It's Wednesday and we've not had power since Monday. They say it may be a few more days. So, I'm cooking—or rather warming things up and boiling water for tea—on our little backpacking stove; running a generator for the refrigerator, freezer, and one lamp; keeping the wood stove going for heat; and visiting my friend in town for showers and buckets of water—she has power. I can access wifi through my personal hotspot on my iPhone, so I'm connected. I can keep up with the news, get updates on the power outage, and get some work done. But, it's not too bad. I'm warm and fed and comfortable.
This situation makes me think back to the last time we lost power for several days; it was during the ice storm in January 1998, before I owned a generator and an iphone. We had had a lot of rain at a time when the temperature was around 20. The upper atmosphere was so warm that the precipitation was falling as pure rain, but the lower atmosphere was well below freezing. So, all that rain froze as soon as it hit a surface, be it a tree branch, a power line, or the ground. I awoke Thursday morning to find we had no power, looked out the window and realized we were in big trouble. Everything was coated with a good half inch of ice, and the rain was still falling. I found a radio in a drawer of stuff we didn't use much, and learned that, indeed, the situation was serious. Trees down, wires down, power out, transformers blowing up, trees falling on houses and cars, people stranded on streets that suddenly were littered with branches and wires while they were trying to get someplace else . . . someplace safer, perhaps. I sat near a window all day to get light, and I listened to the news on the radio and to the sound of limbs and sometimes entire trees falling in the woods. A slow creaking noise and then a muffled crash. Something fell about every ten minutes, it seemed. I would hear a sound and look out the window just in case I could see what was falling, but often it was down the hill or a ways off. The ground was an ice rink and the trees looked like pure glass . . . like Chihuly creations. When the rain eventually stopped, the trees, as far as I could see, seemed to be lit up and glistening. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. At a time when there was so much danger and tons of debris lying around, the world in some ways was incredibly beautiful.
I remember watching one tree fall at the far edge of my lawn. It was a medium-sized maple. I heard the familiar creaking noise and jumped up to look out. The tree had cracked off about eight feet above the ground and was slowly falling to the ground. It seemed to take forever . . . like slow motion. But then there was the crash. Lots of other trees fell, both on my property and in the woods around the neighborhood. But that one maple was somehow special to me because I watched it fall.
In the spring we cleared out all the debris, and the changes in the woods were very noticeable. A birch was bent over almost to the ground, making a circle; it never again stood tall and straight. A big oak lost lots of limbs and looked very tall but not at all wide. Some trees split or tore and fell, leaving ragged stumps of varying heights. The effects of the ice storm were apparent for several years, but eventually the birch tree that made a circle died. The big oak recovered its breadth and looks perfectly normal to this day. Some trees made it, others did not.The eight-foot stump from the maple that fell at the edge of the lawn stayed there after we cleared away the rest of tree. I would often look at it and remember that I watched it fall to its death. The stump slowly rotted, and I pushed it over just last summer. After seventeen years, it was so rotten I could push it over with one hand and little effort. It went on to pass its nutrients back to the earth.
This week's storm was rain and strong wind, so trees and limbs fell, not from the weight of ice, but from the force of wind. We lost one big tree, a poplar I think. It broke off about 15 feet above the ground. At the break point, there's a big hollow area, which was probably begun by a busy woodpecker and eventually became home to mice or squirrels. But they're gone now, and soon we'll cut up the tree in hopes that some of it at least will make good firewood.
That's how it works. The rhythm of life. Creation and destruction. Rotting and recovery. We long remember the events that are bigger than the norm. We use them to mark time. Eventually, though, they too fall away as our memories fade and we are one day laid onto the ground. And in that spot there will one day be a beautiful maple or perhaps an oak, standing tall and broad.
I'm reading the interpretation of the daodejing by David Breeden, Wally Swist, and Steven Schroeder. These three lines caught my attention today. Reaching, we find edges. Without reaching, We find essence. Artists--visual artists, literary artists, performing artists--seek essence, crave essence. That's the nature of art; it's a pathway to essence, a window looking out on essence, an encounter with essence. No reaching involved. When artists make art, everything drops away and essence presents itself. Bliss.
January...time to recover from the holidays, clean the house, watch the days get longer, play in the snow, and watch playoff football. I love football! What's not to love? It's all about trying to reach the goal, overcoming obstacles, sometimes getting pushed back, changing strategy, and, with practice, skill, and a bit of luck, sometimes bursting ahead with everyone cheering you on. It's life. It's who we are. Moving forward. Never giving up.
Let me be very clear; I'm a Packers fan. I was born in Milwaukee, German and Polish heritage, third generation, I believe. I didn't live there long—we moved to California when I was six—but it stayed with me nonetheless. Gimbals department store, Quality Candy Easter cream eggs, Pabst beer (the only kind my father drank), a family bar on every corner, Friday fish fries, cheese, sausage, cold weather, piles of snow...and the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, and Paul Hornung. I grew up hearing those names over and over. My father watched the games in his "man cave," which was also our garage. He'd sit there in front of his tiny black-and-white TV set with his Pabst; our boxer, Heidi, by his side, occasionally licking his empty beer glass; and I'd be running in and out, riding my bike, playing hopscotch or four-square with my friends. My father would call out, "they ran it in for a touchdown," "only two minutes left," "come, watch!"
Once I left home, I didn't think much about football, but when life settled down to an easy, comfortable rhythm, I started watching games again. By that time, Brett Favre was the quarterback. You had to love him; he made it look so easy and always looked like he was having so much fun. This Mississippi boy was known for never losing when the temperature was below 32 degrees, and when isn't it below 32 in Green Bay? Fog pouring out of the players' mouths; snow falling; fans bundled up in parkas and scarves and mittens, hunks of fake cheese on their heads; players standing on the sideline wearing those enormous football-player capes to stay warm. It all hit a very tender spot inside me, the part of me that is still so much about Milwaukee, and I was hooked. I live in Maine now, and when the Packers game is televised here, it's a great day. My husband makes a great big pizza with lots of onions and sausage, chills the beer glasses, and we settle in to enjoy a cozy afternoon.
These days it's Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb, Mike McCarthy. Sunday's game against the Cowboys couldn't have been better. Packers took a big lead early in the game, the Cowboys fought back to tie the score (twice) in the last few minutes, and Rodgers, always looking cool and calm as if he just got up off the massage table, drove the Packers down the field in the last thirty seconds, Jared Cook made the catch of his life, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal (twice because the Cowboys decided to ice him at the last second) to win it. Utter perfection!
We like the tough games better, the wins that require some hard work. The same is true of life. We're told to set lofty goals, have big dreams, be prepared to work hard. You don't know what you're made of unless you reach for the stars. You'll get pushed back. You'll begin to think it'll never happen. But, with lots of practice, skill, and a bit of luck, we really can find the end zone. It's who we are. Moving forward. Never giving up. That's what we celebrate when we watch football...our resilience, our persistence, our willingness to fight in the face of so much opposition. Thanks Aaron and all the guys. It means so much.
It's been a difficult few months . . . for me, for many people I know, for our country, for our world. The result of the presidential election was a shock, partly because it seemed so clear that Hillary would win, but mostly because it seemed so ridiculous to think that Donald Trump could be president. Who would vote for this lying, libelous, filthy rich con artist? Who would vote for a man who denigrates women with his actions while saying nonsensically that no one respects women as much as he does? Who would vote for a man who worked so hard to destroy Obama by purporting the lie that he was not born in America, then later denying his actions and blaming the entire birther escapade on Hillary? Who would vote for a man who worked to keep African Americans out of his apartment buildings, made fun of a disabled person, ridiculed John McCain by saying he prefers people who don't get caught, and on and on and on? Who would vote for someone supported by the Ku Klux Klan?
But people did. Lots of people. Enough to get him elected.
I've been asking myself these questions, and many more like them, for months. I was quite convinced that Trump couldn't possibly be elected. But I was so wrong.
Happy in my cocoon in Maine, I missed what was happening in this country. As a child of the 60s, I grew up with peace signs and peace marches, women's liberation and the rise of reproductive rights, Martin Luther King talking about his dream that seemed to have some hope of becoming reality, and music that made everyone want to move and groove and "love the one you're with." I grew up in a family with little education and little money but lots of hope for the future, for my future. I would go to college, I would not marry the first guy who came along, I would make something of myself. I had options, something no other generation of women ever had in this country. The future looked so promising.
But not everyone saw things as I did. Not everyone saw excitement and hope. Some saw what they were losing, not gaining. Some saw "sin" and destruction, not freedom.
So, the future chugged along, a few steps forward, then a few back. The Civil Rights Act, Affirmative Action, Rodney King, Voter Restriction Laws . . . Roe v. Wade, the Equal Rights Amendment (in case you've forgotten, it didn't pass), Title IX . . . Don't Ask Don't Tell, Marriage Equality, so-called "Religious" Freedom Rights, Matthew Shepard . . . the decline of the middle class, the mortgage crisis, corporate welfare, tax cuts for the wealthy. There are many more examples of the battles that have been fought in our country in recent decades for equality, fairness, civility, and decency; some won, some lost.
For the past eight years we've had an African-American president, and this year we had a woman presidential candidate. These are major social accomplishments that cannot be overestimated. But another setback, a clear indication of the backlash to the changes of the last half century . . . the election of Donald Trump for president. I can make sense of why some corporate wealthy people voted for Trump . . . they have a lot to gain from a Trump presidency, but it's inconceivable to me that so many of our country's poor and middle class individuals voted for a man who is likely to do them such harm . . . raise their taxes (directly and indirectly), destroy the economics of health care in favor of business profits, cut social security and medicare. Sadly, they were won over by Trump's aggressive, braggadocious, tough-guy demeanor, the perfect antithesis to what Obama and Clinton represent.
I saw a Trump voter interviewed on a news show last night who readily admitted to seeing all of Trump's failings: sexism, racism, xenophobia. He even said that he didn't want to see anyone, not even "illegals," rounded up and deported. So why did he vote for him? "He's not Hillary." He may as well have said, "He's a man, a white man."
Women suffragists picketing in front of the White house, 1917
I still have a dream. That's just the way I am, ever hopeful, ever looking forward. But the future now is uncertain, perhaps even volatile. One can feel the volatility like the first rumblings of an earthquake. So we must steady ourselves, seek shelter when necessary, but never forget that as a society we always pick up the pieces and rebuild. That's what we do. That's what I do.
This time of year I lie in bed and listen to acorns plop as they drop off the oak tree in front of our house. Before I go to sleep, when I wake up during the night, and when I lie in bed absorbing the sweet quiet and goodness of morning, I hear them fall. One by one. Sometimes they bounce, and I hear a few rapid plops in a row. Sometimes they hit the metal roof of our wood shed, and the sound is sharp like a bang. But most of the acorns hit the wooden porch or steps, or the shingled house roof, and the sound is robust but dull, like a strike on a kettledrum.
Like the glorious sound of birds singing in March as they arrive from the south, the rumble of the first thunderstorm in April, the buzz of cicadas in late summer, the falling of acorns is a sound that for me marks time. Dipping a spoon to get that first delectable taste of maple syrup from the pot boiling in the shed; admiring the beauty of the first brook trout caught in the spring; picking bright red raspberries up the Mt. Chase road in August for muffins; grabbing my orange jacket and shotgun to go grouse hunting with my very excited dogs on the first day of October; filling the woodstove on a cold day in December for the first fire of the winter. There is indeed a season for everything. We eagerly await each one, even though they remind us that time seems to move far too quickly and nothing lasts forever. The raspberries will be gone, the trout will go to deep waters for the summer, the acorns will eventually stop falling . . . until next time. So we wait until next time, doing whatever keeps us busy in the moment.
Time isn't linear; it's a revolving circle, the embodiment of perfection and eternity. We go round and round, enjoying the view and resting in eternity.