Make A Fool Of Yourself In Public

MAKE A FOOL OF YOURSELF IN PUBLIC*

No one ever had to tell me to do this. No one had to encourage me to just let go. Believe me, it happens enough on its own. The time I dragged a strand of toilet paper out of my waistband all the way down the bleachers from top to bottom at a football game comes to mind.

Sometimes joy overtakes me, and especially when I hear a good song, which makes me want to dance and sing like I’m in a show on Broadway or in a 1930’s feel-good-even-if-it’s-the-Great-Depression movie. I hear that song and I’m dancing and singing down the canned soup aisle, the pasta and sauce aisle, or amongst the vegetables. I don’t care who sees or hears because I’m only here once, right? I’m going to grab it while I can. It’s even better when my sisters are with me and we’re the whole damn Broadway chorus line.

Yes, I’ve fallen flat on my rear in the ice like a clumsy penguin, flopping around and sliding whilst I try to stand again and so what if there’s a crowd watching? Once I’m up, I just laugh and bow like I meant it and like I expect applause. That’s fun, too, as long as I’m still intact.

Really, we all need to take advantage of every moment when we can find the fun in our existence. It all goes so much better for us when we do, even and especially, the crappy times. 

Besides, you know in Shakespeare’s plays, anyway, the fool is always the one who knows it all and who can say the truth without retribution.

When I audition for a part, I choose to play the fool every time!

* A calendar page suggestion

If You Give Me Images…

IF YOU GIVE ME IMAGES TO WRITE ABOUT, I’LL ALWAYS CHOOSE THE FLOWERS*

In our family, when I was small, we always wore red, plasticized cloth poppies on Poppy Day, the last Monday in May, Memorial Day for us in the US. I never associated those fabricated poppies with the big-petaled orange poppies I later saw growing by my friend Coco’s porch in Grants Pass, when I was in my 20’s.  Such lovely flowers, big as my hand with crepey thin petals colored like blazing flames! I felt they truly meant being flowers.

            I wanted to grow some poppies where I lived in Burns, but they refused to grow. Poppy season is early, so maybe I planted the seeds my friend gave me too late. Or maybe it was too cold in the winter, too hot and dry in the summer, and the soil too alkaline. I don’t know, but I was disappointed.

            When Neal and I moved to our most recent home, the owner before had grown the vibrant red opium poppies, Papaver somniferum, in her vegetable garden. I don’t know where she found her seeds, because in my experience, finding those poppy seeds is difficult, and remains so. I didn’t even know they were opium poppies until some plant expert told me.

            For a few years the red poppies re-seeded themselves and then they died out. I haven’t found any more seeds to replace them. I have easily grown the small, orange California poppies that come in wildflower seed packets, and used them in herbal concoctions. I have saved seeds from orange and white poppies but still long for the red, red, red.

            Visiting the Parthenon in Athens was a thrill for me, not only for the ruins, but also for the red poppies that cover the ground everywhere and are considered weeds by some. I wonder if poppies are older in origin than the Parthenon? My research tells me that they probably are.

            Another question that arises is this:  Does the fact that the Parthenon was built according to the Golden Ratio often found in the human body, flowers, plants and beehives among other natural things, have some special significance and connection?

            We know poppies were around in Ancient Greek times because Demeter’s emblem was the poppy which grew among the barley/ Theocritus wrote: “ For the Greeks Demeter was still a poppy goddess, bearing sheaves and poppies in both hands.” Idyll vii 157.

            Poppies were also used for coloring in tapestries of the time. 

            Before that, poppies were connected with a Cretan cult, and that reached Classical Greece, brought to Eleusis. They were making opium from then even then. Robert Graves speculated that the meaning of the depiction and use of poppies in Greco-Roman myths is the symbolism of the bright scarlet color as signifying the promise of resurrection after death. 

The earliest reference to opium growth and use is in 3,400 B.C. when the opium poppy was cultivated in lower Mesopotamia (Southwest Asia).  The Sumerians referred to it as Hul Gil, the “joy plant.” The Sumerians soon passed it on to the Assyrians, who in turn passed it on to the Egyptians. As people learned of the power of opium, demand for it increased. Now it grows wild in Eastern and Southern Asia and Southeastern Europe, and is cultivated in other parts of the world for opium production. An interesting fact is that although the opium poppy has the highest concentration of narcotics, all poppies in the Papaver genus do contain some amount of narcotic. 

            Regardless of some growers’ nefarious usage of the Papaver somniferum, I love them for their beauty, however short-lived. I wonder why certain flowers speak to us more than others? Poppies weren’t a part of my childhood so that’s not it. Is there maybe a certain vibration or that Golden Ratio we share that makes us feel like kin?

            Because I didn’t know where the previous owner of our property had procured her seeds, I also wondered those years the opium poppies grew themselves if the FBI would be showing up!

            Now I know not to worry. I’m lucky also, because Master Gardener Sally McGee has so generously promised to bring me some poppy seeds for my summer garden!

* A photo of poppies, among several other options, was offered in a writing group I attend.

SAN ANTONIO BOTANICAL GARDEN

Whenever Louise and I travel together, there WILL be a garden involved, and our recent jaunt to San Antonio was no exception! We enjoyed the famous downtown river walk, LBJ’s Texas White House and ranch, The Alamo, Fredericksburg and Johnson City, but we found the San Antonio Botanical Garden to be a real Texas treasure!

            The day had been wet and sprinkled on us from time to time, but the sun also came out, so we didn’t mind.  We got in our daily exercise and our quota of fresh air at the same time we gave our eyes something beautiful to regard. I know that botanical gardens in general depend upon their volunteers and funding sources, so sometimes a person has to be forgiving if a path isn’t kept up, or if weeds have reared their ugly heads or necessary pruning hasn’t been done or if identification signs are missing. However, the first thing I noticed was how pristine and well-maintained this garden is. When that’s the case, it’s like giving your eyes a siesta so they can focus better on the beauty. 

            The second thing I noticed was the art interspersed throughout the garden, lovely and often whimsical pieces. For me, gardens and whimsy are a necessary pairing. My favorite pieces here were the giant ants storming the large hill. There were many places surrounding the ants to catch them from a variety of viewpoints. The hill is a great place to catch a glimpse of downtown San Antonio as well. 

My other favorite art piece was a giant chessboard and pergola, which was part of the amphitheater, and four giant Adirondack chairs in primary colors from which to watch the chessboard. 

            Also amazing were the several conservatories, beautiful architectural structures of glass, concrete and metal, comprising the Desert Room, the Tropical Room, the Palm and Cycad Pavillion, the Orangerie and the exhibit hall. Lovely to regard outside and warm, cozy and inviting inside. 

            One of my outside favorites was the fern grotto—rocks and water and green, rather like home, right? Children have their own veggie garden as well. Because we had a limited amount of time to spend, we had to chug right along, through the Culinary Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden, the Water Saver Garden, The Sacred Garden, and the Texas Native Trail. We didn’t have time to see the East Texas Pineywoods and Lake, but that gives us a reason to return.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden’s mission is to inspire people to connect with the plant world and understand the importance of plants in our lives and you can see by the variety of gardens available there is plenty of inspiration to be had. The garden is recognized nationally for commitment to outstanding displays, botanical diversity, education, environmental stewardship, and experiences that connect people to the natural world. It’s obvious from our short visit that all that is happening for the 150,000 annual visitors. 

If you visit San Antonio, of course take part in all that the downtown and surrounding areas have to offer, but be sure to put the San Antonio Botanical Garden on your list! 

The Amazing Sunflower

THE AMAZING SUNFLOWER

The natural world around us never fails to amaze me, and because of ongoing research, there is always some interesting fact to discover. Most recently, I read an article stating that sunflowers, on a cloudy day, turn to face each other for protection because they know rain might occur and cause harm. (The article went on to assert that perhaps it would be good for humans to show the same sort of protection to one another, an assertion that seems reasonable and palliative in the world we inhabit at present. That action is in our genes and we ought to pay attention to it, the way plants and trees, who are said to have no brains, do.)

I wondered what other fabulous facts about sunflowers I could garner if I went searching. Gardeners generally know that sunflowers turn to face the sun during the day, hence the French name, “tournesol.” To actually watch fields of sunflowers in southern France as they turn during the day is a delight.

Sunflower is the only flower with flower in its name. “Helianthus,” the scientific name of sunflower, comes fromheliafor sun and anthusfor flower. There are about 70 species of sunflowers.

What makes them turn?  Both their circadian clocks and genetically-driven growth rates. This is called heliotropism(solar tracking). Special motor cells at the bases of the flower buds shrink or enlarge as they absorb water, which moves their faces towards the sun. The stems of young sunflowers grow more at night, but only on their west side, which is what allows their heads to bend eastward. 

How did sunflowers get here? Sunflowers are native to the Americas, cultivated as far back as 3000 BC.  They were brought from the Netherlands to Russia by Tsar Peter the Great and used for the only sanctioned oil during Lent, then brought back to the USA by Russian immigrants. 

Other amazing facts:They have traveled to space. In 2012, US astronaut Don Pettit brought sunflower seeds to the International Space Station. You can read his blog about his gardening process. They have a history of healing. In Mexico, the flowers were thought to sooth chest pain. A number of Native American tribes agreed. The Cherokee utilized an infusion of sunflower leaves to treat kidneys while the Dakota brought it out to sooth “chest pain and pulmanery troubles.”

What is a sunflower’s petals not?  Because the ray florets lack either of the male and female gametes, it’s a neuter flower and has lost its ability to perform sexual reproduction.  The realflower is the brown patches present on the inner sides. The florets inside the circular head are called disc florets, which mature into seeds. The disc florets have both male and female sex organs and each one produces a seed. The sunflower looks like it does in order to attract insects and birds, which pollinate it so we animals get thousands of seeds. Thank you, Big H!

How are the heads organized? The flower petals within the sunflower’s cluster are always in a spiral pattern. Each floret is oriented toward the next by approximately the goldenangle*, 137.5 degrees, producing a pattern of interconnecting spirals, where the number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers.* Typically, there are 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other; on a very large sunflower there could be 89 in one direction and 144 in the other.  Wow! Just like everything else in our ordered universe. Kinda woo-woo. I had never really studied a sunflower head intensely before, but after reading this fact, I looked and you can see the spirals and the artistry there. So totally amazing!

What is an interesting super-power that sunflowers have?  They can remove toxins, such as lead, arsenic, and uranium, from contaminated soil. (That’s probably why nothing, not even weeds, grows on the heap of metals-imbued topsoil we received last year, with the exception of sunflowers, seeds probably dropped by birds.) They were used after the Chernobyl disaster to remove uranium, cesium-137, and strontium-90 from the soil.

A quotidian super-power:  Once the flower heads are empty of seeds, they can be converted into disposable scrubbing pads for tough jobs. Who knew? Are you going to try it?

What are sunflowers symbols for? Faith, loyalty, and adoration. They also symbolize worship and faithfulness in various religions, and are associated with spiritual knowledge and the desire to seek light and truth. Incas used sunflowers to symbolize the Sun God, and brought them to temples for worship.

The sunflower is the state flower of what state?  Kansas

How tall can sunflowers grow?Due to hybridization, some are as small as 2’ tall and some, over 10’ tall. In 16thcentury Spain the record height was 24 feet, bested in 2014 in Germany by 30.09 feet. 

For us normal gardeners, how do sunflowers grow best?  They need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day to grow their best. They like a pH 6.0 to 7.5. They require 34 inches of water annually and if cut for a bouquet, will last 5-12 days. Cut your bouquet flowers in the morning so they last longer. Most sunflowers are annuals, and can re-seed themselves if the seed heads are left for birds to enjoy during the winter. Some perennial varieties exist and will grow flowers the next season.  You can deadhead them before the seeds start to form in order for more blooms to grow, but why? You’re a better steward of nature if you let them seed for our avian friends. If you want the seeds for yourself, wait until the seeds dry completely, then cut off the head about 12-18 inches down the stem. You can put a paper sack around the stem so the seeds can be caught, or you can pick them all out yourself by hand.  Then boil in salted water for 5-10 minutes, dry the seeds on a baking sheet, and bake at 325 degrees F. for 25 minutes or so. When cool, chew and leave spit-out hulls everywhere like you did in junior high. Hahahaha!

Human uses of sunflower seeds: They are a healthy snack food, with an ability to stimulate hair growth, promote heart health, aid in weight loss, lower cholesterol levels, and affect cancer cells. They provide us with alpha-tocopherol and B6, antioxidants, carotenoids and much more. ¼ cup serving contains over 200 calories. The seeds contain tryptophan, which increases the brain’s fabrication of serotonin, which then reduces tension and creates a relaxed feeling. The choline content plays a vital role in memory and vision functions. The seeds also, because of betaine and arginine , protect against cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure. The lignans prevent heart attacks and atherosclerosis. Sunflower seeds help the thyroid gland maintain optimal metabolism. The fiber helps with digestion-related problems. They help reduce arthritis symptoms. It’s not good to eat too many, however. ¼ cup daily is about right, but remember those 200 calories.

What animals eat sunflower seeds? Besides livestock and birds, the seeds are also sought out by squirrels, chipmunks, garden mice, bears and raccoons. 

And finally, can you propagate sunflowers?Yes. Take your material from vigorous and succulent side shoots. A 4-6-inch-long stem with mature leaves and no buds or flowers will root best and produce a shapely plant. 

When I started my research, I knew very little about sunflowers, except that seeing them made me happy. That alone was enough for me until the article spurred my research. I’ve seen sunflowers all my life, yet realize I’ve taken them for granted. We do this with many mundane things, I fear. How interesting to study the commonplace and be astounded!

Here’s an addendum to spur your interest in the commonplace:  Flies have two compound eyes, each made up of 3000-6000 lenses, and a triangle of three simple eyes, called ocelli. Now, it’s your turn to find out more!

Golden angle: In geometry, the golden angle is the smaller of the two angles created by sectioning the circumference of a circle according to thegolden ratio; that is, into two arcs such that the ratio of the length of the smaller arc to the length of the larger arc is the same as the ratio of the length of the larger arc to the full circumference of the circle.

Fibonacci numbers:  In mathematics, the Fibonacci numbers for a sequence, such that each number is the sum of the two preceding ones, starting from 0 and 1. For example: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55… This appears in biological settings, such as branching in trees, the arrangement of leaves on a stem, the fruit sprouts of a pineapple, the flowering of an artichoke, and uncurling fern and the arrangement of a pine cone’s bracts. 

All of the facts presented herein were found in Wikipedia and other online sources. 

Fair Sharing

When I went to the Tillamook County Fair Office to pick up my ribbons and rewards, I was excited to receive $15 in prize money. This may not seem like a sum worthy of excitation, but what it represents to me, is. 

In my teen years, our family lived on a 30-acre farm. My father also worked nights at the nearby lumber mill. We practiced subsistence living, not because it was trendy, but because we were very, very, very poor. My parents agonized every year, worried they could not make the place payment. 

Simply put, there was no money for anything other than the most essential of essentials, not even emergencies. If my sister Anita and I wanted to wear clothes, we had to make the money to pay for them ourselves. Our parents decided we would do that by raising sheep, which by the way, I detested. We had no say in the matter, which is really what I detested. I wanted to raise a pig because I saw they brought a bigger paycheck when sold, they didn’t stink like lanolin, we generated lots of green matter to feed them, and they were not stupid. One could have a good conversation with a pig. Not so with a sheep.

No one listened to the budding MBA in me, however, so sheep it was. We also had taken 4-H since we were of age, and had learned to cook, sew, craft leatherwork, judge livestock, and identify weeds and crops. We also won ribbons and received prizes for this labor, besides showing our sheep and selling a lamb for profit at the Union County Fair. 

I remember after fair one year, I had made $60, enough for one new outfit at least, and shoes, I hoped. I bought those first, because my sophomore year I went for a couple of months with no shoes, my cheap Sprouse Reitz pair having disintegrated in the rain, mud, and snow, early on. I couldn’t even borrow a pair from my mother because my feet were so huge. My embarrassment was enormous having to wear nothing but boots over my socks, those cheap plastic boots normally worn over shoes. They flopped all around loosely when I walked, making slapping noises as I walked down the halls. I did all I could to be invisible to classmates during those months.

Because of this humiliation, I made sure from then on to always buy decent shoes first when I came into money, then underwear, and then focus on the outer realm. The only way I could do that was to enter items into the fair and trudge through another year of barely motivated sheep raising. 

That’s the reason prize money from the fair has meaning for me. It was the only thing that kept my sister and I clothed from year to year. I am so grateful to 4-H for having given us that opportunity. 

Now, I enter things in the fair because of the fun factor only. I like showing my beautiful and odd flowers and my mosaic glasswork because these things bring me and others joy. Besides, this time, it’s my choice how I’ll make my fair money and how I will pay my riches forward in some quiet way. (My friend LaVerna bought a corn dog with her winnings!) 

Fairs are important because anyone can share the fruits of their labors, and the joys to be found in preparation and sharing. I love seeing what other talents of our community are to be found at a fair and discovering who did what. That’s the joy of entering things in the annual fair. It’s rarely about the money, the acquisition of ribbons, or the fame. We entrants are sharing our soul.

LUNCH AT TWIN PEAKS
by Karen Keltz

My husband, Neal, and I were looking for lunch in Fort Meyers, FL, where we were vacationing, and went to a restaurant called Twin Peaks, across the road from our motel. 

It was abundantly clear what “twin peaks” stood for, since they hung right out there in our faces. Most “peaks” were embellished with giant jewels hanging down from the women’s necks, in case you missed their twin attributes at first glance. I learned later that Twin Peaks is described as a “breastaurant.” Each “girly girl” (as they are advertised) was wearing a little red and black lumberjack plaid bikini shrugglet on top, short shorts with jewel encrusted belts, and because, god knows they had to be cold, knee high socks and warm boots, like Uggs or lumberjack boots.  Hanging down from their belts was a purse like what men wearing kilts tie around their waists. 

(Later, my husband looked at the website https://twinpeaksrestaurant.comand exclaimed, “Good Lord, listen to this! It sounds like they are advertising prostitutes! ‘The Twin Peaks Girls are the essential ingredient to the perfect lodge experience. They are the beautiful faces that represent the brand and the reason our customers consistently come back for more. Equal parts friendly, engaging, and attentive, the Twin Peas Girls ensure every guest feels like a regular.’”)


TV’s, 100’s of TV’s, hung everywhere, all of them going at once. At each booth was a TV as well, so couples eating, instead of looking at each other, watched their TV screens. There were to be sure, some couples who disregarded their TV’s and stared at their cell phones instead. We sat right next to each other, shouted and read lips to actually communicate, while mood music like “Cocaine” blared in the background.

As Neal said, the decor was a cross between Hooters and Cabela’s, with antler chandeliers and stuffed animal heads along the walls, above the TV’s, of course. I told him none of the “finer points” about this place escaped his notice. 

To be fair, I have to say the food was delicious, though calorie-laden, with not much coming in under 1200 calories. The beer, coming in “man size” and “girly size” was also delicious. Apparently, you are not a man if you don’t drink 22 ounces of beer at a time. My husband, who is 6’ 4”, jeopardized his manliness by ordering the girly 10 oz. beer. We noticed also that the company bottles its ketchup with a “Bottoms Up” logo, featuring a woman’s rear end.

A couple of dads had brought their daughters and I wondered what was going through those little girls’ minds about what they saw, and what lessons they were being taught about what it meant to be female. One father was ignoring his daughter altogether, engrossed in events playing out on one of the many TV’s.

The website describes this establishment as a place with lodge ‘mantality’ where men wear their manliness “like a badge of honor.” Everything is done with the intention to cater to men’s desires like the lumberjacks they are. I couldn’t help noticing that 98% of the men at both the inside and outside bars were soft and obese, not really fitting the “lumberjack” type the restaurant says it’s aiming for as a customer.

Although when I went to the website to check out the girly girl requirements, it told me I had an excellent resume, I think it’s too late for me to apply to work here. For many reasons. One, I’d freeze wearing pants with no legs and shirts with no fronts. Also, for me to fit the advertised requirements, the restaurant would have to be renamed “Twin Suspension.” And finally, nothing makes me more angry than to see women objectified with that “show me your tits” mentality, like some young show cow. 

However, if you truly are a “girly girl” you might enjoy working here. The only sticking point is that you’d have to put your brains away. You could still wear your glasses, though.

I love vacation adventures, don’t you?

CONFESSIONS OF A KILLER

CONFESSIONS OF A KILLER

Because let’s face it—if you are a gardener, you’re also a killer.

If you have weeds overtaking your grass, flowerbeds, and vegetable garden, what do you do?

If you find slugs on the leaves of your precious plants or crossing the sidewalk, what do you do?

If you find ants and earwigs at the bottom of your artichoke leaves, what do you do?

If you find eggs laid on your broccoli heads, what do you do?

If grass is growing over your stepping stones so much you can’t even tell a stone is there, what do you do?

I rest my case.

“…in this world/you have to decide what/you’re willing to kill.” –Tony Hoagland, in his poem “Candlelight”

So this week, here’s what the gardeners on our small patch of ground have been willing to kill: We’ve pulled beets for canning and eating; called Eco Life to come dispatch our bald hornet nest; stepped on and snipped slugs; tossed out the possibly mosquito larvae-ridden water in the birdbaths and swapped for clean water; pulled weeds wherever we saw them (though not nearly enough); pruned back some errant raspberry vines; soaked the artichoke heads in warm salt water and then sprayed them to get all the ants out; and turning over a stepping stone, gasped and smashed ant eggs.

When you’re a gardener, you are making life or death decisions daily. When you hoe or pull weeds, you are telling them bye-bye. Some folks let them lie if there are no seed heads, and let them become compost right where they are. You dig and find slug eggs, ant eggs, and potato bugs. Stamp, stamp, squish, squish! When you prune, you decide what branches get to live and what ones don’t. Deadheading is more gentle, since what you clip off usually isn’t still alive, although if there are seed heads at the ends of stalks, then the promise of life remains. (If you find dried up heads and you want more of that plant next year, save the seeds and plant them in the spring. That’s how I get my hollyhocks, Sweet Williams, and marigolds. In the herb garden, the feverfew, parsley, and chamomile re-seed themselves. Dried seed heads from those weeds I’ve missed is how I get new weeds, too! Oops.) We spray Neem, insecticidal soap, and fungicide; we share pest management with other species, buying ladybugs and lacewings. We plant Whack-A-Moles. What’s more, we are not alone in our murderous intentions.

But don’t despair (unless you are a disciple of Jainism). You are ridding your gardens of thugs. (Now if only someone could come take out the voles making holes in the mole trails everywhere I look!) There is a saving grace: For everything you kill in your garden, something else more beneficial or beautiful gets to live and grow. We might yank out the pea vines or the fava bean stalks, but they have left lovely nitrogen for our other plant life. We have to pull up the carrots and beets, and dig the potatoes in order to eat them. Ridding blooms and branches of pests keeps our flowers and trees growing lovely and healthily.

Once again, we see how our gardens are metaphors for our larger lives. If we are carnivorous, we kill for meat. If we are vegetarian, we kill vegetables. If we are pescatarian, we kill fish. We kill to survive and to make our world a more beneficial and beautiful place.

An Answer

I revised this older post first written seven years ago because the message in it is relevant right now–and probably forever.

INVICTUS

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

–William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

When my husband and I saw the film Invictus seven years ago, at the end of the film, the full-house audience stayed seated until the screen turned black. I like to think everyone was thinking about the message of the story or their memories of the time when apartheid was in full force, not only in South Africa, but here. Or maybe they were thinking how inequality still exists here at home with those who don’t look like us. I hope formulating their intention to change things kept people in their seats.

The poem “Invictus” hung on my classroom wall all my years of teaching, not only as inspiration to the students who may have read it but also for myself. Facing daily adversities requires something a person can grab hold of for strength, and this poem was my reminder that no matter what was done to or around me, I alone governed how I reacted. While we cannot control what is done to us, we are in control of how we respond. This lesson is not easy to learn, taking me at least 55 years before I REALLY got it.

Viewing this film also took me back to the school year of 1979-1980 when one of my students was a foreign exchange student from South Africa. Les was a good-looking, swarthy, sturdily-built lad and much in demand on the football field. In class, he did his assignments and was socially appropriate. He seemed so nice, I wanted to know why he embraced apartheid. Finally, the time came when I could ask him, when my asking would not embarrass him. How could a class of whites who appeared to be well-educated as his father was, for example, continue this racist division I asked him. I wasn’t making comparisons between his country and ours, I assured him, but I wanted to understand. When you know a thing is wrong, why do you keep doing it?

“If we do not keep separate,” he told me,” they will overrun us. They are many and we are few. They will destroy us. We will not have the country we know. Everything we worked for will be gone. I don’t harbor them any ill will. Most people don’t. It’s just better this way.”

I thanked him for answering me honestly. I didn’t debate the issue out of respect for that honesty. Besides, my little arguments would change nothing. But I understood.

Fear, then. Fear keeps us choosing to do the wrong thing. Later, after much reading of enlightened authors and my own life experiences, I learned we do what we do for two reasons. Our choices always boil down to these two reasons: fear or love. Always.

So when I saw Invictus, I thought about Les and wondered how he’d fared in the last 37 years through all the changes in his homeland. I wondered if he became the master of his fate, the captain of his soul. I wondered if his life has taught him well, and he now bases his actions on love.

SAUERKRAUT MAKING

SAUERKRAUT MAKING
Cabbage.
Sliced.
Splayed.
Sprayed across the upper kitchen cabinets,
the blender, the toaster,
and the counter top.
Chunks ice-green, limp and sweaty, cling
to my knees, toes, arms, and hair.
Nest in my cleavage.
Flop on the floor.
Soak in salt water.
Crocked.
Sauerkraut-making day.
Later, the fragrance of fermentation
(as when my father says,
“Pull my finger”)
Permeates the garage.
I cut short my errands past the crock,
Become a mouth breather.
Six weeks passes like eternity.
My father grew up next to a family of 11
who lived in a one-room cabin,
ate sauerkraut all winter
from a Hogshead barrel.
Imagine.
Still, there’s a reason
My ancestors celebrated
The new year with pork roast,
Potatoes and sauerkraut.
I can taste the salty succulence now.
Worth all the slicing, dicing,
Brewing and stink.

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