Underneath the Layers

My Cousin Carolyn, sturdy woman that she is, emailed from Minnesota yesterday, “We had a blizzard Wednesday night through Friday and got 5.5 inches of this lovely, fluffy snow with high winds, so the drifts are everywhere…..wind chills for the next three days are going to be -30 and even -50 in some areas of the state! I ventured to the mail box to mail some bills and get yesterday’s mail and froze my balls off!”

Another cousin once descibed winter clothing she endured as a child in the Midwest, “We wore long underwear and over that we put on long stockings that were held up with a parachute harness type of garter contraption, wooly type of snow pants and buckle overshoes, jackets, wooly caps, wooly mittens….I remember how cold my toes would get.”

One of the best parts of a Montana winter that I remember was the winter thaw in March or so. The temperatures would ease, the sun would come out, and suddenly we’d have only patches of dirty white instead of the white blanket that covered everything. It was a muddy mess, but it would always expose a few toys we had left outside in October–old friends, uncovered.

We live with layers in our lives. I think one gift of the last four years has been the stripping away of some of those layers. We had openly white supremacists in the White House, advising our President. They’ve always been there, but we’ve never seen them as much as we did in the last four year. They’ve come out from under cover. It’s right in front of us.

My white friends are grappling with the Black Lives Matter movement. I am amazed at how many of them arre reading books on the subject and asking questions. They’re looking for actions they can take, support they can give. My son and his family have a Black Lives Matter poster in the front window of their city home. A dear friend, a gentle friend, recently said to me, “You know, I never thought I’d ever say this, but I think I’m racist.”

Me? I’ve always longed for some neighbors who would move into my neighborhood and give it some color and diversity. On the other hand, it is so easy for me to avoid talking or thinking about “racism.” Those issues are happening in other places, not here. And then I read the words of a large black man who describes not feeling safe to take a walk around his city block unless he has his little white, fluffy dog on a leash in one hand. and maybe his young child holding his other hand. Never alone. And I remember every single black parent in this country who has to indoctrinate their children on how NOT to attract attention, on how to avoid any suggestion of suspicion. How can we think this is an acceptable way to live?

A friend once told about a festive dinner party she and her husband attended with several other couples many years ago. The host told an ugly racist joke. Everyone laughed, but not my friend. The host apologized to my friend’s husband–but not to her. She now regrets not speaking up. When I asked her if the same thing happened today, would she speak up?

“Well, of course I would!”

We’ll continue to hear those kinds of comments, but they’re much subtler now. We’ll hear criticism of black athletes who risk their careers to protest the continued killings of unarmed black men and women. We’ll hear someone lump together all the destructive behavior under the Black Lives Matter banner, even though millions marched and protested peacefully. We’re getting better at being able to hear the racist comments. Now it’s time to speak up, as well as find ways to support action for change.

Lots of mud and dead plants and mess under the layers of melting snow, but glimmers of hope and growth, too!

“A distain for history sets us adrift, and makes us victims of ignorance and denial. History lives in and through our bodies right now, and in every moment.” –Resmaa Menakem

At Home with the Range

My kitchen stove ranks over all the other kitchen cookware–toaster oven, microwave, my new instant pot, waffle iron, popcorn popper, and even the barbecue out the back door. It reigns supreme. But my kitchen stove was about to bite the dust–or rather, the old brick-patterned linoleum. The oven element was toast and two of the burners were acting up. Yay! Time to get a new stove!

It’s orange. It reminds me of a rotting pumpkin. A kitchen designer might call it “burnt orange.” Or maybe “poppy orange.” It’s one of those garish appliance colors that oozed out in the 1970’s, along with a dirty gold and an “avocado green” that was more the color of split pea soup. Yes, my stove is almost 50 years old. Would I be able to find another stove that would last 50 years?

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I don’t like to replace any appliance that still chugs along. I love the Earth enough that I don’t want to dump any more junk onto it than I have to, plus if I’ve got enough money to replace an appliance on the basis of its color only, I’ve got enough money to feed a struggling family meals for a month or two.

That stove had seen me through a sizable portion of my life. For all those years our sons were growing up, it baked 2-4 loaves of bread every week or so. Every fall it processed jars and jars of grape juice, applesauce, and sliced pears. Cooked dozens of blueberry pancakes for hungry grandchildren. Produced Thanksgiving dinners for 12-20 people for many years. Endless apple crisps, Christmas cookies, birthday cakes, and Sunday pot roasts. Clam chowder after beach camping and sourdough bread and pancakes.

After thinking it over some more, and on the suggestions of two friends, I called Bill, our favorite appliance repairman. As he entered the kitchen, he brushed past me and headed for the stove, “Wow–when was the last time I saw one of these?” He replaced the oven unit and the two burners, and suggested we might replace a control knob at some point, but thinks that stove will last “forever.”

I was wrong. The stove’s not the color of rotting pumpkins. It matches the color in the wallpaper and the old brick-patterned linoleum. It’s more the color of fire. It’s one hot baby!

The Common Good and the Pooper Scoopers

Some quiet people move among us and only occasionally do we notice these angelic beings.

I was driving to the supermarket not long ago when I saw her. A tall woman warmly dressed in a long coat, striding along with a huge plastic bag of garbage in one hand, and a “grabber” tool in the other. One of my good friends! She walks long distances every day. Several times a week, she picks up trash from our city streets as she walks. She’s identified a couple of businesses that will let her use their dumpsters, as there’s way too much for her own garbage can. I asked her what the most common piece of litter is. She said it is, sadly, the little liquor bottles. People have started to notice this woman who looks out for our community.

A retired teacher walks my trail, too, and she also has a grabber. We don’t have quite so much litter here, away from the bustle of downtown, but like a neighbor once told me, “The road in front of our house is located exactly one Happy Meal away from MacDonald’s,” so she finds plenty.

A woman walks the Grand Forest, not far from me, with a child’s rake. Besides pedestrians, horses use this trail, and she rakes off anything they leave.

Another woman walks the Fort Ward park trail with a child’s beach bucket and tongs to pick up after dogs whose owners are not looking out for us. She is a special woman who deserves a clean walking path of gold in her next life.

All women? Not always. Before Covid, an older man walked our road several times a week with a clippers in hand. It’s a popular walking path, but bushes along the road reach out to grab you if you’re not paying attention. He clipped those wandering tendrils as he walked. Sure, one day’s clippings hardly made a difference, but after months and months of doing this, he maintained that trail for us.

I had to check definitions of “the common good.” Ordinarily, the “common good” refers to those things that benefit everyone in the community, like roads, libraries, fire protection, and public education. Public art is a common good. I know not everyone would agree, but I think health insurance is a common good because the more we eradicate communicable disease–viruses, etc, the healthier the whole community is and in the long term, we save money. We all benefit. But that’s a subject for another day.

These pooper scoopers are working for our common good without asking anything in return, and I love them for it!

“We don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” — Howard Zinn

Riding out the Storm, Holding Course

“Batten down the hatches!”

We’re dead in the water!”

“Man overboard!”

“Land ho!”

Even we landlubbers know what action is necessary for each of these phrases. If we were anywhere near water and heard someone shout, “Thar she blows!” I’m guessing most of us would be scanning the horizon for a whale.

“Hold the course!” may have had its origins in horse-racing, but it also had early connections to keeping the ship on course by tightening and adjusting the ropes on the sails. Hard work!

You’re holding the course today. And it’s not easy.

Death Valley registered 130 degrees this summer, the hottest temperature in world history. My son, living in northern California, says it’s not a question of whether their house will burn. It’s a question of when. Not only fires, but hurricanes that are stronger than ever. A friend in Austin wrote about the “anguish” that the Texas summer heat brings. This summer, a forecast of not one, but two hurricanes heading toward them was actually good news. She explained, “The only thing that can fracture the daily hammering heat is a biblical collision of storms against the massive heat dome.” In spite of widespread fires and ever stronger storms, many environmental standards in our country have been reduced significantly over the past four years.

We hold the course. We try to eliminate buying and using so much plastic. We grow veggies and we buy from farmer’s markets. We try to lessen our dependence on fossil fuel and we live smart. Many of us replace our old cars with electric ones–that economists now are saying are cheaper in the long run.

A pandemic has killed over 220,000 people in our country. Millions have lost their jobs and many of those have lost their health insurance. We have a President who has made mask-wearing a political point rather than a life-saving one.

We hold the course. We donate to food banks and help where we can. We socially distance. We wear our masks. I have only once seen someone in my grocery store in the past six months or so not wearing a mask. He was elderly and seemed confused. My part of the county averages 2-3 new cases a day, often fewer.

Our President calls respected news outlets “fake news.” Who refuses to denounce white supremacists and has emboldened them to new extremes. Who routinely confuses truth and lies. Who has some choice names for women. Simply put, a bully who divides rather than unifies.

What do we do? We hold the course. We treat others like we would want to be treated. We work locally to make changes. We live and love well and we make good choices. We learn about the issues and we vote. We recognize that words matter and that everyone does better if everyone does better. Basic kindergarten stuff. And then we take time to smell the fresh sea breezes. We know the routine. We simply tighten the sails batten down the hatches, and hold the course.

Walking beside the waves, low tide in May

Choose Your Horse–Time to Ride!

I still remember learning about the Pony Express in maybe fourth or fifth grade. Sound familiar? It made for a great story for kids of that age. Teams of young riders plowing through the snow on their sturdy horses. Fast horses! They rode back and forth at breakneck speeds between Missouri and California.

In reality, beyond the romanticized picture, the Pony Express only operated for 18 months before it went broke. But it was still impressive. Riders couldn’t weigh more than 125 lbs., rode night and day, and were “changed out” every 75-100 miles. In an emergency the rider was allowed to ride a double shift of more than 20 hours.

The Pony Express was not a part of the U.S. Postal Service. It was a business. Even with all the California gold making its way across the country and a strong and very experienced businessman at its helm, the company never lasted two years.

What it did do, however, was to show that one well-connected and organized communication system for the entire country was possible. I like to think it contributed to the further development of the USPS.

The USPS, unlike the Pony Express, was never intended to be a business. It was developed as a service for its citizens. It gets mail to and from all the little towns and rural communities in our country, something a profit-minded company could never do. It delivers social security checks and medications, Christmas cards and gifts, even baby chicks! It employs many veterans who are given preferential status when they apply. And the USPS delivers absentee ballots to our citizens. My state, among several, votes completely (and very successfully) by mail.

Every few years we citizens need to fight for proper funding for this service. We need to remind our representatives, and this year even our President, that this is a service and not a business, and we expect it to be adequately funded.

It’s time to call Republican senators (since the funding bill has passed the House) and demand adequate funding for the USPS. Maybe even suggest an experienced and knowledgeable person to lead it?

From Missouri to California, we need to swamp those offices with postcards and telephone calls until they get the message. We did it once before when mothers and babies were being separated at the border–the huge outcry from all over the nation stopped that. If you know your senators will support a funding bill, you might call or write Republican senators in other states. Sure, they give more weight to people in their own state, but a huge pile of mail sends a message in itself. Phone numbers and addresses are easy to find on the internet.

We don’t have to ride a horse for 20 hours through a snowstorm, nor do we have to defend that mail pouch with our very lives. All we need to do is speak out and speak loudly. it’s what we do in a democracy.

Clear Thinking and a Kidney

When I called my mother on her 98th birthday, she told me she was thinking about donating one of her kidneys. She had watched a tv show on organ donation.

“I  sit here when I could just as well be of some use to someone.” She went on to say that she’d had a couple of  surgeries over her lifetime and they weren’t so difficult. She’d probably be in the hospital a week or so. And if she died at the age of 98, well, that would be OK, too.

My mother had spent her life in selfless, giving acts, but this was a bit much. Before I had a chance to think how to respond, she went on.

“But I got to thinking about my surgeries. What were they? Yes, the hysterectomy…and then I remembered–I already had a kidney removed! I have none to give!”

She thought that was pretty funny, but I gasped.

“I don’t remember your having a kidney removed!” I had just a moment of panic wondering how I had missed that rather significant surgery.

“Mom, I think it was a gall bladder you had removed.” Silence for a few seconds.

“Oh, yes, I think you might be right. So I DO have a kidney to give!”

Usually lucid, clear-thinking and well-informed, Mom’s thinking process had become a bit muddled from time to time.

Our thinking through the pandemic hasn’t always been crystal clear either, and we don’t have the excuse of 98 years behind us. It’s in situations like a pandemic or widespread protests that it’s imperative that clear thinking prevail. We need logical, informed, educated people who are willing to talk to people, listen, read, and think things through. It’s not enough to use generalized platitudes and negative thinking.

“It’s always been this way. It’s never going to change. Why bother?”

“It’s just the flu.”

“It’s just a few bad officers–there’s some in every precinct.”

All kinds of possibilities exist out there and we have an opening now to explore them. Police and criminal justice reform, major efforts to re-build a first-rate public school system, healthcare reform, mental health funding instead of incarceration. Costly? Of course. But the cost if we don’t will be much higher.

I emailed my siblings that evening after our phone conversation. I told them to keep an eye on Mom or she might be short a kidney.

 

 

 

 

Are You Listening?

Remember Hal’s computer voice in Space Odyssey 2001? I heard it last week in Costco. It came over the intercom, smooth and velvety, a man’s voice saying something like, “Please remember to social distance, leaving six feet between you and other shoppers.” This was not your crackly supermarket voice, “Brenda, we need a price check on Aisle Six.” This was clear and professional. I swear it was Hal. If the voice had been a color, it would have been the color of cocoa, warm and soothing and reassuring. All is well. Carry on. Continue shopping.

The intention of that voice recording was meant to calm us, I know, but it felt alarming to me. My anxiety level went up a notch as I glanced around to see if anyone was showing signs of panic. Nope, all were continuing to shop.

Sounds and silence. It has been an unusually quiet few weeks for me as my internet connection recently died and my internet provider not-so-much dream team tried for a week to resurrect it. The first 3-4 people I talked to had kind and reassuring voices.

“Oh yes, let’s get that computer up and running for you.” These people understood I was locked down and that the computer was my link to much of the world. I was in good hands. Everything would be OK.

Everything was not OK, and after literally hours on my old landline with those kindly voices, they handed me over to people whose language I could not understand and whose voices were not so kindly and reassuring. I seriously began to believe that they were trying to get rid of me.

“Keep pushing and let’s see when she’ll break and cancel our service! She’s old and we need to cut her loose!”

But Spring still blossoms and computers are brought back to life. Bird songs are everywhere, perhaps louder with less background noise of air and auto traffic?

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Chinese dogwood was at its showiest in its 40-year-old life this year.

The first thing I did when my computer was working was to email my yard helper who is deaf to see when he would be working again. I missed him this spring–his grin, his hard work, and his enthusiasm for my wild yard schemes. Even his silence.

Sometimes it’s hard to hear that still, small voice within us. It doesn’t come over a loudspeaker or intercom.

Carry on. One day at a time. All will be well.

10 Things Covid 19 Has Taught Me

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Skagit Valley tulips I missed this year. Next year for sure!

  1. I now know what clean air looks like. I always thought we had clean air here in  the Pacific Northwest, but this is day after day clean and clear skies. The Olympic Mountains have been beautiful! Fewer gas-burning cars, pick-ups, and planes out there make a difference.
  2. People are kind. Almost without exception when I meet people walking, they will cross the road or walk clear out into the middle of the road in order to keep that six foot separation, but they almost always wave or smile as they do so.
  3. Yes, I feel sympathy for all those who are hurting–job losses, deaths of loved ones, etc. But I also have been feeling sorry for Suze Orman. Remember her? She preached financial responsibility at us for years and years on PBS. Perhaps she still is. Her first and strongest advice was always, “Have enough cash set aside to tide you over 3-4 months in case of an emergency.” Was anyone listening to her? Anyone? And yes, I do realize how difficult this is to do on a minimum wage job. Suze was the first person I thought of as jobs started closing down.
  4. I love the quiet! I’m used to hearing at least one siren and usually more daily on the highway up the hill from my house. Almost none now! And how did I not notice the airplane noise before? Fewer cars going by in front of my house means less noise. Boat ramps are closed. I am hearing no boating traffic. I have seen canoes, kayaks, rowboats, and paddleboards, and they are so beautifully silent!
  5. We are not giving our teens enough credit for their written language skills. I owe this realization to my sister. I have had more emails from my grandchildren and they are unusually well written. My sister commented that they seem to be “bilingual.” They can text friends or tweet in their abbreviated, casual style, but when they email their grandmother, they switch to very coherent, clear writing.
  6. I will never again go food shopping more than once a week. Why? With a little planning, I can save some gas and fuss.
  7. I have so much more appreciation for all those people who work the essential jobs who we fail to notice–farm laborers, medical workers of all kinds (including the cleaning crews), grocery store staff, scientists, and news writers who keep us up to date with facts and expert interviews.
  8. We need health care for all. When we all do better, we all do better! And people working low wage jobs or a couple of parttime jobs deserve health care. Some of those workers are caring for us now.
  9. I don’t know if I can attribute this to the virus, but I am seeing and hearing a lot of birds. No, not like years ago, when we used to see flocks regularly, but I’m more aware of them now. Perhaps it’s the quiet that makes me notice? In a time when bird populations are falling, this gives me just a tiny glimmer of hope.
  10. I have realized that if we can survive and come out of this very severe crisis (and I think we can), we are absolutely capable of removing war weapons from our streets. I’ve had people tell me it’s too late–there are too many. It’s not too late. We have the means and know how to do it. If we don’t have the will, then God help our children and grandchildren.

I’m sure I’ve learned more, but those are the ones that rise to the surface now. How about you? Have you had any insights?

Blessings as we continue on this journey. Continue to take care and be safe.

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

We’re all in our comfort zones right now–our homes. But don’t forget to step outside and see what’s happening. As abnormal as the rest of our world seems right now, some beautiful sights are just outside your front door.

The neighbors have a new cat who has taken over the neighborhood. He is a handsome yellow creature who sits atop my fenceposts to hunt and patrols my high deck railing. A coyote ran through my yard over the weekend, and for the first time in some 50 years, a heron stood surveying my yard from the top of the pumphouse. The camellia bush is almost done blossoming and those bright pink blossoms of the peach tree are just opening.

This is not a month for words. Here are some of my favorite photos of outside attractions:

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The quince bush is just now beginning to blossom.

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Moon snail shell and part of a moon snail egg case on the beach at low tide.

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Lisa’s amazing photo from a caterpillar infestation of several years ago. They can de-leaf a whole tree!

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We will soon be seeing rhododendron blossoms like these.

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Tulip fields in Mt. Vernon won’t be open this year, but I heard that they will be posting photos!

Step outside, take a walk, enjoy the sights in your neighborhood, and stay safe.

The Writing’s on the Wall

February is a month of hope. We can see the days getting longer. We often see just a few more days of sunshine. I start browsing the seed catalog and planning my veggie garden on paper.

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I’m not sure how many of you read the business section of your newspaper, but if you don’t, you might need to. Whether we like it or not (and I don’t), money shapes much (most?) of our world. However, even if we see dirty footprints wandering through those pages, sometimes we get a glimpse of humanity and even hope.

The Sunday Seattle Times on January 26, 2020, carried a story in its business section, “The Climate Crisis Is Reshaping the World of Finance.” Granted, it’s written by three environmentalists, but the facts they were reporting were enough to cause two of us in my house to rustle the newspaper, sit up and take notice.

Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, a company that holds an 8 to 11% stake of every company in the Fortune 500, has announced in his annual letter to CEO’s that they now expect to see business plans for “operating under a scenario where the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to less than two degrees is fully realized,” as well as “hold accountable” present board members who don’t make significant progress toward that goal. The climate crisis has become so severe, he had said, that it has become a force that will “fundamentally reshape” the world of finance.

Goldman Sachs, the powerful bank on Wall Street? It has recently prohibited funding of coal mines, power plants and Arctic oil drilling projects, the authors report.

I think most of us are aware of the major moves in Europe by the financial sector, especially the big banks. The authors cite other major changes here in our country among insurance companies, and also fossil fuel disinvestment among religious institutions, pension funds, university endowments, and charitable foundations.

As we witness worse storms, more unpredictable weather, devastating wildfires, life-threatening heat in the southern hemisphere and other areas of the world, and a federal government that stands idly on the sidelines–or worse yet, unravels previous legislation that might have helped, our spirits need to see some positive, hopeful action. It’s not a perfect picture, the authors point out, but these are some signs that the financial world is changing as our Earth changes. Time will tell if it’s changing fast enough.

“Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” — Arundhati Roy