Friday, March 4, 2022

I didn't go back

I didn't go back.

It was a short walk from the intensive-care waiting room to where Dad was dying. I had arrived in the early morning, having gotten the call at 6:00 a.m. that Dad wasn't expected to live through the day.

He made it until after midnight.

That was 40+ years ago. We sat---Mom, me, and my sister---waiting for him to die. Silly aunts and his work colleagues came and went, often having just dropped by the hospital, unaware that this day was the fulcrum of my life.

And we waited.

Mom didn't go back. She didn't want to see Dad hooked up to machines, dying. The doctor said Dad was unconscious.

I like to think I didn't go back because Mom didn't. And I was the good kid.

But my sister went back. Always the rebel, the black sheep, whom Dad loved dearly. He was tormented by her rebellion against Mom.

I could hear him grinding his teeth in his sleep during one of her failed marriages.

But she went back.

She said goodbye to him.

I didn't.

But now I wonder, was he waiting to say goodbye?

What are the dying aware of?

Note: My sister died alone unexpectedly in August, 2020.  For much of her life, she was a force of nature.  But that spring and summer, she had been isolating due to Covid, leaving her groceries on the front porch for three days after they were delivered,  doing anything anyone suggested to try to keep herself safe.  Our dad had had a heart attack at 42.  He was put on a strict diet that Mom enforced, and when he died of leukemia, his heart was strong.  My sister died of a heart attack.

My sister, Jettie, at a party she threw for an aunt's birthday.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Deeper Forces

This poem was written while visiting Ghost Ranch, N.M., and the surrounding area.1

Low spots fill 2

with molten ooze,



as the softness erodes.

A rift forms 3

bounded by faults,



as scars deepen.

New life peaks through

the starkness---


then flowers

in the gloaming.

Climate Change

This is the second poem composed while visiting Ghost Ranch, N.M., Bandelier National Monument, and the surrounding area.1

Mud daubers nest under the eaves of the canyon

where black volcanics hold up the rim.

White cotton and yellow squash grow beside green corn and beans

as the creek gurgles with abundant water.

More failed crops, brown and withered.

The dry wind puffs dust, howling,

submerging the stream's voice.

Our tribe must travel.

A cassock-covered alien with a cross antenna

leads metal-headed locusts

seeking gold and silver,

laying claim for a made-up god.

A new tribe of larval decomposers,

their whiteness encased in aluminum and glass,

visit our ruins

while creating their own.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Guarded Optimism

I've been drifting, especially since Covid hit. For years, I've told students that the ones I worry about most aren't those who struggle---it's the ones who drift through four years of college without ever taking hold of anything. No passion. They may do okay, even get good grades, but there is nothing they are moving strongly towards.

And I've been feeling like that.  Just waiting.  Waiting on the vaccine.  Waiting on life to restart.

After over 30 years of teaching, all I have been doing recently in my teaching is adding another layer of icing. I've worked on a few things---a couple of books for class, new technology for remote learning---but I've felt stagnant. Doing what I need to do has been enough, mostly.

But it isn't.  Fortunately, things are starting to feel different.

A high point during the fall semester was our annual camping trip over midterm break.  Alumnus and friend Tony Vorwald arranged an overnight canoe trip in Jackson County.  Beautiful weather, a few students fishing, being awakened by a full moon shining through the tree canopy, and perfect weather for being on the river. Now that's the kind of drifting I can support!

This semester, I'm teaching an environmental policy class, and I'm loving it. New readings, great students. And I should give a shout-out to those students, some of whom have worked with me on local climate-change data---Sam, Lyndy, Taiana. They really kept me going through last summer's downtime. And they inspired me to teach the new course.

The research on local climate-change data has led me to involvement with the city, a lecture to an engineering company, a conference presentation to environmental educators, and a further research project with a student, Tyler, for this coming summer.

Over the holidays, a different type of inspiration came from Wim Hof, the Ice Man, and his breathwork and cold exposure. And learning about him led me to Yes Theory. And that led me to seeking discomfort.  I'm eating better, losing weight, wearing a fitness band, and challenging myself a bit. In the photo below, I am in just my shorts out in the snow dumping the compost bin. Fortunately, no neighbors were out to report the crazy man in the backyard.

And here is the new motorcycle I'm about to purchase for touring:

I'm going out West once again.  I plan to scatter my sister's ashes in Idaho.  And I plan to go skydiving this summer, too.

The theme of all this is that I hope to come out of the Time of Covid actually healthier in most ways---my weight down (chart below), fitter physically, and more full of zest for life.  For now, I'm guardedly optimistic.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Squirrel Prophecy

 In the 1980-81 academic year, Jim Shields and I were editors of our college newspaper, The Guilfordian.  For April 1st, we decided to follow the tradition of creating a spoof issue.  Some of our staff, possibly led by John Mottern, our photo editor, landed on the theme of squirrel attacks:

Needless to say, we had a blast with the issue, then finished out the semester and went on with our lives.  However, this morning I was browsing the Guardian newspaper online and came across this article:

I had just finished reading about the storming of the U.S. Capitol by terrorists waving Confederate flags, wearing MAGA hats and Camp Auschwitz hoodies, and claiming to be patriots.  

Back in 81, we were joking around, intentionally being absurd.  There's less humor in the absurd nowadays.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

UFO over Wartburg

For my morning walks, I've started taking my camera, especially at sunrise.  Below is a common view of Wartburg Seminary, sticking up like a Harry Potter castle above
the trees.

However, this morning, I was astounded to see a UFO hovering above it, lowering some sort of tube.  I assure you, I did not create the image below with digital manipulation.  It was a single exposure.  Is that some sort of tube hanging from it, perhaps for lowering aliens or abducting seminary students?  Let me know in the comments below what you think.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Nets and Masks

So far, I've avoided Covid-19. But I can't help comparing it to malaria, which I survived 40 years ago while teaching math in Kenya after college.

Malaria is a consistent killer. Hundreds of thousands die each year, three-fourths of which are younger than five years old. Little kids. Little African kids, mostly. And that, unfortunately, is one of the reasons insufficient research has been done on ways to combat it.

Research isn't cheap. Most work is collaborative, and the work requires facilities, salaries, and equipment. (The solitary genius is mostly a myth.)
Which research is supported depends upon the values of the people, organizations, and governments that control funding. Two-year-old African kids simply aren't valued much, not in terms of dollars spent on their well-being. No malaria vaccine is yet approved.

But there has been progress. According to Our World in Data, "from 2000 to 2015 the number of malaria deaths has almost halved, from 840,000 deaths per year to 440,000." That's without any vaccine. How did it happen?

The authors of a study published in the top science journal Nature, estimated that two-thirds of the reduction in cases of malaria were due to insecticide-treated bed nets. According to the CDC Foundation, such nets, with long-lasting insecticide and sized to protect three kids, cost $5. That we aren't handing them out like beads at Mardi Gras says a lot about what we value. Or don't.

A net to save a child or a mask to save grandma. Simple things. Cheap. And an immediate help while we wait on vaccines. While many conservatives speak out in support of the sanctity of life, many liberals speak out in support of protecting the poor and vulnerable. If both groups mean what they say, then perhaps nets and masks can offer areas of potential agreement.