Archive for September, 2019

WHALES, DOLPHINS AND AWE

I read Moby Dick ages ago and found myself fascinated by Herman Melville’s lengthy discourses on cetology, the study of whales. Last Wednesday, I joined my friends Ira and Dan on a whale watching trip hosted by the Oceanographic Society. In a word: awesome!

We departed on the Salty Ladyfrom the yacht harbor at the Marina Green off Scott Street. The two naturalists onboard and the captain all emphasized the incredible weather we’d have at sea: clear skies and mild—a relative matter—temperatures. (San Francisco hit 94 degrees that afternoon.)

On the way out, we spotted dolphins, porpoises, humpback whales and sea birds, including more than one albatross, and a rarely sighted skua. Because of the great weather, our captain decided to bypass the Farallon Islands at first and sail to the edge of the continental shelf. There, the seabed drops precipitously from 300 feet to 3,000. An upwelling of water brings nutrients and food sources providing great feeding to whales and other sea life.

Jaws dropped as humpbacks spouted then rose out of the water. We’d see their backs then a huge length of white foam as they submerged. Several jumped out vertically well past their heads. Others displayed their flukes—tails—as they dove.

At the peak of activity, we sighted a pod of at least three whales and maybe five. Spouts rose like the fountains at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel. Dolphins and porpoises leapt by the boat with great frequency. A huge turtle came close—another rare sighting. An ocean sunfish swam alongside. I called out to the sea life, “Guys, slow down. There’s more to see here than we can take in!” They didn’t listen. No complaint from me.

Almost everyone missed the best sighting. After stopping by the Farallons to check out the birds and sea lions—we also saw houses for researchers and Coast Guard personnel—we headed back to San Francisco.

As we sat and chatted, Ira, who’d been seasick until noon and missed the action out at the continental shelf’s edge, spotted a humpback leap entirely out of the water and expose its white belly. By the time he called out, Dan and I could see only the splash. Only one or two others onboard saw the event. We were glad for Ira and had no problem missing what we’d love to have seen because we’d seen so much.

Sunday night, the Jewish world will observe Rosh Hashanah, marking the New Year 5780. The whales, dolphins, porpoises and birds I saw provided me with much added meaning. The ten-day period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is known as the Days of Awe. As we contemplate how we’ve lived our lives and acknowledge the Source of Creation, the majesty of the synagogue service can raise our spirits only so far. We need perspective.

Being out on the Pacific, rising and falling with the swells, witnessing the sea’s sheer size and power, and seeing the magnificent creatures with whom we share the planet showed me how small I am and how huge is creation.

At this, or any, time of the year, a little awe-inspired humility can bring us closer to the marvels we can see and the mysteries we can’t.

The post will take next week off and return on October 11. For everyone celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, may you be written and sealed into the Book of Life.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,  is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

UNCERTAINTY

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “…nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” Mark Twain repeated that. But the real author was Englishman Christopher Bullock in 1716. Recent decades have supported Bullock and Franklin (and Twain) with the dictum that the only certainty is change. Look around.

The President of the United States fills each day with uncertainty. Will policy indicated in last night’s tweets be overturned in this morning’s tweets? This afternoon’s? Probably. So how do we as a nation plan for tomorrow?

Last Tuesday, the Federal Reserve sought to counter economic uncertainty. The economy’s tax cut-fueled sugar high is wearing off and our trade war with China continues. The dreaded “R” word (recession) is making the rounds. So the Fed lowered interest rates to 2.00 percent, its second cut of the year. I’m not betting that investors and economists are reassured.

Uncertainty is keeping us in the dark regarding the recent attacks on Saudi oil processing facilities. Directly or indirectly, the finger points to Iran. But where’s the proof? Washington hasn’t been terribly forthcoming. And how to respond? The president wants more information and a sense of direction from Saudi Arabia. Isn’t that turning things inside out? Shouldn’t the Kingdom be getting guidance from the United States? I’m uncertain, although I suspect some American and Saudi leaders have common financial interests.

I’m sure that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the attacks an act of war. But on whom? Will the U.S. place more sanctions on Iran and Iranian leaders? Will we strike limited Iranian military targets? Sit on our hands? Of this, I’m certain: Whatever we prepare to do could change in a heartbeat. That happens in international matters, so let me be more accurate. America’s response may change on a whim (or Fox News editorializing).

The Middle East being a region of great uncertainty, let’s turn to Israel. Last April’s election was so close, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t form a government by assembling a coalition requiring 61 seats (a majority) in the Knesset. A new election took place this past Tuesday. The Blue and White Party, headed by former IDF commander Benny Gantz, seems to have a seat—or two—advantage over Netanyahu’s Likud party. Not yet certain since final results won’t be announced until next week. Who will President Reuven Rivlin charge with forming a new government? Also uncertain.

Uncertainty in Israel can bring grave consequences, as it can in the United States. At the last minute, Netanyahu pledged to annex Israeli settlements in the heart of the West Bank. That would bring one certainty: the impossibility of a two-state solution. But few Israelis—even those who support that position—believe Netanyahu will do what he said. Still, Israel, the Palestinians and the rest of the world remain uncertain about where things will go.

Let’s be honest. People talk about loving adventures. That’s fine for a road trip or getting off a plane overseas and winging the experience. But it doesn’t work well for managing an economy. And it’s particularly dangerous for maintaining peace and stability anywhere in the world, especially in the volatile Middle East.

So I’ll paraphrase Bullock/Franklin/Twain: Nothing is as certain as the danger of uncertainty. Will world leaders take heed? I’m not sure.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories, is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY

Nine days ago, Carolyn and I celebrated our 50th anniversary. The usual question: “How did you guys do it?” The first part of my answer is simple.

You get up each morning. A golden anniversary requires longevity. When we were married, I was 25, Carolyn nearing 22. We maintained healthy lifestyles. My parents made it to almost 47 years; my father died at 80, just weeks before their anniversary. Of note, my sister and brother-in-law celebrate their 60th in March.

Not every 50th anniversary marks success. Old joke: “I’ve had 10 great years of marriage. Ten out of 30 isn’t bad.” Some couples are miserable but stay together because of religious beliefs. Others can’t imagine living separately minus sufficient income, housekeeping and someone to yell at if not converse with.

Here, the second part of my answer comes into play. It’s not enough to love each other. Or to define love solely as physical attraction, which may seem the case initially. Carolyn and I were attracted to each other from the beginning and still are. That helped. Having married a beautiful woman, I never wondered what it would be like to go after other women. Who could match up?

Still, sex isn’t enough. And when you’re bringing up three children (who surely are uncomfortable if they’re reading this; get over it; this is life), there’s not all that much time or energy left for sex. (Thankfully, there’s some.) Moreover, bringing up kids is a tough job—tougher than you ever imagined. Disagreements over what course to take for each child constantly pop up. You talk. You argue. You compromise. Sometimes, you even admit you were wrong. When you’re done with the theatrics, you get over it—or pay a price.

Carolyn and I were fortunate. Our backgrounds were very different, but our values very much aligned. We wanted children. A close family. We were willing to deal with them as individuals who might not fulfill our parental fantasies. We didn’t necessarily fulfill the fantasies of our parents. We had good days. We had bad days. The next morning, we put one foot in front of the other.

Eventually, the kids flew the nest. We raised them to do that. They had their adventures, and we weren’t always thrilled, but we stood behind them. That takes patience and a willingness to set aside your ego. We learned to cast off our last lingering daydreams and see them as they were. We guided them by setting an example of basic values. They learned from us. They learned from life. They’re doing well.

How did we celebrate our anniversary? Carolyn attended Burning Man for the second time—it’s not my thing—so we met in Las Vegas. I surprised her with a suite at Bellagio and a dozen roses. We ate at top restaurants. Saw Penn & Teller and Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles LOVE.

Next? We know we won’t celebrate a second fifty years. So, as we’ve been doing, we’ll take it one day at a time. Carolyn’s acting and music classes. Auditions. Hopefully, more TV/movie roles. My new novel. New short stories. Another novel.

Fifty years seems hard to comprehend. I understand what went into them. I appreciate the full life we got out.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.