Star Berries

Oscar Wilde said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”  The day before New Year’s 2013 my eyes are everywhere but the stars.  I feel like I’m in the gutter.  I am one of an estimated two million in the U.S. whose emergency unemployment benefits ended December 29th.  Now, when I was laid off from my job last March, the company gave us an official 30 days notice.  My government, however, gave folks two weeks’ notice, two weeks before Christmas, that the payments may end 12/29/12*.  On New Year Night, millions waited to see what the Congress and Senate would pull out of their ass on the eleventh hour.  It was time for a walk.

I walked down the hill toward the creek, but on this day I yearned for a new adventure.  Turning right I headed for Whatcom Falls, round trip journey is just under four miles.  The wind was light that morning and carried the scent of snow from the foothills twenty miles east.  Overcast clouds, bounce white light around the barren branches in the woods of deciduous trees that hug the walk; the bark black-wet and silent.  Deciduous means “Falling off at maturity”.  I think on this for a while.  Perhaps maturity means accepting the seasonal changes life rotates through our world, even the ugly ones.
Crows caw at Seagulls as the two families compete for stale bread thrown into the road.  The first hill rises up ahead of me; my mouth opens to take in more air as the legs dig into the incline.  Passing an old white Ford truck, parked on the curb, a waft of “dirty engine” blows across the nose.  I take the history into the lungs and carry it with me across Woburn Street.  The trails trick me as they wind aroundpass a brook that I could hear, but not see.  Oh you little spell spinner, I think.
Suddenly I find myself at the foot of a cemetery hill facing 60 or so tombstones.  This cemetery is known for its weeping angels and walking ghosts.  In the mind’s eye the dead are ghosting about enjoying the day; some sitting on their stones, resting, others socializing.  My presence startles them; their heads turn to look at what has stumbled in.  For a moment we stare at each other; the living are among the dead!  Respectfully I bow and greet them a “Good morning” then leave quickly.  Conversations with ghosts only encourage them to follow you.  I have enough ghosts.
Turning around to correct my path I cross over that tricky stream.  Winter’s debris has it covered in a blanket of “hush”, but water is only silenced by Jack’s frozen finger.
Cell phone photo of my Snowberry bushes

Pass a large Cedar, and the black chain link fence that divides the Jewish dead from Christian, there are Snowberry bushes.  Hanging heavy with their poisonous fruit on the thinnest of twigs, they droop over in a random pattern like stars.  The branches so thin, if you squint your eyes just so, the wood disappears and all you see are white dots.  In a local Native tongue the name for these berries translates to “food of the dead”,  How appropriate for these then to row up against the Bayview Cemetery fence.

Being a child of the Northwest I know not to eat white berries.  The berries do not scare me.  Today, on this day, I see them as stars.  The trail is empty as I stand surrounded by a Snowberry universe.  For a moment I float.  I am an astronaut floating outside my craft.  Floating like a leaf that navigates gently down a river, unaware of its direction or the dangers of rapids.  The leaf floats where the water takes it, the water goes where all water goes, home to the ocean.  I float.
I float…
Common Snowberry (S. albus) is an important winter food source for quail, pheasant, and grouse, but is considered poisonous to humans. The berries contain the isoquinoline alkaloid chelidonine, as well as other alkaloids. Ingesting the berries causes mild symptoms of vomiting, dizziness, and slight sedation in children. 
Interesting information here regarding NW plants:
http://www.americanprogress.org
*Under the most recent extension, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, emergency unemployment benefits will expire at the end of 2012. If Congress does not act to extend benefits, more than 2 million Americans will lose federal unemployment insurance just after Christmas with another 900,000 estimated to lose their benefits in the first three months of 2013.

This Side of Paradise

Times change, they always do, it is no surprise- but are you ready for it this time? 

Since I was 15 I have always been able to find employment.  Between 1990 and 1993, however, thanks to a working husband, I was able to stay home and raised my kids.  In 1993, when I was looking to return to the work force I sought out a part-time/evening job at a local mall.  I found work and the shift I needed without any problem at a kitchen appliance store.  That time in my life we lived in North Bend Washington, a small city just off  I-90 set in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.  North Bend is the last/first town  on your way through the mountain pass.  This small town with a population of about 5,000 people hosts few restaurants, an outlet mall and gas stations making it a great pit-stop for travelers.  Thanks to the booming retail and restaurant industry in the 90’s I was employed for many years while I worked on my degree. 

One day I approached my boss with a request for Sunday/Mondays off.  My request was denied.  It was important to my home life that I get these two days off in a row to help accommodate child care.  Without blinking an eye, I took a walk around the mall and applied to three other stores that had “Help Wanted” signs (remember those).  One place, a leather store, hired me on the spot, and for fifty cents more an hour! At the end of my shift, I gave my notice to the appliance store. There was no worry in my mind that I would be able to find a job with the schedule I wanted, I was more concerned that another person might snatch it up before me.  Those day of jobs-a-plenty are over.

Since 2008 I have been laid off three times.  It’s no fun and I don’t appreciate it.  I stick my tongue out at this sour economy!  *blah*  Recently I saw a video about a real estate agent from Arizona who was unemployed.  She mentions that she was down to cashing out her last IRA to pay her rent.  I wish I was that lucky!  How close is the middle class from becoming homeless or permanent renters in our nation this year?

The recession will force 1.5 million more people into homelessness over the next two years, according to estimates by The National Alliance to End Homelessness. In a 2007 study by the The National Alliance to End Homelessness, Washington ranks in the top ten states with the highest rates of homelessness.

Visual changes have made their way to my city. The first neighborhood I moved to when I came to Bellingham seeking work was Broadway Park off Cornwall Avenue.  It’s an affluent neighborhood where toned husbands stroll their children on the sidewalks while little hot mamas jog in packs of two.  After living there for three months it dawned on me that everyone around that part of town was beautiful.  It felt like I was living in the (original) Star Trek episode 24, “This Side of Paradise” where the crew lands on a planet full of healthy, flourishing colonist that never grow old.  I had yet to see any homeless people in my part of town.  I asked a neighbor jokingly, “I’m new to Bellingham, and was wondering where do you keep all the ugly people?”  This may sound harsh, but I just wasn’t use to living in such a lovely place.  It felt like the whole world was happy, healthy and loved!  That was 2010. 

Two years later, as I drive around town, I can’t help but notice more homeless people on the corners.  These are not your typical homeless types.  I’m seeing students, and working class folks asking for some change.  Alcohol induced crime seems to also be on an increase in Bellingham.  In the last three Cascadia Weeklys, a local newspaper, it seems there are more stories where a drunk person walks into a strangers home mistaking it for theirs. This says two things to me:  people still feel the crime in town is low enough that they don’t need to lock their front doors and, that more people are turning to an easily accessible drug to escape reality. 

Seeing a homeless person on the street pings a new place in my heart these days.  They lean up against a building of commerce, legs stretched out into the sidewalk, creating a human speed bump, an obstacle to walk around.  Questions: Are they like a pit no one wants to fall into?  Are they visual reminders that one day, if you don’t play your cards right you could end up there?  Are you prepared to be laid off 5 or 10 years before retirement after putting 10-20 years into a company?   How is your debt to income ratio?

Lee Jeffries “Homeless” 

 Corporations are all about making a profit.  That is what they are designed to do.  It’s like asking if a lion eats meat.  With the large amount of workers in the market, companies do not need to pay workers a wage that is competitive to keep them.  It is a employers market.  We are now working slaves.  Decent performance may keep our jobs only for as long as the employer needs us; we are disposable.  The moral obligation of corporations to pay Americans a decent wage so the worker can raise a family, own a house and two cars is as out of date as a teenager listening to the radio- why would they? 

This poem popped into my mind a few mornings back:

I: The Beginning of Insanity

“Tick, Tick” went the brain
Fuse is blown, not easy to replace
Confusion and clarity enter
Eggs fold in cake batter
Eyes open in denial
Filth has risen up around her, overnight

Empty pockets- no keys
car keys, house keys, mail keys
Body presses against a brick wall
Surrender to the forces of nature
Arms fling upward like white flags
Baggy clothes hide a sick frame

Sitting on the sidewalk
Like crumpled garbage
tossed out of a moving car
Back to the wall, built to support business
the concrete track carries people.
Did both let her down?
Paths once straight
now a hard couch,
now an unmade bed
for far too many

II: Graphic

My line graph reads:
“Power to the Corporations”
Margin to the left points to the sky
Labeled below: “Time” stretches right
toward a dark future.
Our lady’s figure mark the points
High at the head
Bent at the waist
Peak at he knees
Tapered at the feet

The title of my graph
“Hope in America”
A blood red line
falls
staggers
down
down
down

http://www.cascadiaweekly.com/
http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/526/homeless-facts.html