Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

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.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

March 12, 2009

From here on the Ridge the sun is bright behind thin clouds. I can look out over the valley, and, over where the hill shoulders down to the river, there’s a thick spread of white cloud. “Freezing fog,” the forecast says, limited visibility. In a little while, I’ll head out to experience it myself, but, for now, I’m content to be at the kitchen table with a cup of peach ginger tea and this laptop.

Yesterday was Jeter the standard poodle’s first birthday and he e-mailed his sister Lucy and brother Kooba (the whole family has celebrity names–Lucy’s a red-head) to wish them happy birthday. For his birthday, he got two dog cookies from the fuel delivery man, a long walk, and a couple of pieces of cheese. A bath and a grooming would probably not have been a welcome present for him, though he needs it.

After sixteen years of living with our old dog, Kermit, living with a young dog is both a challenge and a joy. Though we had done plenty of research on dog breeds and, like the Obamas, had considered breeds like the Portuguese Water Dog, we still had some resistance to buying a breed dog rather than adopting a mutt like Kermit from the shelter. But when the poodle puppies showed up in the paper, we took a ride out to see them, and when the largest brown puppy lay in our arms, so mellow and sweet, there was no question. And the poodle at my feet has been a wonderful dog. He’s smart, energetic, enthusiastic to a fault, and, for the most part, eager to do what we ask him. I’m finally seeing, now, that things we ask of him are becoming routine, so there are fewer communication problems. However, in spite of his baseball player name, he’s not too keen on the game of “fetch.” He gets bored after a while and claims he can’t find the ball or the flying squirrel toy and would much rather run up the hill to see what’s happening there or go off and grab a piece of frozen horse manure to bring into the house. I think more mental challenges are in order.

I know that spring is on the way. Here, schools are on spring break. I have students coming by to see Mattie and Sam today, and our horse club will visit Tom Hart’s blacksmith shop this Saturday. The seeds arrived from Renee’s on Monday and I need to set up the shelves and lights to start the tomatoes for the greenhouse. The Iditarod is halfway over, though I’m not following it the way I did the Quest. Birds flit onto the planters on my deck, nibbling the remains of last year’s flowers, and zipping away. They still ignore the feeder we hung from the roof beam. The days are filled with light.

Still, there’s deep snow everywhere. I went out to work with Mattie yesterday, using the clicker to work on “stand” and “ears up.” Mattie is less fit at this point than Sam is, partly, I think, because she spends so much time sulking in the run-in shed while Sam is out enjoying the view in all weather. Her back doesn’t seem as muscled as his is, so I’m starting off with hand-walking, practicing “walk” and “whoa” and “ears up” all at once. As we circle her side of the corral, we end up walking through the parts where she doesn’t usually walk, and she and I both sink in to our knees. Good exercise for us both, but not very practical and a bit scary, since I know there are frozen brown piles under that snow–the ones we were planning to pick up the day the snow storm hit and that we’ll see again at snow melt in late April or early May.

This is the time of year when we feel most out of synch with the rest of the world, here in the Interior. We have spring fever–our minds wander, we think of places where there are flowers, we plan our gardens and summer training schedules-but we could be hit with snow and 20 below any day.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

February 12, 2009

This morning, I was finishing throwing hay to the horses and spending a few minutes scratching their necks under their manes and inhaling their earthy, yeasty smell when the corral, the yard, the snow on the spruce trees began to glow with a copper light. It’s lighter every day now. The change is significant, the day extending by as much as an hour a week. The return of the light starts a fizz of energy in my stomach–or that place in the center of the body that the Chinese call chi. I look at the cutbank behind the house where I have been trying to get wildflowers to grow for the past six years. This year, I think, I’ll find a way.

Then the sun slipped up behind the clouds that spread across all the rest of the sky and the light dulled. Still, to the southern horizon there was a peachy band of light above the silhouettes of the mountains, then thick, flat grey.

I heard Obama’s speech the other night; like everyone else, I’ve been thinking of the economic situation, flattening the mood of delight I felt at the inauguration. I read about places where, already by last summer, people were abandoning horses in forests, in farmers’ fields, in empty horse trailers at horse shows or auctions. I even heard of horses found shot by owners who couldn’t keep them. Here in Alaska, we tend to feel the economic trends on a different cycle than the lower 48–sometimes by as much as five years. Still, we know it will impact us. We live in a place where extravagant living is unsustainable. In rural Alaska, the situation is more grim, as fuel prices went up in the fall just as rural communities needed to put in their winter supply. Some villages, like Emmonak, are in dire straits, but have found a way to make their plight–needing fuel and food–known and some relief has reached them.

I think about how things might go for us–including horse lovers and those working in the arts. We will keep on as long as we can, knowing that the things that sustain us are not all material or financial. Writing is an inexpensive art–though I’m writing on a laptop now, I could convert to pen and paper. Dance only takes the body and a sense of rhythm, though the production of a performance takes a whole lot more. Riding horses takes, well, the horse–and that’s more challenging here in the North than it might be in some more temperate place. It’s when we what to share our arts that the economy affects us the most. As the “recovery package” goes out around the country, I’m listening hard for reference to the arts, knowing that we will be dealing with some bread-and-butter issues first–but still, I’m listening.

I’m finishing this at night, the full moon of last night shaved a bit thinner now, and covered by the clouds still spread across the sky. The wood stove warms the room. The dog sleeps, a mound of brown fur.

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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