Monday, November 26, 2007

Notes to self

Consider now your father's death.
Did you understand his wishes?
Did you carry them out well?

Consider how your father died.
Did he go as he'd approved?
Is there any good way to go into the long night?

See all the days of your shared lives.
Re-consider how well you lived them.
Did you really do all you could?

Feel his absence to the depth of your being.
Allow yourself to hurt and cry and mourn,
and live your remaining days accordingly.

Consider now your own young son.
Re-member your father knew not his father,
and do what you can to prepare that boy.

Give him what your father gave you
and add ten measures more, daily.
Give things that will endure when you are gone.

Consider your father's death
Consider how your own may come,
and live today as if a herald of that day.

G. Douglas Clarke, September 13, 2007

Sunday, September 23, 2007

My, how the world has changed . . .

I hadn't thought about something I had done in my college days as being terribly significant until yesterday, when some storytelling prompted a Bronx resident sojourning in our little town while attending college, to say "you wouldn't survive if you did that now."

I had been telling how, in my sophomore year of college, three classmates and I had taken a train from Huntington Station, Long Island to Bridgeport, Connecticut and then hitchhiked from there to Hartford. We had left Long Island on Friday, all with plans for returning to campus after the weekend. I had gone to see my friend Jodie while the others went to the New England Fiddle Contest (and maybe a Grateful Dead concert that was also going on). They had all hitchhiked back on Sunday, but I had lingered another day and hitchhiked back alone.

What had prompted all of this was simply that I had inquired of a restaurant clerk, where he came from. When he had said "Connecticut" I had requested greater detail, to which he'd said "Hartford", prompting me to say "Oh, I once hitchhiked from there to Long Island. He raised his eyebrows at that, and made some comment of surprise. When I rejoined my fellow diners, I told the story in more detail, prompting the comment on dubious survival.

I remember my friend (who I had hoped would become more of a companion) dropping me off on a West Hartford entrance to the Merritt Parkway and being warned that I could be arrested for hitchhiking. After at least an hour, a black man in a powder blue VW Beetle picked me up and drove me all the way to Cross-Bronx Expressway, where he let me out on the ramp. For some reason I was not certain I was on the right ramp, so I climbed over the railing and headed for the nearest gas station, to ask for help in being sure.

As I recall, no-one there habla'ed de Englais, but I looked at a map on the wall, gestured to where I thought we were and where I wanted to go and pointed outside to the ramp I'd just left, got a nod, and went back out. Still not being quite satisfied, I walked out the ramp until I could read the signs over the roadway, and then walked back to where there was room for someone to stop and pick me up. I still have the sign I carried that day, tucked under our bed, I think: a rectangle of cardboard, with "Lloyd Harbor Long Island" written on one side, and "Hartford" on the other.

I think my next ride was in a VW microbus, in which I sat and ate sandwiches given to me by the owners, while petting their dog and talking about whatever came up. They dropped me off at an intersection leaving the Long Island Expressway and entering Cross Island Parkway, I think. The way I've always told the story, I got three more rides and made the trip in four and a half hours, but I remember nothing else until I was actually let out of that last car, right in front of our dormitory. My companions were embittered that they had taken twelve hours to get back to the same place, and had had to walk the last five miles. That was in 1976 or 1977 (I'm not sure if it was fall or spring semester of college).

Our companion at a meal yesterday lives in the Bronx, and seemed genuinely impressed that I had done such a thing, and I have to admit that I shudder at the thought of how alone and exposed I was. We talked about the fact that, the last time we went to Long Island, we were stuck in traffic near the very same place on Cross Bronx Expressway, and I had marveled that I had once stood and lobbied for a ride from that spot. On the more recent occasion, we had seen a car-load of Hasidim on one side, and on the other, a car-load of young men who seemed itchy for a fight and had tried to make eye-contact and heckled us and other drivers while we were all sitting still, waiting for traffic to move ahead. That had given me cause for concern, as had my previous journey through that same passage.

Looking back, I have a sense of pride in being able to say I did that, but I feel no cravings to repeat it.

I do wonder how much the world has changed. Would a young man with long hair and little money (and both innocence and fear) be able to hitchhike that same way today? The question does not burn enough in me to try that test, but I do pine a bit for the days when hitchhiking was fairly acceptable and there was a reasonable expectation of safety, and of getting a ride. Now it seems only the hardiest, boldest and most desperate take that method of transport. Yet my soft-spoken, un-intimidating mother had done so in her youth. Somehow those years when the world was younger, were times of greater trust, and perhaps of greater acceptance of differences. I do pine for those things, and hope they will be part of our future, in much greater measure.

Monday, August 20, 2007

It is time for aging hippies to get their spit together and revitalize the idealism of the 1960s. Assassinations and Altamont should not have been the back end of all the good that accumulated in that decade.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ann Coulter is the godless one.

I can't believe I haven't posted anything for four months . . . so here goes:

Ann Coulter did it. She said she would stop implying John Edwards is gay and would switch to saying she only wishes he'd get killed in a terrorist attack. This from a woman who's promoting her book with the title and thesis that godlessness is the ruination of our nation. So she's brazenly breaking the 9th (8th, if you're catholic) of the 10 commandments upon which she says this nation was founded. She places herself antithetically to the very one whose name she invokes in her book.

Matthew 5:44 - But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

That instruction is for Christians, regarding people who oppose them. John Edwards never attacked Ann Coulter. Elizabeth Edwards tried to treat Ann with respect, as one person to another. Ann doesn't get it.

If these are the teachings she's claiming to live by, she missed it completely. I can't remember the last time she did good to anyone she hates, nor blessed anyone who cursed her. She just tries to curse them in worse fashion, even the ones who try to practice those teachings in their dealings with her.

"Teacher," he said, "what must I do to be sure of living forever?"

"What does the Law say?" Jesus asked him. "How do you read it?"

"It says that you must love God with all that you are - with your will, your spirit, your body and your intellect - and that you must have the same regard for your neighbor as you have for yourself."

"Right," Jesus said. "Do that and you'll live."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

For our son

So it didn't take an attack or cancer for him to reflect on his own mortality-he did it all the time. You know, he'd say, "One of these days I'm gonna be dead and you're gonna have to look after these trees!" And I'd be, "Stop saying that, Dad!" And he'd be like, "But it's true." Because he was a realist. And I'm very much the same way. Everyone is gonna die, but no one thinks they're gonna die. No one. And that's like the biggest blind spot that everyone in the world has, this inability to believe that they're gonna die. And I think the sooner you
address that, the better, really. It's like practice, really.

Dhani Harrison, regarding his father, George Harrison

Life is not fair, my son. I might as well just tell you that now -- now that you are of an age that you are becoming self-conscious and will remember what happens to you and what people tell you, and now that you understand that we don't live forever.
One of the hardest things with which I have had to deal, for all of my life that I can remember, is the assumption – or presumption -- that life should be fair. I still struggle with it on a regular basis. No-one ever told me that life would be fair, but evidently I got the idea, or the tendency to think, that it SHOULD be fair. Many things I have seen, seem to be unfair, and I find myself angry about them, while most people around me seem unaffected.
I have, from my earliest remembrances, seen that humans were unkind to other humans and animals. I have seen that some people took advantage of other people, or hurt others with obvious intent, and I could never accept their apparent motivation, even revenge, for doing so. I was once threatened with violence and even struck repeatedly, but refused to fight my antagonist, who stalked off angrily and haunted my steps for years afterward. I am still angry that he was able to cause me such fear and distrust and distraction from other, more important things, for as long as he did. I hope I've forgiven him, but I worry about the prisoners he's spent many years guarding, in his chosen occupation. I fear that he has perpetuated the violence in others, that was inflicted on him as a child. I worry about his children.
So I find myself to be an idealist in an imperfect world. In teenage years I was told things like "let it go" or "lighten up" but found it impossible to do much but to try to moderate my feelings. I get angry over the slightest injustices.
For my own part, I regret the times that I have spoken unfair things of others, or said unkind things to other people, although I can't remember ever intending to hurt someone. I may have done so in responding to things while not controlling my emotion as well as I wished, but the worst I remember wanting to do is wishing to stop someone from hurting me any further. I used to fear my own potential for harming other people, if I should ever unleash it, but I usually walk away from a situation in which I feel my anger about to turn into violence. I deeply regret some of the times in which I have unleashed my frustration in forceful words, but I have always tried to apologize or to make it known that I've expressed emotion but not hatred.
I have come to see my own potential for physical violence as an ability our ancestors and animal relations have used for millenia, to protect resources and increase the chance that their kind would survive and reproduce. Humans just mis-use that potential in ways that are unnecessary and immoral and unfair.
I continue to observe that bad things happen to good people, but feel to the depths of my being that this SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN SO. This is just a feeling I get. On the other hand, I understand that the Universe simply operates upon cause and effect, not at the behest of temperamental gods or demons. I can acknowledge, intellectually, that life often is NOT fair, and I see that our world contains the potential for wonderful AND terrible things to happen to ANY and ALL of the creatures which inhabit it.
I would like to think that humans who do terrible things to others are somehow re-paid, either in punishment or shortened life or that they are given cause to make right for their transgressions, but this recompense is not consistent, and many injustices go un-answered. This is a fact. Whatever happens to them beyond this realm of living, is not known to me.
Too many persons with incredible potential to produce fairness and justice in their own living and to promote it in this world, have been murdered or taken by disease or lost to some accident, long before their work was well-advanced. Some have been killed specifically because others recognized their potential and wished to snuff it out, and one historic personality shared the same birthday with me for too few years. Too many persons who tortured or murdered or raped or exploited others, have lived to advanced years. This is true and inescapable, but truths like this are hard to accept, at least for me.
Dealing with life looking backward from the present, is the quintessential act of futility, yet I find myself continuing to practice it, year after year. I seem unable to escape the regret (and other emotional accompaniments) I feel when presented with specific cases, such as:
That my friend Tim (whose given name is your middle name) should have been given such genius without the psychological stability to deal with it;
That your grandfather never met his father, thanks to a disease that killed so many at that time;
That your grandfather, and all of us, never met his grandfather, because a broken relationship was never mended;
That you and I never got to know my uncle, who was so talented and outgoing, but chose to risk his life in fighting the Second World War;
That you and I never got to know my aunt, who was overcome by surgical complications;
That you and I never got to meet your mother's brother, whom she loved so much;
That those who seem most able to bring disparate peoples into unity often die without the opportunity to do so; and I could think of plenty of other things that I wish were not as they are.
But they are.
So it is that I was telling you, not long ago, that I don't want to stop you from questioning authority, because it is something you should do as an adult. I want you to trust me to be telling you things that are in your best interest. I told you that I will be happy to explain why I tell you to do things but won't always want to do so at the time. If you were about to be struck by a car, I wouldn't take the time to explain why you need to get out of the way, right?
I told you that you would need to learn to trust your own sense of right and wrong, no matter what other people do. I said that I was certain you would grow up to be a very good person. I saw the tears in your ten-year-old eyes as you leaned in to hug me.
Life is not fair. It is up to each of us to make it so, in the places we inhabit. And you, my boy, will do just fine.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Names and Places

We've been living on this bit of land for most of twenty years and I've tried to come up with a name for it intermittently since we first began building our house. I've tried to find a gaelic phrase that means "high place where water lingers" and we've toyed with "Aspen Grove" and other names, but I may have finally hit upon something while I was drifting between sleep and wakefulness this morning. Once again, procrastination may have yielded something of value. Or was it patience?

I was half-dreaming about being in a rock/folk band and hit upon a few clever names for the group but I woke after I thought of a phrase and began trying to decide how to spell the words. I'll explain after I tell these other stories (it helps to build the suspense):

Years ago, a friend of ours built a cabin out away from any other human habitations, and had a naming contest for her place. Our father won the contest by taking the word "shall" and adding "land", and in so doing honored both this friend's determination and the place she had chosen to live. It also implied the Hebrew term for peace (shalom). She didn't stay many years, finding that it was too far out.

I had tried living alone in a tipi one winter long ago, and had been in town for supplies or something. As I snowshoed back to the tipi I found the words "far out" stamped out in the snow near my shelter. It was.

I tried living in a resort town and working in a factory down south (because jobs were hard to come by, here in western New York) for almost a decade, but came back because all that stimulation didn't suit me. I've learned since then that even small college-town stimulation is hard on my nervous and psychological systems. So we've returned to the "far out" option.

We are far enough out to not have drunken students yelling and screaming and waking us up in the night. We're not so far but what we hear cars going by on the highways nearby, and I can get to the Fire Hall to drive an engine or ambulance in seven minutes.

But why not just call this place "home"? Somehow that was not enough for me. This place and this house have a sort of personality that is still growing and changing, as we are. I think that what came to me this morning while my brain was working between alpha and theta wavelengths, I suppose, was something that encapsulates why we live where we do, and how we do it. It was Wood Not or Would Knot, and I think I've settled on the latter.

We made many choices about where to build our home, and how we have been building it, that we might, in retrospect, wish to change. But I have lived with plenty of regret, and tire of it. Would Knot posits that same sort of determination my father recognized in our friend, and we've had to learn. Would Knot also posits the connection we have been making to this place and its creatures. I think it's a good name.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I had a dream........Thank you, Martin.

I woke up this morning having dreamt about my ex-brother-in-law and timber salvage legislation. In the dream, I was explaining to my sister how salvage legislation left the door open for cutting almost any timber, when he handed me an article detailing how that was no longer true. I said that, due to the new Democratic majority, they must have tightened up the legislation before passing it. So I woke up with a renewed sense of hope that I had not dared to feel, until very recently. I've been saying for six years, that my baseline blood pressure would be elevated for as long as G.W. Bush was in office. So, for my own health (and yours and that of the next seven generations), I think his impeachment is worth considering.

But, speaking of hope, I was drinking (organic) coffee and talking with a friend of mine yesterday, when he mentioned that, on one of the forums he watches on biodiesel, people were talking about how maybe global warming wasn't real, and that record temperatures were just due to natural cycling. Boy, did I go from there: I told him that even the "normal" cycling is changing, and that there is no doubt that global warming is happening. He commented that he doesn't know any of the science on the subject, and that he can't do anything about global warming. Yeah, right.

This is the guy who decided to buy an old diesel truck and convert it to run on vegetable oil, just to cut his fuel cost. This is the guy who commented that I prepare for things so thoroughly that he figures I would pull a spare car on a trailer if I went on a journey, just in case the first car broke down. Unlike me and my preparations, he just decided to do it, and did it. He researched how to do so on-line, then figured out how to do it better, and has set up four different vehicles with a hybrid diesel/vegetable oil fuel delivery system, learning a lot more with each iteration.

This is the guy who decided to burn vegetable oil because converting it to biodiesel involved hazardous materials and was more expensive. And he can't do anything about global warming. At that moment, I didn't try to convince him otherwise, although we'd talked about this before.

So I explained some of the science of global warming to him; how scientists (some of whom are friends of mine) use tree ring widths to extrapolate climate averages; how they've re-constructed tree ring widths back into the past; how they have drilled ice cores and aged the ice and extracted entrapped gases to estimate climate; how there is no doubt that the earth's surface is warming at an unprecedented rate; and that ice is disappearing more quickly than people estimated or feared, and that it is now feared that much of what is happening could be irreversible.

He just commented that he couldn't do anything about it.

So I woke up this morning hoping to convince him otherwise, because I keep trying. I tried when I signed on-line petitions and when I talked with people about how they were voting. I tried when I was a Technical Specialist, working with students and telling them about things they could do. I tried when I helped a University faculty search committee choose a climate scientist to fill a vacancy. I tried when I taught Environmental Science to a class of 40 students from Japan, Bulgaria, South Carolina, rural New York state and New York City's boroughs. I try when I do as many errands as I can in one trip. I try when I talk with my son about what matters to each of us. I try when I look on-line for a diesel truck that I can convert to vegetable oil fuel.

My friend is not a liberal, not a Democrat, not an environmentalist. But we have been good friends because we are both willing to hear the other's viewpoint and give it a good listen, but still disagree on some things. We don't disagree about how much we love our wives and children, nor about how corrupt our government is, although we sometimes disagree about what should be done to correct it, and so on.

I like to think that, if he and I can disagree but continue to respect each other and continue to talk about what change is needed for our boys to have a good life, there is still hope. I hope that the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress will just be the beginning.

About Me

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I've been a number of things over the years: husband, father, environmental technical specialist, college instructor, carpenter, volunteer firefighter and ambulance driver, student of Lakota and Japanese languages, technical writer, process engineer, research technician, IT technician, emergency dispatcher, etc.