Sunday, July 30, 2006

Day on the Prairie

Saturday I spent the afternoon at an activity sponsored by Washington State University Extension, "Day on the Prairie", and came away with a greater sense of peace than I have experienced all week, with its sorrowful events in the MidEast, in Seattle, in the GLBT community, and in my life.

Central Whidbey Island has the unusual geologic feature of many square miles of prairie. Central W. I. is in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains and gets far less rain than other western Washington areas. Both human and natural shaping of this countryside have resulted in a huge expanse of rolling hills, treeless plains, grassy slopes, and dunes. At one time, cannons at Ft. Casey were ready to defend the U.S. coastline from attack during WWII.

Both native and introduced species of birds and plants have flourished in this environment, and "DOTP" was an effort by WSU to engage the public in investigating its secrets, protecting its assets, and revitalizing lost elements of prairie land. Short classes and tours on a variety of topics were available and I selected two-----"Wings Above the Prairie" and "Native Plants of the Prairie".

You might know I signed up for the "Wings" class so I could ask an expert about the dangers of eagles and owls! The instructors were reassuring but cautious: yes, it is possible that a large raptor might injure my cats but it is unlikely that any bird would approach my house deck to attack. They mentioned that crows are often an alarm system for the presence of owls and eagles and to listen for crows in an uproar. And they suggested calling a local vet to ask about incidences of attacks, if I was really worried.

I came away from DOTP much refreshed, not only by the experience of leaving behind temporarily the woes of the week but also by rubbing elbows with others who are rebuilding the damaged land, salvaging tender native plants, educating others about the beauty of this place. It was healing to spend time in pleasurable learning, away from the scary headlines and news reports, away from email and voicemail that just makes me fret. I was tired in the best way when I got home. It was a good day.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Triple Whammy

This has been an upsetting week.

Monday, the good news about my dear one's not having cancer was reversed. It turns out there is cancer, though low-grade and apparently confined to one location. Miscommunication by medical staff caused the roller-coaster of emotion to slide up and down violently over this one------she originally heard she did have cancer, then two weeks later that she didn't have cancer, then a week later that she does have a cancerous tumor in her abdominal muscle.

Wednesday, we learned that the Washington State Supreme Court had chosen (5-4) to deny marriage rights to same sex couples.

Friday, we watched in horror as SWAT teams and police and emergency personnel converge on the Jewish Federation of Seattle, where one person had been shot dead and five others wounded by a gunman who "hates Israel". Jews were approaching the hour of Shabbat when this all came down, getting ready to leave workaday places for an evening of peace and worship in the safety of their homes.

Sackcloth and ashes this week, my friends, sackcloth and ashes.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Eagle redux

A few posts ago, I agonized about the possibility that one of our many bald eagle residents on Whidbey Island might come swooping down and haul off one of my cats from the deck. In the past two weeks or so, I've been careful to accompany them out onto the deck whenever they wanted to go outside, watching the sky for ominous wings, listening for the creaky call of the wild, and hustling them back inside when danger seemed to be near.

Today I spent a bit of time on St. Google researching the hunting and feeding habits of bald eagles and I have learned that eagles are unable to lift much more than 4 pounds aloft nor do they typically dive silently from the heights to pluck innocent pets from their yards. Not to say it can't ever happen, but I think I've been overly concerned.

The clincher was the 4 pound limit and pretty convincing evidence in one major study that eagles have never been observed carrying off new lambs or calves, which is one of the myths that anti-raptor ranchers have promoted. Since both Loosy and Lily weigh a whole lot more than 4 pounds, I think they're safe, and while I will never get cocky about this, I think it's time I relaxed a bit and let them go outside on their own again.

Judicial Integrity

Here's an attempt to conjoin the recent decision of the Washington Supremes (5-4, it is not unconstitutional to deny same sex couples the right to marry) and the thinking I did last week at Eliot Institute about the seven habits of effective UUs: how does this application of justice look through the lens of integrity, the first of the seven habits?

Integrity: steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code (American Heritage dictionary); integration, wholeness of self; impeccable with one's word; honest; authenticity (these latter being the contributions of the assembled participants at Eliot).

Justice: the upholding of what is just, esp. fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor, standards, or law (American Heritage dictionary).

Question: were the five justices who prevailed acting with integrity or were they being self-serving and bowing to public opinion in an election year?

Question: were the four justices who dissented acting with integrity or were they being self-serving and bowing to public opinion in an election year?

I can't easily judge the extent of another's integrity. I can only judge the extent of my integrity, and that not always accurately. Sometimes it's evident that someone is not acting out of integrity; the outcome of his/her actions is clearly selfish and exclusionary.

In the case of the justices of the court, I have to assume that they made the best decisions they could make, out of their own authentic base of knowledge and experience, confining themselves to the narrow bailiwick over which they preside--the interpretation of the constitution of the state. Because they were within one vote of overturning DOMA, it is clear that the decision is still debatable, and, in fact, they essentially referred the law back to the legislature, which we had expected all along.

What bothers me about the written opinions is the sniping each side has directed at the other, impugning motives, knowledge, understanding, beliefs. THAT'S the lack of integrity, not the decision, in my book.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Bloody but Unbowed

I had to look up the source of that familiar phrase and here it is, by William Ernest Henley. 1849–1903


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Yesterday here in Washington State was a sad day, with the gloating anti-gay lobby all over the TV screen in contrast to the grief-stricken same-sex families portrayed. I spent the day moping around the house until it was time to get on the ferry to go to the rally and worship service in Seattle.

Once there, my mood began to lift, surrounded by folks who needed me to comfort them. Funny how that works-----no matter how bad I feel, I am comforted by the opportunity to comfort another. And the gathering at Seattle First Baptist Church was upbeat and hopeful. Speaker after speaker mentioned the disappointment but also identified the next steps and the progress we've already made.

I came home feeling greatly cheered and full of resolve for the continued work ahead. This issue has been the primary social justice issue of my life; a friend came out to me in the 70's and I have been a straight ally ever since, with increasing involvement over the years. My first statement to anyone was to my astonished family members when I told them I would never consider voting for Ross Perot because he was clearly homophobic. (Well, it felt revolutionary, especially when you consider my family of origin---lovely people who at the time probably didn't think they even knew any homosexuals.)

Times have changed and now I am up to my eyebrows in it. I no longer care whether someone thinks I am a lesbian----it simply doesn't matter. I love the button I found somewhere: "I'd rather a bigot thought I was a lesbian than a lesbian thought I was a bigot."

The court decision was quite close (5-4), which indicates the degree of disagreement on the court. And it actually encouraged the legislature to consider the gross inequities for same sex couples and deal with them legislatively. I believe that will begin to happen when the legislature re-convenes in January. Till then, we have a lot of educating to do and I'm ready to start.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I feel sick at heart over the negative decision of the Washington State Supreme Court this morning, upholding Washington's Defense of Marriage Act. I feel revulsion at the jubilant responses of the attorneys and leaders of the religious right who have publicly gloated over our defeat. I feel deep grief for the same-sex couples who hoped to hear some affirmation of their right to exist and who are now once again plunged into the abyss which is discrimination and disenfranchisement. How horrifying it must be for men and women who love each other to be denied the right to publicly state that love and be affirmed in it. How humiliating it must be for the children of those couples to be told repeatedly, "your family doesn't exist, you don't really have two parents, you don't get the same rights as the rest of us because your two moms (or dads) can't be married."

It's just too much to bear some days, the fear and ignorance that underlie this kind of reasoning and outcome.

I'll head into Seattle later today to join others at Seattle First Baptist Church at 5 p.m. for a rally and an interfaith worship service, to lament with others and to begin the next stage of this work. Because we still believe that gradually this sea change in American life will transform the marriage landscape. A DOMA cannot stand forever, when we have the ongoing evidence that same-sex marriage is viable, that it is tender-hearted and true, and that it deserves civil recognition.

Let the time of mourning begin. And then let us rise to continue the work we have begun together.

Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Washington court to rule on same-sex marriage tomorrow!

Tomorrow is a big day! For two and a half years, a coalition of interfaith clergy and laity has been working to support 16 same-sex couples in Washington state who are challenging the state's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional. We have just learned that July 26 the Washington State Supreme Court will announce their ruling on this case.

I have been part of the coalition (Religious Coalition for Equality) since day 1, having been appalled by the fact that though I, a person who couldn't stay married and in no hurry to remarry, CAN get hitched while friends, both gay and lesbian, who have been together through thick and thin for decades (40+ years in some cases), CAN'T. This is not fair.

Tomorrow we will find out what the Supremes have to say. Odds are it will go one of three ways:
1. It's unconstitutional, so deal with it.
2. It's constitutional, so deal with it.
3. It requires a legislative solution, so deal with it.

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Eliot Eleemosynary

Isn't that a great word? Unfortunately, it doesn't have much to do with Eliot Institute, the PNWD's UU summer family camp, but I've always wanted to use it somehow. It means (in case you always wanted to know) "of or dependent on charity". Maybe I should change the order of the words, because Eliot Institute is somewhat dependent on the beneficence of generous donors. But the word looks more like a noun than an adjective, so, since everyone else seems willing and able to change the meaning and usage of language, it is now temporarily a noun meaning "generous accounting of Eliot Institute, July 2006".

July Eliot was a splendiferous gathering of UUs from all over the West, with a sprinkling of grandkids imported from faraway places such as New Jersey, AND the momentous presence of Gini Courter, UUA moderator, our speaker, and her partner the Rev. Charlotte Cowtan, of Michigan.

Gini's topic for the week was "Seven Habits of Highly Effective UUs" and it was a wowser, in my opinion, partly because of Gini's presence and wit but also because it gave us a chance to chew over some of the ways we do things in church. It's one thing to chew on these things within our own congregations, but to think about them with people from all kinds of UU churches and even un-churched folks was especially good.

Gini's an extremely bright and perceptive speaker with a sense of humor that won't quit and laughter was a major feature of her morning presentations. Some wished for heavy intellectual commentary, but hey, how heavy and intellectual do you want to get in a locale like Seabeck, Washington, on Hood Canal with a front row seat at the Olympic mountain skyline? And, how heavy and intellectual is it reasonable to make seven habits like these? I mean, really, this isn't brain surgery---it's more important than that. It's life!

The Seven Habits of Effective UUs, according to Gini:
1. Live with integrity.
2. Be a servant.
3. Be humble.
4. Practice generosity.
5. Build together.
6. Choose hope.
7. Have a purpose.

Of course, we all did our best to examine minutely the meanings of every word in each habit in order to squeeze out all the possible variations on a theme, but in my small group, made up of 9 folks from all over the district, we had a fine time pooling our thoughts and experiences with each of the seven habits. We were a congenial band and enjoyed our discussion time at the edge of the Seabeck lagoon, watching ducks and birds and even a scraggly little coyote pup who wandered past us one morning, nose in the air as if to say "I'm not really lost, I'm just out here exploring and I know exactly where my mother is, so you better leave me alone."

It was a great week, but I'm glad to be back home. I am an extroverted introvert and need my time with people followed by my times of solitude.

I'll be publishing my thoughts about the Seven Habits as I re-enter the "real" world. Stay tuned, if you're interested.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Eagle alert!

Sheesh, it almost happened! Sitting on the deck just now, I was watching Loosy the LoveCat watching the bunnies, when a very large bird began to spiral above us, swooping nonchalantly in our direction until my eagle-sensors began to blare. There was the 8-foot wing span, the white head and tail, about 50 feet above the ground, heading in our direction, pretending not to be looking hungrily at the tasty morsel my Loosy would make.

I was scared I'd startle her and she'd fall off the railing of the deck, so I waved my arms quietly at the eagle, grabbed her and tossed her inside and slammed the deck door. Not that the eagle would come after us, probably, but I was shaking! He gave no warning of chattery screeches, which I have been listening for. He snuck up on us!

Now what do I do? It is not likely that this will happen very often, but it sure scared the pants off of me! And I want the cats to be able to go out on the deck without me. I've got to think about this.

I'm off to Eliot Institute, the PNWD's UU family camp at Seabeck WA, on Saturday, so this may be the last post for a week or so. At least the cats will be safely inside for a week while I'm gone.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

An Antidote to UU Cross-Cringe

One of the anxieties that plague Unitarian Universalist ministers is the issue of "cross-cringe", the attitude of some UUs that their early Christian upbringing or the shenanigans of the religious right entitle them to look down their noses at "those people", those people who revere the teachings of the church and Jesus and actually try to practice them in their lives.

As a minister I've experienced cross-cringe in every church I've served. There have always been those who, for a variety of reasons, can't stand to look at a cross or hear the word Jesus or find fault with those UUs who are Christian in belief and practice. For some, the injury is real-----somebody really did beat them up in the name of Jesus. For others, it's made-up, I think. It's "cool" to bash Christians and the cross these days, especially in intellectual circles. Still others fall somewhere in the middle, genuinely mystified by the loyalty of Christians to a religion that seems supernatural and non-reasoning. Rejection of Christian symbolism and thought goes with the territory, so a lot of it happens in UU congregations.

One antidote I've discovered (though it won't work for those who refuse to enter the doors of a building with crosses in it) is interfaith work, work toward a common goal with progressive Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and other persons of faith. There's something about putting in time together in a faith coalition dedicated to an issue of justice that melts many barriers, evaporates many prejudices, produces a new perception of what religious faith is and what it means to others.

I've been fortunate to represent Unitarian Universalists in the PNWD with the Religious Coalition for Equality, an interfaith group of clergy and laity who advocate for civil rights for all and marriage equality for all couples. We have been successful in getting our state legislature to pass anti-discrimination legislation in Washington State and we stand ready to deal with whatever judgment comes down from our state Supreme Court on the marriage issue.

I've been on the steering committee for RCE for two and a half years and have met monthly with Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Disciples, Methodists, UCCs, Buddhists, and others. Boy, has this demolished any assumptions I might have had about all Christians being the same, or, for that matter, all Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists being the same.

I have never been a cringer at crosses. But my perspective has broadened even more and I see this interfaith coalition as an important facet in my spiritual growth. What's more, it gives other faith traditions a good look at a Unitarian Universalist---me. I am their chance to learn that UUs are not anti-Christian, that we are willing to join forces with others on justice issues, and that we are generally pretty good folk. Which isn't necessarily how many see us, because of the cross cringe attitude.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Viscous Circle2

(It didn't look like my previous post posted, so I re-posted it and then the pre-post post-posted. Got that?
But I like what the second post said too, so I'm editing out the re-post part and just posting the good part.)

I agree with PeaceBang, when she says this happens in our congregations too. It does happen, all the time. And to help me deal with it, I have a formula for responding to this kind of thing. It's not completely transferable to the blogosphere, but it's useful to those of us who want to offer thought-provoking ideas to a herd of cats, who have their own ideas, thank you very much, about where they are willing to be herded and why and what we might consider instead and did we know that they already know a lot about this, etc.

The formula is this:
1. say thank you for the input
2. hear and restate the person's concerns/ideas, as appropriate
3. acknowledge the validity of the person's point of view
4. ask clarifying questions to make sure I understand the point of view
5. express appreciation for the willingness of the person to give input and feedback
6. accept the point of view graciously, even if I don't plan to change
7. don't argue or get defensive. TAKE THE HIGH ROAD. ALWAYS. DON'T BITE BACK.

A Viscous Circle (no, not vicious)

Yes, I know what a vicious circle is and I mean viscous circle. Here's what Eggcorn Forum has to say: " It’s bad enough when you’re caught in an endless loop—but you go nowhere even more slowly when the loop is sticky."

Seems to me that's what happens when we put our ideas out there in the blogosphere for consideration, people respond to those ideas in ways we didn't expect or want, we object and try to straighten them out, but they won't be straightened and get upset because we didn't appreciate their contributions, so we write a post that we won't let them respond to, but they do anyhow on another related post, so we write comments on their comments, expressing our distress at their misinterpretations, getting a little testy in the process, snapping a little bit at well-intentioned people who didn't get it, and we find ourselves in a viscous circle.

It's not a VICIOUS circle at all, though it has every possibility of becoming vicious out of sheer frustration. It's VISCOUS instead, because as we try to make progress and come out on the other side, we find ourselves bogged down in all the sticky ways human beings get bogged down when they try to communicate their ideas.

What are the viscosities that bog down human communication? Careless listening is one of them. Or, in the case of the written word as on a blog, careless reading. Careless writing/speaking is another. Human beings are apt to jump to all kinds of conclusions based on what they THINK they read or heard. After virtually every sermon I've preached, some dear soul has come to me and said, "I loved it when you said thus and so" and I am hard-pressed to remember just what I might have said that was implanted in their brain as "thus and so". We hear what we need or want to hear, not what the speaker/author said.

I have a poster on my wall which I refer to whenever I've been critiqued. It's intended to help me NOT be defensive or argumentative when people disagree with me, because that never does any good. Granted, it probably is best used in a one-on-one conversation, but I think it has connotations that work in the blogosphere.

1. Say thank you for the feedback.
2. Hear and restate the person's concerns.
3. Acknowledge the validity of the person's point of view.
4. Ask clarifying questions to increase your understanding of the point of view.
5. Express appreciation for the willingness of the person to give input and feedback.
6. Accept the point of view; be grateful for the lesson, whether you wanted it or not.
7. Don't respond out of your ego; respond out of your best self. Take the high road, don't strike back.

It's really hard to put ideas out for people to read and think about. It's really hard when they don't get it. It's really easy to get mad because they didn't get it. It's really easy to respond out of hurt over a misunderstanding. It's really important to assume the best, not the worst. It's really important to laugh, rather than flare up.

I agree with PeaceBang that we do this a lot in our congregations-----assuming we know more than the speaker, assuming it's our right to correct him or her, assuming that our assumptions are accurate and worthy of imposing on others. It's important to put an end to the viscous circle by responding out of our best selves, our selves that are able to laugh at our human foibles and not take things too personally.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

What happens when we die?

Word came this morning that my feisty Aunt Hazel Bowden, dad's little sister, has died in Bend, Oregon, at a ripe old age. She had been living at the far edge of her life for several years but was still full of life and tart reminders of how we Ketchams ought to be conducting ourselves.

When I made the decision to study for the UU ministry many years ago, Aunt Hazel was quick to tell me that she was sure my father, the Rev. Merritt B. Ketcham, was probably turning over in his grave at my defection from The True Faith. “I don’t know what you see in that Unitarian theology”, she wrote in her Christmas card. “It hurt your parents a lot when you left the Baptist church. I just don’t understand. Merry Christmas. Your loving aunt.”

Ouch. She was right, it had hurt my parents a lot when I left the Baptist church and I regretted that hurt. But it had given me a whole lot of comfort to leave behind a religious worldview that pinched, that gave little hope to those who lived outside its purview and to move into the practice of a faith that tried to include many points of view and to work for peace and justice in the world. I still considered myself a Christian, but not the kind of Christian Aunt Hazel would have preferred.

We managed to get past that confrontation and her love for me, the heretic, was undimmed. I'm sure she prayed for me regularly, which I appreciated, and I prayed for her too. And on my rare visits to Bend, we'd laugh about the old times, reminisce about my parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. Her husband Stan had died earlier and she missed him with every breath. Ken, their son, and Kay, his wife, were both gone now as well. And I imagine there's one heck of a Ketcham family reunion going on somewhere.

Because if my theory is on target, and who knows---it might be, we rise to a new level of understanding when we die. That seems big enough to me to encompass a whole lot of possibilities-----heaven, hell, limbo, purgatory, nirvana, bodhisattva-ness, reincarnation, whatever. Maybe even nothing-ness.

I guess it would be hubris to assume that, at the celestial Ketcham family reunion where all now have new understandings, I might finally be off the hook for my heretic heart. I'd like to assume that all my beloved family members, whose understanding of God is different from mine, now see that I'm right, that Unitarian Universalism really is the One True Faith and that I knew it all along.

But it's most likely that I too will rise someday to a new level of understanding and will see where all our yearnings and strivings and believings overlap and that I am no more right than they were--------and no more wrong.

Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Friday, July 07, 2006

A dream to think about

Last night I had an interesting dream, which has stuck with me, as few do. It seems significant that it followed the huge relief I felt when I learned that my friend does not have cancer. I have not dreamed this dream before, but it seemed a little familiar.

I was attending some large assembly like G.A. and was with a couple of friends or perhaps my hotel roommates. We were walking along a sidewalk late in the day, hungry for supper; I suddenly found myself talking to a former boyfriend who looked quite frail and elderly (he actually died a couple of years ago of a heart attack). I was somewhat separated from my friends at this point and after hugging him, I decided to go to the hotel before dinner and drop stuff off, get cleaned up, whatever.

But though I found the hotel fine, I couldn't find the elevator. Or rather, I found one but a clerk was just shutting it down with an "out of order" sign. So I went looking for another one. All the elevators in this building seemed to be in remote, hidden corners, and difficult to find. I couldn't find one and was starting to get rather annoyed when I woke up.

This dream mystifies me. I can't find threads in it, a la the Jeremy Taylor Dreamwork process, though I do see that my former boyfriend had come back to life somehow which connects to my friend's reprieve from cancer. And yet it feels significant.

A la Jeremy, "If it were YOUR dream.........." what would be happening here?

How do you spell Relief?

Somebody very important to me told me a week or so ago that the doctor had diagnosed the Big C in a lump removed and examined. All of us who love this person went into Fear Mode, praying for a Best Case, not Worst Case Scenario, offering support and advice about how to approach such a diagnosis, what had helped others in such a situation, and above all, offering reassurance and faith that whatever it turned out to be, we would deal with it together and IT WOULD BE OKAY. Whatever it was.

I have "prayed without ceasing" since I heard the news. I asked St. Google for information, I asked friends to pray and send energy, I have lit candles and thought hard about what Cancer means in a human life. It has been in the back forty of my mind for these many days, cropping up whenever I thought about young people seriously ill way too soon in life, about the commitments that are called into service, about the fear and disruptions that accompany serious illness, about how children's lives are affected when a parent is ill.

I have just learned that the diagnosis is NOT Cancer after all, though what it is is not completely determined yet. But it is not such a life-threatening ailment as Cancer. My heart felt like a helium balloon that has been underneath a blanket--------my heart immediately soared for the skies. My relief at this good news was giddy-making, as it was for the rest of us, especially this one we love so much.

What is it about relief? About things turning out better than expected? I know that Cancer is not the killer it once was; many people now recover completely from cancers that used to be lethal. But the C word is Fear Encrypted. And Fear can kill too. When the Fear is lifted, relief floods in. Talk about endorphins!

Anyhow, I'm a little giddy today. And I continue to pray without ceasing, this time with gratitude.

Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

What's the Salt in UUism?

I'm a few chapters into an interesting book called "Salt: a World History" by author Mark Kurlansky. I've also read his book "Cod", about how cod fishing shaped world events in the past centuries. "Salt" is a fascinating history of how humans have been in relationship to this substance which is ubiquitous in nature and in culture.

According to Kurlansky, salt is a necessary component in the functioning of the cells of the human body. Without both water and salt, cells could not get nourishment and would die of dehydration. It is in every fluid excreted by the human body and its balance in the human body must be within a certain range, or the body is out of whack.

It got me thinking. What is the Salt in Unitarian Universalism? What is the essential ingredient in our faith tradition, without which we are out of whack as a body? Is it our freethinking? Our commitment to social justice? Our heritage as liberal Christians?

I'm doing a lot of thinking about this myself and wonder how others perceive it.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

America's Broken Promise

There's a kind of angst associated with our nation's birthday, isn't there? We love our country deeply, cherish our freedoms, tout the special qualities of our homeland and our chosen geographic areas, and we are ashamed of it at the same time.

I expect I'm preaching to the choir here, but despite all the fireworks and friendly gatherings and kids with watermelon all over their faces and softball games between intergenerational teams and all the hoopla that Fourth of July offers, there's a sadness for me. I suspect there's a sadness for many of you, too.

There's such a disconnect for me between what America ought to be and what it seems to be these days. I read the headlines and the stories in the newspaper and cringe at what is happening in my beloved nation's name. And I want to scream "No, that's not really America! That's not me. That's not what I represent in the world! That's not right!"

Religion has been hijacked by the radical religious right. The peace process has turned out to be not so peaceful. Our air and water are sacrified on an altar dedicated to the corporate world. Many Americans fight the very institutions that are pledged to protect their freedoms---the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, our judiciary, our governmental system of checks and balances. Sometimes those institutions seem to be under fire from the highest offices in our land.

The ACLU is seen as helpful only when it goes to bat for popular causes. Planned Parenthood is not supposed to tell kids HOW to plan parenthood, but rather to keep them from knowing anything about how to plan parenthood. Religious beliefs are inserted into legislative actions. And those who protest are called traitors.

I still feel hopeful. I still do what I think is right, in my small area of influence. I know I can't change the whole world, but I can change my little piece of it. And isn't there something about a butterfly in Chile changing the weather in the Arctic? That's what I am clinging to these days, in America.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Eagles and Bunnies and Deer, Oh My!

I've never before lived "in the country". I was born in western Washington State, spent several years as a child in Portland, Oregon, and then moved with my family to a small northeastern Oregon town where my dad was the Baptist minister for about ten years. In the 60's, I moved to Colorado, where I lived in cities and suburbs for over 30 years. Then it was back to Portland as a minister, on to Seattle a few years later, and now I live on 8 acres of parklike land a little ways outside a small town.

This kind of idyllic setting is new to me, despite my many years of camping and hiking in the Rockies and Cascades. I've never actually LIVED in a wooded green setting many hundreds of yards from my nearest neighbor. Not only that, I live on an island in Puget Sound, which separates me even more from urban and suburban life. To go to the nearest big box store requires a drive of thirty miles or a ferry ride to the mainland.

I wondered what it would be like to live here, but I craved it with all my heart last winter, living in a shoebox apartment in Seattle, with sirens and traffic drowning out all but the shriek of crows and whine of aircraft overhead. So when I found this house-----three bedrooms, two baths, huge family room, two fireplaces, monster deck, AND eight acres that the landlord takes care of, all for the price of what I was paying in Seattle-----I jumped at the chance and moved in March.

I rattle around in this space, but I am hugely content. My cats, once confined to a teeny little balcony, now have 1800 square feet of house to roam plus the deck, which has been fenced off so that Loosy and Lily can survey the yard and the bunnies from a safe place, without being in much danger of joining the food chain. Because I have seen a coyote in the yard and yesterday found several small piles of coyote scat.

This is one of the realities of living in the country. My household and I are living with wildlife. We are close enough to the water (the shipping lanes of the Strait of Juan de Fuca) to be a flyover route for bald eagles, whose distinctive chattery screeches make me rush occasionally to the deck to make sure the cats are not attacked from above. (There are chilling tales of small dogs being carried aloft by eagles. Not urban legends, certainly!) There is small risk of this, actually, but it does occur. I can see myself, MamaCatlike, defending my "children" from a predator, beating off the Symbol of Our Country as it struggles to lift chunky Loosy or Lily the Tank into the air.

There are risks associated with the Idyllic Pastoral Scene. Not the least of these is (are?) the deer who fling themselves into my path as I drive to and fro. In the middle of one small town last week, in the middle of the day, I nearly hit a deer who chose my car to challenge as she crossed the highway from the ferry dock. Dozens of cars streaming off the ferry and she is in the middle of the road in the middle of the town in the middle of the day.

And the bunnies! On the edges of my domain, there are thickets of blackberry bushes where the bunnies live, and in the mornings when I walk down my long driveway to get the newspaper, they scatter in front of me, Peter Cottontail and his brothers, sisters, and progeny, hustling into the tall grass next to the clover they have been munching. I am no danger to them, and I can almost hear the teenage bunnies thinking "I'm no chicken, I'm going to hold out till the last second, no matter what my mother says, I can outrun this creature, I can take care of myself!" Right, silly rabbit, just don't get picked off by the next coyote down the drive or the next eagle in the air.

The food chain is a visible reality here. I confine the cats so that they will not become a meal. I grow my garden in pots on the deck so that I, not the deer and bunnies, can enjoy my vegetables and flowers. The only species I artificially feed outdoors is the hummingbird, who, like a flying jewel, comes to the feeder regularly.

But there are few sirens, few noisy vehicles, few aircraft. Many mornings, the blessed marine layer keeps the world cool and grey and salty-smelling until the sun gradually burns it away. Even this morning, July 3, I heard the foghorn from the Strait warning ships and ferries about dangerous headlands invisible in the fog.

I love living here. I am a native Northwesterner, bred and born, and the land is in my bones. As beautiful as Colorado is, I always wanted to return to my homeland. There was too little rain in Colorado; the mountains weren't actual mountains, just strings of rocky crags from border to border with no distinctive volcanic peaks; and where was the water? The Platte is not a real river-----the Columbia is a real river!

So I'm home now and inclined to stay.