the sky is not the limit

Storm Clouds Around the Bay Area

On an episode of NPR Fresh Air, singer Brittany Howard explained how she came to an awareness of the impotency of adults when she was nine after the death of her 13-year-old sister. She took in stride that bad things happened to every family, and was saddened by how the loss wrenched her parents apart in isolating grief. She embraced the drawing and music skills her sister imparted and inspired as those gifts carried her through. What scared her most was the awareness that her parents could not protect them from everything. Her story made me think about this trauma of vulnerability that every child must face. My experience is a trilogy of awareness. The first was the death of JFK. At seven I didn’t quite comprehend what a president was much less the concept of death and its complication of assassination. I was quite upset that they preempted Saturday morning cartoons with the funeral. What deeply traumatized me was seeing my parents cry. My grandparents cried. Adult strangers on the street or in the corner drug store cried! Clearly they were not the emperors of fate I had assumed. What traumatized me was the realization that adults had lost control.

The second level of awareness that added a shot of rage was the death of my aunt when I was 12. My grandfather died when I was 10 but that seemed natural – old people died. Besides he was a crabby old man, far from endearing, his loss seemed a convenience to me as I could spend time with my doting grandmother without fear of his, “Git outta here!” growl around kids. All the grandkids came to the funeral and it was just another cousins romp as the older kids jumped on lawn chairs, breaking them and disrupting the dour adults. That behavior would banish children from future mourning, with a terrible consequence for me. My Aunt Karen was young and had a dark haired, Audrey Hepburn beauty. Her laughter was musical and contagious and her eyes sparkled with deep fondness for children. The year, after the birth of her second baby, doctors found a lump on her neck. My grandmother stayed with the baby boys while Aunt Karen suddenly began driving to Roswell Park Hospital for “treatments.” I was delighted because as the mature middle school niece, I was selected to ride along with her to keep her company. What a boon! On a school day I was excused, and she would give me a quarter for the soda machine as I read comic books in the hospital waiting lounge. We talked and laughed with the radio playing for the two hour round trip excursion. What a blast! Then one weekend it was announced that “Aunt Karen was gone.” What? Gone where? The reply was “The angels took her.” Such Catholic euphemism was lost on me. Angels took her? What the hell? I thought those white tunic bitches were good and they took my Aunt Karen?! I felt an outrage that shook my world. How could religion just turn on you like that?

The last level of awareness came at me from the other side. As a parent I was spoiled. I was from the Jetsons Generation where the sky was the limit for a perfect fix. Great medical care reassured me that everything could be fixed, we had regained control. I saw my 6-year-old daughter through open heart surgery. A surgeon cut an abbreviated hole in her chest, took out her small beating heart, sewed up the hole from an atrial septal defect, and she was home from the hospital in 10 days! The miracle power of technology restored control. Would that they put as much time and research into mental health as physical health. A brief 14 years later I would get a call from Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley that my oldest son, Ryan, had only a few hours to live. I caught the next plane out of JFK and flew cross-country to beat that clock, my deepest hope that medical science would prevail and they would fix it all before I arrived. I lay a tentative hand on his cold, stiff thigh, rigor mortis set in as his body lay on the crisp white sheets of the ER. The deepest trauma that we never are in control, even as adults. His older sister faced her trauma of awareness as she screamed at the ER doctors to “Do your job!” and save him! How do doctors and nurses face this double-edged trauma day in and day out? The trauma of death layered so heavily by the trauma of the living. The trauma as the sky that sheltered us collapses into the reality of our impotence, our ignorance, our reluctance to learn and teach of the power of death. What carries me through, like Brittnay Howard, is inspiration in art and the daily beauty that reminds us that each day the world is ended and then renewed. Looking up into the expansive face of the natural world offers that even the storms have meaning and purpose. The simple reality, we will all end, so best to be awake, alive, and aware before that sunset.

tidal wave fog

FogStormPano2Morning Fog Tidal Wave Across the Santa Cruz Mountains – Menlo Park

The Bay Area is conveniently divided into the Peninsula and the East Bay on either side of the deep chalice of the San Francisco Bay. I work on the Peninsula and for the last 15 years lived there also. Moving to the East Bay six months ago I cringed at the necessity of rising before the sun to get on 880 by 5am to avoid the rush hour traffic and cross the obligatory bridge to get to the Peninsula for work. I love that life can continue to surprise you. I now realize how happy I am as a morning person, rising before the sun, front row seat to the sunrise most mornings, moving through the calm dark of dawn. One of my favorite weather effects here is the daily mass of fog that crests the Santa Cruz Mountains fresh off the Pacific beyond. Warm air on the Peninsula draws it slowly in,…most mornings what looks like a slow-motion tidal wave of fog greets my passage to the Peninsula. Simon Christen created a time-lapse video of this exquisite phenomenon so you can witness that I do not exaggerate the beauty and inspiration of this effect. I stopped one morning last week to compose this panoramic view of the tidal wave fog at the start of my day – the colored squares of the Facebook campus punctuate the western side of the Dumbarton Bridge as marshland of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge fills the foreground. It is a metaphor for my day – the rush of things2do on my horizon. I used to wince with the weight of so much in life. Last night I used a Kathleen Otley “spirit chaser” of willow branches & feathers for a full moon ceremony to cleanse my house and mySELF of the eroding spirits that weigh down responsibility. I recently realized that I kept a room in my psyche for the negative voices of doubt, shame, how-dare-you, demands that sour my efforts as I take on this tidal wave of responsibilities. This morning as the Hurry Demon tried to return and press me that I don’t have enough time, I informed that voice it no longer has a room in my house and evicted it! Instead I sat down to compose this entry and create a pattern that I do the important things first. Enjoy this closer, The Unseen Sea, by Simon Christen. I’m grateful that I can now see the ocean above,…and the ocean within.

window seat

1_AirplaneViewWindow Seat View: Sierra Nevada Mountains – March 2016

The view from above is my favorite perspective. Riding the ocean above, my favorite sport. I love flying. My dream is to have a job that pays me to fly around the world and take inspiring photographs like this. Coming home from New York in March I had my camera glued to the oval of double-paned window for most of the flight – especially exciting over grand landscapes like the Sierras in late winter. Observe at length the conjugal kiss between land and sky, undulating into infinity. I always reserve a window seat because savoring the breathtaking variety of coiling, covering, celestial clouds is sheer delight. Noting the patterns of geology and human-textured patchwork below is hypnotic in long-distance stare. There is actually a wonderful book on what can be gleaned from this perspective titled, Window Seat: Reading the Landscape from the Air by Gregory Dicum – a fascinating read, especially in flight. I confess that I also prefer to have someone else drive in a car so that I can cloud-watch and savor the landscape, roll down my window at leisure and compose as inspired. The window seat has always been my favorite perch.

cumulative choices

CumulusLaunch For Hire Under Cumulus Clouds – Inverness, Tomales Bay 

One of my favorite clouds types is cumulus. The dictionary definition holds insightful meaning: “from the Latin – to heap, amass, or surplusincreasing by accumulation or successive additions” is the first. The third definition wakes me up: “relating to interest or dividends that, if not paid when due, become a prior claim for payment in the future.” I recently had lunch with a favorite former student. Oscar’s face is radiant with insight, eyes twinkling with delight, his voice alive with accomplishment. “Just do a few important things everyday! It’s cumulative. I read just a half hour every day and I’ve already read ten books this semester! You just have to do it.” He went on to relate life-changing habits of eating healthy and building his muscle strength with weights. I wince thinking of the sets of weights in my classroom, on my boat, and at the cabin that go unused. I know how important daily exercise is for rebuilding my muscle strength post leg reconstruction surgery in 2013. You lose up to 40% of your muscle mass with 6 months of bedrest. Much of my 20-pound weight loss was that good stuff – muscle. I know how important it is to follow through with the PT exercises, yet I don’t do them. I listen to Oscar and think, it is cumulative,… in both directions. What we don’t do adds up as much as what we do. After losing 20 pounds and going from a size 12 to a size 10 myself, I’ve been nagging my husband lately to eat healthier and reduce fat, and build muscle.  I want our sixties to be healthy and strong; hiking, boating, traveling into our retirement years. Yet, I realize that my weight loss is meager compared to the need to rebuild my own muscles for optimum health. Tonight I stopped and bought a gym pad for the boat and started doing 20 minutes of weights and yoga. Like Oscar says, it’s cumulative. Today I’m accumulating in the right direction. The launch I seek is for strength that supports a healthy weight for a future of wellness in this adventure, in this body that I’ve hired out for this lifetime.

commuting with angels

1_sunset_5_11_16oaklandAngels in the Architecture @ Alameda Slough, Oakland – May 2016

One of my favorite lines from a song is Paul Simon’s “angels in the architecture – spinning in infinity.” I drive now on the dark sides of the day, beneath pondering skies that paint brooding colors to parenthesize each day. I leave Alameda at 5am and see the sunrise, then if I have meetings in Palo Alto (like last night) I hang back to wait for the traffic on 880 to abate for a smoother evening commute. Sometimes I get lost in the negativity of the day; meetings, traffic, work demands, schedules,…but I am in awe every day at the skyshow at each end. Flying home from Paris this weekend I read a NY Times article on the Cloud Appreciation Society written by Jon Mooallem. I sank into my 4 empty seats in sheer delight communing with “my people.” Cloud people. I relish their company each day on my commute, dazzled by the beauty above, like last night,…approaching my exit for the Posey Tube, this is the breathtaking view of the angels in my architecture of the day. “All along …there were incidents and accidents…there were hints and allegations” of a constantly beautiful day. Which reminds me. I was also playing my theme song blasting overandoverandover again, U2’s Beautiful Day. Go ahead. Click on the link. You know its true. It is a” beautiful day,…don’t let it get away!”. If you doubt it,…just look up,…4u2b skyhigh. Check this link to learn the names of clouds you see in your horizon.