The best shot was the one I didn’t see coming

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On Sunday morning, I got up early and drove my younger daughter to her synchronized skating practice. Upon dropping her off, I realized that the sun would be coming up shortly, and I decided to greet it as it did.

The sunrise was a dazzling display of clouds and light and water and sky. The shades were incredible, and I took a few pictures, knowing that they could never capture the scene sufficiently. Pictures don’t do many things justice, particularly in the natural world. But it makes us feel better to record something, just the same.

I came away from the scene with about two dozen pictures and a video, all stored in my cameraphone’s memory. One is really all I needed, but for some reason I had to take more. I enjoyed the scene with my own two eyes as well–as I was supposed to do–but the surplus of picture-taking resulted in my favorite shot of all, and the one I’ll share with posterity in this space.

A bicyclist out on a morning ride zoomed past me as I was taking one of the shots. I don’t know–and suppose I never will–if it was a man or a woman, how old the person is, or anything else about him or her. The person was wearing a hat and a backpack, and riding a bike along the lakefront in Chicago. But that person’s timing, and mine, created an interesting piece of imagery: The eternal sun and the temporary person, on a seeming collision course with each other. The sun has come up every day for millions of years, and those of us here to see it are shifting every single day.

I couldn’t have posed this picture any better if I wanted to, and that’s the point. Random, unexpected, and perhaps even unwanted things can sometimes turn out better than anything we could plan for. I’m grateful that I took more pictures of a sunrise than I needed to, and I’m glad that a biker I’ll never meet came out of nowhere and crashed into one of them. It makes for a nice image, and a reminder to take whatever comes and be excited about it.

Shut down Volkswagen

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My parents had a light blue Volkswagen Beetle like the one pictured above when I was a kid, and I called it a “Vopiad” because I couldn’t say “Volkswagen.” It’s a happy memory for me.

But those warm fuzzys have been abolished forever by the way Volkswagen has behaved since 2009. They installed software that was specifically designed to beat emissions testing into many of their models, but which then shut off when the car was not being tested. Their cars thus spit many times the allowable limits of pollutants into the air, which I and everyone else on the planet had to breathe.

Volkswagen is paying for their deception, as they should. But the settlement funding seems to be directed to the people who bought these cars in the first place. Those of us who breathed in foul air over these past few years apparently won’t see a dime in damages.

I frankly don’t want any money from Volkswagen, but I do want them to pay. And the only fitting penalty I can imagine is to have them shut down for good, permanently unable to soil our environment with their products ever again.

This won’t happen, of course, but it should. There’s nothing Volkswagen can do, and no check they could ever write, that will undo the environmental damage they’ve caused through their subterfuge. May the people who dreamed this scheme up–and who knew and did nothing about it through the years–be criminally punished for what they have done. And may the name “Volkswagen” forever be synonymous with irreversible environmental damage. They’ve certainly earned it.

Governor Snyder, you can’t fix this

When I think about what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, I get really angry. Whoever thought that giving poisoned water to the public–in order to save money over clean water taken from another source–needed to be reined in by the person who had the authority to do so, and in this case it was the governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder.

But Snyder let the deed go down, and the people of Flint have paid the price. A legionnaire’s disease outbreak has already killed 10 people, and everyone who drank or used that water–which had been tested at elevated levels of carcinogens–did damage to themselves that we won’t see for a long time to come.

We need water to live, and as citizens we have a right to expect our water to be safe to use. If government is to have any purpose at all, that’s one of them. And when the water is unsafe, those who approved of giving it to the people cannot be trusted to clean up the mess themselves.

Rick Snyder and anyone else who knew that Flint was receiving poisoned water–but did nothing to warn the people about its dangers–needs to be removed from office and prosecuted for a criminal act. Terrorists would love to poison a city’s drinking water, so why do the people who actually succeeded at doing so get a chance to “fix” their mistake? It won’t bring back those who have died, nor will it remove the nasty chemicals inside the people who drank or bathed in this toxic stuff.

The solutions to this situation are very pricey, and for a city and a state (and a nation, if we’re being honest about it) that doesn’t have the money to spare, things can look pretty dire. But as long as the governor who allowed this to happen remains in charge, nothing will truly get solved. Step one is to remove the present governor, and let someone else try to fix the damage from there.

May we never see anything like this ever again in an American city.

The calendar says it’s Christmas time

 

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I must point out that this is not my house. I drove by it yesterday, on my way to work in suburban Chicago. The warm weather, dense fog, and lack of anything suggesting winter temperatures made the collection of lawn ornaments seem forlorn and out of sorts.

Everybody has their passions in life, and whoever lives in this house has probably been collecting these things over many years. I understand that they’re lit up at night, too, which must take this display to another level altogether.

This planet is in trouble, everyone. Blame it on El Nino if you want, but I’m more than a little concerned that my younger daughter could walk around this evening, at night time in Chicago, and hand me her coat because she didn’t need it. On December 23.

We love our fossil fuels, myself included, but they’ve come with the price tag of a warmer planet, melting ice caps, and rising sea levels. And while these lawn ornaments won’t actually get flooded, they will look a little silly on those warm December days in the years ahead.

I wish peace to everyone, whether they read this or not.

 

The orange sunrise

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On my morning commute the other day, I was looking toward the sunrise, waiting to merge into traffic. I was stopped at a red light, fortunately, or I wouldn’t have had the time to get my camera open and take this picture.

Filters can allow for any effect at all to be achieved with a photo, but I didn’t have to do anything to make this one look good. Nature and what Thoreau once called “The Great Artist” did all the work for me. All we have to do is appreciate it.

Ridin’ the Storm Out

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There’s been a lot of great music written about rain though the years.

There’s Purple Rain.

Riders on the Storm.

Let it rain.

“Rain keeps fallin’ down….down…down”

But tonight it’s not so cool for me. Rain pouring in buckets have caused the drains in my basement to back up, and the water is rising as I type this out. I Can’t do a damn thing about it, either.

The spigot in the sky has been opened up, and this old house has hopefully seen worse storms, but it’s going to have to get through this one.

That gallon of bleach I bought to clean up the basement won’t be enough, I’m afraid.

Better this than a drought, I suppose. But anytime it wants to let up will be fine with me.

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.

No rain, No rainbows

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I don’t like rainy days, and I don’t think anybody does. I’m sure that some people prefer the rain, but like most people I’d rather have some sunshine, instead.

I was recently in California with my family on vacation. It’s a land of unspeakable beauty, and I envy the people who are lucky enough to live there. But they’re also in the midst of a drought that is threatening to change many things. Water is a precious resource, and if the rains aren’t falling, that’s not good.

There’s a saying in Hawaii that I added as the title for this post. It means that if you want good and beautiful things, you need to put up with the unpleasant things first. If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding. Something like that.

There was a tiny little bit of rain that fell when we were in Monterey, in the middle part of our trip. California needs more rain than what fell that day, but the end result was a tiny little sliver of a rainbow that emerged as my daughter was doing gymnastic flips on the beach near Cannery Row. And the wisdom of the Hawaiians hit me all over again. The rainbow was an added bonus that made an Incredibly lovely place even more so.

I wish many more rainbows for California in the days and months ahead. They will beautify the state, of course, but they desperately need what causes them, too.

A goal for the Earth

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I wanted to put some thoughts about Earth Day yesterday, but time got away from me and I got some sleep for a change. Maybe there’s Earth Week to give people like me a bit of a break on that score.

I love this planet. It’s filled with so many great and wonderful things that everyone can enjoy. But I hate what’s been done to it, past and present. Like Jim Morrison once said, What have they done to the earth, our fair sister?

We need to do better. All of us, myself included, do things that aren’t in the Earth’s best interest. Using less plastic would be a good start, as I learned recently on a trip to the aquarium in Monterey Bay. Using less means that less of it will end up out in the ecosystem, to poison birds and fish who aren’t doing anything worse than looking for something to eat.

So less plastics, it is. I’ll report on my progress here, from time to time. And the differences might be small, but I can do it and so I will. Our home is worthy of the effort.

January goes away

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If I had to rank the months of the year in order of my personal preference, January would be at or near the bottom. Winter will do that, I’m afraid.

So after today, January goes away for a good long time. If all goes well it will come back again, for me and everyone reading this. But until then, several warmer and more agreeable months lie ahead, just not right away.

An idling bus

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Yesterday I came upon a bus, idling away as it was waiting to pick up passengers at a community center suburban Chicago.

I walked past the bus, and as I did I felt its large exhaust pipe, spewing warm fumes into the air. I asked myself why the bus was left running, as nobody had gotten on board yet, or was even in sight at that moment. But the engine kept on running, and whatever the combustive process was, it kept on spitting out its results.

This week, a report was issued by the government, confirming what most of us already know: this planet is in trouble. Emissions, in the way of greenhouse gases, are threatening our long-term survival. And yet the bus keeps on idling, and we keep on doing what we’ve always done.

The bus began loading maybe four or five minutes later, and within ten minutes it was on its way. The fumes were still escaping from the bus, but it felt less wasteful because at least people were going from one place to another.

One bus won’t spell the difference between saving the planet and seeing 125 degree temperatures on a regular basis. But the symbolic meaning of an idling bus might be significant. All of us can make decisions to reduce emissions and/or waste. We can’t do anything more than that, but we can do something. And if we want to continue living here, we must.

Singing in the Square

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I can’t think of too many more beautiful sights than watching the sunset in Key West. And Mallory Square is the one place where everyone goes to see the show. I first learned this from watching the buddy cop movie Running Scared in the 1980s, and a week ago I finally got to experience it for myself. I hope that everyone reading this will have a chance to do so at some point in their future.

My brother-in-law and I had spent the day walking up and down Duval Street and soaking up the Key West vibe. We smoked cigars (much to our daughters’ chagrin) and marveled at our good fortunes to be in such a beautiful place. As the sun was beginning to set, we made our way to the square for the sunset celebration (and that is exactly what they call it).

A number of buskers and street performers add a carnival-like atmosphere to the celebration. As my brother-in-law and I were looking for a place to watch, we heard an elderly calypso singer asking for volunteers. We decided to answer the call, with the knowledge that he would have rather had two pretty girls volunteer, instead. And there sure are enough of them in Mallory Square, too.

To his credit, the singer indicated that he’d work with any volunteers he could get, and two small children–one boy of about five, and one girl of about seven–also volunteered, along with one other middle-aged guy who might have been their father. He positioned his background singers around a microphone, and told us we would be singing along to “Day O,” which was made famous by Harry Belafonte. We sang the “daylight come and me wan’ go home” line, and so far as I know we did a good job. There was no shortage of people photographing and videotaping the performance, and being a part of it pushed the experience to a whole new level.

When it was finished, we thanked the singer and moved on to watch the sun finally go down. Our family was elsewhere and didn’t get to see our performance, but that’s all right. The carnival goes on with different players every night, and no two sunsets can ever be the same. So long as people appreciate nature’s beauty, and want to experience it in the company of others, there will be songs to sing in Mallory Square.

Nature’s beauty in the city

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I felt like I should have been in a zoo, as I watched three lovely, full grown swans grazing freely in a public park near the Chicago river.

As I got nearer to take their photograph, I expected them to fly away, as most birds would. But they remained calm, and began to chatter among themselves, probably about my intrusion into their feeding time.

Their pristine whiteness seemed almost impossible among the dirt and grime of the city. But there they were, unfazed by anything around them.

Earth Day was officially a couple of days ago, but this scene reminds me that we can dedicate ourselves to appreciating the life that’s all around us, every day of the year.

The Gladness of Nature

KeyWestWhenever a person starts naming poets, there aren’t too many who would put William Cullen Bryant on their list. He lived in the 19th Century, and he became a lawyer because poetry didn’t pay the bills. He was also a political supporter of another poet named Abraham Lincoln, and he introduced Lincoln at his speech at Cooper Union in New York in 1860. It just shows how people can go about their daily lives and still find time for writing and reading poetry.

This is my third Poem In Your Pocket day, and my previous selections are here and here. I find myself relating to poetry more than I did when I was younger, and it’s comforting to know that centuries of poets are still out there for me to discover.

The poem that I chose, and shared with my colleagues from work since I won’t be in the office today, is Bryant’s “The Gladness of Nature” which reads as follows:

The Gladness of Nature

by William Cullen Bryant

Is this a time to be cloudy and sad,
When our mother Nature laughs around;
When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground?

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den,
And the wilding bee hums merrily by.

The clouds are at play in the azure space,
And their shadows at play on the bright green vale,
And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
And there they roll on the easy gale.

There’s a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
There’s a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There’s a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.

And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles
On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray,
On the leaping waters and gay young isles;
Ay, look, and he’ll smile thy gloom away.

I like this poem for several reasons. Since Earth Day just passed, I wanted something with a nature theme. I also wanted something not too overly long, and relatively easy to follow. And I wanted something to remind me of the time that I just spent on Spring Break in the Florida keys. There are no palm trees or beaches in this poem, but the idea that sunshine and nature can cheer a person up is enough for me.

Please feel free to share poems in the Comments below. And happy Poetry month to everyone reading this.

The Gladness of Nature

by William Cullen Bryant

Is this a time to be cloudy and sad,
When our mother Nature laughs around;
When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground?

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den,
And the wilding bee hums merrily by.

The clouds are at play in the azure space
And their shadows at play on the bright-green vale,
And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
And there they roll on the easy gale.

There's a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
There's a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There's a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.

And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles
On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray,
On the leaping waters and gay young isles;
Ay, look, and he'll smile thy gloom away.

– See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20299#sthash.RUUpypT4.dpuf

The Gladness of Nature

by William Cullen Bryant

Is this a time to be cloudy and sad,
When our mother Nature laughs around;
When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground?

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den,
And the wilding bee hums merrily by.

The clouds are at play in the azure space
And their shadows at play on the bright-green vale,
And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
And there they roll on the easy gale.

There's a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
There's a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There's a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.

And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles
On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray,
On the leaping waters and gay young isles;
Ay, look, and he'll smile thy gloom away.

– See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20299#sthash.RUUpypT4.dp

Having too much fun

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I’ve been in the Florida keys on Spring Break, and my blog has been neglected as a result. Life is too enjoyable to take time away for blogging.

What does this say about the hundreds of things I’ve posted on my blog through the years? I’m not sure, exactly. Maybe I need to find another way to pass the time once I get back home. I’m sure going to miss this when I leave. That much I already understand.

 

The Giving Tree came to life

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One of the books that I enjoyed reading to my daughters when they were younger was The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. At the end of the book, an old man returned to the tree he knew as a young boy, but the tree was only a stump. The old man just wanted a place to sit down, so he sat on the stump, and the man and the tree were happy.

I’m not yet an old man, and I had never seen this tree before today, but I did appreciate a place to sit down and type out a few thoughts. And if it meant acting out a children’s book, all the better.

May everyone have a chance to act out a story some day.

Winter dies on Opening Day

BatThis has been the worst winter I can remember. We’ve had snow, cold, ice, more snow,  more cold, and still even more snow. Some days it felt like it was never going to go away.

Spring officially started a few days ago, but today was the first day that it really felt like spring. And tomorrow is Opening Day.

It’s good to finally be rid of winter, once and for all.

Baseball season is almost here #Cubs #WrigleyField

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Sometimes I can’t help myself. My daughter goes to school not far from Wrigley Field, and she skates at the ice rink that’s just a mile or so from the ballpark. Sometimes after she’s dropped off, I go a few blocks out of my way, and soon enough I find myself at Clark and Addison streets.

It’s been a terrible winter this year, and the sight of preparations for the baseball season made me feel great. When baseball begins, winter dies. And Opening day will be here very soon.