“Nature and Hubris”

The ancient Greeks understood something about humans and named the quality “hubris.” In its simplest sense it means overwhelming self-confidence. I have been reflecting on that watching fires, floods, droughts and other natural events happening across the United States.

I grew up with tales of Bayocean, pictured on the left at its demise. In the early 1900’s a developer put a whole seaside community on a sand spit, drawing vacationers from inland Oregon to the Pacific coast. It washed away. Later, supposedly wiser developers built houses on another sand spit pictured in the center photo. As you can see, they weren’t as wise as they supposed. Finally, on the right is a current photo of a large “ocean front” beach house on the Oregon coast. I suspect they didn’t intend to be this close to the ocean.

Some facts of nature are persistent. Cliffs erode. Deserts lack water. High hot winds blow from the east to the west of California every year. The oceans are rising. Bears live in the woods. Alligators live in swamps. Nonetheless builders keep enticing people to build homes as if these realities didn’t exist. And people keep buying the homes. Houses fall into the ocean. Even getting rid of water intensive plants can’t change the fact that one lives in the desert, soon too hot to support life. Fires burn down water starved plants taking homes with them. Seaside homes regularly flood. Bears break into houses. Alligators eat little dogs.

And we act surprised. The Greeks didn’t have a monopoly on hubris.

 

“Yikes! T.M.I.”

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I read widely, including American history and literary fiction. But I also enjoy quick “beach reads,” books with covers like the one above. The photo usually has beach chairs, beaches, flowers or little cottages pictured. I can be sure to read a formulaic story about a man and a woman with various barriers keeping them apart, usually failed earlier relationships. In the end, or in later books in a series, I can count on a peaceful resolution.I picked up the book pictured above which displayed every indication of being such a book. Sometimes these quick romantic comedies help me fall peacefully asleep. (American history can put me to sleep also. That’s why I read it sitting up!)

When my daughters were teenagers I learned the phrase “TMI” or too much information. Of course the phrase was tossed around freely when I tried to relate my teenage angst to theirs. But the phrase came roaring back to me a few chapters into Mallery’s book. Suddenly I was being confronted with very specific, very graphic details of the man and woman getting together. Yikes! TMI! Why on earth was this included in this book? Did some editor think this would attract more readers? If so, readers looking for these details would be unlikely to choose a book with the flowery cover.

I am well aware of the specifics of physical connection.(I am trying to avoid using any words which would be searchable and attract readers looking for such topics.) I have never wanted to either read about other peoples’ behavior or witness it in a movie. My imagination and memories far surpass watching or reading about others.

I guess I need a rating symbol for my beach reads from now on.

 

“October Swan Song”

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My husband planted some fall crocus bulbs, and they bloomed this week. I love the contrast they make with the fallen leaves, the pine straw and the fading stalks of the day lilies. In the foreground of the photo you can see two little holes in the pine straw. These were made by squirrels who went around after he planted bulbs, dug them up and ate them. These bulbs were reputed to be squirrel resistant, but no one remembered to alert the squirrels.

The leaves are mostly down now and the town is ready for its annual leaf collection. Any leaves piled on the curb are sucked up by the town’s large vacuum hoses and taken to the dump where they are made into compost. My husband embarks on his annual leaf collection also. We have very few leaves of our own, so he takes ones from the neighbors to chop up and use as mulch. His steadfast habit of leaf chopping accounts for the rich soil which  produces my splendid annuals. The pine straw he brings home from the neighborhood leaches into the soil around the azaleas bushes, enabling them to thrive.

I have stocked up on candy ready for the parade of kids likely to come to our door for trick-or-treating on Halloween night. I enjoy the costumes on the little ones and their delight of taking a piece of candy. They unfailingly say thank you, often on their own or after a gentle parental reminder.

Saturday night we return to standard time. It will be dark at 4:30 and my husband will reluctantly head into the house to read and plan for next year’s garden. The year turns cold and dark for a while. But it is spring somewhere. Probably where some of you live. Enjoy the increasing daylight!

“Finally Settled”

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Recently I received a postcard in the mail worth “$5.03 towards the purchase of any StarKist product.” Here that is the equivalent of about three and a half tins of canned tuna fish such as pictured above. I couldn’t remember why I was sent this coupon, so I looked up the lawsuit that was being settled in this manner.

A number of years ago, some consumers sued StarKist accusing them of putting less than the stated weight of tuna in each can. I must admit it had never occurred to me to study the contents of the tin, so rushed was I to add mayonnaise and make a sandwich. But apparently someone with more free time had determined a consistent shortage of fish. When the cheated consumer went to a law firm, the lawyers must have quickly realized they had a real “catch” on their hands. After all, many Americans eat StarKist and most likely had also been shortchanged. Class action lawsuit in the making thought the legal team.

You may have seen television ads urging you to contact a law firm if you have used some medicine or had some surgical procedure or worked with asbestos. They want you to join in a class action lawsuit because “millions and millions of dollars have been set aside to reimburse people.” In the StarKist case, twelve million dollars was settled upon. Four million of this went to the legal team. The other eight million was divided among everyone who had filled out a claim form on line that they had bought StarKist. I must have filed a claim that way, “lured” by the promise of big money.

$5.03. Not bad for a grievance I didn’t even know I had.

“Salt-Free and More”

I have restricted my sodium intake for many years since it helped lower my blood pressure. My husband had not needed to do that until very recently, and he was fairly oblivious of the sodium in various foods. For the first time his blood pressure rose and I reminded him that his mother had been quite salt sensitive in her later years, so he probably was also. He immediately began to study the labels of the snacks he loves and learned how sodium rich they were. Of course they were very tasty! He was able to substitute many low sodium alternatives for his favorites, but one solution escaped him.

My husband loves a big breakfast, cooked by himself, devoured on the weekend with the New York Times open before him. For years this has meant orange juice, milk, bacon and eggs. He reluctantly gave up bacon, but he wanted to keep his eggs. Sadly, his eggs had always been liberally salted. He said, “What these eggs need is salt. Maybe ketchup!” I had to gently break it to him that ketchup was salt heavy. But Penzey Spice company makes a salt-free blend called Arizona Dreaming which has restored tasty eggs to his breakfast. It combines all sorts of spices, including several chilies, peppers, onion and garlic. Problem solved.

Penzey Spices has been much in the news lately because the owner Bill makes his politics known. He believes that cooking brings people together and that everyone around the world shares a love of good food. He vocally and financially opposes any moves to separate people, whether through walls, raids, or legislation. It’s his company; he can spend his own money as he sees fit. A concerted effort to boycott Penzey’s seems to have backfired. The more people attack his politics, the more others flock to his stores.

I go there for the salt-free seasonings. But I rejoice that he encourages people coming together instead of apart. His bumper stickers, such as the one above, promote love and hope. And at the checkout he stocks badges that say “I will vote 11/3/2020.” Thanks Bill.

“Mindfully Distracted?”

Sometimes I am struck with one of the deep ironies of contemporary American life. Everywhere I go, people are talking on their cell phones while they are walking, sitting at a bus stop or sitting with friends at a restaurant. Whole families eat together with each member texting away. We are bombarded with ads urging us to not drive distracted. Still all around I see drivers texting and driving. Once I saw a man in the adjacent lane talking on the phone with one hand and eating with the other. Since he only had two hands, guess how he was steering. With his knee! I hurried quickly past before he landed in my path.

Meanwhile everywhere I go I am told the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness supposedly improves schools, work places, and home lives. Mindfulness teaches a person, as far as I understand it, to be in the present moment. Classes, retreats, guides and experiences are available, for a fee, to teach you to be mindful.

Herein lies the irony. People who are spending hours of their lives removed from the present moment by their focus on electronic devices are now going to workshops to teach them how to be in the moment. I offer my no fee suggestions. Hang up the phone. Look around. Enjoy your surroundings. Without any further training you can find yourself present!

“That time of year thou mayst…”

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That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold.
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

I grew up among evergreen Douglas fir trees which, as their name implies, stay green year round. So when I read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, I had only an idea of what he meant by the opening lines. Yesterday when I looked out the back door at the variety of trees, the poem came immediately to mind. There I saw one tree completely bare of leaves, one with some hanging on, and a large maple in various stages of color change from green to orange, red and yellow.

Only seeing New England fall colors in magazine photographs, I somehow gained the erroneous idea that trees all changed color in some kind of lockstep. Living here I realize that it is possible to frame a picture so that several trees in the same degree of change align, but that is not how the landscape actually looks. In fact what I enjoy most these days is to look across a street and see all the leaves’ colors intermixing with each other. Most amusing are the trees which have changed color on just one side or just the top.

Of course looking at the backs of my fellow parishioners’ heads at Mass I can see the same phenomenon. Some have white hair, some grey, some salt and pepper, some brown still. Some have luxurious manes, some thinning hair, some large bald patches. Many of us, like the trees, are in the autumn of our years. A lovely time for a tree and a person, no doubt, but still tinged with some sadness.

As Shakespeare says at the end of the sonnet,

This love perceiv’st which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.