Road Trip X, Days 6-10, Oakland to LA to Joshua Tree to Tucson: Making the Big Left Turn

Along with the color green, we tend to front-load our road trips with family and friends all down the west coast. In fact, in our first week we somehow visited with 18 different dear people, some just for a meal, some for a hike, some for a night or two, and some for all of the above.
Then comes the Big Left Turn from LA, and it’s just the Mate and Red Rover and I heading out across the desert.

So let me catch up a little before that desert becomes my be-all and end-all. Because I don’t like to violate my family’s privacy, I won’t show any pictures of our adorable six-year-old twin cousins. But here’s the late valentines they left on the door for me when I went for a walk.

I’m mellllting…

After two days and nights of walks and drawing and playing and reading aloud (grandparent practice!), not to mention enjoying our adult cousins’ excellent cooking chops (literally and figuratively), we headed for SoCal. Google kept asking if we didn’t want to save an hour by taking I-5, but we had a date with a certain bike path in Santa Barbara.

Suck it, I-5.

Then we spent the night with our dear friend Rhonda in the Agoura Hills, marveling at her Phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the Woolsey Fire, which I documented last year. It was nice to hear someone with good things to say about her insurance company. (Not pictured: Rhonda’s rebuilt house.)

On our last day in LA, we met our adventure buddies Tom & Kate for a hike in Malibu. Usually Tom & Kate meet us somewhere further from home, like Moab or the Rockies, but this year they only had the one day. We made it work.

So much prettier when it’s not on fire!

Who knew these dry hills still cling to a few waterfalls?

Don’t worry, little waterfall. I’ll never give your hideout away.

Since we are crazy people, though, the absolute highlight of that hike was this guy:

Hey, big guy! We don’t have any of y’all where we live, so thanks for the thrill.

Our visit with our next set of cousins (my side of the fam) was brief but sweet…and as in years past, yielded not only a bag of avocados from Cousin Elias and Helen’s giant tree, but also another bag, full of oranges from Cousin Susi’s equally ancient backyard tree! So this trip can now celebrate the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocados AND Oranges!

Much as we love our cousins and friends, after four days we were DONE with driving through Californian cities.

Left Turn!!!! Bring on the brown signs! Specifically, Joshua Tree National Park.

Since we were in this exact same spot exactly one year ago, I was able to compare the effects of greater or less rainfall. Last year, I took more pictures of wildflowers than rocks. But this year?

I’m okay with just rocks, thanks.

And let’s not forget JT’s legendary palm oases. This one’s called Lost Oasis, and requires a round-trip 9 mile hike.

Worth it.

You don’t have to walk 9 miles to see palms, though. These beauties are right by the parking lot.

In the midst of the desert, you can see why these things are so godly.

The ranger told us that desert tortoises had been active in the area, so we got our hopes up. But this was the only tortoise we found.

And now you’re just as sad as we were. Sorry. 😞

Back at camp, I had to race the sun to get dinner out before dark. Cue the avos and oranges!

Don’t judge my atrocious presentation—I was in a rush!

We love Joshua Tree, but this trip we were saving our linger-longer desert days for another special place…and one that’s a lot less populated. But I’ll save that for the next post. We spent an uninteresting night in Tucson (not Tucson’s fault, we just needed a down day), but as always felt gratitude for its bike paths (not pictured, sorry).

For now, I just want to say, Thank you, California, for your glorious diversity. No thank you for your traffic…but I can’t blame folks for wanting a piece of you. On to the glorious Chiricahuas!

 

Road Trip X, Days 1-5, Lopez Island to Oakland, CA: Front-loading the Greenery

Welcome back to Wing’s World’s annual morph into travelogue! This will be the TENTH cross-country the Mate and I have made together, from our wee island home in the northwest to visit our previous lives back in my home state of North Carolina.

Featuring me, Red Rover!

Yes, we do realize we really couldn’t make it a longer trip unless we lived in Alaska and journeyed back to Florida. Yes, we are deeply uncomfortable with our carbon footprint. But we are also deeply in love with Brown Sign Nation—all those national and state and regional parks which belong to us all—and deeply committed to friends and family scattered across the continent. This pilgrimage keeps us close to all of them.

Then there are our beloved Tarheels, and our beloved Tarheel  Tribe that assembles in the second week of March to cheer our team on and eat greasy southern food. The way the Heels have been playing this season, we’re more likely to be weeping over our BBQ than cheering. But I’ll save my bitterness for another post (since I doubt another Dukie will break his shoe this year).

Photo credit–and cake credit!–to my friend and fellow Tarheel fan, Cynny Scott

Let’s get to it!

We left Lopez on a windy Valentine’s Day. I took one farewell walk out to the ocean, where the foam was flying through the air like cottonwood fluff.

Flying foam: courtesy Salish Sea

In a departure from tradition, we turned north from the ferry and spent the night with dear friends in Bellingham. This didn’t really feel like part of our road trip, though, so I didn’t take pictures. And next morning, driving to Eugene, the weather was so atrocious I spent the whole drive being an extra pair of eyes on the road for the Mate, who does 90% of our driving.

But Day 2 in Eugene dawned gorgeously. With our friends, we went for a walk in the reserve of Mt. Pisgah, just outside of town. The default ecosystem there is oak savannah. Now, since oaks are among the top five things I miss about the south (my parents, the Tarheels, BBQ and Mama Dip’s chicken being the other four), I was immediately in heaven.

Ohhhhhk treeeees….

Ever notice how much lichen and fronds sound like liking and friends? I don’t think that’s an accident.

This ones called lung lichen! Breathe easy.

And this is …. lichen.

After two nights with two separate sets of very dear, long-standing friends (cuz I don’t want to call them “old”), we headed out for another set of dear friends…California’s coastal redwoods.

It wanted to hug me back, but it was too tall.

The most amazing thing about this visit? It WASN’T RAINING.

You see trees. I see sunlight!

Day 5, we said goodbye to Humboldt County and headed for our cousins’ home in Oakland. In the little hamlet of Legget we stopped for gas and chatted with the young man at the pumps. As I enthused about the beautiful sunny day, he looked around at the surrounding redwoods and informed me that it hadn’t rained for almost a month. During rainy season. “Take a good look at these trees,” he said. “Might not be here this time next year, if it keeps up this way.”

I immediately felt bad for my cheer about the sun, and offered to send him some rain from my home state. And I thought: green. Yes please. More of that! And that’s exactly what we got when we stopped for a bike ride on a rail-trail path in Santa Rosa a couple hours later.

Greeeeen. Even the prickly pear is green!

Green is what saves us. Green is what keeps us from catching on fire. And green is what we’ll soon be missing as we take that big left turn and head out across the Mojave. So we’re filling our eyes as full as we can of green….just as we fill our hearts with frondship. I mean friendship. To our lichen!

 

 

Wing’s World Goes Mobile: Let’s Get Ready to Rrrrrrrrroad Trip!

It’s that time of year. In our little corner of the Northwest, the ditches are running full enough to kayak in, sun is a tantalizing memory, and anything with wings that migrates is starting to do so, in reverse. Including these Wings. Except, being bipedal and 4-wheeled, we go EAST. This year: Road Trip X.

“What route are you guys taking this year?” ask friends who know about our annual pilgrimage to North Carolina.

My standard answer: “Head to L.A. and turn left. After that–the weather’s in charge.”

Sometimes the weather’s in charge even on the very outskirts of LA.

I-5, Tejon Pass

And of course we don’t head STRAIGHT there. Along the way, we stop to visit dear friends, family members, and trees.

Prairie Creek Redwoods, CA

And even in the sunny desert, we’re reminded that THE WEATHER IS IN CHARGE.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson

We spend time with rocks. Grey ones…

Chiricahua National Monument

…red ones…

Arches National Park, UT

…and brown ones.

Natural Bridges State Park, KY.

We spend time with mountains, western…

Guadalupe Mts. National Park, TX

…and eastern.

Appalachians, NC.

Sometimes we imbibe a little “culture.”

Mardi Gras in Dallas

…and history.

Vicksburg, MS

ALWAYS, with our Tar Heel Tribe, we celebrate our team (God knows they need our love this year!) with lots and lots of food.

Pie Day, 3.14

We spend quality time with my parents…

Dad’s bike’s electric now. But he’s 89 1/2, so, yeah.

…and the woods where I grew up.

Trout lily

If weather allows, we camp–and celebrate the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocado (from our LA cousins’ tree).

Chiricahuas

If weather doesn’t, we fall in love with cute park cabins.

Land Between the Lakes, KY

As always, we seek the Perfect Bike Path.

Katy Trail, MO.

As always–did I mention this? The weather’s in charge.

I-70, CO

As always, we are thrilled to see this sign after 6+ weeks on the road:

Says it all!

And as always, we are even more thrilled to be HOME at the end of March. (Flaming sunset’s just the cherry on top.)

Home Sweet Lopez Island

So, friends–please wish us buen viaje, bon voyage, safe travels, and Go Tarheels! Be safe yourselves; stay warm & dry. See you on the road.

Red Rover just can’t wait to get on that ferry & hit the rowdy road.

Ironman, Shmironman: New Zealand’s Coast to Coast World Multisport Championship

This is THE weekend. As I’m writing this, the countdown clock for the start of the Coast to Coast is down to 2 hours something. It starts on Friday, Feb. 7. Today is Thursday, Feb. 6. So it starts in two hours–how??? Oh yeah–New Zealand time. Already tomorrow there. No wonder those buggers are so quick.

Photo by Diversions.nz

Actually, the race that starts Friday is the “easy” race: competitors take TWO days to race across the skinny part of NZ’s South Island, from Coast to Coast, on foot, bicycle, and kayak. And by “easy” I mean “less insane.” Here’s the C2C’s own description of the race course:

Competitors leave on foot from the black sands and lush windswept landscapes on the West Coast, running 2.2km inland to their waiting bikes. They then follow the Taramakau River 50km to the foothills of the Southern Alps where they switch their bikes for runners and the first true test of the course.

Photo by Eventfinda.nz

The 30.5km run is mainly off trail with the rocky riverbed often the only direct line up the valley. Competitors encounter multiple river crossings with frigid crystal clear water and an elevation gain of nearly 800m on their way to Goat Pass and the start of the descent.

Photo by NZ Herald

With the very fastest athletes taking nearly 3 hours the run is as much a test of co-ordination and strength as it is outright speed.
A short 15km ride follows before the second jewel in the course. The mighty Waimakariri River. 70kms of braids and a stunning gorge, the river section is for many both the highlight and the crux of the race. The water flows swiftly in places and mixes long calm sections with rapids up to grade 2 in size.

The racer I followed in 2017, Josie, finishing the 70k kayak portion (my photo)

It takes competitors from the heart of the Southern Alps out on to the Canterbury Plains where just one final 70km ride stands between competitors and the finish on the East Coast at the New Brighton Pier amongst a vibrant beachside festival.

Map by NZTourismGuide.nz

Got that? Run to ride to run to ride to paddle to ride. For a total of 238 kilometers. That’s over 147 miles. The actual World Multisport Championship part of the C2C doesn’t start till Saturday–at 0:dark-thirty. That’s the race they call The Longest Day. And you can guess why.

I first learned about this race when my family and I spent a year in New Zealand, back in the 1990s. I came to see multisport racing in general, and the Coast to Coast in particular, as emblematic of the Kiwi approach both to sport and to life. (Notice how much those two are entwined? Yeah, all those cliche-spouting coaches are pretty much right.)

Which is why the novel I’m writing is set in NZ, and features a race much like the C2C. And why my heart is now with the athlete who let me “ride along” with her crew, back in 2017, so I could see and feel the race up close. You can read that story here.

What, you thought I was going to DO the Longest Day? Do I seem that crazy tough athletic to you? (If yes, ummm…thanks? But no thanks!)

In 2017, Josie, the athlete I followed–a mum with two daughters–finished the Longest Day in just over 15 hours, fourth woman! This year, Josie’s going for it again! Over the course of her Saturday, our Friday, I’ll be checking in with the course-tracker app to follow her progress up and over the mountains, through dark of night, fording crystalline streams…

…Sorry. Easy to get carried away. I’ll just stop here with: Go, you crazy racers! GO JOSIE!

Now back to my nice, comfy laptop…

Josie’s finish in 2017. Have a beer! (Photo by C2C.nz)

See Otter? No–SEA Otter! (So What?)

You know those times when you get so ridiculously excited about something you just have to blurt to the first person you see?

(If no…I gotta say, congrats on your self-restraint, but really? Try it sometime.)

I had one of those the other day. Rushing back down the path from the gorgeous portion of National Monument that is my backyard, I met a stranger walking my way. “I saw a sea otter! Keep an eye out for it!” I blurted.

He gave me what felt like a patronizing look–and I should know, having given plenty of those myself. “Those are river otters,” he said, kindly enough. “They’ve taken over the marine habitat, but they–”

River Otter: cute! (photo by R.A.Killmer, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

“No!” I interrupted. “I mean, yes, I know–you’re right, I’ve never seen a sea otter in these waters, but I just did!”

I went on to describe what I’d seen through my binocs (after zooming home and zooming back out again–don’t usually carry binocs on my walks): big creature, almost as long as a seal, floating on its back, flippery hind feet sticking straight out of the water, front paws on tummy, as though it were making itself into a floating tray. Silver face.

Sea otter: CUTER! (photo by Brian Wotherspoon, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The guy switched to Interest Mode and hastened down the path.

We don’t get many sea otters in the Salish Sea. In fact, in ten years of several-walks-per-week, I’ve NEVER seen one. Special as I felt, I wanted to find out exactly how rare they were. Here’s what I learned from an article posted July 2018 by Rob Ollikainen in the Peninsula Daily News:

Most sea otters are spotted off the Pacific Coast at places like Destruction Island and Cape Flattery, said Erin Gless, a naturalist with Island Adventures Whale Watching.

“A few individuals, however, seem to be exploring more inland waters,” Gless said in a Monday news release.

“While it’s too early to determine what’s bringing these sea otters in from the coast, their presence is encouraging.

Turns out the otter I saw–all by its lonesome, and it probably was, ’cause sea otters are super-social creatures–has already been adopted by some who’ve spotted it. According to this article and a couple of others I read, this guy is either “Ollie the Otter,” first spotted near Victoria in 2015, or else “Odin,” a one-eyed male seen more recently off San Juan Island. Since that’s much closer to me, I’m guessing Odin’s more likely–but I couldn’t quite see its eyes through my glasses. As for a close-up shot?

Let’s just say I’m considering buying a zoom lens for my phone.

By the end of the article, though, my excitement got its comeuppance.

Anne Shaffer, executive director of the Coastal Watershed Institute, which studies the ecology of the nearshore near the mouth of the Elwha River, said the recent sea otter sighting was interesting but not unusual.

“There are otters that are off our shore, off the central Strait, one or two a year,” Shaffer said Friday.

A semi-resident sea otter was known to be living off the San Juan Islands for years. An adult male was living in the south Puget Sound, Shaffer said.

“There certainly transit our shoreline but they’re not abundant,” Shaffer said.

“It’s an interesting observation but not necessarily ecologically astounding. But they’re cool animals.”

Well, excuuuuse me for being astounded. Cool animals are welcome to do that to me any day. I’m also constantly on the lookout for ANY good ecological news, and I reserve the right to receive this otter as exactly that.

Anyone else got an astoundingly-cool-animal-in-your-backyard story to share????

 

Adventures in Past-Shedding: You Want Me to Throw Out WHAT?

It’s been 18 months since my teaching certificate expired, the one I first earned in 1987. I haven’t taught an actual class of high school students since 2010. But that hasn’t stopped me from hanging onto all my old folders of lesson plans…until now.

Although the Mate and I left Tacoma in 2010 for Lopez Island, we didn’t sell our house here. We’ve been lucky enough to have housesitters who took care of all maintenance and utilities and still gave us the right of return whenever we (or other friends) had business in the Big City. But that’s about to change. The house where we became Northwesterners and raised our family is finally going on the market.

Which means we have to sort through all the boxes stored in the basement; divvy up furniture and dishes and linens to friends and relatives and Craigslist; curate, then cart a zillion loads of books and clothes and dishes and blankets and toys and who-knows-what-all to various giveaway sites we thought we’d already maxed out on when we moved ten years ago clean up a bit.

Why, I ask myself, did I even need to look inside the box marked “Old Lesson Plans”? Why not just throw it away? My certificate is lapsed. No former colleague is about to call me for best practices on introducing To Kill A Mockingbird.

My first gig, 1987: Orange High School
in Hillsborough NC

Of course I looked anyway.

I taught five–count ’em, FIVE–sections of 9th Grade Civics, each section a complete different planet of kids

Now, if you notice that the above picture is cut off, that’s not an accident. That’s to avoid showing off the last name of this one kid, Don S, who quickly became the bane of my first-year-teacher existence. Don was the kind of kid I learned to love–funny, basically good-hearted, but with zero use for anything that wasn’t centered around his ability to have a good time. I spent my first week of teaching doling out “LD’s”–lunch detentions–to Don. Like that helped any. 🙂

In those days, besides filling in the Plan Book, I wrote out a complete Lesson Plan on a separate sheet every day. Before I threw all these materials away, something called on me to take a closer look. To see what was so gol-durned important to me, at age 25, that I spent my precious after-school hours (when I could’ve been grading essays) honing in on.

Yep–one of these, every day. Good thing I only had ONE class to prep then!

And here’s what I noticed: that whole bottom portion of the form is given to self-evaluation. What worked, what didn’t, why, and how to fix it tomorrow.

Some days, I remember, it felt more like I was going backwards than forwards with those kids. (Can I get an Amen from any teachers out there?) And yet…I kept filling out those sheets, day after day, until, finally that self-evaluation didn’t need to be written out anymore. It was completely internalized.

Fast-forward to my latter years of teaching. Instead of one prep, I had FIVE. But here’s all I needed to write in my Plan Book.

Made perfect sense to me at the time!

What’s missing from that latter Plan Book is the same thing that’s missing from the non-existent Daily Plans I pored over in the 1980s. What took its place? Confidence. Experience. Trust. Did I also get a little bit lazier? Mayyybe…though more likely, as with most working-outside-the-home parents, anything that saves time is anything that saves sanity.

Mostly what’s NOT in these boxes is inside ME. Still. Thank GOODNESS I don’t have to box THAT up and take it to Goodwill.

I would love to hear any thoughts from others discovering emblems of their working past. Any echoes here?

What Rhymes With Snow? Let’s Go! And…Ego.

The weatherati predicted an “additional five inches” of snow last night–heady words for this part of Washington, where we get excited by one or two. Turns out they lowballed it by…well, about 5 inches.

Even though morning’s my usual writing time, I was 100% down with flipping my schedule, chomping at the bit to get out there at first light and view the majesty.

Turns out I got even more than I’d bargained for.

Oh MY.

Jeez, if someone had mentioned the SUN was due out, I’d have gotten up even earlier!

Me, not thinking about work right now.

Once I’d wrung the last drops out of that sunrise, I headed out onto the public lands and got on with the serious business of Walking In Snow. On craggy rocks along a blustery shore. I paid careful attention to where I put my feet. And then it hit me: the REAL reason I felt so compelled to be the absolute FIRST person out on the snowy national monument that was my backyard: FOOTPRINTS.

You can relate, yes? That deep, I’m talking childhood-level, never-gonna-grow-up joy of being the first to–well, let’s be honest: to mess something up.

After a good hour, I faced a choice: keep going around one more small loop, or turn around.

Me: Hey, I’m plenty exercised. Got lots of work to do at home. Wouldn’t it be nice of me to leave one pristine stretch for some other snow-walker to leave her mark on?

Myself: Yes. Yes, it would. But, I mean, another 3/4 of a mile would be even better, right?

Me: It’s not mileage you’re worried about and you know it. It’s…

Myself: …footprints, yeah, yeah, I know. Can we go make some more? Can we? Just look at that whiteness!

Sooooo tempting…

Myself won.

Sorry, not sorry!

On my way home, the lyrics of my song “Eight Snow Angels” popped into my head. I think you can see why.

Eight Snow Angels

The snow’s a crystal carpet laid upon my lawn—

man, it really must’ve dumped last night.

Nothing but perfection everywhere you turn,     

and the hillside is a tempting page of white.

 

Days like this, you can’t resist that elemental urge:

get those snow boots on your inner child.

She’s been holed up all this dark gray winter long;

send her out to play, set her running wild.

 

Chorus 1:

Feels so good, feels so good

Feels so good to me.    x2

 

Now the snowy hill reads itself back to me,

glowing dimly in the sinking sun:

eight snow angels and a dirty footprint heart,                   

and my initials trampled on the damage done.

Chorus 2:

But it felt so good, felt so good,

Felt so good to me.

Eight snow angels and a footprint heart–

It felt so good to me.

 

Bridge:

Icicles are mounted like trophies for the pure,

but I just want to break ’em.

 (Why do I want to break ’em?

You can only win one by resisting their allure,

but still we want to take ’em.

 (Why do we want to take ’em?)

Maybe if I’m lucky it’ll snow again

and all my trespasses will be forgiven.                                       

Maybe I’ll restrain myself and let that beauty be—

 or at the very least, stop angeling at seven.

 

Chorus:

’Cause it felt so good, felt so good

Felt so good to me.

Eight snow angels and a footprint heart–

It felt so good to me.

Eight snow angels and a dirty footprint heart–

It felt so good to me.

Anyone got a good answer as to WHY messing up snow “felt so good to me”? I’d love to hear.

“How To Love a Country”–With a Little Help From My Poets and Reporters

As part of my New Year Intention to spend more time with bridge-builders, I recently listened to an On Being podcast I’d stockpiled for moments like these (like, for example, when your country suddenly decides to go to war). I sure picked a good one. When Krista Tippett interviews civil engineer/poet Richard Blanco, these guys give me language to keep looking for bridges.

(Did you catch that? Poet AND civil engineer? How much bridgier can you get?)

Mr. Blanco celebrates what he’s noticing about this country, that whoever “we” are, we’re starting to pay attention to others at risk.

 I just love that we’re stepping up, and we’re realizing, no. OK, this is — I don’t have to go to that protest; it’s not about me. But that poem … you know, “First they came for the so-and-so”? Remember that poem? And I think we’re finally — we’re not doing that. We’re not waiting for them to come for us. We are stepping up and realizing that the quality of life, the virtue of this country, depends on every human being’s story, to a certain degree; that our happiness depends on other people’s happiness, and we’re moving from a space of dependence to realizing our interdependence.

And Krista agrees:

It becomes a discipline, almost like a spiritual discipline, to take that seriously, too. It’s a way of us, some of us, enough of us, collectively, living this phrase that you have at the beginning of the book, How to Love a Country: “Tell me with whom you walk, and I’ll tell you who you are.” So it’s us, expanding that sense of who we are.

As an American, I would prefer to walk in a wider lane than I have, historically, as a White woman. I want a richer sense of who “we” are. Since I moved from a very diverse town and job to an island that is…let’s say NOT diverse, I’ve been finding other ways to broaden my “we.”

The most significant step I’ve taken is to subscribe to the New York Times, and then sign up for its newsletter on the topic of “Race/Related.” That means I get stories right into my inbox that particularly relate to people NOT like me. The other day, for example, I read a wonderful story by Kurt Streeter about the WNBA star Maya Moore taking a sabbatical from basketball at the peak of her career to work on freeing a man from prison whom she believes to be innocent. What a story. What a gift.

Yes, the NYT costs money and CNN is free…but the NYT is doing work I actively want to support. Because it supports US.

Listening to the interview with Richard Blanco left me feeling choked up about my country. (Do you know how hard it is to ride your exercise bike hard while choking up? I had to slow down.) And this is the poem that did it. I’m passing it on to you now, hoping it both chokes you up and builds you up, as it did me. As it could us.

The poem is called Declaration of Interdependence, and is woven through with actual excerpts from the Declaration of Independence. Here’s the poet’s explanation of the title:

...finding language, finding another angle, finding another dialogue, and how easily stereotyped and typecast people can become in the news; and, also, how we do it to ourselves — “Oh, you drive a red pickup truck; therefore, you must be this person. You shop at Whole Foods; therefore, you must be this kind of person. You drive a Subaru; therefore, you must be this kind of person,” and realizing that that’s really something that’s been slowly chipping away at our brains, this sort of immediate — I won’t say “judgment,” but a typecasting that sometimes, we’re not even aware. So I just wanted to break down some of those stereotypes and create empathy across those stereotypes.

But it also, ultimately, comes from a saying, a greeting from the Zulu people, that was the real inspiration here…They don’t say “Good morning” like we do, like we did, this morning. “Good morning; I need coffee.” [laughs] They look at one another, right in the eyes, and say, “I see you.” And there’s an incredible power in seeing and being acknowledged. And if I’m not mistaken, the reply is, “I’m here to be seen. And I see you.” …We’re not seeing each other as clearly, and I think this poem was trying to let us see each other clearly.

And here’s the poem. Happy Interdependence Day!

“Declaration of Interdependence”

 Such has been the patient sufferance…

We’re a mother’s bread, instant potatoes, milk at a checkout line. We’re her three children pleading for bubble gum and their father. We’re the three minutes she steals to page through a tabloid, needing to believe even stars’ lives are as joyful and as bruised. Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury…

We’re her second job serving an executive absorbed in his Wall Street Journal at a sidewalk café shadowed by skyscrapers. We’re the shadows of the fortune he won and the family he lost. We’re his loss and the lost. We’re a father in a coal town who can’t mine a life anymore because too much and too little has happened, for too long.

A history of repeated injuries and usurpations…

We’re the grit of his main street’s blacked-out windows and graffitied truths. We’re a street in another town lined with royal palms, at home with a Peace Corps couple who collect African art. We’re their dinner-party talk of wines, wielded picket signs, and burned draft cards. We’re what they know: it’s time to do more than read the New York Times, buy fair-trade coffee and organic corn.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress…

We’re the farmer who grew the corn, who plows into his couch as worn as his back by the end of the day. We’re his TV set blaring news having everything and nothing to do with the field dust in his eyes or his son nested in the ache of his arms. We’re his son. We’re a black teenager who drove too fast or too slow, talked too much or too little, moved too quickly, but not quick enough. We’re the blast of the bullet leaving the gun. We’re the guilt and the grief of the cop who wished he hadn’t shot.

We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor…

We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor…

We’re the dead, we’re the living amid the flicker of vigil candlelight. We’re in a dim cell with an inmate reading Dostoevsky. We’re his crime, his sentence, his amends, we’re the mending of ourselves and others. We’re a Buddhist serving soup at a shelter alongside a stockbroker. We’re each other’s shelter and hope: a widow’s fifty cents in a collection plate and a golfer’s ten-thousand-dollar pledge for the cure. 

We hold these truths to be self-evident…

We’re the cure for hatred caused by despair. We’re the good morning of a bus driver who remembers our name, the tattooed man who gives up his seat on the subway. We’re every door held open with a smile when we look into each other’s eyes the way we behold the moon. We’re the moon. We’re the promise of one people, one breath declaring to one another: I see you. I need you. I am you.

–Richard Blanco

“I see you. I need you. I am you.” (Photo by TPapi, “Crowds on the Mall,” Jan. 9 2009)

New Year’s Intention: Spend Time With Bridge-Builders

You know who I mean. People who challenge me, gently, if I start to rant, instead of saying, “I know, right?” People who aren’t afraid of talking with folks who disagree with them. People who are only afraid of what happens if we all stop talking with folks we disagree with.

I am not a bridge-builder by nature. Truth be told, I don’t know many in person. So my 2020 intention is to spend regular time with them through books and articles and poetry and podcasts and blogs and movies. 

I intend to read, listen, watch learn–and spread the word. So here’s a start: “My Semester With The Snowflakes,” by James Hatch. This former Navy SEAL  enrolled as a freshman at Yale this past year, at the age of 52.

I should give a bit of background information. I was an unimpressive and difficult student in public schools. I joined the military at 17 and spent close to 26 years in the US Navy. I was assigned for 22 of those years to Naval Special Warfare Commands. I went through SEAL training twice, quit the first time and barely made it the second time. I did multiple deployments and was wounded in combat in 2009 on a mission to rescue an American hostage.

Every single day I went to work with much better humans than myself. I was brought to a higher level of existence because the standards were high and one needed to earn their slot, their membership in the unit. This wasn’t a one-time deal. Every time you showed up for work, you needed to prove your worth.

The vetting process is difficult and the percentage of those who try out for special operations units and make it through the screening is very low.

In an odd parallel, I feel, in spite of my short time here, the same about Yale.

(photo by Roger Kidd, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Hatch goes on to address the notion of “liberal snowflakes.” (Yep–folks like me.)

Let me address this “snowflake” thing. According to the Urban Dictionary, a “snowflake” is a “term for someone that thinks they are unique and special, but really are not. It gained popularity after the movie Fight Club from the quote ‘You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.’ ”

I hear the term occasionally from buddies of mine who I love. They say things like, “How are things up there with the liberal snowflakes?”

Let me assure you, I have not met one kid who fits that description. None of the kids I’ve met seem to think that they are “special” any more than any other 18–22-year-old. These kids work their assess off. I have asked a couple of them to help me with my writing. One young woman volunteered to help me by proof-reading my “prose” and, for the record, I believe she will be the President someday. I recently listened while one of my closer pals, a kid from Portland, Oregon, talked to me about the beauty of this insane mathematics problem set he is working on. There is a young man in our group who grew up in Alaska working on fishing boats from a young age and who plays the cello. There is an exceptional young woman from Chicago who wrote a piece for the Yale Daily News expressing the importance of public demonstrations in light of a recent police shooting. She and I are polar opposites. I am the “patriarchy” at first glance, and she is a young black woman who is keen on public protests. Not the type of soul I generally find myself in conversation with. We come from different worlds and yet we both read classic works with open hearts and minds.

We recently met with a prominent writer from a think tank who is researching the state of the humanities in the university setting. There were four of us students: two young men, the young woman from Chicago, and me, the old guy. As the younger students started to express their thoughts, the young woman (truly a unicorn of a human) used the word “safe space” and it hit me forcefully. I come from a place where when I hear that term, I roll my eyes into the back of my vacant skull and laugh from the bottom of my potbelly. This time, I was literally in shock. It hit me that what I thought a “safe space” meant, was not accurate. This young woman, the one who used the phrase, isn’t scared of anything. She is a life-force of goodness and strength. She doesn’t need anyone to provide a comfortable environment for her. What she meant by “safe space” was that she was happy to be in an environment where difficult subjects can be discussed openly, without the risk of disrespect or harsh judgment. This works both ways. What I mean is, this young woman was comfortable, in this university setting, wrestling with things like the Aristotelian idea of some humans being born as “natural slaves.” She was quite comfortable in that space. The question was, how comfortable was the 52-year-old white guy in that discussion? Did it make me uncomfortable? Yes. I’m grateful for the discomfort. Thinking about things I don’t understand or have, for most of my life, written off, is a good thing.

That, my friends, is the sound of brick and mortar. A bridge. Thanks, James Hatch. Here’s to more voices like yours in the year to come. And Happy 2020, everyone!

Bridges, please!

But Wait! I Have One More Gift Idea! Just…Give! OK? Merry Christmas.

Before I sign off for the holiday week (I know, I’m not a teacher anymore, but I still think of Christmas/New Year as one lengthy holiday. That’s still better than the corporations, who seem to think it starts after Halloween.)–sorry, where was I? Right. The holidays. I know it’s late, but I have ONE MORE EXCELLENT GIFT IDEA, and it requires NO driving, NO wrapping, and very little time. But lots of thought, and heart.

Why not give the gift of giving? My best find of 2019 was the Americans of Conscience Checklist, a weekly message in my inbox full of suggestions of political phonecalls to make or letters to write (including thank-you notes to people who’ve taken good or brave action). AoCC is a regular part of my week now–usually 20 minutes’ worth.

And now, AoCC offers a curated list of causes to donate to, based on your passions–or those of the person you wish to gift. Click here to see the list.

Categories for giving include:

Migrant justice: give to an organization which collects airline miles to help re-unite separated migrant families.

Prison reform: support an organization dedicated to providing books for prisoners, while educating Americans about the prison crisis.

Election integrity: give to a non-partisan group which oversees elections at all levels, in our own country. And there’s one particular group that focuses on enfranchisement in Indian Country.

I can’t think of a better way to show your love for someone than to donate to a cause they love.

Of course, it’s not all about money. If you want to gift someone with the feeling I’ve been enjoying these past few months–the feeling of empowerment–just send them the AoCC link and let them feel it for themselves.Merry happy!

Merry, happy Everything, people! See you in 2020.