Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Regarding Donald Sterling

I am relieved and encouraged that NBA commissioner AdamSilver handed Donald Sterling a lifetime ban from the league. How that ban plays out and whether Sterling will be forced to sell the Clippers and whether the NBA will ever see any of the quarter of a million dollars Sterling has been fined are all issues for another time, another discussion.

For now, I just want to comment on racism in America.

I hate to say it, but Mr. Sterling has done me a solid. For decades, I have had to listen to white people tell me, "Thank God we're past all that." For decades I have responded, "Racism hasn't stopped; it's just gone underground." Sterling's despicable remarks to his mistress have validated the point I have tried to make to my well-intentioned but very naive white friends. Putting on the mask of acceptance and tolerance is not the same thing—definitely NOT the same thing—as embracing diversity.

As the white mother of children who identify themselves as black, I could tell you stories of racism and discrimination that would make you feel the burn of shame, from the Bank of America employee who lied to my son to keep him from opening a checking account to the smog inspector who asked him if he stole his car to his boss (at his high paying white collar job in Los Angeles) who suggested he 'stick to dating within his race' to the countless cops who pulled him over for DWB. These aren't incidents that occurred in the 1950s or the 1960s. These experiences have all happened in the last twenty years. Racist remarks by his boss are on-going and as recent as last week.

Of course, I have my own stories. White people who are close to my age feel safe making bigoted comments for two reasons. Either they assume I am going to be in agreement with them, or (and this is the more insidious of the two) they assume that if I disagree, I will keep quiet about it.

Because this is what we do. We hear someone say something and we may cringe, but in keeping with this facade that has us all 'going along to get along,' we don't confront the person. We don't make a scene, we don't accuse. We may keep our heads high and walk away but we fail to point the finger and call a racist a racist. We stop short of embarrassing people. We stop short of shaming them. And what a shame that is.

Thank you, Adam Silver, for not sweeping this under the rug, for not using evasive language about this being a personnel matter or one the league would deal with privately. Thank you for pointing the finger at the exposed racist and saying with such great determination and fortitude, 'You, sir, are a racist.' Perhaps we can all learn a lesson from your example.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What I miss

I miss the mountain. I miss the mountain more than I can say. I miss watching for the first robin to return, now that it is spring, and for the song of the Black-headed Grosbeaks trilling from high in the oak trees before dawn. I miss the "Who-who, whoooo" of the big owl as I'm falling asleep at night, his call floating into the darkness of the loft as the breeze blows through the open window.

People ask me often if I miss the mountain, and I don't know what to say. The short answer is yes. I should just say, "Yes, I do," nodding slowly, looking wistful and let that be enough. But asking the question is like opening a small gate in a large dam; there's too much pressure behind the words and they sometimes come spraying out too fast.

I miss the Bighorn sheep and the sound of the creek running at the bottom of the canyon. I miss the startling spontaneous eruption of yucca blooms—God's candles—lighting up the mountain. I miss the clear cold light of a radiant moon unfiltered by the haze of particulate matter. I miss the deepest, most abiding quiet I have ever experienced when the birds have finally shushed for the night and there is no wind to stir the trees.

I miss long, lonely hikes up a single-track trail to the ski hut to find no one there but a King snake sprawled across a rock in the sun.

I miss the long, slow drive to work on spring mornings when I play the game of trying to guess how far up the foothills the marine layer has advanced.  19th Street?  22nd?  25th?  Past the dam? At times, the thick sea-born mist would fill the deep canyon next to me as I drove the highway, but the road itself would be clear, and I would pull over just to watch it roil and churn.

I miss seeing a deer leap along the road and over the side into the canyon, or a coyote or a fox or a bobcat. I miss watching for Golden Eagles.

I miss sitting on my front porch, playing my guitar and singing at the top of my lungs when the neighbors weren't home because I knew each one of my small handful of neighbors, and it only took a moment to account for everyone, and singing with absolutely no one to hear offers a freedom every singer should experience.

I miss Rob and Eric and Brenda and Tammy and spontaneous oh-my-gosh-it's-nice-out-here gatherings on my porch or Eric's porch and conversations about the mountain and the weather and all the other characters who live there.

I miss the long, slow drive home, rolling the windows down to catch the scent of warm pine or Scotch broom, the fresh air reviving, restoring me with the most natural aroma therapy available without a prescription.

I miss the mountain every day, partly because I am writing about it every day, about the critters and the characters and all the catastrophes, fires and floods included. Sometimes when I'm tired and overwhelmed with stress from my day job and wondering why I'm investing the time, doubtful if anyone will ever read this next book, this memoir about my nobody life, I think of stopping. But if no one else ever reads this little narrative about living in a cabin in the wilderness, at least, someday, I will, when my memories of all the adventures have begun to wane.  It's worth the time and effort for that alone, I should think.