Sunday, July 19, 2015

On Reaching the End of Another Decade #2

Sunsets are part of the addiction for those of us who love our Oregon coast.  Sometimes, like Thursday night, the sun merely disappears unremarkably into the gray swirl of offshore mist.  Other times, when the sinking molten orb strikes the right combination with clouds floating above the western horizon, the results are breathtaking...magical.

Last night was such a night.  I grabbed my camera and ran outside.  But it soon became obvious that my location--far from the sea and east of a wide expanse of golf course--was not going to produce anything remarkable in the way of sunset pictures (of which I have a jillion.). So I wandered back into the kitchen and set my camera down, prepared to turn my attention to the next vacation activity.

But something made me stop short, turn around and head back out the door.  I didn't want to be inside...not yet.  I wanted to watch the sunset, not necessarily take pictures of it. I am an incorrigible photographer, and sometimes the camera gets between me and the experience I'm trying to record.  So I crept back outside, away from the general vacation hubbub, found a cozy seat on the front porch steps, where the concrete was still warm from the eight-hour onslaught of afternoon sun, sat down, and just...watched.  

And in the back of my mind grew a thought...that on this, my milestone birthday weekend, perhaps the Creator had something to show me this evening in the darkening night sky.  Surely I could even boldly ask for a message...a sign.  Perhaps in the form of one of the bird spirits upon whom I have come to depend.  My mind formed the request, though not in actual words, not like a prayer.  It was communication much deeper than words.  More like an inner nod, acknowledging that I had requested and the Creator would answer.

Time seemed to slow as the kaleidoscope that was the sunset sky turned, the colors simultaneously deepening and brightening.  Gold to glowing peach to scarlet to deep red to pink, each color, each change never seeming to begin or end, and yet the changes came and went.  It was a long, drawn out show, so lovely and so surprising in its variation and length.  From time to time I would sneak a peek above my head to see if the Creator had yet sent the message I had requested.   After a time, I lost patience (surprise) and complained petulantly, "You haven"t sent me that sign I asked for...!"

To which the Universe replied, "What about this magnificent sunset?  Isn't that enough for you?"

Chastened, I returned my attention to the light show on the western horizon. 

By and by, the message that the Creator had for me dawned as the last light of the sun faded from the sky, on what I had convinced myself was the last day before the beginning of my own personal sunset.

"Sunsets are beautiful.  They can surprise, and they can enchant.  As they reach their finish, they wring every last bit of loveliness from every last ray of sun before it disappears below the horizon.  And that can take a surprisingly long time.

"And then...

"...the stars come out."

Friday, July 17, 2015

On Reaching the End of Another Decade #1

So here I am, sitting on a cheap plastic adirondack chair, on the crumbling pad of concrete that serves as a patio in the back yard of a vacation cottage in one of the tonier areas of the Oregon coast. Apparently the owners would like renters to imagine that the shabbiness of the place elevates it to the level of "kitsch."  The little one level, lap-sided house squats on its lot along a block otherwise populated by shingled cottages with steep shake roofs, colonnaded verandas and gabled a toadstool in a forest of stately pines.  But it has no wish to fade into the background and be unnoticed, here in its old age.  In this row of younger, shapelier homes clad in trendy, weather-worn shingles of the upscale coastal resort, our little cottage is painted

Sitting here writing this, I am of course struck by what a metaphor this little house is for life and the realities thereof, on the eve of my 60th birthday.  I have to admit, I admire the pluck of this little place.  I wish I could apply some of it to my own appearance issues--the sagging face, the turkey neck, the work-worn hands, the slouching posture.  My hair has become such a disaster that I have seriously considered shaving my head and having my scalp tattooed with intricate, colorful paisleys and flowers.  

I've never been pretty...on my best days, pleasant-looking has been the highest standard to which I could aspire.  And I have been okay with that, and with enhancing my appearance with a certain flair for the dramatic that has kept me distinct from the wallflowerish background into which I would have otherwise been destined to fade.  But over the past decade or so, I've struggled to keep up with the physical changes of my aging body.  Presentable on my best days has begun inexorably sliding into cronishness.  I never minded not being beautiful...never gave it much thought, actually.  And yet, I seem to be having a rough time accepting ugliness.   Why can I not celebrate it, wear it like a badge of honor, like this dumpy little mid-century cottage in which I'll sleep the last few nights before my big 6-0, proudly sporting its peeling orange paint and crumbling concrete?

I'm pretty sure I have at least a couple more posts on this subject swimmimg around, bound to come out in the next couple of hours/days...

Thursday, July 2, 2015


The Fourth of July is creeping up on us again.  It’s always an uncomfortable time for me, because I am so allergic to the concepts of patriotism, nationalism, flag-worship and glorification of the military that move to the front and center of our national consciousness on that day.  In recent years…oh, since the onset of the Bush Administration, I’d say…I have taken particular exception to crows of “I’m PROUD to be an American!!!”, and their accompanying  tacit accusations that you are a Communist, Socialist, Nazi, traitor, heathen or demon if you disagree.

Why should I be any more proud to be an American than I am of having brown hair, brown eyes, long legs or pleasant features?  I may be fortunate to be beautiful, or white, or of European heritage, or American-born. But these are happy accidents of birth.  How can I be proud of things I did nothing to achieve?  Naturalized American citizens may be proud to be Americans.  They wanted it.  They worked for it.  They achieved it.  But those of us who were born here?  Not so much. 

So the whole idea of being “proud to be an American” is, to me, semantically erroneous.   The correct statement might be:  “I’m proud of America.”  Which I would be happy to declare from the highest rooftop.

If it were true.

That being more the source of my peevishness at the concept than my grammatical objection to the way it’s expressed.

For weeks, my mind has been grumbling over the seeds of an Independence Day rant, one that enumerated all of the very obvious reasons why I am NOT, currently, proud of my home country; and why no one else should be, either.  A Do-Nothing Congress.  The 2016 GOP Presidential Clown Show.  Shamelessly expanding income inequality.  Ferguson.  Baltimore.  Open-carry fanatics toting AR15’s around on the streets.  A black child shot to death for possession of a toy gun.  A neo-Nazi white kid treated to Burger King after his arrest for murdering nine black people in cold blood. 

Should we be proud of all that?  Good god, it’s all I can do not to pack my bags and leave.  But what country would have us?  Who wants to start taking in streams of disgusted, disappointed, disaffected refugees from the American moral wasteland?  We must be something akin to human toxic waste.  Nope.  We’re stuck here, god have mercy on our souls.

So there’s that…but I hadn’t quite got round to articulating all that when last week happened.

When news out of the current Supreme Court session began blowing across this wasted land like a fresh breeze.

When the highest court in the land proved its mettle and rose up to the sacred duty entrusted to it by the framers of the Constitution--that document of which so many in this country are so woefully ignorant; that sacred manual for democracy which the charlatans would cherry-pick like the bible, billboarding the parts that serve their purposes, sweeping under the carpet the parts that do not.

It’s times like this that we get a sense of the great, scholarly wisdom of our Founding Fathers; that we understand the genius of the three branches of government, of the concept of checks and balances, of the delicate tightrope walk of ensuring that no one division of the federal government has more power than the other two.  What a monumental task, for these men to erect the framework of a government the like of which the world had never seen.  What insight they had to call upon, what comprehension of the strengths and the weaknesses of human nature.  What understanding they possessed of the lure and danger of political power, and yet, of the capacity for human cooperation and accomplishment.

This group of learned 18th-century political zealots hammered together a government that still works, in spite of all the ways we have tried to sabotage it over the years.  This time around, the Supreme Court came to the rescue, reinforcing the lines that an out-of-control political movement may not cross.  We may not protect bigotry and moral decay under the mantle of “states rights.”  We may not deny civil rights to any group just because we don’t like them, or we don’t agree with them, or they are not like us.  It was not okay back in 1954 under Brown v Board of Education.  And it is not okay now. 

In this upside down, contentious country, this heaving mass of conflicting theories, where right is wrong and lies are truth, and we are all daily invited to choose our own realities, and where the hapless Legislative Branch of our federal government has exploited every human foible and dragged us to the brink of economic and moral ruin, the Supreme Court stood up among the chaos and quietly reaffirmed that upon which our country was founded:  That all Americans are created equal, and the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were established for all Americans. 

Should we be proud of all that?

You’re damned right we should.