Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ode to Razorback

Ode to Razorback

Razorback has been laying on his side for six days now. This morning, his breathing is shallow, he nays softly to an empty barn after all the other goats have gone down canyon for the day. I try to give him water through a bottle, but he doesn’t want to drink. I try to give him the “goat crack” granola he used to want so badly, and he starts to eat a bit, almost as if by instinct, but after two bites, he puts his head back down and doesn’t move again. I rub his head between his beautiful swooping horns and whisper to him. He is 20 years old and this canyon, this ranch has been his home; soon he leaves.
I turn 41 today. For the most part, I have loved this ride on earth, the beautiful places I have seen, the amazing people I have shared it with, and the hope so many have for a better future.
I don’t know if we will ever cure death.  More than just re-programming cells to keep regenerating, or changing the DNA to not wear down, maybe it is more about mapping consciousness into a robot version of yourself. These questions always leave us with questioning individuality because if I can map my life into a wired system connected to some grid, then what is to say that consciousness is ever individual. If it needs a system to live, then it is symbiotic, if not parasitic. And from there it is easy for me to see that this is true right now of humanity. My life is not my own, but contained in stories with you, with family, with friends, with my community, and the landscape of my life, but all these experiences are siphoned through past experiences, and none of it began alone. My whole story into life is filtered through all of you—early childhood explorations into the world and words, the way we create what we see, and how we approach it, and what is appropriate action.
My housemate helps me and we rotate Razorback over and get fresh straw underneath him. He is mostly bone now. For many years I have chased him and his herd off the mountain, listened for the sound of the bell tied around his neck to figure out where the goats have gone. His bell still a necklace around his neck lays muffled in the hay. Razorback is the icon for Oak Springs Ranch, between the arcing horns to his long goatee, like some old Kung Fu master of the mountains, many people have come to visit the ranch over the years and all of them would get pictures of Razorback. He is blind now. He has had a couple of strokes. He was able to barely stand when I started watching the ranch for my friends a few days ago, but now he can’t get up. I tried to help him up, but he will leave this canyon on his side.
Two days ago one of the new baby goats died. In the morning it wasn’t doing well. His mother was calling to me to help. He wasn’t moving much, and just wanted to lie down. I tried to feed it a bottle of goat milk formula, but he wouldn’t take it. I wrapped it in blankets to try to keep him warm. His head kept sliding back awkwardly, his eyes fogging over more and more. I read online about how to take care of sick baby goats; however, most of the things were beyond my medical ability involving shots and tubes. I called my friends who own the ranch, and they said this happens sometimes. They have lost many goats; they just seem to spin downwardly fast and there isn’t much you can do. I have seen this one other time with a baby goat here and I know this happens. They said the night before they left, the young goat came back alone really late away from the rest of the herd. They were afraid something happened. He theorized a rattlesnake bite, but I couldn’t see any sign for that. In the morning, rigamortis has set in with the goat. I load the stiff body onto the ATV and take it down the canyon a bit. I have to get to work and there isn’t time for anything more. It is unceremonious. Perhaps this is the best way to die. What difference does this make to the dead anyways. Ceremonies are for the living.
Surely death is the ultimate trail, the travels into the unknown we all go towards, transcendence from the physical; while any unknown is intriguing, do not go into this unprepared. A life well lived, a life filled with love and friendship and laughter makes it hard to go, but more ready than you could ever be. If I am an interconnected part of this community, culture of humanity, then I want to be a force of positive change. I am setting myself out to be a person that not only sees the best in other people, but also makes sure to help others see that in their own self too—to tell people not only they can, but they already are.
I am hoping Razorback will last until Rick and Kimberly get back.; however, I am ready to put him down. He moans softly and I try to shoo the flies out from his opaque eyes darting back and forth. My housemate has been up here with me and he has gone back and forth checking on Razorback all day, making sure he has water. We both think maybe we should just stop trying to keep him alive. We talk about getting a gun. We both agree that it isn’t what we would want of our deaths.
He ate a little bit last night. I sit down next to him. I tell him that it is OK to let go. I say, “hooo goat,” to him, the call I learned to bring the goats home for the evening I still call out to the herd without Razorback leading them.  I pet between his horns. It is now six days since Razoback felt earth under his hooves. Soon he will be under the earth. There is no doubt about this. Ever since understanding what Shakespeare meant in Sonnet 18 about immortalizing a person in writing, in the way some part of you lives on, passed down in tales and lore and poetry., I have set to write it down—to hold on to it because all else fades much quicker. Perhaps every person with a need to create does so against the empty abyss. There was death here, war here, a family here, toil here, this land was worked, and as even stone washes away story remains, reshaped, selected for, interpreted, and interpreting. People should know about this love ,this is the love we should carry forward into life. Even the author can fade from the story, but not the heart. And maybe, if Razorback is so lucky, maybe if my own words are careful enough, in them is some understanding of humanity, some gift to move forward, that others decades or centuries from now, when all that might remain is some hint of rock and creek, Rick and Kim long gone, the house long gone, fires ravaged the whole canyon, the stalwart oaks and few Ponderosa Pines are even gone, there remains some remnant story about a goat that once wandered these hills, fighting off Mountain Lion, enduring rain and sun and fire and frost.

They say goats are one of the domesticated animals most quickly to go feral, to return to the land, perhaps they barely ever needed humans in the first place. It was only us that needed them...once again, humans the parasite. Maybe they have a strong will to live, that even when old age has you down, when the weight of gravity is pushing you into the earth, you fight your way to one last breath.
Goats are perhaps the oldest domesticated animal, genetic analysis dating them back to 10000 years ago. Our lore and myths are filled with them, from pan to Satan, goats are part of humanity. Think of all the stories told around campfires eating goat meat and sipping wine from goatskin bags.

As night falls again on the ranch, Razorback still lives. Maybe he never dies. Long lives this, and this gives life to thee. Good night sweet Razorback.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Losing Fight

A Losing Fight

Today, on the bike ride home from work, another dog attacked Chico. In the dog world, a little scuffle happens, and I get that; however, this dog wasn’t just sniffing too long; it ran at Chico and instantly jumped on him, biting, and shaking at him. I yelled, and Chico knows I don’t want him fighting. He tried to move away, but the dog kept attacking. I jumped off my bike and pulled at the dog trying to get it to release Chico. A second dog then came over. I yelled more and Chico fell over for a second. In that moment, he wasn’t being submissive, but he simply fell over onto his side. He jumped back up, but in that moment I saw him as more fragile than I ever have. I saw the scared look in his eyes, his legs up in the air, his old tired body rolling over. I leaped between the dogs and yanked it off Chico. The owner grabbed his dog and I took Chico away to a safe location to check him over.

I didn’t say anything, though in my mind I had a lot to say.  They didn’t punish the dog at all really. Just told it to go inside. If that was Chico starting a fight like that, he would have been pinned to the ground and on his back and I would hold him there. I have been harsh with Chico at times. As some people know, I trained Chico with a shock collar. I rarely needed to use it, but if Chico ran into the road, or chased a cat, he surely felt it, and he listened after that when I said no. I have been strict with him because I love him, because he is my responsibility.

Chico wasn’t phased by the whole event. He just seemed to run on forward again as if nothing happened. He had one good puncture wound on the top of his head. Another on his back, and another on his ear where blood began to pool and swell his ear. I wanted to yell something. I wanted to drop kick the dog. I wanted to tell the owner something, but I just walked away and got Chico to safety. The owner didn’t even leash their dog after that, didn’t apologize, or even walk it back to their yard. I could feel my own desire to stomp on the other dog rise inside of me. When we got home, I washed it out, put ointment on it, and laid down on Chico petting him as we both fell asleep. I am worried about losing him. I am selfishly worried about my own sanity when I don’t have him anymore. Maybe he is a crutch to life for me, a reason to be alone, an excuse to hike out into solitude. Through all the major loss of my life, I have had him: my grandmother, my grandfather, lost loves--Chico has been there waiting to go walk, to push his body against mine as he fades into dog dreams.

In the last months of my grandfather, I visited him at the nursing home and everyone in there lit up when they saw Chico. They all had stories of past dogs they once had too. I know I have a lot of life to live that will happen without Chico. I imagine, I too, will be reflecting back to this little bit of selfless love in my life. Maybe it is a bit pathetic, but he is one of the most significant relationships in my life. He has taught me a lot about love and caring.

I was just at the Vet with Chico running full panel of blood work on his, urinalysis, fecal analysis to make sure he is doing OK at over 10 years of age. They gave him a clean bill of health. The Vet said he will most likely die of old age. That, unfortunately, isn’t all that comforting. I make an appointment to take him in tomorrow. Regardless, I rub Chico’s belly and feel the rise and fall of his breath as I use him like a pillow. I listen to his deep breathing. Often at night, when he dreams, he does this underwater type barking, and I will reach out and put my hand on him, let him know that I am here for him. I hate that he was hurt today and that I didn’t get there soon enough to stop it. I can’t get the image of him falling over on his back as this dog attacked him; he looked over to me for help. I try to be there for him. I tell him I love him. I grab a hold of his paw in my own hand as I too fall asleep.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

migration of spiders

migration of spiders

After eight years, I feel the need for poetry again.
Today is solstice, time to turn the compost, and
I switch from south to north rim for hikes to the ridge,
The trail, mostly rocky basalt, dries quick
To the southern sun setting over the Mendo Mountains.
Sunlight at solstice splits the canyon, shadows point north.
The leafless scrub oak adumbrate the brown grass hills.
I pass a young man with a prosthetic leg and crutch;
I tell him he is awesome, he responds, “Sometimes,
you just have to get up and see the sun.” And, he’s right.
Spiders migrate on gossamer thread balloons and hope.
They string the barbed wire fencing the edge of the park,
Break free, and kite across the canyon and beyond.
Yesterday, I watched them on South rim, drift on thermals.
Spiders have travelled thousands of miles this way,
Inhabited distant islands, colonized far off lands, left.
Hundreds of silk filaments gently wrap around my body.
The shortest day fades into the longest night.
Sometimes, you just have poetry for such darkness.

A Noiseless Patient Spider
by Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

How little we know

How little we know

We walk by Ti’s house, the light is on, the dogs are quiet for once. Thunder, aptly named, normally has a fit as we walk by and Chico taunts him sometimes, but all is quiet now. It’s really strange how little I know about her, but I can’t help but think about her in the bed at the hospital.  Chico and I walk by her house twice a day and she walks by mine at least twice a day. We’ve talked, and her English is pretty good, even if she looks at me quizzically often. She has two teenage kids raised here in America. She brings food to her Dad each day, and often walks with him or her mother back and forth between the two houses, on either side of me. Ti’s house is three down from mine and her father lives right next door along with her brother. The rain has stopped, and leaves silent the sidewalk. When we get back to my house, I swing open the gate and Chico runs from behind where he has just marked the corner of our property again, and up to the porch to be let in.

I am not thinking and open the door and he walks right into the house. I am sure he knows by now that if his paws are wet, then he needs to wait for me. I might just start making him wipe his paws each time he comes in. But he walks into the house crosses the wood floors and stops at his food dish to point out that it is empty.

“God damnit Chico. I know you know better than this.” He looks at me from behind eyebrows grown too long now. For the last week he has started to hold his head higher in order to see my face.
“I am sure by now, you must notice that I am taking off my shoes and I tell you to stop each time we come in the door and it is wet outside.” That probably isn’t true, but I am sure I am a good enough liar to full my dog, or fool enough to believe that.

I pull off the neoprene slip on boots I had learned to love in Alaska by watching, and Utah after purchasing them, that they make life easy in inclimate weather when you are going in and out of the house. Mud rooms really make the most sense. My teacher is always telling me how I have to frame in the porch, and then extend a second porch out. It could be a good mudroom. But, I probably should just learn to walk around through the gate to the backyard.

I don’t write often about my teacher. My martial arts teacher, Ti’s brother. And while I am no great student, that is for sure, he is my neighbor and has become family to me. I moved here, partly because he is my neighbor, fully knowing what I was getting in for. Well, I should rephrase that, fully knowing that I was entering into something I don’t know fully about. And that is the point, sort of.

I don’t write much of the stories down yet about him because I know he wouldn’t like me writing about him. And most of my life knowing him, now about 15 years or so, I thought most of the stories were bullshit, but I am learning not to.

Tomorrow he heads down to Sacramento with his wife and brother to talk to the doctor about his sister in the hospital.


I am kind of late getting to the office, but I don’t have any official hours per se. Part of that is because my teaching has a lot of grading and I can grade from anywhere or do it at other times too. The flexibility of teaching is wonderful that way. And I might be giving that up soon.

I sit down, open up my laptop, the office is a mess, filled with boxes from another professor, retired, who has gifted me his life of work in some ways. He has been a force for the Park program at Chico, and most of my friends took classes from him and think of him fondly. I knew him from stories other people would tell before actually meeting him. He sees me as someone that might carry the torch for the program. I am in, but I don’t see that happening. I am not really sure what to do with a lot of it. It is mostly for environmental education teachers. And a lot of it is really good stuff. In some ways, I think libraries in schools should house a lot of this stuff. Put it into an archive of sorts for the people who once taught here, and gave their lives to these institutions. When our recent college president left, he donated to the school in exchange for them naming the new performing arts building after him and his wife. It is strange the things we sell, and the ways we hold on to hope that we won’t be forgotten completely by history. Save these boxes of manuals, and lesson plans, and books. Hooper was a recent fellow of the National Association of Interpretation. And more than anything, he has been teaching environmental education for over 30 years at the University level, training other teachers, and still seems excited each day to be with his students.

My phone vibrates in my pocket and I know who is calling. My teacher is pretty much the only person that calls me directly these days. The phone actually says, teacher or curtis lamalfa. I am guessing that Curtis’s number is stored in my phone as my teacher’s number, and that story, of why that is, is a longer story that tells a bit about my relationship with my teacher, or another student’s story really.
I answer the phone, “hi, sir.”
“Nate.” sounds always more like Ned. “Are you at work?”
“Yes sir, just got here.”
“I need you to drive me and my family down to Sacramento.”
“When can you do that.”
“Oh…” I kind of hesitate, wondering what I am getting roped into doing now. “I have maybe a few hours of work I need to do then I could probably take off.”
He interrupts me, “my sister had an aneurysm, and they sent her on the helicopter to UC Davis Hospital in Sacramento.”
I snap to from my selfish thoughts, and tell him actually, I am just sitting here all day to collect student drafts of essays. I have promised to read them all and comment over the weekend and return them on Monday. I will leave a box, send an email to my students explaining, and I will pick up the papers later tonight. He has a car and can drive, but he tells me he wants someone level-headed to drive and help at the hospital to ask questions.
He tells me, “it doesn’t look like she is going to make it.”

I ride home quickly. When I get there, he is waiting, a dark blue Ford Explorer is in my extra driveway space behind the gate. My teacher has all the keys to my house and everything. I am not worried. He tells me that he needs me to drive with his brother, Son, to the hospital. He is not going; he isn’t well. I tell him I will just drive my car, but he says no. I tell him they might end up wanting to stay over-night and I can’t stay overnight sir. But I will do it. I usually voice my concern with his plans and tell him that I will do it his way, but I registered my complaint, so to speak. We do this often, usually while building things on his house.

I don’t know his brother, and I have never met him before, but I know the story, sort of. His brother moved here first, their father was a banker in Vietnam and knew this American guy that lived, or maybe retired to Paradise, CA. So, when Son was able to get out of Vietnam, out from the refugee camps, he came to Paradise, and slowly the whole family has come here now.
My teacher’s Dad and Mom, I know already, and Ti, of course too, and her two kids a very little bit, but not very well. I think they all know who I am quite well. I am over at the house with my teacher most days.


The rivers are rising right now. Flood warning all over the valley. I am curious to see it all. Chico and I walk into work and stop at Little Chico Creek. It is as high as I have ever seen it. I imagine jumping in the river to ride it down to the Sacramento River. I think about Muir in a pine tree riding out a thunderstorm. I get that. There is something about the unpredictability of life that excites me. Maybe, it is humbling to feel nature in wrath and destruction. To watch landslides and erosion, and buildings torn away. I watched a recent video of a landslide falling onto Highway 299, a highway I have driven lots of times, and still I wanted to see the destruction. I wanted the see, not the boulder, but the force of nature humbling man. And next to the landslide was a tractor. It looked like a tonka toy next to the mountain. The side gave way, the dirt falling, until an avalanche of soil and rock, with one large boulder cleaving from the mountain, it rolls and crushes onto the pavement before rolling off towards the creek. I wanted to see it take out the road, or dam the river and watch the river swell up over the road, and erode it from underneath. I have always imagined the earth in all her power. I think I love surfing so much is because you are riding the energy waves of a storm. The spinning yell of merging pressure systems and temperature gradients, a tantrum from earth, and with it moves mountains, carries water deep onto land, hammers the coast lines, and washes away the earth, dragging it back into itself. Not scared of earthquakes, but wishing I could have felt it, rode it...witnessed it. Bare testimony to power. But there is death.

Aleppo worries me. Any situation where a more compassionate and obvious method seems like it must exist, but none that don’t require power to relent power, the right by power to admit being wrong to the weak, to attempt real remorse and forgiveness. Do large groups of people really want death to others? And if we head towards a projected 9 billion people on earth before maybe leveling out even if we all decided to do that right now, we are going to have to live together and in closer proximity to each other. And yet, I see these images of a city decimated, beautiful cathedrals and stone walls, and intricately laid tiles, turned to rubble. Then you hear the people, crying out that their city is about to fall. I don’t know what to do, because I feel that so much of the military advancements that have allowed this level of destruction came from our country and the people who lived here. Not that killing, or slaughter, or genocide was ever an American invention or thought...that seems to be as old as humankind, it is biblical and mythical.


Chico and I walk the cold night, the front past, the cold trailing the storm; I think about all the water, using the sun to dry now; the water is mostly just passing through. I put on the heavy down jacket, and walk out into the night. As I walk by my teacher’s house, I see that his sister, Po, I think that is her nickname, left a stack of blankets sitting on the sidewalk. I saw them earlier today, but assumed they were picking them up, or taking them somewhere, but now I wonder if they sat them out for the homeless on this very cold night. I hope someone comes by and sees them and takes them. Usually two homeless people sit on the stoop in front of their house, often with a drink in their hands. I am learning a lot about life watching the homeless each and every day living across from the Jesus Center. My teacher has lived here for over 20 years now. He has mostly fortressed himself in. My teacher’s other sister came down from Seattle to help take care of the parents and wait for news. His Mom, Dad, and sister are living in the front house now. Ti is still in the hospital, breathing on her own, in a coma.


You know, JFK supposedly had a big turnaround in his thinking about nuclear war and weapons, and such. He gave a speech, The American University address, and it was that something changed, I think it had to do with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the fear the created in so many people, the thought of annihilation, and winter, a dark winter. He said this:
“What kind of a peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace – the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living – the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children – not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women – not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.”

He won election being hawkish and promising to be tougher. And maybe, if not Obama, than maybe Trump could see this and change too. Maybe, for once, down from his golden tower, he will be forced to really see things like Aleppo, and realize that the world is looking to him now for help. People are dying and you have some of the most power on the earth now if used right. It is like melting the grinch’s heart or something. It seems not fathomable, but I am hoping for that Xmas miracle.


When I drove down with Son and my teacher’s parents to the hospital, my teacher told me he wanted a white person to go because he thought the doctors would try harder. He didn’t go with us. He said, he couldn’t. He was a mess. He said, the whole family has PTSD from the Vietnam War, and the worker’s camps, the refugee camps, being split apart for so long. He said, I needed to go just to be a calming voice. I did, but as I told him, they aren’t going to invite me back to talk with the doctor. Who am I? When the doctor came out after surgery, I stayed with the parents in the waiting room while Ti’s ex-husband, her kids, and Son, went into the room to talk.

After it all, after the sobbing, after my teacher's mother was admitted to the ER and then released, we all drove down to the Vietnamese section of Sacramento to look for a pho restaurant they knew and liked. We sat around vinyl topped sticky table together in a vietnamese market and restaurant together. The mother, between her pulsating sobs, would look up and make sure I was eating, or had tea, or tried another new strange food. I kept thinking about everything this family has been through, and thinking about Syrian refugees. I looked around and everywhere there were Vietnamese people, the products and heritage of a war torn country.

My teacher would later tell me, maybe this is all best for Ti. Life has been so hard for her, she has worked like a slave her whole life, maybe this is best. I told him, I emphatically disagree. Yes, it should have been better. Maybe it isn't that I like seeing wrath and destruction upon humanity, it is that afterwards, humans come together, in empathy and love. These outstretched hands give me hope. I have always been a positive person. I have always assumed that people can and will. People will see the value in protecting water, or trying to use renewable resources. That people will adopt a land ethic if they just get out and see it. That war is not inevitable, and that dictators will change, and billionaires will donate, and that even when the doctor says there is a 1% chance, that it is better than no chance at all because you are saying that it is possible.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

In a Jiffy

In a Jiffy

Sometimes, when the night is quietest, I will lay on Chico. My head listening to his breath, his heartbeat in my ear. I pet him. I feel another new lump, he turns 10 soon, and I think about life without him. Sometimes, loneliness abounds. I don’t mind it entirely. All emotions have purpose. Often, in the expanse of the world, I am mostly saddened about how little I get to experience. It’s all of history, not just the next century, but the next epoch. Everything seems too magical about life, it is hard to imagine not seeing it to some sort of end, but maybe that is the catch to it all. We hope there is no end. We want life to perpetuate, ageless, beyond the eras and into the eons.

I have such an immense love for life, beyond the biological, from before the Hadean to beyond the Holocene, from Planck, primordial, to present and into the a time when the stars all begin to fade and the universe goes dark. Sometimes I think all of existence is a fraction of a moment, one burst in the universe like a child blowing a soapy bubble exploding out, the big bang, and that inside the bubble's burst, a jiffy, the time it takes light to travel one fermi, the size of a nucleon, a light-foot, a nanosecond, in that explosion is every galaxy expanding, stars forming, black holes, elements condensing to planets, tectonic plates, water, life, plants, dinosaurs, humans, wars, religions, politicians, petty hate and greedy money, and love, all the love, and the water falls to the ground, the bubble dissipates and the whole thing is over, in that one burst of a bubble, and we are watching it so amazingly slow that we can’t fathom how short it all really is. Gone. Like that. All of imaginable life isn’t the actual bubble, but the brief explosion of the bubble; and here I am, in some fraction of existence when compared to stratification of rocks, of condensing of planets, of supernovae stars, and expanding galaxies, and what I get is me, and my dog, curled up fretting about not having each other. This moment I matter to this dog, but it is all just a bubble, a bang, a yoctosecond, one septillionth of a second, and all we think is so important is gone. We are not even an inhale of breath on a clock of eons.

I nudge Chico awake, ask him if he wants to go for a walk; his eyes expand out to the whites, his eyelids disappearing into black holes, he jumps to his feat, shakes off the slumber and we walk out into the stars.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Holding Spaces

Holding Spaces

Today, we sat with students in tears. Already some of our students have been harassed, told to “go back to Mexico” even if they were born right here. I’m afraid that I’m afraid. Politically, or legally, nothing has happened yet. In schools kids are emboldened to say things they might not fully understand or believe. For some reason, hispanics have become the scapegoat of economic insecurities. The African-American, the Muslim, and the LGBTQ communities are not without fear, and for many it is a fear they have known their whole lives. Obama emboldened some to come out of the shadows, DACA encouraged them they too could go to school. Some now fear the very act that got them to give up addresses and information will now be used to break their families apart and send them back to a land they never knew.

I keep thinking about how we all come from immigrants. My mother is really involved with ancestry and tracing roots back. Some of my ancestors crossed on the Mayflower to come to an unknown land to escape the oppression of elite landowners. They risked everything in a journey few survived. But even more amazing, I used to dream about the very first migrants that came to the Americas. I have written about it, about an ocean that was 30-50 feet lower because more water was locked up in the falling ice age, about the theory that the first Americans came across by boat following kelp beds and chasing fish and food. And another wave, many more, that walked across an ice bridge between what is now Alaska and Russia. I have thought a lot about how difficult it is to migrate north to south when you must rely on your foraging and hunting skills and as you move north to south drastic changes come to the landscape. Humans followed the migration routes of animals, birds, and even trees. There is evidence to suggest that early mesoamericans, before grinding maize in metates, they were grinding acorns and that human migration followed oak migrations. Fremont, when he first landed in California, would see elevated silos of acorns drying along the Sierra Foothills.

When I was in the fifth grade, my grandmother and grandfather took me to Washington D.C. My grandfather worked for the Schilling Mccormick spice company and had a conference in Baltimore. My grandmother and I saw the monuments and museums. I fell in love Abraham Lincoln on this trip. We went to Gettysburg and the sound of the Battle Hymn of the Republic still gives me chills. We looked across the blood consecrated field and imagined the battles, imagined the lives and dreams that fell in that battle, thought of all the loss of life, and it become incomprehensible to me that so many people would fight and die to keep other people in slavery. It is a bit more complicated than that, but in the end, many people were fighting to free people. We went to Ford’s theater and saw the balcony and imagined John Wilkes Boothe leaping from where on the deck my captain lies, fallen cold and dead. We went across the street to see where he gave his last breath and imagined his wife there. The blood stained pillow preserved in a glass case. What dedication to a proposition of equality.

When the planes crashed into the Twin Towers in 2001, there was no amount of war, no amount of death or killing, not one single person, no Bin Laden, no Hussein, not even the systematic killing of every single person of a religion would bring back what was lost...not just lives, but security. Fear is an idea that gets into you. I have seen the way it has now permeated into my young and brave students of color, students of immigrants, students of various gender and sexuality. We sit and wrestle together with how do you move forward. I try to tell them that those people who hate just don’t know you. I tell them you have to meet them, you have to tell your story, but you also have to listen. You can’t meet people thinking you will change them. You have to enter into that moment accepting they will change you. To love is to accept change. That is the only space you can hold inside of yourself. The other is hope. But we don’t hope for change, we work towards creating it.

All semester, we have worked in my course to understand identity and where it comes from, how it changes, and how some parts are very deep-rooted and hard to change. Religion, culture, politics, these things don’t change easily, and new research, logic, statistics, facts, doesn’t change these things. Instead, your brain works to remove the cognitive dissonance and find excuses, find justifications. Threshold concepts are hard, paradigm shifts don’t happen easily, they are bred out of society over time, not the individual. Some have awakenings; however many people know, logically what they should do, but still don’t. Some say humans are lazy, but I disagree. I think we resist change vehemently. I argue that it is a biological response. We are not meant to change quickly because it leaves a species vulnerable. Nostalgia is part of this mechanism; we long for the past, we hold on to what once was to remember. And yet, somewhere deep inside our bird brain we migrate.

I have lived my life around migrations in some way. In my youth, we used to go count Monarch butterflies at their wintering grounds. Clusters of hundreds to thousands of butterflies cascade down Cypress and Eucalyptus trees along the foggy shores in Pismo every winter. Their migration is one internally from caterpillar, to chrysalis to butterfly and externally as they move thousands of miles each year. Some say they follow milkweed blooms, but that isn’t known. The generation that begins the migration isn’t the same that returns. They are not alone in this unique characteristic. When I moved to Alaska to work with my Aunt, my life followed the migration of salmon. Their sole purpose in life is a migration; spawn until you die, used to read a favorite shirt my Aunt would wear. Tonight, while I sing songs out into the dark night, songs that I wrote at other hard times in my life, the snow geese are returning and they cacophony the night as bad as my own singing. They say that change is the only real constant and maybe everything migrates just at time scales we can’t fully understand. Trees migrate. Redwoods were once found in Yellowstone and now only in a pocket on the Pacific Coast. When I was younger the mountain chains going from Bishop Peak out to Morro Rock was explained to me as volcanic hot spots, places where magma vented through the tectonic plate as the plate migrated north along the San Andreas Fault. Perhaps they are in fact volcanic plugs, a place where the crust bubbled out and cooled to igneous rock, and the land around it eroded as the the last glaciers migrated back north 20 million years ago. And our own earth, it too is in a constant migration towards some unknown destination, spiraling out, an entire galaxy corkscrewing out into abyss.

A few weeks ago, I sat down and listened to the stories of dreamer students, undocumented students who came to the US when they were children, or babies, when their own parents fled across the border in hopes to find a better land and better future. They told their stories in tears, about the pressure to do better and provide for their family. They talked about just wanting to make life easier for their parents who mostly worked in fields, long hours under the sun, and with Obama they got to follow that dream towards education and a better life. One of my students told me the other day that he has been picking bell peppers alongside his parent since he can remember. Now he is bigger and stronger and can earn more than anyone else in his family. All the money goes to the family too. He invited me to come and see the work and try it out. This summer he also picked oranges for a while he told me when he returned from summer break. He comes into my office each day and shakes my hand and acts with more respect than I think I deserve. Many of them want to get an education only to go back and get a job back home and help the family. They make me feel so selfish about my life. I try to hold a space for them, something my boss first did and now I follow. We try to create a space for them to be their best. Yesterday, they sat in the office with fears and tears. I wanted to lash out at this world. I want to tell everyone to buy guns and train to use them. I want to use the very laws the Republicans fear being taken away against them. I want violent revolution. I want battles on the fields and to say that this isn’t acceptable anymore. I want succession for California and blockades on the ports, and taxes on agriculture, taxes on technology, taxes on movies and music and television. We will take Washington and Oregon, and their only West Coast port can be Lewiston, Idaho.

But I don’t say that. I tell them that they must learn to love. I tell them they must tell their story. I tell them they must use this education to bring more people together, to educate more people, to find things to advocate for, and communities to advocate with. We grieve for a while and then get back to work doing the same work they have been doing. I am thinking about butterflies, not the cliched metamorphosis, but that inside the chrysalis the caterpillar completely melts into some goopy mass of DNA and then begins to rebuild inside of it into something entirely different. It isn’t just wings coming out from the caterpillar, it is a new being emerging from a soup of what once was. Migration changes us all. In migration, new DNA is mixed, new food is eaten, new relationships are formed. I am consoled by the youth. They say the millennials are the most tolerant and accepting generation of Americans. I can’t keep them from fear, or anger, or frustration, or even love. I can only say I want them to be bold, to be creative, to be critical, to be articulate, to be present. Yes, I want them to be here, right now. Migration is a dangerous affair. Many die in the process. But the risk of staying put, ignoring the seasons around you, the senesce, and the first flakes of winter, must be worse. And when you migrate, it is the strong, and persistent that prevail, but it mostly hinges on all going together. As my poetry/dog mentor tells me, “with you.” That is to say, I am with you.