Thursday, July 25, 2013

Boss Throws Steel Bolt

Today is mowing day at the Port of Bellingham.  The mowers hum, sometimes close, then fade to a softer buzz as they loop away.  Mowing day reminds me of the crop dusters when we lived in San Perlita.  Some pilots would be so daring as to fly under the power lines -- as lithe as dragonflies – in order to dust the most outer edge of the field.  Those particular pilots didn’t live long.
Yesterday at lunch time I walked the old Georgia Pacific pulp mill site with about thirty co-workers.  Most of these people I’ve worked beside for twelve years, others are new to the group; it’s fun to do something different together, like take a walking tour of an industrial site on a sunny day with sandwiches in hand.
The Georgia Pacific factory shipped in logs and wood chips and shipped out bleached sulfite, chlorine and sulfuric acid; the process used mercury to break down salt water into chlorine and sodium hydroxide, then dumped the mercury into Bellingham Bay for decades, until 1972 when the Clean Water Act became law.  Eventually the high energy cost to the corporation to run the factory, as well as public pressure not to add two diesel generators near downtown Bellingham, caused the Georgia Pacific plant to cease operations here.  What they left was not pretty.
Demo of the Bleach Plant, a facet of the Georgia Pacific pulp mill and paper factory.

The GP factory while in operation – and now idled, nearly emptied and heavily polluted – blocks the community from the waterfront and views of one of the most beautiful waterways in the world.  That’s about to change.
In 2003 GP approached the Port of Bellingham about purchasing the property.  Herculean negotiations, meticulous studies by the EPA, and an insurance agreement as complicated as quantum physics finally lead to the dramatic conclusion: on January 20, 2005 the Port purchased the 137 acres for $10.00 pursuant to the agreement that the Port would be responsible for the clean-up.  Ironic that the process of turning trees into white toilet paper created such a huge, dangerous mess that now must be cleaned-up, when toilet paper is itself meant to clean something.
With the kids on Bellingham Bay.

As I listened to the Environmental Director explain this, all with a slightly incredulous lift of smile at one corner of his mouth, I noticed a steel bolt on the ground.  I nudged it with my toe to see if it was embedded as was all the other thick steel rebar around us that had long ago been driven deep into the landfill and thick cement foundation to house a factory building, now gone.  The bolt was loose – not attached.
My boss -- one of the team of three leading the tour -- walked through the crowd toward me.  I thought she was going to ask me a question, but she stooped suddenly and scooped up the steel bolt at my foot and flung it past the Environmental Director’s snowy head.   What she was doing, of course, is clearing the walking path of something that might cause someone to stumble or roll their ankle.  I can’t think of any other professional setting where a director could throw a rusty, decades-old steel bolt and thus move the organization toward progress.
It was at the moment the bolt was launched that our county-wide community – and yes, the planet Earth – pivoted away from past ways of extract and ruin to face boldly in the direction of creativity, stewardship and hope.  I was wishing I could have taken that awesome steel bolt home, but it is exactly where it should be.
Cash, sailing on Bellingham Bay.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Nueron Highway

When I drive my pick-up truck, like a fish following its school, swimming through the complicated streets and traffic signals and bike lanes, I think about the Universe.  Its systematic expansion is like the traffic I am in: planets, suns, moons, gases and neutrons spin, turn and move away from each other like a freeway system knitted into all the other roads that spider out until eventually leading to home.
Our brains are like the Universe and also like the traffic matrix; neurons move from cell to cell in different lobes of the brain and carry information and memories – dreams even.  When someone has Alzheimer’s disease the neurons are blocked and can’t get from lobe to lobe.  The memories are lost.
The “neuron” info-carrier of the Universe is light.
The internet (here on planet Earth) falls squarely into this highway pattern of a complex network that operates on connectivity.
We humans – and even the crows and the whales along with the ants and the bees – will continue to refine and improve complexity so much to the point that eventually it will attenuate back to simplicity.
I have faith in us.
Linda and Dave
The expansion of the Vining Street universe on our small city block pulses with the cycle of life: babies are born, the teens get their licenses (and take up more street parking with their cars), and sometimes someone dies.   Last 4th of July, Linda across the street lay dying in her dining room.  Over the years Linda and Dave had struck up a unique and delightful friendship.  When she was down to her final hours she sent her son/daughter, Shaun, (we are not sure what gender) to fetch Dave so she could say goodbye.
She lay on a specialized hospital bed in the center of their dining room.  The room was full of Ohio relatives.  Dave fell into conversation with one of the relatives, and Linda beckoned weakly to me with her long, white fingers, to lean in close.
“I want to tell you about Shaun,” she said quietly.  “When we lived in Ohio…”.  Her voice was purposely low, but it was so low I couldn’t for sure hear what she was telling me.  There was no doubt she was passing on an explanation she felt compelled to leave with me and Dave.  Quiet words, quiet words, a nearly indecipherable chin nod, and more quiet words.   It ended with, “It’s not her fault” and she grasped my hand in hers.
I very much wanted to know for sure what she tried to tell me, but there was no way I was going to ask her to repeat the vignette, and to speak up for heaven's sake.   I just nodded and held her hand.  She was content.  And now we will never know what she tried to tell me.
Our house, in the middle of the street.

A few words can change a life.

When Mom and Pop were sure they were going to split households, they called us three in for a quiet sit-down.  I was about nine, you were eleven, and Jim was seven.  Nick was too little to be included.  Our parents explained the situation and assured us we would now have two nice homes instead of just the one.

The announcement was not a complete shock.  A lot of our friends had divorced parents – it was not uncommon.

I walked out the back door and climbed to the top of the most difficult tree in the yard (it had no lower branches, so the climber had to shimmy up the trunk like a koala bear for the first twenty feet).  I climbed up the tree to try and figure out how I felt about the announcement.  It was not long before Mom and Pop came out.  They walked around the backyard peering up into the trees and calling “Alex”.  They walked a figure eight circuit, meeting in the middle to conference.  It was probably one of the last things they did together.  I watched from the tree as if unconnected to their personal expansion, yet completely and wholly connected to it until the end of time.

I have to tell you that once we are done expanding the Universe, there is no going back.

Love, Tomato