This Feels Like the End of the World

The west coast is on fire. Fortunately, none of those fires are very close to Seattle. Yet. But all that west coast smoke got blown into the Pacific Ocean, hit an induction current, and headed right to Puget Sound like a freight train from hell. We now have some of the worst air quality on the planet. Poor Oregon has it even worse. I’m struggling to breathe.

The day before yesterday, when I got home from work, I was coughing, my heart was pounding, and I had a headache. Air matters. I kept having to fight down a panic attack when I felt as though I wasn’t getting enough.

My inner child was freaking out. “You’re gonna DIE!!!” “Help me!” I was on the verge of tears for most of the day. This feels like the end of the world.

Yesterday I brought a respirator to work. A respirator. And we thought masks were bad. I would never have predicted that I’d be relying on a respirator. This is not the world I had planned to live in. The smoke has blocked out the sun. It’s a perpetual twilight.

But with time to think, I was able to compare my situation to others. Not being able to breathe is terrifying. I thought of my late boyfriend, Chuck, who had to fight for every breath he took. When he was having a really bad asthma attack, he’d want me to put my hand on his heart and talk calmly to him, so he wouldn’t freak out. “You’re breathing. You’re breathing…” I can still hear myself saying it. I learned to say it even before I was fully awake. Now I get it. I get it, and I’m heartbroken at the thought of it.

I also feel even worse about George Floyd. Lying there in the street, being choked to death by a cop. He was looking at the crowd, who were desperately trying to talk the cop out of this, but the crowd, for good reason, was too afraid to physically intervene. How frightened and alone he must have felt as he died.

I feel for those in industrialized China who have lived with this air quality every single day for years. It’s a travesty.

I’m outraged for those prisoners in Guantanamo. Many are still there, and some have been waterboarded more than 80 times. What animals are we to do that? It has long been proven that torturing doesn’t yield valuable information.

I weep for all the people who have died of COVID-19, each one struggling for breath as they went. And they had no loved ones by their side to put their hands on their hearts and talk calmly to them. So much of this has been unnecessary.

Winter is coming and the fires will die down, but we’ll still have to deal with this pandemic. In the best of times, I struggle with depression during these Pacific Northwest winters. The isolation. Not seeing the sun for weeks on end. The raw, wet, unrelenting rain. Now add a heaping helping of COVID-19 on top of that, and I fail to see how any of us will make it to spring with our sanity intact.

Please, God, do not visit an earthquake upon us right now. I can’t take another thing. Stop 2020. I want to get off.

Stay safe everyone. Wear your masks. Wash your hands. Vote.

Me, just trying to breathe. 9/12/20

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An Environmental Reset

I just read an article that says that now that there are no tourists in Venice, the canals are so clear that you can see the fish in them, and that dolphins have been spotted for the first time in recent memory. How wonderful. I wish I could see that, but unfortunately, our trip to Italy has been cancelled.

And then this article on the NPR website shows that the air pollution in China has all but disappeared, because people aren’t driving, and factories aren’t running. China’s carbon footprint isn’t nearly as footy or printy as it was this time last year. Again, good news.

As someone said on a meme that is going around, it’s almost as if the planet has sent us all to our rooms to think about what we’ve done.

We are experiencing a rare opportunity to see a cleaner, less crowded world. I hope that really sinks in with people. I hope it makes us all tread more lightly upon the earth. I hope that we learn more from the horrible tragedy of COVID-19 than the need to wash our hands.

Dolphins venice

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There Are Just Too Many of Us Now

I just read an interesting article in the New York Times entitled, In China, Wives Fight Back After Their Activist Husbands Are Jailed. It went on to describe the kinds of human rights abuses you come to expect from China: Defense lawyers being imprisoned simply for standing up for the rights of their clients. Being detained without counsel for months or years. Being tortured. And their families pressured. Children kicked out of schools, wives fired from jobs, families evicted from their homes and prevented from traveling. Guilt by association.

What was new and interesting is that a lot of these wives have found each other and are speaking out and organizing protests. Even though the authorities have told them to be compliant and not make waves, waves they are definitely making. Good for them.

Even in China, one of the last bastions of total public suppression, we the people can no longer be silenced. There are just too many of us now. We are talking to each other. It’s harder to isolate us when we are everywhere you look. The more educated we become (never trust anyone who demonizes education) and the more we connect with each other (never trust anyone who wants to mess with a free internet), the harder it will be to keep us down.

If you want to be on the right side of history, you should consider lifting us up so that everyone wins, including you. Because we are legion. And we’re not going away.

power to the people

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Feeling Helpless About Syria

Unless you live in a cave somewhere, you know what’s going on in Aleppo, Syria right now. And if you’re like me, you’re feeling pretty darned helpless about it. People are being slaughtered and I’m looking at my empty guest room. I’d take them all in if I could. I’d stack ‘em up like cordwood. At least they’d be warm and not have to worry about the world exploding around them.

But it’s not that simple. I wish it were. Contrary to what the Republicans would have you believe, it is extremely difficult to sponsor a refugee. I’ve looked into it.

This is the same level of helplessness I felt during the slaughter in Rwanda. And it’s the same frustration I continue to feel about the Chinese occupation of Tibet. No government seems to be willing to step up and do something about this atrocity. Everyone is looking the other way. People are starving. Children are dying. Women are committing suicide rather than be raped. Men are being blown to bits. And even the UN, despite various resolutions, seems loathe to intervene.

I did find a little comfort in this fundraiser for The White Helmets. This group of heroes has been saving lives in Syria, on a purely volunteer basis, since 2013. They’ve put themselves in the path of the bombs to pull people out of the rubble, and according to their website, have saved 73,530 lives to date. The stories on this website will break your heart.

They risk their lives every single day, while I stare at my empty guest room. I feel sick. And while raising money for this amazing group of people doesn’t seem like nearly enough to do, it’s all I can think of to do at this time. Won’t you help? Even as little as $5.00 will buy them a pair of safety goggles to protect their eyes. That’s better than sitting here watching the tears flow from mine.

I just donated enough for 5 goggles. I wish I could afford to contribute enough money for a gas mask or a defibrillator. I wish I could do more. But together, we can do a lot more than just sit and wring our hands. That counts for something, right?

aleppo

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The Plight of the Pangolin

I remember distinctly the first time I saw a picture of a pangolin. I was browsing a coffee table book on Africa at a friend’s house. I thought it was some sort of a joke. They look like the love child of an artichoke and an aardvark. But the situation got even more strange when I went to show my friend the picture, and I couldn’t find it in the book, even after an exhaustive search. My friend asked if someone had slipped me some magic mushrooms.

I didn’t see another one of these strange creatures until decades later, in a Youtube video. Finally! Vindication! But by that time me and my friend had gone our separate ways.

So I was really amazed to see this article in National Geographic that states that the pangolin is the world’s most trafficked mammal. That’s really ironic because I’m fairly certain that if you surveyed a random sampling of Americans, 99 percent of them wouldn’t even know the pangolin existed. In essence, an animal is endangered that few people are aware of in the first place.

They are apparently found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, and they’re prized by the people of China and Viet Nam for their medicinal properties, some of which, of course, they believe enhance virility. (And of course there is absolutely NO medical evidence that this is the case. I would love to know why these people seem to be so dissatisfied with their virility in the first place, but who am I to judge, when every third advertisement in this country is for Viagra?)

To make things worse for these little critters, they are extremely easy to hunt, because they’re toothless and their main defense move is to curl up into a ball. And the females only give birth to one baby, once a year, so they’re having a lot of trouble keeping up with the pace of human predation.

The good news, according to National Geographic, is that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species just voted to shut down sales of pangolins, in whole or in part, across borders. Don’t you just love it when people get together to do the right thing? (Of course, this will make pangolin stuff harder to come by, which will in turn make it more highly prized. But still. It’s a start.)

If you love pangolins, or heck, if you’re even partial to artichokes or aardvarks, please support these little guys by sacrificing your pursuit of virility, gentlemen. If you ask me, it’s not very manly to kill off an entire species, especially one this cute. It certainly doesn’t make you attractive in my eyes.

pangolin

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Exploring Vancouver: The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

In an oft overlooked corner of Chinatown in Vancouver, Canada, on the other side of an unassuming moon gate, lies an oasis of beauty and tranquility. The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is the first garden of its type outside of China. It’s based on a traditional Ming Dynasty scholar’s garden, and it is exquisite.

Not to be mistaken for the free garden just outside this one, which is also quite beautiful and worth exploring, this one is kind of an inner sanctum, and requires an admission fee. Oh, but it’s worth it. Especially if you take the tour, which explains things that you’d never realize yourself if you just took a casual walk through.

Nothing about this garden is random or unplanned. It’s all based on the Taoist belief in the tension and harmony of opposites, expressed in the Yin and Yang. It also incorporates the four Chinese elements of rock, water, plants and architecture. These elements, thoughtfully placed, mean that yin and yang energy is everywhere in this wonderful place. You can feel it all around you.

Yin and Yang. Light and Dark. Smooth and Rough. Feminine and Masculine. Round and Square. Water and Stone. All these things come into play in this garden, and the duality produces such a sense of beauty and peace that you’ll be sorely tempted to pitch a tent there and never leave.

As evidence of the thoughtfulness of the design, in subtle locations throughout you will see the bat symbol, because in one of the Chinese languages, the word for bat sounds like the word for luck. Also, they used a special clay in the pond to intentionally make the water a cloudy jade green to better reflect images back from the surface, and it also provides a nice contrast to the koi swimming below.

All the limestone rocks came from Lake Tai in China, a lake with acidic water that gives the rocks a magical, weathered appearance. Our guide said that this lake is considered so special that families will drop large blocks of limestone in there and note the location on GPS so that a few hundred years from now, their family will be able to retrieve these rocks for their gardens.

The designers of this garden were also very aware of the passage of time. They intentionally considered the changing seasons, the movement of the sun across the sky, and the differences of rainy vs. sunny days. You could go back there a hundred times and have a different view.

A delightful addition throughout the garden is the placement of Penjing, which is the Chinese equivalent of the Japanese Bonsai. These little artistically formed trees and rocks are fascinating. Little worlds of their own.

I could go on for hours about this amazing place, but you will simply have to go there someday to get the full effect. Below are a few of my pictures from my visit.

Why I Vote

I used to work with a woman who had never voted, had no intentions of ever doing so, and was quite proud of that fact. She hated this country and everything it stands for, and did not want to participate in it in any way. She dreamed of moving to the Australian outback, where she felt her family would be left alone. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her that voting is compulsory in Australia.)

But I have to say that whenever an election would roll around, I couldn’t stand to be in that woman’s presence. It took everything in me not to try to slap some sense into her. The very palm of my hand would ache to do so.

Yes, politics in this country (probably in all countries) is corrupt, and our elected representatives seem to have no desire to represent us. Yes, it’s annoying to have to choose the lesser of two evils rather than the best person for a job. Yes, it’s hard to sift through all the lies to figure out what is the best choice.

As much as I love Russell Brand and his activism, he has become the poster child for a movement that encourages people not to vote as a form of protest because of all of the above. Brand is an extremely intelligent guy, but on this one subject he’s being idiotic. Yes, it’s a broken system, but by not participating in it, you’re not going to make it go away, and you’re not going to fix it. You’re simply giving your power to others.

Here are a few reasons why I vote:

If you do not vote, as far as I’m concerned, you forfeit the right to complain, because you have made no effort to even try to be part of the solution. And believe me, I am as willing to complain as the next person.

If you don’t vote, the majority opinion is not properly reflected, and that causes policies to be enacted that most of us really don’t desire.

The act of voting is the act of reaffirming your democratic freedom, a right which Americans have been fighting and dying for since the Revolutionary War.

People still can’t vote in Brunei or the United Arab Emirates, and women can’t vote in Saudi Arabia. Elections in North Korea are only for show. China is not a democracy, and they are currently trying to roll back the rights of the Taiwanese. As long as there is even one person in this world who wants to vote and can’t, how can I choose to not take advantage of this privilege?

One of the last things my sister did before she died was take her son to vote in his first presidential election. She knew it was an important lesson to teach him. It was important enough to focus on even though she was dying, so your manicure can wait.

But most of all, I am a woman. Women did not get the vote in the US until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920. It took 70 years of struggle to make that happen. Women died for it, went to jail for it, and had tubes rammed down their throats and were force fed when they went on hunger strikes for it. After all of that, what right do I have NOT to vote?

So if you’re not voting, you might want to tell me that from a safe distance. I take this very seriously.

Russell-Brand

See, to me that’s a reason to use your celebrity to get MORE people involved. Sigh.

[Image credit: openyoureyesnews.com]

Countries are Artificial Constructs

One of my friends applied for a high level federal job many years ago and put me down as a personal reference. Some guy in a suit showed up at my door to interview me about her, and one of his questions was, “Is she a good American?”

That made me blink. Uh, what does that mean, exactly? I suppose one could agree that the Unibomber was not a good American, but did that turn him into a good something else?

I’ve always found it rather absurd to judge people based on the nationalities that are placed on their shoulders simply by virtue of birth. Cultures know no borders, and I’ve yet to meet a single human being who agrees completely with the actions of his or her government.

That’s why I can’t get worked up about immigration or buying American. What makes me so special? I’m only a second generation American myself. Why do I have more of a right to be here than anyone else? And why is it better to support a hard working American who is producing a product so much better than supporting a hard working person from Bangladesh? Do they not have families to support as well? I suppose the fact that I have traveled has given me more of a global perspective.

In many places, national boundaries run right down the center of city streets. How different are you from the person who lives just across the way? Are you more different from them than from the person who lives right next door?

In Istanbul you can walk from Europe to Asia and still be in Istanbul. What does that mean to the people who do that every single day? Do the Istanbullu-Europeans distinguish themselves from the Istanbullu-Asians?

When the Berlin Wall was constructed, we considered this barbaric, and watched as people desperately tried to escape their confines. Prisoners, too, do not want to be where they are. What does that make them? Some countries have border disputes with their neighboring countries. What does that do to the mindset of the people who are living in those disputed areas?

In Saudi Arabia the crowds must applaud at public beheadings. Can we really believe that not a single person in that crowd is not inwardly horrified, inwardly too terrified not to applaud? Are those people less or more Saudi than the guy who did the beheading, or for that matter, from the person being beheaded?

In many areas of the world groups of people wish to break away from the country of which they are a part, but are not allowed to, usually because the real estate in question or the industries are too valuable. It’s not that those countries necessarily want to keep those people who don’t want to be there. But they want those property values and that gross national product.

When children in Iran are made to chant “Death to America”, they are quite often as disaffected as their counterparts in America who are required to say the pledge of allegiance every morning at school. They are just going through the motions to make it through the school day. At least that was the case with me. I didn’t feel a surge of patriotism during my chant. If anything, that forced chant about the death of total strangers probably has the opposite effect. It does not make them hate us. It makes them sick and tired of all the stupidity.

If someone in a democracy stages a protest, are they not being even more democratic and therefore more patriotic than the person who sits idly by and doesn’t question anything?

In many parts of Asia, cohesive tribes exist that straddle borders. The Hmong people live primarily in China, Vietnam and Laos. Do they relate more to the people of their own country, or to fellow Hmong from other countries?

We tend to think of the Aborigines in Australia as one cohesive group, but they actually consist of more than 400 groups, each with its own culture and language. Still, I’m sure they feel more like each other than they do those descendants of criminals which seem to have moved in, from their perspective, just yesterday.

If you know you are gay and your country decides that that is a crime, do you feel less of a citizen, or do you just have less respect for those who are in charge of your country?

When China stole Tibet from its people, the Tibetans did not wake up the next day feeling Chinese, and I’m sure they still don’t.

We all have more in common with each other than we do with our governments. We live, we laugh, we love, we struggle to survive, we take care of our families. Politicians, governments, walls, and checkpoints do not define who we are. The more we all realize that, the less we will feel the need to wage war.

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The Best of The View from a Drawbridge

I cannot believe it, but today is the one year anniversary of my blog! What a ride this has been. I’ve managed to post an entry every single day for an entire year. I would have never guessed I’d have this much to talk about.

By writing this much I’ve learned a great deal as well; about myself, about various topics, and about the people who have been kind enough to leave comments on my many posts. I’ve also made a lot of new friends and been introduced to a lot of unique perspectives. I am very grateful for this experience. It has been, and will hopefully continue to be, one of the highest points in my life.

At the time of this writing, I have 168 followers, and an average of 35 views per day. I have received 2,842 comments, and people from 102 different countries have stopped by. And that includes China, which is a country I never expected to see, given the internet restrictions there. Welcome, China! I hope someday North Korea will have the freedom to join you.

My most viewed entry, by a country mile, is Andy Johnson, SHAME on you!!! I guess people are just naturally drawn to descriptions of gross fraud by public figures.

My best title, in my opinion, is Weather, ‘tis Nobler.

My best sentence, without a doubt, is “Barack Obama eats boysenberry aspic on melba toast while doing the watusi in a frothy silk kimono.” That comes from my entry entitled I’m going Slightly Mad. You’ll just have to check it out if you want more details.

I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to decide which of my blog entries this year was the best, or at least which one is my favorite. This was not an easy job. I went back through every single entry and narrowed it down to four possibilities. From there I asked my friends to give me their opinions, and they were most gracious about taking the time to share their thoughts with me. The feedback was so overwhelming that I feel confident in saying that my best entry this year, by far, was How to give HORRIBLE Customer service.

I wanted to thank you, dear reader, for hanging in there with me this year. I hope that we’ll be enjoying each other’s company for many years to come.

My Stats _ WordPress.com - 2013-11-15_08.24.12

This is a map of all the countries who have stopped by to visit me. The list of countries on the left was so long that it actually scrolls off the page. Woo hoo! (Africa, I hope I’ll be seeing more of you soon.)

The Bunyip and his Cousins

Behold the fearsome Bunyip. This mythological creature was much feared among the Aboriginal people of Australia. Until recently I had never heard of this beast, but it intrigues me because it seems to be so far from even the mainstream creepy folk creature as to be unrecognizable.

Bunyip_(1935)

bunyip 2 bunyip stamp 

As you can see from the various artists’ renderings, no one can agree on what this monster was supposed to have looked like, and therefore one can only speculate as to what animal the Ancient Aboriginal Peoples could have seen that appears to have scared them silly. I think a combination of that country’s vastness and isolation and the fact that it’s already a land that is inhabited by some of the strangest animals on the planet all played a part in creating this extremely bizarre imagery.

It seems as though every culture has its bunyip. The boogeyman. The thing hiding under your bed or in your closet. Apparently all humans have a need to conjure up creatures out of their free-floating anxieties.

Below are just a few of the many.

chupacabra

The Chupacabra of Latin America

Mothman

The Mothman of the Appalachians

ebu gogo

The Ebu Gogo of Flores

 Aswang

The Aswang of the Philippines

 Brosno Dragon

The Brosno Dragon of Russia

 Canvey_Island_monster

The Canvey Island Monster of England

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The Taniwha of New Zealand

 grootslang

The Grootslang of South Africa

 yeren2

The Yeren of China

jersey-devil

The Jersey Devil of New Jersey

Peluda

The Peluda of France

 mongolian_death_worm2

The Mongolian Death Worm of the Gobi Desert

 Ropen

The Ropen of Papua New Guinea

It’s a very big world that we live in, full of isolated and uncharted places. It’s also full of people with wild imaginations. But if even one of these creatures were to exist? That’s the reason they are so disturbing to us. We can never be quite sure. Shudder.

Happy Halloween.