…to see out into a world glimpsed only fleetingly

            in the cosmos
            are as the crystals
            in the gene
            the tree
            which emerges
            is the multifoliate
… Duncan’s creative practice  nourished an approach to writing that, with Olson, struggled to articulate a new  basis for poetics; their shared goal was to reestablish the uses of poetry beyond  the domain of literature to confront a larger cultural and historical field of action.
–Berthoff & Smith, An Open Map: The Correspondence of Robert Duncan and Charles Olson, “Introduction: Love and the Idea of Form.” 1.
…a central element of his poetic stance: individuals are secondary in the permitted documentations of the energy sustained by an  acknowledged flow or movement of perception. The goal is to see out into a  world glimpsed only fleetingly. To hold closely to one’s wisdom is to separate  from that outer force of the world, to be entrapped by confidence and identification rather than to be in submission to outside forces or observable facts.  “Doesn’t it honestly,” Olson argues,
come to, to love? that all springs up, there? And that what springs up is energy, with which to do anything, think (which is to be wise), cut wood  (& i mean for no other reason than to keep warm), push something, ahead,  make it different, etc., anything, all that all the vocabulary—the words you  seek to make gnomic by doublet—are valid enuf as reductive (that is, that  they do analyze validly the worlds love opens one’s eyes to.
–ibid 10.
[Gnomic: used to describe something spoken or written that is short, mysterious, and not easily understood, but often seems wise…
related words:
brusque, concise, cryptic, curt, elliptical, incisive, laconic, pithy, precise, succinct, trenchant, abrupt, aphoristic, boiled down, breviloquent, clear-cut, clipped, close, compact, compendious.
Doublet: set of two identical or similar things; one of two or more words (such as guard and ward) in the same language derived by different routes of transmission from the same source.
In November–December 1959, Olson writes:
            in the cosmos
            are as the crystals
            in the gene
            the tree
            which emerges
            is the multifoliate
For Olson, the cosmos establishes relation; it moves attention away from individual concerns to include an acknowledgment of the interaction of dynamic  energies. The pursuit of his studies increasingly occupies Olson’s attention, particularly as the winter solstice approaches…
–Ibid 17.

The difference today is we don’t trust

Gary Snyder found place outside human destruction.
Today smoke haze means differently.
Garmin inReach Mini salvation.
Riot dying vaccine free.

Gary Snyder:


Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.

I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.

compare his:


Burning the small dead

broke from beneath
     thick spreading
          whitebark pine.

a hundred summers
snowmelt rock and air

hiss in a twisted bough.

sierra granite;
     Mt. Ritter—
     black rock twice as old.

Deneb, Altair

The second Gary Snyder poem connects with that which is beyond human intervention. The first did when he wrote it, but presently does not. Different Deborah Numbers.

Enable students to see this? With what practical value?

Deborah number: time duration of an event/duration ofobservation. From the Song of Deborah, Judges 5:5: “The mountains flowed before the Lord.”

Gary Snyder poems reprinted in David Hinton, The Wilds of Poetry.

Garmin inReach Mini


In preparation for teaching college field studies in the Wrangell Mountains:

…to speak of atoms, cells, bodies, planets, galaxies, and the whole cosmos in relation to each other…

… a means of attending to one’s own perceptual field, systematically applying a measure to consistently compare the relative appearance of things. Scale is a phenomenological apparatus that permits us to speak of atoms, cells, bodies, planets, galaxies, and the whole cosmos in relation to each other. Scale is likewise a notation, a reference point whereby we relate one object (a galaxy) to our normal perceptual field (a meter). As a notation, scale’s significant rhetorical power manifests in its capacity to transform our understanding of our usual experience: in the capacity to conceive of this world, this body, and oneself according to these different scales. 

I explore scale through the scalar practices of both science and mysticism, with occasional reference to political conceptions of scale. The project finds that mysticism, the perennial aspects of spirituality that aims for union with a higher being, is an unavoidable and essential part of understanding scale since scalar terminologies tend to arise from mystical experience and encountering scale tends to generate decidedly mystical questions. Looking at mysticism in relation to science permits a fresh exploration of why science finds itself struggling with mystical concepts, such as wholeness, vastness, transcendence, hierarchy, or infinity, which are particularly notable within astronomy and ecology. Likewise, looking at how science develops and systematizes scalar descriptions permits a reworking of these mystical concepts in a manner that retains a clearer reference to empirical practices, while not remaining strictly within a material conception of the cosmos.

Joshua DiCaglio, “On Being Scaled: Rhetorical Practices of the Cosmos.” Dissertation, English Department, Pennsylvania State University, 2016. Abstract.

This point of bewilderment…

The disorientation provided by scale and the fact that it relates to a transformation of ourselves means that it launches us necessarily into territory that is less comfortably scientific. This point of bewilderment is where those invested in scientific discourse tend to retreat back to the concrete productions of scientific study. We consider the cellular diagram rather than that my body is made up of cells; we return to studying images of stars and avoid contemplating our relationship to these vast distances; we reinscribe quantum fields as particles rather than consider the interpretive implications of quantum uncertainty. Again and again, the products of scale tempt us to retreat in this way, in part, because to do otherwise just seems too mystical. …But what if scale is mystical? The problem is that we don’t understand why it’s mystical or what this mean. …

… mysticism describes a particular experience, particular practices designed around that experience, and a particular configuration toward reality that arises from and works out a scalar perspective. When scientists take the time to dwell on the larger implications and effects of scale, they find themselves entering the discursive realm of mysticism. In turn, those who have mystical experiences often find that the scalar descriptions of science provide a language that fits their experience. What if, to fully orient ourselves to scale, we have to set aside this repeated dismissal of mysticism? I will show how scale brings some surprising clarity to what mystics have always been going on about and, in turn, that mysticism helps clarify essential difficulties presented by scale.

To this end, mysticism can be defined in scalar terms as that branch of inquiry that aims to induce and integrate encounters with nonhuman scales, particularly the cosmic scale. Mysticism arises in the experience of an existence larger than oneself, in the experience of experience exceeding itself. This glimpse of a vaster totality beyond human bounds reorients the “individual” outside of the typical scale of the human being. This person must then try to make sense of, describe, and develop this new orientation. …

…Scale is not the exclusive purview of science or the technologies that produce any scalar observations. Rather, these modes of inquiry and extensions of observation (e.g., in microscopes, telescopes, and the many more complicated apparatuses) examine basic aspects of experience…

Joshua DiCaglio, Scale Theory: A Nondisciplinary Inquiry. U of Minnesota Press, 2021.

Read as poetry?

Schoepfer, Shane D., Jun Shen, Hiroyoshi Sano, and Thomas J. Algeo. “Onset of Environmental Disturbances in the Panthalassic Ocean over One Million Years Prior to the Triassic-Jurassic Boundary Mass Extinction.” Earth-Science Reviews, November 20, 2021, 103870. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.earscirev.2021.103870.


While the end-Triassic mass extinction has been linked to emplacement of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP), evidence for environmental stresses appears hundreds of thousands of years prior to the extinction in some sections from the Panthalassic Ocean. In this study, we measured carbon, sulfur, and mercury concentrations in the Kurusu section, near Inuyama, Japan. These bedded radiolarian cherts are part of the Mino Terrane, an accretionary complex of late Paleozoic and Mesozoic sediments deposited at abyssal water depths in the open ocean, providing a unique window into the Triassic-Jurassic transition in pelagic settings. The rhythmically bedded nature of the sediments allowed construction of a floating astronomical age model tied to the radiolarian-defined Triassic-Jurassic boundary. Average linear sedimentation rates (LSR) of 0.07–0.48 cm kyr−1 and total organic carbon (TOC) concentrations of 0.07–0.22% yielded estimates of primary productivity rates (PPR) based on published transfer functions ranging from 2400 to 63,000 mg C cm−2 kyr−1, which are generally comparable to PPRs in the modern equatorial and subtropical Pacific. While mercury (Hg) concentrations are strongly correlated with sedimentary sulfide content throughout the section, a distinct increase in the ratio of Hg to sulfide near the Triassic-Jurassic boundary may record Hg input from CAMP volcanism. Below this level, a series of discrete spikes in sulfide content appear during the ~ 1.2 Myr before the extinction, recording a precursor interval of environmental stress that also correlates with changes in the composition of the planktonic community. We infer that these changes reflect the development of stratification in the water column, with more reducing conditions characterizing the thermocline below the surface mixed layer. Based on the evidence from Kurusu and comparisons to other Panthalassic sections, we propose a model in which water-column stratification began to develop in the open Panthalassic Ocean over one million years before the Triassic-Jurassic boundary. Evidence from sections deposited at slope depths suggests that this rising chemocline may have begun to impinge on the slopes of island arcs and the South American continental margin by ~ 400 kyr before the boundary. The end-Triassic extinction coincided with both the main phase of CAMP eruptions and the irruption of acidic, reducing deep waters into photic zone and shelf environments.


CAMP Central Atlantic Magmatic Province Inuyama Mercury Volcanism Paleoproductivity


Featured image credit Elenarts/Shutterstock

Compare Scotty Hendricks, “Rock Study May Have Just Revealed Cause of Triassic Mass Extinction.”

Teaching strategic advocacy

Following up on our workshop with Evergreen faculty last week, Roger Conner, Ted Whitesell and I are expanding and updating our website on teaching and learning how to be strategic. Here’s the text of the new home page:

About teaching strategic advocacy

How best can people learn to be effective change agents?  This website is for information about and discussion of teaching strategic thinking and action.

Policy advocates attempt to alter the arc of history, changing the course of events on matters important to the community. Some who engage in such advocacy are paid professionals. More are individual citizens and members of organized groups. Some are agency staff who find themselves in situations where they may affect outcomes.

Successful advocates know how to be strategic: They know what to do and when to act in complex situations with uncertain outcomes. Many courses and texts explain how to analyze a policy problem or explain why things unfolded the way they did, but few teach how to alter what is likely to happen in the future. People usually acquire that ability, if they do, through a process of long experience of observing others and trying (and often failing) themselves. In our experience, however, we have found that these skills can be taught, expediting learning them more quickly and completely. Curriculum for this teaching is a work in progress. We welcome your participation by replying on these pages or on the discussion page.

So far, this website includes

-Roger Conner, Ben Shaine and Ted Whitesell, project coordinators

Finger-Tip Power of the Muse

“When a woman calmly grazes the end of her … finger across any exposed skin on a man’s body and offers a verbal or non-verbal vote of confidence or support, his world changes at that instant.”

Friday I was in conversation with two women friends who I now realize  are among my muses.

Gustave Moreau, Hesiod and the Muse (1891)—Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Gustave Moreau, Hesiod and the Muse (1891)—Musée d’Orsay, Paris

The Muses /ˈmjzɨz/ (Ancient Greek: Μοῦσαι Mousai; perhaps from the o-grade of the Proto-Indo-European root *men- “think”) in Greek mythology are the goddesses of the inspiration of literature, science, and the arts. They were considered the source of the knowledge embodied in the poetry, song-lyrics, and myths that were related orally for centuries in these ancient cultures. They were later adopted by the Romans as a part of their pantheon.

As we talked, one stood behind me, her hand lightly on my neck. I remember feeling that so many times with my wife Marci, when she was well and able to touch. It is the synergy between us here that is creative, what Lester Ward in his Glimpses of the Cosmos called “the universal constructive principle of nature.”

From Steve Horsmon’s recent post on The Good Men Project, entitled “The One Thing Husbands Love More Than Sex and Why They Can’t Tell You:”

Women’s jaws would drop if they could listen in on my conversations with married men. …


The Power in Her Pinky

The truth for these men lies in the end of her pinky finger.

In that finger is packed an unspeakable power many wives choose to ignore or have yet to discover.

When a woman calmly grazes the end of her pinky finger across any exposed skin on a man’s body and offers a verbal or non-verbal vote of confidence or support, his world changes at that instant.

It’s so simple and so tender that men are afraid to even ask for it. We barely talk about it with each other! We don’t want to appear soft. We don’t want to risk a woman’s reaction to our weakness.

What is it?

It is the power of a delicate, skin-to-skin touch of feminine acceptance and approval.

When a woman calmly grazes the end of her pinky finger across any part of a man’s body and offers a verbal or non-verbal vote of confidence or support, his world changes at that instant.

It is so powerful we are often left speechless. Our throats and tear ducts begin to swell and we quietly indulge in the comforting reassurance of the moment. If we could package the word “love”, it would feel like this when the bottle was opened.

Our “well-being meter” pegs out and our heart rate and breathing slows.

Every husband I know is dying to feel this. Simple, easy-peasy feminine acceptance and approval. Nothing else.  Just…this.

Muses at Parnassas detail from a painting by Simon Vouet, circa 1640, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
Muses at Parnassas, detail from a painting by Simon Vouet, circa 1640, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

“The name “Parnassus” in literature typically refers to its distinction as the home of poetry, literature and, by extension, learning.”

The gender relationships here are not bounded by a person’s biological sex; a man can give this touch to a woman, and human gender roles and identities are fluid.

(Thanks to Isabel Andrew’s blog Musings, etc. for the link to Steve Horsmon’s post)

Love Energy

I’m now clearly feeling love as a flow toward another person, or between two people. While it’s between individuals, the love itself is generic, a kind of energy (whatever that is), metaphorically like light or water. In the moment, I may have a lot of it, or little. Good relationships create more of it, which is then available to flow elsewhere. I feel myself in a force field of love that includes friends, family and acquaintances. Some connections are stronger than others. And flows can move more in one direction than another.

It’s like light, in that it illuminates the particularities of the beloved, the eyes, the fingernails, the smoothness or wrinkle in the skin, in a positive way, while in itself not any of these.

When I go to the gym or do warm-ups for Aikido recently, I go through a series of physical exercises involving feeling & visualizing energy (whatever that is) flowing into, through and from me along various lines. It’s not just mental; muscles, connective tissue and bones are aligning and moving. I think the genius of O’Sensei, the founder of Aikido, was to see such flows as love, translating combat imagery into love. He wrote explicitly about that. I think it can be seen as an interesting take on Jesus’s primary message. Practicing those flows, O’Sensei in his 80’s at 4’11” could respond to multiple simultaneous sword attackers with safety for himself and all of them. I’ve seen videos of that, and it’s similar to what I’ve felt personally with Saotome Sensei, who was his direct student, Mary Heiny Sensei, and other teachers.

Seems that anger and hate can be seen similarly as energy flow. O’Sensei started from aggressive energy in his Japanese combat training, and transformed it. This association of love and hate appears in Christianity in Jesus and the Devil, with the incarnation of Jesus a similarly transformative event. Christian mythology begins with the loving God. Satan rebels against that. Then there is competition between Jesus and Satan for ascendancy.

The Devil is the shadow and Jesus the light. – e.g., take a look at Ary Scheffer’s 1854 painting:

Temptation of Christ, by Ary Scheffer, 1854.
Temptation of Christ, by Ary Scheffer, 1854.

Christ is a Self symbol but lacks wholeness because he only includes the light side. He constellates the Anticrist, God’s other half and the shadow of the Self.

The metaphor of God as light appears in the burning bush and in God’s leading the Israelites through the wilderness for forty years with a pillar of light; the creation was initiated by God’s creation of light. “The LORD my God illumines my darkness,” Psalm 18:28; “The LORD is my light…,” Psalm 27:1. And Jesus carries that on: “…we walk in the light, as he is in the light…,” John 1:7.

In popular imagery today, “receiving the golden light of God:”

receiving the golden light of God

Notice the intense eroticism in this image. God’s love is erotic.

Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

A people-friendly community that chooses to be entirely without motor vehicles on land

I’m just back from a couple of weeks on Little Corn Island, a square mile of land fifty miles off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. It’d be a great sister city for my town of McCarthy, Alaska, and I recommend it to McCarthyites as a place to visit.

Little Corn has beaches, forests, a village on the leeward side, about 1200 residents who are mostly English-speaking creoles of mixed black heritage and Spanish-speaking mestizo people from Pacific Nicaragua, along with tourists who are mostly young and athletic snorkelers and divers staying in funky beach lodges on the breezy windward side. Although they use motorboats in the ocean, the community has decided to be entirely vehicle-free on shore: walking and bicycles only. There are paths, some paved, but no roads. “Mainstreet” is like a wide sidewalk.

A senior member of one of the local extended families told me that the elected island government made the motor vehicle-free decision with widespread support, though some younger people disagree. He said he’d been involved in lobbying through funding from Managua for paving the cross-island path to the windward tourist lodges and extending the electric line there from the village generator (operates noon-2am, when not broken), at the same time he supported keeping motor vehicles off the island. That position, pro-development with conditions to maintain quality of life for locals and unique attraction for visitors, of course reminds me of McCarthy.

Local young man working at a tourist lodge, barefoot with iPod
Young man working at a tourist lodge, barefoot with iPod

Although on the average materially very poor, the people I met are in general the happiest, healthiest and most upbeat I have encountered. The brightness in their eyes is as unique as what I used to notice in some residents of the Alaska’s Wrangell Mountains decades ago. That’s recognizing that my stay on Little Corn was brief, communication limited by language differences, and there’s much about the culture that I don’t understand.

Downtown Little Corn Island
Downtown Little Corn Island

Access to Little Corn is by boat from Big Corn, which has roads, vehicles and an airport with prop-plane connections to Managua. Most passenger ferry service to Little Corn is by open pangas that make the crossing from Big Corn in about forty minutes, depending on conditions. Panga drivers can string a long piece of visqueen plastic along the side of the boat, for passengers to hold up to shield off wind-blown spray.

A relaxed meal at Hatty's El Bosque restaurant
A relaxed meal at Hatty’s El Bosque restaurant

Recently, Little Corn has become a tourist destination. Most of the visitors I met are young people from North America or Europe traveling about the world inexpensively. Most of the lodging is in basic one-room cabins on or near the beach, though a few are more up-scale and a high-end ($300/night) version has opened on a secluded beach. Among other activities, that one hosts yoga retreats. In general, the basic lodges and restaurants are locally owned and the fancier ones, more efficient and clock-oriented, are foreign owned and operated. A meal in a locally-owned restaurant can take hours, including conversations among the guests and with the staff, which I enjoyed.

Other sources of income/sustenance I heard about talking with locals include commercial fishing, traveling globally as cruise ship staff, and subsistence on fish, fruit, cocoanuts, and other garden crops. Chickens are everywhere. Cattle graze on the uplands. I didn’t notice signs of hunger. Coming from the USA, the relative absence of overweight people on Little Corn and their erect posture was dramatic. I didn’t have much time on Big Corn, but heard from a friend that residents there are significantly heavier. Little Corn is different.

A man on Big Corn explained that he got most of his income from multi-month stints on a lobster boat crew. He said he got 10 cents/pound for lobster selling for $16/pound at Costco.

Land for sale
Land for sale

I noticed a number of affluent, new residences owned by expatriate foreigners, located in desirable locations with views and moderate breezes. One couple, who had moved from the US, kindly invited me into their home. I enjoyed helping with one of their projects, harvesting a piece of driftwood to be cut with their chainsaw mill for use in creative furniture construction. That reminded me of McCarthy. One person told me that in general locals see foreigners’ house construction as a positive source of jobs and not a problem, though limits are being placed on new businesses being established by outsiders. I’m not clear on the details of that.

My visit was a glimpse into an place that’s rapidly changing and unstable. Young children are playing everywhere, old people are infrequent, and so the population is evidently exploding. I don’t know to what extent that includes migration from the mainland. The beaches are rapidly eroding, with palm trees falling into the sea. I don’t know why. I went diving on the reef once, but didn’t return, because there were so few fish and the coral is algae-covered, I presume largely from overfishing. I heard that the local government had established a no-fishing zone encompassing the reef around the island, but had no means to enforce it when fishing boats came over from Big Corn. Depletion of the reef probably greatly affects the potential for tourism centered on snorkeling and diving. Tourism is quite new to the island, presumably rapidly changing, and I don’t know how the mix of local and foreign control is playing out. The island I experienced is clearly unsustainable.

Despite that and the material poverty, the evident joy, openness and self-confidence of most local people I met is impressive. I’m struck by the comparison with an American marine biologist, about thirty years old with a graduate degree, with whom I chatted at a beach restaurant. He was vacationing on his way back to the US for a break from studying sea turtles on Central American Pacific beaches. I found him cynical and depressed about what’s happening to the turtles and environmental decline. Here’s a person who has everything going for him, within the reality of the world: interesting, useful work with the possibility of doing some good; relatively vast material affluence and the ability to travel; youth and health. Yet I felt a deep unhappiness. All around him on Little Corn — I don’t think he recognized it, or the difference with himself — were people his age, living in the midst of that environmental condition, inescapably caught in its immediate consequences, uneducated, comparatively with nothing, yet happier, in an essential way I’d say more free. If he knew how to take responsibility for his own happiness, to see the possibility, what joy he could bring into the world, for himself and for those around him. And I suspect he’d be more successful in his conservation work, too.

What follows is my photo essay about the island, focusing mostly on the transportation/access aspects that make it interesting in conjunction with McCarthy and regarding the larger questions of the consequences of motor vehicles and the possibilities for conscious decisions about their use.

Before going to my photos, here’s a video from the high point on the island that’s posted on the website of Little Corn tourist info:

Little Corn photo essay:


Beach erosion:


Mainstreet in the village. No motor vehicles on the island, none, never, by local community decision, even though they freely and competently use motorboats on the water.

Traffic:IMG_3496 pigs sow and piglets





An ongoing inquiry into change, stability and connecton, by Ben Shaine