A Non-cougar Ponders Sultry Times

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There’s this young, scantily clad carpenter in my kitchen. His muscular, tattooed arms are sheathed in sweat as he runs his measuring tape along my windowsill. While I am well aware of his maleness, I am equally aware that I will never be mistaken for a cougar.

Sadly, when the young male says he’s hot, I am thinking about global warming.

“It’s unreal,” says Dan. “It’s like a furnace. Unbearable.”

Texas heat wave of 2011 largely caused by drought, ocean temperatures, says NOAA-led study


It’s All About the Weather

Everyone in New Hampshire is talking about the weather.

We complain about the summer heat in the Maryland D.C. suburbs, too, but we’re used to it. Sort of. We choose to live in the sauna, for whatever reason. I grew up there and can’t seem to get my roots out of the heavy clay soil. Plus, as much as I resist it and as depressing as it is, I’m fascinated by Washington politics.

But in New Hampshire where my family farmhouse is, people are not used to long runs of 95 degree days. They aren’t used to humidity you need a chainsaw to cut through.

“Sultry,” the weather guy keeps saying, as if he’s trying out a new word.

This year, my NH neighbors were excited to “get some decent snow again” after several warm winters. They are winter people by nature; they own snowmobiles and cross country skis. Winter is in their blood like politics is in mine.

“It’s just weird,” says my friend Tom about the lack of snow in recent years. “I don’t like it.” Tom drives a snow plow for the town.

Tornadoes, Bugs, and Super Storms

Americans are already making changes because our so-called leaders have refused to take meaningful action on the warming of the planet. We have family tornado action plans where there never used to be tornadoes. Generators are flying off the shelves because super storms have made frequent power outages the norm. Of course, if you live in New Jersey or New York or New Orleans, you know a thing or two about evacuation.

You can’t carry firewood for camping across state borders in New Hampshire because it might harbor pests, some of which are able to thrive where they never used to survive. Trees already weakened by climate change are succumbing to new infestations.

So are berries. I bought some blueberries at a farm stand the other day. “Are they sprayed?” I asked.

“Not yet,” the woman answered, standing in front of an oscillating fan and wiping sweat from her brow. “But we’re about to — we never used to at all, but a new exotic fruit fly came in on Hurricane Irene, and the winters aren’t killing it. We can’t get rid of it. It has barbs on its legs so it cuts into fresh berries, not just rotten ones on the ground.”

Water, Water Everywhere

The biggest climate change issue for New Hampshire right now, at least in the foothills where I am, is flooding. The Keene Sentinel had a front page spread on it last week . . . as if anyone needed to be told it’s a problem. Last year I had to delay coming up because our road had washed out.

Flood Damage

Flood Damage

“Once considered rare in this the region, damaging floods have struck multiple times in the past decade,” says the paper. Officials are calling historical flood planning documents “no longer relevant.” Several storms since 2005 have exceeded the 100-year-flood benchmark.

The paper cites two reasons for the floods, which have toppled bridges, destroyed homes and businesses, obliterated roads, not to mention drowned people: “Climate change on a global scale” and “decades of construction and development in the region.”

While it’s depressing to confront reality (remember An Inconvenient Truth?), it is heartening to hear officials putting the blame where it belongs and calling for “smarter zoning and development regulations.”

Live Free or Die?

Here on my forested mountain, one woman from out-of-state owned the whole other side of the mountain forever. When she passed away, her sons lost no time in clearcutting half the mountain and making plans for condos. Fortunately, they must have realized that there’s no demand for condos in the middle of nowhere during an economic meltdown. I am hopeful that those “new development regulations” will go into effect before the economy recovers and the bulldozers arrive.

New Hampshire folks aren’t big on regulation. “Live Free or Die” is the state motto. Perhaps they will be re-thinking that – it’s well past time for regulations to curb global warming and stop the flooding.

The Granite State Motto

They don’t like taxes up here, either; New Hampshire is one of only five states with no sales tax.

Maybe that will change with the climate, too. Money is sorely needed. As road crews continue to make emergency repairs, town officials are counting on federal tax dollars in the form of Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to rebuild their roads to better withstand floods. “FEMA has to come through and help us,” one town official told the newspaper. “We don’t have any place to get this money,” bemoaned another.

Welcome to the future, New Hampshire . . . where we need government action, and we need it now.

Credit: Sultry photo from NOAA.gov


The Woman Buried under the Apple Tree


“Read between the lines. Then meet me in the silence if you can…”

May Sarton

I want to tell you about the woman buried under the apple tree. When she was a child, Averil used to climb the old tree, her nail-bitten hands clutching the sturdy branches, her honeyed braids brushing the rough bark.

She marveled at the tiny worlds colonizing the bark – forests of emerald moss, handfuls of fungus waving like black fingers, villages of powder-grey lichen teeming with ants and spiders and all manner of strange travelers.

Forests of Fingers

Forests of Fingers

All Manner of Travelers

All Manner of Travelers

My cousin Averil “traveled” at fifty.

Her sons dug a hole for her ashes under the beloved apple tree while I read from the Book of Isaiah:

“…to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…”

My cousin was an unhappy and unwell person, prone to making despairing, unintelligible phone calls at three in the morning. But that is all I’ll say.

There are questions and mysteries surrounding her life and death, which I won’t share because families suffer secrets and allow for mysteries. If her descendants aren’t going to shake those branches, neither will I.

The Tree

The apple tree keeps watch over our family’s country home, guarding secrets, saving memories, honoring unlived dreams. I don’t know if my grandmother planted it in the forties when she bought Quiet Hills, or if it was already here.

The Apple Tree

The Apple Tree

“…a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor…”

The cellular structure of the tree holds the soft voice of my grandmother as she croons to one of her many long-haired cats, and the shared laughter of my mother and my Aunt Val as they garden together, never suspecting that Bunny will one day rest where they work.

We all called her Bunny.

The only one who called her Averil was her husband.

“…he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”


This morning an inch worm descends from the apple tree, hanging by a shimmering thread, bobbing its head and swaying in the breeze, a breeze I can’t feel but which causes his nubbly little feet to wriggle frantically for purchase.

A delicate creature on a delicate thread, ceaselessly buffeted by invisible currents.

Chickadees and titmice chip-chip and tee-tee at each other, hopping from branch to branch and knocking down tiny green apples, then swooping away to jostle for position at the birdbath.

The deck beneath the tree is littered with these baby apples. The strongest fruit still clings to the branches, though, dreaming of becoming autumn’s pies.

Autumn Dreams

Autumn Dreams

Bunny used to bake the apples into pies. She would imitate an old woman’s quavery voice – “Abigail,” she called herself — as the kitchen filled with the smell of warming cinnamon, and she shooed our fingers away from the sweet filling.

The apple tree holds Old Abigail’s voice. It holds Bunny’s childish giggle.

It guards her secrets. And its canopy softens the raindrops that fall upon her grave.

Related information:

Bible verses are from the Book of Isaiah, New International Version.

For more on the old apple tree, click here.

For more on the house, click here.

Abdicating My Soapbox but Still Mourning Trayvon

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I’m staying out of the Trayvon Martin thing. I just can’t do it this time. I know that makes me a bad progressive, maybe a bad Christian, certainly a bad social networker, and perhaps even a bad American.

The media tells me I should have been glued to my TV for the past several weeks, cheering when “my side” scored a point, scoffing at the lawyers and witnesses on the “other side.” But I do not have a TV (much to Verizon’s incessant chagrin – I’m missing out on their BUNDLE, don’t I know??).

No, I have not been a proper “media consumer.”

I did not accept my free ticket to the summer circus.

The Facebook Frenzy

So when I got on Facebook yesterday to see what was going on in the land of cute kittens and pretty sunsets and weddings and babies and random photos of food, I was taken aback.

The verdict had been handed down twenty-four hours before; Zimmerman was walking the streets again, and all hell had broken loose!

I felt a moment of panic. I did not have my case prepared! Everyone else seemed to know every detail of the case, they had opinions on the lawyers and the judge and the witnesses and the pre-trial this and that.

No worries, my Facebook friends would tell me what to think. Most of my friends are progressive types, and they were all over the story. Dozens of articles, some searing with sarcasm and seriously funny, some digging up dark moments in civil rights history that many white folk have probably never heard of.

Pictures of hoodies and Martin Luther King, pictures of Martin Luther King IN a hoodie, pleas for civil suits, and petitions for the Justice Department to take action.


My conservative Facebook friends (the few, the proud, the brave who suffer my rants about global warming, peace, WalMart, and even presidential elections) were all over the gun thing. This had nothing to do with race, they said, it was all about the right to bear arms. Some had moved into compassionate conservatism, feeling badly that George Zimmerman “is going to be spit on, literally and figuratively, for the rest of his life.”

Remarkably, I refrained from commenting, “I hope so.”

This was a turning point for me.

What I Do Not Know

Because you see, I do not know. Am I even allowed to say that, to not have an opinion?

I do not know the facts. I was not there. I was not on the jury. I do not know the defendant or the dead teenager.

I want to think that the jury did their best to put aside their prejudices, preconceptions, and personal politics and to seek the truth. “Reasonable doubt” is always subjective, but what else do we have?

I do not know. That is why I’m abdicating my personal soapbox for the moment.

I often jump to conclusions, often react with knee-jerk assumptions. People I know and trust say this, so it must be so. The wealthy corporation claims this, so it’s probably not true. Past history in America is this, therefore

We all do this. We base our opinions on our past experience, our beliefs, and our context. Nothing wrong with that, up to a point.

But in a court of law, that would be hearsay and circumstantial evidence.

What I Do Know

The circumstances in the Zimmerman/Martin case, as I see them, seem pretty clear. I can understand why people are holding vigils.

George Zimmerman has a history of violence towards cops and women; he has a history of racial hate speech, and he has called the police more than forty times about “suspicious” black people in his neighborhood.

The police told him not to go out there with his gun that night. The National Sheriff’s Association completely disavowed Zimmerman’s action and said his group was not a Neighborhood Watch.

Trayvon Martin smoked pot, I hear.

What Others Know

Many of my African American friends are devastated by the verdict. I am sick on their behalf, on this nation’s behalf.

Even setting aside the Zimmerman case, why are we still like this? Why should my friends have to worry that their teenagers will be shot when they walk out the front door? Like any parents, they talk to their kids about respecting their elders and responding appropriately to authority, but in their case, it can be a life or death conversation.

The FOX News commentators  say this whole mess is because the black people, including our President, keep bringing up all this race stuff. If they would just stop stirring the pot, everything would be fine.

Right. Let’s move on from all this unpleasantness.

My younger friends seem to have been hit upside the head with this verdict. It seems clear to them that Trayvon Martin was stalked and murdered. They thought that things had changed since their grandparent’s day. They know that politics is broken, but had hoped the judicial system was above that.

They have had their eyes opened.

I know the feeling. I remember the gut-kick I received when the Supreme Court said, “Stop counting the votes,” during the Bush v. Gore electoral debacle in — oh yeah . . . Florida.

Stop counting the votes? Isn’t this America? Don’t we count the votes here?

Well, folks, this is America. And shit happens.

 Bending the Arc of History

It’s up to us to keep trying to get it right. We must not give up. We are Americans.

Try to be civil. Try to consider the facts. Even try to examine the other side with an open mind, if you can find someone who is able to state it reasonably. It’s harder and harder these days, on both “sides.”

To my progressive friends, I say work for justice – don’t give up. Try to speak reasonably and don’t set your hair on fire. The arc of history bends towards justice – we must believe this and put all of our collective weight into bending that arc.

To my conservative friends who think that the word “justice” has been co-opted by “liberals” and is really something that God will hand down in the by-and-by, I say read your bible about justice and oppression and pray about it. Shut out the noise and see what God might be saying to you, personally. And pray for peace.

We should all be praying for peace. Real, true peace, not covering-things-over peace.

And we should be talking about morality, not just legality. Because as it turns out, sometimes laws are immoral.

I feel a little guilty for not diving into the blazing house of opinionators this time. But also a little liberated. I’m not informed, and I don’t know how to get informed at this point.

You guys already know how I feel about racism, and if you don’t, please read There’s No Such Thing as Quiet Racism. The disease is alive and noisy in America.

It is possible that Zimmerman is innocent, under a less-than-moral Florida law. It’s just as possible that he’s guilty as sin.

Either way, I hope that there are further investigations.

Because the kid is dead.

OK, maybe I do have an opinion.

The Bombs Bursting in Air: 330,000 Lives, Four Trillion Bucks

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I just heard that a local Veterans for Peace group is being banned from the Fourth of July parade in Santa Barbara. Although they have marched in the past, this year they had the audacity to propose an actual float, one with crosses and flowers honoring the dead.

The official reason for their banishment – I’m not kidding here – is that they might pass out flyers which would cause litter.

Veterans. For peace.

Peace Sign

Peace is Patriotic

I wanted to blog about it, but I find I have no words. No comment. I can’t even think of what to call it. An outrage? A crime? An abomination?

I think I will simply quote a few true patriots this Fourth of July, as part of my commitment to being a Blogger for Peace.

Thomas Jefferson

A founding father, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and third president of the U.S.:

“If there be one principle more deeply written than any other in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.”

James Madison

A founding father and fourth president of the U.S.:

Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.

No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venal love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.

(Political Observations, April 20, 1795)

 John Quincy Adams

Secretary of State and sixth president of the U.S.:

…what has America done for the benefit of mankind? Let our answer be this:

She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.

She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart . . .Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.  But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force….

She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit….

[America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is Freedom, Independence, Peace.

{Speech to Congress, July 4, 1821}

Helen Keller

{People} are taught that brave men die for their country’s honor. What a price to pay for an abstraction–the lives of millions of young men; other millions crippled and blinded for life; existence made hideous for still more millions of human beings; the achievement and inheritance of generations swept away in a moment–and nobody better off for all the misery!

Strike against war, for without you no battles can be fought. Strike against manufacturing shrapnel and gas bombs and all other tools of murder. Strike against preparedness that means death and misery to millions of human beings. Be not dumb, obedient slaves in an army of destruction. Be heroes in an army of construction.

{A speech at Carnegie Hall before World War I}

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered…

A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with  orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

{Riverside Church, April 4, 1967}

Your Taxpayer Dollars at War

There have been more than 330,000 direct war deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan since 2001. More than 200,000 of those people were civilians.

This does not include indirect deaths attributed to the wars — almost always more than direct deaths.

The amount our country has invested to cause these deaths is over four trillion dollars (spent and obligated).

Fifty-three percent of your taxes go towards war, in this way:

FY2009 federal piechart

Courtesy War Resisters League


If you’ve been around awhile, you might remember Ronald Reagan’s hawkish Secretary of State, Alexander Haig. He offered a sound strategy for Americans who prefer peace to militarism.

“Let them march all they want,” Haig said, “as long as they pay their taxes.”

Thanks for the tip, Al.

Perhaps you will celebrate the Fourth with me by taking a look at this information about boycotting the War Tax. Something our founding fathers might well have condoned . . . like refusing to pay an unjust tax on tea.

Then go drink a cold beer and blow something up.


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Home, Heart, and Tkei

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The rain pounded on my windshield and the trees at the side of the road began to thrash as I watched the huge black cloudbank to my left turn an ominous yellow and begin to elongate at the bottom.

I told myself that watching The Wizard of Oz the night before had agitated my imagination: I was on the New Jersey Turnpike and not in Kansas with Dorothy and Toto. Still, the images of twirling houses and flying cows would not be banished.

“There’s no place like home,” I said out loud, though I was alone. This made me laugh, which was good, and then there was a sudden burst of sun, and a brief but brilliant rainbow splashed across the darkness.

The rainbow gave me courage, and I decided to nix the idea of a hotel and push on towards home, though New York City’s Friday afternoon traffic had cursed me with several extra hours behind the wheel.

I just wanted to be home.

Theoretically Home

The concept of home is near-mystical to me, even if the reality conjures up never-ending lists, especially in the summer when I shuttle between New Hampshire and Maryland trying to keep up two houses. Mow lawn, buy groceries, do laundry, feed birds, water plants, pay bills.

I’m theoretically home now, back in Maryland. Yet I also feel I’ve been ripped away from home, having left my nephew and his four kids at our house in New England. spring nh 2013b 026.Lillys I have friends in New Hampshire as well, and I miss them when I’m not there. I want to keep up with them, to be a part of their lives, not just a drop-in visitor.

Divided Hearts

They say home is where the heart is, but it’s not that simple.

You see, hearts can be divided.

I’ve got bits of my heart all over the world. People own my heart, places own my heart, animals own my heart — even memories own my heart.

I suspect that memories own an increasingly large part of our hearts as we age.

In the months before my elderly mother passed on, she asked over and over, “Is it time to go home yet? Can I go home now? “ She was clearly torn. Although she was in familiar surroundings with her children, the bits of her heart invested in memories were beginning to outweigh the here and now.

She talked to her father, she talked to her Godmother, and she talked to an old friend. One night, she told my uncle in no uncertain terms, “I know you’re my big brother, Rolphie, but I’m not ready to go yet!” Her conversations and joyful reunions spooked her night nurse, but I found them comforting. I truly felt she had another home, and that she was preparing to go there.

So Where is Home?

The traditional definition of home points to a place — a dwelling or residence or village.

But Dorothy was right when she said, “There’s no place like home.” Home is more a state of mind than any one place. A sense of safety and belonging and familiarity, regardless of where you are.

An etymology dictionary will tell you that the “full range and meaning” of the concept of home “is not covered by any single word.”  That’s true, but I think the early Indo-European root word, tkei, comes close. It means “to lie, to settle down.”

That’s what Mom wanted. To settle down and be done. And that’s what I was pining for on the Jersey Turnpike. To be done with the doing. To rest.

Home is a spiritual and emotional space where you can let down your guard and just be. Even when you’re busy at home, your soul is lying down, at rest.  Familiar routines lower your stress level. Chores and errands aren’t fun, but they are comfortable.

No matter how colorful and exciting Oz seemed to be — what with the dancing Munchkins and talking apple trees and appearing and disappearing witches — from the moment Dorothy arrived, she just wanted to get back to her routine.

For most of us, that familiarity does belong to a place, even though it’s not the place itself that is home. It’s the belonging.

In your home space, people truly know you — they don’t simply tolerate your shortcomings, they smile at them. Their voices plug into well-worn tracks in your brain; their laughter is like an old favorite song.

I am blessed to have more than one of those home spaces.

If I’m blessed with old age as Mom was, I imagine I’ll start feeling less and less at home in any earthly place. Many of those familiar voices and songs of laughter will be just memories.

Then I’ll follow the yellow brick road home for good.

Who, what, and where is your home space?

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