Moon Blues

The sky was playing games with me last night. The puffy dregs of a storm were blocking the stars, pushed along by a steady wind, and I was lying on my back watching them and finding shapes in the not-clouds, the places where they pulled apart. A star filled camel, a skeleton key, a frigate bird whose body flew faster than its head, changing into a pterodactyl. By the time I was inside brushing my teeth, the last puffs had blown past, and I stared out the window at a clear sky and a full moon, the hills cast in silver light. As I fell asleep, the winds picked up again and the sea turned, roaring in its bed, driving the moon behind another bank of hammering rain and tearing the leaves from the trees.

I thought about the moon last night. It reminded me of other moons I have known. The last several years of my life have rushed past so quickly that sometimes I feel I have not properly mulled over the experiences. I run along like a child on the beach, shoving shells into my bag without looking at them, finding them years later in the corner gathering dust.

Last night, with my toothbrush dangling from my mouth, I was on the beach of Espanola once again. The full moon rose above the lip of the sea, rose behind the silhouette of a shipwrecked prow, with Mildred the frigate bird perched on top. I was walking out over the low tide rocks carrying my fins in my hand, wincing at the scrapes against my bare feet, watching for the spines of pencil urchins hidden purple against the black.

Farther on, and the moon was still rising; I slid into the water. Flashes of green lit around my wake, bioluminescent plankton, green stars below to match the white stars above. The light from the moon was enough to swim by, enough to see the shapes of sleeping fish hanging motionless against the rocks. Sometimes I found a sea turtle dozing on the sand who, waking up, would shuffle up and flap away slowly enough for me to follow for a few minutes, and then with one great snap of the fins be gone into the darkness.

A flutter of white; an eagle ray soaring beneath me. I dove to follow it, pacing the steady wave of its speckled wings until my lungs screamed for air. I rose to the shimmer of the surface, the whistles and squeaks of the seabird colony carrying across the water to where I floated, and watched the shore as a flashlight traced the way to a tent, which lit up at once from the inside like an enormous red lantern, the moving shape of its occupant casting a shadow against the sand.

The sea would turn, and I would head back towards shore, swimming until my stomach scraped the rocks, limping over them until they turned into the soft sand of the beach. The sea lions marked the level of the tide, falling asleep in a line just above the reach of the water. But as the water rose, they would awaken with bawling and snuffling and shuffle further up the sand to fall asleep at the next driest place. I tried this once with them, moving when I felt the waves touch my toes. There was sand in my hair, and eventually my poor old bones no longer found the ground comfortable, but for a while it was a pleasant, if not sound, sleep, and my neighbors were accepting of my lack of fur.

Moon writing - I moved my camera around on a long exposure using the moon as my pen. It took several tries to get it right:

By the light of the equatorial moon I wrote in my journal and read books. It was too bright to look at directly, casting shadows as strong as daytime here in Oregon, and it seemed to radiate a very un-moonlike heat. I would lie on my back and watch it burn a path across the sky, watch the stars slip positions against the reference point of a bamboo post, and for the first time I could feel myself actually rotating with the earth. So tiny, this little ball, spinning in space, the moon circling around it, tugging the water beneath.

And then I finished brushing my teeth and went to bed and dreamt about London. Some memories are too big to take in all at once.

My Loquacious Friends and I

After discovering that everyone and their dog has put up twenty posts on their blogs in the time it's taken me to post one on mine, I feel I must answer by at least doing two in one day.

We here at Fifteen Feet do not feel the need to post unless we have a completed thought to convey. As most of our thoughts never reach this state, we do not post in a reliably predictable manner.

In keeping with the theme of Fifteen Feet, the Management stresses that oxygen is to be conserved while decompressing, as we wish to resurface before we suffocate ourselves.

We also wish to point out that rapid ascent of thoughts will lead to the mental bends, and we do not want to find ourselves drooling in the corner somewhere.

In an unrelated story, I just heard on the news that a bunch of seafood from China has been deemed dangerous - shrimp, dale, catfish, basa, and eel. Add this to recent recalls of Chinese pork, toys, tires, grain, toothpaste, etcetera ad nauseum. Chinese suppliers face tremendous pressure to shave pennies off their products, which means they cut corners in safety, quality, and workers' rights. For instance, the pork suppliers were found to be force feeding their pigs waste water post-inspection to boost their weight, 44lbs of waste to each 250lbs hog. Yummy sewage flavored pork... and super cheap!

With Chinese imports continuing to increase, the percentage of goods that US inspectors can examine continues to shrink. Americans are drawn to the cheap price on the sticker without understanding the far greater price they are paying. The things on the shelf didn't show up there by magic. They have a history, maybe a horrific one. Track your goods, and boycott Wal-Mart!

Funny how one little news story makes me feel like writing. Forgive me if I'm feeling a bit activist-y today.

Sea World

Or "The Ethics of Working for SeaWorld" 

A long while ago I decided to apply for a trainer position with SeaWorld, and lo! - I actually made it through the first round of cuts. They invited me to come for a personal interview and swim test. It was the swim test that intimidated me the most. I had to be able to free dive to 30 feet. No problem. I had to be able to swim the length of a pool underwater. Again, no problem. But I also had to swim 250 feet in a certain amount of time, a little over a minute, I think, and do a graceful dive off a 6 foot board.

Problem. When I swim, I am neither fast nor graceful. It's the result of twelve years of scuba diving. We divers are accustomed to swim very quietly with our hands at our sides, controlling every movement with a flick of the fin, able to dart forward or backward or hover in one place effortlessly, like a fish. Subtlety and slowness are key, because it lets you maneuver into tight places and glide alongside underwater creatures without alarming them. (Try swimming quickly into a school of fish and see how many are still there when you stop. Answer - none.) I take my time. I see things. This is the way I swim.

Take my fins away, and I am about as subtle as a cat in a bathtub. I thrash and flail and generally feel that I'm not actually going anywhere, like I've gone from being a dolphin to being a Lincoln Log. And since breathing is not much concern to a diver, I still haven't figured out that whole business about taking breaths during a stroke. It has something to do with timing, I think - breathe in when your head is above water, breathe out when it's underwater- but I never can get the order quite right. My version is - don't do anything while your head is above water, breathe in when it's underwater, cough and sputter, repeat.

I won't even begin to describe how I look when I try to dive off a board. (Picture a skydiver who has just realized his parachute isn't working...) Again, we scuba divers just strap on 50lbs of equipment and fall over the side of the boat in a giant splash. Sadly, my splash is about the same size even when I don't have the equipment. My dive method would best be described as "cinder block."

So there was that holding me back from the interview, the idea of making myself look like a drown victim in front of the other applicants, who were probably still eating glue and crayons when I was first learning to scuba. I had plenty of time to practice the speed thing, and the grace thing, if I wanted to. And besides the complete humiliation factor, I could at least go and have a lovely behind-the-scenes tour of SeaWorld, meet a few trainers, perhaps cuddle with a dolphin. The tests were to be held early - freakin' early - in the morning, before the park opened, so I would have a free ticket for the rest of the day in Sea World. Not bad, right?

Oh, the curse of principles.

The more I looked into what SeaWorld embraced, the more I realized that I would not be happy working for them, and I've never fancied humoring interviewers for a job I didn't actually want. Perhaps I passed on a fantastic opportunity, but here is the line of thinking that led me there.

I visited SeaWorld as a kid, and loved it. Loved it then, loved the concept of it even as I began researching what it would be like to work for them. Man and whale, coexisting in peace and cooperation as an example to the world... That was my childhood depiction of the place. But now, after doing much research, it seems to have changed to - man and whale, coexisting in a corporate driven illusion as a means to great gobs of money.

I ask myself, is this disenchanted adult cynicism, or a grasp of reality that comes with age and learning? It's a bit sad, either way. My inner debate about SeaWorld echoes the same qualms I have about all zoos and aquariums, after being both tourist and keeper, and boils down to three cons and two pros.

1. Wild Capture - Captive breeding cannot sustain the number of whales SeaWorld needs. Up until 1995, whales were being caught from the wild, sometimes using tremendously unethical methods (ie explosives). Although the current policy states that they no longer will acquire animals directly from the wild, they continue to purchase wild-caught whales from international water parks, supporting the trade.

2. Captivity - The orcas at SeaWorld average a lifespan of 20 years, compared to 60 years in the wild. Boredom is an issue, as well as aggression.

3. Glitz - SeaWorld presents its prized orcas in a display of flash and glamour that is as far removed from a natural experience as a bear on a bicycle. Their new show takes place in a stadium with three massive video screens and a sound system that blares the type of music you'd expect in a "Best of the NFL" montage. There are the prerequisite (and forced) "magical moments" that involve some lucky audience child bonding with Shamu (who is thinking, "Feed me the fish already!") and the overly perky trainers hamming it up. (Do they get to wear ear protection, or do they just go deaf from the ridiculously loud music?)

Seriously, the only way I think I could ever be like one of those trainers would have to involve either some sort of head trauma or drugs. For the interview, I was required to memorize and, in a showman's voice, say, "I’d like to introduce you to a special pair of whales. This is Sandy, and right next to her is her baby, Cassie. Cassie was born right here in this pool just a year and a half ago. I was fortunate to be there when she was born. That was a long but very exciting night. Since then, Cassie has learned a lot from her mom and the rest of the whales in her family. She’s currently learning how to jump like her mom, who is one of our most spectacular jumpers. And even though Cassie’s not quite ready to match her –you’ll see that she tries. Now diving to the bottom of the pool and speeding into a jump well over three times her body length, here’s the amazing Sandy… and baby Cassie!"

Woo! Gaaag! I tried practicing it in an ultra-perky voice, and... yeah. It was equivalent to swallowing a handful of pixie sticks while watching the Teletubbies in a television store. Gag. And yet the showmanship of SeaWorld mirrors much of the Hollywood culture of Southern California, which (have you been to a movie lately?) is a wee bit out of touch with the rest of the world.

Okay, enough of my heckling. Now the Pros.

1. Education - People who come for an ADD day of cheap thrills and expensive souvenirs might actually walk away learning something. Heck, they might even change the way they live for a day or two. (One less pop can ring in the ocean!)

2. The Child Factor - Now I've come full circle. I loved SeaWorld as a kid, slept with a stuffed dolphin underneath a wall hanging of Shamu, played with whale toys in the bathtub. The park help build a love of the sea that continues to this day. Though I struggle to see it now, at age 8 the man/whale interaction was magical. So maybe I was a one-in-a-thousand kid, the kid who wanted to touch the stingrays more than see a show with fake pirates. I'm sure there are plenty of kids walking out of the park today who still find that unscripted magic, and remember it.

Therein lies my puzzlement. So many good things, so many iffy ones. A corporation run by Anheuser-Busch, using beer money to help fund worldwide conservation and research. Is it mitigation? Is it a good organization with questionable practices, or a glutinous entity that tries to gloss over its financial priorities?

In the end, I decided that my, er, shortcomings in swimming, my disdain for fakiness, and my obnoxious hangups with ethics were enough to make me say, "No thanks, artificial corporate-driven... I mean, SeaWorld." (Cheery smile and wave.) But who knows? Maybe my perspective will change again some day.

*update, June 4th, 2015* - My understanding about the orcas/killer whales held at SeaWorld has changed substantially since I wrote this post. I will be writing a follow-up in the near future to address some of what I say below.

Beginning of the Beginning

We were talking theology the other day, and while trying to grasp the concept of time and eternity I had a burst of revelation, and it was grand. So here it is.

Time does not exist for God, since He has no beginning or end, and yet He created a world (ours) where time exists. To say that God knows the future or the past is not as accurate as saying that He is already in the future and still in the past, that God is present simultaneously in every moment this world passes through. God never grows older; without time it is impossible to be new or old. He is in a state of eternity. We often talk about eternity as if it is time without end (my childhood vision of Heaven was a very long game of checkers, very boring.), when in fact eternity can be thought of as a single unchanging point.

The concept that my little human mind cannot understand is how any sequential event can occur in a "dimension" where no time passes. For example, how do you sing a song in Heaven? It's one of those conundrums that rattles my head.

So God, who does not pass from moment to moment, sees our world and its time line in its entirety. His timeless existence and our time-bound one exist simultaneously... except that the whole idea of "simultaneous" depends on time, which sort of reduces that statement to "Choose Option A or Option Beef Medallions." Trying to reconcile the two is impossible, simply because we have no notion of what it means to have no time. We can't even imagine it, because there is absolutely nothing in all of the human experience that does not involve it. The best we can do is grasp at analogies (like a very long and boring checkers game.)

But the point is that God understood both time and eternity so well that He was able to create the passing of time within His eternal state. No small feat, if you ask me. Remember, eternity means no beginning. And yet something began.

That's when it struck me. The very first three words of the Bible embrace this fantastic, utterly unthinkable event. "In the beginning..." That's it, that right there is the appearance of time where it had not been before. It goes on to say that "this happened," and "that happened," but I had never before grasped how mind-blowing those first three words are. Time out of eternity. The beginning of all beginnings. Something new occurring in a state where everything has already occurred. I can't even begin to wrap my mind around it.

This is what makes me love the Bible so deeply. A child can read it and enjoy it and understand it, and yet a scholar can delve into a sentence and never find the bottom. There are meanings stacked upon meanings, plenty of soil to grow your roots into. And I, decades after first hearing those three words, can suddenly find myself absolutely blown out of the water by their significance. I guess that's why it's called the Living Word of God.

Now I've had my brain exercises for the day...

Mummy Meme

All right, Mummy Dearest, I'll answer your meme, just to share in the joyous celebration of your 101st post. (And to procrastinate from the dreaded Cleaning of the Clutter.) I guess I'll keep meming (?) until I stop enjoying that word so much.

Meme meme meme. Mememe. Such fun.

The Theme - 5 Things I Take for Granted

1. A college degree. I'm surprised when I meet people who dream of getting theirs.

2. The freedom/ability/willingness to travel. Almost everyone I know is lacking in one of these areas. I've managed to live a somewhat normal life despite a chronic case of the travel bug.

3. Loving parents. My family actually - surprise! - gets along. It's a tradition passed down through many generations.

4. My prayer safety net. I often forget about the many people praying for me, and the impact it has in keeping me safe and happy.

5. Living in the satisfied minority. In my college years we used to celebrate World Hunger Awareness Week by fasting for a day. The next day, everyone gathered in the commons, taking a ticket at random from a dispenser at the door. The tickets told you which society you had been born in. Developed nations got to eat a full dinner seated at a table. Developing nations got chairs, but no table, and a plate that had ample vegetables and rice. Undeveloped nations sat on the floor with only a bowl of rice. Most of the students were on the floor. (I was too, every time.) The point was that only a slim portion of the world's population lives with no fear of starvation, of cold, of poverty. It's almost overwhelming to think that I've lived my whole life seated at the table.

Only 5 things? I'm sure I take far more than that for granted. These were the first five that spring to mind. So now I'll tag some folks. Letsee.... Snarke and Monster Library Student, I choose you! (You must fight to the death! Oh wait, wrong game...)

You're Much Better Off Skipping This...

I really enjoy the show "Arrested Development," whose lifespan was cruelly cut short by the voice of the vulgate. It was too intelligent a show for TV, in other words. Now I watch it in rerun. Yes, you could say I'm quite a fan of AD.

Bu I always get so impatient to do other things while I'm watching it. I can never sit still. I guess I have AD ADHD.

This is only aggravated when I happen to catch it on high-definition television. It's HD AD ADHD.

Sometimes I can't watch the show live, so I have to go to the video store. I end up with a HD AD ADHD DVD.

Sad, isn't it? It reminds me of our old saying back in Great Barrington, where good ol' W.E.B. DuBois started his career as an early civil rights leader. We used to ask, "What would W.E.B. DuBois do?". . . better known as "WWWEBDBD?" Trying saying it out loud.

If you're wondering, this isn't out of the blue. It all got started the other day when, while cleaning, I turned up a scrap of paper from a long-ago trip to the Mardi Gras storeroom in New Orleans, upon which was scrawled the age old question, "WWPBJIAKCD?"

"What would plastic baby Jesus in a King Cake do?"

Quick, someone stop me. But in my defense, I believe we must all do our part to make the world a better place, and I feel proud to make a stand. Next I shall regale you all with my rendition of:

"Ode to a Blazingly Good Avocado"

Oh Avocado, upon the hearth we view thee
Thy green and umber skin, thy sultry fruit
Whereon the trees of sunkist shores all wavy
While flocks of angels on their trumpets....

Whoops, I've run out of time and need to go. What a pity. What a shame. I'll have to finish it later.

The Cafe de Compresado

There are three rules when I make myself a cup of coffee:
1. It must have chocolate.
2. It must have a "flavor."
3. It must consist of no more than 1/3 actual coffee.

I started drinking coffee as a mistake. Four years I survived the streets of Seattle without touching the stuff, compensating with steamed milk and chai... and Seattle's Best Coffee hot chocolate, which came with a wonderful chocolate swizzle stick. Alas, since Starbucks bought out SBC this has been replace by the signature Starbucks "nasty" hot chocolate. The world grows lesser... but I digress.

My downfall came the day I started working at a summer camp. Mornings began with a staff meeting and Bible study, and I, not able to function properly before 10am, would immediately fetch a cup of hot chocolate in an attempt to pour some life into myself. Whether it was the sugar in the chocolate, or burning my tongue on the scalding liquid, or occasionally missing my mouth and ending up with a wet lap, it usually worked.

But the same machine that heated the water also made the coffee. Often after the coffee was made we would forget to remove the coffee grounds and turn it on again for straight hot water, resulting in water with a weak coffee flavor. Too groggy to wait for a second run of "clean" water, I started making my hot chocolates with this pansy coffee, and the long slide towards actual coffee began.

Of course, although I say "actual coffee," my concoctions usually make black coffee drinkers scoff. Over the years I have tinkered and dabbled with a whole host of strange ingredients, from peppermint sticks to powdered sage, searching for the perfect blended drink. Because my many different jobs often limited my choice of ingredients, I landed on a distinct morning boost for each one. My cafe's menu would look something like so:

The Flying Squirrel - A mocha with molasses. My wake-up for driving bumpy logging roads in Alaska.

The Man-O-War - Instant coffee and powdered milk, honey, melted milk chocolate, South American vanilla extract (which has more alcoholic content). Used to sit on the beach and watch the sun come up, Galapagos.

The Morning Mongoose - Steamed milk with brown sugar, cinnamon, rooibos tea. From my pre-coffee days, to take the sting out of the morning chill, South Africa.

The Akoekoe Kokonut - Kona coffee with brown sugar, moo cow milk, coconut milk. For the long walk to work, Hawaii.

Break Room Brew - Gritty coffee, milk probably past date, hot chocolate, sugar (remove flies.) The lumpy milk adds excitement! From the GF break room. Best enjoyed with a bolo levado and Bob Heath swearing in the background.

The Monterey Maple - A mocha with cream and maple syrup. My survival method for morning meetings, Massachusetts.

The Golden Aspen - A latte with pecan creamed honey. For recovering from long days of shovelling snow, Colorado.

But black coffee alone? Not on my watch! I'd rather suffer narcoleptic spells throughout the day than try to stomach the stuff. Baking chocolate needs sugar, yeast needs flour, and black coffee needs the entire contents of the pantry to cover its nigh unpalatable flavor.

Now here's a thought... In movies, they always show gruff generals planning out their war strategies over black coffee. No one ever plans out a war strategy over cinnamon eggnog latte. What if we could shove a caramel macchiato into the hand of every despotic tyrant in the world? Flavored coffee = worldwide peace? Hmm, think about it.

PETA Amuck

I went and saw "Waitress" the other day. I liked it. It was a good movie. It was good and noble and true.

Whoops... sorry. Still stuck in Hemingway mode.

Anyway, I highly recommend it, but not on an empty stomach, because the array of delicious pies they show will drive you nuts. Oftentimes after I see a good movie I like to visit to see what consensus the reviewers reach, whether or not we agree with each other. (We usually do.)

While I was investigating other highly reviewed movies currently in release, I noticed that "Ten Canoes" has finally come to America. It's a movie about Australian Aborigines which I originally saw on the plane to Sydney. Excellent, excellent. Try to find it if you can.

But then I saw another one listed in the must-see category, a documentary called "Your Mommy Kills Animals." While the documentary is a balanced take on the animal rights/animal welfare movements, the 2003 PETA comic book on which it is based is decidedly not. PETA activists apparently waited outside of performances of "The Nutcracker" nationwide and handed the comic book to kids whose parents, I can only assume, came wearing fur. The cover of the comic shows a brightly colored June Cleaver-type mom gleefully stabbing a horrified bunny. And inside, as if that wasn't bad enough, the "story" goes something like this:

"Do you have a puppy or a kitty that you love? Everyone knows that it's fun to play with our animals friends. But how would you feel if someone took away your animal friend, stomped on its head, and ripped off its fur for a coat? You would feel sad, wouldn't you? There are terrible people who kill our furry friends like that every day. And guess what? One of those terrible people is your mommy. Your mommy kills animals! I bet you didn't know that."

It gets worse and worse, ending with, "Keep your doggie or kitty friends away from mommy - she's an animal killer!"

Far be it from me to even begin to touch on the animal rights debate, but reading this comic incited me to the point of wanting to jump up and down and gesture wildly at the pure idiocy involved in such a campaign. Maybe this is old news for most people. I think I was out of the country for much of 2003, and therefore out of touch with mainstream news, so I hadn't heard of it until now. Could PETA pick a more inept approach to conveying their message? Yeah, let's alienate little kids from their parents. What loony in marketing thought this was a good idea?

It's frustrating that passionate people with a good cause at heart can become so focused on a single issue as to lose track of, well, reality. For me, it's a wake-up call to carefully choose which organizations to support. The documentary "Your Mommy Kills Animals" has been receiving acclaim for delving into the workings of animal rights activists, their tactics and why the FBI has labelled them a threat to the national security. Can't be good for the cause, can it?

People abusing animals... people abusing people who abuse animals. Can't we all just hug a bunny and be happy?

This is Not a Haiku

I put my work pants on
The ones with the tinkly belt
The dog comes in
The dog is excited
He jumps, he barks
He thinks we are going outside

There is spinach to cook today
There are boxes in the attic
That need looking into
The wind is picking up outside
The house is humming
With motors and water and wind

The dog checks in on me
He wonders what is taking so long
He wonders when the door will open
To let us go outside
But I am boring, still writing
I am trapped in a Hemingway moment

What's It All Meme?

Thanks for tagging me, TSO. I've gotten a blogging meme, which I guess is along the lines of a pyramid scheme, or a chain letter (if I don't do it, I'll have bad luck!), or a fork up the nose, or something of that nature. I'm actually rather glad for it, because my brain is not otherwise functioning and it's an easy out for a new post. Brain is not functioning because I've spent the day in Committee Hell, which I might write about another time, or not.

Mummy Dearest, you were speculating on the meaning of meme, so I looked it up to find that it's an idea passed from human generation to human generation, something imitable which propagates by travelling between minds like pollen travels between flowers, the cultural equivalent to a gene. Doesn't that make this sound all weighty and important? So here's the question:

Why do you blog? Give five answers:

1. Because I need to keep my fingers limber for "real" writing.

2. Because my social life is nonexistent and I need a location to dump all the words I would otherwise be currently using to annoy friends.

3. Because seeing my words on the screen with a background, all pretty like, makes me feel like an actual writer.

4. Because I hope to open a window to let people see how my mind does (or doesn't) work.

5. Because it's a great way to stay in touch with people, which I am scandalously bad at.

So I guess now I get to tag two more people. -W- and starpilgrim. You're it!

An Addendum to "Rising Waters"

Ah well.

After doing a bit of research, I discovered that ocean levels will almost certainly rise by 20 feet, but not for another thousand years, or a few hundred years at the earliest. It seems that ice doesn't melt instantaneously. Who knew? I guess I'll be sitting on my front lawn with a fishing pole and a canoe for a while yet.

Swim party AD 3000, anyone? The salmon will have evolved by then...

(Courtesy the excellent

Queen of Analogies

I recently read a quote by Pat Walsh that hits close to home:

"The writer who has too much style is the person who cannot say something clearly. She uses every trick in the book, breaks every rule, and even makes up a few of her own words to ensure she is unique. She usually succeeds--to the worst possible end. Her writing is a crazy quilt no one can enjoy unless they are on acid. Her writing is a load of incomplete or overly complex sentences, pompous words, and punctuation-free sentences a la Molly Bloom."

Oh dear. I am the Queen of Analogies, and as such have delighted in using them liberally. But recently it occurred to me that I've lost the ability to check the reins, as my efforts at casual conversation often result in an metaphorical train wreck. (Or would that be "train rheto-wreck?" Hm.) It seems too frequently my brain switches into a mode of conceptual thinking that refuses to translate into concise words, forcing me to string together elongated comparisons in an attempt to convey simple thoughts. I end up with a convoluted parade of pomposity that makes it sound like I'm choking on my own style. And worse, it's just me. I'm sure anyone else could restate things and just get to the point, fer cryin' out loud.

(ie, previous paragraph restated as, "Me no talk good.")

It's practically a disability. Are there others out there who struggle to speak simple English? Maybe we could get it classified as a dialect, like Ebonics, and induce the government to publish Allegory-to-English dictionaries:

Allegory: "The eagle of desire has planted within me a seed of comestible discontent."
English: "I'm hungry."

(Note: The language of "Allegory" is not to be confused with the language of "Allegorish," a dialect which phrases everything within the context of global warming. End note.)

Does such a thing happen unavoidably, biologically? Or can one delight in the use of analogies to the point that normal speech becomes impossible? Ah, be careful my writing friends, for once you start recklessly wielding the pick axe of abstraction, it is only a matter of time before you cause a cave-in of logic and find yourself trapped underneath the crushing weight of your own panache. Then you'll have to market yourself as a surrealist.


I would never have realized it had it not been for the incessant mockery of a few devout friends. Thank you, devout mocking friends. But now at least I can add a few more titles to my claim... Queen of Analogies, Her Royal Hyperboliness, She Who Metes Metaphors! I rule unchallenged over my kingdom because no one knows what the heck I'm talking about.

For those keeping track...

I've finally quit fiddling with the sidebar graphics. . . for now. I love that Blogger lets you decorate your page like a high school locker.

I'm still adding new Links from Deeper Waters. My goal is to list sites that I personally frequent and that may also prove useful to anyone passing through. I'll try to avoid "favorite" and "fun" sites and stick straight to the workhorses. Let's see, do they all qualify at the moment? Um. . . yup.

If you're reading, throw me a comment sometime. It's fun to see who's wandering around.

Thanks for the support, you friends who know who you are!

Rising Waters

So tell me I have too much time on my hands...

If you've seen "An Inconvenient Truth," you'll remember the part where they show what famous coastal cities would look like if the ocean levels rose. It's a pretty impressive graphic, easily done with a bit of computer animation and a topographic map.

My town sits mostly at sea level, so I starting wondering how much we would change if the oceans rose. Here is an overview of my town currently. The orange lines are the main roads, and the pink signifies where buildings are located.

Estimates of how much the ocean could rise range from 10 to 40 feet. My topo map only shows a base line of 30 or 40 feet (I'm not sure, since I can't seem to find a legend), so I had to assume a rise on the higher end of the estimate. Here is my town again after the 30-40ft rise, more or less.
Even with a 20 foot rise (the average estimate) we would lose half the town, the railway, and every major road. In fact, there might not be any way at all to escape town without a boat.

It's an interesting scenario, though a bit alarming. I should also add that very few people in town buy into the idea of global warming. Very alarming indeed.

One simple desire

It started as I turned into the parking lot of the grocery store. I was in town to do a few errands, and there on the sidewalk sat a homeless couple holding a cardboard sign. "Please Help. God Bless." Too often I've ignored such signs, wary of giving money straight out of my pocket and ignorant of how else to help. But this is a small town, small enough that we hardly see those signs, and small enough that no one here should ever have to hold one up.

So I decided to help. But what to offer them? Luckily, I had three tools at my disposal: a phone, a town phone book, and last week's church bulletin. I called the church - no answer. I called everyone from my church whose last name I could remember - no one was home. I called other churches in town, knowing that certain ones offer vouchers - no answer. Apparently no one needs God on a Thursday.

Then in my bulletin I noticed a listing for the town's food pantry, open only once a week, which coincidentally happened to be now. So I drove there, hoping they would know of other resources in town. "What do they need?" they said. "I haven't talked to them yet," I said. "We only have food," they said, "and they would need a place to cook it. Try calling the Resource Center."

I called the Resource Center. "There's no place in town for homeless people to stay," they said. "Try calling the Reverend So and So." I tried calling Reverend So and So - no answer.

Now about forty minutes into my wild goose chase, I decided to give up and go chat with the folks, offering at least the food pantry service. Ah, but God has perfect timing, for just then the youth pastor of my church, having heard one of my messages, called from 30 miles away and told me of all the vouchers available from the ministerial association - restaurants, gas, motels. At last I had something to offer.

I went and sat down next to the couple. They had come from halfway across the country, hoping to move to a nearby city with a homeless shelter and start looking for work. They were riding freight trains, camping. They were a brother and sister in Christ. When I mentioned the motel room, their eyes lit up. "Oh, it would be nice to get a good shower," they said.

I told them I'd call my pastor and see what he could do. I gave them directions to the church, in case they were pressed to move on. What better place to camp out than on the lawn of a church? They thanked me. We hugged. I felt good.

I went into the grocery store to finally do my shopping, taking my phone with me, and in between the potato chips and the bottled juice managed to arrange with my pastor which motel to take them to. And instantly I was on a happy high. I said hello to the butcher, one of my neighbors. I talked with a complete stranger about the delicious smell of the peaches. I was eager to get back outside to give the couple a ride to the motel.

But when I emerged, they were gone. Had they found the ride to the city they were looking for? Had they returned to their camp outside of town to fetch their belongings? I drove from one end of town to the other looking for them, but they were nowhere to be found. But there are people in town now who know to look for them, and they have the directions to the church, the means to get help. I hope wherever they are, they are on a road to renewal.

The entire odyssey took two hours of my life. I could not think of a better way to spend two hours. It is one thing to want to walk in the footsteps of Christ, but it is quite another to walk the distance between your parking space and the people on the sidewalk. I have not done enough in my life to reach out to other people; I have not taken the time to see what I can do to help. Even if nothing else was accomplished today, there was an exchange of names, hugs and handshakes, and smiles. Toothless smiles I can remember forever.

Thank you, Lord, for making me read the sign.

There Are Not Enough Hymns in the World

I beg your pardon, I'm feeling terribly rhyme-y this evening. Some thoughts are best said in meter...

There are not enough hymns in the world
I would not suggest it's a matter
much talked of in circles, or heard
above pertinent everyday chatter.

But it presses my thoughts, so I ponder
of the music once held in esteem,
of the harmonies weaving that wander
in the depths of the simplest theme,

Of the parts for each voice, each essential,
where the loss of just one, like the leg
of a table, at once consequential
to the balance of those who have stayed.

But the songs we now sing, though melodic
and catchy, I won't disagree,
repeat to the point of methodic
a two or three chord melody.

The same note for all of the people,
the same part for each unique voice.
How strange that we stop at the simple
with language we use to rejoice.

Would songbirds embrace but one chorus
if nature this fashion preferred?
Forgive if I seem to digress...
There are not enough hymns in the world.

A Sentient Yard

I've just been out in the backyard gathering up the wood, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, stacking it in the woodpile. A good 3/4 of our woodpile comes directly from our yard (and by "our" I mean my family, since I don't have a proper home of my own.) This load came from a recently dead elderberry tree, not high in BTU, but immensely high in a feeling of self-sufficiency.

Our modest sized yard, front and back, contains about 40 trees - maples, hemlocks, shore pines and alders, plums and apples and birch. They intertwine in a gorgeous canopy, and underneath them grow the plants of the Pacific Northwest - blue huckleberry and shiny-leafed salal, ground-loving kinnikinnick and brilliant rhododendron, the lily of the forest - trillium. The yard is an entity to itself, surprising me every time I take a closer look. Sometimes I find a chickadee nest in a branch or a flame-orange newt hiding beneath a log. Sometimes I find a new plant growing, the first of its kind in the yard. The red elderberry I have just finished cutting came here on its own, planted itself conveniently next to a bench, sprung up to the size of a massive tree and reigned over that corner of the yard for several years before inexplicably dying as fast as it had appeared. It was a marvelous tree.

As I have said, our yard is no bigger than the average, about two car lengths deep on both sides. It is an oasis of leaf and life in a desert of cut grass. For as long as I live, I will never understand the great American desire to have a view of Kansas from every window - a flat square of grass, a carpet of Astroturf. I just don't get the obsession with lawns. Sure, they make a fine playing field if you happen to feel like croquet or touch football, this I could understand... but the vast majority of lawns I see in my neighborhood never have people on them. They are a green gap between the house and the road, and the only time they seem to receive any attention is when they are being mowed.

Such a puzzle, Western man's need to conquer nature and follow the norm, ticky tacky. I heard a theory once that the desire for a perfect lawn stems from deep in our evolutionary past, when early men stood on the savanna scanning the horizon for game. Interesting, but bollocks, I say. The quest for the uniform monoculture grass square is peculiar to Americans, or at least Western Civilization. Lawns are yet unknown to the majority of the world.

Our "forest" yard, as wild as it might look, takes far more care than a square of grass. I cut back the blackberry thorns that hide beneath the bushes, waiting to spring into unattended brambles. I gather up the alder limbs that fall in the winter storms. I hack away at Grapezilla, the fruit vine which plots in the night to consume our house. In the last few days I have accumulated a pile of brush taller than myself, and yet even I, who knows where it all came from, can hardly tell the difference. And when our small lawn (which is not in the shape of a square) needs mowing, I fetch my trusty motor-free push mower and stroll back and forth with a pleasant *thwip-thwip-thwip* sound, butterflies alighting on my shoulders. (Not exactly, but close.)

Our neighbors put up with the clash of ideologies. They clip the tree branches when they grow past the fenceline, we close the windows against the constant roar of gas powered mowers, and we both shake our heads at each other. Nevermind. I will always prefer the sentient yard, and the host of squirrels, snakes, frogs, and songbirds that populate it might well agree.

The Lonliest Road

Mmm... Don't you just want to go drive it?

Keep on driving until they run out of names...

Pictures from my road trip, by the way. More to come.

Life of a Retirement Town - An Analysis

The problem - the town's main industry closes. Hundreds of working families are forced to move elsewhere to find work, leaving a glut of low-priced housing. Retirees from pricier regions move in to fill the vacuum, while older residents who have already retired stay put, gradually raising the median age of the community to 65+. The businesses connected to a developing household close - appliances, books, clothing - replaced increasingly by retirement services - health care and housing - and attempts to snag people passing through town - gas stations, fast food, and convenience stores.

While the older residents now foster book clubs and other social get-togethers, there is little interest in overall community planning or revitalization. When you retire into a place, you want it to stay that same place for the rest of your retirement, no drastic alterations. The town, isolated from any nearby cities or vibrant communities, receives no growth spillover or regular outside business. The lack of services for working families make new industries reluctant to move in, while the low income level of the town discourages new small business owners. The town is caught in a subtle but irresistible downward spiral.

Such is the situation with my most beloved hometown. The mill shut down in my high school days, and now, so many years later, the changes that continue to happen have followed this trend, and I, being no professional community coordinator, am at last able to grasp it. This is no longer the same town I grew up in. What is it like for the kids who are left?

The revitalization of my hometown has long been one of my dearest passions, and my ideas have ranged from the loony - an indoor tropical amusement/recreation center - to the plausible - (which I can't mention because I'm sure they'll end up on my loony list soon enough.) Unfortunately, I think some of the town's committee people have had some equally loony silver bullets, and since they're the ones in power we now have the Worlds Ugliest Fountain, which looks the wreckage of a fuselage, not exactly "gateway to a renaissance" material.

There is no one silver bullet to the problem. It all has to come at once, several little boosts, like the many puffs that float the puck on an air hockey table. But my town is notorious for shooting down positive ideas for no good reason at all other than "WE FEAR CHANGE!", and I'm just a tad discouraged that the same will continue to happen. I am doubly frustrated, because not only do I love my town for the biased reason of having grown up here, but I can also say after travelling the globe that we have one of the most charming, lush, and pleasant coastal locations in the world, yet no one seems to realize it. Instead of embracing this asset, the town council instead has considered trying to bring in an iron smelter, a steel factory, and a prison.

And so I sit here and ponder my own little revitalization schemes, and lose sleep over it.

The Author's Corniche - 1

This morning I am enjoying a cup of mountain man coffee - which is coffee grounds boiled in a pot, the result of life without a coffee maker - and killing my darlings. When I first heard this treasure of writing advice years ago, I thought I could never do it, but I'm discovering that the more little darlings I crush for the benefit of the overall story, the easier it is to do, and now I wonder if I may fall into a weed-pulling frenzy that will uproot my entire flower bed.

I'll get back to that in a second, but first let me note that this particular darling isn't dying well. Rather than killing it outright, I am suffocating the life out of it by reworking it into a similar scene, which is a shame since the original one stands so well on its own. The original was inspired; the revision a labor of necessity. It's like trying to reshape a candle after the wick is already lit. What can a writer do? The original doesn't work overall... it doesn't work and must be killed. Ah well. I guess I'll just file it away in my "Drafts" and read it to myself for jollies years down the road.

Like I said, often times I fear that my massive revisions are ripping out the guts of my story, this creature I'm crafting. It's so easy to keep the "pretty" stuff and axe anything challenging, or weird, or personal, especially when I envision it being read by another person. But if I keep that up, I'm going to end up with a skin, a decorative wall hanging, that will look oh so very nice of the surface but never be able to move on its own. No, rather give me a skinned and living story with no decoration, a Catcher in the Rye, an Archy and Mehitabel. It might not catch instant appeal, but it will survive.

Fifteen Feet

I'm resisting a personal blog. What is a blog, anyway? A diary, a doodle, a self indulgence? Is it time wasted, or a way to shrug off life and get on with it? People who write personal blogs are akin to soldiers writing letters from the front. The letters are not so much intended for the readers as the writers. Why send a letter that may never reach its destination? Why stick a message in a bottle, or tie a note to a balloon? It must be our innate desire to reach for community, the need to somehow connect with other people in the most honest way our society now allows, this insulated forum. We all hope that somehow, if other people could just see the world through our eyes, they would really like us. Maybe we could all sweep away our rickety presumptions to the foundation and start building something new. And as the villains in my life slowly disappear into people with every learned name and shook hand, I think… yeah. It's not a bad hope. Maybe personal blogs aren't such wasted time after all.

Besides, I probably need to stop filling my other blogs with rambles, of which I have far more in my head than have, thus far, reached print. If I were to write them all on my group blogs, I've no doubt that I would wake up one night with an angry torch-bearing mob outside my door. This one is for me and me alone, a place to write any deep thought I have (God willing) without screeching other conversations to an awkward halt.

As to the name... Fifteen feet is the typical depth at which all surfacing divers must stop in order to decompress. The average bucket of water is what, two feet tall? Think of how much that one bucket weighs. Now imagine stacking twenty buckets on your chest, and that’s how much pressure your body has to put up with for a low key dive. You can’t go for long like that without your insides getting a bit screwed up. If you don’t stop at the fifteen foot mark before you surface, you will literally explode.

And that’s the gist of my Fifteen Feet. A place to decompress, to get rid of the thoughts that build up from the pressure of deeper waters. The funny thing about the fifteen foot stop is, every diver does it alone. Sure, you bob around watching everyone else, maybe give a silent wave, but it’s up to you to hold your place, to take the time to stop. Just like a personal blog, a moment alone, five solitary minutes to reflect. Who knows? Maybe after floating here a while, I’ll reach the surface.