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Thursday, April 21, 2005

It's a curious day ...

one that matched my mood; bright sunlight one minute and then clouded over the next by slowly-merging wisps of cumulus clouds on their way to prepare for the next showers... April lives up to her promise.

Yesterday brought another day of real pleasure in the company of an interesting and engaging man whose company I've come to treasure. We drove to San Francisco early in the day -- out to Golden Gate Park -- for a visit to Spring! It was all that I'd hoped. It's been many years since I've taken the time to see spring. The visit to the Conservatory where the tropical plants are grown was simply amazing. The giant ferns and fronds of proportions that defied logic reached to a lofty 30 ft in some instances. We didn't last too long in the heat and humidity, though both are essential to the maintainance of some of the most lush and dramatic blooms on earth. There were orchids of every kind and size, hibiscus and bouganvillea and passion flowers and cyclamen, some with pistles and stamen so erotically exotic that it made me want to look away! The brilliance of the colors rivaled the best that man can offer despite an artificially-produced pallette of limitless range. We're pikers when compared to what nature can and does produce.

Saw my very first great blue heron standing regally at the edge of the lake in Strybling Botanical Gardens. It was so still that for an instant it escaped notice. I could have so easily missed this miracle. Then with the slightest of movements this magnificent irridescent blue and lavendar and soft mauve creature lifted one reed-thin limb after the other in a grand stride and disappeared into the giant-leafed Australian plants that grew at the rim ... I felt the loss as one who lives under the flyover of such birds -- but for so long has ignored their existence. How many other miracles have I missed while preoccupied with world-tending and child-rearing and seeing only those things that occur within fifty feet of my consciousness?

The power of the wild blue heron served to reawaken images of the wetlands of my childhood where there were egrets and mallards; springtime rituals involving the gathering of caterpillers from the branches of wild anise to capture in jelly jars -- to take home and watch excitedly as they slowly evolved into beautiful monarch butterflies! Memories of gathering polliwogs in those same marshes where now stands the Oakland Coliseum and its expansive parking lots. Watching over a period of many days the budding of legs and the shrinking of the tail as those tiny green frogs emerged magically from the sleek slimy little black tadpole bodies. I thought of the egrets who lived among the tall cattails of the marsh and so silently strutted nearby as though we children were not there at all -- lifting long spindly legs out of the mud then down again in a stately march as we watched in hushed silence ... so many visions still locked in my child's mind. I could almost feel the earthworms that Papa George encouraged me to learn to love (after some initial repugnance) slide through my fingers and back into the ground as we troweled the warm soil in preparation for spring planting.

I doubt if Papa George knew much about ecology. I'd not even heard the word then. He was, after all, the son of a slavewoman who'd spent much of his life helping to work the family garden in St. James Parish. I don't believe he ever attended school. He' spent nights as a waiter at the downtown Oakland Athletic Club on Clay Street, and his days smoking his pipe and tending his garden.

There was surely a kind of native wisdom that allowed native peoples the world over to develop a sense of a natural order that told them to plant at certain phases of the moon and that provided a non-verbal non-literate "book" of natural law that made the beans and the squash and the melons and potatos prosper and the tables bend from the harvest and the canning kettles overflow with the winter's store. I'd forgotten all that in this world of plastic-wrapped on-demand pre-cooked dinners. I'd forgotten my little girl horror as Papa George twisted the Sunday dinner live chicken by its head until it died in a burst of flying feathers and then chopped off its head with an ax -- then handed it through the kitchen door to my mother to scald in the huge pot of boiling water. Then came the plucking of feathers and the unforgettable stench!

That beautiful blue heron brought back visions of my crushed panama-hatted bib-overalled Papa standing among those bean-poles and spreading zucchini plants. She erased -- for the moment, at least -- all of the development that has replaced the scenes of my childhood. She closed the gap between my very young and very old Bettys for just long enough to prove that change is not necessarily progress, and that having lived long enough to watch some reversal of the "let's-cement-over-the-planet" philosophy and the re-birth of the connection with the earth is a blessing. After all, I've now lived long enough to witness an earnest effort to rid the world of the culverts and to day-light the creeks and rills of my childhood. I've lived long enough to see birth of a new appreciation of the role played by wetlands in the maintenance of flood control and protection of habitat.

How wonderful that I got to be a player in the process during those years of working with the environmentalists of this area from my position as a state assembly field representative. But until writing this piece, I didn't realize how much those restorations have meant to me. Maybe one of the functions of these flashbacks is that the perspective of aging gives one a way to put the words and concepts learned in later life together with the experiences and emotions of those first ten years. Maybe those connections don't get made if we don't live long enough to make them. Perhaps this is what gives meaning to higher education -- it gives younger folks the tools for making the linkages that those of us without formal educations can only evolve into over many years.

Thank you wild blue heron!

...but I have no idea of why I felt so tired at the end of the day and ended up in bed so very early last night. Could it be that since I've stopped working actively, I'm spending more time in the past than in the present? Is that fatiguing? Is this what getting old feels like? It's been a long time coming -- but maybe it's here. And what on earth do I do with that? Do I simply fold into it gracefully or do I give up on the memoirs and get back to work? After all, when sixteen -- I had no idea that I would be around for my eighteenth birthday, did I? There were never any guarantees, and there still aren't. I suppose one goes on planning and living and projecting into the future until one's time is all spent and that thing that believers call eternity takes over. I think that I'm more certain than ever, though, that the thought of becoming a part of whatever creates the life of a blue heron by helping to replenish the earth is about as fine an ending as one might wish. My kind of immortality ... .

But then what do I know?


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