Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Ides of December, A Christmas Poem

December 15, 2013 Please note that the blog is not very friendly at dividing lines or I don;t know how to do it, so I have put slash marks at every line end, plus doubles for stanza ends. Hope it works for you all! Merry Christmas! The Ides of December// Beware the Ides of December!/ Elves scurry to and fro/ While Santa tries to remember/ All the places he must go.// In cities, the shoppers are crazy/ Trying to spread Christmas cheer./ No one has time to be lazy:/ Just ten days till Christmas is here!// The trees are all trimmed and lighted,/ The stockings await their payloads;/ Adults feel they should be knighted/ For secret surprises untold.// The animals out in the forest/ Take notice of all that we do,/ Foraging like they do for breakfast,/ Online or store to store in worn shoes.// The gifts all still need to be wrapped,/ The groceries need to be bought./ Children share dreams in Santa’s lap/ While his own hopes soon will be sought.// Santa is preparing his red sleigh,/ The elves loading the gifts and toys/ For all the less fortunate parents/ Who can’t treat their own girls and boys,// Because this is a celebration/ Especially for one child’s birth/ That’s bigger than any nation:/ For one day we see what has worth.// A toy train chugs around merrily,/ Hot cocoa and tea warm our hands=/ As we gather around our grand trees,/ Upright and proud on their stands// Like guardians keeping quiet vigil,/ Protecting us all as we sleep:/ They’re softly lit beacons of good will/ That guide Santa through the dark and deep.// So welcome the Fifteenth of December!/ Prepare for the ultimate feast!/ Keep burning that warm, glowing ember/ And celebrate the Child of Peace!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Travelblog: 19 Windmills at Kinderdyke

The heat wave started today, as promised. Our temperature climbed from Sunday’s high at 2 degrees to a low this morning of 14 and a high of a blistering 23. In a sense, it got warm enough to snow, and we had a good six inches of the pure white powdery stuff on our porch, lawn and driveway when we got up this morning. So, for just the second time this season, I pulled out the snow shovel and heaved ho ho ho. It took an hour and a half to get our long driveway cleared even while another half inch was falling, plus the front pprch for guests and the back porch for Meg. Our little five pound Chihuahua finds herself shoulder deep in the snow if I don’t clear a path to her toilet. This makes her most reluctant to actually do her business – do her duty. Clearing a path for her is a kindness to her and a way of avoiding messes in the house. The nice thing about shoveling that much snow is that it is great exercise and keeps me warm even in the snowy cold conditions. This, in turn, helps me keep my boyish figure, so hard earned so late in life. Diane comments now and then that shoveling snow doesn’t bother her much at all: she sits inside and watches me do it. I guess it’s a win, win. Out there in the cold, I was remembering our last wintertime visit to Holland in 2009. It was very cold there, that trip. Temperatures hovered around the zero mark (Celsius) and felt much colder. Of course, from a Montana perspective, cold is something altogether different for me now, and I live in Montana’s banana belt, not the bitter flat on the other side of the Great Divide. It is actually the frozen banana belt, but everything lives by comparison. I heard today that a temperature reading at the South Pole was minus 132. Like I said, it’s all relative to your point of view. In 2009, the weather in Holland was brisk. It was more than brisk. One of our little side trips took us to Kinderdyke, a famous spot where nineteen windmills fill a large space by the dyke. Legend has it that, centuries ago, a great flood hit that region of Holland, as one often did through the years. Many lives were lost. But rescuers on the river found a basket floating on the water. A small kitten was standing on the basket, mewing wildly, desperate for help. The rescuers pulled the basket in, to find there was an infant inside. Both were saved. The people of the region decided that they ought to build a protective dyke so that no other child would ever be in that situation again – the children’s dyke, the Kinderdyke. And later they built nineteen windmills to harness the power that the dyke was there to control. It is a spot worth visiting. There is a walkway that winds among all nineteen windmills, and a gift shop, all that jazz – a working tourist photo op. But the day we went, it was bitter cold. We parked, got out, and made our way toward the windmills. We got as far as the gift shop, which was closed. We looked out toward the windmills, each of us thinking, just how much did we want to do this? Annemieke asked, “So, just how much do you want to do this?” and we all said, “Not this much!” Maybe we’ll make it back in summer. There’s a toy in the gift shop I think would be perfect for Xander. I haven’t seen it anywhere else.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Travelblog to do list: Leyden (Leiden), the Nedtherlands

I have not yet been to Leyden in the Netherlands. Leyden is the home of Holland’s first University, a renowned place of higher learning. Among the brilliant minds associated with the University are several members of the royal family, and Rene Descartes, Christiaan Huygens, Hugo de Groot (Grotius), Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Nobel Laureate Hendrick Antoon Lorenz, Myles Standish, Rembrandt van Rijn, film director Paul Verhoven, and lawyer and founding citizen of New Amsterdam Adriaen van der Donck, just to name a few. Leyden is also a place of huge historical significance. The Dutch revolt against Spanish rule was in its relative infancy and in serious danger of being strangled in its crib. After losing Haarlem to a Spanish siege, William the Silent could not afford another defeat of that magnitude, otherwise the movement, its hopes for political and expressive freedom, and William’s own career, would disappear. It was late summer, 1574, and Spanish forces had surrounded and besieged the city of Leyden. Leyden under siege became a desperate place. Relieving it became William’s prime objective. The Spanish were firmly entrenched; the citizens of Leyden faced starvation. Two years earlier Dutch forces delivered the town of Alkmaar from a similar siege by opening the dikes and flooding the Spanish encampments under three feet of water. William decided that strategy was the only tactic that would work for Leyden, but the strategy was far more complicated here. The people in the areas that would be flooded had to agree, and did. The water would have to cross twenty miles of lowlands with natural barriers along the way. The water had to be at least two feet deep for even the lightest barges to navigate to the city gates with soldiers and supplies. Plus, it was summer: the weather and the winds would not be favorable. William thus went all in. At first the flood waters refused to cooperate, and the Spanish troops kept Dutch forces in check. But at last the elements aligned. The Spanish soldiers, waste deep in water, panicked and abandoned the siege. Leyden was relieved. The war of liberation would go on for 75 more years, but, in a very real sense, the independent Netherlands was established for good. Such an important event deserved a monument to commemorate it. William fully understood the significance of his victory. But he did not want an obelisk or statue that might crumble in time and did nothing to further his personal goals and hopes for his country. Instead, he encouraged the establishment of a living symbol of a free Holland and the freedom of thought he so deeply believed in: the University of Leyden. One of the first things the Nazis did upon invading Holland in 1940 was to close the University. It was a center for Jewish studies and a hot bed for resistance against the new invaders, as well as an historic symbol of Dutch tolerance and freedom. The University reopened immediately after liberation. Walking down its corridors, where so many great minds flourished, would be a great joy and an honor.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Sub-Zero Connections: D-Day, William the Silent, Rubens

December 7, 2013 D-Day. The weather outside is frightful. It is a clear and beautiful day as long as you stay inside. Outside it reached minus six degrees Fahrenheit, about minus 22 Celsius. How cold is that? Well, you would not be able to find a well digger’s butt because it would be frozen to the side of the well. That’s cold. That’s beyond brisk. The cold snap is supposed to last a few more days, and then we will move back up into the high 20’s. We’ll be dancing for joy: we’re having a heat wave, a sub-arctic heat wave! It is also the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the terrible event that brought the United States into World War Two through the back door. More importantly, 2500 lives were lost on that day in that attack. In the grand scheme of things, with a death toll numbering over sixty million in that war alone, 2500 doesn’t sound like much, unless of course you are one of them or knew one of them. The other fact is that most of the people who lived through and fought that war have slipped away from us. But it is important to remember them, to imagine their lives and their deaths, to realize their humanity. The great philosopher of misery, Josef Stalin, once said, “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.” We have to hold onto the tragedies one by one or the statistics will overwhelm us into indifference. I bear that in mind especially this year, remembering that next year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the War to End All Wars, which is still raging. Having said all this, I now present you with a heartwarming story for a cold afternoon. You can call it “Connections” or, simply, “Forgiveness.” It goes: In 1572, William the Silent learned that his wife was having an affair with a man of relatively little consequence. Anna was an unhappy woman and wife, with a husband more devoted to his adopted country’s struggle against Spain than to her. She became involved with a married man, and the affair was discovered. By the rights and precedents of the time, William had the right to have them both executed for treason. He decided to spare his wife to protect fragile political alliances, and probably because he felt at least partly responsible for her actions. The man’s wife came to him to plead for her husband’s life, and William had already decided to spare him as well. William felt the man was as much a victim of Anna’s unhappiness and behaviors as he himself was. So he demanded, simply, that the man return to his own town with his devoted and steadfast wife, and never leave it. John Rubens’ wife apparently also forgave the man. History would not have noticed him further, except that, six years later, he and his wife had a son together. They named him Peter Paul.