Tuesday, January 31, 2017

THE MONARCH BUTTERFLIES OF PISMO BEACH

THOSE LITTLE SPECKS OF ORANGE ARE BUTTERFLIES


This week's arts and culture column concerns a field trip I recently took to the Central Coast of California. It begins like this:

The Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove stakes its claim as the largest monarch butterfly grove on the West Coast. Each year when it begins to get cold, the monarchs begin a migration of up to 2,500 miles, from as far north as Canada to as far south as Mexico. A smallish grove of eucalyptus trees on the Central Coast’s Pismo Beach is one of their stopovers.

The butterflies are in residence roughly from late October through February. They cluster on the trees and hang by the thousands in thrilling orange curtains.

Recently, I spent the weekend with some friends in Santa Maria. On Sunday morning we headed up to the grove. For a minute, I couldn’t see what the fuss was about. Where were all the butterflies? Why weren’t they floating about our heads and dazzling us?

Then I looked through one of the available telescopes, I saw the well-camouflaged monarchs lounging in the trees and began to discern the almost unbelievably large clusters, many feet long, hanging here and there high up in the eucalyptus branches. As of Dec. 2, their number was estimated at 20,000.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

BRIDGES AND BUNKERS



Out with friends at lunch the other day, the conversation turned, as it inevitably seems to these days, to politics.

There was lots of ranting, lots of cursing, lots of "Can you believe?" and "Monster!"and "Well, he'd better be ready for a fight."

No question the behavior in question is appalling. No question the character in question is reprehensible. No question that people of good will the whole world are, rightfully, deeply indignant, disturbed, and frightened.

Still,  over our heirloom black rice, gluten-free tortillas, and green chai tea, I ended up being disturbed as well by the conversation. There was no space in it for the kind of heart-to-heart exchange that, to my mind, is the bread of life: that nourishes, strengthens, and sends us forth to fight the right battles and on the right fronts.

On my way to Trader Joe's afterwards (I was out of Italian roast and arugula), I sat musing at a stop light. Suddenly I noticed a homeless guy sitting by the side of the road, around my age, with a crudely-lettered Vietnam Vet cardboard sign. I rolled down the window and gave him four bucks. (Lunch had been $13.58). "God bless you," he said gratefully, humbly.

I was reminded of a recent NYT op-ed piece called "Why 2017 May Be the Best Year Ever." The author observed, "On a recent trip to Madagascar to report on climate change, I was struck that several mothers I interviewed had never heard of Trump, or of Barack Obama, or even of the United States. Their obsession was more desperate: keeping their children alive."

This morning I watched a video by the late Mother Antonia Brenner, a Beverly Hills socialite  and mother of eight who after her second divorce, gave away all her belongings, moved to Tijuana, and installed herself in La Mesa, a notoriously violent maximum-security prison.

She said, "When I went into prison for the very first time, I went into the infirmary and it was a cell block. The cots were there and the men looked at me coming in and they stood up because they saw a woman and a priest. So they stood up even though they were trembling sick and very weak. There were about six bunks and they all stood up to see us. I was very touched at how they received us and I saw a need for medicine and other things."

Mother Antonia lived at La Mesa for over 32 years, in a 10 by 10-foot cell, ministering to the inmates, raising bail money, performing the works of mercy for hardened criminals. One of her spiritual mentors was St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish priest who offered himself up in place of a husband and father of six to die in a starvation bunker at Auschwitz.

"I had a deep love for those saints who had been in prison--Paul, the prisoner. Paul in chains, Peter in chains, and on to Auschwitz, where we had St. Maximilian Kolbe, who was a great example for me. He stood up for mercy and justice, the two things Jesus called upon us to do for one another. That was his criticism of the Pharisees. They followed the rules; that was fine. But they didn't go beyond the rules to the two most important things--justice and mercy. St. Maximilian Kolbe did go beyond. He died for it."

"And he never complained."



LOWER ARROYO
PASADENA, CA


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

PITTANCE CHAMBER MUSIC ENSEMBLE




The subject of this week's arts and culture column is Pittance Chamber Music "Music From the Pit"), yet another little-known delight of greater Los Angeles.

Here's how it begins:

Pittance Chamber Music comprises small ensembles of members of the L.A. Opera Orchestra. The name is a play on words, deriving from the pit where they play, and the “smaller” offerings they make. It’s been said that Pittance is small in the number of members, venues, audience and ticket price. But they’re anything but small in talent.

Recently I spoke to artistic director Lisa Sutton, herself a violinist for both the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and Pittance:

“The thrust behind Pittance is connection. The initial inspiration was respect and love for my extraordinary colleagues who, at the opera, are basically invisible,” said Sutton. “The audience hears this great music emanating up from the pit but they don’t see anybody and they don’t know who we are. Conversely, those of us in the pit can hear the audience buzzing but we can’t see them either.

“We see people come and go: the great soloists, the maestros — but we’re here all the time,” she added. “Over the years we’ve grown together and had families together and celebrated milestones. We’re a community. We also live and work here in L.A., so we’re all residents of the community at large.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A PSALM FOR INAUGURATION DAY 2017

WE HAVE HAD SO MUCH BLESSED  RAIN THAT
SOUTHERN CAL IS BEGINNING TO LOOK LIKE SEATTLE!
THESE SHOTS WERE TAKEN IN PASADENA'S LOWER ARROYO.

PSALM 37 

1 Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.

2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.

3 Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.

4 Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.

5 Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.

6 And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.

7 Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.

8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.

9 For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.

10 For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.

11 But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

12 The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth.

13 The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming.

14 The wicked have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay such as be of upright conversation.

15 Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.

16 A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.

17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the Lord upholdeth the righteous.

18 The Lord knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be for ever.

19 They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.

20 But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.

21 The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.

22 For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth; and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off.

23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.

24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.

25 I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.

26 He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.

27 Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore.

28 For the Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.

29 The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever.

30 The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.

31 The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.

32 The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him.

33 The Lord will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged.

34 Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.

35 I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.

36 Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.

37 Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.

38 But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off.

39 But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: he is their strength in the time of trouble.

40 And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.

--King James Version











Monday, January 16, 2017

BEFORE TOTALLY LETTING GO OF CHRISTMAS...

ONE OF MY KITCHEN WINDOWS,
OVERLOOKING A BALCONY
FULL OF PLANTS. RAINING OUTSIDE AND A POT OF SOUP
ON THE STOVE INSIDE. 

THE LIGHT SHINES IN DARKNESS,
AND THE DARKNESS HAS NOT OVERCOME IT.

SIT DOWN AND TELL ME
ALL ABOUT YOURSELF.

Whoa, Advent began early this year. But then we had the Feast of Epiphany, with the star in the East and the wise men on January 8, and the Baptism of Christ, which is usually the next Sunday, the very next day, on a Monday.

And the day after that, we were back to Ordinary Time.

Which all seemed just a tad fast for my taste.

My decorations are down, but it's been deliciously cold, gloomy and rainy in southern Cal, and my apartment has seemed cozier than ever. So before bidding a final adieu to the 2016 Christmas season, I wanted to post these last photos and tell a last story.

After the 5 o'clock Mass on the Feast of the Epiphany, I came home and performed a little ritual.

My (tiny) bathroom has formed itself as a shrine of sorts. I have two sconces high up on either wall, each holding six beautiful beeswax candles, none of which had ever been lit.

So I thought, Well if Epiphany isn't the time to light the candles, no time is. So I got out my little stool, and the Announcement of Easter and the Moveable Feasts, which is likewise very beautiful, and one by one I lit all the candles, which actually took a while, and knelt, and said the prayer, which basically asks a blessing on the coming year, and all the further feasts and celebrations the year will bring.

Then I stood and basked in the light, and as the occasion was so momentous, thought to take a few pictures.

Then I realized the candles were making burn holes in the ceiling and basically melting the paint.

Somehow that exemplifies life, and my approach to it.

I had to blow all the candles out really fast.

But the radiance they threw will last me the whole year.


 


Saturday, January 14, 2017

CHRISTOPHER BOWMAN, THE LATE GENIUS SKATER


CHRISTOPHER BOWMAN
DONNING HIS COSTUME.
THE TATTOO READS "NOBODY'S PERFECT."

First, I posted last time about an upcoming radio show that's been moved ahead due to the fact that the station's out of Pittsburgh and Steelers have a huge game that night.

Here's the updated info:

Sunday, February 5, I'll have a radio interview on AMPLIFY, KDKA Pittsburgh, a CBS affiliate, with Fr. Ron Lengwin, 6-8 p.m. PST (3-5 EST). That's right. Two hours. A looooong chat with the Good Father about my life and work.

So tune in!

Next, this week's arts and culture column is about the late figure skater Christopher Bowman, a genius-on-the-ice who catastrophically, almost before his audience's eyes, self-destructed. His old youtubes make for fascinating watching.

Here's how the piece begins:

Christopher Bowman (1967-2008) was a flamboyant, profoundly talented figure skater from Southern California who blazed bright, burned out fast and died young.

He was known during his brief career as Bowman the Showman. His drinking, drug use and erratic, unpredictable behavior infuriated and perplexed his coaches, family and fans.

His left bicep bore a tattoo of a pitchfork-brandishing red devil with the caption: “Nobody’s perfect.”

And to watch him, even on grainy 1980s Youtube videos, is to be transported.

Born in Hollywood to parents Joyce and Nelson Bowman, he was a professional model as a baby and did commercials and TV shows as a child.

He won the World Junior Championship at the age of 15. He was also a two-time U.S. National Champion and a two-time World Medalist (silver in 1989, bronze in 1990). He won 7th place in the 1988 Olympic Winter Games and placed 4th in 1992.

You don’t have to know anything about skating — which I don’t — to involuntarily grin the second he came onto the ice. You don’t have to be a judge to know that his insouciant joy, his wild-card choreography and his courage were in a class to themselves.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.



Thursday, January 12, 2017

I'M GIVING A RETREAT JANUARY 20-22!




Now that the year's half over--no, seriously, how can it be January 12 already?--I bring good tidings:
I will be leading a weekend women's retreat based on the steps and principles of Al-Anon at Mary & Joseph Retreat Center in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, from Friday evening through Sunday noon, January 20-22.

So come!

The property is quite beautiful with peacocks, a labyrinth, a Blessed Sacrament chapel (not that you remotely have to be Catholic or of any religion to attend), and the Pacific Ocean right down the street with all kinds of vistas and hiking trails.

Also, Sunday, February 5, I'll have a radio interview on AMPLIFY, KDKA Pittsburgh, a CBS affiliate, with Fr. Ron Lengwin, 6-8 p.m. PST (3-5 EST). That's right. Two hours. A looooong chat with the Good Father about my life and work.

So tune in!

Meanwhile, it is pouring rain here in Pasadena and after our years-long drought, we are grateful! I may take a stroll through Huntington Gardens this afternoon with my umbrella.


In luce tua videmus lucem:
“In your light we see light.”
--Psalm 36

Saturday, January 7, 2017

PASADENA'S LOWER ARROYO


I have barely been able to contain myself over the discovery of Pasadena's Lower Arroyo. Less than two miles from my apartment, and hard by the world-renowned Rose Bowl, the Arroyo, technically a flood control channel for the water than snakes down from the mountains (plus it is RAINING in Southern California madly, after a years-long drought!), runs through some of Pasadena's most beautiful neighborhoods.

I've barely scratched the surface but there are WPA bridges, native plant gardens, restoration organizations, birds galore, stray benches, hidden spots to sit and ponder, miles of trails to walk, and infinite photo possibilities.

Here are a few I took recently during the magic hour and then closer to dusk.

More to come. Happy happy 2017.









Sunday, January 1, 2017

HAPPY 2017




I'm not sure why, but lately I've been inexorably drawn to children's classics, and have even bought an antique bisque (well-used and patched-up of course) DOLL.

That's right. I'm reverting to my infancy or perhaps "re-parenting" myself. Or something. The Velveteen RabbitThe Secret GardenThe Wind in the WillowsPeter PanAlice in WonderlandThe Yearling--these books formed me and the older I get, the more grateful I am for them.

How it is that animals understand things I do not know, but it is certain that they do understand. Perhaps there is a language which is not made of words and everything in the world understands it. Perhaps there is a soul hidden in everything and it can always speak, without even making a sound, to another soul. But whatsoever was the reason, the rat knew from that moment that he was safe—even though he was a rat. He knew that this young human being sitting on the red footstool would not jump up and terrify him with wild, sharp noises or throw heavy objects at him which, if they did not fall and crush him, would send him limping in his scurry back to his hole. He was really a very nice rat, and did not mean the least harm. When he had stood on his hind legs and sniffed the air, with his bright eyes fixed on Sara, he had hoped that she would understand this, and would not begin by hating him as an enemy. When the mysterious thing which speaks without saying any words told him that she would not, he went softly toward the crumbs and began to eat them. As he did it he glanced every now and then at Sara, just as the sparrows had done, and his expression was so very apologetic that it touched her heart.

--Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess






SCENES FROM MY FRIEND JUDY'S GARDEN

CABBAGE, BREAD, AND SAUSAGE SOUP,
SERVED IN COPPER TUREEN AT JUDY'S RECENT LUNCHEON.
MY PEOPLE HAVE CLASS!