Another Trip Around the Sun

I like a lazy New Year’s Day full of plenty of pondering time. I set some personal and professional goals and take a look back at the previous year; it helps slow down time a bit, which seems to whiz by more quickly each year. I realize I have let this blog slip due to focusing on my children’s writing blog, my new book coming out and all the non-writing tasks associated with promoting it. I have considered ending this blog in order to not feel so scattered, but a recent trip changed my mind.

The last three days of 2017 were spent with old friends. We’ve known Pam and Denis for 28 years. It was a great visit in a cabin near Edinburg, Virginia – a cabin I’d hoped to be warmer than my house, but alas was colder. We told old stories and new, shared our children’s lives, pondered what the future holds and, for me at least, retrieved memories of other friends and events that are held in that dusty file cabinet of my mind called THE PAST.

It was the hike that took me not only up a slippery mountain to a wind-swept peak, but back even further past meeting Pam and Denis in Princeton, NJ. Back to the first three years Chris and I dated and our first three years of marriage. We’d started a tradition – I still call it that though it only lasted six years – of camping on New Year’s Eve.

1986 Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin: with my brother-in-law and his wife, my first time winter camping and cross-country skiing and the inspiration for the tradition.

1987 Shenandoah National Park, Virginia: just Chris and me against the cold.  It was 5°F and our stove froze. The walks were gorgeous: crisp and sparkling.

1988 Spruce Knob, West Virginia with my best friend (also) Lisa and her   husband Wayne. It was the first time I’d ever had a cloudless view from Spruce Knob. We cooked steak and mushrooms on an outside fire and at midnight cooked shrimp and toasted with champagne.

1989 Seneca Rocks, West Virginia: in Ivan Jirak’s cabin (Ivan was the leader of      the Pittsburgh Outing Club when we were members) with Lisa and Wayne. Note-this is not camping, but I still counted it as important to the why of this tradition.

1990 Catskills, New York: just us this time. My notes say we slept in the car and            had a nice hike and dinner.

1991 Chris and I made it to Annandale-on-Hudson (from Princeton, NJ) before turning back due to a big rainstorm from Virginia to Maine and waited until the end of January for some snow. We went to Lake Placid and Saranac Lake in the          Adirondacks. The first night was so cold that we got up and cross-country skied in the dark to try to warm up. The next night we got a cabin for $38.00. It had a bathroom, kitchenette and heat! Clearly still roughing it compared to our warm, cozy bed at home, but traditions are meant to be tweaked, right?

1992 Cabin at World’s End State Park in Pennsylvania with Lisa and Wayne: It was $54.00 for all four of us for 3 nights – cheap because no one else thinks this is a good tradition on New Year’s Eve – though it was a one-room cabin with bunk beds and no bathroom. It was freezing the whole time and I was pregnant, which meant lots of trips outside!

1992 was the last year of our tradition. Lives evolve, kids don’t like peeing in 20°F weather any more than pregnant women do, jobs structure our time, bones start to appreciate warm beds. There have been many fun New Years since then of course, evenings with friends, celebrations with family, one in Barcelona and my favorite these days, home with family.

So what was the why? Why did we plan, pack and look forward to going somewhere cold and uncomfortable for a few nights at the turn of the year? I loved the idea of having the most important things in my life right beside me: Chris, warm food, friends and sharing our thoughts and ideas. It was symbolic; a reminder of all I was grateful for and knowing what was waiting at home, all that was icing on the cake.

It was the hike that showed me I can still do this; nature isn’t something to be cherished only on 80°F, blue-sky days during summer vacation. It can and should be daily – for me I know I need this – and it can be uncomfortable. But the rewards that come after kicking the snow off my boots, stoking the fire and shivering while my tea water boils make it all worthwhile.

The hike also reminded me of one reason I started this nature blog: to forge a meaningful connection with all the life that surrounds me on our property, a connection that will lead to respect and reverence of other species and to a better understanding of who I am.

So I will continue to explore Halcyon and share what I learn about the other beings that live here. And I will strive to get out every day: cold, wet, windy or warm. I have much to be grateful for. Happy New Year!

Summer Visitors

September brings welcome rain and cooler temperatures to Halcyon. Autumn is also my favorite season, full of new starts (even though I’m no longer teaching), nesting chores like canning and filling the wood shed and, usually, reflections of a busy summer.

This summer my flow got a bit derailed. It’s not that I am good at having a steady flow; it’s often derailed, which in general adds to the richness of my life. It’s more that suddenly I realized summer was over and I had not spent a lot of time being with and learning from Halcyon. And there is nothing to can, courtesy of the (at times eleven) deer that would prefer to jump the fence to sample my hard work than settle for all of nature’s bounty outside the fence. We’ve plans to thwart them for next year.

But on my walks these past two weeks, I was reminded of summer visitors despite, or in spite of, my lack of attention to their comings and goings. Two of our visitors were quite special to me as they’ve never been here before. Without further ado, I present our visitors in chronological order.

June 14, 2017 — A Bear For My Birthday!

 

I was thrilled to have this yearling here, but didn’t think it wise that he learn to eat from birdfeeders, so I reluctantly took my feeders down for the summer (sorry birds). The bear has left some scat sign on the driveway twice, but I’ve not seen him since the first week of July.

July 21, 2017 — A Record Sighting

On a walk to the pond, I flushed a bird from the edge into a tree. I did not have my binoculars with me, but I didn’t really need them. She was large and had a curved bill. She was definitely not a heron and my presence didn’t seem to spook her. A quick online search told me she was an immature white Ibis and that she shouldn’t be here.

I saw her every day until July 29th. Once we even took our rowboat to the middle of the pond and she stayed where she was at the far edge calmly eating. I wondered if something was wrong, an injury maybe, and I wondered how she got here. A birder friend reported the sighting and it is apparently a record for Rockbridge County. I’m glad Halcyon could keep her fed until she found her way back to a flock.

Late August – Caterpillars on the Move

I was thrilled to find some monarch caterpillars on my milkweed this summer, but we left for vacation and I never rediscovered them. I have also seen an adult monarch flying through Halcyon three times, which is an increase from zero the past several years.

The following caterpillars were found on my daily walks in August. I have tried to identify them, but admit that I may be mistaken.

Milkweed tussock caterpillar

milkweed tussock caterpillar

 

 

 

 

 

White Flannel moth caterpillar: his larval stage is much more flamboyant than his adult stage!

Banded tussock moth

banded tussock moth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halcyon Days

 

Halcyon Days: a state of pure happiness induced by hard physical labor in the pursuit of enhancing natural habitat, complete with the resulting physical exhaustion and wildlife encounters.

Synonym: a perfect day.

I know that if you look up the lore and definition of halcyon, it will not be exactly the same as my definition above. The previous owners named this property Halcyon because of a pair of kingfishers that live near the pond. We liked the name and adopted it, but since all relationships depend on the personality dynamics of those involved, Halcyon has shaped us as much as we have shaped it these past 16 years. It’s only natural that the definition of halcyon could change a bit.

golden ragwort

Twenty years ago, I didn’t know that I would do some of the work I do to help shape my home or property. A lot of this work is what most people have to do to manage a property: painting, mowing, house upkeep, gardening, fencing out deer, etc. Even when we bought the house I had no real understanding of the activities I would undertake to make Halcyon our home: gutting rooms down to the studs, cutting and placing tile, plastering, using a chainsaw to clear brush and cut firewood (once crawling on my stomach under a forsythia bush with my chainsaw to cut invasive mulberry at the base, and aware of how foolish this was), learning about and eating some wild edibles, and lots and lots of canning. Chris has undertaken much of the same in addition to plumbing, wiring, dam building and the ability to amass a huge pile of firewood in the amount of time that takes me days. I have chainsaw envy.

This relationship wasn’t always easy. In the early years, we were very busy and Halcyon benefited from our benign neglect and my do I have to mow all that? attitude. When we would walk the trails, which were getting narrower year by year, I would feel frustrated at all the work there was to do, all the times Chris would point out places we should clear. This frustration, and the slow steady creep of a host of invasive species: ailanthus, multi-flora rose, autumn olive, honeysuckle and more, was a huge part of my desire to leave teaching and focus on Halcyon. She needed me. I don’t think I grasped how much I needed her.

waterfall on Mouse Run

It still isn’t easy. I mean, I don’t sit on the couch and eat bon bons, but a good day is made all the better by the fact that it isn’t easy. Sweat, scratches, close-encounters with snakes (we let them be) and sore joints and muscles are not only a price we pay for our Halcyon Days, they are part of the process. I daresay there would be no bliss, no matter how enshrined in exhaustion, if someone else did this all for us and we just showed up as guests every day. For me at least, I have to be a part of the process.

view of the Mouse Run from our bench

There have been almost daily discoveries, mostly of native trees. We have been rescuing some favorites from honeysuckle and other crowding. I call these dates with Chris, Operation Redbud Rescue or Operation Sassafras Patch. Just a few days ago we had a really rich Halcyon Day: We rescued sassafras trees and found many maples and baby sassafras. We cleared around a milkweed patch so they had more room to grow. We found and watched 5 fledgling Carolina wrens in the wood shed (they are so cute!), found a patch of wild phlox, and saw an indigo bunting at the bird feeder. All of this makes for a great day, but Halcyon wasn’t done with us yet. Before dinner we made a cocktail and took our tired bodies to the stream to enjoy the view of the waterfall – talking about what else we want to clear no longer frustrates me, it excites me – when I noticed a GIANT morel! It was almost 8 inches long and wide! I have never seen one so big. There were enough others nearby for two dinners and I am drying a few. Ah, Halcyon Days!

monster morel
morels

Each morning as my joints are slow to join me in greeting the day, I have less of a to-do list in my head and more of a vision. This vision of Halcyon grounds me in these tenuous political times and gives me hope that nature will outlast us all. But it is not just the vision; it is the process, which I hope is never done, that grounds me. It also gets me, eventually, out the door to do it all over again.

shady wall garden

I Contain Multitudes

Science is a way of life. From our first observations as curious three-year-olds we are scientists-in-the-making. Science drives our understanding of the world around us. It helps us at the doctor’s, with our shopping habits, to make our gardens more productive, our cooking better, to understand disease, health, relationships, and motivations. I can’t imagine life without science – well I can, but it’s a world I wouldn’t want to live in. What I appreciate most, besides an ever-increasing understanding of the world, is that good science leads to more questions.

What I write on this blog is an attempt to understand the world right in my own backyard. What tangled webs of life cycles exist and why, and how I can protect and enhance the nature already here. Knowing the squirrels, turkey vultures, opossums, black snakes, dandelions, screech owls, snapping turtles, deer, hoverflies, and others I’ve written about enriches my world, grounds me and fills me with more questions. Science is like a continuous enrichment machine; all you have to do is dive in.

So how could I not dive in when I saw the title for Ed Yong’s latest book, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life. I already knew that microbes were way more important than most give them credit for, that they are helpful, not just harmful. But having just finished this book, I can agree with other comments about it such as, “It will change who you think you are.”

Yong states that I’m not just a person, a body, or a vessel with my own DNA. I’m not an island in a sea of other organisms. I am a sea of organisms in constant contact with other seas of organisms. Bacteria with their own DNA, helping me, hopefully, but I’m sure not always, in my pursuit of growth and happiness. They after all, have an agenda also – to survive and replicate – but since I’m a relatively healthy and happy 51-year-old, I think the symbiosis is working fairly well. Question: Could it be better?

The bacteria living in and on my body is different than the bacteria living in and on your body. Even the bacteria living on my left hand is a different population than those on my right hand. All living organisms have their own microbiome signature. More mobile organisms like us humans spread ours around wherever we go. While our knowledge of all the symbiotic relationships out there is in its infancy, and questions of self-improvement through microbiome manipulation are still being tested, it is apparent that diversity in our microbiome is paramount to better health.

Diversity in your home: bringing a pet in to live with your family increases the microbial diversity of the home and trains immune systems of young children. Dog dust has been found to have allergy-suppressing microbes (Yong, p. 252).

Diversity in our hospitals: scientists have found that the air inside air-conditioned hospital rooms is not a subset of the outside air. The air outside was a “full of harmless microbes from plants and soils. Indoors, it contained a disproportionate number of potential pathogens, which are normally rare or absent in the outside world, but had been launched from the mouths and skins of hospital residents. The patients were effectively stewing in their own microbial juices. And the best way of fixing that was remarkably simple: open a window” (Yong, p. 257). Question: does a health care worker bring home a diversity of microbes that helps the others at home (like a pet does) or is it a negative addition to the home’s microbiome?

 Diversity based on lifestyle: scientists compared the microbiomes of people in WEIRD countries (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) with those of rural communities and from hunter-gatherer societies. “All of these groups still live traditional lifestyles. They find or catch all of their food. They are rarely, if ever, exposed to modern medicine. They are still modern people with modern microbes living in today’s world, but they at least hint at what microbiomes look like without all the trappings of industrialised life” (Yong, p.131). Yong goes on to say that the data show that all these people’s microbiomes are more diverse than those in the West. “Their multitudes are more multitudinous.” One example is a strain of bacteria that helps digest carbohydrates. It is present in hunter-gatherers and apes and absent in industrialized populations. Question: can we choose certain foods to augment our microbiome?

 Our diversity is in constant flux: Yong explains, “The microbiome is not a constant entity. It is a teeming collection of thousands of species, all constantly competing with one another, negotiating with their host, evolving, changing. It wavers and pulses over a 24-hour cycle, so that some species are more common in the day while others rise at night. Your genome is almost certainly the same as it was last year, but your microbiome has shifted since your last meal or sunrise” (Yong, p.136). Question: how does my particular microbiome shift and what habits could I have to increase my vitality?

Many of the models we are working with to stay healthy, grow stronger, etc. appear to be incorrect. I’m excited about this grand view of life we’re learning from the smallest organisms on the planet. Bacteria aren’t just hanging out with us or hitching a ride, they’re integral to who we are. They’re integral to all life processes on earth. The bolded sentences above are just some of the many questions I had reading this book. I highly recommend I Contain Multitudes as a way to start your year, a way to rekindle your three-year-old scientist. The book is not laden with confusing terms; it’s quite readable, and Yong’s sense of humor adds to the experience. I really do see myself differently. In this essay I highlighted examples that largely affect humans, but much of the first part of the book highlights what we know about microbial processes that affect plants and animals. I know my walks at Halcyon will be enlightened with this new knowledge.

So I hope you’ll check out I Contain Multitudes. At the least you’ll have the latest understandings of microbial processes and their effects on human life. At best your worldview will be changed. Happy New Year! Life is much more fun when you’re curious. I for one will be looking at even the common dandelion at Halcyon differently from now on.

Life and Death

I’ve been obsessed with life cycles lately. I spent over two years working on a picture book about a food chain and some of the life cycles related to milkweed plants and monarch butterflies. Two years seems long enough for the larval stage of a book, and I am happy to announce that it has wings; it’s out there in the big world, making its rounds and opening minds.

Opening minds to what? Well, I have a desire to connect humans to their inherent wildness, hence a main purpose of this blog. I believe the more we remove ourselves from nature – from green spaces and fresh oxygen, from mountain ranges and oceans bigger than ourselves to the small-scale life in our gardens, from the bacteria that share our human vessel and help with our life processes – the more we become detached from living. Kids are more open to giving nature a chance; they haven’t developed a fear of exploring or just being outside. That’s a big reason I chose to focus on writing for kids even though I enjoy what I learn when writing nature essays for this blog. Here however, I’m mostly ‘preaching to the choir.’  I hope to have a broader influence on the importance of nature in our lives as I grow as a writer. Inherent to understanding how we are connected to life on earth as we live is also the understanding of how our death is a part of the cycles and life processes on earth.

In the classroom we commonly teach life cycles without talking about human death. We use frogs, apples and butterflies – three species familiar to children. When kids are older, we make sure they understand that humans have life cycles too, but we really refrain from talking about human death, our death, at least in the classroom. Also, we teach food chains separately from life cycles, and so many children do not grasp how they are connected and how all life should be a part of the energy flow through ecosystems. I say should be because most modern burial customs cause a broken food chain where humans are concerned. In my new picture book, Milkweed Matters: A Close Look at the Life Cycles within a Food Chain, I’ve told a food chain story starting with the sun giving energy to a seed, in this case a milkweed seed. The story I’ve told is not the only food chain that a milkweed can be a part of, but by using the monarch butterfly as the primary consumer in the food chain, I’m using a species which is familiar to many children, in hopes of helping them better make a connection between what they know about food chains and life cycles separately and how both concepts are linked.

As teachers, we matter-of-factly teach about decomposers, a group of organisms crucial to recycling energy in nature, and placed at the ‘end’ of the food chain. Without decomposers – worms, flies, roaches, fungi, bacteria, and many other kinds of insects – life on earth could not continue, at least as we know it. Life cycles would be affected. Plants need the nutrients that decomposers release from dead bodies in order to grow, to start a new life cycle. It’s too sensitive to talk about humans decomposing, and so we don’t. But if we don’t talk about death, can we fully engage with the wondrous life part of our life cycle? For me, at least, I don’t think so. I liken it to how we can’t fully appreciate happiness without experiencing sadness, how we can’t truly grasp what it means to be grateful if we’ve never experienced hardship. All of this together, the ugly with the beautiful, makes up our lives. Having only good experiences might make us feel empty, while having only bad experiences can leave us bitter and feeling disempowered.

Death is sad. My thoughts on death have not ended by publishing Milkweed Matters. My mother-in-law, a very special woman to me and to her whole family, died last month. The childhood and adult stages of her life cycle were rich because they were a mix of good times and hard times, happy times and sad times. She gained a lot of wisdom in her 87 years. She wasn’t ready to die, but cancer doesn’t always give us a choice. We weren’t ready to lose her. I think we need to talk about death more because it is ok to feel sad sometimes, because the sad and the happy are related in creating our whole experience of life, in creating a richer sense of self.

I have always thought I wanted to be cremated when I die because I don’t want to take up space in a cemetery that does not have personal meaning to me. But as I get older and experience more death around me, as I contemplate my life and my death in the context of my increasing knowledge of ecosystems, and as I strive for ways to fully embrace my niche as an animal among all of earth’s inhabitants, I think perhaps I do want to be buried. But only if nothing will interfere with the decomposers who will transfer my energy and nutrients back to the soil – no embalming, no kind of casket that cannot decompose with me and no vault that is impervious to the forces of nature. I’m thankful there are now green cemetery options available; I’m equally thankful their existence means I’m not the only person with these thoughts.

I wanted Milkweed Matters to help children see the connections between food chains and life cycles. However, I think I was also exploring how to allow for more conversations about death with kids. It’s too early to tell if my main goal worked; there are only two reviews on Amazon at the moment. Is it possible to make death less scary? I don’t know. I drafted another life cycle story recently, playing with this idea. Of course, it still has an animal character to model what is otherwise too sad or scary to show with a human character. Maybe that’s the closest we can get. But we’re all going to die someday. I won’t know until it’s my turn, but I wonder if the dying part of my life cycle will be less scary if I continue to ponder and discuss death with those whose life cycles intertwine with mine.

 

If you’re interested in reading Milkweed Matters, here is where you can get it. I welcome any feedback. Thanks.

The Calming Power of Chelydridae Persistence

IMG_3066

The bubbles alerted me, snaking in my direction, and occasionally skirting off course. I knew what they were, or at least I thought I did, and I stayed to get confirmation. The reflections on the pond were more vivid than their source and made it impossible to see below the surface. Suddenly the bubbles stopped moving, but they continued to rise, looking like a dinner plate expanding in size. I imagined it frozen in place underwater, waiting, just as I was frozen on shore. Show yourself.

Finally, I decided I didn’t have all day. I need to finish picking blackberries, so I melted out of the moment, but not without stealing a glance over my shoulder a few yards later. Yes! I was right. Chelydra serpentine, the common snapping turtle, had poked its head above water. So again, frozen in a moment, we sized each other up. Me, wishing it could know I’m grateful for its presence. No, more than that, that it calms my troubled soul. Its head disappeared after a few more frozen moments and the bubble snake continued across the pond.

The common snapping turtle cannot pull its head into its shell for protection because its plastron is small, compared to the plastron-carapace ratio in other turtles. This means more body remains exposed. Some scientists theorize this morphology led to the adaptation of strong jaw strength in order to protect itself. When encountered in the water, a snapping turtle will usually flee or bury itself in the sediment. When encountered on land, most likely feeling vulnerable, they are aggressive, earning their reputation for being a creature not to mess with.

IMG_2891

I love that snapping turtles live in our pond at Halcyon. I have seen three at one time, but I am not sure how many actually live there. This spring we saw a female constructing a nest in a clay bank at least 300 yards away from the pond. Young turtles spend a few years near streams before migrating to a pond to establish a territory. They face numerous predator pressures from before hatching – skunks and raccoons will dig up nests – to migrating – birds and larger mammalian predators including humans will hunt them, and cars will crush them – and even while hibernating – otters have been known to dig them out of their muddy nests and eat their arms and legs. But once they reach a sufficient adult size, snapping turtles are ‘top dog’ in the pond.

Their natural history is interesting to me, but it’s not the reason I’m grateful for their presence. What endears them to me is how long a presence they have. Not just that an adult turtle can live 100 years, but that the species has existed for 90 million years with little further evolution. Snapping turtles lived in the western hemisphere when the first peoples crossed the Bering Land Bridge. They were here with the dinosaurs. And that feat of tenacity, of persistence, is calming to me. Our pond is spring fed, and between the spring and pond edge lives a large patch of skunk cabbage. The setting has always felt primordial – a sense I can only imagine from science and movies. You can read about a previous post on skunk cabbage here http://www.halcyonnature.com/2014/03/31/late-winter-wanderings/

Because of the skunk cabbage and the snapping turtle the pond allows me a glimpse into the world of long, long ago. Thankfully, I don’t need dinosaurs to complete the mood! It’s not the past I think of though when I find myself brooding at the pond. It’s the future. Maybe not mine, but probably my children’s future and definitely the future of humanity on earth. At the pond, I find hope in the small spaces of wildlife that hang on despite mankind’s destruction of habitat, and the scary prognosis of climate change. At the pond, I find peace when our politics are full of chaos. I remember constructing an essay for an art class when I was a student at Mary Baldwin College and feeling frustrated about Bush and the Supreme Court stealing the presidency from Al Gore. I believe our society would be further advanced with regards to environmental protection and progress to slow down climate change if Al Gore had been our president. But the snapping turtle tells me we’ll get through this eventually. I go to the pond now to find sanity when I hear the hate and nonsense that comes out of Trump’s mouth. Society may oscillate forward and backwards with regard to what I believe is true progress for our species: gender and race equality, universal health care, closing the poverty gap, and environmental protection. That snapping turtles keep on keeping on through all our missteps is somehow comforting to me.

Whenever I feel troubled or anxious, I’m drawn to our pond. I know I will feel better after some time spent there. I don’t know exactly how the snapping turtles were drawn there, but as long as I live at Halcyon, there’ll be a space for them to persist.

 

Since I’ve only one good photo of the snapping turtle to include, I thought I would be brave and also share the essay I wrote in 2004. In class we had brainstormed a word splash (not knowing why). The assignment then revealed was to use all the words in a poem, story or essay. The words in italics were the words we had to use. It is sad that some of what I wrote still applies twelve years later.

 

Inquiry in the Arts/October 8, 2004/Art words assignment

Buried in Lies

I emerge from my house like a turtle from its shell; like an artist from a coffee shop after hours of writing her craft in low light. I walk slowly to the pond to let my body wake up. Passing the garden, I see that the beans are done for the year, dead on the vine. But the pumpkins are doing well, lined up on their vines like paintings in a gallery hall. There is the crisp smell of fall in the air, and the color of gold in the trees around me. As I arrive at the pond, the Kingfishers’ call greets me like the sudden music of a radio just being turned on. I can’t help but wonder if she is screaming an expletive in bird language at me as she flies away. Then all is quiet again.

Ah quiet, why do people think it boring? Quiet is so good for my mood, calming and invigorating at the same time. The water is serene and the sun feels good. I wish I could paint this feeling. I just stand at the edge of the water letting the sun reach into my blood and warm me. The sun is warm. The sun is perfect. Weird!

Why is it weird for the sun to feel good? Oh yeah, because it is usually too hot. Here I go with thoughts to wreck this lovely ambiance. But the sun so rarely feels good to me anymore, always too hot, with spring too short and summer too long. Why can’t people see what we are doing to the atmosphere? Even George Bush said global warming is real. Hmmm, then maybe it is a lie! Ever since November 2, 2000 when a wise child said to me “ My stuffed animals voted for Al Gore, but their vote does not count,” I feel like I am immersed in lies. I can’t even figure out where to find the truth anymore. Why do we still not know what really happened September 11? Why is no one questioning the way the towers fell? Why is there mercury in our water and smog in our Clean Air Act? Maybe we are all to blame. Don’t we start out early lying to our children? We tell them about Santa at Christmas.   We tell ourselves we deserve a break because we work so hard, forgetting that we chose to be married to our jobs. No wonder we do not know what is true anymore.

What if . . .

we replaced B.C. with A.B.B (it would now be 13 billion years after Big Bang), and we celebrated our relationship with nature?

multi-cultural was not just an expression of tolerance, but really meant we embraced and celebrated all the interesting kinds of culture in our world

history was not stuck in libraries? What if Americans had to take field-trips to live with starving children in Ethiopia?

presents were always homemade?

we valued eclectic personality traits more than the status quo of the majority?

all Americans from Seattle to St. Louis to Miami used less resources, built smaller homes, got rid of garage-door openers and backyard fences? What if neighborhoods and neighbors existed again?

our President knew the difference between ‘pre-emptive strike’ and ‘last resort for war’?

snow was considered a decoration rather than a nuisance, a reason to have a party?

 art was a conduit for empathy more often than a symbol of status?

What if . . .

 schools valued all kinds of talent, not just math and verbal skills?

honesty was valued over money and power?

I was awakened from my design on life by the sound of my dog jumping into the pond. His splash made a ring around his body from the waves he created.

I wish I had a boat to sail away from all these lies, but now the sun is too hot. As I walk back to the house I wonder (more realistically) what if? What if there is a change in the guys on Capital Hill this fall? My hopes are not high. Perhaps I’ll just settle for no more bad coffee. Especially if I have to listen to the same old lies for four more years!