Sunday, September 9, 2018

Teshuvah 2018

After attending the Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice March in San Francisco yesterday, I feel ready to enter my Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) space. Our High Holidays, which begin this evening (erev) at sunset, revolve around three central activities:  tefilah (prayer), tzedakah (charity), and teshuvah (turning). Prayer and charity seem well-defined to me, but the third, the turning, takes me through a labyrinth of complexity. Traditionally, teshuvah translates as repentance. But it means more than merely repenting of one’s sins. It refers to a whole repentance process in which we recognize culpability, repent for wrongdoing, seek forgiveness, and turn things around. Authentic repentance involves personal growth to prevent us from repeating the same errors. So through teshuvah (turning), we attempt to transform ourselves. Through teshuvah, I work to remake myself so that I don’t repeat my previous transgressions. I must turn myself around, change myself. I must become someone better, someone new. What a lot of work.

Yesterday at Rise for Climate, I marched for my grandson and for a couple other babies close to my heart who arrived in 2017 and for all the little ones coming up in the world during this precarious time. I think it fortuitous that the Rise for Climate event occurred just before Erev Rosh Hashanah. Marching yesterday had significance for me on many levels. To begin with, I marched with two of my cousins, and one of them brought her one-year-old daughter along. Once upon a time, few family members from my paternal grandfather’s family remained. We did not fare well as Polish Jews during the Holocaust. But those few who made it out alive have multiplied over the decades. The fact that I have two women cousins (and baby makes three) nearby to march with me is one small miracle all by itself, and a testament to the fact that sometimes something you think has disappeared forever turns out to have survived. So hope matters. We do well to keep this in mind when we feel inclined to despair about the future of Earth.

Rise for Climate in San Francisco was our local contribution to a global action that included more than 800 demonstrations in nearly 100 countries around the world. Even as the U.S. government attempts to set us apart and act solely for the benefit of U.S. and corporate economic interests, the people of this country continue to join with our human family around the world in global efforts to make change that will help preserve the planet so that it remains habitable for human life. It gives me hope that so many people recognize what is at stake and continue to stand up, act, and speak out. Rise for Climate ushers in the Global Climate Action Summit, occurring this coming week in San Francisco. The Summit will bring together world leaders committed to working for environmental preservation through the reduction of carbon emissions and rapid advance to clean energy sources. These leaders will move forward despite the failure of their governments to curb the environmental destruction promoted by corporations driven by profit. It makes me proud to say that California’s Governor Brown initiated the Summit.

The presence of so many indigenous people yesterday in San Francisco reminds us of how far back in history this desecration of the land extends. The climate crisis we face has mobilized Native communities like never before. They have been prophets on this subject for centuries. But I very much doubt that saying “I told you so” would give satisfaction to any of the Native people who risked their lives to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was constructed despite massive, heart-wrenching protests, and has leaked gallons of oil in the short time since it was built, contaminating soil and water, just as the protestors predicted and feared. Yesterday’s march began beautifully with thousands kneeling in the street while Native people led a prayer, a chant, and a brief ceremony to create a sacred space for our act of protest. (Indigenous people flew in from the Amazon to participate in the demonstration.) The drumming, fragrance of sage in the air, Aztec dancers, and messages on the signs asserted that Native presence continuously. We marched for two miles, ending up at the Civic Center, where organizers had set up an art activity. Thousands of people painted murals that had been outlined on the ground in advance. The murals depicted the many things we can do to reverse climate change, such as wean from fossil fuels and develop clean energy sources, reduce meat consumption, restore soil to health, rethink transportation systems, and transform our relationship to Earth. One of many murals created by Native communities said No Pipelines, No Dams, No Diversions. That message speaks volumes.

How auspicious that the upcoming Summit will take place between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It will contribute to a high-level teshuvah, a massive, planetary turn-around; a teshuvah that is necessary to save our lives. Those attending the Summit who have more power and more impact than I do will be working to initiate ways to turn things around through policy, systems, and economics. My fellow Jews, at this year’s High Holidays, please join with me in taking the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to environmental protection on a personal level, and to ponder what more we can each do in our own small way to support a healthy Earth and a future on the planet for our children, grandchildren, and those to come unto the seventh generation and beyond. I hope for the High Holidays to bring a supersized teshuvah that will turn things around for the planet. We need teshuvah to be a verb rather than a noun.

I love that the High Holidays take place in my part of the world as we approach autumn, 
the season of turning, the changing of colors, the time of transformation. 
So I share an image of California grape vines in the midst of their autumn teshuvah.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Fire in My Home Land

For nine minutes on August 1, I had a vision of life without all my stuff. That could kinda sorta be a good thing, right? For instance, I would no longer need to agonize over when to let go of that raggedy yet comfy house dress that I wear all the time when no one’s looking. On the other hand, having all my clothes burn up doesn’t seem like a practical solution to my inability to part with a worn-out house dress. 

Here in NorCal, we live at Climate Change Ground Zero. We have few Climate Change deniers in Cali because we can see the flames and smell the smoke. I am not a lobster on slow cook. I have noticed things heating up. Having lived on this land for decades, I remember when we had only a handful of super-hot days in the summer, and I have the mental capacity to compare that to the present time when we have many boiling-hot days (plus persistent drought and extremely dry vegetation). I imagine I’m not supposed to use the term “mental capacity,” since it’s probably one of the phrases banned from public discourse by the current government (because if the president can’t have it then no one else can either). I say this in light of the fact that a program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities recently warned me not to use the term “social justice” in a federal grant that I’m writing if I want to get the project funded. (True story. I did not make this up.)

I choose to live in Mendocino County because I cherish our magnificent landscape and I have many longtime friends here, who share my passion for our home land and a life close to nature. We live far from the madding crowd, in a place where we can joyously embrace the beauty of this planet to the last drop. But we also live with fire threat. Theoretically, I have always known that my neighborhood could go up in flames, but I never truly pictured that scenario in concrete terms until a fire broke out just a couple of miles from my house. We got lucky on Aug. 1. Because the monstrous double-headed Mendocino Complex Fire was blazing within fifteen miles of where I live, firefighters and their arsenal of anti-fire tools were conveniently close at hand. They arrived in our neighborhood so fast that I suspect they teleported. They swooped in with fire trucks, hoses, water-tanker helicopters, bulldozers, fire retardant, water balloons, super soakers, and magic wands. They extinguished that fire before anyone had time to break out the marshmallows.

I found out about the fire because I had just left my house for an optometry appointment when I noticed a stampede of cars passing me in the opposite lane on the main road that leads into my subdivision. I wondered if someone was having a party and forgot to invite me. Then I saw a fleet of emergency vehicles rushing by and a couple of water-tanker helicopters flying overhead. It dawned on me that a fire had probably started burning very near my house (because I have the mental capacity to deduce that). My first thought was that I had made the appointment with the optometrist four months earlier because he had no sooner openings and was about to retire to boot, so my window of opportunity for eye care was about to slam shut since I had to turn around and go home, determine the location of the fire, and likely attempt to rescue my two aging cats. No one should have to choose between vision and cats.

I allow my cats outdoors during the day, but they must stay in at night for their safety. I lure them in at sunset with cat food. The fire broke out in the afternoon, so I would have to find them, figure out how to catch them, and bring them inside where I could crate them for possible evacuation. I cannot stress the level of difficulty of this maneuver. They are crafty and have their own diabolical feline thoughts. They refuse to let me catch them or coax them inside when they suspect I have a secret motive for making them come in, even if the motive is to feed them dinner. Furthermore, one of them is semi-senile and behaves somewhat irrationally under the best of circumstances. She often sits outside the glass door to the deck peering in longingly as if waiting for me to let her inside, and when I open the door she dashes back into the yard as if she has seen a pit bull. I would have much rather gone to the optometrist than wrangle my cats during a biblically catastrophic event. But cats happen.

When I arrived back at my house, I dashed inside and checked online at reliable sources where I had gone for updated fire news before. I learned that a fire had indeed started within two miles of my house. The report stated that emergency personnel on the scene expected to contain the fire quickly, but they had placed my neighborhood on standby for evacuation. Nine minutes would elapse before I rechecked online and learned that the fire had been “knocked down” (firefighter lingo meaning the fire was out) and the evacuation advisory had been lifted. I’m not sure if “knocked down” is a federally approved or censored phrase.

In that nine minutes, I opened the garage doors in case the power went out; chased one cat around the front porch, miraculously grabbed her, and brought her inside while she complained vigorously; circled the house calling for the semi-senile cat, with no luck whatsoever; called the optometrist’s office to explain why I had missed my appointment; rang the doorbells of several immediate neighbors to make sure they knew what was going on; called Ron to give him a heads up (he was at band practice and couldn’t hear a thing I said over the racket until he yelled for his musical compatriots to knock it off); threw all the photo albums into boxes and laundry baskets; collected the files with important documents (e.g., marriage license, birth certificates, will, recipe for gluten-free blueberry muffins, file of the Wachspress name misspelled, lyrics to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”); tossed Ron’s meds into a cooler; threw the laundry baskets, documents, meds, my Sabbath candlesticks, favorite cast iron frying pan, and our laptop computers into my car; baked a soufflĂ©; ran a load of laundry; dug up and potted my favorite peach tree for removal; and disarmed an atomic bomb. I now feel confident that given nine minutes to evacuate I could wrangle my most precious possessions into my car, except for that stupid-ass senile cat.
Ten years ago, Ron and I moved off our remote, wooded 40 acres in the hills and resettled in a more populated small-town suburban subdivision. We live in a place less vulnerable to fire and more accessible to emergency personnel now than on that hillside covered in trees, dead grass, and dry brush. But in truth, nowhere is safe. Not anywhere in Cali and not anywhere else on the planet. While Cali burned, the East Coast was on flood watch and the Southeast entered peak hurricane season. Last week an earthquake killed 300 people in Indonesia, while 80 people in Japan and 29 in South Korea dropped dead of heat stroke because it was simply too hot. They cooked. A devastating heat wave and wildfires continue to spread in Europe. France shut down several nuclear power plants because they couldn’t keep the reactors cool enough. A lake that was once part of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan is now 75 miles from the sea and drying up fast; and strangely, it has become a tourist attraction for people who want to see the impact of Climate Change firsthand (gives a new twist on eco-tourism). According to an article in last week’s New York Times Magazine, Climate Change has turned the country of Mauritania into an uninhabitable desert. But see if anyone will let refugees from Mauritania breach their borders. If Climate Change refugees can’t even convince another country on Earth to take them in, then imagine how much trouble we will have as Climate Change refugees trying to convince a Martian to take us in (especially if we are forbidden to use the term “Climate Change refugees”). I don’t know anyone who speaks Martian. Cali wildfires could turn me into a Climate Change refugee any minute. While I don’t speak Martian, I’m learning sign language, which could prove useful in communicating with creatures from other planets, unless they have way more hands or arms than I do.

As if my hectic nine minutes of evacuation prep hadn’t prepared me enough for a real evacuation, I had the opportunity to stage a thorough practice just two days later when our area came under evacuation warning because of the Mendocino Complex Fire. This time, Ron and I ran a full-blown practice drill. We loaded up our cars and packed our bags. Fortunately, we didn’t actually need to evacuate. But we learned a lot from the drill. For instance, I put my grandmother’s fancy chair in my car, looked at how much space it took up, and then carried it back into the house (while Ron shook his head and wisely made no comment – we are still married). When I looked around my house to decide what to take with me on that day, I had a historical trauma flashback to the experience of my Jewish ancestors fleeing the pogroms of Russia and Eastern Europe. I thought of my great-great grandmothers and great-great aunts snatching the Sabbath candlesticks from the shelf and wrapping them in a piece of lace as they ran to hop on the wagon. So I took my Sabbath candlesticks, my mother’s Seder plate, my menorah, and my mother’s Havdalah set. I discovered which possessions mean the most to me, and that given about 90 minutes, I could collect those possessions and put them in my car. I could do that if a fire strikes when I happen to be at home. If I’m not at home, I stand to lose everything. When my father heard that I keep our wills and advanced medical directives in my straw sewing basket, he suggested I think about getting a fireproof safe. (I have since copied my important documents and sent them to my son to keep offsite.)

While we were under evacuation warning, a friend in Oakland called to check up on us and he generously offered to let us put some things into a storage unit he rents. What a bizarre concept. The things that we most want to save from burning up are the things we hold most dear, so why would we want to leave them in a storage unit 100 miles away in Oakland? They are the things we want to have close to us and the things we need to have ready for use every day. I don’t want the photo albums of my children in Oakland, and it would be impractical for Ron to put his insulin in a storage unit anywhere. I couldn’t even leave my beloved deep-dish, well-seasoned, cast iron frying pan as far away as my car in the garage. Actually, I put it in the car, and then I had to bring it back into the house to cook dinner.

We did a good job on the evening of our evacuation drill. We had quickly managed to get organized and ready to flee. We even had the cats in the house where I could find them. But then I suddenly realized that we were all packed up and had no idea where we were going to evacuate to. So I called a friend who lives in a neighborhood not in danger from the fires to ask if we could stay with her and her husband if we indeed had to leave. She said absolutely, and she would alert their young Salvadoran housemate, named Fidel Castro, that we might turn up during the night. All set. If our house burns up we’ll move in with Fidel Castro.

CODA. I invite you to read my reflection on living in Climate Change, “Dark Mountain vs. Hearts Possible” (posted in 2014). Here is the link to that post, in which I share my belief in the power of narrative to impact real events and the future, even in the face of Global Warming. In case the stories we tell manifest the future we live, it’s a good idea to tell hopeful stories that promote positive outcomes, don’t you think?

I had planned to attach a photo of the burnt up landscape East of Highway 101 near my house, 
but then I decided enough images of devastation and ruin already.
 Instead I want to share a photo of my extraordinary, tall, luminous, purple purple delphiniums. 
I am grateful that my yard has not burned up so far.
(Photo by Ron Reed.)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Refugees Again

I wore my vintage bright pink New El Salvador Today (NEST) T-shirt from the 1980s to the Families Belong Together demo at the ICE Detention Center in Richmond on June 30. The shirt still fits me, but T-shirts are made of super-stretchy material so it’s not the same as, say, still fitting into my wedding dress. My NEST shirt would fit an adolescent rhinoceros. However, I did not wear it as a fashion statement (and no species of adolescent creature, rhino or otherwise, would likely deign to wear such outdated attire). I never wear the shirt, and no one knows what it means anymore. NEST folded decades ago. Once, when my fashionista daughter saw me wearing my NEST shirt, she exclaimed in horror, “Mom, you still have that shirt?” Her tone implied that I had broken every rule of wardrobe acceptability in the known universe (or at least in L.A.). Busted by the fashion police.

I wore my NEST shirt to the ICE Detention Center to remind myself of how many years I have been protesting this kind of injustice. I bought the shirt in 1985, when my synagogue collaborated with NEST to aid and harbor Salvadoran refugees fleeing the violence of the Death Squads, a situation to which U.S. interests largely contributed for financial gain. We also helped Guatemalans and other Central Americans whose home communities were destroyed by U.S. imperialistic corporate interests, such as the Dole Food Company. Sidebar. Dole, originally founded as Castle & Cooke in 1851, also took a major role in colonizing Hawaii and enslaving indigenous people on the pineapple plantations. Never underestimate the nefarious hidden agenda of a pineapple, which may sting your mouth depending upon which part of it you eat. No doubt associated with an imperialist plot. Dole and other U.S. ag corporations have destroyed the soil in Central America to such a degree that it no longer supports the cultivation of edible plants, which means the impoverished people trying to live in this region who can’t afford to buy food also can’t grow it. Starvation is a strong incentive for relocation, particularly when combined with being pursued by a gang-member killer. The Central American refugees denied asylum and returned to their home country stand a good chance of being killed, same as those returned in 1985. It’s a no-brainer that people don’t choose to walk away from a beloved community and homeland, leaving their family behind and often enduring separation from their children, unless their lives are in peril and they have no other options. What part of this is so hard to understand? Should I do a Venn Diagram?

At the ICE Detention Center demo, a man stopped in his tracks when he saw my NEST shirt and said, “I have one of those shirts too. I worked for NEST.” I told him that when getting dressed that morning, it had been a toss-up for me between the NEST shirt and my Santa Rita Peace Camp shirt (from when I did nonviolent civil disobedience and got arrested protesting nuclear weapons at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1983). He burst out laughing. “I have a Santa Rita T-shirt too!” he informed me. “You went to Santa Rita Jail with the Livermore 1,000 in 1983?” I asked. Yes, he had. He and I seem to have frequented all the same places.

Santa Rita Peace Camp is another story from my years resisting the forces of destruction. In 1983, I joined approximately 1,000 demonstrators in blockading the entrance to Livermore National Lab, and we were arrested. Since nearby Santa Rita Jail couldn’t house 1,000 protesters, they separated the men from the women and put us into red-and-white striped event tents on the prison property. We refused to go to arraignment until the judge agreed to sentence us to community service instead of a fine (because a lot of the protesters couldn’t afford a fine). Refusing to go to arraignment meant non-cooperation, such as going limp, which would have required guards to drag people to the transport buses. Some of the women protesters went so far as to strip naked as another resistance tactic, because the predominantly male guards were at a loss about how to politely wrangle a naked woman onto a bus (where do you grab her?) while being filmed for the evening news, because TV crews came out in force to document this spectacle. While our lawyers negotiated the terms of our release with the judge, we held workshops, teach-ins, songfests, talent shows, trainings, meditation retreats, yoga classes, cooking shows, caber tosses, spelling bees, health fairs, car washes, Porta Potty decorating contests, and other entertaining and enlightening what-not in our striped tents at Santa Rita. Thus, an inside joke emerged as we referred to our incarceration as Santa Rita Peace Camp. After the authorities released us (with only community service and no fine), Livermore Action Group (the organizer of the demo) made up T-shirts with an image of the striped tents and the words “Santa Rita Peace Camp.” I still have mine. Apparently so does that man I met at the ICE Detention Center demo. From that time to this I have raised three children and become a grandma. Yet here we are again, still standing in opposition to injustice, inequality, planetary destruction, and general stupidity.

I opened up to that man, my kindred spirit, and said, “It’s hard to keep doing this, year after year, generation after generation, as I grow old. In the 1980s, when I was young, my synagogue harbored Central American refugees in our homes. A Salvadoran refugee and a Holocaust survivor gave testimony together in my living room while a group of refugee women made the most delicious eggnog from scratch in my kitchen. Honestly, in the 1960s, my Jewish parents harbored a Palestinian refugee from the Six-Day War in our home in the suburbs in upstate New York. And in the 1920s, my grandfather arrived in this country as a refugee, fleeing the persecution of the Jews in his native Poland. Much of his large family (my family) perished in the Holocaust. We Jews have wandered as refugees for thousands of years, dispersed across the earth in Diaspora going back to the days before the birth of Christ, who, when you get down to it, was also a refugee. This business of migration and fleeing an untenable living situation has been going on for thousands of years. Apparently humans have learned nothing from it. I am outraged and exasperated anew that I must live among such continuously unevolved people. The ranks of our government swell with toxic demon dinosaurs. Our species may as well crawl back into the slime because we still have the intelligence of a one-celled organism.

When will people get it? The planet is one. Boundaries, borders, fences, and walls are artificial dividers. Countries are fabricated geographical subdivisions. When a land becomes uninhabitable because of degradation of nature, resources, culture, and/or humanity, then the inhabitants must move to another location, whether part of their home country or not. That’s how it flows. Well-intentioned folks like to say “do unto others” and “treat others as your own” and “be compassionate and kind to the other, the stranger, for you were once a stranger, and you could be one again at any time.” This is “other” nonsense. I have to ask -- what other? There is no other. We are all us. We are the human family. So I struggle to contain my rage. I struggle to disperse my frustration and focus instead on sources of joy, wonder, and delight. When I feel like I might run screaming into the forest, I tell myself to remain calm. I tell myself (oh thank you dear J.K. Rowling), “The Death Eaters may have control of the Ministry, but we will continue to practice our magic, and one day we will wave our wands, wrest the Ministry from them, and set things to rights.”

Coda:  Last week Contra Costa County announced that they are severing ties with ICE and will not allow ICE to use the detention center in Richmond to house detainees. All detainees must be released on bail or moved within 120 days. Contra Costa County Sheriff Livingston cited the disruption and stress caused by recent demonstrations at the facility as a significant reason for this action (in particular the demo on June 30 attended by myself and approximately 1,000 other people). Egad, unbelievable, my voice was heard. Once the facility in Richmond is cleared of detainees, there will be no facility housing detainees in the SF Bay Area. Way to go NorCal. Imagine if all counties and all facilities in the country refused to participate in the ICE detention of refugees. Follow this link for an article in the SF Chronicle about Contra Costa County cancelling its contract with ICE.

Three generations of Wachspress women at the June 30 protest. 
My cousin Eric's daughter Megan and her baby girl with me there 
(our fists raised in the resistance sign). Photo by Nathan Naze.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Critters and Varmints

Let’s all step back for just one blasted moment to acknowledge that the critters who share our planet with us don’t necessarily deserve our unconditional affection, appreciation, and protection. Although I very much wish to preserve endangered species, I recognize that I might feel differently if preservation of elephants, sea turtles, whales, tigers, and polar bears was happening in my personal back yard. Fortunately it is not. So I continue to love elephants dearly, and the shrinking of their numbers breaks my heart; and I love whales, and it breaks my heart that they lose their way, beach, and die. But let me be clear that I do not love whatever is climbing and dismembering my fruit trees and kiwi vines at night. I feel quite sure that elephants and whales have not caused this destruction, although it looks like the work of large mammals of land or sea. My best guess is either raccoons or wild turkeys. I don’t think foxes climb trees, I am fairly certain that opossums don’t do this level of damage, and I think beavers live in ponds. I sincerely would not mind if whatever is doing this damage became extinct. This afternoon, in fact. I would never miss these creatures. If I ever become nostalgic for small creatures that decimate gardens, I will watch outdated whimsical Disney movies.

My cherry trees are still struggling to recover from the damage done to them by beasts last year. Now these beasts have returned to continue their evil work. They must have slouched out of DC, where the powers have barred mercy and compassion from the vocabulary in an effort to erase them. The beasts (in my back yard, not in DC) broke one cherry tree in half the other night. How fat can you get foraging fruit out of people’s yards? Some fat creature sat in that tree and took eight feet off its height. They have also destroyed both small and large branches on all three cherry trees. Plus, they trashed the kiwis to eat the blossoms. Blossoms! The kiwis had not even fruited. Obviously these critters recently completed the online Scott Pruitt Destroy-the-Planet course. They act no better than ignorant humans:  fouling the nest, destroying resources that would otherwise have lasted for centuries. I wouldn’t mind if the critters simply ate some of the cherries and left me a handful. I get it. We all love fruit. I don’t mind sharing, but they won’t share. The cherries weren’t even ripe. Unlike peaches or pears, cherries and kiwis can’t be harvested early and left out to ripen on the countertop. They don’t work that way. So I can’t even pick them early to have a few for myself. These satanic predators devoured unripe cherries.

I would even accept my fate as a hapless gardener if the beasts ate the fruit and left the trees intact. But no. They had to break the branches off. Seriously? To get at a handful of cherries? Ten years ago I planted a lovely little honey crisp apple tree, and during its first summer, some critter, probably a wild turkey with evil glittering eyes, parked a jeep on the top of that tree and broke it in half. It didn’t even have any fruit on it. It never recovered. Those wild turkeys need an intervention. Someone needs to point out to them that they are birds, not bears. My cherry trees look like a bear climbed in them. Whatever did this damage, raccoon or wild turkey or other, didn’t even have the decency to finish eating the cherries, but left many half-gnawed on the tree. This was not the work of ants or aphids. Ants and aphids don’t break off the branches. Honestly, if you think the story of Peter Rabbit is adorable and amusing, then you better have another think coming. Peter Rabbit is not a cute bunny. He’s the devil incarnate.

If you are a city dweller who has watched too many Looney Tunes, you might suggest that I should put up scarecrows. Let me school you about scarecrows. I once put scarecrows on my deck when I lived out on the land at the Ranch to keep the wild turkeys out of my flower barrels and my grape vines lacing overhead on lattice. I put scary Halloween masks on the scarecrows. One of those masks was so scary that I had to hide my eyes while I put it on the scarecrow and I had nightmares from looking at it between my fingers. The only one scared was me. The turkeys gleefully kicked the heads off those scarecrows and played soccer with them in the yard. Then they dug into the scarecrow bodies and pulled out the newspaper stuffing, after which they scratched up my flowers and herbs in the barrels. I tried playing the radio all night on a boom box out there because I read that noise would deter them. Hah. Not true. The turkeys brought sheet music to sing along, and it was all just karaoke after that. They pulled down the grape arbors while dancing with abandon and pooping industriously all over the deck. No bird should be allowed to formulate poop as big as turkey poop. Furthermore, wild turkeys cannot take a hint. One Thanksgiving we had a turkey roasting in the oven with the fragrant scent filling the house and wafting into the yard; and even so, a troupe of at least thirty oblivious wild turkeys sauntered past the kitchen window booping, pooping, and scratching up my plants. Wild turkeys are impervious, destructive, vicious, useless varmints, who have sold their souls to Satan, and I wish they would all be universally and instantaneously swallowed up by sink holes and melted down in the earth’s inner lava layers.

At least at my current residence, I rarely have to contend with the deer like I used to when I lived out on the land at the Ranch. The deer can’t get into my fenced back yard here, but they do roam the front like brainless alien zombie dead; and they came onto my front porch and chowed down on my hydrangeas before they could bloom. Who let deer on this planet? I don’t see their contribution. Even plants touted as “deer resistant” turn out to have been falsely advertised. It does no good to leave the label reading “deer resistant” on them because the useless varmints are illiterate.

Last winter I wanted to grow a cover crop of legumes in my back yard vegetable gardens. They are protected from the deer, however a mysterious vegetable predator chewed up the whole crop right down to the nub; ate all the leaves and gnawed the stem to nothing. I have no idea if it was an animal, bird, insect, rock,vegetable-seeking drone, flying cow, or velociraptor. I suspect it was something small that crept out of the soil (do mushrooms creep at night?), but nothing I did could deter it, whatever it was. Did you know that in one night a green hornworm can decimate a tomato plant lovingly cultivated from seed for months and months? If I had invented the planet, I would have made wild turkeys eat nothing but green hornworms. This seems obvious, and it’s the main reason I don’t believe in a god because no deity or immortal being could be this stupid and inefficient. Although, I will cede that perhaps I have overlooked the possibility that god is a hedgehog.

I recently attended a workshop about taking action to address climate change. It baffles me that humans have put so much energy into bringing the whole ecosystem crashing down on ourselves when we already face such an uphill battle surviving on the planet with so many inherent obstacles to overcome merely to eat and drink. Most humans operate under the assumption that we are the top species and this amorphous entity called “nature” exists to bend to our will, desires, and needs. Well, news flash. We have it all wrong; we are the bottom of the heap. The rest of nature is presently conspiring to vote us off the planet. And they will soon be successful. We think we are destroying the planet when in fact we are simply making it uninhabitable for human life, not all life. The trees and critters gleefully rejoice more with each passing day as our downfall approaches. They can’t wait for us to poison ourselves and vanish.

So I have a question for you wily, destructive raccoons, greedy leaf-eating insects, inane turkeys, and idiot deer:  Who will grow gardens for you when people are gone? Who will plant corn, which requires a person to cultivate it? You stupid wild turkeys have no idea how to grow corn. You stupid raccoons don’t get that kiwis are not indigenous to California and you guys don’t know how to build a boat to go to New Zealand to find a kiwi. You think you’re so smart, you raccoons, turkeys, and whatever else is trashing my yard, but you will live to regret you ever broke a branch from one of my cherry trees. I won’t live to see it. I’ll be extinct. But right now, right here, just you watch me laugh at the thought of you guys having to subsist on blackberries, acorns, and poison oak salads because you have no one to bring water to a summer garden or an orchard in heat-baked California. Enjoy having the planet all to yourselves, you idiots. Your gourmet buffet disappears when us humans make our exit.

This persistent and stupid raccoon was in the news this week for scaling a building in 
St. Paul. Eventually humans trapped the raccoon and released it in the wild. 
Fine with me so long as it doesn't turn up in my back yard.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Mail Forward

No one can put you in a fix like your kids. As if the business of modern life is not absurdly complicated to deal with already, my son found a surefire way to make it ridiculously more convoluted. While deciding where to land next, my son and daughter-in-law came to live with me for a couple of months. To their credit, they brought a brilliant baby grandson with them to entertain me, so I will forgive them pretty much anything. When they figured out their plan and the time came for them to relocate and settle into their new home in the promise of northern Oregon, my son conscientiously forwarded his mail with nary a thought to the fact that we share the same last name. Thus began my incredible journey into the center of the hair-pulling idiocy of the national postal service, and my descent down the rabbit hole of voicemail mazes, chat-line-robo-assistants, and incomprehensible outsourced call center help desk personnel (are they even trying to speak English?).

The day after my son went online to fill out the mail forwarding request, I received an email informing me that my mail would henceforth be sent to Oregon. I immediately did what any self-respecting mother would do and started screaming and hopping up and down like a Looney Tune. Then I composed myself and spoke to my son, who sheepishly realizing his error, promised to fix it immediately. He went online and reversed his request at the post office. Easy peasy. No way. It was too late, the button had been pressed, the missiles launched, and they could not be recalled, because the post office is a clueless imbecile of an agency incapable of understanding even the most basic concepts, such as “I do not live in Oregon.”

Not only did the post office send a large portion of my mail to Oregon, they also diligently stickered mail items and returned them to senders; and they sent individualized, earnest, mostly grammatically correct letters to entities with whom I do business to inform them in writing that my address had changed. These businesses believed them without even asking me for confirmation. The post office was as eager to impart what they perceived as a critical and inviolable fact as evangelical proselytizers. Religious fervor is tough to counter. When combined with bureaucracy, it’s steel-plated. Each week my son would put my mail into an envelope and send it to me in Cali, and then I would call, email, and write to all the misguided senders to correct the address. Life insurance. Car insurance. Credit card companies. Utility companies (you would think that if they were delivering utilities to a house in Cali they would question sending the bill to Oregon, but no, that makes too much sense). Health insurance. Doctor bills. Newspaper subscription. No sooner would I straighten things out than the post office would gleefully unravel all my efforts. My daughter-in-law spent over an hour on hold on a call to the post office in an attempt to straighten things out. After finally passing through the holy gate of being on hold, and finally speaking to a supervisor, she was assured that they would finally discontinue sending my mail to Oregon. As if.

My mail continued to be rerouted. Coyote the trickster laughed all night somewhere. I had to call my car insurance company four times to correct my address. It was like a Twilight Zone board game. I would call and fix the address, the post office would inform them I had moved, they would change the address to Oregon again, my mail would go to my son, and I would have to call the car insurance company again and tell them not to send my mail anywhere else unless they hear from me personally. I had to fix the life insurance three times. I had to fix many other accounts once. I’m still trying to fix the propane gas bill. The post office is apparently incapable of comprehending even basic concepts when spelled out. It’s a wonder that any mail actually winds up where it was intended at all.

I wanted my son to figure out how to fix it since he created the problem, but eventually I realized that I needed to take matters into my own hands. I would have to take a PowerPoint slideshow to my local post office to get them to fully understand the situation using visual comprehension assistance. Verbal and written communication had failed. Fortunately, it turned out to be easier than I had imagined. By some fluke of luck, the Postmaster General at my local post office has a reasonable level of intelligence. He was suitably outraged and after spending ten minutes in the back room on his computer he promised me he had fixed the problem and that from that moment onward they would no longer sticker anything, forward anything, or notify any senders of a change of address. He was true to his word. The post office is clearly not paying him enough. I hope they don’t send him to Oregon.

I was finally on the road to recovery, but there’s no accounting for the level of stupidity parading as bureaucratic paperwork out in the wide world. Although the post office kept their part of the bargain and stopped mis-delivering my mail or spreading rumors about my having moved to Oregon, it took some time for the fallout to dissipate. For instance, my credit union became confused about where I lived and so they didn’t send me a replacement credit card when mine expired. (You would think they would contact me to discuss this, but that approach is way to sensible.) I discovered the problem because I use that card for autopay on several accounts, including the thick-as-porridge car insurance people. So I got a notice in the mail from the car insurance (in Cali not Oregon, thank goodness) notifying me that my insurance would be cancelled if I didn’t provide them with a new expiration date for the credit card because it was about to expire. I couldn’t give them the new date because I didn’t have the new card. I had to go into my local credit union branch, verify my address, and have them issue my new credit card, which they printed up while I waited, which leads me to wonder what else they may be printing up in the back room.

Just when I thought it was safe, I went to the doctor, and the secretary asked me if I was on vacation since I lived in Oregon. I corrected my address and asked if it was OK to see the doctor or if I needed to make an appointment with a doctor in Oregon. At least I still had coverage. Several months before, my health insurance provider sent a notification that my premium was going up $12 a month, but it went astray in the mail debacle and I never got it so I failed to pay the higher premium. I discovered this when I received a notice at my correct address informing me that my health insurance was cancelled for nonpayment. They really wanted that extra $48 bad. We sorted that out. Don’t shortchange your health insurance provider. They lack adequate coping mechanisms and it’s not pretty when they throw a tantrum over a $12-a-month premium hike.

As of this writing, almost all of my mail is once again coming to my correct address. The New York Times, which has a reputation for intelligence to defend, can’t seem to work things out and even though they deliver the newspaper to my address here in Cali on Sundays and even though I am on autopay, they continue to mail a redundant paper bill to Oregon every month (go figure). Their website chat line is the most useless chat line I have ever encountered. I might as well be ordering burritos for all the relevant help it provides. And the burritos would be delivered to Oregon for sure. I have also tried on numerous occasions to get my propane gas company to process the notion that they should send my bills to the same address at which they deliver the propane gas. I have called, written, sent singing telegrams, emailed, flown a blimp, and hired a sky-writer to inform them that I live here in Cali where they bring me the gas. The propane people are impressively incapable of recognizing a fact if it sat on the hood of their car and knitted a sweater. I should not be surprised about this since my entire country has basically bailed on recognizing the differences between facts, truths, lies, fabrications, propaganda, manipulative language, bona fide news sources, memes, science, wishes, cover-ups, carburetors, scrambled eggs, and correct addresses.

But I completely forgive my son for creating this mess because, after all is said and done, he brought my baby grandson to live with me for two glorious months during a special time in that precious little boy’s first year. The time I spent with my baby boy was beyond value, as is every minute I spend with him whenever I see him. So it’s all good. I’m a lucky Safta (Hebrew for “grandma”) wherever I live. Now where is the New York Times with my burritos?