Monday, December 31, 2012

A Line in the Sand

When liberals talk about "gun culture" . . . It isn't about the guns really, though gun control culture is worried about having that much personal autonomy in the hands of people who don't share their values and like their independence, it's about rural America. And rural America, like guns, is another symbol that stands in for traditional America.
--Daniel Greenfield, Sultan Knish Blog: Gun Culture and Gun Control Culture

Molṑn labéis ( Molon Labe) is a classical expression of defiance reportedly spoken by King Leonidas I in response to the Persian army's demand that the Spartans surrender their weapons at the Battle of Thermopylae. . . So what does molon labe mean? Well, it is an invitation -- and a challenge -- all rolled into one. From the original Greek molon labe means: "Come and take 'em."
-- JD Longstreet, Right Side News Blog: Americans Won’t Give Up Guns, Law or Not

As we end the year here in the rump end of flyover country, we have been talking about the new and even more insidious threats to our liberty and our way of life.  

Americans of a certain bent are fond of talking about “wars” that are not shooting wars. From the Obama administration we have heard that if we do not like our tax money going toward someone else’s contraception, we are perpetrating a “War on Women.” Ronald Reagan brought us the “War on Drugs” (which has become a shooting war down on the border), and LBJ brought us the “War on Poverty” all those years ago. We do not appear to be winning either of these ersatz wars. I am sure there are other “wars” that are not wars out there, and as a Libertarian, I am deeply suspicious of “wars” on inanimate objects or conditions, because they are generally used as an excuse to limit our liberties.

In rural America, however, we have known for some time that the executive branch of the federal government has plans to wage a war on our way of life. It started in 2008 when presidential candidate Barack Obama told his supporters at a San Francisco fundraiser about rural Americans bitterly clinging to “guns and religion.” ( This war isn’t only about guns and religion, both of which the progressive leftists of the Obama administration despise, it is also a war on rural small holders and is being waged by the government against us with bureaucratic weapons such as land use policies, sweeping EPA regulations, and farm bills such as SB 1050, which set the stage for regulations on what we can sell and even what we can consume from our own farms and ranches. 

But the war on “flyover country”—that vast interior of the North American continent that is terra incognita to the progressive city dwellers on the coasts—is heating up because of the fear this administration has of law-abiding, armed citizens. Their maps are not labeled “Here there be Dragons” in fancy, medieval print; rather they say: “Here there be GUNS.” And as Daniel Greenfield pointed out at the Sultan Knish Blog (quoted above), those guns are a symbol to the progressives. They represent  people who do not need or want federal government help, and who often refuse it, knowing from bitter experience that when the Feds come marching in, local interests are no match for the interests of outsiders such as environmentalists and bureaucrats. In the rump end of flyover country we understand that government “help” really means government interference, the destruction of our local economies, and ultimately, tyranny by a metro-majority that doesn’t know a thing about our way of life, fears it, and wishes to force us to conform to an alien and un-American standard.

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in suburban New Jersey is the incident that Obama, his progressive administration, his media sycophants, and the metro-dependent control freaks have been waiting for. Never mind that the shooter was not a legal gun owner, and as Daniel Greenfield wrote, was not part of what the ubiquitous they call the “gun culture.” They were all indecently salivating to confiscate guns before the little bodies of the innocent were even removed from the classroom. Never let a good crisis go to waste, as their mentor Saul Alinsky liked to say.

Since the 2008 election, Americans have been anticipating that Obama and his minions would be coming for our liberties. Some of us paid attention to what he said before he was elected, and we knew who his mentors were and what political philosophy they bequeathed to him. During November and December 2008, gun sales rose dramatically, and ammunition fairly flew off the shelves of gun shops and sporting goods departments. In Spring 2009, many of us formed and joined Tea Party organizations  and 9-12 groups, banding together to protest the economic consequences of Obama’s socialist political creed. Some of us woke up to the threat to our liberties for the first time. As election day 2012 neared, gun and ammunition sales picked up again, following the same pattern as in 2008. We were aware that with the need of re-election behind him, Obama’s campaign against liberty would likely pick up speed.

On the Tuesday before Sandy Hook, the Catron Kid and I were in Cope Reynold’s Southwest Shooting Authority in Arizona to purchase some ammo and look over a new rifle for shooting coyotes and other small varmints on the ranch. (In rural America our guns are tools, and are most often used to protect livestock from predators. They are rarely drawn against another human being. It is not necessary because we value one another’s life, liberty and property way out here). You may recognize Cope’s name and establishment, because his gun shop has become famous or infamous (depending on your politics) for the sign he posted on his shop’s door:
Cope No Obama Sign
(See story at The Blaze).

As we looked at the coyote rifle, and as I mock-aimed an AR-15 and an AK-47, feeling them out on my shoulder, we talked about the possibility of an “assault” weapons ban. At that point, Nancy Pelosi was talking about reviving the ban that had been rescinded in 1994, with some new and worrisome restrictions, but not including outright confiscation. The Catron Kid wondered aloud if, should we be threatened with confiscation, we ought to hide our guns. SWSA employees responded that at that point, we would be facing civil war. We talked briefly about how Arizona would respond, and I allowed as to how we should have bought property at least 11 miles west, over the border in Arizona. The conversation turned to why Jews, Blacks, American Indians and Mormons should not be against gun control, and then we make our purchases and went on with our day. As we continued our errands, I realized that I reacted to the thought of civil war differently than before. I did not deny the possibility, nor did I feel regret that I might oppose my own government, because I now believe that my government has made me its enemy. It was another line in the sand that I had crossed in my own mind, like joining the Tea Party, registering Libertarian, and signing the Articles of Freedom. For the record, I will defend the Constitution against all enemies, but I prefer to do my fighting with the pen and at the ballot box. A shooting war is the last thing I want.

Four days later, when the news of Sandy Hook broke, and almost immediately the press began attacking the Second Amendment, we went on the offensive in the social media, correcting the obvious ignorance of the press and the administration, and making it clear why a so-called “assault” weapons ban would not have prevented Sandy Hook or anything like it. It was in a post on a social media site in which someone opined that patriots cannot be serious about the “need” for the Second Amendment, that we certainly can’t be thinking in “these modern times” of protecting our rights against our own government. And she referenced civil war. A commenter replied: “We are already in a civil war,” elaborating that the culture wars against the founding American values, against our liberties and against rural America amount to exactly that.
“We are already in a civil war.”
That statement rings true to me. It is not at all the same as during the late 1850's because this is not a regional battle, like the one that the Mason-Dixon Line defined. Neither is it about the false ideology of “state’s rights”--we know that only individuals have rights, and that governments have delegated powers--although I think it is time long past due for the States to enforce  the Tenth Amendment against the Feds. Nor is the object to deny freedom to others or to institutionalize racism. The culture wars—the war on our way of life here in flyover country—is about our individual rights, the ones that are threatened by an out-of-control federal government.

We are already in a civil war.
But it is not a shooting war. And I would rather that it never become one. However, this government has been whittling away at our rights and attacking our values for a very long time. Obama is only the latest and greatest threat in a century-long series of executives determined to stamp out individual liberty, make our Constitution meaningless, and aggregate power to himself.

Each of us, those who value life, liberty and property, must ask ourselves where is the line past which we must resist, physically if necessary? Each of us needs to know for ourselves where is the line in the sand. Where does tyranny stop? And at what point are we willing to give up our lives in order to preserve liberty for ourselves and our children?

As JD Longstreet (quoted above) wrote in Right Side News Blog:

To those on the political left and those pushing gun control -- in the childish naivete -- You need to understand two things: One -- Americans are NOT going to give up their guns! That's one. Number two is this: If you really want to begin a civil war in this country, continue your efforts to take those guns and you will most certainly have one, and I do not think you have any idea, any inkling, of just how ferocious and brutal such a war can be.
We know that Pelosi’s new, draconian measures are not about gun safety. We know that these power-mongers inside the beltway are using the deaths of 20 children for purposes of their own, and those purposes are aimed at our liberties and our ability to defend them.  We know that Diane Feinstein and Harry Reed are both hypocrites—both are or were gun owners who had concealed-carry permits—and they wish to deny the same to us. And we also know that in the advancement of tyranny and totalitarian rule, the confiscation of guns comes before the violation of free speech. An unarmed citizenry has no opportunity to resist the loss of freedom of speech and press and assembly. We know that these rights are already under threat by the Feds, who use pretexts such as security and political correctness to work their nefarious designs. We know that for many of us, the line in the sand may well be confiscation of our rifles. As Longstreet continues:
The government will, as Charlton Heston famously stated, have to "pry the weapons from their cold dead hands." Heck, the government might actually get away with a couple of such encounters before the backlash begins.
But it will begin -- and when it does, there will be hell to pay. In the end, it will be the end of the United States as we know it.
Understand. There are some states that will move to secede rather than obey federal laws that force their citizens to disarm. Other states will arrest and incarcerate federal officers attempting to disarm that states citizens within the physical boundaries of that state.

Understand. These things are already being discussed in states and counties where governments and sheriffs understand their primary duty is to protect the rights of the citizens who elected them. There are many places in flyover country where state and local governments understand that Tenth Amendment pushback against the overweening power-mongering of the federal government is long overdue. Arizona is one.  There are many states and counties in which constitutional sheriffs (CLEOs) take the SCOTUS Printz v. United States (1997) decision seriously, in which SCOTUS held that:

. . . Congress cannot circumvent that prohibition by conscripting the State's officers directly. The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States' officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program. It matters not whether policymaking is involved, and no case by case weighing of the burdens or benefits is necessary; such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty.

I agree with Longstreet that the Feds are dangerously out of control, and that their cheerleaders in the media and among people in the street are not thinking with their brains, nor are they aware of the cold reception of their totalitarian agenda (for our own good, of course) by the people who live outside of their vivid blue enclaves. The use of emotion by politicians and the media to whip the populace into mob action against citizens, unjustly and unrighteously threatening to violate a fundamental right by confiscation of firearms from law-abiding citizens, will create a response, but not the one the perpetrators envision. Mob rule is contrary to our values, our Constitution and our way of life. There will come a point of firm, determined resistance.

Minuteman Concord

We do not want civil war. We did not seek this war upon our values and our way of life. We want only to be left alone to live our lives. Many of us fervently wish that those who disagree with the Constitution as written, and who dislike our liberty, would remove themselves to a country that has laws and customs in keeping with their progressive values. As Sam Adams wrote:

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.

These were strong words at the time, and they are strong words now. There is a point at which there can be no more discussion and no more debate about the encroachment upon our liberties. We have been coming close to that point over the past four years, as ordinary Americans have been waking up to smell the bitterness of a government that has long ago lost touch. We know that our elected servants believe that they are the masters, and want to discard the Constitution for a tyranny by the majority,  thus forsaking forever the republican values of liberty and individual rights written in that charter by which they were elected. We recognize that this government is now led by an executive who is unfamiliar with our values and our way of life. He has shown nothing but contempt for us, lying to us by whim, and using every event to dismiss our Constitution and erode our liberties. That he was re-elected by a narrow margin of the popular vote does not give him any other mandate than that assumed by every President of the United States: “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

There is war upon our way of life, against our liberties and our individual sovereignty. We did not seek this war, and thus far we have patiently used peaceful remedies to avert it. This attack is upon the heart of our values as Americans, and rural America is the place where it has begun, but it is not where it will end. This is a battle that we did not seek. But this is a war that we intend to win, in order to secure the lives and liberty of our children and their children. We intend to win it peacefully.
But we will win it at the cost of our lives, if necessary.

To those who intend to force me to surrender my arms, I say: μολὼν λαβέ!
And I am not alone.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Slowing Down: Thanksgiving at Freedom Ridge


I blinked, and Thanksgiving has come and gone, special baking done, leftovers packed and sent back to school with the Catron Kid, and quiet has now descended on Freedom Ridge Ranch.

Last I looked, it was September, and the High Holy Days just finished. We were looking forward to Sukkot, and suddenly we are on Standard Time, the leaves have fallen, the Sukkah is long down and the days are alarmingly short. How did the fall days get away from me?

The election, that’s how. From the day after Yom Kippur until election day, I was caught up by the needs of the Gary Johnson Campaign. As the New Mexico State Director for Gary Johnson 2012, I felt as if I was swept away for the month of October, with the High Holidays serving as the deep breath before the final lap. The rest of the week of the election was spent in Albuquerque, too, doing the post-mortem on the campaign with senior campaign officials, and the Libertarian Party of New Mexico, along with spending time with my new primary dissertation advisor, getting myself primed for The Next Big Thing.

I intend to write about the last weeks of the campaign—I really do!—but I need to let it all settle. It was exciting, maddening and exhausting. I learned so much, and I need to let it all settle before I decide which lessons are lasting.

I arrive home on Veteran’s Day, and by the following Thursday—Rosh Chodesh Kislev, for I seem to have missed Cheshvan entirely!—we were in Show Low, the Engineering Geek and I, shopping for Thanksgiving. On Friday morning, I began my baking, and then after a weekend adjusting to not needing to be glued to the computer, it was Elisheva’s All Kitchen, All the Time Station right up through Thursday. After several months of neglecting my family in order to be mom to various and sundry Gary Johnson volunteers, I felt the need to s-l-o-w down and bake and cook, and bake  and cook some more. We also deserved some time to talk, to study, to do a slow dance in the kitchen to a Hank William’s Jr. tune, and read to one another in bed in the morning until the sun comes over the mesa. So I cooked for five days of leftovers, and made everything from scratch: from crescent rolls to pumpkin pie. (I made my own filling for those from the pie pumpkins we grew in the garden).

The weather has been wonderful. Short, late fall days of sunshine with those heartbreaker turquoise blue New Mexican skies, that fade into deep blue as the sun goes behind the mesas by four in the afternoon. Afternoons at 60 degrees are followed by cold, star-filled nights that cry out for a fire.

Since he had a late class on Wednesday in Albuquerque, the Catron Kid had driven down early on Thursday morning, and rode El Chapo in the early afternoon, when I chased everyone out of the kitchen—everyone, including dogs and cats.We ate our Thanksgiving dinner as the sun slipped behind Power Line Mesa, slowly and with great attention to the goodness of our fortunes. Elections, war, and scandal notwithstanding, our little family is truly blessed and we know it.

After dinner, we settled down to watch Monumental, Kirk Cameron’s film about the Pilgrims. We were reminded that  this election and the challenges it will bring to our freedom are grave difficulties, the door seemed to be slammed repeatedly on the Pilgrims, they did not give up, cry foul or fall into despair. They persisted in believing in their 500 year plan. And since we have a bit more than 100 years to go on that, we should be strong and resolute as were they.

Friday, the Engineering Geek and I took an afternoon’s lazy drive up into the mountains behind the Little Colorado over in Arizona. We worked our way up into the caldera that holds Crescent Lake, and then descended again along a Forest Service Road into Greer, enjoying the bikers and trail riders of that mountain resort town, while we talked of the future plans for Freedom Ridge and hopes and dreams and half-baked ideas that may shape the days to come.

Yesterday, we took a Shabbat walk with the dogs and our walking sticks in hand, we climbed to the top of Freedom Ridge, our mesa to the east and marveled at the view of the Red Hill and its attendant volcanics, and the San Francisco Mountains to the southeast.

And today, Sunday, I ironed shirts for the EG and the Catron Kid; I packed him up some quart-sized zipper bags of turkey and the trimmings and holiday eggnog to take back with him to his little apartment in Albuquerque. I watched as he drove away, straining to see the movement of the white car against the dark volcanic pressure ridge extending from the Red Hill as he turned onto the county road two miles away. Thanksgiving 2012 is a wrap, but in two weeks he will be home again for the long winter break, just in time for Hanukkah.

I have some work to do to get my Comprehensive Exams back on track because of all the changes in my committee since EN, my original advisor, retired. We have chores to complete while the weather holds, here at Freedom Ridge Ranch. And our renters at the Los Pecos House decided to relocate to warmer climes, and so we have our contract with them to conclude and the house is on the market once again—for sale or rent. There’s lots to do, as always. But nothing that requires the kind of immediate response and dedicated time that managing even a small campaign team requires.

DSC01090 Although it does look like I am being tapped as an alternate for the Libertarian National Committee . . . but more on that after we watch the sun drop down behind Power Line Mesa, and after we feed the animals and gather any eggs laid since this morning by our fine-feathered hens and after we feed the dogs, enjoy a turkey dinner and a glass of wine together, here on Freedom Ridge Ranch. Where the mountains are high and the tumult is far away . . .


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Yom Kippur: The Day of Decision

“This is the Day of Decision . . .”

“ . . . in the camps and streets of Europe mother and father and child lay dying, and many looked away. To look away from evil: Is this not the sin of all “good” people?”

“Turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why should you choose to die, O House of Israel?”

--Sha’arei T’shuvah: The Reform Machzor



Our lives are fleeting, like a leaf that rides on the river of time, for a while, and then subsides, while the river flows on. This is one theme of Yom Kippur and the High Holy Days in general, timed as they are in the month of autumn, from the dark of the moon to its waxing. This year the Engineering Geek and I felt this acutely, as our daily household has shrunk to just the two of us, with both children up and out.

This gives us both pause about where we are in our lives, with more years behind us than ahead, but it also confers a certain freedom, and one way that we expressed it was to choose to spend Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur differently, cutting ties to the synagogue where the children were raised. We went to the small, eclectic and egalitarian shul in Flagstaff, taking a hotel room in order to experience Yom Kippur free of the distraction of long distance driving. Of course, in the odd way of the Jewish world, where smaller degrees of separation abound and bind across continents, we found connections with the president of the congregation, another member who remembers me as a very pregnant cantorial soloist, and the rabbi herself, with whom I share a mentor, a study partner, and a course of study.  

And for the first time in our ten years of marriage, the EG and I also were free to really spend some time on the Day of Atonement studying the Machzor—the High Holy Day Prayer Book—free of distractions. This was a boon we had not counted upon, and it worked out because the little shul has an organized morning service followed immediately by Yizkor (the Memorial Service), after which there is a long break until Neilah, the evening service just before breaking the fast. Not wanting to put ourselves in places of commerce nor to go back to the hotel, we went instead to Buffalo Park—a huge open space under the San Francisco Peaks—and there we found a lone marble bench facing the mountains, cloud-shadowed beyond a field of yellow daisies, where we prayed the afternoon service for ourselves, stopping to discuss and comment upon it along the way. And as is always true for me, themes that match what is going on in my inner and outer life fairly jumped out of the pages of the Machzor, demanding to be confronted.

Yom Kippur is, as the prayer book says, a day of decision. The image is the Book of Life being open at the Seat of Judgment, as every human being chooses between good and evil, life and death:

You open the book of our days and what is written there proclaims itself, for it bears the signature of every human being. . . This is the Day of Judgment . . .”

But the problem for many Jews is that we have taken a concept of judgment from the dominant culture, one that is foreign to our own world view. This idea is that human beings should eschew judgment altogether, that it is wrong to make a judgment—which I cannot help but point out, is a judgment itself. For because human being have the capacity to make decisions, we must necessarily make judgments between good and evil, between right and wrong, between life and death. Judgment is not an option, and it is also not something to be feared:

Your love is steadfast on Judgment day, and you keep your covenant in judgment . . .

You penetrate mysteries on Judgment Day, and you free your children in judgment . . .

You uphold all who live with integrity on Judgment Day . . .

On Yom Kippur, we take the time to ponder, to burn away the clouds of mystery, and to make judgments about ourselves, determining where we have failed in judgment and where we have gone beyond our own boundaries, in order to restore integrity to our lives.

Beyond our own lives, we must make judgments about our world. We cannot say: Who am I to judge this policy, this action, these people and their behaviors? We Jews know what the sin of silence and the sin of indifference mean.To refuse to judge evil as evil, and evil doers as evil doers is to allow it and to become a part of it. There are no innocent bystanders. And those who claim to desire peace but refuse to confront evil cannot create peace, rather they will bring death and destruction upon themselves and upon those who excuse them, for to excuse the guilty is an injustice waged upon the innocent.

In the praying of the services, in the thoughts that the words in the Machzor inspire, and in our discussion of them, I have made some decisions for myself, or I have set the standards and benchmarks for decisions that I expect to need to make this year. Over the years of my upbringing and education, and on into young adulthood, I had developed the habit of self-censorship in response to a great many things, and over the last 11 years I have made a concerted effort to rid myself of this habit, for it is a dangerous abdication of the mind and heart. I will continue to root this out of my life, and replace such fears and hesitations as I may have with reliance on making judgments that are just and true. This year, more than ever, as our world spirals out of control and our civilization seems bent on suicide, this emphasis on truth and justice as the basis of judgment becomes more important than ever, and that integrity is something I want to restore in small ways as well as large, and in my personal as well as any public life I might have.

There are other conclusions that I have come to in order to fulfill my desire to mend my errors and to  be proud of what I have written in my book of life, and perhaps I will share more of them at another time, but I know that confronting untruth will be my greatest challenge. The Hebrew word for truth is EMET and the Hebrew word for justice is TZEDEK. EMET and TZEDEK will be my words for 5773. These are big words, and knowing my own weaknesses regarding them, I take pause before them. They require great  courage and discernment both, and i tend to err on both. And yet I long to come closer to these marks. I may not have the power to change the world that seems to be hell-bent on destruction, but creating an island of order and sanity within the chaos is a worthy goal.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Shabbat Shuvah: The Foreign Gods of Today

“The Eternal said to Moses:

You are about to sleep with your fathers,

and this people will rise up and go astray

after foreign gods, where they will go to be

among them, and break my Covenant . . .

and many troubles and evils shall befall them.”

Devarim 31: 16, 17

As Jews, we are now in the midst of the Ten Days of Turning, the days between Rosh Hashanah, when we celebrate the Birthday of the World, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most solemn holy day of the year. The Sabbath that falls between these two holy days is Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath on which rabbis and maggids (preachers) commonly give a sermon on the art of turning and returning to the path of righteousness.

When the Engineering Geek and I took a few moments for Torah Study on Shabbat, with all of what had happened in the past weeks in mind, we noticed a part of Parashat Vayelich that the Women of Reform Judaism’s Torah Commentary remained silent about. Devarim  (Deuteronomy) is set as Moses’ last speech, with some interpolations that move the story along. In Vayelich (He Went), Moses learns that he has reached the end of his long life, and that he will die before the people Israel enter the promised land. The Women’s Commentary therefore focuses on what this means for Moses, and the reasons given and implied for his death at the moment of his people’s freedom.

But given the stark choices that confront us all in the world today, and the contradictory and craven behavior of our Executive  Branch in the face of the renewed attacks on the United States through our embassies--attacks used to threaten our most basic freedoms--the Engineering Geek and I focused on the passage that the commentary passed over. In it, a prediction is made by the Eternal. The people will cross over, and they will build lives in the land, and become complacent (“. . . they shall have eaten their fill and waxed fat. . .”, 31:20), and that is when they will be vulnerable to turning away from their heritage and their purpose, and follow after foreign gods that they have not experienced. When this happens they will, the story predicts, forsake the Covenant, and bring upon themselves many “troubles and evils.”

In encountering this story, we ask ourselves, what are foreign gods in the context of our identity as Americans today? Most of us do not literally bow down to idols of wood and stone made by our own hands. And many of us bow down to no gods at all. Further, this passage is about what happens when many members of a society make a choice to change their basic beliefs about their civil identity, and forsake the heritage given them by previous generations.

In Hebrew, the United States is known as Artzot ha-Brit shel Amerika, ( ארצות הברית של אמריקה) the Land of the Covenant in America. This is a recognition that our unique identity is forged not by blood ties, but that who we are is based on our choice to abide by a set of ideas that are protected by an contract, the Constitution of the United States.

On September 11, 2001, many of us were rudely made aware for the first time in a generation that our ideas about who human beings are and what we define as the good life in our civilization were under attack; that another set of ideas opposes ours, and that proponents of those alien ideas are willing to make war upon us, and to fight and die to see that their ideas prevail in the world. On that day, as the towers fell, we instinctively drew together, and the day after, we put up our flags and remembered that we were Americans.

As the EG and I talked about all this, we realized that we Americans had grown complacent indeed, and that we have been in the process of forsaking our Covenant of respect for individual rights, thereby giving up cherishing the uniqueness of each individual, and had begun to turn away toward concepts foreign to our native values. This hankering after dependency and collectivism, the easing of responsibility and individual liberty, was possible because we forgot the origin of the wealth and innovation that made our comfort and ease possible. In so doing, we were turning to foreign gods, ideas that are in opposition to our Covenant, and cannot possible co-exist with it.

Islamic thought, with its focus on totalitarian submission to a theocratic state, has developed from premises alien to our enlightenment values, and is driven by a civilization that is not at all complacent or passive. Islamic teaching emphasizes the necessity of bringing the whole world into submission to ideas that are incompatible with our own. Our Western forbearers have resisted these idols before, at Tours with Charles Martel, and twice at the Gates of Vienna. 

But now, with our Covenant weakened by dreams of collectivist utopias, we see our leaders actively chasing after alien ideas, appeasing our enemies with apologies, and proclaiming a willingness to surrender our basic rights to foreign gods. We must rethink our liberties, they say, in the face of the Ba’al of the Riot and the Mob. It is our children whose birthright of freedom is to be sacrificed to satisfy the insatiable fires of the barbarian hordes.

And yet, there are those among us who have sounded the alarm that there can be no compromise with those who wish to supplant our values with their own, and no surrender without the total loss of our American identity. Like the prophet in the Haftarah for Shabbat Shuvah, they tell us:

“Asshur shall not save us . . .neither will we call anymore the work of our hands our gods . . .”

“Give not your heritage up to reproach, that the nations should make you a byword; Should they say among the peoples: Where is their G-d?”

We cannot make treaties with the alien thought of Egypt and Libya and at the same time retain our own unique identity. Foreign ideas and values cannot be assimilated without destroying our own. Oil and water do not mix, and nobody can compromise with poison and live.
It is one or the other, and we must not listen to those who would so lightly surrender our liberty, our values and principles to those who would destroy us. 

It is amazing how the struggles of old, couched in religious language, are relevant still, and tell the same stories that we experience, although we tell of them differently. 
Just as Israel of old had to choose or be broken on the contradiction between her identity and that of the idols, the same is true for us today. We must choose rightly or be broken on the contradiction between our own values and those of Egypt and Libya and the whole of the Muslim Brotherhood with its Islamist nightmare. Liberty and submission cannot be combined. Individual rights will not co-exist with the Ummah, the collective nation of the Islamic State. 

It is my hope that in this season of turning we gather the courage to say what is real, and  to acknowledge the truth in our hearts. And that we do not close our eyes to the troubles and evils that are about to befall us, and that we recognize that they are a consequence of the fact that we are in the act of forsaking our Covenant, the one that has made us the envy of the world and an inspiration to among the nations.

We need to wake up and to recognize how greatly we have prospered by the values and principles bequeathed to us by our founders, so that we can preserve our liberties and bequeath our inheritance—the Covenant of Rights and Liberties—to our posterity.

This remains my hope in the face of growing darkness.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rosh HaShannah: The Turning of the Year

New Mexico Sunflowers in Rock Garden

     "I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, they  shall never hold their peace, day or night."  Isaiah 62:3

This morning we awoke to a sunny and cool, early fall day, mists rising from the ground, and the sky in the south and east milky white in contrast to the deep blue New Mexico sky to the northwest. After a week of wind, clouds and rain, we were happy to see the sun. As the Catron Kid went riding on Chapo, the Engineering Geek and I started out of the front gate with three of the dogs, anticipating a Shabbat walk along the western fences of Freedom Ridge Ranch. The cool morning turned into a warm and sunny day as we climbed up the mesa to the northwest, greeting the other two horses, grazing up there in the high pasture.

We noted how the year is turning, talking about some of the things we want to do this coming year on the ranch: putting a windmill and solar combined tower up along the ridge behind the house, divide the high pasture, and divide the front pasture, get the solar completely installed, and take more walks like this one, enjoying the beauty of the place.

Early fall on the Continental Divide is different in appearance from what I grew up with and even from what we experienced in the East Mountains. Here, instead of bold oranges and browns, with the grass of soft wheat color, we see water in the stock tanks, and pooling in the draws and washes, a gift of the late days of a good Monsoon. The grass is green from the water, and the sky soft blue, like spring in more conventional parts of America. The boldest colors come from the yellow Black-Eyed Susans and New Mexico Sunflowers, the orange and pink of Globe-Mallow, and the blues and purples of various clovers, gilias and penstemons, and the rare orange-red of Indian Paintbrush on the high mesa tops and along the washes in the canyons. Fall steals into this high country on the heels of the late summer wildflowers, color dotting the gray-green of the range subtly, as the days grow shorter and sunshine replaces the late-afternoon Monsoon rainfall. The days grow shorter, the shadows deepen and the nights grow even cooler.

And with the turning of the year, we mark the New Year for Years, Rosh Hashannah, which falls on the first day of the seventh month in the Jewish Calendar. As the heat of summer fades, we welcome a new beginning just before the harvest: 5773. As we took our walk, we savored the peace around the Sabbath noontide, and we did not speak of our fears and concerns, heightened this week by the world's slide into chaos, and threatened Israel's complete isolation as it deals with the threat of annihilation.  It is easy, way out here, to move with the turn of the earth, the comings and goings of the herds and flocks, and the blowing of the wind. It is quiet, and the nature of the place and its solitude knows not of human strife, chaos and wars. New Mexicans outside the three cities we have in the state are accused of being provincial, and we are, being far removed from the goings on beyond our mesas and mountains. "The mountains are high," we say, "And the king is far away."

But even without television (we have one, but we don't get broadcast TV --or radio--in our canyon), we do hear of what is happening "out there," although it seems far away. So inevitably, when we returned from our two hour hike up the mesa and around and down, and turned to the Haftarah, the perils our country and our people face stared up at us from the printed page, the words of a prophet writing  more than two-and-a-half millennia ago. There is nothing new under the sun in the affairs of men, I thought, though that idea comes from a Megillah we will read later in the fall, at Sukkot.

Perils for Israel, deserted by the President of the United States, her Prime Minister snubbed and denied a meeting even as the her people prepare for war, and the Jewish People across the world face new threats from a very old prejudice. We fear for the safety of that tiny country where our prophets and kings once walked. And we fear for the integrity and safety of our own country and its people, and for our people everywhere.

But this Haftarah that complements Parashat Nitzavim in Torah, is the last of the seven haftarot of consolation. And in it, Isaiah--writing to a people in exile--speaks of victory and restoration. And so it speaks to us now, and to our great concern in the midst of a world sliding once again into chaos. It says to us, war and destruction are not outside out experience, and yet we are still here. We have stood on the edge of danger and peril before, and yet we are still here, able to reason in the face of our fears, to annul the plans of our enemies as necessary:

Who is it coming from Edom, with crimsoned clothing from Bazrah?  Glorious in apparel, stately in greatness of his strength? I who speaks in victory, mighty to save. . . .
. . . I have trodden the winepress alone, and there was no man with me;      Yes, I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my fury, and their lifeblood is dashed against my clothing, and I have stained all my raiment. For the day of vengeance that was in my heart, and my year of redemption have come.        And I looked and there was none to help, and I beheld in astonishment and there was none to uphold. Therefore, my own arm brought salvation to me, and my fury, it upheld me.  (Isaiah 63: 1; 3 - 5)
This year, as Rosh HaShannah approaches, and greetings come to us from Israel, we hear a message very different from earlier years. Then we heard greetings that were upbeat, anticipating the happiness and contentment to come. "It's gonna be a good year!" Now we hear echoes of Isaiah from Latma, from the IDF: "We are not afraid. We are ready, we are standing guard. The Eternal is riding with us. Others tried to destroy us, and where are they?" 

As we come again to the turning of the year, we find ourselves deeper into the Fourth Turning and closer to the crisis. The outcome of the crisis and the shape of what follows very much depends upon the decisions that we make about how we will face what is coming and what we choose to do. It is a fearful Rosh Hashannah this year, knowing that Israel stands alone, threatened with nuclear holocaust; remembering the High Holy Days of 1973 (5733) when Israel was also fighting for her life, alone, while Jews the world over spent Yom Kippur listening to clandestine radios in services, hands clenched, hoping and praying for her survival. This year, once again, we will find ourselves praying for the peace of Jerusalem, hoping against hope that Israel will be able to remove the growing threat without starting World War III.


And in the coming year, may all of us find those points of light, those moments of happiness and those days of contentment in our lives, and those transcendent moments of joy and beauty in the world, that remind us of why we hope and why we work to make each moment, day and year of our lives fruitful and full of goodness and plenty.

Kayn y'hi ratzon!

And may 5773 be a good year for us.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eleven Years Later: My September 10th Persona

“Oh beautiful for Patriot’s dream that sees beyond the years;
Whose alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.
America, America, God mend thy every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy Liberty in Law.”

Towers of Light
As I write tonight, two shafts of blue light rise into the Manhattan sky. Three quarters of a continent away, they commemorate the last time that September 11 fell on a Tuesday, when our country was attacked out of a clear, blue sky, and when a generation lost its innocence.

I was teaching that morning, and my car pool driver and I were very nearly late for work. I had a head-ache and a heart-ache after a weekend of conflict with my sixteen year old daughter, and we had agreed not to listen to the radio, so the drive in was peaceful that morning as we listened to Vivaldi’s Autumn. I remember thinking that our fellow Albuquerque drivers were unusually polite that morning, as my friend skillfully maneuvered in traffic, and parked so that we could each dash to our respective classrooms. Stopping by my own classroom to pick up my lesson plans and basket, I arrived at the demo bench for my Physics for Poet’s class just as the final bell sounded. I put my basket of teaching materials on the bench and remained standing as the intercom clicked on, and I expected to hear a Senior’s voice say: “Please stand for the prayer and the Pledge . . .” (I was teaching science in a Catholic High School at that time). Instead, I heard the chaplain across the air, his voice shaking as he said: “Because our country is under attack, I have been asked to give the prayer. . .” I remember looking questioningly at my students, who looked back at me, big-eyed and solemn. And I knew that we had all turned a corner at that moment, although I had no idea at all what had happened.

The ubiquitous “they” say that now that we have passed the tenth anniversary of that day, we need to get over it, to move on. But every year, when I tune into the morning radio show I listen to, I hear a montage of the sounds of that day, and I know that “getting over it” is not something that I want to do, or could if I tried. Moving on is something that we have all done, although that movement has been a journey down an unfamiliar road, to a different trajectory. There are some moments that bind us together, that change us irrevocably, that replace the easy familiarity of how we think things will always be in the instant that a plane struck a tower on a clear, blue Tuesday morning.

Today, some of us across the country have chosen to use this day as a day to reflect on who we were on September 10, 2001, and on how the events of that day, seared into our brains, have changed us, spun us around on our paths, and put us on a path to become September 12 people. So tonight, as the rain falls on the metal roof of a house in a place that I had never expected to live, I resolved to do this, to begin to sort out how I got from there to here. September 11 did not sweep me from one reality to another; that process had already begun, brought about by a more personal crisis a few years before. But it did irrevocably change so many things, although those changes were gradual and hard won.  

On September 10, 2001, my life was already in flux. A cancer had already turned my head around and caused to me question the choices that I had made and was making. In the two years since I had a lump removed and prophylactic radiation done, I had chosen to buy a house for me and my two kids and to leave my marriage. It was not that life was easy before. I had taken sole responsibility for the support of my kids and their dad, and working two and three jobs at a time, and I had burned myself out getting a teaching certificate because I knew that life as a field biologist was not going to work for us, and that chasing research and post-docs and professional appointments was not going to put food on the table and clothes on my children’s backs. I had responsibilities, and it had been clear since before the birth of my son that I had no partner in those responsibilities.

On September 10, 2001, I had found my bashert—my beloved Engineering Geek--and our relationship was strengthening, solidifying, I had found my Baruch, my blessing; the one that I craved and was too afraid to ask for. I was ready to let myself be loved, to let myself be taken care of in a way that I had never had during all the years of my first marriage: my childbearing and rearing, worrying and working years, years in which my children were born and nursed in between classes and jobs, and in which I watched a darkness grow in my first husband, until it consumed him and me, but not the kids—thank goodness, not the kids (or so I thought)—and I was left with a broken man and a broken marriage.

So much was my joy at finding a man—a real man—who wanted to share my life, take care of my kids, make a home together, that I was utterly consumed. And so on September 10, 2001, I was coming off of the weekend of my daughter’s 16th birthday. Sweet 16, and I disappointed her greatly, because I wasn’t able to give her the fantasies that she and I had dreamed up during the hard times. I didn’t rent a hotel room for her and her friends (hotels were frowning more and more on those kinds of teen parties) and during the sleepover she had with her friends, I left them alone to entertain themselves (as I had done with great pleasure at her age), never realizing that she wanted me as June Cleaver —apron and all—to serve the snacks and make a general nuisance of myself. I have no excuse to offer really, except that my generation had rejected poor June Cleaver as the epitome of The Feminine Mystique, and I was head-over-heels in love at the time in my daughter’s life when she was most embarrassed by adult love and, well, by parental adults and their weird behavior in general.  

On September 10, 2001--the day after my daughter’s Sweet Sixteenth, the day that would have been my 19th wedding anniversary to her father—on that evening, my daughter and I had a knock-down drag out argument, complete with frustrated yelling (on my part), angry yelling and door slamming (on hers), and  hormones and tears (on both our parts), asthe tension that had been building between us all weekend created a storm that shattered my sense of efficacy as a mother and sent her to bed with a blinding migraine.

And so on the morning of September 11, I was a chastened mother with a headache, contemplating for the first time my failures as a mother—for it Betty Friedan was right about nothing else, she knew this: it’s always the mother’s fault. And I was still a woman in love, a woman wanting badly to have her new love and her most precious loves all come together to make a family, and maybe this time it would all work out.

And on the morning of September 11, I was also a woman who had sworn off politics. Raised by a libertarian and an Objectivist, I had made a left turn in my first marriage, only to find that all the virtues I thought were there were not, and all the vices—the hatreds and anti-Semitism, the uncaring inhumanity—that I thought were with the conservatives and the libertarians, were present in the watermelon pink of the Greens. So I had recently vowed—I who had never voted for a major party for president in my voting life—that I would be normal and live my life without thinking about politics. Much. Growing up Libertarian was exciting and confusing and exhausting. And it wasn’t easy being Green, either, and rather awkward, really, for someone brought up on Ayn Rand. (Ayn Rand did NOT ruin my life, by the way. But that’s another story . . .)

On the morning of September 11 I was a woman with a life already in the process of change. I was a woman trying to figure out how to create the family I had forgotten I wanted with the very real children I had and a new man who had never changed a diaper or walked the floor with a colicky baby. I was a woman who was trying to figure it out, but I already had felt the cold wind blow, and I had already heard the question, old as Gan Eden: Ayecha! Where are you?

And all that day, I read Psalm 23 for each class I met, and  I struggled to answer my students’ bewildered questions, and I altered lesson plans because I knew they would not remember anything we said and did that day, but only the image of the towers falling, over and over, burned by retina on the canvas of our minds. All that day I thought about the people who would never go home, and about the people who would wait in vain for their return. I thought about those who jumped to their deaths from the burning towers, and those who watched helpless, and heard the impacts, over and over. They were people who went to work, just like me, on that sunny Tuesday morning, the perfect day. And their families waited, just like mine, for work to be done and to be together again, to fight and make-up, to eat and laugh and play and sleep. They were Americans, just like me, who went to work and now would never come home.

Is it then surprising that the first thing I did was try to call my daughter, home sick with the aftermath of her migraine? I did. I called right from the classroom phone, my students a few feet away, trying to tune in a radio to hear the news. But the circuits were busy. And busy again. “Please try your call again later,” said the computer voice. And the second call I tried was to the Engineering Geek at his office at Sandia National Laboratories. But they were evacuating Sandia because they were closing Kirtland AFB, and the EG was nowhere to be found.
All I wanted to do was to call people I loved and cared about, to hear their voices, to make sure they were safe and whole.

And it was utterly impossible to connect to a website or send an e-mail. Everybody was in the computer. Everybody.

Later, I connected with both of them, the EG and my daughter, but it wasn’t until months later that I learned that the EG was out picking out my diamond engagement ring that day, and wasn’t even at Sandia when the towers fell and the base was evacuated.

And that is what everyone else was doing, too. At the same time. We all needed to reassure and be reassured, to touch something beyond the terrible images we were seeing on our TV screens. The kids at the Catholic school where I was teaching wanted to call their folks, to see the Chaplain, and that afternoon, they called for a school-wide Mass. They needed to see their friends, to come together, to right their rocking world.

That was the first lesson we all learned from the murder of over 3000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93. How much we need to connect to each other, to reassure one another when such dire things happen.

That was the first, but there were others: how beautiful is Old Glory, lighted by candlelight, half-mast on the porch. How precious our peace and freedom are, and what it takes to defend that liberty from those who would disturb it. How aware even little kids like my son was, and how hard they work to make sense of their world. How angry a 16-year old can become, to see her country attacked and how wisely she can direct that anger, once the first grief has passed.How much passion we all have for the country of our birth and of our dreams.

There were many others in the path from being a September 10th person to becoming, very slowly, a September 12th person. Today is for remembering, and for reflecting on the beginning of that journey. Tomorrow, September 12, is for looking at how we have changed and making a commitment to stand up for the principles and values that we’ve always had but only too recently remembered.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Like Losing My Religion

That was just a dream . . .
That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spot. light. I’m l
osing my religion . . .
REM, Low(Bootleg) Album            

A few days ago, I awoke from a dream to find myself here at the ranch, sun pouring across the mesa outside my window and finch traffic at the birdbath. The dream was one of those weird ones that signal the changes of seasons and even deeper changes in me. And as I sat up in bed, feeling not quite awake yet, I thought: It must be Elul. I have these numinous dreams rarely, and when I do it is at this time and this season.

In this dream, there were no transitions, just sudden change of scenes, as if I had been dropped into the middle of filming an ongoing movie. There are two parts I remember quite vividly, and the rest is a blur of impressions that faded immediately upon my awakening.

First, I am suddenly inside our synagogue, in the social hall, floating among people, and I realize that I don’t know a single soul among them, and then I see that their faces are all the same.
Later, I am in the parking lot, down on the level of the pavement, and I  was looking at  two outdated jeeps parked against the wall, one listing away from the other, and both sitting on their frames, no tires. The plates are tagged with dates in the 5750’s. I reach out to touch the jeep on the right, and instead find myself placing my open hand on a pile of clothes. I know that I need to pick them up, take them inside, because somebody there has need of them. As I lift each article, I notice that one item belonged to me once, a red skirt I wore at my Bat Mitzvah, and I fold it up because it doesn’t fit me anymore. . .

That morning as we had our morning coffee in bed, I turned to the Engineering Geek and told him that it was the first of Elul and that we had to think seriously about the upcoming Holy Days, and make some decisions. He nodded. He knew. We’ve been putting it off for a long time. I said that there are two issues, and I think need to be considered separately. The easiest is the issue of dues. The hardest is whether we should end our membership altogether and what we should do for the Holy Days.

The EG nodded. He said that we cannot afford the dues we are expected to pay. This is a problem we had thought we resolved in March of last year, three months after the EG retired from Sandia. We made a personal visit with administrator there to put our dues in abeyance until we could see how long it would take us to begin bringing in money with our businesses, and what it would be like to live on the pension and our investments out here at Freedom Ridge. But despite the arrangement, the synagogue kept sending bills for the amount we paid before, and at membership renewal, they continued our membership at the old rate. They have a policy, I have been told, that if members do not renew and do not formally resign, we are continued at the previous rate. I don’t know what happened to our arrangements in labyrinthine depths of the computers where such transactions are preserved,  but I think it would be fairly easy to get this resolved.

Before we resolve it, though, we have to decide the hard question: should we continue membership? Even to consider this is almost like losing my religion, like relinquishing that which reconnects me again and again to my own past, our past and that of the people Israel who gather, learn and pray in that place.

All of my adult life I have been a member of this synagogue. My children had all of their life-cycle ceremonies there:  her naming, his brit milah,  their consecrations, bat and bar mitzvah, and confirmations. At that bimah, I was called to Torah for the first time as an adult bat mitzvah. Under the chuppah there, I was married to the Engineering Geek. From that sanctuary, I had expected to be taken to my final rest in the Congregation Albert Cemetery. There, I have celebrated the festivals, observed the fasts, heard the sound of the Shofar, welcomed the Sabbath Bride.

And yet, much of the connection has been slipping away of itself, as the Reform movement has become less about religion—the reconnection of people with the longings of their souls—and more about politics. When did Reform Judaism lose the prophetic voice of ethical monotheism for ritual without reason? When did it substitute “social justice” for G-d’s demand to choose life and reject death, made directly from the Mountain alive with smoke and fire, the Bat Kol resonating down through the centuries and into each of us, penetrating to our very bones? When did it replace the call of our Rabbis* to learn and understand and choose what is good with dictates from the Religious Action Center, replacing the majesty of Law with social-democratic political policy?
*The capital “R” denotes the Tanaim and Amoraim, the founders of Rabbinic Judaism whose discussions and arguments became the Talmud, the teaching and conversation across time that kept the flame alive throughout all the years and centuries of exile and pogrom, crusades and holocaust.

For a long while, beginning with our dissatisfaction with our last rabbi and his use of a Yom Kippur Sermon to stump for Obamacare, we have wondered if we were losing our religion. We also recognized that giving our hard-earned money to a Jewish institution that idolizes a president, and advocates spending our children’s inheritance to institute a collectivist utopia in place of our liberty is immoral, and is tantamount to funding our own destruction.

Part of the purpose of putting our dues in abeyance was also to wait and see. At the time, we had an interim rabbi whom we found to be a spiritual leader; one who respected the difference and the boundary between Jewish law and transient political policy, and who understood that his job was to provide guidance for walking the Jewish way to all of us. But we knew that we were getting a new rabbi and we had no idea how he would be.

We have now met the new rabbi and we find him distant and not terribly interested in talking to us. Perhaps this is unfair, because with our move to Freedom Ridge, we aren’t there often, although we have made an effort to be present when we are in Albuquerque. I do not expect hugs or effusive greetings, but warmth and small talk would be nice. Even a friendly wave and greeting would be welcome. But the man seems cold toward us, and I cannot help but take it personally. I was hoping that the man who takes responsibility for our Jewish needs and ceremonies would be, well, at least a bit simpatico.

I thought perhaps I ought to make the first reach, so I “friended” him on Facebook. And there I discovered that we had gotten another “social action” rabbi. I have seen very slanted posts there, ones that demonstrated the less than tolerant and charitable “Vision of the Anointed”  of the left. The first one condemned the Susan G. Komen Foundation in lockstep with the leftist attack on that private charity because of an innocent decision about the best use of funds by its founder and board. The second accused the people of Colorado Springs of hypocrisy because many of them are conservative and support cutting the federal budget and taxes and yet their local and state governments requested federal disaster funds for them.

There are political arguments for why the good rabbi is wrong in both cases, but I did not use them. I  did make comments expressing my concern that these posts betrayed a one-sided view that was uncharitable in the extreme, and that placed ideology over individuals. I remain dismayed at this rabbi’s lack of discernment, jumping on two leftist propaganda bandwagons as he did, without apparent thought and with some malice. This makes me uncomfortable at the thought that this man is the one I am paying to be on call for me should we have a family tragedy or even a simcha, in order to provide us with the Jewish rites and comfort that accompany such events. It is not that we disagree with one another politically, so much as the way in which he has made blanket condemnations without much depth about people whom he does not even know, because of his attachment to his political ideology. I would be one of those people.

There are other issues and events, things that have happened very recently and over a longer period of time that make me feel that we may be formally members, but we really don’t belong at this synagogue. Ten years ago, I leyned Torah several times a year, something I love to do. I have not leyned once since Cantor Jacquie left, and we have not been honored with a call to Torah either, even this year, when we celebrated our 10th anniversary. Recently, my brother-in-law and my son’s uncle died suddenly and tragically, and although we informed the synagogue, and we drove almost two hundred miles to say kaddish, his name was omitted from the list.

I have written before about my discomfort with some of the ways in which our ways of thinking and being do not mesh with the prevailing climate of this synagogue, and I suppose that sooner or later it had to come to a decision point. And yet it is not an easy one, as obvious as the misfit of our square pegs and their round holes may be.

We have talked about it, the Engineering Geek and I, and although he feels it less deeply, he is much more vocal about the immorality of continuing to support a synagogue where he has to walk out of the political sermons year after year. He tends to joke about it, but as money becomes more scarce—like most ranchers our wealth is not liquid—he says he doesn’t want to throw away the good after the “socialist” bad money.

We have made no final decisions. But we have given ourselves two options for the Holy Days, neither of which will be to attend services at Congregation Albert. We may pray at home for one or both of the High Holy Days. We may visit a small, egalitarian synagogue in Flagstaff. Although it is affiliated with the Reform Movement, its size and location mean that it draws Jews from many different Jewish backgrounds. Also, the rabbi did not study at Hebrew Union College (the seminary of the Reform movement), and therefore may be less indoctrinated in the current political “religion” ideology that seems to emanate from it. We would like to find out. Although neither of us are particularly touchy-feely types, we can tolerate that so long as the focus is Judaism in all its history and grandeur, and is not wasted in the weeds of ephemeral political dogmas and doctrines.

I know that if I never belong to or never darken the doors of another synagogue, I will remain a Jew in culture and commitment. I will never bow down to idols, be they made of stone or ideology. I will always see the world through the Jewish eyes I developed through all these years at Congregation Albert. But even the small steps that we have made away from a congregation in which I have experienced all of the joys, sorrows and frustrations of being a Jew cause me to feel like I am losing my religion. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Summer Sabbath Days


Time here at Freedom Ridge has a different quality. One day slips into another as the season advances almost unnoticed, governed by the needs of people and animals, rather than by the calendar and clock.

Dogs wake us at sunrise, the horses call to one another on their way to the feeder, and cows come down the August green hillsides, loitering outside the corral, ready to be fed.
There is more than enough work to fill the days, and much of it is the work of the sweat of the brow. It is easy to lose track of the date on the calendar. but never the progression of the season, now marked by the explosion of wildflowers watered by the monsoon rains, telling us that fall is in the offing.

In the weekly round of work, there is never routine and one project leads to another,and news from over the mountains and far away comes to us on the invisible airwaves to our radio receivers and sweeps down from satellites to be made solid on our computers. Breaks come from necessary trips to town for supplies, for local news. and to see and speak to familiar human beings.

And for us, each week also progresses towards the Sabbath, which here takes on a timeless quality when the round of work and chores is interrupted and another week is ended with time out of time, marked by ritual and suffused with its own quality of living.

Here, nothing intrudes as it did in the city. The phone does not ring, the computer is not fired up, and the radio is not turned on, as we deliberately turn away from the inexorable march of information, much of which we don’t need any day, but certainly not on Shabbat.

Friday evening, the urgent voices from the outside give way to music, and the cool breeze off the mountains give life to the flames of the Sabbath candles, lit just before sunset, ushering in our own little sanctuary in time. In the morning we feed, we water, but no projects beckon. After a leisurely breakfast, prayer and study are the only agenda. As the heat grows towards afternoon, and windows are opened and closed to catch the breeze and shut out the heat, we appreciate the weekly ritual of the nap on the couches, the leather cool and soft and supportive.

Often I read and doze, choosing more contemplative books, and I gaze out the windows where the dogs snooze, catching a breeze on the porch. The Engineering Geek, guarded by the cats, begins an article in Sky and Telescope, but is soon asleep, and with the regular deep breathing from him and from the animals, I soon join him.

By mid-afternoon we wake slowly, deliciously, and taking out wine and Challah bread, make Kiddush and lunch on hummus and pita and cucumber and tomato. A summer repast, as the clouds build in the southwest, providing cover and a cool breeze that invite a walk and talk, and a sit on the porch swing at the cabin while showers make their music on the metal roofs.

Every week we find different variations on the theme of Shabbat, but the summer Sabbaths have a particular quality of ease and abundance brought about by the long, leisurely trip of the sun from east to west, the heat of the day, and the cool refuge of the porch and the house from the unrelenting light of the desert sun at zenith. It appears as if all of nature around us was only waiting for us to slow down and join with a summer afternoon’s leisurely being, there everyday, but only joined by us once in seven.

As the Sabbath afternoon slides into evening, often accompanied by early evening thunderstorms, we come out of the Shabbat somnolence, kindle light and welcome a new week. As the stars make their appearance and the lightning recedes to the northeast, that is when we catch up on a five year old HBO series, or catch a movie, the only use for our almost antique TV/DVD each week way out here, where the signals are attenuated by the canyons, cables do not reach, and our time filled with other things. 

At dinner, we re-enter the current or ordinary time, stepping in up to our knees, talking of plans for the coming week, laying out the progress on projects and contracts that give forward impetus to the ongoing round of ranch chores that will structure the days of productive work ahead. As eager as we were to leave the stream of ordinary time on Friday evening, so by Saturday night we look forward to returning to it, rested and ready. Another Sabbath replete with blessing now completed.

Shavua tov, we say. May it be a good week, a productive week. May our wealth and happiness increase, and that of the whole world.

Monday, August 6, 2012

August Cross Quarter Day


Already, it is the August Cross Quarter Day. This is the day halfway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. In the old calendar of Europe, it is Lughnasad and Lammastide—the beginning of the Chase of Lugh, the Celtic sun god—when the first harvests begin far north of the Equator. It is the beginning of the Fall season of old.

For us here at Freedom Ridge Ranch, we see the season beginning to shift. Even as far south as we are—in the horse latitudes—our elevation is high, and summer is fleeting. Here, on the west slopes of the Continental Divide, the hot season is already gone. With the start of the Monsoon in July, we saw the greening begin, with its cool nights, hot mornings and cloudy and rainy afternoons.

DSC00886 Now, as the daylight is noticeably shorter, we see chilly, misty mornings, with dew on the blooming sunflowers, and dripping down from the metal roofs of house and barn and cabin. Already, the Aspens begin to show yellow in the leaves, and the sun appears south of where it rose at the Solstice. The shadows are deeper. The season is changing.
Already, we have put the feather comforter back on the bed.

Here at Ragamuffin Studies, we have just passed the Fast of Tisha b’Av, a day of mourning for the loss of Temple and a going into exile. Last Shabbat, we began the seven weeks of Comfort, when we read Haftarah Nachamu –“Comfort, O, comfort my people, says your G-d.” Autumn is coming, and with it the New Year of Years, Rosh Hashanah, and the Season of Repentance, Renewal, and the Ingathering Harvest. The Wheel of the Year turns once again to its end and beginning, and in the seasons of our lives, we have seen the last child grown and graduated, moving out for a while to study and practice for the time when he will come back to run Freedom Ridge Ranch.

Blessed is the One who makes the years pass and the seasons alternate . . .

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Branding Day


This year we have two calves, one born in June and one in early July who needed branding. The little black one was a little bull, and the white one under her white mother is a little heifer. So last Sunday, with the help of three cowboys—who are calling themselves Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe—we had a branding.


The CIT—who is now ‘Adam’—got the cows together on Sunday morning when we fed them in corral. Except that three were missing. Lucy Longhorn, her steer from last year, and Freckles’ steer from last year. The guys were able to get Lucy Longhorn in, and we figured the young‘uns would come in sooner or later. In any case, we didn’t need them until it was time to dose them up with Ivermectin against parasites. This year’s calves were the stars of the first half. Since he is the most experienced, ‘Hoss’ was assigned to roping. The cowboys had moved the cows into the arena, and there, the roping came pretty easily. Just a few rounds, and the little bull was roped by the hind leg.

DSC00855 Immediately after he was roped, ‘Adam’ (left) and ‘Little Joe’ (right) ran in to flank him. One took the leg while the other lifted the rope, bringing him down on the correct side. ‘Hoss’ dismounted his, and ran in with the branding irons. Then ‘Little Joe’ cut the earmarks, ‘Hoss’ made the bull into a steer, and ‘Adam’ administered the Black Leg vaccination. After that, the little guy was given a fly tag in the ear and sent back to his mama. The calf was down less than three minutes. It pays to have several experienced cow boys. The little white heifer was down even less time as she didn’t have to be cut.

DSC00869 The most exciting part of the day happened after the branding itself. As they were branding, the charlaite (the color of cafe au lait) and the Black steers showed up, wondering what was going on. There was a great deal of mooing across the arena stockade as they greeted the herd and were greeted in return. But the cowboys with the help of ‘Hoss’s’ dogs had to bring them into the chute for the Ivermectin treatment. There was some fancy riding, as ‘Little Joe’ on the Paint and ‘Hoss’ on the Sorrel brought the Black around the corral several times. We got the Charlaite in, but the black ran around the hill. ‘Hoss’ roped him there, and then we treated him in situ. After the job was done, there was only one Rocky Mountain Oyster given to the dog, Tipy, who belongs to ‘Adam.’ Then it was back to the house for hamburgers—from a steer killed in 2011—and a nice cold one for the working boys.

This fall, we will be slaughtering the black steer and the charlaite born in February and March of 2011. In the spring, the little black bull born just before branding last July, will go, unless we decide to sell him as stud. That is the way of life on a ranch. The males are for food, and the females to get new calves.

This month, we will deciding about the direction of our herd. Our bull, Studley Do-right is getting old, and although we have none of his older female offspring here on the ranch, we think he might be getting past his prime. We may need to “ship” him (sell him) and get a new bull. We are also considering reducing this herd, and bringing in a new breed—possibly Dexters—which are smaller and easier for us to handle. This is a weighty decision, and however we do it, we will be saying good-bye to some of our cows. This is also part of ranching. It is not the easiest part, since we have very genteel cows. The matriarchs, Freckles and LB were hand-raised by their previous owner, and they have influenced their offspring.

We are living closer to the realities of life. Meat does not come from the grocery store. It must be born and raised and slaughtered. Animals are raised by humans, and their genomes preserved by humans, so that humans can eat them and sustain their own lives. We are part of it all, and it all happens here, where they are grass fed and grass finished. We thank them for their lives and their contribution to ours. We slaughter them with one stroke of a sharp knife, so that they don’t have time to fear. We treat them with respect.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Americanas and Chicken Little

Americanas III

During the month of June, we added six Auricana/Americana pullets to the stock at Freedom Ridge Ranch. Auricana/Americana chickens are a South American breed, very hardy and calm, but with good preservation of predator avoidance and they are also very good layers. They are the famous “easter-egg” layers, and their eggs vary from sky blue to turquoise to green, and more rarely, pink to brown. 

Our hens are now about 8 weeks old, and we moved them outside weeks ago, after raising the little chicks in the bathtub over at the cabin for a few weeks. I had not had chickens since we raised three chicks given to us when I was a child, and I have become fascinated watching our hens. When we arrive at the chicken coop in the morning, they are chirping and clucking behind the closed door, already awake and ready to come forth into the daylight, to scratch and eat, chase insects and take dirt baths. We move their portable pen called the chicken tractor around the yard every day, so that they have access to weeds and flowers, as well as vegetable scraps from the kitchen.

The “ladies”—as the Engineering Geek calls them--are used to us, and to their hanging waterer, but whenever a shadow passes overhead, they immediately huddle under the raised chicken door to their coop and become very quiet. Once the threat passes, they go back to their clucking and eating, but with a watchful eye toward the sky, where a hawk or eagle might swoop down and take them for dinner. Drops of rain, or even vegetable scraps pitched into the chicken tractor sends them scurrying under shelter, even though the chicken wire top on the chicken tractor prevents any predator from entering. “The sky is falling!” the EG jokes, as they run for cover and grow silent.

Those of us of a certain age remember those classic animal fables from our childhood, The Little Red Hen, Chicken Little, the Ant and the Grasshopper. All of them were intended to teach a moral lesson: how those who work have earned the fruit of their labor, why one drop of rain does not a deluge make, and why it is important to plan for the future in the present. These tales inculcate and strengthen classic American virtues: hard work, common sense, and being prepared for the inevitable tough seasons.

But in watching my Americanas, I have come to reconsider how the tale of Chicken Little is understood by the newer generations of American children, if they have heard it at all. For some American children today are being raised almost as hot-house children, protected from every bump, bruise or danger while simultaneously being given the sense of enormous entitlement, so that they grow up with little experience of how to handle deprivation, danger and fear. For these privileged children, does the story of Chicken Little resonate differently than for those raised on the farm, or in the “duck and cover” era of the Cold War?

I think so, because twice last week I saw Jewish Libertarians insulted and ridiculed for pointing out the dangers of ignoring and appeasing the new, virulent anti-Semitism coming simultaneously from the left and from the Islamists of the world. In one case, several of them were called “Chicken Littles” and their concerns were ridiculed as if they were constantly running around proclaiming that “the sky is falling!”

A farm kid growing up in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s was aware of the context of the story of Chicken Little in ways that citified American children of privilege are not. When hearing the story of Chicken Little, the farm kid understood that there is really danger out there in the sky for little chickens, and that there can be real reasons for a chicken to run for cover and grow silent when the shadow of the hawk passes over the feather pen. In this context, the story is a warning not to invent danger where there is none,  and not to develop fears that are out of proportion to the evidence. The story was not meant to teach children to close their eyes to real danger, it was meant to teach them not to create conspiracy theories just because there is evidence of danger.

But in the present context, in which privileged city children are protected from even the intimation of danger, the story has morphed into one that teaches that there is no reason to take cover, or to be prepared for danger, and that the watchmen on the walls are crazy and ought to shut up. It is as if the story is meant to say, “Do not disturb my illusions. Let me continue to evade the reality of the hawk.” And yet the hawk is out there, as is the owl, and so it is important for little chickens to pay attention to the  shadows passing over them. However, it is equally important not to invent evidence of danger that does  not exist.

One reason that there is revived interest in the heirloom varieties of chickens is that the hybrids used in commercial egg and/or meat production are so incompetent that if left out on the free range, they will be easily taken by the hawk and the fox. All of the survival instincts are bred out of them in favor of fast and easy production characteristics. Such chickens must be protected by being kept in small cages, never seeing the light of the sun or feeling the pleasure of a dirt bath. They cannot survive on their own, for they do not recognize real danger, and will not duck out of sight when hawk comes soaring by. 

I can’t help but think that chickens raised in cages are easier to control than are my Americana hens, and they exist not to live their lives but only to produce the most eggs and meat in the shortest amount of time, with no thought to either the quality of their live of the quality of the meat and eggs they are used to produce.

Are we raising generations of our future doers and shakers who will be equally easy to control, who will not step out of line for fear of being ridiculed as Chicken Littles? This is certainly not a strategy for raising free-range kids, who will grow up to be free and independent individuals. 

This quashing of warnings is an interesting study in the evasion of reality. We are teaching to fear big systemic changes that they can have little impact upon, but at the same time, we tell them that there are no predators in the world, and that to be wary of threats to their individual lives and being is ridiculous. It is as though we are making ourselves and our children vulnerable to the most insane demagoguery.

And we think chickens are crazy because they duck under shelter and grow silent when the shadow of the hawk passes overhead.