Reporting from Switzerland

I never intended this to be a blog about my life adventures  — so far I’ve more just put poetry and essays here and so only showed my life in things I was thinking about.

Aside — sometimes I’ve wanted to switch that common question: “What have been doing lately?” to “What have you been thinking about?” A lot of times it’s easier for me to think of the philosophical puzzle I’ve been working on then actually what you might call actions. I suppose society has a good reason for keeping that pressure on us all to be able to give an answer of something we’ve been doing.

But here I go with the life blogger thing:  I’m traveling in Switzerland right now! I’m doing it through Workaway and right now I am staying in the stunning Lauterbrunnen valley.

The Church in Lauterbrunnen. I can see this church and waterfall from the room I’m staying in!

I’ve found Switzerland inexpressibly beautiful both in what God wrought in nature and in the craftsmanship in the cities and towns of men. Also, the whole set up of villages and farms is very inspiring. It makes me want to build a cheesery (English for Käserei) right in the Oregon forest land, and then get a bunch of people to have dairy farms around it and build a community.

A lot of people in America don’t like the putting up of new buildings in rural and wilderness areas. They don’t like “development.” But I think a lot of the cause of this is just because the way we “develop” in America is so ugly. It demoralizes people to see lovely fields and forests turn into strip malls and blah housing tracts.

But wouldn’t people be more friendly to development if it meant the building of beautiful new towns? (Maybe the anti-development attitudes I’m thinking about are more prominent in Oregon than other parts of the America — I’ll keep on talking about the area I know.)

I think the towns we built here in the northwest around the turn of the last century were lovely and what I’d call “Human friendly.” What prevents us from building some more?Image result for elma wa main street

Now, (to answer the objections I imagine from  my fellow Oregonians) I love the beauty of our forests and our wildernesses, but as Bob Ross famously said looking at such a scene “Maybe we’ll have a happy little cabin?”

Let’s develop Oregon beautifully.  What are the economic pressures or regulatory obstacles that need to be overcome to develop beautifully? Who has the vision?

Another aside — related to this — I took a hike this morning out of Lauterbrunnen up to Wengen. In Oregon we also have good steep hikes but typically they are mere loops with no town at the end of trail.

Hiking up to Wengen — the town of Lauterbrunnen below.


I have to say I like the feeling of a hike that goes to a town. I filled up my water bottle at the town fountain in Wengen and rested a while in its church building. In Oregon I love the Crown-Zellerbach trail that goes all the way from the Columbia slough, through Scappoose and then almost all the way to Vernonia. It’s best if you have some friends in Vernonia and a happy meeting and dinner’s found at trail’s end.

Image result for CZ trail chapman
The Crown-Zellerbach trail.


In America if a valley as beautiful as Lauterbrunnen were discovered (imagine that there’s a great warming and under a glacier we find one) it would be totally protected from any development. But I think the village of Lauterbrunnen does not hurt the beauty of the valley — on the contrary.

I’m not against any wilderness existing but I thinks it’s time Americans need to stop thinking so much about how to “Leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but pictures” and instead think about how to leave this earth a more beautiful place than they found it, and how to develop it in the best way possible. We don’t have to mimic Switzerland — we can have an American beauty. (One of the coolest community centers in the Portland area is the Alpenrose dairy little league field/velodrome/theatre/replica western town — the dairy has Swiss roots but the style is American.)

Actually as long as our development is as ugly as it is now I’m somewhat sympathetic with the “Don’t touch anything” directive. Keep the Alpenrose dairy (it was just in danger of being closed down! Thankfully it looks like it has been saved!) and don’t build anything ugly.

The architecture of Dairyville is nice, but I don’t just bring it up for that — I’ve enjoyed community events there and part of what I’m thinking about in terms of beauty in our buildings is how conducive they are to community.

Image result for alpenrose dairy theatre
The entrance to the theatre at the Alpenrose dairy “Dairyville.”

The thing is, the wilderness movement goes under colour of facilitating people enjoying the beauty of the land. The actual effect, however, of such extensive wilderness protection and “spotted owl” sanctuaries  in Oregon has been to alienate people from the land. The land shouldn’t just be a place you leave the city to see occasionally (assuming it’s even accessible to you at all) your daily life should be knit to it. People should have jobs that interact with it. And in this communities can be built.

(Aside — I think this is part of our current problem in poetry writing — people don’t have connections to “place” and community to give inspiration to their work. They don’t really know the humors, and smells and contours of their place.)

Before I was here in Lauterbrunnen I was in the Emmental working on a farm. It’s obvious how tied to the countryside the Emmentalers are. They know their pastures for their cows; they know their forests for their fuel; they know the fields that supply the hay. And on top of that there is an interconnected community as the dairy farms work together to supply Käsereien with milk (the cheeseries that make the famous Emmentaler cheese — exported all over the world) and trade their skills and products among themselves as well. 

Now I don’t want to descant too much on the greatness of Switzerland with whom I’ve only just begun my acquaintance, but it is inspiring to see the towns they have built and the way of life they’ve negotiated with this incredible geography. (Also, striking for me to think about: how many Swiss people in history do you know about? I don’t know of even a handful. Yet they built this culture and way of life for their children.)

Really as beautiful as Switzerland is, my mind — as you can tell from this post — is still very much back in America.


It seems that though I thought I would start writing some travel blog post about myself I’ve just ended up writing another little essay of my thoughts. So I guess the question is ‘what  you been thinking about lately?’


Some nights

She walks through the day in her tippy high-heels,
With her eyes straight ahead, no one knows how she feels,
‘Cause her Maybelline face never cracks, never peals;
And she begins again,
Just the way it’s been,
Each morning.

Some nights she thinks that all is not right,
She should put down her novel — she should join in the fight.
There’s a world-wide war between darkness and light —
She should put down her phone, and just maybe she might…

‘God don’t let me forget with the dreams of the night,
When I wake up a cross is there,
For me to bear,
Each morning.’


Authentic thoughts on my hometown 

Smoke covers your city
The sun is red as blood,
Dry of human pity —
Your love with an asterisk isn’t love.

Pity’s a gentle rain,
Not a drop is seen,

You fight the fires of pain
With bloodshed, like gasoline.


(White bearded fools,
And flint hearted mothers,
Bequeathed you evil rules,
And closed your hearts to others.)


Like lions who crouch for their prey,
The strong lie in wait for the weak,
And you walking by every day
Don’t speak for the ones who can’t speak.

World citizens who won’t
Pity your most helpless neighbour,
You think your “progressive” vote
Gives you a waiver?

No more peaceful’s the lion at night
Than the lion who kills in the day;
You cry “Peace!” when the blood’s out of sight,
And the violence is hidden away.


Wisdom is with your crowd
Whatever it says is true —
“Love wins” shouted long and loud
Means whatever the crowd wants to do.

But love will forever win,
And so hell opens its beak,
As you as a crowd march in,
And the earth is received by the meek.

Pink Calico

For Anne Gertrude Sneller, who told this Civil War era story of her Aunt Elvie (much more concisely), in her book 1964 book, ‘A Vanished World.’

How she afforded it no one could think!
Fold upon fold of calico pink!

A beautiful bolt, not grey, black, or brown
But coral pink calico, bought in the town.

In the days of the war cotton put on fine airs,
And hand-me-down dresses were all we could wear,

But one day our mother came back to the farm
With rosy pink calico under her arm.

‘Elvie and Sarah need dresses’ she said
And before us the calico fabric she spread.

And Elvie and I had never seen such
Glorious pink, it was almost too much!

And I saw in her eyes Elvie’s heart rise to heaven,
With the wonder-filled joy of a girl just turned seven,

As with love overflowing she stood gazing upon
The calico fabric as pink as the dawn.

‘Now, girls’ said our mother ‘it’s time supper was laid’
Then safe from the sun till the dresses should be made,

She put up the cloth in the closet to stay,
But we thought on it all of the rest of the day.

Carrying candles together we went up to bed
But eyes closed or open Elvie saw in her head

That glorious fabric brought home from the store,
And she felt that she had to just see it once more.

In the parlour our mother and father were sitting,
Father read by the fire, mother worked at her knitting;

Not a sound could be heard but the needles’ soft click
And the turn of the page and the clock’s steady tick,

When all of a sudden a scream tore the air,
Then scream after scream — father leapt from his chair

And mother in haste cast her work on the floor,
And they ran to the cries — to the closed closet door!

Throwing open the door they found Elvie inside,
Clutching her candle as in terror she cried,

For before her was lying, with flames rising higher,
The sunrise pink calico blazing on fire.

Father beat out the fire, mother took in her arm
The terrified girl, and she came to no harm,

Still she cried from her fright and for the calico too,
For the folded pink fabric was burnt through and through.

Then mother said ‘Hush,  you are safe, do not sorrow,
And I’ll look at the calico fabric tomorrow.’
But how she could manage it we could not think!
Work with those cinders of calico pink?

But she worked all next day and well into the night,
Piecing together the calico bright,

Cutting and measuring, matching the grain —
And on the table by morning two dresses were lain — 

And Elvie and I had never seen such
Beautiful dresses, it was almost too much!

Beauty for ashes was no fairy story,
For there it was lying in pink calico glory!

For Richer for Poorer

For Richer for Poorer

I long to deck you with a diamond cloak
And see your smile shine in a golden ring,

As bright as sunlight when the dawn first woke,
And gleamed on every diamond dew-dropped thing.
I want to crown you with a diadem
Of silver lilies, and ruby roses shining;
With lapis hyacinth on emerald stem,
All through your dark brown forest tresses twining.
But now I’m strapped for cash, yet you are fair — 
Your clever fingers ringless, and your crown
A single rose set in your chestnut hair,
Which o’er your shoulders as a cloak falls down.
          Still, for your care shall all my strength be pressed;
          Now as my earnest, in my verse be dressed.


For Better for Worse

For Better for Worse

When I was young, I plotted out a course,
And all alone my mooring lines let slip;

I turned my helm, for better or for worse,
The way I chose, and sailed my buoyant ship
To seek through tossing seas the golden land.
And any ruin that I might steer upon,
By ruthless rocks or shallow flats of sand,
Would be my loss alone; and ventures won
Were solely mine in glory and in gain.
But now we two are bound, God grant me grace
Never to bring you drowning down in pain,
But help you look with me up to the place
    Where Jesus is, who hears our desperate calls,
    And helps us lift the other if one falls. 


Here is a link to my other sonnet based on the wedding vows.

The Goatherd & The Wild Goats

No cloak, no fleece upon that day sufficed;
The penetrating wind through every coat
Blew rain straight to the skin, as cold as ice.
It fiercely flogged a goatherd and his goats
Exposed upon the open mountain side.
But, oh! their joy to see a deep, dark gash
Cleft in the rock— “Come on!” the goatherd cried
“It’s snug and dry — I’ll feed you oats and mash
In comfort while it rains.” The soaking goats
Pursued their master through the cloven stone,
And huddled, dripping, eager for the oats,
But soon they sensed that they were not alone.
A herd of wild goats had come before
To shelter in the cave from that same rain,
And when the goatherd saw these many more
He made a different plan about his grain.
With hopes his flock to double on that day
He called to them “Fresh Oats! All you can eat!”
But for his faithful flock a stalk of hay
As sustenance for each he reckoned meet.
Yet when the sheets of rain had ceased to fall,
The stranger goats all scampered  from the cave;
“You false ingrates!” the outraged goatherd called
Is this your thanks for all the food I gave?”
“Why should we join your flock?” the goats then bleated,
“We’ve seen quite clearly how we would be treated.”