Moving Into A Quieter Time


 

 

By Neal Lemery

(published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, March 12, 2020)

 

How often do we wonder out loud why life is so hectic, and complain that we don’t have enough time?  Our lives are full of obligations, errands, events, endless demands on our time, and yet we often feel that we don’t tend to the important things in life.  We are bombarded with demands for even more obligations and commitments, and our growing collection of electronics chirp and beep further straining our capacity to manage our lives.

Do we really want fewer obligations and more time to kick back and enjoy life? I think we do, but we simply haven’t given ourselves permission to do that.

Well, now we have that opportunity.  If there’s a silver lining in the cloud of the Corona Virus crisis, it is the gift of time and space in our lives.  My calendar is getting cleared as I write this, with almost hourly e-mails announcing cancellations, postponements, and changed plans.  I now have mandates to not be so obligated and committed.

Public health officials and the Governor are taking drastic actions to call us to a simpler, less hectic life.  No large groups, no travel to meetings, fewer social interactions, and a call to spend more time at home.

There’s compelling scientific evidence to support these directives.  Yet, this crisis is perhaps a blessing in disguise. The Chinese writing character for crisis contains the character for opportunity.

My meeting was cancelled for this morning, so I found myself in the garden, with time to contemplate where I’m going to plant my early spring vegetables. I planted some seeds in the greenhouse and began my annual organizing there.  I’d told myself I’d get to that needed project, but I’ve just been “too busy”.  Now, the cleared up calendar is telling me I have the time.

The “hunker down at home” message is going to allow me the time to tend to my garden, to find a sunny spot and enjoy a cup of tea, and read some of those books that have been piling up on the coffee table. Spring is truly coming and yes, I can even enjoy it.

I’m going to have fewer hours at my favorite coffee shop, but I can also make time to invite a friend over for coffee and sit out on the deck and enjoy the birds that are arriving at my feeder. I’ll catch up on some correspondence, even getting back into the old yet treasured practice of writing a letter to a friend.

We have a month, at least, with legitimate excuses to dial back the pace of life, to take our foot off the gas, and take a breath. I’ll even avoid meetings that, perhaps, weren’t really that essential. I know I’ve been over-obligated, over-involved.  Now, I have an excuse to move into a quieter time. I can still do what I love to do: play my guitar, learn more about playing the banjo and mandolin, doing more in my yard than the most pressing tasks, even having a second cup of coffee on the deck in the morning, and linger over the daily paper.

I suspect my friends who are working will enjoy more productivity by working at home, and not having to travel for meetings. Maybe they too can live in quieter times and linger over that second cup of coffee on the deck. Perhaps we’ll be more like Europeans, with shorter work weeks, and more time with friends and family. Let’s give it a try.

I’m going to connect more with friends and family, too. More listening, more planning a small event where we really have a deep conversation and talk about our lives. Dinner can be more relaxed, and I’ll try to more thoughtful on what I cook and focus on healthier eating.  In all of that, I’ll be in the spirit of our collective effort to deal with this disease, focusing myself on being rested and improving my health, being a responsible citizen in times of crisis.

I’ve been yammering for years on the hectic pace of life, whining about how Americans work too much and don’t spend enough time with their family.  Now’s my chance, our chance, to get out of the fast lane, kick life down a few notches, and enjoy a quieter time, a slower pace of life.

It’s time I practice what I preach and get to really know myself and the people I love.

After all, it is doctors’ orders.

The Extra Day


 

 

 

By Neal Lemery

 

Leap Day.  It only shows up on the calendar every four years, and sometimes not even then, being quirky and a human invention to try to define and measure a celestial phenomenon that defies the precision of those of us who love to measure things.

 

This year, though, it is mine to enjoy and celebrate.  Conveniently showing up on the day after my birthday, the day seems like a day to celebrate, and take advantage of, a nice little bonus to birthday celebrations.  I’ve entered the last third of my own century, so these celebratory events need to be seized and enjoyed.

 

What to do? There was a tree seedling sale in the next county, and a presentation on unusual perennial plants for the garden at one of my favorite public gardens, one I seem to seldom visit. The garden was on the way back from the tree sale, and I was sure I could work in a stop for coffee and another for lunch.

 

The bonus was driving along the ocean, wild and crazy from a series of late winter storms that have been rolling in.  The weather couldn’t figure out its day, so there was a continual onslaught of drizzle, rain, hail, sunbreaks, wind, and then several repeats of the cycle, with even a promise of a thunderstorm.

 

Trees! Not that I need more trees!  Our two acres is now more than well-planted with a variety of evergreens and an abundance of shrubs, vegetables, and herbs. I try to grow trees now for the annual plant sale of the master gardeners, and an occasional gift to friends needing some native trees.

 

Already this year, my greenhouse has seven baby coastal redwoods that are getting an early start on spring, destined for the plant sale.  But, surely, there’s room for more seedlings to nurture, preparing them for new homes. I just couldn’t resist the invitation for a tree seedling sale.

 

I arrived to find the parking lot full and a line of tree lovers queuing up outside the door of a building at the fairgrounds.  We all had that look in our eyes, a hunger, nearly a lust, for the opportunity to get a bag or two of tree seedlings.  The uniform of the day was a full array of flannel shirts, work boots, and worn jeans.  It was like we all had been out tending our trees and gardens and took a collective break to come into town to get our trees.  Of course, we all came in our pickups.  This is Oregon, you know.

 

We crowded through the door, the cashier handing each of us an order form, and being directed down to a number of tables stacked with several dozen kinds of trees, wrapped in wet cardboard and stuffed into large plastic bags.

 

I made my way to the front of the lines for the two kinds of trees I really wanted, the crowd loud and pushy.  The clerk filled a sack with my newly acquired treasures, giant sequoia and western red cedar.  The sequoias are hard to find around here, and the cedar trees were a special treat. Cedars are hardy natives. Finding a good supply of cedar seedlings has been a challenge until a few years ago, when estuary restorationists began stirring up a heavy demand for them.

 

I order my coastal redwood seedlings from a nursery in Redwood Country, and I already have enough young starts this year for the plant sale.  Their cousins, healthy giant sequoias, natives of the Sierra Nevada, were a surprise and I eagerly added five to my treasure bag. These trees do well in the Northwest, with trees as old as one hundred fifty years thriving throughout western Oregon. My neighbor’s row of these little giants add a special beauty to the neighborhood.

 

On my way to check out, I spotted some healthy nine-bark saplings, natives that have startling purple leaves and multi-colored bark, and grow well around my trees and other shrubs.  A good supply is hard to find, so I snapped up some of them, too.  I’d make room for them in my almost filled up young forest.

 

The price was a steal, only $2 for each little seedling, about a third of what my regular suppliers charge. I was going to look around some more, but there was a small yet noisy crowd behind me and I didn’t want to hold things up.  I quickly paid my modest bill for trees and headed back out through the maze of pickups, in various stages of mud-splattered late winter gunk, my hands clutching my treasures.

 

I knew I needed to get them potted up soon, their roots bare and freshly liberated from their plastic tubes and trays of the tree propagators’ world. And, I needed more pots and some good potting soil, too.  On the way out of town, I stopped for those essentials, spending more for pots and soil than I paid for the trees.  Money well spent, of course, looking at the long term.  Cedars can live for over a thousand years, and giant sequoias can be around for three times as long, my purchases being a modest investment in creating a legacy.

 

There are all the newly trendy reasons to plant trees, of course: trees are great carbons sinks, they filter the air, produce oxygen, improve water and soil quality in the forest, provide habitat for forest creatures, etc. Those are all great things, but ultimately, they are beautiful.  Adding trees to our corner of the earth is simply good for its own sake. And, a good thing to be doing on this “extra day”.

 

After my promised lunch, I rolled up to the public garden, nicely manicured and neatened after last week’s sunny days.  The other people gathering for the talk arrived in their neat suburban sedans and nattily attired in “formal garden casual”; the only one clad in flannel and slightly dirty denim is me. My work boots still had traces of the mud from the messy tree sale.  I was sure the two groups wouldn’t blend in well with each other.

 

The “rare and unusual perennial” crowd was, however, equally rowdy when it came to picking out our treasures to take home.  After the lecture and slide show, we noisily crowded around the plants, on the verge of shoving and pushing to the point of getting out of control. Finally, realizing there were enough plants for all of us, we settled down and lined up quietly as the program speaker took our money and handed out environmentally correct paper bags for our loot. Just like the tree crowd, we could eventually shape up to be somewhat orderly and respectable, though there was that fundamental difference between paper and plastic.

 

I drove home, eager to get to work before the end of daylight, and quickly planted my ninebarks and potted up my trees.  I even lightly mulched them in fir bark, simulating the forest environment that will eventually be their new home.

 

 

All that work in the chill of the late afternoon brought me to brew a cup of tea, and I kicked   back, slipping off my work boots, contemplating the wonders and satisfactions of this “extra day”, and the long-term benefits of more trees to give out into the world.

 

 

 

2/29/2020

Hunkered Down


 

 

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

Everything.

 

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

My new book is published! Building Community: Rural Voices for Hope and Change: An Oregon Perspective


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.DIGITAL_BOOK_THUMBNAIL

An Example of Bad Taste, and Worse


Neal Lemery

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.

Making Our Communities Age Friendly


Neal Lemery

Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer

12/17/2019

 

 

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