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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

PILGRIMAGE: Tales of Man and Nature

This morning I've been browsing through an issue of Pilgrimage, a unique literary journal from Crestone, Colorado that's published three times a year. Reading it is akin to having your disk drive defragmented.

That's because its editor and publisher, Peter Anderson, fills it with autobiographical tales and poetry that, in his words, "invite reflection, help to illuminate the world's great wisdom traditions, encourage a deeper sense of home and place, and speak out for peace and justice."

The short and spare stories in the issue I've been reading take you to many unexpected places and situations.

In "On the Road to the Cofradia," by Teresa A. Kendrick, an American woman driving in rural Mexico encounters the body of a teenager lying on the road outside a village. She goes into the village to seek help, and finds the few stores deserted. She finally spies movement in one storefront, that of the local photographer. He explains that the villagers have all "gone to tell the patron." She notices that he is assembling a worn black suit and polished shoes, getting ready for the traditional funeral portrait. "Don't worry, senorita," the old man assures her, "an angel is passing today."

Fred Bahnson describes the loneliness of a young Montana boy who arrives at a school for the children of missionaries in Nigeria while his parents are off in the bush several hundred miles away. It's not a pleasant place: there's a tall wall covered with glass fragments to keep the white children in and the Nigerians out. Worst of all, it's to be his home for the next few years. His misery comes to center on the glass of milk he's forced to drink with each meal, a powdered concoction called Friesan Flag that to him has strong overtones of formaldehyde.

Bill Sharwonit writes of hiking down a favorite trail outside Anchorage, Alaska. On this particular day he goes off the trail to inspect a large and venerable paper birch tree that has several dead branches, cracks in others and folds of papery bark that have peeled away from the trunk. He muses,
All these aging marks give the birch what we humans call "character." But they give it beauty, too. Now middle-aged, I hope I'll be able to equally appreciate my own sagging, wrinkling, graying body―and that of my spouse and friends―as the years take their toll on us. Contrasted with the birch's bark are its shining green leaves, adding brightness to the tree, as a sparkling pair of eyes or a rich smile might do for a human elder.

Explorer, mountain climber, mathematician and Asian scholar Edwin Bernbaum writes of his perilous trek to a hidden valley east of Mount Everest perhaps never before visited by outsiders. Tibetans told him it was a place sacred to ancient Buddhism; you'll recognize it as the origin of the "Shangri-La" myth.

To me, the best thing in this issue of Pilgrimage is a short quotation attributed to Philo of Alexandria (a real old dude) that starts off the "Friesan Flag" story: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is engaged in a mighty struggle."

Pilgrimage is published three times a year. An annual subscription is $22 a year; we'll send you a sample copy for $2.59.


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