Wednesday, July 31, 2019


Nicholas Curchin Peterson Vrooman

Aug. 11, 1949 – June 26, 2019
Nicholas Curchin Peterson Vrooman, 69, passed away suddenly on June 26, 2019, in Helena, Montana. He will be deeply missed by his extended family.

Nicholas was born August 11, 1949, to Hugh Thomas Vrooman and Marjorie Joy Curchin in Rochester, New York. He was the third of six children. When Nicholas was 10, his family moved to Schenectady, New York, where Nicholas’ love of history, community, families, research, and storytelling began. Nicholas had a wonderfully adventurous childhood with his family in Schenectady and summers in the Adirondacks.

In 1975 Nicholas traveled from New Mexico to Montana. There he took a job as a ranch hand for Bert and Darlene Mannix in the Helmville Valley. He loved his time there immersing himself in the cultural traditions of the Mannix family, ranch work, and the valley, including the little-known history of the region’s Métis people.

Nicholas and Linda Peterson met in February, 1988 at a North Dakota arts conference. They fell in love and were married on July 3, 1989, in Bismarck, North Dakota. In 1990, they moved to Helena, Montana, and welcomed the birth of their son, Hans, later that same year. Linda and Nicholas shared thirty years as partners in a life well lived. Nicholas is survived by his beloved family: his wife, Linda Vrooman Peterson, MT; step-daughters Jessica (Steve) Egers, PA, and Larissa (Todd) Mahlke, NV; son Hans (Bethany) Vrooman, MT; and 10 grandchildren; his siblings Kirsten (Marty)Ruglis, NY; Peter Vrooman, NM; Trista Vrooman, NM; Joy Vrooman Sayen, NJ; and Juliana Vrooman, NY; as well as extended family nieces and nephews.

Becoming Montana’s second State Folklorist in 1989, Nicholas worked with traditional and cultural arts and folkways across Montana. Nicholas saw himself professionally as a folklorist leading the Montana Arts Council to deepen its involvement with traditional arts.

In 2010, Nicholas returned to school receiving his doctorate in history from the University of Montana, with the dissertation, “Infinity Nation: The Metis in North American History.”
Perhaps his greatest work, Nicholas researched and wrote "The Whole Country was One Robe: The Little Shell Tribe’s America." One reviewer wrote, “This is a wonderful, intelligent, extremely well-written and thought-out history of a people whose past was obscure.”

His latest book, "Infinity Nation: New Peoples, the Medicine Line, and American Prejudice" will be published in 2020
Nicholas is considered one the West’s most passionate and important folklorists, historians, and creative spirits, always larger than life, immensely generous with his knowledge, Nicholas made an incalculable contribution to our understanding of the diversity and complexity of cultural life on the Northern Plains. His absence will be felt by his extended family and countless friends and colleagues in the United States and Canada.

A Celebration of Nicholas’ Life will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday, July 18, 2019, at ASW Funeral Home, 3750 N. Montana Ave., Helena, Montana. A reception will follow in the social hall of the funeral home. Please visit to offer the family a condolence or share a memory of Nicholas.



The Coeur d’Alene Art Auction   is showing the results of their most recent auction.  Their specialty is art of the American West and they handled the auction of Bob Scriver's most important collection after his death.  Two artists in this show brought in the top prices of their work so far.

The first, a landscape of "Taos in Winter" by Victor Higgins (1884-1949) is particularly striking near-abstract with a stormy sky.  23X30 inches, the amount was $833,000,

The second, the front edge of a herd of bison in snow, is by Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), done in an unusual combination of tempera and pastel on canvas, 33X74 inches.  Called "Emigration de Bisons (Amérique)", 1887, it is also surprising since Bonheur usually portrayed domestic animals.  Neither of these canvases is by the pop cowboy artist figures. 

Bob dearly loved one of Bonheur's bronze sculptures of a bull and bought it after I was gone.  It was auctioned when Bob's estate was auctioned, the most valuable or "known" pieces going through Coeur d"Alene Art Auction. A casting of the same figure, probably not the same one, is currently for sale on ebay for less than $4000, if you wanted to put a bet on it, or see if you fall in love with it -- which is about the same thing.  Demand an accounting of where that casting has been since it was made.  This is the secret for preserving the value of bronzes.  

For comparison, the conventional and well-known bronze by Remington called "The Rattlesnake" sold for $257,750.  These prices are irrational, unregulated, strictly gambling in terms of money.  They are about status and embrace.  The way to get rich is to buy a little known piece, create a flurry of smoke-and-mirror praise and excitement, then sell high.

There are several other "highest price so far" notes in this post.  One is Howard Terpning's "Soldier Chief" (made in 1978 -- the artist was born in 1927).  It's a charcoal on paper for $154,700.  Terpning is slick to the point of being industrial.  Note that he's capitalizing here on the trope of power, violence, accoutrement and individuality that so dominate American thought about the West for white people.  Also in the auction was "Mixed Company," two mounted Indian men, evidently sign-talking so maybe not from the same tribe -- a happier thought.  (1978, $297,500, 24x30 inches, oil on canvas)

Don Oelze was said to be born the same year as Terpning and paints very much like him, but a published photo shows a younger man.  There are no dates that I saw.  His painting is called "Strangers in the Valley" (2019, 38x49 inches, $166,600)  His life started in New Zealand and most recently included a decade in Japan where he found a Japanese wife.  Japan is also the source of some of the most remarkable paintings of the American West, like Mian Situ's big paintings of his own people building railroad and so on.  (Situ's painting in the auction is called "Golden Spike Ceremony, Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869".  It brought $386,750 but he has sold work for more money.  He was born in 1953.)

Oelze is derivative but international, which is interesting.  The American West myth appears to be universal.  Oelze appears to be from a missionary family, and there is much symmetry between Christian patterns and the American West.  I'd be interested whether he pictured missions to the indigenous.

Carl Rungius (1869-1959) is one of the three Big R's:  Remington, Russell and Rungius (born in Germany to a family of hunters), but he concentrated on the indigenous animals rather than people.  Auctioned was a small etching (8x11 inches) that sold for $95,200, called "Over the Pass" which demonstrates that he spent much of his life on the east slope of the Rockies.  It shows a rider and two pack animals on the trail.  There is also an iconic oil painting of mountain goals, "Near Summit Lake, British Columbia" (1947, 30x40, $357,000)

Charlie Beil (another artist not in the auction) was our link with Rungius because Charlie and his wife took care of Rungius' studio in Banff.  Rungius was a key hero of Bob, who owned several of his paintings.  In fact, the Rungius portrait of a moose was the first "real" painting he bought.  We looked at it for an hour at a time, finding the X of the composition, the way he always put in a fleck of red.

Walter Ufer (1876-1936) is in the auction.  "The Song of the Olla" was painted in 1926 and sold for $178,500.  (12.25 x 10.76 oil on canvas on board.)  He was a member of the Taos Society of Art, a marketing group.  In 1917 Ufer served as president of Chicago's Palette and Chisel, Academy of Fine Arts.  He was socially conscious, responding the the Spanish Flu plague with help.  For a while no one paid attention to these Taos people because the "Indians" they portrayed were peaceful, domestic sorts.  In a time when war is dreaded and denied, Ufer and Rungius are more popular.

Theodore Van Soelen (1890-1964) "Adobe, Snow and Sunshine" (1926, oil on canvas, 36x40. $101,150)  reinforces my comparison with the south of France, but he connects to Santa Fe rather than Taos and is a bit too young to be a Taos artist anyway.  He is one of a group of fine artists who painted gorgeous murals destined to be ignored in train stations and major post offices.  He is a good example of a forgotten person found again, now that Western art is increasing in value.  A portrait of him in the Smithsonian was taken by Paul Juley, who also came to Browning in 1965 to photograph Bob's work for "American Artist" magazine.  Those snaps are also in the Smithsonian in the Juley collection.

John Clymer (1907-1975) had a painting in this auction.  His work was most often historical and illustrated stories.  This one is "John Colter Visits the Crows 1807" painted in 1975.  You might remember that Colter is the mountain man who ran for his life naked.  Clymer gave Bob and I a huge illustration of a James Willard Schultz story in which a group of buffalo ran through a Blackfeet camp with disastrous damage.  It was a wedding present for our marriage that didn't turn out well either, though the friendship remained.

So these paintings are connected to my life in the Sixties when I was naive but energetic and madly in love.  It says a lot about those times, which are gone for all concerned except through art.  But it wasn't really like that.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


The sun came up red in this fire season but pleasantly cool for sleep, which I tried to go on doing.  But I'm in a state of disillusionment this morning, more than usual.  It's all nothing, on the way to a nothing crash and then a re-creation of nothing.  So I start my reliable method of analysis, asking why.

First, it is just a plainly evident truth that I'm eighty, in a shrinking town with a terrible climate during a summer that is quite pleasant if I could only keep up with the yard -- but what for?  Neither rich nor famous nor dearly intimate with special people, I have my pride.  But in what?

Second, as my energy and ability to take hold are increasing, so that my house, garage and yard are gradually coming into order -- though not complete enough to meet the standards of people here -- it becomes something withdrawn to reveal lack of progress as though progress were a thing and a person could tell what it's worth.  Nothing to sell, nothing to keep, nothing to make anyone laugh.  Soon I can begin to discard the 4-drawer file cabinets because everything in them has been discarded.

Third, the pressing needs of dentist and doctor are over.  The kitchen sink drains reliably.  All that is left is the unending credit card bill and the inscrutable mailings from Humana.

Fourth, now we're getting to the realm of ideas.  I'm watching Januszczak's vids about art in the Dark Ages in the mid-continent Eurasian dark landscape where violence is effective and prayer is one's only chance.  Empty.  Except that cultures form, achieve masterpieces of gold and stone, but soon die again, or get pushed out to take refuge on peninsulas and coasts that are entirely different from what they know.  Today's constant indignation and sorrow are dwarfed.  It's clear that this -- US -- is a country on the skids, soon to have famine and chaos.  It never really seemed possible before, but now it does.

Our so-called president is just a big toad squatting in a poorly built, mouse-infested old house with a lot of old fashioned art.  The dignity and history are squandered.  He's not just doomed, he's ridiculous.  He's walking rotting dead.  His inheritors know it.  They will let him go.  No cure anyway.  The back-up leaders are too old, too compromised, too bought-off to do what they were supposed to do.  You can buy the Supreme Court with beer and tears.

All this is never very far from the truth and this country is not alone.  The whole planetary complex of educated people have realized that their ideals are moonbeams, they have addled the planet into uninhabitability.  The industrial revolution sold our souls for power -- but we're about to do it again for the fantasy of wise robots who will love us and save us as neither God nor our parents ever did.  (Umaihr is not alone.  I can also rant and rave.  Even though I'm a "girl.")

Fifth, for all the good it does us.  Our morality is strictly Alice at the Teaparty sort of stuff.  PBS with its doyenne of splayed fingers, over-bleached hair, and simpering fondnesses busies itself with sentimentalities over lesser peoples, a lesson to us all.  The Washington Post with its "fairness" of stories of the two wretched sides they have invented, totally ignoring the middle, the Independents who are secret, covert, plotting something but no one knows what because they are too disorganized.  They are plotting a hundred things, most of them irrelevant.

But the sixth thing, the pin that popped the balloon and also the force that drove me out of ministry -- beyond disgust with ministers who breached the standards but got only success to show for it and the laypeople who paid no attention anyway.  It's the stuff you're supposed to learn between when you turn 9 and when puberty hits -- 12?   I never got it.  it still gets me in my soft underside.

I'm on Twitter, mostly so I can post the subject of my blog everyday.  There's a sort of people who won't read a blog because they don't read anyway, but also because it's just such an ugly word.  I write long-form, a thousand words, with many references to other websites and blogs (logs).  But there are people who see twitter as a meet-and-greet, so when I make a quip or provide info (which makes them angry because their identity is based on being "the Ones Who Know") they try to draw me into conversation at the side.  Little affections and affectations.

The pattern is plain.  One alpha "girl" gathers a little circle of people she can control with praise, mockery and secrets.  Such a woman/girl on Twitter began to draw me into her circle.  I was so revolted and angry that I blocked her.  Twitter rebuked me for not being nice.  It's not Russian of them -- it's Chinese.  Also, Fifties America.  Drag queen of the neighborhood.  Sometimes we admire them and sometimes we fight hard to escape them, but they are resourceful.  Sometimes they are disguised as do-gooders.  Sometimes they are nurses.  Sometimes they push me out of jobs or even a marriage.  And all the time they praise excessively: you're so wonderful, so awesome, so exceptional.  I've found no cure except to run away from them.

Of course, I much prefer operatic bad boys with their cloaks of invisibility, but they are far away now.  Still, I can write about them, but never publish about them, just sort out the evidence I have already and analyze what it means to be alive in a world like this one, so packed with combustible shiny darkness that we work so hard to excavate, breathing death from ancient life, throwing all our energy into imprinting our feet on the dust of the moon while the polar caps are melting and the whales wash up dead.

I don't usually listen to music while I work, but today I am.  Strange stuff I picked up for free.  Paul Winter, for instance.  When I taught high school English I worked hard to get the kids to understand "sympathy" (recognizing and respecting someone else's emotion) as distinguished from "empathy" (sharing the felt inner life of someone else as it is for them).  Today's media writers get it all wrong, since they are poorly educated and just taking up space.  

But what comes after empathy?  Porges believes that it is our ability to feel others that allows us to come together as cultures of art and stone, even in dark ages on the true dark continent.  (It's not Africa.)  We form molecular and electrochemical connections of our sensory life that knit into concepts and then creations.  But what do we call this?  Penetration?  Coalescence?  Or is it just a fantasy in a time when few even achieve sympathy?  Music of the world in the manner of Paul Winter?

Monday, July 29, 2019



Damp thin webs are blown against me by the wind of time.
Cannot fend them off, so reach out for the edges of these ragged sheets
And when I grasp a hem,
Which might be torn,
I pull it to me, wrap it around me.
I will not let it become a shroud,
But rather make a cocoon where I can change
Unobserved. uninterfered with,
Because I will not -- cannot anyway -- resist this enfolding,
This reversal of shedding snakeskin
As the snakeskin slips over me.
It is nearly transparent so far, but reticulated and hashmarked like a snake.
I hear no rattle.  I see no fangs.

Now and then a memory like a flower petal comes and sticks
And shapes itself to me
And briefly I recall its living scent
But then the wind blows it all away and I only recall
That I used to know that smell.

Sometimes it's paper
-- soaked, burnt, shredded, inked --
But it doesn't stick. It blows on by.
It is the remnants of wasps' nests
Built in the eaves of old country houses,
But now the stinging is gone.

Sheets, the diaphanous sheets of hot afternoon
And the fetid sheets of near-morning watiing for laundry.
Sometimes no-sheets, the striped and stained mattresses of poverty.
Sometimes I find blades of grass.

When someone in a madhouse became agitated
In the years before the shots and pills,
They were wrapped in a wet sheet, a mummy.
(O, mum, give it up!}
The SM people might use Saranwrap.  Restraint.  Restraint. Transparent.
One becomes still.  We know how.

Someday -- ore probably some moon-ridden night --
The chrysalis will burst and we will have wings (at least you will)
With all your molecules re-arranged into new patterns.
New being.
We (or at least you) will join that great ejaculation across the sky
They call the Milky Way.


"When discussing Native people it’s important to write & produce outside of typical boxes & categories. If not tired categories become ways to hold, control, define or even destroy a highly complex people."  The Indian Expert

“You are all my relations, my relatives, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One, not more important than the other. One nation evolving from the other. All of us a part of the Great Mystery.”  Lakota Man

Some people are beginning to reach back to the "paleoindigenous" -- dawn people, who may have come over the north, or in from Greenland, or in from boats from SE Asia riding the Japanese current that comes up the West Coast of the Americas.  For many years it brought blue-green glass fishing floats to the NW beaches, and during WWII it brought floating fire-bombs in hopes of setting the forests on fire.  When I was a girl, there were soldiers stationed on platforms to watch for those bombs, even years after the war.  

Euros use the Year 1492 as though it were the system of dividing the past between Before Jesus and After the Death of Jesus.  Maybe it was an important year for Euros, since it was what opened the world to Empires based in Europe, exploiting the resources of the Americas, but to the people who had always lived in America, it was hardly noticed.  (Jesus didn't notice either.)  The indigenous American people are still here in the genes of their descendants and in whatever practices and sensory information still connects them to the land.  The practise was to pull in compatible strangers or children raised as members of the clans, so identity was maintained through shared experience.  But the Euros didn't experience the world the same way.

East coast tribes chose sides in the revolutionary schism with England.  Everything was pushed West, so the Eastern tribes pushed the Western tribes as far as they could.  It was easier after disease cut the population down to a remnant.  The history of those dynamics would come far into modern times. For instance, the Civil War was at the root of the Prairie Clearances, spawning white soldiers with no futures, no families, no roots, bellicose dispositions, dependence on federal payroll.

For the Blackfeet, geography and politics both have huge impact.  Since waterways were highways, the Mississippi and Missouri drainage complex brought Euros deep into the heart of the continent, and so did Hudson's Bay.  Some of these were the new Americans and Canadians and some were European, often Catholic, all empire-minded.  Meanwhile, anyone with a sailing ship and good luck could get to the Pacific Coast, and individuals drifted across the continent.  Old trails had long existed among the tribes.  In some places were major cities or at least where they had been.

Cree or Metis   A considerable number of indigenous people had been mixing with Euros from early years when the fur trade began to bring them in.  At first they were all men and formed families with indigenous women. Gradually they became a cohesive new people, the Metis, who formed a spectrum between those who identified with the whites or the tribals.  They were landless because they were on the move.  Euros only understood stationary settlements.  At one point Metis were assigned to the Blackfeet rez with problematic overload of resources and no federal support.  Some mixed with the local tribe.  When the forts began to close, some were assigned to their own reservation.

Asians   Very few Asians located on the rez to stay.  They wouldn't stand out since the basic genome of American tribes is early Asian, as opposed to Euro.  In Canada a Japanese store-keeper was accepted into the tribal doin's but not in the US where memories of WWII hung on.  Meanwhile, in modern times various schemes for moving tribal people to cities ended up with them living in ghettos where they mixed with others with brown skin and straight black hair: Polynesians, Chinese, South Americans, Mexicans.

Blacks   The Buffalo soldiers were a specifically black Cavalry meant to control tribal people at the end of the war between the States.  Tribal people who went to cities mixed with blacks.  Earlier, escaped slaves took refuge with tribes or by coming West.  The Cherokee actually kept slaves, then admitted them to the tribes, then threw them back out.  It was a stigma to some people.  Today it is not so much a big deal except among those worried that the tribal people are much lighter skinned than in the days when they spent most of their time outdoors.

Mexican and further south  Reservations are mixed jurisdictions, which means that something like ICE which is federal, will feel more entitled to seize people, but the tribal treaties and agreements often give the enrolled people the right to cross the border at will.  Since the 49th parallel, the formal border, cuts right across reservations, there is knowledge and sympathy with each other that increasingly challenges US authority and even US citizenship.  They are on the way to being nations within nations.

Europeans  The east slope of the Rockies has always been a resort and adventure area for those who think that way.  In the days when Ireland was in rebellion, which is an attitude that may return, the Irish made common cause with the Blackfeet on both sides, strong enough to allow marriage.  Bill Big Springs, for instance, grew wealthy on oil wells and had an Irish wife.  

In a rather similar way, the Jewish people claimed to be as tribal as Indians, but came to the rez not so much to stay as to provide excellent lawyers who often improved conditions.  Sometimes they were scientists, but usually not resource exploiters.

German women married to tribal members would justify a book.  The German nature philosophy, approaching a religion, gave the people an affinity for native Americans as people close to land.  Sometimes a Germanic person would become part of a tribal family, esp. if the patriarch were a bit of a shaman who led ceremonies.

College grads on the rez begin with the New England universities who created special programs for Indians.  Harvard has always had special programs.  Then came the movement to create tribal colleges, Blackfeet Community College and Salish Kootenai over the mountans.  Both Montana State and the University of Montana have strong -- even aggressive special programs.  These places form cultures that may be hostile to whites.  By now there are Blackfeet lawyers, doctors, engineers, anthropologists, and so on.

Many other groups form out of their occupations and interests and each will have cultural characteristics that are slightly different.  It's important not to assume, not to patronize, not to tease.  Approaching through drugs or alcohol is not wise and might be deadly.

    Blackfeet or other indigenous
    Sand wars
Business owners
Tribal employees
Environmental employess
Federal employees
Teachers and their helpers
Religious leaders
Post office


Sunday, July 28, 2019


My brother, a redhead, was also a metalsmith, a community college professor, and a Marine sharpshooter.  A terrible fall caused him to hit his head on a sidewalk, left him brain-damaged which gradually grew into psychosis.  When he ended up taking refuge on my uncle's ranch, he grew too paranoid to be tolerated.  They asked him to leave and he went off down the road with a staff, wearing a hoodie.  His mind clung to the image of this, a figure that has persisted since before the Iceman, Otzie, was found felled and frozen.

The image stretches around the world from Star Wars to medieval monks, probably dates most indelibly from that version.  It has a religious vibe, from wizard to mendicant, but also a hint of being protected.  "Scriver" comes from "shriver", a maker of cloaks and by metaphorical extension means to throw protection over someone to warm and shelter them.  But that's my name, not my brother's name.  He was still a Strachan, meaning "river of rocks -- strath au cairn."  Created as a defence, rebuilt into a bridge.

There's a lot more to the story, but I won't tell it here.  His Master's thesis at University of Oregon was a series of armour helmets, each made to fit found skulls of small birds and animals he found on rambles.  So under the monk's cloak there was a sense of militance, even if small and foreign.  The hooded walking man is also related to being outcast and possibly insane.  This rural family had a previous madman in it, a person whose name and identity has been erased as much as possible, but the sense of danger and mystery remain as a dangerous space.  He'd been institutionalized much of his life but occasionally turned up without warning.

This trope of the walking man exists at the edge of community where individuals must find ways to survive alone.  My brother lived in his old pickup on the streets but there was an old friend who took him for a hot meal once a day, a woman who ran a thrift shop who recognized his heart attack, and a couple who took him into their home when the hospital released him.  

The second heart attack took him to the Veteran's Hospital where hundreds of traumatized veterans were turning up before there was any systematic or researched way to know what to do with them.  He and his cousin lied him out, but not for long and he died.  Death is a hooded figure, a being on the liminal edge between life and ceasing, which we know about but resist and try to outwit.  links to a movie called "The Pilgrimage."  The medieval drama clings to the subconscious of many, re-animated in new ways.  To watch one trailer of this movie I had to swear I was old enough.  I decided I was too old for that much blood and guts.  It was only a clever way to make another list of names with their url anyway.  Just because the figure of a man in a cloak, walking with his staff across long distances, is such a strong one, bad movies can be made about it.  Dedication and violence predominate, a vehicle for martyrdom and heroics.

Historically, the way we see it, human beings and many other hominins have been wanderers.  It may be one of their genetic characteristics.  Their skeletons show they were walkers from the beginning, before there were domestic animals that could be ridden -- in contrast to the neanderthals, whose bones show they loved most to sit in the entrance to home caves overlooking river valleys

From the beginning a few of both kinds had visions and powers that elevated them to power, made them too dangerous to live in communities but able to go into death, then returning with news.  They became satellites to settlements, who took them gifts of food.  Some saw how to capitalize on this, form institutions, claim that they had religious power, the one true connection to God.  They stayed in the town, built temples, blurred with government, became an alternative government.   "From the 3rd century CE there developed a trend in Egypt and Syria which saw some Christians decide to live the life of a solitary hermit or ascetic. They did this because they thought that without any material or worldly distractions they would achieve a greater understanding of and closeness to God. In addition, whenever early Christians were persecuted they were sometimes forced by necessity to live in remote mountain areas where the essentials of life were lacking."  This is one way of looking at it, but also monasteries were a way to find safety and to preserve knowledge both through books and through teaching.  Since they lived so simply and with mutual support, they became rich.  Sovereigns tried to buy them off by giving land or punish them by the opposite.

And individuals left, possibly ejected and possibly because they were seeking something not found with the walls of the establishment.  They were not priests, were not considered able to do the magic of rites, they went in and out of secular life, what there was of it, since everything was religious in those days.  When Rome, falling, became half Byzantium, the chaos was an invitation for prayer.  The time may be upon us again now.  Our films offer wizards with cloak and staff, some of them evil.  We cannot see their faces clearly.

Shriven, cloaked, the monastic figures may offer priestly services like absolution in confession, baptism, and so on, but the idea of writing, scribbling, also clings to them.  Writing can be a kind of magic, but also carry tales of redemption or obscenity, salvation or damnation.  The deepest unknown under the biggest and darkest cloak is generally neither good nor bad but part of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans at the heart of holiness, beyond the questions of morality.

But also, the "rovers" as the BBC dramas call them, may simply wonder what is on the other side of the mountain and decide to go there.  Their cloak may be an old blanket and their staff cut from a local tree.  They may sing as they go.  Or meditate. Or pray for the rest of us. 

Saturday, July 27, 2019


For months I haven't been able to keep from thinking about the recurring situation of being at the supper table when some kid of the family is tapping, annoying everyone.  His mother tells him to stop tapping.  His answer is that he's NOT tapping.  He's rapping or knocking or . . . something.  He has discovered semantics.

Today's arguments about whether there is an impeachment hearing, an impeachment investigation, or not anything to do with impeachment is the same.  But it's also turning out that the disadvantage of a written rule of law is that it's in words, written down, and that can affect the outcome of any trial.  So Mueller says as little as possible.  If the choice of words is not exact and specific, clever money-motivated lawyers working in squads can find loopholes.  If that doesn't work, moving the context is often effective.  Gun control in 1776 is nothing like gun control in 2019.

Another escape is using the acronyms for long phrases that people have forgotten, so that one lady was startled to realize that the AR17 she wanted to buy was an Assault Rifle.  Or one can use a foreign language.  Kid jargon IS a foreign language and one must depend on context to know whether "stan" means "country" as in the case of Afghanistan or means having a strong positive love for something or somebody.  Originally it was a conflation of "stalker" and "fan" and referred to obsession with a celebrity.  Now people say "I stan ice cream." 

Conflation is a likely source of new words, but parts of England are famous for using metaphor or even rhyme.  Check out Cockney slang on Google.  "Apples and Pears" means incllnes and stairs, because that's how the fruits at the store are arranged in rows.

Misspelling as a means of evasion -- using numbers in place of letters -- is popular for passwords, although many have figured that out.  The computer itself demands accurate spelling except that some programs will suggest the right spelling.  Sometimes the "helpful" spelling checks are pretty funny.  The counter force is shortening words by amputation, so that only the beginning is there.  This works for familiar material -- sorta.  I'd say "et cetera" except everyone spells it wrong:  ect instead of etc.

But spelling is only one difficulty, partly created by ignorance and partly by the underlying idea that there is only one "proper" way of spelling a specific word and that it is a moral fault to get it wrong.  This pre-determination hegemony seeps over into many other functions of our lives.  It's a double-edged mischief maker.  On the one hand the "proper" way of bookkeeping may be rigid, but it prevents confusion.  On the other hand, the idea that laws can only be enforced by incarceration or even the death sentence, is often unjust and doesn't work.  It closes out other options, including rewriting the laws on reconsideration of reality.

But lately I see even more problems.  An academic said to me, "I just can't do my job.  I can't get my head around how to make it work."  They were running a humanities program at a small young college where there were no established precedents and only a vague idea of what humanities actually are, and why anyone would not stick to math and science.  More sophisticated people might point out that science is increasingly rethinking what has always been assumed.

More seriously, the Town of Browning, which was defined and supported by the State of Montana but interfered with by the tribe and the feds, was dissolved by the state.  Except for some powers that had been delegated and couldn't be dissolved, like the public schools and some child and family services.  Worse, Glacier County, which includes the reservation -- though some people think that a reservation should be counted as a county by itself -- is so in debt that there is thought of dissolving the county.  These may just be positive moves towards resolving the jurisdictional snafus for many governing functions.  New thought is vital.

On another universal front, people are very confused about how love and marriage work.  It used to be that the church and the state controlled all that stuff, because it was about ownership and responsibility.  You were issued paper: a wedding certificate, a birth certificate, a death certificate, a passport.  Of course, birth and death are perfectly obvious, or so we thought until someone started picking up brain waves from supposedly dead people and some people thought that a fetus with a heartbeat was alive even before they had a brain.  The wedding certificate, as horny young men about to go off to war have been saying for centuries, is only a piece of paper.  DNA is what counts now.

But the passport is more problematic than ever.  The organizations that were supposed to protect us -- Homeland Security and ICE -- have turned into monster thugs, grabbing school girl citizens off the street and letting babies die in refrigerated rooms packed with prisoners.  They ignore paper.  If we can dissolve towns and counties, surely we can dissolve these renegade enemy-within organizations.

Even putting aside the treason and criminal actions of Trump, he has never understood what his job is.  He runs it as though it were Mafia, right up to the point of death -- certainly he throws people out right and left.  And this is where the media is blind:  they can think only in terms of binary cage-fighting, never mind the blood and damage.  Go for the spectacle.  But maybe it's not the reporters, who are out there looking at real life all day, who are at fault, but it's the owners and editors who twist facts into their cynical notion of what will sell.

They say that the two best natural mechanics are Navajo or Inuit, even if they are working on combustion engines.  This is because of several practices their cultures teach.  First, of course, not to lose one's temper.  (They must be appalled by Trump's red-faced tantrums.)  Second, keep all the parts safe and clean.  Third, always think about how it all fits together.  These are the qualities that make a good hunter, a good leader, a good partner, a good parent.  Jesus smiles.  It's not the language -- it's the thinking behind the language.

Friday, July 26, 2019


Whatever "The Bone Chalice" has turned into lately, it's still alive.  Originally it was meant to be how a worship service can truly become a sacred event: what happens in the human embodiment and how to call it out.  It's still that, but also responds to the recovery of the whole human as a thinking entity, the cutting edge research on neurology, our new understanding of deep space and infinite history, and a lot of other things.  It reduces humans to flecks on the eternal windshield, and does not promise eternal life but rather immortal participation as each of us bridges the past to the future.

So here's my latest discovery, of all things a Polish art historian who works in video and is on You Tube.  Nothing to read.  A name as hard to pronounce as to spell.  Waldemar Januszczak.  Nothing like the prissy English nuns with bad teeth we've seen before.  This link is an excellent introduction to him as well as why I think he's a good thinking and looking guide.

Turkmenistan was a new country when the USSR disintegrated.  (-istan means country, not what kids say.)  In it is "The Darvaza gas crater, known locally as the Door to Hell or Gates of Hell, is a natural gas field collapsed into an underground cavern located in Derweze, Turkmenistan. Geologists intentionally set it on fire to prevent the spread of methane gas, and it is thought to have been burning continuously since 1971."  It's impressively spectacular and a nice metaphor for our current feeling that we are standing on the lip of the apocalypse.  Waldemar is not intimidated.  Just fascinated.

I found Waldemar through, which is a streaming service that offers BBC movies.  I'd run out of murder mysteries and they were pushing two 3-part art series, which turned out to be about much more than just art, particularly in terms of how major cultural movements form and what impact they express through art, architecture, and other forms of creation, all European and tracking through the newly developing "nations" that developed out of kingdoms.

Here's the trailer:

Holding up two pearls, one the smooth sphere so admired and the other a misshapen, bulgy, deformed baroque pearl some of us love.  The latter is the source of our art term, which is meant to grab our attention after the smooth circles of the previous art aesthetic, the Greek perfectionist versions called Mannerist.

"Art critic Waldemar Januszczak follows the trajectory of baroque from its beginnings as a Vatican-sanctioned religious art style to its ascendance as the first global art movement in this fascinating documentary about an often-misunderstood artistic movement."  He sees much as push-back from the effort to reform rotten Catholocism.  Protestant, if you like.  His title for the three baroque films is "From St. Peters to St. Paul", one cathedral in Rome and the other in England.  Travel/pilgrimage is a theme and our stocky guide with his peculiar buzzcut and homemade pilgrim's staff leads his plucky cameraman swiftly along the path, stumping along in his nearly bow-legged determination.

"In Rococo before Bedtime, art critic Waldemar Januszczak pulls back the gilded facade of rococo to reveal the deep imprint it left on politics, culture, religion, and even America's Declaration of Independence."   Now travel persists, but pleasure becomes luxury, and eventually all the excess leads to madness.  Now we're looking at Trump's demented faces.

Below some quick review from whoever it was who wrote these entries on Wikipedia.  (There are no Wikileaks in these vids.)

"The Baroque is a highly ornate and often extravagant style of architecture, music, dance, painting, sculpture and other arts that flourished in Europe from the early 17th until the mid-18th century. It followed Renaissance art and Mannerism and preceded the Rococo and Neoclassical styles." 

"This notion of "bella maniera" suggests that artists who were thus inspired looked to copying and bettering their predecessors, rather than confronting nature directly. In essence, "bella maniera" utilized the best from a number of source materials, synthesizing it into something new."  Boring.

"By the end of the High Renaissance, young artists experienced a crisis: it seemed that everything that could be achieved was already achieved. No more difficulties, technical or otherwise, remained to be solved. The detailed knowledge of anatomy, light, physiognomy and the way in which humans register emotion in expression and gesture, the innovative use of the human form in figurative composition, the use of the subtle gradation of tone, all had reached near perfection."   

We know this attitude.  Did you read "The End of History?"

"The later Michelangelo was one of the great role models of Mannerism.  Young artists broke in to his house and stole drawings from him. In his book Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Giorgio Vasari noted that Michelangelo stated once: "Those who are followers can never pass by whom they follow". But it was time to punk all that grandiosity and domination.  

"In past analyses, it has been noted that mannerism arose in the early 16th century contemporaneously with a number of other social, scientific, religious and political movements such as the Copernican model, the Sack of Rome, and the Protestant Reformation's increasing challenge to the power of the Catholic Church." 

So the social sea changes in the English-speaking Empire-based world go back and forth between frozen status quo based on domination -- if necessary by force, -- and an almost manic freedom of re-ordering and challenge.  Corruption is often the symptom of the first and driver of the second.  We are on the cusp right now.  Sublime scenery of Bierstadt on the one hand and the wild graffiti of Basquiat on the other.  (He died of a heroin overdose in 1988.)

This time the change is bigger than the Aquarian Age, maybe bigger than the Independence of Nations, the abandoning of Empire.  The life of the planet and everything on it is at stake.  Someone is painting, someone is building, someone is composing, everyone is watching.  Someone is going mad, like George III.