About thirty minutes ago I gave myself the choice of spending the afternoon finishing Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, watching an afternoon NFL football game, or–now that summer appears over–putting up some final summer flower photos. I think the novel is wonderful, but it is too emotionally challenging for me today. I love football, but I was in the stands when Michigan beat Maryland yesterday; that is enough. So, I am posting some photos. With them, I send my (still) hopeful wishes for us all.
I told you four years ago that I didn’t think that April was the cruelest month (April: Cruelest Month (?), Earth Day, Earth Mother, and the Possible Limitations of Agnosticism). I am still on board with that thought, but T.S. Eliot’s words, the beautiful flowers, and gravestones are keeping me on some emotional edge. Maybe it is because Tom and I have taken to walking through Arlington National Cemetery–just a few blocks from where we now live.
I keep thinking of the ones I love: here and now and way back when. The young, the old, the healthy, the sick, the troubled, and the dead are all crowding around in my head. I remember the day Martin Luther King, Jr. died, in April. I remember when our youngest son was born, in April. That year, the spring tree green was just starting when we came home from the hospital. My baby son and I sat together on the couch hour after hour and day after day until the spring green turned to full green. I first went to Zion National Park in April. It was spring, and through the night, boulders rattled down the canyonsides in the spring runoff.
A week or so ago, I was at my friend Kate’s place and her lilac was blooming near her Zen garden. First lilac of the season for me. (I didn’t get a photo, sorry. My hands were dirty with planting the lettuce and Swiss chard seedlings). Since then I have been thinking not just about T.S.Eliot, but also of Walt Whitman: “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” which was written after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. I remember Lincoln’s words and I think about mercy.
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” (from Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address)
Today, Tom and I walked to Fort Bennett Park and Palisades Trail–about a mile from our condo. We found what we were looking for: two bald eagles in a giant nest taking care of their young. Until today, in all my years of wishing and searching, I have never reliably seen bald eagles flying free. I am hopeful today that we may yet bind up the nation’s wounds.
My April wish: May you be well. May you be happy. May you have peace. Or as “The Wasteland” has it:
Shantih shantih shantih
Excuses Although it is March, I still haven’t transferred all of my phone numbers, passwords, and other data from my 2017 Audubon Birder’s Engagement Calendar to my 2018 Audubon Birder’s Engagement Calendar. This transfer usually happens early in January (see Old Year, New Year: Flexibility, Part 3). Part of the delay may simply be that there is so much minutia scrawled in the 2017 book that I am daunted by the task of transferring it to the new book.
I think the real reason might be more fundamental, though. I have been sitting here — each day at once agitated and inert–waiting to see what happens next to our country. My own version of Potomac fever, I am afraid. And I am afraid: I used to tell my children that our country had had difficult times before and had gotten through it. Now, I believe the current regime and its attendant problems are by far the worst in my lifetime. I went to one march so far this year and will soon go to another. I sign petitions. I walk. I do my weights and stretches, and sometimes I even do my planks. I photograph flowers and trees. On TV, I watch cooking shows and basketball games. I think spring is coming. I believe my hibernation is ending and my hope is growing.
Happy Interlude In early February, Tom and I camped for three nights in the Big Cypress National Preserve and for one night in Everglades National Park. We saw alligators and manatees; anhingas and egrets, mangrove islands and dolphins, and much more.
Spring is Coming Wood frogs are mating in vernal pools here in Arlington, Virginia. Salamanders are on the move. Daffodils are blooming and so is the witch hazel and some forsythia. Almost two weeks ago a cherry tree was blossoming at Arlington National Cemetery. Tourist groups are massing on the National Mall. I think it is time to put aside my 2017 almanac and rejoin this year, this fight, and this life.
Staircase to Heaven, again
1972–1973 (North Rim and environs)
Did I ever tell you about the time I got dropped off at Pipe Springs National Monument? I was on my way from the North Rim to my friend Anita’s wedding reception in Salt Lake City. Someone drove me to Pipe Springs–on the Arizona Strip–87 miles from the Grand Canyon Lodge where I worked. I tried to hitch a ride from Pipe Springs to Cedar City, Utah so I could catch a plane to Salt Lake. At least back then, Arizona State Road 389 was not a well traveled road.
After some time, Pipe Springs National Monument closed for the day. It got dark and I felt forlorn and probably a little scared. I settled down in the ditch beside the road. I wasn’t about to take my chances standing on the side of the road through the night. I worried some and I slept some. Morning came, someone picked me up, and I made my flight to Salt Lake and the wedding reception. I was an idiot back then, no doubt, but all that expansive sky, sand, canyons, and forests made me feel that all was possible, all was good, and I would not be harmed.
Angry and sad aside: Most of my life now, this Grand Staircase, this Colorado Plateau, has been for me not only the land of the beautiful, but also of the good and hospitable. I want to scream and cry and kick and yes, hate, as I see people and entities want to destroy this land. I don’t do those things: I am still trying for the beautiful and good.
So many more stories to tell, but I think I am finished for now. I wanted to tell you about Hop Valley, the double rainbows on the snowy road to Bryce, pine nut gathering at Cape Royal, the smell of the ponderosas in the sunlight, and Chesler Park in late winter.
Now, I will march, I will sign petitions, I will walk. In the end of summer, we may be at North Rim again, and, in November I will vote.
Thank you for listening.
Here are some photos:
We live in Arlington,
We live in Arlington,
Right next to Washington, DC!
These lines come from a little song that our children learned when they were (at various times) in about second grade in Arlington Public Schools. Our oldest child, Sarah, started public school Montessori at Hoffman-Boston School in 1978. Our youngest child, Billy, graduated from Yorktown High School in 2005. So, you can see we spent a goodly amount of time in Arlington. There was a stint in Denver in the early 1980s and then in 2006 Tom and I moved to Charlottesville. There we gardened, we walked everywhere in town, we drove those back roads (Old Plank Road, Poorhouse Road, Hebron Church Road…), we listened to music, and we loved our neighbors. During this era, we did another stint in Denver and we also traveled many roads (55,000 miles’ worth) in our camper.
Now we have come back here, right next to Washington, DC. We plan on more road trips, from our new/old base of Arlington. Here, too, we will garden, we will walk, and we will listen to the music (Jazz last weekend). We will go to Shakespeare, lectures, museums, and hang out with our children and friends, whom we love.
Below are some of the things I like about Arlington.
Actually, I am struggling with this writing. I want to tell you about how Sarah and Robert’s elementary school (Drew Model School) was so big into process and project-based learning. I used to tell folk stories to the children and go on nature walks with them. I remember how Billy loved to wear the monarch butterfly suit at Long Branch Nature Center. Also, I think about how years later, my friend and fellow teacher Donna and I would walk along the stream at Long Branch with the immigrant parents and their children. Dusk came and the bats started flying. I remember one of our teachers’ assistants, Dan. He was a young Vietnamese man and he would swing with the kids–like the child he almost was. When I think of those evenings, I want to cry for the loveliness of it.
For the first several years in Arlington we didn’t have much money. However, even at the beginning, in 1978, we did have money for Brenner’s Bakery doughnuts (sadly defunct these many years) down the street. Later on, mostly in the 1980s, kindly women would cluck over our children at Korean, Vietnamese, and Salvadoran restaurants and serve us delicious meals for a little bit of money. Many years later–in the late 1990s–my adult students from Bosnia, El Salvador, and Vietnam made food for Sarah and Mike’s wedding feast.*
I think I am working up to a more focused comment. I loved and I do love the diversity of Arlington. At the Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP), I taught adult immigrants and refugees from over 80 countries. Even now, when Arlington is much trendier than in the old days, I look out from my Starbucks table and see people from everywhere walk by on Clarendon Boulevard.
We live close to Washington, DC. Since Tom and I moved back here a little over a month ago, we have been jogging: Jogging past the Netherlands Carillon, past Arlington Cemetery, and along the Potomac River. Sometimes we cross the Memorial Bridge–trotting straight towards the Lincoln Memorial, left past the Kennedy Center, on to Georgetown, and over the Key Bridge back home. What can I say? I have a degree in political science and another in American Studies: I love being here.
Not even getting into the rest of the natural, cultural, and historical opportunities, but we love the Smithsonian Institution. We have been visiting the museums, the zoo, the gardens and the Folklife Festival non-stop for almost 40 years and we never get tired of it, and the price is still right.
After 9/11, we saw the Pentagon burning. You have probably figured that I am not a big military type, but this was my home. I cried for days. Later when Tom and I joined Arlington’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), every one of our instructors from the Arlington County Fire Department had been at the Pentagon after the attack. I am honored to have learned from these (and I never use this word lightly) heroes.
Enough! I love Milford, MI and Lake Superior; those red rocks and wild mountains of the west; Charlottesville and its funky music heart, but I am happy to be back home in Arlington.
*Also, our friend Sharon’s mom brought a Southern Maryland specialty, spinach-stuffed ham.
For over twelve years in the 1980s and 1990s, I taught English to adult immigrants and refugees at the Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP) in Arlington, Virginia. REEP began in 1975 as a 90-day demonstration program to serve refugees from the Southeast Asian conflicts, but it has continued through the years and, so far, has served over 90,000 students from around the world. In my early years of teaching at REEP, I was lucky enough to get to know many Vietnamese refugees. Some of the students I worked with were the part of the family unification program. The middle-aged men had worked with the Americans in Vietnam and had been re-educated, that is, imprisoned and tortured, by the winners of that conflict. The men came to our school with their wives and children. The wives and the children mostly prospered. The trajectory for the adult children I knew usually seemed to be: ESL program, community college and, then, degree at George Mason University. I always guessed that the men must have felt so happy to have accomplished the feat of getting their families here to safety. The few middle-aged men I met (I knew their wives and children more) seemed to get over here, then fall ill, perhaps because of the effects of the imprisonment and torture.
One woman, Linh (not her real name), seemed to be here only with her young child; there was no husband in evidence. She appeared to be well respected within the Vietnamese group in our school. I later found out that Linh had an older son, probably with an American soldier from back in the day. I was her teacher, but we became friends, too. We were the same age exactly, and, like her, I also had a young child and two older ones. Linh had not been to school much in Vietnam. How could she; she lived in Da Nang, back in the day. I taught the beginning-level English class and Vietnamese accents are hard for Americans (at least for me) to understand. Linh mumbled and kept her hand in front of her mouth. Nonetheless, she somehow communicated very well, and we had a strong bond between us.
Our school was about five blocks away from Arlington National Cemetery. So, every Memorial Day and Veterans Day, some of the teachers would walk with the students over to the cemetery. Field trips were always prepped in advance: new language was learned and cultural aspects were discussed before we left the classroom. Once we were on a journey, however, I usually moved back a little to let the students have their own interaction with the museum, the park, the garden, or the store. The students and I were walking around a memorial in honor of the American war dead. As students were ranging around the statue, Linh came up to me. She began talking to me about her young girlhood in Da Nang Province. She talked about how the American soldiers were everywhere in town during the day, but how every night the Viet Cong would come into town. Linh was explaining how it was—the chaos and trauma of her growing up; no peace, and bombs day and night, and, I guess, the baby that came when she was so young. I hope telling me her story in that big rush of words helped Linh exorcise some demons, and I think I understood more of how it might have been.
Several minutes later, the students and I walked up to the JFK gravesite. There was a low railing around the grave and the eternal flame. As usual, tourists thronged around it. As we got closer, I saw a figure step over the rail and bend toward the flame. I jumped into schoolteacher mode, ready to scold the person for breaking the rules and being disrespectful to the memorial. Before I could do that, the person straightened up. He was a stocky, bearded middle-aged man (AKA Harley-Davidson guy) who got up and quickly walked away. Then, I saw that he had left a green beret beside the flame.
Again and again, I’ve thought of that morning—many years ago now—that coincidence, that karmic happening, and that expiation. I don’t know what to make of it or how to describe it accurately, so you and I can understand it. I wish I could. At 17 I was rallying against the Vietnam War—Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, NLF is Gonna Win. I am still against the Vietnam War, but now I know men who were tortured by the people I thought were freedom fighters, a girl who was traumatized day and night, and a mother who would not smile in my class for the first five months she sat there. There are so many demons to exorcise.
Along with the Vietnamese and Cambodians, our school worked with the Ethiopians and Eritreans, the Afghans, the Peruvians, the Salvadorans, the Bolivians, and many other groups. Later, the Somalis came and so did the Iraqis, Iraqi Kurds, the Sudanese, and many more. I recently corresponded with one of my friends who still works at REEP. She says there are more Guatemalans and Hondurans coming now. There seem to be more than enough stories and more than enough demons to exorcise.
(adapted from Losing It: Deconstructing a Life, unpublished work © Lynda Terrill, all rights reserved)