Oh Twenty-Seventeen, you worry me to the marrow of my bones. I fear you will see our National Parks sold off piecemeal to the highest bidders, our life-sustaining water contaminated by industry, even the air we breathe up for sale. Lies, politely called “fake news” or most horrifically “news,” splash across the media and are believed without skepticism. The country will be in the hands of an egotistical, bigoted, misogynistic, ignorant man-child. He isn’t surrounding himself with experts nor those with any history of caring about the issues over which they will wield power, the very opposite in fact. There is a low-brow yet fitting expression for what we are poised to witness, a real $h!+ show: our national treasures, consumed, digested, and excreted into a mound of steaming waste before our eyes. Policies can be reversed. Economic recovery happens. But ground water cannot be cleansed. Ancient forests cannot regrow. The wild natural beauty deliberately preserved for future generations of Americans cannot be remade. This destruction must be stopped before it begins.
To stop anything, we must know it’s happening. Get informed. Share that knowledge, with credible sources cited, everywhere. Put your Congresspersons’ numbers on speed dial and call them once a week. Your disapproval of their work can cost them their jobs. Your appreciation of their good work will move them to do more. Get your hands dirty locally for whatever cause you value and see is at risk.
This post began as an introduction to my Word of the Year for 2017, but even the two I was considering feel inadequate. I’m not a violent person. Violence is a last resort, a sinking to another’s level in self-defense. Yet, for those who are threatened, it comes to that. But I won’t begin the year with molotov cocktails and rage. However, 2017 may just require a quiver-full of words. To be and to do, let us begin here.
: capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture
: tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change
Bend so you don’t break. Keep on keeping on. Get back up. Lean into it. Remember who you are and why you are doing this. It’s going to be a long hard ugly slog, but if the country you know and love is worth it, if tomorrow’s Americans deserve as much as we can save for them, hold the line.
When we are resilient, we have the power to act.
: make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.
We must transform the situation, the culture, ourselves. Stand up to the ugliness. Shine a light in the darkness and cockroaches scatter. Transform your corner of the world. We cannot afford to look away. Bad things will happen if we do nothing. But everyone can do something.
It’s been a shamefully long time since I have written here. But in such an hour of political angst, fear, and revulsion, frivolity feels underdressed at the table. How can I blather on about cats and the wonders of the First World and my fabulous spa experiences when national leaders are being chosen, apparently, on the strength of their distain for the very things, ideas, and beings over which they will have responsibility? But how can I write about these weighty, important, but utterly gut-wrenching things when the news streams are full to the brim with them already? I cannot.
This is Pumpkin:
She lives on Vashon Island in Seattle with some humans and a dog. I used to call her Plumpkin, when she had free access to a bottomless bowl of kibble. But after an unfortunate incident of too much dry food and not enough water or exercise, she has been… restricted. She gets to eat canned food for every meal! But meals happen only twice a day. Pumpkin has trimmed down, found new energy, and seems to feel better overall. Next year, I will try to be more like Pumpkin.
This is a barest sampling of the marvels to be found in places such as Trader Joe’s, Staff of Life, and plain old Safeway:
Even as heretofore unheard of substances like tortillas, seitan, and maple syrup are appearing on shelves at home, every trip back to the States overwhelms me with new and amazing wonders of gastronomy. I wander, a slack-jawed bumpkin, through groceries, gawking at the bulk food sections, transfixed with option-paralysis over the array of non-dairy milk products and cheez. It’s a blessing that my memory is poor or I would remember these aisles of bounty when I visit my fruit & veg stand and ponder what flavor to make the cauliflower and/or eggplant today, flavors I have collected and hoarded from travels abroad. Yes, if I’m going to be more like Pumpkin, it’s probably good that my usual diet is so limited.
This is Rupertus Therme in Bad Reichenhall, Germany:
We took a little pre-vacation holiday to Bavaria to meet up with some friends visiting from San Diego and catch the Christmas markets. Two days soaking in a wide variety of pools, jacuzzis, saunas, and steam rooms, with massages spliced in to take advantage of the loosening of muscles. In fact, rather than collecting stuff and tchotchkes, I invest in the personal pampering. Two days after arriving in San Francisco, I was on a student’s massage table at the National Holistic Institute for my $30 fifty minute shiatsu. As often as I manage to find body work, they always find new tension accumulated where I never suspected.
Since I began writing this post, someone drove a truck through the Christkindlmarkt in Berlin, killing 12 people who, like us in Munich only 3 weeks prior, were just strolling through the festivity, soaking up the magic of it all. It casts an especially dark shadow being blasted into a season of joy and hope, one more right hook out of the blue.
The existential darkness still gathers and looms, even on this day which heralds the returning of the astronomical light, but for our own health and sanity, we cannot allow ourselves to be sucked down into it. Be kind to yourself so that kindness may flow out into the world. Fight the good fight wherever you may, but cultivate love everywhere you go. Love drives out fear. It is all that can.
Solstice always moves me to think about extremes and turnings, the longest, the shortest, the most, the least. . . beginnings. But now we are approaching Equinox. For a moment, all things hang in balance. We have had summer but winter isn’t knocking on the door just yet. The days are a tightrope, warmth and sunshine on one side, wind and rain on the other. We teeter back and forth between a walk on the molo and hot tea with an afghan on the couch. It looks like summer but feels like fall.
I have a few days now between the sweltering heat of summer and the regimented weeks to come for shifting the balance. It is time to clean. Unlike spring cleaning, clearing away the mustiness and old cooking smells of winter, fall cleaning here is lifting the shroud of dust which has quietly drifted in through the open windows and settled on everything. I have never lived anywhere nearly so dusty. I can’t keep up with it. I don’t even try. But as the windows begin to close, it feels as though any difference I make might linger for more than a day. The rains will assist me, settling the desert dust blowing up from Africa on high winds.
Cherries are long gone and peaches are fading fast, but apples are appearing and winter squashes are on the move. The kitchen doesn’t yet call me to its heat, but the recipes are appealing again. It is time to plan. Beyond the Pumpkin Spice Lattes (which only happen here when I bring the McCormick’s to the coffee bar), there will be pumpkins to cook, purée, and freeze. Kitchen staples need to be inventoried, dried beans and mushrooms, spices, and herbal teas for quiet evenings.
It is also time to give. As the seasons turn, so does the wardrobe. As I begin to look at warmer clothes, I try to remember if I wore a particular piece at all last year. Or the year before. And consider why I’m keeping it. If I don’t love it, someone else might. Or at least appreciate it. It’s easier to come to the end of a season and let go of the things. But the poor don’t want sundresses in October nor have they worn the sweaters we cast off last April. Giving is great, but storage is precious. Try to be considerate of your charities. Set those summer togs aside in a place where you’ll find them in March. What can they use now rather than what are you tired of wearing?
So, as we walk the balance beam of Equinox with thanksgiving for the summer spent and in anticipation of autumn’s arrival, may there be in our lives giving and receiving in equal measure.
Leo, the astrological sign, arrives in the Northern Hemisphere at the end of July to reign through most of August. His appearance coïncides with the hottest season of the year. In Italy he is called Il Sole Leone (or Solleone), the Lion Sun. August often also sees the departure of my man to sea. I always enjoy the time to be unreservedly lazy, live on nothing but fruit, and make art… all over the house. Being the time of Solleone, many years I have created a Sun Lion to commemorate the season. This year, however, the man did not go to sea and Solleone has been particularly timid. So I was moved to summon him back to our little beach town. And here he is, Solleone 2016:
Just a couple of quick snaps to show his versatility with the light. But I’m very pleased with him. And the summoning has been effective; Il Solleone has returned to Lerici.
Thirty years ago… I was a teenager in middle America who’d never been anywhere more exotic than the family vacations to Florida (Sorry Toronto, you were lovely, but much like home. Oh wait, there was that time in Hawaii, but I was only five and didn’t sufficiently appreciate it.) A biology teacher with an incurable travel bug at my high school ran Student Trips, sailing in the summer and skiing in the winter. He was young ~younger than I am or have been for a while now~ and energetic enough to keep teenagers safe, if not entirely out of trouble, teach us valuable lessons for loving the lives we’d live, and still have a good time himself.
One of the first lessons of travel, “Hurry up and wait,” was better preparation for living in Italy than you can possibly imagine unless you’ve done so. But “Get it while you can” is the one that still echoes around my skull and shoots through my spirit when it matters most. I know for a fact that monumental turning points in my life hinged on the moment I changed my mind from what I had planned to the thing that was suddenly on offer. This doesn’t come naturally to me. I don’t like surprises and I loathe sudden change. But I am forever grateful for having been taught to embrace it.
One… or maybe four of those trips I did were to the Bahamas. We sailed with a shoestring educational operation called International Field Studies. That first summer… the first day… we got to our 41’ Morgans and my Laura ~who’d done this before~ dove straight over the side into water that couldn’t have been more than two feet deep. I could practically count the grains of sand on the bottom. She saw my gaping face and told me to check the depth gauge; I threw myself over the life-line into that phenomenally clear water. Something in me burst open, like a tiny seed sprouts leaves and roots when the conditions are finally right. This place, these tropics, were home to a part of my soul I’d never known was there. The bath-warm turquoise water, the relentless sun beating down, the vivid colors assaulting the eyes, the musty boat smells, I loved it all from the first. We learned about tropical flora & fauna and navigation and wind ~and no wind~ and teamwork and a little partying and finally, leaving. That was the hardest. Last times are the kickers because they seldom announce themselves, “Hey, this is it. Soak it all up. We’re done here.” So, when I promised myself I’d be back, as I always did, one time it was thirty years before I kept that promise. But this year, I did.
We have friends who ‘boat.’ Boats boats boats! (Hi, Zed) They used to charter power boats until they realized they needed one of their own. Which they had until they realized they needed to sell it… in order to boat in more distant seas than where the Two Queens … er …Silver Satin (are you reading, Uncle T?) stayed. I’ve been pestering them to sail, for real with a mast and canvas and lines, in the Bahamas for years. Two months ago, I stepped aboard a craft almost entirely unlike those humble old Morgans. Bring Back the Magic (yes, that was her name; how perfect) was a 48’ catamaran with huge fresh water tanks, four heads, galley up and bigger than a closet, and … air conditioning. What? Really?! No! who would want that? Apparently, grown-ups do. But whenever the weather and the swamp angels would permit, I slept above as I used to, under the stars. But grown-ups like towns and restaurants and marinas more than do chaperones of teenagers, so the blood suckers could find us more often. Still, I was back in the islands. The water was all those shades of blue. We were visited by sea turtles, flying fish, and dolphins ~ oh the dolphins! A pod of ten cruised along with us just under and around the bows for an hour one day. I hope that made the rough crossings to and from Spanish Wells worth it to those who did not enjoy riding the high seas as much as I did. And I came home with the effortless tan provided by the exquisite reflectivity of white fiberglass. Tan feet without strap marks walk in my happy place. The magic, yes, not exactly the same, but magic never is.
In the Bahamas, on Andros Island, a particular kind of batik fabric is made. They call it Androsia. I had a shirt and some shorts for many years, but eventually they wore to threads. But it’s a sentimental thing. The marina where we spent the night before taking possession of the boat had custom-made Androsia curtains. I was so tickled to see it again. Days later, I found bolts of it for sale in a little shop. But what would I do with it? I stewed over it through the morning, then went back and bought a half yard with turtles on in the most Caribbean blue. That would be enough, just a memory. Looking at the pattern, there were clusters of turtles and a few Androsias, hand written. I’ve been doing silk painting, “framing” the pieces in an embroidery hoop ~easy to do, easy to hang, inexpensive. It would be a quick job to frame a nice bit to hang where I can see it. And there would be enough to make one for my Laura, too, because she showed me the magical place that opened a door in my soul all those years ago.