Category Archives: Bioregionalism

Generations: Everyday Magic, Day 884

IMG_0823“In 40 years, I’ll take my kids to Amherst, and walk them around with my old friends and their kids like we’re doing today,” Adin said after we did just that in Columbia, MO.

Columbia was where we met in college, or more to the point, because of what we did in our many non-college hours: potlucks with too much carob (what were we thinking?), romantic romps deep in the fields of experimentation, and protests calling for divestment in South Africa by yelling “The People! United! Will never be defeated” until we retired to another carob-warped potluck to sing Holly Near’s “It Could Have Been Me.” There was a lot of loud Rolling Stones or Supertramp music in between analyzing the socio-economic biases in Mary Popins’ “Let Go Fly a Kite,” and passionate debates about anarchism, social democracy, feminism, how we could save the labor movement, and why poetry, drumming, and organic zucchini could redeem the world.

IMG_0833Sometime in the early 1980s, some of us left. I headed west to start as a reporter for a Kansas City labor newspaper before making my way to Lawrence to marry and have a litter of kids, Suzanne went to Vermont to work for Goddard College and raise a good son, and others scattered to Africa or Boulder, Minneapolis or Kingdom City, MO. Our friend John stayed, worked, raised two beautiful sons. Add in 30 years, and here we are – John, Suzanne and me — with some of our offspring, hitting the streets of Columbia to visit and revisit our old romping grounds with the new generation.

We lunched in a place new to some of us, passing around bites of potato knishes and thai ceasar salad. We tore up the stairs to KOPN commnunity radio, the station where all of us oldsters produced various radio shows back in the day (mine was “Saturday’s Child…..Must Work for a Living,” a Democratic Socialist show), and where we could now thrill in how NOTHING had actually changed (except for piles of CDS along with all the thousands of albums). We introduced our kids to the six columns from the old University of Missouri main building, all that was left after an ancient fire, and said to correlate to the number of virgins left on campus.IMG_0847

Mostly, we talked, catching up on old friends and watching our sons talk — all of whom have vivid and cross-pollinating interests in everything from ecological restoration to Buddhism to cultural concepts of the mind to what kind of revolution or evolution it would take to fix our broken politics. The boys, well, actually men, ranging from 18-26, were the same ages we were when we met, danced all night or rode our bikes in the rain. But they generated same kind of spirit, questions, and sparks we did at this age and still do, I hope.

There’s a lot to consider in terms of what actually has changed in 30+ plus years, most notably the climate, and much else that has gone to the big dogs, such as the corporatism we deconstructed over late-night explorations of new herbal tea blends 36 years ago. If anyone in our crowd even mentioned gay marriage, we would have been sure they were on drugs, but then again, reality isn’t always a strong suit for people eating ice cream at 3 a.m. on the lawn of the local V.A. hospital or asleep all day when they should be in classes (okay, so I speak for myself here). IMG_0843

What is real was this day when we got to walk across and wander along the edges of the bridge between generations, springing up in this place where we watched our kids exchange emails and cell phone numbers, promising to continue their conversations in their present or future places. I love the vision of them leading their kids past old bars, new eateries and well-worn paths where they met their oldest friends.

A Wonder Made of Time and Staying Put: Everyday Magic, Day 883

IMG_0935A few days ago while visiting friends in one of my old homes, Columbia, Missouri, I was delighted to see my pal John run into old friends, catching up just the way I might have had I not moved away. But then again, by moving, I landed in another college town where I grew and am still growing roots.

A few days later, while wandering through the Merc to get a crapload of delicacies for friends facing serious medical woo-hah, I ran into Danny, Mike and Walt, some of my oldest and most consistent friends. In the soup aisle, I turned to see Jill, someone I did a project back in the Pleistocene with, called “Midnight Poetry League” — we clumped together groups of teens and had them meet in dark and interesting places to recite their own or others’ poetry to get singles, doubles, even home runs. The night before, while meeting with old friends at Limestone’s ingesting Nirvana-esque vittles, we ran into waves of friends from various sedimentary layers of our lives. Ken even touched based with a guy he went to Kindergarten with before I gave a taste of my pizza to our friend and yoga teacher.

This kind of thing is an everyday deal (or meal) when you stay in one place for a while. Turn a corner, and you might see someone you partied with at college suddenly, after 30 years, woven back into your life. Cross the street and go weight-lifting, and voila! There’s your adult son’s favorite speech teacher from when he was a toddler. Wait in a long line at the post office and find three other people  you know from bioregional meetings, the annual January Christmas tree burning party, and the time we had that cross-dressing prom at the old Harmony Hall.

When I was a kid, I craved this kind of continuity, which is why I thrashed around so much during the stretch when our family left the old country in Brooklyn for the spanking new house in the ‘burbs where I didn’t know anybody. True, the kids in P.S. 251, my Brooklyn school, sometimes beat me up, and I didn’t have so many (e.g. any) friends, but I loved the sense of being known by and knowing people and places. While there’s jumbles of canons of literature about the fallacy of romanticizing small town or in-grown community life, especially for those who march to a different set of conga drums — and there’s ample issues with too many people knowing too much about each other’s business — there’s also a sense of homecoming in the expected and surprising familiar.

When I wander Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence, I don’t know who I’ll meet for the first or 3,141st time. I would say it’s like living in an unfolding tapestry, but it’s not always that coherent a design or linear a process. Maybe it’s like tossing a salad of dozens of ingredients and seeing what nuts, seeds and fruit show up on top. Or maybe it’s putting a message in a bottle, then seeing when or if it returns, and what the message means now. Whatever this phenomenon is, it’s a wonder made of time, presence, witnessing each other’s changes up close and from a distance, and stepping again into the fold of a hug or a conversation after a day or a thousand days of being apart.

There’s a simpler way of saying what makes this wonder: staying put. For those of you somewhere for a long time, I hope your roots and branches bring you stunning blossoms and nourishing fruit. For those of you just landed or in the process of landing, I hope you find good ground to plant yourself, and all you need to delight in all the wonders right at hand, right now, as soon as you turn a corner or open a door.

Karma, a Disgruntled Cat, and the Bob-Tailed Squirrel: Everyday Magic, Day 881

IMG_0712For years a certain squirrel has tormented my cats, strutting his stuff in slow motion from the deck railing while both kitties watched from inside the house The more agitated the cats, the more indulgent the squirrel. He even jumped to the window that separated them, and the cats on the inside window sill and the squirrel on the outside, mocking them in his miniature parade of pride.

If the windows are Cat TV, the squirrel was a daily reality show designed to inflame cat desires and piss them off. As such, it had high ratings: the cats were glued to watching the squirrel who caused them no end of aggravation.

Karma takes many forms, even that of a fat cat. Although we try to keep our cats indoor because of the coyotes in the area, Sidney Iowa Goldberg has a habit of getting out, thanks to Shay the Dog who graciously opening the door for himself and the cat. Having a dog who can open many manner of doors and a cat jonesing to escape the safe bonds of the house is beyond our control, although Sid is pretty overweight and moves so slowly that he’s relatively easy to catch. Either that, or he comes bounding to the door within an hour, having been taught well by the dog that this is how you get back in.IMG_0707

The other day when Sid went on his afternoon walkabout, I didn’t think much of it, and as usual, I was relieved when he raced to the door to come back in. The next morning, just when it was time for the squirrel show to begin (it starts as soon as it’s light out), a curious thing happened. The squirrel returned, but not his tail. Strangely enough, the cats weren’t as interested in the squirrel channel, and they also seemed strangely at peace while Mr. Squirrel walked along the railing with a whole lot less confidence or balance.

While I can’t prove Sidney bit off the squirrel’s tail, it sure seems like a good possibility. In the meantime, the bob-tailed squirrel is struggling with low ratings, but hopefully, still enough fallen bird seed and acorns to get by.

When the Ocean is There, Jump In: Everyday Magic, Day 875

IMG_0511Yesterday, I jumped into the Gulf of Mexico in my clothes because it was there, the water was shining and warm, and occasionally I’m no fool. Today, I waded into the Atlantic Ocean, this time with in a bathing suit thanks to my mom reminding me I might want a towel (which made me remember that the swimsuit is also a nifty idea).

Living in Kansas, where both swimming in salt water, let alone oceans, and seeing dolphins (which I saw both days) is usually something only accomplished through lucky dreamed sleep, I didn’t want to let all that seawater slip away from my skin, let alone the wild and swift rolling surface. Today, Ken and I were slammed by wave after wave coming up behind me. Sometimes we jumped in time, sometimes the rush of salt water soaked our heads at high speed. Whatever the case, I felt more than my body lifting toward shore and pulled back out by the undertow. Although I could be bias from having grown up near the shore — close to Coney Island in Brooklyn, and later the Jersey shore — I believe our beings have evolved with a yearning to home in when it comes to large bodies of water.

Such bodies also help me remember my own in the literal meaning of remember: to bring back together our extending-outward members (legs, arms) to the oneness we are individually, and in the case of breathing, swimming, or otherwise interacting with the world, the oneness we are with this planet. When I walked into the quiet Gulf waters yesterday, everything blue lit gold by the light, I was a little frightened to lean forward into swimming, which is a lot like leaning forward in a dream so that we can fly. Maybe it was the baby shark we saw a fisherman tossing back in earlier, but I suspect it was simply that process of forgetting and remembering ourselves at once in surrendering to such a large being: the life force of ocean. Once I did, my feet were hesitant to reach for the ground again.IMG_0483

Today, each wave that broke right before it gathered me up, and each wave that rose me up in its breaking felt like what it was: such a gift. Two days, two bodies of water that are really one (not to mention all those the water gives life to in the sea and land), and I can still taste the salt on my fingers. Within a few days, back in the prairies, which once were an inland ocean, I’ll remember this, and as best I can, keep remembering myself back together.

 

Why Would Anyone Leave Lawrence, Kansas?: Everyday Magic, Day 869

Last night I dreamed that we had just moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where our oldest son now lives, because Ken got a kick-ass job directing a nature center. As soon as we arrived at some friend’s house and brought in a suitcase, I started crying uncontrollably. Ken was sad too, and eventually, a friend from Lawrence showed up for a walk that ended up at the curb outside a Walgreens, where all three of us were very sad. I woke up thinking what I often think when anyone I know leaves Lawrence, Kansas, center of the universe as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t mean to put down anyone’s decisions to live elsewhere and call it their own center of the universe, but there’s something about Kansas that got a hold of me a long time ago, and there’s no place I would rather live. Yes, there’s the politics, more despicable these days that the worst most of us could imagine. There’s the weather, sporting stretches of summer where the temperature barely falls below 90 and can top 100 for days, tempered by ice storms and sub-zero winters. There’s the chiggers, public enemy #1 for many of us who step into fields in summer. There’s also far too many conservative Christian Republicans for my taste, and slim chance of finding a real bagel, let alone a bialy. There’s rattlesnakes, cougars, and too many mosquitoes.

But there’s also this: the wind right now pouring through the Osage Orange around the porch. There’s people throughout the state who would, if your house caught fire or car broke down, show up to help build you a new house and trouble-shoot your car for hours. There’s pie to die for. There’s long and curvy roads as well as endless horizon roads where your own company is the tallgrass prairie, wind, sky and an occasional coyote. There’s a panoramic view of wild weather, the thrill of lightning striking all around you, the purple flash it ignites, and the very rare tornado that wakes us all up and sends us outside to watch (close to a basement of course). There’s our Free State history along with the history of the Kaw, Osage and many other tribal peoples so resonant in this land. There’s Castle Rock, the whole town of Lucas, wonderful neighborhoods in Wichita, amazing Vietnamese food in Goodland, and the best fried chicken in the universe in a St. Francis gas station.

In Lawrence especially, there’s long brunches at the Roost while sitting outside on Mass St., the most beautiful floor tiles I’ve ever seen at Kring’s, astonishing fabric at Sarah’s, and coconut cream pie at Ladybird after a great pizza at Limestone. There’s the river and our many walks across the Kaw alone or with big groups of friends. There’s swirls of goldfinch reflecting back the light, bluebirds and eagles in winter, and indigo bunting exploding from tree to tree to summer. There’s the gorgeous Snow Hall building on campus with Snow White lettering, and thousands of iris in spring down Jayhawk Drive. Of course, there’s basketball, fireworks, the old-fashioned Christmas parade, the Final Fridays when the streets fill up with art and a building in east Lawrence is flooded with blue lights. There’s Clinton Lake in kayaks while the moon rises, and the Baldwin Woods in early spring when the Spring Beauties appear. Mostly, though, there’s a sense of community and magic made of knowing many of us are in for the long haul and eventually, we’re run into each other at Liberty Hall and dance to the music of Kelley Hunt like there’s no tomorrow. There’s also tomorrow.

While I love visiting the places my work and kids have drawn me to in my life — amazing cities like Burlington, VT., Minneapolis, and Madison — along with the city I’m from, New York — it turns out that this place, battered by history and politics and once a microburst, is my place.

Grateful to Be Back On the Old Road Home: Everyday Magic, Day 867

Last night, instead of going west to the new route home, I turned left, following a line of cars down a new road without being sure if I was heading toward a dead end or back to my favorite old road home.

For 16 months, Louisiana Street — the best way for me to get from home to town and vice-versa — was closed, not just for repairs but for a partial vanishing act. Part of the wrangling for the new trafficway resulted in increasing the wetlands that were previously on the east and west sides of Louisiana Street, consequently erasing a long stretch of Louisiana Street. It’s not often roads was unpaved and plowed under to allow for migrating wildlife, but this is precisely what happened*. When that new road curved back to where Louisiana Street starts again (a mile of it to the north now wetlands full of egrets and tall grass), I felt a surprising blast of joy and sweetness.

I know it’s just a road, but it’s the road that runs through the core of my life for many years. I drove up and down this road ferrying babies and toddlers, then a gaggle of little kids, and eventually teens  to various schools, piano lessons, doctor appointments, and mostly downtown where they could treat the library like their personal rec room. We drove late at night down this road after too-long road trips for work for family. I drove through blinding snow, piercing sunlight, lines of blossoming trees with billowing thunderheads to the west and great blue herons overhead. Many years ago, I sadly hit and severely injured a deer who the sheriff had to shoot to put her out of her pain. Once I stopped to herd a cow back over the fence. I taught, or at least, tried to teach, my kids to drive on this road. Thousands of days and nights, I took in the familiar markers: the bungalow on the corner, the row of pear trees, the ridge thickly wooded to the east and full of cattle to the west. I drove this route in great despair, utter joy, thorough boredom, obsessing over little stuff, at peace with all of life, and outrageously confused; sometimes I saw the real life vibrating all around, and sometimes I drove this road on instinct and memory, not taking in anything but what I was thinking.

“The road is just a river/ it can’t help to bring you home,” Kelley Hunt and I wrote in one of my songs, and I felt this truth as I returned to my old road. Like a river, you can’t step into the same place twice, but like a river, you can rejoice in the old comforts of place in its flux. I’m grateful to be back on this road.

*For those of you locals with a dog in this fight, I haven’t been a fan of the new trafficway, and I wish there had been another solution. Then again, it’s good to see wildlife inhabiting the solution that landed. Thanks to all of you who put years into advocating for saving the Haskell wetlands and sacred sites — my heart is with you.

Three Rattlesnakes and Three Kids Gone: Everyday Magic, Day 865

FullSizeRender“You’ve removed three kids and three rattlesnakes from the house as of this week,” a friend said although at least one of the kids managed to remove himself (the one with a car), and we can’t take credit for physically removing the rattlers (Hank did the snake-catching). I also don’t want to imply that our kids were like rattlesnakes: true, some of them ate whatever they encountered, but none of them, thank heavens, had fangs and venom (although there was certainly excessive rattling over the years).

On one hand, all is good. My heart is full and calm this morning as a hidden pond as I sit on the porch surrounded by soft rain, cats and a dog lounging on the furniture, and piercing bird song. On the other hand, Ken and I now have some reason (translation: three rattlesnakes) to think there may be more rattlers just outside our bedroom window. Plus, from past releases and re-catches of our offspring, I know how fast we can get into a groove of living with three or four, and then, voila! It’s Thanksgiving, and there’s five again, which is wonderful, but also ruffles the water of the pond.

Still, this is a moment. I feel a little safer knowing the rattlersnake in the kayak is gone. I feel a little unsafer knowing all my kids are walking, driving or being driven, and making choices in the arduous sea the world beyond home. May they be safe, and may all the rattlesnakes living too close to houses (for the comfort of humans) find new safe ground.

See Hank catch the third rattle snake here: