Mostly an archive of selected writings of previously published essays and stories. Occasionally, there will be new material.

Join me at my other blog, Haiku Crossings, for more recent work (short Japanese poetry in English, such as haiku, haiga and haibun).

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Let It Be War!

I remember my mother telling me when I was an idealistic teenager about a person who she called an "ignorant old man," who she heard say in public prior to WWII, "If it means higher prices for corn, then let it be war!"
 I could not help but think of those callous words when I ran across the esteemed Mr. Kudlow's words, which I cited in the epigram to this essay.  Now Mr. Kudlow by no stretch of the imagination could you be considered "ignorant" like the poorly educated farmer my mother mentioned so many years ago
 Mr. Kudlow is CEO of Kudlow & Co. and Economics Editor of the National Review, a respected (by Republicans anyway) conservative periodical.  I took a couple of economics courses in college, and I know that the subject is quite difficult even if it still retains (somewhat erroneously) Thomas Carlyle's nineteenth century moniker,  the "dismal science." 
 Thus, Mr. Kudlow, you are no lightweight—at least with respect to financial theory and market savvy, and since you are a CEO of a your own corporation, you must also be well versed in management, and human relations.  (I may have that last bit about the human relations wrong, since in today's corporate world, the winners are the sharks that excel at corporate infighting.)
 Aw shucks, Larry (May I call you, Larry), I am only a sometime journalist and writer, but I can't help but wonder what all those soldiers may think about your statement.  Having served one hitch in the U.S. Army, I might have felt pretty good about keeping the "families safe," and maybe even have agreed with some of that keeping the businesses open since that implies keeping the breadwinners working to support their families.   
However, I do know what I would have felt about elevating the "stock market a couple of thousand points," and it probably would have involved procreation with your self in a darkened room.
 Now, I know playing—excuse me—investing in--the market is supposedly not the same as "making book" on sports action or the "ponies," as there is research done by a whole lot of smart people—probably like yourself--who attempt to time the market and pick the securities that are on the way up or down (since knowledgeable investors make money  either way).  Then again, maybe my naiveté exceeds that of a little old lady buying Enron stock with the last of her nest egg from a trusted broker at Merrill Lynch. 
 Hey, Larry, you know; it just dawned on me--in spite of my persistent 3rd grade view of American history and society.  People at your socio-economic level with your inside knowledge of markets, access to the corporate "old boy" network and good friends over at the SEC most likely only bet on sure things—like the fact that wars drive up the stock market.  After all, it took the entire mobilization of the country during WWII—not to mention a few tens of million of deaths--to end finally the Great Depression.  Hey, Larry, I guess I just made your case, didn't I?
 Still, Larry, dying for one's country, making the ultimate sacrifice for the survival of our people and our democratic republic is one thing.  I could probably have even died peacefully while serving my country knowing that my parents were living well and my children, eating hamburgers and fries under the flawed economic system that some now worship as free-market capitalism. 
 However, I don't think that I would have been exactly thrilled to die for the greed of you and your cronies, no matter how much it is couched in your quasi-patriotic language expressing "that our businesses will stay open, that our families will be safe, and that our future will be unlimited." 
You go on to say in the same paragraph, "The world will be righted in this life-and-death struggle to preserve our values and our civilization."  Since when did the upward mobility of Dow Jones have anything to do with preserving anything of our values and civilization other than the most crass—much less the gallantry of our young men, Larry?
 All too often the deaths of a brave soldiers merely to preserve entrenched political and business interests smacks of the "rich man's war and the poor man's fight."  I cannot help but think of World War I British poet Wilfred Owens' lament
The old lie: 
Dulce et decorum for patria mori.
 Those Latin words translate to "Sweet and glorious it is to die for one's country."  Those words are not always a lie used by elites to rally the population around the flag; occasionally those deaths may be necessary for the greater good.
 Nevertheless, Larry, it is not sweet and glorious to die for greed and crony capitalism.  Besides, I wouldn't want to shock my sweet, 80-year old mother with the truth of your well-wrought words about truth, money and the "American Way."  After all, she still, in all innocence, thinks that only a low-class, semi-literate old dirt farmer would wish for the deaths of young men and women just to drive up the price of corn.
Certainly, she would never in her wildest dreams believe that a man as well-educated, well-connected, and literate enough to write for a prestigious national magazine would want to unleash the dogs of war just to chase a few bears on Wall Street.


Beethoven's Revenge

Author: Thomas James Martin
Published on: April 18, 2003
The haunting beauty of the melody played by the solo violinist from Vilvaldi's The Four Seasons literally pierced my basically liberal, ex-hippy, mostly vegetarian soul as I stopped for the red light at the corner of Broadway and Hall in the City of Trees, Beaverton, Oregon.My whole body swayed to the music; who cared if the people in the cars behind or ahead of me thought I was crazy. Then, a rusty-looking ancient Pontiac Trans AM pulled up beside me, its juiced-up amplifiers spewing some god-awful heavy metal through the huge speakers that I could see lurking in the back seat.
That this "jump car" was playing music loud enough to drown out the screaming decibels of a landing jet was bad enough, but that it drowned out my violin solo was just too much. Caught between the twin vises of the sanctimoniousness of the lover of harmony and classical music and the cantankerousness of a balding, heavyset man near fifty, something in me snapped!
Deliberately I lowered all the windows that I could reach from the driver's seat. My hand snaked out, found the volume knob and with a sudden, violent twist turned the knob all the way to the right.
For one glorious moment I could not hear the pounding of the bass of Guns and Roses or Ozzy or whoever was putting out that noise. Then, I saw the windows in the jump car lowering and the violence of their music began assaulting my eardrums.
You don't mess with a guy who grew up on assorted Warner Brothers cartoons.
"Of course," I thought to myself a la childhood chum, Bugs Bunny, "You know this means war!"
Opening up the glove compartment I reached for my CD case and with a flourish withdrew Alexander Scrabin's Ninth Piano Sonata, also known as the Black Mass. "Let's try a little Russian justice!" I muttered to myself.
"Let's just see who knows more about darkness—Ozzy or Alexander!" I thought to myself as I ejected the Vivaldi and put in the Scriabin! Quickly, I adjusted the tone until the treble from my small speakers challenged the raw bass emanating from the Pontiac.
The effect of the" Devil's own music" was unnerving to many of the people in the cars around me. Those who had their windows down enjoying the cool spring temperatures quickly rolled them up.
The rather large, hulking fellow sitting in the passenger seat of the Pontiac with a gold earring dangling from his ear, smiled sickeningly and stuck his hand out the window with a single middle digit showing. Somehow, they found some more volume and drowned out the demonic but lucid notes of the Scriabin.
Madly, I dove into the glove compartment again and rummaged again through my CDs. I quickly discarded a Chopin, dropped Mozart's 40th to the floor, brushed aside a Bach 3rd Brandenburg.
Pawing through Tchaikowsy's, Brahms, Bartok—even a little Gershwin—until I finally found what I was searching for. With a mad gleam of triumph in my eye, I looked over at the grinning barbarian in the Pontiac, ejected the Scriabin and threw in Beehoven's Ninth Symphony, and hit the button until I found the final track.
I fired this salvo of Ole Ludwig at them point blank.
I turned up all the tone controls clockwise as far as I could. I made sure the volume was turned up as far as it would go. Slowly the music built, and I could see it was having an effect on the guys in the jump car.
As evil spirits caught in the headlights of God, they were cowering before this masterpiece of western music. "Take that!" I thought, as the baritone began singing the eloquent, opening lines of Schiller's Ode to Joy stirred by Beethoven's masterful music:

</>Freude, schöne Gotterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuer-trunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
The stoplight turned green, and I watched in amazement as they writhed and screamed in torment. God help me, but I love the sound of heavy metal tearing in the afternoon. . .
I thought sure that horns would start honking, people yelling, and motorcycle cops would arrive and take me away in chains, but, no, as far as my eye could see, people were getting out of their cars and heading toward me.
Oh God, Martin, I thought, you're going to get it now! I closed my eyes, knowing that I would probably next awaken with every limb of my body in heavy traction or be peering down at my body in the local morgue.
When I opened my eyes, I beheld in profound wonderment that dozens of people from the stopped cars had formed a circle around my small Honda. They were cheering and applauding, and holding their thumbs up. They didn't care that the stoplight circled through several more cycles of red, yellow and green.
Flaxen-haired girls and dark-skinned maidens alike were blowing kisses and showering me with rose petals. A smile started from one ear toward the other. . .then the stoplight changed to green, and I shook my head a couple of times and drove off with Vivaldi into the spring afternoon. . .

Editor's Notes: Ode to Joy is the English title given to the poem An die Freude by the German classical poet Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805). The poem is famous because of its setting in the fourth (and final) movement of Symphony Number 9 in D Minor, the "Choral Symphony", by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).
The verse that I include translates:

Joy, fair spark of the gods
Daughter of Elysium,
Drunk with fiery rapture, Goddess,
We approach thy shrine!
A full translation of the poem is available at Beethoven.
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) is often said to be the first "modern" composer. You may find out more about this enigmatic Russian figure at Scriabin Society
Copyright 2003, Thomas James Martin, all rights reserved.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


I recently ran across a reference to "guinea fowl," which brought to mind my rural southern upbringing on a small farm in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

My Grandfather Martin kept "Guineas" around. They had the run of the place, and I can remember his gathering their rather small eggs. Often, I would hear him calling them: He would simply call out "guinea. . .guinea . . . guinea"!

This is a slight memory, I guess, but I had neither thought about them nor seen any for thirty years or more.

By the way Erick Tolle says that anytime you start thinking or talking about "your life," you are already deluded, as there is only "now."

Then I start considering that we are all human, after all, and though memories may come. . .naturally to mind, we do not have to dwell on them. . .

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Down East" Peninsula: Cedar Island

Author: Thomas James Martin
Published on: July 15, 2002

During the first week of December in 1979, I decided to photograph Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I chose the dead of winter because I wanted to visit the Islands when there would likely be few tourists attempting to camp in the chill, 40-50 mile an hour gales that swept that part of the coast at that time of the year.

I decided to take the scenic route on this expedition and planned to catch the toll ferry to Ocracoke at Cedar Island in Carteret County (See map). I noted at the time that the route would take me through an area of which I knew little, a small cone of land jutting out into Pamlico Sound known as the "Down East" peninsula. Yet, visiting those piney woods and saltwater wetlands on the Peninsula near Cedar Island, which is across Pamlico Sound from the Ocracoke, I found a place where I crossed over into that twilit border between past and present, self and other, being and nonbeing.

The area is also famous for the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge, a well-preserved tidewater ecosystem, encompassing thousands of acres of marshlands and pine hammocks, as well as hundreds of species of wildlife, especially birds. This land is a birding dream. Herons, egrets and ibis are abundant, though you will also see, willets, oystercatchers, black skimmers, plovers and sandpipers and many other species.

Awed with the area I spent some time there exploring and photographing the region before I caught the ferry to Ocracoke. Time seemed to have stopped; the old South seemed to peek out of the countryside like a quick glimpse of a grand lady's petticoats. The area abounded with Spanish moss, old colonial period homes, as well as thousands of acres of longleaf pines, from which North Carolina gets its nickname, the Tarheel State, as pitch and lumber from the trees were used for naval stores and ship construction in the early days of the colony.

Cedar Island, where only 350 or so people live, is a land isolated by its remoteness and ties to a past that goes back to settlements in the early 18th century. The older residents there still speak a variation of Elizabethan English known as the "High Tider" dialect.

As I explored and photographed that secluded land, the landscape seemed held in some dusky mystery, as if some little-known, ancient god had rubbed the earth with salt from humid air and swampy marshes; perhaps, seeking to preserve the teeming wetlands and obscure, crumbling manses out of time.

On that ageless island, time seemed to pass so slowly that stillness seemed the only conclusion to time itself. It was a place where to listen to the cry of a tern or haunting echo of a wintering loon, or to gaze on the dark needle grass in evening, was to experience the profundity of an unwavering world held fast in the sentience of sound and water and wind.

I wish I could pour that moody countryside and friendly people into your heart, but the atmosphere, being beyond words, I offer these few images...

There were many water lilies (Lotus) in fresh water ponds. The print you see to the left is a color slide printed on black and white paper.

As one approached the village of Cedar Islandfrom the South on NC Highway 12, I noticed this abandoned storefront. The print has been sepia toned.

"Jigs" was passing through also, staying at the same campground. He played a great guitar.

This railroad crossing is on the "Down East" peninsula before crossing over to Cedar Island intrigued me with its hint of magic and mystery. I kept waiting for a unicorn or other mythical animal to appear in the distant haze.

Eventually, I caught the ferry and rode for for almost three hours to Ocracoke Island where I pitched my tent that night on a small dune on the Atlantic Ocean in a near Arctic gale that seemed almost hurricane force in its intensity.

Somehow, the tent and I survived the night. The next day I straightened out the tent, and trying to keep my hands from freezing, began photographing in black and white the startling tones and shadings of the Outer Banks.

But that's another story. . .

Editor's Note: Not the least of the reasons that these barrier islands, known as the Outer Banks, are famous is that the Wright Brothers chose those high, windy dunes for the first flight of a self-propelled airplane. The Outer Banks are also famous for the Lost Colony, the first English settlement in the New World, as well as the lair and legendary burial place of the infamous eighteenth century pirate, Blackbeard.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

An Offering of Seasons

Author: Thomas James Martin
Published on: February 1, 2001

One of my favorite books is "The October Country," by Science Fiction/Fantasy writer Ray Bradbury; One of my favorite poems is "To Autumn" by the English Romantic poet John Keats; and Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I suppose there is an inescapable logic here which means that my favorite season is Fall.
Actually, all the seasons are such a gift to us. There is nothing so pleasing as the delicate flowers of early Spring and the perennially exciting discovery that Nature has authored yet another shade of green. But then there is Summer: All that lush growth; so much beauty, so little time to appreciate it.

Of course, I cannot ignore Winter: I love those quiet shades of white and those wet blacks and subtle undertones of gray. How I cherish the breadth and quality of the sunlight as I view it through bare branches!

Yes, but Autumn! The magic of the leaves of summer turning into a myriad shades of red and gold. Walking with pale mists along the stream banks. Chill mornings and sudden frosts. The harvest has been gathered and is safely distributed or stored. Corn stalks gray in the lonely fields. Leftover apples turn to vinegar in the musty orchards of Fall. Pumpkins, squashes and gourds decorate the fallow earth. When the sky is blue and a little wind spins by, uplifting your spirits along with a swirl of leaves, I feel I meet the immortal part.

For Fall is a dance to the beat of mortality. Maybe that is why so many people like Autumn. With the plants of the earth dying and animals responding in their various ways to the temperatures and a lessening of the hours of light, perhaps, we catch a glimpse of our own immortality in all this transition. Maybe whatever powers may be are sending us a message that in the midst of the mortal throes of the earth, there is something powerful within us that is immortal and beautiful beyond beauty.

Only poets or other artists can really illuminate these metaphors that are perhaps inherent in the change of seasons, for while prose is a language that can at best offer reflections of the Eternal, the artist presses the raw perception of truth upon us as best he or she can. When I think of the essence of a season, I often remember these lines from To Autumn by the English Romantic poet, John Keats:

“. . .While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn Among the river sallows, borne aloft Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies. . .”

Copyright 2001-2010, Thomas James Martin, all rights reserved.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Human of Crows

Author: Thomas James Martin
Published on: March 6, 2001

My neighbors consider the crows that hang out on our street in Beaverton, Oregon as pests and certainly must wonder at my sanity as I try to photograph them while they are foraging on the lawn.

However, I wonder and appreciate any wildlife that appears in our neighborhood. My spouse, Joyce, marvels that the first words that I sometimes speak to my elderly mother (who lives in the rural South where I was raised) is often about the wildlife that we have seen close to our house or on trips into the wilderness.

Many farmers also consider the Corvids (family name for crows, ravens, magpies, etc.) a pest because they feed on corn and other grains. Like the famous, cartoon magpies, Heckle and Jeckle, crows may eat the farmer's grain but they usually more than make up for what grain is taken by feeding on insects, worms and other crop pests. Crows are omnivorous and, in addition to previously mentioned critters, feed on seeds, nuts, and small rodents and amphibians as well as carrion.

As I head to work in the morning, I often see the crows roaming my side of the street with abandon. These are smart creatures, and have, in fact, been observed using automobiles to crush nuts. They drop the nuts on streets where cars pass and then pick up the meats after the cars have "cracked" the nuts.

Crows have also been observed using two distinctly different kinds of tools to forage for invertebrates such as insects, centipedes, and larvae. A biologist in the New Caledonian islands observed "both manufacture and use of a hooked tool made by plucking and stripping a barbed twig. He also observed the use, but not manufacture, of what he described as a "stepped cut tool" with serrated edges." (See the article at .

Quite often Corvids are considered magical creatures and at least one culture, the Tibetan, has developed a tradition of divination using crows. Telling the future by means of the appearances and behavior of birds,especially their calls, is called "auspicy." For a complete look at fortune telling by use of crows, see William L. Cassidy's excellent article at .

I suppose one cannot write an article about the Corvids without including at least one anecdote about their legendary attraction to shiny objects. A Lakota woman of my acquaintance related to me that she and her famiiy nursed an injured crow back to health a few years ago. The bird apparently "adopted" her family. The crow made a nest high in the eaves of a barn and so lived on the farm near the Native American family for years.

Finally, there came a time when the family had to move from the farm. All was packed and they were ready to go except they could not find the crow. Finally, a teenage son climbed up into the rafters of the barn and found the crow's nest. When the teenager looked in the nest, he found simply dozens of objects "lost" by the family through the years. He found entire sets of earrings, various coins, assorted silverware, various stockings, socks and other small articles of clothing. Among the objects were candy bar wrappers, dish cloths, aluminum foil of various shapes, and finally an expensive dress watch that she had been looking for ages. And, yes, the bird chose to move with them, and is as far as I know, still living.

I have read that crows sometimes flock in groups of as much as ten thousand birds though they separate into smaller groups of 10 to 50 birds when foraging. A flock is called a "murder," because in legend the birds held tribunals for wrongdoers and meted out punishment by sentencing the guilty crow to death; that is "murdering" the offender. I suppose the fact that they are black and are scavengers as well as predators contributes to this tale.

Somehow, I seriously doubt that crows play the justice game. This bit anthropomorphism is most likely human beings projecting their own ideas of blood and justice off on some guileless though intelligent birds. If we are going to indulge in a bit of anthropomorphic projection, let us be more appropriate. Since crows with their manufacture and use of tools and problem solving capacities exhibit traits of intelligence usually associated with humans, I propose that we dignify flocks of crows with the appellation, "a human of crows."

Moreover, since we humans are the real murderers among animals, killing not only animals, but plants and each other deliberately and carelessly, I propose that we denote a gathering of human beings by a true and terrifying, but oh so apt moniker, a "murder of humans."

Copyright Thomas James Martin, 2002-2010, all rights reserved.

A Morning of Crows

Author: Thomas James Martin
Published on: February 19, 2001

Though the chill is severe sometimes, I love clear winter mornings. Here in western Oregon, cold, clear mornings are rare during February, as often the rains begin in November and do not cease until April. But this morning I marvel at the small, red star rising in the cloudless dawn.
On this winter morning, I hear no bird song in the small orchard meadow that is our backyard, though I have seen a few robins and blue jays in the past month. All is quiet except for the staccato caws of ever-present crows that seem to feed in our area in the morning, especially in late fall and winter.

Crows and their larger Corvid family cousins, the ravens, are among the most complex beings in legend and mythology. The crow is often thought of as a trickster and "shapeshifter." In the lore of some Northwest Indians, a raven is depicted holding a disk of the sun in its beak, for the raven placed the stars, moon and sun in the sky.

On the other hand, ravens and crows are sometimes found around battlefields, execution sites, cemeteries, and other places of the dead where they scavenge human as well as animal flesh. This observation has fed the dark tales of the Corvid family. Even today, I understand, a gravestone in the British Isles is sometimes called a "ravenstone." I am sure that their black color and rather shrill cry has contributed to this identification.

Seeing numerous crows in suburbia is a fairly recent phenomenon. Ornithologists speculate that they are attracted by the lights to roost in urban areas because they offer protection against their main predator, the Great Horned Owl.

Watching the crows on a winter morning, I make a note to myself to ask a favorite uncle about the family legend of his pet crow. I remember hearing this tale in childhood, but in the throes of growing up never quite learned all the details. Now that I am in middle age, such things assume more urgent importance than before. Many friends and relatives have died the past few years: I find that with each passing I lose a connection in the living fabric of my life, as that person passes into what I now call My Personal Mythology.

t occurs to me that my mythologies--like more elaborate mythologies from ancient or modern cultures--are usually black and white, like bleached bones in an earthen grave. Rather like a historian or cultural anthropologist restoring an ancient city from a few remains of foundations, bones and pottery, I am only able to reconstruct what was living and breathing with a pitifully few remembered words and gestures.

Often I remember what they did for a living; whether they were kind or harsh; occasionally an interesting turn of phrase comes to mind. Sad as it may be, only concepts of how I viewed them in the past inhabit my memory rather than the actual living persons.

Watching the crows so prominent in myth and legend, and at this moment in my back yard, I do not doubt the intelligence and even extraordinary perception that has struck storytellers since the dawn of recorded history. I also remember that some native peoples believe that whatever animals appear in your consciousness are trying to teach you lessons important to your life and spiritual growth. They are viewed as messengers from God or whatever Great Spirit exists.

I am inclined toward this belief and muse on the messages the crows are trying to impart. I realize that they could be impressing on me the importance of adaptability, as they are among the most adaptable of creatures. Some other messages could be: Take care of my relations; Make at least a little effort not to take our world and its inhabitants for granted.

Perhaps, one day I shall truly recognize and translate the enigmatic soul urges imparted by observing crows or any other creatures into words. In the meantime, I am grateful just for the miracle of their life, and that some birds celebrated in fable and fact have helped me to understand some small truths about living.

Some excellent web sites referencing crows and ravens are: The American Society of Crows and Ravens and The Raven Archive.

Copyright 2001-2010, Thomas James Martin, all rights reserved.