of religious specialty stores.

Of course, this also has its down-side. The complete opus of anti-Bishop Spong pocked the shelves like so many pustules. There were other verminous writings as well. But it was nice that the store was large enough to have balance. Normally one finds the Spong Opus without any relief from the orthodox contingent. And I'm certain that Neil could pull out from Spong's collected works one or another gem. Honestly, that's way too much slogging for me.

Anyway, the whole purpose of writing this was to mention a collection of essays I found by Stanley Hauerwas. Hauerwas is a renowned Christian thinker and a longtime contributor to First Things who left regular contribution after the September 11 attacks. I don't recall the reason at the time, but it seemed logical and integral. Here is a brief piece in which Hauerwas offers a tribute to the work of Il Magnifico (John Paul II).

That said, the book had no price, and I don't spend my time running books to cashier to figure out how much I'm likely to pay for it. So I did not buy it. However, there were some intriguing titles and I did read the majority of one essay. The Title, "Why Gays (as a group) Are More Moral than Christians (as a Group),"

I didn't follow the whole premise because I was skimming, but it seems I must take another look at the chain of reasoning. The whole question centered around Gays in the military and even touched lightly on the question of Just War--a central question I often find myself returning to. And here's the rub--it is very annoying to find oneself with enough intellectual resources to understand the question, but simply not enough intellectual wherewithal to reasonable "encounter" and wrestle with the question. This is the quandary I often find myself in. In high questions of morals, theology, and other such matters, I can often follow the discussion and agree to the chain of reason, but all too often I find myself incapable of making any substantive contribution to the engagement. While I can assent to the reasoning, it seems to me that reasoning merely provides the guidance whereby one ultimately makes a choice and the choice need not always be made on reason alone. Reason must be informed by mercy, compassion, and charity--animated by the whole human spirit or else, it seems, reason becomes a tyrant.

Reason must be consulted and even used to the best of our ability to inform and to decided the correct course of action. But it seems to me that there is room for the rest of the human being in any discussion that occurs. Once reason has spoken, perhaps other factors militate against the decision made in coldest reason. I don't know. But what I do know is that on these matters I seem to be doomed to a life of confusion anyway. I am drawn like a moth to the flame to consider them, and yet I find great frustration in tangling with them because they seem so far beyond me. I love to hear others talk about them, but my capacity is merely interested spectator and that is a great burden sometimes. Nevertheless, to pretend otherwise would be to place myself well beyond my own limits and to give capacity where none really exists.

My, I've wandered far from where I started. But that is the pleasure of writing as one will. Writing is often a path of discovery--it leads to the heart of thought and the heart of prayer. It is a map of many undiscovered countries and looking back over its contours one often finds what one has been looking for a long time. The wonders of blogging and of writing. Now back to the image gathering that I hope will lead to more poetry.

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Day 5--A Quiet Day

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Two things you should know, if you don't already--I am by training a paleontologist AND Collier County is one large limestone/fossil deposit. My friend here is having a house constructed. As a result dump trucks have left a large amount of gravel fill on his property. We first discovered this on 3 July when he took me by to see the progress. (When I first planned the trip, it was postulated that the house would be finished by this time and I would be staying there.) A cursory inspection of the pile revealed a wealth of casts and molds with the rock and a momentary closer inspection showed that there were tons of body fossils, most of Strombus, Oliva and other such species. I mentioned this in Monday's writing. Well, yesterday he had a meeting with the general contractor and as a result I got to go through the remains of that pile and pull out a large number of fossils. Much of the field had been removed because it was fill for the drainage fill of the septic tank—what a horrible fate for all those wonderful fossils! But still, even in the remnant of the pile, the small fraction that remained contained more fossils that I could collect in the field in a month of field days.

On the way out to the place, however, I had the thrill of the day, and possibly of the last several years. We were driving by some houses a little further along, toward the cypress swamp. We were also looking at some vacant property and seeing how it might shape up for building. Coming back from that little jaunt we saw an animal up off the road to the left. At first I thought it was a large dog, but as we approached we saw that it was a young bear--more than a cub, but not quite an adult. I wasn't able to get a photograph because when we slowed and stopped the car, this very wise animal got alarmed and loped off into the woods. I have never encountered a black/brown bear in real life before. We had relatively little fear as we were in a car and had no intention of approaching any closer than we were already; however, our friend did not know that and he made haste to get away before our intentions should change. This is precisely how such encounters should occur--to our benefit and not to the significant (if any) detriment of the animal.

You can imagine how I praised God for that little vision. This is one of those things that just make a vacation perfect AND it seems I've had at least one of those every day I've been here.

Today, depending on other factors, we plan to visit the Ford/Edison Estates in Fort Myers. Later this week the Mote Marine Laboratories, Ca D'zan, and other places of interest in Sarasota. Then it's out to Okeechobee and places to the east--particularly to a Bamboo farm near Fort Lauderdale. And later yet--the Keys and the Dry Tortugas.

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I continue to write despite the fact that I cannot publish because when I finally can publish you all will be thrilled and astounded with the wonders here in South Florida (okay, stop the guffaws and fake sneezing.)

On day three the thrill du jour was the Koreshan Settlement, a utopian community founded in South Florida after Cyrus (hence Koresh--the Hebrew for Cyrus) Reed Teed, a Chicago electro-physician in the course of a series of experiments delivered too large a jolt to himself, passed out, and received a revelation from an Angel. He was the new messiah and he was to build the New Jerusalem.

He immediately set about the task by moving to Estero, south of Fort Myers, and beginning the Koreshan Unity. The Koreshans had central to their doctrine what is called Cellular Cosmology--you really need to google this and read about it--a magnificent inspiration. They even did an experiment on Naples beach which "proved" that the land curved up to reach the horizon line, thus confirming the central tenet of the Koreshan Unity--the Earth is a hollow sphere with the continents impressed on the inside and a large ball of gasses seven-thousand miles in diameter that contained the sun, the moon, and the stars.

The Koreshan Unity was a utopian community that believed in celibate living. Koresh thought of himself of the sun and because he believed in the equality of male and female, his female counterpart Victoria Pretia (I'll need to look that name up) was the moon. In addition, the seven women who lived in the Planetary Court represented the seven planets.

There's a lot of similarity with the Shakers in their use and embrace of all things modern and in their desire to cultivate arts, music, dancing, and theater.

The settlement has a number of extant buildings, one of the most interesting of which is the "Arts Hall," in which is displayed the model of cellular cosmology and the "rectilineator." The latter is the device with which they proved that Earth was actually a concave surface. Most interesting.

This is one of the wonders of looking at almost any area closely. You will find a wealth of wild and wonderful things. Wherever there are people there are oddities and wonders to behold. And this small community, which we thought a toss-off trip turned out to be three or four hours worth of study.

Other highlights of this trip--in the course of this trip we saw a tortoise--a large tortoise in his burrow and crawling through the grass. I suppose it is possible that these were two different animals, but it was an incredibly neat thing to see under any circumstances, one animal, two animals, or otherwise.

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Let's start with Mass. On a Sunday Mass seems a good place to start. The less said about St. John the Evangelist, the better, it strains charity with no good reason. The Mass was quite fine in between bouts of applause for this that and the other thing and the playing of deplorable sectarian hymns that seem to crop up with every patriotic holiday.

Friday (arrival day)--Arrived at the initial destination about 2:00. In the car I had been listening to Peter Kreeft's lectures on Ethics. After our initial meet and greet--a friend of long standing whom I had not seen in far too long, we did a whirlwind tour of the local area ending with a brief visit to Delnor-Wiggins Pass. This is a lovely stretch of beach that has no large buildings anywhere near it. It has nearby and estuary from a mangrove swamp so the ocean water is tea-colored. More, we saw a turtle nest carefully marked with all sorts of notices about it.

Yesterday (Saturday)--when I have a chance I will dumb down some of the photos I took in yesterdays excursion to Corkscrew Swamp, a National Audubon Wildlife refuge and a gorgeous place to visit. I wasn't certain about it, but everyone I spoke to recommended it. There is a 2.5 mile boardwalk through Pond Cypress, Wet Prairie, Central Swamp, and Lettuce Lake. In the course of our walk I stood about two feet away from a six foot long alligator and photographed him two or three dozen times. Also saw some Giant Swallowtails and Spicebush swallowtails, brown anoles, 5 lined-skinks, and a strange black skink with two brown "racing stripes." Also photographed swamp hibiscus, alligator flag and a number of other types of wildflowers. Visiting South Florida? Put this on your "must do" list. The walk has a short version for those not up to two and a half miles in 95-98 degree whether with Tropic of Cancer sun beating down. (Personally, that's one of the reasons I live in Florida, there's nothing better in the world.) One of the best things about this excursion was that the place announced that it was not a big mosquito area, and they were mostly right.

Today we decided to go look at Marco Island (a distinct disappointment) and Everglades City, a real surprise, about which more later. On the way to Everglades City we saw a brown sign pointing left off the road and we pulled into the Fakahatchee Strand Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. This place was deet-city and drop dead gorgeous. You could hear the bellow of alligators and the wrapping of a pileated woodpecker. Basically it's a two-thousand foot boardwalk out into a "strand" which is a very thin line of deep forest in "the river of grass." Thus there were vines, and tangles, and strangler figs and six different kinds of orchids. Unfortunately, I did not get to see any blossoms. Saw two small gators (which was a pretty good indication that there were no large gators in the near vicinity). On the way out to Everglades city we saw some larger beasties in the sawgrass and nearby canals.

Everglades City--voted Florida's top Rural community of 1998. Charming. That's the only word for it. We went to the Museum of the Everglades which we expected to be closed. I was greeted by an absolutely delightful woman who not only invited me into the museum (which was open because of July 4th Festivities) , but who proceeded to invite my friend and me to attend the town's July 4th celebration. Said celebration started with a parade that featured Mickosukee Indians (or perhaps Seminoles) with a person dressed as an Episcopalian Deaconess who served among them for some thirty years. Then a variety of swamp buggies, atvs, and classic cars followed. Some really amazing classic cars. This was followed by a barbecue and fireworks in the late evening.

My friend and I chose, however, to move on down the road to a small island called Chokoloskee. There was a general store that was established in 1895 looking out over Chokoloskee bay and the Ten Thousand Islands--sheer delight as you scanned the horizon and saw micro-mangrove islands, mini mangrove islands, midi mangrove islands, and maxi mangrove islands--standing in fact on one of these. Chokoloskee island started its life as a mangrove island. The sea breeze was cool and swift and drove away the majority of the mosquito population.

I didn't mention that we started the day by going out to my friend's property where they had recently dumped a bunch of fill, from which I was able to cull some Arca, Turitella, Dosinia, Acropora, and assorted other corals and gastropod fossils. The pile was just full to the brim with them. It's a real shame that Samuel wasn't here today because he would have loved finding all of the shells amongst the rocks and finding rocks that were in fact fossils.

A wonderful trip thus far. Already slipping into relaxation mode--but then how could one do otherwise amid this splendor? Both yesterday and today the weather was just about perfect--a trifle warm (in the upper 90s) but a bit of a breeze and not the usual late afternoon thundershowers one expects with midsummer Florida.

More later.

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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Steven Riddle in July 2005.

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