Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection



the river shallower and more placid than I remembered,
almost dreamy at Great Bend,
a fisherman thigh-deep in midstream at Sidney

Chenango Canal 1837-78
and another along the Susquehanna


– poem copyright 2015 by Jnana Hodson
to read the complete set,
click here


100_0188Thanksgiving raises thoughts of New England Puritans, even though they differed in many ways from their fellow Calvinists, the Pilgrims – the ones who celebrated that first round of feasting.

Here is Sir Richard Saltonstall (1586-1661), a Puritan who founded Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1630 before his return to England.



back to back
in the kitchen

steam in the air

a sharp knife
their chatter

*   *   *

after I harvest Brussels sprouts
from our icy garden
and then

*   *   *

blue sky, thin fog especially
over ice-covered lakes
shimmering, veiled air
a Luminist sunset

New England Revival
in their awareness

poem copyright 2015 by Jnana Hodson


One lingering question is just when did the hippie movement end – at least in the phase everyone considers.

No, it wasn’t the end of the ’60s. The movement really boomed in the early ’70s.

You might peg it to the end of the Nixon administration. Or the end of the military draft.

I’m more like to say December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was assassinated in Manhattan.

On a more personal note we might consider the time when we stopped hitchhiking as well as the time we stopped picking up hitchhikers.

Let me explain.

At first, hitchhiking was dangerous – and exciting. You never knew, either, whether you’d ever get a ride or just be left standing there. (Me, middle of Montana, summer 1970.) Or whether something nasty might happen.

And then came the stretch where everybody did it. It was a free-rolling party. The unwritten rule was you had to share something in reciprocation to the driver. You know, the old ass-grass-or-ass mantra. What I’ll cite as my introduction to trail gorp from the first Mennonite I’d met.

Somewhere, though, something turned ugly. A few hitchers began to think drivers owed them a ride and cursed those who passed by. Bad karma. And then a few you picked up were just scary. I mean really scary, and rather incommunicado. For me that was the summer of ’73 going into early ’74. It just wasn’t worth the risk, and it wasn’t any fun.

At its zenith, hitchhiking was largely a rural practice. The cities – especially the large metropolitan areas – could be tricky. Not everyone was cool. And not everyone could be trusted. So I was told.

Actually, much of the hippie movement had migrated to the countryside and college campus communities to escape a lot of the big city hassles, especially those of the authorities. But the inner city or bohemian urban enclaves still provided a lot of the action. It seemed to me that hippie wanted to go in two separate directions. One thing was clear, and that was the suburbs just weren’t included.

And so I wound up working with the metaphor of the Subway Hitchhiker. Beating the system you were using. Riding free … and freely. Seeing the world around you magically transformed.

As it turns out, even this fantasy vision would have a limitation in time.

The underground rails turned ugly after that. Not just the overwhelming graffiti, either – the assaults and other crimes proliferated.

And then the homeless – the ones who came to be known as the Mole People – began living in the permanently dark, secret recesses of the tunnels. Things became really scary, if you weren’t careful or couldn’t read the signals.

One thing for certain: the rails have recovered – and I find them fun, even at rush hour (admittedly, it’s because I’m just a visitor rather than a daily commuter).

And my novel remains a souvenir of that earlier jubilation – maybe you want to look at its short chapters as postcards.


For your ride, click here.


Numbers 008The birds and squirrels have already harvested the sunflower seeds. I like to leave the stalk up anyway, just as a perch for the critters.



As the say, politics makes strange bedfellows. Still, hearing this one floated around remains startling:

A Trump-Carson ticket?

As one wag retorted, it’s the demeaned and the devout.

Well, you could see it as one attempt to cover all the bases.


Those first years out on your own introduce their own drama. Typically, you split an apartment with others who just might also be friends. On that entry-level wage, your address will likely be in a rather marginal neighborhood. And then there’s the life on the street, day and night.

Maybe you move on to something better. Or maybe this simply continues. But it has its own unmistakably funky nature.

For me, it’s found in a few blocks near the Riverside. Stop over when you can. There’s always tea or coffee. We’re up on the third floor.


Riverside 1To see more, click here.


Even in the face of the outrages over the corrupting clout of the superrich investment in partisan politics, a fresh insight can prove haunting. And let’s not dignify that as “donations.” That’s my reaction to a passage from David Cole’s review of Burt Neuborne’s new book, Madison’s Music: On Reading the First Amendment.

It’s not just at the highest levels, either. When the infusion of cash hits smaller races, the whole system gets bought.

As Cole’s “Free Speech, Big Money, Bad Elections” (New York Review of Books, November 5) points out:

… increasingly sophisticated gerrymandering has ensured that many elected offices are sinecures for one of the two major parties. In the House of Representatives, only about forty seats, or less than 10 percent of the chamber, are filled in genuinely contested general elections. The results can be perverse.

I happen to live in one of those seats that’s become contested, after decades of being a Republican stronghold. Cole, however, presses his case that many of the general elections are rigged in favor of one side or another:

In North Carolina in 2012, the popular vote for House members was 51 percent Democratic and 49 percent Republican. Yet North Carolina’s delegation to the House consisted of nine Republicans and four Democrats. North Carolina’s state legislature had packed Democratic voters into four districts, ensuring that Republicans would win the other nine. …

So who’s really representing the people? And who are the winning officeholders really representing? It’s not just North Carolina, either, as Cole notes:

Democrats received more than half of the House votes in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in 2012, and did not get a majority of House seats in any of them. In what sense can such outcomes be called democratic?

Considering the low turnout rates in general elections – a consequence, as Cole details, of a sense of futility for many would-be voters or outright obstacles put in their path – an observer can wonder how much of the public the winners really do represent. That is, if 49 percent of a 40 percent turnout can win 247 seats in the House (this is a theoretical model, mind you), one could argue that the majority of the House of Representatives represents just 20 percent of the public. And if the Freedom Caucus, about 20 percent of that party, insists on dictating its ideology on the rest of the nation, that could be a mere 4 percent trying to run the country. In some places, that would be considered a coup.

Yes, I know the numbers wouldn’t all fall that neatly in one direction or the other. But it’s scary, all the same.


looking at a long treasured Japanese garden book
in the morning
I remark
how much that appears wild there
requires constant care!

and now, so expensive to construct
and maintain

at noon I find
small garter snakes in our beer cellar
a sure sign of changing weather

poem copyright 2015 by Jnana Hodson



Henry Kissinger once admitted that the realities of being Secretary of State overturned his expectations of the position. Before taking office, he saw the role as akin to being Zeus on Mount Olympus – the divine expanse of time and perspective to make wise decisions of long-lasting statesmanship. Instead, in the turmoil of relentless global crises, what he encountered was more like being an NFL quarterback on a Sunday afternoon in autumn. You had to do something fast and hope for the best before you got clobbered. Talk about high pressure? Lives were often at stake.

That insight comes back to my mind each round of presidential primaries where I live. Remember, the State Department is only one Cabinet position reporting to the White House. And it’s puny compared to the Pentagon.

Whoever wins in November 2016 will have to be able to find people who can fill these positions, and then find the time to manage their work. How can anyone possibly touch base with them even once a week, much less act with sufficient knowledge? Well, a quarterback has both the rest of the team and the coaches – plus a week to prepare and a lot of time on the sidelines, if his defense is doing its job. Not so the President, with rounds of dinners and photo ops and having to make public announcements on seemingly every news development as it happens …

I’ve seen reports on the time demands on the Chief Executive and how many of our recent examples have lived with no more than four hours of sleep a night. That’s inhuman. Period. Here’s one point where those arguing for smaller government could build their case. I’m listening.


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