Dr. Joe

In The Footsteps of Lewis and Clark

The journals of Captains Lewis and Clark are the most prophetic narrative of American History.  Thomas Jefferson ordered Meriwether Lewis to keep an accounting of all discoveries made on their trek up the Missouri River.  Jefferson was a visionary; consequently he taught Lewis to write with the poetry of imagination to insure their journals would be literary masterpieces.  On this Montana adventure they are my bible.

We put into the River at Coal Banks landing; the boat crews had methodically loaded the equipment to insure a perfect balance as we shoot the current of the Missouri.  I told my students that having balance is a lot like life; the Eastern mystics call it center.  It’s what Siddhartha searched for on his quest for the divine.  He didn’t realize that he already had it.

Prior to shoving off, I read the words of Lewis, “We were now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width.  The good or evil it has in store for us was yet to be determined, yet entertaining as I do the most confidant hope of succeeding in this voyage.  I could but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.”

My students are pensive of leaving terra firma, but nevertheless we head for the center of the river. The current immediately takes us and swings us North.  All we hear is the rhythmic sound of the paddles as they dip and with a backward swing they dip again.  After an hour the sounds of laughter begin to emanate from the boats. Anxiety is a natural suppressant causing us to overcompensate in our focus.  However, confidence is gained through preparation, competence, and repetition.  By the late afternoon our crew is worthy of the Captains.

The Missouri is a river that speaks to the traveler, “I am a grandfather spirit; I have a life.”  It was the grandfather spirit that brought the Captains into the interior of North America.  If you listen close enough you can hear the river saying, “Follow me; great discoveries await.” Lewis and Clark, on the bidding of Jefferson and on behalf of America, headed up the Missouri on a vision quest.

The Corps of Discovery’s purpose was to proceed on with undaunted courage and face whatever challenges came their way. But a metamorphosis ensued where as the expedition members were transformed by the adventure and, through their encounters with their discoveries, the land became truly American. To paraphrase Robert Frost’s poem “The Gift Outright,” Lewis and Clark opened up an artless, un-enhanced, and un-storied country and gave of themselves “outright” so that Americans could realize that the land was ours and we were her people.   In short, the expedition was nothing less than a holy act of national transubstantiation.

On our first evening I sat on the River bank, adjacent to a Lewis and Clark campsite listening to the sound of a crackling fire.  We were burning the dead fall of cotton wood trees.  They were the decedents of the same trees that kept the Captains warm back in 1805.   I watched the river flow toward the Mississippi and then to the Gulf of Mexico. We were at, ‘Hole in the Wall,” the very same spot where Lewis proclaimed the White Cliffs of Montana to be “Scenes of Visionary Enchantment.”  Almost to the exact day of our presence there, I read from the journal of Lewis.  “This immense river so far as we have ascended waters one of the fairest portions of the globe.  Nor do I believe that there is in the universe a similar extent of country.”

The embers of the fire lost their glow and I crawled into my sleeping bag.  Tomorrow will be a new day with new discoveries as we continue in the footsteps of the Captains.

 

 

 

 

 

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Preparing to Meet Grandfather Spirit

I’ve often remarked in Thoughts from Dr. Joe, “That life’s a dance and you learn as you go.”  Therefore, the simple act of paying attention enables one to learn, the greatest schoolmasters are the daily serendipitous occurrences that befall us.

Sergeant Winston taught me a valuable less when I was an Officer Candidate trying to survive the brutal reality of what it takes to lead men in combat.  He taught me, success in any endeavor requires more than praying the rosary, it requires preparation.  His lesson is reminiscent of the old Bedouin saying, “Trust in God but tie your camel.”

Sergeant Winston believed, “Preparation is an equalizer.” Success within the nuances of the Corps takes more than physicality and metal clarity.  There is a causal relationship between preparation and success; the best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.

Sergeant Winston taught an unconventional methodology.  The way to prepare is to think negatively.  Consequently when trying to make a decision, I often think of the worse case scenario. If I do something, what is the most terrible thing that can happen?  What makes it possible to be confident is having a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose.  Thus there are many things I don’t worry about because I have a plan in place if they do.

By the time you read these words, I’ll be heading to Northern Montana with 12 students to canoe the Upper Missouri River following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark.  This is my 31st year teaching western history, Native American Mythology, wilderness philosophy, and how to survive on the land.

It’s the consummate adventure! However, before I take the first step I remind myself that preparation must be done bit by bit. Nothing that means anything happens quickly.  Drawing back a bow and sending an arrow straight into a target takes only a split second, but it is a skill many years in the making.

In 1860 Sir Richard Burton, famed British explorer, departed for Africa to discover the source of the Nile. In his biography, The Collector of Worlds, Burton speaks to the unimaginable discoveries and experiences that he had garnered through exploration. However he proposes that without meticulous preparation such wonders would not have materialized.

Hannibal crossed the Alps.  Marco Polo left for China.  Magellan sailed west.  Huck Finn headed down the Mississippi. Amundsen raced for the South Pole while Perry went north.  Successful expeditions have one thing in common, preparation.

I worship at the alter of ritual and before each adventure, I undertake a succinct methodology.  I begin with myself, preparing both physically and mentally.  I study the saga of Earnest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition, Lewis and Clark’s journey, and my account of leadership principles learned in Vietnam.  I am convinced that the success of any journey is predicated upon a prepared, spirited, committed, and competent team.  It’s teamwork! We leave our individuality in La Canada.

I test the ropes, the knots, the stoves, the tarps, the first aide supplies, and then I test them again.  And after that, I test them a third time. It is a meticulous attention to detail that enables us to walk the razors edge of an adventurous pursuit.  I don’t want to be caught on the Missouri River frantically searching for a lifeline that wasn’t tied properly.

They say no land remains to be discovered. But the whole world is out there, waiting, just waiting for me. “I expect to make great discoveries,” said Meriwether Lewis. I feel similar since my confidence is aligned with my preparation. If all goes as I predict, next week I’ll tell you about the ‘Grandfather Spirit’ in the Upper Missouri River in northern Montana.

Mohammad Ali once said,  I run on the road, long before I dance under the lights.”

 

 

 

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Progress for Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy

My mom told me, “Never trust anyone who complains too much; they’re up to something.” She must have read Shakespeare!  He proposed a way of cutting through the minutia of an argument; it’s called finding the hidden agenda.   Remember in “Hamlet,” when Queen Gertrude says, “The lady doth protest too much methinks?”  I thought of Shakespeare when I saw “Protect La Canada Flintridge’s ad concerning the master plan construction project of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy (FSHA).

The intent of Sacred Heart’s master plan is to modernize the campus and there-by ensure the educational viability of a 21th century institution.  However, the hyperbole of the opposition with their banter and images is contrary to the reality of what is proposed by FSHA’s modernization project.  Shakespeare was a smart guy, subsequently he engineered Queen Gertrude’s phrase to mean that one can insist so passionately about something not being true that people suspect the opposite of what one is saying.  Thus it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that such insistence raises a potential red flag.

I’m from the Bronx, and that makes me skeptical.  We call it street sense! Maybe it’s common sense!  But Bronx Boys have an uncanny knack of reading between the lines.

Do you think the opponents of FASH’s modernization give a darn about protecting La Canada?    If you do, I’m going to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.  It’s clear to me that their altruism fails before the imperative of self-interest.  Under the guise of stewardship, they are intent at impeding the progress of an institution that has been a good neighbor to this community for 81 years.  It’s always the same argument, once I’ve built my home nobody else can build above me.  Where’s the compromise.

Without compromise one is chained to a narrow vision.  The roads to righteousness and arrogance are parallel and it’s often difficult to decipher which path you are on. However the path to righteousness is paved with compromise and the road to arrogance is paved with self-interest.

I understand that those vehemently opposed to FASH may not exceed 12 individuals.  I learned at the University of Dayton in Father Leo’s statistics class that 12 is not a representative sample of the aggregate.   We are however a constitutional democracy therefore the opposition deserves their day in court.  Well, they’ve already had it.

Self-interest should never impede progress?  Without change there is no progress, only stagnation. Subsequently we become prisoners of our first amendment.  In science we learn that life generates itself through change.  Sacred Heart is intent on change, to create a better institution there-by continuing the noble work of educating young women.  When will rationality prevail over those who would impede the natural progression?  Inertia causes decay.

Throughout, Sacred Heart has taken the moral high ground.  They have been a good neighbor, accommodating to the will of the community, fostering honest dialogue, respecting the process, and have been open and transparent throughout.  John Milton said, “the best apology against false accusers is silence and sufferance, and honest deeds set against dishonest words.”  Righteousness lies in the moral in ground.

Margaret Kean, Chief Development Officer at FSHA explained, “We believe the process is good and if we follow the process the outcome will be good.”  However life is not always fair as it’s adjudicated by fallibility.  Thus the city council must decide.  Leaders do the right thing.

The strategic master plan at Sacred Heart is within their footprint.  It is a multi-phased modernization of facilities that are 60 years old.  It has a distinct purpose. With the advent of technology and their commitment to insure that FSHA graduates walk confidently, competently, and securely throughout the world, they seek a new pyridine.  Change!  Change brought mankind through the dark ages.  However it takes only a few misguided individuals to take us back to the dark ages.

 

 

 

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To My Seniors 2013

I heard them before I saw them.  It was a rumbling, a force to be reckoned with.  As the Suburban rolled defiantly down Foothill Boulevard eight teenagers moved to the beat of “Some Nights,” by Fun.  A sign painted on the vehicle in large red letters read, “Seniors Rock 2013.”  They were proclaiming to the world, “We have inherited the earth and everything in it!”

As they bopped on by we starred at each other. The expressions on their faces read, “You wish you were us!”  I wonder how they knew?

The brashness of youth is intoxicating; its beguiling nature is an aphrodisiac compelling one to remember younger days.  Its attractiveness defines the right of passage.  High school graduation begins the process of adulthood. Falling into the future is life’s most consummate adventure.

I feel an attachment to the class of 2013.  I’ve seen you act, play sports, cheer, dance, heard you sing, I’ve even been to Europe with you.  For many of you I was the guy who wore the red vest supervising recess at La Canada Elementary.

And now you’re seniors.  The universe has just whispered its secrets in you ear.  Surely you should be lauded for the mountains you have climbed; so what gifts can I possibly give you other than thoughts?  Words are all I have.  Believe me when I say, there’s something extraordinary about words.  They hold you captive zigzagging themselves around you like spider silk, penetrating your pores, entering your veins thus creating alchemy.  And sometimes they even change your life.

I was a teacher for 38 years and often wrote my students letters summarizing the salient points of my lectures.  I called them “The Stay Gold Letters.”  There are almost two thousand letters, over a million words; consequently it was overwhelming to find the perfect message.  There were countless perspectives, philosophies, quotes, and stories all of which have significant meaning for an emerging life.

Maybe I should heed the Sufi Philosophers, “There are many paths; pick one.”  So I did!  That alone is pretty good advice.

I saw you at the fireworks in Memorial park last week.  I watched your joyous antics.  I tried to intellectualize your magic: capture it, put it in a bottle, and then drink the potion and wait for a do over.  It didn’t work.

Once I was you! However, I never stopped to see my reflection in the looking glass.  I was always running up the next mountain never stopping to inhale the moment.

Let me share some insight from the poem “Ithaca,” by Constantine Cavafy.  It’s the story of Odysseus’ 10-year voyage back to Ithaca to be with his wife Penelope.  It’s the Odyssey!  We learn that the magic of life is not found in the destination but in the journey.  Merely accomplishing goals is not experiencing life.  Mountains lie before you; you must ascend them; it’s what you were born to do.  But as you travel, always keep the summit of the mountain in sight, but don’t hurry to get there. To arrive is not your ultimate goal.  The mountain gives you the beautiful voyage; that’s called life.  When you arrive at the top, you will not find your reward.  Success is not a place at which one arrives but rather the spirit you possess throughout your journey.  Your reward is the experience and recollection of the moments you’ve had along the way.  That’s the secret.  This moment is all we’re promised.  Don’t let it slip away.

At the end of Odysseus’ voyage, he finally reaches Ithaca; he is rich with all the experiences he has gained along the way.  It was Ithaca who gave him the splendid voyage.  As he sits in the harbor after 10 years at sea he finally gets it.  Life is not the destination; it’s the journey.

Congratulations on your graduation!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My mom told me, “Never trust anyone who complains too much; they’re up to something.” She must have read Shakespeare!  He proposed a way of cutting through the minutia of an argument; it’s called finding the hidden agenda.   Remember in “Hamlet,” when Queen Gertrude says, “The lady doth protest too much methinks?”  I thought of Shakespeare when I saw “Protect La Canada Flintridge’s ad concerning the master plan construction project of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy (FSHA).

The intent of Sacred Heart’s master plan is to modernize the campus and there-by ensure the educational viability of a 21th century institution.  However, the hyperbole of the opposition with their banter and images is contrary to the reality of what is proposed by FSHA’s modernization project.  Shakespeare was a smart guy, subsequently he engineered Queen Gertrude’s phrase to mean that one can insist so passionately about something not being true that people suspect the opposite of what one is saying.  Thus it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that such insistence raises a potential red flag.

I’m from the Bronx, and that makes me skeptical.  We call it street sense! Maybe it’s common sense!  But Bronx Boys have an uncanny knack of reading between the lines.

Do you think the opponents of FASH’s modernization give a darn about protecting La Canada?    If you do, I’m going to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.  It’s clear to me that their altruism fails before the imperative of self-interest.  Under the guise of stewardship, they are intent at impeding the progress of an institution that has been a good neighbor to this community for 81 years.  It’s always the same argument, once I’ve built my home nobody else can build above me.  Where’s the compromise.

Without compromise one is chained to a narrow vision.  The roads to righteousness and arrogance are parallel and it’s often difficult to decipher which path you are on. However the path to righteousness is paved with compromise and the road to arrogance is paved with self-interest.

I understand that those vehemently opposed to FASH may not exceed 12 individuals.  I learned at the University of Dayton in Father Leo’s statistics class that 12 is not a representative sample of the aggregate.   We are however a constitutional democracy therefore the opposition deserves their day in court.  Well, they’ve already had it.

Self-interest should never impede progress?  Without change there is no progress, only stagnation. Subsequently we become prisoners of our first amendment.  In science we learn that life generates itself through change.  Sacred Heart is intent on change, to create a better institution there-by continuing the noble work of educating young women.  When will rationality prevail over those who would impede the natural progression?  Inertia causes decay.

Throughout, Sacred Heart has taken the moral high ground.  They have been a good neighbor, accommodating to the will of the community, fostering honest dialogue, respecting the process, and have been open and transparent throughout.  John Milton said, “the best apology against false accusers is silence and sufferance, and honest deeds set against dishonest words.”  Righteousness lies in the moral in ground.

Margaret Keen, Chief Development Officer at FSHA explained, “We believe the process is good and if we follow the process the outcome will be good.”  However life is not always fair as it’s adjudicated by fallibility.  Thus the city council must decide.  Leaders do the right thing.

The strategic master plan at Sacred Heart is within their footprint.  It is a multi-phased modernization of facilities that are 60 years old.  It has a distinct purpose. With the advent of technology and their commitment to insure that FSHA graduates walk confidently, competently, and securely throughout the world, they seek a new pyridine.  Change!  Change brought mankind through the dark ages.  However it takes only a few misguided individuals to take us back to the dark ages.

 

 

 

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