October Ice

My good friend Scott has a birthday today. Here is one for him.

 

OCTOBER ICE

 

I stepped off the train in Rock Springs

hours before we had planned to meet.

The air smelled of rain falling

but not reaching the ground. I wandered

among dust until dark, until everything

but the bars closed. Scott was late, then

hunched over the Volvo’s wheel as he drove

past me on the curb. When he stepped around

to the passenger seat I drove us into a night

already ripening into tomorrow.

We headed north, both of us taciturn.

Grass and sage stretched east and west.

Beyond them in the dark the Wind Rivers rose.

The predators–bears, wolves, coyotes–had been shot

or fenced out, so rabbits had the run of the place.

They dashed through our headlights, the pavement

bumpy with their crushed bodies. I sucked in my breath

at the smack and crunch of quick death.

We agreed to sleep under the stars

and the aspens at the Eden cemetery,

outside town. A warm wind blew

over tilted tombstones and the weathered

stockade fence. We cocooned ourselves

in sleeping bags on the dusty ground.

While we slept the air froze. Death

surrounded us all night, our trip

just beginning. Ahead of us

were scuffed boots and several pitches

before we reached any clear view.

We carried a list of adventures and futures

we couldn’t imagine. The ghosts of settlers and nomads

whispered lessons the dead learn when they leave

their bodies to the earth. The words stiffened

in the cold air, drifted with the scent of sage,

wrapped the fence, the stones with blankets of ice.

We lay in the moments before shadows,

reviewing frame by frame what might come,

then lifted our bags and scattered frost

into the dust. When wind rubbed smooth

our tracks, these fragile crystals would melt,

moisten grass and bits of fur

and the remnants of bones. These blades of ice,

pulled from October air, would rise, fall

again and settle in sedimentary cracks.

With the patience of ice they would push down

stone after stone from the peaks the morning light

had just begun to warm with the scent of day.

Car Story

Yesterday my daughter wrote a story, pictured here and translated below:

The Original

The Original

Once there was a car and it was clean and it was small.  One day it went for a drive but it wasn’t looking where it was going and it got lost so it found a place to sleep.  In the morning it started to look for its home but it just could not find its home.  So that night it built a home and it had a good night sleep.  The next morning it made some new friends and it missed its old friends.  But it lived happily ever after.  The End.

What Am I Doing?

This summer I read an article in Orion Magazine that has really stuck with me.  It was Forget Shorter Showers by Derrick Jensen.  Here is an excerpt:

An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

He goes on to talk about water (more than 90% is used by industry and agriculture), energy (individual consumption is 25% or less) and waste (municipal waste accounts for only 3% of the total).  The message that I took away was not that what we do doesn’t make a difference.  It does, and we need to do it.  But if we want to make the kind of change required to address climate change, then tackling it by recycling and carpooling won’t cut it.  We need change on a bigger scale.

The basis of our economy, of any capitalist economy, is that we need to grow and grow, endlessly.  A business is seen as a failure if it fails to grow.  Making a profit isn’t good enough.  We ask that businesses make more profit every month/quarter/year.  The GDP needs to grow, employment needs to grow, sales need to grow, new home starts need to grow.  We can never have enough.  That is the problem.  I love to get a raise, but when I’m told I can’t have one this year I make do.  My home doesn’t need to get bigger every year.  I don’t need to gain weight.  In many spheres of our lives, we know that growing is not always good–it comes with a price that often we don’t want to pay.

So why is it that we need to keep growing, in the big picture, in our economy?  The idea is so ubiquitous that it isn’t even questioned.  We hear regular reports on the news about “the economy,” as if any of us really know what that is.  The “economy” isn’t growing so things must be bad.  No, people are out of work, so things are bad.  People are out of work because we constantly depend on growth.  When growth turns into shrinkage, people lose jobs.  We don’t work with a sustainable model where our economy is flexible enough to accommodate fluctuation.  Or at least our values aren’t there.

We need to deal with climate change, but with a mindset that we need to keep growing, it is difficult to talk about shrinking carbon emissions.  I keep hearing talk of the search for some technological silver bullet that will allow us to keep up the same habits and yield lower carbon emissions.  It’s not going to happen.  We need to make major changes to how we think about our economy, agriculture, transportation, everything.  Changing light bulbs isn’t enough.  Changing systems is what we need.

This morning I heard the mayor of Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl, noting how the city has been trying to change its image from dirty and industrial to “green.”  The very next sentence in the story noted that the city has this huge supply of bottled water ready for those coming to Pittsburgh for the G-20 summit.  Excuse me?  You just said you are going for a green image and you are offering bottled water for a summit where world poverty, which commonly involves issues of access to fresh water, will be a major topic of discussion?  Um, bottled water has too many issues to list.  Am I the only one to see the irony here?

After seeing the film The Age of Stupid the other night (moving and powerful and a must see for anyone who isn’t a climate change denier), and continuing to ponder Jensen’s article, I have been thinking about what the heck I might do.  I have made personal change.  That is necessary both to send a message to others that one is serious and to actually make a bit, however small, of difference.  I have changed light bulbs and I use the clothesline whenever I do the laundry.  I try to limit waste.  I compost.  I grow some of the food we eat.  I also, however, have been writing to my congressional representatives.  I at least need to do that.  If I want us to make big changes, I have to let some of the people in a position to make those changes know what I think.

What else might I do?  I am not all that sure.  That is one of the problems here.  We all need to stand up, to get involved, to cry for something bigger than tax incentives for solar panels we can’t afford even with incentives.  We need to get out there and take action now.  Climate change is a problem that won’t wait for us.  I’ll start by writing.  I will write on October 15 about climate change for Blog Action Day.  You should, too, if you have your own blog.  And I’ll talk to people.  I need to do more and I will figure out my place in the solution to this problem as I go.  I’m getting started.  We all need to.

Lost Entry

I made an entry last night while I was connected wirelessly to my ipod touch.  It disappeared.  It took a long time to write anything of significance on that thing, one finger at a time.  But it disappeared into the ether.  Too bad, it was super important.  And insightful.  And quotable.  That is what I was writing about, being quoted.  I guess that won’t happen now.  Whatever.  The ether can have it.  The world is fleeting and all that.  I can add a powerful and emotion laden entry any old time.  And I’ll do it, too.

Things I Would Like to Make Soon

1. I have been thinking about coffee ice cream.  I am ready to make it.  I just need a little time to whip together some cream and sugar and milk and eggs and coffee, and Voila!  Frozen confection.

2. Tomato corn chowder.  We have lots of corn left over from last night and I need to use it ASAP.  And now we have tomatoes.  Save a little of that cream from making the ice cream, add some fresh herbs and some other tasty bits and Voila!  Soup for a royal family.

3. Some bookshelves.  We have tons of books and I love to read and the good tomes are all still packed into boxes.  A post and beam home has one drawback–much less wall space.  That means less room for art and for furniture and for shelves.  So our books sit unread.  With a little creativity we can fit in some bookshelves.

4. An orchard.  Well maybe not an orchard on the scale of, say, one that sells fruit to markets, but a small one, with lots of trees to give us peaches and pears and apples and maybe even something more exotic, like walnuts.  And some more blueberry bushes.  And maybe some grapes.  That might mean a lot of work, I understand, but apple pie and peach ice cream and grape juice…

5. Some poems.  My writing has been limited to blogging and work, at least for the most part.  I should be tossing out some more creativity.

6. My wife happy.  I know one can’t really make someone else happy, but let’s face it, someone trying sure can make a difference.  Not that she isn’t happy, but one of my favorite things in the world is to see her face glowing with joy or laughing with abandon.  Seriously.  Seeing her happy makes me happy.  I love that woman.

7.  I also want to make some kindling.  Winter will be here soon enough and having a big stash of kindling on hand makes things a lot easier.  If I can make it soon enough that it will dry before we need it, I will be ahead of the game.  For years we had an supply of dry leftover lumber bits but that ran out two winters ago.  Now I have to gather and split to get the fire going.

8. A will would be good.  We have put that task off for too long.  We did talk with a lawyer at one point but then that morbid responsibility fell off the list.  Time to put it back on.

9. I need to make myself stronger.  I have been running and biking and that just plain old feels good.  I need to keep that up, and then get to a point where I can really get out there and fly.  Who doesn’t want to fly?  A long run, or a run in the middle of a snowstorm, or a zoom down a tree-lined path, those are like flying.  I want to fly.

Making things is about being creative.  And isn’t creativity a form of flying?  That is really what I want.  I want to fly.

Slaving Away Over a Hot Desk

Diskobolos

It’s back to work time for this boy.  No more lounging away the summer days on a ladder with a paint can in one hand and a brush in the other and beads of sweat dripping into the eyes one can’t wipe clear because of the protective rubber gloves.  No more happy encounters with cucumber beetles who wish to share their produce with those who live inside the house.  Alas, it is back to Excel spreadsheets and phone calls and eventually, talking with students about their promising futures.  Starting yesterday, my brain had to rev up like a DVD just inserted into its cozy drive.  I think it is still spinning.

I did not break a sweat as I prepared for the upcoming academic year.  I went to meetings.  Sometimes I break a sweat at meetings because I have to present or I have to be responsible for enough that my armpits drip.  Nervousness they tell me.  My friend Spike refers to that as squirreling.  No squirreling today.  I didn’t even break a sweat when I blasted out the house for a quick bike ride before prepping dinner.  It was raining.

Did I mention dinner?  I baked up a summer vegetable gratin again.  I had to wait a couple of days from gathering all the ingredients as we had family engagements the past two evenings (last night we posed for family photos–it’s nice to have someone just tell me where to stand once in a while).  Think fresh tomatoes, three kinds of summer squash, potatoes dug up just two days ago, parmesan cheese and fresh herbs.  All baked together into a bubbling and steaming delight.  Two words:  Ooh baby.  My daughter ate it.  My son would not.  We fed him oatmeal.

This job I’ve got means working at home, often evenings, sometimes weekends.  Already I am thinking about what I might get done as my spouse tucks the children into bed.  I resisted actually doing anything so foolhardy this evening, however.  Instead I read about ten interesting deserts (one in Brazil is littered with lagoons when it rains) and a list of weird allergies (people really can be allergic to water, apparently.  And sex.).  Then I decided to bust out the old blog and get cracking.

I hung out with a friend recently who said that she never reads blogs because all they are is a bunch of people boring anyone who happens to stumble across them with repeated fannings over their boyfriends or overly detailed descriptions of their new puppies foibles.  I tried to tell her she might be able to find something that caters to her sense of humor or to her modern and refined wit, but she was skeptical.   Certainly I wasn’t going to point her here.

Did I tell you about my new puppy?  My sister-in-law’s kids are so in love with it.  And the way it wiggles its little hiney.  SO cute!

Anyway, summer is still here.  It is in the 80’s for Christopher’s sake.  Two days ago it was 91 degrees and the air was pretty much saturated.  It felt like Florida, where my electric bill would be like ten times what it is here in Vermont since I would pretty much be required to have an air conditioner running at all times.  I did wish we had an extra fan the other night.  We let the children use them and just sweated into the sheets.  Now I have to wear pants in this heat.  I just can’t bring myself to wear shorts at a school.  Maybe I should when it gets this hot, however.  But what difference would it make?  I will either distract students with my balding pate glistening with rills of sweat, or I will distract them with my Discobolos-like calves.

I can’t win.  Not in this heat.

Up Too Early?

I couldn’t sleep.  The clock said 5:30.  Then my son stirred and I went in to see him.  He went back to sleep.  I didn’t.  I considered sitting outside for a while.  It’s too wet.  It rained and rained last night.  More rain.

I finished reading Steinbeck’s Winter of Our Discontent recently.  It takes place in 1960.  A different time.  I can’t stop thinking about it.  The story line is not particularly complex but the characters are so deeply drawn that the story is a deep one.  Our hero leads a happy life, one of simplicity and ease but his family and others, and himself, point out how his family was once a great one in the town and how he once had a fortune.  This leads him to make some choices to “get rich.”  I figured, half way through, that the story would have one of two endings.  Either he succeeds at getting rich and shows everyone that being a good guy can pay off, or he crashes and burns and we learn how only the ruthless can succeed.

Like life, the ending isn’t so simple.  He does manage to overcome some challenges and find a way to increase his financial resources.  He “gets rich.”  The story, however, tangles with two big questions for me.  What is really important in life?  And what is the nature of morality?  Before he began to make any changes to make his new fortune, our hero is a grocery clerk, the only one in the local store (remember this is 1960 and the interstate highway system that feeds today’s supermarkets is in its infancy), and he is happy, mostly.  His relationships with his friends and neighbors are genuine and positive.  Those become complicated and darker.  He keeps secrets from his wife.  His son, who already has the idea that one can make it in the world by cheating, sees that maybe hard work isn’t necessary after all.

The hero, Ethan Allen Hawley, has two teenaged children and a devoted and loving wife.  I couldn’t help imagining my own life when my two children grow just slightly older.  What will my relationship with those three most important people in my life be like?  How will the choices I make affect them?  What will I teach my children with the choices I make about work, money, love, friendship?  Ethan makes some decisions that today would seem acceptable to most people, almost 50 years later, but he struggles with them so much he considers suicide.  Can one get rich and maintain a true moral compass?  Can one do business with someone and still remain friends?  Why do we need to get rich anyway?

I guess part of the reason Ethan stands out for me is that he is a thinker.  He really thinks about all the pieces of his life.  He carefully considers how every decision, every act, will affect otehrs.  When his world is the simple one of a grocery clerk, the answers are simple ones.  Once he starts making big changes, his thinking becomes tangled.  He still thinks a lot but it means lots of mental wrestling, rather than mental play.  Things aren’t so simple.  I guess I can relate to that.  I tend to think a lot as well.  If I were the one opening the grocery store, I can imagine myself, like Ethan, sermonizing to the canned goods.  Talking aloud helps me think better, as it does for our hero.

I keep thinking now, about the book, about my own choices, about where I might be headed.  I think about morality.  What is good?  How does one live the decent life?  And what is that anyway?  I am going away for a week with my family.  I will have some time to ponder these questions.  My children are awake now.  Water still drips from the eaves.  Time to make coffee.  This day, at least, will be one filled with thought, but hopefully, no great choices to make.  Drip drip, the rain falls.  Then everything dries.  And then, at a time no one can say, it will rain again.