Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Winter Solstice 2016

December 21, 2016.  Merry monsoon season!  I wake to the music of gentle rains, bike to the library in the rain, take long evening walks in the rain, and float off to dreamland to the sweet sound of splashing droplets.  Occasionally, a brilliant sunbeam blasts through the clouds and frightens everyone.  Occasionally, we are blessed by the sight of a breathtaking double rainbow, bright and beautiful from one end to the other.

Following the normal passage of many months with little rain, the Willamette River is now flowing high and fast, roaring over the rocks, an inspiring symphony of dancing water.  The monsoons have filled the Grass People with ecstasy, and the parks and lawns are screaming green and intensely alive.  The trunks of the older trees have grown a gorgeous green fur of moist moss and delicate ferns.  Even my scruffy Funkytown neighborhood looks a bit like Fairyland.

I wrote those words a week ago.  Since then, there has been an incredible ice storm, which put a thick coat of glittering ice on everything, creating a Fairyland of sparkles.  Countless tree limbs snapped off.  A number of grandmother trees were unable to bear the weight, and tumbled to their deaths. 

I had no electricity for two nights and a day — no heat, no cooking, no lights, no computer, no radio, no freezer, no reading.  Dressed for a cold winter day, I sat beside two small candles, having ancestral memories of times when life was simpler, the climate was stable, and the polar bears were fat and happy.  Ancestors would gather around the burning hearth, and enrich the long dark hours with songs and stories.  Today, the rains have resumed, the ice is gone, and I’m staring at a glowing screen, typing news to folks in faraway lands.  Howdy!

In the rituals of my life, there is a sacred land on the south side of a freeway, a power line easement.  This holy place is called The Mile of Blackberries.  I travel there every year in July, at the crack of dawn, to fill my buckets while it’s still cool.  The berries are top quality, abundant, and easy to pick without excessive loss of blood (from razor sharp thorns).  At home, I can cases of jam and sauce.  This morning I had blackberry sauce on my oatmeal, with chopped walnuts that I also gathered.

This year, I biked over there to check on the ripening berries, and the berries were gone!  The entire mile had been bulldozed to make an exit ramp or something.  It was heartbreaking!  The soils and climate of this valley are ideal habitat for the Blackberry People, and they grow everywhere, usually in tangled, impenetrable briar patches.  Most patches do not produce generous quantities of large juicy grade-A berries.

After a few days of hopeless despair, I hopped on my bike, and embarked on a voyage of discovery.  Hooray!  I found several excellent blackberry nations, and my annual tradition survived for one more year.  These prime locations are far off the beaten path, not accessible by automobile.  Foraging for berries always triggers ancestral memories, filling me with a profound sense of wellbeing.

I was amazed to discover that wherever I explored, I also found homeless camps.  They’re sleeping in their cars, under every bridge, in every park, in the carport below my apartment, and even in isolated locations along highways.  The American Dream now needs a cane and hearing aids.  There really are limits to growth — a truth as obvious as the sun and moon — but impossible for our culture to accept.  Limits don’t care whether or not we accept them.  Limits are amused by how oddly we utilize our legendary big brains.

Charities feed the homeless thousands here.  Unlike Oakland, Detroit, or Chicago, the scene here has yet to deteriorate into routine violence.  I’m not afraid to walk most places at night.  But one evening in September, as I was beginning a bike ride, I heard loud noises that didn’t sound like cherry bombs.  When I returned from my bike ride, the whole neighborhood was a busy crime scene.  A lad was shot dead in the alley at the end of our driveway.  Stepping outside my door, and looking left, I can see where he died, 100 feet away.  No arrests have been made.

This has been an encouraging year for my creative work.  In May, I published my third book, Understanding Sustainability, a collection of book reviews related to ecological sustainability.  My social network of virtual comrades continues to expand, including folks in France, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Germany, Ireland, Britain, Canada, Hungary, Sweden, Croatia, Belgium, Tunisia, Iran, Russia, and the United States.

My blog has gotten much busier this year.  In the first half of 2016, views averaged 3,000 per month.  By late October, they were over 8,000.  In mid-December, they had soared to 11,341.  Apparently, my reviews are rising in Google’s search rankings, becoming more likely to appear on the first page of hits.  I also suspect that my work is being used more in classrooms, which delights me.  Ignorance is curable!

Anyway, it’s been a satisfying year.  I’m doing meaningful work, and there are people who appreciate it.  I continue working on my fourth book, currently a daunting disorderly mob of 110,000 words.  It would be fun if I could finish it in the coming year, but that’s what I thought a year ago.  It’s not easy being a wordsmith, but it feels good.


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