Harvey

September 2017. I had thought I was in a unique situation, stranded elsewhere during Harvey, although coming back on the plane full of Houstonians ten days later I realized I was not all that unique. Various reasons had caused this group of people to be away during a natural disaster and we had left behind family or friends or both. Stories abounded, phones with pictures were passed around, there was some laughter, a lot of quiet. Flight attendants were especially attentive, asking as they walked up and down, everyone all right? Everyone all right? One made a speech when we landed: it was their honor to get us home, whether we were coming to help or returning to our lives, it was Southwest’s honor to get us back.

A strange word to use, honor.

The ladies next to me had spent most of the flight talking about their husband and their son, how one had coped badly and one not at all with the tragedy unfolding around them. Neither of them in any danger, both of them mildly inconvenienced, these men, and their women were not admiring.

I didn’t talk with them. I didn’t pull out pictures of grandchildren or friends’ flooded houses or that picture that went viral of that dog carrying away a bag of dog food. None of us were there, I wanted to say. No matter if the husband complained about running out of ice cream or the son worked from home his usual nine hours a day and didn’t call his mother, so what, you weren’t there. You don’t get to talk.

I had a lovely time in Colorado. I saw beautiful things. I met beautiful people who cared for and about me. Every small piece fell into place as the days went by but I got tireder and tireder. I was watching my life go on effortlessly so why then was I exhausted? Maybe because I was watching horror and despair around the clock, it seemed, on the television and the computer and the smart phone. Even when I wasn’t watching, I was watching. My imagination never turned itself off.

Whole Foods. I ate fried rice and watched Denverites sit on their stools and their chairs, some wearing their chic boots, others watching their iPads, food going in, polite conversation going out. I could think of nothing else but drowning.

All these miles away, the hopeful and helpful and heroic folks who went in and did the unimaginable, saved not only their own but everyone else’s own became their own mantra: they went in, they went in, they went in.

And all these days later a plane full of people studied below the swollen bayous and swaths of dirty water and rivers running out of their banks, all from 10,000 feet high up in the air and they talked and they laughed and they grimly said nothing and while they looked at all that water, and thank God, more land than water, the flight attendants kept asking them, is everyone all right?

Is everyone all right?

A Worthwhile Retreat

august 2017. from my Facebook posts:

years of attending useless 'retreats' for the start of school but today's was anything but. our large faculty and staff was broken down into small groups and sent out to various non-profits for a day of service. i went to angela house, a place where women newly released from prison/jail can come to live and learn how to be productive. we cleaned some unused rooms and made lunch for the residents. lots of impressive stories and stats but the best was this: for women who stay there for four months or longer the recidivism rate is 13%, compared to 57% in traditional halfway houses, and that's on $23 a day per person, mental health issues included, compared to $35 a person per day in traditional settings, excluding those with mental health issues. (those may cost the taxpayer all the way up to $160 a day.) all sorts of resources have been corralled from the community to teach the women how to be good citizens, workers, mothers, etc. - including one volunteer group who waits all day at the bus station when an inmate is scheduled to be released, so they can meet her personally, give her a sandwich and drive her to angela house. five minutes is all it takes to suck a person back into the life they left and predators at the bus station can spot a new release in a second. a nun, who is a former police officer/parole officer/social worker started this place and runs it, and she is a firecracker. her guiding principle is treat a person with respect and dignity and you'll get that back at you in spades. too much to tell here but suffice it to say i am inspired. hard problems can be solved. you just need experience, common sense, empathy and a calling. oh, and you probably need a nun...

Way Out West

June 2017. There's a fire in Burbank, several hundred miles north of us here at Dorland but I saw the definitive black cloud early this afternoon. This evening, at dusk, the cloud has become an all-encompassing shroud of smog and haze. I can still see the twinkling lights down in the valley, the town of Temecula chugging along as it should. And up here on our mountain, I stand on the porch of the outermost cabin at Dorland and can simultaneously see the sign of tragedy far in the distance and life as usual at my feet. The artists' colony at Dorland is special for many reasons, one being it burned down itself a decade ago and has slowly, with the help of its dedicated community and volunteers built itself back. But it's also special because of its perspective. Fire does its thing here in the West as do people. Not all of what people do is good. A lot of what we do only furthers our own destruction. Yet, I see hope. I see it in the fact that ahead of the smoke stars and the moon are quite visible above Temecula and above my own head. I see hope in the fact that places like this exist and people are willing to go out of their way to build and support it. There might not be any hope in smoke and fire. There is always hope though, once it's done. 

Bob

April 2017. One of the most inhospitable animals I’ve ever come across is my cat, Bob. Many visitors to my home over the years will testify to this. He is averse to humans. But as he’s aged he’s begun to yowl early in the mornings, pacing the living room and kitchen, for no apparent reason. Except that he’s alone. As family and dog begin to appear for the day, he stops yowling. He may not play with anyone or even get too close except for an occasional head butt. But he is happy he’s not the only one awake anymore. I guess I see his point now that it’s daylight savings and I have to rise and shine before the sun. Misery does love company.

There's a story there...

April 2017. Just spent 45 minutes Googling three businesses in an 1895 photo of Austin, Texas, to see if they were still in business today. One sign was a man’s name on a castle-like red-brick building. Found out that guy was a photographer and a few years later had moved to Missouri and held two patents, one for the screw-bottle cap we have today and another for a special cabinet that held photo negatives. Found out the jeweler guy lasted until the mid-1960s. And the shoe merchant held a patent for a special sort of shoe. Found a write-up in a shoe vendors’ paper about his new fall line in 1905. This is what I consider fun. I wonder if I took a wrong turn somewhere in life. But then, what this sort of random research is, at its heart, is stories. And I have always liked stories, mine and anyone else’s.

Human Birds

March 2017. We all spend too much time staring at screens but this time of year I spend an inordinate amount of time staring at birds on a screen. Not just any birds. The Decorah eagles. I am fascinated that they have been together ten years, raised 25 children successfully and will remain together until one of them dies. I am fascinated that they can slumber with one eye open and sleep through a tornadic downpour. I am fascinated that they take such minute and intensive care with their fragile eggs and chicks and yet are at the top of the predator chain. I am fascinated by their architectural expertise as evidenced by their gigantic nest and I am fascinated by their repertoire as they sing, scream, call and chirp. I am fascinated by their dedication to each other and their family. You might think I humanize these birds and you’d be right. I do. But after a day of absorbing all the inhumane ways humans treat one another, humanizing a bald eagle is a comforting habit to come home to. Even if it does mean staring at a screen.