In “The News from Lake Woebegone” last night Garrison Keillor is complaining about the lack of a cold winter in Minnesota because it is diluting Minnesota’s claim to uniqueness as an extremely cold place. Garrison Keillor is a progressive. Yet he does not mention climate change in this monologue. Why? Does he think he does not have a progressive or intelligent audience? He has “come out” in his book, Home Grown Democrat. So what’s the problem? Denial, I think; for Garrison is a Romantic.
Last Sunday, 1.25.15, I walked outside and noticed that my hyacinths were blooming. Today I saw that the ceanothus have started blooming. They have always reliably bloomed at Ostara, or Easter. The hills are covered in that astounding spring green that makes one think of Japan. Wild flowers are blooming in the forest, blue and white and lavender, and those dark red Indian paintbrushes. All two months early. But we have not had rain since before Yule, nor are we likely to. So this is a gorgeous intermission in our drought, which will reassert itself in a week or two or four.
This is the fourth year of California drought. History tells me that this part of Northern California was a desert a thousand years ago. It is returning to desert, it seems. I used to worry that an earthquake would carve us adrift. Now I think we will dry out like a scab in this dry, dry world. Already trees are dying—the oaks, of course, from Sudden Oak Death (names help so much, even if they mean nothing)—the bays and madrones who have shallow roots. I live in a forest that is becoming a mausoleum, with hyachinths.
James Lovelock said that country people would have no problem understanding that something is going wrong. I am amazed that the public discourse still ranks climate change in the double digits as a concern. Yes, Virginia, there are still deniers. Paradoxically, some people in the northeast of the United States who are getting hard freezes and hard snow use this as evidence that there is no climate change. It’s cold, isn’t it? And wasn’t this called “global warming”? So clearly it is not happening in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. If anything, it’s “global colding.” Snow in huge quantities, black ice. Somehow this is a comfort to some folk who take it as evidence that climate change is not real. How weird, when you think about it.
It’s happening so much faster than expected. When I wake up at midnight in despair from dream after dream of how our Earth is being transformed by the self-centered capitalists who control our energy economy, I go outside. I take my flashlight. I walk across shards from Rob’s log-chopping, logs that won’t be used in any fire now. I turn the flashlight on the hyacinth, dropping to my knees, and smell its immediate beauty. In the present it is a momentary luxury. When it is Just Now, I breathe it in with deep pleasure. But I do not forget what is going on. I can’t.
Looking at the government of the United States, such as it is or may be, we can’t expect change to be mandated soon enough to save our Earth and the hundreds of species that are disappearing daily. We cannot trust the Captains of Industry (excepting folks like Elon Muck, Time Cook, and most recently Mark Zuckerberg) to have anything but greed and a two-year plan. Zuckerberg, in a swift turn toward maturity and wisdom, answered an investor who questioned his plans to help expand internet access in Africa with the lovely statement, “if you don’t like it, invest in someone else.” This is a turnabout of power that we should encourage, but it is very, very far from enough. The hyacinths are blooming in January. The natural world that keeps our souls alive is changing.
I am sixty-four years old. I am ready to take to the streets. Is anyone joining me? Would I be all alone, me and my hyacinth, with a little sign that reads “For Goddess’ sake pay attention to climate change”? Or should we say “scale back now for Earth’s tomorrow”? This is not a capitalist perspective—although it should be when you do the economics—but it is a deeply human one. We beg our masters to see farther than today, And if that doesn’t work, we must demand. It is the calling and responsibility of our generation.
Here are some of my references for the genetics touched upon in my talk at QGCon last week (Oct. 25).
Biesecker, Leslie G. and Nancy B. Spinner. “A genomic view of mosaicism and human disease.” Nature Reviews Genetics 14, 307-320 (2013) doi:10/1038/nrg3424. http://www.nature.com/nrg/journal/v14/n5/full/nrg3424.html
Martone, Robert. “Scientists Discover Children’s Cells Living in Mothers’ Brains.” Scientific American, Dec. 4, 2012. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-discover-childrens-cells-living-in-mothers-brain/
Norton, Aaron and Ozzie Zehner (2008). “Which Half Is Mommy?: Tetragametic Chimerism and Trans-Subjectivity”. Women’s Studies Quarterly. Fall/Winter: 106–127.
Streiffer, Robert, “Human/Non-Human Chimeras”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =
Taylor, Tyl H. et al. “The origin, mechanisms, incidence and clinical consequences of chromosomal mosaicism in humans.” Human Reproduction Update 20 (4) 571-581. humupd.oxfordjournals.org/content/20/4/571
van Dijk, Bob A. et al. “Blood group chimerism in human multiple births is not rare.” American Journal of Medical Genetics 61:264-268 (1996) DOI 10.1.1.149.9001
Zimmer, Carl. “DNA Double Take.” The New York Times, 9/16/2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/science/dna-double-take.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Wikipedia articles on CHIMERISM, MOSAICISM, and MICRO-MOSAICISM have many more references
If Margot Adler were alive today, perhaps she could have brought the press (including NPR) to their senses. Isis is the name of the Goddess from Egyptian myth, brother of Osiris. It was she who found the scattered parts of his murdered body and brought him to life again. Isis was the mother goddess and queen of goddesses in Egypt, ruling over nature and magic. Isis was also honored in Greek mythology and beyond. In modern Wicca, Isis is one of the names of the Goddess (along with Astarte, Hecate, and Diana) invoked in canonical ritual.
I’ve just spent three days at the Isis Oasis in Geyserville, California founded by an amazing artist, priestess and visionary Loreon Vigné. Lady Loreon recently passed, but the staff and community keep up the tradition and the beauty of the place. Earlier in her life Lady Loreon brought two oscelots to the Oasis, also populating it with peacocks, emus, and crowned cranes as well as many parrots and other tropical birds. Our stay was just outside the temple to Isis that has been built there (the stained glass above is from the inside of the temple). I had not been familiar with all but the barest mythical bones of Isis until my stay. I took great joy in the place and the people, and it dawned on me that my negative reaction to the term “ISIS” on the news was just about this: the name of the Goddess.
Isis represents the divine feminine. It would do us all some good to think about that and beam some of it in the direction of the so-called Islamic State. In the meantime, let’s hold the press to account.
On a bright January day I was making my way home from a doctor’s appointment. I’d had to fast the day before, so I decided to stop at a ratty-assed coffee shop and treat myself to a greasy breakfast. I loitered a bit over my eggs and coffee, avoiding the glare of the shop’s two giant televisions (this was not a yuppie café). Finally I figured I’d wasted all the time I could—there was plenty of work piling up at home. As I was getting into my car for the long trek up the hill, a woman signaled to me on the sidewalk.
She was very slight, about my age, with dyed hair and a face streaked from crying. “Ma’am, can you give me a light?” I thought I heard her say in a small voice. I said “sure” and fumbled around in my appallingly disorganized purse to retrieve a green Bic. “No, I’m sorry,” she said, and stepped a few feet closer to me. “I need a ride, Ma’am.” The usual Voice of Mother went off in my head: don’t give rides to strangers. I asked, “where you headed?” Tears and words started gushing out of her.
“I spent the night at the bus stop. They took my car to the pound. I need to get to the pound to get my purse. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I got no one to call. I just need to get to the pound.” She showed me a printout of a Google map with the route from the police station to the impound lot. It was about fifteen miles away. No way was she going to walk that far; she could hardly stand up. “Sure,” I said, “I’ll take you over there. It’s pretty far.” She started sobbing again.
“I spent a day in jail and then they kicked me out just when it got dark. My purse is in my car, but there’s no money in it anyway. I got my driver’s license. They pulled us over about three in the morning…” She stopped and gulped some air. “What for?” “These guys, my brother asked me to bring these guys over here and I argued with him but I did it. I told the cops, sure, search my car. I didn’t have nothin’ in it to hide. But sure they found something on the passenger’s side. Some kind of bottle—they were shakin’ it and lookin’ at me. Then they made me get out and those people took a bunch of my stuff and ran away and the cops put me in jail.”
“What was in the bottle?” I asked. “I don’t know. They kept shakin’ and shakin’ it. Then they booked me for possession. I said, you dumb heads—you think I’d have let you search my car if there was somethin’ in it? And it was on the passenger side. And you let those guys get away. Then they kick me out of there in a town I’ve never been in with no money just when it’s dark. Those guys at the bus stop were really scary. They kept comin’ and goin’ and givin’ me the eye. I was so cold. So cold.” I got her into the car and we set off to the impound. While we were driving, I asked her if she could call her brother for help. “He don’t charge his phone.”
All the while I’m trying to think what to do for this woman. She was in a pretty ugly spot. No money to get her car back, nobody to come and get her, a few hundred miles from her home in the Central Valley. I was astounded to think of the police putting a penniless woman out on the street at night knowing that she would be at risk. But they thought she was a criminal. I didn’t think she was. I thought she was poor and alone and let herself get talked into something.
“I live on social security widow benefits,” she told me. “My husband’s father killed him, shot him, tried to shoot me. The police got him away and took him to prison. So I get widow social security. I get a check every month. But I don’t have nothin’ to cover this. I’ll just borrow money from somebody and come back here and get my car when I have to talk to the judge. They said 30 days.”
We arrived at the impound lot and she gave her paperwork to the harried clerk behind the desk then went out to search through her old red Chevy. While she was outside I asked the clerk what she thought I could do. “You be careful, you know. Sometimes…well, you know.” I said, “Do you think I should try to take her to a women’s shelter?” “She’s not from around here,” the clerk answered, “so she’s not one of our homeless. They have waiting lists.” “Do you think I should put her on a bus?” “Well,” the clerk mused, “that might work.” So I started calling Greyhound to find out if I could get the woman home. I found a $40 fare one-way to the nearest large town to where she lived.
I wandered back to where my new friend was pulling stuff out of her car. “They took all the quarters out of my car,” she said in an anguished voice while she dug around in her ashtray for some butts big enough to smoke. She found her purse and a cotton blanket. “I found you a bus,” I told her. We drove to the Greyhound station and I gave her cash for the ticket and a meal. “Please call me when you get home,” I said. She expressed big gratitude and promised she’d call, and that she would pay me back.
The gratitude was mine. I felt she’d given me a view into a sort of life I knew nothing about. She game me an opportunity to help. She reminded me of our constant vulnerability, of the absence of a safety net for people, especially poor people in a jam. I remembered a few times when I had been a stranger, lost, but nothing like this, nothing like what she had gone through.
The next day I had a phone message from her. She hadn’t made it home yet, but she was still very grateful.
When I was a junior in high school I traveled to the Grand Canyon by car with my mother and father and grandmother. It was a typical drive-by vacation for those days. I do remember that my grandmother found a place with a hot spring and boiled some eggs in it, and I remember standing in very cold water, awkward and spongy-looking in my murky tie-dye, trying to represent . . . something. My parents were the royalty of drive-by vacations, as I have written elsewhere. But that trip was the first time I fell in love with red rocks.
Decades passed. People got ill, died. I went to college, got married (repeatedly) and had kids (repeatedly). I personally swore off the drive-by vacation. There was this miraculous day in 1986, I believe, although I could be off by a few years. My best friend at the time, Brooke Battles, and I were working at CES in Las Vegas. Now, there is nothing quite so abominable as working a trade show, especially as a woman who is not a booth babe (and I think they have a hard time of it as well). Brooke and I got it into our minds to go to Zion National Park, a quick 3-hour drive north of Las Vegas. Maybe one of us had seen a poster or something. We had no idea what we were in for.
We rented a convertible in spite of the fact that it was an average of 110 degrees after 2 pm every single day. I remember we pulled off the road in Rockville, on the way to Springdale, to lie in the grass that someone had recently watered. We followed the Virgin River upstream (for downstream, of course, it is the Weeping or Prostitute River, ending in Las Vegas). We found a place where I would stay again and again—alone, with family, whatever—that was a fabulous B&B run by Steve and Barbara Cooper. We cozied in that night, and in the morning, we went to the park.
What hits you first is the magnitude of the place. What hits you next is its oddness of the rock formations. There are a series of peaks that look for all the world like gigantic breasts; the Mormons called them “the Patriarchs.” You see twisted rounds of Navajo sandstone peaked with pink and white sandstone that, perhaps, eroded at different rates. The river runs through it, oh yes it does—despite 5 re-routings to widen the highway—with an ecosystem seemingly dominated by cottonwoods, jack-rabbits, and a peculiar sort of lizard that had a bright turquoise tail, hence some possibly unsavory comparisons in a Wired interview I had—but I digress.
I went back again and again, with my mother and family, my husband, by myself, and with each of my girls, separately and together. I went twice with crews working on projects in interactive media. In the summer of 1989 Rachel Strickland, Michael Naimark and I went to shoot parts of a documentary explaining “telepresence.” I can remember the three of us up among the hoo-doos past the end of the tunnel but before checkerboard mesa trying to shoot a scene where I was speaking. First, there were the cars. Automobile traffic moves one way through a very long tunnel carved through a mountainside. There are hundreds of cars and RVs bumper-to-bumper, then a brief pause during which we would try to shoot, then hundreds of noisy, smelly vehicles moving the other way. At one point Naimark lost it. “Get outta here! Get outta here! This is MY park! This is MY shoot!” We called ourselves tri-Scorp productions (and you can see why). Finally, when we were really ready to shoot the scene a thunderstorm was brewing up in the west, and lightning struck just behind me. It was a hell of a shoot.
In 1997 I took another production team from Purple Moon to Zion to shoot for our game, “Secret Paths to the Sea.” We hiked to all of our favorite picturesque spots, shot video and recorded Tibetan bowls, falling water, and our big Celtic drum. We needed some splashes, so Rob and I went to the beginning of the Narrows where he recorded spatialized audio and I tossed rocks of increasing size into the river. You can hear him on the tape exclaiming, “Hey, you got me wet!”
My daughter Brooke, named for Brooke Battles, and I went several times together for ‘birthday trips’, the most recent being the sweetest. We hiked Angel’s Landing in glittering ice and snow. Near the top, one of the rangers came jogging by, not even out of breath, in a t-shirt and shorts. When we reached the summit, he was sitting in Lotus position meditating in the sparkling morning sun. Brooke and I shared a thing for age-inappropriate men, but this blew Russell Crowe right off the map.
I finally got to hike into the Narrows a few weeks ago. It had always beckoned but had always been threatened by flash floods. Not this time. I was staying at Red Mountain in southern Utah. The area was in drought and the high temperatures were topping 110 regularly. I went with a group of nine. Three of us were unable to resist swimming whenever the water was deep enough. Of course you cannot photograph the majesty of the place. I tried to visualize the forces and the time that made it what it was. Then, we turned around and sloshed out.
The last two days I was at Red Mountain I went hiking alone in Snow Canyon. The rock formations are formidable, although perhaps not so steep or regal as those in Zion. But the ages and colors of the place, the forces that made it, are the same. I went out alone before sunrise and photographed little footprints in the sand that told of the previous night’s action. I scrambled up huge red Navajo sandstone formations. On my last hike, I re-found a little slot canyon that our wonderful guide had led us to on our first Morning Meditation hike. All week I was afraid that my heart would not open to the rocks as it had every time before. Age, grief, guilt, stress—a kind of numbness can set in after a long piece of living. But that morning as the sun rose, I felt a kind of release in my breastbone, a kind of tearing, and I began to cry. Red light poured into me. And there I was, part of the Canyon, indistinguishable and whole.
Lessons that are hard to learn, not hard to understand. “Bodies age,” my mom used to say. “Things wear out.” This was how she saw it, and I’m grateful that there was no religious crap in the middle of that message. Sure enough, her mind wore out. She first evinced Alzheimer’s in about 1998, after my uncle died. She had buried my dad and her mother and then her brother. She was like one of those punching clowns who would always stand up again when you smacked it, but three hard ones in a row and the sprung a leak. She lived until 2007, in a vegetative state from about 2003 onward until the end.
Now I look at myself, here at a ‘fitness spa’, hiking every day, taking classes, working out according to trainer’s orders. But I have a spinal fusion that makes many things very painful. It will not change. I have been clambering around these red rocks since the early 1980s and it’s just effing weird that I can’t move in certain ways. My spirit still sweeps out, and most of the time my body follows. The classes are a mistake; I try too hard to do what everyone else is doing and hurt myself. Then I wonder, who the hell am I, if not these rocks, this place, the person who moves through this place? Who the hell am I, if not this sea kayak, these abalone just waiting to be dinner, the foam and the surge? Who am I, if not traveling through Nature on my own two feet? Who the hell am I, if not a ladder, or a garden, or changing the water filter, or hauling wood from one place to another?
It’s a habit I can’t break, to keep trying to be who I ‘am’. I can be ‘sensible’ about some things but not about others. Truth is, it will hopefully be many more years before all of those lovely excursions become impossible. Hopefully I will learn grace.
Tomorrow morning I am getting up at 5 to walk into the Utah desert by myself and see what I want to see. I know the trail. I am waiting for my heart to open as it used to when I came into this landscape. I am waiting for my heart to open.
I am walking toward the opening of my heart.
“We can’t win.” “They’re out-raising us.” “This is it.” Every day my inbox brings me messages from people with names followed by “Obama for America” or “Move On” or any of a dozen others delivering the dire news that we haven’t given the President enough money to win the election. My phone rings every afternoon around 5 pm with calls from somebody on behalf of the DNC or the President–the sort of calls where the pause between your answer and the caller coming on the line let you know that you’re hearing from a call center somewhere Out There. Sometimes I answer and tell them “do not call.” Sometimes I tell them I will manage my own contributions without their intrusiveness. I told one of them that I gave until I bled last time and now I’m unemployed. Most of the time I just don’t answer.
Of course I know it’s important–more than important–whether someone with a shred of sanity or honor (i.e., Obama) wins this election. Of course I give my paltry tithe of political contributions. Of course I know that corporations are people and that we mustn’t mess with their bizarrely collective personhood, populated and fueled by a good many people who disagree with the meta-person’s politics. And I know that the Borg is a collective, and the Supreme Court would find them to be a person too if political “speech” were their style. But it’s money, not plasma beams or the conversations of an informed citizenry that constitutes “speech” these days. Pay for the ad or take to the streets. And as we can see, taking to the streets didn’t do a whole hell of a lot except supply media entertainment between elections.
Among today’s voters is the third generation of Americans that has suckled at the breast of consumerism their entire lives. Since the regular appearances of the neighborly Carnation man in “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show” we have extruded ever more viscous, suffocating media that bring us advertising about pizza, weight loss, laundry products, cereal, cars and presidents. Adding this to the transformation of “news” to a form of “entertainment”, I figure each generation has lost approximately 1/3 of its capacity to think critically in this toxic soup–to mash up Marshall McLuhan and a famous ad for dishwashing liquid, it’s the soup you can’t see. And we’re running on the last 1/3 of critical thinking and informed citizenship.
Everyone knows this. We all have to pay up or face the consequences. The waste of resources and mind-power that is the Presidential Auction and Ad Campaign may be judged to be constitutional, but it’s obscene.
Many decades ago I visited a park called Lake Hope in southern Ohio. It became one of my favorite places on Earth; I would like some of my ashes to be scattered there. The WPA-era lodge was built into a hillside about a thousand feet (or so it seemed) above a lake of astonishing Caribbean blue, surrounded by forest.
As I was sitting on the slope below the lodge gazing at the lake one moody late summer afternoon, I heard distant white noise like flowing water. It grew steadily nearer. Presently leaves began to blow uphill past my body, then twigs and scraps of bark. Two bright yellow birds flew by at close range. The whole forest began to move with the wind; the lake wrinkled and reflections flattened. I looked up and saw violet clouds racing toward the hilltop, darkening as they rolled. It was the first time I heard the wind coming.
Having lived for the last 25 years in quite a different forest in mountains 2500 miles from Ohio, I’ve become accustomed to the sound of wind coming. Here, the Douglas Firs stand 200 feet or more with a lush understory of oak and madrone. When the wind is coming you hear the firs first, little cyclones of air climbing among their highest branches. Then the diffuse white noise slides underneath those sworls of sound, and presently the wind arrives, resolving into the individual music of particular trees and leaves. In stronger winds, a madrone caught in the embrace of an old oak squeaks and wails. Stronger still, and one may hear branches and trees fall.
Tonight for the first time in a long while I mistook the sound for rushing water in the creek; there was an unusual rain yesterday. It was the wind rising up from the canyon as cool arms of fog reached in from the sea through the San Lorenzo valley. Trees whipped and sighed, then relaxed again into the peace of a starry night.
Ever since that day at Lake Hope, I’ve known when I hear the wind coming. Rarely, as I did tonight, I tell myself it’s water moving, like the living lace of creeks woven over the hillsides in early spring, until the last moment when the trees begin to swirl and sway. Why prefer water to wind? Those glittering white creeks are love itself. The moss on the trees becomes exuberant when the water arrives. When the wind comes, what it means and what will follow is less clear, more wild.
What would have been a busy summer vacation has become a very long Now. I’ve left my third career – higher education – after 14 years. I know it is the time and place and moment for wind. I am turning my face toward it. I grow exuberant.
There’s an impressionistic wash of rain on Granville Island. I’m strolling around the place, getting my bearings, sniffing the air. In the foreground, houseboats form undulating row-houses in bright pastels. Beyond dull metal arches of bridge, almost-postmodern buildings of glass and metal whoosh and bend toward dark water.
I’ll be giving a talk at Emily Carr tonight. I turn the corner and there is the college – post-industrial like CCA, but more cramped and vivid. Someone has applied the word “SILLY” to a high window in what might be a studio building. The students are familiar – rainbow-haired, clothed in celebratory mismatch, smoking cigarettes, ignoring the rain, utterly absorbed in their scene. A boy’s voice says, “I love you” into a mobile phone.
I think, I’ve been in scenes like this for fourteen years – it seems like such a long time and such a far cry from the corporate lives I led. I am suddenly aware in every cell that I live here; I love it here. Likely no one notices the older lady in the black coat as I smile mildly past the kids on the wet sidewalk. But I belong.