How Did the Mountains Get There? Where Did the Mountain Go?

There are two songs in my music library that are well-known but always lead to questions when I play them. Not coincidently, both songs reference mountains. A mountain, both timeless and unmoving, should not suddenly appear or disappear. And yet, in both songs mountains do something actively, throwing the listener out of kilter.

The first song is “Roundabout” by Yes. With the lyric, “In and around the lake/mountains come out of the sky/and they stand there.” The second is Donovan’s “There Is a Mountain,” with the stanza “First there is a mountain/then there is no mountain/then there is.” Both songs play with the permanence of mountains. But if we were to take them literally, they actually make sense.

In “Roundabout,” one can imagine a lake covered in mist, obscuring long-distance vision. As the mist clears, distant mountains seem to come out of the sky. Obviously, then, the mountains do nothing but stand there. It’s what mountains do best. It’s an evocative line, but one of the most straight forward from Yes, a [prog rock][prog] band with some of the most obscure lyrics in a radio-friendly format. In fact, the whole of “Roundabout” can be seen as a journey, but the time and distance of the journey aren’t quite able to be gleaned, with lyrics, “One mile over we’ll be there and we’ll see you/Ten true summers we’ll be there and laughing too/Twenty four before my love you’ll see/I’ll be there with you.”

One mile probably wouldn’t take anyone ten years to travel, nor does ten years take place within 24 hours. Still, we can be sure that the song is about a journey, no matter the distortion of time and space. Contrast to other mentions of mountains in Yes’s songbook (they sing a lot about mountains), like “Siberian Khatru,” where they sing, “Sing, bird of prey/Beauty begins at the foot of you/Do you believe the manner?/Gold stainless nail,/Torn through the distance of man/As they regard the summit.” Here we have an eagle, let’s say, with golden talons, somewhere in the sky while people are looking at a mountain’s peak? What “manner” does the eagle maybe believe? Most Yes lyrics tend towards the inscrutable. But with “Roundabout” the mountains are clearly doing what mountains do, standing there. They may be a metaphor for something else, but they needn’t be. The literal is enough, despite hiding in a mind-twisting lyric.

Donovan’s “There Is a Mountain,” is further twisting, wrapped in a koan, “First there is a mountain/then there is no mountain/then there is.” Can we take this literally? Actually, yes. There is no mention of time, and one can posit that the mountain is visible in the day, then at night the mountain disappears, only to be seen again tomorrow. Again, this plays with the permanence of mountains and our perception. If we do not see the mountain, is it there? I won’t even touch on the philosophy behind object permanence, but I will say that the mountain does nothing when it is not seen. It does not affect Donovan when he cannot see it, so the mountain might as well be not there.

This is Donovan’s mild, [folksy psychedelia][folk]. How can a mountain not be there after it was just there and then suddenly reappear? It’s possible Donovan just blinked. There. Gone. There again. More crucial than the disappearing mountain is Donovan’s relation to it. It may cause the listener to wonder what drugs Donovan was taking when he wrote it, but it’s not out of the realm of reality.

The song does present an imponderable, though. Suddenly, Donovan calls out for a Juanita. It’s never made clear why. He sings about the mountain, a snail, and a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, which are all observable and likely. But, then, he seems to have lost Juanita and felt it necessary to tell us in the middle of the song. I do hope she’s okay.

In any case, it is pleasing that these particular lines in these two songs, from over 45 years ago, still catch listeners off guard. What now amounts to background, “oldies” music still births an ear worm that bores into the rational part of the brain and causes one to question just what happened to those mountains.




I looked at the doorway
and saw light and dark
a pathway between
the possible and the not

On the other side
rooms infinite

How could I know
without crossing that threshold
And within
if I held still
my world would be the same

Nothing changed nothing gained

The doorway held
a possible future
a probable failure
most likely a couch or sofa
In between
the atoms held
a cat alive and dead
No chance for escape

To not or to do
Either way a choice
a decision I cannot undo

The doorway held
both light and dark
shadow and sun
neither of which could tempt me
The threshold to
A new way forward
A decision made
A confident step

Would I move

A world open to me
My thoughts are not action
Stillness is a choice

I looked at the doorway
and saw light and dark
a choice not made
between the possible and the not


The pond is not the koi; the pond is not the water

So there’s this word, Occident, which means from the West as in the Americas or Europe. Contrast this with Orient, which means from the East. I had a vague understanding that one would easily orient oneself by the eastern, rising sun, so that’s where the capitalized word came from, but I was never sure why the west was Occident.

Well, the crazy soup that is the English language actually has a lot of logic to it. In this case, Occident and accident sounding so much alike is not a coincidence. Both come from the Latin cadere meaning to fall. An accident, surely, is related to falling. So are cadence, cascade, and cadaver. And where does the sun fall? To the west. Thus Occident.

I dunno. Sometimes I glimpse the simplicity and elegance in all the chaos. It’s the closest I get to the divine. I also get a chuckle that finding the origin of an obscure word can send me into a Zen state.

Short Subjects

Jonny Appleseed

I work out east on the south fork of Long Island. It’s about an hour commute, door-to-door. My wife, to make sure I eat something during the day, will put together a lunch for me that will include a piece of fruit. Otherwise, if I ate anything during the day, it would be something like cookies or a brownie, because I have absolutely no will to eat well. And I would never pack or eat a piece of fruit of my own volition, because, again, no will to eat well.

That it is autumn, I’ve been getting apples in my lunch pack. Apples are fine covered in caramel and maybe possibly in hot apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. But I hadn’t eaten a whole, unadulterated apple in some time until my wife started sending me off with one. And the only reason I started to eat them was because I had nothing to eat on the long ride back, and an apple was slightly better than nothing.

After a few days of eating apples on the ride home, I’ve actually started to like them. There are hundreds of varieties, and getting to know the different qualities of each has been deliciously educational. And throwing out the apple cores has been fun. There’s a lot of wooded areas I drive through during my commute, and instead of holding on to the apple core for the remainder of my trip, I fling the core out into one of the wooded areas. I guess, technically, I’m littering, but I’ve thought of it as providing the start of a grove of wild apples for future generations all throughout the east end. I’m the Jonny Appleseed of Sag Harbor.

But I probably deserved it when I went to throw an apple core out and opened the wrong window, causing the apple to smash into the closed front passenger window and create a mess of apple fragments on the passenger seat. I am very lucky to have not broken the window, now streaked with dried apple juice. Maybe I missed an errant seed during clean up and will soon start a grove of apple trees in my Toyota.


War Is a Foreign Currency

War is a foreign currency
When I see it, I know intellectually
There are others that carry it
Though ugly and grotesque
Funny papers and garish hues

But I can’t see what it is good for
I can’t spend it
I don’t know how to get rid of it
So it gets stuffed in a shoebox
The memory uncomfortable to hold

It isn’t an asset
When it crosses borders
The locals hate it
What good is it?
A banker may know

War is foreign currency
I have no way to balance out
The loss I will take
When it’s given back to me as change

Originally published 20 Mar 03


Tabula Rasa

Because destruction is my ken
and fire cleanses
Because mistakes were made
and warnings ignored
I clean my slate

Absence is not loneliness
There is nothing…
and that is my canvas

Starting from scratch
is better than sinking lower
in a morass of malaise

Absence is not escape
There is nothing…
and that is my inception

Because evolution is too slow
and entropy reigns
Because time won’t stop
and death takes it all
I clean my slate

Originally published 26 December 2008


Packing material

I was fixing our dishwasher (sorry ladies, I’m spoken for) and had to order a replacement for a broken part. Normally, I use [Sears Parts Direct][1] because they hadn’t been too expensive, and they’ll carry parts for my ten year-old Maytag. But the broken part, a little piece of plastic called the impeller, was over seven dollars through Sears, and I thought that was a bit much. I searched the *Googs* again, and I found the part through [PartSelect][2] for a buck cheaper. I also ordered a filter, which was $5 cheaper from PartSelect than through Sears, and shipping was about $2 less. So, good deal, I thought.

And to confirm the good deal, I ordered the parts on Wednesday night, they got the parts to FedEx on Thursday, and, although shipping was FedEx Ground, I received the parts on Friday. (I love New York—almost all ground shipping still gets here within 1–2 days.) The parts were as ordered, so PartSelect has confirmed me as a faithful customer.

So no real complaints there, but I had to laugh when I saw the box that these two plastic pieces, totaling no more than $20, were shipped in. (Cat and table for scale-the box was over four feet high.)

Indy inspects a box that was just delivered.

Here’s the exploded view.

The two packages and two dozen air bags that came out of the large box.

And finally with the parts that were shipped. There may have been slight overkill here. The long, white plastic piece is the filter, which is millimeters thick and is installed when connected into a circle.

The packages have been opened to reveal a thin white plastic band and a tiny 2 in wide disk.

Ah! But there was something else in the box:

Indy peers out of the box. How'd he get in there?

As a total aside, the cushiony air bags used for shipping were manufactured by Sealed Air. I was lead developer on their [2011 Online Annual Report][3]! (Sorry fellas, I’m spoken for.)


Rant Short Subjects

Where being rational fails

I feel compassion for those who voted against equal rights in North Carolina. I know their vote was wrong and based on prejudice and faulty logic, but I still have compassion for them, because they rationally believed that they were doing the right thing. To many of us in metropolitan areas or with homosexual friends or who are just compassionate people, the vote is astounding. Clearly, rationally, no one should be punished for who they fall in love with. Two rational adults making a decision to merge their lives together should be celebrated, because relationships produce more offspring than just children. Whole families merge and the extended human panoply gets one bit smaller, closer than before; cultures mix and friends are made. What does gender have to do with this? But there are those who believe gender is the overriding factor in relationships as surely as I do not.

And here there are no winners. Obviously, people fighting for civil rights have lost, but North Carolina made a law that was already in effect just a little bit stronger, possibly strong enough to punish heterosexual couples who are not married. Far from protecting the sanctity of marriage, the law codifies it and prevents churches from having their own definitions. Those who strongly support the law see it as a bulwark against sin and modernity, but who declares a wall a victory? They know there is a rising tide against them. They know that history will render the law moot and this battle an aberration. The wall will crumble, but the state will survive.

Why hate these people, then? Why fill ourselves with anger at this loss? The frustration of knowing we are on the right side and that those that would vote against civil rights are doing it for ancient, mistaken beliefs is great, but the frustration on the other side is just as great, because they believe they are on the right side and that those that would allow homosexual marriage are chipping away at the foundations of society.

But wait, I am not getting postmodern here. I do not believe that what is right and what is wrong depends on point of view. I know that granting civil rights, including the ability to enter into a marriage with another consenting adult, is the inevitable progression of any forward society. Once a society grants equal rights to women, something we’re oddly still fighting about, there is no chance to turn the clock back—hinder the clock, yes—but it can never be turned back. Justice and equality will eventually be granted to all people, because when more people have it, compassion for those that do not grows exponentially. Which is why I will endeavor to remain compassionate for those that rail against the future. If I remain compassionate to those I disagree with, I will rationally choose a more inclusive society, instead of futilely attempting to keep people out.


Let’s create something beautiful

Let’s create something beautiful
Today is short, and tomorrow is shorter still
Let’s take our inspiration
That unlocks our imagination
And gives us hope and comfort

Let’s create something beautiful
Because beauty is our goal
And creativity is our gift
We give ourselves to tomorrow
We have vision to make it better

Today, let’s create something beautiful
Let our lives be beacons of joy
Today is short, and tomorrow is shorter still
And there is beauty in everything
And there is beauty in everything we touch


The Dilemma

Should I write a haiku
Ten minutes before midnight?
Oh no, that’s cheating.