Sunday, May 20, 2018

A SLEEPLESS PRAYER


I wonder how much better off you'd be
If I had shown up at some other school.
You might have married someone else, not me,
And life would be smooth sailing as a rule.

You'd sit back, settled, and watch your cash amass.
With jaunts to Europe and exotic ports,
The pace of life wouldn't have to be so fast.
Beside a pool, you'd bask in some resort.

There'd be no worry whenever I did mope.
Instead, the guy you picked would have no cares,
No new expense would throw him for a loop.
With him a life of leisure you would share.

I think these things when I can't sleep
And pray your life is one you'll keep.

20 May 2018

Saturday, May 19, 2018

White Power, Coffee, and Birds

I read Kathleen Belew's monumental book, BRING THE WAR HOME, on the plane to Belize and I finished it the next day at the pool.  You know how when you buy a new car, you start seeing your model everywhere?  Kathleen's' book was like that.  After I finished, it seemed that there was a new example of paranoid white people calling the cops on "suspicious" people of color.  Starbucks, Waffle House, even the dorms at Yale, were all scenes of outrage.  I looked at each of those incidents in open mouthed amazement.  How could such people exist in the America of 2018?  Haven't we learned anything?

I looked at a lot of Kathleen's book in open mouthed amazement as well.  First, my amazement sprung from the quality of her work.  She traces the white power movement in America from the end of the Vietnam War up to the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City.  She uses nine chapters, each able to stand alone as a separate story, to build on her thesis that the white power movement as currently at work in America got much of its fuel from returning disgruntled Vietnam combatants who were disillusioned by America's handling of the war, disillusioned by what they saw as America's first "lost" war, disillusioned by not being welcomed home like WWII vets.  And to add insult to injury, they came home to a country in the process of changing its complexion as refugees started flooding into their homeland and as people of color began to noisily demand their rights.

Each chapter focuses in on a different player, or group of players, who incrementally ramped up white power and white paranoia.  The book explains the unlikely partnership of Ku Klux Klanners, Evangelical Christians, and Skinheads all rallying around a perceived need to save their erstwhile white privilege in the face of a tidal wave of people who didn't look like them, or who practiced different faiths, people who were changing the face of America, trying to take away their guns, trying to share in the American Dream.

It explains so much of what is happening today.  White populism.  Group identity. Isolationism.  Tax cuts to the wealthy.  A war on anything that smacks of welfare.  Donald Trump's name calling.  Kathleen's book was incredibly disturbing; I think everyone should read it.

I don't read as much fiction as I used to;  I prefer reading closely written examples of scholarship.  I have read a lot of that brand of scholarship since I left the classroom, and I can say without reservation that Kathleen Belew's achievement ranks with the best of what I have read.  Her research is staggering (100 pages of footnotes), but more impressive is the clarity of her voice.  She never loses her tone.  The book marches majestically through the years under consideration.  I can't wait for her next work.

Don't read BRING THE WAR HOME because Kathleen graduated from good old GMHS.  Read it because it is so damn good.


After I finished Kathleen's book, I moved onto THE MONK OF MOKHA by Dave Eggers.  Eggers is a New Yorker and New York Review kind of writer who I always delight in reading.  THE MONK OF MOKHA is the true story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a Yemeni American who decides to restore Yemeni coffee to its historical place as the first producer of coffee.  It is a fascinating travelogue of Mokhtar trying to negotiate the Yemen of 2015, dodging bullets and bombs and terrifying border patrols as he takes his coffee to market.  I learned a lot about the politics of Yemen and other "shithole" countries and I learned a lot about coffee.  If I ever go into a coffee shop again (not likely), I will surely order a cup of Yemeni brew.

I started BIRDING WITHOUT BORDERS by Noah Strycker on the plane on the way back to Denver.  I finished it yesterday while waiting to pick up Willa from school.  It is another delightful read about Strycker's world wide big year.  He travels well over 100,000 miles, visits the best birding terrain in every continent, and blows through $60,000 on his quest to see as many bird species as he can.  He ends up with 6000!  That is supposedly over half the known species in the world.  The book is not a dreary catalog of every bird he sees; it is mostly a story about geography and people.  My bird taxonomy can best be described by two terms that Kathie and I always use when we're hiking or kayaking:  BBBs, and LBBs.  Big Brown Birds and Little Brown Birds.  That about covers it, but I would have loved joining Stryker on his trip, minus some of the swamps and war zones he has to negotiate.

These are not what you would call classic poolside books, but they did manage to keep my mind off the heat and humidity of Belize.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

CRAYON WATCHING


When the grandgirls open brand new crayons,
Their eyes grow wide and start to scan for paper.
There's ninety-six in all, straight up they stand,
Four multi-colored rows all sharp and tapered.

Jaydee's favorite colors are purple shades,
Plum, blue violet, glycene, and razzmatazz.
A bear, an ape, her passion never fades.
They're colored purple, everything she has.

Willa's color sense is much more varied.
Her main concern is drawing graphic scenes
Peopled with the folks she loves and needs
All gathered round as friends and all that means.

So great to see them play with art.
I love to do this watching part.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

THE STRING LAKE BRIDGE


The String Lake bridge is where most hikes commence.
A photo of it hangs upon our kitchen wall.
The stream's so deep a crossing there is tense,
Still, horses ford right there from Spring through Fall.

Above the bridge, three mountains are in view.
The Grand sits high above the Teton range.
Mount Owen with its glaciers sits there too,
And Teewinot, it's jutting spires so strange.

Below the range, a forest of Lodge Pole Pine
And a leafy carpet flecked with sun
With Glacier Lilies and Fireweeds so fine
You want to break into a joyous run.

Nine miles up the Cascade trail,
We're up there yearly without fail.

Monday, April 16, 2018

STREET FOOD


Stands of Tacos sit on old town streets
With birria pots and crisp carnitas too,
And butcher shops, their counters filled with meats.
Locals stand in lines--more than a few.

One deals with money; make sure that's all he does.
He shouldn't touch the food plus your cold cash.
Hygiene issues do give some a pause,
But me it never bothered.  I'm sort of rash.

At times this food scene makes me want to live here,
But then I'd have to cook and clean and more.
So much to eat, so little time, I fear.
In fact, it's time to eat again; it's four.

The food down here is just so good,
I'd be here every day--I would!

MORNINGS AT THE Y


I walk two miles around the track each day
And then I row four thousand meters more.
To keep my weight I've found the Y's the way.
You'd think by now my bod would not be sore.

And then I go downstairs to lift some weights.
On day one I focus in on arms.
If I can lift them all, the workout's great,
But if I can't, I figure what's the harm.

When I'm done, I jump into the shower,
And used the spa before they ripped it out.
For me, the whole thing takes a couple hours.
Another morning's done I'd like to shout.

This workout keeps me young and fit
And then I go right home and sit.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

TWO BLUE SPRUCE


The two blue spruce reside in our front yard.
A nursery planted them when we moved here.
They flank our door and stand a stately guard,
As if to say there's nothing here to fear.

They're filled with cones all gathered at the top
And with each gust they hurtle to the ground.
Jaydee picks them up and never stops
As new winds come and start another round.

These trees have grown most of our married life.
From little sprouts they now reach to the sky.
They feed the wonder with which grandgirls are rife
And like those trees, their reach is never shy.

When we're long gone the spruce will stay
And sow more wonder on the way.