30 August 2009

Out of the Blue

One day last week as I was beginning my drive to work, I came upon an unusual sight.

After I pull out of my driveway, I get to start my commute each day on a quiet, forest-lined, country road. A few minutes along and the trees fade off, the view opens up to homes with wide horse pastures on the left and a vista of the Cascades to my right. A few seconds later, I crest a small hill and come to a stop at the road that will lead me into traffic and commuter stress and the beginning of my work day.

On this particular day last week, I crested that slight hill and saw a hot air balloon in the clear sky ahead of me. It was about 7:30 in the morning. The cheerful aberration floated peacefully, lazily, colorfully out over the horizon.

I twice lived in Anchorage. Almost every evening of the two summers I lived there, I could look out into the dusky blue sky over the city and see numerous hot air balloons. Anchorage is surrounded by some of the most beautiful examples of nature I've ever seen and these smiling, joyful nightly balloons were jewels adorning her native beauty like sprinkles on the frosting of the landscape cupcake. It's hard to believe now but I probably grew quite used to seeing them above and may have taken them for granted after awhile. Shame.

Needless to say, seeing this single unexpected balloon was a great way to start my work day. Instead of driving along thinking about the idiot who just cut me off, I was wondering about the occasion for such a mode of travel so early in the morning on a day in the middle of the week. Was it a proposal? An anniversary celebration? A whim?

By the time I arrived at work, I'm sorry to say the balloon had left my mind. I sat in my car, on the phone, getting a few last seconds of an encouraging conversation before I went in the building to work. I was looking at nothing in particular when right in front of me a fluffy white feather floated down from the sky. This would not be an odd thing if there were any trees around, but in the middle of this particular parking lot there are none. This feather came floating straight down from the sky on a day without a breeze. It was like a bird sent it down to me. Again drawing my attention upward in an unexpected way.

I put in my five hours of work before beginning my quick trip to my second shift at a different location. On this trek each day, I pass along the end of a runway of an Air Force base in my area. On some days, I get to see huge, gray, cargo-type planes, that look like they should fall right out of the sky with their girth and weight, land or take off directly in front of me. It's a bit of a thrill when this happens. The rush of noise and power just over my head. On even less frequent days, I will see the fighters. This is my favorite. When I get to see the fighters, it feels like good luck. It might not be the safest example of driving that I do, but I crane my head this way and that trying to keep up with their speed and maneuvers. I love the fighter planes. Always have.

On this day, the fighters were soaring, turning, speeding in the sky over me. I stared up at them until they were out of my sight. It was at this point that I began to marvel at the sky's efforts to pull my gaze upward. Maybe I've been looking down or around me too much lately. I don't know. It gave me something to consider.

After passing the air force base, I turned south on the last little leg of my drive before getting to the library branch where I work, when in the sky I saw paratroopers. Half a dozen or more. Conducting their military exercises in the pale blue above an Army base directly south of the Air Force base. They were off in the distant sky but it was wonderful to watch them floating over the urban landscape aiming for targets unknown.

Michael J. Fox has a new book out. "Always looking up : the adventures of an incurable optimist"

That day when I arrived at my branch, this book was waiting for me.

Coincidence? I don't think so.

17 August 2009

Birthdays, Deathdays and Woodstock

Many varying years ago this weekend, monumental events occurred. Each momentous in their own way.

One hundred and two years ago, Seattle’s Pikes Place Market was born. I love the market. I am ignorant of the details of its inception. Did it begin as a community farmer’s market? On the first day were there three vendors? Thirty? Is it still in it’s original location? Contrary to the popular thought I hold dearly, that I know everything, there are apparently many things I do not know where the market is concerned. What I do know, is that I love the electric, organic, bohemian, colorful, peculiar, exotic, palpable current of energy that runs through it. I always feel comfortable and light hearted when I visit.

Happy Birthday, Seattle’s Pike Place Market and to all who share August 17th.

Thirty-two years ago this weekend, Elvis Presley died. This was probably my first “I remember where I was when I heard the news” kind of experience. It was the summer after my freshman year of high school. I was vacationing at my Aunt and Uncles home in Davis, California. I was a bit young to have a full Elvis awareness but as we watched the news, I thought of my mom. I know there was at least one Elvis album cover in the stack of dusty 33 records by the ‘record player.’ G.I. Blues.

Forty years ago this weekend? Woodstock. 1969. I was seven years old and living in a small town in Eastern Washington. Yakima. It’s easy to blame Yakima for the childhood I never knew. I grew up unaware of most of the world around me.

The only real Current Events kind of moment I remember having as a small girl is standing out on our front porch looking up at the night’s sky, heavy binoculars held to my brow with the purpose of trying to see little black specs walking on the moon in the early summer of 1969. Neil Armstrong and friends.

I was one year old when JFK was killed.
Six years old the year Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr were shot dead.

I have some vague and fuzzy memories of the 1972 presidential election. I was ten years old.

The Vietnam war started in 1959 and ended in 1975. My awareness of Vietnam came near the very end, when our solders were coming back in one condition or the other. Some saying it was safer to change clothes on the plane during the trip home, hoping to arrive in their local airport without meeting the hostility and ridicule our county insisted on greeting them with if it was known they served their country in that unpopular war. (This is another blog completely.)

I was seven the summer of 1969. Woodstock. I wish I'd known to know such a pivotal, monumental American music celebration was in the making. I wish.

At the age of forty-seven years old, I look back and I wish I’d been there. I wish somehow by some magical, mysterious, cosmic adoption process I’d have been in the care of the types of parents who would have driven their Volkswagen Bug across the country to attend. I’d have been one of those cool, tanned, blond haired hippie children with no shirt and no shoes on. Sleeping in the grass, safe and nestled in the energy of love, music and social tolerance that permeated the weekend.

Or in a different space and place maybe the kind of cool, enlightened parent who would have taken her children. I have often liked to think I'd make a great authentic hippie. The genuine, granola-toting article.

This is all so easy to say forty years later. But the fact is, even if I had been older and capable of appreciating Woodstock, I would probably not have been smart enough, evolved enough to do so. Yes, I'm afraid I would have turned it down.

In spite of its frightening resemblance to a glorified, musical, hallucinogenic camping trip, I wish I'd been there.
I wish I'd swam naked in the pond.
I wish I'd slept in the grass of Max yasgur's farm.
I wish I could say, "I saw Jimi Hendrix play the national anthem at Woodstock."
Or "I saw Santana's Soul Sacrifice. with Michael Shrieve's unbelievable drum solo.
Or "Woodstock, where I discovered my undying love for the harmony of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young." I wish.

According to Wikipedia.com:

"After the concert, Max Yasgur, who owned the site of the event, saw it as a victory of peace and love. He spoke of how nearly half a million people filled with possibilities of disaster, riot, looting, and catastrophe spent the three days with music and peace on their minds. He states that "if we join them, we can turn those adversities that are the problems of America today into a hope for a brighter and more peaceful future.."

Max was born in 1919. Does this make him 50 years old the summer he welcomed Woodstock and 500,000 people to his farm? His community? His legacy?
Yes, I think I can safely say "You are my hero, Max. Thank you."

Shortly after the festival that weekend, Joni Mitchell would pen the lyrics to the song Woodstock:
I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him where are you going
And this he told me: he said
I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm
I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to get back to the land
And set my soul free...
Because of Max, the festival organizers, the musicians, the attendees..."We are stardust, we are golden."