Letter From the Vineyard 02 10 2020 Under a buttery moon…


Mondays have become winter special.  The bookstore is closed; I spend the morning lingering, reading the newspaper, my current book, sipping tea, usually Irish Breakfast, savoring the interior warmth while outside is grey and chill.  Yesterday, when I heard a couple comment on how cold it was, I thought: it’s not Minnesota cold.

Last night, the snow moon floated above the earth, a soft buttery gold orb, seen through bare branched trees, on a mostly cloudless Vineyard evening. As I stood watching it, it reminded me of the inexorableness of nature and the world.  Mother Nature, as my friend and author Howard Bloom says, is a bitch.

And we have seen her bitchiness at work these last weeks, in the horror of Australian fires, the storm named Ciara, currently bludgeoning Europe after wafting a British Airways jet to the fastest Atlantic crossing of a subsonic plane in history, to the coronavirus marching, seemingly inexorably, out of China and onto the world stage, to the flu which claimed a four year old boy when people convinced his mother not to give him prescribed Tamiflu but to put potatoes in his socks.

As Howard says, Mother Nature is a bitch, and she is having her way with us right now.

As she has for eternity.  Think of the Pompeiians lost to angry Vesuvius or the thousands upon thousands swept away in the Christmas tsunami not so very long ago.

We live in a time of wonders.

Christina Koch has returned from the International Space Station, the woman who has spent more time in space than any other woman and who is second only to Scott Kelly in total length of time in space.

Space tourism will kick off in the next years.

Driverless cars will come.  Robots will march.

Science Fiction is reality, or soon to be.

“Longtime Companion” [1989] may well have been the first film to put a real face to the AIDS crisis.  In one scene, a handsome young man lies in a hospital bed, an oxygen mask on his face, his eyes wide with fear, not understanding what is happening to him.

It was was scene that came to mind when I first saw the picture below, on BBC.com, I think.



It is Li Wenliang, the Chinese ophthalmologist who raised concerns about the coronavirus and was accused by Chinese authorities of “rumor mongering” and made to issue a public apology.

He died in the early hours of February 7th; his picture will haunt me, as did that scene from “Longtime Companion.”  How often in history has common sense and human dignity been trumped by fear in fighting illness?

We are fearful, we human beings, in equal or greater measure to our ability to transcend fear and do great deeds of kindness and heroism.

And that dichotomy is one which constantly amazes me, moving me to anger at times and to tears at others.  I thought of it earlier when I saw a photo of a young man helping an older woman get out of her home in the above-mentioned Storm Ciara [or Sabine, if you are in Germany].  The MET is calling her the “storm of the century” though the century is young; I suspect worse is to come.

Next year’s federal budget calls for a cut in social safety nets in this country while boosting spending for the military.

If I remember my history correctly, it’s a problematic scenario.  Louis XVII and his wife, Marie Antoinette, literally lost their heads because the French diverted so much money to the military, largely to help we Americans win our revolution against the British.

There is a tipping point.

So, here I am, bemused and bewildered, as I write this particular letter, not too happy with what I see.  A dangerous virus is advancing, fearful people are reacting with, not unexpectedly, xenophobia [there is, at least to me, something disgusting in those “wet” markets but a whole race should not be condemned], we are becoming unbalanced in our national priorities and it will come to roost somehow.

In the early 20th Century Teddy Roosevelt bridled the Gilded Age horse, preventing it from running amuck.  Something will change here.  Such is the nature of history.  It always changes.




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