My Night in the Trumpscape

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After the nightmare, a head-clearing snowshoe to the beautiful, actual canyon with the dogs.

I need the talents of an animator. Words alone cannot convey the horror of the dream I awoke from this morning:

I had been at my neighbors’ house, and they stood together outside saying goodnight. They were selling the house and moving, abruptly. I was sad. I had thought they’d never leave. They were moving to Ouray, the Little Switzerland of Colorado, alpine peaks capped with snow year round, hot springs.

But why?

I can’t say, said Sara, not yet. You’ll know later.

Did Pete get a job at the old Cocker ranch?

Yes, said Pete, and Sara shushed him, but it was too late.

I won’t tell, I said. What, are you the foreman?

Yes.

They stood outside under the stilted deck. But what’s there to manage? I pursued, there’s no cattle, it’s just that old oil well at the top.

It dawned on me. The old oil well must be fruitful again. But you’re a coal man, I argued, what do you know about oil?

It’s what he’s known for, Sara said with her slow southern smile.

This was news to me. I knew him for fruit.

The renters came with a question. I walked away. I turned back, and caught up with Pete near the top of the driveway. But why? I asked.

I don’t trust anyone anymore, he said. I shrugged, hurt, and walked away down the road. At the intersection with the dirt road, massive construction was underway. I thought this odd, as it was just dusk. Backhoes were scraping the slopes on either side of the road. Concrete mixers were mixing and pouring a turf-green foam along the west side. Are you making a sidewalk? I asked the foreman. Yes, he said. But on the south side, where I was walking, the shoulder was being scraped away, and the road was all roughed up along the edge, and there was nowhere for me to walk except the middle of the road, and I couldn’t get there anyway, I was too far down the slope to step up to the roadbed. Ron, it was Ron from the phone company years ago, helped me up into his pickup bed, and from there I stepped into another truck bed, and from there was able to access the road.

I walked the middle of the dirt road around the first curve, and was appalled to see that the cliff on the south side had been gouged all the way to the top. There isn’t a cliff on the south side. But there was, and it had been gouged and scraped, a rough roadcut that was even now still dropping loose rocks. Three teenage boys walked around the next curve toward me, dodging rocks. I dashed past them and narrowly escaped a rock crashing down behind me, and turned into my driveway. But it too had been torn up with an earth mover, and I scrambled my way through piles and walls of rough dirt along a narrow path. What the hell?

The walls of dirt rose higher and higher around me, the driveway now a former road filled with a gathering of local ranchers and churchgoers. It was Helen Wakefield’s funeral, and barely a field remained on one side of the mountains of dirt that crowded the lane. The people sat at picnic tables and on pickup tailgates, and milled curiously in the lane. Across the field a cliff rose straight up.

Where is my driveway? I asked someone. It should be here.

I started down a fork that curved sharply to the left and crossed a buried stream. This was not my driveway. I returned to the gathering and asked again. I need to get home, I insisted. Your house is gone, a man said, it fell in on itself while they were working. But my dogs! I thought I had left them in the pen and maybe they were alright. I took off down the straight fork, through a narrow canyon of scraped cliffs and piles of dirt mounded on both sides of what should have been my driveway.

Far ahead I saw my black cat, plumed tail twitching, walking toward me, but he veered out of sight. I caught a glimpse of Raven even farther away, and ran toward her. But I could not get through the piles of dirt, which grew taller and taller, and then found myself amidst cranes, bulldozers, pylons and barriers of concrete, a jumble of excavating equipment and blocks of rock and cement, and slabs of steel and exposed rebar. And hostile workmen who jeered at my efforts to clamber on over and beyond their awful mess of random jagged chunks of destruction.

I climbed down and down deeper into the unwinding pit of their debris, it made no sense, it went on and on, picking my way carefully stepping from one slab or chunk to another always heading down, knowing at the end of this travail would be my home and my dogs. But it would not end. The workmen became sparse, the mass of blocks and spikes and boulders grew up around me as I climbed down and down. Scaffolding emerged, the jumble expanded, opened out before me ever increasing in scope. Anger and anxiety gave way to careless despair, and soon I was swinging under scaffold bars and dropping onto concrete cubes perilously angled and sliding onto more tilted slabs and chunks. As far as I could see out and down just mountains of steel and concrete. No light. Shades of grey, and black, blocks and slabs and scaffolds, rods and stacks and sheets of metal, truck-sized hunks of aggregate, concrete, I-beams, and then some containers, boxes, crates, wood and metal and cardboard.

A man in a red Home Depot shirt waved at me from above to the right where he stood on a shelf. Dust covered me, and sweat. I crawled and leapt and stepped down and down the winding mountain. There had been no daylight for a long time. Hours. Maybe days. I could not bear to look up because when I did all I could see was more of the same chaos. No light at the end, or at the top, or anywhere among the sides.

At one point I spied my two dogs, below and beyond, and veered and called to them, and in the shifting planes of our efforts they came closer. I was able to hold Raven’s head for a moment, look into Stellar’s eyes, and then we were separated again. The air became murkier, dustier, dirtier. Concrete and steel had given way entirely to containers. Huge shipping containers piled akimbo, wooden crates, corrugated cardboard boxes bigger than I was. Small boxes slipping down behind me. I picked my way more carefully. The newness of all the crates and boxes faded as I slipped and slid and fought my way down. Surely, surely this would end eventually.

There were ramps, now, between the dusty piles of cartons, bins, racks, and shelves that towered around me. The angle of my descent decreased. The going was easier but I was exhausted. A menacing figure loomed suddenly and began to chase me. I outran this person, spotted my dogs far ahead, and then a zombie, yes a real live zombie reared up from behind a pile of crates and roared at me. I was fed up and reckless, desperate. I had nothing to lose. I yelled back at the zombie and it paused. I turned and ran on through corridors of containers, crates, now flimsy boxes. I ran and ran, now and then catching a glimpse of the dogs, frequently struggling through obstacles of boxes and walls and tilted floors.

A slant of light pierced the dust. I was almost there! Almost through this nightmare. Then it was gone. I ran on through an endless garage of filthy clutter piled now only twice my height, corrugated doors to nowhere, here and there a glimpse of sunlight filtering through a crack in the oddly angled walls. Each hopeful glance of light I aimed for, and always it was obliterated with more piles, another hostile person threatening me. A wide patch of light at the end of the concrete slab I ran on, and there were my beloved dogs.

We ran together, dodging collapsing piles, all squares and cubes and angles, and finally, finally slipped out through a crack in the wall, onto our old gravel road. I could see my driveway across the field. A man in a pickup truck said he would be right back. He would bring me a piece of paper and a pen. A contract.

It was pre, pre-dawn. Just enough light to know it was no longer the middle of the night. Trembling, I curled from my stomach onto my side, tucked my knees between the sleeping dogs, wrapped the girl dog with my shins and feet, the boy dog with my arms. Breathed. Heaved in the cold air. Shuddered it out. This. This is real. This is water. I inhaled deeply again. And again, slowly. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Squeezed the dogs. Tucked tighter between the two of them, still half asleep, the dream still vivid.

You might steal my nights, you bastard, I thought, but I won’t let you have my days.

Il pleure dans mon coeur

Morning Rounds

Red rock cliffs along the Colorado River from our campsite. Red rock cliffs along the Colorado River from our campsite.

This weekend I camped with a couple of friends, three dogs, and a cat. In some alternate universe it might have been ordinary. Deb and I set off on a long and rich two day adventure three hours away, with my two dogs and diabetic cat and her little dog in the Mothership. We took the turnoff for Cisco, a ghost town in far eastern Utah where river runners take out from Westwater Canyon, the first whitewater stretch on the Colorado River in Utah.

We drove down my favorite highway in the country, Utah 128 along the Colorado River, red rocks, peach rocks, desert varnish, glowing in the rich afternoon light below gathering storm clouds. The muddy river flowed beside us as we drove, and collared lizards basked on boulders beside screaming orange globemallow and yellow prince’s plume, their turquoise…

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My Measles

My brother and I both had the measles when we were young. The Colonel was stationed in Germany. I can’t remember if we lived in Mannheim or Stuttgart at the time; we lived first in one and then the other for about about a year and a half each. My earliest memories save one stem from that time, both good and bad. It’s funny, reflecting now, I realize I was exposed that young to the knowledge that the world is both in roughly equal measure. A harsh epiphany for a three- or four-year-old. And the balance of my life has borne out that observation.

My older brother’s remembered Measles Moment became a family funny: During his fever he left his bed and tumbled down the top flight of stairs to the landing. He hit his head and was out for a few seconds. When he came to he was crying “I’ve lost my marbles! My marbles! I’ve lost my marbles!” My mother was terrified, crouching over him, thinking He’s lost his mind! In fact, he had just lost his marbles, which lay scattered all around them on the floor, and which she noticed after her panic subsided.

My Measles Moment was utterly private, though I lay in the same room as my brother, both of us in high fevers. Whether it was nausea that fed the hallucination, or the spinning colors on the walls that nauseated me I can’t say, but I spent hours, maybe days, in a sickeningly hypnotic hallucination: polka dots, of all sizes and myriad colors, oddly in the day-glow hues that defined the Sixties’ aesthetic. The jarringly colored circles swam and swirled, throbbed and grew and shrank, all of them all at once, all day, every time I opened my eyes. Maybe it came from some Mod thing I’d seen; this was 1963 or four.

I grew up with those colors and played with them, colored with them, sometimes wore them, saw them everywhere, and liked them just fine. But sometimes they’d show up in a particular pattern that would trigger the nausea. Until recent years (so at least fifty after the fever) I couldn’t stand to look at polka dots or swirling colors, though over time the nausea subsided. You do get over things, now none of it bothers me. But that’s my Measles Legacy.

Or is it? This outbreak of measles recently reported in the news got me thinking. Can any of my current (and longstanding) physical frailties or ailments be credited to the severity of the childhood illness that cooked my system so hot I tripped out as if on acid as a tender toddler? It’s an honest question: Who knows? The CDC lists no long-term complications from measles (Rubeola) except a very rare and fatal one called SSPE, which I don’t have, and possible hearing loss; nor for German measles (Rubella), which we also had in Germany. I am prone to earaches, maybe that came from the measles. But has anyone studied it? Has anyone inquired if chronic pain, aching joints, fatigue, can stem from severe measles in childhood?

Whether or not a childhood episode of measles can lead to long-term, later-life complications, it’s a seriously nasty bug, and people should think hard about not vaccinating their children. It was a horrible experience for me, despite the fact that I survived, and it affected me for decades afterwards.

 

Death and Delusions

The diabetic cat, well-balanced now but teetering, will probably be the next pet to go. But who knows?

The diabetic cat, well-balanced now but teetering, will probably be the next pet to go. But who knows?

Just a couple of weeks ago I sat here thinking, It’s been a really long time since anyone close to me has died. Then I remembered Miss Joanie, who died in January, almost a year ago. Still, a year with no close deaths is a pretty long time. Then I remembered my goddaughter’s father-in-law died in the spring from a recently discovered brain tumor. He wasn’t close, though she is, and it was a tough loss for her family. Then I remembered that I sat grieving and burning a candle for a whole day for a Florida friend, before I learned she had died the day before, just four months after a lung cancer diagnosis.

Then I remembered another neighbor that died last summer, not close, but dear, leaving his wife of sixty-some years. A month ago a beloved community member, a wife, a nurse and a singer, close with many of my friends, died of cervical cancer and hundreds showed up at her memorial; I heard a baby in town died recently, maybe SIDS, a terrible blow to a family I didn’t know;  another close friend told me last week, after her niece survived a suicide shot, that her nephew had been killed while running across a freeway. The suffering that accompanied these events!

Before I could remember too many other deaths from this year, I chose to go back to the deceitfully peaceful delusion of nobody close to me dying recently. And then, in the days after I had that thought, people all around started dying. A friend’s mother died, in her eighties, cancer. I didn’t know her, but I know how devoted her daughter was. Days later another friend’s mother, also a friend of mine and a local legend, pollution scientist Theo Colborn died after a grueling decline, working hard even into her last month to extend her dire warning about the potential demise of the human species. We weren’t close friends, but I’d known and admired her for decades.

Then the deaths came closer. Another dear friend’s brother-in-law died the other day after struggling with numerous debilitating diseases for years. I’d heard him play in Key West where we visited together years ago, and listened with compassion to her laments about his choices over the past year. A week ago my next door neighbor suffered a massive stroke, and last Thursday she died in the hospital where she’d been airlifted across the mountains. Friday morning, my good friend Rick died in California, finally, after going without food for six weeks. He discovered he had stage 4 prostate cancer early this spring, and faced it with courage and heart, heading for the light.

And then Joe Cocker died last night. He was a neighbor, of sorts, another local legend. I met him a few times, we had some mutual friends. Some of them are on the radio now, playing his songs and offering tributes. Of all the people I know of personally who died over the past two weeks (like an epidemic), Joe was certainly the most famous. His name is already top in today’s headlines, and trending on social media. He’s the only one of them who will get mention on the nightly news. And he leaves millions of fans each with their own level of private grief.

All my other friends, or relations of friends, who have died these past two weeks (this past year), won’t be on the national news but they leave their own personal trail of grief. Even Theo, whose contributions to science will likely have more profound effects on the planet eventually than Joe Cocker’s music, didn’t get national news coverage that I could see, though The Denver Post and a number of online sites and environmental groups gave her fitting tributes.

Each of these people, famous or not, will be memorialized within their families and communities; each of them have been loved deeply by some, and have influenced many others throughout their lives in some ways they might have known, and in other ways they probably never had a clue. The actions of their lives rippled outward from every living moment, intersecting with lives they knew and didn’t know, and sometimes rippling farther and further than they could have imagined, to touch people they never knew existed. Each of these people touched me, peripherally or profoundly, with their lives, their talents, their souls, their sufferings. Each of them will be grieved and missed equally by those who loved them.

The sense I had two weeks ago of surprise, relief, lightness, that death hadn’t touched me much in the past year is gone, dead itself. People close to me in one way or another have been dying all year. I know that I am not the center of anything except my one dog’s world, but it sure feels like I get slapped in the face with reality’s hard backhand whenever I articulate some delusion of good fortune.

It’s hard enough to get through the day, even in this beautiful corner of paradise where I live, with awareness of all the murders around the planet every day: from schools full of children killed by terrorists or a lone lunatic, to the toll of wars across the globe; from cops killing to cop killings; from domestic violence to random violence to stand-your-ground; and that’s just from an anthropocentric view.

All the digging and all the scraping through the flesh of our only planet; all the displaced and slaughtered species, many of whom are crucial to our own survival and all of whom share the inherent value of all living beings; all the poisons seeping, spilling, and spewing into air and water, creeping into food, every species’ food, making toxic the three elements essential to all life; all the need and greed destroying the miracle of this fragile living globe, spinning around a sun gyring through a galaxy…

It’s hard enough, I say, to get through even a beautiful day knowing and feeling all this loss, without the stunning blade of natural or accidental death slicing close as well. How do we go on, day to day, knowing that someday, maybe tomorrow, the person or pet or place we love the most will die? How do we follow our plans through our lives knowing that eventually everyone we love will die?

We seize the day. When we are feeling happy, or lucky, or blessed, we revel in it while it lasts. When we know that death is just around the corner, always, for someone, that suffering comes around for everybody turn by turn, we can only get through the good days, the happy times, the illusion of contentment, by making the most of it in the fleeting moment. Knowing that suffering will come around for us again, we owe it to ourselves to celebrate good times, indeed.

Sweep Deprivation

Sweet little girl dog wearing Christmas necklaces rolling in the gravel path.

Sweet little girl dog wearing Christmas necklaces rolling in the gravel path.

The very few times in my life I’ve been told “You must not sweep,” I have looked around my house, at the floors inside and out, and wished nothing more fervently than that I could sweep. It hadn’t occurred to me that the breast biopsy last week would be the kind of procedure to result in that prescription. I came home sore, with an ice pack tucked into a sportsbra over the puncture site and the poor flesh that had been probed and snipped deep inside by a 13 gage needle. I looked around my living room, my kitchen, my outside patios, and I wanted desperately to sweep.

The good news? Now I can sweep. The great news? The tissue described on mammogram and ultrasound as “ambiguous” was benign. The night I got home after the biopsy, I read this article by a friend who’s opted out of mammograms, and felt suddenly, sickeningly sure that this biopsy hadn’t been necessary. But that’s a discussion for another time. Meanwhile, back to sweeping and rearranging furniture like a Rubik’s cube and decorating for Christmas. Breathing dust. No wonder I am short of breath sometimes.

It shocks me the filth I am capable of living in. Usually I sweep at night, before settling on the floor to do yoga or watch TV. But I confess, not every night, and not everywhere. So this morning, I am happily sweeping, the wound healed except for a deep linear bruise, the last lingering pain mostly gone. I’m sweeping! Deep sweeping. Moving furniture, reaching the broom under the heavy stuff, and I’m raking up a bucketful of dog hair, mostly from the good dog, who has a longer, denser coat. Between the two dogs, the cat, path gravel, yard dirt, and general desert dust, I’m also sweeping up a dust storm. Clouds billowing in sun slants that I can’t see when I sweep at night. Instant resolution: vacuum every day!

When I’ve swept the inside, I go outside and sweep the front patio, then sit for a rest. Any other year on this day, I would have been shoveling snow instead of sweeping grit. The big hairy dog I love like life itself comes to sit beside me. We bask in unusually warm December sun, and I stroke and stroke his broad hairy back, dig in deep with my fingers to massage his loose skin. I remember a dog I had years ago, whom I loved to pet when he was silky and young. I realized, a dozen years later as he slowly died from cancer, that I had quit petting him long ago, in that deep fulfilling way he loved, because of his slightly oily, always dirty, shedding coat. Another instant resolve: brush the big hairy dog every day.

A friend gave me a Tarot reading the other day, one he characterized as  particularly significant, not about quotidian events or decisions but about a period of tumultuous life transformation. Last night I pulled out my Thoth Tarot deck, which I haven’t used in years, and laid out the same pattern he had, to see how close our different spreads and readings might be. Different cards, same gist. Both had a recurring theme of letting go; mine ended up with the Death card, a sure sign of major transformation on the way. I’m just glad I didn’t get either of these readings before I got the biopsy results!

There is a lot of letting go to be done in my life. A dear friend lives dying from cancer in California, a man of committed spiritual devotion that cost him great sacrifice in the last eight years of his life. I light a candle for him, for his saintly spirit in a body that has sustained itself on light and love for far longer than any thought possible. What have you learned, I ask him, through this journey?

When you walk in love, you’re there, he said. It was that simple. He’s been staring directly down the barrel of it since he stopped eating five weeks ago, keeping friends and family informed along the way with a few inspiring emails. In his last, he wrote unknowingly a poem that ends with these words:

it is perfection so far beyond my comprehension 

as to shut down my whole system.

leaving me sitting in a grinning stupor 

of wonder and awe of what can only be 

that matrix of what we feebly call the utterly 

ineffable LOVE that seems to be all there is. 

He spent most of his adult life learning to let go of the things of this world. He spoke even before he was ill of his body as a separate thing from his self, as the vessel he inhabited with gratitude. Having let go of everything now, even his body, he has lived his last months in a state of spiritual bliss one can only hope to achieve when it’s one’s own time to go.

I’ve also seen a Chinese acupuncturist a few times this past month, and he’s had some palatable and surprising prescriptions to improve my health. In addition to eating my fill of baked potatoes, he told me the other day to Have more fun. Lighten up. Don’t be so serious. He said to do my chores with a different attitude. He said to think about global problems from a bigger perspective, and to handle death by saying See you on the other side. He said All paths lead to nothing.

Which I found strangely comforting.

I must let go of all the stuff I carry from caring for my parents, emotional stuff and especially physical stuff, boxes, bags, artwork, antiques, clothes, military decorations. I’ve clung to some of this stuff for ten years, and I can feel that it’s weighing me down. I must let go of my attachments to my precious dogs. Their family line has a history of cancer, and the sweet bad girl dog may be showing the same early symptoms her uncle did. If I can’t cling to my love for them, then let me give them both all the love and consideration I can while I can. If I have to let go of all my attachments in order to fully live, if that’s what it takes to lighten up, then let this be the winter of letting go.

And so it is that I sweep with deepest gratitude, and I wash windows with joy, and I load up generous boxes and bags for the thrift store, and I brush the hairy dog lovingly with my hands, outside on the patio. Clearing, cleaning, getting my life in order finally. Again. See you on the other side, Rick.

Stoner Fluxx: Change, Play, and Mystery on a Monday Morning

An unknown game found in a forgotten drawer leads to making meaning on a Monday morning.

An unknown game found in a forgotten drawer leads to making meaning on a Monday morning.

Something remarkable happened today. A whole string of remarkable happened, like it used to, back when I was less worried about so many things. Back when I had parents, savings, a safety net, no house, no giant garden, no obligations or commitments except to one big-headed big-hearted dog; I was a nomad, living in my car, camping from one state or national park to another across the country, from Florida to the Olympic Peninsula to Death Valley, and back to DC. That was in 1988. I was twenty-nine years old. Living like that, close to the ground and on the road, I learned to go with the flow.

Today, for awhile, I feel that lightness return.

When a friend came by this morning for a dog walk, she stayed to help me move a dresser downstairs into the mudroom. Organization is a challenge in this house. We rearranged a few things, including, on her way out the door, an ancestral wooden hibachi. I have never known exactly how this was used as a grill, but I’ve always guessed at what might go in the small drawers below and beside an offset metal, inset, where a charcoal fire was presumably kept: there might have been cooking tools in the long narrow drawers up the side, maybe fire-starting implements in the two wide drawers beneath the fire pan.

We set the hibachi, whose fire pan currently holds an excessive collection of totebags, on top of the newly-placed old dresser. Little drawers, with handles too patina’d to make out their metal, beckoned us. The second drawer surprised me with a game I hadn’t thought of in decades, Mille Bornes, a French racing card game that my brother loved when we were children. In the fourth drawer we opened we found some other card games, including two varieties I could not for the life of me remember the provenance of, Eco Fluxx and Stoner Fluxx.

The Stoner Fluxx deck hadn’t even been opened! Here was a brand new unopened card game, in a forgotten drawer in an antique hibachi. Just before we found the game we had been discussing the fundamental UU tenet of covenant, the lexicology of rules and judgement, the nature of metaphor, and the cooperation of realized interconnectedness. Or something like that. We had enjoyed a benign toke after moving the dresser.

We are both avowed but private opponents of cannabis prohibition, for so many reasons. We, and many of our friends, marvel and celebrate often that we have gotten to see the dominoes start falling in the War on Drugs, and reflect with some pride that our state was a pioneer in this civil liberties issue. So we decided to sit down and discover the game of Stoner Fluxx.

Quel surprise! The game unfolded in an exquisite flow of ideas amidst constantly shifting goals and rules, unforeseen effects cascading through the game; it was a beautiful metaphor for life and a comical reminder to live in the moment. Thoughts came so fast and fun I hit the record button so I could retrace the conversation later, mine it for metaphors and lessons. It’s the classic “draw one discard one” type of card game, but some of the cards add or eliminate rules; other cards dictate specific actions, which are “used once and discarded.”

One of the first New Rules to be played on the table was Take two cards on each turn. At first we were delighted to add cards, but this seemingly generous rule turned out to create an uncomfortable excess of cards in our hands, full of uncertain options and conflicting choices… another metaphor.

An Action might be to Discard your choice of up to half of the New Rule cards currently in play. Changing once again, of course, the rules. Or an Action card might instruct you to steal one of another player’s Keeper cards. Or to give each player an extra card of your choosing. Or, one that I got, Your turn ends immediately, and you get to smoke. This card has an orange warning label at the bottom, Doing what this card says is illegal. Set it aside until after marijuana prohibition ends.

When one of us drew the first card with this warning we laughed, of course, and then the wonder hit me. This unknown game, in the forgotten drawer of the ancestral hibachi, had been set aside until after marijuana prohibition had ended. At least, in my state and in almost ten percent of the United States so far. Where had this game come from, and when? How and when had it gotten into the hibachi drawer?

We played on, the game becoming gradually more complex, then suddenly simple, then out of hand; and then, we hit a run of atypical cards in the deck the first of which read, This game is dedicated to: John Lennon, Carl Sagan, Bill Hicks, Peter McWilliams … and all other pot-smokers who won’t be with us to see the beginning of marijuana freedom.

The next card showed a clock on the back, with Message from a Time Traveler. An image on the front of the card implies that 1986 lies in the future, giving us a possible clue as to the game’s genesis, and the text reads in part:

Greetings from the Future! I wish I were allowed to reveal exactly when it will occur, but of course, we chrononauts have to follow the rules, just like everyone else. But I will say this: weed does get legalized in the future! … I know the situation seems bleak these days, but prohibition is so awful that it cannot continue forever. A quick trip to the future will reveal that it doesn’t…

Here we are in the future! The next card discoursed on the theme The Real Crime is Prohibition, reading in part:

The War on Drugs is a futile and nightmarish rerun of a previous mistake. The Drug War has created black-market profiteering, gangland violence, police corruption, government lies, ruined lives, broken families, and overflowing prisons, yet drug use and availability are unchanged. Drug prohibition is unconstitutional and incompatible with freedom. It must end… It’s time to accept the reality of marijuana’s many uses (medical, industrial, spiritual and recreational) and treat it like alcohol and tobacco, both of which are clearly more dangerous. It’s time to put the gangsters and terrorists out of business by taxing and regulating the chemicals they’ve made profitable enough to kill for. It’s time to end the violence caused by prohibition.

From whimsy to hard reality in the flip of a card. I imagine this summary of the case resonates with a lot of people these days. Maybe with a lot more than when the game was invented. Even Sanjay Gupta acknowledges that medical research is full of studies proving that marijuana has remarkable medical benefits, and a possible 2016 presidential candidate decries the absurd failure of the drug war; many leading sociologists, criminologists, and law enforcement agents advocate ending the Drug War for a host of human rights, economic, and social justice reasons. Today’s news is filled with horror stories that came about as unforeseen consequences of Drug War rules: students massacred in Mexico, a mother busted in Minnesota for giving her son new life with medical marijuana after he suffered a TBI, families flocking to legal states to save their children the agony of otherwise uncontrollable epilepsy. Just for a start.

After marveling for awhile at this unexpected turn of the game, we went back to changing Rules, shifting Goals, playing Keeper and Action cards, utterly enchanted in the moment. Then one of us got an Action card that said, “Everybody Toke!” We checked the time, responsibly calculated how much longer we could play before we had to get back to work, and decided to keep going. After doing what the card said.

The next card in the draw deck displayed “Whose Turn Is It?” instead of the game name on the back like all the previous cards. How did it know? We giggled about that. The game was taking on attributes of the first Sufi Game I ever played, in the Esalen bookstore with the mystic Jean, on that flowing road trip back in 1988. Eerily heightening the energy of the moment with an uncanny string of synchronicities.

We kept laughing and playing, as the cold bright day outside heightened toward noon. After awhile my friend said she had to go home soon. I drew the next card, the Goal called Snack Time, which changed the winning task from End the Drug War (The player who has both Peace and Weed on the table wins), to The player who has three or more food Keepers on the table wins. Over the course of the game I had collected a lot of Keepers, including Nachos, Ice Cream, and Pizza. I won the game, we laughed some more, and my friend went home.

I continued to ponder the provenance of the Stoner Fluxx game. I still don’t have the answer, but I’m sure glad I stumbled upon it this winter morning, and that we both took the time out of our busy days to sit down and play for awhile. Maybe it came from that same bookstore on that same road trip, I thought, maybe not. But it sure put me back in the magic of that time, reminding me to go with the flow; the rules of the game are always changing. Sometimes an action has profound, rippling, and long-lasting effects.

Maybe that first joint I smoked when I was barely twenty-one is still determining the course of my life. Maybe revealing to the world at large that I enjoy smoking pot from time to time will change the course of my history, or the regard of some friends. But hey, it’s legal where I live, and it’s time for the world at large to get over its judgements on the subject. It’s time for all of us fine upstanding citizens that don’t fit the pot junkie stereotype to stand up and say, “I do it, too. End Prohibition!”

Sometimes, as the rule book advises, It is also possible for an Action to have no effect on the game. Another nice metaphor. I turned off the recorder, and in the process of trying to name the clip I accidentally deleted it. And so I was forced to rely on my wit, and the cards laid out before me, to make meaning of this remarkable morning.

 

Prairie Dog Dilemma

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I awoke this overcast morning late, after the rain stopped, and flicked on the radio as I went into the kitchen to make coffee and feed the dogs, “prairie dogs” the first words I heard as I faced the wide world. Terry Tempest Williams was speaking to Michael Toms in a New Dimensions rerun. They covered a lot of ground, from the complexity of prairie dog communities to Rwandan genocide, both of which topics were on my mind.

My neighbors across the canyon are urging me to participate in a prairie dog extermination which would involve dropping pelleted gas down some of their holes and covering them all with dirt. The humidity underground once the ventilation is blocked causes the pellets to open, releasing a gas that will kill them every one, but cause them no pain or suffering. (I wonder how they know that?) I’ve been contemplating their request, and the exterminator’s estimation that there are about 200 prairie dog holes in my part of our connected fields.

I understand their desire to eliminate these rodents from their properties: their burrow holes pose a serious threat to livestock, horses or cattle, who can step in them and break a leg; they can also damage tractor wheels and axles when cutting or baling hay. Our land parcels were once part of a single ranch, and had apparently seen the exterminator before they were sold off separately; there were few if any prairie dogs there when we all bought. Also, when limited by surrounding human occupations, their colonies can denude a field of its plants in fairly short order. They reproduce at a rodential rate, and they spread like a weed.

On my north forty, there was a thriving colony before I left for Virginia a decade ago. A year later when I returned, zero. I don’t know if someone poisoned them while I was gone, or if one of their natural pathogens, bubonic plague, erased them. They’re still not back. Before I bought that land, the owners managed them with a .22. Against my deeper inclination, I’ve already given the rancher who farms the hayfield currently in question permission to let his kids shoot the prairie dogs. I don’t like it, but I want to be a good neighbor. Besides the risks to livestock and equipment, any of us could contract plague from one of their fleas. We all have dogs. All of them have children.

However, prairie dogs are an ecologically important species. A University of Nebraska publication says prairie dogs “create unique patches of habitat in extensive grasslands… used by an abundance of wild creatures… Over 200 species of wildlife have been associated with prairie dog towns. Prairie dogs are prey for a variety of predators such as hawks, eagles, badgers, coyotes, foxes, and weasels.”

Biodiversity Conservation Alliance adds, “nine species can be considered to be dependent on prairie dogs and their colonies (black-footed ferret, burrowing owl, mountain plover, ferruginous hawk, golden eagle, swift fox, horned lark, deer mouse, and grasshopper mouse).” Of these nine, four live here year-round and a fifth, the ferruginous hawk, overwinters.

As Tempest Williams talked about them, my longstanding resistance to eradicating them resurged. She recounted Navajo elders’ objections in the fifties to government officials: “If you kill all the prairie dogs there will be no one to cry for the rain.” They did; hardpan, erosion and flash-flooding ensued. A Hopi elder told her that prairie dogs taught the Hopi how to create a ventilation system in their kivas. She remarked on their social structure, and their 200-word vocabulary, persuasively conveying their value as “a profound intelligence on the planet,” interconnected with us all.

Gassing the prairie dogs costs about three dollars per hole. I’d have to spend more than $600 to commit an act I find morally and ecologically repugnant. I hear that one neighbor has offered to cover half the cost. Until I heard Terry’s interview this morning, I was ready to pay the other half. Now I can’t muster the will to do even that. But I don’t want to be the bad neighbor who won’t cooperate. It’s a true moral dilemma. I don’t know what to do.

Terry Tempest Williams went on to talk about her experiences in Rwanda. (I recently read In My Home There is No More Sorrow by Rick Bass, in which he writes movingly of his trip there with Terry a few years ago, so the subject was fresh, if disconcerting.) Her theme in the interview was mosaic, which is how she was able to tie together the subjects of community, prairie dogs, mid-20th Century nuclear tests, and survivors of the Rwandan genocide in one conversation (and one book). I am left on this cold, windy May morning feeling fragmented and vulnerable, yet oddly optimistic. What’s my piece to carry, to be, in the mosaic of my community?

 

“I used to think that bearing witness was a passive act. I don’t believe that anymore. I think when we witness both beauty and sorrow, something shifts in us… and as a result of that expansion of the heart and mind, our acts become something different, we respond to the world differently.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams

 

Now You’ve Seen Ditchley

We passed Ditchley House after an evening drive around the interior of the Northern Neck Peninsula to entertain the dogs and to look at the last of the fall colors. I had already let the dogs out to run at the ferry. The Corotoman River flows softly and flat past the ferry dock at the end of the road. Beside the dock lies a small triangle of river sand, below a bluff with really nice private homes on it. We hadn’t seen too much traffic along the way, but did pass a party in a sharp bend in the road where old blue trucks were parked every which way and people converged on a small gray house with a barbecue going. We felt a little out of place, like tourists, in our big Xterra with two hounds hanging out the windows, driving slowly toward the ferry.

“Beside the dock lies a small triangle of river sand…”

The ferry had given us a destination in our rambling, and from there we wended our way homeward along small roads getting smaller, and crossed the peninsula on Goodluck Road. It was almost my last day there, and I hadn’t yet taken the detour to see the hamlet called Ditchley, at the base of a bay flanked by the two creeks. I had seen Ditchley on my walks out to Hughlett Point. The historic Ditchley mansion, up Dividing Creek from the bay, was once the home of Jessie Ball duPont, a teacher and philanthropist who helped create the Hughlett Point Audubon sanctuary, where I walked a lot during my autumn in Virginia.

The hamlet of Ditchley seen from Hughlett Point

From the sanctuary parking lot in the woods, you walk east through a short strip of lovely swampy forest, cross a grassy flat, and come to the Chesapeake Bay a couple of miles north of Hughlett Point. There’s nowhere to go if you turn left, but if you turn right, it is a different walk every day, every tide, every weather. The dogs ran, and Stellar flew, and Raven ran off, and I walked and walked barefoot in wet sand or dry. I waded in turnunder waves or tidal pools.

Most days I walked all the way to the point, savoring the sea and sky and solitude. From the very tip of Hughlett Point I could see Ditchley, so I’d always wanted to drive down Ditchley Road and check out Hughlett Point from the bay.

It was cocktail hour when we drove past the mansion’s driveway toward the bay, so we didn’t turn in then, though Auntie insisted we should do so on our return. I thought it looked more like a private drive and I said so a couple of times, but she said, “No, this is Ditchley, it is a private home but they use it for all kinds of public functions. I just want you to see it. We can drive through, theres a turnaround.”

Then she pulled another friend out of her magic hat and said, “Let’s go have cocktails with Jan.” Jan lives on Dividing Creek almost at the bay. She wasn’t home, but we walked out on the dock behind her house and watched for a few minutes as the water pinked up then greyed over, and the sky to the west lit up. The dock had a great view of Hughlett Point, our main objective, and after enjoying that we headed for home. It was dusk, and I was hoping she’d forget about Ditchley.

As we approached Ditchley driveway, a sporty red passenger car turned out of the driveway and away from us. I didn’t like the idea of turning in while they could see us. I was hoping nobody was home. “Turn in, turn in!” Rita insisted, so I made an acute right turn and drove slowly down the brick drive through a huge lawn, toward the brick mansion on the right. The driveway got narrower as it came close to the mansion, and passed directly by the foot of the front stairs. I saw with dismay that there was nowhere to turn around, that the driveway went right up to and around behind the caretaker’s cottage, across a concrete carport with a grill, bikes, a basketball hoop, and worst of all, into a pack of barking dogs. The moment I saw the dogs, I said, “Cover your ears!”

We had to follow the driveway through this very private domain, announced and bayed up by a black lab, a smaller gold dog, and a little cocker spaniel. Our dogs were snarling and snapping and barking their heads off trying to get through the windows for a good fight. It was a tense cacophony. Our car was so big, and the carport so crowded. I was so afraid I would hit one of the dogs snapping at our tires, or that someone would come yelling out of the house. We lost the yellow dog after we rounded the back of the house, but the big and little dogs pursued us another few hundred feet.

When they fell off, my dogs settled down. We had a long quiet stretch, both of us looking straight ahead, until we turned onto the road. Then Rita turned to me broke the silence by saying, with satisfied smile, “Well, now you’ve seen Ditchley!”

I laughed so hard I almost lost control of the car. We laughed all the way home. We laughed through our cocktails. Six months later, we are still laughing about Ditchley, when one of us mentions it over the phone.

Auntie turned 85 yesterday. I cherish every laugh with her and every memory of our wonderful autumn together. What I treasure most about that moment, that smile, that “Well, now you’ve seen Ditchley,” is that it was utterly unexpected. I should know by now to expect the unexpected from my Aunt Rita, it has always been the way she rolls. But in that moment, after the violence of the barking dogs, the awkwardness of our intrusion through a private place, the tension of our escape from Ditchley, and my ingrained sense of guilt, her sweet satisfaction was the last thing I expected.

The Case of the Missing Mousetrap

The first time the mousetrap “disappeared” from the yurt, I was quite perplexed, but chalked it up to my faulty memory. Maybe that was the trap I had to throw away because the mouse’s teeth were clamped around the trap trigger. Maybe I hadn’t put it where I thought I did. Maybe I had not actually set one? But if not, where was the sixth trap? I had three left in the package, one in the car, and one in the Mothership. I was sure I had left a trap in the yurt. 

When I couldn’t find it, I went in there every day and sniffed around, in case somehow a mouse had run off half-trapped and dragged it under something to die. I looked under everything I could see under. After a week I forgot about it. 

This morning when I went to check my traps, the first two were empty, and the mousetrap, again, has disappeared from the yurt! I double checked yesterday afternoon, peeking in the window before I left to make sure I knew where it was. Imagine my surprise this morning! It’s gone. 

I looked under everything again. I dragged out a huge cardboard box with styrofoam pellets dribbling out a corner. That was a bad sign. I knew the box had solid formed styrofoam padding, not pellets, for the industrial printer that had come in it. Save for a pile of pellets in one corner and a little fluff in a chewed cavity, and some mouse turds, nothing. I threw the cushions off the settee out into the woods, dragged it outside, and flipped it over. No hole in the bottom big enough for a mousetrap. 

What kind of critter can do that, disappear a mousetrap? Now I am beyond perplexed, I am completely flummoxed. One quarter of the yurt space is still full of boxes, bags, and trunks, empty and full. I’ve known for awhile this isn’t the best storage locker; I’ve had to clean out mouse residue before, and trapped a few. But never have I lost a mousetrap ~ two mousetraps. I am now befouled by mouse-tainted air and dust, the yurt looks like white trash from outside, and the inside must be scoured: emptied completely and scoured with bleach. 

I guess my guest will sleep in the house tonight, and I’ll send the settee to a yard sale. For now, a shower.

 

Living in a Landscape of Loss

Pavilion, Wyoming will become the new Chernobylgate. A Superfund Site without boundaries. The tip of the iceberg. I have no intention of living in such a landscape of loss.

Not only was Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Josh Fox evicted from a pubic hearing in the House of Representatives today, but so was ABC News, and first! On the grounds that they had not acquired prior permission to film the hearing. Land of the Free. The meeting was about the EPA’s preliminary report on water contamination from fracking, and Fox was arrested and removed from our halls of government for “not having the proper credentials.” One lawmaker requested they both be allowed to stay and said the room should be filled to capacity with Americans wanting to cover this hearing. Let’s hope some more media shows up tomorrow.

The EPA has begun trucking water to the small farming community of Pavilion, Wyoming, after concluding that its water is not safe for human consumption. John Fenton, a farmer who lives near Pavilion, and other affected residents were not allowed to attend the “public hearing” either, but the Oil and Gas Industry was well-represented. Fenton told Amy Goodman today, “We were assured over and over that these processes were safe. A lot of people around here have a pro-industry point of view… but things changed rapidly. It’s had huge impacts to our way of life… people coming and going over our property night and day, over 50% devaluation on our property, and … people with unexplainable health conditions, neurological problems, losing their sense of taste and smell, arms and legs going numb… family farming is under attack everywhere, and here we have just one more example of that deterioration of the family unit. The water that comes out of our wells is no longer usable for growing our gardens.”

Local energy company Encana, and the State of Wyoming, insisted all along that there was nothing wrong going on in Pavilion. County and State Inspectors were shown Company tests and assured residents that there was nothing wrong with their water, Fenton said, or claimed that “the water’s always been bad up here,” and even suggested that the residents had contaminated their own water.

“We’re farmers,” he said, “We’re in touch with the land, and we can tell when things change…. We knew that we hadn’t done this.”

Only after they contacted the EPA did they realize they were finally dealing with people who believed their concerns.The EPA found a definite connection between contaminated water and fracking chemicals. Finally! Theo Colborn has been arguing for years for full disclosure of all chemicals used in drilling and fracking, her anguished refrain “because if we don’t know what they are we can’t test for them!” A quiet tragedy under this veil of secrecy has been medical professionals’ compromised ability to treat emergency room victims from the Industry, because they have not known the chemical causes of grave illnesses and injuries, including burns.

At last the EPA has been able to document the connection, and now the EPA is in danger. Real danger, of being swept away by a partisan agenda manipulated by an Industry in which one executive admitted that his company was engaged in a “land-grab.” Josh Fox’s eviction on spurious grounds from a public hearing where he was exercising his First Amendment Right to report on the proceedings is a match to gasoline, as far as I’m concerned. Or, to a faucet in Pavilion, Wyoming. In addition to methane making tapwater flammable, contamination from drilling and fracking includes benzene and other carcinogenic chemicals. The EPA found 50 times the safe level of benzene in Pavilion’s water (though there is no safe level.) And Fox (Josh, not Network) reports that flammable water and high benzene concentrations are happening all over the country, even in Australia. Many states, municipalities, and other countries have legislation either passed or pending to outlaw fracking.

Meanwhile, Colorado has legislation on the table now to make it illegal for counties and towns to pass their own legislation regulating or prohibiting oil and gas development! The Industry has mounted a full-on PR campaign just as the tobacco industry did against the first revelations that smoking causes cancer. That battle was a skirmish in comparison to this one. Smokers, deluded or addicted, still had choices. The individuals, communities, watersheds, cities, vast tracts of land both populated and wild, that are being poisoned by the extractive technology of “clean natural gas” have no choice. The long term impact on groundwater is immeasurable, irreversible, unfixable, and the consequences will be paid for by the citizens who suffer, because the Industry is exempt for every applicable federal protection.

There are thousands of cases in America alone of groundwater contaminated by the chemicals used in drilling and fracking. New examples come to light every day, in local newspapers and independent studies. And it seems like nobody in the media is paying attention to the whole. Nobody but Josh Fox. And now he’s censored.

I am appalled. I am beyond terrified, and I am angry. This has been going on under my nose for a decade; suffering and healing from personal losses, I had my head in the sand. Now the Industry is knocking at my front door, ogling the wild land I moved here for. Our valley is becoming part of a global awakening. What do you think will happen in this valley, across all social spectra, if our water becomes tainted? If our children begin to get sick and die? If our own heads ache, our limbs tremor, our lungs fail? Who do these people think they are, and what do they think we will do?

I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We will arise in angry unity, we will erupt with rage, and we will be too late. We must work together now to understand the hazards that could be thrust upon us before we feel their effects ~ understanding too late to prevent is not a viable option: This is where we live. This is our home. I do not want to find myself living in a landscape of loss. But if I do, like Josh Fox, I will have documented it every step of the way.