Living to Be 100 Years Old!

BLOG #14, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LIVING TO BE 100 YEARS OLD
April 8, 2015

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The cover story in the April 5, 2015 Parade was titled “Living to 100.” The author, Ginny Graves, notes that there are 53,364 centenarians in the U.S. today; however, experts predict that number will skyrocket to 600,000 by 2050.

There has been much publicity recently about the so-called Blue Zones (areas with the highest concentration of centenarians). Most prominent are Sardinia; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and, in the U.S., Loma Linda, California.

Graves notes that journalist Dan Buettner has become a longevity guru, thanks to books such as his new one, The Blue Zone Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People (National Geographic Books).

Here are some of Buettner’s conclusions about Blue Zones:

●   They tend to hang out with individuals who share their healthy living philosophies. A Brigham Young University study confirms this: those with strong connections were twice as likely to outlive those who do not.
●   They exercise regularly, often choose to walk with friends three, four miles a day at least four times a week. Their lifestyles encourage physical activities rather than sedentary ones.
●   The world’s most robust centenarians stick with diets that are 95% plant-based; eating some fish but little meat. In a major study, British researchers found that those who ate seven or more portions of vegetables and fruits every day, lowered their risk of dying from cancer by 25%, and from cardiovascular disease by 31%. Many drink a glass of wine each day. They eat smaller portions.
●   They generally belong to a faith-based community. Buettner notes that attending services four times a month can extend life span by 14 years.
●   Marital commitment alone can add up to three years to one’s life.
●   Extended family interaction significantly extends life.
●   Crucial to longevity is having a purpose, reasons for facing and living each day.

* * * * *

My own research confirms all this:

1.   Studies confirm that there is an extremely strong relationship between mind and body. If the mind tells the body, I’m retired now; so I can just loaf and veg out each day, the brain sends out a mandate to the body’s defense armies (the white blood cells): Dismantle the defense system for there are no longer any dreams or goals to protect. And you die. Often in a short time-period. Only those retirees who establish new goals, create new passions, find new hobbies, and dream new dreams, are likely to live long.

2.   There are no plateaus where health is concerned. One is either getting stronger (the body essentially rebuilds itself every 100 days) each 100 days, or one is getting weaker. Consistent daily exercise is absolutely essential.

3.   Vibrant Blue Zoners work hard each day to remain relevant intellectually. By continued study and voracious reading, they stay current with the Zeitgeist; thus their writing and speaking can have a profound effect on society. This is why aging luminaries such as Warren Buffett remain so iconic, and their wisdom is sought after.

4.   Blue Zoners never feel old. For them “old” remains a long way off. When my great aunt, Lois Wheeler Berry was 105 years old, she continued to maintain that “Old is fifteen years older than you are.” She was right: age is a state of mind; some are old at 10 and others remain young at 110!

So each of us has the potential (short of unforeseen calamaties or diseases) to live long vibrant lives, on past 100 years. But no one can slide or veg into it. It demands daily VIBRANT LIVING and perpetual joie du vivre.

 

Grace Livingston Hill’s “Happiness Hill”

BLOG # 34, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #22
GRACE LIVINGSTON HILL’S HAPPINESS HILL
August 21, 2013

Yes, another summer is giving way to autumn, and here in the Colorado high country, on serpentine Conifer Mountain Drive, splotches of yellow in the aspens signal the coming autumn.

For several weeks now, ever since I first turned the calendar page from July to August, I’ve wrestled with our August book. Since so many of you have told me you’ve faithfully sought out and purchased each of the 21 previous titles in the series, I take each new selection seriously. Which brings me to you: what are your responses to the series, based as they are on my own favorite books? I’d like to know.

August. It’s a lazy month. For the young, at the end of it is that dreaded yet longed-for thing called school. For the older, it’s “back to the grindstone.” In Europe half the continent can be found on the beaches during magical August.

So it isn’t the month for a heavy read – but a light one. But for me, the hanging question has been, “How light?” So I searched through my library, trying to find a book that while light still held within its pages something enduring, meaningful, heart-tugging, worthy of the last days of summer. Took me three separate reads before I found it.

copy of two books.

First I read Emilie Loring’s Give Me One Summer. I read it because the lighthouse/seashore cover promised summer romance. It was a good read, but in the end, it left me empty. Perhaps because the romance seemed so superficial. Next, I turned to another seacoast novel, Grace Livingston Hill’s Rainbow Cottage. I liked it very much for it featured wonderful seacoast and floral imagery. Plenty of suspense. But its over-the-top preachiness bothered me some; but what bothered me even more was the protagonists’ lack of growth at the end: just float on old money and live in a castle in Ireland. In short, it was little more than a Christian fairytale. All the female protagonist did was be beautiful and genteel and be taken care of by a virile young man who also lived on old money.

So I turned to Happiness Hill. Grace Livingston Hill’s Christian romances have always intrigued me. For one reason, perhaps because for more than a hundred years now, Christian parents have considered them a safe “Sabbath read” for their children. Grace Livingston Hill (1866 – 1947) was born in Wellsville, New York to Presbyterian minister Charles Montgomery Livingston and his wife, Marcia Macdonald Livingston, both of them being writers; as was Grace’s aunt, Isabella Macdonald Alden, who became a famous writer for children writing under the pseudonym, Pansy.

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Wikipedia describes Hill’s novels as “quite simplistic in nature: good versus evil. As Hill believed the Bible was very clear about what was good and evil in life, she reflected that cut-and-dried design in her own works. She wrote about a variety of different subjects, almost always with a romance worked into the message and often essential to the return to grace on the part of one or several characters. . . . A secondary subject would always be God’s ability to restore. Hill aimed for a happy, or at least satisfactory, ending to any situation, often focusing on characters’ new or renewed faith as impetus for resolution.”

In my own escape-reading (after I read serious, heavy reading, her books are just that to me) I think that what weakened the power of her books, at least in my eyes, is how stereotypical and formulaic most of her plots are: in essence, at the end of much travail and torment, the Christian and the wealthy protagonist walk off into the sunset hand-in-hand, into a happily-ever-after existence, all their troubles left behind. Clearly, Hill’s noblesse oblige plots worked, for millions of her books have sold down through the years. Almost always, too, her books contain one or two almost unbelievably nasty and cruel villains.

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Which brings us to Happiness Hill. In it I found what I’ve too often missed in Hill’s novels: a strong work ethic coupled with a strong family with character being a constant. Thus, in this novel, Hill managed to create a heroine who belatedly realizes that only as she anchors her ship of life on one side, with the anchor of a strong loving family; and, on the other side, with the enduring anchor of a personal relationship with God, will her ship not founder. For if all one has is a line from one’s ship with an open loop on either end, then that romance is no stronger than a flip of the loop on either end.

And this, my dear friends, is what makes Happiness Hill enduring, lasting, and a joy to both read and re-read—for it contains two very strong such anchors.

* * *

You shouldn’t have any trouble finding a copy of this book, either in hardback or paper. But let me encourage you to spend a little extra effort and time searching out one with a dust-jacket such as the evocative one depicted in this blog.

A Honeybee Allegory

BLOG #31, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
A HONEYBEE ALLEGORY
July 31, 2013

In the tenth and last of “The Good Lord Made Them All” animal story series is a fascinating story that will appear in the book next January. As I was preparing to write this week’s blog, a subject prominent in today’s media (both electronic and print): the current standoff between the forces of entitlement and the forces of job-creation came to mind. Keeping in mind, of course, that both opposites are always with us, each serving a purpose. For some strange reason, I felt impressed to take some lines from the story, and use them as this week’s allegory, leaving the application, if any, to our readers.

Until now the sycamore hollow had been strictly a female domain, but in early May there emerged from the central brood cells a limited group of double-sized, stripeless bees who conducted themselves in a decidedly loud and lordly manner. To some extent, this arrogance was understandable. From the very first they were pampered by the household legions. They toiled not and neither would they rule, yet the queen herself received scarcely more attention.

These males, numbering perhaps three hundred, each resplendent in a velvety jacket of golden brown, grew fat and sleek on the choicest sweets from the honey pantry. By June they were spending their hours mainly in a sluggish stage of honeyed drunkenness. But the thousands of toil worn harvesters and domestics pursued their ceaseless duties….

There nestled in the carefully guarded center of the brood nest a half-dozen cells much larger than the rest. By the second day after the old queen had been swarmed away from the sycamore, one of these cells pulsed with life. There was a stirring within, a faint, gnawing commotion somewhat like a chick pipping an exit from its swaddling shell.

Excitement quickly simmered throughout the queenless colony. A corps of nurse bees hurried to the a-borning cell, and lent their aid. Soon a new queen, as pallid as alabaster, crawled forth into her mysterious new world. Nature, ineffably wise, had not forgotten Apishontee.

Even the drones, who until now had shown little concern for the queenless condition of Apishontee, perked up noticeably. Twirling their fine sensitive antennae – somewhat as ancient suitors were wont to flourish waxed mustachios – the males crowded toward the royal brood nest.

For once, their arrogance was resented. Jealously ministering nurse bees drove them back, swiftly and unceremoniously. Whereupon, recoiling sullenly, the drones marched back grandly to the nearest honey cups.

The new queen of Apishontee emerged into daylight two days later. Pausing on the threshold of her honey-scented domain, she chanted a muted drone of motherly affection, while her joyous thousands of subjects thronged about her. The queen presently took to the air and made a series of calm, slow flights about the slanting sycamore tree.

It was now that the phlegmatic males quit their sulking and made their appearance. Heads glistened in the bright sunlight like buttons of ebony. On each proud back gleamed an irregular dark crest – that mark of bee royalty found also on the queen, but not on her daughters who wore the gold-striped livery of toil.

Drumming up their deepest bass of male importance, the drones wheeled about in songful courtship. The queen, for a time, seemed unimpressed. The drones continued to circle. They rose and dived, spun and droned with magnificent song, strutting in their most handsome behavior.

Abruptly the shining new queen zoomed into the air. She spiraled steadily and rapidly into the cloudless azure sky. The drones, momentarily bewildered, perhaps reluctant to attempt such dizzy heights, finally coursed after her. But of the several hundreds of them, scarcely a dozen of the lustiest continued their pursuit. These whistled on into the blue – up, up.

* * *

July burned its course across the countryside. Apishontee the Younger had quickly regained her busy stride. The new queen, moved by that serene gravity imposed by her station in life, set herself to bee-queenly tasks. Eggs multiplied with a machinelike prolificity, a thousand a day, two thousand a day. The numbered strength of Apishontee grew steadily.

But not so the golden stream of new honey. There came hot, rainless weeks. Wild bloom, which normally laced the swampland, withered and dropped. Nectars, so scarce, so scattered, were gathered more and more tediously. Honey came into the sycamore more and more uncertainly.

Finally it ceased.

Apishontee grew frantic. During this lean season of drought only the handsome drones remained unruffled. The thousands of busy harvesters, ranging farther afield, worked themselves ragged. Busy little legs became worn to a wirelike smoothness. Small striped abdomens took on the dull, harsh sheen of worn satin. Gossamer wings became dusty, torn. Hundreds died.

But the drones, born to a life of ease, knew but one thing to do – eat. This they did, and kept luxuriously fat. Early each morning they descended from their comfortable perches in the highest sector of the hollow. They promptly gorged themselves on honey, then thrust an indelicate and wobbly course through the humming household legions, to gain the outside.

For the handsome drones, though at first pampered and allowed choicest foods and privileges, had come to suspect that their importance in a busy household had somehow vanished. As difficulties afield stirred a subtle change of attitude among the toilworn workers, the drones seemed more and more anxious to make themselves scarce while daylight lasted.

True drones, they were strict, however, in maintaining dignity. They thrust a way past the sentinels at the entrance and took to the air in grandest manner – bound, their pompous actions assured everyone, on an important mission for the day. Safely beyond sight of the tumultuous hive, they promptly dropped their air of high purpose.

Shiveringly careful of the dew-damp woods, they loitered awing. But as soon as the sun had dried away the dew, they settled themselves comfortably in open spots, where during the busy morning hours they might remain pleasantly stupefied on fragrances that they could no longer hold in substantial form.

The drought was broken in late August. Black clouds bilged up at sunset. By midnight, rain again lashed the swampland, and again the wind blew violently. Apishontee huddled inside her sycamore hollow, feeling no complacency tonight. The sycamore rocked before the wind, groaning fitfully. Apishontee, the Many-in-One, huddled together anxiously, perhaps fearful lest another blast of sky-fire might demolish their home.

It happened an hour later, but it was not by lightning this time. It was the steady pressure of driving wind. Each rocking motion of the leaning sycamore bent it farther, left it slanting at an increasingly perilous angle.

Apishontee sensed this unexpected threat with a sort of collective despair. No more flowers to harvest. If the hollow were broken asunder, the precious store of honey lost, the colony could never collect enough to survive the coming winter.

The wind continued its fury. Rain ceased, and started again; but the wind came on unceasingly. Lower bent the sycamore. Then, under a violent surge of rain-chilled wind, the bee tree was abruptly uprooted. It began falling – a dizzying sensation even to the hollow-huddled bees.

But the sycamore top had slanted only a foot before there came a grating, sliding sound. It ceased falling and came to a dead rest. Its central bough, sturdy and crooked, was caught in the solid crotch of a giant water oak near by. Instead of her home being demolished, Apishontee now sensed that it was made permanent, even more solid, by this chance stroke of storm.

* * *

Rain brought belated life to the scorched earth. Late season flowers sprang up. The harvesters of Apishontee plied them eagerly, willingly, for soon winter would be upon the swampland. The drones were undismayed. The drought had not worried them.

It was on a crisp, chill morning in October that they were made to give close heed, however, to their laggard existence. Descending as usual toward the nearest honey store, they brushed through a collective mood distinctly hostile to them. The drones tried to ignore it; they galloped hurriedly down the narrow corridors between the honeycombs. The domestics, wings aflutter, voiced shrill resentment this morning.

It happened swiftly, then. The workers surged upon the glittering-bodied drones. Tumbled legs-over-wings, the males tried to right themselves, sought futilely to retrieve their dignity. But the outraged honey harvesters and work-worn domestics were firm. In a seething pattern they fell upon the gorged, oversize members of Apishontee.

A few reached the outside with injury no more serious than a deflated ego. Many, alas, came into the early day sans wings, or minus certain of their glossy black legs. These were hearsed away by the zealously determined house cleaners, and dropped to the ground with grim finality.

Apishontee of the sycamore tree as simply, as sternly as that, rid her colony of those members who had long ago served their one purpose in life, who could thereafter contribute no mite to its perpetuation. Winter was soon upon the swampland. Apishontee went to sleep, content in the knowledge that she had at last reached a proud peak of wildwood civilization.

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 5:00 am  Comments (1)  
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TREASURES OF THE PAST #4

BLOG #11, SERIES 3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

TREASURES OF THE PAST #4

March 13, 2013

In last week’s blog, In Praise of Old Magazines, I discussed my ongoing love affair with old magazines, and what a treasure each represented to readers of the time who were privileged to read the timeless wisdom represented by the printed stories, poems, and articles.

In recent weeks and months, I’ve been perusing the pages of close to a thousand magazines of The Youth’s Companion (time period: 1870s to late 1920s), when that venerable century-old magazine finally gave up—not coincidentally, synonymous with the cataclysmic Wall Street crash of 1929.

In its pages there are so many gripping stories and memorable poems featured that I, to my later chagrin, passed over multitudinous shorts which I inwardly classified as mere “filler” (something trivial to fill up the allocated pages). Indeed, I was two-thirds through this monumental task before a certain title of a short so piqued my interest that I took the time to read it—and was instantaneously hooked. Perhaps it was but a fluke. Just to make certain, I read another—and another—and another. To my utter dismay, I concluded that I’d now have to go back to the beginning and complete my tabulating inventory!

What I discovered is that the editors early on discovered that much of the timeless wisdom submitted by contemporary authors was packaged in the shorts, any one of which might well be worth a month of reading (in terms of impact of even one of these gems upon the lives of the magazine’s readers).

I also discovered that most of these shorts are every bit as timeless (in terms of the values articulated) today as they were then.

Just to give you a feel for them, here is one. Do let me know if you’d like me to mine these shorts further for our blog readers (there is no author; almost none of these shorts referenced the author—such a pity!).

THE DREAM

The girl sprang to her feet and walked up and down the dean’s office; her eyes were red, and her thin face was drawn as if with pain. “I suppose you think I’m selfish,” she cried. “But I haven’t slept a night since the telegram came. I’ve read it over and over till I’m almost wild. I can’t see how it is right to expect me to leave college and give up all my life plans to take care of Mother. I could go to her during vacations. It isn’t as if we hadn’t money enough to make her comfortable; she could have almost anything in the world. And she may live for several years; the doctor said so.”

“Twenty years ago,” the dean said slowly, “another girl came to me with a problem like yours. She was studying chemistry. She told me that there wasn’t anything in the world she liked better, and that, if anyone offered her sunsets and music and starlight and beauty, she would want them only to analyze in the laboratory. In her junior year her mother died and left one little girl and three boys between the ages of twelve and nineteen.

“I’ve seen great struggles, but I’ve never seen a bigger one than that girl went through. When she said good-by she looked as if she had had a year’s sickness. ‘I’m going home,’ she said, ‘but I’ll never give up my dream!’

“I told her that there was as much chemistry about her home as there was anywhere else in the world, and I’ve never forgotten the startled look that came into her eyes. She stood quite still and just looked

“She was at home for nine years, till the girl started at college. Then she herself returned and took up the work where she had left off. Of course she was years older than most of her fellow students; and she had lost much of the technique of her work. But she had gained other things: judgment, power of quick decision, all-round knowledge and human sympathy. Moreover, through the years she had read much and had followed her beloved study into unusual fields. She had studied the chemistry of the Bible and of literature; she knew the history of chemistry and the lives of the great chemists. In short, she was well on the way to becoming a well-rounded chemical scholar, not a mere laboratory worker. Another thing, in the years at home she had so fired her brothers with her enthusiasm that today all three of them are men of science. Years afterwards she said, ‘My disappointment was the best thing that ever came to me. If I had had my own way, I should be nothing but a chemist now. Those years taught me to put life first and chemistry second.’

“That is why we could not afford to let her go when she finished her course. For twelve years now her influence has been inspiring hundreds of lives inside and +outside the laboratory.”

“You don’t mean—Miss Torrance?” the girl cried.

“I mean Miss Torrance.”

The girl stood quite still, and the dean, watching, saw the look she had been waiting for come into the tired eyes.

—The Youth’s Companion (March 23, 1922)

THE GIFT OF AWARENESS

BLOG #3, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE GIFT OF AWARENESS
January 16, 2013

Only the curious
Have, if they live, a tale
Worth telling at all!
—Alastair Reid

Again and again and again, in recent years, in searching for a place or address, it has happened: The person being asked for information looks at me with a blank three-watt look, and mumbles, “I don’t know where it is” or “Dunno” or “Huh?” It matters not if the place in question is only two or three blocks away!

Which brings me to today’s subject: “The Gift of Awareness.” One of the greatest gifts a parent, teacher, or mentor can bestow on a child or teenager.

Paradoxically, at no time in human history has this much knowledge been accessible, at one’s fingertips; yet at no time in human history has such knowledge been devalued more. Just look around you at the millions who are myopically majoring in minors and minoring in majors, steadily constricting their worlds into knowledge that means virtually nothing: pop culture (celebrities, media, and sports). More likely to be immersed in a meaningless virtual reality world than the real. Boys especially, locked into a Peter Pan existence on their computer keyboards. Both sexes bailing out of growth trajectories in favor of obsessive text-messaging and substance abuse (be it drugs, alcohol, pornography, pop culture, or virtual reality). Result: You walk up to them, ask a question; they look at you with zombyish eyes—there’s nobody home.

So where did we as a society get off the track? Early. The first time we snuff out the God-given sense of wonder each child is born with by responding to questions with, “Oh, stop bothering me! Go watch TV” or “Go play a video game!” “Stop being such a pest!”

Each time this scenario takes place, the child’s light of awareness dims, the inner-wattage is reduced. In time, the result is another walking zombie.

Contrast that tragic result with the flip-side: a child or teen whose questions are enthusiastically fielded. Such lucky people grow up to be an Einstein, a Bill Gates, a Steve Jobs, an Edison, or Tesla. Or in the humanities, an Emily Dickinson or a Leonardo; a Tolstoy or a Schweitzer; a Dante or a Bronte; a Georgia O’Keefe or a Winslow Homer.

Blessed beyond belief is the child or teen who is mentored by a parent or teacher who is excited about life and growth and becoming. Could it be that the current wave of homeschooling is but the result of teachers and administrators who are devoid of such excitement, who blight their students’ lives by boring them?

What we need is a new concept of achievement: might it not be true that taking the time to ignite the mind of just one child or teen—such as Annie Sullivan so famously did with deaf, dumb, and blind Helen Keller—would by itself be worth having lived?

Beloved, what do you say to our making ourselves a committee of one determined to bestow the gift of awareness to children and teens in our homes, our classrooms, or proximity?

DAYTON DUNCAN AND KEN BURNS’ THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA

BLOG #26, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #11

DAYTON DUNCAN AND KEN BURNS’

THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA

June 27, 2012

 

 

 

 

Without fear of hyperbole, I submit that this collaborative effort by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009) is one of the greatest books of—not only this year, but this generation.  It is a prodigious piece of scholarship!  Just imagining their challenges gives me the chills: Becoming the authority on America’s history of conservation, and lack of it; the history of all of our national parks and monuments; the biographies of all the key figures in the development of each one; securing copyright permissions for this warehouse-worth of documentation; securing illustrations of all kinds and permissions to use each one; writing (in association with the filming of the award-winning PBS series of the same name); and then fact-checking every last piece to the mosaic.

 

Obviously though the text itself was written by Dayton Duncan, it had to be synthesized with   Burns’ PBS film series; there could be no noticeable discrepancies between the two.

 

I’m in awe at what they and their staffs accomplished.

 

TWO YEARS WITH DUNCAN AND BURNS

 

For almost two years now, this book has been my bible for writing two blog series: The Northwest National Parks and The Southwest National Parks.  Every time I’ve moved from one park to the next, before I turned to any other sourcebook, I first milked this book dry.  They never let me down.  They and the writer of the two companion books on the wonderful old lodges that grace these parks: Christine Barnes.

 

So it has been, as you have kindly vicariously traveled along with Connie and me and Bob and Lucy Earp, that thanks to The National Parks, we were able to briefly give you snapshots of how the following parks came to be: Crater Lake National Park, Oregon Caves National Monument, Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascade National Park, Olympic National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, Glacier National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Death Valley National Park, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park; we are now studying Yosemite National Park; and we shall conclude the Great Circle with Great Basin National Park.

 

But, my blogs have only provided you with enough information to whet your appetite for learning more about each park; for that it is a must that you buy a copy of the book for yourself and make it your own.  Within those two covers you will have an almost inexhaustible treasure mountain to mine from in future years.

 

But more than all that, you will discover that the book is also the riveting story of the American people, and how thousands of people from many professions and many levels of society came together in making possible a cause greater than themselves.

 

Once you read this book, I will almost guarantee that you will, like our intrepid foursome, wish to personally explore these parks yourselves, using the book as a guide.  In our trips, as we were driving from one park to another, one of us would read aloud from this book to the others in the car so that when we arrived there we’d not only know what to look for but also know the significance of what we saw and experienced..

 

Nor should I fail to bring out a great truth: Our children and grandchildren will value very little temporal things we give them, but they will cherish until the day they die the memories you made with them, the places you took them to, the time you spent with them, the things of value they learned with you.  With this in mind, consider the purchase of this book, reading it, marking it, internalizing it, and making it your family treasure map to the greatest national park mother lode in the world!

 

And—a favor I ask of you: please share with me your own personal book-related reactions and memories resulting from it.  You may reach me at:

 

Joe L. Wheeler, Ph.D.

P.O. Box 1246

Conifer, CO 80433

 

SOURCES USED

 

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).

TREASURES OF THE PAST #3 TENNYSON’S “ULYSSES”

BLOG #19, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

TREASURES OF THE PAST #3

TENNYSON’S “ULYSSES”

May 9, 2012

 

Last week, in discussing our Book of the Month, Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Enoch Arden, I also referred to Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” generally considered to be the greatest poem on aging ever written.  It was so considered by three generations of our family, namely my maternal grandfather, Herbert Norton Leininger; my mother, Barbara Leininger Wheeler—and I have inwardly mined its wisdom all of my life.

 

The untimely death of his dearest friend and soulmate, Arthur Hallam resulted in a spiritual earthquake that permanently darkened Tennyson’s inner skies.  Not only did it result in the greatest ode in the English language, it also resulted in Tennyson’s writing a poem that almost defines the aging process long before its author reached his own twilight years.

 

Tennyson’s persona is no less a person than Ulysses, the lead character in Homer’s immortal Iliad and Odyssey.  Ulysses, who, after fighting the Trojans for ten years, roams the Mediterranean world for another ten years; only then, returning to his long neglected wife Penelope, and kingdom of Ithaca.  But Tennyson goes beyond Homer in this marvelous creation: a titan who finds “business as usual” impossible to endure after having lived and interacted so long with kings, queens, warriors, and Greco-Roman gods.  Indeed this restlessness has resulted in his rounding up all the surviving warriors who accompanied him on his sojourns and battles, and enlisting them in one last adventure, one from which none will return to Ithaca alive.

 

In this monologue, Ulysses explains to us the reasons why he is embarking on this third and last quest.  He has thought of everything and everyone (with the notable exception of his long-suffering wife Penelope); he has turned over the reins of government to his much more prosaic son Telemachus, and has his crew ready to launch out into the deep.

 

First of all, he explains to us all why he must go—his restlessness; his hunger to fully live again (not merely exist); his yearning for action; for fighting against overwhelming odds; for making a real difference in his interactions with all those he comes in contact with; for learning, for becoming, for experiencing, everything life and the gods may throw at him.

 

Then in the poem’s powerful conclusion, Ulysses details his personal Bucket List: all he hopes to accomplish before he and his mariners sail off into the sunset.

 

This is one of those poems that so grows on you that each year of your life that passes, the lines and imagery will embed deeper into your psyche.  In short, properly internalized, the poem will revolutionize the rest of your life.  At the least, post it on your wall, or, better yet, memorize it:

 

ULYSSES

 

It little profits that an idle king,

By this still hearth, among these barren crags,

Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole

Unequal laws unto a savage race,

That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel; I will drink

Life to the lees [dregs].  All times I have enjoyed

Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those

That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when

Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vext the dim sea.  I am become a name;

For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known,—cities of men,

And manners, climates, councils, governments,

Myself not least, but honored of them all;

And drunk delight of battle with my peers,

Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough

Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades

For ever and for ever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!

As though to breathe were life!  Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one to me

Little remains; but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence, something more,

A bringer of new things; and vile it were

For some three suns to store and hoard myself,

And this grey spirit yearning in desire

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

 

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,

To whom I leave the scepter and the isle—

Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil

This labor, by slow prudence to make mild

A rugged people, and through soft degrees

Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere

Of common duties, decent not to fail

In offices of tenderness, and pay

Meet adoration to my household gods,

When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

 

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:

There gloom the dark, broad seas.  My mariners,

Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me—

That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed

Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.

Death closes all; but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;

The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep

Moans round with many voices.  Come, my friends,

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are:

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Caribbean Sea Days – Part Two

THIRD SEA DAY

It would be five days before we were blessed with another sea day—reason being the distance between Grenada and the Netherlands Antilles.  It proved to be a quiet day in which to recuperate from getting up early in order to explore island after island: St. Maartin, Antigua, Saint Lucia, Barbados, and Grenada.  Needless to say, it was needed.

We did little but play a game of “O Henry” (also called “Aw Shucks,” and worse), a variation of dominoes.  Other than that, we loafed, strolled around, and watched the sea gulls lazily circling the ship.  In the evening, a second formal night.  By now our waiters (Lazaro from Honduras, and Michael from Serbia) were old friends.  Since our table is right next to a window, we’re able to watch the sunset, followed by immediate equatorial darkness.

Afterwards, I hit the upper deck for fifteen laps.  An unknown beauty passes me again and again in the half-lit track; in dramatic contrast are the obese walkers who can barely move, the smokers who can only sit, puff, and idly watch those of us walking or running off our calories.  Then back to the room.  Tomorrow will be a long day.

FOURTH SEA DAY

Once we bid good-bye to Bonaire, we’d not make landfall for two and a half days.  Dinner, dominoes, listening to Jasmine and her trio perform Latin classics, followed by a forgettable torchy singer and a comedian who managed to be funny without resorting to night club language, completed our day.

We woke the next morning to heavy seas.  So much so that pre-breakfast on the veranda was impossible.  Whenever the hallway door was opened, and the veranda sliding door was open, the wind would shriek through like it was a wind-tunnel; in the process smashing glasses.

After breakfast buffet, I headed down to the purser to settle accounts (I’ve learned to check out early in order to avoid having to stand in long lines on the last day).  Made sure that Tondi, Lazaro, and Michael received generous gratuities, along with support staff.  We’ve learned that most of those who work on cruise ships are paid precious little, consequently, unless passengers are generous with their tips, the room attendants and waiters are likely to return home after nine months at sea with very little to show for their work.

FIFTH SEA DAY

It’s always sad to wake up to your last day at sea.  As a writer, it is the time when I reflect most, watch people most, and devote the most time to my journal.

On this day, I was once again overwhelmed by the obesity epidemic (two-thirds of Americans being classified as obese, one-third already with diabetes).  The situation tends to be even worse on cruise ships.  On the decks, day after day you see the same obese people flopped out in lawn chairs like so many walruses (hour after hour, dawn to dusk, there they remain, when not eating).  Even on shore days, there they stay, unwilling to go ashore because there they’d have to walk.  On the ship, they line up in lines waiting for an elevator; almost never will they take the stairs.  I couldn’t help thinking: What a national tragedy: Two thirds of Americans now classified as obese, one-third of all Americans now diabetic.  Almost half a million dying every day—same as for smokers.  The two epidemics are killing almost a million every year.  What a waste!  How many bright futures blighted and snuffed out!  How many sorrowing families deprived of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.

And as I couldn’t help but notice how many stayed on the ship when in port, unable or unwilling to experience another country and its people, I wondered why they’d spent all this money to travel here in the first place.  I wished I could freeze the action on the ship and shout out, “STOP!  Wake up and save yourself before it’s too late!  From this moment on, monitor every bite you eat, count the carbs, and limit yourself to no more than twelve choices a day.  Vigorously exercise a minimum of 30 – 45 minutes a day.  Take the stairs instead of the elevators.  Never smoke another cigarette in your life!  Wake up and live so I can meet you again!”  But of course, I didn’t; I could only weep inwardly.

And I thought again about the incredible difference friends make in our lives.  Each one (noted by C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves) opening a door into our personality that no one else ever will; when that friend is gone, the key to that door goes too.  As John Donne put it long ago: each one that goes takes part of us with him, with her.  So as Bob and Lucy, Ed and Jo, and Connie and I explored the ship and the islands together, dined together, watched programs together, played games together, and shared memories together, I thought again about how very much friendships like these enrich our lives, and how much we treasure each one.

I thought too about what little money each of us had, and how some might consider travel to be a waste of money.  Yet it is said that when each of us comes to the end of our life’s journey, we may have many regrets—but none of us ever regrets the memories we made, the friends who enriched our lives, the insights we gained and the difference we made in the lives of the people we interacted with in our travels.  Always, in travel, we should give more than we take.

Our head-waiter Lazaro -- from Honduras

That last dinner was poignant as we looked at each other around the candlelit table.  At our ages especially, how many more times might we be privileged to travel like this with each other?  Our waiters who were not now mere waiters but friends we’d come to love and appreciate; same with Tondi and the support staff.  They’d come into our lives, and in fourteen short days, we’d left them.  Would we ever see them again?

Jo and Ed waving napkins as waiters brought in the Baked Alaska

At the conclusion of that last dinner, suddenly the waiters all disappeared, then in a long succession of bearers of Baked Alaska, they streamed down the stairs, and we clapped our appreciation as they came.  For each of them lived for more than meager pay and inadequate tips: each of them yearned to be appreciated, cherished, loved.

As did we.

Bob and Lucy at dining table

Next morning, we woke to the prosaic Fort Lauderdale dockyard.  It was over.  Our island in time—all cruises are that—was but a memory.  Yet, each of us, when life closes in on us, may  retreat through those memories into those all too short days and nights on the Caribbean Sea.

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we invite you to vicariously come along with us to Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, Virginia as we guide you through our 29th annual Zane Grey’s West Society convention.