A DEI Altenative

This post is just a plug for a four day online conference put together by Counterweight Support. Counterweight was created to fill a need for support for people trapped in schools or workplaces where rigid social justice jargon is enforced. It offers videos and resources (including real humans) to help people who have other points of view survive in these difficult situations.

Find the Conference information here: https://cw.heysummit.com

Lots of good speakers. For just $50 (I think) you can get a pass that enables you to access all of the speakers programs for a year after the event. Given that the schedule emanates from the UK, (i.e. 4:00 a.m. on the west coast!) I don’t expect to hear them all live!

A Different Point of View

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to listen to people who have a different point of view. Today, I offer links to two young black people whose perspectives I appreciate. Read/listen and offer some feedback if you like.

Chloe Valdary has an amazing life story which is worth learning about, but it’s her current work that impresses me. Read or listen to her interchange with Yascha Mount on his Persuasion website: https://www.persuasion.community/p/valdary#details

And/or listen to Coleman Hughes on Triggernometry. Both Chloe and Coleman are people who have forges their own path over the past few years, and I love hearing their thoughtful remarks.


Your Neighbors Are Not Fine

A week ago, I was on my way home from an appointment with my psychologist. Yes, I need therapy. And, not your business. In any event, I took light rail to Westlake, then walked up the hill from there. I met a friend in Freeway Park, we chatted a bit, then I decided to be brave and ask her a question I rarely ask people. 

Her husband died last winter, but I’ve seen her out and about in our retirement community since then, and she looks “fine.” By this, I mean that she is dressed as smartly as ever, seems always to have a destination in mind, and simply looks as she always has. But frankly, I’m curious about how people deal with the death of a spouse, so I asked her how she is with life alone. Without hesitating, she said, “I hate it. I really hate it.” 

“Wow,” I said, “I’m glad I asked because you always look fine, but I don’t know how you could be.” “No,” she said, “I really miss him. I miss the things we used to do together. Everyday, I miss him. I don’t like this at all.” 

Not an hour later, I was leaving the laundry room on our floor and bumped into another friend. I say friend, but in neither case was this someone I would call on for help. Yet, we are friendly to each other, and we chat from time to time. Again, I asked this friend how she was. “I’m finally starting to feel more like myself again,” she said. The last time I’d seen her, it was near noon, and she’d just gotten dressed and left her apartment, still looking a bit disheveled. This time, she was brighter and told me she’d started taking an antidepressant. A closer friend than I had told her she really seemed depressed and needed to get help. Fortunately, she trusted this friend enough that she followed through and did find help. She said the pills were kicking in, and she was doing better.

Those two encounters made me wonder how many other people I pass in the halls or see in the dining room or lounge each day are not “fine” no matter what they say. I rarely tell people when I’m down in the dumps, and I’m sure most of us are pretty good at passing for fine. So how is it that we can not see that some of us need more than a “Hi, how are you?” in passing. 

Many of the 500 residents here had friends or relatives living here when they moved in. We did not. Neither did the friend who was depressed. And we did not find it easy to make new friends here. Yes, there are plenty of activities that we can join in. We have exercise classes, speakers and programs, committees galore. (That is we did until Covid. We’re just starting to get back to a semblance of normal.) I’ve volunteered for a few things, but I haven’t made close friends from those ventures. I have one good new friend here. One. How many others are in the same boat? 

I’m not sure if there’s a fix for this conundrum. But I think we should ponder it. Residents who moved to Seattle to be near children or grandchildren still need friends here. Unlike college, when we were all looking for friends, not everyone here needs new friends. But those of us who do, don’t have an easy way of advertising that fact. And people who’ve moved in to join an existing cadre of friends or family don’t need to reach out. 

At the very least, I will try to be more attentive when I ask how people are doing. Perhaps I’ll follow up with another question or two and give them an opportunity to open up a bit if they choose to do so. And maybe I’ll open up a bit. Truth be told, I don’t always share much during down times when I could really use a friend, and I’m guessing others don’t either. So I will need to experiment. I’ll report back.

Stop Fearing Covid?

Is it time to stop fearing Covid? Rip off our masks and get some hugs? No one is really getting sick anymore, so let’s get back to normal.

Wrong. If you’re double-vaxxed and double boosted, you’re not going to die of Covid. You’re unlikely to wind up in a hospital. If you’re fortunate like us, you’ll test negative a week from when you first tested positive. But even mild Covid cases can still bring lingering effects. These might not qualify as Long Covid, but even post-Covid hives (yes, that would be me) can be annoying enough to make me regret our lapse in judgement that led to our trip to the ER and subsequent treatments. 

Hives? Yup. When your immune system ramps up, your body can ramp up masses of red blotches here, there, and everywhere. Extra doses of antihistamines are helping to keep the annoying itching to a level I can live with. But I’m not sure this is my only after-effect. My legs are reluctant to walk; waiting for the elevator is more tiring than it used to be. I’m just not sure I’ve fully recovered. 

I’m old enough that I can never tell why these things are happening. Is my body embarking on the long, slow winding down process that happens when people near 80? Is my mild case of Covid going to speed up that process? Will I be fine in another week? Time will tell.

You’ll see a lot of references to Long Covid if you’re following sites that have been tracking Covid since 2020. But I’m not at all sure that “the economy” has incorporated Long Covid into its planning. I heard an interview with the CEO of United Airlines recently; he said they’ve added 5% to the number of crew members they need to have available to avoid cancelling flights. That increase is due to people taking days off for acute Covid. But what if Long Covid reduces the pool of people who are employable at any point in time? Raising wages won’t make them healthy enough to return to work.

And what about health care? Today I read that our local trauma center is turning away new patients because people who could be discharged to skilled nursing facilities can’t leave because there are not enough beds out there. Is this because of inadequate pay (yes) or Covid (yes) or Long Covid (yes). There are lots of “Help Wanted” signs around, and if you’ve called a clinic and been put on hold, you’ll know there are severe staffing challenges in some sectors. Of course we need to pay more for workers who care for ailing elders. These jobs are often held by immigrants, and immigration has not been opened up after Trump’s restrictions. Why is that? But with or without new immigrants, wages for these workers are simply a disgrace. 

My rant is winding down, but the answer is yes, we still need to avoid Covid. Good luck on that score.

Why Do Farmers Hate Us City Folk?

Why do farmers hate us city folk so much? Why do they assume we are ignorant about how agriculture works? We’ve been to college, right? We know what’s happening with the climate. We know we have to reduce green house gas emissions. We know all the factors that are mucking up our atmosphere. We know agriculture has take its share of the pain required to get the world back to normal. 

Hmm. Well sometimes it’s easier to learn a lesson by going outside our own little yard and looking at things from a slightly different perspective. So today, I offer you one articulate, if somewhat foul-mouthed, Canadian farmer. He is upset with a plan coming down from on high (Ottowa) that would ask Canadian farmers to scale back their use of fertilizer. 

I think this guy is a great science communicator, i.e. a person who can explain complicated sciencey things to ordinary people in a way that might help us understand how policies can have unintended consequences. 

I offer you a complete degree in agriculture in just 13 minutes with Quick Dick McDick:

The Canadian Fertilizer Ban  

We Went To Church

We went to church last Sunday. While the rest of you were doing whatever you do on Sunday mornings, we were being dazzled by a service very reminiscent of how Orthodox services were in the old days. The Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Kodiak, is the oldest Orthodox community in the Americas. Founded in 1794, it no longer carries the “Russian Orthodox” designation; rather it is part of the Orthodox Church in America. The OCA was formed during the cold war in order to clearly separate the Russian churches here from the hierarchy in the Soviet Union. 

The Kodiak church is thriving. Picture a modest meeting room with at least 50 people milling around. In years past, men and women stood on separate sides of the church. Today, there was some separation. One man stood on the women’s side. Several women were on the men’s side, but they were with their husbands. (Yes, they were standing. A few folding chairs were along the sides and each side had a pew in the back, but most were standing.

Kids of all ages were milling around squealing, crawling, toddling, running around the adults, begging to be held, being handed from one adult to another, climbing upstairs and going in and out the front doors. Older kids tried to mind the younger kids with little success. As a teen, I tended the nursery in our prim, protestant church so as to keep these little distractions away from the serious business of the adults. But this chaos is the way it is still in many Orthodox services. 

White women mostly wore long dresses with their hair tied back with a scarf knotted behind their neck. Very Russian peasant style. Native women often didn’t have a scarf or long dress. Men looked perfectly normal, but there were lots with long beards and some with long hair. The service lasted two hours so adults took breaks now and then, going outside to visit on the lawn or use the social room in the basement. Kodiak has a seminary a few blocks away, so there were also several men dressed in monk attire. 

The service was in English, but honestly, it was hard to tell. Everything is sung or chanted except the sermon, so it was hard for me to understand it. Perhaps, if I attended regularly, I’d begin to catch on, but I’m not sure anyone cared what was being said. The interior, which is filled with icons, was also full of lighted candles ($2 to $500). All of the principal characters of the drama, and there were a lot of them – men, of course – were outfitted in green robes with gold trim. (I think the colors change for certain holidays). A wooden panel (iconostasis) separates the congregation from the secret work of the men in green. Only the priest can come and go through the center doors; all others must use side doors when coming and going to perform their various duties during the service. 

There was so much repetition and so much kissing of cheeks and icons, and swinging the incense, that it felt as though the record was stuck and someone needed to tap the needle to move on. A small choir, about 3-4 parishioners and monks, played an important role, exchanging parts with the priest throughout the service. The congregation chimed in occasionally with “Kyrie Eleison” (I always thought it meant Christ is Risen, but I looked it up and apparently it means Lord have Mercy), usually repeated three times. 

About 75 minutes into the service, the priest came out to deliver the sermon. Most of those who were standing immediately sat down on the floor. I’ve never seen this before, but maybe I never lasted long enough to get to the sermon. Nick thought the sermon was overly long. He has always said that he liked his father’s sermons, which were apparently shorter. This sermon was based on the scripture about Christ causing a blind man to see. (Must have faith!) But it went on with a tale about a venture to Monk’s Lagoon on a nearby island. The priest was taking a few dignitaries, but the water was too rough to land. He was hoping God would part the waves just long enough for them to get ashore, but it didn’t happen. However, they went to a calmer part of the island, got ashore, and wonderful things happened there. Moral: Maybe God has something better in store for you than whatever it is that you want.

Eventually, they got to communion, and I was shocked to see jugs of grape juice and small paper cups. People went to the priest, who held out a spoon, presumably with the blood of Christ. Did he drop a tiny bit onto their tongues? I couldn’t tell, but perhaps the grape juice and paper cups were a nod to the fact that Covid is still very present in the community. In the church of my youth, we never had wine for communion; it was always bread and grape juice and was strictly symbolic of the body and blood of Christ. 

After the sermon and communion, there were announcements, a lot of them. Some newborns are in the NICU in Anchorage, and a trip to Monk’s Lagoon is happening next week. The church in Kodiak houses the relics of St Herman, who lived at Monk’s Lagoon; the relics are a big deal to this parish. 

We had a few short conversations with people after the service. It really is a vibrant congregation, Anglo and native people both. One baby looked as though he might have a black father, but black people are not common here. There is, however, a Coast Guard Station with approximately 6000 people stationed here. That brings the total population to about 13,000. 

Other than church, we’ve driven all of the 100 miles of roads on the island. It is absolutely stunning. It looks like a tropical paradise, but much of the vegetation is deciduous, so it is quite different most of the year. We have had spectacular weather. Two cloudy days, but upper 50’s to upper 60’s everyday. We’ve turned in the car, so we’ll be walking to the museums in town and chatting with people until we bring some lovely Kodiak weather home with us on Thursday. 

Update: We actually won’t go the museums. On Monday, we both tested positive for Covid. We stood at the back and wore masks during the entire church service, so we likely didn’t spread it to anyone there. We probably caught the bug during an extended wait for our food in a local diner. We’ve been so cautious about eating out, but let our guard down in order to chat with a relative by marriage. We are not very sick, but this is still making hash of the end of our trip.

Catching Covid in Kodiak

We caught Covid in Kodiak. Yes, we did. We had an amazing trip. Kodiak is awesome. Go see for yourself.

But we did one stupid thing, and now we are both positive for Covid. We are back home, but quarantining in our apartment in our very careful retirement home. We’ve been ridiculously cautious all summer, including on our road trip to Wyoming, to the point that I’ve actually lost weight because of our caution about eating out. But we blew it all for breakfast at a very busy Kodiak cafe owned by a relative by marriage. Service was slow as a slug, but our coffee was refilled constantly, so our masks were off for a long time. We are fortunate because we have very mild cases, and we are old enough to qualify for both the anti-viral and the monoclonal antibody treatments that are available. I got one, he got the other.

We skipped the museums we had hoped to visit on the last two days of our trip. We took a long walk along the waterfront, lined with many seafood processing plants, and the walk about did me in. That was a surprise, so I will have to be careful when we can finally leave our apartment. Neither the doctor I saw, nor the doctor my husband saw even blinked when we said we had reservations to fly home Thursday. I’d been afraid they’d order us to stay put until we tested negative, but they didn’t.

People are just so casual about masks both in town and in the airport terminals. I estimate ten percent of people wear masks indoors. Same at SeaTac, Anchorage, and Kodiak, and on the planes. Oh, well. I’m guessing that most people who are not as much at risk of serious disease as we are, and who don’t get very sick, don’t even test to see if they have Covid anymore. We could have considered our cases to be mild colds – except that the cough I developed was not like other coughs I’ve had. Top of my throat, and it just felt different. So this variant just circulates, and life goes on. But occasionally, a seemingly healthy person of any age gets seriously ill or dies, but fewer than a couple of years ago; and we are all so tired of this virus, so apparently the number of people dying or settling in with Long Covid now is acceptable. 

Besides which, Monkeypox sounds much more exciting! Let’s move on to that. 

I Voted For One Incumbent

Whew! Hubby and I just voted our Washington State 2022 Primary Ballot. Our Senator, Patty Murray, is up for re-election. I’ve always voted for her in the past, but she has been our senator for decades, and that’s enough. We had a total of 17 other candidates to choose from in our Top Two primary. 

The 17 others include people who “prefer” the Socialist Workers Party, some other Democrats, some Republicans, a JFK Republican, the Independent Party (I think these are just independents; if we have an Independent Party, this is the first I’ve heard of it.) and no party preference.  Their candidate statements sounded goofy, interesting, and hmmm. I finally chose an independent who thinks our two party system is part of our problem right now, a sentiment I share. My choice won’t win. 

Our current Representative is Pramila Jayapal. She’s a very progressive Democrat, and I’m peeved with her over a couple of things, but most important, I don’t see her helping the Democrats come together. She’s quite determined to keep pulling the party as far left as possible, beyond what I’m comfortable with. So I exercised my option to vote for someone else. My choice won’t win this race either.

Next on the ballot were candidates for Secretary of State, the office that runs our elections. I regret not voting for Kim Wyman (R) in 2020. I was just fed up with Trump supporters in the Republican Party. Even though Wyman had done a superb job managing statewide elections for many years, including designing our state-wide mail ballot provisions, I just couldn’t vote for any Rs. She won nevertheless, but Biden chose her to work on election issues in DC. Our Democratic governor appointed a well-qualified Democrat to replace her, and he’s fine. I’m even less inclined to vote for any Rs right now unless they’re willing to state that they are “Never Trumpers,” which none of them did. So I could vote for a qualified Democratic incumbent or an independent, and I’m going to leave you guessing on this one.

Last but not least, we had three state legislative positions to vote on. Not one of our district reps had an opponent from any party this year. I often don’t vote if there is no contest, but I did vote for one this year, just because she is so smart and so reasonable and I just wanted to give her an “attagirl.” 

One disappointment is that so few women were running in these primaries! Yes, we have female incumbents in several spots, but just three of 18 senate candidates were women! One of eight candidates for Secretary of State is female. One of four for US Representative. What’s up with that? Why are men so willing to engage in these losing battles to unseat an incumbent? Are women too nice? Are we intimidated by the experience of the incumbent? 

I love our mail-ballot system! I love sitting at the dining table with all the materials in front of me, taking my time to read statements, and endorsements if there are any, talking with my husband if we have pros and cons to share. It’s a great system and I wonder why the whole world (or at least the whole country) isn’t doing it. We put our phone numbers on the ballots so it will be easy for the election staffers to call us if our signatures don’t match what’s on file. 

The people who think it would be easy to rig vote-by-mail systems must be very naive about how elections actually work. Here in Washington, we have so many districts for everything from school board to cemetery districts, to rural fire districts, to levee districts, to port districts, and more, each with boundaries that are independent of all the other districts. An amateur could not possibly create fake ballots that put an individual voter in all the right districts. 

One thing I wonder: if any of the election deniers win their contests this year, why should we believe that they really won – if our system is so easy to corrupt?

Why We Fight

“War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning”

The intransigence of far right and far left voices on abortion have contributed to the polarization of America. Our current divide is so deep that some believe a second civil war is possible. I do not see that on the near term horizon, but I nonetheless fear for my country simply because we are no longer able to govern ourselves. Our form of government necessitates compromise, and too many of our elected officials have simply lost the ability to concede any ground in order to pass laws that most of us would support. Why?

It’s been years since I’ve read the book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges. The book is good; read it if you haven’t. But the title says it all. Try to imagine Compromise Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. It just doesn’t work, does it. So it’s war, then.

Obviously, when one group of people feel aggrieved, they will agitate for change. But what America is experiencing right now is a situation where life is fairly good, and, in my humble opinion, not much is so awful that we must take to the streets to push for revolution. Still, politicians have to distinguish themselves from the opposition on some grounds, so many of them poke around in the muck until they find a wedge issue that will work for them. 

Abortion has a been a fundamental wedge issue for over 50 years for conservative Republicans who have other priorities. Their focus on abortion has been very useful in working their way toward a Supreme Court that is conservative on this and many other issues. Democrats have never been able to focus so entirely on the Supreme Court or the appointment of lower court judges, and, as I said, “compromise” doesn’t fit campaign rhetoric, so here we are with a high court decision that doesn’t square with what a majority of Americans want.

I ran a test question past a group of friends recently; their reaction explains exactly why we are where we are. My question was this: If Congress were to consider national legislation that allowed abortions, unchallenged, within the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, with protections for the life of the mother, would you encourage your representatives to support it. Howls of condemnation erupted. What would they support in order to settle this issue so that we could change the election landscape and pay more attention to other issues?

“Roe!” they said. 

“We’re not going to get Roe,” I said. “The alternative is continuing warfare on this issue and sidetracking of every other important issue.” 

One friend mentioned that Ireland had legalized abortion via a public referendum. I quickly looked up the Irish abortion law: 12 weeks! Yes, with provisions for mom’s health later on. The fact is that Americans, who look to Europe with envy, don’t realize that no European nation has an abortion law as generous as Roe. 

My personal preference would be that the government just stay out of my private life; I’m surely not going to get that wish. But I would accept a compromise on abortion that protects the life of the mother. Would you? Or is this war the force that gives your life meaning?

Here are some resources to save you the trouble of searching:

Gallup: Public Opinion About Abortion

Pew Research: Public Opinion on Abortion

Abortion Laws in Europe

The Psychology of Open Space

What comes to your mind in response to “the psychology of open space?” I tried a web search on that phrase recently and got suggestions for everything I didn’t want: home interiors; office arrangements; urban planning; outer space. When I initially put the words together, I was visualizing the American West, large expanses of land with few structures and fewer people. 

Open space has been on my mind since our recent road trip from Seattle to Cheyenne and back. We traveled through southern Idaho and Wyoming, opting for side roads when feasible. I was dumbstruck by the relief my mind experienced once we were east of the Cascades. Of course, it’s always a relief to get away from the demands of life that pile up at home. But I was surprised at the visceral relief I felt once we left behind the crowded vegetation of western Washington and could actually see the the form of the land. I felt as if I’d been let out of jail. 

Jail? People love western Washington. How could I equate it to jail? I’m sure the pandemic has impacted my psyche along with other constraints of my life. But there is, for me, an experience of freedom when I can see beyond the nearest cluster of trees. Those of you who’ve read of my joy in getting out of the city and around trees, might wonder why I’m down on trees. Yes, it might seem like a contradiction, but it’s one thing to get away from the city, and another thing still to get beyond the trees. And this leads me to the question of what exactly is the psychology of open space.

If open space of the kind I’m discussing has such an impact on me, I wonder if it also part of the politics that dominate the west. I find some aspects of conservative politics understandable, but others, not so much. For example, in rural farming and ranching country, I get why people think governments are mostly intrusive and unhelpful. Yes, roads and bridges can be useful, but laws that limit what a person can do on her own land can only seem irritating (at best) or counter-productive (at worst). Most of these laws are the gift of coastal elites who live in areas where people live cheek by jowl and have a completely different sense of the urgent problems of the day. 

The closest urban dwellers come to understanding rural thinking might be the experiences of small business owners. As the gig economy has ramped up, more people have the experience of the nanny state imposing requirements that seem only to complicate life without necessarily solving anything. But it’s actual business owners who pay rent and have employees who have a real feel for government overreach. Even couples who own a small amount of rental property quickly learn that deep blue cities might lump them in with evil landlords who control massive amounts of residential or commercial real estate and regulate them all into the red.

We spent ten post-retirement years in a rural area (28 miles west to the first traffic light, 100 miles east to the first stop sign). I never quite lost my city sensibilities, but some friends did. The most obvious issue was rural wells. I’d never regarded the rain that fell on my house or the water under my house as MINE! But our new rural friends did, to my surprise. We each had un-metered wells, but when water wars erupted, neighbors were adamant that the county could jolly well keep away from our wells. No meters! But the upside of rural living was that any natural disaster (floods and landslides in our area) were an occasion to set aside feuds and pull together to get to the other side of the disaster, then return to the feuds. And I have to admit that I, who had always regarded government as accessible and something I could work with, began to see it as distant and irritating. 

So. I get part of rural politics. Still, there’s a lot that is confusing to me, and it’s the more personal part. Conservative, rural stances against abortion seem completely contradictory to objections to public health mandates. If you oppose a vaccine mandate on the basis of bodily autonomy, how could you favor forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy? Why doesn’t the woman who surrounds the “innocent life” factor into the equation? 

This seems like a throwback to the notion of original sin, i.e. just by being born, you are now sinful, whereas a minute ago you were innocent. This is one of the bits of Christian dogma that was easy for me to discard. I posit that our systems of justice and healthcare need to assume innocent until proven guilty. 

Meanwhile, I wonder why people can’t equate a public health emergency to a natural disaster. Let’s set aside our differences temporarily and do what we need to do to help each other get through this weird time. Of course we will need to look back at the evidence we gather and ask if we did the right things to address the pandemic, but can’t we just cooperate for a while? 

Beyond vaccines and abortions, I do get part of the loyalty to Trump. (Throw those rotten tomatoes at me! I’m ready!) I don’t agree with that loyalty, but I get it to a degree. If you are working your heart out to raise food for 128 distant people,* half of whom are not doing anything productive; if you are out in the sun and the wind and the rain and the snow planting and harvesting and tending the cattle and the sheep; if you are mostly irritated with government (except for the subsidies), I can see how Trump’s rants against the elites could appeal to you. If you think cattle rustlers and shoplifters should both be held accountable, I can see why chants of “Defund the Police” seem crazy. 

But revolution, or just tearing down the government with no end in mind, doesn’t have much appeal to me. I want a stable government I can tinker with; I think this could appeal to rural residents, too, if they thought about it for a minute. Revolutions bring chaos; massive disruption of markets; subsidies gone; no help for natural disasters; funds for infrastructure gone (could Wyoming’s 580,000 people pay for their thousands of miles of roads by themselves?) We all benefit from a functioning government. Toward that end, could we please just listen to each other for a while without shouting down the first comment we don’t agree with? Please?

*Each American farmer feeds 129 people. https://www.mcall.com/news/mc-xpm-1995-06-07-3031814-story.html

Dedicated To My Cousin Charla

On our recent road trip to Cheyenne, we visited Olivet Cemetery to find the graves of my grandparents and my cousin Charla. My grandparents lived interesting lives that spanned from about 1880 to 1960. While at the cemetery, I realized how little I knew about my grandparents lives. Where did they meet? What took them from Nebraska and Kansas to Arkansas where my mother was born? What inspired them to move to Pine Bluffs, WY, then Egbert, then Cheyenne? So many questions I would ask them if I could. 

I knew I was fortunate to live close to them growing up. I could walk or bike the four blocks between our houses and join my grandmother in making doughnuts or noodles. I could go out back with my grandfather to tend the vegetable and flower garden. I could eat extra homemade rolls for dessert at our Sunday dinners. Two of my grandparents died before I was born, but the two I had nearby were a treasure.

Still, it was my cousin Charla’s grave that prompted most of my thoughts that day – and still. Charla was born just three months after I was; she died a mere eleven months later. I have a picture with her in a family album, but she didn’t appear in many pictures. Charla was the daughter of my mom’s sister, and I can imagine their excitement at the prospect of having babies so close together. I wonder how Aunt Clara and Uncle Ken first reacted when they learned that Charla had Down syndrome. 

When Charla was born, in the mid 1940s, it was common for doctors to advise parents of a baby with Down syndrome to not even take their baby home. It’s hard for me to imagine such a thing. Just place your newborn in a state institution and move on? Well, as the lone picture in my album attests, Charla did come home. But she didn’t stay long. According to my mom, the discussions about what to do with Charla ripped fissures in the family that never fully healed. My grandfather was adamantly against placing her in the institution. Others were torn. At some point, my aunt and uncle took Charla to the state “school” for the retarded in Lander, WY, where she died some months later. 

I only learned of this when I was in my 20s, teaching a class of special education kids that included two children with Down syndrome. I was talking with my mom about the kids in my class when she said, “I thought kids with Down syndrome didn’t live long.” Well, I said, some do. It depends on how many health problems they have. If they have major heart defects, or other issues, they might not live long enough to go to school.

“Your cousin Charla had Down syndrome,” she said, then proceeded to talk about how difficult it was for the family to decide whether to keep her at home or place her in the institution. My stories about the completely charming Down’s kids in my class must really have been painful for my mom, but those two kids were, in fact, completely charming. We talked a while about how Down’s kids were faring in the late 1960s, how some did live into adulthood and needed continued support, but not unlike my other kids who’d entered school in special ed and would need support. 

A few years later in my teaching career, a colleague had a baby with Down syndrome. He had major heart defects, and they opted for heart surgery to give him a better chance of thriving. He didn’t survive the surgery, but we were all saddened that he didn’t. By this time, we knew that, with a good heart, a baby with Down syndrome could life a good life.

Over the course of my life, the question of what to do about babies with Down syndrome has often surfaced in discussions about abortion and how much to invest in saving infants with serious health problems. For many years, doctors did not advise procedures such as heart surgery for infants who were clearly not going to be “normal,” and many parents agreed. Today, parents might well opt for maximum care regardless of the limitations their babies might face going forward. I’ll confess, I have mixed feelings about all of this, and I’m glad I haven’t had to face such decisions. 

Prenatal genetic testing and the option of abortion have reduced the numbers of kids with Down syndrome. My feelings on this are less mixed. Again, I’m not the parent who would face the challenges of having a child who might require more parental responsibilities than normal. But not all differences are bad, and the differences of people with Down syndrome are not all onerous. I think here I’m being selfish, though. I wish my cousin Charla had lived. I wish I’d had a cousin my age. I wish my aunt hadn’t grieved every time I visited her (not openly – she was great, and perhaps it was just my grieving knowing that my cousin died so young). 

We have learned, in the years since Charla was born and died, that people with Down syndrome can be happy, contributing members of society. This has been brought home most dramatically for me in the BBC series Call the Midwife, which features Daniel Laurie as the adopted son of shop-owners Violet and Fred Buckle. I love Daniel’s character Reggie, and I love the way he has been incorporated into the series. Daniel, who is not the only actor with Down syndrome, is living proof that a good life is possible for people with limitations that most of us think we couldn’t bear. 

Charla, you were born at the wrong time. I wish you had lived. I really wanted to know you. 

Take a Road Trip!

Want to get out of your Covid funk? See some sights? Prod some memories? Get emotional? Feel inspired? My advice: Take a road trip.

When I was a kid, the family car was mostly used to get to the grocery store, piano lessons, church, etc. So every month or so, my dad would say, “It’s time to get some cobwebs out of the engine.” And we’d take a short road trip. Happy Jack Road was a favorite. Or back to Pine Bluffs, where my mom grew up. Or out to the Veedawoo picnic grounds. Short, but useful for many reasons, but most important, we were all in the same space for a few hours, away from common temptations that sent us in different directions.

My husband and I just returned from two weeks driving from Seattle to Cheyenne and back. I’m exhausted, but really glad we did it. We decided that we are going to visit each of our home towns this summer, and I picked late May to early June as the most likely time to see a tinge of green on the Wyoming praries. We took the route through southern Idaho and Wyoming, which we hadn’t done in decades. It was spectacular. I can’t imagine a better place to be a geologist: everything you want to see is right on the surface. And, best of all, Apple says my screen time was down for the duration of the trip.

Our camping gear went unused except for one night in Oregon when the weather was perfect. Every other day the weather was dicey. We had thunderstorms, days of solid misty rain, and lots of wind. So we were glad we were not explorers who had no options. Because of Covid, we stayed away from sit-down restaurants, opting for drive-throughs or take-out and eating in our rooms. We wore masks indoors, but saw few others doing so. Good news: no one gave us any grief about it. I guess if you’re spending money, you’re not going to get insulted.

I won’t put all of my observations into this one post, but I’ll hit a few highlights today.

One: things looked good for the most part. Of course, the wind did the job of the street cleaners in most of the towns we drove through, but I was surprised at how clean and prosperous things were. Naturally, all the towns had some empty storefronts, but they were holding their own. No ghost towns. I think it helps to be so far from big cities; some services have to be available to people without driving an hour or more. 

Two: The landscape is stunning. I have rather dreary memories of all that open space, but perhaps my recent experience cooped up in Seattle listening to freeway noise and looking out at building after building prepped me for enjoying the vastness of the American West. On our way to Twin Falls, the highway crossed a slim, but deep canyon of a tributary of the Snake River. We turned off and paid $7.00 to wander through a state park with short trails that led us to places where we could look into the cut made by the river. The landscape looked flat and monotonous, yet here was this deep narrow canyon cutting right through it. Surprises like that appeared every day. 

Three: The Snake River is amazing. Headwaters are in Wyoming, south of Jackson and the Tetons, but its route to meet the Columbia on the Washington/Idaho border goes all over the place. I began to comprehend the discussion about the “lower Snake River dams” as we could see that there are also some upper Snake River dams that support the expansive agricultural plains in Idaho. 

We followed the Payette and Salmon rivers north from Boise to get to Grangeville in the middle of Idaho. Again, absolutely stunning scenery. Steep hills, green at this time of year, rushing river due to all the recent rain. The road was so winding that I could do without winding roads for a long time going forward. But awesome.

Four: Agriculture. I’m convinced that we need to find a way to help city folks understand Big Ag. Small, organic farms capture our imagination, and people tend to feel quite proud when they can feed themselves on mostly small, organic ag products. But Big Ag (and Big Organic) feeds most of us, and we need to understand it better. I know people who won’t eat beef because they think cattle spend their entire lives in feed lots. Those folks need to drive around WA, ID, WY, MT. More cows than people scattered all over the landscape, living free. Yes, most go to feedlots before slaughter to pack on the pounds faster. But cattle growing up on the range are making food from land that cannot be used for crops. In any event, cattle are complicated, we need regulations to monitor antibiotic use and other issues that affect our health, but practices are evolving in a good direction, and we should celebrate this.  

There is so much we city folk don’t understand about Ag in general, and Big Ag in particular. I’m sure we could do it better; I’m sure farmers and ranchers don’t always know best and grumble at any and all regulations. But I’m also sure that they love their work, love their rural lives, and wish we trusted them just a bit. More later on all that.

I’ll quit for today. Please share any thoughts you have about “the West!”