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photo by Sheri Dixon

Sunday, July 31, 2011

What Bill Nye Never Told You




Even the trees are too hot to move.

What?

Trees don't move? Of course they do.

No no no, not the really slow deliberate movements of growing taller, sending roots deeper, branches wider, leaves or needles individually and en masse forming, unfurling, collecting chlorophyll, turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, wearing out, changing color and silently falling to the ground in their never-ending role to make our atmosphere breathable (thank them very much), I'm talking about their other movements.

The Dancing.

I was about 8 years old and we were driving in the car about sundown. I was tired, and gazing out the window while dozing off and on and as the scenery passed by (actually we were passing the scenery but when you're almost asleep and 8 years old the world moves around you, not vice versa) I couldn't help but notice against the soft velvet backdrop of the dusking sky

The trees were dancing.

Bending, stretching, graceful and joyous together with each other there was rhythm and cadence and ebb and flow from the limber lumber of the branches to every single one of the shimmering quivering whispering leaves, and I smiled to myself because of what I now knew.

The wind is caused by the movements of trees.

Of course the next day I told my mother what I had learned and was told that was silly- the wind is caused by the rise and fall of atmospheric pressure and the rising of hot air pushing against the falling of cooler air coupled with the constant movement of the earth turning and a whole lot of other scientific gobbletygook that sounded sensible until you really take a good look at the trees and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LOOKIT 'EM- THEY'RE DANCING, DAMMIT.

But she never listened.

There was a book back in the '70's- The Secret Life of Plants- that was all about plants having...perhaps not feelings like you and me, they have no eyes or ears or brains after all (I'm not a nutcase- sheesh), but an awareness that comes with life, with being alive. It had chapters on putting electrodes on plants and showing they registered alarm or comfort depending on what was being done to them...

...but it said not a word about the dancing of the trees, which I thought was strange.

When I had my own children- three of them- I explained to each one in turn that the wind is caused by the movement of trees, and all three patiently explained to me what really causes the wind despite my ever-so-logical answers to their (kinda snarky and pointed) questions aimed at poking a hole in my theory.

"Why do you say that, mom?" Because unless the trees are moving, you don't see the wind blow, now do you?

"What about where there are no trees? It's windy on the prairies". Ahhh...because it's not just the trees that dance- all plantlife dances. Just because their feet can't move doesn't mean they can't dance. Every blade of grass can dance.

"OK, Mrs. KnowItAll- what about across the oceans?" Ever drop a pebble in the water? Same principle- once the air is in motion, it will tend to stay in motion, geez I thought you kids were more scientifically learned than this.

That's when they'd change the subject, clearly at a loss because at that point they had nuthin'. Their schmancy books and teachers had never told them about the dancing trees.

I suspect because if we thought about it too much, really believed that they're more than fibrous growths to be harvested for toilet paper and houses and paper and boxes we'd feel just a little squidgy about how wantonly we abuse them.

We live in a log house with an entirely wood interior. It has an energy and a secure feeling to it that comes only from being surrounded by trees, and we silently thank it every single day for sheltering us. We abide literally inside the trees and absorb the strength, the calm, the peace and permanence of them.

Outside, seen through every open uncovered window, close enough to touch are trees- pines, cedars, oaks, dogwoods, sweetgums from knee-high saplings to 100ft gentle giants who were here a century ago they press in on us, shielding us from the road and the 2 other houses in the distance.

The sun has dropped below the tops of the cedars on the west side of the house and the treefrogs and assorted bugs and tiny birds rustle and shake off mid-day lethargy on the creek bank to the east of the house, testing wings and voices for a nighttime serenade as old as the planet but as different as each fleeting beating heart.

Slowly, languorously, the very top leaves at the very tops of the trees start twitching, nudging the ones next to and below them and the tippy tops of the trees begin to sway.

One by one the branches join in from top to bottom, tips to trunk. The smaller undergrowth trees are more flexible- little fishes darting among the whales.

The trees are dancing,

and we welcome the breeze.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sons of God Vs. Sons of Bitches

I've been accused of being anti-Christian, or anti-Baptist or anti-Creationist. Not angrily, more in a very sad and disappointed tone.

But I'm not anti-Jesus.

I believe that Jesus was a very good man who did very good things and preached what people needed to hear. Do I believe he was the Son of God? Yes. So was Mohammad, so was Buddha, so were any number of good men (and women) who tried to show the human race how to be more human, less narcissistic, materialistic, cannibalistic.

I am, unapologetically, anti-religion.

I believe Matthew 18:20 "For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them".

I believe that Jesus meant that literally- if there are just a few people, everything's cool. Any more than that and sides must be chosen, leadership fought for, individual agendas are slipped in...quietly and innocently.

I'm also pretty sure I've stated all the above before, but there's a reason for the reminder. Just so no one thinks this is an Anti-Christian rant about the demented coward who shot up Oslo.

Because it's not.

What it IS is me being sick to death of the finger pointing and the blame regarding the relative "badness" of any given religion.

Are there parts of the Quran that are bloody and violent and horrifying? Hell, yeah.

Are there parts of the Bible that are bloody and violent and horrifying? Hell, yeah.

How can good Christians say "That madman is not like the rest of us" and expect to be believed without question when after 9/11 the good Muslims said "Those madmen are not like the rest of us" and were vilified with blanket hatred?

Because here's the thing. It ain't the religion.

It's the scholarly interpretations of what the original authors and characters "really meant" that takes a simple message and skews it to fit a convenient doctrine.

It's an entire society living by rules set forth not necessarily by a divine being, but by the guys who wrote it down, re-copied it, translated it, revised it, "cleaned it up a bit here and there"...remember the Telephone Game in elementary school? Where one person starts out whispering into his neighbor's ear "Jack's grandma bakes the best cookies" and by the time it makes it around the circle the last person says "My bicycle is green".

What if "Kill the infidels" was originally "Tolerance is divine and women shall be venerated"?

What if "No one shall enter the gates of Heaven unless he believe in Me" started out "Be kind and non-judgmental and thou shalt be rewarded"?

It's the believer and how the voices in his/her head interpret the interpretations and bend them further to fit their own ideas of how the world works (or should work).

Most of society- any society- are reasonably sane people who will not willingly harm other people. To really rile up folks en masse and make 'em do things so awful, so horrible, so abnormal takes the full-on, un-questioning, Mission From God fire in the belly that caused what happened in Auschwitz or the Crusades or the witch hunts.

The same intensity is magnified when in a single brain and causes what happened in Oslo. And Oklahoma City. And New York City. And Pennsylvania. And anywhere else in the entire world something heinous has been done in the Name of God (whatever name you call him by).

So I'm not anti-Jesus.

I'm anti- anything and anyone who says it's OK (actually REQUIRED) to separate our species into good/bad, have/have not, saved/damned because if there IS Someone out there who will make the thumbs up/thumbs down call at the end of my life I want HIM (or Her) to do it- we're talking Divine Being here, I don't think the opinion of anyone else matters.

And I'm anti- any excuse someone gives to kill others under the guise of Belief, or Faith, or Religious studies- I've never ever heard anyone say "Jesus told me to blow up a day care center" or "Mohammad told me to topple a building". It's always "According to the (insert holy book of choice)...according to the teachings...the writings...the holy law".

I believe the Sons of God did their best. They've just had real assholes for scribes, translators, editors and messengers.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We Can See You, You Know- We're Standing Right Here...

Like the droning of a million killer bees in the distance, I've listened to the news of the past week.

On the radio, the computer screen, the TV everything points to the imminent demise of the US economy unless our politicians can get their collective shit together and heads out of their asses and man (or woman) up to do their part for their country and their people.

Not the goddamn millionaires and billionaires- they are perfectly capable of caring for themselves which is very obvious by how they've neatly purchased and dissected an entire nation, divvying up politicians and corporations and assets like the US is a big ol' monopoly board.

I'm sure it's tiring for the poor dears to have to listen to the whining of all the Little People- just so many ants and lice and other vermin crawling and scuttering across the playing area- knocking a bit of the sparkle from all those hotels on Boardwalk.

"Well? What can we do? We're just Little People- they have all the money and power and I can't be late for my low-paying, no-insurance job because it's all that stands between my family and homelessness".

"Well? What can we do? We're just Little People and they've purchased all the politicians on both sides AND the people who make the voting machines".

I get all that. Hell, I AM all that.

But I'm just naive enough to believe that our votes still count- and if we all just throw up our hands (or just throw up) and refuse to vote because "it doesn't matter" than we absolutely deserve what we get.

Because here's the thing. We've been pounded on and drilled into and harped at and whipped into a frenzy about bullshit. Time to forget labels and look at substance, to actually listen to what is being said and proposed and think through for OURSELVES what the outcome of that will be for us, personally and our children and elderly specifically.

See, that's what separates a society from a business- taking care of our weak and helpless because we're human is vastly different from watching the bottom line and "trimming accordingly...even if it hurts a little bit (read: throws the smallest cogs under the bus...nothing personal)". That's why for-profit health care is such an all-around bad idea.

It's easy to listen to the man on the screen say "We need to make some harsh cuts in order to keep our fiscal house in order", and nod our heads like grownups.

But what, exactly does that mean?

Especially when all the harsh cuttings are coming from OUR lives and not the lives of the top 2% of the money/power holders who hold upwards of 20% of the actual cash.

If it means no public option in health care, letting private insurance business clerks act as executioners like they do now, it's a bad idea.

If it means no new roads and bridges, no funding for schools and teachers, no real ways of weaning our nation off of our oil addiction, it's a bad idea.

If it means "blank checks" continuing to line the pockets of the Pentagon to wage their wars of Oil and Empire, it's a bad idea.

And for damn sure if it does NOT include raising the taxes of the corporations- even doubling them would leave them paying laughably lower taxes than they've ever paid...ever, and if it does NOT include reining in Wall St., it's an

outstandingly

freakishly

horrifyingly

bad idea.

So lets start there. Really listen to the individual platforms and not the parties and vote accordingly no matter what. And be sure to drop a line to that effect-

"Dear Sir/Madam, I'm not voting for you because you're a fan of (fill in the blank of whatever bad idea we discussed above). If you can show me and your other constituents that you've changed your position on that, I'll be happy to reconsider. Otherwise, get the hell out of the way".

-or-

"Dear Sir/Madam, I am voting for you because of your admirable stand on (see above parentheses). If you are fortunate to become elected, please refrain from turning into a corporate shill asshole, because we will be watching you. Thank you."

Never ever waste a vote just to "send a message" to a particular party or to "make sure we have a one-term president". That's irresponsible, childish and guaranteed to put us in a worse spot than the one we're in.

What can we do NOW? Email, call, show up at your elected official's office and give them a piece of your mind- it regenerates, truly it does. Tell 'em to grow up and grow a pair and get on with running this country for US, not the goddamn corporations. To quit jacking with OUR social security and medicare- those are NOT entitlements other than the fact that we are entitled to them because we paid for them, dammit.

For too long we've allowed ourselves to be cajoled and nit-picked into corners filled with detail and batshit craziness- paying so much attention to the speck we can't see the log...

...that reminds me- anyone who runs on a "Man of God going to bring the Nation back to Christ" platform? The Founding Fathers thought that was a really, really bad idea.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Bedtime Story

Once upon a time, there was an iridescent blue and green orb floating through the sky- one of many orbs, some red, some brown, some gray, some multi-colored and all floating in their orbits each tiny in the whole but very important to their inhabitants.

On this particular orb lived creatures and plants that were as varied as the orbs in the sky and most of these lived in relative harmony with the others (except for the required circle of life and food chain scuffles), but one species was more problematic than the rest.

The main problem was that this species seemed to think itself as more important than the others- somehow some of them got the notion that the oceans and the lands and all the other living things were there to be used and abused without regard for any natural order of things.

And while other creatures and plants and residents of the orb were content to follow the natural order of things and tended to their own business without fanfare or fuss, this creature was not content to merely use and abuse other species, before long they started looking askance at each other

...curiously...skeptically...jealously...judgmentally...

They split up into nations and warred with each other and among themselves about differences of opinion- threw great walls of their own offspring at each other maiming and killing in the name of justice, and truth, and peace.

And in one tiny nation on that very tiny orb in the very large universe the ones who held money and power said to the others

"Work for us and we will keep you safe, and give you money and someday...if you work very hard, you can be just like us".

And the others said

"Well...all right".

But very few managed to become just like them because it was all a game and smoke and mirrors and the intent was always to keep the riches in the hands of the rich.

And the ones who held the money and power said to the others

"You aren't working hard enough- we'll have to take more of your money and you'll get less of our money because OUR money is making YOUR jobs possible".

And the others said

"Well...all right".

And less and less became rich because they had to work harder and longer and the 'trickle down' never seemed to happen but the 'edging up' of the price of things surely did.

And the ones who held the money and the power saw the beginnings of discontent and became concerned that it would be directed at them, because it WAS their fault and all- so they needed a division diversion.

The money and power people quietly planted the seeds of suspicion and fear among the others and warned ever-so sincerely

"You must not trust anyone who is different from yourselves- the diversity this country was founded on and flourished with is dangerous, dark, deadly, demonic."

And the others said

"Well...all right".

By now the money and power people were freakin' delirious with the (un-contested) belief that they were, themselves gods and goddesses and the others merely there to be used and abused...like the other animals and plants.

They decided to see just how much they could get away with.

"Vote against your own interests just because we tell you to".

"Well...all right".

"Hold up these signs calling for smaller government (invoking the Constitution) in one hand and advocating the taking away of all individual rights (invoking the word of God) in the other and believe there is not some sort of whole scale brain damage necessary for that to make a lick of sense".

"Well...all right".

"See your president? The one you elected to change all this shit? He's on our side- he's our guy now and the only way anything will ever go your way again is if he grows a pair and actually does what you hired him to do. But that's not going to happen now- we're too powerful and have all the money. We've raised all the prices and the cards are not only stacked against you, the deck is so far out of your reach you will never, ever even see it.

All your social safety nets- the ones YOU paid for? Gone.

Your jobs and the bargaining power to keep them fair and safe? Gone.

Your women, children, sick and elderly? Who gives a damn?

You all belong to us now."

And just as the others opened their tired dejected mouths, just as the first word came out wearily

"Well..."

One tiny voice called "Mommy- I'm hungry".

One wavering voice asked "Why don't you respect your elders? We are worthy of respect and dignity".

One female voice whispered "I'm afraid, afraid for myself and my future and my daughter's future".

Voices tiny and singular, leaves on a tree flashing in the breeze, capturing the energy of the sun and transferring it to the trunk and roots.

And the others paused long enough for the fog in their brains to lift, the weight on their hearts to dissipate, the veil over their eyes to dissolve and they saw their families, their loved ones, their friends...suffering.

And as a single voice the country was rocked by a thunderous

"This is NOT all right- this is BULLSHIT!"

Reality says this is a fairy tale.

Hope says oh please, please let it not be.

And the iridescent blue and green orb floats in the sky, and the sky hears nothing.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Perfect Dog

"Please? She's really no trouble- she's the perfect dog".

That's what our son Jordan told me when he asked if we could take Kate- the last pet he had to place before leaving on an extended trip to India. I was skeptical.

Kate was a border collie- known barkers, and she was elderly with seizure issues.

On the one hand, we're full-up with critters. Horse, sheep, goats, dogs, cat, poultry of all varieties, and more guinea pigs than you can shake a carrot at.

On the other hand, once you pass 100, does one more really matter?

So Kate came home to us.

Alec immediately fell in love, being my child who unwaveringly falls in love with the old, the odd, the infirm- guaranteeing him a lifetime of constant broken-heartedness.

At first, Kate didn't notice since she camped out on the rug in front of the door Jordan had left through...waiting for him to come back for her.

After about a week, she deigned to move into Alec's room since it was right next to the front hall and she could still sleep with her nose pointed towards the magical door that would bring her master home to her.

After about 2 weeks, she decided that while she loved Jordan, she'd never been able to sleep on one bed (ours) all day, and another bed (Alec's) all night with only the interference of breakfast and dinner in between.

Being a realist, Kate shifted alliances.

Jordan had told us "She's the perfect dog- I've never even heard her bark". What we found out was that Jordan's other dog, Sissy, had never LET Kate bark. One day the UPS truck rumbled past our bedroom window and without thinking, Kate's head came up and a sudden "Woof!" came out.

Instantly she flattened on the bed, waiting for the Wrath of Sissy...but Sissy wasn't there. She glanced at me sideways, hesitant, cautious.

"GOOD DOG, KATE! S'KIT 'EM, KATE!" I told her.

And at age 10+, Kate started barking at stuff. Not incessantly or constantly, just when there was something to bark at, something that made it worth her while, for she appreciated every single unrestricted vocalization, and was not about to have it taken away.

One "woof", a satisfied tail wag and smiling eyes. Then back to sleep.

When Jordan came home, Alec informed him that Kate was HIS dog now.

Our old house didn't have air conditioning, and summers were cooler under the tree in the shade, so Kate camped out in the summertime and came in by the fire in the wintertime. She barked at the UPS truck, doted on her Boy, and held a tense truce with the ducks.

Once we moved to the new house, she stopped barking- way off the road there was nothing to bark at, and she had her dog bed inside and her own covered porch outside, and it was enough. She'd grown too arthritic to jump up onto the bed anymore, so Alec started sleeping on the loveseat in his study- to be as close to Kate on her bed as possible. The boy had 3 places to sleep- top bunk, bottom bunk and perch mattress, and he'd sleep on the sofa with his stork-legs gangling up over the arms...but within petting distance at his fingertips. He said even the bottom bunk was too high for her to see him without lifting her head.

Visitors to the house were greeted with our spastic little housedogs Fizzgig and Smigeon and were always surprised to have to step over Kate sleeping at Alec's feet. The standard family joke was "This is Kate- she's very lifelike".

This last six months Kate started coughing- congestive heart failure. And she found it increasingly difficult to get up to go outside, so we only asked that of her twice daily. In all the time we had her, Kate pottied in the house exactly once- in the initial panic after Jordan left her.

Kate's seizures seemed to be stimulus-related, since things like thunder or gunshots were triggers- we were happy when the seizures became few and far between until we realized it was because she'd gone mostly deaf.

Kate demanded nothing and was grateful for everything- the closest she ever came to being pushy was a gentle "Please- just a bit more" nose under a hand that had stopped petting her.

Three times in the weeks before we left for vacation I'd gone to take Kate outside and thought she'd left us- she was sleeping that soundly and deafly, breathing ever so slightly Kate spent her life making no waves, ruffling no feathers.

When we left I told Kate and Oz (our 16 year old barn cat) the same thing I tell all our geriatric pets before we leave- "Don't die while we're gone".

But she did.

For the first time ever, one of our oldsters slipped quietly away while we were gone.

Alec is heartbroken- he's sure she'd died thinking we were never coming home, he feels guilty that he wasn't here to pet her while she left- we came home to No Kate but with no transition for his feelings- she was here when we left...now she's gone.

He has her collar and has hoarded as much shed fur as we could find outside in a baggie, but I'm afraid that it's going to take much longer for us to stop looking for her than the other old pets we've witnessed leaving...and yet.

Kate died as she lived- not making a fuss or racket, really no trouble at all.

We miss you, Kate- you were the perfect dog.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

We went home.

Home to the homes of friends new and old, some we've met before and some we haven't, from the wooded hills of southwest Arkansas to the rolling prairies of northeast Illinois, from hometown neighborhoods remembered to hometown neighborhoods never entered, to the center of the capitol city of Kansas we pulled into driveways, shut off the car, unfolded our bodies, cat-stretched and were welcomed into the arms and homes of friends.

Virtual cyber-friends became (or continued to become) real share-a-meal-with friends, and old high school friends opened their doors and hearts and I just walked in as though we last saw each other yesterday instead of almost 4 decades ago.

We went home. *I* went home, to my parents' house, which was weird because I'd never been there before. My childhood home is empty and my parents live in a new house easily three times bigger than the old house- I recognize furnishings and photos and the knick knacks of my memories in a strangely bizarre way, like meeting a fish wearing trousers coming towards you on a hike in the forest- your brain sees a fish, and clothing, and the forest, but somehow none of them quite fit together this way.

We went home to my brother and sister-in-law's darling vintage home in the middle of the neighborhood we grew up in.

We went home to my older son's new apartment just south of Milwaukee and met his lovely and gracious beautiful girlfriend.

We went home to lodgings as different as movie sets and every bit as extraordinary, and in our own unwritten unscripted play each scene sees the unchanging characters dropped into completely disjointed and unrelated sets, and with each change we learned something about Life, the Universe, Everything, and Each Other.

We learned that a yurt without television and with sketchy-at-best internet is a place the stars can be seen through the dome at the peak.

We learned that a shabby old motor lodge in the center of Small Town America looks like the Taj Majal after a 500+ mile day, especially with a kickass pizza parlor within walking distance.

We learned that a llama farm in the center of the middle of nowhere is a perfect spot for regrouping and re-energizing for the southern swing home. That even without internet OR TV, once the sun has set and the fireflies have lit the path for the llamas to the barn, a stack of old VCR movies makes for a wonderful Family Night in the quiet of the hills.

We learned that "in the old days" the senators from all over Kansas stayed in pretty posh digs- beautifully appointed little apartments with balconies overlooking the capitol building (which has a Native American at the top), and that after our only OTHER 500+ mile day we really did appreciate both internet and TV with our feets up on our respective beds.

We learned that Mapquest does not recognize the address of The Loft Hotel in Tulsa, but that it was well worth the hassle of finding it since it's ultra modern, ultra chic, and ultra popular with our aspiring architect son.

Most of all I re-learned and had reinforced to me on a daily basis that my husband is strong, and amazingly patient, and My Knight in Shining Armor. There were times I unraveled, crumpled, faltered, became overwhelmed and he'd step in and step up quietly and without fanfare and prop me up...like he does every day at home.

I re-learned and had reinforced to me on a daily basis that my son is funny, and smart, and responsible and caring and so comfortable and capable around all types of people and in all situations that he takes my breath away...like he does every day at home.

We traveled over 2,500 miles in 10 days, saw all sorts of things a lot of other travelers see, and a few things most don't want to, but at the end of the day at the end of the trip, after being plucked out of our routines for less than half a month- not long enough to become squirrely and surly, just long enough to really look at each other and think, "How did I get so lucky as to score such a fabulous Family?"...

...We went home.

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