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.

Worm vs’ Centipede!

I encourage you to take walks.  Whoever you are and wherever you live, you should take walks.  It is one of the few places in life where we are away from our home, office, TV, computer, phone.  Take nothing with you and just walk.  Before there was an iPad, or even electricity humans spent many hours just doing non-electric activities like reading, building things, knitting and playing cards. 

I’d like to suggest that our human brains need down time to process the world around us.  That one hundred years is not enough for us to adapt to electrical life, not after the millions of years we spent without it.  Seems a non-electric hour is the least we can do to keep our humanity.  Besides, if you did not take walks you may miss a ring-side seat at natures awesome spectacle; real life drama that takes place all the time, all around us.  Animals and insects living together and sometimes fighting for survival.   

I was out walking with my son towards the Whatcom Falls trails when we noticed a centipede fighting a worm on the sidewalk.  We discussed the possible strategy of the centipede and the hopeless efforts of the worm, fighting without jaws, claws or poison. 

Prior to our walk my mind was heavy in thought regarding my personal situation.  Recently divorced and unemployed my prospects do not look good.  Hope has carried me through the last four months but lately I’ve been a bit down.  I feel like I am living on the edge of a knife!  As if my next move needs to be a good one or I’ll go “down with the count” and live out of my car or something.  The fear of figuring out what to do next has frozen me.  In nature I learned that creatures when cornered will either fight, flight or freeze.  I am frozen.  Should I go back to school and give up on returning to the television industry and get equipped for another field?  Should I get an entry level job in a new field and try to work my way up?  Should I move to another city or state for an opportunity?  I’m on a pivot point trying to figure out the direction of my next step that will re-align my life’s vector. 

Staring at the worm wiggling for it’s life as the centipede chomps off a third of its body– I felt like the worm.  It moved me almost to tears to watch this silent episode unfold.  The centipede seem to be having trouble getting it’s jaws around the worm to cut a clean piece off.  It used its feet and long body to get the worm at a better angle for cutting.  Such drama!  The worm was just out crossing the sidewalk, heading towards the grassy fringe of the forest, when the centipede, hungry, full of favor cuts the worm almost in half and drags its head (or tail) back into the grass to be consumed!  I went home and wrote a poem about it, then spent the rest of the week in a daze.

Just this morning, while out on my morning walk, I decided to go back to school.  After months of researching my options, I arrived at that conclusion.  I need to be equipped, polished and tooled up for the next stage of my life.  While pondering that choice my mind drifted to the attack witnessed earlier that week.  Worm vs’ Centipede.  I don’t want to be a human worm wiggling along life’s sidewalk unprepared for a centipede attack. 
All we can do is be prepared. 

Worm vs’ Centipede
Sweet centipede, you killed your cousin the worm
Those 100 legs and plier jaws cut off the tail (or the head)
dragging the rest back into the grass jungle
from which you pounced
Worm wiggles in pain
that same useless motion used to fight for its life
Wormy blood  exits out from the severed tail (or head)
Such magnificent drama unfolds on the cement desert
that is the sidewalk  on the edge of my block!
I hurt for the worm, gasp at each bite to it’s body
I understand the centipede, natures attributes makes it the easy victor
I walk home in gray mourning
Pondering the events that nature takes for granted
Washington State Centipede