Sunday, April 26, 2015

What goes around comes around

The Columbia Earth Day celebration was rained out last week. Seems fitting, in a way.
Rain is the epitome of recycling: Raindrop to stream, stream to ocean, ocean to cloud, cloud back to raindrop. Repeat for a million years or so.

Earth Day is very special to me. I was a freshman in college in 1970 when θ -- the Greek letter theta – began appearing on bumper stickers and posters. Theta on a green field was the new symbol for ecology, which itself was a term that never made it into my textbooks.

By April, I was wearing the symbol myself and part of the organizing team for Earth Day 1 at Shasta College in my hometown, Redding, CA. I have seldom felt so proud as when I carried the giant θ-emblazoned flag as we marched through downtown.

I tell that story to my students now and their eyes roll. Few know what “Earth Day” means – nor do they care. I suppose I should be upset, but I’m strangely pleased. Their ambivalence means that hippie-haired gaggle of protesters in 1970 succeeded. We changed the world.

Earth Day did not arise to promote hemp seed, belly dancing and henna tattoos. It came on the heels of warnings by Rachel Carson, Paul Ehrlich and others that we might not make it to our dotage unless we started taking care of our world.

In my hometown, the lumber mills burned their waste in huge “teepee burners,” which likely were not as bad as the noxious clouds from the burning garbage dump. Clear Creek, near my home, was anything but and lined by 20-foot-high rows of gravel left behind by the dredges that plowed the valley for gold nuggets.

The national picture was bleaker. I remember my eyes burned and I hacked up brown gook while visiting Los Angeles. The Potomac in our capital was known as the river you could smell before seeing. Bald eagles were fantasy creatures – on the verge of extinction from the effects of DDT pesticide.

So we marched. Better yet, we voted. And year by year, life not only went on, it got better.

Now my students watch bald eagles glide over the Missouri River, put their cans in city-provided recycling bags and think DDT is a rap group. Blissfully.

And Earth Day? Just a rain delay. The anger was mostly gone, replaced by gardeners, solar panel salesmen and kids with face paint. But you can’t keep a good movement down.

Like a raindrop.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Have fun, but I get Mom back

Dear Gillian,

Oh, to be in Portland right now. Not just to give you a big hug or to tussle with Evie and Briton. But also to be on the receiving end of a knowing glance from your Mom.

I’m not jealous, but I do miss Cecile when she is on the road. The house seems too quiet when the only foot treads are the clicking of Greta’s paws. Watching television alone makes me feel guilty that I’m not doing something worthwhile. I cook for myself, but it is less fun when no one else enjoys the flavors. 

Her company is lucky to have such a talented, considerate and loyal executive who is also willing to fly across the country for it. But we are doubly lucky when work takes her close enough to gather those hugs and kisses in Portland.

And I become a horrible slob.

When Cecile is here, I really try to clean up after myself and do my share of housework. But when there is no one around to please, it is all to easy to say “I’ll pick that up later” or “That pan isn’t that dirty.”

Within a few days, our tidy house looks like a guy’s dorm room.

Before it smells like a dorm room, however, the Ghost of All Nagging Mothers Past visits me – almost always late at night. I crash around snatching up piles of plates, discarded T-shirts and the detritus of temporary bachelorhood. I mutter to myself and swear on a stack of two-day-old newspapers that I’ll be neater next time. But that’s more like wishful thinking than a vow.

Thank goodness we have Hannah come on Fridays to do the real cleaning. Your Mom usually gets back late enough that I can take credit for the sparkling countertops.

Hannah’s vacuum may lack its usual magic this week, though. Mom gets to enjoy finding Easter eggs with the kids, so I will have Saturday and Sunday to resist the mess-making temptation. Focus Clyde, focus.

I really should have this down pat by now. Being apart has been a regular part of our married life. Our jobs take us wherever our expertise is needed, so one of us is traveling every few weeks. It was more traumatic at first because communications were so limited. We had to meter out our expensive long-distance phone calls and tuck notes into suitcases for want of text messaging.

Now we keep in touch throughout the day with little notes that pop up on our iPhones even if we are in meetings. Email takes care of the longer messages. And each evening we call each other before going to bed – or even do a Facetime video conference.

But all the technology in the world cannot replace the one you love. I thank my lucky stars that I can be lonely. Only a heart that is shared can feel emptiness; only hearts reunited can fully understand the power of love.

Give Mom a big hug for me tonight. Watch for that special twinkle in her eyes and the dimples that make you as happy as she is. Make cookies and make memories. And please take care of her.

Her next trip is back to me.