Bethany Reid’s Body My House

It’s great reading weather here in the Pacific Northwest since it’s far too blustery and rainy to walk outside. I’ve actually been reading several different books, but I just finished Body My House by Bethany Reid. Bethany has been kind enough to leave comments on my site several times, so when I saw on her site that she had just published a book of poetry (a while ago) I ordered it (a while ago). Like most of the people I know, I have stacks of books sitting around waiting to be read, but this 63-page​ book seemed like the perfect book to read while I tried to figure out what I want to say about Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, which I also just finished reading.

My favorite poem in the book was probably “Unripened” because it reminded me of  childhood outdoor experiences, but even though I’m currently immersed in a review of CSS I didn’t want to spend the hours involved in trying to reproduce the format the poem used in the book and wouldn’t consider presenting it any other way. “I Could Love You that Way” was another favorite, but I couldn’t put into words why I liked it. After staring at a computer screen for nearly a week waiting for words to suddenly appear, I dispersed those electrons and chose to tackle this poem instead:

What She Wanted to Put in Her Poem

When he decided to end it all, he took his pistol
to the garden and held the muzzle to his ear.

His brains would fertilize the cucumbers,
the heirloom tomatoes, the white flesh

of the onions. His blood would seep from him
into the soil where the beans drifted over their stakes.

He would waste nothing.
Through the kitchen window, his wife

and step-daughters watched. The son of a bitch
is nothing but a coward
, his wife said.

He couldn’t hear what they said.
But he lowered the pistol. He sank to his knees.


Divorce followed. Years of apartments. Jobs
not worthy of his genius. His younger stepdaughter

still remembers him standing in the garden.
She remembers how dark the soil, how green

the plants. A mist of rain, so light, adorning
his head like a halo. How brave he was, is what

she thinks (holding a pen, staring at the white page),
to have stood from there and walked

back into his life, not knowing what it would hold,
whether bounty or lack.

I especially liked this poem because I can identify with the first part of the poem; I’ve always wanted to be buried under my tomato plants — not in a sterile graveyard.  The garden is the perfect place to retire to.  There’s a reason my study is full of Aerogarden hydroponic gardens growing tomatoes and herbs. Gardening is in my blood.

I’m afraid I’d probably be more apt to kill the spouse than commit suicide, but I could easily identify with how he must have felt when I read “The son of a bitch is nothing but a coward.”  Someone is definitely a bitch, but it’s probably not his mother.  It’s hard to imagine what kind of person would say this out loud with her daughters standing there, especially since the younger stepdaughter seems to adore him:  “A mist of rain, so light, adorning his head like a halo.” 

One suspects the daughter (the later poet staring at the white paper ?) knows, and must have had, the kind of courage it takes to step back from a moment of darkness and go on. Courage is usually identified with heroic deeds, like shooting a criminal or saving others in combat, but there are many kinds of courage. Some of us need more courage than others just to get up and face everyday challenges. Most of us experience at least a few times in our life when it takes all the courage we can muster up to just to get back on track. Poems like this remind us that we should always give others the benefit of the doubt because it’s impossible to know what struggles they might be facing.  And, in fact, we, too, can never know what life holds for us in the future.

Harlequins

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we joke that it’s winter and will be until mid-June because it’s the rainy season and the rainy season runs for nearly nine months of the year with temperatures from the mid-40’s to the mid-50’s. Days when sunshine is predicted and actually shows up are special, and we had one of those last week.  We celebrated by driving up to Ft Flagler to see if the Harlequin Ducks have returned; they have.  There were at least two distinct flocks.  The first time we spotted a flock the sun was behind them and I wondered where the males were because it was hard to distinguish them from the females.

On our way out we spotted another flock closer to shore and the sunlight was nearly perfect.  I loved this shot showing three males from different views. 

However, a few minutes later I got this shot of four males and a female together.

I’m not sure how I will ever top this one. I had to back up to fit them in the frame so I’ll never get a closer shot, and the sun was right over my left should so I’ll never get better light.  

It’s a good think I go out photographing thinking “I’ll get the best shot ever today,” or I might not have a good reason to ever return to Ft. Flagler.

I’m Okay

It’s Fall here in the Pacific Northwest, and Fall means lots of clouds (and lots of rain).  Unfortunately, it seems like the birds that usually overwinter here have been slow to return.  That means birding is still slow, and I’m not quite as eager to get out and walk.  Even when it doesn’t rain, it’s often afternoon before the clouds burn off.

Still, we manage to get out birding whenever sun is predicted, and at the very least are rewarded with brilliant Fall colors.


I’ve seen a lot less Cedar Waxwings this year than usual, so it’s a pleasure whenever I spot one, even if it’s in the distance.

There are lots of Killdeer at Theler Wetlands this time of year and

they’re occasionally joined by migrating shorebirds, like this Spotted Sandpiper.  

Even though other birders have reported larger shorebirds, this Yellowlegs is the largest one I’ve seen this year at Theler.

My exercise app usually doesn’t count most the 4+ miles we walk at Theler and Port Orchard as “exercise,” but that makes sense because it never feels like a chore to walk there.  It’s always a pleasure even if I spot very few birds and capture very few shots.

Le Quin’s “Lying It All Away”

Ursula K Le Guin’s No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters deserves a lot more attention than I’m going to give it, but since  “Lying It All Away” does a better  job of clarifying some of my current attitudes toward society than I can do myself, I couldn’t leave the book without one more blog entry.

Although I was old enough to have heard the speech by President Truman that Le Guin cites at the beginning of her essay, I didn’t hear it because we were too poor to have a TV and I was far too busy playing in the yard with my Fort Apache set to listen to any presidential speech.

I’m fascinated by this historical snippet from the New York Times’s “On This Day” feature: On October 5, 1947, in the first televised White House address, President Truman asked Americans to refrain from eating meat on Tuesdays and poultry on Thursdays to help stockpile grain for starving people in Europe.

I have no memory of going without meat on Tuesdays and poultry on Thursdays as a kid, but that might have been because we were already eating salmon that we had caught two or three nights a week.  Just because I didn’t hear Truman’s speech doesn’t mean my family didn’t share Truman’s concern for those less fortunate than us.  My parents had both lived through the Depression and my mother would tell us how her father would put food out in the alley behind the garage to feed his neighbors who didn’t have a steady job like he hadd. Although we had very little money when I was young mom contributed to the Salvation Army regularly. In other words, we were always conscious of those who didn’t have as much as we did — and we certainly didn’t have much ourselves by today’s living standards. 

Le Guin contrasts Truman’s speech with the current state of America:

At the time, the request was laughed or sneered at by some and ignored by most. But still: can you imagine any president, now, asking the American people to deprive themselves of meat once or twice a week in order to stockpile grain to ship to hungry foreigners on another continent, some of them no doubt terrorists? Or asking us to refrain from meat now and then to provide more grain to programs and food banks for the 20,000,000 Americans living in “extreme poverty” (which means malnutrition and hunger) right now? Or, actually, asking us to do without anything for any reason?

As far as I can tell, the only thing politicians demand of us today is that we sacrifice our kids’ and grandkids’ future so that our ECONOMY can continue to expand — and they can be re-elected.  

According to Le Guin this unwillingness to sacrifice anything for our fellow human beings is part of a larger moral problem:

I have watched my country accept, mostly quite complacently, along with a lower living standard for more and more people, a lower moral standard. A moral standard based on advertising. That hard-minded man Saul Bellow wrote that democracy is propaganda. It gets harder to deny that when, for instance, during a campaign, not only aspirants to the presidency but the president himself hides or misrepresents known facts, lies deliberately and repeatedly. And only the opposition objects.

I suspect you could easily substitute “lying” for the word advertising, at least considering how closely she ties it to the lies told by Romney and Obama.  It used to be that being caught telling a lie could lose you an election, today, even more than when Le Guin wrote this, lying, particularly  repeated lying, may get you elected.

I’m not sure Le Guin is correct when she argues that Obama didn’t have to provide false figures and make fake promises to get elected:

What was appalling to me about Obama’s false figures and false promises in the first debate was that they were unnecessary. If he’d told the truth, he would have supported his candidacy better, as well as putting Romney’s faked figures and evasive vagueness to shame. He would have given us a moral choice instead of a fudge-throwing match. Can America go on living on spin and illusion, hot air and hogwash, and still be my country? I don’t know.

It’s pretty clear that “spin, illusion, hot air and hogwash” have carried the day in recent elections. I’d like to think that will change in the future, but after Trump’s election I have my doubts.  I’ll have to admit that I haven’t listened to a single presidential debate, but that’s because I really put very little credence in what  candidates promise. I trust commercials even less.  Instead, I look at what they’ve done in the past, because that’s the only realistic way to judge what they will do in the future.  It’s hard not to be disappointed in the leaders we elect when they are unable to fulfill the promises they made while running.  On the other hand, how many products we buy every live up to the advertisements that convinced us to buy them in the first place?

Businesses have mastered the art of advertising, the art of convincing people that they need products they didn’t know they wanted and assuredly don’t need.  Small wonder that they’ve found ways to use the techniques they’ve perfected over the years to influence our elections. As Le Guin notes: 

What if some president asked those of us who can afford to eat chicken not to eat chicken on Thursdays so the government could distribute more food to those 20,000,000 hungry members of our community? Come off it. Goody-goody stuff. Anyhow, no president could get that past the corporations of which Congress is an almost wholly owned subsidiary.

Our politicians are so beholding to those who help them attain office that they are afraid to stand up to them even if it’s obviously in the nations’s best long-term interest.

Le Guin believes this unwillingness to sacrifice to help others is tied in with our country’s resistance to taxation.

When did it become impossible for our government to ask its citizens to refrain from short-term gratification in order to serve a greater good? Was it around the time we first began hearing about how no red-blooded freedom-loving American should have to pay taxes?

Those who have the most to lose from high taxes, businessmen who earn astronomical salaries compared to their employees,  have tried for years to convince voters that taxes are un-American, a means of stealing from those who deserve what they’ve earned in order to give it to those less deserving.  They’ve obviously done a good job of convincing voters because those most likely to benefit from tax changes are often the greatest opponents.

Le Guin feels that these changes have taken place because citizens have become short-sighted and are unwilling to think about the consequences of their actions:

It appears that we’ve given up on the long-range view. That we’ve decided not to think about consequences—about cause and effect. Maybe that’s why I feel that I live in exile. I used to live in a country that had a future.

Le Guin’s essay made me  suspect that I have lived in exile even longer than she did.  After serving in Vietnam and later working as a caseworker, I began to question almost everything I had learned before I became an adult. Perhaps simply growing old in a rapidly changing world is a form of alienation.