Friday, November 21, 2014

Did you hear that?

The "whoooooot" of an Amtrak commute train wakes me each morning...Its some distance off but it makes a lot of noise to clear the railroad crossing.  If my window is open I hear indistinct distant traffic sounds far away from highway 880….
After I get up, there is a swish of water in the bathroom,  and then the dogs bark a greeting when I go into the kitchen - and all of this is just the first 10 minutes of the day… 
Northbound Amtrak train
I let the dogs out into the back yard and hear bird sounds and perhaps the sound of a breeze in the bamboo… I love the  plaintive morning call of White Crown Sparrows  and the sound of water birds from the Quarry Lakes… There is a hiss of steam from the stovetop espresso maker as I return to make coffee… the “beep beep beep” of the microwave oven and the ‘burble’ sounds of oatmeal cooking. We know that the newspaper has arrived by its “plop” in the driveway. 

A migratory flock of Cedar Waxwings - they make a high pitched  "yeep yeep yeep" sound
My wife Judy comes out to join me and we chat about the news, or our plans, or why our rascally dogs barked in the night. Before I get ready to leave the house, there is the "hiss" of the shower, the "clump" of shoes, the rustle of papers going into my backpack,  lunch making sounds… then “good byes” and out the door…(slam). 

One of those days!
Ah! the first big choice of the day – what shall I listen to on the car radio as I commute? Talk or Music? – I quickly scan 6 different selector buttons on my radio and pick the best (or least objectionable).  Fortunately my tastes are very eclectic. (There is an industry that produced sound signatures that we associate with the event or product we are encountering… We instantly know the sound signature of NBC, NPR, the Olympics, the Superbowl, MasterPiece theater, and Nabisco.  These sounds have become part of our reality … our landscape.)

Oakland airport takeoff
And off I go… traffic sounds …  8 wheel diesel trucks… airplanes coming in to Oakland International.  impatient traffic horns…loud rap music from the car next to me.  And I reach my destination – the school I plan to visit today (I work as a Student Teacher supervisor ...high school science) – Now its 'talking talking laughing talking' – office secretaries, teachers, the many voices of students… I may hear construction sounds, factory sounds, or kids in the hallway sounds. One - maybe two schools to visit this day– then home.

Students working in lab
And all this is just my external sounds – I,  probably, like you, carry on an internal ‘sound’ dialogue within my own head pretty much all the time… “ Look at that guy, he just cut me off…”  “ I wonder what Judy is cooking tonight”   “I forgot to take the trash out to the street – I’ll do it when I get home” “I have got to stop at the hardware store tonight to get the repair part for the door.” “What can I do to help Marjorie with that really difficult class?”…on and on --- like a radio that can’t be turned off…

Sweet gentle rain
At times this tendency to fill everything with sound carries over to my relationships with others… its true that nature abhors a vaccum – And sometimes my brain abhors a quiet time when I am talking to others.  Strangely the more at ease I feel, the better I know the 'other' , the more I am able to just let things coast… I’m not alone in this – if you want to play a little game – observe a couple walking together or riding together on BART…you can tell alot about their relationship by seeing how they talk to each other... the more people force continually talking, it's a sure sign that they are trying to "sell themselves" to the other… I wish I had a dollar for every time I have been guilty of this …

There are rare times when I experience real quiet – both inside and out… The best for me is high mountain wilderness… After a day or two, my mind becomes still and I become open to the natural world–with only the music of flowing water, a breeze through the fox tail pines there is stillness, the cry of a hawk or picket pin squirrel, I feel peaceful inside and out… Some kinds of music can do the same thing for me...also the  north Pacific coast land, ...even, at times,  my own back yard...

10,000 ft. Yosemite

When I have tried meditation – I have been told that the object is not about making the mind empty but to just observe that is going on… think of it as the sky – The air may carry a cloud into view – it will pass slowly overhead, and then drift out of view…The object of meditation is the same.  Be aware of thoughts as they enter your consciousness – observe them without trying to control them, and allow them to leave.   Experienced ‘meditators’ report that, as time passes, fewer thoughts arise - and it is possible to ‘rest the mind’ without trying to control it. I only practice meditation under certain situations (like when I am listening to a concert or sometimes in nature ) but have never gained great control… I guess I haven't practiced enough.

You can plow a lot of field with this!
When I was a child my world of sound was different – the mooing of cows, the success cackle of a hen who had just laid an egg, a breeze flowing through the leaves of our giant cottonwood tree, the rustle of gentle wind in a field of growing corn... Far off tractor sounds as a field is being plowed.  Weather sounds were more dramatic... wind, rain, thunder.  And birds -lots of birds- Crows, Mourning doves, English Sparrows, Meadow larks, Hawks flying high overhead, Robins…

Smetana's "Moldau"  (the Moldau is the name of the river that flows through Prague -also called the Vlatava  River)

I am amazed at the sound memory bank that my brain holds and the vast emotion that I invest in sounds.  A musical bar from Dvorak’s “Moldau”, the theme from "La Boheme", or the "Steppes of Central Asia", the opening words of a familiar Johnny Cash song,  hymns that I love such as "Amazing Grace" or "How Great thou Art", good "Ranchero" music... – such variety stored away…And voices – I instantly recognize the voice sounds of those close to me, those that I haven’t seen in years. I can even ‘visualize’  the voices of absent people or those long gone.

My favorite sounds?  Thunder rumbling in the distance, Frogs in the night, Rain (when I’m toasty and warm on the inside), and quiet conversation with family and friends…

Can you hear the thunder?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Drawing the line

The four Hernandez brothers own and farm small hill side cornfields (‘milpas’), near the tiny village of “Cerro del Aguilar” east of Oaxaca Mexico.  Even when the rain is good they have difficulty growing enough corn, beans, and squash to feed their families for the entire year  Their fields are too small and the rain too little. 
A 'milpa' - corn, beans, squash grown together in one plant community
Their solution is the take turns and each year one of them “goes north” to work in the US.  Its more difficult (and dangerous) each year but the money they send home is essential for the extended family. 
3 of the Hernandez brothers - the missing one is 'north' working this year
To avoid the risks of crossing the border, some workers come and stay without papers for years.  Some marry and have families.  And this creates a different problem.  The children born here are citizens by if this man is sent back to Mexico, it will results in a broken family.  There are also young adults who were born in Mexico, came north with their parents when they were very young childen, they have lived their lives in American communities, gone through American schools – even college… and speak only English and have no knowledge of Mexico… Under current law they too are subject to being returned to Mexico. 

Children harvesting corn from their milpa

I recognize the validity of arguments – There are a limited number of jobs in America… and allowing immigrants to stay only makes it harder for ‘our folks’ to get jobs.  But how many Americans are willing to work for minimum wage doing stoop farm labor or cleaning and packing chickens for long hours?  Right now farmers tell us that they are dependent on immigrant labor. (But they want them to be there when they need them – then to go home).  One myth that we clearly identify as incorrect is the idea that Mexicans are lazy - Judy and I have clearly seen both here and in Mexico, people motivated to work hard for a better life. 

When many men in a village are in the US - women must maintain the family in Mexico
I recognize that granting legal status to just anyone isn’t fair for those who play by the rules and have applied through proper channels for citizenship. To provide some sort of control, quotas have been set for immigrant groups of all nations, and we have limited capacity to allow anyone and everyone who wants to come.  Our schools, medical system, social services, legal system are all affected by vast numbers of immigrants who pay limited or no taxes to support the services.  There is the perception that illegals make for more crime in America (not supported by actual statistics ). Today, crossing the border is largely controlled by gangs - by “coyotes” - who charge exorbitant amounts to guide people across the border and frequently abandon men,women, and children in the desert to die. 

A family displaced from their land - moved to the "city" and are forced to live in abject poverty
Its true that through our history we have a sad story of xenophobia.  The Germans, the Irish, the Italians, the Polish and Bohemians, the Chinese, and now the Latino people are  the object of fear and exclusion.  Every group that doesn't speak English or has 'different' skin has appeared threatening to the established order.  Perhaps today some of the fear of “foreigners”  is due to our perceived threat of terrorists … (even though Latinos have no terrorist connections).  A new solution could make  clear that deportations should still proceed for convicted criminals and those who pose national security risks and recent border crossers.
Village girls
 How can we incorporate 'the other' into our “mix” ?  What kind of national dialogue would lead to the a solution both humane and in the best interest of our nation?   Does it strike you as ironic that at the same time we celebrate the tearing down of the Berlin wall – that we now have our own wall preventing people from crossing?   

The town of “Cerro del Aguilar”
So what would a ‘solution’ look like?  Some possible alternatives:

**We could adopt a policy of not permitting families to be broken up by sending back to Mexico one parent or children who have lived here for ‘x’ number of years. Allow them to "join the line" for citizenship.

** People already here now could be permitted to join the line of those waiting to become citizens and issued work permits. Enforce the policy of sending all others back. (obvious problems of enforcing )

A squatter town of displaced village people - desperate people trying to survive

**A Bracero program could be reintroduced to make it possible for workers to legally come north for one growing season and then return  to Mexico – they would provide a legal controlled entry of farm labor and the ability to know who is here.

**Enhanced cooperation between Mexico and the US could focus on stopping the “coyote” gangs and prevented uncontrolled crossings.  Stop the crime and deaths of dangerous crossings through the deserts.

Mother and children - dependent on a husband sending money from the US

The bottom line is : Desperate people seeking escape from abysmal poverty or freedom from the fear of violence will find ways to come north – and right now the only policy we have is a wall of questionable effectiveness and a “catch as catch can” policy of equally limited effectiveness.  Encourage your national leaders to write and enforce a fair solution .

Friday, November 7, 2014

Beginnings and ends

Sometimes it hard to look at change and decide if it is an end or a beginning.  One end is another beginning.  Beginnings and endings are at times sudden and others happen in slow motion - a change may take a second or decades.

I love the new beginning each day.  I get up before the sun – make coffee and breakfast – read the news – talk with Judy about plans for the day… We check to see who is feeding at the bird feeder and listen for White Crown sparrow songs… Isn’t it grand to have a new beginning each day?!

Ah Sunrise!

November is the start of the season of first rain in Northern California… So far one inch has fallen since the start of the rain year in July.  Waiting for the new beginning is exasperating… I get impatient.

This time of year trees can no longer  hold on to the leaves of summer –leaf nutrients are sucked down into the roots, color changes from green to golden and brown and they fall.  For the leaves it is a new beginning… they are soon digested into compost, and the minerals and cell chemicals will be taken up by a myriad of growing things “next season”.

End or beginning?
Granny Smith Apples and Persimmons  are ripening – also Quince… The new crop of oranges are slowly gaining in sweetness…  I love picking fruit from my trees. I share some of the fruit with my resident Scrub Jays –actually they help themselves. But they never take too much – Except I get really pushy when it comes to them eating my figs.

My beloved Granny Smith
For Republicans this is the start of new possibilities in the U.S. Congress.  I ask them only to remember to not be driven by the wishes of the wealthiest 1% in America.  Remember  the “ tired, your poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Remember the destructive effects of low wages and hunger on the vitality of America.  Remember that the environment should trump private profit.  Remember the quote on the Statue of Liberty:

"Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under a just God, can not long retain it."
I end my trekking around on a kneeling scooter today!  The scooter has been  a blessing but is so cumbersome. I have graduated to a 'black boot' - which is lighter and can be removed for showers and sleep at night. I was told to walk on it.  But this is a new skill to be learned - right now it is painful and even with a cane I hobble along slowly.  I start physical therapy next week... I am eager to get myself back into condition for hiking mountain trails again!

The storm system that drives this wave occurred 1000s of miles away in Asia- but the energy travelled rapidly through the water  all the way to Hawaii
Some beginnings are gradual – I see my interns and student teachers about every other week – but that's long enough to see the implementation of new ideas and the results of willingness to try ‘new things’.  A quote I heard this week: “ The only way to learn how to do this job is to do it.”  Kind of a good formula for life in general.

It is the season of migratory geese, flocks of crows, white pelicans – some of each will stay around all winter – but the others have built into their brains cold weather destinations.  All the birds seem to know what they are supposed to do in this season of change.

Transitory pelicans taking a break - Monterrey

I feel a little sad to end a book that I like a lot– I become so involved with the lives of the character!  When I ended the “Century Trilogy” (a series of 3 books based on the history of the 20th and 21st century, involving 4 different generations living in 4 different countries). I felt like “What? You mean there isn’t any more?...”  I know and care about these people!

Now I have a new beginning – Have you ever laughed with Aasif Mandvi – a serious/humorous comedian on the   show…?  Aasif has an absolutely funny/serious book called “No Lands Man  (My Indian friends will find it especially funny for some of his inside jokes about growing up Indian in England and the U.S.)  Remarkable man.
Words of wisdom
We are now well past the equinox so each evening the sun leaves us about one minute sooner – and we humans compensate with more lights in our homes or warm fires burning in fireplaces.

In our backyard the population of insects is nearing a seasonal 'extinction'– Summer was good for them - they increased both in variety and number. I can sit and look out when the sun if just right and see unidentified insects flying past continually – non stop… Of course many have been controlled within their own food webs systems– other insects, birds, lizards… but colder nighttime temperatures will stop more bugs.  Some survivors will find a safe place and lower their metabolism to near zero and wait out the cold days.   Others survive in the form of egg clusters hidden in safe locations or buried in the ground.

The universe in a drop of dew

The only constant  in our known physical universe it is change.  Things do not cease to exist when they change form – a muddy wet swamp is transformed into a pristine cumulous cloud, solid granite mountains change into a white sandy beach, oil buried deep in the ground is made to travel up a pipe, transformed into gasoline and turned to release its stored carbon into the air in the form of CO2.
Change happens slowly in Bodie

Natural roses are so much more satisfying that plastic or silk roses.  Is the beauty of natural roses in their transcient-ness?  From bud to first flower – then mature flower – then to fallen petals… But oh the fragrance that a silk rose can never match.

Change happens rapidly in a thunderhead
This week marked the sad death of a close nephew of my daughter in law Marila and son Peter. The nephew, Bryan had visited us twice, and we knew him as an inquisitive, thoughtful boy as he was growing up.  The fatal accident occurred at night, on a country road in Northern California. He was only 23, travelling with a friend, and both killed.  We grieve with our daughter-in-law, his parents and grandparents and the many who loved him. It is a sad tragedy for one so young, entering his best years. Bryan was special.