Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


Cane Mill

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I went with my father and little brother to visit a cane mill on the northern edge of Jones County. It's been in the same family for a couple generations at least, in various incarnations. The man who operates it now recieved the trade from his father, who recieved it from his uncle. He squeezes and cooks sugar cane, which is grown on a small-scale basis around here (sorghum replaces sugar cane in most of the country; we are near the northern limit of sugar cane here in Jones County), making molasses which they then sell to local folks.

The mill itself is a venerable piece of equipment, of unknown age. It squeezes the juices out, which are caught in a basin, which has a gravity feed pipe running down to the cooking vat, where the juice is cooked and comes out as molasses. That's the basic process: not complicated, and the machinery involved is decidely low-tech. The owner does the cooking, while a number of men from around Jones County help in the other details. I got to help feed the cane mill, a task made a little harder this year thanks to Hurricane Katrina bending all the sugar cane stalks over into arches.

There were two trailer loads of sugar cane to milled. The hurricane didn't manage to destroy the crop this year, just make them a little trickier to feed into the mill.

Cooking the cane juice. The vat is a home-made operation; the insulation along the joints is river clay.

Feeding the mill.

The juice flows over into the tank, then down the hill to the vat.

Resting from the day's labour.


Unlikely Allies

Bush hails an unlikely ally in the land of Genghis Khan:

"Mongolia, which has been eager for closer military relations with the United States, sent about 120 soldiers to Iraq.

"Mr Bush said US forces were proud to serve with the "fearless warriors" of Mongolia and he specifically thanked two Mongolian soldiers for shooting a suicide bomber who had been trying to drive a truck full of explosives into a coalition army mess tent in southern Iraq.

"White House officials say that, per capita, only two countries - the United Kingdom and Denmark - have provided more troops, and the Mongolians have been rewarded with $11 million (£6.4 million) in US aid to improve their military forces."

Actually, it is quite reasonable for Mongolia to be seeking very close relations with the US, as a quick look at a world map will demonstrate. And I have to say, I for one am glad the Mongols are on our side. They conquered most of the known world, which isn't too bad of an accomplishment in my book. Granted, that may have been a few years back, but they still seem to be a very decent people.

If I get the chance, that region is the next part of the world I would like to visit- Mongolia, along with the northern teir of China and those hard to pronounce Central Asian republics.




I particularly like the Ents: an odd folk, to be sure, but with many excellent qualities, even if rapidity isn't one of them. It's usually not one of mine either- there are a few things, however, that can make me positively hasty. But not a terribly many.

To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
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Time and Sleep and Prayer

It is dreadfully cliche to say that Americans are busy people. But it is true. And I am all too cupable in it: I have college, which means a good bit of time spent reading and studying and fretting over finals I didn't have time to study for because I was busy doing Other Things. These Other Things are of course all good and praiseworthy things: I'm really not that bad about flat out wasting time. I wake up reasonably early, and have a tendency to go to bed late (I am a college student after all). Perhaps the worst example of sheer useless use of time is my tendency to sometimes peruse the Internet late at night; but this is often, in my defense, because my roommate is watching television or something. But much of the time I have Important Things to do. For example, I spent this weekend at a forensics (speech and debate) tournament in Shreveport, Louisiana (our college did quite well, going up against much larger universities at that; my debate partner and I did moderately well). {Note: yes, I'm about as nerdy as one can get in the direction of history / contemporary affairs / theology and such.} Anyway, I was quite exhasted by the end, what with Ireland right behind me, jetlag still hanging on. Then I immediately launched into finals, as my school operates on a trimester system which was interupted by the Hurricane.

So as you can see I have been occupied in Important Things- those mentioned above and others. I have been quite busy- which means that my attention to prayer is seriously foreshortened. Not only that, but it leads to a general weariness that gathers upon me and threatens to break down at some inopportune time. I go and go and neglect prayer and sleep and the action of simple inaction for a while. Or I end up so tired that I simply 'crash' and sleep intolerably long one day, trying to make up for what I missed. This really isn't very effective; likewise, it isn't terribly effective to try to pray for a long long time after missing it for several days. Prayer- from little I have learned about it- require continual practice, for our minds have a nasty propensity to wander, particularly it seems while in prayer. The same with Holy Scripture- it must be visited repeatedly and thus ingrained in the heart and in the conciousness.

It is along these lines of considering time, sleep, and prayer that I would like to offer the following passage from the Life of St. Leoba, a wonderful Anglo-Saxon abbess who journeyed to what was then either newly converted or still pagan Continent (her feast-day is September 28, which happily is also my birthday). She exemplified many virtues, including one we don't often necessarily associate with saints, reasonable moderation in sleep. However, her rubrics on rest are excellent. So is her example of devotion to Scripture and divine learning:

"So great was her zeal for reading that she discontinued it only for prayer or for the refreshment of her body with food or sleep: the Scriptures were never out of her hands. For, since she had been trained from infancy in the rudiments of grammar and the study of the other liberal arts, she tried by constant reflection to attain a perfect knowledge of divine things so that through the combination of her reading with her quick intelligence, by natural gifts and hard work, she became extremely learned. She read with attention all the books of the Old and New Testaments and learned by heart all the commandments of God. To these she added by way of completion the writings of the church Fathers, the decrees of the Councils and the whole of ecclesiastical law.

"She observed great moderation in all her acts and arrangements and always kept the practical end in view, so that she would never have to repent of her actions through having been guided by impulse. She was deeply aware of the necessity for concentration of mind in prayer and study, and for this reason took care not to go to excess either in watching or in other spiritual exercises. Throughout the summer both she and all the sisters under her rule went to rest after the midday meal, and she would never give permission to any of them to stay up late, for she said that lack of sleep dulled the mind, especially for study. "
I must note in passing that the afternoon nap or siesta is really a nice thing- this summer in China I tended to take one most days, when I could. I had reservations at first, but eventually subcombed. Here we are much too busy for such foolishness- we must stay up into the late hours as well, to get all those Important Things done. And not only am I too busy to sleep at reasonable times at night- much less in the afternoon (how wasteful!)- but I find myself as neglectful of Holy Scripture as St. Leoba was mindful. I really have no excuse. To be sure, I am not a monastic, but I have the time, and can make the time if I really desire, to devote myself much more to Scripture and to prayer. My problem is that while my mind can hold the idea that it is important, it does not translate to inner conviction and drive, at least not enough to make me get up and actually do it.

So then, it is my desire to try, in some small way, to pick up St. Leoba's example- along with so many other saints of ages past- and be more mindful of rest, such a seemingly simple thing, and be far more mindful of Scripture and prayer. Important Things are important, in moderation, but they are not- and never can be- the One Thing Needful.

Giant's Causeway

The Giant's Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, is one of those places that you hear about and is hyped up- "wonder of the world" and all that. In many cases I have found these sorts of places disappointing; this one however did not disappoint. The weather may have had something to do with it: nasty, wet, and cold, which meant wild and magnificent seas and very few people scrambling about on the rocks, despite the presence of a paved road and shuttle bus providing access to the place (I walked of course).

The way down the coastline to the Causeway.

Looking across a little inlet at the main section of the Causeway.

A close-up of the odd basalt formations.

It was a little windy: good Irish horizontal rain; one could lean over the edge of the rocks and the wind hold him up. I couldn't feel my fingers, also. Very invigorating!

The coastal cliffs seen from the path that climbs up from the Causeway. The yellow stuff in the foreground is gorse, or furze, which blooms more or less year round.


High Crosses

Ireland is full of medieval ecclessiastical goodness, lots of ancient church and monstery sites, but one of the most spectacular examples is the high cross. These stone high crosses, set up primarily in the ninth and tenth centuries, are scattered all over Ireland, primarily at monastic sites. We visited a couple of locations with high crosses, namely, at Drumcliffe and at Monasterboice.

This is the eleventh century high cross at Drumcliffe in County Sligo. It stands on the site of sixth century monastic settlement, of which nothing remains but the ruins of round tower. Drumcliffe is also the final resting place of W. B. Yeats.

A close-up of some of the so-called Celtic knot design on one of the sides of the cross.

One of the three magnificent tenth century high crosses at Monasterboice in County Louth, not far from Dublin. These are said to be among the finest examples of high crosses, and I will certainly concur to their beauty and magnificence. Monasterboice, as one may deduce from the name, was once a monastic site, and boasts, in addition to the crosses, a fine round tower, albiet missing its cap. The site, which also has the ruins of churches that were built after the monastery went defunct, is in the midst of gentle rolling countryside, not far from Newgrange, the Hill of Slane, the Hill of Tara, and other famous sites.

Another of the high crosses, with the round tower in the background. These towers functioned primarily as bell-towers; in addition they probably function as repositories for valuables, and possibly for defense, though this is disputed.

The simplest of the high crosses at Monasterboice.


Dispatch From Dublin

Well, our little tramp through Ireland is winding to a close. Tonight I am in Dublin, the capital, at last connected to a free wireless network. For the time being I will forego extensive commentary and simply post a few pictures from the various points I have been. But first a few general words about my first impressions of Ireland.

Having had my first over-seas experience in rural Asia, the prices and extent of development was a bit of culture shock, in an odd way. The Euro is doing quite well and things are expensive anyway in much of Ireland, particularly the remoter parts with all the pretty mountains and rugged coasts. The food is decent; it's certainly not Asia, and its expensive and one is hardly ever filled up. McDonald's commercials have a sort of Surgeon General's warning on them. There is no smoking in pubs; the pubs are still lovely places, at least in the small towns. I just don't go in for what I've seen in Belfast and Dublin. My favorite was a place owned by one of the Chieftans, in the western town of Westport.

The scenery is breathtaking. I can't get over how green it is- spring green, like my home state in March and April. Wildflowers are still in bloom, especially along the coast. There is a smattering of fall colors, but many of the trees are still green, much like home (at least during normal years without catastrophic storms).

I love the old churches and monasteries and castles and such that dot the countryside and towns everywhere one goes. It's marvelous.

So then, on to some photos:

One of the lakes of Killarney. They were quite full, along with all the rivers in the area. I walked down towards the shore the next day, but couldn't get even within sight of it, the water being way up into the woods around. It has rained quite a bit lately. Lovely.
The Giant's Causeway. Magnificent place, and the weather was lovely, lovely: stiff wind off the ocean, about fifty degrees, with occasional horizontal rain. I couldn't feel my nose or my fingers, but I didn't care a bit.
The famed Ben Bulben from the churchyard in which William Butler Yeats is buried.
Some rocks and outrcropping on the shore of Galway Bay.
This scene is from the Burren, which is an odd place that reminds me more of the American West than Ireland. Most of it is covered in barren-looking limestone pavement, with ancient monuments scattered over it very copiously.
Along the coast on the Ring of Kerry.
Parkavonear Castle in the little village of Aghadoe in Kerry.
Me with the Torrs Waterfall in Killarney National Park in the background. The heavy rain made for a good show.