Saturday, November 18, 2006

Trees in Winter by Edward Waters

Edward Waters has a wonderful poem entitled Trees in Winter. With his permission I tried to post it here, but Blogger makes it impossible to preserve the proper indents and spacing, so rather than ruin the visual aesthetic of the poem I'll just send you to the source -Trees in Winter. While there look around at some of Edward's other splendid poetry.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Trees in Winter

There was a time in my life during this season between the end of daylight savings time and the winters solstice, when I think I was prone to a mild case of seasonal affective disorder, or, in my case, maybe just the sundown blues. Thankfully that is long past. I’m too busy now for one thing. And the other thing is that I have fallen in love with the woods in winter. I look forward to winter woods like some people look forward to spring flowers. Moore than anything, it is the trees. I love trees in winter.

For the sake of modesty and warmth people need to put on clothes. Yes, it hides what they “really” look like, but I’ll just take the clothed look thank you. But as for trees, all the leaves, as beautiful and green as they are, hide the unique and often magnificent personality of the tree beneath. The uniqueness of each and every tree is more evident in nakedness.

There is a White Oak out my side window. It is almost completely leafless now, with only a few red hanger-on leaves dangling here and there. I see its twisted and gnarly branches more clearly than ever. They reveal its story. This White Oak grew up in its early years with some good competition, but then, that competition diminished. About thirty feet up some very stout limbs grow straight out from the trunk. I am guessing, by the size and age of the tree, that the “competition” was cleared for the building of the houses around, and the builders decided to spare that White Oak. It’s a grand old tree, though it’s a little sick, and I worry for it.

It’s easy to notice tree bark in winter. I am one of those odd fellows who thinks that tree bark is very beautiful and quite cool. The sun likes to highlight the bark of a leafless tree, especially the higher-up bark. Winter is time for the bark to shine. Some bark literally does shine. Sycamore trees peels off huge plates revealing a bright chalky white under bark. Take a walk through Latham Park and you will see plenty of that.

Lots of stuff hangs from trees in winter letting you know about the tree. Tulip Poplar balls like to hang around for a while bouncing in the wind. Plus the last Spring flower cups are very visible reaching to the sky at the end of the high stems. Locust Tree bean pods like to flutter in the breeze throughout the winter rattling like old bones. There’s always the stubborn Sweet Gum balls that won’t let go, just waiting to drop in early Spring when your are just first walking out in your bare feet! Gotcha!

Many trees keep their berries throughout the winter. You’d think for example that the birds would eat up all the dogwood berries right away, but the berries often dry out a little and provide food for the birds all winter long. Same for Red Cedar berries, those lovely little gray-blue balls that often cover a Cedar tree. Same for Black Gum. Same for American Holly. I know our Holly bush is not a Holly tree, but it brings joy all winter watching the mockingbirds eat berries from our Holly bush. It’s like they know how to ration the supply. Interesting.

You may need to be a bit of a tree geek for this one, but tree buds and tree stems are fascinating in the winter. By looking at a bare tree stem you can tell how much it grew the last growing season. It’s really easy. You can also tell a lot about the leaves, even when there aren’t any. You can tell if they come off the stem opposite to each other or whether they come of the stem in whorls. You can also tell how many main tree “veins” feed each leaf. From this, more or less, you can often guess if the leaves are compound or not. You can know a lot about what kind of tree it is by how the buds are arranged. Is there one big bud at the end of the stem? Is there a cluster of buds at the end of the stem? Is the bud really at the end or sort of off to the side toward the end? In fact, you can key a tree, that is determine what it is, in winter, without the leaves at all.

The future fate of life on earth is nestled in those little buds. That is just barely an exaggeration. What is it that protects the life inside that bud (and hence next year's growth, and next year's ability to feed flower and seed) from the cold of winter? It is those scales around the bud. Different trees have different kinds of scales. Some bud scales are like two plates meeting in the middle. Some are like fish scales. You can tell a lot about a tree from those scales.

Winter is the time for Pine trees to make their presence known. They kind of pop out and say "We're here" in winter. Hey, I am a South Carolina boy. I was raised on climbing Pine trees to the top, looking up to the deep blue sky through the black branches and green needles of Pine trees, spending half an afternoon trying to get Pine sap off my favorite jeans, engaged for hours in Pine cone wars with the enemy across the wall next door, and nursing skinned up legs from shimmying up and down Pine trunks. In Greensboro there are a few places where I like to go just to breathe in the Pine tree air, peel off some plates of Pine tree bark, fiddle with Pine tree cones, and just generally feel at home.

It’s nice to walk the woods in winter. You can see farther for one thing. You can tell more easily what has been the history of the land you're walking for another. I like trying to figure that out by the ages of the trees, the kinds of trees, the ways that the terrain has been changed by man, how or where a fire may have swept through fifty or so years ago. It’s a kind of sleuthing that I enjoy.

Maybe my favorite thing to do, especially on a cold winter day, is to find a nice stout tree that I can sit against, one with the sun shining full force right on the bottom of the trunk, and just take a seat. Oh how I love the sun on my face in winter. And there I sit. No bugs. Quiet. As quiet as I can be. If the winds are right, and if you’re still enough, the animals will soon not notice you, and you will get lucky. Many times right here in Greensboro deer have walked near, hawks have flown and perched close by, even squirrels have nervously scampered quite close to my feet. I cannot measure the joy of such times.

Such joy gives me strength to go back and re-enter the world of people. Trees are not fickle and moody and complicated and proud like people, like me. How I love them so.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jesus Ain't No Democrat or Republican

I really appreciate Ben-from-Greensboro’s thoughts as quoted by Beth over at The Daily Greensboring in her piece Is Jesus a Democrat? Check it out. It's a good read. Ben raises some very interesting and worthwhile philosophical and social policy questions, especially as relates to the intersection of religion, morality, and public policy.

As a Christian I deeply regret the association of Christian faith with a particular political party. To the extent that a part of the Christian church has allowed itself to be co-opted and used by the Republicans (or Democrats in other cases) it has erred profoundly.

Ben also raises an interesting point as to the issue of “free will,” and the extent to which that is to be honored, especially in a diverse and secular culture. It is no easy task to figure out what Jesus and the Apostles would have had us do when it comes to various public policy matters. On many issues I think there are many possible "Jesus-acceptable" approaches as regards public policy. On other issues I don’t think so. I don’t think there exists a specifically “Jesus-sanctioned” approach to health insurance for example, or a specifically “Jesus-sanctioned” approach to many other issues. But governments are put in place to seek after the public good, to encourage good and discourage bad, and to keep evil (stealing, murder, invasion, fraud, poverty, etc) at bay. It is just truly hard to know how best to seek the public good sometimes, much less if there is a “Christian” policy on many issues, and because of that it frustrates me that many of my brethren speak as if they know just what such a policy would be. I guess they’re just a lot smarter than me.

In his own day Jesus chose to avoid the very real political parties and factions that swirled all around him. He had a different mission. Christians who live in various societies today have a responsibility as citizens to seek the public good and participate in civic life. But their ultimate mission is also different. It is not the mission of the Democratic or Republican party. Jesus cannot be corralled by one of our puny political parties any more than a wild lion can be corralled by a couple of little kids. Jesus, as in the Living version, cannot be tamed, co-opted, used, or pre-empted. We may think we’re doing that but we’re just fooling ourselves.

Democrats come and go. Republicans come and go. Jesus is Lord.

An Open Letter to Matt Hill Comer

Dear Matt,

I read with interest your piece entitled “All My Fault...I’m Bringin’ Down Society” in which you respond to Charles Davenport's references to you in his article in the News and Record.

Your awe-shucks, “small, poor little gay boy” thing reminds me a little of Sam Ervin at the Watergate hearings!

But Matt, Charles Davenport is right about you. You are a force to be reckoned with and your awe-shucks humility will not change that fact.

You are dogged, persistent, relentless, focused, and determined to do what you believe to be right. I’d like to see a day or two go by without some new LGBT cause on the front page of greensboro101, but no, there you go again. Do you sleep?

And many small poor little boys like you, gay or not, have changed the world. Charles Davenport knows that.

In the culture war that is upon us you, my friend, are a formidable adversary, a worthy enemy, and a determined foe. You cannot be ignored or forgotten. You do not and will not go away. You will press the issue and press it again until you cause those who oppose your agenda to rise up and exert the same energy back that you are exerting, or else lose the war.

Matt, you remind me a bit of, well, me, thirty years ago, minus the gay part. When I was an older teen I was also dogged and determined and focused on issues that mattered much to me. I wonder sometimes where the fire, the passion went. I once was going to save the world from.....well, let me just leave it at that.

And I wonder...will you keep it up? Will you retain the passion? Will you stay on fire? I don’t know. I guess I hope not ;). But I think you will.

In the current culture war you are my enemy. Jesus says that I am to love my enemies, which means that I am to love you. I already respect you. And I already admire you. We will in the months ahead do battle in word and phrase as we find ourselves on opposing sides of one aspect of this present battle. But if we meet on the street, or in a coffee house, I hope we can meet as friends.

And as to this young skinny white gay boy awe-shucks thing, well, we both know that’s just a set up for a really good sucker punch.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Few Thoughts on the Election Results


I am bummed out about several of the bonds not passing.


I am not a registered Republican or Democrat. I would probably identify myself, if I absolutely had to, as a conservative Democrat, but there are so few of them left I just don’t try to identify myself anymore. I am pro life, anti gay marriage, and pro environment. I have as much suspicion of big government as I have of big corporations, and vice versa, and I believe in the legitimacy of the war against Islamic fundamentalism. I believe power corrupts. Everyone. I don’t believe in the inherent goodness of human beings, though I believe that goodness is part of the mix. Thus I believe in lots of checks and balances and am not freaked out by divided government. I don’t like Pat Robertson or Nancy Pelosi. I worry about China, and Iran, and a splintered Iraq. Blah Blah Blah, so what.

I think the Republican leadership in Congress has been inept, and that they deserve what has come, though some good men and women got caught in the mess who should not have. I believe that the post invasion handling of the war by the US civilian leadership stateside has been also inept, and if Donald Rumsfeld does not fall on his sword he is a coward. He should have done it a month, a year, or two years ago.

I am more conservative than liberal when it comes to national politics, except for the environment, but I am not an ideologue. Ideologues of the left and right scare me. Politics to me is all about being pragmatic and practical and getting what you can and, yes, cutting deals, and working with the other side, and compromising and being willing to subject your agenda, even your district's agenda, to the greater good. Not all the time. Sometimes you have to vote your conscience no matter what. But usually you need to be pretty pragmatic.

Despite what most people around here think, I think George Bush is a good egg. In fact, his good egg-ness is one of his political faults. He is loyal. That is a good thing. He is too loyal. That is a bad thing.

I actually think George Bush would have been a better president from the get-go if he had NOT had a Republican congress. I think he himself works better as a pragmatist than an ideologue, and being surrounded by the neo-cons and the Republican congress did not bring out the best in him.

I hope the country won’t be saddled with two years of hearings about this or that because it won't do much good, but I expect it’s coming.

I think the price of oil is too low, so I don’t like the idea of hearings about that.

I think a Democratic-controlled House and Senate will be good for whatever Republican runs for President in 2008.

I worry most for pro life issues, gay marriage issues, federal judgeship issues, the prosecution of the war on Islamic jihadism, and the economy.

I am hopeful for the environment, for progress weaning ourselves off foreign oil, for a changed policy in Iraq (since the Republicans seemed incapable of doing that), and for the minimum wage.

I am also hopeful that these two years could bring out the side of George Bush that was effective in Texas. We’ll see. It’s possible.

As a Christian I believe in a sovereign God who is in control, whoever wins. To me the good news of the universe is not who is president or who controls congress, but that Jesus is Lord. I believe that He has His purposes in these things, even when I don’t know what they are, and despite how I do or don’t feel about them.

Deep down I wish for the end of the Clinton-Bush era, and for a new generation to take the reigns, my generation. I think it’s our time now. I look to see what leadership will rise to the top now, in both parties. I’m tired of the same ole same ole. I look ahead, ahead of this year, ahead of next, in hope, and anticipation, not having a clue who it will be, but believing that there are smart and good people of different faiths, genders, and colors waiting to rise up and lead us into a new era.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Nanny's Garden

My grandmother and grandfather, whom we all called Nanny and Pop, moved to Columbia SC in 1943 from Tampa. They bought a house a block off Trenholm Road near Trenholm and Beltline (for those who know Columbia), a small house by today's standards, but with a deep back yard that sloped down to a creek bed. For some reason this suburban bottomland grew the largest Loblolly Pine Trees I have ever seen outside of Congaree Swamp National Park. I loved just lying on her grass and staring up into those huge pine trees. Along with the pines were the natural under story Dogwoods and a few hardwoods here and there, including one giant Water Oak down by the creek. It was a perfect natural setting for their gardening plans.

Nanny and Pop along with their two neighbors got busy developing what would in time be one of the premier stops on the Columbia garden tour. The three yards were planned and planted as a unit. The primary focus would in time be Azaleas, Camellias, Dogwoods, Hydrangeas, Tea Olives, and various Lilies. Of course there were another dozen types of horticultural favorites here and there as well. I always loved the Elaeagnus hedge in her front yard. My keenest memory may be the smell of her gigantic Tea Olives. Oh how I love that smell. I have tried to grow them here, but they just don't emit the pungent aroma like in her yard.

Well, this was a garden twenty plus years in the making. By the time I was old enough to help out in was more of a matter of maintenance. Just keeping the English Ivy and Pachysandra at bay, digging up the brick walks and taking out the roots and resetting the bricks, and cleaning the pine straw off her very high roof kept me pretty busy. I loved her Charleston grass. For years I cut it with a manual mower!

My grandfather Pop died when I was eight, so I just sort of came to think of it as Nanny's yard. From Nanny I learned how to graft Camellias, prune and root Azaleas, cross fertilize Lilies, play with the color of Hydrangeas, and generally love the soil. I also learned to love white painted brick houses with Charleston-Green shutters from Nanny. Know any for sale?

A couple of weeks ago I found a little box of slides full of pictures taken of Nanny's yard in the mid 1950's, before I was born. What a treasure! As a garden it is not yet mature, but it is still beautiful. I scanned them with my new Epson scanner and posted them on my Flickr site - - they are in the "Nanny’s Garden" set right at the top. I have several copies of postcards the city of Columbia made of the three yards to sell in local stores. I'll scan them in sometime along with other pictures from the garden and add them to the set. While you are at the Flickr site you can see lots of pictures of Nanny. She was a classy lady, a great grandmother, a good business woman, and a dear sweet friend to me. She died in 1985. Twenty one years later and I still miss her very much.

Another One Bites the Dust

So another Evangelical Leader is in the headlines - this time the Reverend Ted Hoggard (editorial correction - that's Haggard, thanks Sue and sorry David!), the President of the National Association of Evengelicals. And the news could not be good enough or timely enough for the gay lobby.

I don't know if he did it or not. An aid is purported to have said that Hoggard said that some of it is true. I have a few comments.

First, if it is true, then this is the worst form of hypocrisy, the kind I pointed out at the end of my piece Gay Republicans. It is the kind where a person publicly and professedly comes off as one thing, and yet is another, plus, on top of it, is unfaithful to a vow.

Second, it has nothing to do at all with the validity or non validity of gay marriage as public policy, but it will add momentum to that cause. A man or woman's private pecadillos do not good public policy make. Again, we can ask JFK or Martin Luther King Jr. about that.

Third, it is a further reminder of how all Christian folk, particularly those in positions of leadership, such as myself, must live in a glass house, must be surrounded by many eyes, many alibis, many levels of accountability. In our own community men have been given too long a rope and many have hung themselves with it. The flesh is too weak, particularly when there is a mystique and power associated with one's title and position, which, oddly and strangely enough, there is with a minister. One must build a kind of day to day pattern where these things are not possible. One must build a day to day pattern where false accusations carry no weight because of immediate falsifiability. One's day, one's time, one's life is not one's own. That's the deal. If a man does not like that he should do something else. There should have been no possibility for Ted Hoggard to have hookups with anybody, if that is what happened.

Fourth, and most sadly, this reveals yet again the premier heresy of the modern American Evangelical church. I will name the heresy here and, Lord willing, discuss it later. It comes in many forms and guises. It is all over Greensboro like a rotten grotesque cancer. It is all over the National Assosiation of Evangelicals. It crosses denominational lines, though it is worse in some than in others. It is a beast with many heads. It is called antinomianism. Look it up. Study it. It is probably worming its ugly way into your church. If the allegations against Mr. Hoggartd are true, it was probably worming its way into his head as well.

Peggy Noonan wrote recently that the potential loss of the congress may remind conservatives of what conservatives were supposed to be. It may be good for them.

One hopes with all these scandals about, that the Evangelical Church will wake up one day and realize it has been running down a path leading to a pit, or to a Shelob, or to a wall of laughing finger pointing vindicated naysayers, so that maybe, it will turn around, and seek the right way again.

I hope so. May God be merciful upon us all.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Why John Kerry and Gang Scare Me

I want to share why John Kerry, and hence the Democrats, scare me when it comes to the larger war on Islamic radicalism, and why, therefore, I cannot vote for them this election season.

I am tempted to offer a hundred caveats just to show how balanced I am– things like how I think our post invasion policy in Iraq was terrible, how I wonder if Islamic countries can really be democratized, how I think Donald Rumsfeld should have been replaced, how I don’t like the Republican environmental policies, etc. But I won’t. :)

OK, so Kerry’s comments were stupid and inappropriate. I think about everybody agrees with that. I personally know people in Iraq with multiple college degrees, and I don’t know that many people there.

But what bothers me about Kerry is the very thing that should give him credibility, and that is his war record. I don’t think Kerry, and many if not most of his generation, are able to get over Vietnam. It seems that that during their formative years they developed a fundamentally anti-military, perhaps anti interventionist attitude, and a view that if we are involved in something militarily it must be bad, unjust, and evil. (Where, O where, are the Scoop Jackson Democrats? Are there any left?)

When you add to those suffering from Vietnam-induced arrested political development all the general-pacifistic-give-peace-a-chance-beatniks still lurking all around the Democratic party, I just plain don’t think that they can prosecute any war right now.

And prosecute a war we must do, make no mistake about that. Radical Islam would take over the world if it could. It would strike and kill innocent men, women, and children wherever it could until it either gets its way or runs out of the ability to kill. This war is not going to go away. It will not stop if suddenly, tomorrow, we’re all pacifistic and nice. We’ll just have more people dead, not fewer.

Tolkien comes to mind here, from the Two Towers, movie version:

Théoden: "So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?"
Aragorn: "Ride out and meet them."

Radical Islam hates us. It hates our secular constitution. It hates the freedom we give to women. It hates the freedom of people to convert from Islam to something else, even though the reverse is happening in greater number. It hates the infidel. We are the infidel. We must die.

And I don’t think John Kerry and Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi and Brad Miller and the rest have what it takes to prosecute this war. And that scares me. And that is the main reason I cannot vote for them.

(I can almost imagine Hillary prosecuting it, if she gets sufficiently pissed, but that’s another story)

I was too young to go to Vietnam. Barely. I think the way we handled the Vietnam draft was a travesty. I don’t think the idea of that war was wrong, because I think we also were engaged in a serious worldwide war then as well, but the way we handled it was terrible, and the unjust manner in which we sent people there was unconscionable. I don’t think Bob Kerry and his gang can get over it. And that is not good for the present.

That is why I hope, for now, that Bob Kerry (edit - meant John Kerry, thanks Jim) et al remain the minority party.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Vote Yes on the War Memorial Renovation Bond

I just wanted to say out loud how much I have appreciated David Hoggard and David Wharton's intelligent reporting and opining on the War Memorial Stadium Bond issue. I for one will support the bond and hope a majority of the voters will do likewise. The structure is historically worthy of our protection as a Memorial to the Great War. So, we spend money building other memorials and let this great historic memorial slide? That makes no sense to me.

And different from many other memorials, this one has been actively used. It speaks to and honors a part of our history and the men and women who sacrificed their lives in that great effort. But it also participates in history. It has been a living memorial. If we could but see a collage of all the great games and great ballplayers that have walked its field. Now we have a chance to make the stadium available to ball players of all ages for a long time to come. We have a chance to extend the Stadium's ability not just to remember and memorialize history past, but to make history present. We should do it.

And we should also do it for the sake of the Aycock and surrounding community of which it is a part, a community that was snookered by the proponents of the new stadium (an effort which I confess I reluctantly supported, but did so with the understanding that we would preserve and protect War Memorial Stadium). An active and vital War Memorial Stadium, attracting quality tournaments and made available for various sorts of leagues and games would be an economic asset to a community it seems we're trying to forget as we drool all over every sort of downtown renovation. I like downtown. But there is more to our city than downtown.

So, go out and vote. Even if many of the polilitical races are too uninspiring to get you to the polls next week, go out to support this bond effort, if nothing else.