Archive for August, 2009

A Tale of Two Towns August 25, 2009

August 25, 2009

Hell hath no fury like Mother Nature…

The cicadas are chirping in a dark, damp night – it has been damp all summer.  I am beginning to believe it will be damp the rest of my natural life.  This summer is headed towards the history books as the coolest and possibly wettest summer in recorded history.  I feel I am living in Oregon again. Weather is the subject of conversation everyone can safely go to rather than face the high emotions of health care reform – and it is as important a subject.   Whether you call it global warming or just natural climate change, something is happening that is different and in its difference is deeply unsettling.

Friday afternoon a riptide of a storm raced through Claverack while I was beginning my way home and by the time I got home roads were ravaged by downed trees and power lines.  Cut off from home, I was offered a port in the storm by my friend Alana.

Saturday morning unveiled the extent of damage – hundreds of trees broken and fallen, homes shattered, my tree sheltered cottage lucky with only one tree down; it had fallen against another tree saving the house.  The weather service called it sheer wind; locals claimed seeing mini-tornadoes tear through their yards and fields, ripping up the landscape and their trees in a sight none remembered before – this was weather as it had not been experienced in living memory.

And that is what is troubling us all – experiencing weather phenomena that no one recalls and no one recalls being told about before.  No one I know has a grandmother who told them a story of the time mini-tornadoes ripped through the town.  Though many who lived through this last Friday will tell their grandchildren…

What is happening with the weather seems new to us.  It may just be the natural cycle of the planet – or not.  It may be global warming – or not.  The debate will go on; what is irrefutable is that what is happening with the weather has little to do with the oral history passed down to us.  What’s going on today wasn’t talked about when I was a child sitting on the steps of my parent’s house and weather was discussed.  There was a sense then that weather had a pattern, a rhythm that had gone on, if not forever, for as long as anyone remembered.

Not so today.  What is happening with the weather has a decreasing amount to do with what we have known and more to do with assimilating what we are experiencing.  Today on NPR I was listening to a report about a glacier in Antarctica, four times the size of Scotland, which seems to be in the process of disappearing – something that seems to have really started about ten years ago.  We are assaulted by stories like this – glaciers disappearing here and there, ocean temperatures far above what they were.  No adult in my childhood told me these kinds of stories.  I don’t remember sitting on the front stoop of my parent’s home being told we were moving into a new weather world that broke all the rules of all the remembered generations.  And that’s because when I was a child the weather rules still reigned – what had happened seemed likely to happen again — yet now we are living in a world where what is happening is not what has happened before.

We are living in a frightening world.  There was an ad campaign not so many years ago – not your father’s Oldsmobile.  Well it’s not your father’s weather anymore either.   Oldsmobile is gone and so is the weather we used to know.  Might be Global Warming, might just be a natural cycle.  Doesn’t matter – the world of weather is changing and it is, like so much around us, a bit frightening.

A Tale of Two Towns

August 16, 2009

A Tale of Two Towns

August 16, 2009

Woodstock bellowing in the tunnels of time…

This weekend marked the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the music fest that helped define a generation – peace, love, drugs, sex, rock and roll. All of that was present at Woodstock.

Thinking on it over this anniversary weekend, I am glad I wasn’t there. I hate crowds. In a field? No in-door plumbing? My sister will tell you that camping, to me, has always meant a Holiday Inn. Music? I’m tone deaf. It was not an event made for me, personally. Yet, it is one of the iconic moments of a generation. It was instantly romanticized and remains so today. It became a symbol for what baby boomers hoped they would be and, unfortunately, on many levels, not what we turned out to be.

Once the threat of service in Viet Nam disappeared, the boomers [I am one of them] turned their energies away from creating a better society towards the golden calf of consumerism. Many of my friends post-college started their professional careers in social services which they soon left for real estate, law school, corporate careers that paid well. Hippies became Yuppies. Instead of trading lines of poetry, a generation turned to trading tips on the newest gadgets.

Timothy Leary gave a speech in 1966 that included the catch phrase: turn on, tune in, drop out. By 1976, turning on, tuning in and dropping out was passé. Corporate careers were the next new big thing. A movement that promised a better mankind came and went in a decade. Boomers surrendered to their bread and circuses, gadgets, careers, bigger homes, flashier cars, accumulating experiences as some other group would collect postage stamps.

Lessons learned in psychedelic trances, in the muddy fields of Woodstock, in the solidarity of opposing war, coupled with the intoxicating possibility of changing society, all slipped away in the responsibilities of being “grown up.” And out of danger.

As boomers face the final acts of their lives, I am wondering if others of my generation are wondering if we let opportunities slip by – that our choices may not have been the best in the long run, that the wonderful youthful innocence with which we once faced the world was replaced by a veneer of worldly sophistication, the ennui of “been there, done that.”

I am asking these questions of myself as I face the third act of my life. My contemporaries are doing the same I suspect. It is interesting to watch the results of the current economic malaise upon the boomers I personally know. Many have been put out of good jobs and find themselves “on the beach” looking for the next gig. There is not one I know personally who is not asking themselves what they want to do next and there is not one who has not articulated to me a desire to do something now that will “make a difference – the feeling it is time, again, to do something to make a difference.” Admittedly this is non-scientific and I am extrapolating this to many in my generation, yet it is universal among the individuals with whom I have spoken.

I don’t know the entire motivation behind these impulses. Is it that we desire to make amends for profligate ways, that facing mortality there is a desire to go eventually into that good night with some more good deeds under our belts. Is it that we feel life has given us a chance to “do-over,” to actually do a bit of paying it forward? I do not know a boomer who is not asking hard questions of themselves and about their time on earth. Is it that we, as a generation, are asking ourselves if we did not allow ourselves to be seduced by the very culture we were repudiating? That once Johnson had given us “the Great Society” our obligations had ended?

Part is confrontation with economic reality, part is facing mortality, part is being reminded by anniversaries like Woodstock that there was another time and another consciousness in our lives and that perhaps we have failed to pay as good attention to that time and consciousness as we – perhaps – should have?

Tale of Two Towns August 5, 2009

August 5, 2009

Doesn’t matter what town…

Not so long ago I wrote about the woman who was on the cleaning staff of my office building who was murdered. One of the elevator operators has been arrested for the crime. It was shocking and since then I have not been comfortable in the building. It is hard not to think about that act of violence; it hangs on the building, a heavy shroud of violent sadness I sense whenever I am there – which won’t be for much longer as I am moving offices shortly.

That particular blog elicited a large number of responses – many emails simply repeating the same two words: very disturbing. My beloved sister-in-law wrote me a long note. She “wonder(ed) how we can ever get back to a civilized society? One without such a dark side.” That line has tumbled around my brain ever since. I think it is common to believe things were better in the past, that we were better beings previously and that we have descended into a dark morass, darker than ever before but from which we can escape.

I don’t think man has ever inhabited that kind of Camelot.

The dichotomy in mankind that inspires and repulses at the same time is that we are so capable of goodness and we are so capable of darkness.

The 19th Century lithographers, Currier & Ives, are associated in today’s mind with a time that is frequently recalled as that kind of a Camelot – they captured all kinds of aspects of American life, including those we now associate with all the good things about Christmas. Yet as Currier & Ives were capturing those bucolic images of American life, we were sending cholera infected blankets to Native Americans as a way of thinning their numbers.

Cruelty to other members of the human race has been one of the things we humans have excelled at since the dawn of time. Get conquered in war and chances were during most periods of human history it was a death sentence – or at best you got sold off into slavery. Slavery – now that’s a fine institution that’s done a good deal for us; we’re still dealing with the aftereffects of American slavery and will continue to deal with it for a long time to come even though long strides have been made.

Everyday, everywhere human beings do terrible things to other human beings. Yet, despite that, there are things we are doing as individuals and as groups that show the other side of the two-sided human coin. Somewhere in the world today someone will risk their life to save another life as well as someone who take one. We live with this two faced aspect of man everyday when we walk the streets of any town, anywhere. Could be Hudson. Could be Claverack. Could be New York City. Walking the streets anyplace means we will be exposed to the possibility of evil and the possibility of goodness.

We’ve come a long way since the days of the human sacrifice of children to the god Moloch. I’ve been thinking about that the last couple of weeks as I am working on an initiative to help bring attention to the International Day of Peace celebrated on the 21st of September. Odyssey is working to get a million people to take a minute and think about, pray for or envision world peace – a world without nuclear arms. At least hundreds of thousands of people have participated in the past twenty-two years, probably millions. I don’t recall a time in history when such large groups of people have joined together to promote a concept that has been mostly alien to us – peace. It gives me hope. And it is hope that drives us towards goodness.

Put it in your calendar. On the 21st of September take a moment to think about, pray for, envision a world with peace breaking out everywhere. Help make it a million minutes for peace.