The Tides of March

Slightly late for St. Patrick but here's a little study in green.



Sepia Postal Wit

Here's another sampler from the recently discovered trove of postcards my father Nelson collected over the years.

The first one he appears to have, oddly, sent himself at the age of 19. Greenfield Village is not far at all from where he was living in Plymouth, Michigan west of Detroit. My guess is that this photo is a promotional item and not as old as it looks, as Greenmead Village was and still is a tourist attraction and "living museum" of historic structures collected by Greenfield-born Henry Ford. (You'll see on that website a recent photo of the Greek Revival building you see in this photo.)

I'm assuming this following postcard dates from around the same time (i.e., mid-1930s). His friends Bruce (Haines) and Bob (Warner) seem to have taken a road trip. Seems unlikely they actually visited the Williams Country Club.

"Nels - we have run out of money am sick and tired hope you are same." Damned if I know what that last word is. Here's what the scene looks like now...

Finally we have this acerbic little missive from a friend apparently on an extended east coast stay near Levittown NY. By this time my dad is in college at the U. of Mich. in Ann Arbor.

"...so quiet here that people often call it 'Deathpage.' I may die of boredom, but at least I'll save my money."

Interestingly, Bethpage is now home to another "living museum," Old Bethpage Village, presumably designed to not be boring.


In Like a Lion


Against a wish I snuck
out into the storm and stood
frigid minutes on a path
from shoppers to a calm
surprised by only me.

Descending snow screened off
sound and built its world
from night light and motion.
The latish hour seemed safe
though ghostly; the ravine
laid out in white and brown
showed where summer masks
the body of the land.

I waited for the right
touch (stop me if you've heard
this one) like a single
flake clasping to my eyelash.
I didn't think it came.

But here in early summer
as I watch dusk descend
that green disguise, I
catch the scent of what
drenched me, underhandedly,
in the snow. Which was, I think,
that I was trying. Trying
to gather from the patient world
punchlines from a blizzard
of stories. All I've come away with
is the drifted blossoms
only now beneath the cherry,
zinging me, zinging me.

- © Sean Bentley


Sepia Saturday: Religious Wars

Here’s an interesting sepia (well, old newsprint at least) glimpse into my own past, illustrating that the right-wing American fundamentalist Christian war on “liberal” intellectualism (cf. Rick Santorum et. al. ad nauseum) is not a new development. Cast your mind back to the fraught year of 1968. Here in our dank corner of the world a tempestuous teapot was steaming.

One of my “deeply Christian” (his words) father’s favorite classes to teach at the University of Washington was the popular “The Bible as Literature.” He used the class, as part of the English and Creative Writing program, to bring out the poetry, the humor, and the historical, sociopolitical aspects of the Bible, as well as its linguistic and thematic influence on the whole of Western literature.

Out of the blue, a couple of Presbyterian ministers decided to sue the University, claiming that the course was unconstitutional.

From the legal proceedings (which you can read here, and it's actually a pretty good read!):

Although the constitutional violations are urged, the major premise of plaintiffs' argument, as alleged in their amended complaint, is: That the manner in which said presentation is made [of English 390] is contrary to the religious beliefs of Plaintiffs, both individually and as church organizations and congregations. [emphasis mine] That said manner of presentation is in itself the presentation of a religious point of view, being one of several theological positions within the Protestant faith.

The trial, as one might imagine, went on for some time. So, to the sepia bit: here’s the newspaper article that appeared just before the verdict was given. First off, I love the bizarre coincidence of the story playing second banana to the infamous Jack Ruby.

Happily, with only two recusants and one dissenter, the majority of the court ruled in favor of the University.

The trial court found: that English 390 concerns itself with the literary features of the Bible and, as a necessary part thereof, the history of ancient Israel; the authorship and treatment of the various books of the Bible, and their interpretation from a literary and an historical point of view, employing the same techniques of scholarship used in the study of any other literary or historical text; that the course is offered as part of a secular program of education to advance the knowledge of students and the learning of mankind; that it is taught by members of the English department who are competent literary scholars, qualified to teach in their respective fields of specialization. The course is not taught by theologians. One professor uses the Revised Standard Version of the Bible; another the Oxford Annotated Edition of the Revised Standard Version; a third, the King James version. Each makes his choice of the English translation for his own professional reasons.

...The trial court dismissed plaintiffs' complaint with prejudice.

And I also love these caricatures. I have to say, the one of my father is spot on.

Here’s my favorite part:

There can be no doubt that our constitutional bars are absolute against religious instruction and indoctrination in specific religious beliefs or dogma; but they do not proscribe open, free, critical, and scholarly examination of the literature, experiences, and knowledge of mankind. If they did, many fields of scholarship — anthropology, zoology, the theory of evolution, astronomy, the germ theory of disease and medical cure, to mention only a few — would have to be removed from our university. It might be said that the objective examination of these theories conflicts with the religious beliefs of certain persons entertaining contrary beliefs based upon their religious convictions. This would, indeed, be true "sectarian control or influence," which is prohibited by article 9, section 4 of our constitution. It would, as Mr. Justice Brennan said so recently,

    cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom. Keyishian v. Board of Regents,385 U.S. 589, 17 L.Ed.2d 629, 87 Sup. Ct. 675 (1967).

The result advocated by plaintiffs would be catastrophic in the field of higher education. Would plaintiffs have us strike the works of Milton, Dante, and the other ancient authors whose writings have survived the ages, because they wrote of religious theories with which plaintiffs quarrel? Our constitution does not guarantee sectarian control of our educational system.

In Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education,333 U.S. 203, 92 L.Ed. 649, 68 Sup. Ct. 461 (1948), Mr. Justice Jackson, in a concurring opinion, pointed out that:

    Music without sacred music, architecture minus the cathedral, or painting without the scriptural themes would be eccentric and incomplete, even from a secular point of view.... Even such a "science" as biology raises the issue between evolution and creation as an explanation of our presence on this planet. Certainly a course in English literature that omitted the Bible and other powerful uses of our mother tongue for religious ends would be pretty barren.


Concrete Confession

A little snack. Here's a street scene from a recent weekend in Port Townsend. I fear I was corrupted at an early age by the work of The Boyle Family.


Wood and Wire

Shots from an early morning walk around the docks of Port Townsend, Washington. I would not be surprised to see assemblages like this in a gallery, but here is art providing a quite utilitarian purpose.

(Following is the inspiration for the title of this post.)