Thursday, November 24, 2016

I am thankful

     …that the rain has been falling so abundantly this autumn, and that there will be snow, too, we hope, falling abundantly this winter. When weather is as we have known it, we have reason to be thankful.
     …that I can be with my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter for the holiday, sharing an abundant Thanksgiving meal with friends, laughing together, enjoying the children, talking about books and art and travels (they to Burning Man, I to the Dolomites) and, no doubt, politics, too, because that's the most important thing happening in all our lives these days, only we won't enjoy talking about it and will try quickly to move on to other topics, but that one will hover over us as it hovers over everything these days.
     …that I live in a beautiful little house on the mountain and have a car and can get gas and can drive to town to buy food that is abundant and good or to see a play in Ashland that enriches my life or to visit with friends, and what would I do if I didn't have that car and that gas and that means to see the people I love? Some of those people are Jewish and some are homosexual, and some of my family members are Jewish and some are dark-skinned, and I know illegal immigrants, and I myself am not WASP, though I guess I am WAS. And I'm not male.
     …that I have a job I enjoy, that uses my talents and gives me an opportunity to help other people lead better lives by teaching them how to think critically, a skill which is so needed now, when people can't tell the difference between a factual statement and an opinion, and though we are all entitled to our own opinions, we need know how to determine when facts are false and how to recognize opinions that masquerade as facts. But maybe it's too late already.
    …that life is beautiful, nature is precious, and love and respect still abundant.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Enchanted Waters: Plitvice National Park, Croatia

            Swimming has provided most of my most memorable water experiences, so I was dismayed to discover that swimming in the dozens of lakes in Plitvice National Park in Croatia was forbidden. Nonetheless, Plitvice, where Mike and I spent a couple of days last summer before our hike in the Dolomites, ranks high on my list of emchanted water experiences.
            Plitvice National Park is a landscape dominated by water. On the trail around the upper lakes, we walked on wooden walkways over water gushing more like waterfalls than like rivers and streams.
Farther up the trail we walked past thundering waterfalls that pounded the ears with unceasing percussion. At their feet water pooled in great large lakes, unbelievably serene. 

Water fell everywhere: from high cliffs a dozen at a time, out of densely vegetated hillsides, in huge gushes, in long streams, in joyously leaping bridal-veil falls, or in small cascades or in trickles and streams. For miles the gurgle, whisper, and chuckle of falling water dominated the sound of the landscape, while the color of still water – from dark turquoise to a darker green –  made me ache to swim. Between the lakes stretched little natural dams covered with bushes and riparian vegetation.
So much water!  – falling from one lake into another, falling from cliffs on all sides, falling down and down and down as we walked up and up and up to the top lake, and still I couldn't figure out where it all came from.

            The next day Mike and I took the trail around the lower lakes, up to the Big Waterfall, and back around the other side of the lakes. If I had thought the late afternoon walk around the upper lakes was through an enchanted landscape, this walk was even more so. These lakes were turquoise – deep turquoise – and spilled through vegetation and over tufa dams in hundreds of places, at all angles. 
The more I looked, the less I could comprehend it – the gorgeous color, the omnipresent water, seeping through and falling everywhere, the stairstep lakes, the tufa-built dams that were constantly building up and retreating down, changing the size and shape of the lakes decade after decade, century after century.
            At one point on the walk loomed a big sinkhole
with steps going deep into the earth, circling down and down through white and black rock. It was a vertical cave, suddenly ending not in the bowels of the earth but in daylight, at a waterfall on the path across the trail that we would take on the return. And then we made the return journey back through the sinkhole, round and round up the steps, leaving behind the sun and the blue and dashing water, up through hard rock and earth and black and white, through the hole in the earth back to the path in the woods we had left half an hour earlier to fall down the rabbit hole.
            At the culmination of the trail around the lower lakes was the Big Waterfall, which dwarfed all the others. 
It was unbelievably high – higher than Multnomah Falls with the volume of Niagara (or so it seemed). Its water fell not in one voluminous gush but in dozens of separate streams. And then where did all that water go? There should have been a big pool, but there was only a small one. The water seemingly ran under bushes everywhere to fall here and there in more gushing hidden falls and make its way downhill, from waterfall to lake to waterfall to lake: an expense of energy, a long rest, another expense of energy, another long rest, again and again.
             Plitvice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I left dazed by what I had seen and experienced. Of course, it would have been even more thrilling to swim in any one of those beautiful lakes, but by the time I left, I understood why swimming is forbidden. Not only would it upset the balance between splashing water, calcium carbonate, and mosses and other vegetation that creates the tufa that builds up in dams, but also having people splashing and shouting in the water, children squealing, colorful plastic float devices dotting the water would be an outrage. It would ruin the experience, erase the contrast between gushing waterfalls and serene lakes, rob the landscape of its enchantment. Besides, just to be there, walking on the boardwalks beside and over the lakes, was to be immersed in a magical water experience equal to any swim I've ever had.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Nov. 9, 2016: Post Elections

            It's the morning after the elections, and as though Trump had not won, the sun is shining brightly here on the mountain. Nevertheless, it's a bleak day for America.
            Driving to Mike's house last night after yoga, when some election results were beginning to come in, I was too nervous to listen to the radio. But I couldn't not listen, either. I kept turning the radio on, turning it off in a fit of anxiety, turning it on again.
            Mike was watching the returns on TV when I came in. I covered my ears and turned my back and said he could watch if he wanted to, but it made me too nervous, so I would go into the bedroom and read a book. Mike turned off the TV, and we talked of other things for half an hour. He offered me a late dinner, but I was too nervous to eat. I went into the bedroom and read and tried not to think about the fate of the country being decided in the next room.
            Mike came in after midnight.
            "It's not good," he said. 
            And the world turned black. Like when Christ died.
           Our beautiful country. Our clean air and national parks and protections for endangered species. Health care for the poor. Attempts to stop global warming. We listed things, not all at once, like that, but one by one, in spurts of anxiety and fear. The Supreme Court. Abortion rights. Immigrant discrimination. Racial discrimination. Gender discrimination. Anti-Semitism. I trembled and trembled. I cried. 
          When I grew calm, I was restless. I had to do something. I thought about taking a walk, but I didn't have clothes for a walk in the cold night air. I certainly didn't want to watch television. So I said, "Let's get up and make pancakes."
            So we made pancakes at 1:30 a.m. on the worst night of the year – or of the century – and ate them by candlelight with yogurt and fruit salad.
        This morning I woke up feeling the urgency of conveying two messages. The first is to President Obama: "Thank you for being a person with dignity and humor and for leading us through difficult times with carefully reasoned decisions."
            The second is to Trump and company: "The country is in your hands. Be careful with it. Treat it with respect and love. We're turning over a beautiful country to you. Take care of it. We love it."
            Not that he'll listen.
          The best response to the elections I've found is David Remnick's well-written diatribe from 2:40 this morning, when it was clear that Trump had won. He is sharp in his analysis and courageously unrelenting in his well-founded attack. He begins, "The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism." And he ends: "It is all a dismal picture. Late last night, as the results were coming in from the last states, a friend called me full of sadness, full of anxiety about conflict, about war. Why not leave the country? But despair is no answer. To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do."
            Read the whole editorial: Read it and cry, as I did, then lift your head and refuse to give up.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Favorite Spot

        On a walk close to where I live, I stop at a particular turn of the trail, one of my favorite spots.
        It's a strange place to be a favorite spot. The path through a deep, fairy-tale forest ends abruptly at an old logging road, ending just as abruptly the fairy-tale sense of lost-in-the-wilderness, with a civilization-as-devastation sense of invasion. I move from solitude to a sense of encroachment, even though my solitude is uninterrupted; from quiet to noise, even though it is as quiet on the road as it was in the forest. There is no view, just a dense tangle of young trees in front of the deeper forest of older trees. There is nothing to catch my breath with its beauty, no huge, centuries-old tree, no distant snow-capped mountain, no bed of wildflowers. But I love this spot.
        Here is the only cottonwood tree, as far as I know, in this forest, and I have walked through miles of this forest. It is spindly and ragged with a thin trunk and indifferent branches, but I love it for its unusualness. I didn't recognize it as a cottonwood because it doesn't produce cotton, the fluff that floats through the air every summer where cottonwoods line the road. But I hadn't known that cottonwoods come in male and female and that the male cottonwoods don't produce fluff.
         The cottonwood marks the entrance of the path into the woods for me on my return. I can easily pass the turn-off and walk a mile or more down the road except for the cottonwood raising its different-leaf head into the air, patiently waiting for me to lift my deep-in-thought head and recognize it at the corner of the path. Its leaves hang loosely on its branches, not quite as dangly as aspen leaves but not as tight as, say, alder or oak leaves. In autumn they scatter over the ground in spades, shaped like the suit on playing cards and colored deep yellow with brown veins, each as different as snowflakes, one more yellow at the bottom and brown on the tip, one more brown with yellow veins, one with wide brown veins, one with narrow yellow veins, each a variation of Escher fish-to-birds fades. On the wet ground they glisten with deep, gorgeous color. In the house their bright autumn colors fade immediately into blunt, dull beige.
         The other trees here are the ordinary denizens of this forest, but it is the great variety I can identify, without moving a foot to either side, that endears this spot to me. Douglas fir, white fir, incense cedar, Ponderosa pine, sugar pine, willow, canyon live oak, madrone, Oregon ash, and, of course, the cottonwood – here they all are. The only thing missing is the black oak, which I know is just beyond sight in the woods I've walked through. There's no Port Orford cedar here, either, but that tree grows only in particular places, not far from here, but not on this particular hillside.
            But why should I talk about what's not here? What is here is what elevates my spirit. The five different kinds of evergreens growing in one small space remind me that the Siskiyous have the largest variety of evergreens of any place on earth. They are so dense in this spot I have to attune my eye to detail to distinguish between them: a Ponderosa pine growing through the branches of a cedar, a sugar pine just beyond it and two little flat-needled white firs in front of it. The Douglas fir is distinguishable for its upright branches. The canyon live oak makes a shiny-grey canopy among the conifers The deciduous trees already stick bare branches into all that dense green.
           Here, if I stop and look – really look, separating one tree from another with my eye – I am enriched by what we so easily these days call diversity. Standing here, looking, I feel the truth of today's cliché about the need for diversity. So much richness in this one small spot on the earth – and so much more that I don't even know is there, the insects and fungi and smaller plants. It is enough to fill the heart with gratitude.