Sparrows Fall

One of our chickens died during the night. She went to roost early the evening before, well before the rest of our tiny flock, and then this morning my husband found her flat on the floor of the coop, as if she’d fallen off the perch in the hours before dawn.

Our chickens look identical to us. Since we can’t tell them apart, we didn’t name them, so our deceased chicken had no name. I am sad about her death because it means fewer eggs and it causes concern for the health of her sisters. (If the other hens even notice her absence, I can’t tell.)

But she is not unmourned. My husband is sad. His little flock is diminished. One less chicken for him to watch in the evenings. One less beady-eyed chicken waits and watches for him to open the door of the pen. One less chicken runs out squawking.

On the wide expanse of green grass and weeds that is our backyard, the hens are the free roaming creatures they were meant to be, if only inside a fenced yard for that hour before twilight. They scurry around and scratch for worms. They squabble over bugs. They flap their wings and briefly lift off the ground. My husband’s pleasure in freeing his chickens and watching them being chickens is reduced by twenty-five percent.

We won’t be getting a replacement hen. A flock has it’s own rules and doesn’t take well to newcomers. And the remaining chickens may be contagious with whatever killed their sister. Plus, a new hen may introduce a new sickness. (Yes, I know there are ways to work around these problems, but we will just let this play out.)

Three healthy hens can supply more eggs than we use. But three hens are not a sure source of eggs to barter.

Does God, the Universe, or Everything care about our chicken’s death?

Today is the the day the World calls Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those who fell in battle, who died. Yet even as we set out flags and decorate graves, soldiers continue to fall in battle, civilians die in bombings, refugees drown as they flee. Does God/the Universe/Everything care?

Perhaps S/he/It/They takes the long view. A chicken dies; the flock carries on: a tree dies; the forest still stands ; a city is smoking rubble; other cities thrive: a child dies; other children live on. The individual expires but Nature persists.

We humans mourn the peach trees we walked among, scraped from the earth by a bulldozer’s blade. We mourn the childhood friend, dead in uniform beside a far away river. We mourn the child we loved, taken by cancer.

We can be sad about a chicken.

Pleasures of the Storm

We just came through a deluge! Was it a whole week of rain? It seemed like a month! Dark skies and precipitation were constants, a sprinkle serving for a break in the weather, a ferocious downpour an awe inspiring twice daily event.

As creeks rose above roads and runoff formed ponds under highway overpasses, some citizens faced flooding in their yards or homes. Those of us, like me, who didn’t need to drive anywhere and don’t have a creek hard by, could just “go with the flow.”

A storm slows my thinking to a snail’s pace, but, now that I abstain from gluten, the crippling migraines that heralded a barometric change are gone! [To those of you who hold this gluten-free business is a passing fad —  be grateful for your ignorance! May you continue to lack first hand experience with IBS or CFIDS/fibro etc.] So I  have learned to take my pleasure as it comes.

It was restful to sit on the screen porch and watch the rain come down. Leaves on the maple tree trembled as the drops hit and slid off. Swirling, muddy water slid by through the drainage ditches beside the black road, off to swell the might James. The noise of the rain varied with the violence of the storm. Our Lab hung close to my heels as the thunder rumbled around us and the lightened cracked overhead.

An additional pleasure was my delight in the overwhelming green of my immediate world. The grass was lush and the leaves on the trees fresh and vibrant. The vegetables and flowers in our raised beds grew even as I watched them. Looking out the windows, I saw the sunflowers and potatoes stretch still taller from hour to hour.

In between downpours, I’d venture out and do a bit of weeding. A careful tug would bring up a whole dandelion, root and all — always a satisfying accomplishment. My hair and shoulders grew damp and then wet as I lingered between the garden beds until the mist went from sprinkle to steady rain and forced me back inside.

Here’s another pleasure: wading in ankle deep water. I was happy to splash through any shallow puddles between the back door and the hen house. A few more steps, justIMG_20180519_164828 through the back gate, the I found the clover submerged in standing water four inches deep. The ground was soft underfoot, the clover floated around my toes, and the water was cool. A sensory delight!

Such unusual, incredible rain created a new, separate world. During those days, we lived outside of sordid politics and gross injustices against humanity. We could even set aside environmental concerns as we* dealt with more immediate problems likely brought on by man-made climate change.

The Long Rain afforded some relief from our usual anxieties and left us a thriving, blossoming, vining garden set in brilliant green from under our feet to way over heads in up-against-the-blue-sky leafy trees. The fresh morning air fills with bird song and the night begins with the high songs of peepers and the deep calls of bull frogs.

War is another kind of storm that can overflow its banks. Inside my dry island on the sofa, while the drainage ditches gurgled and the rain beat down in sheets, I read The Slaves’ War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves. Now that was a storm a long time coming and still not gone. Long after those cannons quit booming, the poisoned waters still trickle through our lands.

Future times may find others looking back at our recent deluge with an understanding I don’t have, just like those enslaved children marveling at the “thunder” echoing over the Georgia hills — and not a cloud in the sky.

 

* By “we”, I mean my husband. He was out in the rain attempting to free a blocked culvert across the street. He also dealt with a failing sump pump in the crawl space under our house.

 

 

 

 

 

Heroes and chores

Sometimes I wonder where my life went. Most days seem to be a series of chores and enough days in a row adds up to a life.

Take my mission this morning, should I choose to accept it. Yes, today’s chore is to separate the wheat from the chaff, the worthy from the no-longer worthy, the just from the unjust! A task for a True Hero! An assignment for the bold and brave!

Well, not exactly. I am planning to sort the medical bills from my husband’s two week hospital stay and seven week home-bound antibiotic treatment. Also, there is a teetering pile of magazines to go through. Not exactly the fifth labor of Hercules but even Hercules probably wondered why he was spending his life cleaning the Augean stables instead of pursuing frolicking wood nymphs. (I’m not interested in wood nymphs myself but there is an entertaining novel waiting for me.)

Both sections of my assignment have pitfalls.

The medical bills are from individual doctors, two hospitals, three medical suppliers, and  labs. No two medical bills are alike. Each provider uses a different form to itemize services, credits, and charges. There are also reports from three insurance companies. I must review each one for duplications and mistakes (like I can remember what procedures were administered to my husband and when — not only was I not with him every minutes but he himself was not a reliable witness and my always compromised self * was next to depleted at the time). So there are many generous opportunities for confusion.

Figuring out these bills will scramble my poor weakened brain cells until I won’t have the mental energy for anything else today.

Sorting magazines is easier but has its own pitfalls. We have several months’ worth of publications. Usually, I sort them by date and keep the newest, but the New Yorkers are hard to give up. Of course, we’ve read the cartoons and “Shouts and Murmurs” and “Talk of the Town.” But I’m bound to run across an article on Something Fascinating That I Must Learn About but haven’t yet read so maybe I should set that issue aside to read later? But if I haven’t read it after six months am I likely to read it anytime soon?

One must be coldly realistic to sort magazines.

So this paperwork is my assignment this morning. It’s up to me to ensure the bills are addressed in a timely fashion and we aren’t tripping over piles of magazines or mail. (Mail is usually sorted as it comes in — otherwise we’d get lost in our own house.)

Paperwork is a common plague. I like to imagine that universal health care comes without any paperwork to follow the patient home. Maybe that’s a fantasy, but isn’t it a nice one? We’d still have taxes to complain about so life wouldn’t be all roses.

My husband has his own assignments and I don’t want to trade with him, even if I could.  He’s mowing the grass right now. He seems happy enough with his portion of the household burden. But he’s had a meaningful career. There is little status in the homemaking which fell to my lot by default, since I was too sick to do anything else  beyond that. So I am still, in some ways, anticipating a Life and dissatisfied with this Sisyphean procession of chores.

So is this my Life? It seems like I just finished the taxes, which was also a joyless chore, the only satisfaction was the completion of the task. Why is life made up of so much paperwork, record keeping, telephone clarifications, trick questions, excess possessions? Who benefits from all this rigmarole?  I only have a couple of good, clear hours a day. I don’t want to squander them.

Ah, well. Hand me that pitchfork. I’ve got stables to clean.

 

*Due to a stubborn illness — ME or chronic fatigue or CFIDS/fibromyalgia or SEID or whatever label is attached today — I suffer from post-exertional disability. Thinking hard exhausts me. Thinking hard leaves me only well enough to knit and watch cat-videos on YouTube. Or read a romance novel. 

 

 

 

A Scourge Upon the Earth!

A giant bee suspended from the canopy framework drew me into a booth at the botanical center’s plant sale. Inside, I found an education display on pollinators. A young man stepped out of the shade. “Do you have a question for a naturalist?” he asked. He and two other people waited alertly for my reply.

My husband, later, told me I’d missed my cue. According to him, I should have asked, “If you are naturalists, why aren’t you all naked?” It’s probably for the best that I missed that cue.

But I did have a question. “Why is it legal for my neighbor to use poison on her property?” The young man kind of sputtered. Then he said he had an answer to that question but it would be better if he didn’t give it.* (Kind of like me dropping my cue.) The woman beside him told us about a friend of hers whose neighbor sprayed poison on the perimeter of his property and killed her friend’s plants.

The young man began explaining how my beautiful lawn, maintained with safe practices, could set the example for my neighbors. I explained that my lawn wasn’t beautiful to anyone but a rabbit because of all the weeds and clover. This response seemed to make him happy. (My yard undoubtedly makes my house-proud neighbor unhappy. Hers is the ideal smooth, even green. Obviously, we have different ideals, at least where lawns are concerned.)

Then I asked the naturalists about my still dormant passion flower vine and they reminded me it’s still early in the season and I shouldn’t give up hope. They gave me a detailed pamphlet on native and invasive plants and I continued among the other booths looking for heritage tomatoes.

My neighbor with the immaculate lawn employs a mosquito control service to fumigate “her” portion of the outdoors. Not infrequently during the warm season, Other neighbors are out with their own personal tank of poison slung over a shoulder, aiming a spray nozzle at driveway cracks or fence perimeters.

So far this year we see only two bats fluttering among the trees at dusk. Fifteen years ago we could count ten. I have read that birds who also catch their suppers on the fly have decreased populations. Fewer insects means fewer meals.

We humans claim to value intelligence but we only value our own. We ignore the conversation of the trees and the communications of the whales. Because we set ourselves outside and above the underlying intelligence, the web of all life, we have only recently begun to see other forms of intelligence. Those populations may well disappear before we ever get a true sense of their extent or qualities. We go about wrecking the environment as if we don’t live here, too.

The tragic part for us humans is that the environment we have constructed for ourselves isn’t even good for us. It’s an economic system which evolved to feed the bloated demands of profit and power. It tramples on the souls of the people who live under it. Toxic food, bad air, polluted water and stress. Money thrives. People and their communities, not necessarily.

There are environmental extremists who view humanity as an evolutionary experiment that failed. These environmentalists look forward to the days when a plague cleanses us humans from the face of the earth so Eden can rise again, a phoenix from the crematorium ashes. Oh! How the beetles and birds and baboons will frolic without the contamination of human kind! Things will be perfect again without us.

In that scenario, my neighbors would no longer spray herbicides around willy-nilly and I wouldn’t be heating my house with fuel oil or polluting the air with my car.

True, the human quest for total world domination is literally killing all of us (except maybe cockroaches), I’d prefer a solution that doesn’t depend on our extermination from it. Other inhabitants of this planet are known to modify their immediate environments to live here. They tunnel, they forage, they eat each other, etc. Other animals also extract and exploit. There are even other species that, left to themselves, run amuk.

“Any time you have non-native species of anything- plants, birds, or animals, there is an inherent risk of devastating damage to the natural environment that may well be non-recoverable.”

If we were half as intelligent as we think we are, we’d learn from our mistakes. Instead, we are inflexible and self-justifying. In other words, not as adaptable as a cockroach.

And, of course, that “we” is a concept that has glaring inaccuracies. “We” can all be wiped out by a pandemic because we are basically physically alike. But “we” don’t all think alike.  “We” don’t all share the same level of suffering from the toxicity “we” create or the same (relatively) short-term benefits “we” gain from exploitation of the natural world and each other.

One does not need to contrast indiginous peoples in the Amazon with the Board of Directors of the World Bank to illustrate this point. Right here in Virginia people are sitting in trees to block pipeline crews with chainsaws. The pipelines would transport fracked oil across the state to the seaport for export, wrecking havoc on the landscape every step of the way — from earthquakes at the drilling site to likely spills on the sea. All for the private profit of an already wealthy “we.”  The wealthy “we” write the laws that favor the interests of profit and the wealthy “we” insure that law enforcement protects their interests. The “we” who sit in the trees are not the same subset of “we” who want to build the pipeline.

The love of money may well be the root of all evil but comfort can devolve to decadence and complacency. Otherwise, at this point, “we”, intelligent beings all, should be sitting in trees, literally or figuratively.

Where is your tree?

 

(*Shouldn’t it be natural for a naturalist to have informed opinions about legislation that affects nature? And to freely share that information at a booth about pollinators? )

An incompetent blog

According to Janet Reid, renowned NYC literary agent/blogger, a.k.a. The Query Shark, I don’t need to write a blog! (And no, she is NOT afraid of the competition.)

I am an unpublished novelist. No one is scanning the web for me. No one is interested in what I might say. Does this fact hurt my feelings? Of course not. This was the case before I started blogging and it remains the case now that I blog.

So why did I ever start a blog?

It was the panelists at a series of James River Writers Shows. They persuaded me. They kept pounding away about “building a platform” via Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler (whatever that is), Snapchat, etc. — but especially — The Blog. This all seemed to me like putting the cart before the horse. You might be curious about your favorite author and follow his/her blog but you are not going to be curious about me, not your favorite author and not published.

Having a Platform, the advice went, will help a writer get a literary agent for a manuscript. The bigger your platform, the more prospective buyers there are for your book. As a blogger, the greater the number of your followers, the greater the interest in any book you might write. Hordes of followers look good to agents, right?

It seems to me it might be easier to Built a Platform for a non-fiction writer with a narrow field of  focus. Writing on a specific topic attracts readers interested in that topic. Spiders or the history of asphalt or the genealogy of prize swine. Or maybe you start out as a blog —  and because you are a clever person with a clever idea — say Noah Scalin — you generate so much interest you turn your blog into a book.

I am not that clever, or that focussed, and my doubt about my ability to Build a Platform ahead of possible publication was well founded. There is no public interest in me or my opinions or expertise (if I have any expertise besides knitting socks). Most reasonable people who aren’t public figures — and there are SO many of us — would share this doubt about being up to adding anything substantial to public discourse, let alone to inspiring hordes of loyal followers.

Janet Reid, NYC literary agent, probably does have hordes of loyal followers. But unlike me, Janet Reid can bestow the wit and wisdom of experience and expertise gained from years of focused hard work. She Entertains — Educates —  Engages — Inspires. (Those are bullet points from various instructions on how to write a successful blog.) Earlier this week, Janet Reid magnanimously invited  her readers to submit 15 word elevator pitches for their unpublished manuscripts. She lured her followers in with the promise that she herself, and her other followers, would ruthlessly critique the offerings.

What a hook! As one of the legions of unpublished authors, I wanted to bite, but honestly, FIFTEEN words!? I’m still refining a query letter of 280 words.

Reading the submissions and critiques is truly educational. Also, a bit crushing, as in: OMG! I will NEVER be able to do this! Luckily, I am not standing in an elevator next to the literary agent of my dreams and only have this one chance to pitch my book with the perfect fifteen words. Nor do I anticipate this ever happening.

Janet Reid’s blog may well be an example of The Perfect Blog. She offers something many  people are looking for. Her readers become followers because she delivers expertise. Those among that group wise enough to apply her advice will be better for it.

My blog rambles about all over the place. It tends to bump into different readers as it wanders about, and then, most often, waves good-bye to them as it trudges up the next grassy slope.

So there you have it. An example of an effective blog — Janet Reid’s — and an example of an ineffective blog.  Will my blog become more like Janet Reid’s if my manuscript for Thrift Store Daze ever materializes as a book on the shelves of Barnes & Noble?

Don’t bet on it.

In the meantime, is anyone interested in my thoughts on knitting socks? I can recommend a good blog.

Throwback Thursday

I voted for Ross Perot.  [At least, that’s if this essay I just unearthed while cleaning old files can be believed. ] I — a person whose own flesh and blood accuses of being “left of Fidel Castro” — cast my one and only vote for president in 1996 for Ross Perot. I had good reasons, of course, and I did it with a clear conscience.

My first reason is self-evident: Ross Perot could not win!

If there was any chance at all of this government contract capitalist actually capturing enough electoral votes to win this election, I would have passionately campaigned against him. A lot of what’s wrong with this country has made the likes of Ross Perot — and Mark Warner — rich at the expense of most of the rest of us. So we’re going to go to the polls and vote for them? (Yeah, well, so a lot of us did, but some people take longer to catch on, right?)

And I voted for Ross Perot because there wasn’t much choice between Those Two Guy from the two political parties. They seemed to pretty much agree on what our government should work on and had just minor disagreements on how to get the job done.

Neither said anything about the U.S. of A. as Weapons-R-Us, biggest exporter of weapons in the world. Even my friends who listen to Rush Limbaugh are concerned about that. It’s no secret how many times guns, missiles and planes Made in USA have been aimed at our own soldiers and sailors. So how come this goes on? How come we just keep shipping the stuff overseas to anyone who’ll promise the World Bank to clear-cut their own forest and grow carnations in their deserts to pay back the loans for all of it? That question never made it into party platforms.

And talk about shipping stuff overseas? How come we’re shipping our tax dollars overseas to help McDonald’s sell burgers in Italy and Indonesia? Did either of Those Guys say anything about that? “I pledge, as soon as I take office, to ferret out corporate welfare and do everything in my power to put a stop to it once and for all! HA! That will be the day.

And what about campaign finance reform? Does anyone still believe either of Those Two Buys are serious about that?

Also, I voted for Ross Perot because Ralph Nader wasn’t on the ballot in Virginia and the Constitution of the United States (according to the powers-that-be in the Old Dominion) outlaws write-ins for president in Virginia. Ralph Nader is OK in my book, almost a saint, but I couldn’t vote for him from here on 19th Street in Virginia Beach and by the time I found that out it was too late to move to another state in time to register to vote.

So I had decided I couldn’t vote for president this year at all. But two days before the election I called my friends Pat and Teresa to see if Pat has passed the bar. He had, and we bubbled happily about that for awhile and then Teresa told me how she had arranged for Michael Moore (the “Roger and Me” movie man) to speak at her university and he said that voting for a third party candidate was an act of civil diobedience.

Civil Disobedience! Now that had a ring of truth to it! So I did it. I voted for Ross Perot. I cast my ballot for “neither of the above.”

Furthermore, I voted for a fine man for senator — George Stabler, a retired ODU professor, a kind, compassionate and honorable man who has worked consistently and with unfailing faith for a better society. And I cast my vote for the House of Representatives for Aaron Parsons, another fine human being, warm and compassionate, unfailing faith and good works galore, etc. (There were write-in spaces on the ballot for these offices. I guess the Constitution doesn’t apply to lower positions.)

I actually liked voting this year. I had the satisfaction of knowing my vote would be counted and would show in all the pie wedges on all the front pages as one of those who wasn’t happy with the status quo and wasn’t fooled by that old scam that Democrats are different than Republicans. Remember it was Nixon who opened up trade and relations with Red China and Lyndon Johnson who bombed Hanoi.

I felt so good as I left the Virginia Beach Center for the Arts (the swankiest spot I’ve ever seen to set up voting booths — it sure beats the elementary school gym.) This time I didn’t have to go home and take a shower right away to feel clean again. You just never feel right, picking the lesser of two evils.

Hey, you 51% of the eligible voters who stayed home! Did you skip the polls this year because what’s-the-use-they’re-all-alike-anyway?

What if all of you had turned out in droves and voted for “neither of the above?”

Disclaimers:

  • If this were someone else’s and I read it I’d have all sorts of objections to it.
  • I don’t even like the punctuation.
  • To the last point: if that 51% had voted for Ralph Nader, he would have won. Duh.
  • FYI: G. Stabler and A. Parsons were both Quakers from Virginia Beach Friends Meeting.

 

 

 

 

Wrung Out

Ever feel like a limp dishrag?

I feel like I’m turning into one of my knitted cotton dishrags, the original cheery color faded to a uniform blah after years of wiping up coffee stains and tumbling in the washer. I hang there, semi-dry, over the middle of the double sink. Bright sun beams through the kitchen window, making the faucet gleam and the white sink shine — but me? — even in the sunshine I’m just dull and grey.

Yup. That about describes it.

As those of you with first hand experience of CFIDS/fibromyalgia know all too well, many days we are granted only an hour or two of clarity before brain fog creeps in. The thinking brain conks out — overwhelmed by a bit of mental effort, or conversation, or noise, etc. That’s us: no stamina.

My brain is no longer screaming with anxiety now that my husband is clearly on the road to recovery after the sepsis that almost did him in. I’m done wrangling with the IRS forms and our taxes are paid (always taxing, taxes). And I’m even keeping up with the typical (for U.S. citizens, anyway) barrage of paperwork after my husband’s two week hospital stay, two surgeries and multiple consultations with specialists. The paperwork, of course, requires phone calls and being on hold and follow-up letters with corrected insurance information and correspondence and verification etc.

I am still just wrung out and not up to doing much. Done in. Not flat-on-my-back done-in —  just can’t-remember-what-I’m-doing and not-worth-shit done-in. It could be worse. It could be one of my flat-on-my-back, nasty-pain-I-can’t-ignore, short-tempered, the-whole-world-is-mud days. This isn’t one of those days when even my hair hurts.

So I shouldn’t complain.

But sometimes it’s harder to approach able-to-do-something than it is to be flat-out-not-able-to-do-anything. On my worst days, I can give up and just lay around with a romance novel and wait until it’s time to go to bed and hope for sleep (insomnia is a component of chronic fatigue syndrome) without medicinal encouragement and with the expectation of waking up in the morning in better condition.

Which reminds me: This morning I did wake up in better condition than I was in yesterday.

First, I woke up cheerful. And then my early morning piano practice went more smoothly than my fumbles of the day before.

So I guess I’ll just be grateful I’m doing as well as I am today and quit complaining

The Road Taken

A change in the weather, a change in anything, is hard to contain. Like a stack of Pick-up-sticks, pull at one and the whole pile might collapse.

When we first moved into this house, what we most loved was the setting: streets of modest homes shaded by towering oaks and tall pines. Our lot had a big oak in the front yard and a good-sized maple tree shading the side porch. The other three corners at this intersection supported even bigger oaks. Crows congregated on the topmost branches, loudly commenting on current affairs in bird world.

Our backyard, on the other hand, was open and sunny. Perfect for a garden, but only thanks to our next door neighbor who had taken down a big maple shortly before we moved in. Never having been acquainted with that tree, we didn’t mourn it. But we’d hardly unpacked the moving boxes and arranged the furniture before the neighbor across the street took out three massive oaks. That made us sad.

In the fourteen years we’ve been here, storms and tree crews have toppled more of these giants. A small house across the street from us changed hands and the new owner clear cut the front yard. Bye-bye seven pine trees. (The house has since changed hands again but no one has replaced the pines, not even with a pseudo tree like the Bradford pear.)

I mourn the gaps in the canopy where trees once stood: the corner up the street where a county crew cut down an oak so broad the trunk grew into the street; the new house addition that required the death of a magnificent oak tree whose branches shaded two properties; ghostly outlines where storms brought ancient residents crashing down. After each big storm, more of the human residents hire crews with rigging and chain saws to slice up and cart off the giants in their yards.

Our last storm uprooted multiple large oaks. They took down power lines as they thudded to the ground and blocked streets and smashed houses. We lost half our maple tree. It scratched our old car and poked a hole in the porch screen but it missed the power lines. (Dominion Energy regularly and severely trims any branches even remotely threatening the power lines.)

After a storm like that one, a sensible person might seriously consider cutting down any trees within striking distance of his roof. We decided to take our chances, even though we can expect more storms like that, more storms strong enough to pull big oaks up by their roots and lay them out flat on the ground. And more neighbors pre-emptively cutting down trees. The streets will be hotter and brighter every summer. The crows will have to fly further and further between perches.

Tropical storms and hurricanes have become more intense during the past 20 years. Of course, the wind has had help in its destruction. Stronger thunderstorms with heavier rains saturate the ground, making it more likely roots will give way.

So we don’t get to have as many trees all because someone two hundred or so years ago decided to power machines with burning coal. And someone else decided that diesel powered engines were more convenient to rotate carriage wheels than a team of horses. Horseless carriages were such a good idea, in fact, that everyone wanted one and then we needed to pave roads and clear land for big parking lots. “The U.S. is covered in about 4 million miles of roads. And while that’s only a fraction of a percent of the total land area in the lower 48 states, it’s still enough to have a noticeable impact on the environment–from heat islands, to floods, to pollution runoff in nearby waterways.”

Our climate is changing because the earth is warming. People have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the air by 40 percent since the late 1700s. Other heat- trapping greenhouse gases are also increasing. These gases have warmed the surface and lower atmosphere of our planet about one degree during the last 50 years. Evaporation increases as the atmosphere warms, which increases humidity, average rainfall, and the frequency of heavy rainstorms in many places—but contributes to drought in others.

Greenhouse gases are also changing the world’s oceans and ice cover. Carbon dioxide reacts with water to form carbonic acid, so the oceans are becoming more acidic. The surface of the ocean has warmed about one degree during the last 80 years. Warming is causing snow to melt earlier in spring, and mountain glaciers are retreating. Even the great ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica are shrinking. Thus the sea is rising at an increasing rate.

We humans have had a lot of good ideas.

Plastic bottles! Light-weight! Unbreakable! Much better than the old glass bottles you had to return for the deposit. But now plastic bottles are everywhere — in the ditches along the roads, filling up landfills, floating in the ocean. We are drinking micro-plastics with our bottled water (and sometimes tap water) and eating micro-plastics in our sushi. And that wonderful polar fleece made from recycled plastic bottles? Laundering fleece frees micro-plastics.

We have changed so much so fast we can’t even keep track of the changes.

Spraying to kill mosquitoes means the birds and bats have less to eat so we see fewer birds and bats. Large swaths of mono-crops replace cycles of flowering native plants that fed the bees so we have fewer bees.

GMO’s, super refined flour, preservatives in food, factory raised meats, food crops raised on chemically fertilized depleted soil. Sedentary lifestyles of desk jobs, elevators, binge-TV-watching, no fresh air. Isolation from others exacerbated by social media.

What are the unintended consequences?

Does any of this matter? How can we tell? Who gets to decide?

This is all very far from a controlled experiment. Too many things are changing at once. We often can’t predict whether, in the long run, Progress and Improvement are good or bad. What’s coming down the pike? We can make out part of it but the rest is a guess.

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Three time’s a charm

I am not superstitious but my mother always said things come in threes. If Mama broke a glass or spilled the clothespins, she might say “That’s once!” or “That’s twice!” followed by a deep sigh and “What next?” And something always was next, if you were looking for it. My formative years I watched her looking for it.

In the last few weeks, we’ve escaped the Grim Reaper twice — slipped right through his boney fingers.

Lord preserve us from #3.

The first time we gave him the slip, we were out in our all-around-great “new” car. We were just coming into an intersection when a solid wall of metal and glass materialized in front of us. BAM! The next thing I remember was opening the car door to let out the white smoke. Exploded air bags, it turns out, stink like burning plastic.

You could say, as our daughter did, that government regulation saved our lives — the mandatory seat belts and air bags. And the two nice young men (17) in the other car were also unhurt, though the responding police officer could not convince the driver that a blinking yellow light did not grant him the right-of-way. (“I’ll let the judge explain it to you,” he had to tell him.)

After the initial shock, we were simply thrilled to be alive and whole and find each other also still alive and whole beside us. Every shining leaf on every tree and bush was a miracle. Life was glorious!

In a few days, though, we were sad about the loss of our good car. And, of course, dealing with tight-fisted insurance companies is enough to dampen anyone’s mood.

Two weeks after that accident (“That’s once!” SIGH), my husband came down with flu and sciatica, self-diagnosed as many of us will do in these situations. After five days of worsening symptoms, I dragged the man to a doc-in-the-box where we were quickly sent on to the ER. The “flu and sciatica” was bacteria in the blood from an infected abscess in his back. My big, strong, healthy husband was under the scythe — but the hospital pulled him back  before The Reaper could swing his blade. It was a near thing.

He’s recovering at home now. He has a PICC line for six weeks of intravenous antibiotics and also a wound vac for the incision at the base of his spine. Everywhere he goes, he is accompanied by one erratically gurgling medical device and another occasionally beeping device, each enclosed in its own personal black shoulder bag.* My husband is pretty much himself again, except he tires easily. He is a little stronger each day. And, once again, we are relieved to both be still alive and together.

Whew!

But: “That’s twice.” SIGH!

My mother also used to say that new shoes on the table were bad luck. We don’t have any new shoes to put on the table so we can’t stop putting them on the table to prevent bad luck. Garlic is supposed to deter vampires but I’ve never heard anyone claim it works on Old Man Death. Eventually, the Grim Reaper calls on us all.

There might be another way to look at this. Maybe I can finagle this 1-2-3- into infections of paperwork? The car accident generated it’s own paperwork: reports and claims and counter claims (we are still working to get fair compensation for our car). The life-threatening illness itself is spontaneously generating paperwork and there are sure to be mess-ups in the insurance filings creating even more paperwork. And — Behold! Number #3! — deadlines for income taxes are coming up fast! (We haven’t started yet.)

Death and Taxes! That old duo!

Taxes roll around each year and the Grim Reaper is always waiting in the wings. I’ll try to keep up with the paperwork and I hope I have time enough to take care of it all. As we were just so clearly reminded — twice! — we aren’t guaranteed another day.

But –please! —  if you don’t mind, we’ll happily pass on another glimpse of that fellow in the black robes. We don’t want to see him again for a good long time!

 

*(At first, these esoteric, computerized devices upset us. What if we pressed the wrong button? What if we tied a knot in the tubing? But now that we’ve become better acquainted with them, we can sleep through their usual noises though they aren’t the kind of  friends we can take to Quaker meeting. They gurgle and chirp 24/7.)

 

The Necessity of Levity

My usual stay-at-home garb is paint spattered, ink stained denim. But, a few weeks ago, when I had somewhere to go, I donned a brown skirt and white ribbed sweater and red knee socks festooned with frolicking sock monkeys. I topped off my outfit with red polka-dotted glasses.

I went to a demonstration. No one at this demonstration [For clean water. Why do we need to stand up in favor of clean water? Isn’t this, like, a no brainer?) noticed my sock monkey socks or my polka dotted glasses. Or if they did, they didn’t say anything to me.

But I was amused. And, Lord knows, we can all use a bit of light-hearted nonsense once in a while. Or, in my case, regular doses throughout the day.

Take that demonstration. Listening to heart-broken people describe their homes and bodies poisoned by coal ash pools leaking into the well water — that’s enough to make me cry. And it did.

Corruption is no laugher matter — and there’s so much of it! Is there really more than ever? It seems like it these days. To paraphrase comedian Jonathan Winters’ observation on little green men: “It’s everywhere! It’s everywhere!”

We are drowning in bad news. Venality chokes us, and waves of corruption pound us and toss us up onto cold, gritty sand, disheartened and desolate.* Where can we find the get-up-and-go-and-keep-going to oppose all this vileness? We need energy to stay sharp, to march and demonstrate, to write effective letters, to make phone calls, to organize and publicize, etc. —  but are we too demoralized from a daily barrage of awful news to stand up? Flattened  by despair, how are we to pick ourselves up get going again?

There’s plenty of advice out there about nurturing mental health: good food and good fellowship; fresh air and exercise; a dog or a cat or a loving spouse; sleep, meditation and music (maybe in reverse order?); gratitude and a sense of community. But following this good advice requires initiative I just may not have when I’m depressed by events in the wider world. And as a person with CFIDS/Fibromyalgia, my tank is never full anyway so I’m easy to knock down.

Levity lightens the gloom! For me, a little bit of silly is not a distraction from the serious side of life, but a figurative Chinese gong reverberating through my body to call me to attention.  Ask not for whom the cuckoo bird cuckoos! It cuckoos for thee and for me — to make us look up from the muck at our feet and gaze upon the blue sky. (Here I refer to a real cuckoo clock hanging on my own dining room wall and real muckety-muck bullshit.)

There is also a solar powered crystal rainbow maker in my south facing kitchen window.  On a sunny day, I can look up from the headlines on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and find brilliant snippets of color circling the room, a mess of little nudges to remind me to laugh and loosen up.

Somewhere in this house two plastic parakeets are clipped to light fixtures or curtain rods or a chandelier. They move around. The sight of one of these silly lime-green things can be another little reminder not to take life too seriously. Our book shelves support some heavy non-fiction but there’s a joke book on the back of the toilet and happily-ever-after romance novels on my Kindle. I always read the cartoons in the New Yorker before the features and the comics in the Richmond Times-Dispatch before looking at the editorial page. (Some of the letters-to-the-editor are funny if you forget that the writer probably didn’t think so).

Our yard sports a few ridiculous touches, too.

DSCN5903

A dose of levity can bring me around. I am serious because a joyful life is worth fighting for and I need to laugh because it’s the only way to stay serious and keep fighting for a joyful life.

What keeps you going?

(* Please scorn/chuckle at this purple prose.)