Sunday, April 30, 2006


Whether you write fiction, non-fiction, a blog, paint, or sculpt, there is no way that you are not influenced by everything you have experienced-- and that means read or saw. There is a difference though between influence and copying. This last week I read about the plagiarism of Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard undergraduate who wrote 'How Opal Mehta got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life.'

I would guess, not knowing for sure, that Viswanathan got caught in her own net of deceit. As I have understood what happened there, she submitted a book she had written to a consulting firm who helps students get into Harvard for a fee. The consultant was so impressed that she submitted it to a major publishing house, who was equally impressed and published it. It wasn't until a fan of another author read it and compared paragraphs that the many many nearly exact similarities came out. The young author said-- (paraphrased) I was such a fan of this earlier work, that I was subliminally influenced. Ridiculous (not paraphrased). When you compare the wording, the woman had to have copied the earlier work, changing just a bit and maybe never planned it would be published when she began. She started out just wanting into Harvard.

She's certainly not the first, nor will she be the last. The problem is discerning where is it violating a copyright and where is it taking an idea and growing it-- as a court again decreed Dan Brown did with 'DaVinci Code.' Copyright laws deal with this but clearly publishers can't and don't check every work to be sure it's not infringing on someone else. Each artist/writer should have a sense of ethics to at least not deliberately copy.

I know some of my art has been influenced by earlier works that I have seen but did my own take on. I have never stolen a character, a plotline, wording, painting, or sculpture because, besides the ethical considerations, it would take away the reason for doing creative work to begin with-- turning creation into craft. Part of the difficulty in making art work is the composition and if you take what another artist used, you just lost the chance for your own interpretation.

Copying has been for centuries a teaching method used by some where the student copies the masters. Nothing is wrong with that as a way to understand how they used lighting, composition, to learn the basics. Where it becomes wrong is to sign it as an original creation of your own or, worse yet, with their name on it.

In writing, there are no new plots, even Shakespeare was accused of copying, but to literally take paragraphs and rework them or use fully developed characters changing only their names, that's plagiarism.

A few years back, a well-known writer of romantic fiction got her name besmirched when it was discovered, again by other readers not the publishers, that some of her books were too closely copying the work of an even more famous author. Her excuse was she was pushed for deadlines. She was humiliated as she deserved to be. Possibly she had little by little been doing that and finally it just got to the point where it was blatant-- cheat a little and the next time is easier.

For bloggers, the same issues arise. You read something, see a certain photograph and are influenced by it-- which to me is a compliment to the originator and does not require mentioning where it came from, which you might not even know. So many blogs are putting out the same themes that similarities abound, and they are not plagiarism. This is just my opinion, of course; but if someone sees something on my blog and likes the idea and expands it to theirs with their own twist, I would be pleased-- whether I ever knew they had done so or not. If they used my exact words or photo with it, I would not be.

(Sculpture is mine, titled Hozho-- a Navajo word which can be hard to define but one of its meanings is seeking truth and balance.)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

the other hand

WARNING: for those offended by political opinion pieces, you may want to skip the following and come back another day.

In general I try to avoid talking about specific politicians and stick to policy positions. This particular post will be about one particular politician, but as an example of what I believe happens with many of them. They put a hand out to the country which they hope can get them elected, but it's the hand behind their back that you have to watch. Sometimes it's someone who is ranting over how bad gays are while they secretly are one. Sometimes it's involvement with payola. Sometimes it's-- well you get the idea. So today's blog is about the 'other hand' but it is using one politician as an example. I am sure those of you on the right can equally think of examples from the left that are as bad. Well you could try...

For the last few months, since President GW Bush temporarily gave up his cause to take care of the elderly by gradually ending Social Security as we have known it, he has been going around the country touting democracy. Sounds good, right? I mean, it's such a worthy cause that it's worth fighting all over the world to force... er uh liberate other countries. With Bush, more than almost any politician I know of, you always have to watch what the other hand is doing. Just a quick example-- clean air initiative means less pollution controls. Healthy forests means more logging. So what is his other hand doing while he talks up democracy?

One answer: setting up as many states as possible with their districts gerrymandered to make it easy for Republicans to coast to election victories and maintain permanent control of the government. Then you look at who can get on the slate for the Republican party of today. If you want to run for president but are not religious as in Christian religious, if you believe in free choice on both birth and death, if you don't believe Bush's wars in Iraq and maybe soon to be Iran are about fighting terrorism, if you don't believe in cutting benefits for the poor to give tax cuts to the rich-- fugetabout being nominated as a newbie! (yes, you radical righties, if you made it this far, that all can be true for core lefties also.)

Bush's governing method leads to more irony. He talks up democracy when what he does is like a dictatorship-- secrecy, no compromising despite all that talk of working together, making speeches only to those who already are of his belief set, using executive orders when even his own party won't cooperate. With Bush, it's always-- look what the other hand is doing because it's more likely to reflect what's really going on.

Sometimes the other hand is obvious but sometimes it's hard to see or prove it's even active. People who want to think the world is a simple place, filled with those intending only the best will consider this a stretch but on the other hand-- The newest tape of bin Laden once again seems oddly convenient for those who don't want humanitarian intervention in Darfur. The genocide there is something the whole world should care about; but about the time the pressure in the United States builds for this country to do more to try to stop the atrocities, suddenly up pops bin Laden to say it'd be bad if we did and would prove Americans hate Muslims. His tapes in '04 right before the election was that year's October surprise . He popped out of the briar patch and said-- You people better not vote for Bush. I'll attack you if you do. Bush is the bad guy! So don't you dare vote him in again. Is there any chance he believed that would do anything but encourage people to vote for Bush?

It's thinking people are basically honorable that makes most people assume-- nah couldn't be a conspiracy or secret behind whatever happens. Nobody would do that, but some of the most dismissive nodded amen to books that implied Clinton was actually a hit man. To them, that was believable but Bush being connected to bin Laden under the table, that's not.

If you know history, you know about the East Indies Company, and how much control it often secretely exercised on what happened in the world of that time. Constantly we learn things that happened years ago weren't what we thought. Remember the Maine got us into a war. (If you don't know what really happened there, look it up before Ann Coulter writes a book redefining it.)

If you think it's nuts to believe there is some odd connection between Bush's people and bin Laden, consider some facts (yes, facts but the meaning of them is up to each person to decide if there is one). The Bush and bin Laden families' long-time business connections through oil. The fact that when the military had a good chance to get bin Laden in Tora Bora, the US troops were held back and locals given the job. That's the end of facts as the rest of it--why that happened, who ordered it-- who knows. Was there a meaning to it? Did someone not really want bin Laden captured just yet? Did they actually get him and not let anyone know? Can you keep such secrets? Beyond the obvious agenda to kill innocent people for his political goals, does bin Laden have another one? the one you don't see?

Before you dismiss what I just wrote as being crazy, think whether you'd have believed two years ago that the Bush administration would foster secret prisons in European countries, which not long ago were behind the Iron Curtain, and would use those prisons to hold people who have no rights to question why they are being held or for anybody else to know who they are? Did you believe a country like ours would do renditions, which means send people they have decided might be guilty of something, maybe, could be, to countries that torture? Did you believe Bush would sign a bill, which he fought, that ordered our government to follow the Geneva Conventions, which everyone thought we already would have been doing, but then he added a caveat-- personally reserving the right to order torture whenever he deems it in the nation's best interest? Would you have believed this nation, which claims it sets a higher standard than anywhere else in the world, would use a notorious prison in Iraq, known to torture people, to also torture people (and forget the ridiculous frat boy analogy because people died in that torturing; and if you don't think sexual abuse is torture, try it in this country and you'll be in prison wondering what happened to you)? Would you have believed our government would spy on American citizens; and when it was discovered, go after who leaked it, not explain what groups were actually being spied on? Were the subjects terrorists or just people who were damaging the administration's position? Who knows. But wasn't it even more amazing how Americans rolled over and said-- if it keeps us safer, I am all for it. Did anybody remember there is a Bill of Rights? Or think about what we used to believe this country stood for? Is freedom only important when nobody is crying the sky is falling?

Oh I know... all I just said is crazy talk to some. But, was there reason for concern when it was discovered the Clintonistas were gathering Internal Revenue records on people and everybody wondered what innocent reason could there be for that? Answer: none. They never did explain themselves; but they also didn't proudly admit it and say stop me if you can! Or was that evil, but current spying good because heroes are now in power and you know they'd never do anything unfair to anybody!?

With any politician, watch not only what they say but what is in the hand behind their back.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Chicken or the Egg

I sometimes skim through blogs I haven't bookmarked and later am not even sure where all I have been; and this week I went to one that posed a question. When I read it, I thought it was something to think about but later it stayed with me and I thought on it more. Unfortunately because of how I found it (off Sacred Ordinary's links if you want to go hunting), I can't give anyone credit for it; and since I am paraphrasing the thought as I understood it, maybe they'd not want credit. Here it is--

Does who you are influence more what you will do or is it the other way around, and what you do makes you become who you are?

The author of the blog had one opinion in answer to evidently a comment in her/his blog where the writer had a different belief. Since I was in skim mode, I think the blog writer believed what you do had the most influence and the commenter had said it was who you are.

It's a chicken or an egg situation and probably can't be proven, but I believe it's what you do that makes the most difference and you can change who you are with your actions-- to the good or bad. If you believe in truth, be truthful and whether you have all your life had a problem with lying, you will become someone who is truthful. On the other hand, that first little lie can slide you into a place where you become someone you never dreamed you'd be. I think you see that in politics with some who started out seeming to be honorable people but they chose actions wrongly and became someone they probably never dreamed they'd be.

I think looking at our actions is very important to being the person we want to be. And yes, the Bible says our attitude is more important than what we do in terms of sin, but I believe what we do, as an act of will, can change our attitude and have proven it to myself various times on at least small things. Now did I desire to change who I was because of who I was on a deeper level or... That's the part you can't prove one way or the other.

So any opinions... chicken or egg?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Garden Centers

With the sunshine on the week-end, the garden centers in the Willamette Valley were bustling. It's a bit risky, where I live, to plant tender annuals in the ground before mid-May, but nobody says I can't buy them now and protect them until the last frost is definitely past.

Although I do have a small greenhouse, came with this farm, I don't start seedlings there. The windows are old ones from buildings torn down and the roof plastic. It needs serious work to make it usable again-- which is on my agenda for this summer.

Generally speaking I am not someone who loves to shop. I do it when I have to-- the exception is plants. It's part of what I love in spring-- wandering through the greenhouses and looking at tables of annuals, herbs, shrubs and trees.

I take my time and walk past a lot of things I know I won't buy just for the enjoyment of the colors and fragrances. For our deck, I don't decide ahead of time what the color combinations will be. I rely mostly on seeing the photos on the little stakes or the plants in bloom for getting a feel for what each summer will look like.

My favorite garden center, the one in these photos, creates an environment to encourage you to dream of new ideas-- little fountains, sculptures, huge nurse plants not for sale. Their music won points too as songs like Glory Days by Springsteen definitely fit how I was feeling. Those are glory days when the plants are new and the garden is a growing plan in my head.

One thing I love about time in garden centers is people seem happy there. I never see people grumbling. The customers come in all sizes and ages but they are there because they share a joy of plants, and the atmosphere is rich with promise and new beginnings. Sunday's atmosphere was enhanced by warmth, sunshine, and bright colors.

Garden centers are places of hopes and dreams. In front of me were tiny plants in boxes; but in my imagination, they were lush with blooms already.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Spring Lambs

Along with flowers, when spring comes, baby animals follow. In our case, most of the calves were born at the end of winter but lambs came with spring. Our small flock, of about 17 sheep, are small in stature and the males have horns. Their wool is white to shades of black and brown and liked by spinners. Hopefully come May, we can find someone who shears small flocks as that can be hard to come by. Some shearers work the Northwest now for big flocks and then head to Australia.

Most sheep raisers dock lamb tails which means cut off or put on a small band to have the tail drop off. This particular breed of sheep do not naturally grow long tails. There has been some controversy over whether docking the tails is necessary anyway. We bought a few sheep with tails and found out it didn't make them one bit dirtier, nor added to any lambing problems. In this flock, Rain's little lamb really does have a tail to wag.

When I was out getting photos, I heard what sounded like baby coyotes yipping on the hill behind our farm-- reminding me of the coyote mothers' need to feed their young. That took some of the enjoyment out of watching the lambs. At this time of the year, many things threaten the little ones. Because of predator losses, these sheep are allowed down around the house. I already had to fence my gardens because of deer and decided I liked the sheep this close when it means they are also safer.

A lamb's life is all about food from mommy, sampling new grass and playing together. They form lamb gangs; and while their mothers go looking for them, they are already ignoring them to be with the other 'kids.' The mother's plaintive cries can upset us too as we count lambs to be sure all are here.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


Head 'em out, move 'em out-- Rawhide... oops where'd that come from? Probably the assortment of things rolling around in my head that influence who I am, where I might go and what I dream about-- when I'm lucky. For me at the top of the list, that's westerns-- books, movies, tv shows when I was growing up.

I think it pays to now and again think about what those elements are in our own lives. What subconsciously influences how we see the world? Sometimes those are good influences for quality living and sometimes not.

From the time I started picking out 'grown-up' books for myself, I read piles of westerns-- everything by Zane Grey, who is still the king of western writers from my viewpoint. What did I look for in a western book? Location was paramount. It should have descriptions of the western landscape, maybe a small town, romance was good with a strong woman heroine, and then the hero. Well he had to be strong, if not from the start, at least eventually. He was often tall but if he wasn't, he was wirily muscular-- at least eventually. He knew his way around and if he didn't, he quickly learned it. He wasn't a man who sought violence, but he knew how to deliver it when required.

Zane Grey did all of that in any of his books. He and many other authors of his time truly knew the country of which they wrote. When they described the heroine riding her horse down a stream, that stream was there, and they made you feel you were too. To some degree their stories did depict the West as a time period but it was a limited time. One that still fascinates people around the world today.

The main thing, with what Grey wrote, was the land healed, hard work healed and doing what was right, even when difficult, healed. Is that too simplistic? Maybe but sometimes simple philosophies are not wrong. Right or wrong, it undergirded his books.

Owen Wister wrote one of my favorite stories of the West, The Virginian, and it had in it all the necessary parts as well as some humorous descriptions of the people and times. It was written by a man who was living in the time of which he wrote. I have heard that he changed the book to give it a more romantic ending, not as realistic, when Theodore Roosevelt requested it after reading a first draft. I am glad he did as that honeymoon sequence ranks right up there at the top of any of my fantasies. And fantasy it will have to remain at least in this lifetime.

The Virginian talks about the Western culture which I remember my own father describing to me from when he grew up in South Dakota. Things like barn dances where the children would stay up in the lofts to watch the adults. Things like my grandfather carrying the gun I still have when he made a run for it from a posse. Now what the heck was he having to run from, who knows. That part didn't get relayed to kids. Probably some minor thing; but a lot, who lived in those parts and that time, did have connections to the Butch Cassidy gang which I am sure my grandfather never would have... but you never know for sure.

The heritage my father described, a world I never knew except through a few photographs (some of which I shared here) and his stories, as well as my own reading so many years ago definitely still impact my thinking, my concept of an ideal world, my romantic dreams.

(cover from an old Zane Grey collection of books, owned by my daughter. The quotation is from the book. My daughter told me it was one she had claimed for herself. Since the thought suits my thinking also, I had added it to the photograph I took of that dust jacket)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Spring has Sprung... maybe

We have had a sporadic spring here in the Pacific Northwest. On the calendar, spring was supposed to have been here nearly a month ago but it was blowing and raining so hard at Costco last week-end that I asked the guy checking receipts where spring went, and he said it and summer are skipping us this year and we are straight on for fall.

With several 60 degree afternoons this week, it seems to be back. I have my fingers crossed.

The new growth and colors were riotous splotches in the garden, and I took advantage of the sunshine to see how much I could capture with the digital camera (Canon Rebel) and its new zoom lens-- Canon Zoom Lens EF 100-400mm, 1:4.5-5.6 with Image Stabilizer.

I have a condition known as familial tremors (means shakiness). If I can use this telephoto and get sharp pictures, anyone can. I do hold the camera body in one hand and the lens in the other. The zoom weighs about 3 lbs which isn't that much; but to get stability, the extra hand helps me. The lens was expensive but this is a hobby my husband and I have both always enjoyed. I got my first camera as a kid-- Brownie Hawkeye box camera and have been upgrading ever since.

It isn't just the long distance shots of the animals or birds but also the way you can fade out background or foreground, and zero in on whatever your subject might be. I also took the picture that begins this entry with the rosemary out of focus and the sculpture in to choose which I preferred. For an artist, it seems to be the ultimate tool-- okay toy too.

(click on any image for full size)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Living with Passion

This week I watched two movies that I expected to be westerns. One was. One was not. Both though dealt with the same core theme-- even though when I had finished them, I didn't immediately see how they related to each other.

An Unfinished Life is the story of a bitter old rancher (Robert Redford) who has lost his son to a tragic accident. He blames his daughter-in-law (Jennifer Lopez) and they have been estranged for many years until she is forced to reconnect with him to protect her and the granddaughter he never knew he had. Morgan Freeman plays a ranch hand who is also Redford's best friend and has been mauled by a bear. I like the movie; and although it plays out pretty predictably, that's not always a bad thing. The interaction between the two old men, with many years of friendship between them, is wonderful and humorous. The scenery is beautiful. The acting first rate. Redford looks great as a strong old man. Freeman is always good, and Lopez is believable as a woman wrapped in guilt-- although her dialogue could have been improved to bring more understanding of her character.

Brokeback Mountain is the love story of two men (Ennis played by Heath Ledger and Jack by Jake Gyllenhaal) who meet when they are young, have a passion for each other that Ennis cannot live with but he can dabble in, and let it spoil everything else he could have had in his life. Jack would step out and live with it but it's not just his choice alone. The film is intense, very beautifully filmed and accurate to the country and times. The short story it comes from is in the book Close Range by Annie Proulx, and it improves the enjoyment in the film to have read it. I would not call it a western even though the two men are cowboys and it's set in the west.

In both films, passion is allegorically shown through nature-- in the first a grizzly, the same one that mauled Freeman's character; and in the latter, fast moving rivers. I read one critic who found fault with the fast moving water that he took to be suggesting homosexual love was superior to heterosexual which was represented by flat boring land. I believe that critic missed the point. The point is passion is that river with rapids; and yes, it's more threatening, as shown also by the bear, because it represents risk. In the case of Unfinished, the old man had for a time drowned his passion, which was at that time all about anger, in liquor. When he saw the damage that was doing, he just was left with the bitterness until he opened up again to full feeling and risk.

I recommend both very strongly. I know a lot won't see Brokeback because men have sex in it, they kiss each other like lovers, which they are. The sex didn't bother me anymore than watching heterosexual couples. I am not a fan of graphic sexual content in any film. To me, it's too much like being a voyeur. There are better ways to show passion between lovers; but in this movie, it was probably needed to show the nature of the men's relationship and not shown more than required nor offensively (to me) at all. Any nudity was kept to non-sexual moments. Many men I know seem to be scared of seeing it. The same guys could watch two women kiss but heaven forbid (and of course some believe that literally) that two men should. Hey guys, it's not catching.

If one watches these films with an open mind, both can help someone realize their own passion more fully. Both films illustrate the risks of living with passion but they also show the cost of denying it. I believe passion is not about romantic love or even some mighty cause. It's about being aware of and following the inner voice, about fully living, being true to who you are whether it's popular or not, taking the risk, and sometimes putting pain aside to fully move on with your life-- even knowing you might be hurt again. It is fast moving water and a wild bear on a ridge.

Monday, April 17, 2006


I came to grips with being 'old' when I turned 60. Not to say that I couldn't have done it at 65, 70 or maybe back in my 50s but for me, it came at 60. And it did take some adjusting.

We unfortunately live in a culture that doesn't value what is old. Mostly it is onto the new thing before the old even wears out and that is true for people as well as computers or toasters. For a long time I felt comfortable saying I was middle-aged, but there comes a point where, as your kids are also approaching middle aged, that doesn't seem right. And besides what is wrong with saying-- I am old?

Must be something as mostly when you say it, others say-- oh no you're not. Or you're as old as you feel (some days that'd be 100) or age is a state of mind. In other words, it's not that I feel okay to say I am old. It makes others feel uncomfortable when I say I am.

I regularly subscribe to a certain fashion magazine. Generally it has articles that suit every age-- although I admit many are oriented toward what surgery or cream would restore youthful vitality (answer-- none). I enjoy the articles and the photos of the latest fashion, pieces about interesting women at various stages and places in life, but this last issue made me decide to not continue the subscription when it runs out. Why? Well it was magazine devoted to Fabulous at Every Age. Sounds good, right?

Except inside was their headline piece on Sharon Stone and it was obviously airbrushed to within an inch of its life. She didn't look like the woman I have seen in other pictures, barely looked 30; and I don't believe it was plastic surgery that did it. I think it was the wonders of computer technology. Why would they do that given she is only 48-- which seems young to me by the way? Why would you do a story on fabulous at any age, use a beautiful woman of 48 and then airbrush out all evidence that she was 48? Do you know anyone even in their 30s without any lines in their faces?

Then another article, which was great on Angelica Huston, interesting woman-- 54-- and same thing, hardly anything left of the lines or any possible sags thanks to the computer. She spoke of admiring Georgia O'Keeffe, the painter, which says that she probably didn't request those lines being airbrushed out-- or (something I find unlikely) she never saw photos of the vital, old O'keeffe with lines all over her well-lived in face. No, it probably wasn't her who wanted the signs of the interesting life she has lived erased, it was the magazine. How can you devote a magazine to 'fabulous at any age,' where to be honest, you should have added 'through the wonders of modern technology?'

By this time, most of the movie stars in this country, who are older, have had enough surgery, Botox and assorted other injections that they are lucky to be able to move their face, let alone look real. There is nothing youthful about a face that is plastic. It's all done though to not look old which is considered nearly a disease instead of a natural cycle. Diane Keaton was interviewed recently regarding face lifts and said she was taking the face, with which she was born, with her when she died. That's also my plan.

There is something beautiful and illuminated about an old face that has gotten there though a full life. I particularly like this saying (would love to know who first said it as you can find it online repeated over and over but never with an author)--

"Life is not a journey to the grave with intentions of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming ... WOW! What a ride!”

(Photo of Georgia O'Keeffe from image search with Google-- at'keeffe.jpg)

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Easter is an interesting holiday for, despite the fact that it's Christian celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, it has so many pagan ties that sometimes you wonder what Christians were thinking when they named it Easter. And then you have the date it's celebrated-- the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring Equinox. Passover, which you'd think it'd be connected to given the events celebrated by Easter, it isn't.

The symbols for the Norse Goddess Ostara were the hare and the egg. Both represented fertility. Hence we have the Easter egg hunt and Easter bunny. I guess some are upset this year that not everywhere is the Easter bunny called an Easter bunny-- similar to the stir that somebody was trying to steal Christmas. Well since neither the bunny nor the egg relate to Christ, I don't think they have a thing to worry about if it got stolen.

And this year to add to the spiritual season, we have the movie coming out soon based on Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. I had read the DaVinci Code some time back, enjoyed it, but not sure I care to see the movie. It had some interesting concepts in the book-- like the fact that DaVinci painted the person next to Christ in The Last Supper as a woman. I had never noticed that and had to go check for myself. Sure enough, it's a woman, but did that mean it was Mary Magalene at the actual last supper? No matter what DaVinci might've believed, there is no way to know.

Now with the Gospel of Judas comes another that some see as an assault on traditional Christianity-- not that the practices of Christianity today are traditional to the time of Christ but never mind that. Traditions that are important are defined as we go. I have not read the Gospel of Judas, not sure I will. I haven't actually read any of the gnostic gospels because I looked at them, considered them and decided they weren't something I could relate to at the time. They are not automatically true simply because they are historic. They are simply another version of tradition.

I do not see anything wrong with tradition or ritual. They can be very satisfying to humans, satisfy certain needs, make you feel a stirring inside. It's important though to think where they come from and not mistake either for spirituality-- which they might or might not be connected to.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Positive thinking?

I try to keep my life and writing positive. Yeah, I know I don't always succeed, but it's my goal. Right now I am torn and wonder if others have this problem. How do you stay positive and still work to bring about change? If you aren't dissatisfied with the status quo, why would you put yourself out there with opinions, your money or whatever work you put into that change? If you are dissatisfied, how do you release it to work for the cause and not let it swallow you?

(This paragraph is a place holder. I wrote a whole litany of things that upset me about what's currently going on but that would turn off any readers who are more angry at the party not currently in power. Frankly both parties are upsetting to me right now but anyway, here is where you put all your own angers over what's going on.)

Some think it's too late to make changes. They believe given the last two elections, and the gerrymandering both political parties do to make sure there are only two, no real change is possible. Some believe beneath both parties is the same power structure, pulling strings like puppet-masters. Sometimes I'm one of those 'some,' but mostly I want to think it's not too late. That we can work out the problems that are facing this country and make it what we once believed it stood for.

If we are satisfied, if we stay placid and calm, will we do what is required to make change happen? If we fight for the change, dream the impossible dream, speak out even when we are making enemies for the speaking, do we risk spoiling our own lives for no gain?

After we get to a certain age, should we settle back and enjoy life or is this the very time we could be working for the futures of those grandkids and kids that we love so much? I am one who very much believes first reponsibility is to our own little piece of the world, do the work we can do with our lives, kids, friends, neighborhood because the energy that goes out from that will affect more than we know, but is it enough?

Storms in the desert can be fierce. The wind blows, thunder booms. Multipronged lightning bolts streak through the sky. The storms do damage, they kill people, they are awesome and frightening. After the storms, you see the flowers seem to pop up overnight; insects fly through the air that you see no other time of the year; the grass grows everywhere; rivers that are usually just sand are full of water and in flood. Without the storm, new growth would not happen.

So can you generate a storm without negativity? Must we be willing to give up some peace to make a difference in the future-- assuming it's not too late.

(The photograph is from my front yard in Tucson, Arizona, after a particularly spectacular summer thunderstorm)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Casa Espiritu

Most of us have some dreams, secret things we wish we could have but think unlikely we ever will. This little home on the desert fulfilled one of mine from many years. It is in a place I always considered one of my spiritual homes-- Tucson, Arizona. Years ago, we lived there for a year, our kids grew up coming down on vacations, exploring the many fascinating places in the state; but the idea of a home there was a long way off until seven years ago, when we finally saw our way clear to buying something permanent.

When I first saw this house, I knew it was it. It only had one flaw-- a swimming pool, but you never get everything and I have to admit when I am there in the summer, I do enjoy that pool but it's an expensive luxury that in general doesn't seem worth what it costs-- but oh that little piece of desert the home sits on, that's worth it. It is in a neighborhood and not far from a boulevard, but it doesn't seem that way when you look out the windows.

Some years I spend more time there than others as it's where I love to write, paint and sculpt with much there to provide the inspiration. That's the plus side. On the downside, there is its distance from the Oregon home-- 1400 miles; there's the problem if you leave a vehicle, packrats eat through the wiring; there's something always seeming to come up here to prevent getting there; and then when we do, it's a laundry list of things that went wrong-- that we knew needed fixing, that we didn't know needed fixing.

All in all though, the joy the house brings, just knowing it is there in the desert sun, well it makes it worthwhile... most of the time.

I wanted to share a bit of the decor of the home because it is a product of all the earlier southwestern influences that I have written about. Everything in it is inspired by the land in which it sets.

I believe we are likewise a product of all we do and experience. It's something to think about when we choose our activities, friendships and purchases. Everything we experience goes into the house that is us.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Planting with the moon

What do you think about the phases of the moon? Are you one of those like me who cannot sleep as well with a full moon? Do you plant gardens according to what cycle the moon is in? Schedule surgeries? Or just notice it in the sky now and again?

In January, a psychic from Tucson, Stephanie St. Claire, sent out to her email list one about how we can use the full and new moons in an exercise to improve our lives. She calls it-- Creating Our Reality. I began doing it and this will be my fourth month.

When the moon is full, take a piece of blank paper and put it in the window or outside-- wherever the light can shine on it and it won't be blown away or drenched. I leave it there 3 nights. You set it aside until the new moon where you write on it your dreams, what you want to create in your life. Basically you are planting your intentions on that charged piece of paper.

Her suggestion was you do this month after month and don't look back on what you wrote for at least several months. She warned you are using power and be careful you don't abuse it. Sometimes we have dreams that wouldn't be good if we got them; so if you knew that writing something down would make it happen, take it that seriously.

I will say, whether it's this exercise or coincidence, certain things in my life have improved in these months. It might be the moon. It might be the way you do this by waiting 2 weeks approximately between charging the paper and writing down the intentions. During those weeks, you tend to think a lot about what you want to write, what you truly want. You are focusing; then because you have written it down and have set it aside, you are releasing it.

My daughter has a book on planting seedlings by the moon cycles and it worked surprisingly well-- up until her cat ate off the new starts. Can't blame the moon for that.

The next full moon is the 13th...

Monday, April 10, 2006

Jigsaw Puzzles

Last night I had a bad dream. I won't go into all the details but it was like life was going along fine, interesting little stories, situations but among the good things was a human predator. Someone who killed others and the ones he was about to kill were oblivious to their danger. As the authorities were investigating that one, another predator appeared-- a cougar. The dog, who was its prey, was oblivious again to his danger until the cougar began to eat his tail!

I woke up with no doubts where this is coming from-- the illegal entrants to this country (from all around the world) and our country's obliviousness to what is happening until it may be too late to do anything about it-- not that we seem to have the willingness even if it wasn't too late. Like the dog, we have been sniffing of this and that, exploring our worlds and not paying enough attention to what has been happening.

To me, it's not those people coming in who are the threat. Most are good, hard working and came here with good intentions to make a better life for themselves. But the world is full of people who want that. Where does any nation draw the line; and if it cannot, does it remain a nation? The demonstrators again this week-end remind us all of what's going on and how many of them there are. They say this is like the Civil Rights marches of the 50s but it's not.

This is about whether any nation has a right to establish laws and borders and if the nation, collectively as a whole, does not, then who does? Will it be the loudest, the one who threatens you the most?
If we are allowing any people, who want to enter here based on poverty, Africa probably would be first in line. Does sympathy for some who are caught in this, as much from their side as ours, cloud our judgment and ability to make the hard choices? To assume that because most of the illegals we know are good folks ignores the issue. The issue is we ignored our borders for too long, profited from the situation and now we are going to have to pay the piper but is this problem even solvable?

I have gotten a real enjoyment lately from doing jigsaw puzzles online. I found out they exist from reading a blog by Endment on doing one. I followed her link to another one and voila, there they were in all their colorful and exploring beauty. I do several every day and enjoy how I can for a temporary time forget my own concerns and just look for sizes (crazy pattern is my favorite) and colors that match. When I am done, I have this beautiful picture to admire for a fleeting moment-- depending on how busy my day is.

Life is not like a jigsaw puzzle online. We don't know that we are getting all the pieces and too often we are getting a lot of them that don't fit together at all. The immigrant issue fits this analogy all by itself, but I feel we are facing multiple jigsaw puzzles in our world from the immigration issue, to the war in Iraq, to what will Bush do next about Iran? Will he use the nuclear option and if he does, how does that change the dynamics in the world? Could anyone stop him? Why has he talked so much about settling a democracy in other countries when ours here appears to be in danger? Do we have a fifth column that has been invading our states that in a few years we will find is a new terrorism issue? (The whole situation is very similar situation to what Israel has faced.) Is global warming real or a phony issue? Are some in the United States trying to start a theocracy run by those who think they hear from God directly and are sure they are doing what is best for those of us who don't? What about the bird flu? And if I added on my own life, I could tally up more. All these pieces have been thrown together on the table and the pieces may not fit anywhere or form any pretty pictures.

The good thing is that there are so many good things and it's what I try to center on, putting those pieces together where I actually can, despite nightmares or reading the newspapers. (One good thing this morning was Fran's blog for April 9, about the Impossible Dream. It was encouraging to me to remember that song, to think maybe it's not too late, maybe there are answers.. or than again... maybe not but check out her blog-- "Whether I win or lose doesn't matter." )

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Immigration solution?

Frankly if anybody else truly understands the immigration situation in this country, I'd love to hear from them. We have an illegal immigration problem. That much I think everybody agrees on but exactly what is it? Are there 20 million illegal immigrants in this country or only 11? How many of these want to make their home here permanently and how many are just up here making money to go back where they came from-- which isn't always Mexico? Is this situation damaging the poor in our own country as many of them compete for the same jobs or is it overall uplifting the economy for everybody?

What I know for sure is the damage it has done to the border area as so many have been crossing and the people who bring them are unethical and often bringing drugs along with them. Terrorists too? who knows.

I have been reading pretty much anything that comes along about immigration proposals that offer a way to solve the problem but can't see where anything proposed by the President or Congress would do anything to stem the flow. I don't understand how the most recently proposed bill would have done anything to stop future entrants. I also don't understand why they expected those who have been here less than two years to go meekly back-- for that matter, not the ones two to five years either. And do all the ones here twenty years want to be residents? To me, the whole political approach seems set up to make people think they were doing something when in reality nothing happens.

Some are favoring guest worker programs, but does that just keep a subculture in this country that cannot vote, cannot do anything but work cheaper and go home? Why would that stop the illegals from continuing to come into our country?

I know this is all questions and no answers but it's how I feel after reading and reading and reading....

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Desert hiking

When in Tucson, I like to hike in the desert as often as possible. The desert is full of dangers for the unwary from dehydration, heat stroke, to cactus spines, poisonous creatures, rabid bobcats, curious cougars, and killer bees. I have run into some of them at one time or another but to minor inconveniences-- my husband prying spines out of my knee with his pocket knife was no fun. Some cactus do seem to jump!

Winter in Tucson was unusually dry; and this trip, only a trickle of water was in one of my favorite desert streams--
one that in flood is capable of tearing mature trees from the ground and where many years I have to jump from rock to rock to cross or if I am feeling less daring-- wade.

This time it was all sunshine and gentle breezes-- the heat of summer was not yet upon it.
Not going to be many wildflowers this spring but there is always another as the seeds wait for the right conditions.

This rock looks like petroglyphs but probably is not, most likely just natural markings but it's pretty anyway.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Agriculture is the bad guy?

In discussing other topics here at Rainy Day and reading blogs elsewhere, it's evident that agriculture as traditionally practiced-- livestock on open range-- is pretty unpopular with a lot of city living people. It comes up in resentments regarding stream rehabilitation but also dealing with predators-- most recently encouraging wolves back into Oregon.

Ranchers, who do not raise their stock under roofs with lots of antibiotics, who place them out in the open, have their animals at risk of predators or stream stomping-- not to mention the broken fence that causes them to get out and sample the neighbor's flowers. Increasingly they also face the wrath of city dwellers who don't seem to connect the produce in their grocery store with how it got there.

In the last few years, I have seen city people vote in measures that impact rural living people-- their numbers are greater-- and where there is this disconnect between food and who grew it, there is not a lot of sympathy for the rancher or farmer and his problems.

Several years ago an Oregonballot measure banned hunting cougar and bear with methods that those in the city felt were not nice. So we who live out are dealing with an increasing number of cougar. Cougar can't tolerate others too close to their range; so when young are born, eventually they are forced to move elsewhere. That elsewhere gets closer and closer to human habitation but does someone in Portland worry about that? Only if they like to hike in the woods, I guess.

Then there was the measure that would have forced farmers to fence their land way back from the creeks. In our case, we do fence our livestock from the creek but this measure, if it had passed would have prevented the use of about a third of our land. And what for? Stream habitation, I guess, but that can be accomplished by a fence not that far from the creek-- that gets replaced with every flood, of course. That measure didn't pass as the majority didn't see it as being fair, but I'm sure the issue isn't finished.

I see all of this with prejudice, of course, from the viewpoint of a small rancher who works hard to see our animals grow up healthy and strong and would like to see them receive a merciful end when that time come. I know the joy of looking out at fields and seeing the cow licking her offspring-- last year's and this year's. I also know it from the worry of predators chasing or killing the livestock. I see it from the standpoint of someone who has a hard time marketing the animals because of that desire to sell them from the place and not see them forced into fattening feed lots (often using cake which can be animal bi-products that has led to some of the problem of mad cow disease). I also see it from that work that goes into the good fences and enough feed and for no real profit in our case because we are small growers. We do it for the joy of being with the animals and the satisfaction when someone buys our beef and says it tastes better and we know that it's as healthy for them as fish would be given the Omega-3 levels in beef that is grassfed, not grain fattened. (If you don't believe me on the difference, do some research online. )

I don't know if city dwellers would like to keep the rural areas pristine and pure for their fishing, hunting and hiking and agricultural dwellers get in the way of that. I don't know how most would eat if nobody wanted to do the work of raising food as very few people raise all their own anymore. Some would say well hunt or fish for all your food-- except there isn't enough ability or wild game to feed everyone. Plus if you eat fish more than a couple of times a week-- from any source in nature-- you are facing too high of mercury and sometimes other contaminants. And the deer that look so clean can have wasting disease which has led to human diseases.

Nothing is without cost. I favor responsible agricultural practices but would also like understanding from city dwellers that that food in their market didn't get there magically. (By the way, we came home from our recent quick trip to Arizona to a new calf and lamb).

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Leaving a Message

Each people in their own way
try to leave behind their story.
Sometimes in words--
oral or written.
Sometimes in pictures.

When I see symbols painted
or etched on rock,
I always wonder,
Who stood here before me
chipping at this stone?

What message did they leave?
Who did they expect would see it?
Did a spiritual leader do this while
others prayed or danced?
Was it a secret ritual?
A ceremony by a shaman?
Or an artist depicting their world?

Though their descendents might say
Oh yes, I know what that meant
Do they?
For me, I only know there is a spirit here
as there are in all such places.
Here, one human speaks to another
and across the ages we touch.

I shot my first deer today by the river. Thank you, spirit of the deer, for giving up your body so we may live
Thank you, Great Spirit, for this blessing.

Oh yes, a story is always worth a moment
of our time to consider
as even today we leave our marks.

(These petroglyphs from Signal Hill and Painted Rocks were likely done by the Hohokam people perhaps 700 or so years ago.

The sculptures are part of a series for repeating the steps of Jesus at Painted Rocks Retreat Center directly across the wash from petroglyphs.)

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Barrio

The Tucson Barrio

Dreams were lived in these homes.
Lives lost--Lives begun.
Men and women loved and hated.
Children played and cried.

Sometimes you can hear their voices in the wind.

One time a freeway threatened the neighborhood’s existence.

The shrine saved it or so some say.
The city loomed ever closer.

But the neighborhood persisted.

New families came.
Some to find and reclaim

Today as yesterday,
the barrio is
and will be....

Sunday, April 02, 2006

El Tiradito

One of the fascinating things to me about Southern Arizona has always been the small shrines. You see them in the most unexpected places, often natural rock grottos; but they can be right in the middle of town. Most are mixes of folk art, religious symbols, plastic flowers, candles, superstition, mythology, and faith. Sometimes families put them up and other times whoever did is shrouded in the mists of time or a desire to be anonymous.

One that I went looking for a few years ago was El Tiradito in the barrio south of downtown Tucson. I was writing an historic tale of a woman who would have lived in Tucson in the 1880s. In looking for what might have been there, I came across the story of this shrine and where it was to be found.

The stories behind El Tiradito are many, but the general ingredients are an illicit love affair, an angry husband, a knife, and a murdered lover who was buried at El Tiradito-- which means the Castaway or Fallen One-- since he had died in sin and could not be buried in consecreated ground. In all stories, the woman grieved for her lost love and went to the place he had been buried, lighting candles and weeping. Some nights, there are those who claim you can still hear her weeping.

Some years back, the shrine had to be moved to its current site, and nobody is quite sure if the body buried beneath it was moved also. Here it now stands, officially on the National Register of Historic sites and the only one dedicated to a sinner. Through the years, it has become a place for supplicants to come, light candles and pray-- most especially those with lost loves perhaps. The myth is that if you light your candle at dusk and it burns until dawn, your wish will come true.

I have never lit a candle nor prayed at any of these shrines because despite the fact I find them fascinating, I also am never quite sure what spiritual power might be operating there-- maybe I have read too much Edgar Allen Poe.

When I saw this small figure of the old woman, I read the words pinned to the front of her dress. "I am a mother with layers of memories I wish to share. Lift this layer and touch my life." Touch my life, huh? I left the touching for someone else.

Currently those, who are concerned over the many who have died in the desert crossing into the United States and want to see humanitarian aid remain free, are using this site for a booth explaining their cause and concerns.

The first time I went looking for El Tiradito, I found another shrine and didn't realize it was not the one with the stories. I still don't know what the one I found was there for, nor if it has a name as all you see is it in the middle of a gravel lot, a bench in front of it to sit and pray, and of course, the candles that are always part of these shrines. It's about a block or so from El Tiradito and this trip to Tucson, I visited them both.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Immigration or Exploitation?

"In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or
birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all.

We have room for but one flag, the American flag... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language...and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people." Theodore Roosevelt

Saturday at a local shrine, I talked to a couple of young women who were manning a booth for 'no more deaths' and informing passersby of their concern about a law declaring it criminal to give humanitarian aid to certain people caught out in the desert even if dying of thirst. It's okay to call the Border Patrol but not okay to give the dehydrated person help with water or food if it is suspected they are coming up here illegally. Not okay to leave such water out.

I agreed with the young women that humanitarian aid is not the equivalent of the
coyotes, the name for those who bring people across for money. Is it equivalent to the underground railway bringing men and women from slavery to freedom before slavery was outlawed in the United States? There seems to me a big difference between being freed from a slavery you didn't choose and just going north for more money and a better quality life.

From the standpoint of a mother, friend, caring human being, I don't think we should arrest those who provide food and water to the suffering. At least not if they are not also transporting the illegal aliens. (and yes, I use that word and not undocumented worker. To me the latter is politically correct talk and I find it offensive. They are illegally up here and they are from another country.

I could easily write a book on this but trying to keep it short, I see the problems but not cost-free solutions-- not for our country or the ones who came up here illegally. There is a cost also, however, for continuing as we are. Arizona border towns have changed since I first came here over 40 years ago to more violent, unfriendly places. The country between Tucson and the border is more of a no-man's land where those who cross illegally make it hard on the ranchers by cutting fences, draining water tanks. The ranchers have struck back by patrolling their own land and holding people they suspect as being illegally here for the Border Patrol. There have been shots exchanged on both sides.

Many of the students across the United States, who are skipping classes and raising Mexican flags, apparently want no immigration laws. Where would that end if every country had no borders? Or is it just rich countries that should have none? Some would say that's utopia but human nature being what it is, laws being those that individual countries choose for themselves, property rights what most of us expect even with private property, no borders seems like no solution.

Attempted answers have failed in the past. In 1986, President Reagan signed an amnesty for illegals in the country. I have heard 4 million took advantage of it. Reagan claimed that we would then prevent more illegal employment. Now there are supposedly 11 million illegals in this country and the demand is we stop enforcing border laws. What demand follows?

Some Hispanics in California, Arizona and New Mexico are talking about taking back what they consider was taken illegally from them and calling the new country Aztlan which is supposedly a mythic land where the Aztecs emerged before going south.

I know I will sound anything but like the liberal some assume I am; but since there is no going backward in time to undo mistakes, my solution would be hard-nosed. Protect our borders in whatever way we can, penalize employers who hire illegals with serious consequences, dry up the jobs and that means for those already here. And yes, I'd send back the ones that have come illegally and let them apply like all other immigrants. This country takes in about 400,000 people a year legally. We could give those who went back down special consideration if they had jobs already up here, but to allow them to profit by breaking the law to get here, how does anyone win with that? The last amnesty only encouraged others to come up illegally assuming they would eventually get the same thing. I know what I said sounds heartless; yes, it would be very costly in emotional angst, uprisings and money; but there is such a thing as tough love where you do something that seems hard because you know the other path leads to worse consequences.

Business, however, doesn't want hard-nosed solutions. Even the stock market analysts predict we need cheap and exploited labor or the stock market will fall. I believe we could send back the 11 million illegals (some say we couldn't) but, I believe also, the will is not here in the American people. The cheap labor is too appealing to some and for others it's compassion for those who have established homes and lives here.

The serious problem I see is that when you encourage people to enter here illegally-- and by not enforcing the laws of employment nor protecting our border, we are encouraging it-- the end result is you are benefitting from the exploitation of one people for another people's gain. That's not right nor is it in the end even smart.

This nation (and many others) has followed this path for many years-- exploiting an ethnic group from blacks, to Chinese and now Latinos that we use for their cheap labor and don't grant citizenship rights to-- or do our darnedest not to. That sort of thing has to end somewhere but not sure it will... or maybe not until the consequences of such abuse have become catastrophic and it's too late.