Field of Dreams

I enjoyed the movie Field of Dreams and even liked the ending as long as I didn’t let myself wonder how the magic had already reached out to all those folks, bringing them to the field. Unless they were all local (and we know they weren’t since the locals thought he was loco), some of them would have had to start traveling almost as soon as the field was completed. But this is a movie about magic, not logic.

Apparently, the magic reached out beyond the screen because the field became a tourist destination. I always found that ironic. Didn’t people realize it was just a movie, and that the magic was only movie magic? I felt disconnected from these folk, unable to understand the draw, until I was driving along a highway and noticed one of those blue signs that listed local attractions. And there it was, in Dyersville, Iowa: Field of Dreams.

I’d chanced upon other movie locations in earlier travels: the Bagdad cafe, Tom Hanks’s house in Sleepless in Seattle, the fabulous wrought-iron building in Wolf, an iconic route 66 motel that has appeared in dozens of movies, the town where True Grit was filmed, the La Brea tar pits, and several others I don’t remember at the moment. In this spirit, I turned off the highway and made the three-mile trek to the Field of Dreams.

As I drove to the site, I had to laugh at the foolishness of my becoming another pilgrim to the location, but when I arrived, the feeling of being foolish disappeared. It really is special being able to see in real life something you have seen in a movie. Beyond that, it was fun seeing the field itself, so incongruous — a ballpark in the middle of an agrarian area. And it touched me, that magic of dreams.

Maybe

I don’t know what my maybe would be; don’t even know what to dream about or hope for, and yet as I stood gazing at that field, I sensed possibilities as yet unrealized.

Such is the magic that reached out to us from the movie. And such is the magic that draws even a cynic such as I to the Field of Dreams.

“If you build it, they will come.”

Apparently so.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

A Ghost of Times Past

I am a generation of one, without roots, and currently without even a place to call home, so people’s rootedness often seems strange — and compelling — to me.

Perhaps the most fascinating story of roots was one I heard at a Chinese buffet in DeKalb, Illinois. Not that the buffet had anything to do with this particular history — it’s just where we happened to have our conversation.

I had arranged to meet an author I had collaborated with on a steampunk book called Break Time. This book exemplifies the wonder of the internet — the authors collaborating on the project came from four different countries, and none of us had ever met in real life. So I was thrilled to finally be able to meet one of the authors — Dale Cozort, who writes science fiction and alternative histories.

Dale, his wife Elaine, and I had a pleasant chat over plates of delicacies until I happened to fill a momentary pause with an idle question. “Do you live here in the city?”

Elaine said yes, they lived in town, in one of the first houses built there.

That sure caught my interest! When she told me the house had been built by her great-great-grandfather, I asked how they came to own the place. I expected her to say that they bought it when it happened to come on the market, but what she said made my jaw drop.

Her great-great-grandfather, Eli B. Gilbert, an attorney and Civil War officer, had built the house in 1864, and it had been in her family ever since. She grew up in that house and is the fifth generation of her family to own it.

Wow! Talk about roots!

There are reminders of the past everywhere, including portraits of her progenitors. Apparently there are places in the attic Dale and Elaine are still exploring, and they keep finding fabulous treasures, such as her great-great-grandfather’s will. They have donated many of the documents they have found to the local library, and there are probably more to discover.

Can you imagine being so bound to a place? No wonder Dale writes alternate histories! History colors everything he does, everything he touches. The house even stirred up my muse! What if someone living in the house were to open a door expecting to enter their bedroom, for example, but entered the room as it was 153 years ago, before the Civil War ended? Oh, my.

Elaine and Dale invited me to the house and, stepping inside, I could feel the weight of all that history. Elaine said, almost sadly, there were no ghosts in that house, but in a way, the house itself is a ghost — or at least a testament — of times past.

Such an unexpected and unplanned joy of this trip — meeting Dale and Elaine and being introduced to their history and their house. I just hope that in my amazement and enthrallment, I remembered to thank them.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Pilgrims and Pilgrimages

I just got a notice on Facebook that I’ve been approved for a group called “American Pilgrims on the Camino,” though I’d never requested to join, never even knew there was such a group. I do know that El Camino de Santiago is the name of the pilgrimage route(s) to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many people make the pilgrimage for religious or spiritual reasons, but others have a more secular agenda, such as an adventure or challenge.

desertThe first I’d heard of The Camino came from a women I walk with who mentioned that she wanted to do it. It seemed quite romantic, this pilgrimage, even for a non-believer, but the truth is, any hike I do is by way of a pilgrimage. Walking for me is not a sport, not an endurance test. It’s a way of connecting to the outer world as well as a way of exploring my inner world.

Christine Valters Paintner wrote: “I am captivated by the image of pilgrimage as a metaphor for our human journeying. Not just the physical journeys we make to outward places, but to the interior places of the heart, the new landscapes we are called to explore. Can we allow our own trajectories to be oriented in a new direction? Often the call arrives to our own lives unbidden. Something happens which we did not expect and we need to shift our perspective to open our eyes to this new possibility.”

I feel the call, but I don’t know what is calling me or what I’m being called to do. It certainly has come unbidden, this pull toward adventure, but I am opening my eyes to new possibilities. It seems as if the whole world is out there for the taking if I only have the courage to grab it.

I doubt the Camino is in my future. Although travelers rhapsodize about crossing a lower ridge of the Pyrenees, walking on farm roads through areas of rolling vineyards and crossing several mountain passes, and tramping through the forested river valleys of Galicia, the truth is that much of the Camino is paved, and is better suited to bicycling. In some ways, such a pilgrimage would agree me because stores and inns line much of the road enabling me to carry a light pack, but it seems silly to travel all the way to Spain for a pilgrimage when I can do something even more spiritually rewarding here in the USA.

Still, for now, I’ll keep my membership in The Camino group. I could end up doing almost anything, including making such a trip. Or I could end up just making small pilgrimages. After all, there are dance classes to consider, and dance is a pilgrimage in itself.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Perfect Day

This is one of those perfect days, a gift from the universe. The weather isn’t particularly nice, none of my problems have been resolved, I’m still facing life alone and yet . . . and yet . . .

I’m walking around with a smile on my face. (I’m cracking up here. I accidentally wrote “with a simile on my face”, and I suppose that could be true, too.)

It’s possible my recent bout of tears/sorrow/grief shook something loose in me and when things settled back into place, they settled into a more harmonious whole. It’s possible I’ve reached a new level of acceptance of my life, because as I have discovered, every step forward is accompanied by an upsurge of grief for what I am leaving behind. It could be that the grief I’ve felt over the loss of a friendship has smoothed over with the realization it’s how I feel about the friend that counts, not what the friend feels about me.

Or it could be the alchemist affect.

wizardPeople frequently remind me that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result each time, and if we lived in a closed system where everything remained the same, repeating the same ineffective actions would be insane. But every day things are different. And it’s that difference the alchemists banked on. We picture the alchemists doing the same procedure repeatedly in a crazed attempt to perfect their experiment, but the truth is, they did the same thing over and over again in exactly the same way in the hope of getting different results. Sometimes everything came together as they hoped, and they transformed lead into gold or themselves into a higher form of life or atoms into energy.

The alchemists knew the truth — that we do not live in a closed system.. The earth hurtles around the sun at 67,000 mph. The sun hurtles around the galaxy at 140 miles per second. The entire universe is also moving and expanding, so from one second to the next we are in a completely different place with a possibility of different factors. Add in more localized variables, such as humidity, temperature, sun spot activity and solar winds, and it would seem insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect the same results.

Does it really matter why I feel good today? Not particularly. It’s enough to know that it is possible for me to have a day that makes me feel good even though such days are as incomprehensible to me as those where I can’t stop crying.

For all I know, it’s not even me who cried the other day. Maybe it’s not even me who feels good today. Maybe I’m just a conduit for unrecognized cosmic energies.

Which would make today exactly as I said, a gift from the universe.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Happy End of the Creeping Darkness!

6:03 pm ET marked this year’s winter solstice, ending the creeping darkness. “Solstice” comes from two Latin words, sol meaning “sun” and sistere meaning “stationary” because on this day, in the northern hemisphere, the sun seems to stand still, as if garnering it’s strength to fight back the darkness.

Technically, the winter solstice marks the moment when there is a 23.5-degree tilt in Earth’s axis and the North Pole is at its furthest point from the sun — from here on, the days will get longer, gaining us an additional 6 and 1/2 hours of sunlight per day by June 21st when the days begin to get shorter again. (This is reversed in the southern hemisphere, so today those down under will be celebrating their summer solstice.)

Though neo-pagans have claimed the solstice for their own, this is one of those natural holidays (holy days) that we all should be celebrating. The end of the lengthening nights. The triumph of light over darkness. We don’t even need the metaphors of light=good and dark=bad to find reason to celebrate this day. It’s simply a day of stillness, of hope. A day to give thanks for the promise that even in our darkest hour, light will return.

My celebration was simple. I lit my bowls of light and went outside and toasted the pale winter sun with champagne. Well, it was really sparking apple/pear cider, but the sun didn’t seem to care. It slid beneath the cloud-shrouded mountains without even a wink or a nod to acknowledge my obeisance. But it will return with greater strength tomorrow. And so will I.

Wishing you a bright and hopeful end of the creeping darkness.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

It’s Christmas, Not Santamas

J. Conrad Guest, author of A Retrospect In Death and A World Without Music (plus several other books) just posted a blog about tolerance, and how there seems to be so little of it, especially now during the Christmas season.

Guest wrote: I’ve long remained publically mute on the subject of Christmas, but this year I voice my opinion. You’re offended that I celebrate Christmas as the birth of a Messiah. You tell me he is but a myth. I have news for you. Santa isn’t real. He doesn’t make toys at his home at the North Pole, nor does he circle the globe on Christmas Eve to deliver toys down the chimneys of billions of people—many who don’t have chimneys. I don’t push on you my belief in God, even though, in my mind, there is a greater chance that He exists than does Santa. But go ahead, put up on your front lawn your inflatable Santa, and the sleigh and reindeer on your roof. I can tolerate that, even if you can’t tolerate the nativity scene on my lawn, and petition City Hall to make me take it down.

nativityHis words struck a chord with me. I get annoyed with having to pander to the intolerant at this time of year. It’s CHRISTmas, for cripes sake. That’s the whole point of the day. No matter what non-Christians are trying to make us all believe, the day is not Santamas. I am sick of the constant message that we must believe in Santa Claus, sick of having that stupid myth foisted on me, sick of the eternal seesawing there is/isn’t a Santa Claus. If people are so willing to accept Santa as an icon of the season (an icon who so obviously isn’t real) then what difference does it make to them if some people use crèches or some other image to personify the day? Crèches are the spirit of the day and more fitting than santas and elves and those stupid flying reindeer. Taking that red-suited image to the height of absurdity, a neighbor has a nativity scene with a Santa praying over the baby. Huh?

I simply don’t get it. Since the non-Christian world adapted a Christian holy day for their own, then they cannot complain about the religiosity. (Supposedly the Christians co-opted a Roman holiday, so it’s ironic that the same thing is happening again but to Christians this time.) Sometimes when I see one message too many about how we can no longer say, “Merry Christmas” because it offends some people, I just want to scream, “Get over it, folks, It’s CHRISTmas. If you don’t like it, start your own damn holiday.”

The Santa myth is particularly odious since the obese gent so obviously favors the rich. It makes poorer kids feel bad that they weren’t good enough to get the rich-kid stuff they wanted. And why engender a belief in such a ridiculous myth in the first place? I knew a guy who fought in Vietnam. There they were at Christmas, hunkered down on some God-forsaken hill that they had just taken for the second or third time. They got to talking about the most disillusioning moment in their lives, and almost all of them said it was when they found out there was no Santa Claus. Why are people still perpetuating such a lie and for no particular reason?

Oops. Sorry. Didn’t mean to get on my soapbox, but as I said, J. Conrad Guest really hit a chord. Wishing you all a tolerant and happy Christmas season.

***

Related post: What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Raining Deer

This is the season where deer seem to rain down on us by the bucket loads, where they reign in various decorations, where they are often seen yoked together by reins.

You’d think reindeer would refer to those reins but the “rein” part of reindeer comes from the old Norse word for the creature: hreinn, so a literal translation of reindeer is actually “reindeerdeer”.

Reindeer used to run wild in Britain, but became extinct long before the Celts and Anglo Saxons showed up. Now they live primarily in the Arctic tundra and northern boreal forests (boreal seems to mean just south of the arctic, but I don’t guarantee that definition.)

But where did the idea of flying reindeer come from?

Some folks have postulated that while reindeer don’t make the fabled winter trip, people do. Donald Pfister, a biologist who studies fungi at Harvard University, suggests that Siberian tribesmen who ingested fly agaric may have hallucinated into thinking that reinddeereer were flying. Making a correlation to Santa is the idea that Shamans in the Siberian and Arctic regions dropped into locals’ teepeelike homes with a bag full of hallucinatory mushrooms as presents in late December, and since the doors of these places were often blocked by snow, the shamans came down the smoke holes. Add to that mix the fact that the mushrooms were red with white trim (spots, not fur) and the possibility of the shamans taking on reindeer spirits, you have a story not exactly fit for children. But it could explain why Santa lives at the North Pole — that’s where the story originated. (I always thought he lived there because if he lived anywhere else, Denver, for example, it could be easily proven that there is no Santa Claus.)

In 1821, the first known reference to flying reindeer found its way into the Santa myth (an interweaving of St. Nicholas and the Dutch Sinterklaas). The author of the poem “A New Year’s Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve Number III” was kept a secret, but the editor of the piece claimed the author heard from his mother, an Indian of the area, that reindeer could fly. (“ ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” was published in 1923.)

Well, I hung my stocking by the chimney with care (I had to, otherwise it would have fallen down), though I have no hope that some red-suited fellow will soon be filling it. In fact, I hope he doesn’t. Would scare me half to death to see a stranger inside this house.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fire,andDaughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Bah Humbug

I went to see a movie at a theater today, the first time in maybe thirty years. (Yeah, came as a shock to me too when I realized that.) And it might be another thirty years before I go to a movie theater again — for sure the friend I went with will not invite me a second time. I didn’t have the proper attitude, I guess.

We saw a kid’s Christmas movie that was cute enough, but it seemed like just another stale story with an emphasis on the importance of believing in Santa Claus. Maybe the problem for me is that I never did get the whole Santa Claus thing, don’t understand why it is so vital to believe that particular myth especially since Santa has nothing to do with what used to be a religious celebration.

Although I never thought of Santa as real, I didn’t feel any less magic during the season because of the lack. In fact, I do not know of a single classmate who did believe the Santa Claus myth. There really was no way to believe since our parents insisted on our writing thank you notes to everyone who gave us a present. And for me, since I have always had a need to understand and an overweening sense of fairness, it made sense that the rich kids got a lot of presents and the not so rich only a few. But if Santa really did bring the gifts — well, he played favorites and so wasn’t worth believing in.

Mostly, for us, Santa was a store decoration, a cartoonish symbol of the season. What occupied our childish imaginations were the lights, the tree, the stockings, the crèche, the department store windows, the bustle to buy what gifts we could, making a Christmas list for our parents, the wonderful smell of holiday treats baking, the speculation of what the gifts under the tree might be, and even sometimes, the majestic church service.

And yet almost every kid’s Christmas movie emphasizes the need to believe in Santa Claus. Often, the child character is starting to disbelieve, but after meeting Santa or going to the North Pole or getting a visit from an elf, magically the child’s belief in the red-garbed gent is reinstated, which to me negates the whole theme of believing. If you see that something exists, it’s not “believing” — it’s “knowing.” If the child character sees such a mythical place as the North Pole peopled with elves and flying reindeer, then the belief would be fortified even if the kid didn’t see Santa, so again, a choice to belief in Santa is no stretch of the imagination.

I suppose belief is an important attribute, but what one believes should be more significant than a once-a-year mythic character.

Yeah, I know — I don’t have the proper attitude. It was just a kid’s movie, after all, and not at all worth mulling over. And yet, here I am, bah humbugging.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Continued Deforestation of America

I’ve been sorting through files that belonged to Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, files that I couldn’t sort through right after he died. It felt voyeuristic then, and it feels voyeuristic now because the pictures, notes, cartoons a person saves tells a lot about that person, more maybe than they would want anyone to know. Still, I didn’t want to throw out that particular file without going through it just in case there was something I might need. (Though how I could need something I’d never seen before, I couldn’t tell you.)

I’m glad I did. I came across the photos posted below, photos that took my breath away. I remember reading stories in grade school history and reading classes about settlers, and the stories always seemed to begin or end with the hardy souls cutting down trees and clearing the land. This legend was so ingrained, it wasn’t until my twenties I realized the truth. What????? They cut down trees for farmland????? Trillions and trillions of trees — for what? The American dream of owning a piece of land? The insanity of it all is . . . well, insane. Yes, I know — persecutions in Europe, religious and political freedom, etc, etc, etc, but unconscionable for all that.

Coincidentally, I recently wrote a piece about how wilderness areas are being called irrelevant now, but I guess the truth is, wilderness areas have always been irrelevant to this country. Once people had cut down all the eastern trees, they set out to tame the west. And here we are today — tamed into submission. Is it any wonder I am committed to finding the wildness within?

Jeff and I planted hundreds of trees. I have a hunch most of them have been cut down by now, but still, we did our part to reforest America. And that is something to be proud about.

Forests in 1620

forests 1850

forests 1999

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Wake Up and Die Right

At an exercise class today, we talked a bit about the murder mystery I’m going to write about the class (assuming I get myself in gear), and then we did warm up exercises while the teacher sorted through her music to find the recording she wanted to play. When she couldn’t find the right DVD, she muttered, “Wake up and die right,” which stopped me in my tracks.

“What did you say?” I asked, not sure I heard correctly. She repeated the phrase, and I laughed. I’d never heard the saying before, and coming as it did right after a discussion about our fictional murder, it seemed even more amusing. And a bit gruesome.

Wake up and die right. Oh, my.

Odd words, phrases, and sayings often stay with me, rattling around in my brain until I can make sense of them. (In fact, just yesterday I railed against the appalling sentiment, “He deserved to die.”) The more I thought about “wake up and die right,” the more it made sense. We die right if at the end, we have no regrets. We die right if we’ve lived life to the fullest and used ourselves up, if we’ve danced and laughed, if we’ve enjoyed the company of those who enrich us, if we feel the sunsets and smell the rain-washed air. (If you live in the desert, of course, that rain-washed air comes so infrequently you better smell it when you can because it might be many months before you get another chance.)

Wake up and die right. Oh, yes.

Apparently, the saying came from World War II. Soldiers who let their attention wander were told to “Wake up and die right” — to pay attention, to fight, to get a grip, to die like a soldier if necessary. The adage migrated to the general population and seems to have been prevalent during the late forties and early fifties, but its use faded as memory of the war years became supplanted by other invasions with other jargons — the Beatles, the Viet Nam “police action,” the drug wars.

Today, more than sixty years after the maxim had been laid to rest, it came to life once again. I suppose in a way, it’s reminding to me to just sit down and write the book about the class because, of course, I would regret not having written the story. I just need to wake up and do it so my designated victim can die right.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.