Monday, May 18, 2020

Getting to know you . . .

I walked around my block this morning.

That’s not a big deal. I’ve lived here almost 18 years. I know the territory.

But today was different. People were outside. We exchanged greetings and pleasantries [from CDC-approved distances]. And in some cases, names [which I will probably forget because I tend to do that].

It was all cheerful and friendly. I learned more about my neighbors. About the kids with amazing bicycle helmets. About the sculptor setting up a new studio, and his wife who created their garden and took their daughter on bike rides. About the retired gentleman fixing up his front yard. Even about the woman re-re-planting a corner of her property where plants seemed never to flourish.

And all it took to ignite this flurry of friendliness was a global pandemic.

Why?

Friday, April 17, 2020

beauty in the time of Covid19


In the middle of a pandemic, there was a heavy snow that transformed our world.
 Even locked inside

Or standing on the front porch






Or walking through the Sculpture Park













We could see how the snow cushioned the trees with beauty
Yes, it battered tulips, but they will probably survive.

And so will we.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

connections

“No man is an island…” Nor woman either. Even though many of us feel stranded in a fearful sea, none of us is.

Legions of people are working on our behalf. We have water in our faucets and electricity to illuminate and in myriad ways facilitate our existence. The Internet keeps us quasi-connected , which is better than nothing. I’m still getting my newspapers and the mail delivery people still bundle my mail so I can bring it in with one hand (my left wrist still healing from a break). And a therapist works to make me functional.

Farmers and clerks are still managing to provide sustenance. Television still provides both essential information and diversion. My old cat provides comfort and my vet still provides the special food and medicine to keep him going. My pharmacist conjures needed medication. Texts and telephone and occasionally Skype help us keep track of each other. And new developments, like Zoom, promise new forms of connection.

And do not (ever) discount the wondrous benefits of sunshine and emerging tulips and trees pregnant with thousands of new leaves.

And chocolate.

I have long loved John Donne’s poem, written more than 400 years ago. [And now forgive its myopic gender focus because this particular time and circumstance calls for our acknowledgement and celebration of human connections.]

No man is an island, 
Entire of itself; 
Every man is a piece of the continent, 
 A part of the main. 
 If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, 
As well as if a promontory were: 
As well as if a manor of thy friend's Or of thine own were. 
 Any man's death diminishes me, 
Because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Caramel Sun


On January 30, the New York Times published a remarkable photograph on its front page. It had nothing to do with the nation’s politics, the Middle East or the corona virus. In fact, it looked like some kind of popcorn ball. Perhaps a caramel popcorn ball. 

What it really was, was a closeup of the sun. Each of the ‘kernels’ is about the size of Texas. Each carries heat from the inside of the sun to the outside. When the hot gas cools and sinks, it creates the dark lines separating the cells (or popcorn kernels).

The remarkable image was taken from the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope atop Haleakala. This ancient cratered volcano is sacred to native Hawaiians who named it House of the Sun in their language.

The photo reveals that the bland yellow orb we in this hemisphere so welcome this time of year is actually a seething cauldron. The solar rays seen during eclipses can reach a million degrees Fahrenheit. Every second, thermonuclear reactions in the center of the sun turn 5 million tons of hydrogen into pure energy.

That energy makes its way outward through boiling gas pocked with magnetic storms that crackle, whirl and lash space with showers of electrical particles and radiation.

Never assume that what you perceive is the whole of reality.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Louisiana State Penitentiary


Why on earth would a vacation tour stop at a maximum-security prison? I suspect that the state of Louisiana encouraged Road Scholar to include a visit to Angola to burnish the state’s reputation. It worked. 
   
I do not believe that we were shown all aspects of the Louisiana State Penitentiary.  Looking online, I saw reports and images that were more like what one would expect. Still, what we did see was encouraging, giving me a little more hope for our species.

The prison sprawls over 18,000 acres, housing some 5,000 male prisoners, most of whom are serving life sentences with no possibility of parole. At one time the prison had the reputation of being a bloody and dangerous place – the worst in the country.    
Now, not so much. The prisoners work: on the rich farmland and in cottage industries. They have their own television station, broadcasting throughout the complex. They have places of worship for most religions. They even have service clubs. And an annual rodeo. They have created a sort of alternate universe where they can have almost normal lives while incarcerated.

Our tour had come up the Mississippi from New Orleans on a paddlewheel boat. We disembarked and boarded  a bus that took us into the  vast prison complex. Our first stop was at the stables where we ‘met’ some horses. We drove through fields brimming with produce then we stopped in front of what looked like a chapel. 



Entering, sitting in the pews, we saw two men, each holding the leash for a dog. It turned out that the men, both prisoners, were training the dogs to be service dogs for veterans. Dogs are rescued from shelters and the offenders work with them over the course of a year until they are ready to help veterans restore their physical and emotional independence.




Wow.   
                           

Friday, November 15, 2019

Amazing Grace

During any trip there are moments that are indelible. Something happens that is so special that you want to remember it forever.

Recently, I participated in a Road Scholar tour that included a visit to the Antioch Baptist Church outside Natchez, Mississippi.

When we entered the modest sanctuary, I was a little disappointed because there were only about a dozen congregants standing in the choir loft. Then the music began. Beautiful, rich voices, singing in terrific harmony.


Then they invited us to join them. The songs were songs like “Amazing Grace” which everyone knew. I hesitated, unsure of my ability to climb into the loft, but went as soon as I saw there was a railing I could use. I made it up and joined the performance. It filled me with joy.

Before I climbed into the loft, I saw a woman from the tour who had proceeded me and who was singing with her whole soul. She and her husband were a couple I had ‘connected’ with – often sitting with them at meals. I think her husband was a judge and she was a Chicago matron (possibly Jewish). I used my smart phone to take a rather dim photo of a stunning moment – one that I will treasure for a long time.



 ‘Amazing Grace’ indeed.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Pulley Bone

Pully Bone Natchez, Mississippi has a deep heritage. Named for the Indian nation that was defeated then expelled from the high bluffs along the river, it is said to be home to more millionaires than any other U.S. city.

The Natchez people were mound builders, reflecting a sophisticated spiritual tradition that did not survive repeated conflicts with the French (and Spanish). Many escaped into the Carolinas only to suffer the Trail of Tears. Later, cotton, harvested by slave labor, created the wealth that is still reflected in luxurious homes and plantations in the area.

I saw little of that. A medical problem prompted me to find transportation from the elegant paddle wheel boat docked at the river, to the local urgent care facility. I walked up the gangplank and into a red cab with white lettering identifying it as part of the Rock N’ Roll taxi company. It was driven by a slim older man who didn’t smile much. We ascended the bluff and drove to urgent care. The driver gave me his card (which I promptly lost) and left.

After an examination, I was told I could pick up a prescription at the Walgreen’s on the other side of a four-lane freeway. A cab was called for. The same one showed up. This time the driver pulled up to the drive-up window where we learned my prescription would be ready in about 15 minutes. So, we rode to the front of the store so I could get some necessities while waiting for the medication. With those in hand, I waited by the front door for the return of the Rock N’ Roll taxi. When it arrived, the driver, aware that I had missed the morning tour of Natchez’s mansions, drove me the long way back to the boat so I could at least get a glimpse of his city.

I wanted to pay him extra, but he refused. He only charges $10 no matter where he drives. This time, I kept his card, tucking it into my pocket as I walked down the gangplank and onto my boat. That card is now a treasured souvenir inscribed with his name “Pulley Bone”.

 I have no idea if that’s his real name … or if he was just pulling my leg.