Tag Archives: hyrax

hoping for better days

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the rock badger, native to Israel, is highly intelligent, and very peaceful

These are difficult days in my country. I had plans to write about dreams today… about the way that we represent abstract thoughts to ourselves and others. But it is hard to discuss abstractions while dealing with existential problems.

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experts discussing the situation on TV

I would just like to take advantage of this opportunity to explain a few things to those of you who read my blog in other countries around the world. We are not at war with the Palestinian people. We are doing our best to frustrate the efforts of a band of vicious terrorists without injuring any of the civilian population. We are trying to protect our own people. The Hamas hides behind civilians and innocent children, while shooting at our citizens. They have received aid from many countries and peoples, and have used most of it to build a military capacity. They celebrate each and every attack against innocent people on our side. We are now trying to take care of this problem. It is my hope, and the hope of my countrymen, that we will soon be able to live in peaceful coexistence with our neighbors.

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and when I get a good idea these days, I tell it to the birds

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books and writing

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Let me share some thoughts I had yesterday, as I was taking my daily walk. I finished reading ‘Drop City’ by T.C. Boyle this week, and I consider it a really fine book. But strangely enough, I almost stopped reading it about a quarter of the way in. And since that book, I’ve been reading another one; ‘A Ticket to the Circus’ by Norris Church Mailer. This second one is basically an autobiography, in which Norman Mailer plays a very important role. And so, a lot of my thoughts were related to Mailer as a writer.

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But first, let’s look at ‘Drop City’. This book did not get a lot of rave reviews, and even before I started reading, I encountered a some criticism concerning the way he described the hippie commune. As it happened, I spent some time in California during the 60s, and had the advantage of visiting a number of communes at that time, as well as making friends among the hippies. When I started reading his book, I too felt that the descriptions of the hippie commune was inaccurate, and that the commune members seemed closer to the stereotype of the lazy hippie who’s interested only in sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.

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But as I continued to read, I realized that these weren’t the hippies of the 60s who’d tried to build a new culture based on alternative values. These were the hippies of the 70s, at a time when there was a drift towards decadence, and many of the original pioneers had already gone on to build their personal lives, and had given up on some of the original ideals of the 60s. What’s more, there was a counterpoint in the narrative. Alongside of the hippies, Boyle presents us with the highly independent and slightly anarchic pioneers in Alaska. What we get is really a comparison between two paths towards a more ‘natural’ life style, where freedom is most important, and there is less need to accommodate the conventions of the establishment. By the end of the book, I felt that he had offered us some very important lessons in self reliance, freedom, and the commitment needed to going ‘back to nature’. I liked the resolutions of the different problems and conflicts in the story. It’s a book I can recommend.

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As I have said previously, Boyle has a way with words. He expresses himself beautifully, and can paint a fascinating and intriguing picture in words. This has been true in all three of his books that I read. And after reading this one, I will be reading more of his work. There are some writers whose talent lies chiefly in their ability to bring a scene to life; in their elegant use of the language. I have read works where the writing itself was more important than the story; where the prose was so beautiful, that reading was as much a pleasure as listening to music. But to me, what is more important than all the rest, is having something to say. I’m not looking for a ‘page turner’. Nor do I wish to sit on the edge of my seat. I like something to think about.

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Among the criticisms that I encountered regarding ‘Ticket to the Circus’ were complaints that Norris Church had written too much about herself, and in too great detail. That what was interesting was what we could learn about Norman Mailer, the celebrity author. I can understand this complaint, because there are parts in the beginning of this book that just aren’t that interesting. But I do believe that Norris was very straight forward and open with her readers, and we get to know who she is as a person. And so it is easier for us to understand how she saw Mailer, and gives a lot of credence to her narrative. And of course, once she starts describing her life with Mailer, it becomes very interesting; especially for those who read a lot of his writing. It’s the sort of book I would only recommend to those who really loved Norman Mailer. And to the rest of the reading public, I’d suggest reading Mailer himself.

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To those who are unfamiliar with Mailer, I would recommend, as in introduction, the first column of ‘Quickly: A column for slow readers’, which was included in his book ‘Advertisements for Myself’. And after that, maybe the fiction that is listed in the second table of contents of that same book. Mailer could tell a story well, as he did in ‘Naked and the Dead’, ‘American Dream’, ‘Why are We in Vietnam’, and ‘Harlot’s Ghost’. But he was always thinking, and had a very crystallized set of values, which could be found in all his writing. I believe that he revolutionized the profession of journalism by writing about topical subjects from an extremely subjective point of view. Before that, journalists tried to present themselves as objective… even if they weren’t. And since his pioneering efforts, most of journalism has become subjective, and often we are exposed to an egoistical display. I don’t think the change in journalism was great, though. But it did encourage writers to make a commitment, when it came to values. Some criticized Mailer, saying that he was such an egomaniac, that he indulged himself in casual pronouncements, when he should have dug deeper. But though I don’t agree with all of his ideas or values, I do think he was thought provoking.

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This week’s photos are from my walk in the park. I got a kick out of watching the shy rock badgers visiting the public park to enjoy the grass. This is rather rare. When they see people, they flee.

the rock badger

One of my great pleasures, on my morning walks, is observing wildlife, and occasionally meeting with them face to face. Living in a suburb on the very edge of Jerusalem, I have more meetings with animals than I did years ago, when I lived pretty much in the center of town. There are numerous reptiles, and small mammals, and of course, many birds. There are a great variety of birds in Israel, because aside from our local residents, there are many exotic birds who visit us as they fly to and fro, from Africa to Europe in the summer, and then back to Africa as winter approaches. And strangely enough, it seems there are more birds in the center of town than in the suburbs. One of their favorite hang outs is in the vicinity of the Bikur Holim hospital, right in the center of the city.

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walking on a foot path

More often than not, I don’t know the English names of the animals I meet. And when I look them up in the dictionary, I find names that no one has ever heard of. And this is particularly true of an animal I wish to tell you about today. The rock badger is a very common animal in Israel, and is found across central and southern Africa as well. In our country, they are considered similar to a rabbit, and rabbits are often called by the same name. but in studying them, I discovered that they’re not of the same family, and not even distantly related. In fact, the only animals they are related to biologically, are elephants and sea cows. They are light brown in color, about 40 to 50 cm in length, and weigh about 4 kg. In our country, they are known as the most timid of all animals, and they’re noted in our culture for being wise.

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sitting on a fence at the edge of the park

It’s because they’re so shy, that I’ve been drawn to them. When I was young, they were always afraid of me, and used to scamper away as soon as I saw them, perhaps because I was often accompanied by my children or cats when out walking in nature. But in recent years I’ve had repeated meetings with them, and some of these meetings have been very pleasant. I’ve sat with them for 15 and 20 minutes at a time, and even had the questionable pleasure of having them talk to me. I say questionable pleasure because I didn’t understand them at all. But last week I sat with one of them for quite a while, and neither of us talked. And only after some time had passed, I took his picture, for in the past, opening my camera usually caused the badger to leave my company.

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the rock badger in the wild

These animals live in groups from 10 to forty in number. They choose to live among boulders and rocks, and post sentries who give an alarm when seeing animals or humans who might threaten the group. Though famous for rock climbing, I have seen them climb trees with great agility. It is said, though, that they spend most of their time resting. What is interesting about them, is that they have many different vocal calls, sometimes referred to as ‘songs’, and one gets the impression that they have some sort of language based on different tones. They can be quite talkative when among their own, and not bothered by other animals. On rare occasions, I’ve met with two or three at a time. Usually, with one coming forward to meet me, and the others watching from behind. But most of the time it was one on one. Up until recently, I had met with them in their natural habitat, usually in a small forest close to my home. But last week, I spied one fellow in the park. And when I sat down and waited patiently, he came up close.

early summer

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For a few days now, I’ve been making the acquaintance of a rock badger. In a park near my home, as I take my morning walk. I don’t know what they eat, really, so I haven’t tried to buy his friendship with food. I suppose they eat the fruit or the leaves of the local greenery. In any case, these animals are known for their shyness. They will run immediately, when coming into contact with humans or large animals, and so it was unexpected to find one in a public park. I’ve come across them in the forest, and not so long ago I photographed one in the forest, that approached me as I was sitting quietly on a boulder. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in a park before. The first time I saw him, I immediately sat down, and he watched me for a while, before going away.

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But then it happened again and again in the same place, and I realized that he liked the place. Maybe, had even taken up residence there. There are some high bushes in the vicinity, and this gives him a place to hide if need be. Each time, he came closer to me. And on the third meeting, he came very close. But unfortunately, when I raised my camera to take his picture, he ran for cover. But as soon as he got to a relatively protected place, under a fence, with high bushes behind him, he sat down and started looking at me again. And that is when I took this picture.

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the rock badger

Usually, I enjoy walking through my own neighborhood, and other neighborhoods of Jerusalem. I like looking at the homes, the little additions people make to their houses, and the little gardens around them. Changes occur very slowly. The biggest changes are brought by the seasons. Even so, I enjoy walking in the familiar territory. Very often, I get carried away by my own thoughts, and pay less attention to the cityscape. It happens, that I don’t take a single picture on my walk, because it is all so familiar. But still, I carry a camera with me each time. From experience, I know, that if I were to take my walk without the camera, I’d be sure to see something that I’d want to photograph… and then I’d regret not having taken it with me.

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a crow about to lift off from a trash bin

But on these days of early summer, it is a special pleasure to take a walk in the park. Aside from my neighbors who walk their dogs, or study, or read for enjoyment… there is also a lot of animal activity. And it seems that the living creatures feel quite secure in this environment. There are a lot of crows. They are the predominant birds there, sitting high on trees, on fences, lamp posts, and the backs of benches… and sometimes searching… for what, I do not know, in the mowed grass. And then there are a wide variety of smaller birds, the most attractive of which, are the sparrows, that I follow with interest.

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From time to time, I see waves of birds, in groups, according to species, rising gently into the air, moving to high places as a human being with leashed dog walks by. And then, after the interruption… slowly they all return to continue what they were doing. From time to time, a big truck goes down the street next to the park… and all the little creatures react… some by freezing, and others by running further into the park, and then the noise passes, and we continue enjoying the beautiful summer day; peace on earth, and good will towards all.

acid trips

This evening is the start of tabernacles. It is the only holiday in the bible, in which we are specifically asked to be happy. I have written about this holiday before, and I will probably write some more about it in the coming days. My base has moved, from my home in Jerusalem to my home away from home in the village where some of my children live… and though we may take some trips on the holiday, which lasts a week, this will be my base now, and as I’ve explained in previous posts, and last year too, this is the holiday in which we all move out of our houses and make our homes in temporary booths. And try our best to be happy.

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a cypress tree from my trip in the Galilee

Which brings me to the subject that I wanted to discuss with you today; The experience of a holy day or holiday, or religious experience. Before the day of atonement, I spoke of what was about to happen; what I was about to do on the holy day… with great confidence. Having done it so many times before, I felt that confidence when talking to others about it. But it is not really like that. And when I concluded the day, I thought again about what I had written, and wanted to append my description. One of my friends here, among the bloggers, asked me, was it a ceremony or a ritual. And I answered, a ritual. But what I would like to explain now, is the difference between ceremony or ritual, and a truly religious experience.

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overlooking a valley from a northern mountain ridge

There are ceremonies and rituals, and prayers printed in prayer books, and they all attempt to prepare the person for the religious experience. But when I thought, how do I explain the religious experience to someone who might not have experienced it, I looked back through my life, at the many experiences I have had, looking for something parallel that would be understandable even to a non religious person. And what I came up with, was a series of experiences I had, more than forty years ago, in which I took LSD, Lysergic acid diethylamide. It is a semi synthetic psychedelic drug; which has been shown to be very similar to a substance that can be found in a normal human head. In very unusual circumstances it is secreted naturally. But by taking a dose, prepared by a chemical company or a pharmacist, we can experience a short cut to a religious experience. LSD was first synthesized by Albert Hofmann in 1938 from a grain fungus that typically grows on rye. Since then, it has been experimented with by psychologists and psychiatrists, philosophers and clowns. It was popular for a while in the 1960s counterculture. And after reading a book written by Aldous Huxley called, “The Doors of Perception”, I decided to try it myself.

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a hill in the galilee

The drug I bought was from the Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland, and was of high quality. In those days, it wasn’t a drug taken to ‘get high’. But to experience transcendental awareness. It was a short cut. You didn’t have to fast for days, or pray for long periods, or climb a mountain. Or learn the many disciplines associated with spiritual research. It wasn’t like studying yoga. You could just swallow a pill, and begin to experience some very unusual awareness after a half an hour to an hour. It worked on just about everyone. You could be an atheist or an agnostic, and still enjoy a very religious experience. It was and still is considered non-addictive. But I don’t know if I would take any today, now that it is produced by underground manufacturers, and sometimes mixed with other drugs. In that period, I took it some fifteen times. Sometimes with friends and sometimes alone. I took it in a variety of circumstances. I could tell you many stories of my experiences with the drug, some of them very humorous. But the most outstanding feature of this drug, was that I experienced certain phenomena that up until then, I had associated only with the religious experience.

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a wild rock badger I met

It was a trip. You could make all the preparations you wanted, but you didn’t really know where you’d get and what would happen while you were on that trip. You had to give up control, whether you wanted to or not. You didn’t know exactly when it would start. But you knew very well, once it had started. It usually lasted for about eight hours. It could be very good; a taste of heaven. But it could also be a nightmare. And then you just had to go through it. In English, that sort of nightmare was called a ‘bummer’, and there were those who studied how to avoid them. But the truth of the matter was that it was dependent to a large extent on what was happening in your own sub conscious. So there was no sure way of protecting yourself from such an experience. Having taken the drug, one experienced altered thinking processes, hallucinations while eyes were either open or closed, and an altered sense of time.

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a rock bridge over a deep chasm

While I was doing the work of the day of atonement, I had a sense of being intensely involved in the reality around me. The past and the future were fluid, and I found myself face to face with some of the things that I am most scared about, and most worried. Not life and death, because I’ve already dealt with those questions and reached a certain understanding and acceptance. This time, the subject was free choice and wrong choices. And not of my own. But the choices of people I loved; people who were young enough to be naïve and innocent, and we take pleasure in their innocence. I won’t describe the exact and specific issues, because one would have to know my world very well in order to understand what I was talking about. But suffice it to say, that if I had been walking on a narrow path at the edge of a cliff in a catastrophic storm, it would not have been more scary. Ceremonies… rituals… they have their place in society. But this was something much much more intense. I have witnessed what is called ‘extreme sports’, and I suppose there is something similar in that. But that is just for the thrill. And this was coming to terms with life itself. It was different.