Thank you for the update on Sadie and Odie. It is definitely easy to picture Sadie being enthusiastic about inserting a pacifier. 🙂

We are doing very well. Recently, Tobin has started to enjoy a little bit of roughhousing. He will throw himself at Nessa and they will roll to the floor in a giggling heap. Nessa continues to create several delightful drawings every day. She loves to both copy and create from scratch. We have also used it to enrich our Bible times which has been fun for Elizabeth and I. Several recent images included marching around Jericho and David vs. Goliath.

Last week Elizabeth, Nessa and Tobin all came out to attend an “Arts” Coffee House that I helped to organize for CCA students. It was a very nice time with a wide variety of serious and funny pieces performed. I read an old descriptive essay from high school. I don’t know if I’ve shared this with any of you recently. Much of it is pretentious in various pathetic ways, but I really enjoyed the family memories:

Monkey Mountain

My shoes are dusty, but it looks like we are in for a drizzle, so that problem could clear up shortly. Luke has been singing and growing steadily heavier for the last two miles. All his songs seem to be focusing on one major theme. For example, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Monkey” has been at the top of the charts for an hour now. Closely following are “Old McDonald had a Monkey” and a completely original song entitled “Monkey Monkey Monkey”. This last one is sung up and down the scale in a soft crooning voice. In all cases the word “monkey” is emphasized by holding the “Y” sound longer than all of the other notes.

We are climbing a green ridge that borders the north side of Kaohsiung and hides the city mercifully from view of the university. Just a few miles east, the mountain is not so green. It is bare and jagged with conveyor belts and trucks running up and down its sides. This is because the mountain is made of lime, which is an ingredient in cement, and Kaohsiung is made of cement.

Where we are, the chalky leaf-strewn ground is partially exposed by meager patches of sugar palm, ghost needles, date palm, elephant grass and five knot sage. The earth is only hid-den from the sky by the evergreen leaves of the fig trees, persimmons, flame trees and Indian cherries. The underbrush awaits one generous outpouring of the sky’s precious moisture to change abruptly into streams and tangled forests of lush lively colors and sounds. For now, just a few hardy flowers bob under the weight of blue butterflies. Wild fig trees their knotted roots, ancient giants trailing just a decade behind every path that water takes, cascade like candle’s wax over banks, down cliffs, into gorges and caves. Above, among the branches, red berries and thick dark waxy greens and browning yellows, the Chinese White-eye, a tiny feathered acrobat, performs quick flips, leaps, turns and twists pausing, lightly, for a moment, up side down, to cock its head and look at you or snatch an insect from a leaf or a bit of pollen from a flower before he darts away to another tree, uttering a questioning series of short high chirps. Brown and yellow lizards bask on the warm stone surface of what was once an exquisite coral that housed hundreds of tiny polyps waving hungry tentacles in the shallow sunny waters of some primordial reef. Snakes lie hidden in dry crevasses of rock and wood awaiting the hours more congenial to their peculiar habit of sliding up on their neighbors for a brief tragic visit. Birds like the Steere’s Babbler or the Chinese Bul bul stop to cling for a moment to tall grasses that sway with the breeze and lend visual rhymes to their song. Deep fissures full of thick silent darkness beckon. Their limestone walls mean that there could be caverns with sparkling mineral columns around any corner of their endless twisted tunnels. Bands of monkeys scramble over ridges of gray rock, chattering and screaming as they dispute such important matters as, “Is that peanut mine, yours or his?”

Kevin offers to carry Luke, and my wet shoulders feel suddenly cool when Kevin lifts him off. In another two hundred yards we arrive at a rest stop along with the predicted drizzle. It brings with it a dissolved version of Kaohsiung’s infamous grime, but I like the rain because I would rather see the grime running into the ground and causing earthworms cancer than be breathing it with every step I take. Rain gives the air such a rare fresh taste. Kevin, Luke and I sit on bamboo poles strung with wire between skinny trees and wait for the others to catch up while dripping leaves rinse the sweat off our backs.

I am always impressed by one thing at these rest stops. Big jugs of drinking water and racks of paper cups sit ready to quench the thirst of any weary climber. This water is sold at 25NT (that’s almost a dollar U.S.) a quart down in the city. There are two jugs, each twice Luke’s weight, at six different rest stops on the mountainside. What’s more, I have seen the generous carriers. Early in the morning dark skinned old men, wiry relics from the days when farmers brought in their crops by hand, wrap wet towels around their foreheads and heft jugs onto their backs preparing to increase the value of their cargo with every step they make–one of Taiwan’s few instances of spontaneous public service.

The rain has stopped and it’s past nine o’clock. Fewer people pass as we near the top. We’ve already passed the bend where Kevin and I once encountered a neatly dressed and athletic looking young Gibbon taking a rather breathless old man for a walk.

The monkeys could be anywhere, and I ask two different people if they had seen them and where. The first says, “Yes, you’re ten minutes away. Just go around here and down there.” The next says, “No, they aren’t out today, but they may be up there somewhere.” We have found that the best way to follow instructions like these is to keep going. As has always happened before, when we are just about to turn around in dismay, I hear a loud yammering noise, a stick breaking, a shout or a scream and there are the monkeys leaping from trees, rolling down hillsides, or sliding down vines. It is sometimes a shocking, sudden, and clamorous descent from the trees, other times a slow migration of monkeys arriving alone or in pairs walking calmly down the trail and swinging lightly from branches to vines to the ground. There are many with babies and they are all fat from the peanuts and fruit brought up every morning by their crowds of well meaning admirers. I watch as one monkey reaches to pat Becky’s leg. He is ready for more. Another, evidently recognizing one of his own kind, sidles up to Luke, sits down and places an arm around Luke’s shoulder as he takes the bag of peanuts from his lap. His glance says, “You and I get along so fine. Why don’t we have a seat and chat over these tasty looking nuts?”

That is just the way it is on Monkey Mountain, and even though sailing has replaced spelunking and grinning at monkeys as our favorite sport, we still hike it, from time to time, with a friend.

We also went to see another high school in the area perform the musical Oliver last week, and Nessa was very taken with Nancy.

Well, I should sign off soon. This post is getting too long for anyone to read. But I wanted to share a couple paintings with everyone that I’ve recently enjoyed while working on late medieval and Renaissance art with my history class.

Jan van Eyck. Man in a Blue Turban (or Man with a Ring). 1430-1433. Oil on wood. Art Museum, Bucharest, Romania.

Here is a very high quality detail of the mirror from the famous Arnolfini Portrait done by Jan van Eyck in 1434.

Hubert and Jan Van Eyck. The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (part of the Ghent Altarpiece). Completed 1432.

There are few high quality images online of the wild Isenheim Altarpiece, but here are a couple details to give glimpses of it: demons from the Temptation of Saint Anthony and Christ’s Resurrection.

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