The school of hard rocks



Does it matter, she asked herself, does it matter that all this must cease to exist – the jagged rocks, the warm sand, the wide ocean and the blue sky, and even the birds that glide on the gentle breeze itself must go away when she dies. Or, is this why we have children?

This is not an original thought, she thought, and then she realized, we do not procreate with a purpose other than to find relief. To momentarily escape reality before reality again rears its ugly head. Oh, she realized, that it is only in the long years of child rearing that one signals one’s hope that life should go on and that others should ask this same question.

Then she had a strange thought that life is an endless series of steps. One starts and stops, like life itself. The distance from beginning to end being both insurmountable and unknowable.

A lesson from the school of hard rocks





Alone, a noun is just a word
That waits for a verb
Then, like a face
That’s hardly recognizable
It smiles, it laughs, it comes alive
Until you say,
“That’s what’s his name.”

The Rise of the Machines

“… you just can’t differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans,” said Isaac Asimov, I, Robot. Except, thank goodness, the fact that we can eat hamburgers; that alone, my friend, might be the only difference.


The Rise of the Machines

Robots are in the workplace, we just haven’t noticed.
Ray Kroc knew this when he pitched his multi-mixer to the MacDonald’s brothers in the 1950’s. Now, one multi-tasker bot from Momentum Machines can patty, flip, and serve 400 made-to-order burgers in an hour, and could soon replace an entire McDonalds crew.

Needed restaurant “generalist” to supervise the machine. No education required.

Kansas Spring

March 31, 2017


It is spring again in Kansas.

March 31st, the course of the sun has run halfway through Aries, the sign of the ram. It is Kansas and so it is the South Wind, not the West that warms the earth. The farmers give thanks for the sometimes-gentle rain that falls from the heavens above, and curse instead when it hails.

The earth, which a few weeks ago, was brown and grey is now green and lush, and the morning’s silence is broken by the Robins’ song.

What follows is a modern translation of Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.

Prologue to the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer: Modern English, French, and original Middle English,

Modern English

English did not become modern until William Shakespeare and the King James translation of the Bible, a fact that will surprise many “modern” high school English students.

When April with its sweet showers
Hath pierced the drought of March to its root,
And bathed every vein in such liquor
By which virtue engenders the flower;

When the West Wind also with his sweet breath,
Has inspired In every woodland and field
The tender crops, and the young sun
Has half its course within the sign of Aries run,

And small fowls make melody,
That sleep all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them in their hearts),
Then folk long to go on pilgrimages,

And pilgrims to seek strange shores,
To distant shrines, known in sundry lands;
And specially from every shire’s end
Of England to Canterbury wend their way,
The holy blessed martyr to seek
Who helped them when they were sick.

Language Barriers

When I was a little boy the joke was told,
Q: Why did Peter throw the butter out the window?
A: To see the butterfly.

It is a joke that works in English but not in French, since butterfly in French is papillon.

Language barriers are large but none so great as that observed by the Welsh and English cleric Matthew Henry, There are none so deaf and none so blind, as they who refuse to see and will not listen.


Quand avril avec ses douces douches
La sécheresse de mars à sa racine a percé ,
Et a baigné toutes les veines dans une telle liqueur
Par quoi la vertu engendre la fleur;

Quand le Vent de l’Ouest aussi avec son doux souffle,
A inspiré dans tous les bois et champs
Les plantes tendres et le jeune soleil
A couru la moitié du cours en Bélier,

Et les petites volailles chante la mélodie,
Qui dormir toute la nuit avec l’œil ouvert
(Donc la nature les pique dans leurs coeurs),
Ensuite, les gens souhaitaient faire des pèlerinages,

Et les pèlerins cherchent des rivages étranges,
Aux sanctuaires lointains, connus dans les terres diverses;
Et surtout depuis la fin de chaque cours
De l’Angleterre à Canterbury se promène,
Le saint béni martyr à chercher
Qui les a aidés quand ils étaient malades.

Middle English

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 25 October 1400) is the grand daddy of English literature. Thank God he wrote in the vernacular and not in Latin as had been the custom. English is the most polyglot of languages. Sprinkled throughout Chaucer’s English, one observes bits of French, German, and Latin.

If one looks at the words of Chaucer and then listens to the sound, much of the meaning will become clear.

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour,

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,

And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

The “hooly blisful martir for to seke”.

Alas, it was St. Thomas Beckett, murdered by followers of the king, who was the “holy blissful martyr” the pilgrims sought to seek. His shrine in Canterbury stood until 1538, when, on orders from King Henry VIII, it and Beckett’s bones were destroyed, and Henry ordered that all mention of his name be obliterated.

Lost in Translation

Even the most literal of translations can be deceiving. Lovers, poets, and politicians know this for that is why words matter. This is a good thing for it means that Google Translate will forever require human intervention.

Life is a blur


This is as political as I want to get. For me, I hate getting caught up in the moment. You forget where you were when you started, and where you are going to, and now you are wondering why you are here, nothing else matters.

Calvin and Hobbs are atop Lookout Mountain with a red wagon. Calvin says to Hobbs, “I call it ‘Lookout’ because that’s what you yell when we go down.”

Racing down the hill, Calvin says, “We are so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us, that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.”

There are trees and rocks to the right and left of them. They pick up speed.

“Days go by and we hardly notice them. Life is a blur.”

Calvin then observes that sometimes it takes a calamity to notice where we are, like falling off a hill. We wake up and see our mistake, but it is too late.


Bill Watterson’s original Calvin and Hobbs cartoon.

Final thoughts

blue summer dreams
dragonflies in the sun
my page is empty

© Lize Bard writes a blog which I follow @


That is a sad parting thought for 2016. I would prefer:

dreams of golden summer days
iridescent dragonflies fluttering in the air
my notebook is empty
until I pick up my pen again

Of course, that is not strictly Haiku, and it is wordy. Haiku should be a poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, evoking an emotional image of the natural world.

golden summer days
iridescent butterflies
my mind is empty

Matsuo Basho is the recognized Japanese master of the haiku and here is his poem to a frog jumping into an old pond:


Fu-ru (old) i-ke (pond) ya,
ka-wa-zu (frog) to-bi-ko-mu (jumping into)
mi-zu (water) no o-to (sound)

Many are the English translations, so let me throw my hat into the ring:

In an ancient pond
A frog plunges in – kerplop
One hears water’s sound

Sometimes it is nice to be a frog sitting on the bank and a dragonfly comes by, gulp, that’s a snack, and you want to jump in the water so you don’t have to share.




[Let us take break from the battlefields of World War I and the fields of Flanders.  Jacques Brel, who was Flemish, wrote this beautiful and haunting song, Marieke in Flemish and French. It is an old love story, a reminder that life without love is dark and desolate.]



“Marieke” is a diminutive of Maria, my sweet Maria. The name is considered uniquely Belgian, although it later became popular in Holland. I suspect it is old. My wife’s family is Frisian* and the earliest female ancestor to arrive in America in 1642 was named, Volkje Juriaens van Noorstrant. “Volkje” being a diminutive of falcon, as in little falcon.

There is a beauty in words and always a certain amount of confusion in translation.

“Zonder” is most often translated as without, but it can also be used as, out of. Perhaps Jacques meant it both ways. “Flamand” is certainly a play on words for the Flemish country and the French – flaming sky. “Vlaanderland,” reminds me of the German “Vaterland.”It is used in so personal as to be not translatable without losing the sense of the word.

Here’s my translation.

Ay Marieke, Marieke je t’aimais tant
Entre les tours de Bruges et Gand
Ay Marieke, Marieke il why a longtemps
Entre les tours de Bruges et Gand
Zonder liefde warme liefde
Waait de wind de stomme wind
Zonder liefde warme liefde
Weent de zee de grijze zeeZonder liefde warme liefde
Lijdt het licht het donk’re licht
En schuurt het zand over mijn land
Mijn platte land mijn VlaanderlandAy Marieke, Marieke le ciel flamand
Couleur des tours de Bruges et Gand
Ay Marieke, Marieke le ciel flamand
Pleure avec moi de Bruges à Gand

Zonder liefde warme liefde
Waait de wind see’est fini
Zonder liefde warme liefde
Weent de zee déjà fini

Zonder liefde warme liefde
Lijdt het licht tout est fini
En schuurt het zand over mijn land
Mijn platte land mijn Vlaanderland

Oh Marieke, Marieke, I loved you so
Between the towers of Bruges and Ghent
Oh Marieke, Marieke, so long ago
Between the towers of Bruges and Ghent
Out of love, warm love
The wind blows, the quiet wind
Out of love, warm love
Cries the sea, the grey sea
Without love, warm love
Suffers the light, the dark light
And sends the sand over my country
My flat country, my VlaanderlandAy Marieke, Marieke the flamming sky
Colors the towers of Bruges and Ghent
Ay Marieke, Marieke the Flemish sky
Weeps with me from Bruges to Ghent

Out of love warm love
Blows the wind, it is done
Out of love warm love
Weeps the sea, until the end

Out of love warm love
Suffers the light and all is done
And showers the sand over my land
My flat land, my Vlaanderland

*Frisia is an ancient land, first mentioned by the Romans and Pliny the Younger in the first century. According to Pliny, they lived in man-made hills along the coast line of the North Sea. Linguistically, it is akin to German, and unlike Dutch in its pronunciation. Flemish is written like Dutch, but pronounced like German. The Frisian that is still spoken in the Jutland peninsula sounds like a mix of German and English.

Plan B

[Another in a series of posts about World War I and the Battle of the Somme. This year marks the one hundredth year anniversary.]


September, 2016, Fields of Flanders.

I am in Europe on vacation with my two brothers-in-law. Adam, Andy, and Art, in case you were wondering. Three A’s. Three lawyers. At times, three assholes, some would say. Adam says I am contentious. What does that mean? Three of us in a car on our way to celebrate (is that the right word?) the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The fields of Flanders are all about us. Beautiful, I think. The picturesque homes and farms, the flowers. The very image of peace and tranquility.

I am driving down the highway minding my own business, gawking at the scenery, driving slowly, but not so slow as the small truck in front of me. The one with the blue bike on the back and the box. Just in case.

Thinking, thinking about all those lost souls on the battlefields.

“I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything.” Anne Lamott’s words, but they ring true for most of us. I remember being thirteen, reading books on faith, even Thomas Aquinas, which is a lot for a thirteen-year-old to tackle, in church and wanting to believe, but struggling. Waiting for a sign but seeing and hearing nothing. Faith is not in a book and not in a mass. Faith is in believing in the bottom of your heart when there is nothing else. As I said, I have a lot of faith, I trust it is all going to work out.

But wouldn’t it be nice have a Plan B?

Thoughts on reading Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith


Faith is what you have when you cut and chop everything up. You pull it apart and look, deep into the inner recesses of what matters. So what if it is untouchable and unknowable. Lots of things are, but it is still felt, and felt all the more strongly because it comes from the heart.

Tyne Cot

[First in a series of posts about the Battle of the Somme.

View of Ypres from Tyne Cot

This is the Somme river valley. The word “Somme” is likely derived from Latin and French, “sommeil” suggesting a nap, a doze, or quick sleep. Others say it is Celtic and means “tranquil”.  It was neither for the soldiers who fought and died.

The battle for the pillbox at Tyne Cot has significance for all of us. First, it was part of the “War to End All Wars”, a misnomer. Second, it is a reminder of the fragility of life. Third, for myself and my two brothers-in-laws who went on this journey in September of 2016, the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Somme Offensive, it was a connection with our grandfathers who fought and lived.]

Tyne Cot Cemetery

Date, September 8, 2016.

If we had waited three weeks and a few days, it would have been the 99th anniversary of the successful Australian assault on the hill along the Passendaele-Broodseinde road where the Germans were dug in and waiting. The weather is beautiful, unlike 100 years ago, and the countryside is serene and tranquil.


Tyne Cot Cemetery Entrance


The view is of Fields of Flanders in the rolling chalk upland hills with Belgian villages here and there. The beauty is somber. In 1917, the second year of the Battle of the Somme, September rains and constant shelling by Allied and German howitzers have made the landscape a muddy morass and hellish scene. The entrenched Germans are ready with machine guns, barbed wire, deep dugouts, and pillboxes.


Corner view, opposite side of grave markers looking towards the pillbox and cross

The name “Tyne Cot” was provided by the British Northumberland Fusiliers.

Far from home, far from their families, opposite the Germans, the Fusiliers are said to have seen a resemblance between the German concrete pill boxes and the Fusilliers’ own stone cottages near Tyneside (Tyne cots) in Northumberland, England’s northernmost county.
On 4 October 1917, the hill and the bunker where Tyne Cot Cemetery CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission)  is now located was captured by the 3rd Australian Division. New Zealanders, in support of Australians and advancing through mud that day, were caught in uncut German barbed wire and slaughtered. Elsewhere other British and Commonwealth soldiers attacked German lines.

After taking the hill, the pillbox where the cross stands was used as a medical dressing station for wounded. A cemetery for the 343 dead Australian soldiers was begun two days later.


The inscription reads, “This was the Tyne Cot Blockhouse captured by the 3rd Australian Division 4th October 1917.

On 13 April 1918, the Germans recaptured the hillside and it was finally liberated by Belgian forces five months later.

Tyne Cot Cemetery wall

After the Armistice the cemetery was expanded to consolidate the graves of other battle sites around Passendaele and now contains over 11,500 graves of Commonwealth and British soldiers. Four German soldiers are buried here. The memorial wall contains the names of almost 35,000 soldiers who have no known grave.

Ypres view from Tyne Cot cemetery

The city towers of Ypres are visible in the distance. The blood red poppies that are ever present in the green fields are a reminder of the lives lost.

Red poppies Fields of Flanders

Worth watching – Youtube Tyne Cot drone view.

How does one assess the worth of the Battle of the Somme?

On the first day of the battle, British soldiers kicked soccer balls towards the German lines across “no man’s land,” in a belief the battle would be quick and simple.

It was neither.

In all, for the six miles that British soldiers advanced during the offensive, they lost more than 400,000 and both sides saw 1.3 million casualties. Intending to relieve the French who held out against a German offensive at Verdun, there too were a million casualties. This was bloodletting on a massive scale.

And what are we left with?

The days are gone by when, for dynastic ends, small armies of professional soldiers went to war to conquer a city, or a province, and then sought winter quarters or made peace. The wars of today call whole nations to arms…. The entire financial resources of the State are appropriated to a military purpose….

— Moltke the Elder, writing in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870

The first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1 1916, was the bloodiest day ever in British Army history.

Exhausted when the winter snows finally came, both sides hunkered down and repeated the bloodshed in 1917, when Tyne Cot was captured by the Australians, and in 1918 when it was recaptured by the Germans, until the Armistice came on November 11, 1918.