Tag Archives: philosophy

Cows Come Home

Kids and cows are subject to the charms of soft summer days, the seduction of lush green pastures, the hypnosis of eternal rhythms, and the freedom of room to roam. It grieves me to know that few men remember this and fewer boys ever learn it; and it grieves me that we eat cheese from cows never privileged to share the experiences with barefoot boys.

NOTE: This blog series is dedicated to the quest for understanding who I am and how I came to be me.

Cows are creatures of herd habit, products of millions of years of evolution that cannot be erased by thousands of years of genetic modification of domestication. But, domesticated they are, and milking cows have the need to be milked routinely, which means that by late afternoon, it is time for the cows to come home.

On hot, dry summer days, they may come home early for water. Cows cannot make milk without lots of water. Our pasture was the part of the farm unsuitable to plow, the hill too steep and the marsh too soft, but it contained no stream or pond of water, so they had to come home to the barnyard tank.

On the soft summer days, though, when the grass was lush with moisture, the sun not too hot, and the air not too dry, time slipped away from us. The rhythms of the day were conducted by the buzzing of working bees, the frequency of butterfly wings, and the stirring of leaves in gentle breezes. Only the fences kept us from getting lost in time. Funny how fences can grant us the mental freedom to roam within reason.

And so it was that one of my earliest responsibilities as a boy was to go get the cows on days such as this, on days when the herd got lost in the natural rhythms. I miss the feel of bare feet on soft dust of well trod cow paths passing flat cow pies raisining in the sun. I miss the adventure of stalking a Tiger Swallowtail or evading bad guys hiding behind rocks and trees. I miss the freedom of time and space within protective fences. I miss the relevance of having an important job, a job I understood even at the age of four years.

It wasn’t that hard. Rawhide and Rowdy Yates notwithstanding, all that is necessary to get cows to head to a barn is to circle around behind them. A lead cow will head for home and the others will follow. Then I really had the freedom to wander in my mind because all I had to do was follow them and we all knew where we were going.

Most days it was even easier than that. When the lead cows saw me coming, they knew what to do and started for the barn. I didn’t even have to work my way behind them. My very presence commanded the herd to move as one. What a palpable feeling of power for a small boy. Yes, I looked forward to the days when the cows failed to come home in time for milking.

Sometimes adventure came my way when the cows came home on their own. We let them into the barn for milking and one was missing, one that had not been milking for a couple of months. Dad would say, go find her. I loved it, perhaps because of the uncertainty and element of danger—but mostly because it meant there was a new calf and another of my jobs as I got a bit older was to teach the calves how to drink from a pail.

When cows had their calves in the summer pasture, they often went a bit feral and stayed with them at the far reaches of the domain where the calf could be hidden. It was a hunt, and I have always loved a good hunt.

I learned early not to crowd a cow with a new calf. They can get very protective, even mean, so the method was to get behind them, talk to them, and persuade movement. Sometimes I failed and had to get my big brother with more persuasive skills.

I also loved finding the new calves. There is something about the miracle of birth, of new life where there had not been life, that still fascinates me. I wouldn’t doubt but this kind of experience contributed to my interest in Biology.

And I loved teaching them to drink by allowing them to suck milk off my fingers, gently lowering their noses into the pail of milk and slowly removing my fingers. There is great accomplishment in teaching and I still thrill at my hand in the learning. We can lead the calf to water but we can’t make her drink. Ah, but I can entice her to learn. Yes, some learn much quicker than others, some are more stubborn than others, but sooner or later they all learn to drink.

Sometimes there was a medical reason a cow was missing. On one occasion, I found the new mother lying flat on her side, holding her head up as though looking back at her udder. The veterinarian came and gave her a bottle of intravenous calcium solution after which she stood up and walked home as though nothing was wrong. “Milk Fever” he called it, a sudden drain of calcium from the body to make milk which resulted in a life threatening condition. I saved her life by finding her. Yay for me.

The University of Wisconsin did not have a Veterinary School in my time or I very likely would have gone. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like. Mostly, now, I am comfortable with my place in time and the life I have experienced. I guess I am glad UW did not get the vet school in time for me or I might not have been a teacher. I was a lucky boy.

Passion of Purpose

Who are you?

It’s a serious question. Beneath the façade of style and guile, what is your name? Do you have a spirit name? Do you have a spirit identity?

Note: We have been exploring twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. August contemplates Vision.

Vision as an indigenous cosmology is a complex concept with purpose at its core.

When we find ourselves devoid of passion and purpose, the first thing we need to do is stop. But that’s not easy. The rest of the world is zooming by at full speed. Left alone with ourselves, without a project to occupy us, we can become nervous and self-critical about what we should be doing and feeling. This can be so uncomfortable that we look for any distraction rather than allowing ourselves the space to be as we are. (Dawna Markova)

I am a teacher and Nancy is a nurse. We are blessed to be people who have found careers of purpose matching our passions. We have lived our identities. We are lucky.

But, luck needs help. Neither of us found our way accidentally. We wandered. We made choices. I found I enjoyed teaching in graduate school and as an Academic Staff Specialist at UW-Madison. Nancy found she enjoyed taking care of people as an Army medic and a nursing aid. Still, each of us needed a personal crisis to push us to a decision and we needed family to coach that decision. Sooner or later, we all need coaching.

Some of us make major life decisions as children and adolescents that steer our lives by passion. Many of us begin a life of purpose and developing identity. Too many of us experience trauma that disrupts that development.

In 1968 I was a science student accepted into graduate school to study genetics at UW-Madison. I had a research assistantship offer. In three or four years I could be a PhD geneticist and maybe a professor.

In 1969 I went to Vietnam.

Trauma has a way of changing who we are—or, at least, who we think we are. It has a way of changing what we believe about purpose, and it discolors passion.

That’s all I have to say about that.

Oh, I came back to finish my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Genetics, but the passion was gone. I had lost my Vision (although I didn’t know about Vision at the time). That life no longer fit my perception of myself, had I actually faced a perception of myself.

I found my way to a new passion, a purpose that continues to grow and develop even now.

How did I find my way?

I looked.

How I changed over the past forty-five years is still a mystery to me, a mystery I intend to pursue in the next year, but I know it all began with my searching for a purpose. I stopped and let the world race by me. I caught my breath and saw a glimmer of distant hope. Somebody loved me and believed in me. Answers came.

Have you stopped, I mean really stopped, to look at the tracks in your heart that show you who you are?

Happy Tracking!

Momentous Journey

“You’ve come far, Pilgrim,” the old mountain man said to Jeremiah Johnson.

“Feels like far,” Robert Redford (Johnson) replied.

This week is a slight digression from our study of character traits conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. Or, maybe not. August will focus upon the twelfth and last trait: Vision.

Have we come far? Well, we didn’t do it in a day.

Journey is a term originally referring to the work done in a day or how far we could go in one day. Just for today.

In the jungle of Vietnam, we could walk about one click an hour. One kilometer. So a day’s travel might be five or ten kilometers or five miles give or take a couple.

It is roughly twenty-two miles across the Grand Canyon, and people can do that in a day. Not me, but other people. My plan is to do it in four days.

Twenty miles was a journey for a wagon train.

Yesterday I drove nearly three hundred miles, but I have done many more in a single day. Today I hope to fly a couple of thousand. Quite a journey.

Our culture has twisted the meaning of journey far from the original meaning of marche du jour.

As I wait to go to the airport, I am pondering just today, this hour, this moment–while I think about the future.

Much of my life is wasted weighting events of yesterday or waiting for events of tomorrow rather than savoring my walk today.

My parents were married during the Depression, living on squirrels Dad hunted, day old bread they sold door to door, and what they could grow in a garden. “Those were the good old days,” Dad told Mom fifty years later.

“I think we’re livin’ in the good old days,” (Merle Haggard). I hope we don’t miss it.

Psychologically, we can never experience more than a moment, a fraction of one second. Everything else is memory, an illusion created by the mind to record the experience of a moment. Yesterdays are all illusions. Yes, they happened, just not quite like we remember.

Tomorrow is illusion. Yes, it may happen the way we imagine, more or less, but maybe not.

Today is all we have. Let’s make it momentous, grander than the tomorrow we dreamed, yesterday, grander than the memory we create. Let’s live in the good days.

We made a lot of tracks, you and me, some deep, some barely noticeable. Some we regret.

Tomorrow we will make more tracks, God willing.

Have you ever watched a track being made? Have you ever taken note of the Earth beneath your feet as you made a track?

I participated in a blindfold swamp walk in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. We were led in a group, one person behind another, along a string through the swamp as were blindfolded. It was fun and comfortable, slipping into holes, feeling my way around roots, finding footing. After some time, we were stopped and told to remove our blindfolds. Quickening the pace, I took three steps and cut my foot. I forget to feel my track being made.

Momentous is another word our culture has twisted, originally meaning of one moment. Well, maybe that is not twisted. Maybe making note of a single moment is huge.

A funny thing happens when you face the probability of dying soon. You find each present moment precious, momentous.

One morning this week I went to my spot along the stream valley and noticed the activity of Chickadees. One flitted in a tag alder but three feet from my face, eyeball to eyeball, leaving a visual track in my mind.

Today, will you take a few moments to notice your breathing? Will you admire another part of life sharing this moment with you? Will you take a slow, deliberate walk and feel your tracks being made?

Happy Tracking!

Breakfast Call

Discipline, like charity, may only count when it is done with humility.

Without apparent humility, I shall proceed to brag about my adolescent discipline.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. We have looked at ten and leave one more for August. July is devoted to Discipline.

I ate breakfast every morning as a boy, almost always a bowl of Wheaties with farm fresh milk and plenty of sugar. I marveled over the champions featured on the front of the box and the important reading on the back. As my testosterone levels began to increase, I became interested in growing into a champion.

One morning, I read a government physical fitness plan on the box that gave expectations for different ages. It said at my age (7th grad I believe), I should be able to do 13 push ups. Being a budding scientist, I tested that hypothesis. I did 13.

That’s fine, but champions do not aspire to mediocrity, so I did some more the next day and the next. I did push ups every day. By the time I was a high school freshman, I could do 75 push ups. Now, that is not the only reason I was a successful wrestler, but having the ability to push myself off the mat with an opponent on top of me helped make me become an escape artist. That is what wrestling is all about, to wrest, meaning to twist and pull away.

Wheaties really was the breakfast of champions, even though it was the words on the back of the box that produced the results

My point?

Discipline yields results. Reading the Wheaties box or eating the cereal did not make me a champion. Hard work did.

When I was a freshman, I was having trouble with an escape or reversal move called the switch. Coach sent a JV sophomore over to teach me. We worked and worked on it.

I worked on it myself. I practiced it at home. I practiced it right-handed and left-handed. Then I invented (re-invented) a move I learned was called the inside switched where I started the move in one direction then quickly changed to the other directions. I practiced it over and over, alone and with teammates. I used it in matches. It worked all the way through high school and into the Big Ten.

Today, I frequently lose patience with myself for what seems a lack of discipline. Yet, here I am again today, working on a blog when I could be walking in the woods, wrestling with a mini keyboard on my pad and trying to outwit a sluggish MiFi, getting impatient because I only got half the quack grass out of the garden this morning. I’ve been letting it grow.

That is another form of discipline, watching that stuff grow in my garden. But, it was necessary. Now it is strong enough so that I can dig it up and pull the roots out rather than breaking them off. So, even what felt like a lack of discipline, watching that stuff grow in my garden, was a form of discipline in patience.

Fasting requires the discipline of patience. Procrastination may be a simple form of fasting from familiar things, time to allow the conscious and subconscious minds to communicate. But, don’t forget to break that fast. Heed the call to breakfast.

Have you been hard on yourself for procrastination when it might really be the discipline of patience? Is it time for breakfast?

Happy Tracking!

Philanthropy Lost

“I can walk in those hills and no one is going to try to kill me, and I won’t have to try to kill anyone else,” I thought as I looked about Fort Lewis on my way home from Vietnam. Then, reality set in. Yes, part of me thought that, the conscious part, but another part clings to the belief that somebody out there is still trying to kill me, and I may have to kill, again.

I am compelled to judge. We all are, we sentient beings. It is programmed into our DNA.

Labrador Retrievers are programmed to believe that everybody loves them. Well, almost everybody. They still judge actions but are amazingly tolerant.

They also believe they can walk on water and almost do.

Are we born trusting our fellow humans? More or less, yes. We are born trusting smiling faces.

Then we learn to judge.

Note: On our journey to consider twelve attributes I see conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress, June embraces four kinds of Love.

Philanthropy is the love of mankind. We do that. Every one of us is willing to risk life and limb for another person in danger under certain conditions. Combat is such a condition. We risk our lives to defend and protect others. We willingly sacrifice our safety to help a brother or sister under threat. That is one example of a second form of love, a brotherly love called philos in Greek.

I have always known this. As the youngest of a family of six, I have always experienced it firsthand.

My sisters took care of me, fed me, clothed me, taught me colors, numbers, and letters, and loved me. They still do. They even gave me a perm fifty years ago. What hair I have left is wavy yet.

My brothers took care of me, too, in more ways than I can recount. They gave me jobs, lessons, and hope. I have always known that if I needed something, I mean really needed help, somebody would be there.

In the Army, I learned to trust some guys like brothers. I know of no bond as strong as the common experience of facing fire, of seeing the mettle of a friend in battle. It is philanthropy with the currency of self, of time and life rather than money. It is real brotherly love.

Who are my brothers? Who is worthy of such love, such sacrifice of safety?

We judge the other. We all do, based upon our education and experience. Some of us do it consciously. Most of us do it subconsciously.

Many of my Vietnam Veteran friends do not like the smell of nuoc mam, the sauce of fermented fish which is used like mustard on Coney Island, or the sound of tonal Asian languages.

I love Nature in part because it does not judge me. I am more secure with lions, tigers and bears in the north woods than with humans who would judge me, even kill me, because of the language I speak, the clothes I wear, the color of my skin, or the name of my god. It is my goal to be as civilized as my wild brothers.

But I am prejudiced.

Deep inside, we can all find tracks of prejudice that are consequences of experience. May we also find tracks of philanthropy that allow sentient management of our prejudices so that we may genuinely love one another, for philos is another doorway to greater love.

Happy Tracking!

Empty Bucket

“Nuts.” (General Anthony MacAuliffe)

This response to a request to surrender at the Battle of the Bulge typifies a military valuation of the concept. Death before surrender, and there is good reason for it.

“The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.” (Vince Lombardi)

Surrender is not seen as a winning strategy. Americans are winners. We do not surrender. And, yet, surrender is the path to serenity. Confused?

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. March seeks serenity.

It is okay to be confused. Confusion is next to enlightenment.

“I couldn’t fight the tide, so I decided to float along.” (David Levithan)

Here is a clue. Surrender is not only an option; it is the only option. Power is the choice of what shall be surrendered and to whom. You may surrender your will to the tide, or you may surrender your life to the fight against the tide.

In Vietnam, I took some comfort in the notion that I had a choice: surrender my freedom to my captors, or surrender my life to, uhm, my captors. It was a choice I pondered but never had to make.

A thirsty man walks miles across the desert looking for water and finally comes upon a well near a dry wash with Mesquite trees. He finds a fine open well with water at the bottom, lined with sturdy rocks and capped with a sturdy roof and a sturdy windlass and rope; but, alas, there is no sturdy bucket.

Looking about, he finds a frail old-timer sitting quietly in the shallow shade of a Honey Mesquite.

“Excuse me, sir, but do you have a bucket for the well?”

The old-timer asks, “What do you have in that satchel you hold so dearly?”

The thirsty man stares, blinks, and looks at the satchel he clutches. After some time of apparently painful thought, the man replies, “My stuff.”

“Your stuff, eh,” the old-timer says and pulls an old bucket from behind his stool. “Tell you what, young feller. I’ll trade you my good bucket for your satchel of stuff you cling to so desperately.”

The thirsty man licks his lips and clutches the satchel even tighter, for it holds the sum of all his Earthly treasures.

Surrender your treasure or die of thirst. Where will your tracks in the desert lead? Will they end with you clutching your treasures in your bony dead hands?

Happy Tracking!

Accepting Fit

“You are truly home only when you find your tribe.” (Srividya Srinivasan)

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. March seeks SERENITY.

A Native American student invited me to a local Pow Wow and Nancy and I decided to view the Grand Entry. We love the drums, the regalia, the dancing. We love fry bread. But I had a sense of loss, a feeling of something lacking in my life. I have no tribe.

The next class, I mentioned this to my student, a mature man, Army Veteran, and father. He told me to go back to my people. That is my tribe. That would be Wales and Cornwall, and I have no connection to that land.

Ah, connection. We have separated ourselves from our ancestors. We have separated ourselves from others who do not share our ancestors. Well, biologically, we all share ancestors, but we separate ourselves anyway.

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” (Seth Godin)

I need a tribe, a group of people connected to one another, a group with whom I connect, all connected to one single idea. And I need a leader.

Gangs come to mind. Humans are pack animals establishing status in the mirror of our pack or tribe. Often, our status becomes our identity as a member of a tribe, our group which is separated from other tribes by some discrimination of genes, heritage, and/or ideas. Individual identity is a subset of tribal identity.

You don’t think so? Who is your favorite team in March Madness? Super Bowl? NASCAR?

Do you have a political identity? Geographic? Ethnic? Socioeconomic?

Oh, where, oh, where is this unselfishness we seek (from last week’s blog) that might liberate us from our troubles and free us to find serenity and power?

There it is, in the tribe. Serve the members of your tribe.

I had never desired to be a soldier. It was a duty of grave inconvenience to me, and I was happy to leave the Army early and return to the University of Wisconsin where I felt at home. Except…once I got there in 1971, I no longer felt really at home. So, I joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard—my tribe. I had combat medals and patches. I had status. But, more importantly, I belonged.

Until I didn’t. I lost the leadership I had respected. I no longer found a common idea to serve, and so I abandoned that tribe and went back to school. Except for a few intermissions, I have been in school ever since. School is a place I fit.

Life is a dance. Finding a tribe in which I fit is a futile challenge. Adapting to fit into a group is a dangerous endeavor. To find my tribe without losing my self AND to find my self without losing my tribe, that is my wish.

I have abandoned many groups because I could not believe in their ideas or their leadership, and in the abandoning, I lost myself.

I have found some groups accepting of me as I accept others. Working toward an important common purpose transcends trivial differences like race, language, political party, or team loyalty. Veterans’ organizations allow me to serve. Teaching allows me to serve. Serving allows me to think of others besides myself, to see our similarities rather than differences, to find unity rather than division.

When I seek ways to serve, I find myself surrounded by a tribe of others doing the same. When I stop seeking the tribe to save me from myself, I find myself accepted by a tribe.

My you find the tracks of service in your heart so that your tribe may find you.

Happy Tracking!