Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mother of Jahi McGrath - child who died as the result of a tonsilectomy
Here 'tis only 3 days before Christmas and I'm no more ready than any caring adult should be admitting to ...

... I just may have o.d.'d on the Yuletide season.  Somewhere a line got crossed and the commercialism became hopelessly toxic.  Over the past several years I've started to feel abused by the demands of the marketplace to consume, and, in a world of such need by so many -- the entire Christmas charade began to eat into my conscience.  Last year,  in order to respond to some urgent compulsion from within, I actually gathered up my clean and well-folded but gently-used items and drove around distributing them directly to homeless folks standing at the entrance to the freeways and  underpasses holding up their handmade signs pleading for help.  For reasons beyond understanding there was little relief in doing so.   I only felt guilty for being more fortunate than those I encountered.  A kind of "Lady Bountiful"; ugh!

It reminded me of the discomfort experienced the last time I had a pedicure.  I suddenly looked down from my fancy elevated chair with the vibrating backrest at the pretty little Vietnamese woman seated below me busily trimming my toenails and I was overwhelmed by the irony of it all.  The implied social levels this seemed to be present in that moment gave me this same feeling of over-privilege -- even though I was aware that this was her livelihood. The feeling of luxury in the enjoyment of her service was suddenly out-weighed by the social implications of our relative positions in that moment.  I've never gone back.  Illogical? Maybe, but I left her a generous tip and walked away.

This year it seemed beyond that.  Individual acts of kindness are hopelessly inadequate and our collective support for those in need are being cruelly stifled by Congressional inaction that is seeking to reduce the food stamp programs to the most needy; deny raising the minimum wage so that families can survive these times; and refusal to reform Immigration policies.

Nonetheless, there is Dorian to consider; she, whose mental deficits will continue to need this annual return to this happy-ever-after break in our routine and to the innocence of the gift-giving season.  So in the interest of observing the season on her behalf -- I'm about to go on the annual hunt for a suitable tree for her to trim, and hope that the spirit will return to her mother in the process.

Maybe I'm just in a bah humbug mood ... .

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Still playin' catch-up ... .

The past week not only introduced us to the upcoming Naval media project, but also I must acknowledge two "honorings" that marked this holiday season as more than just a time for being depressed over those missing in my life -- and finding myself at the top of the pyramid -- which is just another way of coming to terms with being the last survivor of my nuclear family.  Awareness of my mortality looms at the forefront of my life now, and never more so than over the past Thanksgiving weekend.  But I digress ... .

Richmond's Human Human Rights and Human Relations Commission honored me among a stellar group of hard-working activists with a Special Award that was presented in a beautiful ceremony in Council Chambers last Monday evening.  It felt somewhat awkward since the other honorees had many members of their friends, supporters, and families standing with them and -- except for Martha Lee, former superintendent of our park and Tom Leatherman, our current superintendent, my family was absent.  I'd failed (intentionally) to mention it to them, but there are times when I feel almost embarrassed by the amount of attention I'm receiving these days, and I'd already asked my son, David and my two youngest granddaughters, to escort me to the Channel 7 ceremony honoring those selected for their Profiles in Excellence programs two nights later.  Found myself overcome by an attack of modesty and just couldn't tell them of the HHRHUC event, too!

Which brings on something that's been looming in the back of my mind lately -- it's this:  Have I simply aged into a time where one receives honors simply for being able to spell one's own name or tie one's own shoes?  I'm surely extremely proud of being able to play what I see as a meaningful role in the shaping of a national park, and to be able to do so around what is still a rather controversial era in history, and to be able to do so without compromise -- that's a given.  But the extent and amount of attention that surrounds me of late seems excessive, and there are times when it truly leaves me puzzled ... .

That being said, may I add that a reporter for the Voice of America is coming to meet with me for an interview early next week, and on last Thursday afternoon I met with the producers of a project that will probably take up most of next year as they research and plot the filming of my life story for a variety of purposes.  It so happens that -- at least the past number of years of my life coincide with the beginnings of the park -- so is also the park's history.

Before that time, however, there is the rest of my bio that has become the basis for my presentations twice weekly in our little theater -- and is also -- quite incidentally --the story of the nation's social progress through the decades.

That's almost too huge to wrap my mind around, but there it is.  Do you wonder that I've been having difficulty writing about it all?

I blush even in typing these words ...

bear with me, though, as all of this begins to reveal itself in more understandable ways ... .    
It has been so long since posting that I hardly know where to start ... .

... maybe the place to begin is with the most recent developments in the ever-unfolding of the Betty Charbonnet Reid Soskin epic ... which involves an historic encounter with the Navy.  (See what I mean?  Does this not place a strain on all credibility?)

Some weeks ago a message was received by email from the senior producer/project director of an agency which produces content for Armed Forces Media, worldwide.   Her agency is called Defense Media Activity, (DMA) which is located in Ft. Meade, Maryland. She was announcing their interest in coming to Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park with the hope of doing a profile for an upcoming story in which I'm (at least) one of those to be featured.

Last Monday I met Princess Hester, a "sistah" to my delight, with her project partner, Kevin, who spent two days with me touring some of the scattered sites of our park and conducting a full hour's videotaped interview for the purpose of gathering material that will provide the content for their script.  They will return with a crew of 5 for a full week in January to do the filming of their story.

As has become the rule rather than the exception, much was learned from their questions; for instance, I had no idea that it was our Navy that enabled and supported Henry J. Kaiser's historic shipbuilding feat through a Rear Admiral (will supply his name later) through an Emergency order issued by the Navy.  It is that Naval history that they're interested in recapturing, a part of the forgotten stories that is in need of fleshing-out through this project.  Who knew?

To date we've been crediting the Maritime Commission with the sponsorship of the Kaiser contribution without the realization that there had to be a tier above Maritime -- and that was the Navy -- in order to facilitate the funding and the work.

I'm not certain how I figure in this scenario, except that it was learned casually over lunch that Princess Hester, Senior Producer, was apparently following my blog for some time and convinced whoever holds the keys to such projects that this was at least one channel that might provide a way into the story.  I'm still not quite sure of the connections.

The team will want to refresh the Port Chicago story with its mutiny trials -- still smoldering through a veil of semi-secrecy in the background -- as a part of their investigation.  We lightly touched on that volatile story, and doing so has reawakened disturbing memories and has remained with me many a night since their visit.  I'm still mulling that over, and am surprised at how much my sense of that history is beginning to shift, clarify, ... strange ... but I'll write about that as  it deepens.  Interesting.  I was startled to discover during the taping that I've not lived that trauma out of my system -- even after all these years.  Maybe this experience will serve to discharge the balance of the residual pain and bring some freedom from those memories; finally, for both me and for the Navy.

It was fascinating to take them out to scout out Point Molate, the site of Winehaven -- once the largest winery in the whole country which served as a re-fueling station under Naval command during WWII.  Prior to life as either a winery or a naval site, however, Pt. Molate was an important whaling station -- truly a part of California's historical narrative.  Our guests had not even heard of it previously, so it felt good to be able to be in on the excitement of their discovery.

 Photos by Don Gosney

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I wake to this painting by Clarisse Bois each day ...
Trying to deal with the new reality of the turn my life has taken is exhausting ...

... but is, at times, exhilarating.

Having become a nationally-recognizable public figure has meant accepting responsibility for never leaving the house without checking first to see that my socks match (easy when they're all government regulation and identical), and that I've remembered to attach all my i.d. tags so that they're both visible and lined up properly on my jacket.  Beside that, the only thing that seems to have happened is that almost everyone who turns up at our visitors center mentions having seen me on local or national news programs, and never have I had so many requests of folks wanting to have me take snapshots with them for sending home to family and friends.  Other than that ...

But maybe there's more.

Our visitation has soared, and more and more people are coming in as the result of having heard of Rosie the Riveter/WWII National Historical Park for the first time only recently, and one gets the feeling that I've become the poster girl for senior centers from coast to coast!

... and one might think that the end of the national Shutdown might have brought an end to the splash of publicity but, to the contrary, it seems only the beginning:

In the first week in December the project manager for the Defense Media Acivity (DMA), formerly the Naval Media Center, which produces content for the Department of Defense to be distributed to the Armed Forces throughout the world -- will be coming to Richmond from Fort Meade, Maryland, to produce a "Betty" profile.  

I found myself in a peculiar stance yesterday during my regular two o'clock presentation.  I was both delivering my usual unscripted commentary -- but also sitting "outside myself" and trying to hear just what the world is hearing, simultaneously.

Among that small audience (a capacity house of maybe 48) were a white couple who'd come to hear me as the result of having been in the great ballroom of the Astor Crown Plaza Hotel in New Orleans when I spoke there last year before the crowd at the WWII Museum Conference; a CBS National News cameraman and son of a Tuskegee Airman who'd flown over Europe during WWII (and one who worked on my recent pieces for national news -- today returning as a private citizen for a visit); and a young female graduate student from Starr King School for the Ministry -- of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.  What on earth were these people from such divergent backgrounds finding in my words?

Surely the attention I'm receiving goes far beyond my status as the "oldest park ranger in the National Park System."  The "92 year-old ranger" story shouldn't have developed such "legs" so there has to be more to explain it.

I heard myself speaking truth -- and realized that my words express a unique though in many cases a universal story that gives an authentic picture of the past that we've all lived in some fashion, and a future we're hoping to live into.   I heard myself giving hope in a troubled world where several generations have been mashed together by technology into a common need for some way to build bridges strong enough to carry us through to the next stage in our evolutionary process of positive change.

Yet, how do I avoid becoming an older pollyanna who is simply giving aid and comfort to today's Americans who may be more in need of a cold dash of ice water in the face that will waken them to the perils of not facing into the winds of change that still carry the now nearly-forgotten sounds of the screams of Trayvon Martin's parents, and the urgings of today's generations of Japanese/Americans who suffered the most egregious examples of racial profiling in recent history -- 120,000 of whom lost 3 and-a-half years of their lives in internment camps for the simple fact that they looked like the enemy?  Of the dangers of old/new restrictions on voting privileges now fully in force to strip voting privileges from people of color in many southern states made possible by recent Supreme Court rulings. 

That I must not do.

What accounts for the feelings of obvious good will when my talk comes to an end?  Why do we leave that room with genuine feelings of empathy and affection?  What am I sacrificing in exchange, and why?

... on the drive home I replayed in my head the words I'd just shared; and found that I'd managed to share that painful history without giving ground in the struggle to be truthful, yet  I heard my words as helping to continue the process in a dizzyingly-changing world.

Maybe that's what I'm managing to do with enough success that those audiences are hearing enough of themselves in me and my story to identify and help in this period of continuing transformation.

... but that feels not the least bit exceptional,  yet maybe it is just enough to bring attention to the place where it's beginning to happen ...

this new and increasingly important national park.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Spent the whole morning being shadowed by Justin Sullivan, photographer for Getty Images ... .

... as I understand it, this is a news wire service that supplies images to the media, but I still need to check their website for a better understanding.

Though the past several weeks have served as an introduction to an unbelievable amount of media coverage, and to several local and national news teams -- all wonderful people who've added to my life and experience immensely and given reason to appreciate a field that always had to do with  those whose lives warranted public scrutiny and celebration.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever seen myself propelled into such prominence.

Nor could I have imagined a portrait such as this ... one that captures my entire life as lived into what is now my tenth decade -- and it's all here in my face, and Justin's art lays bare enough of what's been hidden that I cried when first I saw this image.

Prior to this I'm always been struck by how accurately the camera shows the ravages of aging, the gradual devolution of the physical self ...

I think that Justin Sullivan has caught something that time may add, though I can't name precisely what that is.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Having given up my LAN phone as well as cable service I'm not the easiest person to reach, and I ...

... find myself wondering just what set off this flurry of publicity at all?

It all started with a call from Tom Leatherman, our superintendent, on the day after the Shutdown telling me that an Associated Press reporter had called wanting to do a story for the wire services and asking permission to give out my personal cell number.  Glad to have an assignment I,  of course, said yes.  The rest is history.  Within hours of the AP story's publication the excitement began!

I better understand why the need for someone between you and the media.  I was simply not up to the scheduling and accessibility needs; the time differences that world deals with, etc.

Given the constraints placed on federal employees by the Hatch Act, there was need to keep the interviews firmly fixed on the personal -- any references to the larger questions of where the blame should be placed for the Washington madness was prohibited, and in all honesty, not one reporter made any attempt at causing me to make statements that might jeopardize my position.  No offhand remark taken out of context appeared in any news segment.

But in just how many ways can one say, "let me get back to work, you're twasting my time?"

There was this place in me that couldn't fathom just why I was news at all?  Since the facts about me were outside the perimeters of the 3-minute sound bite, how did anyone even know to value me as worthy of national coverage?  Could simply being "the oldest park ranger in the park system" really justify all that?

After posting to my blog last night, I managed to fall asleep after concluding that there may have been no way to respond to what had been happening in front of the White House; the demonstrator standing with the huge confederate flag with another protestor standing beside him on camera shouting demands that the president come out with his hands up!   The images were really alarming.

Maybe the only response  would be to simply present an alternative  image -- that of an articulate African American woman speaking in complete sentences and a reasonableness borne of a long history of tolerance and common sense.  I've been tested by life, and it probably shows in my work.  I'll accept that.  Maybe that's enough to be in such times.

Being one of the grownups in the room may be worthy of such attention; but I'm not yet  entirely convinced of that.

That it brought attention to Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park is a given.  That audiences for my guided tours and theater presentations will increase, and my opportunity to share the history of those heroic times celebrated by this park may finally be recognized for the profound social changes it brought to the nation and the world by a heroic generation of workers will be enhanced.

I think I can put it away now, and begin to look forward to my anticipated flying adventure with choreographer Joanna Haigood which is fast approaching.  Her schedule will free up for us to begin work after November 17th, according to a note received last week in the middle of the melee!

Stay tuned.

Watching what is surely the last of the pieces on "The 92 year-old Ranger ..."

... on the CBS Evening News, there was a moment when the Betty on the screen and the Betty watching the footage brimmed with tears.  It was not obvious, but the moment was so filled with memories -- alive with pathos ... and there were no words to express the depth of feelings that surfaced.

It had to do with the raising of the flag.  John Blackstone, the interviewer, asked what it meant to me.  I fell silent for an instant ... then felt the tears forming ... there was no way to answer that in the few minutes allowed on camera.  I was grateful that my glasses had darkened in the sunlight so that the emotion that might have been visible was not evident.  The answer would take an essay -- and even that would hardly be adequate.

But if you'll place the name of the late author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestKen Kesey, into that little white search bar on the left hand side of the screen just above my photo, you'll understand my response to the question.  Or, a different set of posts on the flag will appear if you just enter "flag."

I don't believe that I fully understood what it meant to me until asked to give the keynote address for the National Park Service's Naturalization Day ceremony this past spring. In the writing of that speech I finally worked through, conclusively, its meaning at least to me.  That speech can be brought up with the search bar, if you're interested.  But it took all of those prior experiences to bring me to a personal patriotism that sustains me today in a still flawed social system.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Then there was this -- working away in the background  ...

While en route to the Oakland airport cell phone rings and CNN is on the line from New York wanting to arrange for an interview with Anderson Cooper.  By now nothing seems impossible.  Why not? I explained that I was boarding a plane within minutes and that the immediate future was unknown!   I've walked through the looking glass and was now firmly on the other side.

Having no idea what we're heading into, I could only think to give the caller the name of Producer Bryan Banly with the suggestion that they make contact with the studio staff to see if this was within the realm of possibility.  I'd not yet seen an itinerary for my day in LaLaLand, and had no idea of what to expect beyond the fact that I would be picked up by a limosine at LAX for delivery to the Studio.

Upon landing without a hitch, we found our driver waiting below holding up a REID sign.  Should have guessed that this was the way it was handled.

Shortly after our arrival at the Hollywood studio where we would spend this incredible day, we were greeted by our producer with his clipboard and anxious look (explained earlier) and news that they'd received the call from Anderson Cooper's people and that -- at sometime between makeup, rehearsal, and the actual show, the truck from the Los Angeles Bureau of CNN would arrive to set up the interview.

It was while I was in Make-up that Al Jazzera America called, a call I was never able to return, unfortunately.

After deciding that the studio space they'd been assigned was just too noisy, CNN decided to set up outside where I sat in a tall chair waiting (and waiting, and waiting) to go on -- all wired up with the little receiver tightly set in my left ear -- listening to the end of the interview that preceded mine.  For this they'd sent over a huge satellite truck from the Los Angeles CNN bureau for but a few minutes of the exchange between the coasts via Anderson Cooper and moi.  What on earth could one say in five minutes that would be worth all of this?  The weight, the responsibility of being cogent and significant and not wasting these expensive resources was a thought that rose to the surface but was quickly discarded.  To go there would be to deliver myself into the madness.

Then the real waiting began.  I learned later from David that there were negotiations going on concerning that Arsenio sign that is clearly visible here.  CNN wanted it removed.  Arsenio's people were adamant.  After all they'd bourne the expense to bring me to Los Angeles, and -- at least until my plane lifted off tonight -- I was their property.  They argued while I sat waiting for some resolution.  (Not unlike the insanity going on in Washington, right?)

Suddenly things got resolved, and in the negotiations it was determined that they would remove the sign only if Anderson would give them a mention during the interview.  That happened, if you'll notice.  It had taken about 20 minutes to get through to what ended up a five minute segment on camera.  I will never understand the logic of such things ... .

Only difficulty I found was that I've learned that I'm clearly not a "radio" person.  I need to see to whom I'm speaking.  I hate spotlights since they blind me to an audience.  In this instance I was actually speaking to a little box raised on a tall pole and Anderson was in New York -- out of sight.

When I've watched the interview since returning home, I see my face go blank at the start, and can remember clearly how that felt.  It was uncomfortable.  It was disorienting.  I also realize that I was lucid and after a few wasted simple "yes" answers -- I did share the message that I needed to, and that I didn't look scared -- only not animated.  Not really as interested in the process as I would be once the rehearsal began.

Then it all came alive! 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Life is beginning to slow down now ... rumors from Washington are beginning to turn toward some resolution ... .

and maybe we'll be back at work before many more hours have gone by.

I'm still feeling the warmth of Arsenio Hall, now that the dust has settled, and I can finally exhale.

What an adventure!

A more gracious group of young people I've seldom experienced.  I was shown total respect and every wish was granted.  I do hope their show survives what appears to be a troubled re-entry, and that this talented young man can hit his pace and continue his rise to the success he so richly deserves.

For me it was a total success, if I'm to believe the messages received over the past few days.  Though it didn't seem likely at the time, the message of the National Park Service was successfully delivered to a demographic that has been elusive in the past.  There are many comments from African Americans throughout the country -- and of all ages and genders -- who identified with me and who saw my success as partly their own.  The young members of my extended family are ecstatic and affirmed by what's happened.  That was a bonus.  I wasn't reaching quite that far; actually I wasn't reaching at all since the experience could not have been anticipated nor planned for.  It was just one of those serendipitous happenings that resulted from a news story on the AP wire service.  That was probably merciful since -- had I known in advance where it would take me I might have dashed for the nearest bush to hide behind!  One is never ready for such attention, but I'm so happy to have had the experience.

Thank you, World!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Travel itinerary with flourishes ...

Picked David up at his place for the drive to Lionel Wilson Airport in Oakland (Lionel was an old friend who played baseball with my husband, Mel Reid, for the California Eagles of the Black Baseball League back in the day), left at 10:30 and arrived at LAX 15 minutes early to be picked up by a sleek black luxurious limo whose driver was standing below with his printed sign bearing our name.   This is where the dream took wing.

About 40 minutes later we arrived in Hollywood at the studios, were met by a most courteous producer who would escort us through the day.  We were guided to a dressing room bearing my name which was arranged like a small living room with an adjoining private restroom.  A delicious lunch was delivered shortly thereafter (crab, prawns, green salad, garlic bread).

Bryan, our producer and the young man with whom I'd been corresponding over the past 24 hours joined us clutching a clipboard to his chest and a worried look on his face.  "I'm supposed to ask you if you'd be willing to join Arsenio for a couple of jokes during the show,"  and poor Bryan's expectations weren't wrong.  Without hesitation I said a resounding, "No!"  This is what I'd feared.  I did not want to become the foil for a professional comic's schtick.  Nor did I wish to become a 'lil' ole lady cartoon.  If I couldn't do this on my terms, then I'd not do it at all.  I was smiling, but adamant, and Bryan knew it.

He assured me that he could fix it, and that I shouldn't worry.  It was clear that it was Bryan who had discovered me online, and it was he who had sold Arsenio on bringing me to the show -- and that Arsenio didn't have a clue.  I was sure that if Arsenio didn't have any idea of me or my work then we wouldn't get beyond the 92 year-old ranger, and that would be wasteful of my time and their money.

He disappeared for a time and returned with a smile which meant that my message had been delivered and they'd adjusted their expectations.

I would have about 5 minutes with Arsenio on camera, and there would be no time for messaging.
This is where my inexperience was a handicap.  But by then things were moving so fast that there simply was no room for doubts.  I was guided to the make-up artist who made some adjustments to my coloring, but did no major changes.  It was time for rehearsal which is just a walk-through for timing, I suppose, and this revealed the level of humor that reigns on the Arsenio Show.

And, Oh Lordy, the level of humor on this show is surely not that of either Bill Maher or Jon Stewart.  Both specialize in sophisticated political commentary generously laced with obscenity and irreverence, but the edgy message never fails to come through with the laughs.  The style of Arsenio's show is closer to that of a risque Soupy Sales (make no mistakes, I loved Soupy) and greatly dependent upon sexual innuendo enhanced by lots of skin.  I suppose that -- on the spectrum of humor -- many expressions are essential to meet varied tastes,  but oh my!  What could I have been thinking?

It seems that the night before when Tyra Banks was his guest, Arsenio had done the first 20 minutes of the show with his fly zipper down.  Several times members of the crew had tried to call his attention to it during the show, but failed.  Tonight the opening skit was based on "Zip Down Fridays," and everyone, including the star of the show had their flys unzipped.

Backstage I was seated with David and others before a huge monitor watching the rehearsal in horror!  I was to follow this!  I uttered outloud that Arsenio ought to be ashamed of himself for using such material.  That this level of humor was below any standards of decency, and to my surprise his backstage people said, "tell him, Betty!  We think you should tell him on camera."  I was deadly serious.  When I was introduced during the rehearsal the first thing I said was that the skit would never pass the grandmother's test for decency (with a smile, of course).  I was serious, and he knew it.  They decided to drop the stuff they'd prepared for me to say and get it into the script.  His charm over-rode my objections, and my resistance flew out the window.  One would have to go a long way to escape Arsenio's boyish warmth and infectious good nature.  I liked this crazy man!

All-in-all, I figure that they'd flown me down and paid for a limo to pick us up and only for five minutes on camera and no time to learn anything about my work.  Makes no sense to me.  In the aftermath the public response has been purely positive -- which also doesn't make much sense, either.  What are they responding to?   

I was followed by Cedric the Entertainer, but didn't hear his interview due to my own inattention brought on by the relief of having completed my brief public appearance on television.

But it was the CNN Anderson Cooper interview that was something I'm still mulling over in the quiet moments.  That was even more strange, but I'll leave that story for tomorrow.


Dancin' down the Rabbit Hole with Arsenio!

... and Associated Press, CBS Local, CBS National, NBC Local, NBC National, CNN's Anderson Cooper, and along the way I was too swamped to field calls from Diane Sawyer's Good Morning Show and Al Jazeera America's producer and lost them.

I know.  It's crazy.  Weird, but as my grandchildren would say "waaaaay cool"!

I hardly know where to begin.

I suppose it began with the shutdown of the National Park Service along with other federal agencies, and -- along with 800,000 other federal employees, I was furloughed.  On October 1st we arrived at work, worked at our desks for about 4 hours putting our phones on vacation status, our email boxes with "sorry to miss your call, but I will not be available until we return to work at some indefinite time at which I will return your call."  We watered our plants, closed our files, and headed for home until further notice.

For several days I sat around matching socks, tossing accumulated junk mail, made an attempt to organize "the Cave," which is the "everything room" where those things that have no home elsewhere in my apartment find a place to rest.  It's where I'm sitting now at my MAC and where the walls are lined with photos of my life's events that are too numerous and too laudatory to be allowed in the living room lest visitors think me too self-promoting.  But here in the Cave, they serve to provide energy and confidence when those things are lacking -- we all have those days, I'm sure.

Then comes Friday!

Our superintendent called to ask permission to give my phone number to an AP reporter seeking a story.  Being happy to have an assignment, I, of course said "Yes!"

It was obvious that the media was seeking angles to tell the Shutdown story that might be unique, and "the Oldest Ranger in the National Park System" might be just the ticket.

That opened wide the doors and within 24 hours it seemed that every part of the news media was calling for an interview.

I'll continue this when there's time.  Gotta do some call backs now.

Later.. .

Nation's oldest full-time park ranger furloughed | News - KCRA Home

Nation's oldest full-time park ranger furloughed | News - KCRA Home

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

And so it came to pass ...

Not sure how to use this gift of time, but until further notice -- life has come to a grinding halt!

At one minute after midnight as the federal shutdown was called, I became expendable, and the days will be different until further notice.

Maybe it's time to take stock of what has been making up the balance of my life -- without that which is spent being a tiny cog in the wheel of a great federal agency.

Perhaps another trip to the north shore of Mendocino ... somehow the last one missed its mark ... I lost focus and came home less than whole.

... then maybe I need to check into submitting an unemployment insurance claim and maybe the food stamp program would be a good idea.  Well, maybe not yet.  I'm still solvent, actually, but it wouldn't take much to topple the part of the economy that exists in my immediate neighborhood; in fact, in my immediate household. 

Guess this is the prelude to retirement, maybe?  But I want to have my career end on my own terms and not at the whim of others.   Could that be what they're doing in Washington, just "whim-ming"?  I know that isn't a word, but maybe in this case it might explain a situation that defies logic or even common sense.  What ever happened to common sense, anyway?

Wonder if I'm ready? 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Pure magic ... religions have been built on less than this ... .

For my 92nd birthday celebration last week, I got to go "full extension" up into this giant eucalyptus.

Just  before lunchtime the operator arrived with his cherry-picker adorned with a streamer with happy birthday wishes, balloons, to "take me up!"

(click to enlarge)

but wait!

There's an allegory here that is magical!

If you'll look at my extended hand -- then drop your eyes to the large curled piece of bark that is dropping to the ground -- let your imagination transform that bark into the front leg of a canine-like tree-spirit (you can make out the two ears, eyes, etc.,) and once on that path, you can see that these two elders (the centuries-old tree spirit and me) are having an intimate conversation.  It's clear that this is a benevolent spirit since I'm obviously not threatened, but am leaning in (take note Cheryl Sandberg).

It took a while to get permission to use this photo, but today it came.

I hope you can see my animistic deity; but maybe it only needs to be seen by me.

At idle moments, I'm having a great time imagining a script ... giving identity to the tree spirit ... masked demon?  Death?  Ancestors in disguise?

... it matters not, since at a subconscious level, fear is obviously not a part of the equation.

Moral:  It's probably not advisable to outlive one's therapist!


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Musings of a wandering mind ... .

Through the long meeting of public testimony (over 100 spoke from the podium) I found myself fighting boredom by playing a game of searching the faces of those on the dais (councilpersons and staff) and trying to understand their positions as revealed by their occasional questioning of members of the public who spoke from the podium.

One might suppose that the most "progressive" positions would be taken by the African Americans among them since many of those underwater mortgages and threatened homes are owned by people of color.  Not so.  The issues divide along racial lines, but not in the way that one might expect.  The two leaders of the conservative voices belong to two African American men, both of whom have been on the pro-corporate side of most issues that have come before the council in the recent past.  Both claim to be speaking for the black community.  They appear to be consciously re-building the racial barrier that my generation worked so hard to dismantle -- in order to  build a black constituency toward amassing greater political power; an honorable goal at one time. 

I believe that both are sincere in their efforts, but that they haven't noticed that the city, the nation, and the world, have been evolving, and that the city they're defending so stridently is no longer the city of their experience -- but is a far more welcoming and accepting one that has broadened in every way as people of every color, ethnicity, gender, and economic level have joined together in creating something that could only be imagined not so many years ago.

What I wouldn't give to have both pop in some Tuesday or Saturday afternoon during one of my commentaries, and witness what's happening in the visitor's center.  As far as I know, neither has seen "Home Front Heroes," the 15-minute video that tells the story of Richmond of WWII, the Kaiser Permanente and Henry J. Kaiser stories, or participated in the rich discussions that occur in casual groups where no stone is left unturned, or, where no one's history is ignored; no subject taboo, and where those conflicting truths are allowed to co-exist.

The San Francisco Business Times ( Business Times Richmond Supplement ) issued a 24-page beautiful publication on the City of Richmond this week.  It occurred to me that our two constantly warring councilmen are living in a different city from the rest of us, and they simply do not realize it; at least not yet.  Political expediency would suggest that they become familiar with this new Richmond, if their ambitions are to lead it at some future time.

 ...  you, too, will be amazed at our audacity and the astounding progress being made under leadership with a vision of a fairer and more equitable world and the courage to pursue The Dream.

As an aside, my mind was trying to imagine which of those folks on the dais would have made it across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma lo those many years ago?

Our two stalwarts,  plus one other, were mainly concerned with the question of risk to the city and the need for insurance before a strategy as bold as Eminent Domain should be attempted.

Dr. King, Andrew Young, John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Bayard Rustin, James Foreman, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SNCC, and CORE, could not have assured those brave souls who marched with them that Police Chief Bull Connor, his fire hoses and police dogs would not be waiting on the other side, now could they?

Where would we be had they not dared?

Broke a pledge to myself to not attend council meetings -- or enter into civic matters as long as I'm working for the park service ... .

... that. because (1) I've become a high-profile member of my relatively small community, and (2) because I am limited by being a federal employee subject to the Hatch Act restrictions.  Though my political activity is not constricted as long as I'm not in uniform;  not identified as National Park Service ranger; nor acting in that agency's name.

Our Mayor Gayle McLaughlin is in a continuing struggle to apply Eminent Domain in an effort to bring relief to those either undergoing or threatened by home foreclosures.  The issue has brought Richmond into public scrutiny nationwide as our city challenges the banking industry with a plan that pits their investors against the increasing negative effects of blight and poverty.  This is unbelievably courageous and not without risk, of course.  And maybe I needed to set aside caution and take on some of that risk myself, as a member of my community.

For the first time in my history with the NPS, I would step out of my comfort zone and add my voice to those of others.

Because of the expected overflow crowd on Tuesday evening, the meeting had been moved from council chambers to the Convention Center, and the planners had not over-estimated the numbers who would attend.  The media was well-represented by sound trucks and news photographers in abundance; something I'd forgotten about -- but I'd not let that to deter me.  By the numbers in that room and the fact that I'd not arrived early enough to submit a card that would allow me to testify at the podium until the wee hours, and by the time that would happen the press would be long gone; which proved to be right.

It was 3 hours and 48 minutes before my turn came up, at which point -- at the calling of my name I rose to take my place at the podium, and said:

"I'm a 92 year-old woman who speaks for a segment of the community whose voice has not been heard.  I have a modest condo which was purchased about 12 years ago and that now has a balance of $200,000.00 and a value of $78,000.00.  I'm still working 5 days-a-week in a continuing effort to build an estate to leave for my children.  I've never missed a payment, nor am I in foreclosure.   I will not live long enough for those values to rise. The bank has collected 12 years  of interest on my mortgage.  I will now leave my heirs a worthless gift.  How can that be without any law being broken?
I also remember that the first property we owned was purchased by a white woman because our bank at the time disapproved of where our family was seeking to locate.  Our lot lay outside the ghetto in an otherwise "white" suburban community.

I am sure that the banking industry is fearful of the court cases that will bring "discovery" and exposure of today's discriminatory practices.  By bringing the use of Eminent Domain in as a tool to solve an urgent problem , we will be setting a much-needed precedent as these cases are brought all over the country."
This was a statement that I could defend.  I was not in uniform and stated clearly that I was speaking as a private citizen.

Notified our superintendent early the next morning that I'd done so, and gave him the exact point on the streamed videotape of the proceedings on the public access channel (348.38) which is KCRT-TV.  The statement was limited to 2 minutes, and -- since I'm paraphrasing -- I suspect that there are at least two sentences included here that weren't in my oral statement (only what I wish I'd said!).

Monday, September 09, 2013

Still here -- and still in recovery, but all signs of depression seem to have vanished ...

... but just in case,  since this is my day off and I've no plans except for doing the mundane Monday stuff -- I'm going to drive to the civic center and photograph myself as painted by UCLA's Judy Baca on that beautiful new mural that was installed a few months ago -- and that I've been extravagantly ignoring each time I drive or walk past it going to and from our offices, trying to be blasé about this unbelievable honor.  No one mentions it, yet there I am depicted among community members living and dead; young and old; all representing life as it is and has been lived here in Richmond over the centuries, since the Ohlone Indians occupied this area long before the nation was formed; before the rose growing Japanese and Japanese/American families began to settle here in 1906; and long before WWII brought its migrant work force into this city.  We're all there in brilliant color!

It's very exciting to be immortalized in an important work of public art among others who are seen as stand-ins for a community proud of its diversity.  I've been waiting for some kind of ceremony that would mark its installation, but that doesn't seem to be happening, and the mural was completed weeks ago.

(for a closer look:  go to Judy Baca Richmond Mural Project)

I figure that I'm needing an ego boost about now (after the storm), and a boost is appropriate as a balance for unseen misery and pain experienced over the past several weeks.

Guess I should at least tell my family, and include it here for posterity, right?