Fire, rain, happiness, grief
Which one doesn't belong? Or does it?
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In this issue
Is it selfish to seek happiness amid all that is so wrong?
Firefighting women, foxes, and finding home in the Eastern Sierras
The Writer’s Dog Interview #5: Smokey Pete and his writer R.D. Kardon
“But I also remind myself sternly to attend to what is not dying, to focus as much on the exquisite beauties of this earth as on its staggering losses. Life is not at all a long process, and it would be wrong to spend my remaining days in ceaseless grief.” - Margaret Renkl, “I Don’t Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Grieving.” - New York Times
A few thoughts about fire, rain, and happiness
I write to you from the center of a weather bubble, a place that has, so far, gone unscathed by fire, untouched by floods, where the skies are mostly blue and even the thick morning fog of the marine layer feels like a gentle caress on the skin.
The San Diego weather is living up to its reputation even as the West continues to burn, even as the smoke from these fires are making my friends and relatives in the northeast cough, even as fires force residents to flee their homes in Turkey and Greece and floods destroy towns in Germany.
I don’t know how to feel about this. Every day triggers a type of survivor’s guilt coupled with grief. It is clear what is happening to our planet, our home. It is clear that, for most of my life, I not only have taken the earth for granted but I have been complicit in its destruction despite my small efforts to save water, use less plastic, and call members of Congress. Yet I go on writing, reading, walking, making plans with family - all things that do little to save the world but do a lot to make me happy.
I yearn towards happiness like a daisy yearns towards the sun, even one that is going to fry it in its little spot of dirt.
As I walk every morning in the protection and beauty of the San Diego weather bubble, I wrestle with this idea of being happy in the middle of so much that is going so wrong. In a way, it has been like those moments of unexpected laughter that burst through the tears I’ve shed this year over losses and illness and other things I can’t control. For the past month, I’ve spent one hour a week watching a silly television show with my friend who lives on the East Coast. We cue up Virgin River on our respective screens and spend the whole show taking pot shots at the story, the acting, or just enjoying shots of the gorgeous scenery. We did this even on the night before she went in for surgery to remove a malignant tumor. That hour was a happy one for me and, I think, for her. I cherished it.
Intellectually I know that wanting to be happy is not wrong. Plenty of researchers study happiness and believe that it is essential to the survival of mankind. Still, I’ve surprised myself with how swiftly I nearly reject a moment of potential joy because I’ve associated the pursuit of happiness with selfishness (which, now that I think of it, has also been linked to survival by some writers and researchers). Perhaps this has to do with what defines happiness or joy or both. Perhaps I’m still struggling with the knee-jerk Catholic guilt that is in my DNA.
Or perhaps I’m learning, finally, to distinguish the difference between the pursuit of happiness as an escape versus the kind of happiness that feeds the soul and allows me to pass it on. The first kind is a cotton-candy kind of feeling, fleeting and unsubstantial. The other kind is far richer, more nutritious and may go a long way to helping me live more fully in the time and earth remaining to me, to all of us.
What kind of happiness found you this week?
Short reads: Margaret Renkl and Amy Jean Porter
Here is a short, wonderful essay by Margaret Renkl which says some of what I’m trying to say so much better than I have. Read it if you haven’t already and if you can’t access it for any reason, just let me know and I will send you a pdf of it.
“The air is so thick, I can hardly breathe, but I can feel the breath of the earth on my ankles. Heat rises from the sun-warmed soil. Dampness pours out of the dew-drenched tangle of white clover and wood sorrel and mock strawberries that pass in this yard for a lawn. The earth is breathing. I can breathe, too, because it is still breathing.” - Margaret Renkl, “I Don’t Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Grieving.” - New York Times
Hope is linked to happiness and can be found in the most unexpected places as Amy Jean Porter so beautifully shares here.
“The foxes breezed along the length of the dunes and no one on the beach could see them. Hundreds of thousands of people on this barrier island and two little foxes slipped by, unseen, because someone made a space for them. It felt promising to me. We could be smart, we could make room, we could be better than a meteor.” - Amy Jean Porter, “Fox in The Dunes,” - Wild Life
Some Late Summer Reading Ideas
Inmates of California prisons are helping to fight the fires raging north of us. In fact, inmate fire crews make up to 30% of the force battling the fires in the state where I live. They volunteer and are paid a pittance, risking their lives and saving the state millions of dollars. In her book Breathing Fire: Female Inmate Firefighters on the Front Lines of California’s Wildfires, Jaime Lowe takes us into the flames with female inmate fire crews. Along the way we come to understand how these crews along with male inmate crews account for up to 30% of those battling the blazes, saving the state millions only to fight for opportunities to pursue this work and stay out of prison when they are released. Here’s a small taste in Lowe’s recent essay in the Atlantic.
And from the Spark Community…
Sue Martin, gardener, camper, reader, and blogger, recommends Miracle Country by Kendra Atleework, a memoir she read before driving into the Eastern Sierras to camp earlier this summer. A look at Atleework’s first few pages convinced me. To learn more, here’s an excerpt from the San Francisco Chronicle’s review:
“...to sit down for a few hours with a book in which the author extols the virtues of her family despite its flaws, pays homage to the (yes, very rural) place she’s called home for most of her life, and writes with hard-earned insight and candor about the very pressing issues of California’s water shortage and climate change’s toll on the planet? Now that’s truly something special and refreshing.” - Kendra Atleework, Miracle Country
If you are a gardener, or even if you are not, feast your eyes on the photos, lessons, and literature Sue shares at ediblegardens52. This post about growing resilience in a changing climate particularly resonates now.
My Summer Reading Bingo Card As of August 13, 2021
And if you are casting about for a few books to take you through the end of the summer, here’s a fun way to find one. At the outset of the summer I decided to play the Summer Reading Bingo game hosted by Elizabeth over at What to Read If…. I thought it would challenge me to look outside my usual comfort zone. It also gave me a fun way to capture some of the books I wanted to read anyway. I managed to fill in one row so I sent mine off to Elizabeth who will draw a winner for a gift certificate to a local bookstore after the game ends on September 10th. I’ve shown my card below in case there are some books or ideas there you might be interested in. The green ones are the ones I have not filled in yet — I’m looking for suggestions so fire away!
Take a look, fill in your own card using just the books you’ve been reading and see what you’ve got. Or, head over to play your own card and discover more books covered in What to Read If…, one of my favorite newsletters ever (besides the one you are reading now).
My Summer Bingo Card
The Writer’s Dog: Meet Smokey Pete
I learned about Smokey Pete’s writer from Jennifer Redmond, a member of the Spark community and an editor. She raved about award-winning author Robin "R.D." Kardon and I was intrigued - who wouldn’t be intrigued by a former airline pilot who can bring us inside the cockpit AND a riveting drama? Robin had a twelve-year flying career as a corporate and airline pilot. She holds an Airline Transport Pilot certificate and three Captain qualifications. Her travels took her all over the world in every type of airplane from small single-engine Cessnas to the Boeing 737. She spent 15 years as an employment consultant before becoming an author. Robin earned her B.A. in Journalism and Sociology from NYU and J.D. from American University, Washington College of Law. A native New Yorker, Robin now lives in San Diego, California with her beloved rescue pets. More on Robin in a minute, first...
Meet Smokey Pete
Known for…being the kindest soul to ever walk the planet
Expert at…licking myself and others.
What I live for…my writer and mom, R. D. Kardon. And bully sticks.
How I met my writer…Eleven years ago, when she'd first moved to San Diego, my writer was looking to adopt a dog. She'd chosen one from a local rescue, but she lived in an apartment at the time, and the dog required a fenced yard, so the rescue declined her application! Still stalking that dog, she logged onto the rescue's website one day, and that dog's picture was replaced by mine. I was trying to communicate to her through my soulful expression. She took the bait, and the rest is history.
How it’s been going so far….we are the love of each other's lives.
Something you should know about my writer…Her love for all animals is deep and broad. But I know she loves me the best because she dedicated her second book, Angel Flight to me.
Meet (Pet Name’s) Writer: Robin "R. D." Kardon
Known for… My first novel, Flygirl, a work of fiction inspired by my own aviation experience, is Book #1 of The Flygirl Series. It is a #1 Amazon Best Seller and multiple award winner. My second novel, Angel Flight, is also a #1 Amazon Best Seller and is Book #2 of The Flygirl Series.
How Smokey helps/doesn’t help me to do my job…Smokey likes to lick my feet while I'm writing. I'm not sure yet whether that helps or hurts.
What I do when not engaged with Smokey Pete... I do a lot of volunteer work with local dog and cat rescues, specifically Animal Rescuers without Borders, who rescued my beloved Smokey Pete, my chiweenie Chiclet and thousands of other deserving animals. Also, I have a passion for saving senior animals, and work with Frosted Faces Foundation as well.
Where to find us…
That’s it for this week. Let me know how you are and what you are reading. If you know anyone who would enjoy this or any issue of Spark, please pass this along. Here is a button that makes it easy:
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Ciao for now!
P.S. And now, your moment of Zen… Rebirth in Mount Desert Island, Maine
Mary K. of Florida sent this video, a family project done during the pandemic, after reading about the loon soap opera that played out on New Hampshire’s Pleasant Lake this summer. Narrated by the daughter of a wildlife photographer who did all the footage, this short film is a magical thing to watch. It made me happy.
Calling for Your Contribution to “Moment of Zen”
What is YOUR moment of Zen? Send me your photos, a video, a drawing, a song, a poem, or anything with a visual that moved you, thrilled you, calmed you. Or just cracked you up. This feature is wide open for your own personal interpretation.
Come on, go through your photos, your memories or just keep your eyes and ears to the ground and then share. Send your photos/links, etc. to me by replying to this email or simply by sending to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The main guidelines are probably already obvious: don’t hurt anyone -- don’t send anything that violates the privacy of someone you love or even someone you hate, don’t send anything divisive, or aimed at disparaging others. Our Zen moments are to help us connect, to bond, to learn, to wonder, to share -- to escape the world for a little bit and return refreshed.
I can’t wait to see what you send!
(And if you’ve gotten here, liked something, and still haven’t hit the heart below, now’s your chance! )