September 29, 2008

Stepping Out

So I decided to stop daydreaing and start exploring my own backyard and look what I found!

See more of The Sunken Gardens.

The Last Summer Symphony

It’s the wind first. You hear the trees rattle, shushle, shudder, then all is still. You see the flash from the corner of your eye. You might go to the window and look out into the dark, dark night, a night without stars or moon. The trees warn again. The strong southeasterly which blew warm all day is gone now and a cool, brisk breeze blows in from the west. Then in the dark, still night, light flashes again, far off to the west, silent. The trees speak and this time do not fall silent and you can hear the patter of fat raindrops on the ground, just a few here of there, random, like a toddler at the piano. There one might appear on the window, then another, as you watch the storm roll in.

The silent lighting grows brighter, and soon the rumble of thunder announces itself to anyone who hasn’t been listening for the past hour – the storm is come. It rolls, almost gentle, like the tolling of a bell and announces the rain which falls steady and darkens the pavement. The sounds of the trees change with the rain, half benediction and half blight, the water which nourishes their roots and the wind which could snap their branches. And the lightning, ever the lightning comes steadily on. The wind begins to rattle the windows and streetlights leave wobbly reflections on the rain streaked glass.

And suddenly it is upon you, the light bright and blinding, the thunder close and dark. It speaks this dark thing, of joyous death, of perilous life, and all the cycles in between. Above dark underbellies, stark white thunderheads glow in bright turmoil beneath the moonlight. For us mere mortals they are only to be glimpsed now and then as lighting jumps from cloud to cloud.

What was at first white sheets, the spark of a thousand flashbulbs, is now jagged bolts. It strikes the tower just beyond the window and the lights go dark, the thunder blinds the mind to all else. For a moment even the red warning beacon at the topmost reach ceases to flash. Yet the stone stands immobile, immovable. While all the toils of man are at its mercy, all our gadgetry and gears, the stone simply shrugs. It was here before, after all, long before man came and cut it into blocks and erected it into a tower, it was here and never did it fear the lightning.

Moments pass, silent but for the steady diagonal thrum of rain, like the harmony of a string section, and the wind, rising and falling like the brass. Then the lightning calls, like the conductor’s wand slashing the air and the great timpani and bass of thunder answers. All around the drama of the heavens unfold like a symphony.

And life goes on. The red light atop the indifferent stone blinks once more. The cars on the street fly by, wheels hissing on wet streets. The man walks by below my window unhurried and stops to light a cigarette. In the pouring rain, he stops to light a cigarette, cupping the tiny red flame in his hand before continuing on. And I sit, high and warm and safe and dry and watch the light silhouette the trees and dance from cloud to cloud. I listen as summer’s song gives one more encore before it fades away into autumn.

I have missed this song. I traded it for other things, for greater things and lesser. Here on the plains it is so different than high in the mountains where I whiled away my summer. There the storms come quick and fast, out of nowhere and with a sharp blast are gone again beyond the ridges. But here, no here, we get the full melody, the glorious harmony. Here we see it coming, multihued clouds lit by day, or merely a whisper of wind on the night breeze preceding measure upon measure of song no man could write. Here it builds and we hold our breath. Here it crashes and we sigh. Here it rumbles on, lingering over the east while we wish it might have stayed with us a bit longer, yet are glad it has gone. And the night passes into still relief and we turn back into our warm beds.

Until we hear the wind.

September 27, 2008

Wistful Wanderings

I’ve too many options, too many choices, and obviously too much money. Making choices are so much easier when you’re poor. I love to travel. I can afford to travel a little bit in the next year or so. Of course, now the question is where to go. The AIAS Midwest Quad Conference is in Kansas City in early November. That same weekend is the AIAS Northeast Quad Conference in Toronto. Then there is Greenbuild in Boston in late November. I’ve plenty of time off during winter break. Then coming up next March is the big whammy, Ecobuild in London. Following on the hills of Ecobuild is my own spring break two weeks later. I’ve been contemplating Seattle and Portland, Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, and even just escaping into the Sand Hills of Nebraska to write.

Trouble is, all this wistful thinking wastes a lot of time. All the checking of airline prices online is a job in and of itself. Right now tickets to London are running about $600-$700, which is high. I figure if I find something under $500, I’ll jump on that plane. Looking up hostels and checking the couch surfing possibilities is another way to waste a few hours. Yet all that has the possibility of a productive outcome.

No, the real waste of time is from all the unrestrained daydreaming. All that uncontrolled weighing of imaginary options. All the awesome things I’ll see, the fabulous historic buildings, the miracles of steel and glass, the imaginary perfect weather, the amazingly friendly strangers, the wonderful food I’ve never even heard of before. It’s almost surely better than the trip itself.

A couple of weekends ago I went to a family reunion in Broken Bow. We stayed at my aunt’s place in the middle of Custer County, where I spent weeks every summer as a child. I remember the endless cornfields overseen by their giant center pivots. I remember the rolling hills covered in grass. The fields east of the barn are flooded again this year and filled with ducks, geese, and cranes. I wonder if maybe it might be better to spend some time in a place I sometimes wonder if I am starting to forget. I wonder if I should just beg a bed from my Aunt Donalee, load my laptop and a picnic in a pack, saddle up Shorty, the gentle old chestnut quarter horse all the cousins have ridden since we were little, climb up into the windswept hills and spend the afternoon writing. And it wouldn’t cost me a dime.

Or is that just more wistful thinking?

September 26, 2008

To Marilyn on Her Birthday

Dear Marilyn,

Happy Birthday! I miss you.



September 25, 2008

DN Article - Too Many Cars

Sometimes I wonder what the headline writers are thinking. While technically not inaccurate, it's usually not the point I was trying to make. In this case, I'm not suggesting people change their driving habits. I'm suggesting people find alternatives to driving. Anyway, that's what I thought I said. You read and let me know.

Lincoln must fix driving habits for future functionality


September 23, 2008

Lest I Forget

"From my viewpoint, Buddhism is not about getting enlightened—it’s about being kind. If I have a chance at the time of my death to take an accounting of what I’ve done, I won’t be asking how enlightened I’ve become, I’ll be asking how much kindness I’ve shown to others.

"This is how the Buddha began, who set out walking the earth not in quest of enlightenment but in search of a means to end the suffering he saw all about him. If I ever hope to realize a generous, loving, merciful, nonviolent human society, I too must carry on the daily practice of generosity, love, mercy and nonviolence that the Buddha set in motion. This is the practical and ordinary work of the bodhisattva..."

Thank you to Lin Jensen over at the Tricycle Blog for this wonderful reminder.

September 18, 2008

DN Article - No Away

The publications board is in limbo over my status, so in the meantime they are still letting me write. Yipee!

Trash doesn't just disappear, so create less of it


September 17, 2008

Another Oh So Fun Part of Being Human

Did you know there is a test you can take to see if you are ovulating. Apparently, it checks your hormone levels. People use them when they are trying to get pregnant. I really don’t get it. I don’t need a test to tell me when I’m ovulating. The urge to screw generally lets me know.

Only in the last few years has it become “acceptable” for women to admit to being horny, and to talk about this kind of stuff. I put that in quotation marks because it continues to have negative cultural connotations. Yeah, sure, women get horny, but they’re sluts. That’s the assumption anyway. Not everyone knows better yet. And even I approach with treppidation writing about this, but it helps get it out of my head.

When I’m horny almost anything gets me hot. Television is already raunchy. Suddenly classical music is an ode to the rhythmic thump bed against the wall. Every woman walking by below my window in strappy sandals, every guy jogging without his shirt on, every couple holding hands. Skin against skin. I mentally sort the novels on my shelves by which ones have good sex scenes. Men think women don’t like porn. We just don’t need to go to special shops to buy ours. It’s then that I almost feel sorry for men. If I think about sex this much and men supposedly think about it far more often than women, it’s a wonder they get anything done at all. I know I don’t sometimes.

But much as I would like to pull out my drop-dead red dress and go hunting in the dozens of bars and clubs which fill this college town, somehow I manage to restrain myself. I wander around my house, horny and listless and alone. I’m reminded of what athletic trainers say, just “power through.” I tell you, I would so love something powerfull right about now.

When I feel like this, I know I am not thinking clearly. It is a little like being tipsy or fatigued. I can see where I might make an unwise decision in the need to scratch this itch. If I’m making unwise decisions, you can bet I’ll be making unwise decisions about the how I interact with the person I’m with. I certainly won’t be as aware of that person as I might otherwise be when all I can think about is what they have to offer me.

Within the bonds of a relationship, the parties know one another. We have the opportunity to learn about each other’s desires, preferences, foibles, pet peeves, sore spots, hot buttons. There is a platform for conversation so when something is wrong the ground exists to discuss it. There is proof, one hopes, that each party cares for the other, so any wrongs can be addressed, rather than written off. There is room for laughter and teasing. Not to mention the fact that there is a better chance that he has already figured out just how you like it and you’ve learned how to give him the ride of his life. Or vice versa. Or both alternately.

Anyway, what was I talking about?

September 13, 2008

I Found My Enemies and They Are Me

One thing I'm learning this semester: don't read the comments. With all the hype from the election, I've been taking a more political stance in my columns for the Daily Nebraskan of late. Of course, for an environmental columnist that generally means aligning with Democrats in an overwhelmingly Republican state.

So in the last few weeks, I've been called close-minded, cave-dwelling, childish, and, worst of all, a "hater." Despite the comfort I can take from the fact that these commenters aren't actually reading my comments (because if they were they would have read the part where I wrote I'm not opposed to offshore drilling and wouldn't be ragging on me for that), these comments bother me. I suppose the previous sarcastic biting sentence is proof of that.

One commenter actually suggested that I'm too young to get it and won't until I "grow up and start paying taxes." I wonder if I can send him my receipts for this year's property taxes and vehicle taxes and demand that he pay them in exchange for reading my juvenile columns. I wonder if I could send him the closing documents from my last mortgage closing and see if he can figure out what error it took the title company three tries to fix. I wonder if I could get him to spend six years living on ten grand a year and then ask him about the dent energy bills make in his pocketbook after telling him he obviously doesn't understand what it's like to be grown up.

Oooo. Yeah, I'd say it bothers me. I seriously considered deleting all of the above, taking the high ground, but hell, I'm not perfect either.

You see, once I get over the wounded, hurt, mildly shocked, bewildered ("why can't we have civil discourse without belittling each other?") slightly broken-hearted feeling, then I get mad. I get pissed. And I want to show them all what idiots they are. I want to show them I'm not stupid. They are stupid.

But they aren't. They probably aren't even mean, or vindictive, or unfeeling if you met them in person. They probably love their wives, husbands, kids, parents, friends, and country. Something in the culture has just broken down. Something allows us to think that anyone who disagrees with us must do so because they aren't as smart as we are, or as experienced, or as knowledgeable. If they just knew they'd surely agree. And the fact that they don't in the face of our oh so generous attempts to enlighten them just means that they don't want to and suddenly a difference of opinion becomes a grave offense.

So, what alternative is left to me? Perhaps I shouldn't read the comments. (And perhaps that policy which doesn't allow staff to make their own comments, which I so disparaged upon hearing it, is actually really wise.) Hey, at least they aren't calling me some of the things they call the other columnists. Somehow it feels like the malicious comments on other's columns should hurt just as much, but they don't. Yet somehow, not reading the comments feels like chickening out. They took the time to read my column after all. Shouldn't I be in touch with what other people think? I shouldn't write them off the way they've written me off, should I? The Dharma tells us our greatest teachers are our greatest enemies.

Yeah, I'll just keep telling myself that why don't I?

September 11, 2008

DN Article - Offshore Drilling

I got cable recently, the basic 2-20 package. I haven't paid much attention to it, but yesterday I watched CNN a bit in the morning. Then I went into the college. CNN is always on in the student government office. I just can't believe they've spent this much time arguing over the "lipstick wars" - as they've named the incident. They even bothered to name the incident. Geeze people! Don't you have anything more important to talk about - like maybe the issues?

SANFORD: Drilling won't solve oil demands


September 08, 2008

Chattering Our Teeth

I am working from home today. I am a few weeks into my new routine. I work for RMI from home on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. My desk is the antique gate-leg table I stole from my mother three weeks ago when I needed a larger work surface. This table originally belonged to Grandpa Sanford, my father’s grandfather. It is one of several pieces of furniture that are traded back and forth between my family as need dictates, but never let go. It now occupies the majority of my small dining room cum office. Arrayed atop it are three computer screens. To my left is my PC laptop and to my right my MacBook laptop. Between the two is a 22” flat screen monitor, which I alternately plug into either. Beside and behind me are large windows which face towards the State Capitol Building, the broad-limbed oak trees, and busy 16th Street.

I have spent the morning editing images on my PC. After lunch I shifted over to my Mac to start inserting the correct graphics in the book layout. Suddenly, I found myself gazing on the ice of Lake Michigan, the clouds over Marpa Point, skyscrapers of Toronto, family and friends I miss, especially one in particular. After a moment, the sun came out from where it had been hiding all day behind the clouds and I found myself gazing at my reflection, there in the shiny computer screen, layered behind the flickering images of my life conjured up by my PC's screen saver.

I miss those places. I even miss the ones I only spent a day or two in. I would have liked to stay longer. I would like to go back. It's so much more exciting there, wherever "there" is. Of course, most of the pictures are of pine-covered mountains. I was looking forward to seeing them again. I am terribly disappointed that my trip back to Boulder this weekend was cancelled in favor of a video conference. I’m going to be “Skyped-in.” (And what is it with this language that anything can be "verbed?") Somehow, I it's just not the same as real human interaction. Wonder why.

I feel out of the loop and a little lonely. No big surprise there. And I gaze wistfully as the photographs moving through my computer screen. Then the sun comes back out and my cat comes to sit on the desk beside me, gazing out the window chattering her teeth at the pigeons on the wire. I have to laugh. And we think humans have evolved so much from their fellow mammals! What a pair we are!

We’re both sitting here chattering our teeth at what’s untouchable just on the other side of the glass!

September 05, 2008

DN Article - The Automotive X Prize

Keep on trucking! But can't we do it without the internal combustion engine?

Too little, too late for electric cars.


September 02, 2008

Well That Didn't Take Long

The Senior Administrative Team has decided that they "could not move this forward in the time frame with which we have been presented." Considering all that would have been required to move forwards was one little bitty "yes" and a thirty minute conversation, all I am left with is shaking my head. I'm not terrible surprised, but I would have liked to have been.

Another karmic lesson in expectations, I suppose.

Stirring the Pot

One week in and already stirring up trouble. Ah, it gives me an odd sense of pride, misplaced perhaps, but pride nonetheless. As folk singer Utah Phillips puts it “You’ve got to mess with people!”

(Though, it's not exactly pride, but more of a resignation. I generally always intend to be helpful. To help move things towards something better. I never intend to cause trouble or stir the pot, yet it seems inevitably to occur. Over the years it has become apparent that it will happen and that I tend to be rather good at it. Therefore, I have resolved to take pride in what I am good at. By this point it has an odd kind of familiarity. As if, something is vaguely wrong if I am notstirring the pot, as though I'm not trying hard enough, not helping enough. So at this point I've followed the course of Pavlov's dog who associated a bell with food and have begun to associate causing trouble with doing good. Ironic, that. A cautionary tale, perhaps?)

What I took for a deadline for a proposal, September 15th, was actually a deadline for a response about a proposal whose deadline is September 3rd. This left me scrambling not only to write the proposal to include UNL in Rocky Mountain Institute’s Accelerating Campus Climate Change Initiative, but more importantly, there was very little time to gain support from the administration. In most cases, this support engenders an astonishing number of hoops, even for a relatively simple project. However, the higher-ups find these hoops to very important, comforting even, and so I dutifully played the poodle and tried to find out a) where the hoops were and b) which route would get me through them in a minimum of time. After a bit of back and forth, the Chancellor’s office agreed to review my draft proposal at their meeting this morning.

I fear I was not at my best this weekend, being doped up on cold medicine, and the proposal is not as polished as I would like, nor as conclusive. I strained my political correctness to find a polite way of saying that the largest barrier to climate change mitigation projects at UNL is the fact that they just don’t care. I stressed support for energy efficiency and conservation, highlighted sustainable agriculture projects, and discussed fiscal imperatives. In the end it all comes down to hard-rooted conservatism and a not misplaced priority on the bottom line.

So here I am, now happily ensconced in thesis territory, the Attic of Architecture Hall. I hear rain tapping on the roof above me. The massive beams, slopping ceilings, and few windows make it dark and brooding at this hour. Only a few crazy morning people (or sane people who don’t bother with all-nighters and actually sleep regularly) are at their desks. The somewhat shabby and neglected atmosphere within the heavy timber truss work of an otherwise glorious building somehow suits us. And if someone should occasionally concuss themselves on one of the angled braces, well, they’re only grad students after all.

By the week’s end I will know, for better or worse, the fate of the proposal and I am already wondering which pot I can stir up next.