Thursday, February 1, 2018


Two tugs in gray mist out on the sound. I’m soaked to the bone. I see puddles everywhere muddled with the constellating splitter-splatter of rain. I pass a blue sedan with a bright yellow Alaska license plate, the motto at the bottom of the plate asserting “The Last Frontier,” two diminutive people inside staring at smartphones, the driver wearing big black rimmed glasses, the strong smell of marijuana emanating from the car.
Home again, sitting on the couch typing this, a jar of mustard appears on the coffee table, a sign that dinner is approaching, and that it will most likely turn out to be mashed potatoes and bratwurst, which indeed it is.
After dinner R and I watch Four Weddings and a Funeral, which is always a lot of fun, although Hugh Grant keeps looking younger with each viewing, which is disconcerting. His agony toward the end of the film, when he is deeply conflicted over whether to go through with the wedding or find some expedient way out, having just discovered that Carrie (Andie MacDowell) is divorced and available and appears to be equally in love with him, is riveting. What an ingenious idea to have his brother (Welsh actor David Bower, who really is deaf, and has a degree in the Theatre of the Deaf) interrupt the ceremony with sign language, and require Charles to translate it for the wedding guests, which  -  when asked if he is in love with someone else  - he timidly mutters “I do,” which culminates immediately with a punch in the face delivered by the bride (Anna Chancellor), which sends Charles hurling to the floor. We see him sprawled in the aisle as the camera rises.
12:30 p.m. Thursday, January 25th. Virginia Woolf’s birthday. I go for a run. I get to the intersection of West McGraw Place and West McGraw Street as a white-haired old lady goes through the crosswalk at 90 mph in a SUV without seeing me. If I hadn’t prudently stopped, I wouldn’t be here writing this.
The day before, a woman with two toddlers blocked the sidewalk while she chatted with a young man in a suit. I stood within inches of them, running in place, and finally had to shout “excuse me” so that they’d move aside to let me through.
Never a fan of Margaret Thatcher, her statement that “there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families,” has never rung so true.
It’s unfortunate, but the commons is gone. There are only banks and private property.
I look out on the sound from the crest of the hill on 8th Avenue West. It’s mostly a whole lot of gray, deep gray, light gray, whispers of gray, disclosures of gray, depositions of gray, allegations of gray, with here and there flashes of silver.
3:00 p.m. I watch the French news. Flooding is extensive. The Seine and the Marne are both engorged with water. Three departments near Paris, Le Val-d’Oise, Les Yvelines and L’Eure, are on orange alert. At Marsang-sur-Seine, a commune in the Essone department in Isle-de-France, also known as the Parisian Region, the river has left its bed. People stomp around in their houses trying to salvage what they can from the ugly green water inundating their bedrooms and kitchens and living rooms, refrigerators afloat, libraries lost, furniture upturned and floating like buoys. Shops and businesses are knee-deep in water. In Paris, two men are stuck on their barge and helped to dry land by the police.
The Seine rose by nearly 29 feet above its normal level in 1910 when it flooded Paris. People were rescued from two-story windows. A flood of that enormity today would destroy the underground rail system and sewage system. The Seine is expected to crest at about 16 feet above normal on Saturday.
I find it strange that no mention is made of climate change. I do not hear the words “changement climatique.”
I wonder if there has been any mention of the flooding in France on the American news. I haven’t watched American news in years. It’s too sickening. The few glimpses I’ve had of what passes for news on TV has occurred while in staying at hotels or airports where giant plasma TVs are as ubiquitous and inescapable as greenhouse gas. The giant words and flashy icons and ribbons of events happening elsewhere running at the bottom of a screen occupied by handsome men and beautiful women with toothy smiles and witty repartees reveals a bright shiny journalism of everything but the news.
So I avoid it. Except for weird stuff. I like finding weird stuff at Google News. The casual disclosure that a potentially hazardous asteroid will pass near planet Earth during the Superbowl, or the neatly packaged revelation that researchers believe that a unique chemical composition in the deep-water Alaska green sponge could kill cancer cells and lead to treatments for pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma. The disheartening factoid revealing that (according to a 2017 survey from Charles Schwab), locals say you need to have a net worth of over one million dollars to be financially comfortable in San Francisco. The more reassuring notification that the Brooklyn Public Library is sponsoring a twelve-hour philosophy marathon. “Living in our modern dystopia is exhausting, which is why Brooklyn is throwing an all-night spiritual reboot,” says Eva Kis. The event will take place between 7 p.m. on January 27th to 7 a.m. on January 28th. Yeah Brooklyn Library!
Which, unfortunately, is 2,843 miles from Seattle. If I begin walking at a moderate pace now, it will take 937 hours to get there. I’ll be late, but full of philosophy.
And speaking of philosophy, tonight in Gaston Bachelard, I discover roots. The sinuosity of roots, the earthiness of roots, the subterranean mystery of roots.
The root is a living death. Its subterranean life is acutely felt. The soul knows that this is a long sleep, a languishing in the timelessness of earth. But if the tree is cut, the root finds sustenance to renew it. The fusion of death and life are seamless among the entanglement of roots.
The dynamic of the root is at once a driver of life and a seeker of death. It pierces the moldering of the subterranean realm while carrying to the sky the nutriments of earth.
The root is a marriage of contradictions; it is both supple and hard. It is a dialectic of contraries: with a swift reversal of the mind the roots may be seen as branches in the ground while the branches of a tree may be seen as roots delving into the sky.
The word ‘root’ itself is an inductor of coiled associations. “I hold a stalk in my hand,” writes Virginia Woolf. “I am the stalk. My roots goo down the depths of the world, through earth dry with brick, and damp earth, through veins of lead and silver. I am all fibre. All tremors shake me, and the weight of the earth is pressed to my ribs. Up here my eyes are green leaves, unseeing. I am a boy in grey flannels with a belt fastened by a brass snake up here. Down there my eyes are the lidless of a stone figure in a desert by the Nile.”
The imagination is a tree: It has the integrating virtues of a tree. It is both root and branch. It lives between earth and sky. It thrives in the dirt and flourishes in the wind. It creates a universe of birds and limbs and leaves. It connects us to our distant past. It draws sustenance from the sky. It feeds on the light of the sun.
Yesterday in the late morning there was a great hullabaloo of chains saws and men shouting. The owners of the house next door to us chopped the Ponderosa pine down that had been growing for many years sideways from the rockery separating their house from our building. We admired this tree. It made me happy to look at it. There aren’t many Ponderosa pines on this side of the Cascades. It’s a tree that prefers the more arid regions to the east, towards Leavenworth and Ellensburg. Now it’s gone. There is a stump left. We assume the tree had become a problem for the tenants of the house. Or the owners got tired paying crews to clean the needles up. Maybe the tenants wanted extra space for their cars. It’s painful to look at it. That big stump form which fountained the robust thick trunk and branches of a thriving sideways pine.
We worry that if they remove the trunk and its roots there will be continuous erosion and cracks in our driveway.
We also want to leave this city and its fussy, destructive rich.
We think a lot about Walla Walla.
According to the Sahaptin language, Walla Walla means many waters. The Columbia and Snake Rivers are close by, and the Walla Walla river, which travels through Umatilla County in Oregon and empties into the Columbia at Wallula Junction, a few miles south of Kennewick and Pasco. I love that country. The smell of sage, the rolling hills, the big basaltic rocks, landforms chiefly caused by erosion and deposition by jökulhaups, a glacially caused megaflood that occurred fifteen thousand years ago. This is the type of country that puts me at ease. The preferred habitat of cowboy rascals and Fauve colors. It’s an expansive landscape, full of Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pine.
I watch a YouTube video of climatologist Paul Beckwith show slide after slide, graph upon graph, of statistics concerning the melting and shrinkage of the polar ice cap. Arctic sea ice has been thinning and shrinking rapidly, far more rapidly than scientists predicted. It’s got me thinking. It’s got me worrying about food. Water. Suddenly life on this planet is no longer anything I take for granted. I’m acutely aware of its fragility and position in the solar system, the so-called Goldilocks Zone. I don’t have a spaceship. I sure wish I did. I’d be stocking it right now with cans of soup and pasta and meat sauce. Flashlights and maps. And I’d get out a map of the universe and look for the nearest habitable planet. A good Ramadan. Or Motel Six. Somewhere out there in Proxima Centauri. And I’d be sad. I love this planet. I have roots here. Deep affections and cannot look a crow in the eye without feeling a bond, an affiliation. We share a gray sky. And the bright moon in the web of my fingers.

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