Questions

I’ve got questions. I want to know why things are the way they are. I want to figure out what happened to us. When did everyone get so busy being busy? Why does a person have to work his entire life to pay for his home? For a place to live, stay warm, and cook his meals. Why does it have to be this way? Why is every piece of land in the world owned by someone or something, when there is room for everyone to have a piece of it or to share it?

Why is it that in this world of technology, that people are starving? Why do we still drive vehicles that belch poisons into the air, when perfectly acceptable alternatives are available? Why are people so greedy and short-sighted?

Why is it that every religion thinks they have the truth, and that no one else can be right? Why is it that science and religion are at odds? What is the difference between an alien and an angel? What makes you righteous and me evil, or vice versa? Why is it that the way to salvation is narrow but the road to destruction is wide? When I look around, I see that most people are beautiful, and caring. I also look around and I see that there are a few very evil people in the world. So that road size doesn’t seem to match the traffic pattern.

It irks me when people say things like there is no afterlife, or science proves this, or science proves that. Or, anyone who does this is going to hell. Everyone needs to search for the truth because the real truth is YOU DON”T KNOW. Yes, that’s right. You don’t know and no one should be telling you that they do, because they absolutely cannot. I don’t care how smart you are, or if you feel that the hand of God rests on you, that you’ve discovered the One Truth and that means that you need to force everyone else to do what you think is right. It’s great that happened to you, that you had that experience, that your calculations have led you to that. Question it, examine it, share it, enjoy it, follow it, but don’t assume that one size fits all.

Yeah, I got a few thousand of those questions. But that’s okay, because you need to ask questions when things don’t look right. You have to suspect things. You have to wonder why. You need to investigate. You need to check your thinking. Because nothing is worse than following something blindly without understanding why you are doing so.

The world has done this. People followed the Nazi’s, went along with the Inquisition, burned people at the stake for being witches. You know there were people with questions, but they were afraid to ask, or they were too busy working and living. They would have to go out of their way to say, “Hey, what if that lady is just different from us?” Or, “Maybe you got this all wrong?” Or, “Perhaps you’re jumping to conclusions here.”

Ask questions. My son is full of them. He questions everything I do: everything I ask him to do, every task, every way of doing something, every firmly held belief that I have. And I love him for that. Yes, it’s annoying. Yes, sometimes I feel that genetically embedded desire to say, “Because I said so!” But I don’t do that. Because that’s not the kind of person I want him to be. I don’t want to raise a lemming. When something looks wrong to you, look up, look around, test it out, and if it smells fishy, sound the alarms.

Ice Glass

Lake Williston, B. C.

It was another of Dad’s many Great White North adventures. We paddled out on the lake and a very cold breeze rippled the water. Just enough to cause little wrinkles on its surface. Dad was in the back, executing his signature “J” stroke to swing the bow around, and I, as usual, struggled frantically to help turn the boat. I was twelve, still skinny, stringy and mostly annoying, with a large unfiltered mouth that typically got me into a lot of trouble.

The air was full with the chill of the promise of snow, but up there in northern British Columbia, two hundred miles south of the Yukon and high in the Rockies, it rarely was not. My father sat straight in the back of the canoe, his iron arms pulling us through the water as I looked around at the vast lake before us.

We’d attended the propaganda films put out by the dam at the makeshift museum they’d set up next to it. The ones where they talked about the future wonders that the lake would provide. Recreational boating, water skiing, tourism dollars. They showed the gigantic machines used to log the trees and move the dirt: the largest machines on earth, they claimed. It was a wonder of human achievement, but in the end it was all about the human achievement called politics. It took too long to log the millions of square miles of timber that stood in the path of soon to be flooded areas, and they wanted the dam yesterday. Electrical power dollars would make them millions and take less time and effort than logging. So they built their dam on the Peace River, and the valleys flooded, creating the largest man made lake in North America.

We angled our tiny sliver of aluminum, our Grumman canoe, toward one of the many crooks and crannies of the lake along the shoreline. I looked down into the crystal clear water and far down below I could see the tops of trees: a city of them, a forest of the dead. How far down I could not tell. A hundred feet, two hundred feet? And how tall were those trees? Another hundred, or hundred and fifty? I had to look away, the vertigo was overwhelming, but I couldn’t keep my eyes from it very long. I peered back down. It was fascinating. A whole world lay frozen in time below us in the refrigerated waters. Our tiny boat could be dragged below falling down, down, down to the angry branches below. The trees with their lives cut short taking us below to roll us in their watery grave of ice.

I’d read the newspaper articles, and heard the stories that my parent’s friends told about the boats that the stray logs sunk. You couldn’t run a power boat on the lake, floating and submerged logs would ram you and sink your boat. It had even sunk a heavy duty tugboat. All of that timber they couldn’t take the time to cut down and mill and turn into lumber now floated around waiting for its next victim. So much for tourism, so much for fishing, or swimming on beaches. The water was a deathtrap.

We glided through the waters into an inlet where the trees stood half out of the water, some of them still had living branches. Above, there were the trees half alive, below the dead. Below it was if we were flying over a long dead civilization and I was peering down into it wondering what it had been like to live there. Who were they, and how did they live? Way down there in the mysterious deep.

I shook my head, and dragged my eyes away from the scene. I looked up into the mountains where the snow always dwelt. The clean, cool breeze and the sounds of birds reminded me that I was here in the land of the living. There was life above, and I was still part of it with my dad, floating on the lake over the city of dead trees in the ice glass of the north.

Pride, Flags, and Plastic Frogmen

When I was a little kid growing up in the wilds of Canada, occasionally the topic of where you were from would come up. “I’m an American,” I would proudly say, although my only memories of the States were from four and five years old. They were spotty at best, but there’s something built into all of us. The pride of where we’ve come from. Our origin story. It’s important to us. It’s a part of us. It’s basic to our humanity, even as a child there is a pride in that.

I think it was an iron-on that came in a box of cereal. I don’t remember what kind of cereal it was but occasionally, even in Canada, cereal would come with a prize, and we would never wait until the the little treasure rolled out of the box one morning into our bowl. No, of course not. As soon as the cereal boxes came out of the grocery bags at home, we’d tear into them and pull the plastic bag out of the cardboard box. You’d shake the bag around until you could get the thing to come up to the top, tear open the bag, and grab the prize. Then you would have a hell of a time putting the fat bag back into the box. We were not always successful at this part. But this time I was able to return the bag in the box, and my prize was an iron-on of an American flag about the size of an index card.

My eyes got bright at the sight of those stars, and I thought it was the coolest thing since, well since that little plastic scuba diver. The one you would put some baking powder in one end and send down into the bathtub, and then he’d dive back up after sitting on the bottom for awhile. Then he’d do it again. Well, for me, this actually trumped that. I mean, for a little while at least. My Mom had me pick out a shirt that I wanted it put onto, and I selected my orange short sleeve sweat shirt. I watched fascinated as she placed the little decal onto the shirt and scorched it onto the fabric right about chest height, transforming my plain orange sweatshirt into American pride.

You couldn’t get me out of that shirt. It was my favorite from then on. I wore it everywhere, but I especially wore it on a vacation trip to Michigan, in the good ole US of A, where I remember saying the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time at a church gathering. I put my hand over my heart—over the flag—and I said the words. Well, I mouthed them anyway. I’d never heard them before, but I copied them as best I could. It felt good. Proud words. Good words. I didn’t understand them all, but I knew they were important. They sounded right, and I stood proud for something, something I didn’t really know all of yet.

When I was six my parents took us to a motel that had a black and white TV and we spent the weekend watching men land on the moon for the first time. I saw that American flag raised on the lunar surface. That’s what I was part of. I was an American, and that’s what we do. We do the big things, we do the impossible things, we do the great things.

Years later we moved back to Michigan. I was fourteen, and it was 1976. America’s bicentennial celebration. Two hundred years of independence. Flags flew everywhere, and I changed fifty of my beautiful multicolored Canadian dollars in for boring green ones at the customs counter. My Dad got a hold of a Bicentennial Dollar coin there, which he later took and inlaid into the stock of my grandfather’s shotgun, a family heirloom which am now very happy to have ownership of.

A couple of things struck me as amazing coming into the States. Pizza. Pizza was new to me. I mean pizza not made at home with tomato sauce and hotdog slices on dough. Pizza was awesome. I’d never had real pizza in a parlor before. I couldn’t get enough of it. The other thing was when we walked into a shopping mall. I’d been in stores before, but the shopping malls were huge in the States. I remember seeing kids walking by in the summer eating ice cream from a double cone. It was weird. They were selling these dual cone ice-creams. I’d never seen it before, or since. I thought everything must be awesome in the US. Some of it was, and some of it wasn’t.

Fitting in back in the States was a bit different than I had imagined it would be. For one thing, my people didn’t exactly welcome me home with open arms. They thought that I talked funny, and would aggravate and tease me just to get me to say things like “Bloody” this and “Bloody” that. “Shed”ule, and Zed instead of Zee. I did talk funny, now that I look back at it, but at the time it seemed perfectly normal. But for teenagers, fitting in is a priority, and I just didn’t fit for a lot more reasons than my accent and choice of words. My clothes were weird, my hair was weird, and my body was at that awkward gangly stage.

There were other things to adjust to as well. I suddenly realized that the education that I had received in Canada was about two steps ahead of everything in the small town in Michigan. Also the kids there didn’t respect the teachers. In fact, there was fighting everywhere, and I soon found myself in plenty of them, on the bus and in gym class. That just didn’t happen much where I’d come from. For one thing, in Canadian schools you just might find yourself bending over and getting whacked by a paddle or a leather strap if you mouthed off to a teacher or got into a fight with another student. But in this school, that kind of behavior was rampant. Not to mention, I was relearning things over again that I’d already learned. I felt pretty damn put out by that, and felt the need to say so, which didn’t help too much.

I also made the mistake of bringing my biology teacher a notebook that my seventh grade biology teacher in Canada had dictated to us while we made notes and drew diagrams of everything vertebrate and invertebrate as Mr. Quinn walked us through the entire spectrum of biology on walks through the wetlands and hikes through the woods. But this Michigan teacher was fascinated by the notes, and asked if she could borrow the notebook. Months later it had still not been returned to me. When I asked for it back, she said that she had somehow lost it. The excuse didn’t seem sincere. I had the sneaking suspicion that she just didn’t want to give it back to me. This was upsetting because Mr Quinn and his teaching had had a profound impact on me. Especially one time when he caught me secretly reading a book on astronomy in class. Instead of getting on my case, he offered to loan me some astronomy magazines. Best teacher ever.

When I graduated High School I decided that I wanted to join the Air Force. This was a decision based on a couple of things. My early involvement in the Civil Air Patrol, and my love of aircraft. I was also very interested in electronics since an early age. I was always building little gadgets and experimenting with this and that. So one day I ended up being sworn into the military, and as I vowed to protect America from all enemies foreign and domestic, I once again stood proud and said important words. This time I had a little more of an idea of what I was saying and what the words meant, although if had ever had to put my life on the line to protect my country I would have learned even more things about what those words really mean. It seems that my education about what it meant to be an American was constantly growing and would continue to challenge me.

I think one of my favorite moments wearing a uniform was my first time during PT when we walked out onto a drill pad that looked like the size of Texas itself. It was filled with GI’s in uniform all doing the same exercise at the same time and shouting out the count at the top of their lungs. Just as we finished our pushups, two B52’s flew over the top of us, blotting out the sky and our voices. The world shook and I got goose bumps on my goosebumps. I was an American Airman serving my country, and I felt so privileged to be there standing with my peers.

I’ve since grown older, believe it or not. I’ve been married and and raised four children, and I’ve had a lot of time to think about being an American. What does it mean to me now? I’m still proud of my starting place. Michigan will always have a special place in my memories, and though I doubt I’ll ever return to it, it’s my origin. My starting place. The place of my birth and the home of those who came before me. I’m proud of my country, and I feel the need to correct people when they bad mouth it, and bring disrespect on it and those who serve it. Have we topped out? Will this empire end? I don’t know. I can only say that until we give up trying to uphold the ideals for which we stand, we’ll soldier on. We’ll continue to press on and try to make this a better place on the Earth than the others out there. And shame on us if we ever stop trying to help the other countries in the world try to do the same. Shame on us if we ever let evil reign, or turn our backs when it rears it head. Shame on us if we ever stop pressing forward and leading the world in technology and the exploration of science, the world, and space. Because, to me, being an American means to make the most of the freedom most preciously purchased for us by others.

Don’t waste it. Reach for the stars, they’re on the flag for a reason.

The Cage

There’s an eagle that lives at Bonnie Falls.

As I write this, I am not particularly inspired. No great urgency of greatness rests upon me. I desire to do more than I am presently, though. I want more out of my life than just existence and survival. For many years I have driven two hours to a job in a cube where I stare at a screen all day and make the cyber realm keep on working. I just make it survive. I just make it exist. Some days I get satisfaction from this, most days I do not. If it weren’t for the people that I work with, I would soon go bat-house crazy. I pay my mortgage. I drive a ten year old vehicle. I am moderately in debt just to have a few comforts. Pushing fifty, and having worked hard since I was fifteen, I think that I should have a few by now.

So one day I’m driving past Bonnie Falls, and as soon as I pass by I see this bird fly over the top of my Ford Escape. I look up, and it’s got a wingspan almost as wide as my vehicle. He’s just hovering above the windshield about fifteen feet up, riding the airwave that my car is creating while moving down the road. I kept thinking that he’d swerve off and fly into the woods on one side or other, but he didn’t, he held his course and stuck with me. There was something very deep in this, it was like we were bonded together. I felt my spirit soaring with him. We were together doing this thing, me on the ground moving along, he in the air soaring along on my wave. The more I looked at him, the more I realized this was no raven, no vulture, no gull. No, not even a hawk. It had to be an eagle.

He was beautiful, magnificent. His feathers ruffled in the wind, his strong wings set straight out catching all of the wave that he could. He was having fun, and I was having the time of my life. Like a boy and his dog out playing frisbee, or watching a colt kicking it up in the field while you hoot and holler, l was part of this thing. I was reveling in the bird’s strength, his beauty, his joy, his intelligence. I shared the experience, and I felt lifted up, schooled, educated. He was teaching me something, and I was learning. Learning to be like him, wanting to be like him. To soar, to be free, be lifted up, to do what you were born to do. To leave the confines of the earth and stop being restrained. To stop from being held back by fear of the heights, and to make the leap of faith and plunge out into the air like a baby eagle who’s never flown before.

This straight stretch of Vernonia highway goes on for about a mile and then hits a curve where the creek makes a tight bend. I followed the road and the eagle went straight. He flew for a large Douglas fir and landed on a stout branch. It was then that I saw that his head was white. It was a large bald eagle, and he looked straight at me as I passed by. It was like he was saying, Don’t forget what I just taught you. Don’t go back to your cage.

For weeks I rode the emotional wave and boost that this experience gave me. I wrote like the wind. I dreamed and wrote down my dreams. I published and soared—I worked hard. But eventually the memory faded some, and I got mired down in the day to day. The drive, the job, the bills. I went back to my old ways. I went back to the cage.