Happy Earth Day, Earthlings!

The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970 and marks what some consider the birth of the Environmental Movement.   Of course, cultures throughout history have celebrated and appreciated the earth according to their particular perspectives.  Harvest festivals, rain rituals, volcano appeasement, fertility festivals, river ceremonies…I can think of many ways that humans have venerated the earth.  Since 1990, when the Earth Day campaign went global, we’ve focused on the planet as a whole.   We are the ones who have seen it (at least in pictures) as a whole from outer space, and I think we are realizing more and more how our relationship to the Earth is effecting that picture.  Large scale weather patterns, extinction rates, pollution and population are just some of the issues that are “going big” in our consciousness.   This is all very well, and at the same time, each of us has a particular and specific and local intimacy with Earth that should never be overlooked.

NaPoWriMo is acknowledging Earth Day with its prompt to write a poem about a plant.  I have so many favorite Earth/Nature/Flower/Animal poems already dear to my heart that I’m having a hard time being original, so I think I’m just going to share a few favorites with you here instead.  The first one is a lullaby that my mother used to sing to me.  I have no idea of its origin.  I just hear Mom sing:

White coral bells upon a slender stalk,

Lilies of the valley deck my garden walk.

Oh! Don’t you wish that you could hear them ring?

That will happen only when the faeries sing!

Here’s one I wrote back in March as I looked at my lilac bush:

When will the buds appear this year?

When will the lilac be full in bloom?

When will that perfume make fair the air?

When will that purple bedeck my room?

Soon, oh, soon; let it be soon!

I’ve been wearing lilac oil from a little vial that Jim bought me when we were on Mackinac Island years ago.  A few drops on my neck assures me that the fragrance of my favorite flower will not fade too quickly from my consciousness. 

I took a walk yesterday to photograph some of my local earth miracles.  May I present:

White tail deer

Bleeding heart

Red Admiral butterfly

Tulips, daffodils, hyacinth

And to represent the hippie protesters and the environmental movement, I have to share one of my favorite earth songs.  Nanci Griffith, “From A Distance” (written by Julie Gold).  Socks with sandals, passion and integrity.  She moves me.

Love our planet, today and every day.  Treat her and all life with respect.  Please.

Appreciating Milwaukee

Here it is, March in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Some unknown and perhaps magical forces have transformed this place into a balmy paradise.  It is 81 degrees F outside, flowers are blooming, trees are sprouting leaves, and chipmunks are cavorting around the forest floor.  I am appreciating it.  Last year was a very different story.  We had a blizzard at the very end of January, and snow fell into April.  The last two months of snow in a winter that can sometimes take up half the year can be very trying on a person’s patience.  Especially if that person lived in California for 15 years and got rather attached to sunshine and greenery!  So, what is there to do in Milwaukee when the weather is nice?  So glad you asked!

Steve used to live on the East Side of Milwaukee, which is kind of an East San Francisco.  Well, a little bit, anyway.  There are lakefront parks, beautiful old buildings, college students from the University, and a smattering of the nature freak/hippie vibe.  On St. Patrick’s Day, we headed to his old neighborhood to take in some of this atmosphere, which was augmented by people parading about in green beads with plastic tumblers of beer, enjoying the unseasonably comfortable weather on a Saturday devoted to pub crawling.  It made people-watching that much more interesting. 

We ate a late afternoon meal at Beans & Barley, which features a deli and market as well as a vegan-friendly cafe with a huge selection of tea.  I had a grilled balsamic Portobello mushroom sandwich with red peppers and bleu cheese, accompanied by a fantastic curry potato salad and a bottle of New Glarus Spotted Cow beer.  Steve had a black bean burrito with some very spicy salsa, an entree that is approaching “landmark status” since its debut in 1979.  We shared a piece of their “killer chocolate cake” for dessert.

After I was satisfied that every bit of frosting had been thoroughly licked up, we headed over to the deli and market to take stock of their offerings.  It was there that I found this most delightful treasure: it’s an old cigarette vending machine that now provides the customer with a genuine work of art for the price of one token.  All of the Art-0-mat items are the size and shape of a pack of cigs, and decorated in a variety of different ways, by different artists.  Examples are installed on the front of the machine. 

Here is a close up of one example:

I simply love this idea!  I’ve never seen anything like it before.  It’s hip, it’s visual, it’s smoke-free.  These should be everywhere, supporting artists in every community. 

I’m feeling young, artsy, and energized.  We take a walk down to the lighthouse station.  I do a portrait of Steve that I think would look good on the back of a book he will write some day.

I’m having fun discovering something wonderful every day, no matter where I am.  This is how I want to keep myself well and happy for the rest of my life.  A few weeks ago, Wisconsin Public Radio’s Ben Merens did a show on wellness that featured an interview with a personal life coach named Colleen Hickman.  Steve likes to call into this radio station when the topic moves him, and he called in to add to this discussion.  He had two things to share.  First, he said that his partner (me!) was very good at appreciating things, and then he said that his contribution to our positive relationship is that he doesn’t think of life as a problem to be solved or a commodity to be evaluated.  It is something of which to be constantly aware, though.   After he hung up, Ms. Hickman says, “Steve is certainly one of the lights we have in the world.”  That makes me chuckle because it sounds so “media”, but I have to agree.  If you want to hear the broadcast, here’s the link; just scroll down to the Friday, March 2, 5:00pm broadcast and click the Windows Media Player or MP3 icon to the right.  Steve’s call is 17:30 into the program.

What a wonderful world!  Even in Wisconsin in March! 

The Bicentennial Post

I began this blog 200 posts ago, and there’s nothing in this world that I don’t know…


Well, that’s not true, but I’m remembering my father sitting in his chair on our wrap-around porch singing old silly songs as the sun went down.  “I was born about 10,000 years ago…” verse after unbelievable verse.   There’s a lot in this world that I don’t know and will never know, and many things that I can know if I pay attention and try to be aware.  One thing I became aware of is that my blog was hard for my mother to read in its old format.  The light text on a slightly darker background was obscured through her developing cataracts.  I hoping that this new look will be clearer for her.

Another thing that I’m becoming aware of is the way that thoughts influence energy.  Life is difficult (opening line of M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled), in other words, living requires effort.  Solving problems, finding food, making money, communicating – all of that takes some energy, but sometimes the energy returns to us if the process is positive and life-giving.  When I feel drained and sad and depressed, it’s often simply because my thoughts about problem solving, making money, and other efforts of living are not positive.  In another Summit with Steve this morning, I asked myself this question, “Are you going to roll up your sleeves or roll up your eyes?”  Steve offered an illustration from our favorite National Basketball team, the Chicago Bulls (President Obama is also a loyal fan).  Rookie Jimmy Butler, brand new to the team, has a life story that exemplifies the effort of overcoming obstacles.  He was abandoned by his father at an early age, kicked out by his mother at 13, raised by a widow with 4 children who remarried a man with 3 more children, and finally made it to Marquette University and the NBA.   He is part of the energy infusion we fans call “The Bench Mob”.  They’re not “good enough” to be starters, but when they go into a game, they roll up their sleeves and get to work!  Another member of “The Bench Mob” who has a totally different physical attitude is Omer Asik.  We love him, because he’s nerdy-looking like us.  He’s tall and skinny and white.  He’s from Turkey.  He is a great basket defender, but he’s pretty new to the team, too, and not as athletic as many players.  He has this comical hang-dog expression when he fouls someone or misses a shot.  He literally rolls up his eyes, instead of his sleeves.

Energy ebbs and flows.  Sometimes I roll up my sleeves, sometimes I roll up my eyes.  Here’s another comic example: Buster Keaton.  Mr. Keaton had a stellar career in silent films.  He’s a little guy, very physically strong.  His acrobatic stunts on camera are amazing.  His comedy is also about solving problems, thinking outside of the box and using his incredible energy.  Of course, he doesn’t squander any energy talking!  His reaction to social situations is great.  He doesn’t let them deter him from going after what he wants, and whenever he fails, he simply tries a new tactic.  See any of the clips from “College” (1927) that you can find…or the whole film!  He makes a great movie star hero, in my book.

So, this one’s for me, my kids and anyone else out there who is putting effort into living.   You are not your thoughts.  If your thoughts of failure and shame are draining your energy, listen to them and then change them.  Are you really ashamed of yourself?  Or is that a perception of what you think ‘society’ thinks of you?  The truth is you are a good person and you desire to be a good person (most likely – granted there may be exceptions).  Roll up your sleeves, Good Person, and play!

A couple of really Good People rolling up their sleeves!

Photo Walk

It has been about 60 degrees the past two days; so conducive to wandering around the neighborhood with my camera!  I wish I’d had it with me last night when I walked to my voice student’s house for his lesson.  The moon was almost full, and I kept saying to myself, “Oh, wow!  That would make a good shot!”  It was such a balmy evening that I kept thinking about endless nights playing Kick the Can as a child.  That summertime feeling is creeping up on me!  Daylight savings time kicks in on Sunday.  It’s still light at 6pm as we’re sitting down to dinner now.  Steve and I are really getting the itch to go camping.  We’ll probably take off next week if it stays this warm!  Here are some photos from yesterday:

Enjoy your day!

Sunday Stroll

My neighborhood is probably fairly typical for suburban USA, but I always find things that strike my imagination as anything but.  There’s a story wherever you look.  Here are a few I found yesterday.

The house on the hill was once owned by a retired sea captain who could be spotted occasionally behind the iron parapet with a spyglass, looking toward Lake Michigan.  Sometimes I hear him when the wind roars in the trees, shouting “Thar she blows!”

Mrs. McGillicuddy was hanging out the wash one day, when a German Shepherd came barreling around the corner of the house and ran right under her skirts.  This sock flew out of reach and remains in the maple tree on Church Street to this day.  (What happens to the story if I don’t capitalize the ‘s’?)

“Momma?  Can we make a snowman family in the front yard?  Please?”  “Nonsense, children.  That’s not necessary.  I have one I ordered from WalMart’s Home Decor department right here.  There!  Now run inside and watch the TV until dinner.”

The meteorite streamed through the dark night sky, blazing a menacing trail of fire toward the quiet, white house on the corner where Carol & Ken slept.  It whistled past the living room window, sending Fluffy on arthritic legs across the rug and under the sofa on the opposite wall.  With a steaming hiss, it plopped into the snow.  Ken snored loudly and rolled over on his left side.

Enjoy your Sunday amusements!  The sun is shining, and I think we’re off on a hike this afternoon.

Photo Essay: County Grounds

The Milwaukee County Grounds are steeped in civic history.  The insane asylum, the poor farm and the tuberculosis sanatorium were all situated here in the early 1900s.  The government took on some additional responsibility for “the poor, the destitute and the marginalized” by creating four cemeteries in the area, alternately known as “The Poor Farm Cemetery”, “The Almshouse Cemetery” or “Potter’s Field”.   Today, the buildings are crumbling, the cemeteries are marked with plaques, and the grounds are frequented by hikers and dogs.  There is a monarch butterfly trail that has been carefully maintained by volunteers and the park district has taken over one building there for offices, but the future of this area is uncertain at best.   There is talk of power lines and park development as well as commercial development.   The land lies adjacent to a 6 lane freeway, the medical center complex, and a water reclamation plant.   For now, it is the only open land that I can walk to from my house, yet it maintains a ghostly connection to its civic past.  I often try to overlook the traces of the human community there and photograph only wildlife.  Yesterday, though, I decided to open my eyes to whole of it.  Here are some visuals:

Chickadee vs. Chicken

I love black-capped chickadees.  Their distinctive songs are the two-note descending major second and “chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee”.  They fly around in happy little groups in the dead of winter, impervious to gloom and cold.

In another corner of my neighborhood, there is a robust icon of Milwaukee: Champion Chicken.

Reflection and interior images

The delivery van

I’m not sure there’s a point to this post.  Sometimes I just like to look at the juxtaposition of human stuff and non-human stuff on this planet because it brings up some questions and some emotions.   Yeah, we ate their food.  It’s very close to Steve’s mom’s house, so she treated us to lunch after we shoveled for her.  It was tasty and greasy.  I hadn’t had fried chicken in a long time.  Steve remembers frequenting this place throughout his childhood.  He has an appreciation of American kitsch and collects/recycles/sells it online. Is it history?  Is it eyesore?  Is it embarrassing?

What do you think?

Bread & Guts

Yesterday, Steve & I stopped in at a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop for lunch.  The guacamole and sprouts on their veggie sandwich remind me of my 15 years living in California and call to me sometimes, especially when I’ve had too much cholesterol-rich Midwestern holiday food.  So, I ordered my #5 No Mayo favorite.  Then I watched in horror as the guy gutted the sub roll of its soft, white, doughy insides and flung them in the trash bin.  I thought of the ducks I visited on Christmas afternoon, swimming toward us in eager anticipation of bread bits.  I thought of the two bread pudding cookbooks we have in the dining room just begging to be explored.  “Why did you just throw that away?”  I asked.  “Oh, we do that in order to make more room for the fillings and so they don’t squish out when you bite into the sandwich.”  Well, that explains why they take it out, but it doesn’t explain why they throw it out.  Driving away, I imagined pithy slogans I could print on a poster to protest this practice.  “Don’t hate your guts”  or “Cast your bread upon the waters, not upon the landfill” or something like that.

Looking for crumbs

At home, I looked up some statistics about food waste in restaurants.  How depressing!  I am one of those moms who felt compelled to finish what my kids left on their plates just so I wouldn’t have to throw it out.  It hurts me to see food go to waste.  All that work, all that water, all that petrol, all that went into getting that food to the table is someone’s life to give life to another.  It’s sacred, in my opinion.  Tossing it out is disrespectful to humanity.  Something must be done.

Taking it up on a local level is probably the first line of attack.  I wonder if that sandwich shop would save the bread cores for me to cart away.  How often would I have to make a pick-up in order for that to be an attractive option to them?  I’m sure they don’t want an overflowing bread bucket kicking around.  How much bread would that be?  What would I do with it all?  Could I get someone to help me?  What if I suggested they offer a bread pudding on their menu so that they would use the bits and make some return on their effort?  Would they take that seriously?  What if they donated their scraps to a community compost project?  Do we have a community compost project?  When I visited family in San Francisco and Oregon, I was impressed at the compost recycling programs they had.  I have gotten tips from my daughter and her boyfriend about how to start a worm bucket of my own, which I could keep in the basement of this duplex, even over the winter months.  My landlord who lives in the other half of this house doesn’t recycle anything.  His bins stay on his side porch all year and never venture out to the curb.  Would he support my effort to compost and add the products to his garden?  He’s had the property assessed twice this year and may be putting it up for sale.  Do I want to go to the trouble of enriching soil that I may not get a chance to use?

I hate the feeling of going from “Something must be done” to “I want someone else to take this responsibility”.  What responsibility will I take?  New Year’s resolutions are popping up all over this week.  How many of us are really going to work on being responsible for cutting down on the waste of resources in this world?  More to the point, what am I really willing to do about it?  Do I have the integrity to take up the challenges I pose?  Do I have the guts?  I hope so.  Stay tuned and remind me.

And To Think That I Saw It On (My) Street

With apologies to Dr. Seuss for stealing most of his title, I am reminded of taking my kids for a tour of my neighborhood on Christmas afternoon.  I love just walking outside with a camera, or even without, and simply noticing all the absurdity of life.  There’s some weird stuff out there!  The most bizarre neighborhood sighting appeared the week before Christmas.  I was walking to the market to buy groceries, when around the corner and very fast, a white car approached with something pinkish sticking up out of its roof.  I thought maybe it was some helium balloons.  It got closer and slowed down, and I realized that it was a large, inflated, vinyl doll with enormous balloon boobs rising from the sun roof of the compact car.  I was too mesmerized by the plastic flesh to look at the driver’s face, but he was slowing down right near me.  I wondered if this was a threat.  Suddenly, I heard a man’s voice growl “AAAaaarrrrrrgh!” and the car pulled into the driveway that I was just crossing.  I walked on, blinking, and supposed that he was voicing some kind of frustration at having been delayed entry onto his property.  Of course, my thoughts then went spinning into all kinds of fiction scenarios that would create a plausible story to go along with the encounter.  An embarrassing office gag gift?  A desperately horny bachelor?  Who knows.  I shake my head and smile.

Then there’s the lady with the fur coat and the Cocker Spaniel.  She saw me & Steve and my four guests approaching and once more issued her warning, “He’ll jump on you!!”  We waved.  We’d been warned before.  Up the street from her is a pair of garden lions sizing up their concrete casing.

Does this make me look fat?

Further south, I found this friendly front door.

"No Soliciting"

And close to the park, this possum in the road.

Not just playing

Down by the railroad tracks, we found a pile of rusty spikes.  Steve pocketed one as a souvenir for our “museum”.

Like looking for a needle...

He was going to pick up another souvenir, but he found it hard to lift.

Another neighbor had this parking meter in his driveway.  Do you suppose there’s any money in it?

Usually the ducks on the pond swim away when I approach.  This time, they made straight for us.  I think they were hoping we’d brought bread crumbs.  I felt bad that we’d eaten two ducks the night before and didn’t offer anything to the survivors.

So, while I’m hiking around trying to burn off my holiday calories, I look around for visual treats.  Eye candy is non-fattening.

Imagine That!

Do animals have imagination?  Do they think in concepts or toss ideas around?  Or is that strictly a human thing?

Animals have some pretty incredible artistic skills.  I think of weaver birds or bower birds, birds that display their expertise in foiling predators and attracting mates.  Does that indicate imagination?  Cats, chimps, elephants and others have created art with paintbrushes or paws dipped in colors.  Is that imagination?  Maybe.

What good is imagination?  Why is it a useful skill or a precious gift?

It keeps us from getting bored.  It motivates us to engage in possibility.  It fuels hope.  But I suppose it could also be said that it fuels depression or despair.  So, it’s a tool that we have in our skull-shaped kit box.  We can use it however we want.  We get to be creators.  And it’s free.  You don’t need electricity to run it; you don’t have to have an account or a password.  This is one of the greatest gadgets ever!  Do we celebrate it?  Encourage it?  Teach it?  Or do we try to corral it, censor it, mold it, sterilize it?  Well, historically we have done all of these, to be truthful.  What have you done with yours lately?  Do you have a secret place where you put the workings of your imagination?  A journal, a sketchbook, a doodle pad, a workbench, a tape recorder, a music staff, a photo album?  Do you unwrap these presents for yourself sometimes?

When I was in college, I worked summers at a Christian camp.  I was in charge of the arts & crafts area.  It was called “Imagination”.  Over the doorway in blue paint and gold glitter, the name hung like a talisman.  Each day, I wondered which kid was going to come in and blow my mind with something s/he created.  I remember one tall, skinny, shy kid with a speech disorder, named Devin.  He was 14.  He would come in and look bored.  I gave him some clay and googly eyes.  He joked around, embarrassed, and then made a pretty good likeness of E.T. from that summer’s most popular movie.   The next day, five campers came into the shop asking if they could make an E.T. head.  Not that the art was original, it was completely derivative.   But the idea to create something started a fad, like the kids were just waiting for someone to allow them to explore their own imaginations.

Steve came up with a book from his bookstore collection called Artful Jesters by Nicholas Roukes.  “Innovators of Visual Wit and Humor” it says.  Here’s the cover:

The artwork is by Willie Cole; it’s called “Burning Hot I – Sunbeam iron with yellow and red feathers”.  I would love to raid all the recycling containers on my block, set up a workshop in my garage, and make “Imagination” come to life again.  I’d invite all those shy, awkward kids and the ones who pay too much for entertainment, and see if they’d engage in this wonderful ability we humans seem to have inherited from somewhere.  We are co-creators in this world.  It’s a pretty nifty gig.  I appreciate all my blogging friends, my musician friends, artists, knitters, chefs, actors, gardeners, sculptors, photographers, architects, designers…thanks for opening up your shops and showing us it can be done.