Sunday, October 11, 2020

These Times

“Sit down,” hollered Mr. Varela. 

All of us junior high students on his big yellow school bus were leaning toward the windows on the right side, squawking and gawking at the gaping holes in people's front yards. It was 1963.  The Soviet Union and the United States were posturing at one another and fear ran high. Not yet twenty years after our country dropped the big one - TWICE… once on Hiroshima and once on Nagasaki. Mushroom clouds and desolation were showing up in our dreams. We ran to look out the other side of the bus. “Sit down right now,” Mr. Varela hollered again. He liked us. He was a really cool bus driver. He must’ve known we just couldn't believe how many front yards had holes in the ground. My mom and step dad already told me adamantly they would never build one... a fallout shelter. Thought it was stupid. If a bomb dropped, no fallout shelter would protect us from the radiation. I wanted to know what would happen to the birds?

Now, 75 years after the big bombs showed us how fragile we humans are, we’re in dire straits. This time with a pandemic. We might do well to have the isolation of a fallout shelter, but we'd go through our hardtack and water rations pretty quick and still need to interact with other people who... well, God knows where they've been and with whom they’ve been interacting. One of those super spreader events could just reach out and getcha! 

Who knows when it will end. Who knows what will happen on Election Day? Who knows if the dogwhistler will have wrangled up enough support to have the Minute Men Militia intimidate people at the polls? Who knows if the rankled might wrestle election workers to the ground and only count ballots marked TRUMP?

I keep thinking of the old curse: May you live in interesting times. 

Well, I guess we're all cursed. We're living through the most interesting time I've ever seen. Who could imagine we'd have a president and vice-president who would allow this great country, with only four percent of the world's population, to have a whopping 20% of the deaths world wide due to the Corona Virus? It's almost as if they’d planned an intentional culling of vulnerable populations. That the president himself came down with it speaks volumes about the respect due this virus. It knows how to propagate and spread itself widely among people who won’t and don't protect themselves and others by practicing the simple courtesy of wearing a mask over their mouths and noses.

My favorite act of denial is the one where someone talking pulls his mask down to warm his chin as if his beard is cold or he’ll be misunderstood if he doesn’t show his teeth. How dense people are. How clueless about how their actions affect fellow humans in their surround. Who do they think they are? Isolationists? Alone in their own fallout shelter? 

Someone said,  “I feel like Mother Earth has sent us all to our rooms to think about what we have done.

Ultimately, I think we will all pull together and get through this and come away with some very useful lessons. 

One is not taking for granted the importance of community, meaningful work and engagement with life. Another is the GREAT GRATITUDE we feel in our cells when our fellow travelers are KIND and generous and civil. How little we truly need. How lovely to return to a human BEING and leave behind the human DOING.

Taking a DEEP breath for the natural world, the birds and trees, rivers and seas… 

We’re all in this together. Let’s enjoy what we’ve got!

Somos el Barco

Somos el Mar

Yo navego en tí

Tu navegas en mí

We are the boat

We are the sea

I sail in you

You sail in me… Chorus from a song by Lorre Wyatt © 1984

Monday, September 7, 2020

What If...

  What IF...

There were a round ball replica of our earth in miniature hovering just above our heads? We could look up and marvel at its bumps and contours, rivers and oceans, the delicate layer of atmosphere, so thin we could move clouds across the surface with our breath. Whoa. Perfection. What Artist created this magic? 

Imagine wanting to change it. What hubris! Try damming a river with your thumb, flattening a mountain with a fist, spraying gasses that kill the greenery or taint the waters. Would the Artist be pleased? Would this masterpiece benefit from our tweaking it to better serve our species?

How long do you imagine this small and fragile globe can limp along with our so-called improvements? Will it survive? We’ve a history of disregarding our rightful place in the family of creatures put here on this beautiful mud ball spinning through inhospitable space. I don’t see another ball like it. Anywhere.

Scientists are saying we're rapidly heading toward a precipice. Like lemmings lurching off the cliff headlong into an abyss. We are hastening our own demise by disregarding the signs from the Mother:  She’s crying, 

“Enough is enough." 

Listen to the lament of the polar bear marooned on a tiny chunk of floating ice, too exhausted to swim back to broader expanses of tundra. It’s all melted. If that doesn’t get us to change our ways, what will?

If the current pandemic doesn't kill us or scare us silly and make us want to find real solutions now, then I fear we humans truly are the least intelligent of Earth's creatures. All the others know not to foul their nests. All the others know not to poison their mother. We haven’t yet learned the first principle: Do what's right for the survival of the whole. 

“Pity this busy monster, manunkind  not…" said e.e. Cummings, followed by, “… listen: there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go”  

Here is Mr. Cummings' poem in its entirety:

‘pity this busy monster, manunkind’

pity this busy monster, manunkind

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:

your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness

——— electrons deify one razorblade

into a mountainrange; lenses extend

unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish

returns on its unself.

A world of made

is not a world of born ——— pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this

fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnimpotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if ——— listen: there’s a hell

of a good universe next door; let’s go

~~e.e. cummings

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Corona Cuts Rule!

Folks are cutting their own or their family member's hair, or both, for better or worse, until a vaccine is found for this dang virus or until safety can be assured while visiting our favorite hair salons to meet with our favorite hair dressers.

I have, for better or worse, been cutting my own hair and my husband's hair and beard for years. Our daughters used to line up for their mama cuts when they were little ones. I took lessons from watching my grandmother's rituals around hair grooming. 

Grammy Florence Stern had hair down to her mid-calves in 1914. She wore it piled on top of her head. While I wasn't born until 1948, she told me stories of how she and her eight sisters used to care for their tresses. On her dresser, Grammy kept a six-inch-diameter porcelain receptacle with a small hole in its lid. It was made in Japan. Into it, she placed spent hairs that came out when she brushed, cleaning out her hairbrush after each session. She would wrap those hairs around an index finger and pop the circle of then white, instead of deep auburn, hairs into the decorated hair receptacle. 

Habits die hard. Once OCD, always so? I keep an empty two-pint-yogurt container with a small hole cut in its lid in a cupboard in my bathroom. Into it... you guessed it! Over the years, I've collected a double-sheet-set sized zippered plastic bag filled with my own curled 'round my finger hair of various lengths and colors - from hip length to shaved-neck length; from henna red to "all white with me" colors, and everything in between.

Our older daughter performs live storytelling at venues like The Moth and Bawdy Story Tellers of San Francisco. She once told a story of coming across that bag of saved hair and asking me what I was going to do with it all. I promised her I would make a pillow stuffed with it for her and one for her sister and even one for the granddaughter! Story-teller Mosa recalls her initial horror at the thought. Then she had an idea. She began combing her cats and saving their hair. She stowed it away in plastic bags thinking someday she'd make a pillow of cat hair and give it to her sixth-grade arch-enemy Terra - a girl who'd stolen something of Mosa's and lied about it.  Turns out Terra was terribly allergic to cat hair or dander or what ever makes allergic people break into hives and sneeze until their eyes swell shut. Mosa was looking forward to the reaction. 

Like so many childhood dreams, the thrill of seeing terrible Terra suffer was replaced by some other more productive dream. I wonder if she still has the saved cat hair?

We have a friend who left Los Angeles fifteen years ago to get away from the insanity of not just the city but of television madness. Elyssa worked in TV game shows with my husband for several series over the course of decades. She retired to Oregon where she bought a working sheep ranch. She always was a productive knitter. She had a herding dog in LA whom she named Molly. Molly had very long fur for a dog, and Elyssa saved the dog's hair/fur for a good long time, carded the fur, spun yarn, and with it ultimately knit a dog-hair sweater! 

I always wondered how it smelled in the rain? 

I do love the scent of lanolin and how wool smells when damp.

When do I plan to make pillows filled with my saved hair? Perhaps right after I finish sewing together the cut out patterns for protective face-covering-masks. The cut pieces have been unproductively sitting on the sewing machine since mid-March when the Shelter-In-Place order came down. Have the good elves yet finished those masks? No, they have not. Will I ever get to complete them? Perhaps not... which means the pillows will be manifest in some distant future, maybe completed before I turn ninety or ninety-nine. Only then will I divulge to the daughters and granddaughters that having my hair in the form of a pillow will magically grant them supreme wisdom as they sleep, because my gray matter has been pushed out into each and every one of those gray hairs. Won't they be surprised to be suddenly SO much smarter? Hah! That's where all my wisdom has gone! Into my gray hair... although, I do prefer to say, "It's all white with me!" Thus is the curse of a pun-dit. With OCD!

I think I'd better shampoo all the saved tresses before bundling them into pillows. I do want those women to have sweet dreams!

Monday, June 29, 2020

Contemplating Cardboard

Cardboard has become a savior in the garden where I spend so much time replacing weeds with plants I WANT to cultivate. The black plastic weed barrier that was put down under mono-colored dark brown wood chips when the realtors “staged” this house for selling appeal is being replaced with whatever cardboard boxes come into this house. Friends and family are also donating newspaper and cardboard to the cause. There's a LOT of yard here - front and back.

While I hate black plastic. Weeds love to grow right through it!

On YouTube there are countless videos about permaculture methods for growing vegetables. Morag Gamble, in Australia, is my favorite teacher. From her, I’ve learned how to put newspaper on top of the earth with wood chips over, covered by a layer of good soil, topped off with hay as a retainer of moisture. In this way, the clay and rock substrata, which is the norm on top of these Oakland hills, is beginning to soften, becoming enriched, actually supporting life again! I see worms multiplying, helping the process by digesting the clay that is hard enough to make dishes!

Gratitude reigns when I’m in the garden. How lucky we are to have a bit of land to support life growing. I see lizards and birds becoming more and more prolific, the more vegetable plants are out-numbering place-holder invasive ground-covers. 

Power over weeds is a tonic in a time when I'm feeling impotent against a viral pandemic, grief for all who have died and how they have been separated from their loved ones, rage over the systemic killing of black humans, and anger / disbelief that we could have a mentally deranged bully in the Oval Office. 

Hard physical labor gets out the angst. Sweat equity makes the zucchini and lettuces taste sweeter than anything we could have others shop for in the store to deliver here. Slowly, the balance is tipping between how much we are cultivating and how much we need to purchase. So far, I haven’t figured out how to grow jars of peanut butter, or cream for the coffee, or, for that matter COFFEE! But perhaps, with enough time and cardboard, even that may be possible. Doesn’t coffee grow on the sides of mountains?

Here’s the thing I marvel at most as I break apart boxes: Some human brain has conceived of a completed, complicated box that has printing on multiple sides, special folding designs so that all that printing is right-side-up when the box is complete, and does the job of holding the product inside. 

The most complicated of these marvels appeared recently when I purchased a crate of delicious, organic, Blenheim Apricots from our local produce market. Apart from the sweet treat inside that held snuggly twelve little square cartons of fruit, the complexity of thought that went into the box fascinated me. HOW does a brain visualize that finished product??

In the 1970s, before children, I had a friend in Southern California - a teacher - who moved back to Georgia in the mid ‘80s. She changed careers and became one of those people who designed these marvelous, ingenious, intricate boxes for many and varied products. Del claimed to love her job. She seemed better suited to the interiority of visualization than holding the attention of thirty-five youngsters in a classroom. Del and I stayed in touch for a long time, but lost contact a few years after we visited her in Stone Mountain in 1981 - after her third or fourth move around the state of Georgia. Wishing I could ask her HOW in the world she could wrap her head around the three-dimensional folds, cut-outs, and printing on these boxes, I simply marvel at that ability and am grateful for her skill and others’ skills to do that!

Now, If I could please have all the cut out pieces to put back in place, then the damned weeds might not poke up through the holes!

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Mouse House by Melinda Maxwell-Smith, Earth Day, 4-22-20

The Mouse House by Melinda Maxwell-Smith, Earth Day, 4-22-20

There was a mouse.

Moved to our house.

It brought a friend.

Invitation without end.

I caught a mouse, 

So did my spouse!

Mouse Number Nine

Seems the last in line.

Humane traps are empty 

Four mornings in a row.

Now, just catching dust, 

We feel a happy glow!

The humane traps have been such a good find. We think the mice were drawn to our Thanksgiving decorations stored in a garage closet - so convenient for tiny mice to enter and set up their mouse house inside of our home. 

Early, on the day that six counties by the Bay declared a “Shelter-In-Place" order, we had a crew of demolition folk bash out an indoor barbecue, smoker, bar, and cupboards we were not using. We wanted to widen a very long and narrow room to repurpose it to our uses, which do not include indoor barbecuing, smoking meats, or serving drinks from a ten-foot bar. When Oakland building inspectors resume work, we’ll have a new multi-purpose room! (IF ever!)

It seems the mouses liked the idea of coming up from their now exposed underground lair to invade the kitchen, laundry area, dining room, bedroom, and pantry! Seeing a sweet little pink-eared mouse-face staring up at me from the cracker shelf prompted us to send away for tiny traps that look like small mail-boxes with breathing holes. They do not harm the mice, only close when they tip the food plate full of peanut butter and grains of rice. The traps are made of amber-tinted see-through lucite. We check them several times a day, releasing the critters, perhaps all kin, into the nearby park as soon as possible. Before setting the trap down in a four-foot tall tunnel of oat-straw weeds and opening its door, we wish them well and say, “It’s been nice. Have a good life. Be kind to each other. Play with other mice.” 

We hope they enjoy their new digs even more than they enjoyed our decorations of dried blue corn and stalks of wheat… and those crackers.

Perhaps we're done with tiny mammalian invaders for a while. I wonder what’s next.

An UNvitation for an insidious Corona Virus? Where’s the trap for that?

Monday, March 23, 2020

Intelligent Choice: Green Over Greed

Can we trade in global Greed for global Greening?

I believe this Corona Virus is intelligent. What if it was put in our pathways on the planet as an agent of change. Stopped in our tracks, we may be forced to reconsider our values.

Apart from the toilet paper hoarding, I'm hearing many more folks sharing stories of kindnesses extended to them and from them to others. I hear the difficulties of being separated from dear ones, difficulties paying for food stuffs when money is not coming in, and how hard it is to stay in the house. Our priorities as humans are to connect, to share love, to hang with our tribe.

We have so many modern conveniences, perhaps we've lost sight of the truly important values: Clean air, fresh water, healthful foods, and human companionship.

For too long corporations have been trying to get rich any which way they can, and compromising our lives as a result. When you foul your own nest, it is not intelligent. When you poison your waters, pollute your air, kill your oceans, and forever change the topography of the landscape by scraping off the tops of the mountains to get what's underneath, it’s likely you're not going to live very long.

Oil, that some First Nations people consider to be the Mother's blood, is not to be burned. It darkens the skies. It heats the planet's atmosphere. She gets angry. She is showing us, by throwing Corona Virus Disease - 19 at us so she may slow us down to appreciate the beauty we stand to lose.

My twenty-five-year-old nephew lives in Los Angeles. He has asthma. On a good day, he says he could run a mile before being short of breath. Since the Shelter In Place order forced everyone inside and we all stopped driving and flying, Nephew says he was shocked a few days ago when he ran four-and-a-half miles before realizing he could breathe with ease! NO POLLUTION! What a concept!!! The only thing that stopped him from running further was that his legs hurt! Not his lungs!!

I remember during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the Peruvian runners had an advantage because they lived at ten to twelve-thousand feet above sea level and were accustomed to a perpetual lack of oxygen in their thin air. What a travesty to sully our air so badly - on purpose! - so we get less oxygen at sea level!

As a kid growing up in LA, I remember every summer afternoon we kids would feel pain in our chests after playing outside. We called it "the Hack."  It was the LA smog blackening our lungs. By the time we turned twenty, the Air Quality Control Board of Los Angeles said each child who grew up in the city had lung damage equivalent to a twenty year smoker with a two-pack-a-day habit.

In her well researched tome, "Blowout," Rachel Maddow asserts that the oil and gas companies of this nation were given a 27.5% tax relief package in 1920, when Woodrow Wilson was president. Never changed or amended, it is the longest running welfare package in the history of our nation. Oh, also, our domestic oil companies have none other than themselves to regulate their actions here and around the world.

The Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989 was a disaster for wildlife. To "clean it up" Exxon dumped 5,500 gallons of a chemical dispersant on it. When it was determined that  British Petroleum's Deep Water Horizon mess  in April of 2010 was pouring more than 1,000 barrels of oil a day, (more than four million gallons total), into the Gulf of Mexico, BP threw 300,000 gallons of dispersant into the Gulf as well. Turns out both oil and dispersant are toxic to wildlife and to humans. 

At the mouth of the Nigerian Delta, off the coast of Africa, Exxon has placed drilling rigs, which it self-regulates. Sadly, their rigs are leaking eleven million gallons of oil per year. That's the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez disaster per year leaking oil into the Nigerian Delta. 

Rex Tillerson, head of Exxon, told a senate hearing, after the Deep Water Horizon fiasco, "We're not well equipped to handle [major spills.]" Maddow asks: If not you, WHO??

The people in Wuhan China, the epicenter of the current pandemic, are seeing blue skies again for the first time in decades. No one has been able to work because the cunning CoVid 19 bug stopped them in their tracks. The factories are not pumping pollutants into the air! No wonder the virus attacks lungs. It wants us to pay attention to the damage we're doing to the air quality world wide. Animals need fresh air too. We are animals. Let us acknowledge that we are addicted to fossil fuels. Let us voluntarily keep the Shelter-In-Place ideal at least one day a week and vote to hold Big Oil accountable for cleaning up its messes, and speed the transition to clean energy. Perhaps our reward will be to see how we might slow or even reverse the rapid fouling our nest!

Clearly the POTUS Trump has no idea what this is all about. Oligarchs, in general, have no idea about anything except money. The Donald has only one thought: “How can I make the best deal... for ME?” 

According to our (               ) leader, this C-19 scare was a hoax promoted and thought up by the democrats. It wasn't real until his handlers finally took him to the corner of the ring and talked him into READING the teleprompter. Even then, he ad-libbed and called it "the Chinese Virus." Scum bag. Racist PIG. I get so angry at his racism, misogyny, divisive tactics, and for discounting the severity of this world-wide health challenge. Think of the wasted time, and opportunities to squelch the disease in its tracks in Washington State, this country's epicenter, because the bully in his pulpit in Washington DC, on the other side of the country discounted the science. His base, having tasted the Kool-Aid, swallowed this pronouncement too, acting as if the Corona Virus is not as contagious and deadly to some as it is.  


No wonder it's been so healing to do aerobic weeding in my back yard with a vengeance this week as I shelter in place. It's so satisfying to imagine I'm pulling orange hairs out by the roots off the head of the scariest leader I've known in my lifetime. I wasn't alive when Hitler was in charge of Germany, nor when Mussolini ruled in Italy. Now, we have MOUSSE-olini, as my husband calls him. And he's a holy terror terrorizing anyone who disagrees with him or doesn't like the taste of his Kool-Aid.

Peter Alexander is a good reporter. He got ripped a new one by the POTUS for asking a legitimate question which riled up The Donald so bad, that he spewed puke green vitriol and luminous venom on the gentleman. I HATE the Donald.

Several Republican Senators are out ill with the virus and unable to vote. Will Mitch McConnell poison the Donald to save the GOP? Will Pence ride into the Whitehouse in the vacuum? And will he perhaps be defeated by Biden in November? 

Will we be any better off? 

Hoping for GREEN to triumph over GREED!

We may need to take the reins into our own hands at local levels of government.

Happy Hunkering to you. May all be well.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Corvids are Birds, Covid 19 Has Gone Viral

Human BE-ing? Or Human DO-ing?

What an opportunity to find out how it is to be the former!

EVERYthing has been cancelled or postponed, right? That memorial service, the birthday party, movie night, volunteer gigs, family camp weekends, even church, f' Christ's sake! 

Hunkering down, at first, seems daunting... what will we do if we two are the only ones we'll be seeing for weeks on end? 

Sure there's the occasional foray out to the grocery store with its empty shelves, the chance meeting of a neighbor on the street. 

Let's call it physical distance instead of social distance, shall we? So many opportunities to commune on line... if we're of a mind to do so. Just tonight, a friend started up a Zoom meet-up to play some fun word games together on-line. 

I know several octa-and nonagenarians who don't go online any more, or who never have. Nothing beats an in person visit, right? A friend with cancer whom I saw last Tuesday was scheduled to have a farewell party before ending her life by doctor sanctioned cocktail at the end of the week. Trouble is the residential home where she's living won't let more than five people gather in one place, due to the virus scare, so we figured we'd stand under her balcony, singing to her before her party-pooping exit. Rains kept that from happening. Not sure what the plan is now.

Church happened today in an empty sanctuary. All who wanted to could access the service online in a series of visual and auditory YouTube segments.  Echoing video of both reverends welcomed us from the pulpit, their speech bouncing off the back wall. They gave the sermon, sang a hymn, and led us in the Charge at the end. The organist played the chimes as call to worship and the postlude. One of the "Godly Play" teachers changed the felt pointer on the calendar indicating it's the third Sunday of Lent. She read a story for the kidlets. It felt like virtchurch. No donation plates were passed. No coffee and cookies were served in the family room afterwards. I feel for the folk whose social life is so wrapped up in the body of this house of worship. Not even coffee shops are open around here. We're homebound thanks to Corona.

It's been a rainy weekend. Crows swoop and play, glinting brightly in sudden sun between downpours at mid-day, then look like punctuation on back-lit clouds at sunset. Corvids include ravens and crows. These beautiful birds are not to be confused with the current Covid 19 virus which has gone viral. Such a teeny tiny critter on the planet is causing such HUGE problems for humans all over! What are we to learn from this episode? What are the possible lessons?

One: Don't dismantle the government. We may need those offices in working order one day!

Two: How calming it is to the nervous system to hunker happily at home from time to time. No agenda. No place to go. No assignments. No obligations. Nothing to fix except maybe dinner. 

What was that book I started reading and never finished? What's the next chapter to write in the book I've been dawdling on getting done? When was the last time I spoke to that friend in Virginia? How long has it been since I had "tea" with a friend in Southern California? SereniTEA is a joy. 

The most distressing part of this unexpected journey, for me, apart from thinking about those who don't have shelter, medical care, or regular meals, is not seeing our granddaughter. Her daddy is bad scared. He's secreted his daughter away at his house behind a locked gate and is not willing to let us see her unless we're fourteen days into isolation after being in any crowds. She is missing her mother too. Her mama started her isolation for fourteen days after the school where she teaches closed on Friday the Thirteenth. It will be one month all told that the two won't see one another. When you're teaching kindergarten, your student's faces begin to look like petrie dishes - with green rivers of snot being wiped on backs of hands. I get it. It makes sense to be tested or to self-isolate. Yet, the ex-son-in-law began isolating prematurely, I believe. Survivalist mentality gives him an adrenaline surge which may push rationality to the side. It's good to be able to use texting as a communication channel with the grandie. She seems to be surviving alright. She's taught me a lot about making stickers and avatars on the iPhone. She's got quite a sense of humor. We enjoyed being virtually in one another's company yesterday as we watched "golden hour" together via text. Gorgeous skies come with this rain!

Being in the moment is cozy. 

Doing too much is draining and ultimately unproductive. I heard someone forty years ago expound on what she called the violence of over-activism.  I can see her point. Maybe the take-away lesson for me with this Covid deal is to create and truly honor a sabbath... a time to do NOTHING but recharge the batteries. Take a lesson from the crows: When skies are beautiful go out and soar!