Saturday, July 14, 2007

Lessons from the Trees

A couple of prosaic pieces I wrote some time ago, reflecting upon my relationship with wilderness.

Legacies of Endurance

I made a pilgrimage this weekend to the slopes of Mount Evans, to pay my respects to a grove of peculiar trees that inhabit that locale.

These the pines of a particular breed that choose to live their lives out, at forbidding lofty heights, where other species abjure. Fire and rain, wind and snow, all the elements combine to blast these enduring creatures without pity or respite.

Not the towering graceful beauties of the forest, these. The aged pines are twisted and gnarled into bizarre stunted gnomes. Battle scars from aeons of withstanding the destructive forces of nature cover their flanks.

And yet they endure.

Some of the oldest patriarchs, clinging to life by the thinnest of threads, have witnessed the awesome pagent of an unimaginable span of ages, as time passed before them, hundreds upon hundreds of seasons spinning by, a thousand generations in the lifetime of men.

I consider these trees, with their stunning longevity. They do not complain about the travail or suffering, though many of them have obviously suffered greatly. They do not question their purpose, or falter in the mission -- to live, and keep on living. The trees endure, and do not ask why.

There is an incredible, priceless beauty in endurance. Perhaps it is beyond our understanding today. I feel certain that the trees possess this secret knowledge.

How long will it take us to learn?

Great and Small

Towering firs raise into the blazing blue,
their boughs reaching up in mighty supplication.
Framing the world across mountain tops and airy ridges,
seemingly, holding up the sky.

On forest floor below, humbly graced,
with lacy bracken ferns, lush green, so pleasing to the eye.
Bowed with fronds sweeping low to the earth,
catching the sun's few spare rays.

Climbing Paradise Ridge

I owned the tops of the mountains today. No others tracked the smooth white surface of the cold, clean snow. The mountain heights and I held our secret soul tryst, a chaste and joyous virtue only open to the lone and lonely.

I traverse the high passes, seeming so near to the pale blue sky, bracing against the fierce onslaught of the merciless freezing north wind. Howling gusts sweep up gritty blasts of icy snow grains in a ground blizzard, below a dark horizon troubled by passing storm clouds. As I struggle upward, the icy wind steals my breath away with each passing burst.

In the shelter of the deep shady canyon, I pause before tall green firs swaying and sighing as the force of the gale funnels up the slope, the wind whistling and moaning through the tossing boughs like the keening of mourners. The feet of the great trees stand deeply buried beneath the drifts.

Laboring to slowly climb the steep slope, bundled heavily against the freezing cold, my body is soon dripping with sweat. As the moisture accumulates under my hat and across the back of my neck, a rime of ice quickly forms around my head, into the simulation of a frosted white helmet.

I stop at the summit for a brief respite, in the lee of a swarm of boulders. I comb the ice out of my hair. Over the top of the broad peak, bare crusted snow is sculptured by the wind. The blowing snow appears to form sinuous snakes that writhe and coil and dance like living creatures. A sort of white noise, the continuous susurration of millions of snow grains skittering and slithering along, masks the roaring of the wind and creates a deep dynamic silence. Pressure against my back builds and ebbs from the force of the wild wind.

I have overstayed my welcome. The wind intensifies and the snow turns into heavier pellets that plaster across the front of my jacket and trousers, until I start to resemble an animate snowman. I hasten down the front side of the mountain, and as I pass, drifting snow quickly obliterates the traces of my passage.

Children of Divorce

I've put up a number of links on my personal web pages about divorce. But this article looks interesting by itself.

In online discussion I sometimes find this topic examined, and many of the participants express the sentiment that in cases of Temple marriages that are terminated by divorce, the children "follow the mother".

I've never heard any satisfactory explanation for that reasoning, nor do any who echo the idea know of any provenance. They just heard it somewhere.

Here's an authoritative quote that seems to address the subject:
As to the next question, “What happens to the children in the next life when there has been a cancellation of sealing of the parents?” it is understood that in the case of a cancellation of the sealing of the woman to the man, this does not cancel the sealing of the children to the parents, since they were born in the covenant, which is a birthright blessing. They remain in the status of the sealing to their parents and can never be sealed to anyone else. The decision as to with whom they will go will be determined by the Lord in the hereafter. Regarding being born in the covenant the General Handbook of Instructions states, “Children born in the covenant cannot be sealed to anyone, but belong to their natural parents. This rule is not altered by adoption, consent of the natural parents, request of the child after becoming of age or death of the natural parents.”

It should be kept in mind that to be born in the covenant is a birthright blessing, and that if a child remains worthy in this life of celestial blessings, regardless of the actions of his parents, he is assured of that birthright and is guaranteed eternal parentage. One’s worthiness in this life through living the gospel and keeping the commandments, in this as in all things, is the key to eternal life. (Elder James A. Cullimore,  Q&A: Questions and Answers,” New Era)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Futility and the purpose of life

Are we just a waste of oxygen? What am I doing that is worth doing?

A few days ago someone at an LDS blog became perturbed at my participation in the discussion, and activated whatever mechanism they use to try to block me from participating. Why did I care? I wasn't aware that I did until I found that the blog did not even prompt me for a comment any more.

Well, it turns out that this blog and most others use a software black box called Akismet that supposedly filters out unwanted stuff. It is supposed to keep spammers from cluttering up the place.

I decided that anyone rude enough to presume to cut me off deserved punishment. So I started researching the Akismet machine to figure out how to break through.

According to the authors of the software, it is supposed to be very smart. As far as I can tell, it isn't. Akismet just tries to associate comments with a list of IP addresses and other possible junk associated with spammers.

I have known for some time of software servers that anonymize the IP address of a web browser session. So, being the persistent bother that I am, I experimented until I could post again.

Now that I accomplished that feat, I was nonplussed to realize that I had absolutely nothing to say. So I decided to study more about Akismet.

This defense mechanism reminds me of the Star Trek phaser dilemma when attacking the Borg defenses.

Phasers could only penetrate their shields on the first few tries. After that, the Borg shifted the frequency of their shields to restore attenuation.

Blog operators only have a few parameters they can use to check incoming traffic against known spam offenders. This approach doesn't work at all against those who know how to shift the values of those parameters. It is effective against spam only because the spammers are mostly mindless automatons exploiting easy undefended targets.

I suppose most network users do not know what an IP address is, let alone how to manipulate it. To put it simply, IP addresses are assigned by software, and can be changed or manipulated by software. Internet users with a bit of savvy and ambition can easily switch IP numbers and other software parameters. And for every more sophisticated technique of tracking addresses, there are even more elaborate schemes to conceal them.

My web browser voluntarily offers personal information to web pages I interact with. I have no obligation to do this, nor do I see anything unethical about refusing to freely hand over everything demanded. When blog operators use my voluntary compliance as a weapon against me, they forfeit my willing cooperation. The blog security structure is based entirely on voluntary compliance. Unless they resort to a closed system that only allows comments from established, trusted sources, blog operators cannot do much to block anonymous comments.

Not only that, but I strongly suspect that this blog absolutely depends on anonymity to even operate at all. Many LDS Internet users who operate on the fringe have grown paranoid about someone taking note of what they say in open forums. And rightly so. Ironically, I suspect many of those with such concerns do not exactly subscribe to the principle of common consent. They want license to criticize the Church and speak evil of the brethren without suffering any consequence. This blog is not about to jeopardize the mechanism that affords naysayers a forum in which to offer critical remarks without disclosing their identity.