Archive for June, 2013

Unlearning

June 30, 2013

For the last twelve months I’ve been taking a Ba Gua class from the wonderfully skilled man who also gives me acupuncture treatments. I’ve used acupuncture as my primary form of medical care for more than 40 years, and have been cared for by a number of able practitioners over that time. Without question, John Mince-Ennis is the best of them all. He’s a gentle and effective teacher as well.

I began my physical-activity life as a dancer, studying both modern and Thai classical styles, with an occasional ballet technique class thrown in for its discipline. I’ve also been a horseback rider, European rather that western-style, and a hiker. In later years, I’ve learned a 27 form Tai Chi pattern, taken a couple years of Tae Kwan Do, and finally found Ba Gua. Also a ‘soft’ martial art, like Tai Chi, Ba Gua works on realigning the fascia, resulting in a suppler yet strengthened body, improved balance, and overall improved health. Used as a fighting form of active martial art, it is both beautiful and effective, with a distinctive circular, coiling and uncoiling movement.
The challenge for me in learning Ba Gua is in fact not learning something new, but unlearning something old. My body has had many decades to practice moving in ways instilled from as long ago as those first dance classes at age 8. Legs turned out from the hips, knees over toes, balance maintained by tight control from the core (abdomen) which is pulled in and up. All movement (including the graceful lifting of an arm) originates from that same central place.

An overlay of how to swing through with a tennis racket, was added during my sojourn in Saigon. I had no language in common with the pro, so he placed himself behind me, reached around and grasped the racket with me, then moved my body through the correct motions. An amazingly effective and enduring type of instruction. I don’t run to meet a ball any longer, but placed where it will bounce, my body still knows the right way to connect with a solid swing.
None of which is of use – indeed all of which must be refuted – as I learn Ba Gua. Instead of pulling my core in and up, I must “hang from the one point” at the crown of my head, sink my lower body into a semi-seated stance and relax the middle, “rotating waist inside of hips”. Toes are slightly pointed inward (a similar slightly pigeon-toed walk is understood to be natural to some Amerindian tribes) in direct contradiction to my ingrained habit of toeing out. A set of twenty-four “gao” – exercises – seem to begin with arm movements, but have the effect of teaching the inner core new ways to move. In other words, where my dance training initiated movement in the belly, from where it moved outward, the beginner’s instruction in Ba Gua initiates movement in the limbs, from where it works inward to retrain the fascia.

My teacher on the MasterPath speaks of a similar, necessary unlearning of all our habits of mind and unconscious ways of believing, thinking, behaving – in order to uncover the truth of Being. Neither process of unlearning the old, to acquire the new, is easy. Both take years of instruction, diligent practice and, above all, the willingness to change. Odd, how persistently we cling to old ways of doing and being, even in the face of ample evidence that our circumstances have changed, and we should change also.

Staying at an acquaintance’s home recently, I looked for silverware in the drawer closest to the sink. Instead I found storage containers. My hostess directed me to a different drawer to find a spoon to stir my tea.
“Why did you look in the drawer by the sink?”
“Because that’s where the silverware would be in my own kitchen.”
After a pause to reflect, I had to add, “That’s where my mother stored the silverware.”
Decades later, I felt disoriented because something as mundane as the location of a silverware drawer was not in accord with my conditioning!

Beliefs about ourselves, about how to relate to others, about what aspects of ourselves we should identify with – these concepts are so ingrained that few of us are required to examine them unless we experience a traumatic shattering of our sense of self from which we must work to find our way back to wholeness. Or perhaps if we start on a path of spiritual exploration.

The challenge, the excitement, the work and the reward of MasterPath lies – for me – in being asked to examine every single assumption, expectation, concept and belief in my life. Most especially, it challenges patterns of being which are buried so far down in the unconscious that I have no recognition of their existence, until some circumstance or life event pushes me to bring the assumption into awareness, to be contemplated and understood for what it is (or is not).

Just as my body is being renewed by the process of unlearning/relearning that is Ba Gua, my essence is being redefined by the unlearning/relearning of what I Am – of what it means to Be, to Know, to See.

On all levels, the unlearning/relearning is hard work, but amazingly rewarding!

What Do I Know?

June 22, 2013

Many, many years ago when I was young and adventurous and poor, I earned money for my own art classes by modeling for a sculpture class. I took the same pose (stretched out on a sofa, my lower half prone but twisted at the waist so that my upper half was facing sideways, an arm bent to prop my head on my hand) for 90 minutes each week, over a six week period. During breaks (I wasn’t, mercifully, expected to hold the pose for more than 15 minutes at a time) I walked around the class, looking at the students’ interpretations of me. Quite apart from differences in their skill levels as sculptors, I quickly learned that how they saw me was directly influenced by their relationships to their own bodies. Heftier sculptors tended to perceive my body as longer and leaner than I knew it to be. One very slim woman with a boyish figure exaggerated my curves into a Rubens-like voluptuousness. And the male students revealed the areas of the female form most of interest (sexual attraction?) to them – breasts, thighs, buttocks – in the way they emphasized these aspects of their work.

The lesson – that who we are influences what we see – has stayed with me, and been reinforced in a variety of ways since those early days. It has become salient again recently, in the form of critiques I’ve received of my novel, Like Dust Devils Through a Card House. In particular, readers respond to my character Sylvie in ways clearly dictated by their own life experiences. One who has had a hard time overcoming anger was particularly disturbed by the way Sylvie clings to anger as a motivator. Another asked the reasonable – to her – question why Sylvie would seek out sex when she’s in pain or when feeling weak. I myself, writing the first draft, was somewhat dismayed to discover that of the three women in the story, the point of view and main character had to be Sylvie, the one I personally like the least. But I know her, I know too many people like her to not recognize her as a neighbor, a co-worker, a very real example of a set of choices about how to negotiate a life.

I appreciate the thoughtful critiques which question what I’ve created, because they push me to clarify, refine, or broaden my explication of Sylvie’s character. Adding detail that will reveal her motivations and enable these readers to understand (if not agree with or like) Sylvie, strengthens my story. This rewrite also requires that I get ever ‘more real’ with myself about the experiences and observations on which I draw to create character.

“That’s what actors do as well,” stated one of the reviewers whose comments were most helpful between drafts two and three. “We have to put what we know of ourselves into a role, to understand the characters we’re playing and bring them alive.”

Meanwhile, I continue to be amazed, sometimes dismayed, by the characters that appear in my stories. “Where on earth did she come from?” was my question about the lead in my most recent short story. I began with an idea about links in a chain mirroring the phases of a life and ended up with a young woman who experienced ostracism growing up, was orphaned young, now lives alone on a boat and experiences being assaulted. She is no one I’ve ever known, yet in the piling of cause upon effect upon new cause, she is every one of us. What I don’t know is why such challenged, tortured or difficult characters so often ‘take over’ my stories and demand to be heard!

If I reason from my premise above, I am presumably revealing aspects of my own view of the world. But I don’t see myself as having experienced such a painful, twisted life. Yes, there were difficulties, yes my mother had severe emotional problems that made for a dysfunctional childhood, yes I was uprooted and relocated repeatedly until I was in my late twenties – and yes I have read about many types of personality and culture, have studied psychology, worked in prisons, met a great variety of people in quite a wide variety of places. But I don’t see the world as hurtful, something to be afraid of or to fight against, nor as a place that creates and targets victims. So why do these types of characters appear so often in my stories?

I don’t know.

I do know the truth of “what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Especially when that first practice of deception is of ourselves. Unexamined motives, ill-considered actions, un-reviewed decisions, unrepented errors pile upon one another into tangled webs not just of deceit but also of pain and loss. Observing life around me, I have learned that much of this tangle exists just below the surface, and that my choice to look for the good in others, to “seek that of God in every one” as the Quakers phrase it, does not prevent me from seeing the coils of deceit and misrepresentation into which too many people snarl their lives.

How I wish it were not so!

I would far rather live in a world of people who are aware of themselves and their needs, and who feel secure enough to express those needs and seek openly for their fulfillment. I am coming to realize that my choice of mysteries for light, escapist reading is largely the result of my wish for life in a simpler, more straightforward ethical world. And I also realize that my inability, at least up to this point, to write such a mystery is the result of my recognition that the world I live in, the world I know, is neither simple nor straightforward.

When complex, angry, or tangled characters emerge in my writing, I am in fact following the dictate to “write what you know.” Hmmm. Let me contemplate that fact. Because I also know loving and tenderness, and caring people who devote themselves to improving circumstances for others. So I should know, as well, how to write engaging, positive, “good” characters. I do hope one will spring forth the next time I start a story!

Laughing in the Rain

June 18, 2013

I’m told, and I acknowledge, that I tend to be too serious. I do have a sense of humor, but it’s of the subdued rather than the rowdy kind. Word play (though not necessarily puns) can get me laughing until the tears flow, and I chuckle readily at Maxine’s wise pronouncements. None of which has anything really to do with the topic of this post – or does it? I’ve written about the drought, about living with wildfire, and now I want to write about the visible effects of the one hour of rain and hail that came down at my place last week.
Pasturn runoff
Just a short time ago, on the United World College campus nearby, the students put on a show to entertain their parents and friends the evening before graduation. A brief but strong shower began just as the show was ending, and the audience came out of the auditorium to a covered patio overlooking lawns and the parking area. We locals ran out into the rain, laughing and dancing, delighted to get wet, while the visitors stood in huddles and worried about the plans for an outdoor graduation the next morning. We were right to reassure them; the graduation proceeded under sunny skies.
Now as I write, I am looking out my window at pasture land, still mostly brown but streaked here and there with green. New shoots that never made it up in the spring are showing themselves just in time for the summer solstice. There are thunderclouds overhead and storm warnings being broadcast on the evening news.
Meanwhile, on my kitchen windowsill, a small pot contains a sprouting avocado pit whose shoot is growing almost visibly. Each morning the small plant is an inch or more taller. I set three pits in water several months ago, hoping that I’d get one to grow. If you’ve tried to start an avocado, you know it’s not easy to get one to take root. In 1992 I succeeded, ending eventually with a tree that reached to my 8 foot ceiling. About two years ago, the tree succumbed to root rot and died. Now I’m trying again. An optimist, I see my started plant put out its daily inches, and I cheer it on to become a worthy successor to the old tree.
What does growing an avocado tree have to do with humor? The optimism of setting a seed to sprout, knowing maybe one in ten will do so; the optimism of watching for green shoots in a barren landscape after a single hour of rain; and the optimism of expecting blue skies for a graduation all reveal the kind of humor I find funny. Lighthearted commentary on the foibles of nature (human and otherwise), I find funny – like a joke my spiritual teacher told at a seminar. Apparently an older student complained of suffering from furniture disease. My teacher hadn’t heard of such an illness and asked about its symptoms. “That’s when your chest falls into your drawers.”
What I don’t find funny – but apparently many people do – is put-down humor, such as made Don Rickles famous. When I taught inside the New Mexico Penitentiary, I learned a verbal sparring the men called capping – a sort of focused one-upping that depends on witty use of words and images. Like teasing, it is funny so long as it doesn’t cross a line and become mean-spirited. The challenge is to know where that line lies. It moves. It has no more substance than a line in the sand in a windstorm.
There’s a line between drought and wetness. We certainly haven’t crossed it, barely even taken a half step in that direction, although in the last week we’ve received as much moisture as in the past eight months combined. Enough to put us on target for maybe six inches total for the year. Definitely not the end to a drought. There are people who, as soon as we get a rain, are convinced a turning point has arrived. They want to start washing their cars and watering lawns, demanding that water restrictions be lifted. I think of them standing firmly on the wrong side the common sense line. Though why we call good sense common, when it’s as rare as rain in the desert, I’ll never understand.
Some of the experts currently prognosticating are saying we are not in a drought at all but rather returning, after fifty years of abnormally wet weather, to the more usual level of rain and snow fall in this region. They get their information from tree rings and other natural sources. They were already providing this explanation a few years ago, when the pinyon trees around Santa Fe were attacked and destroyed by bark beetle. The trees had moved into lower altitudes than they have historically been found, apparently because of the wetter conditions, and now are subject to stress and attack in the renewed cycle of dryness. I recall the explanation being offered. I don’t recall many people listening. I do have amusing visions of pinyon trees as an army moving across a moonlit terrain, an inch each night so as not to be noticed, until they arrived at those lower altitudes where they set up camp. Sadly, they were not able to retreat back to safety in the same stealthy manner. Their dead copses still litter the landscape.
It isn’t funny to live without water, although such a situation provides ample material for jokes. In Saigon, in my childhood, we had running water for only an hour a day, during which we stored what we’d need in large vats. A shower (of which several were needed daily due to the steamy heat) consisted of pouring a bucket of water over oneself, soaping up, then pouring another bucket to rinse. Unless it was the rainy season. Then we could easily take the soap, strip and go stand in the garden to get a lovely soaking and cleansing. Visitors hearing about a garden shower might ask, “baby or bridal?” Locals (we were kids, remember) would giggle as we replied, “neither.”
I’m convinced a sense of humor is essential to living – with climate extremes, with other people, within society. Without humor, who would have the patience to start ten avocado pits and see only one take root? Who would continue to vote, expecting the next batch of politicians to somehow be different? Who would dance in the rain?
Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Ima
Ima who?
Ima doing my best to make you smile.

Finding Balance

June 15, 2013

Recently, two quite different groups have asked me to write articles regarding local events. One project is a report on a fun activity of the local amateur “ham” radio (ARES) community in which, on Sunday, June 23rd similar groups all around the country compete to see which one can make the highest number of successful radio contacts, from a field location and “off the grid” of power supply to the radios. San Miguel ARES will be up in the Rockies, above the village of Pecos, running radios off solar panels. ARES functions as a network of radio operators who provide backup communications in emergencies. The San Miguel group coordinates with the county’s Office of Emergency Management, to assure communications in case of wild fires or other catastrophes, more of which seem all but certain to affect us in the near future. The group provided invaluable communication service already, for the Pecos/Tres Lagunas fire. Its members are part of the county emergency planning effort, addressing in particular the concern that a wildfire in the Gallinas watershed could contaminate the water supply to the City of Las Vegas (NM, not NV!) for years to come. The Pecos wildfire (now close to complete containment) came near enough to cause a separate fire-fighting crew to be assigned to protect the watershed.

My second writing project is an essay about the impact on local farmers of the drought, and the seeming failure by the Las Vegas City Council to respond to the threat of severe water shortage. “We won’t run out of water, we never have,” as one councilman put it. Well, we’ve never been in such a severely depleted water situation at this time of year, either. Less than one inch of moisture (including the rain in early June) since the start of 2013.

The group asking for the water story began as an anti-fracking coalition in San Miguel County. I live a short mile from the border between San Miguel and Mora counties. Mora, one of the poorest counties in the state of New Mexico – one of the poorest, probably, in the nation – has recently made a name for itself by passing an outright ban on all fracking activity within its borders, despite a state law that grants oil and gas exploration extraordinary freedoms.

The San Miguel group has begun to morph into a broader coalition intent on protecting water, air and earth. It includes some of the area’s historic ‘rabble-rousers’ intent on overcoming apathy and implementing needed environmental and social protections. They have a challenging task, given the historical perspective reflected not only by the city councilman, but by the populace of the region as a whole. When you live in an area so poor that economic recession in the larger scope of the nation goes relatively unnoticed (not even the Great Depression had much impact on daily life in this area), a survivor mentality takes hold. Little is perceived as likely to alter ‘how things are’ unless or until the threat becomes so immediate (as with the effects fracking would have on Mora County) that it becomes tangible in enough lives for there to be a protest.

When groups face seeming unconcern, they tend to take a confrontational approach. Understandable, though not necessarily the route with the best chance of success. I spent the better part of a day going line by line through a twenty-plus page document, the proposed Oil and Gas Regulation for San Miguel County, finding every place where the wording was inadequate and needed to be changed in order to prevent fracking from destroying my home environment. I provided appropriate alternate wording in my edit. I handed out written copies of my work, and it took me every second of my allotted fifteen minutes of testimony to the County Commission, to specify all the changes the proposed law needs. It did not feel good to be told, by an anti-fracking group member as I stepped away from the podium, that “all I was doing was rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.”

That person’s insistence that only an outright ban like the one in Mora County, was an acceptable decision, probably represents her belief that nothing short of blunt confrontation will “work” to bring about change. I, on the other hand, tend to look for a middle ground, a compromise, which achieves protections and feels like a ‘win’ for both sides. I’ve been trained that way, and perhaps – as a Libra – already oriented that way from birth. It remains to be seen, in what is shaping up to be a serious legal battle, whether Mora’s outright ban will be more or less successful than San Miguel’s pending new proposal, similar to Santa Fe County’s enacted ordinance, which tightly regulates fracking. It remains to be seen just how effective confrontational activism can be at overcoming generations – nay centuries – of a “duck your head, go quietly about your life and survive” mentality. And it remains to be seen how quickly the small San Miguel ARES group can again organize itself to be of service in an upcoming crisis.

What is certain is that both groups are addressing a serious threat to the safety and well-being of all of us in this area. I saved my home from wildfire in 2001, when we had our own conflagration, without resources to help us fight it because those resources were all focused on the larger fire around Los Alamos, burning at the same time. With power turned off, so wells were unavailable, all of us neighbors used what we had -two backhoes and a grader, rakes, shovels and huge amounts of energy – to prevent the fire from reaching a 5000 gallon propane tank. Four homes and a barn were lost, but a wider community of twenty or more families was saved.

What is equally certain is that finding a balance between wants and needs, between gaining income and saving a rural lifestyle, between “the big guys and the little guys”, between confrontation and concession, between use of or destruction of the water, air and earth upon which we all depend – finding balance is essential.

Harbingers

June 9, 2013

Heading up my driveway, on my way to town, I glanced toward the barn and there, nestled against the weather wood boards, were six glowing dandelion flowers. A small jolt of joy ran through me and I greeted them as I passed – and then laughed to myself as I considered the huge expense of time and money commonly directed, in other areas of the country, to the eradication of these small blossoms I was so happy to see.

Everything is relative! In my deeply drought-stricken area of the high-mountain southwest, anything that manages to flower is a delight, even what some people consider to be a pernicious, pestilential weed. Up to the morning I saw the dandelions, we had had just a smattering of rain – what here we call a six inch rain – six inches between drops when one looks at the ground upon which the moisture has settled. We had a couple of these ‘scattered showers’ over the month of May, but not enough in one place or at one time to seem to have any effect. Certainly the foresters report our mountain trees are at an all-time low level of moisture content, and ripe for continued wildfire explosions. The grasslands remain dun-colored, or silvery, where last year’s dry stems still stand. Much of my pasture, and that uphill from me, is just brown – bare earth with nothing showing. No new spring green. So those six sunny flowers are a welcome hint that the scant raindrops were not totally for naught.

Fire exploded, smoke choked, and then – miraculously – we got dumped on, hail initially, enough to make everything winter white, and then a decent rainstorm two days in a row. Because of the lack of plant life to catch the water, it turned into rivers, cutting channels in the pasture and bringing a load of silt down across my front walk from the hillside behind my house. Mud everywhere. Judging by the reaction of my dogs, glorious mud, to be splashed through and liberally distributed around their sleeping porch. It is drying and apt to become dust once again, as the weather is predicted to be once again hot and dry for the coming weeks. Maybe, just maybe, nonetheless, we may see tenacious wildflowers later in the season.

For now, I have to accept that natural color is mostly limited to what I see on the feathered visitors to my bird feeder. I’m a bit of a bird watcher, but not a bird identifier, so I can’t list the ones that visit, only note when there are new species that I haven’t seen here before. Perhaps because of the drought? At the moment the feeder is dominated by small, familiar, finch-like brown birds with red above their beaks and down their breasts. They make me aware that I have not seen robins so far this year – but have been startled to see bright Baltimore orioles, which are only occasional visitors to this area. Doves and scrub jays routinely fly in and push the smaller birds aside. Now a raven has sent the doves and jays scattering to the ground, to collect what they can find that has dropped over the edge of the feeder.

As I write, clouds are building again, and there’s at least a hint of promise they may coalesce into the dark grey which promises rain. We used to see these clouds, beginning in early July and appearing all summer. They indicated a monsoon pattern that brought us our summer rains. We’d wake to a clear, sunny sky and know we needed to do outdoor activities – go for a horseback ride, weed the garden, get laundry out on the line – finished before lunch time, when the clouds would gather and bless us with moisture. It’s been ten years or more since we’ve had to time activities to the weather. Ten years, instead, of sniffing the air for early signs of fire, of watching the sky anxiously, as wisps of white turned to grey – not wet grey but burning grey. Weeks of smoky air, damaging to breathe, forcing us to stay inside with doors and windows closed despite high daytime heat. Few homes in my area have air conditioning because we’ve been accustomed to daily breezes and cool night time temperatures to regulate the indoor atmosphere.

Maybe this season will be different? More like “it used to be”? That row of smiling mini-suns by the barn, and the rains of these past few days, suggest the possibility of a break in the drought, in the fires, in the smoke and danger and loss. It’s going to be a big year for cicadas on the East Coast. Might we hope for it to be a big year for thunder clouds and rains out here in the far-too-dry Southwest?

Smoked

June 3, 2013
Smoke Coming At Us

Smoke Coming At Us

The national news is talking about the Pecos fire – our latest fire. Sixty miles distant, around by the road, but only fifteen miles overland. And it’s overland that the smoke travels, directly at us so severely today that looking out my window is like looking into a swirling mist. Dry rather than damp, and much harder on the lungs, eyes, taste buds than a good wet mist would be. The smoke is not just from the Pecos fire – the one burning in the Jemez is blowing this way also, though more attenuated because it is somewhat south of us. And the Jemez fire isn’t “ours” – not close enough to threaten our immediate well-being.

 
The Pecos fire is the latest in a too-long series of “our” fires, stretching back to the one in 2001 that almost took my home, and did take those of three neighbors, along with the barn of another. “Our” fire, that time, burned simultaneously with the first big one to sweep through Los Alamos – so we got little attention on the news, and commensurately little outside support. The neighbor whose barn burned was out on his backhoe, scraping fire breaks around nearby homes, and working to prevent the fire from making it to a 5000 gallon propane storage tank not far behind my house. Had that gone up, an entire small community would have been blown off the map, and undoubtedly lives would have been lost.

 
We stopped the fire before it got to the tank. The barn, when it caught, rained flaming bits of hay and other debris down onto my property. Some thinking-to-be-wise soul had cut the electric power to our area, probably to prevent further damage if a power line went down. But in the process, we were left without access to our wells and the water that could have helped fight the fire. So I walked around with a shovel, a damped cloth over my face and wearing goggles, throwing dirt on the small fires that began to flare from the burning debris. My Scottie was with me on patrol. As we came around behind the wood garage, to a metal storage building set up on railroad ties, she began to bark frantically. I thought there might be a cat or other small animal underneath, bent down to look, and saw fire filling the open space between the first set of ties. It was inches from the garage wall, reaching hungrily for that generous supply of fuel.

 
In a matter of seconds I had grabbed a rake, pulled the burning grasses and bits of wood apart and away from the garage. It took close to ten minutes to get all of the material out from under the shed, covered with a layer of dirt, and more dirt thrown into the protected space where the fire had taken hold. It was another half hour of watching before I was satisfied that the danger was past. The garage abuts my home, which is also built of wood. I learned later that there had been an effort by police to evacuate the area, and knew that if I had been forced to leave, I would have had no house to return to. Rowena, the Scottie, had alerted me, so that together we could save our home.

Smoke and Fire in Sapello

Smoke and Fire in Sapello

A downed power line is what has now sparked the Pecos fire. High winds brought it down – the same high winds which, traveling farther east, became the tornadoes which have devastated parts of Oklahoma. The same high winds which now make containing the Pecos and Jemez fires so difficult, and which are suffocating us with smoky air and an almost uncontrollable sense of anxiety that the adage, “where there’s smoke there’s fire” will once again become true of our immediate surroundings. Fifteen miles isn’t far to travel for a fire pushed by fifty mile per hour winds.

 
Between the fire and my house lies the Gallinas watershed – the source of drinking water for the city of Las Vegas. Already on Stage 4 water restrictions (there in only one higher level) due to the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, Las Vegas will become completely dry when fire reaches the Gallinas. Yes, I used a definite tense, not the conditional. Despite the short-sightedness of the city’s mayor and some council members, there is no ‘if’ about the impending water loss, only a when. San Miguel County’s Office of Emergency Management (Las Vegas is the county seat) has done what it can to prepare for a fire along the Gallinas, and for the need to distribute trucked-in water to citizens, one gallon per person per day. But with its elected leadership not taking the situation seriously, residents of Las Vegas do not seem to understand what life will be like under those circumstances.

 
I’ve lived without running water – or rather, with access to running water limited to a single hour out of each twenty-four, during which time we filled storage cisterns. That was in Saigon, Vietnam, in the mid-1950s. I learned to shower by pouring a half bucket of water over myself, soaping up, and pouring the other half bucket over me to rinse off. Even that kind of “shower” is not possible with only a gallon of water, for ALL purposes, per day. And don’t forget the pets. Dogs and cats need water to survive, and they can’t get in line for a gallon from the emergency dispensing station.

 
Humans need water to survive. Fire needs water to be quenched. Without water, we risk dying as the result of the conflagration created – this time, in Pecos – by a failure in our electricity delivery system. Next time you buy an electric mixer, instead of deciding to mix up batter or whip cream by hand, please consider whether you are contributing to a demand that can in turn contribute to your own – or a neighbor’s – demise.

 
Meanwhile, I’ve shut all the doors and windows, and stripped down (we have no air conditioning) to reduce my exposure to the stuffy, scratchy-throated, itchy-lunged discomfort of inhaled smoke. I try not to wish for a shift in the wind, as that would only transfer the smoke stress to another group of people, farther up or down the road. I ask instead for the winds to fade (not likely this time of year) and for a good hard rain (even less likely).

 
I also envision a shift in the collective consciousness, to bring about the necessary recognition that we must move toward living more in harmony with – rather than attempted domination over – nature. Conserving water. Reducing dependence on electricity, and the fossil fuels that produce it, as well as learning to live without all the items that require transport over long distances, using fossil fuels, to reach us. Bathing from a bucket, or following the cheerful suggestion to “save water, shower with a friend.” I envision greater awareness of all the little things each of us can give – or give up – to produce an environment less prone to turn on us, one with which we can more easily live in harmony, instead of breathing smoke.
Will you join me in this?


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