Steeped in Symbols

I have never paid much attention to iconography since I have no real feel for art or imagery. I think in words, process emotions in words, and come to terms with life and the world by way of words. In fact, until this very moment, I’d never even used the word “iconography.” I do know what it means, of course — the interpretation of the symbols in art, images that tell a story, especially religious symbols. It comes from eikon a Greek word meaning “image,” and graphe a Greek word meaning “writing.” Such “image writing” was the earliest form of writing. From what I’ve managed to glean, a pictograph is a simpler version of a icon, something with a single, specific meaning, whereas an icon is a symbol with a broader, more artistic meaning that generally needs to be interpreted in cultural context. (Oddly — odd to me, anyway — iconography is not the study of iconographs — iconographs are pictures formed of words.)

Not only had I never paid much attention to iconography, I’d never really paid much attention to the symbols and images that we are all familiar with until recently. I play one of those hidden images games, though for some reason I’m embarrassed to admit it. Still, I do spend time on the game, going from location to location to find the objects.

These locations are completely different from one another, and each is instantly recognizable. For example, a Christmas scene is obviously Christmas themed, a Chinese New Year scene is obviously Chinese themed, a haunted house is obviously Halloween themed. There are a vast array of images that evoke Christmas — stockings, trees, reindeer, cookies, wreaths, stars, snowflakes, candy, the colors red and green. (There are just as many images of a religious nature, such as nativity scenes, but those aren’t used in the Christmas scenes in this game.) Many recognizable Chinese images, such as lanterns, storks, conical hats, fans, and dragons. And many images that evoke a spooky feel — bats, gargoyles, brooms, witch’s hats, toads, tarot cards, wands.

The locations in the game don’t all revolve around holiday themes. For example, there is a laboratory, with images such as telescopes, magnets, funnels, bellows, oil lamp, and a medical mask; a train station with luggage, cameras, books, pigeons, and pith helmet; a seaside bungalow with mermaids, pirate hat, barometer, boat, toucan, books, and sandcastle.

None of these locations can be confused with any other, which has led to me to this reflection upon the images of our lives. We are steeped in symbols, way more than I ever imagined. This game reflects many of the cultural symbols of our lives, but there are all sorts of symbols. Religious symbols. Musical symbols. Occult symbols. Political symbols. And each of these symbols calls forth some sort of emotion. The news media in particular uses images to convey messages, and many of those images have become part of our heritage, such as Kennedy’s Texas motorcade, Nixon’s outstretched arms, the little Napalm girl.

I don’t know what any of this means — it’s just something I’ve been thinking about. But it does show me that as sophisticated and advanced as we think we are, our basic form of communication still seems to be the pictograph just as it was so many thousands of years ago.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

It’s Groundhog Day!

Is it still Groundhog Day when you live in an area where there are no groundhogs? When there is no creature to determine how much of winter is left?

The superstition is that if the groundhog sees its shadow, there will be at least six more weeks of winter, which is a sure bet since this year there are six and a half weeks between February 2 and March 20, the official first day of spring. If the groundhog doesn’t see its shadow, there will still be six and a half weeks until spring, though supposedly, the temperatures will be a bit milder.

But what if there is no groundhog? Will there be six more weeks of winter? It’s still a sure bet!

Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are flatlanders and live in the eastern portion of the United States. Here in Colorado, we have yellow-bellied marmots, also known as rock chucks or whistle pigs, and they prefer higher elevations. Although groundhogs and marmots are not the same thing, they are both rodents of the squirrel family. The scientific name of the groundhog is Marmota monax. The name of the yellow-bellied marmot is Marmota flaviventris. So technically, the name of this day should be Marmot Day.

But either way, no matter what sort of creature you use to foretell the demise of winter and the coming of spring, a wood chuck, a rock chuck, or a chuckleheaded weather person, it still comes down to the same thing — six and a half more weeks of winter.

To be honest, here in Colorado, that’s a good thing. Too often we get early spring weather and then — so much fun! — we get a late-season Indian Winter. (Oops. Can’t say that. Indian Summer is now called Second Summer, so Indian Winter would be called Second Winter.) The problem with that upsurge of winter once spring has started to make itself felt is that new buds are “nipped” by the late freeze, damaging crops, preventing fruit trees from producing, and decimating or delaying spring flowers.

Luckily, despite what all those seer of seers, prognosticator of prognosticators say, spring will be here in a matter of 46 days.

Happy Marmot Day!


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

What Is Your Spirit Animal?

Do you have a spirit animal? That’s the blog prompt for today: “What is your spirit animal?” I have no idea how to figure out what mine is. Aboriginal Americans found their spirit animal through a vision quest, some spiritualists find theirs through a dream, other people are lucky enough to have their spirit animal find them.

Me? As far as I know, I don’t have such a guide, and if I do, it hasn’t made itself known to me. At one time I wanted to do a long-trail hike, thinking it would also work as a vision quest, but that didn’t work out. I did try to do some of those quizzes that supposedly introduce you to your spirit animal, but the very first question on a few of them stymied me: “What is your favorite element — water, earth, air, fire, wood, space?” How the heck does one answer that? I mean, you need those to live. Without wood (trees) there would be no breathable air. Without space, there would be no Earth. Without water, earth, air, fire (energy) there would be no life.

I did manage to find one quiz that asked different questions, but most of the questions did not pertain to me, such as what sort of television programs I watch — news, reality TV, documentaries, and a few others. Since I don’t watch television, it was a bogus question, as were several others. Still I did stumble through the quiz, and according to them, my spirit animal is a raccoon. Supposedly, the racoon embodies creativity, discretion, and keeping your ideas close to your chest until you’re ready to unveil them. Sounds feeble enough to apply to almost anyone.

I also found a site that linked spirit animals to one’s birthday, so depending on what culture I espouse — Western, Chinese, Native American, Celtic — my various spirit animals are fish, rabbit, wolf, snake. Not exactly a unanimous consensus, or even a general consensus!

The only dreams I ever had that could possibly be considered a vision quest or a way for my spirit animal to make itself known were both white dreams. In the first, I was walking in the white sands of the desert, with a white sky above me and a white path stretching before me. As I walked, three white horses sped across my path, then four white bunnies in a bunch, then two small white squarish creatures I could not identify, and finally, one immense white owl. For sure a mystical dream! All of those creatures are powerful totem animals, except perhaps for the small squarish animals. Another time I dreamt of a white tiger, a spirit animal that is drawn to a soul with inner strength.

So there you have it — all I know about me and my spirit animals. Since there is such a plethora of them, it could mean I need a whole lot of help. It could also mean that at different times, I was influenced by different manifestations of spirit. Or it could mean nothing at all, which, to be honest, is what I tend to believe.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

As a person gets older, the first times dissipate. At the beginning, of course, everything is a first — first step, first word, first tooth, first birthday, first day of school, first night away from home, first date, first kiss, first job, first apartment. When the obvious firsts are gone, there are others to look for, such as first overnight hike, first cross-country trip, first mortgage. And then there are the other firsts that no one should ever have to deal with yet all of us do, such as the death of a loved one.

After the firsts come the seconds and thirds and the ho-hum of having done everything so many times before, that it seems as if there are no firsts left. And yet there are more firsts — at least I hope there are.

What made me think about all this is that just yesterday was the last time I did something for the first time — I celebrated the Chinese New Year.

This Asian holiday is something I’ve never before celebrated, never even considered celebrating. After all, I’m not Chinese or from Chinese ancestry, so it didn’t seem right to be glomming on to another culture’s traditions, but yesterday I was invited to join the celebration by my friend who does have a Chinese heritage. We didn’t do much, just dressed in red and went to a Chinese restaurant, but that seems to be the main way of celebrating — family, friends, and food.

To make sure I didn’t commit any major faux pas, I looked up Chinese New Year and found that the Chinese don’t call this holiday “Chinese New Year,” which makes sense. That’s like us calling our January 1st celebration “American New Year.” They simply call it New Year or Spring Festival. The problem with calling this Lunar New Year a Chinese New Year is that many other Asian countries also celebrate a lunar new year. Luckily, since my friend is of Chinese heritage, my calling it the Chinese New Year (as she did) didn’t offend her.

Anyway, it was nice starting this particular new year by doing something new, and it was it was especially nice celebrating the newness with good friends and good food.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Nice Day of a Different Sort

Yesterday was a lovely winter day here in southeastern Colorado — plenty of sun, still air, dry streets, highs in the forties — though elsewhere in Colorado people were digging out from the heavy snows that had been dumped Wednesday night. Because of the nice day we experienced in my corner of the state, I went for a couple of rambles around town, once by myself and once with a friend. Interestingly, everyone we met mentioned the coming storm.

According to the weather forecast on my phone, there is only a 48% chance of snow today, though they also say there could be an accumulation of five to six inches. I thought it was another of those taunts that the forecasters deal out — too often, there is no snow despite their predictions. In fact, the only real snowstorm we got this winter was supposed to have left behind a mere drifting of flakes. But then today I got an email from the regional energy supplier reminding us customers to take safety precautions because “Winter Storm Iggy” is going to bring heavy snows to this area.

Perhaps that’s true. After all, despite the sun that’s shining right now, it’s supposed to get cloudy with conditions that are right for snowfall, but what I really got focused on was the whole “Iggy” thing. What the heck is a Winter Storm Iggy? When did they start naming storms? They’ve named hurricanes and other tropical storms for decades, but this was the first I’ve heard of an intracontinental (rather than a coastal) storm being named. But what do I know? I don’t watch television or listen to the news or visit any of the online sites where people share news, fake and otherwise.

So I do what I always do — turned to Google. And I’m still confused. Is Iggy the name of this particular storm? Or is it a type of storm? Last year in February, there was an Iggy in Australia. And an Izzy in the United States.

As it turns out, it’s no wonder I’m not familiar with names of storms since it’s strictly a television phenomenon. The National Weather Service does not recognize names for winter storms. Nor do they have any plans to do so. It was The Weather Channel that started naming storms a decade ago, and these names have become part of the vernacular.

Sheesh. It’s bad enough trying to keep up with weather without having to try to remember what storms have names and what don’t. I certainly don’t want to clutter my mind with television idiocies especially since I can barely remember the names of people to whom I’ve been introduced and whose names I need to know.

I’m getting off the track here. Or maybe not. Maybe there isn’t a track. All I know is that yesterday was a nice day, and today will be a nice day of a different sort, snow or no snow.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Do You Know That for Sure?

When I was chatting with my friends this weekend during our day trip, the conversation segued into a discussion of “made in USA” products. Although I do look for that label, I also understand that just because it says “made in USA” it doesn’t mean it’s made in this country by non-sweatshop workers. In fact, there is an island not far from China that is a commonwealth of the USA, and despite its gorgeous weather and scenery, it was a horror for the workers from China and the Philippines who had been lured there with promises of higher wages (higher than mainland China, though significantly less than USA minimum wage) and living on American soil. Despite the horrendous lie and deception (not only deceiving the workers but deceiving those of us who prefer to buy products made here by people who are paid at least minimum wage) many well-known companies with well-known brands utilized those poor workers, while boasting that their designer-label clothes were made in the USA.

My companions had never heard of such a place, and one asked me, “Do you know this for sure?”

I had to admit that I didn’t. I do know for sure that I read about this island, and I do know for sure that it had been documented and well-researched because when I first heard about this travesty (long before the internet and Google) that’s all the non-fiction I was reading — books with pedigrees.

Still, what do I know? What do any of us know? Besides what we have seen or felt or experienced ourselves, we don’t know anything for sure. In my case, I have to trust my sources, and back then, it was easy — in the back of the books I read were indexes of the research involved and sources for further reading — but now, with the internet and the easy spread of . . . non-truths, let’s say . . . it’s hard to know what is or is not true.

Curious, I set about looking for this island. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find anything on Google, but surprisingly, it was easy to find via Bing.

And yes, there is an island — Saipan — in the Northern Marianas. And yes, American garment manufacturers did utilize what amounts to slave labor. Luckily, after the scam and abuses were exposed in the early 1990s, and after millions of dollars in settlements from the apparel brands, things changed. But that’s not the end — a few years ago, the same scam was re-instigated, but this time the abused workers were construction workers.

Because of earlier scams and deceptions, even though I look for the “made in USA” label, I am leery of it. I tend to believe manufacturing shenanigans and sleight of hand still exist, but that is merely supposition gleaned from my knowledge of the corporate race to rake in as much profit as possible. But as with so much else I think I know, there’s no way to know for sure.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Happy Saturday the 14th!


Whew! We made it through another Friday the thirteenth! I hope you managed to hide from bad luck and dire deeds. I sure did.

To tell the truth, I have no particular opinion or fear about thirteen or Friday or Friday the thirteenth, though I do find a lot of irony associated with the avoidance of thirteen. For example, buildings with more than 13 floors don’t call the 13th floor the 13th floor, but instead skip the number and go directly to the 14th floor or call it 12A. It’s still the 13th floor, right? So do people simply fear the number rather than the actual floor? And if they fear the number, do they refuse to buy baker’s dozens of donuts or cookies? (Though perhaps that is dating me — I don’t think I’ve come across a baker’s dozen of anything in a long time.) And if it’s the number thirteen they fear, why is only Friday the thirteeth a fearful day? I realize it’s the conjunction of fateful Friday and the ominous number that causes friggatriskaidekaphobia, but still, for those with the simpler case of triskaidekaphobia, wouldn’t any thirteenth day of the month be cause for concern?

(Interesting side note — in many Spanish speaking countries, Tuesday the thirteenth is the unlucky day, so for them, the movie Friday the Thirteenth was renamed Tuesday the Thirteenth.)

If Friday the thirteenth were really an unlucky day as more than 20 million Americans believe, to be on the safe side, shouldn’t the calendar makers follow the example of builders and change all 13s that fall on a Friday to 14 or maybe even 12A? And speaking of calendars, our current calendar was not universally adopted in Europe until the eighteenth century. So is our current Friday the thirteenth the real Friday the thirteenth? Wouldn’t the day fall on other dates using other calendars?

Whether or not you believe that Friday the thirteenth is bad luck (and if you do, please forgive my levity), I hope you had a fearlessly wonderful day.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Do You Want to Live Forever?

I sure as heck don’t want to live forever! In fact, I so much don’t want to live forever that I don’t think about it. The only reason it’s on my mind now is that the title of this post was the blog prompt for today.

To be honest, I can’t think of anyone granted immortality who was pleased with the dubious gift. Of course, these “anyone”s who were granted such a gift are by nature fictitious, since as far as I know, there is no living creature who lives forever. Well, this is a certain jellyfish that can revert to an earlier stage of their lifecycle, which can keep them going forever. Amoebas are considered immortal because they divide in two and so the parent doesn’t die but exists as two daughter cells. And then there are prions . . .

Okay, so there are living things that live forever, but except for the case of a stray alchemist or two (such as the Count of St. Germaine who supposedly found the philosopher’s stone and so attained immortality) the only humans who have become immortal on Earth are fictional ones. And those stories seldom end well.

For example, a long time ago I heard a theory that humans were a sort of preternatural ape embryo that managed to continue developing without ever turning into an ape. To support their supposition, theorists pointed to such human characteristics as hairless bodies, wide-spaced eyes, large heads, and a tendency to play that extends far beyond childhood. A short story based on this theory featured a scientist who found a way to become immortal, and instead of having a great life, he was eventually discovered living as an aged ape in his basement. Apparently, he lived long enough so that he grew out of his embryonic state. Not a pleasant way to live forever!

Vampires live forever, but those fangs, red lips and pallid skin are so not a good look. Sleeping in a coffin and never seeing the sun seems like a recipe for a massive year-round case of Seasonal Affective Disorder. And that lust for blood? Let’s not even go there.

One of the biggest cautionary tales for not living forever is the movie Death Becomes Her. After being granted immortal life, both Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep do not heed the advice to take care of themselves, so they spend the rest of eternity trying to put themselves together. That’s enough to make a person shudder! (Except not really. This is the only role Meryl Streep ever did that I enjoyed.)

From a reader’s point of view, living forever would be untenable. Can you imagine reading a book that never ends? That goes on and on long after you got tired of what would soon become nothing but a series of insipid events? What a horrendously boring book that would be! Living an earthly life forever would be the same. Assuming, of course, that you could remain young and healthy and rich enough to keep yourself going century after century after century. Unless you were like the immortal jellyfish and could reset your cells back to an earlier time, you would grow older. And older. And older. And older. Ad infinitum. Eventually you would be too old to appreciate anything, would be ready to be shucked of your worthless body and decaying mind and would still find no surcease. And chances are, you’d get sick or break bones or get some sort of debilitating disease, and there would be no blessed release to your pain. Who knows, you might even end up in jail with a life sentence, and then, what a horror story that would be!

Even assuming that you managed to stay free and young and healthy and rich forever, then what? There would be no reason to do anything. As writers, we know how important a ticking clock is. Without a ticking clock to impel a character to solve the mystery or reach the end of a quest or whatever, there wouldn’t be much of a story. I imagine life without a ticking clock would be much the same. There’d be no reason to do anything. Of course, perhaps even for centuries, you could travel and learn and try all sorts of new experiences, and once that’s all done, then what? Eternal boredom?

Luckily, this is merely a rhetorical question, though millions, perhaps billions of dollars are being spent every year to unlock the mystery of mortality. Some scientists theorize that immortality was once the default state, and that death was “naturally selected for,” as they say, because apparently death conferred some sort of benefit on a species where individuals could die. (After all, evolution is not about a single organism but a species.)

Anyway, all that being said, would you want to live forever?


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Wolf Moon

The full moon we experienced on Friday is called the Wolf Moon because traditionally wolves howl at the moon at this time of year. As romantic as that sounds, the supposed reason for the howling is rather sad — they howl at the moon because they are hungry. Actually, they howl at other full moons, too, though perhaps they are not actually howling at any moon. They are crepuscular creatures, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk, and the Wolf Moon in January (at least it did this January) rises in the dusk. The howl is a social cry to rally other wolves to hunt; it’s also a territorial call. Because raising their heads makes the sound travel further, it makes it seem as if they are howling at the moon.

Whatever the truth of wolves and the moon, this full moon was supposed to be a powerful one. According to astrologists and spiritualists, the wolf moon is an emotionally charged one, signaling a time of change and introspection, a time to face our fears and trust our instincts, a time to use our inner strength and wisdom. It’s also a time to connect with the earth.

Whether the Wolf Moon means anything beyond its astronomic meaning — that it’s a micromoon, appearing smaller than a normal full moon because it takes place at the moon’s furthest point from the earth (252,146 miles away) — I decided to take action as a sign of female empowerment. So, as I walked home under the bright light of the moon, I howled.

Why howling at the full moon is supposed to be an empowering thing for women to do, I have no idea. I certainly didn’t feel any different yesterday or today. What was different is that as I walked home Friday evening, I was accompanied all the way by the howling of dogs. Apparently, I did make some sort of connection, with those dogs if not the earth.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Statistics That Seem to Speak for Themselves

I came across an interesting statistic the other day: between 2000 and 2019, the number of students in the USA increased by 7.6 percent, the number of teachers increased by 8.7 percent, and the number of district administrators increased by 87.6 percent. In case you think that’s a typo . . . well, it isn’t.

It goes go to show where the problem with our education system lies — in the bureaucracy. It explains the politicization of the schools and why students are being taught so many topics parents think are their purview, such as sex education, gender identification, political leanings, and a whole slew of other subjects that don’t really belong in schools. Or maybe they do. I do know that, as many totalitarian political leaders discovered, if you want to change the social fabric of a country or a world, you start with the youngest. (I hesitate to use the dreaded term “indoctrination,” but that’s what anything beyond the basics — reading, writing, arithmetic — comes down to.) Such changes aren’t made immediately — it takes generations and whole lot of political hacks to force those changes.

Not surprisingly, the blue states have a greater growth in the number of administrators, since it seems that what is being taught in schools is more of a liberal agenda, but in all states, education funds and authority are flowing away from schools and toward the bureaucracy.

Do I sound outraged? Well, I’m not. I’m all out of outrage. During my life, I’ve dealt with a vast number of outrageous matters — systemic injustice, torture, genocide, terrorism, horrors galore. Not that I experienced much myself, though I was alive for many such instances and beyond that, I learned of some ghastly occurrences from history classes, and the rest came from my years of reading. (It’s why I stick with mostly fiction nowadays — if there’s an issue I don’t want to deal with, I close the book or skip to a more felicitous chapter.)

Still, these statistics do surprise me, though they shouldn’t. There is a war going on this country between two completely different ideologies. In my younger years, it didn’t matter too much what one’s politics were — we all basically wanted the same thing: a safe place to live and to raise families, freedom to believe what we believe, a chance of financial success or at least a living wage. Nowadays it seems as if the ways of getting those things are vastly different depending on one’s politics, so much so that it’s hard to believe people still want the same thing. In fact, how one defines those things are different from person to person and party to party. One side wants a heck of lot more government intervention, the other side wants less.

Admittedly, this division hasn’t simply sprung up in the past few years. It started generations ago — long before I went to school. And now this war is taking place in the classrooms to a greater extent than any time previously.

And oops. I can’t believe I wrote this. I try to stay away from anything that smacks of politics because nothing I say really matters and only makes people argumentative, but oh, well. The statistics seem to speak for themselves.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.