29 January 2010

Here and now


Friday, 3pm

It's one of those monochrome afternoons where everything appears as if in an old black and white movie. The dark slate sand set against the steely gray sea underneath a patchwork overcast sky. The horizon doesn't exist between the silvery water and flat and somber clouds. Only the dark shadow of Reading Rock marks the boundary between ocean and sky.

The only hint of color appears in isolated blades of beach grass and the translucent jade in that final line of breaking waves on the shore. Even the redwoods on faraway hillsides appear black on this hazy, late afternoon.

The receding tide is already far out though the official low tide doesn't arrive for another three hours. The beach is wide and long with a steep downhill run to the water. A line of dark boulders marks an almost walkable path out the the Sister Rocks. The Sisters and Little Girl Rock stand taller than usual in the shrinking ocean.

Gray and white gulls, Westerns mostly with a few Californians sifted among them, gather on the north side of the creek. Eight mergansers paddle in the calm backwater outside the mainstem of the cascading creek; One male swims calmly with four females, while three other males hang out and fish nearby. I wonder briefly who are the lucky ones.

A pile of blubbery harbor seals laze on the inside of the spit - silver, spotted, charcoal and vanilla - all shades lie together, unconcerned for the most part. As I stroll by, two scouts slip in the cold creek and monitor my progress past their tribe. The rest crane their thick necks and casually watch me through gentle black eyes.

Dark clouds slowly drift in over the hills from the southeast.

Low tide reveals Redwood Creek's deep channel into the Pacific. Rapids tumble over boulders usually hidden by high tides, or even higher low tides, and cascade a hundred yards out in to the ocean.

Walks on this beach tend to draw me inward, into deep thoughts about time, purpose, what I want to be when I grow up, or what I should have been by now and why I'm not there yet. These thoughts can be consuming, and for far too long I've been consumed by them.

A few days ago, I decided to let those kinds of thoughts disappear for a while, to focus on the here and now, the present and not tomorrow. Somewhere, and I forget where, I read, happiness comes when it's not pursued. It's been a pretty good week since I made that small commitment.

The rain begins to spit as I drift off into these deeper thoughts. Thank you, gray skies. The now of staying dry overwhelms my contemplative nature as I head back to my dry car.

15 January 2010

Words

15 January 2010

Dear Journal,

I apologize for taking so long to write you. Icould say I've been busy at work, or perhaps the madness that is the holidays overtook me. But that's not quite true. I've had the time. I've even had the inclination to write, many times. Yet I haven't. Unsure of what to say, or how to say it, or more honestly, why I would be saying anything at all. I lost my voice. And now I struggle to get it back.

I think I think too much. And by thinking, and rethinking, I stall and procrastinate, diverting my attentions elsewhere, pushing available words farther away from my pen, and very nearly out of sight altogether where they cannot be retrieved.

I wish to write again, and to return to your good graces, Squire. Not, mind you, because I think I write good, but because I enjoy the writing. Over these past weeks and months, I've wandered the same places as I have for years, watching, observing, considering, pen in hand, camera stowed and ready in the pocket, binoculars around my collar, open to discovery, revelation, inspiration. I stroll from beach to creek to estuary, and sometimes the other way 'round, seeking something worthwhile to relate back to you.

Alas, the words that rise to the fore when I walk, at least the fore of my mind if not my pen, began to sound the same as every day prior. And why keep telling the same damned story over and o'er.

Yet in my reluctance to tell a dull story, I've failed to tell any story at all. I've learned enough to know I enjoy the telling, even if I don't know much about what I'm saying.

Ben Franklin said either do something worth writing about or write something worth reading. It's abundantly clear I'm not pre-destined to to do much worthy of another's pen. If Gentle Ben is to be believed, my only chance at eternity lies in leaving a few misshapen words lying about for others to stumble upon. Perhaps a nugget of my verse will land near enough where some word-starved reader may discover it, consider it, and allow in a weak moment for that conjured phrase or image or idea to seep inside their brain. Perhaps at some odd moment in the future, that, those words will be recalled suddenly and for no apparent reason. Is that not immortality?

A change in pseudonym is due, though I've yet to settle on anything. There will be less rangering in this correspondence perhaps. I was never much good at that anyway. And while Humboldt County remains my primary landscape, it's not all that important where these words lay on the map. I'll continue relaying the discoveries of mid-afternoon beach strolls - the birds, the waves, the skies that open my mind to images and possibilities. An occasional rant or veiled memory will appear from no where now and then. I hope as well, to explore new ideas, those of simplicity, time, living in the moment. If there's any chance that writing could ever lead me anywhere, I have to write. I yam what I yam, Popeye says. The only thing I know is me, and even I don't that topic all that well.

Enough with the procrastination already. Hasta la proxima. Until the next time.

J

P.S. The ocean is a churning, steely green gray topped with sediment-laden, beige-tinted foam nearshore. Hundreds of western gulls share the mouth of the creek with colorful, breeding ready pelicans, a horde of 30 lazy harbor seals, and eight mergansers.

08 December 2009

Chicago 1968: I was there.

Recently I picked up Rick Perlstein's book, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. At the moment, I'm deep into 1968....the race riots that convulsed American cities, the anti-war protests that crippled LBJ, the emergence of Nixon's Silent Majority, endemic racism that pervaded all corners of country, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and the violence that marked the Democratic Convention in Chicago.

IN 40 years, it seems we've turned this era of tumult into a romance story of generational change, peace and love, non-violence, Camelot, Make Love Not War, the Smothers Brothers and the Beatles. Perlstein paints a picture of national turmoil, of astounding distrust between races and ages, of violence and uncertainty. It is a picture less romantic than terrifying.

And in the middle of it all, at the geographical epicenter of this Great American Upheaval was us. My family had moved to Chicago in 1967 when Dad entered the Unitarian seminary at the University of Chicago. Mom stayed home with me and my younger sister and brother, and in fairly short order was pregnant with my youngest brother.

We lived in a 2-bedroom townhouse in the Hyde Park area, a few blocks from the University. Two doors over was my best friend Charles. Down the street was a corner drugstore in a small strip mall where Charles and I bought our precious baseball cards - 10 cents for a 10-card pack . (I still have many of those 1968-1970 cards!) In another small group of townhouses adjacent to the strip mall, lived my lone girl friend, Charlotte. Her complex had a small gated park filled with newly planted trees where Charlotte patiently taught me how to pull apart leaves along the stem without leaving ragged edges.

Heading the other way there was a busy street we weren't allowed to cross alone. (52nd Street) I remember testing my adventurousness and walking up to the stop sign on the corner. The buildings over there had a darker feel, more dangerous somehow. Half a block or so up this street lived another best friend, Tony. Tony's mom, Lula, babysat us kids when my parents went out. I realized that Tony and Lula were black, but I didn't think much of it. We just played baseball and rode bikes and talked about the Cubs together. Such is the glory of liberal parents. I do remember that it was always Tony who came across 52nd Street to play with us. We didn't go over there.

But what of 1968? The memories of a five almost six year old moving from Kindergarten to first grade, can't recall anything about the violence of that summer. I know from history that Chicago erupted after the murder of Dr King. I've read about the mass gatherings of students, Yippies, hippies, and provocateurs during the Democrats August convention. I was there, but as a child should be, oblivious to it all.

My few memories of 1968 (or at least thereabouts) are of learning to ride my bike on the circular paths of nearby Washington Park, of climbing the trees outside Charlotte's house, trading baseball cards with Charles on his front steps, the night my brother was born, ice skating at the bottom of the Corn Cob towers downtown, watching the election results with my Mom on our small black and white TV and sensing the disgust in her voice as she tried to explain to me what a President Richard Nixon meant to us.

I've sent both my parents a letter asking them for their recollections of the summer of '68. What was it like for young parents of four young children amidst this chaos? I've heard my grandmother had gone so far as to purchase tickets for our family to escape the city should the violence overrun our neighborhood? Did my liberal-minded parents participate in any of those protests before coming home to make us dinner and put us to bed? Did they fear for us, for our community, our country? What did they think the future held for their children?

We were there. I was there - just a few blocks from the fault line of a changing America. Yet, I only remember being a kid.

02 December 2009

Fire! (just a small one, really)

Rounding the top of the hill early this morning, the smoke was easily apparent on the north side of the creek, even though the sky and the surrounding fog shared the same color. A small fire on this cold early morning, likely started by an illicit camper or early morning fisherman looking for a quick dose of warm. One cluster of smoke rises from behind a large, barkless redwood log that found its way to the beach a long time back. A finger of black traces up the hillside, maybe 30 feet higher into a patch of pampas grass. Heavier smoke floats up as the matted bases of each cluster of the exotic grass smokes then flares. A lone CDF firefighter outfitted in yellow nomex and a red helmet pulls apart the driftwood piles at the base of the big log while a few others watch from the warmth of their vehicles at the end of the dirt road. Otherwise there's not much going on here.

The gulls on the south bank of the creek don't seem to mind the extra activity this morning.

17 November 2009

Avian interlude

(It's crappy out there today, but 'tweren't so yesterday afternoon when I'd planned on penning this piece.)

A hazy Monday afternoon. A clear, cool breeze brushes the beach when I'm finally able to peel my arse from the office chair and step out for a post-prandial saunter. Choppy waves are bereft of pattern. The everpresent low grumble of constantly churning water strums the bass as stereophonic trebles from breaking and running waves roll from the left ear to the right.

A dozen gulls at the mouth of the creek become two hundred in a manner of minutes, small flocks diving in from points west. A small California gull coasts the rippling creek from the estuary to the breaking edge of the closest wave, flapping off just in time to return to the estuary and ride the creek out again.

A single seal glides through the narrow channel from the calm estuary to the tempestuous surf, popping up just once to make sure I'm holding to my spot on the bank.

In the estuary, six grebes are joined by a double-crested cormorant for an afternoon of quiet fishing.

An osprey flaps silently above me, his black masked eyes to the ground, heading southward into the wind.

Loud twittering killdeer frantically pace the mostly dry south slough channel.

A great blue heron knows I'm approaching before I get there. He honks away on slow, lumbering wings trusting the cows on the other side of the slough more than me.

The neighborhood northern harrier posts up high above the alders, twirling softly, soundlessly.

A pair of male mallards cruise overhead. Amateur birders everywhere applaud their bright green heads.

Least sandpipers prance and dip in the exposed muddy floor of the draining creek.

An artfully camouflaged Wilson's snipe traces the grassy edges of the south slough. His mate (her mate?) emerges briefly from a hole carved into the deep grassbed before disappearing back inside. Alas, the time has come for me to do the same.

30 September 2009

Ken Burns' Best Idea

So have y'all been as glued to Channel 13 (KEET-TV) the past three nights as I have to Ken Burn's latest docu-series, The National Parks: America's Best Idea. After 26 years in the subject organization, I know I'm a bit biased, but not only am I learning a few things from Mr Burns, in many regards I'm feeling a renewed enthusiasm and energy for the work we try to do. Seems this profession has some merit after all.

A few random thoughts pulled from the depths of the easy chair as I watched the first three episodes:

Why can't I tell stories like Ken Burns? The guy's a genius storyteller. Hours of research, evocative music, compelling stories, intelligent and inspiring interviews. He does a better job of telling you about what we do than most of us do in doing the work that he's telling you about us doing. Of course, I'm just me with a computer and a tiny library and vast and glorious park to wander around. He's a multimillion dollar production company backed by huge corporate sponsors. Be he's just so damn good at spinning a great tale. I want to be able do that.

We do work in a noble profession after all. Though the days are too often bogged down in mind-numbing bureaucracy and frustrating drive-through tree tourists, it is for a worthy purpose that we do what we do. And Ken Burns isn't making a 12-hour history of the life insurance business, is he?

I need to read more on the transcendentalists. From the snippets I see in Burns and through recently read bios of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt, the ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau inspired many of the most important 19th century environmental thinkers. I need to go back and read some of their original stuff. I'm beginning to wonder if literally, spiritually, intellectually, perhaps I'm more akin to Thoreau and Emerson than any of my own generation?

Your dad knows a little somethin' after all. It's been fun watching this with the kids and knowing the next piece of the story before Burns tells it. For once, I'm not their idiot dad but someone who's picked up a thing or two along the way.

Did the redwoods miss their chance to be among those first iconic national parks? What if the entire, two million acre redwood range, from Oregon to Monterey Bay, hadn't been stolen from federal ownership before the 1880s? Yosemite, Sequoia, Yellowstone, and Mount Rainier were available to be set aside as our first National Parks in large part because those lands were owned by the federal government, and not by states or private individuals. Jerry and Gisele Rohde have an interesting piece in this month's Humboldt Historian (Fall '09) explaining the land fraud that moved public lands through foreign syndicates and in to private hands in a matter of years. Would we have lost nearly all of this grand and ancient forest as we almost lost the bison had the feds prevented their theft?

Three more episodes and six more hours. A dozen more thoughts to come, at the very least.

And for those wanting more of our local story, KEET-TV received a grant through the Ken Burns' backers, to produce Redwood National Park: Preserving Ancient Forests, the story of the establishment of Redwood National Park. It'll air this coming Sunday, October 4th at 7pm on Channel 13 (then rebroadcast Thursday, Oct. 8 and Saturday, Oct. 10). We'll get the sneak preview at the office tomorrow. Assuming the Claire and Sam have any of the skills of Ken Burns, they will have expunged the rantings of a occasional blogger from their program, thus ensuring its success.