Nature comes to you.

As far as urban areas go, you won’t find many cities as integrated into nature as this one.  We have a fantastic trail system, we have moose and wolves that live within our city boundaries, we have beluga that swim off our shores, but the nature of downtown is still not natural.  The biggest park downtown used to be an airfield, and it still kind of feels that way, confined as it is in a long narrow strip with a few decorative trees planted here or there.  Nature is on the other side of Muldoon.

There are times, however.  Times when the weather is turning, and even downtown feels exposed and somewhat raw.  The shifting barometer makes changes the sound of downtown as birds seek shelter in the somewhat warmer city core.  That same park which generally feels like a pleasant facsimile of nature becomes something awesome.

I was taking my lunchtime walk with the air screaming from the sound of Bohemian Waxwings.  There were so many in the trees around the power substation that they looked like leaves, perched on the branches rather than suspended from them.  As one they took to flight and they filled the air with a murmuration that flew back and forth the length of the park strip, pulling close enough that I could feel the disturbance in the wind as they flew by.  It was thrilling, almost electrifying.

When we think of a city that lives with nature, we tend to think of the big things.  We think of the challenges associated with keeping power running during a storm.  We think of the Facebook communities dedicated to warning dog walkers where the bears are.  We think of the danger posed by moose who wander down the middle of the Glenn Highway, or our jogging trails.  Every once in awhile, it is worth remembering that the awesomeness of nature can also be found in a flock of 2 oz. birds.

Holidays.

There are three holidays of note this week.  The one that I got off from work is the least significant.

On the 14th, we had the holiday of Saint Valentine of Rome.  According to legend Emperor Claudius the Cruel was afraid that solders who had families would be more devoted to their families than to their emperor, so forbade solders to marry.  The priest Valentine did not accept Claudius’s jurisdiction over love and marriage, and as the story goes, married several couples in defiance of the Claudius’s edict.

The earliest recorded Valentine written was from, Charles, Duke of Orléans who is said to have written poems to his wife in France while a prisoner in the Tower of London, his words of love escaping his confinement.

Even if history cannot corroborate these stories, Valentine’s Day is a day where relaxed social rules allow extravagance in romance.  We have permission to let romantic love take precedence over normal rules.

The second holiday was Elizabeth Peratrovich Day on the 16th.  That’s the day where we celebrate her work, and the work of many within the ANB/ANS, in passing the Alaskan Anti-Discrimination Act of 1941.  If you have not read the transcript of her testimony to the Alaskan Territorial Legislature, read it here.  Her description of the three types of people who practice discrimination will be the most important thing you read today.  When we celebrate her day, we are celebrating all of those who speak to power and authority with a moral clarity that cannot be ignored.

Which brings us to today, President’s Day.  Today was the day that chosen as a compromise so we did not have to chose which great man’s birthday we should celebrate.  We take their day off of work, and celebrate their contribution to history.

Presidents don’t make history any more than bankers build buildings or politicians launch ships.

People remembered in our history books stand in front of others who actually build and they take credit for the work of the builder.  So my wish for you today is this… enjoy your day off but remember, when love overcomes convention, when moral clarity speaks to power, THEN is when we make history.  And while there will always be a person at the front who gets the credit, it’s you and I who make it happen.

The Work of Christmas.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
                                                                   –Howard Thurman

Continue reading “The Work of Christmas.”

Darkness into Light.

Much is said and written about the Yin/Yang of Solstice, the world in balance between darkness and light.  Such a balance does not exist.

Every year, as the sun dips below the horizon in  Utqiaġvik (Barrow), headlines around the nation talk about how residents there won’t see the sun for 65 days.  As sure as clockwork, 65 days later, some bored writer with pages to fill and a deadline to meet tells us how the residents of Utqiaġvik will finally see the sun.

But, the world is not a sphere, and things are not equal.  There are many, many fewer headlines about the sun being above the horizon for 80 straight days.  Even when you have column inches to fill, daylight is not as good of a story as darkness.

This week, we’ve had the longest night of the year*, the songs and poetry surrounding it stretch back to the beginning of human history.  But sometimes it’s just worth remembering that the longest night of the year is much, much shorter than the longest day.

Happy Solstice.

 

*In my hometown of Eagle River, the longest day is 19 hours and 21 minutes long.  The longest night night is 12 hours and 40 minutes.

The hand of Franklin.

HMS Terror has been found well preserved in 11 meters of water.  It appears her crew had taken time while abandoning her, so perhaps she was caught in the ice, and the crew then removed useful items and tried to make for home on HMS Erebus.

The discovery of the two ships has been a mix of science and story.  Research vessels had been following Inuit oral tradition, and the first sighting was made by an Inut fisherman who later crewed on the research vessel that confirmed the find.  Some 150 years after the expedition, the Terror was still sitting proud on the ocean floor, with her mast above the water for Sammy Kogvik to find when he was fishing.  6 years later, that find is confirmed.

I wonder how the passengers and crew of the Crystal Serenity are taking the news of this find.  She entered Bar Harbor, Maine yesterday after cruising the Northwest Passage this summer.

/my post on the rediscovery of the HMS Erebus

The Greatness of the Past

There are several emails circulating that remember how much better things were.  They shows kids playing outdoors without cell phones.  They show dads and sons fishing, or teenagers dancing in a soda-shop, all clean, neat and protected.  They show kids riding to school on bikes without helmets and playing on equipment that would “drive safety-lawyers crazy.”

The thing is, if you look at those emails, all the people in them are white.

Sociologists started looking at the commodification of nostalgia in 1979, with Fred Davis’s piece Yearning for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia.  In it, Davis noted that nostalgia was nothing new, but creation of group nostalgia, mostly through advertising, was.  With nationwide media shared in common, regional memories became less powerful than national ones, and the national memories were being created by the advertisers of that same media.

Advertisers created a memory of a simpler past, where things made sense.  An image of Eden that we, as consumers, could buy into simply by buying their products.

It’s an easy pitch to make, most things make sense in hindsight.  To make that pitch, however, much of history needs to be omitted.  Salespeople are not hired to tell the whole truth, they are sell a product.   Frequently, they do so with allusion to a simpler past, which only works if the storybook past actually appears simpler.

So, we got a version of the past without strife.  We see middle-class kids playing, and the the kids with the luxury of being middle class in the 50’s are white.

The result of this advertising is that we now have a collective nostalgia that  merged with collective amnesia.  We look to a simpler time that we understand (in retrospect) by looking at, and idolizing, the lives of middle-classed children.  Lost in that picture is the grown up world of Mutually Assured Destruction, school de-segregation, or class and social unrest.

The ultimate nostalgia trip is the idea of the fall from Eden.  The tale predates modern media, but has similar common elements.  Art from thought Abrahamic history depicts Adam and Eve being cast out of paradise, never to return.   The sin for which they were cast out was none other than that of understanding Good and evil.  Before they knew that, things were simpler and more idealistic.  A paradise to be sure, but a paradise ultimately made possible by ignorance.  Most of the religious artwork that depicts the scene shows Adam and Eve looking back, longing for what they lost.  Like us, the garden seems ideal, but with our experience in the garden predating our understanding of good and evil, how could we know?

When we talk about making America great “again,” we are panting our own picture, with us gazing back at paradise and longing for ignorance.  We dream, not of President Eisenhower putting a Christmas message into space on the back of a modified ICBM, but of a little girl picking a daisy in a field.  When I look back, I can’t help but hear the count-down voice-over, and shudder at how complicated life really was.

I much prefer to look forward to the greatness ahead.