Beauty with a side of thought

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Last night, I was watching my older daughter’s play at an outdoor venue in the suburbs. The previous two shows had been cancelled because of rain (such are the perils of outdoor performance), and it looked questionable whether last night’s show would meet with the same fate. But the huge puffy clouds in the sky held no rain, and the show went off without a hitch.

At one point during the first act, I noticed that the sunset had started to change the colors of the towering clouds that remained in the sky. I wandered closer to the water, since we were not very far from Lake Michigan, and enjoyed a spectacular sunset, as shown above. The camera didn’t do the scene justice, as it never can in such a beautiful scene. But it was all I could do to capture the moment.

I wanted to be post this picture with a nod to what Henry David Thoreau called “the Great Artist.” Most people consider it to be God (or G-d to those who don’t want to spell out the full name), but I prefer the concept of “The Almighty” which appears in some of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches.

I’m not religious in a traditional sense. I like the way Thomas Paine put it in The Age of Reason: My own mind is my own church. Nobody needs to tell me of creeds and prophets and holy books, because I’ll dismiss all of them. Organized religion has always felt like some way for people to claim a kinship with a deity that can never be fully understood. And giving money is always, always, at the root of this kinship.

Tithing and other forms of religious giving might make someone feel closer to their concept of a supreme being, but for me that money goes to put nice suits on the backs of those who profess their kinship most fervently. I have no quarrel with those who do this, but it’s not something I’m comfortable with doing myself.

Am I cynical to believe this? That could be a fair accusation. But organized religion has no place in my world, and never will. I can recognize the hand of some great power in the beautiful sunset I saw last night, but I don’t relate that recognition with the need to sit in a church, listen to a sermon, and drop some money into a basket.

To repeat what Paine said, my own mind is my own church, and my own church exists wherever I can find a nice sunset. No admission fees are required for that.

No rain, No rainbows

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I don’t like rainy days, and I don’t think anybody does. I’m sure that some people prefer the rain, but like most people I’d rather have some sunshine, instead.

I was recently in California with my family on vacation. It’s a land of unspeakable beauty, and I envy the people who are lucky enough to live there. But they’re also in the midst of a drought that is threatening to change many things. Water is a precious resource, and if the rains aren’t falling, that’s not good.

There’s a saying in Hawaii that I added as the title for this post. It means that if you want good and beautiful things, you need to put up with the unpleasant things first. If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding. Something like that.

There was a tiny little bit of rain that fell when we were in Monterey, in the middle part of our trip. California needs more rain than what fell that day, but the end result was a tiny little sliver of a rainbow that emerged as my daughter was doing gymnastic flips on the beach near Cannery Row. And the wisdom of the Hawaiians hit me all over again. The rainbow was an added bonus that made an Incredibly lovely place even more so.

I wish many more rainbows for California in the days and months ahead. They will beautify the state, of course, but they desperately need what causes them, too.

A goal for the Earth

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I wanted to put some thoughts about Earth Day yesterday, but time got away from me and I got some sleep for a change. Maybe there’s Earth Week to give people like me a bit of a break on that score.

I love this planet. It’s filled with so many great and wonderful things that everyone can enjoy. But I hate what’s been done to it, past and present. Like Jim Morrison once said, What have they done to the earth, our fair sister?

We need to do better. All of us, myself included, do things that aren’t in the Earth’s best interest. Using less plastic would be a good start, as I learned recently on a trip to the aquarium in Monterey Bay. Using less means that less of it will end up out in the ecosystem, to poison birds and fish who aren’t doing anything worse than looking for something to eat.

So less plastics, it is. I’ll report on my progress here, from time to time. And the differences might be small, but I can do it and so I will. Our home is worthy of the effort.

Inside the landscape

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California is filled with beautiful places, and I’m pointing one out in this shot. Panoramics usually don’t render very well on a computer screen, but to know that I was in such a place–and wide awake at the time–is a pretty awesome feeling.

January goes away

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If I had to rank the months of the year in order of my personal preference, January would be at or near the bottom. Winter will do that, I’m afraid.

So after today, January goes away for a good long time. If all goes well it will come back again, for me and everyone reading this. But until then, several warmer and more agreeable months lie ahead, just not right away.

Morning vista

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I haven’t had the time or inclination to post here lately. Life throws things at you sometimes, and you make adjustments the best that you can. But the world is a beautiful place, as it has always been.

An idling bus

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Yesterday I came upon a bus, idling away as it was waiting to pick up passengers at a community center suburban Chicago.

I walked past the bus, and as I did I felt its large exhaust pipe, spewing warm fumes into the air. I asked myself why the bus was left running, as nobody had gotten on board yet, or was even in sight at that moment. But the engine kept on running, and whatever the combustive process was, it kept on spitting out its results.

This week, a report was issued by the government, confirming what most of us already know: this planet is in trouble. Emissions, in the way of greenhouse gases, are threatening our long-term survival. And yet the bus keeps on idling, and we keep on doing what we’ve always done.

The bus began loading maybe four or five minutes later, and within ten minutes it was on its way. The fumes were still escaping from the bus, but it felt less wasteful because at least people were going from one place to another.

One bus won’t spell the difference between saving the planet and seeing 125 degree temperatures on a regular basis. But the symbolic meaning of an idling bus might be significant. All of us can make decisions to reduce emissions and/or waste. We can’t do anything more than that, but we can do something. And if we want to continue living here, we must.

Singing in the Square

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I can’t think of too many more beautiful sights than watching the sunset in Key West. And Mallory Square is the one place where everyone goes to see the show. I first learned this from watching the buddy cop movie Running Scared in the 1980s, and a week ago I finally got to experience it for myself. I hope that everyone reading this will have a chance to do so at some point in their future.

My brother-in-law and I had spent the day walking up and down Duval Street and soaking up the Key West vibe. We smoked cigars (much to our daughters’ chagrin) and marveled at our good fortunes to be in such a beautiful place. As the sun was beginning to set, we made our way to the square for the sunset celebration (and that is exactly what they call it).

A number of buskers and street performers add a carnival-like atmosphere to the celebration. As my brother-in-law and I were looking for a place to watch, we heard an elderly calypso singer asking for volunteers. We decided to answer the call, with the knowledge that he would have rather had two pretty girls volunteer, instead. And there sure are enough of them in Mallory Square, too.

To his credit, the singer indicated that he’d work with any volunteers he could get, and two small children–one boy of about five, and one girl of about seven–also volunteered, along with one other middle-aged guy who might have been their father. He positioned his background singers around a microphone, and told us we would be singing along to “Day O,” which was made famous by Harry Belafonte. We sang the “daylight come and me wan’ go home” line, and so far as I know we did a good job. There was no shortage of people photographing and videotaping the performance, and being a part of it pushed the experience to a whole new level.

When it was finished, we thanked the singer and moved on to watch the sun finally go down. Our family was elsewhere and didn’t get to see our performance, but that’s all right. The carnival goes on with different players every night, and no two sunsets can ever be the same. So long as people appreciate nature’s beauty, and want to experience it in the company of others, there will be songs to sing in Mallory Square.