The Good Sense God Gave a Goose

My brother Gene recently emailed me, noting that I like to “be politically active.” His concern was the “chemtrails” conspiracy. He says it will ensure that I won’t live long enough to collect the Social Security I’ve paid into for half a century.

Another thing to be politically active about?! My sibling doesn’t know I write political columns, constantly pester members of congress, visit Corey Gardner’s Grand Junction office and regularly donate to environmental organizations and candidates for office.

Some weeks I feel I’m running around like a chicken with its head cut off — frantically trying to keep vultures in Washington from killing off what I like best about my life and our country. I’m tormented over the widening gap between rich and poor, attacks on public education, denial of science, separation of church and state, racism, health care, upcoming attacks on the “entitlements” of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, mass extinction of species, global warming …

Despair is my worst enemy. I lived through the riots, fires, assassinations and impeachment in the 1970s. Hard as it was to have Ken Burn’s “Vietnam” series bring back the visceral memory of those times, I have to say that these days are darker still.

I don’t know about chemtrails. My brother has delivered earnest lectures about Area 51 and Anunnaki aliens who re-engineered our DNA so that humans would mine gold for them. One might say those insights, plus his military secrecy clearance (he’s a retired Navy submariner) might give him insight into chemtrails? Hmm. Gene thinks this conspiracy is connected to HAARP, the government’s High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. While manipulating weather for defense purposes via HAARP, the government is damaging the environment. Life on earth now has seven years to survive …

I’m not usually a conspiracy theorist, but I do think that the current GOP is working to dismantle the health care system, void “entitlements” we have paid for, shred the social safety net, decimate science and environmental protections … and along with that, threaten the survival of most of my favorite species, humans among them.

Personally, I’m not going down without a fight.

Getting out into nature helps revive my spirit. Sometimes, outdoors, when I hear Canadian geese flying close and calling overhead, I’m reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”:

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile, the world goes on…
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.

As I walk along, I practice gratitude: How fortunate I am to occupy my niche in the family of things, and to be in this place especially. I have never gone hungry. I got a good education. I’m healthy enough to enjoy this glorious day. I live in a blessed spot. In the United States. In Colorado. In the Roaring Fork Valley.

As I trundle along, listening to Canada geese honking overhead, I reflect on the good sense God gave geese. While flying in a V, each goose creates uplift for the goose behind it. By drafting, like bike racers, the flock achieves a 71 percent greater flying range than one bird alone would have. Honking geese aren’t whining “are we there yet?” They’re encouraging their leaders to keep up the good work. And when the lead goose tires, it rotates back into formation. Another goose flies to the point position.

These are the lessons of community — good to remember in these dark and perilous times.

Often, on my rambles, I’ll meet a neighbor: Carbondale photographer Julie Albrecht on her bike, carrying munchies to the goats we visit. Basalt arborist Kim Bock nursing the cottonwoods. Glenwood yogi and piano teacher Annig Agemian Raley spreading peace and cheer.

Seems I can’t go anywhere in the Roaring Fork Valley anonymously. I always bump into someone I’m glad to see, so glad I feel a rush of joy on encountering them. If I were a goose, I’d honk out loud.

Although none of us, individually, gets out of this world alive, I want the family of things to survive. So I’m grateful to be held in concentric rings of community, to be in formation with others who will be there for the long flight.

Published in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, December 29, 2017

Seeking Higher Ground: Not more Christmas carols!

A confession: I hate Christmas carols.

Well, maybe not all of them.

Christmas music gets piped into every retail store, airport and bus station beginning six weeks before Christmas. The onslaught now begins before Thanksgiving. So each year, I must endure five or six weeks of music I was totally sick of from the get-go.

If I never hear “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” again, it will be too soon. My friend Steve Barrell heard that one while visiting his mom in assisted living and Steve’s sister got quite huffy. She thought it was inappropriate for frail people with walkers.

Steve lives in California, so he’s probably safe from attacking reindeer. They don’t have enough snow for Santa’s sleigh. Like us, they’re just dreaming of a white Christmas.

“Santa Baby” is another one I could do without. Our Sopris Sun editor Will Grandbois thinks “it’s disturbingly adult given its addressee.” Personally, I’m miffed about this song. Both because Santa is married, for goodness sake, and because the singer is so mercenary. She’s not as sacrilegious as Janis Joplin was in asking the Lord for a Mercedes Benz, but she’s not as funny either.

That’s the other big gripe I have about Christmas music. It’s the soundtrack for the Grinches who really have stolen Christmas — the hucksters. I’m already cranky about the commercialization of everything from clothing to magazines to parks and stadiums. I won’t buy any clothes with the brand on the outside; my body is not for rent as a billboard and I’m certainly not offering it up as free ad space! I won’t read magazines that are mostly advertising. And I resent having the nation’s high holiday highjacked in the name of convincing us all to buy yet more stuff we don’t need.

Woe betide those who work retail during the holidays! They are held hostage to endless of repetitions of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Why? Because psychologists who study retail have proven that Christmas music, combined with holiday scents, will increase both the time shoppers spend in stores and their buying intentions. Merchandisers are subtly scheming to get you to come home with five golden rings, four calling cards, three French wines, two boxes of turtle chocolate and a partridge in a pear tree.

Perhaps the reason I’m such a Grinch is that I’m over-exposed. A. C. Nielsen reports that about 70 percent of the public likes Christmas music. But the number who consider themselves actual “fans” declines with age. Nielsen’s 2017 holiday music audience report states that’s 36 percent of millennials are holiday music fans, compared to 31 percent of Generation X and only 25 percent of baby boomers.

As a boomer, I have already consumed more than six decades of carols. During my teenage years, I often had no option other than AM radio, which, even in the 1970s, was offering a steady diet of singing Chipmunks (released in 1963), dogs barking Jingle Bells (1955) and Bing Crosby (1942) interminably dreaming of a white Christmas. My love of ice-skating has contributed to over-exposure; as a thrice-a-week figure-skating student and a twice-a-week figure-skating teacher, I have spent countless hours on the ice trapped under poor-quality PA systems blaring Christmas music.

Luckily for me, I hear too poorly to make out the lyrics to what my friend Claire Lewis calls “the rappy, moany just-need-you-in-bed for Christmas” songs.

Unluckily, the words for dozens of Christmas carols have been indelibly grooved into my memory. They’ve become permanent earbugs, evil as the insect that Ricardo Montalban dropped into Pavel Checkov’s ear in “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.”

Lest you think that I’m a total Scrooge, there are a few carols I actually do like: “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” written by Johan Sebastian Bach in 1733. “Good King Wenceslas,” which was published in 1853, setting lyrics to a Finish tune that dates back to the 1500s. (Wenceslas was a 10th century Bohemian King.) And “Riu, Riu, Chiu,” a medieval Spanish villancico. It was preserved in a collection of madrigals published in Venice in 1556 and was probably written in Catalonia. (Yeah, I’m old, but not quite that old.)

In addition to being ancient and classical, these carols share something more. They celebrate things the season really should be about: reverence, joy, generosity and faith. I’m not a Christian, but I appreciate those virtues, as do millions who honor other faiths around the globe.

And on that note, let me wish you a glorious holiday season with another carol that I like, one that just makes me feel happy. As Jose Feliciano sang it: “Feliz Navidad – prospero ano y felicidad. I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas, from the bottom of my heart.”

Published in the Sopris Sun, December 13, 2017