#102 I Can’t Breathe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Can’t Breathe.

“I can’t breathe”, said the earth

gasping

and then

the fumes from cars and trucks

all over the world

stopped

and in the cities

the distant mountains

could again be seen.

 

“I can’t breathe”, we said

as we sat behind our closed doors,

the early spring still cold,

the shared outdoor spaces

roped off,

barricaded.

Social distancing meant

staying inside

without enough

movement

or

air.

 

“I can’t breathe”, said yet another

black man

restrained,

life flowing out from his body

as one more oppressor

prevailed

while the camera watched

then sent the image out

into the world.

 

“I can’t breathe”, shouted the

masses protesting

the accumulation of despair

and injustice

in shock waves

throughout the world.

 

“I can’t breathe” say

the non-mask wearers

defending their non-compliance

with no understanding

or regard

for the safety of others.

 

“I can’t breathe”, says

my spirit

as it cries out for

a better world

with love

and compassion

filling the

longing hearts,

the twisted painful

psyches

not yet recognizing

what they

most need

is light

air

and

breath.

 

 

Three Words. 70 Cases. The Tragic History of ‘I Can’t Breathe.’
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/28/us/i-cant-breathe-police-arrest.html?referringSource=articleShare

# 101 Deep Quiet

Deep Quiet.

What can be said for falling
into the farthest back folds of your closet
the place where silence reigns?

How is it possible to live day after day
saying only “Good Morning” with as much warmth and kindness as you can muster, then later “Thanks for bringing in the package”, eight words in an entire day while a stream of words run a constant presence in your brain but never leaves your mouth?

In this time of social distancing, of staying inside to remain safe and healthy
for over three months, is finding the daily isolation a bit too comforting? Is relishing the lack of face to face interchange, relinquishing the sound of words to the silent controlled realm of the keyboard, using words only when you have a handy “delete” function if you say too much or are a tad too honest, keeping everything upbeat and never discussing the darkness that lurks from all the edges, where you really want to be?

I walked a little at the re-opened park a mile or two away, where families returning to the normalcy of pizza boxes and blankets were sharing weeknight take out dinners or picnics, laughing together. The park, always a place of solace, made now ever so precious after the barriers and “Closed” signs came down. The families sat close together in household groupings while I moved around them, distanced, feeling the impact of my aloneness and isolation in contrast. During all these days of staying apart their being together for all this time was obvious. How had I become that lonely old woman walking unseen among the laughing clusters with an aching heart and gallons of unshed tears?

Is it a natural pairing, this aging and sliding away into our own company, shielding oneself from constant interaction, finding preference for solitude? If so, once again I am the outlier for I crave the warm presence of others, the interchange of observations of experience and difference, so while I’ve made use of the quiet, it does not fill me with joy.
Should it?

#100 Consider the Roses

Rugosa Branch Bird2

Consider the Roses.

June loveliness

the beach roses

in full scent

the large pink clumps

and green leaves

dotting the landscape

clustered on the seashore

dead branches always

poking above the roses.

The conditions for

rugosas

four season harsh

growing on the edges of

a rough and often cold

Atlantic.

The fierce winds coming

off the ocean creates

harsh bare stalks

with sharp

protruding thorns

good perches for

little birds who

stop and sing

surveying their territory

sounding

like joy.

 

Mid-summer blossoms

start to form hips

the seed pods which

form in clusters

begin as orange

but by late fall

turn a

deep red hue

eventually looking like the

dried fruit

they become

a nutrient packed

food source for the birds

and small creatures that

scurry around the shore

finding safety among rocks.

 

I’ve shooed away

blossom pickers

who arrive in June

plucking the blossoms for

whatever purpose

informing them their harvesting

robs the critters who live here

of an important food

for their survival.

The pickers fail to notice and

are annoyed at my interference

in their quest.

 

Foraging humans

are not my cup of tea

the animals and birds have

no grocery stores.

Humans who are fond of

harvesting wild foods rarely

seem to consider the effect

of their actions.

One human meal may

be many days of

sustenance

food for families

of many small beings

who make these spaces

home.

 

 

 

# 99 The World Shifted In a Day

The World Shifted in a Day.

Pandemic news traveled
spreading fear
fast as moving air
fear seeping under doorways
spread by keypads and networks
finding ways
into consciousness

Virus droplets
growing in bodies
in close spaces
on shared objects
everything suspect

Days weeks months
isolation separation
no hugs no family.
flat screen faces
replacing whole bodies
learning to make do

Warming spring
closed public spaces
beaches parks trails
denied
old and young
disabled or strong
two legged
four logged
stacked inside
desperate for light and air
movement
solace
all denied

Magnetized energies
attracting unrelated
unresolved
hidden issues
pandemic pile-ons
growing behind
closed doors

So much pain
misunderstanding
hidden triggers
personal national global
discontent
wrongs needing righting
layers compounding
solutions
complex
unfathomable
desperately unintended
breaking free
into the awareness of everyone

This is not finished
the work
not done
until every
festering wound
opens to healing
yours
and everyone else’s

Don’t look for
returns
or endings
the point of
all this pain
is awareness
followed by
resolution
over and over again
until everyone
and everything
heals by
opening to
new beginnings.

 

 

# 98 Blonde Curls

Blonde Curls.

Blonde Curls bouncing in the sparkling sun, a young man walks towards the waves, his body encased in black neoprene, a multicolored long board carried in capable arms, and at his side a lovely young woman similarly clad carries a plain white board walks with just a tad less swagger of confidence although her face is beaming the joy of beach promise on an early June afternoon.

The Lilacs are a bit past peak with the Bridal Veil Spirea coming into full flower. The beach roses started to bloom a few days ago, Rosa Rugosa, apparently an invasive species which sweetens the air. Close your eyes and sniff. You will know it is June by only your senses–the air with just a bit of chill even at low tide, the wafts of rose perfume edged with brine. I’ve been feeling the rhythms of air and warmth each day: an early morning high tide without a north wind will be the warmest part of the day right at water’s edge. As the tide moves in the breeze shifts, the result being a quick drop in air temperature and a reach for outerwear.  The early June ocean measures in the 50’s and an onshore breeze moving across the water means extra layers. In town or just a few miles inland, the sun bakes cars and people. A hot day! But out by the water mid- afternoon is often chilly especially at high tide.

June is the promise month, the month partners choose to mark a new life beginning in celebrations with family and friends. June also brings the contrasts in air and water temperature that creates the “marine layer”, i.e., fog. The chill and gloom of it near to the ground while just above there is haze and above that sun and warmth a just cause for running errands or an excuse to drive into town to get hot for a bit so to as to alter perspective when you return to the cool grayness. No air conditioning needed. It is possible to go through an entire June day wrapped in fog swirls. Dark horizon trees fade and turn pale in the almost-gloom. When horn starts blowing, it’s intervals either comfort or get on your nerves. So many visitors love this briny mist, the images on paint or paper or screens carried with love back home perhaps to hang on walls as far away reminders of a particular early coastal summer’s beauty.

Visitors return more timidly this June. Some beach houses stand empty and waiting. The Governor’s visitor’s requirement of a 14 day quarantine is still in effect. Some pay heed, others defy, some pretend this place is the same as always even when it’s not. The locals askance views of out of state license plates speak volumes: there is fear in the air mingled with nature’s June-ness. What might lurk in cars headed north besides happy tourists and their dollars?

Don’t we all want to escape to the beach, to shiver in the cold water, and fill our shoes with gritty sand? What we most seek is happy oblivion, a break from unknowns, laughter and sharing, ice cream and hugs, wet towels and fried seafood. This June everything is tinged with worry. Only the beach dogs raise their tails in joy, chase their balls on hard sand, loving you and this, the ocean at the beginning of summer, filled with promise and hope.

#97  Size Matters

Size Matters.

A Great Black-backed Gull landed on the roof of a nearby house, checking out the surrounds for food scraps. A resident Herring Gull swooped in trying for territory protection. The Black-backed was not having any of that nonsense, in bird terms, shrugging off the Herring Gull clearly implying “Are you kidding me?”

Awhile back, I’d been checking out a good birding spot with a friend, a place where the tide comes in (and out) as a river flow into the mouth of a large marsh. A Herring Gull was strutting the beach with a clamshell lunch in its beak. A Black-backed landed nearby and proceeded to walk deliberately toward the Herring Gull who clearly showed signs that he/she knew that they were not going to get to eat that lunch. When the Black-backed got sufficiently close the Herring Gull simply dropped the clam on the sand and flew off. Size matters.

Great Black-back Gull: Larus Marius

Length: 2.1 – 2.6 ft. (Adult); Wingspan: 4.9 – 5.6 ft. (Adult); Mass: Male: 4 lbs (Adult, North Atlantic population), Male: 4 lbs, Female: 3.3 lbs

 

American Herring Gull: Larus Argentatus Smithsonianus  

Length: Male: 2 – 2.2 ft. (Adult), Female: 1.8 – 2 ft. (Adult); Wingspan: 4.1 – 5.1 ft. (Adult); Mass: Male: 2.3 – 3.4 lbs (Adult), Female: 1.6 – 2.4 lbs (Adult)

Great Black-back Gulls: “Unlike most other Larus gulls, they are highly predatory and frequently hunt and kill any prey smaller than themselves, behaving more like a raptor than a typical larid gull. Lacking the razor-sharp talons and curved, tearing beak of a raptor, the great black-backed gull relies on aggression, physical strength and endurance when hunting. They can be nasty, albeit beautiful, birds.”

From: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_black-backed_gull

According to family lore I am a throwback to my paternal Great Grandmother, a tiny 4’10” woman who arrived as an orphan on this continent along with her younger sister in one of the earliest waves of a forced emigration movement from England into Canada now labelled as the “British Home Children”. From 1869 until the 1940’s the descendents of  these neglected-by-history children now make up ten percent of the current Canadian population. It’s a long and mostly sordid story, the gist of which in my family’s case was to keep silent about Elizabeth Chew Hesseltine’s past. Her importance to me growing up was that I was the only short one in a family not particularly tall (but hardly runts). My shortness was attributed to my carrying her genes although in the late 1940’2 and early 50’s that could not have been the reference. I have always been aware that tall people, especially exceptionally tall women, seemed to rise to prominence where we shorties struggled for our existence. Heightists! Size matters.

There are fairly numerous references to the claim that the tallest Presidential candidate always wins. If we ever get to elect a woman as President will this stay true?

According to random Google searches men are usually regarded as “short” if they come in at less than 5’10”. What height is considered “tall” for a woman? Those Google results list 5’6” as an ideal height for a woman in the U.S. (5’11” for a man). My observation has been that thin ranks of successful top-of-the-heap corporate or institutionally prominent women are often near the 6’ mark. From my 5′ tall perspective, this is a “truth” I’ve been noticing for over seventy years. (I am conveniently ignoring the physical stature of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a giant among women.)

I used to think that those who exceeded considerable height could be kind, that they never had to resort to bullying behaviors used by those of lesser stature, that their size alone dictated they did not have to resort to tactics of the very short,  know: that “gentle giant” thing.  That thought lasted until a 6’5” wife beater was outed in my small town. And now there are lots of political examples (and no, we won’t name names).

There are lots of size issues in the Animal Kingdom and bird species obviously have different adaptations where size may not be the critical issue but I doubt that would be a consolation for that stymied Herring Gull I watched this afternoon. I stay rooted: size matters. Or maybe, with nods to the Justice, that should be “Attitude”.

Photo Note: Herring Gull at Two Lights

#96 Seeing Is Believing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing is believing?

Researchers inform us that birds can see and differentiate color in ranges not visible to the human eye. Humans cannot imagine what it would be to have the precise vision of a hunting raptor flying high above or what it would be like to have unaided infrared vision. Researchers tell us a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than that of a human. How can we possibly make sense out of such information?

I watched a brief clip on social media of a two people coming together in a hug using a homemade device made from a clear shower curtain with two sets of plastic arm protectors so each could stay safe from virus transmission. An irate viewer commented on the ridiculousness of this saying she “would not live with such fear any longer”. I didn’t stick around to read the comments to her comment but I thought that in a way she made a valid observation; fear is permeating everything. But we know, don’t we, how the science of virology works and repudiating fear is not part of this knowledge. We can throw up our hands, go to church or to a beach or a bar and mingle freely with others and, later, others may read headlines on the numbers of us who have become infected and who have died as a result of our actions. Our conceptualization of reality is tricky business.

What is it about our own particular version of reality? How do we know what we know? Much comes from out of our learned experience yet we often don’t have a clue about the realities of even loved ones closest to us. What did we  learn and retain from our education?  If only it was as simple as those who spent the longest time in institutions of learning and wracked up the most letters they could add after their name insures that they  always get to be at the top of the heap. Turns out that’s not quite right. There are so many different ways of knowing. Aren’t there?

Sitting in the midst of the time-out pandemic it seems like the perfect time to let such thoughts whirl in our minds. We have been watching daily media showing what divides us politically as we move farther and farther apart in our disbelief of the other side’s unwillingness to see obvious truth. Is this not one of the deepest mysteries of human kind?

In the protestations of that irate woman’s negative reaction to a backyard invention, the shower curtain virus protector, I heard a truth. Reading science-based media reports about how this particular virus spreads and the various ways it has inhabited human bodies, I hear truth. Our daily lives are permeated with fear and the threat to our continued survival requires us to abide by rules that make sense to many of us that means following the rules of science. What is compelling is how we are each attempting to make sense of our world, our worlds, now turned upside down but with or without this virus this was always the case.

A vegan finds the killing of animals for food abhorrent. A gourmand finds the consumption of rarities a joy. A five year old may only eat rice or pasta plain with only a bit of butter or with nothing at all, for months on end. These are operational realities. How do we make distinctions which incorporate such disparities? What, when, where, how do disparities lead us to seeing variations of other realities as crossing the line into unacceptable madness?

Extraordinary to me is that our entire planet is enveloped simultaneously in a pandemic that challenges us like no other point in our experienced history. Can this be true?  When we cannot fathom the motivations and/or actions of someone who shares our living space then how can we possibly fathom the actions of someone, anyone, across the globe? And yet here we are seemingly all in the same boat at the same time. If you are trying to make sense of anything about this pandemic you are also asking the questions of what makes things real and what makes us human.

Note: Apologies for duplication of a photo used in a previous post. It was too perfect not to use for the topic at hand.

Here are a couple of links about known animal abilities:

https://www.everythingbirds.com/articles/birds-vision-different-from-ours/

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/dogs-sense-of-smell/

# 95 New Thoughts on the Future of Aging

New Thoughts on the Future of Aging.

If you stop to sit and think about Retirement, if you dive right down deep into ponder, purging your mind of numbers and stereotypes, it might strike you that Retirement is a rather strange concept. The idea of a hard work lifetime coming to an abrupt end at a magic number (you choose but the government has considerable sway) is beyond odd. In my last paid working years I pushed long past realistic capacity, becoming increasingly exhausted in my non-paid-work hours, when I wasn’t actually sleeping. I went from work to home chores, to sleep, and back up the following day, repeating endlessly. All-chore weekends were the norm. When opportunity knocked I was retired in a month, moved two states up and over and starting anew. It was akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

In this time of crisis the pause button has been pushed. It’s time for a rethink. Being older now means virus vulnerability. Our ranks are thinning disproportionately. If local, national, or global resources become thin our presence takes on furthered meanings—ice floe or a still contributing member of society?

During and after a pandemic what do we have to offer? For the past two years I’ve been working on Eldering and Building Community, giving me new purpose. In lifelong learning classes dynamic, talented, intelligent men and women were in states of new beginnings at a time I had thought this part of our lives was all about endings. Instead, we had landed on “generative” but where were the opportunities to apply what we had to offer? Our graying heads were talking among ourselves and it was illuminating and, perhaps, just a tad stagnant, although a lot of fun.

The ground has shifted. For the lean times ahead, in what ways can we be most useful? Already apparent are divisive signs where the aged are seen as takers not givers, users of resources rather than resources ourselves. If our backs are not strong enough for heavy pulling what then do we have to offer?

Don’t count on a moral high ground but don’t discount historical perspective. Divisions based on age and body soundness are not what will work for us now so we’d best be stepping up and using what we’ve learned in newly expansive ways. There is work to be done and many ways to do it. Think in the “Crisis=Opportunity” mode. Ditch the never-really-worked-anyway Retirement model. Transitioning, morphing, adapting have always been sound. Staying malleable, finding purpose, take what you know forward and on to new ground. Continue learning. Everyone has something to contribute. Consider yourself repurposed. 

#94 Corvidae


Corvidae.

From Wikipedia:

Corvidae is a cosmopolitan family of oscine passerine birds that contains the crowsravensrooksjackdawsjaysmagpiestreepieschoughs, and nutcrackers. In common English, they are known as the crow family, or, more technically, corvids    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvidae  

Pity the crows and the ravens. Their biological family name is tainted forever. You perhaps saw the photos circulating of empty beer shelves in stores with the exception of piles of Corona brand beer left untouched? Spell checkers of the future are going to autocorrect “Corvid” to “covid”.

Whether ignorance or laziness or what other motive I’ve failed to understand, the vast majority of human consumption of media seems incapable of making finite distinctions in words or spelling. Remember the pronounced and emphasized use of “Barak Hussein Obama” by his political opponents? Saddam Hussein. King Hussein of Jordan. Labeling lumps are done purposefully by those who understand how to exploit the masses. Am I being political? I don’t believe so. I am a lover of words. I love puns and pine (at least for this one attribute) for the punners I once knew, now no longer in my life. I am a logophile or a logomaniac if you prefer and I am befuddled each time I witness word deception for political (or other) gains.

Back to the crows and the ravens, maligned members of the “Winged Nation”,  the term I recently heard from a woman (Sherri Mitchell*) from the Penobscot peoples on a Zoom replay. I am stunned by the beauty of this concept. I do not wish to be guilty of cultural appropriation but could we please, please adopt this way of seeing this wondrous part of the animal kingdom? I’ve written before about these sleek (well, crows anyway) black beings of great intelligence. I regularly watch a family who shares, maybe reluctantly, the outdoor space where I reside. I feed them peanuts in the shell in the winter. I think they recognize me although they still keep their distance as they must and should. They are wild beings and my motivations and behavior as a human are to be carefully watched. I am, by association, dangerous to their survival despite the offering of peanuts.

I am only the most casual of observers. Bernd Heinrich* is a scientist who has been studying and writing about Corvids, particularly Ravens, for quite some time. I got to hear him in person at a talk he gave at my local library. If you also love the crows and the ravens check out his books. Any glimpse we can expand on such a magnificent family of birds will enlighten.

____________________________________________________________
*Sherri L. Mitchell - Weh'na Ha'mu Kwasset  is a Native American 
lawyer, author, teacher and activist from Maine. 
Mitchell is the author of Sacred Instructions; Indigenous Wisdom 
for Living Spirit-Based Change. 
humanity.https://sacredinstructions.life/about/

See Also: Embracing the Journey - Facing Yourself    
https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/play/75wsJL-vqW43HNyc4gSDCvF8W9XrKv2s0ykeqPMFzR7mAnkCMwCgMOASMOJVon_D8Xv3QhbhHQTWZ4g2?continueMode=true

*Bernd HeinrichRavens In Winter. NY: Summit Books, 1989.
Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-birds.
NY: Ecco, 2002.

 

#93 Sixty / 60

Sixty / 60.

I’ve come to learn by observation that sixty degrees is the magic temperature that signals summer in Maine. When the thermometer reaches sixty degrees windows fly open and it’s off to the beach. [When the beaches are open that is.]

Temperatures approaching sixty, meaning high forties and middling fifties, gets everyone outside. Walking, running, kayaking, hiking, biking, and bird watching are full throttle. Those with convertibles drive with the tops down.

When winter temperatures approach thirty two degrees or above, that is when shorts are worn, particularly among males. They are often paired with T shirts, maybe long sleeved ones when it is still in the thirties as the short sleeves come out at fifty (maybe at forty seven). Cotton hoodies are the winter coat of choice for both males and females.

I write this in continuous amazement. I grew up on the Canadian border and later lived a good chunk of my life in the NorthEast Kingdom of Vermont with decent altitude, enough to routinely experience minus twenty degree temperatures anytime between December through February. There were occasional bouts of minus thirties in the Vermont years. I don’t remember, in all that time and in all those years, shorts as winter apparel. People back then, and in those particular geographies, certainly made good use of the out of doors with skiing, skating, and ice fishing as fervent cold weather pastimes but they were dressed in parkas, hats, wool socks, and warm pants. It’s true that many, particularly teenagers, wore sneakers year round and if they owned boots they didn’t appear unless blizzard conditions were present and maybe not even then.

Sometimes I question if it is the temperatures that trigger “Maine Summer” behavior. Is the calendar the real instigator? March is early spring, April full spring, and May the beginning of summer. Are the wardrobe choices driven by the calendar month and not by actual weather conditions or temperatures?

I have run into a few natives who actually say they don’t like cold and they don’t like snow. In such cases I think their default for living so far North is that vacationers primarily stay away during the coldest times (at the coast but not in the mountains) which suits those who want the place to themselves. Is tolerating cold the trade-off for having a lot of personal outdoor space?

I don’t suppose there is any geography on earth that has decently warm, not- too-hot temperatures, and few people. We pick our spots and make do as best we can.

# 92 Fear

Fear.

I caught my foot on a looped wire attached to the garage. It entangled my right foot so that my attempt at rebalancing failed. I went down. Hard. On tarmac. My yelling was as much a release as anything else. I was scared. Later, I realized that a fear of falling had been present in me for sometime. We all have one, a fear we are carrying that lies just below our waking consciousness and, like the shadow on the wall, this fear may be a magnification of something much smaller, which confronted, through experience or circumstance turns out to be quite different than we thought. Exposing the fear enlightens us, allows us to get to what we need to know.

Fear is a palatable part of daily existence in the time of this global pandemic. I am thinking about the zillions of ways it must be a working present in each of our lives. It might just be Step One in our healing—our awakening—process. 

After finally being righted (needing help to do this) shortly after the fall I felt the words “good will come of this” in my head. Years and years ago I recognized that falling is a healthy thing to do; it’s an indicator of our flexibility as landing from a fall shakes out what we need to loosen. Children fall frequently, popping back up like newly set bowling pins but as we get older our various rigidities begin to worm their way into our thoughts and into our bodies. I thought way back then I realized the secret was to continue to fall which would remind me to stay as flexible as possible,  but as serious aging moved in I stiffened with arthritis and fear became a part of me without my recognition. 

Our deepest fears are OUR deepest fears for good reasons. Mine are not yours and vice versa. In circumstances where we tap into the experience we get the gift of knowing, opening ourselves in needed ways. If this is so for our individual lives what then does it mean for our global humanity as we face the unknowns of a virus? What is the process of collective fear working its way out into awareness on this global level? 

Is it not a privilege to be present and part of what is being released? We are in a time of opportunity for learning, a time for being flexible rather than rigid, each one of us throughout the world, all of us at the same time.

#91 Dualities

Dualties.

The Gulls gather daily on the rooftop of the restaurant next door and also atop the chimney of the house where I live. They have come back to their feeding ground in the beginning of the season of french fries and fried seafood. They circle then squawk loudly. Where are the hoards of people carrying the red trays out to sit on the picnic tables overlooking the ocean? Why is the parking lot empty? Damnit, it’s time for their favorite seasonal foods and they are impatiently waiting.

Watching the Gulls I think of how so many of us are struggling with this changing world. We are not what we were nor what we will become. We are in the unknown-unknowing time with no idea how long we will occupy this limbo state. We, too, want our french fries or their equivalency in our lives. We want the sun and the summer’s warmth and all that comes with it. We long to be carefree, relaxed, engaged in the joys that summer represents. Instead we circle like the Gulls knowing that something is up but not exactly sure just what that means.

The days feel like a series of roller coaster rides. It is lovely to have time to think and to be quiet. On the other hand not being able to be together face-to-face is actually painful on physical and mental levels. The logistics of getting basic supplies are daunting and even more so for those who are compromised by health or age or circumstance. We battle moments of anxiety and darkness. And yet….

We can both grieve what we have lost at the same time we can believe in what will come.

We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.

Brene Brown, author.

I believe my “something is coming” feelings started in my late twenties. We moved “back to the land” and our family became as self-sufficient as was possible at that time: woodpiles and four wood stoves to keep us warm, chickens, huge gardens, one freezer chocked full with meat and the other with vegetables and berries, canning jars on cellar shelves filled with peaches, pears, and applesauce and green beans and tomatoes. There were old wood bins with potatoes and carrots.  On the floor of an unused upstairs bedroom were varieties of squashes and the onions.  Put up or put by, the terms dependent on where you came from, it was hard work full of love and joy that brought a sense of fulfillment (and exhaustion). Most of us trickled away for varieties of reasons but at the dawn of a new century others began returning to those same thoughts and ideals. By then I was too old to return to that lifestyle and far beyond the means necessary to obtain–land, tools, a strong bodied partner– what is needed to live that way. But I still believe in this transition to a better world. I may not live to see it flourish but, unexpectedly, I am here at its beginning. The negative moments come when I look back. The positive moments are when I open to the possibilities of the future.

# 90 Second Thoughts on Animal Behavior

 

Second Thoughts on Animal Behavior.

I simplified. This winter those hard to clean squirrel-proof and tube feeders stayed tucked away in storage replaced by a single hanging platform and black oil sunflower seeds. My intent, to feed crows as well as the finches and sparrows,  was straightforward but the feeder I bought turned out to be too small for crows so every other day I’d toss leftover feeder seeds onto the concrete porch floor with some added handfuls of peanuts in the shell. This worked well but as spring approached a single gray squirrel showed up. One by one the squirrel gathered the peanuts from the porch then buried in them in separate holes dug in the lawn until all the peanuts were gone, then the squirrel would return to stuff itself with as many of the sunflower seeds as it could eat. When the crows showed up there was little food left and their favorite, the peanuts, were out there somewhere covered by dirt.  I was watching a parallel behavior to the panicked Trader Joe’s pandemic hoarders filling their carts with multiples of canned beans or peanut butter jars until the overflowing carts could barely be pushed and those who shopped later went empty handed.

In the midst of this long haul social isolation and sick of my own cooking, I tried local curbside takeout at a nearby eatery  but their usual homemade fries didn’t hold up in the paper container on the ride home. Waiting for a time of squirrel absence, the next day I tossed the fries on to the porch floor along side a pile of peanuts. I was testing those crows. Would they head straight for the protein or go for the junk food? You know the result. Every last fry disappeared down crow gullets before one protein peanut was consumed.

Watching the birds has provided solace during these troubled times, a relief though what I thought was animal behavior untouched by the overwhelming current circumstances of people. Such a relief thinking that nature would continue with Spring, unabated by troubling human conditions. How wrong I was; animal behavior is not “pure“ nor separate from our actions. And then the internet sprouted photos and videos from all over the globe showing animals filling in normally human occupied spaces: Japanese deer wandering the car-less streets. Mountain goats running around yards in Wales. Mountain Lions wandering freely through neighborhoods. Wild Turkeys showing up in Oakland.  It seems that nature will repair the planet if humans start behaving themselves.

https://www.boredpanda.com/animals-roam-streets-coronavirus-quarantine/utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic

And:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/51977924

# 89 Inner Strength

 

Inner Strength.

“Everyone is struggling with things we know nothing about.”*

“New loss triggers old lost.”*

For years now I have thought that one of the problems of the design and refinements of homo sapiens is that we cannot, like Dr. Spock of Star Trek, do a “Vulcan Mind Meld”. The fingers of the Vulcan were placed on the head of another being, allowing the Vulcan to join with the mind of the other allowing instantaneous understanding of the issues at hand. A related concept with origins I did not know until I looked it up, came from a poem by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895 entitled “Judge Softly” in which her readers were admonished to  “Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins”.

Without these abilities, in our best moments, we work our way to compassion, but beyond (and including) compassion is experiential knowledge, that “mile in the moccasins” thing. I remember thinking that I understood the grief born by friends when they lost loved ones but only when such loss hit my life did I understand how little I had actually known as I was trying to express caring and solidarity to those dear friends. Experiencing the searing pain of loss I wanted to contact each and every one of those whom I had wronged through the gaps in my previous understanding and I wanted to beg those friends for forgiveness and to tell them I finally “got it”. Too little. Too late.

Yet there is a flip side to this, almost a contradiction, when we ignorantly err trying to make sense of the lives of others through our own experience which is actually not theirs but ours. We think we know. We don’t.  And yet there are some who are able to use their hard earned knowledge to make a real difference, such as  those who become counsellors or sponsors in addiction recovery programs. These are the people who have walked that mile in the foot wear of others.

Among our friends, family, and community there are those who even in the darkest of personal times present a brave or noble face to others, to “suck it up” and just keep going. Were we taught that no one wants to hear such troubles? Was there an instruction manual that told us to hide what we were going through?  I have come to feel that such masking is detrimental beyond the obvious. Such masking has allowed our culture to brush aside the awareness and the honesty of mental health issues that arise in the lives of most all of us at some point in our lifetimes. We, as individuals, and we, as members of our culture, are steeped to steer away from such sharing, to hide the honesty of our humanness and our vulnerability. How recently it was that provisions for mental health began being required of health care insurance plans yet still there are limitations placed on such coverage which is a critically important piece that is still getting lost in all the clamor of “health care for all”?

Festering wounds are healed by light and air. This is true for both physical and mental healing. If you think yourself beyond such “weakness” you have yet to experience your own particular version of deep human trauma or, even worse, you may have stuffed your own pain and sorrow and stayed silent thinking that was what was required. In communicating with others I am learning that the most profound moments of meaning come from the “slip” into divulging what lies hidden (mostly only to ourselves). So many kinds of trauma and grief lie within our psyches wanting light and air, compassion and understanding. Owning our feelings and sharing them can be a breakthrough moment for everyone involved, strangers and friends alike.

Examples of the cover-up of mental health issues can be found daily by simply turning on your radio, TV, or by reading or viewing internet postings. Incapacitated leaders, celebrities, talking heads, pundits abound yet everyone seems to be in the “Emperor’s New Clothes” mode, hovering and praising while ignoring blatant realities. To call this out our honesty has to be motivated by compassion for others and for ourselves, and those who have walked in the shoes of others are those who could lead us to understanding. Pointing fingers and calling names does not lead to healing. There are so many ways for our personal pain, sorrow, or grief to come forth and the strengths they bring can begin to heal our world.

 

Notes and References:

Image note: I have written before of my admiration of the survival skills of Gulls and I look to them as examples of unrecognized strengths.

*These words came from a brief interview with David Kessler (author of “On Grief and Grieving with Elisabeth Kubler Ross) on the NPR program On Point on March 31, 2020.

 

MindMeld

Spock performing a Vulcan mind meld.

The Vulcan mind meld (or mind touch) was a telepathic technique employed exclusively by Vulcans in which the minds of two individuals become a single entity. In the Vulcan language, it was known as taroon-ifla. (TOSepisode: “Dagger of the Mind“, Last Unicorn RPGmoduleThe Way of Kolinahr: The Vulcans)

https://memory-beta.fandom.com/wiki/Mind_meld

“Walk a Mile in His Moccasins” link: https://jamesmilson.com/about-the-blog/judge-softly-or-walk-a-mile-in-his-moccasins-by-mary-t-lathrap/

 

# 88 Photo Essay: Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and Veggies.

March and April are the months we start craving summer’s fruits and vegetables. Our bodies have been living on grocery store produce, fresh or frozen, all winter, which lack full spectrum vital vitamins and minerals because of long storage, transportation, and supply issues. Oh for summer goodies fresh picked, juicy, sweet, tart, savory!  Summer to me means Farmer’s Markets and the Ferry Market in San Francisco, was and is a treasure trove of luscious. The photos below are from my deep archives (from 2007). Too bad we just can’t reach into the screen and take a bite or two. May they trigger happiness not woe.

 

# 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?