Sunday, September 25


Thank you to all who have visited my blog over the years. You can now find my writing at It's still free, and I invite you to subscribe.

All my previous blog entries will remain available on this site for now.

Thanks again for reading!

Thursday, September 8

Death and counting

Today, checking my phone after yoga I quickly learn two things. The first is that Queen Elizabeth died, the second that "Wildfire risk is high in your area. PGE may need to shut off power in the next 24–48 hours." Of the two I find the second more alarming. The predictability I foolishly count on, even when I know better, is at risk. So trying to be prepared, I find the extra battery I use to charge my phone when traveling and realize that it needs charging. And of course I don't have or can't find the only cord that fits it. So I order another that Amazon promises will be here in 24 hours. Life in the 22nd century.

I don't feel sadness over the queen's death; she had a good, long life and death comes to us all. Maybe she's relieved that she no longer has to deal with troubled family members, or watch Britain sink beneath the wave of history that appears to be engulfing it. But I know her family is mourning, and the planet will feel strangely empty for awhile. 

I was ten when she was crowned and she's been showing up in the background of my life for almost as long as I can remember. For anyone younger than 70 she's always been there. As Dan Rather wrote this morning, "she was a constant in a sea of chaos" and "her passing carries a significance far greater than her official duties would indicate." I'm not going to add to the flood of words that will issue forth over the next week or so, as she is memorialized and her family adjusts. Instead, I'm going to write about swimming.

Two days ago I was getting ready to swim my usual laps and trying to decide whether to count them, as I sometimes do, or simply check the clock occasionally to make sure I got my 30 minutes in. I've missed a lot of swimming lately due to travel, covid, and waiting for a cut to heal, and I was anxious to get back to it. So which was most important? Time or number of laps? 

It's pleasant to not worry about how far you have to go, to just relax and get on with it knowing that in the long run it won't matter what you do or how you do it. This is surely what our souls would prefer. To put aside the measuring, the plan making, even the pressing duty, and just let the river carry you forward. So I tried that. I was focusing on my strokes—a little ragged after so much time off—and enjoying the cool water against my skin as I routinely followed the blue-tiled lines and . . .  wait. Why am I counting? What am I counting? I had completely lost track of my laps but I was counting just the same. Because this is what our brains demand we do.

It's so damn hard to just be. To just be in the water, or be in a forest, or be sitting with your feet up, not thinking of anything, not always needing to accomplish or build or win. I appreciate the people who are hard at work solving our many problems. We need them. But sometimes I think that if we could all learn to be present, be here, right here now, maybe we wouldn't have all these problems.

I don't think we ever live long enough to become the people we want to be, and we will always depart leaving something undone, because no one wants to think that today might be the last. I don't know what Elizabeth II left unfinished when she departed today, but whatever it was it probably wasn't important. Because no matter what your ego tells you, most things aren't. Even if Einstein had left general relativity unsolved, someone would have finished it for him.

I remember telling Ray, shortly after we married, that I didn't want to get to the end of my life and look back on it and say "how boring." And I got my wish. But what one does isn't what life is about. It's about who one is. I'm still trying to figure that out.

Wednesday, August 17

Questions, questions

I just finished reading The Mind in the Cave by archeologist David Lewis-Williams. It was a somewhat difficult book for me. His language is that of science and the authors he frequently references are mostly unknown to me. I found it interesting, but unsatisfactory in the end. 

He doesn't offer a tidy resolution to my perennial question "what is consciousness" or even "what were the prehistoric people telling us through their cave art?" The book is hedged on every side by the complexity of human thinking, by conflicting views of numerous writers and scientists, and of course by the long, very long passage of time from the paintings themselves: 30,000 to 40,000 years. One can't blame the author for what is outside his control, but for all that, I'm still left with too many unanswered questions.

It has made me think though, of god and why homo sapiens keep recreating that concept. The cave painters had minds like our own. They had a developed language. And they were part of a shamanistic society; the painters themselves were probably shamans, or those seeking a spiritual or "religious" experience through vision quests or similar activities. 

The paintings may represent an attempt to cross the "membrane" of the cave walls into another dimension. Hallucinations, visual, auditory, or other, were encouraged through various means, including fasting, drumming, dancing, etc., or simply descent into the darkness of a cave for a period of time. As far as I can tell there was no "god" involved, only the seeking of wisdom and power, perhaps from spirit animals or other guides of the spirit world.

40,000 years later shamans are frowned upon and the world has embraced three major religious groups. First the Jews, then the Christians, and finally the Moslems adopted a shared belief in the same god. The first chapter of the Old Testament was written about one thousand BCE, and Moslems and Christians have only been around about 2300 years. Where had this singular god been during humanity's long history?

The Romans had gods and goddesses; before them the Greeks had mostly goddesses, before them the Egyptians worshiped the sun god Ra, Isis, and various other entities. That takes us to about six thousand years BCE. How did a culture of local shamans attuned to nature and its structures and patterns become a culture insisting, first, on multiple gods and goddesses, and now on a single, omnipotent god who rules all and whose word is the only truth? How did we get here? Maybe one god is just simpler? 

Williams says, near the end of his book, that "the sense of Absolute Unitary Being—transcendence, ecstasy—is generated by 'spillover' between neural circuits in the brain, caused by . . . visual, auditory, or tactile rhythmic driving, meditation, olfactory stimulation, fasting, and so forth. The essential elements of religion are thus wired into the brain."

He tempers this idea with praise for Bach, Shakespeare, Donne, and Wordsworth and the undefinable feelings they provoke for us, but declares, "what is in our heads is in our heads, and not located beyond us." This is the pragmatic, materialistic scientist that I am bound to respect for his knowledge, but resist honoring for his blindness. I don't care a whit whether he honors religion's gods, but to make material the spiritual aspect of life, which I equate with love of the natural world, of which we are so clearly a part, feels blind and hollow. 

But perhaps I am being harsh. Maybe the author is correct and spillover neurons are all that's needed to perceive, if only for brief moments, the unity and oneness that make life worthwhile. (But is drumming required?) 

As for me, I'll continue to believe that the heart leads the brain—which gets far too much credit—and love is the source of all good, no matter how you shape it or what you call it. Because while some of us may have a shortage of neurons, there's always enough love to go around.

Sunday, July 31


Can it really be the end of July already? And can it really be 100 degrees in Portland today? And is this really green, rainy Oregon?

There is good news though. Joe Manchin has agreed to a bill that will provide much needed money to fight climate change. At least it's said that he agreed; I won't relax until the vote is taken. But still, it's good news and I'm prepared to applaud and shout Hurrah! when the deed is done.

A few days before we were to leave France I was alone at our AirB&B farmhouse, surrounded by miles of quiet and peace and picturesque villages that have barely changed in 500 years. Thinking about our approaching departure date naturally made me think of home, and I was struck by a surprising, unwelcome feeling. America felt alien, harsh, and discordant; a place to avoid.

The recently announced Roe decision had a lot to do with this but it was also the multiple shootings, the ongoing lies and stupidity over the election, and the general sense of rudeness and floating anger that I knew awaited us. France has long been a favorite and when I'm there I never want to leave, but this wasn't France tugging at me, it was real dread of being once more surrounded and consumed by a culture that appears to reject everything I care about. It was a jarring, unhappy thought and I was shocked and saddened by it.

Of course I'm home now, and those thoughts were quickly effaced by the business that overtakes one after a long trip. Mail to sort, friends to see, chores to complete. Home is familiar and I am content. We like what we know, what we're used to, even when what we're used to is far from perfect and borders on chaos. The issues that plague us are our own and the solutions will be ours as well.

It takes energy to hold on to optimism when there's so much negativity on offer, but it's energy worth expending. Happiness isn't found in perfection, nor in the streets of Paris or the beauty of the French countryside. It's found in the search and commitment and effort of building what might, eventually, if we're lucky, be almost perfection. And that's really all we can ask.

Monday, July 18


 Dear Subscribers,

If you were surprised to receive a second copy of a blog entry from April 2021 and another from July 13, 2022, you are not alone. Apparently Google thought this was a good idea. I apologize for those duplicate sendings, and for any others that might appear in your mailbox. I will do my best to teach Google not to do this again.



Wednesday, July 13

Awe struck

I tested positive for Covid a week ago, probably picked up in the endless lines at the Charles de Gaulle airport. It hasn't been bad, like a cold with a lot of tiredness added in. I attribute some of that to jet lag and so far I don't have ambition to do much of anything except watch TV.

Yesterday morning was a January 6 Committee hearing and the first time I'd had a chance to see a full one. It was impressive. But what really impressed me yesterday were the first images taken by the Webb space telescope, and the time lapse video* of its creation that followed the presentation. I sat enthralled watching this complex machine being put together and tested and finally moved to the launch site, all at high speed. 

The planning and engineering entailed in such a project was, of course, immense and awe inspiring. Pieces were brought from other sites and installed in a framework; it was moved several times for testing. Each move must have been planned years in advance because tolerances were so close. Any mishap might doom the project and white-clothed men and women in dust free environments appeared to run across vast warehouses to complete tasks. The responsibility must have been wearing for those who engineered the various mechanisms, and for those who actually touched them.

Each time the device was moved it required packing in elaborate protective casing. And with each move I found myself wondering, how did they know it would fit through that door? Was the room built for this single purpose? Silly perhaps, but so many decisions had to be made, often far in advance, and watching it happen at double or triple speed made every step feel consequential. What if one of those cables snapped? So many pieces to be checked and rechecked. Sometimes hundreds of people circled, climbed, observed or moved the precious object; quick-stepping through an elaborate dance choreographed in the past and evidenced in the present as high speed perfection. 

Who planned all that? Who designed the framework, the mirrors, the sunshade? And who made all those pieces come together and fit together and work together? People working together. Finally I watched as two technicians on lifts accomplished a final task before it went into space, carefully removing protective covers on what might have been lenses. The tension was almost too much to bear.

The fact that Homo sapiens—whose prehistoric art I just saw on the walls of a cave in France—were able to design and construct this wonder seemed to me almost as incredible as seeing the first images from space. I'm still awestruck as I think about it. We are capable of accomplishing anything if we are united in a desired goal and willing to persevere through all the challenges our goal inevitably presents. The Webb telescope is expected to function at least 25 years and there's no doubt that it will change the way we and science think about the universe and our own beginnings.

But the building and successful launch of the telescope must also be celebrated. We should be proud that as a species we are capable of imagining, engineering, building, and sending into space this complex instrument devoted solely to knowledge, and to our incessant need to know more. From the caves to the stars; where will we go from here?


*I tried to find this video on the site but the closest I got were pieces of it. Maybe not as compelling but it's worth watching a few.

Monday, July 4

Return to reality

Les Eyzies-de-Tayac
Les Eyzies-de-Tayac

We arrived home around 7:30 last night, exhausted from a trip that included an unexpected layover. We left Charles de Gaulle airport late due to conditions that found us standing in continuous lines for over four hours; those lines that go back and forth endlessly, exhibiting faces that became more familiar with each turning of the corner, faces just as bored and tired as ours undoubtedly were. If we hadn't been exposed to Covid before, we certainly were there, as only about 25% wore masks. One line stretched across a vast space only to turn back on itself before entering the maze that took us eventually to passport control. Naturally the plane leaving Paris was delayed, which meant we missed our Calgary connection where more lines, almost as chaotic, awaited. It was a numbing end to a wonderful trip.

And today is the 4th of July, a day of celebration of our nation's history and our hopes for the future. It feels strange coming from France into this holiday, France being a key in the founding of our country, helping us win our first war. 

After we left Paris we were in Perigord, in the Dordogne region where for thousands of years prehistoric people hunted and lived in caves sculpted into the cliffs above the river. Many of them are decorated with drawings and paintings. The famous Lascaux cave is closed to the public but we saw others and visited a massive one, taken in by a little train to a vast room where the ceiling was decorated with drawings of horses, mammoths, rhinos and more. The artists had climbed into a chamber far from the opening, carrying fire to light their way, and laid on their backs to create hundreds of beautiful, inspiring drawings. Why? There are many theories but no definitive answers. 

The floor of that part of the cave was dug out so that we, 40,000 years or millennia later, can gaze in awe at their artistry. Our ancestors were no slouches.

Over the centuries rough dwellings were added to the cliff openings, and eventually some became fortresses and then castles providing shelter and protection for their people. These castles too are now visited by tourists but they were once engaged in battles, especially during the 100-years war when the French and English fought over who should rule here. France now benefits from their beauty.

We spent our days visiting charming old villages, seeing bucolic scenes, and eating excellent food. As is usual for me I didn't want to leave. But here I am, with lots more memories to fill my mind and my dreams, and almost ready to return to what passes for normal life. 

Wishing you a Happy 4th! Hang on, and welcome the good that's surely waiting for you.

Sunday, June 26

From Les Eyzies, France

The Palace of Fontainebleau

I'm sitting in the living room of our beautiful farmhouse "gite," a rental in Périgord, south-central France. It's raining or I'd be outside because it's lovely here, with fields of wildflowers and two friendly donkeys who enjoy being petted and brushed. 

My daughter and granddaughter have gone off with friends to see a cave full of stalactites. I've seen lots of stalactites so I opted to stay home and enjoy the quiet, though I will join them later on a visit to a cave with prehistoric paintings, which is the primary reason we are here (there are 48 caves in this valley, most with art or other signs of habitation).

We spent nine days in Paris enjoying all the city has to offer, including an amazing piano concert in an old church and a 4D movie in a modern theater. 4D means your seat tosses you around, wind blows, insects flitter around your feet, smoke billows from the screen, etc. It was the latest Jurassic World movie and without giving anything away I can say that the finale included fighting dinosaurs which almost threw me out of my seat. It was fun, and it got us out of the Paris heat (100º F) for a few hours. Then we went to Versailles and wandered the gardens and watched a fireworks display. From the ridiculous to the sublime I suppose.

This is my granddaughter's first visit to France so we were determined to show her as much of Paris as we could, which meant the top of the Eiffel Tower, a boat ride on the Seine, a visit to the catacombs (I went to the d'Orsay instead), a fashion show at Gallerie Lafayette, a stroll through Pere Lachaise cemetery, and on and on. We were surprised by the number of cyclists, scooters, etc. on the streets until we remember that gas is about $8+ a gallon here. We spent a lot of time on the metro and searching for bubble tea to keep the teenager happy. Fortunately bubble tea is available in nearly every arrondissement. 

So now we're here in central France, decompressing from the bustle of the city. I broke my rule about reading news and indulged in the madness of the court's recent terrible decisions. We are all happy to be away from the anger that is surely erupting across the U.S., but absence doesn't lessen the shock, despite the expected Roe decision.

I've always loved France for its long and varied history, including its prehistory, and I'm finding solace surrounded by 40,000+ years of human habitation knowing that—despite current events—all things pass, life continues, and nature abides. 

Wishing you peace.

Tuesday, May 24

The fun of aging

There's a lot to be said for growing older, though I can't for the moment think of an example. Perhaps it's as simple as my dad's response whenever I asked how he did: "I'm still here."

I joined a small group of friends Sunday for a visit to the Portland Art Museum and its Frida Kahlo exhibit. After we'd seen what we came for we retreated to a Starbucks for coffee and conversation. Eventually and inevitably our talk came round to the fun of aging. One of us, after a year of struggling, has sadly decided to give up the violin due to uncooperative fingers. She has for several years played weekly with a distant friend using FaceTime, and she regrets losing not only the music but time spent with her pal. Without an excuse to stay in touch, will they? She is mourning that loss, and it's no different than grieving the loss of a pet or a spouse. Grief is grief. Only the duration varies, and no one but you and your body decide that.

Aging is accepting the process of letting go. We give up physical activities we once enjoyed, or change our spacious home for a smaller one. We lose friends to death or simply through lack of contact. We throw things out. Our lives contract in ways seen and unseen; a slow drawing in of boundaries that one can weep over, or accept. I waver. But I am fortunate in having good health, thanks in part to yoga and swimming, though I don't have the stamina I once had. I miss having a yard to putter in and most of all I miss Ray.

I think it's wise to let yourself grieve for the losses you experience, even those that may seem insignificant to yourself or others. I also think it's important to name the feeling. Too often we set our emotions aside or try to hide them, as if they're unimportant or even embarrassing. They aren't. Grief is legitimate in any instance of loss and as we age we have more reasons to feel it. And grieving can introduce us to other ways of being and seeing.

Still, we can't let mourning deprive us of everything life offers. Curiosity, surprise, even opportunities are still available for use; so is learning, so is love and friendship. So is everything in nature, including the healing that the natural world holds for us.

There are lots of things right now that make me unhappy: climate change, guns, violence, homelessness, poverty, ignorance; the senseless war in Ukraine and the growing threats to our democracy. My list feels endless and it's full of things I did not expect to be worrying about at the age of 80. Yet here I am, and I'm so very grateful.

This morning I found myself thinking of Istanbul/Constantinople after reading a short collection of writings about that city. It made me homesick for Turkey and our days in Istanbul, staying in the Agatha Christie room, wandering the streets and alleys of the grand bazaar; buying fresh fish sandwiches from a boat tied up along the shore. I have a lifetime of such memories and I plan to make more. Unless my mind goes first I can take those memories with me everywhere, even to a smaller home or a hospital bed. Because life is a happy miracle, even when we think it isn't.

Friday, May 6

For want of a goddess

The news of Alito's terrible, awful, disgusting draft decision has enraged me, as well as every woman I know. Like many of you I remember a time before Roe, when both birth control and abortion were illegal and women were forced into terrifying decisions that left too many dead or sterile for life, or with a child to raise or, just as heart-wrenching, to give away. I knew such women and I saw how those agonizing decisions changed their lives forever. We cannot go back.

Alito and his crazy cohorts want to return women to those dark days. If not changed materially, this draft decision will repeal a half-century old law that finally gave women the constitutional right to make decisions for themselves about their own bodies and their own autonomy. Shockingly, Alito's draft decision does not bother to mention women and their rights and concerns, or the burden of carrying a baby to full term. There is no empathy for a raped child forced to bear another child and perhaps die as a result. Nor is there a reference to the rapist or any term in hell recommended for him. Instead he says "Roe was egregiously wrong from the start."

Unfortunately this ruling is based on the 14th amendment* of the Constitution that assumes our liberties include personal privacy. The right to abortion, to birth control, to marrying whomever you choose and other non delineated liberties, all rely on that same amendment. So it is not just women who should be outraged. This is the first time in history that a constitutional freedom has been taken away. If religious conservatives remain in control of Congress and the Supreme Court it will not be the last.

Maybe it's time to bring back the goddess. Cast your imagination back several thousand years to a culture that was matrilineal, with children inheriting through their mother and women having equal or dominant roles in and out of the home. Many women of this period were renowned philosophers, physicians, scientists, and leaders. They had bodily autonomy (and yes abortions were known and available), could move about as they chose, and were not required to veil or hide or demean themselves. That came later, a gift of patriarchy and male power.

What I find most disturbing about this whole conversation is the outright arrogance of men—who know nothing about what it feels like to live in a female body—thinking they have the right to order women to bear unwanted children. As Vice President Harris said, "How dare they?"

I am so pissed. It's time to reclaim our heritage.

* The relative Section 1 of the 14th Amendment states: All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the Unites States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. [ratified July 9, 1868]