Free by Rene

Free is nature as it’s grown
Free is life as it’s sown
Free is love as it be
Free for all like a seed


The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson

Non-fiction book review written May 14, 2011

To me the writing seemed similar to John Muir’s writing.  The preface said that the author took the back seat, letting the subject take the center of attention.  That may be so, but the author’s enthusiasm shows.  I think she viewed the mysterious as an opportunity, rather than as a limitation.

The topic is literally large, so the book may as well be about the history of the universe.  It does touch on geology and the formation of our planet and solar system.  Early in the book, she wrote that the earth was formed out of solar material, and it has barely cooled since then.  I remember the idea that the crust is a thin skin floating on a molten interior, but I did not think that molten interior was anywhere near star temperature.  It gives me new respect for the concept of geothermal energy.  We still believe that the core of the earth has a temperature similar to the surface of the sun.

One of my high school English teachers mentioned many phenomena that are described in this book, and coincidentally gave us a reading list that includes this book.  I can remember my teacher describing the Bay of Fundy and the forces that shape its tides.  Reading the example again, I wondered whether the name had to do with waveform fundamentals and harmonics, but the name seems to be a coincidence.

The research is impressive.  There were too many details to retain. The most interesting detail to me is the history of our learning. This book was written before geologists had consensus about plate tectonics.  I also thought it was neat that someone wrote about “climate change” as far back as 1912.

“From this germ of an idea, Pettersson’s fertile mind evolved a theory of climatic variation, which he set forth in 1912 in an extraordinarily interesting document called “Climatic Variations in Historic and Prehistoric Time.” (Svenska Hydrog.==Biol. Komm. Skrifter, No. 5, 1912.)  “Marshalling scientific, historic, and literary evidence, he showed that there are alternating periods of mild and severe climates which correspond to the long-period cycles of the oceanic tides.”

The afterword mentions Milankovitch, who also broke ground on this subject.

John Muir, saint of the American wilderness

John Muir was the archetypal free spirit. Following his own call of the wild, he wandered throughout the Appalachians and the Sierra to Alaska, Siberia, South America, and Africa. Both a dreamer and an activist, he was a devoted father, successful farmer, ingenious inventor, gifted writer, passionate lobbyist, and co-founder of the Sierra Club. His eloquent words changed the way Americans saw their mountains, forests, seashores, and deserts. [1]

At least one major religious denomination has actually posited a form of “sainthood” on John Muir. [2]

Fasting was an intrinsic part of Muir’s explorations, so much so that he resented the necessity of eating. …

“Can scarce command attention to my best studies, as if one couldn’t take a few days’ saunter in the Godful woods without maintaining a base on a wheat-field and grist-mill. Like caged parrots we want a cracker.” [3]

“Weather does not happen. It is the visible manifestation of the Spirit moving itself in the void. It gathers itself together under the heavens; rains, snows, yearns mightily in wind, smiles; and the Weather Bureau, situated advantageously for that very business, taps the record on his instruments and going out on the streets denies his God, not having gathered the sense of what he has seen. Hardly anybody takes account of the fact that John Muir, who knows more of mountain storms than any other, is a devout man.” [4]

“Amuse yourselves,” said Captain Lane at lunch. “Here we stay till two o’clock tomorrow morning. This gale, blowing from the sea, makes safe steering through the Canyon impossible, unless we take the morning’s calm.”

I saw Muir’s eyes light up with a peculiar meaning as he glanced quickly at me across the table. He knew the leading strings I was in; how those well-meaning D.D.S. and their motherly wives thought they had a special mission to suppress all my self-destructive proclivities toward dangerous adventure, and especially to protect me from “that wild Muir” and his hare-brained schemes of mountain climbing.

“Where is it?” I asked, as we met behind the pilot house a moment later.

He pointed to a little group of jagged peaks rising right up from where we stood–a pulpit in the center of a vast rotunda of magnificent mountains. “One of the finest viewpoints in the world,” he said. …

Muir led, of course, picking with sure instinct the easiest way. Three hours of steady work brought us suddenly beyond the timber-line, and the real joy of the day began. Nowhere else have I seen anything approaching the luxuriance and variety of delicate blossoms shown by these high, mountain pastures of the North. “You scarce could see the grass for flowers.” Everything that was marvelous in form, fair in color, or sweet in fragrance seemed to be represented there, from daisies and campanulas to Muir’s favorite, the cassiope, with its exquisite little pink-white bells shaped like lilies-of-the-valley and its subtle perfume. Muir at once went wild when we reached this fairyland. From cluster to cluster of flowers he ran, falling on his knees, babbling in unknown tongues, prattling a curious mixture of scientific lingo and baby talk, worshiping his little blue-and-pink goddesses.

“Ah! my blue-eyed darlin’, little did I think to see you here. How did you stray away from Shasta?”

“Well, well! Who’d ‘a’ thought that you’d have left that niche in the Merced mountains to come here!”

“And who might you be, now, with your wonder look? Is it possible that you can be (two Latin polysyllables)? You’re lost, my dear; you belong in Tennessee.”

“Ah! I thought I’d find you, my homely little sweetheart,” and so on unceasingly.

So absorbed was he in this amatory botany that he seemed to forget my existence. While I, as glad as he, tagged along, running up and down with him, asking now and then a question, learning something of plant life, but far more of that spiritual insight into Nature’s lore which is granted only to those who love and woo her in her great outdoor palaces. But how I anathematized my short-sighted foolishness for having as a student at old Wooster shirked botany for the “more important” studies of language and metaphysics. For here was a man whose natural science had a thorough technical basis, while the super-structure was built of “lively stones,” and was itself a living temple of love!

With all his boyish enthusiasm, Muir was a most painstaking student; and any unsolved question lay upon his mind like a personal grievance until it was settled to his full understanding. One plant after another, with its sand-covered roots, went into his pockets, his handkerchief, and the “full” of his shirt until he was bulbing and sprouting all over, and could carry no more. He was taking them to the boat to analyze and compare at leisure. Then he began to requisition my receptacles. I stood it while he stuffed my pockets, but rebelled when he tried to poke the prickly, scratchy things inside my shirt. I had not yet attained that sublime indifference to physical discomfort … that Muir had found. …

“Man!” he said, “I was forgetting. We’ll have to hurry now or we’ll miss it, we’ll miss it.”

“Miss what?” I asked.

“The jewel of the day,” he answered; “the sight of the sunset from the top.”

Then Muir began to SLIDE up that mountain. I had been with mountain climbers before, but never one like him. A deer-lope over the smoother slopes, a sure instinct for the easiest way into a rocky fortress, so instant and unerring attack, a serpent-glide up the steep; eye, hand and foot all connected dynamically; with no appearance of weight to his body–as though he had Stockton’s negative gravity machine strapped on his back. … It was only for exerting myself to the limits of my strength that I was able to keep near him.

… and the wall of rock towered threateningly above us, leaning out in places, a thousand feet or so above the glacier. … A quick glance to the right and left, and Muir, who had steered his course wisely across the glacier, attacked the cliff, simply saying, “We must climb cautiously here.”

Now came the most wonderful display of his mountain-craft. Had I been alone at the feet of these crags I should have said, “It can’t be done,” and have turned back down the mountain. But Muir was my “control,” as the spiritists say, and I never thought of doing anything else but following him. He thought he could climb up there and that settled it. He would do what he thought he could. And such climbing! There was never an instant when both feet and hands were not in play, and often elbows, knees, thighs, upper arms, and even chin must grip and hold. Clambering up a steep slope, crawling under an overhanging rock, spreading out like a flying squirrel and edging along an inch-wide projection while fingers clasped knobs above the head, bending about sharp angles, pulling up smooth rock-faces by sheer strength of arm and chinning over the edge, leaping fissures, sliding flat around a dangerous rock-breast, testing crumbly spurs before risking his weight, always going up, up, no hesitation, no pause–that was Muir! My task was the lighter one; he did the head-work, I had but to imitate. … As far as possible I did as he did, took his handholds, and stepped in his steps.

But I was handicapped in a way that Muir was ignorant of, and I would not tell him for fear of his veto upon my climbing. My legs were all right–hard and sinewy; my body light and supple, my wind good, my nerves steady (heights did not make me dizzy); but my arms–there lay the trouble. Ten years before I had been fond of breaking colts–till the colts broke me. On successive summers in West Virginia, two colts had fallen with me and dislocated first my left shoulder, then my right. Since then both arms had been out of joint more than once. My left was especially weak. It would not sustain my weight, and I had to favor it constantly. Now and again, as I pulled myself up some difficult reach I could feel the head of the humerous move from its socket. …

Then he started running along the ledge like a mountain goat, working to get around the vertical cliff above us to find an ascent on the other side. He was soon out of sight, although I followed as fast as I could. I heard him shout something, but could not make out his words. I know now that he was warning me of a dangerous place. Then I came to a sharp-cut fissure which lay across my path… It sloped very steeply for some twelve feet below, opening on the face of the precipice above the glacier, and was filled to within about four feet of the surface with flat, slatey gravel. It was only four or five feet across, and I could easily have leaped it had I not been so tired. But a rock the size of my head projected from the slippery stream of gravel. In my haste to overtake Muir I did not stop to make sure this stone was part of the cliff, but stepped with springing force upon it to cross the fissure. Instantly the stone melted away beneath my feet, and I shot with it down towards the precipice. With my peril sharp upon me I cried out as I whirled on my face, and struck out both hands to grasp the rock on either side.

Falling forward hard, my hands struck the walls of the chasm, my arms were twisted behind me, and instantly both shoulders were dislocated. With my paralyzed arms flopping helplessly above my head, I slid swiftly down the narrow chasm. Instinctively I flattened down on the sliding gravel, digging my chin and toes into it to check my descent; but not until my feet hung out over the edge of the cliff did I feel that I had stopped. Even then I dared not breathe or stir, so precarious was my hold on that treacherous shale. Every moment I seemed to be slipping inch by inch to the point when all would give way and I would go whirling down to the glacier. …

I had no hope of escape at all. The gravel was rattling past me and piling up against my head. The jar of a little rock, and all would be over. The situation was too desperate for actual fear. Dull wonder as to how long I would be in the air, and the hope that death would be instant–that was all. Then came the wish that Muir would come before I fell, and take a message to my wife.

Suddenly, I heard his voice right above me. “My God!” he cried. Then he added, “Grab that rock, man, just by your right hand.”

I gurgled from my throat, not daring to inflate my lungs, “My arms are out.”

There was a pause. Then his voice rang again, cheery, confident, unexcited, “Hold fast; I’m going to get you out of this. I can’t get to you on this side; the rock is sheer. I’ll have to leave you now and cross the rift high up and come down to you on the other side by which we came. Keep cool.”

Then I heard him going away, whistling “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” singing snatches of Scotch songs, calling to me, his voice now receding, as the rocks intervened, then sounding louder as he came out on the face of the cliff. But in me hope surged at full tide. I entertained no more thoughts of last messages. I did not see how he could possibly do it, but he was John Muir, and I had seen his wonderful rock-work. So I determined not to fall and made myself as flat and heavy as possible, not daring to twitch a muscle or wink an eyelid, for I still felt myself slipping, slipping down the greasy slate. And now a new peril threatened. A chill ran through me of cold and nervousness, and I slid an inch. I suppressed the growing shivers with all my will. I would keep perfectly still till it was torture, and I could not ease it.

It seemed like hours, but it was really only about ten minutes before he got back to me. By that time I hung so far over the edge of the precipice that it seemed impossible that I could last another second. Now, I heard Muir’s voice, low and steady, close to me, and it seemed a little below.

“Hold steady,” he said, “I’ll have to swing you out over the cliff.”

Then I felt a careful hand on my back, fumbling with the waistband of my pants, my vest and shirt, gathering all in a firm grip. I could see only with one eye and that looked upon but a foot or two of gravel on the other side.

“Now!” he said, and I slid out of the cleft with a rattling shower of stones and gravel. My head swung down, my impotent arms dangling, and I stared straight at the glacier, a thousand feet below. Then my feet came against the cliff.

“Work downwards with your feet.”

I obeyed. He drew me close to him by crooking his arm and as my head came up past his level he caught me by my collar with his teeth! My feet struck the little two-inch shelf on which he was standing, and I could see Muir, flattened against the face of the rock and facing it, his right hand stretched up and clasping a little spur, his left holding me with an iron grip, his head bent sideways, as my weight drew it. I felt as alert and cool as he.

“I’ve got to let go of you,” he hissed through his clenched teeth. “I need both hands here. Climb upward with your feet.”

How he did it, I know not. The miracle grows as I ponder it. The wall was almost perpendicular and smooth. My weight on his jaws dragged him outwards. And yet, holding me by his teeth as a panther her cub and clinging like a squirrel to a tree, he climbed with me straight up ten or twelve feet, with only help of my iron-shod feet scrambling on the rock. It was utterly impossible, yet he did it! [5]


How To Live Quietly by Annie Payson Call

Non-fiction book notes written June 12th, 2015.

“PEACE is the health of the spirit. … It is the faults within ourselves that we are neither facing nor shunning that keep us away from peace.”

“As gradually we learn that it is our own attitude toward life that makes us suffer, not the circumstances and people in life, we come nearer and nearer to our freedom. … and the contrast is so great between the habitual and customary bondage to people and circumstances and the healthy habit of working to throw off such bondage, as to give us always a growing sense of relief which is delightful.”

“We are told that at social dinners in some parts of India silence is not in any way considered to be in bad form; quite the reverse.  If the host and his guests think of nothing especial to say, they say nothing, and the silence is neither awkward nor dead, but quite alive with thoughts which are getting in form to be spoken, and with the restful sense which each person at the table has of not being forced to speak until he has something to say.”

Below is an excerpt from an article about the author.

Call’s school placed children from varied backgrounds in the same classroom because she believed that diversity could lead to intellectual and social advancement.  In her writings one finds simple suggestions for ways in which we can be more tolerant, kind, and understanding in a frenzied world.  Her firm tone resonates with astonishing power and her belief in the ease with which we can make a better world is contagious sixty-nine years after her passing.

Call’s writing is anchored in the phrase, “Nature tends toward health.”  It was her belief that the natural world wants us to be well even if we do not want it to be well.  Call even wrote about breathing and stretching exercises that resemble modern yoga and meditation.

Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi

History book review written on September 1st, 2009, followed by notes written today.

The author writes in a detached, dispassionate style that is comparatively easy to read.  Yet the numbers alone tell a harsh tale.  The author was one in a convoy of 650 Jews from Italy, loaded onto 12 freight cars.  Of those 650, 96 men and 29 women entered the camps.  By October 1944, 21 men remained.  Out of the author’s freight car, 4 eventually saw their homes again.  The night of January 18th 1945 the outside temperature was -50F.  The author was in a hospital and the camp had no power or heat.  Explosions broke the windows during an air raid.  It was a mixed curse because the cold temperature helped to control the spread of disease.  I found it an interesting idea that the destruction of one’s personality would be more frightening than death.

One did not survive by being good.

“To sink is the easiest of matters; it is enough to carry out all orders one receives, to eat only the ration, to observe the discipline of the work and the camp.  Experience showed that only exceptionally could one survive more than three months in this way.”

Companionship and hope made all the difference.

“However little sense there may be in trying to specify why I, rather than thousands of others, managed to survive the test, I believe that it is really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence, by his natural and plain manner of being good, that there still existed a just world outside our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, extraneous to hatred and terror; something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving.”

Follow-up thoughts on November 16, 2016:

Below is a relevant article from my morning news crawl.

Below is a relevant story about a former manager’s father:

“Bob” was a pilot during the last world war.  Nazis shot Bob’s plane down and captured him in Italy.  The captured pilots were put on a death march through the alps in the winter, with no shoes, no food, and inadequate clothing.  When the pilots collapsed from exhaustion and illness, they would be beaten.  If they still wouldn’t move, then they were shot and their body was left behind.  Bob was ill and was not rising from his last collapse.  He would have been executed, except another pilot picked him up and carried him the rest of the way through the harsh conditions.  Most of the pilots died during that march.

Bob and his savior remained friends for life.  One day Bob asked why he was the one who was saved, out of all of the other pilots.  The friend’s response was interesting.  Just before the flight, Bob received a telegram that his first child was born.  In a sense, the mere existence of his newborn son is what set Bob apart and saved his life.

Mother’s Song by Kathy Zavada

Mother’s Song by Kathy Zavada

Oh my love, my love don’t cry.
I’m with you, here inside,
And i love you, i’m with you all the way.

Oh my love, close your eyes.
Rest a while, realize,
You are so very loved, all of the time.

I hold you here in my heart.
It’s vast as an ocean.
Sleeping child don’t dream we’re apart.
Dream your eyes are open.
Open your eyes.

Precious one, everyone.
You’re not alone, you’re not forgotten.
You’re coming home. Rest into yourself.

You are the one i’m waiting for.
Patiently, i’ll wait outside your door.
And when you’re ready, open and be free.


No more pain, no more tears.
Come to me with your fears.
And give them up, surrender into love.

Remember who you really are.
You’re vaster than a million stars.
You’re everything you could ever want to be.



The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan

Non-fiction book review written on December 30th, 2011.

I read this book for the baloney detection toolkit [1].  The book contains many ideas.  Some seem obvious and simple, but they required active thought and enthusiasm to formulate.  One of the most interesting was the idea that to further science, it is important to combine credulity with skepticism.  “The judicious mix of these two modes of thought is central to the success of science. … But neither is easy.”

By volume, most of the book is spent discussing UFO’s and religion.  Much of this is old hat, but I enjoyed the sections about religious doctrines that are falsifiable.  For example, on the efficacy of prayer versus the longevity of monarchs.  Despite the heartfelt mantra of “God save the Queen” or King, monarchs do not, statistically, live longer than others in their social class.  One can draw data from millennia of history, all the way back to ancient  Egyptians, may the gods grant the Pharaoh live forever.

“… but if we must make errors, given the stakes, they should be on the side of safety. … Today our poison arrows can destroy the global civilization and just possibly annihilate our species.  The price of moral ambiguity is now too high.” — Carl Sagan

“So far from being an isolated phenomenon the late war is only an example of the disruptive result that we may constantly expect from the progress of science. … We have improved our armaments, and patriotism, which was once a flame upon the altar, has become a world-devouring conflagration.”  — J.B.S. Haldane [2]

The Demon Haunted World references a couple of relevant public domain books:

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay, 1841

Mysticism and Logic by Bertrand Russel, 1929



  • title: The Demon Haunted World
  • author: Sagan, Carl, 1934-1996
  • LOC: Q175 .S215
  • rating: 5