Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

This Land is Your Land

When I was in fourth grade, our teachers allowed us to choose the patriotic song for the class to sing after the pledge of allegiance. It must have been in the fourth grade playbook—all three of my teachers, in two radically different states, did the same thing.  Few kids chose the “Star Spangled Banner”—too difficult to sing—and most chose “America the Beautiful”, favoring amber waves of grain over exploding gunfire. I, however, always wanted “This land is Your Land”, an early sign of working class radicalism.

It was, really, the lyrics. My family had just driven from New Hampshire to California, to Florida, then home again. I had seen the Gulf Stream waters and the Pacific Redwoods, the ribbon of highway stretching out in front of me. I felt, on a deep level, connected to the landscape Guthrie was describing. It WAS my land, all of it. I had roamed and rambled over it all, talked to people in campgrounds and rest areas, explored the woods and rivers. I could name all fifty states on the truckstop placemats without help. We did it for fun in the camper at night. Of course, in elementary school, they only sang the first two verses, on a good day, preferring to focus on landscape and not politics.

Years later, I heard Pete Seager sing the “lost” verses and was astounded by the new depth they brought to the cheery fourth grade song. First, Guthrie saw his people in relief offices and waiting in soup lines, the poverty that was—and is—endemic to our country. Times were tough in the 1930s when he was traveling the country, picking up money by rewriting songs about the Columbia River for the electric company. Grapes of Wrath tough. But, are they better now? I don’t think so.
And then, the laugh out loud last verse, where he talks about seeing the “no trespassing” sign, walks around it, and decided that “that side was made for you and me.” As someone who has always wandered into areas where I am not “supposed” to be, that line resonated.  I can see why it was left out of the songbooks. Finally, the song swings into one more grand chorus, celebrating the landscape one more time. This land belongs to you and me.


I think about this song once more as we drive across the country, hoping to find that we all have more in common that in opposition. This is an amazing land, from the gulf coast waters to the redwood forests; we need to celebrate it, not tear it apart. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Kindness of strangers, part two

It was a hot afternoon.  Highway 84. Sagebrush, potatoes, long distance trucks, mountains in the distance.

We filled the Ark, pulled over to add ice to the cooler, and watched in horror as gas leaked out. It is always something. Always. We had a ton of work done before we left and still….We drove over to the shop next to the truck stop. They looked at it. At first, the mechanic was dismissive. “It’s your windshield wiper fluid.” “But it smells like gas.” “Yeah, it does.” He bent over. Mechanics are engineers after all. Once hooked on a problem, they are ready to ponder it.  Professional pride.  “I think you should have the VW place look at it,” he said. “We do fords and such. This is different. We’d hve to get out books and such. ” He gave us directions. “I’d drive it,” he smiled.


We headed into Twin Cities, seven miles back down  the interstate. Deep sigh. Saturday evening is not a good time to need a repair on a car older than many mechanics.  The VW shop was still open, but barely. The mechanic came out. “I think it’s something to do with the emissions on a hot day,” he said. He was a young guy, helpful. “We could replace that hose, but I think it will be fine. It was just hot. Keep an eye on it.” I looked at Mark. “It’s your car,” he shrugged. “But you are the worrier. Are you ok?” He nodded.  “We can get it fixed at your parents if it does not get any worse.”


Back onto the highway.  Sagebrush. Potatoes. Big mountains in the distance. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Almost Summer

The world is cool and cloudy, balancing on the edge of summer. We dream of hot sun, mountain lakes, corn growing several inches in a day, but we are not there yet. At school, there is still a pile of papers to grade, a room to clean, final projects to complete. The seniors are gone; the school feels smaller without them, but we are not done yet. We love the cool clouds because they keep us all in the mind of Spring, not Summer, focused, still working, not quite done for the year. In the garden, the same waiting takes place, Everything is planted, sprouted, slowly growing, drinking in the moisture of the frequent showers. The woods  are  lush and green and leafy, tunnels of new growth over the back roads. When the sun comes out, it will explode. But not yet. We wait for the sun, the longest day of the year. We wait for summer.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Immigration and Education

Last Saturday morning, I was walking downtown around nine thirty in the morning, heading for the library and Government Corner, one of my favorite council duties. It was cool and cloudy, very still, and voices carried. I could hear Dave expounding on the uses of a native plant while riding his bike downtown at least a block away. We waved as he passed. I love where I live, I thought. I am so rooted to this spot.

I passed the Mexican chain restaurant and wondered if one of my students was working there that morning. He’s a cook, moving up from prep a few months ago. When we read together, we talk about the tricks that cooks play on each other and the front end people, like turning off the walk-in lights when a friend goes in or hiding the knives. He’s practicing his English. We make jokes, too, about how lettuce and letters can sound alike, but you would not want to mix them up in conversation. Its’ a good sign, making little jokes in a new language. We enjoy our chats before we start reading.

My student came to the United States a few years ago. He was not safe in his village and his brother was  already here. He has told me about crossing the border in Texas; his sister was caught and he had to make many phone calls to have her released and allowed into the country. He told me, too, about how his mother remembers the soldiers coming to their mountain village in the 1980’s looking for young men for the army and how they hid people.  He came, too, because he wants to learn and he knew that, if he stayed in his country, he would have to work in the fields all of his life.  His father did not like it when he went to school.  He is here, now, in school, but he will not graduate. He came just at the worst time for an education—the beginning of high school. He had to learn a new language—his third—before he could learn the subjects, because, even if the numbers are the same in English and Spanish, the language of mathematics is not. He could not pass an English class, or Global Studies, or even Foods. He had PE and ELD classes.  Now he is 18.  He needs to work to support his mom and sisters; he wants to leave the restaurant and work during the day so that he can see his family and friends. He only speaks English in school.

It is hard living in a college town some days, like last Saturday. I’d been kept up by bellowing yahoos who were drunk and walking in herds down our street at midnight.  So many of the herd seem to take an education for granted—there was never any doubt that they were heading for college and that they were not paying for it by working the Midnight to Eight shift for minimum wage on Friday night.  It seems wrong  that one young man, who crossed the border, risked his life, and works hard will not be in college next year—even if he could pass the math portion of the GED in Spanish—because he needs to  take care of his family, while others appear to squander their chances on parties and beer pong. It is even harder to hear people complaining about immigrants and refugees coming to the United  States, because they don’t know my student. If they did, they just might change their minds.