Monthly Archives: September 2020

A Candle in the Dark

 

photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

 

We all lost a giant in Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18. On San Juan Island, The League of Women Voters held an evening vigil on the courthouse lawn in Friday Harbor. As I write these words I realize how quaint that sounds, and how quaint it was indeed. An island, like a microcosm, in a state that refers to Washington D.C. as “the other Washington.” But if D.C. is white marble and power, we are green and cooperative. If D.C. is many, we are few. And if they’re dressed in suits and heels, we live in comfortable clothes and comfortable shoes. Otherwise we’re just the same.

I had the privilege of riding to the vigil with my neighbors, Susan and Michael Martin, who recently moved onto the island from D.C., where they’d been annual season ticket holders at Washington National Opera. There they were seated near the Ginsburgs, enjoying what they called “a nodding relationship” with the other couple. Susan spoke at our vigil on island. Carrying low voltage candle lights in the dark, we all stood around her in a circle. Susan’s stories humanized Ruth for us as a woman who valued her family, friends, and the arts—especially opera.

“When I am at the opera I get totally carried away,” Ruth said. It’s a delightful thought, that this extraordinarily intelligent, disciplined, and practiced woman had her moments like that at the opera.

Soon other stories flowed forth of RBG’s impact on all our lives. One woman in the circle had served in the military “when you were discharged if it was discovered you were pregnant.” Many women remembered having to get their husbands’ signatures for a credit card, even to a department store. And another who stated that up until 1974, women had to leave the Foreign Service if they married. In the end, we all sang “We Shall Overcome” through our masks, before going off into the night.

Perhaps most poignant and seared into my memory for eternity, is Saul Loeb’s photograph (The Atlantic) of all the former clerks attired in black standing at attention, socially distanced, on the steps of The Supreme Court to meet the casket when the Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States came to lie in repose.

And from somewhere, friend and contemporary Gloria Steinem cried, “I thought she was immortal.”

~~~

In the forest Mother trees are the largest trees, passing their legacy on by nurturing others. Reaching with deep roots, Mother trees draw water to help support and shape younger shallow-rooted trees. Moving carbon and mineral nutrients to one another, and even communicating with each other—signaling dangers such as droughts, disease, and insect attacks through fungal networks–Mother trees insure regeneration.

The maternal instinct of trees was brought to light by Dr. Suzanne Simard, Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia. “These discoveries,” she writes in The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben, “have transformed our understanding of trees from competitive crusaders of the self to members of a connected, relating, communicating system.”

In other words, for interspecies tree communities to thrive in the forest it isn’t ‘survival of the fittest,’ but rather interdependence. “To reach enormousness, they depend on a complicated web of relationships, alliances and kinship networks,” writes Richard Grant (“Do Trees Talk to Each Other?” Smithsonian Magazine, March 2018).

As a litigator fighting for equal protection for men and women, RBG modeled herself after Thurgood Marshall in his struggle for civil rights in our country. Mentors for the ages, both. At 5’1” Chief Justice Ginsburg stood like a Mother tree in our time, leaving a legacy to shape future generations.

It isn’t always about today; it’s about tomorrow.

Famous for her dissents, RBG explained “Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today but for tomorrow.” (in an interview with Nina Totenburg, National Public Radio, May 2, 2002)

In the forest, even injured and fallen trees bring life to others.

 

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Paradise Lost

 

We saw the photographs and footage like everyone else. Forests in red blazes, orange skies over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, a mustard gas like atmosphere on the ground in Los Angeles. Runaway wildfires working their way up the coast, California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington.

In the San Juan Islands, just off beautiful B.C. Canada, we were sailing along under blue skies for a time, feeling grateful. That was last week.

This week the smoke is in our hair, on our clothes, in our eyes, in every breath we take. All we can taste is smoke and it tastes like cotton/wool/flannel. No, it tastes like fleece. Smoke strips everything of color, rendering it flattened and forlorn. Smoke silences our forests.

We should have known it was coming. One evening last week we felt a course wind, “like a Santa Anna,” my husband noted. One by one the birds left the island, taking their songs with them. The only birds I see now are Resident Canadian Geese and Northwestern or American Crows. Resident Canadian Geese are born here, don’t migrate, and have lost all instinct to fly off. And crows, like cockroaches or coyotes, are scavengers, poking through paper plates and napkins left on outdoor restaurant dining tables.

Basically, birds live on the edge. Because of their highly sensitive respiratory system, caged canaries were at one time carried down into coal mines to detect any dangerous gases, such as carbon monoxide. If the canary died, miners would flee the mine. But we can’t climb out of this. Planet Earth is our home, and air quality has no borders. It’s like the ocean.

We’re all living on the edge.

A few years ago a woman I know from Houston, Texas visited Seattle. She couldn’t wait to leave, it was too green for her. “When you’ve seen one pine tree, you’ve seen them all,” was her refrain. Never mind that our forests in The Pacific Northwest are comprised of Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, and Sitka Spruce as well as Ponderosa Pine. They were all the same to her. And they all do their job in being one of the great “lungs” on earth—keeping places like Houston alive.

We cannot afford to lose our forests if we’re going to keep our planet pumping. Climate denialism will never replace lost lives, homes, towns, forests, wild animals, beloved pets, and birds overcome by heat and smoke. What’s in the smoke? My friend, Jeff Smith, retired RN in San Francisco tells us, “Smoke is not just particles—it is all the substances that are burning. It is gases and plastics and pesticides and toxic metals and flame retardants. These get attached to the particles and we breath them in. And we absorb them through our skin… and we ingest them.”

No one survives smoke plumes upwards of 10 miles high containing thunderstorms, lightening, and tornados. Unprecedented drought, soaring heat and strong winds fueled these flames. Meanwhile snowpacks have been shrinking in the mountains just as oceans have warmed.

Mother Nature is pissed.

As Governor of California Gavin Newson put it, “The debate is over on climate change. Just come to the state of California.” Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia, Canada, I might add.

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