My Cup Runneth Over

by Kevin

Beyond the dead end of our dirt road seen in this photo, is a trail beside the stream. The half-hour walk through state gameland to the river, beneath towering poplar trees and beside high rock cliffs is beautiful and renewing.

Living at the dead-end of an humble dirt road deep in the woods, where cell phones don’t ring and we must have satellite dishes to receive TV and Internet, every day is Thanksgiving. Gratitude for this life of peace in nature’s beauty frequently overwhelms me, and I can’t help thinking of the 23rd Psalm – especially the part about how my cup runneth over.

Take yesterday, for instance: I drove up the road three miles to David and Lena King’s Amish farm store – just a little shed by the road — to buy something for dinner. Wearing her long dress and bonnet, their daughter Mary greeted me with her “Dutchy” accent, musically asking, “What will ya be wanting tuhdaaay then?” I looked around the little room, dimly lit only by a few small windows, and spied fresh corn on the cob and onions. I knew she had farmer’s cheese, raw milk, and eggs in the ice box. All of those were very appealing, but I asked if they had any green beans and beets. Mary said her parents were picking green beans right now and she would go quickly to fetch those and pull up some beets for me. I paid $16 for a big box of fresh food and a boost for my soul.

We are surrounded by farms that look a lot like this one, less than a two-mile walk from our house up the paved road.

When Robert got home from his job as a USPS clerk, it looked like rain, so we quickly took our five dogs out of their indoor/outdoor dog run for a walk down to our half-acre pond. When we moved here after selling our big house in the suburbs almost 7 years ago, there were already lots of bass, blue gill, green gill, catfish, big carp, and other creatures in the spring-fed pond. We have added about 90 large koi over the years. Some of them are over three feet long. We hold each colorful fish and give it a name as we put it in our pond. They all look very different from each other and have individual personalities. Yellow Submarine is the queen of her domain at almost four feet long, and she often spends a good deal of time orienting newcomers to her realm. Homey is quite a clown and likes to show off and leap out of the water many times whenever he sees us nearby.

I made two signs for the pond years ago: “NO FISHING! These fish are family pets, and they have names!” Those signs rotted away years ago and I didn’t replace them. People in these parts know now that we do not hunt or fish, although they cannot understand why, since our 12 acres, pond and stream would be perfect for those activities. We are surrounded by 78 acres of state gameland that lies mainly between our property and the river. We like to hike by the stream to the river and back whenever we can, and we are happy that the woodland animals seem to be realizing that they are safe on our land. Native Americans used to live in this wooded ravine, not all that long ago, and we often sense their presence in the majestic rock cliffs and among giant poplar trees. We know that we are just temporary custodians of this land. We are humbled.

In the spring our half-acre pond is surrounded by irises. Our koi are happy and healthy living in pure spring water.

Our dog-people are two black pugs, Snorky and Randy; a long-haired black fox-like puppy that a friend rescued when a speeding car threw him out in the middle of a busy city intersection – we call him Wardell, after the hero in that wonderful trailer trash movie “Sordid Lives;” a beagle who was lost in the woods, dying of hunger, and adopted us at 3am one morning years ago – we tried other names, but only “Dumb-Dumb” stuck, because he is dumber than broccoli; and then there is our white Cairn Terrier, Scrappy — aka King Crappy — because he is so smart and resourceful that he now rules the whole kingdom here at Sawmill Run. We also have 17 tropical birds, including four big talking parrots, but I’ll introduce them to you another day.

For our five dog-people, “Family Time by the Pond” is their favorite part of each day. It is full of ritual. Wardell must be released at the front door to run at top speed down to our tree house deck that we built on Buddha Hill by the pond under three towering pine trees. Randy jumps up on one particular bench to be cuddled on our way to the deck. Scrappy likes to leap into the pond and chase the koi around. They tease him, circle back and bump him in the butt! For a whole week recently, one particular big bass would come right up to the shallow edge of the pond, following Scrappy back and forth as he would pace at the water’s edge. Eventually every visit to the pond ended up in a nose-to-nose stare-down. Fascinating interspecies communication abounds here in the woods. Meanwhile, Dumb-Dumb just smiles and gazes devotedly into our eyes. He’s happy.

Our 150-year-old barn was collapsing because the main support rafter beam had been removed long ago, and the full timber floor joists had been turned to powder by termites. Robert and I rebuilt the barn floor and inside front support wall, put on a new roof, added three dormers and turned the barn into a private art gallery. There is a view of the stream and pond from the glass back door.

It started to rain while Snorky was doing her rituals – bringing me mud from the nearby bogs and puddles and rubbing it all over me to share its cooling and soothing pleasures. Then she brings sticks to place on my shoes. She puts her paws on my shoes and chews the sticks. We both find these rituals lovingly meaningful, and they enrich our relationship. It began to rain hard. Snorky was in her element. Homey leapt out of the pond for joy and for insects. Wardell cuddled on Robert’s lap as we sat in adjacent hand-made Amish wooden gliders and sighed deeply. It rained harder. Thunder shook the Earth. We murmured, “Beautiful… Wonderful!” We could have gone inside our barn art gallery, beside the stream and pond, to enjoy the thunderstorm, but since living here we have preferred to be outside, if the rain is not too cold. Summer rains are such a pleasure!

Our barn art gallery is quite comfortable and inviting, but we almost never sit there unless we have visitors, because the allure of the outdoor hillside deck under the pine trees by the pond always wins. Besides, our dogs don’t seem to care that much for our art. They prefer to play by the pond.

Finally, King Crappy and Randy and Dumb-Dumb, who had been playing and relaxing by the pond, told us that it was time to go in. They said, “Are you crazy? It’s raining and thundering!” so we walked back up the hill to the trailerhouse art studio where the dogs and birds live and where I work, paint and write during the day. We lived there for six years while finishing the half-done construction on our little cottage deeper in the woods – beyond the end of the dirt road – beside a majestic wall of rock. My dear old dad named our new home “The Cliffs.”

We sold our 5-bedroom, 3-bath show home in the suburbs and lived for six years in this 30-year-old collapsing trailerhouse with additions and a vast 6-car, drive-in, dirt-floor basement. Now that we have moved to our cottage by The Cliffs, we use the trailerhouse as our art studios and offices. We hope to gut it eventually and rebuild it from the inside as a standard-construction studio, but we plan to leave the ouside looking exactly like it does now — a sad, dilapidated old trailerhouse. We don’t want to put on pretentious airs, after all.

King Crappy had escaped the dog run, as he often does, and had been out running around in the woods all day. He was muddy and exhausted, but clearly exhilarated and happy. We put him in a snazzy black harness that we call his “tuxedo,” and loaded him into my 4wd SUV along with some fresh Amish corn and green beans for dinner. We drove to the barricade of boulders at the dead-end of our dirt road. I got out and unlocked the heavy logging chain that secures our 250 lb cattle gate mounted on two telephone poles, drove the SUV through, and locked the gate behind us. I remember when we used to have a garage door opener and never got wet… But there are subtler luxuries in the woods.

It was still raining as we four-wheeled down the bumpy hill, through the stream and up to our new cottage – two big 15 ft x 15 ft rooms – one a many-windowed livingroom, and the other our future kitchen, with a bed in one corner and a lacquer black baby grand piano in another. There’s a crystal chandelier in the middle of the vaulted knotty pine livingroom ceiling, between the two ceiling fans. Every knotty pine cottage in the woods needs a baby grand piano and a crystal chandelier, of course! Robert washed Scrappy in our big new half-finished shower while I fixed the corn-on-the-cob and green beans in the electric skillet and 50-cent microwave that Robert bought at a garage sale. That’s how we cook now, and mysteriously our dinners have become better! Some day we will have a proper stove and oven. If we ever have a dishwasher again, I will think I have died and gone to heaven.

Old neighbors who have lived in this valley for 70 years or more tell us that the houses that used to sit on the site of our trailerhouse art studio and on the site shown above, burned down because their stills exploded. Our ravine was famous for illegal moonshine production and their were private dance and booz clubs hidden away in these woods. The wing with an arched window above was framed in but not completed when we bought this property. It had just three tiny windows. We finished the construction and installed big second hand windows. We like to use salvaged construction materials when we can.

After dinner in the screened porch, we sat in the livingroom listening to the rain and thunder, and watching the lightning show. Scrappy was asleep on Robert’s lap. It was so peaceful and beautiful and wonderful. I was overwhelmed by another one of those moments of thanksgiving, and said to Robert, “We are so incredibly lucky. How many people get to live like this?” Robert smiled knowingly and whispered, “Very few.” I found myself thinking of the 23rd Psalm again as the rain fell softly outside:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


by Kevin

Money Screws Up Everything!

Sometimes I just hate money. It screws up everything. Any first grader can see that I was born to be an artist. So, of course, I’ve spent the last 22 years as a business consultant to Fortune 500 companies. It was my own fault that I didn’t make any art during most of those years, but I forgive myself. I’m not the only one who would say that if it were not for having to make money, they would be doing something else. People should do what they were born to do, shouldn’t they? Yes… but money screws up everything. For decades some of my more idealistic friends have been urging, “Give up that job! Follow your dream! You are an artist!” Well… I AM an artist, and I AM following my dream, but I don’t want to starve in the gutter. So I have worked full time at my job and then performed a second full time vocation “following my dream” as an artist.

Even pleasure is evaluated according to how much money you pay for the experience. If you go on an expensive cruise or spend time at a fancy resort, everyone assumes you had a wonderful time. If you stay at home and sit in your backyard garden, the same people feel sorry for you. Frankly, I’ve had some truly lousy times on cruises and at fancy resorts, and some of my best times in my own garden, so the price tag on a vacation is a false indicator of its value. Money does not equal fun.

Money madness takes on much more serious forms as well. To get a lot of money, or only what they perceive to be a lot of money, some people are willing to steal, murder, betray loved ones, enslave each other, demean and prostitute themselves and others, and do all manner of illegal, immoral, cruel, awful things. Money basically brings the worst out in people. Why does everyone love it so?

Money is making a mess of our society right now. The Occupy Movement has famously pointed out that the richest 1% of U.S. people holds more wealth than the other 99%. They are doing their best to hold onto more power than the lower 99% too. In fact they are attempting to destroy the middle class. Scranton, PA is broke and the mayor has announced that they are now going to pay their fire fighters and police force minimum wage! Hard working teachers, civil servants and salt-of-the-earth blue collar union members are under attack. As median household wealth drops, people are afraid that others are getting more than they do, and they resent their friends and neighbors having a retirement plan or health insurance or a decent hourly wage. Money envy yields dangerous results.

Meanwhile, the apparent Republican nominee for the presidency may be worth about a quarter billion dollars. Nobody knows, because a great deal of his wealth is hidden in offshore accounts all over the world. Like all his wealthy friends, Mitt pays less than 15% taxes on his income while you and I pay over 30%. I don’t begrudge him his wealth, unless it was ill-gotten, but I do think he should pay his fair share of taxes – as much as you and I pay. President Obama has generously proposed to extend the Bush tax cuts for all income up to $250,000. Even billionaires would get that much of a tax cut, and then the rest of their temporary Bush income tax break would be rolled back to pre-Bush levels. But Romney and the Republicans want the fat cat tax breaks to become permanent. Discrepancies in fairness, like this one, around money and taxes make everyone mad, including me. Money is power, and those who have it often prove capable of stacking the cards in their favor for getting even more.

There’s No Money in Heaven

I certainly hope there is no money in Heaven. One of the things I look forward to enthusiastically about graduating from this mudball and moving on to the next realm is getting rid of money! I cannot imagine money being part of Heaven, can you? Of course not. Money is “the root of all evil.” There couldn’t possibly be any money in Heaven. We won’t need to eat or worry about shelter, since we will be angels, sleeping on clouds or something. We won’t have to buy cars, since we will be able to fly, right? In Paradise we won’t need any possessions other than our harps and white robes, which I assume will be issued at the Pearly Gates. We won’t have to go shopping. We won’t need money! YAY!

It’s kind of amazing, actually, that more people have not tried to come up with alternatives to money here on earth, since it is such a total pain in the ass. Barter is probably the most common effort to get around money, but it isn’t very precise, and someone is always feeling cheated, as in “I think my assistance building your barn was worth more than this one old goat you gave me!” Communes have been an interesting effort to get away from money in my lifetime. Supposedly everyone works as hard as they can for the good of the community without receiving any money to show for it. But then somebody is always slipping into lazy freeloading, and that causes resentment. Besides, most people do want to have a few possessions of their own and a little bit of privacy.

In our society the conservatives loudly proclaim the supremacy of unregulated capitalism – not what I expect to find in Heaven. Even in the material world, capitalism is beginning to look a little shaky. The unfettered economy of extraction, exploitation and abuse of resources, nature and people is ruining societies and our environment. It is increasingly clear that the powerful wealthy elite 1% is succeeding in redistributing wealth from the middle and lower classes to the extremely wealthy. The Republicans are very open about wanting to shred any semblance of a security net, and get rid of all social programs – eventually even Medicare and Social Security – leaving the poor to die in the streets and the remnants of the middle class increasingly desperate and impoverished. So much for our national Christian values of feeding the poor and clothing the naked. They even seem to want to deprive all but the wealthiest families of educational opportunities, to make sure that they keep control of all the money and power. They certainly don’t want another president like Obama, because he believes in fair taxation, equal opportunity in education and work, and fair pay for work done.

It’s a battle royale on planet earth right now over money, whether you want to talk about the Arabian oil fields, or the European Union, or extreme Third World poverty, or the increasing polarization of the U.S. classes. So I guess we’ll have to wait for our halos, wings and harps before we can look forward to living without money. Capitalism will catapult us into Heaven more quickly, however.

Money Makes the World Go ‘Round

Here on earth we are caught in a veritable rat race for money, money, money! My 87-year-old dad points out that back in the 50s, when I was a kid, a good middle class life meant a small modest home with one car in the driveway, a washing machine, and a black and white TV set with three channels… maybe a radio and a stereo, too, if you could afford them. That was a good life. Now we think we are utterly deprived if we can’t have a gigantic house and a big garden shed full of lawn equipment, one car for each family member of driving age, plus some additional recreational vehicles, unlimited high speed Internet access, cable TV with hundreds of channels in almost every room, endless travel and entertainment, huge closets full of clothing, phones in every pocket, college educations for everyone, major retirement savings and more insurance than you can shake a stick at.

 Insurance… now there’s a money pit! I pay for auto insurance for three cars, home and fire insurance for two properties, phone line repair insurance, $500/month for my own health insurance and $1,000/year for professional liability insurance because I’m an independent contractor and an artist with a display room downtown, $2,250/year for disability insurance, lots of life insurance, and I probably have insurance for my insurance! I feel guilty because I don’t have dental insurance and long term care insurance. I know I’m irresponsible for not having those, but I just cannot afford anymore damn insurance! Give me a break! That’s another good thing about going to Heaven… You don’t have to buy insurance in Heaven. You’re already dead!

Money may make the world go ’round, but it makes my head spin! I hate the way people respect you more if you make a lot of money and suspect you of being subversive if you choose not to make as much money as you could, or not to display ostentatiously how much money you make. And if you ever sell your big house, pay off all your debts and radically downsize, you will find out that people resent you for dropping out of the money rat race. “How dare you reject the game! You can’t do that!”

Living With Less

Oh yes we can… we CAN live with less… a whole LOT less. It was a very short time ago that people lived with less than we can now imagine. When my father was a boy, his home had no electricity or running water or indoor plumbing. They weren’t terribly poor. Those things just hadn’t reached many of the rural areas yet. They worked the farm, milked the cows and tilled the fields by the rhythms of the rising and setting sun, the weather and the seasons. They lived close to the land and their animals. Forget the 50s with the one car, TV set, and washing machine. In my father’s youth there was virtually no technology except for a few gasoline engines and 19th Century mechanical devices. At that time he could not have imagined our smart cell phones, iPads and computers facilitating instant and constant communications and business dealings; our global jet travel; our video-game-like drone warfare; and all of our gadgetry, amenities and luxuries. A light bulb and an indoor toilet and plumbing were life-changing luxuries to him.

It is time to live more simply again. Our extraction and pollution economies and technologies are raping the planet and killing it as a livable home for plants, animals and humans. We are starting to see that all around us now. We had no winter this year. Colorado has burnt up. Thousands of heat records were shattered by the end of June. Millions of households had to survive temperatures over 100 degrees with very high humidity without any electricity for air conditioning for a week. What will August be like? We have to reverse Global Climate Change if we want to survive. We have to change how we live and be willing to live with much less. We have to become friends with the Earth and the plants and animals again. Their fate will be ours.

You Can’t Take It With You

Money is not the key. You can’t take it with you. It won’t offer you permanent happiness. Money applied intelligently might be able to improve conditions for all life on earth and for the environment, but so far we are applying it to commit suicide. So it’s not working. Money is not working for us.

But enough of this frivolity. Let’s get serious. I have bad news: We are all going to die. If we are lucky, we will get old first, and then die. I have made a personal study of the aging process. Growing old is about giving up things bit by bit until we finally have nothing and then we let go of the body. At that point we will leave the material world of money, utterly penniless, whether we had billions when we died or nothing at all. Death is the great equalizer. It enforces the ultimate equitable wealth distribution. You may have gotten the impression that s/he who dies with the most money and toys wins. But it ain’t true. Only the intangibles that have fed and defined our souls stay with us. Money, or “mammon,” will mean nothing to us at the moment of our graduation to the next realm.

I’ve never been a Bible thumper, but the words of Christ say it best. There is so much unchristian Christianity going around these days. So, don’t take my word for it… Listen to the source:

Matthew 6:19-33

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. 23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.