Today Will Not Be Here Tomorrow

Meanwhile, someplace in the world, somebody is making love and another a poem.”

From Figuring by Maria Popova

Periwinkles, ducks, and clouds. Hood River waterfront on 3/20/20.

I fed hummingbirds all winter. Each time I thought they had departed for a warmer climate, they would appear and take a big slurp from the feeder.

I received two petunia plants in September. They continue to flower. I did not tend them. Still, they survived outside, in northern Oregon, on relative humidity and indirect light.

This is unusual.

In late January, following our return from a Christmas vacation in California, the first news of the coronavirus came from China. The world scoffed aloud, “Hmph”. Now, barely two months later, it stammers a collective, “WTF”. The upheaval is astounding.

The Columbia River looking west from The Hook in Hood River, OR. 3/20/20

Worldwide, half a million people are infected with the virus. More than 25,000 have died. The travel industry needs a ventilator to breathe. Cruise ships are floating petri dishes. Professional and amateur sports suffer in an induced coma. Many states have closed schools. Shortages exist for supplies of hygiene related products. Restaurants across much of the USA shutter their doors in adherence to social distancing. Mayors and governors issue sheltering in place edicts. Bustling downtowns look deserted. The stock market plummeted to record lows, millions are suddenly unemployed, and everyone with a 401k is hyperventilating.

My ukulele-a Mike Pereira “Cali” Baritone.

To the rescue, the federal government …? Wow, where to begin? The kindest thing I can say is that our president’s leadership has been sub-optimal. Evidence of the country’s unpreparedness is matched in degree only by the administration’s improvised responses that, thus far, promise but don’t deliver. Congress, prone to partisan dithering, slogs along. Emergency relief is imminent, albeit late. More will be necessary.

Are we all going to die? No. But, it’s possible someone we know will. Better leadership and foresight could have minimized the number.

I belong to one of the high risk groups. I am older. And, I have a suppressed immune system due to my cancer, multiple myeloma. Fortunately, I am a home body by nature. Social isolation is not a personal hardship. I read, I write, and I play my ukulele.

I am 12 years out from diagnosis. Like those petunias in my front yard, I exist on the relative humidity of my good luck. My anxiety about the Covid-19 virus is tempered by experience. The grim prospect of mortality is an acquaintance. I am no more susceptible to contracting the virus than you. However, I may have a more serious response should it come my way. So be it.

Closed the waterfront to walkers on March 22nd

Our fragility as a species is revealed by a microscopic organism. Knowing better, we nonetheless chose to be unprepared. The current administration dissolved pre-existing institutions established for a menace such as Covid-19. Now, we pay the price for that choice.

Similarly, we will pay a price for our indifference to the threat of climate change. It’s cheering to see hummingbirds visit during the gloomy days of winter. Remember, though, this is unusual. It’s not equivalent to the Australian brush fires or 69 degree temperatures that recently occurred in Antarctica. But it serves to remind me, overwhelming evidence exists of this threat to humanity.

The coronavirus teaches us that calamities occur that effect all of mankind. It also shows that we can respond unilaterally for the greater good of everyone. We will survive Covid-19. Climate change will be a much more formidable challenge. Let’s hope we choose to be better prepared for its consequences than we were for this disease.

Now, a song … 

Today Will Not Be Here Tomorrow

The latest numbers …

The Drill

Stanyan Street

The Oakland Gang: niece Tillie, me, Nephew Joey, my wife Marilyn, and Noah our oldest son.

Due to my cancer, multiple myeloma, the physical adventure of traveling challenges my attitude. I dislike flying: the herding, the depressing bag of pretzels, and the cabin’s claustrophobic fit. Yet, once again, my wife and I chose to spend the holidays in San Francisco’s Bay Area.

We stayed in Oakland at a hotel on Broadway, close to where our oldest son lives. We were joined by a niece, who lives and works in a town nearby and her brother, our nephew, who was visiting following the completion of his degree at Tufts University in Boston.

Lake Chalet

I’d arranged to re-schedule my twice monthly infusions so as to not interfere with our activities. My treatment also includes oral drugs, which can continue when I’m on the road. I take a chemo type pill once a day and a steroid once a week. I’ve become inured to the daily pill. Its side effects blend into the general fatigue syndrome that characterizes my blood cancer. The steroid, though, radically alters my mood, my energy, and, perhaps, my personality.


We dined at a number of excellent restaurants: Itani, brunch at Lake Chalet, The Berkeley Social Club,  a morning snack at The Rotunda on the first morning, the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast Christmas day, then Farley’s East on the penultimate morning. Prior to seeing the movie, Little Women, we ate Thai street food at IMM and finally a goodbye meal at Tay Ho, a French/Vietnamese restaurant.

The highlight, however, was Christmas dinner at my brother and sister-in-law’s house in San Francisco. The Oakland gang merged with the San Francisco gang. 

Brother and Sister-in-Law’s house on Stanyan Street

The house sits near the top of Stanyan Street above Golden Gate Park. It is of Victorian vintage, built early in the twentieth century. (1904)

There are three levels situated on a steep slope adjacent to Sutro Forest. My brother and his wife live on the top floor. Their daughter and son-in-law and 12 year old grandson occupy the main floor. A laundry and storage, as well as a small studio apartment finish out the dwelling. There is also a two car garage, quite a luxury in parking starved San Francisco. They bought the house for $100,000 in 1973.

Oakland street art.

They admit to initially being anxious about the mortgage. At the time, my brother was a San Francisco fireman. His wife worked in medical research. She then chose to get a law degree and eventually became a patent attorney. Along the way, she also bore a child. By investing in their ingenuity, they were able to persevere through those early busy years. The house is now worth much, much more than the purchase price.

Stanyan Street

Main floor of the Rotunda in Oakland, CA

Christmas day was my steroid day. Under the influence of the drug, I sometimes jabber too much. I have also been known to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Such are the perils of the steroid high. My faux pas filter, however, managed to keep me out of trouble. The convivial conversation even  prompted me to toast the three family lines in attendance. 

But, the enduring star was the house itself. Nurtured by my brother and his wife through the years, it has hosted numerous events commemorating family passages. There was a going away party for my wife and I decades ago when we immigrated to New Zealand. Then, in the not too distant past, a support reunion party for me prior to my stem cell transplant.

Tay Ho

Furthermore, two of their granddaughters lived there while launching into adulthood. And, my SIL’s mother spent her final days in one of the downstairs apartments. Birth, death, and all the transitions in between: such is the legacy of the Stanyan Street house.

When the evening ended, my wife and I returned to Oakland with our son. The lights of the Bay Bridge glittered with holiday flair. My slumpiness from the myeloma had vanished temporarily, along with other aches and pains of disease and aging. The day’s activities had drained the jolt of energy caused by the drug. Yet, I still floated in the steroid’s groove and mused, without judgment, as to how my body is no longer entirely my own. It is managed, to a degree, by pharmaceuticals. That’s ok. I would not be alive without them. 

Still Lifes

“In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting

to stride out of a cloud and lift its wings.”

Mary Oliver from The Kookaburras

Still Life With Wildflowers

In late August of this year, of the summer when my wildflower garden flourished and yielded a wealth of colorful bouquets, crickets sang each evening their mindful refrain. “Soon,” they said, “the season will tip into autumn.”

In the garden, cosmos plants stretch beyond my height, seven feet or more. The flags of their flower petals flutter with the benediction of a breeze. Coreopsis and zinnias; daisies and coneflowers; bachelor buttons and black eyed Susans spill across the borders of the rocky path.


Gardening focuses a too busy mind. Often, I am knuckle deep in soil and its mix of bugs, worms, and microbes. I breathe the earthy fragrance of organic material and enjoy common cause with other creatures.

Birds visit during the day. They pluck seeds from the same blossoms where bees nuzzled pollen. Beetles, spiders, and winged insects are drawn to the abundance of plants as they make their way through the territory of their brief lives.

Early Summer Wildflowers

Me too … I reap the peace of communing with wildlife and harvesting flowers that pose as still lifes in the kitchen and bedroom.

The late American poet, Mary Oliver, created still lifes with words rather than paint or photography. Her poetry arose from wandering in the hills and fields of New England. She developed a knack for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Wildflower Bouquet

In her later years, she moved to Florida. She continued to write until the end of her life, taking inspiration from nature in the estuaries, ponds, and dunes of her new surroundings. At the age of 83, she died from lymphoma, a kissing cousin to my blood cancer, multiple myeloma.

My disease paints a picture similar to a still life: it doesn’t move, yet there is a fascination with the details. I have ups and downs but, basically, things are about the same this year as they were last summer when the season began to turn. I persist in a plateau phase with a lengthy history. The relevant blood markers remain stable, the treatments have not changed, and my quality of life is decent.

Still Life with Ukulele

Metaphorically, though, I am under house arrest. I don’t travel well due to the side effects of a busy treatment plan and Mr. Fatigue visits on a regular basis. Nonetheless, I approach 12 years since diagnosis. Cautious management and lots of luck has forestalled the incurability associated with MM.

There is much to be grateful for. Lately, it’s wildflowers, still lifes, and Mary Oliver. That’s plenty … until I write again.


Who Made The World


No Other Anywhere

Vietnam War Memorial

1969 was a hell of a year. Astronauts from Apollo 11 walked on the moon. The Beatles released their final album together, Abbey Road. A national draft lottery was held for men, aged 18-26, to determine their eligibility for military service. In Massachusetts, a tragic auto accident occurred on Chappaquiddick Island. Out west, Charles Manson’s cult committed horrendous murders. That summer, while thousands flocked to a music festival at Woodstock, New York, my father lay dying from complications of alcoholism. Last, but not least, Sesame Street aired its first show on PBS. In the background of all this commotion, war raged in Southeast Asia.

From ’67 to ’69, when I was 21-23, 1000 or more young American men died each month in the Vietnam War. This conflict, characterized by combat atrocities and clumsy military strategy, drove a wedge between Baby Boomers and their parents.

50th Anniversary Edition of Slaughter House Five

Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll music also influenced the psyche of my generation. I lived a somewhat dissolute life as a college student in San Francisco, supported by school loans and part-time jobs. I played the role of a poet; I partied; I chain smoked cigarettes and pot. Classwork plummeted to the bottom of my list of interests.

This period of arrested development wobbled, however, while watching the bad dream of Vietnam unspool on TV. The whirlwind of the war machine swirled. Its unstoppable momentum swept up young men not tied to a deferment. Mine was fragile. 

Apollo 11, The Movie.

Options other than college did exist for the un-deferred: jail, fleeing to Canada, and conscientious objector service. These unsatisfactory alternatives clashed with the well connected, who could “game” the system.

Our current president is renowned for suspect bone spurs. His republican predecessor has a military past checkered with skepticism. Bill Clinton, the third of my presidential peers, also muddied the waters of draft dodgery. 

Yes, ‘69 had a lot going on. The golden anniversary of some events, like the moon landing, deserve recognition. Scant attention, however, is paid to the draft lottery. Yet, that event, more than any other, changed the course of my life.

Harmony and Balance

The intent was to create a more equitable process. I drew a high number. In one short evening drama, I went from prospective casualty to survivor. Of those less fortunate, many had their lives derailed by a debacle that now occupies a place in America’s hall of shame.

Soon after the lottery, I dropped out of school. Chance dealt me a wildcard and I played to my instincts. I moved to the Sierra Mountains of California in search of solitude. Eventually, the harmony of nature brought balance back to my life. I lived in Yosemite National Park for the next five years without a car, TV, or phone. I met my wife there. I never returned to school.

Smart Phones

Today’s young men and women have unique concerns. Climate change, gun violence, and income inequality come to mind. Add to that the existential risk that smart phones trivialize their lives. There is much about which Gen Z can be cynical. Thankfully, unwanted conscription is not among their worries. Today’s military is all volunteer.

Remedies for wanton capitalism and gun violence might evolve with time. Solutions to climate change … I don’t know. We comprehend the danger but can’t relate to the consequences. And, change resists the imperative when everyone is complicit. Meanwhile, our forests and wildlife are under assault.

I’m 72. I won’t be around for the 50th anniversary of 2019’s events. After 44 years, I’ve come down from the mountains to live in town. It’s where I belong. I keep a small garden. There’s a cat.


Harmony and balance remain elusive, just as they were in 1969. I got lucky. I lived a life of my own choosing, “far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.”

What, I wonder, will be celebrated 50 years hence? Brexit perhaps, the implosion of Venezuela, or maybe impeachment proceedings against an American president?

Whatever. 1969 was, indeed, a hell of a year. 2019? Its mysteries are yet to be fully revealed.

No Other Anywhere, a song of celebration.

Latest cancer markers in The Drill.

Oakland Noir

Oakland Noir

Three of the last five years, my wife and I have Christmased in the San Francisco Bay Area. We visit our son, my brother, and a niece. Our routine is similar: movies every night and dinners at an eclectic collection of restaurants.

We choose to stay in Oakland near the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART. Our hotel is close to the 12th Street station. No driving for us. The trains are gritty but reliable most days. If we can’t walk or BART to our destination, Uber/Lyft is an efficient alternative.

Chinatown intersection close to our hotel in Oakland.

Over the course of five days and four nights we saw Roma, Shoplifters, The Favourite, and Vice. Dinners afterwards were Sushi, a Southern Louisiana Kitchen, Hunan Cuisine, and Thai food. One morning, we had a late breakfast at a Mexican restaurant, Doña Tomás, and on another we feasted at the renowned Oakland Grill. Christmas Day we crossed the Bay Bridge to join my brother at San Francisco’s Yank Sing for a Dim Sum brunch.

In between movies and meals, we walked Oakland’s neighborhoods from the warehouse district through Chinatown to Lake Merritt. The ambience is blue collar. The city’s work ethic still breathes here. 

Mural at the world renowned Oakland Grill

Our preference for the east side of the bay evolved over time. San Francisco, my hometown no less, has lost its cool. The tech tsunami floods the city in money. Unless you are “grandfathered” into a rent controlled apartment, who can afford to live there? Housing costs in the city exclude the service class, the middle class, and the upper middle class. Buying a house? If you have to ask the price, well …

Mural in Oakland. The city’s wall art is remarkable.

Finally, though, it was the dystopia of the homeless on Market Street that pushed us away. No one seems able to imagine a solution. Locals wear blinders of resignation. Tourists, like us, gawk at the scrabble of destitute individuals. Last year, we side-stepped the feces, the urine, and the trash from a warren of panhandlers. Who, I wondered, is happy with this environment? 

Oakland street scene looking west from Broadway.

Co-incident with our most recent visit, the funding debate for “Trump’s Wall” reached an impasse and a portion of the federal government shut down. Thirty four days later, thousands of employees remain furloughed or working without pay. Seeds for a resolution have been planted. Yet, there’s little hope for germination.

The Bay Area’s high cost of living makes this shutdown a particularly onerous burden to bear. Many people harbor legitimate fears of being one crisis away from the street. And, should the shutdown continue, this may be that crisis.

Grand Lake Theater in Oakland

Congress passed a bill to reimburse government workers when the shutdown ends. Eventually, that should soften the blow of the president’s temper tantrum. Others, however, affected by the trickle down effects of the temporarily unemployed, will suffer without recompense.  

Suffering and fear and fear of more suffering seem to be defining tactics of the current administration. Family separations, Charlottesville, and Puerto Rico, come to mind. This is the style of our president, Captain Chaos. It’s a ruthless business ethic. It may play well in the world of high end New York real estate. But, probably not a good way to run a country … 

Inside the paywall of the Bart. Underground, things look clean. The elevators that get you there? Uh, not so much …

Nonetheless, we vacationed. Oakland’s version of the gentrification virus spreads. Zoning restrictions must change in order to address the housing shortage. But political will is ephemeral. Slowly, affluenza squeezes out those with modest paying jobs that once seemed adequate.

With the innocent aplomb of country bumpkins, we navigated the hassles of city life. Planes, trains, and Uber transported us through the wonders of the urban landscape. More and more, though, it resembles the prophetic sci-fi noir, Blade Runner.

The Albany Theater.

Politicians, elected to solve problems and to govern, have flipped the script. Now, they are the problem and refuse to govern. Perhaps the newly elected Congress can write another, different, screenplay in time for our next visit to the Bay Area. That’s the movie I really want to see.

The University of Cancer, Part 4

Love Potion #10-IVIG

Multiple myeloma is a chronic incurable disease. When I was diagnosed in 2007, the prognosis was three to five years. Little more than a decade later, due to advances in research, the statistics have improved. Some patients persist upwards of ten years. I fall into that category: one of the lucky ones.

Chronic means it doesn’t go away. You either treat the disease or risk having it run amok. The cancer subsides with treatment, but one drags around a significant baggage of side effects. 

MM is a nimble adversary. At first, there are plenty of ways to fight back. But each treatment has a finite period of effectiveness, therefore, the incurable tag. That’s how you manage multiple myeloma: you just kick cans down the road until you run out of cans …

I am an easy patient, passive as a cloud. I don’t demand or complain. I accept the discomforts: the teeter-totter of steroids, the malaise associated with most chemotherapy, and the many, many needle sticks.

Decisions, Decisions

For sixteen months, my last regimen consisted of a three drug combo that balanced disease control with side effects. It necessitated weekly visits to oncology for injections or infusions but I felt good … well, goodish. Last summer, the stability waned and toxicity from two of the drugs finally exceeded their benefits. I still had options. Nothing of what remained, however, offered a long term solution.

Myelomiacs, if they are fortunate, eventually reach this point. What, then, is the goal? They can move along and exhaust the options. Or, they can consider a clinical trial and treatments that have yet to be approved. 

Decisions, decisions.

The most promising trials revolve around a groundbreaking new “living drug.” It’s called Chimeric Antigen Receptor Therapy or CAR-T. The technique involves gathering T cells (a type of immune cell) from the cancer patient’s blood, engineering them in a lab so they will recognize cancer cells as an “enemy,” then reintroducing these weaponized T cells to the patient’s body.

The “Hutch”

Nationally, there are a dozen or more clinical trials of CAR-T aimed specifically at multiple myeloma patients. Last July, my wife and I consulted with a trial administrator in Seattle.

The consensus of opinion and early trial results affirm CAR-T as a viable treatment. Nonetheless, science is a process made whole by both success and failure. There are risks. Questions remain about the optimal dosage and durability of the methodology. The time commitment averages 30-60 days away from home, more if complications occur. There is no guarantee of admission or success. 

Still, hundreds seem willing to participate. For some, the trial might be a last ditch effort to buy more time. Others may have young children and hope to pre-empt the many temporary fixes with a single extraordinary treatment. 

My point of no return is not imminent. My children are grown and comfortable in their own lives. And, with the can currently being kicked down the road, I am seeing a bit of a bounce back from last summer’s decline.

Zero is normal. The trend has improved since mid-summer decline.

My treatment philosophy has always been that “less is more.” Yet hope tempts one to manipulate logic. I want to believe the CAR-T product is less than the more of doing the same thing with different drugs from the FDA’s medicine cabinet. Such is the allure of hype.

Veterans of this disease face a choice: to explore, or not, the outer edge of treatment modalities via a clinical trial. Scientific research extended the life span of an entire generation of MMers. The blood of participating volunteers fueled that improvement.

Is there more to come?

CAR-T science is beautiful, a source of wonder. To genetically modify one’s immune system is unprecedented. Each recruit into these trials marches to a drum beat of hope and an echo of doubt. Their leap of faith may seem prudent given the slow pace of the regulatory process. Certainly, the wiles of multiple myeloma won’t wait. And, though disease control may not be refined, perhaps some can capture the future.


Read all about it in The Drill.


Summer chore.

Summer came and went. It left behind a northwest parched by a succession of hot spells so extraordinary that even climate change deniers had their ‘come to Jesus moments’.

Rain arrived, at last, in early October. The dire predictions retreated, forgotten along with admonitions to floss our teeth, avoid sugary drinks, and quit smoking. We are such a peculiar, comical species, us humans. We exist in the moment when it’s convenient to our self perception or our preferred politics. Unlike other animals, we can anticipate the future but rationalize away its consequences to justify poor choices.

Just a boy and his wagon.

In spite of the heat waves, winter is out there. In May, when our government destroyed any pretense of social justice by separating immigrant parents from their children, I received three cords of wood. I chose to split it early so that it could dry during the summer. But, allowances had to be made for the oppressive heat. I limited myself to frequent morning workouts with the log splitter. I toiled in the shade and stopped well before midday. By September, I had completed the process of splitting, drying, and stacking our supply of wood.

Now, with the recent rain and cooler temps, I coax small fires in the wood stove each morning. At dawn, while warming my toes, I observe that the debacle over the new Supreme Court justice has reached a disappointing conclusion. Those who favor the confirmation resent the process that challenged their candidate. And, those who saw their protests ignored, lick wounds with bitter tongues. The only thing that unites us as a nation is our unhappiness with democratic ideals.

In the midst of these signs of social decline, including multiple criminal investigations into our president’s affairs, taxes, and electoral legitimacy, my wife and I joined with friends to tour Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks. We saw buffalo, pronghorn deer, elk, bear, and a herd of humanity. The park accommodations are full even at the end of their season. Dinner reservations are necessary at the historic lodges and sometimes not available. Nonetheless, we reveled in what Ken Burns identified as “America’s Best Idea,” our system of National Parks.

The four of us are relaxed travelers. We met over 40 years ago at a New Zealand National Park. Three of us are retired and the fourth partly so. We use that flexibility and free time to visit a National Park each year.

These days, we are day hikers. Back packing lost its allure years ago. A good book, a relaxing chair, and a national monument’s lobby suffice for adventure on many an afternoon. Nonetheless, we did find trails that wound through the natural environment preserved by these parks. In the Yellowstone-Teton ecosystem, you needn’t venture far from a road to experience wilderness.

So too, our country has not ventured far from the belief in compassionate governing. Currently, we find ourselves ruled by the chaos of cynical leadership. By choosing to indulge in the freedom of our prejudices, we have lost our way. Yet, a path back to decency and a government for all can be found. It goes through the voting booth. I hope you will follow it this November.


Latest numbers in The Drill.




I had an inheritance from my father,

It was the moon and the sun.

And though I roam all over the world,

The spending of it’s never done.”

Ernest Hemingway

Egg River

I am an early riser. I don’t sleep all that well these days. Illness, late middle age, and my adorable, annoying cat conspire to disturb each night’s rest. So, I am usually awake when, at five am or so, I receive a text from my youngest son, Isaac, inviting me to breakfast.

He is a building contractor. He lives in the upper Hood River Valley with his wife and two children. The kids, one and four, make for unpredictable nights. One or the other or both may have awakened him. After settling the children, he is ready to eat and get on with his day.

Bette’s Place

There are two restaurants we frequent, Bette’s Place and Egg River. We like the oatmeal with fruit at one. The other is famous for their cinnamon rolls. Most importantly, though, it opens earlier. 

Often, we talk about life in the fast lane of parenting: the sleepless nights; the diaper duty; the child’s loving worship; the financial strain; family stress; the shared joy of a child’s wonder at the world, and the list goes on. I find it difficult to remember the doubts and fears from when I was the parent and he the child. I seem to recall only the fun times. Accordingly, my counsel is always … patience.

Dad and brother Earl (Butch) 1945. We lived on Jesse St. in San Francisco. It was behind the telephone company and it dead ended at Bekins Van and Storage.

As we munch our oatmeal and sip coffee, we are sometimes visited by the ghost of my own father. Like my son, he worked with his hands. Isaac builds houses, my dad was a welder. Unfortunately, he died young from the complications of alcoholism. We never connected as adults. In my teens, I was ashamed of him. My defense mechanism was to tune him out.

I shared my childhood with three older brothers, something like a secondary moon in the orbit of their comings of age. About the time they were leaving the house, a younger sister arrived. My perspective then shifted to that of observing my parents cope with this “surprise”.

Like the grandchildren, my siblings and I were the source of much love and some terror for my parents. My mom had strong roots as a third generation offspring of German dairy farmers. Dad, however, was raised as an orphan in Oklahoma and separated from his sister as a child. Dad’s insecurities were engrained at a young age. Eventually, the unsteady foundation of his childhood crumbled under the weight of alcohol.

1985, Noah was five and Isaac was three.

Nonetheless, he made sacrifices to assure us opportunity in our lives. Opportunities, I might add, that he did not have. Opportunities, furthermore, that I did not appreciate until years later.

Perspective is the reward for living a long life. It erases the pain of the past. It reveals wisdom neglected and forgiveness earned. I see the well being and self confidence of my grandchildren to be the byproducts of good parenting. We did some things right, as did the parents of my daughter-in-law. She and my son pass it along.

So, too, my parents were determined to do right by their kids. My selfish needs as a teenager notwithstanding, I did feel loved and wanted. These days, I finally understand the value of their gifts. And, I am humbled when dad occasionally stops by in spirit … he would have liked Isaac, they could talk about tools.




The primary colors of tulips brighten my yard. Chlorophyll rich grasses sprout between the bricks of the garden path.

Manic behavior infects the bird life. They chatter about coupling and food, warmth and territory. Juncos and towhees are joined by seasonal rivals at the feeder. Finches and song sparrows visit. The numbers increase, but everyone gets a turn. Then, a horde of aggressive starlings arrive. They squabble among themselves and bully the smaller birds. So, I put the suet cage away. 

Instead, I spread treats on the trunk of our flowering cherry. This makes for a more democratic cafeteria. There’s room for all and the snack of fat and protein will help fortify the nesting birds. 

I walk the waterfront. An east wind pushes the balmy air of distant prairies through the Columbia Gorge. The prevailing westerlies are slow to establish a flow, but athletes test the fluky breeze on their kite boards. Nearby, a playground throbs with the squeals of toddlers. Dogs fetch thrown balls and a solitary boy tugs at the string of his own reluctant kite.

Sailboats return to the river. A regatta plys the current around a buoy marked course. Like a pod of lost whales, they beach overnight on the sandy shore. 

Finally, the wind turns. A daylong gale scours the valley. It steals hats from the unwary and strips fruit trees of their blossoms. Spring sweeps aside the curtain of winter and sings in a major key. It’s time for hallelujah not hibernation.

An audio version of this post may be viewed here. Thanks to Rod Salaysay for his rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, played on the ukulele.

The latest numbers are posted in The Drill.

Divisive Devices

My new iPhone.

Recently, my iPhone began to act erratically. New iterations of its operating system had rolled out. But the device could not effectively process the changes. Family and friends blared the horns of their newer models as they passed me on the digital expressway. The time had come to upgrade.

I visited the store of our cell plan’s carrier. My wife and I, both of our sons, and daughter-in-law share a family package deal. I learned that only three of those five can act as administrators of changes to the contract. In order to upgrade my phone, I had to show identification and have an administrator physically appear at the office and approve my decision. Furthermore, I needed to contact the primary administrator, my daughter-in-law, and obtain the last four digits of her social security number AND her account password.

Well and good: I called my wife (an administrator) and she appeared to ok the upgrade. Then I called the daughter-in-law and got her secret numbers. I picked out a phone. The tech got my password and moved data from the old to the new.

Yes, it’s a bit of an arduous process. From entrance to exit, it took over an hour. Nonetheless, given the topical hullabaloo surrounding personal data breaches, I left the store reassured.

An AR-15.

I am recounting all of this to illustrate a shameful irony of contemporary American culture. In less time and without oversight, anyone 18 years and up, can purchase an assault weapon from a licensed gun dealer. An assault weapon precisely like the one used to kill seventeen high school students in Parkland, FL on Valentine’s Day of this year.

I have touched on the issue of gun control in years past. Assault weapons are also devices, tools, if you will. They are designed to kill people, and to kill them fast. The proliferation of massacres in recent history prove how good they are at what they do. Assault weapons should, in a sane society, be banned. 

My wife took this photo at the Portland, OR “March For Our Lives.”

Following the slaughter in Florida, parents raged, marches ensued, and students across the country mobilized to demand common sense solutions to the violence. Some legislators hailed the protester’s courage. Yet, in doing so they unwittingly highlighted the history of their own faintness of heart in confronting the stranglehold of the NRA on American politics. Others avoided taking a position, cloaking themselves in the cynical lament of “thoughts and prayers.” The White House also failed to lead on this issue. Instead, our president spoke in support of a demented proposal to arm teachers

The inertia on an assault weapon ban is unforgivable. The ability to couch this argument in diversionary political mumbo jumbo delays action from one massacre to the next. The basic tactic is to stall any decision about change and wait out the news cycle.

I don’t know what the solution is. The ballot box? Perhaps. A charismatic leader? Maybe. More and greater massacres? Let’s hope not. Can young men and women still in school lead the way? I’d like to believe that. But already, much of the tumult surrounding the Parkland massacre has subsided. Marches came and went. Grief was processed. And, still, no legislative initiatives.

Let’s face it. American democracy is as dysfunctional as my outdated iPhone. Its operating system needs an upgrade. Currently, money determines policy. The wealthy wield power without concern for the common good. Inequality infects our society like a computer virus. Gun control, climate change, you name it: we seem content to kick the can down the road. We hope these problems will go away. But they won’t.


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