We pack water around everywhere we go. We are veritable bota bags of water. We humans are roughly sixty to seventy percent water. Since learning these factoids, people have been fond of comparing our water mass to that of our planet, which is about 70 percent water. It’s a nice correlation, sure, but vanishes when we contemplate drinkable water. Only about two-and-a-half percent of the water adhering to our oblate spheroid is fresh and drinkable. The rest of it is saltier than the glass rim of a Bloody Maria. And there is probably another ocean’s worth of water in the mantle of the planet. It all adds up to something like 326 million trillion gallons that we live above, below, and around. That’s a number with eighteen zeros. When I attempt to parse a number like that I feel like a hamster trying to comprehend a fork.
Let’s go back to the water we can drink for a minute. We Americans take it for granted, yes? Much of the two-and-a-half percent that is fresh water is locked up in the polar ice caps. The arithmetic, then, says we have less than one percent of all the water on earth to hydrate us land creatures, including the plants with whom we share the land. That’s still a lot of water but it’s a useful perspective to have when thinking about human population and the survival of life as we know it. In the United States, the aquifer levels have been depleted by a volume equal to two Lake Eries. And that trend continues unabated. Perhaps all the people with their heads stuck in the sand should look for potable water while they’re down there.
When water shows up where it’s not wanted, it is mind-bogglingly powerful. Just ask Midwest folks or the people living in New Orleans. Last year alone, USA flood damage ran into billions of dollars. We can redirect water or block it behind a levee or a dam, but when containment fails it will go wherever it wants to with no respect for any of us, fitting exactly whatever container it fills, be it a glass, a riverbed, a house, or a city.
Perhaps the most fascinating characteristic of water is its surface tension, defined by Webster as : the attractive force exerted upon the surface molecules of a liquid by the molecules beneath that tends to draw the surface molecules into the bulk of the liquid and makes the liquid assume the shape having the least surface area. It’s why drops are round, why water striders can dance across the surface of a stream, why needles can float, why after a spill beads form on your kitchen counter, and why kids can delight in the magic of soap bubbles floating on the breeze. It also serves to help your eyeballs (cornea) stay moist. How cool is that?
Yep. Aside from being essential to life, water is the universal solvent, the patient carver of rock into spectacular landscapes, the carrier of rich nutrients onto farm land, and the enabler for me to sit here thinking about it. If I sit and think about it for twenty-four hours, I will have exhaled about a cup of water.
I think we have to be better giving back than that.
(Top: from PixelStalk.net; Bottom: Gearhart beach from the author)
The only home I’ve ever known Is this body in which I’ve grown. Like any house, it sometimes needs repair And you can’t get parts just anywhere. It’s a miracle of gut and brain, Of bone and sinew that sadly wane. So when the mortgage payments cease We all must surely give up our lease.
I can sit on my motorcycle, rumbling down Coast Highway 101, following my front tire to Seaside. As long as there is road, sometimes it isn’t possible to discover a reason to stop.
Clustered memories can explode into other years and other roads, where I didn’t know what the horizon was hiding. Each revealed plain offered a new mystery to unravel, a different place to wonder about.
It’s all about the seeking when the finding leads to more seeking, building an atlas of memory that will sustain the stories that help define my life. I can see from 101 to Burns, from Burns to Elko, from Elko to Whitefish, from Whitefish to Revelstoke, from Revelstoke to Port Angeles, place to place all over western North America.
These are selfish memories. It’s just me on the iron magic carpet. The thunder on which I ride is a mantra that frees my heart to love the world. The gratitude runs through me, buoys me, and renders me a comet of hope burning across the heavens of my everyday routine.
Coast Highway gets me where I need to be, where I used to perform my due diligence so my family would have shelter, warmth, food, and peace. The gratitude for that more than equals the wild freedom I’ve enjoyed and keeps me snug and free of having to master urban camping.
I remember not knowing where dinner was. I knew it was somewhere until it became breakfast, then lunch, and then dinner again. Going to sleep hungry, even during my direst youthful economics, was not terribly common for me, but it happened. For many in our community here in Oregon, it is still a daily travail. I’m glad I no longer have to experience that. My situation allows me the ease of knowing where dinner is, AND breakfast, AND lunch. I’m awake. I’m intelligent. I’m lucky.
My motorcycle is a luxury. To more than eighty percent of the humans on our planet, I live a luxurious life. When I go to Mexico I am perceived as a wealthy gringo. If I travel to La Jolla, my collar is perceived as blue. Sometimes, it’s like my very skin is the only disguise I need. It offers me the white privilege of being fairly safe most anywhere I go. Money in my pocket has nothing to do with it. But even mostly blending in, humans will still label me. It’s a leftover survival mechanism. People of color, in neighborhoods where they are the exception rather than the rule, know this very well.
It’s all relative, isn’t it? I am staunchly middle-middle class here in America. To a starving Somali family or a homeless person anywhere, I am rich beyond comprehension. I become the stereotypical ugly American. Do I deserve that? Depends on who’s looking. In my own mind I am a kind man who cares greatly for the vibrant cultures all over the world. But that caring is not universally perceived. At the bottom line, I really can’t alter the perceptions that follow me wherever I go. All I can do is accept them, try to understand them, and move through my own life, sharing positive energy as best I can. Sometimes, that will be with a rumbling wind in my face.
Hmm…Poetry 365 nominated me for a Liebster Award. I’m stunned. Thank you, Nathan. Did I say I’m stunned? https://Poetry-365.com is a wonderful blog, full of thought, emotion, and humor (American spelling :-)), and yeah, poetry.
Thank the blogger who nominated you and add a link to their blog
Answer the 11 questions given to you
Nominate 11 bloggers that you think deserves the award
Ask 11 innovative questions to the ones you have nominated
Remember to notify your nominees once you have uploaded your acknowledgement post.
The Poet’s Questions(My Answers)
1. Are you a cat, dog, mouse, or fish person? (Explain why…)
I am a dog person. I enjoy cats, too, but I like the perpetual honesty of a dog. They can be goofy and are, for me, wonderful company.
2. What was your first music album / CD? (What was your last? Damn you, Spotify!!)
My first record was 16 Tons, by Tennessee Ernie Ford. The last album I got is Ghosts of West Virginia, by Steve Earle.
3. Which is your favourite Beatle and why?
Tough question. Initially, I loved all of them. As the years passed, I settled on George. He was always discovering himself as a musician and songwriter. I think he wrote the deepest material.
4. If you could be any character from fiction or movie, who and why?
I’d love to be Jasper Cronk, a character in my novel Ochoco Reach. He lives on a beach outside of San Blas, Mexico, surfs most every day, has a lovely daughter, and knows enough to keep smiling and being the best friend he can be to the people who love him. I aspire.
5. What was your most disastrous date night? Tell all the gory details!
Hmm. Never dated much. Probably when I took a girl to the drag races and discovered she didn’t like cars OR noise. It was a short evening. What really tore it was me offering the filters from my cigarettes as ear plugs.
6. No regrets. But, what is your biggest regret? (No politics)
I wish I’d been kinder when I was young. I was directly responsible for a couple broken hearts. I probably could have made it easier.
7. What was your scariest weather moment?
A sou’wester here on the north Oregon coast. It blew over 80 MPH for eight hours. I lay in bed and felt the old house twist like you’d wring out a wash cloth. There were two 40-foot ancient fruit trees in the front yard, a plum and an apple. Somehow, they survived it. So did we.
8. What is your favourite city? Explain why?
Trick question. I don’t really like cities. Not my comfort zone. But I’d say it’s a toss-up between Portland, Oregon and San Diego, California. Portland because of it’s quirky attitudes and scenic beauty. San Diego because it has the best weather on the planet. Also, the ocean frames it beautifully.
9. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A musician. A writer. Oddly enough, that’s who I turned out to be.
10. If you could make a mixtape (OK? or, a spotify playlist), which are the first 5 tracks?
John Prine: Blue Umbrella; Lyle Lovett: If I Had a Boat; Steve Earle: Copperhead Road; Little Feat: Dixie Chicken; Dire Straits: Calling Elvis. This list would be different tomorrow.
11. You have the luxury of writing your own epitaph. Please tell us all? (and make us cry…)
He was a lazy man who followed the flow of his life in his boat of music and literature. He never asked much of others, but he demanded much from himself. He was kind and loved with his entire being. His greatest assets were his family and friends.
Don’t breathe on me! I am deeply flawed and your breath could carry me to a far shore where my friends won’t find me. Your cavalier ignorance defies kindness and care. Your harm is wanton. Do you miss home that badly? We are only visitors here. We are here to learn. You show me respect by wearing a mask. We will all go home soon enough.
(Another essay tired of languishing without a home. ~JimS)
As far as mysteries go, birth is the only event I can think of that rivals death in its head-scratching miraculous reality. Humans make a big deal of it. I don’t know what animals think about giving birth. They don’t tell us. Or if they do we have forgotten how to listen. Perhaps mammals are the most nurturing parents although birds are right up there with us in that regard. Family units are, mostly, tightly knit and ongoing. Mammalian and avian parents are deeply invested in making sure their offspring survive and flourish. There are exceptions, of course; there are always exceptions. Isn’t that right?
If this story were being written by a female of the species, it would be a whole different animal. Pardon the questionable idiom, but it’s true. I am a male of the species so my take on birth is from mind-blown incredulous awed observation, not direct participation. There are no words sufficient to explain the terrifying emotional bloody joyousness of it. All I can do is report on how it was in my relatively detached role as the only guy in those rooms who wasn’t a medical professional.
Our first-born decided to start knocking on the door while we were bowling in the Gearhart Sunday Night Mixed league. The first game passed without incident. My amazing lovely spousal unit was a joy to watch balancing the bowling ball in various juxtapositions with her very pregnant self. The second game, however, became more of a challenge when she came back from the restroom and told me quite matter-of-factly: “labor is upon us.” After smoothing my eyebrows down out of my hair I asked her if we needed to get to the hospital. “No, let’s finish the game and see what happens.” She went on to roll a 206. Best game ever. Through some kind of mysterious human osmosis it wasn’t long before everyone in the bowling alley knew she was beginning the last stage of having a child. During her approaches near the end of the game, the whole place held its breath as she released the ball.
We did get to the hospital but were sent home after a quick examination. “Nope,” said the nurse. “Two-point-five centimeters is too early. Go home and rest.” So we did. I fell asleep as I was rubbing her back and counting the minutes between contractions. That’s how useful I was. She woke me later and just said “let’s go.” I needed no second urging.
One of the beauties of living in a small town is that we knew everybody in the delivery room. It was comfortable. For me anyway. There’s my male side of things showing. The rest of my recollection is fuzzy until our daughter showed up. She slid out of there in a bloody wad and scrunched up immediately from the dramatic temperature drop. Her faced clenched and a howl impossible from such a small creature filled the room. Deft hands wiped most of the goo from her, cut the umbilical, and gently put her into a handy tub of warm water. The howl ceased. Her face relaxed. Her eyes opened wide. They were deep blue and as dark as the morning outside. To say she was beautiful is like saying the universe is big. I was incapable of speech but heard an immense choir singing a chord in gazillion-part harmony.
My recollection here goes fuzzy again. I remember Doctor Larry sewing up what needed to be sewn. I took some photos. I held my wife’s hand as our daughter was lifted from the warm water, loosely swaddled and placed on her chest amid much tearful cooing. There was so much I wanted to say but there were no words. I was awash in a flood of joyful resolve and fear and uncertainty. Parenthood was upon us. I laid my trembling hands on our little miracle and felt her tiny trip-hammer heart marking its time. She smelled of ocean. I felt my mate’s heart, her kick drum in time with the small one’s high-hat cymbal, and understood our separate lives in our separate skins all bound together forever.
Fast-forward a few years; another baby on the way. A happily amorous and practical plan came together and fruition was apparent. My bride was resting in the bedroom and I decided I needed a walk. “Don’t go far,” she admonished. I only made it a few hundred yards when as sure as a light switch being thrown I knew it was time to go back. Yep. I got back to the house and it was time to go. We bundled young Jessica into the car, dropped her off with her aunt, and headed to Good Samaritan. Like our first child, we’d opted to leave this new one’s gender unknown until we all actually met. The mothering half of our union didn’t want to know. I was ambivalent about it but supported her wishes wholeheartedly. The delivery room in the big city was different than our rural sojourn six years prior. The only medical person I knew in the delivery room was the doctor who welcomed us with a broad smile. Even though his blue mask covered his nose and mouth his eyes lit up. How did I see his smile? Some kind of imagination that hits a limbic truth button? I guess it’s one of those things you just accept and move on.
The new baby wouldn’t turn properly and shoulders were an issue. My brave bride pushed and gasped and gritted but we approached an impasse. They were beating each other up. At one point the doc looked at me past the rim of his glasses above his blue unsmiling mask and said: “I think we’re about one push away from a C-section.”
At this point I did something I do all too often and said something completely inane: “Should I go out and get pizza?” Something between her displeasure at my unconscious flippancy and the doctor’s pronouncement struck my spouse and with a gut-wrenching cry she delivered that kid like a bloody bomb. A boy. We were all amazed. There was no tub of warm water this time. It was a soft heated pillow. As the nurse put him on the warm pillow and cleaned off his birth mess he fussed and kicked and waved his little arms. Somehow, he managed to grab my left pinky finger and hold on with surprising strength. A life grip. At the same time my wife called my name and my head swiveled. She had her right arm reached out to me. I stretched myself as taut as I could and offered my hand. She gripped my index finger with astonishing force. There I was, my left pinky held by our brand new son and my right index finger completely engulfed in my mate’s fist. I don’t have words for what passed through me from mother to son; the closest I can come is bioelectricity. I was but a wire, a synapse, a medium, a conduit, a fiber optic cable…run through by the holiest lightning ever. It was birth and death and prayer and life all charging across me in a crackling buzz. It was everything and probably lasted two seconds, but it changed my life in ways I’m still trying to identify these many years later.
Two births. Two life changing events in a getting-to-be-long blessed life that is learning to render accomplishment into humility, which turns out to be the only accomplishment worth mentioning, in pleasant company anyway. Isn’t that right?
Birth is an expellation, an arguably violent act. How, then, can it be filled with such profound grace? We are nurtured for months in the ocean of our mother, protected. Sure, there are storms like with any ocean, but we live with no less divinity than any sea creature. We grow whole and are then expelled into the bright cold world of air and light. If we are lucky we survive and thrive. Our first breath is searing. Grace happens as we suddenly acclimate to the new world in which we find ourselves. Somehow, we adhere to our mother and acknowledge our father and find a graceful peace. Miracles collect like rosary beads. We find our way. All I can do is stare at this spectacle and pretend I have words to describe it. But I really don’t. Such is life.