Monday, November 11, 2013

Caring for the Dead: Thoughts on Veterans Day 2013


On the Crown Square in the midst of Edinburgh Castle, I watched an old woman in a tweedy coat and sensible shoes lead a young, freshly-combed boy into the Hall of Honour at the Scottish National War Memorial, an old barracks reshaped into a hallowed place for records and remembrance at the end of the Great War, World War I.
 
The woman and boy had walked through the Gatehouse and up the steep path.  I held a ticket for admission into the castle; but for them there was no monetary fee for entry into the War Memorial.  They moved through the quietness and soft light of stained glass windows. They paused before the great steel Casket in the Shrine room.  They turned as one and trod a familiar way through the Gothic arch to the western hall.  There, among the bays of memorials dedicated to different regiments of the Service, the two stopped. 

Thick red leather-bound books awaited them on low shelves that spanned the stone walls of the room.  The woman reached out a practiced hand and opened one tome to the lone page I expect she has come to know intimately for forty, fifty, sixty years.  With one finger she traced a beloved name, “fairly written”, as the founders of this Memorial decreed, with name, rank, company, dates of birth and death, and place where a brother, father, husband, uncle, fiancĂ©, or lover died. 
           
She spoke with the boy who was studying the bronze plaques on the walls.  Their deed completed, she closed the book gently, took the boy’s hand in hers and left that splendid building created to honor and remember 150,000 Scottish soldiers who died in the War-to-End-All-Wars. 

Now, there are more than 150,000 names.  So many more have been added to the Rolls of Honour throughout the Second World War, Korea, Falkland Islands, Iraq, Afghanistan.  As long as there are soldiers to war and scribes to record, the great books will grow in number, filled with “fairly written” names, dates, and places of death.

July 1, 1916  was the first day of the Battle of the Somme.  In 2006, the ninetieth anniversary was commemorated with dignitaries, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall and French schoolgirls who scattered red poppy blossoms.  

Members of the military blew whistles and reenacted battle scenes.  Grandsons, great-grandsons, and nephews marched in the footsteps of men gone before them, following trails left in letters, diaries and oral histories.

I thought of the old woman and the boy as I listened to the ceremonies on the radio.  Memories of the Hall of Honour and those thick red leather books filled with fine writing haunted me.  

There were no living veterans of the battle on the Somme River for the anniversary.  No soldiers to relive the hell that began in July 1916.  No warriors to bemoan the battle fought relentlessly until the mud and rain of November forced a halt. 

At the end of it all, the United Kingdom and French Allies had advanced a total of eight miles during the Battle of the Somme.  With a million men dead, the bodies might have stretched from Paris to Berlin to London and back again, never mind how they could form in mountains over that hard-won, eight-mile strip of no man’s land. 

America entered World War I, finally.  One of my grandfathers enlisted on June 3, 1917.  He was a farmer from Tolland, Massachusetts.  He was sent as a soldier to the trenches of France.  He never spoke of his experiences.  

He owned a grocery store. I remember him, a big man dressed in white and covered by a blood and fat-smeared apron.  His passion was the Maine woods where he hunted and fished with a close band of solemn, silent men.  

When my grandfather died, these same men, then bent and frail with age, carried his ashes by canoe and backpack to their hunting lodge.  They buried him there by a big rock at the water’s edge, far from the battlefields of his life. 


Once I read how people grasp things far beyond what is healthy and/ or necessary out of a fear of regret.  We regret our decisions, our choices, speech or inaction.  We fear a shortage of forgiveness.  

Yet, I wonder what could happen if there were no regrets?  What if we all decided not to send young people to war or old people into obscurity?  

What if caring for the Living were as natural and as valued a human trait as is our devotion to the dead.  
No guilt.  No regrets.
What if.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Snake River on a September Afternoon


Gratitude is my new practice.

The sky is clear, the air fresh, and fall colors creep in, first in the marshy areas and later the hills.  This beauty stops me, grabs my soul and says, "Appreciate the little things, the big beautiful things, the ordinary and extraordinary moments of life."

My new practice comes in part from a deep need for perspective in this fast-paced, divisive world where I live, uneasy and worried.  Part springs from questions I have about humanity, mortality, and loss. Since August, four people we knew and cared about have died:

-a singer-pianist-musician-philosopher whose talent sparkled, 
-a woman passionate about quality education, art and music, 
-an artist who was also a diver and a lover of animals, 
-and one very feisty, funny woman, our colleague in the local schools for many, many years... her children... her husband... her fierce love of family and the right stuff for kids. 

Many others have died, too, at this same time.  They were all important people, unique and loved. Many lived long, productive lives well into their 80's and 90's.  

But, the four I knew were our age, all in their sixties.  

I read wonderful and surprising things about each in the obituaries. They had traveled and studied and done volunteer work when they were young.  One was a Quaker and another had turned to meditation at mid-life.  One was a peace worker and all had grown children and extended families and friends grieving for them.

I think of these four often.  My memories of them seem more real than their absences.  I wonder at the loss, these human lives now gone.   I miss them.  I wonder about those of us left.  I wonder about my own mortality. 

Such questions bring me beyond and yet back to beauty and gratitude and small, little things of everyday life.  

Morning coffee.  A walk to the mailbox.  A smile and wave to people I see on the road.  Cooking supper.  Still being able to touch my toes. Drinking in a fall afternoon in all its glory.  Telling someone how much they mean to me.  

Little things make me very grateful these days.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Survival in the Time of the Fools


This poster appeared on my Facebook page -- maybe from Upworthy or Give a Shit About Nature -- I'm sorry, I don't remember the source.

But I do remember the impact it made on me.  "Just go."  Stop being careful and cautious.  Stop waiting for just-the-right-moment.  Just go and embrace whatever you find.

"Go see all the beauty in the world".  Yes!  There is beauty.  Hope.  Strength.  So much beauty to celebrate and take in with a grateful heart.

I need to keep this sentiment close by these days.  It is my survival in this time of fools and charlatans.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ethical Energy: No Nukes 1989 - 2013

1989  
Clamshell Alliance against the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant 

We marched along the roadside in tiny Seabrook, New Hampshire to protest the construction of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. Some people climbed fences and committed civil disobedience.  Some were arrested.  Some of us posted bail.  We went home to engage our neighbors, our politicians, the state regulatory boards.  Then we headed back to the streets.

It was but one moment among the many shared by people around the world who knew nuclear power was dangerous and risky.  The consequences of a nuclear accident should have stopped this technology in its infancy.  But, of course, it did not.  

Earlier this week, I was brought back to this fight over ethical and safe energy when Entergy Corporation announced it will decommission the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon, Vermont.  By the end of 2014, the Vernon, Vermont station, one America's oldest and "most controversial" nuclear plants, will stop due to financial reasons.

Vermont Yankee has been the target of protests from day one.  Over the past several years, there have been a series of radioactive tritium leaks into the ground and water at the Vernon plant.  "No risk to the public", they said, and I wonder who dares believe such lies.

Corporations like this have no legitimacy, no credibility.  They are tarred by Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island, as well as the thousands of "incidents" we the public have never heard of.

Consider this:  In 1989, we did not have a solution to the radioactive waste produced by nuclear power plants.  Now, 24 years later, we still have NO SOLUTION and NO PLACE to put things like spent fuel rods.

So, I gain only a measure of satisfaction from closing Vermont Yankee.  I am more disgusted and concerned that radioactive materials and residues will continue to poison that site in southern Vermont.

I'm disgusted these decisions are based on money (and shareholders) instead of what's "safe" or "right" or "ethical".

I wonder why people go nuts when one person catches West Nile virus from mosquitos, but overlook the specter of radiation leaks from aging nuclear plants and ineffective storage/containment practices.

Do you live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant?  I bet you do.

Entergy helps me be more hopeful that this financial disease will spread and we'll read about a decision to decommission the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire sometime soon.

No matter what, I'll keep advocating for ethical energy resources -- resources that do not deplete and poison the earth nor kill or maim life in any form.  

We've tried the other way -- big, exclusive, greedy, dirty and destructive -- and we've reaped a big, dirty, greedy and destructive system.

It's time to think very, very differently.  More humane.  Sustainable.  Think about affordable, local energy sources.  Think equity.  Work with natural cycles, not in spite of them.  Think "big picture" and "long term".
A saying from past years:
"Humans aren't the only species on the planet; they just act like it."  

How about?
"Humans aren't the only species on the planet -- to go extinct."


Author's Note:  I dedicate this last saying to the Climate Change Deniers, the current Congress, palm oil and soybean mono-plantations in Borneo, Brazil, and in rainforests around the world.   Giant oil and mining corporations, agribusiness, Monsanto gets a special rating. Gold mining with mercury in the Madre de Dios River (Peru), members of the illegal animal trade throughout the world, people who run modern slave markets, sweat shops, racists and bigots... perpetrators, dictators, despots + misogynists... and finally to those good, quiet folk who sit in silence and say nothing, not even when they know what they see is wrong.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Summer Wanes

... and we are once again on the East Inlet...


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Buddha in the Garden

I've been doing yoga once a week for about seven months, now.  My initial intention was to help my (physical) balance and strengthen those core muscles.  When I started, I could barely stand on one foot or even march in place.  How did this happen?  I, who was once a runner and more recently, a walker ~ how did I become this middle-aged woman who wobbled and scrambled to lean on the wall?

Throughout the fall and into winter, I reached for the sky and "walked the dog".  I found my strength in poses like  Bridge and Plank where I anchored myself with more than just my two feet.  I missed days due to ice and snowfall, trips and vacations.  There was short-term work like the Open (Writing) Institute in Newfound and days in schools sharing writing.

Now mid-July, I'm back on the mat.  More flexible.  Aware.  Comfortable in my skin.  I breathe the 3-part Yogic Breath and gently the world falls away.  I stretch and reach, bend and fold.  I think my way into Warrior 2.  On each in-breath, I reach further, move my hands in micro-bits, feel my way to my toes.

Sitting in silent meditation, I sense the summer green and heat.  Leaves and flowers brush my body.  Birds sing in the trees nearby.  Like Buddha in the garden, balance settles from the inside, out.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

A Love of Diversity and Cultures

Cold, rainy day ~ we followed directions to the Mariposa Museum from a postcard I picked up somewhere, sometime, years ago.

We drove back roads through Franklin, Salisbury, Webster.   We tried to remember names of people we once knew. Gerry somebody from the Launch program at SYC.  In Webster, we saw the elementary school where Cat taught Kindergarten and where  Barry played pennywhistle and sang "Flop-eared Mule" with her class.

When we reached Hillsborough, we were in known territory.  Down Route 202 through Antrim and Bennington, we continued on into Peterborough.  There was the middle school where we were Title I tutors in 1973.  The Serendipity Shop, still in business, was the place we sold odd bits of our furnishings, a lamp, and unused wedding gifts.

The bridge to Main Street led us into a timeless space where we discovered familiar landmarks and the magical Mariposa Museum, an apparition of beauty and diversity.  

Puppets.  Drums.  Gongs.  Clothing and jewelry.  Artifacts from around the world.  
Books.  Maps.  Games.   Textiles.

The museum is a collection, a celebration, a prayer for Peace, the Earth and its Peoples and Creatures.  

My dreams and beliefs,
my love and delights 
made visible 

Stories and legends, 
antiquities of a shared 
humanity

These are my riches, 
my treasures 
beyond measure

On a cold and rainy 
June afternoon 
at the Mariposa.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

WHAT KEEPS ME WRITING?

This blog entry comes from a course I'm taking right now through the New Hampshire Writers Project.  Mary Carroll Moore teaches about the structure of books:  "How to Plan, Write and Develop a Book"

She's just the right teacher with just the right content at just the right time for me. Her latest assignment:  Design your book cover.

She got me thinking as well:  What keeps me writing!

READERS

1.  Writing groups and supportive friends ~ 
generous, witty, intelligence.

2.  Making time for me and writing.

3.  My wonderful "field office" ~ the writing shed.

4.  Reading ~ A lifetime of reading.
Love of the Story!

5.  Barry.

TRAVEL

6.  I love this big, big world ~ with all its contradictions.

7.  Children.  Young people.  Anyone under 25 
(maybe 30).

8.  My love of the natural world ~ wilderness.  

9.  My beliefs in social justice for all.
No exceptions.
 LEARNING

10.  Writing with others ~ anywhere, any age and in any language.

11.  Teachers and programs from elementary school to now.
Sometimes the teacher, always the student.

12. Curiosity.  
Endless, boundless, fearless curiosity.

So, what do you think?  Favorite cover?  Not yet?  Stay tuned for more. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Part One: The Beach

Playita Beach in Las Galeras,
Dominican Republic
It's been a dismal few months here in New Hampshire weather-wise.  Even today is cold, grey and windy.  But, as my friends are quick to remind me whenever I start to complain, I have just returned from two and a half weeks in the Dominican Republic.   Sunshine.  Heat.  Beaches.  A small fishing village.  French cuisine and Dominican spices.  Cold Presidente beer and coconut ice cream -- just not consumed at the same time.

Simple Elegance in our room at Sol Azul
The first part of the trip was the beach, a bit of heaven in March for two New Englanders.  We stayed once again in the small village of Las Galeras, at the very tip of the Samana Peninsula.  

We met friendly, interesting people from all over Europe--Germany, Finland, France, Italy -- and we talked about the things we all care about deeply.  Education.  The environment. Traveling.  How to balance jobs and what we really love to do.  And, I always marvel at how much we humans share in common... once we stop and listen.


In town and on the beach, we spoke our "Tarzan" Spanish with lots of gestures and laughs.  The local folks, mostly Dominicans and Haitians, work in the restaurants and drive the motobike taxis.  They navigate the boats on every beach.  They cook wonderful wood-fired pizza and grill fish wrapped in banana leaves.

Barry's love of the birds and plants created connections on every corner.  He asked the names of fruits and critters from the people who lived and farmed beyond the main street.  He shared his bird photos and learned even more.  He was interested in the crops and wondered why no one composts (spiders, snakes and millipedes, so he was told).

So we read and went swimming.  We snorkeled with a Japanese man who has spent years preserving local coral reefs and the fish species within the reef.  We watched small silvery schools of minnows and trumpet fish slide in and out of the seagrass.  

He showed us puffer fish, jacks, a host of surgeon majors, and one deadly lion fish.  We saw different kinds of coral in his protected place -- more than anywhere else on the peninsula.  It's clearly his love, his passion, his livelihood.

Mother Teresa said, "Peace begins with a smile."  
I think communication and connection starts the same way.
That's how it was for us these past few weeks.  


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Little Art on Snowy Nights (and Days)

Zentangle -- using patterns in art as meditation
We are close to the February record for snowfall.  There are one and a half days left in this month, and it's snowing as I write.  Big fat wet lazy flakes swirl across the landscape, changing direction with the wind.  I love these winter days when I am home and warm and settled (with no need to go out).

It's a creative winter for me -- something else I love!  I've been learning Zentangle, created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, as a tool for meditation, focused attention, creative surprises and fun.

My friend is a certified Zentangle teacher, and after attending two of her classes, I'm hooked.  Enchanted.  Absorbed.



The Work in Progress
Earlier in February, I went to a two-day workshop with Mary Carroll Moore, author of Your Book Starts Here.  She taught me about the structure of story.  I feel as if I have new eyes and new tools for my writing life.  

She believes in the power of art, pictures, and collage as a writer's way of exploring the work.  Me, too!  Here's the start of my collage, a story in visual images and patterns.  It promises to blossom along with my book.


Then, there is the natural wonder all around us.
My main Muse.  
My heart.  
The source of Life and Hope.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

BLACK HISTORY MONTH in a KENYA PASS BOOK

...So many things we must not forget...  

This February, Black History Month, I revisit the hard truth of Lincoln and Emancipation, the U.S Congress and its long practice of shielding the status quo, and how the past is prologue.  Still today, we blind ourselves to slavery, torture, death, cruelty and discrimination in its many different forms in our own country and across the world.

...So Much Evidence... So Many Stories...

Kikuyu, Embu & Meru Pass Book
Male
Colony and Protectorate of Kenya
Issued December 6, 1957

2007.  Outside of Nairobi, Kenya I found this man's Pass Book in a shop selling artifacts of Africa.  There among the masks and cloth, wooden instruments and beadwork sat this well-worn brown book. Gathanga Kangotu, a farm laborer, had to carry this booklet with him at all times.  If he wanted to leave his district, he had to get permission -- a Movement Permit -- signed by a local British Control Officer.  If he didn't...?

He was a Kikuyu in the Fort Hall District, Location 8.  His residence permit was the town of Eldoret on the farm where he was employed by E.H. de Waal Sr.  

Gathanga traveled very little.  He received permission to travel to his new job on a farm. Once he received the official stamps to go to the dentist.  In January 1959, he had two weeks leave from work.  

But if this seems like limited travel over two years, a woman's Pass Book on the same shelf held no evidence, no written requests, no issuing permits.  She stayed wherever she was during the entire time of the Pass Laws in Kenya.  

In searching for information on the pass books, I found very little on the Internet.  Kenya was Britain's East Africa Protectorate from 1895 to 1920 and its Colony from 1920 to 1963.  In 1952, the Mau Mau Uprising challenged British rule.  It was then the government issued the Pass Laws and controlled people's freedom of movement.  

What do I think?  The heart of this book rests in Why and How it was used.  Why it existed. Who protested.  Who did not.  How many died because of these laws.  How many truncated lives and dashed dreams are contained within these small brown booklets.  How much rage and loss stains the collective pages.

What do I wonder?  How does this history linger into the present.  And where else in the world can we find pass books, colonization and slavery -- Now -- still alive, still ignored, still and always, morally wrong.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

THE NEW YEAR

Feels like the New Hampshire of Old
We've had two snowstorms, back to back, leaving us with a good ten inches of our favorite fluffy snow.  No ice or rain this time!  It feels like the New Hampshire we knew in the late 1960's and 70's.  Greenfield.  Peterborough.  Belmont.  Pittsfield.  New Hampton.

Thigh-deep snow was common then.  We cross-country skied at Dartmouth and along the logging roads from Cat and Skip's in Sanbornton.  We stayed at the Franconia Inn and skied from the back door through groomed trails under the shadow of the White Mountains.

Our first winter on Blake Hill, we skied down the road during the blizzard that closed the hill and most of the schools and businesses in New England.  We snowshoed the Greeley Ponds off the Kancamangus and ended up at a contra dance in Tamworth with Dudley and crew.  Blazing fiddles and the concertina lit up the dark and kept us warm long into the night.

I was drawn back into these memories on Saturday during the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.  Our territory covered neighborhood feeders, small ponds, the fish hatchery, and a network of country roads crisscrossing the hills.  Here we found old settlements and familiar names from New Hampshire history.

New Chester Road.  Knox Mountain Road.  Up Burleigh Mountain and Calef Hill.  Hale Road to Brook Road and over Bennetts Ferry.  These were once thoroughfares for coaches and horses.  Grand old farmhouses endure behind stone walls and ancient trees.

The roads we followed led us deeper into a time long gone.  We counted birds -- cardinals and chickadees, blue jays and nuthatch, mallards and black ducks, hairy and downy woodpeckers, starlings, crows, and hawks.  A white-tailed deer watched us from his place by a stone wall.

We witnessed the way nature is when a sharp-shinned hawk took down an exhausted black duck.  It was shocking but also quick and silent.   And, the hawk had food for another day.

At the same time we were counting birds, twenty cars were piling up on both sides of the interstate near our town exit.  Five people were hurt.  Many of the cars were totally wrecked.  One witness said no one slowed down even after it was apparent the road conditions were deadly.

What a contrast!  Old dirt roads and new highways.  Slow and fast.  Attention. Inattention.  Choices and consequences.  I wonder if it's the way nature is when people feel entitled to speed, or think themselves beyond the reach of events, like unexpected snowstorms and poor driving conditions.

It snowed into the evening. We made our way home over the back roads, our thoughts full of the sights, the places, the birds of the day.  We spoke of the memories stirred, of old friends, old times and old ways.
~Happy New Year~