every summer we would go strawberry-picking. my mom kept the berry baskets from year to year, hanging in our one-car garage. we’d go “out east” on long island, get all sunburned and strawberry-stained. my dad would quip, “one for the basket, one for the breadbasket,” chomping in-between picking.
when my children were littler, we would do the same. thompson strawberry farm in the county was our destination. the kiddos were also big fans of “the breadbasket” and i have pictures to prove it. sweetest moments, in all good ways.
if you were to describe a strawberry, you would try to describe its long-conic shape, the petals at the top where the stem connects. then you would likely go on to describe the color as it matures, the way it crunches, the way it tastes, the way seeds might get stuck in your teeth and, maybe, the way juice would stain your hands and, probably, your clothing. there’s nothing quite like a strawberry fresh-off-the-vine on a hot summery-sun day in the middle of a field with your tummy kind of pokin’ at you. amaaaaazing. my dad would agree.
as we walked on the trail, we encountered this strawberry-shaped pod. it’s a wild teasel. upside-down. but teasel is the perfect name for this flowering plant. for unless you spoke to the prickly nature of this, you could be describing the shape, the sessile leaves, the stem of a strawberry. any touch or, worse yet, a bite, would indeed tell you the difference. naturally, the color – or lack thereof – would also never tease you into picking it for your berry basket.
i guess you really need to examine closely what you believe to be a strawberry or what you think might be a strawberry. you need to question the properties of a real strawberry. you may need to research.
just because it sort of looks like a strawberry does not make it a strawberry. and, for your well-being, you need to be able to tell the difference.
i wish – every day – that my sweet momma and poppo were still here. that we could coffeesit with them, make them great soups for lunch, spoil them for dinner. that we could take them apple-picking and introduce my dad to a new scotch or two he hadn’t tried yet. that we could maybe adventure a little or just be quiet and listen to their old stories. i wish.
the thing i know, though, is that they would be beside themselves in this circus of a country we now have. it would make both of them irate to watch the vitriol being tossed about, the divisiveness that is being fed by rabid spewers, the lack of transparency, the lies. my daddy-o would have a few choice words to describe these folks and they wouldn’t be pretty.
and my mom? well, she would have no time for anyone who is less than kind to another. she would want nothing to do with any politician or religious leader or pundit who skips kindness in their approach to life, who excuses their own behavior, stance, agenda, platform, control tactic, extremism based on warped interpretation of law or scripture. she would point out the colossal hypocrisy. she might reiterate the story about when, in the dark night, they parked their little vw bug next to a small hill off the road. tired while traveling europe by car, they needed to rest and could find no guesthouse nearby. the little hill would serve them well, they thought. they woke up next to a gigantic dung pile, covered with black tarp held down by old tires. she would trust that we could connect the metaphoric dots. sometimes a hill is not a hill.
i think that both of them – were they here – would be ashamed of what it’s all become. my dad would wonder how his service – missing-in-action in world war II and then as a POW in a bulgarian camp – mattered now to these people who are making a mockery of democracy. my mom would be aghast at how people are being treated, marginalized, discriminated against, excluded. she, who worked hard to be kind to everyone, would worry about the popularity of this ugly trend. yes, they would both – were they here – be astonished at how, in so many arenas and in so many circumstances, people are just downright not good to each other.
i guess that – were they here – they would love a sit-down with dolly parton. they’d probably all talk at once, new yawk and a southern drawl all intermingling in conversation. and they’d all agree that they didn’t understand why anyone at all would “let religion and politics and things like that stand in the way of just being good human beings.”
and then – were they here, the three of them together – they would remind us all to stay away from dung piles posing as hills.
the midterms are rapidly approaching. the rhetoric is amping up. the tv ads, the phone calls, the billboards, the texts, the email messages, the political mail in the mailbox – all dedicated to sway our vote.
i realize that this is the way to raise money, that this is the way to get one party ahead of the other. many voters will elect to vote a straight party ballot. some will vote without asking any questions. some will vote without any information at all. some will vote for vapid minds, choosing the rough edges of spewed anger, covert scheming. they are voting on a bandwagon – with truth obscured – and haven’t looked past the exterior of the candidates.
i was chatting quite some time ago with a college professor. he was teaching a class three days a week and was talking about his experiences. “anybody can be brilliant for an hour and a half,” he quipped. i laughed, thinking how true that is.
but it’s the long haul that counts. it’s what’s at the crux that counts. i wonder what is in the center of what motivates the candidates we are considering. what is past the exterior, what are the things they affirm, believe in, wish to move forward?
anyone can look pious, even righteous, in brevity, for short spurts of time. but these same pedestalized people can bring to the table masked and unmasked agenda that is riddled with inequality, marginalization, discrimination, divisiveness, violence, a thwarting of social, racial, gender, financial equity all under the auspices of brilliance. it is our responsibility to peel back the layers, to poke through the season-of-midterm blahblah, to examine the intentions, the integrity, of the people we choose – truly, in every arena – to represent us.
how these people manifest in their communication, their compassion, their fairness, their steadfast evenhandedness, their actual brilliance – not the hourandahalf variety – should tell us something important. if a person does not represent the values we uphold ourselves, the ones we would lay out to each and every one of those we love, why would we elect that person to represent us, to reflect us? if our vote was revealed to our loved ones, our children, our family, friends, community, colleagues, would we take comfort, would we have pride, in what was revealed?
for it is in our vote that we truly show what is beyond the exterior. it is in our vote that we truly show what is in our heart.
it’s disconcerting to round the corner to your street and see five fire trucks parked there, lights on, hoses at the ready. more fire trucks continued to arrive, police cars blocking the entrance to the road at both ends. the instant we got out of the car in the driveway it was obvious. there had been a gas line puncture; natural gas permeated the air, heavy in the warm humidity. the firefighters directed us residents into our homes, our tendency, otherwise, to stand on driveways and discuss the happenings. it took a while, but the gas company came, a worker climbed into the hole (i would assume that person receives hazard pay) and, much like the story of the boy and the dike, somehow plugged up the puncture. after some time, the fire trucks left one by one and a semblance of order returned to the neighborhood, though no one was anxious to light a bonfire or a grill or cause any sparks for a while.
the news of more wildfires – again – still – in california is overwhelming to read. with temperatures hovering at one hundred degrees and drought a repeating theme, i cannot imagine the insurmountable task of the firefighters, the constant worry about loss of lives and homes and wildlife.
and then, on the other end of the wet-dry spectrum, the floods in kentucky. worried about the owner of the tiny house we stayed at south of lexington, i texted her. she and her whole family are from the hollers of kentucky, growing up near rivers that are now flooded. i didn’t hear back, but checked facebook and found that her church was underwater and she had – already at that time – devastatingly lost two neighbors.
both extremes. catastrophic.
it seems that these events never end. one morphs into the next into the next. our fragile planet suffers while politicians debate inane issues and, from all evidence, seemingly seek to stoke their own financial objectives. meanwhile, in every corner of the globe there is mighty confirmation that this good earth is in crisis. this puts each of us in crisis, our children, our children’s children, the children of our children’s children. and yet, politicians, in every corner of the globe, sneer and attend to their own shortsighted power grabs. wow.
it would be hard to choose to be a firefighter. it would be hard to work for the red cross, crisscrossing this country in an attempt to attend to the extreme needs of its populace. it would be hard to be a climate scientist, likely frustrated out of their gourds watching and listening to the pushback of idiocy.
and there are more it-would-be-hards. it would be hard to be a teacher or a school principal, as the new 2022-2023 school year rapidly approaches and the worry about potential school shootings revives after summer break. it would be hard to be the manager of a grocery store, the managing director of a concert venue, the owner of a dance club, the grand marshal of an idyllic holiday parade, the owner of a movie theater, the director of a medical facility, the leaders of a religious institution….
we-the-people face down emergency after emergency. i would think that all we really want – now’days – is to think that our safety – whether from climate crisis or gun violence or extreme aggression or marginalization – would be foremost. all we really want is to avoid catastrophe. all we really want is to believe that the leaders of our communities, our states, our country have our best interests – and not their pocketbooks or personal agenda – at heart. heart. yes.
all we really want is to not pull down our own street-that-we-live-on – wherever it is – and see a multitude of fire trucks and a catastrophe – from anything within human power to prevent – that is insurmountable.
every time we drive south we go through that town. a quintessential midwest tiny city, highland park has shops, restaurants, galleries, parks, clean green space. everywhere there are signs posted about kindness and responsibility and community. i’ve played at and attended art fairs in that town, eaten pizza in that town, strolled and window-shopped in that town.
we had already decided not to go to the fireworks on monday. we threw on shorts and t-shirts and went for a hike in the later morning, not sure what else the day would hold. we expected it to be peaceful. we expected it to be relaxing.
it was neither.
we returned home and, within a few minutes, learned that less than an hour away, in this town we always choose to travel through on the back roads to chicago, to the botanic garden, to crate and barrel, to anywhere south, the horrific had happened. it changed everything about the day. if i had to draw a mark in the sand, it would be there. at the moment we learned the unexpected had occurred, that people celebrating independence were no longer breathing because someone had sniped them during a norman rockwell fourth of july parade, the kind where bikes with streamers and strollers gather on the sidewalk and people sit on the curb clapping and watching their children’s faces light up with glee, their hands sticky with ice cream popsicles.
the moment tipped the balance for us. again. gun violence. we did not expect to be weeping, feeling like we are held hostage by politicians who insist that guns are more important than lives, feeling like there is nowhere safe. we expected to take a walk in our own neighborhood, perhaps wander to the waterfront in the daylight to see the festivities. but it was daylight in highland park.
we expected there to be fireworks in the neighborhood. it’s not unusual. but they were frenetic and close and we could see the reflection of explosions on our house as the back neighbors set off one after another. the loud booms and cracks scared dogdog. we closed up the house – all the windows and shades – despite having no air conditioning – and tried to console him. and a bit later, even as the thunderous thunder and lightning pummeled our ‘hood, the fireworks all around us continued. i was still awake at 2, listening to them through closed windows. we did not expect that level of frenzy. it seemed feverish.
the day was fraught. without a party to attend, with no gathering to gather at, with family and friends scattered, we expected to enjoy a low-key day. instead, we found ourselves in littlebabyscion driving past a creepy house located on the path to our trail, remembering that, on our way back from the trail, with an appropriate amount of time to arrive there from a devastated highland park, there had been a car matching the description of the vehicle the shooter-on-the-loose was driving, wondering if that car would still be in the abandoned house’s driveway, a driveway in which we had never seen a car before. it wasn’t there and there was no way of knowing what the license plate was nor if it had anything to do with the day’s events. it was just suspicious enough to make us go look, to try and help if we could. we couldn’t shake it.
we didn’t expect our fourth of july to be turbulent. but it was.
the people of highland park didn’t expect their fourth of july to change the course of their lives. but it did.
there were eleven mass shootings on july 4th alone. one of them was in our town.
we were on another planet. we had clearly stepped off the one that was home and we were catapulted into another. we were at the mall.
now, we never go to the mall. so there is that. but we had something to return – which we could have shipped – but the mall in milwaukee was a destination for a cold saturday afternoon and we decided to drive up.
we took all backroads, naturally. went through neighborhoods and farmland. stayed out west going north until it was time to turn east. then hit all the congestion.
the parking lot was full; it was astonishing. we drove around a bit and found a space. littlebabyscion makes that easier. we pulled in, put our coats and gloves back on, grabbed our packages and got out. there was a car in the lane waiting for another spot. the windows were down and we heard, “they have MASKS on!” as we got out. the derisive voice said nothing else. we looked at each other and rolled our eyes, continuing what would be our launch into a different solar system.
we walked into the mall.
there were a zillion people there. and you could pretty much count the ones with masks on with your two hands. we were the anomaly. clearly, a different galaxy. one where there was no pandemic, there were no people still at risk, no variants of the disease, no questions about how to be safe.
we hadn’t looked for the outside entrance to the store we needed – that might have saved us some staring – but we thought it might be fun to walk through the mall to the department store. we truly haven’t been in a mall in years. there are a couple outdoor malls we have enjoyed, but nothing really in the hey-let’s-go-to-the-mall of days gone by.
we were the bright-green-with-dark-green-ovals-purple-underside-wavy-leaves of the rattlesnake plant. perfectly harmless, a graceful air purifier, but with a name attached that makes others wary. we were mask-wearers and, let-me-tell-you, people did not refrain from reacting.
we walked directly to the returns desk – where, incidentally, they had masks on – and took care of business. we meandered just a little. i mean, it’s nordstrom’s and i don’t know anyone who doesn’t like, say, that shoe department. then we left and took quick scoots into pottery barn and williams sonoma. there were far fewer people in those shops and we stood at the cutlery, studying it and simultaneously pointing to the one we would pick, if we were picking silverware at this very moment. we laughed to discover it was the same pattern and perused the olive oils and flake salt as we walked out.
it wasn’t far from there to the exterior door. there were many stores we hadn’t even seen, a whole second floor of potential shopping. our hour or so seemed enough. we felt like fish out of water. uncomfortable. like a beautiful plant with great benefits assigned a bad name – “rattlesnake”.
“liberals!” floated from hanging over our heads back into the milky way as we walked outside to the car.
when i was little, going over bridges made me nervous. not because i was afraid of heights or because i was wary of infrastructure and thought it would fall down, but because i was nervous about not being able to get back. something about going over bridges made me feel like there was no way back, especially if we were heading in the wrong direction, taking a wrong turn. i did not like to feel lost.
texas is lost. they have traversed a bridge that appears to be a hellish dead end and, i fear, with no way back. the new abortion law in texas that the governor has touted is a despicable piece of legislation, currying to the favor of men and full-scale demeaning women. that the governor would couch this as concern for the “sanctity of life” elicits a visceral response, a sickened-gut feeling. that the governor would ignorantly speak to the six weeks of freedom-to-decide as plenty, as generous even, is a slap in the face of every woman in his state. that he would put a bounty on the heads of anyone helping in this situation is disgusting wild west gunfire into the crowd.
people have spoken since this decision with more eloquence than i might muster at this moment, but it would seem that every one every where needs to speak up. as more governors make moves to further control the rights of women, we need to – we must – speak up, speak out. the ironies stacking up are deplorable piles of dung as we sit and watch legislation and policy skewed against any kind of gender equality being written, being celebrated, being enacted. sanctity is not in the building.
i read an article about the use of words in statistics. number of girls and women raped. number of girls and women sexually assaulted. number of girls and women harassed. number of pregnant teenage girls. violence against women. the use of the passive construction – noting that these descriptors don’t state the number of boys and men who raped women or assaulted women or harassed women or impregnated women or were responsible for violence against women literally shifts the focus off the guilty parties, pretends that these things have simply happened to women.
it’s hard not to be hugely cynical, disenchanted, about a country that clearly measures women’s rights differently than it measures men’s, that cares about women differently than it cares about men. once again, that yardstick is two-headed and those wielding it speak out of both sides of their mouths.
cynical. disenchanted. yes. these words. from desiderata they seem so hopeful, yet… “neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.”
perennial. usually a positive word. perennial flowers. perennial love. yet, in the docket of these days, what is perennial is the absolute denial of respect and rights for women. it is tiresome to watch the constant lostness. instead of bridges to better times, better health, equality and respect for all, a lifting up of those oppressed, bridges are being built to places of continual control, to power unleashed over others, to inequity and doubletalking agenda – with no way back.
it’s no wonder why i didn’t like bridges when i was little. no-way-back is a terrifying place, for a little girl and for a country.
“basic logical reasoning” seems to be in short supply. instead, there is a vast vat of hook-line-and-sinker-ism with a side of blind, unquestioning ideological buy-in.
i have been stunned time and again reading social media threads these days. i thought that i grew up – and attended a high school – in an area that valued education . . . even at its simplest – to learn the lifelong skill of complex critical thinking and rational deductive reasoning based on learning how to research, how to gather factual information and observations and weigh all these elements appropriately and objectively, working toward a conclusion. i would have guessed that most of the people i went to high school with, like my dear friend marc, – all those years ago – having been taught by world-class teachers – would have this skill but this is apparently not so. social media has proven me wrong.
again and again, i read with horror the comments of those who have narrowed the spectrum of the tools they use to garner information. again and again, i shudder to see how limited they have made their worlds – how learning is restricted to resources that have their same opinion, how crossing any aisle to ponder, question, discuss, evaluate, negotiate – in any arena – is impossible. i’m astounded by the sheer ignoring (note the similarity to the word ignorance here) of factual information. it’s staggering to see so much anger directed so quickly and pointedly – with extensive name-calling – by people who use limited vocabulary, use limited or no citations of unbiased truth, clearly have limited empathy for others different than themselves, but have unlimited dedication to their beliefs – particularly under the ever-widening umbrella of extreme political beliefs these days – with no evidence to substantiate them. behaviors that are outlandish – even in this day and age after the last administration’s unleashed and continued field day on hatred and vitriol and lies – perversity at its best.
it’s disheartening to casually scroll through social media and stumble into a thread in which a participant has gone from zero to warp speed in milliseconds, spouting, spouting, spouting. the spew may be ‘big lie’ related, voting-restriction related, vaccination related, pandemic related, mask related, race or gender related, gun-control related, climate related, taxation related, social programs related, science related, any-color-koolaid related. i – maybe like you – have been the target time and again of being called names (really?!) by people i don’t know, people i’d think would know (or at least speak) better, people who are ‘friends’ of ‘friends’, people from my old high school, people who are just clearly ticked off in a big way and need a target. if you even attempt to engage in a conversation, it quickly disintegrates into stupefying borrowed rhetoric.
i suppose this trend will continue, as a large part of our country has made it perfectly acceptable to just unconsciously follow pied pipers or obnoxious acolytes thereof. it’s somehow become perfectly acceptable, even noteworthily cheered on, to use aggressive language, to be hostile and combative, to be both prey and purveyor of distraction and mediocrity, to state and re-state and post and forward false information, to not ask questions, to disregard facts, to be so deep into belief that it’s no longer necessary to examine knowledge, seek anything evidentiary, or look for relevant logic.
i’m still proud of john glenn high school. i’m proud of the teachers i was lucky enough to be taught by back then. i’m glad i paid attention, that i made learning and how to learn a priority. it’s a fluid and continual lesson. i believe it’s that which is essential for existence, vital for living. i know we’re never done.
but it doesn’t stop me from rolling my eyes at those whose “room for some basic logical reasoning” is scant. it’s dispiriting.
and i just want to add one more thing while i’m at it. a tiny peeve of mine. please check your spelling, grammar, word usage, sentence structure, auto-correct – maybe consider proofreading – before you opine on social media. particularly if you want to be taken seriously. (consider, if you will, a posting of the words: “voter freud“.) words, punctuation, coherence – they all matter. perhaps not as much as your intention, but still…
my sweet momma always said, “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” she also famously said, “look it up!”
she, like me, would be aghast at these more recent trends. and she, like me, would still hold out hope for human decency.
i know little to nothing about farming. driving through eastern colorado, missouri, all of kansas, iowa and across the state of wisconsin, there are patchworks of farmfields that stretch on seemingly forever. gorgeous and rich in the colors of good dirt and rising plants, we admired the quilted beauty of our roadtrip and talked about farming as we passed the lives of people we would never meet.
the billboard read, “don’t let pigweed creep back!” it was an imperative to research. pigweed is, apparently, insidious and something that hardworking people who have chosen crop-growing, stock, and all means of agriculture, have to deal with. pigweed can be toxic to livestock and will aggressively take over grain and soybean fields. it is resistant to mitigation and hard to control. it can be destructive. once eradicated, one must remain vigilant about its presence so as to avoid further damage to crops and animals.
i am struck by how this invasive plant mimics what has happened in the political arena of our living.
we had just, a mere couple hours before, stopped at a gas station to fill up big red and run into the restroom. wearing masks, we entered the convenience store where all conversation stopped as the door swung closed behind us. no one inside had on a mask and the stares at us were pointed and aggressive. it was unnerving. had we entered a miraculous-global-pandemic-free zone? or had we entered inside a building where pigweed had never left, where the insidious, toxic dis-ease of misinformation and selfishness was spreading its roots, reaching out underground and above to damage all within its cloying and suffocating grasp? is there no hope for this place with entrenched pigweed?
it would seem to me, as we read the current news of steps forward, of good intentions, of attempts to advance efforts toward equity and equality, social justice, healthcare, hunger and homelessness, of work to aid in getting past this horrid pandemic and all its fallout, that we should do all we can to not let pigweed creep back.
dogdog is right. the sun IS out. and you can feel the difference in the air. it is palpable. it is the morning after.
the morning after – when we woke up, it was the 21st day of the 21st year in the 21st century.
the morning after – when we woke up, we were in a better place. a place of hope, a place where unity is that which we are striving for, a place where the poetry of a young black woman is the ultimate prayer of gratitude, of healing, of work to be done, of aspiration.
the morning after – when we woke up, we did not sink in despair into the news of the day, we did not grimace in disgust nor did we feel sickeningly without prospect.
the morning after – when we woke up, we spoke of yesterday, a day of moments, each one lifting us just a wee bit more, higher, higher. a day of firsts, a day of confidence, a day of celebration, a day of music and prose and prayers and pledges and promises, fireworks that lit the sky and drew tears on our faces, a day without parallel.
the morning after – when we woke up, we spoke of the daydream of more new mornings, more new days – just like today.
the morning after – when we woke up, we had a new president and a new vice-president. we have bright light and responsibility, authority and accountability, brilliant minds and the power of working together, truth and science, deep empathy and a commitment to the most basic of all – decency.
the morning after – when we woke up, we stepped forward. we carry all we have learned – the good and the ugly – and we intentionally forge ahead.