left on walnut

Hạ Long Bay

We began our trip through Vietnam with a night on Hạ Long Bay. A four hour drive east of Hanoi, rice paddies and rural villages finally give way to the town of Hạ Long. Hạ Long Bay, otherworldly in its misty silence, seems insulated from the rest of Vietnam, tucked among mythical limestone islets. Traveling to Hạ LongFishing boat Kayaking Hạ Long Bay Fishing the mist Sunrise on Hạ Long BayVietnam's flag

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Why my dad would no longer vote Republican

Dad was quiet. He was born, lived, and died all within a five mile radius in rural Indiana. He served in the Philippines during World War II and placed his hand over his heart when the Star Spangled Banner played. He expected me to do the same.

Dad voted Republican. But he would be shamed by the Republican party now.

When Dad came home from the Philippines, wounded in action, he didn’t sign up for Veterans’ benefits. “I live in a country that’s free. Guess that makes us even.” In his eyes, if we were capable of contributing, it was our duty to do so. Did you know that during Reagan’s first term, the top tax rate was 50%? During the Nixon administration, it was 70%. Dad wouldn’t understand why the rich now pay lower tax rates than their secretaries.

Back home from the war, Dad gave away his hunting rifle because he had no more killing in him. Eisenhower told the nation that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” Republican and NRA-backed measures supporting concealed weapons and assault rifles would sadden my father.

When asked if we’re our brother’s keeper, the answer was always, “Yes.”  So we planted more garden than we needed and gave away vegetables. Did you know Eisenhower supported a higher minimum wage and expanded unemployment benefits? Dad would be disgraced by the Republicans’ stand against the Affordable Care Act.

Sometimes we fished together. I could throw over the crust of my sandwich so the fish could eat. But we could never have thrown the wax paper the sandwich was wrapped in. It wouldn’t have occurred to us. Care for the Slough was second nature. We had a moral obligation to care for our environment. Did you know that Nixon proposed the EPA? Dad would be shamed to know that Republicans are silent on issues of clean energy, disgraced that they denounce the science of climate change.

His only daughter, I always felt precious in Dad’s eyes. I’m certain he never used the words “legitimate” and “rape” in the same sentence. He would be angry that Republicans would take away women’s rights to make their own health choices.

Sometimes I hear people say, “I am Republican” as if they were born that way and cannot change. Thoughtful people, though, listen carefully and make up their minds that way. Thoughtful people change over time.

afternoon at the zoo and other good things about my birthday

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A new purple water bottle.

New hair bands to tie back my hair during yoga.

A free “Nutty Professor” birthday smoothie at Four Seasons.

Drinking my smoothie with Tom and Vicki.

Roses, from Tom. A beautiful surprise.

A warm fall afternoon.

Holding Tom’s hand while we walked through the zoo.

His patience, as usual, while I took photos of animals.

Talking to Katie while I opened the new hair dryer she gave me.

A voicemail from Reva wishing me happy birthday.

Lots of birthday wishes on Facebook.

An unopened package on the dining room table.

Knowing Sarah and Eric will call.

Opening the package when they do.

Williamsburg

In Williamsburg, actors dress up like 18th century characters. They wear petticoats and bonnets and ask where they might buy salt.

Several streets of the town are preserved. Some homes are private residences. Others are open for tours. Colonial Williamsburg has original taverns, churches, a cobbler, and post office.

Petticoats look more fun than they are. I was six during the Eisenhower-era petticoat days—layers of nylon organza rolled up and cinched at the waist. I suspect the 18th century version was just as uncomfortable.

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Denver Botanic Gardens

Vicki suggested we visit the Denver Botanic Gardens while in Denver this month. Bonsai trees were the special exhibit but I found the water lilies to be the best feature.

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Freedom Trail

Proud Americans walk the Freedom Trail in Boston, snapping photos of Old Granary Burial Ground. Moms and Dads gape up at the tower of the Old North Church. “One if by land and two if by sea,” they tell their children. They read from brochures that Benjamin Franklin attended First Public School until he dropped out.

Ben was lured, no doubt, by cool water on late summer days.

Boston’s Haymarket Square

Mother Gaṅgā

We remove our shoes before approaching the River Ganga. This river is a temple, her water holy.

Families gather on wide marble steps leading to the river banks. Men strip to the waist to swim. Mothers pull up their sarees to rest their legs in the cool water. Little boys jump in naked. Bathing in her waters washes away sins.

As the sun sets, steps fill with pilgrims. Music begins. The chant is familiar, if only because of George Harrison’s 1971 song “My Sweet Lord.”

As the sun sets across the Ganges, oil lamps are lit. Arms lift in praise. Lamps pass high over our heads and our arms stretch upward toward the fire. We waft smoke–a symbol of our praise and thanksgiving–toward our hair.

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Third Planet of the Sun

Since my return from India several people have asked, in one way or another, if the human condition there was difficult to observe. A mother, baby on hip, taps on the car window asking for money. A man with an open leg wound reaches his hand out for help. A man with no legs hobbles on his hands.

Guilt can be a healthy, compassionate endorsement of accountability and responsibility. Our compassion reminds us that to be truly human is to be uncomfortable because decency compels us to be better than we are.

We fall short as moral beings if we only steward our little corner of the world. I have been thinking about how I can be more effective in social change that reflects my values of inclusion, fairness, opportunity, and concern for the environment. Not more pure, just more effective.

In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself

by Wislawa Szymborska

The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands were clean.

A jackal doesn’t understand remorse.
Lions and lice don’t waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they’re right?

Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton,
in every other way they’re light.

On this third planet of the sun
among the signs of bestiality
a clear conscience is Number One.

The Elephants of Jaipur

Elephant bulls aren’t kept in the elephant barn. Cows are more cooperative.

During British rule, elephants were put to work clearing the very forests from which they’d been captured. Timber was in huge demand for the new rail system of India.

By the time the British left, much of the forests of northern India were destroyed. Since then, poachers and tuskers and population growth have all taken a toll. As farming expands, elephants have little habitat remaining. Elephants in the wild now ravage farmers’ fields to find food. Villagers chase them back as best they can to save their crops.

Elephants are still domesticated for heavy construction. Others give rides as tourist attractions.

Our best choices preserve the land and the integrity and stability of its animals. These elephants may or may not have better lives than their cousins in the wild. I’m certain they have better lives than most livestock raised and killed in cruel conditions in the US.

We did not ride the elephants of Jaipur.