Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

Here’s another marketing ploy for readers to continue reading while I fervently try to box a little bit more of reality with language. Enjoy five sonnets written over 2008 and 2009. I haven’t read them for ages. Twenty-One, written on becoming twenty-one, also had Milton in mind when writing it, mainly lamenting the amount of life that’s gone to waste so far. Making sure, written out of my own cynicism in my inability to live up to my own ideals. Maranatha, disillusionment with my lack of compassion for people the world over, and that any desire I had to help others was actually more of a desire to find my own purpose in life. Poker for communists, on celibacy. A better tomorrow, a nice one to close on, as you can see from this miserable line up of other poems, expressing one of those rare moments in life when you grasp the reality of real hope.


These formative years:
They are passing
with rapidity,
like a rabbit you would
see running from a gunshot. I shot

again, and the cuddle-wrought
fugitive contracted into a ball

of fluff. If an instant were a lifetime,
then in that instant of this life

one last elastic bound
cast my prize to his safety. And
I walked on dejectedly
into possibility; and I walked on
an empty stomach.

* * *

Making Sure

We’re not falling away
due to adversity,
but we are falling as we rise
in our prosperity. Hear this
new something we have

to complain about: life–
it’s too easy. Our excess is emptiness;

there’s really nothing there.
So we buy books

to make sure we’re saved.
Our Christian friends tell us
Christian things
to make us better Christians
so that one day we’ll be really good Christians.

* * *


When leaden souls burden
my shoulders, or if the blood
of the condemned swells
in my heart, then consecrate
this entire individual to the God who is

love. But between desert mosque and isolated
rainforest, though I could search for a niche to love

people, in searching I search for myself.
This skin envelops the multipartite and immeasurable

being: Bones, ghost,
psyche, etc. Give me some time away from
myself! Jesus will save the nations,
albeit my motivations are
a precedent for my procrastination!

* * *

Poker for communists

The pursuit of
happiness is all pursuit; the yellow
brick road concedes
infinity. Arise, dying body! Life within
continue! You may envy the resting

stillborn, who faced neither despair
nor desire, but we exchange fists

with eternity. Tell me how
Buddha, apostate of world and wife,

grew plump on nirvana. Tell me how
Jesus’ disciples could discount
godly union for fear of divorce. Tell me
how a couple could love to the utmost of human possibility
then forfeit it all to death.

* * *

A better tomorrow

The majestic king of beasts, through bringing
death, lives on flesh, and glorifies
his Creator. The humble plankton
perishes in a whale’s belly, yet sings
praises to his God. Eternity is now, forever

is today, and this breath finds its meaning
when breathed for you. Each moment

is just a reason to know you, and you
make each momentous. Although now the world

is lard in our blood and heavy
in our lungs, each choke
anticipates the coming perfection; and
though now we but know you
in spirit and faith, we will see your face.

Look Jackson, you’re too old for piggy back rides now; someone’s going to lose an eye.


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Before reading, you may find it exceedingly helpful to know that I’ve provided a large number of glosses just after the poem that you can refer to throughout for understanding. It’s not that different from English though and you can usually figure it out!

When the sheep are in the fauld, and the kye at hame, (1)
And a’ the warld to rest are gane,
The waes o’ my heart fa’ in showers frae my e’e,
While my gudeman lies sound by me.

Young Jamie lo’ed me weel, and sought me for his bride; (5)
But saving a croun he had naething else beside:
To make the croun a pund, young Jamie gaed to sea;
And the croun and the pund were baith for me.

He hadna been awa’ a week but only twa,
When my father brak his arm, and the cow was stown awa’; (10)
My mother she fell sick,–and my Jamie at the sea–
And auld Robin Gray came a-courtin’ me.

My father couldna work, and my mother couldna spin;
I toil’d day and night, but their bread I couldna win;
Auld Rob maintain’d them baith, and wi’ tears in his e’e (15)
Said, ‘Jennie, for their sakes, O, marry me!’

My heart it said nay; I look’d for Jamie back;
But the wind it blew high, and the ship it was a wrack;
His ship it was a wrack–Why didna Jamie dee?
Or why do I live to cry, Wae ‘s me? (20)

My father urgit sair: my mother didna speak;
But she look’d in my face till my heart was like to break:
They gi’ed him my hand, tho’ my heart was in the sea;
Sae auld Robin Gray he was gudeman to me.

I hadna been a wife a week but only four, (25)
When mournfu’ as I sat on the stane at the door,
I saw my Jamie’s wraith,–for I couldna think it he,
Till he said, ‘I’m come hame to marry thee.’

O sair, sair did we greet, and muckle did we say;
We took but ae kiss, and we tore ourselves away: (30)
I wish that I were dead, but I’m no like to dee;
And why was I born to say, Wae ‘s me!

I gang like a ghaist, and I carena to spin;
I daurna think on Jamie, for that wad be a sin;
But I’ll do my best a gude wife aye to be, (35)
For auld Robin Gray he is kind unto me.

Auld Robin Gray by Lady Anne Lindsay

The bonny lass who wrote this poem

* * *

(1) kye: kine/cows, hame: home; (2) a’: all; (3) waes: woes, fa’: fall, frae: from;

(6) saving a croun: apart from a croun, a unit of Scottish currency; (7) To make a croun a pund: metaphorically, to make more money, as a pound, a British unit, was worth more, gaed: goed/went; (8) baith: both;

(9) twa: two; (10) brak: broke, stown: stolen;

(19) dee: die; (20) This should be read with quote marks: why do I live to cry, “Woe is me”?

(21) urgit sair: literally, ‘urged it sore’, although sair functions as an adverb so it can be read as ‘urged me sorely’; (23) gi’ed: gived/gave;

(26) stane: stone; (27) wraith: ghost;

(29) sair, sair: sorely, sorely, greet: cry, possibly also a pun on the English word, muckle: much; (30) ae: one;

(33) gang: go; (34) daurna: dare not; (35) aye: always

With huge thanks to the Scots dictionary.

* * *

You have just witnessed one of the most heart-rendingly beautiful occurrences in English literature. Some guy necessarily put it to song a wee while after it was written. I came across this singer when I was trying to figure out how to pronounce the words authentically.

Lady Anne Barnard wrote the poem in 1772, her early twenties. It is unique in the English poetry tradition in that it’s a published work of a female writer (not that there aren’t others, just that others are more exceptions than the rule). Francis Palgrave, the editor of the classic Golden treasury of English verse, was sparse in his notes, yet he tersely records, with unwitting condescension, “There can hardly exist a poem more truly tragic in the highest sense than this, nor, perhaps, has any poetess known to the editor equalled it in excellence” (emphasis mine). Possibly Lady Anne’s success had something to do with her nobility, although the poem is also written in the Scots language, a Germanic origin, close relative of English, which although having a rich literary history bears the burden of being sourced in a people historically oppressed by the English.

The poem was written leading up to Romanticism, when literary figures started placing more emphasis and value on folk traditions. Scots-English relations were on the up and up, as the beginnings of the United Kingdom had been initiated about 65 years earlier. And Robert Burns, Scotland’s most celebrated poet, also wrote around this time.

Check out this site (scroll down to Lady Anne) for more information on context.

* * *

The poem opens similarly to Thomas Gray’s foundational melancholy, Elegy written in a country churchyard, published earlier that century:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Both contain images of the stock settling down for the night as the world goes to rest, with the narrator, Jennie, left alone to contemplate the sorrows of life. It’s possible that Lady Anne borrowed from the classic, whether intentionally or no, as Elegy was an immediate and ongoing success when released 21 years earlier. In a more holistic sense, the two are similar in that they are both written by well-to-do people, reflecting on the sorrows of the rural underclasses.

Mickey and the Beanstalk, a slightly more modern example

Whatever the case, the blatant irony of Jennie’s situation is doleful: She is alone crying in her bed while her gudeman lies sound by me. As we progress through the poem, we discover the term gudeman does not so much represent an authentic feeling of Jennie towards her new husband. More so she refers to Auld Robin Gray as a good man out of reluctant resignation to her circumstances. He can give Jennie and her family security but he cannot give her the emotional engagement, even ‘love’ that she needs, because her heart was already given to another. Is it possible that this is a reflection of some subtle going-on in Lady Anne’s real life, a subject matter to which she was attracted to write with much more bombastic despondency?

In the second verse we are introduced to the young and hopeful Jamie. He knows nothing of the sorrows that will befall his intended bride-to-be while at sea, and therefore engages in his work with hope marrying her when it is complete. I think it’s almost bad form to speculate who has it worse off here. But I would say Jennie still takes the cake as she must spiral downwards into sadness as she progressively finds it difficult to care for her family and must resign to marriage to someone she doesn’t love, whereas Jamie is actually moving happily closer towards something he desires, albeit deceptively, and is let down all of a sudden when he is reunited with her after going to sea.

In the third verse we get a further glimpse of auld Robin Gray. His age is something that immediately distinguishes him from Jamie. Perhaps he has had some more time in life to ‘get ahead’ and make some financial successes, thus providing a good base for marital/familial support. Note the humour in his last name, Gray. He is given a title, with a full name, whereas Jennie and Jamie are only referred to on a first name basis. Doesn’t this show Jennie’s emotional distance to him, maybe even auld carrying a tone of scorn? The use of a last name could also denote some respectability on Robin’s part, as he is a bit older and carries financial/societal sway. Perhaps we need to be sympathetic to Robin’s situation as well. Was he a lonely old man, rejected in his youth, who was just seeking companionship? Yet he pursues someone who he will not successfully emotionally engage with, making clear the universal tragedy of the poem: No character receives what they sought, perhaps only Jennie’s mother and father, yet at the expense of their daughter’s happiness.

How seriously can we take Robin’s sincerity? In the fourth verse when he pleads Jennie marry him, wi’ tears in his e’e, what does this mean? He had clearly reflected upon the hopelessness of her parents’ situation. But how necessary was his marriage to her? If he really cared for Jennie as much as he did for her parents then maybe he could have continued to provide financial support and let her alone to await the homecoming of her man to be. Robin Gray comes onto the scene just when he needs to, when he knows that Jennie cannot say no. Why didn’t he come a’courtin‘ her a little earlier, when he could’ve given her heart a chance, instead of taking advantage of the position of power he was in? To Robin’s credit, if he was genuinely concerned about Jennie’s parents welfare, and made the necessary steps to provide for them, this may have aroused concern in the neighbourhood that there was some under the table trade-off going on, ie. Jennie. His imploring her to marry him allows him to more blamelessly support her and her family.

In the fifth verse we discover that Jamie’s ship is a wrack. Nature has made a mockery of Jennie’s last inhibition. She now has no reason not to marry Robin. Yet, I think it’s unclear whether or not Jennie knew Jamie was dead. In the next verse she evidently is still reluctant to marry Robin. Perhaps she is holding onto the hope that Jamie is still alive. The main contention comes with her question, Why didna Jamie dee? Is this a present reflection on something that happened not too long ago? Or is this evidence that at the time of hearing about Jamie’s accident, she also heard he was ok? I’d say the former, as it was probably used as a point of argument from Robin and Jennie’s parents to persuade her to marry. Also, when Jamie comes home not too long after, Jennie appears to think it his ghost (wraith). The question is worth more than that though. She seems to say that it would have been better her beloved die than for him to live and the two of them be apart.

In the sixth verse there is a repeat of gudeman, alluded to also in the closing line, For auld Robin Gray, he is kind unto me. As mentioned earlier, this signals Jennie’s resignation to her circumstances. She mourns the loss of marriage to her beloved, yet she must take some consolation, however unwillful, in the fact that Robin is a good husband and provider.

Jamie’s boat

For me the seventh verse is the most tragic of the whole poem. Imagine Jamie, after his hard months at sea, come home to claim Jennie as his wife. Imagine his hopeful smile as he cuts straight to the chase, I’m come hame to marry thee. But at what moment does he realise something is not right? Does Jennie break into tears encountering his wretched deception? Worse, is he blissfully unaware, thinking rather that his forward proposal was received with such joy and emotion that Jennie couldn’t withhold from weeping? Surely he must have an inkling upon seeing her once again, as she is mournfu‘ when he arrives. Perhaps he is so unprepared for her sadness that his assertion of marriage is the only thing can think of to say. He proposes to her out of weakness. Or maybe he is trying desperately to cheer her up?

Now we are left with Jennie in her life without love. It has lost all meaning and colour that her previous affection afforded it. Even simple tasks like spinning are difficult. She has too much of a conscience to dwell on her lost opportunity. And she only desires her death. Well! I hope you enjoyed the analysis! There’s something strangely, deeply appealing to me about the poem. If you have any further questions or speculations, please let me know in the comments section.

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This is the concluding post in a series on the three monastic vows: Poverty, chastity and obedience. I suppose my goal, as much as I can have a goal in doing three short blogs, has been to call Christians to something higher. I think that at the same time as God shows us that our efforts are nothing and that grace is completely free (eg. Ephesians 2:8-9), He also calls us to perfection (Matthew 5:48). Bonhoeffer puts it like this when speaking of grace: “It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life”.

* * *

Earlier this year I was waitering at an Indian restaurant. I really enjoyed the nature of the work, considering I have this strange attraction to hospitality. However, I rarely got over twenty hours a week, which was alright, yet difficult at times to save money on. One good thing was that there was a plethora of opportunities to catch up with friends and do lots of recreational study. Mum knew I was looking for more hours and let me know that a local supermarket was looking for staff so I put in an application, not thinking much of it. I never got a reply. Until, like three weeks later I think, they called me up saying that they needed a trolley boy. Ha. I remember totally giving no attention to how polite I was on the phone because I was so self-conscious about being payed to push trolleys. I turned up to the interview and half-assed it a bit because I really didn’t care whether I got the job or not. Turns out that I got the job, which, strangely enough, was not really what I was hoping for…

There are a couple of details from stories in the Old Testament that can be a bit perplexing. I’m talking about the lingering effects of sin after forgiveness. Moses, whom God used to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt and establish the law, which includes the Ten Commandments, is an interesting illustration of this. The best bits probably make up most of the Book of Exodus. The story goes that the Israelites were a minority, a lesser-people in the land of Egypt without really their own national identity or a place called home. Through a series of miracles, God leads them out of Egypt, using Moses as a mediator, so that they may go into a land they can call home. They get that far: Getting out of the land. Yet, because of obedience and trust issues, the Israelites decide to go their own way, rejecting the Promised Land that God had prepared for them. Moses is one of their number (Actually, the texts are a little ambiguous as to why exactly Moses can’t enter the Promised Land. Compare Num 20:1-13; Deu 32:51-52, 1:34-37). The seriousness of Moses’ restricted entry to the Promised Land is illustrated when he asks God about it later on and gets a sterner reply: No, definitely not (Deu 3:23-26). What’s interesting about this story is that Moses maintains close relationship with God. Even though he has caused a stir and God has forgiven him, even though God continues to use him to lead Israel, it doesn’t change the situation he finds himself in: He will never enter the Promised Land.

I read a book with the most unappealing cover art ever. Sometime late last year I had nabbed a book from an old flatmate following the stories of two YWAM missionaries. It was one of those grow-your-own publishing jobs with that embarrassingly-Christian look about it. I think that’s why God wanted me to read it. And it’s cliche, but it turns out I couldn’t get enough of it. There was just so much adventure. The entire read more fully inspired me to be obedient to God’s calling in every part of my life. Later on in the story, one of the missionaries discussed with his wife two paths that God had laid before him. One was a path that would take some work, produce fruit and allow him to live pretty a good life with the family. The second path was one full of danger. There would be a lot of sacrifices, in a both a big sense and a daily sense. The calling and lifestyle would cost the family a lot (not monetarily, I mean). However, the fruit, the change for the good, would be amazing.

As I have been pushing trolleys, I’ve managed to move onto checkouts and now I’ve got shifts in the butchery. I’ve learnt a lot of new things — both practical things that relate literally to the job, and spiritual lessons through the experiences. I know there have been other things that I’ve previously put into the too-hard basket and ignored, missing opportunities, perhaps even permanently. Despite my disobedience, God has managed (No way!) to use me whatever situation I find myself. Hopefully, as we grow spiritually mature, we learn the importance of taking time to listen to the Spirit and not just listening, but responding.

‘As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”’ — Luke 11:27-28

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Image taken from http://biblescripture.net/Canaan.jpeg. Thank you!

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This is the second post in a three part introductory series on monastic vows. Probably one of the most distinguishing features of a monastic (monk/nun) to the modern eye is singleness/celibacy: What’s going on?

* * *

Probably the best thing about living in Christchurch is Eastercamp. It’s a huge (relative to Christchurch) Christian youth camp that runs the duration of Easter and is filled with every kind of both aesthetic and spiritual goodness. I have this acute memory from the first camp I attended as a leader. In an attempt to maintain piety while away from home I was reading through Matthew. I came to the part where the Jesus and the disciples are talking about divorce: ‘The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it”‘ (19:10-12, NIV).

I remember feeling like poos after reading this. Having prized the prospect of marriage in life so highly, to think that I could be one that God called to accept celibacy was beyond what I could bear at the time. In a very good way, however, this experience helped me to give more of myself in realizing that there was still a lot of my life I was holding back from Him.

Fast forward a couple of years later: The question of celibacy is found to be still flailing tempestuously inside as I attempt to give myself completely over to God again. That question, “Do you require me to live a single life for you?” Maybe the answer goes something like this, “I require you to be willing”. Talking this over with one of the pastors at my church, I got the impression that I wasn’t going to know yet. In fact, there’s also the possibility of celibacy for a season, rather than a lifetime. It’s like in Star Wars Episode I when Qui Gon Jinn takes Anakin to the council of the Jedis so they can see if he’ll be a Jedi or not. There are pulls within Anakin’s spirit, leading him in two different directions and Yoda can’t make what will happen of it: “Clouded, this boy’s future is”.

* * *

At a recent youth group boy’s night (you know where this is going), we talked about the perils of unbridled sexual desire (because ‘unbridled’ goes so well with those words!). I don’t want to generalise, but it’s generally safe to say that when there’s a men’s event with a church group, pornography, lust and general sexual deviance is going to be a hot topic. Everyone tip-toes around it to start, but when some brave soul flings the poo at the fan, it’s everywhere.

A high point of this night though, was looking at the non-physical side of sex. You see, you don’t need to burn with lust while looking at a woman to objectify her. You don’t need to manipulate someone to fulfill your sexual desires to use them. Before I explain, there are two things I must say: Firstly, I don’t want to underplay the importance of discussing issues around lust by emphasising the ‘nicer’ side of sexuality. Secondly, I really hope you don’t get the impression that sexual desire and sex in itself are condemned by Christianity. Rather, they are things to be celebrated, but that’s a-whole-nother conversation.

Reflecting on this year so far, I’ve seen how awesome it’s been for my female friendships. I feel I’ve gotten to know more closely some of my friends ‘from the other side’ and been a lot more comfortable meeting and making new ones. One truly beautiful thing about being single is having the opportunity to hang out with a lot of girls. Wait. No, I’ve really enjoyed it, learnt a lot, and deepened some important friendships. But I’ve continually got to ask myself, “What needs am I seeking to be met through developing my female friendships?” And this isn’t a gender-biased question either because I’ve used a lot of male friends in the past to meet emotional needs. The point is that I’ve found it really easy to use girls to feel good about myself in the same way I could objectify someone sexually. Sounds intense? Sorry for ruining the fun. I’d love to hear some opinions.

But Camo, there must be an alternative? What I’ve been attempting to attempt to work harder at is considering other people’s needs in a friendship or hang out: What are they there for? How can we bring mutuality to the friendship? Even, how can we bring God to the center of this? Will any hurt arise out of this friendship if it continues or ceases for various reasons? At what point is transparency important to set boundaries, yet at what point does it limit a friendship going further? The alternative then, may very well be to take the focus off from myself and bring it onto God and others.

* * *

Anakin from http://images.wikia.com/swfanon/images/4/46/LittleAnakinASWS.jpg

Pepe from http://www.blast-o-rama.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/pepe.jpg

Thank you!

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Hey friends, this is post #1. As I sometimes had some thoughts to share on Facebook, I thought a blog might be more appropriate. I’m hoping this will continue then!

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The title, which you may recognize, is the three vows monastics (think monks and nuns) take when they enter into the religious life. To some extent all of them have had an effect on my life. In sum — and by this I mean to do injustice to the definitions of the vows by defining them each in a couple of words — you take up to vows to say you’ll live on what you need or less, as a single man/woman, seeking to follow the direction of those above you (in your monastic order).

* * *

In a recent effort to curb the amount of possessions I own, I’ve met with idealism, failure, self-disillusionment, and success, sometimes in a very short space of time within that of each other. Firstly, if you want me to justify myself, I dreamt of the awesomeness of owning very little: You could move around so much. Imagine owning just a pillow, sleeping bag and mat, a couple or few sets of clothes, journal, pencil and a bible, possibly soap included? You could go pretty much anywhere, serving the church or for the sake of the gospel, whatever, and rely on God to feed you and look after you. Pretty keen to fight off wild beasts in Ephesus sometime too! One of the primary reasons for diminishing my stock is itinerancy: You are not bound to a place by the weight of that which you own. What else? Some of you will know how long you and I spend on Facebook. That’s all good, but I wonder how much more time we’d spend in prayer, study, preaching (?), social justice (?) if without a computer. Not that Facebook is evil, but its overavailability can be damaging sometimes, among other things. This question is probably better considered by practicing monastics, but here’s something I don’t think they had to deal with too much back in the day: Immaterial/semi-immaterial possessions. Facebook, bank account, email address, passport, etc. Practically, these ‘items’ don’t take up a lot of space so they might not limit one’s mobility as much as a bookshelf.

One thing I’m still mediating though, is the tension of settling in the land and being ready to move out at any moment. I’m sure many have felt the call to settle down as part of a community and contribute in some way long term. I’ve been slowly collecting important kitchenware to maximize future cooking opportunities, herbs and spices included. My arts and crafts collection is increasingly substantial. My library grows monthly in variety and depth. Some real men collect tools for their toolboxes too, etc. Ha. The difficulty is, at this time in life, making decisions regarding storing and saving or embracing bare essentials when you don’t know what the future holds. People have referred to the early church sharing everything they owned (cf. Acts 2.44-45) and then others have pointed out that it’s an ideal rather than a workable reality for modern times, or whatever. I like the former. What about even working towards it? What about rupturing the idea of individual ownership by freely allowing people to make good, unconditional use of your items? As Barnabas, a writer in the early church, said, “Give your neighbour a share of all you have and do not call anything your own. If you and he participate together in things immortal, how much more so in things that are mortal?”

Another difficulty I have found in loosing the grip of that which I own is that I haven’t managed to be quite as consistent in working with fleeting possessions. In a moment of passion I can give away a trinket, sell a piece of furniture or consecrate and destroy a relic from my pre-Christian life. The effort required to regain the likes of these is withstandable. However, the effort required to pass by some expensive takeaways or a nice night out is a lot more unpredictable. Once a more permanent item has been rid of then that’s it. But the opportunities to splash out on expensive meals and social times are myriad and my dealing with them is often inconsistent. If I one day own less than twenty five items then I can only call myself a fake if my social and eating habits don’t match the humble non-extravagance of my non-perishables.

Where to now? The purpose of this is not so much to warn everyone in their sinfulness in hoarding possessions and expensive living (although, consider Luke 12:13-21), because the very danger of a monastic vow is that it is seen as a requirement for salvation. Rather, I hope you can see some of the ways that this could play out in your lifestyle, as well as some further questions, and some of the benefits for the Kingdom of God that come with that. Be blessed!

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Image from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/22/The_Great_Traveller_Charles_Alexandre_Lesueur_in_the_Forest_by_Karl_Bodmer_1832_-_1834.jpg

Thank you!

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