Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Best Books of 2010

The Good Reads of 2010
Neal Lemery

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of the books I’ve really enjoyed in 2010:

Against the Stream, Noah Levine. A very easy read, taking you into the heart and soul of Buddhism. Levine has a sense of humor and his writing is seductive and enjoyable.

For The Time Being, Annie Dillard. A look into who we are as a species, and where we come from. Dillard’s superb writing is worth it, even if you may not be intrigued with her journey. But, after getting into the book, you will be hooked.

Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell. The author takes us on journeys of people who have become successes. What is it that makes some people successes and others not? It is a well written and compelling exploration. This book stays on this year’s best sellers list, too, for good reasons.

Writing to Change the World, Mary Pipher. Writing well and thoughtful does change the world, and the author inspires me to write, write, and write some more. This book inspires one to really focus on writing something meaningful.

Ethics for the New Millennium, The Dalai Lama. How should we live a life in search of truth, and to be true to ourselves? This is timely and inspiring, and much needed in this age.

Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, Tamim Ansary. This just appeared on my reading table, and appears to be much needed perspective of our world and “Western Civilization”. Probably not being reviewed in the major media channels!

Oak: The Frame of Civilization, William Bryant Logan. More than you would think. The author takes me on an intriguing journey of our historical relationship with trees and wood, and how our use of this wood really has changed our culture and our exploration of the world.

Given, Wendell Berry. More timeless and provocative poetry from one of this country’s greatest poets. Soul food for the lover of nature and good poetry.

Buddhism Is Not What You Think, Steve Hagen. A well written and captivating exploration of Buddhist thought and practice.

How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer. A fascinating exploration of the brain and decision making. We are not the completely rational and logical decision makers we might hope to be. This book is easy to burrow into and causes me to contemplate our humanness as we problem solve.

Sex at Dawn, Christopher Ryan. This is a fresh look at human sexuality and our social institutions. His thesis is provocative and interesting, and supported by a lot of sociology and anthropology.

War, Sebastian Junger. The author spends a year with American troops at a fire post in a remote and hotly contested valley in Afghanistan. This is a very good description of life for American soldiers in Afghanistan today, and is not something you would see on the evening news. I was uncomfortable reading this, because it was Real. We need to hear this voice, as it is the life of the soldiers who are lucky enough to come home.

Alaska, Walter Borneman. An in depth, but not plodding, journey through the history of Alaska and where the 49th state is today. I gained new insight into events I thought I knew about. An easy read, actually. Good stuff to know before our wildlife cruise on the Inside Passage last summer.

Pandora’s Seed, Spencer Wells. This is a fascinating book, the premise of which is that the advent of agriculture in human history was not really an advancement for humankind, as we are still dealing with the impact of the change in diet, culture, and family. This is probably one of the most important books of the year, and is worthy of more attention, and not just from those of us who enjoy biology, history and anthropology.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, Mary Ann Shaffer. I finally got around to reading this book, after several years on the best seller list. A delightful and intriguing book, with an engaging writing style. Despite being set in the German occupied British island during World War II, this book has a wealth of interesting and beloved characters.

Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion. Superbly written, this is a journey of a well known author who nearly loses her daughter and loses her husband in a tumultuous year. Some of the best writing of my year in books.

Stones Into Schools, Greg Mortensen. The sequel to Three Cups of Tea. I learn more about how one American is changing the Hindu Kush and Central Asian life by working with local people to build schools, educate children, and really change the world. He’s certainly not the Ugly American!

God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchins. A well educated and thoughtful agnostic takes a hard look at organized religion throughout the last 2000 years, and offers much food for thought to the spiritually inquisitive.

Jesus, Interrupted, Bart Ehrman. This theologian and historian takes a much needed examination of modern Christianity and its theological sources. He challenges a lot of current thinking and viewpoints.

New York, Edward Rutherford. An intriguing look at the social and economic history of New York from the time Henry Hudson sailed into New York harbor, written from the perspective of family members living there over the last 400 years. This was enjoyable and informative, giving me a new approach to thinking about life in the Big Apple.

The Grand Design, by Steven Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. Quantum physics may not be your passion, but this is really a great book, and is not a daunting task for those of us who don’t have our Ph.D.s from MIT. This is very readable, and explores the likelihood of ten dimensions, and that neither time nor gravity is a constant in all dimensions. The best brain stretcher of the year, by far.

Valentines, by Ted Kooser, former poet laureate of the United States. This is a delight, and a great collection of poems that will provoke your thinking, challenge your awareness of what may be the “simple things” in life. I want to go to Lincoln, Nebraska just to sit in his class and hear him read a poem.

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Eckhart Tolle. This excellent spiritual roadmap was written in 1999. I’ve just discovered it, and it offers a treasure of insight and challenging thoughts to all of us on our spiritual journeys.

Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds, Lyanda Lynn Haupt. This talented writer looks outside her window in Seattle and shares the beauty and wonder of nature. Her essays are provocative and magical, and makes me take a fresh look at what goes on in my backyard.

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine, Matthew Fox. The writer takes me on a journey deep inside of me, calling me to look at myself, my soul, and my cultural references, challenging me to really see what is there, and asks me what it all means.

Sweeping Changes: Discovering the Joy of Zen in Everyday Tasks, Gary Thorp. This is a wonderful collection of short essays, or prose poems, or meditations. Each one is a gem, and needs to be savored and read again, over a cup of tea in a quiet corner.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder, Kent Nerburn. I discovered this on a back shelf somewhere in the magical labyrinth that is Powell’s Books. A captivating read and journey into authentic spirituality and shamanism, and one’s relationship with God. This is well worth your time. One of those books that is put in your hands by the Almighty, for a reason. Hmmm. Maybe I should pay attention!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tillamook Daily Photo

I seek to be a better photographer, and to more fully appreciate the beauty in the part of the world in which I live.
To that end, I have a new blog, http://tillamook-daily-photo.blogspot.com . I commit to putting a new photo up on my blog, every day. Every day, I seek to find beauty, and to celebrate it in my life.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Grand Design

“To understand the universe at the deepest level, we need to know not only how the universe behaves, but why.” Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design.

Stephen Hawking takes us on a journey through the discoveries of science and the musings of philosophy to probe humankind’s theories on how the world functions, and where the universe came from. He artfully picks the fruit of philosophers from Socrates to Newton to Einstein, and to the forefront of today’s scientific thinking.

Then, he magnificently leaps into the depths of quantum physics, bringing the reader to a certain level of comfort with the idea that there are not three, not four dimensions, but rather, ten.

Hawking again asks Einstein’s question, “Did God have any choice when he created the universe?” He takes us along the journey his mind has pondered, and entices even those of us who are not scientists to look at the questions of creation and human potential in a new and satisfying way.

This book is probably one of the most important books of 2010, simply in the relatively easy way he brings his readers into today’s most progressive laboratories, today’s discussions on quantum theory and M-theory, and into the realm of great thinkers throughout history, which certainly includes Professors Hawking and Mlodinow.

The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, Bantam Books, 2010.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Barbells and Bow Ties: 24 Hours of Culture With My Wife

I found myself mesmerized by the array of stainless steel shapes arranged on black velvet cards in the display case. A variety of hooks, curlicues, and a style called “barbell”, written on a little tag in a child like hand alongside the rows labeled by sizes, in eighth of an inch increments. I’m glad they told me. I was certainly the neophyte for all this, and I need the education.

In the next case, there were rows and rows of similar shapes, carved from various exotic woods, along with a chessboard array of various ceramic and wooden plugs. This was a piercing shop, mind you, and the various items were the end product of a process conducted in the adjoining room, the doorway covered by a long tie-dyed sheet. Rap music played loudly in the little house, setting the mood for my first time in the Black Hole.

The DJ of our concert was the resident tattooist, lacking a customer for the moment. The piercer (pierctess?) had joined him on the sidewalk outside for a smoke when we walked up. My wife was in need of a repiercing of one of her ears, so she could again wear earrings on both ears. The jewelry shop in the mall had referred us to this place, The Black Hole. Her enthusiasm for “the Hole” was echoed by another customer. Yet, I wondered if the tattooist was part of the Calcutta Connection and the rap music was designed to cover up the screams of the hostages in the back.

So, we ventured forth during rush hour in the rain to this little house two blocks from the heart of downtown Beaverton, which may be another oxymoron in this story. We found the place the new fashioned way, using an app on my iPhone. It was safe to say we hadn’t heard of this place before, not being frequenters of piercing shops or tattoo parlors.

My wife signed the mandatory one page disclaimer, rather skillfully drafted by legal counsel to The Black Hole. I wondered if the attorney’s fee included a tattoo of the scales of justice on the forearm, or a nice black and white portrait of Sandra Day O’Connor, or maybe the text of the Bill of Rights on their back. Or, maybe a nice nose piercing “screw”, that would be the perfect accessory for the lawyer’s black and gray pinstriped suit.

Karen chose the smallest of the “barbells” for her “reholed” ear lobes, as one apparently needs to wear stainless steel for the six weeks of healing, after the needle finds its mark. She’s not one for needles or medical procedures, especially after this week’s adventures with her colonoscopist, which included a complimentary IV apparatus and the “just a little poke” for the “happy drugs”.

The needle lady guided her back behind the tie-dyed door, and I half expected to hear screams. Instead, I was lulled by the again loud rap music to skim through the albums of tattoo pictures on the counter, next to the sign that said “tattoos—cash only”, which was also next to the credit card machine. Hmm, some needle work is chargeable, but the really expensive stuff, with the colored inks and exotic, complicated designs, is cash only. I wondered if they barter.

In a few minutes, the deed had been done, and we left, intact, with our new barbells, and no tattoos. I hadn’t found anything I liked in the books, though the one of Satan on the Cross was, well, a little captivating. How many takers have they had for that design?

And, no barbells in the case seemed to have my name on them, and there didn’t even seem to be any Prince Albert paraphernalia, for the man who really ached to have his penis pierced. Some men do that, you know, and I guess I was just a little disappointed. For a name like the Black Hole, I expected a little more sinisterism, even a little erotic tidbit waiting for me in the display case. For a piercing and tattoo place, this was pretty mild, after all.

The next morning, I found myself at the gym, pumping a little iron. While I was grunting through my weightlifting routine, I hoisted some barbells. Well, not quite the barbells at The Black Hole, but these were the barbells in my life, and I think I wanted to keep it that way. But who knows, maybe the next fad at the Y will not be the three white stripes down the leg Adidas sweatpants that the Arnold Schwarzenegger wannabes are wearing now, but instead, maybe a nice wooden ear plug, or the one inch nipple piercing barbell. Maybe I should be the trend setter, the leader of today's fashion a la mode.

That afternoon, I finally showered, and donned the most formal attire in my closet, a black suit and a pleated white shirt, set off with the only bow tie I have ever owned, satiny black. It has an elastic strap and a little hook, so I don’t have to learn how to tie one of these every year for the one time I wear it. Still, the white pleats down the front and the bow tie brings a flash of elegance to my wardrobe, which focuses entirely too much on the ensembles a man in high standing in rural Oregon seeks to attain in the world of fashion. My Carhartt overalls and my Wal-Mart jeans were left on the floor, and we strolled out to the limo for an afternoon on the town.

Our first stop was the Christmas Tea at the local tea shop. It really is an elegant event, and certainly the high point in our holiday festivities. The place is decorated to the hilt with all the Christmas d├ęcor one could hope to ever accumulate. We ate our dainty sandwiches and noshed on miniature tablespoon sized cups of tomato soup and sorbet, sipping our English tea from flowered china cups. I even raised my pinkie each time I took a dainty sip of tea, with one lump of sugar and a spot of milk, just like my English great grandmother was prone to do. Large tea pots, tied up with “tea cozies” festooned the table, as we chatted with friends about holiday events and our New Year’s plans.

The afternoon ended, finally, after two pots of tea and enough sugar and fat to exceed my diet for an entire week. We were headed for the movies, and the early starting time didn’t allow me to return to my estate and don the more common movie going attire in Tillamook of jeans and hiking boots. After all, this is December, and the rain was falling at about an inch an hour and the wind was blowing sideways. I didn’t want to get my bow tie wet, you know.

So, off to the theatre we went. We certainly stood out to the popcorn lady, who remarked that she hadn’t seen anyone ever wear tuxedo attire into the movies before. I just grinned, acting as if I always wore my tux to the Tillamook theatre, took my popcorn and headed in to watch Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren machine gun the Secret Service.

We finally exited that high cultural event about eight o’clock, an hour perilously close to our bed time, and certainly past the hour that we fashionably don our “lounge pants”, which is the new term for what I used to call PJs. Lounge pants seem to be the attire of the evening these winter nights, especially when the rain is cascading down the roof and nearly filling the eaves troughs. My social companions, the cats, don’t seem to mind, as long as they get a bit of time stretched out on my lap catching up on their beauty sleep, and the treat bowl gets filled at least once.

We needed to get a bottle of wine for the next day’s cultural event, a brunch. Safeway was a block away, and my wife, who I realized may not get out as much as she should, wondered if they were still open. Well, it is eight o’clock, but some folks may grocery shop, or need a case of beer in this town after dinner. It is Saturday night, after all, and Safeway probably offers more possibilities of a good time in this town than most establishments. By the looks of downtown, Safeway, the second showing of our cultural film classic, and the two downtown bars were about all that the county seat offered this late on a Saturday night.

So, we stroll into Safeway, Karen still attired in her black dress with black sequins, and the new stainless steel barbells, and me in my black suit, pleated white shirt, and bow tie. We peruse the wine section, along with the wino looking for a cheap bottle of red and a bag of potato chips. He looks like he’s just trying to get his second or third bottle for the day, and looks at me with a half sloshed look of disbelief. Or, maybe he was just an admirer of how the bow tie looked against the pleats of my shirt, on Saturday night in the big city. I bet on the latter opinion of my fashionable taste this fine evening out.

We hit the checkout stand, manned by a friend of ours who grinned when he espied the bow tie, the pleated shirt, and my wife’s sparkly dress. He murmured that we might be overdressed, just a wee bit. But, then, he’s used to see me standing in his line after I’ve sweated through a T shirt at the Y, or in my usual winter storm attire of Gortex and a flannel shirt.

We headed home through the rain, wind pushing our car sideways a bit, and head inside. The cats yawn as we burst in, a fresh gust of ocean air and slanted rain catching the door. The bow tie and the suit coat soon end up back in the closet, and my cat refrained from commenting on how classy I looked when I came home. Apparently, my black and white tuxedo cat is not terribly impressed with my attempt to look as classy as he. But, I still won. Unlike him, I have a bow tie.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Teen Suicide -- the facts

November 15, 2010 (Denver, Colorado) — About 25% of high school students report being bullied, 13% have considered suicide, and 8% have attempted it, according to data from 2007.

Building on this foundation, Shane Fernando, MS, from the University of North Texas Health Science Center, in Fort Worth, explored the link between bullying and suicide in a poster presented here at the American Public Health Association 138th Annual Meeting.

He used data from the Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a standard US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey for youth between the ages of 12 and 18 years, to assess the link between bullying and suicide. It asks about mental state (such as feelings of sadness), being "physically hurt by a date or having sexual contact against your will," being the victim of bullying during the previous year, and risk behaviors during the previous 30 days. His analysis was based on complete data from 3095 students.

The responses were stratified into 3 levels: no risk (did not think about or attempt suicide), low risk (thought about committing suicide, planned suicide), and high risk (attempted suicide and attempted suicide with injury).

Fernando found that whites, who constituted about two thirds of the survey population, had the highest rates of victimization — "around 23% for both males and females." Hispanics were the next most likely group to be bullied.
Victims of bullying were twice as likely to be in either the low- or high-risk groups as those who had not been bullied (low-risk odds ratio [OR], 2.1; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.7 - 2.6; high-risk OR, 1.83, 95% CI, 1.3 - 2.7).
Those who had been physically hurt by a date had a higher chance of being in the low- or high-risk group than those who were not (low-risk OR, 1.44, 95% CI, 0.9 - 2.4; high risk OR, 2.63; 95% CI, 1.7 - 4.1). There were parallel results for youth who had a sexual experience against their will (low-risk OR, 1.42; 95% CI, 1.0 - 2.1; high-risk OR, 2.04, 95% CI, 1.2 - 3.5).

"We saw that as you go up in grade level, the tendency to be bullied decreases." It might be that newness to the environment of high school and smaller physical stature are factors leading to victimization, he said.

"We found that the suicide level was highly correlated with victimization. Hispanics had a 1.5 odds ratio of being in the high-risk category, compared with the low-risk category" (OR, 0.087).

"Feeling depressed, feeling sad, was correlated with being bullied, as was being physically hurt or having sexual contact against your will," Mr. Fernando said.
Cyberspace is the latest arena for bullying. Mr. Fernando believes it is because "it is an easier way to bully someone because you are anonymous."

It also helps to level the playing field; previous manifestations of bullying were often based on physical stature and the group dynamics of power. The anonymity of cyberspace allows even the smallest and weakest students to become bullies, he pointed out.

The link between bullying and suicide led Fernando to say that "we need to address bullying and find measures to reduce the depression and suicidal behavior" that spring from it.

He urged physicians to look for possible signs of victimization, such as sadness or physical marks, among their adolescent patients and ask about it. "Try to bridge the doctor–patient disconnect, and try to make them feel comfortable talking with their doctor about things that may be happening in their life."

With girls, signs of victimization are more likely to take the form of concern with gossip; with boys, it often centers around "making them feel that it is okay to feel challenged or threatened."

Cindy L. Buchanan, PhD, noted the high incidence of rape in the lives of the adolescent girls visiting her clinical practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "I wanted to find out if these percentages were because they were the ones coming into clinical practice, or was this actually a problem in the community," said the psychologist, who is now teaching at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
She found that the overall rate of suicide attempts was high in Philadelphia. "More shocking than that, if our teens had experienced rape in their lifetime, our total sample is 3 times more likely to attempt suicide. The numbers go up when we look at minority female adolescents in Philadelphia; [they are] as much as 7 times more likely to attempt suicide.

The overall rate for adolescent females who had attempted suicide at least once within the previous 12 months was 14.7%; 12.7% reported being forced to have sex at least 1 time in their lifetime.

The young women who reported a history of being raped were 3.350 times more likely to have attempted suicide (95% CI, 3.034 - 3.700).

Hispanics who had been forced have sex were the most likely to have attempted suicide at least once over the previous year (OR, 7.008; 95% CI, 3.850 - 12.758); African Americans were the least likely (OR, 3.658; 95% CI, 3.215 - 4.162), and whites were in the middle (OR, 5.813; 95% CI, 4.605 - 7.337).

The study did not include those who were successful in their attempts at suicide.
"It makes sense," Dr. Buchanan said. "They have experienced this major, traumatic stress and they are figuring out how to cope with it. My hope is to be able to develop strategies to help them to cope in a more effective manner."

She has developed a Web site, with input from teenage reviewers, in which teenage rape victims can get information "and most importantly, link them to professional help," particularly if they are not ready to talk to a local school counselor.
Physicians need to be aware that many teenage girls "initially have a hard time discussing past history of abuse or rape," Dr. Buchanan reminded meeting attendees. Do not take the first denial of a problem as the final answer; keep that possibility open for future discussions, she advised.

Dr. Buchanan said it often requires time to build trust that will allow the patient to become comfortable talking about an issue that has been bottled up. Often, girls are victimized by a boyfriend or family member, and there might be serious relational consequences from raising the matter publicly.

Dr. Buchanan suggested that physicians try asking other family members or friends if the patient has changed, and if so, when those changes began to occur. "Maybe you can identify a time when things started to look different for them."

She acknowledged that it can be difficult separating out responses to rape/victimization from normal developmental changes that occur during the teenage years. A professional who is experienced in working with teens is best equipped to do so.

Matthew Miller, MD, MPH, a suicide expert from the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, called Dr. Buchanan's study confirmatory: "We've seen this before."

He is not sure that physicians should necessarily screen for a rape–suicide nexus with their patients. There are no conclusive data demonstrating the utility of this screening, and there is some suggestion that it might even be counterproductive. Dr. Miller said: "It may normalize the idea [of suicide] and have a perverse effect."

The speakers have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
American Public Health Association (APHA) 138th Annual Meeting: Abstracts 3070.0-3 and 3157.0-1. Presented November 8, 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Passion

“What is your passion?” my friends ask. “What is it that excites your soul?”

It is easy at first, to answer this question: my work, my wife, my home. Then, deeper I dig, and think of my photography, my music, my books. I get pretty excited to talk of serious things with my friends, using a cup of coffee as an excuse to visit, to dig deeper into my heart, to find soul talk.

The answer is not in a book, and only some hints are found in my poetry, my music, my art. Very little is found in what I do at work, though there are many fruits of my passion to be found there.

I dig deeper, and longer, feeling a need in my soul to go camping and exploring, to find that room in my heart to really think about this question. Some serious hours of solitude and being away from the daily routine give me room to think, to dream, to ponder, seriously ponder.

The answer, perhaps, is in the rising of the full moon over Crater Lake, watching, feeling the lake turn from turquoise to a very deep indigo blue, as the Sun and the Moon dance about the sky. The answer, perhaps, is in the air as I share coffee with my friends, or while I sing a song while my fingers dance along my guitar.

My passion lies within my life, and I seem only truly alive when I am in nature, being my primitive self, absorbing all that I can from what this planet and this corner of the universe can offer me. It is also in giving it back, in my songs, my poems, my art, and even in how I drink my coffee. My passion is what I want to leave behind, as I journey onward, to give to those left behind.

When I die, my friends will still ask the question, “What was his passion?” And in my life, they will know the answer.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner, 2010

 

 
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Giving Thanks

This year, I give thanks for many things, many blessings:
• My health. I survived a heart attack in February, and have fully open and functioning heart arteries, complete with three stents. My heart has healed and I am feeling great. I’ve lost a lot of weight and gained muscle and stamina, and wearing 36 inch pants! I can easily work out for an hour every day.
• My family. I am blessed with loving, wonderful people in my life, who are supportive and compassionate.
• The determination and innovation in my community. I see people committing themselves to education, to social change, and to really making a difference in their own lives and the lives of their neighbors. This is a powerful, dynamic force, and we will change our society!
• The abundance of so many new books and ideas in our society, and so easily accessed by technology.
• The power of music, to enlighten, to heal, to inspire. I am so grateful for my guitar teacher, Richard Paris, and the joy he has helped me realize with my guitar.
• Dear friends, including my men’s group. Wow, you are awesome, and so kind and inspiring.
• Art. I must have art and creativity in my life, and I see the beauty of art everywhere now. People are honoring their creativity. It is a life changing force.
• The amazing wonders and beauty of the world. The more I travel, the more I realize what an incredible world in which we live.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tea, Cooling

The skiffs of snow
spiral down, joining the white
marble sands covering the grass,
the darkness barely covering
the wet of the day’s storm,
promising ice tomorrow, whiter mountains,
and windy Arctic sky.

Tea kettle flame soon to bring
warmth in my hands
melting the honey, opening the leaves
of Sri Lankan tea, orange, and spice,
taste of another place, another
time.

My book opens,
ready for another chapter,
north wind shaking the window,
my blanket promising a warm sleep,
while night winds howl.

Guitar strings, strummed tonight,
fingertips redented from chords
of the old holiday song, now
in my finger
memory.

Cat, cold from outside gales,
finds my lap, drying his snow wet paws
on my jeans, damp fur
against my sweater, and
supper filled tummy.

I ponder the day’s trip over the mountain,
snow levels falling, trucks adding chains
trees burdened with snow,
And flaggers huddled against the wind
Only a memory.

--Neal Lemery 11/2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Day When Life Isn't Taken For Granted

It was not an ordinary day. I found myself in the skin cancer day surgery unit at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU). I wasn’t there by my choice, but today was the day for my wife to have her melanoma on her leg removed.

When we were getting on the elevator in the parking garage, two guys walked on to the elevator with us. One guy had his arm in a sling, and looked to be the patient. The other guy had one shirt sleeve turned inside out, stuffed back into the arm hole of the shirt, to hide the stump of his missing arm.

We made sure we visited the bathroom one last time before we were ushered into the exam room, or surgery room. I’m sure there is a politically correct term for the room. There was a big padded chair in the middle. Karen called it the Edith Ann chair, the big chair that Lily Tomlin used in her TV show, where Edith Ann, a precocious child, would give an entertaining monologue about the perils of childhood.

She settled in, as best one can when it’s the day the melanoma is cut out of one’s leg. I was assigned the Spouse’s Chair, ominously close to the impending action on Karen’s leg. I’d have opted for placing my chair on the other side of the room. No such luck.

The nurse came in and typed in all of Karen’s answers on the form they had mailed to her. All the usual questions, including the litany of prior surgeries, allergies, and the like.

The surgeon came in, smiling a bit, and even making eye contact with Karen, and with me. He made a point to make sure we were both engaged in what was going on today. He got right down to business, and talked about skin cancer, melanoma.

Melanoma. There’s a nice sounding word. Certainly more friendly, more mellow than skin cancer. During the pre-op exam, the surgeon makes sure we know what melanoma means. Yes, we do. Is this a test of informed consent? Or just making sure we know what is going on and how serious it is. Or just plain mental competency. It was, actually, a good thing to check. I think we passed. We gave the right answer, at least.

The surgeon was happy with what the plan was, and left us in the hands of the Nurse of the Hundred Needles.

Then, the needles came out, gleaming stainless steel at the end of big tubes of clear liquid. The nurse referred to it all as her “ammo”. A slosh of reddish orange liquid was mopped across the skin, followed by the dance of the hundred needle pricks.

Karen grimaced, this being her least favorite and most dreaded part of the whole process. She made hideous O shapes with her mouth; her eyes slammed shut, as the needles found their mark and the “ammo” not yet deadening all the nerves around Mr. Melanoma. I got the bird’s eye view of the whole dance of the hundred needles. I thought I might whip out my iPhone and snap a photo, then sharing the event with my 150 Facebook friends.

Probably not a good idea. Not my surgery. Not my melanoma, and certainly not the usual Facebook fare of kids’ school successes, family events, and commentary on the trivia of daily life, or the latest gridiron victory of the Ducks.

Then, Nurse of the Dance of the Hundred Needles announced she was done, the area was deadened to her satisfaction. And, so was Karen, or at least she was finished with the Dance of the Hundred Needles. I nodded my concurrence, my mind racing to what was next. Was I expected to stay, to watch the exorcism of Mr. Melanoma? The surgeon had warned of blood, and cauterization. The biopsy jar was ready, all labeled and on the little TV tray next to the Edith Ann chair.

At least the scalpels, or hatchets, or whatever they were going to use, weren’t brought out of the dungeon yet. For that kindness, I was grateful.

Just then, the surgeon came in again, now in scrubs and gloved and masked, so we were a little unsure it was the same nice guy we’d chatted with twenty minutes ago. Everyone looked at me, apparently wondering if I was going to run screaming down the hallway, or faint dead away when the first scalpel was drawn. I could go, now, they all said.

Well, good. They were obviously not going to give me any of my own pain killers or anti anxiety pills, and they sure didn’t need my own inadequate medical expertise. Digging skin cancer out of my wife’s leg wasn’t in the job description of Loving Spouse, and certainly wasn’t included in our now ancient premarital agreement.

My role was better served holding down the waiting room, where I could properly guard my wife’s purse and her book, and find my true function of clock watching and preparing to be the nurse’s aide and chief chauffeur during our hurried drive back home across the mountains, Karen’s leg swathed in bandages and an ice bag.

I kissed my wife good bye, knowing that her leg was properly numb and she was in the good hands of the masked surgeon and the Nurse of the Hundred Needles, who, by the way, amused us by her sense of humor and willingness to let us laugh nervously at the whole pre op ritual. For what she gets to do in her day, she was great.

The waiting room was no place for the timid, however. It was, after all, the portal to the skin cancer day surgery area. Real serious work went on here. And, our doctor had said that even though Karen’s melanoma was detected early on, it was the most vicious kind of skin cancers and even if things went well, there was that nagging two percent chance this experience would be fatal.

Now, two percent seems pretty small, and its good odds if you are in Las Vegas, or even playing a nice parlor game with your neighbors. But, when it’s really life and death, two percent really gets bigger.

When I had my heart attack last winter, and the cardiologist was explaining the need to open up my femoral artery, run some wires up into my heart, and put in some wire mesh “stents”, the risk of death was only one percent. Given how invasive that procedure was, what with cutting into a major artery and running wires up into my seriously damaged heart, the odds sounded real good.

So, this two percent thing with what had started out with a mole that was growing, well, it was more than disconcerting.

I found little solace in my fellow travelers in the waiting room. Karen’s melanoma seemed like small potatoes. One man had one eye bandaged over, and he was obviously in pain. His family was pretty upset about the experience. And, when he came out, the wad of bandages was bigger, and he told his wife that “more meat” was removed today. They were certainly not going to be done with Skin Cancer Ward anytime soon.

The guy next to me on the couch had most of his ear missing, and a third of his face was inflamed and swollen.

One lady’s legs were enormously swollen, and she could barely walk. I guessed she was the patient, as her husband sat quietly, reading a magazine. Yet, when the nurse called them, he was the patient. And, then, I saw the big bandage on his leg. This was obviously his day in the hospital, giving her a rest for a bit from her own medical experiences.

Another couple sat quietly, the man’s face obviously the subject of numerous skin grafts. They talked to the lady with the swollen legs, talking about how the Veterans Administration didn’t offer them much care, and the cancer was spreading. He could only get some immediate attention at OHSU. They were running out of money, because he couldn’t work anymore. After they were done with today’s surgery, they were going to need to look for a cheaper place to live.

She came out after a while, mentioning to everyone in the room that he was going to “get cut on again” today, and they weren’t sure how it would turn out. She wiped away a tear and picked up her magazine again, leaving the rest of us to contemplate what that news meant in their lives.

I thought of the two percent statistic again, wondering where these folks were with those numbers. Probably not really thrilled about this game in this time in their lives.

Finally, Karen came out from behind the giant door to the surgery area, now all smiles and the tension in her shoulders gone. She was done, paroled, set free. She was even joking with the Nurse of the Dance of the Hundred Needles.

We fled down the hall, stopping once again to relieve our bladders, and found the barista on the ground floor, who offered us lattes and mochas for the road, made with our favorite coffee roast. We were a bit giddy, like kids let out of school early for a snow day, and found the elevator to the parking garage, hot drinks, sans caffeine, in hand. We’d had enough stimuli in our lives this afternoon.

Our fellow travelers, the two guys, one with the missing arm, again shared the elevator. They, too, seemed relieved, and were laughing and joking about leaving the hospital. I wondered what they had experienced, what with the other guy having a bigger bandage than when we went in.

In a few minutes, we were back on the freeway, back with the rest of the world starting their commute home, from their ordinary days outside of the Skin Cancer Ward. Tomorrow, the bandages would come off, and we could watch the incision heal up pretty quick. But life wouldn't be taken as much for granted. Not after the day in the cancer ward.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

 
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A Curmudgeon's Halloween

Last night’s storm blew more leaves off of the trees, and another smattering of leaves dot the deck, after I cleaned it off yesterday. Some fall chores apparently bear repeating. I took the last of the garden leavings to the compost pile, and tried to burn the pile of brush we had built up after a flurry of fall cleanup.

The morning was quiet, the dew on the grass sparkling in unexpected morning sunshine, though I pulled my sweatshirt closer and zipped it up, warding off the chill. I filled up the bird feeder, and found the cover for the outside faucet. In another month, it will be time to really get ready for cold weather. I still don’t want to bring in the garden hoses. It is my senseless act of rebellion against the end of autumn and the shorter, colder days.

Nothing is left to harvest, yet the last of the leaves show their palette of colors that was hidden all summer long by green and long, warm days. I’m glad I planted that fire maple and the sweet gum trees last year. They are putting on a good show for the neighborhood this crisp morning.

It is Halloween, and a few of the neighbor kids will hopefully come by tonight, in their cute costumes, their parents standing back, as we give them a few pencils and laugh with them in their fun. The kids get bigger and the little ones who came by in the past are now driving their cars to school, and we hardly ever see them anymore.

When our kids were growing up, I’ve had good times, carving a pumpkin, and dressing up as a pirate when kids came trick or treating. That was a lot of fun, and I liked making my own pirate costume every fall. We handed out our share of candy, and pencils, too. And, I think, when the night was over, the pencils were pretty popular. And, they lasted a lot longer than the candy.

This is not my favorite holiday. I like the fun costumes, and the kids laughing as they walk down the lane. Yet, the piles of candy and expensive costumes in the store, mostly monsters or gory masks and items of death, rub me the wrong way. There’s enough gruesomeness in the news and in life, and we shouldn’t celebrate terror and death. The commercial pressure is ratcheted up, and it seems this is another national spending spree. And, the next day, all that’s left are some bags of trash and a sugar hangover.

I always have thought the best costumes came from something in the back of the closet, and a bit of paint or charcoal around your face. It took some imagination, but that’s always the best way to have fun.

It used to be Halloween was a time to commune with and reflect on one’s ancestors, and to remember who we are and honor our family members who have passed on. We’d drink cider and play games, and after some creative uses of a sheet or an old shirt, and some fingerpaint, and visiting the neighbors for a homemade candy apple or a bag of caramel corn, we’d gather around the kitchen table for some hot cider and some popcorn.

Now, this is a weekend of lots of drinking and driving, and more kids die in traffic than any other night of the year. And, then there’s all the sugar highs from all the junk people stuff down. I’d rather have the fun of my silly homemade costume, my neighbor lady’s caramel apple, and popcorn around the kitchen table, laughing and using our imagination.

Tomorrow is All Saints’ Day, a time to reflect on the deeds of good people, and to maybe see our lives in terms of service and taking care of our fellow man. In many traditions, it is a time to look back on the year, with the harvest in and the cold weather coming on, and to welcome the change of seasons. It is a time to prepare for the quiet, and the warmth of the hearth and the camaraderie of family life on a winter’s night.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy a bit of the macabre, or a scary story. I read Edgar Allen Poe and I admire Stephen King’s ability to weave a good tale. But, I don’t like to spend a bunch of money on cheap, scary stuff and a bunch of sugar treats loaded with chemicals. I’m not one to celebrate blood and gore, and trying to scare people. That’s not who I am and it’s not really Halloween.

So, tonight, we’ll get out the boxes of pencils, and turn the lights on for the little ones. Though, the neighbor kids are getting older, and maybe no one will show up. But, I’ll still make some popcorn, and maybe dig out my old pirate hat in the back of the closet. And, have a little fun.

Neal Lemery, Halloween, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

La Nina in October

Dumping, drenching, pouring,
Gortex flying, pushing me through the gray,
shoes sloshing, squishy wet,
puddles growing.

Hail pounding, lightning sending
cats scurrying, under the bed, valley rumbling
just ahead of the next flash.

Last week’s sun and sleeveless shirt
long gone in the bottom of the drawer,
where the fleece spent the
summer.

Coat rack dripping, umbrellas dug out from the closet,
needing the flashlight, the candle, the oil lamp,
necessity, now that
winter is
arriving
cold, unwelcome.

Neal Lemery, October, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gone To Your Sister's

The dryer is nearly done
and the dishwasher rests,
from the morning’s dishes, and last night’s dinner
a bit of red spaghetti sauce still clings to the stove
all that’s left of your ripe tomatoes from the garden
harvested before last night’s storm--
everything else now put away
neat and
tidy, again.

I have done my chores, even mucked out the back
seat of the car, emptying the trash bag from our summer trips
and last month’s mints, still a bit rattling against the tin,
not so strong and curious
anymore.

Cat snores on your chair, until she looks up,
wondering what I am writing
as Sunday morning turns to afternoon
and the paper is long past being read.

Tea is made now, and my guitar is ready to play
the afternoon lies ahead, unused, unsung, unwritten,
maybe
unnapped.

Yet you are gone now, and the house is empty,
except for cat dreams and unplayed guitar strings,
and undrunk tea.

--Neal Lemery October, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A New Day

Awakening in the gutter of my life
I am finally ready
to move on.

The seeds of change have finally sprouted
their life force empowers me --
at last.
it is time.

I rise, and the weight of the filth
of self degradation and loathing
is gone,
and the fresh wind of the day
blows the stench of inaction away.

A step forward, unsteady,
but a step nonetheless
and I move ahead --
even one step is a step
in the right direction
towards freedom.

The man in the mirror
older now, but wiser
and ready to be
me.



--Neal Lemery
October 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Restringing

Their songs now silent
the finger dances in the evenings, and
the first light of morning,
finished, their voices still
except in memory
and calloused whorls on my skin.

The paper, crisp and white
clean bronze coils spill out
onto the table, next to the rounded wood box
and the old towel I only use for this
ritual of wires and pegs and tension.


One peg, now free to roll across and hide
plays the first note of the new,
flat by an octave and a half,
until I get the tension right again
tight, crisp,
clean.

Round and round I turn, the pitch climbing
higher and higher, until it matches the one next to it,
on the fifth fret, the singing bronze voice right again.

Each string, each a different voice, after more turns
until all is
tight, tuned, and
whole
ready to sing.

--Neal Lemery, 10/10/10

Monday, September 27, 2010

My Thoughts on Father Ray

“Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the Tree planted by the River.
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree.
I am yours, the passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For the bright morning dawning, for you,
History, despite the wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.”

--Maya Angelou, from On the Pulse of Morning



For so many years, when the community gathered to face an issue, to struggle with what to do, or where to go, or how to get us started down the path of solution rather than crisis, he was there.

Usually, it was in the small groups of people, doing the work of Sisyphus. He was there, daring to dream, daring to imagine what could be, not accepting the status quo. When our courage faltered, he would speak up, and quietly urge us forward. Sometimes, it was a story from Scripture. He was a priest, you know, and you would expect that. His reference to the Bible was never preachy, never dogmatic. Yet, it was always what we needed to hear.

More often, it was a story of one of his experiences, a story of hardship and determination. He would challenge us to take the hard road, and to live our principles. Funny how he never asked more of us that we were able to do. He knew each of us that well.

When there was grief, he stood beside us. When there was hunger, he would find food and a firm, warm handshake. When there was confusion and anger, there were quiet, gentle words, filled with wisdom and support.

When there was loneliness or a turning point in our lives, there was his gentle voice and his laughter, which filled the room with hope.

One raw winter morning, the air filled with rain turning to hail, I took a young man to him. The man had shown up in my court that morning, dirty, tired, and hungry. He had been sleeping in his car and hadn’t eaten for four days. I took him to breakfast and then to see Fr. Ray.

All of us have ended up in Fr. Ray’s office, when there was a great need. The young man dragged his feet, not wanting to deal with a priest or step inside a church. Yet, there was a big smile and a warm handshake, and kind words. And, twenty minutes later, the young man had hope and direction, and knew he would go to bed that night in a warm place with a full belly, and the prospects of a job. But, most important, he had a new friend.

One of the blessings of my life is being a friend of Fr. Ray. Not that he needed friends. Everyone in this community is a friend of Fr. Ray. And every time he saw me, there was always a big wave and a big smile, and his love for all people would fill the room.

The last time I saw him, he was at the Domestic Violence Summit. I had thought his cane and his electric wheel chair might slow him down, even just a little bit, but he took it all in, in his usual style. He added his voice at the critical times, to move us down the road a bit, and recommit ourselves to doing the good work he did every day, in his quiet, steady, and powerful way.

We found ourselves in the bathroom at the same time, and had one of those delightful one on one conversations that you always treasure after it’s over. We marveled at just being at a conference of over a hundred people in the brand new community college in our little town. And, we laughed at how things have changed.

Twenty years ago, when I was at one of those sparsely attended meetings, the ones where you are feeling discouraged about why you even showed up, he spoke about domestic violence and the need for a real community college building, and all the other things this community suffers, its needs, and its hopes and dreams. He was usually the lone voice willing to be heard when no one else dared speak, or when the topic wasn’t politically correct. He always spoke up, though. He broke the silence and reminded all of us what we are here to do in our lives.

As we washed our hands, he urged me to keep working. The journey wasn’t done yet. Not by a long shot. As I dried my hands and walked out the door, I was inspired again, renewed. He always had that way about him.

The next time I go to a community meeting about an issue we need to deal with in our town, his car won’t be in the parking lot, and his smile won’t light up the room. But, his big heart and his determined call for action will be there, right in the front row.

---Neal Lemery, 9/27/2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

 

Enjoying the local beverage, a 2007 Syrah, in Walla Walla, Washington!
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Monday, September 20, 2010

What I Learned at the Domestic Violence Summit

What I Learned at the Domestic Violence Summit

By Neal Lemery

Tillamook County Women’s Resource Center, sponsor
Tillamook Bay Community College, September 9-10, 2010

Collusion

Lundy Barcroft

“Domestic violence is the well spring of all criminal behavior.”
--Lundy Barcroft

One out of three women are victims of domestic violence. This is shown in a Tillamook County survey and is also true nationally. One fourth of all police calls involve domestic violence issues. The Center for Disease Control has concluded domestic violence is the number one public health issue nationwide.

The mentality of the batterer: the circumstances justify the violence. There is a feeling of having no other alternative.

Domestic violence is domestic terrorism. 2,000 women a year are killed in the US each year from domestic violence. The “ripple effect” of physically injured people and psychologically injured people is enormous.

2/3 of batterers do not have violence or control issues outside of their domestic relationships.

1/6 of men are abusers.

The Impact on the Community

Terror. Depression, being afraid, experiencing pain.

There are lasting mental health problems. The abuser has a victim’s persona against violence. Thus, they will argue they should, for example, have custody of children because they are the victim of the victim’s reaction against perceived violence.

Employment. Lost time from work, lower productivity, experiencing fear while at work.

Parenting.

Children. Children who witness and experience domestic violence have higher rates of attachment disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, and depression.

The community colludes by saying that there are simple solutions to domestic violence (“just get over it”, “stop it”). The issues are much more complex, deep, and far reaching.

Kids learn by modeled behavior. (“Don’t do what I do, do what I say”)

There is a strong correlation between bullying behavior and domestic violence in the home. For some, being a bully is acting out after experiencing domestic violence at home.

Health care costs

Drug usage.

Community Collusion

There are subtle community values:

“Women cause violence”

Accepting use of certain exercises of power, such as bullying, and money as an exercise of power.

Refusing to impose consequences. Jail improves a decrease in recidivism.

Diversion is a disaster.

Reluctance to take guns away.

Victim blaming
Reputation
Substance abuse
Promiscuity
“Easier to focus on her”
“Easier to change her”

We tend to tell the victim what to do and how to be. “You should figure out what is bothering him.”
Degenderizing domestic violence
We pretend to know the answer, to oversimplify.
We are silent
(including acquiescing in or laughing at demeaning jokes)
Men are silent with each other

What we need:
Consequences
Jail time
Fines
Restitution for medical costs, property damage
Child visitation: supervised
Change in cultural values
Violence
Power
Intimidation
How we talk about women
How we raise boys

What a child concludes about domestic violence and the situation in which domestic violence occurs is critical. (“It’s not Mom’s fault.”)

Child custody
Society needs to say “no custody” to the batterer, and not
joint custody.

Resources:
Barcroft, Lundy. Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. Berkley Books, New York (2002)
Barcroft, Lundy, When Dad Hurts Mom
Barcroft, Lundy, Parenting


Working With Men
Ray Dinkins


He is a domestic violence worker in Grants Pass. He leads men’s groups in local high schools, where the discussion centers around how to be a man and how young men can be leaders of men.

The national Fatherhood Initiative is a grant stream of federal funded projects.

Jackson Katz and Paul Kivel are writers and leaders in developing healthy manhood for young men. Jackson Katz wrote Tough Guy. Paul Kivel, of the Oakland (CA) Men’s Project, wrote Men’s Work.

The groups are up to fifteen high school men. It works best if the men come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. The goal is to build community.

Give them an “out”. Require that they only attend three sessions, and can then leave.

Put them at ease. No hugs, and don’t have them do stuff that they feel is uncomfortable.

Commit yourself as a leader. Show up on time, every time. A lot of men in their lives have abandoned them.

Is this prevention or risk reduction? By helping the victim, we reduce risk. By helping the potential batterer, we practice prevention.

The leader has to believe in the inherent goodness of all people.

Achieve an agreement. What are the rules of the group? How does the group operate. Have the group develop the rules. Confidentiality will be their first rule. The group has to own the rules, so the group needs to develop the rules. The rules create a safe environment to deal with difficult issues. (safety: safe to be able to reveal weakness and doubt and ask hard questions.)

What do young men want out of life? To be their own man. Not someone else’s, and not to let someone else run their life. Some men are traveling the wrong road, and they want to get off and get on the right road. Why some men are violent is a common question and a common dilemma.

Play “two lies and a truth”. They want to reveal truth about themselves and they want to participate in these deep discussions. To develop credibility and to model the process, the facilitator reveals something about himself. Trust is developed.

The rules (see Jackson Katz and Paul Kivel for the list), includes confidentiality, let people speak; try on the process, the right to pass, getting people to share. No put downs (this forum is safe), respect in listening, using “I” statements.

In the second meeting, talk about power. Who’s got the power in their lives? A lot of people. Big power and little power. Big power lords it over little power. You exercise power over those who have less power than you.

Third class. Word game. The class labels the word as masculine or feminine. English doesn’t have genderized words, unlike Spanish or French. But, there are feeling words and other words with emotional connotations that we instinctive know, in our culture, as masculine or feminine.

Our culture holds young men to those “masculine word traits” and bars them from expressing and living those “feminine” words as their traits.

Create a list of “man words” and “woman words”. Draw a box around the “man words” and you have a “man box”. Guys will then see how culture puts their “acceptable” emotions and feelings into a box. Guys can feel they are stuck in the box, and cannot have other socially acceptable feelings and emotions. This creates conflict and stress and a sense of frustration and hopelessness. How do I get out of the box?





Preventing Long Term Trauma in the
Aftermath of Violence


Elaine Walters

Unresolved trauma negatively impacts individual and community health and mental health, our quality of life, our ability to be effective in our work, and our capacity to create just societies.

“…in every nook and cranny of our lives”

We are hard wired for healing. We can heal outward, but there needs to be internal healing, too. Time does not heal, but when you are in the midst of caring, supportive people, then you heal.

The trauma framework. We should shift our perspective from “what’s wrong” to “what happened”. If you are healing, you have gifts to offer, and you know what healing looks like.

How we get hurt.
Accident: things happen
Abuse/violence: intentional, patterned
Oppression: systematic, institutional mistreatment of one group by another
Contagion/hypnotic – this is historical, internalized trauma. We sometimes carry trauma that is intergenerational, cultural.

The fundamental injury is disconnection

Trauma is truly a community problem, not a mental health problem.

“Trauma occurs in layers, with each layer affecting every other layer. Current trauma is one layer. Former traumas in one’s life are more fundamental layers. Underlying one’s one individual trauma history is one’s group identity or identities, and the historical trauma with which they are associated.” Bonnie Burstow.

Trauma is both the injury and the wound.

Often, attention is given to one but not the other. Effective responses should address both and address the intersection of both.

“Trauma is not a disorder, but a reaction to a kind of wound. It is a reaction to profoundly injurious events and situations in the real world, and, indeed, to a world in which people are routinely wounded.

“Trauma is a concrete physical, cognitive, affective, and spiritual response by individuals and communities to events and situations that are objectively traumatizing. On a simple level, for the most part, people feel traumatized or wounded because they have been wounded.” (my emphasis)

--Bonnie Burstow

Impact of trauma:
Primary distress is the immediate experience.
Long term exposure
Post traumatic stress reactions
Depression
Affective, dissociation and anxiety
Childhood victimization
Often labeled “borderline personality”

When people have never had power, they act differently and respond differently. There is a lack of childhood development.

Memory
In trauma, there is the flight or fight reaction. Or, we may freeze
Frontal lobe development may be impaired
Processing is non linear
(the “story” is told without a chronological time line)
Disrupted attachment
How we store the trauma in our memory depends on what stage of
development we are at at the time of the trauma.
--Linda Baker

Thus, the kind of trauma and the age of occurrence are significant.

If we are not allowed to heal, we can experience denial or lack of memory, avoidance, altered belief systems, addiction and compulsion, depression and numbness, violence and aggression, risk taking, and self abuse. (If these are present, it is very likely that we have experienced abuse.)

The consequences are emotional, physical, developmental, social, individual and collective.

So, our responses must also be emotional, physical, developmental, social, individual and collective.

To heal, we need a supportive environment. The relationships between many social problems and trauma are complex. There needs to be all encompassing and systemic support for healing.

Trauma is also stored in our bodies, as a “physical memory”. Research shows that yoga, tai chi, chi gong, and other physical meditative practices can release traumatic feelings and memories.

To heal, we need to feel connected, being present.

Guiding principles for intervening: Safety, empowerment and action, advocacy and liberation, and accountability and justice. What is my responsibility?

Telling the Story. The quality of listening is critical. Listening is most important. Being believed and not judged, being allowed to name the experience, moving (physically and emotionally), being supported to participate in public rituals for taking action and expressing grief and outrage, being supported to become or stay connected, being supported to reclaim personal, community, or national space.

“Start with the assumption that all human beings are intact and deserving of respect. The most important thing you can do is listen. No interruptions. No sounds. Just listen. That implies that the survivor has all the power back in their court and can do with it what they choose.”
-- a survivor


How Religious and Secular Communities Can Work Together
Rev. Marie Fortune

Domestic terrorism is living in fear in your own home. Terror is constant. Violence is sporadic, and the community supports the view that domestic violence is “merely” violence, as if you don’t see the violence, is there a problem?

There is collusion, from the faith community, when Scripture is misapplied, misconstrued, and is used as a justification. There is collusion when the community supports men’s control over the family.

What is the message to the community?

The process:
Holding accountable
Allow repentance
Encourage change

Esther Barnes, The Good Stranger

We need to redefine behavior from normative, to deviant

The effective penalty: expensive, shameful

The Bible

Fundamentally, it is a code of hospitality. In Hebrew culture, and in Mideastern cultures generally, hospitality was the core of social value. The desert was harsh and often fatal. The core of a just society was to welcome strangers, and offer them what you had, at the oasis (water, food, shelter, community, safety).

All of society is responsible to strangers, widows, and orphans

The power of society is that life circumstances can create a great need, and only society can fulfill that need.

The message of the Old Testament and the Gospels is love.

We need to reshape the norms of our society. We need to re-create norms and redefine norms.

One person at a time.

Silence is isolating. We need to be vocal.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

On The Fifth Day of Fall

The geese, gray
against the coming rain sky
honking, persistent, filled the heavy air
before showing themselves
in one half of a Vee
their leader exhorting
order
heading south.

Neal Lemery, September 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

My Own Kind of Holiday

The rush of tourists had been building steady all summer long. Even before Memorial Day, they started filling the campgrounds, the restaurants, and the beaches. RVs kept rumbling down the highways, and the local grocery and variety stores were filled with them, buying last minute items and some of the camping gear they thought they needed for the beach. Given the weather, rain gear and blankets would be on the list.

I got used to waiting at the traffic lights for two or three lights, inching forward, checking out the out of state plates in front of me, and occasionally stomping on the brake to avoid a maneuver by some tourist who was lost or needed to make a sudden lane change. Navigating in our small town isn’t too difficult, but that assumes you know where you are going and you can figure out if you are going to the beach or to the big city over the hill. Left or right, it doesn’t seem too difficult.

But, then again, I live here and I know the geography and don’t need a road map. And, I don’t need to find a campground or a motel tonight. I have my groceries stashed at home, and a quiet back yard to enjoy for the evening. And, if I’m playing tourist somewhere else, I would be a good candidate for some of the whacky driving I see here.

But, today is different. It’s Labor Day, a special day for us locals. It’s the day we get our town back and our roads and our beaches. Most of the tourists are leaving today, headed back to work and the start of school. The highway noise has already abated quite a bit, and I am enjoying the silence of the neighborhood, now that the campers and RVs and the trailers hauling the ATVs for the sand dunes have headed back to the big city.

My wife and I jumped out on the edge this morning, and headed out looking for breakfast at one of our favorite spots. We knew we’d hit the tourists, making one last grab at the restaurants and one last visit to the beach. Traffic was thinning out nicely, and we didn’t even get behind an RV on our way to the restaurant.

Still, we were pretty disappointed to find it closed. I guess the owners had finally had their fill of the long lines and crowds of hungry tourists filling their restaurant. I can’t say that I blamed them. It had been a long summer, despite the long bouts of cold, wet weather, and the endless weeks in June when we didn’t even see the sun. The tourists still came, and were a bit grumpy, but business was good and the motels and campgrounds still filled up.

We kept on driving, going about twenty miles farther up the coast than we had planned, and hoping Choice #2 was open. Well, it wasn’t. They must have had the same thought as the owners of the first restaurant, and actually took the holiday off, like the rest of us.

I suspect a lot of the restaurant and motel folks head up the river and find a quiet spot, taking a bottle or two of wine or a case of beer, and having a quiet picnic. Some peace and quiet would definitely be in order. They’ve earned every minute of silence by the riverbank.

On we went, hoping that #3 was open, and it was. There was even a place to park and we grew optimistic that we’d find a nice quiet table and enjoy a peaceful breakfast, at a place well known for its good and hearty breakfasts.

Instead, we were greeted by a line, and a waiting list, and many of the tables were filled with tourists with hungry, tired kids. The parents looked even more beat, and you could tell they were secretly waiting for the start of school the next day and some time of peace and quiet during the week. The kids were sunburned and had a few scrapes and scratches from their time at the beach or in the campground. The cars in the parking lot were crammed with disorderly mounds of camping clothes and beach toys. The dads all needed a shave and the moms hadn’t bothered with makeup.

Still, the wait wasn’t all that long, and the waitress actually recognized us as locals when she brought us coffee and menus. She just rolled her eyes in a silent commentary on the noise of the tired kids all around us. She was ready for a break, too, and was probably wishing she’d worked at Restaurants #1 and #2.

As we waited for our food, the place started to thin out a bit, and we saw families getting back in their car, for the final leg of the drive home. You could tell mom and dad were hoping that breakfast would result in sleepy kids on the way home and some peace and quiet.

Later on, we ambled down the sidewalks of the beach front town, exploring some of the stores and taking in the pretty sidewalk flowers of the place. It was so overrun with tourists during the summer, that we’d never taken the time to walk around, and see what all the tourists were enjoying.

We wandered into one of my favorite rainy day stops, the local book store. It was just us in there, and the clerk, who looked both tired from the summer, and bored because she didn’t have to answer any tourist questions. I had time to browse and finally found a good book for a friend. It was one of those simple pleasures that summer at the coast never lets you enjoy.

Apparently, we had worked up a thirst of sorts, and we stopped by the espresso place, one of those places that has a lot of magazines and nice tables to sit at, and where you can read the New York Times and not feel like you need to rush off. At least, that’s the feel you get on a rainy day when it’s not tourist season.

Still, as we walked up on the patio, there were at least twenty people loudly laughing and crying and saying good bye to each other. Apparently, a group of beach house seasonal types had planned to gather at the coffee shop for one last latte and to say good bye.

I felt like shoving them aside, and helping them to their cars, just so I could get to the barista and order a nice quiet cup of Joe and find an empty table, like I’d do on a respectable fall day around here. And, my patience, what little I had, was rewarded when the seas of departing tourists finally finished their good byes and got in their cars. There really was an empty table for us, and a copy of the Sunday New York Times to purview. Peace at last.

Thoroughly enjoying my coffee, I also had a chance to look at some of the art work on the wall, a creation of a local artist, and browse the newspaper. No crowds hovering around the cashier, and no long wait for my coffee, either. Yes, it was truly a holiday and the tourists really were leaving. I was celebrating in my own quiet way.

Afterwards, we ambled back home along the back roads, with only a few bicyclists reminding us that we still had the “little season” to endure. That’s the time in early September when the college kids are still out doing athletic things like bicycling the entire length of the coast, or the old folks in their giant RVs venturing forth to the beach, before they get geared up to play snow birds and fly off down the road to Yuma for the winter. We’d need a good southwest storm to come in to make them go home. But, the storm would bring the fish in, and then there’s the fall fishermen. But, that’s another story.

Still, as we passed the cheese factory, which boasts, or cringes, at the fact they have a million visitors a year. That place was still a zoo. I guess you have to make one last stop before you head back to home after your vacation at the beach, and get an ice cream cone. I wanted one, too, but I could wait a day. Tomorrow, there will be plenty of places to park there, and no line for the chocolate peanut butter on a waffle cone.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My Best Books of 2010 -- So Far

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of the books I’ve really enjoyed in 2010. The year is certainly not over and the good reading seasons of Fall and Winter are yet to come.

Against the Stream, Noah Levine. A very easy read, taking you into the heart and soul of Buddhism. Levine has a sense of humor and his writing is seductive and enjoyable.

For The Time Being, Annie Dillard. A look into who we are as a species, and where we come from. Dillard’s superb writing is worth it, even if you may not be intrigued with her journey. But, after getting into the book, you will be hooked.

Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell. The author takes us on journeys of people who have become successes. What is it that makes some people successes and others not? It is a well written and compelling exploration. This book stays on this year’s best sellers list, too, for good reasons.

Writing to Change the World, Mary Pipher. Writing well and thoughtful does change the world, and the author inspires me to write, write, and write some more. This book inspires one to really focus on writing something meaningful.

Ethics for the New Millennium, The Dalai Lama. How should we live a life in search of truth, and to be true to ourselves? This is timely and inspiring, and much needed in this age.

Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, Tamim Ansary. This just appeared on my reading table, and appears to be much needed perspective of our world and “Western Civilization”. Probably not being reviewed in the major media channels!

Oak: The Frame of Civilization, William Bryant Logan. More than you would think. The author takes me on an intriguing journey of our historical relationship with trees and wood, and how our use of this wood really has changed our culture and our exploration of the world.

Given, Wendell Berry. More timeless and provocative poetry from one of this country’s greatest poets. Soul food for the lover of nature and good poetry.

Buddhism Is Not What You Think, Steve Hagen. A well written and captivating exploration of Buddhist thought and practice.

How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer. A fascinating exploration of the brain and decision making. We are not the completely rational and logical decision makers we might hope to be. This book is easy to burrow into and causes me to contemplate our humanness as we problem solve.

Sex at Dawn, Christopher Ryan. This is a fresh look at human sexuality and our social institutions. His thesis is provocative and interesting, and supported by a lot of sociology and anthropology.

War, Sebastian Junger. The author spends a year with American troops at a fire post in a remote and hotly contested valley in Afghanistan. This is a very good description of life for American soldiers in Afghanistan today, and is not something you would see on the evening news. I was uncomfortable reading this, because it was Real. We need to hear this voice, as it is the life of the soldiers who are lucky enough to come home.

Alaska, Walter Borneman. An in depth, but not plodding, journey through the history of Alaska and where the 49th state is today. I gained new insight into events I thought I knew about. An easy read, actually.

Pandora’s Seed, Spencer Wells. This is a fascinating book, the premise of which is that the advent of agriculture in human history was not really an advancement for humankind, as we are still dealing with the impact of the change in diet, culture, and family. This is probably one of the most important books of the year, and is worthy of more attention, and not just from those of us who enjoy biology, history and anthropology.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, Mary Ann Shaffer. I finally got around to reading this book, after several years on the best seller list. A delightful and intriguing book, with an engaging writing style. Despite being set in the German occupied British island during World War II, this book has a wealth of interesting and beloved characters.

Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion. Superbly written, this is a journey of a well known author who nearly loses her daughter and loses her husband in a tumultuous year. Some of the best writing of my year in books.

Stones Into Schools, Greg Mortensen. The sequel to Three Cups of Tea. I learn more about how one American is changing the Hindu Kush and Central Asian life by working with local people to build schools, educate children, and really change the world. He’s certainly not the Ugly American!

God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchins. A well educated and thoughtful agnostic takes a hard look at organized religion throughout the last 2000 years, and offers much food for thought to the spiritually inquisitive.

Jesus, Interrupted, Bart Ehrman. This theologian and historian takes a much needed examination of modern Christianity and its theological sources. He challenges a lot of current thinking and viewpoints.

New York, Edward Rutherford. An intriguing look at the social and economic history of New York from the time Henry Hudson sailed into New York harbor, written from the perspective of family members living there over the last 400 years. This was enjoyable and informative, giving me a new approach to thinking about life in the Big Apple.

Coming up, Steven Hawkings’ new book on the origin of the Universe, which comes out in September.

Friday, September 3, 2010

September

Golden and soft in the early evening,
Even a bit of chill --
Not anything like
August’s intensity,
which was last week?

The Solstice is just a few weeks away,
the light now like the second week of April
when spring was just getting started in earnest.

Time is moving on, leaving this summer behind
and with it, its hot and steamy pleasures.

I wonder why the new year
doesn’t start now
when the days are in balance
and a new season
begins,
sliding into the dark.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Almost to Angoon: An Alaskan Adventure

No one wore fur parkas or big boots when we got on the plane in Seattle, like I half expected. We were headed for Juneau and, after all, it was August. Still, I had my rainproof coat and a few layers of fleece stashed in my bag. We were headed for a weeklong cruise in the Inside Passage, and the cruise company had urged us to consider rain gear and even long underwear. Good advice, I learned later on.

Glaciers were on our destination, and even Glacier Bay, which is a 45 mile long fjord that was filled with a huge glacier just two hundred years ago, and some glaciers there were even growing, despite global warming.

When we got to Juneau, it was raining. Typical for late August, we learned. The rainy season of nine months begins the day after the Fourth of July. Still, the downtown dock area was overrun with tourists from four giant cruise ships, and half of them seemed fixated on the dozen diamond stores on the main street. Never mind that Alaska doesn’t exactly have too many of the world’s diamond mines. But, it does attract tourists on big cruise ships, and I guess that diamond stores go hand in hand with tourists fresh off the big cruise ships, the casinos and the formal dress for dinner crowd.

We were headed for a different adventure, and the big attraction to our ship was the presence of two wildlife biologists on board, and a professional wildlife photographer. My camera was safely stashed in my daypack, along with a half dozen extra memory cards, and a telephoto lens. My favorite binoculars were also there, lenses cleaned and ready to spot the anticipated sightings of whales, sea otters, eagles, and whatever other sorts of wildlife we would spot during the next week.

We wandered around town a bit, taking in the superb Alaska state museum and the local museum. We had a close encounter with the memorabilia of the Klondike gold rush, the oil boom, and even saw the pen used by President Eisenhower that made Alaska a state. The whale ivory gavel that convened the territorial and the first state legislatures was also in reach of this eager history buff. No big cruise ship tourists here. They must still be at the diamond store.

An hour after we got underway and were safely out of sight of the cruise ships at the Juneau docks, we saw our first pod of humpback whales, cavorting in the drizzle. We got amazingly close to them and my camera was happy to get some good shots of these creatures, which seemed to take delight in blowing out gallons of sea water, which announced their arrival on the surface.

In the days ahead, we would see more of these creatures, gracefully arching over the surface of the water, and proudly displaying their tails. Each tail is apparently unique, and veteran whale watchers can quickly identify individual whales in the pod. One afternoon, several even breached for us, almost flying fully out of the water before crashing down with all their weight. My camera shutter nearly overheated when that occurred.

The next morning found us nearing a glacier in Tracy Arm, a 25 mile long fjord carved out of three thousand vertical feet of granite. A thousand feet of that rock was missing below us, as we headed to the end of the fjord, to take in yet another glacier. It was a drizzly morning, which seemed to accent the rich deep blue of the toe of the glacier, just before large chunks would calve off with a loud cannon blast crack and fall into the sea, creating a sizeable wave that would rock our boat in a few minutes. We were a quarter mile away from the glacier, yet the mile long face of the glacier seemed almost close enough to touch.

Getting a perspective on size in this place proved to be the most challenging task of the trip, I was to learn. I’d been on a similar voyage to Prince William Sound and also experienced Denali National Park, and had the same problems with perspective and distance there. Mt. McKinley was easily three times the size of any mountain I’d ever seen before. I think the real meaning of the word “Alaska” is “enormous”.

We stopped to admire several sizeable waterfalls gushing down from the granite cliffs, allowing all of the photographers on board, which was nearly all of us, to fill our photographic bellies with all the waterfall shots we could imagine. Some folks went out in dinghies and were able to literally take close up photos of the waterfalls.

The late afternoon was spent sailing out of Tracy Arm into Frederick Sound, and a sizeable glacier up on a ridge, its end a thousand feet of vertical ice, about two thousand feet above the water, didn’t even gain a comment from the crew. It was a “hanging glacier” and apparently they are quite common in these parts. We in the “Lower 48” would be making one of those into a destination resort and advertising the heck out of it in all the travel magazines. Here, not even worth more than a footnote in the travel guide. What people did comment about was that the drizzle and rain had ended and we saw the sun.

In Alaska, a spot of blue sky is called a “sucker hole”. It’s a promise of sunshine, but only a promise and the idea is that the true Alaskan doesn’t expect the sun to come out when a bit of blue sky appears. I suppose this is the “glass is half empty” view of life, but in this rain forest between the warm Japanese current and the mile high “coast range” mountains, it is probably the logical perspective on the weather.

The next morning brought us into Wrangell, a town of barely a thousand souls who were all devoted to fishing. The harbor had only a few boats in, as there was a short salmon season going on and nearly everyone was out to sea. A crew of women helped the ship dock. They all wore pink hardhats and commented that all the men in town were out fishing and they had work to do. No slackers in this town.

We got on a jet boat where Capt. “Little John”, who was a mere seven feet tall, whisked us at warp speed across the water and the mudflats of the Stikine River. He skillfully guided us through the meanders of the river delta, pointing out eagles, old trees, and old river channels. Soon, we were on our way up river, taking in waterfalls, cliffs, and stopped on a beach, where he nonchalantly pointed out moose and wolf tracks in the sand. I took pictures, secretly glad I wasn’t face to face with the makers of the prints on the tiny island.

He pointed out a sign nailed high up in a tree, warning people of traps. A trapper has a duty here to warn folk that he is trapping the area. He apparently didn’t use a ladder to climb the tree, either, as snow here gets thirty feet high, and the river freezes five feet thick in ice. I’m cold enough in the drizzle and flying along the river at twenty miles per hour. I can’t imagine what it’s like at 20 below.

We make a hard left and flew up a tributary, soon navigating through ice bergs clogging the river. Some of them had melted enough so that they “flipped”, showing the icy gravel and mud the glacier had carved out of the canyon upriver. I reached out to tough the icy smoothness, satiny in the midday sun. My camera went into overdrive again, taking in the light shining through the ice, and the reflections on the slow moving stream. The walls of this gorge were only a thousand feet high, hardly enough to comment on. And, of course, another waterfall, falling a good eight hundred feet over glacier polished granite. The waterfall didn’t even merit a name.

When we got back into town, we had enough time for a quick walking tour of downtown Wrangell, all four blocks of it. The hardware store was literally the general store and Home Depot of Wrangell, carrying every plumbing, electrical and fishing boat part you could ever need. No jewelry stores here, but then, the big cruise ships can’t find a spot in the fishing harbor, either. The espresso stand near the docks did a lively business, and we took advantage of a good latte to warm us up after the jet boat ride to the glacier.

We did make our requisite tourist purchase of T shirts, and the clothing store dedicates a portion of their space to tourism, amidst the aisles of serious fishing rain gear and boots. In Alaska, the boot de jour is an “Ever Tough”, a sturdy mid calf rubber boot. Even the June brides are known to wear them under their gowns, so that their feet stay dry during the outdoor ceremonies.

That afternoon, we wound our way northward through the Wrangell Narrows, a curvy narrow path between two islands, with about a hundred navigational markers. Fishing cabins dotted the shore, and everyone here has a boat to get around. On Mitkof Island, there is a road, which leads to Petersburg. It’s the only road out of town, and Petersburgians call it “the road”. When you travel the road, you “go out the road”. I’m not sure it even has a name. It is the only road, you know. So, why give it a name?

We anchor overnight at the northern end of the Narrows, watching the sunset and enjoying the peace and quiet of the water once the engines shut down. A few fishing boats motor past, headed for port and hopefully they have a lot of salmon to unload at the fish buying station in the harbor.

Petersburg was started by a Norwegian by the name of Peter, surprisingly. The area reminded him of Norway, and the glacier on the island was an easy supplier of ice for the fish processing plant he built. Soon, other Norwegians came, and their desire to remember their homeland culminated in the building of the Sons of Norway hall on pilings next to the harbor. The next morning, we went there, for coffee and Norwegian pastries, and a wonderful exhibition of Norwegian dancing by a number of kids in the town. The dancing has become quite the activity in town, and is now open to every kid. The dancing and the “Norwegian-ness” of the place goes into hyper drive in May, as everyone dresses up as a Norwegian, or maybe a Viking, and celebrates Norwegian Independence Day.

After my fill of pastries and watching the dancing, I head off with a fisherman’s wife and good Norwegian for a hike through the rain forest. Thirty of us plod down the trail, which, of course, starts at a wide spot on “the road” about fifteen miles out of town. We take in the huge Sitka spruce, Sitka alder, and the tall thorny Devil’s Walking Cane. I’d tangled with that when I was a kid and its name is well deserved. Well, it turns out, it is a valuable plant. It’s related to ginseng, and has medicinal qualities that help with arthritis and the healing of wounds.

On our way back, we stop to wander through muskeg, which is a peat bog. The soil is poor here, sphagnum moss and a few other small plants. When you walk on the muskeg, you create a wave in the “soil”, which is really more water than soil. Small trees struggle to survive and I am amazed when our guide says the shrub like trees are three hundred years old.

Our hiking group is the last to straggle onto the ship and we sail north again, then west, headed for Sitka. We take the back route to Sitka, finding a narrow passage at the north end of Baranof Island, the home island of Sitka, named after the Russian who founded the town and moved the capital of Russian American from Kodiak to Sitka. He had to fight the local Tlingits, who kicked out the Russians for three years, until the Russians finally prevailed at the Battle of Sitka.

Alaska proved too much for Russia, drained by losing the Crimean War and the exhaustion of the sea otter fur trade with the Chinese Emperor. Russians also didn’t adapt to the local diet, and their hunger for potatoes and wheat was left unsatisfied in the Alaskan agribusiness economy of the 1800s. The Czar sold Alaska to the Americans in 1867, as a way to get some cash, get out of Alaska, and to strengthen the Americans against the interests of the British, the Russians’ long term enemy.

That afternoon, we see humpback whales again, “tailing” as they dive deep, looking for krill and other food. Several of the whales breach, flying out of the water and creating a tremendous splash. There are several theories for why they do this, but the one I like is that they simply do it for fun.

During dinner, we quietly motor into a cove, and come to a peaceful stop. In the fading light of the day, we look at seven black bears, snacking on salmon struggling upstream to spawn. The sunset is stunning, after yet another drizzly day, and we again marvel at the simple delights this area offers us. No Princess or Holland America ships here, as the quiet evening air carries the grunts and snorts of the bears, and the splashes of the salmon in the shallow stream.

The next morning, we slowly enter the harbor at Sitka. There are at least five fishing boat harbors and I later learn that Sitka has more miles of boat docks than roads. It makes sense, as, once again, this is another town where there is simply “the road” out of town. To really go anywhere, there is the Alaska State Ferry System, called the Marine Highway, or the airport. There is a daily flight to Seattle, and another one to Anchorage. There’s simply the “morning flight” and the “afternoon flight”. Everyone in town knows the destination, but it’s really only either “morning” or “afternoon”.

Our first stop is a visit to the local Tlingit cultural center. This is a huge cedar lodge in the middle of town, built inside the boundaries of the Russian fort. Tlingit folks couldn’t live in the town, or in the fort, and had to live “outside”. Now, they are making a comeback with their culture, and proudly teach their children their language, their dances, and their cultural values. We watch in delight at a young boy dancing and crying out as “Raven”. We are invited to join him and the other dancers, and soon, I am dancing to the Tlingit drum and listening to the boy speak in Raven.

We take a brief tour in the Sitka National Park, which commemorates the Battle of Sitka, and see more salmon spawning, and some amazing totem poles. Then, we saunter back to town and take a walking tour of the area, learning about real life during the times of Russian America, and Mr. Baronof’s Tlingit wife and his Russian wife back home in St. Petersburg.

Feelings run long and deep here. When the centennial of the Alaskan Purchase was held in 1967, the town council wanted to erect a bronze statue of Mr. Baronof. The topic was hotly debated, and the night before the statue was dedicated, someone sawed off Mr. Baranof’s nose, necessitating a quick repair.

We end the tour at the Russian Orthodox church, with its “onion dome” and the cross with the extra, tilted, bar. Unlike other Christian missionaries, the Russian Orthodox priests learned the local languages, and began to teach local natives how to read and write in their native languages. Their languages were used in the Church liturgies and hymns. Their respect and interest in local cultures endeared them to the Tlingits, who were receptive to joining the church. Later, when I got back to Juneau, I found a CD of Russian Orthodox liturgies and hymns, sung in Tlingit. I wonder if I could find that online at iTunes?

The biggest industry in Sitka is health care. There is a big Native American health clinic and hospital here, as well as the Pioneer Home, which is a retirement home for Alaskans who can’t afford their own care in their old age. The Pioneer Home is the nicest building in town and has the most beautiful landscaping, as well.

This was a huge mobilization center for the Army during World War II, and the airplane hangars built then are now the home for a boarding high school, as well as the local campus of the University of Alaska.

We ran into a tour group of the boarding high school students, who come from all over rural Alaska, and learned they can’t go to the hilltop site where the Russian flag was lowered when Alaska was transferred to the United States. It’s now the place where folks go to get drunk, and is not a proper “hang out” for the youth of the town.

We leave Sitka and retrace our steps through narrow passages around Baronof Island, on our way to Glacier Bay. The rain sets in again, and even the Captain admits we are having a “squall”. The next day, we anchor in an inlet and go exploring in rubber dinghies. We get soaked to the skin, of course, but it is nice to get off of the ship and get a feel of the area. The shorelines are interesting, with lots of kelp and starfish. I am numb now, and it takes a change of clothes, two new layers of fleece, and three hot cups of hot chocolate and coffee to bring me back to “lukewarm”.

That night, I wake up to see the lights of what looks like a thriving community on the shore of a nearby island. Angoon is its name, at least from what I can tell on the map. Mostly Tlingit folk there, and I use my proximity to civilization to send a few of my cell phone photos to family and friends, via the cell tower of Angoon. I may want to come back here, and be able to tell folks I went to Angoon. The next town up the strait, is Hoonah, and I may want to visit here, as well. Guaranteed there’s no McDonald’s or WalMart.

The next morning brings us to Glacier Bay. When Capt. Vancouver was here in the 1770s, the glaciers had filled up the bay, and he sailed right past the place, noting that there was just a huge glacier on the side of Icy Strait. Now, the glacier has retreated 45 miles, and the area is a national park. The Tlingits around here used to live in the valley in Glacier Bay, before the last advance of the glaciers took out the soil and the forest, and deepened the area into a bay.

When John Muir was here in the 1890s, the glaciers had retreated about 20 miles, and his description of the place got Teddy Roosevelt interested enough to declare the area a national monument. The Tlingits still claim an interest here, and how this place is managed and how that debate will end up will be an interesting question.

As we enter the park, a park ranger and a Tlingit guide both board the ship. The Tlingit lady brings her elk hide drum and the ranger brings her violin. We are treated to their music and their collective passion for the beauty and spirituality of this place.

As we move into the bay, we spy a large pod of sea otters. They were exterminated by the Russians, but have made a comeback here, with transplants from survivors in the Aleutians in the 1970s. There are 5000 sea otters here now, and their presence has rebalanced the ecology of the bay, bringing kelp and star fish and, now, otters, into their natural balance.

Later on, we see more humpback whales, and glaciers. Yes, more glaciers than our biologist guides care to name. We wake the next morning in front of two of them, at the head of the 45 mile long bay. One glacier, its toe black with gravel and dirt, is, at first glance, not worthy of bearing the title of glacier. But, it leads back at least fifteen miles. Two miles “up river” on the glacier is the international boundary with Canada, and somewhere around here, within two miles of the Gulf of Alaska, there is Mt. St. Elias, a 15,000 foot peak, noteworthy even by Alaska standards.

Another glacier is huge, and its size is incomprehensible from our vantage point, five miles away. It comes into view as we take a jag around “Jaw Point”, which is named for the jaw dropping that occurs when one first sees this astonishing wonder.

Later on, we approach a beach, where two grizzlies, called “browns” around here, lunch upon a whale, beached here four months ago. They seem oblivious to our approaching ship and the increasing roar of camera shutters, as they snack, and then wander back into the brush. Several sailboats approach, drawn to our presence and the crowd of passengers on the bow. They, too, bring out their cameras and their binoculars, in awe of what wonders lie ahead of us on the rocky shores of Glacier Bay.

We head back down the bay, pausing to circle what our guides call “Bird Island”. On the map, it is called “South Marble Island”, a rather bland description for a place jam packed with Stellar sea lions, pigeon guillemots, puffins, and kittiwakes, all crying and, in the case of the sea lions, bellowing. It is quite a sight, and the camera shutter roar is equally intense.

The weather is lifting and even the occasional “sucker hole” appears. I pause to take off a layer or two of fleece, though my hands are still numb from the morning at the glacier, where the cold rain turned to sleet for about a half hour. I keep reminding myself this is August, but then, this is also Glacier Bay. There was fresh snow on the mountain near one of the glaciers we saw this morning, the first snow of the season.

At the mouth of the bay, we stop again at the dock by the visitor’s center, to let off our ranger and our Tlingit guide. The Captain gives us an hour and a half ashore, and we tumble off the boat, eager to stretch our legs in the welcome warmth of the sunny afternoon. We head off down a nature trail, and my camera is attracted to the quiet reflections of the ponds in the forest, and the spruce trees with Tlingit art carved into the bark.

We buy a few T shirts at the visitors’ center, and see the waitresses on our ship enjoying cheeseburgers in the cafeteria. They, too, seem to welcome a few hours away from the ship and the chance to be ashore in what the sign says is “Gustavus, Alaska”. That’s a long A on “Gustavus”, thank you very much.

That night, our guides give us a slide show of the photos they’ve taken of us as we have taken in the beauty on this trip. Our faces reveal our emotions of awe and amazement, and our joy at the beauty and wonder of nature in this amazing area. Sadly, we head to Juneau and the five “big cruise ships” now tied up to the pier there, and the dozen jewelry stores, pandering the “wonders” of Alaska.

Juneau and Southeast Alaska are different than the rest of Alaska. Still independent, and still adventurous. But, they are more isolated here than folks in Anchorage and Fairbanks. There are no roads to anywhere, except after a ferry boat ride of at least several hours. “Out the road” says a lot about this place.

Even Sarah Palin didn’t want to be around here very much. When she was Governor, she didn’t live in Juneau, and left vacant the Governor’s mansion on the hill, with its four large white columns, the Governor’s totem pole overlooking the Inside Passage, and the remains of Joe Juneau’s gold mine on the side of the hill at the other end of town. There are two great coffee shops and delis within a few blocks of the State Capitol, with great coffee, and great pastries. Both are good places to sit and sip a freshly made latte on a drizzly day, and meet some great people. If Sarah and her clan had taken the time to really live here, and be part of the people of this wondrous area, perhaps she’d still want to be Governor. After all, how cool would it be to have a house with a totem pole in the front yard?

We walk around town again, saying goodbye to Juneau and goodbye to Alaska. The Tlingits don’t have a word for goodbye, but use a phrase meaning “until we see each other again”.

Yeah.
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