Thursday, October 26, 2017

--- Ghost stories ---

My family lived in Griffin, Georgia and I was still in a youth bed, so I must have been three years old. I woke up one morning and I was laying under the covers with my hands clasped under my pillow, but then I noticed that one of my hands was down at my side so I raised up and looked and what the hand under my pillow was grasping was not my hand but a green scaly hand.

I stood up in my bed and started jumping up and down. The green scaly what-ever slithered back under my covers and was gone.

And, that, folks, is what they call a waking dream. Since then I have had them regularly, to the point that I usually wake up long enough to mutter, "Just go away and let me get some sleep."

Sometimes my "double sight", shamanic vision, temporal lobe screwiness, schizophrenia, or what ever you want to think it is picks up things that are going on inside my head - sometimes it picks up dragons. It didn't really put me out for long.

Like my father used to say, "I don't believe in UFOs, but let me tell you what I saw...." It's not that I don't believe in ghosts, but I'm not so presumptuous as to explain them.

Even if a ghost were to tell you that they were your grandmother, who died thirty years ago, and has come back to tell you things that only you could know, one of the parties involved is you, and you, at least, know what only you can know. It's not unthinkable that you are conjuring up images from your own mind.

I have a metric of belief. I imagine that it was proven to me, beyond a shadow of doubt that a belief is untrue - how would I feel. For instance, if the being that is my spirit guide, who assures me that he is the Holy Spirit, were proven to be Descartes' Demon, I would be rather flabbergasted. On the other hand, if it were proven that the white floaty apparition floating between us really is your great aunt Matilda, I would be mildly amused.

It's not that I don't believe that ghosts are the disembodied spirits of people who died and forgot to "go into the light." It's that I don't know what they are.

It seems that the general populace assumes that a ghost is what's left of a dead person. A common belief in the Christian church today is that it's a deceiving demon. I believe that it's something that has sometimes woke me up when I wanted to be sleeping. ("Whaddayou want, now.")

I was in high school in the late 60s when we moved into the haunted house on Hobbes Street. In fact, my bedroom was the epicenter of the haunting. The reason I knew it wasn't just an emanation of my own mind, is that others observed it. I guess it could have been suggestion.

I would wake up at nigh to the sound of chains rattling (how dramatic) and bottles clinking. The standard tale was that it was the landlady's deceased husband.

My brother, Ron, came home on leave from the Air Force and decided to explore the situation. We put him up in my bed and I slept on the couch in the living room. He kept a soda bottle by the bed.

In the middle of the night, he woke up to the unmistakable sound of footsteps and he got up (with his soda bottle) to investigate. The house was a type that had a large central dining room and smaller rooms around the periphery of the house. Admittedly, I did walk in my sleep back then, but on completely circumnavigating the house, Ron saw nothing moving around. I was still on the couch. In the end, he was convinced that there was something else in the house with us.

As I got older, haunts (whatever they are) began avoiding me. I lived in one of the most haunted cities in the US (Selma, Alabama) and there was only one place that even hinted to me that it was haunted. I had been in Selma over ten years before I wandered a block down the street to visit the Smitherman Building, which was purported to be very haunted.

The old building had been a home, a hospital and a Masonic lodge, among other things. Currently, it's a historic museum and a must-see for tourists.

Most of the hospital artifacts are on the third floor. In addition, it sports ghosts, who gave me the distinct impression that they did not want me there, so I left. My policy is that, if I'm in someone else's home and they don't want me there, I respect their wishes.

Some hauntings don't include ghosts. I was called to investigate a haunting in Sulphur Springs, Alabama. I could find no indication of disembodied spirits. I've never understood why ghosts would hang out in cemeteries, anyway. People don't associate with them in life and people don't generally die there.

I walked around the churchyard and the little cemetery in back, then I stepped over to the other side and had a talk with the church. For a long time, a small congregation spent a lot of time there and it shared every phase of their life from shortly after birth to old age and death. Now, the small rural plot is rarely visited, usually to place flowers on old graves. Simply, the land grieves for a lost past.

Carl Sagan's "extraordinary claims" doesn't apply to hauntings. There's nothing extraordinary about ghosts. Every city I have lived in had hauntings; most were well known. If you're interested, there should be one near you. Now you have web search engines that can pinpoint (on a map) where all the haunted points of interest are in your area.

Commercial haunted houses will provide tours with talks about the history of the place and other information. Private residences may let you visit, but call and make sure the owners will welcome visitors first.

Let me warn you, though, that despite the New Age doctrine that "ghosts can't hurt you," there are things out there that most certainly can hurt you. You should take the same precautions with "paranormal" tourism that you take with any other kind. Educate yourself about your stops before you go.

And that's another thing. To paraphrase Stephen King from Room 1408, there are places that are just plain evil.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

--- Watching birdwatchers ---

As an exercise in peoplewatching, I planned to sign up for one of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science birding field trips, but I waited until too late in the season. That's okay, though. I've run into many birdwatchers in this area on the trail.

You really can't miss them. Birdwatchers are interesting people. In the first place, they're passionate about their hobby and they don't mind telling you all about what they're doing and I can't imagine anyone minding.
A couple of years ago, in the spring, I was in the city park in Morrison, Colorado when the only other person there, an elderly lady with a wonderful accent (I think it was German) asked if I was a birder. I said that I was a lifelong learner and that I watched birds sometimes, but I wasn't really a birder. Then she asked if I was looking for water ouzels and, when I said that I didn't know what a water ouzel was, she told me all about them.

The water ouzel, also called the American Dipper, is a pretty little, gray water fowl that looks like a song bird. It likes swollen mountain streams because it likes to perch on rocks in the stream where it's safe from predators. Then, when it gets ready to eat, it jumps in the fast water and walks along the bottom of the creek to eat the water insects there.

There were no water ouzels in Bear Creek at the time, but I made it a point to go back on Mother's Day, when the lady told me they are always there and I did spot one under the C470 overpass. Birdwatchers' enthusiasm is infectious.

This is the only unblurred picture I managed to get of the ouzel - they....flit.

                                                                 Ouzel (in the circle)

Birdwatchers can often be identified by their equipment. They will almost always have binoculars, possibly a camera and it will usually be pointed at something you can't see. Like many Weres, I have a predator's vision and, if something isn't moving, I have a hard time seeing it. I have a horrible time tracking down canned milk in a grocery store because it might be anywhere and I can be looking straight at it and not see it.

I was on the Stone House trail, which parallels the Bear Creel Trail near Wadsworth Boulevard and I saw an elderly lady (despite Doonsberry and other sources, not all birdwatchers are elderly) circling a cottonwood tree with binoculars pointing upward. She collared me and asked, "Do you see the owls?"

I strained my eyes but couldn't.

She pointed excitedly and directed my gaze to a crook in the tree's branches and then I saw the tiny birds. She was almost as excited for me as she was about herself spotting the owls.

Birdwatchers may travel in groups. The Denver Museum's bird watching filed trips are a case in point.

Last year, near Fox Hollow Golf Course on Bear Creek Trail, I ran into a party of three birdwatchers - a man and two women, who were taking  part in a competition to record the most different bird species. They were resting on a park bench but, unlike most joggers and bikers, were more than happy to explain what they were doing.

In brief, birdwatcherwatching can be an interesting and fulfilling hobby. You can even learn about birds as a bonus!

--- Notes on moral virtue ---

It has now been sufficiently shown that moral virtue is a mean state, and in what sense it is a mean state; it is a mean state lying between two vices, a vice of excess on the one side and a vice of deficiency on the other.... That is the reason why it is hard to be virtuous; for it is always hard work to find the mean in anything....


I do hold, with Aristotle that moral virtue is a median state. Even philanthropy can be an evil if carried to an extreme. Perhaps you have heard of the case of a parent who loved their family so much that they became a nag. And, of course, if a parent doesn't care at all for a child, the child will have a poor experience of growing up.

But, of course, it isn't that simple. An average murderer can't be considered morally virtuous. Aristotle's position was popular in his day but, since then, philosophers have taken his opinions apart and put them back together again in various permutations and, of course, many other schools of thought have developed. For instance, during Aristotle's time, the idea that might makes right was also popular and that philosophy reappeared in modern times in the philosophy of Nietzsche.

I also agree with C. S. Lewis in his assessment of lostness. A person can become so wrapped up in any idea to the point that they lose their humanity. They become an embodiment of that idea. He says that, in a way, they become a demon themselves. That can apply to anything including religious devotion.

I have been involved with several "special" groups such as people with specific disabilities, animal rights groups, and civil rights groups and I usually include the appeal that they maintain connection to other groups. For instance a person with multiple sclerosis can easily become so involved with a support group that all they thing about is multiple sclerosis and rights for people with multiple sclerosis. In effect, they can stop being "a person with multiple sclerosis" and become a "multiple sclerotic."

We live in a universe of relationship and those relationships are at the center of moral virtue. Responsibility and purpose, far from being the enemies of individuality and personal freedom, are what keeps us from drifting aimlessly in the world.

Jesus boiled the Christian virtues down to two points - love God completely, and, equally, love your neighbor as you (should) love yourself.