Beyond Facebook sharing: On George Zimmerman Found Not Guilty in the Death of Trayvon Martin, in which I attempt to discuss race

I’m with friends, heading back from a perfect day at the river, the kind of day that opens blue and holds steady through the afternoon, hot enough to nudge a person into the water several times, but mild enough to allow stretching out along the sandy bank for an hour, snacking on chips and guac, sipping sweet iced raspberry tea, catching up on gossip and more serious matters until the water calls for diving in once again, the coolness pure pleasure – oh, to swim! That temporary escape of gravity’s hold, the sun, the river, the breeze, the smooth rock providing a launching pad for diving – fire, water, air, earth, all the elements combining to spill joy out across the scene.

And then, the ride back, laughing as the iPod shuffles Katy Perry, Cake, the Be Good Tanyas, the Dixie Chicks and Flight of the Conchords into a soundtrack by turns silly and sentimental. It was into this moment, passing through the brief cell service window in Willow Creek, that my phone lit up with a New York Times alert about George Zimmerman Found Not Guilty in the Death of Trayvon Martin. The words dulled my happiness for a moment, but before I could tap for more, we’d traveled out of service again and so I set the information on the back burner of my mind.

At home, I opened Facebook and Twitter, assuming links to the most relevant writings would be filling up my news feed. They were, along with the outrage – opinions pouring forth into the gaps between funny videos, weekend hilarity, Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter. I sought out Ta-Nahesi Coates, of course.

I read the smart stuff, the pieces that elegantly analyzed why we are still where we are when we are. I read re-posted tweets from Trayvon’s dad, quotes from his mother and thought about my own 17-year-old son, a white boy in a white town in a white part of California, whiter than anywhere I ever lived before – we have our own sort of lawlessness, a result of being rural, remote and economically dependent on an illegal product, but of all the things I worry about my son getting into trouble over, being targeted for the color of his skin has never been one of them.

I confess, I was once one of those people who said ignorant things like, “I don’t pay attention to what color people are! We’re all people!” In my defense, I was trying to find a way to separate myself from the casual racists of my hometown. At least I was a step ahead of the people who started sentences with, “I’m not a racist, but….” One year a race riot broke out at my high school. Some white boys, the story went, had jumped a black girl in the cemetery adjacent to the school, had carved the word “nigger” on her stomach. How much of that was true never came out, but what did emerge was fury and a desire for retribution, all of it erupting into lunchtime chaos violent enough to make the newspaper and cause the school to shorten the lunch hour and increase security.

I escaped that town to Long Beach, where folks of all different backgrounds, sexual preferences and ethnicities lived on top of each other. I didn’t have to teach my daughter about how “We’re all people!” because we lived it, bound together by geography and class. I still didn’t have a clue about exactly how insidiously racism pervades the lives of those targeted by it – and then the L.A. riots happened.

My neighborhood bordered the line between the “good” and “bad” parts of town. We didn’t see much firsthand, but a store a block away suffered vandalism and rioters burned the Long Beach DMV down. I couldn’t go to work because I worked at a bar and a city-wide curfew forced closures of late night businesses. Tension suffocated the city. Those few days following were the only time in my life when I had a conscious gut reaction to brown skin. I’m a girl – I’ve had many instances of instinctive fear of men and, sure, inadvertently walking through a bad area has concerned me, but this was a different beast, this fear.

I was on the bus two days after the riots. Three unsmiling young black men climbed aboard. Blacks and whites had just been at war and even though I was a conscientious objector to that battle, nervousness shot through me. Were they going to do something? They didn’t, of course, and I recall that feeling with shame that my good intentions were so easily dismantled – and I wonder if that’s how racists feel all the time.

When we, reluctantly, moved back to the desert, a temporary stop on the path to a better life, a prison had just opened on the outskirts of town, bringing an influx of black families with it. I waitressed at a diner in a neighborhood that, as my customers complained, “had gotten pretty goddamned dark.” I was poor, had three kids to feed, needed the tips, so I didn’t always speak up – I never indulged racist jokes or slurs, but I didn’t climb up on the soapbox as often as I could have either, didn’t initiate conversations about why the unfairness of our legal system has created a situation in which a disproportionate amount of those serving time in prison are of African-American descent.

They were old, these guys, and in bad health from living on chicken fried steak, so mostly I just looked forward to the day when all the racists (and misogynists and homophobes, etc., etc.) would die off and tolerance would bloom across the land.

Finally, in a Native American studies class at College of the Redwoods, an epiphany – or at least the beginning of one: the ignorance of saying color doesn’t matter. Like saying gender doesn’t matter. Notes on the culture of assimilation. That if I really wanted to do right by all people, especially those who’d been traditionally oppressed, abused and/or maligned, then I needed to listen to their stories, understand how our experiences differed, where they matched up, ditch the white guilt for something deeper, more useful. I still don’t have it figured out. Race issues are complicated ones, especially since issues and aspects overlap – race, gender, class, context, history.

But what I do know is that racism, overt or subtle, is always wrong. People with guns creating situations that lead to killing someone is wrong. A 17-year-old boy was killed by a man whose actions sprang from a place of prejudice and fear combined with too power in the form of a gun and the misguided “Stand Your Ground” law. Because someone opted to deliberately ignore common sense, common decency – instead channeled racism, vigilantism, accusation, violence, all the bad things combining until blood spilled out across the scene.

In the New Yorker, Jaleni Cobb writes, “Trayvon Martin’s death is an American tragedy, but it will mainly be understood as an African-American one.”

So what do we do? As individuals, as Americans? How do I, as a 43-year-old white chick, do more to eradicate these entrenched ways of thinking? Besides clicking “Share” and “Retweet”? Write Five Things To Know Before You Neighborhood Watch A Black Kid in a Hoodie? Is it presumptuous to even write this? I’m thinking out loud because I don’t know what else to do – and my heart demands something to be done.

I have no elegant ending.

Thank you, President Obama

The clock edges toward midnight. Fifteen more minutes and I can check Nick’s blood sugar. Hopefully the carbs from the pasta, pie, ice cream and eggnog will have been properly mitigated by the insulin being pumped into his body. Usually I try to encourage fewer carbs and earlier eating at night, increasing the odds of getting a relatively good night’s sleep. For all of us. Today’s his birthday, however, so when he poured more eggnog, had another piece of pie at 10 p.m., I just smiled.

Tomorrow’s Election Day, of course, and, as we step through our fifth year of dealing with our son’s Type 1 diabetes, I think about how personal the presidential election feels this time around. Of course, it’s always personal – I’m a woman, I have daughters, I’ve spent a few years on welfare, I’m drowning in student loans – but the threat of losing the small, huge promise of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act provokes a reaction so visceral that I am unsure I can remain civil around anyone who dismisses it. Because repealing “Obamacare” is a threat. A direct threat to my son and our ability to provide the medical supplies that keep him healthy and alive.

When he was diagnosed, doctors ordered us ambulanced from the local ER to Murray Field. A medical plane flew us to SFO, where another ambulance greeted us, transferred Nick to UCSF. He was that sick. Restoring his health took almost a week. Six days of learning about a disease I’d barely realized existed. Six days of transforming him from a fading, skeletal boy back into one who could walk out of the hospital and into a new life in which, while he would never be quite “normal” again, with the right supplies, he could live as though he was.

The cost of that life-saving intervention?

I don’t know.

See, we had Medi-Cal for the kids at the time, so the cost was covered by that much-maligned government program – the one thing I didn’t have to worry about in the thick of facing the fact that my son has a currently incurable disease was how I would pay for all the care it took to save his life.

I do know his insulin pump costs $3,600 and his regular supplies would run about $800 per month if we had to pay out-of-pocket. (That’s not counting all the glucose tablets and Starbursts we need to keep around.)

After his diagnosis, those regular supplies – insulins, syringes, glucometer, test strips and glucagon – were covered under another government program, California Children’s Services. The government did a fine job of keeping that safety net stretched taut beneath us.

Then, three years ago, I landed a better job with private insurance, so now we pay $20 in co-payments for each prescription – an increase in our expenses, but an improvement in our social status.

But even with the miracle of private insurance, I couldn’t rest easy. I still worried about what would happen if/when my project-based job ended, how Nick would ever have health care again with such a pre-existing condition.

When the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act was signed into law, making it so insurance companies would be forbidden to exclude my son, regardless of the diabetes, my chest expanded. My shoulders settled. I breathed a little easier. What I see is my government doing something to protect people, people like my son, my whole family, others in the same boat. Obamacare ensures that Nick will be able to get the medical attention and supplies he’ll need. Which means he’ll be able to not only survive, but thrive, to be the strong, smart, helpful kid he’s always been – and have a chance to grow into the good man he’s meant to become.

The Republican Party, with Mitt Romney as their representative, wants to take that away. (They want to take a lot away.)

For my son and all the other folks out there who saw their medical options blossom with the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, I thank President Barack Obama. I plan to show that gratitude tomorrow, in the voting booth.


(Updated Tuesday, Nov. 6, 6:37 a.m. for style. As a writer, I wish I’d been more elegant. As a citizen, I realize elections – and countries – are about far more than single issues. As an individual, I love this country, I love my family and I hope to find myself celebrating the continued path forward for both this time tomorrow. Or sooner would be fine, too.)

Wal-Mart in Eureka: The good, the bad, the ugly

Wal-Mart has come to town and my esteemed (intermittent) colleague Andrew Goff has been inspired to new heights in his coverage of the momentous event. As the county’s top chronicler – and defender – of all things Humboldt goodness, Goff writes with a less-tempered edge than usual:

But it was then that the day’s most precious spectacle occurred. Roll call! A giant Pepsi bottle, a grinning polar bear in a chef’s hat, and a piece of white bread in a cape enthusiastically wiggled and spun around — some might call this “dancing” — while the Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started” blared. Many a camera phone was satiated, even if the choreography lacked.

The arrival of Wal-Mart has, of course, occasioned fierce debate between those who view it as the signifier of End Times and those who see it as a sort of Savings Galore! salvation. Unfortunately most of the debate bounces around between mocking the butt girth of the stereotypical Wal-Mart shopper and exclamation-heavy advice “don’t shop there if you don’t like it!”. (With the occasional thoughtful defense of the store and rational explanation of how Wal-Mart injures communities sandwiched between.) Goff rose to the occasion of covering all this by rising above the fray – people would do well to note how much farther a sense of humor takes you.

Which is not to dismiss the sadness that comes along with this whole dancing, blessed package. People are elitist assholes – that’s sad. People once voted to keep Wal-Mart out of Eureka and it’s here anyway – that’s sad. Every chain store and big box makes Humboldt a little less unique – that’s sad. But you know what’s sadder? That K-Mart down the way. Jesus. Have you been in there?  Like a lonely withered old woman in a rundown senior home. You know the nurses aren’t nice and no one ever visits her.

So we have K-Mart and Target and Costco and Walgreen’s and Staples and all that stuff sold in those places is a helluva lot like the stuff they’re selling at Wal-Mart – I don’t see the war as being between the small businesses and Wal-Mart, but more of a big box death match. Nothing irks people like Wal-Mart, though (except maybe Starbucks). The chain symbolizes all that’s wrong with America in a way the other stores don’t. Aggressive retailer of cheap imported crap that withholds decent pay and benefits from its employees and is patronized by fat, sweatpant-wearing, red-state shoppers with bad hair and worse voting records – oh, they make us so mad! We hate those people! They brought us George W. Bush – twice! – and they’re standing in the way of gay marriage and they fail to see how they’re the victims of their own politics and thank god we have Stephen Colbert and high-end whiskey to make it through the night.

But I used to shop at Wal-Mart. It was the only place open at 3 a.m. when I wrapped up my bartending shift. I’d take my cash tips and stop to buy diapers (yeah, I would’ve liked to use cloth, but we were broke and living with my mother-in-law at the time and point is, maybe you shouldn’t think you know everything about a person’s life or get to judge it) on the way home. And shampoo. People need stuff. Wal-Mart is an absolutely imperfect solution to fulfilling those needs, and I doubt I’ll be trekking over (especially as Target is right over the bridges), but vilifying your neighbors isn’t helpful. “Don’t shop there!” isn’t any better than “Don’t like it? Don’t shop there!” You can substitute “work” for “shop” and it holds true.

See, the argument shouldn’t be about who’s more right about Wal-Mart, the haters or the lovers. The question at hand should be, always: How can we hold close the dearness of Humboldt, together? And all the while remembering to celebrate the absurd. I’m dismayed over Wal-Mart’s arrival, but I’m so very pleased with what Goff’s served up:

Henceforth, Wal-Mart is open in Humboldt. Adjust accordingly.

A political moment: #OWS

I can agree to disagree on some political issues. Not all protestors are noble, not all cops brutal and not all American economic policies a conspiracy to destroy the middle class and enslave the poor.

But the stance people are taking against systemic economic inequity is based in facts. That many cops are abusing their power and hurting people not threatening to them, is accurate. To fail to acknowledge that the Occupy movement as a whole has righteousness on its side is to deny reality.

And when you reject truth, that’s where you lose me.

And then, politics

Following politics usually leads to the type of despair that makes lying down on the highway sound like a reasonable idea. Working in the political realm alleviates that sensation to a degree, both because taking action always helps and because sometimes good triumphs over stupidity. What blows my mind lately is the speed at which we’re sliding away from common sense and basic decency. Idiocracy, anyone? Reports on the California budget crisis and the debt ceiling debate reference “painful” spending cuts, typically in conjunction with what’s referred to as “entitlement” programs.

From The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn (via Salon’s Glenn Greenwald):

As Robert Greenstein, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, pointed out in a recent statement about a different proposal, there’s just no way to enact spending reductions of this magnitude without imposing a lot of pain. And contrary to the common understanding in the Washington cocktail party circuit, “pain” does not simply mean offending certain political sensibilities. Pain means more people eating tainted food, more people breathing polluted air, more people pulling their kids out of college, and more people losing their homes — in other words, the hardships people suffer when government can’t do an adequate job of looking out for their interests.

That pain won’t be immediately felt by the folks running the show, of course, but by the people already struggling, the ones with the fewest resources for fighting back. What continues to amaze me is the degree to which people are willing to vote against their own self-interests. Or, more correctly, how people distinguish between their own self-interests and society’s best interests.

Because unless you’re making money off poverty and strife (and sure, plenty of people are), a healthy, relatively happy, educated community in which people have reasonably equal opportunity and choice is good for the individuals within that community, town, city, state, country. Isn’t this self-evident? You know, like those truths in the Declaration of Independence?

“that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

We’re not crazy to think government should serve as a tool to ensure that everyone gets their shot at life (food, shelter, clean air and water, health care, protection from harm), liberty (equal protection under the law, individual freedoms) and the pursuit of happiness (education, equal opportunity). Perhaps we’ve abdicated far too much of our collective individual power, letting our unions get busted, our schools undermined and our attention spans shortened, but that doesn’t mean the problem is the existence of government. Rather, it means that particular tool has ended up in the wrong hands.

Getting it back won’t be easy. Especially as the very places that might provide strength, or at least support, continue to be mowed down by the misguided. With education, financial security, medical care and environmental safety viewed as luxuries instead of what Americans are “entitled” to, the potential strength of the populace is greatly compromised.

And about that word, “entitled”: it has negative connotations when used in the phrase, “a sense of entitlement,” which is how it’s commonly used when anti-government types are railing against security programs. But as Americans, we should have a sense of entitlement to a number of basic things, at least according to those famous founding documents. When people talk about slashing welfare programs, education, environmental protection, workplace standards, etc., what they’re actually advocating is the taking away of American rights.

“Heraldo”… revealed!

I normally leave the politics to either my day job or late night, in-person conversations over whiskey. After all, Humboldt has no lack of savvy commentators, news outlets and bloggers offering insight, reporting and satirical interpretation on the various issues and personages du jour. That said, I feel compelled to point out what a recent “contest” has revealed — namely the identity of one of Humboldt’s most-followed bloggers: Heraldo!

No, it’s not about the Public Records Act. This came about through something a bit more innocuous, namely, the North Coast Journal’s “comic,” Seven-O-Heaven.

To wit:

1. Seven-O-Heaven comes out of nowhere and lands the cover of the North Coast Journal with an extended narrative having to do with Rob Arkley.

2. The Humboldt Herald frequently focuses on Rob Arkley’s political influence.

3. Seven-O-Heaven creator Andrew Goff puts out a call for reader submissions for his comic — a contest!

4. Heraldo also posts about the contest on the Herald.

5. Heraldo wins! But due to being “anonymous” gets downgraded from winning the grand prize of books to the runner-up consolation of a Bon Boniere gift certificate.

6. Andrew Goff has publicly stated his disdain for reading.

7. Andrew Goff has been seen scouting for root beer ice cream in Bon Boniere.

Clearly the evidence leads to one conclusion: Andrew Goff is Heraldo!



Also, he confessed such here.

You’re welcome.

Hank’s departure from the Journal

Maybe it’s silly, this sense of loss. Nobody died and I never actually worked at the Journal. My only contributions to that publication have been monthly columns, an occasional review. But somehow I found my freelancing self repeatedly popping in to the Eureka office, eager to pester the crew with whatever excuse I’d fabricated to justify my visit. I adored the easy camaraderie and even more, the way being around such clever, talented people inspired me to sharpen my own writing, forced me to smarten up my own conversations. I was crazy for the way they made print journalism matter all over again.

Now, I love my job. Love, love, love, love it. But if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing, I would’ve begged Hank to hire me. He inspires that kind of enthusiasm. The NCJ news team gave off that rarest of impressions: that they were all people who woke up looking forward to their jobs. When I pitched the money column, he supported it. I never wrote it for Hank, but a desire to impress him with my writing colored my efforts — he kept the bar high in his own work and cultivated excellence in his people.

It’s weird, the past tense. The guy has class. I continue to be blown away by how well he keeps his cool, is able to talk down even the most rabid of complainers without losing his temper or his sincerity. I’m sure his standards will remain top shelf regardless of what role he takes next. I know those of us with the good fortune to inhabit the same space will continue to come away better for it.

But I’m so sad that the thriving little world he created as Journal editor has been smashed to bits. And that’s just the really selfish feeling-sorry-for-my-own-self part. I imagine the team crestfallen over this turn of events. Sure,  Burns and Walters will keep on telling stories in their artful, intelligent ways. Seven-O-Heaven will march on. Well, unless they find something better — and from the outside, suddenly a lot of options look “better.” And if they go, then we end up with the real tragedy: the disintegration of the most readable, in-depth news stories around. (And funny! The funny is so important! Damn!)

Look, I realize even the people who make a point to grab a Journal each week likely won’t get too worked up about an editorial change. Powering through the daily grind takes a lot. Google answers our questions and Facebook provides our social fix. Print media is such a novelty –useful for killing time while waiting for a latte. Also a good fire-starter when priming the woodstove. But some of us still think it matters, that knowing what’s going on in our communities makes a tangible difference in how we live our lives. We also like a well-crafted story and to be entertained. Under Hank’s command, the Journal did all that. Does all that. Did? Not sure. Without Hank at the helm, that particular ship might very likely run aground.

Occasionally I disagreed with Hank’s ideas of what made a good cover story. Vehemently. But if I wanted to only read exactly what I wanted and to only think exactly what I already do, I’d never bother with a newspaper and would just spend all day reading simpatico blogs instead. Mostly, I looked forward to reading what Hank wrote, whether Town Dandy or hard news. So much of what makes the Journal good stemmed from his influence. With Hank gone and the new editorial vision mired in drama, I fear for the future. And am really, really sad that the present was rear-ended right into the past.

Trash on my beach, politics on my brain

The predicted winds never arrived on Sunday. Instead the air hung still and what began as rainclouds thinned to merely overcast. We took advantage of the break with a walk along the dunes. The higher tide and stormy swells have deposited even more driftwood along the shore, as well as the usual shattered shells and occasional fish carcass. It also delivered far more trash than I could fit in a single bag. Bottle caps, bottles, styrofoam and unidentifiable plastic chunks littered nearly every square foot of my beach, evidence of what a dumping ground we’ve considered the ocean to be.

And of course I pick up what I can. But gathering the trash off the beach is like shoveling snow with a trowel during a blizzard. What one really needs is the downfall to stop. I remember visiting Universal City after I’d been in Humboldt County for a couple years. Pleased with my heightened environmental awareness, I’d managed to reduce our family trash to a single grocery bag’s worth per week. We recycled everything we could, bought in bulk, followed all the usual “50 Things You Can Do To Save the Earth” instructions. Because those acts made such a difference in our home life, I thought I was seriously accomplishing something. And then I went back to L.A.

Oh, right. Overflowing garbage cans, no recycling and 3.8 million people living on concrete. Suddenly ACRC seemed so cute. So quaint. “Oh, look at those earnest little do-gooders with their recycling and reusing! Now, give me another styrofoam container to chuck on the ground when I’m done.” Granted, that was years ago, so I’m sure some progress has been made, but seriously — our teensy defenses against the assault of waste will not hold in the end. After visiting Taiwan, where everything is served in plastic, the need for total overhaul from the top down is even more evident.

But, wow, is that going to be hard.

I just don’t see, on a local or state or national or international level, how we’ll get to the necessary place of cooperation when so much energy is spent keeping politics nasty. This policy of us vs. them will never work. We have to all be “us.” Okay, we have to all be “us,” except for the clearly insane and incorrigibly evil.

A naive sentiment, maybe, but I’ve gone from naivete to cynicism and back more than once, and I always end up in the same place: hate doesn’t help. Intelligence, compassion and finding the commonalities do.

Sigh. Another thing to work on in 2011. The list is getting so very long.

Ukiah to Caspar, in which I wonder why people can’t just get along

In an initially unexpected turn of events, I found myself in Ukiah’s Holiday Inn Express. The hotel wasn’t unexpected; having a reason to spend a night in Ukiah was. But NOAA’s head admin, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, was making a rare trip to the North Coast at the behest of Rep. Mike Thompson and so off I went.

The meeting itself proved interesting without any of the drama I’d worried might spill over from other North Coast political issues (we’re an unruly bunch at times, prone to conspiracy theory and passionate displays of our uniqueness). Time constraints precluded everyone having a chance to speak, myself included, but if my card had come up, I would’ve said something like this:

I’ve been working on the Marine Life Protection Act for the past year and have learned so much: primarily, that no matter how controversial and complex an issue is, working with local communities will always provide a path forward.

Then, on the drive to Caspar, I thought more about that. Is it true? Is a way forward always possible, compromise ever an achievable goal? I want to say yes, although clearly that’s not the case when it comes to human rights: No one is going to feel like being only three-fifths of a person is okay for now or accept civil union as an equitable alternative to marriage. But other issues? If enough of the people making the decisions can remember that at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to keep food on the table, make a good life for our kids, be decent human beings and find a little love somewhere? Is that totally corny? Because it worked, mostly, for MLPA. “It” being really listening to what mattered to people, balancing human needs with the impetus for environmental protection, sticking to my own beliefs, but nonetheless treating the concerns of others with respect and funneling all that through hours of discussion and debate to an end that no one loved but most people could live with.

I want to believe decent human communication and solutions are more often possible than not. Wishful thinking?

surf session#34: a post from the road

Comfortable and comforting.

I am without internet – I write this knowing I can’t post for a few days, but I wanted to take advantage of the peace, the opportunity to capture this moment now. (I am also without decent camera; forgive the cell phone pics.)

I sit on a twin daybed in the living room of a colleague’s guest cabin. He built his family’s house in the woods, just east of Caspar Cove and Point Cabrillo, just south of Fort Bragg. Over the decades, the house progressed from the tiny cabin they started with to an expansive home with multiple bedrooms, a loft, a spiral staircase, all permeated with warmth, beauty and love. Art, photos, books, well-kept old stoves – this home is the sort of place you take off your shoes and shed your worries.

The light comes in.

The guest cabin invites even greater relaxation. I’d seen it in progress on a prior visit, but not finished – it’s still not quite finished. The kitchen area is incomplete and the main floor still rough. But the bedroom boasts a glossy new hardwood floor and brass bed, and the bathroom offers a clawfoot bathtub, colorfully tiled shower and a sink painted in a peacock feather motif. “Take a bath when you get there,” my colleague had suggested, so I stopped at Rite-Aid and, after much pondering, chose a reasonably natural tub of ultra-vanilla bath salt.

Back up a bit. I’d started the day with the sort of spousal conflict common in long marriages. An unpleasant start to any day, but especially one in which I was scheduled to depart and be away through the end of the week.

Back up a little more. I’d spent most of the night worrying about my children, their future and our family’s present struggle to find joy and comfort and mutual ambition. My own flaws illuminated my thoughts as well. In the daylight, I move with confidence, but in the wee hours, the doubts plague. Too many vices, too little willpower. I am not nearly what I could be and my family suffers for it. If only I were perfect, it follows, then they and our lives would be, too.

Back to today. I hadn’t driven the road connecting Petrolia to the 101 via Honeydew before. My brain ran amok with thoughts I wished I could commit to paper. Then I remembered I could simply record them on my phone. So I did:

“I am driving away from Petrolia toward Honeydew, Ryan Adam’s Gold CD in the player, ‘La Cienga Just Smiled’ playing, surfboard strapped to the top of the rental car. It’s beautiful. The Mattole River. Some of the leaves on some of the trees have already changed color, fiery red clusters among the green. Wildflowers exploding purple and yellow along the side of the road. Kaylee is tucked in at camp, soon to be hiking the Lost Coast. I have to trust the world to look out for her, I guess. She’s done it before, but still an odd thing to leave your child behind. Pink wildflowers, too. A kid on a quad, some motorcyclists. Not quite the middle of nowhere, but remote nonetheless. Ryan Adams sings about a broken body, a broken soul, which sounds cheesy when I say it, but is beautiful like this road. And I am filled with melancholy.”

And then, later:

“Still driving toward the 101. It’s amazing, just amazing driving this road. Windy, windy road going up and up and up. I have no idea really where I am. I mean, I have a vague sense of geography, but not anything specific. There are trees of many types: pine, fir, spruce and ones I can’t name. Signs warn Beware of Cows. I can see almost to the ocean, the road is so high up. Rare to see other cars up here. I am really surprised at the altitude I’ve gained, how far up this ridge I’ve gone, how far I can see. Is the marine layer hiding the ocean? I continue to go up on this road, which occasionally turns to gravel. Hardly any other cars, do hope I’m going the right way. Occasional dirt road. Must be so much tucked away. Clearly. Something’s happening around here. Very steep drop. Lots of trees. Hell of a view. Winding through this wilderness makes me think that perhaps the problem really is simply too many people. How could any problems exist here, with so few people? Lots of cyclists, surprisingly, and an occasionally large truck. A view so breathtaking I must stop and take a photo.”

The photo I had to stop and take.

And then I finally dropped down into the park-preserved old-growth and remembered that it doesn’t take very many people to do a great deal of damage and the solution lies in more than simply shrinking the population.

Toward Bull Creek Flats

And I drove and drove and drove, leaving the 101 in Leggett and following  yet more twists and turns until the world opened back up at the ocean, where clean lines stretched across an ocean unmolested by wind. I leaned on the gas a bit more, hungry to be in that ocean. Twenty minutes later, I’d stopped to check, saw a friend emerge from the trail before I could even look. It’s fun, he assured me. I took his word for it, lugged my gear down the trail, changed, paddled out, surfed alone in that glassy gray sea for an hour. The waves were mushy, the peak shifty and yet I found shoulder after shoulder. With each ride, my heart lightened, my mind slowed. Optimism may have not returned, but pessimism decreased.

Sweet relief at reaching the coast – and finding surf.

I finally arrived at the guesthouse, peaked wood-beam ceiling and permeating warmth from the wood stove. A CD player sat on a bench. I’d grabbed an old CD carrying case on a whim. As I started the bath, I shuffled through for some music and found a copy, from one of my dearest friends, of Greg Brown’s Covenant. I sank into the steaming, vanilla-scented bathwater and listened to Greg, read my book – Ariel Gore’s Bluebird, about women and happiness. I resolved to note the moments of joy in my life, not just chronicle the complaints.

Warm and vanilla-scented happiness

The future remains uncertain. The dog and the oldest cat need to go to the vet. We’ve yet to set any money aside for savings. Nothing has changed.

And yet, the music, the beauty of the drive, the ocean, the solitude, the comfort of this place, the heat of the bath – the day has been filled with so many moments of joy.

And, despite all the potential for suffering, I am filled with happiness.


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