Native Spirit + African Spirit = American Spirit

Reading her “Churches Burning” post on the lovely blog “Silently Heard Once”,

inspires me to share a couple of thoughts…

I don’t know how many of you have read the remarkable book:

Indian Givers: How Native Americans Transformed the World

After 500 years, the world’s huge debt to the wisdom of the Indians of the Americas has finally been explored in all its vivid drama by anthropologist Jack Weatherford. He traces the crucial contributions made by the Indians to our federal system of government, our democratic institutions, modern medicine, agriculture, architecture, and ecology, and in this astonishing, ground-breaking book takes a giant step toward recovering a true American history.

And then consider these truths:

The Powerful Influence of African Culture on Modern Music

….ultimately there are almost infinite different forms of music most of which have been produced as a result of, or have been affected by African music on some level. Whether Western instruments have evolved from ancient African forms, or we have adopted knowledge in terms of rhythms and cross rhythms, various scale patterns, or simply the evolution of melody and harmony, Western music undoubtedly owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to our African brothers and sisters for their wisdom, insight and creativity.

African-American music.

African-American music is an umbrella term covering a diverse range of musics and musical genres largely developed by African Americans. Negro spirituals, blues, ragtime, jazz, boogie woogie, rhythm and blues, doo-wop, rock & roll, soul, funk, disco, hip hop, house, and techno constitute the principal modern genres of African-American music. ……

Following the Civil War, black Americans, through employment as musicians playing European music in military bands, developed new style of music called ragtime which gradually evolved into jazz. In developing this latter musical form, African Americans contributed knowledge of the sophisticated polyrhythmic structure of the dance and folk music of peoples across western and sub-Saharan Africa. Together, these musical forms had a wide-ranging and profound influence over the development of music within the United States and around the world during the 20th century.

20th Century Music

For many, the 20th century was seen as “America’s century.” It was a century in which the United States’ influence would be felt around the globe. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of music. From jazz to rock, America was the birthplace to some of the most influential music the world had seen-aided, of course, by the popularity of new technologies…

The most important influence on 20th century music? African Americans and the musical culture they brought to this country – developed within the bonds of slavery.

Even before the 20th century began, blues music was evolving across the country out of the traditional African slave spirituals, work calls and chants. Of all the developing genres, the blues would be the most far-reaching, with its influence felt in everything from jazz to rock, country music to rhythm and blues, and classical music.

That said, jazz’s influence on the world music scene would be nothing short of transformational.

My thoughts….Obviously, the “European Spirit”, and the spirit of other peoples as well, have also contributed to what we generically call the “American Spirit”, but I wish to highlight the importance of the contributions of Native Americans and African Americans.

In the formation of that collective spirit, the American experiment of the “melting pot” has been a most astonishing success, the blending of all these diverse influences into a collective force that has had such a dramatic impact upon the rest of the world.

But in terms of the peoples themselves, our melting pot of peace and harmony is turning into a crucible of strife and discord.

My point of this post – it is so terribly astonishing that two of the peoples that have had such a profound influence upon two of our most cherished cultural phenomena – our system of government and our music – with which we all identify so much – that these two peoples should be so under-valued, to continue to suffer so much from the bias of the dominant culture….This unrelenting injustice elicits such deep sadness, that words cannot express….

Peace on earth, Goodwill toward men…

The Lion Whisperer

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Continuing to explore the Lion energy…. Here is a very fascinating, and very troubling, news report.

Much to ponder here, but one bit of the natural history of African Lions that is mentioned that stood out to me – they are the only cat that is truly social.    For most cats, the male is solitary except during mating season; and once the young have matured, they and the mother part company as well.  Thus, a “Pride of Lions” is a unique social structure in the feline family.   (I once read that brother cheetahs will sometimes live and hunt as a team – though this is not the same as being fully social.)

Dream Lion


I don’t usually blog about my dreams, but as I was dreaming last night I said to myself in the dream, “I’ve got to post this on my blog.”   So I guess I must.

In the dream it’s night-time and I’m driving my car through an unknown city, but in that dream consciousness it was familiar, my home.   There is a woman sitting in the passenger seat  next to me.  Again, unknown but very familiar.

As we’re driving, we notice on a side street this huge, looming shape lurking in shadows – immediately recognizable as the silhoutte of a male, African Lion.  There was no fear in the recognition, just a realization that the world had changed, and the presence of lions was now to be expected.

The lion leapt out of the shadows and ran in front of the car, illuminated in the darkness by the headlights.  The lion was bigger than life, and the very image of power and strength and grace and ferocity.   I pulled out my iPhone and snapped a picture of it (much like the picture above).

In a moment the lion was gone, disappearing down the darkness of another street.  As I looked at the picture on my phone, I was filled with awe for how magnificent the lion was, and there was again the awareness that lions would now be a permanent feature in the landscape.  But it was still a new enough occurrence that I marveled at this change.  And this is when I said to myself, “I’ve got to post this on my blog.”

Strap this spiral staircase onto any tree, no tools needed : TreeHugger

Oh….I want one!

Infinite Shift


Strap this spiral staircase onto any tree, no tools needed

Kimberley Mok (@kimberleymok)
Design / Sustainable Product Design
July 7, 2015
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© CanopyStair
Builders of treehouses will know that one major consideration during construction is how to support the structure without harming the tree. There are specially developed fasteners and bolts for the task, but there may be ways to hold things up without drilling even a single hole. That’s the idea behind CanopyStair, a modular staircase that wraps around a tree’s trunk, without damaging it.

© CanopyStair

Designed by Royal College of Art graduates Thor ter Kulve (previously) and Robert McIntyre, the CanopyStair features curved, birch plywood treads that are progressively attached around the tree trunk with ratchet straps, so that the stairs can spiral up into the leafy canopy.

© CanopyStair

© CanopyStair

© CanopyStair

Rubberized treads, and a railing made out of ash wood…

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Exposed Roots


The old-growth Hemlock forests of northern Wisconsin were logged off in the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s.

As time passed, Yellow Birch seedlings took root in the deteriorating Hemlock stumps.

Eventually, as the stumps slowly rotted away, it left the roots of the Yellow Birch exposed.

And so they now stand, raised up from the earth on spidery legs, looking as though they might skitter through the forest on moonless nights, or perhaps dance under the full moon.


One wonders what it would be like


To see the roots of each other’s personality


thus exposed


providing insight into the their character


which we encounter.


Two vestigal Hemlock Trees, growing where their ancestors once thrived and dominated the landscape.

[as always, click on the pictures for better images]

Butterfly Blessings


This butterfly was repeatedly drawn to my great niece, Sienna.  Though, “great” doesn’t really do her justice, for she is actually very awesome!

As many times as she gently placed the butterfly on a plant, it would find it’s way back to her.  It was very magical. They were quite enamored with each other.

As best I can tell, this is a “Silvery Checkerspot”, but if there is someone more wise in the ways of butterflies than I, please let me know if it is something different.

If I may boast a bit about my niece…she has the most beautiful and amazing singing voice.  Sometimes I think she will become a pop star. Other times I think she might become an opera singer.  Other times I think she might become a blues singer, because she can already bend a blue note like nobody’s business.


Guardian of the Forest


This sculpture, “Guardian of the Forest” stands in a remote corner of the northwoods of Wisconsin; it was built by my nephew Justin in 2005.  He was then 24 years of age.

Justin created the sculpture primarily out of found objects – mainly culverts, he says – execept for 3 pieces that he crafted himself ~ the sword and neck piece are made of stainless steel and the spiked ring star is made of brass.

Robert Bly: A Thousand Years of Joy

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“It’s all right if you grow your wings on the way down.”
― Robert Bly, My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy: Poems

I shook hands with Robert Bly this evening.

A friend of mine was asked to be the photographer at a private screening of the new film about Bly’s life, “A Thousand Years of Joy”, and this friend was kind of enough to ask me to tag along as his assistant, as he knew I would enjoy attending.

The screening was at a small, private theater that maybe sat 50-75 people.  It was a full house of Minnesota literary notables and Bly’s friends.  My friend and I watched the film from the sound booth after we were bumped from our standing room only space by none other than Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame.  Literally bumped from that space, as Garrison bumped shoulders with me when he entered the darkened theater.

Robert Bly and his part in the “Mens’ Movement” had a significant impact upon me when I was going through an internal restructuring after my divorce, and primed me for the incorporation of ritual into my life as I began my spiritual journey.  Which ultimately led to the untold number of rituals I have created and facilitated for others.  Which has been perhaps the most rewarding endeavor of my entire life.  So I have a big space in my heart for Mr. Bly.

The film is so wonderful.  I highly recommend it.  If you’re a fan of Robert Bly as a poet or as a cultural gadfly, you’ll want to make an effort to search it out.  It’s charming and challenging; as always, Bly inspires one to reflect.  Though I’ve read a number of his books and poems, I learned much about his life and was unaware of his larger national stature and the influence that he had upon poetry in America.

He is now 88 years old, a bit frail, though still with a fiery but kindly glint in his eye.  And it was a real treat to watch him and Garrison Keillor engage in a bit good-natured bantering.  As I watched him, thinking about how much he had done and accomplished in his life, there was a moment that I thought I might ask him, “Is there anything left undone?” But then a quote from Eckhart Tolle came to me, that at a certain age, “‘being’ becomes more important than ‘doing'”.   I trust that he is enjoying this being phase, after such a rich life of doing.

Obviously, he was the center of attention throughout the evening and I didn’t want to impose when he had so many others to talk to. Though as we were photographing him, he kept looking at me with this inquisitive look.

Then, at the very end of the evening, when he was ensconced in his vehicle with family chatting just outside his open car door, I asked his wife if I might shake his hand. She said of course, and asked me my name.   She then introduced me to him.

As we shook hands, he gave me that penetrating look again, and asked, “And just who are you?”

To which I replied, “I’m just another guy.”