Blue Morning Drive

This poem was written on written on January 2, 2018

I open the garage door and start the car to warm it
Back out into the squeaking snow,
the headlights reveal flakes as big as cereal and
Six inches of powder, new to this place in the world
The air becomes increasingly blue as nautical dawn emerges, no other light but my little ship sailing down the road
The firs are magnificent in their heavy green and white robes; their
deciduous cousins groan as they wave their naked arms and complain about the cold
At the corner where our dirt road meets the county road, no other cars,
I make the turn slowly and venture further into blue
The second house on the right still displays a Christmas tree
I see the lights through the picture window,
Those big multi-color lights, impossibly cheerful on this frigid, forlorn morning
At the intersection where the county and state roads meet,
movement and life
A clumsy county snow plow, blinking and nodding, moves forward in a cloud of snow mist,
A semi follows, snow streaming off its roof
I turn and join the regatta,
sailing slowly through the blue

Two Miles High in Michigan

This poem was written in the Spring of 2018

“First there was the ice; two miles high,
hundreds of miles wide and many centuries deep.”
Waiting for the Morning Train by Bruce Catton

First, the ice.
Then a roar as millions of giant first growth trees fell into lumber.
Furs, muskrats, confusion and disease for the first people.
Storms on the big lake and tales of bare-knuckled survival.
Lighthouses, floods, and the relentless immigration from northern Europe.
Now retirees learn to snowshoe, and tourists climb the dunes.
No one knows if the second and third growth trees smell as sweet in the heavy summer air.
But sometimes, when the wind is from the north and the conditions are just right, you can smell what is coming next.

Whispering Trees

When I think of northern Michigan, my first thought is of the trees. The smell of pine needles on a hot still summer afternoon, the incredible riot of autumn color, skinny sentinels standing guard all winter, the moment of spring giddiness when the first buds emerge. Michigan’s trees are stressed now – since the great logging era ended 100 years ago, age, disease, and climate change have decimated millions more trees, and recent trends of not re-planting what is “harvested,” have already changed the northern Michigan my niece and nephew’s children will see. Ash, Beech, Oak, Spruce and Fir are all under threat or dying from insects, fungus, or disease. Hemlock could be next.

Michigan still has 19.3 million acres of forest – that’s more than 50% of the state’s land – so these trees are critical to our identity. The diversity and mix of trees are also critical to the wildlife we have here. 

When the trees are  gone, the birds and the birdsong will be gone too. The silence will be deafening.

Plastic

Plastic bag caught up in a tree

I’ve become obsessed with a plastic bag caught in a tree near where we live. It’s a common enough sight in urban areas but I don’t think I have seen one here. Every time I drive past it, I think about how long that bag will endure.

Even if I could get my hands on it, there is no real way to get rid of that bag. It will be in a landfill, or in the lake or an ocean for enough years that it may as well be forever. My understanding from a cursory look at the research is that bags last 450 to 1,000 or more years. Burning them releases enough harmful dioxins that experts say it is better to put it into a landfill. Of course, they can be recycled. Another way of existing forever.

Salad, it’s What’s For Breakfast

Greens, olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and red onions

I’ve read several articles since the new year began about reducing sugar in your diet.  In every case, it seems the author danced around the “what to actually eat” question. I’m here to tell you clearly: stop eating cereal. Anything that is manufactured in a plant, and then sold in a box, is not going to taste great unless it has sugar added.

Instead, have eggs, or soup, or my favorite – a big salad with local organic greens, some good quality olive oil, and some nuts and avocado. Fills up your stomach with good fiber, vitamins, and minerals while giving your brain and mitochondria the best fuel they can get.

It’s the first year of a new decade folks. Let’s eat different!

Books I Read in 2019 and Recommend

I read 37 books this year – 13 were non-fiction, 2 were collections of short stories, and the rest were fiction. I’m pleased with the variety in this group of books.

I rated each book from 1 to 5. Eight earned my solid “3” rating, 11 got a very good rating of “4” and another 11 earned a superlative “5.”

I can recommend the ones I rated “4” as very good and well worth reading. They include (in the order I read them):

      • Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey Smith
      • The Library Book by Susan Orlean
      • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
      • Baby, You’re Going To Be Mine by Kevin Wilson
      • The Circadian Code by Sachin Panda
      • Your Duck is my Duck by Deborah Eisenberg
      • The seven Pete Thorsten mysteries by Robert Wangard
      • Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall
      • City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
      • The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
      • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The ones I thought merited a “5” were so amazing, I still cannot believe I got to read them. I hope to revisit them, or other books by these authors, in the coming months.

The Overstory by Richard Powers
A long book – 500 pages – this Man Booker runner up is a giant in every way. The story is unique, the language precise, and the world created as the story unfolds is exquisite. Barbara Kingsolver called it “A gigantic fable of genuine truths.” I’d tell you it’s about trees and people, and taking non-human life seriously.

Virgil Wander by Leif Engler
This author tells a good story about some interesting characters in a small town, and he does so with language so precise and a voice so clear that it made my heart skip. His voice is perfectly that of the upper midwest in the United States. I know these people, and Engler knows their story.

The Endurance, Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Adventure by Caroline Alexander
I read a good chunk of this on an iPhone, sitting on an airplane, surrounded by modernity – and this book transported me right back to 1915-1917. I could feel the cold hopelessness of these 28 men struggling to stay alive. An incredible true story I had missed somehow until now.

The Uninhabitable Earth, Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
A survey of today’s climate change references – from science, culture, and literature. I found this compelling. “I am like every other American who has spent their life fatally complacent, and willfully deluded, about climate change, which is not just the biggest threat human life on the planet has ever faced but a threat of an entirely different category and scale. That is, the scale of life itself.”

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Traces a Korean family dynasty over seven decades of the kind of everyday adventure that makes up all our lives. This book draws you into the family drama and stays with you for a long time afterwards.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
“Painful and beautiful” one reviewer says. Barry is one of my favorite authors, and he outdoes himself here. He transports you into the rough tumble of western America in the 1860’s – the west with its Indian wars, the civil war – told in a unique voice. Lots of surprises from his beautiful and complex characters.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabelle Wilkerson
Epic. This book is huge in scale, masterfully researched, extremely well written. It was a great read, and it taught me a ton of stuff I never realized about the white privilege I have enjoyed my whole life. Highly recommended.

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
A thriller on multiple levels, including a finely drawn psychological portrait of a 14 year old girl growing up under extremely unusual circumstances. Set in a remote area of Michigan’s upper peninsula.

Normal People by Sally Rooney
On the Man Booker long list in 2018, Normal People is “is a nuanced and flinty love story about two young people who ‘get’ each other, despite class differences and the interference of their own vigorous personal demons.” Her writing is fabulous, and the story feels modern and true.

The Parade by Dave Eggers
Described as an “allegory” for our times, this short book pulls you forward with a feeling of dread, as the characters Four and Nine are caught up in something bigger than themselves, embodying each of us. Barely a novella, it tells us about ourselves now, a dark joke with a final gut-punch punchline.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Covers the rise and fall of the firm Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup headed by Elizabeth Holmes, as well as the value of listening to your gut. When something is wrong, there are red flags everywhere. A page turner by a WSJ journalist. Couldn’t put it down.

The Aging of America

Well, this article certainly sums it up. Your future is yours to create until suddenly it isn’t anymore. The reader comments on this article were particularly interesting to me..

” … the aging of America demands serious reconsideration of the way we live. Confronting the issue and its many implications, from Medicare’s failure to cover long-term care to the ethics of physician-assisted dying, requires what seems to be the most difficult task for human beings — thinking about the future.”

 

The People I Know Now

The people I know now live in rural America. They aren’t who you think they are.

The people I know now think it self-evident that everyone’s water should be clean. It is obvious to them that everyone who needs medical attention should have access to it. They accept that mental balance and self esteem can be hard to come by, and those who will say the truth out loud are precious. They fight against the big foreign company stealing water at a bottling plant, and against the small fracking company that dumped chemicals on a road near their well. They have old cars, or none at all. They call the bus and wait. They are often between jobs, and always needing a higher-paying one. They seek dignity as they learn to live in the world after an addiction or time in prison. If they can, they grow their own food, and eat healthier than most in America. They don’t write a check for $50 or $100 easily, if at all. They don’t shop on-line as a hobby, and their clothes might be worn. The internet coverage out here is slow or non-existent. Few have big screen televisions and they still play their music off CD’s. I haven’t seen many new iPhones out here. 

The people I know now inspire me as they matter-of-factly go about daily challenges that cause me to whine about life’s unfairness. I think about the inner resilience my privilege has earned for me (or not). I compare them to the corporate ghosts I knew in my past life: executives living on chemical-cesspool golf courses, drinking their way through long trips away from home; sales people making piles of money but filled with self loathing; leaders wanting to win, more than wanting to do right. Everyone striving for bigger cars and more stuff. No one willing, or able, to name a principle they believed in, much less take a stand for it.

The people I know now read, draw, cook, sculpt, think, listen for the owls and the coyotes at night, and talk quietly among friends. They protest, march, and speak up. They take care of their land, their animals, and one another as the earth slips slowly from solstice to equinox.

I came to this rural life a cynic. The people I know now  are slowly turning me optimistic. 

Bad Habits

Watching a woman smoking a cigarette and walking down the street in Montreal, I am struck by the number of idiotic habitual behaviors to which humans wed themselves. You wouldn’t see a dog walking around smoking.