Saturday, December 7, 2013

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Battle in the War

The Battle in the War

The fake haired bastion of neoliberalism, Donald Trump, once said, “Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.”  I worry about this.  Today, I went into my class and did the Heinz moral dilemma test.  I asked them if a loved one was about to die in one week, and someone had the cure, but you couldn’t afford it, what would you do?  The answers are quite often predictable: rob a bank, sell drugs, ask everyone for a little, ask Bill Gates, do a kick starter, steal the cure, and sometimes they say, ask real nicely.  Hardly anyone says, “I would spend whatever money I had to have the best last week with that loved one I could. “
With Breaking Bad just ending, I figured I might get a lot of the drug deal ones, but I had less than normal.  While I don’t watch the show, I refuse to do it, I am glad to hear they killed him off (sorry for the spoiler).  I read the many reviews about the last episode and why it was great and why it wasn’t.  Regardless, my students quite often imagine they could easily steal the money they would need.  When we get down to real logistics of how to make it work, how they would rob a bank, or sell drugs, they don’t really know.  My students are pretty normal, lower middle class to upper lower class families and they haven’t ever really lived in that world and wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to orchestrate something like that in that short amount of time for that much money.  Like any good inflated ego, they are sure they could do it if faced with such a thing.
            I then asked them about our government and what was happening.  One person was quick to say that they want to socialize healthcare.  I asked them more about what does that mean.  What is “socialism?”  They talked about redistribution of wealth.  I mentioned to them that about 2/3 of the cost of their schooling is covered thanks to redistribution of wealth…mostly because we all decided that education is important.  So, socialism of healthcare.  I changed the rhetoric on them and said, should anyone die because they can’t afford healthcare?  No, no, most of them mumbled.  However, that is just me using rhetoric.  Neither are true.
            We talked about how a bill is passed, how people voted on a president, how the Supreme Court upheld it.  Then, why do a few people keep pushing this point?  Why use shutting down the government as a means to get your point across?  What really is the point?  The Senate won’t allow it, and even if they did, Obama will veto it.  The Republicans just come out of this looking bad.  Why still do it?
            The best they could come up with was lobbying money.  I don’t know if that is true.  It isn’t about Healthcare anymore.  You know, just like gun control, I am OK with trying something out to see if it works.  The Scientific Method works.  We try something, measure for success, try to do everything we can to show where it didn’t work, and if it didn’t, we make changes and test again.  I don’t think it is that difficult.  But I must admit, I don’t think this is what is on the table.  For me, I choose to look at what a government shutdown does.  This is a battle and surely not the war.  I figure these people aren’t as dumb as they may sound.  If the puppet head shell of a person seems to move like a puppet, then they probably are.  I figure they have run some numbers already about what a government shutdown does in terms of changing perceptions of people.
            I don’t know if this is true, or if this is only partially true, but I do know that you don’t do something as big as shutting down the US government without having looked at the figures to see how it changes public opinion.  And it does.  Already, people are complaining about the ineptitude of the government, and that is what they want.  Their game is to stop the government, to make us see that the government can’t run things.  However, if it was privatized it would not be closed down right now.  Grand Canyon is losing some 2.7 million dollars of possible revenue per day it is closed.  I know Republicans are not stupid.  Do Republicans take a huge hit because of their actions?  Yes.  However, they take down both parties with them.  They are emperors who would fire on their own people fighting in the battlefield, if it means killing the enemy.  Puppets like Cruz and Boehner are nothing.  They can be hit with their own arrows and die on the battlefield.  Besides, if the game is to make money, the job of congressperson doesn’t pay that great.  I don’t even think they care about the Republican Party.  They care about money.  It is that simple.  By shutting down the government, they will gain something. 
Be weary of talking too bad about our government or thinking that a private corporation would run these things better.  I am sorry for those people who planned expensive trips to our National Parks only to be denied, even though the parks are still allowing oil to be drilled.  I am sorry for the people applying for Medicare who can’t get their care, or for people applying for passports to visit loved ones in other countries who now can’t go.  I am not saying our government is great.  We need to remove the people who don’t know how to compromise and who can’t understand how science should help make policy.  And how we should move in the world with compassion for each other.  One of my heroes in my life, Abraham Lincoln once said in a very short speech at the end of a deadly battle, before the war was actually won:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

All I ask of people is to not give up.  I think the Affordable Healthcare Act is a compromised piece of shit law, but it is something that is trying.  It is an attempt and a start towards fixing something that needs to be fixed.  Our corporations are polluting the environment, cancer is on the rise, and if the corporations won’t clean up their mess, the government must.  And if the corporations won’t give us healthcare, all of us fair and equal healthcare, then our government should.  I don’t know if I would pass the Heinz test for morality or how I would react if I watched a loved one die from something that could be cured, but I do know that it shouldn’t happen.  I know people have watched friends and family die from a lack of proper healthcare.  If they haven’t died, they were unbearably saddled with debt.  I don’t think you should get rich off of the misery of other people.  From those “honored dead” we should take up “increased devotion” and fight for each other.  We are in this together.   I may not have a cure for cancer, but if I did, I would freely give it to anyone who asked.  The disease from which we suffer in the US is greed.  The cure for this is to come together, to greet your neighbor, and to help each other.  You can call it socialism, but I call it being human.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Oak Springs in the Fall

Oak Springs in the Fall

I love watching the woodpecker store acorns in the digger pine trees off the deck at my friends’ ranch.  Rick and Kimberly are on another adventure to float the Rogue River; I get the pleasure of watching their place.  They think the goats could kid at any moment.  Billie, AKA William the Conqueror, has been exacting first night law across the herd.  I am sure Razorback is not happy, but in the Emperor’s court, he is a eunuch.  The herd must breed because they have been losing friends in battles with coyotes and mountain lions.  Their numbers are dwindling.  Every time Billie tries to mount, one of the larger goats butts him off.  As Kimberly said, Billie must be getting quicker.  Soon, they will be vulnerable with kids to watch over and protect.  It might not happen while I am here for the week, but we will see. 

As the sunsets along the north rim of their canyon, wind weaves through oak trees.  A storm approaches and I can feel fall in the air.  I have been applying and looking at jobs in other places.  The first time I moved to Chico was when I became fully aware of the fall season and anticipated the senesce of leaves along Esplanade.  It is not that I hadn’t seen or felt fall in my hometown, or Alaska, or San Diego.  Surely we were aware of the changing season, but it was more about summer to winter.  In fact, I think a lot of my love for those two seasons was wrapped up in getting a break from school.  Fall and spring are semesters.

Fall in Alaska was harsh and beautiful; the day-length was dying along with the salmon on lagoon bank shores.  The fireweed and cow parsnip were drying up and harsh sound through reeds reminded me of the incoming cold.  We would weatherproof the lodge, pull the boats up to dry land, and prepare everything for winter.  However, there were no trees to truly celebrate fall in fashion.

In Chico, when I first moved here, I would walk the streets to the rain of anthocyanin.  None of it prepared me for Logan Utah, where I learned to hike amongst the big-tooth maples and aspen groves and saturate myself in fall.  Every time I think about leaving a place, I think about home.  Not a home, but the concept of home.  I have learned enough to know that when home is grounded in a physical space, when home is a place, while you are part of it, time moves differently.  Surely the place is changing, home is adapting, but when I reflect back on that place, it won’t be a steady stream from beginning to end, but a splotched picture of experiences, a sidewalk drizzled in decaying leaves and the myriad of colors turning to brown.  With Logan, I miss raking leaves from the giant elm protecting over the house, and composting the garden as I wait for snow to comfort it for winter.

I might not leave Chico.  I won't make that call until I am pulling away, trailer loaded, truck full, and my dog next to me looking out the window, smelling our way, in pursuit of the marrow.  I look at this old digger pine with holes polka dotting the bark, acorns jammed into most of them, and think about the generations of California woodpeckers who have called this their pantry, the ground they have tilled, the culture of their kind, the cellar ready for the winter.  I have stored up very little food here in Chico.  My garden was not impressive, but the friends are amazing.  While I love this town, the park, the creek, the warm nights on bikes, it is the people who give me sustenance.  To leave home is to senesce from roots deep in the hearts of friends.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

To Understanding Love

To Understanding Love

Today, after sleeping in later than I ever have in a long time, dog staring at me with longing eyes, I asked Chico if he wanted to go on a walk.  He leaped in excitement up to the bed, nudged me with his whining cries of happiness to get up, to move, to take him with me.  OK, ok.  I grabbed a couple of reusable shopping bags and walked to the farmer’s market.  My garden I tilled into the grass lawn of the rental house where I live is bursting with most everything I need right now except one item, something I long for from my house in Logan: peaches. 
I tie Chico to a tree on the outskirts of the Farmer’s market next to the small gathered group of coffee aficionados sitting in lawn chairs each week sharing stories.  I am only doing one pass through the market.  After last week, I know which places to avoid, but not sure which ones are the best.  Last week I bought from the most expensive and the least.  Neither was outstanding.  Perhaps my expectations were too high.  How can anything compare to the trees I planted myself?
            I stop at the first table with Sierra Beauties with dark rings of Saturn-red.  The skin seems almost to have been burned from sun.  They are a unique cultivar I have never heard before.  I know Sierra Beauty apples.  I take 10 or so of them into my bag, pay, and continue to walk.  I come upon another booth where a boisterous man talks of peaches.  His signs hand-written to say “organic,” and his price fair, almost the cheapest.  He has Fay Elberta peaches; it is a variety I know well.  The Elberta is a common cultivar.  The Fay has some subtle differences.  I miss the Redhaven peaches from my yard, but the Fay Alberta is a classic yellow peach.  He says they were picked this morning right before coming down to the market.
            I look for ones not bruised, but not too firm.  As I do this, another lady wedges in alongside me.  She picks up a peach, turns the soft fuzz in her hand, holds it up to her nose and inhales deep from the fruit.  She sets it back down and walks away.  They look good to me, much more yellow than the dark crimson of the Sierra Beauties, but color can be quite superficial in the peach world.  The white peaches are too sweet for my palate.
            The man comments, “I don't know what a person is looking for when they come up and feel a peach like this, and then turn away from it.”  He was priced as one of the cheapest and it couldn't have been price.  They were surely not over-ripe either, but he ponders that perhaps they are looking for something less ripe.  I didn't think he really wanted an answer.  It seemed more rhetorical to me.  I grab ten more peaches, place them in my bag and hand them to him to weigh.  He subtracts for my bag, then says wait and reaches over to a golden pluot and puts in my bag.  “Try this; you will love it.”
            I go back to Chico waiting at the Camphor tree where he is tied.  He stares to the direction from which I left and doesn't see me approach; when he does, he is excited.  I take him off the leash and we meander back home, stopping at the creek for him to drink.  When I get home, I set down the two bags of peaches on the tiled counter.  Pull one of the Fay Elberta peaches from the bag, run it under the cold water, slice with a knife along the soft flesh until the sharp blade meets the stone drupe at the center.  Delicately, I pull the two halves apart.  The drupe remains in the one side and I pry it loose.  There is something entrancing about rough flesh and blood red of the center of the peach.  The texture is alarming, murderous, and sensual.

            I put one half to my mouth and feel it melt to my tongue.  I have learned to love the soft fuzz of the skin, the way it slowly peels away from the dripping flesh, the bitter tough texture against the fragile fruit.  The first half is gone too quickly.  It fades from the tongue like desire and I quickly consume the second half with all too much vigor and it is over.  Sometimes, I think about everything it took for that one fruit to get to such beauty, the distance of the sun, the movement of water, the dance of the bees, the delicate hands of the harvester, and my devouring desire lasts but a few seconds until it is all relegated to a memory, joined together with so many other peaches.  Can I remember this one?

Thursday, April 18, 2013



Today I walk the long beach of El Paredon Buena Vista in Guatemala without Chico.  He could not come on this trip.  I stop to pick up a lucky seed as I had done so many other mornings in the past.  It is strange to be here after two years away; things change.  Life seems to circle back, but maybe it is more like a Fibonacci spiral in a seashell, as if eventually it all must meet at some point at the end; the place where the ocean whispers to you, because infinity is unfathomable.  You return to places to see it is not the same, you are not the same, and perhaps what was, never was.

Hermes was the winged messenger hurrying Zeus’s orders for Calypso to release Odysseus from her sexual strangulation and allow him to continue towards Penelope waiting on distant shores for his return.  For years, she walked to the seashore cliffs and gazed out to the open ocean waiting for Odysseus to come home.  Hermes, the god of transition and interpretation, the patron saint of poetry and highwaymen (sort of the same things), crosses the boundaries of heaven and earth carrying the caduceus staff, two snakes intertwined and staring at each other.  There is always another interpretation.  The more I travel, the more people ask me to comeback, and each time I realize you never can.  You can only spiral forward, glancing back as you quickly pass the past, spiraling around some staff only to one day stop and stare at what you thought would be and see that which you really are.

There is a party in Paredon tonight and the place feels so different, looks so different, and yet, the same.  Against the bass of dance music carried out to mix with the thundering surf of the ocean, Poseidon crashes and sways to the rhythm like a rave dancer, friends old and new pulse together, the humidity of the equator cascading off skin, she asks me why I am not dancing.  I say, two years ago I was here, but everything is so different now.  I don’t explain it further.  We roast a pig, celebrate our friends’ engagement, drink smooth and aged Guatemalan rum, and swim in the moonless night.  This is a party about love and futures…no place for the past.

The morning surf rises and crashes barrels of water churning the volcanic black sand; I try to paddle out against the constant push of the swell, the long shore current carrying us south.  If I miss the window where the rip current spirals back out, I walk the beach back north and try again.  I do this over and over.  The waves are relentless.  Duck dive, duck dive, duck dive, and I go nowhere.  All day, with some of my best friends, we fight the current to try and catch one or two waves.  When I can paddle no longer, we head inside and pack up to leave.  I thought I would stay for the whole week, but with everyone leaving, I decide to head back to Antigua with them.

My friend James is in pain.  He has been in pain for a while and trying to hide it and ignore it.  Today, we drive around to find someone to fix it.  Each person gives a different interpretation.  The physical therapist says it comes from the hips, the massage therapist thinks it is a broken rib, the x-rays reveal some slight build up in the lungs.  As a last resort, we stop at a healer’s house.  He tells James he thinks that we try to cover up pain when we should go deeper into it.  So that he can feel secure and free to dive into the true root of the pain of his body, he asks me to wait outside.  And so I lay down on the lawn and watch fireflies sparkle amongst the bats swooping and diving.  I wonder what the light tastes like.  I can hear James yelling with the pain as I fade off to sleep.

We wake at four in the morning to catch a plane.  James invites me to go with him out to the jungle where he has hired a documentary filmmaker to film one of the tour guides who works for his travel company.  James is still in pain and he squints and grimaces with each bump along the cobblestoned Antiguan roads.  We pick up the cameraman, Nick, a New York photographer and filmmaker I met earlier at the party in Paredon.  We have a lot in common for being very different.  I take an earlier plane than them.  They drop me off on Taca Air.  I touchdown into the humid hot jungle and step out of the airport to the swaddle of taxi drivers and tour guides asking if I need help.  I patiently decline and wait for the next plane to arrive with James and Nick.  Nick steps off the plane without James.

He tells me that while waiting for the plane, the pain increased.  James’ heart began to race, the pain radiated out into this arms and hands.  He left the airport and headed for the hospital in Guatemala City.  Now it was just Nick and I at the airport.  Carlos, the subject of the movie is there waiting.  We load up into his Toyota 4x4, and drive out of the tourist town of Flores into the Peten.  I have been here before, 6 years earlier when we came down to surprise James for his 30th birthday.  We had showed up at his door, knocked, and he opened it with utter surprise.  In a whirlwind tour of the country, we took this same flight up to Flores to visit Tikal and the ruins.  James runs a travel business and he quickly took us to the close highlights of the country he then called home.  We all hope he is OK now.

Carlos drives us up the same road; I have been here before.  He drives us through the entrance to Tikal and I can still remember our adventure as we climbed each ruin.  We pass through the security gates.  Carlos seems to know most of the people.  Then he turns off onto a dirt road.  This is a new dirt road.  Now we are on a road in which I have never been.  This is where life begins.  This is where the spiraling slither of the fer-de-lance climbs the staff alone.  I am excited to see the view…