Posts Tagged ‘Inauguration’

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

January 20, 2013

Redpolls and Chickadees

Thanks to football (words I never thought I’d write), I’m having a pleasant day home alone, listening to From the Top on NPR, a classical music show featuring young musicians, this week focused on music honoring the life and ideals of Martin Luther King. And thanks to Dr. King, this pleasant Sunday will be followed by a day off from teaching, a day I hope to spend, in part, listening to Obama’s second inaugural address. Because we are in the farthest US time zone from the East Coast (other than Hawaii), the whole inaugural shebang will be over by 10am—plenty of time to longe horses or do a thorough cleaning of the corral and gather my wits for the long semester ahead.

Before I sat down to write, I was watching redpolls at our new yellow feeder. Pushy little birds, they chatter and flutter at each other, trying to get the best spot to peck at the sunflower and thistle mix we’ve put out for them. They seem to have driven the chickadees away by their sheer number and pushiness, though I know the chickadees are still out in the bare willows, because I hear their calls when I go out to visit the horses—“deee—dee—dee.” They are politer birds, perhaps, waiting till the plainer redpolls have glutted for the day to come and perch at the feeder. Or perhaps someone else in the neighborhood has food that they like better. Watching the redpolls, so active and plucky, I made a mental list for the day—writing this is item number one.

I suppose I could make analogies between the pushy birds and politics—but their energy is not a difference of opinion with chickadees, but the essential energy of living things: hungry, eager, joyful, crabby, soaring, and squabbling. As I walk up to the glass door to the deck, they sense my motion and blow away as abruptly as if caught by a sudden gust of wind. If I stand still, they venture back one at a time till they are again feeding chattily away. The cat sits at my feet, watching them, plotting her summer moves. In summer, much to her disappointment, I move the feeder and stop filling it, so she is forced to hunt voles in the hay barn instead.

Thinking of Dr. King and of Obama, I remember the flocking of people from around the country to hear each man speak, a couple generations apart. For us, the attractive food is hope, something that has been in short supply in recent years—certainly in many desperate spots around the world. Looking back over this blog, I found this paragraph from Inauguration Day four years ago:

“It’s been a long dark journey through a kind of national despair for the past eight years, when the public dialogue has been driven by fear and impulse rather than reflection and reason. Horses can be made dangerous and frightening by humans who react around them out of fear–perhaps that’s also true of a nation. And horses can be calmed and rehabilitated by a calmer, reasonable presence. Perhaps we all long for that, as well. It’s a lot to place on one human being, to calm and redirect the restless herd of our national psyche, but, as I’ve said to friends here, an election isn’t about one person, it’s about us and who we want ourselves collectively to be. So, as light progresses here, we’ll watch to see how light can be progressively shed on us all with the turn of the political season. I wish for Obama all the best tools of horse and dog training: to be calm, attentive, clear-headed, non-reactive, and to lead by reward and praise rather than by punishment and fear.”

How much has changed? Well, I suppose that depends on your world view. But what I had hoped for in Obama seems to be played out in who he has proved to be; he’s famously cool rather than reactive, and seems to be learning how to balance the carrot and the stick politically. Our nation seems to have divided, say, into redpolls and chickadees—but we are still one flock, and have our humanity in common with people everywhere. I wouldn’t trade places with Obama, but I’m glad he’s there, doing the difficult work of keeping us focused on what we have in common and living out the dream that King put forward all those years ago.

Today, I notice the light returning even more than I did last week. We are now a full month away from solstice, with as much light as we had in Thanksgiving. I’m already thinking of the garden and of my plans for Mattie and Sam this summer. We have months to go before we see the ground again, but we have hope.

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The View from Mattie’s Pillow

December 31, 2009

A New Year

And I’m ready.  This has been a year of great promise: on the national scene, a new president who represents a true turning point in American politics; on the local scene, a new mayor, a growing interest in gardening and energy efficiency, and a turn toward inventiveness and ingenuity in dealing with living well and close to the earth in our difficult climate.

But on the ground here in the Interior and at Mattie’s Pillow, it was a year that gradually accumulated small disappointments, local disasters, and a bushel of griefs.  On this blog, I’ve focused on the beauty of life in the Interior and on the challenges those of us who live here face.  In general, I’m an optimist—and living with horses, an exuberantly fun-loving dog, a garden, and all the wild and human creatures that surround us here gives me a lift and a bounce back to the optimistic when  things get rough.

But each fall, as we begin the slide into the dark days of winter, we look at those around us and wonder who will be with us in the light of spring.  Already some have slipped away: Roy Bird, Marjorie Cole—and others have taken a more dire route off the planet, something which leaves those of us who knew them still tumbled in their wake.   And, since I mentioned politics in the first paragraph, the politics has been surreal, both nationally and in-state.  But I’ll leave that to other blogs to detail.  Check the Missing Links section for more on this.

Now, on New Year’s Eve, I’m once again in New Jersey assisting my brother.  It feels odd to be far from Fairbanks.  On New Year’s, we usually go to the fireworks on campus, standing out in the cold, bundled, booted, mittened, scarved, and even wrapped in sleeping bags, lying back warm in the snow and below zero air as the fireworks sizz and burst and sparkle above us and shake the ground beneath us.  Then we spend the evening with friends in the Farmer’s Loop valley, sitting around a bonfire and watching the neighbors’ fireworks light up each hour’s passing of the year in some time zone.  I miss it, but we’re planning a red beans and rice dinner with sparkling cranberry juice, some balloons, and some poppers.

Though I miss my usual celebration, it feels right that I start the year doing some good—such as it is—for my oh-so-stoic brother, helping him get his life back after a long healing that’s not quite over yet.  Perhaps this beginning foreshadows a better year ahead.  Perhaps, instead of the euphoric celebration of (and projection onto) the election of Obama we experienced last year, this year we should each do what Obama knew he needed to do all along: roll up our sleeves, wade in, and do the dirty, tiring, sometimes thankless work of making our world, or the part of it in which we live, a better place than we found it.

I’m starting with my brother’s kitchen.  What about you?

Happy New Year to all of you who read this blog.  Thanks for your readership, your comments and poems, your willingness to stop by from time to time.  I’ll be back to Mattie and Sam in the next entry.

View from Mattie’s Pillow

January 20, 2009

This morning we fed the horses in the dark, as usual, then made coffee and scones and watched the Inauguration. Our friend John came over and we made an event of it–gathering at 7:30am, sleepy still, but sweetened by honey-buttered scones and the joy of the crowd on the screen. After the speech and the hoopla–and after Bush’s helicopter took off for the last time from the White House lawn, we sat and talked and sipped warm coffee as the windows gradually lightened. My son, the dancer, called from New York; I’ll call my brother later today. Now the sun is up above the edge of the ridge; the fresh snow glows with creamy light; everything sparkles and seems new.

We talked about the dark of the year and how it affects us. John is here for his first winter and he’s feeling a bit ragged and sluggish. We assured him that this is part of winter in the far north: the dark and cold settle in together, our blood thickens, we go into a kind of mental hibernation even though we go about the motions of daily life. The difficult time comes when the light begins to return and our energy builds, but the snow is still thickly spread across the ground, the ground itself frozen solid, the deep cold still possible for months to come. It’s friendship that brings us through. When despair creeps into our hearts, a conversation or a good laugh can stave it off for a while. Or it’s our animals. When I need grounding, I go out to the corral and brush Mattie or detangle Sam’s mane–even when it’s too cold to stay out long or too slick to longe or ride.

Still, in the light shining now across the corral–the horses standing still and sideways to it, absorbing every ray they can, storing up energy for the rest of the sunless day-I can feel my own reserve of energy, hope, optimism replenishing.

View from Mattie’s Pillow

January 18, 2009

More news from the psyche.

Still warm, by Alaskan standards. For a few days, temperatures lifted to around fifty above–for some, a hundred-degree rise in two days. Walking across campus, I felt a puff of warm breeze on my face–unfamiliar breeze, unfamiliar warmth. The lightness this brings to everyone’s mood is remarkable. How can temperature alone make such a difference in all the little troubles we carry? Yet, shedding coats, hats, mittens, even for a few days, we move more fluidly in the world, and spring seems possible.

By today, light snow, and temperatures back below freezing, but still warm, for us. As I write this, I’m thinking of the people gathering on the Mall in Washington, DC, and the change of mood and energy so many of us feel at the approach of Inauguration Day. While it’s not my intention to make this a political blog–there are too many good ones already (see Mudflats in the Blogroll for an Alaskan example)–the changing weather here seems to parallel a change of what? Mood? Politics? National intent?

It’s been a long dark journey through a kind of national despair for the past eight years, when the public dialogue has been driven by fear and impulse rather than reflection and reason. Horses can be made dangerous and frightening by humans who react around them out of fear–perhaps that’s also true of a nation. And horses can be calmed and rehabilitated by a calmer, reasonable presence. Perhaps we all long for that, as well. It’s a lot to place on one human being, to calm and redirect the restless herd of our national psyche, but, as I’ve said to friends here, an election isn’t about one person, it’s about us and who we want ourselves collectively to be. So, as light progresses here, we’ll watch to see how light can be progressively shed on us all with the turn of the political season. I wish for Obama all the best tools of horse and dog training: to be calm, attentive, clear-headed, non-reactive, and to lead by reward and praise rather than by punishment and fear.


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