Category Archives: The Atheist’s Pulpit

One believer’s view.

Thirty-three Years in the Land of Enchantment

The Land of Enchantment
near Chaco Canyon

I live in a dry land that once was under water, a seabed now 5000 feet above sea level. Sunrise is held at bay by a granite ridge 5000 feet higher, which at sunset glows as pink as coral. Looking west, the eye is drawn to the sliver of green flanking the Rio Grande, life’s blood trickling through a parched land that rises to five volcanoes close at hand, which in turn are dwarfed by a volcano 80 miles away. All under a sky of limitless blue.

This vista fills me with joy.

Driving into town from any direction, you can take in the largest city in the state with a glance. Stand under the cottonwoods along the river and you forget where you are. Here the land has not been subdued by man. We are surrounded by reminders that we are all recent arrivals and none will outlast the land itself.

The land appears still until you view it at 10,000 years per second, when it shakes and buckles, rises and falls, like a coffee cup on the hood of a truck at rough idle. The land appears flat until you cross it to find the surface cracked and broken by ravines scoured by wind and rain. The land seems silent until the wind howls like an injured animal lashing out in pain.

The land seems dry until a year’s worth of rain falls in a few days. We live for these days and relive them in conversations. We smell the rain before we hear it, we feel the temperature change, listen for the first drops. We sit on our porches, big grins on our faces with the look of wonder like children at a fair.

The Navajo advise each other to walk in beauty, to appreciate our surroundings and be part of that beauty.

This month, I complete my 33rd year in New Mexico — more than half my life. This land leaves me speechless.

Wolfman Mark

“Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night
can become a wolf, when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.” (from the first Wolfman movie)

I can’t remember when I became a werewolf. Looking back, I see a few staggered steps, like tracks in the snow, lurching from man to wolf and back again. There is no cause and effect, merely history, which can be told so many different ways.

When I was a child, I had a dream. It began with me willing myself to fly. I soared over my neighborhood with delight. Soon, the force of will necessary to fly drained me and I began to descend, despite my will. In the slow descent, I flew lower into a dark woods and, at the moment of greatest fear of what lurked within, I awoke. This dream recurred many times until I was past 10 years of age. I think the dream portended changes to come.

In my teens, I found my pack. We stalked the streets and parks of Northern Virginia. To varying degrees, we found and created ourselves, as the pack and as individuals. They must have been the first to see my wolf nature emerge. I watched werewolf movies. I read Steppenwolf – auf deutsch sogar. I identified with the man uneasily on the edge of his society. At times, I lost my hold on humanity, which was a terrible sight, I know, and yet, my friends kept me in the pack, for which I’m grateful still. Eventually, the notion that “Mark is a werewolf” didn’t seem the least bit absurd – simply a statement of fact known to those who needed to know.

It was the pack that brought home my eventual mate the night before Halloween, 1981. Merri Rudd stepped into our den with wise shyness. She sniffed the air and told me she had been a dog in a former life. (I don’t recall when I first told her I’d been a wolf in the current one.) I followed her into uncharted territory, a land with its own wolves. In a few days, we’ll howl at the full moon for what could be the 364th time – a year of full moons.

At times, I think the wolf within crawled out from under my skin to become my totem, my animus, my daemon, if you will. The old man still snaps but his teeth are loose and dull. As much as ever, I linger on the doorstep of a large community, not sure I dare step over into the firelight, no matter how welcome I would be. But, from the edge, it looks lovely.

[reposted from 10/31/2015]

35 Years Ago

mjh & MR in Landmark Shopping Center photo machine, Alexandria, VA, January 1984
mjh & MR in Landmark Shopping Center photo machine, Alexandria, VA, January 1984

Friday night, Halloween weekend, 1981, Robert Coontz brought someone new home for dinner. I stood in the living room to meet her and she walked around the far side of the coffee table, nose in the air. She wasn’t avoiding me (she said), just sniffing her surroundings, having been a dog in a former life. That was my introduction to Merri Rudd, my belovéd-to-be.

[photo: mjh & MR in Landmark Shopping Center photo machine, Alexandria, VA, January 1984.]

Happy Birthday, dear Autumn!

S0138324

We celebrate a lot of anniversaries. In Autumn’s case, there’s her birthday (8/29/13), when we met her (it’s in my journal somewhere), when she first came to live with us (11/25/13), when we gave her up (11/27/13), and when we got her back, which was one year ago today. Yes, it’s a long story, all documented here and in her ever-expanding photo album. We are over the moon with both our sweet dogs.

[As often happens when people fawn over Autumn, Luke wants you to remember him, too.]

Thirty-four years kissing Merri Rudd

Thirty-four years ago today, Valentine’s Day, 1982, Merri Rudd and I shared our first kiss. It was the morning after the first Valentine’s Day Pajama Party at Preston Road.

Happy Anniversary, Darling! xox, mjh

Valentine's Day card drawn by mjh for MR in 1987

“I’ll be your man.
I’ll understand.
Do my best
to take good care of you.
You’ll be my queen.
I’ll be your king.
And I’ll be your lover, too.”
— Van the Man Morrison

cupid and whatshername

See also http://www.edgewiseblog.com/mjh/the-atheists-pulpit/30-years-ago/.

Stupor Bowl Stunday

Today, two billionaires pit teams of millionaires against each other in a stately pleasure dome built at taxpayer expense. Tomorrow, whether you’re grinning or crying about “your” team, a few people will be even richer and their surrogates will be hard at work opposing raising the minimum wage, arguing against the estate tax and regulations, while praising the non-existent free market. Hey, at least it’s more fun the original feudal system, right? Right? Go team!

[originally published Feb 2, 2014 @ 07:47 ]

Ducky flies to Peru

We found Ducky abandoned on a picnic table in a campground near Alamosa, Colorado. That was the trip that was nearly ruined by millions of caterpillars falling from the aspens they were denuding. The same trip we saw hundreds of unrelated swallowtails wallowing in mud along the road.

Ducky was just sitting there. That’s his thing. You know his kind well. Perhaps, New Mexicans feel a stronger connection to his kind thanks to Bosque del Apache, or, more likely, the Deming Duck Race.

Since he joined the pack, Ducky has ridden on the dash of our truck. He accompanies us on the mundane daily trips and the longer escapes we live for. This is why I impulsively grabbed him to take to Peru.

I admit that I considered Ducky might fill the roll of the sock monkey and other peripatetic icons dotting photos on the Web. He might add some whimsy, I hoped. Early on, I was very self-conscious about pulling him out and posing him. I don’t mind being affected or eccentric, but I’m not that into him at home. He’s just along for the ride. By putting him in the frame, I brought him into our group, most of whom looked at me indulgently, at first.

These are the best photos of Ducky in Peru, from departure to return. I couldn’t photograph my favorite moment involving Ducky. As we passed through airport security in Cusco, I pulled Ducky out of my pocket at the last moment and put him on top of a pile of other items. I loved seeing the faces of the security personnel soften as they looked from Ducky to each other and smiled. The world craves more whimsy.

Ducky on his way to Peru
Ducky on his way to Peru.

I love you, man!
I love you, man!


The joy of birding.

On the Madre de Dios river in Manu, Peru
On the Madre de Dios river, Manu, Peru.

Watching macaws
Watching macaws.

Cloudburst and sunny smile
Cloudburst and sunny smile

Cloudburst and sunny smile. I was delighted when Melissa Wilson reached for Ducky. Seize the whimsy! The rain ruined one of our best birding  opportunities, yet gave me more joy than I can say.

long journey home

You can go home again. It just takes forever.

Most of my blog entries regarding the trip are on Ah, Wilderness! Follow this link to 170 photos from the 2 week journey.