Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why I am voting for President Obama -
*I trust President Obama; I don't always agree with him, but I know who he is, and his values are a close match to mine. I am at peace with my trust of President Obama.
*Obama is not Romney!
*I believe that President Obama understands the nature of compromise as a tenet of government. He is willing to compromise – which creates the necessary functionality.
*I believe that President Obama is a champion of the middle-class, that our best programs protect the interests of the middle-class, and that he strives to protect those programs. That he “gets” that the middle-class is the essence of Americanism and without a thriving middle-class there are serfs and lords and an eminent undoing (as history proves). I would like to have a discussion with him regarding world-wide middle-class – with a power to control corporations – as the key to world peace.
*I believe that President Obama “gets” that the responsibility to be “our brother's keeper” is the essence of morality, of civilization. My hero, Margaret Mead, believed that humans beings, as part of a greater biological whole, have a responsibility to everyone else on the planet. I believe that President Obama sees this responsibility as daunting, but as possible, a work in progress.
*President Obama sees “the level playing field” as fair, and the essence of democracy as being an enduring quest to be fair. (It makes me angry that the so-called 1% pay a lower percentage of taxes than I do. What the . . ?)
*I believe that President Obama knows (as we all know) that the billion dollar corporations are really the ones in charge of earth, and that government and boycott are ways to regulate and control them to the good. Government must have more power than the amoral corporations which are driven by profit and, sadly, greed. (I believe that government can truly represent the people “in the best of all possible worlds.”)
*I believe that President Obama “gets” that the middle-class has created the wealth of this nation, and that they should treat themselves to rewarding lives, and that the wealthy should regard and support the middle-class as heroes.
*We are a nation of immigrants – either thousands or hundreds of years ago. We are strong as a result of the sacrifices and endurance that coming to a strange land has required. This, I believe, and I know that President Obama is in touch.
*I am sorry, but even though I believe that abortion is wrong and a ghastly alternative, I agree with President Obama that government has no part in the deeply-private lives of its citizens. The way to control abortion is through education and the offer of compassionate alternatives.
*I believe in universal health care as a priority and as a way to control health care costs.
*As do most Americans, I believe in civil rights – even to women! Absolutely abhorrent are those who give lip service, but, secretly are racist and/or sexist.
*I agree with most Americans that the debt problem must be solved, but unlike most, I believe that it can be solved – as does President Obama. Hey! We do have the revenue. Yes, taxes are as blessed as free enterprise. I am a proud to be a tax-payer, and I am pragmatic enough to support free enterprise. Most folks believe that the tax code needs to be revamped. Sure! What of the capital gains loophole?
*I believe that in light of an obstructionist congress, President Obama has done an excellent job protecting us and preventing a depression. In my opinion, the bailouts protected middle-class pensions – which was more important than punishing the irresponsible bad guys.
*Obama is not a “hawk,” and although the use of drones confuses me, I must acknowledge that war is war (as ugly as it is) and that as John Lyly in his Euphues said in 1578: All is fair . . . in war,” since winning is the only goal – even if it takes the innocent. How terrible! Such is the nature of war. Prevent war! Obama's voting record and his work as our president has proven that war is a last resort for him. (My hat off to Hillary Clinton, and to President Obama for recognizing her excellence.)
* I believe that, like me, President Obama regards Government and free enterprise as merely human institutions. I do not believe that there are any divine institutions, and to expect anything more than human is a belief that can be torturous to mind and spirit. It takes courage to acknowledge that all institutions suffer from humanness.
Therefore, government, as an institution, suffers from the same foibles and evils of human nature – and so does free enterprise (and how!). My understanding of human nature helps me understand all human institutions, and since I am human, it humbles me and motivates me to contribute to the aspects that I perceive as most noble. I believe that President Obama would understand my belief.
However, I understand humans to function on a spectrum with truth to self and love being at the “high” end, and aspiration and the struggle to achieve this, as being the ultimate human “opus.” My father once told me that if I understood that people can be as good as they can be evil, and that if I did not forget that obvious truth, I would be happy; it is the price that free will exacts from us. I say, that it is in our nature to strive for perfection, but we must be at peace with the fact that perfection is elusive. It is our great suffering – and a mystery. To live free of angst takes faith. Ultimately, we must look to ourselves to find truth and love – and God.

PS: If you are so-inclined, share this on-line and otherwise.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Crescent Meadow Loop, Sequoia National Park; From Crescent Meadow Over Black Rock Pass
(or just barely)

I left Walnut Creek about six, quietly slipping out the deck door, me and my “stuff.” I felt lucky that my sister, Anne, had come the night before so that I would not have to wait for my brother, Philip, on Saturday to look after our mother. I stopped for a bite and gas on my way to Auburn to pick up my nephew, Alex, my hiking partner. It was an easy, almost pleasant ride, early on a Saturday morning, and the sunrise was dazzling.
Alex was ready, and so after transferring the “stuff” that I would otherwise leave in my car at the trailhead – including my computer (a no-no) Alex and I were on our way. Alex drove until we stopped for lunch, a real treat, after he mastered the Honda Fit manual. I talked a lot, probably because Alex is such a good listener, partly because I was not driving, but mostly because I was somewhat apprehensive about such a strenuous hike for me, and because I had been altitude sick (for the first time in my life – I think) a few weeks before. Both of us like the fries at In-And-Out, and so we stopped there. There are a lot of that restaurant on 99.
I drove from that point to Fresno and up into the mountains to the park and the campground where we would spend the night. Except for the orange groves, it is not particularly picturesque ride, and the fact that it was hot and humid, gave the ride a rather miserable quality. The campground was typical of a car-camping place: smokey, noisy, dusty (but with beautiful trees). We made the best of it.
We first visited the Visitor Center at Grant Grove where I bought an excellent map. We went out to dinner – which was pleasant, and then we waited for night to come. I slept in my car to escape some of the smoke and the noisy, oblivious people, but it felt like a long, long night. The morning was better, and I walked around searching for a view of the valley; it was very hazy.
When Alex was ready, we got out of there and went to Lodgepole to pick up our permit and have some breakfast – escaping from the smoke; what a relief! I was hungry and scarfed that breakfast, wondering if I had packed enough food for our six day hike. (My appetite is quite variable and unpredictable.)
At last we found the trailhead and commenced to ready our packs. I transferred my eight pounds of food and my stove to Alex so that my pack would weigh 30 pounds instead of 40. (This was an arrangement we made in advance, which Alex was happy to do as a courtesy and for a stipend. He was confident, having just finished hiking the JMT.) I can forget about a 30 pound pack, but a 40-45 pack is tough for me.
We hiked the 11.5 miles to Bearpaw on the famous High Sierra Trail. It was extremely humid and quite hot. It sprinkled. The walk was unbelievably beautiful after four miles of typical upper foothill pines, oaks, and brush, canyon vegetation that I enjoy so much when I am walking in the Yuba Canyon. The views after about four miles and for most of the way after that, were breathtaking: the great central valley, the canyon faces of the Kaweah River, including glacial sculpting to rival Yosemite Valley, and then, wow! The Great Western Divide: the peaks, the passes, the spires. There were a lot of folks on the trail, and I kept saying, “Can you believe this?” It is an amazing 11.5 miles, mellow since it follows a ridge, crossing few contour lines, until the last two miles which is an abrupt, panting “up.”
Bearpaw was not what I expected, and so I will not tell you what I expected; what I found was disappointing: a dusty, dim space, carved out of a steep hill with big trees (their greenery high and out of view), a water spigot and an outhouse. To add insult, across a little glen is the High Sierra Camp – with a spectacular view. This camp is a tent camp with a quaint building with kitchen, diningroom, little store, decks and seating, etc. Whereas the backpacker's camp has no view, is rather subduing, the High Sierra Camp, 50 yards away, is a place to stay indefinitely if one is willing to spend about $170. a night, reserve way in advance, and walk 11.5 miles. It is a joyful place. However, Alex and I made the best of the campground, talking to other backpackers, using the water to wash up, cooking a good dinner, going to sleep early.
I began hiking to Hamilton Lake by seven, anticipating the six mile hike I had scoped on my topo. It was as beautiful as I had anticipated, except for the last two miles – which I found to be a grueling climb, very hot and humid, with “false summits” which were discouraging. Running out of drinkable water did not help, either. I met a friendly “old guy” dripping with sweat and paraphernalia and panting like a dog, who told me what I was “in for” on Black Rock Pass, and Alex passed me on the “up.” “Get a good campsite,” I gasped, “I hear that Hamilton Lake is very popular. What did you think of that gorge we crossed? And the bridge? What an amazing walk with the views of The Great Western Divide!”
Alex got a good campsite along with more than eight other groups right on Hamilton Lake, a beautiful place that felt good. It was a classic glacial tarn with the beginning of the pass in view (called Kaweah Gap) and trees on western side with talus slopes, otherwise.
The first thing I did was purify water and drink . . . and drink. I ate my cheese, jerky, and dehydrated pineapple, and then went in the water. It was not too cold, and felt good after the initial shock. It threatened rain, and so we weatherized and took shelter on a boulder, under a big pine. We ended up talking for a long time to three middleaged backpackers, sharing various mountain adventures. One of the backpackers from Washington, DC, a mechanical engineer who worked for the Bush administration (but supports this administration) told us the story of how he had severed his femoral artery climbing Eagle Scout Peak. He emphasized the heroics of his friend (who was there and helped tell the story) and the park rangers. I kept thinking that if it were me, I would have been terrified; he seemed copacetic. The afternoon melted away and the evening was beautiful. There were some bright stars.
Next morning at first light, I made coffee, enjoyed it thoroughly in that beautiful place, packed up, and began the climb to Kaweah Gap. I did well, pacing myself, enjoying the views as I climbed higher and higher. It was not too hard, just strenuous, very doable. One of the backpackers passed me on the way up. He sort-of hung around, and I realized, yet again, how much I like hiking alone. First, I zig-zagged though the brush on a easy up and then over the rock. The prize for the last mile (10,000 feet elevation) was a view of Precipice Lake, a famous place photographed by Ansel Adams. (I always wondered where that place was!) I managed the actual pass, after four miles, after a mellow climb through little meadows and up over rocky berms. Alex passed me after the lake, and I met him on the pass (along with several people who were traveling cross-country). Everyone was talkative, but I just wanted to “melt” into the views of the Kaweah range, the lakes basin below us, and the realization that due east of us, over the Kaweah peaks and passes was the Kern, the John Muir Trail, Crabtree, and Mount Whitney (not visible from there, but visible from Black Rock Pass). “I am crossing The Great Western Divide!” I kept thinking; I felt that special happiness I feel when I am part of the wild.
I escaped the talkative “throng,” and began the hike down into the plateau below the lakes basin. What a memorable hike! Gentle descent. Vast. Open. A meditative walk. A walk in the Sacred Way. Browned sedge and rush grasses, krumholtz pines, along the creeks flowers: purple, lavender, yellow, red; joyful birds, sweet quiet. The air was warm and somewhat humid with drops of rain that felt like kisses in that beautiful place.
At a place called Big Arroyo, I left the High Sierra Trail and began an ascent on the Black Rock Trail. There was an historic cabin there, and at that place, both Alex and a park ranger passed me. A black cloud front was moving toward us from the southwest; it meant business, and so I weatherized, forded a formidable creek on logs and rocks, and began a punishing climb (not an engineered trail) up and out of the arroyo. It was about 1.5 miles of straight up. The rest of the climb to Little Five Lakes was not too steep, but very wet. It rained! Thundered and lightninged! Scary at times, but the trail was not exposed. I kept expecting that I would meet Alex, huddled under a tree; instead, I met an older guy that I had greeted on the bridge before the climb to Hamilton Lake. He looked comfortable – under his tree with his poncho draped over him like a tent. I said, “Where are your buddies?” “Not my buddies,” says he. “I was just walking with them; they are continuing on the High Sierra Trail. You alone, too, or are you with that young man who passed me like I was standing still – as a matter-of-fact, I was standing still.” “Same guy. My nephew.” He said, “It seems a shame to stop; the lakes must be just over that hill.” I thought, about two miles – long enough to get really wet – which I did. I seemed ironic that I was also thirsty, but when I stopped to dip water and purify it, I got cold. “Got to move.”
We finally reached a campsite at Little Five Lakes and set up camp in the rain. When the weather improved, briefly, the ranger (a beautiful young woman) came by and checked our permit, saying that the weather had been atypical for a week: warm and humid and rainy. During the short reprieve from the rain, we quickly cooked, and then bivouacked. The sound of the rain on my tent fly was peaceful, and I was ready to be tired, but I regretted missing the beautiful mountain lakes.
In the night, it cleared, and it was cold. I missed the stars, but I slept soundly, aware of the demands for the next day; Black Rock Pass at 11,600. It was not the climb that was making me apprehensive, it was the long descent; a seven mile descent to about 7,000 feet, a 4,600 elevation loss.
The next day dawned bright and clear and had the crisp feeling of high altitude. I packed up and hiked like the young woman I once was. I walked slowly at first just to enjoy the high mountain scenery, and then to catch my breath as I ascended. I love the high lakes and green meadows, the krumholtz trees and the flowers, the little streams and the glaciated mountainsides, the crumbling peaks that prevailed 10,000 years ago in spite of the glaciers.
Alex and I took a long break on Black Rock Pass; there we were, perched on The Great Western Divide, there, under our own power, part of the mountains, part of the eons, part of fire and ice, uplift and crumbling. Alex took pictures, and I made pictures in my mind of glacially-sculpted mountainsides with the Great Central Valley, the long river canyons in view, as well as Mount Whitney. What an awesome pass!
The first part of the “down” was really ok. The trail, though very steep, was relatively rock free. There were flowers, including showy Gentian, and the spectacular view. The middle part of the “down” was a “dog.” It was either rocky with “step-downs” or slippery talus. I had to keep my eyes on the trail; it was hazardous to look up. The last part of the “down” was hot and dry and strewn with slippery cobbles, like a dry riverbed. My knee began to bother me; that was scary. About halfway down, the trail crossed a wet meadow with tall grass and sedges where one of my shoes filled with water; I was feeling pretty miserable by then, and I was only halfway down!
Finally, after walking through a verdant woods of fern and tall grass, and the endless talk of an accomplished woman hiker, we finally arrived at the Timber Gap trail junction where we knew there would be campsites. I think that Alex enjoyed the woman hiker, but I was ready for quiet, rest, and aloneness. We camped on Timber Gap Creek, at the junction, a beautiful cobbled mountain creek with a sweet sound. I went in the cold water and was revived. My meditation that night was one of my best; I think that it was the sound of the creek and the the simple fact that I was in a state of profound relief.
The following day, I walked 11.5 miles, in the loop, back to Bearpaw. Except for the last two dusty miles, and the voracious mosquitos in a place called Redwood Meadow, I thoroughly enjoyed the hike. It took me on a gentle “down,” with views of the forested canyons, to Redwood Meadow with the Giant Sequoias, four foot high cone flowers, a flat with a rustic buildings and a corral – and the voracious mosquitos. It took me across two beautiful creeks and the Hamilton River with perpetual views of forested slopes and canyons – finally climbing the ridge where the High Sierra Camp is located. I loved the wild waters and even took a dip. They are classic white granite boulders and beautiful cobbles like most of the watershed of the western Sierra. These waterways were pristine – and wild. There was a fragrance that took me a long time to identify: it was heady, herbal like sage and sweet like orange blossoms. (After many tries, I finally identified the fragrance as emanating from the blossoms of the Elder – not all the blossoms, mind you, but the blossoms that were at a brief and exact stage of their blooming. What a trip!)
I also enjoyed the good trail up to Bearpaw, well engineered for a backpacker, shady the entire way – many Gold Cup Oaks as well as the pine-cedar mix, and views! When I got to our less-than-favorite campground, I ate and read, and glanced up from time to time to try to get a glimpse of the tremendous view that I knew was there, but hidden by the trees. Alex saw a bear, and then we both saw a big cinnamon bear scratching his back on a tree. That same bear came back to visit us at 4:30 in the morning – my alarm clock. Alex loaned me the Jack Kerouac book that he had been given on the JMT by a young Norwegian hiker. I went to sleep early, anticipating an early start.
The early start was 7:00, with my exit after the 11.5 miles at 3:00. About thirty minutes per mile, including stops and pauses. Not bad. It was a reverse of the first day, and for nine of the eleven miles, I enjoyed the walk, and looked forward to the stunning views. Alex was waiting at the car, and he wanted pizza, and so that was what we did; pizza and salad bar; both very good. We talked about our trip on the four hour drive; it felt right. We talked about meditation; I maintain that it is a natural state that can be identified and sustained.
I had offered my prayers in the temple of The Great Western Divide, and I was proud.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

excerpt for a New Book

Sitting On Ben's Bench

The sun warms my back as I sit on the bench that Ben made.
I watch the dog chase a rabbit into Sam's woods; the dog returns, tail down. He lies on the porch for a few minutes, and then ambles away.
I hear the creek, the squawking of the jays, an invisible jet, a sharp bark from down the hill; not my dog.
The acorn woodpeckers are back, flashes of white and red in the leafless trees.
I sit longer on the bench that Ben made. I sip my tea, and I wonder if I am becoming part of the seeming randomness all around me: the dog, the birds, the sounds.
(Not aware of my decision to do so, I realize that I have moved to the deck that Ben made.)
It is warmer there; I lie in the winter sun, and so does the dog.
We have an understanding, the dog and me,
but only I know the makings of Ben's noble heart.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

excerpt for a New Book

“Permit Required To Enter Wilderness”

Wilderness is a metaphor; right? On the trail, already steep, set to enter the Desolation Wilderness at Lake Tahoe, I think that wilderness is a metaphor; the “wilderness” of sorrow and fear is unfamiliar, only exiguously explored (though familiar in the cosmic sense). I also consider my preparedness as I stand there, looking up and up; the backpack on my back with hearty lunch, snacks, water. Windbreaker, hat, flashlight. I think about my car at the trailhead with my bike covered with a blanket, with the blanket covered with my camping gear, purposely disarrayed. I am at least ready for the non-metaphorical wilderness, I think.
I remind myself that I know how to pace myself for the long climb ahead of me. I have the discipline to drink and eat enough, to breathe well; long experience - while there had been no planning for the wilderness of sorrow and fear through which I have been wandering for many months, trying to find the way out; I have become proficient at trudging through this state of heart and mind, just like I planned to efficiently trudge up the mountain – slowly becoming aware of beauty and silence. Granite sand and dust drawing my attention as do the wild gardens – blue of Monkshood and Larkspur and Lupine. Orange of Indian Paintbrush and Penstamon. White of Mariposa Lilly and Cornflower. I am awed by colors of green, shades of green, green tinged with amber. I am inspired by the mountain stream flowing over clean cobbles and glittering gravel. I catch my breath at the hugeness of pines and firs, and I suddenly realize (with gratitude) that I am not trudging through the metaphorical wilderness for the moment; I feel happy. I feel freed from the grief of loss. I am excited by fragrance of wild; potpourri of needled trees and herbal Pennyroyal.
“How is this a wilderness?” I ask myself as I trudge. (Three women overtake and pass me. I am glad when they are gone, and I delay so that the aura of contentiousness that they have left in the raised dust can dissipate.) “How is this wilderness?” I ask myself. The sign said, “Permit required to enter wilderness.” Why?
“So that we will know where to look for you if you are reported missing.” Makes sense.
“So that we can gage the impact of visitors on the wilderness.” Even though few leave the narrow, dusty corridors that lead to lake shores and river banks – quite trodden, in fact.
Shall I consider the metaphorical “permit?” (Love, great enough to cause this grief, this sorrow, this sadness, this emptiness, this sense of waste, does not require a permit - since permits are logical and love does not boast logic.)
My attention is drawn down, down into the gorge at my feet. If I were missing, could they find me down there? I wonder. Then, while I am considering that there must be another wilderness, beyond the yearning, I am suddenly fronted by a forested lake and an imposing peak. I sit on a rock, scooped like a lounge chair, and enjoy the loveliness of the place; and there, I abide in the wilderness beyond yearning for a few wonderful minutes.
Along comes a pair of hikers, one old, one young. The older of the two seems disappointed when I tell him that I am just on a day hike, not camping. The young one is studying a map. Then they leave. Along comes another pair of hikers, who stop to greet me, and then say, “See you,” when they leave. I think, what is the likelihood of that? See you. Then again, the expression cheats endings. Anything, anything to cheat endings, but I say, “Take care,” instead.
Eventually, I leave that place - after rinsing my hands and face in the cool lake waters. I enjoy myself; I take a closer look at the miniature Tiger Lillies and try to spot a Towhee in a rangy cedar.
After two hours, I am down on the flat again, back to the sign post. “Does it really say, 'permit required to enter wilderness?'” I reflect that I feel that I have been gone for a long time, and that I feel (inexplicably) happier, happier, not happy when Stu was with me, happy enough to breathe, to sigh, to say, “Ah!”
I meet a woman on the trail who wants to know about “this permit.” I reassure her – briefly – because my bad foot is beginning to hurt, and I must concentrate on favoring it with my hiking poles. I limp to my car. All is well there. I retrieve my swim suit and a towel, stow pack and poles, and head down to the beach.
I feel a little excited as I change my clothes, anticipating the cold water of Lake Tahoe and also the nostalgia of having been here with family; this is the way I am, I think; good memories haunt me sometimes.
Ready to swim, I hobble to the end of the beach where I can enter the water on sand, free of cobbles and gravel - slowly get accustomed to it, inch by inch, gazing out across the blue until I feel like a swimmer. Then I swim, keeping my head dry because it is too late in the day for a wet head.
The cold feels good, feels like it can stir my sorrow into the hodgepodge of other feelings – of wonder, of pending joy. Stir it into an innocuous blend, and give me yet another moment of relief.
“Hey, I saw you on the trail,” calls a young man, the map studier. “I guess we had the same idea!” I say, “A good one,” and I wonder if he said, “See you,” at the lake. He says, “See you,” now, and I think, “Maybe not so euphemistic after all.”
I feel like a fish as I marvel at the clarity of the water in this astounding lake. Below me, I can see the cobbles of multi-colored amber, red, and white; some azure, some sparkling granite, and shiny black. I think that this under water world is a wilderness, eon-rounded, indifferent.     

Monday, January 23, 2012

another excerpt for a new book: Teachers

Teachers I Have Known

As a kindergartner, I was invisible – or so it seemed to my five year old mind. That was fine with me; I was a free agent in the classroom, and if I hid on the stage, behind the curtains of our auditorium/kindergarten, I did not have to march; I had seen the Rose Parade, a real parade, and was embarrassed by our display.
Miss Kissman was my first grade teacher. I loved her; she taught us to read. Letter names, letter sounds, Dick and Jane. Miss Kissman had a huge book, a poster book that we learned to read as a chorus. I will never forget the day our teacher presented each of us with a book-size replica of the big book. I could read!
In my second and third grade classes of 40 students, I was invisible again and so I played hooky regularly. How did I manage to get away with watching football practice at Pasadena City College on a regular basis? Why did no one ask a second grade girl why she was playing in the hedge at the edge of the football field? Neither do I have any memory of being questioned about my phantom sore throats which I claimed were bad enough to keep me home.
In fourth grade I had a teacher who was also acting principal. I understood that that was why she was in and out of the classroom every day, and why I had to help in the office. My real teacher was Violet, the school secretary for whom I worked. I became an expert on the ditto machine, became adept at alphabetizing and filing, could find wayward kids who were wandering about campus, kept track of balls and jump ropes, collated and stapled. I loved my teacher, Violet, and accepted her sweaty complexion, smeared lipstick, and panic attacks. On my birthday, she gave me a fragranced card, and a tiny, ornamented flask of violet perfume. I kept the flask “forever.”
In contrast to my fourth grade teacher, my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Palmer, never missed a day of school. Our class evolved from anarchy to order and discipline – which we did not appreciate at first, but she smiled a lot and laughed out loud. We sang in her class, played recorders, did experiments, learned to draw. We had discussions! Fifth grade was real school. I told Violet that I did not want to miss class, and Violet agreed with a tight smile.
A sharp contrast to Mrs. Palmer, was my sixth grade teacher who never had any fun, and who habitually called us “kindergarten babies.” I did, however, learn my geography. For that, I am grateful.
Mr. Henry, my seventh grade teacher, did have fun, but I remember being restless and pining for the out-of-doors. I did a lot of Mr. Henry's board writing and a lot of clock-watching. However, I was redeemed when I was allowed to work in the cafeteria. For this, I was excused from class, and allowed to work alongside a team of hard working women of substance (in my opinion) who made mouth-watering lunches, and who were full of hoots, howls, and hugs. I earned my lunch and something to do that was great fun. To that Violet said, “Well, good for you.” That tight smile.
I did not think that Mr. Caruso, my eighth grade teacher, liked me, even though my father insisted that he did. He was grumpy - in my adolescent opinion, but he had great ideas for projects. I remember doing an illustrated U.S. Constitution, a cartoon illustration! But for the most part, I was once again invisible – along with my best friend, my bosom buddy, who also liked to read – and to draw floor plans. We decided to have a secret crush on the same boy.
Eighth grade also brought me face to face with bullying and mob rule; it was up close and personal – and formative: I decided to be friendly to an outcast girl; that's the way it began. (In my late teens, I became privy to her sad story and the reason that her peers instinctively shunned her. Terrible story – which I will not tell.) I was aware that people needed to be included in any group they chose or were forced to join. I tried to include Anne and received threatening notes from other girls. After several weeks of these disturbing notes, I was accosted by a gang of girls on the way home from school. They threatened to beat me up if I continued to “talk to that girl.” I was scared, then, mad, “madder and madder,” crazily mad, so mad that I scared them - and me. I raised my fists and yelled, calling them names that I didn't know I knew. They melted away and never threatened me again. As a matter of fact, they ignored me. More welcomed invisibility. But there is a punch line: I never told anyone, except maybe my sister. Now why was that? Why did I keep such a thing a secret? Why do kids do this? I wish I could remember.
I spent my high school years at Holy Names High School in Oakland. I remember telling my mother during the first week of school that all the girls were “so nice,” meaning that they were kind – which was in sharp contrast to what I experienced in eighth grade. The mark of my high school experience was inclusion, and that, I believe in retrospect, was what the nuns made happen. They were our “mothers” at this all girls school, and we were their “girls.” They were gentle, funny, enthusiastic teachers. I admired them, and (wonder of wonders) they admired me. They admired all of us. Sister Gerarda Marie taught me to love history. Mrs. Wright taught me to love math by insisting that it was just another way to think, “to use my good mind.” Sister Bernard Mary sold me on writing, re-writing and editing and proofreading. She sent me to a speech contest – which I won. Sister Herbert was an adult friend. (I had not had one since Violet.) Her girls adored her and emulated her: she was funny and forthright. All of our teachers persuaded us to a sense of mission, a sense that we had something to contribute, that each of us had a way to love that was uniquely our own.
College was quite helter-skelter experience where I was alone, but I preferred it that way. Inclusion was a thing of the past. I moved from school to school, class to class, grateful for invisibility since I could think better when I was alone. I was excited about learning – on my own with the security of structure and the competence of the teachers. George Cuomo, Mark Ratner, and Joe Medeiros are standouts. What made them so was their respect for students and their enthusiasm for their discipline. They were always stunningly prepared.
But the teachers that I admire most are the teachers with whom I have worked. Teachers are the hardest workers I know – maybe because there is no escaping the reality of hungry minds and restless hearts. They aspire every teaching day, even though they “get no satisfaction,” as the song says – or rarely so. Hats off to my friends and colleagues who have included me in their humor as a way to accept the realities of such an ambiguous profession with love.

Monday, January 9, 2012

book excerpt: Cold Feet

Cold Feet In Mendo

Stu and I, we went to Mendocino once a year. I also went there for an annual basketball tournament for many years. Strangely, when I returned there, it never seemed as if I had been gone that long.
While there, I always visited certain places in the seaside town and walked on the headlands. The signature bookstore has only gotten better over the years, and although many businesses have changed hands, they are still in harmony with the town or are “variations on a theme,” a theme of Victorian, pride of ownership, survival of an old fishing town on a windswept headland.
' True, tourism is alive in Mendocino – which was not true when Stu and I first went there – then, it was a community struggling and eventually striving. The battered, driftwood appearance of the cliff town was not illusory back then, and such was its authenticity that it attracted refugees from the 60's and 70's who were seeking a simpler life, and who believed that beauty and meagre existence might help them to achieve that.
Fog, wind, rain or blazing sun, I have always walked on the headlands – to the edges of the cliffs, to the verge of the Pacific Ocean, to the wild of the surf pounding the rocks; to the sodden trails, wiggling through tall grass, vines, and lilies.
In the spring of 2011, I went back there with my daughter where she had business, thinking that I might renew my acquaintance with the place and the memories. Together, we enjoyed garden flowers and pathways and boardwalks between buildings, access that could have been (and once was) designated for utility and trash. We visited the bookstore, the coffee shop, the bakery, the bright gift shops, and the galleries: places to lose oneself in the dreams of artists and artisans.
When my daughter left to do what she came to do, I walked out on the headlands, despite the drizzle - which seemed poetically fitting for awhile since I missed Stu, and the memories of us in Mendo were so poignant that it seemed (yet again) that his absence was impossible. Impossible!
I walked for hours in drizzle, in squalls. There were periods of sleet, and winks of the sun in sterling patches of blue. I walked until I was at peace - and cold to the bone.
My so-called waterproof shoes eventually failed me. I went to the store, scored plastic bags and bought a new pair of wool socks. I sat on a bench, put on my new warm socks, plastic bags, and then went to the bookstore and out to lunch. Hot soup, hot coffee, and a new book to read. Wow! This was life. A perfect arrangement – for awhile – until the cold came back to my feet, achy cold, unusual cold.
I, on my achy feet, returned to the car, but since I did not have the car keys, there was no heat to be had. I heaped my bag on my feet and read my book until the pain in my feet was a distraction, and then I did the unthinkable, I called my daughter, disturbing her in her work. She brought me the car keys, and then hurried away, saying, “Mom,” in a drawn out sing-song.
Usually, I do not like motels, but the thought of getting dry and warm and wearing deliciously dry clothes was a winner. The hot shower warmed me to the bones, feet and all, and I felt lucky as I wrapped my feet in my down sleeping bag, wiggling my warming toes. I read my book and became absorbed in another life but not so much that I was not conscious of the pleasure of my warming feet.
I have dealt with extreme conditions before and (obviously) have had cold feet, but I have never experienced warming feet, feet in the process of warming. The usual is: numb feet, painfully cold feet, not so cold feet, no longer cold feet. This occasion was different; I was aware of a steadily heightened relief, and it was beautiful! Notable. Memorable. Simple pleasure!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

excerpt for a New Book, Dog-slogging

Dog Slogging

I did a lot of dog slogging in the winter of 2011; there was a lot of snow in my usual walking places. It was deep enough to prevent a walk on one occasion; up to my knee. I feared that I might step into some hidden trap of a fallen tree or vines, twist and ankle or knee, or just get stuck – yet it was beautiful, and I could have appreciated it much more had I not been worried about hazards.
Snow shoes with gaiters helped, unless I ventured into deep powder where I sank and had a hard time extricating my foot and several pounds of snow. I still had a problem with hidden branches.
Ski tracks were not easier, especially after a hard freeze; they made it very difficult to set the snow shoe on the level; tough on the ankles; good practice for the sense of balance.
We had several snow storms. After each, the snow would partially melt and then freeze, soon after to be heaped with more snow or, in come cases, rain – which would freeze - the ice would be hidden and treacherous. Sometimes, especially in the middle of the day, I negotiated slush and puddles, some of them hidden beneath a cap of snow. I persisted.
It takes a lot of energy to walk in snow, a lot of concentration, a lot of determination. In the winter of 2011, I had to dog-slog if I wanted to walk. I spent a lot of time looking out for my next footstep, missing my woods, my views, and an ever-changing sky. I imagined how it would be to dog-slog miles and miles. Exhausting. Frustrating. Although I have done it.
I took a 20 mile backcountry ski trip with my friend, Joe, and his friend, Randy. I carried a twenty pound pack and had to cope with old “rotten snow.” We skied over Tioga Pass to Tuolomne Meadows and then back. It was tough.
On the first day, we skied about seven miles and then stopped to snow camp. By late afternoon, the temperature was in the teens. Joe made a great fire so that we would not have to go to bed early, and we huddled around that to make dinner and to wait for night.
We spent the second night in the hut in Tuolomne Meadows. It has a woodstove with wood to burn, bunks, a sturdy table and benches. We were so grateful for the chance to be warm and relaxed.
In the early evening after a rest, we skied out onto the meadows. I will never forget the experience of the stillness, the penetrating cold, and a blazing sunset on the domes at the western end of the meadows. I felt amazing.
The following day, we skied ten miles out of the meadows and over the pass. It took all the energy I had to give; it was really too much for me, although Joe and Randy fared well. However, I did not, and do not regret the experience:
there is something pure about cold;
something inspiring about the surprise of sunset;
something humbling about deep fatigue;
something inebriating about sliding on snow;
something honest about dog-slogging.