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.