Save The Whales – Beyond Darwin ©

By Shinazy

whalesToday is a winter day.  At noon the temperature is minus 20*F (- 20*).  It’s white in every direction; even the water is white, covered in a sheet of ice.  Except for a hole that contains 12 Killer Whales who are trapped, land locked, separated from food and their journey south.  Separated from their life cycle.  This most recent save-an-animal news is happening in an ice field off the coast of Inukjuak, Quebec, where the 1,500 residents plead for the world to help, while their government assesses the situation.  The situation gets colder every day and the hole gets smaller.

Because the Canadian government is not getting involved, the question seems to be, Who Should?  For some folks there’s another question: Should We?

One way to view this Save-The-Whales movement is the Darwin approach:  Survival of the Fittest. “If they got themselves into this situation, they should get themselves out.”  I heard this argument when Humphrey the humpback whale wandered into the San Francisco Bay and was unable to find his way back to the ocean.  After weeks in the bay’s fresh water Humphrey was doomed to never have baby whales.

Yes, this would be one way to handle the situation.

However, we humans, being at the top of the food chain with the biggest ‘hearts’ would not let Humphrey become a Darwin statistic.  The world watched and the locals acted.  After many attempts, using various methods, Humphrey was finally lured out of the bay.  It was our big brain and bigger empathy that decided using humpback whales feeding sounds would get the recuse job done.  And, it did.  Saving Humphrey became a somewhat regular event.  Over the next few years he developed a habit of making a left-hand turn on his way south.  But, we were always there to guide him back.

Several years later, another Humpback became tangled in crab traps off the Farallone Islands, again near San Francisco, California.  This time it was obvious that we, our behavior, was the cause.  This time there was no talk of Darwin.  The course of action was clear:  We were responsible, so we needed to save the whale.

whalesToday, with these 12 stranded whales, we are faced with a situation that is less clear.

Is it our actions, our global behavior resulting from our need to consume, to produce, to industrialize, causing the ice sheets to change?  Or, is this a group of whales with faulty GPS genes?

Do we interfere with the Darwin path or do we attempt to save?  The world continues to watch.

photos by kythpryn and shinazy

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Why I Write ©

Why Steven Benjamin writes

writeI could start by telling you my name and its meaning, or to go into the history of the ancient tribe of Benjamin – the smallest one in Israel, once exiled and almost wiped out.  Then again I could go into their subsequent sea voyages, the links to Spain and the Spanish Armada, or perhaps the routes across the Atlantic taking portions of the tribe’s descendants to places within Latin America or St Helena Island, and thence the African shores.

Of course I could just tell you tales of my extended family; including an unsolved murder, and then enforced divisions under apartheid.  I could tell you how two tragic events over forty years ago resulted in my two grandmothers bumping into each other in a hospital corridor, an event that formed part of what brought two families together…

I could tell of the discreet and strange conversation my father had with my mother – before they got married – a conversation that largely defined their marriage.  Then there were the two times I recall seeing my father cry – for two very different reasons.

I could tell you of how I, as a young boy along with my sisters, was insulated from many terrible things… it’s why I’m privileged to say I have no sad story to tell involving apartheid as the main villain.  I do remember my country’s first democratic elections though, in 1994.  My eldest sister was put in charge of us while my parents went to vote – they stood in line in the rain for a few hours, but came home smiling and laughing.

I remember the humped road, a favourite amongst my siblings and me. It’s one of the roads between my grandparent’s old houses.  Many years ago, before my time, it was just a series of sand dunes, until they laid a stretch of tarmac over them; you know, encroaching suburbia.

writeAll four of us crammed into the back seat, when we were all still small enough to fit.  My dad would accelerate every time we hit each dip, and then cruise over the tops of the “humps”.  We’d get that funny feeling in our tummy, “butterflies” – my mom used to call it; the first and the last humps were always the best … And that car: leather seats, digital dashboard interface, 2.8 Litre straight six, fuel injection, cruise control – my father’s dream car – and yes, it drove like a dream… that car, it was simply ahead of its time, a 1986 model… like me, except, I sometimes feel like I was born in the wrong era, well, sometimes…

I come from a storied past… so writing comes naturally and I’ve realized I won’t be able to live without it, no matter what other job I take on, in fact, everything else will merely feed my urge and inspiration.  I tend to look at the world like that – what experience can be gained, what can be used as material… sometimes I need to remind myself:  “Just relax. Live a little!”  I’ll get time for that, later.  Right now though, I’m in the phase of ‘sowing seeds’ …

photos by alancleaver and dhwright

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A Very Merry Christmas ©

A Christmas story by Will Jones

christmasOn July 18, 1983, I made this entry on the first page of a new spiral notebook: I started training for the Central Coast Marathon.  The race is in December.  Running a marathon had been a goal of mine for many years.  My wife and I were celebrating our second anniversary, she was pregnant, and the baby was due in December.  What better time and what better motivation would I ever have to put in the work necessary to run twenty-six miles?  After all, wasn’t my wife training for a marathon of her own, giving birth?  I dedicated my training to Melinda and our future child, and I maintained a thorough journal all the way through to two great events: completion of my first marathon on December 18th, and the birth of our son on December 21st.

Thirty-five at the time, I was managing a small restaurant and coaching a women’s softball team in a local recreational league.  I worked long hours and it was a struggle sometimes to stay true to my training, especially on the weekends when increasingly long runs were scheduled.  My goal was to run eight-minute miles and finish the race in three hours and thirty minutes.  There was no way I could accomplish that goal without rigorous preparation, so, despite the devil on my shoulder tempting me to skip a day or stay in bed on Sunday morning, I usually came close to my weekly mileage totals.

As I trained I ran in local races from 10 K’s to a half marathon, matching my goals in most of them.  But it’s journal entries like this one that kept me going: Felt the baby move in Melinda’s belly this morning.  Not much, but enough to bring home the realization of what’s going on.  My wife is a wonderful woman. What a fine baby we’re going to have!

On race day I lined up early in the morning with a couple hundred other brave souls, some of whom were friends.  On instructions from me, when the gun went off a friend in the crowd shouted “Slow down, Jones!” and I quickly relaxed into the pace I hoped to maintain.  Detailing the thoughts and challenges I experienced during the race are for another BOBB post.  I crossed the finish line in three hours and twenty six minutes, met there by Melinda in her red maternity top.  We embraced for a long time.

christmasThree days later our son was born.  A long labor ended in a caesarean, so my family didn’t come home until Christmas Eve.  By then I had decorated a tree in our small apartment, and that night, to give Melinda a break a slept on the couch with our boy on my chest.  The next morning I dressed him in a red sleeper, and when Melinda came out of the bedroom she found him in his baby seat under the tree.  Twenty-nine years later, it’s still the best Christmas morning of all.

photo by Walt Stoneburner and Tammy Lewis

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Thank you Norman Rockwell ©

Do You Remember Your Small Triumphs as Norman Rockwell Paintings?                   by Travis Burchart

norman rockwellAs newlyweds, my wife and I purchased a small house built in the 1940s. The house had a bay window that looked out to the south, and below the window, the dark, hard earth suggested the beginnings of a garden.  We planted ivy where there was nothing, and as the ivy grew, we guided the long tendrils to the porch.  Eventually, the ivy lifted itself and twisted into the iron works, where it curled upwards to the roof.  Our entrance, when we finally moved, looked like an English garden.

At the time, training ivy how to climb felt ordinary and mundane, but I now remember it in bright, dare I say inventive, detail.  The small acts and struggles that define the phases of our lives life can be captivating in retrospect.  Though mundane at the time, I often remember these moments as overly tinted slices of Americana.

It’s truly difficult to describe how I see these small moments.  I might describe them as having a painted quality, things I remember as truth, yet which are accented by colors too bright and illustrations too detailed.  Apparently, Norman Rockwell has set up shop in my head.

norman rockwellAnother small moment occurred during our first winter in the house.  To celebrate Christmas, my wife dreamed of icicle lights, the kind that hangs down in various lengths, suggesting a freeze of electricity running jagged along the roof.  The house pre-dated external outlets so I didn’t have a power source.  The solution was a small plug-in attached to a light bulb base, which I screwed into our porch light’s socket.  That Christmas (and all to follow), the porch remained dark, but strands of icicle lights illuminated the rooftop. It was a small struggle, but it helped define our first Christmas together.

While it might not be accurate, I remember planting the ivy backlit by downy sunshine.  And I envision that first Christmas through the absence of porch light, the silver moon tinting my breath as I climbed the ladder to hang lights.  Again, my recollection is doubtful, but I appreciate my memory for painting these minor moments in major colors.

Thank you Norman Rockwell.

photos by jojakeman & shinazy

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Sugar Cookies, Our Christmas Tradition ©

How sugar cookies became a Christmas tradition for Tammy Lewis

sugar cookiesAs Christmas quickly draws near, I am inundated by a myriad of memories from my childhood.  In particular, I remember that every year, a few days prior to Christmas Eve, my dad would come home with last-minute presents to be wrapped, assorted sparkling colors of wrapping paper, and various foods for Christmas dinner.  He would park it all on the dining room table for my mother to unpack and put away.

I was 10 years old when a few days before Christmas Eve, I helped my mom unpack Dad’s latest last-minute purchases.  It was then that I noticed and realized that every year without fail, my dad would bring home bags of oranges and tangerines, bags of nuts in their shells, a tin of old fashioned hard candy, and last but not least, a box of powdered sugar cookies.  I thought nothing of my discovery and mentally filed it away.

When I turned 17, my grandmother (Dad’s mother) came to visit.  One day I overheard her discussing with my mom about hard times that she had endured in her past.  She said that one Christmas was especially poor, and she and my grandfather had no money to spend on Christmas presents.  To her surprise, a few days before Christmas Eve, neighbors stopped in for a visit.

sugar cookiesWith them, they brought gifts of oranges and tangerines, assorted nuts for shelling, a canister of hard candy, and powdered sugar cookies.  She was so humbled and overcome with gratitude.  Because of the neighbors’ kindness, she was able to provide treats for my dad and uncle.

As I overheard the conversation, I immediately knew that was the reason behind my dad’s last-minute purchases of the same food items.  A thoughtful visit and gift from neighbors turned to a long-lasting memory for my dad, and in turn, he made it a tradition to provide the same treats for his children.

While I may not have children of my own, my nephews and nieces are near and dear to me.  Just a few years ago, I relayed to them the story I overheard my grandmother tell about the oranges and nuts.  Now every year as Christmas approaches, they gently remind me to make sure I remember the most important purchases of the season: bags of oranges and tangerines, nuts for shelling, old fashioned hard candy, and finally, yet importantly, powdered sugar cookies.

For my grandparents, my father and uncle, I have made sure their Christmas tradition remains alive and will be passed onto future generations.

 photos by buchesandbits and sutherlandviolin

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Quiet Escape ©

A quiet moment with Shinazy

It’s quiet.  The first winter storm just passed but the sky holds onto its grey while the redwood needles pretend that the raindrops continue to fall.  I’m in Butano, a coastal mountain hamlet, only minutes away from San Francisco.  There’s no sense of civilization here.  No motor sounds, no whirr of industry or consumption.

quietThe rain has stopped long enough for the worms and bugs to wiggle onto the bed of decomposing brown and green.  On the edge of my vision a flutter of wings – birds seeing their evening meal.  They scurry to swallow before their neighbor.  It looks like dancing; some wild choreographed stomping of tiny Irish River Dancers.

In this dense forest a crow or black bird or raven sounds the coming of Goliath.  On cue the tiny dancers stop, heads still until some unspoken note signals them to zoom away.  How is it that there are no head-on collisions?  The damp ground is now empty.

I hear it coming, breaking the quiet – the caw loudens.  Like the landing of a jet fighter the crow is on the ground, a centennial guarding the nude dirt.  But he must hear something my human ears do not because he suddenly starts to drill holes.  Is he finding the retreating bugs and worms?

The false tree rain stops and now the branches are light enough for the breeze to move them, a new sound to pause the silence.  I can actually hear the tones the difference leaves make as they rustle against each other.

The sun must be setting.  The sky is still the same pale grey, but the distant trees are black.  And the nothingness approaches.  I can no longer distinguish one redwood from another.  I can only see the autumn colors of the Manzanita that grows near the porch.  Night is coming.  Even the crow is gone.  quiet

I’m here to escape the never-ending din of the city.  I felt my ears and mind were always being assaulted.  I needed to reconnect with nature.  In this quiet I hear … something: my thoughts, time, imaginary sounds.  I only know life with noise, so in this stillness I hear what may not be there.

Evening is settling.

The next storm is coming – new sounds for me to hear while I escape into the quiet.

photo by shinazy and luchilu

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Coffee Breath: What It’s Good For ©

Sweet remembrances with coffee by Travis Burchart

coffeeI love coffee!  I drink boatloads of coffee – literally, I fill a canoe with gallons of Sumatra and guzzle it down.  Of course, my over indulgence comes with a price.  My teeth are stained the yellow of fall leaves.  I don’t sleep well, which leads to another side effect – infomercial addiction at 2:00 in the morning.  My blood pressure isn’t just high – it’s altitudinal.  And, of course, my mouth gives off a rather “Starbuckish” stench.

Stench or not, there is a positive to coffee breath.  You might ask: What possible positive could come from having the potent breath of Colombian coffee farmer, Juan Valdez?   I might answer: In this curse of the coffee – this breath of the Java dragon – therein lies a memory.

When I was in middle school, the bus stop was no more than a five-minute walk from my house.  However, every morning, my father offered to drive me to the bus stop on his way to work.  Every morning – a one-minute drive to save me a five-minute walk.  But in this one-minute drive – a single minute amongst 1440 other minutes each day – I strengthened my bond with my father.  It meant something to me that he wanted to drive me, and it meant something to him to drive.  Not the type of man to openly say “I love you,” this was his way of verbalizing how he felt.

And, of course, he had strong coffee breath.

coffeeSo for one minute each day, I experienced both my father’s affection and the remnants of his morning Folgers.  I remember it all vividly – the wine colored interior of his Bonneville, the fog of my breath if the car was too cold, the stop sign where he pulled to the curb and told me to have a great day.  And it’s all held together by the smell of his breath.

It’s definitely not a Hallmark Card –  “I remember your breath. Happy Father’s Day” –  but more often than not, it’s the little things that help us to remember.  Halitosis may be the bane of dentists everywhere, but for some, it’s good for recalling the moments that are important.

photo by mdid & shinazy

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Card Catalogue ©

The Only Thing That Kept Us from Being Omnipotent Was the Card Catalogue System

Remembering the card catalogue with Travis Burchart

catalogueThis chilly morning, my son wanted to take his hot chocolate to school.  Because transit equals spillage, I poured his drink in a thermal container but one that had a hard plastic straw connected to the lid.

“I thought it was bad to drink hot liquids through a straw,” he said.

“What?” I answered. “Never heard that.”

“I’ll check the internet,” he said as he ran to the computer.  His parting shot, before he sprinted out of the kitchen – “All questions of the universe can be answered on the internet.”

There was a time when all questions of the universe were subject to deep digging, the kind that got dirt under your nails and often discouraged you to the point of failure.  As a kid, there was no computer in the family room, no magic stream of knowledge that fell under the command of searchable word fragments or the point-and-click of a magic Google button.

When I was a kid1, the questions of the universe were subject to a multistep and often demanding process:

Step 1: Get a ride to the library (assuming you were too poor to own all 30 volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica).

Step 2: Once at the library, go to the card catalogue cabinets and thumb through the rows and rows of yellowing file cards.

Step 3: Find your book‘s file card and write its call number on a scrap of paper.

Step 4: Explore the library’s jungle of shelves and book spines until you finally find and match the call number.

Step 5: Worst case scenario – the information you need is on microfiche. Go find the film and decipher the mystery known as the microfiche reader.

So many steps, to the point that many mysteries were left unanswered.  I just didn’t have the time or patience to answer them all.  But maybe that was part of the higher plan, that knowledge would be difficult in order to keep us (me) more human and less omnipotent.

Things have changed.  Nowadays, knowledge is literally at our fingertips.  For my son, the mysteries of the universe are easy.  For him, it’s a simple process to know that drinking hot drinks from a straw increases the risk of mouth and tongue burns.

[1] I now sound like my father, who used to always say, “When I was a kid, I had to walk two miles through a foot of snow …” He said this for everything – the bus stop, the doctor, baseball practice. 

photo by kyz

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Baseball Dreams ©

A baseball story by Will Jones

baseballI still gasp with joy when I first glimpse the emerald beauty of a big league baseball field.  It is such a reliable payoff after the trip to the park, mingling with the fans in their hometown apparel converging on the turnstiles, walking into the dark corridors that echo with the nearly operatic voices of the vendors hawking programs, searching for level and section, culminating in the thrill of seeing that perfect green vision, taking in all the pre-game spectacle.  Baseball: in my family and neighborhood, being a baseball fan was very nearly a law, like growing up Catholic and never talking back to a nun.

In the 50’s and 60’s I attended games at Connie Mack Stadium, a creaky old double bleacher relic with billboards on the left field roof and a wall in right not unlike Fenway Park’s Green Monster.  The Phillies were mostly dreadful, and more often than not majestic home runs hit over the roof and into the darkness were hit by opposing players like Hank Aaron or Willie Mays.  There was a brief run of success in the mid-sixties, best remembered for an epic collapse in the last ten games of the 1964 season.  Forty-eight years later I still remember the pain of that failure.  The Phillies were my baseball team.  The Phillies had thrown away a chance to play in the World Series.

The seventies and eighties were a dismal time for baseball stadiums.  A succession of cookie cutter circles with no character dotted the baseball landscape.  Take away the names and the particular locations, and there was almost nothing to distinguish one from the other.  baseballSure there was still Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth built, and the two old parks, Wrigley and Fenway, that had seen nothing but failure for decades.  It wasn’t until the 90’s and the turn of the century that imagination and individuality came back to big league ball parks, now, ironically, frequently cursed with bloodless corporate names.

As I write this, the World Series is set to begin San Francisco and Detroit, two great baseball cities.  Avid fans, young and old, are dreaming like children on Christmas Eve about going to the ballpark to watch their teams play, and, hopefully, win.  On the immaculate fields new heroes will be born and old heroes will inexplicably fail in ways painful and disturbing to watch.  And when the crowd leaves and the lights go out on the emerald brilliance, dreams and memories will linger in the air above the baseball stadium like the ghosts of hopes, teams and players past.  Baseball, more than a pastime; it’s a passion.

photo by nerolives & will jones

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Alien Attack at Local Safeway! ©

Encountering an alien with Len Hodgeman       

alienI had stopped at my local Safeway on the way home to pick up a few things for dinner.  But it wasn’t very “Safe” that day. Coming out of the store, I was accosted by an alien.

Honestly, he looked like any other typical five-year old.  Bowl-cut blonde hair, striped jersey, jeans and scuffed sneakers.  He looked at me with piercing blue eyes, freckles and a Grand Canyon grin, standing boldly in the middle of the sidewalk.  He told me, rather matter-of-factly, and very convincingly, “I am an Alien From Another Planet.”

He had what appeared to be a thin stick in his hand, though I had a suspicion it may have been a disguised ray gun.  There was a dark-haired boy next to him with a Saint Christopher pendant around his neck, who also waved his stick towards me.  “And I am a Dragon Slayer,” he exclaimed.  “Are you a Golden Dragon?”

I think the ray gun must have worked, or the Dragon Slayer’s stick was really a magic wand a la Harry Potter.  I was frozen in place for some reason, completely unable to move.

Lucky for me, the sound of a car door slamming nearby also had a magical effect.  Suddenly I could move my head.  I turned toward the sound to see this attractive young woman—In her early twenties I’d say–looking at me curiously and perhaps a bit protectively.  Was she too an alien, or perhaps a sorceress?

No, I thought, she must have been one of the boys’ mom.  I met her gaze bravely and smiled.  “So, he’s an alien from another planet?”

“Apparently”, she replied with a conspiratorial grin.  “Today anyway.  Last week he was Abraham Lincoln.  Ran around freeing all the slaves in the neighborhood.”

Just then both boys pointed their sticks towards me.  The Alien From Another Planet made a soft sizzling sound–tsssst-psst, though it may have come from the ray gun, and the Dragon Slayer solemnly exclaimed “Animagicus … Planetarium.”

There was no question what needed to happen next.  I clutched at my chest and made a loud gurgling sound.  My face contorted in pain and horror—eyes round and my mouth wide open.

I dropped to me knees on the sidewalk.  Ouch, that hurt.  But it was well worth the look on their young faces.   A look of wonder, grateful complicity and absolute delight, tinged with just the slightest hint of doubt and absolutely real concern.

As I crumpled to the ground and the groceries spilled out onto the sidewalk, I closed my eyes in respect.

I too, many years ago, was once a Space Alien, a Dragon Slayer, a Cop and a Robber, a Cowboy and an Indian.

photo by connor vicki

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