Wednesday, December 30, 2009

All For Naught

In this Getty image, U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement at the Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe Bay Monday on a failed bid to blow up a US-bound transatlantic airliner on Christmas Day.

These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands,
they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing
or next to nothing.
If they do not enclose everything they are next to
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle
they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are different
they are nothing.

---Walt Whitman

From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the form of things. By the time I was fifty, I had published an infinity of designs, but all that I have produced before the age of seventy is not worth taking into account. At seventy-three I have learned a little about the real structure of nature, of animals, plants, birds, fishes, and insects. In consequence, when I am eighty, I shall have made more progress, at ninety I shall penetrate the mystery of things, at a hundred I shall have reached a marvelous stage, and when I am a hundred and ten, everything I do, be it a dot or a line, will be alive.


Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

---The Red Queen

It's the time of summing up, and everybody wants to call it The 0 Decade. Zero. But as frustrating and maddening as these first 9 years of the millenium have been, mathematicians and meteorologists agree it takes 10 years to make a decade. So what's a group of 9 called? A nonet. None. Nine. Bah.

Alexander Cockburn's chilly summary at Truthout goes all the way back to 1970, and considers most jarringly what America would NOT be had Hinckley succeeded in killing Reagan. Other reviewers are content to tally up the social nothingness of the Bush 8 out of 9. But Obama is a major target of scrutiny...and that transparency must be getting the full X-ray treatment.

A week ago Sunday, Frank Rich declared Time Magazine's selection of Ben Bernanke as Man (in the sense of huMAN) of the Year was completely off the beam. His choice was Tiger Woods. Why? Because Tiger emerged absolutely as the best conman...and 2009 definitely was the Year of the Con. From Bernie Madoff to John Edwards, everybody was out to pick your pocket. And Obama? You betcha! "Though the American left and right don’t agree on much, they are both now coalescing around the suspicion that Obama’s brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger’s public image — a marketing scam designed to camouflage either his covert anti-American radicalism (as the right sees it) or spineless timidity (as the left sees it)."

This morning Maureen Dowd may as well be working for Fox News as she refers to Barack Obama as an emotionless, "disembodied" Mister Spock. The current administration seems to share with the previous that it has the intelligence but doesn't have the intelligence. "If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?"

I've had similar concerns about President Obama's performance this year...and I've posted them online. Yesterday morning on the radio, those of us with such doubts got a substantial scolding. It happened on the Stephanie Miller program, a radical piece of broadcasting even by morning show standards. We hear an hour of it every weekday morning, from 10 to 11, on the unlikely WAIS, 770 AM, in the Athens area. I feel an affinity for Stephanie because she also is from the Buffalo area, and has a quality of outrageous zaniness one acquires looking for excitement in Western New York on a Saturday night. I also remember her father fondly, US Representative William E. Miller, a moderate-to-liberal Republican, which was a rarity in Upstate politics. Mr. Miller ran for the vice presidency on Barry Goldwater's ticket in 1964, and Stephanie jokingly ran for president in 2008, with Goldwater's granddaughter as her running mate.

But Stephanie Miller and her whole crew are on holiday this week, so it was a guy subbing for her who took us Obama doubters to task yesterday. His name is Hal Sparks and he seems to show up a lot on her show. He has a rather odd resume so far but I thought his comments were right on. He challenged us grass rooters, who worked so hard last year and then went home after the election and put our feet up. Now we're moaning that after 11 months we haven't gotten what we want yet from Obama, and vowing to vote for Nader next time. Sparks reminds us it's a lot harder to build up after something has been torn down, and the President still needs grass roots support. That doesn't just mean arguing with the rednecks at work. It means encouraging congresspeople who still are in there pitching for the program. It means active engagement with those who aren't. He said the Democratic Party and Barack Obama need even more help from us now than before.

Well, I hadn't thought about it enough that way I guess. So my summary is more along the lines of checking out what campaign promises Obama really made in the summer and fall of 2008. Has he kept to those promises or not? Does he deserve my continued support? To find out I picked up issue 1064 of Rolling Stone which contained an excellent interview with the candidate on the very eve of the election. Interviewing was Eric Bates, one of the many editors of the magazine. I have to confess surprise that Barack Obama has been consistent in setting about to do exactly what he said he would. There isn't sharp focus in the banking area I must say, but clearly the administration now realizes any bailout money has got to go to smaller hometown banks to lend to small business. Americans have got to have jobs and the opening for creation is in the area of renewable energy. Gore has been saying this for a long time, but now we're hearing it from the White House...and such talk has got to be encouraged.

There are things we can do around our towns. Everywhere people are learning about energy audits and how to save money on changing lifestyles and retrofitting buildings and homes. Local schools and churches need community involvement in learning how to do this. People are wondering about sustainability and if you look around, you'll find meetings being held. Attend them. Get involved. That spirit of enthusiasm and optimism we had during the campaign is going on there. Young people are at work and they're spreading the word among peers who still are learning the basics.

The Naughts are gone, and Twenty-Ten is the start of the Teens. It's a time of vigorous growth and development. It's a time of risk. It's the time for dedication to lasting values. It's time to fall in love. It's a wonderful time to be alive. Let's get busy!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas '09

Red morning sky---
are you glad of it?


I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.

---Joseph Campbell

The only means of strengthening one's intellect is to make up one's mind about nothing---to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts.

---John Keats

Of course, Keats died young. Good grief, by the time he was my age he had been dead about 45 years! Does that idea of letting thoughts rush through one's mind sound like a young man? I think I can remember being like that. Joseph Campbell lived into old age and he sounds it. I suppose we elders treasure moments when we feel especially alive.

I don't wish to belittle those ideas by bringing up age, but I was thinking of the relativity of one's eagerness for new things as I tried to come up with something to say about the passing year. It feels like only yesterday Dana looked over at me and said she was ready to have grandchildren now. Actually it was a couple years ago, and I remember sort of blinking at her and wondering where that came from. Ilona was still in high school and Jeroch showed no signs of settling down. I guess being settled isn't a requirement for getting married and having children, but I tend to associate permanence with those conditions. Why was Dana rushing us into grandparenthood?

She just was ready, that's all. Maybe women know about these things. Nesting instincts or something. It all remains very mysterious to me and other men I know---which may be why we invented the garage and hunting and activities like that. Dana has been a wonderful grandmother I think...and I hope our daughter-in-law Karen agrees. Because shortly after Dana was thinking about becoming a grandmother, Jeroch up and married this perfectly perfect person for him, and out have come two beautiful and fascinating daughters, Nina and Sophia. Jeroch hasn't settled down, and in fact has established a philosophy that young people shouldn't try to settle down in these tumultuous times. We need to prepare for a return to the life of nomadic tribes.

This year they've continued testing their hypothesis by house-sitting for numerous sabbaticalizing professors around here. Low rent, and you don't get bogged down accumulating a lot of stuff. Jeroch has been working at Fur Peace Ranch, the music camp and concert area rock and blues musician Jorma Kaukonen set up in the area. Jeroch has a number of skills in baking, cooking, gardening he puts to use, not only for Jorma but in freelance work too. Karen has trained for years in some intense yogas, and is adapting these forms into midwifery. Now as Nina celebrates her 2nd birthday, it is clear she loves her little sister very much---in English and Spanish. (They are a bilingual family.)

Ilona's scholarship made her a candidate for just about any university experience she wanted. We traveled around to a few normal schools, but all the time she kept talking about this place in the Smoky Mountains called Warren Wilson. I kept pointing her to New England, betraying my chauvanism about where you get an education in this country. Nope, finally she got me to go down to Asheville, North Carolina, and those people romanced me right into signing on the dotted line.

The college is very oriented toward environmental approaches to things, and that's what Ilona wanted. The school has the first Leeds accredited dorm in the nation, and the other residences are competing with each other to catch up. The college grows its own food and raises livestock. Each student has a job at the school, for which payment reduces tuition. Ilona has had training in energy auditing, and that's what she does there. Besides academic studies, students are expected to perform community service as well in areas of Appalachia where the need is great. Here she is, home for winter break and when I hinted that OU really is making progress in environmental concerns, she saw I was opening up an alternative just in case and affirmed she's in the school where she wants to be.

As for Dana and me, we had a little empty nest time...but then I guess we were reminded that it's been a long while since we were just getting to know each other. It might be refreshing to pick up where we left off with that. We don't have to argue about who's making what mistakes with the kids anymore, and we just can go out on dates and watch old movies if we want to. That's not a bad deal...I mean, when we're not babysitting.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Found Tagliabue

A Tagliabue poem, maybe shaped like a boat, sails into your life.
Published in Poetry, August 1960

Where people of today dwell, I do not dwell. What people of today do, I do not do.
If you clearly understand what this really means, you must be able to enter a pit of fire with your whole body.


People imagine enlightenment will make them incredibly powerful. And it does. It makes you the most powerful being in all the universe---but usually no one else notices.

---Brad Warner

The first question I ask when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful? And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.

---John Cage

The other day I was crawling around on the floor underneath our garage-saled computer desk...from which I've embarked upon years of cyberspace adventures and exploration. Occasionally there have been stormy seas. Always the used desk requires on-hands-and-knees maintenance, because a joint wiggles loose and I have to get down there and set it secure again. This time though I happened to look down to my right, and there was a corner of a piece of paper sticking out from who knows how long ago. I pulled at it carefully and produced a page of 2 poems mailed to me by John Tagliabue, poems I don't think I'd ever read before.

John was my favorite professor 50 years ago at Bates, my eventual thesis advisor, and somehow blessed me with his friendship the rest of his life. He succumbed to pancreatic cancer on the last day of May 2006, just short of his 83rd birthday. In between he would mail envelopes full of typewritten poems to his friends, always encouraging us to share them freely. He liked the image of the Chinese poet who would ride along on a stream in a little boat, writing things on leaves and dropping them over the side. He wasn't published as much as he should have been (and should be) but he had very little patience with the "industry." He mailed poems out to little journals constantly though, and much of that work did see the light of day...but the journals themselves flickered out quickly. The big one always was Poetry, but the poem above is one of the relatively few times John showed up in those esteemed pages. You can see the artful way he arranged his words.

I have a whole closet full of Tagliabue poems, almost all of them unpublished. I wish I could say they're arranged in careful chronological order...but they're not. My life, my travels, my chaos are such that almost nothing is arranged anymore...except my collection of jazz records. Even that has gotten sloppy. I'm not alone in having saved all the Tagliabue correspondence I'm sure. There are others of us who have these great stacks of poems and reminiscences, and we should all get together soon and collate everything into a gigantic volume. Time is growing short...and then, what would we do with it? And some of us know the magical secret of the Puppet Plays too. Ah John, how you haunt us still!

But back to these 2 poems from under the computer desk. John identifies the day of writing the second as July 2nd, 2005, and therefore they are among the final poems of his life. The page is titled 82nd Year. John had fallen onto a sidewalk in Providence, where he and his wondrous wife Grace decided to retire, leaving their beloved Maine. He never said what caused the fall, just a stumble. He didn't indicate a twinge of pain that might have brought the stumble...but in the next year the diagnosis came, and suggestion of urgent surgery which didn't work out. Tagliabue did not write about his final months of life as Updike did. I've been reading Endpoint from the death bed just published this year. Tagliabue continued celebration and dance, taking it all in stride---with nary a stumble. Here they are~~~

1. A breathing in time saves millions

So many inspirations, expirations
repeated original respirations, mouth to mouth
words, the varieties of the Holy Spirit, came out of our
one enlivened another ! the breath of life Escapes
from where?
escapes also from us ? all these daily escapades
and Brazil and India and Elsewhere are crowded. The
populations with their different beliefs, songs,
help us
somewhat realize that letting ourselves go with
is propitious, is more or less appropriate
propaganda for
the divine.

2. WPA and/or
A can be for Applause of freedom's Activity

Don't TRY
to write a poem unless that is a game
you really want
to play, often it doesn't pay, and as Gertrude Stein
said "To try
is to die." But don't disrespect or neglect a
lovely urge or
a necessary dirge or delight. Sure, try IF
you FEEL like
it. Ah, feelings at any age can be made
This is the 2nd day of my 82nd age and I'm
giving this
page the continuing works. As for form what
works works.

I was looking this morning to see if there's more information on the Internet about Tagliabue now, and there is. In fact, he's catching up with his more famous cousin, also named John Tagliabue. I thought maybe I could give you a link, in case you're interested. What I can't resist is an incredible display of John's life and work put together by somebody at IBM. It's arranged like one of John's poems! but with techie twists and turns. Tagliabue would have loved it. Thankfully I can hear his eternal laughter in my mind's ear.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Declaration Of An Independent

Illustration by Victor Juhasz

We accept the graceful falling
of mountain cherry blossoms,
but it is much harder for us
to fall away from our own
attachment to the world.


We were approached by the lobbyist, who asked if we would be willing to enter a statement in the Congressional Record. I asked him for a draft. I tweaked a couple of words. There’s not much reason to reinvent the wheel on a Congressional Record entry.

---Stanley V. White, chief of staff for Representative Robert A. Brady of Pennsylvania, one of dozens of lawmakers who used speeches ghostwritten by a biotechnology company during the health-care debate in the House.

Prig offered Pig the first chance at dessert,
So Pig reached out and speared the bigger part.

"Now that," cried Prig, "is extremely rude of you!"
Pig, with his mouth full, said, "Wha, wha' wou' 'ou do?"

"I would have taken the littler bit," said Prig.
"Stop kvetching, then it's what you've got," said Pig.

So virtue is its own reward, you see.
And that is all it's ever going to be.

---"Manners" by Howard Nemerov

I'm not a Democrat, although that's how I've been registered for years. The reason is I want to vote in their primaries. After Reagan through Bush, I can't imagine voting for a Republican in this lifetime. People think of me as a liberal, but I'm actually pretty far to the left of that position. When I say that, no one comprehends what I'm talking about. There never seems to be a candidate I really want to vote for.

The history of the radical left seems to most people as crazy as the radical right, but I think there is much to be proud of. The problem with the radical left is the same as for liberals and Democrats: we can't seem to organize anything. All the elections we lose are basically because of that. The right can issue marching orders, but my god where are they going off to? To me that's American's politics in a nutshell.

According to the polls and midterm election analyses, I'm not alone. It looks like most Americans consider themselves independents. I worked harder for Obama than during any election, but it wasn't because I was committed totally to him. I was working against the certain horror of a McCain-Palin victory.

The midterms revealed tens of thousands of Obama grassrooters stayed home, especially the young. I got to the polls late in the afternoon on November 3rd, and in my district fewer than 50 people had voted by that time. I keep hoping Obama has some brilliant strategy that will be revealed over the next year to prevent disaster in 2010. Every once in a while he seems to flash a hint, but essentially this man wants consensus. He doesn't knock heads together. Republicans will label it appeasement.

Has it been a mistake thus far to have left so much of the Bush program intact? If nothing works out, is it Obama's plan to blame the Republicans in his own administration? Shifting the war activities from Iraq back to Afghanistan seems to have been his own idea. But now he's bogged down, and the Sunday talking heads will tear away at him this morning.

The insurance companies, some of whom have monopolies in individual states, appear to be writing the healthcare bill. What about those stump speeches decrying unethical lobbyists? Did Obama miscalculate how powerful those people are? Does he fear not only for his political agenda, but for his life?

Then there's the Wall Street bailout. I just was reading an article by Naomi Klein, written a bit over a year ago, and published in the Rolling Stone issue predated November 13th, but before Obama was elected. In it she predicts with unerring accuracy exactly what has happened, namely that the banks didn't loan out any money but instead gave themselves bonuses and got bigger. Without the loans, which would affect small business, there are no new jobs. And she told us why that would happen.

What Ms. Klein wrote and the fact her prophecy has had absolutely no effect upon subsequent developments is the best argument I know for remaining in the great unwashed independent blob out here. But we have to keep writing, we have to keep trying. Perhaps there's some progress. Maybe stuff we didn't know about or merely suspected (in an insane conspiracy plot) is out in the open now. We have to shine a light on it, we have to protest...else all is lost.

Here's the beginning of Naomi's article and the link to the rest. The editor has a note saying the online version has been updated since the print edition, but I have the magazine in my hand and the only change I see is regarding the Jeffery appointment, which just maybe the original article sabotaged~~~

On October 13th, (2008), when the U.S. Treasury Department announced the team of "seasoned financial veterans" that will be handling the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, one name jumped out: Reuben Jeffery III, who was initially tapped to serve as chief investment officer for the massive new program.

On the surface, Jeffery looks like a classic Bush appointment. Like Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, he's an alum of Goldman Sachs, having worked on Wall Street for 18 years. And as chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 2005 to 2007, he proudly advocated "flexibility" in regulation — a laissez-faire approach that failed to rein in the high-risk trading at the heart of the meltdown.

Bankers watching bankers, regulators who don't believe in regulating — that's all standard fare for the Bush crew. What's most striking about Jeffery's résumé, however, is an item omitted when his new job was announced: He served as executive director of Paul Bremer's infamous Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, during the early days of the Iraq War. Part of his job was to hire civilian staff, which made him an integral part of the partisan machine that filled the Green Zone with Young Republicans, investment bankers and Dick Cheney interns. Qualifications weren't a big issue back then, because the staff's main function was to hand over stacks of taxpayer money to private contractors, who were the ones actually running the occupation. It was this nonstop cash conveyor belt that earned the Green Zone a reputation, in the words of one CPA official, as "a free-fraud zone." During Senate hearings last year, when Jeffery was asked what he had learned from his experience at the CPA, he said he thought that contracts should be handed out with more "speed and flexibility" — the same philosophy he cited back when he was in charge of regulating Wall Street traders.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Bad Day At Blue Rock

Annie with Llamas

A monk traveled a long way to visit the master, Nansen. The monk found him by the side of the road, cutting grass.
"What is the way to Nansen?" asked the monk.
Nansen answered: "I bought this sickle for thirty cents."
The monk said: "I did not ask about the sickle. I ask the way to Nansen."
Nansen answered: "I use it in full enjoyment."

---Zen koan

I would like to beg you, dear sir, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, some day in the far future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

---Rainer Maria Rilke

From the temple deep in a bamboo grove
comes the sound of the evening bell,
while the pilgrim's straw hat carries sunset
farther and farther down the green mountain.

---Liu Chiang-ch'ing

I'm fascinated with friends. At some points in my life I have neglected family completely to be involved with friends. They don't need to be 2 separate groups I guess, but there seem to be significant differences. That would need to be a different essay.

I don't think I've had a lot of friends since junior high school, although I don't count or usually compare myself to other people in this regard. I'm not very good at making friends or keeping them...but the ones who have hung around I really treasure. I hope I tell them so enough...but I'm sure I should do more. And I should tell my family I treasure them too.

Sometimes people have shown up in my life who are so incredible, and even famous, that I can't believe we even know each other. I don't understand how that happens, and I don't want to tempt the fates by asking. I just tiptoe along in gratitude. I hope you know people like that too.

Such people are Annie and Jay Warmke, who live at Blue Rock Station up near Philo, Ohio, which is close to Zanesville. That's Annie in the picture...and I can just hear her saying, Oh that picture is a few years old! (I think 2005.) I could write for days about their amazing journey, about their achievements in sustainability long before most of us even heard the term, about their lovely grandchild Catlyn (soon to be sweet 16), and all their chickens and cats and dogs and goats...and llamas, all of whom have names and are talked to and treated almost the same as the rest of us people. You can know more about them by visiting here or just email to tell them you're coming and go see for yourself.

I don't know how we found out about each other. It may have been on the Internet some way, through common interests. But I remember the moment we all met in person as if it were this morning. It started with instant recognition and hugs. And we've just stayed that way. Two families traveling through life as friends. We're all different ages and have had extraordinarily different individual lives...but none of that matters. It only makes things more interesting. Both Ilona and Cat have lived in France...and share certain consternations about boys, so there's that. Otherwise, we're unique except that we laugh a lot when we're together. That's not often because we live about 2 hours apart, which is a bit far just to drop by after supper.

They're not the first people I've known who've kept llamas. My cousin Janet and her husband did. They ran a recreation camp on Lake Chautauqua, and I thought maybe the animals were there as kind of a novelty zoo or something. Apparently llamas are very handy creatures though, a kind of combination of a cow, a horse, and a sheep all in one. I still don't know much about them, but I suppose I know them better because they're part of Jay and Annie's family. Herding them from pasture to pasture needs to be a public event, with neighbor help. When a baby llama is born there is great celebration.

Mostly the Warmkes keep to themselves up there in Muskingum County. It's not known as a particularly progressive area, and some folks may wonder about the strange house Annie and Jay built themselves out of old tires, bottles, wire mesh and mud. They've got 38 acres and what they do isn't visible from the road, and you'd think more conservative people would let them mind their own business. But people do come and go at Blue Rock Station. They come for workshops and tours and for one of Annie's high tea ceremonies. There's a sign at the gate and they advertise. People find out and I suppose the old word "hippie" might occur to them. Too bad.

The last couple years Jay has taken an interest in standing for public office. Folks may not know or guess that in his background is a startling business career of great accomplishment. He doesn't unfurl his credentials readily or even willingly, but they're there and he makes a formidable candidate. Cat's reports of her school experience in Muskingum inspired Jay to run for the school board. That's all. It's not like he wants to be county executive or anything. Just a contributing school board member. He tried it once before but didn't get elected. This year he tried again.

Last month we drove up for Annie's unique birthday party. It was for women only and involved swapping stuff from around our houses that we don't use much but that other people might like. No presents. We guys had to leave the grounds and go somewhere else. Jay and I got to talk about the school board and the election. He showed me the big house his opponent lives in and his big SUVs out front, and told me a bit of what he does for a living and how he operates. It was a tight race, and I guess it got rather nasty. At one point Annie wrote me that maybe if Jay lost, it would be better.

Just now I checked the WHIZ website for election results. It looks like the school levy got turned down again, but it appears Jay actually won...and now is a member of the Franklin Local Schools School Board. Yay! Congratulations buddy!

But at what cost? Late at night, election night...someone expressed an opinion. Annie wrote me early yesterday morning. Here it is~~~

"Yesterday was one of the worst days of my life. In the night someone or
maybe more then one person came into the field. They shot Michelle
Belle with a 22, and then as she lay dying they cut off her ear as a
trophy of some sort. I found her when I went to milk this morning.
This is the final act in a tough campaign for school board. I couldn't
have imagined this is how it would all end.

"We spent 3.5 years socializing her so that she was a good llama. Then I
spent the better part of August and September saving her life - hand
feeding her, pulling her up with a tow strap to force her to keep
moving, and massaging her to keep her from stiffening up. She had the
loveliest velvety chocolate face with huge eyes and long lashes. I
loved her.

"There is nothing else to say until I figure out what this all means to
my life, and what I need to do to protect the rest of the animals.Today
I am able to think again. We refuse to live in fear. I only want good
energy here so in spite of the fact that I will not stop looking for the
person or people who did this to Michelle. I am planning a blessing
day. We are going to light sage and bless the place where she died, and
where we buried her. Then we will walk the property line where we know
they crossed to do this horrible thing. The only protection we can have
for the other animals is a constant good energy. I am also sending
blessings and healing the those who did this, and the constant mantra
that they will come forward.

"I couldn't think of this yesterday - I was just mourning. It is still
not clear to me what all of this means to our lives, but this will be
revealed as time passes."

Later yesterday she added~~~

"I think the thing we have to do is to talk about how to react to these
types of hate crimes. I needed today to think this through and I see
that we need to think about how to raise awareness in the community that
involves talking to each other and not just thinking the law will take
care of this. We need to have a plan with steps that involve the
community. We need to ask for mental health assistance if the person is
caught and not press for jail time....jail will not help. We need to
share how we have mourned this type of invasion in our lives. I don't
know all of the answers yet, but I am determined to figure out how to
fit this into my walk of peace in my life. Annie"

I asked her if blogging and sharing this news would be helpful, or did they need to be quiet about this. She said she has written to the Zanesville Times-Recorder, and perhaps a reporter will contact them today. Annie said any publicity of this monstrous behavior could help and would be welcome. There's not much more I can say, but I thought the Warmkes might like this poem that showed up the other day~~~

by Louis Jenkins

It turns out that the drain pipe from the sink is attached to
nothing and water just runs right onto the ground in the
crawl space underneath the house and then trickles out
into the stream that passes through the backyard. It turns
out that the house is not really attached to the ground but
sits atop a few loose concrete blocks all held in place by
gravity, which, as I understand it, means "seriousness." Well,
this is serious enough. If you look into it further you will
discover that the water is not attached to anything either
and that perhaps the rocks and the trees are not all that
firmly in place. The world is a stage. But don't try to move
anything. You might hurt yourself, besides that's a job for
the stagehands and union rules are strict. You are merely a
player about to deliver a soliloquy on the septic system to a
couple dozen popple trees and a patch of pale blue sky.

"Gravity" by Louis Jenkins from Just Above Water.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Weekend In Afghanistan

Dr Abdullah after announcing that he would not be standing in the election run-off

In the United States today, the Declaration of Independence hangs on schoolroom walls, but foreign policy follows Machiavelli.

---Howard Zinn

To maintain this position of disparity (U.S. economic-military supremacy)... we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming.... We should cease to talk about vague and... unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standard and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts.... The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

---George Kennan
Director of Policy Planning U.S. State Department 1948

We have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. Our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and maintain social stability for our investments. This tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia and Peru. Increasingly the role our nation has taken is the role of those who refuse to give up the privileges and pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.

---Martin Luther King, Jr.
"A Time to Break the Silence" speech given at Riverside Church New York City April 4, 1967

So a romantic weekend in Afghanistan doesn't fit into your idea of attractive vacation plans? Me neither, but the weekend has been filled with strong consideration of what the mission is...and why. The headlines this morning lead off with this war, and there's no more time to avoid it.

Of chief interest to me however is an article posted by Ray McGovern at 3 or 4 sites, including TruthOut and Consortium News. Mr. McGovern, who graduated summa cum laude from Fordham University, was a Federal employee under seven U.S. presidents over 27 years, presenting the morning intelligence briefings at the White House for many of them. His weekend with Afghanistan began Thursday with a RAND-sponsored meeting in the Russell Senate Office Building. His article in full is reprinted following these opening comments.

What we heard more about is the withdrawal of Dr. Abdullah Abdullah from the Afghan runoff election at the week's end. Reports of what actually happened in the original election are surfacing all over the Internet, but not in the mainstream media. No one is denying a corrupt, invalid original election...but no one is demanding Karzai clean up his act either. The US is saying we'll deal with Mr. Karzai later. That's the mission?

Reports lead off this morning's New York Times and also the London Times~~~

On a similar topic, Friday afternoon yielded typical releases by the government of matters we hope won't be noticed. This time the Justice Department let out pages and pages of information about US secret interrogations. If you prefer that kind of start to your week, look here~~~

and here~~~

Now on to Mr. McGovern~~~

Kipling Haunts Obama's Afghan War

By Ray McGovern

November 1. 2009 -- The White Man’s Burden, a phrase immortalized by English poet Rudyard Kipling as an excuse for European-American imperialism, was front and center Thursday morning at a RAND-sponsored discussion of Afghanistan in the Russell Senate Office Building.

The agenda was top-heavy with RAND speakers, and the thinking was decidedly “inside the box” — so much so, that I found myself repeating a verse from Kipling, who recognized the dangers of imperialism, to remind me of the real world:

It is not wise for the Christian white
To hustle the Asian brown;
For the Christian riles
And the Asian smiles
And weareth the Christian down.

At the end of the fight
Lies a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased;

And the epitaph drear,
A fool lies here,
Who tried to hustle the East.

With a few notable exceptions, the RAND event offered conventional wisdom to a fare-thee-well. There was a certain poetic justice that President Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has chaired RAND’s Middle East Advisory Board, was chosen to keynote the proceedings.

As national security adviser under President Carter, Brzezinski thought it a good idea to mousetrap the Soviets into their own Vietnam debacle by baiting them into invading Afghanistan in 1979, the war that was the precursor to the great-power quagmire in Afghanistan now, three decades later.

On Thursday, Brzezinski disclosed that he had advised the Bush/Cheney administration to invade Afghanistan in 2001, but insisted that he told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the U.S. military should not stay “as an alien force” once American objectives were achieved.

Exuding his customary confidence, Brzezinski first addressed — and ruled out — several “No’s,” the things that the U.S. must not do:

-Withdrawal is “not in the range of policy options.”
-The U.S. must not repeat the Soviet experience in going it alone, but rather must “use all our leverage” to make NATO’s commitment stick.
-The U.S. should not neglect the need to include “Islamic” groups in the coalition.

Brzezinski offered a much longer litany of “Yeses” — but his list was disappointingly bereft of new ideas. Indeed, it was notable only for his insistence that the U.S. ought to be more actively engaged in promoting a north-south pipeline through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. He said, for example, that India needs access to the resources of central Asia, an area especially rich in natural gas, as well as oil.

Without batting an eyelash, Brzezinski noted that within three months the war in Afghanistan will be the “longest war in U.S. history,” and warned that the United States could be “bogged down there for another decade or so.” At the same time, he argued, the world impact of an early U.S. departure “would be utterly devastating.”

Quagmire, anyone?

Questioned about growing opposition to the war, he conceded condescendingly that “public fatigue” is understandable, but expressed confidence that adoption of his recommended policies would be “persuasive” enough to turn public opinion around.

Outsiders Impinge

One must give RAND credit for inviting a few outsiders whose remarks came closer to reflecting reality. Former national intelligence officer for the Middle East, Paul Pillar, and Harvard professor Stephen Walt offered observations that, though eminently sensible, somehow seemed oddly out of step — “out of the box,” as we say in Washington.

Pillar asked if what the U.S. was doing in Afghanistan is enhancing the security of the American people. Are the costs justified, given the amount of change and the “direction of change” that U.S. policies can be realistically expected to produce?

Even if the U.S. and NATO effort is, as they say, “properly resourced,” large parts of Afghanistan will remain open to the Taliban, and perhaps al Qaeda — not to mention alternative locales like Somalia and Yemen.

And then there are the counterproductive consequences.

It is a given, said Pillar, that sending more troops perceived as occupation forces will — more than any other step — bring more and more recruits to the Taliban. As for the cost, Pillar cited the recent congressional testimony by Stephen Biddle, a defense policy fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Biddle, though supportive of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency approach, said it would incur “Iraq-war-scale cost for three to five years.” Pillar asked if that kind of anticipated cost was worth what he suggested would be “at best, a slight reduction in the danger from terrorism.” Whether the game is worth the candle is, he said, the calculation that the President has to make.

No Alternative?

Stephen Walt picked up on Pillar’s themes, pleading for a realistic assessment of benefits against cost. As for U.S. troop casualties, 850 have already been killed. At a rate of 50 deaths a month, five more years would bring 3,000 dead — not to mention the many thousands more who have been wounded.

And the longer the United States stays, the more it looks like a foreign occupier and the more various Afghan factions are pushed together by giving them a common enemy. Plus, al Qaeda will have a safe haven — in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, even Europe — no matter the degree of “success” the U.S. achieves in Afghanistan.

Walt opined that it is the epitome of hubris for the U.S. to take on the monumental task of “social engineering” the 200 million people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that the chances of succeeding are “not great.” He questioned the disproportionate attention in resources directed toward Afghanistan when there is little reason to send more U.S. troops, except for the fact that there are already U.S. troops there with too much to handle.

Walt pointed also to a significant “opportunity cost” in the drain on President Barack Obama’s time, noting there are lots of other problems — domestic as well as foreign — that crave his attention.

Remarkably, among virtually all the speakers there was broad consensus that Brzezinski’s first No-No would prevail — that is, that no U.S. troop withdrawal will be in the cards. Walt put it bluntly, saying the President “painted himself into a corner” last spring and would probably not be able to change course to address “one of the world’s most intractable problems” in a sensible way. The Harvard professor predicted that in just a few years the Obama administration will look back with huge regret on how badly it erred.

The Cato Institute’s Christopher Preble took strong issue with the notion that “a country like ours would have no alternative” to escalation. He, too, asked if adding to the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is essential to U.S. national security. Or, Preble wondered, has the conflict there simply become an interest in itself — “that we must win this war because it is the war we are in?” He, too, gave U.S. policy makers a failing grade on “the cost-benefit test.”

RAND and the Establishment

The biggest surprise for me came in the remarks of well-respected diplomat James Dobbins, director of RAND’s International Security and Defense Policy Center. Dobbins provided no supporting data or reasoning to support what seemed — to me, at least — to be scare tactics. His words were the kind that a diplomat would use in selling a policy aimed at avoiding the worst.

Addressing the possibility of U.S. departure from Afghanistan, Dobbins predicted a long list of calamities: civil war (as if one isn’t already under way), the involvement not only of Pakistan but of Iran, Russia and China; millions of refugees, widespread disease, negative economic growth, increased extremism and use of Afghanistan for more terrorism.

As for the administration’s public posture, Dobbins pointed to a need to “expand the explanation for our presence in Afghanistan,” so that the rationale will appear more commensurate with an increased commitment” — read, more troops justified by more rhetorical flourishes.

Although Dobbins performed yeoman service, for example, in securing Iranian cooperation in setting up the Karzai government in Kabul, his experience with Asian insurgencies appears paper-thin. I was painfully reminded of this by his gratuitous remark that “in Vietnam we had neutralized the Viet Cong” (sic), and only when the North Vietnamese came into the fray, and the U.S. commitment slackened, did we lose that war.

With that faux history as background, it is less surprising that Dobbins would tout, as he did, the “Powell doctrine” of overwhelming force and advocate for a still deeper U.S. commitment in Afghanistan, to be accompanied by a more persuasive rationale to explain it.

Professor Walt pointed out that, applying the insurgent-to-population ratio Dobbins has used for Bosnia, 600,000 troops would be needed to defeat the insurgents in Afghanistan.

RAND veteran and former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, addressed the public perception problem regarding the Afghan war with unusual candor: “People don’t believe we know what we’re doing.” Still, endorsing the Brzezinski No-No dictum, Khalilzad said that “no serious person” would contemplate U.S. withdrawal thus enabling “extremism” to prevail.

Khalilzad argued for playing to U.S. strengths with a “purchasing power” approach — the United States comes up with the money to pay potential or actual insurgents more than they earn fighting for the Taliban. And he stressed that the U.S. needs to expand Afghan forces.

Speaking last, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, also emphasized the need for building up Afghan forces, as the administration considers increasing the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. Levin spoke of the need for a 400,000-strong Afghan army and police force by 2012, trained by U.S. and NATO specialists.

Training the Indigenous: Panacea or Mirage?

I am reminded of what former CENTCOM commander, General John Abizaid, described to the Senate Armed Services Committee three years ago as a “major change” in the Iraq war — namely, new emphasis on training Iraqis.

The final returns are not yet in for Iraq, but in my experience this is almost always an unfruitful exercise, as many of us learned from Vietnam. Been there; done that; should have known that.

Three months after John Kennedy's death, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara sent President Lyndon Johnson a draft of a major speech McNamara planned to give on defense policy. What follows is a segment of an audiotape of a conversation between the two on Feb. 25, 1964:

Johnson: Your speech is good, but I wonder if you shouldn't find two minutes to devote to Vietnam.

McNamara: The problem is what to say about it.

Johnson: I'll tell you what to say about it. I would say we have a commitment to Vietnamese freedom. We could pull out there; the dominoes would fall and that part of the world would go to the Communists. ... Nobody really understands what is out there. ... Our purpose is to train [the South Vietnamese] people, and our training's going good.

McNamara: All right, sir.

But the Vietnamese training wasn't "going good.” Before long, half a million American troops were in Vietnam trying to save South Vietnam’s government.

It is a forlorn hope that unwelcome occupation troops can train indigenous soldiers and police to fight against their own brothers and sisters. That the British also seem to have forgotten these lessons, along with some of Kipling’s cautionary poetry about the risks of imperialism, is really no excuse.

If President Obama is depending on the RAND folks and embedded neo-con pundits like the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, we are in trouble. In Friday’s column Ignatius appeals for more troops “to continue the mission,” as the President and his advisers attempt to figure out what the mission should be.

As I sat at the RAND event on Thursday, I could not help wondering what would be the judgments of my former colleagues in the intelligence community on these key issues? Specifically, what might a National Intelligence Estimate on Prospects for Afghanistan say?

NIEs are the most authoritative genre of analytical product, embodying key judgments on important national security issues. They are coordinated throughout the 16-agency intelligence community and then signed by the Director of National Intelligence in his statutory capacity as chief intelligence adviser to the President.

An NIE can, and should, play an important role. An estimate on Iran’s nuclear program, for example, given to President George W. Bush in November 2007, helped derail plans by Vice President Dick Cheney and White House adviser Elliott Abrams for war on Iran. The most senior U.S. military officers had realized what a debacle that would be and insisted that this NIE’s key judgments be made public.

They anticipated, correctly, that public knowledge that Iran had stopped working on developing a nuclear warhead in 2003 (and had not resumed such work) would take the wind out of Cheney’s, Abrams’, and Israel’s sails. Bush and Cheney were not pleased; but the NIE helped stop the juggernaut toward war with Iran.

There’s Always an NIE, Right?

As one of the intelligence analysts watching Vietnam in the Sixties and Seventies, I worked on several of the NIEs produced before and during the war. All too many bore this title: “Probable Reactions to Various Courses of Action With Respect to North Vietnam.”

Typical of the kinds of question the President and his advisers wanted addressed: Can we seal off the Ho Chi Minh Trail by bombing it? If the U.S. were to introduce x thousand additional troops into South Vietnam, will Hanoi quit? Okay, how about xx thousand?

Our answers regularly earned us brickbats from the White House for not being “good team players.” But in those days we labored under a strong ethos dictating that we give it to policymakers straight, without fear or favor. We had career protection for doing that. And — truth be told — we often took a perverse delight in being the only show in town without a policy agenda.

Our judgments (the unwelcome ones, anyway) were pooh-poohed as negativism; and policymakers, of course, were in no way obliged to take them into account. The point is that they continued to be sought. Not even Lyndon Johnson, nor Richard Nixon, would be likely to decide on a significant escalation without seeking the best guess of the intelligence community as to how U.S. adversaries would likely react to this or that escalatory step.

Wrong: No NIE

Here’s the thing. Would you believe there is no current National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan? Rather, Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal are running the show, allowing professional intelligence analysts to be mostly straphangers at planning and strategy meetings.

CIA Director Panetta, a self-described “creature of Congress,” is not going to risk putting any senior military noses out of joint by objecting, and neither is his nominal boss, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair. And, sad to say, National Security Adviser James Jones, in deferring to the military, is serving President Obama just as poorly as Bush apparatchik Condoleezza Rice served President Bush.

How many “militants” are there in Afghanistan? How may “insurgents?” How do you draw a distinction between a militant and an insurgent? Could it be that these combatants are widely regarded, in many areas of Afghanistan, as resistance fighters? What would be the implications of that?

When the Military Does the Packaging

Forty-two years ago, my CIA analyst colleague Sam Adams was sent to Saigon to have it out with the Army intelligence officers working there for Gen. William Westmoreland. After several months of exhaustive analysis, Adams had connected a whole bunch of dots, so to speak, and concluded that there were more than twice as many Vietnamese Communists under arms as the Army would carry on its books.

Bewildered at first, Adams quickly learned that Westmoreland had instructed his intelligence staff to falsify intelligence on enemy strength, keeping the numbers low enough to promote an illusion of progress in the war. After a prolonged knock-down-drag-out fight, then-CIA Director Richard Helms decided to acquiesce in the Army’s arbitrary exclusion from its enemy aggregate total paramilitary and other armed elements numbering up to 300,000.

These categories had been included in previous estimates because they were a key part of the combat force of the Communists. The Adams/CIA best estimate was total Communist strength of 500,000. However, it was the doctored estimate that went to the President and his advisers in November 1967. That was just two months before the countrywide Communist Tet offensive in late January/early February 1968 proved — at great cost — that Adams figures were far more accurate than the Army’s.

Years later, when Adams and CBS told the story of this internal battle on “60 Minutes,” Westmoreland sued, giving Adams his day in court, literally. Subpoenaed documents and the testimony of Westmoreland’s own staff in Saigon established the accuracy of Adams’ charges, and Westmoreland withdrew his suit.

Yet, right up until his premature death at age 55, Sam Adams could not dispel the remorse he felt at not having gone public with his findings much earlier. He felt that, had he done so, the entire left half of the Vietnam memorial would not be there, because there would be no names to carve into the granite for those later years of the war.

Ellsberg’s Regret

In recent years, former Defense Department and RAND analyst Daniel Ellsberg also has expressed deep regret that he waited too long; that he did not give the press the “Pentagon Papers” history of the Vietnam War and its many deceptions until 1971.

What few people know is that a couple of patriotic truth-tellers, including Ellsberg, did reveal key facts about the war in the late Sixties, when they learned that the Johnson administration was working on plans to expand the ground war into Cambodia, Laos and right up to the Chinese border — perhaps even beyond.

In 1967, the beribboned, bemedaled Petraeus — sorry, I mean Westmoreland — addressed a joint session of Congress during which he congratulated himself on the “great progress” being made in the war. Congress was unaware that Westmoreland was on the verge of getting President Johnson to agree to sending 206,000 more troops for a widening of the war that threatened to bring China in as an active combatant.

Two key leaks to the New York Times helped put the kibosh on that escalation. The first, on March 10, 1968, revealed the 206,000 escalation figure; and the second, on March 19—by Ellsberg himself—disclosed the suppression of the CIA’s higher, accurate count of Vietnamese Communists under arms. On March 25, Johnson complained to a small gathering of confidants:

“The leaks to the New York Times hurt us. ... We have no support for the war. ... I would have given Westy the 206,000 men.”

I believe that President Obama wants to make the right decision regarding Afghanistan. For me, his poignant visit Thursday night to the U.S. Air Force Base at Dover, Delaware, to receive the coffins of 18 Americans recently killed in Afghanistan bespeaks an authentic desire to do the right thing and face into any political repercussions.

It is clear, at the same time, that he is under great military and political pressure to send more troops on what those of us who experienced Vietnam are convinced is a fool’s errand. And, sadly, his national security adviser and his intelligence chiefs seem to have gone AWOL.

For Intelligence Analyst Colleagues:

One clear lesson from what Ellsberg did in March 1968—not to mention the November 2007 NIE on Iran—is that patriotic truth telling, official or unofficial, can prevent wider wars. And so I address you all—both my erstwhile colleagues and newer analysts in the intelligence community:

Those of you working on Afghanistan and Pakistan have your own educated estimates of the prospects for success of various U.S. courses of action. If you have not been asked by now to prepare a National Intelligence Estimate, wait no longer. Keeping silent is not a responsible option.

The President should not be deprived of your views.

Perhaps it was serendipity (or maybe a reward for sitting through the entire RAND event Thursday morning), but that evening I was privileged to attend the Washington premier of an excellent documentary on Dan Ellsberg — “The Most Dangerous Man in America” — the sobriquet he earned from Henry Kissinger when Ellsberg gave the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers.

The film contained hard-to-watch footage of the war that took the lives of two-to-three million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans—a very painful reminder. I was happy to see, though, that the film did pick up, from Ellsberg’s book Secrets, his decision to begin revealing important facts to the New York Times in early 1968 and help prevent a still more dangerous escalation and widening of the war in Vietnam.

Think about it, friends. And don’t look just at one another. Visualize instead all those young people from our country’s inner cities and small towns who form the pool for the de facto poverty draft that provides the bulk of U.S. troops sent off to bear the present-day White Man’s Burden.

You may be in a position to help give the President the wherewithal to resist pressure to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Let’s stop the Dover deliveries of the dead headed to tombstones white, with the names of the late deceased.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Grandpa At The PawPaw

Photo taken Saturday of a "Carlson totem pole," possibly so titled by my son whose older daughter Nina sits upon his shoulders as he holds his newborn Sophia

Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.

---Theodore Rubin

At last I do not know how to draw!

---Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Between our two lives
there is also the life of the
cherry blossom.


I had written an empty-nest letter upon the occasion of my daughter's 18th birthday, celebrated with a boyfriend from OU but not us, in faraway Swannanoa, North Carolina. A much loved and slightly older friend here in town said it seemed intended to invoke a few tears but hopefully not sobs. Ilona herself concurred and sent us a laughing snapshot of herself with boyfriend. Dana's uncle saw us Saturday and joked with me about the "tear-stained letter." Richard Thompson's song played in my head the rest of the afternoon.

Friday evening brought us 3 or 4 calls from Ilona, and got the tone of the weekend rolling. The cake she had ordered from us actually was a Christmas plum pudding, complete with the necessary container of brandy. What rules did we break smuggling THAT into the school? Anyway, she knew she was supposed to get the stuff onto the cake somehow and light it---but how? So Dana was instructing her over the phone, cautioning that if it went wrong the whole place might blow up. The entire dorm had assembled to observe. She sent a teeny photo of the experiment and it looks as if they decided to take the thing outside. There are no charred remains or ashes in the picture, and she said there were oooohs and ahhhhs---which of course is what you want.

The rest of the weekend our son was to the rescue. With a subtlety with which is endowed and properly renowned, he got us to show up at the 11th Annual PawPaw Festival at Lake Snowden, just outside Athens. Everybody has heard about the "pawpaw patch," but few ever saw or tasted one. Since they grow around here, an enterprising fellow decided we needed a festival---and maybe eventually somebody could make some money with this fruit. If you look it up in the dictionary, you'll be sent to "papaw," where you'll find it next to papaya---and that's sorta what it is.

One of the features of the day is a cook-off, where people from everywhere try to figure out ways to use the thing. Everything from bottles of drunkenness to main courses to lots of desserts were offered to 3 food critics from Columbus and New York, and the chief chef from Ohio University. The leftovers were distributed to the audience. Jeroch had invented a pawpaw fudge concoction, using a bitter dark chocolate and cocoanut. It took all afternoon for the judges to get through the myriad of entries. The chef said afterwards it had been first. Jeroch took the loss graciously, with only a tinge of disappointment visible only to the trained eye.

The festival was packed with people this time, lots of terrific music---including a dance band whose version of Choo Choo Baby I liked a lot, and featuring my friend, former Interim Dean of the OU College of Music Professor Allyn Reilly blowing sax---every kind of food from a rack of ribs to Philippine noodles, medieval jousting, and tables and tables of folks presenting the latest in sustainable living. Our friends from Dovetail Solar And Wind were particularly impressive, with their booth's lovely fountain and the soundstage all powered by sunshine. Parked next to our car was a Civic sporting a North Carolina plate and identification that its owner was Warren Wilson alumni, which is where Ilona is going to school. What's the chance of THAT happening?

Sunday Jeroch didn't let up for a minute, making sure we had no time for moping around. We had sung John Tavener's The Lamb at church, which is satisfying to a choir even to make it through...and especially wonderful if it comes off, moving a congregation to pure and wondrous silence. Rain at last, so Jeroch's plan to crank up our new chainsaw didn't pan out...but in slickers down he and his mom went to the garden to harvest the chard, collard, and kale for a massive cook, package and freeze project. Those greens go in our soups all winter.

I had cleaned off the desk, prepared the weekly bills for paying and had turned into Scrooge when the computer decided to freeze along with the chopped leaves. While I sat cursing technology, I cleaned out a shelf of stuff on the table here...and there was a copy of Poetry from July-August 2006 that I thought I had recycled. Inside is a poem by John Updike that I considered classic---especially for men, and women too I guess, who are over 50. Updike was an absolutely clinical observer of American humanity, a trait he credited to a Pennsylvania Lutheran upbringing. When it came to his own mortality at the end, including the lung cancer that took him, he viewed his failing parts with the same wry wit---or as one reviewer termed it, "with the reaction of a man learning his car needs a new tire." As you'll see this poem is not depressing: poignant maybe, but still funny~~~


Talk about intimacy! I'd almost rather not.
The day before, a tussle with nausea
(DRINK ME: a liter of sickly-sweet liquid)
and diarrhea, so as to present oneself
pristine as a bride to the groom with his tools,
his probe and tiny TV camera
and honeyed words. He has a tan,
just back from a deserved vacation
from his accustomed nether regions.

Begowned, recumbent on one's side,
one views through uprolled eyes the screen whereon
one's big intestine snakes sedately by,
its segments marked by tidy annular
construction-seams as in a prefab tunnel
slapped up by the mayor's son-in-law.
A sudden wash of sparkling liquid shines
in the inserted light, and hairpin turns
loom far ahead and soon are vaulted past
impalpably; we float, we fall, we veer
in these soft, pliant passages spelunked
by everything one eats.

Then all goes dark,
as God intended it whenever He
sealed shut in Adam's abdomen
life's slimy, twisting, smelly miracle.
The bridegroom's voice, below the edge of sight
like buried treasure, announces,
"Perfect. Not a ployp. See you in
five years." Five years? The funhouse may have folded.

---from the Updike collection "Endpoint." Ah yes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

At Eighteen

Old Age And Youth, 1878
Sir John Gilbert

Count no day lost in which you waited your turn, took only your share, and sought advantage over no one.

---Robert Brault

The best things in life are nearest: breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties in your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.

---Robert Lewis Stevenson

Yes, spring has come---
this morning, a nameless hill
is shrouded in mist.


Dear Ilona,

By coincidence lately, I've been reading and hearing that once a young adult leaves home, the communication with Dad suddenly changes. The transition didn't happen in my own exodus, so I'm a bit inexperienced as it seems to occur now. My telephone conversations with my father tended more toward the Garrison Keillor Scandinavian model in which Mom hands the phone to Dad, who mutters, " you're OK? Well, here's your mother again."

With son and daughter, once you both were out there, magically the old man is revealed a sage, loved and respected. This isn't new exactly. My father quoted Mark Twain to me often: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he'd learned in seven years.” Well, Twain may never have said it, but there's a mysterious truth to it. Today I see there is much more I have to learn, and my children have taken on the responsibility to teach me. Now I have to be paying the attention I should have all along. I have to learn to say "I love you" more often...and I acknowledge that and am trying.

Fifteen years ago we had you registered in public school. We had discussed it because we knew you would be entering while still 4, and this probably would make you the youngest kid in the class the rest of your education. The alternative was to wait a year...and then you always would be the oldest. We took the first option because we figured you could handle it. What we hadn't considered is now you are turning 18 away from home already. It turns out this is hard on us.

Eighteen is coming of age, although 21 continues to be the big one. At 18, boys had to register for the draft. I don't know if there's anything like that you have to do now. In New York, I could walk into a bar and get served. I didn't do it much but I came to appreciate the experience, because I never was tempted to act up on weekends the way kids from states with older age limits did. We New Yorkers didn't need to break the law. We were too cool. You can vote now. That's new. I had to wait til 21 to do that. In between, a generation came along that said, "If I have to go off to your expensive wars and get killed, I should be able to vote on the people who want to send me." Students became vocal and involved as my generation, at 18, never was.

You're a young woman today...and no longer the girl who liked to rearrange the furniture and desktops without asking. When we can't find something today, we have to take responsibility for it...and I'm sure our abilities to remember aren't going to improve. The silence in the house sometimes is deafening...and of course we have to swallow hard when, by habit, we still wonder what time you're coming home. The reminder that you aren't brings tears.

I guess it's human nature not to really appreciate someone until they're gone. Maybe that's a common emotion that is uniting us now. We're sending a birthday cake by courier. We won't be singing and watching you always blow out every candle. Maybe we'll sing here anyway...and pretend. Maybe Mom and I will hold hands, sing the song, and have ourselves a hug and kiss in your honor. That sounds like a good plan...until we're together again.


Monday, September 14, 2009

The Race Question

At what she calls the Million Mob March in Washington on Saturday, Daezy (I presume) poses in front of a FoxNews truck before posting the picture and many more of the event at her blog, US Liberty Journal .

How many things do you say just to make an impression on others? What are you really achieving when you try to make an impression? If you didn't do things for merit or advancement, or if you didn't act with motives at all, what would life be like? At work? In bed? Alone in a room. Even alone in a room you can be consumed with wanting other people to see you in a good light.

---John Tarrant

How shall I grasp it? Do not grasp it. That which remains when there is no grasping is the Self.


The mountains, rivers, grasses, trees, and forests are always emanating a subtle, precious light, day and night, always emanating a subtle, precious sound, demonstrating and expounding to all people the unsurpassed ultimate truth.


Since I "joined" the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s, I've been caught making racist remarks many times. Like everybody, I wasn't prejudiced of course. Hadn't I protested the plight of black jazz artists since I was a little boy? Or Negro jazz artists...or Afro-American jazz artists... Well anyway, whatever it is, hadn't I been against it? With my white friends, I picketed Woolworth's in Lewiston, Maine. But it wasn't until nearly 10 years later, after some backlash, that I got close enough to other races to get really taken apart. There were things I said and things I did that I had no idea offended other people. These behaviors were in my upbringing and needed to be rooted out. It was not easy. It was painful.

Yes, my dream too is to live in an America that is "post-racial." But I doubt that, after 40 or 50 years of working on it, my cleansing is finished yet. For others of all races, it may not take as long. For those who think about racial prejudice in this country at least, the work is obvious. But what of those who don't think about it? What about people who believe with all their hearts they aren't prejudiced...but have not gone through the real fire of being the only one of their own race in a group of another race? What then? The presidency of Barack Obama, whom I never have considered a "black man," is providing an opportunity I have tried to avoid. I've wanted us to be post-racial...but I'm afraid I've been on cloud 9.

Naomi Klein hasn't written anything for Harper's in a couple years. In 2007 she published an essay called "Disaster Capitalism" in there. The book that came out at the same time was a thunderbolt and best-seller. Last month another article by her turned up in Harper's, this time titled "Minority Death Match." I have a feeling another book is going to show up too. The article is about the United Nations Durban Review Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Since the October issue now is on the stands, you can read Ms. Klein's thoughts on the subject online.

Over the weekend though, she updated a very edited version of the article in the UK Guardian. She takes on the Summer of '09 and zeroes in on the Obama presidency and all this opposition. As usual with Naomi, you get it full in the face~~~

"Americans began the summer still celebrating the dawn of a 'post-racial' era. They are ending it under no such illusion. The summer of 2009 was all about race, beginning with Republican claims that Sonia Sotomayor, Barack Obama's nominee to the US Supreme Court, was 'racist' against whites. Then, just as that scandal was dying down, up popped 'the Gates controversy', the furore over the president's response to the arrest of African American academic Henry Louis Gates Jr in his own home. Obama's remark that the police had acted 'stupidly' was evidence, according to massively popular Fox News host Glenn Beck, that the president 'has a deep-seated hatred for white people'.

"Obama's supposed racism gave a jolt of energy to the fringe movement that claims he has been carrying out a lifelong conspiracy to cover up his (fictional) African birth. Then Fox News gleefully discovered Van Jones, White House special adviser on green jobs. After weeks of being denounced as 'a black nationalist who is also an avowed communist', Jones resigned last Sunday.

"The undercurrent of all these attacks was that Obama, far from being the colour-blind moderate he posed as during the presidential campaign, is actually obsessed with race, in particular with redistributing white wealth into the hands of African Americans and undocumented Mexican workers. At town hall meetings across the US in August, these bizarre claims coalesced into something resembling an uprising to 'take our country back'. Henry D Rose, chair of Blacks For Social Justice, recently compared the overwhelmingly white, often armed, anti-Obama crowds to the campaign of 'massive resistance' launched in the late 50s – a last-ditch attempt by white southerners to block the racial integration of their schools and protect other Jim Crow laws. Today's 'new era of "massive resistance",' writes Rose, 'is also a white racial project.'

"There is at least one significant difference, however. In the late 50s and early 60s, angry white mobs were reacting to life-changing victories won by the civil rights movement. Today's mobs, on the other hand, are reacting to the symbolic victory of an African American winning the presidency. Yet they are rising up at a time when non-elite blacks and Latinos are losing significant ground, with their homes and jobs slipping away from them at a much higher rate than from whites. So far, Obama has been unwilling to adopt policies specifically geared towards closing this ever-widening divide. The result may well leave minorities with the worst of all worlds: the pain of a full-scale racist backlash without the benefits of policies that alleviate daily hardships. Meanwhile, with Obama constantly painted by the radical right as a cross between Malcolm X and Karl Marx, most progressives feel it is their job to defend him – not to point out that, when it comes to tackling the economic crisis ravaging minority communities, the president is not doing nearly enough."

Reflecting on this, I suggest, is best done alone, in a quiet room. Then go out in humility and try it.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


An undated photo of sagging power lines from the National Historic Weather Service Collection.

The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suspect.

---Thomas More

Our minds are continually active, fabricating an anxious, usually self-preoccupied VEIL which partially conceals the world.

---Iris Murdoch

Walking along a mountain path
I find a sandal-print in the moss,
a billowy cloud low on the lake,
grasses growing up to a door,
a pine tree shimmering green,
a brook gurgling along from the mountain,
and as I mingle with Truth among the flowers,
I have forgotten what to say.

---Liu Chiang-ch'ing

Last winter we had a severe ice storm here. Electricity went out for large portions of the states affected, in some areas and for some "customers," as we are called, lasting days and even weeks. Our home continues to use well water, powered by a pump nearly a quarter mile down a hill. No electricity means no water.

Somehow telephones still work---although the lines coming up to the house look exactly the same to me. But who is there to call besides each other? If you can get a human being at the electric company, she'll tell you the crews are all out working day and night...and maybe an estimate for restoration. To be told it won't be until tomorrow, or days into the future, is alarming. Do you have your own generator or backup heat?

Years ago you could call a radio station if so much as a hard wind began to blow. They'd get the information for you and onto the air within minutes. In those days the media were considered a public service, and their broadcasting licenses could be withdrawn by the FCC if they failed to meet their responsibilities. We have about a dozen radio and TV stations in town---if you count all the digital this-and-that---including a few connected with a university that boasts an award-winning journalism school. But try to get local news out of them. I can count on 2 commercial AM radio stations to tell me about severe weather conditions...and only one for sure.

I was in the New Haven area for the big ice storm in Connecticut in the early 1970s. Fortunately there was a fireplace in the house and we were able to cook Thanksgiving dinner. In fact it was one of the most delicious Thanksgivings in my memory. The front yard had been full of American chestnut trees, all loaded with bulging nuts and all destroyed by the storm. We crept out on the ice and harvested all we could find---and had chestnut stuffing and chestnut gravy and anything else we could think of to make with them. It was like being on another planet to walk outside. If you've been in an ice storm you know what I mean.

That storm in New Haven is famous, and I guess I wasn't frightened because I was a lot younger then obviously...but also because I was among friends. That's the key. Last winter it was my family in our house alone against a suddenly alien environment. What have I done since to prepare for the possibility of more uncertain weather? We're stockpiling dry goods and canning more, because we know the fridge and freezer can become pretty useless fast. But all that is for ourselves. What have we done to prepare with neighbors...who really should be our friends, but maybe aren't?

When I was a kid, the neighborhood community was really important...even after the necessities of World War II. We tended to know most of the people, sitting out on the front porch or taking walks after supper. The men liked to mow their lawns at the same time, talking to each other as they went. No gasoline-powered monsters back then. Of course this was in a small town, and things tended to be more isolated out on the farms---but not that much. People visited each other more, maybe bringing along a pie or some preserves.

I've lived in apartment buildings where I didn't know anybody at all. I've lived in town here where the turnover of student and faculty tenants is so tumultuous, it's futile to get to know many people at all before they move on. We've lived where we live now for over 10 years, and I guess we're finally acquainted with most people along this stretch of our road. But I never tire of telling the story of how I worked alongside a woman, often eating lunch with her, for a year before I learned she lives across the road. We move out in the country often to get away from people and to be alone.

But what can happen in an emergency? How many emergencies can we think of that could happen these days? I just read the morning news and came up with a half dozen that could occur today and affect my home and family. I'm not going to list them...and of course there are more I'm not even thinking about. Clearly we don't want to think about it. I was scared during the ice storm last winter, but what have I done to network with neighbors in case it happens again and we can help each other? I've done nothing. I've even forgotten the storm. I've put it behind me, in order to move forward.

Everytime I hear a politician say we have to put it behind us and move forward, I feel sick. Sometimes you're standing on the brink of an abyss, and then it's important to know what's behind you and to NOT keep moving in the same direction. How many areas of abyss can you count this morning?

Here's my problem and my confession. Over the years I too have become more isolated than I used to be. I have a lot of entertainments and toys around me and I value as much privacy as I can get to play with them. And during this period, I think I've become even more awkward and cautious with social interactions than I was before. Am I the person who should initiate a network of helping neighbors? Should I telephone those people? Going door to door would be more effective. But would I face rejection and humiliation?

I think it would be very wise for the people on our road to have an emergency plan of some kind. Maybe we could share in the stockpiling of food and supplies. Perhaps each family could undertake a different area of responsibility. Somebody could volunteer to keep extra fresh water available, and someone else could get gasoline. Not only would it be wise, it could be fun. Planning for emergency with friends is certainly more endurable than doing it alone. I'm sure there are people who are doing all this already, but some of us shy persons aren't even started. I wonder if we're on an endangered species list yet.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Do You Still Seek Justice?

From The New Yorker last week

Winter solitude.
In a world of one color
the sound of wind.


Mountain after mountain without a bird,
a thousand paths without a footprint,
a simple boat, a cloak of bamboo,
an old man fishing in the falling snow.

---Liu Tsung-yuan

Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

---Thomas Wolfe

In February Nation Magazine started up a discussion message board, which attracted me and a whole bunch of other lefties, some pretty well-known. At first interaction was vigorous and exciting. My first comment attracted disagreement from none other than Katha Pollitt. I thought it all was going to be different. But eventually my Internet habits took over, and I grew as weary of endless, wandering threads there as I do at other sites. I stopped clicking in.

Last week a message came from the moderator reporting only 5 people were posting. He wanted to know why no one was bothering with it anymore. He also started sending messages about what topics were getting posted, and eventually some of us have come back in. But it got me to thinking. Everywhere in the States there seems to be some kind of lethargy setting in---or something.

People I know have the same concerns they did before the US presidential election...and some have decided Obama's had enough time now to communicate the directions his administration is taking. Supporters who gave his campaign lots of time and money came to believe he really meant his message of Change. Where is that grassroots spirit now that brought the man into office? Are we disillusioned? What are our real feelings? Are we just too tired to bother? Did we pay our money, and now we want the show? What is going on in America? I'm not alone in wondering. The columns this weekend were brimming over with such questions.

But before I start siting where I think some of the best ones are, let me share with you an email I received just a couple of hours ago. It's from someone who is very much awake and still on the front lines. Here's a report from Elisa Young on the world premiere in Charleston of the new documentary Coal Country. As you may know, the film was made by Mari-Lynn Evans who also created the recent 3-part Appalachia series that showed on PBS~~~

"The premier was kind of a bipolar experiencing - extremely good things jaggedly contrasted against extremely hard things.

"I don't know how MariLynn dealt with everything that happened from Wednesday to Saturday. I think you know the Labelle cancelled. Then the hotel we were in canceled our rooms!! Then they scheduled to show the film at the cultural center in the state capitol complex. The next e-mail I got after that was that the coal industry was calling in so many threats to the cultural center that there would be police in riot gear!!

"I got there about a half an hour into the reception because the rain was so heavy we could barely see to drive down 77. Once we got there, saw lots people I've worked with over the years but have not had time to stay in touch. It felt like a reunion. Larry Gibson, Maria Lambert, Chuck Nelson, Maria Gunnoe, Judy Bonds, Matt Noerpel, Terri Blanton, on and on. Many of the students who have been actively involved turned out. I met some people fighting coal that I'd heard of or corresponded with, but had never met face to face. Me and Kathy Selvage ended up sitting together - had not met before - she is fighting MTR (mountaintop removal) and the Wise power plant in Virginia.

"Matt Peters and Corey Frost (a young man I met at Power Shift who decided to move here and work on a farm) made the trek down from Athens. Amanda Comstock who is fighting coal in Dover Ohio (AMP contracts coal mining and prep plant) caught up with us at the Blue Grass Cafe where people were visiting afterwards.

"People said there'd been some arguments/fights before I got there - miners getting mouthy and trying to start fights. State police were present - Riot gear wasn't.

"Most of the miners and coal industry people were up in the balcony during the screening, and they kept getting really loud, hurling insults, jeers, at times could not hear the movie, but I was proud of the people in our camp - they did not respond by telling them to shut up or throwing insults back over the fence, sat there respectfully. If we had responded in kind to them, it could have gotten really ugly.

"Overall I think MariLynn tried her best to tell both sides of the story, which was difficult because not many from the coal industry were willing to talk with her or go on record....

"The way I see it unless we successfully stop the industries that are fueling the demand for coal, MTR and all the other methods of coal mining will continue. Most of the underground mining in WV is mined out, the coal that's left is in the mountains and for the most part unminable by other means. As long as there is a demand for coal, the best we'll get for MTR-threatened communities is a temporary cease fire - like we just went through with Obama after all the promises he made..

"I think the greatest value of Coal Country is was done in a way that both sides of the story are told - pro-coalers can't dismiss it as propaganda - and it will to raise awareness about the injustice because people will actually see and hear it - hopefully to drive home that we need to invest, right now, in healthier ways of generating our electricity.

"The movie was great, concentrated mostly on MTR. When we were talking the next day, MariLynn told me that their family farm in WV that was lost to the coal industry years ago recently had the coal beneath it $680 million. They are getting ready to go after it.

"Here is one review written on coal country: "

There are photos at that blog, and Elisa wrote the third comment. Another review, with a photo of the film crew interviewing Ms. Selvedge, is here~~~

Around these parts, coal is probably a bigger issue than elsewhere in the world...but people everywhere are getting the message that when you flick an electrical switch, you're involved with coal. The news also is out that oil, gas, and coal are deeply invested in the legislative battle over environmental change. (I notice we're using that phrase now, as more effectively descriptive than "global warming" or "climate change.") But what of that...and other issues?

Paul Krugman this morning describes an apparent lack of response in the nation to that of a frog in an increasingly heated bowl. On Saturday Ralph Nader's column questioned elected Democrats' answers to the demands of their constituents~~~

"These lawmakers---Democrats all, who are the majority in Congress and who agree with these questioners---keep saying 'It's not going to happen' or 'It's not practical.'

"'It's just not practical' to provide a federal minimum wage equal to that in 1968, inflation adjusted, which would be $10 an hour.

"'It's not going to happen' to get comprehensive corporate reform at a time when a corporate crime wave and the Wall Street multi-trillion dollar collapse on Washington, on taxpayers and on the economy is tearing this country apart. A little regulatory tinkering is all citizens are told to expect.

"'It's just not practical' to give workers, consumers and taxpayers simple facilities for banding together in associations with their own voluntary dues to defend these interests in the corporate occupied territory known as Washington, D.C."

Then he lets loose~~~

One of Bill Moyers most critical concerns is the "select few" who seem to run our republic. On Saturdayas well, he and his main Journal partner, Michael Winship, discuss how things really get done in the nation's capitol~~~

And then there's the Bush administration, and what actions should follow what those people did to us. Here there seem to be stirrings, especially over the weekend after the news was divulged regarding Cheney. There are many reports on this today but here is one from Raw Story on Friday, about Cheney's "assassination ring"~~~
and another at Politico, where the story first broke about keeping information away from Congress. This update was yesterday~~~

We all know about the importance of vigilance in a democracy. We learned it in school, yes? May we awaken the responsibilities of our citizenship in this great country!

Friday, July 10, 2009


My mother Rhea, her older sister Leora, and their father Edward Johnson harvesting the family potatoes, possibly around 1923.

Just think of the trees: They let the birds perch and fly, with no intention to call them when they come and no longing for their return when they fly away. If people's hearts can be like the trees, they will not be off the Way.


Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

---Leonardo Da Vinci

When you've got it, there's no place for it but a poem.

---Wu Pen

Mom used to say just, "Go wander." It was advice to me on fine, long July days, sunny, not too hot. It didn't push up into the 90s often in the 1940s. It wasn't dangerous for a boy to hike somewhere alone in those days. That's what she meant: to take a long walk or bike ride, past the city limits and out into the country. To find a field or patch of woodlands, and just explore around, see what I could see.

It wasn't there was nothing for a boy to do around town during summer vacation. There were supervised activities at every school playground, sponsored by the city Recreation Department. My elementary school was just down the block, and usually I was there every day. There was Little League baseball, although I wasn't very good---and at first had a glove so cheap my coach called it "that damn mitt." Pretty shocking language for a kid to hear back my fundamentalist mother couldn't help reminding me a lot. There was the YMCA and its swimming pool, where we paddled around until we were old enough for Brownie to lead us down to the deep end---to, though scared witless, jump in. The Boy Scouts had a summer camp at Lake Chautauqua, with Bugs Sundell up there, one of the finest naturalists anywhere, from my hometown that gave the world Roger Tory Peterson. There were neighborhood kids to play softball, kick-the-can in the street, or just hide 'n seek---with some limits about how many people's yards away you could hide in.

But some days a kid didn't feel like doing anything. There I'd be, up in my room or in the glider out on the front porch, looking glum. And that's when Mom might give me that idea. To just get out in Nature and wander. Was it peculiar eccentric advice, I'm wondering today? I've never asked friends if their mothers encouraged them to enrich their lives that way. Enrichment it turned out to be, although I didn't realize it then. I knew she wasn't just trying to get rid of me, because I wasn't bothering her---although I did sometimes, teasing for an activity. It would come out of the blue. "Why don't you get on your bike and just go wander?"

My mother was a country girl, growing up on a family farm halfway up Oak Hill Road, just outside Frewsburg, a small village 5 miles south of Jamestown, New York. Dairy country. Edward and Dora had 3 girls, the eldest named Lucille who probably took that photograph out in the big garden behind the barn. The family was United Brethren, and they held to the old ways...but with all girls, at least one of them had to help Dad. Mom, the youngest, got the job. Outdoors a lot, there was time for her to discover wandering. She learned some birds and wildflowers...and to fear snakes, even more than most girls. She named all the cows and kittens...but not the chickens I guess, one of which might be Sunday dinner. They were Rhode Island Reds and the cows she always called "Jersey Guernseys," which maybe was a mixed breed, I don't know. Even in the city many springtimes later, she could look at a quart of milk in the fridge and know if the cows had been turned out to pasture from winter in the barn.

She knew the plowhorses intimately, the names of which I've forgotten, but I'll bet my sister remembers because Mom talked about them often. Those horses would be hitched up to a buckboard sometimes, at harvest or when they needed supplies. Her dad would be gone to the "Burg" all day when there were crops left over he could sell. Rhea would wait for him in the late afternoon, standing in the meadow looking down the road, down the hill...until she'd see the horses and her dad coming home. You have no idea how long it takes for a horsedrawn vehicle to get from there to where you are, unless you've waited yourself and sensed the passing minutes.

There's a whole different dimension to time when you've done that, a dimension we moderns don't discover unless we meditate or sit in a hospital waiting room. Mom learned it and probably inadvertently passed it on to me. Space is different too, when you just wander. For one thing, you do it alone. For another, there's no destination...except to find your way back. Mom didn't "take" me wandering, she sent me. But I got to see her wandering one time.

We used to take Sunday drives in the family car, after church and chicken dinner at Anderson's Restaurant in Falconer. My father was from town, a city Swede compared to the Johnson Swedes. He danced, loved popular songs, played card games, was on the radio and appeared in plays with community theater. All that was forbidden in United Brethren families, so obviously this was a radical marriage. Dad honored my mother's history though, getting her out into the country at least once a week if he could. Ann and I didn't like these rides particularly, sitting in the back seat---no seatbelts then---fighting over how far half of the seat was. In my teen years I thought the rides would drive me crazy.

But once, Dad stopped the car on Oak Hill Road near the old farm. Mom's dad had died when she still was a girl, and the family had to sell the farm and move into the village. She never got over it really, and sometimes craved to see a bluebird in the apple orchard. Maybe she thought she saw one that afternoon, and so Dad pulled over. Bluebirds had all but disappeared from Western New York in the 1950s. DDT on those apples. She got out of the car by herself, crossed the road, and walked up the rise into the meadow toward the orchard. She stood a moment looking toward the trees...and for that moment, to me, she was 13 again. A breeze blew her dress and hair, and she leaned into it slightly, smiling, faced raised, breathing deep. She was home in that meadow, the same meadow where she'd waited for her father years before.

She didn't see a bluebird that day, but she gave me a memory of her I treasure forever. I'm more thankful for that picture in my mind than ever I could write here. She was wandering for a few moments to find a bluebird. She passed on to me a love of Nature that it may be impossible to get any other way. With it came a quality of observation so keen that my grade school teachers commented on it. Not to leave Dad out, those long Sunday drives probably had something to do with that skill too. Together this unlikely couple taught my sister and me to appreciate things in life that may be a rarity these days. I don't know, maybe it's not so rare. I think we all must have memories of childhood like that, when we learned to see things, to see them in a distinctly family way. It's a way you don't teach exactly. It's the Way you show.