World’s second Oldest Profession

The World’s Second Oldest Profession

 

Gossip may not be the “world’s oldest profession,” but it may be the second. I’m sure there was a source in the Garden of Eden who broke the story about Eve and the apple. I’m thinking it was the snake (#Eve). We, the public, “love us some dirt” but usually dirt about others. People have long been interested in the doings of their neighbors, but injecting one’s self into the public realm is a recent phenomenon.

 

Traditionally, those of us living a less public or celebrated existence were content to keep to ourselves. Privacy was valued and important, if not sacred. That has changed, and people today are more inclined to share the details of their private lives. Social media websites are the most visited websites in the world. I recently watched a Ted Talk by a speaker who argued that privacy is an outdated and useless concept. What we know about other people’s lives and the penetration into the private details of someone’s, thoughts, speech, actions, and tastes has never been so vast.

 

For people in high profile occupations like entertainment, politics, sports, and certain businesses, the rules have always been different. Public figures have long been the subject of fascination to the public, and the price of celebrity has been less privacy. For the media who cover public figures, what to share and what not to share is not so simple, because even if one media outlet sets a high standard for what they will or won’t use (All The News That’s Fit To Print) there is always another one with a lower bar (Inquiring Minds Want To Know). When, by chance, the mainstream media passes on something you can be certain social media will not, but it is safe to say that for most media, ignoring what the public clamors for is suicide.

 

A long understood part of this reality is that businesses and public figures manipulate how the public perceives them. Strategically releasing information about one’s self is called Publicity, and armies of careers are built to do it.  It is understandable that public figures fade into obscurity if they don’t manage their brands across traditional and social media platforms, but why do people who were once anonymous feel the urge to share intimate details of their lives? How have we gone from being individual creatures, to herd members, to citizens of societies, to consumers, and now to being brands? The compulsion to place oneself in the public eye has expanded into the lives of almost everyone. Managing one’s brand seems to be just another way of saying, Look at Me!

 

I value solitude and the quiet of my own thoughts. (#Curmudgeon) I enjoy walking places in the world by myself, and being disconnected from the herd. In a world of Google Earth and expanding surveillance in every dimension of life, I value being invisible and anonymous. I don’t know feel the urge to share whom I love, how I worship, what I eat, where I travel, and what I support with everyone. But, to be clear, privacy and secrecy are not the same. If you damage or manipulate others while concealing your misdeeds behind a veil of privacy, that is secrecy and I think the role of responsible media is to protect others from the abuses of power and privilege.

 

(#KillFacebook)

 

Ten years ago I opened a Facebook account to market a novel I wrote. I regretted it immediately, especially when I discovered how much other people used Facebook to expose things about themselves that didn’t interest me. Within a year, I had enough and shut it down. I thought I had killed it off only to find out that it was actually sitting dormant for years. Discovering that, I killed it off forever, (#Delusion) with a great sense of satisfaction, but it was no simple task requiring garlic, mirrors, sunshine, wolf bane and a crucifix, (“Die Dracula, die!”)

 

I have no interest in the private lives of others, but am realistic enough to understand that my opinion is irrelevant. I know I’m the Luddite stubbornly refusing to use the new fangled automobile in the early 1900’s, or the telephone in the 1930’s. I understand the modern world cares not one iota about what I do, and I understand there are many uses of social media that bind people together in joyful ways. I think it’s great when Facebook ties together families and keeps people connected, but it doesn’t change my sense that we’ve evolved into chattering narcissists validating our lives by broadcasting unnecessary and private details.

 

It saddens me that fewer people experience the sanctuary of anonymity.

 

Years ago (#Rantingoldman) I read that privacy is the respectful act of ignoring the details of another person’s life that do not pertain to you. That is a mouth full for sure, but the point is, we can choose what we respond to and we can cultivate respect for other’s privacy. That I know something about you does not make it mine to share. I think we are diminished when we believe the private details of other’s lives belong to us. I think it cheapens us, and shifts our focus from the common good to the common bad.

 

(#Genieoutofthebottle) I think privacy is both a human right and need disappearing through careless acts of self-revelation and commercial exploitation. Further, in a the world information tracking by companies like Facebook, Instagram, Google, and Amazon, where your absence reveals you as much as your presence, there simply is no place to hide anymore in a garden laden with apples and filled with snakes.

 

 

If you need to reach me, I cannot be reached at #joeyrantings.

Zucchini Races and The United States Constitution

We Hold These Truths to be Self Evident

The inspiration for this piece came while checking out at the Creswell Bi-Mart last week.   There was an older man without a facemask on, bellowing his displeasure at Governor Brown’s requiring citizens to wear facemasks in hard-hit Oregon counties. He said the “The whole thing is BS and unconstitutional: to anyone who cared to listen.   My first impulse was wanting to retrieve the copy of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence I carry in my car. The second, gentler impulse not to react, prevailed, and I thought that this poor man was struggling with the Coronavirus pandemic the same as all of us.

This piece is my third impulse.

Zucchini Races and The United States Constitution

Three summers ago, I sat in my friend, Scott’s booth at the San Juan County Fair in Friday Harbor, Washington. The fair is full of produce displays, horse shows, animal judging, cotton candy, chicken races, and the biggest draw of all, at five o’clock every night, The Zucchini 500, a side by side downhill drag race by “driverless cars” made from, what else: Zucchinis. And, though kids dominate the entrants, many adults enter cars and take the competition very seriously, with a few engineers perfecting innovative designs throughout the year to become the Zucchini 500 Champion.

There are two classes of cars: stock; cars whose main body is a full zucchini, and custom; cars that have some form of zucchini worked into the construction. Being fast is one goal, with friction-reducing wheels and aerodynamic designs dominating. But fun is also good, especially with MC Scott presiding like Don Rickles at a comedy roast. I entered a car one year that ran down the ramp for about six feet and then stopped; flat out stopped. Instantly, Scott branded that The Blum Line, and for the next few days, the main goal for all racers was to surpass The Blum Line.

 

Each day, Scott and Lynnette “Zucchini Queen” staff the “Zucchini 500” booth, checking in entries for the evening’s race. Scott Bell, commercial painter, musician, and elder statesman of all things San Juan Island. He isn’t the mayor of Friday Harbor and doesn’t hold political office, but he is a central figure in the island community. He might as well be the King for all the people he knows and the history of San Juan Island that he possesses.

 

Scott and I met while waiting for the ferry forty years ago when he played in the legendary rock and roll band, The Ducks, whose motto was, “Making The Easy Impossible.”   We struck up a conversation about the guitars we were carrying and have been friends ever since. When she met me for the first time, one of his bandmates said, “I heard Scott likes you, and Scott doesn’t like anyone.” Forty years later, whenever we get together, the conversation goes in a lot of directions. Scott can talk; Lord have mercy, Scott can talk about anything and everything. His persona is a bit of a tough guy. Still, in truth, he is loving and sympathetic, especially with young people, so all day, race entrants and other friends stop by the booth to say hi, share some stories, and register their car for the evening race.

 

And so it was, we stat talking when a kind of shy man in his late twenties stopped into the booth holding handful of campaign leaflets and handed one to each of us. We each took the leaflets politely, and a quick read of the bullet points warned us that Christianity and gun ownership were under attack! I asked the young candidate for County Commissioner if he might tell me specific examples of where Christianity was under attack. The aspiring politician begged off and said, “Hey, I’m just here for the fair. I don’t want to talk about politics.” I said, “Apparently, that’s not accurate because you handed me your campaign leaflet?” I continued, might you tell me exactly where Christianity is under attack?” but once again, the young did not want to “get bogged down in specifics.” So, I said, “Okay, let’s move on from that,” said I, “What about gun ownership? I know there is a lot of talk about gun rights, but, to the best of my knowledge, not a single gun has been taken away from anybody; pretty much, ever, so might you give examples of where gun rights have been taken away?” Again, the candidate for County Commissioner said he just wanted to enjoy the fair.”

 

At this point, I noticed Scott was uncharacteristically silent as I pressed asked the hopeful candidate, “Have you read the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence?” To this, he timidly replied, “Well, parts of it” and me, being the teacherly type, said, “Well, it’s your lucky day because I have a copy of both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in my car, (It’s true, and yes, I know that makes me weird). I’d be happy to go get them, and we can have a look together.” This was too much for the future head of state, and he begged off one last time, saying he was just out for a little fun.

And I said, “Yes, me too, then said what I have many times to other friends and family when they bemoan something is unconstitutional or that some member of government should do this or that, “Look, I don’t know exactly why you’re running for office. I don’t know if you believe in Communism or Capitalism, but I do know this, “If you want to represent the people of this county, state, or nation in any capacity, you should read and understand the rules by which we are governed. You need to know the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and every amendment to it, because holding office is a responsibility and a privilege. I think you shouldn’t have that privilege until you’ve at least read the foundational documents that form our laws and customs.” The poor kid was flustered, but he did agree to read the documents, and we amicably shook hands before he left the booth.

 

When he left, Scott finally broke his silence. “You know, you were right to challenge him that way, and you were fair, but if you knew that poor kid, you would have let it go. It turns out that the kid has had a rough go of it in life, and his chances of actually getting elected were pretty slim (He did not win). And I felt like had I known more about him I might have been more gentle, but I stand by what I said: The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution are the bedrock upon which the United States was formed and exists today. Both documents are remarkable for their philosophical and pragmatic depth, and they should be read and understood by every citizen. New citizens to the US have to pass a test on it before they get their citizenship, but unfortunately, those of us born here get citizenship without having to show their knowledge of the documents. In theory, we all take a government class in high school, but most of us don’t remember much from that.

 

And for anyone who wants copies of either or both documents, I’ll be happy to provide you them, and we could even meet for coffee and discuss them, but one caveat, “No cherry-picking!” You can’t just pick the parts you like and throw out the rest. And if you do that and decide to run for office, I’ll be happy to write some speeches for you, but honestly, if you read the two documents, you won’t need me. In my spare time, I can get back to designing a custom zucchini car that will spare me from the comedic tongue of the awesome Scott Bell if I can finally surpass The Blum Line.

 

 

A Cup of Joe for Joey

Five months into the dramatic shift in daily life and one of the things that help me is an occasional cup of coffee. I’m sure you understand: life is often about simple pleasures.

I’ve previously confessed in this space to binge-watching too many television shows since things went all “Corona.” But, I did not confess another fact about my world of addiction. Coffee. Some, who know me, understand that I love coffee but it doesn’t always love me back. At various times, more than a few local coffee shops were under direction not to serve me coffee. It’s usually done politely by the barista asking, “Is that okay? Or, are you sure? Or, don’t you mean decaf; are you allowed to have regular coffee?” Lest you think I become a raving sociopath while “under the influence” let me explain.

For the entirety of my life, I have seldom had more than one cup of coffee in a day, and, I have seldom drunk coffee every day as many do. Normally, I have one cup every few days, early in the morning, and then I get A LOT done for the rest of the day. I can bang out the crossword puzzle or nail Jeopardy questions as if a superhero! I talk a lot, but that’s not so unusual, and if no one is around I don’t talk but work hard and focused at one thing after another. This is good for a writer, a builder, and a gardener. So far so good, until sixteen hours later, I cannot sleep, my muscles get tight and painful, and the jitters set in. One Cup, sixteen hours later!

coffeeA Cup of Joe

If I drink coffee on consecutive days, by the third day the boom book starts going away, less gets done, and all that chatty, creative energy transforms into a Zombie land depression. My energy flags, my speech slurs, my body hurts to the point that walking stairs is difficult and my neck gets so tight I want to snap it off. I begin to organize my world in a bout of OCD, and honestly, I just get weird.   And yet, all day, all I think about is getting that next cup the following morning. Though my addictions are legal, relatively safe, cheap, and benign, they are still addictions.

From Wikipedia.

Caffeine can have both positive and negative health effects. Some people experience sleep disruption or anxiety if they consume caffeine, but others show little disturbance. Caffeine can produce a mild form of drug dependence associated with withdrawal symptoms such as sleepiness, headache, and irritability when an individual stops using caffeine after repeated daily intake.

Crater LakeCrater Lake

I recall well the two best cups of coffee in my life.  In August of 1974, driving with friends from San Francisco to my home in Tumwater, Washington, we detoured to Crater Lake.  We arrived at the rim at midnight with a few blankets and no camping gear or warm clothing. The temperature was 31degrees, so we retreated down to a campsite and went to sleep. At four o’clock in the morning, it started raining, so we piled back into the 1974 Pontiac Catalina and set off.  It would be fifteen years before I saw Crater Lake in the daytime. We headed downhill with the heater cranked on high. An hour later we stopped for breakfast at a café, and when they poured the coffee into the restaurant ceramic cups, it was heavenly:  to that point in my life, the best coffee ever.  It was probably Boyd’s or Folgers but I didn’t care: “any port in a storm.”

CafeA Port in a Storm

The next great cup of coffee would come under different circumstances, but oddly similar. Nancy and I were in Europe in 1988 for the first time and traveling by train from Barcelona to Rome. Sharing our cabin was a young Argentinean whom we befriended and spent much of the overnight trip talking with instead of sleeping. Arriving in Rome, early the next morning, the Argentinian, a well-versed traveler, said, “Let’s get a coffee,” and we stepped into the bustling coffee line where a veritable phalanx of baristas stood cranking out shots of espresso. The Argentinian said, “Be sure to order two so you don’t have to wait in line again.” This we did and enjoyed the coffee agreeing that it was the best EVER!

RomeRome Termini Train Station Cafe

If you think this piece is simply the rationalizing of a drug addict (it is), let me say that coffee is not simply a drug experience, but more an aesthetic ritual I enjoy sharing with others. The other day, one of the Oregon Department of Forestry fire patrol crews stopped by to say hi, and with respect and appreciation for how hard they work and the service they perform, I made them a cup of coffee. They had heard about my coffee ritual and before preparing it, I explained my process in a step-by-step fashion. A few minutes later, they joyfully received the brew.

In pandemics as in life, it is the little things that sustain us. Amen.

Uncle Joey’s Obsessive Compulsive Perfect Cup of Coffee

  • Prepare a Clean work area
  • Layout your required teaspoons, cream, sugar, coffee, cups, pitchers, and whatever device you use.
  • Use good coffee (this is dependent on individual taste)
  • Make certain that nothing hot: water, cream, coffee ever meets a cold surface. Pre heat everything
  • Make the coffee strong. One tablespoon per six ounces is a joke; double it!
  • Never allow the coffee to cool, and only add hot milk or cream which has been heated to “The Natas” point, which for those who don’t speak Spanish, is when heated milk forms a very thin layer of skin on the surface seconds prior to boiling.
  • Blend the milk, cream, half and half together with the hot coffee and if you’re like me, add sugar. In my novel, Bedtime Stories, Philosopher Mechanic, Fish, says to the protagonist, Jake, “Black coffee is just a drug, but if you add cream and sugar, it is three drugs!”
  • And last, perhaps the most important step of all in the ritual: serve the coffee in a perfect cup to yourself or your guest who is “ready to receive it.” Receive means, calm, and ready to taste and appreciate the coffee instead of just banging it down.
  • Savor the first sip and each additional sip

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Sugar: Protect the Youth!

Rise of Sugar Raises Questions, by Joey Emil Blum 

In a recent blue paper, the National Academy of Nutritional Sciences addressed the rise of sugar consumption in the United States.  “Main-street America’s food supply is changing rapidly with sugar distribution outlets leading the charge. It seems like every town now has a “Candy” store and a “Bakery,” the terms preferred by sugar industrialists to the previously described, Sugar Dispensaries.

Though initially confined to medical administration in certified professional offices, sugar is now available in all fifty states and US territories. Outlets called, Bakeries and Pastry shops are proliferating alongside more traditional retail outlets for food, sex, and other drugs. Edible sugar is making its appearance in traditional grocery outlets in a myriad of products enticing consumers with names like apple pie, maple bars, cake, cookies, snickerdoodles, bars, hard candy, chocolate, jellies, jams, sparkles, fireballs, ice cream, spreads, preserves, leathers, pudding, sundaes, as well as a growing number of trade named sugar delivery systems directed at youth. Sugar researcher Leslie Green, of Tufts Medical School, said the sugar industry is targeting youth with a wide variety of sugar products with playful names like M and M’s, Junior Mints, Reese’s Pieces, Cherry Garcia, Almond Joy, Licorice, Butterfingers, Pepsi, Coke, Chocolate chips and scores of other child-centered products. Green, who has studied the effects of sugar on children for sixteen years, said in a somber tone, “We feel defenseless against the onslaught of sugar, and hope the public will navigate the health and social impacts of this emerging dietary staple.”

While research raises alarms about sugar’s role the rise in diabetes, heart disease, and obesity-related conditions, the sugar industry is showing meteoric growth. In their January Emerging Industries issue, Forbes said there are over two hundred individual conglomerates selling a new, super-potent sugar product called Donuts, though the lasting health effects of this product remain unclear. The public’s insatiable desire for sugar is pushing demand to unprecedented levels, a trend that analysts expect will increase rapidly.

As concerns about the medical safety of sugar surface, studies evaluating the effect of sugar on human health are proliferating. Industry spokespersons have strongly denied sugar poses any health risk to the public. Dole Sugar Corporation, Vice President Cole Aspenard, who serves as Chairman of the Sugar Board of America, said, “Sugar is God’s ways of bringing a smile to the world.” Asked to comment on health questions about sugar, Aspenard declared, “Attacking sugar is attacking America.”

Additional concerns about sugar consumption raise questions about the product’s effect on youth. The National Association of Teachers issued the results of a poll conducted of the nation’s classrooms, where teachers overwhelmingly declared sugar slows the mental ability of students and increases jittery behavior. Bianca White, the President of Venezuela Sugar Company, speaking from her company’s US headquarters in Miami, Florida said more study is needed but that, “Sugar has less influence on the behavior of a child’s ability than the sweet and life-giving molecules of air that they breathe.”

Even with health concerns mounting, it may be too late to derail governmental hunger for a new source of revenue. Presently, state taxation of sugar averages %15 at the supply level, but with municipalities like Seattle and Louisville, levying local sugar taxes of 10% at the retail level, we should expect similar actions by other revenue dependent municipalities. RBC governmental revenue specialist, Lindgar Jensen, who tracks emerging commodity markets for the financial giant, said, “Historically, the infusion of tax revenue acts as a de-facto barrier about understanding unintended consequences of new foods or medicines. Lindgar, who serves on The United Nations Council of Global Nutrition warns, “Per capita consumption of sugar is driving a rosy economic picture for those benefitting from it.” Shrugging his shoulders, Lindgar said, Sugar is here to stay.”

 

 

Kingdoms, Pandemics and the Search for a Lion.

                           

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the corner of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger…” Leviticus 19:9-11

Humans love to sort things into categories. Biologists, being human, are no different except they get pretty serious about how they do it. The granddaddy of biological classification was a Swedish naturalist, Carl Linnaeus, who assigned everything a Latin name, which tormented millions of humans since.

LinnausCogito ergo sum

Biological classification starts with the division of all living things into basic differences, therefore, two kingdoms, Plant and Animal (and yes, there are some outliers). After kingdom, the sorting becomes more and more refined until you get down to the level where if you mate and produce viable offspring, you’re of the same species.

Taxonomy

Much to the chagrin of various teachers in my early life, I never had much interest in the plant kingdom except that animals (my kingdom) eat them. I once drew the ire of a botany professor when looking at a single-celled plant through a powerful microscope; I could not see tiny hair-like appendages that distinguished one from another. The professor kept saying, “There it is, there it is!” and I kept saying, “Where?” I did not have the same problem with the distinguishing ears of Asian and African elephants, those being big and found on animals living on different continents. I think my professor resented my dislike of plants,” especially small ones with atomic sized golden hairs! I do like trees and any plant that produces fruit.

Seven years ago, in India, I was on a “safari” in the “Last Sanctuary of the Asian Lion.”

AsianlionAsian Lion

The safari was six hours of bouncing in a jeep that yielded no lions. Our guide, trying to salvage the outing, suggested a nature walk to look at plants and birds.

GujaratplantIndia Plant (not a lion)

IndianSunbirdIndia Bird (pretty, but not a lion)

Our guide was a sweet man, but I said, “You do understand that we were looking for large, majestic, ferocious, lions! Looking at flowers and birds just ain‘t gonna wipe that disappointment away!” The poor man was crestfallen until I said; “Wait, you have crocodiles in the river, right? Let’s go see them.”

CrocodileCrocodile (not a plant)

Fast forward to the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Since March, I’ve been home and taking care of food gardens. The virus arrived as spring emerged. I like food, and when the virus arrived and concerns that the food supply chain might be disrupted, grew, it seemed like growing food was a good idea. With the gardens has come a newfound appreciation for the plant kingdom. And, not only that but I confess displeasure with some of my kingdom mates; deer, rabbits, turkeys, slugs and voles, all who believe that ‘what’s yours is mine.’ I enjoy sharing food with animals, but we’re still working out everyone’s fair share as they don’t water, fertilize, or weed. I get annoyed when they gorge themselves.

There is also another dimension to the plant kingdom on our land. Many of the plants were planted as memorials to departed friends and family members. The land is a garden of memory, which makes a walk around the place pretty emotional.

Here are a few of the memorials.

Two Willamette Valley ponderosa pine trees planted for Esther and Mike, two elders from my life who always opened their home and gave me a supportive place when my family blew apart. The trees are ten feet apart, so they will grow individually before merging together as did Esther and Mike for a long marriage.

WVPPWillamette Valley Ponderosa Pine

An Orcas pear, Plumtree, and a Tropicana rose, commemorate Nancy’s mother, Lucille, a public health nurse, and kind human being.

Clayton_10_2OrcaspearLucille and Orcas Pears

A cherry tree is planted for another friend/sister, Roseanne, who asked us to plant a cherry tree for a woman she took care of. This we did, but now, the tree evokes Roseanne, who died too young a few years ago.

Screen Shot 2020-07-23 at 2.15.07 PMRosie

cherrytreeCherries

A gooseberry bush recalls my father, who grew them in a pea patch outside of New York City, where he spent summers puttering in the garden. The gooseberries reminded him of his mother, Eva, my grandmother, whom I never met, and seeing the bush and tasting even one tiny berry from it brings my father and grandmother to life.

GooseberryGooseberries

We have a Mountain Hemlock tree planted for my Uncle Wesley, with a hermetically sealed pineapple pie buried in the ground next to it. Confined to a bed in his last year of life, Uncle Wes greeted visitors with the offer of a fruit pie that he had in great quantity. So full of chemicals are these pies that I’m sure when the aliens arrive sometime in the future they’ll have something on which to snack.

pineapplepieThe Pie That Lasts For All Eternity

MtnhemlockMountain Hemlock

We have a stand of colorful hollyhock flowers named, Ruby’s Hollyhocks because our daughter Ruby grew them as a child and packaged and sold the seeds as a side business. At one time, we thought the seeds might pay for college, but that didn’t pan out.

RubyHollyhockhollyhocksRuby and Hollyhocks

And last, lavender from Italy, the plant we built our nursery, the now-legendary Sawmill Ballroom Lavender Farm, that grew plants taken from cuttings we obtained from friends Reinhold and Milena, in Italy.

19Tuscan Lavender

The enchantment of plants is ever stronger as we enter month six of the Coronavirus epoch. Presently, peppers, cabbage, onions, greens, cauliflower, peas, and zucchini are hitting the dinner table, and cucumbers are starting too, which means pickles, which I like a lot. I feel a bit like a traitor to my animal kingdom, but, when I die, it will please me if there is a commemorative plant grown in my memory.

And a lion too!

SleepingLionRousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy

 

Waiting No More For The Big One

I wrote this piece about five years ago.  It ran in the Lane Monthly.  I re-share it with a dose of humility and awareness that the world has a way of challenging our thinking.

Waiting for The Big One

“Humanity today is like a waking dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world…terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence.”

Evolutionary biologist, Edward O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth.

The end of the world is nigh. That means imminent, soon, impending. So say the experts and it appears that many people think the threat is real because lately more than a few of my friends have asked me what we’re doing to get ready for it.

It is confusing. Is the big one the devastating earthquake seismologists say will ravage the Northwest? Is the big one the asteroid astronomers say is careening towards the Earth, like shotgun pellets at an unsuspecting pigeon? Is the big one renewed threats of nuclear holocaust that State Department analysts say is possible due to deteriorating relations with Russia? Is the big one the environmental collapse threatening all living things due to global warming or an Avian Flu pandemic the World Health Organization says might break out at any time if I don’t get a flu shot? Is the big one a catastrophic Category-5 hurricane, a communication destroying solar flare, a collapse in the global economy, a tsunami obliterating the west coast, a famine inducing drought, a plague of locusts, or even the Armageddon some believe is God’s way of showing how much he loves us? I get confused because with so many contenders to be “The Big One,” I’m not sure how to prepare. If from one second to the next a four-minute Richter Scale 9 shaker lets fly and we lose our roads, electricity, communications, and food supply for an extended period, what then?

Throughout the ages, there has been a steady stream of prognostication about shit hitting the fan. There is never seems a time when we can live without fear from something knocking the crap out of us. It’s a wonder we even get out of bed.

I understand that scientists and spiritual leaders feel compelled to alert us to these things. Disasters do happen, like the 2011 Tohoku quake in Japan they are still struggling to clean up. And honestly, I would take perverse pleasure in saying goodbye to many elements of modern civilization. I’m not deluding myself into thinking that by packing a storm shelter full of beans and rice, barrels of water, and a cache of ammunition to keep the real and human wolves at bay, we can ride it out. Yet, I struggle to understand what good comes from someone telling us there’s a one in three chance that in the next fifty years, Idaho will become a coastal state. What can we do to prepare for that?

Honestly, if the North American tectonic plate “corrects” for the pressure of the sub-ducting San Juan Plate and the 700-mile Cascadian subduction zone goes all “full-margin rupture” so that my home and an estimated hundred forty thousand square miles of the Northwest bends down then springs back like a diving board underneath an Olympic diver, what can we do to prepare? Should we set eyebolts into the corners of the house and tie the corners off to some trees? How many packs of batteries, bottles of water, and vacuum-sealed pouches of camping chili do we need? How will we fend off the desperate “city people” when Trader Joes are looted and cannot get resupplied?

I don’t blame people for worrying when bombarded by a condensed dose of horror each day. Still, I have no inclination to prepare a bunker with a hand-cranked radio and a year’s supply of Meals Ready to Eat so we can ride it out until the coast is clear.   I do keep a two-week amount of food strapped around my waist at all times land I do worry about forest fires because I love my donkey and cat and am concerned how I’d get them away from a big fire but other than that I think that many predict dire scenarios as a way to sell us something or distract us from other matters.   As for anything the Federal Emergency Management Agency, F.E.M.A. has to say, how’d that work out in New Orleans? Even the Red Cross list of emergency supplies is baffling. I’m not sure what birth certificates, home deeds, and entertainment supplies will do for you when the continent goes all snap, crackle and pop.

Living my own life is challenging enough without fearing disaster scenarios on which highly qualified researchers lay odds. I don’t read newspapers or magazines. I don’t Tweet, Facebook, or watch television. The only radio I listen to is sports radio, where they wouldn’t know a hurricane from a dropped punt. I’m not “In the loop” of all of the impending disasters. Still, I’m not spending a single second worrying about it if for no other reason than I have not one iota of control over any of it. I will not walk the Earth afraid of everything that can end my life.

If it all goes boom and some bunker junkie with his s–t ton of supplies aims a fully loaded Kalashnikov at my heart while I plead for mercy, I’ll have to react. Seen, from a Red Cross Helo, I’ll be a sorry sight eating freeze-dried crow by the fire as the Cavalry drops pouches of hermetically sealed Beef stew and a boxed set of Curb Your Enthusiasm into my outstretched arms. Until then, I’m going about my business and singing R.E.M.’s “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

Life is life, and death is death. You get what you get.

Memories of Time Stopping

Memories of Time Stopping

Live long enough, and you come to understand that the world occasionally shifts its axis. In those moments, routines and necessities change: time stops.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the speed and frequency with which we ride the roller coaster of living. Optimism and pessimism rise and fall like tides. People struggle with having the most basic form of control taken away. Humans, with their endless creativity and resilience, rally their optimism even as they “check the numbers” each day for signs that things will return to “normal.” One thing is sure: we are alive, and for some, experiencing the majesty of that for the first time.

Living in an industrial age, few of us experience a creature’s life. Few of us grow or hunt our food. We live in homes that are never too cold or too hot. There is droning predictability to things, and it is rare to experience the world independent of the filters of a culture that programs our thoughts. Our imaginations have been stolen.

But then, the world stops: work stops, school stops, church stops, concerts stop, bars stop, commerce grinds to a halt, and distractions like sports and socializing stop. For some, the sudden vacancy of time is a torment, for others, a pleasure, a reminder there is more to life than grinding.

I recall the other times before in my life of almost sixty-five years when the world stopped.

A  hurricane in 1960, when my family sped home in torrential rains beginning to challenge the windshield wipers, casting doubt on whether we would reach our harbor, our refuge from the storm. Five years old, I still recall the tension and aliveness in those hours.

In 1963, three days after moving to an alien and frightening New York City, President Kennedy was killed, and our world went into shutdown, sequestered in a small hotel room with my parents and two sisters awaiting the move to our apartment.

A few years later, The Blackout, when the entire eastern seaboard lost power 1and the homes and streets of New 963, York went dark. People poured out of their apartments and by flashlight united in curiosity and support, not typical behavior by New Yorkers who to adapt to a dense world of humanity by maintaining an impenetrable shield of detachment.

December 1974, I was traveling on the West Coast and got a phone call that my mother was dying.  I took a plane back east the next day; four days later she died.  More subtle was the stoppage of time from this.  Three years later, time resumed.

A few years later, another hurricane barreling down on the city.  I was visiting a friend on Long Island and drove like a maniac to get home to the Bronx before the storm.  And, the irony of ironies is that once I made it back, instead of staying inside, I put on a raincoat and took to the barren streets, as the storm began blowing wires and roofs, anything not battened down. Soon, the rain came and torrents of water washed the filth of New York City’s streets it all into the river. Walking in that I felt so alive!

Fifty years into life in the Northwest, I have experienced blizzards, prolonged winter power outages, and shutdowns when the basics of life like candles and cooking over the woodstove connected us to our lives.  How often do you truly appreciate that you have a warm home and a roof over your head?  How often do you appreciate that you have the tools and instincts to survive?

None of these events held us as does, COVID-19, with the entire globe in its hands. A tiny, mindless virus with seven billion people in its gravity.  The virus reminds us like the haunting words of Point Blank, by Bruce Springsteen that, “No one survives untouched.” No one survives untouched in time we will share for the rest of our lives; the moment when the planet turned, time stopped, and we survived, feeling every moment of our precious lives.

For many of us, this will be the defining moment of our lives. Embrace it, help others who need your strength, and trust the steady beating of your own heart.

 

 

 

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Looking Forward to the Fourth Day: Fear and Fate in the Time of Covid:19

ScanLooking Forward to the Fourth Day

In November of 1982, I was in the Bering Sea, working as a Biologist/Observer for the National Marine Fisheries Service and assigned to a Japanese Long Line vessel, The Ebisu Maru. The ship was 170’ long with a crew of twenty, fishing the Aleutian Islands for groundfish.   One thing you learn when fishing in the North Pacific and Bering Seas is that weather comes at you hard. You learn to ride out heavy weather that makes the worst day shown on The Deadliest Catch television show seem like a summer day on Dorena Reservoir.

This storm came from Siberia, we had daily weather maps and there was time to prepare. Typically, bad storms lasted three to four days, and unable to fish in heavy seas, the crew took to their bunks for a much-needed sleep.

Once the storm arrived, I spent the first day asleep with my legs braced against the bed rails so I wouldn’t fall from my bunk to the floor. This storm was unlike others I had experienced, steadily building in ferocity.

Beaufort_wind_scaleOne of my responsibilities was to take weather and sea condition readings every day at six o’clock. The ship’s bridge sat twenty feet above the waterline, and waves were crashing down that were twenty to thirty feet above that! For the first time in my life, I wrote down Beaufort 10, only two steps away from a hurricane. The waves swelling and subsiding around us were close to fifty feet, and the ship rose and fell in troughs and peaks. The sea and sky were indistinguishable.

Fear crept into my mind as sleep became more a way of shutting down than it was restful. I slept seventeen hours the first day, but when I could sleep no more, I went to the bridge. During storms, the captain and fishing master took the helm for six-hour turns.   The fishing master, who had fished and whaled in every ocean on the planet, calmly sat in the helmsmen’s chair,

Ebisu Maru Fishing Mastersinging in Japanese wearing a traditional fisherman’s bandana around his head. Each time a wave sent a harmonic vibration through the steel hull, the master looked to me and in broken English said, “My ship is strong!” If he was frightened, it didn’t show. I did not want to show my fear, so I put on a good face, but I thought I was going to die in the steel grey Bering Sea, north of the Aleutians Islands south of the Pribilof, Islands.

On the second day of the storm, I rested in bed while visualizing the welders as they had fabricated the hull of the vessel. I followed every seam as if counting stitches in a wound. Starting at the bow, I followed the seams to the stern. When that ended, I imagined there were Shachi (Japanese for Killer Whales) guarding the ship against danger.

It has long been lore that sailors may presage their death at sea, even accepting its inevitability. That may sound romantic, and it makes for a good tale, but at the moment when you confront death, if there is any choice in the matter, it never hurts to pray for your survival. I looked out of the porthole and said if I am to die here, so be it, but I didn’t want to die, and because of the calm of others and a deep mystical sense of my fate, I knew we would survive the storm. Full disclosure, I did a little bargaining by pledging that I would never go to sea again if I survived.

The storm continued.  On the fourth day, the ocean calmed, and soon we were fishing again.Scan 2

Three weeks later, I returned to Seattle, and except for a short sail between Newport and Reedsport, never far from land, I have honored my pledge. Though even on that short trip, I felt the fates weighing the fidelity of the promise once made.