Monday, May 31, 2004

Camping in the Granite Hills

I am loathe to do this. This spring has been so full of flowers blooming and sweet fragrances in the air and birds singing and the sun shining. I should not do this, but...

There was a breeze coming over the lake. Although the air was hot, it was comfortable by the water. Although there were bugs about, the wind pushed them back into the woods.

At Black Rock Park, we camped and talked and ate and faced our chairs into the breeze. We walked along the red sand beach and sat beneath the wispy limbs of a Willow by the shore of Lake Buchanon.

We sat in dappled green light beneath an old Mesquite tree and in the shade of Post Oaks that sink their roots deep into the rock even where we labored to drive out steel tent spikes. And Wrens sang in the canopy overhead.

At night, the moon raced the clouds across the sky. And there were smores to be had. And brownies. By day, there was watermelon. And cobbler. And ribs. And chicken fajitas. In the morning, there were eggs and bacon and coffee. And ... cinnamon rolls made from scratch.

And as today drew to a close and we approached Austin from the west -- I kid you not -- a rainbow lit up before us, stretching across the sky, welcoming us home.

Black Rock Park, Lake Buchanon, TX.

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 Thursday, May 27, 2004

Thinking of Doughnuts

I'm thinking of doughnuts -- maple-glazed, cake or yeast, cinnamon twists, krispy kremes. It doesn't matter really what kind; I'm thinking of them. I see them sitting neatly arrayed in boxes. I smell them. I smell the coffee.

Years ago (just a few, although it seems like more), I used to take Ben down to the doughnut shop in the morning. It was a bi-weekly ritual. It was only walking distance.

Every other Saturday we'd do this. Roll out of bed, take showers, and walk down down the street. He'd order cake doughnuts with strawberry frosting (sometimes chocolate) and sprinkles. I would order a maple glazed, sometimes three. He'd order hot chocolate. I'd order coffee.

So I'm thinking of doughnuts, I am. And it's 10pm on a weekday night. Why does it have to be like this?

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 Monday, May 24, 2004

On The Way Back From an Afternoon Jog

The road went this way and the path went that. I stood there only briefly contemplating the two. For although the wide pavement ran on thru the shade, the path was a bit narrow and wanted wear. Though as for that I could not swear that there was really a path after all up there, for it turned left quickly after going between two rocks. And it disappeared in the undergrowth.

I took the path.

Out from under the shade of the oaks, I stepped into a sweltering meadow. The black and white world of asphalt and concrete was gone. The sun blazed down from the sky. Here was grass, waist high. And Indian Blankets with seed heads the size of golf balls. And Black-Eyed Susans and Coreopsis rubbing against me as I walked. I swam in a sea of yellow blazing in the afternoon light, swells of flowers in a breeze that swirled in eddies around the stands of juniper and oak. A heron croaked as it flew off beyond the trees.

I gasped out loud.

Politicians posture and spin. Newscasters pose their stories for the cameras. Soldiers clash in distant theaters. The poor and sick go unnoticed while lies and pain and death and destruction and cheating and deception march triumphantly under waving banners with glorious words of victory adorning them in many languages.

I have no room for this that makes me wretch.

So I took the path less travelled by the commuters who drive up and down the street -- most days I am one. And I found the waving grass and the bursting yellowness in the sun.

And that made all the difference.

Hat tip, of course, to Robert Frost's two roads which do make all the difference.

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What Have We Done?

Susan Sontag in the Guardian on why the photographs from Abu Graib do say something about all Americans even though the acts depicted might not be representative of who we think we are.

[Sontag/Guardian/What Have We Done?]: All acts are done by individuals. The question is not whether the torture was the work of a few individuals but whether it was systematic. Authorised. Condoned. Covered up. It was - all of the above. The issue is not whether a majority or a minority of Americans performs such acts but whether the nature of the policies prosecuted by this administration and the hierarchies deployed to carry them out makes such acts likely. [...] Considered in this light, the photographs are us.
(emphasis added)

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 Sunday, May 23, 2004

Don't Ask Me To

Don't ask me to trust you. I don't.

Don't ask me to believe you. I don't.

Don't ask me to support you. I won't.

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 Thursday, May 20, 2004

Walking the Dog

Down the street a Mimosa tree is laden with pink blossoms, its upside-down triangle acacia shape unmistakable even from a distance, its fragrance filling the air. I breathe deeply. The dog sniffs, too.

By the alley next to the corner lot where those fenced-in dogs bark at the kids walking to school every morning, this dog inspects the usual places: a telephone pole, a cable splice, a tall weed that's the darling of all the dogs in the neighborhood.

In the elementary school parking lot, Nighthawks circle and swoop high in the air, the white stripes on their wings shining brightly against the night sky. The dog thinks them odd so we stop a while and watch.

On the soccer fields, with the soccer moms and coaches and players long gone and the lights turned off, it is dark. It is dark, and it is quiet, because the wind is out of the south, blowing the road noise the other way. Overhead the Big Dipper hangs on a wispy cloud. (The dog does not notice this.)

This is spring in Texas. The evenings won't be like this much longer. The breezes might continue, but the air won't be so cool. There are not many nights like this left.

So I think we will walk around the track again.

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 Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Nothing Else To Do

It's all very disturbing, quite terrifying, he said.

They were sitting around the table, drinking coffee and admiring the sunny day. It had been a long time since the sun had been out.

What is terrifying?

The people don't care who leads them. They just want the borders closely watched and the flag waving in the wind. They're a mostly unprincipled lot who yearn to be told what to think by the loudest buffoon on the stage.

Oh my. I do believe that you're beginning to show your age. There was a time when the view of the 'people in the street' would have been all that concerned you.

You don't understand.

Enlighten me.

So they sat there thru the afternoon. They spoke of the news of the day. The spoke of idealism. They complained about the demise of principle and of the rise of plausible deniability. They talked about liars and lying and why it seems to come so easy.

They sat there and in the end nothing was resolved. They still has a sick feeling in their guts and a feeling of helplessness in their hearts. There was nothing he could do but talk. Nothing to do but complain. Yet after talking for hours, they felt just as bad as when they started.

So they decided to call it a day and say good night, and as evening settled in they went their separate ways. There was nothing else to do.

Originally composed in November 2002. No such conversation actually took place, although it certainly could have.

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Things Aren't the Same Anymore

Soon after 9-11, it was common to hear people say, Things aren't the same anymore, in response to concerns about due process or civil liberties or fears of a growing police state.

Things aren't the same, alright, but the way in which they are turning out to be different is probably not quite what most people had in mind.

Here are some good comments by The Left Coaster on how we have changed things in ways that might be with us for a very long time.

[LeftCoaster/When The Means Corrupt the End]: Such is the honor and glory that Bush's war of choice has brought. How could we have allowed such a small-minded man the power to be Yazid so that he could destroy the honor and the souls of our soldiers based on the lies he planted in their hearts? Bush lied about Saddam's threat to us. He lied when he said Saddam supported bin Laden or al Qaeda. And he lied when he said Saddam had anything to do with 9/11. The Bush crew believe the ends justify the means. But what they have proven is that the outcome is guaranteed to be as corrupt as the means that were used. And we will rue this for generations.

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 Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Unwanted Insects

Fresh back from her conquest of the roach in the dishwasher, the fly's decision to buzz around her head was a fatal one.

With her adrenaline flowing, she was of no mind to tolerate a buzzing fly, especially one that had been pestering her for the last 15 minutes. As it circled her, she picked up a towel and swung it thru the air in a wide arc.


She missed. But the concussion stunned the fly, who went hurtling across the kitchen and landed in the dog's water bowl.

I don't know if it buzzed in the water or not, but it makes the story better. So imagine it that way, if you will. The fly went hurtling across the kitchen and landed in the dog's water bowl where it buzzed and sputtered and spun in circles -- and caught the dog's attention.

He walked up to the bowl, stuck his nose in to investigate, and then I am sad to say the fly was no more.

Trudy: 2
Unwanted Insects: 0

She held her arms up in triumph.

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 Monday, May 17, 2004

Skyler and Taylor

In Illinois years ago, a day like this would have been a hot summer day. Here, it's a nice spring one. There is plenty of real summer to come. But today it's mostly blue sky, a bit of a breeze, the shining sun, and already good motivation to find a shady spot as the day wears on.

Down the street, Skyler and Taylor, are sitting in a driveway in the shade of a Texas Red Oak. They found a good spot, and they set up camp there. They are five years old, six at most.

There they sit, the two of them, talking and laughing and periodically jumping up from their chairs behind a little fold-out table. And when Trudy comes walking down the sidewalk towards them, one says, Look! Another customer! Here comes another customer!

Their sign says Kool-Aid: 5 cents.

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 Sunday, May 16, 2004

With All Due Respect

There is confusion in the land. We need civil discourse. We need leadership. There are difficult problems we need to resolve. So I want to be clear on this: we should all be tolerant in this debate.

And I want you to understand that I respect you, and I understand that you might feel differently about the subject than I do. And I want you to know that I say this without bitterness or anger toward you. Or your kind.

You are a liar.

With all due respect.

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 Friday, May 14, 2004

Say Something

"Why don't you say something?"

"Like what?"

"For heavens sakes. The situation is so messed up. Why on earth don't you say something about it? What would you do?"

"Now wait a minute. I'm sitting here, I mean I'm sitting here minding my own business, doing my job, and this turkey comes in and makes a mess of things. He makes a real mess of things and gets himself into such trouble that no one can pull him out. I mean... I mean, he's messed things up so much that even his friends are hanging their heads. It's so bad that no one can see a way out. And you want me to say something!?"


"I don't think I will. There are six months to go, and there's plenty of time between now and then. For now, I'll just let him fix his own mess."

"See? That wasn't so hard, was it?"

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 Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Spiraling Cranes

There were clouds in the west over the hills, but there was also clear sky here and there where the afternoon sun sometimes shined thru.

I saw them first from a distance with the clouds and hills behind them. Their formation was broken, with many V's appearing and disappearing, breaking off and then returning to blend with the others. They were fighting chaos, each bird flapping and turning this way or that to keep some semblance of order, to follow the leader, to fly in formation. But the winds kept breaking them apart.

Then the birds at the lead banked to the left in a long, slow arc back to those in the rear. They turned and the others followed. The formation folded in on itself, and it was hard to say who was ahead and who was behind.

And as others turned left, and some others, and some more, it was no longer a broken formation with many pieces trying to reform but a single spiraling mass of northbound cranes that had found the updrafts off the Balcones Escarpment.

Periodically breaking thru, the afternoon sun lit their feathers from above, and as their dark silhouettes banked and turned against the grey clouds in the west, you could catch a glint of white off of each one for just a moment. But their were so many of them; a momentary glint off of each was like the shimmering of sunlit waves in the water.

They banked, and they turned. They spiraled, and they climbed. The sunlight glistened and glimmered off of them.

The rush hour traffic took me south. The prevailing breezes took them north.

They have much farther to go than I.

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 Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Late Afternoon Jazz

In the afternoon on that day, the sky was mostly clear. The sun was shining brightly on the lake. The air was warm without being hot.

Inside Carlos'N Charlie's, on the lower level looking out on Lake Travis, a big jazz band warmed up. Their director helped them tune and ran them thru a few of their songs, some of which they had not played together for months.

Bright green steel pillars held up the floor of the rest of the restaurant overhead. Bright yellow steel beams with zig-zagging bracework ran along the ceiling from pillar to pillar. Flat black spots illuminated the musicians.

The saxophones were in front -- seven of them. Behind them were the trombones -- some with hair out of the seventies. The guitar and bass guitar stood to the side of them -- with expressionless faces both. Six or seven trumpets were in a row near the top at the back. Behind them was the keyboard player, who also sang. And at the top of the heap was the drummer, radiating a beaming smile.

Their music filled the room.

On one number, the saxophones would swing -- swing as well as you might ask any saxophone section to swing. In the next number, the trumpets would blare. Or the trombones would slide out the background or take the melody. Or the bass would walk his fingers up and down. Or the guitar would solo. Or the drummer. Or the keyboard. Trumpet solos. Saxophone solos. Trombone solos. Entire sections standing up and then sitting back down, just like jazz bands do.

The music filled the room. Chameleon. Duke Ellington. Frankenstein. Birdland. April in Paris. (Did I mention the saxophones?)

And the sun descended toward the hills. And afternoon became early evening. And the sunlight from the west glittered on the waves of Lake Travis over our shoulders and lit up the green pillars and the yellow beams and the disco ball on the ceiling and the faces of those kids playing song after song for over an hour. Making their director proud. Making their parents swoon.

The Phat Cats (Clint Small Middle School Jazz Band) at
Carlos'N Charlie's, on Lake Travis, Austin TX

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 Monday, May 10, 2004

The End of Spring

Today, I guess, the spring is gone. The green of the grass is turning to brown, and the tassels seem about to drop their seeds to the ground.

Blades of yellowing green stand tall amidst Indian Blanket and Mexican Hat and Coreopsis and Prickly Poppy and five foot tall purple-flowered thistles. But at the top, the blades of grass are bent.

I guess the spring is gone, although it will be green again next year after the heat of this summer and the cold of the distant winter have come and gone once more. But today the grass is bent.

And today my head is bent in shame.

Our heads will be bent this way for many years to come. A mere passing of a season will not be enough. A half-dozen court martials will not be sufficient. Even were the storm to rage to the top and scatter a few generals and a few luminary bureaucrats, it would not be enough.

And as if this darkness is not enough, they tell us that a darker day is coming. And we will hang our heads lower. And the world will look at us and mock. For all our words, all our works, all that we have done, and all that we held important is reduced to nothing by this.

And in remote places around the world, our enemies praise this day for the gift we have given them. And they grow strong.

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 Sunday, May 9, 2004

At the End of Oak Street

Down at the end of Oak Street, I hear there's a woods where at night the fireflies still glow. Under the eaves of the boughs and the leaves of the trees whose roots sink deep into the earth, they blink and shine after the sun has gone down and the darkness of night has spread out from the low places and the bayous.

When the wind is still and the air is still cool, I hear they blink and shine like they did at night in the yard where I grew up. I can almost see them, although I have never been down that far. I can see them dancing at the edges of my eyesight as I try to spot where the next one will glow.

And I can feel the coolness of the springtime air. And I can see the pitch black of the tree branches overhead. And I can smell the pine needles underfoot.

At the end of Oak Street.

Night thoughts about Oak Street, Dickinson TX

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 Thursday, May 6, 2004


In the Navy, I understand, if a ship runs aground the captain loses his command. There's no discussion of fault. There are no extenuating circumstances. The captain has command, and the buck stops there. Period.

So what happens when the ship is a wartime prison and it runs aground on the shoals of the Geneva Convention? How many months does it take before the buck finds a place to stop? What are the chances that it will stop at the top of the camp command? Or will it stop at the bottom? Why does it take pictures flashed across the world before top brass and bureaucrats acknowledge that there is even an issue?

Is it only the integrity of our ships we care for?

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 Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Explaining La-De-Da

I think I've figured it out.

Figured what out?

Figured out the la-de-da.

What on earth are you talking about?

You know, when I write things about green grass and blue sky and wildflowers blooming and birds singing. I figured out why I've been doing so much of that.

You're just a la-de-da guy.

You know me better than that.

You're just a la-de-da guy at heart.

No I'm not.

Ok, so why all the la-de-da?

Look around. Listen to the world. What is there to feel good about? Not much.

I'm not sure I follow you.

Makes me glum just to think about it. I dread turning on the radio. So instead, I guess I gaze at the green grass and the blue sky, smell the petunias, listen to the wren.

In the springtime!


And with that, they sat in silence for quite a while. A breeze blew thru the leaves in the trees over their heads. White clouds rolled by. Yellow coreopsis and purple salvia danced under the leaves of a Monterey Oak.

And for a moment, all the abuse and lies and death and deceit and hatred and scheming and distortions and cynical explanations and hand waving and excuse making receded.

Just for a moment. But it was moment enough.

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 Monday, May 3, 2004

This Day Has Been Very Kind

This day has been kind to me. Not so for many others, but it has been kind to me. We walked in the canyon, and we waded in the cool waters, and we let the sun beat down on us.

So now I sit down as the light of day fades. A light breeze blows thru the leaves of the trees overhead, and black silhouettes of Live Oaks against the fading light of the western sky beckon to two Herons squawking and flapping as they fly their way home.

I sit down in the dusk, in the breeze, to watch the darkness descend on this place. The purples and yellows and pinks of the wildflowers fade to gray. The glowing green of the grass dims.

Night settles in. And one by one, the yellow glow of lightning bugs fills the air around me.

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 Sunday, May 2, 2004

Here We Sit

There are big rocks at the bottom of the pool. You can see them clearly, although the water is deep. Thru the greenish tint of the flowing water, you can see the rocks sitting on the bottom of the pool.

There is water flowing over the rocks. Not as cold as it sometimes is. Not as cold as one might think it would be, given how cold it was yesterday. It falls in foaming white over the limestone ledges upstream, but here it is deep and flows slowly over those rocks.

There is a boy swimming in the water. He didn't bring a swimsuit with, so he is swimming in his jeans. His long hair hangs in brown curls over his forehead. His long arms reach to pull him across the pool.

And beyond the boy in the pool, a limestone bluff stands at the water's edge. Covered in oaks and elms and juniper and agarita and persimmon and moss and fern, it shoots up from where the rocks and waters meet at its feet and climbs straight to the sky.

And in the blue sky, a hawk is turning in wide circles, climbing higher with every turn. And although the sun has not yet peeked over the canyon's edge, once per turn the bright light of it sets the hawk's tail feathers ablaze.

So here we sit, you and I, under a blue springtime sky with hawks turning and swallows darting and canyon birds calling and a cool breeze rolling over us. Here we sit, staring up at the cliff and listening to the sound of the falls upstream. Here we sit, watching that boy swim and watching that flowing water slowly pass over those big rocks at the bottom of the pool.

Here we sit.

Gus Fruh Park, Barton Creek Greenbelt, Austin TX

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 Saturday, May 1, 2004

Put Yourself To Bed

She had a grim look on her face. She didn't feel so well, and it was late. Without even realizing how much time had gone by since she sat down at the computer, she now was tired in addition to not feeling well.

You don't take good care of yourself, her friend told her. You should go to bed.

I will, but I have some things I have to do, she said.

Well do them, her friend responded.

I need to write something. It has been too long. I need to write just a little something. I have some notes, here. See?

She held up some pieces of wrinkled white paper with scribbled notes running in different directions. There was a coffee stain on one. Another had a big 'X' drawn thru it.

Well write something, then. Anything. Copy down one of those scribbled notes.

It's not that easy, she said. Then she coughed loudly.

There was a pause in the room. She sat in her chair staring at her keyboard. Her friend stood silently looking at her.

Just write something down and go to bed.


And that was that.

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