August 2, 2017

Change Is The Normal Order of Things

     In July of 2017 I was privileged to take a week-long cruise up the inside passage to Alaska with almost all of my family.  The thing is, this is a much different family than I had, or than I could have predicted when I took my first Alaska cruise 11 years ago.  And prior to this trip, many of these "new" family members had never even met each other.  In my estimation, though, the trip and the getting-together-for-the-first-time was a grand success, and I am glad for each one who was a part of this epic adventure.  

     Pictured above are two of my grandsons on our balcony intently watching a sea plane taking off. These two live in Pennsylvania, so we don't get to see them all the time.  Each time we do see them, they have changed quite a bit. Most of us understand that, with children, they change so fast you'd better be watching all the time or you will miss something.  We all change, though.  All things do.  It is the normal order of things.  

     Pictured below is Glacier Bay.  It is the crown jewel of any Alaskan cruise.  The calm crystalline waters streaked with glacial silt and brimming with aquatic life, the majestic mountains clad with snow, and in places strewn with trees and brush and flowers and wild life, the skies, both cloudy and gray, blue and bright, and the massive glaciers descending from the heights and slipping into the bay. This was, for thousands of years, the home of the Tlingit people.  The Tlingit people named these glaciers before any white explorers came.  What we now know as the John's Hopkins Glacier was called "Path to the Mountain" by the Tlinglit people.

     My first cruise to Alaska was in July of 2006.  I went on that trip with my amazing wife of 26 years, Susan, and two good friends, Gary and Sue.  I was in my forties then, and young enough and arrogant enough to not be fully cognizant of all the changes my life had already been through.  My life then was on an ascendant path with no downward trajectories in sight, or so I believed.  Susan and I were on the Path to the Mountain.

     But as impressive and seemingly unchangeable as Glacier Bay may be, it is ever-changing, and has changed dramatically in only a short time.  250 years ago Glacier Bay wasn't a bay at all, but an alluvial plain bisected by a river.  Extending down the alluvial plain was what we now call the Grand Pacific Glacier.  The Tlingit lived on the silted plains by the river below the glacier, as they had for generations.  Then, due to massive amounts of snow falling on the mountains above the glaciers, the Grand Pacific Glacier expanded and moved rapidly down the alluvial plain.  Some Tlingit stories describe the glacier advancing "as fast as a running dog."  The glacier overran the homeland of the Tlingit, and carved the alluvial plain into what we now know as Glacier Bay.  Then the glacier retreated, leaving the bay.  The glacier has retreated over 65 miles up the bay since the time it was first explored by John Muir.  

     The Marjorie Glacier, pictured behind Susan and me in the picture above,  and the Grand Pacific Glacier in the background in the upper right of the picture, have both retreated further since I first saw them in 2006.  We can perhaps point to global warming as a contributing factor in the retreat of these glaciers, but changes in nature have been the normal order of things from the beginning of time. We don't always see change coming, though, nor do we always welcome it.  I could not have predicted, in July of 2006, that Susan would get cancer and be gone from this Earth by March of 2010.  Like the Grand Pacific Glacier advancing on the Tlingit, her cancer advanced "as fast as a running dog."

     Princess cruise ships have also changed in the 11 years since I first sailed the inside passage.  Not much, though.  They all are centered around a multi-floor atrium and feature multiple nice venues for food and entertainment and quiet reflection.  They still have formal dinner nights, but the current trend is for dark suits and dinner jackets, whereas 11 years ago it was tuxes and black ties.  I guess that is the result of societal changes more than anything.  The thing about change is, it is part of life, and it is inevitable.  We have to choose how we will respond to change.

      John Muir was a naturalist who celebrated changes in the natural environments he revered.  About experiencing his first earthquake in Yosemite, he wrote:

"At half-past two o'clock of a moonlit morning in March, I was awakened by a tremendous earthquake, and though I had never before enjoyed a storm of this sort, the strange thrilling motion could not be mistaken, and I ran out of my cabin, both glad and frightened, shouting, "A noble earthquake!" ... as if Nature were wrecking her Yosemite temple and getting ready to build a still better one.   .... and all Nature's wildness tells the same story-the shocks and outbursts of earthquakes, volcanoes, geysers, roaring, thundering waves and floods, the silent uprush of sap in plants, storms of every sort-each and all are the orderly beauty-making love-beats of Nature's heart."

     Of course, the Tlingit people were not celebrating when their home of generations was destroyed. Nor was I celebrating when my wife of 29 years succumbed to cancer.  But, as the Glacier National Park Ranger who boarded our ship said, we cannot focus on what is past.  All we have is the here and now, and we have to focus on what is special in the world as it now exists, and in our relationships as they now exist. 

     So now it is 11 years since I first cruised to Alaska.  I have remarried to a terrific lady named Cheri.  I have gained three more grown children, five more sons-and-daughters in law, and four more grandchildren.  Many things in life are trivial, but the pursuit of life, and the pursuit of happiness, and the celebration of all that is good in the here and now, are not trivial things. Shown below is the core of the mighty trivial pursuit team that twice blew away the competition on the Coral Princess.  This is my new, extended family, and as they will readily tell you, they (and those not pictured) are all winners.

     It is said that the Marjorie Glacier is advancing at the rate of about four to seven feet per day.  I am advancing at about the rate of one day per day.  One thing we have in common with Glaciers is that, the forces that propel us forward are put in place by God and are largely out of our control.  One other common thing about glaciers and people is, you have to meet them and spend time with them to get to know them and to appreciate their unique beauty.

     And I am pleased to report that all my blended family are inclined to appreciate nature, and to learn about nature and about each other.  They all exhibited, as John Muir described, "The earnest, childish wonderment with which this glorious page of Nature's Bible was contemplated. ... All evinced eager desire to learn."

     And I am grateful to God for all this beauty, and for all these special people in my life, and that it all came together in the here and now.

     John Muir put it better than I ever could, when he said, of Alaska, and of his being there with other people special to him:

"Look at that now.  Why, it looks as if these giants of God's great army had just now marched into their stations; every one placed just right, just right! What landscape gardening! What a scheme of things! And to think that [God] should plan to bring us feckless creatures here at the right moment, and then flash such glories at us!  Man, we're not worthy of such honor!  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!"

June 14, 2017

Can We Agree?

Shots rained down on the baseball field.
Is this the field of battle at Antietam, or the field of dreams?
I shot you because you are Republican,
and I disagree with you.

You cannot serve this Great Country as a prosecutor,
because you are a Democrat,
and that makes you a bad person.
You Democrats are all bad people.

The gates to this Land of the Free are closed
to all you Muslims.
We believe in freedom of religion
provided you believe as we do.

You cannot be confirmed for service to our Nation,
because you are a Christian,
and your beliefs make it impossible for you
to serve all people fairly and equally.

So now this is what we have become.
The test of good or bad, right or wrong, qualified or unqualified, live or die,
is whether you agree with me or not.

But can we agree on one thing?
Can we agree to disagree?
Can we agree to respect each other and celebrate our differences?
Can we agree that the measure of goodness is not what we believe
  but how we treat each other?
Can we learn to love others, however different, as we love ourselves?
Can we agree?

by George!

July 15, 2015

Key Questa

July 15, 2015

1.  The Southernmost Point

There is a marker in Key West, Florida, billing itself as the southernmost point in the continental U.S.A.  It isn't really the southernmost point, but if you say something boldly and often and sound like you mean it, people will believe it.

2.  Hot and Cool

Key West in July is typically hot and humid, and this past week was no exception.  Four days there produced low temperatures of 81 and high temperatures of 92 with a constant humidity of approximately 75%.  We went there for a little vacation with one of Cheri's sons and his family. They rented a house in Key West for a month.  After they rented the house, and after we booked this trip, serious marital tensions have arisen between her son and his wife, and they currently are not living together.  However, we were all together there, and enjoyed our time and out visit with everyone.  At times, though, despite the heat, there was a palpable coolness.

3.  Putting It All Behind, Setting It All Aside, and Pushing It All Away

A good vacation should give one time for reflection.  Sometimes we don't want to reflect on that in our lives which isn't pretty and pleasant.  There are different ways of using our time away -- our reflection time.  Some choose to put all the disconcerting stuff all behind them and not look at it at all.  Some choose diversion in activities so they don't have to think about it.  Our grandsons, age 10 and 12, seem to not want to think about, nor really talk about, the separation of their parents.  But you can only push reality away for so long before it insists on being looked at and dealt with.

4.  The Iguana

The rented vacation home was a lovely waterfront oasis on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Keys.  The home had coconut palms and tropical plants all surrounding a multi-deck yard with a pool.  And Iguanas.  Lots of Iguanas.  Iguanas are colorful and fascinating creatures, and also a little revolting and scary.  The smaller Iguanas are brightly colored with multiple shades of green and specks of other colors.  The boys had a good time naming them all.  There was one Iguana much bigger than the others which was brown in color -- kind of a black sheep of the Iguana tribe.  I named this Iguana "Big Bad Daddy."

5.  Little Havana

Cuba is only 90 miles or so across the ocean from Florida.  I read an article last month about a group of Cuban refugees trying to flee Cuba to the U.S. on a non-motorized barge.  According to the article, if a Cuban refugee sets foot on any part of U.S. soil he can stay, but if intercepted in the water he must be returned to Cuba.  This particular group of refugees wanted to land on U.S. soil on the 4th of July as a symbolic quest for independence and a better future.  They drifted within sight of Key West before they were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard and returned to Cuba.

Cuban influence is everywhere on the Florida Keys.  We went out for dinner one evening at a Cuban restaurant and tried some Cuban food.  Cuban food is distinctly different than other foods I have tried.  Sometimes you can successfully blend food types together and sometimes you can't.  Core values in people are like that too, sometimes.  When people have different core values, sometimes they can't be successfully blended.

6.  Day-Oh

After our Cuban dinner we walked out to Mallory Square to participate in the nightly Sunset Celebration for which it has become famous.  Among the many street musicians, magicians, vendors and shysters were two old Jamaican musicians.  They recruited some of the audience to help them sing the old banana-pickers song, Day-Oh.  The recruits were to sing the chorus "Daylight come and we wan' go home."

Come, Mr. Tally Man, and tally me bananas.  Daylight come and we wan' go home.

7.  A Terrible Hurricane

At some level we all wan' go home, whatever and wherever home is.  Trouble is, you can't always go home.  On Labor Day in 1935 the strongest and most intense hurricane ever recorded to hit landfall in the U.S. devastated the Florida Keys.  Many homes were destroyed by violent winds and an 18-20 foot storm surge, and more than 500 people were killed by the category 5 storm.  Lesser storms in our lives sometimes leave us wanting to return to a home that simply doesn't exist anymore.

8.  Rain on the Deck

On our last day in Key West a rain storm blew in and we sat under the eves of the roof on the deck enjoying the rain.  Unlike the hurricane of 1935, this gentle rain was a cooling, cleansing and healing kind of rain.

9.  Up In A Parachute

As a culminating fun activity on our last day in the Keys, some of our group decided to go parasailing.  Parasailing is where a boat pulls a parachute into the air with people dangling from harnesses under the parachute.  I didn't go, but by all accounts it was a truly uplifting experience. Sometimes we just need to be lifted up and to find a little joy.

10.  Lost In Miami

We drove to Miami on our last night so we could catch an early non-stop flight back to San Francisco.  We programmed the hotel address into our phone, but the phone led us to the wrong place.  For about a half hour, until we could get it all figured out and straightened out, we were lost in Miami.  We all get a little lost in life, both figuratively and literally.  Fortunately, for most of us, we eventually find our way again.