Notes from Boomerville, ca 2000

            I am a property owner in this place. It’s a humongous sprawling suburb in the global village, a hernia of history ballooning out of World War II.  Its mailboxes are now being stuffed with letters from the AARP, the governing body of the entire universe.

            I became a citizen of Boomerville in 1948 when it was a sprawling frontier town mushrooming over the brink of a wide-open, unknown future.  It stood at the gleaming border of an old world built on the small farm, the classical education, and a concept of honor that permeated family, society, business, war, and even crime.

            Things are different now. In the short span of fifty years that honor became a dodo bird. It didn’t get out of our way fast enough so we hastily bludgeoned it and then shot it to rags with Henry Ford mass-marketed machineries that began, for us, by putting a Red Ryder BB gun in every household in America.

            Today the farmer’s kids are working in a monstrous chicken-gutting plant south of town, and glad of it. Universities teach on a fiscal planet now, and most degrees are given for mastering the history, math, literature, astrology and dianetics of cash flow. The family is a second-class social unit.  Now our jobs absorb us. They give us identity, define us, and explain our presence on the planet. Our churches tell us that we can install a handle on God and tip him over like a pitcher and pour wealth into our lives.  I haven’t quite gotten that one right yet, but I’m visualizing the hell out of it.

            Today packs of lawyers roam our streets representing our interests unbidden. Somehow they manage to purchase the high legal ground on our behalf with “class action suits”, a misnomer if ever I heard one, because there’s nothing classy about it. Basically, they extort large amounts of cash from all of us by applying a jimmying tool to 1) a corporate vault, which later is refilled by higher prices and lower wages, and 2) the scales of justice. After extracting a modest stipend for their efforts– usually between ten million and a grillion dollars each– these legalistic burglars distribute the balance evenly back to the rest of us.  This is ordinarily more than a nickel but less than thirteen cents.  Plus, there is often an attached privilege. I was once able to pay six more months of medical insurance to the same company rather than a different company. It made a tremendous difference in my life.

            So here we are in our own post-Orwellian apocalyptic world. We have become a formidable demographic market capable of puking galactic quantities of cash into shopping malls. We are able to make small lawyers leap into large anonymous offshore bank buildings in a single bound. We can gut ten thousand chickens an hour and build our houses ten feet apart in perfectly straight rows fifteen miles long. We can pinpoint our position on the planet “24/7” with GPS systems. Why we are anywhere at any given time is explained not by philosophy or prayer, but by e-mail. The fault lies no longer in our stars or in ourselves, it’s in our internet service provider. And instead of having to watch paint dry we can stare at computer monitors and track our mailed packages from point to point around the globe. It’s a wonderful life.

            Not!  Duh.  At least I’m not jiggy with it. It’s all a strange hive-metamorphosis, a revolution gone bad, a revolting development. Some days I have the sudden feeling that, like a jackrabbit in Idaho, the headlights I have finally noticed on the street where I live are probably not bearing down on me with any really terrifically good news.

            But I’m not here to complain, not really. OK, so maybe the planet has gotten a little grungy and crowded and shop-worn supporting our social order here in Boomerville, but hey–

            a) Somebody would have done it sometime anyway, so why not us, you know?

            b) We wanted to make a difference, right?  Well, we have. 

            And most importantly, c) We can always laugh.

            And when we’re gone our children will remember the good humor we displayed in the face of our daunting task, which was to forget over six thousand years of accumulated human wisdom, plunder the planet, and bequeath to all who follow us a fine selection of level 5 bio-viruses and smart bombs with which to continue.  Not to mention the multitude of high-rise condominium-warrens, work cubicles and just this really remarkable imbalance of wealth that either puts you out in the gentrified countryside or into the American third world experience.

            I think it all goes back to the mass-media-marketed Red Ryder BB gun. Remember? Our mothers told us we would surely put our eye out with one of those things. They would have done better to warn us that the whole mechanism would knock our lights out if we weren’t careful.

The Incredible Shrinking Brain

            Men’s brains are shrinking faster than women’s brains in Boomerville. This makes men grumpy and women, once again, correct. Science has finally caught up to what everybody else already knew: namely, that compared to the feminine brain the male brain is most suitable for hanging in front of a bird house like any other suet-ball.

            The news arrived in our latest Reader’s Digest, a publication with a long-standing, intimate experience with all sorts of shrinkage– the brain sort being just one flavor in their total product line. In years past these folks devoted themselves to shrinking books, and got pretty good at preserving a story line while cutting away all that literary stuff that clutters up most books. They were the publishing industry’s version of Classic Comics, with no pictures. This was directly related to brain shrinkage, because when we no longer had to put so many words into our brains our brains didn’t have to be so big. So they shrunk. 

            But even though our capacity shrunk as a result of this lack of literary back-pressure we were still young and relatively empty-headed. In the resulting drought of words to funnel into our melons we turned to pictures, which were easier to pour into our skull-space and took up even less room. And so a few of us were able to shrink our brains years earlier than our peers by obsessing on Classic Comics.  This was the equivalent of jumping three spaces ahead on the old game board of life, and put a lucky few just that much closer to the real goal. Which, according to Reader’s Digest, guys, is apparently to arrive at our dotage with shrunken brains which are only able to absorb large-print Classic Comic editions of The Reader’s Digest, (Condensed Version).

            I would just like to mention in passing here that in my opinion the comic version of Ivanhoe is still the definitive work. And it takes up absolutely zero volume in my cerebral warehouse, because I have completely forgotten what it was about. I just remember it was good. Sort of. What I mean is, it was sort of good, and I sort of remember it.

            Most folks think Reader’s Digest is a benign and harmless bathroom magazine, a bland successor to The Saturday Evening Post, Boy’s Life, or the Crime Gazette. Not so. At our house we have a policy; nobody reads the Digest unless they’re in tip-top condition on all fronts. Mentally, morally, spiritually, physically, nutritionally, and self-image-wise. Be advised. When you enter those innocent-looking pages you need to be right and ready and locked and loaded, or you will be unmercifully dismembered by a no-nonsense journalistic devotion to the hard and horrible.

            If, for instance, you found the power-mulcher scene in the movie “Fargo” too intense– the one where a disgruntled and annoyed fellow paints a snowbank a brilliant shade of gore with some art supplies he finds laying around the place– then do NOT read the Digest. The movie scene was fiction. The Digest actually finds and reprints articles about real people who have been sucked through everything from power-mulchers to jet engines and allows us to accompany them blade by gear by steam piston from that first chagrined two-word thought (you know which one I mean) all the way to the other end of whatever maniacal machine they have mistakenly trifled with. And beyond. You share in bone grafts, tendon stapling, and stitch-counts that have to be tabulated by insurance company actuaries. It is not a literary environment for sissies. Get my drift?

            Speaking of which, where was I?  Oh yeah. The shrinking Boomerville male brain. I forget what that was all about, but if you’re interested it’s probably available in a magazine on a toilet tank near you. I have to stop now. I’ve emptied too many words out of my head. I have a decompression cramp.

Sunday in Boomerville

            We’re religiously tolerant here in Boomerville because for the most part we stay away from that sort of thing.  It’s not that we don’t have spiritual beliefs– we do.  It’s just that over the years we’ve become wary of organized religion as the place to practice those beliefs. We believe, we pray, we practice.  What we don’t do, majority-wise, is susbscribe to a dues-paying club in order to make these connections.

            Church is a competitive business, and the competition is stiff. They have to compete with my tight fist for the dollar clutched within, they have to compete with one another.  We really don’t like most sorts of coercive sales techniques– we’ve had to employ them in our own other, more mundane pursuits, and have guilt and smarts as a result. We have developed a  suspicion that attending church is probably more like buying a used car than sending e-mail to the Creator. 

November in Boomerville: Gore, Bush and the Supremes

                        The winds of November are blowing hard through Boomerville this year.  Our elected representatives represent us too well; they have decided that, like themselves, we want what we want and we want it all– our way and now. In that illusion they see a mandate. And so political affiliation defines right action; “Spin” is King, and justice dangles in the docket. Constitutional crisis looms; the law is lynched in the pursuit of unenlightened self-interest; things fall apart, the center cannot hold, and rough beasts lurch through Tallahassee for points north.

            Or maybe not. 

            It’s certain that selfish partisanship leers broadly from our television screens and media these days, and the higher ground of impartial ajudication is poorly defended. But beyond the current posturing and obvious screaming plunge from grace a hard landing looms, and with it valuable lessons. It will not matter one whit then who is president, or how they got there. 

            What will matter is of much greater interest and import than the circus before us now.  In the retrospective view questions will be asked and answered, and judgements rendered more soundly based in fact. Higher principles will be recalled that supercede the shifty rules of hacks and PACs employed unchecked and unexamined.  God is not mocked for long, nor the spirits of Jefferson, Hamilton, and the founding fathers. A Sermon of Reckoning is coming, and on that sunday the naughty boys and girls will be shamed, the righteous upheld, the self-righteous cast down. Partisanship and its patented exclusions will reek to high heaven, and an inclusive embrace of impartial True Justice will rise from the wilderness and restore sanity to our fallen national consciousness. 

Or maybe not.

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Rare Hope for the Future: Greta Thunberg, Time Magazine's Person of the Year

Today I turn 71. I’m afraid it’s a hard 71, too – I have not done my longevity any favors in the past, and it is not kindly disposed toward my future.

One of the things I have noted fading in a landscape littered with the detritus of entropy and decay of aging is hope. It may not be so for others. It is that way for me.

Hope has faded as time has gone on. I have seen all the old lessons of humanity come round to every new generation, which learns them all over again the hard way rather than building on the lessons of the past. There is some of that as well, but it is not enough to sustain a hope in me that humanity will survive and even perhaps transcend its own nature.

Today I experienced a glimmer of hope in the rising darkness. I read Time Magazine’s article about Greta Thunberg, the youthful climate activist who has serendipitously become the figurehead of a new activism rising in the hearts and minds of young people all over the world.

My generation knows about activism. We’re also the generation that is bequeathing a horrible mess to our children and grandchildren. In the 1960’s we identified many ills present in our world and actively opposed them. First we “turned on and tuned in.” Then we “dropped out” of the existing status quo and did our best to both destroy and rebuild our world in a new image. Sadly, we proved no smarter than any other generation. Before long the Darwinian paradigm of survival reasserted itself and most of us capitulated to the systems we knew were not working in return for a paycheck. Our old rallying cry of “turn on, tune in, and drop out” became a cautionary tale when it had to be appended with “co-opt and sell out.”

Some of us didn’t do that. We were a rare minority, isolated from one another by a socially prevalent waning moral sensibility. We were no longer empowered by the rising consensus of social consciousness and conscience that marked our beginnings. Those few who held to the early values survived by carving out their own sensible and thoughtful niches in the great monolithic walls that remained standing, untouched by that heartfelt “Revolution.” (“Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane: )

Upon reflection I would have to say that the most “lost” American generation of the 20th century was not the generation marked by Paris in the 1920’s. It was the generation that came of age between the years of 1965 and 1975, a generation so lost that it is ironically buried in history between the usual decade mileposts ending in zero.

Now comes Greta Thunberg. Some of the old hope flared in my heart as I read about the youthful activism afoot in the world, reflected in part by her sudden and astonishing appearance on the world stage. My generation is being protested against, and I for one am damn glad of it.

15 years ago I wrote an essay for an online contest prompted by the question, “Will the US still exist as a country in 100 years?” I remembered it today while thinking about Greta Thunberg and the ills her own generation faces. I remembered it because, at the end, I offered her generation what little I could in the way of advice from a member of the generation that failed her. Here it is. (And by the way, I didn’t win the contest. An affirmative answer did. It was very pleasant.)

Will the US still exist as a country in 100 years?

I’m an optimist. I prefer positive thinking and hope over negativity and despair. I also prefer honesty and fact-based thinking, and believe that the truth is most often seen when a fearless willingness to consider real conditions is not muddled by my personal hopes, desires or fears. I honestly have to answer this question No.

In a hundred years it won’t matter who our ruling political party is now. It won’t matter how we feel about the disappearance of our nation. A 100-year perspective calls for broad-spectrum considerations of major societal, geophysical, oceanic, climatic, and population changes and events which will in large part influence the future of every currently existing nation. Within each of these categories there are historically unprecedented conditions developing now.

The historical record does provide us with an understanding of the rise and fall of nation states and empires, but today there are multiple global stressors present for which there are no records available. Global climate change, global industrialization, and global population density are all unfolding at unprecedented rates, and will produce unprecedented changes over the next hundred years.

We understand the cyclical nature of empires and recognize the elements of their genesis, expansion and decline. There is a good basis there indicating that the United States is currently entering into the last phase. Economically and politically, America is passing from a resource-rich, economically productive and militarily powerful past. Once we occupied a unique pinnacle of wealth, resources and might on the planet. Now we’re moving toward a competitive, globalized future where the competition is formidable. Our natural resources are depleted, our productivity is in decline, our financial assets are rapidly being diluted as investors seek to invest in a burgeoning global economy.

American production is expensive, and our goods are produced at much higher cost in comparison to other countries. That fact in itself is a nation-killer. While America bounces against a financial “glass ceiling” of its own making, other economies can produce a loaf of bread and the crops and facilities to make it at a fraction of the cost. Cars, building materials, even traditionally local service industries are all rapidly going offshore. Investors are following because a country worth a dollar today, but earning more every day, increases in value more than a country worth a hundred dollars that only spends its dollars to buy bread from other countries. Follow the money and the trail of American wealth will lead you offshore. Fewer dollars are circulating within our country, the number of jobs is in decline, and in the throes of the current global economic crisis there is a strong probability that in America, when the crisis passes, it will be a “jobless recovery.” And a recovery of that kind is solid evidence that America is in a profound economic decline.

The two remaining assets of America – our form of democratic government and the stockpile of wealth amassed in more productive times and stored in our infrastructure – will not be enough to sustain us. The dollar will continue to fall in value as other currencies rise as a result of our waning productivity and the rising productivity of other countries. It is likely that, caught in the throes of a fatal addiction to our former quality of life, America and Americans will borrow against our remaining assets, incur debt, and weaken the dollar further. As a result it is probable that within 25 years America will follow in the footsteps of the British Empire, and find itself reconciled to being a lesser economic and political presence on the world stage, regardless of other developments.

But what about the other crises currently manifesting which will have even more profound effects on the destiny of the United States? Global climate change appears to be the largest gorilla in the room. While lesser minds argue about who caused it, the best minds could care less and are turned toward consideration of the fact of its presence and what it will cause in the future. Already it is manifestly certain that increased levels of water and heat energy in the atmosphere will create violent climatic disturbances and damage food crops and supplies. Transportation, communications and energy production will be intermittently interrupted, and more destructive storms will cause unprecedented damage to human habitation and infrastructure. Currently projected consequences in the short term include impactful crop failures in Europe by as soon as 2010. Later changes in the oceanic circulatory system as a result of global warming may cripple our planetary oxygen supply, much of which is produced by plankton.

The geo-political consequences of privation and famine historically include wars and societal upheavals as human beings compete for limited, critical resources. Under stress and in the quest for survival, national identities dissolve into monolithic tribal and religious allegiances. We’re seeing a precursor of that in the growing “culture wars” occuring in America. A diverse citizenry becomes a luxury, and only the brother-in-arms, the rigid adherent to the group ethic and goal is included in the struggle for survival. This possibility doesn’t bode well for the survival of any nation state in a hundred years. It is much more likely to produce a polyglot, nationless, techno-oligarchy welded together by mutual personal interest rather than a land-based national identity by then.

And then there’s the Malthusian exponent of global stressors: population growth. Our exploding planetary population may have already reached beyond the critical mass necessary for widespread human tragedy. At a time when our planetary natural resources are being gobbled and rapidly depleted to support and maintain the appetites of the world’s existing population, the earth itself is entering into an early stage of a condition which will reduce what has in the past been an overflowing bounty of provision. More people, fewer resources. Not exactly a hopeful scenario for the future, and yat another indicator of future geo-political upheaval and realignment.

I think the chances that America will be around in a hundred years are about a million to one. But for the generations ahead and the hope they will need to carry on in the presence of the turbulent and overwhelming conditions to come, I can tell them what I think that one chance in a million is:

If you can evolve and elucidate the Darwinian paradigm, survival of the fittest, to define the “fittest” as those individuals who are creative, thoughtful, unselfish and thrifty – and if you can be absolutely ruthless with those who are not – then you have a chance. Otherwise the wily, thoughtless, selfish gluttons who have risen to power consistently throughout human history will ride your backs down to extinction. Good luck.

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Personal Reflections About This Blog

In the disappearance of my friend Louis’s blog at Ralston Creek Review (the result of a combination of an infestation of scam and phish bots and perhaps the simple fact that it has accomplished its purpose) I have decided to re-read everything I have authored here. I am glad I created the “Archives” list located on the right hand side of this page. It makes the task much easier.

I am about halfway through.

I seem to have said some things well. It also seems that I have used a great deal of complex language to express very simple ideas. This is understandable to me, knowing how I have operated in this life. It is also a bit embarrassing.

I have crafted a few artful lines of prose and poetic expressions here which please me.

I have encountered, here and there, the sudden appearance of Lenore in graceful moments of reflection. Her grace, her love, her intelligence. They are, for me, threads of purest gold in the fabric of this narrative. Her heart is in my heart, and her mind in mine: it is the part which turns my perspective of the mundane holy.

There is wisdom gained from experience here as well, yet often it is embedded in large fields of ore which only the most stubborn miner would quarry and refine for the value there.

I find there is much good advice for the living. I also find that I no longer include myself in that group. This odd condition creates a different personal perspective about what I have written, yet in no way compromises the quality or value of the few true things I have expressed here about being alive. There is good information here about how to live.

There is much here for a thoughtful person to reflect upon. I am glad of that.

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This morning with coffee on the porch I reflect upon several things: the recently passed equinox and the gathering of Fall; the discovery that another old friend has died; the summer past; why I am the way I am; the relative perspective of mind; the gathering monsoon prologue due to sweep in from the Pacific this weekend with torrential downpours which will pound on our roof here in the mountains.

The days are shorter than the nights now and we are descending into darkness, slowly. The forest air is poignantly sharp, russet maple leaves blanket stretches of the river bank, the green glow burning in the canopy above us as we walked through summer now casts faint autumnal shades.

The weather shift took me to my barometers. I have a digital one, the sensor mounted outdoors and magically informing the station indoors. Next to the sleek station an ancient brass Proteus barometer leans propped against the wall. It is analog and I suppose obsolete, yet elegant in its craftsmanship and comforting in its humanity.

I noticed, not for the first time, that the Proteus needed to be recalibrated, and as I thought about that I recalled how and where I had acquired it. I bought it from Hazel in 2006. One thing led to another and I found myself searching for Hazel on the internet and learned she had died in 2011. The sort of message one expects in the fall.

I wrote a story about Hazel in 2006. A true story. All of it. Like most of my writing it has become a part of my personal archive, rarely shared. It wants “polishing” I suppose, and from time to time I visit it and tweak a bit here and there, knowing even as I do that the tale is told perfectly, and is done. I titled it “The Bridge of Souls,” and in this moment I’ll share it once again.

The Bridge of Souls

I never forgot her, and never will. We encountered each other for less than a half hour long ago. Forty-five years later we met again and shared another moment together. In between those moments more than twenty-three million minutes passed for each of us. Nearly 400,000 hours. Over sixteen thousand days. A lot of living. A lot of people, places and things met, known and left behind. A long sojourn of now forgotten specifics, merged and distilled into a broad gestalt marked by certain bright sparks. In our lives we spent barely more than an hour together. One of those certain bright sparks.

I met her the first time in 1961 when I was 13. My family was on the Great American road trip, leaving Colorado Springs, Colorado in mid-June, motoring across the northern plains of Utah, Wyoming and Idaho to the Pacific Northwest. In Oregon we took US 101 and drove down a rugged, beautiful coastline. At Bandon, Oregon we left the highway when it curved inland and followed a back-country road along cliffs overlooking remote beaches that wandered between volcanic rocks towering above crashing surf. It was mid-morning when we pulled onto the gravel shoulder at a remote wayside gift shop.

I remember it like a photograph; an elegantly solitary story-book shanty situated at the edge of a gigantic ocean beneath an endless sky.

There was no-one inside. My family milled around the porch, waiting for someone to answer our calls and knocking. I saw her first, walking across the road with a bucket in one hand, a surf-casting pole in the other. She called out to us, saying it was too beautiful to be indoors, so she’d gone fishing. She unlocked the gift shop door and told us to go in and have a look around while she put her gear away. My family went ahead, but I followed her through a gate on the south side of the shop.

In the bucket there were surf perch and agates, a glass fishing float, a piece of net, driftwood, old colored-glass bottles. “Neptune’s treasures,” she said, winking at me. It was the name of her gift shop. She sparkled with an intrinsic curiosity and kindness. Her eyes were framed in lines drawn by wind and sun and salt and humor, etched deeply by a constant look-out for the good, the interesting, the treasure of each moment.

She was kind to me. Independent and plain-spoken, wise and strong. She shared her life. She showed me her garden, the corn on the south wall with a surf perch under each stalk, the lush tomatoes gleaming, the deep and delicate garden colors burning like fire and ice in the coastal sun.

She told me what it was like to live on a cliff overlooking the ocean and sand and rock of southern Oregon, where wind sweeps the dune pines and plows inland under afternoon thunderheads rising over inland valleys. A place where she could feel the very earth breathe.

It was a place where new treasures appeared daily, on the beach and in the heart. In plain words, in paused moments when our eyes met and reflected each to the other, she informed me of life, and joy, and the choices to be made on the long road ahead.

I wish that I could add you to that moment we shared, instill it into you so that you would share the ground, the baseline instinctual substance of it. But words have limits, and beyond those limits there is a universe, solid and brilliant, the source of all reflections, its wholeness so soul-filling that when we try to catch it in words we find ourselves returned to a small place, neither as satisfying or as real. No video recording, no faithful capture of the form of the moment when souls meet souls can capture the substance there.

When I returned to the area 45 years later I began following the memory. My wife Lenore and I and our dog, Charlie, were on a camping vacation on the southern Oregon coast. I left the coast highway at Bandon and headed west toward the ocean. At a gas station I asked the attendant about the old beach road. I described the rocks in the surf, and he told us how to get there.

The rocks were the same, the beach, the cliffs. We observed them from behind steel railings at a new, large, elaborate concrete lookout. Now the road was bracketed by hotels and expensive vacation houses and burgeoning developments. It seemed doubtful that anything had survived the years.

In my memory she had been old, ancient to my young eyes. I didn’t think she would still be there, but I had hoped perhaps the house had survived. Maybe there would be someone who remembered her and could tell me her story. We got back in our truck and continued down the coast. Soon an old house with a cluttered front yard appeared on the left. As we got closer I said, “I think that’s it.”

It was. Older, faded, worn by the years. The sign that burned so brightly under the clear blue sky in 1961 was nearly unreadable now. A seeming tsunami-borne crush of debris had overwhelmed the place. Driftwood burls and roots, huge nets and glass fishing floats, bottles, signs, bells, hatches, transoms, a fractured dory, an endless volume of flotsam, jetsam and wrack had piled in the yard and washed up against the walls.

A piece of paper tacked to the wall instructed visitors to ring a painted cowbell on a rope, or the watch bell nailed to the wall. In sun-faded, sand-blasted windows there were colored bottles and eccentric collections of salt-air bric-a-brac. Looking through them I saw worn display cases piled over with bounty. Overflowing nooks and groaning shelves and corners piled high. Decades of sea-wrack and treasure. Neptune’s vault.

There was no answer to the bells. Exploring, I could still feel her presence. Yet there was something else. In the attached open garage, an anomaly; a clutter of garage sale debris and detritus. Clothes and skillets and plates and cheap flatware, electric heaters and faded linens, old curtains and shoes and chairs, a dumping ground of not-quite-used-up throw-aways. An incipient seediness working its way into the place.

Her spirit was still here, the foundation-rock beneath the burgeoning clutter and ruin, but I suspected she was gone. It looked to me like someone else had taken over, some sort of commercial pack rat peddler living in ruins soon to be razed for cash and yet another view motel. Finally, finding no-one there, we left.

Driving back through town we passed the local museum, and I decided to stop and ask about Neptune’s Treasures. I wanted to get the rest of the story if I could. The Director there listened to my story and said, “You must mean Hazel. Why, she’s not gone.” She smiled and said, “She looks like she could be a hundred and ten, but she’s probably only around ninety now. She’s still there, far as I know.”

She began looking through the phone book on her desk as she spoke. “She’s a bit of a celebrity, as a matter of fact. In the late 1980’s a famous writer mentioned her in a book. Not by name, but everybody here knows it was her. He was a photographer, and his photograph of some glass bottles out there was displayed in the San Francisco Museum of Fine Art. At least that was what the story said. Yes, here she is. I’ll call and see if she’s there.” She was. And she would wait for us.

On the way back a slow, breath-holding rise of anticipation. I had tracked down a memory more dream than real. Soon I would see her again. A broad arc in the patterns of my life, returning to where it began. In the truck with Lenore and Charlie we are three companion souls on a shared sojourn, a bubble of fullness gathering around us now, the rising swell of a looming epiphany. When we got there I walked through the yard filled with Neptune’s treasures and rang the ancient bell.

        And there were her eyes, sparkling at me. Wise, interested, knowing; still on the lookout for treasure. And I felt it. Across time, in a near-complete absence of the usual familiarities of connection, we were still connected.  I reached for her hand and ended up giving her a hug. We both smiled, each knowing the other wholly in a single holy instant. There we were, together, in the place where paths begin and swing wide across a grand creation and return again. In the place where time disappears and we are home.

I introduced her to Lenore and Charlie the Lab. She said Charlie looked sort of like a sea lion, and gave him a pat. She looked into Lenore’s eyes and then nodded, giving her a big hug. “Come on,” she said, “I’ll show you around.”

“It’s been a long time,” she mused. She went behind the counter and lifted up a guest register, old and tattered, bursting with comments of travelers from around the world who had found joy and delight in Neptune’s Treasures. It went back to 1964, too late to have captured a memento of that first visit. Folded inside was a newspaper article about the book she was mentioned in.

She didn’t remember much of the man, just a fellow in a hurry who took pictures of some colored glass bottles in her window. “People ask about it, so I show them that.”

She pointed out the window, across the road. “Been some changes here. When that hotel went in, it blocked the view. Now when I want to look at the ocean, I have to close my eyes.” A little smile. “One of these days I reckon I’ll just keep’em closed and see it all the time.”

Waving her hand at the shop, she said “The place is worn now, but I don’t see harm in that. I know it’s run down some. I can’t keep up with it like I used to. I’ve got a bad sciatica and can’t get down to the beach anymore. But there are still treasures here for those who care to look for them, and I’m still here with them.

“When the locals sold out and moved away they put the stuff they thought was too good to throw away in the garage. It’s not exactly treasure, more of a dumping place now, but there are useful things in there, too, if you look.”

Treasures for those with eyes which see. The oldest lesson, learned again.

Too soon it was time to go. I had found the barometer as she showed us around and paid for it. She rummaged in a cabinet on the wall behind her, and produced a seed packet of forget-me-nots. Emblazoned on the front of the packet was her name. I signed the register: “May, 2006 and Summertime, 1961. I forgot you not.” Feeling the fullness of the seed planted in me so very long ago.

I hugged her in the leaving with tears in my eyes, and she told me I’d made her day. In the truck the fullness overcame me and I cried, filled with an extraordinary and ineffable joy.

Later, driving slowly toward the end of day, I wondered about the writer/photographer who passed through that place. Did he know his source of light? Or were his eyes open only wide enough to catch the single ray captured in a piece of glass?

In Hazel’s realm there is a brilliant grace woven mysteriously and subtly into the fabric of a well-lived life. When his itinerant eye caught a certain quality of air and light in five colored glass bottles, did he also see her? The shimmer of her ancient harmonies in the salt-wind and sun-glazed panes? Did he see the spirit of Hazel centered in all the array of patterns? Did he know her as the all-pervasive, radiant source? Did he see the thousand perfect pictures behind the bottles?

Or was he content to click a shutter and leave behind the crunch of tires on gravel, carrying away only the merest hint of a profound and pervasive grace? A piece, like a heart in a cooler, to be transplanted not into another human breast, but merely to the wall of a museum where the harvester is glorified and treasure is contained and controlled and does not burst the soul into light, but only tickles it a bit?

I wondered. Sad at the thought that the fullness of life available to us all at every moment can remain unknown to us.

A day later I am sitting with Lenore and Charlie at a table on the veranda of a sidewalk bistro in a coastal tourist town. It is a community of artists and shopkeepers, of tasteful promenades and reworked coastal architectures where the soul’s art crosses paths with capital. The collision produces a jarring, odd juxtaposition of truth and lies.

At the next table over four people have met to share their religious histories. They pray publicly and earnestly and courageously before lunch. They converse and the biographical fragments drift over to us, threaded with affectations of speech and precise articulations. There are dry, memorized liturgies of personal epiphanies, regurgitated as easily as an eye blinks.

Usually I’d leave them to their paths; leave them to their journey and recall myself to this place at a table in the sun where I sit with two great souls. But today is different.

It is like a snake has entered the garden. My hackles rise as the too-loud conversation, on display, proceeds. In their conversation “I” reigns. It is the single word most often spoken. God has been retrospectively inserted into their histories like an all-purpose, all-explanatory footnote. Each story is egocentric, varnished to a faux-theocentric shine. Their tightly circumscribed consciousness radiates patterns. These are not the soaring, singing, crystalline perfections of Hazel’s life. The lodestone is unknown; their needles spin aimlessly within the local. Separation prevails. Ego and Deus, unreconciled.

And I wonder, seeing once again the knowing in Hazel’s eyes: Do we grow into it? Are we born with it? How have we come to be the ones who see and feel and know what others don’t, or can’t, or won’t?

I still wonder about that at times. And when I do, I close my eyes and see Hazel’s eyes, now closed too, looking at the ocean. And then I am at peace.

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Give me a moment. I’m considering the Hemlock.

I check into the website Grief Speaks Out everyday, looking for expressions that reflect my own experience since Lenore died. I find reflections there which are informative and helpful and descriptive of some of my own feelings and thoughts. It’s a very useful, thoughtful, compassionate, helpful website – and in some cases I suspect it even saves lives. That being said, there is at least one thing it cannot do. It cannot provide a roadmap for the griever. In the end, every grieving person walks a path that is unique. And it leads to a larger perspective that is equally unique.

The day Lenore died her loss and my grief appeared in a shattering explosion and was nothing like what my previous speculations about what it would be like. It consumed me. That’s what an explosion does. The aftermath was pieces and numbness, of living in a totality involving only grief and loss and mourning. It was inchoate emotional pain and unmanageable mental chaos. My world view blew up, the basic root of my life paradigm vanished, the matrix of my own understanding broke down into senseless chaos. My spirit broke.

As time goes on for me I’ve realized that grief is just one part of my experience. The shattered pieces of my paradigm and my understanding have come back together in a new configuration, informed by new, critical information; Lenore is not here with me in this life. She is in me, she still speaks to me and I to her, I can imagine her presence with me. Yet she is not here anymore. She is somewhere else. My perspective has had to be rearranged to accommodate this new, massive fact.

In moments of reflection I wonder why I have the impulse to share with others what is my uniquely personal experience when everyone has their own in play. Near as I can tell it’s simply because I am human and therefore self-involved. I don’t want to be thought of poorly by others, I want to be understood by others. I would rather not hurt others if possible. If things go the wrong way in these matters, my chances of survival go down.

If I remove my selfishness from the perspective, then why am I writing this at all, and why would I share it? People think what they will of me. I have no power over that. People understand in their own way and their understanding is informed by their personal perspective, and I have no power over that. People can get hurt whether I mean to hurt them or not, that’s up to them and not me, it’s a manifestation of their own unique perspective. I have no power over that.

Yet also because I am human I am more than just an individual – I am also communal. I’m social by human nature, part of a collective. That collective is also selfish because it’s human, but its needs are different. It wants to know what its members have encountered and use that information to survive. So I have an innate desire to inform the collective of any useful information I have acquired which might be useful for that ongoing mutually selfish desire to survive.

Survive! It’s the commandment so universally assumed that even God did not feel compelled to tell Moses to chisel it in stone: “Thou shalt survive.” It’s written in the bio-code that stretches all the way back in history to the first living cell. It’s still, even in the most recently evolved part of the human brain, the primary purpose we put the prefrontal cortex to use for. Survival.

Why is loss and bereavement nearly universally regarded as a thing human beings pass through on their way to more life, to survival? The assumption proves itself true in all but a few cases. Grief, loss, bereavement – it’s something human beings pass through, live with, bear with, suffer with – and survive with. They go on, recover, reorganize, rebuild. It’s assumed. It’s fact. Options need not apply. Start as far away as you want, but when you drill down to the foundation that’s where you’re going to end up. You survive. It’s an unquestionable underlying basic assumption of human existence.

But what if we take the unrecognized, underlying basic assumption in all that and throw it out the window? Declare it crap, and start putting everything back together without assuming that survival is the be-all and end-all fundamental focus upon which all human purpose is based? We  assume that under all circumstances, at all times, the first critical requirement of the individual and the human collective is to survive.

In a place where everything dies.

Even if you’re walking dead, even if your mind tells you it’s time to go, even if your heart is full and your life completed and you have become useless to yourself in the attainment and conclusion of your reason for being, even if everything ahead is dénouement, a slow slide into deterioration and eventual death – still you are required to live because even in that condition your simple presence can still be used by others to fulfill their needs.

The purpose of this thing I’m writing right now, telling it like it is for me, is about describing how survival could not always the best way to go. Survival is an option if you’re consciously aware of it as such. And it could be not the best option in certain circumstances, including mine.

I know, I know, this sounds suspiciously like a long, slow, tedious rationale for suicide, and already the more sensitive and perceptive readers among you, having detected that possibility, are forming up responses from your own perspective if that proves to be the case. A body of information is already in play, gently but firmly opposed to my view of survival as an option, putting harder weapons on alert for self defense in case this proves to be heresy or an attack on the fundament of basic beliefs and instincts. Will I need to be marginalized, explained by my condition and circumstances, my thoughts rationalized until safely reduced to a comfortable perspective?

Or wait. Has that already happened? Upon rereading this I realize I’ve already said what I came here to say, and the reactions by my readers are already in play. I could explicate further, but the essence is there. I could stop right now.

Yet if the explication isn’t as full and developed as I hoped it would be when I set out to write this thing, one thing remains to be said out loud.

Yes, I’m a potential suicide. But a slow one. I am aware of the joy life still offers me, aware of the others I can still serve with my experience and gained wisdoms and simple presence. I’m still aware of how wonderful and magic and full life is. I still laugh, dance, listen to music, think, feel, move, have places to go and things to do, people I love, people who love me and care about me. I still know the unexpected amazing development is just around the corner, waiting to delight and engage me in something new and unforeseeable and wonderful.

The thing is, I don’t hope for any of that any more. I don’t not hope – I just don’t hope for those things anymore. I don’t have a driving desire burning deep inside me to have them. I don’t need them in the sense of filling a void, removing a lack in my life. I’ve had them. I’ve been there, I’ve done all that. It’s been enough. And the context I gained them in, my life with Lenore, is perfect. I have no need of a different one. I’m happy with what I’ve had, and with what I have from it now. I’ve had enough. I’m done.

I’ve come to that place where all truth is only a matter of perspective. It’s all relative, even what we sense about the universe behind the curtain of consciousness. Even the sense we have of the eternal nature of the stars and earth and natural life is a result of interpretation rather than fact. It’s an illusion of vanity, a manifestation of our separated individual identities. It’s all pretty great when we live within it and find our way there, but in the end it is still a limited place to exist within. Exhaust its possibilities, master it, and it becomes superfluous. It becomes time to move on, to explore further, to discover what’s on the other side of the curtain.

I think it would be ok to die today, but I’m not going to get all inspired and enthusiastic and energetic about it. I also think it would be ok to kill myself today – but ditto. All I know right now is that when the time for me to die comes, whether naturally or by suicide, it will be the right time.

It will be the right time. That’s all I want people to remember about my dying. It was time, it was the right time. The rest, hopefully, will be about my living, about the wonderful, beautiful, full, hard, strange, amazing, loving, thoughtful, interesting, fulfilling, completed life I had, and how it all came to fruition and completion in the life Lenore and I shared together.

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Getting Light and Letting Go: An update

May 14, 2016

What an adventure this is! Or possibly a cautionary tale. Sometimes it feels like it’s headed in that direction. Then I remember what my old mentor would have said: “You know that feeling you get when you think your life is turning into a cautionary tale? You know what that is? That’s just a feeling, that’s all that is!” And then he’d laugh.

The feeling passes as feelings do; our consciousness of the mysterious, cooperative flow that is present in everything returns, and we carry on.

We have now sold our home and have a truck capable of, as one person said, “hauling a house down the road.” Which is exactly what we’re planning to do with it, albeit a small one. And the piano, which Lenore was concerned about, has found a home. Right here. The home buyer said they would like to have it.

I found the truck in Bend, Oregon. It’s about a 2 ½ hour drive from home to get there but it was worth it. I hope. It’s a used Chevy diesel truck with a Duramax engine and Allison transmission and various aftermarket upgrades, some for performance and power, some just to make it look good. I am a baby duckling in the diesel world. I educated myself the best I could and found the truck after searching all over Oregon and Washington. To the best of my knowledge it’s a good truck for our purposes, but I am taking it in to Brush Prairie WA next Monday to have some diesel pros I know there tell me just exactly what it is I’ve got – or gotten myself into. There’s that feeling again

Lenore went down to Bend with me to pick it up and drove our car back in spite of the fact she’s been having some hip flexor pain due to what now sounds like a torn psoas muscle or related tendons. An MRI has been scheduled after a round of physical therapy which actually made the condition worse due to faulty instructions from a therapist about what exercises to do and how to do them. Lenore, being who she is, did the exercises conscientiously until she realized that the hip was getting worse, not better. Currently she uses a cane to get around. Undeterred, she insists on doing everything she can every day. The trip to Bend was a stretch for her, and I was worried about that. She made it without aggravating the injury and we were both relieved when we got home. She is one go-ahead woman. Just one of the literally countless things I love her for.

We had a good trip home and the truck ran great. I showed it to my neighbor Shawn the next day. He’s a motorcycle racer and has a top-of-the-line Honda racing bike in his garage he won at a competition recently. He’s an X-Games kind of guy, a “rad dude,” extreme snowboarder, etc. I didn’t realize he knew about diesels. He looked it over real good, pointing out everything he saw, and then informed me I had a “pimped ride, dude!” He told me I was going to have to get a tat now, suggested a Chevy logo on my upper arm. I think I will forego that… I’ll see what the pros in Brush Prairie say before passing any final judgments on the truck.

We had two offers on the house. The day we listed it we had a visit from a couple who wanted it but needed us to carry a first mortgage on it and then vacate about 3 weeks after closing, which would have put a terrific burden on us – “getting light” takes more time than we thought it would. After some discussion we’d zeroed in on the terms they needed and we were considering it when a cash buyer appeared. The new offer was more than our asking price, and the buyer was fine with a 2 month grace period, after closing the deal, before we would need to vacate. It was nice to experience that consciousness of the flow of the universe working with us when that happened.

And we definitely need to hold on to that perspective and go where the flow takes us. Currently we’re looking for a fifth wheel to be our home on the road, and that too has been an adventure.

I’ve always had good luck buying vehicles from owners rather than dealers and my experience with both convinced me that owners are the only way to go. I can see the good in almost any person who has gravitated to the profession of selling wheeled vehicles. By the same token I rarely see any good in the practices of their trade, or the effects it has on their character.

Yet, in the process of buying the truck and then the fifth wheel, I included dealers in my search. Suffice it to say that what I have encountered on the dealer side has left me disappointed to say the very least. I’m going with owners now after yet another schooling in such matters.

I’ve been searching all over the country for a particular brand of fifth wheel and a particular floor plan. When one popped up in my search at a dealer only about six hours away from us, it felt like the force was with us. That was just a feeling. It was actually the flow, gently directing us back to owners and away from the rocky shores and whirlpools of dealerships.

It was the same thing with my early truck search. I found one at an “honest, low-key, quality-only, fixed-price, high-integrity” dealer, took it to the guys out at Brush Prairie for a pre-purchase inspection because I was leery of it (at the time I didn’t have as much information on board as I do now but I had enough for a flag or two to pop up), and by the time all the grunting and groaning and wincing and eventual indignation and muttered swearing of Angus, the guy who checked it out in depth for me, was over it was pronounced a pig in pink paint that nobody would be able to make even a sow’s ear from, let alone a silk purse. So it goes.

Yet it turned out to be a good thing. The education I got from Angus about diesels as I followed him around during the inspection was priceless, and I had enough faith in what I’d learned to trust my judgment in selecting the truck I’ve bought. I may be wrong (there’s that feeling again) but confidence is high. Monday will tell the tale.

We’re still a ways from our goal, which is to be located in some beautiful natural setting featuring a lake, glacier, beach, forest, etc. and posting blog entries on a site called “Travels with Murphy.” (He’s our yellow Lab puppy, now nearly 6 months old and finally showing some signs of IQ gain.) But we’re getting there.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Getting Light and Letting Go: A New Adventure

April 16, 2016

This morning, instead of the usual geese flying over our valley there was a hawk sailing free on the air currents above us. I took it for a good augur of the moment, and our future.

It’s been an interesting season around here. Last New Year we began reducing some of the accumulation of things we’ve acquired since 1986 – the last time we reduced all our worldly belongings into what would fit into 3 suitcases. That year we flew to Florida with our 2 year old daughter, lived and worked there for 6 months, and then had a leisurely, wonderful car trip back to Vancouver, WA. Where we started accumulating again. That was 30 years ago.

By 2009 we’d managed to collect so much stuff that when we moved here to our mountain home we divested ourselves of a volume of things that would have filled about half of an 18-wheeler. But we didn’t get rid of enough. It’s amazing and a bit shaming what the American lifestyle produces in the way of material goods. Granted, we had our own remodeling company and quite a bit of accumulated inventory and tools as well as saved projects “I’ll do one of these days…” But beyond that we finally became aware of just how much we’d actually managed to accumulate in our home alone.

We are not profligate people. We shop at thrift stores often, I’ve made several pieces of the furniture we have myself, Lenore sews and knits and mends our clothing. We have simple tastes and a small appetite for things. And yet, even so, we still have all this stuff! Books, desks, file cabinets and years of obsolete files; clothing we no longer wear or wear rarely; stored, unused bedding and curtains and drapes and sewing fabric; board games and children’s toys and stuffed animals rarely used except when the grandchildren visit; more furniture than we need, a vault of mementos and photos we never visit – the list goes on and on.

So here we are. 2016. A new dawn, a new day, and more than ever a time when the present is present in consciousness, and the past is fading fast. All the things that have stuck to us are losing their adhesive and falling off. We are here, now, and it’s time for a new adventure. We’re selling out everything one more time, just like back in ’86, and going on the road in an RV.

Next week the realtor comes, and in the meantime I am building temporary plywood tables for the garage sale. Recycling and dump runs have happened and more will follow. We’re bagging the useless and worthless, tagging the sellable, and hoping the old 1905 Cable Nelson piano finds a good home. Formerly a player piano, it has a sound box and sound board that produces a large, rich, wonderful tone. It has a nice action, too. We hope we can get it to a musician who can appreciate what a great instrument it is.

I’ll keep you posted.

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