Dedicated to Sonny Melton

“No man is an island entire of itself.”

Today, I must take time to reflect on the horrific act of violence that occurred half a world away from where I am. I was not there, yet it has changed me as it has changed us all in some way.

My Dad often asked us our thoughts about a John Donne poem, which was in fact a eulogy, written over 400 years ago.

“What does this poem mean to you?” he would ask. And we would discuss it – the island, the promontory, the tolling bell.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
The World [Europe] is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee.

~John Donne~

This week Donne’s poem holds a deep poignancy for our family, our nation.

As a nation we lost 59 of our own. Not by the hand of religious zealots, not by a tyrannical bully making threats across an ocean. No, we lost 59 Americans through the unconscionable act of one of our own.  

One of those 59 people, out with his wife to enjoy a concert and the lights of Las Vegas, was a young man who introduced my niece to her husband. He was a groomsman in their wedding. Although I have only met him once, I have learned that Sonny Melton was a hero in his life and in his death. We mourn for those he left behind. My niece Jamie says, “God wanted him more.” Her husband Max wrote “A friend to everyone, loved by so many, and now a hero to us all.”

Nurses, teachers, police officers, a Navy veteran who survived Afghanistan but not his homeland, mothers and fathers. People who loved and filled the world with their gifts of laughter and generosity. There was no discrimination.

Fifty nine people lost their lives, taking with them the promise of their tomorrows.

IMG_0597.JPG

What might have been had they lived? We can only wonder.

Many people here on this tiny Aegean island have learned already of this American tragedy. No one remains untouched.

“Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

And so they leave us. And thousands of lives will be changed.

Rest in Peace.

 

From Troy to World War II – The Reign of ARES

Ares, Greek god of war

Ares, Greek god of war

Are humans inherently violent? 

As an instructor of physical and cultural anthropology, I asked my students to answer this question every semester. Responses varied. Discussion was insightful.

From an ancient Greek perspective, war was ever-present and demanded a god to reign over it. Included among the powerful Olympian twelve was Ares god of war.

Throughout my lifetime, and my parents’ lifetimes, and my grandparents’, back to the dawn of civilization and well before it, humanity has found cause and means to harm itself. Are humans inherently violent?

As of this writing, the world waits.  Will yet another war of words turn to violence?  And Why? The question has been asked so many times. Why? Land, religion, power, and we mustn’t forget Helen of Troy.

In the month I have spent exploring this Aegean island of Kalymnos, I see evidence of conflict everywhere. The structures of aggression and fortification date back through the Bronze Age (2000 B.C.), perhaps even into the Neolithic period, although not yet quite proven. Ares stands tall here, commanding the mountain tops and watching for opportunities.

What strikes me is the island is very rugged, not well-suited to agriculture, barren of prized minerals, ores, or other resources of value.  Aside from its beauty, it seems it would offer nothing to those who thirsted after this tiny piece of the world. Its early inhabitants must have endured a life of struggle. Even the water is permeated with brine requiring rainwater harvesting.

Goats welcome me before my ascent to Chorio. I know they have always been here.

Goats welcome me before my ascent to Chorio. I know they have always been here.

The goats love it, but what has been the attraction to invaders? The answer: it lies in a strategic pathway. Kalymnos’s unlucky proximity to its larger sister islands, Kos and Rhodes, and only 35 miles from Turkey have made it a prime target for attack and occupation.

Ares Insatiable Wrath

One of the earliest references to Kalymnians at war comes from the blind poet Homer in the Iliad.  In it, he mentions their participation in the Trojan War. The Persians (now Iran) took control of the island during the Persian War, then passed it on over to Artemisia I, queen of Halicarnassus (now Bodrum, Turkey). Later, freed by the Athenians, the island fought beside them during the Peloponnesian War, but then found itself again occupied, this time by Artemisia II. Liberated by Alexander the Great, the island found itself on the unfortunate side of history after his death. This time the attacks came from pirates.

For those who know the history of this area, by the late 3rd century B.C. Philip of Macedon was on the march. This time Kalymnos allied with nearby Kos Island to fend off great Philip and the ever-pesky pirates. But alas, here came the Romans. No wonder they needed fortification.

Nature inserted her own violence in 554 A.D. with an earthquake splitting the landmass to form the island of Telendos.   Deserted for many years, those who loved Kalymnos eventually found their way home, but not to peace. Never to peace.

By the early 1300s, the crusading Knights of St. John found Rhodes and finally Kalymnos – looking for infidels of course. Paradoxically, the Knights always built churches within their fortresses. Or perhaps not a paradox at all since they claimed to be fighting for God.

Aren't God and war antithetical?

Eventually the Kalymnians were conquered by the Turks, liberated then subjugated by the Italians, and finally, at the end of World War II, the Germans came to play. Freedom arrived for Greece and Kalymnos on Mar 7, 1948.

All of this on a tiny island in the Aegean.

Thirty six hues of blue wash peacefully to the shore below -- as it has for millennia. The contradiction is complex: tranquil seas carrying chaos to the shores.

A windy ascent

A windy ascent

Hike to Chorio

It was a near-vertical hike on a hot September day. Limestone steps helped for much of the way, but at times the uneven stones wrought treachery on my ankles. Pausing mid-way to rest my wobbly limbs, I considered the comparison between the modern village of Hora, where I had just walked through winding uphill narrow streets designed to confuse pirates, and ancient Chorio (village in Greek) waiting at the top. 

Arriving at the fortress, I stepped through the small doorway and envisioned life as it might have been. A village surrounded with walls. 

An ancient olive press lies broken amid crumbles of limestone that once formed a roof, a chimney, an animal enclosure. Smoke stains smear the walls above ancient cooking hearths. Stone paths smoothed by the daily tasks of villagers living out their lives high above the sea. I feel the energy. Their spirits. Their laughter. Their sorrow. Birth, life, and then death among rock dwellings built to protect them.

Walls of the fortress - Chorio Castle

Walls of the fortress - Chorio Castle

Broken olive press - Chorio Castle

Broken olive press - Chorio Castle

Remains of dwelling with chimney and smoke-stained hearth

Remains of dwelling with chimney and smoke-stained hearth

Shields of the Knights of St. John - Chorio Castle

Shields of the Knights of St. John - Chorio Castle

Evidence suggests the people had everything they needed to survive on top of that mountain – goats, chickens, sheep, olive trees and other vegetation, a cistern to capture rainwater – everything. Everything except freedom from fear.

Icon of St. George now hanging slightly askew

Icon of St. George now hanging slightly askew

Early Christian Church on Chorio

Early Christian Church on Chorio

Church altar. Here the photographer is slightly askew.

Church altar. Here the photographer is slightly askew.

A beautiful view of the sea to both the east and the west frames the rocky terrain. I imagine a young woman longing to walk along the shore, to dip her toes into water sparkling with sea nymphs, to dive into its coolness on a hot summer day. A youthful wish to enjoy respite from the monotony of a life enclosed. But the old yiayias (grandmothers) cautioned, and fear prevailed, trapping young and old alike atop the mountain, and they survived.

Hiking down the treacherous steps I glanced back at the fortification rising out of the rocks like candles on a cake. The image reminded me that we not only create and spread war, we revere it.

We celebrate victories and military might. We build ever bigger methods of destroying ourselves. If we were ashamed of this human imperfection wouldn’t we tear down the reminders of war? Rather, Ares stands proud and commands those reminders to remain for our children to also revere a thousand years from now?

Then again, why waste the hard work and fortitude of the ancestors. The fortifications might certainly be needed. Island legend describes the women of Kalymnos heading to the fortress yet again during the Stone War of 1935.  Believing the Italians were stealing their religion from them and their children, the women cast rocks at the aggressors and escaped to the mountain top.

When I peer over the Edge, I do not like what I see. How can I delight in the past when misery clings to it? The misery of women and children living in fear as Ares raged.

The Edge will always be a place to inform and be informed. Sometimes it is not beautiful, but there is always a message. The tranquility of the sea, of 36 hues of blue, informs me today. I will look away from the mountain top and toward the day when Ares falls from his throne and we have no more need for walls.

What are your thoughts? Are humans inherently violent? Leave your comments. I love to read them.

If you are interested in a more complete history of Kalymnos, you can find it here.

Chrysocheria Castle. Built by the Knights of St. John

Chrysocheria Castle. Built by the Knights of St. John

A bell at a Church built by the Knights.     The crystalline sea in the background.

A bell at a Church built by the Knights.     The crystalline sea in the background.

To Climb or Not to Climb -- the Crags of Kalymnos

First, a Story

Are you one of those people who thinks you must try everything?

I am.  I draw the line at skydiving and bungee jumping, but on the ground or in the water, I want to try it. During my thirties and forties, the challenge of the Olympic Games flowed through my blood. “I want to do that.” I urged myself. Running the 800 meter race, pole vaulting 15’ in the air, doing arabesques on ice skates, slaloming downhill at stop speed, you name it I was there – in my head, anyway.

After the Atlanta games in 1996 I followed Forest Gump out the door and started runnin’. “Sydney, here I come!” I was psyched.

On day 5, I stopped runnin’. Forest has much more stamina than me. My forty-some year old legs and lungs really weren’t into it. They flat out let me know that I had never run more than a mile in my life.

But finally, at age 48 (I remember it well because an official wrote 48 in black marker on my left calf.), I joined two of my colleagues (10 years younger and male – not that that matters) and completed a mini-triathlon – half-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride, and a 5k run.

On the morning of the event, after the “Hey, we’re gonna do this thing” and some high fives, I never saw them again.

Into the water I went, never looking back until my husband Bob came running to my side during the 5K. “You can do it, Berk.” He pushed me along as he had his track athletes for years. “You can do it.” And I did it!

 Many competitors never crossed the finish line that day, so dead last is not really last in my book. Yep, I finished dead last, and I have a well-worn T-shirt to prove it.

View from Massouri

View from Massouri

Crags hovering. Luring the climbers.

Crags hovering. Luring the climbers.

Kalymnos - a Climbing Mecca

A long story to bring you back to Kalymnos. Sport climbing is huge here! Ah, you think you know what’s coming next, right?

Kalymnos is a well-known rock climbing mecca. It’s still early in the season, the temperatures are just beginning to cool down, but I have already met several climbers heading up or coming down.

You guessed it! The urge to join the fun began to burn. My head started spinning – shoes, helmet, ropes, lessons. Yep, I was all in until I saw those folks (mostly young folks) swinging and dangling from rocks so high the zoom on my camera couldn't reach them.

Splash in the face. Fire out. Nope Berk, maybe in your next life. An Edge, yes. But I’ll keep my feet squarely on the ground as I explore it. Maybe I will just sneak a peak over it and call it a day.

International Climbers

Hailing from the Czech Republic, Petr and Jaromír are the first climbers I met as they descended the craggy mountainside at Massouri – the epicenter of climbers’ paradise. Physically fit and drenched with a sheen of strenuous activity, Petr was eager to talk about the experience.

“It’s very exciting to be here,” he said. “Climbing is good all over the island and here [at Massouri] you can jump right into the sea after a climb,” he added, gesturing toward the expanse of aqua and turquoise below. Both are experienced climbers having challenged the Alps in Austria and the Tatras of Slovakia. But, as Petr explained, “at Kalymnos there is the sea.” A soothing respite for an exhausting sport.

Soon this tiny island will be swarmed with rock climbers wearing and carrying the tools of the sport – climbing shoes, helmets, carabiners, harnesses, ropes, etc. The Kalymnos Climbing Festival runs from October 7-9 this year, and the island will be hopping.

Evi, the very sweet and always accommodating proprietor of Alkyonis Apartments, gives a “whoosh” as she sweeps her hair back. “After the 9th. Everything after the 9th,” she says, meaning she will then have time for my endless questions.

Massouri

Beautiful mermaid sings a song of the sea, welcoming climbers and seafarers to Massouri

Beautiful mermaid sings a song of the sea, welcoming climbers and seafarers to Massouri

The signs along Massouri’s main road shout out to the climbers. “Dine here after you climb;” “Get a massage in the morning for half price.”  After missing the bus (I was chatting with Petr and Jaromír as it zoomed right on by me) I met Alrini and Eleyheria at Kaimaki for freshly baked galaktoboureko – a phyllo encrusted custard dessert – and Greek coffee (thick, sweet, and strong).  Every day the sisters bake galaktoboureko, bougatsas (another custard treat), and other Greek specialties. I found the two ladies and the desserts delightful. And Alrini made sure I didn’t miss the next bus!

Late September into early October is a lucrative time for the island. The Greek economy continues to struggle, so this is a welcome time. For a short span of days Kalymnians cater to the rock climbers who have replaced the sponge diving industry as a main source of income. It is the time for Evi, Alrini, Eleyheria, and other entrepreneurs on the island, to work hard and enjoy the rewards.

American climbers Kate and Zach

 Zach and Kate from Oregon have been climbing on Kalymnos for 17 days.  Day jobs? Data analyst and structural engineer, respectively.

 Zach and Kate from Oregon have been climbing on Kalymnos for 17 days.  Day jobs? Data analyst and structural engineer, respectively.

Back at my apartment I smell the warm spicy aroma of curry. Next door Kate and Zach are enjoying their dinner, al fresco of course. Lured by the fragrance I walk to their balcony to chat and find they are climbers from Oregon. I asked them what attracted them to climbing and learned a very different perspective from my thoughts of bagging peaks.

“I like the physical challenge, but also the mental challenge. It’s like trying to fit a puzzle together," says Kate ,

“It’s a multidimensional experience,” added Zach. “It’s not linear like many sports. It’s spatial. Sometimes you’re just hanging out there trying to find a way to grab hold of that next stalactite, or reach your leg far enough to grip the rock. Your body is rarely aligned. You have to arrange yourself into abnormal shapes to continue."

I have met climbers from all over the world -- Finland, Norway, New Zealand, the U.K. to name a few – who have come to challenge themselves on the craggy edges of Kalymnos.

Me? I stand below to watch daring women and men puzzling out the Edge, then wander down to a lovely taverna overlooking the crystalline seas washing ashore. I hope to do a lot of hiking, but the desire for ropes, harnesses, and carbines ebbs with a nice glass of wine. .

Opa!

Sunset over Telendos, another climbing destination. Just add a glass of wine.

Sunset over Telendos, another climbing destination. Just add a glass of wine.

Name *
Name

Exploring the Edge

Never mind lugging the suitcase. Just back in. 1st stop: Santa Rosa, NM

Never mind lugging the suitcase. Just back in. 1st stop: Santa Rosa, NM

One of my favorite people, Helen Keller, said, “Life is either a great adventure, or it is nothing.”

Her words have always resonated with me, and seeking adventure has punctuated the many different periods of my life.

Adventure can take many forms. Some people experience it through reading great books. Some spend their lives exploring the great adventure of the spirit within. Some travel the seas or the continents, or both.  And some want to experience it all.  A day in the backyard planting a beautiful garden is as much an adventure to one as traveling the globe is to another.

My question is, what is it within each of us that one person is happy to adventure in their own backyard but another feels an urge to venture out and peek around every corner?

Pickin' black-eyed peas with Karen and Pickles. You can guess which is which.

Pickin' black-eyed peas with Karen and Pickles. You can guess which is which.

Kayaking with sister, Amy, on the Harpeth River in Tennessee.

Kayaking with sister, Amy, on the Harpeth River in Tennessee.

As I write this, I am at my son’s home in Chicago. Each day is filled with the surprises of a two-year-old and an almost four-year-old as they explore the world around them. Yesterday, we experienced the marvel of a solar eclipse. Today we are putting the planets on our shirts, naming each one. Is Mercury hot or cold? What about Jupiter? On August 21, Brad’s back deck was an adventure for all of us. I’m sure it was for you as well. The adventure for Henry and Tommy was, “why are the grown-ups wearing those weird glasses, and why do they keep putting them on our noses?”

Tommy and Henry at Lake Tippecanoe  Indiana

Tommy and Henry at Lake Tippecanoe  Indiana

Monday, I will board a Swedish Airlines jet for Greece because I am one of those people who is driven to explore around the next corner. Gardens are beautiful things. I love gardens, but I want to see all of them.

There will be a layover in Stockholm, which will allow me time to take a bus to the tiny medieval village of Sigtuna. The sequel (in process) to Dance of the Hummingbirds takes part largely in Sigtuna. This small beginning in 980 CE grew to become Stockholm.

What mysteries await? What will I discover just over the edge?

Staying on the island of Kalymnos

Staying on the island of Kalymnos

The following morning I will fly from Stockholm to Athens, take a bus to Piraeus (the port of Athens) and board an overnight ferry to a tiny island near the coast of Turkey. Kalymnos is one of a group of Greek islands called the Dodecanese.

Dodecanese means twelve islands. I suppose that’s the number of islands discovered by the early Greek seafarers. There are many more than twelve. I won’t argue with the Greeks because I do know the island of Telendos was lopped off of Kalymnos in a 6th century earthquake, and some are called islets, not islands.  Homer could not have been aware all of these details. He was blind after all.  

For four weeks I will live alone in paradise to explore and to write. No family members will accompany me, no friends for security. This is a solo adventure. My time alone will be an exploration of the edge. What will I find?

Deep Thoughts on a Sunny Day

Humanistic Judaism. I had never heard of it until several weeks ago when I was informed by an acquaintance that he would be celebrating Rosh Hashanah a week later (or earlier I can't quite remember which) than other Jews I know because he is a Humanistic Jew.  Me being the curious me, I did a little research to find that Humanistic Jews embrace a human-centered philosophy, a nontheistic Judaism, ergo no God of Israel. They do adhere to elements of their ancient culture, sans God.

This came to me at a time when I am saddened by the loss of ritual, symbolism, and tradition in my own culture. What I see is our American moral compass being systematically splintered. Our American value of "independence" is leading our culture away from the norms and values that once bound us as a nation.

Sweden_04.jpg

I can envision an archaeologist in a thousand years unearthing two relics -- we know them today as the great seal of the United States of America.  One relic will display the eye atop the pyramid. It  symbolizes the approval of providence (God or universal being). There is no eye on the second relic.  That archaeologist will eventually be able to determine when the American culture elimintated God.

Civilizations rise and fall, and with them their beliefs, norms, and values. God has already been eliminated from the Jewish culture for some, and the Christian culture for many Americans. Today we celebrate Christmas, but do we celebrate it's symbolism, ritual, traditions? Or, is it merely a time for retail stores to finally leap into the black?

Guess I'm wandering around attempting  to figure out what is happening to symbolism, ritualism, tradition -- those cultural elements that bind us together and identify us as a culture. As they will, the times they are a changing. It's all ephemeral anyway and perhaps just an illusion.

Oh, and for the record, research suggests that Thomas Jefferson himself was a Humanist. All this ballyhoo about our Founding Fathers. Harrumph!  It's so complex and yet so simple...we are born, we live, we die. All of this arguing and killing is just about speculation anyway, isn't it? "Now I see through a glass darkly, but then shall I see face to face."    (I Corinthians 13) 

In the meantime, check out this discovery in Uppsala, Sweden. At one time these folks too bound themselves together with symbols, rituals, and traditions. Time will tell what it was all about before the Vikings made landfall. Pretty cool stuff.

As always, I welcome your thoughts. 

How Deep is the Mist?

The mists of history have intrigued us since we could wonder about it. Who are our ancestors? What was their life experience? why are humans so bent on moving all over the place? What pushed them to new frontiers? What pulled them there?

Spencer Wells's DNA research has documented the first migrations from Africa to about 40,000 years ago. New discoveries in the Middle East push the date to 41 to 42000 years ago. The article linked here suggests a similar timeframe for the arrival of modern humans in Europe. 

We live in an age of discrimination by color, culture, religion, gender, socioeconomic class, and I could go on ad nauseum. The empirical evidence suggests we are all of a single human species and our ancient ancestors migrated from the one place -- Africa. The adaptation to the ancient realms that called us created our differences. So blame geography, blame the sun and the rain and the cold and the heat, but blame each other? That's a bit of nonsense.

I am fascinated with the pushes and pulls of human migration. If you are too, you may be interested in Spencer Wells's documentary "Journey of Man" (It's on YouTube.com) and the recent article on Archaeology News Network Dating of Beads.

As we push deeper into the mists, I'll keep an eye on the evidence and keep you posted.