What I wish I didn’t know

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Every morning this October I’ve been getting up at 4:40 a.m. to meet my Fall Writing Circle via Zoom by 5:00. Eight writers, plus one amazing coach, gather around our screens from Paris, to Boston, from Virginia to Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania, Chicago. Here on the West Coast the sky is still dark, an owl calls out on most mornings, and in that near dream, early waking day crease we set intentions of what we’ll write about and then get to the work of putting down words.

My intention on Tuesday was to be some sort of witness to the creatures impacted by the oil spill along my beloved Southern California coast. The pollution was spreading even as I wrote.

Susan Greene Photography

This piece then appeared in Voice of OC.

“The Oil Spill Couldn’t Be My Fault”

Isn’t it amazing we all have so many N95 masks and pairs of blue nitrile gloves that we even know what those items are when they top the catalog of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center’s list of “Things To Donate” after the oil spill?

We all have so many N95 masks because we’ve been thinking so hard about ourselves and, of course others, but less about sea creatures like blue whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins unless we’re on that diesel-powered sightseeing boat, or except for that one sea lion that swam parallel to me in July, following me for more than a mile on my birthday walk at Crystal Cove State Beach. “Aren’t we both trying to figure out where I’m going?” I asked and it surfaced at the surf line again and again, fixing those brown liquid eyes on mine.

We’ve been thinking so hard about ourselves and, of course others, that even though we might intend to stop needing, wanting, using crude oil we definitely need, want, and use all the things that Amazon delivers Free! Within 24 hours for Free! A 20-pair pack of blue gloves to keep our hands clean delivered. Free! And who are we kidding? We’re no Greta Thunberg, we just drive a seven-year-old regular gas-eating car because those new electric ones are so expensive, like electric bikes, and wind power isn’t good for birds, we all know that, and we live on a giant hill two miles from the nearest market and we’ve all just got to eat and who can walk for food?

We might intend to stop needing, wanting, using all the things crude oil can deliver but without jet fuel how can we fly to some other beach place, like say, Kauai and snorkel above the reef ringing Anini Beach to be brushed by a sea turtle before the reef dies? I mean, we love the ocean and the ocean animals and we want to swim with them, right, and show our grandkids how a white paper plate and ribbon strings can be crafted into a jelly fish so they can learn about and love the ocean too?

To be brushed by a sea turtle is to feel touched by an angel. You know you’re not supposed to touch them, but if they touch you first it’s not a crime. Is it?

Where is the crime? Everyone wants answers to whose fault it is that the thing buried deep underground, the pipe from an offshore platform named Elly, decided to leak 144,000 gallons of crude oil into our Pacific. Some say it was a ship’s anchor, poorly place, that caused the gash. Blame it on the pandemic. The line of cargo ships waiting to be let into port stretches for miles and miles. There’s a crush of stuff waiting on the waves with not enough dock workers to work the dock so yeah, blame it on the sea captain who didn’t know where to park. Someone’s gotta pay for this disaster.

Meanwhile, over at Oiled Wildlife Care Network a rescue group working out of the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine School, a report has been initiated and the count begins for Pipeline P00547 Incident Wildlife Recovery, a detailed list of creatures found doused in oil. As of Tuesday, October 5, 2021 it read like this: Three Western Grebes. One Sanderling. One Eared Grebe. One Ruddy Duck. One American Coot. One Brown Pelican that had to be euthanized because it was too injured to save.

Is it the pelican I watched this summer, skimming the sea in Laguna? Probably not, there are hundreds of pelicans. And anyway, what’s the loss of one small thing?

Susan Greene Photography

Thank you for reading. Thank you for thinking along with me that, whether we pause to recognize the fact or not, every life, every action, on this beautiful planet is interconnected. Volunteer applications to help with the clean-up effort are now being accepted through Cal Spill Watch.

Catherine

P.S.
For more exquisite pelican photography, check out Susan Greene’s post, “A New Perspective,” over on Backyard Sisters.

And if you’re ever looking for an amazing writing coach to help with fiction, memoir, finding an early morning writing circle, or perhaps writing a book in a year, I’m having the very best experience with Diane Zinna. And if writing isn’t your thing, then let this be the sign you’re waiting for that, whatever your thing is, life is so much sweeter when you surround yourself with a group that supports and uplifts you. Did you know that pelicans are gregarious birds? Social animals which generally hunt cooperatively? Go find your fellow pelicans.

I see you

eclipsing moonsg

I’m embarking on a new adventure: to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My certainty that kindness can change the world is a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.

Feel free to call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.

It was cold and windy a few nights back when Chester and I headed out the door on his last walk before bedtime. Rain was forecast. A south easterly breeze kicked up, already strong enough to rustle the eucalyptus and jangle the wind chimes. Two owls called to each other down the dark hill.

I was a little mad at myself, wondering if this year of kindness was already floundering since I hadn’t really found a way to be intentionally kind all day. I’d baked bread and shared it at a neighborhood dinner potluck. But I would have done that anyway. I’d been part of a conversation about where to donate the jar of money our friend group fed  all year instead of buying gifts for each other. But that felt like riding the coattails of a 2018 decision. Bah, I thought. I’ll do two kind things tomorrow.

Watch for coyotes, Jim said when we left. I saw one crossing the street just now as I was taking out the trash cans.

Stepping into nearly silent darkness, with its sage-fresh cold air, and tree-lined canopy, is my favorite nightcap. I take a flashlight, but rarely turn it on, especially on a night like this with the waning crescent moon, mars on the far horizon and stars enough to brighten the road.

Forgive me, I asked the moon.

There isn’t a sidewalk, but I can see cars’ headlights in plenty of time to move onto gravel or bushes long before the driver would have to swerve. Anyway, in my sleepy neighborhood on a Sunday night, cars are rare and I’ve never been hit.

So when a black SUV roared up the hill and pulled a u-turn a few feet from me and Chester, I startled. The back passenger door opened and a figure emerged, stood at the car’s back bumper, seeming to watch me. Chester growled low.

Mrs. Keefe!

I recognized the voice of a now-man, a once 7-year-old boy I’d met when we first moved in.

Zach was long gone from the neighborhood, but his father still lives on our block. I was starting to shiver, not eager to stay out longer and tempt the rain and coyote gods, but there was something urgent in the way he’d called out in the dark.

I picked up a thread of conversation we’d been pulling for more than ten years.

Are the right teams going to the playoffs? Zach played football through high school and we always caught up on his life through sports.

Nah, nothing is going right. He kicked the dirt, shoved his hands in his pockets. Inside the SUV, I heard voices between beats in the music.  I just got back from a funeral. Maybe you read about it. A guy I knew was riding a bike and he was hit by a 16-year-old girl. It was really sad. Nothing good about any of it.

Zach is the kind of guy that goes to funerals. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen him in front of his house after doing so. A friend’s mom. A friend. It seems like for such a young man he’s seen plenty of death.

So the wind blew and the cold settled while I listened to Zach talk in the dark about two shattered families. The fragility of life. How to find meaning.

I said I was really sorry about his friend.

I pointed at the sky and told him sometimes when I feel bad, I look up just to feel that blanket of stars cover me.

Mhmmm, he said. It sure is beautiful out here. Every day. We’re so lucky to be alive.

According to the United Nations, about 6,775 people die each day in the US.  Odds are we walk past, or brush by, someone grieving more often than we know.

How can we learn to carry a kind, open gentleness in our hearts when someone seemingly snubs us or nearly runs us over?

Can we learn to slow down a little, to look up together in the cold, dark and take time to listen when someone unexpectedly trusts us with an admission of sadness?

Zach and I finally said goodbye. Chester and I returned home. I sat on my balcony watching the moon slowly disappear behind gathering clouds. As clouds cover the moon, you can watch an ever-tightening circle hug the moon closer and closer, creating a focal point of light in the night sky.

The air grew damper and the wind picked up as the chimes clanged a louder dissonance. Down the hill, the owls still called. The lights went out in Zach’s house and I went in to bed.

moon2

Grief is, unfortunately, an unavoidable part of being alive. Additionally, we seem to be living in a particularly high-stress time according to one recent indicator reported in the January 14, 2019 Los Angeles Times under the headline: “Mental health books outsell diet and exercise books at Barnes & Noble.”

“In a shift, American readers have become more interested in books about mental health than about diet and exercise, according to data released by bookstore chain Barnes & Noble.

The data, collected around the New Year’s season, seems to indicate that readers’ annual resolutions are focusing less on losing weight and getting in shape, and more on reducing stress and increasing self-esteem.” Michael Schaub

According to research, kindness is contagious and can lead to elevated feelings. In “Kindness Contagion,” a recent article in Scientific American, Jamil Zaki explains:

“Witnessing kindness inspires kindness, causing it to spread like a virus…We find that people imitate not only the particulars of positive actions, but also the spirit underlying them. This implies is that kindness itself is contagious, and that that it can cascade across people, taking on new forms along the way.” Jamil Zaki

I suppose there are many reasons why this is so, but I think fundamentally there’s great hope, healing, and joy when we feel seen by another. If you find yourself catching the kindness bug this year, and taking on new forms from my experiences, here are two simple ways to inspire others and uplift the common mood.

1: Post about your action on Instagram using hashtag  #KindInKind.
2: Write about what you did and get in touch via this blog. I’ll share your story, either anonymously or giving you credit, whichever you prefer.

Speaking of credit, my favorite photographer, Susan Greene Photography, gets all the credit for Super Blood Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse photos.

Just to say what we’re doing here

open arms

Once upon a time, my sister, the amazing photographer Susan Greene, and I shared a blog space called Backyard Sisters.

Sue gets credit for this open-armed, wet-footed photo of me. She always has her camera out on family adventures. My niece recently sent me this photo and said, “it’s a perfect reflection of how I see you: Arms open wide, smiling, and happy.”

Fun fact: Susan and I are middle sisters, a demographic that’s on the decline as families become smaller.

Vintage sisters

If you’re concerned about one way smaller families may impact our culture, you can read up on the wonders of the non-firstborn, or non-lastborn, baby in Adam Sternbergh’s piece, “The Extinction of the Middle Child.” To sum up what I find interesting:

“In fact, the more you learn about the skills of classic middle children — peacemakers, risk takers, levelheaded loyalists with expansive friend groups — the more middle children seem essential to our survival.”

Adam Sternbergh, “The Middle Child is Going Extinct”

So, now that we’ve established Susan and I are essential to your survival, you can follow my writing here and you can find Susan’s creative work at Susan Greene Photography. And if you’re a sentimentalist for Backyard Sisters, we’ll keep it up for a while, post together every now and then. We do still like to share food and places to go and it would be so unlike our spirit of sharing to forever vanish such popular gems as our famous Jalapeño Lemonade recipe, or “I love you yellow,” one of my most popular love posts.

I mean our Backyard Sisters motto has always been: “saving ordinary moments from the brink of oblivion.” And we’re not about to go dark now.
~ Catherine

sunflowers