July 23, 2022

I just purchased my third mountain bike in less than a year.  Having just gotten into the sport, understanding what bike works for me has been a learning curve.  Fortunately, my first two bikes were used and not that expensive.  I bought them both at Community Bikes in Santa Rosa.

A non-profit cooperative, Community Bikes accepts donations of used bikes and then refurbishes them for sale.  The cooperative’s mission is to promote bikes as an environmentally alternative to cars.  The store also offers low-cost bike repairs as well as classes on bike repair.

My latest bike was purchased new, at Awesome Bikes, a little store in Rohnert Park.  It’s run by a young husband and wife team.  It was impressive to see the wife, while quite pregnant, getting her hands dirty doing mechanical work.  The service was extremely accommodating and friendly. 

Riding a mountain bike in recreational areas is kind of like walking a dog in a park. It’s similar, because your bike, like your dog, attracts others and ignites conversation.  People compare bikes just like they compare dogs.  There is no limit to the quality and price of mountain bikes, nor to the sport’s clothing and gear.  My own bike is under $1000, and thus not that impressive.  Still, it serves its purpose and it is a delightful step up from my previous used models.  A good (or better) bike definitely makes the sport much more enjoyable.

Terrible heat is now raging all over the US and Europe.  Still, Joe Manchin and 50 Republicans are standing in the way of any hope for attacking climate change.  I am grateful as I have a cool, quiet place to live.  Grateful that I have ready access to the coast.  I’m grateful for a lot of things and I realize that satisfaction in life, especially during these tumultuous times, essentially comes down to access to resources.  I’ve been blessed, but not-so others.  People need basic recourses.  But people do not need $5000 + mountain bikes.  They may want them, but they don’t need them.

What else is new?  I just finished binging on the Hulu series American Rust.  The series didn’t get great reviews but I loved it.  I loved how this crime drama meticulously illustrates the terrible poverty that is devastating rural American.  The film also showed the cruel travesty of our prison system.  Maybe the series was too realistic for some, who may just want to be entertained.  I like realism and films that reflect the lives of real people.  American Rust does all that and I look forward to the second season.

June 8, 2022

I recently watched The Assassination and Mrs. Paine on Amazon Prime.  The documentary was well done, and although it did not present any conclusions about Ruth Paine’s involvement in the Kennedy assassination, it did reignite my previous interest in the assassination theories.  That film also prompted me to view Oliver Stone’s documentary JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, which can be found on Hulu.

Stone’s film is excellent and a conglomeration of the multitude of books I’ve read on this subject.  Perhaps the most engrossing book was Me and Lee: How I Came to Love and Lose Lee Harvey Oswald by Judyth Vary Baker.  Baker claims to have been Oswald’s lover, and although her declarations may seem far-fetched, they are backed up with some pretty substantial evidence.  Her story also coincides with the meticulous research that is summarized in Stone’s work.

I’m not drawn to the assassination just because it’s a compelling mystery.  I’m drawn to it because it marks a significant watershed moment in any baby boomer’s life.  Who among us doesn’t remember that moment?  That instant when we heard the terrible news?

I was teaching a class once to a group of millennials.  The students were giving presentations and one of them mentioned John F. Kennedy.  “He was the president of the United States,” she explained to the class.  It dawned on me that some students hadn’t even heard of him!  I felt sorry for those students.  For in not knowing him, they had not known of another time in our country.  A time that was far from perfect, but it was also a time of innocence and hope.

Stone’s documentary was painful to watch.  Of course, viewing replays of the assassination itself is always painful, but Stone also captured the collective mourning that occurred in its aftermath.  People were openly weeping.  Not only here in the US, but all over the world.  What leaders today I wondered could ignite that level of love and grief?

Kennedy may have had personal flaws, but according to Stone, he tried to do what I have seen no president do in my own lifetime.  He tried to bring peace.  To Vietnam, to the US/Russian and Cuban relations, to the Congo, and to our country’s terrible racial divisions.  And in so doing, he made enemies that ultimately killed him.

Kennedy also demonstrated the rare traits of grace and intelligence.  By comparison, so many politicians today appear cartoonish, ignorant, and grotesque. 

I felt sorry for those millennials in my class.  They’ve inherited a country seems cynical and condemned.

As I write this, I fearfully wait for the next Supreme Court decision that could bring a final blow to voting rights.  In the case involving the Independent Legislature Theory, citizens may entirely lose the power of their vote.   And if that happens, the only consolation I can find is that I am a baby boomer, and thus not long for this world.  I do fear however for the generations to come. 

July 2, 2022

I don’t think I have ever so appreciated summer.  Knowing that its beauty and this time we share with loved ones is only temporary… peaks the joy of this experience.

Some loved ones have been torn apart by the polarity in this country.  I remember reading about the Civil War when “brother fought brother.”   I know now how history repeats itself and in oh so many ways.  I have been hearing sad stories about some families.  One friend said that because her mother is a devotee of Fox News, she has favored the offspring who share her political views.  Thus, my friend, who sees things differently, doesn’t know if she’ll be cut out of the will.  Another friend told the story of a family funeral, where there was a fight about masking and vaccination status.  There ensued a huge argument and some members stomping off early and then cutting off all contact with siblings. The episode destroyed what was to be a solemn ceremony and the honoring of a dear one’s life.

Terrible, that in spite of our differences, people cannot maintain some form of civility and respect.  Perhaps that is one good thing coming of the January 6th Hearings.  Republicans and Democrats are talking to one another. We haven’t seen that in a long time.

Although some take heart with the January 6th hearings, the Supreme Court acts rapidly with its assigned tasks of strategically dismantling democracy.  Although I support the hearings, I do hope we are not distracted by that bright shiny media object – Trump.  He is simply the hood ornament on an entire engine of dastardly deeds.  He could have never pulled off the hoist of the country alone.   His enablers helped them but not out of blindness.  This was a carefully crafted plan.

Someone called in last night to the The Thom Hartman Program. “I feel like I’ve been beat up,” he said of the recent Supreme Court rulings.  I feel the same.  Despairing.  And with the November election looming it is hard not to catastrophize.  How not to?  That is the challenge.  A friend points to other peoples who have overcome worse adversity in political systems.  She said the Haitians keep resisting even though they are starving. Perhaps I should read Masha Gessen’s book: Surviving Autocracy

Inevitably, all of us will need to find out how to maintain peace of mind as we move forward.  That is a challenge.

Introduction

I have finally found the time, courage and inspiration to start writing this blog.  Many things have hung me up and made me drag my feet.  One of the biggest was WordPress itself.  If you are new to blogs and websites you should go with an easier brand.  I am baffled by how difficult blogging has become.  I blogged over 10 years ago on Google and it was as free and straightforward as could be.

One good thing about WordPress, is that they ask for a flat fee out front.  I prefer that over the sites that start to bilk you for additional services.  These sites wheel and deal with you when you call their tech support.

One wonders about the proliferation of technology these days.   It makes life easier but the growing demand to learn various applications comes with a cost.  I say that as anyone who is out in the working world.  And I agree with what I believe John Steinbeck said, that inventors should have never improved on the Model T.

Lu (2020) discusses this in a conversation on “Tech Capitalism.”  The author lauds this as a spark for innovation.  At the same time, Tech Capitalism is much about companies getting a market for their product.  One wonders whether market and human needs can coincide.

I don’t want to say too much in my first blog post.  I will say though that I have grown weary of the news.  It seems like the good news is not offsetting the bad.  I wonder in fact if we have already not experienced a coup with the assertion of such authoritarian, biased and corrupt forces gaining power.

Like many I have become numb to the trauma of the past at least 5 years.  Our reality and sense of right have been flipped upside down.  I once was a news junkie, but I have recently descended to cat videos and games of Wordle.  Of course, you still do what you can to influence at least the upcoming elections.

I also spend time close to nature.  That is something that heals and quiets the mind no matter what side of this divided country one is on. 

Lu, E. (2020, June 5).  Tech Capitalism: Good or bad? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2020/06/05/tech-capitalism-good-or-bad/?sh=e0b722372c2b

4-24-22

Spent the weekend in Santa Cruz County.  I lived here in the 80s and have always been welcome to come back and visit at the home of Janey, one of my closest and oldest friends.

Time accelerates as you get older.  Especially during Covid, the days seemed like a repetitive blur.  You get up, did your morning and afternoon chores and before you know it, it’s time for bed.  You have little to talk about because there’s nothing going on.

I assume that some people’s lives in normal times are not at much different.  Especially if one has a steady job, marriage and home.  The days must dissolve into an indistinguishable haze.  Not so for me when I lived in Santa Cruz.  I landed here in the late 70s.  I arrived like so many of the lost souls of my own generation who sought solace in this colorful coastal town.  And as I once wrote about California itself:

What wouldn’t fit slipped

Through the cracks of the east

From forgotten families

Forming flocks

Of black sheep

Janey has three cats.  One of them, I think, has ADHD.  Lucky for him, in the morning, when the coyotes have gone to sleep, Janey lets her cat out.

This cat needs the outdoors.  He needs to roam and explore and get into a fair amount of trouble.  Just like I did when I lived here.  Santa Cruz gave me that freedom.

I had the freedom that so many young people today lack.  Today, every young person I know under 30 is still living with their parents.  They have to.  It’s an economic necessity.  My generation couldn’t wait to get away from our parents, especially if it meant living in a place like Santa Cruz.  I lived all over this county.   I bounced from place to place.  Landlords would give me notice when they were about to sell or bring in some relative.  Or I’d get into some hassle with a roommate.  It was all part of what I needed to do in order to learn and to grow.  And it’s left my memories of this place so noteworthy and multidimensional.  No, these memories are not a haze at all.  Santa Cruz allowed one to savor life and experience it completely.  It’s sad that young people today don’t have that.

We also had relatively free community college back then.  And you couldn’t beat Cabrillo, my alma mater.  It was rich with exciting and interesting teachers.  I’m sure it still is, although the tuition has gone up and admissions are now impacted.

More than anything, we had access to such incredible natural beauty here.  That beauty remains, although the parks and paths have gotten increasingly more crowded.  And you can’t traverse Highway One and most hours of the day without getting stuck in traffic.

Another thing that’s happened to Santa Cruz is the widening gap between the haves and have-nots.  Young people just starting out here cannot afford rent.  My rents here were so low that I could go to school and work part time, and thus have time for the all the other shenanigans that I managed to get into.

I’ve got a bad knee that won’t let me hike.  This prompted me to buy a mountain bike, and I had heard that Santa Cruz was a mecca for mountain biking.  This weekend I checked out the Forest of Nicene Marks which I would highly recommend.  I also drove up the Emma Mccrary Trail, which for me was a little less promising.  Too many hills and dangerous curves. And even at 8 a.m. on a Sunday, the trail was packed with bikers.  They were all men who’d parked their expensive SUVs along the turnouts on Highway 9.  There they unloaded their $5000 + mountain bikes sped up and down the redwood root-knotted hills with remarkable skill and strength.   I could only try and stay out of their way and eventually give up on the trail altogether.  It was too much for my knee and I didn’t want to break my neck.  Nevertheless, it was great being out in the woods and I’d forgotten how much I loved and missed this place.

Below is a poem I wrote of Santa Cruz and it appears in my chapbook 24th Street and Other Poems.

Santa Cruz still Holds me

Santa Cruz still holds me

Wraps around me like Redwood roots

Sings me with memories

Driving through after 30 odd years

You know I knew a surfer here

He blew through my life

Like waves and summer wind

One night we crouched on the floor

Of a women’s state park bathroom

On an empty raining beach

Drinking beer and laughing

“This is our private oceanside resort,” we said

That’s how much we loved

This place and each other

The coastal fields look up from their work and nod

Quietly recognizing me

From behind a fog veil

The rhythm of these harvest seasons

Steadfast, unchanging

Santa Cruz still holds me

You know

Time sat down with me once and rested here

Beside sand, pines, and sea

April 27, 2022

I stopped on the San Francisco Peninsula enroute back from Santa Cruz and checked out the Stanford Nurses Strike.  Thousands of nurses and supporters have been standing on the picket line that surrounds Stanford and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospitals.  As a former nurse myself, I couldn’t help but be inspired by energy.  In the least, nurses were celebrating the camaraderie that forms between working nurses, and also having some time off work. 

Time off is precious to nurses.  Most nursing jobs these days, especially if one wants benefits, require full time employment.  However, the physical demands, abuse, and stress that come with nursing do not mix well with full time.  Nurses also get tied to these jobs during crucial periods, such as during the night when healthy and sane people should be sleeping.  Nurses give up weekends and holidays when they’d prefer to be home with their families, or doing all of the fun and important things that provide value to our lives.

If nurses call in sick, their co-workers who pick up the slack.  Even now, while the nurses are on strike, it is non-union nurses such as nurse managers or educators who are having to fill in the shifts.  No one at the top who sets the terms in these negotiations ever has to work at the bedside.

I am not privy to the details of the strike negotiations.  It’s my understanding that the nurses want safe staffing, retirement and mental health care.  They want fair wages that can allow them to live in the over-priced Bay Area.  The union works with lawyers, economists and retirement specialists who advise on what is fair and what Stanford can afford.

One might argue that nurses already get good pay.  This is the case when nurses are unionized.   And according to the Economic Policy Institute (2021) when unions exist, they raise wages for both union and non-union workers.  Unions also raise women’s wages and reduce racial economic disparities.

I must say that no amount of pay really addresses the difficulties that nurses face.  This could be why nurses are leaving the field in droves.  In fact, 90% of nurses have considered leaving the profession in the next year (Siwicki, 2022).

In my novel, That Which Wavers with the Night, I present a hypothetical situation at a fictional San Francisco Bay Area hospital.  A subplot of the book is the attempted decertification of a nurse’s union.  Is the story far-fetched?  I hope so.  But one never knows what’s about to go down in this country.  Not when our voting rights are steadily being taken away, books are being banned, transgender people are being demonized, and our reliance on fossil fuels and removal of environmental regulations are devastating the planet. 

In my book I take what’s known as “poetic license.”  I learned that term one night when I was working a temp nursing job at a local jail.  The nurse who was training me was saying how frustrating it was when inmates had medical needs in the middle of the night.  For one thing, it was usually impossible to get hold of a doctor on call.  She thus taught me an often-effective trick when an inmate wanted something for pain.  She used this trick because inmates would often balk when offered Motrin or Tylenol.

The nurse would take red liquid Tylenol and pour it into a medicine cup.  She’d then offer it to the inmate and say “Here, this is acetaminophen.”  (The generic term for Tylenol).  Often, the inmate had never heard of acetaminophen.  He’d take the drug and then be satisfied, thus illustrating the power of placebo.

“Is that lying?”  I asked the nurse.

“No,” she told me.  “It’s poetic license.”

 Economic Policy Institute (2021, April 23).  Unions help reduce disparities and strengthen our democracy.  https://www.epi.org/publication/unions-help-reduce-disparities-and-strengthen-our-democracy/

Siwicki, B. (2022, March 24).  Report: 90% of nurses considering leaving the profession in the next year.  HealthcareITNewshttps://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/report-90-nurses-considering-leaving-profession-next-year

May 1, 2022

I’ve been searching high and low for trails that allow bikes.  They are few and far between especially if like me: a) you get exceedingly bored with a trail after the first couple times you used it and b) there are few trails that will tolerate my bad knee.  In other words, there are few bike trails in the Bay Area that don’t require a considerable amount of climbing. 

I had knee surgery about 10 months ago and people keep asking me “How’s your knee?”  I tell them it’s getting better but the progress is super slow.  And I will never declare myself “cured” until I can hike again.  That is the ultimate goal.  As for now, I can tolerate small bouts of hiking when I have to get off the bike and push it up-hill, or traverse an unsavory path.  So – my unending quest these days is finding knee-friendly trails that allow bikes.

I wasn’t disappointed on Friday.  I was delighted to discover some trails at China Camp State Park just outside of San Rafael.  For light-weights such as myself I would suggest catching the Shoreline Trail directly across the main road from Turtle Back Hill.  I took the trail toward the park’s Ranger Station, and had to stop at the hill that led to the station itself.  The hill was too daunting, but I look forward to a time when I can climb it.  I then seek to explore The McNeara Fire Trail and the Oak Ridge Trail that will eventually lead to the Bay View Trail and the park’s walk-in campground.  Actually, the campground can also be reached at the Park’s eastern car entrance.  Campers can then park their cars and for $35 a day hike or bike into the campground.  Campsites don’t require a reservation, at least at this early spring date.  I was also delighted to see that the campground (perhaps due to cold nights) was relatively empty.

Accessible camping along with an opportunity to both swim and kayak this close to the Bay Area seems relatively unheard of.  And I must add that China Camp State Park contains some magnificent scenery and plenty of places to hike and bike.

That Which Wavers with the Night is a is a suspense novel situated in the San Francisco Bay Area. The story focuses on a nurse who accidentally discovers a document in a patient’s room. Therein ensues a winding journey which reveals murder, corruption, and a flawed healthcare system. The story especially takes an unflinching look at the expanding gap in the US between the haves and haves nots.

That Which Wavers with the Night is not a gay novel. However, Casslan does illustrate how LGBTQ characters can easily blend in with the fabric of society, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. The novel touches on other issues such as alcohol recovery, political activism, immigration rights and environmental pollution. This is a human story about intersecting individual lives – with wider implications for us all and for the planet.

Purchase That Which Wavers With the Night

Richard Purcell was an openly gay Franciscan priest who ran a homeless shelter for men with AIDS in San Francisco. He died in 2011 of Lou Gehrig’s disease, and was cared for by many of the homeless men who he had taken in.

Susan Casslan and Richard Purcell co-authored the nonfiction book Conversations with Richard Purcell: The Adventures and Reflections of a Renegade San Francisco Priest. The book document’s Purcell’s life and death. Casslan also reflects in the book on her own spiritual journey, as she interacts with Purcell, who is a remarkably funny and inspiring individual

The book touches on the themes of death and dying and the reconciling of sexual orientation with spirituality.

Purchase Conversations with Richard Purcell

May 10

Vicky White, the Alabama corrections officer who helped a prisoner escape, died yesterday by an apparent self-inflected gunshot wound.  It seems that she made the only rational choice available, given what she was about to face.   She was about to face years in prison, and she knew what that was like – having worked in one for 17 years.  She would also face a scourge of public judgement for what she’d done.

I couldn’t help but feel very sad for her.  As deluded as she must have been to instigate the escape, she was undoubtedly motivated by love.  Love is what motivates so many women, and this love can get them into terrible predicaments.

So many politicians these days and even Supreme Court judges are not motivated by love.  They are motivated by greed and hate and too often hatred of women.  Still, women keep loving.  I would suggest that until this abortion mess gets cleaned up, every woman of child bearing age should boycott sex.   But that won’t happen.  Because women love too much.

I’m traveling to the Northern Midwest to visit family.  It’s been a year since I’ve flown anywhere as I’ve tried to avoid flying during these COVID times.  But I’m masked and fully vaxed and this is a trip that needs taking.

As I waited for the first leg of my trip in San Francisco International, I remembered how wonderful that airport is to return to.  It displays giant photos of Harvey Milk, our martyred gay supervisor.  A photo of London Breed, our city’s African American female mayor also greets the travelers.  The airport sells organic foods and best of all, signs were posted that warned people to keep their voices low on cell phones and to use headsets for electronic devices.  Oh, how I’ve longed for such signs in public places!  Silence is indeed golden and I cherish it more than ever since the advent of cell phones.

Since that Trump appointed judge lifted restrictions on masking on planes and in airports, I was pleased that people were still holding tight to their masks.  At least in San Francisco.  I’d say about 75% of the travelers there were wearing masks.  Now I’m at Chicago O’Hare and the numbers have flipped.  Maybe 25% of people are wearing masks.  Maybe even less.

Warm raindrops on dry leaves

Spring birds

Soft rumbling thunder

Smell of May

Lake lapping

A cafony

Relatives testing positive

Moving to motel

Guys that look like Govenor Whitmers kidnap plotters

Internet sucks

Bourlder Lake

Uncle Ed

Rosemary who quit talking to me

Policewoman

No masks

Trump signs and Let’s go Brandon

May 12, 2022

My first day in the north woods started out with a number of crises.  First of all, my elderly mother, with whom I planned to stay, tested positive for COVID.  My brother did as well, and my brother’s home was the place I planned to stay while my mother quarantined. None of this is surprising.  Nobody masks around here at all.

I moved into a motel for a few days.  It was a cozy room ten miles out of town.  The room had a kitchenette and a clean, attractive décor that highlighted the northern woods.  Pictures of deer and bears were hung on the walls and there was lovely arrangement of pine cones and in a basket. There was a thick and inviting woods behind the motel and a large fire pit with picnic table on the premises. The motel “office” was actually a bar and I had to get the bartender’s attention to register. 

Despite how much I liked my room, I felt a bit nervous going into it.  That was because my neighbors were some ragged looking characters sitting outside their rooms, smoking and drinking beer.  They looked like the men who planned Governor Whitmer’s kidnapping.

I also found out that the internet was lousy.  It was impossible to get online.  I decided to wait until morning to complain.  I went into the bar around 9:00 a.m., and there were the same Whitmer kidnappers  I’d seen the night before.  They were running the place!

I asked about the internet.

“It sucks!” one of the men told me.  I didn’t ask for further explanation. 

The second crisis I faced on my first day was the fact that my mother’s landline and cell phone didn’t work.  And she is a homebound elder with COVID!  I called the landline company with my cell and talked to robots and waited on hold for about 5 hours.  I never got hold of a human being.  It was the lousiest phone company service I have ever encountered!  One of the robots told me a tech would be out to the house by the 16th.  I tried to leave a message that that was unacceptable but robots don’t listen.

Tomorrow, I take the cell into the other company, which is gratefully local.

I did manage to get away for a few hours and drive to a lake that I’d visited as a child.  My uncle took my siblings and me there and we had the time of our lives.  I can’t remember once instant when any of my baby-boomer siblings or cousins was bored on that trip.  And yet when I took my own nephews there many decades later, it was a different story.  The boys (twins) were ten years old and they were bored from the get-go.  I tried in vain to get them engaged in some fun activity but it was a challenge.  They were city boys whose parents were well off and they were pretty much used to a constant barrage of entertainment.  A quiet woods with a beautiful lake did not impress them.

One of the boys was more irritating than the other.  He kept telling me how bored he was and at one point I threatened to drive him back to my parents’ house.  I told him, “You’re going to ruin the trip for me and your brother so I’m going to drive you back to Grandma and Grandpa’s.”

“But I’ll be bored there too!” He told me.

That same lad did not do well in the tent that night.  He pissed and moaned about how uncomfortable it was to sleep on the ground.  He also informed me of his own family’s vacations.  “We always stay at the Marriott!” he said.

Today I was relieved to enjoy the lake alone and minus ten-year olds.  The lake was exquisite.  The water was warm and so crystal clear!  I prepared to jump in it, but then the thunder started.  Realizing the danger of swimming during a lightning storm, I resisted the temptation.

Instead, I walked for a while in some gorgeous woods.  It wasn’t a hike but my knee did quite well.

May 14

Men, ATVs scraggly beards, humidity holds you back like the gears on the rusted bicycle I dragged out of my brother’s garage.

Tragedies desolve.

Pro-choice rallies today all over the country. To see the sexism in the deluge anti-choice legislation we’ve been facing lately is a no-brainer.  I only have one comment about this issue to anyone, whether they are pro or anti-choice: “If men could get pregnant, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”  It’s as simple as that.  And I believe that most people on either side of the controversy, would have to agree with me.

If men wouldn’t hesitate to demand control over their own bodies, then how could this issue be anything but anti-women?    Sexism and racism have always existed in this country, but in recent years, both of these issues have been really taking a dangerous curve.

Buni & Chemaly (2021) explore this descent in their opinion piece: The Science That Explains Trump’s Grip on White Males.  The authors cite a study that indicated how differently white men perceived risk as compared to white women or non-white men and women.  Why would white heterosexual men perceive risks in areas where they have historically been protected?  White men don’t get pregnant, they have less chance than women of being raped, battered or harassed.  They have less risk than other demographics of being shot at by police, incarcerated,  or denied housing or employment.  The authors claim that rather than fighting against the risks that many of us face, white heterosexual men may be more concerned with the preservation of institutionalized cultural identity and societal status.  Thus, many men are drawn to Trump because he symbolizes a restoration of social status that is linked to race and gender.

Sexism and racism exist everywhere, but it does seem particularly visible, at least on the surface in this rural Midwestern region.  I say “visible” for who knows what lurks under the surface.  I do know that Wisconsin went for Biden in 2020 and I know many local white men who are decidedly Democrat.  I also know male Trumpers who are decent people and would give you the shirt of their back.  Still, the symbols of toxic masculinity abound.  An overabundance of gun shops.  “Let’s go Braden” signs.  Massive pick-up trucks.  Loud and obnoxious ATVs.  And this interesting phenomenon, that I had only seen on televised Trump rallies or the January 6th insurrection – these long shaggy beards.  What do the beards symbolize?  Hypermasculinity?  Duck Dynasty?

I have been here for four days and I have not yet seen a person of color.  When I was a child in the 60s, I asked my father, “Why don’t any black people live around here?  Why do they stay in the crowded slums of Milwaukee and Chicago?’’ 

 “Because if they tried to move here, they might get shot,” my father said.  Are we dealing with that same phenomenon today? 

Even as a young person I was aware of the sexism, racism and homophobia that existed in rural areas.  That’s why I couldn’t wait to get out.  And time moved so slow here!  Time seemed stuck in place as if pinned down by the region’s insufferable humidity.   

I relish that slowness today.  I relish it because I’ve learned that time doesn’t move slow at all.  It rushes by and leaves regrets and tragedies in its wake.   So, I savor this time and place. I’m grateful for any remaining moments with the people I love.  And I’m grateful the beauty up here and the peace and stillness (except for the ATVs).

Maybe that’s part of what keeps some rural people clinging to the way things have always been.  They don’t want immigrants or people of color or evolving gender roles coming in and gumming up the works.

These types of locals don’t really scare me anymore.  And I don’t hate them. They’re not people I want to run away from as I did in my youth.  There are people who do scare me though.  I’m scared of the corrupt politicians and their corporate sponsors who put poison in Americans’ heads. 

The Science That Explains Trump’s Grip on White Males 

June 7

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in. I arrived back in California on May 26 and it’s taken a while to adjust to the transition. First of all, I can’t say enough about my time in a rural Midwestern Trump-won county. Despite any political differences I sensed, the people I encountered were exceedingly kind.  I also met with the type of lifestyle that might appeal to conservatives or fundamentalists.  It is a lifestyle that doesn’t change.  Some individuals do not want change.  They cherish their quiet white-only enclaves where things are as they have always been.  Neighbors help neighbors.  Men marry women.  And unlike in big cities, crime is kept to a low murmur.

I have to admit that I did savor some of this peace myself, including my own white privilege.  The older I get, places that are quiet and unchanging hold a special appeal.  When I was young, these places bored me out of my mind and I couldn’t wait to escape.  And perhaps if I’d stayed longer and I might have had a different view of the place of my birth.  As it was, I cherished the friendliness I found there, as well as the silence.  And much of the joy I experienced came from several kayaking trips I took into the surrounding wilderness.

Now I’m back in California experiencing another kind of joy.  I helped register voters at the Sonoma County Pride Festival on Saturday.  This was the first such festival following a two-year Covid hiatus.  I had been to this festival before and I was amazed by how much things had changed.  I first visited the festival in 2018.  After living in San Francisco and seeing their pride celebration, I was highly disappointed in the piddliness of Sonoma Pride.  This wasn’t the case on Saturday.  Courthouse Square was packed with people and the spirit was jubilant.  People seemed so happy to come out of their Covid isolation and celebrate. 

Sonoma County is a special place and this was reflected in the creative costumes of the crowd.  There were plenty of straight people present – as wise heterosexuals realize that the acceptance of diversity benefits everyone.  We all become okay with who we are, no matter what our orientation.

I also sensed in a crowd, a renewed strength and maturity brought on by the trials of the previous years.  We had survived Trump and Covid and this survival made us stronger and more aware.  We’d become more aware of the fragility of life and we’ve come to truly treasure our relationships with one another.

I also sensed in people an awareness of the fragility of democracy.  We all knew that Sonoma County was not like the rest of the country.  We were aware of so many impending threats – such as the threats to abortion rights, and of the anti-gay and transgender bills popping up in places like Florida and Texas.  I have been amazed in fact with the sophistication of the anti-trans ads I’m seeing on YouTube.  Much of these ads are riddled with misinformation.  For example, Samantha Schmidt writes in the

New York Times: “In recent debates over transgender medical care, politicians have made claims that transgender children are undergoing genital surgeries at young ages. Current medical guidelines say children should not undergo gender-affirming genital surgery before they turn 18.”

I’m sure people at the Pride festival were also aware of the recent scourge of gun violence.  I couldn’t help but wonder whether such a large crowd might be the target of a mass shooting.   This thought was amplified when I witness the following scuffle between visiting “Christians” and festival attendees.

June 11, 2022

The January 6th Hearings have managed to pull me out of my recent avoidance of national news.  I was glued to the hearings, perhaps because the Democrats seem to be finally getting a hold of their messaging!  They, and the two token Republicans on the committee, have really pulled off quite a show!  Watching it made me wonder, “Will Americans finally get the message that truth matters?  That violence is not okay?”  We shall see, but the hearings did leave me with an iota of hope.

I’m back to diligently working on increasing voter registration for the 2022 election.  It baffles me that friends and family who seem to care about the state of this country, are not doing the same.  It is going to take a tsunami of voters to offset the voter suppression efforts that are now taking place.  We can’t simply vote.  We have to do more.

The voter registration work has certainly helped emotionally sustain me during the past several years.  I was speaking about this the other day to another volunteer.  She is an older woman who has done much to lift all of our spirits throughout Covid and the last presidential administration.  She has not only weathered these years along with us, she has experienced many personal tragedies in own life.

I asked her about her eternal optimism, especially in light of current events.  She said she can remain optimistic because she has witnessed the trajectory of history.  History she said, ebbs and flows.  The country experiences corruption and cruelty, but when good people keep up the struggle, justice and progress also take place.

In terms of her own life, this woman explained, “I celebrate the good times and when bad things happen, I remind myself that these trials won’t last forever.”

June 23, 2022

We’ve all been enjoying some beautiful hot summer days.  For me, that means several kayaking excursions onto the Russian River.  I went out there yesterday with a new friend and her awesome, ocean-ready kayak.  Fortunately, she didn’t look down on my less-than appealing folding Oru Inlet.  I did feel a bit embarrassed however, once I got onto the water and compared the two vessels.

I bought the Inlet two years ago, simply because I have nowhere to store a kayak.  Once folded, my inlet fits on the top shelf of my bedroom closet!  It gets me out on the water and has afforded me a significant amount of pleasure, but it does have drawbacks.  For one thing, I can’t keep the bulkheads in place.  I thought about tossing them altogether, but they do keep the boat steady.  Thus, I am often having to reinsert them throughout the day. 

I did toss out the Inlet’s seat as it was terribly uncomfortable.  I bought a new seat at Walmart, It’s one of portable lawn chairs that has no legs or arms. 

Oru is probably the best name in foldable kayaks, but there are other brands.  I’d encourage shoppers to research other brands, and to keep their eyes out for any new foldable kayak technology.   One can also purchase an inflatable Kayak if storage space is a challenge.  I actually own an inflatable Kayak but seldom use it.  That’s because, although it’s easy to inflate, deflation is a mother.  It actually takes me a good two days to get all the air out.

The Inlet does attract a lot of attention.  When I first bought it, and was still learning to put it together, I had to wave off several men who insisted on coming over to help me.  Thus, I soon learned how to assemble it as quickly as possible. That last thing I wanted was to look befuddled and then have some guy come over and mansplain what I needed to do.

Two years ago, when the boat was new, nobody seemed to know what it was.  Passersby were fascinated and had a lot of questions about what it was and where I got it.  This summer, everyone seems familiar with the kayak, and they want to know how I like it and if they should buy one.  (I tell them no).   One teenager approached me yesterday and said, “Hey, can I try out your futuristic plastic boat?”

I’ve explored kayaking spots all over Sonoma County and my favorite is in Montel Rio.  I would discourage kayakers from putting in at the Monte Rio boat landing.  If you launch from there and head northwest, you will encounter a small island followed by a strong current that leads to the ocean.  That current might be fun to ride down, but then you’d have to paddle back upstream to get back to where you came from.

If you paddle northeast from the boat ramp toward the Monte Rio beach, you’ll encounter some small rapids that you’ll have to paddle up against.  I couldn’t traverse them with my Inlet and had to portage for some distance.  Once I walked under the bridge that is part of the Bohemian Highway, the water smoothed out.  Thus, in the future, I plan to launch from that site, northeast of the bridge.  One can park in the Monte Rio Beach parking lot and then carry the kayak a short distance to the water.  Kayaks are also for rent at that location, so friends who don’t own kayaks can join the fun.  From that site on, paddling up-river is smooth sailing.  My friend and I easily paddled a great distance.  We were surrounded by beautiful scenery and found several places to stop and swim.  On the way back, we were propelled by an ever-so-gentle southwest current.

I’m still glued to the January 6th Hearings which will resume today.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the terrible hate, violence and corruption that has permeated our nation.  In many ways, I’m not surprised.  I’ve done some research into the prevalence of sociopathy and psychopathy among humans.  This is the reality that many individuals lack empathy and see no problem with lying, cheating, or harming others.  One study estimates that at least 4.5% of the adult population in this country falls into that category.  That is a lot of people!  Some suggest that these numbers are increasing. 

It’s possible that sociopathy within societies can increase or decrease based on cultural norms or types of leadership.  But the sad reality remains, that bad people will always be with us.  That is why we need laws.  We shall see as the hearings, and this ongoing saga proceed, whether we are indeed a nation of laws.  We will also find out whether some of these psychopaths are above the law.

June 11, 2022

The January 6th Hearings have managed to pull me out of my recent avoidance of national news.  I was glued to the hearings, perhaps because the Democrats seem to be finally getting a hold of their messaging!  They, and the two token Republicans on the committee, have really pulled off quite a show!  Watching it made me wonder, “Will Americans finally get the message that truth matters?  That violence is not okay?”  We shall see, but the hearings did leave me with an iota of hope.

I’m back to diligently working on increasing voter registration for the 2022 election.  It baffles me that friends and family who seem to care about the state of this country, are not doing the same.  It is going to take a tsunami of voters to offset the voter suppression efforts that are now taking place.  We can’t simply vote.  We have to do more.

The voter registration work has certainly helped emotionally sustain me during the past several years.  I was speaking about this the other day to another volunteer.  She is an older woman who has done much to lift all of our spirits throughout Covid and the last presidential administration.  She has not only weathered these years along with us, she has experienced many personal tragedies in own life.

I asked her about her eternal optimism, especially in light of current events.  She said she can remain optimistic because she has witnessed the trajectory of history.  History she said, ebbs and flows.  The country experiences corruption and cruelty, but when good people keep up the struggle, justice and progress also take place.

In terms of her own life, this woman explained, “I celebrate the good times and when bad things happen, I remind myself that these trials won’t last forever.”

June 7, 2022

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in. I arrived back in California on May 26 and it’s taken a while to adjust to the transition. First of all, I can’t say enough about my time in a rural Midwestern Trump-won county. Despite any political differences I sensed, the people I encountered were exceedingly kind.  I also met with the type of lifestyle that might appeal to conservatives or fundamentalists.  It is a lifestyle that doesn’t change.  Some individuals do not want change.  They cherish their quiet white-only enclaves where things are as they have always been.  Neighbors help neighbors.  Men marry women.  And unlike in big cities, crime is kept to a low murmur.

I have to admit that I did savor some of this peace myself, including my own white privilege.  The older I get, places that are quiet and unchanging hold a special appeal.  When I was young, these places bored me out of my mind and I couldn’t wait to escape.  And perhaps if I’d stayed longer and I might have had a different view of the place of my birth.  As it was, I cherished the friendliness I found there, as well as the silence.  And much of the joy I experienced came from several kayaking trips I took into the surrounding wilderness.

Now I’m back in California experiencing another kind of joy.  I helped register voters at the Sonoma County Pride Festival on Saturday.  This was the first such festival following a two-year Covid hiatus.  I had been to this festival before and I was amazed by how much things had changed.  I first visited the festival in 2018.  After living in San Francisco and seeing their pride celebration, I was highly disappointed in the piddliness of Sonoma Pride.  This wasn’t the case on Saturday.  Courthouse Square was packed with people and the spirit was jubilant.  People seemed so happy to come out of their Covid isolation and celebrate. 

Sonoma County is a special place and this was reflected in the creative costumes of the crowd.  There were plenty of straight people present – as wise heterosexuals realize that the acceptance of diversity benefits everyone.  We all become okay with who we are, no matter what our orientation.

I also sensed in a crowd, a renewed strength and maturity brought on by the trials of the previous years.  We had survived Trump and Covid and this survival made us stronger and more aware.  We’d become more aware of the fragility of life and we’ve come to truly treasure our relationships with one another.

I also sensed in people an awareness of the fragility of democracy.  We all knew that Sonoma County was not like the rest of the country.  We were aware of so many impending threats – such as the threats to abortion rights, and of the anti-gay and transgender bills popping up in places like Florida and Texas.  I have been amazed in fact with the sophistication of the anti-trans ads I’m seeing on YouTube.  Much of these ads are riddled with misinformation.  For example, Samantha Schmidt writes in the

New York Times: “In recent debates over transgender medical care, politicians have made claims that transgender children are undergoing genital surgeries at young ages. Current medical guidelines say children should not undergo gender-affirming genital surgery before they turn 18.”

Of course none of this probably matters to those who are using transgender children for political gain. It’s a tried old trick – stir up a wedge issue by attaching a vulnerable population.

I’m sure people at the Pride festival were also aware of the recent scourge of gun violence.  I couldn’t help but wonder whether such a large crowd might be the target of a mass shooting.   This thought was amplified when I witnessed a between visiting “Christians” and festival attendees. The so-called Christians blasted us with a bullhorn – warning that LGBTQs were destined for hell. Some festival attendees shouted back, but in terms of volume, the bullhorn won.

“Christians” protesting gay pride

May 14, 2022

Pro-choice rallies today all over the country. To see the sexism in the deluge anti-choice legislation we’ve been facing lately is a no-brainer.  I only have one comment about this issue to anyone, whether they are pro or anti-choice: “If men could get pregnant, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”  It’s as simple as that.  And I believe that most people on either side of the controversy, would have to agree with me.

If men wouldn’t hesitate to demand control over their own bodies, then how could this issue be anything but anti-women?    Sexism and racism have always existed in this country, but in recent years, both of these issues have been really taking a dangerous curve.

Buni & Chemaly explore this descent in their opinion piece: The Science That Explains Trump’s Grip on White Males . The authors cite a study that indicated how differently white men perceived risk as compared to white women or non-white men and women.  Why would white heterosexual men perceive risks in areas where they have historically been protected?  White men don’t get pregnant, they have less chance than women of being raped, battered or harassed.  They have less risk than other demographics of being shot at by police, incarcerated,  or denied housing or employment.  The authors claim that rather than fighting against the risks that many of us face, white heterosexual men may be more concerned with the preservation of institutionalized cultural identity and societal status.  Thus, many men are drawn to Trump because he symbolizes a restoration of social status that is linked to race and gender.

May 12, 2022

My first day in the north woods started out with a crisis.  My elderly mother, with whom I planned to stay, tested positive for COVID.  My brother did as well, and my brother’s home was the place I planned to stay while my mother quarantined. None of this is surprising.  Nobody masks around here at all.

I moved into a motel for a few days.  It was a cozy room ten miles out of town.  The room with an outside entrance had a kitchenette and a clean, attractive décor that highlighted the northern woods.  Pictures of deer and bears were hung on the walls and there was lovely arrangement of pine cones and in a basket. There was a thick and inviting woods behind the motel and a large fire pit with picnic table on the premises. The motel “office” was actually a bar and I had to get the bartender’s attention to register. 

Despite how much I liked my room, I felt a bit nervous going into it.  That was because my neighbors were some ragged looking characters sitting outside their adjacent rooms, smoking and drinking beer.  They looked like the men who planned Governor Whitmer’s kidnapping.

I also found out that the internet was lousy.  It was impossible to get online.  I decided to wait until morning to complain.  I went into the bar around 9:00 a.m., and there were the same guys I’d seen the night before.  They ran the place!

I asked about the internet.

“It sucks!” one of the men barked.  I didn’t ask for further explanation. 

One good thing about relatives in quarantine, is that you have an easy excuse not to visit.  Not that I mind visiting but one does have limits. I managed to get away for a few hours and drive to a lake that I’d visited as a child.  My uncle took us camping there and we had the time of our lives.  I can’t remember one instant when any of my baby-boomer siblings or cousins were bored on that trip.  And yet when I took my own nephews there many decades later, it was a different story.  The boys were bored from the get-go.  I tried in vain to get them engaged in some fun activity but it was a challenge.  They were city boys and were pretty much used to a constant barrage of entertainment, not the least being video games.  A quiet woods with a beautiful lake did not impress them.

One of the boys was more irritating than the other.  He kept telling me how bored he was and at one point I threatened to drive him back to my parents’ house.  I told him, “You’re going to ruin the trip for me and your brother so I’m going to drive you back to Grandma and Grandpa’s!”

“But I’ll be bored there too!” He told me.

That same lad did not do well in the tent that night.  He pissed and moaned about how uncomfortable it was to sleep on the ground.  He also informed me of his own family’s vacations.  “We always stay at the Marriott!”

Today I was relieved to enjoy the lake alone and minus children.  The lake was exquisite.  The water was warm and so crystal clear!  I prepared to jump in it, but then thunder started.  Realizing the danger of swimming during a lightning storm, I resisted the temptation.

Instead, I walked for a while in some gorgeous woods.  It wasn’t a hike but my knee did quite well.

Warm Rain

On dead leaves

Spring birds

Soft

Rumbling thunder

A euphony

May 10, 2022

Vicky White, the Alabama corrections officer who helped a prisoner escape, died yesterday by an apparent self-inflected gunshot wound.  It seems that she made the only rational choice available, given what she was about to face.   She was about to face years in prison, and she knew what that was like – having worked in one for 17 years.  She would also face a scourge of public judgement.

I couldn’t help but feel very sad for her.  As deluded as she must have been to instigate the escape, she was undoubtedly motivated by love.  Love is what motivates so many women, and this love can get them into terrible predicaments.

So many politicians these days and even Supreme Court judges are not motivated by love.  They are motivated by greed and hate and too often hatred of women.  Still, women keep loving.  I would suggest that until this abortion mess gets cleaned up, every woman of child bearing age should boycott sex.   But that won’t happen.  Because women love too much.

I’m traveling to the Northern Midwest to visit family.  It’s been a year since I’ve flown anywhere as I’ve tried to avoid flying during these COVID times.  But I’m masked and fully vaxed and this is a trip that needs taking.

As I waited for the first leg of my trip in San Francisco International, I remembered how wonderful that airport is to return to.  It displays giant photos of Harvey Milk, our martyred gay supervisor.  A photo of London Breed, our city’s African American female mayor also greets the travelers.  The airport sells organic foods and best of all, signs were posted that warned people to keep their voices low on cell phones and to use headsets for electronic devices.  Oh, how I’ve longed for such signs in public places!  Silence is indeed golden and I cherish it more than ever since the advent of cell phones.

Since that Trump appointed judge lifted restrictions on masking on planes and in airports, I was pleased that people were still holding tight to their masks.  At least in San Francisco.  About 75% of the travelers there were wearing masks.  Now I’m at Chicago O’Hare and the numbers have flipped.  Maybe 25% of people are masked.  Maybe less. Still, in many places the COVID cases continue to rise.

May 8, 2022

Heard a wise bit of philosophy from a friend this week about giving up any bad habits. My friend said that when he decided to quit smoking he told himself, “If I quit smoking I’ll be miserable. But if I don’t quit smoking I’ll be miserable thinking about how I need to quit smoking. Either way I’ll be miserable, so why not go with the healthy option?” That’s how he managed to quit.

I did a bit more exploration this week when it comes to my eternal quest: finding new places to mountain bike with a bum knee. I first tried Howarth Park in Santa Rosa which has trails leading into Spring Lake Regional Park and eventually Anandel State Park. Howarth Park is a pretty little free park that is very child-friendly. It’s also a good place for fishing and there’s a paddle-boat concession stand that was not open. Like most lakes that I’m encountering in California these days, no swimming is allowed.

Howarth Park

Unfortunately, the trail that climbed toward Spring Lake had too much of a downhill trajectory, and I thus feared climbing back up with my knee. I ended up driving to Spring Lake instead.

The first thing I encountered when I entered Spring Lake Regional Park (it requires a fee) was the almost empty Spring Lake Swimming Lagoon. The poor thing looked like a puddle! Pre-Covid I have such fond memories of swimming in that lagoon with my granddaughter. The Lagoon was child-safe and yet I was able to take long laps out into the center of the Lagoon myself. We had visited on a holiday weekend and the place was blessedly quiet.

I don’t know if they fill the Lagoon before it opens on Memorial Day, or if its thirsty state is a reflection of the current drought. And with Covid cases rising all over the Bay Area, I’m wondering if the Lagoon will open at all. I searched in vain for any of this information on the internet. And like a lot of cash-strapped parks these days, there were no workers or rangers in sight.

Spring Lake dried up Lagoon

Spring Lake itself was as beautiful as ever, and perfect for ride-arounds on its paved trail. There were also some relatively flat dirt and gravel trails I was able to traverse with my mountain bike and bad knee.

I have Kayaked this lake before and but I wouldn’t recommend it. The shoreline is boring and the one little Island on the lake, which seemed to house an interesting assortment of birds, had been cordoned off with yellow “no trespassing” tape. Worst of all, the lake is engulfed with a slimy covering of vegetation which was spurred on by some of the early hot days we’ve had this season. The vegetation is harmless and one can Kayak through it, but overall, not a pleasant experience.

S[romg:ale

I tried to bike from Spring Lake to Anandel State Park but encountered some daunting hills again and had to turn back. During happier days before the knee injury, I used to enter Anandel from its northwest entrance. If entering there, be sure to bring cash as there is a State Park fee and it’s self-pay. When hiking from that end, the trails and views are spectacular. A few months ago I had tried to mountain bike those trails, but again, due to the climbs and the state of my knee, I had to pack up and leave almost as soon as I arrived.

There are two trails that lead directly from Spring Lake to Anandel (see below) and preferring the more rustic trail, I started out with the one on the left. This trail leads past some lovely little redwood groves and then started to climb high enough to make me turn around and head back. I then tried the gravel trail on the right, where I much sooner than preferred, encountered an insurmountable hill. How I long for a time when this knee is healed!

Rustic and Gravel Roads leading from Spring Lake to Anandel State Park

Spring Lake does have a sweet little campground. The campsites are much closer than I prefer, and like most campgrounds anywhere near the Bay Area, probably filled up in the summer. However, if the Lagoon gets filled and again allows swimming, this campground would probably be a great place to stay, especially with kids. There is not only swimming, there are excellent hiking trails, and mountain bikes are allowed.

Spring Lake Campground

I have discovered all of the parks creek trails in Sonoma County now that allow bikes. I must say, especially in light of my current knee injury, Spring Lake Regional Park is my favorite place to bike. It offers enough level surface for me to bike long distances, and more than that, it offers a wide range of beautiful scenery.