Saturday, January 09, 2021


The thing I notice most is the quiet. 

Sitting here on the back porch, looking across farm fields and ranch land, there is sound, of course. But it's of a kind that soothes rather than rattles. Cows lowing, sheep baa-ing, birds chirping and cooing and crowing. 

What's missing, but not missed, is the constant jangle of human sound. It's not entirely absent, but it is gracefully subdued and intermittent. A far-off tractor working a field. A car slowly rolling by on a one-lane road half-a-mile down the hill. A plane 30,000 feet above.

As I sit here, no actual humans are in sight. Cows, goats, doves and cardinals are accounted for—as are a couple of romping dogs and what I assume is an 'io, the native Hawaiian hawk. Whatever sound it might be making is carried away by the wind. 

After a while, a horse and rider appear, ambling along the road below. They're in no hurry, maybe just soaking up some mid-morning sun.

A bit later, several geese complain loudly about something unseen. I look up to see four of them, in a row, hurrying up the road—cheerfully chased by a young boy.

Further down the slope, the endless blue of the Pacific Ocean stretches to the horizon. If you were to sail north from here, on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island, your next stop would be Alaska—with nothing but water in between.
This low, agrarian hum is a welcome change from our urban soundtrack. 

Dogs barking outdoors, at a distance, blend into the background. Dogs barking indoors, at close range, are akin to sudden jackhammering in a library.

A tractor rumbling through a far-off field is pastoral. A police car speeding by with sirens blaring is like a tractor rumbling through the living room.

A tiny baby goat carried by a young girl in the local grocery store is endearing and adorable. A tiny baby goat carried by a young girl at an urban Whole Foods is...okay, that's still endearing and adorable. Never mind.
It's amazing how quickly and completely my routine has changed in the few days I've been here. I'm eating better, exercising more, and deep-breathing without having to remind myself to take a damn breath.

We're still months away from moving here full time, but I expect this pattern to hold when we do.

I'm heading back to Seattle soon. 

I'll be taking as much of the quiet with me as I can. 

Thursday, January 07, 2021

The American Ceaușescu

"The line must be drawn here.
This far
no further."
I had other ideas for a post today, but they no longer matter.

The only thing that matters right now is what happened yesterday in Washington, DC.

Violent insurrection by right-wing terrorists was instigated and cheered on by an old white man in an undeserved position of power.

Under more normal circumstances, it'd be prudent to say that man should be impeached and removed from office in an orderly fashion. 

But these are the most abnormal circumstances of our lifetime. 

The thing we all thought couldn't happen here has happened—for all the world to see. How and why doesn't matter right now—what does matter is putting a hard stop to it and beginning the process of ensuring it never happens again.

From the false president to complicit members of congress to the racist bastard who paraded a confederate flag through the People's House—every one of them should be arrested, held without bail, and face charges of high crimes against the United States.

Democracies around the world, many of which have a first-hand history of violent collapse, are warning the same can happen to the US. 

After our catastrophic failure in the 20th Century, we Germans were taught by the US to develop strong democratic institutions. We also learnt that democracy is not just about institutions. It is about political culture, too. All democratic nations need to constantly defend it." Andreas Michaelis, German ambassador to the UK.

"I follow with great concern what is happening in Washington. Violence is incompatible with the exercise of political rights and democratic freedoms." —Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Even the Turkish foreign ministry, in the name of all that's deeply hypocritical, called for restraint: "Turkey is monitoring worrying developments in the US, including attempts to storm the Capitol building. We believe that the US will overcome this domestic crisis calmly.”

From a 2018 post:

"It was only 30 years ago that Nicolae Ceaușescu was executed by firing squad in Romania.

"45 is clearly no student of history, but he seems to be modeling himself in Ceau
șescu's mold:

"'Life in Romania during the regime of Nicolae Ceau
șescu was at once tragic and absurd as the nation’s head of state erected a cult of personality that literally turned his country into a stage show. Ceaușescu scripted an epic with himself as the star, but others wrote the inevitable denouement that brought down the curtain on him and his wife, Elena...'"

"I don't (yet) believe the end of 45's story will mirror Ceaușescu's, but sitting here today, I also wouldn't rule it out."
That threat is now reality, and the line is drawn: US democracy or a renegade president.

Trump must resign or be removed. 

If he won't step down, he should be dragged from the White House by his feet.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

There Is No Normal

“What was the last normal thing you did before the pandemic?”

That wistful question recently (and briefly) trended on twitter, and it got me thinking.....and I honestly couldn't remember.

(Stipulating that "before" is meaningless because the pandemic has always been here.)

I scrolled back to Instagram posts from late February looking for shots that weren't taken under a COVID pall—and found photos from a 20-mile trail run with friends. The caption captured the day:
Trail running, circa 1895.

"Trail time is great for solving all the world’s problems. Also for frivolous fun, cultural curiosities, and a lot of alliteration."

That day was blithely normal and oblivious to the chaos at the gates. Two weeks later I was on a plane to San Diego, fetching our daughter home from college.

It will take historians years to sort out what happened next, but the most generous executive summary would read something like, "A highly transmissible virus was loosed in the world, exposing weakness in social structures that fueled explosive spread of the disease. In one country, sadistic indifference by the federal government made the pandemic far worse than it should have been, killing hundreds of thousands who needn't have died. A significant percentage of the population followed the government's example, accelerating the spread of the disease and eroding civic norms required for a successful society to survive."

2020 has broken our hearts in obvious and subtle ways. We will never recover from the massive death toll, no matter how much the current administration would like us to ignore it. We've lost whatever spurious claim we had to 'the greatest country in the world," and no genuflecting to a flag can change that.

We've discovered we can't trust many of our neighbors to do the right thing, or the smart thing, or even the decent thing. They will put themselves—and therefore the rest of us—in danger without batting an eye.

We've learned some of them are so broken they will literally sabotage our supply of vaccines.

How do we recover from that, emotionally and pragmatically?

When every interaction is fraught with real, empirical risk, how do we allow new people into our circle? Openly and happily, without suspicion? 

My impulse is to say, "We don't." And that's coming from someone who used to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Like the kid in The Polar Express, I *wanted* to believe. I wanted to hear that fucking bell ring. And it did, for a long time.

We can forgive, maybe. But we can't forget.
In a few months, possibly longer, many of us will be vaccinated. In the spirit of a new year, a more pleasant question: "What's the next normal thing you'll do after the pandemic?"

I want to cook for people. Lots of people. I want to stand in a warm kitchen, talking above the music, laughing with people I love. I want to fill up a tub with ice and beer. I want to bust out the "good wine" we've saved for a long-deferred special occasion.

I want to see people I haven't seen IRL in forever. I want to greet them at the door with long, tearful hugs and laugh about that, too. 

I want to turn on the outdoor party lights as the sun goes down, and when everyone's been fed I want to sip a beer in a quiet corner and watch everyone get in-person re-acquainted. I want to memorize the smiles and the brilliant little jokes and the sad stories.

And as they drift off into the evening, I want to tell them all we'll see them in a week or two, and we'll do the whole thing all over again.

Just because we can.
Nothing will change what we learned about ourselves and each other in 2020. For good and ill, it happened, and there's no going back.

All we can do is move forward. And find ways to be new-normal again.