Monday, September 19, 2016

Clear on the Concept

So here we are with the familiar lesser of two evils situation for a Presidential election.  So many people feeling the pull of "been there and done that."  Except that the done that part is different because they don't want to "do" anything.  They don't want to vote.
Dangerous thing. Very dangerous thing.
If we have a "both candidates suck," situation, shouldn't we work on how we got this way?  Shouldn't we realize that whether we vote or not, of the evils is going to be the next President of the United States?
Third parties are tempting.  They will siphon off thousands of votes this time, like they always do.  But they will probably do nothing to ease our dilemma.  Still, I hear, more and more, "Im not voting this year.

So what exactly happens when an individual surrenders her/his vote?  This time around, it makes possible the first candidate in a good while that is truly unfit for the job.  It makes the forces of all this evil easily able to propagate their questionable agenda.  It disrespects democracy.
Let's look at that last point.  When I taught U.S. Government, we were able to register 18 year olds if we had any in class.  Many would probably not make the effort themselves, but our on site registration would occur only after studying the history of voting rights struggles in this country.  I think many folks who are eagerly abandoning their vote this year could do with a review of this history.  It's almost impossible to sacrifice your vote when you know about the poll tax, the grandfather clause and, of course, the literacy test.  Those three were effectively used to deny Black Americans the right to vote for decades.  The documentation is all there.  "How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap?" really was on a literacy test.  Of course, if that didn't do the trick there was always outright violence as a form of imitation.  How many lives were taken or permanently ruined all for the desire to do a little voting.  To acknowledge this and to learn from it means voting...every time.  Period.

Today we have what one writer recently termed a "National Emergency."  That's a direct reference to the Trump campaign.  He would ask people to vote for Clinton if only as a way to acknowledge this threat our democracy as the number one priority.  Cue flashing lights and sirens.  Some, no doubt, will do this. Sadly, others will not.  In the end, we will get what we deserve.
I'm reminded of a couple who lived in rural Kansas.  He was a Republican and she a Democrat.  Each election day they would drive for 3 hours to vote, and then 3 more hours after a lunch break to get home.  Though their votes always cancelled each other out, they never missed voting.  Now that's being clear on the concept.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Three Creeks Lake Day 2

The weather changed and day two at this small lake high in the Cascades dawned clear and sunny.  The water was calm with only a twinge of wind from time to time.  Still the fishing was slow and all I got for my efforts was tired.  Nevertheless, it's wonderful to be there.  I thought the rainbow that appeared over the lake yesterday might be some kind of omen.  Just a brief beauty, that's all.  After about 6 hours in two visits, I decided that the fish were laying low and not eating much.  Maybe they indulged too much on Labor Day?

Then a dragonfly landed on me?  Another omen?  I was hoping.  By 1:00 I was hopeful of a hatch and fish rising to make landing something easier.  Not to be.  Then, in a heartbeat, it all changed.  A bump...was that a bite?  Well, just making contact was a relief.  I can stop second guessing myself.  Then that unmistakable feeling of a fish on; fish gone.  Finally a huge tug and the rod bends mightily. Suddenly it's over.  Lost him.  I retrieve my line and see that the fly is gone.  Either the knot failed or he bit or snapped me off.  The tug was strong.  The feeling of a wild fish unmistakeable.  That's what I have.  All I have.  Once the frustration and anger disappear.  I tally up the learning.  I made contact. I will always have the knowledge that I had that success.  I need no trophies.  I need no more pictures.  I would have loved to see the colors and size of that fish, but that will never be.  I must be content to own these memories.  I am.
Sometimes when I float on a lake I get to thinking about all the things that have to come together for me to feel a fish tug on the end of my line.  There is the travel time to get to the water.  There is the road and weather conditions.  The rod is assembles, the reel added and then line strung through the guides.  Flies need to be carefully tied on the tippet.  Try threading a needle with your glasses slipping or wind snapping in your face.  Inflate the tube. Change into waders, wading boots and ultimately swim fins.  Carry it all down to the water.  Don't forget sun screen, water, some food, your tools (line clipper, forceps, fly boxes) sunglasses, hat, landing net.  Now you're set.  Just add patience.  That instant you make contact with a trout, all the pieces fit together.  All the effort intersects with chance and luck and a little bit of skill thrown in.  Then it all comes undone until next time.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Two Lessons

I drove up to Three Creeks Lake this morning.  It was only a 16 mile drive because we've been staying in Sisters, Or for a few days.  I usually get up there once a year and put my float tube on that little alpine lake high in the Cascades in search of Rainbow and Brook trout.  It's a fickle lake offering up some of the finest days and then some of the worst. fly fishing, or rather the Zen of fly fishing, it all has meaning and my task is to be content to learn from what I get.  What I got this day was cold, wet, and very windy.  Wind is the foe of the fly fisher.  It's difficult to cast line because the wind will blow it off course, or back in your face.

 For the float tuber, like myself, it's a double whammy because you get blown all over the place and kick with your fins (we wear swim fins on our feet) twice as hard.  In the end I took a little break after a couple of hours kicking around the lake.  I went back for more, but after another hour, when the wind came up again, and another drizzle left me dripping, I decided to give it another try tomorrow.  The weather in these parts changes from minute to minute.  Life is like that, no?  Here's where today's lesson comes in.  Change is from minute to minute and we cannot predict how something will go.  Just because we've had one experience with a place or person, doesn't mean it will be the same next time.
On my way back down the mountain, in the couple of miles of "Rough Road," I decided to let a Forest Service truck pass me.  I like to slowly wind my way down that washboard surface and sneak a peak at the wildlife and bird life that abounds in that area.  So I pulled over and he went past.  Just as I was about to turn back on the gravel road, my wheels started to spin in a thick pocket of loose gravel.  I was stuck.  A couple who'd been hiking the nearby wilderness trail walked by so I rolled down my window.  The guy offered, "Back up and then go forward.  If you get a running start you'll have a better chance at getting out of there."  It worked.  I came spinning up and over the hindrance and back onto the main road.  For some reason I said to my new friend, "Much obliged."  Where did that come from?  Well, it is the wild West up there.  Lesson number two, sometimes we have to go backward before we can go forward.  Or at least right ourselves.  Pictures to follow.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Census Takers

Census Taking
              South Texas-1970

The front door is not visible,
We walk up a pathway to the side of the house,
A backdoor awaits; three crisp knocks,

A voice barely audible
We try Spanish; "Es El Censo..."
"C'mon in, just turn the handle, it should work."

She sits at her kitchen table, surrounding the wooden
chair, leaning forward, yellow-gray hair sighs,

First question: Names of all people in residence?
"It's just me, and I'm waitin' to die."
There is no room  on the form for commentary,

We stay an extra few minutes,
Maybe there is something we can do?
No, something we can actually do for her.
There isn't.
Just finish the required questions and leave the gifts of the future behind.

Back on the street; four more unanswered doors.
All with children playing in the front yards.
Some of these kids understand English and my Spanish
Between the mixed dialogue we learn there are six families here

We can't leave the state until all the Census forms are in,
The phone book reveals that Martinez and Ramirez
Appear more often North of the railroad tracks.
Es El Censo
We complete the forms
Martinez and Ramirez still in the lead,
We leave the state

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Fritz Part II (Ali by candlelight)

Fritz Ehrler was as German as the name indicates.  Yet he was a WWII vet who spoke little about that as well as the pin-up tattoo that adorned the inside of his forearm.  He had deep tanned skin, no doubt because of the hours he spent fishing in sun drenched lakes.  Making Fritz smile or laugh was simple and often elicited a story or two from his reservoir of lifetime experiences.
He found his way into my life through my Texas born neighbor who was trying to patch up a leaking version of her California dream in post war suburb.
Fritz had deep lines chiseled into his face.  He had tools and worked with wood easier that he could hold a conversation.  Yet, sometimes he'd open up on those long trips back home after baking all day and handling big lake trout.
Something deep in his past triggered the tale of a phone call he'd received in the recent past.  The story he told goes like this:  He and Mary were painting a bedroom when the phone rang.  Being up on a ladder, he said let it go, but she went to get the phone.  There were no answering machines back then.  A minute later, Mary returned and said, "You better come to the phone, it sounds important, it's your sister." Fritz climbed down and went to answer the phone.  He returned shortly and resumed painting without saying a word.
"What was that about," Mary continued.
"Dad died," Fritz said.  Nothing more.  They painted together for another hour in silence.When I pressed Fritz on the subject of his father all he would say is, "My did was an SOB."
After my mom died, Fritz would occasionally look in on my dad and me and compliment my cooking.  Once when I had a little fuzzy mustache he asked me if I was going to grow a beard someday.  I quickly showed him the new dark brown hair under my arm and he advised me to circle it with a red pen so it'd be easier to find!

One rainy night my dad and I were all set to listen to the Sonny Liston Cassius Clay heavyweight title fight on the radio.  There was no TV, so we settled in when suddenly the power went out.  We later found out a light plane had crashed into some power lines and the power was out for hours.  I tried in vain to coax my little transistor radio to find the station by candlelight.  When finally successful, the radio's battery was just about spent.  "Maybe Fritz has a spare," my dad said.  We both found our way to his door by flashlight.  Fritz had no battery, but he did have a better idea.  We heard every bit of that history making "I shook up the world" title fight in Fritz's car.  My dad and Fritz in the front seat, and me in back leaning my head between them.  Male bonding at its best.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Fritz Part I

When the weather in Portland hits three digit heat, I often think of growing up in Southern California.  Everything from Little League games in scorching weather to sitting outside till dark licking popsicles with neighborhood kids comes flooding back.  And then the people...the characters, and of course the neighbors.
Today I thought of Fritz.  Fritz Ehrler was a father figure for me because he liked to fish and he took me fishing...often.  Something I couldn't do with my own father.  My dad and I had baseball to share, but Fritz was a real outdoorsman who had the patience and kindness to teach me what he knew.  He also had access to a private lake.  As a member of something called the Fin and Feather Club, he could bring one or two guests along in his small boat.  The lake was located in Palmdale, way out in the desert North of L.A.  It took a couple of hours to get there and by the time we'd get his small boat off the trailer and into the water it was a good 3 hours till we could wet a line.  This was bait fishing, something I no longer do.  Fritz didn't miss an opportunity to succeed.  He started the process about 5:00pm the previous evening when he'd ask me along to go to a local market.  The Community Market, a small independent San Fernando Valley grocery store was the first stop.  They had a modest butcher counter and Fritz would buy a half dozen mackerel.  At home, he'd cut them up into chunks, add a little water and then load the stink mess into a large empty mayonnaise jar.
After anchoring the boat, he'd unscrew the lid on a the jar a bit and slowly, when the coast was clear, lower the jar into the water.  As it slowly sank under the boat, it let off a stream of mackerel.  Chumming at it's finest.  Our offerings of salmon eggs or worms had lots of takers lured there by the scent from the jar.  Fritz didn't worry about ethics when it came to catching fish because all trout caught on this lake found there way to frying pans.

Fritz was a chain smoker (but not while fishing) He smoked one Camel after another while driving.  He had a small Smokey the Bear ash tray mounted on the dash of his Ford station wagon which always contained a cigarette butt.  Before lighting a new cigarette, Fritz would transfer the last butt into the car's large ashtray below the dash and ready Smokey for his latest offering.  It was ritual.
Much of Fritz remained a mystery to me.  He was the second husband of my neighbor Mary who was a single parent other two daughters, one slightly older than me, one slightly younger.  I'd know her first husband and the girl's father until their divorce about three years before Fritz first appeared.  He was Bob, the Don Draper of this Mad Men world.  I see now how many of those folks in my 50s childhood were alcoholics.  This launching pad for the post War boomer generation was often much rougher than it appeared behind those suburban doors.
But Fritz reached out and took this kid with him.  Maybe I was the son he never had, or maybe he just wanted to talk to someone while he fished.  I know how lonely going out alone can be.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

If the Trucks Pass

With the political ascendency of Donald Trump comes one of the true moral challenges of our time.  In deciding whether or not to support the nominee of their party, Republican politicians as well as the base of the party are confronted with the politics of sociopathology.  When, in the course of human events, it becomes obvious that one who seeks power displayed the characteristics of mental illness, what to do?
For some, the choice would be simple.  Their moral compass makes definite the options.  They draw upon the lessons of history, the instances of crossroads previously chosen, and the powerful example of reasoning the consequences of a haphazard decision.  But even the notable moral philosopher/psychologist Kohlberg acknowledged that for most people, attaining the highest level of moral reasoning based on conscience is difficult, if not unreachable.
One also runs the risk in this discussion of being the haughty one on moral high ground while you all struggle to even reach the threshold.  Still, let's go on so that this discussion can take place.
The Nobel prize winning author, Toni Morrison, while being interviewed by the late Ed Bradley of CBS, once said, "I feel that white people will betray me.  That in the final analysis, they'll give me up.  If the trucks pass and they have to make a choice, they'll put me on that truck. That's really what I feel."
She went on to add, "By the way, there are lots of black people who'd put me on that truck also, so I'm not trying to demonize the white race.  It's just a kind of a constant vigilance and awareness that maybe these relationships can go just so far."

This is precisely how I feel about people who are either unable to see Trump for what he is, and/or people whose politics have no moral compass whatsoever.  The trucks passing is of course a reference to Nazi Germany and many Jewish people who were placed on those rolling trucks by those unable to make a moral decision in time of crisis.
I suppose we all have relationships with people that can only go just so far.  In my effort to maintain a variety of friendships from the different universes I frequent, I'm often confronted with the roadblock that says, this is where you stop.  I must add, no, this is where I need to get off.
I realize there is grave danger in walking around constantly wondering who would throw me under the bus if it came down to a choice, but that's precisely the kind of thing the current political climate creates.  I see, almost daily, the kind of politico who, on some level, must know better, but in the end is incapable of making a moral decision.  What remains to be seen is what, if any will be the consequences for all involved.
If I were in the classroom this school year, I'd go deep with the metaphor of trucks passing.  The possibilities are unlimited.  By winter break, there is even the possibility of getting answers to some of these crucial questions.