I’ve missed you, but I thought of you often as I worked on Crooked Creek, trying to make it better and perhaps more relevant. Most changes will barely be perceptible, but some require an explanation.
In the very beginning I declared Crooked Creek to be a “Politics Free” zone https://crookedcreek.live/2016/09/03/declaration/ and I’ve pretty much avoided the subject of religion, as well. That will change to a certain degree. While I don’t plan to get into partisan politics, in today’s turmoil I feel lead to include my thoughts on the state of our nation and its people. There may be times when I choose to include my religious experiences, too, but don’t worry, I have no plans to preach!
As of today the blog, Crooked Creek, is four (4) years old. It contains a total of 466 posts and has 459 followers. Readers have been from eighty-three (83) different countries which amazes the author.
Thank you to those who have contributed a poem, idea or book review for followers to enjoy. I am also appreciative of each and every reader and I have enjoyed the input from those who have chosen to comment. It gave me encouragement and made all the efforts involved worthwhile.
Thank you for these four years together and I look forward to exploring with you in the future.
Welcome Guest Writer: Lula Reynolds traveled to Russia 18 years after my trip to St. Petersburg. She has graciously shared the post below about the city of Moscow. Thank you Lula!
My one-day visit to Moscow in 2012 was interesting but left me with lots of questions. I had visited Communist China so knew a little about what to expect. However, Moscow was different from China and even from St. Petersburg. In St. Petersburg, the people and guides were open and friendly and were willing to answer our questions. The museums were beautiful and ornate.
For our trip to Moscow, we could go by plane or high-speed train. We chose the 4-hour train trip to see some of the countryside. As we rode farther away from St. Petersburg, there were fewer buildings and those that we saw were very small, almost like huts, and crowded together in villages. We were told that these were country homes. The landscape reminded me of the movie, Dr. Zhivago, without the snow.
When we arrived in Moscow, we were introduced to our guide, a lady probably in her 50’s, dressed much like what I thought of as a typical Russian. Our first experience was a ride through the city to a Metro train station where we rode the subway for a short distance. The station was spotlessly clean and was exquisitely decorated with sculptures, chandeliers, mosaics and marble walls and ceilings. It was a work of art, leaving us to wonder if all the stations were like this or if this was their showpiece.
Our tour for the day included a visit to the Kremlin and Red Square. Our guide kept a swift pace and throughout the day a couple of men would appear to walk beside her and check off her schedule. She kept us in tight control, asking us often not to wander from the group. At one point a couple wanted to stop at a restroom they spotted but she said no, that a restroom break was scheduled later. When we were allowed to ask questions, she would not answer political questions.
I had always thought of the Kremlin as government buildings. We were not able to tour the government portion of the Kremlin, which is an old fortress and the seat of the President. The part of the Kremlin we visited was the Armory Chamber which was a museum of Russian history. It was beautiful and very crowded and we were guided through to see the armor, coronation dresses, jewelry, golden carriages, and Faberge eggs. There was much use of jewels and gold in these items.
We had been told not to touch anything, lean against anything or take pictures. Near the wall in several places were older ladies (with their purses on their arms) seated in chairs. If someone accidentally touched or leaned against a wall, they would come over and remind us not to touch.
Our guide walked swiftly all day. She was off the bus and on her way before the last person exited the bus. At one point when we were going up some stairs to a restaurant for a Russian dinner (beef Stroganoff), one of the tourists remarked that she walked so fast that we couldn’t keep up. Her response was, “Russian women are tough.”
The Kremlin included Cathedral Square, surrounded by 3 cathedrals. Important Russian ceremonies take place in the beautiful gardens.
Red Square has been the place of numerous historical and political events in the life of Russia. As we walked in Red Square there were many people hustling about, young and old. We noticed that the police or military would not make eye contact.
Red Square is made up of the Kremlin, the Lenin Mausoleum, the Church of St. Basil the Blessed, the State History Museum and GUM, the largest department store in Russia.
We were given an opportunity to wander shortly in the department store which is like a mall. The shops looked very similar to US shops and were brightly decorated.
Our day in Moscow was packed with sights, but I came away feeling very confined and not really learning a lot of information about the people and its culture. I admired the exquisite and lavish beauty of the museums and churches but left wondering what daily life is like for the people in Moscow.
Since we often reference souls we must know what a soul is, correct? Is it a soul or the soul? Do we have one? Does every person have one? Can you sell it? Can you bare it? Can you bless it, as in “Well, bless my soul!”?
I used to believe I had the full answer to these and more profound questions from my faith tradition. As I have lived longer, had more experiences and opportunities for learning, I have less confidence in what I used to believe with little question.
That being said it is worth mentioning that the word soul appears in most holy books. For example “soul” can be counted 55 times in the Christian *New Testament, 224 times in the Quo’ran and a whopping 443 times in the Hebrew *Old Testament.
*King James Version
What is Soul?
I feel that each of us has a theory and of course, we can easily check the dictionary for a formal definition but I am more interested in your personal beliefs. At the least, I hope to stimulate thought on this subject. I will be sharing my thoughts and those of some of our contemporaries in the next several posts.
“The beautiful spring came; and when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also.” Harriet Ann Jacobs
You have heard the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
This epigram has been running through my mind because we are discussing the subject of change. On its face, it does not seem to be true. Change is all around us from daily chores to possibly even the climate of planet Earth.
One thing that has changed in past few decades is the ease with which we can do research. I must be honest and say that if I had had to go to a library and flip through a card catalog I would have been less interested in the origin of this saying, but access to the internet, being at the tip of my fingers, I quickly learned that it is attributed to Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. He was a writer born in Paris, France in 1808 who apparently believed that change does not affect life in any permanent way. Do you agree? Do we, as a people, a society, stay essentially the same in spite of the changes around us? Are there basic beliefs that we hold regardless of the change that we experience?
While considering how true Karr’s long-lived statement might be I was surprised to learn that it has had a significant influence on music across many genres. Just a few examples are work by Kenny Chesney, Jon Bon Jovi, Machine Head, and rappers Ludacris and Jay Z. Here is an example in some lyrics from “Put Your Records On” written by Corinne Bailey Rae, et al.
“Three little birds sat on my window, And they told me I don’t need to worry, Summer came like cinnamon, so sweet, Little girls, double-dutch on the concrete, Maybe sometimes we got it wrong, but it’s all right, The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same”
All right, I acknowledge this music connection proves nothing except that perhaps it works well with rhythm and rhyme.
Change is undeniable, but the last part, “the more things stay the same” is more debatable. When I was young, I remember I-65 being completed and riding with my grandfather (Pappy Sea) to Elizabethtown to visit relatives. The new road was great, straight and smooth, but it didn’t change Pappy’s driving habits. He still thought that his new-fangled turning signals, i.e. “blinkers,” were there to alert other drivers that he intended to change lanes. He didn’t look in his mirrors for other cars, just as he did not on country roads back in Anderson County.
Things Stay the Same
What other examples are there that things do indeed stay the same in spite of change? Some that come to my mind are: Status of women, inequality of people of color, animal cruelty, world hunger, weather disasters, gun deaths in the U.S.
Realizing that I am coming close to violating my own “no politics rule,” I am trying to think of more positive examples so here are a few: cuteness of kittens and puppies, innocence of children, beauty of sunsets, sweetness of babies, sound of ocean waves, fragrance of roses, crispness of autumn leaves, silence of falling snow.
In Houston, the taxi driver taking me to MD Anderson Cancer Center was gigantic. He had a Jamaican-sounding accent and wore an enormous cowboy hat. His remarks were friendly at first as he discussed the need for health care reform obviously assuming that I was interested in his opinions. He progressed to make disparaging remarks about “foreigners who take jobs from native Americans.” It was obvious that he considered himself to be one of the latter in spite of his very black skin, so I wondered if I was wrong about his being from Jamaica. I said something about American Indians being actual “Native Americans” and he postulated “they were not really here first,” he’d seen a documentary on PBS. I did not debate that issue with him.
During the ride, he talked cloyingly nonstop and I became rather uncomfortable as his comments grew more inappropriate in content as well as tone. At the time Ann Richards was running for governor of Texas and the driver declared that he did not want her to win,because “women should not be at the forefront.” It was hard to not debate that point, but I again managed to refrain. At that point, he asked me where I was from, not an unusual question for a driver picking up at the airport. When I said, “Louisville,” he asked about horse racing, again appropriate. I replied that the Breeder’s Cup was taking place there in a few days and his response was “I hope you breed something good down there.” Okay, so now I thought he had embarrassed both of us to the extent possible with words, but I was wrong. Suddenly he began to laugh when a female driver slowed and motioned him into the traffic flow. I thought I had missed something because it seemed simply a polite, not humorous, gesture. He spoke loudly in the car’s direction saying, “Thank You!” and then to me, “I’ll have to do something nice for a woman tonight! I’m glad that I have never impregnated a woman.” It was with considerable relief that I saw my destination up ahead.
Out of all those years of travel that cab ride in Houston, TX was the most bizarre, but two others stand out as slightly concerning. One night, after entering a cab at the Baltimore Airport and asking the brooding driver to take me to my hotel near Johns Hopkins the entire city suddenly turned black. To me, it was an ominous sign, especially that it occurred the exact moment that I stepped into the cab. He drove silently block after block, underneath unlit traffic lights, in front of darkened buildings and deadened street lights, not saying a word that acknowledged he had even noticed the blackness surrounding us. Apparently, he was a seasoned driver, because within about a half hour he pulled in front of the looming darkened hotel. He popped the trunk to get my luggage and Baltimore was immediately illuminated with a brilliance that stung my eyes!
Very late on another night I arrived at the airport in Kansas City and gave the driver the address of my hotel. About forty minutes later I was beginning to worry a little and then I suddenly saw that we were passing the US Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth! Much later I safely arrived at my destination and paid a $65 (in 1994 dollars!) tab which of course was an item of interest when I turned in my expense account.
To Bury, Cremate, Donate, Plant – Disposal of Human Remains
Another decision that must be made concerns disposal of bodily remains. For many years burial in a family or church cemetery was the norm, however that is changing for both environmental and economic reasons. In 2015 cremation rate in the US was 48.6% and expected to rise each year into the future. Rates vary across the country with over 60% in the West and as low as 25% in southern states. There are other options, of course which actually increase the cost, such as cryogenics, ashes blasted into space or adding ashes to an artificial reef in an ocean.
Interment in a cemetery has fallen into disfavor due to cost, but also because of what many see as misdirected use of land. While I personally prefer cremation and scattering of ashes (also called cremains) back into nature, I must admit that I have always found cemeteries interesting to visit. In old cemeteries I would go further and say that reading tombstones can be fascinating. I know that I am not alone, because many books have been written on the subject including: “Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography” by Douglas Keister and “Gone to the Grave: Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks 1850-1950” by Abby Burnett which was reviewed in The Courier Journal in November 2015. Some of my favorite epitaphs from this book are these: “Killed by a live wire” (1905), “Revenge is my motto” (1869) and “This can’t be death. I feel too good” (1906).
When I was in Russia a couple of years after the fall of the Soviet Union, I toured a large old cemetery that was, according to custom there, divided into sections by profession or status. There were sections for the arts with subsections containing poets, musicians and actors. There were others for military, government officials, Communist Party members, working class (the proletariat) and even the Mafia.
I noticed many tombstones that bore the skull and cross bones symbol and inquired of the interpreter what that meant. Her response? “They’re dead”.
The skull and cross bones, while perhaps peculiar to Russia, are part of the monument period of Terror which represented symbols of fear of the afterlife. This was followed by the Romantic and then Personalization Periods. The Contemporary period in which we now live, leads to what are often attempts at humor. A word of warning about being too creative however, as what is funny today may be confusing or fall flat when it has become outdated. A couple of examples come to mind: A monument depicting a rotary and corded telephone simply said, “Jesus Called”. I’ve seen photos of others that show a calculator, an expired parking meter and even a brownie recipe.
One of my favorite tombstones is from Clay County, TN which explains that the deceased was “killed by bushwhackers” in 1862 in neighboring Fentress County. Unfortunately the photos taken and provided for this post by Steve Baugh have been lost due to my error.
“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it” Mark Twain.
This blog is a Politics Free Zone. You, no doubt, have political opinions. Those who know me personally know that I do as well, strong ones in fact. But, I’m guessing that we have something else in common and that is being so very weary of all the political noise for the past year. It is not surprising that during a presidential election there would be a lot of bluster, irritating ads and media overreach, but that doesn’t mean it has to permeate every part of our lives. That is why I am declaring this to be one place where you do not have to hear it. You do not have to see it. You do not have to do fact checks. So, you can trust me (not like the politicians say it) that we are here to have fun, to think about life and death and to share the experiences of both.