Sunday, May 19, 2019


Saturday evening, May 18, 2019, and my family settles down for a television evening. We tune to OPB, the public television for Oregon, and watch “Poland Rediscovered”. What an episode! Focused on the charm of Krakow, then the horror of Auschwitz. Result: the pairing of two opposites of human experience, located oddly within miles of each other in the 1940s. 

Krakow today: presented as a charming city of baroque city architecture and a vibrant cafe and food scene.

Auschwitz eighty years ago: a “camp” run by Nazi Germany, the conqueror of Poland of that day. Through Auschwitz and other such “camps,” European Jewry was practically annihilated by Hitler’s government. Weep for the sins of humanity against a vigorous minority.

Auschwitz: The Wall of Death
photo in public domain

Here, prisoners were lined up for execution by firing squad.
Bodies then dumped in gravel pits.

I ask: What’s the dynamic whereby the human brotherhood amongst nice neighbors prevalent in German towns and cities morphs into living hell? How do evil beings like Hitler win power through democratic elections? Answer: they build electoral majorities by building visions of some supposedly frightening a public danger and then presenting themselves as the savior from that danger. That is the story that Rick Steves tells about Hitler, the Nazis, the Jewish population in W. W. II.

Who sees through the sham? . . .the inhumanity? In the case cited in this post, travel guru Rick Steves, whose “Poland Rediscovered” show dramatically portrays both good and evil.

It’s up to watchers to ask whether anything like Auschwitz is occurring today. Is it occurring in North America, along the southern boundary of the U.S.A.?  The link may be tenuous and stretched. Or not. It's a question to be raised. 

Thursday, May 9, 2019


in our World Today

Help us really to see your creation, our natural surrounding. Illumine our hearts by the rays of the sun and the silvery light of the moon. Calm us, so that we experience the feeling of divine creative energy in nature all around us and within us as well.

As sunlight on the path leads us up the slope to the top of the trail, help us to allow the breath of your creation to guide us to life's goal.

Old Azalea, a senior citizen of plants, well-cared-for heritage, watered, pruned and tended by a previous generation, it shows its glory year after year. Having defied rain, snow and drought, it this very morning awakened again to morning light.

Twelve hours later, in a shaft of evening sunlight and joined by an angel of mercy, it displays a welcome on the porch of my (our) home, prepared to show its colors tomorrow and on other days and in years yet to come.

In how many ways can we sense the hand of the Creator in the special sights we occasionally encounter? May the Creator calm us, guide us, to life's goal.

Saturday, May 4, 2019


Memories          Mementos          Reminders of who we are.           

We family members and friends recall my mother as a tough woman. She worked as an assistant to school principals and was known for her ability to scare the dickens out of a child sent by a teacher to the principal for discipline. But she had a softer side. It showed through when she cried at a funeral of a friend or when she joked with the church choir members from the organist’s bench. 

This softer Mom wanted her kids to remember the family into the future. So she created a collage consisting of carefully selected family photographs and one document--an invitation to her and her young husband's wedding in Spokane, Washington, on August 6th, 1937. This framed cluster of visual reminders occupies a place in my home. I see it each and every day. Just looking at it reminds me of my handsome set of parents and of my equally handsome brother in his younger years. I gaze at it and think, "Yes, that’s my family." The photos evoke great reminders of family values.

Mom's Family Memory Collage
Wedding invitation, top center

Another amazing touch, this on my wife's side of our family. She and I live in a retirement community at the southwest edge of metro Portland, Oregon. The founders of the community organized it in the 1950s to provide a place of retirement for Quaker religious workers and church members. Today the community has grown and is much broader in scope. To celebrate its history to us newcomers in a tangible way, an organizer invited current residents to submit memories and mementos of their relatives who’d lived in the community. My wife submitted a recipe book of her grandmother, Bernice Williams, who lived here in the early 1960s. This week Grandma Williams' recipe book (below, published in 1883) is a keynote piece in the community display case. For my wife, this book brings back multiple memories of her grandmother, her love and her stories.

My wife's grandmother's recipe book in the display

From my own family, I cherish a fascinating framed antique photo of  childhood village church near  Interlaken area of Switzerland. The photo reminds me that my grandmother Elisabeth Michel, an emigrant of Switzerland. She married and the pair settled in rural eastern Washington State, U.S.A.. The photo reminded her of her childhood home. It reminds me of her loving, cuddly grandmotherly way with me as a youngster.  It reminds me that I'm the child of immigrant grandparents, and that immigration is good for America.

Die Kirche, Brienz, Berner Oberland, Schweiz

The youngest of Grandma's ten children was Clarence, my father, a hobbyist painter. Just the other day a visitor to our home recognized a painting on my study wall. “Guymas,” she said. “I’ve been in that very spot.” She was astounded at the realistic quality of the art. 

Dad's oil painting, "Guyamas," 1970

Her comment made me even more appreciative of the painting that Dad had produced--a select hand-me-down that brings back his passion for art and travel. Any good memento will express--no, exude--the loves and skills of our ancestors. 

Join me today in identifying durable mementos you can leave to your family. Whatever you leave will certainly communicate the culture(s) in which you and your family members reside and your moral compass. A silverware set. A piece of beloved furniture such as your desk. Such things will help your family understand and define themselves, possibly for several generations behind you. 

For my wife and me, a visit to the restored immigrant settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts, helped us to understand her family better. Her ancestors include a Mayflower passenger, John Howland, 1592 to 1673. An immigrant, again. 

A guideline or two: think of items and places that can be seen, visited, and/or used, or even just tucked away in a drawer. Choose quality, durable mementos. For families of the 21st century, I suppose mementos in electronic media will be important. Can posts in your blog fill such a function? I hope that some of posts might. 

Mementos are worth their weight in gold. I'll bet that you have many mementos in your possession. Identify them as such. Hand them on. You can do it. Don't give up. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019


For Easter this year our Portland and Seattle families gathered at my wife's and my home in Newberg, Oregon., U.S.A. Nine people, aged 12 to 80 years, enjoying each other amid Easter activities: greetings, a feast, an Easter egg hunt, good family fun. Just joyful togetherness.

My wife and I wanted very much to provide a unique and green Easter activity. Our suggestion was to invite each family member to write out an Easter-time hope for the year ahead. Then we'd bury the written hopes in the flower garden--the wishes on paper to compost naturally in the soil and to provide some nourishment for plants. A new round of life for the multi-colored paper.

Lucy came up with a booster idea. Why not write the hopes onto decorative paper cut to resemble the future flowers. Then tape each written hope to a foot-long, thin wooden stake. The project morphed into a bouquet of paper flowers.

Our Easter Bouquet

What did the family members note on their hope flowers? Here are their spectacular hopes:
  • "To discover ways to stop global warming    No bueno"
  • "Having fun"
  • "The end of despot leaders and end of meanness in the world"
  • "Peace and prosperity"
  • "$10.5 million and a pony"
  • "Generous kindness"
  • "Wondrous love"
  • "Peace in the world"
How do you react to this bouquet of hopes for the future? Do you find that one or more of these hopes echoes your own hopes? Or do you have a unique hope of your own? It's not too late: write it out on a cut-out flower.

Final step: we bury the notes in God's green earth. 

From here, nature itself transform the hopes. The earth will be growing greener by virtue of this return of a wood product (paper) to the earth. The earth will be a greener. 

One way to celebrate Easter, very much in keeping with the "Growing Green" theme of this blog-site. For us, it brought special meaning to our weekend together. Now back to home-making, studies and work for we nine earthlings, one family, fortified by our green Easter activity.

Friday, April 19, 2019


"On a hill far away stood. . ."

Lyrics I remember from "The Old Rugged Cross," Evangelical United Brethren Hymnal. I frequently sang this song in worship decades ago. If you were Methodist or Baptist or a whatever, you sang it too.

Back to today: I'm now at a stage in which I can break away for a one-hour walk almost every day. Where do I walk?

Generally, I walk around the on Gettman Loop Trail, a Yamhill County heritage trail which  snakes around the beautiful hill-and-dale perimeter of the Chehalem Glen Golf Course

But: here's a Problem: the rain. Not just that it rains. I live in the Pacific Northwest, U.S.A., alias duckville, so I don't mind walking on a rainy day. But I don't like mud on the trail. Much of the Gettman Loop traverses a grey clay surface, so the Gettman Loop trail isn't safe when wet. Very slippery. Plus, if I walk on that mud I'm bound to come home with clay mud clinging to the soles of my shoes and the cuffs of my jeans.

So, for rainy days I had to find an alternative to Gettman.

Solution: go up a hill instead down into a canyon?

Yes. So. . .on a walk a couple of weeks ago I found myself walking on a Newberg hillside street. Housing stretched out to the west but a grassy-and-forested hillside rose steeply from the east curb.  And just above the curb, a park sign with a map. I read: Schaad Park Loop Trail. Maybe a fantastic find for me! It led up the hill.

Up the trail I went, exploring switchback after switchback. No clay mud! Wonderful. The spectacular view to the west improved as I climbed. I saw my own community a mile away to the west, and beyond it the wide valley, hillside vineyards, the forested hills of the Coast Range, and finally, the Pacific Ocean. Well, I couldn't see the ocean, of course, but I imagined it.

What I saw from the Schaad Park Loop Trail, looking to the west

As I climbed, I gave attention to the remaining trunk and limbs of a burned-out tree. Here I was--on a day late in Lent, standing before a burned-out tree that formed a charred, darkened cross.

"The 'Natural' Cross of Christ": front view, 2019
"Jesus cried with a loud voice, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'"

 "Dear God," I thought. "Isn't this snag like the cross of Christ?" I grew solemn. I teared up. I bowed. I crossed myself. Deep, deep memories: Bible readings of the devilish Roman cross of Jesus. 

I walked to the other side and the snag now appeared as the empty cross after Jesus' death--an empty cross silhouetted against the grey sky.  

"The Empty Natural Cross of Christ", 2019 
a natural replica

A deeply moving experience for me during Holy Week.

Mistletoe clinging to the branches of Oregon oaks (quercus garryana)

Then, further up the trail at the crest of the hill I entered into another experience in a stand of  ancient Oregon white oak trees. I love Oregon white oaks. Around me at this moment: huge old trees, now wooden skeletons because the new leaves had not yet appeared. 

No oak leaves that is, but up in the bows hung enormous clumps of mistletoe. The mistletoe turned my thoughts to Life. Continuing life. Life-laden clumps of mistletoe, the plant that symbolizes love. 

Why do I walk? One reason among others: it's a spiritual exercise teaching that Life Prevails.

Postscript: it's helpful to know that persons in other religious traditions find inspiration "on the trail."  I recommend a read of a review of  "Zen On the Trail" by Professor Chris Ives, then get the book.

Saturday, April 13, 2019


I want to share a few family history research suggestions for you, based on my own sporadic search for "Reeck," my surname.
  • Talk to your elder family members. Maybe they have memories never shared with you: foggy memories of arriving by ship from Asia or Europe, or by foot from Central America. Or by raft or canoe from somewhere?
  • Get out those family papers that may have been lying in a drawer for decades. Handle with care! The paper could be brittle with age.
  • Talk to an expert.
So: what about my sporadic search for the deep background of Reeck? It's been a slow search. Speak with your relatives. I knew from a cousin that my Reeck ancestors three generations back arrived  by ship at Immigration in New York City from Germany. Their village in that then-"Germany" (alias Prussia) was in today's Poland, just east of the Oder river.

Actually, my brother recently visited the Reecks' former village in Poland but regrettably found no evidence, neither past nor present, of any Reecks. Evidently, when the Poles reconquered the area they displaced the remaining Reecks or absorbed them into Polish culture. Friendly young Poles told my brother that the Germans still living in the area were "ethnically cleansed" after WW II. It took me no time at all to conclude that my ancestors made a great decision to leave in the 1870s.

Get out those old family papers if you have some tucked away in storage. If you don't have them, one of your relatives might. They are a treasure. 

Example of suggestion three: ask an expert. Actually, my best clue to deep origins of "Reeck" came from a German linguist, visiting for a scholarly presentation in the 1980s at University of Puget Sound, where I was a faculty member. "Where, in Germany, was the name Reeck prominent?" I asked him. "Do you have any idea?"

He said:  Ja, probably from the area around the bend of the Rhine, where it enters Holland. The name can be found there.

"Oh yes?" I said in surprise. I told him about the great-great grandparents' departure on a ship from a port in northern Germany, not from the Rhenish watershed.

The visitor replied that, in medieval times, the Knights Teutonic needed German-speaking civilians to farm the conquered lands in what's now Northwestern Poland. Your ancestors were probably recruited from the area around the lower Rhine to farm on "free" land in Poland. ("Free" in quotes means fertile farmland from which the Polish inhabitants had been evicted by their Germanic conquerors.)

Erich II, a ruler of the Knights Teutonic
(Not my ancestors. Or are they? What's their last name?)
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

(Did my ancestors struggle in the fields to support this wealth pictured above? No wonder they split for the U.S.)

Since then, I've searched sporadically on-line for the name "Reeck" in Holland and in Belgium. I've found reference to people and places named Reeck all over Northern Germany and specifically in areas around the bend of the Rhine, just as the linguist suggested. Here's a second prize example from Belgium. (You'll see a list of Belgian ambassadors. Scroll down the list to the line "Greece" and find the name of the ambassador.) 

Here's another. "Reek" is the name of a community in southern Holland, near the big bend of the Rhine, just as the German scholar hypothesized.  Maybe this is about where the Knights Teutonic picked up the Reecks (then the von Reeks?) five-or-so-centuries ago. Anyhow, now I have a newly-found destination for a vacation visit: Gemeente REEK.

REEK, The Netherlands
In the public domain via Wikimedia Commons

You, yourself, can go much further into research than I've done. Friends of mine have done so with great success. Online services can help you for a fee.

For me, maybe I'll never find more about the deep background of "Reeck".  It's okay. What I know is enough for me. I'd probably rather visit the Michels in Brienz, Switzerland (my dad's mother's family and birthplace) than get frustrated trying to find Reecks in northwest Poland.

For you, good luck on your search!! A bit of knowledge about your ancestors will give you a better sense of your location in the grand history of peoples on earth. And I do hope the stories of my search will help you on your search.

And oh! I forgot to mention that in Manzanita, OR, Lucy and I walked past a house and read a sign: "The Reek House." I met the owner, introduced myself by last name, and asked him about the name "Reek House."

"Oh, we're Scottish. In Scottish, Reek means 'smoke.' Our fireplace is smoky. We named the house for the smoke." I wonder what Reek or Reeck might mean in other languages. This is how the name game is played. You get the name, you chat with people about the name, and you get more and more confused, confounded or comforted, depending on what you learn.

Saturday, April 6, 2019


Absolutely, those of you who live in the Pacific Northwest are familiar with dark days whenever the clouds float in from the Pacific Ocean and the sunlight is blocked. It happens a lot in November, December, and on until June. And not just in the northwestern U.S.A.

On April 5, 2019, just three days ago, I experienced light of the sun overcome the darkness of the rain clouds. I was on my usual afternoon walk at the time when the light of day is normally brightest. Instead, this day the sky was very dark and rain was falling. The photo below gives you a glimpse of the darkness I experienced.

On Gettman Loop, Newberg, Oregon

But you can see a break in the clouds at the right border of the photo. I noticed it on my rainy walk. I remember hoping that bright light would follow. All I needed was for the wind to position the break between sun and me.

Actually, that's exactly what happened. Within five minutes or so, the grass was green, the trees cast actual shadows, and the mood of the day changed for the better. The photo below shows the colors I saw from the same position on the trail. The change was marvelous. Truly, my whole mood toward the walk and the day improved with the surge of sunlight.

That's a lot like our internal psychical experiences. When somber feelings crowd into our psyches, it seems so dark. Maybe your heart rate slows down a bit. Maybe worry and fear dominate.  That's when we need the light.

How do you turn the switch to get that light that fills your heart? One way that works: connect with a good friend, explain your mood, ask for advice or consolation.

Another way: get a positive experience through reading. Many people read or recite devotional religious thoughts to let in the light.

I visited a Quaker religious service recently. At one point the leader called for meditative silence. All sounds ceased for several minutes. Then, a few individuals, one after the other, stood to speak about encouraging experiences or moments of divine light. Something like this can happen in any meditative state.

Consider this Hebrew scripture: "The Lord is my light and my salvation." Psalm 27.

Let kids experience darkness and light. Maybe you turn the house lights down low on Good Friday. Then you let them flare brightly on Easter morning, even before people get up from sleep. Invent your own approach together with your children, grandchildren, or, if you're one of the kids, with your parents.

Easter is a great time to let in the light.