Monday, March 18, 2013

Everything a Shadow

My husband and I mourn together often the loss of the things of the past.  It seems glaringly evident that most things today are just a shadow of their former glory.  As it is with the hand-stitched upholstery covering the gathered eider down that cushions the carved hardwood rocker--the time and effort applied and value born in it--so it is with hand-stitched, gathered, carved people; they can now mostly be found only as antiques.  What has happened?  What has taken the life out of things so that genuine quality matters so little, and facades, the mere shadows of truly valuable things matters so much?  Is it part of the modern quest to level things out?  So that one has the ability for a dime to copy the styles of the rich?  So that every newly married couple can fill an apartment with fine furnishings from Walmart that attempt to copy the appearance of real quality, but can be thrown in the dumpster without much guilt upon each move?  But the rich, though still spending vastly more, seem to be groping for the aesthetic of the poor...  To me it doesn't matter much whether something signifies monetary wealth or whether monetary wealth is required to get it.  What matters is that the thing serves it purpose and serves it well, that it brings satisfaction to the user--whether through long familiarity or real value, and that in creating it (better than acquiring it) it helps form the man.  This is available to the rich and the poor, yet neither today seem to be generally seeking it.  There are signs, however, that some scattered here-and-there are now learning to appreciate what we have given up and seeking to re-attain it. 

Here are some examples of this "watering down," of losing, maybe forever, the genuine quality of things--

My dog musher husband, and the time I have spent around numerous dog sledding "kennels" with him, has taught me much about the characteristics and value of the various breeds used for mushing.  Canadian Inuit dogs and Greenlandic Sled dogs are some of the last dogs left that evolved for life and work as a sled dog.  Malamutes are closer than most to these old types, but have bred for so long for show, instead of work, that the breed is very different from what it used to be.  The dogs used widely for dog mushing in our country now are known as "Alaskan Huskies" and are such mutts that they are more hound than husky.  They have been breed over the generations for racing, for speed, and now even in the great races like the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest, these dogs must wear booties to protect the delicate pads of their feet and jackets often to shelter them from the cold--they are small with short hair and wirey limbs and though they cannot pull heavy loads except in great numbers, they must consume a vast amount of food.  The former breeds have coats such that they can bed down comfortably in 60 below.  Their food consumption is extremely efficient, as they had to go long periods in the Arctic regions without much to eat.  They are strong and can pull heavy frieght loads great distances.  Yet how many of these types are found on our continent today?  The number of owners of these dogs, except in very Northern parts of Canada, can be counted on one hand.

Having our Greenlandic Sled Dog pups around the kennel of Alaskan Huskies Keith was guiding tours with this winter caused people to be started at the observable difference.  One guest pointed at the old-school Greenlandic dogs and said, "Now these are Huskies," and then at the dogs on the Iditarod Race team, puzzled, in all seriousness, "What are these?"

Yesterday my mom was telling us about a book written recently, "Wheat Bellies," that decries the extreme change in wheat grown for consumption now around the world.  The author explains how the wheat of 50 years ago was vastly different from the wheat grown today--how due to the drive to produce more wheat faster, this crop has been adapted so that it holds very little nutritional value (even homemade whole wheat products do not escape this refinement).  In addition to not providing the nourishment it did to our great-grandparents, he claims the wheat of today is actually harmful to our bodies--having become such that our systems cannot process it correctly and is the main cause of the obesity, heart disease, and diabeties we see increasing in our country.  What makes these changes so hard to bear is that they are so pervasive, they are practically inescapable. 

Clothes bought today are meant to wear out more quickly than in the past.  The powers behind the change in the annual, monthly, weekly fashion trends drive the consumer to purchase media items to stay up-to-date and drive the market for the disposable synthetics and trinkets we drape ourselves with for a moment.  The quickly-constructed many-angled cheaply-covered houses we build for show today will, for the most part, not stand one quarter of the time the sturdy homes of the past stood and stand weathered by the storms of the years.

And people, these we mourn the most.  Like the Alaskan mutts watered down for speed only, more like pets now, people have become weak... like the houses, unable to weather the storms... like the wheat, having lost their substance... like the the clothes, disposable... like the journeys of today, instead of the epic voyages of discovery, scripted from purchased guide books.  Better suited to sit in office chairs and simplify judgements of their neighbors to self-promoting "power statements," the ability to play the part, easier now suits are three for the price of one at Joseph A. Bank.  All a facade.  All a shadow.  It seems that the driving forces in all of these changes come down to time and money.  I wonder what it would be like if there were a draft today, if, like in the past, the majority of young men ages 18 to 30 were called into service in another World War.  Would they have the character needed for this task?  What would that be like?  The way I imagine this, it would be a sad time in America and not just for the fact of war.  It already disheartens. 

But, then again, maybe the world is just following the course run in each of our mortal lives.  Like a baby, a glorious being filled with light, that comes, I believe, closer to God than we are ever able to maintain.  And then a child full of wonder and desire to learn, seeing the magic, living with passion.  It all fades away, it seems.  As we get older, as we "progress," that vision gets clouded, the magic all but disappears, the wonder fades; we are a shadow of the child we were, groping for the glory of those days.  Then toward death, sometimes, I think we capture it again.  Maybe that too will be the course of the world we know.

Maybe I am just romanticizing, but... I don't think so...

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Guiding of a Life

You know those times when you feel like you are exactly where you are meant to be?  Like your heart, and then your feet, were led to some place in which, once followed and standing there, you feel a tingling warmth like Heaven smiles upon you and is pleased?  I heard a quote once, "Every tool you need for your journey you will be given along the way."  I agree with this statement; furthermore, I think that often the journey we are meant to be on is revealed to us when we are handed one of these tools and find we know what to do with it and it feels right to use it.

When I arrived at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, which had been my dream to attend from a young age, I had this sensation often.  In my classes, sometimes in Anthropology, sometimes in  Astronomy or English, or History, this feeling would come.  It would feel warm and exciting and fill me with joy.  Beyond a love of learning and being greatly interested in the subject matter at hand, I often got the strongest impression that I was exactly where I was meant to be doing exactly what I was meant to be doing and that the things I was learning would be have great significance in the life I was meant to live.  I felt like I was being handed the tools for my journey.

For whatever reason, I don't remember feeling that feeling much for quite some time--maybe I wandered off my path a bit over the last couple years.  Maybe I just haven't been as "in-tune" to it.  Whatever the reason, what joy filled my soul this week as this feeling came, at once subtle and immense, on more than one occasion.  I had followed my heart, I guess or, no, I had actually needed to use the bathroom (maybe sometimes one in the same...) and so stopped by the local library between other errands I was completing downtown.  I ran into a friend, an amazing woman--a true scholar--who I've been working with a bit on the Paths Across the Pacific conference she is putting on again this summer--inviting reputable and controversial anthropologists and scientists to our little hometown for a few days of lectures and forums on cross-ocean migration theories, one of my favorite topics.  She said she would be thrilled to have me come visit her in her office.

The next day I went.  We visited in her "tree house" office.  Ate wasabi nori and drank tea and chatted about books and anthropological adventures and controversies and publication and the open-mindedness and integrity that must be present with a genuine desire for discovery.  I got that feeling.  Then wondered why I keep getting that feeling when something I am doing is connected with anthropology and writing.  She told me something funny, she said, "Lately I have been surprising myself by doing courageous things. I don't know why, but I have been brave. It's fun!"  Sometimes, also, when others say things they stand out and you feel like the words were meant for you to hear, and not just by that person.  I left with a book and a glow. 

This same week another friend has been encouraging me to begin writing and helping me see a path to take to attain some of my goals.  Again, the feeling.  Walking on the "benchlands" road behind my house on a glorious morning, the feeling.  Randomly playing a Audio CD that was lent to my sister while I did some cleaning, which turned out to be about what?  Following feelings!  Again, the feeling!  I pray to be able to continue to be in-tune and to keep following those tugs, finding that joy, finding those tools, finding my journey.