“Made for some interesting reading and allowed me to look at community development from a different perspective. Thank you.” — Doug Henson, Tillamook, Oregon city councilor
Grey, round and wet on the windshield
Before the wiper swipes, the squeegeeing
Seeping into my bones, dank and cold
Sopping, slogging, splashing,
Slowly dripping onto
Piles of sloppy Gortex, boots and coats and hats
Freshly tracked in floors, patterned in rainboot waffle
Stuck on bits of leaf mold and mud
Everywhere you look.
Dry now means less damp, relative
Humidity always close to a perfect 100, we must be in first place
In rainforest championships and synonyms of rain.
Sidestepping squalls, all fifty shades of grey,
Our world now just ponds and roaring creeks on once green land,
Everything seen through the eyes of a duck,
We are all becoming paddlers.
–Neal Lemery 2/13/2020
Neal’s new book is out and available on Amazon.
Building Community: Rural Voices for Hope and Change: An Oregon Perspective, by Neal Lemery
How are rural American communities working to build a better world? These are the stories of building a stronger rural America. These are the stories of a resurgence in diverse talents and work in progress to improve community services, relationships, and to further collective societal values and organizations. Active community involvement engages everyone, to address social conditions and improve our collective lives. In part, this book gives voice to diverse points of views and experiences, and shows the strengths and talents of rural Oregon communities. Numerous community members from rural Oregon offer their perspectives and describe their work, building better, more vibrant communities that are meeting the difficult challenges of rural America in the Twenty First Century.
Available at Amazon.com https://smile.amazon.com/Building-Community-Voices-Change-Perspective/.
Also an e-book, also available on Amazon.
Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer 1/15/2020
An Example of Bad Taste, And Worse
I quickly went from shock to a strong sense of revulsion and disgust the other day, as I was checking up on the latest local news.
It was a story of tragedy and grief. A young mother was killed in a traffic crash, with her baby rushed to the hospital. The text of the story, taken from the Sheriff’s press release, told me all I needed (and wanted) to know. The story was a traumatic reminder of the fragility of human life and the senseless disaster of traffic crashes.
What left me numb and sickened, and then outraged, was the accompanying color photo of the car, horrific in every detail, posted by a local newspaper. The photo didn’t add to the story, and instead it fueled my emotions and smacked of tabloid journalism and poor taste.
I thought of the victim’s family and friends, and of all those impacted by the tragedy, and how seeing that photo would amplify their grief. And, to what purpose was the photo published?
When I was a prosecutor in the criminal justice system, I reviewed countless photos of tragedy. I sometimes used them to assist experts determine causation, and in court as evidence for the judge or jury to consider in making their findings. In deciding on whether to use a particular photo, I always asked myself three questions: is it true, is it kind, and is it necessary?
If the photo was the only way to convey an important fact, I still needed to decide if the real motive to submit it into evidence was to simply be dramatic, or appeal to lurid or emotional sensationalism. Photos that didn’t meet those standards were left in the case file.
Like prosecutors, journalists also have professional standards of ethics.
A position paper on reporting stories of grief and tragedy by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), takes on these questions:
“Stories involving grief and victims goes to the heart of one of the tenets of the SPJ Code of Ethics: minimize harm.
“The Code recognizes the responsibility to … show compassion…be sensitive… ,. When using photographs (be sensitive) to those affected by tragedy or grief.
“(A)void pandering to lurid curiosity. … media will receive higher marks if they present their stories in responsible fashion without resorting to sensationalism in words or photos.” (SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers: Reporting on Grief, Tragedy and Victims) https://www.spj.org/ethics-papers-grief.asp
Like all professions, journalists have an ethical responsibility to conduct their work without subjecting others to ridicule or lurid sensationalism. That responsibility, in this instance, is sorely lacking and leads to an unhealthier, less loving and compassionate community.
As a community, we can do better.
Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer
Making Our Communities Age Friendly
In ten years, our population of seniors 75 years and older will double. Yet, only 1% of our housing has the amenities that will allow seniors to stay in their own homes.
How do we make our housing and our communities more friendly to our aging population?
That was a question at the recent Building Our Communities for All Ages conference sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in Portland. Over 200 people, mostly community volunteers and professionals, gathered to hear success stories and challenges from experts dedicated to improving the quality of life for our communities and seniors.
We need age-friendly housing and neighborhoods, topics which are especially challenging in rural Oregon, where funds for public improvements, housing, retirement living, and transportation are hard to come by.
We want to encourage people to grow old in their homes. It is less costly, more efficient, and prolongs both length of life and quality of life. Yet, 50% of seniors spend more than 30% of their income on housing. 80% of rural senior Oregonians own their own home, yet 40% of houses need major modifications for aging population, and only 1% of housing is fully equipped to allow aging seniors to safely remain in their homes.
80% of Oregon seniors own their own homes, but are increasingly “house rich, cash poor”, as rising property values increase property taxes and other costs also grow, while incomes remain limited.
“You cannot do anything alone. It’s about collaboration. Sometimes it requires compromise,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told the conference. “Young people thrive when they have an older adult who cares about them and engages with them – making connections.”
“70% of the reasons for a long, healthy life are products of social engagement and activities. The other 30% are related to genetics and quality of health care,” urban activist Gil Penalosa said.
“It’s not retirement, it’s re-hirement,” he said. “People are living longer, and need to be engaged in their community in order to live healthier, longer lives.”
His worldwide planning group takes a radical view of making public space people friendly. He brings in art, pedestrian-friendly spaces, and a revitalized sense of community to places all over the world. His message is simple: start small with inexpensive changes that allow people to mingle, and develop relationships with each other. His premise is “8-80”, creating public spaces for both the eight year old and the 80 year old. (https://880cities.org. )
A healthy community requires eight dynamic factors: housing, transportation, parks and public spaces, health and community service, respect and inclusion, social participation, and communication and information.
Aside from the structural needs of housing, healthy social interactions and opportunities for physical activity are critical.
“Loneliness is just as lethal as smoking five cigarettes a day,” Sharon Meieran, Multnomah County Commissioner, said.
A decline in our physical activity also increases our risk for diabetes. 25 years ago, 9% of Oregonians were obese. Today, that rate is 29%. By building sidewalks and improving parks and other pedestrian friendly facilities in our community, we improve our health and our ability to remain in our homes.
Rural Oregonians have additional challenges. A majority of us are sixty miles or more away from health care, and live more than ten miles from a full-service grocery store. Public transportation is limited, and many people require door to door bus service.
More information on the conference and Oregon’s responses is available at https://states.aarp.org/oregon/gov-brown-to-kick-off-age-friendly-summit
My Favorite Books of 2019
by Neal Lemery
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
“As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.” (Goodreads)
This is a delightful blend of experiences, viewpoints, and meditations. I found this to be engaging, provocative, and simply fun to read.
The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things — Stories from Science and Observation, by Peter Wohlleben. I loved his The Secret Life of Trees. This is an equally enjoyable book about nature and how living things interact and communicate with each other.
Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall. This is a great exploration of world history and current affairs, from the perspective of geography, and how regional and local geography has profound influences on human activities, politics, and culture. Much of today’s geopolitics makes more sense after reading this.
Edge of Awe: Experiences of the Malheur-Steens Country. Alan Contreras, ed. This delightful book of essays, poetry, and photography takes you into the soul of southeastern Oregon. Ursula LeGuin and other contributors are showcased. Great writing and deep thinking highlight this treasure.
The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found: A History in Seven Cities, by Violet Moller.
“In The Map of Knowledge Violet Moller traces the journey taken by the ideas of three of the greatest scientists of antiquity – Euclid, Galen and Ptolemy – through seven cities and over a thousand years. In it, we follow them from sixth-century Alexandria to ninth-century Baghdad, from Muslim Cordoba to Catholic Toledo, from Salerno’s medieval medical school to Palermo, capital of Sicily’s vibrant mix of cultures and – finally – to Venice, where that great merchant city’s printing presses would enable Euclid’s geometry, Ptolemy’s system of the stars and Galen’s vast body of writings on medicine to spread even more widely.
“In tracing these fragile strands of knowledge from century to century, from east to west and north to south, Moller also reveals the web of connections between the Islamic world and Christendom, connections that would both preserve and transform astronomy, mathematics and medicine from the early Middle Ages to the Renaissance.
“Vividly told and with a dazzling cast of characters, The Map of Knowledge is an evocative, nuanced and vibrant account of our common intellectual heritage.” Goodreads
An enjoyable and insightful look at history and its teachings and preservation. Very interesting and provocative.
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the Worldby Melinda Gates. Inspiring, fresh, and provocative; ideas and projects that are changing the world. This is a book of hope and progressive thought. The writing is excellent and I found myself captivated by the seemingly simple ideas and her determination to listen to people on what they really needed to change their lives.
The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction andPurpose by Oprah Winfrey. Oprah dares us to be hopeful and open to our full potential. There are lots of ideas and inspiration in this, and I found it worthwhile and optimistic.
Leadership in Turbulent Times, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This examination of challenging events and circumstances of four U.S. presidents gives some much-needed historical insight and perspective on what is great and courageous leadership, and the willingness to be daring and put country ahead of politics.
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, by David Treuer. This is a much needed and appreciated perspective of Native America, a part of our history and culture that is neglected by historians and political scientists. Somewhat akin to Howard Zinn’s examination of under-reported American history, and it belongs on the same shelf of important and timely writings about our past and today.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Wow. So much I didn’t know and hadn’t thought about. 100,000 years ago, there were six species of humans, and only one has survived. This is the story of how humans came to be, and broadens one’s concept of humanity and cultural development.
Artemis by Andy Weir. The author of The Martianexplores the large lunar colony of the future, with an engaging plot and ideas that stimulate one’s thinking about the future and how space travel and colonization may change our thinking. Well done science fiction.
Becoming by Michelle Obama. The best memoir and autobiography of the year. This well written story of her life is engaging, thoughtful, and insightful, no matter what your politics may be. I grew to admire her courage and insight, and drive to improve her life. I found this to be inspiring.
Art Matters by Neil Gaiman. One of America’s finest novelists, Gaiman shares his ideas on how art inspires and changes lives. This is a short but important read.
Some Less Memorable Books
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell. His hypothesis is somewhat interesting, but not terribly daring or insightful: we are often deceived by strangers who seek to manipulate and lie to us. I found it repetitive and tedious. But then, maybe I’ve been deceived.
The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, by David McCollough. He’s a thorough historical storyteller, but these tales of adventurers and entrepreneurs who settled Ohio is less than exciting and I think I missed his point of telling this story. Well and thoroughly researched, but this is not a page turner and I ended up not caring about the characters.
On Fire: The Case for the New Green Deal, by Naomi Klein. I was disappointed, as I wanted particulars on what projects and ideas that are “shovel ready” for this political and ecological movement. Instead, this appears to be a collection of blog posts, some quite dated, about general concepts. I wanted actual implemented ideas and stories of success.
The Second Mountain, by David Brooks. Brooks is a thoughtful writer, who is famed for challenging traditional thinking. He begins by challenging Boomers to be innovative and involved. Yet, he seems to lose stem halfway through the book and never gets to the heart of his ideas and show how his premises can work. I was left hanging and unsatisfied.
By Neal Lemery
One year at Thanksgiving, Mom told me to set an extra place setting. We’d counted up all the relatives who would be coming, and I was curious as to who she was adding. By my count, we hadn’t forgotten anyone and the place settings matched the numbers of who was coming.
“Oh, it’s nice to have an extra setting, just in case,” she said. “You never know who might come.”
I was very curious, but she wouldn’t answer my persistent questions.
Thanksgiving morning came and we were all put to work on preparations for the meal. My dad had to go into work for an hour, and not long after he left, the phone rang. It was my dad.
“That’s fine,” she said. “Of course. No problem. The table’s already set and there’s an extra chair.”
She turned to us after she hung up the phone.
“We’ll be having another guest for dinner,” she said. She smiled then, and started humming a tune, as she turned back to the stove.
Sure enough, my dad arrived home with our mystery guest. She was a co-worker, and had no other place to go for Thanksgiving. Her smile said it all, how grateful she was to be included.
Every year after that, we always set an extra place for Thanksgiving. One year there was a flood and some neighbors couldn’t make it to their family dinner, so we set up another table and had another half dozen dinner guests.
One year, it was one of my friends in high school, needing a refuge from a tough time on the home front.
As always, my folks asked no questions, and passed no judgement. The unexpected guest was welcomed with open arms and the first serving of turkey.
My wife and I continued the tradition, welcoming friends, making sure there was a place at the table.
The first Thanksgiving we had our foster son, we made sure he felt welcome, as family gathered to enjoy the holiday.
And, as if on cue, the phone rang, and I heard myself saying, “Sure, of course there’s room. We’d love to have him.”
I made a special trip while the turkey was cooking, and brought his brother home for the weekend. We made sure to make him feel welcome, a part of the family. He responded with a tear running down his cheek, as he sat down in the extra chair.
Years later, after my folks had passed away, and our kids were starting their own families and had moved away, it was just my wife and I who would be home for dinner.
“Let’s set another place,” my wife said. “You never know.”
A few days before, she called first one and then another friend, friends who were single, and who, it turned out, would be alone for Thanksgiving.
“Of course, you’re invited. We’ll expect you at 1,” I heard her say.
We set two extra plates that year, and the Thanksgiving celebration became even more special, as two lonely people found a warm home and bountiful table to share, and our friendship grew. Thanksgiving took on a new, richer meaning that year.
One of our traditions, just as we sit down for the meal, is for everyone to share their gratitudes with the rest of us. There is so much to be grateful in our lives, and we so often tend to skip over giving thanks on Thanksgiving. Instead, we slide into talk about a lot of other subjects, forgetting what the day is really about.
Thanksgiving truly is a day to celebrate our gratitudes and to give thanks. And, often what I am most grateful for is that extra chair, that extra place setting. I’m grateful for the company of someone who would otherwise be alone on the day we gather and give thanks for all that we have. And that list begins with being thankful for each other.