That Time Again

In America, at a certain time in your life, we like to buy a new bicycle…and store it away in our garages. It is kind of a rite of passage thing.

Two years ago, I bought a shiny red bicycle. I have ridden it exactly, oh let me add this up….once two years ago, and hmm, once last year. Yes, I have ridden it twice.

Today after building a couple more planter boxes for our landscaping project, I sat down to watch my favorite sports team, the San Francisco Giants. Then I thought, “Man you can’t sit on your ass all afternoon. Go ride your bike.”

Naturally when I went out to check on the nearly new bicycle, the tires were flat on it. Why do I say naturally? Because it is a given that whenever I decide to ride, even when I used to ride 3 hours a day, the tires will be flat. It is a personal curse upon me and mine.

Yet, that was not going to stop me from ride #3! What was going to stop me was raising my leg up over the bike seat. I am the first living person who has early onset rigamortis, or is it spelled rigor mortis – seems to be some disagreement on the old World Wide Web about the spelling of it. However I figured it out- I found a curb where I was going to ride which allowed me to get about 6 inches higher and I was able to swing my leg like a broom stick over the bike seat.

Off I went. Look at what a beautiful place I rode by, rigamortified and all!

When I came back, I sat by and under some Japanese Maple trees and their leaves have just opened.

Then I remembered some pictures I took at work last week as I walked around our campus.

And then I thought about the turkeys I saw during a walk yesterday.

And then I thought about a family gathering we had for Easter last week and I made 2 of the 7 grandchildren take a selfie with me.

And then I thought…I am a very fortunate man who is surrounded by love and beauty. I should ride my bike more often. It is good for the soul.

?

It is 11:02 p.m on a Friday night. Outside a howling wind accompanies the rain – which the weather gurus refer to as an atmospheric river. That means the rain stretches from Northern California all the way to Hawaii. They used to call it the Pineapple Express, but I guess that didn’t sound scary enough. I still prefer ‘it is raining cats and dogs.’

This week I had three young men in my office. They all are about to graduate and they are very good soccer (American usage) players. We were just kind of “shooting the shit” as vulgar people say when I suddenly asked them, “Do you believe in God?” This is not the kind of question one asks in public higher education, but I felt the urge plus I could always play the ‘senile card’ at my age if I had to.

One hour later, I had to wrap up the conversation or we might still be there. They hungered to express themselves and each one had a different answer. It was like one of those old insensitive jokes, ” An atheist, a Catholic, and a New Ager walk into a bar…” Although holding strong opinions, they politely listened and thought about each person’s answers and they shared personal experiences supporting their views…and they cared for one another. I just sat and listened.

The atheist is an engineering student and he loves studying physics. He sees the world as completely explainable through the laws of physics. I enjoyed his talk and greatly admired his scientific approach. The Catholic one went to a Catholic school as a child and although not dogmatic in his beliefs, the Catholic traditions provide him access to a deeper sense of spirituality and wholeness. I was touched by his humility. The New Age disciple described the world in forms of energy and he borrowed terms from both Buddhists and Christians. He had an enthusiasm for life and an openness to possibilities.

At the end, as they all walked out together, probably to finish the conversation over a few beers, they turned and asked, “What about you Gary? What do you believe?”

I told them that I embrace science … and I believe in God…but not the God I was taught about.

I also embrace doubt. I now am beginning to believe that religion’s purpose is not to provide answers but to create questions. All my life I looked for answers from religion, but couldn’t really accept what I was told. “Doubting” Thomas was presented to me as the least worthy of all the disciples because of his lack of belief in what he was being told about the resurrection of Jesus. Well move over Tommy, I would be right there with ya.

The funny thing is, I am developing a deeper faith through all my questions than I ever did with all my answers. I think sometimes having questions offers a more active, engaged, curious life journey than an answer based journey does. I know it allowed me to sit and enjoy immensely listening to three young men discuss their big life questions.

Man, that atmospheric river is really roaring outside.

A Roadtrip

I woke up this morning tired. My right heel has a burning sensation that wakes me up at night when I move my foot to a different position while sleeping. I thought about staying home, but my work ethic is sometimes just plain ignorant of what is best for me.

When I got to work, I  walked over to the library to watch a presentation. It wasn’t  going very well due to technology problem. These things kind of bother me because when I do a presentation I usually have Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C…Yes, I am anal retentive. Many of the young people waiting for the presentaion to get going were sitting with the protective shields up – using their cell phones, avoiding eye contact, sending out a vibe of “leave me  alone.” I see this a lot. I walked up to the most defensive of them, offered my hand, asked how they were doing, and told them I was glad they were there.  Every single one responded with a friendly gesture back. I don’t often do this. I often just make the situation worse by putting up my own  protective shield.

I  wandered out of the non-presentation and sat among the books for a bit. There I found a very old copy of Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Story Mountain,” and I checked it out. library

The student librarian said, “This is due back in … one year.” I thought to myself, “Huh, no shit? One year?” but instead I said, “I should be able to get it read by then.”

As I was walking back to where I should be, my foot started hurting again, and  I felt even more fatigue. I  also was missing Jesus. Huh? Yeah, for some reason I’ve been thinking about Jesus – I guess because it is the Holy Week and I don’t have any religious traditions left in my life.

I decided I needed a break from work for a couple hours. I have been putting in many hours and I was tired. I needed a vacation. So I got in my car and headed up the road about 20 miles to a monestary called  New Clairvaux. I believe the monks from Thomas Merton’s home monestary actually started New Clairvaux – small world.

Let me share some photos and videos with you.

A lot of  open space  on the way up there. The mountain is Mt. Lassen, an  active volcano.

Lassen

I think Mt. Lassen is about 10,000 feet in elevation. Further north is Mt. Shasta and it is about 14,000 feet or so.

shasta

Driving into the  monestary…

entrance

arch

And then I sat with my favorite tree…a very old Black Walnut tree. Someone said it was 230 years old, but I ain’t buying it…but then again… This tree always touches me deeply.  I don’t know why.

tree

I spent some time in a chapel and I got a little bit teary eyed, not like a cry baby or anything like that…still. I would make a lousy monk though. I don’t handle solitude very well, so I  hopped up and  went out to see what they were doing in the Koi  Pond. (They were cleaning the algae out of it.) I asked one of the helpers what was their oldest fish? They said that they had one for 45 years. I then asked them if it had a name and he said, “Yep, Big Bertha.”

fish

From there I walked out by the vineyards and I found a bench and  I sat quietly again…for a few minutes…and opened up the The Seven Story Mountain that I was carrying  with me for some weird reason and I read this line, “…what kind of place a man might live in, to live according  to his rational nature, and not like some stray dog.”  This hit me hard-smack right between the eyes. I have been  thinking a lot about what I want to “do” when I retire, without much success in finding an answer. It struck me, I have been concentrating on “doing” and not “being.” I “do” it all the time and it makes me very anxious. It makes me hungry, even when I am full. It makes me grumpy even when I have nothing to be grumpy about. It has me running around, like a stray dog. Just be.

bench

Ok, so  I am up again walking back to where the wine is sold. Along the way you can see the church with the most fascinating story.   https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Medieval-church-finds-home-in-California-4145608.php

wine

barrels

I bought a couple of bottles and then found another bench where I sat.  I opened  up another section of The Seven Story Mountain and read Merton descibing someone’s characteristics. I thought, “Not only am I focusing on my “doing” but I’m not letting other people just “be” either.” Yuk.  This took up about 3 minutes of silence, ok probably 2 minutes,  and then I got up. By now, my heel was really hurting and I limped back to the car. I passed a couple of the monks along the way. I have to admit, I don’t know how to talk to a monk. But to be honest, I don’t think chit chat was really on either one of their agendas for the day.

Then I  thought of this wonderful swimming hole along the way. A few years ago, I sat from the bridge and watched as family members swam on a late summer day in this hole. They were surrounded  by salmon who were returning from their journey out to the Pacific Ocean and back… and now were going to lay their eggs, or fertilize the eggs, and then die.  (The fish, not my family members.) OK, I can’t even put that feeling of watching them swim with the salmon in words. Here is a video of the place now and the snow melt makes it no place for swimming…yet.

Finally I thought, all this water runs into the Sacramento River, just down the road, …so off I went. But, first this horse caught my eye.

Now as I  review all of this, I think I might have actually taken a roadtrip with Jesus. Maybe all you need is the longing and things start falling in place. I don’t know. I don’t know nuthin’.  It was a nice vacation though and much needed.

Gary

My Loving Friends

I was driving to work today and started thinking about all the people I know and what they have faced in their lives and yet continue to be loving people…

My Loving Friends have…

Lost their young children to the most tragic of circumstances…

Delivered babies…and cared for their mothers…

Patiently worked with those who have little ability to communicate…

Faced serious health issues with spiritual courage…

Written poetry, songs, novels while creating imaginative playgrounds for us…

Dealt with addictions, theirs and others, and continued to try harder each day…

Cared for the sick and dying in hospital units, such as intensive care…

Cared for the sick and dying in the comfort of their homes through hospice care…

Adopted unwanted animals and provided a loving home for them…

Lost the nearest and dearest to them, sometimes within just a few months apart…

Raised children in a way that makes our world a kinder place…

Taught those who did not care for the academics of formalized education – a skill that could provide a good income …

Provided food and clothing for those in need…all over the world…

Mentored, tutored, coached, supported, counseled those who needed it…

Rushed to serve in areas devasted by earthquakes, hurricanes, fires…

Gone to work everyday to help those with the challenges of mental illnesses…

Put their lives at risk to serve the public safety of others…

Sought a spiritual path that is more conscious of our world and those who live in it…

Raised thousands of dollars for non-profit organizations…

Faced a lifetime of chronic pain…

Faced a lifetime of emotional pain…

Cared for their parents who faced diseases that slowly deteriorated physical and mental abilities…

Helped their unknown neighbors in times of local crisis…

Struggled to financially provide for their families, yet never quit trying…

Stood up for those who didn’t have a voice in issues of social justice…

Forgave those who trespassed…

Through this and so much more…my friends,… they still laugh, they avoid spirtually crippling cynicism…and they still love.

 

 

Vernal Equinox

It is the first day of spring on the North 40 latitude. We made it. I am not fond of winter’s darkness. I don’t enjoy the long shadows that are produced by a sun that is lower on the horizon. (I know, I know…what a wuzz I am…especially for you who live North 50/South 50 and beyond!) What is my problem with long shadows? I am not sure, but maybe it is a reminder of all the darkness that lies inside of me.  Still something tells me, I need to spend time with winter’s shadows, acknowledging it all. Lately, I have been doing a little  bit of that in short spurts. I am very slowly reading an introduction to Thomas Merton, an American monk who acknowledged his own shadows, even spent quite some time living in them actually, as he sought out a complete relationship with God. I like the dude so far… a lot. If I was ever going to get drunk with a monk (there is a song lyric for ya), Thomas Merton would be my guy.

Lately, I have been thinking about teachers, speech therapists, nurses, environmentalists, poets, songwriters, bloggers, social workers, high school counselors, professors, novelists, parents, shamans, social entreprenuers, hospice workers, students, graphic artists, therapists, artists, consultants, and social justice advocates. In other words, my family, friends, and colleagues. Their daily work is so challenging and often seems like one step forward and two steps back.  On this vernal equinox, I ran across this quote from a letter in the Thomas Merton book I am reading, What I Am Living For,

“[D]o not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite of what you expect. As you get used to this idea you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself…In the end, as you yourself mention in passing, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.” 

I don’t know if this means anything to you, but it kind of rings a bell with me – a bell that softly says, “Sit down by the big oak tree, and think about this for a moment.” I watch so many people in their “truth work, right work” who face enormous obstacles in getting things done. The results are spotty, sometimes, at best. Yet, that work must be done because it is right. I am proud of ya’ll.

Maybe the equinoxes should be celebrated as the Yin and Yang Days? The Vernal Equinox represents the middle path, situated perfectly between the light and the darkness. From a gardener’s point of view though,  I am looking forward to those summer tomatoes that come with more light! They seem a long ways from my shadows.

 

Nona’s Grandchildren

She had many names, but usually was called Nona. I asked her once what Nona meant and she told me, “The oldest and the wisest of the tribe.” I was young and I had no reason to doubt her, but I later found out that she was just demonstrating her always present sense of humor. It was Italian for grandmother. plate_11She was indeed a grandmother. I think she was everyone’s grandmother – from what I could tell. She was my great-grandmother.  Let me tell you how we met.

My parents married quite young …perhaps because I was on the way. I never asked. My mother was only 17 years old, if I’ve done the math correctly, when she was pregnant with me. My father had just gotten out of the U.S. Air Force and was cutting wood for a living near Yosemite National Park. My mother had been raised by Nona, her grandmother. My mother’s mother also was only 18 years old when my mother was born.  I guess the fact that I didn’t become a father until I was 20 years old is an indication of the progress of family planning…not!

My mother spent much of her childhood living in the “new” Indian Village at the base of El Capitan in the Yosemite Valley. There were a few cabins with common bathrooms/showers in the middle area between them. My mother told me once that she didn’t have a hot shower until she was 18 years old. If she is like me, we tend to exxagerate our childhood a bit, but she probably had very few hot showers, since hot water wasn’t available in those common showers.

Nona belonged to an Indian tribe generally referred to as Miwoks (Miwuks) and anthropologists classified them as Southern Sierra Miwoks. Yosemite Valley had been their spring, summer, fall home for centuries. With the California Goldrush, my ancestors retreated for safety to Yosemite Valley. The Paiutes, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, also came annually to the Valley and traded with the Miwoks. Nona knew all of the “old ways.” Her parents were both leaders of the tribe, sometimes called the Ahwahneechees.  You can read more about her biography here http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/the_ahwahneechees/chapter_3.html  .  None of that really mattered to me because I didn’t know her in that way. I knew her simply through a grandmother’s love.

My parents’ marriage didn’t last long and so as a baby I ended up in Yosemite with my mother and our Nona, living in the same small cabin in the Indian Village. (The old Indian Village was at a very desireable location, so the National Park Service took it over. They even built a cabin with a deck over the old grinding rock. Now that is cultural appropriation!) My mother worked fulltime and Nona took care of me. My great-aunt told me Nona adored me as a baby and called me her “Gaid-dee.” At the same time another woman came into my life, Julia Parker.  LO-RES-FEA-Four-Generations-Julia-at-Basketweavers-from-Deb-Kroll

Julia had a daughter, Lucy, who was my age and the two of us spent time in the baby buggy together with Julia pushing us through the Valley. Julia is an amazing woman and here is a link to a brief biography for her.  https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/well-woven-four-generations-of-basketweavers/ . She only recently retired from the Park Service. The last time I saw Julia was at my mother’s mother’s graveyard service about 4 years ago, but spending time with her is like being in the presence of spirtual warmth, wisdom, and compassion.  According to Julia, our Nona (for she was Nona to Julia too) was the one who was responsible for Julia being accepted by the local Yosemite people. Nona told some of those less inclined to accept Julia, “There is  always room for one more inside the circle.” When Julia told me that story, my heart jumped and I recognized both the deep truth of that statement and an immediate connection to Nona’s own spirit.

However, my time in Yosemite as a full time resident was brief. One day Nona had to be rushed to the hospital, while my mother was at work, and there was no one available to care for me. I believe my mother might have even lost her job over her daycare issues. So as was the custom, the older aunts came back to Yosemite for a family discussion about my future. Unfortunately, my future would not include my mother as they convinced her to allow my father and another wonderful woman, my father’s mother, to care for me. It would be the last time I would  see my mother for quite some time. (Yes, infants do experience separation anxiety issues with long term consequences.)

As it turned out, my father’s mother and Nona were very fond and respectful of one another and so my relationship with Nona would continue with return visits to Yosemite to spend the day with Nona. (By then my mother had moved away and started a new family.)  However, I was never allowed to spend the night there because of the alcoholism  that was part of some of the lives of the remaining members of the village.  Or, so I was told and I pretty much believe.

You know as a child, you are not aware of the branches on the family tree much. I didn’t know that my new stepmother was not my birth mother. I didn’t know how Nona fit on the tree. I just knew her as someone who wrote me monthly letters, often with $5 inside, and asked me lots of questions about school and baseball. Sometimes when I came back to visit, she would be outside with other women making tortillas beneath a tall tree. I would run around and play in the village, jumping from rock to rock. I would come up to the base of El Capitan and bend my neck as far back as it would go and just stare at this huge rock. It felt like home. In one area was acorn prepared to eat and I thought it was so bitter and terrible tasting. Nona would laugh and say, “What? You liked it as a baby!” “No way, Nona. I couldn’t have.”

I was very connected to Nona in a way that I cannot explain.  There was this intense energy of love between us. Everyone felt the same  way about her though. I have noticed that some  people just are tapped into that eternal source of all love. 50185059_1440546936Nona was one of those people. Her life was hard, but from it came a love that was powerful. She also was a very accurate fortune teller.

People would come from all around to have their fortune told by her. I have since wondered about being around that type of spiritual energy as a baby and what I might have been exposed to. Nona, however, would never tell the future of family members. Today, I also wonder if her psychic talent was  connected to that source of deep love?

I always looked forward to my trips back to Yosemite to see Nona. She was a big fan of the San Francisco Giants baseball team and she’d often have their game on a transistor radio. She was fun, she was loving, and  I guess that sometimes as a child you just know someone loves you very much. I felt this from her and my father’s mother. I felt special. In turn, I was very connected to both of them. 50185059_1393220138Nona almost seemed mythical to me…until my last trip to see her.

They didn’t tell me, but Nona had become very sick. They also didn’t tell me that on this trip to Yosemite, my mother would be there. In fact, it seemed liked everyone was there. We walked into the cabin and I looked for Nona, but she was not there. Instead a group of women looked at me and my great aunt said, “Aren’t you going to give your mother a hug.” I didn’t know which one was my mother until she stepped out of the line to hug me.  Still, I was looking for our Nona. I was told that she was sick and she was in the hospital in the Valley. They didn’t tell me how sick she was though.

When we all went to the hospital, I ran to Nona’s  bedside and I found this once sturdy, strong woman to be small and weak. I put my head on her and I cried, maybe the hardest I have ever cried in my life. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I knew death was near. Of course, all of this is happening and my memories of it are all from my perspective. I am certain this was a heartbreaking moment for everyone to watch, particularly for my mother, who had just seen her child for the first time in about 11 years and her own Nona, the one who raised her and adored her, was dying. As we left the hospital, life was different somehow. I felt older and as if I had walked through some doorway into another world.

Nona died not too long after that and I was allowed to make my  own decision regarding attending her funeral services. At the time, I didn’t know that I had attained a bit of a celebrity status on that side of my family…only because I hadn’t been around much, I was – family speaking-wise- an unknown and that made me interesting. 50185059_129904305344They were all waiting for me to attend. I chose not. I am not quite sure why. I remember I didn’t want to cry like that ever again. I was confused about my mothers. I just wanted to forget it all. I was in a new world now, one without Nona. However, Nona didn’t leave me.

Many, many years later. I was wondering what information might be on the internet about Nona and I was startled to find her name listed in Ebay. I opened up the site and there for sale was an unfinished oil painting of her. california-indian-phoebe-hogan-orig_1_f1f0b5cf56af6ab711d6bd94f6fcb70dA woman’s mother had started it when her husband was a park ranger in Yosemite and now the daughter had put it up for sale. I was shocked, offended, and immediately closed the link. But, I was spiritually hounded knowing that Nona’s image was for sale to strangers. I tried to ignore it, but whenever I had quiet time it bothered me, a lot. When I say, “it” I think I mean Nona. I finally gave in after a couple of days and said outloud to know one physically present, “Ok, I’ll buy it!”

I won the Ebay bid because I probably made a bid 1,000% higher than needed be, but I wasn’t going to take any chances of not buying that painting.  I gave the painting to my mother’s mother – Nona’s child.

In 1968 or so, there was the creation of the California Indian Act which created the California Indian Roll. My birth mother made sure I was on that roll. I ended up with a number and some money. We actually bought our wedding rings with it. Am I an Indian? I don’t know and I don’t care because myself, my children, their children, and their future children are something much better.  We all are Nona’s grandchildren.  After all, she is the oldest and the wisest of the tribe.

And for all of our loves, “There is always room for one more inside the circle.”

To Nona’s grandchilden,

Dad

Landscaping Up News

Here is a update/news on the landscaping project!

Forgot to show you the two rhododendrons we planted next to the new landing off of the deck.

Oh yes, one more thing…the chicken lived and her neck has gone back to normal. She is running around and acting like a chicken again. Unbelievable! She too looks like…WAIT A MINUTE ON THE VIDEO, I said I looked like “Hell warmed over.” That is just plain stupid.The saying is supposed to be “I look like death warmed over.”

Long, long day.