Midsommar-My Take

*This review assumes you have seen the film and makes plot references as such

This October I finally got around to “redboxing” Ari Aster’s 2nd major release, Midsommar. When the film was first being marketed earlier in the year, it caught my eye, and as a major fan of “creepy cult” type films, I was quite motivated to see it. Overall, I would say I enjoyed the film, albeit the version I saw was not the director’s cut, and I do want to eventually see that version as well, since I have reason to feel that it would be a bit more complete than the theatrical release. That being said, Midsommar is a film of atmosphere and image, rather than plot, and on that plane, it succeeds at creating a sense of jarring juxtaposition of visual and sensual dread and an ethereal, almost dreamlike mindset. On one hand, the film is a story of a disintegrating relationship, however I don’t feel like that element was essential to the plot or the overall feel of the film. It seemed like it was simply the manner in which the director chose to carry the viewer into the cult setting while maintaining some degree of continuity and coherence. That being said, the weight of the main character’s decisions at the end of the film do rest on her having been close (at one point at least) to the surviving male visitor, though I felt somewhat emotionally disconnected from her by this point in the film. I appreciated the director’s efforts to pull influences from actual Scandinavian history into the operations and traditions of the cult portrayed in the film, however, there were times where I felt that it was all a bit mashed together in a series of “what weird ritual can we design next” episodes. The actual meaning of each ritual seemed somewhat lost to me, although the overall sunnily disturbing nature of the film was never abandoned. Although I didnt feel that this film was all that original in plot and design, the director did take advantage of modern film technique to overlap a summery , light filled bacchanalia with an underlying sense of dread. Combining this with the classic element of cult films that is the portrayal of  “true believer” evil in the name of convictions (at least in the mind of the outsider), and Midsommar is a film that left me feeling icky and fascinatingly disturbed. I recommend this film for more mature horror fans, as it requires a degree of patience and viewer investment to appreciate.

Micro-Rainforest Experience in Northern Idaho

I recently spent a 1 night backpacking campout in a forest area not to far from my house. I have been up and down the local woods many times, however the vast majority of my overnight trips have been to alpine lakes, so I tried something different.  I set out with a plan to hike from a well-defined parking lot, summit a nearby hill as a reference point, and then descend via a stream bed until I found flowing water and an adequate location for camp. I did not have a location in mind, I was only planning to navigate by terrain, with a map and GPS in case I got too lost. My plan worked rather well, and after a certain amount of wandering, found a suitable ravine to descend, and due to the relatively rainy summer we have had, I found water quickly. The area was a bit too steep to camp, and having more daylight, I kept descending until, eventually, the creek area seemed to bottom out and there was much more discernible water flow. As I began seeking out an adequate site to camp for the night, I began thinking about how much the surrounding plant ecosystem reminded me of what I saw in the Hoh rainforest in Western Washington state. It of course was not an exact replication, but the combination of stately conifers, carpets of moss and clearings thick with fern were that of Western Temperate Rainforest, which occurs , as noted, in Coastal Washington, British Columbia , and pockets of forest along creeks in North Idaho, Oregon and extreme Western Montana. It is an environment that, for all of the frustration that it can provide a traveler on foot due to massive levels of deadfall and thick undergrowth, holds a unique beauty , a multi-sensory experience that is actually quite rare in dry expanses of the Western states. The amount of green of a multitude of shades one can take in is something I find warm and comforting, like a reassurance that everything around you is alive and yet locked in time. I certainly appreciated the ability to find plenty of deadfall to build a small campfire as well as the ability to build said fire safely in wetter ground, by a flowing creek. In many cases, August in my area is the absolute height of fire danger in the back country so caution is certainly warranted. Now. these rainforest pockets exist in my area due to several factors, which I find geographically interesting. First of all, the mountains in my region top out at 7,000 feet, which is high, and in rare cases, a treeline will exist, but overall, not an altitude that traps storms enough to create a clear dry and wet side. Because of this, precipitation tends to fall rather evenly on mountainsides, and the forest cover is dense enough that enough moisture is held in the earth and released to not only allow year round creek flow, but to create areas along creek beds that have swampy, waterlogged sections combined with shaded glades like where I was camping. Unlike the Hoh and other coastal rainforests, my area does get snowfall, but the trees in the low areas often block massive drifts from forming, unlike higher up on mountain slopes where the plants have to withstand heavy snow depth. Of course, our overall rainfall is also a factor, and early spring and late fall can often be quite rainy, due to coastal storms reaching us from the Pacific Ocean. These climate factors make quite a varied landscape possible, and for anyone wanting to explore a temperate Rainforest environment, it should be easy enough to find navigating the bottom stream beds in mountains in Idaho’s 4 Northern Counties.


Bridge of Spies- My Take

I recently watched the Steven Spielberg helmed Bridge of Spies , and while I found it enjoyable and historically interesting, it wasn’t quite the taut, dark spy film that could be found in other works of the genre. The film is, for the most part a historical drama regarding a relatively well known incident that took place in the early 60’s. Of course this was rather deep into the Cold War era, and this film sits firmly in the genre of cold war thriller, which tends to be a favorite of mine in film and literature, at least when done well. In Bridge of Spies, the film’s first 1/3 or so focuses on US Civilian Lawyer James Donovan, played by Tom Hanks, in defending a Soviet Citizen, played by the often excellent Mark Rylance , accused of espionage. Public sentiment is greatly against the accused, given the Cold War tensions of the time, and members of Donovan’s own justice system seem rather non -plussed about assuming guilt and the requisite harsh punishment. Donovan’s character serves as a voice of “humanity” throughout the film, and is able to successfully argue for a prison term for the admittedly guilty, soviet spy. He is able to present a convincing argument that the spy may become useful as a bargaining tool if a high profile American were to be held prisoner by the soviets.  At the same time as these proceedings are taking place, we are given some brief scenes of clandestine preparation by a select group of USAF pilots to engage in an espionage mission flying a U-2 plane over Soviet Territory. Soon after, one of the U-2 pilots , Gary Powers, is shot down and taken into Soviet Custody. The last 2/3 or so of the film involve Donovan’s efforts, as recruited by the Secret Services, to act as a negotiator in Berlin with the Soviets to engage in a prisoner/asset exchange of Gary Powers for the American held Mr. Abel. There is also a sub-plot involving an American student who is held by the East Germans whom that government desires to use as a bargaining tool to achieve a degree of recognition and symbolic independence from the Soviet Influence. There are some tense moments in the process, but ultimately, as is true to the historical record, Donovan is successful in his efforts and returns home with his reputation restored and an implied sense of accomplishment and confidence.

Overall, I found this film to be a solid work, but it had several missed opportunities for depth and complexity that I feel would have improved the overall product. The production was quite professional, and the scenes involving panning over the setting, both indoors and outdoors , gave me a detailed glimpse into where the lives of 1960’s New Yorkers and Berliners (east and west) were set. The set design and costuming were incredibly historically accurate, and in some ways, the pacing and cinematography of the film were reminiscent of both the film noir of the 40’s and 50’s, and the political thrillers that began emerging during the era that this film was set. Most of the camera angles were straightforward and traditional, however the set lighting, especially in the Berlin scenes, served to allude to a mood of intrigue and decay. The plot was relatively straightforwards, hence I never really felt deeply engrossed in the “spy” elements of the story, and as I was watching the film, I had somewhat of a difficult time engaging with the characters. Granted, the film was set to portray a historical event, but I think there are other films out there that have stayed true to the historical subject matter of origin while also adding more comprehensive level of depth and subject portrayal in their plots. A major complaint I have about this film is that some of the dialogue came off as stilted and overly scripted, especially regarding some of the characters whose native languages were not English. Excepting Mark Rylance’s character, who was a European living and later incarcerated in the US, the film would have been better served by subtitling the Russian and German speakers, or at least having a translator present in the scenes where they interact with Tom Hank’s character. My second major complaint in regards to acting is that the two most talented actors in the film, Rylance and Hanks, who have both shown depth and range in past roles, used rather one dimensional approaches in their roles, especially in regards to non-verbal expression. Both characters seemed to have the same (respective) worried look on their faces through large parts of the film, and after a while it became repetitive and somewhat flat to me. Overall, I enjoyed this film, and it was a pleasure to see the particular subject matter portrayed in cinematic form, but the movie was somewhat forgettable to me outside the historical interest angle. It would be a good film to show in history classrooms, but the spy and espionage genre has much better works of filmaking in it.

Glacier National Park

I finally knocked Glacier National Park off my (first time) Bucket List in Sep. 2018 after almost 11 years of living within a days drive of the area. One caveat to our trip in particular: sections of the park had active wildfires burning during our trip, and the “Going-to-the-Sun” road, which is the only complete West to East route within the park, was partially closed.  That being said, we were still able to access the park via the “Many Glacier” region, which opened up some ample opportunities to see some spectacular scenery, both from our car and on foot. I would actually advise a first time visitor to start their Glacier NP at the aforementioned Many Glacier area. If the Sun Road is open, you can drive from West to East from West Glacier, or you can drive the same direction on Montana HWY 2, which skirts the southern end of the park. We lodged in a KOA Campground in St. Mary Mt. but it was on the pricey side. There are other options to camp, both primitively and with water/toilet, but many of the in-park campgrounds either reduce amenities or close completely in September Do not assume you can drive up last minute and get a spot, even outside the park, so calling ahead is very prudent.

The “Many Glacier” area is ideal to begin a visit to the park namely for ease of access to viewpoints and some of the more accessible (but by no means easy) hiking trails in the park. A trail that our group took, and one that I recommend, is the trail leading to the Grinnell and Salamander Glaciers. You have an option of taking a ferry across Lake Josephine, but you can easily walk around said lake on a flat and very shaded trail. The trail does start to climb, however, and you will be undergoing about 5 miles of ascent on exposed terrain before you reach Grinnell Glacier. That being said, the Glacier and the lake below are an amazing sight to behold, and a member of our group even jumped in the icy water, but Hypothermia is a serious danger on all bodies of water in Glacier NP, but much more so in the higher alpine lakes like this one. The other main hike I can recommend from personal experience starting at one of the multiple trailheads off of Going-to-the-Sun Road, and walking down to St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. These are located very close to each other, and are a true sight to behold when at high water. There is very little barrier structure, so you can venture close enough to some of the falls to feel the spray. Combine this with the more lush, lower altitude terrain of the area, and you have a completely different experience than the one presented on alpine hikes. You can also take a shuttle to certain drop off points along this sector of the Sun Road , and avoid having to find a perfect parking spot or walk excessively uphill back to car.


One sobering facet of visiting Glacier NP is that you will see educational sign boards posted in multiple locations detailing images of glaciers and snowfields that have receded from about the late 1800’s to the present. In many cases, the ice shrinkage is quite severe, and is an active reminder of the effects of natural and most tellingly, man-made climate change. This was , in some ways difficult to process, especially from a conservationist and pro-environmental standpoint.

While I certainly enjoyed my time here, and would recommend a visit to friends, there were a few things that, while by no means negative, did surprise me about coming to Glacier. The first facet makes sense in hindsight, but not having thought about it much, I did not realize how much the terrain in the park changes from West to East as you cross the continental divide. The West side of the park is much closer to my home ecosystem in Northern Idaho, which is densely forested and holds a variety of plant life and potentially more diverse animal life. The high alpine terrain in the park is basically on a short strip paralleling the Continental Divide, and is for the most part the apex of scenery in the area, but is more exposed and dominated by higher meadows and quite a lot of sheer rock faces. On the East side of this mountain spine, the terrain is much drier, and one actually can visualize the beginnings of the immense Great Plains from this area. Being a landscape that I have scene only on an occasional basis, I found it captivating, although the diversity of plant life was much lower. One can see for miles in that type of terrain, even the trees are stunted and minimal in density. There certainly are pockets of green flora in the Eastern sector of Glacier National park, but they tend to be congregated along creeks and the various lakes that occur in the park. This being said, geologically, Eastern Glacier is much more stunning and rugged to an extent that Western Glacier, due largely to proximity to the central mountain spine, but also the variety of unimpeded viewpoints available.The second facet is one that you could glean from map reading, but I did not grasp until arriving, was that the vast majority of the park land is accessible only on foot. This is especially true in regards to a large number of the extant Glaciers , as many of them are rather hidden in coulouirs and valleys at high altitude,  but also just trails and open country requiring backcountry access and proper preparation. The Going to the Sun road and Many Glacier region certainly offer vehicular access to some amazing areas , but I am of a mind to want to plan a backpacking trip through some of the more rugged areas of the park, to gain a different perspective, and to enjoy the intimate experience that can be offered.

I don’t know enough about the terrain of the Northern Part of Glacier NP at this point, but I can say that it is roadless and isolated, so heads up for any potential visitor….

The Revenant -My Take

I have wanted to watch AG Innaritu’s “The Revenant” for several years now, but hadn’t gotten around to it until yesterday, but as a strong fan of mountain man movies (‘Jeremiah Johnson’ is a personal favorite) I had high hopes of seeing a solid film when I began this one. I fall into the camp of preferring that films I watch carry strong elements of authenticity and realism, but “The Revenant” breaks this guideline, and while I was entertained and certainly engaged on a visceral level during certain scenes, I couldn’t help but be frustrated at the repeated close calls and improbable escapes that Glass experiences in his odyssey of survival and revenge. The true story (of which the film barely, if at all, parallels) is harrowing enough, and I would have liked to see a film that remained closer to the surviving accounts of the real life Hugh Glass’ survival after being mauled by a Grizzly. That being said, there is doubt as to the absolute veracity of the written accounts of the “Revanent” source material  (the 1800’s documents), and if you treat the film as one based around general themes, I think it becomes easier for historical accuracy nerds to view without having too many objections. Stepping back a level, I do think that the decision of the director to set the film in Winter adds an objective level of harshness to the story, especially in regards to the equipment and clothing available to trappers in the 1820’s. There are some improbable scenes, however, in regards to Glass and hypothermia, that in real life would have likely been fatal. During one of the scenes in the first half of the film, Glass jumps into a quite heavy flowing river, while severely injured, and manages not only to float past rapids and falls intact but gets out with buckskins and a fur coat and move to safety. This was likely the worst of the improbable survival scenes in the film, though I do admit that the cinematography of that scene, and almost all of the outdoor shots, was impressive, close up, and personal. The standout aspect of this film certainly has to be the manner in which it was filmed. You definitely aren’t given very many distance shots, rather most of the film is either filmed from the inside of the action (several battle scenes) or from angles looking up at, aside, and behind the main characters. The visual aspects of “The Revenant” is what earns it well deserved praise as it is by far a visual dominated film with relatively low levels of dialogue, that being said, the soundtrack does add a crisp, sometimes haunting atmosphere, especially in scenes where Glass has a hallucination or flashback. The plot is solid, and in many ways is quite pared down for a modern movie plot, reverting back to classic literary and film conflicts of man vs man, man vs nature, etc…, however, the manner in which the plot deviates from (what we assume to be) the historical record, becomes distracting as the film goes on. Perhaps the filmmakers felt that there wouldn’t be enough material to flesh out a fuller story in using the original historical details. That being said, I found the overall switching of the setting to winter (vs. summer) to be less problematic than the added aspects of Glass’ relationship with wife and son, and their respective deaths. If the director had taken Glass’ native son entirely out of the plot, it still would have been very compelling to me, but perhaps that addition was an attempt to appeal to a wider audience, and make Glass’ motivations much more sympathetic on a human level. I have few objections to the way that this film is acted, and it was enjoyable to see DiCaprio in a role that limits his speaking parts and forces him to act in a largely physical and mutely expressive manner. It is convincing enough that a viewer can feel his pain while not feeling too much like he is some indestructible Rambo type bent on revenge. By the time I finished the film, I was longing for a blanket to pull over me and make me toasty warm. Overall I would recommend this film for fans of Dramas heavy on man vs nature themes, and for  Western movie fans. It requires a patient viewer and of course, there are some visually disturbing scenes contained within.

Dunkirk-My Take

I finally got the chance to watch, in its entirety, Christopher Nolans latest film, “Dunkirk”. As an avid war/period film fan, I was quite anticipatory of its release last year,  but had not gotten around to viewing it until very recently. I think in some ways, no matter the film, allowing some time for hype to settle before watching it can enhance the enjoyment of a feature, and certainly can allow one to view it more closely through their own lens rather than one clouded by critical or public opinion. Dunkirk is a film that seems to have alienated a section of the viewing public, while placing itself on the level of critical darling.  I feel strongly that both the hype-peddling critics and the 1/2 star rating public have missed the point, or at least the intention of Nolan’s film. I highly suggest that any person formulating a review watch a few of Nolan’s interviews about the film before you criticize it, as it does help some of the features make more sense. Nolan described the film as a spectacle and a suspense. I strongly agree with this impression of the film, as having prepared myself to be a patient viewer, I came away largely satisfied and appreciative of Nolan’s efforts. Now, I will say that I am naturally a fan of films that are highly visual and emotive rather than strongly dialogue based, and so Dunkirk is a film that fits well within my stylistic preferences. It is a film formatted in a way as, a greek play, with Kenneth Branagh’s Character and his Leiutenants on the Quay taking the role of the Chorus, tying the elements of Land, Air, and Sea together. In all honesty I didn’t feel as if any one of those three settings/plot lines was stronger than the other, though the emotional sway of the aerial combat scenes (which were filmed using real Spitfires) had me fully invested up until the moment the last pilot’s story concludes with his becoming a POW. In a way, the entire film is one that builds on anticipation, and especially fate. While not nearly as beautiful as portrayed in the film, many aspects of real combat and war can be related to themes of anticipation, tension, and fate. I think this film does a fine job of conveying these emotions to the audience, and as given how visual a medium as film is, Dunkirk is certainly worth viewing.

North Idaho Backpacking

I am going to try to make this a comprehensive post, especially since I am focusing on my own specefic regional area, and there are quite a few tid-bits of information that pertain to North Idaho that may not apply as well elsewhere in the US. To start, the Panhandle region of Idaho is situated in a Geographical and Climatologist transition zone, where the rolling hills and coulees of the sparsely vegetated Central Washington plateau disappear into forests and low mountains of the Bitteroots, Selkirks and other ranges of the Northern Rockies. The mountains in this part of Idaho are not particularly tall, topping out at a little over 7,000 feet. This can surprise some people, as the state of Idaho has a reputation for being mountainous, but the major peaks in Idaho are actually in the south south central part of the state. One will find small areas of Alpine terrain in Northern Idaho, but for the most part, the mountains are heavily forested, at times right up the summit. Due to location and the confluence of weather patterns that the region gets, there can be a fair amount of rainfall throughout the year, along with (depending on the year), a good amount of snow. When one crosses to the eastern side of the mountains, in Montana, you encounter a drier, colder, but sunnier climate. Because of the climate in the Panhandle, any outdoor activity outside of July and August should involve being prepared for rain, and this is especially important for backpacking adventures. Extremely harsh Winter weather is usually limited to late December and January, so , a prepared backpacker can enjoy the North Idaho outdoors all year round. I myself have carried my pack on snow-shoes before , and had a very enjoyable time. For winter adventures, standard cold -weather prep is sufficient, although, depending on where you enjoy venturing, avalanche danger may be present. A mistake I feel that people make in the North Idaho back-country is to under-estimate the terrain that they may encounter. While the Forests and Mountains do not look as imposing as other regions of the country, they still hide a fair amount of potential dangers, that with preparation and a clear head, can be addressed. I already mentioned certain aspects of the weather in North Idaho, but it cant be repeated enough in the world of outdoor rec: be prepared for bad weather appropriate to the season. That being said, because most trails in the region have good tree protection, and the open country is East in Montana and West in Washington, outdoor adventures in North Idaho are going to involve a lot of time in the woods. I personally try to do a little bit of bushcrafting every time I camp here, to build my skills in this realm, and since materials are so readily available. It is a great region of the country to be outdoors in , and from the many alpine lakes, to forest roads, to river drainages and open meadows, it is a natural playground in all aspects.


The Coziness of Winter

I admit that updated articles on here have been sparse lately, since my travels and experiences have been of a limited nature this winter. My routine since Dec. has been eat, drink, work, ski, snowshoe, repeat. To many people, this may seem extremely boring and tedious, but I admit that there is a unique beauty in the winter season that I feel is worth embracing to the fullest. Winter is, for many people, a very introspective season. Its a time to withdraw a bit, simplify your life, and to rest and renew. Of course, having a winter sport that you can indulge in helps immensely, and for me, the unique beauty of snow and ice in the woods is something to embrace , rather then be repulsed by. The day to day rhythm of winter time though, tends to be less hectic and pressured than other times of the year. Since there is less to do out of doors, and often, people aren’t as inclined to be out and about often, daily routines become comforting, familiar, and perhaps a chance to let go of mental and physical clutter. One aspect of winter that I have been surprisingly thankful for, since I moved to a four season climate, is the fact that the cold , harsh months give me added appreciation for the times of year when the environment is more pleasant for being outside. Growing up in a warm season climate was wonderful in many ways, but it also became a bit boring, and the seasonal variety I now have where I live is worth embracing for its unique beauty. I do think that it takes a bit more conscious effort in the Winter to appreciate the season for what it has to offer, but I think , if you are able to do so, it will add enjoyment to a season that so many people dread. Even travel in winter can be a deviation from the norm, especially if you visit a familiar place  in a different season, snow or no snow, it can seem like an entirely different experience, often with less crowds. I have loved being able to explore my local hiking trails (Northern Idaho) in summer and winter, on foot and on snowshoes, as I get a unique experience each time. In summer I may finish a day by hanging out at the local lake and watching a sunset, while in winter I might have a fire going and be enjoying a book, or perhaps a bath before bed. There are times that I actually look forward to winters gifts, as I know that both change of seasons, and rest, is good for the soul.

Food and Drink Safety

The more you travel, the more you learn the value of being very careful what you eat and drink, at least in countries where sanitation and safety standards are more lax or less enforced than more developed nations. We all have tolerances for “experimentation” when we we travel, and that indeed extends to food and drink consumption. It is easy to forget, especially if you are someone who was raised in a developed nation, that most countries on this planet still have issues with public food and drink safety. I believe strongly that one should immerse themselves in their surroundings when they travel, but there is also prudency in not taking that to an extreme. I have developed a travel philosophy of my own that treads a middle ground between being adventurous and conservative, and I think it could be a wise course for many of you. My philosophy has been shaped by the fact that since I was 19 years old, I have battled a series of up and down health issues. At times, I have felt relatively robust, and at other times , far more fragile. A major issue of mine has been digestive and gut problems, so you can perhaps see where I would want to be somewhat cautious in regards to gut health. I never want to advocate someone allowing health concerns to stand in the way of travel opportunities, but there certainly are times that it may be best to “baby” your body, especially since exposing yourself to foreign bacteria and parasites (not to mention pollutants) while you are even slightly ill, can compound negative health effects. As an example, I visited India this last August , and I came down with an undiagnosed food borne infection. Taken alone, this would have been not such a big deal, but I had reacted a bit strangely to a vaccine a couple months earlier, and I elected to take anti malarial pills that may have been causing side effects. When you add in the fact that India is a very polluted country, at least in many of the major cities, it is understandable that my body may not have been in the greatest shape to react to an episode of illness. Sure enough, the day before we were about to fly home, I and my companions spent some miserable hours in the hostel suffering through severe digestive upset. That episode of illness has taken me almost two months to bounce back from, and even as I type, I am still working out getting my system back to “normal.” Having been through this experience, and also from various other learning episodes I have undertook, I have created some simple guidelines for food safety abroad. Here they are:

  1. Know your current state of health, and “experiment” with food accordingly
  2. Be cautious with street food, and select restaurants based on solid safety reviews
  3. Fruits and vegetables are often safer than other foods, but the water they are cleaned in can be contaminated
  4. Meat dishes can be problematic in certain countries. Going briefly vegetarian can be wise
  5. Learn to politely refuse offers of food if necessary, learn to negotiate this (I have even gone as far to pretend to eat food offered to me, but kept hidden in my palm)
  6. Vaccines and medicines are never 100 percent effective
  7. Never be without packaged food if traveling in a poorer country or a rural area  (I made this mistake in India)
  8. Purchasing a water filter may be beneficial, but nothing is guaranteed. Soft drinks may be safer to drink, depending on the location
  9. Even if safe to eat , fried, fatty, and spicy foods can be hard on the digestive system
  10. Expect to get sick via food or waterborne illness at least once when traveling. Please don’t let this fact keep you from having adventures. Travel is still one of the most life-affirming experiences one can have, so take reasonable precautions, but have fun, and immerse yourself in other cultures in whatever ways you can.

Rendezvous with Shiva

Not far from the central Indian city of Damoh, lies a small, but significant temple built to house worship of the Hindu Lord Shiva, the Destroyer. This particular temple is said to contain a stone which is a remnant of Lord Shiva’s Phallus, removed in pieces during a cosmic marital spat, and landed, quite appropriately in India. I had the honor, I would say, of being guided into Lord Shiva’s temple by the guardian of the grounds. The guardians’ demeanor was very matter-of-fact, as to him, the proceedings that were to take place were all in a days work.  The atmosphere of the temple was less that of a Catholic cathedral and more that of a roadside tent holding a purported saintly relic. The grounds were wet, dark, grimy, and in some ways, reminded me of a carnival exhibit more than a Holy Temple. After being introduced to the five or so minor idols, we were led into the inner sanctum of residence for the stone-Shiva. This figure, we were told, was honored and worshiped via fire, incense, and the deafening report of drums and cymbals. This was to be initiated on the clock, coinciding with unveiling of the Shiva-linga (Sanskrit term). From a cultural standpoint, I was fascinated the process, having never been exposed to any Hindu rituals or practices this intimately. Standing in the wet, steaming temple, ears plugged due to the amount of noise being produced, I began to tire of the spectacle as it went on, until I noticed several local devotees enter the Temple and prostrate themselves rather violently before the Idol. I realized at that point that this was a relationship borne partly out of fear of the god and its power.

For many devotees in India, paying amends to the god of the moment in person is a methodology for appeasement against potential negative effects of the gods wrath or disfavor, even with deities that are purportedly arrayed against the forces of evil. This fear was manifested in the attitude of the worshipers, whose movements indicated not solemn respect and reverence, but a trembling before the essence of Shiva. While certain sacred Hindu texts like the Bhagavad-Gita speak of an attitude of enlightened respect for the role of the Gods in the fabric of the cosmos, they do not mention much in the way of exact methods to worship said deities. This creates a situation where believers can be paralyzed by the ever-shifting nature and lack of ability to know if one is doing what is proper in being Hindu. Our temple guardian even mentioned that he prays to Jesus Christ as one of the many deities on his list. My mind is overwhelmed in contemplating how one would keep up on this responsibility. Hinduism is a fluid, evolving, religion, and of the world’s major ones, is the only polytheistic religion. This makes Hinduism very unique but also in many ways, difficult to understand and grasp. Returning to the Shiva temple, I remember wondering how much time and effort was spent by the devout Hindus in attempting to please their Gods, any of which could potentially cause disfavor if not honored properly? It struck me how, despite nationalist identity, that Hinduism in the form practiced by a not insignificant number of Indians, is an obstacle to societal progress in India. Interestingly enough, some Indian politicians, including the nations first Prime Minister, could be considered what one would call “Hindu Atheists.” Jawarhalal Nehru himself stated, “The ideology of Hindu dharma is completely out of touch with present times.” The rendezvous I had with Shiva, or more appropriately, Shiva’s followers, gave me a greater appreciation for Nehru’s sentiment.

Despite my somewhat negative impression of the Shiva temple worship, I can understand why Indians would want to protect Hinduism as a whole, and Hindu nationalists dislike of attitudes and symbols of western domination is not unfounded. Doubtless, many missionaries and others in the past, British or not, would have witnessed the Shiva temple demonstration, seen it as something supposedly demonic or evil, and made attempts to eradicate it.  Unfortunately, this attitude ends up creating mistrust and resentment, which we witnessed earlier in our trip after some run-ins with Indian law enforcement. (I’ll leave that for another post.)  In my view, the attitude displayed by the worshipers at the Shiva temple is a symptom of ignorance, poverty, lack of education, and lack of exposure to much of the world at large. A not insignificant portion of India’s population still lives in small villages or cities in the countryside, and hence, are isolated from the reach of more modernizing influences. I was very impressed at the efforts that the mission in NAME WITHELD that we visited had put towards serving the needs of the local community. The leaders had established a hospital, nursing school, children’s home, and bible school all to serve the local community. We had a chance to visit the hospital, which was in the surrounding town, and I was inspired by how they had taken the Biblical command to “heal the sick” to heart. Motions like these are ones that resonate with people, and when they realize that people can do good when motivated my love rather than fear, perhaps people would be attracted to that appeal. That being said, fear and tradition are very hard influences to break, and there are many Indians that would likely attend chapel, accept Christian charity, and worship at the Shiva Temple all in one mix. In some ways, this is emblematic of the essential paradox of India.

As I sit in my room back home, thousands of miles away from Damoh, surrounded by first-world distractions, I realize that in some ways, I and the Shiva worshipers are not all that different. While the power of Shiva may have an inordinate influence in the lives and minds of some Indians, don’t many Americans worship Idols such as reality TV, celebrities, smart phones, etc…? Aren’t our lives in many ways, controlled by the Dollar God, the Fame God, the Peer Pressure God? While we may not be prostrating before our smartphones every night, the element of control is in some ways, the same. We are all indeed, human, subject to human fear, human envy, greed, and everything else under the sun.


* I want to mention that I am not trying to claim that Hinduism is an inherently evil religion, as many commonly held doctrines such as nonviolence and respect for living things are morally admirable, however the fluidity and lack of structure that can be present in Hindusim leads to a wide variety of practices and interpretations of belief.