Thich Nhat Hanh says, “For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”
Robert died almost a year ago. I could quote Thich Nhat Hanh, and tell you there is no birth, there is no death; life happens when conditions are ripe. Can you wrap your mind around that? This death/not death we all say we want: unexpected, unprepared for, unheralded. There is no way to make this into a story. I’ve moved into Burlington, from the amiable wreck we shared on the islands, with the four tons of pellets for winter heat, the skylit studio, the nights startled by wild dog packs, the snow geese with their eggs at the edge of the pond, the black fox down the trail, the seven deer (until there were three), the bunny on the walkway staring down the dog in the moonlight, the writers on retreat. It was perfect then, for life was ripe. I could say Robert is alive in our hearts, for he touched many. I could say, this winter was hard to bear, even with the little dog asleep on my shoulder, snoring into my hair. You, friends, brought food and solace, with instructions for moving a soul safely through the Bardo. (The Bardo must be crowded these days: Thich Nacht Hanh, bell hooks, a Scottish serial killer, Goddard, the Mighty Bomber, my great friend John Douglas, Sidney Poitier, Peter Bogdanovich, the Queen, Ozzie (the oldest living gorilla in captivity.) In May, the house sold in a day. I tossed out, gave away, handed off ⅔ of all that stuff – what freedom! – and moved to a cabin where the lake banged around the cliffs, the full moon posed on reflection outside my windows. And now, I am “here”, much lighter. “Here” also happened in a day; a quiet space with room to write, trails to walk; push a button and the heat comes on. The dog and I are happy here. Solitude in a packed city. I am masked. I avoid crowds. She trots by my side, a miracle. So I can tell you, here we are, back in the life stream where I am just another idiot tripping over words, with gratitude, grief, curiosity and wonder.
Cases drop, masking is once again up to us, we’re going to school, eating in restaurants, walking down streets holding hands. Our dogs are behaving badly, we need a hair cut. We’re fatter, unhappier and while some of us are dying to hit the bars, others of us really do not want to go back working three mind-killing jobs while still being desperate for food stamps.
This is the “normal” for many. Working three jobs for $9 an hour while still on line at the food shelves. no child care, medical insurance, housing, fuel. I just read that 40% of American workers do not want to return to their jobs. This is crazy and it’s not because of the generous COVID unemployment benefits killing incentive to work, so why are businesses having trouble finding workers? Because even with multiple jobs and a supportive household, living at these wages is unsustainable. Because low wage labor toiling to make the rich richer is soul death. Because America is based on consumption, we’re told to consume, consume, consume, and we have made of our planet a garbage dump.
We’re a slave society and always have been. We conquer and kill. We starve, manipulate, penetrate those who labor to support our consumerism. Americans want cheap food, cheap services, and we don’t care if the cost is the lives of millions of potential workers. Poverty of this scale in the richest nation in the world is paralyzing, unacceptable. And yet, we accept it.
What else do we accept? That rising prices for the consumer are the fault of workers demanding a living wage of $15 per hour, even though wages haven’t risen against inflation for 40 years. So, when we’re at the counter handed a bill for a Chipolte’s burrito that’s 4% higher than last week, we’re supposed to blame the line cook in the hot, miserable, chaotic kitchen. But guess what: the CEO’s salary is $38 million and the company profit rose to more than $350 million during the pandemic year. And the line chef? Well, he’s maybe not so interested in coming back to work in their crappy kitchen.
Republicans believe the answer is prematurely cutting off unemployment benefits. This strategy is based on a self-serving assumption that normal people don’t want to work, they’d rather hang out in front of their televisions eating poisonous food while their kids commit suicide on bad drugs and the planet chokes on our garbage. How the human species evolved as destroyers instead of guardians of the planet’s diversities is another topic. One that we have to face head on but we won’t.
I love the idea of Jeff Bezos getting in his space ship and heading – where? Nowhere. What I don’t love is that he’ll be back.
Dr Fauci has dropped in virtually to Gov. Scott’s Tuesday briefing, once again an hour of pleasantries, Vermont-isms and mostly well deserved self-congratulations. The Gov and his staff come off as serious, hard working and practical leaders herding our state through perilous times, and there is much to applaud. But, something’s fishy, The governor says it’s impossible to enforce mask wearing and Covid border control, a statement which I interpret as he doesn’t want to alienate his base, that segment of his base raving about following public health measures is an attack on physical freedom, even from reasonable people who leash their dogs, hook up seatbelts, pay taxes, keep their pants on in public without going nuts. It is, an election year, on the way to becoming an election month. Satisfying a base floods a candidates brain, no matter how badly that base is acting. I get that. But it not healthy.
Our state is pretty much masked up despite the lack of enforcement. Our infection rates are admirally low. So, in my mind, this is an argument for, not against, enforcing a mandate: even without the possibility of enforcement, people follow the leader when they trust him.
So why aren’t we – our Republican Gov – pressing for a mandate from the Feds? Is it because we have a leader who can’t be trusted?
the argument is that policies won’t be enforceable, our country is too polarized, the issue has been allowed to become politicized. Meaning, whomever is in charge of these things does not intend to alienate his political base.
Fauci is Fauci, I admire him. But when he answered a reporter’s question about whether or not a federal mask mandate would be welcome, he suggested that it wasn’t wise because our country is so polarized. I think this kind of reasoning is cowardly, in the same way that our governor’s belief that Vt. isn’t enforcing a mandate because enforcement won’t work is cowardly. On the one hand, Fauci and the governor himself believe that good leadership in our state has resulted in major obedience to protect public health, somehow this doesn’t translate to what should be done on the federal level. This is an election year, almost an election month…I get it. Scott is unwilling to alienate his base, even those who believe that wearing seatbelts is detrimental to their inalienable freedom. But they do wear seatbelts, because it’s mandated, because there’s a penalty for not doing so, and perhaps even because they get to accept that their own lives are at stake. Scott as a popular republican governor in a very blue state is in a great position to challenge the toxic leadership of his party by calling on federal truth saying and mandates. People do respond to leadership.
Our friend Rebecca sent over a book she found in the cast-off pile in the St. Albans dump. It is Dog Songs, by Mary Oliver. After dinner, we settle our dog on the couch between us and read her poems. One begins, “a puppy is a puppy is a puppy.” She looks off to the distant kitchen. Our dog has not heard of Gertrude Stein, I can tell.
We try another poem. Here’s how it goes:
Percy by Mary Oliver Our new dog. named for the beloved poet. ate a book which unfortunately we had left unguarded. Fortunately, it was the Bhagavad Gita of which many copies are available. Every day now, as Percy grows into the beauty of life, we touch his wild, curly head and say, “Oh wisest of little dogs.”
Our dog, a little rescue lab not named for a famous poet, put a paw on my chest and said, “When I (unfortunately) ate your new Folio collectable edition of Moby-Dick, you were not so generous.”
When the American president assassinates an Iranian General, Iran lobs missiles at a US army base. No one gets hurt, except for what is dismissed as headaches, as in ‘we can assassinate your hero but you can only cause us a headache.’ But later we learn that 50 troops are treated for brain damage. Moments later, a civilian aircraft on its way to Ukraine crashes just after take off, killing 176, mostly Ukrainians and Iranian Canadians. Iran blames failed mechanics, the airline, Boeing and the US. Thousands of Iranians gather to mourn their General and hate us. Too many, because there is a stampede where people are trampled to death. Meanwhile, a video is released. Here is the plane, here is the missile, here is the impact. Iran says whoops, our bad, egregious error. Now the protesters turn on their own government.
Trump issues statements: we will destroy your culture and the American people love you and want you to flourish. I wonder: what kind of love is it that destroys your culture? But then, videos begin downloading and I am distracted. Australia is burning. Firefighters in shorts cradle Koala Bears wearing hand knit booties over their burned paws. They are wrapped in blankets called Johnny Pouches knit by prisoners. They knit and knit until Australia is overwhelmed. There are billions of animal deaths. My brain crackles. This is a local extinction. And while I sit there, stunned, Puerto Rico is wracked by earthquakes and then a volcano erupts in the Philippines, and somewhere else, people holding babies and blankets make their way through water up to their waists while dogs swim around in circles.
Burning forests, flooding banks. The ground beneath splits like a melon.
Here it is clouds, freezing rain. The landscape waits silently under layers of ice. I sit in front of a fire at a table cubing the meat of an animal who has spent its short, bucolic life in a field eating grass until it is murdered just for me. Under the table, two elderly dogs lie romp-to-romp. I’ve never been to Australia, Ukraine, Iran. but I can imagine. Under the burning brush, new life, although it is difficult to celebrate because, at the same time, we are the burning bush.
She’s amazing, beautiful, effective, fearless and from the Bronx, right?
We’re heading East on pot-holed roads to raid a friend’s perennial garden. A quietly lovely afternoon, all the trees are green, the lake is high and rippling, the mountains drop backwards in perfect pespective, old orchards bloom white, as if covered in moths. Vermont is at its most perfect. We’re hurrying through the poorest county in our little state, one of the prettiest, wanting to get back before the evening’s predicted rain and wind, and we’re talking about the future, or rather that grim possibility of the world without us. Actually, I don’t know if it’s grim. Our species is doing a terrible job.
So I ask; At this particular moment, this exact instance in which we believe humans have gone over the tipping point to the downside where ruin is inevitable, who exactly would you pick for the Democratic candidate? And when he looks at me sideways, like who cares, it doesn’t matter, I said, I’m disgusted with Biden, that he’s Hillary Redo and yes, maybe she won the popular vote but lost the electoral collage, and Biden will do the same, Trump will win, and I hope…Yes, he said, putting a hand on my knee. We will be dead and you know what, that’s OK with me.
I still am hooked on Bernie, I say, squeezing his thumb. I love the guy, although we’re the same age, he reminds me of my leftist, moralistic, intransigent, dad. So right now at this ridiculous moment I would pick Bernie, with Elizabeth Warren as his Vice because she needs to be President. She will yell and taunt billionaire white men, biding time for AOC to grow up. AOC will win by a landslide with Mayor Pete as her Vice. By then, one half of humans will have murdered the other half plus viruses and who knows, plagues, fascists, Trump Jr., elephant extinctions, Fox news, anti-vaxers, twitter wars, Cabinet members who believe in the Rapture, black holes, Match.com, and if the planet can still sustain us, who knows…my voice trails because I will be long dead so really, who cares who I vote for. My future is now while the Millenial futures unspool in scenarios yet unknown..
We were turning into the first St. Albans exit now and heading towards Fairfax. Past McDonalds and the Hannaford Mall, the Dollar store, TJ Max, Guys Farm and Yard, The Veterinary Service. On the left is a huge and well maintained, possibly new and very red barn, with a clump of cows waiting patiently at the door dreaming perhaps of a nice quiet stall, certainly not of slaughter.
Cleaning out the Lilly beds too soon, it really was too cold, still damp, wet, the ground frozen beneath mud. She should have raked out the dead leaves in the fall, but November had been dark and cold, and already they were cocooning indoors. Winter had come too quickly just as it was leaving too slowly, (too soon, too slow, what was not too soon? Too slow?) So now, on this raw afternoon, she stood with a rake thinking it over. The sky was leaden, quilted by gray clouds, dripping rain, but not really rain, not yet, that wouldn’t happen until dark. It was almost dark. Coming quickly, this dark, a feeling of sky tightening air around her.
She bent down, looking through the lily leaves, pushing them aside with the rake first, but the leaves were stuck in the rake, she couldn’t tell what wanted to release and what leaves didn’t. Some were clearly dead, packed in around others with green at the edges, maybe attached to something, to another part of this thing, a lily, a clump of lilies still hidden in shawls of protective dead growth. This thing winter did. Freezing the juice from living leaves, so they would blanket what was to be saved beneath the frozen mud. Some came away. She put down the rake, bent, began using her hands. Could feel between her fingers what was coming apart easily, and what was still attached, still delicately bonded to the real life below but for what purpose? She didn’t care. Every day it had been first snowing then hailing then raining, every daybone chilling and too soon, but right now, there was a break. Expose the bulbs, for the sun was coming. Too soon, maybe. Something down there, not a bulb. She reached in, yanked. A bone. A big dog bone, gnawed at either end, The dog, in the winter, had come here with this bone in his mouth and carefully put it end first down among the leaves. It was yellow, brown with mud, no longer bone white, hidden away for a particular passage of time.
The dog came down the steps. It was a large white dog with a big head and a brown spot behind each ear. It sat behind her, nuzzled her neck and gently lifted from her grasp its bone. My bone, his eyes said in that animal language of looks, grunts, and tails, but did not thank her. Instead lay down beside her with the bone in its mouth, folding his long white legs. The paws then held the bone for licking. Hello, the dog said, now turning its muzzle to show his tongue. He rose again and laid the bone in her lap. This bone is mine, but I’m putting it here. And then he got up and went off to the pond where two geese were patrolling along the edge, the one goose pecking up and down the shoreline, the second goose standing still facing away from the pond, as if on patrol. Watchful. The dog watched the goose, the goose watched the dog and the woman looked at the bone. It was filthy, in her mind, but not so to the dog, for the dog was beholden to it, and the bone to him.
Pain down her leg, a stiffness in her back. It was not the best idea squatting here under heavy skys in a too thin jacket, torn pants, wet sneakers. Pain reminding her, to breathe, stretch, stand, to look out at the pond where now the heron had arrived. Having seen the dog, the bird changed its mind, flew past, its wings stiff and legs drawn back to its gray body, and landed now on the last bit of ice floating at the far shore. Three blackbirds backed away. They were ravens or crows (the difference has to do with their tail feathers. You had to wait until they were airborne to tell which was a crow and which a raven, for when they spread out, one perfectly straight, the other pointed in the middle, but which was a raven and which a crow, she could not remember.) She stood watching he heron find its footing on the slippery ground, its claws like fingers tapping out words. The patrolling goose moved away, followed by his spouse, the female she presumed. The protective male watching over the female eating. They looked alike, it was hard to tell if the female was doing the eating because maybe it was her mate, and she was doing the protecting. They could be doing both, or else the male never ate, or else they changed places. Last year at some point there was only one of them. The standing male who never seemed to eat, just patrolling the edge of the pond by himself. She presumed it was the female then deep somewhere in the bushes sitting on an egg, on two eggs, and sure enough, one day there appeared the other goose and with her two tiny geese and the next day they were all gone.
Now the dog too was watching, and she wondered what were his thoughts? Were they anything like hers? No, he was walking back towards her now. She watched him coming, his focused eyes, ears hanging like what, like….mushrooms, she thought, like big…oh, she couldn’t think of their names, soft things with fuzzy skins that would fold if you picked it up by one edge, fold like these ears no, this was silly. Big as donkey ears, was what. Only hanging down like soft flayed mice. Moving closer, steadily, focused on his intention and thoughtless, without contradictions or reprehensions or ulterior motivations or hidden agendas or any other metaphor or rhetorical ideations, just a dog coming back for his bone. Dog. Bone. No understanding of how it had arrived in her lap. No clue, no memory of the moments before when he had left it there, or when he had first discovered it, and certain nothing so far back as deep in the winter when he’d carried it out of the house, sat in the snow for a few moments under a weak sun, then lying under that sun, spread out on his back, feet in the air and the bone underneath. Perhaps the dog remembered the feel of the bone against its spine, My bone. Mine.
And how had it gotten into the lily bed? The dog was bad at this. He would bring those objects that meant most to him at this one instant, a moment he would never remember, which was neither too soon or not soon enough, carrying it carefully in his mouth because it was a long bone and would fall out if he didn’t manage the exact center, the point of gravity (she was trying to remember what that was called but instead remembered the name of the mushrooms. Portabellos. And that they were round, nothing at all like the ear of a dog, except maybe in the way it felt, soft and plush when held). In the winter, the dog had stopped in front of the lily bed, dropped the bone on the ground and began digging with its front paws. Very intently, it had dug, flinging the hard soil to one side. Then it deposited the bone in the lily bed behind the hole. It pushed some of the dirt back over the empty hole and gone away. She remembered laughing. How she and her husband had stood watching at the window, laughing. Not at the dog, but in concert at what the dog had in its mind about burying a bone.
Then the clouds overran the sky and the rain began, and she and the dog went inside. Her husband sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee. It’s the end of everything, he said, showing her his laptop screen where Notre Dame was in flames.
“If, on a certain evening about sixty-six million years ago, you had stood somewhere in North America and looked up at the sky, you would have soon made out what appeared to be a star. If you watched for an hour or two, the star would have seemed to grow in brightness, although it barely moved. That’s because it was not a star but an asteroid, and it was headed directly for Earth at about forty-five thousand miles an hour. Sixty hours later, the asteroid hit. The air in front was compressed and violently heated, and it blasted a hole through the atmosphere, generating a supersonic shock wave. The asteroid struck a shallow sea where the Yucatán peninsula is today. In that moment, the Cretaceous period ended and the Paleogene period began.”
The image of us mammals scurrying around the feet of towering, pecking dinosaurs, borrowing for safety for thousands of years, ending with one random hour-long event, is chasing me this morning as I walk around my field, feeling the emergence of what we here in Vermont call spring, which is really mud, watching the water birds staring over the melting ice at the edge of the pond, sidestepping emerging dog turds and shredded toys, my goodness, life is returning. But for an asteroid we might not be here. “We” might be unrecognizable, maybe something with feathers. Remember this, writers, even as we cover the globe with our ridiculous opinions.
Wavy Gravy said that, but someone else probably said it first. I’ll go for Wavy, though, because his embodiment of the state of our humanity is precious. He is (still, at 80) the man for whom compassion is a drug. The love child, someone said, of Groucho and Mother Theresa. He had his own bus named Further, which was, back in the day, the Merry Pranksters’ vehicle of choice transporting around all dimensions a cadre of real bozos who wished us all well. But that was then and this is now. Instead of the magic carpet throbbing with good cheer, there waits at the corner, motor humming and windows blackened, a driverless Escalade.
My friend had a belly ache, the cause unclear, so his doctor ordered two Cat scans, one abdomenal, the other pelvic to be done together for a full picture. Because, as the docter knew, we are not divided by the belly button into scanable parts. The insurance company approved the top half but not the bottom and the hospital scheduled one scan, the one at the top, for a month away. The doctor then went to bat for my friend. He nudged the agency until the pelvic scan was approved to be done at the same time as the abdominal. But then the hospital refused to do the scans together and wouldn’t schedule them separately until a whole new set of requests were received. Which would delay the tests even further. Meanwhile, my friend, urged by his doctor to go to the emergency room to get the tests he needs, refused to do so. Instead, he yells at the hospital scheduler, the clinic’s receptionist, the insurance representative, drinks bone broth, swallows Tylendol and Ambian, and finally, like any good American patient, gives in because we are all bozos on the bus and noone has any idea what to do about anything.
Another friend went up on her dentist’s website where, to her horror, she saw a positive review written by me, with my picture, and a statement that I had five children, three of whom she took to this dentist. Now, I do go to this family dentist, but I never have written a review, nor do I have five children, nor would I ever give my dentist permission to post my toothy image on their website. My friend suggested that I call a lawyer and at least get free dental care for the rest of my life. My lawyer, however, never called back. So I went over to the practice and said hey, you have no right to steal my identity to boost your revenue, to grab my photo and by the way I don’t have five children. Oh, said the dentist, the web people get all that stuff from Google.
I suppose, although it’s hard to face, that maybe it’s true that we get what we deserve. We get Google and Google gets us, and this brings me to Donald Trump. The world is running on some kind of algorithm that fakes humanity the way it fakes the news and it’s out of control. Wavey and his pals were then and Donald Trump is now, two bozos on opposite poles. Yesterday I was cheering AEO and, yes, Omar, weighing my love of Bernie with my lust for Beto, but today I think the reality show guy could win the 2020 election because the bus keeps breaking down.