Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Flashback: Louisiana: Sabine National Wildlife Refuge

For no particular reason, I am drawn to this flashback of Louisiana's Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, which I visited twice, once in 2014 and again in 2015.

I wrote three articles about Sabine, and this 2015 piece was the last of the three, and with links to the previous two.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana: Late Spring Visit

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

Poo-yai! Those are some blood-thirsty yellow flies at the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge! I first experienced these varmints when I visited the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge in July 2014 here and here.

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

On this year's visit, my group of visitors and I saw an alligator, a turtle nest, various engrossing (hahaha! "Engrossing," get it?) carcasses, many examples of poop, and birds. And the yellow flies.

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

A slideshow here:

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge

Monday, July 1, 2019

Word of the Year 2019: Action: Escaping Despair

Benson Sculpture Garden. Loveland, Colorado. May 2016.

It seems unreasonable to confess the despair that pulls me out to the deep water sometimes, like a riptide; hard to escape, easy to drown in.

Benson Sculpture Garden. Loveland, Colorado. May 2016.

After all, I have sufficient food, clothing, and shelter, income, and a general expectation of predictability in what will happen in my life tomorrow and the day after, inshallah. I am healthy. 

"Long Walk," by Shonto Begayl. Bosque Redondo Memorial, New Mexico. September 2013.

Fortunately, the despair hits only sporadically.

"Long Walk," by C Ortiz. Bosque Redondo Memorial, New Mexico. September 2013.

What is almost a constant, though, is this new-to-me chronic anxiety that pulses as it sips at my thought life, a surreptitious leech.

Child of slavery, by Woodrow Nash. Slavery Museum, Whitney Plantation, Louisiana. March 2015.

Have I grown more sensitive to caffeine? Not eating enough kale? Eating too much wheat? A part of the natural aging process? Maybe I'm dehydrated? Am I yoga-deficient? Delayed reaction to vaccines of my childhood?

No. I know from my research into and delivery of burnout and stress management seminars that we, as humans, tend to deny, discount, and dismiss the contributing factors, the extent, and the effects that prolonged stress has on our mental, emotional, and physical health.

"Coming Home," by Rod Moorehead. Slavery Museum, Whitney Plantation, Louisiana. March 2015.

There are those among us in the United States - some of our own family members, neighbors, colleagues, faith leaders - who want to justify crimes against humanity, both domestic and international. These folks want to blame the women, men, and children who seek to rescue themselves from danger, who want to claim their unalienable rights to liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness.

Dia de los Muertos, Mesilla, Las Cruces, New Mexico. November 2012.

The Americans who stand at the bridge and block escape or who actively hunt down children, men, and children to imprison or expel them, or who criminalize people who are using their good sense and courage to save themselves and their children from untenable conditions .... these Americans think their actions affect only those they block, grab, detain, or expel.

The Wall, Columbus, NM-Puerto Palomas, MX. April 2013.

But these actions by our fellow Americans are toxic clouds that rain poison upon all life, including themselves, their mates, their children.

These actions change us, whether we are perpetrators, collaborators, bystanders, or upstanders.

So. Sometimes I get pulled into despair.

Action is necessary to escape despair and to alleviate chronic anxiety

The riptide model

I borrow from this fine video on riptides, which offers a summary about surviving a rip current:
  1. Stay calm. 
  2. Conserve energy. "If you attempt to fight the current, you will just expend all your energy and strength. Which will lead to tragic consequences."
  3. Just relax and go with the flow. (Note: In the context of these dark days, I translate this as it being my role to walk alongside those who suffer - not to "save" or "solve," but to take actions as an ally to support others' self-determination.) 
  4. Keep afloat, weigh your options, and don't exhaust yourself.

"The 187," by Carlos Flores, Chamizal National Monument, El Paso, Texas. October 2016.

Remember my place

It is an action of mindset to honor others' self-determination and self-rescue. It fixes my role.

In El Paso, I learned from a group of Catholic sisters that:

As sisters (they said):

  • It is our job to go where no one else wants to go and do what no one else wants to do.
  • We work on the margins.
  • We try to live as though there is no border. Those of us who can cross, should cross and behave as if there is no border.
  • We need to tell the stories to those people in the country who don't have the privilege to live here, on the border.
  • It's not important to [the mothers at the Santo NiƱo Project] that we solve a problem; it's important that we accompany them

Recently, I received this open letter from the IFCLA in St. Louis. It came on a day of despair. Excerpts from the text:
I know that many of you are worried, scared, angry, confused, and eager to take action in light of all of the news and information circulating regarding threats of increased immigration enforcement. .....

It is important that we actively work together against the fear and hatred that are already traumatizing our communities. ....We must not contribute to fear, panic, chaos, or trauma. We must remember that immigrants and their families are the ones who should make decisions for their own lives. Whatever those decisions may be, as allies, accomplices and people of faith and good will, we are called to honor their integrity and liberty in ways that are supportive, respectful, and selfless. This is how we honor the dignity of all, especially in times where our own drive to be saviors, fixers, helpers and healers can misshape our good intentions into harmful impacts.

In the St. Louis region during the last several decades, immigration enforcement has not stopped, waned, or ceased to impact immigrants and their families, loved ones, colleagues and friends on a daily basis. Raids are not new. Targeting immigrant families is not new. Threatening massive deportations is not new. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is present in St. Louis, in Missouri and in Illinois. Local police regularly collaborate with and facilitate immigration enforcement in our region every single day. The latest flurry of public statements, news articles and social media turmoil regarding the Administration’s call for mass deportations in the coming days may be indicative of a new wave of enforcement operations in select cities, but this is a continuation of everything we have been fighting against for decades .....

..... Please be prepared to show up, support, interrupt, and disrupt whatever may happen. .... make sure you are spreading accurate information about your rights and the rights of immigrants. Trust your relationships, trust your colleagues, and trust the individuals and organizations that are in deep relationships with immigrant communities in St. Louis. Trust that if there is a need and an opportunity for allies and accomplices to show up, you will be informed and instructed, and that call will be rooted in the needs and demands of our immigrant neighbors.

As we consistently have done for years, we still urge you to speak out against ICE, against all immigration enforcement, and all actions that violate our shared values. Please call your elected officials at all levels of government to denounce the targeting of immigrants and their families. Please call your members of Congress (210-702-3059) and demand they cut all funding from the Deportation Force. Please call the national office of ICE (888-907-6635) and denounce the Administration’s statements, any operation that would destroy families and individual lives in our communities. .....

Please do not spread fear. Please do not sensationalize tactics that are always present in our communities - regardless of when the news, the President, or other leaders speak of it directly. Stay the course, my friends. Our community needs our calm, non-anxious presence now and always. Our community needs you to commit to changing the systems every single day, not just at the moment of chaos.....

I read a quote from Scott Warren, in which he referred to "self-rescue." That the women, men, and children trekking into the United States are rescuing themselves from insupportable conditions at home. The moment I read this, it solidified further what the sisters and IFCLA say.

It confers full respect and dignity in the individuals and families making the best decisions they can based on the information and the resources they have on hand.

My bouts of despair and worry do nothing to serve others. To paraphrase a quote I hear via 12-step meetings:

"It's easier to act myself into new ways of thinking than to think myself into new ways of acting." 

Friday, June 7, 2019

Tucson, AZ: S'Early Sunrises

Sunrise, Tucson, Arizona. April 2019.

I don't know when I first noticed it, but. Damn. I get up wake up so early in Tucson.

Sunrise, Tucson, Arizona. April 2019.

When I first noticed this pattern, I figured I'd go back to my usual natural waking-up time of 6:00 or 6:30 after I acclimated to the time difference between here and Central Time, but no. I wake up at FIVE. Sometimes 4:30.

Sunrise, Tucson, Arizona. April 2019.

This morning, the sun rose in Tucson at 5:16 a.m. The rising business does not fuck around in Tucson. The sun is up and ready for business for the day.

The sun rose in St. Louis at 5:35 Central Time this morning. So it's not all that different from Tucson. But I didn't have this issue in St. Louis. Or El Paso. Or Lafayette. Or Opelousas. Or Alamogordo.

Maybe it's not the time so much as the fact that my bedroom window faces almost due east, and I have my blinds open to catch the breeze through my window screen. So the sunshine bounds in like a big ol' retriever pup, wanting to trounce on my bed.

 An entertaining conversation here: Phoenix: The City of Early Risers

Sometimes I do rise at 5 or 5:30, just to make coffee, and go back to bed for another half hour. But many times, I just get up for the day.

There are repercussions. I get up so early, then get sleepy during the day, and I go to bed early. Like super early. Think 9:00 p.m.

So far, my conclusion is that I don't like this getting-up-so-early business.

On the bright side (get it?), I do have the privilege of witnessing some spectacular rays.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Tucson, AZ: Sunset at Hacienda del Sol

Sunset, Hacienda del Sol, Tucson, Arizona. June 2019.

I climbed to Hacienda del Sol for a mood-elevating, compound prescription of: one sunset, one live music set, one glass of wine, my silence among the ambient conversation of others, and cool evening air on my skin and in my hair.

A video, featuring a cameo hummingbird visit:

What the terrace musician did to one of my top 10 favorite songs of all time - House of the Rising Sun - deserves jail time for his perversion of it. But perhaps one could say the same of my yellow-blown sunset photo at the top of this page. So. Live and let live.

Hacienda del Sol, Tucson, Arizona. June 2019.

Two pleasing memories emerged when I entered the premises. One was of the venerable Casa Santo Domingo in Antigua, Guatemala. The other was of the lakeside Lewi Resort (the "new new Lewi") in Awassa, Ethiopia. The flowers, the soft-lit niches for solo or coupled quiet spaces, the graceful curves of archways, the warm structural surfaces. Softscapes balancing hardscapes. Solicitous, but not too solicitous, staff.

Hacienda del Sol, Tucson, Arizona. June 2019.

If I visit Hacienda del Sol again, I'll seek a better view than the terrace, either at a window table in the restaurant or on the plush grass that is in front of the restaurant-bar entrance. That lawn looked very inviting for a bite or beverage.

Hacienda del Sol, Tucson, Arizona. June 2019.

Hacienda del Sol, Tucson, Arizona. June 2019.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Tucson, AZ: Sunset at Unity

Unity on Third Avenue and Grant, Tucson, Arizona. June 2019.

On Sunday evening, I examined the imposing sculpture on the corner of Third Avenue and Grant. Having driven past a number of times previously, it had struck me as a grand piece of public art on a prosaic bit of real estate in midtown Tucson.

Unity on Third Avenue and Grant, Tucson, Arizona. June 2019.

It's called Unity. The artists are Ben Olmstead and Simon Donovan.

Unity on Third Avenue and Grant, Tucson, Arizona. June 2019.

It was a lagniappe to investigate the art work as sunset approached. Whereas the moon adores El Paso and Juarez, the sun enjoys making flamboyant exits in Tucson.

Unity on Third Avenue and Grant, Tucson, Arizona. June 2019.

I admire Tucson for installing a beautiful - and large! - work of art along a rather ordinary stretch of street, but through which so much traffic flows.

Art that is accessible to most, irrespective of income, lifts all of our spirits. It walks our talk of the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.

Below is a slide show of more Unity photos:

Unity on Grant

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Flashback: Rootless Lit: The Devil's Highway

Near Antelope Wells port of entry, New Mexico. March 2013.

One of the reasons I chose Tucson as my tourist-in-residence this year is The Devil's Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea. I was still rooted when I read this book, but it planted a seed.

It is so especially difficult to read again, in today's shameful time, as refugees flee to the United States from Central America and other areas, about what it's like to die from thirst.

"Rootless lit" - Literature that speaks to travel, migration, displacement, exploration, discovery, transience, divesting of stuff, or portability. 

Rootless lit book review: The Devil's Highway: A True Story, by Luis Alberto Urrea

Credit: Amazon

This is the story of the desert passage immigrants make between Mexico and the U.S. Many die en route because of lack of water and the heat. More specifically, it is the story of the Yuma 14, (Washington Post, Thursday, May 24, 2001, by Giovanna Dell'orto) when fourteen men from one group died in 2001.

There were parts of this book, especially at the end, where it was painful to read. Mr. Urrea described the final hours of the dead in vivid, personal detail. One description particularly stands out for its horrific sadness. A survivor reported: "One of the boys went crazy and started jumping up and down. He started screaming, 'Mama! Mama! I don't want to die!' He ran up to a big cactus and started smashing his face against it. I don't know what his name was." The boy was 16 years old.

About another who died, Mr. Urrea wrote: "Nobody knows the name of the man who took off all his clothes. It was madness, surely. He removed his slacks, folded them, and put them on the ground. Then he took off his underwear, laid it neatly on the pants. He removed his shirt and undershirt and squared them away with the pants. As if he didn't want to leave a mess. ...He lay on his back and stared into the sun until he died."

I like how Mr. Urrea spoke for the dead as they rode in their body bags in the air-conditioned hearses.

Mr. Urrea's description of the Border Patrol's activities seemed nuanced and even-handed to me. He offers thoughtful notes in the last chapter regarding the financial costs and benefits of undocumented migrants, of other violences perpetrated in and around the desert border.

It's difficult to describe Mr. Urrea's writing style other than to say it is personal, often in second person narrative. His portrayal of almost all of the players in the undocumented migration universe is empathetic. Exceptions are the drug gangsters and the coyotes they run, plus certain aspects of the Mexican government machine.

Whatever one's position on migration, this book forces the reader to acknowledge the immigrants' humanity. At least for a day or two.

Columbus - Puerto Palomas port of entry, New Mexico. April 2013.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Stuff: Goodbye, Georgia Towel

My Georgian towel. May 2019.

This towel looks homely, doesn't it? Colors dimmed and dull, threads worn, edges frayed? The colors, even when they were fresh, never fashionable?

It's not a soft towel, and that's why I favored it, because its ridged texture felt like a luxe exfoliating cloth on my skin after a shower. It's the towel of hearty Svans of the Caucasus Mountains.

I brought this towel back from Georgia, the result of a swap of towels with my hostess in Old Rustavi, Nely. I gave her one of my softer, thick towels in exchange for this thin, austere one, because I'd become so fond of it.

After eight happy years with my towel of the Caucasus, yesterday was the day that I cut it into rectangles so I could re-purpose it into cleaning rags.

I'll toss it away, bit by bit, after I distribute some of its Georgian DNA, accompanied by scouring powder or bleachy spray, over my kitchen and bathroom surfaces in the Sonoran Desert, far from the Black Sea.

An honorable end to its years of service to softer humanoid surfaces.

My Georgian towel. May 2019.