Sunday, September 2, 2018

This Is What We Do

This is what we do in the Age of TRE45ON, in the era of # MeToo, in the time of climate change denial, of immigration-betrayal. We no longer laugh when our spouse makes an insensitive joke. We refuse to engage with in-laws who defend the traitor. We rage under our breath, remembering what has been done to our country already;  we rant and rave and fight the urge to throw dishes around, seeing the patterns of betrayal and deceit begin to form in the indictments and guilty pleas from known, close associates. There is a fury just under the surface, built upon the sense of betrayal, of having been cheated. 
       So I feed the wild birds, because they don’t care who betrayed whom, what political system is in power, what laws have been broken. They just need their seeds. I walk under trees, beside rivers, along the ocean, knowing that they have survived, hoping they will continue to survive us.  I’ve phone-banked, text-banked, written letters to the editor. I've been writing GOTV postcards to fellow Dems, encouraging us to make our voices heard, to exercise our right to vote.  And tall along, to steady my breath and calm my soul, to keep the rage from damaging my heart, I’ve been knitting, knitting, in a rather compulsive manner, a series I call the Blue Wave Cowls. (Well , yes, sometimes they become hats, if the gauge is a bit off. ) Some of the first cowls went to my sister, including a large, broken-rib cowl in a design from Purl SoHo  that I knit in Madelaine Tosh Undergrowth worsted weight. A long, cushy tunnel of warmth and blue-yarn comfort. And Blue Wave inspiration.
         My most recent cowl is also this broken rib, aka mistake rib, pattern, though I think of it as "elegant rib"  for its ultimate appearance. It's a pattern of k2, p2, offset by one stitch on the second row, repeated until the cowl is the right size or you run out of patience, whichever come first. It's the simplicity that is striking.
         For this cowl, I’m using Drift from Shibui Knits,  a merino-cashmere blend that is just luscious to the touch.  I had a rough start – I began with size 7 circular needles per the pattern but decided early on that it looked too tight and constricted – I wanted a looser look, something that would drape, not hug, the neck.  So I slipped it off the needles, and recast onto some circular 8’s, (which was suggested by the yarn tag, I read later - heh, heh).
          But I had the devil of a time getting the right number of stitches this time around, first casting on too many which I knew would end badly, being too big, too full, and then, for some reason, casting on too few.  I tried to fudge and add a few stitches at the end, but I could never get the count quite right.  I must have ripped out my restart three or four times. I lost count. Finally,  I got the right number of stitches cast on and had knit a stabilizing row just to be sure, but now, somehow, I mis-remembered the pattern and began simply alternating one knit and one purl stitches, offsetting by one stitch on the second row. After about 5 rows, I’m thinking this does not look right --- and how, by the way,  is this any different than seed stitch?   I checked the pattern and slapped my forehead: Jeeze Louise - it wasn’t any different because it was seed stitch.  So I had to once again rip out the rows, though this time, after all the frustrations of casting on, I took the time to get it back to the stabilizing row, and using a size 3 circ needles, pick up all the stitches – and start all over – correctly. So now I am forging onward, full speed ahead, with size 8 circular needles, 144 stiches in the round, with the correct k2, p2 pattern, offset by one stitch on the second row . It’s looking pretty solid, even if not yet elegant,  and on a good day I can get a half- inch or so done, stitch by stitch. Just like postcard by postcard, vote by vote, we will bring this crooked administration down.

Friday, August 3, 2018

This Is How You Know

This is how you know Fire Season has arrived in Northern California. The smell of smoke, faint but unmistakable, drifts through the open window, rousing you from a fitful early morning sleep. The slanted light of morning and late afternoon bends towards the red end of the spectrum - pinkish dappled light on the yellow walls of the house next door; red streaks along the horizon at sunrise, at sunset; a blood-orange full moon rising over a quiet, darkened town. Muggy haze, grimy clouds. A gritty grey layer on the outdoor tables that is more felt than seen; gritty ash on your car that accumulates day after day. Cars and trucks arrive in town streaked with yellow-ochre ash thick enough to write in, windshields wiped clean in wide arcs of surprise. Caravans of dusty stock trailers go by, horse hooves stomping at the stop lights. Mini-vans stuffed to the gills with all manner of items, flattened pillows against the glass, boxes shoved hastily into the back. Coughing begins when you take a deep breath; eyes sting and water. In coffee-shops, phone-photos are shared: glimpses of flames along the escape roads, flames racing over the hills, trees lit up like giant candles, blankets of smoke clutching the fields, choking the roads,  a parting shot of the house as they leave, not knowing what they will find or when they will find it. Meanwhile, you notice towers of billowing smokes plumes on the horizon or are covered by thickened ceilings of ashy smokeclouds, no horizon in sight. Planes and copters sound overhead - steady droning flights heading out for nearby fires. You listen for the Nixle alerts, you check online - how close, how fierce, what is the suspected pathway, the line of fight, who do you know might be in it, who do you know who might need to get out of it, who do you know might need a place to stay, who might need new furniture, clothes, dishes, who might need a new house. This is how you know.

There is a full moon there, that orangey little dot next to the house.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

April 15th, 2017 – Tax March, Santa Rosa

The crowd wasn’t huge - a few hundred at most - but significant for this small county seat in Northern California.  The speeches were short and inspiring; the signs were lively and quite pointed. None cast Drumpf in a good light. We did our best not to interfere with the routine business of the Post Office, but at times people did have to wend their way around the throng, A few joined us to listen for several minutes before hurrying on with the rest of their Saturday.

There had been no permit granted for a march, but we walked anyway, going the long way around the block, our signs eliciting honks from cars and trucks and mini-vans. I had come up from Petaluma solo but made marching friends soon enough, as you do.  Kate, to whom I gave my extra super-bright pink pussycat hat. It fit her so well: I was thrilled to be sending the hat, hand-crocheted by my friend MaryBeth during those most worrisome first months of 2017, to carry the We Resist! We Persist! message onward. 

And Miriam. We found ourselves walking companionably together, trying to work up some new chants and commiserating about the lack of good protest songs for this movement. Because, make no mistake, this is a movement. And a movement needs songs and chants. We tried to fit something into Country Joe and Fish’s song  And it’s one-two-three, what are we fighting for -- but failed. Protest songs are truly specific to a time and place.

“It’s frightening how low this county has gone,” she said, as we turned the farthest corner and headed back around to the Post Office. “I’m an immigrant, came here in ‘51 – our family had spent 5 years waiting in refugee camps in Europe. I was 11. We truly thought the streets were paved with gold." As she talked, I heard that she had felt welcomed, she had felt safe coming to America. And now that was no longer so true. I recalled the images of vandalized Jewish cemeteries. In 2017. In America. The bomb threats to Jewish Centers across the country, including Marin. 

She remembered what fascism smelled like, looked like, acted like. And she was smelling it again. 

I agreed, it’s hard to believe how low things have gone; the shock still sits on my chest, makes my stomach grinch up in the morning when I remember. And I always remember. 

Pictures below.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

That Hard Rain Has Been A-fallin'

The rains started late Saturday night in Sonoma County, thick and heavy and wild, rattling the old wooden casement windows and sluicing down the sloped streets toward the river. By Sunday afternoon, the rivers were rising and sliding over their banks here and there, stranding some motorists and causing a few roads to be closed. I drove across town late that afternoon, rain pattering on the windshield, blooming into thick downpours, then quieting to thin mists. The Petaluma River was running high, easily visible down at the end of B Street as a wide milk-chocolate brown swale. I glimpsed it through the trees and buildings on my right as I drove north along Petaluma Boulevard. I turned on Corona road where the river had swallowed up its banks and flowed over the neighboring roads, running rogue through the slender willows and scrub trees, submerging all the brush on one side of the low bridge I was crossing and turning a meadow on the other side to a shallow, flowing lake.

As I drive, I glance  to the left at the thick dark water flowing briskly around the slim tree trunks like a series of winding snakes, going wherever it wants, free of the constraints of the banks. The movement now is all sweet force and freedom, but with more rain, it promises destruction. Will it  leave behind only a huge mess --  or an actual rerouting of the river path? It made me a bit queasy, the way the oily water moved so quickly under the pale, occluded light of late afternoon. It made me wonder - after this political debacle, will we have only a monster mess to clean up -- or such a significant change in our institutions that recovery itself will be in doubt?

Friday, January 6, 2017

How Wild It Is* - January 3, 2017 (revision)

The red-shouldered hawk sat on a short fence post close to the entrance of Shollenberger Park, putting it almost within arm's reach of folks heading out on their New Year’s Day walk. Odd to see the large hawk so close up – as if it was a tamed animal, used to having humans stopping to take phone-photos, to having them nudge and whisper, look, a hawk! No one wanted to spook it – we wanted its presence there on the fence post, where we could see the elegance of its black and white barred wings; the rusty-red breast, the hooked beak. We wanted it to validate us, to accept us. Within a few moments though, it flapped over to another post, just a bit further away from the people-path, where is could continue to monitor the marshy bank without hassle. 

It felt so unusual, this close presence of the raptor, yet unusual has become our norm, hasn't it?  These past few months have felt so twisted, so disturbed; it’s been difficult to get a handle on them.  Even under the blue skies and bright sun, we were a subdued lot walking along the two-mile loop around a dredging pond bordered by the Petaluma River on the waterside and industrial buildings on the landside. I wished a “Happy New Year” to a few folks; most of them startled, looking at me quizzically; some of them mumbled a soft  “you, too,”  or even a “Happy New Year” in return.

Small hordes of sparrows, rufus-capped and white-capped, hopped in and out of the brush lining the walkway, melting into the bushy shadows as we approached, hopping back out after we’d passed. I try to imagine what New Year’s Day 2018 might be like – and I can’t. Too much unpredictability right now – an unstable man-child in the White House, perhaps there by illegal means; an Administration out to gut all government, as if we don't need any at all (anarchy, anyone?); a sense that all the social-support gains we’ve made in the past 100 years could be wiped out with a few pen strokes by a man of little moral integrity, vindictive and thin-skinned, willing to lie, or so it seems, for no reason whatsoever, abetted by his cronies, so willing to go along with him. They don’t seem to want a country in which citizens can thrive, but a hegemony to plunder for their own personal wealth.

Further along the path, a northern harrier buzzed the dried-up reeds of the marsh, swooping back and forth and roundabout, casing for rabbits and rodents; the fastest bird on the planet, a grizzled, stubble-faced man said to us, as he sat on one of the benches, his bike and radio playing soft rock music next to him. He looked like this was his personal living room and he was inviting us to share his view. It was magnificent –across the sparkly river, soft green hills edged the horizon, but I’m plagued by my mind; I can’t even keep track of all that bothers me. Nuclear posturing has already begun, awakening the dormant terrors of an annihilating war still lurking in the back of brains of the Boomer generation. Impeachment is a possibility – the President-Elect seems to be unable to give up his businesses, required of all presidents. He hasn’t put them into a blind trust, possibly because they’ll go belly-up; seems like being a billionaire is far more important than being a President to him. He flirts with the Russians; invites a Neo-Nazi, KKK-supporter into his Cabinet. Really? What is he thinking?

He is a provocateur by nature and training. Reality-TV shows are based on setting up circumstances in which people are emotionally driven to engage in conflict then filming the results, because viewers are drawn to conflict, disaster, fights. It is all about the ratings, the eyeballs, whether approving or horrified. But is this the way to run the country? Especially a country that, whether you like it or not, has been seen as a leader in international relationships.

Two egrets flew by, earnestly rowing over the marsh through the chilly air, close enough overhead that we saw their necks tucked in tight s-curves, unblinking eyes, long legs trailing fluidly behind like thick ribbons. What do they think of us perambulating around their territory, absorbed in our concepts, our internal sussurations of fear and dismay?

The whole situation seems so untenable, so unreal, so preposterous – it doesn’t cohere. And so I wonder – will the fabric somehow tear? Could we end up with a civil war? Will something unpredicted happen to sideswipe his presidency? And us, to boot? What about an asteroid? Is this where we have been left, praying for a deus ex machina to solve this unsolvable problem?  But why do I think this is unsolvable?

Perhaps I am too pessimistic, too reactive. Perhaps things won't unfold the way I project they will. Perhaps I feed too often at the trough of social-media, that amplifier of emotions and rumor, the dampener of facts and reason. So I've decided to keep track of what I see, think and feel over the next year, hoping for the best, while keeping my eyes peeled for the worst. 

Last night I heard the soft gurgles of rain; this morning is soft and gray and damp. Perhaps today we will put away the holiday gear; perhaps we will finish reading our holiday books. I will proceed  - with more caution and less joy than other years, with gripped teeth and a sense of bedevilment. I will make the effort to be out in the wilderness where the political posturing can be ignored for an hour or two, and mental health restored. Perhaps I should be like the red-shouldered hawk, moving over to another fence post to continue my work, to dodge the worst of the annoyances, until things are set straight again.

My word for 2017 is "wild." 

*with thanks to Cheryl Strayed author of Wild, from which this quote came.