Buried Alive

Not unusual, this Tuesday. I hop on my bike and head downhill toward the vast indigo ocean with Maui shimmering across the channel, verdant rolling fields a parenthesis between me and the sea. I fondly regard the local dairy’s towering wooden silo alongside giant red and white windmills, revolving in rhythm to the crispy gust of tradewinds. On my ten mile cruise along Akoni Pule Highway, I try not to focus too much on the roadside garbage, but thoughts creep in unbidden. When was it we began to ignore this blatant insult to the landscape? When did we collectively decide that walking, cycling and driving amidst rubbish was an acceptable state of being? And more broadly now, when did we collude in the wholesale polluting of the planet?

I remember growing up in the 1950’s and ‘60’s; recall milk deliveries, ice cream trucks, the separate weekly groupings of glass, paper and household rubbish. Into present awareness jump newspaper drives in grammar school, mammoth bundles tied with string, awaiting collection. Competition for our scout troop, summer camp, church fundraisers blends with somatic recall of smog alerts, times we had to refrain from playing at recess because our lungs burned with acrid air.

I reminisce on struggling with President Kennedy’s fitness programs, for we were not conditioned before running long distances around a track, not encouraged to stretch before attempting records at the long jump. My lungs and muscles ached for days, not to mention incurring virtual heat stroke from the solar-saturated asphalt surrounding islands of sand and swings. A playground promising blessed relief from forced intellectual and behavioral incarceration could likewise conjure mirages on the most blistering of days. I remember square dancing, pergola lunches, endless spinning around monkey bars, tetherball and five cent lunch milk in paper cartons. Recall going steady with boys in the fifth grade, playing spin the bottle in the bushes at Hamilton Park. And yet try though I might, I cannot summon the existence of roadside trash. All the way through high school, I covered mile after mile to and from those halls of learning. I walked to school, Brownies, band, drill team and water polo practice, I walked to the store, to friends’ houses, I walked to avoid going home. And I am certain I would have remembered curbside litter, as I was raised in the suburbs yet educated in the natural world of canyons and mountains, of ocean, high and low desert, of fresh and salt water lakes.

It was somewhere between thirty years in the Maine woods and spending quality time with a dear friend in Boston that I ventured into that city for focused periods of time. And one of the most striking features of forays into these urban environs was the sheer volume of rubbish blowing about the streets. Strolling through Somerville with plastic, styrofoam and paper collecting around my ankles lent stark contrast to long stretches of trees, grasses and pristine shorelines of the north country. And yet this began a time, for me, of mentally recording the emergence of a refuse culture, either ignorant, ignominious or both, in breed. We had somehow, somewhere and at some point become overwhelmed with our non-biodegradable consumerist compost. We had somehow, somewhere, and at some time chosen to ignore it spilling out from our homes and into our roads, highways, and landscapes. We had mysteriously made the collective decision not to care if it did.

Today I took note of the following items tossed from car windows, blown from beds of trucks and moved mauka to makai – from mountain to ocean – by the ever-present trade winds of Kohala. Grasping for perspective, I could not help but wonder what if anything moves through the minds of those who discard these objects; I who swoon with guilt anytime I’ve cast banana or orange peels far out the car window and into the scrub of landscape. Part of me knows they are biodegradable while another part wonders what would happen if a thousand people performed this act at the same time. To wit: beer bottles, large and small – some smashed, others whole, a disposable diaper, wadded paper towels, a large black sock, clear plastic roofing scraps, an entire plate lunch wrapped first in styrofoam then tied securely in a white plastic bag, red plastic drawstring from a garbage bag, cds, a cardboard box, a full orange adopted highway plastic rubbish bag that somehow had been moved off the highway collection spot and into the bushes, a Gatorade bottle left over from the last Ironman race, a rubber marker for a baseball diamond, plastic drinking bottles of all sizes and colors, plastic and galvanized garbage can lids (some shredded by the county mower), innumerable plastic bags blowing around, stuck to barbed wire fences and caught on tree branches, assorted aluminum cans, a child’s large inflatable toy, balloon bodies, woven plastic covers to county sandbags, a child’s rubber slipper, cigarette boxes, a man’s XXL “Year of the Tiger” tee shirt covered in dirt but otherwise perfectly wearable, an automobile wheel cover, plastic floor mat and old garage sale signs, both plastic and cardboard.

This rubbish collects along Akoni Pule Highway, gateway to our lovely community as it winds through some of Hawaii’s most striking landscapes and terminates in the incomparable Pololu Valley overlook. I have cycled this highway since moving here a dozen years ago, and for all the cleanup that periodically transpires, there is ever a recurring impulse to junk it up again with the telltale signs of a culture gone made with consumerism, the same culture that ignores a middle aged woman in the cashier’s line in front of me two days ago carting no fewer than ten well boxed and styrofoamed lights, requesting that each be securely stowed in its own brown and orange plastic Home Depot bag.

 

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I’d Rather Be Bitten

It’s a scurrilous affair to be the target of an assault upon our humanity. Judgments, condemnation and criticisms all aim to reduce our opinions of ourselves, and are often successful in altering how others view us as well. We may well learn best through adversity, but none of us likes feeling attacked. It perpetuates suffering on both sides of the defenseless/defensive coin, especially when it’s of the insidious variety. That’s how the term backstabbing doubtless came into being, this feeling of being assaulted from behind where we can’t view the perceived enemy. And it’s a coward’s way out, this character assassination. It may temporarily grant the accuser a sense of superiority, but of one thing we can be certain; if we observe another engaging in this practice, it’s only a matter of time before they place us squarely in their sights.

I grew up with some fairly critical people, and would venture to say that years of habituation brought this trait out in me. I was an extremely sensitive child in a chaotic environment, and did not receive much guidance in handling the world with equanimity. And though I did garner some fundamental truths which would later prove beneficial, the chasm between what was practiced and what was preached was too vast for my child’s mind to bridge. Only later with age, experience and my own inevitable mistakes in parenting was I able to put the past into greater perspective. It’s still a process at midlife, so I suspect some lessons are deeper than mere conditioning.

As a teenager, I bolstered my fragile sense of self by finding fault with someone I thought better looking than I was, smarter, more talented or popular. Even if I shared these thoughts with no one else, a sense of smugness enveloped me like the proverbial warm fuzzy blanket. Eventually though, and it wasn’t too long in coming, that wrap felt suffocating. To something more decent inside of me, it just felt wrong. Hacking others down did not fill me up, nor did it give me any genuine or lasting sense of self worth. In fact it lent nothing of these attributes, it only carved a hole in my soul.

It has taken many years to rout the poison of criticism from my core. Like standing before a polished mirror, the presence of truth reflects back anything unlike itself. In this space, I am able to experience an up-swelling of compassion for the child that was me and for all the confused children in the world, trying as best they can to survive and thrive in adverse circumstances. Thus my ruminations extend to the child that lives within every adult, and it is easy to experience forgiveness and unconditional love, both for myself as well as for our deeply flawed yet simply human race.

 

Her World on a String

I once knew a woman who kept her world on the shortest leash imaginable. This overstuffed orb consisted of all she felt she could control and nothing she could not. It must have been mind bending trying to keep all the plates spinning in the air, for if one crashed to the ground, it would be over. All or nothing. And nothing scared the bejeezus out of her.

On the flip side, nothing is what I strive for; nobody wrangling for attention around my ankles anymore, no mental mice racing on the cerebral hamster wheel, little obstructing my view, no plans most days. I seek nothing like a teen intent upon a scavenger hunt but instead of discovering an old leather shoe or a vinyl record hidden in the crotch of a lichen-encrusted oak tree, I discover solace, blessed quiet, welcome respite from nervous natterings over nothing. Instead of din, I crave a steaming beverage and good companionship. If I cannot sit with a kindred soul with whom I can empathically discuss world events, philosophical leanings and the beauty of what last surprised us in nature, I’d rather be still.

The longer I live, the more I crave quality in daily interactions. The wordlessness of dogs is preferable to that of gossip; the serenity of sitting across the room from my beloved intent on reading grants the mind ease in a world fraught with tumult and chaos. A lack of dissonance soothes the cilia of ears overwrought with the thrum of existence. The overworked fist of my heart craves slack time, a free-flowing whoosh of blood through capillaries like and unlike the fast-forward aerials of headlights on busy freeways. It’s why I live as I do, in the naked blackness of star-struck oblivion; in the endless blue where sky meets sea.

The tintinnabulation of a city’s bustle and hum, metal against glass, hammers on asphalt grant me little rest. At the end of the day my mind cannot cease its grasping, try though I might to engender calm. I don’t wonder at the plague of urban insomnia, for it was not all that long ago our ancestors matched movements with spade hitting soil, watching sun coming up over frosty fields spiked with the husks of dying crops. Before that we roamed seeking food and shelter, a surplus of idle time not likely contemplated, much less craved. Technology has brought, among other things, a promise of release. Machines doing what used to gobble up time have now become our obsession in and of themselves. In the place of honoring silence, we fill every nook and cranny with sound and sight and substance. We fashion a world that then needs orchestrating in its complexity. Ancient genes thrill to the hunt, and we rise to the challenge. To simplify seems unthinkable. The body breaks under the pressure but we drive on, ignoring subtle cues.

I knew my friend was tired. You could see it in her drawn expression, the dullness that veiled the light in her eyes. Some of us are doers and some of us of necessity must simply be. And in holding the balance necessary to a world steeped in paradox, I left her to meet the Beyond with an unspoken whisper of gratitude just inside my lips; for the path I have chosen. For the choices I remain free to make.

Composer

Communication is composition,
ideally orchestrated if fortuitous enough
to grasp one another by our carefully
chosen words;

Yet too often in bright headlamps
of passing thought trains, we stand
transfixed, unable to move forward
or back, confused and confounded,
misconstrued meaning having wrung us
flat through slight inflection, unintended
direction; our own mind grasping
that tempting baton and running directly
to the finish, team long forgotten,
striding solo in self imposed isolation,
owing sadly to misinformation.

Quench

Drip, drip, drip, the rains come
and drop from the ends of ti leaves
scorched yellow by ceaseless sun
even during this Hawaiian winter
while the rest of the country lies
deeply buried in drifts of snow
or snarled in turbulence
of another sort;

Drip, drip, drip and I count precious
beads of moisture, one per second,
and reflect how it is that by morning
the ground will be soaked through,
roots nourished, new growth pushing
out from centers of petioles;

One drop per second, 86,400 in a day,
and if the rain can manage it,
we might well take its lead
and spread love, one act
of kindness at a time, moment
by moment, day upon day in
this parched and thirsty world.

For Jim

What is the lens through which we view another?
What color and hue, are they sister or brother?
Do we place them in boxes without really thinking
of sorrows and pleasures, the history winking
from under the furrows, aside from the layers
the total and sum of the person, not player;
To see them as how we would most likely wish
to be thought of, not pent in or judged
on or dished;

The circle is cast and who knows by what hand,
the scheme of our lives is thus simple or grand,
but these too are but fabrication and frail,
and are easily worn thin when piercing the veil
of illusion that obviates once we wax old
and cannot pretend to be cut from the fold
of the cloth that enshrouds each as death
draws us nigh, no longer the tailor or tinker
or spy; but merely a human as everyone is,
with hopes dashed and dreams and
the unfinished biz;

While the living continue the dance, as it were,
now without us to ponder, confront or infer,
and the wise ones among us reflect, as we must,
on a fragile existence wrapped up in a husk.

~ on the death of a dear friend last Saturday