198. ‘SNowhere to go

It’s snowing joylessly again in central Pa. The little snowflakes are not dancing; they are sad  and lame and guilt ridden. They don’t want to be here either. You can see it on their little faces.  Yeah, like us they are held hostage by polar forces too strong to argue with. Slippery roads and a house fire or two. Shoveling and salting driveways. Cold, wet feet below, high utility bills above.  Let’s get right to it– this sucks. I’ve never been to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or Maine or Minnesota or Montana, but I get the sense that this vaguely grey, slushy, sunless snowscape is what they endure every winter without whining. Also, these states all start with “M”, which is the only non vowel a frozen mouth can make. (Take a minute and try this mouth experiment at home. I’ll wait.) I mean, I’m watching the Winter Olympics in Russia, RUSSIA!!!, with weather envy. I know, be strong like Lance Armstrong, but I’m not that strong. I’m whining without access to the illegal dope he took. God, forgive me, I’m sick of this snowy stuff and I’m turning to my blog nationals for help.

Friends of ours are traveling to Arizona and dutifully sending back pics on Facebook. I feel like a starving man standing outside a gourmet restaurant when I look at their snaps of New Mexico and Arizona. “Feed me! Give me some sunshine and warmth!! Take my down trodden and hopeless down jacket and make a soft downy pillow with it.” Nation, we need a Statue of Liberty in the Southwest that beckons old farts like me. Just set her up around San Antonio; super size her so people in Dallas can see her at night. Write the original sonnet on Miss Liberty’s shins big and bold.

New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,     With conquering limbs astride from land to land;   [No]

Here at our sea-washed shore, sunset gates shall stand     A mighty woman with a torch,  [Yea, Baby, Burn!!]

whose flame     Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name     Mother of Exiles.  [on Main Street]

From her beacon-hand     Glows world-wide welcome;       [like a Motel 6 sign that’s always on]

her mild eyes command     The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.     [Brooklyn counts, folks]

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she     With silent lips.          [how does that work? ventriloquism]

[here’s the money line]

“Give me your tired, your poor,     Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,   [your asthmatics in the attics]

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.                                                                       [i.e. shrimp shells and plastic bags]

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,                                                              [or a tossed salad with house dressing]

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  Emma Lazarus  [Go girl]                                 [would you like a window seat?]

Sounds very liberal and big government to me, but that was a long time ago, doncha’ know? We have tightened immigration reforms in the meantime. Oh no, I mean we were gonna do that, but six or eight administrations later we haven’t.

Well, that welcome poem was pretty dramatic. Not so sure we still embrace that attitude these days. However, I am not here today to speak to immigration but to simple migration. The birds do it annually and no one calls them weak willed weanies or jilted Jennies. It just makes sense to me to go where the warmth is. Birds do it; bees do it; even upscale fleas do it. In my case that warm world would be Tucson, Arizona. It’s where Jo Jo lived before he bought some California grass, and got back, got back, got back to where he once belonged with Lance Armstrong. Days are long and sunny, dry and livable there. Yes, I know the  summer sun will sauté my brains by 10 a.m., but I’m willing to trade my heavy down comforter for a piece of cool shade.

I’ll put on some Doug Sahm records and dance western swing with my ageless bride… in four years on a smoothly worn tile floor. Outside our humble adobe abode will be cacti and stone and metal arranged whimsically but artistically in our tidy yard.  Lizards will scamper about and birds I don’t know will perch on tenacious tree limbs. The tenacious aspericus is any dang tree that can grow in a desert. Like most desert plants they have spikes or razor wire adaptations to keep desperate animals from eating them in hopes of slaking their endless thirst. Yeah, that’s where I want to be. Also my granddaughter lives there. I could walk with her any winter day in a simple shirt, maybe a sweater in the mornings. She’ll be five by then.

My people emigrated from Ireland in two different waves. My father’s people came over early; my mom’s people came at the turn of the last century. The thing is this– someone from both families left an intolerable land behind and risked a great deal for a better life. Usually it’s a young studly guy who risks all to go for his fortune or fame across the seas. I don’t think that has changed much in the last few centuries. It’s not as common for an older couple to pull up stakes and relocate well into their sixties. But that’s what we’re fixin’ to do, pardners. Yup, mebbe join up with a cattle drive out of Pittsburgh once spring gets here. If they’re out of cows, I’ll herd goats or pigs or Shetland ponies, I don’t really care. Cross the mighty Mississippi where it’s shallow, and ride on into the wild west later, ahead of the bad weather. (We’ll take the bridge if I wind up with pigs.)

Of course, I need a few things before I migrate west with my little hunny bunny.  Boots, nice embroidered leather cowboy boots with silver spurs. And a horse. I’ve never ridden a real horse, so I’d better get some lessons while I’m at it. Rope for tying stuff down. And most importantly I’ll need a cool cowboy hat that’s broken in. I don’t want no western local to say I’m all hat and no cattle or pigs. I might have to plug him with my other essential, a big old .45 pistol. Oh, and sunscreen, and some sunglasses. Gum, I am not chewing tobacco– no where, no how. I’ll also need a map of all good coffee shops along the way and pet friendly motels. I am not sleeping on the ground.


121. Solacity

Quiet, fabulously quiet on the outskirts of a city that claims a million residents. Just me and the dog, Sweet Kermit, walking to the dead end of Pima Farms Drive and then up to the trail head that leads into Saguaro National Forest. No traffic, there’s no place to go. Houses hunkered low to the ground blend into the dusty brown landscape. Each adobe finished house is a muted desert color:  cactus green, sand, putty patina, pale sage,  alabaster, salt, bleached bone, rusted iron, ocher, faded plum. Faint sounds only reinforce the ambient quiet. A dove coos on an overhead powerline. Anonymous birds flit fearlessly in thorny bushes. The crunch of gavel beneath my shoes. Kermit’s excited breathing. Tucson, you are as beautiful as a sleeping baby. Which is why I am here, to hold my sleeping granddaughter as she grows by the hour.

A huge hawk sails overhead soundlessly. Thousands of feet high in the blue sky a fighter jet might as well be a snowflake for all the rumble and shake it does not cause down here. The glorious February sun beats down on my dark tee shirt as an easy breeze blows west to east. I love this vast open saucer surrounded by stark mountains to the east and prickly cactus-covered spires behind me. I feel the urge to get higher, to breathe it all in, to gaze on the splendor that God has wraught here in the desert. There is a palpable spirit here, one that the Native people celebrate by burning sage in a fire at dawn to honor their ancestors. Unfortunately for them the European settlers did not embrace them or their quiet spirit, and moved them to less desirable, more arid lands. The new folks burned their ancestors and celebrated, i.e., expropriated, the sage and the mesquite, the land and the water.

Water is everything in the desert here just as it was in Jesus’ time and place. Just like Psalm 1 says,

1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—     whatever they do prospers.

Water is the universal symbol for life. Along with breath, you have half of what you need to sustain life. Earth and fire, I guess, are the remaining two. I recall a piece of survival literature that showed how long a human can live without oxygen, heat, water, and food. It’s about three– three minutes without oxygen; three hours without a regulated body heat; three days without water; and three weeks without food. Fascinating that survival requires the four prime elements–air, water, fire, and earth (from which we get food). In denying these elements to others, we condemn them to something less than life.

So I wonder about the Native people, when they first encountered the Christian explorers and then settlers… how did it go? Was there respect given and received? Did the first White men in Arizona seek wisdom from the folks who had inhabited this harsh climate for thousands of years? It does not look that way. And did these Christian settlers share Jesus with the Native folks or impose Him with guns, whiskey, and bullets? I’m no historian, but I think the Grand Canyon could not contain all the tears of the Native people of what we call the United States. How ironic that people groups who themselves had fled Europe’s corrupt aristocracies and state religions would deny Native people their culture, their faith, and their lands. And the descendants of these settlers repeat their forefathers’ sins by denying modern immigrants any shelter, food, water or air. Human nature has not changed much if at all since the time of the Old Testament prophets, so it seems to me. I’m pretty sure that if Jesus had been the first non-native person in the Southwest, there would be a lot more sage smoke at dawn and a lot more love among the cacti today.

Today as Tea Party Rightists rage on in paranoid frenzy and knee-jerky legislators push for guns in teachers’ hands, I wonder why we can’t just enjoy the silence together. There is beauty and truth in abundance outside this solar kissed city. Breathe it in, again and again.  May my children’s children and yours yield their fruits in season, never wither, and always prosper.