Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of the Christian Holy Week. When I was a child, this was a big week with multiple visits to church and lots of secular preparations for Easter Sunday. We got Easter clothing for going to church. My father always took photos of us. There was a bigger-than-usual brunch that day, usually at my grandparent’s home along with cousins, aunts, and uncles.

The religion was fairly clear in my mind. Or at least thought it was clear. Last night, the 1956 film The Ten Commandments was on TV and I started watching it. The film looks odd to my current eyes but I know I watched it at least a half dozen times as a kid. The acting is stiff, the casting is inauthentic, the special effects look dated and the color is overly intense. But my mom loved all the Bibical films. and the big three networks of that time tended to show them at the appropriate time of year annually.

Last year I wrote here about Easter and Passover similarities and differences and rewatching that film reminded me about how little my religious classes of that time told me about the similarities. Taking religion courses in college, the biggest takeaway for me was how similar all religions are in certain aspects.

Here is one of my little ronka poems about Palm Sunday

Moveable feast this Passover and Easter week.
No palms here, but crocuses, wood hyacinths,
jonquils, cherry blossoms, a first bee buzzing.
Yew Sunday, Branch Sunday, triumph and victory
contained in a seed, bud, pollen, flower.


I’m not religious these days in any formal sense. I’m not a churchgoer. I have in-laws who are Jewish and so I have begun to celebrate Passover with a seder, which is a learning experience.

One of my strongest memories of Palm Sunday is getting the actual palms in church. Many people, including my mother, would weave them into rather elaborate crosses. But I did learn about why we had the palms.

Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter that commemorates Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem where the people carried palm branches as a sign of respect. It happened a week before his resurrection. Sometimes it is called by other names, such as Passion Sunday, because the Gospel narrative of the Passion of Jesus is read during the liturgical celebrations. Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, which is the last week of Lent.

Although the blessing and distribution of palm branches was the tradition, not everyone in every location can get palms, and branches of other native trees are also used. Some people name the day after these substitute trees, as in Yew Sunday, or by the general term Branch Sunday. For me, the budding and blooming branches around Paradelle seem like a good substitute, and the colors of the blooming flowers – especially the multicolored crocuses – seem like all the colors of Easter from church vestments to the thing I would find in my childhood Easter basket.

Pipe Dreams

I came across one of my grandfather’s pipes in a drawer last month. It is the only thing I have of his. After he died, I wanted his mantle clock that chimed throughout my early childhood but a cousin snatched that and also took grandpa’s humidor and pipes. Well, he was a pipe smoker like grandpa and I was just a young teen, so I suppose it made sense. But the clock – that should have been mine.

Later, I found another pipe of his in a drawer when my mom was helping clean out his house and I pocketed it. It looked newer and that seemed good to me. But I would later discover that new pipes need to be seasoned. This one was lightly seasoned. It may have been a pipe my family bought for his last birthday as cans of pipe tobacco were a common gift.

I loved the smell of the tobacco and I liked the smell of the smoke. When I eventually tried smoking a pipe in college, I found the taste to be unappealing. I found pipe smoking to be appealing in a Romantic way, somehow mixed in my undergraduate mind with whiskey and literature.

There are many materials used for pipes. The bowls of tobacco pipes are commonly made of briar wood, meerschaum, corncob, pear-wood, rosewood or less commonly cherry, olive, maple, mesquite, oak, and bog wood. In my college days, pipes were more likely to be used to smoke pot and they were made of all kinds of thing including glass and soapstone.

A pipe with a briarwood bowl like the one I have is the type that you must break in/ That process is called seasoning and it adds a protective layer (“dottle”) of carbon inside of the bowl. That layer keeps the wood from burning, drying out, and cracking.

I have smoked grandpa’s pipe a few times over the decades since I obtained it. I’m not a smoker these days but a pipe seems different from cigarettes and cigars. I suppose it’s not healthy to smoke anything these days, but when I do on rare occasions it seems almost ceremonial. I always think of my grandfather and the days I spent with him at his house in Newark, New Jersey. Our family went there for Sunday dinner with cousins almost every week. I loved his garden and he taught me things about growing vegetables and flowers that I think about every time I am in my garden.

Sherlock Holmes smoking a pipe in an illustration by Frank Wiles first appeared in 1914 in the Strand Magazine to illustrate the first installment of “The Valley of Fear.” Link

My experience with grandpa’s pipe is echoed in one of the essays by Alan Lightman in his collection, Dance for Two. His writing usually mixes science and literature. The essay “Time Travel and Papa Joe’s Pipe” is one of my favorites in the book. It is a Proustian moment he has with Papa Joe’s pipe as he imagines all the places the pipe has been and the people who have held it.

When I read it, I did take out my grandfather’s pipe. I bought some tobacco and filled it and sat out in the woods hoping to conjure him up in the smoke. Lightman says that “There is a kind of time travel to be had, if you don’t insist on how it happens.”

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?

ET on the movie’s poster and a detail from Michelangelo’s “Creation Of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel

“Imagine if a Martian showed up, all big ears and big nose like a child’s drawing, and he asked to be baptized. How would you react?” — Pope Francis, May, 2014

I was surprised to read that Pope Francis posed that rhetorical question to two of the Vatican astronomers. Yes, the Vatican has astronomers. He was not the first person to ask that question.

The astronomers are Brother Guy Consolmagno and Father Paul Mueller. Because of where they do their work, they often get questions that would not be posed to a religious person or to an astronomer. They get questions that mix science and religion and reason and faith. The question became the title of their book, Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? about the questions people ask of Catholic astronomers.

The Vatican Observatory is the official astronomical research institute of the Catholic Church. They get difficult questions. How do you reconcile The Big Bang with Genesis? Was the Star of Bethlehem just a religious story or an actual description of astronomical events? Why did Galileo anger the Catholic Church? When will the universe end?

The movie poster for the film ET suggests a connection to God and man and some people have compared ET’s story to that of Christ. more on that here

Brother Guy Consolmagno speaking at the Adler Planetarium, 2014


“By my intimacy with nature, I find myself withdrawn from man.
My interest in the sun and the moon, in the morning and the evening,
compels me to solitude.” – Henry David Thoreau

I came upon a collection of poems titled “Poems about Loneliness and Solitude.” My first thought was that they shouldn’t be combined – or confused.

Poets aren’t the only people who sometimes crave solitude. I find the solitude of isolation to be a good thing occasionally and I pursue it. Loneliness is not something I pursue, but sometimes it finds me.

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.”
Journal of a Solitude, May Sarton


the state of being alone,
by oneself;
a deserted place,
aloneness but not loneliness
which is a feeling of depression
from being alone
without companions.
a place or time devoid
of human activity.
And then there is
that obsolete meaning:
A desire to be alone;
a disposition to solitude.
Not obsolete to me.

Spring or No Spring, Move Ahead


Whether or not it looks and feels like spring in your neighborhood, your clock springs ahead once again this weekend.

Just last March 2022, the United States Senate voted to abolish daylight saving time. But that legislation stalled. Should we set one standard time and stick to it? Sleep researchers recommend we stay on standard time rather than daylight saving time since standard time is more aligned with our internal clocks.

Set your clock ahead early today, then go to bed your normal time.

I have never noticed any major changes in myself mentally or physically when we change the clocks but I am not a fan of waking up in the dark.

Lincoln on Slavery

It was February 1860 that presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln gave a speech against slavery at Cooper Union in New York City. The popular pro-slavery argument of the day argued that Congress had no right to regulate slavery in new territories. The Dred Scott case of 1857 upheld that viewpoint, maintaining that the framers of the Constitution did not intend Congress to limit slavery. Lincoln believed that decision was wrong, and he spent months before the speech researching the positions of the 39 Founding Fathers on the issue of slavery.

That evening, the great hall was filled with 1,500 New Yorkers, curious to see this candidate, a lawyer who had very little formal education, a man whom they knew something of from his series of highly publicized debates with Douglas. One eyewitness remarked: “When Lincoln rose to speak, I was greatly disappointed. He was tall, tall, — oh, how tall! and so angular and awkward that I had, for an instant, a feeling of pity for so ungainly a man.” Once Lincoln began to speak, however, “his face lighted up as with an inward fire; the whole man was transfigured. I forgot his clothes, his personal appearance, and his individual peculiarities. Presently, forgetting myself, I was on my feet like the rest, yelling like a wild Indian, cheering this wonderful man.” Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, was not present, but had read the speech beforehand; it was, he said, “constructed with a view to accuracy of statement, simplicity of language, and unity of thought. In some respects like a lawyer’s brief, it was logical, temperate in tone, powerful — irresistibly driving conviction home to men’s reasons and their souls.”

The speech — one of his longest, and one of his least-quoted — was reprinted widely; The New York Times printed it in its entirety, on the front page, the next day. It made Lincoln famous, and he was invited to speak at engagements all over the country. That summer, the Republican Party named him their candidate for the 1860 presidential election.

He ended the speech with the words, “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”