Wild Fires

The loggers stopped at my aunt and uncle’s logging supply shop early in the morning to pick-up hard hats. They were driving north to help fight the fires, drawing lines around the burned Collier State Park, and trying to stop the flames from burning up the logging museum.

Crackle. Burn. Feel the heat. Breathe in the smoke. No way to stop, sometimes. Let it burn.

Other times – there are ways to stop. Dig the lines. Fly overhead for a vantage to drop the magic alchemy to quell the flames. We all try, to fight our fires.

Courtesy of Mom, image from September 2020

Always

Sometimes they are the phoenix, for us. Sometimes they are a complete loss. Sometimes they are heartbreaking. Sometimes they burn out. Sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes they can be controlled. Sometimes, they can’t. Sometimes they are needed. Sometimes, they aren’t. Sometimes they burst. Sometimes they hurt. Sometimes they heal.

Sometimes they are just as they are. Each fire needing a different approach based on conditions, terrain, history, climate, potential, the day, the moment, the years past, the years to come.

We fight our fires, and those of others.

Thank you, firefighters.

Thank you.

It Matters

There – I was – carrying the purple starfish into the ocean.

I spotted it on the shore. Unusual, to have a starfish exposed out of the water’s reach like that. Underneath the bright rigid carcass were hundreds of its little soft white legs, still.

Suddenly, I was marching into the waves with a half-dead starfish in my hand. The water splashing up onto my legs in an action with no other foreseen possibility to it.

Mid-stride, I saw myself as that woman – the woman in the image that I love, that a beloved friend, Kaycee, created. I got the print from her when we met by the river to go on a long walk – when my life had rerouted and I asked her how she handled her own unexpected rerouting of life in previous years.

“Find what lights you on fire,” she said, “and do that.”

She also said wine, and a lot of yoga.

The collage is a fable, a story, of a woman standing on the edge of the ocean among the starfish. It matters to this Starfish.

It is also a story that my mother shared with me a decade ago.

My mother told the tale of a person walking on the beach, and seeing all these baby turtles washed upon the shore. The person started picking up the beings one-by-one, and throwing them back into the ocean. Someone witnessed this and asked the person – “Why are you doing this? There is too many of them to matter.” The person picked up a turtle, threw it into the ocean, and replied, “Well, it mattered to that one.”

Kaycee’s image traveled with me to different homes, different rooms, different writing spaces. It is still with me, the windswept woman on a blue beach surrounded by red starfish.

And now, here I am, marching into the water with a half-dead starfish in my hand, trying to throw it beyond the breakers.

That woman, in that moment, when memory becomes truth; she had already lived it a million times before.

“It matters to this Starfish”

Because it mattered.

 

 

May 16, 2014

On May 16, 2014, a friend and I saw First Lady Michelle Obama present a graduation speech to the High School graduates in Topeka, Kansas.

There was much controversy about the event on the ground in Topeka, also commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate schools. Her speech opened my heart and mind, and brought me to tears.

I can’t think of anything of a time more pertinent to remember this, then the time we are in now.

Following is the transcript of the speech, and a link to the video. An ellipses indicates a points of cheering when her words are indecipherable from my audio recording.

Thank you, and I love you, too.

 

 

It is beyond a pleasure and an honor, to be here with you today to celebrate the class of 2014. Thank you so much for having me. I am so proud of you guys.

A day like this makes me think of my own daughters, so forgive me if I get a little teary.

We have a great group of students here. We have students from Highland Park High School, we have Avondale Academy students here today, Topeka High School is here, and of course we have Topeka West High.

Tomorrow will be a big day for all of you. You have worked so hard, I can tell, you have come so far. When you walk across that stage tomorrow to get your diploma, know that I will be thinking of you all.

I am so proud of you all, and all that you have achieved thus far. And you have got so many people here who are proud of you tonight. Your families are here, your teachers and counselors, your coaches – everyone who has poured their love and hope to you over these many, many years.

Let’s take a moment to give a round of applause to those folks as well. Thank you.

(more thanks to people on the stage)

About Brown v. Board, you have approached this issue past present and future, and I think that it is fitting that we are celebrating this historic Supreme Court case tonight. Not just because Brown started right here in Topeka, or because Brown’s 60th anniversary is tomorrow, but because I believe that all of you who are soon to be graduates – you all are the living, breathing legacy of this case. Yes.

Look around – not only are you beautiful and handsome and talented and smart but you represent all colors and cultures and faiths here tonight. You come from all walks of life and you have taken so many different paths to reach this moment.

Maybe your ancestors have been here in Kansas for centuries; or maybe, like mine, they came to this country in chains; or maybe your family just arrived here in search of a better life. But no matter how you got here, you have arrived at this day today together.

For so many years you have all studied together in the same classrooms, played on the same teams, attended the same parties, and hopefully you’ve behaved yourselves at these parties. You’ve debated each other’s ideas hearing every possible opinion and perspective, you’ve heard each others languages in hallways – English, Spanish, and others all mixed together in a uniquely American conversation. You’ve celebrated each other’s holidays and heritages. In fact, I was told that in one of your schools so many students who weren’t Black wanted to join the Black Students Club and you decided to call it the African American Cultural Club, so that everyone would feel welcome.

It is clear that some of the most important parts of your education have come not just from your classes, but from you classmates, and ultimately, that was the hope and dream of Brown. That’s why we’re celebrating here tonight.

Now the fact is, that your experience here in Topeka would have been unimaginable back in 1954. When Brown v. Board of Education first went to the Supreme Court, this would not be possible. As you all know back then Topeka like so many cities was segregated. So black folks and white folks had separate restaurants, separate hotels, separate movie theaters, swimming pools, and of course the elementary schools were segregated, too. Even though many black children lived just blocks away from white schools in their neighborhoods, they had to take long bus rides to all black schools across town.

So eventually a group of Black parents go tired of this arrangement and they decided to do something about it. Now these were ordinary folks. Most of them were not Civil Rights activists, and some of them were probably nervous about speaking up, worried they might cause trouble for themselves and their families. And the truth is that while the black schools were far away, the facilities were pretty decent, and the teachers were excellent, but eventually these parents went to court to desegregate their children’s schools because, as one of the children later explained, as an adult, she said: we were talking about the principle of the thing. Now think about that for a moment. Those folks had to go all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States just to affirm the principle that Black kids and White kids could attend school together.

And today, 60 years later, that probably seems crazy to all of you in this graduating class, right? You all take the diversity you are surrounded by for granted. You probably don’t even notice it. And that’s understandable given the country you have grown up in.

With a woman governor, a Latina Supreme Court Justice, a Black president.

You’ve seen Black coaches win Super Bowls. You’ve watched TV shows and characters of every background. So, when you watch a show like The Walking Dead – you don’t think it’s about a Black guy, a Black woman, an Asian guy, a gay couple and some White people? You think it’s about a bunch of folks trying to escape some Zombies, right? Period.

And now when some folks got all worked up about a cereal commercial with an interracial family, you all were probably thinking, really? What’s the problem with that?

When folks made a big deal about Jason Collins and (…) coming out as gay, you probably thought, what is the issue here?

If someone would say something racist on Twitter, well than I would imagine many of you would Tweet right back, letting them know that’s just not cool.

You see, when you grow up in a place like Topeka, where diversity is all you’ve ever known, the old prejudices just don’t make any sense. See it’s crazy to think that folks of the same race or ethnicity all think or act the same way because you actually know those folks. They are your teammates, your lab partner, your best friend. They’re the girl whose obsessed with the Jayhawks but still loves Topeka…

And these issues go well beyond the walls of our schools. We know that today in America, too many folks are still stopped on the street because of the color of their skin. They are made to feel unwelcomed because of where they come from or they are bullied because of who they love.

So graduates, the truth is that Brown v Board is not just about our history, it’s about our future. Because while that case was handed down 60 years ago Brown is still being decided every single day. Not just in our courts and schools, but in how we live our lives. Now laws may no longer separate us based on our skin color, but nothing in the Constitution says that we have to eat together in the lunch rooms, or live together in the same neighborhoods, there’s no court case against in believing in stereotypes or thinking that certain kinds of hateful jokes or comments are funny.

So the answers of many of our challenges today can’t necessarily be found in our laws. These changes also need to take place in our hearts, and in our minds.

And so graduates, it’s up to all of you to lead the way. To drag my generation and your grandparents generation along with you. And that’s really my challenge to all of you today.

As you go forth, when you encounter folks who still hold the old prejudices because they’ve only been around folks like themselves, when we meet folks who think they know the answers because they’ve never heard any other viewpoints. It’s up to you to help them see things differently.

And the good news is that you probably won’t have to bring a law suite or go all the way to the Supreme Court to do that. You all can make a difference every day in your own lives, simply be teaching others the lessons you’ve learned here in Topeka.

Maybe that starts simply in your own family. When Grandpa tells that off color joke at Thanksgiving, or you got an Aunt that talks about “those people,” well you can politely inform them that they are talking about your friends. Or maybe when you go off to college, and you decide to join a sorority or fraternity, and you ask the question: How can we get more diversity in our next pledge class? Or years from now on the job, and you are the one who asks do we really have all the voices and viewpoints we need at this table? Maybe it’s when you have kids of your own one day, and you go to your School Board meeting, and insist on integrating your children’s schools and giving them the resources they need.

But no matter what you do, the point is to never be afraid to talk about these issues, particularly the issue of race because even today we still struggle to do that because this issue is so sensitive, it’s so complicated, it’s so bound up with a painful history, and we need your generation to help us break through. We need all of you to ask the hard questions and have the honest conversations because that is the only way we will heal the wounds of the past and move forward to a better future.

And here’s the thing – the stakes simply couldn’t be higher, because as a nation we have some serious challenges on our plate. From creating jobs, to curing diseases, to giving every child in this country a good education. And we know – we don’t even know – where the next break through, where the next great discovery will come from.

Maybe the solution to global warming will come from that girl whose parents don’t speak a word of English, but whose been acing her science classes since kindergarten. Maybe an answer to poverty will come from a boy from the projects who understands this issue like no one else. So we need to bring everyone to the table. We need every voice in our national conversation.

So graduates, that is your mission. To make sure all those voices are heard, to make sure everyone in this country has a chance to contribute.

And I’m not going to lie to you, this will not be easy – you might have to ruffle a few feathers, and believe me folks might not like what you have to say, and there will be times when you will get frustrated, or discouraged. But whenever I start to feel that way, I take a step back and remind myself of all the progress I’ve seen in my short lifetime.

I think about my Mother who as a little girl went to segregated schools in Chicago and felt the sting of discrimination. I think about my husband’s grand-parents, White folks born and raised right here in Kansas, (…) those are honest people who help raised their biracial grandson, ignoring those who would criticize that child’s very existence, and how then that child grew up to be the President of the United States of America

I think about the story of a woman named Lucinda Todd, who was the very first parent to sign onto Brown v. Board of Education. Lucinda’s daughter, Nancy, went to one of the all black schools here in Topeka, and Lucinda Todd traveled across this state raising money for this case, determined to give her daughter and all our sons and daughters the education they deserve. And today, 6 decades later, Mrs. Todd’s grandniece, a young woman named Kristen Jarvis, works as my right hand woman in the White House.

So, if you ever stop and get tired, if you ever think about giving up, I want you to remember that journey from a segregated school in Topeka all the way to the White House.

Folks who make their claim in this community we call America can choose our better history. Every day, you have the power to choose our better history by opening your hearts and minds, by speaking out for what you know is right, by sharing the lessons of Brown v Board of Education, the lessons you all learned right here in Topeka wherever you go, for the rest of your lives. I know you all can do it. I am so proud of all that you have accomplished. This is your day. I’m here because of you. And I cannot wait to see everything you have achieved in the years ahead. So congratulations once again to the class of 2014.

I love you.

 

Video of the speech

 

Video Games and Enlightenment

After a minimal (yet invested) experience in my youth of playing Donkey Kong and Mario Kart on my older brother’s Super Nintendo – I noticed a few parallels between video gaming and the progression of life:

Check Points

On a recent revisitation of a place I once loved when I was there the first time – a nature reserve – a very new feeling happened.

The GPS took me somewhere unfamiliar, but it was determined to be correct. Where was that visitor center? And the tall grasses that wind into beautiful trails? Rather, it was a country road that went past farms and an empty cattle corral.

Driving to a point to turn around, a series of dogs in varying sizes came out to greet me with barks. And then there was Kathy J –

I asked her where the reserve was, and she said it was right here, her arms stretched wide. Quite the backyard, she said. You can park next to the cattle corral, and the hike into town is beautiful.

I thanked her, and parked next to the wood fence, and walked into what must be the backside of the reserve. I hiked to the top of the hill. Looked up, saw the sky, and I felt –

an exactness of a pushpin being inserted into a map. Immediately to the ground. There – she did it. She made it to the right place at the right time (both seemingly random). Check point. She will not have to experience all that terrain again, in the next time.

Thank you.

 

Bosses

At the end of each level, we encounter the Boss – big, bad, and mean. We use our skills learned thus far to combat and defeat the Boss. Often, it takes a few times. So we lose, then go back to the beginning of the level, jump around and learn and reach the boss again, only to gather more skills on how to react and respond in order to move forward.

This seems to be like our efforts to step out of our patterns (such that those in relationship bring to light). We go through the journey, then reach that moment when we are fighting or something is triggered when we can do something different, or calculate from the skills we have gained in our past experiences. If we don’t “defeat” the Boss, then we go back and start again, always learning more as we move forward, and always working on this path until it is ready to change.

 

Leveling Up

A handful of years ago, at a Yoga Nidra class at Esalen Institute, I reached a new state of consciousness.

It lasted for about 20 minutes after the class. I walked through the garden, heard people talking, saw the colors. Accepted everything with no discussion in the head. It was a belonging of life to the body and senses, with everything aligned.

Later, I realized this was a sort of “Leveling Up” for me.

In the sense that, there are times when we experience something that completely changes our understanding or being. Something where we know what is possible, and the world will never really be the same for us again.

It is like after completing a level on a video game, and then continuing to the next. It is a new landscape, new perspective, new experience – we are excited to see this unfamiliar space and meet it with excitement. And then, it becomes familiar as we live it, and we keep learning, and keep leveling up when the time is right.

 

 

Flag Day

Waking up this morning I made some coffee, tuned the kitchen radio to NPR, and began assembling the pink and green Indian fabric to sew as binding onto the quilt.

“Live from NPR news…in southern California hundreds have turned out to protest in the name of Robert Fuller, a 24-year-old black man who was found hanging from a tree near City Hall in Palm Dale on Wednesday.”

No. No. No. This is not ok. I know none of this is ok or has been ok – I feel it – but this is what tears me right now. The image of a black man hanging from a tree, just yesterday.

I hear the words “suicide,” “lynching,” “no autopsy,” “hate crime.” It is unknown whether it is a suicide or a murder.

The news goes on to talk about an autonomous neighborhood in Seattle that the police evacuated, the shooting of another black man in Atlanta, the budget cuts to universities due to the corona virus, and the Oregon governor presenting a virtual graduation speech. I thought her words would inspire, but she called to graduates about the change that needs to happen in the world. As if they are our only hope now, and all this is their inheritance.

I go out to a park, but everything is too busy. There is a car with an out-of-state license driving too close to me, and I feel angry. He passes me, disobeying a traffic law.

I pull over into the nearest parking lot, a Mexican restaurant, and cry. I’m so mad. I’m so mad. Where did this thinking and feeling start today?

With that image this morning. That image of grief and hate, and a life gone, hanging from a tree.

Collecting myself, I unexpectedly turn off into Barnes & Noble to get a journal. I stand in the aisles, feeling lost. Not know what to get, what not to get, to leave, to stay.

I take a book, and a journal, and stand in line.

The woman in front of me in line walks to the cashier. She has on a mask, and a soft southern accent with a stiff and frail and aging body.

“Do you have plans for the rest of the day?” the cashier asks, a new book resting between the two women.

“I worked the early shift, so I am going to get some food and go home… and read.”

Somehow – somehow – witnessing this interaction helps. It is Simple. Real. Kind. Human.

I walk into the grocery store next, waiting behind a mother and son so as not to get too close, and notice the groups of flowers next to me. Big, gorgeous, pink roses – $15 for a dozen.

Before cashing out, I return for a bundle.

The cashier is a young man with tattoos, a handkerchief hanging below his nose, and a tired voice.

“How are you today?” he asks.

“Hanging in there,” I said (only now, as I write this, do I see that word). “How are you doing?”

“About the same.”

He bags the items, the pink roses go in last. I yank one, hoping it gives easily from the banded bunch, and it does.

I hold the big, pink, aromatic rose to him.

“Here you go,” I say. “Thank you for your work.”

I feel an out-breath or a smile or surprise behind his mask, and everything lightens again – for a moment.

And these moments add up, right? That’s where change actually happens – in a moment.

Revolution

re – a prefix, occurring originally in loanwords from Latin, used with the meaning ‘again’ or ‘again and again'”

return (re-turn)

release (re-lease)

review (re-view)

repair (re-pair)

respect (re-spect…as in per-spect-ive, spect-acles…to look again)

react (re-act)

renew (re-new)

revolve (re-evolve)

revolution (re-evolution)

Construction

A first house that I bought, three months before the word “pandemic” became official, is snuggled into a street filled with 1980 ranch-style homes. It is one of the first streets on the east side of Bend, now surrounded by new subdivisions and a park, which used to be a nursery for pine trees managed by the Forest Service.

Drive half a mile down the street, and there are still barns and horses and goats and tractors on the road. Thank goodness for that.

There is also construction. Both ends of the street are being turned into two-lane roundabouts to help manage traffic. The large machines vibrate in constant rhythm between 8 am – 5 pm, but ceases on the evenings and weekends.

I go for walks in the evening during this quiet to the former nursery, and pass through the zones of construction and the closed sidewalks. Over the dirt tire treks and stilled orange machinery, paused in repose and stillness.

Looking into the pits of where there will be sewers, I see below the Earth into the layers of large rocks. I had no idea.

It changes each day, what is happening, but for now I can stand in the middle of the soon-to-be-made roundabout, now a layer of flat gravel above strata of rock thousands of years old, holding us up, looking at the mountain view, with nothing at all moving around me other than the clouds above.

It reminds me of the times when I was young, going to the construction site with my parents when they were building the house. All the space between the bones to see the trees and the sky and such a breath of foundation.

It is the making. The silence, the quiet, the stillness, before we all start going in circles again.

 

Well, it has been some time my friends.

Sometimes it is.

I am drinking a Zarabanda, listening to Ryan Adams at Carnegie Hall. Forty-two songs, three hours and 36 minutes. His strumming guitar and wailing harmonica, and his soul, will make you laugh out loud and break your heart. If you’re anything like me, that is.

And, I know you are.

Excellent! Here appears a blog post topic: how we connect.

I once asked a friend the meaning of life as we drank at a local dive bar. Death, he said. The conversation tilted into the fact that life is what we make of it. We are all connected. The meaning of life? It’s all in here, I thought. It’s all there, he said, pointing to a wood fence next to us.

It made perfect sense at the time. It still does.

 

“Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly

let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you

as few human or even divine ingredients can.”

Hafiz

 

There are many more telling poems to show how we connect – how we are all the same – but, this one resonates for me right now.

Just like Ryan Adam does. Breaking my heart, into such beauty, and such sorrow.

That, I know, we all feel.

 

A Path

The day after Halloween, I tried to find a new walking route: Larkspur Trail.

Driving around, road construction blocked my way to the senior center, where the path supposedly starts. I wound my way to Pilot Butte instead, where the trail ends.

I still couldn’t find it. So, I started wandering around the criss-crossing dirt tracks along the lower part of the butte, until finding an asphalt path to follow.

The grass vibrated in the breeze, like notes coming off a page. I felt sticks and soft Juniper branches and squished dried berries between my fingertips, and I looked into the sky. I saw bark peeling and felt the sun and wind and saw life, and felt it.

I sat on a rock for awhile.

          

I turned around and followed the asphalt path back, coming across a sign near the parking lot “Larkspur Trail.” I found it, although unexpectedly and from the backside. I was where I had wanted to be, and didn’t even know it.

Sometimes we can’t get to the path, until we are coming back from where we started.

It’s as confusing as it feels, until you recognize that this path is exactly where you are supposed to be, whether it is Larkspur Trail or not.

Then it all becomes completely clear.

 

*(See The Head and The Heart, Rivers and Roads)