Let It Be

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I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea

Sometimes I turn, theres someone there, other times its only me…

                                                        –Bob Dylan “Every Grain of Sand”

Parents, send your children to bed (or the media room).  Men, if your wives are of a delicate nature, take them away from your laptop.

I am going to expose myself, my soul, fears and hopes in this, my 200th blog post on WordPress.  Yet again, I will fall into the bitter pit of memories—some bad and some good.  That has become my blog “theme”, I guess; trading in on old dusty thoughts, lovers long gone and the cracks in my heart.  Here I am again, standing in the rain at the corner of Bittersweet and Nostalgia.  It always rains here.  There’s no atmosphere without some discomfort.  It could be rain, snow or tears.  Doesn’t really matter, though.  I turn my collar against the wind and go back to the Hi-Ho Motel to wait for the next train for El Paso.  Then I remember.  There’s probably no more trains to anywhere anymore except some open-pit coal mine providing good clean green energy for us all.  No more whistles that broke the heart of Hank Williams or Box Car Willie.  Now, it’s the next Short Line coach to Toledo.

Last year, on the RV trip to Orting, Washington, I did hear the occasional train whistle.  But the long line of flat-cars never stopped.  They only slowed down to obey the speed limit as the tracks crossed empty streets and country roads.

Yes, there’s no authentic atmosphere without some discomfort.  No one lives in a world of warmth and protection (except, hopefully, children) without living through periods of self-doubt and a tablespoon of dread.  I once had a great deal of faith that got me through the night terrors, but after heart-breaking losses, deaths and illnesses, I often feel like I live in a city populated by millions…alone.

I fall in love quickly and easily and that is a serious fault.  That has led to too many broken hearts in my chest cavity.  When a very close friend died in my arms (he had lived all of twenty-three years), I realized that there really isn’t a lot of time for us, on the earth, to wait for the most perfect choices.  So, I made decisions based on the old trusty phrase: Carpe diem.

But, as usual, I digress.

It’s change that obsesses me now.  Yes, our house could burn down tonight…that’s a big change.  But, it’s the slow insidious change that happens to you during life that frightens me.  I was born on May 31, 1947.  That is 67 years and 6 months ago.  I never was a victim of amnesia.  I was never abducted by aliens (that I recall).  But, I look at a childhood photograph of myself and then quickly stare into a mirror.  I have changed.  But I haven’t gone anywhere to undergo this change.  I can’t say it happened when I wasn’t looking, because I always looked.  I look different and I think different (I used to be a Conservative, for God’s sake).  And, all this happened without a break in the flow of my life!  All the changes I see happened during a day to night to day flow that was never broken.  The lines on my face came slowly, never overnight.

There are years I lived and yet somehow missed.  Students I loved, taught and counseled…I can see their 6th grade faces but do not remember their names.  Women I have slept with are memories now…not out of disrespect…just the passage of time.  I was numb with shock when I heard that one of my long-ago lovers is now dead.  I know that this is trivial and self-serving to many of you, my friends, who have lost a spouse or future partner.  I can only speak to my own experiences.

Somehow, it would make more sense to me if all these changes happened one night.  I’d wake up and be middle-aged.  But, it didn’t.  It happened as I was looking—but I never noticed a thing until one day…

“Hey, that’s life.”  This is what is going through the minds of many of you who are reading this.

I taught with someone many years ago.  Her husband died part way into the school year.  She was the Head of the Middle School and it fell on her to give the graduation speech that would send the 8th grade girls onto the high school.  One sentence will remain with me forever.  She said: “Change is inevitable.  Growth is optional.”

I stood there with the other faculty members.  I cried.  I knew what she had been through even though I had not lost anyone in my life…yet.

What she said was absolutely true.  I knew that then, but I was into my early 40’s and had no idea what was in store for me in a few short years.

I guess I catch on slowly—just like when your hair starts to turn gray.

It’s never overnight.

ME AND MY BROTHERS—AGING SLOWLY

birch tree 1

[Circa 1954]

birch tree 2

[Circa 1970’s]

birch tree 3

[Circa late 1970’s]

Birch tree 4

[Circa early 1990’s]

Travels 11: Is This Our Land?

I’m ensconced in Orting, WA. with my daughter, Erin, her husband, Bob, grandson Elias and my wife Mariam.  It’s one big happy family.  We’ve spent only one full day here and already I’ve managed to get caught in a hailstorm while walking across a Safeway parking lot.  We weren’t out in the Plains, facing the desolation while hearing the pelting of the pea-sized hail blast against the Aluminum siding of the R-Pod.  No, I was in a grocery store parking lot.  The only drama was that I was without my cell phone and was separated from Erin, Elias and my wife.  How did I deal with such an edgy experience?  Well, I trotted to the entrance of Safeway that adjoined the Starbucks.  I did what all semi-lost men do…I bought the local paper and ordered a Chai Tea Latte and settled in, waiting to be rescued by my wife. Sure as the snow on Rainier, she had made it back to the car at Erin’s house and returned to get me.  I even got a new tea mug out of the deal. It was on the Starbucks rack where I drank the Latte and it begged to come back to the East Coast with me on our return trip. As I reflect on the final drive to get here two days ago, I recall seeing something that made me think those Woody Guthrie thoughts about whose land this really is.  Passing through western Montana and into eastern Idaho, I saw coal trains that seemed to stretch from there to Detroit.  It would easily take me about 45 minutes to walk the length of these sinuous open cars filled with black chunks of black gold.  And, this was all strip-mined to make matters even worse.  I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as “clean” or “green” coal.  It’s a lie put out there by the Energy Industry to rape what’s left of our resources and get as much money out of pubic lands as they can. My simple question is this:  Who is thinking of the future?  The native americans had it right.  They took the long view and thought about what was to be left for their grandchildren’s grandchildren.  We tend to think about our next credit card purchase. The bill has to be paid in the end, one way or another. Image Image My educated guess is that this coal is from leased Federal Lands.  And I can’t get past the gate of Yellowstone National Park to watch Old Faithful. I want my National Parks back!

Travels 3: The Rock Island Line is a Mighty Fine Line

I was heading down the road, trying to loosen my load…

We were on our way to Rock Island.

When you’re busy doing hard traveling, like me, you can get caught up in the “hypnosis of the highway”.  I know I do.  You watch the road ahead.  All safety alerts are on, but your mind can begin to wander.

We had just crossed the Illinois state line.  I was staring at the thread of pavement in front of me; I-74…and I started to think about stuff.

My wife was sitting shotgun quietly calculating our gas mileage.

How we doing? I said.

We’re getting about nine mpg, she replied.

I laughed.  No really, what are we getting?

About nine, she said again.

Nine what? I asked.

Nine mpg, she said.

What do you mean by nine? I said.

We’re getting about nine miles a gallon, she said once again.

I’m asking about mpg, I said, this time with a manly voice.  How many miles per gallon are we getting?  No joking, ok?

Nine, she said, yet again.

I dropped the subject.  Clearly she didn’t understand what I was asking.  I turned my attention to the road.  My mind began to drift about.  I tried to figure out if you’re really supposed to pronounce the “s’s” in Des Moines.  Either way, it sounded funny.

I looked about me as I clipped along at 62 mph (in a 70 zone) and noticed something very unusual.  Most of you know (or should) that I’m a retired earth science teacher.  I’ve been trained to look deep and hard at the landscape.  With my expert eye, I was startled to notice the nearly complete lack of hills or mountains out here on the edges of the Great Prairie.  Basically, I was looking at flat land.  Really flat land.  Most of it was also being farmed.  Crops I knew well like corn covered endless acres.  There were also little brown plants, all dried up from late summer.  These too were crops, I surmised with an expertise that surprised even me.  I just wonder what they were.  No little small white things on them so that ruled out cotton.  I guess it’s all pretty much corn country out here.  Yes! Out here!  Where men had sunburns and the women hung clothes on lines in their backyards.  These were real people here, unlike some places I’ve been.

Then my visual scan changed to focus on the windshield.  I didn’t realize that the bugs that smashed against the glass were made of so many interesting colors.  I counted about a dozen yellow smears, about six greenish ones and several dull white ones…well, sort of off-white if you wanted an exact description.  One was actually bluish.

I began to take notice of the many signs for colleges and universities that were located in nearly all the little towns.  Lord, there were plenty of them.  So this is where all the farm kids got educated.  I saw a sign for Jubilee College.  I mean I never heard of Jubilee College.  I never knew anyone who actually went to Jubilee College.

I turned the radio on hoping to hear some Mozart or perhaps some John Coltrane.  Instead, I was blasted by the most insipid music I ever heard.  Station after station played songs with lyrics like: “I want to, I want to, I want to, but I can’t”.  As I spun the digital dial, the rest of the stations played songs, most of which had lyrics with the words Lord, hand, mission, love, pray, walking, joy and sin.  This is a God-fearing country out here.

Then a strange thing happened.  I caught a glimpse of a milepost sign that read: 137 Miles.  But, 137 miles to what?  From what?  I began to feel better when I realized that I had seen a sign like that before.  Basically, from just about anywhere you are, it’s 137 miles to someplace.  Maybe a few exits down the road and I would find out.

So, here we are sitting in our cozy little R-Pod.  I just heard a train whistle, then the bells indicating a hook-up or track change.

That train whistles.  That lonesome sound.  It calls ramblin’ guys like me.  Time to move on…time to hop the dusty boxcar.  Time to put some miles between you and that floozy back at the bar.  Her name is Wanda, and she’s got more miles in her eyes than a Rand McNally.  It’s the call of the road…. wait a minute…I’m already on the road.  I’m already traveling.  I’m already a pavement-pounding gentleman of the highway.    I don’t have any place to go in a boxcar.  That’s good because I get hay fever really bad and need a hankie when I’m around dust.

Gordon Lightfoot sang about being “Alberta Bound”.  I’d like to sing that too, but we’re not going to Alberta…we’re going to Orting, WA.

As I wind up this post, I think about the day I just had.  I saw through the front windshield the places I was going to…but what about where I’ve been?  I looked out of the rearview mirror to see my recent experiences fade.

All I saw were the bugs smashed against the front of the R-Pod.

RearWindowView