The fragile nature of trees

As I understand it, the Chicago neighborhood I call home was built in the 1920s, in response to general prosperity and a desire to move away from the race riot that happened on the South side in 1919. This means that there are many tall, mature trees where I live. And that’s usually a good thing. A tall, majestic tree can provide shade and pretty up a block like nothing else can.

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But mature trees don’t fare too well in high winds and storms. I learned that today, as a microburst swept in and cut a destructive swath in a matter of minutes. Some pictures of the damage are provided here, but they can’t really do it justice. I don’t literally live in a war zone, but it feels like great destruction has been brought to the streets and parks where I live.

Nature nourished these trees throughout my lifetime and beyond. And then, in a reminder of its great power, it called some of them home. May we always remember that this is Nature’s planet, and we are lucky enough to live here, for however long we are given.

The Summer of Crocs

All you create, December 1
Looking at this picture is always going to make me smile. The two girls in it are a long way from wearing Crocs anymore, but they’re still good friends who will be there for each other as their lives continue to unfold. And that’s the best feeling there is. 

Beauty with a side of thought

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Last night, I was watching my older daughter’s play at an outdoor venue in the suburbs. The previous two shows had been cancelled because of rain (such are the perils of outdoor performance), and it looked questionable whether last night’s show would meet with the same fate. But the huge puffy clouds in the sky held no rain, and the show went off without a hitch.

At one point during the first act, I noticed that the sunset had started to change the colors of the towering clouds that remained in the sky. I wandered closer to the water, since we were not very far from Lake Michigan, and enjoyed a spectacular sunset, as shown above. The camera didn’t do the scene justice, as it never can in such a beautiful scene. But it was all I could do to capture the moment.

I wanted to be post this picture with a nod to what Henry David Thoreau called “the Great Artist.” Most people consider it to be God (or G-d to those who don’t want to spell out the full name), but I prefer the concept of “The Almighty” which appears in some of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches.

I’m not religious in a traditional sense. I like the way Thomas Paine put it in The Age of Reason: My own mind is my own church. Nobody needs to tell me of creeds and prophets and holy books, because I’ll dismiss all of them. Organized religion has always felt like some way for people to claim a kinship with a deity that can never be fully understood. And giving money is always, always, at the root of this kinship.

Tithing and other forms of religious giving might make someone feel closer to their concept of a supreme being, but for me that money goes to put nice suits on the backs of those who profess their kinship most fervently. I have no quarrel with those who do this, but it’s not something I’m comfortable with doing myself.

Am I cynical to believe this? That could be a fair accusation. But organized religion has no place in my world, and never will. I can recognize the hand of some great power in the beautiful sunset I saw last night, but I don’t relate that recognition with the need to sit in a church, listen to a sermon, and drop some money into a basket.

To repeat what Paine said, my own mind is my own church, and my own church exists wherever I can find a nice sunset. No admission fees are required for that.

A kick ass American weekend

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The first time that I ever felt any national pride over a sporting event was the Miracle on Ice hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics. I was 11 years old, and giddy at the prospect of beating the big, bad Soviets at what appeared to be their own game.

Flash forward 35 years, to Sunday’s triumph of the U.S. National Women’s Team at the World Cup. Again, soccer doesn’t seem to really be America’s game, particularly since the rest of the world calls it “football” instead. But when America’s best matched up against the rest of the world, the Red, White, and Blue came out on top. A better way to cap off the 4th of July weekend cannot be imagined, at least in the sporting realm.

The proceedings in Soldier Field were also a pretty good capper, in the artistic realm. It was a great weekend for America, all the way around.

American anticipation

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I took the picture above on July 3, on Central Steet in Evanston, Illinois. There’s an annual parade down Central on the 4th of July, and people set out chairs to reserve their spots along the parade route the day before.

Whoever sits in these chairs today, we can be sure that they love this country and want to celebrate its birth. Their ancestors, whoever they may be, once came to this country in the hope of finding a better life for themselves and their descendants.

I want to say something about how ugly Donald Trump’s comments about Mexicans coming to this country are. Such a man has a profound misunderstanding of what America has always been, and is in no way qualified to lead it.

America will endure as it always has, because it will be collectively wise enough to reject Trump and his foolish thought patterns.

Happy birthday, America. May your parades down Central Street never stop taking place, and may the chairs always be filled with people who love and understand you.

A win for progress and love

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Whenever I discuss gay marriage with somebody, particularly a male, I say something along the lines of “I don’t want to marry you, but I should have the right to do it, anyway.” I’ve been married to the same woman for 23 years this summer, so the chances I’d ever carry through with that are very slim. But the Supreme Court gave me–and every other American–that right today. And it feels great.

The news is creating a buzz here in the public library in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, where I find myself as I’m typing this out. A decade ago, Massachusetts set the trend that the rest of the country caught up to today.

The problem with being ahead of the curve, as I’ve discovered myself on occasion, is that the rest of society is generally unwilling to understand or embrace something new. John Kerry was branded a “Massachusetts Liberal” back in 2004, and that term didn’t apply to issues like independence from Britain or universal schooling for children or abolition of slavery, all of which Massachusetts led the way on once upon a time. No, a “Massachusetts liberal” was code for “he’s from that state where gay people can get married.” We had another four years of George W. Bush as president because that line of attack on John Kerry was so effective.

But that’s all over now. Today I can marry a man or a woman, in any state in this country, and that marriage must be recognized as valid. It doesn’t directly affect me, but it affects my children as they grow up, and it affects everyone in this country, whether they like the idea or not.

Progress and love won today. God Bless America always sounds good, but it sounds especially sweet today.

Withstanding an urge

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When I started writing this blog a little more than four years ago, I had no idea what it would become. And looking back at well over 1,000 posts that I’ve written, I’m pretty happy with it. It’s essentially a clearinghouse for some of the words and ideas and images that otherwise would have died inside my brain, unable to escape that dark place in between my ears. So I’m grateful on that front.

One of the earliest posts that I wrote announced to myself–and anyone who may have stumbled upon it–that I was giving up drinking for good. I had made that vow to myself dozens of times before, usually while I was in the throes of a nasty hangover of some sort. But putting it into words that could then be sent out for the world to read made it official. It made it into a type of electronic oath that I dare not violate. And my blog has, over the years, reflected my commitment to sobriety.

But about a week ago, that commitment was severely tested. For the first time since I made the decision to stop drinking, I was gripped by an urge to have a drink. The circumstances behind it don’t really matter, and I’ll suffice it to say that my old habits wanted to get the better of me. There were some nasty old beers that have been sitting in my downstairs fridge for a long time, and they would have done the trick.

There’s a mostly-finished bottle of Jack Daniels in the basement, which I’ve written about before in this space and would have welcomed me back into the fold. It was a fold that I lived in happily for 27 years, in what sometimes feels like another life. It is the fold that most of our society inhabits, in one form or another. It is where we are led to believe, through advertising dollars and a generally unspoken societal norm, that we should be.

Whenever there’s good news, we pop some champagne corks, or buy a round of drinks for our friends, or generally go out and live it up, with alcohol in some form or fashion. And on the flip side, when things don’t go so well, we drown our sorrows and drink until the pain doesn’t seem so bad anymore. I was laid off, with dozens of my colleagues, from a publishing company several years ago and off to the bar some of us went, drinking shots until the uncertain future looked hazy, and so did the uncomfortable present. All that for $20 or so. A bargain, if you want to see it that way.

Giving up drinking wasn’t hard for me. I decided that I didn’t need it anymore, and that was it. It showed me that I never really needed it in the first place, but still I went along with it. But the urge that gripped me for about a half an hour a week ago was the first time in my life that I ever felt a physical pang for something.

Taking one drink–any drink at all–would set off a blaze that I wouldn’t be able to control. Most people have an internal mechanism for “knowing when to say when.” Some beer company genius thought that one up, I’m sure, to reinforce the idea that one or two drinks is all that a person needs. Ten bucks in a bar, depending on where you are and what you’re having. Hand the bartender or the waitress a little bit of cash, or a credit card, and you’re on your way. No worries, mate.

But I’m missing that mechanism. One drink can turn into two, and then five, and then forget about it. I never kept track, because I didn’t care to know. And after four years of living without it, I have no faith that I could somehow find the mechanism that I’ve never had before. The only way to live with booze, at least for me, is to live without it.

So I resisted that urge, and I felt good about it. The scoreboard still reads 27 years to 4, in favor of the liquor manufacturers and distributors and bartenders of the world, but it’s still trending the way I want it to. I doubt that I’ll live the 23 years I still need to even up the score, but life is a big question mark and we’ll just have to see how everything turns out. But I received a test, and I didn’t fail. I feel very good about that.

A Moron and his Flag

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This is such a raw and terrible moment in our nation. The scourge of racism is alive and well, unfortunately. Anyone who thought that the election of Barack Obama somehow made us “post-racial” has now been proven wrong.

I grieve for the Charleston victims and their families, and I also grieve for everyone who no longer feels safe in their house of worship. Some would like to carry their guns to church with them, but those people live in a twisted world that I would never want to share. If we need to be strapped to worship the almighty, we may as well cease to consider ourselves civilized.

And if the massacre inside a church in Charleston has any silver linings at all, it will be that everyone–except for the most dark-hearted and hard-headed among us–now understands that the Confederate flag is a stain on America’s past, and has no place whatsoever in America’s future. It won’t bring the victims of Dylann Storm back, but it will have an impact going forward.