Tuesday, July 12, 2011


     What happens when people lose their place? I often think about the permanent pain that refugees carry with them. We read about the displaced thousands from Libya who have fled to Tunisia, Egypt, Malta, the internally displaced in Japan whose summer harvest won't happen this year because their soil and water are radioactive. According to the World Bank, there were 15,200,000 refugees in the world in 2009, 27,100,000 internally displaced persons and 1,000,000 asylum seekers whose cases had not yet been adjudicated. And these are only the people displaced by war. The numbers don't include the Haitians, Chileans, Chinese, Pakistanis and Australians whose houses are no longer standing or liveable because of massive earthquakes, floods or fires.

     Even though I've been something of a vagabond all my adult life, I think of home as a stable place, the place where everything is familiar--the scent of the local dirt, freshly cut lawns and native plants, the quality of light and the color of the sky, the native birds singing, the roads and houses and corner stores that you carry like an ancient blueprint in your brain. I like familiarity and I assume that most of the 43,300,000 external and internal refugees in the world do, too. So what are their lives like, when they know that they cannot go home, either because they would be imprisoned, tortured and killed, or because the place they called home isn't there anymore, isn't a place that is stable, secure or viable?

    According to a well-known celebrity who works with refugees, "In countries where people have to flee their homes because of persecution and violence, political solutions must be found, peace and tolerance restored, so that refugees can return home. In my experience, going home is the deepest wish of most refugees." (Italics added).

     The displaced remember. Their loss is not erased when the plane lands in their new country or the truck pulls into the refugee camp or the detention center. Forcible removal doesn't include memory loss. And even if the memories are compromised by terror and trauma, there are still those whispers, the longing for a certain scent of wildflowers or bread baking in the communal oven, jungle earth or sea salt. Grief for one's native place is a permanent scar. "The refugee life is very challenging. It's like pulling a tree out of the ground and trying to replant it" (Rosalind Rivera, refugee worker).

    What does this mean for Americans, with the roots of so many families ripped from other homelands, by choice in some cases, forcibly in many others?  We are all replanted--is ours a culture cobbled together by the displaced? Is that why we have such trouble staying in one place, why the pioneers restlessly kept pushing west, displacing native people, depriving others of their homes? Why must there always be a frontier, and when there is none, why we must go and make wars over oil and the lands that lie over it, pretend we can happily colonize other planets, fight over ideologies, continually live dissatisfied lives, longing for whatever we don't possess? Does the consumerism that feeds rampant corporate capitalism somehow prey on our need for home, on the primal longing for familiar places? Unless we are indigenous people, our roots are usually not more than 200 years deep in the American soil, but that's long enough to make a place home. Even a decade can create a sense of belonging.

     Jobs, school, marriage, military service--so many necessary parts of our lives as Americans, particularly the economic parts, pull us away from the families, the communities and the familiar environments we were born into. What do we lose when we move from the places where we were born or raised or bore our own children? Is this why we forget to value the natural world around us, to value the neighborhood, to pretend that we don't need community to raise our children or care for our old ones? Is this why cyber-place seems as real as the solid world around so many young people today?

     I remember a place that was my home once upon a time. A place that had been in our family for five generations. Not long at all in the reckoning of the native Kumeyaay, but very long for white people in southern California.Thousands of acres of heavy gray soil, bunch grass and non-native wild oats, dodecatheons and brodeia in the springtime, fog banks and the warm scent of ripe oranges in summer. The familiar sank into my bones--sounds of horses grinding hay with their big teeth in the stalls below us as we sat on top of oat hay bale towers in my grandfather's barn, the millions of stars that we watched swing overhead as we slept outdoors, listening to coyotes chatter and sing at the edge of the orange grove. As a child, I had no sense of this land belonging to me--I belonged to it. And I still feel that way as I push through middle age, though the land is long buried under subdivisions and semiconductor factories.

    Event though I've been back, have seen it--in James Taylor's words--"all spec house and plywood...all torn up, tore up good," that's not how I see it in my mind. I see the land intact: the arroyos and hills; the dirt road I walked on with burning bare feet; the old ranch house and barn; a herd of half-wild horses grazing on the mesa. My native place is as intact in my memory as first love. I have to remind myself that it isn't really there, because, in some time-out-of-time way, it is.

   Next entry, I'll try to talk about how I think this endemic placelessness has made us undervalue nature and overvalue individualism. I'd also like to begin formulating what might be a useful and palliative response, one that might help us learn to locate ourselves, care for the places we live in, and be better neighbors and citizens. If you have any ideas, please share them.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Week

Rain for Easter. Lilacs dripping in the cold early morning. Snow on the mountains. Restored sight for my husband after painless cataract surgery. I remember that such surgery left my grandfather blind thirty years ago. A call from a high school friend.  Dinner with old friends in Taos. An unexpected gift that was exactly what I needed. So many simple miracles crowned this resurrection weekend. As they should.

The sense I had in church was that of being gathered together in an ark. It was enough to be together, to smell the lilies, hear the alleluias, hear again the women weeping at the tomb, the men breathing faster as they stoop to look in and see...folded linens. Who folded them? Did Jesus do it before he ordered away the massive wheel of stone and strode or burst out into the rising sun? It makes me smile a little to think that he would stop to tidy up first. My mother would like that. Or maybe it was the two angels who Mary Magdalene found sitting at the head and foot of the stone shelf where his body had lain, making sure that it was perfectly clear that Jesus was gone, not from his body, but in his body.

I love the earthiness of the resurrection. I don't get it, in terms of biology. But it makes pretty good sense in terms of physics. If we are all energy, anyway (mass at the speed of light squared), then God can surely rearrange that energy which is his own, pull the elements back together in molecules, atoms and cells that creat that mighty buzz and hum we call life. The living body. The resurrection proclaims the body good. Later churchmen got it quite backwards, in their Platonic wrong-headed way. The body was always good. It was the willful mind that spoiled things. Jesus loved his incarnation. He came back to it, claimed it back from death. And made it possible that somehow in creation, all things will be made new. We will all get to claim back the innocence, the rightness of our original selves. Not apart from embodiment, but in it as it ought to be.

My view of the ultimate redemption of the world is half-baked and eccentric. It is this: Jesus' second coming does not happen because we eagerly make a mess of things to ensure it and finally blow up the present creation so that no one but him can fix it. It is rather the occasion, chosen by his sense of timing, not ours, of our second chance. The end that is really the beginning--when we get to start in on pollution, child slavery, the abuse of women, men, the poor, animals, water, soil, air, the economic inequity that is the root cause of war. It's when we finally get to realize our long-held dreams that poverty curtailed, our great ideas that political expediency denied.

It is our hands that remake the creation, that rewind the great reel back to its original innocence. But only because it's His hand that guides ours in renewing the world. All the possible wondrous inventions will be turned to good--like spears hammered into pruning hooks. The earth will flourish, life will be creativity and joy and work that is praise. Our suffering and sighing will be no more, because God walks again with humankind and helps us end all the evil we have made, so that there is nothing more to report but...good news.

Happy Easter. The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Week/Holy World

It's Holy Week 2013. The crabapple in our backyard has burst into luscious magenta bloom. Bee buzz is the very sound of the air. A faint aura of sweetness hovers around the tree. My tulips shout hallelujah along the front walk. Perfect clouds race each other across a perfect blue sky, and vanish east of the mountains without leaving a drop of rain. It's beautiful springtime. And it's dry as dust.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed that Good Friday and Earth Day coincide this year. The day of sacrificial love conjoined with the day of action on behalf of our ailing planet. It's tempting to rephrase William Jennings Bryan's great populist statement about humankind crucified on a cross of gold--the whole earth is being crucified on a cross of greed.

How appropriate, too, that the news is full of retrospectives on the monstrous Gulf oil spill of two years ago which has to date cost BP multi-millions and the people of the Gulf their livelihoods and the creatures of the Gulf their lives. Does anyone remember? Or how about the Fukishima power plants that are still oozing the Lord knows what dreadful radioactive slush? But they've left the front page. So does that mean there's no danger? No cost? No impact on the planet's species, oceans, islands? Are we unable to see anything that lies deeper than the surface of our narcissism?

Last Saturday, I committed a sin. I reacted in anger to a rally at the plaza in our town where a thin blonde woman dressed in red, white and blue whipped up the Tea Party crowd by proclaiming that "The Environmentalists" had stolen the American agenda over the past forty years "while the rest of us were raising our children." As if environmentalists don't raise their children, but simply abort them or abandon them to be raised by wolves.

I hollered back at her from my car that it was her crowd that had stolen America's agenda--the climate change denying politicians, the short-run focused oil and energy corporations, the bought and paid for media. I felt such rage--it lasted for hours and perhaps still lurks behind these words, though I did turn it over to God and try to quiet my heart by imagining that I could become a Republican, infiltrate, transform from within. I mean, I believe in free enterprise, small business, the values of Abraham Lincoln. If Arlo Guthrie can do it, I can, too.

The thing is, the public view of the environment wasn't like this forty years ago. Who proposed and signed the bill that created the Environmental Protection Agency? Richard Nixon, for heaven's sake! And when he announced his plan for the EPA, the joint session of Congress stood up as one person to applaud him. Can you imagine anything remotely like that today? Is there one Republican today who would come out and admit that climate change is a reality, let alone sign on to legislation that would do something about it? Republicans Pete McCloskey of California and Mark Hatfield of Oregon both championed environmental laws in their day and were praised for it. Pete's now a Democrat, of course.

But the final word isn't politics. The final word is the Word. And what does God say about his creation? "The earth is mine and all that live therein." "Consider the birds of the air. Consider the lilies of the fields." Will there come a time when there are no birds outside of aviaries, no lilies growing wild? I know romantics have asked these questions for years. The Pre-Raphaelites, John Muir and the early Sierra Club, the back-to-the-landers of the 70's, Greenpeace, and others. But how is it that Christian people cannot seem to see that the creation they ignore, misuse in the pursuit of wealth, pretend is infinite in its ability to heal, belongs to the God they worship, not to them? That anything created by God is itself holy and therefore not available to be abused, raped, used up, polluted?

The earth is the Lord's. The earth includes glaciers, polar bears, vegetable fields, cattle in stockyards eating reprocessed manure, garbage dumps laden with computer waste where hungry children separate heavy metals and plastics, streams polluted with PCBs, pristine mountain lakes where the frogs are mysteriously dying, children with autism, tide pools that have lost their sea anemones. This earth was born from God's omniscient mind and omnipotent hand. It is not a thing, not the unintelligble and meaningless Other, not a huge uncomplaining slave existing only to serve the extravagant wants of the post-industrial world. The world is itself. A Thou.

Why would we, how can we dare to harm it? Our nest, our neighborhood. Who wants to live in an ugly filthy house that breeds disease among the inhabitants and is about to fall down on their heads? Who wants to intentionally smash a beautiful priceless work of art? What kind of horror of a human being would strip and mangle a living thing because it was easier than caring for it? I am amazed that so few seem to really consider these questions about the place they are utterly dependent upon, that so few actively work to take care of the earth that is our home.

I love the Easter morning story in the Gospel of John, because Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene as a gardener. In his parables, he describes himself as a shepherd, a gate, the path to truth, the truth itself. But when Mary sees him, she sees a gardener. Someone up early in the morning caring for the plants and the creatures. It's a lovely image. The resurrected Christ tending his creation that longs for the appearing of God's new kingdom. Maybe while we are all awaitng that kingdom we can help hasten it by readying the garden that will be the place of its manifestation, the beautiful earth that is the Lord's.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I love how unpredictable spring is. No matter where you live, it tickles you, slaps you with surprises. Like the rain on the roof last night that turned to the tap-tap-tap of sleet and then the silence of snow. This morning, Santa Fe is backed by huge dark clouds that rear up over the Sangre de Cristos like the backdrop for a melodrama. Despite the cold, my sturdy daffodils march along the walkway to our front door and the tulip leaves unfurl thick ruflled leaves. Somewhere, down in the dark center, a red rush of petals waits. They always remind me of cardinals, which, incidentally, don't fly west beyond the rockies.

I'm trying to make this place work for me and my husband. Our dog is from here--Taos Pueblo, in fact--so he doesn't count. The rain that fell here this morning left the central coast of California night before last. I miss it so, especially in spring. The verdant wonder of vast fields spilling down from the pass on Highway 46 to the edge of the sea, rippling in the wind like fur. The hills crouch the way cougars do, their arroyos the spaces between the toes of great green paws, gripping the earth. The faint salt smell on the cold wind, the white noise of the sea. And the flowers. Oh my Lord, the flowers!

Sheets of brilliant orange, solid color that only becomes the individual faces of a million poppies when you get a few hundred feet away from them. And the blue slashes of lupines spilling over banks, the magenta wine cups along backroads, clumps of dodecatheons in the wet marshes. Ceanothus, the bush we Californians call western lilac for its honey-like sweet scent and colors that range from buff to sky blue to deepest lavender. The hum of bees that blow down the inland valleys as the days warm. A scent of salty clay.

These are the things you know about a season in your homeplace. Scent, color, shifts in the light as it reflects off land, sea, clouds, rocks, grasslands, even off city walls. In some places, seasonal shifts are remarkably subtle. Recent arrivals, for instance, claim that southern California has no seasons. Quietly, those of us born there comment, "How gauche." Spring on the coast is marked by the high flat fog that makes everything reflect a bright gray, may cause headaches and lets the sun through for exactly two hours in the early afternoon. Spring inland is a rush of warm air up the canyons, the wildflowers mentioned above, plus dozens of others, and the nesting of towhees, house finches, orioles. Hawks climb the upward spiraling drafts, looking for the rodents who venture out of their winter nests. Dew comes edged with frost in the early morning. You begin thinking about stripping down to tee shirts, cut-offs and flip-flops until next October.

That's what I know about the place where I was born. What I know about this place where I live now is that spring comes and goes. Warm days seduce into trips to the greenhouse where bedding plants are already springing up and promising early summer crops. We think about planting lettuce and chard, lopping off the tangled privet branches, hiking up Big Tesuque trail in search of something that blooms early. Ah, fool! The next hour it's blowing like crazy and the temperature's dropping ten degrees an hour. And then, like today you wake up to snow. There's still ice along the Rio Grande deep in the Gorge where the sun doesn't make a dent until April. The Rocky Mountain hares are still white down to their shoulders. Birds are singing and mating one day and hiding in the cedars and pinons the next. One morning smells of wet grass and the next of snow. Spring zigzags in here.

Me, I want the steady rush of wind and grass and sea scent. I am homesick.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Welcome to Writing the World, blogsite of writer and poet Constance Gannon

Two nights ago, the temperature here in Santa Fe fell to minus eighteen. I'd forgotten how the minus degrees feel. How the cold takes away your breath, freeze dries the inside of your nostrils. Even the dog with his thick blonde coat balked at the patio door. No, thank you. I can wait. The cold moved through the wall like some kind of ectoplasm. We stuffed towels along the bottom edges of the exterior doors, closed all the blinds, turned on the electric matress pad and settled in for a few days of divorce from the natural world. Hibernation.

In other parts of New Mexico, people were frantically chopping kindling, lighting woodstoves, buying all the electric space heaters in town. Somewhere in west Texas, in that vast half-imaginary network known as the Texas electrical grid, ice pulled down a wire, compressors froze in place and the web of pipes that feeds natural gas across  the stateline began to lose pressure. I pictured the compressed gas gradually spreading out, growing weak and flaccid, limping through the pipes as far as the middle Rio Grande Valley, but unable to get past Santa Fe. With no compelling force to move it, the terminal points along the lines were literally out of gas.

This is the problem with large-scale energy supply systems. They are interwoven, interconnected, but not in a good way. But local energy production is rarely on the agenda, maybe not even on the radar, of public policy. The real answer to the energy crisis and to atmospheric carbon overload is local, very local, production. Instead of a chicken in every pot, we need solar cells on every roof, small windmills in many backyards, geothermal systems under every floor. and street But, of course, individual generation would mean  no continual profit base for the corporations that now control the resources, the grids, the switches and all. In order that they may continue to prosper, the rest of us have to put up with outages, overloads, brownouts and worse, as if these were acts of God instead of gross inefficiencies.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Hope your home is warm today. Hope you have a home to be warm in and windows that open up the beautiful world around you.