# 88 Sound

Sound.

The nights are never truly silent. Even during the most quiet time, when the tide is furthest out and the winds are calm, there is still the constant backdrop of waves colliding with rock. When the fog horn is not sounding, that is as silent as it gets. I would have thought that this sound would fade from constant awareness into backdrop as does a heartbeat or the sound of breath, but that’s not the case. 

These days of early spring are not silent either as the songbirds sing for mates and territory. But it is the absence of other sounds that holds my attention and gives awareness that not all is right in the world. 

The sound of pickup trucks in the driveway, saying soon the nearby restaurant will open for the season, is absent. The sounds of the school bus picking-up or letting-off neighborhood kids is absent as well as the occasional sounds coming from the closest yard when the boys are out there together letting off indoor steam. The sound of planes  in landing lineups overhead, preparing for delivery of their passengers is (nearly) absent. The diesel engine noise of lobster boats pulling traps is also nearly absent. The hearing evidence of human activity has faded to a whisper.

The sound of my own voice is also mostly absent. There are a few phone calls now and then, but not daily. Mostly there is quiet keying on the laptop or the phone, the silent greeting of words to check in with others and to pass along funny internet stuff. I am noticing we seem to fade in and out with one another, wanting to stay in contact yet there are days we seem to collectively withdraw just a little. 

The radio, often a prime source of sound, is only on occasionally; the news is grim and indeterminate, an anathema to the calm and peace possible when focus stays on light and clouds and water, when watching the Eiders transition from the great flock down to pairs as it’s unfolding day by day. There is spring work to be done, a new brood to make and raise and, although I suspect those things are far from silent, the duck sounds do not make it as far as the house. 

I feel a very particular kind of envy watching the birds going about their lives oblivious to our unfathomable human existence. I think of the times human actions have impacted theirs in devastating ways, but now there is only watching their movements while taking solace that the season is changing and (at least some) aspects of the world are still normal.

# 87 Irony

Irony.

I recently posted about silos. My timing was certainly ironic. For some time now my life has been filled with an awareness of the importance of building community as our social-media obsessed culture spends increasing hours looking at screens instead of talking with each other face-to-face. I’m talking about old people as well as teenagers and everyone in-between. I am as guilty of the head-buried-in-screens obsession as anyone else, but I started to realize that having the opportunity to share observations and life stories in conversations was seriously important. I began to notice a real hunger for communication, for talking together rather than being talked at. Can you think of any worse form of communication than political advertising? Are you, too, exhausted by the concept of “staying on message”?

Our shift from citizens to consumers was a deliberate calculation driven by corporations. Our precious individuality got squeezed into boxes as each of us we were seen as purchasers of goods so that others could profit. Advertising became a primary tool for convincing each of us that we were inadequate but by purchasing this or that product we would be righted and restored. In this process we began to lose our humanity and we certainly lost our independent selves. Social media has taken this and run with it and now we find ourselves in isolated units, our silos, often more than a little lost. Our hunger for meaningful contact is tangible. I set out to see if I could make the tiniest difference in a few lives. My timing was off.

The coronavirus has descended necessitating thicker, taller, fortresses–silos–to keep us safe from the ravages of illness. The media screams dire warnings and publishes daily photos of store shelves emptied of water and toilet paper and hand sanitizer along with whatever else you can dream of that might keep you going in the face of certain contagion. Can you manage long stretches of quarantine? Has anyone truly thought this through instead of being driven by rampant fear? Do you really believe it is possible to stay in your house for weeks on end? Can entire countries shut down to keep the virus from spreading?

The climate of hysteria has been building for a few years now so the arrival of this potential pandemic hits us when we are ripe for showing how truly out of control we can all get. Our mental health needs contact, face-to-face caring and interaction, the needed tools for allowing growth of perspective and thought. At this moment it seems not safe to do that. Our lives seem dependent upon the very isolation that has been slowly strangling our hearts’ desires for meaning and making a difference. How utterly ironic.

 

# 86 Grace

Grace.

Grace is present in our world. Grace does not show off. Grace does not strut, or bellow. Grace is subtle and you need to be paying attention to notice its presence in life’s daily moments.

The air had warmed but I failed to notice. I was busily occupied inside and let slip away the first above 60 degree day since last Fall without any awareness, nary an opened window or door, or a sniff of fresh air. But the night brought rain and the morning’s sun shone through nature-washed windows. The salt crud that had coated the window glass with an unwelcome frosting since last week’s high surf was erased and the morning light made the world fresh again. Stepping out on to the porch to feed the birds was entry into a new season. Yes, there would be more cold and mostly likely even snow, but the air had been gently rinsed and the smell in the day’s early air hinted of mud rather than ice.

All day the sun played out on the water ducking in and out behind the clouds. When it was out the water looked green, that wonderful gray-green with the iridescent sea-foam green sparkle as the top of each wave tipped over onto itself, the color I think is the most beautiful color on the planet. When the sun tucked behind the lofty, floating cloud puffs the water turned blue-gray, the color painters most often choose for seascapes. All day the cloud forms changed in dips and swirls and, later, gathering into small masses looking like mini storms  approaching, not serious but as teasers saying “but I could if I wanted to…”

Such a simple day suggesting in-between season possibilities, a day of grace and beauty disguised as ordinary.

# 84 Silos

Silos.

There was a period of time in farming communities all across the country when tall, dark blue, Harvestore silos began dotting the landscape. It was a new method of storing feed for cattle that used ground corn or grains, (maybe even grasses) which fermented in the tall towers. This method of preserving cattle feed was an alternative to the dangers of storing hay, which if not properly cured, was prone to ignition in (and of) the large barns in which the hay was stored. Everyone knew that Harvestore silos were massively expensive so having one or two erected beside your cattle barns was also a status symbol. The unmistakable stench blowing on the wind was the result of manure from Harvestore-fed cattle being spread as fertilizer on the fields along the dirt roads of my drives to and from home. Think Kim Chee only much much worse. Over time, problems of that method of handling feed emerged and (mostly) those big blue symbols of a thriving farm ceased being used.

In recent times “silo” is a term applied to information systems, a good way of illustrating info which is not readily available for sharing—silo as in isolation, stacked upon itself and isolated—making it not readily accessible to others. (My mind immediately flashes to shiny, dark blue towers every time I hear “silo” and “information” used together.)

In either case, “silo” suggests storage and isolation, and here in mid-winter, I feel like I’ve encased myself in one. The days are often without much speech; communication occurs via keyboard but often my physical voice is still. Some days it’s too cold to venture out and other days there is no particular excuse of an errand to run. I am not exactly ever bored. Quiet time is good for working on things of the mind, but the body wants sunlight, movement, and air, none of which is easily found in silos.

I am coming to see how “silo” is also a word that describes how our culture has isolated itself, pulling away from the ways in which communities had worked. Instead of going to public theaters our entertainment is streamed on media devices and/or on multiple home technologies allowing silo-ing even within families. In many places the collective needs of community, such as volunteers for firefighting, or do-gooder projects, or youth sports were ways that people came together, pitching in to help and getting involved. Now, we pay others to do this work. We have no time to volunteer because we are too busy with jobs (sometimes multiple jobs) to make ends meet or to get ahead. Activities for kids such as Girl and Boy Scouts and 4H clubs had depended on community help and leadership but a number of profound societal awarenesses and shifts means we came instead to paying for music, dance, swimming, chess, etc. lessons to keep our children and grandchildren safely occupied and learning new skills.

The increasing isolation of silo thought or behavior breeds suspicion especially as media outlets  found that repetitive, fear-based, stories increased readership and higher profits. Holding-up in our homes, tethered to devices, bolsters “us” versus “them”, we react to dire tales hundreds or thousand miles away as if they were happening next door. Then such stories seem to creep into our own communities (copy catting or mirroring?) seemingly proving that, yes, it can happen in your neighborhood.

We’ve locked ourselves in our towers and we are afraid. The only way out is to emerge from our silos and interact with our neighbors and our communities face-to-face. It is not as dire out there as the media reports. Good folk are all around you but if you, and they, are locked in towers you will never know that.

Photo note: Those are not Harvestore silos.

Terrific information sharing on Building Community is being done at Weave: The Social Fabric Project under the auspices of the Aspen Institute. You can click this link on any of your devices and be on your way to learning about the fabulous connective work which is happening across the country:    https://www.aspeninstitute.org/programs/weave-the-social-fabric-initiative/

# 83 Difference

Difference.

Have you been in a situation where a person is describing his or her view assuming that your world and their world is the same, the kind of conversation beginning with “ You know….” followed by a take on this or that which feels completely alien to how you make sense of things? It is my observation that the possibility of this happening is greatly increased when the company is, on the surface, homogeneous. All white? All male? All female? All elders? All professing the same religion? Listen for the underlying assumptions.

I’ve had the privilege of talking with various groups of people over the past few years and what stands out to me is how utterly diverse we are. This is often not a diversity marked by skin color or accented voice. Our pasts, our family history, our educational experiences, our relationships, our exposure to travel and to other cultures (just to name a few) are ways we form how we make sense of the world. When we sweep broadly, assuming the gray head, (female head, neighbor head…) next to us shares our values or anything else, we fall down a rabbit hole of our own making.

I first noticed the diversity of the world around me in a tiny town in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I was feeding lunch to the 70 or so kids at our local school, grades K through 7, trying to find good food that they would not dump into the garbage. I always provided makings for P, B, & J sandwiches in case the lunch offering was not to their liking so students would not have a hungry afternoon. I had observed that the “hippie” kids (this was in the 1970’s) dove into the white bread every chance they had while the “farm kids” did the same for the whole wheat alternative. Natural food “hippie kids” ate whole grain bread at home while “farm kid” Mom’s bought the cheapest bread they could which was the white stuff. I chuckled at this observation, thinking of the shock that simple switch would elicit from their parents, but that small observation grew to where I found myself thinking that around the dinner tables in this tiny, nearly totally racially white community, what food was on the table was radically different from one house to another—diversity awareness via dinner options.

Recently, sitting around a large table of lovely conversing beings, a speaker, deep into their expression of how “the world” works, shared assumptions in good faith and conscience with no ill intent but the facial expressions and body language of others around the table clearly indicated a lack of agreement as they  sat listening to what they heard as uncomfortable, unshared, assumptions that now hung in the air. The moment was painful, and led to divisive discussion-bordering-on-argument as others attempted to share  alternate views. The initial intent of inclusion fractured the delight of sharing stories. One person’s headspace assumption shared, then challenged, brought a conversation meant to unify was now a separation in need of repair and none of this was motivated by anything less than good hearts sharing personal experience.

How do we learn to see those around us as unique individuals, to see beyond even well-intended stereotypes? How do we find commonality beyond superficial measures of speech or dress, of stature or hair style, by surface clues we can easily misinterpret? This goes far beyond the outer focus on race, skin color, or ethnicity, of language and speech patterns, of looking  for signs of social standing via the presence or absence of material goods.

Have you experienced the utter delight of knowing how thoroughly you match in personality with a person from far across the globe? Have you experienced the utter despair of a childhood friend or dear neighbor whose values or political thoughts are repugnant to your sensibility? These are the true boundaries of diversity. They surround us every day. How do we communicate effectively, without assumptions, learning to recognize how we are different and how we are the same and finding the joy of learning through connective thought or experience and what we can also learn from that which is totally new?

# 82 More Than Strange

More Than Strange.

A message popped up on my phone indicating there was an immediate battery problem so I put the repair at the top of my “There is way too much serious stuff going on” list. Can any of us be without our primary communication tool, the lifeline of all those numbers and email addresses you no longer know by heart, the place holder for appointments that keep us responsible and accountable?

ln the Apple store I watched the impossibly smooth white skin of the hands of the young employee, keying on both my phone and on his iPad, hands looking newly formed, not hands of outdoor work or hard physical labor, moving faster than mine could have ever moved at any point in my lifetime, my hands-old, coarse, dark, and wrinkled-in comparison. His questions were polite, with touches of kindness, and the results of his work meant my life could resume after a 50 minute repair. Sweet.

To enter an Apple store you glide through openings between giant metal-framed glass paneled walls that melt away while open. There are no counters or lines or cash registers, just a myriad of same colored T-shirted helpers floating in a widely open space with wooden display tables and cubed wooden boxes for sitting. Every current Apple product is available for touch and tapping, the prices jaw dropping, the designs clean and flawless. Glazed customers float from device to device, a sea of color and slickness. To enter this realm is to walk into a version of a manufactured, non-nature-bound future, exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.

This marvel of a future world is located in the large, local, traditional shopping mall. Current media frequently reports the retail apocalypse and, not having been in a mall in years, the reports make sense to me after this visit, like a trip to a living archaeological dig or one of those historical reenactment “museums”. I am of the generation before mall culture took over teenage life, having grown up in a small town far too many miles away from the closest mall hangout. As I approached the intersection of corridors, I felt all those years melt away, like a slickly polished morph between way-back-then and now, the dystopian factor looming large as I walked past nearly empty spaces, one or two employees present filling idle time sitting at counters, nary a customer in sight. It was like watching a still-moving dinosaur encased in glass and gloss, the sound of too loud, too trendy, upbeat music blaring into emptiness, the air filled with artificial scent, the kind that triggers migraines.

Later, when I stepped out into the 10 degree winter night, the rush of frigid air brought  relief and deep, fresh breathing. I looked around at the vast concrete splayed everywhere, no natural surface in any direction. What was bulldozed to make this site? What had this land once nourished and, after these mall doors permanently close as surely they will, what good can come out of all that abandoned hard scape?

The juxtaposition of the futuristic store encased in the anachronistic architecture baffled me, rattled my sense of what is and what is possible. It was as if I’d projected forward and backward at the same moment, neither making much sense, a telescope of time and building smashed together, the destruction of a natural environment for a quickly passing human whim.

 

Photo: American Sycamore tree bark.

See: 
https://www.businessinsider.com/american-retail-apocalypse-in-photos-2018-1

# 81 The Sex Thing

The Sex Thing.  

Who cares what old people think about sex?

One scandal after another has broken out involving powerful, rich men occupying high positions within our culture. Some versions of this involves the sexual exploitation of young girls–children is the more appropriate description. This story seems to repeat itself in endless versions, a Sisyphean tale damaging to everyone. 

I am hardly the only voice that thinks this kind of behavior has as less to do with sex as it does about control and quite a lot about a lack of emotional intelligence of men drawn to seeking sexual release using those too young to understand sexuality. Listen to the voices of those preyed upon years later as they come to microphones, speaking through tears describing how they did not come forth sooner because they thought they had brought the sexual exploitation (rape, groping, degradation, etc. on themselves.) This is about SEX? It’s not and all of us know it. 

Sex between adults committed to exploration with equal-playing-field partners is an opportunity to open to the divine nature of ourselves, a path of discovery to our inner being. It’s complicated ground worthy of deep diving. The more each person brings to it, the more possibilities there are for expanded consciousness as well as physical release. The possibilities are endless, joyous, full of awe and maybe even fear and always complex. 

The purported sexuality described in headlines and the explosion of internet porn suggests to me that our culture’s view of sexuality is adolescent in its nature: distant, based on a false sense of imagery, potentially violent, and definitely not about deep exploration with emotional attachments over a long haul (you define “long” for yourself). Is there any harm to just getting off? No. And yes, when it stops at that. There is so much more—sex as the nth degree of finding amazing ways to experience being human.


Having sex with young women, underage girls or boys, forcing anyone, male or female, into complying so they can get off is not about sex. Our language is not serving us well when it comes to sex and gender. We need a new vocabularies to clarify sexual activity so the variety and meanings are not confused.  We’ve a long way to go before our culture grows into the adult phase of sexuality.

And that part about old people piping up about sex? Those who are eldering often have years of observation and resulting opinions from all that seeing, some of it valuable and some of it not so much.