Deir Yassin Where Are You?

Deir Yassin just after the massacre April 9 1948.
Deir Yassin just after the massacre April 9 1948.

On April 9, 1948, history records an attack on a small Palestinian village, Deir Yassin, just outside Jerusalem; according to most accounts by outside observers, and the Palestinians, the attackers were members of the Irgun, a militant, some would say terrorist, Jewish paramilitary force working to free the land of the British and native Arab peoples. Israeli leaders have maintained that the attack came from Arabs. Whoever the attackers, it became for Palestinians a signal to flee from many villages across Palestine in the face of Jewish (soon to be Israeli) forces.

Martyrs of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem.
Martyrs of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem.

I visited the site of Deir Yassin last October, several days after visiting Yad Vashem, the Israeli memorial to the Holocaust. They are not far from each other; one could walk the distance although I did not. I wept repeatedly at Yad Vashem, left ashen and overwhelmed by grief, especially by the memorial to the children. I feel the deep pain yet today.

Kfar Shaul, formerly Deir Yassin, now a mental hospital
Kfar Shaul, formerly Deir Yassin, now a mental hospital.

I say I visited the site of Deir Yassin because as a village, as a place, it no longer exists. The place of the massacre has been recreated, smoothed over, by a place called Kfar Shaul, a facility for the mentally ill. There is no plaque or other remembrance–only the stories, the arguments about who did what to whom . . . and the patients, the inmates if you will, of a modern Israeli mental hospital.

At Yad Vashem, I came across the memorial to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. At first, I did not understand where the memorial was–because it is an empty square, like a central plaza in an European city without any people or market. Then I realized this empty square is the memorial–marking the absence of Polish Jews, their extermination. I sat down on the stones and wept and wept.

The link between the lost people of Warsaw and the lost people of Deir Yassin seems clear to me. And yet nothing marks Deir Yassin. But like Warsaw, like Treblinka and Wounded Knee, and so many others, we must never forget.

Deir Yassin where are you?

The distance between

Yad Vashem


Kfar Shaul

more than a stone can throw

less than a good morning walk

but the canyon



gapes wide and deep like yes and no

a wound buried in enough denial to be ignored

Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. Yad Vashem

records the horrors of


the truth of inhumanity

shining the deepness of honesty on brutality

recounting the names and faces of victims

recalling the perpetrators of butchery

recording the names of the righteous among the nations who refused to lie in bed with evil

Tears flow

hearts ache

minds recoil

as we repeat

Never Again

Never Again


in the lurking memory of time

it is a promise

we may not keep

Yad Vashem.

Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. Kfar Shaul

tells a different story

speaking in code known to those who want to forget

a moment of silence lasting lifetimes

a center for mental health



resting on

the remains of a village

living in denial recording nothing of the souls buried beneath its glassy façade locking patients and remembrances of things past lives gone

behind security cameras and guard posts

Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. It was a day in what should have been another lifetime

but feels like only yesterday

the wounds buried

just deep enough in denial to be ignored

continuing the mournful fugue of historical futility






righteous men believing in a vision to reclaim their ancient home

struck out at villagers in homes

these in the wrong place at the wrong time

on the wrong side

at least the losing side

Deir Yassin where are you?

100 or 250 gone of 600 or 750 inhabitants

depending on the history we read,

one-sixth to one-third gone

whatever your source

reports of rape

men paraded through Jerusalem

to the cheers of other men

and then shot

others dispute all the horror

blaming it on Arab soldiers

whose single-fire guns sought to stave off

automatic weapons and mortars


Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. The exodus

of villagers not just Deir Yassin

250,000 refugees in camps

symbol of the new order

creating fear among people without an army even a government

some said they did not even exist

living in a land without a people

Deir Yassin where are you?

The conquerors

terrorized in other lands

hated and feared and maligned

survivors of the slaughtered


a people without a land

to call home

filling the homes of those who fled

becoming a people and a land as one

prosperous and strong

proud and feared

hated too

Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. Are you under the wound

scabbed over now

by a place for

mental health

a place of screams and dreams

of loves and lives lost


repeating in flashing fits of confession and accusation

rambling humbled haunted tales of fear and illusion

even bouts of sometimes reality?

Yad Vashem.

Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin where are you?

No word

about what lies buried


Deir Yassin where are you?

No names on homes still standing as offices and cottages for the new village inmates

even as their walls and doors and windows and roofs hold the secrets of yesterday’s disappeared

  1. A visitor

stands on the sidewalk

tearfully remembering the histories he has read and Holocaust stories he can almost recite word for word from memory

and the endless arguments about who killed how many in ‘48 and ‘67 and ‘73 and ‘14 and all the other years too

and why it had to be so

persist like a bad dream growing more weird



Yad Vashem.

Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin where are you?

His mind reciting




Never Again






it is a promise

we have yet to keep

Deir Yassin.

War Is Failure by Another Name

War WW II rubbleWar is failure by another name violence too

Instead we glorify both as ways to make movies

and solve what seem like intractable problems

but of course war and violence solve nothing

they only create new opportunities for misunderstanding

and tension and conflict. The world is a crazy mixed up

place where real needs of people for food shelter

health are disregarded in place of profit and opulence

where blowhards can run and maybe even win high office

where Money is God and god is a slogan to be used to

deny humanity to one group or another.

I wrote these rough words the other morning–they need an editor yet–but I am choosing to share them this day as a sign of the times, to hold up a flag not of surrender but of hope and possibility. We must name things for what they are, we must build a politics that is not about a horse race to the White House, not a soccer match for the Senate, but deep discourse that opens up the dream that once was America for all, and claims peace as a primary policy.

Not in God’s Name?

I will go to Shabbat this evening, sharing with my Jewish husband and many other good and faithful people in saying prayers and singing beautiful, haunting songs of God’s power, goodness, and mercy. We will say to each other, “Shabbat Shalom,” sabbath peace.

Mishkan TorahI have come to cherish this time, to be accepted as a member of the temple, even as I continue my worship and identity as a follower of Jesus. Both Congregation Or Ami, the Reform congregation in Richmond, and Congregation Mishkan Torah, the Conservative/Reconstructionist temple in Greenbelt, recognize our family (Or Ami did so before we were legally married, and I think it would have been the same at Mishkan Torah).

I learn much about faith and living from the wise and deeply spiritual rabbis who lead these two congregations and from other leaders and members, too. Judaism is a beautiful faith and these are beautiful people. I am blessed. I grow in spiritual depth by being fed at temple, and participating in the life of the congregation.

boycott_divestment_sanctions_560I also am troubled. During recent High Holy Days services, speakers told us about the importance of buying Israel Bonds. They also spoke of how wrong any efforts, such BDS (Boycott Divestment, Sanctions), to change Israeli policy through pressure from the world, were wrong, even evil. We were told that BDS seeks to destroy Israel. I have read and heard people say that Jews who support these efforts are self-hating Jews. Even the idea of selective boycotts–not buying products from selected companies who are part of maintaining control of Palestinians–are judged as anti-semitic. The implication is, for me, that I and other non-Jews who may support at least some of these efforts are anti-Semitic.


Of course, it is hard to escape anti-Semitic attitudes–like white racism, homophobia, sexism, they are part of the air we breathe (even after the Holocaust and a desire for “never again”). But I have worked hard to overcome it, and am committed to opposing it every way I can.

Free Palestine and anti-semitism (of course, Jews are not the only Semitic people)

But that does not mean I accept everything done by the State of Israel as good, any more than I accept everything done by the United States of America as good. And it surely does not mean that I want to do to others what has been done to Jews.

Now comes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who claims it was a Muslim leader, Jerusalem’s then-grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who gave Hitler the idea, or if not the idea then the push, to burn all Jews. Historians universally scoff at the claim, as do many Israeli leaders, including some in the Netanyahu cabinet.
Benjamin Netanyahu

The Prime Minister, admittedly never a favorite of mine going back to when he was the Israeli Ambassador to the UN in the 1980s, seems to be seeking to deflect any criticism of Israeli actions towards the Palestinians by suggesting that the current wave of violence, and by extension all the Palestinian anger and violence in prior years, is due to only one cause: an ancient animus of Muslims and Palestinians toward Jews.

It is true that the Grand Mufti was an odious anti-Semite. And it is true that many other Arab leaders, and people, have been so, and continue to be so. It is disappointing, to say the least, that the current President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has not condemned the violence and sought to stem it.

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas

At the same time, there seems to be ample evidence that Abbas and the authority are not inciting it either. Frankly, Abbas is a pretty weak figure, and that is in part due to how ineffective he and his government are seen by the people in changing the living conditions of Palestinians.

What Mr. Netanyahu may want to consider is the contribution his government, and prior Israeli administrations, make to this perception among Palestinians. Perhaps if they could find ways to lessen the Israeli control of Palestinian lives, to allow more movement not less, to stop what would be considered racial profiling in this country, to provide access to more water, to stop bulldozing Palestinian homes (those of the families of bombers as well as just ordinary people), or join the President of Israel in acknowledging some of the wrongs done to Palestinians over the decades–any one or more of these things or others–then perhaps there would be ways to stop or even slow the escalating cycle of violence.

As it is now, the cycle is picking up speed and intensity. Tighten the screws, and Palestinians will react more angrily. Tighten again in response, and more anger, more bombs, more cars used to run over people, etc. Tighten more, more reaction, etc. I for one cannot see that Israel is being made more safe by all this.

My friends who stand with Israel–with only muted criticism, if any–will say Israel can’t afford to be weak, that the Palestinians cannot be trusted not to take advantage of any kindness for their own gain. They have evidence to support the claim.

I acknowledge the risk.

But I also know this. People revolt against what they perceive to be unreasonable authority, people fight back against oppression. And they will not stop until it is over.

The forced marchof Cherokee westward
The forced marchof Cherokee westward

This is part of our national history here, too, as our nation overrode the anger of Native Americans to losing their land–by wiping most of them out, and put the rest on reservations. I do not want that for Palestinians.

And I take them at their word that the leaders of Israel do not either. But frankly the Prime Minister’s comments feel all too much like a set up for justifying actions I, and most others, would find odious. I do not say he wants that, but it is a slippery slope he is on. It is too easy to move from mass condemnation of a people to deciding they should be removed or massacred or otherwise overrun. Jews surely know this. The rest of us should know it, to our shame.

And here’s something to ponder: is the history of Islam one long effort to kill Jews? No. When Christians were on vengeful Crusades, it was often Islamic people, among others, who protected Jews.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

It is too easy to get inside your own “in group,” into dualisms, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, and decide that the other group is entirely to blame for whatever ails you (Rabbi Sacks writes of this in an excellent book, “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence”). We have to break that cycle in many places in the world, most certainly in Israel/Palestine.

Somehow, some way, these warring peoples have got to find ways to live together. Shalom. 

Or they shall die together, not in the dignity of old age but in every growing hostility and conflagration.

God weeps at the prospect.

Choosing to Be Me Again

Robin Oct 20 2015
Wearing earrings to my first Open Mic Poetry Reading at the New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt, October 20 2015

My life has undergone a wonderful shift, reclaiming a piece of my personal identity I gave up five years ago: I am wearing earrings again.

I don’t remember exactly when I started wearing earrings–one in each ear, usually somewhat long and dangly–but it was some time in the early to mid-90s. Nor do I remember exactly what prompted me to have my ears pierced, but it was probably because it had been the custom for many gay men to wear one earring in the left ear. I thought then, as I do now, that I like both my ears and would not favor one over the other.

I do remember finding a pair of long, dangling rainbow earrings at a flea market in Brooklyn and buying them, and finding great pleasure in wearing them. They were my first (other than boring studs and rings). Sadly, I have lost them.

But I have many other pairs. I kept them when I stopped wearing them in 2010, thinking I might resume the custom later.

Why did I stop?

Robin with earrings
Pastoring with earrings before 2010

Leaders in the congregation where I served as pastor told me that although they supported my habit, they also believed it cost us members. Not wanting to hurt the church, I took off my earrings. I remember well how many in the group applauded when I did this; a few others did not. They told me they were unhappy that I given in to these opinions.

The truth is that the number of visitors to the church did not increase nor did our rate of new member retention improve.

What caused me to return to this practice?

Some of my earrings, on a holder created by my daughters 20+ years ago
Some of my earrings, on a holder created by my daughters 20+ years ago

First, I have been missing the joy I felt in choosing earrings each day, and looking for new ones, too. I also felt I had lost a part of myself.

But what pushed me at this time was participating in a online symposium for my denomination, Metropolitan Community Churches (see October 16, 2015 “What’s Sex Got to Do with It?”), “Who Are We, Really? Re-Engaging Sex and Spirit.” As I listened to presentations and prepared my own remarks for a panel on healing queer bodies and healing the Body of Christ, I realized I had been living in denial. I denied my own sense of self by removing the earrings, and I had become disconnected from the me who is gender queer.

I am male-bodied and glad of it. I like having and using a penis and other aspects of male embodiment. I am gay and glad of that, too. I like other penises, and other aspects of male embodiment in men generally (and my husband’s in particular!). But I have my own ways of expressing those truths, and one way is by decorating myself in ways that honor my own particularities. Those decorations include earrings (and wearing colorful socks that match or accent the rest of my clothes, and using scarves and various other items of clothing).

Those practices have caused people to ask me if I am transgender. I have to say “No” even as I honor my trans siblings as they explore, express and live their truths. I am glad to be on the gender continuum with them, as a gender queer.

And there is one other aspect. As I age, my relationship with sex has changed. I no longer take it for granted. My body requires more attention, to be healthy, of course, but also to be sexy and sexually active. For reasons I do not fully understand, earrings help me feel more sexual and desirable, even to experience more desire. I do hope someday to wear only earrings at a nude or clothing optional beach (just have to be careful not to lose them!).

And then there is one more very important thing: I really want to undermine the rigid gender binary (for more on this, see “Why Do Watches Have Gender?”). This is the spiritual and political activist in me. I seek to undermine any system that undercuts the souls of God’s people in all our wondrous, divinely-inspired and created, variety.

So, the earrings are back!

I’m back!

What’s Sex Got to Do with It?

imageI am ordained clergy in a Christian denomination, Metropolitan Community Churches, that exists because of sex.

Thus, it may not seem unusual that we are having a three-day virtual symposium entitled, “Who Are We Really? Re-Engaging Sex and Spirit.”

And yet, this is the first such planned, intentional conversation ever in our mostly Protestant global denomination that arose in Los Angeles 47 years ago to serve the spiritual needs of lesbian and gay Christians.

Rev. Elder Troy D.Perry
Rev. Elder Troy D.Perry

In 1968, when Rev. Troy Perry issued the invitation in The Advocate for people to come to his home for the first service, people were regularly arrested for having same-sex sex and for dressing “against” their gender (butch lesbians, femme gay men, transexuals, e.g.), and many attempted suicide in the face of losing family and jobs. Troy himself was not arrested, but he did attempt suicide. And in his autobiographical account of the founding, tells of going with many others to bring friends and lovers home from jail. One such incident sparked the call in his heart to start a new church. Twelve people showed up on October 6, and things started rolling.

imageThat’s why I say we started because of sex. Sex is at our center as a gathered faith community. If men were not having sex with men and women with women, we would not exist. Just in case you are wondering, we still are having sex.

imageBut the truth is that in many, if not most, of our churches, you would not know it. We don’t talk about it much. We’re just like the rest of the Church, in denial.

One reason we keep quiet about sex is that we have tried hard to be accepted by the larger religious establishment. That has worked, somewhat, but we are still barred from membership in the National Council of Churches, and the World Council of Churches, too.

imageAnother reason is that many of our people are still fighting internalized homophobia and shame. LGBT folks are not exempt from the various forms of body shame that infect so many people, and we all have to cope with the same air of negativity and judgment about same-sex love that everyone else has had to breathe.

imageThose factors are undergirded by the general sex phobia of Christianity. Why our larger faith is this way seems strange–Jesus is not recorded as saying anything negative about sex (or even same-sex sex), and even cares for several people who are sexually active (remember the woman accused of adultery?).

In the first two sessions yesterday, the first day, we heard some of our history in the U.S. and some of the challenges we face in other parts of the world today. We also delved into approaches to “deconstructing heteronormativity” (sadly I missed most of this session).

imageAnd in the third session, about 30 of us conducted a moderated, open discussion of the question, “How do we bring sex to church?”

Implicit in that question is that it is desirable to bring sex to church. I surely agree.

imageBut that is not by far what many Christians, in MCC and in other groups, ordained or lay, would say. And for many who would agree, it would be to be sure that people only had sex in marriage and for many of them only for the purposes of procreation. And they would not think that a group of LGBT folks ought to be bringing our perverted sexual lives anywhere near church.

imageSo the first line dividing many (I hope all in MCC are on this side): sex is good. The second might be that there should be more of it. But even before that would be the reality that God is the author of sexuality and that God’s design is rich and varied and not under the control of self-appointed, or even biblically anointed, sex police.

Could this be your church?
Could this be your church?

This symposium is touching on all this, and more, and pushing boundaries all over the place, and is the most exciting religious/theological event I have attended in a long time.

Such is the power of sex. Thank God!

[Note: this last picture, taken at the renowned Opera House in Sydney, Australia, is too white for my taste–I want my church to be far more diverse–but I had a hard time finding a picture of a large group of naked people. And it is pretty cool anyway–all those wondrously naked bodies simply enjoying being alive! If you click on it, you can appreciate the diversity of bodies.]

A History of Inspiration?

Except When He Forgets

What does it mean that the boy creates a fantasy world
where he is living only among other boys of his desire
and at other times he is the leader of the nation
with all the other leaders circling about him
could he be gay or lonely or just well
a little crazy in the head?
Or maybe even then he was supposed to write
word upon word for a new world
but that was too scary fantasy easier
no human trusted to share his secrets
God locked up office hours Sundays only.

Maybe the fantasies were gifts from God
keeping his soul alive
for a latter day when the saint in him
could claim it all?
Stop resisting and start flowing
blowing like wind free and easy or hard
water seeking its own level
not controlled by the damn others construct
in their anxious angry botherings to contain
the percolating of their souls
terrorized by what they see in the glass
afraid others will see it too
strike first at the other even if it is really you.

Now he knows to trust what bubbles
up from springs of sacred wisdom
knocking him off his perch of contentment
into the wild waters of life.

Except when he forgets.

The Destination Is the Journey

I am listening right now for the words to come, trusting that there is something that needs me to say it, write it, today. Unnerving to realize I am not totally in charge of this process, that a greater force, and a more intimate one, plays an indispensable role–without which whatever I type or pen will lack some essence of life.

road in autumn lightIt is one thing to string words together in an artful way, and something else far more rewarding when they sing with soul. I imagine even technical writing, if approached with humility and openness, can sing at least a little–even if it is the goal of such writing to be in total control through the mind.

I don’t want my mind to be in total control, I don’t even want total control however it might come, even though it is tempting at times. The ego wants so much to be in control, but that means severing or at least limiting a relationship with God, among others, and I don’t want that.

dark roadMy relationship with God is built on the willingness to remain open to what comes, to be willing to experience all that life offers, and to trust God to guide me through in ways it is good for me to go.

The destination is not an ending point, not a place. The destination is the open, trusting journey that never ends.

Today Is National Poetry Day

National Poetry Day

New age of Know Nothings is upon us
Curiosity upon curiosity
Odd over odd yet weirder still
elected officials claim religious exemptions to avoid doing their jobs
presidential candidates claim constitutional provisions unAmerican
say stuff happens can’t stop gun deaths
Wall will stop immigrants
Russian bombs for Syria end up in Iran
House Republicans kill off another Speaker due to his weak Right wing

We need some poetry rhyme or no rhyme bad meter or good beat
to lift us from the morass of ego upon endless ego
masking helium-filled lives pretending to be full of more than gas
truth with capital T poking pretense upending lies
some say its only for sissies but some of the toughest folks are that way
poets a tough breed who can tell you off without your knowing
see things that do not exist until the word gives them life
prick a wounded psyche and make it sing
Send in the poets Let us breathe again

Whose Lives Matter?

The violence grows apace in Jerusalem. The contradiction with what its name means, city of peace, is stark. Painful. Ugly.
Palestinians line up at an Israeli checkpoint
Palestinians line up at an Israeli checkpoint

Who is to blame?

Palestinians who throw stones and bombs, stab people, kill parents in front of their children (picture of their car below)? The Israelis who keep the pressure on the Palestinians by building more settlements, forcing ordinary workers to wait in long lines to get permission to go to work, keep biometrics on each adult to track their movements, and whose security forces make, inevitably, “mistakes”?

There is more than enough blame to go around. There always is.

When Jonathan and I visited Jerusalem last year, and when we went to Lod for a program about building peace in that place, and I visited places outside Jerusalem as well–we came away with images of great beauty (the Old City is simply a jewel shining in the sun) and an abiding sense of tension and insecurity. We felt the tension for days after we returned to the United States.


I fear for Israel. I fear for Palestine (which does not exist as an actual state, something it is easy to forget). The pathology of ever-repeating violence pervades all. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks speaks of an Us and Them dualism that runs counter to the three great monotheistic religions, and yet is threaded through each.

Even the beautiful Israeli settlements–making gardens bloom in the desert–overlook areas of Palestinian deprivation. The tension is palpable, if you look, if you are willing to see.

author photo taken from sidewalk in Israeli Jewish settler area on the outskirts of Jerusalem, looking across to very dry Palestinian area.
author photo taken from sidewalk in Israeli Jewish settler area on the outskirts of Jerusalem, looking across to very dry Palestinian area.

I have no answers, yet there must be answers. Things can not go on like this.

When Jonathan and I get into an argument, and we can get pretty ugly at times, eventually each of us has to crawl back from the flashpoint to acknowledge what went wrong, to admit our part in the failure of living side by side in peace.

The only thing I know to do is to get on my knees, making repentance for what I have done that does not serve peace and what I have not done that would serve peace.

I can hear many of my friends say, “Well, if they (the other side, whoever it is), get on their knees, then we will, too. But they have to stop the violence first.”

There is the pathology: it’s the other guy. Always the other. Kill the Jews! Kill the Arabs!

War never solves pathology, it just gives it new outlets and new justifications.

Israeli Lives MatterA dear friend sent me a graphic (see right) that has gone viral on the internet. I know the people who designed it mean to help. I know my friend means to help, too.

Sadly, however, I think it makes matters worse–not least because it is a high-jacking of a campaign by another aggrieved group in another part of the world, namely African Americans who are tired of being the targets of police and social violence.

And it harms because it implies, in this context, that Palestinian lives do not matter. More Palestinians are killed in any given year than Israelis. More Palestinians are forced from land and homes than Israelis. The Israeli Defense Force and police are far more efficient and powerful than their Palestinian counterparts.

I can hear friends reply that the campaign Black Lives Matter seems to say that White Lives Do Not Matter. Or that it should say All Lives Matter (which is what so many wanted to say in response to Black Lives Matter).

The problem is power. It always is. Nearly always, one side or the other has greater power.

My mentioning arguments between Jonathan and me is misleading in one sense: there is no real power differential between us. We both have roughly equal power at any given moment.

But African Americans know that in this country whiteness dominates. We do not need signs saying “White Lives Matter” because our entire social structure reinforces that every day.

It is not dissimilar in Israel and Palestine. Clearly, the Israeli government, and its security forces, generally have the upper hand. For example, it is only the Prime Minister of Israel who can decree that Palestinians may not enter the Old City for 48 hours–what in this country would be considered racial profiling of the worst kind.

I do not intend any of this to absolve Palestinians from responsibility for murders they commit, for violence enacted on the streets. I do not absolve the Palestinian Authority of incompetence and great dereliction of duty over the decades. And of course, Israeli lives matter.

But I do know who still has the upper hand.

Yet I fear for Israel. To live in the constant state of fear is to invite ever greater militarization, ever greater extremism. This will not protect the City of Peace, even as it may satisfy the desire for vengeance and some sort of order.

Palestinians people are going this route, I fear, out of desperation; when you see no hope, then despair takes over. They do not have the armaments, however, to take charge. And much of the current violence seems sporadic and disorganized–we are not yet, yet, at a new Intifada.

Israel does have the armaments, including nuclear weapons. It matters how they use their advantages. Sadly, I am not convinced that the current government, nor clearly many of its allies, understand that with great power comes great responsibility.

Until that changes, I expect the City of Peace will feel too much like the City of War.

St. Mary’s Wilderness Journal #1

St. Mary's Wilderness sign

It was a mostly wet couple of days with the trees, rhododendrons, and creatures of St. Mary’s Wilderness in the George Washington National Forest in western Virginia. But of course God, or Great Spirit as our native teachers in this land might say, is present no matter the weather. So I learned some important lessons–and I am grateful I went, despite, or  perhaps because of, some real challenges. Over the next few weeks, I will share some of the challenges and lessons, or medicine, as Native people might say, I received. Here is the first installment.

I drove from Maryland into Virginia on Tuesday, September 29–after talking to the good folks at REI (Recreation Equipment Inc.), my gurus about outdoor life, about how to put up my tent in a downpour–only to discover when I arrived that torrential rains, almost blinding sheets of moisture at times, made it impossible to hike in and get a camp set up that day. So I spent an uneventful first night at a motel in Waynesboro.

Lesson: Sometimes with nature it is best to lie low, recognizing that the forces of the universe are greater than me.

2015-09-30 09.08.01
author photo

Wednesday dawned dryer–meaning not raining–so I headed off to the wilderness, and found my way to the Bald Mountain Overlook at Mile 22 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There I parked my car, loaded the pack on my back (did it really weigh sixty pounds?), and walked up Forest Service Road 162 for about a mile until locating the Bald Mountain Trail. Down that trail for most of a mile–pretty steep at times, hard on my right knee, but still a usable trail–across a creek twice until I came to a lovely small clearing in the woods very near the creek. Due to the rain, the creek was running strong and I knew I could use it as a water source (with filtering, of course).

2015-09-30 09.08.57Setting up camp took several hours. I had not done this entirely on my own before, so it took awhile. Several hours later, however, I had a tent erected, sleeping bag unfolded, a tarp in an adjacent area as a place to sit near the creek, and a bag of food hanging in a tree.

St. Mary's Wilderness Pilgrimage 085
author photo

Lesson: in putting up the tarp and the food bag, I realized I needed to have asked more questions to the good folks at REI. Where to put the tarp would have been a good start!  As to the food bag, I realized I had just nodded to the nice man at REI when he told me to toss a rope line over the limb of a tree where the bag could hang. I knew why to do it–keep the black bears and racoons from ravaging your food–but I was not sure how.

After a little thought, I realized I needed something heavy on the end of the line to toss over the limb. And I needed to find enough of an opening in the dense forest growth where I could toss the line without becoming all tangled in the wrong place. Finding a good spot (and it did work, ultimately, very well), I tied my Swiss Army Knife to the end of the line. That went over the limb just fine but given the force of my toss it just kept wrapping around the limb! I could not reach the end now. Ouch. And what about my knife? I was going to need that again!

I don’t know the physics of this (I don’t know the physics of anything really), but I was able, standing on the ground, to loosen the looped line on the limb enough to get it to unwind and come down. I untied the knife and put it in my pocket, and realized, somehow with my limited capacity for things mechanical, I needed something bigger and heavier than the knife for the end of the line. I tied a small, zipped bag of useful items  (whistle, compass, lighter, etc.) to the line and did another toss. Perfect. Whew!

rhododendron, author photo

There is more about this line and the bag for a future post, but for now I will conclude by patting myself on the back for getting things set up. And I decided that since the rains had not yet returned (but they were coming, to be sure), it was time for a small hike sans pack.  How good it would feel to explore without that weight!

Lesson: Take a break and enjoy the beauty around you (rhododendron everywhere). .

More to come, as this pilgrim’s progress continues . . . . (maybe even a poem).